August 30, 2009

6th Biennial Warren County Poetry Festival


The 6th Biennial Warren County Poetry Festival is a free event to be held on September 26, 2009.

This one-day poetry festival begins with readings at 11 a.m. and continues with panel discussions, open readings, and the featured readings in the evening. A book signing and reception will end the program at 9:30 p.m.

This year's featured poets are Laure-Anne Bosselaar, D. Nurkse, Tim Seibles, Pam Bernard, Robert Carnevale, Martin Farawell, and Madeline Tiger.

The festival is held in the Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts at Blair Academy, in Blairstown, NJ.

The festival is sponsored by NJ State Council on the Arts & Warren County Cultural and Heritage Commission.

Additional information, directions and information on previous festivals is available at

August 24, 2009

Glum High School Poetry Teacher

I just read a review of a new movie, World's Greatest Dad, with Robin Williams, and what hit me right away was the line at the top: "Robin Williams stars as a glum high school poetry teacher in this surrealist fable."

I taught secondary school for 25 years and I never met a teacher who could claim to be a high school poetry teacher. I may have to watch the film just to see what kind of high school has an English teacher who only teaches poetry. (All of you high school poetry teachers out there, feel free to post a comment below.)

The "glum" adjective didn't make me flinch. Teachers are a pretty glum lot, English teachers more so and poets are always moody. At least, that's what I have been told. I actually enjoyed teaching and especially enjoyed teaching poetry, but there's no movie script in that story.

I guess Mr. Clayton is partially glum because he's a writer who has never published anything.

That's it for this blog reaction - the rest of my preview is here.

Watch the film's trailer

August 19, 2009

The Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards

The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College has announced the winners , of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards for 2009 and posted the rules for the 2010 contest.

The contest honors Allen Ginsberg’s contribution to American literature.

Winners will be asked to participate in a reading to take place in the Paterson Historic District.

The Center publishes The Paterson Literary Review, a literary magazine which contains poetry, fiction, reviews, and artwork by individuals with international, national, and regional reputation as well as work by promising new voices. In the past they have published poets such as William Stafford, Ruth Stone, Sonia Sanchez, Laura Boss, Marge Piercy, David Ray, Diane di Prima and Allen Ginsberg.

The Center also compiles the New Jersey Poetry Calendar, a monthly calendar that lists readings taking place in New Jersey.

Readings at the Poetry Center at PCCC

Stanley Kunitz with Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Executive Director of the Poetry Center.

August 16, 2009

Dodge Poetry Festival 2010

I have been blogging about the Dodge Poetry Festival since the start of this blog and have attended the festivals since 1988. Today in the, comes word that the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festival, which was "canceled" earlier this year, will probably be back in a new form and location.

The Dodge Foundation announced in May it was seeking prospective partner cities and 8 New Jersey towns, cities and organizations responded. This summer they narrowed the list to Montclair, Newark and Trenton.

The biannual Festival started 1986 and by the 2008 festival had grown to 19,000 attendees for the 4 September days at Waterloo Village in Byram Township.

David Grant, president and CEO who is stepping down in June, and Martin Farawell, the foundation’s poetry director, are planning to present the Dodge board of directors with a final proposal early in September and announce the new location by the end of the month.

August 9, 2009

New Jersey Writers Exchange Contest

Poets & Writers is now welcoming submissions for the 2010 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. Initiated in 1984, the Writers Exchange Contest was created to introduce emerging poets and fiction writers to literary communities outside of their home state, and provide them with a network for professional advancement. To date, 78 writers from 31 states have participated.

One poet and one fiction writer from New Jersey will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City, where they will meet with agents, editors, and prominent writers, and give a public reading of their work. The winners will be selected by Sophie Cabot Black (poetry) and Nahid Rachlin (fiction).

The contest is open to poets and fiction writers who:
  • Have never published a book, or
  • Have published no more than one full-length book in the genre in which they are applying, and
  • Have resided in New Jersey for at least two consecutive years prior to the date they submit their manuscripts.
An application must accompany all manuscripts and be postmarked no later than December 1, 2009.

For complete guidelines and an application, please visit:

August 3, 2009

How To Read Edward Hirsch and Fall in Love with Poetry

Edward Hirsch wrote the model poem for our August writing prompt, and he wrote the prose bestseller How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry.

Might one fall in love with poetry by reading Hirsch? Why not. It only takes one poem to turn someone on to poetry or a particular poet.

I chose his poem "I'm Going to Start Living Like a Mystic" (from Lay Back the Darkness), for our August prompt. More on that in a bit...

I have heard him read a number of times. I have also heard him talk about poetry at the Dodge Poetry Festivals and once in a workshop setting. He certainly is in love with poetry's physical and emotional powers. 

I got to speak to him during a coffee break at that workshop back in 2000 and told him that I had shown his poem "Execution" to my son. The poem is about Hirsch seeing his high school football coach, who had cancer, for the last time. The coach was someone who "believed in football like a new religion / And had perfect unquestioning faith in the fundamentals."

Friends of mine know that I think that almost every poem is about poetry, and this one feels like that to me. I told him that one of my sons suffered from the same problem as a football player that Hirsch had described of himself in introducing us to the poem. He thinks too much. He said his coach pounded a locker room trash can and told him to stop thinking and just react. My son's coach told him the same thing. His baseball coach wrote on the inside of his cap's visor DON'T THINK, so that if his eyes went up he would be reminded. But it's a tough thing to do - to not think about it - for some people.

"Execution" closes with a memory of a game his senior year when:

When we met a downstate team who loved hitting
More than we did, who battered us all afternoon
With a vengeance, who destroyed us with timing
And power, with deadly, impersonal authority,
Machine-like fury, perfect execution.

Perhaps, I should have saved Hirsch for a sports prompt. In How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, one poem he works through is Emily Brontë's "Spellbound." He discovered that poem at age 8 when "baseball season was over for the year." For me, discovering a poem and then Poetry is the real point of that particular book.

Though it is not a book about writing poetry, but a book about reading it, if you follow my ars poetica generalization, it's all the same thing.

Take this opening from another poem he discusses - "The Joy of Writing" by Wislawa Szymborska

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.

Hirsch's own advice in reading the poems he selects in the book is:
Read these poems to yourself in the middle of the night. Turn on a single lamp and read them while you're alone in an otherwise dark room or while someone else sleeps next to you. Read them when you're wide awake in the early morning, fully alert. Say them over to yourself in a place where silence reigns and the din of the culture--the constant buzzing noise that surrounds us--has momentarily stopped. These poems have come from a great distance to find you. I think of Malebranche's maxim, "Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul." This maxim, beloved by Simone Weil and Paul Celan, quoted by Walter Benjamin in his magisterial essay on Kafka, can stand as a writer's credo. It also serves for readers.
Paul Celan wrote "A poem, as a manifestation of language and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the--not always greatly hopeful--belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense are under way: they are making toward something."  (Read Hirsch's own poem, "In Memoriam Paul Celan")

And now, our prompt...

Usually, it is the turning into the new year that makes us think about making resolutions. Eat healthier, exercise more, learn a musical instrument, stop smoking, get better about submitting poems...

It might be near the new year in Hirsch's poem "I'm Going to Start Living Like a Mystic," but it seems like it's just a walk in the park one evening that suddenly causes a person to resolve to change their life - and in no small way - to live like a mystic.

I think poets often can take a creative distance and use it to make the leap that allows trees to be prophets on a pilgrimage, shows pigeons to be students of winter and might send us to seek wisdom in a pond.

What does it take to change your life? Not always a big thing, not a tragedy or a revelation.

What does it take to change your mind about poetry or a poet? One poem? One line?

For this month, try writing a poem that starts off with a resolution to change your life and takes us through the inspiration and the process.

Video of Edward Hirsch reading "A Partial History of My Stupidity" and "The Widening Sky."

Hirsch also has published Poet's Choice which collects two years' worth of his weekly essay-letters on poems and poetry that originally appeared in the Washington Post Book World. 
The poem "Execution" is from The Night Parade.

August 1, 2009

Poems About Politics

I actually have avoided writing and reading poems about politics. They usually don't work for me. But, the past few years, I have become more of a news junkie and politics (and economics) have started to get under my skin more and more.

Here are two poems by Naomi Shihab Nye that do work for me. The first is "Letters My Prez Is Not Sending" (the Prez being Bush 2 then) which just hits you in the face. Let me amend that - it throws punches at you, but just stops before it makes contact. But you will flinch and wince anyway.

The second poem is "Ted Kooser Is My President" and it is lighter and easier to take but closer to my own apolitical approach to political poetry.

On the Dodge blog, Martin Farawell writes of Nye:

A poet could avoid the dilemma by taking the position that poetry shouldn’t be “political.” But Nye’s poems are attempts to stay connected to the world and to others. She refuses to abandon the attempt despite the violence and injustice she must therefore bear witness to. It is almost as if she discovers how we are connected through the act of bearing witness. Perhaps for Nye poetry itself is our humanity’s survival mechanism.

Nye has also said the courage she most admires is that of people who keep giving attention to the simple acts of everyday life—talking over coffee, getting kids ready for school, sweeping the front porch stoop—while there is chaos and danger all around them.

You can find “Letters My Prez Is Not Sending” and “Ted Kooser Is My President” in her newsest collection, Honeybee.