Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Non-conventional form

Recently, in my morning poems, I wrote in the form of a works cited page.

I've read poems that resemble grocery lists.

I've read poems that appear as want ads.

I've read very clever poems as Q&As.

Here is this week's prompt: Take a conventional form, one that belongs truly to something else, something mundane, or something prose might claim as its own, and write a poem. Think table of contents, think mapquest directions, think memo, think text message, think interview, think health care plan. Think beyond the patterns of every day poetry and reinvent the patterns of every day rhetoric.

Monday, November 26, 2007

thinking about chapbooks

I've been thinking about the beauty of the chapbook, especially now that I am looking to late winter, thinking of fine press / letterpress / bookbinding (courses I will be taking at the Anderson Center and The Loft, both lovely art organizations in Minnesota), and I'm thinking about the trajectory of my own writing. I am thinking about having national lit mag credits and how I look forward to it, am waiting patiently, will get there, I think, and I've been methodically writing that poem a day. I am thinking about the chapbook, and I've begun redirecting some of those poems of the day into a thematic unit--those about my paternal grandparents, about their home in Michigan (just returned yesterday, thirteen hours of driving, much to think about and digest). Theirs is a sweet, subtle relationship, and my memories are quiet but poignant, I think. I hope. This is what I am working on now: applying to MFA programs, sorting out summer workshop options, and on the side, writing about my grandfather. Also, finished the review for CutBank and am patiently hoping it will get published. A humble contribution, one I would love the opportunity to return to...

Hope your Thanksgivings were good, full of rest, full of good food, full of family, full of making, maintaining, returning to peace.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"For a poem is not timeless. Certainly it lays claim to infinity, it seeks to reach through time—through it, not above and beyond it. A poem as a manifestation of language and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the—not always hopeful—belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense too are underway: they are making toward something. Toward what? Toward something standing open, occupiable, perhaps toward an addressable Thou, toward an addressable reality."

-- Paul Celan

Thursday, November 15, 2007

wishing for words

How do you use words for something you love so passionately--something so big, something where words are the most important? I don't know how to explain the feeling I have when I am driving home after my Thursday Intermedia workshops.

Full, this is true. I am still writing in my head. I realized how I would put together that Autobiographical Sketch for UC-Irvine (curses, they want a personal statement and an autobiography?) (Of course, others want me to write a piece on how I will contribute to diversity on the campus. And other topics.)

Full, I think of lines of poems. I dream up how I might jigsaw words into little poems, snippets I sketch out in my notebook as I drive. I should pull over, I know. And Husband, long ago, bought me a tape recorder for just such instances. What I really need is a laptop--a way to quietly spool out the thoughts in my head onto the page. Composing poems in my head. They drift out so quickly, like cotton candy fluff, drift away, forgotten.

This is some kind of cruelty though.

If asked, "Why poetry?" I would fumble the question. I would say something about loving the compact form, the precision and choice of words, the reflection on humanity, the capturing of a small moment. All these messy words to describe something so perfect, so small.

I might mention how I love small things: little knick knacks you can put into the palm of your hand, works of art; I always pick the splinters of chips or slivers of cake, a collection of food already divided; I love those small, tender moments, the glance, the quiet reflection of the world around us, the way his hand fits into mine.

But I don't really know how to explain why poetry makes my body sing, makes me feel more alive than any other, pleases me as we dissect language and discuss the importance of one word, one arrangement, one line break. I just know, I just feel.

Monday, November 12, 2007

we don't know sun in winter, here in minnesota

However, during exam week at my high school, I will be in Palm Beach, while my students stare out the icy window, the snow crusting over the landscape. I will be in Palm Beach, a hotel with white sheets, walking distance from where I need to be, my laptop sprawled on the bed, books stacked at my side.

For I have been accepted into the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.

I didn't expect it to happen; I had simply applied in practice for graduate school, with only a vague hope of going. I applied long ago, thinking I wouldn't get in, but I'd have the methodic practice of application. Palm Beach was a kind of pipe dream, I suppose, and I get the impression it's gotten a great deal less competitive, now that it has more funding and can open up to more workshops, but nonetheless, I am grateful for the opportunity, especially given the topic of my own workshop, which is addressing revision (so much needed for me).

My principal has given me permission to go, open arms, which is so wonderful. She was open in the same way to the Intermedia program as well, when I had to miss an hour and a half of parent-teacher conferences. I am glad for this kind of support, especially when it takes me away from the classroom in the very last week of the semester.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Congratulations, Jude

My Intermedia Arts mentor, Jude Nutter, recently won the Minnesota Book Award for Poetry. CONGRATULATIONS!

Working with her and in this group has been really wonderful for me. Excellent critiques and conversation.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Take a Line

Go to Randomly find a poem. Choose a line. Use it as your first. See where it takes you.

Friday, November 2, 2007


I am currently teaching Paradise Lost to a jumble of juniors and seniors in high school; this is the curriculum left behind by the permanent instructor whose job I am taking for this year. I am impressed that he will tackle this again and again and I am finding myself falling in love with the puzzle of the language, just as I finally fell for Shakespeare.

My own style is free verse, as is the majority of poets writing today. Thus, the line break becomes crucial, the word choice and stanza break imperative to meaning. I have dabbled in form before, and I appreciate those contemporary poets who can sink into tradition and heritage and manage to create a decent rendition of a sonnet, a villanelle, a cinquain.

And there are the haiku, the small breaths, the puffs of poetry, that can cause the intake to be so startling.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Family

I have a body of work inspired by the lives of people I care about--there are, of course, the typical love poems, the poems about childhood (angry or not), the poems exploring relationships with exes.

There are two people who surface in my poetry the most--a close girl friend of mine, who happens to be incredibly bright, a scientist, and full of personality. Her life explodes, making nature as metaphor easy.

I also have been working a series of poems that focus much on Alzheimer's. My grandfather, a professor of Education, has recently been institutionalized, and I have been a distant witness to the progressive movement toward dementia. These poems also drawn in the devotion of my grandmother, his wife of sixty three years and her own experiences in trying to maintain that love and dignity at the ends of their lives.

This is my prompt for you this Thursday: Write about your family, but don't go for the easy poem, the one about a parent or a sibling. Try to find someone in your tree, maybe branching even farther out from grandparent, to someone who has a story to tell--maybe write it as a persona poem, maybe as someone discovering a story, maybe simply a narrative. But tell a story from the annals of your own family history.