April 27, 2008

2008 Pulitzer Prize Winners in Poetry

There are two winners this year - Robert Hass for Time and Materials, and Philip Schultz for Failure.

See winners and short biographical information from previous years for poetry, fiction and other categories at:


April 14, 2008

National Poetry Month: A Poem in Your Pocket Day

National Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets as a month-long, national celebration of poetry. The concept was to increase the attention paid-by individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our poetic heritage, and to poetry books and magazines.

National Poetry Month has grown over the years into the largest literary celebration in the world.

The site has at least 30 ways to celebrate the month. Though there are many ways to hear poems -attend a poetry reading or open mic, memorization, recitation - perhaps, it has been a while since you participated.

By attending a poetry reading, you have the opportunity to process the poem aurally rather than visually. Hearing a poem read aloud reveals its rhythmic, melodic, and alliterative qualities, which can help you discover whether or not poetry is, ultimately, the music of language. As you reacquaint yourself with the emotions kindled by being read to by a parent, teacher, or lover, you may even discover for yourself the relationship between poetry and song.

One way to celebrate that's new to all of us is the first Poem in Your Pocket Day.

A simple idea: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 17.

Poems from pockets will be unfolded throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores. If you create your own Poem In Your Pocket Day event (I would hope some teachers would pick up on this), you should email the Academy of American Poets folks at npm@poets.org.

April 9, 2008

Poetry from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak

I realized today that I had first heard about a collection of poetry written by Guantanamo Bay detainees last summer on an NPR program.

The piece featured attorney Marc Falkoff, who represents 17 Yemeni prisoners, and edited Poetry from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, and Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee whose poetry is featured in the collection. Begg was held in Guantanamo for nearly three years, and was released in January 2005 with no charges made against him.

You can listen to the segment online.

"Poetry, art of the human voice, helps turn us toward what we should
or must not ignore. Speaking as they can across barriers actual and
figurative, translated into our American tongue, these voices in
confinement implicitly call us to our principles and to our humanity.
They deserve, above all, not admiration or belief or sympathy-but
attention. Attention to them is urgent for us."-Robert Pinsky

"Poems from Guantanamo brings to light figures of concrete, individual
humanity,against the fabric of cruelty woven by the 'war on terror.'
The poems and poets' biographies reveal one dimension of this
officially obscured narrative, from the perspective of the sufferers;
the legal and literary essays provide the context which has
produced--under atrocious circumstances--a poetics of human
dignity."-Adrienne Rich

April 1, 2008

Poetry Makes Nothing Happen: Poems of Protest

I'm still thinking about the issues addressed in my last post and it had me thinking about a line from a W.H. Auden poem that is frequently quoted out of context. It's the line, "Poetry makes nothing happen."

It's often taken to be a negative comment on the effect, or lack thereof, of poetry on the world. Does poetry matter? Knowing Auden, you would have to wonder if that's what he really meant.

Another case like that would be these three lines from William Butler Yeats:
I think it better that in times like these
A poet keep his mouth shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right.
Actually, both poets had a political side. W.H. Auden went to Spain and supported the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War, and Yeats supported Ireland in the uprising against British colonial power. He even served as a Senator for the newly-formed Republic of Ireland.

Here's that line from Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats" with a bit more context:
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

Just three days after Auden arrived in New York in early 1939, news came that W. B. Yeats had died. Yeats was 73; Auden was 31. He quickly wrote "In Memory of W. B. Yeats."

It's not a protest poem in the traditional sense at all. So why is it in his post?

Read the complete poem "In Memory of W. B. Yeats" and you'll see that it has two ideas in it. It starts with unrhymed verse paragraphs that suggest that poets can't do much more than create a way of being remembered. The second section is in stricter form and argues that poetry is more powerful than time or death. There's an unresolved feeling to the poem as to which is true. Perhaps, Auden wasn't completely sure. I'm not sure myself.

Our April prompt is poems of protest. They might be poems against the war or following a prompt from ProtestPoems.org or in protest of what is happening in Tibet or Darfur or any number of world situations. But Poets Online is not a political website. So, your submissions can also be poems of protest against more abstract or personal concerns.

If you feel the need for writing prompts with more meaning, sign up for monthly poetry prompts at ProtestPoems.org and visit the Poets Against the War site. Post a comment below and let us know about other sites that encourage action-poetry.

Back in February 2003, First Lady Laura Bush canceled her symposium on "Poetry and the American Voice" because she learned that some of the poets on her guest list refused to attend in protest against the impending war. A spokesperson for her said that t it would be "inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum." As a reaction to that non-event, the Poets Against the War movement was born. Since then, the group's volunteer editors has reviewed more than 22,000 poems.

And just last month, we crossed the 5 year mark for the war in Iraq. Since 2002, at least 775 men have been held in the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A poetry collection was published in August 2007 that gives voice to the men held at Guantánamo. Poems from Guantánamo has poems by 17 detainees, most of whom are still being held there. The poems may not be poetry of the highest quality, but they are a powerful use of poetry, and they make something happen.

Further Reading
There's an extended discussion online about this in "Conversing With the World: The Poet in Society" by Rachel Galvin.