Writing or making anything—a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake—has self-respect in it. You're working. You're trying. You're not lying down on the ground, having given up.
Monday, September 3, 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
How shifty a thing taste can be, how shitty, even one's own. I tremble to remember the poets, like Elizabeth Bishop, I dismissed out of hand, whose greatness dawned on me only later. Then there are poets I once admired and who opened the way through thickets for me, but whose work now I find clumsy and shiftless. I think we all tend to believe we can see through the vagaries of our moment to some absolute standard of judgment—this must be a characteristic of human consciousness itself—but the conviction is absurd. So, I never blab anymore about poets whose work doesn't or no longer moves me. But there are, however, thank goodness, poets the power and force of whose work once nearly knocked me down with delight and envy, and still does, so that when I read them again I feel again like an apprentice.
Here's the whole lecture:
Monday, July 23, 2012
[T]he lesson is always the same, and young poets recognize this to be one of the most important lessons they can learn: If you have any idea for a poem, an exact grid of intent, you are on the wrong path, a dead-end alley, and the top of a cliff you haven't even climbed. This is a lesson that can only be learned by trial and error.
—Mary Ruefle, in her essay "On Beginnings,"
in Words Overflown by Stars: Creative Writing Instruction and Insight from the Vermont College of Fine Arts M.F.A. Program,
edited by David Jauss
Monday, June 18, 2012
I think "inspiration" is what happens, if you’re lucky, during the rather dull and arduous process of writing a poem. You’re plugging away, nothing of much interest is going on, you’re thinking this one’s going to be a dud—then, bingo! Something nice and surprising happens, the poem suddenly comes alive, sits up on the table, and demands something to eat. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s great when it does.
Monday, June 11, 2012
If you think of an image as a jumping-off point, you can do so much. The poem isn’t hermetic, it’s reaching out. The first poem in Figures in a Landscape, about the hermit crab, isn’t really about a hermit crab. It has marine information, tarot, and Aristotle, but it’s really about loneliness. Hermit crabs are a little horrifying, really. Often they’re not alone in the shells they borrow, they don’t have their own, and sometimes when they outgrow their shell they bring its previous owner with them. That’s pretty complicated, isn’t it? You don’t have to write the connection between them and us. It’s all there.
Monday, May 28, 2012
Virtually every dream example I call up out of my poems teeters on the border between life and death, this seems quite apt to me, for I feel that poetry is essentially elegiac in its nature. We hold hard to those we love even as they die away from us and we continue to pursue them, through dreams into poems.
—Maxine Kiumin, Always Beginning
Friday, May 25, 2012
Well, this took forever to get posted, again due to my a desire to say something about the list. Here's the short version: author jags (Gilbert, Glück), recommendations (Kelly, Hall, Smith, Gerstler), class reading (Ackerson-Kiely, Wright) and sheer good luck (David Hernandez, whom I discovered through the wonderful AGNI Online). I'm starting to understand better what most appeals to me, and also where my tastes are starting to stretch (at least a little).
Monday, May 21, 2012
So when people say that poetry is merely a luxury for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read much at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language - and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers - a language powerful enough to say how it is.
—Jeanette Winterson, in "Shafts of Sunlight, in The Guardian
Monday, April 30, 2012
...I have a life that is largely made of poetry, of the poetry of others, both the dead and the living, and the poetry I try to write. I would not exchange that life, that ongoing education, that continual growth, for anything. Poetry returns to me the things I know and have forgotten, and among those things there dwells the deepest and oldest and least distorted version of myself: that consciousness that first looked for the right words, the right nouns, verbs, adjectives — the right sounds — to make sense of the world.
—Richard Hoffman, in a talk at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival
Monday, March 5, 2012
... I do edit and self-censor my work to keep from crossing certain boundaries of privacy and decorum. I am fond of saying to fearful students who turn in poems about family members, "Now that you have made art of it, it belongs to the ages." But of course there are matters of taste and tact. Sometimes just putting a searing poem away for a few days, months, or years will solve the problem. Sometimes, as you "await the birth-hour of a new clarity," as Rilke advised Mr. Kappus, a path around the emotional obstacle will appear. And eventually, truly, it will belong to the ages.
—Maxine Kiumin, Always Beginning
Monday, February 27, 2012
Your demons are there to be used an overcome, and in this sense they are ultimately helpful. Did you think writing great, or even good, poems would be easy? What feeling of accomplishment would you get from doing what is easy, what anyone can do without trying? Athletes train relentlessly to beome stronger, faster, better. Dancers attend class every day and rehearse long hours in the studio. Actors memorize thousands of words and then practice saying them over and over to inhabit their characters. If you thought poetry was different, this is your wake-up call. Poetry is a bitch. It wants your energy, your intelligence, your spirit, your time. No wonder you want to avoid it. I know I sometimes do. But the only way past, as I read somewhere, is through. Put your ass in the chair (or the bed), and get started.
Once you do that, other demons will show up.
—Kim Addonizio, Ordinary Genius
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
A watershed year, I think, in my reading life as in 2011 80% of the books in my final top ten were read on one or another eReader. The other two, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon and A Scientific Romance, were not available in eBook form at the time I started them. I miss some things about print, but not as much as I expected—and now that I've switched to the Google eReader, which does a much better job of giving you a sense of where you are in the book (page numbers, how radical!) I miss them less. Still not a good choice for poetry, I think, but overall it's convenient and the house is (slightly) less messy.
This year I'm also finally walking the buy-local walk. All links here and in the book lists on the right now take you to the IndieBound web site, where you can search for the books at a local independent bookstore near you. Although I still buy plenty of stuff from Amazon, I'm buying my books elsewhere.
Monday, February 20, 2012
[A]t the very core of every poem, there is emotion. What you have to do is fight against this emotion. If you were to use emotions only it would be enough to say: 'I love you. Full stop. Don't leave me. What shall I do without you? Oh my poor country! Oh my poor homeland!'
—Wislawa Szymborska, who died earlier this month,
in an interview in The Guardian
Monday, January 30, 2012
[T]he idea behind craft annotations is to learn by close examination and informal analysis just what’s going on inside poems written by others. We hold the pen in our hand as we walk and talk our way through a poem, while trying to pay close attention to just one or two elements of the poet’s craft. We ask ourselves, just how does the poet make this or that transcendence happen on the page? The idea is to become a poetry explorer, and as befits and benefits the role of the explorer, to make discoveries that we can then claim for ourselves – both for our own enlightenment (what are some of the ways in which this poet makes that poem effective?) and for our own use: now how can I employ these elements of craft – these tools from the poet’s tool belt – in order to write better poems?This series of blog posts by the editor-in-chief of Tupelo Press has been incredibly helpful reading for me—especially as I am just starting to write craft annotations myself—and I recommend it to you highly.
...Let me say that I’ve always found it helpful when annotating a poem to write the thing out, longhand. There’s no better way to get a tactile feel for what’s going on in a poem.
—Jeffrey Levine, Making Better Poems, Part II — with sample annotations
Monday, January 9, 2012
Much of our lives involves the word “no.” In school, we are mostly told, Don’t do this, do that. Don’t do it this way, do it that way. But art is the big yes. In art, you get a chance to make something where there was nothing.
—Marvin Bell, Commencement Address, Whidbey Writers Workshop, Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, MFA Graduation
Thursday, January 5, 2012
I love that I can just slip my ereader into my purse instead of lugging one or, on vacation, many books around. I love that I don't have to find more space in my already overcrowded home for the books I cannot seem to stop buying, new year's resolutions about using the library notwithstanding. But I've also felt sad and a little ashamed that I am neglecting my several local independent bookstores.
No more! Last week I read in the Porter Square Books blog that many ereader users can buy some or all of their books from independent booksellers. Here's the full list, organized alphabetically. I haven't tried it out yet but intend to do so with my next purchase and will let you know how it goes!
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
This is, of course, completely delusional. You can make a fresh start any time—every Tuesday, if you so desire. Or maybe you can never really make a fresh start, but I'm in a good mood and not going there.
So the blog has gotten a bit of housekeeping this weekend. I've restarted the poetry and non-poetry top 10 lists in the right margin. I've gone through and deleted or posted all the entries in "draft" state that I'm not actually drafting (yes, little post on sloth, I am never getting back to you—ironic, no?). I've back-filled top 10 lists for all the years I've been keeping them, so they are now all in one place (here).
It feels good. This is defininitely the kind of deluded I could get used to.
Happy New Year to all!
Monday, January 2, 2012
Poems like mine—I don't call them confessional, with that tone of admitting to wrong-doing. My poems have done more accusing than admitting. I call work like mine "apparently personal". Or in my case apparently very personal.Some of my favorite Sharon Olds poems:
—Sharon Olds, interviewed in The Guardian in 2008
I Go Back to May 1937