Collected Poets Series, A New Season begins.

This Thurday at 7:30pm we’re kicking off our third season of the Collected Poets Series with two amazing poets: Annie Finch and Lisa Olstein.

Annie Finch is the author or editor of fifteen books of poetry, translation, and criticism. Her books of poetry include Eve, Calendars, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, and the forthcoming Among the Goddesses: A Narrative Libretto. Her music, art, and theater collaborations include two operas. Her poems appear in anthologies, textbooks, and journals including Agni, Fulcrum, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, and Yale Review, and her books on poetics include A Formal Feeling Comes, An Exaltation of Forms, The Ghost of Meter, The Body of Poetry, and the forthcoming A Poet’s Craft. Annie’s book of poetry, Calendars, was shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award and in 2009 she was awarded the Robert Fitzgerald Award. Annie lives in Maine where she directs Stonecoast, the low-residency MFA program of the University of Southern Maine.

Lisa Olstein is the author of Lost Alphabet (Copper CanyonPress, 2009), Radio Crackling, Radio Gone (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), winner of the Hayden Carruth Award. Cold Satellite, an album of songs based on her poems and lyrics, is forthcoming from singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Centrum. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals including The Iowa Review, American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Fairy Tale Review, and elsewhere. A contributing editor of jubilat, with Dara Wier and Noy Holland, Lisa co-founded the Juniper Initiative for Literary Arts & Action at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is Associate Director of MFA Program for Poets and Writers.

For more information on the Collected Poets Series, please visit our website.  And don’t miss this first reading of what promises to be another exciting year!

Note: As I’ll be without a laptop to call my own until early next week, attending NEIBA in Hartford on Saturday, in addition to the CPS reading above, if you’ve sent me an email, please be patient while I scramble for the means of accessing the interwebs.

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Magma‘s “Mistakes Poets Make”.

My laptop is in the shop yet again.  Possibly this was the last gasp of the beleaguered motherboard — I feel its pain, deeply — so I am not only without a draft this week — which is fine, because when I include the dragonfly challenge poem (a challenge I won, by the bye!), I’ve met my allotted 4 poems and am due a week off for revisions anyway — but I’m not really able to write a proper post as such.  It’s too difficult when I’m running hither and yon, checking email on the library’s computer when I can, borrowing my neighbor’s laptop at other times. 

However, in those halcyon days before my laptop failed me, just three days ago, I found this article on Magma Poetry’s website, from an old issue, as I trawled the interwebs, and it’s great fun.  Brilliant.  They have a regular column, “Poetry in Practice”, and this is one installment from a few years ago.  You should go and read the entire bit, but here are a few clips, not by any means the least of it:

*Ending.  A.  Poem.  Like.  This.  Is.  Often.  Crap. 

*Never agree to stay behind and look at the folders or manuscripts of individual poets after teaching a workshop.  This leads straight to boiling in pig’s blood in hell. 

*Don’t, as I was, be put off by the lofty way reviewers and academics write about poetry – think of it as the pidgin language of a far-away land you never need visit. 

*Reviewing should be firm, kind and not more than one sentence cruel.  If you can help it. 

*Don’t go to a dinner or drinks party where you don’t know the other invitees and say you’re a poet.  Auden settled on ‘Medieval Historian’, I normally say ‘Logician’. 

Rainer Maria Rilke & Edward Snow.

In my mid-twenties, I picked up a hardcover poetry book from a sale table in Media Play.  Anyone remember that store?  Looking back now, it’s a minor miracle, that find, their book selections were so abysmal.  The book:  Uncollected Poems, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow (North Point Press, 1996).  I had read Letters to a Young Poet, The Duino Elegies, Sonnets to Orpheus — but this is the collection, full of fragments, unfinished pieces, as well as simply previously unpublished poems, that influenced me the most, perhaps because, being previously uncollected, I was able to approach them as the unknowns they were, without any of the received ideas that accompany so many of his famous works: “You must change your life!”

And now, I am thrilled to discover The Poetry of Rilke, also translated by Edward Snow, my favorite Rilke translator, is being published in October.  Including more than 250 poems, commentary by Snow, and an introduction by Adam Zagajewski — I must have this book.  But it also runs a steep $50.  I’m going to have to bide my time amd save my pennies.

I can’t find this translation of this poem, my favorite from Uncollected Poems, on the internet, so I’m typing it up for you below.  You can find other translations, but this is the best, I think.  It is untitled:

You the beloved
lost in advance, you the never-arrived,
I don’t know what songs you like most.
No longer, when the future crests toward the present,
do I try to discern you.  All the great
images in me – the landscape experienced far off,
cities and towers and bridges and un-
suspected turns in the path
and the forcefulness of those lands
once intertwined with gods:
all mount up in me to signify
you, who forever eludes.

Ah, you are the gardens!
With such hope I
watched them!  An open window
in the country house –, and you almost
stepped out pensively to meet me.  I found streets,—
you had just walked down them,
and sometimes in the merchants’ shops the mirrors
were still reeling from you and gave back with a start
my too-sudden image.—Who knows if the same
bird did not ring through both of us
yesterday, alone, at evening?

-Paris, winter 1913-14

Poems from the Women’s Movement: The Reading.

Wednesday night I went to a reading at Amherst College to celebrate the publication of the new Library of America anthology, Poems from the Women’s Movement, edited by Honor Moore.  Quite a contingent of women collaborated to bring this event off, and what an electric evening it was!  Not only was Honor Moore in attendance — our Grande Dame kicked off the readings and then closed them with a bang — but five young women students also read poems from the anthology, and Joan Larkin as well, and, just in case that wasn’t enough, Elizabeth Lorde-Rollins, Audre Lorde’s daughter, was on hand to read and regale us with anecdotes of her mother.

Audre Lorde notwithstanding, one of my favorite moments of the night was when one of the students, I think her name was Rachel Ruskin, read Susan Griffin’s poem, “An Answer to a Man’s Question, ‘What Can I Do About Women’s Liberation?'”.  Ruskin’s a natural reader, a natural performer; she navigated and mined the irony and pathos of this poem to great effect.

The sheer variety of poems and poets included in the anthology made for a very interesting evening.  And having these young women, this latest generation to benefit from the efforts of the women’s movement, do most of the reading gave the poems an extra charge, reminded us, if we needed the reminding, of their continuing relevance to our lives.

The Art of Syntax for the Ordinary Genius.

It is as I feared: Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, by Kim Addonizio, while a friendly and frank-talking book, is really a book for beginners.  Addonizio is tremendously likable, and the self-deprecating manner in which she presents her own early drafts is appealing, but if you’ve been a practicing poet for some time, while you may find something useful here — it’s 300 pages after all — I found myself often wishing for something less chatty and more challenging.  From her chapter on memorization, “By Heart: A Shakespeare Sonnet”:

Why start with Shakespeare?  Why a sonnet?  Here are some reasons:

  1. He was really, really good at writing sonnets.
  2. A sonnet is only fourteen lines.  It also has meter and rhyme.  Those things make it a snap to memorize, in comparison with a lot of other poems.
  3. In memorizing, you’ll also get a sense of the sonnet’s structure.  The traditional sonnet develops an argument, and that makes it easier to learn; you can do it in chunks.
  4. You will impress everyone by being able to recite Shakespeare.
  5. I mean, everyone.

Nothing wrong with this; I like Kim Addonizio.  But I would argue, contrary to what the book jacket advertises, this is not “the perfect book for both experienced writers and beginners”.  Not even close.

On the other hand, Ellen Bryant Voigt’s The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song is just the ticket.  The language is a little out of my comfort zone (“fundament” anyone?), forcing me to stretch without alienating me altogether.  And she’s exploring an area I’ve worked through by instinct alone, validating some of the choices I make as I write, while helping me understand why and how different syntactical methods help drive a poem.  If you enjoyed diagramming sentences in sixth grade, you’ll probably enjoy this book, too.

Draft of the Week, #6.

As the blog nears its two-year mark, it seemed to me to need a small makeover — you might not have even noticed.  I chose a design that offers a similar color scheme, fonts, and I kept my header photo of the Potholes (tho’ maybe I’ll begin updating the Potholes picture as the seasons change), but everything seems cleaner, more crisp.  The most notable changes are the addition of an “Upcoming Readings” page, and the location of my blogroll, featured links, etc.: in a neat 3 columns at the bottom of the page.  Maybe the clutter didn’t bother you, but I’m feeling much better about things.  And this was something I could do in between jags of wiping runny noses and doses of hot tea.

As if a cold weren’t enough, Aidan is also teething.  I remember Vincent sprouting teeth like it was no big deal — growing pains have always been his particular bane.  Not so for Aidan.  Day by day it becomes more and more evident that having one child offers me nothing by way of a road map for the second.

It’s later than I meant, but under these conditions I’m happy to have written this poem at all.  The draft will come down in a day or two. Hope the rest of you are enjoying your holiday, either sickness-free or on the mend!

Oh, and I forgot to say: the idea for this poem came from a “mini-mini-challenge” over at ReadWritePoem;  my thanks to them!

{poof!}