A Poetry Reading for Dos Madres Press

poetry reading

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Reveling in poet, Carl Adamshick’s poems

I’ve just reread, again, Carl Adamshick‘s debut collection, Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press). I can’t get enough of his surprising, elegant, streamlined poems.

adamshickcurses_jkt_27b27c1

Listen to Carl read his poems -

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To the Christmas Tree

SAnta on tree

 

Bathed in the act of forgetting
still upright light endowed
upright on crutches drinking
only what I give it giving
all that it can a few winks
now and then ball-catcher.
What other relic withstands
this kind of stand-up once
cut letting its light emanate
only for delight like a hundred
stars in the night fractured
by its own limbs? In this chaos
it is difficult to tell what’s true
what’s green what’s there
what’s to be had against
what’s to be hadn’t—hadn’t
happened hadn’t been cut hadn’t
seeded tiny sprouts—
earth’s soft down. A hundred
eyes calling out singing yes
yes. They are saying yes to me
with white eyes yes to us yes to the cat
yes to this room yes to these gifts yes
to O Holy Night holy cow hollied bough
glass birds and beaded eggs in springly nests
yes O holy tree yes.

Poem first published at Every Writers Resources.

© 2013-2015 Grace Curtis

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What’s a Short Story Doing on a Poetry Blog?

Crazy, Right? I write short stories, too. Did I mention that? Here is one I had published earlier this year at The Smoking Poet.

EmSpeaking

As Em lay in bed trying to wake up, she found herself recalling the noisy banter between her mother and sister. Neither possessed the ability to communicate telepathically as she did. They were speakers. She thought about the rise in volume as each hurried to make a point, sometimes talking even before the other had finished. She remembered the quick repartee and the way the words heightened and released in a burst of emotion as they spoke.

She hadn’t joined in. On the rare occasions when she tried, her words didn’t match what she wanted to express. Instead, she found herself…what? Listening? No, it was more like absorbing it. Their high-spirited squabbles would come and go, and the three of them would be off shopping as if it had never happened. This morning, she realized, she missed the garbled sound of their voices in her ears. She missed them.

Em and Sebastian had had their own quiet quarrel last night. In fact, they had been having the same discussion for some time. Em thought about how different were their quiet thoughts from her family’s noisy conversations. As she replayed the argument in her head, she wondered if the internal nature of telepathic communication played on her predilection to ruminate. She struggled to contain it. Did explosive vocal displays serve as a therapeutic release mechanism that was unavailable to her and Seba?

In this argument, and in others that had come before recently, Seba had expressed a desire to engage more verbally with their speaking friends. Em did not share this desire. On the few occasions they went out with speaking friends to a party or to a restaurant, she was content to listen to their words. Occasionally she tried to join in by sending them her thoughts on a subject, but they usually missed it. When she was able to enter their minds with input, they misunderstood her point, not recognizing its source, or they took credit for her idea. Em was more comfortable with other telemuters. Seba had expressed the fear that they were becoming isolated. He told her it was important to continue to be able to vocalize ideas in order to…how had he put it?  {Stay relevant, engaged.}

Both Em and Seba were part of a small but growing segment of the population called intra-telemuters, meaning they communicated almost exclusively telepathically.  They rarely vocalized and this had been at the center of their ongoing disagreement.

{We are too isolated. I want to talk also. I want our children to be able to talk,} Sebastian had thought to Em.

{But the world is moving in our direction. We are the future.} Em replied.  She couldn’t understand why Seba did not see that.

Em’s worried that they would grow apart if they started to speak to others more. And, she was afraid she couldn’t learn to speak because it has been so long since she had seriously tried. Even though her brain continued to create complex thought it had stopped sending commands to her mouth, her tongue, her lungs, to create word sound. At home alone, she would sometimes look in the mirror and try to say a word, but it made her feel silly even though no one but the cat was listening.

And, there was the issue of children. For the past year, Seba had been talking about starting a family. Em had resisted, saying she didn’t feel ready. Em worried that this was at the heart of Seba’s frustration. She wondered if he was manifesting his discontent about her foot-dragging on the matter in his recent insistence that they learn to speak aloud. Was he pulling away from her? She suspected that Seba was vocalizing more at work and Em felt threatened by the thought.

Despite a truce, they fell asleep with the issue once again unresolved. That morning Seba had left for work with barely a good-bye thought.

{He’s in a huff,} Em mused to the cat.

The fact was, there was a high probability that Em and Sebastian’s children would not be able to speak. Em and Sebastian were both products of genetic changes set into motion during the Information Age that started in the late 20th Century. The field of predictive and preventative medicine exploded just a few decades following the first successes at sequencing the complete human genome in the year 2000. Once the genome sequence was fully decoded, along with the concomitant understanding of how genes work, the world was changed forever. What started as early efforts to combat cancer, as well as, cardiac and autoimmune diseases, quickly led to further toying with genetic structure, or to G-tuning, as it became commonly known. G-tuning for every genetically-based human malady began on a large scale by 2020. Even when it was used appropriately, G-tuning created a variety of unexpected—and now evolving—characteristics causing many to dub G-tuning, the Pandora’s Box of medicine.

Telepathic communication was just one of the paths down which scientists had inadvertently taken humans. Other paths led to equally new and unusual traits. There was a small strain of people that could stay under water for long periods of time, or individuals that possessed exceptional computational ability. By 2025, many humans possessed super-organs that out-performed—and out-lived—their unmodified counterparts.

From the first efforts to genetically alter humans, demand was high. Couples lined up to custom order their children hoping not only to remediate potential genetic problems but also to place orders for specialty traits as if making a purchase for a new home or family car. Often decisions were made on a whim, something many came to regret. In the early days, it was difficult to predict just how far or how significant the restructuring would be in any given case. More importantly, genetic tuning affected not only the fetus but also its off-spring.

By 2035, even as human frailty was fading, the world was in unprecedented ethical turmoil over the practice of G-tuning. Indeed, many individuals were saved by bio-technology, while others began to exhibit freakish attributes. There was even a segment that ordered up physical characteristics that mimicked vestigial apparitions from billions of years ago—gills, elongated sacrum, webbed fingers and toes. Such traits were sought after much like tattooing had been at the turn of the century.

Telepathic communication resulted from genetic tuning employed  to correct what was thought of mental or intellectual learning disabilities in which, among a variety of other problems, individuals had trouble expressing themselves vocally. In most cases, these individuals had rich and highly evolved interior lives. A mere century earlier, they had been sequestered into special hospitals and group homes. By the end of the 20th Century attempts were being made to mainstream them. At the same time, the number of cases was increasing at an unprecedented rate. The torch to correct these types of problems using G-tuning was the first to be lit following successful efforts to repair problems involving the heart, kidneys, or pancreas.

Genetic tuning to fix problems of the brain represented the greatest frontier for the scientific community since it was an area about which they knew little. Serious errors were made early on. In just one or two generations, individuals who were born to those treated with genetic tuning to fix learning disabilities, not only spoke aloud, but they also began to share thoughts with other likewise affected individuals using thought transference. It was as if G-tuning had opened blocked sensory channels allowing electrical impulses from one individual to cross directly to receptors in other similarly affected individuals.

Throughout the 30s and 40s, telemuters, as they were called, quickly pushed the depth and breadth to which they were able to engage in thought transmission with one another. The irony was that the G-tuning employed to enable non-speakers to communicate audibly also enabled them to communicate inaudibly with one another. And, many found inaudible communication more satisfying and efficient.

Em’s father had been one of the original telemuters. Fetal genetic testing had labeled him a candidate for G-tuning. Now he was only able to communicate simple thoughts telepathically because the only time he communicated in this way was when he was with Em and Sebastian. Em’s parents had known that she too would possess this trait. They opted as more progressive parents did, to forgo additional G-tuning. Even before she was born, they agreed that they would do everything they could to ensure their daughter’s life would be as normal as possible.

As a child, Em made attempts to speak aloud, although she found it difficult. By the age of twelve, she no longer tried. She engaged in activities such as reading, listening to music, or communing with nature that did not require her to communicate with speakers.

Em met Sebastian in high school. Like Em, he was a second generation telemuter. They fell in love, attended college together, and got married in 2063. Because of their exceptional intellectual capabilities, their stellar academic performances, and because they were telemuters, both had easily obtained life-work in prestigious bio-development firms. In many ways, their life together seemed perfect. At least Em thought so until a few weeks ago when Seba had begun to communicate his wish to speak aloud.

That morning, Em made a decision. She would learn to talk for Seba. She would push past her fears. She didn’t know where the path would lead but she knew it was important to Sebastian. Em felt more peaceful than she had in weeks.

Over lunch that day, Em asked her friend, JJ to help her learn to speak. JJ was also a telemuter, though she was equally fluent in both thought transference and vocal speech. In fact, Em suspected JJ used her to hone her telemuting skills, but Em didn’t mind. She liked having someone to commune with.

JJ picked up a fork, handed it to Em, and slowly said the word fork emphasizing her mouth movements. “Now, you try it.”

Em looked at JJ’s lips. She tried to recreate how her friend’s upper teeth pressed against her slightly extended lower lip as she formed an f. And, she pushed air through her slightly opened mouth just as JJ had done to finish the word with a k. Even Em knew she sounded ridiculous. They both laughed.

Em worried that she would never be able to create a complete thought aloud even though JJ was relentless in her tutoring. In just a few weeks, though still sounding awkward, words seemed a little easier for Em to form. She continued to practice reading aloud words JJ wrote on napkins. JJ began to string two words together. Em struggled to finish one word, create a vocal break, and then to begin the next.

Em and Seba’s third wedding anniversary was just a few weeks away and Em was determined to surprise her husband with a complete sentence.

On the day of their anniversary, Sebastian sent Em flowers at work. She felt reassured by the gesture and realized she had been silly to worry. At dinner in a restaurant that night, he gave her a necklace. It was a silver circle that on one side he had had engraved,  “Now and Forever,” and on the other, “I love you.” Seba expressed to Em how much he loved her, and how sorry he was about his recent nagging on the subject of vocal language.

When they got home, he continued sending her thoughts on the matter, as if needing to get them off his chest. Em held an index finger to her forehead, a sign indicating she wanted him to stop transmitting. She kissed him. Then, she spoke aloud in a halting, awkward voice, “Let’s … just… make… a… baby.”

© 2010-2013 Grace Curtis

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A Wellspring of Poetry Happenings

Ohio Poetry Association Anthology Launch Party

On April 16, at Bexley Library in Bexley, on the eastern edge of Columbus, OPA Anthology the Ohio Poetry Association held the launch party and reading for its first anthology, Everything Stops and Listens, edited by poet, Steve Abbott. I am honored to have a poem in this book that also includes some of Ohio’s most notable poets such as David Baker, Stephen Haven, Kathy Fagan, George Bilgere, and Cathryn Essinger, to name only a few. Everything about the book is top-shelf: the poem selections, the layout, the paper; not to mention, the beautiful cover art by Deb Grenert. Technical assistance with the book was provided by a cadre of Ohio poets including, associate editors, Mark Hersman, Chuck Salmon, Janet Ladrach, and Rinda Sansom. Lisa Van Doren designed the cover and Jonathan Johns provided technical assistance. Patricia L.K. Black, Janet Ladrach, Melanie Boyd, Carolyn Dandelides, and Chuck Salmons provided editorial assistance.

More than a hundred people gathered at Bexley Library to help launch the book, to bask in a day of poet camaraderie, and  to hear many of the poems from the book read by those who wrote them. Here’s a small sampling:

from “At the Pond” Afterwards” by Erica DeWeese

…The fish, bloated with eggs,
Lay their futures in mud and silt,
Moving ever forward,
Ignoring the split-second turns above:
The lovers’ quarrel ending moan-sticky mornings,
The boy reeling in his fishing line too soon,…

from “Simile” by David Baker

…But there is no likeness beyond her body
in flames, for its moment, no matter its moment.
Yet the fringe bloom burns. Yet the moth shakes
and chews, as in sex…

from “Your Brass Bell Calls Me” by Phyllis Lee

…The mantle clock slices hours
into quarters and in a west window
the geranium saved from a killing frost
throbs its redness.

from “Pacific Coast Highway Blues” by Chuck Salmons

…elevating the bebop spirit
above the sea and trees.
I want that Kerouac

on-the-tracks railing, railing,
railing past brick-a-brack shacks
with the clickety clack,

Jump-back-Jack rhythm
of the blues in my head.
I’m going’ home to my baby,…

Ohio Poetry President, Mark Hersman, under whose tenure this beautiful collection has come to fruition, wrote in the forward that the book highlights the diversity of voices from across Ohio. He says,

“This anthology is a showcase that any Ohioan will be proud to own and any non-Ohioan will envy. The Ohio Poetry Association is please to present this long-awaited, much-anticipated collection. It is a testament to the creativity, talent, and insight of the people of Ohio—evidence of not only what words can do to us, but what they can do for us.”

You can buy a copy of Everything Stops and Listens on the Ohio Poetry Association website.

***

A Poetry Workshop in Dayton, Ohio

This year during National Poetry Month I was invited to present a two-part poetry workshop at Wright Memorial Library in Oakwood, (Dayton,Ohio).

In the sessions, we explored contemporary poetry. Attendees brought their favorite poem to class to read aloud, then talked about why they liked the poem. This lead to a discussion of what it is that makes us enjoy reading or hearing a poem; what are the attributes of a memorable poem. We also did in-class exercises to awaken the muse.

During the second session, participants read a poem they wrote from a prompt. It was thrilling to hear what these individuals had created.

It was a delight to facilitate such eager and talented participants.  Here is a concrete poem by one of those who attended, Mia Pitsinger, who gave her permission to publish it on this site.

MIa's poem

***

Author followed the line of poetry within her“–An Article in the Dayton Daily News

On April 29, I met with Sharon Short, staff writer for the Dayton Daily News. Sharon writes a weekly column called, “Literary Life.” Sharon asked me questions about my writing,  my background, my poetry, and my writing process. She was so easy to talk to and so engaging that at one point, I felt like I was just blabbing on and on. (The secret of a good interviewer!) The result is a beautifully written account of my writing journey. I am so grateful to Sharon for chronicling it so accurately and so kindly.

MyOneSquareInchAlaskaCoverIn additional to being a columnist, Sharon is also a novelist. Her latest book,My One Square Inch of Alaska came out at the end of January this year. My book club read it and we all loved it! I can’t recommend it enough. Sharon says of the book on her website,

This coming-of-age ‘book club’ novel is about a pair of siblings in a gritty 1953 paper mill town in Ohio, yearning to break free of the strictures of their family, their times, and their town.

She has written two mystery series, the Josie Toadfern Mystery Series and Patricia Delaney Mystery Series, and has a short story, Downriver, available as an ebook. Sanity Check: A Collection of Columns, brings together articles that Sharon wrote for the Dayton Daily News for over a ten year span. The humorous articles are about the foibles of everyday living

© 2010-2013 Grace Curtis

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Borderlands Reading

In mid-March, I was invited by Mark Sebastian Jordan, curator of the newly created monthly poetry event, Borderlands, at Main Street Books in Mansfield, Ohio, to read reading posterpoetry along with Columbus poet, Andy Roberts.  The event and the venue were perfect. Mark says he named the reading series Borderlands because Mansfield, poetically speaking, sits on the borders of  Columbus and Cleveland. Both of these cities have distinctive, well-established poet tribes. Dianne Borsenik, who I think of a prominent member of the Cleveland area tribe, came to the reading and read some of her delicious poems during open mic.

This was my first introduction to Andy Robert’s work even though Andy is a well-known Ohio poet from Columbus.  (This speaks to the fact that there are so many wonderful poets in Ohio and I am finding new ones every day.) Andy is an accountant, social worker, and poet extraordinaire. His poems have appeared in hundreds of small press publications and literary journals such as Atlanta Review, The Aurorean, Barnwood, Chiron Review, and Coal City Review. Andy’s poetry is surprising and possesses a kind of edginess that I find appealing. Here is a short segment from his poem, “The Blank Need That Eats.” It is taken from his chapbook, Who’s On My Land?

I will put on a clean shirt and walk to the party
and if you still don’t like me
talking about the black eyes of birds
that give back nothing
—no light, no fear, no brain—
while pecking at insects, I’ll leave. 

Borderlands takes place at Main Street Books in Mansfield, Ohio, which is sandwiched between Columbus and Cleveland, on the third Saturday of every month from 2-4 p.m.

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Five Unexpected Benefits of 30 Poems in 30 Days

poemsThis is the first year I’ve committed to writing a poem every day during National Poetry Month. So far so good! In the past, it has always felt a little gimmicky or forced. Now that I am doing it, it feels like neither of those things. Perhaps it is like so many things in life–you get out of it what you put into it.

Of course there are the obvious benefits: a cache of poems to work on and a helpful flexing of the poetic muscle. But, I have discovered several delightful consequences, as well.  Taking up the 30-poems-in-30-days challenge has forced me to…

1. think about poetry throughout the entire day

Because I am looking for poetry, every act, every delay, every bird, every item on the shopping list feels poetic. Since poetry is a slow process for me, thinking about poetry throughout the day slows me down, which is a good thing. It puts me into a poetry-writing frame of mind. And in a more contemplative mood. I carrying that with me through my day.

2. organize my poetry files

Each individual Word Document is labeled by day of the month and saved in a new folder April Poemsidentically named on both my hard drive and also in Dropbox. This enables me to feel organized which in turn puts me into a better frame of mind for writing a poem. And, I am rewarded by seeing the number of poems I am writing arrayed chronologically. That feels like progress.

3. remember that poetry is everywhere and in everything

For instance, I observed two ducks outside the entrance of an abandoned grocery story. They looked like they were arguing. Knowing that ducks mate for life, I thought, that is not unlike human couples who have squabbles from time to time. Because I am looking for poetry, I made a connection I may never have made otherwise. It made that moment in my day more interesting.

4. get creative with my poems

I’ve been exploring list poems, concrete poetry, experimental, traditional forms, found poetry, series, and more. I am trying to expand my definition of poetry as well. It is easy to get into a rut. I am using this forced-writing approach to reconsider my habits.

5. read other people’s poems more deeply

I have made it a personal quest to analyze other poets’ work more closely as I write my own poems this month. I am asking: How is she doing what she’s doing?, What is this poem about?, How is this sound being created? In some cases, I am mimicking line lengths, rhythms, forms, and style of poems written by poets whose work I admire. It is very useful.

If I end up with one good poem this month, it will have been worth it. If nothing else, I will have a pile of poems to review, revise, and cannibalize. It’s not too late to start. I’d love to hear what value others are seeing (or not seeing) with this approach.

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The Inexplicable Math of Good Poetry

Article first appeared in Poet’s Quarterly, Summer 2012.

I am at no loss for information about you and your family; but I am at a loss where to begin.

– Demosthenes

Recently, an editor of a well-known journal posted a message online from a reader who was praising the latest edition. The reader said she could feel the stake the poets had in their words and content. That  got me to thinking about how one can tell when a poet has had a stake in his words and content. We frequently hear these kinds of statements being made in reference to poetry. For instance, we say we can feel the tension in the poem, or the poem surprises us, or it is accessible, or it is coded, or it resonates. These terms are often first used by a writer in a critical essay or, by a book reviewer; then, overtime they worm their way into our shared lexicon.

Our propensity to talk about poetry thusly speaks to the difficulty we have identifying, and then, articulating in plain-speak, how poems do what they do. Most poets know, for instance, what is meant when a poem is said to be accessible. That we tend to broaden our vocabulary used in our poetic discourse speaks in part to our desire as poets and readers—or at least it should—to understand more clearly what makes a good poem good. Knowing it and knowing how to accurately talk about it using shared vocabulary—often begged, borrowed, or stolen from other usages—develops a kind of basis of understanding, murky as it continues to be.

It is fascinating and enlightening to listen to poets talk about poetry. In fact, one of the best things about the annually released, The Best American Poetry books, edited by a guest editor (including such notables as John Ashbery-1988, Jorie Graham-1990, Adrienne Rich-1996, and Paul Muldoon-2005), and Series Editor, David Lehman, is the introductions by the guest editors. In these short passages, each talks about why he selected the poems for that year’s book. The intros are like keys that unlock the double cast-iron, triple dead-bolt locked doors of understanding, since the guest editor explains in more or less, specific—and usually eloquent—terms, what made the selected poems stand out from among the hundreds considered.

Best American Poetry 2008For example, in the 2008 edition, guest editor, Charles Wright tells us, by referencing lines from W. B. Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”, that poetry comes from the heart, (the “foul rag-and-bone-shop of the heart,”) and also, that, as  Keats asserts,  poetry is a matter of ‘soul-making,’ along with a little math.

It truly is not a matter of arrangement, of performance, of presentation, of rhetorical dazzle or surprise, though all of those matters may be a part of it. It is not the distractions, but the focus…It’s the only time that two plus one makes two—language is half, technique is half, and emotion is half…It’s not a question of paper, of typewriters, of white space or of dark space—it’s a question of what’s in your life, and where you want that life to lead you. You’ve only got one, and you can fill it with whatever you want…But if it is poetry that you want, then don’t look for language games, intellectual rip-offs, or rhetorical sing-alongs. You’ve got to know in your heart of hearts, that Keats is right, that it is about soul-making, that it does matter, and that it can make you or break you as a person.

Wright is suggesting that the poetry that resonated with him that year was the poetry in which he could sense the poet’s ‘make you or break you’ stake in the game; poetry that was not just from the heart, not just soul-making—but also, poetry that was, in this odd equation using poet-math:  half language, half technique, half emotion.

He must have felt that the poems he selected for inclusion, came as close as possible to making the math work out. Here is a passage from one of the poems in that edition, “Pentecost” for John Foster West, by R. T. Smith, from Notre Dame Review:

Squint-eyed and cunning, its tongue split

like a wishbone, the canebrake sulls up,

cursive spine and the diamond in spiral

like genetic code,

and Joby frets the Stratocaster, its plastic

the color of a salted ham. A tambourine’s

discs shiver, and Brother Pascal wields the Book’s

hot gospel like a blunt instrument. This is

spirit. This is bliss. The words from Heaven

would almost strangle you. The Holy Ghost

is a rough customer alright, . . .

And, here is another from Susan Mitchell’s “Ritual”, from The American Poetry Review:

as one who casts the word bread upon the word waters, testing

as one who not believing something will rise up from

those waters, but not disbelieving either

casts out her voice

as one curious or hungry or filled with longing breaks

off just the crust of a word, throwing

the way she threw as a girl when everyone

told her that was not the way

to throw. . .

In both of these poems, you can indeed feel a ‘make you or break you stake in the words and content.’ It manifests itself as a kind of intensity. In “Pentecost” the rhythm is as pulsing as, well, a Pentecostal church service. The language is lush and startling (or do we call that, surprising), e.g. wielding the Book’s hot gospel like a blunt instrument. In “Ritual” the language seems to twist and turn from what one might expect, e.g. rather than casting the bread upon the waters (from Ecclesiastics 11:1), Mitchell writes of the casting of the word bread upon the word water. Also, there is no capitalization or sentence punctuation in the poem. As you read, you often feel you are coming to the end of a sentence, but instead, the poem takes you off into another idea that plays off the last idea. It’s an intriguing structure—a long run-on—that supports an overarching sense of the personal questioning and rumination that runs throughout the poem.

Finally in Wright’s introduction he says:

Everyone talks about the “great Health” of American poetry nowadays. And it’s hard to fault that. There are very few bad poems being published, very few. On the other hand, there are very few really good ones, either, ones that might make you want to stick your fingers in a Cuisinart, saying Take me now, Lord, take me now.

Indeed, we have all had the experience, upon reading a moving and brilliant poem, like these two for example—there are so many in this series each year—of wanting to stick our fingers into a Cuisinart and say, Take me now, Lord, take me now.  Wright’s equation—half heart, half technique, and half emotion, is his explanation of what makes good poetry good. He is using a far-fetched metaphor to speak to what often feels like, the far-fetched qualities of a great poem.

Perhaps it is appropriate to express astounding and beautiful poetry as  some kind of inexplicable math. And, maybe it is also important to just accept some measure of “inexplicability” in the matter—language inadequacy, if you will—even as we continue to try to pin it down with any possible terms we can beg, borrow, or steal, such as sticking one’s fingers into a Cuisinart and saying Take me now, Lord, take me now.

© 2010-2012 Grace Curtis

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Five Lessons from Ohio Poets

Sometimes, “sitting alone in a room and wrenching it out of yourself” as Jon Winokur wrote in the introduction to his book, Advice to Writers, is not enough. So, I jumped at the opportunity to go to the freedid I say free?—poetry workshop held at Ashland University, in Ashland Ohio, over the weekend of December 1-2. The thought of being surrounded by others who love poetry as much as I do was too wonderful to pass up.  Forty of us from different life work, locales, and backgrounds came together in our shared love of poetry.

Poet, Lynn Powell shares insights from Ohio poets.

Poet, Lynn Powell in auditorium of the Schar Building at Ashland University, shares insights from Ohio poets.

On Saturday evening, featured poet, Lynn Powell read from her book, The Zones of Paradise. Following the reading, Powell answered questions about her work and her writing life. She talked about the risks she takes in her poetry.

On Sunday afternoon, she provided a craft seminar. Since the event was held in Ohio and Powell’s participation was sponsored by the Ohio Arts Council, she selected two Ohio affiliated poets, Mary Oliver and Elton Glaser to feature. She shared with the group five lessons learned from the work of these two accomplished poets. Following are some notes I put  together from her talk.

1. Write the poems that only you can write.

Using Mary Oliver’s poem, “Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard,” from her book, House of Light, Powell demonstrated how Oliver uses her unique voice as she writes about a little owl in an orchard, “His beak could open a bottle,/and his eyes—when he lifts their soft lids—/go on reading something/just beyond your shoulder—/Blake, maybe,/or the Book of Revelation.” Later in the piece, using a surprisingly dark metaphor Oliver says, “Never mind that he is only a memo/from the office of fear—.”

I believe Powell was suggesting that we write poems only we alone can articulate, poetry that is coming from our own peculiar way of seeing the world, from our own background, from our own concerns. She suggested that poetry is not about mimicking someone else’s voice, but rather about speaking from a place of authenticity as Oliver does in her work.

2.  Sweat the small stuff.

Powell went on to posit that paying mind to the small details in the poem can help to make it compelling. By way of illustration she referred to the work of poet, Elton Glaser. In Glaser’s poem, “Crab Festival in Henderson, Louisiana,” from his book, Here and Hereafter, Powell pointed to Glaser’s lush description of a crab festival.

From the picnic pavilion, over the low-fi speakers,

The keen and fracas of a Cajun fiddle

Pulled us in, my sister sizzling in a two-step,

Fast feel on the concrete floor, before the old folks

Eased out, belly to belly in a bayou waltz,…

It is this kind of detail—the small stuff—that brings this poem to life. The speakers are low-fi, the fiddle is Cajun, the sister, sizzling, the floor is concrete and the old folks are belly to belly in not just any waltz, but, in a bayou waltz.

3.  Ignore the party line.

Powell suggested to us to take with a grain of salt all the things we have been told to avoid or to “not” do as poets. That might mean taking on subjects that are considered over-worked or too large. It might refer to an overworked metaphor. I think Powell was suggesting that if the poem is strong enough, or if it presents the material in a fresh way, have at it. She pointed to Glaser’s poem, “Down to Earth” (Here and Hereafter) as an example: “And why moon about the moon? It’s not/So gorgeous as I thought: a pocked face/Like a dented hubcap, and bald, with no chin.”  Clearly this is a new take on the well-worn image of the moon. In the context of this poem, it is not only fitting, it is the counterbalance to the image of the speaker’s earthliness. Glaser goes on to write, “I need the sluggish tug of mud around/My roots and, overhead, the sleeves of moss/From old oak.”

4. To write about the large, start small.

Powell used Glaser’s poem, “Blue Passport” (Here and Hereafter) as an example of a love poem that opens with the simple image of January winds striping the tinsel from dead trees. As Glaser works his way down the poem in couplets, he writes, “If I’m down to one day, make it/A Tuesday in April, and some little hill town//In Tuscany, rough wine in the glasses/And a luster of tall air along the stones,//And you there with me…”

5.  Let everything of yourself into the poem.

Powell suggested that we not censor our voices out of the poem. This is something I have been thinking about lately. I have been trying to write from a more authentic place. It’s easy to fall into the thinking that the poem must be steeped in mystery and laden with craft. It’s easy to feel we need to be clever in our poems. It is easy to let those concerns take over. But, I think Powell was suggesting that we need to let ourselves into our poems, that this is how others find connection with them. In the examples shared with us, poems from Mary Oliver and Elton Glaser, there is a clear voice of authenticity. Mary Oliver writes about the nature in a way that reflects her authentic intrigue. Glaser speaks of love and loss from deep within himself using lush description and images.

In the Company of Poets

In addition to the craft seminar presented by Powell, the workshops on Saturday and Sunday were lively and helpful. Workshop facilitators, Stephen Haven, Sarah Wells, and Deborah Fleming from Ashland University, along with, Lynn Powell worked with groups of poets on individuals poems.

This wonderful weekend was not just about just about the helpful workshops, craft seminar, and inspiring readings. It was also about the special camaraderie of poets from near and far. It was about reconnecting with old friend and making new ones. I even  learned about the sweet music of Paul Reece. The time

Poets gathered to share meals.

Poets gathered to share meals.

together felt important. I am so grateful to Ashland University and to those who worked so hard to make this such a great event. This was the first poetry workshop weekend Ashland University has sponsored. I hope it is not the last.

© 2010-2012 Grace Curtis

 

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All Poetry is Local…

Well, not really. That’s something that is true of politics according to former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. Actually poetry is international, universal, or possibly even galactic. I just used it as a title for this post because I thought it was a catchy way to announce a poetry reading organized by poet, Elizabeth Schmidt, in my local area, Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday, January 26, 2013 at the Wright Memorial Public Library. It is located at 1776 Far Hills Avenue. If you live nearby, I hope you will come listen and bring your poems to read. Some of the Wright Library Poets will be doing a short reading. They include Kathy Austin, Matt Birdsall, Eric Blanchard, Erica DeWeese, David Garrison, Jeannine Geise, Fred Kirchner, Elizabeth Schmidt, Steve Thompson, Leo Walter, and me. An open mic will follow. We hope to see you there!

Wright library poets

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