Last semester I wrote a craft annotation on the subject of poetic structure and nonlinear time. Now I can see that this is very much an element of lyric poetry. Where narrative poetry moves like a road, lyric poetry unfolds like a flower, spiraling out from a single image or moment into a flurry of associations and other moments.
In The Flexible Lyric, Ellen Bryant Voigt calls out compression and song as two characteristics of lyric poetry. Emily Dickinson’s poems feature both of these qualities prominently. Her poems have a basic pattern: quatrains with alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter lines. But the thing that set her apart from the dominant aesthetic of her time was the way she broke from the pattern. What her contemporaries might have called spasmodic, imperfectly rhymed, and lacking in form, we today consider a masterful interplay of meaning and music. Some of her poems adhered more closely to convention than others. Consider “Because I could not stop for Death” (poem 712):
Continue reading “Song and Compression in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry”
I’ve been interviewing authors and poets on this website for quite some time, but having the opportunity to do so for The Rumpus really inspired me to up my game. I corresponded with Jennifer Martelli about her new book My Tarantella for about three weeks in order to have a true back-and-forth with her. The book spirals around the story of Kitty Genovese, a notorious murder that took place in the late 1960s, ostensibly while scores of people heard the attack and did nothing to come to her aid. I learned a lot I hadn’t known about Kitty, including the fact that she was a lesbian. Jennifer clued me in to a beautiful piece of theater and dance that tells the story of both Kitty and her lover, Mary Ann Zielonko.
My editor at The Rumpus also gave the interview a great headline–A Female, Bone-Deep Obsession: Talking with Jennifer Martelli.
New since the last listing:
- James Grigg and Heather Dupont in Gloucester (11/7)
- Amanda Doster, Anna M. Warrock, Richard Wollman, and Janet MacFadyen in Turners Falls (11/9)
- Kate Colby, Amanda Cook, and Kate Tarlow Morgan read Charles Olson in (of course) Gloucester (11/10)
- Gloria Mindock, David Blair, and Bert Stern in Cambridge (11/15)
- Susan Eisenberg in Jamaica Plain (11/15)
- Carla Schwartz in Cambridge (11/16)
- Peter Fallon and David Ferry in Boston (11/27)
- David Ferry and Bert Stern in Somerville (12/3)
- Troy Jollimore and Heather Altfeld at MIT (12/12)
Also please note:
- Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s reading with Wendy Drexler at Belmont Books on November 15 has been cancelled.
- Tino Villanueva’s reading at the Omni Parker House in Boston has been moved from November 10 to November 17.
Thursday, November 8, 6 pm
Kate Colby and Anselm Berrigan
Thursday, November 8, 7 pm
Susan Stewart delivers the CD Wright Lecture
McCormack Family Theater
70 Brown St.
Thursday, November 8, 7 pm
Recital of Eliot’s Four Quartets
Carol & Park B Smith Hall Rehm Library
Continue reading “Boston-Area Poetry Readings for November and December 2018”
three crab-apple sisters
standing close together
lichen on their dead branches
and on their live ones
tiny yellow fruit
The latest chapbook from poet Sarah Nichols, Dreamland for Keeps (Porkbelly Press, 2018), uses found poetry to reclaim a voice for Elizabeth Short, victim of a brutal murder in 1947. The gruesome details of Short’s death led to sensationalized media coverage and the nickname “The Black Dahlia.” Nichols lifts words from a novel inspired by the case and remixes them into a pointillist narrative–Elizabeth’s own story, rather than the story told about her. The resulting poems are spare, bold, and utterly riveting. Nicci Mechler of Porkbelly Press enhances the manuscript’s artistry with a beautifully designed, handmade chapbook.
Sarah Nichols took some time to discuss the book, her writing process, and the political implications of her work with me via email.
Continue reading “Interview with Sarah Nichols, Author of Dreamland for Keeps”
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 Annotation: Nonlinear Time and Poetic Structure”
brilliant red tree buds
bobbing in the April wind
lift my spirits up
As I discussed in my craft annotation on Rilke, modern poetry favors a particular aesthetic quite the opposite of the era preceding it. The rise of the Imagist movement in the early 20th century heralds this shift. As the name implies, the movement was toward concrete, visceral imagery and away from sentimentality and meditations on abstract concepts such as love or death – or if the poem is a meditation on love or death, it’s never explicitly named as such. In the preface to the 1915 anthology Some Imagists Poets, the school listed some of its common principles. These two in particular stood out for me:
- To present an image (hence the name: “Imagist”). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.
- To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred or indefinite. [i]
William Carlos Williams explores this principle in his long poem “Paterson,” Continue reading “Craft Annotation: Szymborska, Imagery, and Abstraction”
Read on for the cover letter to the final packet of my first semester at the Lesley MFA program, written to my teacher Sharon Bryan. The cover letter of a packet is meant to be a meditation on your writing and study process over the course of the previous month — a sort of “making of” the finished work that accompanies it:
How strange to think that this is the last packet I will be sending you. The semester has gone by so quickly. I was really worried about being able to finish all the work on time, but it turned out to be possible after all. About halfway through each packet I would get incredibly anxious. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish the work on time, and that what I sent wouldn’t be good enough. It’s natural to want to get the most out of a degree program as possible, but it’s also important not to let the perfect get in the way of the good. The fact that the course work is pass/fail helps, but ultimately it’s a question of whether I think I am doing the best that I can. Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester One, Final Packet”
When I first picked up Heather McHugh’s work[i], I delighted in her witty use of language – the way she was able to pick out a word’s multiple meanings in the course of tightly musical and lyrical verse. Some examples:
I don’t move
but the grass in the window
does an utter
The dog pauses before the fire,
weight, can’t make
light of it, lies
By themselves, these puns and surprising twists of language might suffice, but McHugh combines this wordplay with an unerring attention to the sound and rhythm of her lines as well. Continue reading “Heather McHugh’s Poetic Music”