July 29, 2008

Billy Collins Live

Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, shares an evening of his poetry in a benefit reading for WNYC, New York Public Radio. Often compared to Robert Frost, his poetry has been embraced by people of all ages and backgrounds, and his readings are most often standing room only.

On this audio CD, Collins reads 24 of his poems, including "Dharma" --a spiritual yet humbling ode to man's best friend, "The Lanyard--an amusing recollection about the popular, if not pointless, summer camp pastime, and "Consolation" --a tongue-in-cheek reflection of a canceled European trip, and the benefits of staying home instead.

In addition to the poetry readings, Collins also spends some time in a brief question and answer session where he reflects on what makes good poetry, his own process of reaching his audiences as a poet, the success of his Poetry 180 programs in schools nationwide, and an amusing sidebar on his memories growing up as an only child.


The Newest Poet Laureate

The new United States Poet Laureate is Pat Ryan.

A resident of Marin County, California, Pat Ryan has written six books and has won numerous award including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 2004 Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, the 2000 Union League Poetry Prize and the Maurice English Poetry Award and four Pushcart prizes.

Ryan was born in 1945 in San Jose, California. She received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles. Since 1971, Ryan has lived in Marin County. Her partner of 30 years is Carol Adair.

For more than 30 years, Ryan limited her professional responsibilities to the part-time teaching of remedial English at the College of Marin in Kentfield, Calif., thus leaving much of her life free for "a lot of mountain bike riding plus the idle maunderings poets feed upon." She said at one point that she has never taken a creative writing class, and in a 2004 interview in The Christian Science Monitor, she noted, "I have tried to live very quietly, so I could be happy."


Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
She can ill afford the chances she must take
In rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
A packing-case places, and almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
She’s often stuck up to the axle on her way
To something edible. With everything optimal,
She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish. She lives
Below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
Will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
The sport of truly chastened things.

'Turtle" is from Kay Ryan's Flamingo Watching, Copper Beach Press, 1994 and is also available at Poetry 180.

More on the new Laureate

July 27, 2008

Springfed Arts Writers Retreat

Cornelius Eady, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Sandra Seaton, Christopher Knight, ML Liebler and other writers of poetry, novels, memoir, screenplays will be featured at the Springfed Arts Writers Retreat 2008 (formerly Walloon Lake Writers Retreat) on October 9-12, 2008 at the Birchwood Inn, Harbor Springs , Michigan.

Register online and find complete information on schedule, costs, plus writer bios at springfed.org

July 22, 2008

Open Door Poetry

Borders Books has a portion of their website devoted to Open Door Poetry. It's a project to move poetry off the page and into video and audio. The site includes Billy Collins, Paul Muldoon, Kim Addonizio, Donald Hall, Franz Wright, Jorie Graham and others reading their poems and talking about poetry

They also are sponsoring the BORDERS Open-Door Poetry Contest which will be judged by Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate.

The second Borders Open-Door Poetry Contest is open for submissions through July. The top 10 (5 adult, 5 student) poems submitted, in text or in video, will be published on their site alongside a poem by Billy Collins in an upcoming episode. Billy will also read and give feedback on the poems he selects as best. All finalists’ poems will be considered for publication in our annual “Best of” book, which will highlight the many talented poets in the Borders community.

For full information and a submission form, go to bordersmedia.com/odp/

July 21, 2008

Hemingway's Birthday

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899.

Working in a newspaper office in Kansas City at the age of seventeen, Hemingway started his career as a writer. Before the United States had entered the World War I, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army.

During the 1920's, Hemingway became a member of the group of expatriate Americans in Paris, which he described in his first important work, The Sun Also Rises (1926). A Farewell to Arms (1929), the study of an American ambulance officer's disillusionment in the war and his role as a deserter, was equally successful. Hemingway used his experiences as a reporter during the civil war in Spain as the background for his most ambitious novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

I have been a big fan of Hemingway's writing since I started reading "serious" books in sixth grade. I liked his straightforward prose and vocabulary. I liked the dialogue, but came to believe that it was pretty unrealistic (and easy to parody). But I was a bigger fan of the short stories (like those in Men Without Women, In Our Time, The Fifth Column, and The Collected Stories) than the novels. (Oh yeah, throw in A Moveable Feast for memoir.)

Most readers aren't aware that Hemingway wrote any poetry. He didn't write a lot of it, and it's not the best of his writing, but it is interesting to look at some on this anniversary of his birth.

Here are 2 short ones that I like:

Neo-Thomist Poem

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not
want him for long.

Chapter Heading

For we have thought the longer thoughts
And gone the shorter way.
And we have danced to devils' tunes,
Shivering home to pray;
To serve one master in the night,
Another in the day.

A copy of his poems is hard to find (only some used copies on Amazon.com) but you can turn up some with a Google search.

Happy Birthday, Papa.

July 19, 2008

Share This

You may have noticed the ShareThis logo appearing at the bottom of my posts here. If you click on that, it allows you to share this post (and blog) with others via your accounts on Delicious, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg or many others, or your own blog or that old standby, email.

The folks at ShareThis were nice enough to notice that Poets Online users were clicking and sharing, and so hey featured this blog on their own blog this month on their Roll Call 7.9.08

We definitely appreciate all of you spreading the word about the blog and the Poets Online site with friends you think would enjoy our collected efforts.

July 11, 2008

Fall of Frost

I started reading Brian Hall's Fall of Frost last week. It's a fictional life of poet Robert Frost.

Hall says that he wanted to write the "life story of the poems," and write a book that goes into Frost's inner life.

On the shelf in the bookstore were other traditional biographies: an early one, Gorham B. Munson's Robert Frost: A Study in Sensibility and Good Sense, Lawrance Thompson's three-volume biography, Jeffrey Meyers's Robert Frost and Jay Parini's Robert Frost: A Life. The only one of that group I had read before was the Parini book.

Depending on the book you choose, Frost might be portrayed as a dairy framer, Yankee sage, country sage, a man of rather mean wit, a warmer verson of the Modernists of his time.

I didn't know of Brian Hall, but he has done this novel-bio before with I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, a novel about Lewis and Clark.

Frost’s life has already been squeezed like apples in a press to try to find hidden meanings though he once said that his poetry, "means enough without its being pressed." How many teachers have led students through "The Road Not Taken" or "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening" and pointed out the symbols & meanings?

The book is a series of a 128 non-chronological scenes starting near the end of his life and pausing in his childhood, adulthood, and old age.

  • Frost's troubled childhood in San Francisco and his father, a newspaperman with a "paper-white face, blue below the eyes, the red coins in his cheeks not a sign of health"
  • his mother, described as a "Swedenborgian blessed with second sight, patient wife, incipient lunatic, embryonic writer."
  • time in Great Britain at the onset of WWI
  • his relationship with his married secretary
  • New England winters on the farm
  • perhaps the greatest tragedies: Frost's children's deaths - four of six preceded their father - his "brood of brooders" - the firstborn son dead of cholera at 4, the other son killing himself with a deer rifle at 38, a daughter institutionalized for mental illness

The book's title comes, not from Robert Frost, but from a poem by Emily Dickinson.

I watcher her face to see which way
She took the awful news --
Whether she died before she heard
Or in protracted bruise
Remained a few slow years with us --
Each heavier than the last --
A further afternoon to fail,
As Flower at fall of Frost.

Frost's wife, Elinor, plays a role throughout the book, including those times when he slips references to her into the poems. Hall uses the device of a character, "The Younger Poets," to represent Galway Kinnell, Donald Hall, Philip Larkin and other poets in the novel.

The book sometimes gets into the origins of the poems. It's a topic I find that many readers of poetry enjoy hearing - just listen to all the background material most poets give at a reading. But Frost had once warned a biographer that "It would seem soft for instance to look in my life for the sentiments in 'The Death of the Hired Man.' There's nothing to it believe me."

The novel opens in a hotel room in Moscow in November 1962, has the poet waiting to meet Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was sent by the Kennedy administration in the hope his words might have some softening effect on Russia's grip on Berlin or help the nuclear standoff over Cuba. How strange this hope that words might save the world. How different from today. The mission failed and in three months Frost died, and President Kennedy would be killed the following fall.

From Russia, we cut to Massachusetts July 1900 where Frost’s first child, three-year old Elliot, is dying. And then the scene shifts to a train from Boston in 1940, where Frost meets an adoring young poet who he tells "My son, Carol, died last night. He killed himself…. Please don’t talk to me anymore."

This is Robert Frost as an unsuccessful farmer, tormented father, distanced husband, but mostly as poet. The novel is a good read - simple and rather lonely and sad.

July 6, 2008

Imagism and Natural Landscape

I read the poem "The Changing Light" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and thought of some photographs I had taken in San Francisco many years ago. There was something about the light. It wasn't East Coast light.

That poem is from his book How to Paint Sunlight (New Directions,2001) and in the foreword he wrote: "All I ever wanted was to paint light on the walls of life. These poems are another attempt to do it."

I also couldn't help but think about Carl Sandburg's "Fog."

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

That's a poem I read a few times in school classrooms and probably had an English teacher use it for a lesson in imagism. That was the name given to a movement in poetry in the early 20th century and represented by Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and others. It aimed at clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images.

A few other poems that might have been in that section of the anthology:

In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

The Apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

and the poem that is sometimes called "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams. He actually left it untitled but for a number when it was first published. (I think it should be untitled.)


so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Are all imagist poems so short? No, but many are rather brief. Still, people have a lot to say about a little poem like Williams' "XXII."

I thought this month you might try your hand at a poem that is very much anchored in an outdoor place. Your poem does not need to be purely an exercise in imagism, but it should bring into it the light, the weather and the natural atmosphere of the place. A kind of natural landscape should be present in the poem. Beyond that informal form, if you choose to have something else going on in the poem, all the better.

I was also reading a book about Robert Frost this week and in one section Frost said that a poem should have several doors in it - but the poem shouldn't open them. I'd say that's good advice for this prompt too.