Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hippies in Central Park

Image via Knitted Scarves

I went on a walk around the pond today:

By the waterfall
A surprising flock
Of graybeards sit
With bright scarves knit
Meditating on nature
In public.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

April: Dolittle Plans

Image via answer

I more than accomplished my goal of 5 poems for March. I wrote Alejandra, Obama in the Tulips, World go marching by, Blogger in the World Wide Web, Reading the Sartorialist, Poet's Boat, Robber's Beat, Always Nearly, and Put on the Music. But I haven't written anything for the last week, and am already concerned about April, that blank spring month ahead of me.

I've never found a means to control poetic output. For me, a poem hinges on random images and rhythms that connect in unexpected ways with ideas that occupy me. It's surprising connections that give poetry punch. But I can't seem to nail down a reliable process to generate these connections.

I guess it's a bit like finding love, or the lucky break. You can't really expectantly go out looking or sit around waiting. Instead you need to focus on all those backstage elements of life and trust that things will fall into place. So, setting up the stage for April:

1) Read a lot, specifically The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem
2) Go to a couple poetry readings (Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival)
3) Do a lot of things, go to a lot of new places, and notice much (Take Polynesia the Parrot's advise "Be a good noticer"--The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (Signet Classics)).
4) Work hard in other fields.
5) Walk a lot.
6) Sleep a lot.
7) Daydream a lot.

In other words, to write more poetry all I need to do is do a lot more and do a lot less.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

THE DAWN, by William Butler Yeats

Image via Kids Read
Since because of copyright gnarls I'm not posting every poem I write, I'll post poems of others instead. I opened up a book on William Butler Yeats (Selected Poems And Four Plays) this evening and was staggered. I keep forgetting how great the great poets are:

THE DAWN, by William Butler Yeats

"I would be ignorant as the dawn
That has looked down
On that old queen measuring a town
With the pin of a brooch,
Or on the withered men that saw
From their pedantic Babylon
The careless planets in their courses,
The stars fade out where the moon comes,
And took their tablets and did sums;
I would be ignorant as the dawn
That merely stood, rocking the glittering coach
Above the cloudy shoulders of the horses;
I would be--for no knowledge is worth a straw--
Ignorant and wanton as the dawn."

This is simply an incredible poem to speak. I won't even start to go into meaning. Though the image of ignorance wielding tablets and sums and coming up with something beyond knowledge is beautiful. But so much of the beauty is in just saying the words.

Publication Laws and Practice

Image via "Likecool"
I've found an informative and fun poetry blog called Poetic Asides. It is hosted by Writers Digest and written by poet Robert Lee Brewer. A post that especially caught my attention was one (authored by "Nancy") called Published is Published!

According to this post, any poem put on the web in any form, including via blog, is considered "published". It is therefore disqualified from most poetry contests and poetry book publication deals. However, it is considered not fully published but merely "self-published". It is thus disqualified from being cited as a published source in those contests or deals that require the author to be a published poet. In other words, any as-yet-unpublished poem I put on my blog will henceforward be good for nothing.

There was vigorous debate about this in the comments section of the post, and it emerged that the laws surrounding this policy are hazy and that there are editors and awards that make exception. But in general, published is published (wherever, however) is standard policy.

My reaction to this was two-fold: 1) This sucks. 2) Hurray! I am now (self)published. All the more reason to make this blog as brilliant as possible.

In general I think poetry, the poetry business, publication, and copy-right laws are at a formative and murky stage right now. It would be an interesting time to study publication and copy-right law. As it is, when I put a poem on this blog, and thus disqualify it in all sorts of ways, I think of another, more informal publishing rule I found in the book Putting Your Passion Into Print: Get Your Book Published Successfully! (I know, exciting title). It urges writers to be generous in giving away their published books, stating that for every book you give away, you end up selling three. Given that blogging is apparently a mass giving away of a poem, it would be nice if some similar return policy applied. I'm going to continue to test the theory.

However, I think I'll rein my poem blogging in a bit. Of the five projected poems I write a month, I'll blog two of them here, leaving three for other uses. This will push me to look for a wider range of topics for posts and ultimately provide more poem fuel.

Poetry Overheard: Job lost

Image via Money Accumulator

One half of a conversation:

"Why did you ask for help?"--
"No, they never help you."
"Why are you leaving?"--
"Why did you get fired?"--
"Yes, that happens to people."--
"Is it money or ego?"--
"Don't cry because of ego,
Only because of money."

Reading The Sartorialist in a City that doesn't Sleep

Image via The Sartorialist

Since coming to New York City, I've found myself waking up at early hours of the morning, or staying up late at night. I get unreasonably excited about the new worlds waiting around the corner, the endless shops, the stream of people who pass me in the streets, the unpredictable customers at my gallery job. I've since found a blog that captures this same energy through fashion photography. The Sartorialist is a guy who snaps pictures of fashionable people in the streets. I am endlessly inspired by the examples of excellence and originality he discovers. I was up til 1am last night reading his blog, then until 2am writing a poem about it:

I wish it wasn't 1am.
There is so much
World out there, Sartorial
Moments screen by screen.
My consolation: tomorrow
I'll wear a little orange
Scarf to work
This silken flag will be
My prize for sleeping
A couple hours.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blogger in the World Wide Web

Image via Getting things done in Academia

I had off from work, and I spent all day on this blog, and on other's blogs, trying to fish out good poetry. It has left a desperately unsatisfactory feeling. Here is my diagnosis:

The endless reels of words
And on a little crest
A blogger pokes his nose out
In a little spray of froth

Someone's half-hearted soul
Has found a partial birth
Someone's messy underwaters
Find an amphibious crawl.

Tomorrow I am going to do anything but blog.

Poetry Overheard: listening in the subway

Image via New York Times
Random clips from different people on different trains:

"I don't know what the next stop on this is but at least we're on the right train and headed in the right direction."

"He was a banker, right?--That's great."

Sign: "Do not hold doors."

"I had 2 beers that evening--no, not beers, wines, and that's when I woke up the next morning and I was tipsy."

"This is 59th street."
"This is 59th street."
"Dude, this is 59th street, we want 50th." (The previous stop).
"Eek!" (Scamper off through closing doors).

Sign: "Best thing to do is not get on the train."

Publication Strategies

Image via Red

Careful reading of the Poet's Market 2007 (Poet's Market)reveals an established order to poetry business. I flipped first to the most lucrative section, Contests and Awards, but found that I'm not eligible yet for most, as they require previous publication and a manuscript of at least 50 pages (mine currently runs c.25 pages). Also, most of the contests have hefty entry fees.

So, I've settled back a step and come up with the following criteria for initial publishing attempts:

1)No entry fees
2)Mostly e-mail submission (no funds spent on postage; also allows me to paste this blog into cover letter and thus build readership)
3)Kindred Spirit Factor (I'll apply to journals whose focus appeals to me and thus have fun submitting and fodder for future blog posts if nothing else comes of it.)

Monday, March 17, 2008


Image via Yahoo Movies

I woke up this morning thinking inexplicably of the word Alejandra. I do not even know what it means. But here is what I came up with:

Alejandra--what the Spanish
language does for humble syllables
No English word would flow thus,
musically, and above all else emotionally
Alejandra--putting emphasis
on that middle soft yet gutteral
Preceded by two quiet dark eyes
and ending in a small smart foot
Alejandra--a Spanish musical
performed on the stage of four small syllables.

Addendum. So, I googled Alejandra and was startled and a little disappointed to find it was a girl's name. I was imagining it was a town's name, or some feature of landscape like a gully or canyon. Disappointed because it makes my human analogies in lines 7-8 less inventive than I thought they were. But maybe that also makes them more pertinent? I think I got the word somewhere out of the movie The Mask of Zorro.

Further addendum. Hmmm reading about Zorro, I see that the main character is Alejandro, a guy. It is funny how memory works. It is sometimes annoying how memory works (or doesn't work). But unpredictable elements of memory can be great fun when they surface as poetry.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Then would my love be true?

Could I but love you smooth and hard
Then would my love be true?
If I could cut it down to pith
And carve out all the bark and twigs;
If I could smooth it down to bone
And buff it like an ivory charm
Without its wormholes, turns, and twists
Then would my love be true?

Book: Shira Wolosky's The Art of Poetry

Image via Mountain Photogallery

There are few things more enjoyable than a good poetry guidebook. Sometimes the field of literary criticism seems aimed more at padding resumes than advancing thought, and the ponderous re-interpretation gets tiresome. However, I've just found a book of poetry interpretation that is a complete joy. Imagine being shown an incredible glittering mountain. Then being given the tools to climb it. Shira Wolosky's The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem is just such a Matterhorn moment.

I picked up The Art of Poetry yesterday at the New York Public Library. I've only just skimmed it and read the first chapter, but already have a tighter and more precise understanding of how to go about appreciating a poem. The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poemis organized incrementally. It starts with analyzing the most elemental part of a poem--words; and goes on through "Syntax and the Poetic Line", "Images: Smile and Metaphor", on to "Poetic Rhythm" until all elements of a poem have been covered and are seen as fitting into the whole.

Here is Wolosky on words and word placement (this is fabulous!): "In poetry there are multiple reasons for choosing and placing words. There is not one single pattern in a poem, but rather a multiplicity of patterns, all of which ideally interlock in wider and larger designs. There are in fact many designs on many levels, where each meaningful word and element points to the next one, in an endless process of imaginative possibility. These intricate patternings of poetry are what generate the essential nature of poetry: its intense figurative power, to always point beyond one meaning or possibility to further ones. (p.4)"

Wolosky then goes on to say that "This art of selecting words is called diction." (Yay! new word!) She looks at how the use of different levels of language, ranging from colloquial to esoterically philosophical, can be contrasted within a poem to surprising effect.

The Art of Poetry put to use: I want to pay more attention to the levels of language used around me. I want to listen to random fragments of speech on the subway, pay attention to how my Aunt discusses the merits of her adorable poodle, and see how newscasters on TV use language.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Poet of the Moment: Ilya Kaminsky

picture via Washington Poets Association

I went to the KGB Bar Poetry Reading on Friday. These are my impressions of poet Ilya Kaminsky and his work:

Ilya Kaminsky is really tall. He has a man's walk but when he looks up, a boyish face. Standing over the microphone, at a podium far too small for him, his craned neck has a weird grace. But the most amazing thing about him is his voice. A Russian accent, and I have never heard such mutilated language. His voice quacks and screeches mournfully, chants and crescendos into a harsh whining shout. For closing stanzas, he drops to a low crooning tone that touches you forcefully yet gently. He passed out books of his poetry beforehand, so I read along and don't miss a word. In fact, his wacky voice speaks from print alone as forcefully and strangely as his tones in person, and the two complement each other perfectly.

Ilya Kaminsky troubles me. Troubles me first of all because I have never heard such a voice, and it is disconcerting. And his poetry is of a world I am completely unfamiliar with. What I do know of it I have discounted and brushed off as history past. His poems, at least the ones he read to us, deal with a Russia still stumbling out of the old Stalinist regime, a Russia still reeling from the memories. The way Kaminsky hears sounds, notices things, loves, cries, and sorrows is all completely foreign to me. It is disconcerting and troubling to stumble on a faded page of history book and discover in it senses I never knew. Troubling, but concurrently, wonderful.

Ilya Kaminsky's website:
His books are available here:

Obama in the Tulips

Image via Cheng's website

Speeches, future, hope, and change
Move me not in any way
I'll buy a vase instead
A vase that I can move my fingers round
And fill with tulips; a glass vase plain,
That I can hold in my two hands
Holds speeches, future, hope, and change.

World go Marching by

Image via Dolce & Gabbana
I moved to New York City very recently (Jan. 08) but already have noticed the gulf between the many who make a living (barely) and the few who get noticed. Thinking about this, I was walking down __Street, en route to MoMA, and it seemed that everyone I passed was more attractive than me. This was depressing. I put the two thoughts (inadequacy in work and looks) together, and this is what I came up with:

World go marching by
On handsome shoulders
Your dark eye
Need not spare me
The slightest glance.

World with heart detached
From hands; flaxen hair
And linen suit
I don't know you.
Not that you would ever notice.

World that lingers
At the doorstep
Handsome jaw and cigarette
Eye trained on the girl behind me
World, I spurn you.

Plans for the next two weeks

Patch of Weeds by Albrecht Dürer via Science Musings

It is March 15, a quiet Saturday evening, I just returned from the library with a stack of poetry books. It is starting to smell like spring outside. Also, I attended a great little poetry reading on Friday at the KGB Bar, and want to blog about that. All this bodes for a good beginning, for next week and this blog.

Here's the list of books I brought back:
The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem
Selected Poems And Four Plays
Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass
Poet's Market 2007 (Poet's Market)

Goals for these last two weeks of March are:
1) Getting at least 10 good postings up.
2) Go to another poetry reading.
3) Research reading at a poetry reading.
4) Look into interviewing someone in the poetry world, an author, publisher, or
5) Last but tops, write good poetry. My goal for this is to write 5 good (meaning great) poems
a month. So far for March I have two which seem decent. They will be the subject of the
next two blogs.

...If I can get all this going in the next two weeks, I'm going to spend the first week of April taking this blog public, introducing it to family and friends, etc.