Sunday, March 30, 2008

One for the Readers

I read this poem years ago, maybe 1995, in an issue of American Poetry Review. All I could remember from it when I thought about it recently was the idea of pulling your own weight. So I Googled ‘poets pull their own weight’ and eventually I found it. Awesome! I love this (prose) poem.

The Politics of Narrative: Why I Am A Poet
by Lynn Emanuel (picture at left)

Jill's a good kid who's had some tough luck. But that's another story. It's a day when the smell of fish from Tib's hash house is so strong you could build a garage on it. We are sitting in Izzy's where Carl has just built us a couple of solid highballs. He's okay, Carl is, if you don't count his Roamin' Hands and Rushin' Fingers. Then again, that should be the only trouble we have in this life. Anyway, Jill says, "Why don't you tell about it? Nobody ever gets the poet's point of view." I don't know, maybe she's right. Jill's just a kid, but she's been around; she knows what's what.


So, I tell Jill, we are at Izzy's just like now when he comes in. And the first thing I notice is his hair, which has been Vitalis-ed into submission. But, honey, it won't work, and it gives him a kind of rumpled your-boudoir-or-mine look. I don't know why I noticed that before I noticed his face. Maybe it was just the highballs doing the looking. Anyway, then I see his face, and I'm telling you--I'm telling Jill--this is a masterpiece of a face.

But--and this is the god's own truth--I'm tired of beauty. Really. I know, given all that happened, this must sound kind of funny, but it made me tired just to look at him. That's how beautiful he was, and how much he spelled T-R-O-U-B-L-E. So I threw him back. I mean, I didn't say it, I say to Jill, with my mouth. But I said it with my eyes and my shoulders. I said it with my heart. I said, Honey, I'm throwing you back. And looking back, that was the worst, I mean, the worst thing--bar none--that I could have done, because it drew him like horseshit draws flies. I mean, he didn't walk over and say, "Hello, girls; hey, you with the dark hair, your indifference draws me like horseshit draws flies."

But he said it with his eyes. And then he smiled. And that smile was a gas station on a dark night. And as wearying as all the rest of it. I am many things, but dumb isn't one of them. And here is here I say to Jill, "I just can't go on." I mean, how we get from the smile into the bedroom, how it all happens, and what all happens, just bores me. I am a conceptual storyteller. In fact, I'm a conceptual liver. I prefer the cookbook to the actual meal. Feeling bores me. That's why I write poetry. In poetry you just give the instructions to the reader and say, "Reader, you go on from here." And what I like about poetry is its readers, because those are giving people. I mean, those are people you can trust to get the job done. They pull their own weight. If I had to have someone at my back in a dark alley, I'd want it to be a poetry reader. They're not like some people, who maybe do it right if you tell them, "Put this foot down, and now put that one in front of the other, button your coat, wipe your nose."

So, really, I do it for the readers who work hard and, I feel, deserve something better than they're used to getting. I do it for the working stiff. And I write for people, like myself, who are just tired of the trickle-down theory where somebody spends pages and pages on some fat book where everything including the draperies, which happen to be burnt orange, are described, and, further, are some metaphor for something. And this whole boggy waste trickles down to the reader in the form of a little burp of feeling. God, I hate prose. I think the average reader likes ideas.

"A sentence, unlike a line, is not a station of the cross." I said this to the poet Mark Strand. I said, "I could not stand to write prose; I could not stand to have to write things like 'the draperies were burnt orange and the carpet was brown.'" And he said, "You could do it if that's all you did, if that was the beginning and the end of your novel." So please, don't ask me for a little trail of bread crumbs to get from the smile to the bedroom, and from the bedroom to the death at the end, although you can ask me a lot about death. That's all I like, the very beginning and the very end. I haven't got the stomach for the rest of it.

I don't think many people do. But, like me, they're either too afraid or too polite to say so. That's why the movies are such a disaster. Now there's a form of popular culture that doesn't have a clue. Movies should be five minutes long. You should go in, see a couple of shots, maybe a room with orange draperies and a rug. A voice-over would say, "I'm having a hard time getting Raoul from the hotel room into the elevator." And, bang, that's the end. The lights come on, everybody walks out full of sympathy because this is a shared experience. Everybody in that theater knows how hard it is to get Raoul from the hotel room into the elevator. Everyone has had to do boring, dogged work. Everyone has lived a life that seems to inflict every vivid moment the smears, fingerings, and pawings of plot and feeling. Everyone has lived under this oppression. In other words, everyone has had to eat shit--day after day, the endless meals they didn't want, those dark, half-gelatinous lakes of gravy that lay on the plate like an ugly rug and that wrinkled clump of reddish-orange roast beef that looks like it was dropped onto your plate from a great height. God what a horror: getting Raoul into the elevator.

And that's why I write poetry. In poetry, you don't do that kind of work.


From
http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15784 accessed 3/30/08.
From Then, Suddenly--, by Lynn Emanuel. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.
Available at local bookstores or directly from the University of Pittsburgh Press:
c/o CUP Services
Box 6525
Ithaca, NY 14851
Phone orders: 607-277-2211
Fax orders: 607-227-6292





-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
R
iver Junction Poets Mission Statement

Friday, March 28, 2008

Masterpieces of World Literature

Recommended reading:

Masterpieces of World Literature
edited (1989) by Frank N. Magill
published by Harper Collins 1952, 1989

This book is to educated lovers of literature what the Kama Sutra is for educated lovers. Or something like that. Not the literature itself, but intelligent commentary about the literature. Read about what you've read already and you are reminded and refreshed. Read about what you haven't read and you are enticed to try something you haven't before. A delightful and handy reference, no?

This book was presented to me as a gift today by my supervisor. According to the info on the dust jacket, this book retails for $55. Whoa! I'm with the right crowd for sure. Well, I was with the right crowd. Due to budgetary reasons, my position has been eliminated. Today was my last day. Several of us met at China Palace for lunch - a farewell lunch, if you will, on my behalf. The buffet there is megalicious. My supervisor told me he's sorry to see me go. I'm sorry to see me go too. I've got a mortgage payment and a mound of credit card debt. I got my safety glasses repaired (the nosepad had come off) for $5.75 at the Safety Shop, went back to my office to send another e-mail, then over to Kelly Scientific Services to turn in my badge. Hopefully the interview I had on Wednesday will lead to an offer, or else the interview I have next Wednesday. It's work finding work. But my supervisor at Kelly has been great in finding positions available for me to interview for. I have much to be grateful for, and this book - signed by many of my former colleagues - will remind me of that again and again for years.


-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Richard Fitzpatrick Performs in Saginaw

Richard Fitzpatrick performed Roethke and Me: Conjuring the Garden Master, the play he wrote and compiled over the last 30 or so years of his life, in Saginaw tonight (Thursday, March 27, 2008). This was at Founders Hall, SVSU. Linda Farynk, SVSU Library Director, announced in her introduction that this performance followed performances in New York and in Stratford, Ontario. Other than that, this has not been performed anywhere.

Patricia Shek, instrumental in creating the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, was in the audience. Annie Ransford was there too, as were several members of Saginaw's River Junction Poets. Annie was instrumental in creating The Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation which owns and operates the Roethke home, now a national literary landmark, on Gratiot Avenue. And it turns out that Richard Fitzpatrick and I have a mutual friend in Maxine Harris who was also in the audience.

After the performance, light refreshments were served. I and a few other River Junction Poets asked Richard to sign our programs, and he was happy to sign them. We talked to him long enough for me to learn that I enjoy his sense of humor and his work ethic. He said this was the first performance where he got any laughs. He's hoping to get his performance professionally recorded for PBS. I hope he gets what he wants. It's a terrifically dynamic performance, probably no less dynamic than Roethke's teaching.





-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
R
iver Junction Poets Mission Statement

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Nikki Giovanni Still Sassy & Lovin' It

Here is Nikki Giovanni as she appears in a recent photo. She was due to appear at the Flint Public Library on February 28th (2008), but she had to cancel due to her body's untimely decision to play hostess to the ever-popular flu virus. Some of Saginaw's River Junction Poets had talked about going to the Library to hear her read & to buy her books. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, we (when I say 'we' I mean 'I') decided to print the Flint Library's homepage which had a message about the Giovanni event being cancelled due to illness and include it in a get-well card which we signed and sent to her at Virginia Tech. The card had a cartoon of somebody in the hospital and said something about getting your sassy butt out of bed. Anyway, she enjoyed the card and wrote back to say so. Specifically, in her card she writes

10 March 2008

Dear Andrew Christ:

Thank you for the Library pages and for the card. It made me laugh! I went for my 2nd round of antibiotics so I guess I'll see the end of the flu. It's been miserable :( but friends like you :) help.

Poetically,
[signed]

Nikki Giovanni

Did you see that? She said the card made her laugh. Aren't you glad you know that now? They say the best things in life are free, well there you go. Friendship. Even if you had a stick you couldn't beat it. I broke down and spent the $2.99 to make it happen, not to mention the time and money she invested to keep the ball rolling. And then the blog and the writing, and of course your reading. That's how we do. Freedom is not free. What? Did I say something just now?









-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Saw It On Book TV



Today (Easter Sunday, March 23rd, 2008) I saw on BookTV (i.e., C-SPAN) Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, talking with Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell, at the New York Public Library (How do so many people get into one room of a library?) about Power's new book, Chasing the Flame which is a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, a man from Brazil who spoke seven languages, among other things. The event was recorded February 21, 2008. Watching it, I felt heartened by such passionate engagement. I can't help but wonder though why we heard so little about Vieira de Mello until he was killed, but now he deserves a biography written by a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author.

The two women talked about human dignity and how important it is to respect everybody's dignity in order to begin heading toward international peace. Nafisi read from Power's book a section that described a conversation Sergio Vieira de Mello had with a refugee while he was working for the UN. He asked the woman what she wanted. She told him how all her life she sustained herself on her land, and now she has to accept charity from the UN while she was living as a refugee. She told him she wanted to become a cloud and go miles away to where her land is and then turn into rain so she could be in the land she loved so long and so well. I think Nafisi and Power might agree with the notion that no one is free unless everyone is free.

Perhaps human dignity is a political concept. Whether it is or isn't, I believe human dignity is more clearly perceived when we keep our hearts and minds open with regard to aesthetics as well as ethics. And isn't it the case that, where aesthetics and ethics are together, politics results? Thus we can see that art, music and literature (i.e., aesthetics) has an importance with regard to such things as foreign policy and international relations. And this importance is distinct from such things as lifestyle preferences and entertainment (i.e., show business).

I have no profound insights as to how we may achieve lasting international peace. I am grateful though for the freedom to meet and read and discuss poetry out loud with people who are interested.

-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
R
iver Junction Poets Mission Statement

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets

Recommended reading: The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1985. 784 pages.

Dave Smith and David Bottoms have selected poems written by American poets born between 1940 and 1955 for this volume. After a nice preface titled 'The Anthology in Our Heads' by the editors, and a nice Introduction by Anthony Hecht, you can find poems by Ai, David Bottoms, Stephen Dobyns, Rita Dove, Norman Dubie, Carolyn Forche, Tess Gallagher, Reginald Gibbons, Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, Marilyn Hacker, Daniel Halpern, Robert Hass, William Heyen, Edward Hirsch, Yusef Komunyakaa, William Logan, Heather McHugh, William Matthews, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Gregory Orr, Robert Pinsky, Katha Pollitt, Alberto Rios, Sherod Santos, Dave Smith, Gary Soto and Richard Tillinghast, among others.

I bought this book in 1988 when I was an undergraduate at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. The book was required for a poetry class I enrolled in. As I recall, we didn't do much with the book during the course. I kept the book though. I love the colors on the cover, and the book has poems by beginning poets. More than once, I've made time every day to read one poem and to write comments on it in the margins. I always try to find two things to write that are positive and one thing to write about how the poem might be improved. In the twenty years since I bought the book, I've commented on poems from the beginning of the anthology up to page 215.


-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Friday, March 21, 2008

What Happened Was...

The night we held our Wilfred Owen Birthday Reading, we never actually got to 'Dulce Et Decorum Est,' which was the last poem of Owen's I wanted to read out loud. Sometimes surprises come at you like a Tibetan yak. Instead, we read and talked about 'Greater Love' whose text is online at

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19388 (accessed 3/21/08)

and also 'The Next War' whose text is online with commentary at

http://mural.uv.es/juanher2/TRABAJO%20POESIA%207.html (accessed 3/21/08).

Apparently the 'Greater Love' is something like nationalism, if it isn't actually nationalism. Owen's feelings toward the fighting and the Christian principles he knew so well are explored somewhat in this poem. There's a rich complexity there.

And the concluding lines of 'The Next War' echo the attitude he took on, according to the info at http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/owena.htm#Shock-of-war, in the last year of his life, 1918 (website accessed 3/16/08). Supposedly Owen decided to "turn his back on life. Talking to his brother whilst home on leave he said that he wanted to return to the front line. 'I know I shall be killed. But it's the only place I can make my protest from.'"

I think of the Dada artists of that time. Some of them refrained from producing art because they believed that so many people so willing to go to such a stupid war don't deserve great art. Remember the Dada artist Jacques Rigaut? He said one day in 1919, "If I'm alive ten years from now, I'm going to kill myself." He felt defeated by what he saw as immense stupidity in the war and the preparing for war and the celebrating of war, etc. He actually followed through on his declaration.

Maybe this time in history is when the word nihilism came into greater use?




-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
R
iver Junction Poets Mission Statement

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Richard Wilbur Sends Thank You Note

Good grief we do get busy though, don't we. The other day I received in the (snail) mail a postcard from Richard Wilbur. He wrote to say Thank You for the birthday card we sent earlier this month (March 2008). Specifically, he writes:

11 March 2008

Dear Mr. Christ,

I'm delighted to have been read at Barnes & Noble by the River Junction Poets. My thanks to you and your associates for the birthday card, and all power to your pens.

Sincerely,
(signed)

Richard Wilbur





Sweet Georgia Brown!












-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wilfred Owen Birthday Party

What
A poetical celebration of Wilfred Owen’s birth, life and poetry.

When
Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 7:00 PM

Where
Barnes & Noble Bookseller
3311 Tittabawassee Rd.
Saginaw , MI 48603
phone 989.790.9214

Who should come
Join us if you love poetry or are curious as to what poetry is all about. Join us if you'd like to talk to people whose hearts and minds are more open than closed. Join us if you can agree or disagree with someone's opinion respectfully. Bring a book if you can. It’s OK if it’s from your library.

Why
Find out what poems sound like out loud. Listen in on the group and then find a place where you can jump in and read something yourself. Great fun for the whole family. If you have specialized knowledge regarding our poet, do not hesitate to regale us with your story. Don't expect to leave our event with a definitive understanding of the poet or the poems but please do seek to experience and communicate the joys of poetry with others. Join in our informal discussion of poems we know and love and poems we are only just discovering. Better readers make better writers. Visit with our group where everyone's poetry is valued if not appreciated. If you have a smile to share be sure to bring it; otherwise be prepared to leave with one on your face and in your heart. If you're too far away to join us, create your own Birthdays of Poets Reader’s Workshop. Speak up now and forever share your peace. Tell (bring!) a friend.

How to find the organizer(s)
We are in the Poetry section, near the window that affords a view of Tittabawassee Road. The staff at Barnes & Noble will put up a sign that says 'This space reserved for The River Junction Poets at 7 p.m.' We'll be getting a few folding chairs to add around the coffee table there.

Details
Wilfred Owen (March 18, 1893 to November 4, 1918) After failing to gain entrance into the University of London, Owen spent a year as a lay assistant to Reverend Herbert Wigan in 1911 and went on to teach in France at the Berlitz School of English. By 1915, he became increasingly interested in World War I and enlisted in the Artists' Rifles group. After training in England, Owen was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

He was wounded in combat in 1917 and evacuated to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh after being diagnosed with shell shock. There he met another patient, poet Siegfried Sassoon, who served as a mentor and introduced him to well-known literary figures such as Robert Graves and H. G. Wells.

It was at this time Owen wrote many of his most important poems, including "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and "Dulce et Decorum Est". His poetry often graphically illustrated both the horrors of warfare, the physical landscapes which surrounded him, and the human body in relation to those landscapes. His verses stand in stark contrast to the patriotic poems of war written by earlier poets of Great Britain, such as Rupert Brooke.
Excerpted from
http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/305 accessed 3/16/08.

Soldier’s Dream

I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears;
And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts;
And buckled with a smile Mausers and Colts;
And rusted bayonets with His tears.

And there were no more bombs, of ours or Theirs,
Not even an old flint-lock, nor even a pikel.
But God was vexed, and gave all power to Michael;
And when I woke he'd seen to our repairs.
From http://users.fulladsl.be/spb1667/cultural/owen/soldier-s-dream.html accessed 3/16/08.

Expect more at the Birthdays of Poets Blog.
Go now.

All best and see you Wednesday,
Andrew Christ

Legal stuff
Your e-mail address will not be sold or used by me for any purpose other than to promote these special events and the
Birthdays of Poets Blog. If you prefer to not receive these messages, reply to this e-mail address (riverjunctionpoets at gmail dot com) and include the word ‘unsubscribe’ in the text of your message.

Parting Thoughts
Research indicates that better readers make better writers. Maybe this is why, in the Poet's Market, editors of literary magazines often recommend poets read more poetry. Are you not aware? You are a cultural event, and so is everyone else. Celebrate your humanity at Saginaw’s Birthdays of Poets Reader’s Workshop. May God continue to bless us mightily one and all. Be sure to thank a veteran for his/her service. Remember: only you can improve the audience for poetry. Please read, discuss and share responsibly. And vote.


-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Favorite Word


I can't decide between two words which is my favorite. Flammable and non-flammable. I like them because they're fun to say out loud. Also the way the vowels and consonants run together reminds me of a fire that can't decide if it's going to catch or not.




-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Good Poems



Recommended reading:

A heart-lifting new anthology to inspire the world-weary

When Garrison Keillor published Good Poems, he touched a chord in readers across America. The anthology of poems he selected for their “wit, their simplicity, their passion, and their utter clarity in the face of everything else a person has to deal with” inspired thousands to buy what was for many their first book of poetry.

Now, in Good Poems for Hard Times, Keillor has pondered over the archives of his beloved Writer’s Almanac radio show to select a batch of consoling, rousing, and truthful poems guaranteed to raise flagging spirits or to inspire those in need of a dose of wisdom or honesty. But these poems are not about suffering. They’re intended to reach us and stricken friends by holding out a picture of the grace of ordinary life. Above all, this eclectic anthology, including works from Raymond Carver, Emily Dickinson, Charles Simic, Billy Collins, Robert Frost, Kenneth Rexroth, and many more, fit Keillor’s definition of “good”: memorable, beautifully worded, and accessible. They’re not highbrow. They’re not stuffy. But when hard times send us skidding into the meridian, the poems collected here are what we need them to be: just plain good.
Excerpted from the publisher, http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,0_9780670034369,00.html#, accessed 3/15/08.
Our group has a story associated with Good Poems. One of the people who frequently joins our group bought this book as a way of getting reintroduced to poetry. He mentioned Lisel Mueller, and found her birthday. I had never heard of her before, so I was glad to find a new poet. When we met to read her poems in February 2008, we signed and sent a store flier indicating our event to her c/o the Poetry Center of Chicago. She wrote and sent a delightful Thank You card to the River Junction Poets c/o Andrew Christ. This was one of the more memorable events for me in the 2+ years of doing this.

-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Friday, March 14, 2008

Review Revue

Last May (i.e., May of 2007), Maureen brought her friend Rulaine to Saginaw for our Walt Whitman Birthday Party. It turns out that Rulaine is herself a writer. Among other things, she wrote an article for the Review Revue which was published last August. In the article, 'Light a Match Anywhere,' she describes, among other things, her experience as a participant in our Walt Whitman Birthday Party. The entire article is included here. Enjoy!

Review Revue
August 2007
Vol. 4, Issue 2, page 9

Light a Match Anywhere
by Rulaine Stokes

It’s Tuesday, May 15, 2007. I’m in the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Saginaw, Michigan to celebrate a birthday. No cake, no candles, just seven people clutching poetry books, sitting in a circle. In fact, we are 2 weeks too early – and 115 years too late – but nobody cares.

These are the River Junction Poets, and they meet twice a month to celebrate the birthday of a poet. If the poet is alive, they sign their names on a birthday card and send it off. The coordinator – usually Andy Christ, but tonight my friend Maureen Hart – presents a brief biography of the birthday poet, in this case, Walt Whitman. The rest of us take turns reading from Leaves of Grass and talking about Whitman’s ecstatic vision of humanity. The conversation is sublime.

I don’t know anybody here except Maureen, but these folks have welcomed me as a fellow poet, lover of poetry, and ambassador from the poetry tribe in my hometown, Lansing, 70 miles to the south. Both Saginaw and Lansing are far from the centers of power in the world of poetry. In fact, we are not even sure where those centers of power might be. But poetry is alive and well in our hands.

Lansing is a big, sleepy Midwestern town, accidentally chosen to be the State Capital back in 1847. If you called us “Sprawlsville, USA,” no one would take offense. After all, we are the home of the Lansing Lugnuts, the local minor league baseball team, and a giant silver lugnut gleams in the sky – stuck on top of an old brick smokestack – right in the center of town. Lack of pretension is one of our virtues.

Despite our lack of literary renown, the poetry scene in my hometown is vibrant and welcoming. Step back in time (to March ’07), wander over to the Unitarian Church, and sit in on an event called “Voices of Resistance: Poets Against War.” The performance is Open Mike, that most perilous and unpredictable of performance events, but – oh, wonder of wonders! – each poet and singer is focused, graceful, and brief. It’s a potluck for the soul. You hear from an Arab American law student, a Palestinian American professor, a Jewish American nursing aide, and a white hiphop artist. A young Turkish woman sings verses from the 13th century mystic, Jelaluddin Rumi. The evening flows so effortlessly that before you know it, the church choir has come down from the rehearsal room to sing the last song, a heartbreaking lyric about two brothers fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War.

There are no poets here droning on interminably in a voice unconnected to the meaning of the words on the page. No terrified poets. No “American Idol” performers ready for their moment of fame. Only poets with something profound to share and the courage to say it. This is the raw, grass roots power of poetry, and it is a power that exists wherever poetry is alive and infused with authentic experience.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must now admit that I was one of the organizers of the aforementioned event. I work with a group called the Old Town Poets, and the poetry constellations I am describing are the ones I see from my own backyard.

However, I have attended poetry events high and low, in many different venues – from prestigious performance halls to bars, from lecture halls to living rooms. I’ve attended the Def Poetry Jam, and I’ve twice trekked out to the Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey, the largest poetry festival in North America (Each time, I felt like I had arrived at the capital city of the great, long-lost kingdom of poets, had found my own people, my kind.). It is exciting to see the poetry renaissance that is taking place around the country.

Yet some of the best poetry events I have ever seen have taken place in my hometown. Sometimes a luminary (Galway Kinnell, Adrienne Rich) has come from afar. Sometimes it is one of the many fine poets who live and work here in Michigan. At other times, someone I have never seen before steps up to an open mike and spits out a poem that cracks open the sky and lets the glory of the universe stream down.

Last summer, when word reached us that poet Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. had unexpectedly died of a stroke, the NuPoet Collective (mostly African American) and the Old Town Poets (mostly white) joined the Hispanic arts community in a magnificent performance event to celebrate Trinidad’s life and to raise funds for his widow, Regina Chavez y Sanchez. If you had been there, you would have felt impressed by the power of the spoken word to bring people together. Poetry steps in when ordinary speech fails, when we need to give voice to the great mystery that envelops us.

In her essay, “Poetry and Danger: Works of a Common Woman,” poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe. It is as if forces we can lay claim to in no other way, become present to us in sensuous form. The knowledge and use of this magic goes back very far: the rune; the chant; the incantation; the spell; the kenning; sacred words; forbidden words; the naming of the child, the plant, the insect, the ocean, the configuration of stars, the snow, the sensation in the body. The ritual telling of the dream. The physical reality of the human voice; of words gouged or incised in stone or wood, woven in silk or wool, painted on vellum, or traced in sand.” (On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, W.W. Norton & Co., 1979, p. 248).

If you think about it, the sources of power in poetry are not found only in New York, academia, or the high profile poetry slams taking place around the country. There is something essentially democratic (oh yes, Walt Whitman, I hear you!) in the art of poetry, as there is in language itself. Poetry is like fire. You can light a match anywhere.





-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Poetry Out Loud

Last Saturday (the 8th of March, 2008), I drove to Lansing so I could see the finalists compete in Michigan's Poetry Out Loud contest. I saw fifteen students that day at the Library of Michigan compete for the chance to advance to the national competition that is to be held in Washington, D.C. Teachers and parents were there, and the room had theater-style seats - I'd say there were 200 of them - and a stage. Poet Aurora Harris was there to demonstrate the performance and the recitation of a poem. She performed a poem with great emotional expression, and then recited the same poem without the emotional gravity. The winner of the contest, Charles White, is a student at Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids. His teacher's name is Sarah Scobell. He won $200 in addition to the expenses for his trip to the national competition in D.C. The runner-up, Brian Weber, is a student at Dansville High School; his teacher's name is Pauline Lee. He won $100.

#####
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – March 8, 2008
Contact: Scott Hirko, Public Relations Officer,
shirko@mihumanities.org, 517-372-0029 ext. 25
Charles White Of Forest Hills Central High School (Grand Rapids) Wins Poetry Out Loud State Championship
Charles White to receive $200 and a trip to national finals in Washington, D.C.; Brian Weber of Dansville H.S. takes 2nd place & $100.


(LANSING)-----Charles White of Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids won the 2008 Poetry Out Loud state championship hosted today in Lansing by the Michigan Humanities Council. White bested 13 other contestants from across Michigan to win the title. He will receive a $200 cash award and an all-expenses paid trip to the national finals in Washington D.C. from April 28-29, 2008. Forest Hills Central High School will also receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. Brian Weber of Dansville High School was named the runner-up in the competition. He will receive $100, along with $200 for the Dansville High School library. The competition was held at the Michigan Historical Center in Lansing.


Each student recited two poems; the top four students competed in a final, championship round. The students competing in the championship round recited a third poem. Each student's performance was judged on six categories: Physical Presence; Voice and Articulation; Appropriateness of Dramatization; Level of Difficulty; Evidence of Understanding; and, Overall Performance. Judges for the competition were: Sheri Jones, WLNS TV-6 news anchor; Chris McElroy, director of production for Michigan Television; and, playwright Sandra Seaton.

The three poems Charles White recited were:
Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes
Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes, by Thomas Gray
My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning

The students competing on Saturday were:

MID- MICHIGAN
Dansville High School. Student: Brian Weber. Teacher: Pauline Lee (
leepauli@msu.edu, 517-623-6120 ext. 234).
Holt High School. Student: Korrey Hurni. Teacher: Margaret Charette (
mcharette@hpsk12.net, 517-699-6430).
Ionia High School. Student: Kendra Moon. Teacher: Jack Powell (
jlpowell@ionia.k12.mi.us, 616-527-0600 ext. 244).
Owosso Christian School. Student: Kayleena Heslip. Teacher: Betty Melrose (
bbmelrose@verizon.net, 989-723-4510).

SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN
Milan High School. Student: Megan Cary. Teacher: Erin Jones (
growley@milan.k12.mi.us, 734-439-5000).
North Branch High School. Student: Kyle Mathei. Teacher: Cindy Stevens (
cstevens@nbbroncos.net, 810-688-3001 ext. 2153).
Osborn High School (Detroit). Student: Angel Lipscomb. Teacher: Monique Guest-Schuh (
momskorner@aol.com, 313-866-0343).
Southeastern High School (Detroit). Student: Deaira Littles. Teacher: Angela Mahone (
amahone2@aol.com, 313-866-4500 ext. 4792).

NORTHERN MICHIGAN
Alba Public School. Student: Molly Hensley. Teacher: Judith Zimpfer (
zimpferj@gmail.com, 231-584-2000 ext. 125).
Leelanau School (Glen Arbor). Student: Kathryn “Kate” Elizabeth Little. Teacher: Norman Wheeler (
nwheeler@leelanau.org, 231-334-5890).
Mackinac Island High School. Student: Arial Leeper. Teacher: Lance Greenlee (
lgreenlee@eup.k12.mi.us, 906-847-3377).
Houghton High School. Student: Kate Griffith. Teacher: Julie Antilla (
paldrich@houghton.k12.mi.us, 906-482-0450 ext. 1850).

WEST MICHIGAN
Buchanan High School. Student: Emily Elizabeth Chance. Teacher: Sharon Bitterman (
sbitterm@remc11.k12.mi.us, 269-965-8403).
Forest Hills Central High School (Grand Rapids). Student: Charles White. Teacher: Sarah Scobell (
sscobell@fhps.us, 616-493-8700).

The Poetry Out Loud program, a Michigan Humanities Council partnership program with the National Endowment for the Arts, The Poetry Foundation, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the Library of Michigan, encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance, and competition.

Since November, Language Arts/English teachers spent at least two or three weeks of class time to prepare students for each school competition. Each school champion advanced to the state competition held earlier today. Poetry Out Loud builds on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form as seen in the slam poetry movement and the immense popularity of rap music among youth. Through this program, students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

White will compete at the National Finals, to be held on April 28-29, 2008, in Washington, D.C. Scholarships and school stipends totaling $50,000 will be awarded at the National Finals, with a $20,000 college scholarship for the Poetry Out Loud national champion.

Previous Michigan Poetry Out Loud winners were Sarah Harris of Holt High School in 2007, and Travis Walter from Holt High School in 2006.

The Michigan Humanities Council, founded in 1974, is the state’s independent, non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For additional information on the Michigan Humanities Council, please visit: www.michiganhumanities.org or call 517-372-7770.

FACTS AND FIGURES FROM 2006-2007 MICHIGAN’S POETRY OUT LOUD
• 400 students in Michigan participated and returned evaluations
• 13 teachers participated and returned evaluations
• Teachers provided 180 hours of their time in addition to 139 hours of classroom time
• Over $100,000 in prizes were awarded to students and schools at state and national levels
Students who returned evaluations reported the following about Poetry Out Loud:
• 94% saw connections between poetry and everyday culture
• 84% understood that poetry can be a powerful tool for expression
• 67% developed their own individual interpretation of poems
• 66% could understand and explain different poetic elements
• 60% understood that poems meet different purposes and were led to explore challenging and unfamiliar poems
• 51% were more confident in their public speaking from reciting poetry
#####
Scott Hirko Public Relations Officer Michigan Humanities Council 119 Pere Marquette Drive, Suite 3B Lansing, MI 48912-1270 517-372-0029 ext. 25
http://michiganhumanities.org





-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Google Group and a Blast

Taras Shevchenko was born on this day in 1814. What are you doing to celebrate?

My e-mail blast grows and grows. I'm finding that an e-mail to 300 addresses brings out the permanent failure message to my e-mail inbox after I send the invitation to our next event. Typically these messages come from aol, Hotmail and comcast. They have sensitive spam filters. Sometimes adding riverjunctionpoets at gmail dot com to the address book is not enough to prevent my e-mail blast from being filtered out into the spam folder. Today I removed 47 e-mail addresses from my e-mail blast list in order to avoid the permanent failure influx next time. Thus, there seems to be a need for a subscription-facilitated e-mail blast. Subscribe today (see subscribe box to your left) to the Google Group so you will continue to receive the notices.

Notice: The Google Group has been dismantled and is no more. To receive in your e-mail inbox notification of our upcoming Poets Birthday Readings, type your name and e-mail address into the "Get the Blast!" feature to the right near the top of your screen.

Moreover, the Group makes participation possible for all members. A member of the group can manage which group members are able to send e-mail to them. Imagine the possibilities. Neither Google nor I use the e-mail addresses for profit or anything else.




-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement




Taras Shevchenko e-mail blast:

What
A poetical celebration of Taras Shevchenko’s birth, life and poetry.

When
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 7:00 PM

Where
Barnes & Noble Bookseller
3311 Tittabawassee Rd.
Saginaw , MI 48603
phone 989.790.9214

Who should come
Join us if you love poetry or are curious as to what poetry is all about. Join us if you'd like to talk to people whose hearts and minds are more open than closed. Join us if you can agree or disagree with someone's opinion respectfully. Bring a book if you can. It’s OK if it’s from your library.

Why
Find out what poems sound like out loud. Listen in on the group and then find a place where you can jump in and read something yourself. Great fun for the whole family. If you have specialized knowledge regarding our poet, do not hesitate to regale us with your story. Don't expect to leave our event with a definitive understanding of the poet or the poems but please do seek to experience and communicate the joys of poetry with others. Join in our informal discussion of poems we know and love and poems we are only just discovering. Better readers make better writers. Visit with our group where everyone's poetry is valued if not appreciated. If you have a smile to share be sure to bring it; otherwise be prepared to leave with one on your face and in your heart. If you're too far away to join us, create your own Birthdays of Poets Reader’s Workshop. Speak up now and forever share your peace. Tell (bring!) a friend.

How to find the organizer(s)
We are in the Poetry section, near the window that affords a view of Tittabawassee Road. The staff at Barnes & Noble will put up a sign that says 'This space reserved for The River Junction Poets at 7 p.m.' We'll be getting a few folding chairs to add around the coffee table there.

Details
Taras Hryhorovich Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet, artist and thinker, was born on March 9, 1814, in the village of Moryntsi in central Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. His parents, H. Shevchenko and K. Shevchenko, were serfs on the land of V. Engelhardt….

Noted writers and artists bought Shevchenko out of serfdom. The 2,500 rubles required were raised through a lottery in which the prize was a portrait of the poet, Zhukovsky, painted by Karl Bryullov. The release from serfdom was signed on April 22, 1838. A committee of the Association for the Encouragement of Artists had examined drawings by Shevchenko and approved them. In 1838, Shevchenko was accepted into the Academy of Arts as an external student, practicing in the workshop of K. Bryullov.

In January, 1839, Shevchenko was accepted as a resident student at the Association for the Encouragement of Artists, and at the annual examinations at the Academy of Arts, Shevchenko was given the Silver Medal for a landscape. In 1840 he was again given the Silver Medal, this time for his first oil painting, The Beggar Boy Giving Bread to a Dog.

In the library of Yevhen Hrebinka, he became familiar with anthologies of Ukrainian folklore and the works of I. Kotlyarevsky, H. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko, and the romantic poets, as well as many Russian, East European and world writers.

Shevchenko began to write poetry even before he was freed from serfdom. In 1840, the world first saw the Kobzar, Shevchenko's first collection of poetry. Later Ivan Franko wrote that this book, "immediately revealed, as it were, a new world of poetry. It burst forth like a spring of clear, cold water, and sparkled with a clarity, breadth and elegance of artistic expression not previously known in Ukrainian writing."…
Excerpted from
http://www.infoukes.com/shevchenkomuseum/bio.htm accessed 3/9/08.

A Reflection

The river empties to the sea,
But out it never flows;
The Cossack lad his fortune seeks,
But never fortune knows.

The Cossack lad has left his home,
He's left his kith and kind;
The blue sea's waters splash and foam,
Sad thoughts disturb his mind:

"Why, heedless, did you go away?

For what did you forsake
Your father old, your mother grey,
Your sweetheart, to their fate?

In foreign lands live foreign folks,
Their ways are not your way:
There will be none to share your woes
Or pass the time of day."

Across the sea, the Cossack rests --

The choppy sea's distraught.
He thought with fortune to be blessed --
Misfortune is his lot.

In vee-formation, 'cross the waves
The cranes are off for home.
The Cossack weeps -- his beaten paths
With weeds are overgrown...

Taras Shevchenko
St. Petersburg, 1838.
Translated by John Weir, Toronto
From
http://www.infoukes.com/shevchenkomuseum/poetry.htm accessed 3/9/08.

Expect more at the Birthdays of Poets Blog. Go now.

All best and see you Wednesday,
Andrew Christ

Legal stuff
Your e-mail address will not be sold or used by me for any purpose other than to promote these special events and the
Birthdays of Poets Blog. Comments are encouraged, perchance anonymously, at the blog. If you prefer to not receive these messages, reply to this e-mail address (riverjunctionpoets at gmail dot com) and include the word ‘unsubscribe’ in the text of your message.

Parting Thoughts
Research indicates that better readers make better writers. Maybe this is why, in the Poet's Market, editors of literary magazines often recommend poets read more poetry. Are you not aware? You are a cultural event, and so is everyone else. Celebrate your humanity at Saginaw’s Birthdays of Poets Reader’s Workshop. May God continue to bless us mightily one and all. Be sure to thank a veteran for his/her service. Remember: only you can improve the audience for poetry. Please read, discuss and share responsibly. And vote.


-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Happy Birthday Lisel Mueller

Lisel Mueller is passionate about poetry at age 84. Yes, it's true. And I have the evidence to prove it. Yesterday in the mail I received a card from Ms. Mueller. She responded to the birthday card we sent to her shortly after our event honoring her birth, life and poetry. She wasn't at our event, of course - actually she wasn't even invited - because the event took place at the Barnes & Noble bookseller on Tittabawassee Road in Saginaw, Michigan, and she lives in Chicago. We started shortly after 7 p.m. That was the night Dave attended with his wife Wilma for the first time. They are both retired English teachers. Maureen was also there. She is heading back to California for a couple months now to make some dough ray her.

Anyway, about the card. It's magnificent. I so want to find a scanner so I can upload an image of it here. The card is about 3 inches square and opens up and is blank inside except for Ms. Mueller's handwriting. She writes:

3/5/08 Dear River Junction Poets,

I was delighted and honored by your beautiful card with your generous words about my poems. I am so glad that you enjoyed them and that in our present world of internetprose there are still readers of poetry. I am truly grateful, and I hope that, with readers like you, poetry will continue to "live"!

Best wishes to all of you,

[signed] Lisel Mueller

Yes! I want to have this card bronzed. I want to erect a statue. You can send a card to her as well. The birthday card we sent was addressed to her at The Poetry Center of Chicago as follows:

Ms. Lisel Mueller
c/o The Poetry Center of Chicago
37 S. Wabash Avenue
Chicago, IL 60603

Her birthday is today, March 8. How are you celebrating?







-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Poet's Companion

Recommended reading:

From Kim Addonizio's website:

Kim Addonozio and Dorianne Laux
The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry

Thoughtful, generous, and accurate to both deeper truths and the craftwork it takes to hold them, The Poet's Companion is a superb guide for the working poet. —Jane Hirshfield

This feels like the book we've been waiting for: rigorous, generous, in love with the art of poetry, aware of the inner architecture of poems-and maybe it couldn't have been written by anyone but Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, two passionate poets. —Marie Howe

Poets Addonizio and Laux warn against cliche, and although textbooks on writing come a dime a dozen these days, theirs is head and shoulders above the rest. There are three main sections: "Subjects for Writing" (e.g. death, the erotic), "The Poet's Craft" (metaphor, rhyme), and "The Writing Life" (self-doubt, writer's block); four separate appendixes list other writing texts, anthologies, marketing tips, and electronic resources. The many exercises offered emerge largely from the intensive one-day workshops conducted by Addonizio and Laux. Both knowledgeable and practical in their approach, the authors offer everything a poet needs, including one feature more necessary than ever in the postliterate age yet absent from other writing texts: a gentle yet insistent lesson on grammar. Highly recommended for all libraries. —David Kirby, Library Journal
Quotes from http://www.kimaddonizio.com/ accessed 3/7/08.

From the publisher:

Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
The Poet's Companion A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry


From the nuts and bolts of craft to the sources of inspiration, this book is for anyone who wants to write poetry-and do it well. In this fortuitous collaboration, two spirited poets, themselves teachers of poetry, offer guidance to aspiring beginners and those who have already published. Brief essays on the elements of poetry, technique, and suggested subjects for writing are each followed by distinctive writing exercises. ("Compare an actual family photograph with one that was never taken, but might have been.") The ups and downs of the writing life—including the inevitable visitations of self-doubt and writer's block—are here, along with tips about getting published. A special section contains twenty-minute writing exercises, and valuable appendixes cover further reading and marketing advice. On your own, this book can be your "teacher," while groups, in or out of the classroom, can profit from sharing weekly assignments. Numerous examples of contemporary poetry, chosen for relevance and freshness, illustrate salient points and stimulate the imagination. By calling on their own experience and focusing on living American writers for their models, the authors introduce you to poetry as it is right now.

Kim Addonizio lives in San Francisco; Dorianne Laux lives in Eugene, Oregon. Her first collection, The Philosopher's Club, was selected by Dana Gioia as one of the ten best books of 1994 for the Washington Post. Dorianne Laux's What We Carry (1994) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Both poets are the recipients of NEA grants.

1997 / paperback original / ISBN 0-393-31654-8 / 6" x 8" / 224 pages / Reference/Writing, Poetry
Description taken from http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/fall97/poetcomp.htm accessed 3/7/08.

Phyllis, who joined our group the other day to read poems by Richard Wilbur, has used this book with her students at Saginaw Valley State University. She told me so herself when she gave a copy of the book to me as a gift. Yes! The enthusiasm Addonizio and Laux have for the craft of poetry is contagious in the pages of this book. Catch that enthusiasm and the world will never be the same again. You have my word on it.




-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Richard Wilbur

Tonight we had four people at our event at the Barnes & Noble bookseller on Tittabawassee Road in Saginaw, Michigan. Phyllis and her husband Bob were there, as was Tim and myself. We read several poems by Richard Wilbur. Phyllis and Bob brought six anthologies with them. At one point or another, Phyllis has taught from each of these anthologies at Saginaw Valley State University. We found several anthologies for sale that include poems by Richard Wilbur.

I noticed in Harold Bloom's anthology The Best Poems of the English Language, there are no Richard Wilbur poems. But in Wilbur's Collected Poems 1943 - 2004, Bloom is quoted in a blurb: "It is a consolation to read through sixty years of Richard Wilbur's poetry. He should be read in the company of . . . Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens." Interesting!

The general consensus among the four of us tonight was that the group was too small to have a group picture. We signed a birthday card to send to Richard Wilbur. I looked at the website
http://www.poets.org/ to see if I could find his mailing address. There I learned that Mr. Wilbur lives in Cummington, MA. I Googled Cummington, MA and found the website http://www.cummington-ma.gov/ which has Cummington's White Pages, among other things. He and his wife Charlee are listed there. I'll put our card to him in the mail tomorrow morning on my way to work. With the card we included the Barnes & Noble store flier which has in it an announcement for our Richard Wilbur event at the store.

Life is beautiful and so can you!

-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Art of Reading Poetry

Recommended reading:

The Art of Reading Poetry
By

Price: $9.95
On Sale: 3/1/2005
Formats: Trade PB
Hardcover Trade PB

From the publisher: A notable feature of Harold Bloom's poetry anthology The Best Poems English Language is his lengthy introductory essay, here reprinted as a separate book. For the first time Bloom gives his readers an elegant guide to reading poetry––a master critic's distillation of a lifetime of teaching and criticism. He tackles such subjects as poetic voice, the nature of metaphor and allusion, and the nature of poetic value itself. Bloom writes "the work of great poetry is to aid us to become free artists of ourselves." Includes a recommended reading list of poems.


Hear Harold Bloom reading closely "Parts of a World" by Wallace Stevens. Bloom's lecture was recorded at Yale and is available via podcast. Go now.

An article from the September 25, 1994 issue of The New York Times serves nicely as an introduction to Harold Bloom and his work as a literary critic.
Go now.

If you're wondering "Who is Harold Bloom and why is this blog all about him?" please take a moment and enjoy reading the Wikipedia entry regarding Harold Bloom. Go now. The world will never be the same again.





"What is over my left shoulder? Can anyone tell me?"

Harold Bloom




-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued." River Junction Poets Mission Statement