As some of you may already know, a massive project has been
undertaken called The
Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. The goal is to create,
accretively over time, the largest database of women poets in the world. We
know it took thousands of workers almost 200 years to build the cathedral of
Notre Dame in Paris. The Mezzo Cammin timeline is the same idea. Think Sappho
to Sapphire. It will be an intellectual edifice built by many hundreds of
A panel was convened again at the West
Chester Poetry Conference this June to discuss the progress of the Mezzo
Cammin timeline. The project was launched in March 2010 by the poet Kim Bridgford, who
is also a professor and director of the West Chester conference. Here’s how it
works. Each entry on the timeline includes a photo or drawing, a data sidebar
and an essay written specifically for the project by accomplished women poets
and scholars. Whenever available, poems or links to poems by the author are
included. The timeline project was originally sponsored by Mezzo Cammin, the online
journal of formalist poetry by women, also spearheaded by Kim Bridgford. Many
essays have been generated for the timeline through seminars held from 2009
through 2013 at the West Chester conference. There are now 46 essays up on the
site, with 26 more in the works. The database includes canonical poets such as
Sylvia Plath but also lesser-known figures such as Enheduanna (arguably the
first recorded poet in history) and Christine de Pizan. Many of the essays,
especially those on non-English speaking poets of the past, require original research
and translation. The importance of the Mezzo Cammin timeline was illustrated recently
by a discussion on the poetry board Eratosphere, prompted by Wendy Sloan's essay
on Gaspara Stampa.
Women poets and scholars interested in writing an essay for
the database should contact the essay coordinator, the poet Anna M. Evans (email@example.com), with
credentials and a suggested poet.
This is at the Washington launch of the Mezzo Cammin
Women Poets Timeline Project in 2010. The second photo is of Marilyn Nelson and Sonia
Sanchez participating in the women poets roll call.
Then there’s the poet George Green. At the West Chester
Poetry Conference this June, George read from his new book, Lord
Byron’s Foot. His collection aptly won the 2012 New CriterionPoetry Prize. George blends technical skill with pop-culture
literacy, the vinegar of satire, literary literacy, the chipotle sauce of unblinkered
wit, and sphincter-loosening humor.
The poet and regular BAPster David Yezzi posted an entry
here in May suggesting that George Green had composed, perhaps, the funniest
poem ever written, “Bangladesh.” David’s post was called “The
Greening of Bohemia.” I recommend it, and I agree with David to a point,
but I would propose that “Bangladesh” is the second most comical poem ever written. The funniest poem ever
written in the Age of Man is “Lord Byron’s Foot.”
When George read this poem to a packed house at West
Chester, I saw respectable people and estimable poets bent over from wheezing, unable
to sit up in their chairs, brought to the brink of tears. Some auditors—with
cardiac conditions—looked to be at death’s door. The power of this poem is
mighty. It’s about Lord Byron and his friggin’ foot. I can do no further
justice to the poem than quote it in full, but this, I tell you, is nothing
compared with hearing George Green read it live:
you sailed across the Adriatic,
your scarlet jacket trimmed in gold,
there on the quarter deck, beglamored,
were all distracted by your foot.
your foot, your lordship’s gimpy foot,
twisted, clubbed and clomping foot, your foot.
Caroline went half-mad for your love,
she ever try to make you dance?
never, never would that happen;
with your limping Lordship’s foot—
your foot, your lame and limping foot,
and lumbering, plump and plodding foot.
We see you
posing with your catamite,
fashion-spread from 1812,
shoe seems to differ from the other.
the shoe that hides your hobbled foot?
your foot, your game and gimping foot,
and hobbled, clumped and clopping foot.
did Milbanke sue you for divorce?
buggery? I really do doubt that.
your foot, and everybody knows it.
we think about—your stupid foot.
your foot, your clumsy, clumping foot,
and gimping, stupid, stubby foot.
you had swum the Hellesponte,
“A fin is
better than a foot,” they’d say.
your back they’d say, “a fin is better,”
your Lordship’s foot was just a fin.
A fin, a
fin, your foot was just a fin;
flubbed and flumping foot was just a fin.
you went to Cavalchina, masked,
Leporello’s list (only half male),
your friends all whispering about?
they been remembering—your foot?
your foot, your halt and hampered foot.
hobbled, clubbed and clopping foot, your foot.
Odevaere drew you on your deathbed,
laurel on your alabaster brow,
he threw a
blanket on your legs—but why?
have been to cover up your foot?
your foot, your pinched and palsied foot,
crimped and clumping, gimped, galumphing foot.
if we just contemplate your bust,
a bust by
Thorvaldson or Bartolini,
and why is
that you ask, and why is that?
So no one
has to see your friggin’ foot,
your foot, your clomping monster foot,
your foot, your foot, your foot, your foot!
Great work, George.
Many, many thanks to Stacey Harwood and David Lehman for
inviting me to blog here this week!
Arriving home after several months of travel, and while taking some time to recollect experiences by organizing photographs, I came upon images of one of the most memorable trips of last year. It was my first visit to Brazil, where I performed a Mozart piano concerto in the city of Curitiba with a superb orchestra led by Maestro Osvaldo Ferreira.
Brazil made an indelible impression on me. After my performances in Curitiba, a modern city with all the 21st century commodities, I spent ten days traveling and learning about this mysterious, vast, multi-cultural country, buzzing with creativity. I took a detour to a part of the world both terrifying in its isolation and achingly beautiful - the last point of civilization before the great expanse of Amazon rainforest between Brazil and Colombia. Twelve hours by fast boat from Manaus lies a small town on the south bank of the portion of the Amazon River known as the Solimões. It is called Tefé, no roads lead to Tefé. It is only reachable by boat or small plane. Lonely Planet describes it: "It’s not that there is anything wrong – it’s a perfectly agreeable place, just not particularly memorable." Yet, it was in Tefé where I found one of the most extraordinary sites in all my travels.
The heat and humidity were unreal. As I walked from the port up the hill, I saw hundreds of large black birds circling up in the distance. Soon I realized these were vultures. The image was unsettling yet hauntingly beautiful, so I walked towards the birds. The heat was melting the sole of my sandals. After about half an hour, I reached the gates of the place I was looking for. What I encountered is a memory that will stay with me forever. A cemetery that was a charnel ground, with some of the most chilling (in spite of the heat) yet mesmerizing images of a place for the dead. Here are some of the images:
Vultures on top of the cemetery gates.
These vultures are very large. Majestic birds, really. Despite their bad reputation, vultures are saving this town, working as a full-time cleaning crew. They do not attack the living, they feast on the dead. I saw them playing with the local dogs and cats. They appear as gigantic awkward chickens in the backyards. The locals seem to ignore them altogether. When something is always present, we stop noticing it.
I have always been fascinated by cemeteries and try to visit them wherever I travel. The beautiful ruins of Tefé's cemetery is a feast of colors and shades.
The smudges on this gravestone look like a modern painting. And all these shades of blue...
Petals and leaves fall on the gravestones from the branches of the trees. Pink tears.
I took over thirty photographs of this grave. This child captured my heart.
Wisdom, understanding, strength, mercy, fear of G-d, science are all buried in here.
Beautiful ruins and open graves in all their glory
Life goes on. A cemetery is as good of a place as any to dry your laundry.
In other words, don't dump fresh corpses unattended!
as well as this amazing print from Stockholm in 1900.
Seemingly indefatigable, Tom maintains his blog with great creativity and scholarly intelligence and he does it day in and day out. Salutations to you, Tom, on this cold but brilliantly bright March afternoon in upstate New York -- spared for once on a day when Major Snow buried the corporals and privates of the northeast. -- DL
This evening I was reading this post on The Hairpin, all about "low-effort toddler games" like "Do You Like My Hat?" and "Hide Things in Your Clothes," and it reminded me of a passage from the children's book Pinky Pye, wherein a cat types up a list of suggested games:
The very clever cat then goes on to explain more complicated games, which you might enjoy reading (beginning on page 118).
And this led me to thinking of all the games I've played with poet friends, which now I will tell you how to play, in case you find yourself with guests or selves to entertain this weekend.
1. Game of First Lines
This is just like Balderdash, only instead of inventing definitions for obscure words, you invent first lines for titles. Pull a literary journal off the shelf, open to the first poem, read the title aloud, and then have your friends write down a convincing option for a first line, while you write down the actual one. Gather them all together, read them out loud, and have everyone guess which is real. Points to anyone who guesses right, or whose line manages to fool someone. Or don't keep track of points. Then pass the journal to the next person, so you get a chance to invent.
2. Game of Following the Rules of Vasko Popa's Game Poems
I just made this up, but I think it would end in tears. Here is how you play "Seducer"
One caresses the leg of a chair Until the chair moves And motions him coyly with her leg
Another kisses the keyhole Keeps kissing it and how Until the keyhole returns the kiss
A third one stands to the side Watches the other two And shakes and shakes his head
Until his head drops off
3. Game of Not Listening
When you are stuck in an audience listening to someone who is dull or going on for too long, write down words and phrases she says, in order, but very selectively, so that by the time she finishes you have a much better speech she could have made had she only known how to edit herself. Extra points if you arrange her own words into an entirely different subject.
4. Game of Constant Similes
Pretend that every time someone says "like" as filler (of the "um" variety) he is embarking on making a simile it is your job to understand.
5. Game of Stacking Books
This game I borrowed from Matthea Harvey, who borrowed it from the artist Nina Katchadourian. Go to a place full of books. Find titles you'd like to arrange into a poem. Stack them in an order that pleases you. Depending on whether or not you think the place is trying to keep the books in a different order, you might consider leaving them there for someone to discover. Or take a picture.
Immanuel Kant's essay on this subject is nowhere near as famous and infuential as those of Longinus and Edmund Burke, but it is a splendid piece of writing, showing an aptitude for dividing the world and everything in it in two -- a dichotomous impulse unrivaled by anyone until Auden took the reins and found the fork in every road.
Here is the "donnee" (as H. James would call it), the gift or the given, the material you have to work with, lifted from Kant's book (available in a slender paperback fro Yale UP) : "Knowledge is beautiful, understanding is sublime."
I took off from there, and this is what I came up with. Mark Bibbins, poetry editor of The Awl, posted it on September 6, 2012. If I find a picture of the philosopher I'll caption it, "Who says he Kant?" Well, let's see if I can. But perhaps I should close with a more heroic less wrathful Sandy than the ranting storm fiend that just wreaked havoc in our world.