February 22, 2009

A River of Words: WCW For Kids

More William Carlos Williams comes my way via Laura Shovan's blog Author Amok... which is one of this year’s Caldecott Honor books (awarded to children’s picture books) It is a biography of Williams.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams is written by poet Jen Bryant with mixed-media illustrations by Melissa Sweet that are embedded with the words of some Williams’ poems. 

Laura interviewed Bryant on her blog and asked about winning the award, working with an illustrator, and why William Carlos Williams is someone kids should know about.

February 20, 2009

Paterson: The Falls and The Poem

When the Senate approved legislation to designate the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey a National Historic Park last month, it inspired me to take Paterson, a poem by William Carlos Williams, off the shelf again. 

Williams' epic poem is actually five books (and a fragment of a sixth book) that were published separately and then collected as one book in 1963. Williams was not a fan of Ezra Pound's and T. S. Eliot's allusions (to other languages and classical works) as I was when I was in high school and college. I came to Williams (from my home state of NJ) later in my education. 

Like many of his fans, I now find his use of "the local" a substantial part of his appeal. Williams wrote in an earlier (1927) poem titled "Paterson" that there were "No ideas but in things" which is an often quoted description of his poetic method.
—Say it, no ideas but in things— nothing but the blank faces of the houses and cylindrical trees bent, forked by preconception and accident— split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained— secret—into the body of the light!
Dr. Williams, M.D., who maintained a medical practice in nearby Rutherford where he was born and acted as a kind of poetic reporter giving readers "the news" in poetry. For the writing of Paterson, he said:
I started to make trips to the area. I walked around the streets; I went on Sundays in summer when the people were using the park, and I listened to their conversation as much as I could. I saw whatever they did, and made it part of the poem.
That is clear in many of his poems, such as
The Young Housewife

At ten A.M. the young housewife
moves about in negligee behind
the wooden walls of her husband's house.
I pass solitary in my car.

Then again she comes to the curb
to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands
shy, uncorseted, tucking in
stray ends of hair, and I compare her
to a fallen leaf.

The noiseless wheels of my car
rush with a crackling sound over
dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling.

February 8, 2009

Prompt: Dorianne Laux: Not Just The Facts

Our prompt for this month is to start a poem by first collecting a series of facts about a subject that interests you. It might be a topic, as, in our model poem, that is a bit of a current obsession. You will use the facts in your poem, but the poem will also need to leap, like many poems, to another place. I came upon the poem and the idea for this prompt when I was reading Brian Brodeur's blog, How A Poem Happens where contemporary poets are interviewed about the making of one of their poems.

Laux mentions that she had been reading James Wright's book ABOVE THE RIVER and that it may have been an unconscious source for the leap. "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" is a good example of a Wright poem that leaps, particularly in its final line. (Read that poem and listen to him read it

In the blog post (which reprints the poem), Laux talks about how a dinner conversation about the solar/lunar system led her to become somewhat obsessed with finding out facts about the moon.

Among the many facts I learned that night the one that stuck was the fact that since the expansion of the universe, the moon has been steadily and significantly backing away from the earth, which meant the moon once appeared much larger in the past and would only appear smaller in the future. I couldn’t get over it. I went to bed trying to imagine it and woke up thinking about it. I was obsessed.

That obsession led her to seek more information about the moon and was the prewriting for the poem. 

I also read everything I could get my hands on about the moon. That fascination has been long-lived as I’m still reading about the universe and am just now I’m finishing up Timothy Ferris’ Coming of Age in the Milky Way? .

The second aspect of the poem is that my extended family was going through a life-crisis, a not uncommon state of affairs for them, so that was in the back of my mind. I was in the process of working to pull away from them. Maybe I became obsessed with the moon as a way to curb my obsession with the latest family crisis. But the tug of the family is tremendous. Even a crazy family can seem better than no family. The poem is two obsessions in collision.

This idea of two obsessions or ideas in a collision is also something we would love to see in your poem.

Laux's original intent ("That the listing of the facts was in some way interesting was my only concern.") took that leap in another direction that led to the poetic collision.

The leap from the planetary to the personal might have been a technique had I thought of it consciously, but I didn’t. It happened naturally, organically, without my being aware of it until I had finished the poem. I really thought the poem was about the moon, and these two people I had made up, the woman and her boy, strangers to me, but realized then it was my mother and my sister, or my sister and my niece, in disguise.

As I mention on the website, you could cheat on the prompt and work backward - start with an idea for a poem and then research the facts about a subject within the poem.
It might be difficult to "prompt" a leap in writing a poem, but I have the feeling that if you can put one obsession into motion, perhaps it will naturally collide with another and produce enough energy for the poem to move. 

February 4, 2009

Call For Poems of Protest

I wrote written before about protestpoems.org, and we used it as a prompt on Poets Online.

They have a new editor - Richard Pierce-Saunderson. He sent out their projected publication dates for the first half of 2009 and included these submission guidelines.

We’re not looking for partisan propaganda. We’re not looking for party-political mouthings. We’re not looking for sentimental depictions of what you see on the TV. We’re not looking for rhyming greetings card verses.

We want you to champion, not yourselves, but human rights; the rights of those who don’t have the freedom to write and speak as we do. Rage. Celebrate. Mourn. Demand. Scream. Dance.

Formal complaints are especially exciting. There’s something wonderfully subversive about a villanelle that attacks a government deliberately making the same mistake over and over again.

If you need to be inspired, read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then check out any objective newsfeed or news site.

Paste your poems (a maximum of 3 one-page poems), into the body of an email and send to write@protestpoems.org. If necessary, you can email a single .doc or .rtf file containing all the poems you are submitting.

Include a brief bio.

We will accept poems previously published on paper, as long as you hold the copyright. We will not accept poems which are already (or have previously been) published online (including blogs). We will publish a poet only once a year.

If your poem deals with a specific call for action, or commemorates a specific person, please let us know.

Publication dates for the first half of 2009 are :

14 Feb
28 Feb
14 Mar
28 Mar
11 Apr
25 Apr
09 May
23 May
06 Jun
20 Jun

I'm really looking forward to reading your submissions, and want us to be able to publish high-quality, edgy material.

Hoping for peace in a violent world,


Consider a submission...