Vermont Poetry Newsletter • September 24 2009

[The Vermont Poetry Newsletter is not issued by me but by Ron Lewis, by whose permission I post this. PLEASE NOTE: I have edited his newsletter so that links are provided rather than text.]

Vermont Poetry Newsletter

Your Poetry & Spoken Word Gateway in the Green Mountain State

September 24, 2009 – In This Issue:

  1. About VPN
  2. Newsletter Editor’s Note
  3. Writing Assignments/Suggestions/Exercises/Prompts
  4. Quibbles.com
  5. League of VT Writers: David Weinstock Poetry Workshop
  6. Brighten the Barn – PSOV Anthology
  7. Writing For Radio
  8. Burlington Book Festival (With Schedule)
  9. Brattleboro Literary Festival (With Schedule)
  10. Kay Boyle Bio
  11. The Horace Greeley Writers’ Conference
  12. The Poets Forum On Contemporary Poetry
  13. Google Book Settlement
  14. Tarpaulin Sky Press & Literary Journal
  15. Robert Frost Farm Fund
  16. Boston Book Festival
  17. Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman
  18. Book King Readings
  19. Did You Know? HBO Series: Brave New Voices
  20. Poetry Quotes – Why Poetry?
  21. US Poets Laureate List
  22. Failbetter Poem
  23. Linebreak Poem
  24. Copper Canyon Press Poem
  25. American Life in Poetry Poems
  26. Vermont Poet Laureates
  27. Contact Info for Publisher of VPN: Ron Lewis
  28. Vermont Literary Journals
  29. State Poetry Society (PSOV)
  30. Year-Round Poetry Workshops in Vermont
  31. Other Poetry Workshops in Vermont
  32. Year-Round Poetry Writing Centers in Vermont
  33. Poetry Event Calendar

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1.)

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.

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2.)

Dear Friends of Poetry:

Do you realize that the Vermont Poetry Newsletter now goes to over 300 serious poets around the state?  If you’re reading this, you happen to be one of the chosen ones, to be a “word gatherer” and to bring the enjoyment of this craft to others.    If you have something poetry-related that you would like me to be aware of, something you think I would enjoy, please send it along to me.  I too am one of you, someone who searches out for the perfect word, a “word gatherer.”    I hope to someday be fortunate enough to find you at a poetry reading, or to hear you read, or you to hear my words.  I want to hear all the words, all the poetry that surrounds us.  Don’t you?

Ron Lewis VPN Publisher  247-5913

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3.)

WRITING ASSIGNMENT/SUGGESTION/EXERCISES

writing promptOpen a dictionary to a random page. Run your finger down a column of text, paying attention to the first five or ten words you see. Choose one of those words and find a way to include it in a poem you’re working on, or a paragraph of prose. As Natasha says, you can force the word into your work “like hammering open a door.” Maybe in a later revision, you’ll block it up again. But in the meantime, this randomly chosen word will have allowed you to get some “air” into your writing…

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4.)

QUIBBLES.COM

The Dead Creek Poets’ Society Leonard Gibbs,
Magister Ludi

In which Leonard Gibbs contemplates A. E. Housman’s  “The Name and Nature of Poetry.”

quibblesOver the years some writings have stayed with me, to read over and over.  As I was a preacher in the Southern Presbyterian Church, The Bible was not only required reading, as a professional handbook, but also a wildly exciting story of Olympian rages, creativity, hate, love and redemption.  I read it less now, and in pieces.  I do not see it as a single theological work, but as a testament to beauty, power, hope and massive failure….

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5.)

League of Vermont Writers
October 2 and 3, 2009 – LVW Fall Retreat
Bishop Booth Conference Center by the Lake
Burlington, Vermont  with

Registration InfoFriday Evening

Joe Citro – Reading from *The Vermont Monster Guide*

Saturday

Joe Citro – “On the Writing Life”
Jim DeFilippi – “The Ups and Downs of E-Publishing”
David Weinstock – “Write Strong:” A Hands-On Workshop (POETRY!)

Register now!

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6.)

Brighten the Barn

  • 60th Anniversary Anthology  Poetry Society of Vermont.    Forget that I’m the Reporting Secretary of the PSOV, I believe this book, all 99 pages of it, is a poetry bargain!  I have several issues in my possession, and if you’d like to have one or more issues, please send me $10 per copy, and I’ll get it out to you; I’ll even swallow the cost of postage! This is a book that every Vermont poet should have in their library, in support of their own state poetry society, the PSOV

Ronald Lewis:
Phone: 802-247-5913
Cell: 802-779-5913
Home: 1211 Forest Dale Road, Brandon, VT 05733
Email: vtpoet@gmail.com

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7.)

  • I recently had the pleasure to meet and talk with Dave Isay, the voice behind the great work of StoryCorps, the largest and most ambitious private oral history project in American history.  I was afforded a “How To” into Writing for Radio, which is outlined below for your convenience.  Somehow I have to believe that the poet in many of you can find a way to enter this field, perhaps interviewing some of the poets or groups of poets that you know personally, and recording their voice in describing their craft, for appreciation by future generations.  At any rate, this should give you a start that might have taken you quite some time to assimilate. Ron Lewis

Writing for Radio
Radio Resources & Inspiration

Transom

The most comprehensive source of independent radio information on the web.  Everything from the nuts and bolts of basic radio creation (what equipment to use, how to get started, podcasting seminars), to interviews with the craft’s best practitioners.

Third Coast

This audio documentary festival no longer takes place, but there’s an amazing amount of material in the archives of lectures, pitch sessions, and award-winning pieces from past years, when radio producers from all over the world gathered to share their experiences and work.

The Next Big Thing

Public Radio International’s weekly radio feature program.  Storytelling, radio plays, documentaries, experimental radio, a range of writers (Rick Moody, Jonathan Ames, Steve Almond, Henry Alford, Meg Wolitzer) producing pieces that span (and deconstruct) all of radio’s genres.  No longer on the radio, but the entire 5-year archive is online.

This American Life

Ira Glass’ weekly radio program, often featuring writers (David Sedaris, David Foster Wallace) and other “non-radio” people, in an hour-long series of segments linked by a common theme.  Great comprehensive online archive.

Radiolab

Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, programs are hour-long explorations of something mysterious—Sleep, Mortality, Memory, Decision—from different angles.  Most shows pull in scientists doing research on relevant topics but anchoring personal stories are always important.

Living On Earth

Weekly environmental affairs program, featuring short and long-form reported pieces about environmental issues.

Sound Portraits

Sound Portraits is the production house for David Isay’s award-winning radio documentaries on America’s ghettos, prisons, and other neglected communities, as featured on NPR.

Story Corps

Another project of Dave Isay.  Roving story-recording booths travel the country, getting ordinary people to tell their stories on radio.  The stories are put in a public oral history archive, and the best ones are played nationally.  Based on oral history projects that were done under the New Deal WPA.

Selected Shorts

The radio Holy Grail for fiction writers.  Contemporary theater performers give dramatic readings of classic and contemporary short fiction.  Online archive of performances, great examples of how to dramatically perform a written piece without changing the text.

Public Radio Exchange

A nonprofit service for distribution, peer review, and licensing of radio pieces.  It’s a smart solution to the problem of excellent and innovative productions failing to reach wide audiences.  You can listen to pieces, and post your own for distribution.

Association of Independents in Radio

Costs $125 a year to join, but there’s an email list full of producer contacts, rates info, pitch solicitations . . . “AIR provides the producing community an array of professional development programs and resources, including mentoring, training and printed and online publications, as well as conferences and activities that expand networking, advocacy, employment and funding opportunities.”

Audio Editing Software:

The industry standard is ProTools (which requires a piece of hardware called an M-Box) and can run several hundred dollars.  But you can download an open source audio editing program called Audacity for free.  It’s compatible with Macs and PCs.

Also, if you’re a Mac user, an audio editing program called Garage Band comes standard on new Macs.

Other Links:

Chicago Public Radio
New York Public Radio
Boston Public Radio
Vermont Public Radio
Minnesota Public Radio
New Hampshire Public Radio

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8.)

(Due to the untimely death of highliner Frank McCourt, the Burlington Book Festival has added Rita Dove as their headliner for 2009!  Wow!)

WELCOME TO THE 5th ANNUAL BURLINGTON BOOK FESTIVAL

Burlington Book Festival
The 2009 Burlington Book Festival will take place in a variety of downtown Burlington venues throughout the weekend of September 25 through 27. The Queen City’s 5th annual celebration of the written word will feature readings, signings, panels, workshops, demos, musical performances, family activities and special events featuring literary luminaries from around the world-and just around the corner. Virtually all events will be free of charge.

http://www.burlingtonbookfestival.com/

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9.)

Welcome to the Brattleboro Literary Festival
October 2-4, 2009

Brattleboro Literary Festival

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10.)

  • I happened to study under the tutelage of Stan Rice, Kay Boyle and Denise Levertov.  There are many of you who are probably not aware of the fine writings of Kay Boyle.  It was her short stories that brought me to be a writer.  Kay Boyle's LifeHer poetry, however, was frosting on the cake.  I thank Kay for her generosity of time and insight to poetry while we crossed paths at San Francisco State College.  (I hope by now she’s forgiven me for falling asleep once in her class!) Ron Lewis

Kay Boyle’s Life

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Boyle grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She studied architecture at Parson’s School of Fine and Applied Arts in New York and elsewhere, took courses at Columbia, and studied violin briefly at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. She married French-born engineer Richard Brault in 1922 while helping to edit the experimental literary magazine * Broom*. She moved to France with her husband the following year, and she lived mostly in France from 1923 to 1941, where she was well known among the American expatriate community.(…)

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11.)

The Horace Greeley Writers’ Conference

Horace GreeleyOctober 24-25 2009

Fox Hill Center for the Arts

Poultney, Vermont

The two day symposium will feature four authors providing inspirational presentations and interactive writing workshops designed to give voice to aspiring writers and offer an opportunity for experienced writers to renew a commitment to a narrative, a biography or an unfinished poem. Writers in all genres are welcome to spend a fall weekend in this Vermont village. Autumn in Vermont with the ambience set on high. (…)

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12.)

Poets ForumThe Academy of American Poets presents the 2009
POETS FORUM ON CONTEMPORARY POETRY

OCTOBER 15-17, 2009

NEW YORK CITY

The Academy of American Poets invites you to join us in New York City for the Poets Forum, a series of events exploring the ever-changing landscape of contemporary poetry in America. This year’s events will feature new in-depth discussions with an array of distinguished poets, readings, publication parties, and a new selection of literary walking tours, led by poets, throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.

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13.)

  • In 2005, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Authors’ Guild filed suit against Google, objecting to the company’s mass digitization of millions of books on copyright violation grounds. The parties privately settled for $125 million and devised a scheme that would permit Google to charge libraries and consumers for access to the digitized books. Under the deal, Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP would gain significant new powers to control the fledgling market for digital books.  Want to learn more about the proposed Google Book Settlement? Go to: http://www.openbookalliance.org/

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14.)

  • Another Lit Magazine right in our own backyard!

Tarpaulin Press

Tarpaulin Sky Press  & Literary Journal

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15.)

Frost Farm FundRobert Frost Farm Fund

College establishes Frost-related funds 
to maintain farm, support writer in residence

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16.)

Boston Book FestivalBoston Book Festival


Saturday, October 24th

Copley Square

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17.)

Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman Gives Chicago Reading
A public poetry reading for Chicago-area children and their parents

CHICAGO—The Poetry Foundation is pleased to announce that poet Mary Ann Hoberman will give The Chicago Reading on October 7, 2009, at 6:45 p.m. at the University of Chicago’s Ida Noyes Hall. The event is free and open to the public, and marks Hoberman’s first official reading as Children’s Poet Laureate.

In addition to the public reading, Hoberman will spend October 8, 2009, giving readings and discussing children’s poetry at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools with students, teachers, and librarians.

Findings from the Poetry Foundation’s major research study*, Poetry in America, *demonstrate that a lifelong love for poetry is most likely to result if cultivated early in childhood and reinforced thereafter. Hoberman’s popularity reflects a growing awareness that children have a natural receptivity to poetry and are an appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them.

  • What: The Chicago Reading, Mary Ann Hoberman’s first official reading as Children’s Poet Laureate**
  • Where: Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago, 1212 East 59th Street
  • When: Wednesday, October 7, 2009, 6:45 p.m.**

Admission to The Chicago Reading is free and open to all ages. A reception and book signing with Hoberman will follow the reading. Children in attendance will receive a free poetry book bag and cap.

Mary Ann Hoberman was appointed by the Poetry Foundation to a two-year term as Children’s Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children’s Poetry to the Poetry Foundation in 2008. She is the author of over 40 children’s books and has won the National Book Award, the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, a Society of School Librarians International Best Book award, and a National Parenting Publications Awards gold medal, among other accolades. She has also been recognized by magazines such as Child and Parenting. Hoberman’s most recent publication is a moving anthology of more than one hundred poems, The Tree That Time Built. One hundred of her favorite poems are collected in The Llama Who Had No Pajama. Other popular titles include Strawberry Hill, Hoberman’s first novel; The Seven Silly Eaters; and the You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series.

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18.)

Poetry Readings Resume at The Book King, Center Street, Rutland

The Book King is returning to having public poetry readings, to be held on the last Friday of each month, at 6:00 p.m.  The next reading will be on *October 30th*.  There will be flyers at the Book King counter.

Please contact me (Ron Lewis – vtpoet@gmail.com) if you’d like to read; we need readers!

No theme this time around!  Bring your own poetry to read or someone’s poetry you enjoy.

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19.)

Did You Know?

HBO Series: Brave New Voices

  • Watch and listen to the complete performances!

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20.)

Why PoetryWhy Poetry?

One of William Stafford’s definitions, from his essay “Making a Poem/Starting a Car on Ice,” where he says that “A poem is anything said in such a way or put on the page in such a way as to invite from the hearer or reader a certain kind of attention.” That seems to locate at least part of the the poem-ness where it belongs – in the mind of the person doing the perceiving. How else to explain why some are able to find poetry where others do not? I like the implication that there is a latency in poetry which only manifests itself when “a certain kind of attention” is turned upon it. But if you don’t like Stafford’s definition, here are some others to add fuel to the fire.(…)

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21.)

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.

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22.)

Autumn Crocus
Kyle McCord

Autumn Crocus

The snow arrives:
handsome, high-cheek boned.
The snow assassinating insects and numb
thumbs of grass.
May I say something?
Jealousy happens all around you(….)

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23.)

  • Linebreak is an online journal with a bias for good poetry. Here is a poem from their web site this week:

Nocturne with SnowstormNocturne with Snowstorm and Power Outage
BY KEITH MONTESANO

Already the panic has begun. The questions: *Who will crash? What
will burn out?* Instead of generators flaring, transformers blowing up —
power shriveled and disintegrating into gray sky — lightning surges
in gunmetal bursts. No footprints on the sidewalks like those
on Mexican beaches, spring break: no sirens to rescue the helpless,
beheaded, the drug lords and headlines of shattered families
we keep reading about. I want so badly now to hold you under this sky (….)

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24.)

  • Here’s a poem from *Copper Canyon Press*, in its “Reading Room”.

Timothy Liu Thoreau

Timothy Liu
Thoreau

My father and I have no place to go.
His wife will not let us in the house–
afraid of catching AIDS. She thinks
sleeping with men is more than a sin,
my father says, as we sit on the curb
in front of someone else’s house. (….)

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25.)

American Life in Poetry: Column 231

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Helping my DaughterThis column originates on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and at the beginning of each semester, we see parents helping their children move into their dorm rooms and apartments and looking a little shaken by the process. This wonderful poem by Sue Ellen Thompson of Maryland captures not only a moment like that, but a mother’s feelings as well.

Helping My Daughter Move into Her First Apartment

This is all I am to her now:
a pair of legs in running shoes,
two arms strung with braided wire.
She heaves a carton sagging with CDs (….)

American Life in Poetry: Column 232

Baby Wrens' VoicesI’ve built many wren houses since my wife and I moved to the country 25 years ago. It’s a good thing to do in the winter. At one point I had so many extra that in the spring I set up at a local farmers’ market and sold them for five dollars apiece. I say all this to assert that I am an authority at listening to the so small voices that Thomas R. Smith captures in this poem. Smith lives in Wisconsin.

Baby Wrens’ Voices

I am a student of wrens.
When the mother bird returns
to her brood, beak squirming
with winged breakfast, a shrill (….)

American Life in Poetry: Column 233

Indian SummerDiane Glancy is one of our country’s Native American poets, and I recently judged her latest book, Asylum in the Grasslands, the winner of a regional competition. Here is a good example of her clear and steady writing.

Indian Summer

There’s a farm auction up the road.
Wind has its bid in for the leaves.
Already bugs flurry the headlights
between cornfields at night.
If this world were permanent,
I could dance full as the squaw dress (….)

American Life in Poetry: Column 234

WesternThis week’s poem is by a high school student, Michelle Bennett, who lives in Tukwila, Washington, and here she is taking a look at what comes next, Western Washington University in Bellingham, with everything new about it, including opportunity.

Western

You find yourself in a narrow bed you’ve
never slept in,
on a tree-lined grassy field you’ve
never walked upon,
on a cold toilet seat you have not sat on,
in a place you now call your home, your learning, your future. (….)

American Life in Poetry: Column 235

My Father's Left HandI tell my writing students that their most important task is to pay attention to what’s going on around them. God is in the details, as we say. Here David Bottoms, the Poet Laureate of Georgia, tells us a great deal about his father by showing us just one of his hands.

My Father’s Left Hand

Sometimes my old man’s hand flutters over his knee, flaps
in crazy circles, and falls back to his leg.

Sometimes it leans for an hour on that bony ledge. (….)

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26.)

VERMONT POET LAUREATES

1) Robert Frost – 1961
2) Galway Kinnell
3) Louis Glück
4) Ellen Bryant Voigt
5) Grace Paley
6) Ruth Stone

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27.)

If you ever have a need to contact me, here’s how to go about doing so:

Ronald Lewis:
Phone: 802-247-5913
Cell: 802-779-5913
Home: 1211 Forest Dale Road, Brandon, VT 05733
Email: vtpoet@gmail.com <david.weinstock@gmail.com>

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28.)

VERMONT LITERARY JOURNALS

1) The Queen City Review

Burlington College’s  The Queen City Review is a yearly journal of art and literature and accepts the work of new and established writers and artists in the areas of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, photography, and fine art, as well as essays and criticism on all aspects of the aforementioned. They seek to publish high quality work that ranges broadly in topic and genre.

The Queen City Review can be purchased by 2-year subscription or individually.  The price of one issue is $8 plus shipping charges ($1) for a total of $9.  Subscriptions can be purchased for #$14 plus shipping charges $2) and includes the Fall 2008 and upcoming 2009 issues.  They accept cash, check, and credit cards.  You can mail your payment to them or by calling (802) 862-9616 ext. 234 to place your order over the phone.  If mailing your payment, mail details to:

ATTN: Heidi Berkowitz
Burlington College
95 North Avenue
Burlington, VT  05401

2) Bloodroot

Bloodroot is a nonprofit literary magazine dedicated to publishing diverse voices through the adventure of poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction.  Their aim is to provide a platform for the free-spirited emerging and established writer.

The price of a single issue is $8.

Editor, “Do” Roberts
Bloodroot Literary Magazine
PO Box 322
Thetford Center, VT  05075
(802) 785-4916
email: bloodroot@wildblue.net

3) New England Review

A publication of Middlebury College, a high quality literary magazine that continues to uphold its reputation for publishing extraordinary, enduring work.  NER has been publishing now for over 30 years.

Cost: $8 for a single issue
$30 for a single year (4 issues)
$50 for two years (8 issues)

New England Review
Attn: Orders
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753

NEReview@middlebury.edu
(800) 450-9571

4) Willard & Maple

A Literary and Fine Art Magazine of Champlain College, Burlington.

Willard & Maple
163 South Willard Street
Freeman 302, Box 34
Burlington, VT  05401

email: willardandmaple@champlain.edu

5) Vermont Literary Review

Vermont Literary ReviewA Literary and Fine Art Magazine of Castleton State College, Castleton.

The first issue of Vermont Literary Review was published in 1994. The review is published once a year. Work featured in the review includes poetry, fiction, drama, and personal essays from and about New England.

From its inception until 2006, students and professors reviewed the work submitted and selected work to be published. They used to jointly edit and design the review as well. After a brief lapse, the Vermont Literary Review has resumed publication in 2008 as a journal edited and designed solely by English Department faculty. The Literary Club, which used to help create this journal, is now putting out a publication of student work. (….)

6) Green Mountains Review

Green Mountains ReviewA Literary and Fine Art Magazine of Johnson State College, Johnson; in publication since 1987.

The Green Mountains Review is an international journal publishing poems, stories, and creative nonfiction by both well-known authors and promising newcomers.  The magazine also features interviews, literary criticism, and book reviews.  Neil Shepard is the general editor and poetry editor of the Green Mountains Review.  The fiction editor is Leslie Daniels.

The editors are open to a wide range of styles and subject matter. If you would like to acquaint yourself with some of the work that we have accepted in the past, then we encourage you to order some of our back issues (….)

7) Burlington Poetry Journal

The Burlington Poetry Journal is a new nonprofit publication interested in creating a means for provoking opinions, ideas, and thoughtful responses for poets in the Greater Burlington area. While there are numerous outlets for writers to gather and share privately in Vermont, there is no publication that brings together poetry of all styles and writers of all ages for the enjoyment of the general public. It is our hope that this journal will inspire writers to share their work with others who may be unaware of their talent, and for those who have never considered themselves writers to try their hand at poetry. We invite you to submit your work and share with others your thoughts and abilities with the Burlington community. The work you share will produce a dialogue as writers become aware of each other and begin to expose themselves and others to new poetry. The eclectic nature of the Burlington Poetry Journal will serve to stimulate its readers and authors.

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29.)

Poetry Society of VermontSTATE POETRY SOCIETY
Poetry Society of Vermont

The Poetry Society of Vermont, founded in 1947, is an association of poets and supporters who join in promoting an interest in poetry through meetings, workshops, readings, contests, and contributions to the society’s chapbook. Anyone may join the society including high school and college students and non-residents of Vermont. We welcome both writers and appreciative readers.

In September 2007, The Poetry Society of Vermont will celebrated its 60th Anniversary. (….)

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30.)

YEAR-ROUND POETRY WORKSHOPS IN VERMONT

BELLOWS FALLS

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. Poetry Workshops on Monday mornings (9:30-12:30 I believe)- Jim Fowler’s sessions continue, with periodic break for a few weeks between sessions.  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 vsbooks@sover.net or  jfowler177@comcast.net. <vsbooks@sover.net>

3) InkBlot Complex Poetry Workshop runs through the Vermont Independent Media’s Media Mentoring Project and is held at the Rockingham Public Library at 65 Westminster Street in Bellows Falls.  No previous writing or journalism experience or even class attendance is required.  Participants are invited to bring a project or share successful techniques.  The workshop aims to lift poetry from the page and reveal how it is a living force in daily life.  Originally taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago to great acclaim, its interactive nature and inclusion of multiple art forms leaves dry, academic notions of poetry behind.  It functions through three tenets: 1) Presentation of the art form as a living element of our daily world, 2) individualized, personal enrichment and free range of expression for each student, and 3) artistic ecultivation through unexpected means.  Taught by seasoned arts journalist, cultural critic and poet Clara Rose Thornton, this free event explores the poetry we encounter all around us – in songs we hear, the ways we express ourselves, even the advertisements we see.  In the final session students then create their own works with an increased sense of connection to the way words construct meaning.  All materials are provided.  Instructor Clara Rose Thornton is an internationally published film, wine and visual arts critic, music journalist, poet and former book and magazine editor.  Her writings on culture and the arts have appeared nationally in Stop Smiling: The Magazine for High-Minded Lowlifes, Honest Tune: The American Journal of Jam and Time Out Chicago.  Currently residing in an artists’ colony in Windham County, she acts as the biweekly arts columnist for the Rutland herald, staff writer for Southern Vermont Arts && Living and a regular contributor to The Commons.  A portfolio, bio and roster of writing and editing services can be found at http://www.clararosethornton.com.  For more information about the Media Mentoring Project, visit http://www.commonsnews.org or call 246-6397.  You can also write to Vermont Independent Media at P.O. Box 1212, Brattleboro, VT 05302.

BERLIN

The Wayside Poets, who share their poetry publicly from time to time, have been meeting irregularly for the past 25 years.  They used to be called The Academy Street Poets.  Membership is by invitation only.  They meet now at the Wayside Restaurant & Bakery in Berlin.  Members include Diane Swan, Sherry Olson, Carol Henrikson and Sarah Hooker.  You can contact them through Sherry Olson at: solsonvt@aol.com or 454-8026.

BURLINGTON

The Burlington Poets Society, a group of “stanza scribblers” that express their love of verse, made up of UVM students and professors, have recently organized, meeting at the Fleming Museum at UVM in Burlington for their periodic “The Painted Word” series of poetry readings. I hope to have additional information on this group in the coming months.

GUILFORD

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.

MIDDLEBURY

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.

NORWICH

This group meets on the first Sunday of every month at the Norwich Library, 6:30 p.m.

STOWE

There is another poetry workshop happening in Stowe, but unfortunately I know nothing much about this group.  If you do, contact me!

WAITSFIELD

The Mad River Poets consists of a handful of poets from the Route 100 corridor.  More on this group in the future.

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31.)

OTHER POETRY WORKSHOPS IN VERMONT

BURLINGTON

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

The Writer’s Center
58 Main Street
White River Junction, Vermont

Instructor: April Ossmann (author of Anxious Music, Four Way Books, 2007, writing, editing and publishing consultant, and former Executive Director of Alice James Books)

Info: (802)333-9597 or aprilossmann@hotmail.com and http://www.aprilossmann.com

ANYWHERE, VERMONT

Inkblot Poetry WorkshopRevived for the 2009 academic year is the InkBlot Complex Poetry Workshop, designed for upper-elementary and high-school-age students, grades 7-12. The curriculum functions through three tenets:

  • Innovative presentation of the art form as a living element of our daily world
  • Individualized, personal enrichment and free range of expression for each student
  • Artistic cultivation through unexpected means

The workshop debuted at the University of Illinois at Chicago, during a three-week summer program, entitled Project C.H.A.N.C.E., for underprivileged sophomore and senior students from area high schools. It was a fantastic success, and the program director requested its return. With this encouragement, I decided to expand and adapt the workshop for various age levels, as an educational/arts supplement for after-school programs and enrichment programs and an arts elective for more traditional academic settings. The response has been wonderful. (…)

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32.)

YEAR-ROUND POETRY WRITING CENTERS IN VERMONT

BURLINGTON

The Burlington Writer’s Group (BWG) meets on Tuesday evenings from 7-9 PM and has a new home at the Unitarian Church in the church’s little white house off of Clark St., 2nd floor. They’d like to let people know and also invite anyone interested to join them whenever folks are in town or as often as they’d like.

The Burlington Writer’s Group is a free drop-in group. They decide on a prompt and write for 20 minutes, followed by a go-around reading. They can usually get in two writes depending on group size. All genres and experience levels are welcome and there really are no rules other than demonstrating courtest while people are writing (don’t interrupt).  They don’t do much critiquing though some spontaneous reactions occur. Mainly it’s good practice to just show up and write for 40 minutes and share the writing, if so inclined…

BURLINGTON

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 or contact Sarah Bartlett at either 899-3772 or sarah@womenwritingvt.com.

SPRINGFIELD

A Writer’s Group has started to meet at the Springfield Town Library on the fourth Monday of each month, from 7 to 8 pm.  For more information, call 885-3108.

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 ( http://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!

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33.)

Poetry EventPOETRY 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.

Fri, Sep 25-Sun, Sep 27: *Burlington Book Festival*. The 2009 Burlington Book Festival will take place in a variety of downtown Burlington venues throughout the weekend. The Queen City’s 5th annual celebration of the written word will feature readings, signings, panels, workshops, demos, musical performances, family activities and special events featuring literary luminaries from around the world-and just around the corner. Virtually all events will be free of charge.  For more info, http://www.burlingtonbookfestival.com/.

Wed, Sep 30: Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, 6:15 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.  Sue Burton and David Cavanagh will be providing a poetry reading as part of The Painted Word Poetry Series.  The Fleming Museum poetry series is hosted by Major Jackson, associate professor, UVM Dept. of English. This reading series highlights established and emergent New England poets whose work represents significant explorations into language, song, and art.  The Burlington Poets Society will make a short presentation first from 6:15-6:30, then the poets will begin reading at 6:30.

Wed, Sep 30: Kellogg-Hubbard Library, 135 Main Street, Montpelier, 7:00 p.m. Darning a Transcendental Stocking. Phyllis Larrabee will read from her poetry, Darning a Transcendental Stocking. She has worked as a community organizer, an advocate for people with disabilities and continues to write and read from her 28 poetry collections and many stories. Her work has won an award from the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.  For info, contact Rachel Senechal, 223-3338.

Wed, Sep 30: Jaquith Public Library, School Street, Marshfield, 7:00 p.m.  Poetry Reading with Susan Thomas and Samn Stockwell. Author Susan Thomas will read selections from her publications which include: State of Blessed Gluttony, The Hand Waves Goodbye; Voice of the Empty Notebook; and Last Voyage, and her new collection: My Afterlife. Samn Stockwell will read from her current manuscript, Our Common History, a series of short narrative poems for which she received a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation.  For info, 426-3581.

Thu, Oct 1: Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, 7:00 p.mPoetry Night with Lynne Knight and Kevin Pilkington. Lynne Knight is the author of four full-length collections, the most recent of which is *Again*, published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2009. Dissolving Borders won a Quarterly Review of Literature prize in 1996; The Book of Common Betrayals won the Dorothy Brunsman Award from Bear Star Press in 2002; and Night in the Shape of a Mirror was published by David Robert Books in 2006. She has also published three prize-winning chapbooks, Deer in Berkeley (Sow’s Ear Press), Life as Weather (Two Rivers Review), and Defying the Flat Surface (The Ledge Press). A cycle of poems on Impressionist winter paintings, Snow Effects, appeared from Small Poetry Press as part of its Select Poets Series and has been translated into French by Nicole Courtet. Knight lives in Berkeley, California.  Her work has appeared in a number of journals, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Ontario ReviewPoetry, and Southern Review. One of her poems appears in Best American Poetry 2000, selected by Rita Dove. Among her awards are the Theodore Roethke Award from Poetry Northwest, the Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award from Southern Humanities Review, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and an NEA grant.Kevin is a member of the writing faculty at Sarah Lawrence Collge and teaches a workshop in the graduate department at Manhattanville College.  For info, (800) 437-3700.

Thu, Oct 1: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, 8:00 p.m.  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.

Fri, Oct 2-Sun, Oct 4: Brattleboro Literary Festival. The 8th annual Brattleboro Literary Festival is a three-day celebration of those who read books, those who write books, and of the books themselves. Located in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont, the Festival includes readings, panel discussions, and special events, featuring emerging and established authors. All events are free.

Sat, Oct 3: Bishop Booth Conference Center, Burlington. *League of Vermont Writers presents David Weinstock*, *”Write Strong:” A Hands-On Poetry Workshop*.  Register at: http://www.leaguevtwriters.org/September09registration.pdf.

Sat, Oct 10: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  *Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading* on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

Tue, Oct 13: Bear Pond Books, 77 Main Street, Montpelier.  Poet *David Cavanaugh* reads.  More on this event later.  For info, 229-1069, info@bearpondbooks.com.

Tue, Oct 20: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, 8:00 p.m.  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.

Wed, Oct 21: Bixby Library, Vergennes, 7:00 p.m.  Poet *David Parkinson* to read from his new book, *Two Heads*.  David has teamed with poet Judith Dow Moore, both members of the Otter Creek Poets, in a remarkable new book of poetry that he will share with us tonight.  Copies will be on site to sell, and $5 of every book purchase will be going as a donation to the Bixby Library (David’s compliments!).  Come hear this remarkable poet speak to your heart!  For info, 877-2211.

Sun, Oct 25: The Brick Box Gallery at the Paramount, 30 Center Street, Rutland, 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.  *Out of History’s Junk Jar*. *Judy Chalmer*will read poetry from her book Out of History’s Junk Jar and talk about her own quest to understand her family’s Holocaust history.  DAVAR:The Vermont Jewish Women’s History Project.  For info, contact Sandra Gartner or Ann Buffum at 353-0001, davarvt@gmail.com, http://www.davarvt.org.

Wed, Oct 28: Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, 6:15 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.  Antonello Borra and Jill Leininger will be providing a poetry reading as part of The Painted Word Poetry Series.  The Fleming Museum poetry series is hosted by Major Jackson, associate professor, UVM Dept. of English. This reading series highlights established and emergent New England poets whose work represents significant explorations into language, song, and art.  The Burlington Poets Society will make a short presentation first from 6:15-6:30, then the poets will begin reading at 6:30..

Thu, Oct 29: The Galaxy Bookshop, 7 Mill Street, Hardwick, 1:45 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.  Poetry Reading by Hazen Union Poetry Class. The Hazen Union Poetry Class would like to invite the community to enjoy a reading of the students’ works at The Galaxy Bookshop. This special reading will give the students a chance to share their poems aloud in a public setting. We also welcome local poets to join us in sharing a poem or two with the group.  Time is subject to change: please check back later to confirm, or call the bookstore for more details: 472-5533.

Sat, Nov 14: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

Tue, Nov 17: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, 8:00 p.m.  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.

Wed, Nov 18: Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, 6:15 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.  Caroline Knox, Dorothea Lasky and Dara Wier will be providing a poetry reading as part of The Painted Word Poetry Series.  The Fleming Museum poetry series is hosted by Major Jackson, associate professor, UVM Dept. of English. This reading series highlights established and emergent New England poets whose work represents significant explorations into language, song, and art.  The Burlington Poets Society will make a short presentation first from 6:15-6:30, then the poets will begin reading at 6:30.

Wed, Dec 2: Kellogg-Hubbard Library, 135 Main Street, Montpelier, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Poetry’s Spiritual Language.  Using the poetry of Dickinson, Kenyon, Rumi, and Kabir—poets from diverse religious traditions—Dartmouth English professor Nancy Jay Crumbine examines poetry’s language of spirituality. Part of the First Wednesdays series. A Vermont Humanities Council event.  For info, 223-3338.

Sat, Dec 12: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

2010:

Mon, Feb 22: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, 8:00 p.m.  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.

our finitude as human beings
is encompassed by the infinity of language

❧Hans-Georg Gadamer

Your fellow Poet,

Ron Lewis

Another Poet & Children’s Writer

Just noticed a new netizen blogger – Karin Gustafson. I like her for three reasons. First, she writes traditional poetry, which is to say, she tests herself against the disciplines of rhyme, meter and form.  Second, she writes children’s stories. Subway SonnetI do too. In fact, I have a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature. So.. I really do like this art form. Third, she writes fun posts and has the same last name as a favorite high school teacher (way back when). Her latest post is Subway Sonnet (as of Sept. 24, 2009).

She dispenses with meter, but almost keeps to the rhyme scheme of the typical Shakespearean Sonnet. What she experiments with (which is why I say almost to the rhyme scheme) is the number of lines. She adds a fifteenth “half line” to the sonnet. It’s only nominally a “half line”, since there’s no meter in the poem. If she had written the poem using Iambic Pentameter, for example, a half line, conventionally, would be Iambic Trimeter. As it is, the sonnet could either be a modified Shakespearean Sonnet (both because of the extra line and because there’s no meter) or a nonce sonnet (which is simply what you refer to a poem whose form is unique to the poem and the poem’s author). Here are the last lines:

Today, I’m by the sea,
and water, vaster than pools, sparkles
under light so immense it cannot be
broken down for parts, yet its particles
raise up the non-molecular part
of me, what refuses to lose heart,
no matter–

The sonnets volta (which not all sonnets have) is her shift between yesterday and today, between observation and a sort of philosophical summing up. Also, check out her sonnet Post-Eden, it’s quite good. As with the sonnet above, she dispenses with meter, but unlike that sonnet she retains the rhyme scheme of the Shakespearean Sonnet (there’s no half line).

For a poem written in 8 line stanzas of four rhyming couplets, check her post: The Burden of Specialness – Firely. She’s a new blogger. 1 MississippiShe’s a good poet. And did I mention she writes for children? A book she wrote and illustrated was published by Backstroke Books, called 1 Mississippi. So, if you’re looking for poetry, take a look at her blog. If you have kids learning to read, try out her book.

One last thing, if you love Robert Pattinson, the painfully soul-drenched vampire of Twilight, you will find a soul-mate in Gustafson. (She can be forgiven, my wife was also smitten by the smolder.)

I love Robert Pattinson.  I also love Walt Whitman, W.B. Yeats and Virginia Woolf, so please don’t judge me too harshly.   Though I’ve actually been quite amazed by my love for Pattinson.  It is not just his looks (okay, it’s his looks), but also an inherent, seeming, sweetness.   The casual smile, upturned lips, harassed hair, truly harassed self.

The Animal Tales! • The Ninth of Several Fables

9. No Death Worse

A fable that follows: What’s Sweetest

Fox & Cooked GooseThe wolf paced atop the hill. “Why should the fox eat well and not me?” After some thought he went to the magpie with a plan. The magpie would distract the farmer’s wife with talk while the wolf ate chickens. “What should I say?” the magpie wondered, trying one subject after another. The wolf answered: “That would do…” or “Yes, that will work…” or “That’s a very good subject…”; but ideas, for the magpie, were like fish out of water, impossible to hold.

The farmer’s wife heard the magpie halfway to the farmyard and well warned, she planned a little surprise. “I think I shall smoke ham today!” When the magpie arrived later, she found the farmer’s wife at laundry. She straightaway struck up a conversation with the woman as the wolf snuck into the coop.

Ham hung from the ceiling! The wolf jumped and jumped and jumped! The ham was strung too high and worse!—the coop was filling with smoke and worse!—the door had locked behind him! When the magpie finally returned to coop, she gabbed and gabbed about her gab with the farmer’s wife. How the wolf sweat! All night long he sweat and sweat as the magpie gabbed and gabbed! And the next morning, when the magpie finally thought to open the door, half the wolf had been smoked away! The animals shook their heads and said,

“No death worse than talked to death!”

Be it known that this fable is followed by: The Higher the Horse

The Rhyme and Meter of Tang Poetry

Turner's Blog PageAnyone who enjoys Chinese poetry might enjoy Frederick Turner’s new translation of the Tang Dynasty Poets. The translation is unique in that he attempts to reproduce some of the Chinese formalism. He’s offering it for free (in digital form).

Although the formal genius of Tang poets is frequently described, translators rarely try to capture that facet. It’s a puzzling omission; but rhyme and meter have been denigrated by generations of free verse writers, sometimes vehemently. Content is the alter at which free verse worships. Rhyme and meter are seen as needlessly ornamental. But when written with genius, the formal aspects of a poem, it’s aural effects, are part of its content. My own opinion is that if a translator ignores a poem’s technical content, then it’s not a true translation – this includes the many free verse translations of Rumi, Homer and Virgil.

However, for those interested in what constitutes meter in Chinese, Turner’s introductory discussion of Chinese poetry’s formalism is bizarrely amateurish and uninformative – a peculiar oversight since the uniqueness of the translation is premised on its formalism. Turner states that “to my ear” he can hear “a regular stress pattern of alternating strong and weaker stresses”.  This would give one the impression that  Chinese is an accentual language (like English) which it isn’t – not remotely. He goes on:

The normal Tang poem has eight or four lines. To my ear—this feature is not often discussed by scholars—the lines are  stressed TUMta TUMta TUM for the five 20 syllable line, TUMta TUMta, TUMta TUM) poetry dictionaryfor the seven syllable line. p. 20-21

To the uninitiated, he might as well be describing trochaic trimeter or tetrameter. When I asked him how he was qualified to judge the meter of a Chinese poem, he veered off into the twilight zone by responding that he was good at recognizing meter in German and Hungarian – both of which are accentual languages (English is a Germanic Language) but have nothing whatsoever to do with Chinese.

Thank god for poetry dictionaries. Here is how John Drury, author of the Poetry Dictionary, sums up meter in Chinese poetry.

Chinese Forms

Whether or not Turner is right in hearing what he thinks he does,  my advice is to consult other resources. What constitutes meter in Chinese, at the very least, is not what Turner is describing.  That said, the only meter available to English is an accentual one. A translator can’t reproduce Chinese meter, but he or she can attempt  to reproduce a  commensurate formalism. This is what Turner has done. Here is one of Du Fu’s Poems (spelled Tu Fu by other translators):

Spring Night with Happy Rain
Du Fu (712-770)

A good rain knows the season when it’s right,
In spring, on time, it makes things sprout and grow.
Follow the wind, sneak out into the night:
All moist things whisper silently and slow.

Above the wild path, black clouds fill the air,
The boatlamp on the flood the only glow;
At dawn you see wet mounds of crimson where
The heavy flowers of Chengdu hang down low.

P. 79

Du Fu, according to the Chinese, was the unrivaled formalist.  (I’ve always wondered what it must be like to read the original.) Though Turner’s translation is probably only an approximation, it’s a refreshing attempt and reproduces what all free verse translations gloss over. It also makes the poem feel less like the product of the 20th or 21st century (an aesthetic with which Tang poetry has almost nothing  in common). As far as the poems themselves go, I hope more translators follow Turner’s lead. (Scribd’s interface leaves something to be desired. I downloaded the book in Adobe Acrobat. It’s also available as a .doc or .txt file.)

CALENDARS by annie finch

  • September 18 2009 • Cleaned up typos. Oddly, Firefox keeps mucking up WordPress Javascsripts. I’ve switched to Google Chrome. This is the  third time I’ve had to correct the same typos.

How the Book Faired

Not many reviewers hold poetry books to the same standards I do. In fact, none that I know of.

I am unique among reviewers.

Annie Finch CalendarsLet me begin by stating that I received the book straight from the publishers. The copy that I ordered was hardcover. The book was beautifully wrapped in a fine tissue paper and lacked only a wax seal. The care taken in its presentation leaves the reader with the impression that this is a book (and poet) that the publishers are proud of.

After receiving this beautiful book, I promptly left it on the roof of my car and drove off. Several hours later, I recovered the book from the off-ramp of I-91. This alone is remarkable. The book was able to stay on top of my car for some 23 miles at speeds of just over 70 miles per hour. This bespeaks a slender volume with subtle curves able to withstand gale force winds.

I then put the book next to my favorite chair.

Whereupon one of my little girls knocked over my freshly filled glass of ice tea (I had just been preparing to review the book). CALENDARS was soaked (along with some other books). I then did what I do with all my books that get caught in lemon iced-tea downpours.

I put it in the oven (which has a pilot light) underneath my 1940’s edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia.

I then forget that the book is in the oven and crank the oven to a pizza-ready 475 degrees. As any good lit major knows, paper burns at 451 degrees, hence Fahrenheit 451. Fortunately, the smell of broiled Columbia Encyclopedia and roast Finch alerted me to the impending book burning. I removed the books. Very hot. Very dry. Very bent.

I noted that the binding and glue had withstood both gale force winds and a controlled propane explosion. I promptly placed the roast Finch under my beloved 1938 Webster’s Encyclopedia (all 11 or 12 pounds of it) to straighten it out. Finch is small. Webster’s is big. I forget about the roast Finch until last week. Upon recovering Finch from her premature burial, I discover that the book is straight and, to the untrained eye, looks good as new.

So, I can now say without reservation that the quality of the book is outstanding and highly recommended.

Printed by Tupelo Press.

About Annie Finch

A brief biography of Annie Finch states that she was born in New Rochee, New York in 1956. She studied poetry and poetry-writing at Yale. (I’m not sure of the distinction between poetry and poetry-writing, but then I didn’t go to Yale.) Of interest to me is her collection of essays called The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self (2005),  A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women (1994) and After New Formalist: Poets on Form, Narrative. And Tradition (1999). She’s a formalist. (I normally don’t care for the term because I am not formal, but Finch uses it.) Finch is currently directing the Stonecoast Masters of Fine  Arts program in creative writing at the University of Southern Maine. And of final note: Calendars was shortlisted for the Foreward Poetry Book of the Year Award.

Annie Finch is incredibly productive.

Now to the Poetry:  Understanding Them

Reading Finch is a bit like reading Yeats in the following way: They are both steeped in a spirituality that uses “code words”, symbols and associations that the average reader may or may not be familiar with. Anyone who does a little research on Finch will learn that she’s Finch Study Guidea practicing Wiccan and that to more thoroughly understand her poetry is to more thoroughly understand her spirituality. Fortunately for readers of Yeats, a reader’s guide is available and indispensable. But what if you’re reading Finch? Well, as it turns out, the publishers have provided what they call a “study guide“. Clicking on the image at right will download a PDF from Tupelo press.

If you download it, you will find that the guide consists of a series of leading questions for each of the book’s poems. The questions are meant to provide readers with avenues of investigation that will presumably provide clues to or reveal the poem’s associations, symbols and meaning. By way of  example, here is the first poem (normally I wouldn’t reprint an entire poem, but readers might enjoy following the text as Finch reads the poem in the video below):

Landing Under Water, I see roots

All the things we hide in water
hoping we won’t see them go—
(forests growing under water
press against the ones we know)—

and they might have gone on growing
and they might now breathe above
everything I speak of sowing
(everything I try to love).

Here is the first of the two questions found in the study guide:

Finch dedicates this poem to Rita Dove in the “Acknowledgments” and has mentioned during readings that this poem came to her after reading Dove’s verse play The Darker Face of the Earth. The play, which retells the story of Oedipus among slaves on a nineteenth-century plantation, concerns the influence of a family’s past history on the present. Are these themes reflected in “Landing Under Water, I See Roots”?

Is one to assume that one must read “Acknowledgments” in order to fully appreciate Finch’s first poem? This seems to be the implication. How many readers are going to want to pursue this research? I, for one, am not. I have a whole pile of books yet to read, all on the floor next to my chair, all ready to soak up my next glass of iced tea. I generally don’t care for poetry of this sort. My own bias is to believe that a poem that isn’t self-sufficient, whose meaning can’t be plumbed without the aid of footnotes or endnotes, hasn’t done its job. It’s unfinished. But that’s my bias. I know that other poets enjoy this kind of poetry, as do many readers.

And here is the poet reading the poem:

As it stands, Finch’s first poem is beautifully written (if obscure). Who hides things in water? I don’t. And if we don’t take it literally (which I don’t think we’re meant to) how exactly are we to interpret “water”? Another reviewer, Tim Morris at the University of Texas at Arlington, has this to say:

Annie Finch’s work consistently makes us read a line twice. You are never sure just where a line or a thought is going. But in contrast to one dominant poetic school in America at the moment, descended from John Ashbery, where the reader does not know or for that matter care where the next thought is going, in Finch’s poetry one always cares.

I would modify that second sentence just a little: You are never sure just where a line or a thought went.

OK, never is too strong a word, but perhaps you take my point. There can be an opaque quality to Finch’s poetry, the feeling that you just had to be there. Finch’s poems can be like sentences without nouns where one is never quAnnie Finchite sure what’s being described or conveyed. I’m dubious but, as Morris asserts, Finch’s associative leaps pale in comparison to an Ashbery. There are readers who enjoy this sort of opacity and  I do think it is possible to enjoy Finch’s art without fully understanding her references. In no way do I want to dissuade readers from reading her poetry. My reactions are to be taken with a grain of salt.

But besides that, what’s with the study guide anyway? A whole host of questions beg to be asked.  Was it thought to be necessary? If so, why? Is the text to be considered complete without it? Why wasn’t it included with the book? Doesn’t it imply a certain level of presumptuousness? Is Annie Finch so established that her poetry now comes with study guides? Are readers obligated to read the study guide alongside her poetry? I’m certain she and the publisher would say no, but there it is. I must admit, I would probably have a near death experience if my own poetry were issued with a study guide, but I would also be just a little embarrassed. Shouldn’t I be dead before this happens? Mind you, only some of these questions relate to the quality of her poetry. That said, they’re questions I inevitably ask myself. If a book of poetry comes with (or requires) a study guide, what’s missing in the poetry?

All the same questions could be asked of Yeats, but then Yeats was Yeats. He was writing, unapologetically, for the Irish. Who is Finch writing for? – other women who happen to be wiccans? It’s a question that will occur to some readers through the course of the book and in poems like The Menstrual Hut, Without a Bird, Summer Solstice Chant. None of this, by the way, is a criticism so much as a description of what you will find.

On the other hand, not all of Finch’s poems are so oblique.

A Wedding on Earth is rich with earthy exuberance. At Religioustolerance.org the Wicca religion is described as  neopagan, earth centered religion. Finch’s poem is nothing if not earth centered. It’s imagery is concrete, sensuous, and erotic, reveling in the fecundity of the earth. There is no “earth as it is in heaven”. Heaven is earth.  Religious Tolerance, by the way, defines neopaganism as the following:

A Neopagan religion is a modern faith which has been recently reconstructed from beliefs, deities, symbols, practices and other elements of an ancient religion. For example, the Druidic religion is based on the faith and practices of the ancient Celtic professional class; followers of Asatru adhere to the ancient, pre-Christian Norse religion; Wiccans also trace their roots back to the pre-Celtic era in Europe. Other Neo-pagans follow Hellenismos (ancient Greek religion), Religio Romana (ancient Roman religion), Kemetism (ancient Egyptian religion) and other traditions.

Unlike with some of her other poems, it’s not essential to know that she’s a Wiccan or to know what Wicca entails, but it does inform the poem.

And as each fruit that drips down the earth’s strong chin
spills new sugar over an ancient face,
we all hold seeds that vibrate alive within,
and every hardened pod pulls the world’s embrace
from a new hiding place.

This is from the first stanza. The rich imagery and Whitmanesque rhetoric continue, unabated, through the entirety of the poem. Not all of the allusions or images make sense:

…bring
sand to emptiness, memory to the full..

Sand may have some Wiccan connotation of which I’m unaware. Without knowing, lines like this sound a little like words for the sake of words. They are like the witch’s chants – more incantation than meaning – creating a sort of sound and wall of imagery that’s meant to be like sounds and color. Like a magic spells, the words aren’t quite meant to make sense but to create a mood. The poem works. She moves in and out of incantation and exhortation:

Let your bodies make a body of bodies – cool
with the pores of a question, rich and warm
with answers quickening to beat and roll and spool
through the lost space anchored only by love’s vast charm,
where pools of kiss and hope and remembering meet,
crossed in a sculpting heat.

While we’re talking about content, you might not notice Finch’s mastery of form. And that’s the way it should be. Of all the poets who still write in the aural tradition, which is to say she uses meter and rhyme,  she is the most skillful. Her lines are rich with enjambment. This is a poet who can think beyond the line ,whose inventive powers move over many lines at once. One doesn’t get the sense that she writes line by line – as one does with so many other formalist poets. Her thought and meaning move through the form – that is, Finch gives the illusion that the form is accidental. The poem feels as though it has created the form rather than the form creating the poem.  Her poetry is mercifully free of metrical fillers and archaisms (in terms of word choice and grammar) that so frequently mar the efforts of other modern formalist poets. This is Finch’s singular gift and mastery.

The study guide provides a brief explanation of the meters and a sample scansion of all the poems in Calendar. Of the Wedding on Earth, the study guide writes:

This invented stanza uses the same line lengths, with the rhyme pattern of the Spenserian stanza. As befits a meter related to the Sapphic stanza—a meter that does not lend itself to Wedding On Earth Scansionsubstitution, since a particular pattern of different metrical feet constitutes its identity—this invented meter does not usually use substitution within the line. However, it does tend to leave off the final unstressed syllable of a line, lending the poem a more insistent, drumlike and ceremonial quality.

Notice the emphasis on the insistent, drumlike character of the meter – all in keeping with the feeling of the poem as incantation. This aspect of the study guide is especially useful and one wishes (or at least I do) that the publishers had included an appendix in the book itself – though I can understand why Finch, the publishers, or both opted not to. I fully admire Finch’s passion for the aural tradition, along with the varied exploration of the moods the different meters rouse in her. One gets the sense that the various stanza forms and meters are like musical keys to her. Different composers reacted differently to C Major, C# Minor or E♭major; and one gets the same sense that the different meters evoke commensurate moods and subjects in Finch.

And speaking of the study guide, I find some of its scansions puzzling.

For instance, the study guide scans the first poem as follows (trochaic tetrameter):

Landing Under Water ScansionNotice that the second and fourth line of each stanza shows a missing unstressed syllable. This implies that the meter is what’s called Long Meter, which has a syllable count of  8,8,8,8 . In other words, the ballad meter should be read as Long Meter with a missing syllable in the second and fourth line. In fact, Finch’s ballad meter is a trochaic version of 8s, 7s. A wealth of examples can be found here at the Fasola web site.

I might be accused of quibbling.

The study guide adds: Line 2: The rest or omitted syllable, very unusual in the middle of a trochaic line, creates an emphatically strong stress on “won’t.

I wouldn’t scan it that way. If this was Finch’s intention, then she didn’t quite pull it off. The tug of the trochaic meter pulls too hard against her intentions. At best, one might scan the line as follows:

spondaic Finch

This would make the second foot spondaic. However, I suspect many readers would read it as follows:

weak spondaic Finch

This scansion makes the word won’t more of an intermediate stress. If Finch had created some syntactic pause after won’t, I think readers would be more apt to heavily stress the word. But such is the art and science (the nitty-gritty) of writing meter. And I love Finch for trying.

Finch’s poems are full of metrical niceties like these and even if I’m dubious as to the success of some of them, I’m in no way criticizing her. Her poems are richer for the effort and the scansions available in the study guide give the interested reader something to think about. Did it work?  Did it not work? If so, why?

It’s refreshing to read a skilled craftsmen and, in effect, have her share her thoughts and poetic ambitions with the reader. In the hands of a master, the tools of the aural tradition add a layer that free-verse  simply can’t reproduce. And Annie Finch is a master.

Her Imagery

Finch’s imagery is curious. It is primarily visual.

She rarely touches on the sense of smell; and when she does, it’s only in the most conventional way. In A Wedding on Earth, for example, she refers to the “fragrant dust” – a rather abstract allusion that carries few, if any, associations. Her sense of touch is also muted – which is strangest of all (especially for a poet so devoted to the Earth). She rarely goes beyond the most conventional descriptions. A stone is rough, the earth is damp, lips are soft, or hands are warm, for example. Other than that, she will frequently use the verb touch (in many of her poems), but rarely explores the sensation other than to say that she or something was ‘touched’.

Taste and Sound (Aural) are also muted. It’s really quite remarkable. I wasn’t able to find a single example of taste in any of her poems. However, I’ll concede that I wasn’t looking for this when I first read her poems and have only quickly thumbed through the poems the second time round. Maybe I missed something. The closest we come, again, is in “A Wedding on Earth” She writes:

And as each fruit that drips down the earth’s strong chin
spills new sugar over the ancient face…

But even here, the sense of taste is suggested but nothing more. The mouth appears frequently in her poems, but Finch rarely, perhaps never in Calendar, actually explores the sense of taste. In Butterfly Lullaby she refers to the “sweet question mark”, but the word and the word’s usage are so conventional as to flirt with cliché. It hardly connotes the sense of taste.

A sense of hearing is also missing from her poetry except in the most conventional usage. The closest she comes may be in the poem Belly, where she refers to the “Humming sparrow touching my breast…” There’s the sense of touch again, but the imagery is abstract. Is she describing sound? Is she describing an inner sensation akin to touch? Even in her poem Faces with Poulenc, ostensibly about her reaction to the composer and his music, the sense of sound is conspicuously absent. Her poem, it might be said, recreates her experience of sound through visual motion. And this is what most characterizes Finch’s imagery.

Motion.

Her poetry is full of verbs, adverbs and present participles. Inks interpenetrate. The Sun tucks its way through the ground. Spirals bend into flame. There is whirling, spiraling, breathing, touching, meeting, curling, fish-rushing sparks, floating, evenings ravelling of slats to emerald. The wisteria raises its inchworm head. “Delve for me,” she writes, “delve down.” Then later: cradle the concrete ground till it softens. Things vine and sink and hide and pour. The sky is grass-moving. Consider the following lines: Indian grass lapping up the spattering sun; a great building that breaths under sunlight, currents of earth linger; You reach through your mouth to find me – Bursting out of your body. In the poem Churching she will “stay here looking” with her blood, she will “stay here holding up” her blood and “will stand here with” her blood but she won’t smell, taste, touch or hear it.

Hers is the visual imagery of constant motion. The verb reaching appears in poem after poem. The verbal imagery lends her poetry energy and richness but also, to me, gives them a monochromatic feeling.  Each poem seems written in the same key. Taken one after the other, they begin to feel breathless and hyperactive. As I say, it’s a curious effect. And to be fair to Finch, she is not alone in overly favoring one sense. I can look back through my own poems (most of them on this website) and see that I seldom explore all five senses. In some, like my All Hallows’ Eve, I made a deliberate effort to exploit taste, touch, sound and smell, but that was a much longer poem. I suppose one might wish that she modulated the pitch of her imagery the way she varies the poems’ formal aspects.

To Whom She Writes

Traditionally, the poetry loved by the most readers (the poetry that is considered universal) is the poetry in which the poet, in effect, disappears.  It’s the poetry in which the reader can say to his or herself: If I could have, that’s how I would have said it. The great poets help us find our own voice, help us express our own ideas and dreams. Guy that I am, I  just don’t see myself ever wanting to recite The Menstrual Hut or Chain of Women while I’m bucking logs. To read Finch’s poetry is to see the world the way see she’s it – to experience the earth and spirit the way she experiences it. Hers is a very personal poetry.

The downside is that sometime the poet’s reveries are so full of personal significance, oblique chants and imagery, that the reader will feel excluded. They might feel as though they are watching a self-involved ceremony that is both strangely secretive and exhibitionist.

And, as I wrote before, the reader might feel as though they just had to be there. Her various chants give that impression: Lammas Chant, Summer Solstice Chant, Winter Solstice Chant, the Imbolc Chant. I suppose they ought to be treated as part of a larger performance. (The book, after all, is called Calendars.) On the other hand, I think it’s fair to wonder at their intrinsic value. She herself writes:

Some are poems I decide I want to write for a certain occasion (“Elegy for My Father,” “A Wedding on Earth,” “A Carol for Carolyn,” the valentines, which are an annual tradition for my husband, and the five seasonal chants); in the elegy and the wedding poem, for example, I wanted to provide an earth-centered religious context for certain rituals of marriage and death.

You just had to be there.

Poems like the chants are probably best enjoyed for the mood they evoke.  Enjoy them and her other poems for their rich rhythms and masterful control. Enjoy her poems for the incantatory spell they can cast on you. I wouldn’t recommend reading the book in one sitting. Read it like you would read the calendar, a day at a time. Then you will especially enjoy poems like Lamia to Lycius and the almost metaphysical conceit of The Intellect of Woman (a kind of companion or response to Wilbur’s poem Mind.  You will savor her metrical skill, the subtlety of her enjambment and the vibrancy of her imagery.

She’s one of the best.

So the intellect of woman will not mind
the sight of where the diamond’s edge has moved.
Perfection’s habit opens us to find
cuts in a window we have never loved.

The Intellect of Woman

Note: I don’t recommend her book in any recipe, ovens or cauldron.

Annie Finch reads American Witch (not from Calanders)

But is it Poetry?

My 2¢

I couldn’t resist..

The Observer, as mentioned in the previous post, published an article entitled Poetry guardians reject modern verse. The Observer writes:

Members of the [Queen’s English Society – QOS], set up to defend the ‘beauty and precision’ of the English language, have turned their attention to contemporary poetry and poets, arguing that too often strings of words are being labelled as poems despite the fact they have no rhyme or metre.

What defending the “beauty and precision” of the English Language has to do with defining poetry is unclear. After all, there are any number of free verse “poems” Observer Linkcontaining English that are both beautiful and precise. If the Queen’s English only wants a beautiful and precise definition of poetry, then I assume that the Encyclopedia Britannica’s editors probably live in the same neighborhood.

It seems, however, that they had already decided what that definition should be:

‘A lot of people high up in poetry circles look down on rhyme and metre and think it is old-fashioned,’ said Bernard Lamb, president of the QES and an academic at Imperial College London. ‘But what is the definition of poetry? I would say, if it doesn’t have rhyme or metre, then it is not poetry, it is just prose. You can have prose that is full of imagery, but it is still prose.’

The campaign is being spearheaded by Michael George Gibson, who said it was ‘disgraceful’ that the Poetry Society had failed to respond properly to his demands for a definition. ‘For centuries word-things, called poems, have been made according to primary and defining craft principles of, first, measure and, second, alliteration and rhyme,’ said Gibson. ‘Word-things not made according to those principles are not poems.’ True poems, he said, gave the reader or listener a ‘special pleasure’.

While I may be mildly sympathetic to their angst (if not their goals) stating that “true poems” give readers “special pleasure” is hardly a beautiful or precise definition. Everyday my WordPress Spam filter weeds out hundreds of comments promising “special pleasures”. Were they all poems? – beautifully nubile, inviting and precisely suggestive? I’ll have to turn that filter off…

The Poetry Society's Definition of Poetry?

The Poetry Society’s Definition of Poetry?

On the other hand, the Poetry Society’s response was equally ridiculous, if not more so:

The Poetry Society has responded to the criticisms. One trustee told Gibson: “There is poetry in everything we say or do, and if something is presented to me as a poem by its creator, or by an observer, I accept that something as a poem.”

This is the kind of airy fairy poetry definition that makes the Queen’s English Society look good. If the Poetry Society truly responded that everything is a poem just because somebody told them so, then they are brain dead. If nothing else, their poetry “trusteeship” isn’t to be trusted and should be revoked. Try telling your local journal editor that your Aspirin bottle’s ingredients list is a poem. (Evidently, that would be good enough for the Poetry Society.) There’s a reason colleges rake in millions of dollars from MFA programs. And it’s not because anything and everything is a poem.

Another trustee, Ruth Padel, dropped back and punted a T.S. Eliot:

Ruth Padel, a prize-winning poet who used to be chair of trustees at The Poetry Society, added: ‘As for “what poetry is”: in The Use of Poetry TS Eliot said, “We learn what poetry is – if we ever learn – by reading it.”‘

Apparently, her prize-winningness doesn’t do well with definitions of poetry. Padel, in effect, is putting words into Eliot’s mouth. What Eliot meant and what Padel meant could have been two entirely different things. But we’ll never know because Eliot isn’t around to clarify (which is why you should always quote the dead). My own opinion is that Eliot’s quote doesn’t help her cause. The poetry that Eliot would have read and learned from didn’t  include the free verse of the 20th century (which he thought had gone too far). Rather, it included the very poetry that Gibson and QOS would consider… well… Poetry.

Michael Schmidt, whose “word things” Gibson and the Queen’s Snark refused to consider poetry, responded thusly:

Schmidt, professor of poetry at the University of Glasgow, argued that for centuries poets had added variations to patterns and rules. ‘It seems a primitive and even infantile notion that there are rules poetry must obey,’ said Schmidt, who accused the QES of placing poetry in a ‘straitjacket’. ‘Poetry that follows the rules too closely is bad poetry. I think every form of verse, free or metrical, establishes a pattern and plays on variations of it.’

To which one can only respond: “It seems an equally primitive and even infantile notion that there aren’t any rules poetry must obey.”

The Queen's English Society's Definition of Poetry?

The Queen’s English Society’s Definition of Poetry?

Of course, Schmidt immediately contradicts himself. (It’s hard to be consistent when you don’t have a definition.) He says: “Poetry that follows the rules too closely is bad poetry.”

Quoi?

That is, Schmidt admits that there are rules that should be obeyed, but not too closely. OK, so he thinks there are rules but they’re not really “rules”. But wait a minute, Schmidt then muddies the mud. He says that “every form of verse… establishes a pattern… and plays on it.” And just what pattern would that be? And is a “pattern” the same as a rule? And who decides on the pattern? It seems, once again, that a poem is whatever the author wants it to be. Hieronymus Bosch anyone?

So, where does that leave us?

My own feeling is that arguments about the definition of poetry are futile (but a great spectator sport). The term Poetry, during the last 100 years, has been applied to everything. In certain ways, the Poetry Society is correct (though not in their intended sense). The word Poetry is meaningless. It means whatever you want it to mean. I can understand how that would depress or enrage some connoisseurs of poetry and the English language. The word Poetry has caché. It’s got class. Everybody wants a piece of it and everybody got a piece of it. In the latest issue of Poetry, cartoon strips are now considered poems – albeit with the appellation conceptual.

A Subtle Truth…

You know how women poets resent being called women poets? – as if they were a subset of real poets (read men). If you really want to get under their skin, keep saying things like: “Yeah, she’s great for a woman-poet.” Well, the same thing works for writers of free-verse. If you really want to get under their skin, consistently refer to them as free verse poets, as though they were a subset of real poets (that is, poets who write rhyme and meter).

The subtle truth is that there is already a name for the “word things” that word thingers have been writing for the last century. It is called free verse. The next time you meet a word thinger who tells you that he or she writes poetry – ask whether they mean free verse or poetry. Keep a lawn chair close by. You’ll want to be comfortable.

Gibson should take comfort from the fact that the average reader makes a distinction, rightly or wrongly, between poetry and free verse. Ron Silliman has gone on at length railing at this subtle injustice (conspiracy). It’s one of the reasons why he futily attempts to break down poetry into schools. If he could just pull it off, then all schools of poetry would be on  equal footing. There wouldn’t be Poetry and/or free verse. There wouldn’t be Poetry and/or the avant-garde. One could point to any given poet and say (succinctly, beautifully and precisely) that he is a member of this or that school. Finally, all poets would be equal.

Poetry and/or Free Verse

But there’s a reason to distinguish between poetry and free verse poetry. As I wrote in a previous post, The Art of  Rhyme and Meter, poetry began as an oral tradition – and many free versifiers have studiously eschewed that tradition.

Consider Homer’s Odyssey. The original tale is probably far older than Homer and may have been handed down for centuries from one storyteller to the next. Each storyteller probably added details and expanded the story until, by the time Homer learned it, the epic was a real feat of memorization. And as every reader of Mother Goose knows, a ditty or poem that has a rhythm or rhyme is easier to remember than one that doesn’t. And the rhythm of the Odyssey is the  Dactylic Hexameter. The meter made the epic easier to remember.

But even before Homer, the tightly wound relationship between dance, music, rhythm and sound was demonstrated by recently discovered poems from ancient Egypt. National Geographic's Egyptian Poetry DiscoveryIn a book called The Ancient Egyptian Culture Revealed, Moustafa Gadalla writes:

The Egyptians perceived language and music as two sides of the same coin. Spoken, written, and musical composition follow the same exact patterns. Both poetry and singing followed similar rules for musical composition. Poetry is written not only with a rhyme scheme, but also with a recurring pattern of accented and unaccented syllables. Each syllable alternates between accented and unaccented, making a double/quadruple meter and several other varieties. Patterns of set rhythms or lengths of phrases of Ancient Egyptian poems, praises, hymns, and songs of all kinds, which are known to have been changed or performed with some musical accompaniment, were rhythmic with uniform meters and a structured rhyme. ¶ Ancient Egyptian texts show that Egyptians spoke and sang in musical patterns on all occasions and for all purposes–from the most sacred to the most mundane. [p. 155]

This oral tradition continued with the very first works of the Anglo Saxons, the alliteration of Beowulf, right up until the start of the 20th Century, when poets like Frost, Cummings, and Yeats, continued to imbue their poetry with the sounds and rhythms of its oral, storytelling ancestry.

Maybe its controversial to suggest that free verse is a new genre (only tangentially related to the poetry of the previous 2000 years), but the assertion isn’t to the detriment of free verse. Free verse practitioners have themselves, to varying degrees, deliberately avoided the traditional rhythms of a regular meter; have eschewed rhyme; have avoided alliteration; and whole schools have rejected techniques like metaphor. All these techniques grew out of an oral tradition – frequently, or so scholars think, as mnemonic aids or for musical accompaniment.

Free verse is the child of the 20th Century printing press (which isn’t to say that free verse can’t be read aloud and enjoyed as such). And it’s not to say that free verse doesn’t borrow techniques from the oral tradition, but free verse doesn’t do so systematically (Poets, like William Carlos Williams, studiously avoided anything short of what he considered plain speech or plain English and the avant-garde is premised on the avoidance of anything that smacks of traditional poetry.) It was the explosive availability of the printed word that made the visual cues of free verse possible. Aurally, there is frequently nothing that distinguishes free verse from prose.  Cleave Poetry, for example, is defined by its visual appearance  (rather than any aural cues).

Free verse declares itself poetry on the page. (No listener could reconstruct the poem by ear.)

The poetry of rhyme and meter declares itself poetry in the listener’s ear. The roots of traditional poetry are in music, song and lyric. (The attentive listener could, with a good memory, reconstruct a poem’s shape.)

In short, free verse didn’t evolve from the poetry of the oral tradition, it replaced it.

But is Free Verse Poetry?

Yes, but it’s the poetry of the printed page. It’s a different genre.

If all the printed records of free verse were lost and if all we had were audio recordings, only a handful could ever hope to be reconstructed on the page (depending on how pointedly the poet paused after each line break). What traditionally distinguished poetry from prose was regular linguistic patterning, not length or subject matter. Without any kind of regular linguistic pattern, there is nothing to distinguish  free verse from a paragraph of prose. If free verse isn’t printed, the genre provides no clues as to how it should be lineated.

Put Paradise Lost into one long prosy paragraph, and I will relineate it exactly the way Milton intended. Do the same with any of Shakespeare’s sonnets and I, or any one familiar with the sonnet form, could put them back together.

So, if the Queen’s English Society really wants to pursue a beautiful and precise definition of poetry, let them start there.

Just give me time to get my lawn chair.

❧ September 15, 2009 from up in Vermont.

Ryme & Meter Online • September 13 2009

  • Slowly recovering from my August vacation.
  • Many discussions on various forums which, though interesting, are too changeable to reference.
  • If any readers would like to recommend sites or blogs please do! Feel free to recommend your own blog or poem if you like but please don’t post your poem in the comment field (provide a link and the first lines).
  • Search terms used to find these posts: Rhyme, Meter, Formal, Formalist, Poetry

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Poetrybay: An on-line magazine for the 21rst Century

FALL 2009

X.J. KENNEDY AND WALT WHITMAN

Walt Whitman is considered the American progenitor of the wide, expansive ‘free verse’ style of poetry that puts aside rhyme and rhythm in favor of a more muscular, natural form of verse. So one would think that when a national poet is chosen to serve as the poet in residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace in West Hills, they’d choose a free verse style writer.

Not in 2009.

In choosing X J Kennedy as writer in residence at the WWBA, the association chose one of the key figures in the world of formal verse since he first began publishing in the late 1950s, and a man for whom advocacy of poems that use rhyme and meter has been a fundamental mantra.

Not that Kennedy sees any conflict in that. “In American poetry there are many mansions,” said Kennedy earlier this year, as he prepared to take on his duties as Master Poet and Poet In Residence at the WWBA. “I have admiration for someone who can write good free verse.”

Things have not always been so cordial…

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George Kalogeris on C.P. Cavafy’s Collected Poems
The Sensuous Archaism of C.P. Cavafy: A review by George Kalogeris

…What Auden most likely meant by Cavafy’s unique tone was an irreducible trace element in the poet’s signature style, and not the tone of individual poems, each of which is dependent upon intricate effects of prosody.  In his deeply instructive, excellent introduction to his new translation of Cavafy’s oeuvre, Daniel Mendelsohn reminds us that Cavafy’s poems are “unmistakably musical”, and that one of the goals of his book is to restore some of the richness of Cavafy’s linguistic  texture through close attention to prosody, and specifically to matters of diction, rhyme, and meter…

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IZZY THE LIZZY, BY RENEE RIVA
Gail D. Welborn
Published 08/30/2009 – 7:07 a.m. CST

…Washington author, Renee Riva, writes with a catchy rhythm and fanciful sounding rhyme and meter. The rhyming Izzysounds will engage children and encourage their imitation of this humorous read-aloud book.  A book that features qualities not usually found in the animal kingdom, such as traits of  kindness and compassionate mercy.

Steve Bjorkman’s captivating illustrations portray Izzy Lizzy’s kind expressions and colorful dress. With umbrella in hand, she sports a large straw hat, as she slithers down the bayou. Jeb is bright yellow with black bee stripes and gossamer wings to complement Anastasia, the light purple spider. Filled with colorful flowers, foliage, trees and water, Bjorkman’s illustrations will capture and delight children’s imaginations….

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Joel Nelson · Alpine, TX
Cowboy Poet

Interview by Josephine Reed for the NEA

…I had a good background in poetry. I had two wonderful literature teachers in high school who caused me to really fall in love with the sound of the words written and rhyme and meter, just the way that poets like Robert W. Service and Edgar Allan Poe and Rudyard Kipling assembled their words just fascinated me. They had such command of the English language and they could express an idea so eloquently and do it in rhyme and meter without detracting from the thought. And that takes a great command of the language to be able to do that…

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International Examiner

“Breaking the Map”
By Na Young Kwon

…Lieberman describes herself as a “mixed-race Amerasian… growing up in a bilingual, bicultural home which shaped [her] basic understanding of the world.” While the poet favors prose-like stanzas for more structured forms that may utilize rhyme and meter, Lieberman does employ the Breaking the MapVietnamese “ca-dao”— “a genre of popular Vietnamese poems that stems from oral tradition, a sort of cross between folk song and nursery rhyme”— which she learned from songs her mother and grandmother sang to her. The ca-dao comprises a fixed form of “luc-bat” or “6-8,” which is marked by an alternating syllabic count for every couplet with rhyme patterns and tonal emphasis. The subject matter typically reflects themes of agricultural life—nature, seasons, animals and folk proverbs. The first section of “Four Folksongs” is a translated version from this genre…

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Los Angeles Times

Nicholson Baker: Inside the author — and his alter ego

His new book, ‘The Anthologist,’ is a novel within an novel featuring a character who sheds light on his creator.

Baker is not Paul Chowder, for Chowder is in the thick of a crisis. He’s a poet in America in the beginning of the 21st century, problem one. The AnthologistHis girlfriend has just left him, mainly because he’s a pathological procrastinator. His one potential source of income, the introduction to a poetry anthology, eludes him day after endless day. But boy, does he love poetry. The novel is a course in meter, rhyme, inspiration; some well-known poets, some lesser known…¶

“I grew up writing poetry with meter and rhyme,” Baker recalls. “This is not good for one’s career. We’ve gone through this phase of childish experimentation when it comes to poetry. Now we’re having to relearn those finer things, things Tennyson and Swinburne knew at 14.” It’s not that he dismisses free verse entirely. So many poets he loves — Louise Bogan, W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver — write in free verse. “I want them to be subversive and they can’t be if the orthodoxy is free verse,” Baker says, in a characteristic jitterbug with history. Clearly, his ideas for “The Anthologist” have been marinating for a long time…

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BOOK REVIEW

Susan Wheeler
Assorted Poems
reviewed by Will Cordeiro
143 pp. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Hardback. $25.00. 9780374258610 hardcover

All That Glitters

Susan Wheeler Assorted Poems…It’s as if all we are left with are snatches of distorted song on a broken jukebox. This typical freewheeling stanza has the giddy verve of language spun in a cyclotron, throwing off new, short-lived, unstable semantic particulates.

The same process, however, begins to spin the day-to-day laws of macro-level sense-making out-of-control, caroming everything back into an undifferentiated cosmic alphabet soup.  The whole is held tenuously together by the thread of sonic association, the bumptious almost-meter and the loopy half-rhymes structuring its happy-go-lucky semblance of story along with the obsessive repetition at the end of the line.  It has gusto aplenty.  —But what the hell does it mean? (…)

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  • Google must have just indexed this page. The article dates from 2005, but the topic interests me, so I’ve included it here.  In some previous posts, like those on Donne, I’ve speculated as to the way the Elizabethans might have pronounced our words.

The real sound of Shakespeare? (Globe theatre performs Shakespeare’s plays in Shakespeare’s dialect)
BBC News  | Joe Boyle

Posted on 07/19/2005 10:36:29 AM PDT by nickcarraway

Ever been baffled by the bard? Vexed by his verse? Or perplexed by his puns? London’s Globe theatre thinks it has the answer: perform Shakespeare’s plays in Shakespeare’s dialect.

In August the theatre will stage an “original production” of Troilus and Cressida – with the actors performing the lines as close to the 16th century pronunciations as possible.

By opening night, they will have rehearsed using phonetic scripts for two months and, hopefully, will render the play just as its author intended. They say their accents are somewhere between Australian, Cornish, Irish and Scottish, with a dash of Yorkshire – yet bizarrely, completely intelligible if you happen to come from North Carolina.

For example, the word “voice” is pronounced the same as “vice”, “reason” as “raisin”, “room” as “Rome”, “one” as “own” – breathing new life into Shakespeare’s rhyming and punning.

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The New York Times

Def Poetry
By BAZ DREISINGER

Published: September 8, 2009

…To that end, the first half of the book is a triumph of jargon-free scrutiny. Bradley takes on rhythm — from the Book of RhymesGreek rheo, meaning “flow,” which is apt: flow is what rappers possess — and dissects rap’s “dual rhythmic relationship,” its marriage of rhymes and beats (with the beat defined as “poetic meter rendered audible”). Next comes rhyme: “the music M.C.’s make with their mouths.” “A skillfully rendered rhyme strikes a balance between expectation and novelty” — e.g., “My grammar pays like Carlos Santana plays,” per Lauryn Hill — and for rappers, rhyme “provides the necessary formal constraints on their potentially unfettered poetic freedom.” The chapter entitled “Wordplay” is the strongest, and that’s appropriate, since play is what hip-hop does best. We’re treated to lyric upon juicy lyric — not just from the usual suspects, to Bradley’s credit — filled with similes, conceits, personification, even onomatopoeia (“Woop! Woop! That’s the sound of da police,” KRS-One rapped)…

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Alan Nordstrom’s Blog

Alan Nordstrom's BlogWhat you’ll find below is an upside-down anthology of sorts: a journal of my frequent nightly musings from January 2008 till now, in reverse order.

Much of what I write here is verse in traditional rhymed iambic pentameters, old fashioned in form but contemporary in topics and idiom. It asks to be read aloud so that the effects of rhyme and meter may be felt.

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Poetry Guardians Reject Modern Verse

…While I was at Vermont Studio (VSC), I met Kevin Young.  He said my poetry was sing-song-ey and that I should write prose poetry instead.  I told him that I grew up with ballads and beautiful poetry that rhymed so that is my preferred method of expression.  Mr. Young said my rhymes were obvious; however, I highly doubt that as I have always used creative and abstract methods.  I would suggest that VSC match incoming artists to appropriate writers as I really didn’t benefit from the workshop with him…

  • The article mentioned by the Poetry Verse blog is also linked below.

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Poetry Guardians Reject Modern Verse

‘A lot of people high up in poetry circles look down on rhyme and metre and think it is old-fashioned,’ said Bernard Lamb, president of the QES and an academic at Imperial College London. ‘But what is the definition of poetry? Poertry GuardiansI would say, if it doesn’t have rhyme or metre, then it is not poetry, it is just prose. You can have prose that is full of imagery, but it is still prose.’

The campaign is being spearheaded by Michael George Gibson, who said it was ‘disgraceful’ that the Poetry Society had failed to respond properly to his demands for a definition. ‘For centuries word-things, called poems, have been made according to primary and defining craft principles of, first, measure and, second, alliteration and rhyme,’ said Gibson. ‘Word-things not made according to those principles are not poems.’ True poems, he said, gave the reader or listener a ‘special pleasure’.

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Paradise Tossed

…I’m one of those rare persons who greatly prefers formal poetry to modern free verse. I know I’m a minority, and I’m not here to argue the merits of each over the other. I simply want to offer up some resources for those who, like me, are of the formal school or for those who prefer free verse but would like to get better acquainted with formal poetry—especially fellow poets who would like to write some. One of the arguments I’ve heard against formal poetry is that it’s obsolete, antiquated, a relic of the past. On the contrary, the movement is alive and well, and there are a number of modern technological resources available to anybody with a computer. With the following five, I believe anybody can come to understand, enjoy, and write formal poetry…

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Formal Feeling
Posted on August 31, 2009 by Annie Janusch

When translating closed form poetry, the formal elements (meter and rhyme) are often the first thing the translator abandons. It’s common to read sonnets in translation, for example, that dispense with the rhyme and meter of the original. I’m no neo-formalist, but when a translator comes along who’s able to convey not only the sense of the original, but an approximation (or recreation) of the rhythm and rhyme, I pay attention. George Szirtes, a prolific writer and translator born in Budapest, who has lived in Britain for most of his life, is that kind of poet…

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“Breaking the Map”

By Na Young Kwon

Millay’s Sonnet 42 • What lips my lips have kissed

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Sonnet 42

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning, but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay, for a great many poets and critics, challenges notions of greatness. What defines a great poet? – What in her person and what in her poetry?  One almost wishes photographs of Millay had never been taken or never survived. In her New York Review of Books review of Millay and Millay’s reviewers,  Lorrie Moore quotes some of Daniel Mark Epstein’s (What Lips My Lips Have Kissed) more lascivious biography:

Epstein Book Cover[Epstein] is a little startling, for example, on the subject of Millay’s naked breasts, about which he exults–photographs of which he has apparently poured over in the files of the Library of Congress (which cannot authorize their release and reproduction until the year 2010).  When he gives us his own feverish descriptions, readers may become a little frightened, but eventually he moves on, and I do believe everyone recovers. Such an instance does not , however, prevent him from other periodic overheatings (“Her coloring, the contrast between her white skin and the red integuments, lips, tongue, and more secret circles and folds her lovers would cherish, had become spectacular after the girl turned twenty.)

On the one had, one might argue that Epstein is writing about Millay’s Loves and Love Poems and so is entitled to this sort of fetishistic “field research”, but one has to wonder whether Epstein would apply the same zeal to the skin color and “secret folds” of Robert Frost or E.E. Cummings were he to write a book about their love poetry.

What a writer like Epstein conveys, wittingly or unwittingly, is the bewitching effect Millay’s self-evident beauty had on both men and women (who were also among her lovers). Would her poetry have received the same attention if she had looked like Tina Fey on one of her comedic bad days? Would estimation and discussion of her poetry’s greatness (which some refute) be any different?

As it is, discussions of her poetry almost always includes discussions of her personality, beauty, and love affairs (including this post). And, to be fair, Millay’s life and poetry are intricately intertwined in a way that is not as evident with other poets. One always gets the sense that her poetry is mischievously auto-biographical. She writes about herself. And the best poets, in my opinion, are frequently the ones with skeletons in their closets. In Millay’s case, the plush carpet between her bed and closet is well worn. If I had been around during Millay’s youth, I probably would have been just as smitten as the rest of them (and hanging in her closet).

Moore, at the start of her NY Review of Books article, writes:

She was petite, in-tense, bright, witty, romantic, freckled, auburn-haired, self-dramatizing and beautiful. (As a poet friend recently remarked to me, “Why has Judy Davis not yet played her in the movie?”) At one time arguably the most famous living poet in the world, her work lauded by Thomas Hardy, Elinor Wylie, Edmund Wilson, Sarah Teasdale, and Louse Bogan, Millay lived stormily and wrote unevenly, so that her place in American letters was in descent even in her lifetime. In her day she was hailed as a feminist, lyric voice of the Jazz Age, yet she went largely unclaimed by the feminism of subsequent decades. She owned, perhaps, too many evening gowns. And her poems may have had an excess of voiceless golden birds (she did not strain her metaphors… Her work could be occasionally modernist, but only occasionally, and so was not taken up by the champions of modernism…

But Millay has her champions and continues to have her admirers. Deservedly so. She lived life large. She was unapologetic about her proclivities and a fiercely independent woman when, in many ways, women were still treated like guileless children.  She was the poet’s poet. She spoke directly and truthfully in her poetry, anticipating the women poets of the later 20th century.

Millay’s Legacy

This is my third go around with this section. I think, like many other readers, poets and critics, I ask myself: Why am I reading her? Is she a great poet who wrote mediocre poems, or was she a mediocre poet who manged to write some great poems?

Now that I’m rewriting this for the third time, I think I’ve got a fix on all of this. Lorrie Moore, in her NY Review of Books article, refers to Millay as a “skilled formalist”. Skilled is  probably a good adjective. Micheal Haydn (the composer and brother of the genius Joseph Haydn) and JC Bach (the son of the great JS Bach) were both skilled composers. They both wrote some incredibly catchy and occasionally, deeply expressive music, but neither was a genius and neither will ever be counted among the greats. Not familiar with classical music? Take REM. REM is a skilled rock band. They may have written one or two great songs, but nobody, fifty years from now, will include them among the great bands. And I’m not the only one who holds that opinion.

Millay with FlowersSo, skilled is a measured way to describe Millay’s formalist abilities.

She could write the perfect sonnet. She was an avowed master, and I do mean master, of the rhyming couplet, most typically in the form of the epigrammatic sting that frequent and succinctly closes her Shakespearean Sonnets.  No other 20th Century poet even distantly approaches the sly and witty ferocity of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rhymes. But her skill as a formalist only went so far.

She rarely modulates her formalism to suit the subject matter. One gets the feeling that she paid more attention to the prettiness of the line, than to its aptness. Despite the mood, whether it was rage, sorrow, delight, or fear, there is a sameness of voice to all of her poems. By way of comparison, compare Robert Frost’s Mending Wall to Birches. While there is a certain sameness to every poet’s output, some poets are able to master a greater technical range than others. Birches and Mending Wall both sound like Frost, but both show a distinctly different approach in imagery and, more specifically, formal devices. When at his best, Frost modulated his voice to suit the subject matter.

One doesn’t get the same sense from Millay.

And that has a curious effect, at least to me. The skilled and elevated diction of her formalism makes her trivial poems  seem better than they are, and her more profound gestures feel less profound.  So, in my own appraisal of Millay, I would consider her  a major poet, though not great. She was a skilled formalist, but possessed a very limited range.

And it’s in that respect that I disagree with criticism that calls her style anachronistic. Returning to Moore’s NY Review of Books article, she writes:

A gifted formalist and prolific sonneteer, a literary heir to Donne, Wordsworth, Byron, and, well, Christina Rossetti, Millay today has been admired only slightly or reluctantly, if at all, her poetry viewed, sometimes by its detractors as well as its devotees, as anachronistic, unreconstructedly Victorian, sentimental, recycled. Even the critic Colin Falck, who writes in his ardent introduction to her Selected Poems that the “occulting of Millay’s reputation has been one of the literary scandals of the twentieth century,” nonetheless finds only a quarter of her poems worthy enough “to entitle her to consideration as one of the major poets of the country.”

Millay was born in 1892 which means, like other poets of her generation, she grew up with the poetry of the great Victorians ringing in her ears. Tennyson died the same year she was born. Robert Browning had only been dead three years. Christina Rossetti lived until 1894. Their legacy and presence was still profoundly felt. In short, when Millay began writing, the 19th century’s aesthetic was not anachronistic.

Millay’s shortcoming was not that she was writing formal poetry when the vast majority of her generation (and later) had adopted free verse. Her shortcoming was that her formalism defined her voice, rather than her voice defining her formalism. It can be difficult to discern which of Millay’s poems are her mature poems and which are the poems of her youth.

The Scansion

As is my habit, all unmarked feet are Iambic. The color coding is a visual aid, meant to help you quickly see how the poet has varied the given meter (in this case, Iambic Pentameter).

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed by Millay - Scansion

About the Meter and Structure of the Poem

Millay’s sonnet is firmly in the tradition of the Petrarchan Sonnet. The Sonnet is split into the Octave (the first 8 lines) and the Sestet (the last 6), both “halves” of the sonnet characterizing the traditional volta or turn of the Patrarchan Sonnet. The Petrarchan form is well suited to the contemplative subject matter. There is no argument. There is no epigrammatic summing up or sting (such as we find in a Shakespearean Sonnet).

The sestet deliberately avoids close rhymes creating, to my ear, a diffuse music that nicely matches the poems’ tone. The final rhyme more feels like a distant echo of before, like the echoes of her lovers. The more diffuse rhyme scheme also serves to further differentiate the sestet from the octave. The octave speaks to the loss of lovers. The sestet speaks to a deeper loss – her fading memory of them. “I cannot say what loves have come and gone…” she writes. The diffuseness of her memory is nicely echoed by the rhyme scheme (intentioned or otherwise).

The metrical style is characteristic of Millay. There are only three definite variant feet in the entirety of the poem. The first variant foot, which I marked as |I have| could also be read as an Iambic foot |I have|. I’ve searched for a recording of Millay reading this sonnet  but haven’t found any. I have a hunch she would have read that first foot as an iamb. She was very conservative in her metrical daring.

In that respect her temperament is entirely that of a late Victorian, rather than that of an Elizabethan (with whom the sonnet form originated). The Elizabethans were always restlessly stretching and violating forms. They were the great explorers, both at sea and in literature – in just about everything they did. In that respect, Millay’s sonnet has almost nothing in common with them but a rhyme scheme.

And it’s in this respect that some critics wish Millay had stretched herself. I suspect she could have but preferred the contemplation and quiet dignity of an uninterrupted iambic line. Her rhyming is equally conservative, especially in light of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. The eye rhyme pain/again was probably pronounced as a full rhyme when Millay read the poem. (She was nothing if not affected when she read her poetry.) I considered reading this poem myself but I just can’t get beyond the absurdity of a man’s voice behind her words.

Here is Millay reading Sonnet 121:

Oh Sleep forever in the Latmian cave,
Mortal Endymion, darling of the Moon!
Her silver garments by the senseless wave
Shouldered and dropped and on the shingle strewn,
Her fluttering hand against her forehead pressed,
Her scattered looks that trouble all the sky,
Her rapid footsteps running down the west-
Of all her altered state, oblivious lie!
Whom earthen you, by deathless lips adored,
Wild-eyed and stammering to the grasses thrust,
And deep into her crystal body poured
The hot and sorrowful sweetness of the dust:
Whereof she wanders mad, being all unfit
For mortal love, that might not die of it.

[Audio=https://poemshape.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/millays-sonnet-121.mp3]

What does the poem mean?

The poem is beautiful in its simplicity – an effect that is surprisingly difficult to master.

But, having said that, I can’t help but wonder at another meaning. I’m not sure at what point in her career she wrote this sonnet, but I wonder if she’s not also describing her poetry. Think of the lads as poems and kisses as the act of writing the poems. If one reads the poem this way, she writes as poet who feels her powers waning.

Read in this light, the final sestet feels especially poignant. Millay stands as the tree in whom poetry used to flourish, but whose birds have flown, one by one. She can’t even remember what loves have come and gone. The inspiration of her youth fails her. The poems that used to come budding to her lips have all but vanished. She writes: “I only know that summer sang in me / A little while, that in me sings no more.”

The Sonnet Before the Sonnet

And now for some of that unmatched ferocity that Millay could summon up. When reading Sonnet 42 (when lost to its wistful beauty)  it’s best to keep in mind the Sonnet that immediately preceded it. Which is the real Millay? Both, no doubt. In real life, biographers tell us that 41 would have come after 42.

Sonnet 41

I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body’s weight upon my breast:
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn with pity, — let me make it plain:
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet again.

An Interesting Video Inspired by the Sonnet