November 22, 2009

Sacred Places With Stephen Dunn

I chose this month's poem for our prompt from a collection of Stephen Dunn's poetry because I like what he is doing with that word sacred.

If you look up "sacred" in the dictionary, the etymology is Middle English, from sacren, meaning to consecrate, from Anglo-French sacrer, and ultimately from Latin sancire, to make sacred. Definitions will include: dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity; worthy of religious veneration; holy and entitled to reverence and respect.

But that's not what is happening in the classroom of Dunn's poem "The Sacred."

I also like that the poem is set in a classroom where I have spent so many years, and inside a lesson that I probably have taught.

The teacher asks a serious and probably too personal a question. Does he expect an honest answer?  Maybe. Maybe not. But he gets ones from the most serious student.

At first, you might think his sacred place - his car - is a joke answer, but he defends his choice well. So well, that the other students feel safe enough to talk about their own sacred places.

Do you have a sacred place or did you have one as a child?

That is the November 2009 prompt for Poets Online.

Laughing At Poetry

Take a listen to these three poems read by Billy Collins at a Dodge Poetry Festival.

Collins is much loved, and equally criticized, because his poems are accessible - even enjoyable.

These three are not so typical of that.

I particularly like the idea behind "The First Night" which was inspired by this line by Juan Ramón Jiménez:  "The worst thing about death must be the first night."

I can sense the audience wondering if Collins means to be funny with some lines.

I used a few of his poems in a class last week. Students read "The Lanyard" silently first. I heard no laughter. Then I read it - pretty seriously - aloud. I didn't notice any chuckles from the crowd. Then I played an audio file of him reading it with an audience who laughed throughout the poem. The class wasn't rolling in the aisles, but they did laugh, smile and do that little exhalation of breath that shows they "got it."

Did they need permission to laugh? Was the laughter contagious? (Watch a comedy in a full theater and alone in your house for comparison.) Don't they know that poems can be funny?

Next we listened to him read "The Revenant" - a poem in the voice of a dog who was put to sleep to its owner. The laughs came much easier.

I asked them if they thought this poem was like most other poems - "You know, if the poet says it's a dog, it's probably not a dog. What would this poem be saying if he's talking about people?" 

A nice discussion followed. One student said it was similar to what happens in class: "You don't really know us. We don't really know you. We behave the way we are supposed to behave in class, not the way we really want to behave."

"We are all good dogs," I said.

"You got it," he replied.

November 11, 2009

Want To Buy A Pushcart Prize Nomination?

I came across a blog post at that details how No Colony ("a collaborative perfect-bound print fiction journal from the editors of NO POSIT & LAMINATION COLONY.") says it will give automatic publication in the magazine and a Pushcart nomination to whomever pays a $650 fee to them. PayPal link included on their site.

It makes you wonder about the nomination process for a Pushcart Prize if this can actually occur.

Which part is legitimate? Internet scam? Poetry scam? All of the above?

November 10, 2009

Do women write "female" poetry?

I didn't ask the question. It was posted by Jo Shapcott today on

A related question has been knocking around in my head for the past few weeks: "Do women genuinely write different poems from men and, if so, what could be said to characterise the 'female' poem?" The occasion which prompted the question happened yesterday, when the Aldeburgh poetry festival and the Poetry Society combined to host an event called The Female Poem, which I chaired, and which boasted a distinguished panel of writers: Maureen Duffy, Annie Freud and Pascal Petit. It was so popular that it sold out in minutes and had to be moved to a larger hall, which suggests the subject is urgent – and not just to women; our audience was mixed.

What's your answer to that question?