Craft Annotation: Elizabeth Bishop’s Use of Rhyme

Close-up photograph of a fish, referencing Elizabeth Bishop's famous poem "The Fish"

by Frances Donovan

In her book The Discovery of Poetry, Frances Mayes discusses rhyme within the context of repetition. This element of craft goes far beyond the end-stopped pure rhymes (mop/top) most people associate with poetry. Rhyme can be any kind of repetition of sound: slant rhymes (month/up); internal rhymes (the loud cloud growled); alliteration, consonance, and assonance (“tremendous fish,” “speckled with barnacles,” “coarse white flesh”); repetition of words, or repetition of entire lines.

Elizabeth Bishop uses all these techniques. Rhyme runs through her poetry like a subtle thread: always there, but not often when or how it’s expected. Even her prose poems (“Rainy Season: Sub-Tropics”) contain internal rhyme, alliteration, consonance, and assonance: “My sides move in rhythmic waves, just off the ground, from front to back, the wake of a ship, a wax-white water, or a slowly melting floe.” One can also interpret the overlap of events in these prose poems as a kind of rhyme. In each piece, the titular animal speaks but portrays the same encounters from a different perspective: “Beware, you frivolous crab,” says the toad. “And I want nothing to do with you either, sulking toad,” says the crab. “Cheer up, O grievous snail. I tap your shell, encouragingly,” says the crab. “What’s that tapping on my shell?” asks the snail. Continue reading “Craft Annotation: Elizabeth Bishop’s Use of Rhyme”

Craft Annotation: Voice and Point of View in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

Photograph of bees in a hive. Photo credit: Jordan Schwartz via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0.

by Frances Donovan

One usually hears about point of view as a craft technique in the context of prose. Students of poetry tend to focus on the speaker – “the eye of the poem,” as Frances Mayes puts it. But the two are linked. The mode of narration (first person, second person, third person limited or third person omniscient) informs the kind of “I” from which the poem unfurls. All poems have a speaker; it may be a strong presence that affects the whole tone of the poem, or it may be unobtrusive, a hidden narrator presenting facts without editorializing.

Continue reading “Craft Annotation: Voice and Point of View in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry”

Some Notes on Imbolc

Newborn lamb in a stable
  • Imbolc means “in milk,” or “in the belly.”
  • The Wheel of the Year turns to Imbolc on February 2.
  • If it is warm and sunny on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks. If it is cold and cloudy on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks.
  • Lambing season starts in February.
  • A shepherd’s hut is a tiny house on wheels.
  • At Imbolc, the shepherd is the trusted servant of the sheep. The lamb lies in the belly of the Great Mother. It emerges into darkness.
  • Shepherds wait in their tiny houses, they shiver and they stoke the fire.
  • They keep vigil with the ewes. They usher the lamb out into the cold.
  • Many cultures kill and eat a lamb in the spring. Easter happens near Ostara, when the sun shines merciless over the thawing ground.
  • Imbolc happens in darkness.
  • At the monastery, we would sing “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.”
  • Continue reading “Some Notes on Imbolc”

Boston Area Poetry Readings for February and March 2017

A human form sculpted out of snow, sitting on a park bench

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice

— Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man

Bring your mind of frozen junipers, of frozen ponds, of melting snow, of snowdrops and crocuses–bring whatever mind you have to a poetry reading. All minds are welcome.

Friday, February 3, 7 pm
First Friday Youth Open Mic (music and poetry)
First Baptist Church
Centre Street and Green Street
Jamaica Plain

Friday, February 3, 7:30 pm
Chapter and Verse
Susan Donnelly, Jeffrey Harrison, Jennifer Jean
Loring-Greenough House
12 South Street (across from the Monument)
Jamaica Plain

Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for February and March 2017”

Craft Essay: Nonlinear Time and Poetic Structure

Photograph of a spiraling clock.

by Frances Donovan

An issue I’ve struggled with time and again is how to incorporate multiple scenes in a single poem while still maintaining unity and clarity. Dividing a poem into separate sections with roman numerals or asterisks may work, but not all poems are long enough to justify multiple parts, nor does this method evoke the seamless way a particular sense perception or situation can trigger associations with another time and place.

Proust and his madeleine are a famous example: the taste of a cookie kicks off the epic, multi-volume novel Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past). Few modern poets have the luxury of such sprawl. But regardless of the length of the poem, one must still learn how to deal with nonlinear time in a way that mitigates the possibility of a confused reader. We experience time in a single dimension (past to present), but the way we think about time is multi-dimensional. It includes past, present, future, and possible divergences from a single outcome.

I set out in search of poems that dealt with the issue of multiple moments (past, present, future, and possible). Continue reading “Craft Essay: Nonlinear Time and Poetic Structure”

UPDATED: Boston Area Poetry Readings for Late January and All of February 2017

You've never seen the color blue

All readings are located in Massachusetts unless otherwise noted. Thanks as always to Daniel Bouchard for compiling many of the items listed below. For additional readings and events, check out the Mass Poetry statewide calendar.

(NOTE: New dates added Feb. 1)

Sunday, January 22, 2 pm
“River Weep” Poets Speak
Sammy Greenspan, Deborah Schwartz and Lee Sharkey
Boston Sculptors Gallery
486 Harrison Avenue
Boston

Sunday, January 22, 2 pm
Kathleen Ossip and Geraldine Zetzel
Brookline Poetry Series
Brookline Public Library Main Branch in Brookline Village
361 Washington St.
Brookline
Continue reading “UPDATED: Boston Area Poetry Readings for Late January and All of February 2017”

Interview with Wendy Mnookin, Author of Dinner with Emerson

Close-up from the cover of Wendy Mnookin's Dinner with Emerson
Photograph of poet Wendy Mnookin
Poet Wendy Mnookin, author of Dinner with Emerson

Poet Wendy Mnookin and I travel in similar orbits in the Boston poetry scene, but our paths have never intersected in person. I was happy to be able to speak with her via email about her most recent book Dinner with EmersonA veteran poet with five books to her name, Mnookin has taught poetry at Emerson College, Boston College, Grub Street, and at workshops around the country. Her honors include an NEA Fellowship, a book prize from the New England Poetry Club, and several Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and Poetry Daily. We spoke about the difference between tone and voice, the choices she made while compiling each of her manuscripts, and the relationship between her teaching and her writing practice.

What first brought you to poetry?

I have always been a reader, and, in my own way, a writer, mostly scribbling in journals. By the time my third child started kindergarten and I could see blocks of free time appearing in my life, I took a plunge into more dedicated writing and signed up for a poetry course at the Radcliffe Seminars Program. Ruth Whitman was teaching the course and I fell in love–with the reading, the discussion, and most of all, with the regular writing. I took courses there for several years and then attended the low-residency program at Vermont College, where I got my MFA. Although I don’t think courses are necessary for someone starting out in poetry, the structure helped me explore, build confidence, and establish a network of other writers who were serious about their work.

Continue reading “Interview with Wendy Mnookin, Author of Dinner with Emerson”

Boston Area Poetry Readings for December 2016 and January 2017

Image of a red cardinal sitting on a branch against a gray background

Without further ado I present the latest missive from poet Daniel Bouchard: a listing of most of the poetry happenings in Boston and environs. All towns are in Massachusetts except where noted. Give the gift that keeps on giving, and help a starving poet or two and buy their book. They make great holiday presents and the Muse will love you.

Wednesday, December 7, 6:30 pm
Adam Scheffler and Clint Smith
Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway
Cambridge
Free parking available in garage accessed from Broadway

Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for December 2016 and January 2017”

Haiku from Warmer Days

Today, the first snow of the winter came whispering down. In cold weather, smells don’t carry as well. Winter brings with it a different kind of beauty made of solitude, clarity, and dreams in the dark. Here’s a moment from warmer days to dream of:

After dark in the park
the feathery larch
smells me her secrets

Turmoil, Three Miracles

Three small miracles I saw today because I forced myself outside for a walk:

Two tiny finches circling and twittering around one another, one with a bright splash of orange on the top of its head, and another with a bright splash of yellow in the same spot

Three grey tufted titmice, who used to come to my feeder all the time when I lived closer to woods

A whole little flock of birds I don’t know how to identify, but who may be cedar waxwings: the size of a robin, but with a brilliant side patch of orange and an orange beak.

Also, deer tracks.

Some things keep happening in spite of humanity’s foibles. Even in times of great catastrophe, even in times of war and death and turmoil, the sun rises, the spring comes, the leaves fall, the birds migrate.