This week, poets were pondering time and memory (well, OK, poets are pretty much always pondering time and memory) in between trading tips on how to start a poem, how to know when it’s finished, how to promote a book, and — most of all — what to read.
Unable to sleep, I sit before
the heartless brilliance of the screen
with the real-world darkness
hovering, fearful but persistent,
at my back. It seems as if time
has packed her bags and left
for the coast and then beyond.
I take off my glasses, knuckle away
the mess of my tears. And then,
like importunate drunks through
a suddenly opened door, the geese
Dick Jones, Their Voices in the Night
Spring’s been happening in fits and starts–blossoms one minute, wind-strewn petals the next. I walk a nearby trail most mornings, and on Tuesday, Woods Creek churned and roared from heavy rains; parts of the path were massive puddles, and the lowest bridge was half-underwater. The next day was frigid; others have balmy and still. National Poetry Month basically occurs during the year’s moody adolescence.
Lesley Wheeler, News flash: in April, poet feels moody
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share on writing?
A~Writing is a solitary act, but it’s equally important to actively seek, and maintain, an outward focus in order to inspire and inform one’s writing. Connect with other writers, both face-to-face and online (it’s never been easier); be an active participant in your local writing scene; attend writing workshops, poetry readings, literary events, festivals; support the work of others (it’s not a one-way street); live life (it’s the richest writing material I know). And, read far more poetry than you can ever write.
Jayne Stanton, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog
One of the writing strategies I like to use almost every time I begin a draft is to generate a list of words from another source, from a book of poetry or fiction or from almost anything written that’s lying about. Sometimes there’s some intentionality and sometimes not. I look for words that aren’t in my personal lexicon–not that I don’t know them, but I may not think to use them. Then I prop up that list of words in front of me at the computer or on my lap. SOMETIMES a word on that list will generate an entire poem.
I’m always looking for a way in–and about 80% of the time I’d say, my poems spring from a list. There’s nothing proprietary about a list of words from another source, but I love how the list pushes me in a new direction or actually becomes the prompt or allows me to use much fresher language than I might otherwise. It eliminates hum-drum, I hope.
I’ve divined words from poetry books like Break the Habit by Tara Betts and Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, and Pattiann Rogers’ book, Holy Heathen Rhapsody, and even a fiction book, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I still marvel at what gets spit out on the page. I’ve read through entire books circling words as I read or just found and used a single longer poem. Rarely am I looking for a specific type of word for a specific subject. Rather, the goal is to gather words that do not seem to fit together or the subject, if there is one. The list IS my entry to the draft whether I’m writing about Frida Kahlo, the hospice caregiver bathing my mother, or my brother’s childhood clubhouse.
Gail Goepfert, Behind the Purple Door–One Way In
Of course, invariably, each retyping meant a new re-entry, a complete opportunity to alter, change, fudge, reconsider, letter by letter, the whole poem and its possibilities. Even if you didn’t change a thing, it was a true revision opportunity for the poem. I also enjoyed how it was to re-enter those poems that way, too. Maybe it was the punctuation of the line with the return of the carriage, the clacking of each letter, the meticulous folding the manuscript into thirds to fit into the envelope. That slowness, that luxury, that inefficiency seems so distant now.
Jim Brock, Old Inefficiencies, Old Joys
A month or so later the audiobook was finished. The recording was done by Lily Ricciardi, one of eBookit’s professional readers. She has a beautiful voice and did a great job. The book is reproduced in its entirety except, of course, for the Table of Contents, the bio notes, and the Index.
I wondered initially how someone might use an audiobook of this sort, as opposed to, say, a novel. But it seems that people are enjoying it as they go walking and as they pound away on the treadmill. Some listen and learn in bed. Someone told me she begins her morning writing session by listening for 10 minutes; what she hears then inspires her writing that day. Excellent! Others listen while traveling in the car or plane. Obviously, I had a lot to learn about audiobooks.
Diane Lockward, The Crafty Poet Goes Audible
People sometimes ask me how they might know when a poem is “Done.” I resist that term, actually; I think of poems as ideas gathered to the consciousness of the poet. The text on the page (or as delivered live, in readings) is always just the best possible approximation the ‘poem’ available to that poet at the given moment. There’s no one definitive version of a poem.
The practical advantage of that attitude is that I’m pretty easygoing about accepting other people’s edits or even typos in reproduction. Poems aren’t like cars; you can’t ding their bodywork or crack their glass. Poems are clouds you get to ride, if you’re lucky.
Sandra Beasley, Heirloom (Old Poem / New Poem)
It’s been a while since I read her work, and though I often think of Ruth Stone (1915-2011) along the lines of girls in dresses of Alice blue, and mares beneath the apple trees, I was pleasingly surprised at how bawdy Stone’s poetry is. Men line up like silverback gorillas at the counter of the donut shop. At the bus station, “two couples are not just kissing / they are dry fucking.” In these poems we are not allowed to forget that we have bodies. A younger sister lies in the grave, her breasts, “wizened flaps.” A husband dead of suicide haunts the poems (an insistent “you”). Time doesn’t merely pass, but runs through our fingers as we clutch at what cannot be held onto. The title of the book, Ordinary Words, seems to insist on the humble subjects and (sometimes) plain speech of the poems. But I tiptoe through these poems, never sure where a trap will spring open.
Bethany Reid, Ruth Stone’s Ordinary Words
I learned to vanish, was saved by my knack
for flying away with fluttering sleeves
and hair through wet grass and over trestles,
falling, and hiding again. A vessel
is coming, I will leave. My mother grieves.
Light and shadows fold themselves around me;
feathers brush my face, erase memory.
PF Anderson, Kaguyahime Sonnet
Why do some things hold in our memories when others go? Was it less painful for my mother to think of me as the young girl she could dress in nice clothes and whose hair was consistently combed? Was her memory loss entirely organic or was there something else involved? And why, oh why, can I remember so little from certain periods of my life? What have I put into storage and then thrown away the key?
The first poem of Every Atom includes the lines: “The world we are born into / is not the one that clings to us as we leave.” We change the world by moving through it, by the stories we choose to tell, by the ever-widening ripples of our actions. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself of what my world contained during different times. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself who I was in those worlds.
Sometimes I don’t recognize any of it. But there it is, in my own handwriting, like a river ebbing and pulsing, continual and irreversible.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The River of Memory
An amalgam of ground pecans, chopped apples,
red wine, and nutmeg
primes us to recall the taste of mortar—
the timeworn saga of servitude and how despots’
sovereignties always hinge on slavery.
But instead, it is sweet as honey
and reminds me that all history
is gloss, and how recollection, like nostalgia,
adds false notes of harmony to bitter herbs.
Risa Denenberg, Charoset and Bitter Herbs
The poet community is one less. I confess I did not personally know Sam Hamil, but I knew of him. I knew some of his rugged past that probably had a lot to do with the person he was. I became acquainted with him during the Poets Against the War lead up to U.S. Bombing Iraq. When I think of Copper Canyon Press I think of Sam. When I think of Sam, I think of Copper Canyon Press. It’s that simple. Sam was all about peace. There was a quiet spirit that resided in Sam, but Sam also had the ability to unleash tremendous indignation where appropriate. One thing I don’t think I ever saw in Sam was much optimism. His worldview of governments including and perhaps especially our own was highly pessimistic. War, hate, violence, greed, corruption. These were things that kept his vision from seeing a reason for optimism. But Sam gave us poetry. His gift to us all, are words that will continue to speak to us if only we will listen.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Schizophrenia is in Full Bloom this Spring
Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?
A~I like the poetry itself. The writing, the revising, the reading, the submitting, the independent non-corporate publishing, the sharing, the interpretation, the connecting to others through the poetry. Poetry as expression, poetry as art, poetry as emotion, poetry as questioning, poetry as exploring.
I dislike aspects of the poetry scene that feel too close for comfort to some sort of popularity contest involving group attacks or judgment calls. Poetry can be political in many different, powerful ways, but I don’t like the forming of groups outside of the poetry that take a side and lump other sides together and judge them and try to send other poets to jail.
I’m a small scale individual poet, not a large scale judge.
Juliet Cook, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog
The conversation in this lovely book between text and image is direct and intense, without seeming constricted or constrained. Although its visual and verbal components are fully capable of standing alone, together they make magic. Seasoned and grave, yet crackling with irony and pleasure, these poems are also erudite, salted with references to Duchamp (a “nude descending an escalator”); Orpheus (a narrator who “turned back to see you disappear”); and Turner (“the red buoy bobbing on the waves.”) Their engagement with the paintings yields a tapestry of responsive, but imaginative, tropes, such as the structure of matter, fragmentation, the entangled relationship between creation and destruction – and, of course, static. This book handily refutes the counsel (mentioned in “where was it I”) of those “frozen in place” to “stay inside the lines.”
This! On “breath to oblivion no ladder no chaser” by Charles Borkhuis–guest blog post by Susan Lewis at TrishHopkinson.com
Think about Browning’s My last duchess. There’s a poem about the predatory male gaze if ever there was one. But whose gaze is turned on the Duke, and whose on the woman whose portrait the Duke is showing off? What is the poet assuming about the duchess? Or think about Philip Larkin’s The less deceived and how he imagines (gazes on) the little street girl abducted and taken into fulfilment’s desolate attic. At every turn I feel the ground slipping away from under my feet.
At this point, I’m going to go back to an earlier post, (December 2014) in which I was equally uncertain of what I was arguing about or why. I started with a quotation from George Eliot…who had to assume a male persona to get published.
“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary life it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well-wadded with stupidity.”
I went on to write about my response to work by Pascale Petit, Kim Moore, Fiona Benson and Wendy Pratt, and to wonder whether I could access their experience of the world via their poems. I wrote:
“I read these poems, and then I read what I’ve written in the last two years and I see what isn’t there, and I wonder if I have access to what’s missing. Just to explain why I chose that opening quotation from George Eliot; for the last 18 months or so I have grown gradually more deaf. It’s something that can be dealt with, and will be, but at the moment I hear the world through a soft sieve. I miss the point of conversations and questions if I’m not attending. It’s like listening to French. I recognise songs on the radio by the bass lines and drum patterns but I can’t hear the whole tune. And now these poets. It’s as though they’ve shown me emotional registers and harmonies that I can’t hear or feel for myself, as though, in George Eliot’s word I’m ‘well-wadded’. I’m writing rhetoric and well-observed landscapes, and anecdotes, but I’m not accessing the whole picture.”
John Foggin, Here’s looking at you: the male gaze
The cacophony of voices – high & shrill, low & gruff –
pressed in on her as the knobs of her spine pressed
into the wall, mouths opening and closing
like hungry baby birds, insatiable and demanding.
Beneath the din she heard the whisper of leaves
rubbing in the breeze a promise of disappearance,
of peace caressing her ramrod body. Her eyes
found the door as the sea of prattle parted.
She gathered her resolve and lifted one foot.
Charlotte Hamrick, Not a Party Girl
Q: Readings make me anxious – how many do I have to do?
A: I say in the book PR for Poets that many poets sell most of their books through readings, and though that’s true, there are plenty of other options that I outline in the book for you to sell books, including sending out an e-mail newsletter, book postcards, or talking to professors about teaching your book. Every book is unique, and every poet is unique. Some people are extroverted and confident public speakers – those people should do lots of readings as long as it makes them happy. But if they’re torture for you, do one or two readings in places you know you have lots of support and see how it goes from there.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Q&A for PR for Poets
I think that poetry offers what Plato calls psychagogia— “an enlargement of the soul” in C.S. Lewis’ definition, or see John Joseph Jasso’s dissertation chronicling it as “the idea that rhetoric can lead souls to their own betterment; that is, guide them in an ascent along a metaphysical hierarchy through beauty, goodness, and truth to a fuller participation in being.” Poetry provides such enlargement by permitting the reader to imaginatively undergo transformation via images and places the poem offers, to experience the turn in the poem’s rhetoric, to feel ‘along with’ the poem’s nature. The poem is a threshold at which the reader stands and makes the choice of whether or not to enter.
Ann E. Michael, Imaginative, not imaginary
This is all to say that sometimes dramatic lit does exactly what it’s supposed to do: remove us from our own lives, provide catharsis, and then place us back into our lives with a better sense of perspective, a little more wisdom, and a little more clarity — or even more with more confusion, but a confusion that lets you know a veil has been lifted, and that somehow you’re un-seeing something that was distorted (for you) previously.
And it’s nothing short of amazing these days when something works the way it’s supposed to work. And that’s not pure cynicism — it’s more celebration than anything else. I really love other people’s writing.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, When You Come, Then You’ll See: Real Drama! (i.e. Not My Own)
And all the cycles in between- the river running dry
for fifteen years, the earth knotted in stubbornness
loops of suffering, the cycle of mourning, the womb
stretched and inelastic filled with the husk of grief.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Cycles