October 27, 2012

The Haiku of E.E. Cummings

I have been rereading in Complete Poems, 1904-1962  by  E.E. Cummings this month. He was a favorite of mine in my youth and a poet that always caught my younger students' attention when I presented his poems.

Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962), known as E. E. Cummings, with the abbreviated form of his name often written by others in lowercase letters as e.e. cummings (in the style of some of his poems) was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. His body of work encompasses approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays, and several essays, as well as numerous drawings and paintings.

Of course, they all wanted to play with capitalization and spacing and the wordplay that catches the eye in his poetry. (And they often began to write their names in lower case!)

But from what I can tell, Cummings has fallen off the reading list. It may be that his playfulness works against him as a "serious" poet, though he certainly was serious.

What I have noticed in my rereading is the haiku-like qualities of many of his poems. A great example is the poem below which is paired with a Basho haiku from 250 years earlier.

Won’t you come and see                                      fa
loneliness? Just one leaf
from the kiri tree.                                                  ll
-  Basho, 1692                                                     s)

Readers have noted the "oneliness" of Cumming's poem. It is one of his poems that needs to be seen on the page and doesn't work as a reading. That's a good lesson for new poets.


This small poem, as tall as a standing chipmunk, was one I have used with many students at different levels. With a little push from shore by me, they usually would find that "everywhere" is also "here" and even "very here" (the sun IS everywhere but it is VERY here in that spotlight on the chipmunk). It is "noon" (the time) and it is "noon e - no one" in this empty place. It is "this boulder" but it is "his boulder" for that moment. Finally, it is "dreachipmunkming" - the word game of a chipmunk in the middle of dreaming.

When the text is laid out horizontally, it reads as l(a leaf falls)oneliness. In other words, a leaf falls is inserted within the first two letters of loneliness. In haiku poetry, the image of a single falling leaf is a common symbol for loneliness. That loneliness is enhanced by the structure of the poem and reminds the reader that separation is often the cause of loneliness. As he often does, Cummings divides words like loneliness to emphasize the one within it. Even the isolated letter l at top appears much like a number 1 to "title" this untitled poem.

Another similar "haiku" from Cummings is one that students discover is the image of  "this one snowflake alighting upon a gravestone" but which appears on the page as:

is upon a gra
It's an extreme example of a way to construct a haiku on a page, but a good lesson in spacing, line breaks, and "concrete" poetry. I have asked poets in workshops to take a haiku they like and do the same thing. The process forces you to slow down and really consider those words. And that is always a good thing.



The E.E. Cummings Society

Books by E. E. Cummings

October 23, 2012

Are You Still Reading Magazines?

Seeing the reports that Newsweek will end its print edition (a digital version will still be done) resurrected the long-running larger story about whether or not print publications will exist in the future.

I am pretty confident that print books will survive for some time (though less will be published) but I have no hope for newspapers and little hope for magazines.

I went to Amazon to check prices on the magazines for poets and writers that I have subscribed to at some point. Of the ones below, I only subscribe to two currently (as print editions) and every time I get a renewal mail, I wonder if I should continue. Part of my hesitation is in questioning whether or not the magazine will make it another year. Subscribe for 3 years? That's a bad bet.

And there are plenty of small press poetry publications that need subscribers to survive. Even libraries and schools are trimming their periodicals subscriptions - or switching to digital (editions or databases).

And the cost of print editions (especially for magazine with little or no advertising) is quite high. Unfortunately, print editions are not that much cheaper - and many readers expected that they would be significantly lower.  Although digital brings down the production cost, the cost of staff, office space and other budget lines is fixed.

I would be curious to hear your answers (via the comments below) to these questions.
  1. Are you currently reading poetry and writing magazines?
  2. Are you reading print or digital editions?
  3. Would you be more or less willing to read them as digital versions?
  4. Do you still subscribe to these publications?
Of course, publishers also want to know these answers...

October 20, 2012

Places to Submit Poems Electronically

Louie Crew, Emeritus Professor at Rutgers University, has maintained a great list of Poetry Publishers Willing to Receive Submissions Electronically since 1996 and has included our main Poets Online site since we launched in 1998.

Louie recently contacted me and the other 994 (!) sites to confirm that the links and emails are current. In this labor of love, he visits each website monthly and writes to editors at least twice a year to confirm publications are still viable.

He lists poetry editors who are willing to receive submissions electronically with some preferring manuscripts in the body of an email message and others as attachments. Most of his entries have brief submission tips and direct you to a website. These are both "e-zines" like Poets Online and traditional print publications.

Louie wisely suggests that you study a copy of the magazine or site archive to determine whether your material would have a fit with the other material published.

I am also on board with Louie in not being a fan of entry or reading fees or requiring an author to buy a copy of the publication to see her or his work. Of course, there are publications that only exist and publish because of a fee. And I agree that poets need to also be poetry consumers and should subscribe voluntarily to support good literary magazines.

Louie Crew's entire site is a diverse and interesting read at andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/

October 14, 2012

Weekend Poetry Retreat

a poetry weekend intensive
at an English manor house in Mendham, New Jersey
December 14-16, 2012
Do you need a poetry retreat that will give you the space and time to focus totally on your writing? Does having that time in a serene and beautiful setting away from the pressures and distractions of daily life and in the company of like-minded others sound inspiring?

Join poets Laura Boss and Maria Mazzioti Gillan on Friday, December 14 through Sunday, the 16th, 2012 (Friday dinner through Sunday lunch) at the St. Marguerite's Retreat House in Mendham, NJ for a poetry intensive weekend.

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 led 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 and lunch provides 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.

St. Marguerite's Retreat House in Mendham, New Jersey 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 in Mendham, NJ.

The workshops, room, and meals are all included in the fee of $375.
This writing intensive is open to all writers over the age of 18.
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 mariagillan@verizon.net or call  973-684-6555.

Selected Books by the Poets

LAURA BOSS: Arms: New and Selected Poems and Flashlight

MARIA GILLAN:What We Pass On: Collected Poems: 1980-2009 and The Place I Call Home

October 4, 2012

Free Screening of "All That Lies Bewteen Us"

Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 1 pm
“All That Lies Between Us”
A Documentary
on the Life and Work of

Join Maria Gillan and filmmakers Kevin Carey and Mark Hillringhouse at the Theater at Passaic County Community College, 204 Ellison Street, Paterson, NJ on Saturday, October 6.

They will be screening the new documentary on the life and work poet and poetry crusader, Maria Mazziotti Gillan.

The screening will be followed by a reception, poetry reading, question-and-answer session with the filmmakers, and a book signing for Maria's brand new collection, The Place I Call Home.

Parking is available at the PCCC faculty lot at the corner of College Blvd and Church Street.  Directions

October 3, 2012

Prompt: The Four Seasons

Autumn on Reservoir Road by Ken Ronkowitz on Flickr

It is hard to read poetry without occasionally coming  across a poem about one of the seasons. If you read haiku, you know that the seasons enter almost all haiku written in a traditional way. If you have been writing poetry for a few years, you probably have a few poems about seasons. So, it would be easy enough for poets to dig into their poetry collection and come up with a poem about one of the seasons.

Right now, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are in early autumn and so you may be inspired to write about what you see in the season.

You could create quite a thick anthology just collecting poems on autumn. And the collection would include traditional takes on this season "When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold" as Shakespeare writes in Sonnet LXXIII.

There are certain literary associations to the seasons, as in this short poem,"November Night," by Adelaide Crapsey.
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
And fall.
Some of these associations have become clichés - such as, the Old Man Winter of old age, dying and death and the rebirth of spring.

I prefer poems that use the season as setting but go somewhere that I have not been in that season. In
"My Autumn Leaves" by Bruce Weigl
the poet starts with a familiar place and familiar seasonal props like deer and apples.
I watch the woods for deer as if I’m armed.
I watch the woods for deer who never come.
I know the hes and shes in autumn
rendezvous in orchards stained with fallen
apples’ scent...
and then goes back to find a younger self who has not left him.
                                    ...They know the boy
who lives inside me still won’t go away.
The deer are ghosts who slip between the light   
through trees, so you may only hear the snap   
of branches in the thicket beyond hope.   
I watch the woods for deer, as if I’m armed.

That departure was what appealed to me in reading "Another Autumn" by Adele Kenny from her collection, What Matters. It is the model poem for our current writing prompt for October.

Like Weigel, she uses some of the familiars of the season - leaf-rot, chrysanthemums, chilling air and gaunt roses - but they are contrasted with a hidden passion of "sweat, and the smell of it" that leads us to a place where "trees on fire" are not just fall foliage.

On Adele's own blog, she offers a range of writing prompts from playing with form (such as in writing an "adeleanelle") and her own approach to what autumn brings.

And our own prompt this month? We will not limit ourselves to autumn. In "To Autumn," John Keats' writes about this "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" but asks "Where are the songs of Spring?"

Your assignment this month is to write a poem that includes all four seasons. For example, you might take a place, a person or a situation through the seasons as a way of contrasting changes. (Perhaps, you can listen to Vivaldi's Four Seasons as you write.) You could take alternative views on those seasonal clichés. (Think of T.S. Eliot's view of spring/April as "the cruelest month" rather than a time of rebirth.) 

Four Seasons image/print available from vxside.deviantart.com

You may be interested in reading an earlier version of Adele Kenny's poem "Another Autumn" to contrast it with the version published in What Matters which we used as the model this month.

October 2, 2012

Poetry Magazine Podcast

Each month, the editors of Poetry magazine, Christian Wiman and Don Share, talk about the new issue and talk to poets and critics, discuss issues, and share poems (often read by the posts) from the issue.

This month The Effect of Small Things with poems from Marie Ponsot, Laura Kasischke, Todd Boss, Campbell McGrath, and Kathleen Jamie; plus C.K. Williams on the foreboding of environmental doom.