Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Live On The Edge, Looking

"There's something Pound says somewhere, which argues that the experience of beauty comes from one's recognition of a thing's perfections, how it is what it is, not necessarily why. Why peculiarly invites a judgment which has most to do with one's own terms of understanding. In the poem, however, that place we are finally safe in, understanding is not a requirement. You don't have to know why. Being there is the one requirement."
- From the introduction to The Best American Poetry 2002


has happened

the world.
on the edge,


- Robert Creeley (1926-2005)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Errata and Manahatta

(Updated 3-31-05; I think I was confusing AAP with Poetry Daily)

Shame on me. A couple days ago I mentioned AAP's Poem-A-Day, but I hadn't taken the time understand the details of this year's program. I think it's a great gift that AAP will be exposing us to new poems this year. Maybe the poems selected will be from this list.

While I was verifying my mistake, I spent a few minutes on the AAP site to see what else I'd missed, and sure enough, found something worth calling your attention to: the DC Celebrates Walt Whitman exhibit. The events (especially the Leaves of Grass Marathon Reading) look to be terrific, and the Links page, filled with excellent Whitman references and other events celebrating the 15th anniversary of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, is another gift worth checking out.

Many thanks to Robin from AAP who took the time to find my mistake and correct it. Oh, and Robin, if you get a chance, please tell Accounts Receivable my annual dues are in the mail....

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Ethics of Memory

There's a very interesting piece by Susan Schultz up on Silliman's Blog today. It's extremely rare that I find poems written in response to the events of September 11, 2001 to be interesting anymore - forgive me for that, and remember I'm talking about the writing, not the emotion or the person behind the writing, and remember we've all read hundreds of poems on that subject by now. But The Untraumatized Man, from Portraits:Parables (TinFish Press) puts a fascinating character and a compelling prose poem style together for something that really struck me. I'll leave it to you to go get the whole poem, but the lines that stay in my head are:

If the newspaper is his daily prayer, he has failed to utter it. If there is an ethics of memory, his is incomplete.

Newspaper as prayer: Is news the way we pay homage to things larger than us? Ethics of memory: Is there an expectation that a society has a collective memory, at least of altering events?

Thoughtful stuff, written well.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

In Like Ilini, Out With Iambs

If you're a basketball fan, you just might be in the middle of the best month of your life. If you're a poetry fan, next month won't be so bad for you either. In addition to the National Poetry Month activities that you are personally planning (and you know who you are), be sure and sign up for the Academy of American Poets daily newsletter, which throughout April will include some old (read: public domain) poems introduced and appreciated by contemporary poets. It always interests me to find out what interests other poets. Any why. Always why.

As in: Why did Illinois put me through all that?

Friday, March 25, 2005

But Are They My Favorites?

So I'm getting ready for my annual pretense toward being a teacher, and I'm reminded of the one basic question asked by a student last year that I was embarrassingly and completely unprepared for: "What's your favorite poem?". It's an obvious question, and I couldn't think of one good response. I had made bookmarks with a short Robert Bly effort as a giveaway, and I made a lame effort along the lines of "there are so many great poems, I can't name just one, but here's a good one", but even as I said it, I knew the Bly piece wasn't my in my Letterman list.

There are poems that were important to me in the formative (pre-college) years of my interest in poetry; "
Jabberwocky" and "Kubla Khan" come to mind (clearly, music was most important to me here). Through college, which included my first serious classes in poetry, I collected some favorites which were more emotionally impactful, but no less musical ("Richard Cory", "Birches", "A High Toned Old Christian Woman"). Only after college did I really get to know the work of anyone writing after 1960. Harder to capture a short list of contemporary writers because the list is frustratingly eclectic and I always feel like some part of me (not to mention some poet I love) is underrepresented. Today I could easily include B. J. Ward's "Upon Learning That Hearts Can Become Stones" , Meg Kearney's "Creed", Lucille Clifton's "Adam Thinking" and "Eve Thinking" (which have to be taken together), Mark Doty's "Messiah (Christmas Portions)"... Tomorrow the list might be very different. I've got Pax Atomica, American Smooth, and Breath on my nightstand right now; who knows what I'll find there? And now I look back over this paragraph and I don't see Coleman Barks or Kim Addonizio or Maria Gillan... you see? I can't do it. But I can tell the kids the common things about all these poems that make them peers in my affection.

As soon as I figure out what those things are. I'm going to have to think about this some more.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Pax Abecedaria

I'm in the middle of my second reading of Campbell McGrath's Pax Atomica, which I'm enjoying greatly. The book is densely populated with cultural references, and these create an intriguing atmosphere; I feel like I'm at a late night poetry reading staged in front of a giant television laying a soft soundtrack of static and the voice of Ron Popeil. I think the shorter poems in the collection work better, but then I usually think shorter poems work better; it's a bias I admit to.

But I'm fascinated with the four (yes, FOUR) abecedarians in this collection of 22 poems. McGrath turns a simple (and too often simplistic) form on its head by presenting it 4 ways: backwards, interrupted (all the letters in order but in discrete irregular stanzas), eventual (lingering for several lines on certain letters) , and traditional (and a love song to Xena: Warrior Princess, besides). To me these alphabets, along with the repeated terza rima efforts, are like a sturdy fence on which the observational snapshots of F-Troop and Led Zeppelin and Clint Eastwood and Payless Shoes are hung - it's the care and respect for language that makes the content more meaningful. Very refreshing, since my most frequent argument of late is about writers "not burdened by" (read: not caring enough to apply) form and careful word choice.

The collection as a whole is discussed in a great short review (where I relearned the term "terza rima") by Gianmarc Manzione over at MiPOesias. There's also a nice interview with McGrath (from the great Poets Q&A series) at Smartish Pace.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Callin' on Me Irish

I never know what's appropriate, poetry-wise, to recognize a holiday. Especially one more associate in my neighborhood with cabbage and beer than the saint it's named after. But I'll resist the urge to rhyme "Killarney" again, put off until tonight the traditional viewing and instead direct you here:

Salmon Poetry, located in County Clare, is a fine publisher with a great website. Their catalog have many writers we know well on this side of the pond (Adrienne Rich, R. T. Smith, Jean Valentine...), as well as some writers I only know through Salmon. I'm particularly fond of Salmon for bringing me the latest collection of Ray Bradbury's poems; it sounds odd to say of someone so accomplished, but I think Bradbury's poems, like his short stories, are underappreciated because his novels are so great. What a great problem to have.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Float Like a Rebounder, Rhyme like Ali

It's hard not to be encouraged by something like this: The Washington Wizards basketball team is sponsoring an afternoon of poetry and basketball. For $45, you get a 1-hour poetry workshop, tickets to the basketball game a reading by player & poet Etan Thomas, a copy of Thomas's book More Than An Athlete from Moore Black Press and a chance to meet Thomas and have him sign the book.

Thomas has been fitting a book tour into his NBA schedule for the last two months, and read some of his poetry on a kids' show called NBA Jam (NBC). You can like or dislike the work itself (I think he's got some talent, but check out the scrolling text and audio tracks of his stuff at the links above and decide for yourself), but I don't think you can't deny the value of having him present himself as a poet, and introduce names like Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez and Edward Hirsch through his bio to a young audience that might never have heard those names before.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Apple + Gravity = Poetry?

As National Poetry Month (and Young People's Poetry Week therein) are just around the bend, I've been soliciting for opportunities to reach out to local grammar schools and help keep poetry fun. Last year, with a great deal of help from some very generous artists, I did a basic 1-hour Introduction to Poetry for 3rd through 5th and 6th through 8th graders. It was extraordinary fun, one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, and I'll be using that same workshop this year at (at least) one other school. But... that intro isn't me.

Well, maybe it's me, but it's also a dozen or a hundred other people, most with more teaching experience or more literature experience or both. I admit it: I'm more than a little self-conscious about representing myself as a poet and teacher when there are so many good poets and teachers around; I am primarily a technical professional, an engineer - at my center, that's what I do, and that's what I'm good at. What teaching experience I have is for the most part with high school and college students considering careers in science and engineering.

So I don't know why I didn't see this before: Poetry By The Numbers; poems in response to science. Think: Science fairs are among the biggest events in grammar schoolers' lives. What are the things that younger kids are most impressed by? Simple experiments: vinegar and baking soda, putting out a candle with carbon dioxide. And math tricks: seeing how to tell a number is divisible by 9, learning the secret of the count-the-squares puzzle. And the length of Venus's year, and the magic of chlorophyll, and how a spider eats, and the cork-and-needle compass, and what makes a volcano and on and on and on. What better inspiration than these?

And, more's the joy, maybe I can connect poetry to something else in their lives, something they treasure and remember, so that when later they are forced to recite "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in front of their snickering classmates, maybe they'll remember poetry is more than "the valley of death".

I'll talk more about class soon, as I finish writing up the outline. Sneak preview: It relies on a terrific anthology.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Donate your book, increase your audience

A pretty neat idea from Jeff Winke at Upper Iowa University. Courtesy of Spiral Bridge. Contact Jeff directly for more information.

Seeking poets who might have an extra copy of their chapbook or book they'd be willing to donate to a lucky student. Each week, during my 8-week undergraduate poetry class, there will be a drawing to see who wins the book a poet has been generous enough to donate. The winner will be responsible for reading your book and selecting a favorite poem to read to the class the following week. If you like, contact information and book price should be included so that others in the class can buy your book. Students will be STRONGLY encouraged to buy the books of poets who, after all, were kind enough to contribute a book to their education. If you're willing, please send your book (autographed would be nice) and contact and price details to

Jeff Winke
Upper Iowa University - Milwaukee Center
6610 W. Greenfield Ave.
West Allis, WI 53214

Jeff Winke

Friday, March 04, 2005

Rock & roll, pure and simple

I always have music running through my head -- always. It begins with blues and it finds a groove and locks in tight, rock steady, chorus upon chorus of the blues . . . always the guitar. Sometimes drums kick in, and bass, and I'm walking along, and rock & roll is the whole reason I'm alive. Maybe the guitar gets moody with reverb, a little overdrive, not too much -- just enough to give it an edge. -- The Del Ray Method, Chapter 1

If you're around Hoboken NJ on Sunday at 3, please stop into Symposia Bookstore to hear Mike Fleming read from his rock & roll novel, The Del Ray Method. This Spoken Word Series event is sponsored by The Center for the Performing Arts at DeBaun Auditorium.


This one's for the geek half of my audience (he said with overestimative confidence).

Two poetry links of interest to people who do
lateral thinking puzzles for fun on Sunday mornings (and you know who you are):

Underway for some time now, the
Darwinian Poetry experiment continues to use "natural selection" to systematically assemble new poems from the best liked parts of older poems. The study is 22 generations old and has accumulated nearly 200,000 votes as the input for its selection process; poems which get many votes live on and spawn, poems which get fewer votes die off. Now when I say "poem", I mean this:

where fall beautiful
beating beyond the
loneliness till love the doubted pressed in
mouth doesn't comes foreign
a love strangely motionlessness
(poem #17071)

I don't know if it's poetry (though it's better than some stuff I've read from real live people), but it's interesting, and it certainly is fuel for the creative engine. I'm afraid the experiment has lost some of its momentum (I first wrote about it in June, 2003), but it's still worth a look.

Substituting web trawling for personal opinion, Finnish poet
Leevi Lehto has created a Google Poem Generator. Your search string and selections on a few variable are pressed through the Google index and made into poems. These can be fascinating - don't be surprised to get some real found poems - and also great fuel. While you're on The Google Poem site, be sure to check out everything on Lehto's menu. Thanks to Ron Silliman for this link.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Fifty Words

From today's The Writer's Almanac:

(Dr. Seuss) went on to publish a series of fairly successful books for older children and then, in 1955, an educational specialist asked him if he would write a book to help children learn how to read. Seuss was given a list of 300 words that most first graders know, and he had to write the book using only those words. Seuss wasn't sure he could do it, but as he looked over the list, two words jumped out at him: "cat" and "hat."

Seuss spent the next nine months writing what would become The Cat in the Hat (1957). That book is 1,702 words long, but it uses only 220 different words. Parents and teachers immediately began using it to teach children to read, and within the first year of its publication it was selling 12,000 copies a month.

A few years later, Seuss's publisher bet him $50 that he could not write a book using only 50 different words. Seuss won the bet with his book Green Eggs and Ham (1960), which uses exactly 50 different words, and only one of those words has more than one syllable: the word "anywhere." It became the forth best-selling children's hardcover book of all time.

Wow. I write about my kids a lot, and I write poems addressed to them, but I've not done a lot where I seriously consider children my audience and select my words accordingly. When I did my first workshop in a school last year, I had something of a hard time selecting some of my own work to include. I blamed it on language (I have a tendency toward the Latinate), but later thought I feared the brutal honesty of the third grade shooting my work down. I think I'll visit the Young People's Poetry Week poetry starters and see if I can compose one from their prompt words; that might help me figure it out.
I wonder if I could use the fifty words in Green Eggs and Ham and make something interesting out of them. I think I'll try that, too.