Poetry hooray for poetry month, Kenneth Rexroth, poems that are bright blue robins eggs for your mind, shiny covers get me every time, small books, Written on the Sky
It’s National Poetry Month, and you know what that means! It’s time for me to shake the dust and cobwebs off this blog of mine and start celebrating this wonderful thing that I love. Part of me feels I should make the requisite apology of the erstwhile blogger (oh, so sorry I’m a bum, I promise I’ll write more, yadda yadda yadda), but let’s just skip that and get down to the business (or, more aptly, plork) of poetry.
Thank you, April, for spring and for poetry!
This year, I’ll be doing a scaled back version of my poetry month blogging (teaching two classes in addition to a day job tends to eat time), but you can still expect to hear from me at least once a week (oh, joy, you say, as you imagine all the wonderful poetry talk!). I’m also looking for a guest blogger or two to share their thoughts (if you’re interested, email me at meredithpurvis [at] gmail [dot] com). And we’ll wrap things up with another round of the poetry challenge. I’m working on details and prizes now!
But to kick things off, I wanted to start with what may be one of the most beautiful little books I’ve ever laid eyes on (there is something about a small book that just makes me happy): Written on the Sky: Poems from the Japanese, translated by Kenneth Rexroth. This small book nestles in your palm the way the poems within it nestle in your brain.
Aside from this book, I can’t say that I know much about the late Rexroth, but Wikipedia tells me he was central to the San Francisco Renaissance and, though he did not consider himself (nor like being considered) a Beat poet, he was a major influence on the Beats. He was also one of the first U.S. poets to explore traditional Japanese forms. I’m glad that he did, and I’m glad that he translated these poems so that I could have them.
I should first admit that for many years, I eschewed haiku (or similar forms such as the tanka). I thought of those poems as small and saccharine and without impact or value, and I did not write them or read them.
Fortunately, I met some writers who saw the power in those few, brief lines of poetry. They showed me how something so small could be so big, how (not unlike a photograph) these poems could encapsulate a moment and an emotion in a raw and simple way. They are like a flash of memory that pulls you out of yourself and holds you in time for a moment, transported. Uncomplicated by a long retelling, they are what has happened and nothing more, but also everything.
This particular collection of poems lives up to that idea wholly. Just look at these five lines:
We dressed each other
Hurrying to say farewell
In the depth of the night.
Our drowsy thighs touched and we
Were caught in bed by the dawn.
How many of us have been there? The press of sheets, the warm touch of a lover, the night lost into morning? It is an image captured again and again in photos and films. And here it is in 27 words, a mere 138 characters. You could tweet it, for heaven’s sake, and it is infinite.
And then an extension of this image, the move from blurry newness and stolen time to the utter familiarity of a long relationship, be it friend or lover:
How much I love you.
Have become my
How many times have I heard my mother’s words come out of my mouth? How often have I found myself adopting a friend’s or lover’s habits? And in those moments of realization–this did not come from me–a need to explain, to understand what has happened. And there it is, in one tiny poem.
And finally, in this last example, is the whole thing. The bird, the cry, the memory better lost. That frozen moment that spreads out forever in your mind, stilled but repeating:
Out in the marsh reeds
A bird cries out in sorrow,
As though it had recalled
Something better forgotten.
~Ki No Tsurayuki
How can you not love these poems? Yes, there are surely some awful haiku and tanka out in the world. I’ve read some of them. I’ve probably written a few of them (in particular, I remember 5-7-5′ing my way through a little ditty about clouds when I was in 3rd grade that was ghastly). But when they are done well they can stop your heart.
Hooray for April! Hooray for Poetry! More of both for everyone!
Poetry, Reading, Uncategorized and the winners are, Clare Greene, Erika Ferrin, Jenny O'Grady, michelle jordan, poetry out of nothing challenge, yay poems!
I want to thank everyone who entered the Poetry Out of Nothing Challenge. Thank you for joining me in this new venture, and thank you for sharing your work with me and my readers–it was a treat. And now, the Challenge has come to an end. The poems have been read. Votes have been cast. Scores have been tallied. That means the only thing left to do is announce the winners of the Poetry Out of Nothing Challenge, which I am quite happy to do. So, without further ado:
1st Place: Clare Greene, “Juicy Love”
Clare’s poem will be the inspiration for a handmade book by Christina Gay.
2nd Place: Jenny O’Grady, “Folding Laundry”*
Avelino Maestas will create a unique framed photo based on Jenny’s poem.
3rd Place: Michelle Jordan, “Stink Bugs”*
Michelle will be receiving a unique handmade journal from Jenny O’Grady.
4th Place: Erika Ferrin, “Meat Dreams”
Erika will be receiving a $15 gift certificate to Powell’s Books.
Learn more about the prizes these amazing poets will be taking home.
*As stated in the initial challenge rules, the prize contributors were eligible for the challenge, but they are not eligible to win the prize they themselves have donated. Jenny O’Grady, who donated a handmade journal for the second prize, was voted into second place. To resolve this issue, the prizes for 2nd and 3rd place will be switched. Jenny will be awarded a framed photo based on her poem and Michelle will receive the handmade journal.
Poetry, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing Can't believe it's over, national poetry month, yay poems!
I love National Poetry Month, unabashedly and perhaps to an extreme. I’m not one to take that sort of month/week/day of thing seriously–there are just too many for any of them to many anything, it seems. And yet, I love that April gives the poetry community a reason to organize, a definable stretch of time to push harder, to share more, to encourage others to get in on this thing we love.
I make my contribution through this month of blogging, which has become an unexpected tradition. For me, it means 30 days of reading, writing, and thinking about poetry, but more than that, thinking about it in ways that I can share it with people. It means a free pass to discover new writers, to question my own tastes and tendencies in poetry. It means searching for ways to convey that poetry has enormous importance, that it doesn’t have to be an intimidating, foreboding art form to be stared at and passed by, that it can instead be an accessible and even necessary way of viewing the world.
It means an opportunity to invite in guest bloggers and see how my friends and family bring poetry into their lives, whether it’s through the recitation of long-remembered verses, the discovery of new poetry, the appreciation for poetry that withstands the years, or the interpretation of poetry into art.
It also means, this year, a unique chance to invite people, poets or self-proclaimed non-poets, to not only find a way into poetry through reading it, but to use it as a tool of self-expression by writing it. I have enjoyed every moment of the Poetry Out of Nothing Challenge: it is an enormous honor to have people trust you with their art, to read the words they put on the page in response to the details of their days and the ongoing joys, struggles, and questions of their lives.
Obviously, I’m a bit sad that April’s over, that in a few short hours this month of celebration will come to a close. But I also know that even as the calendar flips to May, I’ll continue reading and writing and thinking about poetry, and I hope you will, too.
Until next April, happy reading and writing.
P.S. Voting for the Poetry Out of Nothing Challenge continues until 11:59 tonight, so if you haven’t already voted, you should! I’ll be tabulating the votes over the next day or two, and I’ll announce the winners early next week.
Poetry, Reading, Uncategorized all the best kinds of poetry, Cindy Greenwood, finding the poems you love, guest blogger
Well, National Poetry Month is practically over, and it’s been a whirlwind here at the blog. I’m super excited to introduce this month’s last guest blogger, Cindy Greenwood. She’s originally from Michigan, but she’s lived all over the country from Washington state to Florida, and she just arrived in Baltimore a few months ago. Though we haven’t known each other long, we quickly evolved from mere officemates to friends thanks to how wonderfully warm and outgoing she is. I feel like there couldn’t be a better way to round out the month than with Cindy’s post–she explores the role poetry in all its forms has played in her life, and I think you’ll probably find you share in her experiences with it. Enjoy!
Let me begin by saying that I have always liked poetry…but have never really studied it or learned a whole lot on the topic. I know I liked poetry as a kid (all the silly, fun, rhyming poems and books of Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, etc.). I enjoyed some poems I learned in my high school College Prep Literature class. I sometimes have found myself drawn to the poetry section in bookstores, just to browse. And even more than reading it, I have learned that I often prefer spoken word poetry. I would say that, as someone who has not spent a lot of time reading, listening to, or studying poetry, I could give a pretty basic outline of the poetry that has had some sort of impact on me.
Beyond the years when I was probably in the target market for Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss books, I have remained a fan of children’s poetry (and kids’ books, in general). One book I stumbled upon years ago is A Moon in Your Lunch Box by Michael Spooner. A favorite poem of mine from that book is:
How to get there
from here to there
in a line
can make it.
But the river
___paddles side to side,
_______________visiting all its favorite stops,
__________thinking all its favorite thoughts,
____calling on friends,
___________playing its games,
________________all the same.
If I could choose to make
like either one of these,
which, I wonder,
would it be?
No doubt, my life has been (and continues to be) much more a river than a highway…and I like it that way.
As for those classic poems I learned in College Prep Literature class in high school, those that stood out to me include “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, and “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. I haven’t really spent much time thinking about why I like some poems and not others. I guess I feel similarly about poetry and visual art. I have not studied either, but I definitely have preferences. I just seem drawn to certain poems as I am to certain paintings and I have not necessarily examined the reasons. I enjoy the absence of a need to analyze.
I have certainly spent more time this month thinking about poetry than I ever have before, thanks to Meredith and her blog. In reading the blog, I found another poem to which I was drawn — the snippet of “A Daily Joy to Be Alive” by Jimmy Santiago Baca, featured in Avelino’s guest blog post. I read the full poem and, while I can appreciate it in its entirety, the portion Avelino shared is also the portion that speaks to me. On its own, it sounds so much like my life to me; moving to new places, starting my life over again and experiencing things I had not expected, all while feeling in some way anchored to all of the past places and especially the people in those places. That is a great thing about poetry — the ability for different people to find their own meaning in the same words.
As I am writing, I have realized that this blog post is a bit like the river in the Michael Spooner poem above. I seem to be wandering a bit, but I hope you’re still with me.
The last of my “favorite stops” would have to be spoken word poetry. I remember my first real experience with this art form. I sat in a black box theater at Washington State University, where I was attending graduate school. I was entirely in awe of Bryonn Bain and Staceyann Chin, the two performers on campus that evening. They had such passion behind their words. It was like music, but it wasn’t. I had no idea how to define what I was seeing and hearing, but I knew I loved it. The combination of entertainment and activism in their work was simply something I had not experienced.
Since that night in 2001, I have experienced many more spoken word performers whose work has left an impression on me. In case you’re interested, here are a few I recommend checking out (with specific poems of theirs, which I enjoy) [Editor's note: some of these poems may contain profanity, so beware before you click]:
I want to thank Meredith for her enthusiasm about National Poetry Month and poetry in general; I have enjoyed a renewed interest in this art form through reading new poems (including those submitted for the Poetry Out of Nothing Challenge), checking out the daily posts, and thinking about my own experiences with poetry. I hope to keep poetry a little closer to my daily life even after April comes to a close.
There’s still time to vote in the Poetry Out of Nothing Challenge, so get to it! Check out the entries here.
Poetry, Reading, Uncategorized cast your vote!, national poetry month, Poetry Out of Nothing, yay poems!
Thrilling. That’s really the only word for how it felt to watch entries for the Poetry Out of Nothing Challenge roll in last night. When I dreamed up this little experiment, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and most days thereafter I just worried no one would want to participate. I’m entirely glad I was wrong.
There were 23 entries from an enormously diverse group: students of writing, salty old poet types, and some brave souls making their first ventures into poetry. They also cover a broad range of topics, from meditations on meatloaf and intimacy and Mortal Kombat to reflections on self-worth and stink bugs and and illness. They treat their subjects with wonder and humor and familiarity. And even though everyone was writing from a different place, all of the poems are amazing, and they all have something to important to say. I don’t envy the voters who will have to chose their favorites.
Speaking of voting, it’s about time I told you how that is going to work. I’ve set up an online survey where you can cast a vote for your top 4 favorite poems. Here are the important details:
1.Voting will begin at 10 a.m. EST on April 28 and continue through 11:59 p.m. on April 30.
2. You may cast only one vote a day.
3. You can learn more about the challenge and read the poems in their entirety at meredithpurvis.com
4. If you have any questions, please send them to halfstartsandtrailoffs [at] gmail [dot] com.
5. You can see a full list of the entries here (alphabetical by poet’s name and including links to their individual posts)
And, most importantly, here’s the link to the survey. Go forth and vote! Tell your brothers, mothers, fathers, sisters, aunties, friends, neighbors, grocers, classmates, dogwalkers, and hair stylists. Just get out the vote and support these brave and talented writers!
Poetry, Writing national poetry month, poetry out of nothing challenge, Something from Nothing, Stephen Moravec, yay poems!
Something from Nothing
Not feeling it today
who cares whatcha got
knocking at the door
no answer, no one home
steppin up in spite of me—delivery
pen to page here we go
dodging thought of a rhyme
just don’t panic write it down
energy focused emotions abound
mission accomplished for now
Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing Lecture, Meagan Noel Hart, national poetry month, poetry out of nothing challenge, yay poems!
My words tumble from my tongue
and bounce like rubber balls
smacking my students’ foreheads
rejected, they quickly fly away
and settle lost within the corners
of the room.
I wish my words would always flow like water
washing over their faces
to subtle changes in the air
and seeping in
through their pores.
Poetry, Writing national poetry month, poetry out of nothing challenge, Rules, Suzanne McAllister, yay poems!
Temper is a wonderful thing. Don’t lose it.
Patience is a valued thing. Don’t abuse it.
Love is a splendid thing. Don’t misplace it.
Memory is a solid thing. Don’t disgrace it.
Childhood is a happy thing. Don’t harm it.
Youth is a fragile thing. Don’t alarm it.
Laughter is a necessary thing. Don’t forget it.
Tears are an important thing. Don’t regret it.
Friendship is a strengthening thing. Don’t bend it.
Truth is a shining thing. Do defend it.
Life is a welcoming thing. Dare to live it.
Death is a peaceful thing. Learn to forgive it.
Hope is a heartfelt thing. A gift we all give.
Faith is the cornerstone. By which we all live.
Dear ones to all the above, please to pay heed.
Live life indeed.
Poetry, Writing Future Preference, national poetry month, poetry out of nothing challenge, Tijuana Johnson, yay poems!
Exposing myself to the outside world
makes way for much fatigue;
consolidating the hours to seconds
enforces pressure beyond belief. This
loyal campaign can only prevail if I
decide to pay it forward.
Running through this daily mission
deliberated my style and I can’t
stop rejuvenating this life-line
for the outside world is waiting.