Category Archives: Poetry

OctPoWriMo Day 3

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I am participating in two challenges this month, OctPoWriMo and Inktober. To make it easier on myself, I’m trying to write a new poem on odd-numbered days and make a drawing on even-numbered days. (Yes, I know I didn’t post a drawing yesterday. I was sick.)

The prompt for Day 3 is womb.

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Surprise!

A surprise is something you weren’t expecting
But delights you nonetheless.
Not delighted?
Give it time.
There’s a life at stake—
Not just yours, though yours is important.

There’s his life,
Totally vulnerable,
Totally depending on you
To love him and to nurture him.

There’s my life, too,
Because I’m part of the cosmos your little one will enter.
Even if I never meet him,
I will benefit because he exists,
Because the universe will expand to include him,
Because eliminating his potential robs all of us.

I understand that it’s not a good time.
But right now there are people aching to experience
What you’re thinking about throwing away.
Can you respond with generosity?
Can you make joy out of your sorrow?

octpowrimo

Video of the Week #221: Poetry Slam

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Hearing the responses from the audience make me long to attend a poetry slam. I gotta find one around here.

OctPoWriMo Day 1

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I am participating in two challenges this month, OctPoWriMo and InktoberTo make it easier on myself, I’m trying to write a new poem on odd-numbered days and make a drawing on even-numbered days.

The prompt for Day 1 is The Dark Night of the Soul. Morgan Dragonwillow posted this gorgeous music video that is just the right background for my poem.

Drowning Soulfire

The chaos of soulfire exploding on the pitchblack horizon
Like the awakening of a million fireworks
Swirls bursting into blooms of pain
Scorching blazes burning bones bare
Can anyone extinguish the anguish
Can flames blossom into fragrant spring bouquets

Drown me in polar seas
Let my heart melt ancient glaciers
So I unleash galloping floodwaters
Wiping out surfers and whalespouts
Knocking down monuments and lofty towers
Eliminating memory illuminating despair

octpowrimo

Review of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop by Diane Lockward         

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Review of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop by Diane Lockward         

Poetry is a source of delight for me, and I’ve always wished I could write poetry, but my attempts in elementary and high school were lame.

A few years ago I tried again, by working through a book I’d originally bought for my daughter Carly who was studying writing poetry in college (and I never gave her the book): poemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. I discovered to my great surprise that I could write decent poetry.the crafty poet

After I finished that book, I found The Crafty Poet, and I happily journeyed further down poetry lane.

Lockward covers 10 poetry concerns in this book, such as generating material, figurative language, adding layers, and revision. Each chapter includes two or three tips for the topic, poems that illustrate the tip, and a prompt for you to try out. Each chapter also includes an interview with a poet about a particular poem, and a bonus prompt. The book generated about 35 poems for me.

I’m not posting a lot of my poems any more, because I’m submitting them for publication, and most journals won’t print poems that have been up on somebody’s blog. However, here are a few poems I wrote from exercises in this book that I’ve already posted:

 

Dogs Would be Better Off if They Were More Like Us Cats

Why do you beg? Have you no dignity?cat and dog anusha-barwa-428445
If the humans forget to feed you, scold.
And when they do feed you, don’t be in such a hurry to eat.
Turn up your nose. Walk away.
Come back later when no one’s around to watch.
Otherwise they think they’re doing you a favor.

And when they tell you to fetch or roll over or shake
Turn up your nose. Walk away.
Why work so hard to earn their approval?
Humans are inscrutable. Always making demands. Ignore them.

Don’t make such a big deal when they come home.
Turn up your nose. Walk away.
Why weren’t they here waiting on you?
Whose special—them or you?

You have to go out in all kinds of weather.
Why don’t you use the litter box?
Outdoors is best viewed from the windowsill.

Mona

All my life I’ve dreamed of402px-Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_C2RMF_retouched
Passing below the crystal pyramid
And worshipping at the altar of
The woman with the enigmatic smile.
When my moment finally came,
I wedged in shoulder to shoulder among the other pilgrims,
Jostled and hurried.
She was much smaller than I had imagined,
Enshrined in plexiglass.
That’s it?
An anticlimactic end to my years of anticipation and saving.
I retraced my steps and
Examined the broken figures I’d rushed past earlier,
Breathtaking gods and goddesses released from stony prisons.
My eyes caressed these less celebrated masterpieces and
My disappointment melted away.

Cocktail Sauce to Die For

These are your strong points:shrimp-cocktail-1670404_640
You’re loyal.
(You could have replaced me by now;
you certainly had opportunities.)
You still have a nice head of hair.
You know how to fix things.
You can name every major battle and
how many men died on either side.
You can reach things on top shelves.
You make me laugh.
You can cook.
You make the best shrimp cocktail sauce I’ve ever tasted, deliciously sour and with
just enough horseradish to make the top of my brain ache.

I recently came across two more poetry instruction books by Lockward, The Crafty Poet II and The Practicing Poet, which are structured in the same way. I bought them both, and I can’t wait to get started.

If you want to begin writing poetry, or if it’s been awhile and you need a little prodding, I would recommend any of the books mentioned in this article.

Review of Poem in Your Pocket: 200 Poems to Read and Carry, compiled by Elaine Bleakney

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Review of Poem in Your Pocket: 200 Poems to Read and Carry, compiled by Elaine Bleakney

I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought this book ten years ago.

Yes, I do. I wanted a book of poems. I ordered it through a book club (Book of the Month? Quality Paperback Book Club? Mystery Guild? I belonged to a bunch of them back in the day.) and in the picture in the brochure, it looked like an ordinary hardcover book.

But when I opened it, I was totally disoriented. It was glue-bound like a notepad. It had no page numbers, no table of contents.

The premise of the book is, you can tear out a poem and keep it handy in your pocket, ready to be referred to or to be offered to a friend or to a stranger.

Of course, I would never deface a book by pulling out pages. If I like a poem, I want it right there in my book where I can find it again, not in my pocket where it will get wrinkled or go through the wash, transforming itself into garbage.

Also, it’s really cumbersome opening a book and then reading pages that are bound at the top. You can’t flip through the pages without holding the book sideways.Poem in Your Pocket

I started the book several times without getting very far. But I recently committed to reading the entire book from front to back.

 

Many of the poets were familiar to me. None of the poems were. I don’t know if I am just ignorant, or if it was Bleakney’s intention to promote less-known masterpieces.

There are some poems in here that I didn’t care for at all (that risk goes with anthology territory). But there are also some that were so delightful I felt compelled to turn over the corner for ease of rereading.

For example, here is a Shakespeare sonnet I’m sure I’d never read before:

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets,
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do they worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

And this beautiful poem by Robert Frost:

Desert Places

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it, it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars, on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

I will reread this book periodically, because I am determined to become familiar with as much poetry as possible. But I recommend it only for people who would willing go to the trouble of reading relatively obscure poetry in an awkward format. Or for people who like to tear pages out of books.

Poet Laureate

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Poet Laureate

Can you name the current poet laureate of the United States? If you can, you have my admiration. I had to look it up.

Do you know what the poet laureate does? The American poet laureate acts as the chair of poetry for the Library of Congress. The position was established in 1936 by an endowment from the author and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington, and the title of poet laureate was created in 1985. (Before that, the position was known as the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress.) The poet laureate is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and serves from September to May. Some serve more than one term.

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Main reading room, Library of Congress

The duty of the poet laureate is to promote poetry in the United States. He is expected to read from his work at the Library of Congress poetry series. She may travel the country making appearances to lecture about or otherwise promote poetry, or organize festivals or conduct special projects. She is also expected to reserve time to continue writing poetry.

The past poets who have been honored with this position are an impressive crowd. You’ll find names you recognize, even if you are not particularly a poetry enthusiast. At least one (Robert Pinsky) made a guest appearance on The Simpsons.

I copied these lists of Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate from Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Each name links to a biography of the poet.

The Consultants in Poetry:

  1. Joseph Auslander

    548px-William_Carlos_Williams_passport_photograph

    William Carlos Williams

  2. Allen Tate
  3. Robert Penn Warren
  4. Louise Bogan
  5. Karl Shapiro
  6. Robert Lowell, Jr.
  7. Léonie Adams
  8. Elizabeth Bishop
  9. Conrad Aiken
  10. William Carlos Williams
  11. Randall Jarrell
  12. Robert Frost
  13. Richard Eberhart
  14. Louis Untermeyer
  15. Howard Nemerov
  16. Reed Whittemore
  17. Stephen Spender
  18. James Dickey
  19. William Jay Smith
  20. William Stafford
  21. Josephine Jacobsen
  22. Daniel Hoffman

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    Robert Frost

  23. Stanley Kunitz
  24. Robert Hayden
  25. William Meredith
  26. Maxine Kumin
  27. Anthony Hecht
  28. Robert Fitzgerald
  29. Reed Whittemore
  30. Gwendolyn Brooks

The Poets Laureate:

  1. Robert Penn Warren
  2. Richard Wilbur
  3. Howard Nemerov
  4. Mark Strand
  5. Joseph Brodsky
  6. Mona Van Duyn
  7. Rita Dove
  8. Robert Hass
  9. Robert Pinsky

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    Robert Pinsky; photo by Jared C. Benedict

  10. Stanley Kunitz
  11. Billy Collins
  12. Louise Glück
  13. Ted Kooser
  14. Donald Hall
  15. Charles Simic
  16. Kay Ryan
  17. W.S. Merwin
  18. Philip Levine
  19. Natasha Trethewey
  20. Charles Wright
  21. Juan Felipe Herrera
  22. Tracy K. Smith

Review of Animals I Have Killed by Lauren K Carlson

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Review of Animals I Have Killed by Lauren K Carlson

Some poets write for themselves. Others long to share their verses. I fall in the second group.

When I started writing poetry a few years ago, the poems were often responses to online challenges, so I posted them on my blog, where they would be available to the online poetry challenge community. I was thrilled when I was selected as a featured poet for NaPoWriMo, because visits to my blog spiked. It’s gratifying when people want to read what you’ve written.

Submitting single poems or groups of poems to various publications is a tedious undertaking, which I have tried on numerous occasions with no success as of yet.

I follow the contest listings in Poets and Writers magazine, and when I realized I have enough decent poems to put together a chapbook (a small collection of poems by a single poet), I began entering chapbook contests. So far I’ve lost four. Shortly after I entered the fifth, Animals I Have Killed arrived at my house. I’d forgotten that the entry fee for the Comstock Review chapbook contest included a copy of the winning book.

 

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I read Animals I Have Killed with great interest. This is the work that beat me out, that the judges deemed better than all the rest of the entries.

Lauren K Carlson is a poet, teaching artist, and spiritual director in rural Minnesota. Nature and hunting and farm life and the sacred run through her poems. The title poem is a litany of animals that were killed on purpose, or by accident, or slaughtered for food. One line asks, “do the goats we take to the butcher count,” and the cover art is a silhouette of a goat with the cuts of meat mapped out. I was delighted to discover that one of the poems in the chapbook was her response to a prompt in The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop by Diane Lockward, which I am currently working through.

Carlson’s poems are unrhymed and utilize various forms. One is formatted unusually, and I wasn’t quite sure how to read it, due to how the lines were broken and staggered. Maybe that’s what she intended—having readers read snippets in different orders and get more than one meaning from the poem.

Two poems especially resonated with me. “The Week Before,” about a visit to a friend with terminal cancer, made me cry. And “The Lesson” is about a woman observing her son with his grandfather. They are carving together, and the lesson the grandfather teaches the little boy is internalized by the mother on a metaphysical level.

I enjoyed this chapbook. It’s a good read and I look forward to reading more of Carlson’s poetry in the future. The book also gives me hope that maybe my poems will be published one day.