Saturday, March 31, 2007
I think that's what Eliot really meant to say. Welcome Easter, the end of Lent, and National Poetry Month.
I really am going to write a poem a day. And maybe I'll post a couple here--briefly--just to make sure I keep it up. 30 poems in 30 days. Reminds me of those weight-loss programs except in this case, we're gaining words, verse, stanzas.
I've never been one to wait for inspiration to arrive. I'm impatient and life is short, if I had waited for inspiration I'd probably only have about 20 poems. Or maybe inspiration can be the deadline, the goal, the need to finish something and make it good. Inspiration as revenge, as success, as the inner struggle with something bigger than you thought.
It doesn't matter what gets us writing, it only matters that we are. We need to have something to revise. We need to sort out the thoughts that circle or heads. We need to let someone know we have fallen in love with them or are ready to leave. We need to shake things down, calm things up, explore old territory as new territory. We write because we cannot not write.
Some ideas for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month- or write a poem a day)
* Think about the poems you love and try to write them as your own this month.
* Think about the poems you hate and write a better poem.
* Write a poem from the end to the beginning.
* Take an old poem, cut up the words and phrases, and reorder.
* Find 3 old poems that you don't like or can't finish and write down your favorite 10-15 words from those poems to use in a new poem.
* Write in a way you've never written.
* Write a sestina, a villanelle, a sonnet.
* Rhyme something.
* Steal a title of a news article and use it for your poem.
* Break a line in a place that feels terribly uncomfortable for you.
* Try to write a poem in the shape of something.
* Start a poem with the last line of someone else's poem
* Write an acrostic poem
* Hide your name in a poem
* Write a ghazal
* Break an old habit of something you do in a poem
* Write a poem Flush Right
* Write a poem with pencil if you normally use your computer or vice verse
* Write about a sad childhood event as if it happened to someone else
* Write a poem then remove all your adjectives.
* Write a poem with all those extra adjectives you just took out.
* Write a haiku
* When you are stuck, begin with "I remember" then edit that out later.
* Write an ode
* Write a poem in a letter to your favorite poet
* Write a poem using words from another language as well as English
* Write the poem you don't think you should write
* Write the poem you wouldn't want a relative to read
* Write the poem that embarrasses you
* Write a list of images and fold down your paper. Now write a list of questions. Match them up and write a poem
* Write what you think is the opposite of a New Yorker poem
* Use the word "seismic" in a poem
* Read a book of poems, then write a poem in the voice of that poet
* Start your poem, "This is the last poem of the month"
For inspiration for a poem a day, read David Lehman's THE DAILY MIRROR.
* * *
Thursday, March 29, 2007
How you know you’re from the Pacific Northwest
1. You know the state flower (Mildew)
2. You feel guilty throwing aluminum cans or paper in the trash.
3. Use the statement "sun break" and know what it means.
4. You know more than 10 ways to order coffee.
5. You know more people who own boats than air conditioners.
6. You feel overdressed wearing a suit to a nice restaurant.
7. You stand on a deserted corner in the rain waiting for the "Walk" Signal.
8. You consider that if it has no snow or has not recently erupted, is not a real mountain.
9. You can taste the difference between Starbucks, Seattle 's Best, and Veneto 's.
10. You know the difference between Chinook, Coho, and Sockeye Salmon.
11. You know how to pronounce Sequim, Puyallup , Issaquah , Oregon , Yakima ,
12. You consider swimming an indoor sport.
13.You can tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese and Thai food.
14. In winter, you go to work in the dark and come home in the dark-while only working eight-hour days.
15. You never go camping without waterproof matches and a poncho.
16. You are not fazed by "Today's forecast: showers followed by rain," and "Tomorrow's forecast: rain followed by showers."
17. You have no concept of humidity without precipitation.
18. You know that Boring is a town in Oregon and not just a state of mind.
19. You can point to at least two volcanoes, even if you cannot see through the cloud cover.
20. You notice, "The mountain is out" when it is a pretty day and you can actually see it.
21. You put on your shorts when the temperature gets above 50, but still wear your hiking boots and parka.
22. You switch to your sandals when it gets about 60, but keep the socks on.
23. You have actually used your mountain bike on a mountain.
24. You think people who use umbrellas are either wimps or tourists.
25. You buy new sunglasses every year, because you cannot find the old ones after such a long time.
26. You measure distance in hours.
27. You often switch from "heat" to "a/c" in the same day.
28. You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit under a raincoat.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Received this note from Jeannine Hall Gailey-- mark your calendars!! See below--
Hey there! Wanted to drop you a quick note about readings around the country coming up in the next few weeks. Thanks again for your support and friendship.
I’ll be in Portland, Oregon, to read with Joshua Stuart and Marvin Bell this Wednesday night at 6:30 (I know, super-early, but we have to be out by 8 PM!) at the Central Library, 801 SW 10th Avenue, in the US Bank Room (1st floor.) Books will be on sale before the reading.
Next, I’m swinging a little closer to home to read with Natasha Moni, my co-editor at Crab Creek Review, on Wednesday, April 4th at 7 PM at Kirkland, Washington’s ParkPlace Books.
Then, I’m flying out to Chicago to read with Ander Monson and Catherynne M. Valente on Wednesday, April 11 at 7:30 PM at the Hopleaf for the Bookslut Reading Series in Chicago.
Finally, I’m coming back to Seattle for the Seattle Poetry Festival, where I’m performing, noon-ish, with Natasha Moni on Saturday, April 21st. http://www.cafepress.com/webbish6
That’s all the poetry news for now. Thanks and keep in touch!
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Some of the books were for my critical paper, "Including Laughter: The Use of Humor by Contemporary Women Poets." Some were not even books, a few articles, one interview I did. One was even by a fellow poet-blogger (Oliver de la Paz)-- great book, btw.
Some of the books explored poets I read as an undergrad, but in the space of being twenty-one, I didn't quite appreciate them. Eliot's "Waste Land" falls into this category. How I remember my professor at the UW singing, O O O O that Shakespearean Rag. We studied every footnote, going through that poem was like moving a stick through molasses, we were never done! And though there were parts I loved, I resented all the references--My gawd, I thought, just write the poem.
When I read "The Waste Land" fifteen years later, Sharon Bryan, who I was working with, had me listen to the poem before I read it. Not once or twice, but as many times as I could. She told me not to look at the notes at all. She wanted me to listen and "absorb" the poem. (If you're interested, you can actually listen to T. S. Eliot reading the whole poem online. Here's the link). I found myself reciting it in Eliot's strange faux-English accent (sort of how Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow talk as if they both aren't really from the East Coast)--"A-prel is za crooolest munth, breeeding ly-lax out of-the-ded lahnd." And I enjoyed the poem much more this way, not stopping to read a footnote, just listening.
When I did read the full poem, I read The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Looking over my essay I wrote about it, I had forgotten about this little gem I found when I first started looking at the original draft of the poem and Ezra Pound's revisions--
Reading “The Waste Land,” I was interested in the edits and notes Ezra Pound made on the original draft. The earlier draft was much longer than the final draft of the poem. One place that had an evident change was in Eliot’s original beginning for “The Waste Land.” In the original draft Eliot began the poem with, “First we had a couple of feelers down at Tom’s place. . .” This stanza continues on for fifty-four lines; the entire section was not used. Eliot began his poem on his second page with the opening we know today: “April is the cruellest month, breeding/lilacs out of the dead land… (I bolded how many lines just so you didn't skip over it.)
Can you imagine "The Waste Land" beginning with, “First we had a couple of feelers...?" Hello, McFly. It amazed me and then reminded me just how important revision is as well as an honest friend.
Also, regarding the notes, I found Eliot's interesting response to them in The Norton Critical Edition of Eliot’s The Waste Land, where he writes:
The notes to The Waste Land! I had at first intended only to put down all the references for my quotations, with a view to spiking the guns of critics of my earlier poems who had accused me of plagiarism. Then when it came to print The Waste Land as a little book—for the poem on its first appearance in The Dial and in The Criterion had no notes whatever—it was discovered the poem was inconveniently short, so I set to work to expand the notes, in order to provide a few more pages of printed matter, with the result that they became the remarkable exposition of bogus scholarship that is still on view to-day. I have sometimes thought of getting rid of these notes; but now they can never be unstuck. They have almost a greater popularity than the poem itself…
And to think in college I just thought Eliot had a big ego... Anyway, all intriguing to us poets.
Now, for the list of what I read for school (and wrote about and cried about, and, and, and...)--
Andrews, Nin. The Book of Orgasms. Cleveland: Cleveland State University Poetry
Barreca, Regina. The Penguin Book of Women’s Humor. New York: Penguin, 1996.
---. They Used to Call Me Snow White…But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic
Use of Humor. New York: Viking, 1991.
Barresi, Dorothy. Rouge Pulp. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002.
Bell, Marvin. Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2000.
Berryman, John. The Dream Songs. New York: Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1969.
---. Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and other poems. New York: Noonday Press, 1948.
Bishop, Elizabeth. The Complete Book of Poems: 1927-1979. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Selected Poems. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.
Ciuraru, Carmela. First Loves – Poets Introduce the Essential Poems That Captivated and Inspired Them. New York: Scriber, 2000.
Clifton, Lucille. Blessing the Boat. Rochester: BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000.
---. Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980. Rochester: BOA
Editions, Ltd., 2000.
de la Paz, Oliver. Names Above Houses. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.
DeFrees, Madeline. Blue Dusk, New & Selected Poems, 1951-2001. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2001.
Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems edited by Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Bayback Books/Little, Brown and Co., 1961.
Dresner, Zita and Nancy Walker. Redressing the Balance: American Women’s Literary
Humor from Colonial Time to the 1980’s. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.
Dubie, Norman. The Alehouse Sonnets. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971.
Dudden, Arthur Power, ed. American Humor. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987.
Duhamel, Denise. Email interview. 7 Oct. 2006.
---. Kinky. Alexandria: Orchises Press, 1997.
Eliot. T. S. The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1971
Gluck, Louise. The First Four Books of Poems. New Jersey: The Ecco Press, 1980.
---. The Wild Iris. New Jersey: The Ecco Press, 1992.
Goodeve, Thyrza Nicholas. 1997. "The Art of Public Address," Art in America,
November, 93-99. Frankel, David. 1998.
Gregerson, Linda. Negative Capability. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press,
Hass, Robert. Field Guide. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973.
---. Praise. New York: Ecco Press, 1979.
Hoagland, Tony. Donkey Gospel. St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1998.
---. Sweet Ruin. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.
---. What Narcissism Means To Me. St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 2003.
Hugo, Richard. Making Certain It Goes On – The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1984.
---. The Real West Marginal Way. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1986.
---. The Triggering Town – Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.
Ingersoll, Earl G., ed. Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations With Li-Young Lee. Rochester: BOA Editions, Ltd., 2006.
Jarrell, Mary Van Schrader. Remembering Randall. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.
Jarrell, Randall. The Complete Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981.
---. The Lost World. New York: McMillan Publishing Co., 1965.
---. No Other Book. New York: Harper Perennial, 2000.
Kachuba, John B., ed. How to Write Funny: Add Humor to Every Kind of Writing.
Writer's. Digest Books, 2001.
Kane, Julie. “Getting Serious About Gail White’s Light Verse.” Mezzo Cammin 1.1
Kenyon, Jane. Otherwise. St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1996.
Kirsch, Adam. The Wounded Surgeon: Confession & Transformation in Six American Poets: Lowell, Bishop, Berryman, Jarrell, Schwartz, Plath. New York: WW Norton & Co., 2005.
Lehman, John. America’s Greatest Unknown Poet: Lorine Niedecker. Cambridge: Wilde Publishing, 1998.
Levertov, Denise. Collected Earlier Poems, 1940-1960. New York: New Directions Book, 1979.
---. Poems 1968-1972. New York: New Directions Press, 1987.
Lowell, Robert. Selected Poems. New York: McGraw-Hill, Ryerson Ltd, 1976.
Lund, Elizabeth. “Poet Kay Ryan: A Profile.” Absolute Write "The Laughing Poet: Tell All the Truth But Tell It Screwy.
Plath, Sylvia. Ariel. New York: Harper Perennial, 1961.
Robertson, Connie, ed. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Quotations, Wordsworth
Editions, Ltd. Hertfordshire, England, 1998.
Roethke, Theodore. The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. New York: Anchor Books, 1975.
---. On Poetry and Craft. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press
Schwartz, Delmore. Selected Poems: Summer Knowledge. New York: New Directions Publishing Corp., 1967.
Sexton, Anne. The Complete Poems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Sonnets Edited by Stephen Booth. New Haven: Yale University, 1977.
Simpson, Eileen. Poets in Their Youth: A Memoir. New York: Random House, 1982.
Stevens, Wallace. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Vintage, 1990.
Syzmborska, Wislava. Poems New and Collected. New York: Harvest Book Harcourt Inc, 1998.
Thomas, Dylan. Collected Poems. New York: New Directions Books, 1971.
Vendler, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997.
Wallace, Ronald. God Be With The Clown: Humor in American Poetry. Columbia:
University of Missouri press, 1984.
Whitman, Walt. The Complete Poems. New York: Penguin Books, 1975.
Williams, Williams Carlos. Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems. New York: New Direction Books, 1962.
---. Selected Poems Edited by Charles Tomlinson. New York: New Direction Books, 1985.
Friday, March 23, 2007
If you'd like a place to post your poems each day and be with a group of other poets who are also participating, you can go to this link at Poetry Free-For-All.
Create your own thread and then post your poems daily.
Remember William Stafford's quote when you feel stuck--"Lower your standards."
Enjoy & good luck!
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
"stinker the poodle" - people looking for the Dan Savage essay he read at the Paramount on This American Life, which was hilarious and ultimately "Stinker" wandered on stage. No, I don't have the full text.
"metaphoric stillbirth" -- no idea.
"what will people think of me?" of course, this was Google UK
"roar bongs" -- nice. have I even used the term "bong" on this site or "roar?"
"couplet firefighters" - again, I hope they are looking for a poem.
"poets like Linda Bierds" - Ah, two meanings here-- Poets like LB (poetry fans) or poets who are actually like LB (wannabes maybe?)
Monday, March 19, 2007
A note from Garrison:
"Sumer is icumen in," but first spring is icumen in and the song of the lhude cuccu will be heard here on the frozen tundra and the Norwegian bachelor farmers will strip the long underwear from themselves like bark and take their first bath of the year and the crocus and tulip will poke up and why not have a poetry contest to celebrate?
So we will, on March 31, conduct our Lhude Sing Cuccu contest and present the best of your poems and lyrics on A Prairie Home Companion to compete for lovely prizes.
And the first prize — from Select Comfort — will be a Queen-sized Sleep Number 5000 bed (with foundation legs) along with three dozen roses — a bed of roses delivered to your door — a renaissance in your domestic life — a source of untold joy, not to mention untold sleep.
Shakespeare wrote about spring ("Hey nonny nonny no") and so did George Herbert ("grief melts away as snow in May") and Gerard Manley Hopkins ("What is all this juice and all this joy?") and E. E. Cummings ("wholly to be a fool while spring is in the world, my blood approves") and A.E. Housman ("Loveliest of trees the cherry now is hung with bloom along the bough"). Robert Browning wrote, "O to be in England now that April's there" and Chaucer began "Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote" and Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, "How do I sleep with thee? Let me number the ways. O comfort that I didst select when I selected thee!"
Keats wrote an ode to spring and now is your chance. So start now. Take up pen, or sit down at the keyboard, or brood at the window, and contemplate spring and warmth and the growing season and romance and the end of the school year — whatever bursts your bulbs — and write your poem.
Minimum: fourteen lines. Must contain reference to spring. Must be original. Must be submitted by March 28 at midnight Central Standard Time. If you've submitted work in the past to First Person or Department of Folksong, please resubmit your work to be considered for the prize.
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
And buried in snow up to your eyes and noses
Why not write a spring poem and win first prize,
A Sleep Number bed that is strewn with roses?
Rules and Guidelines >>
Submission form >>
Friday, March 16, 2007
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Married to a Firefighter
He says he wants me,
but when he leaves
he makes love to a redhead.
--Kelli Russell Agodon
Monday, March 12, 2007
Daylight Savings Begins
I am tired, the queen
of simple math: the clock reads seven,
so it must be six.
It is dark, morning-dark, but the killdeer
circle the neighborhood, their high-
pitched call waking the ones who are still
dreaming, still in winter pajamas, flannel
sheets. Forget the tulips,
the already-bloomed and dying crocuses,
any bulb that has to be first
for spring. Their fields are wasted on early
risers, determined and prompt.
Give me the dawdlers, sunflowers
and dahlias of fall, let me have my hour
back, my down comforter a few more
weeks. Return my frost-dipped mornings
where the only things awake are breastfed,
streetlights, a slumbering sky.
WHAT’S WRITTEN ON THE BODY, by PETER PEREIRA
I spent yesterday at Peter's book release reading with Jeannine and her husband. When we arrived , it was as if we’d walked into one of those wild Christmas shopping scenes where cashiers are quickly ringing up sales and gift and gift are being handed over people’s heads, but in this case there was only one thing selling—Peter’s book and they were quickly selling out (again!)
The bookstore was packed, all fifty-something chairs were taken, people stood in the back, outside on the sidewalk, behind the register, we were our own fire hazard and happy because of it. There were many rain-blessed poets in the audience: Martha Silano, Kathleen Flenniken, Susan Rich, Molly Tenenbaum, Erin Malone, and Madeline DeFrees who arrived after taking two busses and Peter kindly found her a seat in front so she didn’t have to stand.
Peter was incredible. He began by thanking his friends, family, and audience for attending. One thing that makes Peter a great reader is that he let us know what he was going to do today—read a couple poems from each of the four sections from his book. As an audience member, especially a standing audience member, it’s always a good feeling to know what “the plan” is.
His poems were wonderful and the audience was engrossed! Each poem offered so much and his words before the poems were just enough to invite us in before he read. And his poems did something for me that poems have not being doing lately—they inspired me to write. Peter’s poems were the kind that as a reader, you fall in love with.
Some other poets I’ve been reading lately have completely turned me off. I’ve felt as if the poet is yapping away, showing us his degrees and his certificates, rumbling around in the back of his closet to show off his Stradivarius then slapping me across the face and kicking me out into the street. Peter’s work is complete opposite of these poems. I don’t feel abused by his poems, but taken care of.
His book is beautiful both inside and out, and I highly recommend you have your own copy to gush over. Truly, a wonderful reading, a wonderful reception, and a new gift of poems to the world.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Here's a partial response from David Orr who basically says that people in glass houses shouldn't throw rocks. He gives the New Yorker a little bit of that tough love that Goodyear gave the Poetry Foundation-- (For the full article published in the NY Times, go to link under "A Touchy Tribe." Here's a link to the original Goodyear article published in the New Yorker.)
From the NY Times 3/11/07 by David Orr (con't)
Indeed, The New Yorker now treats poetry almost exactly as Goodyear suggests the Poetry Foundation does — as a brand-enhancing commodity. Rather than actual discussions of poetry as an art, The New Yorker offers “profiles” of poets, which are distinguishable from profiles of, say, United States senators only in that the poets’ stories potentially include more references to bongs. That’s not to knock the authors of those profiles — often they’re a pleasure to read. They just have nothing to do with poetry.
And then there’s the question of the poems the magazine chooses to run. Granted, picking poems for a national publication is nearly impossible, and The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Alice Quinn, probably does it as well as anyone could. (Quinn is also liked personally, and rightly so, by many poets.) But there are two ways in which The New Yorker’s poem selection indicates the tension between reinforcing the “literariness” of the magazine’s brand and actually saying something interesting about poetry. First, The New Yorker tends to run bad poems by excellent poets. This occurs in part because the magazine has to take Big Names, but many Big Names don’t work in ways that are palatable to The New Yorker’s vast audience (in addition, many well-known poets don’t write what’s known in the poetry world as “the New Yorker poem” — basically an epiphany-centered lyric heavy on words like “water” and “light”). As a result, you get fine writers trying on a style that doesn’t suit them. The Irish poet Michael Longley writes powerful, earthy yet cerebral lines, but you wouldn’t know it from his New Yorker poem “For My Grandson”: “Did you hear the wind in the fluffy chimney?” Yes, the fluffy chimney.
The second issue with The New Yorker’s poem selection is trickier. This is what you might call “the home job”: the magazine’s widely noted fondness for the work of its own staffers and social associates. The most notorious examples were the three poems The New Yorker published by the Manhattan doyenne Brooke Astor in 1996-7 (one more than Robert Creeley managed in his whole life). Some representative lines: “I learned to take the good and bad / And smile whenever I felt sad.” Even more questionable, however, is the magazine’s preference for its own junior employees. In 2002, for instance, the poet who appeared most frequently in the magazine was the assistant to David Remnick, the editor — that assistant’s name, coincidentally, was Dana Goodyear. In fact, since 2000, Goodyear (who is 30) has appeared in the New Yorker more than Czeslaw Milosz, Jorie Graham, Derek Walcott, Wislawa Szymborska, Kay Ryan and every living American poet laureate except for W. S. Merwin. She’s already equaled Sylvia Plath’s total.
The problem with behavior like this is not that it violates some sacred duty of fairness (The New Yorker is a business, not a charity for whiny poets). The problem, to borrow a quotation from Goodyear’s article, is that this kind of thing “signals a lack of ambition and seriousness that may ultimately be fatal.” Poets may get frustrated with the Poetry Foundation; they may complain; they may disagree with certain projects. But the Poetry Foundation, however misguided or impolitic, hasn’t given up on poetry. The question is: Has The New Yorker?
Mark your calendars and grab your umbrellas. Peter reads tomorrow!
Sunday, March 11, 2007 at 03:00 PM
at OPEN BOOKS, Seattle, WA
Peter Pereira draws on his life as physician, son, partner, gardener, and lover of language to create What's Written on the Body ($15 Copper Canyon Press), a richly textured collection that both moves and delights. At times the poems bubble with wordplay -- "I'm interested in the space between / detonation and denotation.. / How we know / whether to flee / or feel." At other times they unfold with a quiet grace -- "The patient was talking and I was not / hearing a sound. But I was listening and // I was there. I was standing beside and I was / listening with my hands." Though the work does not turn from life's darker moments of illness, death, cruelty, at its core this is a book of praise, pleasure, and love, generous in tone and spirit.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Critics or ordinary readers often make the mistake of deciding that the poet should have written like somebody else, rather than considering why the poet has chosen a particular style or form. That's as wrongheaded as telling Emily Dickinson to write like Walt Whitman. It's as irritating as saying to a happy person, 'why do you smile all the time?' or to a quiet person, 'why are you thinking all the time?' Give the poet a break! Just as one rule of reading in general is 'you have to allow the author her subject,' another is 'you have to allow the poet his style.' Figure out why he or she is writing that way--what the function of the style is for delivering the content of the poem.
This was the most refreshing paragraph on poetry I've read in a long time. I think about this as well, specifically in a poet's choice on how the poem looks on the page. Too often we want to change the style of a poet instead of trying to understand why they choose a certain form. In a recent workshop, a friend of mine had a certain form going that moved around the page like waves (the poem did also have the word "beach" in the title). In the last four or five lines of the poem though, the poem changes dramatically. In these final lines, the space between the words was much greater. One or two words would be spaced across the page like this. Or this.
A poet in the workshop asked about the change in form, she wasn't sure it was working for the poem. I spoke up to defend the poem's spacing and form change because the poem was about leaving the beach (the word "leave" was also mentioned in the title). For me, I saw the poem not only leaving the beach, but leaving the form as well. The subjects in the poem transformed as did the poem itself.
I think the ability to have the poem's form respect and enhance the poem's subject is a skill to learn and a pleasure to read. Occasionally, I have come across a poem and thought, "Oh great, what's with all the indenting or _____________ (fill in the blank)." Usually, if I take a few moments to sit with the poem, I can get a better idea or feel for why the poet chose a particular form. And I believe, there needs to be a reason.
Some of the best advice I learned about the form of a poem was back as an undergrad at the UW with Linda Bierds. A classmate of mine questioned the poem's form, the question was something like, "I don't understand why the form of this poem is this way?" We talked about as a class, came up with reasons we thought it was or stated, "I have no idea why the poem looks like this." I remember Linda telling the poet afterwards that they are of course welcome to choose to put the poem any way on the page, but that they needed to know why they had done it.
That statement changed the way I thought about my poems. If I found myself putting my poem in classic four line stanzas or couplets, I needed to have a reason why. Sometimes when I write about God or the church, I use three line stanzas because in my mind it pays homage to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. If I write a poem about a relationship, sometimes its in couplets to reflect the couple, if the relationship breaks away, the form may as well.
At my writing workshops, I've heard others suggest that a poem needs more space when its about nature, a poem about a river should wrap around the page more, or that longer lines have created a poem to fast for its subject and it needs shorter lines to slow down. There are many different reasons for how a poem may look on the page, but ultimately, the poet needs to be aware of her reasons and not working out of a habit. If all your poems are in couplets and flush left, the poet should think about that when s/he starts the next poem.
The form of the poem is one more way to reflect the subject or tone of the poem. It can be create an actual shape or hint at something more. One of my poet friends who does this very well is Ronda Broatch. Here's a poem she wrote published in Literary Mama where form and content are working hand in hand.
Grasping at Ghosts
by Ronda Broatch
She lights a stub of candle,
studies its slow burn and dissolve
into a brass bowl.
I watch her from the edge
of the kitchen.
It was the crackling that woke us,
roar of heat devouring cedar.
I took her from her crib, fled
down darkened stairs, out
to cool lawn, cold moon.
Eleven now, her fingertips dart
through fire, some unspoken
rite of passage I learned
from my grandmother,
entrusted now to my daughter.
Glass shattered as sirens
whined past, unable to find us.
Now open, our house
sucked fire into its body,
a phoenix igniting.
She tips the candle,
drips wax onto a napkin,
squeezes it between long fingers.
Her red hair flickers in the spit of light
as she shapes the cooling flesh.
- From ash we built again,
exhumed bones and sooty reek,
broken teeth of window, rusted nail --
secrets of past fires rising
to the surface.
I stand in the kitchen a while longer
before telling her Enough is enough.
blows out the tiny flare,
grasping at the trail of passing ghosts.
The poem's form works well in many ways. Each stanza offers a moment in time and the poem weaves between present and past--the stanzas that are indented represent the past and the memory of the fire in the home and the stanzas that are flush-left represent the present where her eleven year old daughter plays with a candle. Each stanza looks like a puff of smoke or a "passing ghost," an image she uses in the last line. Even the title works adds to the form, we're "grasping" at ghosts, which makes me believe they wouldn't be lining up in a row for us, but floating around the page. The poem could have been in many forms, but I find the one she chose adds so many extra rewards to the poem. As a reader, I feel well taken care of when I read this.
Each poem should create a form that best represents the poem. And just as a fiction writer should know everything she possible can about her character, a poet should know when the poem is completed why she made the choices she did in the poem. A formed work of art, the poem is, unique in its own right and should be framed that way.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Last night I went to see a live taping of This American Life on stage at the Paramount in Seattle. The crowd was hugenormous and you would have thought we were at a rock concert (or should I say trendy alternative band concert). I am a huge Ira Glass, NPR, This American Life fan, and when I was telling people I was going to see This American Life, people didn't understand what it was, so I'd say, "NPR" and they'd say, "Oh, Prairie Home Companion."
In this taping of This American Life the show was about "What I Learned From Television." The show featured stories from David Rakoff, Dan Savage (from The Stranger), Chris Wilcha, and music from a great band whose CD I know own--Mates of State. The show was hilarious. It was also interesting to watch a radio show being taped, thogh I know how uninteresting this may sound. We noticed when a line or word was said poorly, the speaker just said the word or line again ("I'm Ira Glass and this is....") and later, magically, it would be added in--such as when Dan Savage had his pet poodle "Stinker" come out on stage as part of his essay, he had a to later add, "For the listening audience, what has happened is that a poodle has just walked on to the stage..." Which was later changed to "my poodle" as it didn't really make sense to have a random poodle walking around the stage.
A section of the show had to deal with the new TV series that will appear on Showtime this month. They showed clips of it. I'm just new to basic cable, but have considered getting Showtime just to get my visual fix of TAL. I believe I have listened to every TAL show, I have worked way back in time through my computer, listening to a show late at night on my computer as I clean my office. I was hooked the first time I heard it--I believe David Sedaris was reading, but I'm not sure, David Sedaris is always reading, I know it was before 9/11 because I remember all the 9/11, Iraq stories that came after. What I remember is that I was just taken, just as the Swing Years and beyond takes me away, TAL is a sweet retreat from my ordinary life into the ordinary lives of others. It's probably the best storytelling around...storytelling with music.
Last night, I got a better idea how it's done. I saw how Ira Glass moves his arms in odd ways while he talks, how he scratches his head, and flips a paper. The whole event went almost two hours and even from our seats which were probably the worst seats in the house--the very top back wall on the 3rd level in the corner, though technically, I was six seats over from the corner in row Z--the show was fantastic. Though I'm just trusting the guy at the desk with the arm movements was Ira Glass on stage because my view, it could have been anyone in a suit.
Afterwards, we left in a sea of hip strangers and paid for our parking in a sea of hip strangers, and got on a ferry with a bunch of people in fleece to return to our world of corduroy and wool sweaters, down vests and breathable shoes. On the ferry we talked different kinds of mixed drinks and Girl Scout cookies. We stayed in our car and the windows steamed up. N said she was getting emails from the universe--I needed clarification (the solar system or the *universe*). The *universe.* We wondered what kind of emails we'd receive if the solar system wrote emails--we decided Pluto would have the most say being kicked out of the top nine. And we argued if Neptune was Uranus' twin (Interplanet Janet said so).
We drove home and I felt better for being there.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Tin House Summer Workshop: July 8th-July 15th
Reed College, Portland, Oregon
Thomas Sayers Ellis is the author of The Maverick Room (Graywolf 2005) and a chaplet, Song On (WinteRed Press 2005) and his work has recently appeared in Poetry, Tin House and Waxpoetics. A recipient of The Whiting Writers' Award, he lives in Brooklyn, New York and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and in the Lesley University low-residency Creative Writing Program.
Marie Howe’s third collection of poems will be published by W. W. Norton in 2007. Howe’s first collection, The Good Thief, was selected by Margaret Atwood for the National Poetry Series, and Howe has received a Guggenheim and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Agni, Harvard Review, and New England Review, among others. Stanley Kunitz has praised her “luminous, intense, eloquent” verse, and previous reviewers have noted that, “Unlike the earlier confessional poetry of Plath, Lowell, Sexton et al., Howe’s writing is not so much a moan or a shriek as a song. It is a genuinely feminine form…a poetry of intimacy, witness, honesty, and relation” (Boston Globe). She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY.
D. A. Powell is the author of Tea (Wesleyan, 1998), Lunch (Wesleyan, 2000) and Cocktails (Graywolf, 2004), the latter a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle and the PEN West Literary Awards. Powell is the recipient of the Pushcart Prize, fellowships from the NEA and the James Michener Foundation, and awards from the Boston Review, Prairie Schooner, the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Society of America. He has taught at Harvard, Columbia, the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He is currently on faculty at the University of San Francisco
Monday, March 05, 2007
The first essay I read was by the now well-off author of the Lemony Snicket books, Daniel Handler. He decided to take the $1200 he was going to be paid for his essay and use it to buy a $1200 bottle of wine. The question being--is buying a $1200 bottle of wine immoral...and also, what does a $1200 bottle of wine taste like (seems it tastes pretty much like regular wine).
Daniel has a personable dry-humor voice that works well for this piece. He's honest in telling us that he was broke once and now, he's far from broke--think the Jim Carrey movie--yep, not even close. As his agent said to him, "The money train is pulling into your station" and it did.
And though it's completely a way to get new material, I enjoyed his experiment of buying this $1200 bottle of wine and inviting his poorest friends over to drink it with him. And when his poor friends didn't think it was immoral of him purchasing a $1200 bottle of wine, he said, "So you would purchase a $1200 bottle of wine," and they said "Never! But we're fine with you using your money to buy it."
What it made me think of are these odd purchases in our lives, the extravagant moments when we throw money at something we think we want, or do want and if we feel regret afterward or if we are still to this day thrilled with our purchase.
When I 29, I was at an antique shop and saw an old stained glass heavy wooden door from England. I asked my husband "Do you think that would fit in between the laundry room and the kitchen?" He said yes, not knowing what it cost. Great! I said, can that be my anniversary gift? Sure, he said. I paid $400 for that door I never measured, never flinched at the price or tried to bargain down. Five minutes later I was the owner of a hundred year old door that may or may not fit in my house.
Since then, that door (which did fit) has given me much writing material, photo opportunities in front of it, and just plain happiness as I look at it with the vinyl "6" I placed on top to represent our anniversary. If/when I leave this house, that door is coming with me, it could go on to a new life as a tabletop or interesting wall decoration. But maybe what it brought me was the realization that my spontaneous, my decisions from the heart have always been my best decisions. Every day it is a reminder that when I see something I want, I should act and trust more in my gut than my head. It's also a reminder that I was much more spontaneous before I had a child.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
KAHLO, FRIDA. 1927 portrait de miguel N Lira
* * *
Title: The Love Embrace Of The Universe, The Earth, Me, Diego And Mr Xolotl 1949
Ekphrastic poetry: Poems that are based on another form of art, such as paintings, sculptures or musical compositions.
Look over these paintings by Frida Kahlo. Think about the colors and images, what emotions they bring out in you. What in these paintings (if anything) haunts you in your life? Do they make you remember a dream you've had? Fear? Love? Desire? Pain?
What image do you focus on first? What image did you not notice?
Once you've spent some time with the paintings--
First: Write as a person or object within the painting.
Second: Write as the painter.
Third: Write as you, the poet, perceiving the art.
Your poem can either be created from one of these sections or may combine all three.
The museum was filled with images not by Frida, but of Frida.
On my desk lamp I have a magnet a friend gave me with an image of Friday that says "Passion" below it. What she does in her paintings, I want to do in my poetry.
Friday, March 02, 2007
A friend, who teaches college, is a poet and wife and raising two small children sent me that quote by email the other day. She said since reading it, it's changed her --she is now making a point to write every day, despite her time constraints, her busy schedule, her laundry, her job, her life.
The quote changed me too. Before my eye concerns in December, I was someone who wrote every day. Many times, I wrote "starts" to poems that never really went anyplace, but sometimes they did. Sometimes I worked on my children's book. Sometimes I started a new and crazy project, sometimes I wrote an article. But the point was, I was writing. I was a writer.Since getting out of my old habits, I haven't been writing much in the last couple months. In fact, I've noticed this disturbing trend where I choose other things over my writing—I’ve never done this before. Writing has always been the one thing when I'm doing it, that I don't think "Oh, I should be doing this..." and now I'm trying to avoid it? What am I afraid of? Am I just out of habit?
I've been talking like a writer and acting like a poet, but I haven’t been "in that flow" of writing, something that become an important and essential part of my day for many years up until December--like an athlete constantly training for her event, I showed up to my computer daily. Sometimes with energy and ideas, sometimes not. But every day, I wrote. Even if it was only 15 minutes before bedtime, I took whatever slice the day gave me.
So I think about saying that-- "I'm a poet," or "I'm a writer," and how easily we can throw around those terms. I don't say, "I'm a gymnast" because I was one in school, “I’m a softball player” because I wore a uniform and played second base, I don’t even say "I'm a violinist" because I took lessons for 7 years, but haven't picked up a violin for 5 years due to it warping in the garage from moisture. Yet I've been calling myself a writer or poet when I haven't been writing poems or much of anything.
I'm taking my job of writer more seriously again, I’m making myself *earn* that title. In the morning, I flip over my handmade "Writer at Work" on my door, grab a cup of coffee (black) and begin. If I find myself starting to be distracted with other things, I focus more deeply.
I'm even thinking of going to Home Depot and getting those big vinyl letters and putting that across my wall: A writer is someone who has written today.
Yesterday, even pressed for time due to the snow, I wrote a lot in a short period of time. I was in that place where time was the spinning hands of a clock on the wall and what I saw were the words in front of me as they fell across the page.
Yes, I'm returning to my life as a writer--not a student, a title that will be leaving me soon, or a "hobbyist," I term I've always disliked for anyone who writes. I'm not content to be a "dabbler," to be the person who "almost" wrote a poem--though this will happen to me many times. I need to be the writer who shows up and sees what happens and not fall into the complacency trap or become the procrastinator you meet at parties-"I'm planning on writing a novel someday..." Let me tell you, someday will never come because it's not today; it's a future place where a novel lies in bits and pieces. It will never be some day or soon, it will never been next week, or next weekend, or when the kids are bigger, or I'm retired. I'm realizing that the moment is today to be a writer.
Why I believe time is this limitless entity--well, it is, but I'm not. I'm a temporary fingerprint on its window. And I realize much of being a writer, is habit, is showing up and writing. I'm not going to be easy on myself if I want to call myself a writer or a poet, a writer or poet is one that has written today...and that's the deal I'll make with myself. I will write today.