January 27, 2009

John Updike 1932-2009

March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009

John Updike died today. He was 76.

I could write a lot about him. I have read almost all of his books. I bought and read every one of his novels. He was one of only a few writers that I would buy the new novel at its release without looking at a review and just read it.

My wife was also an Updike reader, so his novels were frequently a birthday gift for one of us.

I never got to teach any of his novels. I did regularly teach some of his poems and one of his early short stories, "A&P," that was in an anthology I used. It was a good adolescent tale of a boy who works in a supermarket who creates a moral dilemma for himself when the store's owner confronts three bikini-clad teenage girls who appear at his checkout station.

It's a simple story about a kid who takes a stand for something he believes is right and receives no praise or recognition for it.

My favorite works by him are his short stories.

I also like Updike's poetry which never received much attention. His most anthologized poem is probably "Ex-Basketball Player" but it's not really the best representation of his poetry or what he has written in the half century since it was published.

We used an Updike poem back in January 2006 as a writing prompt.

It was the poem "Dog's Death" from his Collected Poems 1953-1993.

I mentioned on the site that it's not sentimental, or comforting, or funny and wise. It's about death, loss, showing a kind of dignity in facing death, the death of the young, and that desire (thankfully) many of us seem to have (as in "A&P") to do the "right thing." I also see it as a poem about the inability of even love to triumph over death.

Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed
And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest's bed.
We found her twisted and limp but still alive.
In the car to the vet's, on my lap, she tried

To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur
And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.

Updike wrote a second poem about this topic called "Another Dog’s Death" which you can read at this NPR site which is part of a series called "The End of Life: Exploring Death in America."

I met him twice at readings. The first time, I was a new college grad and carried the original paperback edition of his story collection Pigeon Feathers to get signed. He asked me how I had come to own it, since I was too young to have bought it new.

I told him that I bought it in a used book store and showed him a note that was inside the book when I bought it. The note was scribbled on back of an airport receipt for the book's purchase. "call. pick up boxes," it said. There was also a paycheck stub. "There's the start of a story," Updike said. I replied that I actually had written a story from that idea. He scribbled an address on a scrap of paper and gave it to me. "I'd like to see it," he said.

I mailed him the story and a week later received a postcard reply typed on a manual typewriter. It's as close to having something in The New Yorker as I have ever come.

It saddens me that John Updike never received the Nobel Prize in Literature during his lifetime. What a lifetime body of work - more than twenty-five novels, more than a dozen short story collections, poetry, non-fiction including art criticism, literary criticism, children's books, and hundreds of stories, reviews, and poems in The New Yorker where he first was accepted in 1954.

"Tell your mother, if she asks, that maybe we'll meet some other time. Under the pear trees, in Paradise."
John Updike, Rabbit at Rest

Books by John Updike

January 26, 2009

Starting Today: poems for the first 100 days of the Obama administration

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."
President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

Just another example of the interesting things people are doing using blogs -

Every day for the next 100 days, STARTING TODAY will post a new poem by a contemporary American poet, and the poems will be written for, and during, the first 100 days of the new Obama administration.

Day one's poem was Elizabeth Alexander's "Praise Song for the Day" that she read at the inauguration.

The two blog creators are Maine poet, Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker from New York. The two also co-edited Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections

January 23, 2009

The Life And Times Of Allen Ginsberg - The Film

The Life And Times Of Allen Ginsberg - The Film

For 25 years, Academy Award-nominated director Jerry Aronson accumulated more than 120 hours of film on Allen Ginsberg. The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg (Deluxe Two-Disc Set) (83 minutes) is the result of his editing and the film is a portrait of one of America's greatest poets, author of HOWL and other ground-breaking poems.

More about the film at ginsbergmovie.com

Cinetic brings audiences the latest, greatest and classic festival favorites from around the globe. From award-winners by veteran filmmakers to up-and-coming talent telling new stories, Cinetic prides itself on being at the forefront of quality indie film in the digital space. Cinetic brings the festival and arthouse experience to audiences on demand. http://www.cineticmedia.com

January 16, 2009

Playing With Forms: Sonnet + Addonizio = Sonnenizio

In Kim Addonizio's fourth book of poems, What Is This Thing Called Love, I was surprised to find that she had written another paradelle.

She has a poem ("Ever After") in that complex form in the anthology, The Paradelle. I didn't realize she had written any others.

If you're not familiar with the paradelle form, here's part of Billy Collins' introduction to that collection:
A few years ago, I wrote a poem that I titled "Paradelle for Susan." It was the only paradelle ever to have been written because I invented the form in order to write the poem. What I set out to do was write an intentionally bad formal poem. Auden said there was nothing funnier than bad poetry, and I thought a horribly mangled attempt at a formal poem might have humorous results. I considered using an already existing form, but I figured enough bad sonnets and bad sestinas are already being written these days without me adding to the pile...

So, Collins invented a form. A ridiculously complex form. But it took hold and others started trying to write intentionally good paradelles rather than parodies of villanelles. I learned "the truth" about paradelles when I spent a week in a writing workshop with Collins during the summer of 1999, and paradelles have been following me here and there ever since.

Poets Online used the paradelle as a prompt at the end of that year, and my own effort and another by Mary DeBow from Poets Online made it into the anthology.

Kim Addonizio has a poem titled "Sonnenizio on a Line From Drayton" that plays its own paradelle game. The sonnenzio is her own invented form.

You start by taking a line from someone else’s sonnet and using it as your first line. You then repeat a word from that borrowed line in each of your succeeding 13 lines of the poem. You finish off your sonnet ala Addonizio with a rhymed couplet.

Her original sonnenzio starts like this:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part;
or kiss anyway, let’s start with that, with the kissing part,
because it’s better than the parting part, isn’t it—
we’re good at kissing, we like how that part goes:
Like Collins, she has a bit of fabricated history for the form. Here's her note:
The sonnenizio was originated in Florence in the thirteenth century by Vanni Fucci as an irreverent form whose subject was usually the impossibility of everlasting love. Dante retaliated by putting Fucci into the seventh chasm of the Inferno as a thief. Originally composed in hendecasyllabics, the sonnenizio gradually moved away from metrical constraints and began to tackle a wider variety of subject matter. The sonnenizio is 14 lines long. It opens with a line from someone else’s sonnet, repeats a word from that line in each succeeding line of the poem, and closes with a rhymed couplet.
Kim started with the first line from Michael Drayton's sonnet Idea LXI  from his sonnet series. She repeats the word “part” from the first line of Drayton’s sonnet throughout her own poem. She takes things a bit deeper by also connecting with the speaker in the Drayton poem.

Drayton begins like this:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part,
Nay I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free;
and Addonizio begins her sonnenizio:
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part;
or kiss anyway, let’s start with that, with the kissing part,
because it’s better than the parting part, isn’t it—
we’re good at kissing, we like how that part goes:
Addonizio doesn't use any sonnet rhyming pattern, so that doesn't seem to be a "requirement" of the form.

A search online will find you many other poets who have tried her form. Some have a 14 line single stanza, some 8 and 6, or 4, 4, 4, and 2.

I have been a longtime fan of Kim's often sexy poetry, and I hope Drayton would get a little aroused by her take on his sonnet.
we part our lips, our mouths get near and nearer,
then we’re close, my breasts, your chest, our bodies partway
to making love, so we might as well, part of me thinks—
the wrong part, I know, the bad part, but still
let’s pretend we’re at that party where we met
and scandalized everyone, remember that part? Hold me
In that same book with the sonnenizio, she also has poems about raising a daughter, being a poet, grief and loss, and music. Her style is always some confessional, some humor, with a soundtrack of musical references (including bluesman Robert Johnson) and a playfulness with formality.

Repetition-based forms (sestinas, paradelles, villanelles) always remind me of song lyrics - kind of earlier century 12-bar blues. She actually has a poem in that book called "This Poem Wants to Be a Rock and Roll Song So Bad."

The January writing prompt for Poets Online is to write a sonnenizio (see details on the site).

My poet friend Diane Lockward beat me to the post about Kim's article in the current issue of Poets and Writers (Jan/Feb 2009) called "First Thought, Worst Thought" which questions that Ginsberg/Zen idea that when you set out to write a poem, that first thought is the best thought.

The article is part of Kim's new book, Ordinary Genius. In Poets Online fashion, she also gives you exercises to get some poems started. (One, American Sentences, is an Allan Ginsberg invention influenced by haiku that was a post here last September.)

If you enjoy working with the sonnet form, you might be interested in 14by14. It is a quarterly online journal of fourteen contemporary sonnets per issue, by fourteen different authors that accepts submissions.

Other Sonnenizios:

Here are some sonnets to use as a starting point:

Kim Addonizio seems to be playing several games lately. Check out the new issue of Poetry where she has a poem titled "The First Line is the Deepest" (from the Cat Stevens' song) that has the opening line "I have been one acquainted with the spatula" borrowing from Robert Frost.
I have been one acquainted with the spatula,
the slotted, scuffed, Teflon-coated spatula

that lifts a solitary hamburger from pan to plate,
acquainted with the vibrator known as the Pocket Rocket
Oh boy - what would Yusef and Bob think about that?

January 14, 2009

It's the End of the Dodge Festival As We Know It

and none of us feel fine.

Many of you who read this blog probably received this email from David Grant, President and CEO, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation this week.

Greetings to you all at the beginning of a new year.

Some of you may know that we have reduced the Dodge Foundation's grantmaking budgets annually since 2002 in an effort to develop a sustainable approach to grantmaking and initiatives in relation to our assets. During that period, we have reduced all areas of our giving except for Poetry. The severity of the recent. financial downturn – a 30% decline in assets -- has meant that we must finally reduce that budget as well, at least for the near future.

I know how much Dodge’s work in Poetry means to so many of you, and I wanted to let you know the Foundation will remain committed to Poetry as a signature interest. But financial realities are forcing us to take a different approach to our Poetry activities in 2009 and 2010. Specifically, and most importantly, we know we will not be able to produce a Poetry Festival in September 2010 on the scale of past Festivals.

We will maintain much of our work with New Jersey teachers of poetry this spring, and we will actually expand our efforts to make the audio and video archives of past Festivals readily available via YouTube and other means for all who want to enjoy them. Yet we must at least take a cycle off from the biennial Festival as you have known it and, depending on how things turn out, we may need to “reinvent” the Festival on either a more affordable scale or in a more affordable venue. (Unfortunately, over the last three Festivals, the production costs have more than doubled, and a mere 20% of the Festival budget went toward hiring the poets at the very center of the event.)

Under these circumstances, our esteemed colleague Jim Haba will move this year from Poetry Director to Consultant to the Foundation. His longtime associate Martin Farawell will take on the role of Program Director for Poetry and lead our efforts with the Archive and other Poetry initiatives.

Neither you nor we have seen the last of Jim, but I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate his remarkable achievements as the guiding spirit behind the Dodge Poetry Festivals since 1986. First as a consultant working with the Dodge Founding Executive Director Scott McVay, then later as our full-time Poetry Director, Jim strove tirelessly to create, in his own words, “a space in which poetry can assume its rightful place at the center of our imaginative and emotional lives.” The result has been a singular international poetry event, one which instead of featuring scholarly papers or professional advice always gave priority to the simple, direct and profound experience of coming together and listening to poets and poetry. The late Stanley Kunitz went to the heart of the matter, I think, when he praised the Festivals’ “great democratic spirit.”

Over the course of its twenty-two year history, the biennial Festivals drew approximately 140,000 people from 42 states ¾ including 17,000 teachers and 42,000 high school students who attended without charge and traveled from as far away as Florida, Maine, Minnesota and California. The Festivals also gave rise to several NPR radio programs and five PBS television series, including The Power of the Word, The Language of Life and Fooling with Words, all hosted by Bill Moyers and seen by a national audience of nearly 50 million.

From the outset, Jim strove to include poets and audiences from a wide base of the culture, and to invite unknown and unrecognized voices from those groups traditionally excluded from the Western canon. He recognized that America and American poetry could not thrive unless they had a deeper connection to the poets and poetries of other cultures, and so poetry-in-translation has been a central feature of every Festival. Under his leadership, the Festival spawned a complementary Poetry-in-the-Schools Program that has since sent poets into every county in New Jersey to work with thousands of teachers and students.

For me, Jim’s brief essay in the Dodge Foundation’s 2000 Annual Report, Slowing Down for Poetry, will always be the best rationale behind the Foundation’s significant (over $13 million since 1986) and ongoing investment in Poetry as an art form. He describes how “Poetry redeems our human possibilities,” and reminds us in this frantic modern world:

Image by image, thought by thought, feeling by feeling, poetry invites us to sink even more deeply into a kind of “before” time, at once achingly familiar and exhilaratingly new. Only by slowing down for poetry can we hope to accept its delicious invitation.

Perhaps the most lasting testimony to Jim’s achievement will be the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival Audio and Video Archive. Consisting of over 2,500 hours of audio and video recordings, recorded by industry professionals to the highest broadcast standards, the Archive is already one of the most extraordinary records of contemporary poetry and poets in the world. In the months and years ahead, the Dodge Poetry Program will work to make as much of this archive available to as wide an audience as possible, and we will be considering ways in which the Archive can continue to grow through newly designed events. The Festival experience itself cannot be duplicated, but we take heart that it can and will be shared by students, teachers, poets, and poetry lovers the world over. It is a remarkable legacy – not yet ended – but one for which Jim Haba has our everlasting gratitude, respect and affection.


January 11, 2009

Poet Animations

Here's an interesting project - poets reincarnated using computer animation, still images and readings of their poems. They have an intentionally scratched film look.

They come from Jim Clark, a London videographer, sound recordist, photographer and archivist of acoustic musicians and poets.

He has posted many of them online at:

Here's a virtual movie of Matthew Arnold reading "Dover Beach" using a reading the late classical actor Mallory Jameson.

The poem opens on the shore of the English ferry port of Dover, facing France at the narrowest part of the English Channel, where Arnold honeymooned in 1851.


The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

January 7, 2009

Further On Down the Road with Poets Online

I don't know quite what to think about it, but Poets Online (the site) is now in its second decade.


We started as a poem-sharing site in the summer of 1998 with four poets.

Taking turns at suggesting a prompt idea, we took a week to write and then e-mailed our poems to each other.

As more poets joined the group, it became an awkward mailing process,and I took on the task of creating a modest web site on a free hosting service to post responses & prompts - and POETS ONLINE was created.

By early 1999, a mailing list was created to remind people to check the latest prompt & poems and that has led to several hundred subscribers. In 2003, I bought the domain poetsonline.org, but that's been pretty much the story.

We eventually settled on a new prompt each month, but there have been more than 150 prompts on the site and many hundred of poems. (The majority are still in our archive.)


On the site we try to accept as many poems that respond to the current prompt in a serious way as space allows.

I don't see the site as an online poetry magazine, but more of an online workshop. We realize that we receive poems from poets of varying ages and experience. I consider many of the poems as drafts or works-in-progress. Poets can choose to have an email link with their name and I've been told that has led to some online workshopping and commenting. I hope the site continues to be a showcase for new work and a place to go for inspiration online.

I am always happy to hear from teachers and students who find the site useful for their writing, and see that more than a hundred other sites link back to us.

What's coming up for us? A new site design, but things will stay pretty much the same for us, and we hope you continue to visit.

January 5, 2009

Jersey Poets

It was nice to see the Sunday New York Times feature some New Jersey poets recently. In a piece called "Selected Works by New Jersey Poets" they had poems by some of my neighbors and friends, so I need to give it a little extra promotion here.

The featured poets are Joe Weil, BJ Ward, George Witte, Madeline Tiger, Sander Zulauf and David Tucker.

In BJ's poem, "New Jersey," he says that

Whenever friends visit from far away —
San Francisco or Jamaica —
what amazes them about my state
more than the long couch of the shore
looking at the constant television of the ocean
or the cloverleaf exit ramps swirling out
like ribbons about to be tightened
on the gift of traffic congestion —
what amazes them are the...
Follow link to read the poem and find out what amazes them

And Joe Weil confesses reveals what he is waiting for... (interesting that they add hyperlinks to some of the poems)

What I’m waiting for is Susan Sarandon.
She can bring Tim Robbins if she wants to;
I liked him in
"The Shaw-Shank Redemption."
He was good in "Bull Durham."
Very good.
Susan Sarandon certainly thought so,
but I’d prefer her alone.

(Sarandon is a Jersey girl.)

Joe is Elizabeth, NJ through & through and is, as described by The New York Times, "working-class, irreverent, modest, but open to the world and filled with a wealth of possibilities."

There's another article "Poetry - Region’s Poets Convey a Sense of Place" on poetry and poets from the region that includes Billy Collins, Patricia Smith and Marc J. Straus on the Westchester team. Starting for Long Island are Grace Schulman, Julie Sheehan, Sandy McIntosh and Barbara Novack, and the away team from Connecticut has Vivian Shipley, Ravi Shankar and Susan Kinsolving.


Poetry by BJ Ward

Joe Weil - Painting The Christmas Trees

Madeline Tiger - Birds of Sorrow and Joy: New and Selected Poems 1970-2000

George Witte - The Apparitioners

The Poets of New Jersey - From Colonial to Contemporary (edited by Emanuel di Pasquale, Frank Finale and Sander Zulauf

David Tucker - Late for Work

January 1, 2009

Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway

It's January, so it's time for me to make my annual plug for Peter Murphy's Annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway in the lovely Cape May, New Jersey. This is year 16 for the Getaway and it will be held January 16-19, 2009.

The poets who will be there offering sessions are:
Renée Ashley
Michael Broek
Barbara Daniels
Catherine Doty
Karen Zaborowski Duffy
Stephen Dunn
Douglas Goetsch
Luray Gross
Lois Marie Harrod
Charles Lynch
Laura McCullough
Peter E. Murphy
Priscilla Orr
James Richardson
Christine E. Salvatore
Madeline Tiger
J. C. Todd
Angelo Verga
Paul-Victor Winters
and special guest, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet, Stephen Dunn.

If you are new to workshopping your poetry, Peter offers you a quick quiz
and then you can choose from these workshops.

Personally, I think seasoned poets should also consider trying prose, art or music workshops.

The getaway always gets good reviews not only for the workshops, but for its setting and social aspects.

And if you really want to get away, there's Peter's Myth, Mountain & Imagination: A Getaway for Poets & Writers in Wales this summer (August 22-28, 2009)