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.

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.

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!