December 24, 2006

Hero's Journey Hits a Detour

I said on the site that I had been "forced by circumstances lately to think back on my years teaching young adults" and two friends emailed to ask what that meant.

Okay - I'm preparing a new course (graduate level) that I'll start teaching in mid-January, but I have also applied for a job at a high school (though it is not an instructional position). So, when I heard Garrison Keillor read "Kryptonite" by Ron Koertge (see below) from Ron's book Fever, Red Hen Press, 2006) on The Writer's Almanac recently, it did get me thinking about teaching poetry sessions in secondary school.

It's a poem I would use in class and that doesn't mean that it's a poem for kids. If I was using it with my middle school students, I'd get them to talk about fictional heroes - comic book or literature - and we'd talk about what might get boring about being them or being with them. And after we had hacked at Batman (out every night), Harry Potter (enough with the headaches, finish off Voldemort) and the crew, I would probably be the one to bring up some classic (or classical) heroes. Then, we would read this poem and talk about using them for good old-fashioned poetry fun.

I know the sophisticated Poets Online readers will automatically jump right to the loftier fictional heroes, but the prompt is the same idea. Probably best to choose someone admirable, special qualities (powers?) will help, name recognition makes it easier for all of us - then turn that hero upside down. Following our model, you might want to bring another character to mix things up. A chance for your own monomythologizing. Lots of possible topics: Catwoman, King Arthur, Ulysses, Silver Surfer and Bilbo Baggins.

As always, information on submitting your poem are on the site at

Holidays and all mean we get some extra time on this one - January 7, 2007 is the submission deadline.

Best wishes for the new year.

About Ron Koertge He grew up in an old mining town in Illinois, on the banks of the Mississippi River. He has lived in California for many years and has been on the faculty of Pasadena City College for more than 35 years. His poetry collections include, Fever, and Making Love to Roget's Wife. He also teaches in the M.F.A. Writing for Children Program at Vermont College and is the author of The Arizona Kid, Where the Missing Never Stops, and Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, all of which were ALA Best Books for Young Adults.

In his own words... "As a child, I was very ill with rheumatic fever as a child. It is a very dangerous disease, and often left its victims with heart trouble. That isn't true for me, but being all by myself for three months (in bed, no exercise, no stimulation of any kind) made me a broody, look-inside-myself kind of kid. In graduate school, I read a French critic who said poets are made by being ill as children. Lo and behold, I became (and still am) a poet..."
more about Ron by Ron

November 20, 2006

Good Advice Gone Bad

"You Should Avoid Doctors", says Diane Lockward in our model poem for November. Diane takes it a step further and provides our writing prompt.

"Take a piece of good advice and write a poem in which you argue for its opposite. As in my poem--we're told to go for the yearly physical, to stay in touch with the doctor, but the poem argues just the opposite--stay away from the doctor! There seems to be a bit of a tradition in poetry for this approach - Donne's "Valediction Forbidding Mourning" or Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". As a writing strategy I find it liberating and exciting to be on the opposite side of the fence. I call it playing Opposite George--after a Seinfeld episode in which George announced that henceforth he'd be doing everything opposite; he'd be " Opposite George". Of course, my beginning point is not of the size that Donne or Thomas used, but I like taking something seemingly insignificant and escalating it. You might choose something like: chew with your mouth closed, don't make waves, play by the rules (you'll come up with better than these, I'm sure). Bonus challenge: Use a body part in the poem."
A first for us - extra credit!

I last saw Diane when the two of us were greeting busloads of high school students and their teachers at this year's Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. She mentioned during our down time that her new book would be out this fall, so I contacted her last month about using something from the collection on Poets Online.

Diane and I met years ago when we were both teaching secondary school English. We have both left those noisy but wonderful hallways, but she still works as a poet-in-the-schools for both the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

She also conducts writing workshops for young and old poets, inexperienced and experienced poets, and for teachers on how to teach poetry, so writing prompts are a part of her repertoire.

I like her wit and wordtwisting - what Thomas Lux calls on the book jacket, "humorous and sometimes heartbreaking...plain-spoken and rich, lush."

Another one of her poems opens this way:

The Missing Wife

Wife and dog missing.
Reward for the dog.

—bumper sticker on a pickup truck

The wife and the dog planned their escape
months in advance, laid up biscuits and bones,
waited for the careless moment when he’d forget
to latch the gate, then hightailed it.
They took shelter in the forest, camouflaged
the scent of their trail with leaves.
Free of him at last,
they peed with relief on a tree.

I have heard Lux, Billy Collins and other poets say that they like "to learn something new" in a poem. I agree. Look how Diane gives us a fact and then sets it ablaze in this stanza from her poem, "Pyromania":

And now I learn that silicone in the breasts
must be excised before cremation
or it blows up, liquefying to a dangerous substance,
destroying the crematorium.
I’d like to have breasts like that—
round and full, earth-tipped and tilted
heavenward, the kind that ignite and explode.
I’d like my breasts to burst into flame,
spreading like wildfire,
tongues of scarlet licking the walls.
I’d like breasts just that white-hot
as once they were under the touch
of my lover, so recently departed.
I’d like to burn the crematorium down.

Have you got some good advice that you think we could turn around for poetic purposes? Even if you can't write the poem, post your advice below in the comments and let someone else take a crack at it.

Diane Lockward is the author of Eve's Red Dress and What Feeds Us (Wind Publications, 2003, 2006). Diane has also been a featured poet at a number of festivals, such as the Warren County Poetry Festival, the Inkberry Festival, the Long Branch Poetry Festival, the Walt Whitman Poetry Festival, and the 2006 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. She was a featured poet at the 2005 Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching and a workshop presenter at the New Jersey State Council of Teachers of English Conference in both 2003 and 2006. Her work has recently appeared in The Seattle Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore,and Prairie Schooner, as well as in the anthologies Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times.

Diane's Website is at

November 16, 2006

The Poet Laminate Becomes a Poet Laureate

Jack Prelutsky, a popular children's poet, met then-U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky in 2000.

Prelutsky said, "I'm something you're not."
"What's that?" Pinsky asked.
Prelutsky visits hundreds of schools and libraries where his poems are laminated and posted on the walls. "I'm the poet laminate."

Now, at 66, Prelutsky has been named the nation's first children's poet laureate by the Poetry Foundation.

I know that children's poetry doesn't get much respect from the "grownup" poetry world. They don't get invited to the Dodge Poetry Festival.

But my boys really loved Shel Silverstein and Prelutsky when they were new readers, and even wrote their own imitations, and for that I thank them.

He has published more than 40 books, including Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems, and has more than 1 million copies in print. The folk singer turned poet recites and sings on the audio version of his latest books.

In his 2 years as laureate, he will give speeches, recommend other poets online and, something I don't recall any laureates doing, he plans a contest to give away part of the laureate's $25,000 award. (He'll ask children to write why their school libraries need more books.)

Jack Prelutsky's web site (a work in progress as of now)

November 3, 2006

Donald Hall: Poetry of Illness and Disease

Read a piece about the current Poet Laureate, Donald Hall that had some interesting thoughts on his more recent poetry.

Much of his recent poetry is about the illness and death of Jane. She died of leukemia in 1995 when she was 47 and he was 66. Much of that writing is in his book Without.

"The only time of the day I was actually happy was when I was writing these miserable poems. Because I felt a connection to her. People seem to be reaching for a connection with poetry."

On writing poetry about illness and death:
"All I can say is that they reconcile in certain poems. And other poems that have no relevance to disease and death have spirit in them. And they're tutoring schools for the spirit, for the education of the emotions. I have come to admire many members of the medical profession for what I would call their spirituality. Their empathy in the face of suffering."

In a lighter spirit, he said that the duties of the New Hampshire poet laureate "could be accomplished by Gus the dog." Hall was that Laureate before he recently was appointed U.S. Poet Laureate. On that new position he said, "I think Gus the dog would find it more difficult. His line breaks weren't so good."

He lives in Wilmot, N.H., in the farmhouse where his mother and grandmother were born since 1975 when he moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan with his late wife, the poet Jane Keynon. He was on leave from teaching and Kenyon said she'd chain herself in the root cellar rather than leave.

"It was the second smartest decision we ever made. The first was marrying each other."

His mornings at the farm typically are:
  • wake up at 5 or 6, to write poetry ("I felt best early in the morning and wanted to do what I loved best.")
  • do a domestic chore, like chopping wood
  • focus on his cardboard file box that contained other writing projects - a children's book, a review, an anthology.

Information on Donald Hall and audio of him reading is currently at the Library of Congress web site.

October 12, 2006

Andrew Motion Encounters Anne Frank

The poem by Andrew Motion that we used as a model this month ("Anne Frank Huis") was written immediately after his visit to the Anne Frank house (huis) in Amsterdam.

I am convinced that houses are haunted by those who lived in them. I don't really mean ghosts or poltergeists, but I suppose I do mean something supernatural in the dictionary sense of "relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe."

The homes of our childhood, those of relatives, probably even the one we live in now, have things not observable that dwell there. Historic homes, museums, train stations and many other public buildings have residual memories.

On June 12, 2006, Anne would have been 77. Not so old - about my mother's age. This seems strange to me because Anne is still a character from high school history and English classes to me, and she seems somehow much further away in time than 77 years.

I recall seeing the Hollywood film version of her story which came out in 1959. I wouldn't have seen it in a theater then - probably I saw it on TV and then in high school in a classroom. My memories of the film are stronger than the book now. I remember that the actress who played Anne (Millie Perkins) reminded me of Audrey Hepburn (who I had a crush on). Perkins was born in Passaic, NJ and is still acting today. I liked the film. I liked the book. I liked Anne.

And I remember the house from the film (it was filmed in Amsterdam & on Hollywood sets).
If you never saw the film, you can watch a clip online at the official Anne Frank web site.

I was Google surfing Anne Frank's house when I was working on this prompt and came across "other sites" to visit near the house. I wonder what your writing would produce if you did this walking tour of the area:

RIJKSMUSEUM AMSTERDAM - is the largest museum of art and history in the Netherlands. VAN GOGH MUSEUM - largest Van Gogh collection in the world
HASH AND MARIJUANA MUSEUM and the Seksmuseum, which holds a collection of pornographic materials, both found in the nearby
RED LIGHT DISTRICT - since Amsterdam is well-known for its legalized prostitution and live sex shows. Tourists can take a walk through this unique section of the city where prostitutes are posed in window displays or take in a live sex show. Please note that taking pictures of the live window displays is not permitted.

This month's prompt asks you to write about a house or building that affected you in the way that Anne's hiding place did for Andrew Motion. Your poem should certainly include details of the place itself, and you should avoid "haunted house tales" which is not at all the point of this writing prompt. Perhaps, this is poem as memoir though the memory may not be your own.

view of canal

A view of the canal from the Anne Frank house.

October 11, 2006

She Was Just Seventeen by Billy Collins

Billy Collins has just had published a little "chapbook" of haiku with the witty Beatles-do-haiku title of She Was Just Seventeen.

Collins, former United States Poet Laureate, has been a longtime haiku writer and promoter. The book was edited by Lee Gurga, editor of Modern Haiku Press, who published it.

I have heard him say that he likes the "little box" that the haiku form puts you into because it gives some direction.

Look/listen to his poem "Japan" (text & audio of Billy reading it) where he talks about how one haiku can weigh on the mind.

At readings, he sometimes points out that we pass the 17 syllable structure in other places: Mother Hubbard, the opening lines of The Beatles' "Let it Be", and this example of two college students he overheard talking:

When he found out he
was like oh my god and I
was like oh my god

I'm also a practitioner of the haiku form and I enjoy the little box a lot more than some of the bigger poetic boxes. Still, I know that haiku gets pretty shabby treatment in the U.S.

I really enjoy Collins' poetry, and I know that printing isn't cheap - but - doesn't $20 dollars for a 36 page book seem a bit much?

We'll see. It'll probably be the "best-selling haiku book of 2006" - which may not be a tough race most years.

Here are two from the collection-

Mid-winter evening,
alone at a sushi bar—
just me and this eel.

Awake in the dark—
so that is how rain sounds
on a magnolia.

Billy Collins will be reading at Seton Hall University (South Orange, NJ) on November 8, 2006.

September 24, 2006

Poetry Festivals!

Two poetry festivals coming up in the next few weeks that I will be attending, and if you are in the NJ area, hopefully you'll be able to spend some time there too.

First up is THE festival of poetry festivals. The biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival (#11) has been described as four days of "poetry heaven" (though I think it's more of a poetry Woodstock - a gathering of the tribe - especially on day one when it is filled with students).

It's Thursday, September 28 - Sunday, October 1 at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, NJ.

Some of the poets who will be there include:

  • Lucille Clifton
  • Billy Collins
  • Linda Pastan
  • Gerald Stern
  • Mark Doty
  • Kurtis Lamkin
  • Coleman Barks
  • Andrew Motion
  • Robert Bly
  • Taslima Nasreen
  • Toi Derricotte
  • Sekou Sundiata
  • Jorie Graham
  • Brian Turner
  • Linda Gregg
  • Ko Un
  • Tony Hoagland
  • Ann Waldman
  • Linda Hogan

The following weekend is the 4th Annual Walt Whitman Poetry Festival.

It's one day, Saturday, October 7, 2006, in Ocean Grove, New Jersey from 9:00AM to 5:30 and it's FREE.

The schedule includes featured poets, workshops, tutorials, panels (including one by editors about getting published) and open readings.

Check out the festival site at Poets Online for more information, directions and information on accomodations and other area attractions.

September 16, 2006

Poem After Reading...

Poems about reading a specific book? I first thought of the Keats sonnet which I know was in my high school Brit Lit anthology.

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then I felt like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
The poem I offered as a model on the site though was Tony Hoagland's poem "Reading Moby Dick at 30,000 Feet." It's a much more accessible poem for modern readers than Keats. Even if you never read Melville's Moby Dick, almost everyone has a sense of the plot, so the allusion is not lost. (Want some help with the Keat's poem? Try this page)

The prompt was to write a poem that centers on a specific experience of reading. The poem shouldn't be aout the act of reading in general, but focus on the connections between the book's content and the setting, characters and action around the reader.

There are some obvious comaparisons for Hoagland between Melville's ship of the sea and the airship, but his compariosons are far less obvious.

What about how he questions the sailors' quest

where men throw harpoons at something
much bigger and probably
better than themselves,

wanting to kill it,
wanting to see great clouds of blood erupt
to prove that they exist.
and then he wishes he were one of them.

Better to be on board the Pequod,
with a mad one-legged captain
living for revenge.

Better to feel the salt wind
spitting in your face,
to hold your sharpened weapon high,

to see the glisten
of the beast beneath the waves.
For another take on this poetry about reading, look at the very different "After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard" by Charles Wright.

August 28, 2006

My Marginalia

My undergraduate poetry books are full of notes. Many are like those in Collins poem - notes on figurative language for an assignment - but a few are more personal observations. I'm actually too much in love with books to feel comfortable marking them up mmost of the time. Paperbacks are easier to write in, but I can't recall marking up any hardcover books other than textbooks.

From my poetry shelf, I found some notes - some rather cryptic -

"avoid the cult of reason" written next to the Blake lines

To see the world in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in a hour.

has absolutely no meaning to me today. Possibly something said in a lecture...

I wrote "use it!" next to the lines

If I meet you suddenly, I can't speak-
my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under my skin;
seeing nothing, hearing only my ears drumming,
I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body and I turn paper than dry grass

from a fragment of a Sappho poem. Use it for what? My own poem? I suspect I may have wanted to use it to send to some girl in some love note/poem/pickup line.

I also recalled on the Poets Online site the time that I bought a used paperback many years ago of John Updike's short story collection Pigeon Feathers (a collection I highly recommend).

In it I found the original receipt for the book from a bookseller in the Newark Airport and the stub from a paycheck from a New York advertising agency. In my mind, there was the beginning of a story there - man leaves work on a Friday, cashes his check and heads for the airport intending to leave behind the city, his job, and - well, who knows. I never wrote the story. I did search that book for clues in the margins. Nothing.

August 7, 2006

Writing in the Margins

Does marginalia seem marginal as a prompt? It certainly seems small as a starting place (not a bad thing) and sometimes those notes, doodles and editorial comments in the margin of a book are only personal reminders (let's skip over the ones you did in college to study for the exam).

It does get some serious study though - as in the Melville's Marginalia site that I referenced (the notes Melville made in his library of books in an attempt to uncover sources of his own writing) or that Fermat's last theorem was written in a margin. Have you ever actually starting to write a poem in the margin?

Read or listen to Billy Collins' "Marginalia" if you haven't already.

Like Collins, I wondered what we might be able to guess about the marginalia writer from their notes-

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Let's look at the assumptions: it's a girl; she's beautiful; the pencil was soft; he'll never meet her. And what about the assumptive leaps Collins wants a reader to take in thinking about why her being in love and reading Salinger would pardon the stains. (I also find the line "Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love." to be very Salinger-esque.)

Here are some starting places for a poem to submit this month:
  • your own actual notes in a book (particularly interesting if they were written a long time ago by another you)
  • notes seen or imagined from another's hand (and the book they are found in is important - notes found in a guidebook to Venice vs. notes found in Love: Ten Poems By Pablo Neruda
  • your imaginings about the author of such notes
  • the practice of writing in the margins itself
  • It might be interesting to use the librarian's point of view (marginalia as vandalism).
  • Even if you don't feel inspired to write a poem for the site this month, perhaps you can contribute an idea (by commenting below) for another poet to use.

July 8, 2006

Dorianne Laux, Antilamentation versus No Regrets

Our July 2006 prompt has the poem "Antilamentation" by Dorianne Laux (pronounced "low") as a model.

I realize that using it and the idea of "anti-" as a prompt might seem like simply being against something and I wanted your poems to be more.

I brought up the idea that lamentation is a fairly common poetic theme (probably more in older poems) and mentioned "The Song of Hiawatha Hiawatha's Lamentation" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Butler Yeats' "The Lamentation Of The Old Pensioner", as well as the contemporary "Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation" by Stanley Kunitz.

And if her poem is against lamentation (mourning), then is it like Donne's poem "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning"? It's not quite that black and white.

I do think Laux is rebelling in her poem against lamentation, the lamentation traditionally found in poetry. She is also promoting her case for no regrets.

Relax. Don't bother remembering
any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

I think she is recommending another approach to life. Is she recommending another approach to poetry?

I listened to the poem being read again and thought I heard something of Laux's own early life doing "ordinary" work before she attended college-

to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.

and the small things we do that seem now a waste of precious time -

the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
[Not] the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,

as well as the big things that we really regret

the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness

and I heard some acceptance of all this as the path to Now, to a good place at which she has arrived. Should I call it Fate? I'm not sure that's it, but it's a starting place.

What are your thoughts?

photo of Dorianne Laux
by her daughter, Tristem Laux

June 25, 2006

Donald Hall and the Position of Poet Laureate

Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon

I spent some time reading articles about Donald Hall being appointed the 14th Poet Laureate of the United States.


"I think Don's a natural choice for our new laureate. He's been part of the poetic conversation ... for 50 years. He's a poet who's deeply rooted in a place, as fewer Americans are now, and also one even more rooted in the history of the language, in a lifelong love of musical speech." - Mark Doty

He is the third poet laureate from New Hampshire. (Robert Frost and Maxine Kumin are the others)

He is 77 and still has a reputation for outspokenness, particularly on 1st Amendment issues, so there's hope that this resident of the "Live Free or Die" state may stir things up.

He lives at Eagle Pond, in a New Hampshire farmhouse built by his great-grandfather in 1865 with his two cats, Thelma and Louise.

Eagle Pond was built by Hall's great-grandfather in 1865 and it's been in the family ever since. This places figures in much of his poetry. He says he remembers his grandfather telling stories here and reciting poems and summers haying in the morning and reading in the afternoon. He wrote his first poems about this house when he was 12.

He said that at 12 he wrote his first poem and it began: "have you ever thought about the nearness of death to you?"

Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins, called Hall a poet of "elegiac preoccupations," for whom "death is a favorite lens."

At 16, he was a fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Vermont.

Got his bachelor's degree in literature from Harvard in 1951. Dated poet Adrienne Rich there and knew Robert Bly (still a close friiend), Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch.

At 29, he went to teach at the University of Michigan, where he remained until 1975.

There he met Jane Kenyon, then 19 and a student of his.

They married in 1972. Jane persuaded Hall to stop teaching, move back to Eagle Pond and support himself by writing. The prospect of no regular income terrified him, but they did it.

Hall and Kenyon together attracted almost as much attention as their poetry. Bill Moyers made an Emmy-winning documentary about the couple called "A Life Together."

Hall was appointed poet laureate of New Hampshire from 1984 - 1989.

In 1989, he learned he had colon cancer which metastasized to his liver. After chemotherapy, he went into remission, but was told he had a 1 in 3 chance of living three years.

In 1994, Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia. Fifteen months later, at 47, she died.

Their life together, their love and her dying has been the subject of much of his writing since.

"I really got going as an elegiac poet when Jane died. It was the only thing that gave me comfort. I spent about 22 hours yelling and screaming and then I sat down to write. I was happy when I was writing to her. After a year it became impossible to say 'you,' while addressing her. I would like to write her many letters. There's so much she doesn't know."

He enjoys watching baseball on his satellite dish and like many from that area of the nation is a Red Sox fan.

These days, Hall wakes early, often by 4:30 a.m., and puts in several hours of writing, editing, revising ("the first drafts are always hideous") and dictating letters before taking a midday nap. He will assume his duties as poet laureate Oct. 1, but is not entirely sure how that will change his routine. "I will," he said, "administer prizes and fellowships and oversee a reading series at the Library of Congress." He will travel to Washington every six weeks and would like to start a poetry channel on satellite radio.

He has 15 poetry collections, several children's books, and essays on poets and their work. His latest poetry collection is White Apples and the Taste of Stone (Harcourt).


  • Established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937.
  • Usually held for one year but can be extended to as many as three.
  • Hall succeeds Ted Kooser, from Nebraska, who held the post since 2004.
  • It "pays" $40,000 a year ($35,000 for expenses and $5,000 for travel) The money is not paid by your taxes. It is donated by the Archer M. Huntington Foundation who endowed the position in 1936.
  • The official title is "Poet Laureate Consultant to the Librarian of Congress.
  • Official duty is one thing - an appearance at the opening of the Library of Congress' annual literary series in the fall.
  • Some Laureates take up a cause or focus on a project.
  • Ted Kooser set up a Web site where there's a poem a week with an introduction by him and is intended to be used by newspapers to promote poetry.
  • Billy Collins created Poetry 180 at which also became a book and has produced a second volume. It was intended to promote K-12 teachers using a poem a day in their classes.
  • Robert Pinsky started the Favorite Poem Project
  • Robert Hass promoted the River of Words project for writing about nature and the environment by children
  • Still, some poets just act as ambassadors of poetry without any special project, like Louise Gluck (2003-04) or the late Stanley Kunitz (2000-01) who, of course, was 95 at the time.

June 16, 2006

Shakespeare in the Park

Poster by Rafal Olbinski

A good part of summer in New York City is Shakespeare in the Park. I used to be a regular attendee but it has been a lot tougher to get into NYC for a day - and the lines for free tickets has gotten long (a good thing for Shakespeare though). Some of the best productions I've ever seen were there in the park and I saw Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep and a lot of other actors before they hit the really big time money in films.

This year is its 50th year and the series starts with free performances of Macbeth in Central Park.

If you can't get to the park, you can at least read Shakespeare online and explore popular books and lesser-known gems at your computer using Google Book Search. The search is a cool tool anyway.

June 15, 2006

Walt Whitman Poetry Festival - October 7, 2006

The free 4th Annual Walt Whitman Poetry Festival will be held on Saturday, October 7, 2006 at Auditorium Square Park in Ocean Grove, New Jersey from 9:00AM to 5:30.

The schedule will include featured poets Laura Boss, Maria Gillan, Peter Murphy and BJ Ward. There will be workshops, tutorials, panels (including one by editors about getting published) readings and open readings.

The Walt Whitman Poetry Festival website contains the most up-to-date information including directions and information on accomodations and other area attractions.

It's a nice event and Ocean Grove is a really interesting NJ shore town that's unlike most others. I'll be doing a reading that day and hope to meet some Poets Online poets and blog readers.

June 10, 2006

Jennifer Michael Hecht and Doubt

I was listening to one of my regular podcasted radio programs this week and heard a name that sounded familiar - Jennifer Michael Hecht.

The program is Speaking of Faith which is hosted by Krista Tippett and I highly recommend it. It's not really about religion in the organized religion sense, it is about faith and spirituality - and it's not preachy or new age. Look at the show's archive and you'll get the best sense about the scope of topics. You can listen online or download the podcasts.

The program I heard featured the historical scholar Jennifer Michael Hecht. On the show site it says that "as a scholar she always noticed the 'shadow history' of doubt out of the corner of her eye. She shows how non-belief, skepticism, and doubt have paralleled and at times shaped the world's great religious and secular belief systems. She suggests that only in modern time has doubt been narrowly equated with a complete rejection of faith, or a broader sense of mystery." The title of the show was "A History of Doubt" and Hecht's book is Doubt: A History (Harper SanFrancisco, 2003)

I checked back on Poets Online to confirm and Jennifer Michael Hecht was the poet I used for a prompt on "revisionist history" last year. I used her poem "History" for the prompt and you can read the poem and hear her read it on the show site along with another poem, "No, I Would Not Leave You If You Suddenly Found God".

BTW, I took their online "Scale of Doubt" Quiz and it says I am an agnostic, but I'm not so sure about that.

Jennifer Michael Hecht's web site is at

Read Krista's journal entry on doubt
- it's an interesting extension on the ideas in the program. Doubt would make a good writing prompt too...

June 7, 2006

Rediscovery and "The Discovery of Sex"

"The Discovery of Sex" a poem by Debra Spencer, (from Pomegranate, Hummingbird Press, 2004) was one that I heard read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac and later went to the webite to find the print version.

Though its title says discovery, I'm pointing at the rediscovery that's in there for our June writing prompt.

In her poem, two adolescents (one the narrator) discover sex, as perhaps their daughter years later is discovering it somewhat by seeing them. And woven into that is the parents rediscovering something from their past, and the woman recalling her own mother calling to them to stop fooling around - the scene now renacted by their own daughter.

Sex is certainly one of the things that is always being rediscovered, both by young people who believe they have found something new, and rediscovered by older people who perhaps may have forgotten where they had put it - but I see no need to write only about sex when there is so much else to be rediscovered.

BIO NOTE: Debra Spencer invented her own alphabet when she was three. She wrote her first book in the second grade and went on to earn a BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1972 and an MA from San Jose State University in 1988, where she won the Anne Lillis Memorial Scholarship for Poetry. In her desk she keeps a Bart Giammati baseball card, a fossilized shark’s tooth, the tuning key to an Anglian harp, and a piece of the Berlin Wall. She works at Cabrillo College as a learning disabilities specialist, and sings with Community Music School of Santa Cruz.

May 29, 2006

Best American Fiction of the Past 25 Years

Now, it's not poetry - but I suspect that most readers of this blog are also readers of fiction.

Early this year, The New York Times' Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.

The winner was Beloved by Toni Morrison. The runners-up were

  • Underworld/Don DeLillo
  • Blood Meridian/Cormac McCarthy
  • Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels/John Updike (Rabbit at Rest,Rabbit Is Rich,Rabbit Redux,Rabbit, Run)
  • American Pastoral/Philip Roth
And a group that also received multiple votes from the respondents:

  • A Confederacy of Dunces/John Kennedy Toole
  • Housekeeping/Marilynne Robinson
  • Winter's Tale/Mark Helprin
  • White Noise/Don DeLillo
  • The Counterlife/Philip Roth
  • Libra/Don DeLillo
  • Where I'm Calling From/Raymond Carver
  • The Things They Carried/Tim O'Brien
  • Mating/Norman Rush
  • Jesus' Son/Denis Johnson
  • Operation Shylock/Philip Roth
  • Independence Day/Richard Ford
  • Sabbath's Theater/Philip Roth
  • Border Trilogy/Cormac McCarthy (Cities of the Plain, The Crossing, All the Pretty Horses)
  • The Human Stain/Philip Roth
  • The Known World/Edward P. Jones
  • The Plot Against America/Philip Roth
I'm curious about you poets out there weighing in on the list - if you had to pick one on the list or of your own choosing, what would it be? Leave a comment below and feel free to add an explanation or not.

May 22, 2006

Poetry On Record CD set

I heard Billy Collins recently talking about Poetry On Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work (1888-2006). It's a collection of poems read by the people who wrote them, from early sound recording to the current day. I didn't even know there were recordings of Walt Whitman reading!

It contains four CDs and a book. They categorize the poems -Romanticism (Dylan Thomas) to Modernism (T.S. Eliot), Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes) to Black Arts (Amiri Baraka), from rhyme and meter (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) to free verse (Adrienne Rich) etc. - but that's so "textbook." I would hit the random button on the CD player.

It's interesting to hear how the poets intended their poems to be read aloud - but not all poets are good readers (no names from me), even of their own work.

It would be a good classroom/library purchase. It might be a bit pricey for individuals. You can listen to samples at

You can listen to Billy Collins talk about this set on NPR's absolutely great program, Fresh Air.

If you get the set or if you just listen to the Fresh Air program or even just the Amazon samples, I'd be curious to know your reactions to the readings. Post a comment below (don't be afraid - you can be totally anonymous)

I liked the readings by William Carlos Williams of "The Red Wheelbarrow" (not the voice I expected and so brief that it begs multiple listenings), "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden is a great poem well read, and "After Making Love We Hear Footsteps" by Galway Kinnell which I have heard him read and I like having it captured.

May 20, 2006

Goodbye Stanley

Poet Stanley Kunitz died this past weekend at age 100.

He was at his home in New York City. I'd like to think that part of him was in his garden in Provincetown.

Stanley said:

Poetry is ultimately mythology, the telling of stories of the soul. The old myths, the old gods, the old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our minds, waiting for our call. We have need of them, for in their sum they epitomize the wisdom and experience of the race.

I'm curious. I'm active. I garden and I write and I drink martinis.

Immortality? It's not anything I'd lose sleep over. The deepest thing I know is that I am living and dying at once, and my conviction is to report that self-dialogue.

The best thing anyone can do now is to put breath into his poems.

Get started with one of my favorites by him - "The Portrait" - you can hear him read it there too.

Some places to visit Stanley
The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden

The Collected Poems

read some of his poems at:

Listen to a remembrance of Stanley
by Melissa Block from NPR

May 2, 2006

It's a sign of...

So this month we look at signs. It started with the poem "Slow Children at Play" by Cecilia Woloch which probably was inspired with a sign that looks like the one shown here.

Add to that a little misreading. Blame the lack of punctuation. (There wasn't enough space to make it "Slow. Children at play." and keep all the English teachers happy?)

Of course, that word "sign" is loaded with meaning. We are all looking for signs. We all love to interpret signs. The English teachers especially love that. Putting "sign and symbol" into a Google search only resulted in 67,000 hits. Here's a starting place for you: semiotics (the study of signs - here's a second site to try too)

For May's writing prompt on the site, we look for an actual sign to be the starting place (and also the title) for a poem.

Maybe it's a roadsign, or on a store, even an ad in a newspaper, magazine or on TV is acceptable.

There are plenty of humorous signs out there, so maybe it will lead you to a humorous poem.

How about this thought from "A Song at the End of the World" by Czeslaw Milosz about the signs we are looking for (and these days seem to be missing)

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Check out Cecilia Woloch's website and blog at and her book for more about her and her poetry.

April 26, 2006

Small Book; Small Poems

I keep a small writing book where I write small poems. I think it's similar to the way fish won't grow beyond a certain size depending on the size tank they live in, or the way a flowerpot can sometimes limit the size of the plant in it. I only use one page per poem in that book. It's almost a form for me. It allows me to limit what I must and can write.

I paged through an anthology today and pulled out a few small poems that caught my attention this afternoon while I was sitting in the shade of my backyard. There's probably some early summer, hot day, sitting in shade, getting sleepy while you're reading theme that runs through the selections... but I don't want to look for it.


Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

Galway Kinnell


You love the roses - so do I. I wish
They sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!

George Eliot

The Eclipse

I stood out in the open cold
To see the essence of the eclipse
Which was its perfect darkness.

I stood in the cold on the porch
And could not think of anything so perfect
As mans hope of light in the face of darkness.

Richard Eberhart

Time and Again

Time and again, however well we know the landscape of love,
and the little church-yard with lamenting names,
and the frightfully silent ravine wherein all the others
end: time and again we go out two together,
under the old trees, lie down again and again
between the flowers, face to face with the sky.

Rainer Maria Rilke


My hands
open the curtains of your being
clothe you in a further nudity
uncover the bodies of your body
My hands
invent another body for your body

Octavio Paz

April 14, 2006

Some book recommendations for you

Have you ever tried any of the recommendation engine website online?

There's Pandora which let's you set up your own radio station online by putting in your favorite artists and songs. It plays those songs and artists and then starts to pick songs it thinks you will enjoy based on your favorites. I've done it and it works pretty well. It's free.

Well, now there's something similar for books.

You can just go to and put in a book you like and the site will check their database of other readers' favorite books and suggest what you could read next. They compare it to "browsing the bookshelves of a very well read friend."

For the service to be more accurate, you should register (just an email address) and build your own list of favorite books.

I registered and entered a dozen, then asked for recommendations. I'd say that the results were pretty accurate to my taste because more than half of the recommendations were other books that I have read and enjoyed. (You can check THOSE titles off then and have them added to your list.) As your list grows, the recommendations get better - or more interesting. (So far, it really thinks I should read Fight Club.)

They also have "What have I read tests" they compiled lists of users' most popular books (according to the number of lists they appear in) by genre (Top 25 science fiction/fantasy, classic fiction, modern classics, non-fiction etc.). Try those and it will build you list of favorites up and it's faster than typing in titles and authors. To save time on that process: if you want to add John Irving's The World According to Garp (and I would definitely have to add that one) you can just type Irving and World Garp and it will find it. The search is pretty good.

I took one of the tests and it produced these results for me:

What have I read?
These are the 25 most popular modern-classic books at What Should I Read Next?
I liked it!I didn't like it!I want to read it!
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Great Gatsby - F.Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Nineteen Eighty-four - George Orwell
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
On the Road - Jack Kerouac
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

It's a cool service and it made me think about my favorite books again. So what's their business model? Books come with handy links to buying from Amazon (US or UK - it's a UK site). If there's something you like and you buy your books from Amazon US or Amazon UK
through their links, they make a little bit (a few cents) on each purchase.

March 29, 2006

National Poetry Month - do some poetry reading online

Here are a few of my favorite places online to read poems online:

Poetry Daily is at and you can find a new poem every day

Poetry 180 at the Libary of Congress site is a project by Billy Collins intended for teachers to use each day with their classes.

Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac- is a daily almanac about writing and writers hosted by Keillor who reads a poem and talks about what occurred in (mostly literary) history. Check out what happened on your birthday.

Lifelines is a project at the Academy of American Poets where they ask poets and readers to share lines of poetry that are vital to them. Kind of like the "Favorite Poem Project" that Robert Pinsky did, but with only a few lines. People also add some notes on what the lines mean to them. along with notes about the precise situation that summoned them to mind. A selection of the lines collected will be published online throughout the year.

The Academy site also has a good search for poems & poets, so you can type in a keyword and find poems - so I can type in "peach" and find Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm by Carl Phillips and Couple Sharing a Peach by Molly Peacock. Google won't do that.

Got a site that you like for reading poetry online? POST A COMMENT HERE with the link!

Magical Thinking with Naomi Shihab Nye

Magical thinking is a term used by historians of religion like James George Frazer to help explain their theory that magic is more like science than religion. Societies with magical beliefs often had separate religious beliefs and practices. According to Frazer, magical thinking depends on two laws: the law of similarity (an effect resembles its cause), and the law of contagion (things which were once in physical contact maintain a connection even after physical contact has been broken).

People may use magic to attempt to explain things that science has not yet explained, or to attempt to control things that science cannot control. We are not talking here of the pull the rabbit out of the hat kind of magic.

Magical thinking is that belief that we can somehow cause something to happen in an unscientific but magical way. It's a kind of faulty reasoning that confuses correlation for causation.

Someone may believe a hat brings luck when it is worn, and even if some hatless days go fine, and hatted ones go badly, the belief remains.

The primitive culture that sacrificed to ensure a good harvest and the parent who sits in the stands wishing for their 12 year old child to hit a homerun to win the game are both employing magical thinking.

Magic could be considered a way of making coincidences meaningful in social terms. Carl Jung coined the word synchronicity for experiences of this type. You are thinking of a friend you haven't seen in many months because you came across a photo of her. The phone ringa and it is her. Synchronicity?

Probably, magical thinking is more common with children. I recall believing once that I could somehow get a teacher to ignore me in class by willing myself to be temporarily invisible. It didn't always work, but there were definitely times that I did not get called upon to answer.

This type of thinking also manifests itself strongly in people suffering from some mental illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Not all cultures see their beliefs as being magical. In Asia, what we call coincidences might be explained in terms of karma (your actions in a past life affects current events).

I'd rather avoid talking about this topic and mixing in religion, but in most writing about magical thinking, religion plays a role. Some might believe that their thoughts can influence events in a positive way or for the worse (as in divine punishment for "bad thoughts"). or that prayer influences a deity to alter the course of events. Opponents of magical thinking will say that it has an adverse effect on a person's faith, even in himself.

You can swing over to analysis and posit that people tend to seek confirmation of their hypotheses, rather than seeking refutation (as the scientific method would have you do). Most people are reluctant to change their beliefs, even when presented with evidence (see cognitive dissonance).

There are those who say that practices such as homeopathy are a type of "sympathetic magic" as found in James Frazer's The Golden Bough. I'm a believer in the placebo effect which certainly enters a kind of magical faith in the treatment in order to produce an outcome.

So when I read Naomi Shihab Nye's poems " The Rider" and "Making a Fist" I didn't at first see a connection - then it came to me. Magical thinking.

I had recently read Joan Didion's book, The Year of Magical Thinking. It tells her story of the year that followed the death of her husband, while their only daughter lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. For Joan Didion, in her magical thinking she "believed that given the right circumstances he would come back." The psychological influences on a person's body, mind or behavior are very complex. Even serious scientists cannot dismiss that magical thinking is capable of having measurable effects on the believer.

In Nye's poem "The Rider", a boy believes that if he "roller-skated fast enough, his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him" and subsequently the narrator considers whether it would also work as she rides a bicycle. In the second poem, a child is told - and believes - that you will die when you can no longer make a fist, and so "logically" concludes that as long as she can keep making a fist, she cannot die.

For our April writing, we are using magical thinking as a starting point.

March 12, 2006


bookcrossing - noun. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise. (added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in August 2004) is a community site that gives something back. It's a book-lovers' community. People who love books and love to share them, let them go—into the wild—to be found by others.

The world as library.

BookCrossing is a book exchange of infinite proportion, the first of its kind.

So what do you do?

Read a good book.

Decide you want to share it with others.

Join up (free) at

Register the book and add a little comment about it. You'll get a unique BCID (BookCrossing ID number) to put on the book. Most people print out the labels that the site offers and put them on their book. It says that this is a free book and explains how they can report that they picked up the book and journal it online.

Then you release it for someone else to read (give it to a friend, leave it on a park bench, donate it to charity, "forget" it in a coffee shop, etc.), and you'll get notified by email each time someone goes to the site and records journal entries for that book.

Fate, karma, serendipity takes over. A person who loves to read discovers your book and makes a journal entry. Sometimes, people take them and never make journal entries - that sucks - but at least your book found a reader. I suspect there are plenty of books (and noy just poetry) that Poets Online users have at home that they could send into the wild.

There are almost a half million Bookcrossing users now, with about 300 added per day.

Here's a sample from my own bookshelf account-

I registered a copy of Virgin Suicides and released it 9/29/2004 at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Somerville, New Jersey USA.

Then I put my own journal note about it.

Someone found it and was good enough to go online and add an entry:

"The book lay on the folding chair for quite some time, unclaimed. People glanced at it, but skirted it, as if they were respecting that it might be someone's property. The poetry reading began, the chairs filled, and I wanted a place to sit down. I hesitated, because I thought it might be "saving" the seat. But then I sat down, holding the book on my lap, in case the owner came to claim it. No one did. I enjoyed the poetry reading a great deal. Then opened the book, as I was about to leave, because of the note taped to the cover. I saw that, strangely enough, the book was meant to be taken, and so I carried along with me."

I guess anonymous didn't get to read it for a while...

"October 02, 2005 - I'm sorry I waited a whole year to read this book. This is one of the best "first books" I've read in a while. About the Lisbons, a troubled family of five sisters in a Detroit suburb. The first thing that struck me, aside from the wonderful writing, is the voice. This book is told in first-person plural (as "we"), in the collective voices of the boys who were watching the Lisbon sisters growing up. First time I've seen this since Faulkner's story, "A Rose for Emily," which is also told by a sort of Greek chorus of townspeople, witnessing death, sex and tragedy from the outside.
I am going to pass this on through There's a waiting list for the book, so I'm sure it will be out traveling into the world again in just a few days."

Then it was found/caught in Mount Vernon, NY and was passed on again through that other service to New Hampshire to continue its adventure.

You can check out my own little "bookshelf" without going through any registration at and you check out some other users who have more books out there in the world.

March 2, 2006


He is called Hotei, "The Cloth Sack Buddha" in Japan. The Happy Buddha, or Laughing Buddha is probably the most popular of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune. He is worshipped as the God of happiness and contentment, and also looked upon as the Protector of Children. Hotei was thought to be a 10th Century Chinese monk, an eccentric wanderer with a large belly and an empty sack. It's note worthy that his large belly isn't from a result of excessive eating, but rather an indication of his life force, which in Chinese is known as Qi (chi). In addition, his empty sack is actually a treasure bag. Hotei is believed to dispense riches to the poor and needy at will.

This month we are looking at Wendell Berry's poem "The Wild Geese" which I was surprised to find online as part of a number of web pages about sermons. I guess I shouldn't be surprised since the poem has a strong spiritual (if not religious) tone to it.

I linked to one one sermon that quotes the lines "And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.” The sermon compares that to Jesus recognizing that faith might stumble as devotion and love hit the realities of life. When people are distracted from their religious beliefs they may turn to "others gods, to traditions with greater or lesser demands, and to the fads and fancies of culture and times. " Is this sermon saying that the weak turn to things like Hotei, Zen, meditation and others? Is it saying that this is a bad thing? That's how I read it. I think what we need is here, but I don't believe there is one way to find what we need.

Another sermon (delivered the week after Thanksgiving) looks more at contentment and at being at peace with what we have - which is not the same thing as having what we need available here and now.

I mentioned a "Biblical filter" that you could use to read the poem but I probably shouldn't have used "Bible" if that means that readers would limit their explorations to certain religions or philosophies. In fact, what I really think of when I hear the word contentment is meditation. Whether I think of Thomas Merton or Thich Nhat Hanh is not really the important part.

"The Wild Geese" is anthologized in a number of books, though I would highly recommend Wendell Berry's Collected Poems and his collection A Timbered Choir; the Sabbath Poems.

January 29, 2006

John Updike's "Dog's Death"

This month we considered the poem "Dog's Death" from John Updike's Collected Poems 1953-1993 (Knopf) as the model but I didn't originally mean to have everyone submit poems about dogs or other pets or even exclusively poems about death.

I mentioned on the site that it's not a sentimental poem. I wouldn't give it to a friend on the occasion of their pet's death as consolation. It's not about a funny and wise pet like Mark Doty's "Golden Retrievals".

It's certainly about death, loss, showing a kind of dignity in facing death, the death of the young, this desire many of us seem to have (thank goodness) to do the "right thing".

I personally look at it as a poem about the inability of even love to triumph over death - "Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her / Nevertheless she sank".

Updike wrote a second poem about this topic called "Another Dog’s Death" (also in his Collected Poems) which begins like this:

For days the good old bitch had been dying, her back
pinched down to the spine and arched to ease the pain,
her kidneys dry, her muzzle white. At last
I took a shovel into the woods and dug her grave

in preparation for the certain. She came along,
which I had not expected..."

You can read the entire poem at this National Public Radio site which is part of a series called "The End of Life: Exploring Death in America" that they did. There are other readings there which I think you will find interesting, not only for this prompt but for yourself.

About Updike - Ernest Hilbert in a review of Updike's Americana: and other poems says:

"John Updike balances upon, and in many ways defines, the center of the beam in American literature. While maintaining a highly literary elan and readership, he has managed to avoid the obscurity and ostentation associated with "highbrow" authors...

As a poet, Updike is thought of primarily as a practitioner of Light Verse, a term bestowed as often to insult as to categorize a poet, catching up in its loose netting a variety of brightly-colored fish: verse de société, parody, epitaph, clerihew, occasional verse, anything unconcerned with love, beauty, death, formal experimentalism, the stuff (or stuffing as is often the case) of serious poetry (even the designation "verse" is meant to be a bit contemptuous, the yield of poetaster rather than poet). Wit, cleverness, and breezy elegance define the genre, and in these métiers Updike is gifted, to be sure, but he has never been limited to such.

Amid his Nashian poems of the past four decades, there were innumerable moments of incredible grace and depth. For instance, his poem 'Dog's Death', though rarely anthologized, is recognized as that unusual thing, a genuinely sad poem. It brinks at every turn the slope of sentimentality that drops down into the chasm of maudlin corniness, but it manages to hold its footing... It is perhaps one of the rare times that a reader might apply the description "sentimental" without intending harm to poem or poet. "

I like Updike's lighter verse too. Here's a small sample:

Sunday Rain

The window screen
is trying to do
its crossword puzzle
but appears to know
only vertical words.

which reminds me of something that Richard Brautigan might have written.

So, this month's prompt is asking for you to put form to any of the themes mentioned above, and to follow its rather wide road without driving into the dark woods you are passing through.

A poem form based on the sonnet


Don't let the word "form" distract or scare you away from trying this month's prompt. Any time we ask on the site for a poem in form, the number of submissions drops. I understand that. I never liked formal poetry as a writing "assignment" - still prefer to read free verse - but I recognize that writing in a form with rules can be an excellent exercise. I use form as a way to begin a poem when I feel blocked.

I based this prompt form on the sonnet. You use quatrains (4 line stanzas) and you must use end rhyme. That rhyme may follow the typical English sonnet ( A B A B) or any variation (A A B B or A B C A or whatever)

Let's look at a sonnet by Shakespeare to start - I have spaced the quatrains (though William would not) and marked the rhyme.

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,

wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;

[the sonnet SHIFTS here]

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee--and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven's gate;

[and here it turns again]

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

The English (AKA the Shakespearean) Sonnet contains three quatrains (4 lines), each with an independent pair of alternating rhymes. Both a shift and a turn occur respectively before and after the third quatrain. There is a basic meter (the syllable beat of the line) which is usually iambic and usually pentameter (five stressed syllables) - but, unless you are very English, Shakespeare, formal or suffer from OCD, you may ignore that aspect. In fact, you may have 1, 2 or 3 quatrains, but must have the couplet at the end. So your poem can end up being 6, 10 or 14 lines.

January 17, 2006

Dodge Poetry Festival 2006 - a preview

The 11 th biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival this year will be Thursday, September 28 - Sunday, October 1 st. This year the festival returns to historic Waterloo Village in Stanhope, NJ (after a one-year relocation in 2004)

It is the largest poetry event in North America - four days of poetry that have been called “poetry heaven” by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, “a new Woodstock” by the Christian Science Monitor, and simply “Wordstock” by The New York Times.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival has been featured in four PBS television series with Bill Moyers. The Language of Life series was filmed at the 1994 Festival and Fooling With Words covered the 1998 Festival. Both were broadcast and

The list of poets who have appeared at past festivals is impressive:
Chinua Achebe, Diane Ackerman, Adonis, Marjorie Agosín, Claribel Alegría, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Amiri Baraka, Coleman Barks, Toni Blackman, Robert Bly, Gwendolyn Brooks, Joseph Bruchac, Dennis Brutus, Cyrus Cassells, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Marilyn Chin, Sandra Cisneros, Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, Victor Hernández Cruz, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Bei Dao, Toi Derricote, Dianne di Prima, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Stephen Dunn, Sandra Maria Esteves, Carolyn Forché, Tess Gallagher, Deborah Garrison, Sandra Gilbert, Allen Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Joy Harjo, Michael S. Harper, Robert Hass, Lance Henson, Edward Hirsch, Jane Hirshfield, Marie Howe, Rex Lee Jim, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Jane Kenyon, Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Galway Kinnell, Carolyn Kizer, Etheridge Knight, Kenneth Koch, Stanley Kunitz, Kurtis Lamkin, Tato Laviera, Rika Lesser, Philip Levine, Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, Thomas Lux, Linda McCarriston, Heather McHugh, Sandra McPherson, W. S. Merwin, Pat Mora, Paul Muldoon, David Mura, Nuala NÍ Dhomhnaill, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joyce Carol Oates, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Alicia Ostriker, Octavio Paz, Marge Piercy, Robert Pinsky, Adrienne Rich, The Roots, Sonia Sanchez, Ed Sanders, Vikram Seth, Aharon Shabtai, Gary Snyder, Göran Sonnevi, William Stafford, Gerald Stern, Ruth Stone, Sekou Sundiata, Luci Tapahonso, Jean Valentine, Cecilia Vicunia, Diane Wakoski, Anne Waldman, Theodore Weiss, C. K. Williams, Nellie Wong, Elizabeth Woody, Franz Wright, and Daisy Zamora, among others. The official list of poets for this year isn't available as of this writing.

A few thousand teachers from across the United States attend the festival. Many bring students for the Thursday events.

Sessions include "Poets on Poetry" sessions in which featured poets discuss poems that have influenced their development as poets. Featured Poets leading these sessions will also read some of their own work and take questions from the audience.

Everyone joins in the Concert Tent for A Poetry Sampler (brief readings by a cross-section of this year's Featured Poets) followed by a series of conversations in which groups of poets address a common topic.

While a few daytime events are reserved for high school students on Thursday, and for teachers and student teachers on Friday, the Festival is continuously open to the public.
Free admission on Thursday and on Friday is only available to teachers who pre-register. Teachers who do not pre-register before September 15 will be offered admission at a special discounted ticket price on Thursday and Friday.

Registration materials for Teacher Day will be mailed in February 2006. To receive registration information sign up for their teacher mailing list. More information for teachers...

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