Archive for Education

Poem #32: How to Say Goodbye; Prompt #5: The Villanelle

Posted in Best of TPP, Love Poems, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2009 by czarnickolas

How to Say Goodbye

To sever love it’s always worse to lie
and leave your lover with a drop of hope,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

We started strong, our ceiling seemed so high,
but honesty rebuffed our toxic scope.
To sever love it’s always worse to lie.

She smothered me with ardor gone awry,
a lather built from arid slabs of soap,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

We sinned apart and failed on the sly.
Mendacious tongues prepared a gentle slope.
(To sever love it’s always worse to lie.)

She slept to dream then woke herself to cry,
and emptied whiskey bottles dry to cope,
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

That night I came too late to ask her why –
she gave her final answer to a rope.
To sever love it’s always worse to lie
but that’s just how she chose to say goodbye.

@NBF 5.19.2009


Boston, 2006



The form I’ve used here is the villanelle. My favorite belongs to Elizabeth Bishop, the famous “One Art” (“The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”). Other popular villanelles include Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” (“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” alluded to here) and Theodore Roethke’sThe Waking” (“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. / I learn by going where I have to go.”).

When writing a villanelle, it’s easiest to start with your refrain lines and work backwards from there. The form adheres to the following rules (from The Making of a Poem – A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms):

  1. It is a poem of nineteen lines.
  2. It has five stanzas, each of three lines, with a final one of four lines.
  3. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas.
  4. The last line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.
  5. These two refrain lines follow each other to become the second to last and last lines of the poem.
  6. The rhyme scheme is aba. The rhymes are repeated according to the refrains.

A villanelle is a powerful form for writing about loss and is still relevant today, despite our being in an age “when artifice in poetry has been distrusted.” More on this from from Norton:

“Perhaps the single feature of the villanelle that twentieth-century poets most made their own is the absence of narrative possibility. Figural development is possible in a villanelle. But the form refuses to tell a story. It circles around and around, refusing to go forward in any kind of linear development, and so suggesting at the deepest level, powerful recurrences of mood and emotion and memory.

“Unlike most other rhymed poems, where the sound of single syllables is repeated once or twice, the villanelle repeats on sound thirteen times and another six. And two entire lines are each repeated four times. It is this last feature that sets the form aside from other poems. the villanelle cannot really establish a conversational tone. It leans toward song, toward lyric poetry. and while the subject of most lyric poems is loss, the formal properties of the villanelle address the idea of loss directly.

“Its repeated lines, the circularity of its stanzas, become, as the reader listens, a repudiation of forward motion, of temporality and therefore, finally, of dissolution. Each stanza of a villanelle, with its refrains, becomes a series of retrievals.”

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop


Last Week in Poetry #5: 5/3-5/10/2009

Posted in Weekly Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2009 by czarnickolas

It seems impossible, but I assure you it’s not: it’s Monday again. What that means for most people is burnt coffee, chronic self-loathing, and “Someone’s got a case of the Mondays!” underpants. What that means for you, dear reader, is another list of stories that – just last week – turned the world of poetry on its head. (And what that doesn’t mean is a series of awful Shaquille O’Neal puns.)

Without further delay, let’s go back a week!

1 – Craig Arnold: 1967-2009

Craig Arnold, 1967-2009
(© unknown)

As reported here last week, poet Craig Arnold went missing while on a remote volcano in Japan. News sources confirmed Friday that Arnold suffered a leg injury and then fell to his death off a steep cliff.

“The only relief in this news is that we do know exactly what befell Craig, and we can be fairly certain that it was very quick, and that he did not wait or wonder or suffer,” wrote Rebecca Lindenberg, Arnold’s partner of six years, on a Web site she maintained during the search.

Jacqueline Osherow, professor of English at the U. and Arnold’s adviser in the doctoral program, said is devastated by the loss. Osherow said her letter recommending Arnold for the fellowship in Japan weighed on her at first after news of his disappearance, but has since lifted. She described Arnold as a big-hearted person whose immense talent let him do what he wanted in life.

“I’m more broken-hearted for him than the poems he didn’t live to write,” Osherow said. “This is a loss to American literature and letters. It’s wrong to say he was full of promise, because he delivered on that.”

The Poetry Project sends its condolences to Craig’s family and friends.

2 – Lord of the Verse

Tolkien fans rejoice: after being lost for 70 years, J.R.R.’s poetic adaptation of old Norse legend has found the light of day, thanks to the efforts of Tolkien’s son Christopher. The poems are available as The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun and contain, as do all good sagas, “betrayal, love, and slaughter” as well as “dragons, dwarves, golden hoards, and a lot of drinking.”

The poems – the “New Lay of the Volsungs” and the “New Lay of Gudrun” – aren’t direct translations of the original Old Norse “sources,” which were “various in their nature.” This was J. R. R.’s attempt to “organize the Edda material dealing with Sigurd and Gunnar.”

The “Volsungs” deal with the life and death of the Volsung family. It’s mainly about Sigurd who slays the dragon Fafnir, takes his cursed gold, wins the love of the warrior maiden Brynhild but is told to come back when he has a kingdom. Sigurd, overcome by an enchantment, marries the beautiful Gudrun instead, then deceives Brynhild into marrying his friend, Gunnar. As you might guess, the proud Brynhild doesn’t take this well. Sigurd is assassinated and Brynhild kills herself so she can join him on his funeral pyre.

Although there is no word yet whether Viggo Mortensen will be involved in a staged reading of the poems, I’m pretty sure that Dominic Monaghan is looking for work.


Los Angeles, 2008

3 – White House Hosts Poetry Slam… Or Jam… Or Something Like That

In his continued effort to bring distinguished artists to the White House, President Barack Obama has scheduled the White House’s very first poetry slam. While I support Obama’s intention to “open up the White House and remind people [it] is the people’s house,” I’m not sure that Obama’s PR team has sufficiently investigated the meaning of the phrase “poetry slam.”’s Bob Holman and Margery Snyder agree that the name is a bit misleading:

“Poetry slam” is in quotes in our post’s title because the evening’s program doesn’t sound like an actual poetry slam — the invited artists include Mayda Del Valle, who is known as a slam poet, but also novelist Michael Chabon, bassist Esperanza Spalding, pianist ELEW and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. But poetry slam has deep roots in Chicago, one of Obama’s home towns, and being a poet himself, I imagine Obama has ideas about slam, so it may well be that an actual poetry slam is staged at the White House this week.

An exhaustive list of articles relating to poetry in last year’s presidential campaigns appears here, courtesy again of Bob and Margery. Thanks for your hard work, guys.

4 – Spotted: Lonely Professor Making Passes at Aspiring Young Poets

When jockeying for a professorship starts to resemble a terrible episode of Gossip Girl, things have gotten out of hand, especially when all-time great Derek Walcott is at the eye of the storm. UK’s Times Online reports:

The race to win poetry’s most prestigious academic post has turned dirty after Oxford academics were anonymously sent a lurid dossier accusing Derek Walcott, the frontrunner and Nobel laureate, of being a sex pest.

The package was circulated last week to staff and graduates eligible to vote in next Saturday’s election for the Oxford professorship of poetry, as well as to the offices of Cherwell, a student newspaper.

The dossier recounts a sexual harassment claim against Walcott, 79, when he taught at Harvard in the 1980s.

The poet was reprimanded following the allegation that he tried to pressure a female student into sleeping with him.

Two things jump out here: first, the claim is over twenty-five-years-old; second, the claim was handled by Harvard already. Yes, the UK has a different legal system than the US does, but surely the concept of double jeopardy isn’t lost on the fine minds of Oxford academics. Walcott has faced these accusations already – judge the man on his merits, not the crimes for which he has already been punished. Professor Hermione Lee agrees:

Lee, president of Wolfson College and a leader of the Walcott campaign, was one recipient of the dirty dossier. Criticising the “campaign of vilification”, Lee said: “The fact that this has been anonymously circulated is rather shocking. It is an unpleasant way of carrying on.

“Should great poets who behave badly be locked away from social interaction? We are acting as purveyors of poetry not of chastity.”

Amen, Hermione.

MasonAtECTLos Angeles, 2008

5 – Cowboy Poets!

From the OMGWTFBBQ sauce files: a new youth Cowboy Poetry Workshop has begun in Mesquite. I would write that sentence again in a much larger font, but I don’t want to come off as amateurish. So many questions spring to mind: What is “Cowboy Poetry”? How do I go about starting my own Cowboy Poetry Workshop? Since when is Mesquite more than just a flavor of BBQ sauce? I’d go on, but it’s all covered here:

The youth are learning the rules of cowboy poetry as provided by well-known cowboy poet [and Lariat Laureate!] Sam Jackson from Kanab, Utah, a sheep herder and guest poet at Mesquite’s 3rd Annual Cowboy Poetry Hootenanny, which was held on April 10-11 this year.

There will be some invited guests who will be speaking to the youth about their experiences in the field of cowboy poetry.

The goal of the group is to learn to read, write and recite cowboy poetry to their own ability and with originality.

Their skills will be honed within the next several weeks so that they can present their “works” at a program to which the public will be invited.

If anyone is interested in forming a Chicago-based Cowboy Poetry Workshop with me this summer, please leave a comment.

…and that’s Last Week in Poetry!

Poem #22: Love Rules of the Ibis; Prompt #3: Three-Part Blank Verse

Posted in Love Poems, Poems, Writing Prompts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2009 by czarnickolas

Love Rules of the Ibis

Alone, I lie upon a wooden bench.
The trees above enshroud me in a la-
zy shade, the sun obscured, my eyes at rest.
A timid ibis bowing from his branch
attracts a mate with fragile twigs and class.
What birds can teach of romance I’ve no clue;
My time alone away from you is proof.
Perhaps it is the partners’ preening dance,
or gifts of wood that prove their faithful hearts.
If only we could love like them, I think.
Then maybe you’d be on this bench with me.
But we aren’t birds, or anything so kind.
And so you sleep in his arms, not in mine.
Some moments later, he moves in – they kiss.
The sacred birds achieve a bond at last,
and glide away for nests as yet unbuilt.
The February summer’s eve remains,
and with it drift my wistful reveries.
So lost, I can’t remember my last meal.
In Oz we only eat on breaks from dreams.

@NBF 5.7.2009


Sydney, 2004



The ibis is a most unusual-looking bird found throughout Australia. They can teach us a lot about love, as can most animals.

I wrote this poem in blank verse (not to be confused with free verse), a form popularized in the 16th century. I did so after reading the introduction to Mary Kinzie’s book A Poet’s Guide to Poetry this morning. (The book is part of Professor Michael S. Harper’s recommended reading). The first assignment in the book is a 20-line blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter with occasional – and necessary – enjambment) “using the three-part organization of the poems by Coleridge, Wordsworth, Larkin, Nemerov, and Gunn: that is, first the description of a scene, which then triggers a meditation on something in the speaker’s experience, which enables the speaker to return to the initial scene with a sense of resolution or understanding.”

Try writing your own blank verse poem with the above three-part organization.

Poet #5: Sterling Brown

Posted in Poets with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2009 by czarnickolas

Sterling Brown

“[T]he sincere, sensitive artist, willing to go beneath the cliches of popular belief to get at an underlying reality, will be wary of confining a race’s entire characters to a half-dozen narrow grooves.”
— Sterling Brown

(© unknown)

The African American poetic tradition spans over 200 years and features many celebrated artists, such as Phillis Wheatley – a slave at seven-years-old and the first published African American poet; Robert HaydenUS Poet Laureate and one of the genre’s great scholars; Gwendolyn Brooks – another US Poet Laureate and advocate for public readings; and Derek Walcott – winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize for literature, just to name a few. In their collection, The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton assembled the works of 50 essential contributors. What may surprise many readers is how much attention is paid to a poet too often overlooked, a man whose whose efforts birthed the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts movements. I refer to Mr. Sterling Brown.

“From the ‘adopt’ and ‘adapt’ phases of African American poetry – its adoption of rhetoric and form from English poetry in Wheatley and others and its adaptation of these forms to distinctly black subjects in the Harlem Renaissance – this tradition could be said to have come into its own with Brown’s ‘adept’ creation of an entirely new prosody. Though often confused with the work of ‘dialect poets,’ poets who simply forced black speech into English forms in some of their poems (Dunbar and Hughes among them), Brown’s poetic project was in fact quite different. His life’s work was to foreground the ‘folk.’ He strove to show that rural southern blacks in particular, while generally dismissed by white Americans, even those who worked for social reform, as passive sufferers, had in fact developed a system of active strategies for encompassing the harsh economic and social situations in which they foun themselves. Brown’s poetry does not ennoble his subjects but serves to underscore their preexisting nobility.”
— Harper/Walton, The Vintage Book of African American Poetry

Brown’s goal detailed by Harper and Walton comes across immediately in most of his work, including the poem “Southern Road”:

Southern Road

Swing dat hammer–hunh–
Steady, bo’;
Swing dat hammer–hunh–
Steady, bo’;
Ain’t no rush, bebby,
Long ways to go.

Burner tore his–hunh–
Black heart away;
Burner tore his–hunh–
Black heart away;
Got me life, bebby,
An’ a day.

Gal’s on Fifth Street–hunh–
Son done gone;
Gal’s on Fifth Street–hunh–
Son done gone;
Wife’s in de ward, bebby,
Babe’s not bo’n.

My ole man died–hunh–
Cussin’ me;
My ole man died–hunh–
Cussin’ me;
Ole lady rocks, bebby,
Huh misery.

Guard behin’;
Guard behin’;
Ball an’ chain, bebby,
On my min’.

White man tells me–hunh–
Damn yo’ soul;
White man tells me–hunh–
Damn yo’ soul;
Got no need, bebby,
To be tole.

Chain gang nevah–hunh–
Let me go;
Chain gang nevah–hunh–
Let me go;
Po’ los’ boy, bebby,
Evahmo’ . . .


“In ‘Southern Road,’ Brown abstracts the rhythms of a work song to make it slightly more regular and so to emphasize the grinding, repetitive nature of the chain gang.”
— Harper/Walton, The Vintage Book of African American Poetry

Born on the campus of Howard University in 1901, Brown’s aptitude and scholarly instincts brought him through Dunbar High School, Williams College, and Harvard University. After his formal education – and prior to his appointment as Professor of English at Howard – Brown spent three years in Lynchburg, Virginia, teaching at the Virginia Seminary and College. “It was within this intimate, rural niche of African American culture,” write Harper and Walton, “that his talents as a teacher and a folksayer without peer blossomed.”

“I learned the arts and sciences at Williams, I learned the humanities in Lynchburg, Virgina.”
— Sterling Brown

(photo © Roy Lewis)

Perhaps Brown’s greatest gift as a poet was his ear, which helped him merge “common, racy, living speech” with the traditions of A. E. Housman and Thomas Hardy. “Brown’s poetic goals were communal,” explain Harper and Walton. “His hope was to create a community of voices and readers in antiphony.” Brown also found inspiration from W. B. Yeats’s Irish Renessaince.

Slim Greer in Hell

Slim Greer went to heaven;
St. Peter said, “Slim,
You been a right good boy.”
An’ he winked at him.

“You been travelin’ rascal
In yo’day.
You kin roam once mo’;
Den you come to stay.

“Put dese wings on yo’ shoulders,
An’ save yo’ feet.”
Slim grin, and he speak up,
“Thankye, Pete.”

Den Peter say, “Go
To Hell an’ see,
All dat is doing, and
Report to me.

“Be sure to remember
How everything go.”
Slim say, “I be seein’ yuh
On de late watch, bo.”

Slim got to cavortin’
Swell as you choose,
Like Lindy in de Spirit
Of St. Louis Blues.

He flew an’ he flew,
Till at last he hit
A hangar wid de sign readin’

Den he parked his wings,
An’ strolled aroun’,
Gittin’ used to his feet
On de solid ground.

It’s a crime that Brown continues to be overlooked, but there is no shortage of theories about why this is so. Perhaps the most logical comes from Harper and Walton in African American Poetry‘s introduction:

“Brown’s life’s work was to hold up the face of [the southern, rural man] and make us look behind it. He aimed to take his reader through the looking glass in a sense – into that part of society that “society” has defined itself against. His work was dismissed because the face he held up is in fact a looking glass: to see that face accurately we would first have to see ourselves, to see those things about ourselves and the country we have made that we still, even at this late date, do not like to see.”
— Harper/Walton, The Vintage Book of African American Poetry

Sterling Brown was a native of Washington, D.C. After attending Williams College and Harvard University, he taught poetry at Howard University for forty years. His students included Amiri Baraka and Gwendolyn Brooks among many others. Brown died in 1989.

(© unknown)

Last Week in Poetry #4: 4/27-5/3/2009

Posted in Weekly Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2009 by czarnickolas

Hello everyone, and welcome, once again, to Last Week in Poetry. I spent the weekend in Chicago – signing leases, watching improv, and eating a lot of oatmeal – so I missed a few posts. Never fear – I will make up for my delinquency with poetry news that will blow the minds of all comers, young and old. Before I begin, however, a special welcome to anyone who stumbled upon this blog via Gaper’s Block, a Chicago-oriented web publication and all-around terrific site.

And now – back to last week!

1 – Craig Versus the Volcano

Prize-winning poet and assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, Craig Arnold, disappeared last week while on a remote volcano in Japan. Japanese officials ended their search yesterday, just in time for Craig’s brother Chris to initiate his own investigation.

“It’s pretty scary, and I wish I could be there sooner,” Chris Arnold, 38, told “I’m just trying to stay focused, and my main goal is to get there faster and to get more boots on the ground.”

[Craig] Arnold’s footprints were found going up the path to the mouth of the inactive volcano, but there was no sign of his return. The island is remotely populated by only a few hundred residents and is densely wooded with deciduous trees and bamboo.

A current fellow with the U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Exchange, Craig Arnold has been described by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky as “one of the most gifted and accomplished poets of his generation.” Our thoughts are with him here at The Poetry Project.


Osaka, 2003

2 – Big Steps for British Poetry

What do William Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Carol Ann Duffy have in common? Up until last Friday, nothing but a love for verse and an allegiance to the Union Jack. That all changed when Queen Elizabeth II appointed Duffy Britain’s first ever female poet laureate.

Duffy, a decorated poet already, gave her final decision on whether to accept the 10-year post to her 13-year-old daughter, who was adamant that Duffy take it. “Yes, Mummy,” she said, “there’s never been a woman.” There’s also never been a lesbian poet laureate in the UK, either, but Duffy is downplaying that aspect of her life:

“I think we’ve all grown up a lot over the past 10 years.

“Sexuality is something that is celebrated now we have civil partnerships and it’s fantastic that I’m an openly gay writer, and anyone here or watching the interviews who feels shy or uncomfortable about their sexuality should celebrate and be confident and be happy.

“It’s a lovely, ordinary, normal thing.”

What isn’t ordinary about Duffy, besides her tremendous gift for verse, is her choice of Valentine’s Day gift: an onion.

(See also:A Laureate’s poems are all that matter”)


NYC, 2005

3 – The ABCs of Hip Hop

“Poetry with a beat,” Nikki Giovanni declares. “That’s hip hop in a flash.” Far be it from me to debate just what hip hop is and isn’t, but I wasn’t immediately sold on Giovanni’s latest offering, the for-kids Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat, at least not as a quintessential hip-hop-to-poetry missing link.

The collection is broad and well chosen, and counts among its “hip hop” artists A Tribe Called Quest, Common, and the immortal Tupac Shakur. Its “poetry” offerings come from poets such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and the eternally underrated Sterling Brown (seriously – check this guy out). The accompanying audio CD is an important addition, and I’m sure that this book may introduce poetry to many kids who would miss it otherwise. However, I’m reluctant to fully endorse any product that – despite the youth of its target audience – insists on reducing hip hop to such a simplistic definition.

All that said – it’s hard to fault Giovanni for anything after watching her sing Sugar Hill Gang, hambone Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” and discuss her new book:

Nikki Giovanni

4 – The Thinking Man’s Hoodlum

“My life is one foot in the coffin and the other on a banana peel,” said Joey Gallo, “but I don’t care.” Tom Folsom’s new book, The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld, details the Profaci-Gallo gang wars of the 1960s, paying careful attention to the “part thug, part beatnik” mob muscle, Joe Gallo.

Michael Hill, who reviewed the book for The Associated Press, describes Folsom’s writing as being “in a Beat-inspired rat-tat-tat prose that fits the material,” though at times the lingo is “laid on so thick that it sometimes gets confusing who we’re reading about.” I would expect nothing less from a mob book written in a Beat style.

5 – Arlington, Virginia: Represent!

Washington-Lee High School student William Farley won last week’s Poetry Out Loud competition, a national poetry recitation contest jointly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Delivered with the “resonance and charisma of a teenage Denzel Washington,” Farley’s selections included “The Flea” by John Donne and “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes. In addition to the $20,000 prize, Farley won the respect of his peers and a “tearful, leaping hug from his younger brother.” Congratulations, William!

Poet #4: Kenneth Koch

Posted in Poets with tags , , , , , , on April 29, 2009 by czarnickolas

Kenneth Koch

“When you finish a poem, it clicks shut like the top of a jewel box, but prose is endless. I haven’t experienced an awful lot of clicking shut!”
Kenneth Koch

(© unknown)

Kenneth Koch, whose work spans over fifty years, is often grouped with the likes of Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery as part of the famed New York School of poetry. My good friend and fellow poet Alex Carnevale gave me Koch’s final book of poetry, New Addresses, as a graduation gift in 2003. The book collects poems written directly to a variety of subjects, including marijuana, insults, and orgasms. These poems remind me of Alex and his own style: direct, enthusiastic, and humorous. Koch’s work proves, once and for all, that one need not be dreary and depressed to be a great poet.

“I simply was ignoring the fact that The Waste Land indeed made it seem to many poets that one had to be depressed-not that The Waste Land is a bad poem, it’s a wonderful poem-that one had to feel despair, that one had to think that the modern world was terrible.”

It took a while for Koch’s work to gain acceptance. His early writing struck critics as obscure, such as the epic Ko, or A Season on Earth (1959). He and his fellow New York School poets avoided the soul-baring styles of the Confessional poets in favor of a more cosmopolitan approach that adapted the art of action painting to a poetic medium. Over time, Koch developed a clear voice, renown for its lyricism, and he helped grow a style akin to French Surrealism, buoyed by unusual juxtapositions and underlying philosophical assertions.

(photo © Dodie Bellamy)

“As I understand the surrealist program, it was programmatically in favor of the unconscious as opposed to the conscious; programmatically in favor of chance, even programmatically in favor of a certain kind of violence and all that dream stuff.”

Even in his seventies, Koch produced work that was driven by the frenetic energy of The City:

To Various Persons Talked To All At Once

You have helped hold me together.
I’d like you to be still.
Stop talking or doing anything else for a minute.
No. Please. For three minutes, maybe five minutes.
Tell me which walk to take over the hill.
Is there a bridge there? Will I want company?
Tell me about the old people who built the bridge.
What is “the Japanese economy”?
Where did you hide the doctor’s bills?
How much I admire you!
Can you help me to take this off?
May I help you to take that off?
Are you finished with this item?
Who is the car salesman?
The canopy we had made for the dog.
I need some endless embracing.
The ocean’s not really very far.
Did you come west in this weather?
I’ve been sitting at home with my shoes off.
You’re wearing a cross!
That bench, look! Under it are some puppies!
Could I have just one little shot of Scotch?
I suppose I wanted to impress you.
It’s snowing.
The Revlon Man has come from across the sea.
This racket is annoying.
We didn’t want the baby to come here because of the hawk.
What are you reading?
In what style would you like the humidity to explain?
I care, but not much. You can smoke a cigar.
Genuineness isn’t a word I’d ever use.
Say, what a short skirt! Do you have a camera?
The moon is a shellfish.
I can’t talk to most people. They eat me alive.
Who are you, anyway?
I want to look at you all day long, because you are mine.
Might you crave a little visit to the Pizza Hut?
Thank you for telling me your sign.
I’m filled with joy by this sun!
The turtle is advancing but the lobster stays behind. Silence has won the game!
Well, just damn you and the thermometer!
I don’t want to ask the doctor.
I didn’t know what you meant when you said that to me.
It’s getting cold, but I am feeling awfully lazy.
If you want to we can go over there
Where there’s a little more light.

— from New Addresses

(© Colpitts Poetry)

It is the comedic character of Koch’s poetry that engages me the most. “There was a certain amount of humor in all our work,” Koch remarked about the New York School. “Maybe you can almost characterize [our] poetry… as having as one of its main subjects the fullness and richness of life and the richness of possibility and excitement and happiness.” Koch’s sense of humor comes across well in his amusing poetic manipulations of William Carlos Williams’ poem, “This is Just to Say“:

Variations On A Theme By William Carlos Williams

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

Kenneth Koch was a poet, professor, and playwright. He died of leukemia in 2002. Take a moment to listen to him read his poem One Train May Hide Another.

(photo © Larry Rivers)

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

Posted in Weekly Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2009 by czarnickolas

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!