Sunday, November 30, 2008

American Idol for Poetry?

Poet Susan Rich's poem, "Different Places to Pray," has been selected out of 3000 poems and short listed with 11 other poems for the final round of the Poetry Competition being held by The Times Literary Supplement. I was delighted to learn about this as Susan and I met when we both read in the 2007 Burlington Book Festival. She came all the way from Seattle.

The winning poem will be decided by a voting system and the votes will come solely from online readers. If you click the link below you will be taken to the website where you may vote for Susan's poem, which is choice E.

The site requires a "sign up" process which takes only one minute to do. You will be asked for your email and your snail mail. No credit cards, no subscription plug. I agree with Susan's friend who said, "I have read all the 12 poems and objectively speaking hers is a sun although there are several other good stars around."

Here's the poem:

Choice E

Different Places to Pray

Everywhere, everywhere she wrote; something is falling –
a ring of keys slips out of her pocket into the ravine below;

nickels and dimes and to do lists; duck feathers from a gold pillow.
Everywhere someone is losing a favorite sock or a clock stops

circling the day; everywhere she goes she follows the
ghost of her heart; jettisons everything but the shepherd moon, the hopeless cause.

This is the way a life unfolds: decoding messages from profiteroles,
the weight of mature plums in late autumn. She’d prefer a compass

rose, a star chart, text support messages delivered from the net,
even the local pet shop – as long as some god rolls away the gloss

and grime of our gutted days, our global positioning crimes.
Tell me, where do you go to pray – a river valley, a pastry tray?

Click here to see the poems and vote.

Those wishing to take part in the judging process should vote by December 5.

The results of the poll will be published in the issue of December 19 & 26. The most popular poem will win £2,000; runners-up will receive a total of £1,500.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Poet Lore and Grace Cavalieri

One journal that I consistently like is Poet Lore. I recently finished reading the Fall/Winter issue. I always read this journal cover to cover. I like it because it's always packed with good poetry, has one or two terrific essays, and offers a handful of book reviews. Poems I especially admire in this issue are by Tim Mayo, Nin Andrews, and Gardner McFall who is introduced by Jane Shore. Nancy Mitchell's review of Dzvinia Orlowsky's Convertible Night, Flurry of Stones prompted me to immediately order the book. It awaits me at my kitchen table.

I was fascinated by Grace Cavalieri's essay, "Poetry in—and on—the Air." The essay presents a historical account, going back to 1970, of Cavalieri's work with bringing the spoken word to the air waves. The essay is intriguing because it provides a behind-the-scenes' view of how radio has changed, how poetry has changed, and how the teaching of poetry has changed. Then it focuses on "The Poet and the Poem," the radio interviews and readings that have made Cavalieri such a valued member of the poetry community. If my math is not too off, she's done close to 2000 of these programs. You can hear some of them at Cavalieri's website. Under the link for "The Poet and the Poem: Interviews and Readings form the Library of Congress," you'll find audios for such poets as Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, and David Tucker (a New Jersey poet and newspaper man). Under the link for "Innuendoes" and "On Location," you'll find such poets as Billy Collins, Jane Hirshfield, and Donald Hall. There's also a link for Interviews with Poets Laureate. There you'll find the text of those interviews. What a wonderful resource to have available to us!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Alhambra Calendar Reading

The Sunday evening reading for the 2009 Alhambra Poetry Calendar went very well. Twelve poets participated, each reading his or her calendar poem and one other. We went in the order of our appearance in the calendar which meant that I went first as I'm January 13. That turned out just fine as after I read I sat back, relaxed, and really enjoyed listening to the other poets. It was a wonderful mixture of voices. This project is the labor of love of Shafiq Naz, who now lives in Belgium but grew up in Pakistan where each school day began with a poem. There's a lesson there for teachers in the US who all too often find that poetry can be safely omitted from the curriculum.

Shafiq began by talking a bit about how the calendar came into existence. He'd gathered poems by a number of poets and at first collected them in a small calendar, not even asking for permission to reprint. Later, he realized that he needed to do that. He was advised to go directly to the poets, rather than to the publishers. I was delighted to hear that I was one of the first poets he contacted the year he published the first English edition of the calendar. I recall that when in 2004 he asked to use my poem, "Vegetable Love," for the 2005 calendar he also asked me to recommend other poets to him. Now he has a list of over 1000 poets. And the calendar is issued in five different languages.

Shafiq said that when he asked a friend who was in publishing if it was possible to become a millionaire in publishing, his friend said, "Absolutely!" Shafiq asked, "How do you do it?" The friend replied, "You begin as a billionaire and before you know it you are a millionaire."

Shafiq welcomes the poets and audience

Me (Note to Self: Work on posture!)

Deborah Landau

John Hennessy

D. Nurske

Susan Kinsolving

Joshua Mehigan

Cate Marvin

Judith Baumel

Daniel Hall

Vijay Seshadri

Rosanna Warren

Patrick Rosal

I wish these photos were better, but I was too far from the stage and the room was very dark. Why do batteries in digital cameras die so quickly? Even with specially purchased digital batteries, they are dead after about 30 pictures. Anyone have a cure?

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Opera and Poetry

Poet, reviewer, and opera buff Karren Alenier has written a review of the opera Carmen. Entitled "Finding the Russian in Carmen," the review has been published at The Dressing. Alenier zeroes in on the jealousy theme in the opera. Her reviews usually end with a poem that picks up a theme of the opera under review. This particular review ends with my poem, "My Husband Discovers Poetry."

I really like it when different forms of art mingle. One of my favorite readings was given with jazz musicians Spencer and Nancy Reed at Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania. I read for twenty minutes, Spencer and Nancy played and sang for twenty, and then we had a second round. A reading I gave this past summer at the Brockton Library in Brockton, Massachusetts, had an art show in the back of the reading room. So while I know not one thing about opera, I'm really pleased that Alenier saw a connection between my poem and the opera.

I also like it when one thing leads to another fortuitously. It turns out that as Alenier was writing her review, she read my blog post about the poem and then read the poem. And that's how my poem ended up sharing the stage with Carmen.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Invitation to a Poetry Reading

Acclaimed Poets Reading from the

Alhambra Poetry Calendar 2009

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2008 at 6 PM

BOWERY POETRY CLUB, 308 Bowery, New York, NY 10012
(212) 614-0505
Free Admission

Susan Kinsolving's books of poems are The White Eyelash, Dailies & Rushes, a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award, Among Flowers, and forthcoming, My Glass Eye. She teaches poetry in The Bennington Writing Seminars, a low-residency graduate program.

Deborah Landau is the author of Orchidelirium. She directs the Creative Writing Program at NYU.

Diane Lockward's second collection, What Feeds Us, received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize. Her poems appear in Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times and in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner.

Cate Marvin is the author of Fragment of the Head of a Queen and World’s Tallest Disaster.

Joshua Mehigan's first book, The Optimist, was one of five finalists for a 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize.

D. Nurske's ninth book, The Border Kingdom, was published by Knopf in 2008. He received a 2007-8 Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry.

Patrick Rosal is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive, which won the Members' Choice Award from the Asian American Writers' Workshop and was a finalist for the organization's literary awards.

Vijay Seshadri’s collections of poems are Wild Kingdom (1996) and The Long Meadow (2004), both from Graywolf Press. He has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Rosanna Warren is the author of Each Leaf Shines Separate, Stained Glass, and Departure. She has won fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, ACLS, The Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Lila Wallace Readers’ Digest Fund. She has also won the Witter Bynner Prize and the Lavan Younger Poets’ Prize. She is Emma MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities at Boston University.

John Hennessy is the author of Bridge and Tunnel. He received the 2007-2008 Amy Clampitt Resident Fellowship Award.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reaching Your Audience

I'm interested in the various ways that poets manage to promote their work, something they really need to do if they want their work to find an audience. Certainly, the internet offers us some great opportunities, especially with the proliferation of audio and video possibilities.

Public readings are fun and probably the most effective way of promoting and selling your work, but not everyone can get to your reading. So if you can't bring the audience to the reading, is there a way to bring the reading to the audience? Poet Collin Kelley, author of After the Poison (Finishing Line Press, 2008), recently read at NYC's Cornelia St. Cafe. He has posted a video of his reading of one of the chapbook's poems, "Human Trafficking." Take a look and a listen:

Here's the text of the poem:

Human Trafficking
Scotland Yard asked London education authorities how many black boys aged four to seven had vanished from school. Between July and September 2001, 300 had disappeared, and police fear thousands may go missing annually.

In summer lull,
before the towers fall,
when crossing borders
is easy like sliding doors,
a torso washes up
at Tower Bridge,
no head or limbs, he's maybe seven
this delicate-chested boy,
stomach filled with quartz
and rough gold, the Thames
returning sunken treasure.

Three hundred black boys
have disappeared in London
as police determine this one
came from Nigeria
by the density of his bones.
From July to September,
they dissolved, slipped
through cracks.
No fibers, no fluids,
no grainy video images
of incandescent flesh
or flashing eyes.
Just gone.

This is called human trafficking,
African men and women
selling their own and whites
still eager to buy
at public auction,
souls now channeled
through air and wires,
transferred like a car title,
to wind up on some heap,
or stripped to shell.

One small boy, his homeland
a gene, his identity a mystery.
His missing face frozen
in someone's mind,
maybe a mother who sold him
for a few day's food,
or the white man who consumed him,
or the voodoo priest who beheaded him,
a sacrifice to drive the evil back to Africa,
a long reach and hunger quenched.

One small boy, 299 still missing.
They call this one Adam.

I love both the video and the poem. Isn't it wonderful to hear the poet reading his poem in his own voice, and, more than that, to see him holding his book and standing in front of an audience? Kind of makes you feel like you're right there.

I was happy to come across the video, both because I've been thinking about the value of videos to poets and poetry lovers and because I recently finished reading Collin's fine collection. These are very contemporary poems, written about current events, many of them—poems and events— dark and disturbing. But as in "Human Trafficking," the poems are written with equal measures of passion and craft. I like the way in this poem the poet intermingles the facts, what he knows, with what he can only imagine. Ultimately, he evokes not just a body but a boy, a real boy who once had parents, a home, and a name.

Now that you've seen the movie, go read the chapbook. You will find it disturbing and satisfying.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods

My review of Paula Bohince's Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods (Sarabande, 2008) appears in the new issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review. This collection combines a mystery story and lyricism. What could be more delicious than that? I'm happy to recommend this highly readable and moving collection. To entice you, here are the first two paragraphs of my review:

"Paula Bohince’s Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods is a stunning debut. Both a mystery and a lyric tour de force, the collection immediately takes a choke hold on the reader’s attention and never releases its grip. Poem by poem, Bohince unravels her dark story. In Section I we learn that the setting is a lonely rural farm located in the coal-mining country of Pennsylvania. Primitive and shadowed by history, the farm is characterized by mud, grime, cold winters, and poverty. The female speaker, following her father’s grisly murder, returned to this farm where she was raised, to live there and to claim her legacy of loneliness. In the poems, she struggles to get to know her father and to make sense of his life and death. Recalling the farm as it was years ago, she says, “I taste the odor of straw and millet released into fall, / the cursive of my father’s burning cigarette, / muslin curtain parting.” Thus, the stage is prepared for the father’s entry and the mystery’s unfolding.

"While Section II introduces the suspected murderers and suggests a motive, Bohince deliberately leaves the narrative incomplete, a strategy that works well to pique and hold our interest. The motive is never more than speculation. The suspects remain merely suspects. There is no real solution to the crime. As our speaker attempts to reconstruct a story she does not fully know, she moves back and forth between present and past, affording us the pleasure of finding clues and reconstructing the story ourselves. As she tries to remember events from her childhood, she must acknowledge the fallibility of memory. In “Landscape with Sheep and Deer,” she says, “I must have dreamt it,” and she wonders, “. . . if there were deer, wouldn’t they have leapt over?” Bohince subtly places us in that oddly delicious and ironic spot of uncertainty."
. . .the rest of the review.

To further entice you to get your hands on this collection, here are two of my favorite poems. The first, a kind of prayer, is spoken in the collective voice of the women of Bayonet Woods. Bohince does a beautiful job of characterizing the loneliness of the setting. We sense a place haunted by ghosts.

Spirits at the Edge of Bayonet Woods

Crabgrass thickens, and catalpas bloom
gigantic, hoping to hide our homestead, the poverty
and grime that kept us mired here
for generations, as if we were sleeping
off a bender for one hundred years.
Sooty hankies against our mouths, in the kitchen
chicken spitting in the fryer,
thick smoke rising, and we’re in the mineshafts,
the ones that swallowed our men
and cooked them and spat them into our beds.
Forgive us, Lord, we did not know them,
humpbacked and ruined, crawling toward us
wanting clean shirts, kisses, more children.
Tell us, what was a woman’s purpose in those woods?
Trading quails’ eggs for the babies’ medicine,
boiling lye and animal grease to shampoo coal dust
from our men’s curling hair?
They clung to us in sleep, that watery place,
and we swear, as we lay beside our own husbands,
we did not know them, even as they struck us,
muttering terrors, whimpering the struggle
of slowly drowning in a shaft flood, or burning
alive in a coke fire. And though we pitied Grace,
the valley’s only suicide, we understood
when she wrote, I cannot go on here, in this place…
In fact, we watched her strip beside Stone Path
where she had gone to pray, faithful to the current’s
constant swirling, watched her weep beside
the river’s illiterate banks, lay her dress upon
its slick grasses, wade into the inch of loam,
then lie facedown in its merciful pull.
Forgive her, Lord, for leaving this earth so early.
She was terribly lonely.

This next poem is one of four acrostics in the collection. The speaker addresses her dead father in this elegant and poignant poem.

Acrostic for My Father

I can't bear the pitiful beauty of our only oak
declining in these ill-lit woods, masculine branches bearing
robins, savage in their redness.
Everything becomes a version of you,
assumes a fern or bird shape, some feathery thing I put want into.
My days are colored by your absence, or left blank,
open-ended. I fill my eyes with reminders.
Fronds I refuse to weed line the house, this lonely house
you left me. The rest of my life you have left me.
Oak leaves fill with crumbling light. So I,
undone by the quiet.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

New Valparaiso Poetry Review

Editor Ed Byrne recently posted the fall issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review, one of my favorite online journals. As always, the issue is full of good reads. In fact, this issue is fuller than usual. The featured poet is Elise Paschen. Her feature includes three poems and an interview with Byrne.

Then there are poems from such poets as Deborah Bogen, Al Maginnes, Jared Carter, Ann Hostetler, Athena Kildegaard, and Claire Keyes. That's just to name a handful. And don't miss the wonderful essay by Jennifer Yaros, "Nature and the Self: Dickinson, Bishop, Plath, and Oliver."

Finally, there are five book reviews, including my own of Paula Bohince's Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods. More about that later.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chapbook in 30 Days?

Here's a challenge for you. At his blog, Poetic Asides, Robert Brewer is offering a poem prompt each day of November. The idea is to end up with a chapbook. First, you are asked to select a theme. All assignments thereafter should be done with that theme in mind. If you're inclined, you can post your drafts in the blog's comments section.

Interesting idea, to begin with the theme. I wonder if that's how most poets do it, or if they write the poems and then find a common link among them. One thing I like about chapbooks, though, is their tightness, their unity—that is, if they have it, and if they don't, that seems a defect to me. On the other hand, I also want variety among the 20 or so poems, eg, different angles on the same theme, different voices, different formats.

I'm not up to a poem a day for the next 30 days. But I plan to visit and hope to get a few poems in the works. How about you? Check it out. You're a few days late getting started, but you can catch up. Of course you can.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

First-Ever Online Poetry Festival

There's a wonderful poetry festival going on right now. You can attend without even leaving your home. No flight, no long drive, no expensive hotel. It's all available via your computer. An outgrowth of the Wompo listserv, the Festival of Women's Poetry, 2008 has officially opened its doors to the public.

The brainchild of Moira Richards, this project has been under construction for months. It represents one of the ways that the internet and online poetry communities can spread poetry to all corners of the world. Moira was joined by a staff of volunteers who worked hard to assemble this exciting project. Like many projects, once underway it grew and grew, one good idea leading to another good idea.

Here's some of what's available: 1) A directory of the members of the listserv; each page includes a photo, links to the poet's website, links to reviews, links to sample poems, 2) A long selection of poems by international women poets, 3) Poems by Foremothers, 4) Discussion groups, 5) Some poetry inspiration, 6) An audio library. Plus more!

So pack up a nice snack and head on over to the festival.

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