Recently finished American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language edited by Rankine and Spahr. And although the title is meaningless and uncreative (typical language poetry like), the book was an interesting but difficult study of 10 female language poets and their relationship, sometime antagonistic or conflicted relationship, to lyric poetry. Each section includes sample poems by the poet, their artistic statement (such as they believe in that...some did more than others) and a long essay explicating their work and contributions to poetic thought. The poets included are:
The essays deal with (mind) turns in poems, using space, associations, broken questions, mind failings, betweeness, abstractions, shifting syntax, fragmentation and the fallacies of reason, the typical things language poets grapple with.
The poets with asterisks are ones that were included in a recent MOOC (massive online open course) I participated in this fall, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry. I almost wish I had waited to read the book until after I had taken the course. I don't think I would have found it as slow-going. The MOOC discusses many of these topics but in a way more succinct and user-friendly way.
However, even without the class, my favorite sections were those on Jorie Graham who is more conflicted than dismissive of the lyric and Harryette Mullen who covers language poetry from a perspective of race and privileged literacies and whose poems felt the most young, modern and pop-culture inclusive.
For that last 10 weeks I've been taking my first MOOC, massive open online course on Modern American Poetry taught through the University of Pennsylvania by Al Filreis. The course starts with Whitman and Dickinson and moves through modernists like Williams, Stein and Pound, Communists poets, Harlem Renaissance poets, anti-modernists, the Beats, the New York School, language poets and conceptual poetries.
There were a few amazing things about this class:
I've been working this past year to get my head around more experimental and difficult poetries. Al Filreis took us through his version of the American poetry lineage and I actually really enjoyed almost everything we covered. Al is an open, friendly and challenging but cheerful teacher to take you through the world of mind-bending conceptual and meta poetries. This is his bag for the most part. If this isn't your bag, if you think poetry is the language of the Gods and the voice of humanity (which it can be but doesn't have to be all the time), please don't bother with this class. You'll only be a buzz-kill to about 34,900 people.
I didn't agree with everything he said, myself, and I hated the confusing way his online quizzes were worded, but his enthusiasm and help was invaluable and I came out of the class with poets to investigate further, including Whitman and Frank O'Hara who I've already read before and Susan Howe (I bought her My Emily Dickinson). The most mind-blowing piece we discussed was the final poem, Tracie Morris' performance piece Afrika(n) which was a mash-up commentary on pop culture, racial history and computer technology...all in one sentence!
Anyway, my take-aways from the class also included the following amazing things:
Our last essay was about conceptual Mesostic poetries and we were tasked with doing our own. Here is where my Cher and poetry blogs converge. I did a Sonny & Cher mesostic with song lyrics. Here's my post on Cher Scholar: I Found Some Blog about it: http://cherscholar.typepad.com/i_found_some_blog/2013/11/sonny-cher-mesostic.html.
Years ago a friend of my gave me a book called The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. We were going to read it together but we never did. I'm about 50 pages in now and each little section begins with an affirmation, many in verse. As I read the book, I'm compelled to share.
Here are the first few:
"The coming to consciousness is not a discovery of some new thing; it is a long and painful return to what has always been." -- Helen Luke
"What we reach for may be different, but what makes us reach is the same." -- Mark Nepo
"I learn, by going, where I have to go." -- Theodore Roehke
"The greedy one gathered all the cherries, while the simple one tasted all the cherries in one." M.N.
"We tend to make the thing in the way the way." M.N.
"The glassblower knows: while in the heat of beginning, any shape is possible. Once hardened, the only way to change is to break." M.N.
"If I had experienced different things, I would have different things to say." M. N.
Swear is divided into three parts: the first section contains political poems about the Occupy New Mexico/Occupy Wallstreet movement; the second section contains more general political poems; and the third section deals with Hip Hop and more personal poems. I particularly liked "Jamesetta" about Etta James and "Immortal Technique," a great poem about race.
Hakim also touches on issues in New Mexcio, the struggles of Genearation Y, the education system that fails poor kids. There's intimate heartache in his poems about poverty.
I have a degree
and only one
is coming in handy.
Bellamy is great with a calm, angry diatribe and his poems have forceful endings. And is as much a comment on America as "McDonald's apple pies."
Received my latest journals of science fiction poetry, Star*Line and Dwarf Stars. I have enjoyed my membership in the Science Fiction Poetry Association and will renew soon.
Denise Dumars talks about Eliza Griswold's Afghan Women poetry piece that was recently featured in The Poetry Foundation podcast and the June 2013 issue of Poetry magazine.
Speaking of Poetry magazine, I back-ordered the February 2013 issue for its feature on Joan Mitchell. I always enjoy my individual copies of this infamous journal but I've never been able to bring myself to purchase a subscription. I'm not sure why that is. Do I associate this journal too much with being the gatekeeper of the canon? APR is kind of a gatekeeper too and yet I subscribe to that.
But there I'm swayed by APR's on-the-ground style newspaper format. I'm so transparent. Anyway, I really enjoyed Poetry's notebook commentary by W.S. Di Piero.
Be sure to check out my Top 10 Ways Kids Today Can Use Poetry: Halloween Edition from last year.
Poets.org has a page of make-your-own Poet costumes for Halloween: The William Carlos Williams costume idea comes complete with a bowl of plums and a red wheelbarrow full of candy.
See? Even poets can be fun! Who knew.
Here are a few Halloween poems for you:
The Little Ghost
I knew her for a little ghost
That in my garden walked;
The wall is high—higher than most—
And the green gate was locked.
And yet I did not think of that
Till after she was gone—
I knew her by the broad white hat,
All ruffled, she had on.
By the dear ruffles round her feet,
By her small hands that hung
In their lace mitts, austere and sweet,
Her gown's white folds among.
I watched to see if she would stay,
What she would do—and oh!
She looked as if she liked the way
I let my garden grow!
She bent above my favourite mint
With conscious garden grace,
She smiled and smiled—there was no hint
Of sadness in her face.
She held her gown on either side
To let her slippers show,
And up the walk she went with pride,
The way great ladies go.
And where the wall is built in new
And is of ivy bare
She paused—then opened and passed through
A gate that once was there.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay
Each night Father fills me with dread
When he sits at the foot of my bed;
I'd not mind that he speaks
In gibbers and squeaks,
But for seventeen years he's been dead.
If you want to read a great long-form ghost poem, I recommend Albert Goldbarth's "The Two Domains" from his book The Beyond.
I love ghost poems...send me yours!
Although ostensibly the book is more geared for novelists (and I was using it for instruction on my first novel), there is so much pertinent food for thought for all writers here. This will definitely go into my list of best reads on writing. How many poems, short stories and novels fall flat due to...well, their flatness? Writing guides have talked around this issue forever but Baxter finally takes it on: subtext--not only why it's important but, more interestingly, how you can get it into your work.
This small book is divided into 7 sections:
1. A short introduction about why subtext matters.
2. Staging to give external clues to inner lives; dialogue and why not to say what you're trying to say.
3. Subterranean desires and focusing agents.
4. Aspects of denial and selective attention.
5. Inflection and tonality.
6. The problem of conflict avoidance.
7. The art of describing the face.
Aside from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, this book has really helped me conceptualize certain aspects of attacking a novel that have tended to frighten me. I also think there is much to learn here for poets: discussions of tonality and focusing agents, particularly, and what we pay attention to, what we tend to avoid writing about just as much as what we choose to write about.
Did Walt Whitman think one day he's be the inspiration for so many tote bags? What would he make of it if he had known?
I re-subscribed to the Academy of American Poets (mostly for their journal) but since then, I've received three more letters from them (September 19, October 4 and October 11). One is asking me to renew (this must have gone out before I renewed online), one thanking me for renewing, and one offering me a "small commemorative Walt Whitman canvas tote" for an additional $35. I was highly interested in this tote and now have one. I went online today to see if I could find a picture of it (so I wouldn't have to take one) and I found a quite amazing bouty of Walt Whitman tote bags which have been created for some purpose or other.
I guess the idea of a tote bag and Walt Whitman go together like ramma lamma lamma, ka dinga da dinga dong. View the plethora of Walt Whitman totes out there in the world!
The Poetry Society also sent me a post card (Poetry, I too, write it.) letting me know that I can enter their annual contest for free because I'm a member. But I don't think I'm still a member.
For my birthday I asked for a one-year subscription to Poetry London, four issues a year. My parents ended up getting me a two-year subscription (which was a bit pricey considering the trans-atlantic mailing costs). I haven't yet made up my mind about this journal. Maybe after 8 issues I will.
This Autumn issue to the left sat on our coffee table for two weeks while I was reading it. My husband, Monsieur Big Bang, kindly asked me to remove it a few days ago because he was tired of looking at that poet's bemused mug.
In the two issues I have, about 22 pages are devoted to poems and the last 30 pages are devoted to a huge amount of book reviews sprinkled with an interview or two.
I really enjoy the international selection of writers (which is why I also like Scottish Poetry Library newsletter), and I admire how many book reviews this journal tackles, including published "pamphlets." Since there are so many, they could be shorter but then again I admire the journal for giving new books so much space and attention (and organized in small thematic groups) and I do find I learn new perspectives from these longer reviews. The poems are varied in style (from forms to experimentals) although I tend to like American Poetry Reviews varied selection better for some reason. What I'm not sure I like is the journal format. It's a huge journal and both the cover and inside paper are very thick. One thing that most irks me about AWP's The Chronicle magazine is their use of wide margins between unjustified column text. Reading that magazine is headache inducing. But Poetry London gets the multiple-column, unjustified text layout just right, thankfully.
The autumn issue has a good opening essay about risk taking, some poems I liked by Timothy Donnelly, Crissy Williams, Penelopy Shuttle, David Lehman, Jason Schneiderman, Nuar Alsadir, and Greg Delanty, an interview with Glyn Maxwell. The Autumn issue has poems I liked from Christopher Middleton and Mathew Dickman and an interview with Daljit Nagra on his recent reinterpretation of the Ramayana.
My fiction-writing friend Julie also emailed me this very funny link to 30 Awkward Moments From Your Creative Writing MFA from BuzzFeed. The list was all very true and funny, but I absolutely loved the re-creation of the rejection letter: Charlie Bucket opening his golden ticket that says, "HA! REJECTED GO FUCK YOURSELF Thanks for the App Money $" There's a version two of this graphic later on that is just as funny.
I also loved the puppy dog pic attached to "When feted, laureled, Pulitzer-anointed visiting authors tell you that publication’s not important, and you should write as if no one’s reading." If you're part of the Creative Writing MFA army, definitely check it out.
In my quest to build a shelf of celebrity poetry, I took on Jim Morrison's three books last month. Yes, I used to make fun of celebrity poetry...because that's what poetry snobs do; but for the last few years I've decided to approach these books with an open mind. After all, celebrities can't help it if they're famous and also trying to express themselves in verse. If you became famous, would you stop writing poetry? No, you wouldn't...even though it would be potentially embarrassing and a big laugh to non-celebrity poets such as you used to be.
I took on The Lords and the New Creatures first, a volume of "revealing, early poems from the voice of a generation." My husband, Monsieur Big Bang, laughed when he saw me reading this. He said only angry teen boys read Jim Morrison. I've never been a Doors fan or a teen age boy but I dove into the project anyway.
In any case, this was my least favorite book of the three. These were his poems at their most enigmatic. In some cases his thoughts were indecipherable and maybe in early stages of something experimental. The problem with experimental poems is that they can be awfully indistinguishable from drug-induced pieces. And I'm saying that without judgement. Drug writing has its own value ("Kubla Khan"). You just can't read too much into it, unlike more sophisticated experimental work. But occassionaly, Morrison would catch my attention with some pithy scrap of thought, (usually when he was talking about fame or show business or his possible messiah complex), all bits which were disappointingly rare. I did find a quote or to which will be of use in my next Cher Zine,
"But most of the press were vultures descending on the scene for curious America aplomb. Cameras inside the coffin interviewing worms."
i will say this, Morrison is good at noticing what's going on around him. In this book he mulls over ideas of voyeurism and participation, film studies (he was a film student), issues of power and possession, alchemy, and a few interesting comments about motherhood. The random notes included are not fully formed. They seem almost like notes for future essays. And many of the poems seem like a string fo terse images in search of a vague mythology.
One of the most interesting things about this used book I found in a Santa Fe bookstore was the inscription on the inside cover: "To Adam (Pedro)/Love Always, Amy/Christmas '96/The Doors Rule!"
I surmise Adam did not feel so much love for The Doors forever or I would not have acquired his Christmas gift book.
Wilderness was my favorite book of the three. Maybe I was just beginning to get into his idiosyncrasies like his shorthand or his capitalizing randomly. This book coheres much better as a book about American culture from Morrison's point of view. There are scattered southwestern images from his young life (he mentions the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, rattlesnakes and cattle skulls) and over and over again he considers his idea of wilderness where he is referring to the wild city of Los Angeles and "the American night." The word 'LAmerica' appears a great deal over the two volumes as poem titles and in the text as does the phrase, "the American night." My favorite parts were discussions of androgyny in Los Angeles and "miles and miles of hotel corridors." There are sexual poems here too and contemplations of the poet,
"Real poetry doesn't say anything,
it just ticks off the possibilities."
and more sad reflections on fame and futility:
"But I deserve this,
Greatest cannibal of all.
Some tired future.
Let me sleep.
Get on w/the disease.
Again, his free association writing can feel almost language poetry-like. He believes a great deal in the meditative power of the ritual of writing poetry and this is as valid as anybody else's use of it.
When I read great lines like "Each day is a drive through history" I wonder why he was so enegmatic for most of this and if his fragments had anything to do with a fear of fully telling.
I'm always interested in sexuality poems, like "Lament for the Death of My Cock." But they seem so tame now. I'm sure they were scandalous at the time.
In fact, this might be part of the problem with Morrison's legacy over all: it's the Cher/Madonna/Britney Spears/Milley Cyrus exponential reveal: what was so shocking yesterday becomes deflated in our hyper-drive culture of pushing boundaries. In light of Miley Cyrus making so much offence at this year's Video Music Awards, Morrison's sexuality seems almost old-fashioned.
Which sort of renders the art of shock sort of flaccid at the end of the day. How far can we go beyond S&M?
In this book, I sensed some racist undertones in a few poems (see the Paris Journal for an example). This book is also propped up with various reprinted lyrics. One lyric from the song "When the Music's Over" was a haunting prediction of our current culture of rampant narcissism and insatiable greed:
"I hear a very gentle sound,
With your ear down to the ground.
We want the world and we want it...
We want the world and we want it,
now, now, NOW!
In the end, Morrison seemed to view death as a clean slate, from "Hurricane & Eclipse" where he says, "I wish clean/death would come to me" to "If Only I" where he claims "If only I could feel/me pulling back/again/& feel embraced/by reality/again/I would gladly die."
Maybe it's this very state of mind that appeals to teen boys, stressed out by the fog of adolescence and living a life not yet fully in control.
Poets with Sexy Hair