January 26, 2019

2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry

Ada Limón  -   Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) announced that Ada Limón was awarded the poetry prize for The Carrying (Milkweed), in which Tess Taylor says “The Carrying opens a new chapter in an already beautiful and accomplished oeuvre.” 

The awards are given annually for books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, criticism, autobiography, and biography published in the previous year.

The finalists in poetry are Terrance Hayes for American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (Penguin Books), Erika Meitner for Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA Editions), Diane Seuss for Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press), and Adam Zagajewski for Asymmetry, translated by Clare Cavanagh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

January 24, 2019

A Series of Fortunate Poetry Events 2

a young Robert Frost

In my earlier post, I wrote about the actual Series of Unfortunate Events book and TV series and how poetry enters the story with some fortunate events. (part 1)

Another fortunate event this month was that on January first, a huge cache of too-long-copyrighted material entered the public domain.

One example is the best-known poem by Robert Frost, which might also be the best-known American poem - "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

The 1923 poem would have entered the public domain in 1999 because most creative works were protected for 75 years.  But a number of efforts to extend copyright protections for many categories of intellectual property have been enacted that extended that law. Because of heavy lobbying led by the Walt Disney Co., Congress passed the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which retroactively extended copyright protection until Dec. 31, 2018.

But this month, poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay, E.E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Sukumar Ray, and Pablo Neruda have all entered the public domain. The new public domain volumes are Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke (original German version) New Hampshire by Robert Frost, Spring and All and also the novel The Great American Novel by William Carlos Williams, Harmonium by Wallace Stevens, Tulips and Chimneys by E.E. Cummings and Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Other literature now in the public domain includes The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, The Complete Works of Anthony Trollope, George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan, stories by Christie, Virginia Woolf, H.P. Lovecraft, Katherine Mansfield, and Ernest Hemingway and other works by Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, Jean Cocteau, Italo Svevo, Aldous Huxley, Winston Churchill, G.K. Chesterton, Maria Montessori, Lu Xun, Joseph Conrad, Zane Grey, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I have written here about the inspiration for "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and also about the oddity that Frost was writing this classic winter poem in summer.

Now I can reproduce the entirety of Frost’s poems from that period without permission or restriction. And you could print them in books, webpages, and on t-shirts, if you want.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

by Robert Frost (public domain)

January 22, 2019

A Series of Fortunate Poetry Events 1

“Man hands on misery to man.
     It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
     And don’t have any kids yourself.”

I heard those lines when I was watching the conclusion of the adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix. It sounded familiar. It sounded like poetry.

As often happens these days when I'm watching TV or movies, I find myself searching online for who that actor is or some other reference on screen. The words are said by the series antagonist, Count Olaf, played by Neil Patrick Harris.

The Unfortunate Events series stretched across 13 books and now an odd illustrated tie-in to Netflix's series. The series of novels might be shelved in the children's or young adult sections of a bookstore, but the books have lots of allusions to adult literature and wit that probably whizzes by younger readers. And they are quite dark in plot. The same can be said for the TV series.

Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events  promo on Vimeo 

The story concerns three orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, good and very wise kids. The author/narrator (Lemony Snicket, the pen name of Daniel Handler) continually warns readers that this story is full of bad luck, unhappiness and despair and will only make your on life worse.

The children are the remaining members of the Baudelaire family. Yes, they are named for 19th-century poet, Charles Baudelaire, whose most famous book is the grimly titled Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). But that poem at the end of the series is not Baudelaire.

I think I vaguely recalled those lines because when I first read the pom many years ago, it wasn't that stanza, which closes the series and the poem; it was the poem's opening stanza that rather shocked me.

Here is the first stanza of Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse”:

"They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
     They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
      And add some extra, just for you."

A Series of Unfortunate Events is all about missing parents and caretakers who make lots of parenting mistakes in caring for the three children. In Larkin's short poem, it's because we pass on our own miseries to the next generation.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats, 
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Still, I see it as fortunate whenever poetry and poets are use in popular culture in clever ways.

January 19, 2019

New Year's Inspiration

If you think of the new year as an opportunity to reflect and set goals for the future, then the Academy of American Poets suggests these 10 poems for inspiration.
  1. Time to be the fine line of light” by Carrie Fountain
  2. When I Rise Up” by Georgia Douglas Johnson
  3. These Poems” by June Jordan
  4. The Leash” by Ada Limón
  5. The Penitent” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
  6. Assured” by Alexander Posey
  7. The Dream” by Lola Ridge
  8. from “Elegy in Joy” by Muriel Rukeyser
  9. "The Call of the Open" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  10. Good Bones” by Maggie Smith

January 9, 2019

Prompt: Kissing

There are many kinds of kisses and many forms of kisses. We get them from birth to death. Though they are generally associated with love and affection, there are examples that are far away from those associations.

In our model poem, "Kissing" by Dorianne Laux, (read and hear the poem read) she examines some of this range.

They are kissing, on a park bench,
on the edge of an old bed, in a doorway
or on the floor of a church. Kissing
as the streets fill with balloons
or soldiers, locusts or confetti, water
or fire or dust. Kissing down through
the centuries under sun or stars, a dead tree,
an umbrella, amid derelicts. Kissing
as Christ carries his cross, as Gandhi
sings his speeches, as a bullet
careers through the air toward a child’s
good heart.

As Laux writes, we probably prefer the "long, deep, spacious kisses, exploring the silence of the tongue" to the "kissing when the cars crash and the bombs drop."

For this prompt, write about a kiss or the act of kissing in any of its forms or in many of its forms.

And you can get a head start on a call for submissions from Terrapin Books for a forthcoming anthology of poems on the topic of kissing. (The submission period is February 12 through March 20, 2019.)  Publisher/poet Diane Lockward suggests "first kisses, last kisses, goodbye kisses, make-out session kisses, desired kisses, unwanted kisses, dangerous kisses, stolen kisses, romantic kisses, familial kisses, spin-the-bottle kisses, hot kisses, cold kisses, and metaphorical kisses."

On her blog, Diane offers as a model poem "When Sex Was Kissing" by Hunt Hawkins which begins:

In high school I was somehow able to kiss
for three hours continuously without consummation.
I still remember the underwater feel of the car,
how the windows steamed, the binnacle-glow
of the dash pointing us forward towards the trees,
the jerky light outside of a diver approaching
the wreck, pointing at this window, then that,
the policeman asking if we were okay. Sure
we were!

Our submission deadline is January 31, 2019

January 3, 2019

Poets and Hollywood: The Kindergarten Teacher

Have you seen the film The Kindergarten Teacher, now available on Netflix?

"In her new film “The Kindergarten Teacher,” Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a frustrated aspiring poet who discovers that a boy in her kindergarten class may be a budding literary genius, and begins co-opting his verses as her own.

When Gyllenhaal was preparing for the role, she thought a lot about what sort of poetry her character, a Staten Island teacher named Lisa Spinelli, would write. She figured Lisa’s poetry would be somewhat labored and clichéd — maybe verses about flowers and butterflies. So she and the film’s writer and director, Sara Colangelo, decided to ask a real poet to write some lines for the movie.

Commissioning poems wasn’t easy, it turns out..."       continue reading

Films have never quite known what to do with poets. And when poetry appears in a film, there is the question of how to judge it. If the poet is supposed to be a good poet, where do they get the poems? And who determines what is "good poetry?"

Some recent films that have portrayed poets, both famous - A Quiet Passion (about Emily Dickinson)  and Bright Star (about John Keats) - and unknown, as in Paterson. In portraying the life of a famous poets, at least you have the poet's own work to use and it has been already stamped as "good."

But if your subject is an unknown poet, you need to get the poems from somewhere. In the case of Paterson,  the poet Ron Padgett provided the poems attributed to the character Paterson.  The film features four of Padgett's existing poems and three new poems written for the film. The film's director, Jim Jarmusch wrote the poem "Water Falls" attributed to a young girl in the film.

For The Kindergarten Teacher, the poems written by the were solicited, from the poet Dominique Townsend, who had to rewrite he contributions to make them more "mediocre" (as one film critic called them).  They also needed poms for her young student. Jimmy's poems had to be exceptional and memorable, but also plausibly written by a 5-year-old. For those poems, the filmmakers turned to two young contemporary poets, Ocean Vuong and Kaveh Akbar.

The plot of this new film, as described on Wikipedia, begins this way:   Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a kindergarten teacher from Staten Island, is struggling with feelings of dissatisfaction in her life. She is in a loving yet passionless marriage with her husband Grant (Michael Chernus), and her teenage children, Josh (Sam Jules) and Lainie (Daisy Tahan), are distant with her. Lisa attends a poetry class every week led by Simon (Gael García Bernal), but her poetry is dismissed as derivative. One of Lisa's students, Jimmy, is routinely picked up late from school by a babysitter. One day, Lisa overhears Jimmy reciting a poem he wrote while he is waiting to be picked up. Lisa reads the poem at her poetry class, where her classmates and Simon are struck by it and compliment Lisa on her talent. Lisa decides that Jimmy is a prodigy, and begins to dedicate her time to nurturing his talent.

Have you seen the film The Kindergarten Teacher?  If so, what do you think about what it has to say about poets and poetry? Leave a comment on this post.

A review of the film at nytimes.com/