July 13, 2018

More People Are Reading Poetry

I like finding surveys that say that more people are reading poetry. 28 million American adults read poetry this year according to a survey of arts participation conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Census Bureau. That is the highest percentage of poetry readership in more than 15 years.

“We’ve never seen an increase in poetry reading. If anything there had been a decline — a pretty sharp decline — since about 2002 at least,” said Sunil Iyengar, NEA director of research and analysis."

The full arts participation report won’t be released until later this year, but they thought the results were too significant not to share early.

Young adults and certain racial ethnic groups account for a large portion of the increase. U.S. poetry readers aged 18 to 24 more than doubled, jumping from 8 percent in 2012 to 17 percent in 2017. Among people of color, African Americans and Asian Americans are reading poetry at the highest rates — which more than doubled in the last five years — up 15 and 12 percent, respectively.

Other notable increased readership groups include women, rural Americans and those with only some college education.

This kind of data is of interest to the NEA’s mission of increasing participation in the arts, and they have found in other studies how reading tends to be a portal to other types of participation and other types of engagement, in the arts and outside the arts.

July 7, 2018

Prompt: Summer Haiku

Oiran in Summer Kimono - Attributed to Hosoda Eishi (Japan, 1756-1829) - via Wikimedia
While we are on vacation this month, we are offering a different prompt and submission option. Here we are going to give you a brief summer haiku prompt and ask that if you write a poem to the prompt that you post it below as a comment. All comments on this blog require approval, so there will still be some gentle screening of submissions, but let's assume that everyone can follow the simple rules, will post and will be approved.

We have written here in the past about haiku more than a dozen times, and had specific posts and prompts about spring, autumn and winter haiku. Somehow, summer was overlooked. This month we remedy that.

The haiku form doesn't get the respect it deserves. It seems so simple that it is often used with children as a first formal poetry assignment. But good haiku is not that easy to write.

People notice that many famous haiku poems don't seem to follow the rules we usually hear for haiku verse: three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. That is both because the classic Chinese and Japanese poets of haiku were not working with syllables and because in translation to English the syllabication is usually ignored.

We will ask you to follow that 5-7-5 in your poems, but perhaps more importantly are some of the other "rules" for haiku.

Most classic haiku follow the culture and influence of Buddhism in the way that the poems emphasize a single moment.

Most haiku focus on something in nature.

In the traditional form, they contain either a direct or indirect reference to a season that turns the reader's attention to the passage of time. They often do this by using a seasonal word rather than naming the season. That seasonal word is called kigo (KEY-GO). In the examples below, the cricket and firefly suggest summer.

Here are a few examples:

The cool breeze.
With all his strength
The cricket.
      ~  ISSA

This warm river
I walk across it
holding my sandals
      ~  BUSON

This hot summer night.
The dream and real
are same things.

Even a woodpecker
wouldn’t crack the tea hut.
in the summer grove.

Their own fires
are on the trees
fireflies around the house with flowers.
     ~  BASHO

Post your own summer haiku as a comment to this post.

Firefly by  Shoen Uemura - via Wikimedia

July 6, 2018

When Poets Go On Vacation

POETS ONLINE is taking the month of July off for summer vacation. No new writing prompt this month. Even our web server seems to be vacationing lately, so we will try to rest everyone for a few weeks and hopefully return in August refreshed.

Tomorrow, we will post a kind of prompt alternative that doesn't require any coding on our part.

We will also try to stay offline, but the laptop will be there with us, and we will check in on the blog and our Facebook pages during the month.

June 26, 2018

Donald Hall

Donald Hall, a former poet laureate of the United States, died on June 23, 2018. He was 89 and had lived much of his life at the old farm called Eagle Pond, his family’s ancestral homestead, in Wilmot, New hampshire.

He had been diagnosed with cancer in 1989 and beat his own odds of survival.

He began writing at age 12, and over his career wrote more than 40 books, with half of them being poetry.

He wrote often about apples, ox carts and the ordinary folk of his rural New England, along with using his childhood, baseball, and his time with and the death of his second wife, poet Jane Kenyon.

Donald & Jane
I heard him read his poetry along with Jane at one of the Dodge Poetry Festivals at Waterloo Village in New Jersey. They read together in the small church and talked about their shared life in poetry.

Hall was married to Jane Kenyon for 23 years. She died in 1995. He wrote about her and their marriage in the collections Without (1998) and The Painted Bed (2002).

I recorded Donald Hall when he read and talked about two of his poems. "Old Roses"
& "Weeds and Peonies", at a teachers' conference in Boston (2009) along with Robert Bly.

After Jane's passing, Hall with his wild hair and beard might have been taken on the streets to be a homeless man or an eccentric professor. But he was still the poet, changed by his life experiences, but still believing that "Poetry offers works of art that are beautiful, like paintings, but there are also works of art that embody emotion and that are kind of school for feeling."


To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

      Donald Hall