September 29, 2010

The I Ching Poetry Engine

I am always a bit suspicious of electronic poetry and software that "generates" poems. Still, I am pretty tech-oriented and have dabbled in that area myself.

Poets Online posted its own poetry first line generator years ago at
and a second version at

We used them as a prompt, so that a user might generate a line or two to get started.

There's an I'Ching Poetry Engine web site that gives you 64 uniquely generated states. If you're not familiar with the ancient I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, it is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts.

It is a divination system for foretelling the future, somewhat comparable to Western geomancy. It is still used for that purpose in both Western cultures and modern East Asia in the same way that someone might use tarot cards.

The site's tech explanation is complex, but the best way to understand it is to just go to the site and play.

The site will gnerate "poems" of five lines each and approximately 30 words. Some poems enter a looping phase, creating much longer narratives.

After each poem generates and displays all of its words, the I'Ching interface returns, and the observer begins supplying the seeds for the next poem.

You can test drive it at also see excerpts of generated poems

    Thanks to Steve for sending us the site.

    September 22, 2010

    Poetry Writing Weekend Intensive in NJ

    a poetry weekend intensive
    at an English manor house
    in Mendham, New Jersey

    Join poets Laura Boss and Maria Mazzioti Gillan on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,
    December 10, 11, and 12 at the St. Marguerite's Retreat House in Mendham, NJ for a poetry retreat that gives writers the space and time to focus totally on their own work in a serene and beautiful setting away from the pressures and distractions of daily life.

    This writing intensive is open to all writers over the age of 18.

    Saint Marguerite’s Retreat House is situated on 93 acres of wooded land with pathways that lend themselves to the serene contemplation of nature and nurturing of your creative spirit. The Retreat House is located at the convent of Saint John the Baptist, 82 West Main Street, Mendham, NJ.

    Participants arrive before 6 PM on Friday evening, have dinner, settle into their rooms, and begin to retreat from the distractions of the world.

    That evening, participants will be lead into creating new work. After each workshop, each participant will have the opportunity to read their work in the group.

    After Saturday breakfast, participants will move into two groups for morning workshops, followed by free time for socializing and exploring the grounds.

    After lunch, writing workshops will take place, followed by time to write. Each participant will have a chance to sign up in advance with Maria or Laura for one-on-one help with revision.

    After dinner on Saturday evening, participants will be invited to read their poems to the groups, and the faculty will lead another workshop session on how to get published.

    After Sunday breakfast, a final writing workshop and concluding reading by participants will serve as the “closing ceremony” to this inspiring and productive weekend. Lunch will provide a final opportunity for socializing.

    The leaders envision this weekend as a retreat from the noise and bustle of daily life. They see this retreat as a spiritual and creative break from our usual lives. The setting certainly allows us to take some time to look at life in a new light, to listen for our own voices, and to create in stillness, in quiet, and in community. These are times of contemplation and welcoming the muse.

    The workshops will concentrate on "writing your way home" and the way writing can save us, save our stories and our lives.

    Participants should bring papers, pens, and the willingness to take risks. Please also bring previously-written work for one-on-one sessions and for the readings

    NJ teachers may receive 15 professional development credits for attending.

    The fee of $375 includes room, meals, and all workshops. (Deposit by November 1 of $225 with the balance due by December 1 for $150)
    Early Bird Discount: Deduct $25 if paid in full by November 7, 2010
    Full refund will be given prior to December 1, 2010.
    Late registration will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Enrollment is limited. There are people already signed up for this workshop, so if you are interested, please sign up as early as possible.

    To register and for additional information contact Maria Mazziotti Gillan or call (973) 684-6555.

    September 16, 2010

    Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival October 7-10

    The 4-day Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival is now just 3 weeks away. Marking its 24th year, this largest poetry event in North America will be held in New Jersey's largest city - Newark.

    The hope is to create a “poetry village” in the heart of the city’s arts district around the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. They will be using not only NJPAC's state-of-the-art concert halls, but also intimate cabaret rooms and prime meeting spaces within nearby cultural institutions, museums, galleries and churches to ensure a rich, varied experience for all festival-goers.

    Amiri Baraka
    Billy Collins

    A Poetry Sampler reading on Thursday evening, October 7th, launches the Festival.

    Events will be held in venues accommodating anywhere from 100 to over 2,700. The evening programs, long the centerpiece of the Festival, will be held in NJPAC’s Prudential Hall: a world-class performance space for a world-class poetry event. As in the past, interludes of music and storytelling will underscore the spirit of community.

    The relocation also makes the Festival more accessible than ever before. As one of the largest mass-transit hubs, Newark is home to an international airport, major bus lines, a light-rail system and PATH service from Manhattan. This will enable more visitors to leave their cars behind and further the Dodge Foundation’s ongoing commitment to creativity and sustainability as we plan toward a “greener” Festival.

    The full Festival schedule is now posted online as a printable pdf document, so you can plan when and where Festival Poets will be reading, as well as what topics they will weigh in on, and who will be performing alongside them.

    Rita Dove

    Sharon Olds

    September 13, 2010

    Labor, Work and Jobs

    September seems to launch in America with the Labor Day weekend. I have written elsewhere about the Labor of Labor Day that seems to be lost. But there's no question that every poet has a few stories about their own job history.

    Philip Levine received the National Book Award in 1991 for his volume of poems titled What Work Is. Levine has long been associated with blue-collar workers in factories and especially on the assembly lines of his hometown Detroit.

    At 14, he worked in a factory during World War II when older men were away at war and teenagers were hired to produce materials for the military.

    “Growth” from that book begins:
    “In the soap factory where I worked
    when I was fourteen, I spoke to
    no one and only one man spoke
    to me and then to command me
    to wheel the little cars of damp chips
    into the ovens.”
    Levine collected some poems online under the heading "Overhand the Hammers Swing: Poems of Work." It is a collection of images of work from American poets.

    "When I say work I mean the sort of brute physical work that most of us try to avoid, but that those without particular gifts or training were often forced to adopt to make a living in a society as tough and competitive as ours," says Levine. "This may in fact be a species of work that is disappearing from America as more and more automation replaces the need for human hands, that is manual labor."

    He quotes Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself":

    Blacksmiths with grimed and hairy chests environ the anvil,
    Each has his main-sledge, they are all out, there is great heat in the fire.
    From the conder-strew'd threshold I follow their movements,
    The lithe sheer of their waists plays even with their massive arms,
    Overhand the hammers swing, overhand so slow, overhand so sure,
    They do not hasten, each man hits in his place.

    He also quotes another pair of workers - a father and son from "Song for My Father" by Yusef Komunyakaa

    We stood on a wooden platform
    Facing each other with sledgehammers,
    A copper-tipped sieve sunken into the ground
    Like a spear, as we threaded on five foot
    Of galvanized pipe for the pump.
    As if tuned to some internal drum,
    We hammered the block of oak
    Placed on top for the pipe.
    It began inching downward
    As we traded blows - one for you,
    One for me. After a half hour
    We threaded on another five feet. The sweat
    Gleamed on our shirtless bodies, father
    & son tied to each other until we hit water.
    He also references one of my favorite poems of work - "Hay for the Horses" by Gary Snyder.

    Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds -
    "I'm sixty-eight" he said,
    "I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
    I thought, that day I started,
    I sure would hate to do this all my life.
    And dammit, that's just what
    I've gone and done."

    Philip Levine
    Drawing by N.C. Mallory and posted here via Creative Commons
    The poem I'll use for this month's prompt on jobs is Phillip Levine's own "What Work Is." I highly recommend that you listen to Levine introduce and read the poem as you read along.


    We stand in the rain in a long line
    waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
    You know what work is—if you’re
    old enough to read this you know what
    work is, although you may not do it.
    Forget you. This is about waiting,
    shifting from one foot to another.
    Feeling the light rain falling like mist
    into your hair, blurring your vision
    until you think you see your own brother
    ahead of you, maybe ten places.
    You rub your glasses with your fingers,
    and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
    narrower across the shoulders than
    yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
    that does not hide the stubbornness,
    the sad refusal to give in to
    rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
    to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
    a man is waiting who will say, “No,
    we’re not hiring today,” for any
    reason he wants. You love your brother,
    now suddenly you can hardly stand
    the love flooding you for your brother,
    who’s not beside you or behind or
    ahead because he’s home trying to
    sleep off a miserable night shift
    at Cadillac so he can get up
    before noon to study his German.
    Works eight hours a night so he can sing
    Wagner, the opera you hate most,
    the worst music ever invented.
    How long has it been since you told him
    you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
    opened your eyes wide and said those words,
    and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
    done something so simple, so obvious,
    not because you’re too young or too dumb,
    not because you’re jealous or even mean
    or incapable of crying in
    the presence of another man, no,
    just because you don’t know what work is.

    For this month's writing prompt, write a poem about a job that you have had that involved that real work that Levine describes.

    Are you new to Poets Online? Check our submissions guidelines.

    Additional readings on work suggested by Levine

    September 12, 2010

    When the Towers Fell by Galway Kinnell

    Towers in Light: David Z - Pixabay

    Galway Kinnell's poem "When the Towers Fell" was first published in The New Yorker, 2002. It is one of the few poems I can return to about that day.

    It contains quotations from “The Testament,” by Fran├žois Villon; “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,” by Hart Crane; “Death Fugue,” by Paul Celan; “Songs of a Wanderer,” by Aleksander Wat; “City of Ships” and “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” by Walt Whitman.

    The poem begins:

    From our high window we saw the towers
    with their bands and blocks of light
    brighten against a fading sunset,
    saw them at any hour glitter and live
    as if the spirits inside them sat up all night
    calculating profit and loss, saw them reach up
    to steep their tops in the until then invisible
    yellow of sunrise, grew so used to them
    often we didn’t see them, and now,
    not seeing them, we see them.

    The banker is talking to London.
    Humberto is delivering breakfast sandwiches.
    The trader is already working the phone.
    The mail sorter has started sorting the mail...

    Read the full poem online at