June 30, 2010

Maybe a Madrigal


Our June prompt used a poem by Vera Pavlova that was in a "form" that I couldn't identify. It's a poem in one stanza with the same opening and closing word/rhyme and three couplets between them (abbccbba).

A commenter (Marie) said that
The name of the form is madrigal or madrigale; at least the form fits under that umbrella. Seems it dates back to the fourteenth century and is sometimes used for poetry that can be set to music.  
I've heard of the form and associate it with songs. So, I did some checking and found that it's a bit unclear exactly about the form of a poetic madrigal.

The madrigal (Italian: madrigale) is the name of a form of poetry, the exact nature of which has never been decided in English. The definition given in the New English Dictionary, "a short lyrical poem of amatory character," offers no distinctive formula; some madrigals are long, and many have nothing whatever to do with love. The most important English collection of madrigals, not set to music, was published by William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585–1649) in his Poems of 1616.

Another site says that it is a "poetical form of the 16th-century Italian madrigal was a brief poem, the lines of which could be long or short. Its overall rhyme scheme and number of lines were unrestricted by rule."

Any other thoughts on the Pavlova form?


June 24, 2010

High School Poetry Workshops in NYC - Last Call

Every year, since the 1970s, the Academy of American Poets has held a summer creative writing workshop for high school students in New York City.

Students attend six seminars on the subject of poetry; produce and critique original work in a classroom of their peers; and give a public reading of the work produced in the workshop.

Academy interns who are currently enrolled in Columbia University's School of the Arts Graduate Creative Writing Program teach the workshops.

The deadline to apply is June 25th. 


Enrolled New York City high school students, or 2009 New York City high school graduates.

$100 for the entire seminar. Need-based aid is available upon request: download the financial aid form.

To apply for the workshop, please download the application form in .pdf format. Completed applications can be submitted by mail or fax:

High School Poetry Workshop
Academy of American Poets
584 Broadway, Suite 604
New York, NY 10012

Attn: Julia Guez
Subject: Poetry Workshop

Books from the Academy of American Poets

June 22, 2010

Students, go now into summer

For all of you who toil in the classrooms and are wrapping up another year - here's a poem to send you (and maybe your students) out into summer.

First Year Teacher to His Students

Go now into summer, into the backs of cars,
into the black maws of your own changing,
onto the boardwalks of a thousand splinters,
onto the beaches of a hundred fond memories
in wait, where the sea in all its indefatigability
stammers at the invitation. Go to your vacation,

to the late morning cool of your basement rooms,
the honeysuckle evening of the first kiss, the first
dip and pivot, swivel and twist. Go to where
the clipper ships sail far upriver, where the salmon
swim in the clean, cool pools just to spawn.
Wake to what the spider unspools into a silver

dawn dripping with light. Sleep in sleeping bags,
sleep in sand, sleep at someone else's house
in a land you've never been, where the dreamers
dream in a language you only half understand.
Slip beneath the sheets, slide toward the plate,
swing beneath the bandstand where the secret

things await. Be glad, or be sad if you want,
but be, and be a part of all that marches past
like a parade, and wade through it or swim in it
or dive in it with your eyes open and your mind
open to wind, rain, long days of sun and longer
nights of city lights mixing on wet streets like paint.

Stay up so late that you forget day-of-the-week,
week-of-the-month, month-of-the-year of what
might be the best summer, the summer
best remembered by the scar, or by the taste
you'll never now forget of someone's lips,
and the trips you took—there, there, there,

where snow still slept atop some alpine peak,
or where the moon rose so low you could see
its tranquil seas...and all your life it'll be like
some familiar body that stayed with you one night,
one summer, one year, when you were young,
and how everywhere you walked, it followed.

"First Year Teacher to His Students" is by Gary J. Whitehead, from his book Measuring Cubits While the Thunder Claps.

June 16, 2010

Vera Pavlova

Vera Pavlova was born in 1963, in Moscow. She graduated from the Schnittke College of Music and the Gnessin Academy, where she specialized in history of music. She began writing poetry at the age of twenty, after the birth of her first daughter, and published her poems at the age of 24.

Her first collection, “Nebesnoye Zhivotnoye” (“The Heavenly Animal”), was published in 1997. Her fourth collection, “Chetvertyi Son” (“The Fourth Dream”), was acclaimed by the Russian Academy of Letters as the best book of the year and awarded the Apollon Grigoriev prize, the most prestigious of its kind in Russia.

Pavlova has published fourteen collections of poetry in Russian. If There is Something to Desire: One Hundred Poems is her first full collection published in English.

The collection contains 100 poems, most less than ten lines.

Of course, with translations, we never know if the original form has been retained. Her poems are generally untitled or numbered. The model I used for this month's writing prompt is the title poem from that collection.

If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.
There is certainly a form in her 8 lines, though I don't know if there is a name for it. The A, B, B, C, C, B, B, A  repetition is there.

I thought we might try her form, but then I decided it might be too limiting. So, here's this month's variation for the prompt:

The subject is wide open for this abbreviated month's prompt, but write an 8 line poem that has your own created form. You might experiment with rhyme scheme, line breaks, repetition, syllables.

Deadline for submissions is July 5.

Here are two other poems from her newest collection:


Why is the word yes so brief?
It should be
the longest,
the hardest,
so that you could not decide in an instant to say it,
so that upon reflection you could stop
in the middle of saying it


I think it will be winter when he comes.
From the unbearable whiteness of the road
a dot will emerge, so black that eyes will blur,
and it will be approaching for a long, long time,
making his absence commensurate with his coming,
and for a long, long time it will remain a dot.
A speck of dust? A burning in the eye? And snow,
there will be nothing else but snow,
and for a long, long while there will be nothing,
and he will pull away the snowy curtain,
he will acquire size and three dimensions,
he will keep coming closer, closer ...
This is the limit, he cannot get closer. But he keeps approaching,
now too vast to measure ...

If There is Something to Desire: One Hundred Poems

This earlier poem reminds me of some of the short poems of Stephen Crane -

And God saw
it was good
And Adam saw
it was excellent
And Eve saw
it was passable

And this will certainly remind readers of haiku -

Basked in the sun,
listened to birds,
licked off raindrops,
and only in flight
the leaf saw the tree
and grasped
what it had been.

Pavlova's poems were translated into English from Russian by her husband, Steven Seymour. When she was asked in an interview how she felt translation influenced her poems - what is lost, what is gained - she replied:

My meager English does not allow me to judge the subtle points of translations. As for my works in Russian, I am afraid they are becoming increasingly untranslatable, as I try to give more attention to form, an attempt to convey meanings not so much through words but through rhythm, melody, sound, and all of that is untranslatable, to my regret. A poem is a trinity of sorts: image, thought, and music, and the latter has the least chance of surviving translation.

Her website is http://verapavlova.us

If There is Something to Desire: One Hundred Poems