September 28, 2009

Heather McHugh Receives MacArthur Fellowship

Poet Heather McHugh has received a MacArthur fellowship (the "genius grant" comes with a $500,000 honorarium).

Having taught for 33 years, McHugh says she that "to learn to teach has been to learn to pay attention to the work of others" and that she wil use the award to pay attention to her own work more closely.

Her new book of poems, Upgraded to Serious, will be available in early October.

The book has been described as "fast-paced, verbally dexterous, sarcastic and brilliantly humorous." The book uses medical terminology and iconography to work through loss and detachment. The book's title is a references being “upgraded to serious” from critical condition in the context of the healing powers of poetry.

Take as examples the opening stanzas of three of the book's poems:

Not to Be Dwelled On

Self-interest cropped up even there,
the day I hoisted three instead
of the ceremonially called-for two
spadefuls of loam
onto the coffin of my friend.

No Sex for Priests

The horse in harness suffers.
He's not feeling up to snuff.

The feeler's sensate but the cook
pronounces lobsters tough.


Surfaces to scrape or wipe,
a screwdriver to be applied
to slime-encrusted soles, and then

there are the spattered hallways, wadded bedding —
and, in quantities astounding (in the corners,
under furniture, behind the curtains)

Heather McHugh was born to Canadian parents in San Diego, California, in 1948. She was raised in Virginia and educated at Harvard University. From 1999 to 2006 she served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets, and in 2000 was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For over 20 years, she has served as a visiting faculty member in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and since 1984 as Milliman Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington in Seattle.

more on McHugh's award

poems by McHugh

September 24, 2009

This Weekend: Warren County Poetry Festival


This weekend (Saturday, September 26) is the free one-day 6th Biennial Warren County Poetry Festival.

The updated schedule is:

11 AM - 12 PM
Poetry Readings
Pam Bernard, Robert Carnevale, Martin Farawell, Madeline Tiger

12:00 Noon -1:00 PM
Lunch Break (box lunches will be available)
Book Signing

1:00 PM - 2:15 PM Panel Discussion with Poets
"The Lyric Utterance: Its Challenges, Its Possibilities"

2:30 PM - 3:30 PM Open Readings and Book Signing

3:45 PM - 5:00 PM Panel Discussion with Featured Poets
"Voice: Its Elements; Its Effects"

5:00 PM - 7:00 PM Dinner Break

7:15 - 8 PM Poetry Sampler
Pam Bernard, Robert Carnevale, Martin Farawell, Madeline Tiger

8:00 PM Reading by D. Nurkse

8:30 PM Reading by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

9 PM Reading by Tim Seibles

9:30 - 10 PM Book Signing

For biographical information and sample poems on the poets and directions to the festival (at Blair Academy, in Blairstown, NJ) go to

September 22, 2009

Housewarming Party for Poets House - New York City

A Housewarming Party for Poets House Part 2

Saturday, September 26, 11:00am–5:00pm
Poets House
Pavilion of Nelson A. Rockefeller Park
10 River Terrace
New York, NY

Invocation of the Muse: Poets & Musicians Toast the New Poets House

  • 11am: Kurt Lamkin performs for children and their adults.
  • 12pm: Open House! Take a stroll through our new home.
  • 3pm: Readings by Meena Alexander, Charles Bernstein, Regie Cabico, Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Cornelius Eady, Kathleen Fraser, Kimiko Hahn, Michael Heller, Marie Howe, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Marie Ponsot and Quincy Troupe , among others, and music by Natalie Merchant.

This event takes place at the Pavilion of Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, Poets House's new "front lawn." Cosponsored by the Battery Park City Authority.
Contact: (212) 431-7920
Poets House is a national poetry library and literary center that invites poets and the public to step into the living tradition of poetry. Our poetry resources and literary events document the wealth and diversity of modern poetry, and stimulate public dialogue on issues of poetry in culture.

September 18, 2009

Will Keats Become A Bright Movie Star?

There is a new film, Bright Star, out this month that centers on the passionate, brief, love affair between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne before his death at age 25.

Directed by Jane Campion (her Oscar-winner is The Piano), the film is set in London 1818. The secret love affair begins between the 23 year-old English poet (played by Ben Whishaw) and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), who ia a student of high fashion. This unlikely pair begin at odds, he thinking her a stylish minx, while she was unimpressed not only by his poetry but also by literature in general.

When Fanny's mother and Keats' best friend discover the affair and feel it is dangerous to their futures. Helplessly absorbed in each other, Keats wrote to her in a letter "I have the feeling as if we're dissolving."

Keats wrote the poem "Bright Star" in 1819 and revised it in 1820, perhaps on his final voyage to Italy. Friends and his doctor had urged him to try a common treatment for tuberculosis, a trip to Italy; however, Keats was aware that he was dying.

Many critics feel that the English (AKA Shakespearean) sonnet was addressed to Fanny Brawne with evidence including one of Keats's love letters to Brawne which says "I will imagine you Venus tonight and pray, pray, pray to your star like a Heathen. Your's ever, fair Star."

Other poems by Keats were more obviously written to Fanny, such as "The day is gone..." and "I cry your mercy..." which are similar in form to "Bright Star."


Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art---
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors---
No---yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever---or else swoon in death.

By John Keats

The poem opens with the poet's desire to be as steadfast as a star. Of course, that an impossibility and he realizes by the end of the poem. Criticism on the poem talks about the "for ever" or "ever" emphasis, time and eternity.

What remains is the possibility of steadfastness in terms of human life and love and movement.

The desire for permanence, timelessness and the eternity of a star in a world bound by time and constantly in flux appears in other Keats poems.

The poet accepts the possibility of dying from pleasure. "Swoon" has sexual overtones. (An orgasm is often compared to a dying - the French term for orgasm is le petit morte, or the small death.)

Some of the Keats poems that are excerpted in the film include Endymion, "When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be," "The Eve of St. Agnes, section XXIII, [Out went the taper as she hurried in]," "Ode to a Nightingale," "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and the title poem, "Bright Star."

Campion credits Andrew Motion's Keats: A Biography as an inspiration for the film's approach to their love.

See a review of the film at the Academy of American Poets site.

September 7, 2009

Prompt: Lucifer at the Starlite

Kim Addonizio's fifth collection of poetry is Lucifer at the Starlite. It is a collection full of dualities - suffering and joy, good and evil, light and dark, personal and global. There are poems about the war in Iraq and the 2004 Asian tsunami, and ones that turn into the heart of the self.

The title poem, “Lucifer at the Starlite,” references this George Meredith poem 

Lucifer In Starlight

On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o'er Afric's sands careened,
Now the black planet shadowed Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

Meredith's title suggests that Lucifer is playing a gig at the Starlite. Here is Addonizio's modern take on it.

Lucifer at the Starlite
—after George Meredith

Here's my bright idea for life on earth:
better management. The CEO
has lost touch with the details. I'm worth
as much, but I care; I come down here, I show
my face, I'm a real regular. A toast:
To our boys and girls in the war, grinding
through sand, to everybody here, our host
who's mostly mist, like methane rising
from retreating ice shelves. Put me in command.
For every town, we'll have a marching band.
For each thoroughbred, a comfortable stable;
for each worker, a place beneath the table.
For every forward step a stumbling.
A shadow over every starlit thing.

When I first launched Poets Online back in 1998, one of my inspirations for the prompts was the Addonizio and Laux book, The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. Kim has since published a new book of inspiration called Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within. It is a book of exercises and starting points. It's not prompts or a how-to, but it would be good for a writing course or for someone looking for some inspiration as they write.

This month's prompt is straightforward. I took the table of contents from Ordinary Genius and made a few minor edits to it. Its four sections and 36 chapter titles are your starting place. Select any one of the 40 as your own poem's title and go to it. 

What inspires Kim Addonizio? This interview with her gives you some ideas.
What else inspires you?

Anything and everything. If "inspire" is the right word, a lot of poems lately have been inspired by the sorry state of the world and by ongoing romantic illusions and difficulties. Great writing always inspires me. Having a challenge inspires me -- could I do X in a poem? Could I write a novel entirely from one character's point of view, or write a historical novel? Could I write something for voice and blues harmonica that would work as a word/music piece? Trying to work out an idea, to take it from some place in my head and make it real in the world of forms.

Is there anything that helps you get to work and stay focused when you're feeling uninspired?

I either slog through, or I quit and come back later. Sometimes if you slog, you end up finding something interesting. Plus it makes you feel like you've gotten points somehow -- you stayed there when the work sucked or didn't go anywhere. And on the other hand, it's good to leave it alone sometimes and come back later. I know I'll come back. I know by now that the problem will shift. Right now I'm avoiding a novel that has some problems I don't feel I can solve, but I intend to go back and work on them; I have a lot more faith now than I used to, when I failed consistently. Fear of failure is the biggest thing that blocks creativity. It makes you give up too soon on a project, or on a writing life.

In your writing workshops, are there key lessons that you find yourself consistently emphasizing?

Oh, yeah. I'm always hammering on the same things. Sufficient clarity and context for a reader. Understanding your intent, on a holistic level, so you can reshape the poem accordingly -- that is, figuring out the core of the poem, making conscious to yourself the ideas and themes as far as possible. Keeping the writing fluid and trying out several strategies for revision, not just one.


September 1, 2009

Emergent Trends in Poetics - A Colloquium at Centenary College

Emergent Trends in Poetics - A Colloquium at Centenary College (NJ)
October 19-20, 2009

Mark Doty, winner of the National Book Award will read his poetry on Monday, October 19 at 8 pm and will be on campus on Tuesday, October 20 to participate in the Colloquium.

The event is free and open to the public.

We invite poets and scholars from the tri-state area to propose a panel or round table.

If you would like to participate as a presenter, please send a one-page proposal on a topic related to contemporary poetry by September 15. We welcome a variety of topics, including the following:
  • Poetry of place; regionalism and/or multi-cultural trends
  • Should poetry be Political?
  • Sources for contemporary poetry
  • Poetic forms: the prose poem; performance poetry
Provisional Schedule
Monday 8 pm -10 pm Reading by Mark Doty followed by reception and book signing
Tuesday: Colloquium with critical appraisals of contemporary poetry and workshops on writing and poetics
9:30 am - 11:30 am Panel(s) and Workshop(s)
11:30 am - 1:00 pm Round table on contemporary poetry with conference presenters and Mark Doty as respondent (everyone invited)
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm Lunch break
2:30 pm - 4:00 pm Panel(s) and Workshop(s)
4:30 pm - 5:30 pm Open discussion with Mark Doty
5:30 pm closing activity

For more information, contact Mary Newell at