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”
National Poetry Month lives up to its name with a boatload of readings in Boston and environs. Special shout-outs:
Martha Collins and Joan Houlihan in Newton (4/3)
Kazim Ali and Stephanie Burt in Cambridge (4/4)
Robbie Gamble and Helen Marie Casey in Newton (4/6)
Marge Piercy in Boston (4/7)
Louise Glück in Cambridge (4/12)
Anne Waldman and Meredith Monk in Providence, RI (4/13)
Gloria Mindock, Lori Desrosiers, and Dorothy Shubow Nelson in Somerville (4/14)
Layli Long Soldier in Providence, RI (4/26)
Tracy K. Smith in Providence, RI (4/27)
Lyn Hejinian in Cambridge (5/22)
Thanks as always to Daniel Bouchard (reading Saturday, May 12 at the MIT Press Bookstore) for compiling these listings.
Monday, April 2, 12 pm
Common Room, CSWR
42 Francis Ave.
Harvard Divinity School
Monday, April 2, 2 pm
Federal Building — Assembly Room
Middlesex Community College
50 Kearney Square
Monday, April 2, 7 pm
Catherine Stearns and Nate Klug
Book launch, reading, and reception
10 Langley Rd
Monday, April 2, 8 pm
Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Gabriel Fried
Blacksmith House Poetry Series
56 Brattle Street
Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for April and May 2018”
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”
So back when this was more of a personal blog than a poetry-related one, this is a thing I wrote. Sometimes I like to go back and read my own journals. Is that so wrong?
- Haiku improves with practice.
- Poetry is real work.
- Sometimes work is gentle, easy, and takes hardly any time.
- Sometimes work is hard and grueling and difficult.
- Sometimes I forget to do things I said I was going to do
- Instead of hating on myself or giving up, I can just start doing them again.[read more]
NOTE: Find UPDATED April 2018 listings here.
April is National Poetry Month, so readings abound. March isn’t too shabby either. And don’t forget to plan ahead for the Mass Poetry Festival the first weekend of May. Thanks as always to Daniel Bouchard for compiling these listings.
Of particular note: Charles Coe and Marge Piercy at Porter Square Books (tonight!); Layli Long Soldier in Cambridge and Providence; Stephanie Burt at the MIT Press Bookstore; Mark Doty in Acton; Joan Houlihan in Cambridge, Boston, and Gloucester; Ocean Vuong at Smith; Martha Collins and my own teacher Kevin Prufer at Porter Square Books; Kazim Ali and Stephanie Burt at Harvard; a Latinx Poetry Reading in Cambridge; Anne Waldman in Providence; and my fellow poet educator Wendy Drexler in JP and Gloucester.
Thursday, March 1, 6-8 pm
Jane Brox, Andrea Cohen, and Natalie Shapero
Salamander 25th anniversary celebration and reading
Suffolk University Poetry Center
Mildred F. Sawyer Library, 3rd floor
Thursday, March 1, 7 pm
Charles Coe and Marge Piercy
Porter Square Books
25 White Street
Continue reading “Boston-Area Poetry Readings for March and April 2018”
In The Discovery of Poetry[i], Frances Mayes breaks imagery into three categories: literal imagery (the thing itself), figurative imagery (images used to describe the thing), and symbols (an image or action that stands for more than itself). A symbol differs from a literal or figurative because of the far-reaching semantic ripples that surround it. The red wheelbarrow is an image; the American flag is a symbol.
Rilke’s work returns again and again to the symbol of the rose. What sorts of associations does the symbol of the rose evoke? Love, femininity, openness, vulnerability, romantic and sexual love, impermanence. The rose is a symbol for the Madonna in Catholic tradition, and was a symbol for her predecessor Venus. The medieval French poem, “Le Roman de la Rose,” tells an allegorical story of courtly love. At the heart of Dante’s Paradiso lies a rose. On St. Valentine’s Day, lovers give one another red roses as a symbol of their love for one another. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” says Juliet, exhorting her lover Romeo to give up his family name.
Continue reading “Rainier Maria Rilke’s Use of Imagery”
Here’s the cover letter to the third packet I sent to my teacher Sharon Bryan during the first semester of my Lesley MFA.
It was such a pleasure to meet up with you in person last week. Written correspondence is a thing to treasure but there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. And it’s always great to have an excuse to sit and chat at the Algiers.
As I said to you via email, I really enjoyed Heather McHugh’s playful approach to language – especially the way that she plays with the multiple meanings and connotations of a single word. Picking her up reminded me that working for an MFA is something I undertook for the pleasure of the task rather than the obligation of the schoolwork. Here’s one example of her wordplay that I didn’t include in my craft annotation: Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester One, Third Packet”