November 28, 2011

Ars Poetica - Editing Your Memories

You know those poems known as ars poetica? Latin for "the art of poetry" or "on the nature of poetry," they are poems about poetry. There are examples of them by Aristotle and Horace and many poets have written ars poetica since.

Some are titled "Ars Poetica" but many more are just on the nature and art of poetry. My own personal theory is that almost every poem has some ars poetica in it.

Of the moderns, the best known is probably Archibald MacLeish's poem that ends with the couplet "A poem should not mean / But be".

One of the first known treatises on poetry, Horace's Ars Poetica (also referred to as Letters to Piso) is literally translated as "The Art of Poetry" or "On the Art of Poetry." It was composed around 15 B.C.E. and it outlines principles of poetry. His advice to poets is still valid - read widely, strive for precision, and seek honest criticism.

The modern ars poetica has shifted from didactic argument to a more introspective take on a poet's individual art.

We use "Ars Poetica" by MacLeish from his Collected Poems as our model for this month's prompt. In the poem, MacLeish says:
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
Rereading the lines "Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves / Memory by memory the mind—" this time, I connected with an article I clipped some time ago about scientists trying to erase/edit memories.
Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.

For all that scientists have studied it, the brain remains the most complex and mysterious human organ — and, now, the focus of billions of dollars’ worth of research to penetrate its secrets.

Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.

The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems. 
Editing and erasing memories - Isn't that what we all do every day? Perhaps not with total success. Of course, writers work at this and poets are the masters of editing.

In this excerpt from "Work" by Mary Oliver, the speaker is in the realm of ars poetica, but is also dealing with writing memory into poetry.  She is able to conjure her dog to her side by throwing a "handful of words...into the air." This is the world that we create in our poems and it exists beyond what we touch, see and hear.

All day I have been pining for the past.
That's when the big dog, Luke, breathed at my side.
Then she dashed away then she returned
in and out of the swales, in and out of the creeks,
her dark eyes snapping.
Then she broke, slowly,
in the rising arc of a fever.

And now she's nothing
except for mornings when I take a handful of words
and throw them into the air
so that she dashes up again out of the darkness,

like this--

this is the world.

For this prompt, try to write a poem about how you as a poet edit memories to create the world of the poem. It is an ars poetica on how we edit with a focus on the memory. It's more than just throwing a handful of words into the air, but when it works, it is that easy.

For some other takes on poets putting themselves and their relationship to the poem, and the act of writing, look at Sharon Old's "Take the I Out"; Heather McHugh's "What He Thought"; Billy Collins's "Workshop"; John Brehm's "The Poems I Have Not Written"; Mark Jarman's "Ground Swell"; Galway Kinnell's "The Bear" and James Galvin's "Art Class"

"Ars Poetica" Manuscript
Drafted March 14, 1925 by Archibald MacLeish

November 24, 2011

National Student Poets To Be Chosen

This past week, First Lady Michelle Obama helped launched a new arts program to pick five high school student poets who will spend one year promoting poetry through readings, workshops and other activities.

The National Student Poets program is created by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, of which the first lady is honorary chair, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services through a partnership with nonprofit group, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.

"What you learn through reading and writing poetry will stay with you throughout your life," Obama said in a statement. "It will spark your imagination and broaden your horizons and even help your performance in the classroom."

The five National Student Poets will be chosen from a pool of teenagers who have already received a national Scholastic Art & Writing Award for poetry. The selection panel will be comprised of poet Terrance Hayes, "Kenyon Review" editor David Lynn, Alice Quinn of the Poetry Society of America, and the Library of Congress' Robert Casper.

More than 185, 000 students apply annually for the Scholastic Art & Writing Award and since 1923, winners have included teenagers such as Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates and others.

The first five National Student Poets will be announced in summer 2012, and will each receive academic awards of $5,000. They will serve as literary ambassadors in their communities and encourage kids to develop writing and creative skills.

The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities focuses on increasing creativity in schools and engaging students in being innovative. The Institute of Museum and Library Services makes federal grants aimed at creating strong libraries and museums.

November 1, 2011

English Manor House Poetry Weekend (NJ)

Join poets Laura Boss and Maria Mazzioti Gillan on Friday, December 9 through Sunday, December 11, 2011 (Friday dinner through Sunday lunch) 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 an English manor house 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 and 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 some risks. Please also bring previously-written work for one-on-one sessions and for the readings.

The workshops, room, and meals are all included in the fee of $375.
Late registration will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Enrollment is limited.
NJ teachers may receive 15 professional development credits for attending.

For further information and to register, contact or send SASE to Maria Mazziotti Gillan, 40 Post Ave., Hawthorne, NJ  07506 or call  973-684-6555.

Selected Books by the Poets