Friday, April 29, 2011

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Hillary Dorwart on VIDA

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, I hope you’ve enjoyed our guest posts as much as I have. Thank you so much to everyone who has participated and shared their wisdom. Three cheers to poetry!

Thank you to my friend and poet Hillary Dorwart for this month’s final post. Hillary is currently in her last semester at Bennington College where she is working towards an MFA in Creative Writing.

Dear readers: I wanted to use Chloe’s blog as a platform to raise more awareness for an organization I use as a resource for learning about the issues of women in writing – VIDA. The site poses this predicament: many women are writing, so why is the gender not better represented?

It is easy in the Internet age to hastily post something online that is not well thought out or respectful – which hurts the integrity of the statement and opinion of the person who posts. VIDA has done a very good job of positing thoughtful discussions, interviews and panels about gender imbalance in all aspects of a writing ecosystem: publishing, marketing, reviewing, awarding, etc.

Recently, they audited fourteen journals and counted: 1. The amount of women who were published vs. men 2. Counted how many women were reviewed vs. men and 3. Counted how many of the reviewers were women vs. men. You can view the pie charts they created for each finding from each publication. It’s helpful to have these kind of solid facts to guide a dialogue and give validity to the presupposed idea that women are published less in journals.

Reading the responses on Vida’s Facebook page and homepage, some women and men were surprised by just how large the disparity was and others were not surprised at all. How surprised are you? Why do you think the numbers are mapped out this way?

I think both genders should question why the numbers read so bleakly for women writers. Do women submit as much? Do journals reach out to more men than women? What decisions do women and men make that contribute to this gender inequity? It's important to ask these kinds of questions.

Visit Vidaweb or their Facebook page and join the conversation and keep up with the current news of women writing. You can gain a lot of wisdom from the life and career experiences of others to help inform how you make decisions in your own writing sphere. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

National Poetry Month: Winner Announced!

Drum roll, please...

Congratulations to Alison for winning Borrowed Dust by Joey Nicoletti! Alison: to have your free copy sent to you, please email me your mailing address: chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thank you to everyone who entered. I encourage you to pick up a copy of your own and read it today. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

National Poetry Month: Alissa Heyman on Curating a Poetry Reading Series

Thank you to fellow Sarah Lawrence College MFA alum Alissa Heyman for today’s lovely post. I was happy to read last month in Perfect Sense, the reading series that she co-curates with Hila Ratzabi at Cornelia Street Café. If you are in the area, don’t miss tonight’s two year anniversary reading. Be sure to say hello to Alissa and Hila, pictured above.

Alissa Heyman is a freelance writer and editor living in New York City. She selected, annotated, and edited The Best Poems of the English Language (Mud Puddle Books), a comprehensive collection of essential English language poetry. Her poems have appeared in Lyric, Quarto, and the St. Petersburg Review. She co-curates the poetry reading series, Perfect Sense, at the Cornelia Street Café.

Poetry: That Bad Victorian Child

Poetry is the bad child who is seen and heard. Not only is poetry meant to be viewed on the page, but even more so than prose, it demands to be listened to. Poetry might be written in silence and solitude, but the art of sharing poetry is a noisy business. Having co-curated Perfect Sense, a poetry reading series for established and emerging poets at Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, NYC for two years, and before that, having co-curated the MFA poetry series there for three years, I can attest to the fact that poetry is destined be the bad Victorian child. It is clear from audiences’ reactions during and after readings that poetry is a communal pursuit both vital and necessary to society.  Poetry demands a vocal outlet.

A poetry reading is not like a stadium rock concert or a Broadway show; it gains power from its intimacy. Listening to a poet in a small, crowded room is the perfect venue to receive poetry’s mandate (given by Emily Dickinson): it must take your head off. It’s no secret to poets that the medium is a palpable, visceral force and there’s no better place than a poetry reading to reveal language’s ability to jolt, jar, nudge, elbow, and transform. No two poetry readings are ever alike just as no two poet’s voices are ever alike.

The physicality of a poet on stage lends itself to the physicality of poetry, an art form that is probably most closely akin to song. Going to a poetry reading is similar to going to a small, intimate concert. The poet-musician is speaking directly to the audience, and the audience through applause, through nods of the head, murmurs, and shout-outs, speaks back to the poet-performer. Wikipedia defines poetry reading as “a performance of poetry, normally given on a small stage in a café or bookstore....” True. But the article goes on to state the near-demise of the poetry reading: “Though a form of entertainment until around the turn of the previous century, especially in the United States, readings have diminished in popularity over the course of the twentieth century. They have become . . . more identified with a literary fringe.” False. The editors of Wikipedia need to do a little more research. The poetry reading scene is vibrant, with new series starting up every few weeks, and poetry writers, readers, and lovers showing their commitment to poetry readings on a daily (or nightly) basis. The poetry reading will continue to defy that old Victorian rule of manner, that children should be seen and not heard: poetry thrives on living out-loud.

Monday, April 25, 2011

National Poetry Month: Poet Joey Nicoletti’s New Book & Poetry Giveaway

Sitting in Thom Lux’s MFA poetry workshop at Sarah Lawrence College some years ago, Joey Nicoletti would offer generous feedback about our poems and share lovely ones himself.  His insightful new collection, Borrowed Dust, reminded me of how much I enjoyed those early poems.

When I read poems and actually nod in response to the truth within, I start to wish that I had written them. This is what happened when I read, and re-read, the narrative poems in Borrowed Dust. Starting with "Why I Don’t Speak Italian", Joey brings the reader into not only the Italian-American experience, but also the immigrant experience. He gives animates family members and invites the reader to join them. The last two stanzas read:

It’s a chorus of sobs, the kind you hear
between the words of a eulogy
crackling from a podium microphone.

My people came from Italy,
bringing only what they could carry,
their clothes and baggage
drenched in sea-salt and those sounds.

Earlier, the poem offers voice to family members and community members. With these voices, the sobs, and the less defined words beneath, the reader is in Joey’s world. It is exactly the recently lost generation of my own family. I nod as I read.
My favorite poem is the short poem, “The Cremation of Saturn.” Saturn and a cremation make appearances, but there is a twist. The poet draws surprising connections and offers readers new insight into our communal world. I nod not because I’ve had the experience myself, but because it feels as though I have after reading such confident writing. 

I know that you’ll want to read “The Cremation of Saturn” and the entirety of Borrowed Dust. In honor of this last week of Poetry Month, you can win a copy of his book.

To enter is simple:
Leave a comment below by noon, EST, Thursday, April 28th. You will be entered into a drawing to win the book. The winner will be randomly chosen and announced the evening of Thursday, April 28th.  

Joe Nicoletti teaches writing at Niagra University. I encourage you to visit his website to learn more. You can find him reading on April 29th at Niagara University. Look for his next book, Cannoli Gangster, from Turning Point Books, in August of 2012.

Friday, April 22, 2011

National Poetry Month Guest Blogger: Rachel Simon on Poems in NBA Playoff Season

Thank you to Rachel M. Simon, fellow Sarah Lawrence College MFA alum, and friend, for today’s thoughts and poem.

Rachel M. Simon is the author of the full-length poetry collection Theory of Orange and the chapbook Marginal Road.  She teaches writing, gender studies, and film courses as an adjunct at SUNY Purchase College, Pace University, and Bedford Hills Maximum Security Correctional Facility. 

Poems in NBA Playoff Season

This January at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival I got a great (and somewhat vague) writing prompt that I think might be useful to others.

First, the prompt:

Then she gave us permission to abandon the narrative and write a poem that pays attention to sound.  It was encouragement to play with sound.  I love the Taggart poem’s musicality.  My first impulse was to borrow heavily from him and start with music.  I wrote a few attempts that started with Elvis Costello.  They were terrible.

My current project is a collection of sports poems and I’ve been hitting a wall trying to write about the rape accusations against Kobe Bryant and Ben Rothlisberger.  I went back to the source text of the Kobe Bryant police interview and started there.  I needed this Taggart prompt to get beyond the judgmental tone that I kept coming back to as a feminist poet writing about Kobe and Rothlisberger.  Below you’ll find a draft of my poem that came from the prompt. 

summer 2003

Accused and unsanitzed 19-year-old Colorado woman
claimed consensual claimed and scrubbed obtained
first denied encounter (inaudible) claimed consensual 19-year-old
Colorado, Vail over Colorado. Did you ever make the allegation
that you like Vail Colorado when you were having sex with her?
Everything an (inaudible) allegation to Detective Winter
who must also like Vail Colorado, to detect there.
Did you ask her, did you ask, did you
if you could cum in her face? Face, to turn towards.
Ask her, ask, first denied encounter (inaudible), denied.
Yes.  That’s when she said no.  That’s when she said no. 
That’s when she said no. Accused consensual
claimed and scrubbed.  Did anything escalate at that point?
Hotel escalator tour. 19-year-old. Foreplay type issues,
you know I mean grabbing? Issued in Vail Colorado.
(inaudible) Let’s talk about that in your room Kobe.
Yeah.  Denied detective Winters (inaudible)
I’m not (inaudible) if I knew (inaudible) knee (inaudible)
have an appointment.  Oh no. (Whispering).
Knee procedure denied encounter
consensual knee procedure (inaudible). 19-year-
old.  Like Vail Colorado. Don’t want it to get to the media.
Blood Scrubbed.  I still have the boxers, (inaudible) 
boxers, they’re all white, they’re all white, there’s nothing.
Grabbing bleeding asked ask, did you? Claimed consent.
She had a lot of bleeding. From her vaginal area.
(inaudible)  Room encounter escalate.  Bent
herself over...19-year-old Colorado woman
consensual knee procedure bleeding.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

National Poetry Month Guest Blogger: Abe Louise Young on Writing to Louise

Thank you to author Abe Louise Young for today’s beautiful guest blog about writing letters to her grandmother. Abe is a poet, journalist, and teacher, born in New Orleans, Louisiana and now based in Austin, Texas. She travels nationally to write, teach, and create community writing circles for social change. Her special interests are in human rights, the lives of youth, environmental justice and artistic innovation.

Writing to Louise

My family wheeled waterlogged records, books and papers out to the curb with a red wheelbarrow. They were not glazed with rainwater. They were covered in black sludge from the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

According to Mom, it took three days to empty the attic, fifteen trips. Another week to clean out Grandmother’s apartment, and two more weeks to empty out the wet paper from Floorcrafters, our family business on Canal and Carrollton.

Imagine a whole city losing its paper memory-- photo albums, birth, death, and criminal records, letters and newspaper clippings in one day, and the fragility of paper comes clear. Can we rescue orality, grasp our stories aloud? Can we carve poems into stone? William Stafford writes--"the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe— / should be clear: the darkness around us is deep."

For at least twenty years, I’d been writing monthly letters and postcards with my grandmother Louise, who was born in 1906. An atheist in a family of born-again Christians and Jewish converts, she read The Nation religiously. She helped to start the first Teacher’s Union in New Orleans, and taught math at a segregated Black high school while raising six children. My grandfather worked as a timekeeper on the railroad, and later, at Swift Meat Company, and was not often home.

Sensing a literary compulsion in her sixteenth grandchild, Louise bought me a Brother word processor in 1989, for my graduation from junior high. That gigantic clacking, humming box spurred on every thrill of ambition in me. Louise believed that I'd be a writer. She saved every scrap I sent with a postage stamp on it—my mother says she planned to give them all back to me one day. Inheritance and herstory.

Our written letters floated in details of weather and meals. The tone was formal, antiquated. Content was irrelevant--it was the action that mattered, the consistency of our attachment. I knew, with complete certainty, that she would write me back.

“Remember me to Myava,” she signed and then, “Remember me to Samara,” and a few years later, “Remember me to Judith.” This was the first, and only, recognition of my female lovers by a family member.

Those boxes of letters I wrote to Louise, and all the memories she was saving for me in her closet, were submerged in floodwater. They wore a month’s mold fused into a solid pulp of fiber. She'd evacuated to an aunt's house in Atlanta, where she broke her ninety-six year old hip. Within a year, she was unable to speak or walk, and her hospice care started.

A photo of Louise at age twenty hangs above my desk. In a blue crepe dress, with a brunette bob, she's serious and still. A faint Mona Lisa expression flirts around her lips. She's about to marry a man twenty-five years her elder, leaving behind seven younger brothers and sisters in Arkansas.

I'm writing to her still. Sometimes I hear her unfolding my poems, scratching on them with her pencil, licking a stamp, completing our circle.

Monday, April 18, 2011

National Poetry Month Guest Blogger: High School English Teacher Rene Ohana on Poetry in the High School Classroom

Thank you to Rene Ohana, a high school English teacher in Santa Cruz, Ca., for today’s post.

I met Rene my first year at Smith College in the nineties.  She was a lovely and kind person then and, while we mainly “see” each other on Facebook instead of in-person, this post makes it clear that she must be the same kind of teacher as she was friend. 

I think you’ll enjoy reading how she integrates poetry reading and creative writing into her very structured high school classroom.

Poetry in the High School Classroom

For better or worse, with the increasing emphasis on standardized testing, public education has been moving toward practical literacy, such as how to read and write a newspaper article, and away from things like poetry. Yet, there is no denying that students gravitate toward the emotional intensity of poetry, and so I find that poetry is an exceptional tool for teaching the same basic skills needed for reading a newspaper. In both cases, we ask ourselves the same questions: What is the topic? How does the author feel about the topic? Then from there we can discern the theme, which opens us up to deeper questions, such as how does the author express his or her message and why is it expressed in this way?

Of course, not all poetry is equally accessible to all students (or maybe it’s that I can’t make it all equally accessible). Over the years, I’ve discovered that certain poets seem to resonate more significantly with different age groups. For example, there is nothing like the irony of Billy Collins’ Flames to help a high school sophomore realize that there is poetry doesn’t just mean Shakespeare, which while beautiful, often leaves young readers feeling as if they need a translator. Similarly, juniors, connect with ee cummings’ irreverence as if it were their own. Through him they discover not only the connection between style and content, but also the ability of art to reflect concerns about the larger social and political world.

With poetry, I’ve found ways to help student writers believe in their own potential. Perhaps one of the most effective finals I ever gave was the year that my American Literature class, inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and discussions about the connection between place and voice, wrote poems about their hometown. It took weeks of work to push passed clichéd phrases and static language, but when we did, each student had created a depiction of home that reflected their unique relationship with the place they grew up.

Then, for the two hour finals period, my 35 very squirrely, never-sit-still-in-their-seats class, sat in a giant circle and read their poems out loud, offering critiques of each others’ work, and treating each other like serious writers. Perhaps it was interest in how each of them had captured the same place in such different ways, or perhaps it was respect for the work they had put into their poems, but it was a memorable moment for all of us; a moment when students who did not see themselves as serious writers, much less as serious students, saw themselves as just that. And as we moved into the next semester, we were able to capture that same seriousness in other, perhaps more “practical” writing.

Rene Ohana is a high school English teacher in Santa Cruz, Ca.

Friday, April 15, 2011

National Poetry Month Guest Blogger: Margaret Rozga on writing her new book, Though I Haven’t Been to Baghdad

Thank you to poet and professor Margaret Rozga for today’s guest post.

Her recent poems explore her thoughts about and reaction to her son’s military tours in Iraq and then Afghanistan. When I first heard her read some of these poems at the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature’s annual conference, hosted by Michigan State University, I immediately felt a mother’s deep fear and relief. I think you will quite enjoy the poems and insight that she shares below.

Margaret Rozga is a published poet and English professor at the University of Wisconsin, Waukesha. She blogs regularly and most recently about the current state of educators’ rights and funding in Wisconsin.

Guest Blog by Margaret Rozga

Chloe, you ask how I got started writing the poems about Matt’s tours of duty first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan.  The answer is long and convoluted. 

Tense with worry about him, I couldn’t write much of anything.  I kept a journal, but the journal entries barely hint at my fear for him.  Then a colleague, Alayne, happened to ask about the day he left.  I told her that he had walked out of our house, through the garage, into the sunlight on the driveway and into the vehicle waiting to take him to Fort McCoy.  As I watched him walk away, I wondered, “Is this the last time I’ll see him with legs?”

Alayne shuddered.  It may seem strange to you that until I saw her shudder, I didn’t realize the impact of what I said.  I had somehow isolated my words from their emotional content so that I could say them without realizing just what I was saying. 

I still wasn’t ready to write.  But at that point I knew I would use that phrase in a poem someday.  And I did.  I was able to write the poem after thinking much more about how I used language during these tense months, how I heard others use language at times of great emotional distress.  At such times, sentences get broken off before they are finished.  It’s as though we can’t help but speak of what is troubling us, but we can’t afford to speak too much of it.  We seem to be able to manage only thin, half slices.  I found the fragments could add up to a poem.  Here’s one:

The son

parks his pick-up
in the mother’s garage,
stays only long enough to

She turns
the pancakes, warms maple

He leaves his fishing rods
in the basement
tagged with names of friends
in case he doesn’t

When he walks through
the garage into the falling sun,
the mother wonders:
will she ever

Will he?

Then, you may also want to see the poem that emerged from my conversation with my colleague Alayne.  It doesn’t appear until later in what is now my book Though I Haven’ Been to Baghdad,  forthcoming from Benu Press.  It appears as a flashback in a poem about the day Matthew was wounded in a truck bomb attack in Mosul.  Here it is:

June 24, 2004

The son’s voice strange:
Ma. Ma?  Are you there?

A long pause as if he didn’t know
he’d reached the answering machine.
Oh, okay, then.  I’ll try calling later.

Next message:
This is Master Sgt. Bishop at the 88th
Regional Readiness Command.
Call me as soon as you get this message.

That evening:
This is Sgt. Scott in Mosul.
In the attack today…

When the son first left,
he walked through the mother’s house
through her garage out to his pickup
in the falling sun.

She watched him grow smaller, thought:
is this the last time
I’ll see him with legs?

As you can see by the date on the poem, it’s taken a long time, almost seven years to write this book.  The road from experience to poem is sometimes long and difficult.  But the urge to find words for these profound experiences is strong.  Actually I find it both compelling and essential.  I hope the poems do it justice.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

National Poetry Month: Poem in Your Pocket Day

Thanks to the Academy of American Poets for making today Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Poems are usually quite petite, so this day should carry inspiration without any trouble. Choose your favorite poem and print/copy it down so that you can read it throughout the day.

I will be carrying Jane Hirshfield’s poem A Blessing for Wedding. I met my husband five years ago (strangely enough, on April Fool’s Day.) We married each other in the center of a circle of our family and friends in 2010. The last lines of this poem remind me of that beautiful day and our love-life:

Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

What poem will you carry with you today? Here are some places to search for poems:

For more, scroll through some of the links on the ride side of this blog. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

National Poetry Month: Poetry Reading at the Folger Shakespeare Library & Writing Prompt

Coming from the New York City area, I never knew that Washington, D.C., had such an active literary scene. The Folger Shakespeare Library runs the OB Hardison Poetry Series, a regular series that draws popular poets from around the country.

The Folger Shakespeare Theater is a beautiful, wood-paneled, intimate space. When I walked in for a reading, the staff distributed copies of hand-written poems by each poet, which was a particularly lovely touch. Unlike most reading series that are free and hosted by universities (or the cost of a drink at a local café or bar), these readings cost $15.00, which is a reasonable cost for the talent who they invite. I look forward to attending future readings there.

I recently heard Mary Karr and Lyrae Van Clief-Stephanon at the Folger. After the reading, they answered questions from the audience moderated by Reb Livingston. If you are familiar with Karr or Clief-Stephanon, you already know that it was a spirited evening with a discussion that involved poetry, religion, suicide, favored (and less favored) contemporary poets and more.

Lyrae Van Clief-Stephanon read a few bop poems. I admit that I wasn’t previously familiar with the form. Here’s how the Academy of American Poets defines it

A recent invention, the Bop was created by Afaa Michael Weaver during a summer retreat of the African American poetry organization, Cave Canem. Not unlike the Shakespearean sonnet in trajectory, the Bop is a form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas, each stanza followed by a repeated line, or refrain, and each undertaking a different purpose in the overall argument of the poem.

Perhaps you’d like to try your hand at writing a bop this Poetry Month?

Monday, April 11, 2011

National Poetry Month Guest Blogger: Poet David Saitzeff Grossman on a Writing Community

Thank you to D.C.-area poet David Saitzeff Grossman for today’s guest blog. He earned his BA at University of Maryland, where Stanley Plumly taught him much, studied in England, where he attended a weekly Writers' Group that liked to drink and merry-make after eviscerating each others' work, and he earned his MA from Johns Hopkins, which has allowed him the opportunity to teach college English to enthusiastic students... at 8 am.  He has written about many things and considers writing about a few more, not including surviving the music industry and life as a marketing executive.  He has often been encouraged to publish and occasionally asks his drawer of wearied work if it is interested in being trotted out yet, but doesn't like to force the issue because, well, it feels rude.  He's also not sure what's next, but who is?

Building a Writing Community

“Poets are,” the man behind the counter began to say in a tone as reserved as his buttoned sweater, “not very reliable.” Maybe he said, “disciplined” – he used one word and I thought the other.  Neither my friend, a fiction aficionado with whom I traveled from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore to see a featured poet who had canceled without notice to the store owner hosting the event, nor I could argue.  As I recall, we both chuckled and, in a moment of self-effacement, I kidded, “what do you expect from someone who can only commit to a single page?”  This attempt to deflect, one I agree with unfortunately, got a laugh but it hurt to hear myself utter it so reflexively.  This is not to say that reliability is the cornerstone of good writing, but it is important in the building of a writing community.

It is true that the Internet has in its way helped poetry flourish and bubble into corners of the mainstream.  Whether it’s Zuzu’s Petals and other ejournals in the 90s, the poetry blogs of the 00s or the many print journals expanding to the web now, poetry is everywhere there’s a screen.  One need only visit to find several vibrant communities of writers sharing their work, workshopping, honing craft or discussing poetry in general or specific poems.  Earlier this week, I read a wonderful New York Times piece by David Orr about Oprah’s magazine, O, celebrating poetry month with “Spring Fashion Modeled by Rising Young Poets.”

I have friends and former colleagues who have started their own journals (among them, 32 Poems and Lines+Stars), a laudable endeavor that requires serious commitment, or who are working hard to improve the stature of poetry in their respective school systems and doing other arguably anonymous work in service of the arts.  For my part, as a small business owner ten years ago, I hosted monthly open mic nights at my shop for three years.  They were generally well-attended and there were two core groups:  poets and musicians.  Having spent lots of time talking with members of both subsets I came away feeling that the musicians, perhaps because they had to tote instruments which they had to commit to learning… and tuning, were more invested and interested in discussing their craft, learning new techniques and so on.  Perhaps it’s the nature of musicians to be a more gregarious than the typically hermitic poet, but this is no place for Myers-Briggs.  Poets would return monthly, often sharing the same poems or, just as often, different poems recycling all the ingredients of their previous work.

In 2003, my business having run its course and feeling the same, I returned to academia, both teaching and pursuing my MA at Johns Hopkins University.  At its best, and almost across the board, the program was what MFA programs want to be:  engaging, constructive, intensive, frustrating and, for lack of a less cliché word, inspiring.  Rarely, it could be what writers such as Franz Wright, a poet I greatly enjoy, disdainfully claim them to be:  a sort of conveyor belt of instructions and theories teaching what “can’t be taught” (my phrasing, not his).  From my perspective, fraught with the unlikely air of objectivity, the strengths and weaknesses of the program largely reflected the diligence of the individual students.  As in any setting, academic or otherwise, there were those who coasted by with semi-permeable skins, rarely absorbing, and there were those who made difficult strides, internalizing.

Since 2008, due largely to a nagging need to eat and therefore divert energies to work that is often anti-literary, I have withdrawn from literary pursuits – active writing, participating in conferences, judging, editing, etc.  I wouldn’t call it writer’s block, though, since I continue to observe, take notes, and also have found common denominators between my artistic, academic and professional realities.  In an ideal world, I would work full time in academia, where it is easier – not easy – to explicitly intertwine these worlds.   The sad part is that outside of the academic bubble, it can be difficult to develop conversation about poetry that doesn’t end up being lopsided pseudo-lectures to folks not bitten by the bug or casual conversation about song lyrics or Shakespeare that have the awkwardness of a stilted scene from The Office.

This is where community comes in, and the gentleman in the sweater.   He told us he’d been running these events for ten years, but that now he was reconsidering them.   Not getting rid of them, but maybe not emphasizing the poetry as much and focusing on writers of longer form; folks who are more reliable.   I was reminded of the time I finally had to stop hosting the open mics because during a financially tough time they were quantifiably hurting business more than helping it.  The average person was put off by the poetry and it bled into the unforgiving bottom line.  True, there was a serious loss in the sense of community among that group, but it was as necessary as it was painful. 

While poetry can thrive on the Internet, everything can thrive there in some measure.  Poets compete with kittens walking on pianos, girls sharing cups, Farmville, Angry Birds, and so on.  To me, the best poetry always benefits from contemplation, something that the Internet at large is often at odds with.  And yet, now everyone can be published.  With one hyperlink I can be a step removed from some of my favorite poets, Merrill, Addonizio, Strand, Bishop, (Gregory) Orr.  But it’s a fractured state, just as is the cosmos of journals, each with their microcosmic audiences.  The meaningful success, I believe, is creating a real world group of writers, no matter their publishing record, focused on their craft and sharing a space.  In a recent NPR review of the film The Sweet Smell of Success, the reviewer lamented that in an age where everyone can be Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist on whom the film is based, can anyone be Walter Winchell?  Dismissing that (despite a wicked turn of phrase and a penchant for using ellipses like Dickenson used dashes) Winchell was no poet, and this raises the argument whether it is better to have an ivory tower or a democratic field, I think this can be applied easily to many fields, including poetry. 

It often feels that outside of academia, building a community of serious writers is not possible, whether it’s the natural way family, work and artistic pursuits are fissured by limited time, or that “serious” is mutable abstract that alienates more than it welcomes.  Personally, I find it a tough fit being a writer with academic leanings who does not exist in the academic system.  Almost as tough as being a writer who doesn’t write.  Thankfully, after picking up the latest O, I’m sure all will feel better and I can write a poem that will, as David Orr writes, use “poetry to overcome [these] personal challenges,” or at least enjoy some nice pictures and dream of being better dressed in hopes of getting into next year’s issue.

Friday, April 8, 2011

National Poetry Month Interview with Ethan Edwards, Founder Articles Press

Thank you to Ethan Edwards for today's interview about ARTICLES PRESS and its literary journal, ROOMS OUTLAST US.

Washington, D.C., based, ARTICLES PRESS publishes ROOMS OUTLAST US, a biannual print-only journal of poetry and poetic criticism, that also sponsors chapbook competitions for unpublished poetry manuscripts and hosts regular reading series at Iota Café in Arlington, Va.

In the spirit of Poetry Month, it is always helpful to poetry authors and readers to learn more about the publishing world. I think you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did. I encourage you to pick up their books and journals.

Rooms Outlast Us started in 2009. How did you and the other two editors decide to start the journal?

Justin Kielsgard and I established ROOMS OUTLAST US, along with Articles Press co founder, Danika Stegeman, in order to publish small collections of poems through which readers can get acquainted with particular poets and the over-arching considerations that drive these poets' projects.  Each issue of ROOMS presents less than six poets, and we like to allow each poet 5-10 pages of space within the journal.  Articles Press' editors have always thought of ROOMS as a forum for longer poetic projects and representations--whether a long poem, a lyric sequence, or just a representative selection of work that a poet deems cohesive.  The journal's format and focus underscore our idea that a poem is a work of art; that in publishing the genre one inevitably takes on the role of curator and is, therefore, responsible for the manner in which the work is experienced.  ROOMS represents Articles Press' efforts to provide an engaging atmosphere for readers and a beneficial platform of exposure for poets.  

It isn't easy to keep a print journal going in this day and age. Authors and readers alike greatly appreciate your efforts and success. You also publish chapbooks and host readings at Iota. What do you think are the key factors that keep Articles Press growing?

Articles Press' development is due to the interests of readers, donors and artists, alike.  The directors and editors for the organization work diligently to make ROOMS and other Articles Press publications available, but without the participation of poets who submit their work for publication, and without an interested public body, Articles Press would lack any reason or impetus for development.  The inherent fact that poetry and art are invaluable to the activity of cultural self-reflection plays a large role in the organization's ability to grow, as well.  Establishments like IOTA Club & Cafe, and Artisphere seem to share this sentiment, and their efforts to provide locations in which the public can come in contact with the arts--including poets that Articles Press has published and/or invited to read--have been instrumental in expanding the audience for work that Articles Press publishes. 

What are your favorite literary journals to read? What draws you to them?

Ugly Duckling Presse's "6X6," which focuses on small groups of poets, is usually good for getting acquainted with a handful of poets as well as the ideas, or obsessions that inform those poets' works.   "Jacket," is a wonderful resource for finding (perhaps) unfamiliar poets whose work warrants further exploration.  1913 Press ("1913 a journal of forms") does a nice job of marrying poems, prose and print to ideas and forms of art.  "Bateau," seems to strive for creation of a space in which literature and the act of viewing art coincide, so Bateau Press' publications are of interest.  Also, Articles Press worked in conjunction with SpringGun Press, Inter|rupture, and Flying Guillotine Press to provide off-site readings during the 2011 AWP conference, so their upcoming publications and projects (online and print) are of particular interest, and should be very exciting.

What suggestions to have to authors who are considering submitting to Rooms Outlast Us?

Don't send just one or two poems, unless they happen to be long or sequential.

What is the most surprising thing that you've learned about publishing since you've started the press and journal?

I have been extremely surprised to hear about a general decline in interest regarding the printed book--no one wants to buy it, carry it around, collect it, etc--while a number of organizations and artists are creating unique and archival publications that are worthy of the same awe one might bestow upon visual art.  I think what I find most surprising is the idea that utterly commercial products--mass production publications you might hide on a shelf rather than display on your coffee table--can be isolated and sifted out of physical existence, while the most interesting and original examples of the spectrum seem to thrive within the (re)opened space.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

National Poetry Month: NeMLA Conference @ Rutgers University

I am headed to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to attend and present at the Northeast Modern Language Association’s Annual Conference

I will be presenting Sunday morning as a part of this panel discussion:

Community in the Composition Classroom II: Literacies and Growth (Roundtable)
Chair: Deborah Sinnreich-Levi, Stevens Institute of Technology
“What Happens to ‘Community’ When Composition Goes Online?”
Guy Shebat, Youngstown State University
“Multiple Literacies, Multiple Communities: The Hybrid Composition Course”
Alyssa Colton, The College of St. Rose
“Interdisciplinary Learning Community: Academic, Professional, and Personal Growth through Composition”
Terry Novak, Johnson & Wales University
“Researching Reading Communities Beyond the Creative Writing Workshop”
Janelle Adsit, SUNY Albany
“Forming Three Communities for Composition Writing Classes: Class, School, and Professional”
Chloe Yelena Miller, George Mason University

You might consider registering and attending some of the many literature and writing related sessions that run tomorrow through Sunday. Yes, to keep up with National Poetry Month, you’ll find some panels focused on poetry. I’ll be sure to touch upon poetry in my presentation, of course, since I always include poetry in my composition writing courses.

See you in New Brunswick!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy National Poetry Month!

Thank you to the Academy of American Poets for inaugurating National Poetry Month in 1996! Happy 15th birthday, National Poetry Month!

To celebrate, this blog will be dedicated to poetry throughout the month. You can look forward to poetry resources, writing prompts and some guest bloggers and interviews, too.

Two upcoming blog highlights:
Friday, April 8th: interview with Articles Press founder, poet Ethan Edwards

Friday, April 15th: guest blogger and poet Margaret Rozga will share poems from her new book and insight into her writing process

Throughout the month, there will be many opportunities to celebrate poetry in your city or town and virtually.  On April 4th, the Academy of American Poets sponsors Poem in Your Pocket Day. Throughout the month, you can receive a Poem a Day emailed to you. To find out more about what is happening in your state, check out the National Poetry Map.

I invite you to share additional resources and events in the Comments section below. 

Three cheers for poetry!