October 28, 2022

Publicity And Marketing for Poets

I know several people who have recently had poetry collections published by small presses or self-published. It's great to be published, but both of those situations mean that they will need to do some self-promotion.

Bigger presses will have a publicity person and ways of getting a book into the hands of reviewers, stores, and award judges and getting the poet into bookstores, events, and readings.

If the publicity and marketing is up to you, one place to start might be PR For Poets: A Guidebook To Publicity And Marketing

In the book, Jeannine Hall Gailey, a poet, provides information about getting your book out there using both social media and some old media, like librarians and booksellers, and readers.

Visit our website at poetsonline.org

October 19, 2022

Poet Laureates and the Royals

 Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare in Worcester Cathedral

I don't recall hearing that the late Queen Elizabeth II was much interested in poetry. Elizabeth I was quite a fan of Mr. Shakepseare's plays and poetry and she wrote some of her own poetry. 

Her poem, "‘On Monsieur’s Departure," is thought to have been inspired by the breakdown of marriage negotiations between her and Francis, Duke of Anjou. This is her final stanza. 

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and so forget what love ere meant.

The lines remind me of the "cruel to be kind’ part in Hamlet that Shakespeare would later write. An influence?

Still, the British monarchy has long had its Poets Laureate. Shakespeare came before the position was established. The first poet was John Dryden (1668–89).

I saw recently the poem "Floral Tribute" by the British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage on the death of Queen Elizabeth II. It s a very flowery poem both literally and figuratively. The first stanza is:

Evening will come, however determined the late afternoon,
Limes and oaks in their last green flush, pearled in September mist.
I have conjured a lily to light these hours, a token of thanks,
Zones and auras of soft glare framing the brilliant globes.
A promise made and kept for life - that was your gift -
Because of which, here is a gift in return, glovewort to some,
Each shining bonnet guarded by stern lance-like leaves.
The country loaded its whole self into your slender hands,
Hands that can rest, now, relieved of a century's weight.

America has its laureates and it seems to be a position that brings attention to poetry and most laureates choose some project for their term. But from what I've read, the British laureates generally don't see that as their objective and some don't seem to enjoy the position. I don't think any of the modern-day ones have said that they produced their greatest work for that position. Tennyson wrote "Charge of the Light Brigade" when he was the laureate.


Then again, attitudes towards the monarchy have changed since Tennyson's time and also during Elizabeth II’s long reign. 

Laureates are asked (or ordered, or obligated?) to write occasional poems for, as one article cleverly described it, "royal hatches, matches and dispatches." A royal baby means a poem.

Being required to write a poem with a deadline and a theme for a big audience is not the same as writing one for Poets Online's latest call for submissions. One American example is writing a poem for a President's Inauguration.

In 2021, Amanda Gorman wrote “The Hill We Climb” and its opening lines tell us something of the time it marked.

  We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
  Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
  And this effort very nearly succeeded.
  But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
  It can never be permanently defeated...

In 1961, Robert Frost was President Kennedy's Inaugural Poet. Rather famously, he was not able to read the poem he wrote because the glare of the sun off snow and the wind made it impossible for him to see his paper, so he recited from memory an older poem, The Gift Outright.” Actually, JFK had asked if he would read that poem but Frost composed a shorter poem for the occasion called  "Dedication" (later retitled "For John F. Kennedy His Inauguration") that he planned to use as a preface to "The Gift Outright."

Though we always have a Poet Laureate, not every President has asked for an Inaugural poem and poet.

The Frost poem Americans hear that day begins:

  The land was ours before we were the land’s 
  She was our land more than a hundred years 
  Before we were her people. She was ours...

Across the pond, Carol Ann Duffy wrote "The Throne" on theoccassion of the 60th anniversary of the coronation in 2013. 

...The crown translates a woman to a Queen
endless gold, circling itself, an O like a well,
fathomless, for the years to drown in – history’s bride,
anointed, blessed, for a crowning...

John Masefield was laureate from 1930-1967 and served several monarchs. American Laureates usually serve for 4 years but it varies. He was a popular Georgian and quite conservative poet (none of that Eliot and Auden odernism for him). 

One of his poems for the Queen in 1953 is "Line on the Coronation of Our Gracious Sovereign." It opens with these rather lousy little rhymes.

This lady whom we crown was born
When buds were green upon the thorn
And earliest cowslips showed;
When still unseen by mortal eye
One cuckoo tolled his ‘Here am I’ …

Ted Hughes became Laureate in 1984 and served for 14 years. The first choice for the position was Philip Larkin, who turned it down. Hughes (maybe best known to some as Sylvia Plath's husband) was very English (as opposed to very British) and often wrote about the English countryside and nature, and was a royalist.

Not all of a Laureate's requests for poems come from the place. His publisher, Faber, asked him for a quatrain for the Queen’s silver jubilee. he gave them:

A Soul is a Wheel.
A Nation’s a Soul
With a Crown at the hub
To keep it whole.

"The Unicorn" was written on the 40th anniversary of her accession and I doubt it was one of Elizabeth's favorites.

Falstaff’s our only true-bred Fool,
His belly-laugh the only school
Where liberty guarantees the rule.
Let Licensed Clowns grab ears and eyes.
Britain, Falstaff in disguise,
Laughs with the Queen and keeps her wise.

Andrew Motion (1999-2009) was a Tony Blair modernisation period for the post which was now set at one decade. It also got a pay raise to £5,000 from the honorific £200. It still had no real job description. “The first time I met the Queen,” Motion wrote in the Guardian, “she said the same thing as Tony Blair, whom I’d also just met for the first time: ‘You don’t have to do anything.’ ”

Motion, a friend of popular American Laureate Billy Collins, saw his role as including being an ambassador for poetry. Collin's project was to create Poetry 180 - poems to be used in schools. Motion created the Poetry Archive, an online library of poets reading their own work. 

Motion wrote only eight royal poems. The one that got the most attention - and not in a good way - was his "rap" poem for Prince William’s 21st birthday.

Better stand back
Here’s an age attack,
But the second in line
Is dealing with it fine.

I watched a video of Motion and Collins talking about being laureates. He said that “No other writing that I’ve undertaken, of any kind, has been so difficult … In every case, after I’d written these eight poems, I sent them to my agent, who sent them to newspapers, where they landed on news editors’ desks. News editors don’t think a poem is a story in and of itself, so they then get on the phone to as many people as it takes to find someone who doesn’t like the poem – then they have their story: poet laureate writes another no-good poem.”

Carol Ann Duffy’s appointment in 2009 made her the first woman, and the first openly gay person, to take on the role. She wrote a regular poetry column for the Daily Mirror. In that she wrote about many topical but not royal topics from the MPs’ expenses scandal, to HIV/Aids, and an injury to footballer David Beckham’s Achilles tendon. 

I suspect that for most laureates on either side of the Atlantic, it is more public attention than poets normally get, expect or desire. 

Visit our website at poetsonline.org

October 6, 2022

Prompt: Transitions

Photo: Pixabay

Autumn and spring seem to me to be transitional seasons. Autumn is still some summer and sometimes it feels like winter. Early spring in my hometown is cold with frosts and the last snow, and late spring can feel much like summer.

People go through transitions. Most people probably go through at least a few every year - like the seasons. Some of your transitions may even be connected to the seasons -like school semesters or summer vacation or living in a summer vacation place. But there are also the big "life transitions."

In Sonnet 123,  William Shakespeare writes:

No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change... 
This I do vow and this shall ever be;
I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

‘Sonnet 123’ is directed toward a personified version of “Time" who is told that though the narrator gets older, he doesn’t feel that he needs to change his personality accordingly. He resolves that no matter what happens in his life, he will be true to himself. I don't consider this to be one of the Bard's truest observations.

As a writing teacher, I taught about transition words and phrases to connect ideas and thoughts. I learned there were types: Causal (consequently); Additive (furthermore) Sequential (initially, finally), and Adversative (however, nevertheless). To older students, I taught transition sentences that connect one paragraph to another, and then later when they were writing longer pieces, I taught transitional paragraphs.

I learned in college that there was even an "Age of Transition" in the second half of the eighteenth century where the change was from pseudo-classicism to romanticism. The transitional poets mark the beginning of a reaction against the rational, intellectual, formal, artificial, and the unromantic poetry of the age of Pope and Johnson.

Here is part of "Autumn Song" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

One transition poem I like is "Originally" by Carol Ann Duffy. It is about a child who transforms as she emigrates to a new country, loses her original accent, and begins to sound like all the other students. There is loss and gain in this transition. 

All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,
leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,
leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys
eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.
My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth
in my head. I want our own country, I said.

In a small collection of poems about transitions, I found a poem that I have heard Lucille Clifton read several times.

blessing the boats
(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear...

I like the way the poem ends - "and may you in your innocence / sail through this to that

Another fairly well-known poem about transition is "The Journey" by Mary Oliver, which begins:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–

We have used all three of those poets multiple times for our prompts, so this month we'll look at a poem by someone new to the website - Maggie Smith.  Her poem, "Good Bones" (from her collection Good Bones) begins with a wonderful line: "Life is short, though I keep this from my children." The speaker keeps a lot from her children and like a good realtor showing a lousy home, she tells them that life has "good bones."

This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

In "The Journey," Oliver writes about that moment when you take the chance and listen to your own truth and set sail (as Clifton says) into a new phase of your life. Transitions can be filled with optimism or filled with pessimism or apprehension. Your poem can be about one of those big life transitions or one of the smaller passages we often make.


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