Monday, April 14, 2014

It's National Poetry Month; Therefore, Buy Books. Part III.

Put money in thy purse! It's time to buy some more poetry books in celebration of National Poetry Month. Be generous to yourself. And don't forget that poetry books make great gifts.

Martha Silano
Reckless Lovely (Saturnalia)
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Martha Silano’s poetry is gloriously street-smart and fully roaming and ripe. I want to stand up and slow-clap when she fixes her exacting gaze on warthogs, space probes, millipedes or miracles.These stunning pages, like a "land-less landmass, [a] dollop-y desert dessert loosed," fold moments of joy into Reckless Lovely with inventive, chewy language, and a relentless appreciation of music and delight.
                                              —Aimee Nezhukumatathil 

Read 2 poems with audio at Terrain
Read “House of Mystery” at The Journal

Natalie Diaz
When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon)
won the Debut-litzer Prize
Won an American Book Award
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This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life and family narrative: A sister fights for or against a brother on meth, and everyone from Antigone, Houdini, Huitzilopochtli, and Jesus is invoked and invited to hash it out. These darkly humorous poems illuminate far corners of the heart, revealing teeth, tails, and more than a few dreams. 
                                                            —publisher’s note

Read sample poems at Drunken Boat
See Natalie's Sunday Poem feature at Gwarlingo

Carl Dennis
Another Reason (Penguin Books)
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These poems enact a drama of attempted persuasion, as the poet confers with himself, with intimates, and with strangers, if only in the hope that by defining differences more precisely one may be drawn into a genuine dialogue. As the poet asserts and questions his own authority, encountering a wide range of competing claims from other voices, we find ourselves included in a conversation that deepens our notion of the human community.
                                                                      —Publisher’s note

Read 2 poems at Plume
Read “Introduction to Philosophy” in Ploughshares

Karla Huston
A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag)
Click Cover to Purchase

Karla Huston's poetry is both brainy and sensuous, and the whole is underwritten by a musical ear attuned to the American idiom at its jazziest. From the title poem, which is a tour de force of naming, to the linguistic highwire act she performs in "O Hair," Huston writes the way her mother wore lipstick—"red was her color. . .and she was taking all of it with her"—this poetry is bright red, and the poet has firmly in her sights nothing less than everything. 
                                                                         —Phil Dacey

Read Karla's poem featured in Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry
Read Karla's Pushcart winner "Theory of Lipstick" at Blogalicious, with Q&A and video

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's National Poetry Month; Therefore Buy Books. Part II

Here's my second round of poetry book recommendations. I hope you find something here that makes you want to hit that Buy button. Let's do more than just read poetry. Let's support it with our purchases.

Oliver de la Paz
Requiem for the Orchard (Univ of Akron)
Won the University of Akron Poetry Prize
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Oliver de la Paz’s Requiem for the Orchard is a love letter to memory and its ability to both sustain and shatter us beyond the “dust of ourselves,/ cold, decisive, and purely from the earth.” de la Paz renders in beautiful and exacting language the tenderness and ferocity of boyhood, alongside the enduring vulnerability of parenthood. Out of such intimate recollection a generous wisdom blossoms.  
                                                                        —Jon Pineda

Read 3 poems with audio
Read 4 poems at Diode

Ellen Bass
Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press)
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Observant, curious, honest, not fancy but beautifully measured and crafted, Ellen Bass’s poems take on the whole cloth–she looks at wasps and bad habits and infidelity and old Jewish ladies, tomato fungus and the million other phenomena of our average lives. Plenty of bad news, here, plenty of heartbreak. Call her a midwife, call her a priest, if you’re from Berkeley, call her a life coach: in some way her poems talk us through it. She has a radiant, capable heart, a sense of humor, and knows her art. Reading her poems fills me with respect and gratitude.
                                                                       —Tony Hoagland

Read "Pleasantville, New Jersey, 1955" on Poetry Daily.
Read sample poems.

Susan Laughter Meyers
My Dear, Dear Stagger Grass (Cider Press Books)
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These keenly inventive stanzas, unfurling like fragments of film, infuse the literary landscape with a refreshing and commanding cadence. With one swift, memorable stroke, Meyers has assured her place in the canon. 
                                                                   —Patricia Smith

Read "Coastland," Q&A, and audio at Blogalicious.
Read "Dear Atamasco Lily" featured at Linebreak with audio.

Adele Kenny
What Matters (Welcome Rain Publishers)
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In Adele Kenny's finely wrought meditations on grief and loss, she never forgets that she's a maker of poems; in other words, that the poem in its entirety is more important than any one of its utterances, phrasings, or laments. What Matters straddles two of the exigencies of the human condition: diminishment and endurance. It abounds with poems that skillfully earn their sentiments. 
                                                                      —Stephen Dunn

Read sample poems.
Read "Like I Said," with Q&A, video at Blogalicious.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

It's National Poetry Month; Therefore, Buy Books. Part I.

Throughout this month I'll be posting poetry books that I have bought, read, and admired—and that I now recommend to you. Poets need support. Nothing lifts the heart of a poet more than a book purchase by a new or returning reader. Keep in mind as you juggle pennies that a poetry book is one of the best bargains around. Let's say a book has 40 poems in it and sells for $16. That means you're getting each of those poems for a mere forty cents! The poet labored over each one of those poems, probably spending days, weeks, months on each one. Each one of those poems can be read and enjoyed over and over. So this month treat yourself to some wonderful books and, at the same time, make a poet happy.

Patricia Fargnoli
Winter (Hobblebush Books)
Second Place for the Julie Suk Book Award
Click Cover for Amazon
Open this book, and you will find "a blind woman / who tells us / the dreams of the blind." You will sense the snow in your hands and the "scent of raspberries and lime, / a wooden chair rocking." You will see a man who "stands in a salt marsh up to his knees in the black water" and "some stranger waving to another stranger, / waving." Who are these strangers, reader, if not ourselves? Patricia Fargnoli loves this delicacy of suggestion, tells us the dreams of the blind, which are perhaps our own, tells us of the natural world, which around us is vanishing. This is a book where, "before all the bridges have burned / the cows will come home." Yes, for those who wait "Cometh the hour, cometh the cows." And so, "in the silence of horses," one perhaps, hears one s own voice more clearly. And then come "blind horses" with the naked woman, and also "six white horses eating gray sky" and "the horses rear and bolt with the wide-eyed children." This is a bestiary of the spirit.
                                                                        —Ilya Kaminsky

Read Pat's poem "Hunger" on Poetry Daily.
See Pat's Sunday Poem feature at Gwarlingo.

Susan Rich
Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press)
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In Cloud Pharmacy, Susan Rich transforms unease into beauty--sensual and marvelously conflicted poems of romantic love, memory, and identity. These poems weigh gorgeous evidence but never offer simple decisions. The recurring image of a wildfire never lets them rest. In a central sequence of original poems, Rich explores 19th century photographer Hannah Maynard's images, looking in grief-heavy places for revelation. The result is wonderfully strange and unsettling; this is Rich's most haunting collection yet.
                                                                   —Kathleen Flenniken

Read Susan's poem "Blue Grapes," with Q&A and audio at Blogalicious.
Read two sample poems from Cloud Pharmacy.

Kathryn Stripling Byer
Descent (Louisiana State University Press)
Recipient of  the SIBA award
Recipient of the Roanoke Chowan Award  +stripling+byer
Click Cover for Amazon

From the glorious opening poem, the mourning sound of the morning train weaves through Kathryn Stripling Byer’s new collection, as much a part of the hills of home as are its sins and beauties. Oh, the longing to shed forever what we are and what made us, at the same time hugging the litany to us that brings it all back: Cullowhee Creek, Buzzards Roost, hay bales, blackberries, grandmother’s gladiolas and lace doilies, and the earth that knew us better than we knew ourselves. Such longing in these pages, such hunger, such "grabbing at air."
                                                                            —Alice Friman

Read selected poems from Descent.
See Kathryn's Sunday Poem feature at Gwarlingo.

Julie L. Moore
Particular Scandals (Cascade Books)
Click Cover for Amazon

These are poems that span our daily lives and ask the hard metaphysical and theological questions living brings. . . . They are alert (without sentimentality or false transcendence) to the grace and beauty, both ordinary and commonplace, that open our hearts and mouths in hallelujah. I so admire these poems that quietly refrain from false claims and extravagances, but patiently bring us—in their detailed evocations—closer to [our] paradoxical and mysterious lives.
                                                                          —Robert Cording

Read Julie's poem "Clifton Gorge" on Poetry Daily.
Read Julie's poem "Abundance" on Your Daily Poem.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Poem-a-Thon: Are You Up for a Challenge?

Could this be the year you take on the 30-day challenge for April? Take a look at this one from the journal, Tiferet. Your participation will help raise funds for the journal. If you see the project through to the end, publisher Donna Baier Stein will send you the gift of a free copy of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. Read the information here. Then send your response to:

Similar to other fund-raising marathons, you get other people to commit to a dollar amount per poem. If you complete thirty poems during April, you send the pledged amount to the journal and receive your free copy of The Crafty Poet. Then you can use that to keep on writing in the months ahead. Your poems do not need to be finished, polished poems. According to Stein, drafts are fine. And if you can't complete the challenge, so what? At least you will have tried and helped support a worthy cause.

Good luck!

Monday, March 24, 2014

A New Incarnation for "Orchids"

If you're not familiar with Nic Sebastian's The Poetry Storehouse, you must get familiar. It's a wonderful resource of poems, audios, and videos. Poets are invited to submit poems. If selected, the poems are posted at the site. The poets may then send in an audio for each poem. Nic and her team of readers may also choose to make an audio of a poem. The poem and audio are then made available for a "remix." Someone who has skill in making videos may select one of the poems and transform it into a video. The videos sometimes incorporate video clips from other sources and sometimes are made from still images. A music track is added. The result is a new version of the poem. I've viewed a number of these remixes and they are of incredible beauty.

Nic, who is a wonderful reader of poetry—she has a great voice and really captures the pulse of a poem—made an audio of my poem, "Orchids," from my book, What Feeds Us. I was delighted with that and then some days later completely thrilled with the video she made of the poem. Here's the poem:


    They are hot and moist in operation, under the
    dominion of Venus, and provoke lust exceedingly.

        —The British Herbal Guide, 1653

Such flowers must be used with discretion.
Love of them becomes obsession.

A man pursues an orchid as he once
pursued a green-eyed woman. He hunts

in Florida swamps, Thailand, and Brazil,
delirious with lust, blissed on the smell

of dust and mulch, steamy veil of moisture,
breathing pores on leaves, tessellated lure

of waxy sepals, pouched lips, and tubers,
stamen and pistil twisted together,

inflorescence of Phalaenopsis,
Vanda Sanderiana, Cryptanthus.

Dream-haunted nights—ghost, slipper, and spider,
the deep plunge to the nectar inside her.

Now take a look at what Nic did with the poem:

As if that weren't enough bountiful gift for me, another filmmaker, Paul Broderick, also chose the same poem and audio for a new video and produced a very different version, also fantastic. I'm glad I don't have to choose only one. I love them both.

Check out Paul's version:

If I were still teaching, I think it would be fun to do a lesson with the poem and videos. Ask students to read and respond to the poem. Show the two videos and ask students to compare and contrast. Then perhaps ask them to find a poem they like and make a video.

All of the videos produced by The Poetry Storehouse are available at their Vimeo page.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century
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I’ve written two sestinas in my entire life. After the first one, I thought that that would probably suffice for a lifetime. But some years later I found myself once again tackling a form I found difficult, elusive, and enticing—and more than slightly obsessive. I’d just read yet one more true crime book and wondered, as I often had, just why I found that genre so compelling. Just how depraved was my mind? Then I had a lightbulb moment: Because it always happens in someone else’s house. And thus began my second sestina, “Why I Read True Crime Books.”

I began with that first line and moved on to the next, then the next. I moved to the second stanza, putting the ending words down the right margin in the prescribed pattern. I labored hard. I stopped after a few stanzas. I put away the draft. I kept it nearby and often thought of it. Every few weeks or months I returned to it. Two years later that sestina was done. I’m not sure I have another one in me.

But I have dozens of them now before me, in the just-released anthology, Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Carolyn Beard Whitlow and Marilyn Krysl and published by UPNE. This is a beautifully designed book, with an elegant and eye-catching cover. I very much appreciate that the book is slightly over-sized so that each sestina fits on one page. The book includes 103 poems by 103 poets. I am happy to have my sestina included among poems by such poets as Maxine Kumin, Marilyn Nelson, Sherman Alexie, Alicia Ostriker, Kelly Cherry, Denise Duhamel, Patricia Smith, Dana Gioia, Donald Hall, and Evie Shockley. Space does not allow me to include all the names here, but trust me when I say that the list of poets is impressive.

The book is organized into eight sections: 1) Americana, 2) Art, 3) Love and Sex, 4) Memory, Contemplation, Retrospection, and Death, 5) The Natural World, 6) Sestinas about Sestinas: Metasestinas, 7) Sestinas with Irregular Teleutons, and 8) Unconventional Sestinas. The book begins with an excellent Introduction by Marilyn Krysl, includes a brief introduction before each section, and ends with an Afterword by Lewis Turco. Teachers and students of the sestina will be grateful to find an Index of First Lines, an Index of (Loosely) Metrical and Syllabic Sestinas, and an Index of Teleutons (each poem’s six repeating ending words).   

Although all of the poems are in the same form, you’ll find plenty of variety here. The poems cover a wide range of topics. Some take liberties with the form and offer surprises. Some use short lines, some use long lines, some alternate line lengths, some use indented lines. Some of the poems include rhyme and some are metrical or syllabic. Some are serious while others are playful. 
I'm enjoying this anthology so much that I'm beginning to think maybe I will try yet another sestina after all.
Here’s one of my favorites from the book. It’s by Kathryn Stripling Byer, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina. 


It’s been years since I’ve kept a garden,
the soil needing too much work. One breath
of spring, and my old dread of late freeze
comes back again. Sometimes it’s moonlight
that keeps me awake. Sometimes night sweats.
Then I feel a clamor like wings

in my throat. The most frightening sound? Wings
in the chimney or trapped in the house. Such a garden
of fears I’ve grown all my life, sweaty
stalks rising out of the muck! When I couldn’t breathe
my mother would turn on the light
and sit rubbing my back. She spooned frozen

milk into my mouth, as if she’d freeze
the dark in my throat where those wings
trembled. The trouble with light?
There’s never enough at the end. I imagine a garden
the dying walk into as they take their last breath
before the gates slam shut. These sweaty

deathbed imaginings! What good does it do me to sweat
if I’ve nothing to show for it? If I could freeze
time, I’d never forget how each next breath’s
a mystery. What keeps it going, this wing-
beat of rise and fall, first thing that out of the garden
gate Adam and Eve saw, the cold light

of their own mortality dawning? God’s light
seemed thrilling at first. They were glad to sweat
under it, tilling the soil of that first garden,
expecting good weather to last, not a hard freeze
in store for eternity. The angels dozed, wings
furled all afternoon. So silent. Scarcely a breath.

Some days the wind makes me catch my breath.
Then I’m amazed by the simplest things—light,
for example, or air, the way it’s made for wings.
I remember my father at night washing sweaty
hands, dirt spinning round in the drain. He could freeze
me with one look, God turning me out of the garden.

That garden has always been breathing its myth
down my throat, its freezing light making my palms
sweat, my arms heavy with wanting to be wings.

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