But this was a big one. I spent 10 years working on a project with a primary publisher in mind. In the past 10 years, granted, the publisher has changed. But I felt I had to give it the old college try.
So it was a #PickingUpThePiecesSaturday for me, listening to ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” on iPod repeat and crying into my hard cider (ACE brand is my personal favorite).
I went to enroll in the three other Harvard poetry online classes (because I've become like an online class hoarder). To say Harvard's poetry Moocs are classes is overstating, however, because they’re just archived materials from past MOOCs.
I was highly perturbed to have their site ask me for a five dollar donation for each course. I was annoyed for these reasons:
- The class represents itself as a free MOOC, (“HarvardX—Free Courses from Harvard University” and “edX/Free online courses from the world’s best universities”), and this gesture feels like trying to have it both ways.
- The Walt Whitman class was good, but not as good as the ModPo MOOC from the University of Pennsylvania which, to date, has never asked me for any money. If anybody should get my measly five dollars, ModPo deserves the money for the blood and sweat put into those gargantuan efforts.
- None of the features that would actually cost them anything are available anymore: they're not reviewing your work, the annotation tool is turned off and there are no active forums to maintain or contribute to. It's just readings and videos. Again, ModPo is so much more active and so much more free.
- I’m not opposed to donating cash to worthy causes but Harvard--you have a bigger endowment than God. Please refrain from asking the pleebs for change. At least the robber barons gave us free libraries. Jeesh.
I did a lot of summer reading this year. For years I’ve been working on two big New Mexico-themed projects so I’ve been reading essays, anthologies, tracking down art books. Here is a survey of what I’ve been reading so far.
Poems of the American West, Everyman’s Library Pocket Series, Edited by Robert Mezey, 2002
This book proves an editor really does set the tone and style of an anthology. Mezey has somewhat modern and abstract tastes, which I liked, but would have liked a wider survey of different styles. His "west" goes all the way to Canada and out to California.
Turquoise Land, Poetry anthology from the New Mexico State Poetry Society, 1974 and Sandscript, volume 2 of the NM State Poetry Society, 1976
Although there are plenty of what you might call amateurish pieces here, (or what I prefer to call workshop poems), I found some of the best ALBQ landscape poems in these books. Most ALBQ poems I’ve found so far have been very urban (to be expected), but I’m always been attracted to ones that deal with land forms around the city.
New Mexico Poetry Renaissance, Edited by Sharon Niederman and Miriam Sagan, 1994
This is my favorite anthology so far. This book provided me with my longest list of poets to investigate further and involves a good, short sampling of each poet with some biographical information.
The Turquoise Trail, Edited by Alice Corbin Henderson, 1928
This is the first anthology of gringo poetry in New Mexico. It primarily samples the Santa Fe and Taos poets of the 20s and 30s. I found a few poets to investigate later. What frustrated me most about this book was just trying to locate a copy; it proved how lacking historically significant books of New Mexico literature are from its public libraries. You might find some of these books in reference sections if at all. They’re not being reprinted and not being repurchased for the libraries although I found my copy for $6 on ebay.
I experienced the same issue with the Santa Fe novels Fire in the Night, 1934, by Raymond Otis and No Quarter Given by Paul Horgan, 1935. I had to find those two on Abe’s online bookstore for rare books.
The Selected Poems of John Gould Fletcher, 1988
One of the poets I pursued after reading The Turquoise Trail was John Gould Fletcher. I liked his poem “Rain in the Desert.” Fletcher made a few trips to Santa Fe in the 1930s and was on the periphery of editor Alice Corbin Henderson’s circle. This anthology has a sprinkling of Arizona Poems including “Cliff Dwelling,” “Rain in the Desert”, and other southwestern poems like “The Last Frontier,” “Crucifixion of the Skyscraper” (which reflects the New Mexico circles dis-satisfaction with urban areas), “On Mesa Verde ” and “The Burning Mountain” (I wonder if this is about the Sangre de Cristos). Fletcher was a southern Calvanist and the bulk of his work is gloomy and fate-obsessed and not about the southwest.
In Company, An Anthology of New Mexico Poets After 1960, Edited by Lee Bartlett, V.B. Price, and Dianne Edenfield Edwards, 2004
This one was a total slog including copious amounts of modern and experimental poetry (which, in its defense, it admits to in its subtitle). Most poems were decidedly not about New Mexico or the idea of place (fair enough). But 520+ pages of this point of view was too much and mostly unremarkable stacked up against other, more famous, experimental work. I may have been less harsh after only 250+ pages.
I also came across a self-published book while visiting the ghost town of Chloride, New Mexico. This is one of the remaining ghost towns which actually courts tourists. It has a gift store, a museum and a café and the town is only one street long! The book I found was South to Southwest by Patsy Crow King. She says these are poems for her grand-kids and it looks like my copy was one of ten printed. All the pages are printed fully bolded and in a big font. Certain poems have words missing, capitals misused, errors in punctuation (although she lead her local creative writing group and won some of its prizes as president and contest chair). She also includes some of her husband’s poems in the book. But that said, she's actually an interesting rhymer and there are three poems of historical interest, one on Chaco Canyon, one on Monument Valley, and one rare gem about the ghost town of White Oaks, New Mexico.
Other recommended NM Lit Books
Santa Fe & Taos, The Writer’s Era, 1916-1941, Marta Weigle and Kyle Fiore, 1994
This is an amazing book filled with historical yet gossipy details about 1920s/30s Anglo writers who settled in Santa Fe and Taos.
Spud Johnson & Laughing Horse by Sharyn R. Udall, 1994
After you read Santa Fe & Taos, The Writer’s Era, you’ll want to get a hold of this book. Again, missing from New Mexico libraries. I found it on Abe’s Books.
I bought this book in Paris of all places. It’s a bit dry but these are fascinating essays on the change in American aesthetic consciousness among Europeans, the very idea of the west and how artists and writers contributed to changing those ideas about what was beautiful and transcendent about a landscape.
The Desert is No Lady, Southwestern Landscapes in Women’s Writing and Art, Edited by Vera Norwood and Janice Monk
Textbook like in size and depth but, again, essays with amazing overviews of southwestern landscape writing from many more perspectives: Native American, Hispanic, Cowboy/the Anglo settler, and the modern artistic zones of New Mexico today.
Past books I’ve read:
Mud Woman, Poems from the Clay by Nora Naranjo-Morse, 1992
Meditative and lyrical poems about clay-building and the experience of commerce in Indian markets. The book includes fascinating photos of her pieces.
Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp, collected by John A. Lomax, 1927
This was my grandmother’s book. Recently I found a list of old southwestern and Mexican ballads my grandfather loved when he was 19 back in the 1920s. I’m still looking for a recording of a song called “Friendless and Sad”…it wasn’t in here.
Red Earth, Poems of New Mexico, Alice Corbin Henderson, 1920
You can find cheap knock-offs on Amazon but stick it out for a nice hardback copy reprinted from The Museum of New Mexico. It includes artworks matched to the poems. Considering Henderson was the ringleader of the poets in The Turquoise Trail and that fact that Henderson was co-founder of Poetry Magazine with Harriet Monroe, I had high hopes for this book. I was disappointed, but there are a few evocative moments.
Fray Angelico Chavez, Selected Poems, 1969
Chavez is a poet from Wagon Mound originally, known to be a Catholic historical revisionist. I wanted to sense some kind of locality in this slim chapbook of poems but they were mostly kind of dry.
Place as Purpose, Poetry from the Western States, Edited by Martha Ronk and Paul Vangelisti, 2002
Los Angeles' Autry Museum published this book of poets who just happen to be from the western states, not necessarily poetry about the western states. And again, we’re talking about western states here as opposed to southwestern states. Lots of experimental pieces. Annoyingly, there’s no table of contents.
Along the Chisholm Trail and Other Poems, George Rhodes, 2012
Not specifically a New Mexico book but this one was a winner in the Independent Book Awards. It has a great cover and some poems I liked. Mostly contains cowboy forms. Cowboy forms are good to read but get old after large quantities are consumed, much like experimental pieces.
Cactus and Pine, Songs of the Southwest, Sharlot M. Hall, 2006
Hall is an Arizona historical figure and this is a collection of her poems I picked up at her museum in Prescott, Arizona. She hated the idea that Arizona and New Mexico were once proposed to exist as one big state.
Cowboy Poetry Matters, From Abilene to the Mainstream, Contemporary Cowboy Writing, Edited by Robert McDowell, 2000
This is Story Line Press' gesture to bring back cowboy poetry (along with other forms). The movement gets a bit too political for me (see my essay about this topic, Writing in the Age of Narcissism), but this is actually a good anthology of poets writing in this genre sort of now.
Selected Poems of Jimmy Santiago Baca, 2009
Baca is a famous local poet with a personal story of triumph. The movie, A Place to Stand, based on his life does not yet have a distribution deal I’ve seen a version of it that was beautiful and captivating.
Poets may not consciously realize how empathy is working or not working when they write poems but even a decision to be emphatic or the ability to do it will affect the content and the tone of the poems you write and how you critique every other poem you encounter, the content of that poem and your attitude toward the poet who wrote it.
So at a foundational level, empathy will affect what you write and how you read because it fundamentally affects how you conceptualize the world.
From a brazenly marketability viewpoint, empathy is one of the big buzzwords these days. Similar to writing a poem, your ability to empathize affects the very foundation of any product you design. Without customer empathy, you can’t understand customer needs. Marketing guru Seth Godin defines what empathy is in this blog post:
Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"
The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.
Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.
He also talks about flipping the rules here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/08/the-permanent-rules.html
In this PDF on Design Thinking:
Empathy is the centerpiece of a human-centered design process. The Empathize mode is the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge. It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about world, and what is meaningful to them….WHY empathize? As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them.
Honestly, most of us have fallen somewhat short of empathy as critics. We’re too self-focused. But as a customer we usually get it immediately. We think, “You better understand me or I won’t buy your device, soap or service.”
But what about books and poems? Why is it taboo to have empathy for a customer as a reader? This is not to say you should write poems like a marketer would, although you’re free to try that. (Big secret: marketers have yet to understand how to do this themselves.) But it's the practice of human empathy that is the issue here.
Because marketers are under such pressure to sell, (and because they can be psychologically ruthless about it), marketers and product designers are usually ahead of the rest of us on understanding human experience. It behooves us all to listen to what they are saying. Don’t be that guy who misses the message for the messenger.
The PDF above also shows how workshopping is similar to product testing:
How to test: show don’t tell. Put your prototype in the user’s hands – or your user within an experience. And don’t explain everything (yet). Let your tester interpret the prototype. Watch how they use (and misuse!) what you have given them, and how they handle and interact with it; then listen to what they say about it, and the questions they have.
I also follow Marketoonist. He has a good toon from 2013 on idea generation and submission issues for cartoonists. His commentary works as tips for writers as well: https://marketoonist.com/2013/01/brainstorming-ideas.html
In a recent marketing meeting we were asked to brainstorm for a departmental mission statement. It had to be short. Barely a sentence. We joked about corporate mission statement generators like these:
We were asked to warm up by creating our own personal mission statement. I don’t know if I was thinking about the mission of this blog or my smart-ass self when I came up with these:
This last one feels like my mission here at Big Bang Poetry. The journey of writing is not only about the stories you tell but the story of the telling and your life in search of the telling. I want to help do all that.
My auto generated statements turned out to be:
"We professionally synthesize quality poetry in order to continue to enthusiastically foster bang-full blog deliverables while maintaining the highest standards."
And the ever purposeful:
"Our goal is to build infrastructures."
Check out the one-man musical on Walt Whitman! (OC Register)
Whitman, The Online Class!
I've almost finished the free Harvard EdX online Walt Whitman class found at: https://www.edx.org/course/poetry-america-whitman-harvardx-ampox-3
It's part of their archived Poetry in America series which includes poetry of Early New England and Nature and Nation (all Northeastern obsessed poetries; hopefully more to come that’s less regional).
The course is set out over four weeks. The reading load gets harder as you go. The online experience focuses on learning to annotate poems and the site has a special program for that. Either it doesn’t work in my iPad or it’s turned off in the archived experience. I'm using my Collected Works book anyway. There is not much over reading (essays, other similar poets) but there is plenty of interesting video hours you can spend on poem group commentary, readings and a tour of New York which shows mostly a woman pointing at buildings.
I am finding that the class is helping me with aspects of the novel I'm working on. I have to say, like other women over 40 (who make up a large part of the Harvard class cast), I'm enjoying Whitman much more now.
In fact, these two quotes from "Song of Myself seemed appropriate to point out, this one due to living in the Internet-age:
“I speak the pass-word primeval.”
And this one in regards to discussions here around mindfulness, sympathy and empathy:
“And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud.”
Over the last few weeks, I've mentioned online classes and Mp3 lectures from The Great Courses company. I wanted to mention I’ve also used Udemy. And here's an important tip I left out earlier: don’t freak out when you sign up and see courses prices at $150. Just wait for the email sale--it comes every day or so--and inevitably courses come down to anywhere from $19 to $40! It’s some kind of masochistic sticker-shock marketing they seem to be doing.
Also check out Slideshare on LinkedIn as another resource for poetry learners and teachers that's free!
The "This is just to say" tea towel can be purchased on Food52.
And Avon's catalog has a skin care kit called Haiku, utilizing the scent of jasmine, lilies and sparkling citrus. It’s “sheer poetry” they say.
How can I resist these poetry-themed products?
That was a trick question because I can’t.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (for shrug)
For the few years I've been publishing this poetry blog and tracking news about poets, I've come to see that poets actually get lots of ink in the mainstream US press. Maybe more than they deserve if you consider the small amount of poetry books that sell every year in America. And this is a good thing!
Was Shakespeare a stoner? Study says poet may have used pot (The Today Show)
Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis (New York Times)
STL poet laureate opens Ferguson Commission meeting with poems on Michael Brown and police violence (The St. Louis American) Scary things were happening in St. Louis this week due to the one-year anniversary of the first shooting to put police violence against black people on the media radar. Michael Castro pictured above.
Have you ever considered talking a mindfulness course if you’re a poetry teacher? This article in Community College Week tells you why you should.
Have you ever considered taking a mindfulness course if you’re a writer?
Did you know it can:
- improve your ability to focus
- orient your attention
- improve your working memory
- decrease your anxiety, depression and anger
- improve planning and organization
- improve relationships
- improve empathy
A couple of things come in to play here when we critique different styles of poets and their aggravations with other styles of poetry:
This mental stuff affects our poems and it affects how we critique other people's poems. Read more at Community College Weekly.
I've been purchasing some on-sale Great Courses classes on poets and writers. We play them on the way to work in half-hour lectures. Monsieur Big Bang and I have take classes on the transcendentalist writers, Mark Twain, and a good class on America’s best sellers. The C.S. Lewis one we're on now is a bit too preachy and screechy in tone. I wouldn't recommend that one. And warning: once this company gets your email, you'll have to ask them to refrain from sending you one every day. But it's all worth the price if you can get a deal on the mp3 downloads format which are the cheapest.
Did you know there are lots of poetry-related TED Talks? In fact, there are many very valuable non-poetry-related TED talks, too. A friend of mine sent me these two talks this week, two that I think would be particularly useful for the often socially-inept poets at parties.
How to engage in better small talk: This one surely applies to at least a quarter of the poets I have met in workshops and conferences. You know the ones! They ask you a list of variations on “Have you read this book?” This TED talk tells a humorous anecdote about that very question and why you need to move beyond it in social situations.
How to magically connect with anyone is another good talk about basic human needs in communication (of which poetry is one).
Poets hate to talk marketing sometimes but my day-job in marketing and web has led to many great resources for information on communication. You never know where you'll find food for thought.
Social Media Examiner and Marketoonist are very smart blogs for learning about the changing media landscape and the psychology of a consumer and human communication. They're also good to follow if you're ever in the position of marketing your own work. And no matter who your publisher is (or isn't), this applies to you!
Social Media Examiner, for one, might seem overwhelming at first. It helps to take it in baby steps, like one blog post a week or per month. I mean I do this for a living and it feels overwhelming!
But writers should understand the social behind the media. Learn basic concepts of communication and what people's need are. You don’t have to become an expert in every feature from every online media product. That would be a waste of time anyway; they come and go so often.
Poets with Sexy Hair