September 30, 2014

Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway

22nd Annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway
Supportive. Energizing. Inspiring.
January 16-19, 2015
Atlantic City, NJ area
16 challenging and supportive writing workshops
Special Guests: Stephen Dunn and Kim Addonizio

Advance your craft and energize your writing at the 22nd Annual Winter Getaway. Enjoy challenging and supportive workshops, insightful feedback and an encouraging community. Choose from fiction, nonfiction, memoir, screenwriting and poetry. Early registration discounts and scholarships available.

Learn more:

September 22, 2014

Celebrating Autumn with Keats

A few days before the autumnal equinox 195 years ago, 24-year-old poet named John Keats wrote "To Autumn."

You can find this ode in many anthologies and even if you have little interest in poetry, you may recognize a line that was dropped into your memory in a classroom.

Keats wasn't having a great poetic year. In November, he would tell his brother in a letter, "Nothing could have in all its circumstances fallen out worse for me than the last year has done, or could be more damping to my poetical talent." But he wrote in another letter about this ode: "Somehow a stubble plain looks warm — in the same way that some pictures look warm — this struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it."

Ironically, Keats scholars have since decided that 1819 was his best year as a poet because he wrote almost all his great poems that year. The poems included a group of odes - "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode to a Grecian Urn," "Ode to Psyche" and "To Autumn" was the last of them.

Poets often see autumn as a good symbol of aging. A preparation for winter. Young Mr. Keats took another view of the season, but he would die from tuberculosis in less than two years after writing the poem. He was 25.

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

September 19, 2014

I Sext the Body Electric

Did you catch a poem published last year in The Awl by Patricia Lockwood titled “Rape Joke" which went viral?

Facebook and Twitter shares made Lockwood Internet-famous. She is not a poet laureate. She is not a professor (never finished college) and lives far from the hip places for poets in Lawrence, Kansas.

Her latest book of poems, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, has a number of "sexts" which are her short poems that are erotic and simultaneously ridiculous. Lockwood got attention for her tweets that were inspired by the Anthony Weiner scandal, which imagines surreal sex acts.

Here are two examples:

Sext: I am a water glass at the Inquisition. You are a dry pope mouth. You pucker; I wet you

Sext: I am a living male turtleneck. You are an art teacher in winter. You put your whole head through me

"Rape Joke” changed things. People have said it is funny, harrowing, important and not worth considering. That kind of response gets my attention.

Lockwood is not an unknown. Her last collection, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, made the New Yorker’s Best Books list for 2012.

Looking through the new collection you can find poems about sexed-up forest creatures that never appear in Disney films, the Loch Ness Monster, and Whitman and Dickinson appearing as ghosts. The poems swerve between hilarious and creepy, profane and profound.

Patricia Lockwood via Twitter
In a radio interview on Studio 260, she said “My baseline voice as a poet tends to be very serious, very grave. But in my life, I tend to be a funny person. It was a challenge that I set myself to try to integrate those two voices.”

Twitter posts ("tweets") are limited to 140 characters. Not a lot of space to compose.

Then again, Ezra Pound's famous little poem, "In a Station of the Metro," fits nicely, title and all with characters to spare.
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;  
Petals on a wet, black bough.

One hundred and forty characters (including spaces and punctuation) makes for a long line of poetry.
The previous sentence is only 100 characters.

Robert Frost would have gone over by only 3 characters if he had tweeted:
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow

In this shortened month, our new prompt asks you for poems composed of tweets. By this, we mean "stanzas" of 140 characters that can stand alone. You can thematically thread together as many as you wish though, so your poem can be as short as 140 characters and as long as 140 X ?  Line lengths are your choice, but stanza length is 140 characters. (If you use Twitter, you might want to compose there as it counts your characters automatically.)

To make things more interesting for readers, we are asking you to make the topic of your poem sex. Of course, that means that the serious and the not-so-serious side of the topic is fair game.

Submissions due October 4, 2015

September 3, 2014

Did I Miss Anything?

For the past few years, I have used Tom Wayman's poem “Did I Miss Anything?” with students as part of my start to a new semester. It doesn't matter what grade level you teach, the question from the student who missed your class - "Did I miss anything?" -is a painful one. It is not the same as asking "What did I miss?"  It suggests that there is a good possibility that you missed nothing at all.

Tom's poem offers 6 responses.

Did I Miss Anything?

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per­cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

The poem is from his Did I Miss Anything?: Selected Poems 1973-1993 (1993, Harbour Publishing)

The poem is also part of Billy Collins' Poetry 180 project with the Library of Congress. A 180-degree turn implies a turning back—in this case, to poetry. For many American teachers, 180 also suggests the 180 day school year and the poem Collins selected for the site and two anthologies are excellent poems to use in the classroom.