March 31, 2017

National Poetry Month 2017

National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives every April.

The Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month in 1996. Along the way we enlisted a variety of government agencies and officials, educational leaders, publishers, sponsors, poets, and arts organizations to help. National Poetry Month is a registered trademark of the Academy of American Poets.

In coordination with poets, booksellers, librarians, and teachers, April was chosen was chosen as the best time within the year to turn attention toward the art of poetry.

Here are 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

March 24, 2017

Wordsworth Daffodils with Dorothy and William

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850) is a well known poet who promoted “common speech” within poems and argued against the poetic biases of the period. He wrote some of the most influential poetry in Western literature, including his most famous work, The Prelude, which is often considered to be the crowning achievement of English romanticism.

Not as well known is his sister, poet and diarist Dorothy Wordsworth. She was for many years pretty much dismissed as simply her brother’s assistant. She did write out his poems for him, but she also wrote every day in her journals and wrote her own poetry.

Studies of those diaries show that William actually cribbed some of his most famous lines for some poems from his sister’s writings.

One of those poems is “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (sometimes called "The Daffodils") which begins:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze...

The Wordsworth parents died when she and William were children and they were sent to live with various relatives. After being reunited, she and William never left each other again.

The inspiration for the poem came from a walk Wordsworth took with his sister around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater, in the Lake District. Dorothy's journal entry describes the walk:

"When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up – But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway – We rested again and again. The Bays were stormy and we heard the waves at different distances and in the middle of the water like the Sea."
                — Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal Thursday, 15 April 1802

William wrote his poem inspired by the walk and also by Dorothy's journal.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
   That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
   A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
   And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
   Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
   Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
   In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
   In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
   Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth wrote the poem while living with his wife, Mary Hutchinson, and Dorothy at Town End in Grasmere in England's Lake District. His wife contributed what Wordsworth later said were the two best lines in the poem, recalling the "tranquil restoration" of Tintern Abbey:

They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude

All this is not to say that that William was a plagiarist. He noted his inspirations himself in his prose, and seems to have been fine with using lines and suggestions from these two women in his life.

But as the daffodils open on another spring season, perhaps we can put some breath back into Dorothy's poems too.



March 21, 2017

World Poetry Day March 21

World Poetry Day is celebrated on March 21 each year. UNESCO sponsors this day to recognize the moving spirit of poetry and its transformative effect on culture.

When was the last time you bought a poetry collection or read poetry by a poet from outside your own country?

Some teachers will incorporate the day into a lesson, but for most of us not in school, we will need to find our own world poetry.

It could be the very popular Chilean poet Pablo Neruda reading some of his poems at the United Nations during an homage to his accomplishments: Listen here.

Most American readers are likely to have read world poets in English, but even listening to poets from other cultures and languages might be a new experience.

UNESCO's Director-General, Irina Bokova, wrote in her message on the event:

The poet Pablo Neruda wrote, “poetry is an act of peace.” Poetry is unique in its ability to speak across time, space and culture, to reach directly the hearts of people everywhere. This is a wellspring for dialogue and understanding – this has always been a force to challenge injustice and advance freedom. As UNESCO’s new Goodwill Ambassador for Artistic Freedom and Creativity, Deeyah Khan, has said, all art, including poetry, “has the extraordinary capacity to express resistance and rebellion, protest and hope.” 
Poetry is not a luxury. It lies at the heart of who we are as women and men, living together today, drawing on the heritage of past generations, custodians of the world for our children and grandchildren. By celebrating poetry today, we celebrate our ability to join together, in a spirit of solidarity, to scale and climb “the cloudy summits of our time.” We need this to take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to implement the Paris Climate Agreement, to ensure no woman or man is left behind.

Here is a video example of Al-Taghrooda, traditional Bedouin chanted poetry, which is composed and recited by men travelling on camelback through desert areas of the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Short poems are improvised and repeated between two groups of riders often as antiphonal singing. The most important aspect is the social bonding during the oral exchange of verses. Al-Taghrooda is also chanted at weddings and other festivities, particularly camel races. Its themes range from romantic love, friendship, praise of tribal ties, aspirations to the settlement of disputes and contemporary themes.

March 8, 2017

Prompt: Lux and Punctuation

When I read that the poet Thomas Lux had died last month, I immediately had a rush of memories of a week I had spent in a workshop he taught in Provincetown.

The design of his sessions was that we would devote an extended block of time on a deep reading of one of each participant's poems. If it was your poem being discussed, you sat quietly, took notes and did not react to the praise, criticism and misunderstandings of the readers. It was a great experience, both being a reader and having your poem get a morning or afternoon of attention.

Our group hung out after the sessions, going to the beach and out for dinner and drinks in the evening. I had brought my family along for the week on Cape Cod and my sons got a football game started on the beach with the poets. I always thought Lux might write a poem about that game. After four downs of badly missed passes, he said to me "Poets are generally pathetic football players."

My youngest son, ten that month, showed Tom a poem he wrote. Tom liked his line "When we get to the place we're not going to."

Lux was a generous teacher.

He said I should call him Tom, but that he would always be "Thomas" on the page. I had several long solo conversations with Tom about writing, publishing, and parenting. He had not brought his daughter, Claudia, along and regretted it because he thought she would have had fun with my sons.

Thomas Lux was born and raised in Northampton, Massachusetts where his father ran a dairy farm, He attended Emerson College and the University of Iowa and was poet in residence at Emerson College (1972-1975) and was a member of the writing faculty at Sarah Lawrence College for 25 years. He also taught in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and at the University of Iowa, University of Michigan, and the University of California at Irvine, among others. He spent his last 16 years iving and teaching in Atlanta, where he served as the Bourne Professor of Poetry and director of the McEver Visiting Writers program at the Georgia Institute of Technology until his death.

We talked about "the voice you hear when you read silently" and how
It is your voice
saying, for example, the word "barn"
that the writer wrote
but the "barn" you say
is a barn you know or knew.  
And that barn that Tom wrote is the dairy barn of his childhood, and it is not the barn that I knew as a visitor coming to a place to ride horses.

Our Provincetown poetry group with Thomas Lux - Summer 1997

I asked Lux that always-asked question about "how do you get published." He said he always had a dozen poems out there to magazines and journals, and he had envelopes ready to go to other magazines so that when a poem was rejected, it went right back out again. Persistence. And write every day.

I saw Lux again a few times at several biannual Dodge Poetry Festivals, and he was always said he remembered me. I doubted that, but it was nice of him to say it. I asked him at one of the festivals why his newest poems seemed to all be one stanza. He said that he needed a really good reason these days to break a line and especially to make a new stanza. He was opposed to you making a poem with stanzas of say 4 lines each just to have a poem with that form. He was opposed to poetry becoming "prose with line breaks."

One of Tom's most popular poems is "I Love You Sweatheart." It is pure Lux - witty, wise, funny and all those thing comes through on the page and especially when Tom read the poem aloud. (Check out the video of him reading this poem below.) I used that poem for a prompt here on "stupid love" and I checked the archive and discovered that I used Lux poems five more times as models for prompts:  "what sustains you," "never born," "foreign words," "daughters," and a shared prompt on "fruits."

This month I chose his poem "Virgule" as our model. This ode to the  /  was one of the poem he read to our group that summer.


What I love about this little leaning mark
is how it divides
without divisiveness. The left
or bottom side prying that choice up or out,
the right or top side pressing down upon
its choice: either/or,
his/her. Sometimes called a slash (too harsh), a slant
(a little dizzy, but the Dickinson association
nice: "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--"), solidus (sounding
too much like a Roman legionnaire
of many campaigns),
or a separatrix (reminding one of a sexual
variant). No, I like virgule. I like the word
and I like the function: "Whichever is appropriate
may be chosen to complete the sense."
There is something democratic
about that, grown-up; a long
and slender walking stick set against the house.
Virgule: it feels good in your mouth.
Virgule: its foot on backwards, trochaic, that's OK, American.
Virgule: you could name your son that,
or your daughter Virgula. I'm sorry now
I didn't think to give my daughter such a name
though I doubt that she and/or
her mother would share that thought.
originally published in The Atlantic, January 1992. Listen to Lux read "Virgule"

I am sure that Lux liked the word "virgule" for its foreign and exotic sound and because most people don't know the "proper" word and call it a slash (as with the "back slash/forward slash" of our computer age - which I divide here with a virgule). The ellipsis is another mark that is often unidentified and often misused (especially by poets). Tom would like having us think about how we use each punctuation mark in our writing for this prompt.

It will require some creativity and wit on your part to do this month's prompt, which is a poem about a mark of punctuation or punctuation itself.

I am broadening the choices beyond the ones we use most commonly in English. You can use the tilde  " ~ " (which has a new life beyond Spanish as a separator between a quote and its source) and all those other German, French and other languages' exotic marks. How about that the French comma is called une virgule?

The deadline for this prompt is April 2, 2017, which will launch us into National Poetry Month.

Thomas Lux reads "I Love You Sweatheart"