February 27, 2013

W. H. Auden's Syllabus

Take a look at W. H. Auden's course syllabus from 1941 (via New York Daily News). What do you think his students did with 6000 pages of reading for his University of Michigan course in "Fate and the Individual in European Literature?"

It's not clear if this was a 1 or 2-semester course (but only 2 credits!). I read a lot of these as an undergrad too, but probably not in one class.

I know I would have tried my best not to read any opera libretti.

February 25, 2013

Advanced Book Search

I'm always a bit surprised when I see someone do a search online and be disappointed to get either too few results or, more likely, too many irrelevant results. Most search sites have an "advanced search" feature which often solves those issues and others.

In another context, I wrote about using Google for better search. That's useful for yourself and something anyone who teaches should make sure their students know and use.

But here I just want to mention a more literary search. If you use Amazon to find books, you should also know about and use their advanced search feature.

Start by going to the Advanced Search on Amazon. From there I could set up a search for "poetry" in the literature section and limit my results to those for "teens" published after 1970 and available in paperback format as a way to set up an order for my classroom library.

Looking for a series of exact titles from your 20th Century American Literature syllabus? Enter all the ISBNs in the 'ISBN' field, with a '|' (pipe) between each one.(The "pipe" character is a rarely used one - it's on the same key as the \ character on the right side of a QWERTY keyboard)  So, a search on  9780140285000 | 9780743273565 | 9780061120060 will give those exact 3 titles.

Amazon's advanced search also works for music, TV, movies, magazines and toys and games.

February 23, 2013

Tweeting Iambic Pentameter

Another piece of technology is mixing with poetry.

That hesitation right before a kiss
I don't remember ever learning this
I've never had a valentine before
I'm not a little baby anymore

If that is poetry, it's technological "found poetry."  Those rhyming couplets written in iambic pentameter come from Twitter and were found by an algorithm. Yes, those ten-syllable lines of alternating emphasis that we learned about in school when we studied Shakespeare, sonnets and blank verse have been pulled from tweets by a program called Pentametron.

Pentametron (@pentametron on twitter, which you can follow without joining twitter itself)  is set up to monitor public tweets, pull out those in iambic pentameter, look for pairs that rhyme, and then retweet them as a couplet.

The site's motto is:
"With algorithms subtle and discrete
I seek iambic writings to retweet."

Is it poetry? That's your call. But it is interesting that these random couplings sometimes produce logical groupings.

I haven't got the mindset anymore
the tiny inner voice becomes a Roar!
Another boy without a sharper knife.
Closed eye and hoping for a better life

This isn't the first poetry via Twitter site that I have written about. Earlier there was the "Longest Poem in the World" which is still running.

In an NPR interview, the creator of Pentamentron, Ranjit Bhatnagar, said that he had been "... inspired by the exquisite corpse games of the surrealists" and realized that Twitter could supply "an endless waterfall of tweets."

Some make sense -

I wanna be a news reporter, yo
I never listen to the radio

I pay attention to details okay.
Its gonna be a busy day today :(

and others are... well, not so clearly connected

She's like a rainbow, painted black and white.
Not going to the ball tomorrow night.

Of course, a lot of people who don't regularly read poetry might say that "real" poems often don't make sense to them, so...

Pentrametron generates 15 to 20 couplets of 140-characters or less on an average day.

February 19, 2013

Write in Scotland with Peter Murphy

August 8-15, 2013

Using the vibrant university city of Dundee as our home base, join us for a week of writing, and exploring this beautiful country. We'll go beyond the typical tourist path and get to know the REAL Scotland. The retreat will feature supportive workshops, readings by local writers, and excursions to Edinburgh, castles, and more. Led by Peter Murphy.

Get away from the grind to write and be inspired. Using Dundee as your home base, you will spend a week writing, relaxing, and exploring this beautiful country, heading beyond the well-worn tourist path, and getting to know the real Scotland. Dundee, a university city of 150,000, bustles with Scottish arts and culture, set alongside a centuries-old seafaring community and 12th-century history.


February 17, 2013

National Haiku Writing Month

This month is the third annual National Haiku Writing Month.  National Haiku Writing Month takes place every February—the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry.

The logo on the event website is a “No 5-7-5” sign to emphasize that haiku in English does not need to be syllabic lines of 5, 7 and 5.

I came across a post by John J. Dunphy. He owns a used book store called Second Reading Alton, Illinois. He was looking into a copy of The Best American Poetry 1991.

There were some haiku in the collection. Well, poems called "haiku."  A group of haiku by David Trinidad really bothered him. They were haiku based on 1960s TCV comedies like The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan's Island. That sounds pretty lame but that's not what bothered him.

Each haiku is just declarative sentence that has been broken into that three-line, 5-7-5 false form. As Dunphy says, "Cramming a sentence into a 5-7-5 straitjacket does not a haiku make."

I'm with Dunphy. Here's a Trinidad sample:
“Island Girls”
Mary Ann dons one
of Ginger’s dresses, but it
falls flat on her chest.

Japanese haiku poets do use a 5-7-5 format, but it applies to sounds, not syllables. Unfortunately, our syllables do not match our sounds. (Dunphy says that many translators believe that about 12 English syllables approximate the duration of 17 sounds in Japanese language.)

Haiku also don't have titles.

And they do focus on certain themes - especially nature - and imagistic language.

Dunphy provides some haiku of his own as examples, and they are good ones.
on a tree stump
scurrying across decades

the Inuit village
closer to the sea

You should give haiku a try this month. The NaHaiWriMo site has writing prompts. They are also on Facebook, so like them. And if you write haiku, post it on Twitter with the hashtag #nahaiwrimo.

February 14, 2013

Some Anti-Love Poems for Valentine's Day

In case today is not the Valentine's Day of movies and songs, here are some "Anti-Love Poems" about breakups, heartache, and unrequited love. The Poetry Foundation describes these as more “Screw Cupid” than “Be Mine.”

A few samples:

The Glass Essay” by Anne Carson

In the days and months after Law left
I felt as if the sky was torn off my life.
The Flurry” by Sharon Olds

I mutter, “I feel like a killer.” “I’mthe killer”—taking my wrist—he says,
holding it. 

Cuckoldom” by B.J. Ward

if you look
for alimony,
it follows

Semele Recycled” by Carolyn Kizer

After you left me forever,
I was broken into pieces,
and all the pieces flung into the river.

The Breather” by Billy Collins

All that sweetness, the love and desire—
it’s just been me dialing myself
then following the ringing to another room

Time Does Not Bring Relief: You All Have Lied” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim. 

Sonnet [You jerk you didn’t call me up]” by Bernadette Mayer

I’m through with you bourgeois boys
All you ever do is go back to ancestral comforts

February 13, 2013

Poets Pick Their Favorite Love Poems

If you ask contemporary poets to pick their favorite love poems, you get ones that run from the passionate to the political.

For example, Kim Addonizio's selections include "Song of Songs, Canticle 4" and Yeats' “When You Are Old” which she confesses to first encountering "in the movie Peggy Sue Got Married, in the scene where the young wannabe Byron quotes it to Kathleen Turner’s character and then spoils the mood by quoting some of his own execrable verse. It’s a somewhat melancholy poem in the end, with its “how love fled,” but what stays in memory is the lovely assertion of a profound love that sees beyond the body."

Sharon Old has amongst her picks, “Passing Through” by Stanley Kunitz.

Joel Brouwer asks "How can anyone write a heartfelt love poem in this age of irony without seeming like a sap?" And his answer is “Windchime” by Tony Hoagland .

February 10, 2013

The Secret Poetic Life of Trees

Autumn in reds

I like trees because they seem more resigned to
the way they have to live than other things do.
- Willa Cather

This month's prompt was inspired by a series of programs about trees that I listened to on the BBC. They were created in response to the ash dieback disease that has hit trees in the UK. Roger McGough hosts Poetry Please and presented some tree poems, old and new by DH Lawrence, Philip Larkin, Thomas Hardy, WB Yeats, Gerard Manley Hopkins and others.

 "The Secret Power of Trees"  looks at Britain's woodlands that were planted for timber or hunting but are now also used to help the mentally ill and elderly people as part of what is known as "social forestry." The power comes with seeing woodlands as therapeutic and healing landscapes, and not just by new age types. He points out that in Japan, doctors take seriously the practice of "forest air bathing", and claim all kinds of health benefits from simply being in the woods. It's a different trend in the poetry of trees, since in much older poetry, forests were often seen as scary places, full of evil spirits and outlaws.

Thinking about trees, some poems come to mind immediately, like "Birches" by Robert Frost which ends with that glorious wish to be a swinger of birches.

I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Moving amateur birch swinging into a profession, one segment from the radio program looks at a professional tree climber, James Aldred, who climbs one of Britain's tallest trees, a giant redwood affectionately called Goliath, and sleeps in its branches.

In our current season, I think of  "Winter Trees" by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

But the two poems I decided to focus on this month for our writing prompt are poems that feature women interacting directly with a tree.

Woman Waving to Trees by Dorothea Tanning

Not that anyone would
notice it at first.
I have taken to marveling
at the trees in our park.
One thing I can tell you:
they are beautiful
and they know it.
They are also tired,
hundreds of years
stuck in one spot—
beautiful paralytics.
When I am under them,
they feel my gaze,
watch me wave my foolish
hand, and envy the joy
of being a moving target.

Loungers on the benches
begin to notice.
One to another,
"Well, you see all kinds..."
Most of them sit looking
down at nothing as if there
was truly nothing else to
look at until there is
that woman waving up
to the branching boughs
of these old trees. Raise your
heads, pals, look high,
you may see more than
you ever thought possible,
up where something might
be waving back, to tell her
she has seen the marvelous.

Another woman who might be seen from a distance as - odd? - is looking up into a plum tree and addressing the tree, its fruit and a visiting bird.

Woman Looking Up Into A Plum Tree by Melanie McCabe

Strung with whistle bones, frail reeds fledged, a bird
can fly or fold in, tuck beneath the wing the skull's
little engine, that tiny grist, that whit of will.

This is the secret kept in the crook of the limbs:
what claims flight must first be hollowed, must
whittle to a straw grace. Desire, that heavy

marrow, will someday open, riddle with holes
for wind to clean. The wet plum will parch to its
stone pit, dwindle and lift its faint whiff of almond.

But she is rooted still, tang of riven earth on
the back of her tongue, a late seed considering
another rending, an improbable sprouting into

turning air, a farfetched bloom. If she lightens, it is
slowly. Above her, the bird unfolds, beats sky with
thoughtless wings. She does not yet envy its going.
This month's prompt is obviously to write a poem that focuses on someone interacting, perhaps addressing, a tree. Your woman (or Man Swinging From Birches or Man Sleeping in a Redwood) will also need to be specific in their tree choice. It's sad how many people can't even identify the trees on their own property or ones they pass every day.  Of course, in Jane Kenyon's tale of "Taking Down the Tree," the specificity is that the tree is a Christmas tree, which is an alternate and legitimate take on the prompt too.

Submission Deadline: March 3, 2013.

February 3, 2013

February 2, 2013


EXIT 13 magazine is one of the many small press poetry publications that keep poetry alive across the country. It features poets of all ages, writing styles and degrees of experience, focusing on where and how we live and what’s going on around us. This "poetry of place" is about geography, travel, adventure and the fertile ground of the imagination. It’s a travelogue in poetry, a reflection of the world we see, and a chronicle of the people we meet along the way.

Tom Plante started the magazine which he named after the Elizabeth exit off the New Jersey Turnpike where Tom once lived. It is a very much a labor of love and one-man operation by Tom who has edited and published the magazine since 1988. The annual issues also feature photos of exit 13 road signs contributed by correspondents. Plante sends a copy of the magazine to each photographer whose work is published.

Tom is reading submissions now for the 2013 issue which celebrates the magazine's 25th anniversary. He will be reading until the end of February. Email submissions with the poems within the email (no attachments) or snail mail to to EXIT 13, Box 423, Fanwood NJ 07023.

Tom Plante has personally been writing poetry for over forty-five years. “Poetry is necessary,” he says. “Poems are road maps for the soul; the GPS of a higher plane."

Before he moved to the New Jersey, Plante lived in the San Francisco Bay area of California. There, he worked with a friend to produce a small poetry magazine called Berkeley Works. Plante’s work in California gave him the inspiration to start his own literary magazine on the east coast.

The journeys of all the contributors gives us poems with a geographic point of view - a supermarket at the Jersey Shore, the Philadelphia Flower Show, souvenir shopping in Gallup, the Witches Market in La Paz, and buying a final round in Belgooly, Ireland.

There will be an EXIT 13 25th Anniversary Issue reading event October 15, 2013 as part of the Carriage House Poetry Series in Fanwood, NJ.

February 1, 2013

A Poem for Candlemas Eve

Robert Herrick's poem is for the eve of Candlemas which was the day (February 2nd) on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people's homes.

Superstitions of an earlier time said that leaving traces of berries, holly and other decorations would bring death among the congregation before another year is out. Another belief was that anyone who hears funeral bells tolling on Candlemas will soon hear of the death of a close friend or relative.

Hopefully, your neighbors have taken down their outdoor Christmas decorations by now. If not, perhaps you should share the old beliefs with them.

Read more about Candlemas traditions

by Robert Herrick

Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).

The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter's eve appear.

Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

for more poems by Herrick, see  http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/herrick/herribib.htm