August 16, 2008

The Last Thursday Poetry Reading: August 2008

I have posted here before that for New Jersey area poetry fans and readers of Poets Online, the Last Thursday Poetry Readings series should be of interest. The series runs on the last Thursday of each month at the Middletown Township Public Library in central New Jersey with
poets from the tri-state area, and there should be some names you will recognize from Poets Online both as featured poets and as contributors. The series is put together by poet, Gloria Healy.

In the category of shameless self-promotion (sometimes the only kind), this month's lineup includes myself along with two Poets Online contributors, Alissa Pecora and Susan Rothbard, and Emari DiGiorgio. It's on Thursday, August 28 at 7 PM.

There is an open reading after the featured poets, and it's a very welcoming audience for new poets. I hope to see both some familiar faces and perhaps a few Poets Online contributors that I have only known virtually.

August 15, 2008

New Poems? (Ballistics by Billy Collins)

I see that Billy Collins has a new collection of poems coming out in September. Sure to be a good seller at the Dodge Poetry Festival that month.

I'm a Collins fan. I bought The Apple That Astonished Paris in 1990 (it came out in 1988) which is probably before many readers knew of his work. He started getting a lot more attention in the later years of the last century (Picnic, Lightning in 1998) and really came to the front when he was appointed (surprisingly) Poet Laureate in 2001.

I was lucky enough to spend a week with Collins when he taught a poetry workshop on Long Island. The classes were great. The discussions were lively. He revealed the secret of the paradelle to us and we vowed to help keep it a secret. (We failed.) But the best part was our nightly sessions in a Southampton bar.

So, I look forward to his new book. But, I also wonder about this whole idea of a "new book" of poems from Collins or any leading poet.

You don't get books of poetry published unless you have already published most of them in periodicals.

I don't know what the table of contents for the new book looks like, but I suspect a lot of the new poems are ones I have already read and/or heard him read: maybe "Brightly Colored Boats Upturned on the Banks of the Charles," "August," "January in Paris," ( I recall the origin being in the Paul Valery quote "Poems are never completed, they are only abandoned") "The Lodger," "On Not Finding You at Home," "The Lanyard," "The Order of the Day," "Flock," "Constellations," "Carry," "Genius" and others. If you wanted to bother searching online, you could find a lot of them - for example, "The Breather" is on the Poetry magazine site. I have heard him read "Revenant" which is in the voice of a dog who was put to sleep, and it always gets a good reaction and laughs, so that's probably in there.

The title poem was one I heard him read back in 2005 on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show. (Give a listen yourself.) "Ballistics" is based on the famous Harold Edgerton photograph of a bullet passing through a book and is echoed on the new book's cover.

I'm not saying there's nothing new in books of new poetry, but if you follow a poet's work, go to readings and read magazines, journals and online, you probably have encountered the poems before.

Still, buyers of poetry books are a small but solid consumer base. We like to have the book in our hands. We like to buy them at readings. We like to get them signed by the poet. Ballistics will sell well. Book sales may be down, but I think poetry will hold steady.

Suggested Link: Take a look at the series of Collins' poems that were animated at

August 6, 2008

No Comment

"Anonymous" posted a comment here that said...

"I'm very curious about poets as bloggers. No doubt you know quite a few poets and at least a few poet-bloggers. Poets Online is a wonderful site so many of us come to in order to be inspired or simply to read some of the new (or older, archived) poems. Being a poet myself, I realize I need time to reflect a lot before committing to paper (or screen) while many of the bloggers I see around tend to be people who like to plunge in and get ideas out very quickly. So here's the question: why is it so few of the poets who use this site don't add their own comments in the blog? Any thoughts on this?"

Anonymous, I'm not sure if you're commenting on the lack of comments, lack of comments identified as poets or about why some poets don't respond in the month of the prompt?

That comment came on August 4, and that particular blog post had 6 comments at that point, which is actually a good number of comments. Before I had a chance to respond, this lengthy comment/response came from oneyenoeye who wrote:

It's an interesting question--my guess is that not commenting allows one to retain a sense of complete detachment and invisiblity. Why are there more lurkers and leachers than content producers on the web?

You can spend lots of time posting responses to blogs, if that's your thing. If you're the "plunge right in type," and subscribe to the "first thought, best thought" school of spontaneity, it's no big deal to leave a comment. To comment implies a willingness to engage in a conversation that could lead anywhere. Whenever I post a comment, it feels as though some invisible hand has given me a hard shove between the shoulder blades, causing me to stumble forward out of the darkness into the light.

If you're like me, after I read a blog entry, the brain starts constructing a chain of associations that leads away from the page. Once that happens, I don't return to post a comment. Rarely do I jot down an intial thought or reaction to a blog entry.

Comments that provide a new slant on a subject or that nudge the conversation in an interesting or surprising direction are appreciated. An intelligent comment can take quite a bit of time to compose. I always check out reader responses to books listed on Amazon, for example. Many of those posts are better than the publisher's editorial remarks. Some readers have submitted hundreds of insightful reviews, as well as useful recommendations for further reading, and make up a pretty savvy group of unpaid book critics.

But if you're afraid of sounding stupid, it's probably better not to post your ideas for the world to read. Mindless comments are like litter on the side of the road--the kind of garbage you find posted on political blogs or under a UTube video.

Post a comment and you invite a response. I've seen rather innocent comments lead to some pretty heated exchanges. Poets are sensitive creatures, not really looking to stir up trouble. Most people, it seems to me, have learned to keep their heads down for fear of getting them blown off.

The question reminds me of the typical classroom situation where a few students actively participate in a discussion while the rest of the class listens but does not voice an opinion or offer any additional insights. It's not that those students are disengaged or disinterested; they're simply content to lie on the bank and watch the river flow without ever getting a toe wet. Maybe that reluctance to dive in serves as a kind of quality control that eliminates the dumb comment, the ill-considered remark. In that case, it's a good thing that most people don't feel compelled to add their two cents worth to the conversation. If all comments were thoughtful as well as thought-provoking, there would be no need to monitor what is posted to a site.

As for me, I'm content sitting on the sidelines as a spectator unless there is some overwhelming compulsion that makes me want to take the field. To comment or not to comment--it's a question of rechanneling energy and giving something back. Most of the time, I'm too lazy to do that.

Posting a comment entails a degree of commitment that most people prefer not to take on for whatever reason--limited time and/or distraction, most likely. But without comments, you don't get that sense of vital community, that feeling of being involved in a common endeavor.

oneyenoeye says he or she is "content sitting on the sidelines as a spectator unless there is some overwhelming compulsion that makes me want to take the field," so something overwhelmed about that comment.

On the main Poets Online site, poets are invited to give their email address along with their submission if they want to invite comments from readers. I have no hard statistics on how many poets actually get email from readers, but my anecdotal evidence is that very few poets get responses. Do you think that lack of response comes from the same reasons as the lack of comments?

I've given poetry readings and attended many more readings and haven't noted all that many "comments and responses" after the reading to the poets.

Look at the comments here and on other blogs - lots on anonymous comments. Maybe those are comments from the poets who contribute to the site.

I have no answer to these questions, but it's great to get thoughtful comments on the blog. I had hoped in creating the blog to encourage some conversation about the prompts while they were active, and about the poems after they are posted. I can't say that has happened in any substantial way.

Want to comment about no comments? Here's the place...

August 4, 2008

You Probably Think This Poem Is About You

Novelist Erica Jong wrote this:
Where does autobiography end and fiction begin? Best seller lists and publishers' catalogues assume we know the answer to this question, as they assume there is a clear- cut difference between fiction and nonfiction. Many writers are not so sure. The strongest and most passionate writing always comes out of our own experiences and obsessions - but how we transform these obsessions depends on the writer, or even on the writer's mood, at a given point in time. In E. E. Cummings's classic novel of World War I, ''The Enormous Room,'' the author writes as ''I,'' identifies that ''I'' as Edward Estlin Cummings, even includes sketches from his own notebooks, and yet the shapeliness of the book, the sense of a beginning, middle and end, lead us to think of it as a ''novel.''
So there I was reading through poems in the collection edited by Billy Collins called Poetry 180. I read "Gee, You’re So Beautiful That It’s Starting to Rain" by Richard Brautigan, and then I flipped pages and settled on "Bike Ride with Older Boys" by Laura Kasischke. Synchronicity was at work and the radio was playing Carly Simon who was singing "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you."

I remember when that album was released. There was much speculation about who was the "you" of the song. James Taylor? I heard Warren Beatty was the one. Mick Jagger had a connection with Carly, but then he sang backup on the song. Now, THAT would be vain! (The speculation continues apparently - look at Carly's site.) 

I know teachers of poetry who deliberately remove the poet's name from a poem they hand it out in order to try and shut down the baggage that comes with knowing who is the poet and attaching a life story to the poem. 

How about this situation? Have you ever read a poem written by someone you know, and thought that it was about you? That might be flattering, insulting, or embarrassing, or it might give you thoughts about a lawsuit. I tried, but I couldn't find a poem that exactly fit the prompt I wanted: a poem about someone that tries to convince the reader and the subject of the poem that it is NOT about them. (Like Carly's song) 

So, that becomes the August prompt - Can you come up with the model poem that the prompt needed? The two model poems I did include on the site are certainly about someone. I suspect that Brautigan's Marcia really existed. Kasischke's boy (I do think of them as one) probably existed but she didn't actually do what happens in the poem, so the poem is about them, but not about them. Do you think the boys would recognize themselves if they read her poem?
You're so vain, I'll bet you think this song is about you. Don't you? Don't you?