April 25, 2010

The Last Thursday Poetry Readings

Celebrate National Poetry Month 
Last Thursday Poetry Reading series
Middletown Township Public Library
55 New Monmouth Road - Middletown, NJ 07748
This Thursday April 29, 2010
07:00PM - 09:00PM

I will be reading this week as one of the poets who were the winners of the 2009 Last Thursday Poetry Contest, along with Diane Lockward, Jessica De Koninck, and Nancy Scott. The poets will read their prize-winning poems and other selections. The readings will be followed by an open mic.

I realize that most of the online readers of  this blog are far from the middle of New Jersey - but feel free to send good poetic vibrations that night to us.

Diane Lockward the Poet Laureate of West Caldwell NJ, is the author of the Quentin Howard Poetry Prize winning What Feeds Us , Eve’s Red Dress, and the chapbook Against Perfection.  Her new book,  Temptation by Water, is forthcoming this year. She has been published in anthologies, journals, and online, and was the recipient of a 2003 Poetry Fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts.  She conducts writing workshops, and works as a Poet-In-the-Schools for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Geraldine Dodge Foundation.  Her prize-winning poem is "Organic Fruit."

Jessica De Koninck
’s first collection Repairs, a series of poems about loss, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have been in anthologies and journals, including The Ledge, Bridges, the Paterson Literary Review, the Edison Literary Review and US 1 Worksheets and on-line in The Valparaiso Poetry Review and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A former Councilwoman and resident of Montclair, New Jersey, she is pursuing an MFA at Stonecoast, and is an attorney. Her prize-winning poem is the title poem from her collection,  

Ken Ronkowitz is the owner/editor of poetsonline.org, a monthly online poetry magazine and web site for poets. His own work has been published in magazines including English Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Roadmap, Prague and the anthology, The Paradelle. He is currently an adjunct professor and the Director of Writing at Passaic County Community College, and an adjunct professor at NJIT. His prize-winning poem is “’57 Chevy.” 


Nancy Scott is  the current Managing Editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in New Jersey. This critique group has met weekly for more than 35 years. In 2001, she was awarded a residency at Ragdale. Her poems have won many awards, and have been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize. Slant dedicated its 2007 volume to her. Her chapcook,  Siege of Raptors, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2010. Read Nancy Scott's "Mama's Closet."

Middletown Township Public Library, 55 New Monmouth Road, Middletown, NJ 07748

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April 21, 2010

Festival Poets Announced for 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

The line-up of Festival Poets (to date) for the 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, has been announced.

The list includes many nationally and internationally acclaimed poets, four US Poets Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners and MacArthur Fellows.

To date, the poets listed below have agreed to participate in the 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. 

Amiri Baraka
Michael Dickman Dunya Mikhail
Hadara Bar-Nadav Rita Dove Joseph Millar
Marjorie Barnes Martín Espada Malena Mörling
Tara Betts Santee Frazier Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Jericho Brown Rigoberto González Sharon Olds
Teresa Carson Kathy Graber Marie Ponsot
Michael Cirelli Penny Harter Claudia Rankine
Billy Collins Bob Hicok Kay Ryan
Kyle Dargan Tyehimba Jess Margo Taft Stever
Kwame Dawes Galway Kinnell Mark Strand
Oliver de la Paz Dorianne Laux Jerry Williams
Matthew Dickman Laura McCullough check updated list

Tickets for the Festival, which is October 7 – 10 in Newark, New Jersey, will go on sale through the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) box office on Friday, April 23rd at 10 am.

The full press release has brief bios of the Festival Poets, ticket options and prices, and accessibility of the venues for patrons with mobility, visual and hearing impairments.

The Festival website, which we will be updated regularly between now and October, is the place for all Festival details.

You an also follow the Dodge blog for more on the poets and get updates via their Twitter and  Facebook page.

April 17, 2010

More April Poetry Prompts

Another virtual poetry friend (well, we have actually met in person), Chloe Yelena Miller, is also offering daily prompts for National Poetry Month on one of her blogs.

Chloe is all over the Net and also offers writing workshops. She's a longtime online instructor. I met her here in NJ at a conference when she was presenting about her teaching for FDU.

I think I would like to be in one of her face-to-face workshops because I suspect that there would be good Italian food! (See her food blog)

I tucked her prompt on Monday into my pocket and tried it later in the week while having a very quiet lunch in a museum gallery.

The result (which is also posted as a comment on her post) is reproduced here.


Sipping green tea
eating rice from a green bowl,
here in the gallery
between stautues of two bodhisattva -
enlightened ones
who postponed Buddhahood
to help others find the way.

Wen Shu, Tang dynasty, 618-960
bodhisattva of wisdom
guardian of Buddha doctrine
holding a book and sword
I whisper his mantra
om a ra pa ca na dhih
to help me write these lines

Guanyin, Jin dynasty, 1115-1234
bodhisattva of compassion
Here, a robed woman,
holding a water jar containing pure water,
in the other hand a willow branch.
Protector of women and children.
I lift my rice bowl to you.
Here, where others are not,
I too am observing the cries of the world.

Prompts should trigger your writing, but I don't always expect a finished poem to be the result. This poem came quickly from the things around me, was crossed out and revised in my little notebook while I had my lunch, and then found a shape on the computer. Is it finished? I'm not sure. I'm rarely sure about that. That's fine. It's the putting of the thoughts into words that really matters.

Try one of her prompts. Post your response as a comment there - or here - or in two versions both places. Jump into the water.

April 16, 2010

Poetry at the Movies: Groundhog Day

I wrote something on another blog about the Zen of the film Groundhog Day. (Don't laugh. It's there.) If you haven't seen the film, you should. (Though I have said that to several people who really disliked it - "It just keeps repeating!")

It is the story of A cynical TV weatherman who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again when he goes on location to the small town of Punxsutawney to film a report about their annual Groundhog Day. His predicament drives him to distraction until he sees a way of exploiting the situation. While researching that earlier post, I realized that it's a film with several poems in it too.

First, Andie MacDowell's character Rita quotes a poem in the café - "unwept, unhonoured, and unsung" - which are lines from Sir Walter Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," Canto vi, Stanza 1, which begins with the famous line, "Breathes there a man with soul so dead...”

Bill Murray's character Phil quotes Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Work Without Hope."
"All Nature seems at work; slugs leave their lair,
The bees are stirring; birds are on the wing,
And winter, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of spring;
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing."
The French poem that Phil recites in the German restaurant was written by the film's co-writer Danny Rubin, based on Jacques Brel's "Bachelor's Dance" lyrics".

Translated into English the poem reads:
The girl I will love
is like a fine wine
that gets a little better
every morning. 

April 14, 2010

Robert Hass Recommends

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Goodreads asked Robert Hass to pick some poetry books. Hass is a self-described "omnivore as a reader of poetry." He recommends books by "voices I really do return to and wouldn't want to live without."

Robert Hass was the U.S. Poet Laureate (1995-1997) was awarded the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Time and Materials, a collection of poetry that ranges in subject from the Iraq War to the natural landscape of Hass's native California. His new collection, The Apple Trees at Olema, experiments with elegy and narrative.

Here are his recommendations.

The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (Modern Library Classics)
The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (Modern Library). "Donne—the tone of his voice in the love poems—was one of the first voices in poetry that felt entirely alive to me and burned its way into my head. For depth, richness, intensity, human complexity, the subtlety of thought, wit, surprise, he is inexhaustible."

 The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford Paperbacks)
The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford Paperback). "Hopkins may be the most purely gorgeous poet in the language. It's a small body of work, and he really has only three tones: excited happiness, and tenderness, and despair. But I never take his poems from the shelf without being wakened up by them."

Song of Myself: And Other Poems by Walt Whitman   
"I just edited a selection of the poems Song of Myself and Other Poems by Walt Whitman published by Counterpoint Press. But any edition of Leaves of Grass will do. I go to Whitman for life and invention in language and the depth of his feeling for the sheer abundance and variety of life. He got more of his world into his poems, I think, than any poet since Shakespeare."

The Life of Emily Dickinson  The Emily Dickinson Handbook
"Readers have to choose between The Complete Poems, edited by Thomas Johnson—that's the book I grew up on—and The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited recently by R.W. Franklin, who took a fresh look at Emily Dickinson's manuscripts and made some revisions in the order of the poems and in the poems themselves. There is also a lovely Shambala Dickinson designed for the pocket and edited by my wife, Brenda Hillman, which is perfect for carrying around. For depth, for wit, for purity and strangeness of imagination, for the soul's dark hours, for its daily brightnesses, Dickinson has very few peers. I've been a little slow to see just how amazing she is. Reading her, thinking you know all the best poems, you keep finding new and surprising things."

The Collected Poems of George Oppen (New Directions Book)
George Oppen's  The New Collected Poems (New Directions). "I could have made four or five lists of 20th century poets—five French poets, five Polish poets, five American modernists, five Latin American poets, etc. But one poet—with the criteria that (1) I wouldn't want to live without a volume of the poems at hand, and (2) that I take that book down from the shelf often to remind myself of a scent that matters to me in poetry. Oppen published one small book in the early '30s, set writing aside to do political work, served in the infantry in France in the Second World War, came back, and after 25 years, took up the work of poetry again. His idiom is spare, he means to say what he knows, as simply as possible, and the simpler the poems the more mysterious they are. For clear water, a scrupulousness of mind, I turn to Oppen."

April 13, 2010

National Arts Advocacy Day

Today, April 13, is National Arts Advocacy Day.

The 23rd annual Arts Advocacy Day is the only national event that brings together a broad cross-section of America’s cultural and civic organizations, along with hundreds of grassroots advocates from across the country, to underscore the importance of developing strong public policies and appropriating increased public funding for the arts.

It is a day when more than 500 arts advocates will take to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to talk to their government officials about the power the arts and the need for arts education and arts funding.

As Social Media is taking more notice from decision makers, it makes sense for us to put it to good use. Please take the time to create a tweet (or 20) featuring the hashtag #arts on your Twitter accounts and ask your friends to join in.

If we get enough tweets with #arts we’ll push “arts” into Twitter trending topics for the day.

Supporting Organizations on Twitter

More information can be found at: http://www.tweetartsday.org

April 11, 2010

Cherry Blossom Mind

Most people don't think of Northern New Jersey as cherry blossom country. Washington D.C. is the one that gets all the attention this time of year. But Essex County was actually the first county park system created in the United States and it has some impressive landscapes that were designed by the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Essex County's  Branch Brook Park was conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted (the most famous parks designer of his time - Central Park in NYC is his) and Calvert Vaux in 1867, designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm between 1898 and 1938, and saw its first cherry tree planted in 1927. The park is listed on both the National and New Jersey State Registers of Historic Places.

I grew up a few miles from the park and worked near the park for some time, so I have seen the cherry blossoms many times and they continue to be inspiring.

Between our two lives
there is also the life of
the cherry blossom

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

Kannon's tiled temple
roof floats far away in clouds
of cherry blossoms


Cherry blossoms - and other spring blossoms like plum and peach - are very much a part of poetry, especially haiku. Appearing on seemingly dead branches, they are often symbolic of spring. I some poetry, they are the almost unnoticed flowering of enlightenment or Buddha-mind.

They are what follows the winter that is more associated with meditation, spiritual practice and isolation.

In the cherry blossom's shade
there's no such thing
as a stranger.


In the shade of enlightenment, separation from those people and things around you is gone.

Western poetry also uses the cherry blossom.

Loveliest of Trees

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

A. E. Housman

Narrow Road to the Interior: And Other Writings by Basho
Basho: The Complete Haiku

A Shropshire Lad and Other Poems: The Collected Poems of A. E. Housman

Sunday, April 18 will be Bloomfest at the very pink Branch Brook Park with Japanese cultural demonstrations, children's activities, live music, a crafter's marketplace, food, and more - all free, 11am to 5pm. Most activities take place around the Essex County Cherry Blossom Welcome Center.   http://essexnjblooms.org/CherryBlossoms.aspx