Monday, October 27, 2008

SAMLA, etc

Hello Faithful Readers!

Please excuse this short and inconsequential post. I'm staying busy this week preparing a visual presentation for the SAMLA Convention Nov 7-9 in Louisville, KY. When I first proposed a topic over the summer, I had no idea these things were so expensive. I'm estimating membership, registration, and printing costs at around $300! I want to build my vita, but is it worth it?

Obviously, this is my first time doing this kind of thing, and I have to admit, I'm a little nervous. Anyone ever done a conference visual presentation? Any advice?

In other news, I got a poem picked up by L.A. Review, and am waiting to hear from Poetry, ABZ, Greensboro Review, and Crazyhorse. Where are you submitting?



I heard from Poetry Magazine after I posted this. Here's what the editors had to say:

Thank you for sending us your work.

We're sorry to say that nothing in this particular submission was quite right for us, but we were impressed. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note to send us more work after a while.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Graphic Poetry and Eleni Sikelianos

Lately, I've been curious about how illustrations and poetry might work together. One of my mentors, Molly Peacock, sparked this seed-idea a few months ago, and it's been growing slowly ever since. I read Marjane Satrapi's amazing graphic memoir, Persepolis, this summer, and it struck me how pictures can move a narrative so effectively while also conveying much emotional information. I've been wondering how that might work in the context of a less narrative form, like lyric poetry.

One of Eleni Sikelianos's poems gave a window into what a partnership between drawing and writing can produce. The following is from "Experiments with Minutes":

If we could shine a flashlight
through the edge of a minute
see the membrane's red
corpuscle, & surface
tension of a second at
the interior atmosphere of an hour
Move the flashlight out
on eternity-- possible? Not. (Duh.)

Below this stanza is a reproduction of what looks to be a postcard or a page from a notebook, which is a sort of graphic, but is still words. The handwriting itself becomes an illustration of a mental process. Sikelianos tries to visualize the invisible. She begins with the "if" that is usually the domain of fiction writers. Poets don't as often seem to speculate. I love that the minutes is conceived as membrane, human tissue (this poems is in fact from a larger collection, Body Clock). I also love the thinky aspect of the language and syntax. The speaker tries on a thought, then rejects it, almost as quickly.

Having already arrived at a dead end, the speaker turns to the non-verbal and begins to draw. What follows is a circle filled with tiny dots. Then, this:

In this conception a minute is round though not perfectly -- its lines disconnect in the drawing of it to meet up with the next / past minute. You might see the small freckles of scattered seconds at the interior (heart-meat) of the minute.

This is a big-meat minute true to its actual size but only took 34 seconds to draw.

What struck me as so original about this graphic poem is the function drawing plays in the poem. Rather than being an illustration of the narrative, the act of drawing creates experience upon which the poem itself is based. The artist/speaker is free to play with the image because it represents something intangible anyway. The language reflects this playfulness: "conception" (birth metaphors) and "heart-meat" (instead of heart beat) are two examples.

Several more very similar looking drawings follow, with reflections on their creations. I urge you read the rest of this poem. I found it in the anthology Not for Mothers Only. I'd also love to hear from you if you know of any other poets working in graphic forms.

P. S. I will try to post a picture of the poem later today so you can see the drawings, too.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Blessing

I’ve very interested in James Wright's poetry, particularly as it functions on a physical level. "A Blessing," especially, hits me somewhere between my heart and my stomach, and not without reason. Notice the physical language in the poem: the eyes of the ponies that darken with kindness, how they ripple tensely, bow, munch the young tufts, the speaker's desire "to hold the slenderer one in my arms," when it nuzzles his left hand, her mane, her forehead, "her long ear that is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist." On one level, "A Blessing" is a meditation on and celebration of the beauty of the anatomy of these two ponies, and by comparison (girl's wrist), a celebration of our own bodies. But with the last three lines, the poem becomes more than observation: "Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom." With this admission, the poem becomes a record, or document of ecstasy. It plots the events that lead to the speaker's immense joy when he is able to step outside of himself, (or at least imagine that he is able to step out of himself). But what makes the poem so powerful, is that it allows the reader to take this journey as well, to experience a small piece of ecstasy, a blessing when we are nowhere near the highway, Rochester, or the two ponies.

It’s an amazing poem, one that cannot be read without some physical response. I’d love to know how it felt for you. Perhaps the hairs on your arms stood up, or the brick in your chest seemed a little lighter. Use the comments link and let me know.

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Web Resource: The Kelly Writers House

A recent email update from the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania put me in mind again about this fabulous resource. Their latest innovation is live webcam directly from the Writers House so that anyone with internet access can tune in (log on?) and participate. This afternoon, for example, you can join podcast host Al Filries (director of KWH) and members of the poetics community for PoemTalk as they record episode 15 featuring Lyn Hejinian's "constant change figures." Each episode of PoemTalk centers around a single poem from the PennSound archive. PennSound is "an ongoing project, committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing audio archives," and is a resource in its own right.

A tiny taste of what else goes on at KWH, from their website: "Conceived in the communitarian spirit, the Writers House provides a warm and welcoming home within Penn's pre-professional culture for wild freethinkers, capacious scholars, voracious readers, and creative writers of all styles and stripes. We host an almost outrageous array of writing-related projects, programs, and activities for the Penn and Philadelphia communities: tutoring and literacy outreach projects, reading and writing groups, classes and workshops, book parties and book drives, poetry readings and open mic nights, catered dinners and impromptu coffee klatches."

Also this month at the KWH: L.A. Banks, Jim Shepherd, and more Poem Talk focusing on "I Know a Man," by Robert Creeley. I urge you to browse their website (you will find a link in our feature links list) and join in some of the exciting events happening there. And if you live near Philly or are passing through, make a point of visiting. It is an inspiring community of writers thriving and thinking and creating together. We should all strive to make our own little version of the Writers House wherever we are, be it a writers cabin or even a pup-tent. Make a space for creativity and then invite someone else in.

(Note: The namesake of KWH is no relation to me, Jill Kelly Koren.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Guest Post: Playwright Heather Jones

The Poetic is Dramatic: Poetry Punctuation Strategies in Dramatic Dialogue

Note: You should read the poetry and play selections aloud.

Part 1: line breaks

A really brief discussion of lines and the things poets and playwrights can do with them.

In his poetry dictionary, John Drury says that a line is “like a melodic phrase, lasting a certain length before the piece “turns” to the next line or ends” (159). The difference between the turn of the line in prose and poetry is basically that a prose line always turns when it reaches the margin of the page. In poetry, the poet chooses where to turn the line—or make a line break. Drury quotes Denise Levertov as saying that the line break is “roughly a half-comma in duration….a crucial precision tool [that] can record the slight (but meaningful) hesitations between word and word…”(Drury 160)

One thing we can do with line breaks is enjamb them. The poetry dictionary tells us that enjambment is “The use of a line whose sense and rhythmic movement continues to the next line.” It goes on to say, “Enjambment is like musical syncopation; instead of pausing, the musical phrase pushes ahead. Enjambment speeds up the movement and quickens the pace.” It can also call attention to the last word of one line and the first word of the next. The poetry dictionary says that “Enjambment may quicken the pace over end-stopping—but not always. Robert Creeleys’s poems often have lines broken after an article, which imposes at least a slight pause, a musical effect that slows down the movement.” (116) , as in this poem, “A Reason”:

Each gesture
is a common one, a
black dog, crying, a
man, crying.

A playwright can also experiment with where they turn lines and with enjambment, and have, at least as far back as Shakespeare.

Here, from Macbeth:

I pull in resolution, and begin
To doubt th’ equivocation of the fiend
that likes like truth[…]

Dramatic verse went out of fashion with the advent of playwrights like Ibsen who introduced a more realistic and conversational style to dramatic dialogue. Recently, though, playwrights have begun to introduce poetic moments into their plays, moments that are meant to stand out from the naturalistic and realistic and show us the interior or the metaphysical—what is not readily apparent in real life.
Here is an example of enjambment from Erik Ehn’s Polio comes from the Moon (Bernadette), part of his series of Saint Plays

Lianne Maille: Polio comes from the moon
On gray-green bee wings
Settling on red petals
An ash unseen

Here Ehn makes images the emphasis of the first part of the dialogue, with the more abstract ash unseen at the bottom. In this case, the two voices might function like a chorus, witnessing and interpreting the action. The enjambed dialogue forces us to pause on the images, to see what might not be on the stage.

Heather Jones is a playwright, writing mentor and creativity coach based in Asheville, NC. A link to her blog, Brainstorm!!, can be found in the featured links list to the left.

(photo Robert Creeley in Providence, Jan. 2004; by Joel Kuszai)