April is National Poetry Month, and in a poet-heavy city like Boston it means events are as numerous and ephemeral as cherry blossoms. Here are three from Mass Poetry, an organization that recently asked me to be a regional rep for Suffolk County. Mass Poetry has a strong educational component, and these events are geared toward students and teachers.
STUDENT OPEN MIC – APRIL 1
On Saturday, April 1st from 5pm – 7pm, Mass Poetry is hosting a student open-mic at Barnes & Noble Burlington (98 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, MA 01803), open to all middle and high school students in Massachusetts. Poet Regie Gibson will open and emcee the event, and then the students take over. Two participants will be drawn to receive a Barnes & Noble giftcard.
STUDENT DAY OF POETRY AT THE MASS POETRY FESTIVAL Mass Poetry will host a Student Day of Poetry on Friday, May 5th with writing: generative workshops, performances and student open mics, and readings and q&as to kick off the Mass Poetry Festival in Salem, MA. After attending the SDOP, students can attend the rest of the festival for free.
Confirmed poets include Anna Ross, Enzo Surin, Hannah Baker-Siroty, Krysten Hill, Laurin Macios, Lindsey O’Neill, and Regie Gibson. Open to students grades 8 – 12. Registration is $50 per school. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign your students up.
SUMMER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT COURSE Join Mass Poetry for a Summer Professional Development Course August 8 – 10. Poet Regie Gibson will lead the course at The Atlantic Wharf Building (right by South Station) where teachers will learn new techniques to invigorate the classroom next year.
While the session is geared to high school teachers working with the Common Core Curriculum, anyone who seeks to strengthen their knowledge and skills in creative writing poetry instruction are welcome to attend. Teachers can earn PDPs, while others earn Certificates of Completion.
The concept of argument and rhetoric as craft elements of poetry is very new to me and still feels slippery in my mind, which is why I wanted to focus on it. It’s a novel way to approach the art form and calls attention to a poem’s ability to persuade. According to Wikipedia, literary argument is a brief summary at the beginning of a section of poetry or prose, often used to orient the reader within a larger work. Another definition of argument is a poem’s central idea or thesis. Argument is the thing being said, and rhetoric is the way it’s being said.
In his book Poetic Argument: Studies in Modern Poetry, Jonathan Kertzer writes, “poetic thinking demands an intricate display of reason, which must call forth and submit to its mysterious double, known variously as unreason, the irrational, visionary, intuitive, or transcendent.” This extra element, which gets beyond the purely prosaic and into the realm of unconscious beliefs, yearnings, and desires, is the one that seems to baffle those who “don’t understand poetry.” Prose writers also employ rhetoric and appeals to emotion, but poetry allows for leaps of intuition and seemingly random association more difficult to sustain in prose.
It’s easy to get cereal-aisle paralysis in Boston, especially in the spring, when the already robust list of events swells. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I rarely get to more than one or two events in any given month. But the longer days and unseasonably warm weather gave me the energy to go to not one but two poetry events in the past week. I feel refreshed and revitalized. Leave off your mind of winter and brave the mud this month. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
Thanks to Daniel Bouchard for the bulk of the listings and to Sandee Story of the Jamaica Pond Poets for the extra listings in Suffolk County. All events are in Massachusetts unless otherwise noted.
Monday, February 27, 8 pm
Martha Rhodes and Josh Bell
56 Brattle Street
Tuesday, February 28, 6 pm
Kirun Kapur, Open Mic
Amesbury Public Library Poetry Series
149 Main St.
Tuesday, February 28, 7 pm
Oswald Egger and Laura Mullen
McCormack Family Theater
70 Brown St.
Wednesday, March 1, 5 pm
Morris Gray Poetry Reading
Forum Room, Lamont Library
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”
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.
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.
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
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 Emerson. A 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.