Last Week in Poetry #3: 4/20-4/26, 2009

Welcome to Last Week in Poetry, brought to you in part by The Poetry Project. Before we begin, a word from our other sponsors:

“Y’see, the kids, they listen to the rap music, which gives them the brain damage. With their hippin’ and their hoppin’, and their bippin’, and their boppin’… so they don’t know what [poetry] is all about! You see, [poetry] is like a Jello Pudding pop — no! Actually, it’s more like Kodak film — no! Actually, [poetry] is like the new Coke; it’ll be around forever! Heh heh heh…”

Oh, Bill Cosby parodies: you are the lost art of the universe. Now for Last Week in Poetry!

1 – Joy Harjo Wants Nothing to Do With Sadomasochist Co-Worker

In a surprising move (that took place in November of last year, but is only now finding widespread publicity), University of New Mexico professor Joy Harjo has resigned after the administration failed to fire another professor:

Harjo, the University’s only Joseph Russo Endowed Professor, said her resignation was a result of the administration’s decision to retain associate professor Lisa Chavez.

Pictures of Chavez posing with one of her students on a sadomasochism Web site were discovered in spring 2007.

“The administration’s mishandling of the very serious matter regarding professor Lisa Chavez and apparent ignoring of at least eight formal student letters reporting mistreatment has created a learning and work environment that is untenable for numerous faculty and students,” Thiel said. “Faculty and students have resigned and left UNM over this and will likely continue to. The recent resignation of Joy Harjo, arguably the most well-known Native American poet in the world, highlights the seriousness of the situation, many details of which have yet to be reported to the media.”

Harjo said Chavez was retained as a University employee because administrators were afraid of a lawsuit and wanted to keep the problem quiet.

2 – Poetweet

Another development that predates last week: people are trying to find artistic uses for Twitter. In this case, our featured poet has added a twist:

I have long been a fan of the short-short, poem or story or play, I like it brief. The stanzas are created out of twitter posts available at the time of composition. Rules? Other than the 140 characters that all Twitter posters have, I make myself use the text that my followers provide, and if I click on, I use what’s there and I use it before it changes, which would be cheating. So no refreshing. Quick and dirty.

I have a feeling it won’t be long until an Oulipo member comes out and publicly endorses the art of Twitter Poetry. Raymond Queneau tweets from his grave: D’où qu’ils puent donc tant?

smlovesunsetSanta Monica, 2009

3 – Poetry and the Art of Recovery

Some writer friends of mine complain that their work is flat or uninspired when their lives are running smoothly and want nothing more than a little misfortune. Kathryn Lavelle suffered through a 10-year abusive relationship and felt quite the opposite: she sensed her creativity was dying. Lavelle is one of many poets whose work is on display at Minnesota’s sixth annual Art of Recovery exhibition, which features “visual and literary artwork by Minnesotans who have been victims of crime and have used art as a means to respond, explore, express or heal.”

“Art of Recovery is a great way for people to start or continue their recovery,” said Lavelle, who wrote poetry during her abusive relationship, but did not journal.

“I was always afraid it would get read,” she said. “Poetry is more obscure.”

“The only way for me to have survived being beaten, raped, assaulted and dragged down for so long was to be able to write, to assemble my pain with pen and paper into words that somehow healed my soul from the inside out,” she wrote at the time.

The Art of Recovery exhibit is on the web here.

4 – W.S. Merwin: The Pete Sampras of Poetry?

Merwin, 82, author of over 20 books of poetry and almost 20 books of translation, won his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry the other day, his second in only 38 years. At this rate, he will eclipse Robert Frost and Eugene O’Neill’s shared record of 4 Pulitzers in 2123 at the sprightly age of 196.


Golan Heights, 2009

5 – Poetry Joeys: Using Assonance to Attract Children to the Art

Faced with competition ranging from Spongebob to Zac Efron (Who is Zac Efron, and Why Isn’t He Black?), poetry needs help reaching the young folk. Thankfully, University of Arizona Museum of Art volunteers have been running a monthly poetry fun session for children aged four to ten since fall 2007. Drawing a dozen or so kids per session, the workshop has been a reasonable success. The volunteers offer “a series of activities ranging from discussion to improvisational dance,” helping the children “draw connections between poetry and the visual arts.”

Colleen Burns, a volunteer for the Poetry Center whose granddaughter attended the event, said programs like Poetry Joeys build a positive foundation for children to develop a lifelong love of language.

“People tend to ruin poetry for kids,” Burns said. “Billy Collins has a poem about how people want to tie a poem to a chair and beat it until it tells you what it really means. But I think if you can catch kids at this age, they have no idea that it’s supposed to be a tortuous process. If you can instill in a kid a love of language, then they’ve got it all.”

Saturday was the first time 6-year-old first grader Eli Protas had been to Poetry Joeys, but he said he loved being able get up and move around while learning about poetry.

“I like the way (poetry) sounds ’cause it’s not just words. It’s – I don’t really know how to explain it, it’s pretty cool,” Protas said.

Pretty cool, indeed. Let’s hear it for poetry!


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