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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and Poetry

It's Thanksgiving.

Which means I've been cooking for two days.

And when I make the stuffed mushrooms and stuffed artichokes I think of my grandmother. She would stand over the very same iron skillet I used just yesterday, browning the breadcrumbs  and cheese in the olive oil-- dragging the spatula through the mixture in slow deliberate movements like a peaceful mediation.  Somehow I am eight again, peering over the stove--hungry for dinner to begin--waiting for her to finish my favorite dish so I can eat whatever leftover crumbs may spill from her wood spoon onto a plate.  And today, when I chop the onions, celery and apples for the stuffing, I remember my Uncle Link and his magnificent recipe. With each swipe of the blade I think back to that Thanksgiving  in New York when he made the biggest turkey I had ever seen...bringing it to my mother's house, bacon strips dripping off the top of the bird while the winds of a very cold Thanksgiving rattled the checkered curtains of my mother's basement kitchen. He was careful negotiating the cement steps, carrying the large bird as if it were some kind prayer he would be offering up for all us. And today when I put out the good china and crystal, I can hear my mother's laughter as she set our family table--how many times?--enough so that all the memories of all those meals feels like just one shining moment in my young life. And this morning when I finished the turkey with butter, I think of my Aunt Faye--who at 92 is still very lovely--who taught me how to prepare a meal on that Thanksgiving, so long ago, when we didn't have much but that one bird  and some butter we managed to buy.  We did have each other in that hard time. And, I like to believe, we did have the knowledge that we all-- somehow --will find our way into this very future--the one in  which I write this small note and send it out into the world as a blessing. From all of us to all of you.






Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Short List of Certainties"---Bellingham Review

I'm pleased to announce that my poem, "The Short List of Certainties," is published by the Bellingham Review on the journal's first online issue. Click on the link below to read the poem. 
http://www.bhreview.org/piece/the-short-list-of-certainties/.
 
About the Bellingham Review:
From New Pages.com
http://www.newpages.com/literary-magazines/bellingham_review.htm



Publisher’s Description: At home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, the Bellingham Review is published annually in affiliation with the English Department and the Creative Writing Program at Western Washington University. Established in 1977, the Bellingham Review has earned an excellent reputation in the literary world for publishing poems, stories, essays, and photographs which display both depth of content and nudge the limits of form or execute traditional forms exquisitely.

We receive submissions from all over the world and we print the previously unpublished works of established and emerging writers. Our contributors often go on to publish their own books and collections. Their work has recently appeared in Harper’s, Utne Reader, and Pushcart Prize Anthology.






 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Italian-American Poetry: 100 Years!

Once again, Star Cloud Press sets the course in American letters.

The feisty small press has just published an anthology of Italian-American Poetry which spans the last 100 years. Critics are praising the new book as "dazzling," "remarkable," "superb" and "a work of great beauty."

I am thrilled to say that one of my poems is found in this much needed collection.  The book includes such noted poets as include Lewis Turco, Kim Addonizio Michael Palma, Elaine Equi, Nick Piombino, Mary Giaimo, George Guida, Peter Covino, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Peter Gizzi, Ray Di Palma, Daniel Gioseffi, Mathew Longabucco, Jerome Mazzaro, David Capella, Maria Terrone, J. T. Barbarese and many others.

Bravo Star Cloud Press and editor Dennis Barone!

Praise from critics:

New Hungers for Old is a remarkable achievement. Individually evocative and collectively superb, the poems illuminate an immense variety of Italian American voices and experiences. Yet they also extend well beyond the scope of a single ethnic category. This is that rare, thoughtful anthology for all readers wishing to reflect on the treasures and tragedies of the universal human condition." —Chandra Prasad, author of On Borrowed Wings: A Novel and editor of Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial
http://www.starcloudpress.com/NewHungersForOld.html

"Dennis Barone has produced a book of great beauty and importance that should be read by anyone who cares about American as well as Italian American writing. It offers a cornucopia of remarkable poems by generations of Italian American poets whose work mirrors the evolution of American forms from realism through postmodernism. Including famous and emerging younger talents, New Hungers for Old underscores a distinctive intersection of heritage and the larger culture in the flavor of its innovations. The dazzling variety of poems share an infatuation with life itself --- the gifts and pleasures it bestows, the harsh toll it exacts, the rebellions it provokes and the revelations of spirit that erupt from felt experience. It is a landmark collection that is essential reading." —Josephine G. Hendin, Professor of English and Tiro A Segno Professor of Italian American Studies, New York University


About the Editor:

Dennis BaroneDennis Barone is a Professor of English at Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of five books of short fiction. In 2011 Quale Press published his new book of stories: Field Report. He is also the author of two novellas, Temple of the Rat (Left Hand Books, 2000) and God’s Whisper (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005), and the author of a collection of prose poems, The Walls of Circumstance (Avec Books, 2004). Bordighera Press published his study of Italian-American narrative America / Trattabili in 2011. Barone is co-editor with James Finnegan of Visiting Wallace: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Wallace Stevens (University of Iowa Press, 2009) and editor of Beyond the Red Notebook: Essays on Paul Auster (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995). Left Hand Books published his selected poems volume one, Separate Objects, in 1998, and Shearsman Books published volume two entitled Parallel Lines in 2011. He is currently editing the anthology Connecticut Poetry: From the American Revolution to the Present (Wesleyan University Press) and in 2011 Star Cloud Press published the anthology he edited entitled New Hungers for Old: One-Hundred Years of Italian-American Poetry. A graduate of Bard College, he received his Ph.D. in American Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1992 he held the Thomas Jefferson Chair, a distinguished Fulbright lecturing award, in the Netherlands, and in 1997 he received the America Award for fiction.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Poems and Public Art: Poetry Chairs @ the Library

"Public art," states the website of visual artists, Mags Harries and Lajos Héderze,"is a lot more than placing large objects in public, it can reach every aspect of the environment and real its poetic possibilities. In all of our work we make art which shapes community places, creates community rituals, makes public places resonate with history, memory, and imagined possibilities. The completed projects presented on this web site take diverse forms but they all share these intentions and a highly site-specific approach." http://www.harriesheder.com/

The new public art project, of which I have the honor of being selected as one of the featured poets, is titled Passage which can be found at South Mountain Community Library in the Phoenix area of Arizona. One of the features of the work consists of what I term "poetry chairs"--large, solid structures which, when a person sits in it, recites poetry! Below please find additional information taken from the artist's website. http://www.harriesheder.com/projects/streets-walks-and-plazas-2/passage/




"Passage is a multi-faceted, collaborative public artwork.  The South Mountain Community Library is operated jointly by the Phoenix Public Library and South Mountain Community College.  Used by students and the community at large, the Library is a magnet for community identity and the spirit of learning.  To reflect this energy, we wanted to integrate visual elements with words.  With the help of noted local poet, Alberto Ríos, we focused with poetry onto the South Mountain landscape,  the quality of words, and the contents of the Library.  The project consists of four Poetry Trellises and three Acoustic Chairs.



Poetry/Curation: Alberto Ríos 
Poets: Dick Bakken, Jefferson Carter, Jeanne E. Clark, Ralph Cordova, Cynthia Hogue, Will Inman, Sydney James, Susan L. Krevitsky Law, Jimmy Lo, Rick Noguchi, Fernando Pérez, David Ray, Christine Rhein, Iliana Rocha, Lois Roma-Deeley, Jana Russ, Peggy Shumaker, David Sullivan, and Olfelia Zepeda



Acoustic Chairs
The three Acoustic Chairs are grouped in front of the Library’s main entrance.  They extend the architecture of the Library into the landscape, relating to South Mountain.  The seat surface of the Chairs is made of local Hualapai stone. The sides of the Chairs are made of colored concrete with steel letters cast into the surface.   Letters are also embedded into the surrounding pavement, as though cascading from the Chairs.  Each letter of the alphabet is represented in the jumble as well as the letters that make words that reference the landscape such as “desert,” “stone,” “mountain,” and “water”.  The scattered letters encourage visitors to make their own words and poetry.



Speakers inside the Chairs play recordings of poetry when activated by  motion sensors.  The poems play softly to create an intimate experience.  Ríos curated the collection of poems, featuring 19 poets writing about South Phoenix and the landscape of the area."



Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 Memorial Poem (from northSight)

Below I have reprinted my poem, "Voices From the Aftermath: New York City Requiem" which published in my second collection, northSight (2006). Composer Christopher Scinto created music based on this poem for the fifth anniversary of 9/11 memorial event held in Phoenix. The music was sung, in two performances, by the Phoenix Chorale (formerly Bach Choir) to audiences of more than 300 persons each. It was a moving time for all of us.

I reprint the poem here as a memorial to that terrible day but also as a tribute to the courage, faith and resilence which lies at the heart of our country.


Voices From the Aftermath: New York City Requiem



i.

Young Boy Running in the Street


The day the towers fell, the sun dropped from the sky.
They say my parents died--but I just don't believe them.
I step on broken glass--the dirt gets in my eyes.
On each and every wall I'll hang copies of this picutre:

a dark-haired woman who smiles,
a laughing husband who holds
the sleeping child between them.

Tell every who knows, to call--
my hand is on the phone--I know they will come home--
just ring and we'll go find them.


I know they have been saved...please


I am my father's so; my mother was the one
who said she'd never leave me.

  
ii.


Women Standing at Ground Zero

I keep your voice on the machine, it tells me: good-bye, good-bye.
Your face on the news. Your name engraved inside my ring. Now
when I stare into your grave--this hole
in the ground, circles of twisted metal--I wonder
how is this world still possible?

That day, you woke from a deep sleep,
drank the morning coffee, kissed me
--twice--on the mouth, went to work
and died.

Fires above your head. Fires behind your back.
As you jumped into the hand of God
did my love go with you?


iii.

Widow Waiting Outside the Station House

The wall of blue weeps for you. Thirty years on the job. Thirty years
before my fears
come true. Ashes in my mouth. You, shouting int he blackened air"
get out of here--

the the building feel straight to the ground. They never found you.
Only this piece of gold. Now for days I've been living in a haze--
trying to recall your face....Your men line the street. I touch your badge
and pray for peace, the kind I hear you say
comes in the earliest part of the morning.


iv.

Father Among the Rescue Workers

Where is my daughter? Where have you brought her?
No one will tell me
where her body lies.
Here is a strand of her hair;
her sweater thrown over a chair.
Tell me--why won't you teel me--when and where and how she died?

You say I should go home, but suppose someone knows

that she found her way through the smoke,
that she ran down the stairs, into the street....

No--you say--no,
there isn't any hope....

just this dust, her body dancing
under the rescue lights, rising 

on a swirl of New York City air.

















Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Why of Wislawa Szymborska

If you have not ever read an entire collection of poems by Wislawa Szymborska, I urge you to do so right now.

Szymboraska,  a polish born poet, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. Her voice is as clear as it is luminous. Her images, electric. 

In her 1996 Nobel lecture, she states:

"Poets, if they are genuine, must also keep repeating, 'I don't know.'...The world--whatever we might think when we're terrified by its vasteness and our own impotence or when we're embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants (for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain?); whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by plants we've just begun to discover, planets already dead, still dead,we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose life span is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world--it is astonishing."

This is the why of Wislawa Szmboraska.





Saturday, August 27, 2011

2011 Paterson Poetry Prize

THE POETRY CENTER AT PASSAIC COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE

is pleased to announce the winners of

THE 2011 PATERSON POETRY PRIZE WINNER
Elizabeth Alexander Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010
   (Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN)

Elizabeth Alexander’s Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 brings us home again – to dark pasts and uncertain futures, anguish and exaltation. Each poem grounds us with an intensity that insists we belong. With trust and expectation she presents a world that is undeniably real.


FINALISTS

Michael Cirelli, Vacations on The Black Star Line
   (Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, NY)
Stephen Dobyns, Winter’s Journey
   (Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA)
W. D. Ehrhart, The Bodies Beneath the Table  
  (Adastra Press, Easthampton, MA)
Erica Miriam Fabri, Dialect of a Skirt  
  (Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, NY)
Rebecca Foust, All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song 
  (Many Mountains Moving Press, Philadelphia, PA)
Tony Medina, My Old Man Was Always on the Lam 
  (NYQ Books, New York, NY)
Lois Roma-Deeley, High Notes 
  (Benu Press, Hopkins, MN)
Jackie Sheeler, Earthquake Came to Harlem 
  (NYQ Books, New York, NY)

Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement for Previous Winners of The Paterson Poetry Prize

Maxine Kumin, Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 
  (W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY)
Vivian Shipley, All of Your Messages Have Been Erased
   (Louisiana Literature Press, Hammond, LA)
Gerald Stern, Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992 
  (W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY)

Paterson Award for Literary Excellence for Previous Finalists of The Paterson Poetry Prize

Eamon Grennan, Out of Sight: New & Selected Poems 
  (Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN)
Bob Hicok, Words for Empty and Words for Full 
  (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA)
Tony Hoagland, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty 
  (Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN)
Lowell Jaeger, We 
  (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte, NC)
Alex Lemon, Fancy Beasts
   (Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, MN)
Erika Meitner, Ideal Cities
   (Harper Perennial, New York, NY)
Mervyn Taylor, No Back Door
   (Shearsman Books, Exeter, England)
 
 
April 14, 2012
Distinguished Poets Reading
featuring
2011 Paterson Poetry Prize Winner
Elizabeth Alexander

and finalists

Michael Cirelli
Stephen Dobyns
W.D. Ehrhart
Erica Miriam Fabri
Rebecca Foust
Tony Medina
Lois Roma-Deeley
Jackie Sheeler

1 p.m. -- Hamilton Club Building
32 Church Street, Paterson, NJ
Free

The Paterson Poetry Prize of $1,000 is given annually by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College to a book of poetry (48 pages or more) published in the previous year, with a minimum press run of 500 copies. For further information, contact Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Executive Director, Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College at (973) 684-6555 or visit www.pccc.edu/poetry.

The Poetry Center was named a Distinguished Arts Project and awarded several
Citations of Excellence, and is funded, in part, by a grant from the New Jersey
State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National
Endowment for the Arts.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Writers Need

Last week I attended a fund raising event for a woman who has brain cancer. The event was held by an athletic organization with all proceeds going to this member of their community.

It was touching to see these extreme athletes--many of whom follow the same types of exercise that, as their website claims "many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide"--compete with intensity and joy.

To say that I was out of my element is understating the case.

I saw on a number of tee-shirts a phrase that went something like this:

"What do you prefer?
The pain of discipline
or
The pain of regret"

And I couldn't help but wish I could buy a bunch of these shirts and give them out to my writers.

It seems these athletes know what many writers do not:

that one must try. And with trying, comes failures. And after enough considered failures, comes bits and pieces of improvement. And that this improvement is not final and requires testing. That the testing sometimes comes in the form of competition. That competition is really between the competitor and herself/himself not other readers/editors/publishers.  That competition leads to a certain kind of success. That there are many forms and levels of success. That success, ultimately, will arise from personal definition. That persistence, self-correcting focus and faith are elements, not only of success, but of a strong character. And this strong character is what will allow for the writing down of that which needs to get written  in the best possible way with, as one poet has said, with "the best possible words."

And this is success.










Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Praise of Silence

Summer is almost over.  In Phoenix, we read the signs of the waning season not by looking at the temperature but by the annual rites of approaching autumn: a dawn that seems to come a little later than sooner, school buses back on the streets, moisture hanging, heavy in the air.

For me, it's time to get back to my campus. I am fortunate in that I truly love my job, my colleagues and my students.

However, as I return to work, I will miss the long silences of my Phoenix summer. Those times when my mind turns inward towards itself. I will miss those silences which safe-guard my imagination and allow ideas to unfold in my mind. Miss bits of internal sounds which, with some attention, soon turn into words.  Miss those words which will demand some kind of arrangement on the page.

One of the many discussions I  always have with my creative writing students centers about their own creative process. Often, I will point out to them how, as our friend William Wordsworth writes, "the world is too much with us."

I point to how our American culture seems always "on." That we are always listening, watching, reading, talking, texting....we American exhaust ourselves in our interactions with each other.  Fill up your car at the station, and there is a video playing on top of the store's gas tank. Go get a cup of coffee, and there is not one but several TV's turned on. Just try and go food shopping and avoid the one-sided cell phone conversations which always seem louder to me than probably they really are. Walk down the street--any street--or on the beach--or into the forest--or whatever--and you can not help but see the tops of people's heads as they bend, prayer-like--over their cell phones.

 I'm not saying these interactions are anything other than what they are--the human community busy interacting with each other.

All I'm saying is that something gets lost in all this busy-ness when we misplace the pockets of silence that can speak to us. Then it becomes too easy to disconnect with and from our own unformed thoughts. Then it becomes even easier to disrespect these musings and mullings which are so very necessary to creation.

A standard beginning creative writing exercise I used in my college classes will begin with me dimming the lights, asking students to put down their pens--or, these days, to close their computers--and simply be.

I ask them to breathe slowly. I ask them to close their eyes. I ask them to listen to the silence.

Then--and only after what must seem like a very, very long time but is, in reality, not more than 3-5 minutes of semi-dark silence--I ask my students to write whatever comes into their minds. "Fill up the page," I say. "Don't stop writing until I tell you to stop," I say.  I give them about 10-12 minutes to accomplish that task.  Afterward, I ask for volunteers who will read what they have just written.

Almost always everyone in my class will read something.

And the writing which grew out of our humble shared moments together will always be different. Often, quite wonderful. Usually, the writing has a kind of power and depth found only when writers are being authentically human.

This is an exercise I have been using for more years then I care to report. I have used this exercise with graduate, undergraduate and non-credit students. I have used this exercise with older adults--some of whom have advance degrees-- and teenagers some of whom are still in High School. I used this exercise with students outside the discipline of creative writing. I have used these exercise with colleagues.

And always,  always I am amazed at what the miracle of silence can produce.










Friday, July 29, 2011

Reading Poetry



My graduate thesis director used to say that if you are reading poetry it is as though you are writing poetry. It "counts."

And what he meant by that, I believe, is that writers learn by reading. And for me, reading poetry serves as a door into the landscape of my imagination. It is a catalyst.

I will admit, though, that I have little patience with badly written poetry. I won't say it's like being gnawed at in the dark by undefined, nameless creatures....I won't say that. But you get the general idea.

Then, too, when I read great poetry I can hardly take air into my body. My chest tightens and aches. My eyes hurt.  It's a little like swallowing liquid light.

These two extremes present obvious challenges.

However, over the years, I have learned to read poetry a bit at a time. It helps with these reactions. I try to read as slowly as I can.  Sometimes I read one poem in a collection a dozen times before I can get to the next page. It's slow--but absolutely wonderful--going.

This summer I am reading some of the following poets: Henri Cole, Jean Follain, Elizabeth Alexander as well as a few books on the craft of poetry--James Lonenbach and Charles Wright.







Saturday, July 16, 2011

Form Poetry (Villanelles)

I am so pleased to announce that my poem "Sugar Baby Fixing" (from High Notes) is included in this brand new anthology, Villanelles, co-edited by Annie Finch and Marie-Elizabeth Mali. The book is to be published by Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series, forthcoming in early 2012.  


More to come later on.


 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Poets Can Learn from Fiction Writers

The subject of what constitutes the line between poetry and prose has a long--and often querulous-- history. For our purposes here, let's set aside that particular conversation and concede--for the moment--that there is, indeed, a significant difference between the two genres. Beyond the obvious observations, one might say that intention in the making of poetry is as different in the making of fiction as the moon is to the sun.

Roger Rosenblatt, the famed essayist, suggests that poetry tells the "story of emotion" while fiction is looking to tell the "story of actions."

Perhaps so.

Clearly there is a difference. Let's concede that. And not to belabor the point too much, I will contend that--to paraphrase the Supreme Court definition of what constitutes pornography--"the reasonable person" will recognizes fiction when he (or she) sees it.


But let us set aside the meat of this discussion for now.  No doubt, we will return to it at a later time. Instead,  let us turn our attention to contemporary letters and to the mixing of genres.

I see in contemporary fiction a decided turn toward the poetic. One need only to look at Toni Morrison's brilliant novel, Beloved, to see how her use of metaphor, pacing, timing, imagery liberally--and joyously--"borrows" from the poetic genre.  Clearly, James Joyce, when writing his famous Molly Bloom soliloquy in Ulysses, wrote poetry and not prose when he penned the lines:

"...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. "

This is simply stunning poetry.

And yet, there it is, glowing at us from the pages of a novel.

So my question is--has been--what do contemporary poets have to learn from contemporary fiction writers?

The easy answer, I suppose--and one that does not suffice--is that fiction gave permission to the prose poem.

Well...I would say that is a decided yes and no.

Yes, in that the prose poem format uses as its core the expectation of the fiction form. This sounds simple and of little consequence.

However, the imagination's hunger for anticipation can not be discounted. Readers come to the prose poem expecting one thing and ultimately getting another. This is a powerful tool for the poet. And yet, I am not certain a tool that contemporary poets use consciously or deliberately.

Let's talk more at a later date.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Poetry Landscape

Recently I traveled to Yellowstone National Park. And while it is true I can relate specific observations about this journey, I wanted to offer this one particular angle of vision on the idea of poetry and landscape.

Inside the park--with its otherworldly geyser paint pots of bubbling, boiling blue water (175-200 degrees), canyons waterfalls, summer snow falls and pools of God's eye ochre bacteria--I begin to think of the landscape as the place where God-as-Poet writes--and rewrites--revising and revising earth and sky, time and living creatures.


Beyond the obvious, I saw living nature reaching, evolving, changing, striving toward a dangerous, powerful beauty that exists, happily, for its own sake. The changing combination of elements only true goal is to create many perfections and much joy.

Seems to me to be a lesson for writers in that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Making of a Poet: Part Three (Found Words and the Poetic Family)

In our family--like so many families--we have a few traditional "knowledge" games we play. These games often center around various words and, as often as not, games that involve bits and pieces of esoteric knowledge.

As a group, we're pretty curious. So finding new words and/or teasing each other about books, movies, music, art works etc. etc. that we deem essential to being a fully-realized human being is something like sport for us--and all done in good fun and high spirits. It is how we entertain each other.

We come by this pasttime honestly. My husband's family had a long tradition of word games as well as spouting quotes from famous books and movies and then quizzing the rest of the family as to where the quote came from and who said it.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law were highly self-educated people. Walk into their home on any given day and you would see  stacks of books such as The Confessions of St. Augustine (which my father-in-law annotated) and the works of French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin shoved in piles next to their favorite living room reading chairs.

As for my family, my mother would play word "imagination" games with us.

"Look at that pattern in the wood," my mother would say, "what does it look like to you?"  Then she might point at the swirl in the wood paneling in my small bedroom and say something like this: "It looks like a little girl in a big wide brimmed hat holding fishing rod. Look! She's about to put the rod into a large pond. Now tell me, what do you see?"

And it was standard fare in our home to sit around the family kitchen table to debate the pros and cons of the current political affairs of the day.

My father--the happiest and gentlest of men I have ever met--required that I state my reasons as to why I believed this over that or why I wanted to do such and such....and then he would challenge me in a friendly debate. I had to think carefully and defend my thought process to him--and this requirement that I think clearly and precisely extended beyond the political and theoretical. If I wanted to go to that basketball game or stay at my friend's house or take a certain French class instead of a Spanish class, my father wanted to hear me state why I wanted to do so.


Sometimes I hated having to think so much.

Later I realized what a gift my father had given me. He was kind--but he was still the authority figure...so there I stood...as a 13-year-old--or 15-year-old-girl--or whatever age I found myself standing before him--for the debate between my father and I never changed even as I grew into a grown up woman --so there I  would be standing before him, looking up at him. I was accountable for my ideas.  And as  a girl --who as often as not--I just wanted to go and "do stuff" and just wanted to "say things."

But no.

My father challenged me--to think and to have confidence in my ideas.  I believe he must have thought if a girl could stand up to him--to the authority figure in her life--if this girl could clearly and articulately--with dignity and with the expectation that good ideas and sound thinking will win out over whatever powerful forces were in the room with her--then there is no one or no thing she can't stand up to. There is nothing she won't be able to do.


As I have said before, I come from remarkable people. And I should say here that both sets of parents (mine and my husband's) did not go to college. Both sets of parents were first generation Americans. They believed in the American Dream and worked hard to give it to their children.  They were not rich people--though I think they would have thought of themselves as "middle class." Later, after I had gone to college, I came to realize they were---for the large part of our young lives--"working poor."

And too, with the exception of my mother-in-law, our parents did not finish high school. But it didn't stop them from reading and thinking, from teaching us and challenging us. However, their lack of formal education was felt deeply by all of them and, I believe, was a wound that never really healed inside of them.

As I have said before in this space, there were other examples and other family members who contributed and who continue to contribute to my creative and intellectual life. I am so grateful to them all and will write about them at another time.

Below is an email I sent to my family circle.  It demonstrates how both my husband and I are keeping our respective family traditions alive.

****************************


Hi,

I suppose one of the values of reading the New York Times Book Review is to find some new words--to experience that odd  blending of a wondrous sense discovery with that "oh-my!-should-I-have-known-this!" feeling.

There's an article in today's NYT BR that, truly, only those who have studied--obsessively and in-depth--the already difficult to understand works of contemporary literary critic Harold Bloom would have a chance of "getting."

Nevertheless, here is a list of words that I found--most of which I haven't  encountered--ever or much--in my readings. So I offer them to you in the event that my husband resumes his "I-Have-the-Dictionary-In-My-Lap-Now-What-Does-This-Word-Mean" games.

And assuming my dyslexia has not kicked in too much, I write out the word list below this note...which, hopefully, will give you a running start at "The Deeley Summer Games" at least.

Below that list,  I'll give you the definitions.


PS I dare you to slip any or all of these words into family conversation.



thumaturgy
adumbration
tendentious
poetic doctus
dithyramb
metaleptic
heterocosm




*********************

thumaturgy--miracle working
       

        the working of wonders or miracles; magie. — thaumaturgist,                  thaumaturge, thaumaturgus, n. — thaumaturgic, thaumaturgical,  adj.

adumbration-sketchy outline; obscure
        ad·um·brate  (dm-brt, -dm-)
tr.v. ad·um·brat·ed, ad·um·brat·ing, ad·um·brates
1. To give a sketchy outline of.
2. To prefigure indistinctly; foreshadow.
3. To disclose partially or guardedly.
4. To overshadow; shadow or obscure.


tendentious--promote a cause, point of view
        tendentious, tendencious [tɛnˈdɛnʃəs]
adj
having or showing an intentional tendency or bias, esp a controversial one
[from tendency]
tendentiously , tendenciously, tendentially, tendencially adv
tendentiousness , tendenciousness n


poetic doctus--poetry taught

dithyramb--frenzied choric hymn
    dith·y·ramb  (dth-rm, -rmb)
n.
1. A frenzied, impassioned choric hymn and dance of ancient Greece in honor of Dionysus.
2. An irregular poetic expression suggestive of the ancient Greek dithyramb.
3. A wildly enthusiastic speech or piece of writing.

metaleptic--act of taking one place to another; transverse (as in "transverse the muscle")
Met`a`lep´tic
a.1.Of or pertaining to a metalepsis.

2.Transverse; as, the metaleptic motion of a muscle.

3.(Chem.) Of, pertaining to, concerned in, or occurring by, metalepsy.

metalepsis
a rhetorical device in which a word that is used figuratively is taken through a succession of its different meanings or two or more tropes are united in the use of a single word. — metaleptic, adj.


heterocosm--alternative world
A separate or alternative world













Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Of Poetry, Students and Teachers

Like so many writers who teach writing across the United States, my semester is almost over.

And, I suppose, I could go on quite a bit about how busy, how exhausted, how demanding these past few months have been.

But I want to say something else here, I want to speak directly to the serious students of creative writing. I want to say--what I always say--to my students at the very end of my creative writing classes--

thank you. 

Thank you for trusting me with your stories.
Thank you for allowing me into your imaginations.
Thank you for your serious and considered efforts.
Thank you for speaking--which, as those of you who know me have heard me say often enough--
is not insignificant.
Thank you for giving me a job--which is also not insignificant--and I mean that in the most profound way.
I consider it a blessing to be able to speak about creative writing--with "serious intent" as Lucille Clifton used to say--to speak with passion and focus-- to those who feel that same seriousness of purpose--to those whose very presence in class constitute the "making of our contemporary literature culture."
Thank you for being brave. For taking risks. For looking--unflinchingly-- at yourselves as writers but also as human beings.
Thank you for your courage, your convictions, your passionate devotion to literature...

for all this--and more--I say thank you.

 I am a better writer--and a better person--for having you as my students.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tempe Poetry in April & jazz opera based on High Notes

I finished up poetry month by giving a poetry reading/musical preview. The poems were from High Notes which forms the basis of our jazz opera, The Ballad of Downtown Jake.

This project has been one which makes me feel--quite simply--joyful!

At the event on Wednesday, April 27th,  I read poetry from High Notes which was interspersed with music created by my composer friend Christopher Scinto. Many of the compositions take my poems as direct lyrics.  I am currently writing the libretto for the jazz opera.

Our event featured amazing singers and musicians performing as well:  Daniel Kurek (tenor), Alicann Lunceford (soprano), Keith Kelly (saxophone/clarinet)l Andrew Schiller (bass), Brett Reed (percussion) and, of course,  Christopher Scinto (piano).   I would encourage you to go to the jazz opera's facebook page and hear the music.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Ballad-of-Downtown-Jake/150710714957857

Below are some photos taken at the event which was held in the Tempe Center for the Arts (Tempe, Arizona) as part of the Tempe Poetry in April series. We had a great crowd--I would say between 40 and 55 people. Perhaps there were more who did attend--I'm not certain-- it did seemed that, as the evening wore on, more and more people came into the room.

The first photo shows me (right) with the founder and moderator of Tempe Poetry in April series, poet and visual artist Catherine Hammond.  The room at the Tempe Center for the Arts that we performed in is  about 3/4 glass, overlooks a negative edge pool which overlooks Tempe Lake. The evening sun was setting as we began and when we finished the stars were shining.

The second photos shows me (middle) with Christopher Scinto (far left) and Catherine Hammond (far right). Catherine always ends these events with a in-depth interview. Her questions illuminate the work. And even though our event took double the amount of time of the usual poetry readings, much of our audience seemed to hang in for this portion of the evening. There were even those who stayed and asked questions after our interview was concluded.
The third photo shows Brett on the drums, Andrew on bass and Chris at the piano.

The last photo shows me just after our event ended. I am standing outside of the Tempe Center for the Arts, facing lakeside.

(thanks to my husband for taking these photos)


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

High Notes--Musical Preview(s) of Jazz Opera

High Notes, third collection of poems, forms the basis of a jazz opera I am writing with composer Christopher Scinto.

The jazz opera is titled: The Ballad of Downtown Jake.

This is a work in progress. Tonight, April 20th at 7:30pm in the Studio Theatre of Paradise Valley Community College, we will present a musical preview of the jazz opera. Then, on April 27th, at 7:00pm, as part of the Tempe Poetry in April reading series, we will present an encore performance at the Tempe Center for the Arts at 7pm.


For those of you who can't make either events, click on the link below to find video footage of our opera singers from last year's book launch. Keep checking this link for updates on the musical previews.


http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Ballad-of-Downtown-Jake/150710714957857

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Five Poetry Prompts for Poetry Month

April is Poetry Month, so let's celebrate by writing something new. Here' s five prompts to get you started:

1) Read a favorite poem. Copy it out onto a piece of paper by hand. Do not use a computer.
Take the last line of the poem as your title prompt. See what develops.

2) Look up the front page of the day and year you were born.  Take as the "frame" for your poem an event that was reported on that day. 

3) Read "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning. Write a poem in which the Duchess speaks.

4). Imagine yourself standing on a high cliff. The winds are so strong no one can hear you. Write a poem which assumes no one is listening or will ever hear what you have to say. (Feel free to rip it up after you are done. Or save a line or image, then rip it up. No poetry police will come to your home if you do.)

5) Write a poem that uses nothing but dialogue. Your poem has two speakers. (Think Robert Frost on this one.)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Say Thank You With Your Feet: Poetry Readings and Your Community

It's Poetry Month. Which means there are a lot of events planned. It's time to say thank you.

For example, I'm packing this morning to go to Tucson, Arizona. Tonight, I'm reading for the "Other Voices Reading Series" held at Antigone Books, run by Liza Porter.  I've read there before and they always have a great audience.

Also, this week I had a delightful breakfast with a good friend of mine, Catherine Hammond. She created and runs the premier reading event in our community--the Tempe Poetry in April events. Along with my composer friend Christopher Scinto and some other musicians, we will be reading and performing poetry and music from our jazz opera in Tempe on April 27th. We have a similiar event planned at my college campus on April 20th. And, currently, I am scheduled to do readings during poetry month all the way into 2011 and 2012.

I've given readings all over the country in all kinds of venues. For example, I've read at the prestigious and huge Chicago Humanities Festival as part of the Poetic Dialogue project which was held the year I read at Loyola University in Chicago. In Clearwater, Florida, I read at 9am in the morning to a dedicated writer's group in a library which had a two-story window that overlooked the beach. And I've read with a nationally known poet on the second floor of a jazz club in Ithaca,  New York.  I've been invited to read my poetry at universities, coffee shops, libraries, bars, bookstores, private homes, college classrooms, a converted church, book festivals, and once, even sandwhich shop. 

No matter the place, the size of the group, or if the reading series is new or well-established, the point is that those who create and run these kinds of events, significantly contribute to bringing poetry to the forefront of our consciousness.

These people--who often work for no or little money--spend a great deal of time and effort in putting these poetry reading events. Their efforts go beyond the obvious--that is finding good, dependable, engaging, interesting readers.

Their behind-the-scene efforts include maintaining a level of professionalism before, during and after the events; obtaining funding whenever that is possible for the readers but also for the hidden costs connected with venues, pr, coffee/tea-ish things etc. etc.; creating viable public relations efforts and then implementing those efforts; finding suitable--and often beautiful--physical spaces in which to readers and audiences can fully experience the magic of a poetry reading; dealing with the always and ever present Murphy's law--the endless details that--more often than not-- don't happen as they should.

Running a poetry series is a labor of love.

And, as importantly, it is a labor of love that influences our communities right now. And these events reach into the future so others will know that culture exists because these events exist, because we exist.

So, say thank you with your feet...attend a poetry reading this month.

Friday, April 1, 2011

High Notes, Finalist, 2011 Paterson Poetry Prize

Yesterday I came home from having a delightful lunch with my good friend, a lovely and gracious poet who also lives in Arizona. Even though we  live the same city, we are both so busy that getting together outside of work or our writer's conference is always a special occasion.  We met at a local French restaurant and always reserve 3 hours to talk. Our conversations cover a lot of ground--poetry, the business of poetry and health and shared friends and jokes and make-up and husbands and so forth.

So after our lunch, I went home. I stopped by our neighborhood's collective mailbox station which is ubiquitous in Arizona and specific to our community. It was really warm day for March--about 98 degrees--somewhat early for this kind of heat in Arizona.  After collecting the contents of my overstuffed box,  I sat in the car and I opened my mail.

There was one piece--which I almost mistook for junk mail--I don't know why--maybe it's because I am a member of a lot of writers' organization and they always solicit me for donations and the color of the envelope looked like one of those solicitations-- which I almost tore up before reading. Somehow, I guess I decided to open it up before I threw it away . Anyway,  I wasn't paying much attention as I scanned the letter...

which began "Congratulations!"

Now you have to understand that, as a writer--especially a poet-- one doesn't get a whole lot of letters that began this way. Not serious ones, anyway.

Another poet friend of mine once, half-jokingly, commented to my students: "If you are interested in mental health, don't become a writer. Because there is a lot of rejection and you have to learn to deal with it without it hurting you or your work."

And clearly, she has a point.

Rejection letters and learning how to deal with them are just part of the business. One needs to understand that. As I tell my students, rejection letters for one's writing never feel good.

However, yesterday was not one of those "figure-it-out-and-move on" kind of days for me.

This letter began "Congratulations!" and it went on to inform me that my book, High Notes, was chosen as a 2011 Paterson Poetry Prize finalist.

Elizabeth Alexander won this year's award for Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems, 1990-2010. You may remember that Elizabeth Alexander read at President Obama's inauguration. And her list of awards and honors are many. For example, she was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and her work was one of the American Library Association's "Notable Books of the Year."

There are just a few finalists for this award. In the past, the finalists list often would reads as a "Who's Who" list of poets.

In addition to this honor, I have been asked to read with the winner and other finalists next April as part of the Distinguished Poets Series.

So...I am thrilled!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Speaking of Chinese Poets

Poets from across time and civilizations speak to us. Some feel like they are right here beside us.  We feel like we know them. And, more importantly, we feel like they know us.

Here are a few more international poets for you to consider.

Wang Wei, from the eighth century, has a moving poem, "Lament for Yin Yao" which ends with these lines:


All your old friends have brought you gifts
But for your life these too are late.
I've failed you in more ways than one.
Weeping, I walk back to my gate.
translated by Vikram Seth

Of course, there is the famous Li Po who lived in the Tang Dynasty (700's).  His poem, "Alone and Drinking Under the Moon," has a contemporary quality which is almost unnerving. He writes:

"....while
still not drunk, I am glad
to make the moon and my shadow 
into friends..."

Clearly, this is a sentiment which would have been much appreciated by French poet Charles Baudelaire (19th century)  who wrote the famous prose poem "Drunk" which declares, mid-poem:

"....ask what time
it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: 'It's time to be drunk! So as not to be the
martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry, or on virtue as you
wish."
http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16054

Then there a contemporary Chinese woman poet Zhai Yongming who, in her poem "In this Instant" has this to say about  on time and timelessness --and our responsibility to both:

"....only I 
heard the tip tap tune of breaking dawn
The flash of ecstasy had no equal, the aloofness 
was like a distrust of air, or the dew
or the night...."

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/184235/2_translated_poems_of_zhai_yongming.html 







Friday, March 25, 2011

Yevtushenko, Paz and Szmborska: 3 International Poets You Should Read

There are some poets in the world who speak to us even when we don't understand their language.

The power of such a voice--even in translation--transcends  boundaries,both time and space. We feel less alone in the world when we encounter them on the page. 

Three such poets who have changed my poetic world are: Yevgeny Yevtushenko (Russia), Octavio Paz (Mexico) and Wislawa Szmborska (Poland).

I first saw Yevtushenko on a public TV  when I was 15-years-old.  It was a Sunday night and I was flipping around the dial looking for something interesting. By chance, I happened to land on a channel which showed a bare stage and a man dressed in a gray turtle neck. The man was prowling the stage and speaking in Russian. I didn't know what the words meant, I only knew that what the man was speaking was poetry and that I was deeply moved. Soon after he finished his piece, some translators spoke the words in English.  I was only 15 but I knew these English words were not--could not-- be as powerful as the Russian words the man just spoke.

I don't remember how I bought Yevtushenko's book. I came from a neighborhood that barely had a library. My town was filled with working class folk, mostly, and building a library was a costly endeavor for them. So, eventually, a library building got built but--well...let's just say there were a lot of bare shelves and not a lot of books when I was growing up.

So it must have been when I went into New York City with my school for various trips that I was able to buy his book. I should say books--because I loved his poetry so much I kept buying books and giving them away.  I still have one copy from those days. It is old and yellow and I still love the poems.  Among my favorites are "The City of Yes and The City of No," "Babii Yar," "Lies" and  "Colours," ("When your face came rising/above my crumpled life,/the only thing I understood at first/was how meager were all my possessions.")

I encountered  Paz and Szmborska much later in life but my reaction was similar to these poets as to when I met Yevtushenko.

When I first read Paz--especially his poem "Between What I see and What I Say"--I, literally, could not breathe. My chest felt as if all the air was being squeezed out of it. ("Between what I see and what I say; between what I say and what I keep silent,/between what I keep silent and what I dream,/between what I dream and what I forget:/ " 'poetry.' ")http://www.wisdomportal.com/PoetryAnthology/OctavioPaz-Anthology.html)

Reading Szmborska still makes me want to cry, laugh and dance in crazy high heel shoes.

Take a look at the first few stanza of "A Few Words on the Soul" and see if you don't feel the same way.


We have a soul at times.
No one’s got it non-stop,
for keeps.

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.

Sometimes
it will settle for awhile
only in childhood’s fears and raptures.
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.


(translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

https://www.bu.edu/agni/poetry/print/2002/56-szymborska.html)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ten Statements You Won't Read In a Contemporary Poetry Book Review

#1    This is boring.

#2.   These poems are derivative.
(otherwise known as the "Been-There, Done-That" School of Poetry).

#3.    The poems are confessional/experimental/formal/narrative/lyric etc. etc. and nothing more.  (Brought to you by the "Why-Should-I Care-About-This-Besides-the-Fact-that-You-Wrote-It?" School of Criticism)

#4.     In terms of content/style/tone/structure: this poet repeats himself/herself over and over, again and again--in this book and the poet's last 10 books.
(otherwise known as "This Super Famous Poet Should Have His/Her Own Reality TV Show Titled "Too Famous for You").

#5.     No surprises here. Not one.

#6.    This poetry book is better/worse than the last one by this (famous or somewhat famous or wanna-be famous) poet.

#7.    Some of these poems are splendid.

#8.    Some of these poems are not splendid.

#9.    The poems make the reader work really hard but in that really delicious way.

#10.   This is prose and not poetry.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Between Land and Sky: The Poetics of Geography

We are all the consequence of history. And here history lives as an echo on the face of strangers lounging in city parks; children riding bikes down a mountain road; a woman hanging wash on a line threaded between two iron poles; two voices whispering in the dark. Here experience and landscape converge. The urban world of freeway cars and tract houses and billboards strung with a dozen neon lights which almost casually draws a line across the throat of wilderness; and we must simultaneously remember and forget who we are and where we have come from.

 I live in this Arizona desert landscape, bordered on three sides by the wide sky and on the other  by a ridge of biting sunlight.  I am a woman born on the edges of the Atlantic, whose blood runs at odd moments, all the way back to Spain, then Italy; then the New World.
   
The poems I bring to my creative writing and literature students are ones that speak to them of their own sense of place in the world. The poems my students seem to crave are ones that help them to survive in the landscape of their lives and which articulate the geography of their present.  Sometimes these are the poems that are famous and fall into the classical cannon, such as the works of Shakespeare, Dickinson, Browning, and Eliot.

Sometimes the works of contemporary poets--writers who are firmly fixed in this place--are what my students want and need. They understand the poetry of paradoxical landscape: the urban world in which most of us find ourselves is a "place" in which we are aware that we live as part of nature as well as being a force that is against nature.

For those of us living in the American southwest, this dual sensation is like standing in the desert and hearing the voices of those who may have crossed this barren track of land thousands of years ago while imagining those who, if the extravagance of "for sale" signs are to be believed, will inhabit the land within the next six months. We must be aware of two sets of distinct realities, the end product of which, oftentimes, becomes an odd sense of displacement. 

Perhaps our own history has--if we dared be honest with ourselves--dislocated our imagination. And if we were really brave, the questions we might ask of ourselves are these:  When will we re-enter the landscape of our imagination? What drove us from it in the first place? How does our sense of physical place influence our perception of the world? Does gender affect one's imagination? Does race? Class? If so, how? In what ways?

Who or what will guide us back to our own imaginations?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lessons for Serious Writers Or "What They Didn't Tell Me in Grad School"

Well...maybe they did tell teach me  these things when I was a graduate student pursuing my Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry.

And maybe, like so many students, I was too busy reading, writing,  working, teaching classes, taking classes, raising a family, voting, cleaning, shopping, flossing, connecting and disconnecting etc., etc., etc.,  that I somehow missed these lessons. Or learned them and then had to re-learn them.

Regardless. If you are a serious poet pursuing the craft on your own or in a formal setting or simply a writer who has "been at it" for a while but needs to be reminded of some essentials...here are some lessons to visit and re-visit from time to time.

1) Read outside your comfort zone. 

2) Create and maintain a habit of writing. Be nice to your Creative Process Muse. Take her--or him--out to lunch once in a while. Buy flowers. Tell your Muse how much you appreciate all his--or her--efforts. Give hugs.

3) Write against yourself. Watch out for those linguistic "ticks" that we fall into--turns of phrases, images, syntactic patterns that you repeat over and again. Think of these repetitive "safe havens" as mere place holders for what you really want to write about.

4)  Respect what you can not yet do in your writing but are attempting to accomplish. You will get there. Keep trying. (Just look at the early work of some of the great poets.  They were not all perfect all the time. But they kept working and their vision was eventually realized.)

A corollary to #4: No matter how accomplished you become, do not become derivative of yourself. Keep it new.

5) Figure out what kind of relationship you want to have to the public relations side of writing, publishing and pubic readings. Do not conflate "famous" with "good poetry."

6) As importantly, understand that you will have to promote yourself, your books, your readings and your publishing house. Learn how to write a press releases. Learn how to write copy for your book. Learn how to set up readings. Once you learn these skills, keep polishing them.

7) If you want to get published for the first time and hoping to go with a small press, make sure you communicate to the publisher what you are willing to do to promote your book and the press it represents.

8) When giving a reading, practice beforehand. Time yourself.

9) If you are given a time limit for a reading, stick to it. Look at your audience. Smile every now and then. Give them a little bit of time between poems to let your words sink in. 

10) Be generous.  To other writers. To community organizers.  To anyone who loves poetry. It's a big world out there and people do not have to show up for your readings; they do not have to publish your work; they do not have to buy your books. And if people love poetry, let's be really really nice to them and congratulate them on contributing to the making of a vibrant literary culture.

11) If another writer does something nice for you--gives you information, networks for you, sets up a reading for you, introduces you to an editor...whatever...try to recognize it as a gift. And reciprocate in some way.

 12) Be kind. And be courteous.  Be polite.  People have long memories.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Read Poetry by Sydney James, Guest Blog


This is a piece I use in many of my classes. I reprint it here with permission of the author. It's a good teaching tool but also a gentle reminder to those of us who write poetry as well. --LRD
**********
How to Read Poetry
By:    Sydney James

1)    When first approaching a poem, put your intellect away.  Good poems are trying to express things at the intuitive, imaginative and emotional level.  Most contemporary poems can’t be reduced to a logical statement.

2)    Meanings are often contained inside visual images.  For instance, if you read “an apple in a bowl, with gold light pouring off the sides,” you sense of home, of beauty, perhaps of strength or hope – but the poet has not given you the words “beauty” or “home.”  On the other hand, if you read “an apple withering in a tarnished bowl”, you have sense of decay, perhaps of sadness or despair.  LOOK FOR THE IMAGES, and FEEL THE EMOTIONS that the images might give you.  Poets rarely say something straight on; they come at it indirectly.  If this makes you impatient, sit down sometime and try to describe how it feels to hold a baby, or your first kiss, or a fight with your mother.

    This is also known as the principle of ASSOCIATION.  Poets rely on the association of elements.  This means – if I want to write about summer, I may describe a sailboat, which will probably make you think about warm weather and sunshine.  Or I might describe grass growing very tall and green in a field – that’s a summer image.  You ASSOCIATE green grass with summer.  Connect the words in a poem with things inside your head that they are RELATED to.  The poet may not really be talking about a sailboat at all – s/he may be trying to give you a sense of motion sickness, and the sailboat may be a metaphor for emotional experiences that upset our equilibrium.  METAPHOR is another form of ASSOCIATION.

3)    FORM OFTEN REVEAL CONTENT.  A poem with long lines and little punctuation might give you a sense of hurry, whereas a poem with short line and careful, measured punctuation might provide a sense of peace – or sadness.  Look at the WAY a poem is written; that is how it appears on the page and how it progresses inside your head.

4)    SOUND.  Poets rely not only on what words MEAN but how they SOUND – the sound is part of the meaning.  If you have words that have a lot of n’s and r’s, e’s and I sounds – for example “singing”, “prayer” – those words are usually peaceful, pretty words.  On the other hand, words with b’s, k’s, t’s, and some “un’ sounds tend to be harsher and more choppy – “brutal”, “trudge”.  Poets count on the sounds to portray their meaning.

5)    Add it all together: what’s in the poem and what it’s brought up inside your head.  But keep in mind that the parts may be contradictory.  Poets are often trying to express feeling or situations that “we have no words” for – in other words, feelings and situations that are paradoxical, ambiguous or bizarre.  A poem that mixes peaceful sounds with a nervous rhythm may be a failed poem, or it may be trying to express a day at the amusement park.