I've had these games for year and sometimes I take them to small, informal writing groups.
Roger von Oech’s "Creative Wack Pack" are great cards to stimulate creative thinking. There are blue Exporer cards (a man with binoculars) that cover aspects of how we go looking for inspiration. The orange Artist cards (a head with its hair exploding) cover idea generation. The green Judge cards (an old man with a gavel) deal with evaluating our ideas. And finally, the red warrior cards (a warrior helmet) give tips for inventive ways to implement ideas.
Included is a book of ideas on how to use the cards, either as individual exercises, in group workshops, or as an oracle.
Each card tells a story with a final lesson learned.
Here’s a sample of one from each group:
Explorer card, Get out of Your Box: the story is about cutting across disciplinary boundaries and borrowing for ideas.
Artist card, Reverse: reverse how you look at something to dislodge assumptions, the example being when everyone else looks one way at a sunset, look behind you into the darkness. How can you reverse the way you look at an idea?
Judge card, Conform: the story is about St. Augustine being told "When in Rome…," the question being to what standards should you be conforming?
Warrior card, Do the Unexpected: the story is from 1334. Hochosterwitz castle was being besieged and a commander did the opposite of what was expected by the enemy, the lesson being use a surprising tactic to reach your objective.
I also have a game called Stones from the Muse, Runes for the Creative Journey. There are 10 double-sided rune stones in a bag and a book. You can draw one stone a day. Yesterday, I drew the Tool rune (a crude pick axe) which is about taking action. Or you can draw three or four stone configurations. I drew two more to do a reading called "immediate picture, big picture, action required." My second rune looked like a tadpole (the transformation rune) and the third looked like a swirl (the seed rune) which dealt with idea composting and fertility. The booklet has long descriptions of each rune and ideas for action steps.
The first creative oracle I purchased in college were these phoenix cards. The idea behind them is that you will draw the card that most represents your past life culture and its influences on your current life. For years, I have always been drawn immediately to the Zen Buddhist card. For years I researched Zen to figure out what that meant.
The cards each have radically different cultural aesthetics and most people only gravitate toward one or two of them. Strangely, when I used the cards to read everyone in my Bronxville, NY writing group years ago, the writers did claim the readings were pretty good. One friend said her reading was more like her than any of us could ever know.
I’ve ever only gravitated to the Zen card. Eliminating that card today, I picked the Medieval Illumination. And I have to say, its description of me wasn’t too far off either.
Anyway, fun games for creative types.
I'm a big believer that you don't need to fork over money to an eBook designer to create an eBook version of your poems. That is, beyond what you will spend to design your physical book. There are many poets out there insisting poetry can't be designed for electronic book reading. But I've been reading books of poems on my Kindle for years now. And if they're priced right, I buy books of poems on my Kindle I normally wouldn't buy in print. This usually happens when I want to test out a new poet or when I want to read a book but not necessarily "collect" it on my bookshelf.
There are special formatting issues for poems on eBook. Some special indenting creates problems, but over the last few years these issues have been overcome by some lit-minded, html-savy people who are generous enough to share their tricks with us.
Your Poetry eBook, Quick and Easy Formatting for Kindle by D.L. Lang is a great start for newbies. It's cheap and quick and informative for any poet who wants to stay up-to-date on how their books are made.
Looking to Read
Publishing by Gail Godwin was recently reviewed in Entertainment Weekly, whose review tells us the book “explores the writer’s shifting place in the publishing industry’s disheartening transformation—from a place where tweedy editors spent years nurturing gifted young writers to a marketing machine where authors must now come with ready-made personal brands.”
The Frank O’Hara Project
I just finished my first big experiment in reading someone’s collected works at the same time I read the biography. This idea started when I finished Edna St. Vincent Millay’s biography and then started her selected poems having forgot all the anecdotal stories from the biography.
I decided to slowly go through Donald Allen’s collected tome of O’Hara while reading City Poet by Brad Gooch, or as Monsieur Big Bang like to call it, that big book by The Gooch.
I started at the end of 2013 and finished just before Christmas in 2014! It took a year of bedtime reading!
I loved the biography and how its stories and poets overlapped with my studies on local Santa Fe poets over the same time-period. For instance, one line of the biography declares how O’Hara despised Vachel Lindsay.
The collected poems were a bit of a slog, containing over 400 pages of small printed verse. Many of his experiments were interesting at first but tedious after many incarnations; but I felt by the end of it I had my own personal little selected list of gems.
In any case, his famous poems are famous for a reason.
A tale of two Iranian poets: "Iran has long been one of the few countries where poetry enjoys mass popularity. So, it came as no surprise that the death earlier this week of the poet Moshfeq Kashani was treated as a major event with a special message from Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei paying tribute to the poet and miles of coverage in the official media. Kashani collapsed and died during a ceremony honoring another poet in Tehran...At the same time, however, the same authorities that heaped praise on the 89-year-old Kashani were determined to prevent any attempt at marking the first anniversary of the execution of another poet, the much younger Hashem Shaabani, who was sentenced to death by hanging on a charge of “waging war on God”.
In local news...
I've added new quotes on writing strategies and narcissism to my book page for Writing in the Age of Narcissism.
We haven't done these in a while. These are all by poet Mark Nepo and these quotes can help guide us all through ways of seeing and intellectualizing what we write about:
"Live loud enough in your heart
and there is no need to speak."
"Birds don’t need ornithologists to fly."
"If you can’t see what you’re looking for, see what’s there."
"Before fixing what you’re looking at, check what you’re looking through."
"No amount of thinking can stop thinking."
The Art of Daring
"In August of last year Graywolf Press released the tenth volume in their acclaimed "Art of" series, this time authored by poet and four-time National Book Award finalist Carl Phillips." (The Huffington Post)
“The Triumph of Bullshit" by T.S. Eliot
"TS Eliot, once a subversive outsider, became the most celebrated poet of the 20th century – a world poet, who changed the way we think. Yet, fifty years after his death, we are still making new discoveries about him." (The Guardian)
"Fifty years later, “difficult” remains the word most people attach to his verse. Yet we quote him: “Not with a bang but a whimper”, the last line of Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” is among the best-known lines of modern poetry. “April is the cruellest month” begins The Waste Land with unsettling memorability; no reader forgets the strangeness of the “patient etherised upon a table” at the start of “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”."
"Through allusion, quotation, echo and resonance, modern life is presented as a repeated ritual, one we can hear more deeply than we see it. To a greater or lesser degree, this is still how poetry works. It’s not so much that knottily difficult poets including Geoffrey Hill and Jorie Graham embed one resonance within another as they write, as that even poets very different from Eliot inherit an acute self-consciousness in their language. Poetry manifests an awareness that language – in its play of sound as much as in its denotation, its meaning – spools and unspools the self."
The Web Poet's Society: Can an online course revive interest in the classics?
This is an article on the University of Pennsylvannia Modern Poetry MOOC course (The Atlantic)
"Skeptics of online education still question if academic subjects, let alone poetry, can be taught on the web. They stress that true scholarship takes patience and time—values that aren’t inherent to online education. Even though many MOOCs offer certificates of completion, only 5 percent of of those who enroll actually stick to it. And, despite their popularity, both UPenn and Harvard’s poetry classes have experienced high dropout rates as well.
But Filreis suggests that the courses’ objectives are more important than their measurable outcomes. ModPo, he said, isn’t about the number of people who complete it—and it certainly isn’t designed to replace a traditional college seminar. After all, data indicates that most of the students who sign up already have some formal higher education under their belt. Rather, ModPo—and Poetry in America—are about reaching more minds and opening more people to the possibilities of language. They're about finding Whitman not only under boot soles but on smartphones, too."
Arkansas poet and father of singer Lucinda Williams, Miller Williams died on New Year's Day this year at the age of 84. Longtime fan of Lucinda Williams, I was lucky to see them perform together in song and poetry at Royce Hall at UCLA years ago.
I think I picked up his book, Making a Poem: Some Thoughts About Poetry And the People Who Write It, at that show.
Here are some prominent obituaries. As you may recall, Miller Williams read the inaugural poem for second term of President Bill Clinton.
The narcissism epidemic has spread around the world and has tainted the attitudes and impulses of writers and all artists. This situation affects our futures and our fortunes. In my new eBook, Writing in the Age of Narcissism, I talk about strategies of literary criticism as they enable narcissism, as well as possible solutions to counter-act destructive tactics in writing and reviewing.
Or sign up for my quarterly newsletter and receive a free copy. Just provide a valid email when you sign up.
If you’re a poet or writer in any other form or genre, you’ve probably witnessed many modern, uncivilized behaviors from fellow students, writers and academic colleagues—their public relations gestures, their catty reviews and essays, and their often uncivil career moves. Like actors, visual artists and politicians, cut-throat pirate maneuverings have become the new normal. It’s what occurs whenever there are more people practicing an art than any particular economy can support.
The difference with writers is their ability to develop highly conceptualized, rationalizations in order to prove their worth and ideals. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it has reached a critical mass in meaningless attempts to pull focus in a society obsessed with the show-biz spotlight.
This essay traces how the narcissism epidemic affects writers, including our gestures of post-modernism and irony, and proposes an alternative way to be a more positive writer, critic and reader.
Or sign up for my quarterly newsletter and receive a free copy. Just provide a valid email when you sign up.
I've been following Mark Coker’s publishing predictions for a few years now. He's just come out with his 2015 points. I like that he studies his data for these things and that he updates his predictions as the data changes. He doesn't have an ideological agenda. Well, he might, but he's willing to adjust his assessments, for instance he predicts screen reading increases might slow down this year.
Last year he was still promoting the power of making books free to raise your profile. This year, with traditional publishers finally getting wise, the idea of free might lose some steam.
In 2008, College Crunch listed Poetry as the number one most expensive and useless degree in America.
And they provide a depressingly sad-sack example.
I found that link over the holiday break going through my email. I found a few old fad links I'd missed over the years, like this video from Weird Al. If you’re a word-nerd, his "Word Crimes" video is for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc
Promoting your own work - in this day of low publisher promotion, it's something poets must learn how to do. Ann Cefola figured out a way to put together a fun poetry video.
She tells me she recorded herself reading her poem "Velocity" from her new book Face Painting in the Dark. She then selected photos from the Internet and included a copy of "I'm Sittin' On Top of the World" by Les Paul and Mary Ford.
She says she wanted the song because the lyrics were "I'm sitting on top of the world, just rolling along, just rolling along" and "Like Humpty Dumpty, I'm about to fall." Cefola says, "Les Paul and Mary Ford had such energy together and their songs had a sparkly innocence--it seemed right for that moment in time."
She then sent the images to a film editor who used effects to create a sense of movement out of the individual photos. You could also try to create a slide show yourself in Windows Live Movie Maker or some similar software for Macs.
DVD Note: In November I reviewed the documentary The Life & Times of Allen Ginsberg. I rent my DVDs from GreenCine and they send me one DVD at a time. The week after my review, I reviewed the DVD with the extras which amount to a long list of poets talking about their friendship with Allen Ginsberg, some interviewed before his death and some after. I watched them all and have noted my favorites: Joan Baez, Beck, Bono, Stan Brakhage, William Burroughs, Johnny Depp, Lawrence Ferlinghetti*, Philip Glass*, Peter Hale* (especially talking about Paul McCartney and then watching Paul McCartney), John Hammond, Sr., Abbie Hoffman, Jack Johnson, Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Judith Malina and Julian Beck, Jonas Mekas, Thurston Moore, Yoko Ono, Lee Ranaldo, Gehlek Rimoche* (footage of his death service), Bob Rosenthal, Ed Sanders*, Patti Smith* (footage of his death service), Steven Taylor, Hunter S. Thompson, Bob Thurman, Anne Waldman* (tells story of the founding of Naropa Institute's school of disembodied poetics), and Andy Warhol.
Getting this screener is the result of my first Kickstarter contribution. I donated $25 dollars over a year ago, probably a pittance compared to other contributors to this very expensive movie-making process. A Place to Stand is the documentary about the life of New Mexico poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, an Arizona convict who taught himself to read and write in prison and whose entire life was transformed by poetry.
Even though the film was already given glowing reviews from The Nation and the Los Angeles Times, I wasn’t expecting this movie. After all, you get used to things being sort of half-assed here in New Mexico. And I had just seen a threadbare documentary of artist Ray Johnson called How to Draw a Bunny (2002), a great story but somewhat amateurish documentary.
I was expecting something equally homegrown with A Place to Stand. Big mistake. This thing exceptionally well-filmed. Its storytelling technique reminded me of Searching for Sugarman, very fluid, creative and professional.
Not only was this the best, hands down, documentary of a poet or about poetry that I’ve ever seen, this film was so good, I stopped taking notes. I had to stop and give this story my full, rapt attention. Monsieur Big Bang walked through the living room in gym shorts intending to work out on the treadmill in another room. But instead, he stopped and sat on the couch in rapt attention for the entire movie.
This is an unbelievable moving story about redemption and the spiritual weight of words. If DVD copies are available for sale by next year, I'm buying a stack for Christmas presents.
Extras on my screener included a featurette on the movie’s animator, author readings (indoors and outdoors), and a short on the artist Eric Christo Martinez (a former convict whose life was also transformed through art).
A primer on Jimmy Santiago Baca:
To check movie showings: http://aplacetostandmovie.com/
Poets with Sexy Hair