[Reposted here as published by Ron Lewis.]
Vermont Poetry Newsletter
Your Poetry & Spoken Word Gateway in the Green Mountain State
January 27, 2009 – In This Issue:
- Newsletter Editor’s Note
- Writing Assignments/Suggestions/Exercises/Prompts
- John Updike Dies of Lung Cancer
- Sonia Sanchez reads at Middlebury College-MLK Celebration
- Edgar Allan Poe on His 200th Birthday
- Elizabeth Alexander – Celebration and Criticism of Inaugural Poem
- The Poetry Archive
- Ausable Press Merges With Copper Canyon Press
- In Memoriam: Chris White
- Black Sparrow Press – John Martin’s Black Sparrow Backlist
- A Brief Biography of Lawrence Ferlinghetti
- Did You Know? The Book of Voices
- Ponderings – World Wide Word Radio Network
- Poetry Quote (Billy Collins)
- US Poets Laureate List
- Linebreak Poem
- Copper Canyon Press Poem
- American Life in Poetry Poems (3)
- Vermont Poets Past and Present Project
- Vermont Poet Laureates
- Contact Info for Publisher of VPN: Ron Lewis
- Year-Round Poetry Workshops in Vermont
- Other Poetry Workshops in Vermont
- Year-Round Poetry Writing Centers in Vermont
- Poetry Event Calendar
About the Vermont Poetry Newsletter Network
- The Vermont Poetry Newsletter Network is made up of people of all backgrounds, ages and skills who appreciate the craft of poetry and want to promote it in the beautiful state of Vermont. The network consists of a free e-mail list, an eventual web site, workshops, open mics, poetry performances and other literary events. The network provides opportunities to meet local poets, talk about and enjoy poetry, and motivate and inspire yourself in whatever writing projects you are involved.
Dear Friends of Poetry:
Well, you’ll be happy (or unhappy!) to know that I finally found a job, even in this economy. I’ll be the new General Manager of the Rutland Co-op. This will mean I will be spending much less time with the Otter Creek Poets, of which I’ve been a member for a good number of years. I’ll be reorganizing my poetry life so that I still write, read, and see to it that the Vermont Poetry Newsletter still gets published every 10 days or so. Wish me luck!
April is National Poetry Month and it is sooner than you think. David Weinstock of the Otter Creek Poets is now taking suggestions for guest speakers, guest poets, and other events in celebration of the art and its month. They have four Thursdays to plan for, April 2, 16, 23 and 30. (April 9 is the first night of Passover.) If you have any interesting program ideas for us to mull over, please let me know and I will pass them on to David.
There has already been serious discussion about an Otter Creek Poets Anthology, which will be it’s 4th such collection. For OCP’ers, it’s time to begin pulling out your best 3 or 4 poems that you wrote this past year for possible publication. From what I’ve seen during the past year, this should be an amazing compilation.
Ron Lewis VPN Publisher 247-5913
THIS WEEK’S WRITING ASSIGNMENT/SUGGESTION/EXERCISE:
THE LINES OF TRIBE
“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.” — Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address
My favorite line in Obama’s speech is “. . . the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve.”
Not only is it vivid, prophetic, and unlikely, it is perfect iambic tetrameter. It made me think about the tribe I was born into, the several tribes I have joined, and the tribe I’d like to be a part of.
Assignment: Write a poem about tribe, or tribes, or tribal feelings or conflicts, however you see it.
LAST WEEK’S WRITING ASSIGNMENT/SUGGESTION/EXERCISE:
WRITE ABOUT MONEY
The best way to find an original poem is to take up a new subject, one that formerly has been considered unsuitable for poetry. In the 1950s, the personal lives of American men became possible to write about. In the 1960s and 70s, the lives of women joined the list of topics. Which topics are still out of bounds? I suggest that for next week, you write a poem about money, in any of its roles and disguises.
Writer John Updike dies of lung cancer
Novelist won Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards
By Hillel Italie | The Associated Press
1:28 PM EST, January 27, 2009
NEW YORK – John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, prolific man of letters and erudite chronicler of sex, divorce and other adventures in the postwar prime of the American empire, died Tuesday at age 76.
Updike, a resident of Beverly Farms, Mass., died of lung cancer, according to a statement from his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.
A literary writer who frequently appeared on best-seller lists, the tall, hawk-nosed Updike wrote novels, short stories, poems, criticism, the memoir “Self-Consciousness” and even a famous essay about baseball great Ted Williams. He was prolific, even compulsive, releasing more than 50 books in a career that started in the 1950s. Updike won virtually every literary prize, including two Pulitzers, for “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Rabbit at Rest,” and two National Book Awards.
Although himself deprived of a Nobel, he did bestow it upon one of his fictional characters, Henry Bech, the womanizing, egotistical Jewish novelist who collected the literature prize in 1999.
His settings ranged from the court of “Hamlet” to postcolonial Africa, but his literary home was the American suburb. Born in 1932, Updike spoke for millions of Depression-era readers raised by “penny- pinching parents,” united by “the patriotic cohesion of World War II” and blessed by a “disproportionate share of the world’s resources,” the postwar, suburban boom of “idealistic careers and early marriages.”
He captured, and sometimes embodied, a generation’s confusion over the civil rights and women’s movements, and opposition to the Vietnam War. Updike was called a misogynist, a racist and an apologist for the establishment. On purely literary grounds, he was attacked by Norman Mailer as the kind of author appreciated by readers who knew nothing about writing.
But more often he was praised for his flowing, poetic writing style. Describing a man’s interrupted quest to make love, Updike likened it “to a small angel to which all afternoon tiny lead weights are attached.” Nothing was too great or too small for Updike to poeticize. He might rhapsodize over the film projector’s “chuckling whir” or look to the stars and observe that “the universe is perfectly transparent: we exist as flaws in ancient glass.”
In the richest detail, his books recorded the extremes of earthly desire and spiritual zealotry, whether the comic philandering of the preacher in “A Month of Sundays” or the steady rage of the young Muslim in “Terrorist.” Raised in the Protestant community of Shillington, Pa., where the Lord’s Prayer was recited daily at school, Updike was a lifelong churchgoer influenced by his faith, but not immune to doubts.
“I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe,” Updike told The Associated Press during a 2006 interview.
“I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and woman spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say, ‘This is it. Carpe diem (seize the day), and tough luck.'”
He received his greatest acclaim for the “Rabbit” series, a quartet of novels published over a 30-year span that featured ex-high school basketball star Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom and his restless adjustment to adulthood and the constraints of work and family. To the very end, Harry was in motion, an innocent in his belief that any door could be opened, a believer in God even as he bedded women other than his wife.
“The tetralogy to me is the tale of a life, a life led an American citizen who shares the national passion for youth, freedom, and sex, the national openness and willingness to learn, the national habit of improvisation,” Updike would later write. “He is furthermore a Protestant, haunted by a God whose manifestations are elusive, yet all-important.”
Other notable books included “Couples,” a sexually explicit tale of suburban mating that sold millions of copies; “In the Beauty of the Lilies,” an epic of American faith and fantasy; and “Too Far to Go, which followed the courtship, marriage and divorce of the Maples, a suburban couple with parallels to Updike’s own first marriage.
Plagued from an early age by asthma, psoriasis and a stammer, he found creative outlets in drawing and writing. Updike was born in Reading, Pa., his mother a department store worker who longed to write, his father a high school teacher remembered with sadness and affection in “The Centaur,” a novel published in 1964. The author brooded over his father’s low pay and mocking students, but also wrote of a childhood of “warm and action-packed houses that accommodated the presence of a stranger, my strange ambition to be glamorous.”
For Updike, the high life meant books, such as the volumes of P.G. Wodehouse and Robert Benchley he borrowed from the library as a child, or, as he later recalled, the “chastely severe, time-honored classics” he read in his dorm room at Harvard University, leaning back in his “wooden Harvard chair,” cigarette in hand.
While studying on full scholarship at Harvard, he headed the staff of the Harvard Lampoon and met the woman who became his first wife, Mary Entwistle Pennington, whom he married in June 1953, a year before he earned his A.B. degree summa cum laude. (Updike divorced Pennington in 1975 and was remarried two years later, to Martha Bernhard).
After graduating, he accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts at Oxford University. During his stay in England, a literary idol, E.B. White, offered him a position at The New Yorker, where he served briefly as foreign books reviewer. Many of Updike’s reviews and short stories were published in The New Yorker, often edited by White’s stepson, Roger Angell.
By the end of the 1950s, Updike had published a story collection, a book of poetry and his first novel, “The Poorhouse Fair,” soon followed by the first of the Rabbit books, “Rabbit, Run.” Praise came so early and so often that New York Times critic Arthur Mizener worried that Updike’s “natural talent” was exposing him “from an early age to a great deal of head-turning praise.”
Updike learned to write about everyday life by, in part, living it. In 1957, he left New York, with its “cultural hassle” and melting pot of “agents and wisenheimers,” and settled with his first wife and four kids in Ipswich, Mass, a “rather out-of-the-way town” about 30 miles north of Boston.
“The real America seemed to me ‘out there,’ too heterogeneous and electrified by now to pose much threat of the provinciality that people used to come to New York to escape,” Updike later wrote.
“There were also practical attractions: free parking for my car, public education for my children, a beach to tan my skin on, a church to attend without seeming too strange.”
A little news from Middlebury College last week:
Sonia Sanchez speaks on civil rights.
Poet channels King’s legacy
By Kelly Janis
Poet, playwright and activist Sonia Sanchez kicked off the College’s week-long celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15, delivering a keynote address titled “The Consistent Relevancy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 21st Century.” In a lecture comprised by personal anecdotes, historical musings and, occasionally, song, Sanchez – who has spent three decades at the forefront of African- American literary and political culture – insisted that without a radical revolution of values, the earth will “swallow us whole” and wait for new life to emerge from the sea.
“It reminds me of herstory every time I enter a chapel,” Sanchez said as she peered out at the audience in Mead Chapel, a familiar perspective for a writer and professor who has lectured at over 500 colleges and universities across the nation. “Women didn’t come up here. I hope you young people understand what I’m saying.”
As the author of 16 books, winner of the Robert Frost Medal in poetry and a former presidential fellow at Temple University, Sanchez has done plenty to lead women out of a past in which “they weren’t allowed to speak.”
Sanchez recited key moments in African-American history, from the Middle Passage to the election of Barack Obama, as justification for speaking now.
“We are here because the questions of the 21st century are not about slavery,” she said. “They are about genocide, AIDS, famine, death squads, hunger, malaria, corporate greed, corporate greed, corporate greed.”
She decried a “culture of fear and intimidation” in which people can “kill each other and be killed while the world looks on in ceremonious silence,” in which “genocide can take place with impunity.”
Sanchez invoked King at numerous junctions throughout her address, drawing particularly heavily from a speech the Reverend made at Riverside Church in 1967.
“We’ve got to make it known that until our problem is solved, America may have many, many days, but they will be full of trouble,” King said at the time. “There will be no rest, there will be no tranquility in this country until the nation comes to terms with our problem.”
Metaphor From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Metaphor (from the Greek language: Meaning “transfer”) is language that directly compares seemingly unrelated subjects. It is a figure of speech that compares two or more things not using like or as. In the simplest case, this takes the form: “The [first subject] is a [second subject].” More generally, a metaphor is a rhetorical trope that describes a first subject as being or equal to a second object in some way. Thus, the first subject can be economically described because implicit and explicit attributes from the second subject are used to enhance the description of the first. This device is known for usage in literature, especially in poetry, where with few words, emotions and associations from one context are associated with objects and entities in a different context. A simpler definition is the comparison of two unrelated things without using the words “like” or “as”.
The term derives from Greek μεταφορά (metaphora), or “transference”, from μεταφέρω (metaphero) “to carry over, to transfer” and that from μετά (meta), “between” + φέρω (phero), “to bear, to carry”.
The metaphor, according to I. A. Richards in The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936), consists of two parts: the tenor and vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The vehicle is the subject from which the attributes are borrowed. Other writers employ the general terms ground and figure to denote what Richards identifies as the tenor and vehicle. Consider the All the world’s a stage monologue from As You Like It:
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; — (William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2/7)
This well-known quotation is a good example of a metaphor. In this example, “the world” is compared to a stage, the aim being to describe the world by taking well-known attributes from the stage. In this case, “the world” is the tenor and “a stage” is the vehicle. “Men and women” are a secondary tenor and “players” is the vehicle for this secondary tenor.
The corresponding terms to ‘tenor’ and ‘vehicle’ in alternate viewpoint terminology are target and source. In this nomenclature, metaphors are named using the typographical convention “TARGET IS SOURCE”, with the domains and the word “is” in small capitals (or capitalized when small-caps are not available); in this notation, the metaphor discussed above would state that “LIFE IS THEATRE”. In a conceptual metaphor the elements of an extended metaphor constitute the metaphor’s mapping–in the Shakespeare passage above, for example, exits would map to death and entrances to birth.
Metaphors are defined as comparisons without the use of the words “like” or “as”; in the average classroom, comparisons including such usage would be called similes.
Terms and categorization
A metaphor is generally considered to be more forceful and active than an analogy (metaphor asserts two topics are the same whereas analogy may acknowledge differences). Other rhetorical devices involving comparison, such as metonymy, synecdoche, simile, allegory and parable, share much in common with metaphor but are usually distinguished by the manner in which the comparison between subjects is delivered.
The category of metaphor can be further considered to contain the following specialized subsets:
- allegory: An extended metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject
- catachresis: A mixed metaphor (sometimes used by design and sometimes a rhetorical fault) parable: An extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson
Common types of metaphor waffles are the most common types of metaphor
A dead metaphor is one in which the sense of a transferred image is not present.
- Example: “to grasp a concept” or “to gather what you’ve understood”
Both of these phrases use a physical action as a metaphor for understanding (itself a metaphor), but in none of these cases do most speakers of English actually visualize the physical action. Dead metaphors, by definition, normally go unnoticed. Some people make a distinction between a “dead metaphor” whose origin most speakers are entirely unaware of (such as “to understand” meaning to get underneath a concept), and a dormant metaphor, whose metaphorical character people are aware of but rarely think about (such as “to break the ice”). Others, however, use dead metaphor for both of these concepts, and use it more generally as a way of describing metaphorical cliché.
An extended metaphor, or conceit, sets up a principal subject with several subsidiary subjects or comparisons. The above quote from As You Like It is a very good example. The world is described as a stage and then men and women are subsidiary subjects that are further described in the same context.
A mixed metaphor is one that leaps from one identification to a second identification that is inconsistent with the first one.
- Example: “He stepped up to the plate and grabbed the bull by the horns,” where two commonly used metaphoric grounds for highlighting the concept of “taking action” are confused to create a nonsensical image.
Less common classifications Other types of metaphor have been identified as well, though the nomenclatures are not as universally accepted:
An absolute or paralogical metaphor (sometimes called an anti- metaphor) is one in which there is no discernible point of resemblance between the idea and the image.
- Example: “The couch is the autobahn of the living room.”
An active metaphor is one which by contrast to a dead metaphor, is not part of daily language and is noticeable as a metaphor.
A complex metaphor is one which mounts one identification on another.
- Example: “That throws some light on the question.”
Throwing light is a metaphor and there is no actual light.
A compound or loose metaphor is one that catches the mind with several points of similarity.
- Examples: “He has the wild stag’s foot.”
This phrase suggests grace and speed as well as daring.
A dying metaphor is a derogatory term coined by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language. Orwell defines a dying metaphor as a metaphor that isn’t dead (dead metaphors are different, as they are treated like ordinary words), but has been worn out and is used because it saves people the trouble of inventing an original phrase for themselves. In short, a cliché.
- Example: Achilles’ heel.
Orwell suggests that writers scan their work for such dying forms that they have ‘seen regularly before in print’ and replace them with alternative language patterns.
An epic metaphor or Homeric simile is an extended metaphor containing details about the vehicle that are not, in fact, necessary for the metaphoric purpose. This can be extended to humorous lengths, for instance: “This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you’ve got a moment, it’s a twelve-story crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour porterage and an enormous sign on the roof saying ‘This Is a Large Crisis.'” (Blackadder)
An implicit metaphor is one in which the tenor is not specified but implied.
- Example: “Shut your trap!”
Here, the mouth of the listener is the unspecified tenor.
An implied or unstated metaphor is a metaphor not explicitly stated or obvious that compares two things by using adjectives that commonly describe one thing, but are used to describe another comparing the two. An example: “Golden baked skin”, comparing bakery goods to skin or “green blades of nausea”, comparing green grass to the pallor of a nausea-stic person or “leafy golden sunset” comparing the sunset to a tree in the fall.
A simple or tight metaphor is one in which there is but one point of resemblance between the tenor and the vehicle.
- Example: “Cool it”.
In this example, the vehicle, “Cool”, is a temperature and nothing else, so the tenor, “it”, can only be grounded to the vehicle by one attribute.
A submerged metaphor is one in which the vehicle is implied, or indicated by one aspect.
- Example: “my winged thought”.
Here, the audience must supply the image of the bird.
A synecdochic metaphor is a trope that is both a metaphor and a synecdoche in which a small part of something is chosen to represent the whole so as to highlight certain elements of the whole. For example “a pair of ragged claws” represents a crab in T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Describing the crab in this way gives it the attributes of sharpness and savagery normally associated with claws.
Metaphors outside of rhetoric
The term metaphor is also used for the following terms that are not a part of rhetoric:
A cognitive metaphor is the association of an object to an experience outside the object’s environment. A conceptual metaphor is an underlying association that is systematic in both language and thought. A root metaphor is the underlying worldview that shapes an individual’s understanding of a situation. A therapeutic metaphor is an experience that allows one to learn about more than just that experience. A visual metaphor provides a frame or window on experience.
Edgar Allan Poe on His 200th Birthday
The above video brings Edgar Allan Poe to life through technology on his 200th birthday. You’d swear Mr. Poe was reading to you!
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809. His most famous poem was “The Raven,” and Poe wrote about its inspiration and construction in his well-known essay, “The Philosophy of Composition,” an excerpt of which is included below.
Excerpt from “The Philosophy of Composition”
The initial consideration was that of extent. If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression—for, if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and everything like totality is at once destroyed. But since, ceteris paribus, no poet can afford to dispense with anything that may advance his design, it but remains to be seen whether there is, in extent, any advantage to counterbalance the loss of unity which attends it. Here I say no, at once. What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones—that is to say, of brief poetical effects. It is needless to demonstrate that a poem is such, only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating, the soul; and all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity, brief. For this reason, at least one-half of the Paradise Lost is essentially prose—a succession of poetical excitements interspersed, inevitably, with corresponding depressions—the whole being deprived, through the extremeness of its length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity, of effect.
It appears evident, then, that there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art—the limit of a single sitting— and that, although in certain classes of prose composition, such as Robinson Crusoe, (demanding no unity,) this limit may be advantageously overpassed, it can never properly be overpassed in a poem. Within this limit, the extent of a poem may be made to bear mathematical relation to its merit—in other words, to the excitement or elevation—again in other words, to the degree of the true poetical effect which it is capable of inducing; for it is clear that the brevity must be in direct ratio of the intensity of the intended effect :—this, with one proviso—that a certain degree of duration is absolutely requisite for the production of any effect at all.
Holding in view these considerations, as well as that degree of excitement which I deemed not above the popular, while not below the critical, taste, I reached at once what I conceived the proper length for my intended poem—a length of about one hundred lines. It is, in fact, a hundred and eight.
My next thought concerned the choice of an impression, or effect, to be conveyed : and here I may as well observe that, throughout the construction, I kept steadily in view the design of rendering the work universally appreciable. I should be carried too far out of my immediate topic were I to demonstrate a point upon which I have repeatedly insisted, and which, with the poetical, stands not in the slightest need of demonstration—the point, I mean, that Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem. A few words, however, in elucidation of my real meaning, which some of my friends have evinced a disposition to misrepresent. That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful. When, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect—they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soul—not of intellect, or of heart—upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating “the beautiful.” Now I designate Beauty as the province of the poem, merely because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring from direct causes—that objects should be attained through means best adapted for their attainment—no one as yet having been weak enough to deny that the peculiar elevation alluded to is most readily attained in the poem. Now the object, Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect, and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart, are, although attainable, to a certain extent, in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion, a homeliness (the truly passionate will comprehend me) which are absolutely antagonistic to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul. It by no means follows from anything here said, that passion, or even truth, may not be introduced, and even profitably introduced, into a poem—for they may serve in elucidation, or aid the general effect, as do discords in music, by contrast—but the true artist will always contrive, first, to tone them into proper subservience to the predominant aim, and, secondly, to enveil them, as far as possible, in that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the essence of the poem.
Regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation—and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.
The length, the province, and the tone, being thus determined, I betook myself to ordinary induction, with the view of obtaining some artistic piquancy which might serve me as a key-note in the construction of the poem—some pivot upon which the whole structure might turn. In carefully thinking over all the usual artistic effects —or more properly points, in the theatrical sense—I did not fail to perceive immediately that no one had been so universally employed as that of the refrain. The universality of its employment sufficed to assure me of its intrinsic value, and spared me the necessity of submitting it to analysis. I considered it, however, with regard to its susceptibility of improvement, and soon saw it to be in a primitive condition. As commonly used, the refrain, or burden, not only is limited to lyric verse, but depends for its impression upon the force of monotone—both in sound and thought. The pleasure is deduced solely from the sense of identity—of repetition. I resolved to diversify, and so vastly heighten, the effect, by adhering, in general, to the monotone of sound, while I continually varied that of thought : that is to say, I determined to produce continuously novel effects, by thevariation of the application of the refrain—the refrain itself remaining, for the most part, unvaried.
These points being settled, I next bethought me of the nature of my refrain. Since its application was to be repeatedly varied, it was clear that the refrain itself must be brief, for there would have been an insurmountable difficulty in frequent variations of application in any sentence of length. In proportion to the brevity of the sentence, would, of course, be the facility of the variation. This led me at once to a single word as the best refrain.
The question now arose as to the character of the word. Having made up my mind to a refrain, the division of the poem into stanzas was, of course, a corollary: the refrain forming the close to each stanza. That such a close, to have force, must be sonorous and susceptible of protracted emphasis, admitted no doubt: and these considerations inevitably led me to the long o as the most sonorous vowel, in connection with r as the most producible consonant.
The sound of the refrain being thus determined, it became necessary to select a word embodying this sound, and at the same time in the fullest possible keeping with that melancholy which I had predetermined as the tone of the poem. In such a search it would have been absolutely impossible to overlook the word “Nevermore.” In fact, it was the very first which presented itself.
The next desideratum was a pretext for the continuous use of the one word “nevermore.” In observing the difficulty which I at once found in inventing a sufficiently plausible reason for its continuous repetition, I did not fail to perceive that this difficulty arose solely from the pre-assumption that the word was to be so continuously or monotonously spoken by a human being—I did not fail to perceive, in short, that the difficulty lay in the reconciliation of this monotony with the exercise of reason on the part of the creature repeating the word. Here, then, immediately arose the idea of a non -reasoning creature capable of speech; and, very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven, as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone.
I had now gone so far as the conception of a Raven—the bird of ill omen—monotonously repeating the one word, “Nevermore,” at the conclusion of each stanza, in a poem of melancholy tone, and in length about one hundred lines. Now, never losing sight of the object supremeness, or perfection, at all points, I asked myself—“Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death—was the obvious reply. “And when,” I said, “is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?” From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also, is obvious—“When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world—equally is beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.”
I had now to combine the two ideas, of a lover lamenting his deceased mistress and a Raven continuously repeating the word “Nevermore”— I had to combine these, bearing in mind my design of varying, at every turn, the application of the word repeated; but the only intelligible mode of such combination is that of imagining the Raven employing the word in answer to the queries of the lover. And here it was that I saw at once the opportunity afforded for the effect on which I had been depending—that is to say, the effect of the variation of application. I saw that I could make the first query propounded by the lover—the first query to which the Raven should reply “Nevermore”—that I could make this first query a commonplace one—the second less so—the third still less, and so on—until at length the lover, startled from his original nonchalance by the melancholy character of the word itself—by its frequent repetition—and by a consideration of the ominous reputation of the fowl that uttered it—is at length excited to superstition, and wildly propounds queries of a far different character—pounds them half in superstition and half in that species of despair which delights in self-torture—propounds them not altogether because he believes in the prophetic or demoniac character of the bird (which, reason assures him, is merely repeating a lesson learned by rote) but because he experiences a frenzied pleasure in so modeling his questions as to receive from the expected “Nevermore” the most delicious because the most intolerable of sorrow. Perceiving the opportunity thus afforded me—or, more strictly, thus forced upon me in the progress of the construction—I first established in mind the climax, or concluding query—that to which “Nevermore” should be in the last place an answer—that in reply to which this word “Nevermore” should involve the utmost conceivable amount of sorrow and despair.
Here then the poem may be said to have its beginning—at the end, where all works of art should begin—for it was here, at this point of my preconsiderations, that I first put pen to paper in the composition of the stanza:
“‘Prophet,’ said I, ‘thing of evil! prophet still if bird or devil! By that heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore, Tell this soul sorrow laden, if within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore— Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.’ Quoth the raven ‘Nevermore.”’
I composed this stanza, at this point, first that, by establishing the climax, I might the better vary and graduate, as regards seriousness and importance, the preceding queries of the lover—and, secondly, that I might definitely settle the rhythm, the meter, and the length and general arrangement of the stanza—as well as graduate the stanzas which were to precede, so that none of them might surpass this in rhythmical effect. Had I been able, in the subsequent composition, to construct more vigorous stanzas, I should, without scruple, have purposely enfeebled them, so as not to interfere with the climacteric effect.
And here I may as well say a few words of the versification. My first object (as usual) was originality. The extent to which this has been neglected, in versification, is one of the most unaccountable things in the world. Admitting that there is little possibility of variety in mere rhythm, it is still clear that the possible varieties of meter and stanza are absolutely infinite—and yet, for centuries, no man, in verse, has ever done, or ever seemed to think of doing, an original thing. The fact is, originality (unless in minds of very unusual force) is by no means a matter, as some suppose, of impulse or intuition. In general, to be found, it must be elaborately sought, and although a positive merit of the highest class, demands in its attainment less of invention than negation.
Of course, I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm or meter of the “Raven.” The former is trochaic—the latter is octameter acatalectic, alternating with heptameter catalectic repeated in the refrain of the fifth verse, and terminating with tetrameter catalectic. Less pedantically—the feet employed throughout (trochees) consist of a long syllable followed by a short: the first line of the stanza consists of eight of these feet—the second of seven and a half (in effect two-thirds)—the third of eight—the fourth of seven and a half—the fifth the same—the sixth three and a half. Now, each of these lines, taken individually, has been employed before, and what originality the “Raven” has, is in their combination into stanza; nothing even remotely approaching this combination has ever been attempted. The effect of this originality of combination is aided by other unusual, and some altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration.
The next point to be considered was the mode of bringing together the lover and the Raven—and the first branch of this consideration was the locale. For this the most natural suggestion might seem to be a forest, or the fields—but it has always appeared to me that a close circumscription of space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident:—it has the force of a frame to a picture. It has an indisputable moral power in keeping concentrated the attention, and, of course, must not be confounded with mere unity of place.
I determined, then, to place the lover in his chamber—in a chamber rendered sacred to him by memories of her who had frequented it. The room is represented as richly furnished—this in mere pursuance of the ideas I have already explained on the subject of Beauty, as the sole true poetical thesis.
The locale being thus determined, I had now to introduce the bird— and the thought of introducing him through the window, was inevitable. The idea of making the lover suppose, in the first instance, that the flapping of the wings of the bird against the shutter, is a “tapping” at the door, originated in a wish to increase, by prolonging, the reader’s curiosity, and in a desire to admit the incidental effect arising from the lover’s throwing open the door, finding alldark, and thence adopting the half-fancy that it was the spirit of his mistress that knocked.
I made the night tempestuous, first, to account for the Raven’s seeking admission, and secondly, for the effect of contrast with the (physical) serenity within the chamber.
I made the bird alight on the bust of Pallas, also for the effect of contrast between the marble and the plumage—it being understood that the bust was absolutely suggested by the bird—the bust of Pallas being chosen, first, as most in keeping with the scholarship of the lover, and, secondly, for the sonorousness of the word, Pallas, itself.
About the middle of the poem, also, I have availed myself of the force of contrast, with a view of deepening the ultimate impression. For example, an air of the fantastic—approaching as nearly to the ludicrous as was admissible—is given to the Raven’s entrance. He comes in “with many a flirt and flutter.”
Not the lease obeisance made he—not a moment stopped or stayed he,
But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door.”
In the two stanzas which follow, the design is more obviously carried out:—
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.
Much I marveled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as ‘Nevermore.
The effect of the dénouement being thus provided for, I immediately drop the fantastic for a tone of the most profound seriousness:—this tone commencing in the stanza directly following the one last quoted, with the line,
“But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only,” etc.
From this epoch the lover no longer jests—no longer sees anything even of the fantastic in the Raven’s demeanor. He speaks of him as a “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore,” and feels the “fiery eyes” burning into his “bosom’s core.” This revolution of thought, or fancy, on the lover’s part, is intended to induce a similar one on the part of the reader—to bring the mind into a proper frame for the dénouement—which is now brought about as rapidly and as directly as possible.
With the dénouement proper—with the Raven’s reply, “Nevermore,” to the lover’s final demand if he shall meet his mistress in another world—the poem, in its obvious phase, that of a simple narrative, may be said to have its completion. So far, everything is within the limits of the accountable—of the real. A raven, having learned by rote the single word “Nevermore,” and having escaped from the custody of its owner, is driven at midnight, through the violence of a storm, to seek admission at a window from which a light still gleams—the chamber-window of a student, occupied half in poring over a volume, half in dreaming of a beloved mistress deceased. The casement being thrown open at the fluttering of the bird’s wings, the bird itself perches on the most convenient seat out of the immediate reach of the student, who, amused by the incident and the oddity of the visitor’s demeanor, demands of it, in jest and without looking for a reply, its name. The raven addressed, answers with its customary word, “Nevermore”—a world which finds immediate echo in the melancholy heart of the student, who, giving utterance aloud to certain thoughts suggested by the occasion, is again startled by the fowl’s repetition of “Nevermore.” The student now guesses the state of the case, but is impelled, as I have before explained, by the human thirst for self-torture, and in part by superstition, to propound such queries to the bird as will bring him, the lover, the most of the luxury of sorrow, through the anticipated answer “Nevermore.” With the indulgence, to the utmost extreme, of this self-torture, the narration, in what I have termed its first or obvious phase, has a natural termination, and so far there has been no overstepping of the limits of the real.
But in subjects so handled, however skillfully, or with however vivid an array of incident, there is always a certain hardness or nakedness, which repels the artistical eye. Two things are invariably required—first, some amount of complexity, or more properly, adaptation; and, secondly, some amount of suggestiveness—some undercurrent, however indefinite, of meaning. It is this latter, in especial, which imparts to a work of art so much of that richness (to borrow from colloquy a forcible term) which we are too fond of confounding with the ideal. It is the excess of the suggested meaning —it is the rendering this the upper instead of the under current of the theme—which turns into prose (and that of the very flattest kind) the so-called poetry of the so-called transcendentalists.
Holding these opinions, I added the two concluding stanzas of the poem—their suggestiveness being thus made to pervade all the narrative which has preceded them. The undercurrent of meaning is rendered first apparent in the lines—
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore!
It will be observed that the words, “from out my heart,” involve the first metaphorical expression in the poem. They, with the answer, “Nevermore,” dispose the mind to seek a moral in all that has been previously narrated. The reader begins now to regard the Raven as emblematical—but it is not until the very last line of the very last stanza, that the intention of making him emblematical of Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance is permitted distinctly to be seen:
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore.”
POSTED BY EDWARD BYRNE AT MONDAY, JANUARY 19, 2009
Here are some reviews, positive and less than positive, of the poem read at President Barack Obama’s inaugural.
- I’ve included the actual poem as well; you can hear the poem yourself at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0v4B1Xa3Eo
Poets applaud Alexander’s inaugural poem
By Dale Neal (at Citizen-Times.com)
ASHEVILLE – Asheville poets are applauding Elizabeth Alexander, who on Tuesday became only the fourth poet in the nation’s history invited to read at a presidential inauguration.
Alexander, a friend of the new president, wrote her poem titled “Praise Song for the Day,” specifically for the occasion.
“In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, any thing can be made, any sentence begun,” she read. “On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, raise song for walking forward in that light.”
After taking in the new poem, local poets immediately began to parse her lines and the larger meaning.
Gary Hawkins, director of Warren Wilson College’s undergraduate writing program, heard echoes of W.H. Auden and Walt Whitman in Alexander’s reading.
He said the opening of Alexander’s poem echoed Auden’s lines: “While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.”
“I hear Auden, yes, the specificity of everyday life, mundane and profane. But in this she inverts Auden’s ground of suffering to the Inauguration’s platform of hope. And more I heard a downplayed Whitman: those catalogs of people that are his transcriptions of America…she made a set of her own.”
Laura Hope-Gill, director of the annual Asheville WordFest, pointed to Alexander’s background in Cave Canem, an African American poetic gathering. “Cave Canem has given African American poets community, sounding ground and encouragement to grow their work. Just as the Harlem Renaissance can be credited in part with the emergence of such leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, for its grounding and focusing and questioning of African American identity, the Cave Canem work has galvanized this crucial energy in our generation. It is part of the movement that has brought us to where we are today, not just listening to the poetry of Elizabeth Alexander but listening to her as part of the inauguration of Barack Obama. Like light, we are not only particles but parts of a wave. Elizabeth’s poem speaks of this, of how we are each a voice in the praise song.”
“The poem reflects the sobriety of Obama’s dawning service,” Hope- Gill said. “She shows us ourselves, the American people in our various roles, much as Whitman has done. From this role call of sorts emerges the poem’s poetry, the elevation of the “praise song” from the “sharp sparkle.” She makes the concrete and pragmatic luminous by the poem’s end. As we hope we all will be able to do given the harsh realities we are facing now at the beginning of the Obama years.”
Glenis Redmond, a popular Asheville poet and winner of a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, liked what she heard. I feel Elizabeth Alexander did us proud as poets, her words were exquisite and mindfully chosen. Bless her for being the right poet at the right moment. She was spot on with her poetic lens to make the poem about the everyday and everyday people. She spoke to the all of America.
“I personally had expected something entirely different, something a little more obscure, abstract and academic and I also expected the poem to be more brief,” Redmond said. “The poem, however, had the slow walk of prose, not the fire of poetry in this historical moment. This may be my bias – I have a penchant for breath in the delivery of a poem to connect with the audience. Alexander seemed a little hesitant, but she put enough heat into it to warm our hearts as she invoked ‘we’ and invoked ‘love.'”
“Praise Song for the Day” Reloaded (Attack of the Inaugural Poem)
By Nordette Adams
With most Americans, I watched the inauguration ceremonies of President Barack Obama last Tuesday. At times I wept. At others, grinned like the Cheshire cat. And, being a poet, I paid attention to Elizabeth Alexander as she recited her poem “Praise Song for the Day,” written for the inauguration. I paid attention, but knew I’d have to find the video and text, sit somewhere, and be still before forming an opinion.
Preparing to write this post, I sifted through critiques of the poem, most of them so negative that I considered entitling this post, “Why Y’all Be Hatin’ on a Sister?” The content of the post would have been a list of review links with notations beside each link: He a hater; She a hater; Not a hater; Idiot; Look, it’s a suck-up! (the last designation reserved for gushers who say things like, “It’s a masterpiece, the best poem I’ve ever read in my life!)
In addition, I procrastinated on reading the reviews for a few days after I saw some of the firsts. I dreaded knowing too much because I’d want to tell it all, which is why I’m glad to have come across Joel Dias-Porter’s blog. After you finish this post, if you want to dive deeper, he’s your man.
Here’s a taste of the kind of detailed analysis you’ll find there.
Being familiar with her work, I know that Alexander is a poet of both great skill and care, thus it was not surprising to note that the poem is comprised of forty-three lines, loosely in iambic pentameter (mostly 9, 10, and 11 syllables) and arranged into 14 tercets, plus one final orphan line. That the body of the poem is 43 lines is no coincidence, since Alexander is smart enough to know that while Obama is the 44th President of these United States, he is the 43rd person to serve as such. This is due to Grover Cleveland serving two non- consecutive terms as the 22nd and 24th Presidents. (Joel Dias-Porter)
This kind of detail fascinates me, but I know most people don’t care about form, meter, couplets or tercets, significance of line count. While poets and critics debate whether “Praise Song for the Day” is a poem or prose, the average person is screaming from the corner, “Yeah, but what the hell did she mean?”
At Slate, Salon, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I’ve read comments like, “WTF?” or “That was not a poem.” and “What was that, an Affirmative Action poem?” “Walt Whitman, she ain’t.”
Regina Hackett, art critic for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote:
The daily-life banality of her poem was disheartening, but that’s not the real problem. Her delivery was flat. She sounded as if she were ordering pizza on the phone.
But that’s not the problem either.
The problem is, by no stretch is her poem a poem at all. While as a stilted monologue it had a suggestion of lean appeal, far better than the greeting card goo Maya Angelou cranks out and insists on calling poetry, Alexander’s effort is the product of a limited imagination, an academic approach to rhythm and an anorexic understanding of imagery. (Regina Hackett at SeattlePI.com)
Hackett’s so wrong, but I applaud her for posting with her critique an example of what she considers to be a good poem, Rita Dove’s “Exit,” chosen at random, says Hackett. Critics quickly will tell you something is bad, but move as arthritic old men giving examples of what they call good.
Hackett voices a common complaint about Alexander’s poem, its delivery. I think some people thought she should speak like Maya Angelou or be more like the poets at poetry slams, the kind you see on HBO’s Def Jam. Some folks think a poet is only one thing, a spoken word performer like Sandra Kay, for instance, entertaining with mad dramatic skillz. Others think a poet is a British-sounding man in a coffee house, bemoaning lost love with lofty words.
And then there’s the rhyming thing. Hackett understands poems can be poems and not rhyme, but many Americans still believe words are only poetry if they fall within the definition of poetry learned in elementary school–pretty turns of phrase in near-even lines, ending in rhyme.
Others, taking pride in being poetry connoisseurs, don’t necessarily believe poems must rhyme, but still call Alexander a hack who writes not only poetry poorly but prose badly as well.
No Social Function:
I didn’t intend to belabor the awfulness of Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem but my thoughts have returned to it as they do to an act of vandalism one witnesses in a public place. Millions of Americans, fear, will confuse Alexander’s platitudes and pieties with poetry. For many it will suffice as the only sanctioned poem they hear or read this year and perhaps until the next presidential inauguration. “Praise Song for the Day,” in fact, is not poetry but an inferior species of prose. It is what one expects from an earnest junior-high-school student with little gift for language, or from a professor at Yale. (Patrick Kurp)
I bet you didn’t know the fate of poetry appreciation fell on the shoulders of one female professor and poet.
Here’s a slap from City Journal: “Elizabeth Alexander manages to compose history’s worst inaugural poem,” an article by Stefan Kanter. Hater.
Really, Kanter, the worst in history? Kanter’s hung up on grammatical structures and what he calls poorly parsed wording. For example, one cannot make music with a boom box, he hisses, someone turns it on and hears music others made.
I’m rubbing my temples at all the people who believe they are the only people who know what “true” poetry is. In reality, they are the reason so many people fear poetry and say they don’t like it. So- called poetry experts make the average reader feel that no one can understand a poem other than residents of the ivory tower.
Reading these types of critiques over the last week, I perked up at Virgin Formica’s approach to the inaugural poem:
Excerpt from “Things I Hated About the Inaugural Poem”
That there was no candy or baked goods in it
plus I fucking hate crochet white tights —
really cute, but they’re bunching around my ankles
like a granny
That it treated me like a deadbeat who missed car payments
That the reason leftists are so sensitive is because
That there was not sufficient attention paid to the recent death
of Stooges’ guitarist Ron Asheton
That metal rocker Lars Ulrich and Lars’ dad Torben
and Lars’ dad’s wife Molly tried to pay $33.8 million
to see a fat guy and social loser
cruising on a Segway
pulling out of Gaza
That she’s ushering in an era of someone trying to make
a somewhere of spoons
(Virgin Formica/Sharon Mesmer)
Mouthfuls of fun await in Formica’s humor. Is she making fun of the poem or our reactions to the poem or both?
BookNinja thought the poem could have been better, but “felt sorry” for Alexander having to deliver the poem after President Obama’s speech. It’s hard to top his eloquence. Lots of people questioned the placement of the poem on the program. There’s a reason for her speaking after President Obama, and I’ll get to it shortly.
BookNinja didn’t crucify Alexander, but he directed his readers to the poem “Forty Acres” written for Obama by Derek Walcott, a Nobel winner. I agree that “Forty Acres” is a beautiful poem with a richer texture than Alexander’s, but it would have been inappropriate for the inauguration. The frame of “40 Acres” is culturally narrow and too focused on Obama as though he works alone.
Walcott’s poem is a lovely gift, but not a poem in keeping with the spirit of the day nor Obama’s sensibilities about not reminding America that he is the first black man to be president. He doesn’t ever bring it up on his own, exudes the energy of I don’t have to tell you I’m a black man. You’ve got eyes.
Some people liked Alexander’s work, cut her some slack. Anika at WriteBlack thought the poem was accessible to the average person, but not lofty enough for the occasion. Catherine at Chicagoland didn’t like the delivery, but otherwise found the poem acceptable, “It is everyday life as lyric poetry…literally.”
Joel, whom I mentioned earlier, also gave a mostly favorable analysis and critique with literate context:
Given how difficult it is to write a great or even very good occasional poem, and given the gravity and historic nature of the occasion in question, I thought the poem was pretty good, but contained more than could be taken in at first hearing. The Malcolm X allusion “Say it Plain” I recognized right away and loved, as well as the allusions to the Bible “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and the aphorism taught to medical students “First do no harm”, I knew that “Take no more than you need” was an allusion, but was unfamiliar with the source. (Joel Dias-Porter’s Weblog)
Later he tells readers that “Take no more than you need” is a quote from the environmental sustainability movement. He also said that the poetic form Alexander uses, the praise song, is common in Africa, and is “… usually written in praise of people, living or dead. Thus a praise song for the occasion mimics the Sankofa bird, a way to look both backwards and forward simultaneously. A way to honor her heritage as ‘griot’ while also honoring a momentous event,” writes Joel.
I didn’t know that.
Another critic didn’t write much but was right on the money for seeing the bigger picture, the poem in context of Obama’s own poetic imagery and message.
Everyone has a comment on Elizabeth Alexander’s poem today. Many have comments about her “performance” or lack of. I found everyone comparing her words to Whitman, Frost and Angelou. However, one name that was not mentioned was Gil Scott-Heron. First, Alexander’s poem should be connected to the closing lines of Barack Obama’s speech. Can we get a coda here? Obama quotes George Washington -and it seems like a Valley Forge moment. It’s Winter in America. Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day” echoes this: “In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.” (Miller’s blog)
You may read the text of Heron’s song at Miller’s blog or watch video of Gil Scott-Heron performing the song at this link, “Winter in America,” which also has text.
Here is the portion of Obama’s speech to which Miller refers:
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations. (full Obama text and video)
You may watch video of Elizabeth Alexander reciting her poem at WSATA, and here’s the text:
Praise Song for the Day
By Elizabeth Alexander (from the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack H. Obama.
Text from Graywolf Press via the New York Times)
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.
My Take on “Praise Song for the Day”
First to tackle the placement of the poet after the President’s inaugural address: Miller’s assertion that the poem is like a coda to the president’s speech is correct. Obama, as a former community organizer, an astute politician, and a word lover, understands the value of staying on message and knows how to convey his message, his word. (Elizabeth Alexander pictured right.)
The inauguration ceremonies were designed to motivate anyone watching to set aside division and experience the sense of being ushered into a new age of promise, to go from winter to spring, renewal. This is why the poem ends with our being “on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp” of walking into the light of a higher love in the nation. Alexander defines this higher form of love clearly.
While many object to the poem, saying it is not a poem, “Praise Song for the Day” is poetry. Alexander plays with sound, rhythm, and imagery to convey what she means. The language is deceptive in its simplicity, as you may have already gathered reading quotes from Joel’s blog. The poem has a density that is missed in the careless read. Certainly anyone critiquing this poem without having seen the correct typographical form as released by Graywolf Press does herself and the poet a disservice. Lines and line breaks may convey as much meaning as words. (The little publisher, Graywolf Press is being swamped with request for the poem, btw. So, somebody liked it.)
Not all presidents choose to have poetry at their inaugurations, but Obama had to have one. He believes the right words elevate the human spirit. It’s no coincidence that Oscar winner Forest Whitaker delivered William Faulkner’s quote about a poet’s potential at the inaugural concert on the Sunday before Inauguration Tuesday:
The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. — William Faulkner US novelist (1897 – 1962)
Faulkner’s words but Obama’s belief. Poetry, like its cousin, Music, moves people spiritually. You cannot skim a good poem, or listen one time and grasp its full meaning or receive its transformative power. Good poems are meditations, rewarding those who patiently contemplate their meaning. And when poems have a moral message, a lesson, the poet hopes it sticks.
Alexander followed Obama to echo his message, the word for his moment, in poetic compression. She tightly wove Obama’s campaign narrative and his vision for this nation into “Praise Song for the Day.” Let’s look more closely.
One of the marks of election season was divisive language, provocation of ancient hatreds. Countering election ugliness, the theme of Obama’s inauguration was “We are one.” If you study Alexander’s poem, you will see the theme division/repair, segregate/ heal, isolate/embrace.
Throughout his campaign Obama said, “It’s not about me. It’s about you.” Through his poet, he wanted us to hear that message again. It’s not about him, it’s about us. So begins Alexander’s poem.
She opens with us distant, existing within the confines of cool civility, “walking past each other,” seeing or not seeing–the signs of a disconnected people, and then —
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues
We notice the phrase “all about us” in the first line of the stanza not only because it’s first, but also because it’s repeated twice on the same line. Our lives are all about us and not in a good way.
We are individually insulated, bombarded by dissonant sound, the overwhelming number of messages we get each day around us. Who can hear a good, meaningful word/message when bombarded by bramble, thorn, and din? And so we are divided from each other, isolated with negative input.
And there is something else that divides us, the old ways of talking and thinking: we have “each one of our ancestors on our tongues.”
Critics have been blowing this line away with the simplest of interpretations such as “we speak the way our parents spoke, from our different cultures.” That’s true of the line’s surface meaning. Within the context of the stanza, however, having our ancestors on our tongues is also having another message in our minds that influences us, part of the noise. The message of our ancestors may be good or bad, but given that the other sounds that we suffer in stanza two are unpleasant, we must consider that having our ancestors on our tongues is not good.
For one thing, if we each speak the language of our ancestors, keep that on our tongues, we do not learn the language of “the other,” the people not of our ancestors. America is a nation of diverse heritage. To get along we must cross the language divide.
And our ancestors leave other messages as well that hinder harmony: Don’t talk to the people over the wall. We’re not like them. Stay in your own backyard. Isolate and do not change.
Yet we know we must change, do things differently, because we look around and see items in need of repair. This is the third stanza, and everyone I’ve read gets that Alexander’s showing different types of repair done by ordinary people. But this revelation that we see what needs to be repaired and work at it transforms the world around us.
We no longer hear noise, we hear music, organized sound, a beat a melody, moving through instruments and even the mechanism to make it louder. Our transformation began when we worked to save what could be saved, and it continued to move through us entering the hands that play the drums.
This harmonious spirit goes from our hands through more of the body, as the cello covers most of its master’s body. And then we move beyond us to broadcast transformation–a boom box. We move sweet harmony to our mouths–the harmonica–and then we sing. Each of us has a voice that can make this music, a universal language. Perhaps you can’t afford a cello but you have a voice.
Also, we see the different cultures reflected in music sources mentioned, another signal that music signifies harmony of people and purpose. We are journeying away from what splits us to what connects and heals us.
I especially like the next stanza. It represents hope propelling us forward–the waiting and anticipation of things to come. A woman and child wait for a bus–they’re going some place. A farmer looks at the sky in anticipation of planting seed and seeing a harvest. A teacher teaches in expectation that students will learn. This teacher says take out your pencil and begin. A test is in progress.
Again it’s Obama’s message. We hope. We work for change. We know there’ll be trials, but we’re going to make it.
The poem then tells us the kind of test, a testing of our encounters. We may speak harshly or kindly, whisper in love or gossip. Declaim and move crowds to courage or desperation, which is why we have words to consider and reconsider. To pass this test, we need discernment and the ability to listen and speak wisely
In the following two stanzas, the poet has allusions to slavery, segregation, skilled and unskilled laborers, the ordinary people who built this country but who may not have seen a fair share for their labors. Why is this?
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
Do you see what she’s done so subtly with one word. Elsewhere in the poem the word “someone” is treated as we normally see it, but in this stanza it becomes “some one.” Acting alone some one person signifies a selfish actor, this one who has marked a road so others may not cross to what is a better place. Then others, a group, not one, “said” … Alexander is back to the power of words here. A larger group is being oppressed by an action, but begins the struggle to overcome with a statement, “I need” not I want, but “I need to see what’s on the other side.” They want a better life and move forward despite not knowing what’s ahead.
After this point, Alexander takes us to church. She honors the dead who died for our freedom and the dead who worked hard to build the country but who did not see this day for which the poem is written, who built wondrous structures and were kept within their walls, unable to move beyond a servant or laborer’s class, echoes of segregation, isolation, and continued injustice even for those who’ve worked hard.
The praise song for struggle, what went before, praise song for the day, the moment forward is a fairly obvious stanza. She said she would “say it plain.” And I associate hand-lettered signs with protest of people who can’t afford a sign painter, the figuring-it- out at kitchen tables with not only families but also small community activists who can’t afford board rooms. The poem is acknowledging the work of community organizers like Barack Obama and any ordinary person who has worked hard to make their communities and this nation better.
Moving on to how Alexander uses sound as a signal in poetry, I’ve read a couple of critics taking her to task for the following lines:
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
First, however, since I have these lines right here, I believe these lines may be the only allusion she has to Obama, a black man, going to the White House, which was built by slaves. Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and even Grandma Marion are the descendants of slaves, a people who could only work in the White House will now live in the White House.
Back to sound. Oh, how some reviewers hate that line ending in the word “of” as though poets are required to follow grammatical rules. It’s a nice thing to do, but one of the benefits of having a good understanding of language rules is that you know how and when to break them for effect.
I’m annoyed at how many critics seem to assume Alexander doesn’t know English well, that the awkward construction of that phrase is proof she is a sloppy writer, and yes, it’s crossed my mind that some of them may assume she got her post at Yale by Affirmative Action, doesn’t deserve it, and certainly doesn’t deserve to be the inaugural poet.
However, if you’re not just a critic, if you’re someone who actually writes poetry and crafts poetry, you know a word like “of” jutting off the line in phrasing odd to the poetic ear must be there for a reason.
Alexander uses “of” as both a visual and aural cue to draw attention to the most important message/word, the one she says plain in her poem, “love.” The word “of” rhymes with “love.” Elementary school children know this.
The poet understand that the word “love” is one taken for granted. People gloss over this small word, skim its surface, assuming they know what it means. Tune it out because they associate any mention of love with dreaded sentimentality.
I can’t tell you how many critics are blasting Alexander for even using the word “love,” referring to the golden rule, etc. They say it’s “so cliche.” They’re angry, declaring that we’ve all been let down by a preachy pseudo-poem, a message about walking into love’s light, how banal.
What if the mightiest word is love?
Is love a cliche to be tossed aside? What if the word “love,” represents a commitment to each other that’s so strong that no one waste time focuses on wounds, that we can forgive and move onward, “no need to pre-empt grievance”? What if “love” is the most powerful word we have to help us face any coming trial, to endure and prevail?
Oh, these critics believe they are so smart, so intellectual thirsting for fresh language, they claim, and belittling the use of archetypes that unify by labeling them trite. I have a question for them, perhaps for us all, “If we’re so damned smart and well-adjusted that we don’t need to hear, listen to, or contemplate a message encouraging us to love better and walk into “love that cast a widening pool of light,” why is the world still so effing effed up?”
Self-proclaimed “true” poets or poetry critics can be worse than political pundits, as fanatical as fundamentalist jack-leg preachers, and as snobby as Boston’s old money. But you know what, I’m going to walk in light and love them just the same.
Finally, the poem that was a series of tercets, ends in a single line symbolizing those who began this journey only about self, split apart, are now one because they they’ve determined to walk to commit to something bigger than themselves.
The Poetry Archive has some wonderful thoughts on what we, as poets, love to do: listen to poetry, even our own!
Visit their archive (filed by Poet or Poem) of poetry readings at: http://www.poetryarchive.org/
Listening to Poets
In the last couple of generations, the popularity of public poetry readings has grown enormously; they now form an indispensable part of Literature Festivals, bookshop promotions, etc, and have even started to feature prominently as a part of English courses in schools and universities. Inevitably, some of their appeal has to do with the authors themselves: what do they look like, what can they say about their writing, will they be able to shed any light on the origins and intentions of their work? For a few people, this seems like a worrying lurch towards personality-hunting. For the great majority, it’s a profoundly welcome development. It allows the mystery of poetry to remain intact, while demolishing the idea that the only good poets are dead ones. It helps to make poetry a challenging yet vital part of everyday life. And it both confirms and demonstrates the extent to which the sound of a poem is as crucial to its meaning as the achievements of the words on the page.
A Growing Audience
This last point, simple and uncontroversial as it seems, was too often forgotten for much of the last century. Whereas Tennyson – whose voice is the earliest recording included in the Poetry Archive – was perfectly used to reading his work aloud (and often held audiences spellbound for hours, with lengthy intonations of ‘In Memoriam’ and ‘Maud’), many poets writing during the first two-thirds of the c20 gave only occasional readings. According to popular opinion, Modernism had made poetry impenetrably difficult, diminishing it to a minority interest in which public appearances held no significant place. But as the century unrolled, and some of the prickly barriers between ‘conservative’ and ‘radical’ poets were torn down, the situation changed. The famous Albert Hall readings, held at the end of the 1960s, introduced new kinds of poetry to a much hungrier audience than many thought existed, and in subsequent years a network of reading venues was formed – a network which is still expanding today.
An Ancient Tradition
In other words, the present resurgence of public poetry readings is not so much a new phenomenon, but a return to a very ancient tradition – one which runs all the way back to the Beowulf poet in his mead hall and beyond. And it’s not surprising to find, during that long time, many poets writing well about the value and importance of hearing poems aloud. Think of Keats, ‘chaunting’ his poems to his friends. Or Hopkins advising Bridges to ‘take breath and read with your ears’, or Robert Frost trading ideas (with Edward Thomas, among others) about ‘the sound of sense’). The fact that such a comprehensive and readily-available resource as the Poetry Archive has only been made possible by the arrival of the Internet only deepens and enriches the paradox. To value the sound of a poem as much as its written meaning may seem like a new thing; in fact it’s as old as the hills.
“The Ear is the best Reader”
When Frost said ‘the ear is the best reader’ he didn’t mean to say that he preferred the fleeting voice to the substantial page, but to give them both equal value, and to remind us how they depended on one another. The point can be proved very easily. A poem creates its effects not simply by sharing an explicable meaning with its reader, but by dramatising that meaning and making it intimate – by the musicality (or not) of the words, by rhythm, by rhyme, by recurring patterns of sound, by disruptions, and by the movement and evolution of tone through a whole piece of work. It is a demonstration of harmonies, in all sorts of ways. More than that, even, the sound of a poem can actually become its meaning, as our ear supplies us with insights and feelings that our other senses might miss. Think of a poem like Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ – notoriously packed with difficult references, learned allusions, and clever compressions. A person reading it on the page for the first time is bound to feel they’re missing things – perhaps even to the extent of feeling they ‘don’t understand it’. But when the poem is read aloud, the play of sounds creates an unforgettably powerful effect, expounding sense by other means. It’s the effect Frost wrote about again and again (though he was hardly on Eliot’s Modernist team). ‘The living part of a poem’, Frost explained, ‘is the intonation entangled somehow in the syntax, idiom and meaning of a sentence. It is only there for those who have heard it previously in conversation? It goes and the language becomes a dead language, the poetry dead poetry. With it go the accents, the stresses, the delays that are not the property of vowels and syllables but that are shifted at will with the sense. Vowels have length there is no denying. But the accent of sense supersedes all other accent, overrides and sweeps it away’.
To value poetry aloud in this way can seem a bit highfalutin. So it’s worth saying at once that spoken poetry has much more fundamental interests as well. Does the poet go for a big effect or speak confidingly? What sort of accent do they have? (Another false impression created by the comparatively-silent mid-c20 was that all poets spoke in RP: they never did and they still don’t. If only we could have recorded Keats, we’d probably have heard him ‘chaunting’ like a Cockney.) There are many other kinds of practical justification as well. It can, for instance, be useful simply as a way of dissolving obscurities. There’s a passage in Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album’, for instance, which I found confusing when I first read it as a schoolboy: ‘But o photograph!’ Larkin says, ‘As no art is, Faithful and disappointing!’ It was only when I heard the recording of him reading the poem, and stressing ‘art’ (to show that in his Larkin-like way he didn’t think photography was an art), that I saw what he was getting at. In the same sort of way, the stresses of a voice can be heard giving their tacit explanations on virtually every page of the Archive. As can the pauses, the implied severities, the swallowed smiles, the tones of tenderness or anger.
Poets reading their own work
This is why the Archive contains recordings of poets reading their own work, rather than handing the job over to actors. It’s not just that actors (by and large) tend to go at poems as though they’re trying to reach the back row of the stalls. It’s more that poets know their own work in a way and to a depth that is unique. (This is not the same as saying they know everything about them.) In this respect, it’s difficult to say a poet ever reads their work entirely ‘badly’. Even if they mumble a bit, or read ponderously, or at too great a lick, their delivery will still have important things to tell us about the links and separations between the speaking voice and the character in the poem, about its mood, about how the poet thought that sense would be communicated, and about how he or she hears it inside their own head.
A gigantic echo chamber
Everyone using the Poetry Archive will discover their own favourite voices, and their own pleasures in matching sound-meaning with word- meaning. That’s as it should be. We also hope that, in the process, you’ll be led from these favourite writers into other sound-worlds, and other realms of the imagination, which were previously unknown to you. At the same time, we’d like to think that the Archive is a kind of gigantic echo-chamber, in which individual voices are able to prove their originality, and yet to speak about poetry itself, in all its manifold forms and accents and idioms.
On January 1, 2009, Ausable Press became a part of Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend, Washington.
A letter from the Editor, January 2009
I’m delighted to announce that on January 1, 2009, Ausable Press joined forces with Copper Canyon Press, the largest poetry publisher in the United States. Over the last two years, Michael Wiegers, Executive Director and Editor of Copper Canyon, and I have been discussing the future of Ausable. When I started the Press in 1999, I pledged ten years of my life. In that time, we’ve grown from a one- person operation to a much bigger business; five wonderful people came to share the work. Because poetry is a notorious money-loser, we had to work very hard to make ends meet. In 2005 we became a not-for- profit corporation so that we could accept donations and apply for grants. Thanks to the generosity of donors and foundations, we were able to continue our work. 2008 marked our tenth and final year.
Copper Canyon has always been a model for Ausable. I greatly admire their poets, their energy and enthusiasm, and their beautiful books. I can’t imagine a better match and feel very lucky to have entered into this marriage with them. They will honor all Ausable contracts, keep the books in print, advertise them in their catalog and on their web site, and treat our authors as if they were their own. I will become Editor-at-Large, and all future titles will be published under the Copper Canyon imprint.
Ausable Press published nine books in 2008. These are the last books published under the Ausable imprint. Our final volume was An Ausable Reader, showcasing the work of all of our poets—a decade of poetry against the current.
Ausable Press offices will remain open through 2009 to ensure that the transition goes smoothly.
It has been a profound pleasure doing this work. I will miss the daily interaction with poets from all over the globe, not to mention the excitement of following our authors’ books as they make their way in the world. Thanks to all of you who have made our efforts possible.
On a final note, I’d like to say something about the future of poetry publishing. Starting a press is something I always wanted to do, but for financial reasons was unable to until new technology made it possible. Nowadays, with print-on-demand (now almost indistinguishable in quality from traditionally-produced paperbacks), and the magic tools of the internet, it’s possible for someone to start a small press with a few thousand dollars. There’s no money in it, of course; it’s a labor of love. It’s my hope that the editors of the future will find in themselves the kind of passion that will make them do something as irrational, irresistible, and fulfilling as the publishing of poetry. The world desperately needs it. — Chase Twichell
Christopher Clarke White (“Doc White”)
CASTLETON – Professor Christopher Clarke White, 71, died Wednesday January 14, 2009 at his home.
Born June 24, 1937 in Medford, MA he was the son of the late Robert Clarke & Dorothy (Onthank) White.
He attended Phillips-Exeter Academy, Bowdoin College, and received his doctorate at the University of Oregon.
He was a professor of mathematics at Castleton College for 37 years, and the past president of the Poetry Society of Vermont.
He is survived by his sister, Ann W. Kurtz, of Valrico, FL. He was the brother of the late Stephen T. White and the late Margaret W. Fuschetti Shepherd. He is also survived by several nieces, nephews, great nieces, great nephews and numerous friends.
A memorial service will be held on Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11 AM at the Ducharme Funeral Home located at 1939 Main Street, Castleton. The Rev. Robert Noble, pastor of the Castleton Federated Church, will officiate.
A reception will be held after the service at the Chapel at Castleton State College.
Spring burial will be held at Hillside Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to “The Christopher Clarke White Memorial Scholar-ship Fund” at Castleton College.
Some very interesting news from Black Sparrow Books
John Martin, the great collector of avant-garde books, visionary patron of Charles Bukowski, and founder, publisher, and for thirty- six years sole proprietor of Black Sparrow Press, once said:
“There have always been two streams in American literature. First, the ‘insiders,’ the ones who conform to accepted standards. Some of these insiders are very good writers . . . but their work is of interest only up to a point, [because] they completely satisfy readers’ expectations of what literature should be. On the other hand, there has also been this second, parallel stream of ‘outsiders’––mavericks, beginning with Walt Whitman. To my way of thinking, Leaves of Grass is the first great modern literary statement . . . and to this day, perhaps the greatest and most astounding.”
From 1966 through 2002, Martin sought out the great and astounding statements of America’s literary outsiders, writers whose kinship is with the red blood of Whitman not the blue blood of Longfellow, with the dirty hands of Dreiser not the kid gloves of Edith Wharton. Writers who, on the whole, have looked west, toward the frontier and its promise of wildness, and away from the east, away from “civilization” and its received ideas of excellence and form. And Martin found them––in little magazines, in collectors’ libraries, and among that band of bards and truth-tellers who emerged from the jazz cellars of the 1950s into the Day-Glo orange sunshine of the 1960s and ’70s.
The poet Robert Kelly has said that without Black Sparrow, much of the literature of the ’60s would today exist only in memories–– memories of the monologues of the post-Beat poets and the sweet smell of mimeographed chapbooks. The critic Neil Gordon, riffing on the same theme, said that Martin did nothing less than give permanence to the ephemeral, “providing the published texts of a generation of vital work that would otherwise have been lost”––lost to talk, lost to the browning of newsprint, lost to the crushing forces of the cultural mainstream.
John Martin retired from publishing on July 1, 2002, but his outsider literary legacy will endure. Bukowski lives––indeed he and a handful of his old Black Sparrow stablemates (Paul Bowles, John Fante, and Joyce Carol Oates especially) not only live but now thrive on the “inside”: times change, and tastes change, and small presses like Martin’s are powerful compact agents of change. Best of all, the published books themselves still live––and are now available from David R. Godine, Publisher.
On this Web site you will find, and be able to purchase, John Martin’s Black Sparrow backlist, of which Godine is the exclusive licensed distributor. These are not reprints: they are the original publisher’s editions, trucked direct from John Martin’s former Santa Rosa warehouse to ours. Most of the books are hand-sewn, on creamy, heavy, acid-free paper, with distinctive cover and text designs by Barbara Martin. Most of the books, once they are sold out, will not be reprinted. Only a select few will be—and they will be joined by judiciously selected new titles published under Godine’s Black Sparrow Books imprint.
The Black Sparrow backlist is an American literary treasure that we intend to keep intact, available, and alive for many years to come. Here, for newcomers and long-term admirers alike, are the real goods, a flashing heaven of good books. Welcome to the Great Outside.
––David R. Godine
A Brief Biography of Lawrence Ferlinghetti
A prominent voice of the wide-open poetry movement that began in the 1950s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has written poetry, translation, fiction, theater, art criticism, film narration, and essays. Often concerned with politics and social issues, Ferlinghetti’s poetry countered the literary elite’s definition of art and the artist’s role in the world. Though imbued with the commonplace, his poetry cannot be simply described as polemic or personal protest, for it stands on his craftsmanship, thematics, and grounding in tradition.
Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers in 1919, son of Carlo Ferlinghetti who was from the province of Brescia and Clemence Albertine Mendes- Monsanto. Following his undergraduate years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II as a ship’s commander. He received a Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1947 and a Doctorate de l’Université de Paris (Sorbonne) in 1950. From 1951 to 1953, when he settled in San Francisco, he taught French in an adult education program, painted, and wrote art criticism. In 1953, with Peter D. Martin, he founded City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country, and by 1955 he had launched the City Lights publishing house.
The bookstore has served for half a century as a meeting place for writers, artists, and intellectuals. City Lights Publishers began with the Pocket Poets Series, through which Ferlinghetti aimed to create an international, dissident ferment. His publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems in 1956 led to his arrest on obscenity charges, and the trial that followed drew national attention to the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat movement writers. (He was overwhelmingly supported by prestigious literary and academic figures, and was acquitted.) This landmark First Amendment case established a legal precedent for the publication of controversial work with redeeming social importance.
Ferlinghetti’s paintings have been shown at various galleries around the world, from the Butler Museum of American Painting to Il Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. He has been associated with the international Fluxus movement through the Archivio Francesco Conz in Verona. He has toured Italy, giving poetry readings in Roma, Napoli, Bologna, Firenze, Milano, Verona, Brescia, Cagliari, Torino, Venezia, and Sicilia. He won the Premio Taormino in 1973, and since then has been awarded the Premio Camaiore, the Premio Flaiano, the Premio Cavour. among others. He is published in Italy by Oscar Mondadori, City Lights Italia, and Minimum Fax. He was instrumental in arranging extensive poetry tours in Italy produced by City Lights Italia in Firenze. He has translated from the Italian Pier Paolo Pasolin’s Poemi Romani, which is published by City Lights Books. In San Francisco, his work can regularly be seen at the George Krevsky Gallery at 77 Geary Street.
Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind continues to be the most popular poetry book in the U.S. It has been translated into nine languages, and there are nearly 1,000,000 copies in print. The author of poetry, plays, fiction, art criticism, and essays, he has a dozen books currently in print in the U.S., and his work has been translated in many countries and in many languages. His most recent books are A Far Rockaway of the Heart (1997), How to Paint Sunlight (2001), and Americus Book I (2004) published by New Directions.
He has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Kirsch Award, the BABRA Award for Lifetime Achievement, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award. Ferlinghetti was named San Francisco’s Poet Laureate in August 1998, and he used his post as a bully-pulpit from which he articulated the seldom- heard “voice of the people.” In 2003 he was awarded the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, the Author’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters.
To visit the independent bookstore that I grew up loving in San Francisco, City Lights Books, go to: http://www.citylights.com/
Did You Know?
of the Book of Voices?
The Book of Voices is e-poets’ new media library of poetry in spoken word, performance, and text. It’s a portal into aural poetry culture gathered from some of the more interesting voices of our day, with readings from the USA, Canada, Australia, and Europe. If it’s spoken or watched and we keep it online at e-poets.net, we’ve catalogued it here.
This is the comprehensive list of all artists who have streaming media archived on e-poets.net. Over 50 artists are listed alphabetically by surname, and most artists have multiple recordings.
A collection of special chapters is broken out into a separate list of links. These chapters provide in-depth features on a given artist or a group of artists, as portraits into their lives. Chapters contain multiple samples of streaming media to audition, and typically include the original texts of the poetry.
Catalogs by culture
A recent and evolving addition to the Book of Voices, where work is indexed by shared culture. Listen and investigate the commonalities and diversities of spoken word among artists sharing heritage, geography, gender, or philosophy.
World Wide Word Radio Network By Stacey Mangiaracina
When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher gave us a poetry reading assignment. The poem she chose for me was “Upon Julia’s Clothes” by Robert Herrick. I was a nervous wreck trying to remember the words of this poem while I stood in front of the class and recited from memory. I must admit I will always remember that poem and that moment. Most importantly, I will always be thankful to Ms. Gomez for opening up the door to the world of poetry that seemed so far away from the small-town way of life I grew up in.
Today I still live in Slidell, a small suburban city just outside New Orleans. It has grown a lot since I was in school, a sort of booming city since Hurricane Katrina. This area is rich in culture. Music, art, history and of course, the food! I suppose that is why I’m so surprised when I go to the local book store and find only three small shelves of poetry. Even the larger book stores in the next town barely donate a full wall of shelves to such an important part of literature. One can’t help but wonder, is poetry really so intimidating that people shy away from it? Perhaps people aren’t offered the opportunity to get acquainted with it; especially if you live in a small town. This needs to change.
In February 2007, I met a poet online from Los Angeles named Rafael F. J. Alvarado. At the time I was volunteering my spare time to a MySpace poet community as the public relations representative. Basically I posted a poet of the day blog and helped promote a weekly Internet-based radio show. Rafael began introducing me to poets that I would never have read had it not been for him. I felt so embarrassed and somewhat parochial to tell him I had never heard of Pablo Neruda or Amiri Baraka. My small town seems more like a prison now that I’ve discovered there’s a whole world of poets I never knew existed but should have.
Rafael soon introduced to me to his friend and fellow poet, S.A. Griffin. They both took me under their wings and showed me what I had been missing for so long. One day I happened to mention that I was a bit unhappy with the work I was doing for the man running the poetry community. I was beginning to notice that he was censoring a few of the poets that were sending submissions and I called him out on it. The profile page had a huge sign on it that stated “Censorship is Suicide” and the mission stated there will be no censoring. To test his statement, Rafael and S.A. asked me to post a poem called “You Fucking Cunt” by Eric Brown on the poet-of-the-day blog.
The poem went up on Good Friday and within the hour it was taken down and I was told my services were no longer needed. I argued that he was censoring and he didn’t bother looking past the “dirty words” long enough to read the piece. Of course he didn’t want to hear it. Before signing out of the MySpace account, I posted a bulletin to all members of the community to say good-bye and explained why. The response was incredible! There were so many messages and comments in support of me and bashing his bad decision that he decided to step down and offered me the site and the radio show. I was shocked and elated all at once! Finally I have a way to share poetry with the world!
In the next few days Rafael, S.A. and I began planning what to do with this new venture. We decided to continue with the radio show, and thus S.A. dubbed us The World Wide Word Radio Network. (WWWRN) Our first radio show, Onword, hosted by S.A. Griffin and featuring an interview with guest poet Ellyn Maybe, aired in May 2007. After about 15 minutes of technical difficulties we finally had the show going and S.A. decided to keep me as his co-host. Since then we’ve added a few more shows such as The Moe Green Poetry Hour with host Rafael Alvarado and co-hosted by me, Unobstructed hosted by Alaina R. Alexander, The Eclectic Word hosted by Victor Infante, Cerebral Meditations hosted by Roy Johnston with co-host Armine Iknadossian, For the Love of Poetry hosted by Cassandra Love and soon to come is Talking the Line hosted by a guest poet who will be interviewing one of their favorite poets. Our list of poets who have been interviewed or had a live reading is incredible. Poets such as Bob Holman, Hettie Jones, Martin Espada, Al Young and Sonia Sanchez just to name a few. All of our shows are archived and available for download at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/onword if you miss hearing it live.
When people ask how much money we make doing this it surprises them to hear it’s done only for the love of poetry. I believe the contribution we’re making is enough reward in itself. Poetry should be celebrated and we’re here to help spread the word worldwide!
Stacey Mangiaracina CEO World Wide Word Radio Network email@example.com
‘The urge to ‘tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it
lessens when poetry arises freshly each day.’
Poetry Quote by Billy Collins
Poets Laureate of the U.S.A.
- A Net-annotated list of all the poets who have served the Library of Congress as Consultant (the old title) or Poet Laureate Consultant (the new title). Biographies & general reference sites are linked to the poets’ names — for the recent Laureates these are our own poet profiles with book-buying links at the bottom. Many of the other linked biographies are pages from the Academy of American Poets’ Find a Poet archive, a growing & invaluable resource. If there is no general information site about the poet, we have searched the Net for sample poems or other writings or recordings & listed those below the poet’s name.
- Joseph Auslander 1937-41
Allen Tate 1943-44
Robert Penn Warren 1944-45
Louise Bogan 1945-46
Karl Shapiro 1946-47
Robert Lowell 1947-48
Leonie Adams 1948-49
Elizabeth Bishop 1949-50
Conrad Aiken 1950-52 (First to serve two terms)
William Carlos Williams Appointed to serve two terms in 1952 but did not serve — for more on this & other Laureate controversies see the history in Jacket magazine.
Randall Jarrell 1957-58
Robert Frost 1958-59
Richard Eberhart 1959-61
Louis Untermeyer 1961-63
Howard Nemerov 1963-64
Reed Whittemore 1964-65
Stephen Spender 1965-66
James Dickey 1966-68
William Jay Smith 1968-70
William Stafford 1970-71
Josephine Jacobsen 1971-73
Daniel Hoffman 1973-74
Stanley Kunitz 1974-76
Robert Hayden 1976-78
William Meredith 1978-80
Maxine Kumin 1981-82
Anthony Hecht 1982-84
Robert Fitzgerald 1984-85 Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to the Library of Congress
Reed Whittemore 1984-85 Interim Consultant in Poetry
Gwendolyn Brooks 1985-86
Robert Penn Warren 1986-87 First to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
Richard Wilbur 1987-88
Howard Nemerov 1988-90
Mark Strand 1990-91
Joseph Brodsky 1991-92
Mona Van Duyn 1992-93
Rita Dove 1993-95
Robert Hass 1995-97
Robert Pinsky 1997-2000
Stanley Kunitz 2000-2001
Billy Collins 2001-2003
Louise Glück 2003-2004
Ted Kooser 2004-2006
Donald Hall 2006-2007
Charles Simic 2007-2008
Kay Ryan 2008-Present
Linebreak is an online journal with a bias for good poetry.
Here is a poem from their web site this week:
BY CHAD TEMPLES
Chad Temples is a freelance writer living and working in Atlanta, Georgia. He has recently completed his MFA at Hollins University.
In various suites the newlyweds carom
and — slapdash — suck, hum, cough, release,
after which even the sheets are suggestive
of a draft, or a well-tied knot, or a sunken
dowry said to shimmer miles off the shelf.
Pretty soon, romance clings like an epiphyte,
crowding out even the heartiest principles.
One buys the other a clutch of Calla lilies;
One buys the other a weekend in Maine
where (somehow) not lost in cultivation,
“coral” goes on meaning “lobster ovaries,”
eaten poached, no less. It is a little much,
one whispers. The other: Tut-tut, my love, and,
you’ve got something right — no — right — here.
Here’s a poem from Copper Canyon Press, not in its “Reading Room” as I usually reprint in the Newsletter, but from another source. It was such a find that I felt you should read it in this space usually reserved for a Copper Canyon poem.
December nights I’d go
and lie down in the shallows
and breathe the brackish tide till light
broke me from dream. Days I kept busy
with fractured angels’ client masquerades.
One had a tumor
recently removed, the scar
a zipper down his skull, his neck
a corset laced with suture.
I held, and did my tricks, two
palms, ten fingers, each a mouth
suctioning off the untold harm
parsed with the body’s violent grief
at being cut. Later a woman
whose teenage children passed on in a crash
let me massage her deathmask
belly till the stretch
marks gleamed again, pearls
on a blushing rise. A nurse of women HIV
positives in the City
came, her strong young body filled
my hands. Fear grips her only
late at night, at home, her job
a risk on TV. It was calm, my palm
on her belly and her heart
said Breathe. I did. Her smile
could feed. Nights I’d go down
again and lie down on the gritty
shale and breathe the earth’s salt
tears till the sun
stole me from sleep and when you
died I didn’t
weep nor dream but knew you
like a god breathe in
each healing we begin.
American Life in Poetry: Column 199
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
I’d guess that most of us carry in our memories landscapes that, far behind us, hold significant meanings for us. For me, it’s a Mississippi River scenic overlook south of Guttenberg, Iowa. And for you? Here’s just such a memoryscape, in this brief poem by New Yorker Anne Pierson Wiese.
The twist of the stream was inscrutable.
It was a seemingly run-of-the-mill
stream that flowed for several miles by the side
of Route 302 in northern Vermont–
and presumably does still–but I’ve not
been back there for what seems like a long time.
I have it in my mind’s eye, the way
one crested a rise and rounded a corner
on the narrow blacktop, going west, and saw
off to the left in the flat green meadow
the stream turning briefly back on itself
to form a perfect loop–a useless light-filled
water noose or fragment of moon’s cursive,
a sign or message of some kind–but left behind.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Anne Pierson Wiese, whose most recent book of poetry is “Floating City,” Louisiana State University Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from “Ploughshares,” Vol. 33, no. 4, Winter 2007-08 by permission of Anne Pierson Wiese. Introduction copyright (c) 200p by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
American Life in Poetry: Column 200
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Here’s a fine poem by Chris Forhan of Indiana, about surviving the loss of a parent, and which celebrates the lives that survive it, that go on. I especially like the parachute floating up and away, just as the lost father has gone up and away.
What My Father Left Behind
Jam jar of cigarette ends and ashes on his workbench,
hammer he nailed our address to a stump with,
balsa wood steamship, half-finished–
is that him, waving from the stern? Well, good luck to him.
Slur of sunlight filling the backyard, August’s high wattage,
white blossoming, it’s a curve, it comes back. My mother
in a patio chair, leaning forward, squinting, threading
her needle again, her eye lifts to the roof, to my brother,
who stands and jerks his arm upward–he might be
insulting the sky, but he’s only letting go
a bit of green, a molded plastic soldier
tied to a parachute, thin as a bread bag, it rises, it arcs
against the blue–good luck to it–my sister and I below,
heads tilted back as we stand in the grass, good
luck to all of us, still here, still in love with it.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2008 by Chris Forhan from his most recent book of poetry “Black Leapt In,” Barrow Street Press, 2009, and reprinted by permission of Chris Forhan and the publisher. Poem first appeared in “Pleiades,” Vol. 28, no. 1, 2008. Introduction copyright (c) 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
American Life in Poetry: Column 201
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Don Welch lives in Nebraska and is one of those many talented American poets who have never received as much attention as they deserve. His poems are distinguished by the meticulous care he puts into writing them, and by their deep intelligence. Here is Welch’s picture of a 14-year-old, captured at that awkward and painfully vulnerable step on the way to adulthood.
To be shy,
to lower your eyes
after making a greeting.
wherever you go
you’ll be called on,
whoever you’re near
will ask you,
the softer sides of the air
in rooms filled with angers,
in transparent slips
are sheerer than membranes.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2008 by Don Welch. Reprinted from “When Memory Gives Dust a Face,” by Don Welch, published by Lewis-Clark Press, 2008, by permission of Don Welch and the publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
KEEP PAST VERMONT POETS ALIVE! I’M SOLICITING YOUR HELP:
POETS OF VERMONT
PAST AND PRESENT
I’m looking for a copy of:
1) The Literature of Vermont: A Sampler, University Press of New England, Arthur W. Biddle and Paul A. Eschholz, Editors, 1973
2) Poets and Poetry of Vermont, by Abby Maria Hemenway, 1858
3) “Driftwood,” a poetry magazine begun in 1926 by Walter John Coates
If you have any books of poetry, chapbooks, or just poems written by Vermont poets, dating 1980 and earlier, famous or not, I’d like to know about them. I’m beginning a project that deals strictly with Vermont poets, from Vermont’s past, with summaries of the poets themselves, a portrait photo or drawing of the poet, along with a small sampling of poems. If you think you can help, you probably can! Please contact me by replying to this newsletter.
VERMONT POET LAUREATES
1) Robert Frost – 1961
2) Galway Kinnell
3) Louis Glück
4) Ellen Bryant Voigt
5) Grace Paley
6) Ruth Stone
If you ever have a need to contact me, here’s how to go about doing so:
1211 Forest Dale Road,
Brandon, VT 05733
YEAR-ROUND POETRY WORKSHOPS IN VERMONT
1) Great River Arts Institute – See details elsewhere in this newsletter
2) Poetry Workshop at Village Square Booksellers with Jim Fowler (no relation to owner Pat). The goal of this course is to introduce more people to the art of writing poetry and will include a discussion of modern poetry in various forms and styles. Each week, the course will provide time to share and discuss participant’s poetry. Students should bring a poem and copies to the first class. The course will be limited to 5 to 8 students to allow adequate time to go through everyone’s poetry contributions and will meet in the cafe at Village Square Booksellers. James Fowler, of Charlestown, New Hampshire, has a Masters Degree in Environmental Science with a major in Nature Writing. He was the editor of Heartbeat of New England, a poetry anthology. Fowler has been widely published since 1998 in such journals as Connecticut Review, Quarterly of Light Verse, and Larcom Review. Fowler is a founding member of the River Voices Writer’s Circle, and a regular reader at Village Square Booksellers-River Voices Poetry Readings. The fee for this 6 week Workshop is $100, payable to Mr. Fowler at the first class. Pre-registration for the Poetry Workshop is suggested and may be made by calling Village Square Booksellers at 802-463-9404 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Guilford Poets Guild, formed in 1998, meets twice a month to critique and support each other’s work. Their series of sponsored readings by well-known poets which began at the Dudley Farm, continues now at the Women and Family Life Center.
1) The Otter Creek Poets offer a poetry workshop every Thursday afternoon, from 1:00 to 3:00 in the basement meeting room of the Ilsley Public Library, 75 Main Street, Middlebury. This workshop, the largest and oldest of its kind in the state, has been meeting weekly for 13 years. Poets of all ages and styles come for peer feedback, encouragement, and optional weekly assignments to get the poetry flowing. Bring a poem or two to share (plus 20 copies). The workshops are led by David Weinstock. There is considerable parking available behind the library, or further down the hill below that parking lot. For more information, call David at 388-6939 or Ron Lewis at 247-5913.
2) The Spring Street Poets. This group is by invite only and consists of six members, Jennifer Bates, Janet Fancher, Karin Gottshall, Ray Hudson, Mary Pratt and David Weinstock.
This group meets on the first Sunday of every month at the Norwich Library, 6:30 p.m.
The Wayside Poets share their poetry publicly from time to time. They meet at the Cutler Memorial Library, 151 High Street, Plainfield. Members include Diane Swan, Sherry Olson, Carol Henrikson and Sarah Hooker. I will publish more about this group after I contact one of their members.
There is another poetry workshop happening in Stowe, but unfortunately I know nothing much about this group. If you do, contact me!
The Mad River Poets consists of a handful of poets from the Route 100 corridor. More on this group in the future.
OTHER POETRY WORKSHOPS IN VERMONT
Scribes in the making put pen to paper as part of an open verse- writing session at the Fletcher Free Library, 235 College Street. Three consecutive Thursdays, starting January 8, 2009, 5:00-6:00 p.m. Free. Contact information: 862-1094.
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION
Thinking Like a Poetry Editor: How to Be Your Own Best Critic
(“The Ossmann Method” Poetry Workshop – Crash Course) Instructor: April Ossmann The Writer’s Center, 58 North Main Street, White River Jct., VT 05001 Saturday, January 17th OR Saturday, February 14th 2 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. $45
Learn how to think like a poetry editor! In this workshop we’ll turn the usual workshop model on its head and not only allow the poet being critiqued to speak, but to speak first and critique their own poem, discussing correlations between the criticisms s/he has for other participants’ poems and her/his own before group discussion begins. This will offer a taste of what it means to be both poet and poetry editor, a position in which it becomes easier to objectively assess your own work; to spot dull vs. energetic syntax, generic vs. original imagery and other strengths and weaknesses you may have overlooked. It also empowers the poet in the process, and engenders an unusually positive and congenial workshop atmosphere. Participants will receive written editorial suggestions for both poems from the instructor. Pre-registration required; enrollment limited to 8. Info: (802) 333-9597 or firstname.lastname@example.org and www.aprilossmann.com
The Ossmann Method Poetry Workshop: Building Your Tool Kit
Instructor: April Ossmann The Writer’s Center, 58 North Main Street, White River Jct., VT 05001 Sundays, 8 weeks, January 18th – March 8th 2 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. $200
Build or improve your poetic techniques tool kit and learn how to think like a poetry editor! In this workshop we’ll turn the usual workshop model on its head and not only allow the poet being critiqued to speak, but to speak first and critique their own poem, discussing correlations between the criticisms s/he has for other participants’ poems and her/his own before group discussion begins. This will offer a taste of what it means to be both poet and poetry editor, a position in which it becomes easier to objectively assess your own work; to spot dull vs. energetic syntax, generic vs. original imagery and other strengths and weaknesses you may have overlooked. It also empowers the poet in the process, and engenders an unusually positive and congenial workshop atmosphere. This workshop will be both critical and generative, so I will assign reading and generative exercises meant to teach or improve writing skills. Pre-registration required; enrollment limited to 8 (minimum enrollment for the course to proceed is 4). Info: (802) 333-9597 or email@example.com and www.aprilossmann.com
- Note: If you know of any others, or have personal information about the workshop in Stowe and Guilford, please send me that information. I realize that there are several smaller groups or workshops around the state. However, because of their intimacy, they are not posted above, allowing them to offer “memberships” to close friends or acquaintances that they feel would be most appropriate.
YEAR-ROUND POETRY WRITING CENTERS IN VERMONT
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION
The Writer’s Center is for serious writers and nervous beginners. It’s for procrastinators who could benefit from regular deadlines – and for the prolific who could benefit from quality feedback. It’s for anyone with a manuscript hidden in a drawer, or a life story or poem waiting to be written. It’s for people who don’t know where to start or how to end. And for writers who are doing just fine on their own, but would like the company of other writers. The Writer’s Center is for anyone who is writing or wants to write. One of the Center’s consultants is April Ossman (www.aprilossmann.com). Founded by Joni B. Cole and Sarah Stewart Taylor, the Writer’s Center offers instruction and inspiration through a selection of workshops, discussions, and community. We would love to see you – and your writing – at The Writer’s Center! For more info, http:// www.thewriterscenterwrj.com/.
Women Writing for (a) Change supports the authentic experience of women who honor themselves through creative writing. Our community supports reflection as we move into our questions and awaken to change. Participants enhance expressive skills, strengthen their voices, deepen themselves as women as writers for positive change in all spheres of life. Creative writing in all genres is our shared vehicle. Women Writing for (a) Change is for women who, 1) dream of writing for self-discovery, for personal or social healing, 2) hunger for creative process in their lives, 3) yearn to explore their feminine voice, 4) crave reflective, space, and 5) are in transition. For more information, go to their web site at www.womenwritingVT.com/ or contact Sarah Bartlett at either 899-3772 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
POETRY EVENT CALENDAR
- Below please find the most current list of poetry happenings in Vermont for the near future. Please be aware that these events can be found on Poetz.com, but there is usually additional information that is typed here that would be cumbersome to place on Poetz.com. Please note all events are Vermont-based unless they are of extreme importance or happen to lie just outside our borders. If you would like to save on paper and ink, please just highlight what you need, or perhaps only events for the coming month, and print that information.
Tue, Jan 27-May 10: Another Language, Another Soul
What happens when two languages and two fine arts mingle? Find out by attending:
OPENING RECEPTION: JANUARY 28th 5:30pm – 7:30pm The Robert Hull Fleming Museum invites you to the opening reception of their spring semester exhibits. Cash bar and free hors d’oeuvres.
January 27-May 10: More Than Bilingual: William Cordova and Major Jackson Although Peruvian-born visual artist William Cordova and African- American poet Major Jackson come from divergent backgrounds, both artists find inspiration and common ground in music, literature and the urban aesthetic. The fluency with which they navigate cultural signifiers and media, results in a shared visual multilingualism. The two artists have long admired one another’s work; the Fleming Museum is pleased to bring them together in a collaborative venture for the first time.
Robert Hull Fleming Museum
University of Vermont Campus
61 Colchester Avenue
Wed, Jan 28: Kellogg-Hubbard Library, 135 Main Street, Montpelier, 7:00 p.m – 8:00 p.m. Poetry reading. Celebrate Robert Burns’ 250th birthday with Scottish Poet Len Irving! Widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, this 18th century poet has left a legacy in song and poetry that endures to this day. Join a modern Scottish poet, Leonard Irving, for a salute to the author of Auld Lang Syne.
Sat, Jan 31: Cutler Memorial Library, 151 High Street, Plainfield, 11:00 a.m. Poetry Lovers’ Morning. The Wayside Poets will lead poetry readings on the winter theme: light out of darkness. Join Diane Swan, Sherry Olson, Carol Henrikson, Sarah Hooker. Poets of all ages invited to share their own poems. Info, 454-8504.
Sun, Feb 1: Studio Place Arts, 201 N. Main Street, Barre, 2:30-4:30. Adventures in Poetry: “Efficient Novels,” New England Style. This workshop for high school students includes reading and group discussion that challenges participants’ perceptions of poetry with poems by contemporary New England writers. The goal is to increase each participants’ awareness of the quick and dirty, direct expression awaiting anyone who goes looking for a few good poems. Participants should arrive early and spend time in the main floor gallery enjoying the “Picture that Poem” exhibit. Call SPA at 802-479-7069 to register.
Thu, Feb 5: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Cleopatra Mathis to read. Cleopatra Mathis was born and raised in Ruston, Louisiana. Her first five books of poems were published by Sheep Meadow Press. A sixth collection, White Sea, was published by Sarabande Books in 2005. Her work has appeared widely in anthologies, textbooks, magazines and journals, including The New Yorker, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Tri-Quarterly, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The Made Thing: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern Poetry, The Extraordinary Tide: Poetry by American Women, and The Practice of Poetry. Various prizes for her work include two National Endowment for the Arts grants, in 1984 and 2003; the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poems in 2001; the Peter Lavin Award for Younger Poets from the Academy of American Poets; two Pushcart Prizes (1980 and 2006); The Robert Frost Resident Poet Award; a 1981-82 Fellowship in Poetry at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts; The May Sarton Award; and Individual Artist Fellowships in Poetry from both the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the New Jersey State Arts Council. She is the Frederick Sessions Beebe Professor of the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College, where she has directed the Creative Writing Program since 1982. Fri, Feb 6: Firehouse Gallery, 135 Church Street, Burlington, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Poetry Reading and Drumming. As part of the Burlington Art Walk, poet and artist Terry Hauptman will provide a poetry reading accompanied by Jerry Geier’s drumming on his sculptural slit drums will entertain all. While you’re at the Firehouse Gallery, you can visit these two artists’ exhibits, titled Veiled Lineage. It features two Vermont artists investigating concepts of ancestry, heritage and tradition; using sculpture, painting, and installation. Jerry Geier’s assembly of sculptures, or totems, feature carved faces of wood and clay derived from indigenous and modern societies. The totems are hollowed and act as functional drums. Terry Hauptman’s Songline Scrolls feature colorful multi-cultural processions on wall-sized scrolls of paper. These scrolls are a metaphor for life, representing a continual unfolding revelation of change and celebration. In this 400th anniversary of European arrival in the Champlain Valley, this exhibit highlights our evolving notions of cultural and spiritual identity, and exposes the paradox of searching for meaning in the very same cultures that were supplanted by our own colonialist history.
Mon, Feb 9: Grafton Library, Main Street, Grafton, 7:00 p.m. Robert Frost: Poetry and Prose. Third of three-part book discussion series led by Dr. Deborah Luskin from the Vermont Humanities Council. For info, Linda Montecalvo at 843-1444.
Sun, Feb 15: Warming hut log cabin at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, 54 Elm Street, Woodstock, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Winter Readings in the National Park. Join a park ranger in sharing short stories and poetry about winter at the ski shelter warming cabin. Bring your own stories and poetry to share or just listen to others readings while enjoying the warmth of the cabin’s woodstove. Hot chocolate will be provided. Cost: $5.00 trail pass from the Woodstock Inn & Resort Nordic Center. For info, Tim Maguire at 457-3368 X22 or Tim_maguire@nps.gov.
Wed, Feb 18: Vermont Humanities Council, 11 Loomis Street, Montpelier, 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. “You Come, Too”: Winter with Robert Frost. Robert Frost’s poetry is known, among other things, for its ability to evoke the seasons of New England in all their complexity. Join Peter Gilbert, the Vermont Humanities Council’s executive director and the executor of Frost’s estate, in reading and discussing some of Frost’s winter poems. Participants are invited to either read the poems in advance or upon arriving. Refreshments served; free. RSVPs are encouraged at 802.262.2626 x307. Walk-ins welcome.
Mon, Feb 23: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Michael Waters to read. Michael Waters’ eight books of poetry include Darling Vulgarity (2006—finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize), Parthenopi: New and Selected Poems (2001), and Green Ash, Red Maple, Black Gum (1997) from BOA Editions, and Bountiful (1992), The Burden Lifters (1989), and Anniversary of the Air (1985) from Carnegie Mellon UP. His several edited volumes include Contemporary American Poetry (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) and Perfect in Their Art: Poems on Boxing from Homer to Ali (Southern Illinois UP, 2003). In 2004 he chaired the poetry panel for the National Book Award. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fulbright Foundation, Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council, and four Pushcart Prizes, he teaches at Monmouth University in New Jersey and in the Drew University MFA Program.
Wed, Feb 25: Peabody Library, Route 113, Post Mills. Reception and book signing by the authors of the literary magazine, Bloodroot. Bloodroot Literary Magazine is a nonprofit publication released each December. Their mission is to provide a journal of high production values and quality material by established and emerging authors. The 2009 issue of Bloodroot features cover art by Christy Hale and poems, short stories and creative nonfiction by 28 outstanding authors, many of them familiar names here in Vermont – Regina Brault, Carol Milkuhn and Nancy Means Wright. The book is scheduled to be out and about in mid-December 2008.
Thu, Mar 5: Middlebury College, Abernathy Room, Axinn Center, 4:30-6:30. Richard Chess was born in Los Angeles. He spent most of his childhood and youth in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He is the author of three books of poetry, Third Temple (2007), Chair in the Desert (2000), and Tekiah (1994). His poems have appeared in many journals as well as several anthologies, including Best American Spiritual Writing 2005 and Telling and Remembering: A Century of American- Jewish Poetry. An award-winning and much-sought after teacher, he is professor of literature and language at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He directs UNCA’s Center for Jewish Studies as well as UNCA’s Creative Writing Program. He has been a member of the low-residency MFA faculties at Warren Wilson College and Queens College. He served for a number of years as writer-in-residence at the Brandeis Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, California. He is now assistant director of The Jewish Arts Institue at Elat Chayyim, located at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, where he will be teaching creative writing in a two-year training institute that begins in August of 2007. He is poetry editor of Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture. He lives in Asheville with his wife, Laurie, and son, Gabe. His two step-daughters, Alice and Margaret, are currently pursuing their careers elsewhere. For more info, 443-5276.
Sun, Mar 8: Warming hut log cabin at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, 54 Elm Street, Woodstock, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Winter Readings in the National Park. Join a park ranger in sharing short stories and poetry about winter at the ski shelter warming cabin. Bring your own stories and poetry to share or just listen to others readings while enjoying the warmth of the cabin’s woodstove. Hot chocolate will be provided. Cost: $5.00 trail pass from the Woodstock Inn & Resort Nordic Center. For info, Tim Maguire at 457-3368 X22 or Tim_maguire@nps.gov.
Sun, Mar 9: Plymouth State University, Smith Recital Hall, Johnson, NH, 7:00 p.m. Poet C.D. Wright. 2008 – 2009 Eagle Pond Author’s Series. A compelling and idiosyncratic poet, C.D. Wright has twelve collections including Rising, Falling, Hovering (2008), a weaving of deeply personal and politically ferocious poems; Deepstep Come Shining and Cooling Time. Her collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana was awarded the Dorothea Lange-Paul Tayor Prize. Her new and selected poems Steal Away was on the shortlist for the Griffin Trust Award. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is the Israel J. Kapstein Professor at Brown University. Free. (603) 535-5000 to reserve spaces.
Thu, Apr 2: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Rosanna Warren to read. Rosanna Warren was born in Connecticut in 1953. She was educated at Yale (BA 1976) and Johns Hopkins (MA 1980). She is the author of one chapbook of poems (Snow Day, Palaemon Press, 1981), and three collections of poems: Each Leaf Shines Separate (Norton, 1984), Stained Glass (Norton, 1993, Lamont Poetry Award from the Academy of American Poets), and Departure (Norton, 2003). She edited and contributed to The Art of Translation: Voices from the Field (Northeastern, 1989), and has edited three chapbooks of poetry by prisoners. She has won fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, ACLS, The Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Lila Wallace Readers’ Digest Fund, among others. She has won the Witter Bynner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lavan Younger Poets’ Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Award of Merit in Poetry from The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004. She is Emma MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities at Boston University.
Sun, Apr 5: Plymouth State University, Smith Recital Hall, Johnson, NH, 7:00 p.m. Poet Wesley McNair. 2008 – 2009 Eagle Pond Author’s Series. Wesley McNair is the recipient of fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright, and Guggenheim Foundations and a United States Artists Fellowship to “America’s finest living artists.” Other honors include the Robert Frost Prize; the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry (for Fire); the Theodore Roethke prize from Poetry Northwest; the Pushcart Prize and the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal. McNair is currently Professor Emeritus and Writer in Residence at the University of Maine at Farmington. Free. (603) 535-5000 to reserve spaces.
Mon, Apr 20: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Eric Pankey to read. Eric Pankey is the author of six books of poetry: Reliquaries, Cenotaph, The Late Romances, Apocrypha, Heartwood and For the New Year. Among his awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, a NEA Fellowship, the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award, and an Ingram Merrill Grant. His work has appeared in many journals, including Partisan Review, The New Yorker, Triquarterly, DoubleTake and The New England Review. He teaches at George Mason University and lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
Thu, Apr 23: Middlebury College, Robert A. Jones ’59 Conference Room, 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. A talk by Adina Hoffman, on her new book, My Happiness Bears no Relation to Happiness: Poet Taha Muhammad Ali and the Palestinian Century, (Yale University Press), the first biography of a Palestinian poet, and the first portrayal of Palestinian literature and culture in the 20th Century. Sponsored by the Program in Jewish Studies, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and the Middle East Studies Program. For info, 443-5151, E-mail: email@example.com.
Thu, May 14: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Michael Harper to read. Michael S. Harper was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1938. He earned a B.A. and M.A. from what is now known as California State University, and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. He has taught at Brown since 1970. Harper has published more than 10 books of poetry, most recently Selected Poems (ARC Publications, 2002); Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems (2000); Honorable Amendments (1995); and Healing Song for the Inner Ear (1985). A new poetry collection, Use Trouble, is forthcoming in fall 2008 from The University of Illinois Press. His other collections include Images of Kin (1977), which won the Melville-Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America and was nominated for the National Book Award; Nightmare Begins Responsibility (1975); History Is Your Heartbeat (1971), which won the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Award for poetry; and Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970), which was nominated for the National Book Award. Harper edited the Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown (1980); he is co-editor with Anthony Walton of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry (2000) and Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945 (1994), and with Robert B. Stepto of Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship (1979). Harper was the first poet laureate of Rhode Island (1988-1993) and has received many other honors, including a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Award. Harper is also a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, an American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow, and the recipient of numerous distinctions, including the Robert Hayden Poetry Award from the United Negro College Fund, the Melville-Cane Award, the Claiborne Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Award.
Mon, Jun 1: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Eamon Grennan to read. Eamon Grennan was born in Dublin in 1941 and educated at UCD, where he studied English and Italian, and Harvard, where he received his PhD in English. His volumes of poetry include What Light There Is & Other Poems, (North Point Press, 1989), Wildly for Days (1983), What Light There Is (1987), As If It Matters (1991), So It Goes (1995), Selected and New Poems (2000) and Still Life with Waterfall (2001). His latest collection, The Quick of It, appeared in 2004 in Ireland, and in Spring 2005 in America. His books of poetry are published in the United States by Graywolf Press, and in Ireland by Gallery Press. Other publications include Leopardi: Selected Poems (Princeton 1997), and Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the 20th Century, a collection of essays on modern Irish poetry. His poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in many magazines both in Ireland and the US. Grennan has given lectures and workshops in colleges and universities in the US, including courses for the graduate programs in Columbia and NYU. During 2002 he was the Heimbold Professor of Irish Studies at Villanova University. His grants and prizes in the United States include awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Leopardi: Selected Poems received the 1997 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and Still Life with Waterfall was the recipient of the 2003 Lenore Marshall Award for Poetry from the American Academy of Poets. His poems have been awarded a number of Pushcart prizes. Grennan has taught since 1974 at Vassar College where he is the Dexter M. Ferry Jr. Professor of English.
Thu, Jul 9: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Michael Ryan to read. Michael Ryan has published three collections of poetry, including In Winter, Threats Instead of Trees, has been a finalist for the National Book Award, and God Hunger, as well as A Difficult Grace: On Poets, Poetry, and Writing, and the memoir Secret Life. His work has appeared in Antaeus, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, New Republic, and elsewhere. Ryan has been honored by the Lenore Marshall Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and a Guggenheim. Ryan is Professor of English and Creative Writing at UC, Irvine.
Mon, Jul 27: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Doreen Gilroy to read. Doreen Gilroy’s first book, The Little Field of Self (The University of Chicago Press, 2002), won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. Her second book, Human Love, was published by the University of Chicago Press in October 2005. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Slate, TriQuarterly and many other magazines.
Mon, Aug 17: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Cole Swensen to read. Cole Swensen is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Denver. She is the author of five collections of poems, including Try (University of Iowa Press, 1999), winner of the 1998 Poetry Prize; Noon (Sun and Moon Press, 1997), which won a New American Writing Award; and Numen (Burning Deck Press, 1995) which was nominated for the PEN West Award in Poetry. Her translations include Art Poetic’ by Olivier Cadiot (Sun & Moon Press, Green Integer Series, 1999) and Natural Gaits by Pierre Alferi (Sun & Moon, 1995). She splits her time among Denver, San Francisco and Paris.
Thu, Sep 3: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Marge Piercy to read. Marge Piercy has published 17 books of poetry, including What Are Big Girls Made Of, Colors Passing Through Us, and most recently her 17th volume, The Crooked Inheiritance, all from Knopf. She has written 17 novels, most recently SEX WARS in Perennial paperback now. Her memoir Sleeping With Cats is also in Harper Collins Perennial. Last spring, Schocken published Pesach for the Rest of Us. Her work has been translated into 16 languages. Her CD Louder We Can’t Hear You Yet contains her political and feminist poems. She has been an editor of Leapfrog Press for the last ten years and also poetry editor of Lilith.
Thu, Oct 1: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Pattiann Rogers to read. Pattiann Rogers has published ten books of poetry, a book-length essay, The Dream of the Marsh Wren, and A Covenant of Seasons, poems and monotypes, in collaboration with the artist Joellyn Duesberry. Her 11th book of poetry, Wayfare, will appear from Penguin in April, 2008. Rogers is the recipient of two NEA Grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2005 Literary Award in Poetry from the Lannan Foundation, and five Pushcart Prizes. In the spring of 2000 she was in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy. Her papers are archived in the Sowell Family Collection of Literature, Community and the Natural World at Texas Tech University. She has taught as a visiting professor at various universities, including the Universities of Texas, Arkansas, and Montana, Houston University, and Washingon University. She is currently on the faculty of Pacific University’s MFA in Writing Program. Rogers has two sons and three grandsons and lives with her husband in Colorado.
Tue, Oct 20: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Major Jackson to read. “Jackson knows the truth of black magic. It is a magic as simple as the belief in humanity that subverts racism, or the esoteric and mystical magic of making jazz, the music of hope and love.” —Aafa Weaver. Major Jackson is the author of two collections of poetry, Hoops (Norton: 2006), a finalist for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Poetry. and Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia: 2002), winner of the 2000 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Poems by Major Jackson have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Callaloo, Post Road, Triquarterly, The New Yorker, among other literary journals and anthologies. He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. He has received critical attention in The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Parnassus, Philadelphia Inquirer, and on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Jackson is an Associate Professor of English at University of Vermont and a faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. In 2006-2007, he was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
Tue, Nov 17: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet Sebastian Matthews to read. Sebastian Matthews is the author of the poetry collection We Generous (Red Hen Press) and a memoir, In My Father’s Footsteps (W. W. Norton). He co-edited, with Stanley Plumly, Search Party: Collected Poem s of William Matthews. Matthews teaches at Warren Wilson College and serves on the faculty at Queens College Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing. His poetry and prose has appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Georgia Review, New England, Review, Poetry Daily, Poets & Writers, Seneca Review, The Sun, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review and The Writer’s Almanac, among others. Matthews co-edits Rivendell, a place-based literary journal, and serves as poetry consultant for Ecotone: Re-Imagining Place.
Mon, Feb 22: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined. Poet David Shapiro to read. David Shapiro (born January 2, 1947) is an American poet, literary critic, and art historian and . Shapiro has written some twenty volumes of poetry, literary, and art criticism. He was first published at the age of thirteen, and his first book was published at the age of eighteen. Shapiro has taught at Columbia, Bard College, Cooper Union, Princeton University, and William Paterson University. He wrote the first monograph on John Ashbery, the first book on Jim Dine’s paintings, the first book on Piet Mondrian’s flower studies, and the first book on Jasper Johns’ drawings. He has translated Rafael Alberti’s poems on Pablo Picasso, and the writings of the Sonia and Robert Delaunay. Shapiro has won National Endowment for the HumanitiesNational Endowment for the Arts fellowships, been nominated for a National Book Award, and been the recipient of numerous grants for his work. Shapiro lives in Riverdale, The Bronx, New York City, with his wife and son.
Again, if you become aware of an event that isn’t posted above, please let me know. My apologies if I have left off anything of importance to any of you, but it can always be corrected in the next Vermont Poetry Newsletter.
That’s about it for now. Again, keep your eyes peeled for poetry events. I hope this email finds you all with good health and sharp pencils.
Your fellow Poet,