November 18, 2017

National Book Awards in Poetry

The National Book Foundation have announced its winners of National Book Awards in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. Each winner will be awarded $10,000, and each finalist will take home $1,000.

For Poetry, the winnner is Frank Bidart for Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016

Leslie Harrison, The Book of Endings (University of Akron Press)

Layli Long Soldier, WHEREAS (Graywolf Press)

Shane McCrae, In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan University Press)

Danez Smith, Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems (Graywolf Press) finalists:


Books on the judges' long list are:

Chen Chen, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, Ltd.)
Marie Howe, Magdalene: Poems (W. W. Norton & Company)
Laura Kasischke, Where Now: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press)
Sherod Santos, Square Inch Hours (W. W. Norton & Company)
Mai Der Vang, Afterland (Graywolf Press)

The judges for poetry were Nick Flynn, Jane Mead, Gregory Pardlo, Richard Siken, Monica Youn (Chair).


November 17, 2017

Poets Online Offline

You may have noticed that the main Poets Online site went offline for the past 24 hours. This was due to server issues with our host. 

It is back, hopefully stable and complete.  

This and the ending of the year is a good time for me to consider the future of the site in 2018.  

More to follow... I may be asking all of you for your advice.


November 8, 2017

Prompt: Two Voices

Richard Wilbur died on October 15, 2017, in Belmont, Massachusetts at age 96. He was an American poet and literary translator, and one of the foremost poets of his generation. He composed primarily in traditional forms and his poems had wit and what might today be considered a "gentlemanly elegance."

It is unfortunate that it sometimes takes the death of a writer for me to go back and look at their work again. I suppose that it is a good thing whenever we do go back and read their work and put our living breath into their words.

I chose for this month's prompt his poem "Two Voices in a Meadow."  It looks on the page like two poems, but they are connected by the location in the meadow.  As the title says, these are two different voices - a milkweed personified and the voice of a stone.

Monarch butterflies on milkweed

A Milkweed

Anonymous as cherubs
Over the crib of God,
White seeds are floating
Out of my burst pod.
What power had I
Before I learned to yield?
Shatter me, great wind:
I shall possess the field

A Stone

As casual as cow-dung
Under the rib of God,
I lie where chance would have me,
Up to the ears in sod.
Why should I move? To move
Befits a light desire.
The sill of heaven would founder,
Did such as I aspire.

I suppose these two voices are opposites - one living, one not. Of course, the milkweed will have its season and die, and the stone was once living material. Their attitudes are quite different about their current place in this meadow world.

For this month, you are to write a poem in two voices. The structure should look, as the model poem, like two poems in two distinct sections. The voices can be those of people or things or a combination, but they must both be addressing the same topic. That might be a location, as in Wilbur's poem, or any theme or subject.

Wilbur uses form and rhyme in his poem and that does give it a neat structure. You may want to try the same. His 8-line sections are not a triolet or an octave, but you may want to use a form for both of your voices.


October 29, 2017

The Urge for Going

Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in 2016 and there was a lot of discussion about whether or not song lyrics qualify as poetry.

I came of age in the 1960s and even my high school English teachers were bringing in Dylan, Paul Simon and other lyrics to get us interested in poetry. It convinced me that some song lyrics were, if not poetry, poetic.

Joni Mitchell was another songwriter whose lyrics entered the classroom. One of her songs caught hold of me one autumn day in the late 1960s. It was a version recorded by Tom Rush. He was the first major artist to record some of her songs on his album The Circle Game. Besides the title song, he recorded "Tin Angel" and the lyric that caught me, "Urge for Going."

That song, heard on a chilly, late October day, changed how I felt as I listened. Isn't that what good poems do?

Tom Rush changed the gender in the lyrics and since I had "a girl in summertime with summer-colored skin" who also got the urge for going. I can still remember sitting in a car listening to the song and not moving until it was over.

Yes, I also wanted "to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so, But she's got the urge for going so I guess she'll have to go."

I heard the song again this past week and it all came back to me again - the song, that moment, that girl.

Does the lyric stand up as a poem?

Is there a song lyric that felt like poetry for you?  Tell us about it in a comment here.

Urge for Going by Joni Mitchell 
I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
and all trees are shivering in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go 
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in
I had me a man in summertime
He had summer-colored skin
And not another girl in town
My darling's heart could win
But when the leaves fell on the ground
And bully winds came around pushed them face down in the snow
He got the urge for going and I had to let him go 
He got the urge for going
When the meadow grass was turning brown
And summertime was falling down and winter was closing in
Now the warriors of winter they gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on before the snow
They've got the urge for going and they've got the wings so they can go 
They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in
I'll ply the fire with kindling and pull the blankets to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out and I'll bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so
But she's got the urge for going so I guess she'll have to go 
She gets the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And all her empires are falling down
And winter's closing in
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And summertime is falling down

October 25, 2017

Outdoors all afternoon under a gunmetal sky...

Feeling a bit old as another birthday passes, and cleaning up the plants dying in the garden today, I needed a bit of poetry and a hot drink when I came into the house to keep me moving on.

I took a poetic pilgrimage back to Stanley Kunitz's garden in Provincetown via his poem “Touch Me.” I took a literal pilgrimage to his garden years ago when I was there for a poetry workshop week.

This love poem unfolds in his garden as he prepares for a storm. I have heard him read it several times and it always moves me.

What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.

It was the last one he ever published and what a way to leave this poetry world.