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: Patricia Clark

Hello everybody! We here at Superstition Review are pleased to bring a bit of follow-up news regarding past contributor Patricia Clark (featured in the Poetry section of our  7th, 8th, and 17th issues) and her brilliant new book, titled “The Canopy.” Clark was interviewed by WYCE 88.1, a local radio station in Grand Rapids, as part of their Electric Poetry series, while “The Canopy” was recently reviewed by Cultured.GR, an art blog based in Grand Rapids.  The entire review can be read here, and while you’re at it, do yourself a big favor and listen to the interview here. Patricia Clark’s “The Canopy,” out now from Terrapin Books, can be purchased here. Do yourself a favor and check out “The Canopy” and see for yourself what all the hype is about!

Buy this book! Tell yr friends!

The beautifully rendered cover for The Canopy, out this year from Terrapin Books.

Contributor Update, Patricia Clark: Take Refuge Underneath THE CANOPY

Superstition Review is both pleased and proud as all get-out to announce the forthcoming book The Canopy, written by past contributor Patricia Clark and published by Terrapin Books. The Canopy is Clark’s 5th full-length book of poetry (others include Sunday Rising and She Walks into the Sea).

Buy this book! Tell yr friends!

The beautifully rendered cover for The Canopy, out this year from Terrapin Books.

Patricia Clark is the recipient of many awards and honors including the former poet laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan, as well as the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Prize, the Mississippi Review Prize, and the Lucille Medwick Prize from the Poetry Society of America. She currently serves as the Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University.

To read the official press release, click here.

To preview and purchase the book, click here.

SR Pod/Vod Series, Authors Talk: Poet Patricia Clark

Patricia Clark pictureToday we are pleased to feature poet Patricia Clark as our thirty third Authors Talk series contributor. Patricia titles her Authors Talk “Lessons in Composition and Freedom.” She has five points which she hopes will serve as pieces of advice to writers. Three points relate directly to her three poems in issue 17.

Her first point is that there is more than one way to write a poem; be open to new ways of preceding. Her second piece of advice is to not think too much, or don’t plan out the poem; she used this method when she composed her poem, “Treatise on the Double Self.” Thirdly, Patricia suggests trying new things, something you haven’t used before, perhaps rhyme. This relates to “Rowing American Lake,” where she used rhyme in the terza rima form. Trying new forms is Patricia’s fourth point. She recommends trying poetic forms as exercises, such as the ghazal form for her poem “Infidelities.” Lastly, she recommends to “write often, read even more.”

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes channel, podcast #225.

You can read Patricia’s poems in Superstition Review Issue 17, and hear her read them aloud in last week’s podcast, #224.

SR Pod/Vod Series, Recording: Poet Patricia Clark

Patricia Clark pictureThis Tuesday, we are proud to feature a podcast of SR contributor Patricia Clark reading her poems from Issue 17.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes channel, podcast #224.

You can follow along with Patricia’s poems in Superstition Review, Issue 17.

More about the author:

Patricia Clark is Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Author of four volumes of poetry, Patricia’s latest book is Sunday Rising. Her work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, also appearing in The Atlantic, Gettysburg Review, Poetry, Slate, and Stand. Recent work appears (or is forthcoming) in Kenyon Review, New England Review, Southern Humanities Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Coal Hill Review, Plume, and elsewhere. Her new manuscript of poems is called Goodbye to the Poetry of Marble.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Patricia Clark

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Patricia Clark.

Patricia ClarkPatricia Clark is Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Author of three volumes of poetry, Patricia’s newest book is She Walks into the Sea; she has also published a chapbook, Given the Trees. Patricia’s work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. She has won Mississippi Reviews Poetry Prize, and been honored as the 2nd prize winner in the 2005 Pablo Neruda/Nimrod International Journal Poetry competition. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Slate, Stand, The Gettysburg Review, and many other literary magazines.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.
You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

 

Launch of Issue 7: Poetry

Superstition Review Issue 7 has launched and to celebrate we will be featuring blog posts about our artists and authors. Today we will be highlighting a few of the talented poets who are featured in Issue 7.

Angela S. Gentry is the two-time recipient of the Devine Summer Fellowship in Poetry from Bowling Green State University. Her first chapbook, Stirrings of Movement, was released in 2010 from Finishing Line Press. She received her BA in Christian Education from Cedarville University and her MFA in Poetry from BGSU. In her spare time, she would like to build a tree house, in addition to writing, but finds herself inordinately occupied with evaluating student papers. She currently resides in Michigan. Read her poem “My Barber” featured in issue 7. Angela Gentry’s Website

Marge Piercy is the author of 18 collections of poetry, most recently The Crooked Inheritance and this spring, her second volume of new and selected poems 1980-2010 The Hunger Moon, out from Knopf. She has published 17 novels, most recently Sex Wars. Two of her early novels, Dance The Eagle To Sleep and Vida, are being republished with new introductions by PM Press this fall. Her work has been translated into 19 languages. Her memoir Sleeping With Cats is available from Harper Perennial. Read her four poems featured in issue 7. Marge Piercy’s Website

Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of Barolo (The University of Nebraska Press), Pot Farm (forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press), Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), Sagittarius Agitprop (Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), and the chapbooks Four Hours to Mpumalanga (Pudding House Publications), and Aardvark (West Town Press). Recent work appears in The New Republic, The Huffington Post, Field, Epoch, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, Crab Orchard Review, The Best Food Writing, The Best Travel Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Prairie Schooner, Hotel Amerika, Gastronomica, and others. He was born and raised in Illinois and teaches at Northern Michigan University. Read his poem “The Sticking-Place, Stripped Screws” in issue 7. Matthew Gavin Frank’s Website

Patricia Clark is Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Author of three volumes of poetry, Patricia’s newest book is She Walks into the Sea; she has also published a chapbook, Given the Trees. Patricia’s work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily; she has won Mississippi Review’s Poetry Prize; and been honored as the 2nd prize winner in the 2005 Pablo Neruda/Nimrod International Journal Poetry competition. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic MonthlyPoetrySlateStandThe Gettysburg Review, and many other literary magazines. Read her poem “Until it Speaks” in issue 7. Patricia Clark’s Website

Tanaya Winder is from the Southern Ute and Duckwater Shoshone Nations. She graduated from Stanford University in 2008 with a BA in English. Tanaya was a finalist in the 2009 Joy Harjo Poetry Competition and a winner of the A Room Of Her Own Foundation’s Spring 2010 Orlando prize in poetry. Her work appears in Cutthroat magazineYellow Medicine ReviewAdobe WallsBarrier Islands Review, and Lingerpost. She is the co-editor of a forthcoming collection Soul Talk, Song Language: Conversations with Joy Harjo. She is currently pursuing a MFA in Poetry at the University of New Mexico. Read her two poems published in issue 7.

 

The full magazine with featured art and artists from issue 7 can be found here.