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...

Visit the festival website at: http://www.grdodge.org/poetry/main.htm