Friday, October 7, 2016

Poetry Friday: Head-to-Toe Poetry

I know there will be many posts this week about Western Washington University's wonderful Poetry Camp - attended by interested teachers, librarians and writers in the area, as well as almost 40 poets, most of them contributors to these Poetry Friday posts of ours and to the  Poetry Friday anthologies put together by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell.  I had the chance to meet people whose names I've seen here for years but whom I've never actually met. And I was asked by Janet and Sylvia to present a 90-minute quick-write workshop the day before Camp, when the PF poets had their own day-long meeting -  I talked about the Oulipo group and their idea that "constraints" on writing (such as wordplay and/or limiting the vowels you can use, or the syllables per line, etc.) actually free you up to be more unpredictable, to surprise yourself and thus surprise your readers. Oh, I could have played around with that all day! But we actually only ended up with 60 minutes, running behind, before the group moved on to more practical matters.  I've come home determined to play around with more constraints.

My favorite moment at Poetry Camp was seeing Sylvia Vardell walk in with poetry stockings and a poetry dress - she was all poetry, outside and in. So I thought today I would share the photo I took, and I would ask if anyone knows what poem was on her stockings. It is awkward to ask someone to stand still while you read their legs (!!) and I missed my moment to ask her. If you were smart and happened to ask Sylvia - tell us what that poem is, will you? There should be two poems, actually, because the first day Sylvia was in white stockings with text and the second day (pictured above) she was in rose pink. And what a dress - "Share Poetry" - we all loved it! Head to toe, poetry!!!!

Added note: For everyone serious about finding a pair of those stockings/tights, they are for sale on Etsy. com - click here for the link. 

Violet Nesdoly is the Poetry Friday host this week. Click here to read her post and link to the round-up.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Change in Ownership for Seattle's Open Books

John Marshall and Christine Deavel

For today's Poetry Friday, I'm offering up a delicate poem by Christine Deavel, and a slightly more muscular one by her husband, the poet J.W. (John) Marshall:

On the path by the park's hedge
two juncos stepped out
and joined me on my walk,
a full measure
of tipping toward and away,
until we parted company.
Not ways, though.
I hope
we did not part ways.

-- Christine Deavel

Steilacoom and South

We were gods on holiday
who’d stumbled on
a local god at work. Until then
no one had been loud.
Look at that!
the boy said and we
who swam along with him
inside the Amtrak Coach did look.
A man stood in a boat as
ingenious as a button
in a button hole.
The sun threw echoes
all across the water.
Pole bent hairpin in one hand
with a net in his other he
ladled up a King from
the dazzle. Though he couldn’t hear
we sang a brief applause to him
that trailed off just how
a salmon sounds
in the bottom of an aluminum boat.
And next we passed of note
a field of stumps and tractor ruts
sign on the fence there reading
More Estates Are Coming.
Then came Portland’s string of condos
like stacks of glassy tackle boxes
and the speaker’s admonition
Don’t forget your luggage
when you leave.

       J.W. Marshall 
Until just this week, Christine and her husband John owned and operated Open Books - one of only three bookstores in the United States dedicated exclusively to poetry (the others are Grolier's in Cambridge, Mass,, and Innisfree in Boulder, Colorado.) They also lived in the bungalow above the store, so their commute was enviably short.

The Seattle poetry community depended on John and Christine not only for books but for poetry news and predictions. For 29 years they shared which new books were coming out, which new books we were going to love, which new voices we would be hearing about - and they knew their customers well enough to pull a nice bunch of books off the shelves and recommend them confidently. Tailor-made recommendations - it doesn't get better than that in a bookstore. It was Christine who handed me the marvelous Reft and Light by Ernst Jandl - she suspected I would love it and she was right. I've never read anything like it and I take it off my poetry bookshelves often, either for a quick thrill or for a day's slow studying.

I worked in bookstores for many years before I began writing and teaching, but I had the luxury of just being an employee, free to come in in the morning, enjoy the day and the customers, enjoy the arrival of new books, oversee certain areas, go home at night....and I never had to pay the bills. Perfect job. When I think about Open Books, I think about what it takes to run a bookstore the right way.  Not an easy job, not a lucrative one, but satisfying, I hope.

What's amazing is that Christine and John managed to keep their creative juices flowing. John's first book, Meaning a Cloud, won the Field Poetry Prize. And Christine's book, Woodnote, won the Washington State Book Award in 2012.

If you want to hear a bit more from these poets, there's a lovely interview of Christine with Elizabeth Austen over at Seattle's KUOW website. Ditto for the interview of John by Lisa Albers at Poets and Writers. And Nancy Guppy interviews both Christine and John for Seattle Magazine. I'm especially fond of this brief interview of Christine over at the National Book Critics Circle website - in it, I can really hear Christine speaking, in response to a slightly garrulous interviewer. AND Christine is recommending books - so I feel a bit like I've walked into Open Books and will leave with a fascinating new book in hand.

John and Christine have sold the bookstore now, and everyone who loves poetry in the Seattle area wishes the new owner, Billie Swift, the best of luck. Swift, who had a humorous profile of the Seattle literary scene published in The New Yorker, has two sets of big shoes to fill. You can read her thoughts about the prospect of doing that in this recent interview over at the Seattle Review of Books.

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Penny Klosterman over at  A Penny and Her Jots. Head over there to see what other people have posted!

Friday, August 19, 2016

How Is a Poem Like a Cartoon? Part II

Poet Cody Walker

 First, a poem by W.S. Merwin (it seems the older I get, the more I like Merwin) about late summer for my Poetry Friday contribution:

Ripe Seeds Falling

At home in late summer after the long
spring journeys and their echoing good-byes
at home as the year's seeds begin to fall
each one alone each in its own moment
coming in its blind hope to touch the earth
its recognition even in the dark
knowing at once the place that it has touched
the place where it belongs and came to stay
this is the place that I wanted to hear
to listen to the daylight and the dark
in this moment that has come along with me.

-- W.S. Merwin

Fine goal, to listen to the daylight and the dark.

Next: An update on last week's post about an interview of Dusan Petricic talking about how a poem is like a cartoon. This week I hope you'll read an elaboration on that theme - it's an essay by the wonderful poet Cody Walker who uses the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest to teach students how to write poetry, reminding them that economy of expression (rather than schmears of "lyrical" adjectives) in both genres is paramount - not only is "right words/right order" good advice, but so is "as few words as possible."

At one point in "Captions in the Classroom," Cody - who is a former winner of the Caption Contest, former "Poet Populist of Seattle," and current teacher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor - says this: "Inexperienced writers sometimes imagine that good writing comes from good ideas. But that’s not right: good writing comes from good sentences. It comes from caring about sentence construction: the rhythm of the clauses, the placement of the predicate. And working on captions—fiddling with punctuation and modifiers—reinforces this lesson wonderfully"

You can read more of Cody's thoughts about poetry at The Kenyon Review and there are examples of Cody's economical ditties  online - don't miss his Mad Gardener poems (and try writing one yourself - harder than it looks!)  He's outrageous and wonderful, and he has a new book is out titled The Self-Styled No-Child: "This second book of poems by Cody Walker offers an unlikely array of characters: Edward Lear, Mitt Romney, Amy Clampitt, and Andy Kaufman share the stage. Walker himself is ever-present, with his shrugs, his heartbreak, his "way-out rhymes": 'I'd like to write some lines about the snow, / but -- I dunno, / the snow seems so / fleeting: / a flock of gulls, late for a meeting.' Full of comic interruptions and grave forecasts, these poems surprise, delight, and terrify."

Cody's practices what he preaches, and his advice is good: Give the Caption Contest a try. Go ahead. Do it.

Today Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Dori over at Dori Reads. Head there to see what other people have posted.

Friday, August 5, 2016

How Is a Poem Like a Cartoon?

from My Family Tree by Dusan Petricic

For Poetry Friday, here's a little something I read over at the Art of the Picture Book blog. It's from an interview of the Serbian/Canadian illustrator and political cartoonist Dusan Petricic (author/illustrator of My Family Tree):

I love poetry. I think it is the most important field in literature for me. With poetry you have to be very precise, very focused and explain simple things. There’s always something a little bit conceptual in each poem. So I love to do that. It’s a lot to do with my opinion about cartoons in general, not only political cartoons. The cartoon is a way of thinking. So poetry and cartoons are similar to me. And that similarity is very simplistic, with the concept of how to find the right, the most precise way to explain yourself. With the least possible words.” 

Well said!  So my poetry contribution this week is not only that quotation but one of Petricic's cartoons -  a piece of social commentary that definitely explains itself with the least possible words. Think of it as a poem about America in the year 2016.

You'll find the Poetry Friday round-up (and a wonderful poem by Howard Nemerov titled "Summer's Elegy") over at Tara Smith's blog, A Teaching Life. And I have a post up this week at Books Around the Table, featuring a link to the blog mentioned above, Art of the Picture Book. Enjoy!

Dusan Petricic

Friday, June 24, 2016

Poetry Friday: Playing with Mother Goose

Mother Goose illustrated by Jesse Wilcox Smith
I've always found Mother Goose a perfect beginning point for anyone wanting to learn about writing poetry, and I don't just mean writing poetry for kids. One of my professors at the University of Washington, Rick Kenney, directed me toward Mother Goose rhymes - for their musicality, their memorability, and for their weird and wonderful and nonsensical content.

Mother Goose illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright
Later, as a creative writing teacher myself, I asked my students to write "new" Mother Goose rhymes, paying attention to the traditional sound a Mother Goose rhyme makes (often a jump-rope rhythm, with bizarre little tweeks and twists) but with modern content. What resulted were some of the best poems written by those students in any given semester.

Mother Goose - Artist Unknown
So today, in honor of Poetry Friday, I'm offering up another poem that takes Mother Goose as the baseline and plays with it in a slightly different way, abandoning the rhythms but focusing on the content and turning it inside out, or maybe pushing it sideways. I recognize Humpty Dumpty, Little Nanny Etticot, Three Blind Mice, and Rock-a-Bye Baby, but what is the poet saying about them?   Full confession: I don't know what the poet is saying  - it's as if a Mother Goose rhyme had been turned into a modern riddle. Or as if the nonsensical nature could be imported to a poem for adults that is equally nonsensical. I need to study it more.

Mother Goose - Artist Unknown
But I love how a nursery rhyme (or, in this case, several nursery rhymes) can become the subject of a serious poem, and I challenge anyone reading The Drift Record this week to try their hand at one of two things: 1) writing a modern Mother Goose rhyme, with jump rope rhythms but modern content or 2) taking an existing Mother Goose rhyme, sticking with the characters and the storyline of a rhyme but stranging it up, turning it inside out, going a little surreal with it. If you can't figure out your own poem, so much the better! Think of it as a riddle. You might just have said something that will surprise you, which is always a pleasure when writing, no? 

Mother Goose illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Here is Josephine Jacobsen's poem (from her book In the Crevice of Time) - and if you want to learn more about this wonderful poet, you can read many of her poems over at Poetry Explorer, and you can read my essay about her over at Numero Cinq magazine by clicking here.

The Primer

                      I said in my youth
“they lie to children”
but it is not so.
Mother my goose I know
told me the truth.

I remember that treetop minute.
That was a baby is a woman now;
in a rough wind, it was a broken bough
brought down the cradle with the baby in it.

I had a dumpy friend (you would not know his name
though he indeed had several), after his fall
lay in live pieces by my garden wall
in a vain tide of epaulets and manes.

I had another friend (and you would know her name),
took up her candle on her way to bed.
She had a steady hand and a yellow head
up the tall stairway, but the chopper came.

So small they meant to run away, from sightless eyes
three mice ran toward my mind instead;
I seized the shapely knife. They fled
in scarlet haste, the blind and tailless mice.

Cock robin was three birds of a single feather.
Three times cock robin fell when a breeze blew;
eye of fly watched; arrow of sparrow flew:
three times cock robin died in the same weather.

                                                --Josephine Jacobsen

You can check out what other people have posted this week over at Diane Mayr's wonderful blog, Random Noodling.  And let's all shout hooray: It's summer, the season of full belief. Time for raspberries, ripe peaches, Rainier cherries. Time to run through some sprinklers. Time to be a little lazy in the noonday sun. And in the noonday shade.