Friday, April 29, 2005

Done and Done

Well, I did it. I dropped in the mail yesterday a manuscript and a publisher's address. I hope I put the correct one on the outside of the envelope.

This my first time for this scale of composition, and my expectations are scaled accordingly, but the learnings have been huge. I'll start writing about them when I stop recalling flaws in the submission package..

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Practice Poetry Prevention!

A friend forwards this from The Onion:

National Poetry Month Raises Awareness Of Poetry Prevention
NEW YORK—This month marks the 10th National Poetry Month, a campaign created in 1996 to raise public awareness of the growing problem of poetry. "We must stop this scourge before more lives are exposed to poetry," said Dr. John Nieman of the American Poetry Prevention Society at a Monday fundraising luncheon. "It doesn't just affect women. Young people, particularly morose high-school and college students, are very susceptible to this terrible affliction. It is imperative that we eradicate poetry now, before more rainy afternoons are lost to it." Nieman said some early signs of poetry infection include increased self-absorption and tea consumption.

And you thought Slate's observation of NatPoMo was harsh. Well, actually, Slate atones today with a summary of things they've said recently about poets and poems, and a list of every poem they've published. Guilt is such a difficult thing to manage.

Encouragement from WNYC

New York's Public Radio Station had a couple things of interest to poetry writers today:

an interview with Renee Montagne, Bruce Springsteen said "You're always writing about yourself... you hide it in a variety of ways, and you meld your voice with other lives." This is a message I've been preaching recently, especially to the kids in my workshops - you start with your own voice, but you don't have to stick to the truth or to your own experince in your poems. I'm not a huge Boss fan, and I think a lot of his newer stuff is message-focused to the exclusion of subtlety, but I do think his music exhibits this blending of voice pretty well.

Brian Lehrer is having a giveaway: call in with a poem, he'll send you a T-shirt. I didn't hear about this year's show live (a friend pointed it out to me), but I've heard some of it in the past. A question for practicing poets: Would you (a) call in with a poem of your own, taking the opportunity to publicize yourself to a broadcast audience, (b) call in with a good poem by another poet, taking the opportunity to publicize them to a broadcast audience, (c) call in with a humorous, light, or "made-for-the-general-public" poem, because that's really the audience for this kind of event, or (d) not call in, because events like this do little for poetry other than save $11 on some poet's wardrobe expenses?

I mulled it over all night and decided on (e): don't call during work hours. But that's hiding from the real question, isn't it?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bits and Pieces

From all over the map:

If the letters by Franz Wright in the new
Poetry are not a joke, they comprise a sad commentary on the meritocracy. Yes, I said "comprise".

Flipping channels this weekend, I stopped watching
Star Wars (Episode 4) during the commercial breaks in the games I was following because I was in the middle of rooting for the Mets and the Nets. If my luck spilled out from those games to the movie, Luke would've been toast. (By the way, did Leia really call Han "laser brain"? I must have heard that wrong. "Laser brain"?)

The Spring/Summer
32 Poems is available. I think you should go order one right now, but go read Geoffrey Brock's sonnet and decide for yourself. Deborah and the 32 Poems team were nice enough to credit me in the Research and Development group along with Jeffery Bahr and Jeannine Hall Gailey (both of whom have fine poems in the issue as well). I hope to do more in service for that honor soon.

Slate ran an article by
Billy Collins on e. e. cummings, asking "Is That A Poem?" I'm of two minds about Cummings. Some of his poems have been important to me forever, but I don't feel much need to reread them, the way I feel the need to reread, for example, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird every so often. Sounds like Steven Schroeder is of like mind on that point - we agree there's something in Cummings worth not forgetting. Thanks to Jilly Dybka at Poetry Hut for highlighting this (and a hundred other things I'd otherwise have missed).

Wil Wheaton is out of the tournament, but I expect a good story when he gets his hands on a computer that works.

Over in
The Poetic Life, a reader posits the ultimate unspoken sentiment: "Perhaps writer's block is simply a state where one has nothing to say. In which case, silence is the most useful thing. Elizabeth Lund evokes a preening peacock in reply.

If you get the impression I'm all over the place today, it's because I am. I've taken on a task that elevates my seriousness about this writing business. It's occupying the vast majority of the operational fraction of my brain, and no, I'm not ready to tell you about it.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Aren't You The One?

Lileks today notes he received a nice unexpected compliment from a someone he'd never met but who'd read and appreciated a recent column. It got him thinking:

Ninety-nine percent of the people who do actual work and make actual contributions to the world never get that out-of-the-blue atta-boy.

So I should give back: excuse me, aren’t you that firefighter? That emergency room nurse or admitting clerk? That policeman, that Reservist, that underpaid librarian, that park worker who picks up the stuff people throw in the creek, the guy who wipes the tables clean in the food court so I don’t have to put my elbows in someone else’s ketchup? Aren’t you that systems tech who makes sure my favorite website comes up every day when I want, the UPS driver who gets my stuff to my door and rings the bell, the gaffer who plugged in the cords so they could shoot that scene in the movie I want to see, the board operator at the radio station who sent the signal to the bird, the fellow behind the console in the theater who brought the spotlight up with practiced ease so the audience knew the show was starting? Excuse me, aren’t you that person who delivers the paper every morning?

Not a bad idea. Yesterday, after my final scheduled grade-school poetry workshop for the month, a number of students asked me for my autograph, though I'm clearly not someone they know or follow or read about in the papers. Which leads me to think the failure to appreciate thanksworthy tasks is a learned behavior.

Hmm. I just felt a crack form in my April writer's block.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Sweet Mytrle, I'm Tired

NatPoMo workshop day 2 is done. I did 5 40-minute workshops with sixth-graders today. Have I mentioned lately what an awesome job public school teachers do?

I had the most completely enjoyable and uplifting experience with these kids today. Sixth and surrounding grades are a great target because students are old enough to have some great creative moments, but haven't yet "learned" to hate poetry. If I can make it fun for them before it somehow becomes a chore, we may be on our way to expanding the future audience of poetry.

My goal whenever I do a class is to reach one student and leave them interested in writing and reading poetry after I leave. Imagine my glee when, as I was packing up, the principal stopped by and mentioned to me that a few students were actually discussing poetry at lunch. I could not possibly have asked for better.

But my goodness I'm pooped.

Here are some of the other poems I used in the workshop (other than the Malam poem I referenced below). I'm curious what other teaching poets think of these choices for this age group.

"How To Eat A Poem", Eve Merriam
"Steam Shovel", by Charles Malam
"The Garden Hose", by Beatrice Janosco (couldn't find a link that was true to the page)
"A Long Day of Rhyming", by Dean Koontz
"The First Dandelion", by Walt Whitman

I've used them several times now with some success, but I'm always open for ideas.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

No Room For Gloom; Poetry in Bloom

Well, Dana Gioia's predicting the end of civilized thought again (Thanks Poetry Daily for that little ray of sunstroke). Or still. But his idea that reading being in decline is the reason people are less informed on history and less able to write (among other failures) really misses the point for me (which I think lies somewhere in education: a need to better teach the process of critical analysis). But I'm not going to get into that now.

And the Book of the Month club is celebrating National Poetry Month by promoting its special edition of Leaves of Grass. I love Whitman as much as most people, but to me, this completely misses the boat on celebrating all the exciting things going on in poetry TODAY (like the NEW books that BOMC professes to want to sell you). But that's not for today either.

I had my first workshopping experience of the season yesterday and it was refreshing and recharging in that way that only working with children can be. There are too many high points to hit them all, but here are a few:

  • I do an exercise where I hand out flashcards with objects on them and have the students write about the thing on the card but never mention its name (I use the Charles Malam poem here, and others, as examples first). Then when volunteers read their poems aloud, we all guess at the thing they're writing about. When the exercise goes well, the guesses are all over the place, meaning the poem has left lots of room to create an appropriate image. We routinely had guesses that included the animate and inanimate, people and clothing, and of course, desserts.
  • To start the kids thinking, I like to get them to tell me what makes a poem. Usually I get "rhyme" and "rhythm" and lots of answers that point toward form. This discussion in this group of grammar schoolers actually led to the question: "Does a poem need to have words in it?" I don't care what your opinion of Vizpo (visual poetry - poetry specifically without words other than a title) is, that's a great, creative question.
  • In writing a comparison poem, the students found all sorts of interesting things to define themselves (and their friends, and their cars, and me...). I don't know if they all know what "metaphor" means, but they can sure all deliver one.
So much more, but I'm already late for doing other things, and I need to get to my own pen and capture the energy this class was so generous to give to me. Two more workshops coming up next week; more then.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Well, I Asked For It

Celebrating National Poetry Month by teaching workshops at three local grammar schools over the next 2 weeks. This is exactly what I wanted. Trouble is, I wanted it so I'd have the impetus I needed to complete the DESIGN of these workshops. So I've been focused on other things the last week, and am likely to be so for the next. I hope the school visits go well enough that I'm inspired to post snippets here; if you don't here from me for a while, I'm probably under a pile of erasers and Social Studies textbooks somewhere in New Jersey.

They do still use erasers, don't they?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Poetry By The Numbers

I'm continuing to detail my Poetry and Science workshop, which is targeted at grammar school kids. The plan:

  1. Introduce the premise with Goldbarth's "The Sciences Sing a Lullaby"
  2. Group warmup exercise: have the kids suggest interesting science facts and I'll suggest a "poetic line" about each. After 4-5 lines, have the students suggest lines based on each other's facts.
  3. Read "Earthling" by Billy Collins. "Amazing Fact" excercise: Write their own poems based on science facts that are interesting to them individually. If they get stuck, I have a formula (5 questions to answer which define the lines of the poem) that I can give them. Or maybe I should give them the formula with the assignment. Not sure. Volunteers then read.
  4. Read "Numbers" by Lisel Mueller. Have the students write a similar poem, using the numbers 1 through 5. Emphasize unusual use of the numbers, and forbid mention of the numbers in the poems. Volunteers then read.
  5. Close by reading a poem of mine called "Science Fair", inspired by my visit to a grammar school fair this year.

Does that sound like 50 minutes? I'm still developing my feel for how much to push writers at that age without making the task distasteful for them. And I haven't decided whether to use teachers as helpers or have them write and read poems, too. I think it would be encouraging for the students to hear their teachers' efforts. I think.

And I wonder if this will come across as geeky and cool or, well, geeky and uncool. Given the reputations of science and poetry at this age, I fear I know which is more likely.