Cal’s Advice? Read!

From Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell:

When Philip Booth askes him to look at his poems, Cal suggests he study perhaps “three poets for a month, maybe copying-out poems” to see what he can use to extend his range: “Empson for intellect. Marianne Moore for observation. Frost for how to get a poem organized.”

This set me to wondering. I think I instinctively root out what I can learn from poets I love as I read their poems. Sometimes this is done just by virtue of reading and rereading, osmosis, my poetry veins sopping it all up. Other times it’s a very conscious decision — especially when the poet’s work is a stretch for me. But it’s generally pretty haphazard — I read a lot, and hope to learn something in the process.

If you were going to do this same exercise, for March, say, in preparation for NaPoWriMo 2010, but instead planned to study 3 contemporary poets, who would they be, and what specifically do you think you could learn from them?

Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

MassPoFestAccording to their website, 178 poets and presenters are reading, leading workshops or performing at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival this coming weekend, with simultaneous launches all over the state.  There’s a High School Poets Program, a huge slate of workshops, many many readings — and it’s free!

If you’re attending on Saturday, come look me up.  I’ll be at the Small Press Fair, staffing the Tupelo Press table –stop by, say hi, and buy a book or three.

Please note, they’re encouraging all Saturday attendees to check in at Festival Central, and everyone who does will be entered in a raffle. The Poetry Box, according to the website, will contain:

  • A gift certificate from Grub Street entitling you to attend one of their courses.
  • A gift certificate to attend one session with PoemWorks and Barbara Helfgott Hyett.
  • A gift certificate from Grolier’s in Harvard Square.
  • An assortment of poetry books.

Free books?  I don’t need to be asked twice!  There is just an outrageous number of events happening — I hope you’re able to participate. This is the only the second year of the Festival, and this year’s even more ambitious, so here’s hoping it’s wildly successful and sure to return for years to come.

And to whet your whistle, ReadWritePoem, in partnership with the Festival, is running a special series, wherein featured readers at the Festival were asked to answer the question, “What is poetry?”  The results are as varied and intriguing as the poets: a wordle from Joan Houlihan, a pastiche of quotes & frank ruminations from Jeffrey Harrison.  Take a gander, and offer your own thoughts, too — no grades allowed, but class participation is highly encouraged.

Magma‘s “Mistakes Poets Make”.

My laptop is in the shop yet again.  Possibly this was the last gasp of the beleaguered motherboard — I feel its pain, deeply — so I am not only without a draft this week — which is fine, because when I include the dragonfly challenge poem (a challenge I won, by the bye!), I’ve met my allotted 4 poems and am due a week off for revisions anyway — but I’m not really able to write a proper post as such.  It’s too difficult when I’m running hither and yon, checking email on the library’s computer when I can, borrowing my neighbor’s laptop at other times. 

However, in those halcyon days before my laptop failed me, just three days ago, I found this article on Magma Poetry’s website, from an old issue, as I trawled the interwebs, and it’s great fun.  Brilliant.  They have a regular column, “Poetry in Practice”, and this is one installment from a few years ago.  You should go and read the entire bit, but here are a few clips, not by any means the least of it:

*Ending.  A.  Poem.  Like.  This.  Is.  Often.  Crap. 

*Never agree to stay behind and look at the folders or manuscripts of individual poets after teaching a workshop.  This leads straight to boiling in pig’s blood in hell. 

*Don’t, as I was, be put off by the lofty way reviewers and academics write about poetry – think of it as the pidgin language of a far-away land you never need visit. 

*Reviewing should be firm, kind and not more than one sentence cruel.  If you can help it. 

*Don’t go to a dinner or drinks party where you don’t know the other invitees and say you’re a poet.  Auden settled on ‘Medieval Historian’, I normally say ‘Logician’. 

Poet Meme.

So this is the Poet Meme that Bloglily took me up on. I’ve concentrated on primarily American poets of a certain age & accomplishment — with only 20-ish names as my limit, clearly there had to be parameters — with the exception of Rilke, because Lily doesn’t have him on her list, and I think he’s essential. And Auden. And Keats. It’s my list, I can be inconsistent if I want to. Naturally it’s myopic and incomplete, as all such lists are doomed to be. But compiling such lists, while fun, is also a lens into your reading proclivities and biases — feel free to add your favorites: I’m sure to experience a “‘Doh!” moment. Perhaps someone else (Emma?) could compile another 20 to add to my & Lily’s tab, using whatever categorization she chooses, i.e., up & comers, non-American. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more?

And I didn’t bother to bold anything because I have at least read something by each of these poets, some a good deal, others less so, but something nonetheless.

The lists, Lily’s & mine, combined and in alphabetical order:

Anna Akhmatova
W.H. Auden
Elizabeth Bishop
Eavan Boland
Marianne Boruch
Gwendolyn Brooks
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Billy Collins
Emily Dickinson
John Donne
T.S. Eliot
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Carolyn Forché
Amy Gerstler
Linda Gregg
Marilyn Hacker
Rachel Hadas
Seamus Heaney
Anthony Hecht
John Keats
Galway Kinnell
Ted Kooser
James Merrill
Medbh McGuckian
Czeslaw Milosz
John Milton
Honor Moore
Marianne Moore
Pablo Neruda
Alicia Ostriker
Sylvia Plath
Marie Ponsot
Adrienne Rich
Rainer Maria Rilke
Pattiann Rogers
Gjertrud Schnackenberg
Anne Sexton
Tom Sleigh
Wallace Stevens
Ruth Stone
Mark Strand
Jean Valentine
Ellen Bryant Voigt
Walt Whitman
Derek Walcott
W.B. Yeats

Letters to Poets.

Just found this in my University Press of New England fall 2008 catalog, and it looks very promising: from Saturnalia Books, Letters to Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics, and Community, edited by Jennifer Firestone and Dana Teen Lomax. Catalog copy:

Letters to Poets honors and commemorates the hundredth anniversary of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet by partnering a selection of 14 of the country’s leading contemporary poets with 14 emerging poets and documenting their correspondences. These poets challenge the hierarchies and pitfalls endemic to the mentoring process, and ask some of the day’s toughest, most vital questions concerning race, class, and gender. Spanning a range of not only generations but cultural, aesthetic, and economic backgrounds, these diverse pairings both challenge and support each other artistically and politically. The result is in turns dramatic, enlightening, and comic.

According to Saturnalia’s website, poets contributing include:

Anselm Berrigan
John Yau
Wanda Coleman
Eileen Myles
Paul Hoover
Brenda Coultas
Victor Hernandez Cruz
Anne Waldman
Leslie Scalapino
Kathleen Fraser.

Alas, it goes without saying that I am not included amongst the emerging poets.  Due in October.

Poetry in Review.

It’s a common trope that more people are writing poetry than reading poetry, and even less are writing poetry criticism. Some of the welcome developments have been the expanded prose section in Poetry, and the reinstatement of poetry reviews in Publishers Weekly, which can be vital for library and bookstore sales. And the angel who invested in Parnassus: Poetry in Review saved a crucially unique journal, one devoted exclusively to poetry criticism. Their 30th issue comes out in March!

Online, however, is where poetry reviewing has really come alive. At sites like Galatea Resurrects, and The Constant Critic and countless poetry blogs, you can find critical writings on poetry & poets. And, wonderfully for the poet with a first book, there’s Growler.

From their website:
Growler strives to promote debut works of poetry by offering them exposure through review and criticism. Many first books are lauded as winning this prize or that, but what does that mean when almost every first book of poetry has won an award and been selected by a preeminent poet? Growler will provide serious inquiry into the merits of each book that we review, often giving the poets their first critical attention.

Many complain that there are too many poetry books being published, and often more specifically about the proliferation of first book contests. Many have also complained about a lack of serious criticism of contemporary poetry. Growler will take a stab at both issues, addressing one with the other. Criticism can act as a gateway to poetry, advising the general readership as to where they might begin. We hope that this site will act not only as a inroad, but also as a launching pad for the careers of the numerous talented yet under exposed poets who are just beginning to publish. These are the true “emerging writers,” whose poems are rising above the waters after years of gestation.