Guest Post, Patricia Clark: Recalibrating your poetry settings, or using the past to help you write better in the present

You’ve been traveling, let us say, perhaps to France. Your body’s in another time zone and yet you’re back at home base and ready to get back to your writing. There it is, though, a blank page, and you suddenly freeze. Or you’ve come through the winter and you’re tired—of students, colleagues, meetings, papers to grade. Now you can sit down. You’ve just submitted final grades. You want to write and feel ready. But there it is again—a blank computer screen, or a blank page. Where to begin?

Some of the most basic questions loom at such times for me as a writer. What is a poem? How do I write one? How did I ever write one in the past? If these questions don’t loom for you at times, or re-loom after a spate of not writing, I am surprised. Go on about your life as usual, your happy work—the suggestions that follow are for those of us, the troubled ones, who need answers to these questions.

It’s a truism that reading other poems and other poets can help you get going. I want to suggest a particular kind of reading, one that has worked me in the past. Find an anthology—an old anthology (of twenty or thirty years ago, or longer)—one that collected great poems of the past. Two I found near me recently are these: Fifty Years of American Poetry: Anniversary volume for the Academy of American Poets, introduced by Robert Penn Warren, copyright 1984. Another is: 100 Great Poems of the 20th Century, ed. by Mark Strand. Published by W.W. Norton in 2005. Many other anthologies would work for this exercise. Look around, and/or go to a used bookstore and see what you can find.

Why does it help if the book is old? I recommend a book where you don’t recognize the writers’ names, and thus their words, cadences, rhythms, forms will be new to you. You want to encounter freshness and be jolted anew by the voices of poets.

Why should I read the poems out loud? I recommend this so you may really hear the poets. Slow down, enjoy the poems, don’t worry about starting to write yourself—but I guarantee that something you hear, some approach to a subject, some way of beginning a poem, will jolt you into action.

What are some of the poems that did this for you? I am referring to the Mark Strand volume mentioned above. Find this and read these. See if you aren’t changed by the encounter.

A.R. Ammons, “The City Limits”

Amy Clampitt, “Marine Surface, Low Overcast”

Hart Crane, “My Grandmother’s Love Letters”

May Swenson, “Question”

Wislawa Szymborska, “The End and the Beginning”

Derek Walcott, “The Season of Phantasmal Peace”

William Carlos Williams, “These”

James Wright, “The Journey

Can you be more specific about what you found reading these poets of the past? Let me try. The Ammons’ opening, for example. I love the confidence with which the poem starts, “When you consider the radiance,” – and the surprise of the word “radiance.” Notice that it could be another word; you could put your own word in. But the poet begins and just starts; he is spinning out his observation of the world and its details, and I suggest that the writer doesn’t know where this poem will end up. The writer is doing what my teacher Richard Hugo suggested: following the music. Start somewhere yourself; start anywhere. Start your sentence and write. Get going. Follow the music.

Ditto the Amy Clampitt poem. I defy you to read the opening stanza and not be simply entranced by her use of vocabulary and sound. What a spin of words!

Out of churned auereoles

this buttermilk, this

herringbone of albatross,

floss of mercury,

déshabille of spun

aluminum, furred with a velouté

of looking-glass. . . .

What happens for me as a reader is a re-centering of my poetic spirit. I can practically hear the gears turning and my brain saying, “Oh, this is poetry. This is not prose. This is amped-up language.” Encountering this poem, I feel washed in the spirit of poetry—re-calibrated is the word I used in my title, and I mean it. Maybe over days of other reading—newspapers, sign, schedules, menus—I need to see the real thing in order to recall how to make it. Yes, I am getting closer. I am also getting the itch to write.

Another example: Hart Crane. I think perhaps it is the utter plainspoken simplicity of his poem’s beginning, the sheer lack of flair, that astounds me and causes me to stop in my tracks. Listen: “There are no stars tonight / But those of memory. / Yet how much room for memory there is / In the loose girdle of soft rain.” Perhaps I have grown tired of my contemporaries, of everyone competing and nearly shouting for attention. “Look at this!” “Notice that!” Again, a re-calibration. Poems may be quiet and still effective. It is not always necessary to shout or to jump around. Just tell it straight (there is no “telling it straight”). You see how I contradict myself. Well, so be it.

A final example: May Swenson. Yes, I know her name; yes, I know she is/was a well known poet. Her poem “Question,” though, is a jolt. Her poem gallops away with energy and punch from the start. I want to go on this ride. Listen again, “Body my house / my horse my hound / what will I do / when you are fallen.” I’m amazed, entranced, and my ear is immensely pleased. It could be that reading these other poets does even more than re-calibration. I find a new music, or my old music made new, through this reading. I feel my sentences tightening, reading May Swenson. I may even decide to start a poem using her direct address, or following her stanzaic pattern or rhythm.

I’ll go out on a limb: I think of all writers, of all genres, poets have the toughest job. Why? They must begin again so often as most poems are short. Thus, we must become experts in beginning. When things freeze, though, and when doubts build up, do feel confident in turning in certain directions. Read poets of the past in an anthology. The difference in years from their time to yours will help you hear their words better. Please try it! Beyond just helping you get started with writing your own poems again, you may find some poets whose work you want to explore more fully. Each of these I mention above are ones I’ve now reading much more fully. After a dry period, re-calibrate and jump start your writing juices by a good dose of reading. Trust me! I hope this works for you as it has for me.

–Patricia Clark

Contributor Update: Alison Hawthorne Deming

Hello everybody! Today, we here at Superstition Review are thrilled to announce that past contributor Alison Hawthorne Deming, who read for us back in April of 2011, has just been named Regents’ Professor at the University of Arizona, by the Arizona Board of Regents. To be named a Regents’ Professor is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a faculty member in the university system, and we can think of none more deserving than Alison Hawthorne Deming. You can read the full press release here, and if you’re interested in Alison’s work, check out her most recent publications: a new book of poetry titled”Stairway to Heaven,” out now from Penguin (found here), and her collaboration with photographer Stephen Strom, titled “Death Valley: Painted Light” (found here). Congratulations to Alison and the University of Arizona!

Congratulations!

Past contributor for Superstition Review and newly named Regents’ Professor Alison Hawthorne Deming.

Authors Talk: Aaron Reeder

Aaron ReederToday we are pleased to feature author Aaron Reeder as our Authors Talk series contributor. In his podcast, Aaron provides insights into his poems, “Untangling” and “Failed Poem for My Mother,” both published in Issue 18. He reveals that, when he was writing these poems, he was interested in the systems people fall back on to deal with trauma and grief, specifically the system of family.

Aaron also discusses his poems in the context of communication and conversation; both of his poems involve issues in communication, specifically with the speakers’ parents. For example, in “Failed Poem for My Mother,” Aaron shares, “ultimately what I think the speaker wants is that…these two individuals, the mother and the son, would be on the same plane.”

You can access Aaron’s poems in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

#ArtLitPhx: The Politics of Translation with Roberto Echavarren

 

Poet, professor, and translator Roberto Echavarren, presented by Cardboard House Press and Four Chambers Press, will give a poetry reading and participate in a panel discussion on the politics of translation on Thursday, April 27th, 2017 at 7 p.m. Echavarren, a renowned Uruguayan poet, will present at the Pulliam Auditorium at Burton Barr Central Library (1221 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004).

After reading selections from his latest collection, The Espresso Between Sleep and Wakefulness, Echavarren will participate in the panel with poet-translators Anthony Seidman and Wendy Burk, moderated by local poet Laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski.

This event is free and open to the public. For more information visit the Facebook event page or see Cardboard House Press’s Website.

Echavarren most recent work The Espresso between Sleep and Wakefulness  is rooted in both surrealism and contra-constructivist practices. He is a native of Uruguay and a professor of world literature. Echavarren is the co-editor, along with José Kozer and Jacobo Sefamí, of Medusario: muestra de poesía Latinoamericana (Medusario: A Survey of Latin-American Poetry), the leading anthology of poetry in the Neo-Baroque style.

Echavarren’s critical prose addresses the distinctive characteristics of innovative Latin-American poetry. He uses meditations upon androgyny, surrealism and performance, to create a work that bends gender expectations and frees the imagination to pursue the material pleasures of poetry.

This event is presented in affiliation with #WritersResist.

Contributor Update: Tayari Jones

Good afternoon, dear readers! Today, we are thrilled beyond reason to announce that former contributor and fan favorite Tayari Jones has a new novel coming out next year, titled “An American Marriage,” which will be put out by Algonquin Books. Jones has previously penned the novel titled “Silver Sparrow,” and was featured in the Interview section of our 2nd issue here at Superstition Review. “An American Marriage” is available for pre-order here, and the aforementioned interview can be read here. If you’d like to get the news straight from Tayari herself, sign up for her mailing list here.

The stunning cover for “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones, out next February from Algonquin Books.

Intern Spotlights: Week 3, Wrap-Up

Where are they now?

We are so proud of our past and present staff here at Superstition Review, and we’ve decided to celebrate the accomplishments of our past interns throughout the month of April. Each day, we will feature an intern on social media and share what they’re up to now. Then, at the end of each week, we will share a wrap-up post of all our featured interns from that week. So, without further ado…

1. Heidi Nielson: Fiction Editor, Issue 4 (Fall 2009)

April 16: Twitter and Facebook announcements, find Heidi on LinkedIn

Heidi NielsonMore details: Heidi shares, “Since serving as Fiction Editor at Superstition Review, I’ve explored a couple careers, and finally landed on the law. I am currently a Staff Attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, D.C. In a probably surprising way, my experience at Superstition Review and studying English in undergrad really prepared me for law school and my current job. The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. For my job, I frequently conduct legal research, read reports, statutes, and case law, analyze this information, edit, and help draft the reports to Congress that GAO creates. My experience at Superstition Review helped me develop all of these skills. What I love most about my current job is the ability to work in both policy and law and to work on exciting topics that are in the news. I also am happy that my job provides me with great work-life balance (for the legal field) and enables to me still pursue my creative passions. Outside of work, I’m currently obsessed with painting and have been exploring different styles and mediums on my Instagram account (@ccl.creative). Superstition Review was such a great experience for me in college and has really propelled me forward creatively and in my career.”

2. Sarah Murray: Fiction Editor, Issue 9 (Spring 2012)

April 18: Twitter and Facebook announcements, find Sarah on LinkedIn

Sarah MurrayMore details: Sarah shares, “I received my MA last year from UC Davis’ Creative Writing Program, and since then I have been writing, working on some stories and poems, I’ve been teaching writing to elementary students, and I’ve been working with Fairy Tale Review as one of their associate digital editors. We just started accepting online submissions for the first time, so I’ve been working a lot on that. Exciting stuff! It is, quite honestly, a dream come true to be working with them; my graduate thesis was on Mexican fairy tales, and I have been obsessed with their publication since I was at ASU. Teaching also has been a dream of mine, longer even than writing, and so it’s a bit unbelievable that here I am, working with kids, and sharing a skill to which I feel so intimately attached. I still do a lot of volunteer work too, with 826LA and with AIDS Walk in both Los Angeles and San Francisco (if you see me at one of the walks, come say hi! I’m usually the one in the bright red lipstick behind the info booth). Right now I am based in Los Angeles again, after bouncing between here and San Francisco, and then living in Davis. Who knows where’s next?”

3. Mai-Quyen Nguyen: Fiction Editor, Issue 10 (Fall 2012) and Issue 11 (Spring 2013)

April 20: Twitter and Facebook announcements, find Mai-Quyen on LinkedIn

Mai-Quyen NguyenMore details: Mai-Quyen is currently an editor at Isagenix. She shares, “After serving as a fiction editor for Superstition Review, I was a writer intern at Isagenix, a health and wellness company. Originally, I supported the marketing and sales teams by interviewing our distributors, writing and editing their success stories, and helping to create content for a contact management system. From interning through the summer until I graduated from ASU in 2014, my passion for editing evolved. Although I hold a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing and a B.S. in technical communication and still love to write, I’ve always loved editing, too. Isagenix hired me full time as a junior editor, and I assisted my senior editor with copyediting and proofreading (and creating, when needed) copy for our corporate blog, websites, print and digital publications, press releases, and sales and marketing tools and flyers. One year later, I was promoted to editor and gained additional responsibilities, including reviewing emails we send out to the field and all of our product labels for our international markets for grammar, accuracy, and spelling, being the final eye as a proofreader for a majority of the content we produce, and creating and maintain a weekly internal newsletter. I’ve also had the opportunity to travel to events in California, Texas, and Canada to edit and proof all the slides and presentations for training and recognition that we provide for our distributors and customers. Attending events and seeing firsthand the success and gratitude of our distributors fulfills me. When I first started ASU, I was pursuing a nursing degree, but I switched over to English because of my love of writing and reading. I’ve always wanted to help people in some way, and are one of the most powerful tools we can use to positively benefit other people’s lives. I hope to publish fiction of my own one day, but for now, I’ve achieved one of my dreams: helping people by editing and providing content they can use, which leads them to helping others.”

Thank you so much to these interns for their service with us; you are all doing such amazing things, and we’re so proud!