Showing posts with label poets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poets. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Crafty Poet: The Contributors & a Contest

I am so very proud of the cast of poets who have contributed to my almost-here book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. In fact, I think this is such an impressive list that my publisher and I decided to use their names on the book's back cover instead of blurbs. A total of fifty-six poets contributed the 27 Craft Tips, the 10 Poet on the Poem Q&As, and the 27 model poems that go with the prompts.

Among these 56 poets are 13 former and current state Poets Laureate. Now here's the contest: the first person to match up the 13 Poets Laureate with their respective states will win a free copy of the book. I'm going to switch comments to moderation, so post your answers in the Comments section. Once there's a winner, I'll post the correct answers and announce the winner.

An additional 45 poets contributed the sample poems written in response to the prompts. This is also an impressive list—and not surprisingly, the poems they contributed are also impressive. I'll post those names another time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Dodge Poetry Festival 2012

The 2012 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival was held this past weekend, October 11-14, in Newark, NJ. This was the second time that Newark hosted the event. For many years the biannual event had been held at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, NJ. Two very different settings—one urban, the other country. This year's festival in Newark was bigger than the one in 2010 and offered a larger number of poets and one additional day.

As I did last time, I worked as part of the Dodge staff. However, this year the assignments changed, largely because Dodge was sponsoring the book tent on its own since Borders has gone out of business. So I had one 3-hour book tent assignment. Not my favorite, and between that and a 2-hour assignment on Sunday at the Information table, I got to hear less poetry than in the past. Still, I had a good time and enjoyed running into lots of friends I hadn't seen in a long time.

My favorite assignment of the weekend was hosting the Adrienne Rich tribute reading on Saturday. This was held in Aljira, a really cool art gallery. About 50 people turned up and many of them were very willing to come up onto the stage and read a favorite poem.

On Sunday one of my assignments was Storytelling with Queen Nur and Dwight James backing her up with music. Now, to be honest, I would never ever have chosen to attend that event. After all, I was there for poetry. However, it turned out to be really quite wonderful. Queen Nur sings, tells stories, talks, and adds just a bit of dancing. Dwight plays a wide variety of African instruments, mostly drums. His music is unobtrusive, always enhancing, never overwhelming the stories.

My camera work was not at its best and halfway through Saturday my battery went dead. But I managed to get a handful. I hope they give you a sense of the festival.

 Friday was Students Day—tons of students. They swarmed the book tent and bought lots of books. That was truly a beautiful thing to see. Praise to all the teachers who brought their students to the Festival! For many students this was an experience they will always remember. You, Teachers, gave it to them.
 Students browsing the books. This picture was taken during a performance segment so really does not give a good idea of how many kids were there.
 Oh! Look at this. Whose books could these be? Hm.
 This is the Main Stage in the Performing Arts Center. On Friday this was filled to capacity. The balconies were overflowing. I had to go up three floors to find a seat.
 Kahlil Murrill introducing Joseph Millar
John Murillo in a reading with Rachel McKibbens and Joseph Millar
 Queen Nur doing her thing
 Dwight James with his instruments
Queen Nur feeling the story

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Poetry Festival 2012: The Movie

Below is the video I recently made using photos from this year's Poetry Festival: A Celebration of Literary Journals, an event that took place on May 20. This was the 9th year I've run the festival. Each year I invite the editors of 12 journals to participate. Each journal gets half a table where the editor displays the most recent issue along with submission and subscription information. This part of the festival takes place in the Reference area.

I also ask each editor to invite two poets who have appeared in the journal. So we end up with 24 poets, each of whom reads two poems. The readings take place in a separate area, the Community Room, which seats approximately 80 people and remains close to full throughout the readings.

The readings are divided into 4 sessions, each including 3 journals and 6 poets. In between readings there's a 20-minute break which gives visitors time to browse the journals and chat with the editors. Poets are invited to bring copies of one book to offer for sale in the book sale area at the front of the library, so visitors also use the break time to browse and buy those books and get them signed.

This event draws 200-250 people. Some come for part of the day. Others remain for the entire 4 hours. People meet for lunch before the Festival. People go out for dinner after the Festival. It really is a very festive event, a day filled with poems, poetry chatter, journals, and books.

This event takes place at the West Caldwell Public Library in West Caldwell, NJ, and is assisted by librarian, Ethan Galvin. He arranges for the Friends of the Library to provide volunteers to man the book sale table. He also runs off the program which is given to each visitor. And he sends out press releases. The local Shop-Rite donates cookies. Needless to say, the assistance Ethan and the volunteers provide is invaluable and deeply appreciated.

If you're nearby, plan to join us for next year's 10th anniversary Festival. In the meantime, please enjoy the movie.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Invitation to a Poetry Festival

Schedule of Readings (times are approximate)


1:30-1:40—Lips: Linda Cronin, Jim Gwyn

1:40-1:50—Tiferet: Mark Hillringhouse, Linda Radice

1:50-2:00—US 1 Worksheets: John McDermott, Sharon Olson
(20 minute break)

2:20-2:30—Raintown Review: David M. Katz, Rick Mullin

2:30-2:40—Schuylkill Valley Review: Grant Clauser, Sean Webb

2:40-2:50—Journal of NJ Poets: Tina Kelley, Charlotte Mandel
(20 minute break)

3:10-3:20—Edison Literary Review: Deborah LaVeglia, David Vincenti

3:20-3:30—Paterson Literary Review: Susan Balik, Francesca Maxime

3:30-3:40—Painted Bride Quarterly: Miriam Haier, Susanna Rich
(20 minute break)

4:00-4:10—Adanna: David Crews, Lynee McEniry

4:10-4:20—Exit 13: Jessica deKoninck, Adele Kenny

4:20-4:30—The Stillwater Review: Robert Carnevale, Madeline Tiger

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When You Have No Ideas of Your Own

I keep hearing my poet friends say that they need to generate new work but can't seem to get started. They've probably heard me saying the same thing. Does this have something to do with the time of year? Is there a big creativity sag after the holidays? Is that sag weighted down by the prospect of the winter months still ahead? Whatever the cause, it does seem that some of us need a kick in the pants, also known as inspiration. When we don't have any fresh ideas, it's time to turn to the people who do. Here's a handful of sites where you'll find poetry prompts.

1. Adele Kenny's The Music in It. Adele posts a new prompt each Saturday. Each prompt is preceded by an image and links to relevant model poems. Then comes the prompt along with possible variations. Good instruction here.

2. Donna Vorreyer's Tow Truck. Donna has recently abandoned her weekly prompts here, but she's going to maintain her archive from the past year, so you have lots to choose from there.

3. Donna Vorreyer's Poetry Mix Tape. This is a new feature. Once a week Donna will post a favorite poem with some discussion of why she likes it as well as some discussion of the craft in the poem. The poem will be followed by a writing suggestion. As this project has just launched, the archive is empty, but it will soon be filling.

4. Anjie Kokan's Prompts for Writers. A new prompt appears approximately every 5 days. Prompts often cross genres. Occasionally features a Guest Prompter.

5. Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides. This is the site Robert keeps for Writer's Digest, and it's 's a veritable feast of prompts.

6. Margo Roby's Wordgathering. Her Friday Freeforall offers an amazing gathering of other sites where you can find all kinds of prompts. A regular treasure chest here.

7. Ken Ronkowitz's Poets Online. Ken offers one prompt per month. This site invites its users to submit the poems they write for posting in the following month. An archive is maintained. Since Ken has been maintaining this site for quite a few years, the archive is loaded.

8. Finally, if you're not already subscribed to my monthly Poetry Newsletter, consider joining. It's free. Each issue contains a model poem and a prompt based on the model. Sign-up form in the right sidebar.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Poetry Festival: A Celebration of Literary Journals: The Movie

I previously wrote about the festival I've run for the past eight years, an event which pays tribute to the journals which publish our work and make it possible for us to have readers. This year's event was held on Sunday, May 15. One of the more than 200 visitors was Michelle Caprario, a journalist for Splash Magazines. She has now written an article about the festival. Read it HERE.

Then sit back and watch the video. It should give you a good idea of the day. Each of the 12 editors is shown, followed by the two poets who represented the journal. All shown in the order of appearance. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Poets and Geeks

First there were poets. Then there were geeks. Now there are poet-geeks. I'd like to give a shout-out and a big round of applause to some of these strange but wonderful people who love poetry and computers and who are finding new ways, via the internet, to spread the good word about poetry. They do not sit around moaning and groaning that nobody buys poetry books anymore. Instead, they are creating new ways for poets and poetry lovers to experience poetry.

First on my list is Dave Bonta, who must be a real mega-geek. His name pops up in all kinds of discussions about online journals and technology. Rather than do the same kind of online journal that has proliferated, i.e., an online parallel to a print journal, Dave has created a truly innovative online journal, qarrtsiluni, which takes full advantage of what the internet can do. Issues are themed and editors change. Instead of the entire issue appearing all at once, poems are added daily, thus giving each poem and poet a chunk of time in the spotlight. Each poem is accompanied by an audio with an introduction by Dave and a reading by the poet. Readers / listeners are invited to leave comments, so there's an interactive element. You can subscribe by email and iTunes and you can follow on Twitter. Like what you've found? Say so at Facebook and any number of other sites with a quick click of the appropriate icon. You can also download any of the podcasts. For free! Links are provided to each author's blog and website if available. This is no concession to The Book Is Dead philosophy. In fact, Dave and his cohorts recently instituted a print version of themed online issues as well as a chapbook contest. Hey, Dave even has a hoodie!

Nic Sebastian has recently taken on another kind of innovative project, a site she calls Whale Sound. Nic has a lovely reading voice which she puts to good use by creating audios of poems by other poets. There's an Index of Poets with each poet's name linking to a bio and to the recorded poem. Readers can Like at Facebook and Tweet. They can also leave comments. Guess who helped Nic with the technical issues involved in running such a project? Dave Bonta! Another interesting aspect of this project is that Nic limits it to what she has named "web-active poets." Here's the definition from her submission guidelines:

If #1 below and at least two of the remaining items accurately characterize you, you are a web-active poet:

1. A fair amount of your finished work is freely available online (on yours or others’ blogs/sites or published in online poetry journals).
2. You check and respond to email at least once a day.
3. You have a comment-enabled blog that you update at least twice a week.
4. You have a Facebook/Twitter/other online social network account that you check/post on at least twice a week.
5. You have a website that consistently displays current contact info and material.

Although the site did not begin with this limitation, I think that Nic soon became overwhelmed with requests from poets to record their poems. And she noticed that those poets who had a heavy web presence were attracting many more visits than those who didn't. This is a web project, so, of course, it makes sense to want to expand the exposure using the resources of the web.

Last on my list is Jessie Carty who has begun an online project called Referential. Jessie selects a poem or a piece of prose from submissions for which she puts out a call. That single piece is posted in the online journal. Other people are then invited to respond to it in an original piece of their own. That can be another poem, a piece of prose, some kind of audio, or a visual piece. These pieces can be submitted anytime during the year. After the initial piece is posted, the referential ones accumulate. From what I can see, subsequent ones may also, in turn, stimulate referential pieces. These are posted with a piece of art. What an interesting concept! A kind of Ponzi scheme for writers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Poetry Festival: Short Video

Yesterday's festival went really well. In spite of losing one of our 24 poets earlier in the week and two more poets and an entire journal on Saturday, everything worked out very well. One of the editors read for one of the missing poets who was ill, and we used the extra time left by the missing journal for more browsing and poetry conversation. We had a good turnout, heard lots of wonderful poetry, sold journals, sold books, had a lot of fun.

There are dozens of photos posted on Facebook, but here's a quick video I took with my new Nano. I love that Nano! This is my first time using it and I'm very pleased with the results. The picture quality is good (better in the room that had more light) and the audio is surprisingly audible. I'm posting this now just to give you a sample of the day. I'll be making a longer video with pictures of all the editors and poets.


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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Makes for a Good Poetry Reading?

For the second year in a row, I'm working with a group of college students who are organizing a poetry reading for me. They are all taking a poetry course and have been given the option of doing a traditional research paper or working with a poet on some kind of project. Which would you choose?

I have 7 students this year. At our first meeting I went over some of what I think are the characteristics of a good reading. That's a topic I've given a good deal of thought to in the hope of optimizing the readings I do. Of course, it's not all up to me. A lot depends on the venue, the venue host, and the audience. Here are some of my thoughts on readings.

The Host's Role

1. Good PR is essential. If no one knows about the reading, you can be sure no one will be there. If you're the host, you're obligated to spread the word as widely as you can. Posters, newspaper notices, online calendars, websites, blogs, email lists. It's really disheartening for the poet to arrive and learn that the host never got around to promoting the event. No excuses, Host.

2. Try to make the room comfortable. Arrive early to check the room temperature and the mic if there is one. Arrange the chairs so that the audience is neither too close to nor too far from the poet. If all the people gravitate to the back of the room, threaten them until they move to the front. Likewise, if half sit on the far right and half sit on the far left, ask people to move in a bit. These little things make a big difference in the comfort level of the reading.

3. If possible, provide a good sound system unless the room is small. Don't expect the poet to shout her poems. I gave a reading a few years ago in a coffee shop that had no mic. Coffee machines, chimes on the door, change rattling. Not so cool.

4. Be sure you provide a space for the poet's books to be displayed. Announce to the audience that books are available. If they're at a sale price, mention that. Repeat that. Do your best to help the poet sell some books, especially if your honorarium is small or non-existent. Don't make the poet hawk her own wares. If possible, provide someone to handle sales and make change.

5. This is going to sound cranky, but I'm saying it anyhow. Don't allow audience members to put out their own books for sale. And don't put out your own books. Just don't create competition for your visiting poet, especially if the poet has traveled a distance. Double especially if pay is minimal or non-existent.

6. If you can't offer an honorarium, consider putting out a basket. I did a reading some months ago where such a basket was put out, but guess what! The host kept everything that went into it. I'd driven 5 hours and paid for a hotel.

7. If there's an Open, manage it. Manage it. Have guidelines and enforce them. Many a reading has been spoiled by an Open that got out of hand and went on endlessly. When this happens, some audience members are discouraged from returning and you end up with an audience of open readers who are there to hear themselves. A well-run Open can, however, be fun. Limit the readers to one or two poems. That's it. No negotiating. Got a haiku? That's one poem. Anyone who arrives after the featured poet is finished reading should not be allowed to read. Something about good manners.

The Poet's Role

1. You can help with the PR. Post the reading at your website and blog and anywhere else you can think of. In addition to the preceding, notify people you know in the area that you'll be doing a reading and ask them to bring friends.

2. If the host neglects to put out your books, rectify that right away! I'm putting an exclamation point on that sentence because I have done a few readings where the host forgot about books and I was too timid to bring it up. Then I kicked myself all the way home.

3. Go prepared. Choose your poems before you arrive. I've heard a number of poets say they have to gauge the audience before they choose. Nonsense. That's just laziness. It's annoying and a waste of time for the audience to sit there while the poet fumbles through pages looking for what to read.

4. Time your reading ahead of time. You know how many poems will take up 30 minutes. Plan for that if that's the amount of time you have. Don't go beyond the time. Ever. And don't keep asking the host, How am I doing for time? How much time do I have left? Time for a few more poems? This makes the audience squirm.

5. Try to stay for the Open. If people came to hear you, it seems polite to stay to hear them. If you're driving a distance and have to leave, let the audience know that that's why you're leaving.

The Audience's Role

1. If you're in the audience and planning to read during the Open, please do not work on your own poem while the featured poet is reading. It's incredibly rude.

2. Do not give long preambles to your poem. Just read the poem.

3. Don't make announcements, especially ones about your own upcoming readings.

4. If you possibly can, support the poet with the purchase of a book. It means a lot to the poet. Really.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Poemeleon

No, I'm not switching to porn or a discussion of anatomy. The above image is the cover of the latest issue of Poemeleon, one of my favorite online journals. Edited by Cati Porter, the journal appears twice a year. Why do I like it? Let me count the ways: 1) it's easy to navigate, 2) it's visually attractive, 3) it contains only poetry and poetry-related features, 4) each issue runs a handful of reviews and interviews, 5) there's an ample number of poems but not an overwhelming number, 6) it considers previously published poems, and 7) it has found its own niche by devoting each issue to a theme or type of poem.

The latest issue is the "gender issue." As soon as I saw the call for submissions several months ago, I immediately thought of my poem entitled Gender Issue. Seemed like that might be a good fit. The editor agreed. One more feature I like about this journal: each poem is accompanied by a brief author statement in which the author says something about his or her connection to the theme.

This issue contains work by a number of poets whose work I already admire, e.g., Michelle Bitting (I'm in the middle of her collection, Good Friday Kiss), Deborah Bogen, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Robin Chapman, Patricia Fargnoli (just finished her new book, Then, Something), Ann Fisher-Wirth (recently read her Carta Marina), Alex Grant (see my last blog post for a review of his book, Fear of Moving Water), Paul Hostovsky, Wendy Vardaman, and Charles Harper Webb. There are others whose work I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with.

So check out this issue. You'll find much to make you happy there.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Girl Talk: The Movie

Here's a slideshow of an event I ran on Saturday, March 14. This was the second year this event ran, again at the West Caldwell Public Library in West Caldwell, NJ. Called "Girl Talk: A Women's Poetry Reading," the event was held in celebration of Women's History Month.

This year we had 25 women poets read. Each poet read one poem on a woman-related topic. The result was a wonderful mixture of styles, topics, voices. It is not a male-bashing opportunity but rather a celebration of womanhood and sisterhood.

We had a great turnout and read to a full room, somewhere around 70-80 people, young and old, male and female.

Following the reading, we had a tea party consisting of many tasty treats prepared by the poets. We went home well-nourished.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who Wears Short Shorts?

Short short poems, that is. I have to admit that I've been leery of them for years. There doesn't seem to be enough to grab my interest, not enough there to leave me pondering, not enough to call me back for repeated readings. I've never been able to muster up much interest in haiku which usually strike me as little exercises. (21st-century apology inserted here to all haiku lovers and poets.)

I heard Kay Ryan refer to her own poems as "snack poems." That's how I felt about really short poems, i.e., a snack but not a meal.

Then I found that from time to time I came across a short poem that knocked my socks off. I started collecting them like shells. Some of them called to me late at night.

I found myself trying my hand at a few shorties. I distrusted them and put them away. Too short to get a major role in a journal.

Then several months ago I was asked to submit some work to a nice online journal. I noticed that the poems in that journal tended to be short, so I dug out some of my little ones and sent them off. Two grabbed right up! I submitted a few of my formal ones to another journal. Two more snatched up. Had I been unfair to my own poems?

Then Kay Ryan was appointed Poet Laureate. Snacks can be very satisfying. Snacks can stimulate the appetite. Snacks can stave off hunger.

Before I ruin my appetite with any more of these metaphors, I want to offer you two short poems by Lola Haskins, both of them perfect gems, I think, and both from her book Desire Lines: New and Selected Poems.

She tries it on, like a dress.
She decides it doesn't fit
and starts to take it off.
Her skin comes, too.
Speaking of metaphors!

Here's another short one by Haskins:
Love and Cancer

Think small, the way ants
build their hills, a grain
at a time. If I could be
one cell in you, how ardently
I'd multiply. Until I was a hundred,
a million cells. Until I filled
so much of your X-rayed self
that if they cut me out,
you could not survive.

You'll never catch me in wearing short shorts, but you will find me with a revised opinion of short poems. And you will definitely catch me recommending Haskins' excellent collection to you. There you will find poems long and short and some in-between. There you will find many poems that satisfy and enrich you.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Poetry Festival 2009: The Movie

Here's a slideshow I made for the poetry festival I ran on Sunday, May 17. This was the sixth year for the festival. The purpose of this showcase event is to celebrate the literary journals that give us poets a place for our work. Each year I invite twelve editors to participate—twelve because of the amount of space available. Each editor then invites two poets to represent the journal.

The editors each get tabletop space for their journals. They sell journals, give out subscription and submission information, and respond to questions from the 250 or so guests who attend during the four hours of the festival. Readings take place in another room. There are four time periods, three journals each. That's when the poets read, two poems each. So there's a lot of poetry and lots of different voices. The room remains full, about 80 people, thoughout the day so it's a great audience.

Poets who have books put them out for sale in the book sale area. There is also a freebie table where anyone can put out postcards, fliers for workshops, and so on.

This year all the photographs were taken by Anthony Buccino.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Excess in Poetry

Like Seinfeld's Kramer, my husband loves the Price Club. And like Kramer, he tends to overbuy when he goes there. Recently I asked him to pick up a box of Ghirardelli brownie mix. He came home with the above pictured box. I have enough brownie mix to last a few years. But maybe not as these are without a doubt the absolute best brownies. I will never again bother to make brownies from scratch (not that I have in recent years) as these are better. The particular mix I have (there are others) contains three different kinds of chips. The brownies are sweet, gooey, fudgy, and loaded with chips.

I have just two problems with the brownies: 1) I can't stop eating them, and 2) I always seem to burn them just a bit around the edges. I know you can't help me with the first problem, but can anyone recommend a pan that eliminates the overdone edges problem?

Anyhow, for some reason this large box of brownies got me thinking about excess in poetry. I remember hearing Mark Doty at a Dodge Festival say that he's a "more is more kind of poet." I know that Doty is sometimes criticized for going on too long, for being too expansive, and yet it seems to me that while his poems are often long they flow seamlessly. Generous and lavish and gorgeous. I recall Doty also saying something about reaching that point where he thinks the poem is over but then instead of stopping, he asks himself what more could be said and he keeps on going.

I tend to blab on too long in my poems, so my revision work is often a matter of trimming off the overdone edges. When I feel that a poem hasn't found its real subject, I write out in the margins, then often import that material into the poem. But then I also cut out some stuff. I seem to focus more on cutting than on expanding. I'm trying to think of some other poets who are expansive without being long-winded and flabby. Any suggestions?

I'd like to offer you some brownies, but here's a delicious poem by Mark Doty instead.

Fish R Us

Clear sac
of coppery eyebrows
suspended in amnion,
not one moving–

A Mars,
composed entirely
of single lips,
each of them gleaming–

this bag of fish
(have they actually
traveled here like this?)
bulges while they

acclimate, presumably,
to the new terms
of the big tank
at Fish R Us. Soon

they’ll swim out
into separate waters,
but for now they’re
shoulder to shoulder

in this clear and
burnished orb, each fry
about the size of this line,
too many lines for any

bronzy antique epic,
a million of them,
a billion incipient citizens
of a goldfish Beijing,

a Sao Paulo,
a Mexico City.
They seem to have sense
not to move but hang

fire, suspended, held
at just a bit of distance
(a bit is all there is), all
facing outward, eyes

(they can’t even blink)
turned toward the skin
of the sac they’re in,
this swollen polyethylene.

And though nothing’s
actually rippling but their gill,
it’s still like looking up
into falling snow,

if all the flakes
were a dull, breathing gold,
as if they were streaming
toward–not us, exactly,

but what they’ll be . . .
Perhaps they’re small enough
–live sparks, for sale
at a nickel apiece–

that one can actually
see them transpiring:
they want to swim
forward, want to

eat, want to take place.
Who’s going to know
or number or even see them all?

They pulse in their golden ball.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Blog Tour: Shaindel Beers

A few months ago I was invited to participate in a "blog tour" with poet Shaindel Beers whose first collection, A Brief History of Time, was about to be published by Salt Publishing. Since I'm interested in new ways that poets can promote their books and especially interested in ways the internet can be put to use, I quickly agreed. The publisher then sent me a complimentary copy of the book. My task was to read the book and prepare 3-4 interview questions for the poet.

The tour consists of a total of thirteen stops at a wide variety of blogs. I'm Shaindel's fifth stop on her journey through cyberspace. Check out the complete schedule here. What a great way to bring the book to the attention of a whole new audience scattered across the country.

It was a pleasure to read Shaindel's book and to participate in her tour. It's also my pleasure to recommend the book to you. (Click the above cover image to get to Amazon.) And now the interview.

Diane: What made you choose "A Brief History of Time" as your title poem? What made you decide to place that poem first in the collection?

Shaindel: To be honest, my publisher made “A Brief History of Time” the title poem. Titles are hard for me. I went through two different working titles during the few years I was sending this collection out to publishers before Salt picked this book up and titled it for me. The first title (which is so embarrassing I won’t even admit what it was here) was a phrase from a poem in the collection, and, at the time, it seemed like a good enough title because I couldn’t come up with anything better. One of the years I sent the collection to Tupelo Press’s Dorset Prize competition, I got a personalized rejection from Jeffrey Levine (which, in itself, was an honor), and one of the suggestions he gave me was to choose “a more evocative title” so that my collection would get more attention. From there, I changed the working title to Last Train from the City, which, I think, has a nice ring to it and is metaphorically fitting, but if you ask anyone to name their favorite poem from the collection, that probably wouldn’t be it. I mean, I wrote the poem, it made the cut into the collection, and I like it, but it’s definitely a lesser poem than “A Brief History of Time.”

I think “A Brief History of Time” is probably the strongest poem I’ve ever written. It was definitely my first long, ambitious poem, and I feel like it’s all-encompassing—or at least tries to be. So it’s an appropriate beginning for a book, especially my first book. It’s a grand entrance into the world of poetry for me, whereas the first working title I had for a book would have been like tripping into the foyer of a fancy party, and the second title would have been like showing up in business casual for a black tie event.

Diane: I noticed several sports metaphors. For example, "A Brief History of Time" ends with these lines: "That same moon I liked to picture as a baseball, years earlier, / a baseball hit so hard and far that nothing could ever bring it back." Tell us about your attraction to sports as a source for images and figures.

Shaindel: That’s interesting. The reference you mentioned, I would have thought of off of the top of my head, but I actually had to go back and look at my own poetry collection to find the other sports metaphors. It looks like baseball dominates the sports metaphors, and baseball was pretty much my religion, growing up. I really thought at one time that if I practiced hard enough, I would be the first woman to play Major League Baseball. And we’re talking when I was really young—like nine or ten. I loved being the girl on my street who could hit the ball out of the yard every time. It impressed boys more than anything else I knew how to do, and I think it scared them a little. Home runs are something amazing. On the one hand, it shows immense strength, but then, it sort of lets you off the hook; you don’t have to hustle around the bases if you’ve knocked it out of the park. There’s something romantic about that lazy kind of power.

I think in the case of baseball, which I still see as the American pastime, it’s a useful tool for metaphor because it’s common enough everyone will know what you’re talking about; it’s a form of shorthand. I had a discussion about this with Wayne Miller when I was interviewing him about his translation of Moikom Zeqo’s collection, I Don’t Believe in Ghosts. There’s a portion in one of the poems that goes, “I want to kick the planet like a soccer ball / into the open goal of the future.” In Albania, where Zeqo is writing, soccer is the national sport, so it would be the same type of shorthand baseball is here. That is one of Zeqo’s younger poems; he was about twenty-three when he wrote it, and Miller was about the same age when he translated it. I think there’s a youthfulness about the sports metaphors that adds energy.

As far as the gym and kickboxing mentioned in “A Study in Weights and Measures,” I worked part-time as a fitness instructor when I was writing that poem, and I still work Saturdays as a fitness instructor. My minor is in dance, and I feel like I should do something to use all of those anatomy and kinesiology lessons from college, and I get a free gym membership for working four hours a week. Part of me is tempted to go on about the balance of mind, body, and spirit, which I truly believe in, but the other part of me knows that I’m not very disciplined, and being employed by a fitness center is one way I know to make sure I’ll work out.

Diane: One of the virtues of your collection is its variety, not simply in subject matter but also in forms. You alternate free verse with formal poems such as the sonnet, villanelle, sestina, and ghazal. You have poems with very long lines and ones with short lines. You have poems in a single stanza, others in multiple stanzas, and others in sections. How consciously do you strive for variety when you are writing? And did you consciously strive for variety when selecting the poems for the collection and when organizing them?

Shaindel: First of all, thank you. This is my first collection, and one of the beauties of that is that most of these poems were written during my MFA program, so I was trying a lot of things, and I had four different graduate advisors—one each semester—and each one was a different type of influence on me, and I was constantly trying everything they told me to try. (I’m one of those spaniel-like students who will do anything a teacher asks.) So, I tried all kinds of form poems and different line lengths and experimentation with line breaks, and I read widely as far as poems and poets and literary theory.

I really don’t think I consciously strive for variety. I think it’s a part of my personality. During my first years teaching college, I had a radically different hair color each semester. I do remember that when I turned in a list of books to my advisor that I wanted to study during a particular semester, I had a number of books by one very well-respected poet, and my advisor said, “You don’t need to read four books by her; she’s been writing the same book over and over since the 1970s.” I do know I don’t want anyone to say that about me. When selecting poems for the collection, I pretty much picked what I (and my final graduate advisor and post-graduate advisor) thought was good enough to make the cut. I organized them into what I felt was a narrative (and largely chronological) arc. I think it’s mostly my good fortune that the variety worked out the way it did. But I do hope always to be growing as a writer.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Paterson Poetry Prize Reading

Each year I go to the reading held for the winners of the Paterson Poetry Prize. Yesterday was this year's reading. Although I'd just returned the preceding day from my own reading in the Collected Poets Series in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, and was pretty tuckered out after a total of 8 hours on the road, freezing close to death in my unheated B&B, and then the exhilaration of the reading with Mary Clare Powell (we had an amazing turnout!), and then the fun of dinner after, I, nevertheless, hauled myself over to Paterson. I wanted to hear Franz Wright—all of the poets, but especially Franz Wright. Imagine, then, my disappointment when it was announced that he hadn't been able to make it down from Massachusetts. There was an audible groan of disappointment when this was announced. Happily, though, things went well after that.

Here's Stanley Plumly reading. If I were a man, this is what I'd like to look like. He has such fabulous hair, silver and full. He also has a wonderful voice, deep and resonant. He read one poem whose form intrigued me. It was 11 stanzas long, each stanza 11 lines, each line 11 syllables. This reminded me of Galway Kinnell's "When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone," but it did not have the repeating lines in lines 1 and 11. I always think it's a risk and usually a mistake to read such a long poem, but this seemed to hold the audience's attention.

I must mention here that I was using my brand new digital camera for the first time. And therefore I messed up. I took 11 photos, but when I returned home, I realized that I had only 3. Apparently, I pushed the button down only halfway on the others. I wondered why there was no flash and credited the camera with figuring out the lighting. Wrong! So no picture of our host Maria Mazziotti Gillan or the first finalist, Suzanne Cleary.

This is the second finalist, Linda Susan Jackson. She was followed by Matthew Lippman, but I neglected to push the button all the way down, so no photo.

And here's David Young.

It was a good reading, well-attended, but I wanted Franz and was sorry to have missed him. Then home for a snooze.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Women Poets Reader Directory


The Women Poets Reader Directory is now open for business. The Directory, created by Ann White, includes listings by members of the Wompo Listserv. It is divided into three global areas and six regional areas of the U.S. as well as “Anywhere in the U.S.”

Each entry gives useful information about the poet's availability, how far she is willing to travel, her terms, and preferred audience. Most entries also include links to websites and sample poems, a poet photo, and a book cover image.

This should be a useful resource to anyone who is looking for a poet to book in a reading series, a book fair, or a festival. If you are an educator looking for a poet to visit your campus, you'll find her here. If you'd like a poet to visit your classroom and talk to your students about poetry, you'll find her here. If you need a poet to lead a workshop, you'll find her here.

Please visit soon. And spread the word.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dodge Festival—Sunday

I had no assignments on the last day so was free to pick and choose. My plan was to go to "Conversation: The Poet As Citizen" with Chris Abani, Lucille Clifton, Robert Hass, and Ted Kooser. But that turned out to be the plan of a lot of people. By the time I arrived at the tent, it was packed. I had to stand at the periphery of the tent, outside and subject to the rain that was starting to fall. So I decided to just head for the nearest tent and take whatever was there as long as there was a roof overhead and a chair below . I landed at "Conversation: Going Public with Private Feelings" with Franz Wright, Linda Pastan, and Martin Espada.

This picture came to me courtesy of Anthony Buccino. My move from one tent to another turned out to be fortuitous. This was a terrific session. As I arrived, Martin was saying that as a lawyer he values privacy, but as a poet his responsibility is not to his particular family but to the human spirit. It was obvious from the audience's questions that there's excessive concern about offending people. One of the panelists pointed out that most of the people you worry about offending won't ever read your poems.

Wright spoke about the struggle with self-consciousness and our desire for attention. He spoke of his unique position as the son of a famous poet. He shared his recollection of wondering if his father's poems were about him, and he acknowledged feeling some pain about that.

Pastan said there are no poems that she won't write. All agreed that the standard for going public is the poem itself. The final decisions are more technical than personal. I agree completely with this observation.

Someone asked if more things happen to poets than to other people. Pastan replied that she's lived a very ordinary life. She claimed to be more daring in her poetry than in her life. That resonated with me. I've said very much the same thing about my own life and poetry.

Someone who had previously met Pastan and been disappointed to learn that the facts in her poems are not always real facts said that she now understands more fully that poems aren't autobiographies. Martin added that poets make up stuff in the service of truth. I loved that as a closing point. This is an ongoing subject of debate among poets. I always get annoyed by the people who assume that the poem is and must be full of facts. Seems to me that's not their business. Their business is the poem.

I then ended with a reading with Mark Doty

and Thomas Sayers Ellis

and Franz Wright. A terrific reading!

Had my last lunch in the Meeting House and headed on home with a long list of books to buy.

Dodge has now posted a number of videos at YouTube. These are readings from past festivals. This video library will grow. It's an amazing resource for teachers, poets, poetry fans. And everyone else. Here's a sample:

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dodge Poetry Festival—Saturday

Saturday morning I arrived in time to catch the final minutes of Conversation: Poetry As Disruptive Seed, Poetry As Centering Force. Poets above are Chris Abani, Robin Robertson, Martin Espada, and Patricia Smith. The poets were asked, "How do you deal with poetry when there is evil?" Martin replied, "I don't." He said the evil produces the poems, creates the tension that fuels the poetry. Patricia added that poetry brings peace, is at least a start. It helps us and others confront what's bothering us.

Then I remained in the same tent for a real powerhouse of a reading with Jan Beatty, Patricia Smith, and Joe Weil. With each one I thought that I sure wouldn't want to go next. But each of these poets completely held the stage. Jan's poetry is delivered in a fairly soft voice but is hard-edged, tough stuff. I liked the contrast between delivery and subject.

Patricia Smith is a past National Slam champion. She recites entirely from memory and is like a stick of dynamite! She read several persona poems, each in a different voice. Very convincing.

Joe Weil was the final reader. Thanks to Anthony Buccino. You can find photos of many other poets as well in Anthony Buccino's album. These three poets received a standing ovation from what looked like several hundred people in the audience.

One thing I don't get is why anyone would go to an open reading and miss the readings by the poets who are part of the festival. And yet I heard that most of the opens had more readers than could be accommodated.

My first assignment of the day was introducing Dovie Thomason, a storyteller. Then after lunch I went to the Main Tent to hear Linda Pastan, Chris Abani, and Sharon Olds.

Then off to introduce Billy Collins in another of the Conversations on Craft. He delivered a well-organized list of tips on what makes a good poem. He qualified that: "That is, if you want to write poems like mine." Here are some of Collins' tips:

1. For a lyric poem the maximum number of occupants is two—"me and the reader." This creates intimacy.
2. Begin with something any reader can accept. Then he's willing to accept something more challenging later. Start at the shallow end and lead the reader in.
3. The wastebasket is your friend. The saved line won't be useful elsewhere. Start fresh. (Do I hear voices of disagreement?)
4. The idea is not to be emotional but to cause emotion in the reader. (Can you have one without the other? I think he means the poet must restrain, control the emotion.)
5. Begin a poem by backing it up to its impetus. (And yet how often is that the very thing I, and perhaps you, cut out of subsequent drafts?)
6. Keep titles simple.
7. Let a noun speak for itself. ("The road to Hell is paved with adjectives.")
8. Think in stanzas. Think in lines. (Not this poet, not until numerous drafts in.)
9. Let surprise enter the poem. (Yes! yes!)

I probably missed something along the way, but the above gives you something to think about. Collins also advised front-loading contest manuscripts. (Aren't judges onto that strategy?)

I was interested to hear Collins say that he writes a poem in one sitting. He gets the next line before he moves on. He revises as he goes along. This is definitely not me. My first drafts are all over the place. And there are many drafts. I don't look for form until I'm pretty well along. But in spite of several points on which I disagreed, this was an interesting conversation and gave me much to think about.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dodge Poetry Festival—Friday

My first assignment on Friday was to introduce Jane Hirshfield. I was delighted to have that one as I'd never heard Jane read. She is such a sweet and lovely human being. This was Teacher's Day, but her presentation on Poets on Poetry was perfect for any member of the audience.

Jane getting ready as we waited for the tent to fill.

Jane first read "The Envoi" and then spoke about some of the problems involved in its translation into Russian, e.g., there's no word for "thirsty" and "long-legged" had to be substituted with the Russian "spindly-legged" as the former apparently has negative connotations about Americans. She spoke also about a "sound-driven" poem—I like that idea—and "wandering rhymes."

She spoke also about our moods and said the one she finds least tolerable is anxiety. Yet she said that anxiety gives us good information: we need to change what is causing us anxiety. She spoke about training awareness, which is the purpose of Buddhism and something we need as poets. She then took questions and finished by reading poems by other poets. And she recommended a book: Metaphors We Live By. I plan to order it.

One of the buildings in the Village

Next I went to hear Naomi Shihab Nye, also on the Poets on Poetry Topic. She addressed quite specifically issues related to teaching as she has spent a lot of time teaching young people and has edited a number of anthologies for young readers. She advised that new poets write what comes to them, that they "take the swerve." She talked about the value of "I don't know." And she suggested as an activity for new group introductions that the teacher/leader go around the circle and have each person begin with "I am not." Sounds like fun!

Naomi also spoke of poetry as an international art, one that costs little money and one that we should pass on. Poetry, she said, encourages respect for other students. I always found that to be true when I was teaching. Even a hostile classroom warmed up when I brought in poetry, especially when I had my students write it.

This was another excellent session.

You can see here that the day turned dark with rain.

After lunch I went to the very long Poetry Sampler in the Main Tent. Huge audience. Tent was packed. 21 poets read, 5 minutes each (with a few violations).

My final assignment was to introduce the panel on The Mysterious Life within Translation. But Robert Hass just started, so my work was done for me. Above you see Forrest Gander, Coral Bracho, Hass, and Peter Cole. This was held in the same church where I'd been on Thursday with Maxine Kumin. Good turnout, lots of thoughtful questions and responses. This seemed to complete a nice circle for my day, taking me back to Jane Hirshfield's comments about translation.

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