Sunday, March 29, 2015

April Feature for Poetry Month

Beginning on Tuesday, April 2, I will be posting features for new poetry books. One every other day. Each feature will include the publication information, a book description, a blurb, a cover image linked to Amazon, a sample poem from the book, and additional links to poems from the book.

I hope you'll check out these new books and support the poets and their small press publishers. Treat yourself to a handful of new poetry collections. Is there any better way to celebrate National Poetry Month? Is there any better way to stimulate your own writing?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Girl Talk: A Poetry Reading in Celebration of Women's History Month

If you're in NJ or nearby, please join us for this reading, now in its 8th year.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Poet on the Poem: Tony Hoagland

I'm delighted to have Tony Hoagland as the feature poet for The Poet on the Poem series here at Blogalicious.

Tony Hoagland is the author of five volumes of poetry: Application for Release from the Dream (Sept 2015); Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty; Sweet Ruin, winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry; Donkey Gospel, winner of the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets; and What Narcissism Means to Me, all from Graywolf Press. He is also the author of two collections of essays about poetry, Real Sofistakashun and Twenty Poems That Could Save America, and the chapbook Don’t Tell Anyone. His poems and critical essays have appeared widely in anthologies as well as in journals such as American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and Ploughshares. His honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. He has received the O.B. Hardison Prize for Poetry and Teaching from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award and the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers. He teaches at the University of Houston and in the Warren Wilson MFA program.

Click Cover for Amazon

Today's poem is "Give Me Your Wife." It first appeared in the Lascaux Review.

Give Me Your Wife
because I like her. I like

the signs of wear on her;

the way her breasts have dropped a little with the years;

the weathered evidence of joy around her eyes.

I like her faded jeans,

her hennaed hair;

her hips pried open by the child.

I find her interesting; her grey-eyed
calm of a resigned sea;
her stillness like a painting on the wall.

It’s not that you don’t care,

but after all, you’re just a man

who has been standing in

water up to his neck for years,

and never managed to quite

dunk his head entirely under.

So give me your wife. Recycle her.
Look at her mouth, like a soft dry rose;

the way she stands, at an angle

to the world.

She could still be kissed and joked with,

teased into a bed

with cool white sheets;

convinced to lie and be
laid down upon.

Happiness might

still find a place

for her.

Give me your wife
like you were

unbuttoning something


and leaving it behind.

Then just drift away

and let me try.

DL: You begin with a 1-line stanza, followed by nine 3-line stanzas, then one 4-line stanza, and finally another 3-line stanza. What’s the logic behind this stanza arrangement?

TH: My decisions are motivated by the simplest possible reasons for arrangement—pacing and content—but the poem should probably be, and mostly is, in tercets, for their processional pacing. What is happening in the poem is a kind of ceremonial asking, which needs to have a rhythmical pace.

DL: You also use inconsistent line lengths. Line 1 is just six words with a total of seven syllables. Line 4 is eleven words, twelve syllables. Line 3 juts way out into the right margin. How did you determine your line lengths and breaks? 

TH: Very organically, in semantic units, with the occasional but not too difficult enjambment. I believe in the poem as immersive dream; almost all decisions, many of them anyway, are devoted to clarity, and keeping the reader effortlessly inside the poem, in the dream of the poem, which should be like a ride down a river.

DL: Your title does double duty, serving as both title and part of the sentence that’s completed in the first two lines of the poem. What do you think are the benefits of this kind of title?

TH: Swiftness, quickness of immersion, and involvement. Poems that, like a horse,  "get out of the gate fast," have a great advantage. This is especially true of what I call "relational" poems, poems that are making a direct and intimate address to the reader as well as the addressee of the poem, if different. I don't remember exactly the first time I saw a poem's title slide straight into its first sentence, but I remember thinking, "That's a cool thing."

DL: The poem has a distinctive voice, beginning with the bossy directive of the title. You use a first person speaker, a man who desires another man’s wife. You also use direct address to an auditor, the husband of the wife. Please talk about how you intended these two choices to affect the voice and the reader’s response to the speaker.

TH: I realize this positioning of speaker to the drama at hand will be off-putting to some—obviously for its presumptions about a woman or wife as a kind of property. In some of my poems, I deliberately choose a kind of initially aggressive stance as a way of making things interesting, but that is not the case in this poem.

After I wrote the poem some years ago, I showed it to one or two of my reader-friends and they were nonplussed by the premise. They were women readers, but hardly prudish persons, and so, although I liked the poem, I accepted their verdict of my obtuseness and put it away for a few years. It came out of the drawer much later, maybe when the Lascaux Review asked me for some poems. I had forgotten it, though I still liked it.

Nonetheless, I still believe that a poem has a greater duty towards (or legitimate interest in) actuality than ideological purity. Poems are not interesting for their political inoffensiveness—rather for their psychological verity—and whether we approve or not, men and women look at others as a kind of possession, often enough. If the psychological reality is there, why not write a poem that inhabits and explores such a stance—such a situation—to the fullest? If the observation that the virtues of a perfectly good woman or man are wasted on their spouse is a common thought—and who has not felt this?—then why not write a poem making that argument real?

And the poem—though it is "objectifying"—is a poem of observant praise, and also a somewhat resigned critique of men and women and their relations.

DL: The voice of the poem is also affected by the diction and imagery, both of which often seem in conflict with each other. For example, the speaker instructs the auditor, that is, the husband, to “Recycle” his wife. That word implies that she’s a reusable item. But in the next line the speaker describes the wife’s mouth as a “soft dry rose,” a delicate and appealing image though perhaps suggesting that the wife is past the bloom of youth. The wife is also described with such words as “interesting,” “weathered,” “faded,” and “resigned,” all of which make her sound over-the-hill and rather dull. But then “she could still be kissed and joked with, / teased into a bed // with cool white sheets; // convinced to lie and be / laid down upon.” These words and images make her sound desirable, though perhaps a bit credulous. Talk to us about your use of contrasting diction and imagery and the contribution they make to the poem’s voice.

TH: These tunings of diction and rhetoric for me are the essence of most poems that I like—whether it is Fanny Howe's poem "My Broken Heart" or Lawrence's "Bavarian Gentians." Tone is the greatest instrument of poetry and comes from the alloy, or fusion, of contradictions in our attitudes and experience. The bloom IS off our rose. That doesn't make us undesirable, or desire-free. In fact, a weathered body, face, consciousness can obviously be a marvelous—what shall I say?—asset? object? property? As Rilke says, we've earned our faces; or, as Kinnell says, "The wages of death are love." This poem acknowledges the existence of a kind of Eros which I hope we are all familiar with; not to be denied, but to be cherished, even if it is only in fantasy—and that is a whole other subject.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bay to Ocean Conference

This past weekend I drove to Maryland for the 18th annual Bay to Ocean Conference held at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. I was one of three poets on the program, each of us leading a workshop. The other two poets were Sue Ellen Thompson and Sandra Beasley. Sue Ellen, who oversees the poetry part of the program, also moderated a poetry panel called “Should Poems Be Angry?”

I arrived in Maryland on Friday afternoon as the drive was too long for me to have made it the day of the conference, so I stayed two nights at the Hilton Gardens Hotel in nearby Grasonville. I made a great choice with that hotel as it was beautiful. My room was very big with two queen beds, a desk, fridge, microwave, tv, chair, desk, and a gorgeous view of the wharf and its yachts. I brought some drafts of new poems to work on so considered this weekend also a mini-retreat, and since it cost me more to go than I was paid, I also considered it a mini-vacation. How's that for rationalizing?

 My room—it was even bigger than it looks
The view out my window—see the snow on the water?

Approximately 250 people attended the conference which was sold out weeks in advance. Most of the presenters were prose writers, approximately two dozen of them, so most of the attendees were also prose writers.

I had 14 poets in my workshop and we had a lovely session. I led the group through a freewriting activity which generated a lot of writing. Then we mined the material for the poem hiding in there. My hope is that new poems will emerge from the workshop and that participants left not only with a strategy they can re-employ on their own to generate new material but also with a handful of revision strategies.

I had a nice lunch with one of my poets who I’d met back in December. Then I attended a panel on poetry journals. After that I felt in need of some nap time, so headed back to my lovely hotel. After a substantial snooze, I again enjoyed room service for dinner. Eloise at the Plaza.

I headed home early Sunday morning and arrived there just as the snow was getting down to serious business.

I love doing workshops and was happy to have been included in this year’s conference.

Now I need to go write some angry poems. Maybe a curse poem.

 Bookstore—The Crafty Poet is festooned with orange post-its

Monday, February 9, 2015

Seven Snazzy Online Journals

While print journals struggle to stay afloat, online journals proliferate. That gives us poets lots of choices, but also means we need to make responsible choices. Online journals are not all created equal and, quite frankly, some of them are dreadful. There’s no sense in submitting your lovely poems to a journal you wouldn’t be proud to have them in.

Print journal editors always advise us to see and read the journal before submitting. The same advice holds true for online journals. Really, there’s no excuse for not carefully checking out an online journal before submitting to it. You can do it quickly and for free.

In 2013 I posted a list of the attributes I looked for in an online journal. What I said there still applies. I also posted a list of seven online journals that were then new and which I admired.

Now in 2015 I continue to prefer a real website to a blog, though blog sites have greater flexibility these days. If using a blog site, the editor should get a real domain name so that the url doesn’t include “blogspot” or “wordpress.” I also don’t want to see a lot of sidebar material that’s typical of a blog. That can and should be removed.

I really don't want to see a black background with a light font. That design is initially striking, but is difficult to read.

I like the Guidelines to be up to date. It’s frustrating to check out a journal, see that they are open now for submissions, put together a submission, then go to the Submittable page and discover that submissions are, in fact, closed.

I particularly dislike the occasional requirement that each poem be submitted individually. What a nuisance.

Likewise, I don’t care to have to remove my name and address. If the editors want to read blind, they can just cover up the id information. Mostly, though, I think that editors should be able to read objectively with or without names.

I really appreciate Share Buttons. I made a big point of that in my previous post. Still, two years later, I’m surprised to see that many online journals aren’t using Share Buttons. They’re free! And they can dramatically increase the journal’s reach and readership. With the click of a button, poets and readers can send a link to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and elsewhere. I can’t imagine any sensible reason why a journal wouldn’t add them to each page of the journal.

Lastly, I like journals that maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter. This should be regarded as free advertising space. Social media allows the editor to promote the journal, the poets, and the poems.

I’ve recently perused some newish online journals—or new to me—and am going to share seven of the ones that I find appealing, both for their aesthetics and their poetry.

Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing
Fiction, poetry, non-fiction, art
beautifully designed Table of Contents page
Share buttons

Construction Lit Magazine
Poetry, fiction, interviews, social/political commentary, essays on architecture
beautifully designed journal
submission is via email
Share buttons

Cumberland River Review
artwork and poetry, fiction, essays
reads Sept thru April
No Share buttons

The Ilanot Review
would like to see a better url (without “wordpress” in it)
but they do remove the usual blog sidebars
issues are themed
Share buttons

Menacing Hedge
poetry, fiction, interviews, reviews
No Share buttons

Radar Poetry
poetry paired with artwork
blind submissions
No Share buttons

Utter Magazine
poetry, fiction, non-fiction, interviews
No share buttons

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Poet on the Poem: Chana Bloch

I'm delighted to have Chana Bloch as the featured poet for The Poet on the Poem.

Chana Bloch, the author of award-winning books of poetry, translation and scholarship, is Professor Emerita of English at Mills College, where she taught for over thirty years and directed the Creative Writing Program. Her latest book is Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2015 (Autumn House Press, 2015). Her earlier poetry collections are The Secrets of the TribeThe Past Keeps ChangingMrs. Dumpty, and Blood Honey. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New Republic, and elsewhere, as well as in the Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. Her book awards include the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for Blood Honey, selected by Jane Hirshfield, and the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry for Mrs. Dumpty, selected by Donald Hall. She is the recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, in poetry and in translation, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Writers Exchange Award of Poets & Writers, two Pushcart Prizes, and the Discovery Award of the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center.

Today's poem comes from Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2015.

Click Cover for Amazon

Happiness Research

Rain over Berkeley! The birds are all out
delivering the news.                                                                                   
The evening is wet and happy tonight.               
“Is there more to happiness than feeling happy?”
the moral philosophers inquire.

Research has shown                                                        
if you spot a dime on the sidewalk
you're more likely to tell the professor your life 
is fine, thank you. The effect                                             
generally lasts about twenty minutes.    
Scientists are closing in on                                                               
the crowded quarter of the brain                                                 
where happiness lives. They like to think                                              
it's hunkered down
in the left prefrontal cortex.

“Even in the slums of Calcutta
people on the street describe themselves
as reasonably happy.” Why not be
reasonable? why not in Berkeley? why not                     
right now, sweetheart, while the rain                                         
is stroking the roof?                                   

The split-leaf philodendron is happy            
to be watered and fed. 
The dress I unbuttoned is more than glad
to be draped on the chair. 

DL: Research is clearly an important motif in your poem. How much actual research went into the writing of the poem? Which came first, the science or the love poem?   

CB: Research on happiness by social scientists, neuroscientists and psycho-pharmacologists has grown at a phenomenal rate over the past two decades. I must admit that I can’t help reading the stuff. So it’s not by chance that I clipped and saved a review-article by Thomas Nagle in the New York Review of Books, “Who is Happy and When?” The moral philosopher Sissela Bok, who wrote the book under review, Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science (Yale UP), wants to know: What is happiness? How much should we value it? Questions I’ve often thought about. 

I almost said that science came before love in writing this poem, but when I looked at the article again, I saw the illustration that first caught my attention—Rubens’ captivating portrait of himself and his young wife, “In the Honeysuckle Bower,” painted the year of their marriage. In both faces, the lineaments of gratified desire.  

DL: What do you see as the function of the two quotations you’ve woven into the poem?

CB: I hope the quotes will draw the reader into the poem, just as they drew me into the review. They made me ask myself: How am I doing “on a scale of one to ten”? Contented, elated, exhilarated? Which suggests that I was ready to appear in the poem long before I made my appearance.
 In the version of “Happiness Research” I'd drafted a few years earlier, the scientists and the dime were already present, though not the inquiring professor. Sharing the page was “a Norwegian philosopher, 82, who recommends / daily swigs of cod liver oil / for despair:/ ‘It’s almost as good as garlic.’” That draft of the poem remained parked in a desk drawer until science and love revved up its engine.

DL: In stanza 4 you suddenly switch from third person point of view to a first person direct address to “sweetheart.” This and the rain “stroking the roof” move the poem from scientific to personal and intimate. At what point in your drafting did this risky shift enter the poem? How did you know it would work?

CB: Once I disposed of the cod liver oil and added the two quotes, the direction of the poem became clear. I knew I had the setting and the dramatis personae—our house (rain on the roof, a chair, and a split-leaf philodendron) and the two of us. I even had a come-hither line, which turns on the two senses of “reasonable”: the people in Calcutta are passably happy; let’s you and I be sensible. “Why not be reasonable?” might conceivably sound irritated, even reproachful, but the context makes clear that it’s playful, teasing, inviting. At that point I was more than glad to work on the poem. I was elated, exhilarated.

DL: You end the poem with a stunning sensual image. Tell us about your use of personification there, the dress that is “more than glad.”

CB: The dress, c’est moi. The truth is, I usually wore pants in those days, but a poem needn’t be true to fact so long as it is true to experience. In The Cortland Review and two beautiful broadsides, framed on my wall—the poem ended with the philodendron “doing its new green thing.” Once something is in print, I often can’t help wanting to change it. Working on Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2015 gave me my chance. I decided that the happy plant was too nature-club-wholesome an ending for a seduction scene, so I revised and changed the order of the lines in order to end with the dress.

DL: Your first three stanzas each have five lines. Then you alter this pattern and give stanza 4 six lines and stanza 5 four lines. Why not stick to the established pattern?

CB: My poems often have an irregular number of lines in each stanza. Although I do write in couplets, triplets, or quatrains, I like to break the form depending on the demands of the poem. In stanza 4 I lay out my argument, so I need a little more room. And there’s a reason, too, for the quick denouement in stanza 5: so the couple can get down to business.

Readers, please listen to Chana reading her poem.

Please also visit Chana's poem, "The Joins," featured on Verse Daily on Tuesday, January 27, 2015.

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