Robert Bly on the music in poetry

May 22nd, 2015

“Exactly. Poems can become musical events in a number of ways. Two I’ve been brooding on are these: First, the seven holy vowels, as they were understood in ancient times, can come in. (Joscelyn Godwin has a charming book about the mystery of the seven vowels.) The great vowels bring radiance and add energy when they enter; they even encourage the arms and legs to move in a certain way. The seven vowels, one could say, penetrate through the intellect to the body. Then there is such a thing as chiming. Chiming means that tiny sounds chime with each other inside the line. It’s a sort of interior rhyming that the writer does without alerting, or even telling, the reader.

Suppose you decide, like Stevens, to chime with the syllable in. Then you could say: “The trade wind jingles the rings in the nets around the rocks / by the docks on Indian River.” It is the choice of in that determines the name of the river at the end.

One little chiming poem of mine begins: “How sweet to weight the line with all these vowels: / Body, Thomas, the codfish’s psalm. The gaiety / Of form lies in the labor of its playfulness.” Later it goes: “The chosen sound reappears like the evening star / In the solemn return the astronomers love.” Most good poems have repeating sounds. But one can make chiming into a sort of principle. If the chiming sound returns three times, it becomes a tune. Then the whole stanza turns to music.”

From The Paris Review. You can read the entire interview here.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, or something like that

April 30th, 2015

So I dusted off my blog and allowed it to get dusty again, and here I am almost finished with my first semester and I’ve hardly said a thing.

So here’s some of what I’ve learned:

* An MFA takes a lot of time, but it is manageable – especially if you’re willing to allow your blog and your bedside table to get a little dusty.

* Writing critical reviews of poetry collections is a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

* Writing critical reviews of poetry collections forces me to deconstruct the poems and analyze how and why they work.

* It’s important to read poets who weren’t previously on your radar; it’s important to read poets whose styles differ from yours; it’s important to read poets you don’t necessarily “like” on a pure enjoyment level but who nonetheless demonstrate mastery. In all likelihood, reading these poets will teach you more than reading the poets to whom you naturally because you will have to read these poems very closely to identify the masterful turns.

* If I wait for things to be perfect – poems, critical reviews, or blog posts – they will never be written. As Marvin Bell says, “No good stuff without the bad stuff. It’s all part of the stuff.” Just write, the good stuff, the bad stuff, mix up all the stuff and see what happens.

* It can be difficult to sustain relationships with your teachers and classmates over a distance, but try. These are the people who will support you and who you will support, so stay in touch as best you can.

* Everybody’s probably got their own system for organizing drafts in progress, notes for future ideas, interesting lines, submissions, and deadlines. However you do it, do it. There’s a lot to keep track of.

* It’s not everybody who gets to sit down with cup of tea, a copy of Seam and a pencil and call it work, so take advantage of it while you can. My first semester has already gone so fast, I can’t believe I’m nearly one-fourth of the way through this already.

* This is really, really fun.

2015 poetry goals

January 2nd, 2015

My first residency begins January 8th; I fly out the 6th. My goals this year are dictated almost entirely by the requirements of my program and are fairly simple:

* 24 -30 polished poems
* read 40 works of poetry or poetics
* 24 annotations of works read

Taking full advantage of my MFA is my top priority for the year. That means not just doing the work, but taking advantage of the opportunity to work with other poets (both my teachers and my fellow students). Make friends, find writing partners, develop relationships with faculty and students. This will be challenging from afar (though in a low-residency program we’re all “from afar” – none of us can wander down the hall and pop into office hours, after all, so in that regard all of us are facing the same challenges of maintaining relationships through largely electronic means) but not impossible. I’ve long believed the community component of a writing program is one of its most valuable aspects, so the goal that I can’t put numbers on, that I can’t check off as accomplished, that should be the on-going goal of any writer is to enter my community fully, contribute to it, sustain it, and stay connected to it.

And somewhere among the rough drafts and the essays, always find the joy in writing.

The adventure begins

December 2nd, 2014

I’m dusting off my blog. A new adventure is about to begin. I’ve been accepted to the low-residency MFA program in poetry at Pacific University in Oregon and my first residency begins in January.

I want to use this space to write about the experience – both logistically, as an international student; and intellectually, as a place to think out loud about what I’m learning and to share poems and poets I find exciting.

I’m expecting a lot of hard work and not enough hours in the day. I’m expecting to be doing homework during the boys’ hockey practices and waking up before the rest of the family. I’m expecting a lot of packages in the mail and international shipping charges. I’m expecting to be challenged. I’m expecting a lot of revisions.

I’m expecting to have the time of my life.

Poetry roundup: Maxine Kumin

February 7th, 2014

I was saddened to read of Maxine Kumin’s passing at 88 yesterday; and grateful that her long life gave us so much of her poetry. In her honor, here’s a selection of her poems I was able to find available online in the short time since I read the news and which I am fairly confident have been reproduced in the public domain with permission.

From Poetry Magazine, July 2002, “Getting There.”

At the Poetry Foundation, “After Love,” “How It Is,” “A Calling,” “Finding the one Brief Note,” and “Together.”

At Poets.org “Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year,” “In the Park,” “Jack,” “Purgatory,” (which you can also listen to), “The Hermit Goes Up Attic,” and “Woodchucks” (also available as audio).

From The Writer’s Almanac, “Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief.”

From the archives of The New Republic, “History Lesson” and “Saying Goodbye.

At The Hudson Review, “Red Tape and Kangaroo Courts I,” “Red Tape and Kangaroo Courts II,” and “Old News.”

From The Poetry Center at Smith College, “Waterboarding, Restored.”

From Poetry Daily this essay by Kumin “Metamorphosis: From Light Verse to the Poetry of Witness” originally published in The Georgia Review, Winter 2012.

And I’ll leave you with Kumin’s words from a 1973 conversation with Pearl London as recorded in Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversation with America’s Poets, edited by Alexander Neubauer (if you don’t have this book, get it!):

Because, you see, this is what I conceive the function of the poet to be. Not to moralize, not to polemicize, not to grieve, not to praise, and not to damn. But to name, to tell, to authenticate, to be specific, to report what he [sic] sees and what he [sic] feels. I suppose if I have a credo, that would be the credo that I have.

Poetry roundup

January 24th, 2014

I first read Danusha Laméris in The Sun magazine and knew I’d found a name to watch for. So I was delighted this week to see her poem “Fictional Characters” appear in The Writers Almanac this week. For those of you who also love her voice, here are some more poems from her:

The Lord God Bird” in Rattle, from 2010.

The God of Numbers” in The Sun Magazine. “Eve, After” is unfortunately not available online, I enjoyed that one even more.

The Bugs of Childhood” from The MOON Magazine.

Horse” at Connotation Press.

I hope you enjoy this wonderful poet!

Poetry Roundup

January 17th, 2014

Some reading for you this weekend:

Deer” by Deborah Miranda. I confess that this is the first I’ve read of Miranda’s work, but after reading “Deer” I can’t wait to get my hands on some more from her!

Love Poem for Naming” by Corrie Williamson is up at The Missouri Review. You do know to check their website once a week for a new poem, right?

Because I love Traci Brimhall and scour the web regularly for works of hers I’ve never read, this piece published at The Rumpus in 2012: “After The Plantation Fire.

Likewise, I’m always on the lookout for Joe Wilkins and this week I stumbled upon “The Fragments of the World Seek Each Other” at About Place Journal.

Poetry Roundup

January 10th, 2014

Whenever I read a poem by Linda Pastan I am reminded that I don’t read enough of her; here’s her poem “The Poets” up at Plume.

Up at Cave Wall, Katherine Maurer’s “Field Survey.”

I always admire poets who can pull off the traditional forms. Last week I gave you a sestina, this week I give you Aileen Bassis’s “Bulgarian Pantoum” at Literary Bohemian.

If you’re not signed up to receive a poem from the Academy of American Poets every day, you should be. Then you won’t miss out on poems like “Another Country” by Ryan Teitman. (Go here to sign up for a poem every morning.)

Carry on anyway

January 3rd, 2014

“Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen on my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.” – Ann Patchett, The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life

“Our poems can never satisfy us, since they are at best a diminished echo of a song that maybe once or twice in a lifetime we’ve heard and keep trying to recall.” – Stanley Kunitz, The Collected Poems

And yet I keep at it. One day, one line, one word if only for a second it will be like clear water. Like Schwarzeis. Just once, I will be transparent, and the thing on the page will be the thing in my head.

 

A poetry roundup for the new year

January 1st, 2014

I’m back. I won’t bore you with where I’ve been – dark night of the poet’s soul and all that, we’ve all been there – but will tell you what I’ve been reading.

I’ve been reading these two poems in Four Way Review by the incomparable Traci Brimhall.

I’ve been amazed by this sestina at Heron Tree: “Sestina: Two Names” by Sharanya Manivannan.

I’ve been visiting “The Isle of the Narrator” by Amy Breeder, up at Plume.

And fittingly, I’ve been reading “The End of This Year” by Jack Ridl at Writer’s Almanac.

Here’s to another year of reading and writing!