Saturday, September 29, 2012

Poetry: An Introduction

Click Cover for Amazon
When I was a high school English teacher teaching poetry, it was a fantasy of mine that one day some other high school teacher would be teaching my poems. That's a fantasy that has happily come true several times. But I'm moving on and up to college now. My poem, Linguini, has been included in Poetry: An Introduction, a new college-level textbook from Bedford / St. Martin's.

At 864 pages, Poetry: An Introduction is a big book. Edited by Michael Meyer, this is the 7th edition of this book. It includes three different tables of contents: Brief Contents; Contents, which is much more extensive and includes poem titles and authors; and Thematic Contents for those who want to study poetry in thematic units. There is a wide range of poems, classic and contemporary.

The elements of poetry and forms and free verse are covered in the first eleven chapters. These are followed by close studies of four poets; a study of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"; a case study of the Harlem Renaissance; and five thematic case study chapters.

The book covers how to critically read and write about poetry and includes a detailed section on how to write a poetry research paper and document it using MLA guidelines.

Poems are included throughout the book, along with follow-up questions, assignments, and prompts. There is also An Anthology of Poems.

New to this edition is an expanded number of online resources for both students and teachers, including access to video interviews with writers. Scattered throughout the book are brief pieces of advice from the poets whose poems are included. This new feature should be especially appealing to students.

Everything a teacher needs to teach poetry is contained in Poetry: An Introduction. In fact, there's enough to last several semesters.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Poetry and Gerbils

Poet and publisher Paul Zimmer has a terrific article in the Sept / Oct issue of Poets & Writers. He covers his work as a publisher of poetry books going back to 1967. During those years he worked for three different presses: University of Pittsburgh Press, University of Georgia Press, and University of Iowa Press. He talks about the arduous process of reading manuscripts, selecting winners, and notifying poets with either good or bad news. He also mentions that during his years as a publisher he never once charged a fee. He talks about the methods he used to make such work possible, a job that must be getting increasingly difficult with the "current overpopulation of American poets"—a condition he compares to a "gerbil farm gone bananas."

What Zimmer regrets about this proliferation of poets and poetry books is the loss of selectivity. There is simply too much. Ironically, in spite of a plethora of poetry books to choose from, way too few readers and writers of poetry invest in poetry books. Here's an excerpt from the article:

And yet Zimmer is not ready to give into despair. He adds, "I still feel poetry is the highest course for words, and that the spirit and impulse toward making poems is one of humankind's best chances toward possibly saving its hell-bent cantankerous butt." And he acknowledges that if he had it to do all over again, to work as a publisher and an editor, he would do it.

This all hit a chord with me. I have several times been asked by aspiring poets if I do mentoring (yes, I do). I ask the inquiring poet this question: "I assume that you're familiar with my work?" That question is a polite euphemism for "Have you bought any of my books and carefully read it or them?"

Too often the response to my question is some variation of this: "I've seen your work on the internet." When I ask what the person hopes to get out of being mentored, often the response is something like this: "I want to publish a book of my poems."

How can anyone possibly aspire to publish a book of poetry without first and for a long time avidly and regularly reading books of poetry? A poetry book is more than a bunch of poems. It's a collection of poems artistically arranged into some sensible order. An aspiring poet can learn about poem arrangement in a book only by reading books by other poets and studying carefully how it's done.

And one more thing: How can a poet expect other lovers of poetry to buy his or her book (should there ever be one) if he or she doesn't buy them? Does that make sense? Not to me, it doesn't.

The best teacher of poetry is a good poem. The best way to learn how to put a collection together is to study other collections. Aspiring poets are advised to invest in their education. Buy books of poetry. Support other poets. Otherwise, you might as well be raising gerbils.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two Poetry Readings

Much as I hate to see summer approaching its end, it's exciting to have poetry season back again. Readings and festivals along with fall leaves.

I have two readings coming up and I hope that you can join me for one or both. The first will take me to the Jersey shore. The second will take me to Easton, Pennsylvania. Here they are.

Saturday, September 22
River Reads Series
reading with Rick Mullin
Red Bank Public Library
84 West Front St.
Red Bank, NJ
2:30 PM
Free and followed by an open mic

The above reading will be the first for this series in its new venue. This is a lovely library right in front of the ocean. Rick, by the way, lives in my same town. I wonder if there are more of our kind?

The next reading, at a festival, came about as a result of a cancellation. Gerald Stern was scheduled to read but cancelled, so I was invited to take over. Happy to do so. And to be joined by Ann E. Michael. Oddly, this reading is also along water.

Sunday, September 23
Riverside Festival of the Arts
reading with Ann E. Michael
Scott Park
Dell Amphitheater
Larry Holmes Drive
Easton, PA
12:00-1:30 PM
Reading, Q&A, Book Signing

This festival will also include a juried art show and music events.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Time, Creativity, and Productivity

The Devil's Plaything

Lately I've been hearing a number of poets complaining about their unproductive summer. There they were, many of them off from school jobs, with all that gorgeous time on their hands. They'd had exciting plans for lots of writing and lots of submitting. But now the summer's over and back to work they go—with big frowns on their faces because they somehow frittered away all that time and now find themselves with little or nothing to show. The folder is empty and the desk holds nothing. What went wrong?

I suspect that many of us are more productive when we have less time. I know that doesn't make sense, but it seems that a lot of time often means too much time. Then we get lazy. Because we have a bunch of time, it's just way too easy to put off that writing until tomorrow. Now all the tomorrows have been used up.

There's something about the crunch of time that forces us to be productive. When we have precious little time, what we have becomes more precious. We become better organized. It becomes easier to impose self-discipline. We find ourselves making use of snippets of time. We also become stressed and tense. Oddly, there's something about tension that's creative. Forces working in opposition to each other clash and sparks fly. Some of those sparks turn into flames.

There's something I've been noticing at Facebook that might also play a role in a poet's lack of productivity. The Games! I never got into Farmville or Mafia Wars, but I used to love all the word games. I also adored Bejeweled Blitz with its flashing lights. A year ago I found myself playing the games on a daily basis. I was playing rounds of games with other people. Some of those people challenged me to face-offs. I began to dislike several people who routinely beat me. I suspected several of those people of cheating.

But the worst part was frittering away huge chunks of my day. I became sort of obsessed. I'd sit down at the computer to check my email in the morning. Then I'd allow myself a few games. Then a few more. And a few more. When I was losing, I'd feel like I had to redeem myself. When I was winning, I wanted to top my best score. This morning time was my best writing time. I've known for years that my best head, my most creative head, is my morning head. But there I was using it up on those stupid games! After an hour or more at the games, I found myself feeling drained, numbed, cranky. I began to have days when my bad mood, a kind of depressed feeling, lasted all day.

One day I had a chat with myself and acknowledged that I suspected I was becoming addicted to the games. I didn't like that admission. I gave up the games, right then and there. Cold turkey. I've never played any of them again. Invitations to play get ignored. It wasn't hard. It really wasn't. My morning head came back and I began to write again. To return to productivity I had to figure out what was draining it. I had plenty of time. I just wasn't using it well.

What's your distraction?

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