All you have to do
to win two nights in New York
is write a haiku
All you have to do
to win two nights in New York
is write a haiku
St. Mark’s Church | 131 E. 10th Street, New York, NY 10003 | 212-674-0910 |
We're celebrating Wesleyan University Press’s long-anticipated landmark edition of Ceravolo’s poems with an all-star reading: David Lehman, Charles North, Ron Padgett, Anselm Berrigan, Peter Gizzi, David Shapiro, John Perreault, Eileen Myles, Susie Timmons, Timothy Donnelly, Jordan Davis, Ariana Reines, Corina Copp, Corrine Fitzpatrick, John Coletti, Thurston Moore, Anita Ceravolo and Parker Smathers.
On Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 6:30pm, the Academy of American Poets will present the 11th annual Poetry & the Creative Mind at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall (1941 Broadway, New York, NY).
guest readers for 2013 are Jad
Abumrad, Glen Hansard, Mario Batali, Student Poet Claire Lee, Dick Cavett, Stew, Patricia
Clarkson, Rose Styron, Tyne Daly, Amber Tamblyn, and Kathleen Turner. This
year’s master of ceremonies is Calvin Trillin. Each will read a favorite poem.
If you can't attend you can follow along with poet Leah Umansky who will live tweet for us throughout the evening (@bestampo). Umansky also tweets as @lady_bronte.
Tickets are: $45-$75 and can be purchased at (www.lincolncenter.org).For more information, visit the Academy's website here.
War and Peace: the title of Tolstoy’s massive novel of Napoleonic Europe trips off the tongue. Not so “peace and war”: the inversion of the customary word order represents a victory of hope over experience — or of the poetry of aspiration over the prose of sad actuality. As a subject for poetry, war has an immediate advantage over peace, because war entails action, whereas the experience of peace is an absence, not noticed until not there, like the absence of pain.
War was the first subject to quicken the pen of an epic poet. But the author of The Iliadknew that the scenes of the Trojan hero Hector in battle with Patroclus and later with Achilles would not be so remarkable if there were not also a tender scene of Hector bidding farewell to Andromache, his wife, and their baby boy, who is scared of daddy’s helmet. Epic poets have followed Homer’s lead, widening the scope of war inevitably to include peace – whether peace be construed as the absence of hostilities or as something positive in its own right.
In book XVIII of The Iliad, Homer describes the shield of Achilles that the lame god Hephaistos has fashioned for him. The shield depicts two cities – one embattled, besieged; the other functional, with a wedding and a court of civil law where disputants can settle their differences without violence. In layers of concentric circles the shield also shows some of the things conspicuously lacking in fields of battle: a vineyard, a herd of cattle, a circle of young men and women dancing, the bounty of the harvest – the fruits of peace.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet (“Letter 8,” 1904):
But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence. …How are we to forget all those myths at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about the dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps every terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants to help us (pg. 52).
I love these letters. They are such an incredible inside look at the indestructible positivity Rilke carried with him throughout his career. Here he’s basically telling his young correspondent, Mr. Franz Kappus, that there’s no need to panic; we are all, at times, stricken with torment and doubt (about our lives, about our crafts), and, although we can never alter the past, we can always alter our perception of the past as we move forward into the future. Rilke is instilling the next generation with realistic optimisim.
“But only someone who is ready for everything… will himself draw exhaustively from his own existence.”
Exhaustively. The word itself seems to tempt one into it;
I dare you
to draw yourself,
your own existence.
As I consider today’s interview between Elizabeth Robinson and Travis Cebula, I find Rilke’s haunting notion to be the perfect introduction. These two poets are some of the most inquisitive and prolific writers I know. The two descriptions – 1.) Inquisitive and 2.) Prolific – both require a certain curiosity that “excludes nothing.” Elizabeth is the author of 12 collections of poetry, most recently Counterpart (Ahsahta Press). She has taught all over the country: the University of Colorado Boulder, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Montana, and she founded (with Colleen Lookingbill) EtherDome Chapbooks and (with Laura Sims) Instance Press. Travis’ second full-length collection of poetry, Ithaca was recently released from BlazeVox Books. He has founded Shadow Mountain Press and in 2011 he received the Pavel Srut Fellowship from Western Michigan University. Travis also teaches at the Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris (avec moi). I love how both Travis and Elizabeth make a point to comment on each other’s generosity throughout this interview. As Elizabeth says about Travis (and, in my opinion, about people in general): Confidence = generosity.
With that, I gratefully share the stage.
Sarah Suzor: How did you meet? And how long have you known each other?
Elizabeth Robinson: Travis was a student in a remarkable graduate workshop I taught at Naropa University in the Spring of 2008. I looked forward to going to that class all week long and when I arrived, I’d just feel such gladness and affection for the students. As writers, they were so dissimilar, but they read and responded to each others’ work with real insight and respect. Travis threw himself into the experience. He gulped down contemporary poetry and poetics, he became an expert reader of his peers’ works, he experimented voraciously as a poet. Later I got to work with Travis on his M.F.A. thesis. I think the poetry part got written pretty fluidly, but he also had to write a 30 page essay, and I continually challenged him on aspects of what he wrote. He had conceived of a really interesting approach to poetics, but I just kept returning and suggesting changes here, pressing back on ideas there. I thought he’d eventually want to throw me in front of a train. But no: each iteration was cheerfully revised within a week or so. If he was ever frustrated, he didn’t show it.
Since then, though we both seem to be in transit quite a lot, Travis has been an endlessly prolific writer, an attender of readings, a respondent in a writing group, a recommender of books, an occasional shoulder to sob on: in short, a friend.
(He’s also a terrific cook, and my kids are wild for his peanut butter brownies, though I think his blueberry coffee cake is to die for.)
Travis Cebula: I’m pretty sure our paths first crossed in January of 2008. It was definitely my second semester of graduate school, which means I met Elizabeth on the first day of a poetry workshop she was teaching in the MFA program at Naropa University that semester. We may have strolled past each other on campus before that, but that was the first time we spoke.
She walked in the door of our classroom in the historic (and historically clanking and smelling) Lincoln building. I remember initially being a little frightened of her, which seems a bit silly in retrospect, but it’s true. In addition to her obvious competence and intelligence, which are evident at first glance, she had a strong no-nonsense air about her on the first day, probably to make sure we were focused. Understandably. Students at Naropa have a tendency to lose focus for a number of reasons. Her demeanor was a little intimidating, because none of the other professors I’d encountered at the school up to that point had taken anything quite so seriously. The pedagogical tone was normally much more laissez faire, which makes perfect sense if you know anything about the philosophy or history of the institution. But Elizabeth made it clear right off the bat that she had higher expectations for our class. I remember thinking, “I really don’t want to be around when she gets angry. I really don’t want to be the one who makes her angry.” It might have been her mother bear side showing on the first day, just so we knew it was there. That can be scary.
I’m glad she did, though. Everything turned out perfectly, and it didn’t take long at all for her to warm up to the class after she determined we were serious. I’m grateful to my program advisor at that time, Todd McCarty, for suggesting her class to me. Suggestion is a bit of an understatement. What he actually said was, “You NEED to work with Elizabeth.” He was absolutely right, and not just for me. The few people who were fortunate enough to be in that workshop together are still friends, in close contact, and every one of us is still writing on a regular basis. We go to each other’s weddings. We read together. We collaborate. We publish each other’s work. Seriously, how often does that happen? An entire workshop? Elizabeth started all of that.
But, don’t get me wrong, I still don’t want to be around when she gets angry. That would suck.
SS: What about your writing career would be most noticeably different had you two not met?
ER: My life in Colorado has often been difficult and estranging. Travis is a generous, dynamic, and enthusiastic colleague. I think I would find myself more isolated at this point if I had not met Travis. He is a staple participant in my life as a writer in Colorado. Because of his travels, his writing, and his general inquisitiveness, he often brings news of books, presses, and communities that I’m glad to learn about.
TC: I know a few people, including myself, who unabashedly refer to Elizabeth as our “Poetry Mom.” I hope she’s comfortable with that. Does that answer the question?
I think that if I hadn’t met Elizabeth I wouldn’t have a “writing career” in any kind of recognizable sense. I don’t mean I wouldn’t be writing right now, which I’m pretty sure I would be, but rather that my development in the other aspects of a writing life would be stinted at best. A career is something more than just work (or a job); it entails building relationships, a broad engagement with community, and responsibilities that extend into the world, into time. I think I’d still be trying to teach myself what to do in that regard, how to get to that next level, and asking myself questions like, “How do I submit work to a journal?” “What should I be reading?” “How do you write a book review?” “Are these poems a book yet?” “How do I know if there’s a reading to go to this weekend?” “Who can I talk to about what I’m writing?” “Who do I want to talk to about what they’re writing?” And many, many more.
Now I think of a writing career as a collage: the community, the conversation, the teaching, the publishing, the reviews, the support, the readings, the late nights spent talking, the love, the friendship, the editing, the sequence, the ups, the downs, the offers of and reception of support, all in turn. No, I wouldn’t have a gestalt of all of that yet if I hadn’t met Elizabeth. That’s an easy conclusion to arrive at. My life would be very different without her. I am a little curious if, conversely, the more recent part of her own career might have been any different had we not met. I wonder, have I offered her anything in return? I suspect the answer is, “Perhaps, but not nearly enough.”
SS: Travis, if you had to pick, which of Elizabeth’s books is your favorite?
TC: I hate questions like this, if for no other reason than it’s always impossible for me to give a straight answer. I love all of Elizabeth’s books, and for different reasons. Not equally, mind you, but to narrow my list of favorites down to one is challenging. They all offer different perspectives on life and the human experience, and they all carry what I believe to be astute and beautifully written perspectives on different aspects of life. Which is to say, she has successfully avoided the trap of writing iterations of what amounts to the same book over and over again. Asking me to pick a favorite book of hers is like asking me to pick a favorite part of life….
Actually, that might be easier. In that case, at least I could throw out junior high school. I’ll offer Harrow as my favorite, for the simple reason that it’s the first one I read, and thus the first one I fell for. The trauma she weaves into that book while avoiding even a hint of melodrama is breathtaking. Barring that, I would choose “whichever one I’ve read most recently.” So, Counterpart is making a strong case for itself at the moment, which may disprove one of my earlier statements. Her descriptions of devils and hell are strongly redolent of my experiences in junior high….
SS: Elizabeth, what has been most rewarding about watching the evolution of Travis’ writing career?
ER: I think Travis proceeds pretty fearlessly. It’s always really exciting to see someone who has been your student get published, whether discrete poems in a periodical or in book form, but Travis approaches writing much more expansively than that. He is traveling, meeting new people, finding out about contemporary presses. I guess what I find rewarding about observing Travis is that he understands so many ways of writing (that is, he can be very stylistically diverse) and participating in a writing life through friendships, projects, reading. When I work with people, I understand that they might not write poetry forever because other commitments and projects will come into their lives, but I always hope that they will really stick with it and find out what writing will yield in their lives as an ongoing adventure. Travis is one who has made that commitment and I am grateful that I can continue to be in conversation with him as a poet.
SS: Travis, if you had to guess Elizabeth’s favorite color you’d pick?
Jack Spicer, from his 1957 collection, After Lorca:
…Things do not connect; they correspond…. Even these letters. They correspond with something (I don’t know what) that you have written (perhaps as unapparently as that lemon corresponds to this piece of seaweed) and, in turn, some future poet will write something which corresponds to them. That is how we dead men write each other.
The irony here is this: in 1957 Spicer wasn’t dead and Lorca was. Now Spicer’s dead, and I’m not. So, either Spicer was psychic or this is the way things really do work: a ladder of correspondence.
A creative profession, perhaps more than any other profession, is one built, culled and cultivated from groundwork that has already been set, hence innovation via (some kind of) inspiration. I know no writer who isn’t a living, breathing representation of the influences they have encountered. The future gains new ideas and models of creativity this way; we’re constantly marching up a long ladder of either intrigue with, or rejection of something outside ourselves. These things which one chooses to correspond to, or move away from, construct the notion of a “history,” a history that inevitably makes a creative career larger than simply one’s personal contributions. Sounds important, right?
In many ways the story of Ezra Pound editing T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land makes the poem itself much more intriguing. In the annotated edition of The Waste Land we see the working relationship Pound and Eliot had refined. Indeed they were pals, but the friendship formalities go by the wayside when Pound stepped in as “editor,” leaving brash, “Bad- but [I] can’t attack until I get typescript” commentary all over Eliot’s written script, and cutting major sections and lines of the poem with the justification, “Too personal.” Some of Pound’s comments are extremely funny, especially when one imagines what Eliot– “The Old Possum,” as Pound called him– must have been thinking while looking them over. However, Eliot took many of Pound’s edits into consideration because he trusted his advice. And later in the annotated edition we see Pound return as Eliot’s ally by championing The Waste Land to other colleagues. This is a 1922 letter from Pound to John Quinn:
“Eliot came back from his Lausanne specialist looking OK; and with a damn good poem (19 pages) in his suitcase…. About enough, Eliot’s poem, to make the rest of us shut up shop.”
The rest is history. And that’s my point.
So, I’ve decided to infiltrate the Best American Poetry blog with contemporary examples of “working relationships.” Each day I will feature two writers in a conversation that highlights the aspects of their lives and careers that have been enhanced by writing together, learning from one another, or publishing with each other.
The most beautiful findings in each of the interviews are the descriptions of the lifelong friendships that have been created between these artists.
James Belflower mentions he wishes he could bridge the gap between New York and Arizona just to sit down for coffee with mentor, Cynthia Hogue.
Elizabeth Robinson looks forward to hearing about the new communities Travis Cebula encounters during his travels.
Rusty Morrison says she fully trusted Gillian Hamel to see Omnidawn’s online magazine OmniVerse come to fruition.
Standard Schaefer and Paul Vangelisti constantly alert each other to work that might pique each other’s interests.
And when asked about the best advice Frankie Rollins has imparted, Selah Saterstrom answers: “To risk everything for my biggest life and best work.”
To risk everything.
You picking up what I’m putting down?
Enjoy these conversations as they come down the pipeline. I have also asked the featured writers to collaborate on a new creative piece between the two of them. This is intended to honor each other’s talents and abilities, but most importantly, to put a new spin on their “relationship,” one that we, as audience (as the future), can correspond to and with.
I’m kicking off the week with an interview between James Belflower and Cynthia Hogue. James’ second full-length collection of poetry, A Posture of Contour, was just released from Spring Gun Press, and it is a beauty. He’s pursuing his PhD at Suny Albany, and he curates the Yes! reading series. Cynthia is the Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry in the English Department at ASU. She has published seven collections of poetry, most recently, Or Consequence and When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, interview-poems and photographs (with Rebecca Ross).
I’ll let them tell the rest of their story.
This week we welcome Sarah Suzor as our guest blogger. Sarah's full-length collection of poetry, The Principle Agent, won the 2010 Hudson Prize and was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2011. Her collaboration with Travis Cebula After the Fox is forthcoming in 2014 from Black Lawrence Press. Her reviews and interviews can be found in Tarpaulin Sky and Rain Taxi. Suzor’s poetry has been published widely. anthologized, and translated. She lives in Venice, California, where she is a founding editor of Highway 101 Press, a correspondent for Omnidawn’s online magazine OmniVerse, and a guest lecturer for the Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris.
As Mr. Pinsky noted in his introductory remarks,The Best American Poetry series, which Mr. Lehman started in 1988, has filled an important cultural place in society. It acts out what Mr. Pinsky described as a “significant cultural process,” whereby artists confer recognition upon other artists — a process of discovery and advocacy responsible for the reputations of John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, to name but two poets who were once overlooked.
The Best of the Best American Poetry is a collection of 100 poems selected from the nearly 2000 already published in the anthology’s twenty-five-year existence. The LA times called it an embarrassment of riches, and the lineup of poets who read on Thursday night was certainly that. From Richard Howard to Marie Howe to Yusef Komunyakaa, the range and quality of voices was nothing short of exceptional.
Mark Doty began the evening with his hypnotic poem “Difference,” which opens with a description of jellyfish floating in a Massachusetts harbor.
In the spirit of PiL's American Bandstand appearance, I thought it'd be a good idea to share my guest spot with some guest guest contributors.
I asked a passel of illustrious commentators to respond to this question: Can you recommend a "neglected classic," i.e. a work (not necessarily literary) that has real significance to you that you think is generally un- or underappreciated? (The "classic" language is by no means meant to limit things, temporally or otherwise.) And the results are in!
Tisa Bryant: Eyeball
A groundbreaking African diasporic literary publication from 1992-2002 edited by Jabari Asim and Ira B. Jones in Philadelphia, Eyeball featured poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, visual art and interviews displaying a range of artists and aesthetic practice, including Paul Beatty, Esther Iverem, John R. Keene, Clarence Major, Lisa Teasley, Askia M. Toure, Jerry Ward, the collective vision and individual visions of both DrumVoices and the Eugene B. Redmond writers, and Gwendolyn Brooks on Audre Lorde. At present, an archival set of Eyeball is unavailable to writers and researchers. Yale graduate student Claire Schwartz leads a project to remedy that, via donations of back issues, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have pretty specific tastes in movies. My favorites are Mulholland Drive, The Shining, and Vertigo. Sometimes the order I rank them in changes but right now it happens to be alphabetical. Darkness, obsession, existential weightiness, tragic fatalism, the supernatural, and impossible formal beauty are what I want in a movie, and all three of these give me as much as I could ever hope for and then some. It’s odd, then, that my fourth favorite movie, or maybe it’s my fifth, isn’t anything like these others at all. In fact, it’s a G-rated comedy—1972’s What’s Up, Doc? You probably haven’t seen it.
Paying homage to old Bugs Bunny cartoons and the screwball comedies of the 30s (weird to think the 30s were as far back in 1972 as 1972 is to us now), What’s Up Doc? stars a young Ryan O’Neal and an even younger Barbara Streisand, skin all tanned and eyes wild blue, and it costars an amazing lineup of character actors, including the scene-stealing Madeline Kahn, here in her first feature role. It was directed by the great Peter Bogdanovich, better known for the movies he made just before and after What’s Up, Doc?, namely The Last Picture Show (1971) and Paper Moon (1973). Those you’ve probably seen.
What makes What’s Up, Doc? a favorite of mine, aside from its performances and my nostalgia for it, is its relentlessly witty, intricate, and just plain madcap script. Written by Bogdanovich, the whip-smart Buck Henry, David Newman, and Robert Benton, What’s Up, Doc? is full of fast-talk, banter, wordplay, puns, allusions, pastiche, and inspired nonsense. The speed with which it barrels forward from one absurdity to the next stimulates me in a way analogous to how my other favorite movies’ terror and beauty do. And come to think of it, it’s completely obsessive—just in another key. But even as it concludes with couples paired up and order restored, it still keeps cracking wise and twisting in its happiness. That’s my kind of movie. The other kind.
A chapbook that I held close for a long time: a vision of the experimental feminine -- how the writer approaches a plaza in the off-season and there, in Montreal, comes to writing as to place itself: elemental forces, intense desire for what the book could be in a truly communal life.
Last year, reading Percy's anthology Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, I encountered Walter Ralegh's poem, "The Lie," and was struck by its freshness. It is a masterpiece of the drab style in sixteenth-century poetry.
The premise is Ralegh's dying wish for his soul to visit all of the world's most profound concepts and institutions, and tell them the plain truth about what they are. If there is any further conversation, Ralegh's soul is to "give them all the lie." Anything they say in response, even a simple "Yes," would be a lie.
For example, Ralegh's soul is to tell the arts "that they want soundness," and to remind time, "Thou art but motion." Now both of these statements are regrettably true. No physicist, philosopher, or mystic has, to my knowledge, come up with a better definition of the profound concept of time. The only figures of speech in these lines are abstraction and apostrophe — Ralegh's address to his soul, and his soul's address to the abstraction. There is also an intriguing implication that time has pretensions to being something more than mere motion.
The tone is cool and dry, with suggestions of anger successfully controlled. For a while, this was my favorite poem. Reciting it comforts me, as I believe Ralegh intended.
One last anecdote about the neglect of this amazing poem. In his "Brief Life" of Ralegh, the seventeenth-century biographer John Aubrey notes that someone told him Ralegh "died with a lie in his mouth, but I have now forgot what it was." Presumably Aubrey is garbling this poem, which Ralegh wrote some time before he died, but imagining the moment of his own death.
I wrote about this before on The Millions blog for their 2010 Year in Reading, but my favorite neglected classic is Hannah Weiner’s The Fast (United Artists Books, 1992). It is one of her early journals, written in 1970, which explores how limiting one’s environment can be a kind of holy poetic constraint. I’ve used the book a lot in my classes on color and poetry, because the auras that Weiner describes are so vivid and real and they can be a great jumping off point for students to think about the colors of things, not concrete always but hallucinated. I believe the book gets to the matter of things: the matter of language and why language matters. It is also a mystical text and about the spirit. What poetry can and should and will be all about—the indefatigable spirit. Hannah Weiner is one of our American classics.
If I rubbed a wishing lamp, and the genie came out and said, "You can revive one reputation and one reputation only—choose!," I would instantly reply: "I choose the reputation of James Thomson, 1700–1748, author of The Seasons."
I was turned on to Thomson by Samuel Johnson's twenty-page biography of him in the Lives of the Poets. I have always thought that piece the best of the medium-sized lives. Johnson makes you lust to read Thomson. And Johnson does not always make you lust to read people.
If anybody wants to Facebook message me, I'll be HAPPY to type out some choice bits from The Seasons, and I defy anyone who likes poetry at all to resist the shit. In my opinion? Thomson is right up there with Virgil and Milton.
I don’t know if The Scribleriad (1751) can be said to be neglected, because it was never properly “lected.” I found it while using “scribble” as a search term in the vast trove of the Literature Online database, only to find the ultimate scribble—an epic of all things desultorily authored, an heroic tale about bad writing. In-and-of itself, The Scribleriad performed its problematic quite well, and forthwith disappeared into history. This self-published epic follows the journeys of Martin Scriblerus, “alchymist and pedant,” to exotic locales like the “Island of Poetry,” where he meets with proto-Oulipeans and gets unnecessarily angry with them. Ah yes, we’ve heard this tale before, not just because I’m sure we all know, say, a visionary nature poet who is routinely annoyed by the neighborhood lipogrammatist, but because Martin Scriblerus was a character created fifty years prior, by Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot, et al. subsequently to be abandoned. Richard Owen Cambridge’s recycling, then, is a type of plagiarism-by-anticipation (of Oulipo) and plagiarism proper (of the Scriblerus Club). It is a remix-epic of cosmic proportions, positing the poetic line as the hero’s comic dilemma.
Adventure never gets the love that Marquee Moon gets, and that’s never made sense to me. The ringing excitement of the interlaced guitars on “Days” explore (and perhaps delimit) the possibilities of grace in popular music. It’s dirty and stately and pastoral and confusing. This record pops up in conversation with poets – I have made friends talking about this record. Did I mention the lyrics? Tom Verlaine knew how to make poetry work in pop – couplets like “I love disaster / and I love what comes after” or “I feel the shells hit – moonlight web / Goodbye arms, so long, head!”
I was fortunate enough to be in NYC last weekend during a celebration of David Rattray's life & work at the Poetry Project. It was a revelatory & beautiful two hours, every performance moving & informative, each lending some resolution or arc to the life of this legendary writer. I'd been a fan of his Semi(o)text book, but had never gotten my hands on his volume of verse diwan published in 1990. Having had it now for less than a week it's already changed me consequentially, reading it in spring, being with this person's extremely fine & rich sense of being living in & out of light. It's become one of my favorite books in 5 days time, & I can only hope that others are as lucky as me as things go along, to have a chance to encounter this writing. Thanks to David Abel, Eileen Myles & everyone else for making Rattray's art & life ever more visible (again) in the world.
I’ve grown too impatient to read long poems.
After a while my eyes start shifting like dancers
who’ve missed their entrance cues. I find –
I am reading a different poem all together
than the one on the page. I close my eyes.
The letters are dancing and chewing my eyelids,
like tiny caged rodents, sharp teeth protruding,
their round eyes almost blind,
their whiskers trembling, trying to smell through.
This new poem I am reading in my mind is related
to the one in the book, but as a distant cousin,
the family ties are vaguely remembered,
some childhood memories, a gray photograph,
taken at some forgotten occasion,
but not much else ties them together.
The long poem is starting to look like a shopping list.
Each item is a new line, the stanzas form departments,
where all the words are labeled and neatly
packed in rows on parallel shelves.
I’m forever lost in its aisles, in the endless labyrinth,
where each detail is screaming
to be noticed and appreciated.
I am taken hostage by the advertisements,
the cleverness of its commercials,
coupons, attractive packaging,
already forgetting what was on my list.
What was that I was looking for
when I started reading, and feeling –
oh, so, so inadequate.
The long poem turns into a dark ancient forest
and I am a child lost in its meanings,
the unfamiliar verbs are howling like owls,
announcing the arrival of the twilight time.
It is not yet the night, but it’s chilly already
and the long arms of the shadows are touching my feet.
Alarmed and still hoping for a last minute happy-ending miracle
or at least for some understanding or a familiar sight -
I rashly turn pages, feeling slightly embarrassed
of my impatient flight, and vaguely suspecting
that some part of me is still lost in the maze
in the complex associations and hidden meaning
of that long poem, in its hostile branches and roots
of incomprehensible words, and that small part of me
may never be rescued from its crowded pages,
and I will never know what happens at the end.
"Either way, the strength of the book (which [Robert] Pinsky compiled with the aid of series editor David Lehman) is its sense of subjectivity, the way these poems illustrate their editor’s aesthetic, and in so doing, tell us something of how poetry operates in the world." by David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Critic, April 9, 2013.
Read the full review here.
Read excerpts from The Best of the Best American Poetry here.
Join Guest Editor Robert Pinsky and Series Editor David Lehman and leading poets as they launch this historic volume: Thursday, April 11, 2013. 7:00 PM. The New School, 66 West 12th Street, New York City. Details here.
The work of criticism is always, let’s say, ephemeral; Saint-Beuve’s name survives only because Proust was against him. Even more fleeting are the reactions of the mere reviewer. “No serious critic can devote himself, frequently, exclusively, and indefinitely, to reviewing works most of which inevitably cannot bear, would even be misrepresented by, review in depth,” sniffs Renata Adler in her screed against Pauline Kael.
So the outpouring of emotion in the wake of Roger Ebert’s death might seem a transitory thing; already, the passing of the Iron Lady (of whom more later) has moved him off the screens. The rise of Siskel and Ebert neatly paralleled in time the switch from the decade-long Prague Spring of New Hollywood to the blockbuster-driven economy still churning its way through the Marvel and DC lineups. Even if Ebert’s courage and openness in the face of his disfiguring illness and his resolute identity as a newspaper journalist in the twilight of that industry render him heroic, he and his partner might still seem like emblems in a narrative of cultural decline, banally and profitably celebrating the culture industry’s assembly line, whatever caveats they might have about individual products.
But I want to offer a different view. Sneak Previews and its successors enjoyed an astounding success, given how unpromising the show’s basic structure might have seemed: two untelegenic, middle-aged white guys bickering about movie clips. The show operated on the premise that arguing about culture could draw a mass audience. And it did. “Thumbs up or down” may have been the takeaway message, but both critics made clear that those decisions were made for reasons, and reasons that each would emphatically try to make the other acknowledge.
Maybe those arguments weren’t always the most sophisticated. And maybe the very act of treating Weekend at Bernie’s 2 as worthy of detailed consideration was as much a con as it was a tribute to critical open-mindedness. But in their humble way, Siskel and Ebert offered a model of rationality, one on which thinking wasn’t a matter of following an algorithm or asserting a purely subjective preference. In other words, it was a humanistic kind of education.
And it strikes me that poetry criticism, that much-lamented field, could do with more of a dose of At the Movies-style debate. We have our dramatic flareups, as with the fascinating byplay between Marjorie Perloff and Matvei Yankelevich last year. But too often, even when critical disagreements break out, they either proceed at an austere level of abstraction or wind up with people talking past one another. I’d love to see a pair of writers devote themselves to detailed and contentious consideration of recent books or poems of note. There are some excellent examples approximating this: Al Filreis’s Poem Talk, for instance, or the byplay between Christian Wiman and Don Share on the Poetry podcast, but I think there’s room for a similar effort that's neither tied to a particular publication nor emphasizing a scholarly conversation.
The use of thumbs in the poetic context, though, might have its risks:
What a thrill—
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge
A flap like a hat,
Then that red plush.
(Sylvia Plath, "Cut")
(Ed note: On March 13, we posted about an ambitious project to build a poetry library for teens. Here's what happened. sdh)
My students and I want to thank all of you who have contributed to our growing poetry library for at-risk teens in Coney Island. Thanks to your generosity, our shelves are filling with a wonderful variety of poetry books. I hope our story will inspire others to contribute as well. We now have over fifty books!
I lead a poetry workshop for teenagers in Coney Island’s YWCA teen empowerment program through Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival, a literary nonprofit I founded. We meet at the Coney Island YWCA after-school program housed in the Rachel Carson High School in Brooklyn, NY. Parachute and the YWCA have been collaborating for over a year in order to offer the poetry workshop.
A few weeks ago, I initiated a grass-roots project to create a poetry section for the high school’s library, which, at the time had one poetry book. (One book!) My plan was to contact other poets, local presses, and those who had performed at Parachute’s annual festival and invite them to contribute books for a shelf at the YWCA and the school’s library.
I posted an announcement on my facebook page, sent an email to all the wonderful poets who had read at Parachute in recent years, including poet, Matthea Harvey, who reposted my message which got picked up by the Best American Poetry blog, tweeted by them, retweeted by the Poetry Foundation. Within a few weeks books started pouring in from all over the nation and even from as far away as Canada and Spain! They are still arriving. Each day my mailbox is overflowing with books.
One of my goals in the writing workshop at the YWCA is to expose teenagers to poets whose voices the teenagers can identify with and perhaps shake up teenage notions of what poetry is and can be. They think all poetry has to rhyme and we are working on letting go of that idea. We have read Frank O’Hara, Tracie Morris, Muriel Rukeyser, Diane DiPrima, Jennifer L. Knox and Matthea Harvey. “How did he do that? He’s got flow!” said student Maya upon reading Frank O’Hara’s “Steps.” On their own, the girls are reading Tupac Shakur and Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café. In class, we have been writing “celebrity poems” based on chosen pop stars, such as Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne. You can read some of these on our virtual magazine, Teenage Fever Magazine (www.teenagefevermag.tumblr.com)
The Poetry Lending Library project serves at least two distinct purposes: The teenagers get to read books by authors they would not otherwise encounter, and the poets get their books into the hands of new readers they might not otherwise reach. It’s really quite simple: symbiotic activism. The teenagers love the books; real actual “hold-in-your-hand” books. This couldn’t delight me more in an age of kindle, ipad, and nook. The students find the covers of each book we receive to be different and intriguing, and love that all the poems reveal a unique personality and life. While I may or may not be encouraging teenagers to become poets, I’m hopeful that I am fostering a love of poetry, language, and books that will empower them and serve them their entire lives.
Won’t you take a few minutes to send a copy of your book to us? Would you like to have your books read by at-risk teens in NYC? If so, please send one (or two if you want them to go to the school's permanent collection as well as the after-school's) copy of any or all books you have authored. Feel free to sign it or leave a note for a teen. These books will really be appreciated by the teenagers. And if, through the magic of social media, this reaches you in a far-off place where your books are in a language other than English, send them along anyway. Thank you!
Please send your poetry books to:
Rachel Carson High School
YWCA Room 346
521 West Ave
Brooklyn NY 11224
Parachute: The Coney Island Performance Festival
DANIELLE PAFUNDA (4/9)
I dunno what I should do. TURN LOOSE
The lightning and bring the thunda.
With a very happy birthday to
My friend Danielle Pafunda.
What God, what man, what hero, what you
HAVE JOINED let no man sunda.
With a very happy birthday to
My friend Danielle Pafunda.
Tίν' άνδρα, τίν' ήρωα, τίνα θεον,
RESONANTE Eoa tunditur unda,
An’ a very happy birthday to
My friend Danielle Pafunda.
This knock-off was written by somebody who
ADORES YOU and it’s no wunda.
With a very happy birthday to
My friend Danielle Pafunda.
This is perhaps my favorite piece of conceptual writing.
Over the weekend I found myself in the judges' room for a high school Speech & Debate final (true story!). I asked one of the English teachers there whether poetry was a hard sell to her students, thinking I suppose of the oft-stated consensus that of all the genres poetry's the most resistant, the least popular, the swath of the textbook one rushes past to get to the plotty parts. "Not at all," she said, whether because they thrive on its intensity or simply through their tech- & hip-hop-enabled comfort with compression and linguistic multifariousness. “The problem is novels. It’s very hard to convince them that reading anything lengthy is worthwhile.”
What the villagers call that empty space of weeds, that grove or knoll where my mother was baptized. Not __________, but ___________.
Not церква but коcтьол, kościół, the word in the banished tongue.
Shibboleth? [can’t hear you.]
Ear of corn? [can’t make out the word.]
She coughs. The body’s own water pools in the crevice of her clavicle. The wind ripples the lake so shallow now that no fish can winter there.
(I are my ownenemymemory)
(The Unmemntioable, Erin Moure, House of Anansi, 2012)
In addition to writing some of the most singular books of poetry of the last decade (2002’s O Cidadán, 2009’s Expeditions of a Chimaera with Oana Avasilichioaei, 2010’s O Resplandor, among others), Moure has published translations of the equally uncategorizable Galician poet Chus Pato, as well as a brilliant translation/reimagination of O Guardador de Rebanhos by Fernando Pessoa, or by his heteronym Alberto Caeiro. Pessoa famously recalibrated the task of the poet as the creation of personae rather than poems, conjuring the myriad personalities who then undertook the labor of drafting the writings associated with his name.
Moure gives the adventure of Pessoan heteronymity a political and sociolinguistic spin; as the above passage suggests, her work crosses and recrosses geographic and linguistic boundaries as it details its author’s encounters with real and imagined figures and events. Pato figures tangentially as a correspondent, while more central is the elusive Elisa Sampedrin, an authorial alter ego who appeared previously in O Resplandor. Sampedrin reflects upon Moure as Moure reflects upon the dark history that sent her own mother from the Ukraine to Canada in the first half of the last century.
Naturally enough, both Moure’s champions and her detractors tend to frame her work in relation to the post-structuralist theory that has informed avant-garde writing for almost two generations now. One will encounter citations of Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Agamben in her writing, and the passage above with its fragmentation and erasures invites assimilation to the familiar gestures of language and post-language writing.
But the heteronym is both an anticipation of and a deviation from the vertiginous deconstructions of later theory. Pessoa’s writings offer us a vision of identity plural and dispersed, circulating through the linguistic productions of a system of personae. But through imaginative investment the counterfeit becomes real, accruing an undeniable particularity. In Moure’s work, as well, the destabilization of identities and unsettling of comfortable reading habits goes hand-in-hand with the production of new and exhilarating reading possibilities, generated out of the incessant layering of linguistic strata, and thereby new existential possibilities. As Johanna Skibsrud puts it in an unusually perceptive reading of Moure, “hers is not an interest in language as a fact in itself..equally her intention is not to arrive at a sense of greater senselessness. Moure’s poetry is instead interested precisely in the ‘explosivity across membranes’ that E.S. represents in The Unmemntioable.”
What Moure’s work seems to call out for (and what Skibsrud’s reading to some degree attains) is a criticism that can trace out its processes of destabilization and reconfiguration. In particular, her writing manifests a kind of self-consciousness often associated with the “metafictional,” but which is intensified and qualitatively altered through the medium of lyric, as well as via her text’s multilingual slippages. So much of contemporary writing is sick with knowingness; Moure’s signal achievement is to parry the inescapable reflexivity of her poetry with a countervailing urge to unknowing.
This fall, Wave Books will publish the collection Poems (1962-1997) by Robert Lax, which I edited. Among other pieces, the book contains the entirety of Lax’s 1962 collection New Poems, which I consider one of the underread gems of 20th-century American poetry. Here’s one poem from that collection:
How do you read a poem like this? How do you know when you’re finished with it?
One’s inner cynic might answer that it’s pretty easy to read, and even easier to be finished with. (Criticism often seems to launch from the premise that the poem is guilty until proven innocent, as though never being taken in is the highest virtue.)
“My kid could do that,” is the old and shamelessly philistine way of attacking art that dispenses with traditional conventions; variations on it persist in museums and journals to this day. To which Lax’s longtime friend Ad Reinhardt would respond, “Your kid must be a genius!” & he or she probably is.
Really, imagine it.
The loveliest bit of this story is the line that when everything in academia is automated, it’ll free faculty up “for other tasks.”
Light construction projects? Armed security? Fracking the campus subsurface?
Everywhere people are longing for a deeper life.
Let’s hope some acrobat will come by
And give us a hint how to get into heaven.
Robert Bly, awarded the 2013 Frost Medal, read from his work to an enthusiastic overflow crowd at the Poetry Society of America’s 103rd Annual Awards Ceremony hosted by Alice Quinn on April 5th. These closing lines, read toward the end of the evening, from Bly’s “Longing for the Acrobat” echoed Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s citation honoring the first reader, Lizza Rodriguez, the high school student winner of the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award. Rodriguez and her teacher Jen Karetnick (pictured above with the 2012 Frost Medalist Marilyn Nelson) made the trip from Miami Shores, Fl, for the awards ceremony. Calvocoressi citing lines from Rodriguez’s award-winning poem,
I was dilly dialing
when the phone rang
then I ran out
like red roses
wrote of her “perfect balance of formal rigor and imaginative acrobatics.” From Lizza Rodriguez’s reading to the last lines of “Wanting Sumptuous Heavens,” as Robert Bly, poet, teacher, preacher, reformer, editor, translator, theorist and champion of the work of many of his contemporaries took us through the sounds – grumbles, summer, thumbs, come, grumbling, comfortable, sumptuous -- the evening was lively with words and talent and noisy with enthusiastic applause. Hardly a moment’s dip or lull.
Today the exception to
that every rule has an exception
violated itself into a bright
metastasis of unfastening
while I rested my head against
In her citation honoring Ted Mathys, Alice Notely wrote, in part, “A said thing is only a said thing – though it may be true –but you can just as easily say the opposite.” Negations and reverses of the most pleasing sort, playful but not only, a poem to share with others, it ends (or perhaps doesn’t), with
Lightning can strike the same place twice.
Lightning can strike the same place twice.
Elyse Fenton took the red-eye from her home in Portland, Oregon, to read from her manuscript Sweet Insurgent Friday night.
…but after impact he opened
the door & walked away. Hello
tenacious earth. Sometimes
you have to practice crying uncle
for years to make it stick
Of Elyse Fenton’s poems, which won the Alice Fay di Castagnola award for a manuscript-in-progress, Kevin Prufer wrote “they are alive to our historical moment, inspiring us to re-think our place in a constantly shifting political and ethical world.” Her manuscript-in-progress is now a manuscript out for consideration for publication.
Carol Light may have come farther than any of the other winners to attend the awards ceremony, flying in from Rome where she is teaching spring semester to receive the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award for original work, mid-career, without prior substantial recognition.
The sky is a bouquet of old news.
Its gap-toothed vendor was Italian;
his roses unfurl galaxies.
If history is a map of courage,
then the heart is made of helium.
Her poem “Hertzsprung-Russell” is part of her book Heaven From Steam – twenty-two skies and eighteen yets, forthcoming from Able Muse Press. David Wagoner, citing Carol Light’s work, wrote that she “writes out of the belief that…sound, rhythm, and meaning are of nearly equal importance in a poem…[and that she] is always using formal cadence instead of allowing it to over-control the rhythms of common speech.”
The life of the party slits its wrists. Its wrists
slit their wrists. The wrist of the world
wears a Patek Philippe Henry Graves
Supercomplication. Which is not a wristwatch but a pocket
crowd out the black.
Not one of them
brings me wisdom.
provide no armor.
I still quiver
to anyone's dart.
In the award citation, B. H. Fairchild said, “Ezra Pound noted that poetry severed from music atrophies, and since the earliest poems of her first book, Ring Song, in 1952, Replansky has become the master of a Blakean music radically unfashionable in its devotion to song-like meters…” Before the reading, the crowd included many Naomi Replansky admirers, long familiar with her work and delighted to join in the award’s expression of deep gratitude; after the reading, her fans numbered even more. Her “About Not Writing” is posted on the Poetry Society of America Website along with more complete poems of all of those honored, including those who could not attend the evening’s celebration: Micah Bateman, Greg Wrenn, Paula Bohince, Gary Young, and Lucia Perillo.
Martin Espada, who shares the 2013 Shelley Memorial Award with Lucia Perillo, certainly did not sever the music. He read poems from The Trouble Ball, including “The Playboy Calendar and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” and “Isabel’s Corrido,” with these ending lines.
Thirty years ago, a girl from the land of Zapata kissed me once
on the lips and died with my name nailed to hers like a broken door.
I kept a snapshot of the wedding; yesterday it washed ashore on my desk.
There was a conspiracy to commit a crime. This is my confession: I’d do it again.
Strains from this last line resurfaced as Robert Bly read from “Ravens Hiding in a Shoe.”
Robert, you’ve wasted so much of your life
Sitting indoors to write poems. Would you
Do that again? I would, a thousand times.
With this poem, he settled into a conversational, call-and-response reading, the poet of solitude opening out to the community. “Is that true?” he would stop to ask the audience, read another line and then again, “Is that true?” Ted Mathys’s negations and reversals draw close to these lines, also from "Ravens Hiding in a Shoe."
Each sentence we speak to friends means the opposite
As well. Each time, we say, “I trust in God,” it means
God has already abandoned us a thousand times.
The audience’s response was enthusiastic – Yes. Yes. Yes. to his “Is that true?” and then a prolonged No…in response to his amused query “Am – I – emphasizing – each -- word – too -- much?”
“Like Ezra Pound half a century earlier, Bly has centered himself in poetry and proceeded to radiate his energies out to nearly all corners of the world of letters,” wrote Askold Melnyczuk in his 1988 Partisan Review critique of Bly’s Selected Poems. His work, his many roles defy summation, making Billy Collins' Citation all the more impressive. As he sat to read from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey side-by-side with his daughter Mary holding the microphone, Robert Bly seemed at the heart of all that had gone on in the preceding hours, in the words, the tributes, the audience participation and enthusiasm. More than one person in the audience told me how Robert Bly’s work in poetry and prose had opened the door to poetry for them and led them on to other poets – Rilke, Rumi, Machado, Neruda. Several had attended events at which Robert Bly had read over the years around the country.
With a large number from his family in attendance and a packed room full of admiring poetry readers, Robert Bly read most lines more than once, sometimes repeating parts of lines. We went down into the words with him, into the poem at the word level. Word by word.
And image by image.
I do love Yeats’s fierceness
As he jumped into a poem,
And that lovely calm in my father’s
Hands, as he buttoned his coat.
“I Have Daughters and I Have Sons" -- Robert Bly
Madge McKeithen has written about poems in several essays including those collected in her book, Blue Peninsula (FSG, 2006). She initiated the One Page Poetry Circle at the NYPL in 2006 and at the Darien Library in 2009. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Utne Reader, The New York Times Book Review, and Best American Essays 2011. She teaches nonfiction in the Writing Program at the New School and blogs at madgemckeithen.com
Ai’s single poetic form was the dramatic monologue. Her seven books published between 1973 and 2010, collected in a hefty Norton edition released in February of this year, comprise almost two hundred pieces – monologues all – written in voices as various, profound, and quixotic as JFK, James Dean, General Custer’s wife, and her own family ancestors. Rarely does she repeat a character, and her rich imaginings of their individual lives, thoughts, and speech sustained her entire poetic career.
Her earliest book, Cruelty, was published in 1973 when she was 26 and still fresh out of U Cal Irvine’s MFA program. The poems of this book are short, tight stanzas of concentrated hardscrabble, where labor, marriage, blood, dirt, loneliness and frustration, whirl themselves into evocative episodes of hard-luck and hard-living. These flint-like chips of poems, mostly hovering around 15-20 lines or so, have none of the well-known narrators or scenes that the future poems were to so famously develop over multiple pages, but their sharp scenes of spite, brutality, and despair sparked the fires of Ai’s following six volumes.
Here is the title poem in its entirety:
The hoof-marks on the dead wildcat
gleam in the dark.
You are naked, as you drag it up on the porch.
That won’t work either.
Drinking ice water hasn’t,
nor having the bedsprings snap fingers
to help us keep rhythm.
I’ve never once felt anything
that might get close. Can’t you see?
The thing I want most is hard,
running toward my own teeth
and it bites back.
Killing Floor, published in 1979, opens with the title poem, a three-part narrative that follows Leon Trotsky through Ai’s imaginings of his exile and nightmares of betrayal and assassination, from the Soviet Union into Mexico. The book establishes Ai’s movement toward appropriating the voices of known characters and the longer monologues that became her trademark. Not all her characters are known figures, in this or any of her subsequent volumes, but Killing Floor opens the door.
From the Japanese writers Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata discoursing on their work, their loves, their inner lives, to Lope de Aquirre, a 16th century conquistador who dreams of El Dorado in the Amazon Basin but whose life ends in a familial murder/suicide in Venezuela, the stories are inspired and vivid. Ai’s gift is not so much as ventriloquist. While her vocabulary and diction do change some from poem to poem, the depth and strength of the poems derive from her ability to enter the heads and lives of her characters and articulate their thoughts and actions in intense and richly colored ways. Her two-part poem for Ira Hayes, the Native American Marine immortalized with six others in the iconic photo of the Iwo Jima flag-raising but who died an alcoholic death ten years later, finds him lying in a ditch, drunk on a Friday night, looking up to a moon, “the night hen’s yellow egg,” just before “a huge combat boot/punches a hole in the sky/and falls toward me.” Saturday, part two, finds Hayes pouring pepper into a cup of coffee “to put the fire out.” “I pass gin and excuses from hand to mouth,/but it’s me. It’s me./I’m the one dirty habit/I just can’t break.”
The book titles alone read like a list of Seven Deadlies – Cruelty, Killing Floor, Sin, Fate, Greed, Vice, Dread, No Surrender – and in each of the poems either the world is malevolent and the characters react accordingly, or the characters are so and the world is mirrored back in their baleful images. Ai’s only editorial note in all the books is at the start of 1991’s Fate, which, she states, “is about eroticism, politics, religion, and show business as tragicomedy, performed by women and men banished to the bare stage of their obsessions.” Even the Virgin Mary finds the world brutal and hostile as, in Fate’s title poem, she looks onto a scene of protestors at an abortion clinic, thinks of her own fated pregnancy, and sees an antiabortionist throw a rock that “descends like Christ/into the body of a woman,/who cannot defend herself/against the judgment of man and God,/for we have always been the receivers/of what is given without love or permission.”
In 1999, Vice – a selection of poems from her previous books plus eighteen new poems – won the National Book Award. It’s after this, in her last two books, that Ai begins to more fully develop characters from her family history. As she was writing the poems for Dread, published in 2003, she had no way of knowing that she had only a short nine years left to her life, but it’s oddly fitting that, among the monologues written in the voices of, for example, World Trade Center first responders, JFK, Jr., and a disgraced high school teacher from Rapid City who falls in love with a beautiful prostitute who turns out to be a man, she reaches toward her own ancestors to put some definition on the story of her own life. Throughout her books, there have always been poems exploring the lives of freed slaves, Native Americans, and the deeply American conjugal joining of white, black, red, and other ethnicities, but now she begins to name names in her own mosaic lineage. She identifies herself as being “1/2 Japanese, 1/8 Choctaw, ¼ Black, and 1/16 Irish.” What of the 1/16 that she doesn’t identify? Perhaps it’s this she’s working to reclaim in so many of these final poems.
While writing her final book, No Surrender, Ai knew she was dying of cancer, and she describes the
progression of one woman’s untreated breast cancer in the ultimate poem of the collection, the horrific Cancer Chronicles. Whether or not the poem describes any part of her own experience, one cannot say for sure. It’s always a dangerous thing to read too much autobiography into poems, and her imaginings of the late stages of the disease and the subject’s life imply that this is not her exact story. Nonetheless, after reading the entire collection of Ai’s work, there is a keen sense of the poet’s fearless stance in facing life’s ugly underbelly. This is the only book (aside from the new and selected Vice) that does not have a title poem. “No Surrender” was Ai’s battle cry, and the open-ended conviction of these words as the title of her last book is a fitting epitaph for this singular poet’s life and work.
This week we welcome John Beer as our guest blogger. John is the author of The Waste Land and Other Poems (Canarium, 2010), which received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. His chapbook Lucinda is just out from Spork Press, and he has edited Poems (1962-1997), forthcoming from Wave Books in the fall. He teaches creative writing at Portland State University.
DH: As one of the leading poetry centers in the United States, Wick has many roles in the university and community. You’re right—we’re not a press. We’ve been very fortunate to have a fantastic relationship with the Kent State University Press who each year publishes the winners of the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and the Chapbook Competition for Ohio Poets. We take great pride in working toward our mission of encouraging new voices and promoting opportunities for individuals and communities locally, regionally, and nationally. We also aim to engage emerging and established poets and poetry audiences through readings, publications, workshops, and scholarship opportunities.
Another project of ours is Traveling Stanzas, a collaboration between the Wick Poetry Center and Glyphix design studio at Kent State. The award-winning series, now in its fourth year, combines the creative talents of KSU Visual Communication Design students with established poets, student writers (grades 3-12), health care providers, patients and veterans to encourage dialogue about the connection between art, writing and healing.
KS: How do you stay involved once the book is in hand?
DH: As I mentioned, the Kent State University Press publishes the winning manuscripts of our first book and chapbook series; I serve as the series editor for the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize along with the judge. And Catherine Wing serves as the series editor for the Chapbook Competition for Ohio Poets. We also really value our Wick authors and judges, and try to follow their careers after Wick. One of the unique things about the first book contest is that not only does KSU Press publish the winning manuscript, but we also bring the winning poet and judge to give a reading on campus the fall that their book is released. The winner stays in Kent for a week and leads a poetry workshop for undergraduate students at Kent State. We similarly showcase our wonderful chapbook winners, by bringing both the student winner and open winner to give a reading on campus and meet with classes.
KS: Is there a Wick aesthetic?
DH: No. Our First Book contest is judged each year by a different nationally prominent poet. These final judges have a wide range of aesthetics which is reflected in our series. Similarly, the Wick Chapbook series also has a terrific range of styles in its authors.
KS: The story of your conception is heartbreaking and also wonderful.
DH: Yes, the Wick Poetry Center is a memorial program that was established out of a deep family loss. Robert and Walter Wick each lost their oldest teenage sons, Stan and Tom, in car accidents seven years apart. In 1984, Robert and Walter established a Wick poetry scholarship at Kent State in memory of their sons. When Maggie Anderson was hired to teach poetry at Kent State in 1989, she took notice of this endowment and began to grow the program, creating a reading series first, and then an Ohio chapbook contest and a national First Book contest. It has continued to evolve and grow and expand over the years with the enthusiastic support and active participation of the Wick family. Robert and Walter often say that the work of the Wick Center transforms their unspeakable loss into a meaningful gain for so many other emerging writers who are given opportunities that Stan and Tom could not have.
KS: You have an anniversary coming up!
DH: It’s hard to believe, but we have our 30th anniversary coming up next year. Our planning committee is beginning to meet and brainstorm ideas for making it a truly poetic weekend! We will be inviting back to Kent as many former judges, Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize-winners, and chapbook winners that can make the trip to Ohio in the fall of 2014. Among them are former U.S. Poet Laureates, acclaimed teachers and arts administrators, professors and students of subjects far and wide. We are planning readings, lectures, and other celebratory events, so stay tuned! And to make the celebrations even more spectacular, we will be able to host many of the events in our new location and park on the University esplanade in the newly revitalized downtown Kent.
KS: Who are the people making Wick work? What kinds of thing have Wick students and interns gone on to do?DH: As it has been for years, Wick’s success is bolstered by an array of talented staff, graduate fellows, interns, and collaborators at the university and surrounding community. I was fortunate to follow in the footsteps of our renowned first captain, Maggie Anderson. And since then have built a robust team with strengths in business, communications, creative writing, outreach and digital initiatives, etc., who all work tirelessly toward our center’s mission of bringing poetry from acclaimed writers and everyday people to the masses.
Wick students and interns have gone on to a range of careers in not-for-profit arts administration, and teaching and administration in primary and higher education. Many are published authors. I couldn’t be more proud of my teams past and present.
KS: How did you get involved with the Poetry Center?
DH: I was first given encouragement and support from Wick, just as so many other emerging writers. I was lucky to win the Ohio chapbook contest while I was an MFA student at Bowling Green State University. The publication of my chapbook, Sabisihi: poems from Japan was hugely important in my career because it got me a job working for the Ohio Arts Council as a poet-in-the-schools the following year. I spent ten years driving around Ohio teaching poetry residencies for all ages in all different kinds of schools and communities. That experience was invaluable to me, and in the late 90s Maggie Anderson contracted me part-time to develop an outreach program for Wick. In 2004, I was hired full-time as the Program and Outreach Director.
KS: A friend recently noted that there is a strong creative writing force in Ohio, and I’d noticed that about other places that might seem unlikely – Iowa, Kentucky, Alabama – but had taken my own state for granted. Do you have any theories about why there is so much good writing coming out of Ohio?
DH: I think Kent and northeast Ohio in general is a place of deep listening and creative force that perhaps has been fed and charged by the wounds we have sustained as a community: the May 4th shootings in 1970, the Cuyahoga River catching fire in 1969 in Cleveland, and other struggles within our communities. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like art, not just writing, but all forms of art, is so often an attempt to make sense out of what troubles us. There seems to be a deep conscience in this area. It’s fertile ground for poetry and all art. That, and, of course, our cloudy skies. We have to rely on our inner resources, our “inner weather.”
KS: Any dreams or future projects in the pipeline?
DH: As a matter of fact, yes—the Wick Poetry Center is embarking on perhaps its most exciting era yet! We are in the process of relocating onto the University Esplanade close to an exciting, revived downtown Kent and adjacent to a new park that will showcase community voices and serve as an outdoor gathering space. The proposed new location for the Wick Poetry Center is a historic home and former residence of Kent State’s first female faculty member, informally called the “May Prentice House.” The University is relocating the house onto the new esplanade, which weaves through the university and connects to downtown Kent.
Another exciting feature of our relocation is an interactive "poetry park" that will sit adjacent to our new home. This inviting green space will be centrally located on the esplanade and will feature an outdoor gallery which will showcase the award-winning Traveling Stanzas posters; and also serve as a gathering space for quiet reflection or public events, performances, and classroom visits. As a community landmark, the poetry park will be a source of great pride for town and gown and become a destination point for community members, local schools’ writing classes, and participants in poetry writing outreach programs.
Karen Schubert's work appears or is forthcoming in MiPOesias, quickly, Ohio Poetry Anthology, Conte and others. She is the recipient of a 2012 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and a 2013 residency at Headlands Center for the Arts. Her third chapbook I Left My Wings on a Chair won the Wick Poetry Center chapbook contest and is forthcoming from Kent State Press in 2014. She teaches English at Youngstown State.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.