Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Susan Firer's Pier

Poet Susan Firer has fun with lines from famous poems, replacing a word in each of them with the word "pier." Somehow, with this substitution, she leaves her mark on these poems, as though scrawling her own graffiti--"Pier was here."

Call Me Pier

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Best Blogs for Poetry Month

April is poetry month, and along with the daffodils, poetry readings are appearing in Northern Indiana on college campuses and in local bookstores. If you can't make it to the readings, poetry blogs are an intriguing alternative.

A website called Online Colleges has recently put together a list of the top 50 blogs for poetry. It's a rich and varied list that will keep you reading and keep you current with innovations in technology and web publishing for quite a while.

Top 50 blogs to follow for national poetry month, 2011.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What is Poetry? -- Some notes and definitions

This is the question I've asked students to answer for their last paper of the course.

Students--I'd like you to craft your own definition based on your experience with modern and contemporary poetry this semester, but there's no harm in looking at definitions by others.

My hint here is that your definition should have something to say about the ways in which poetry uses language, the way in which it might be differentiated from other kinds of language usage, and the responses it seeks to kindle in its readers. So your definition of what poetry IS should have something to do with what poetry DOES.

I've asked you to reference two contemporary essays by poets that attempt to define what the best of contemporary poetry is and does--one by Yusef Komunyakaa and one by Lyn Hejinian. (See Moodle.) These essays will give you an idea about how a professional poet might respond to this question and a context (the introduction to an anthology of 75 of the Best American Poems published the previous year) in which they might create such a definition.

It might be helpful for you to create your own mini-anthology of poems read this semester--10 poems that illustrate, support, or challenge your definition of poetry. Refer to examples from some of these poems in your paper.

While I'm most interested in what YOU think poetry is, here are some definitions by others you may want to consider as you come up with your own.

What is Poetry? on poetry.org

What is Poetry - a poem by John Ashberry

Here are lots of famous quotes out of context on The Poetry Garden site.

Wordsworth defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings;" Emily Dickinson said, "If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry;" and Dylan Thomas defined poetry this way: "Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing."

Notice how the above quotes all have something to do with getting the "unarticulated experience" of life into language--whether it's emotion, sensation, or something else--and with the effect that poems have on the reader, as in Dickinson's test of heat or cold.

If you really like someone else's definition, feel free to reference it when you are stating your own definition, which should be distinctly yours. You can agree or disagree with Komunyakaa, or partly agree with both. Then the rest of the paper should support and illustrate your definition of poetry--with poetry!

Have fun!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Disclamor--The "Other" Poems . . .

In order to give our class a sense of structure in their approach to Disclamor, we first read the Battery Poems, a sequence embedded in the collection, but first published as an award-winning chapbook. Then each student chose another poem from the collection that attracted them. I encouraged them to go out on a limb and formulate a response to the poem, even if they didn't fully comprehend it. The result was some beautiful language as they attempted to group with the "tracings" of presence in these poems.

Feeding the Pear

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lyn Hejinian - My Life: An Autography

Lyn Hejinian's My Life, first published in 1980 and re-issued in 1987, has become a small "classic" of L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry. In this work, Hejinian writes a self, rather than writing about or describing a self.

Here's an essay
arguing for the reasons My Life has become popular in University classes about contemporary poetry.
This image of Lyn Hejinian is from Wikipedia.

Resources on Hejinian from the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Disclamor -- The Battery Poems

Disclamor, by G. C. Waldrep, is a postmodern book of poetry that requires a "new" kind of attention.

To help you grasp its structure, we will first focus on the "Batteries" poems--a nine-poem sequence that won an award and was published by itself in a chapbook before Disclamor was published.

"The Batteries" are nine military installations on the California Coast, just North of San Francisco. These batteries were decommissioned after World War II, except for Battery Bravo (1 & 2), which served as nuclear missile launch sites during the Cold War. The Batteries are now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Waldrep wrote these poems on site while he was living in California (post 9/11.)

To give you an idea of what the batteries look like, here is a list of websites that offer photos and information about the batteries, located at Fort Barry and Fort Cronkhite.

Battery Rathbone-McIndoe

Battery Wallace

Battery Mendell

Battery O’Rorke

Battery Smith-Guthrie

Battery Alexander

Battery Bravo (1 & 2)

Battery Townsley

Read a review of Disclamor in Luna magazine online.

Read another review of Disclamor in Cutbank

An appraisal of Disclamor is included in my review essay "Some New Voices in Mennonite Poetry," published in the April 2010 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Make it New? The Wasteland on the ipad

On February 15, 2011, it was announced that Faber & Faber, the British publishers of the Wasteland by T. S. Eliot are collaborating with Apple on creating a version of this poem for the ipad.

What poems will be "saved" for the digital age? Why?

Several hypertext sites for the Wasteland exist--many of them put up by "fans" rather than scholars. Here's one that, despite its advertising banners, appears to be pretty reliable. What is it about this poem that continues to intrigue? Is it the puzzle-like text, or is it the underlying grid of cultural myths, themes, and stories--the quest for meaning, the intertwined nature of death and rebirth, the reference at the end to different religious names for the sacred--that continues to fascinate readers?

Many sites offer audio clips of Eliot reading the Wasteland. Here's one of them.

Above is the cover of the first publication of The Wasteland in England, by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press. Virginia Woolf set the type herself. (The poem was published three times in the U.S. before it was published in England.)