The world resists this easy path to meaning, and so too must poetry. A metaphor illuminates both of its halves or it illuminates nothing. The poet is witness; a witness disrupts. The world observed is the world disordered.
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).
1. Make the perfect cup of cocoa in a mug that sets the mood for a creative evening. (See this important piece of writing if you don’t know why such a mug exists.)
2. Enjoy said cocoa while reading in front of the fireplace. Watch Nikky Finney’s acceptance speech at the National Book Awards and feel incredibly grateful for the language and minds of poets, who carve out space we might not otherwise find.
3. To continue your pre-game stretch, write in a journal, preferably one that was personally selected with great care after nearly an hour of browsing at a local bookstore and that happens to be in your favorite color (green is a suggested favorite color, in case you need one).
4. Take up your mug on its suggestion and proceed to write like a motherfucker, polishing up a few earlier drafts of poems, generating some new ideas, and all the while celebrating that the week is young and you have already done something to create within it.
I picked up a subscription to 32 Poems earlier this year and finally had the chance to spend time with the latest issue tonight. As the name suggests, there are 32 poems in each issue, with a straightforward presentation. Of those 32, I marked five for re-reading and deeper processing (heavy emphasis on processing, as my notes below are not meant to be “reviews” by any stretch):
- Against Emptiness, by James Arthur. Something is sticky about this poem. As in I keep coming back to it, but I’m not entirely sure why. I think it may have something to do with the dichotomy of air/uncertainty/emptiness and definition/certainty/purposefulness. Or maybe it’s something about meaning and how we intend, or embed, it in the world. I don’t know.
- Carbon, by Bruce Bond. I’ve been playing around with carbon dating in one of my poems, so I was interested in how Bond used the language. Beyond that, I’m wondering what felt incomplete about this poem for me. Something about the last stanza felt out of place, like the poem shifted its perspective — from meditative to almost instructive.
- Words for Words, by Taije Silverman. I’d like to keep unpacking this. I’m wondering about the specific word choices of the speaker, and if there are any consistent parallels in which word is exchanged for another. They all add up to the sort of perfectly anxious final thought: “I want to dig up streets.”
- After the End, by Ashley Anna McHugh. Something about the voice in the poem makes me want to return and listen more.
- On Saturn the Sky is Blue, by Sarah Lindsay. I’m attracted to anything that borrows language from the mechanics of the universe, and there are some beautiful images here, such as: …watch a thunderstorm, thirty miles tall, / walking on stilts of lightning.
Something I’ve been wondering about, which resurfaced as I read 32 Poems, is the challenge of perspective and voice. I’ve been trying to move away from writing so much in first person, if only to use that as a constraint to spark new ideas.
I’ve been thinking about the self-consciousness of first person. When is it contributing to a narrative and when does it start to feel like a claustrophobic self-portrait? With some of the poems I’ve read recently and in some of my own work, I’m beginning to feel as though holding space for “I” and “me” gets in the way of the work the poem really needs to do. Poems weighted heavily in first person have started to feel itchy to me.
I’m not entirely sure how to resolve this, because as I noted with “Carbon” above, other perspectives can be slippery slopes to tones or styles that may not be intended. In one stanza, the tone can shift from meditative to pedantic, from inclusive to authoritative. This seems to be an easier slip when we leave the realm of the self (I, me) and must project a bit more to get to the perspectives of others (you, we, us, them).
Which then makes me wonder: Is excessive use of first person a bit of a crutch? I’m picturing it now like a yoga block. A steady place to put my hand while the rest of my body, or the poem as it were, plays around with other elements, such as language.
Ok, no conclusions here. But I had to capture that somewhere. I’m wondering if there is a writing exercise in this… maybe slicing the same question or concept from multiple perspectives and seeing how empathy, authority and voice play out across the resulting poems. What is more powerful? What is more inclusive, accessible, compelling, etc.?