Well, National Poetry Month rocked — I did a few readings, participated in the first Grand Rapids’ Poets Conference, met some new poets, and was invited to share some of my work on WYCE’s Electric Poetry (will post the link when it’s archived online). Big steps for a poet who spent the last six or seven years writing mostly in secret. And in all the hubbub, I forgot to announce winners for the poetry giveaway! Eep! Sorry for the delay, and many thanks to all who entered. Here are the winners at long last, and I will also email you for more details:
- Stephen S. Mills — winner of Diane Wakoski’s Emerald Ice
- Molly Spencer — winner of Lucille Clifton’s quilting
And in other fun poetry news, I found out that two of my poems have been accepted to be published in the next issue of Big Scream, which is published by David Cope. It is only the third time that some of my work will show up in print out in the wild, and it gives me another vote of confidence to keep pressing on. Although I admit that I have returned to some of my pre-Poetry Month hermit tendencies, but you know, small steps.
Tomorrow marks the start of National Poetry Month! One of the ways I’m taking action this year is through Kelli Russell Agodon’s Big Poetry Giveaway.
This is a great way to get to know poet-bloggers while circulating poetry books. Each blogger selects two books to give away. Visitors (like you) have the month of April to comment on the giveaway post (like this one) and enter. In early May, I’ll select two commenters at random to receive the books. I’ll contact you for your mailing address and send you a bit of poetic happiness on me. (If you want more details, Kelli has it all spelled out — and her blog is worth a visit anyway!)
I don’t have my own book of poetry to share yet, so I’ve chosen two of my favorite poets. They are both lady-poets, because my poetry tastes are admittedly a bit of a girls’ club. It’s something I’m working on (I’m looking at you, Donald Hall. But the truth is you got in via Jane, so…).
Oh how I love Lucille Clifton. I have cluttered the pages of quilting with Post-Its and penciled notes and underlines and stars. (If you win, you will get a fresh copy to devour in the same way.) I love these poems because they deal in identity, in the practice of naming, the role of language as a kind of witness to truth and history, and the power that plays in all of those things.
Some of my favorites in this book involve a retelling/consideration of the creation myth. Adam is vulnerable in Clifton’s poems, and Eve has an inner life that Clifton doesn’t define but instead opens up, into a subtle exposure of the deeper story (a kind of witnessing in and of itself).
As an undergrad, I lucked out and was dissecting quilting in one class and Paradise Lost in another. The two layer together in interesting ways. If you cross the way Milton positions Eve seeing her reflection for the first time with Clifton’s “sleeping beauty”, for instance, you can discover great texture to Eve and her process of “waking up.” I’m a nerd and find this kind of dialogue between texts fascinating. So, if you win quilting and are equally intrigued by myths relating to Eve and the creation story, consider reading parts of it alongside Paradise Lost! Poetry Month bonus points!
Diane was my poetry professor at Michigan State, and I read her work when I want a reminder of how deep imagery can propel poetry.
I have lots of admiration for Diane, in part because she takes poetry seriously, and I’m one of those people who feels like no one is ever taking things seriously enough. Not in a stuffy way… more in a “there’s no such thing as high expectations”/”always ready for a challenge” way. I felt a bit isolated in that regard until I met Diane, the professor who would confront you directly about why your work was buckling with cliches or why you got lazy with your metaphor half-way through the poem (guilty).
Her poetry has that same edge to it. It’s a drive — a precision of language and a self-possession charging through the voice of her poems. I love that. It’s something I haven’t mastered in my own voice yet, so I tend to read her work more from a place of observing craft than I do for straightforward enjoyment. Your mileage may vary of course — I’m not necessarily suggesting that Diane is a “poet’s poet.”
Ready to win?
If you are interested in winning either of these books, just leave a comment below by April 30, 2012! Be sure to include your name and an email address where I can reach you if win. Thanks for playing along, and happy National Poetry Month!
I’m excited to share that I’m one of 10 poets who will read as part of Poetry on Demand at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on April 6. I’m participating in part because I didn’t take enough time to talk myself out of it — I’ve wanted a challenge to put myself out there more with my poetry, and this opportunity fits in many ways.
The event itself is unique and more intimate than a typical poetry reading. Each poet will write a new poem that engages with a piece in the GRAM’s new Rauschenberg exhibit (hence an ekphrastic poem, for those who don’t know, is a poem that responds to art). At the event, the poet will stand near the piece they chose, and attendees will approach and ask to hear the poem. So, the event format alone is a good challenge — it’s humbling when people take time out for a poetry reading, but to share poetry in such a direct way will be especially meaningful (hopefully for everyone involved, not just the poets).
And then of course there is the issue of creating a new poem, in response to someone else’s inspired piece of work, and revealing that poem within a matter of weeks. The challenge here does not need much explanation. Especially if you know that I am a happily patient and intentional editor. This will be good practice for me in just “shipping” a poem (a concept worth borrowing from my entrepreneur side).
The piece I chose is Blue Line Swinger. I have a longstanding attraction to dichotomy (it was the bread and butter of my English degree) and curiosity about the relationship between parallel or seemingly disconnected things, so the line running through the piece was pretty seductive to me. I want to know why it’s there, what it means, how it creates worlds on either side, and so on. And with the reading I’ve done on Rauschenberg, I’ve gathered that he had a thing for chance and serendipity, which only further spurs my interest in the line.
I don’t want to say much more than that, because over-explaining poems is bad juju — especially when they aren’t even fully written.
So far a handful of lines have come to me. I thought I’d take cues from Rauschenberg and separate them onto individual index cards to mix them up, similar to his Synapsis Shuffle. The only thing this has shown me so far is that I’m stuck on certain lines going a certain way — to the detriment to the flow of the rest of the poem.
So I’m backing off for today. The poem is still at work in the back of my brain, but the more my conscious hands touch it, the more stubborn I become about certain parts. Here’s to chance and the possibility of more lines presenting themselves as the poem rolls around.
This post on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog on quantum poetics has me all riled up (in the best way), and rattling off about it to Carl wasn’t enough, so here I am.
I’ve had a keen sense lately that the different “minds” — scientific, analytic, energetic, poetic, spiritual — are on paths toward each other. And not in the usual “holistic thinking” way. That is nice but falls short. This is about more than the usual awareness and intermingling of disparate ideas.
So often something rooted in science, especially physics and astronomy, sparks questions, ideas, or beliefs that (for me) end up being manipulated via poetics. This is happening more frequently and with greater intensity than before, with an underlying persistence that makes me wonder if these “minds” might eventually crystallize into something wholly distinct. Rather than unlikely couplings illuminating the big picture, could they be the framework of the picture itself?
I hinted at this in my post about emptiness in space… the idea of bringing my poetic mind to what might have traditionally been questions of science. On a recent draft of a poem, I finally gave up on line edits and simply wrote “Learn more astronomy” at the bottom of the page. And not just for the sake of accurate content details… but for the concepts and what they present to poetry, and vice versa.
So tonight I discover this post, and much like finally getting the diagnosis for a funny growth on your arm or an obscure pain in your gut, I had that shiver of, “Oh, they’ve got a name for this!”
Quantum poetics. This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to shut my door and read and write for days and days. This quote in particular (from the essay “Quantum Poetics: Writing the Speed of Light”) makes me giddy:
“If language is not merely descriptive but participates in the formation of physical reality, then poetry might be said to constitute a manipulation of physics, which would redefine poetry as not just a phenomenon of consciousness or an ontological and/or epistemological activity, but also as a clinamatic mutation on physical reality, or what might be thought of as nature.”
So damn fascinating. And so much to learn… it’s one thing to be enamored with the ideas, it’s another to understand and play around with the mechanics. For now, I’m going to keep unpacking it and keep trying to tune in (and perhaps spilling more here when the energy needs a home, especially if it means connecting with others who are exploring similar ideas).
I confess that I had written a different confession. But then I began to prepare it for this blog and realized it was too heavy and too squared at the edges. So I started over.
I confess that Christmas is a big deal in my family.
Much of Stoddard family lore is rooted in Christmas traditions. For instance, ever since my grandparents were newlyweds, the family has gone to a tree farm and cut down our Christmas trees together. It’s a rite of passage for newcomers and a sacred thing for old-timers. Every year involves an hour or two of searching for the perfect tree — which in my case usually involves finding the tallest and fattest one I can reasonably stuff in our living room.
I confess that death made Christmas a bigger deal.
My grandma died on Christmas morning eight years ago. I confess that I watch for the collision of opposing and unlikely experiences, because I like to see the tension that inevitably connects them. 2003 was full of these collisions: Christmas, my grandma’s death, and parts of my first wedding all met up.
Eight years later, I still unravel these pieces and find myself looking at the experience in new ways. There are parts I love even if they’re not memories I can really share anymore, like searching for my wedding dress and buying it off the rack, so I could show it to Grandma. There are parts that are still surprisingly painful. It feels like I’ll always cry when I hear Silent Night, which my family sang to her in a large circle at the funeral home. It’s not the missing her that’s hard when I hear it. It’s remembering what it felt like to see everyone I love in one room, singing together and grieving for the same person while feeling the loss in their own way, with their own stories attached to her. Like a chorus of histories.
I confess that Christmas changes, or I change within it.
This Christmas seemed to follow the tune of the year: transition, transition, transition. Some of it was out of necessity — with the first grandchild/nephew born on December 10, some traditions (like decorating the family tree together) had to take a backseat. Christmas day itself was pretty quiet, as we had gone to Carl’s family on Friday and done our Stoddard get-together on Christmas Eve. Late on Christmas day, it struck me that Carl and I should have prepared our own rituals for the day. We’ve grown so accustomed to the larger family traditions dictating our holiday time that I realized we have hardly any traditions as our own little family.
I confess that I believe two people can be a whole family.
And this is the transition I sensed — the need to acknowledge Carl and me as our own family, the opportunity to shape the holidays in our own way. I caught myself living in someone else’s framework: when you have kids, then you’re a “family,” and then you create traditions. It’s not a model I subscribe to intentionally, but it’s an easy one to fall into, especially in a family-focused place like West Michigan. There is an odd “When we have a family…” dynamic that not only makes bad assumptions about what a family is, but also can put a child-free couple’s (or single person’s) life on hold. I confess that I see this framework in action, and I am opting out of it.
I confess that I will be a stronger writer in 2012, thanks to Carl’s amazing gift.
That, my friends, is an invitation to the Poets on the Coast writing retreat with Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich, two poets I have followed for awhile and a retreat I wanted to attend when it was launched last year. I have been desperate to connect with like-minded people to push my writing forward. I have tried a couple different online experiences, the most recent of which was a technological blunder (just say no to Adobe Connect) that only pointed out the hard fact: my writing will only go so far in isolation. I felt positively restless, almost angry, after that experience, like a boat that keeps being denied a place to dock.
This gift is a huge investment in the de-isolation of my writing. Not only will I get to spend three days working with two accomplished poets, I’ll travel to Portland, Oregon and then drive a couple hours to this fantastic, literary-themed hotel in Newport, where I’ll hopefully make some West Coast writing friends. It’s a triple threat of creativity: a new place, new people, and guidance to create new poems. Yes, yes, yes.
I’m so excited about this opportunity and beyond grateful to Carl. Next year already feels more productive on the writing front knowing that this retreat is waiting for me. (And I confess that I would not mind if discovering a writing retreat in my stocking became one of our new Christmas traditions.)