Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sorry, I Don't Remember

Some years ago I heard a well-known poet say that if you hadn't memorized your poems, you weren't a real poet. I cringed, first of all, because I hate generalized rules like that, and then because I dislike the arrogance such a statement implies. But mostly I cringed because I had not memorized my poems.

Last week I watched a video, The Florida Book Awards 2010 Award Winner Interview with Lola Haskins, in which Haskins is interviewed about her poetry book, Still, the Mountain (Paper Kite Press, 2010). In talking about the organization of the book, Haskins mentions that the poems were written over a span of quite a few years. But when putting them together in a book, she wanted a deliberate organizational plan. Explaining how she came up with her plan, she says, "I know all my poems by heart," so she simply laid out just the titles, not the poems. She didn't need the poems because she had them all memorized. She what?

That amazed me. A more common experience for me is to be looking over my poems and finding one that startles me because I barely remember having written it. When I'm in the midst of making submissions, I review my list of titles and sometimes have to open a poem to remind myself what it's about. When organizing a book, I need titles AND poems.

Knowing that other poets can remember all their poems or even large numbers of them makes me feel somewhat inadequate. Is this a brain deficiency, a gift that others have that wasn't bestowed on me? And those poets at readings who carry no books or papers to the microphone but recite from memory—how do they do it? I rehearse my poems before a reading, so I have some lines memorized which enables me to make eye contact, but I do not have whole poems committed to memory.

Performance poets, especially, seem to have this talent. Taylor Mali and Patricia Smith come to mind. But I'm always a little worried for them. I recall a reading I attended several years ago at which a performance poet got started with his reading, poems safely memorized, then halfway through he just forgot and could not get back on track. It was painful to watch that.

When I have a poem in progress, I usually have it memorized, or close to it, and I love that because it enables me to carry the poem around in my head and work on it when I'm supposed to be doing something else. But once the poem is fully committed to paper, revised and revised, and deemed done, I'm onto the next poem and the previous one falls out of my memory.

I also envy and admire those poets who have memorized large chunks of poems by other poets. Maybe I can get a line or two, but not whole poems. I can put the poem in my memory, but I can't make it stay there forever the way other people can. I love the expression "to know by heart" with its implication of feeling the poem, and I do feel the poem, my own and ones by other poets, but eventually, poof. Gone.

Please tell me that I'm not the only poet who lacks this talent of memorizing poems.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Issue of VPR

The Fall/Winter issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review was recently posted. VPR was one of the early online literary journals and showed that an online journal could publish strong work and make a real contribution to poetry. Editor Ed Byrne has done much to make VPR a highly respected online journal and one that has served as a model for others that have followed.

This issue contains poems by 35 poets:

Claire Bateman, Shari Wagner, Michael Dobberstein, Elise Hempel, 
Philip Dacey, Susan Cohen, George David Clark, Kim Bridgford, 
Greg McBride, Gary Fincke, Judy Kronenfeld, Joanne Lowery, 
John A. Nieves, Mercedes Lawry, Laura Davies Foley, Scott Brennan, 
John Ronan, Joannie Stangeland, Darlene Pagan, Mark Thalman, 
Marilyn McCabe, Kate Fox, Doug Ramspeck, Amy Eisner, 
Patricia Caspers, Rose Postma, Athena Kildegaard, Thomas Alan Holmes, 
Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo, Austin MacRae, Judith Harris, 
                                                           Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, John McDermott

The featured poet in this issue is Thomas Reiter. Although I've never met him, he's a fellow New Jersey poet.

This issue also includes five book reviews.

And my poem, "How Heavy the Snow." It's in good company.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good News Department

I have won a contest! My poem "Original Sin" has received First Place in Naugatuck River Review's annual contest for 2012. I rarely enter contests these days, but obviously I'm glad I entered this one. Although this poem, when I wrote it, made my whole body happy in that way the keepers do, I was still delightfully surprised when I received an email a few weeks ago informing me that the poem was a finalist and on its way to the final judge, Pam Uschuk, and would at the very least be offered publication.

Then this past Sunday I was reading when the phone rang and I wondered grumpily, Oh, who the heck is that and it better not be a robot. It wasn't. It was editor Lori Desrosiers. So I thought maybe second or third, but she clearly said First Place! I was quite literally speechless and kind of choked up.

The prize is a joy-inducing check for $1000 and publication in the 2013 winter/spring issue.

Naugatuck River Review is a journal for narrative poetry, but the sub-title of the journal is Narrative Poetry That Sings. I knew that my poem had a story to tell and I worked hard to make it sing.

Once again my involvement with someone else's work stimulated my own. Several months ago Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea contributed a wonderful Craft Tip to my monthly Poetry Newsletter. I bought his most recent collection, Year of the Young (Four Way Books, 2011). The gorgeous rabbit on the cover reminded me of one of my childhood pets, an unfortunate rabbit named Snowball, a pet who'd left me a legacy of guilt. I worked out that guilt in the poem. And surprised myself in doing so, so I was gratified that the judge mentioned the element of surprise as something she admired in the poem. I think Frost had it right: No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

The finalists and semi-finalists are listed at the journal's website.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Book in Progress

I have great news—a new book coming forth! Not a collection of my poems but a craft book for practicing poets. The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop was recently accepted by Wind Publications and is tentatively scheduled for release summer 2013.

Putting together the manuscript was this past summer's project. The book includes the craft tips from my Poetry Newsletter—all of them written by accomplished poets. It also includes the model poems and prompts based on those poems. Again, the poems are all by accomplished poets. The prompts, written by me, call attention to the various elements of craft in the poems and ask readers to practice those elements in a new poem of their own. I've also included the Poet on the Poem features that I have posted on my blog over the past two years. Each poem is followed by a 5-question Q&A between me and the poet. The questions are primarily focused on elements of craft in the poem. Finally, there are Bonus Prompts.

The principal challenge of writing this book was organizational. How to get all that material into some sensible kind of structure? I hemmed and hawed for days and days. I tried one plan and then another. At last I landed on the one that made sense. So it's now organized into 10 sections. Each section includes several Craft Tip pieces, each relevant to the section's concept. Each craft tip is followed by a model poem and a prompt. Each section concludes with a Poet on the Poem piece and a Bonus Prompt.

The subtitle, "A Portable Workshop," indicates the various ways in which this book might be used. Many of us can only work from home. We might not have been able to go for an MFA. Or we have done so and now want to continue our education independently. This book gives readers what they need to work on their own. It assumes that the reader already has an understanding of the basics of poetic craft and it builds on that knowledge. But the book can also be used in a group workshop or as a text in a classroom. It's portable and will go where you go.

This has been a new kind of venture for me, and I'll confess to being pretty excited about it. I'm especially happy about the number of astonishing poets who are part of this book. Now I'm refining the bios, obtaining permissions and writing the credits, and compiling a list of recommended books. There are a few more pieces to plug in, but I'm confident that I'll meet my deadline.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Storm Damage

I seem to have disappeared from the Blogosphere, but I'm still here. First, as you must know, those of us in New Jersey got slammed with Hurricane Sandy. I'm very lucky in that my house sustained no damage. But take a look at this house just a few blocks away.

If you look to the left of the garage, you'll see where the tree trunk just snapped. But because the tree was so close to the house, the roof appears to have sustained minimal damage.

We lost lots and lots of branches that snapped off and fell, but fortunately we had recently removed two large dead trees and trimmed other living trees, so no trees crashed. As with last year's storm, leaves were still on trees, making them more subject to toppling.

The hurricane rolled in on Monday. At 7:15 that night the power went out. My husband had cleverly contrived to be in Florida—same stunt he pulled during last year's horrible October storm—so I was in the dark and on my own. At least it wasn't initially as cold as last year. Another lucky break was that we did not get the 12 inches of rain we were supposed to have received.

The next day I went to my daughter's house as she had not lost power. While there I could get on the internet and hear the sound of other humans and enjoy the light. But I didn't want to sleep there. What kept me sane at home was the Kindle Fire onto which I'd wisely downloaded a book. Since the Kindle is backlit, it was great for reading in the dark. Then I could get emails on my cell phone, but I don't have a smart phone so it was hard to send notes. Not a big deal.

Husband arrived home on Wednesday after a two-day delay. On Thursday at noon all things FIOS disappeared. No phone, no tv, no internet. I kept telling myself to be grateful that I still had heat and light while others had lost everything—and I was grateful. Still, it was frustrating to have had those things and then lost them again. All of that was restored late Monday afternoon.

Then yesterday we had the Nor'easter, Athena. Again, no damage here, but I really feel for the people who've already lost their homes and for those still without power. Also, some people in this area who'd had power restored lost it again. A big problem around here is getting gas. We're on an odd-even day plan which has helped a bit, but the lines are still very long as some gas stations have still not had their power restored and gas deliveries seem a bit spotty. Another smart move I made in anticipation of the hurricane was filling up, so I should be good for another week or so if I continue to hoard what I have in the tank.

Here's a picture of today's snow. Pretty, yes? But I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks a second storm was a bit too cruel.
At least I've had a good start on cleaning out my bookshelves.

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