Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Soundtrack of Our Lives


Alright, maybe it does look a little strange to be embraced by the page -  but in a good way. The following is a quote by Ed Byrne, founding editor of the Valparaiso Poetry Review.  Diane Lockward interviews him this week on her blog and I'm taken with how this applies to all good writing, not only poetry. I'm in the first week of Spring Quarter and I so want to instill in my students a passion for writing, an understanding that communication with others takes a certain kind of attentiveness. Thank you Ed for making my inchoate idea come alive. Here's Ed:

"If there were an aspect of my writing that I find myself enjoying the most, the musicality of the work would be a primary candidate. As you indicate, I like to employ various devices that more subtly assimilate sound as a central element: internal rhyme, near rhyme, alliteration, assonance, or consonance. I enjoy adding onomatopoeic words as well. At times, I even playfully place words that are anagrams within lines of poems just for the ways they resemble one another in the reader’s eye and maybe the reader’s ear (i.e., “form” and “from,” “trace” and “crate,” or “grown” and “wrong”).

I’m also aware of purposely trying to have the speaker’s voice group similar sounding words or phrases and use vowels or consonants that imitate the tone of the content in the poem, perhaps contemplative or combative—whether with soothing softer sounds or the introduction of harder and harsher notes. Again thinking cinematically, I compare such an aural motif to soundtrack music that echoes the mood in a movie.

I regularly remind my students that writers must love words for their denotative meanings and connotative suggestions, as well as for their historic or cultural associations. I know I do. Moreover, they should be prepared to exploit the musicality of the language, appealing to the ear as well as the eye. If our selections are accurate and effective, each facet of the perfect word in any line of writing could contribute to the overall goal of evoking emotional and intellectual responses from readers."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Escape Into Life


I love this photograph that the editors of Escape Into Life chose to accompany my poems. They've been kind enough to ask for a collection of poems from my new collection. It's strange, but seeing five of my poems together one after the other seems almost like overkill. Maybe it's similar to eating too much cake at the party. Better to keep a little behind, that way we leave wanting more. I like reading poems on line, but I tend to only need a taste of a writer. Call me old fashioned, but I need the smoothness of the cover, the curl of the page. And yet, and yet -- this linking photographs with poems does have a strong appeal. This is all to say: here are five poems from The Alchemist's Kitchen. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Book: A Wreath of Down and Drops of Blood - by Allen Braden


Allen Braden's book has arrived and it's deserving of praise! Here's a favorite poem of mine. I admire how Allen's casual voice seduces me into thinking that poetry pulses from then pen to the page, but it's clear these are finely wrought poems, deserving of attention.


Taboo Against the Word Beauty, Epistolary Version Riding the Chicago Loop

Dear Kevin:

The elevated train's not called "El" but "l"
As in Lucky, Lonely, or Love. In a posh bar
Beauty kept reaching across her husband
To stroke my arm. They'd been married
long enough he didn't mind or notice.
No kidding about love on Dearborn either.
"Give them your heart, nt your wallet."
Seems everyone on the street has needs:
Spare change; sponsor a child, hold me.
One man shows me the scar on his face.
A knife fight in prison. He knows I have
Mercy. Anymore, he's that pane of glass
Detached from Walgreen's windowsill.
I look through it, then step around.


Allen Braden

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Art of Revision: President Obama's Recent Speech


I just couldn't resist this from Nicholas Kristoff's recommendation. If you double-click on this image you can see the larger picture which shows specific word changes. Also, I am completely enamored with that slightly curved index finger. I want to show this photograph to my students (after spring break) to show them that even President Obama has to revise. Actually, "has to" is the wrong sentiment. It's the joy of getting it right, picking the gorgeous word in a line of adequate words. Nobody gets it right the first time, and here's the proof!

Revising poetry is a long time obsession of mine -- necessary as bread and wine to my writing life. If Madeline DeFrees hadn't taught me the (at the time) painful art of revision, I never could have advanced as a poet. On Sheila Bender's Writing It Real on-line journal I first published an article on revision which later was reprinted in Poem, Revised. If you're interested, you can read the beginning of the essay here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hungry for Poetry? Favorite Food Poems


I've had an idea for awhile, that if I were to write poems about mouth watering meals, I may not need to eat as much. Tempting as it is, I have yet to put the "Poems Instead of Profiteroles" diet to the test In the meantime, I am interested in hearing about your favorite food poems -- or better yet -- challenging you to write a food poem during the next month as part of National Poetry Month. For awhile, every poem I wrote had dark chocolate or Russian black bread show up. One reason this happens is that food directs us immediately into the land of the senses. I also find an incredible range of music in mandarin, lasagna, apricot, al la mode, mocha creams.

Here is a food poem

Da Capo

Take the used-up heart like a pebble
and throw it far out.

Soon there is nothing left.
Soon the last ripple exhausts itself
in the weeds.

Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water, and herbs.

Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.
You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.

                        --- Jane Hirshfield

So often food stands in for grief, for lost love, for an avenue back to the living -- as it does in this poem. Do you write food poems? Do you have a favorite one? Feel free to post them here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Writer's Life: In Community with Other Writers


Poets for Penguins has a nice ring to it, I think. Tonight, I'm thinking about what it means to be a poet in community. This question has me thinking about the different ways that poets can support each other. What does it mean to be a contributing citizen to the country of poetry? How do we pay our literary dues?

I spent today with my friend Kelli Agodon, author of the forthcoming Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room and a poet who has done much for the cause of poetry. Right now she is spearheading the Great Poetry Giveaway to encourage bloggers to give two books of poetry away during National Poetry Month. More information appears here on this post.

Elizabeth Bradfield, who co-edits Broadsided Press, is another poet who brings writers and artists together. She is another poet who I believe does much to further a community that cares about engaging artists and poets around the world. Then there's Poets for Peace, the organization begun by poet Ilya Kaminsky and lawyer Paloma Cappana in the 1990's during the Balkan Wars.

I could go on naming other wonderful poets who have taken it upon themselves to further the cause of poetry, peace, and community because there are many other wonderful poets and projects. I am especially interested in this subject as I will be writing a keynote speech this week on the topic. If you have other projects I should look at, please leave me a message or send an email. Too often poets (and other writers) are seen as anti-social attic dwellers. My goal is to show creative examples of the poet in the world, one who is very much alive and active.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Writer's Life: Thinking about Ireland the Day After St. Patrick's Day




I don't know a better country to visit as a poet than Ireland. Did you know writers in Ireland pay no taxes? Did you know taxi drivers can recite Yeats to you as they negotiate Dublin Streets and perhaps point out the statue of Patrick Kavanagh contemplating the River Liffey? I've been to Ireland twice and am seriously contemplating a return visit. My first visit was to an artist residency, the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Newbliss. I spent almost a month in "the farmyard" - which meant I had my own apartment complete with kitchen and teapots. My next trip was to Galway where I was a featured poet at the Cuirt Literary Festival that happens each year in early spring. The international mix of writers and honestly friendly Irish staff, made for one of the best events I've ever participated in. For an entire week, the city is given over to book events of all different kinds. The local hospital hosts an event called Poets for Patients and a city center pub puts on a lively music and poetry Sunday brunch.

It is true that both my visits coincided with unusually blue skies and warm weather.

And it seems only right to end with an Irish poem. Here is one from the Galway poet, Geraldine Mills:



Turner in January

How a box built to hold the dark
so that nothing of the day steals in
opens into January light;

spills out colour beginnings
a man who sold skies,
pencil and wash across the page

dissolved into tinted mist
ships, domes, bridges

so that Great Yarmouth Harbor
is barely there, Lake Lucerne
or Hastings

and how as light stretches
it lengthens its own dark.

           Geraldine Mills
           Toil the Dark Harvest

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Poetry Book Giveaway 2010: A Poem from Natasha Tretheway


Here's a poem from Bellocqs Ophelia to interest you in Natasha Tretheway's work and the National Poetry Month Poetry Book Giveaway. If you don't have a blog, please know that you can still enter! Just leave a comment that has your email address so there is a way to get in touch with you. You may need a gmail account to sign up on blogger. I will do some sleuthing and find out for you. Meanwhile, here is a poem from my favorite of Tretheway's three strong collections. Natasha Tretheway won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for her collection, Native Guard. She was 41 years old at the time.

(Self) Portrait

------- March 1912


On the crowded street I want to stop
time, hold it captive in my dark chamber ---
a train's sluggish pull out of the station,
passengers waving through open windows,
the dull faces of those left on the platform.
Once, I boarded a train; leaving my home,
I watched the red sky, the low sun glowing --
an ember I could blow into flame -- night
falling and my past darkening behind me.
Now I wait for a departure, the whistle's
shrill calling. The first time I tried this shot
I thought of my mother shrinking against
the horizon -- so distracted, I looked into
a capped lens, saw only my own clear eye.


This is actually the final section of a longer poem, "Storyville Diary," with each section a 14 line epistolary poem -- some implied letters to a friend back home, some implied letters to the self. I love how "Ophelia's" story is told throughout the book and that she moves from being object to subject. In other words, she learns photography while Bellocq is photographing her and the other prostitutes of the house, but she then moves to the space behind the camera. The book begins with two epigraphs; this one from Susan Sontag. I thought about using it for my book as well .

"Nevertheless, the camera's rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses."

I will leave you to ponder on that tonight.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Poetry Book Giveaway 2010: Getting Prepped for National Poetry Month


And here we go. Poet Kelli Agodon over at Book of Kells is reinterpreting a cool project that bloggers in the visual arts world have been doing for awhile. The idea is that giving something of value away (a book of poems or a piece of handmade jewelery) benefits both the artist and the audience. Starting tonight and continuing through the month of April, I will be collecting names of people who leave comments on my blog (yay! I love, love, love, receiving comments) and two of those lucky people will receive a free book of poems.

According to Kelli, it will work nicely to have one of the books be one of mine and the other be a book by a poet that I am strongly influenced by. So if you want a free book of poems leave me comments on my blog as often as you would like and I will put your name in the Poetry Book Giveaway. It doesn't matter where you live, I will post the book to you free of charge. Trust me, I will be participating as a blog reader as well as a blog writer.

So which books will I choose? The first one is pretty easy ... ta-da! Still hot off the press is The Alchemist's Kitchen published by White Pine Press this month. 


Carolyn Forche writes: "This is art in the light of conscience, as Marina Tsvetaeva has written, voicing the sufferings of Somalia, Sarajevo, and Srebrenicia, history and its black ash of question marks yet it is also an art of praise."

Brian Turner states: "These are poems of praise and wonder graced by a delicate touch."



My second book will be Bellocqs Ophelia by Natasha Tretheway because it is a book I admire again each time I read it. Tretheway won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Native Guard, but I think this book is even better. It is the collection that made me a believer in ekphrastic poems. She took the tradition and made it new. This a book that teaches me how to be a better poet. Let the comments begin!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

TriQuarterly - 45 Years!


Yes, the cover is beautiful in its art deco style; but it is also funereal. TriQuarterly will no longer be produced with paper and ink after this spring. This issue, which celebrates the journal's 45 years of publication, is also the last one by longtime editor Susan Firestone Hahn. By luck, fate, or happenstance, I have two poems included in this issue as does the short story writer Midge Raymond (whose book of short stories I reviewed here on 1 January). Poems by Rick Barot are another highlight of this issue --- as is the epigraph by Dr. Seuss. This is an issue worth holding on to.

Poems on Aging - brought to you by Carol Anne Duffy and The Guardian


Today's Guardian newspaper (UK)  features poems on aging. Britain's Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, introduces a variety of poems that she invited "senior poets" to submit. It's Mothers' Day weekend in the UK and so Duffy uses the occasion to praise aging. Or is it merely acceptance? I know my latest book has many poems that take how to deal with aging as their jumping off point. It's a subject I've always been obsessed with. I remember turning seventeen my senior year of high school and noticing that my knuckles were changing, my fingers no longer the fingers of a child. This realization depressed me. I've never been very good with change - although there's been plenty of it in my life.

I love "sulk of a wet summer" and "weight of wet silk" are my favorite images here -- really the music of this poem is what calls me back again and again. Gillian Clarke is in her seventies, I wonder if this is a poem that comes from age? I hope to be writing in my seventies - and still growing blue hydrangeas.

Blue Hydrangeas, September
By Gillian Clarke

You bring them in, a trug of thundercloud,
neglected in long grass and the sulk
of a wet summer. Now a weight of wet silk
in my arms like her blue dress, a load
of night-inks shaken from their hair –
her hair a flame, a shadow against light
as long ago she leaned to kiss goodnight
when downstairs was a bright elsewhere
like a lost bush of blue hydrangeas.
You found them, lovely, silky, dangerous,
their lapis lazulis, their indigoes
tide-marked and freckled with the rose
of death, beautiful in decline.
I touch my mother's skin. Touch mine.


Born 1937 in Cardiff, Clarke is a poet, playwright, editor and translator. Her most recent book is At the Source (2008). She is the national poet of Wales and lives on a smallholding in Ceredigion.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Favorite Poem for Thursday Night


I know I am not alone. The book And Her Soul Out of Nothing by Olena Kalytiak Davis seems to have captivated a wide variety of 21st century poets. This poem is one of the first that I kept re-reading and re-reading. What I did not know (but should have!) is that Lascaux is a set of intricate caves in the town of Lascaux, France. It's known for these intricate caves and the cave paintings like the one I've posted above.

WELCOME TO LASCAUX

What I'd like to suggest
are chimney swifts and charm quarks
pinochets, jaruzelskis
the upanishads.

What seeped into the cave of your brain
while you weren't looking?

What did they manage to sketch on the walls, drop
on the floor: the street
art, the railroad ties, the graffiti: FUCK YOU
and the way you always want
to lay something down.

What I have decided is to choose
to remember only the good things:

the way he used a blowtorch
as a means of prayer, the way isinglass
is an adhesive, an agent
that clarifies. The way she told time
by checking a mirror, then checking
on her arms.

Olena Kalytiak Davis

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

And From the Other Side of the Desk - Poet as Editor

Is this what editors do? She seems to be slicing a book in half with her sword, taming the words or destroying them? At the moment I am guest editing a portfolio of ekphrastic poems for the fall issue of Crab Creek Review. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's fascinating, and many times I wonder what I have gotten myself into...

I've been amazed at the volume of poems that come into my email box (a box set aside just for this project) and the various ways that people care to identify themselves. To be honest, I've also been amazed at my reactions to the wide variety of  personas. Here is some advice from one poet temporarily turned editor. Three easy to follow rules and you will be ahead of the poetry pack.



1. Do follow the guidelines. I wanted poems that were copied in the body of an email because it allows me to work much faster and to avoid any unintended (or intended?) viruses. I also have a tight page constraint and asked for poems to be less than 30 lines long. Unfortunately, only about 50% of the poets followed these directions. Sometimes when I've emailed and asked folks to re-send they have refused! Take it or leave it one guy said.

2. Be polite. For example, don't tell the editor that they better not change a word, but they can fix typos as required. The editor is not your secretary and your secretary should not be talked down to like this either. Do poets really have secretaries?

3. Do write only 3-4 lines about yourself. The poem is what I care about, not what MFA program you teach in (or study in). I am utterly flabbergasted by the long bios (sometimes going back decades) that poets send in with one little ekphrastic poem. Trust me, the bio is not what interests an editor. Sorry, but no one cares how many times you've been published. Less really is more in this situation.

I realize I have been guilty of trying to impress an editor with my publications or my unusual cover letters in the past. Sitting on this side of the desk reinforces that nothing stands in for the poem itself. I have about fifteen or so pages of poetry to work with and I plan to love every single poem - LOVE - that's a lot to ask of a poem --- so if I don't choose yours, please don't be angry with me. We went on a lovely first date - but the chemistry just wasn't there. It's not you, it's me ...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Actual Post Number 101 - Naked Self Promotion - One Time Only ...


Please humor me tonight. I am not keene on using this blog for self promotion. Usually I try hard to avoid indulging in the story of me. However, my new book The Alchemist's Kitchen has arrived after four long years. As of tonight, you can order personally signed copies from me via my website. I offer this incase you are like me and buying a signed copy of a book means much more than an unsigned one. The Alchemist's Kitchen is published by White Pine Press and distributed by Consortium which means your local bookshop can also order you a copy and usually receive it in 48 hours. In any case, this is not a hard sell. It's just another option if you want the book signed for your mother / lover / best friend. OK. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What to Make of Such Beauty? Straight from THE ALCHEMIST'S KITCHEN


I fell in love with Sarajevo and by extension, Bosnia Herzegovina in 1996 and 1997 when I worked there as an electoral supervisor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In 2007, I returned to Sarajevo and Mostar to give a series of readings and learn first hand of the changes in the country in the ten years since the war. My belief in the people and culture of this small country continues. I very much hope to return again. Lejla, who is quoted in the poem, was my interpreter in 1996 and continues to live in Sarajevo today with her husband and daughter.

This poem takes as its subject the burning of the  National Library. Above is a photograph taken during the war. Below, an image of the building today.



What to Make of Such Beauty?


         The attack lasted less than half an hour. Approximately 1,200,000 books and 600 sets of periodicals were destroyed,
         ---- Kemal Bakarsic, Librarian

The next day along the streets of Sarajevo
scorched pieces of paper

fluttered like a strange snow.

Peel one scrap from the sky
call it hope and an urgent message

appears ---and for one moment ---

a new form of God pentimento.
Turkish, Hebrew, and Bosnian texts ... 

Desire lit in the arabesque of black, besotted alphabets ---

until the warmth of the lines
recede and the magic letters fall like trash ~

fingers chalked in the floating literatures of grief.

Yet, the hardest part Lejla says
is to not live within such burning,

not breathe in the pages of our indestructible history.



Friday, March 5, 2010

Happiness is a Warm Book



I am so thrilled with what has appeared on my doorstep this morning! After years of writing, months of proofing and all the work, The Alchemist's Kitchen, is now out in the world. A real book in beautiful colors, font, and texture. I can't stop stroking it!

I realize it is an alchemical experience to create a book. How do images, ideas, and experiences accrue until they are pressurized into words, lines, stanza breaks? I've wanted to be an author since I first learned to read, before I learned to read, actually. On Monday I will bring something special to my writing students, probably chocolates, to share with them the experience of transformation. Words into poems. Poems into books. What magical work we all do.

The Poetry of Space - The Hubble Ultra Deep Field in 3D

I have been thinking about book trailers recently and thinking more about visual images.I came across a website called Cabinet of Wonders run by Heather McDougal where she's posted this video produced by NASA. It's short and haunting and reminds me that poetry is a natural state of the world - we try to express in words an extraordinary movement that predates language. Maybe. Here's the short clip on the mysteries of the universe. Happy travels into the Ultra Deep.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Favorite Poem for Thursday



How does she do it? Such simple language and easy lines, yet they accrue until the poems seems inevitable. Meant to be. I've read this poem hundreds of times and hope to read it many more. I feel a tad foolish confessing that this little poem is one of my favorites, but it is. Perhaps it came into my life well over a decade ago when I was just getting serious about my own poetry. In any case, it never disappoints. Enjoy!



Love Like Salt


It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher


It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought


It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it


We carry a pinch behind each eyeball
It breaks out on our foreheads


We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays by the sea.




Lisel Muller

Alive Together: New and Selected Poems

LSU Press

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hot Off the Press! The Alchemist's Kitchen Ships Today!


I can't believe it! My third collection of poems, The Alchemist's Kitchen, shipped from the printing press today and will be on my doorstep by early next week. The book is actually going to be here a month ahead of schedule. This is pretty unheard of in the book world (or at least I've never heard of it) and so it seems a miracle. I'm thrilled and also realize I need to get to work on setting up some more readings and workshops and talks. "The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things ..."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Coming Attraction: Back to Mark Doty


We are moving from Anne Carson to Mark Doty in my Community of Poetry Readers (COP'Rs) and School of the Arts is our text for April. I also wanted to share Doty's essay on Rilke's poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo" titled "On "Archaic Torso of Apollo." It's an essay I read in preparation for my ekphrasis workshop last month. It's an excellent essay, vintage Doty for its insight, intelligence and laugh out loud humor. Enjoy!

The Beauty of the Husband - For Something Entirely Different


This weekend our community of poetry readers: COP'Rs  came together and discussed Anne Carson. I was the dissenting voice arguing that her work was that of a philosopher more than a poet and that the consciousness was too cold to be of much interest. Yes, the woman is well versed in several languages, but that doesn't make her a good poet. And is she a poet or a composer or now a "conceptual artist"? And yet, and yet ... There are two things that I loved about her work --- Anne Carson gives me permission to think outside the poetry box. Perhaps she is a poet because poetry is the most elastic of the arts, the most open to innovation. Aim high, think big, risk failure -- "Fail again, fail better" as Beckett would say. In any case, this lead me to read The Beauty of the Husband last night. A book that has converted me to an Anne Carson fan. For me, "The Glass Essay" is far less interesting. So the poet compares herself to Emily Bronte -- so?

I wrote my wonderful group of poetry lovers last night at 1:00 AM to say mea culpa. Carson may not be my cup of tea in the way that I admire Mark Doty who I will read and re-read with awe and pleasure, but she allows me to push into new realms and ideas and there's a lot to be said for that. Carson's about to come out with a new book that looks like it may cast poetry as scrap book, as collage, as elegy/fragmentation. Meanwhile, I think it's time to re-read some Keats. What are others views of Anne Carson?