Guest Post, Cortney Davis: Who’s Your Daddy?

Regardless of our life circumstances, we each have a biological mother and father. 50% of our genetic make-up comes from Mom, and 50% comes from Dad. But as writers, we also have another set of “parents.” They may be living, or they may have died decades, even centuries ago. They may come from another country or write in a foreign language. We may not agree with their politics or life choices, nevertheless these other parents influence our lives. They are the poets and writers who have shaped if not our genetic futures, then certainly our creative destinies. These special parents are not simply the writers we admire―they are the writers whose work has turned us inside out, touched our souls, and changed the way we put pen to paper. Often, we recognize our creative parents immediately and instinctively. Sometimes, our connection to them becomes evident only over time.

My poetry “Mom” is Anne Sexton. Although I’d written as a child, I returned to writing seriously as a wife and mother during the decade when feminist and confessional writing flourished. Involved in both undergraduate studies and an ongoing women’s writing workshop, I was taught that nothing in a woman’s life was out of bounds. Suddenly, it was okay to write about our most intimate bodily details, about our psychological struggles, our families’ flaws and our innermost yearnings. Of course, reading Anne Sexton was required. I admired her poetry for its boldness and its craft, but I didn’t recognize her as my poetry mother until a few years later, when I was about to graduate, finally, with a BA in English and a minor in Creative Writing.

It was late, maybe midnight or 1 a.m. My husband and my two children were sleeping, and I was in the family room, curled in a chair, laboring over a poem that wasn’t quite working. I was deep into that space we writers can sometimes enter, that place in which time is meaningless and there seems to be an open conduit between our unconscious mind and our hand. Pausing in my writing, I felt a presence enter the room. It was clearly feminine, and generously approving. It seemed to surround me and―perhaps because in that mysterious space we have access to understandings that elude us otherwise―I knew, in my very marrow, that this presence was Anne Sexton. Then and there, she claimed me.

She’d died by her own hand in 1974, years before this visitation occurred. I was already moving away from purely confessional writing, sensing that some events were better left to memory or exploration in a private journal. And, at that point, Sexton wasn’t even my “favorite” poet. Maybe I’d been half-asleep or dreaming. Regardless, in that encounter, I was infused with a deep recognition. There was, and is, something about her ability to blend the formal with the personal, the way she risks the edge in her poetry, and how her poetic voice is both vulnerable and determined, that captured me. Her presence faded, and I returned to my poem; new, just-right words easily led to a perfect closure. Since then, when my poetic bravery wanes or my poetry becomes too staid, too bland, I return to be nourished by Anne Sexton’s poetic strengths.

Wallace Stevens is my poetry “Dad.” (Imagine that marriage, Anne and Wallace debating the purposes of poetry over dinner!) Again, although I’d read volumes of Steven’s work as an undergraduate, it wasn’t until I was doing graduate work at New York University that I recognized Stevens as my creative father. One of my teachers, Galway Kinnell, required regular memorization of poems. We had to absorb every word, every line break, every punctuation mark, and so be prepared not only to speak our chosen poems, but also to transcribe them perfectly. One week, I chose Stevens’ “Peter Quince at the Clavier.” If you don’t know this poem, find it. Read it. Get lost in it. That’s what I did, and in the process some of Stevens’ poetry DNA became mine. After I recited the poem, Galway Kinnell said, “His rhythms seem to suit you perfectly,” and I could feel it too. It was as if Stevens’ poetic constructions―the placement of his line breaks, the mysterious underbelly of his stanzas―fit into my own creative sensibilities like a final puzzle piece locking into place.

There were other factors too. Stevens had a day job, as I did. His co-workers didn’t know he was a poet, and neither did mine. He embraced a certain privacy and orderliness, evident in his poetry, and yet that order worked to amplify, in a paradoxical way, the secrets and tensions that lived beneath the surface. In “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” Stevens suggests that it’s the misery of not having poetry, of not having something beautiful in your heart, that might be fatal to the human spirit. When my poetic music threatens to fade, or my poems seem too superficial, lacking that lovely “touch of strange,” I return to Stevens, especially to that poem I memorized so long ago.

Maybe you have also discovered your creative parents along the way. Artists too have creative parents, and it’s not unheard of for a writer to have an artist or a sculptor as his or her creative parent. Happily, we can even assemble entire families. Although in reality I’m an only child, my poetry sisters are Sharon Olds and Dorianne Laux. My poetry brother is, without a doubt, Henri Cole. My poetry aunt, on my mother’s side, is Louise Glück. My poetry uncle, on my father’s side, is Yehuda Amichai. My favorite poetry cousin is nurse-poet Jeanne Bryner. An eclectic family indeed, but wholly mine. And while I honor them differently than I honor my actual relatives, I return to my creative parents and siblings again and again, for guidance, for reassurance, and simply for the pure pleasure of being in their company.

Guest Post, Joannie Stangeland: But Is It Poetry?

I was driving to the grocery store, radio turned to NPR mid-segment, someone reading–was it a poem, or was it a story? The imagery was arresting. The storyline carried me all the way to the QFC parking lot, but I wasn’t sure until I heard the name of the author. Question answered by association.

But I want a poem to sound like a poem.

This could have been a conversation about the difference between the poem on the page and the poem out loud. Or a conversation about line breaks. (We can talk about line breaks all day, right?)

But it felt bigger. It brought me back to this question: What’s the difference between poetry and prose?

On a page you can see line breaks and see that it’s a poem. But does it feel like a poem?

A rhyme scheme can get your attention quickly–but I believe that poetry is vast and end rhymes are only one of many possibilities.

Poetry thrives on imagery. We can even say that imagery is the foundation of poetry–metaphors and extended metaphors, juxtapositions that open worlds of new meaning. But prose can be image-rich, and poetry can sound like prose when you aren’t looking at it on the page.

Last September, in the space of 10 days, I heard both Jorie Graham and Dorianne Laux talk about the relation of music to their work. Instead of trying to paraphrase from my notes, I went online and found these links for you.

In a Smartish Pace Poets Q & A interview, Jorie Graham says her writing “comes much more directly out of life experience, the nature of language, and musical threads one follows as one tries to come to terms with intuitions generated by an encounter with the given world, with the sensation.”

In “Between The Words I Couldn’t Understand and The First Music I Can’t Remember,” Dorianne Laux says, “I think what happened is that I finally found my way as a poem writer in the way one does as a songwriter.  I invented my own music for the language based on what I had heard working in the songs I loved, as well as in the air around me…”

And then I found myself in the car listening to radio and wondering about poetry. And I thought, “Yes.”

If, as Gregory Orr has noted, a poem can emphasize story, form, imagination, or music, I’m putting a stake in the ground: Ultimately, it’s the music.

music-thinkingAny kind of music, all kinds of music–think of Mozart, John Cage, John Prine, Joni Mitchell (the way she stretches out lines, changing the rhythm), Hip Hop, Ska, Mbira music, drumming!

But there’s got to be some overriding, driving rhythm, the rhythm and the sounds and the spaces between the sounds, the spaces at the ends of lines and stanzas (the rests) that allow those sounds to echo silently. It’s the rhythm  and the sounds that propel you to the end of the line, leave you briefly in the pause, and lead you to the next line. Whether it’s lyrical or narrative, a poem uses music the same way a song does, but without melody or instruments.

Poems use different types of music, different rhythms. Sometimes a poem moves from one rhythm to another to shift the mood–shorter lines for a somber image, an elegy or a meditation; longer lines for a heady rush to leave the reader breathless. I know it always seems like shorter lines are faster–you get to the page that much more quickly.

But try reading short and long lines out loud. For example,

I was not born for storms, blown off course
to watch weather rage like demons without names.

and

I was not born
for storms, blown
off course to watch
weather rage
like demons
without names.

Do the line breaks slow your voice, force pauses, even if they’re tiny pauses?

(When I read from my most recent book, I struggle with the short lines, those with only two or one word, one beat. I want to go faster!)

The sound, the pause or momentum adds to the experience of your poem. The music and the subject are having a conversation.

Those line breaks must work hard in other ways, must resonate–in the ear (with assonance, alliteration, rhythm/meter, rhyming or internal rhyming, the pause after the break, and even repetition), and in meaning (how the words play off each other or their origins).

What about prose? Prose can be gorgeously musical, but the narrative remains the boss. In poetry, the music trumps the story. How it sounds is that important.

This argument appears to fall apart when we look at prose poems (which I love). Now we no longer have the line break to add that tension. It’s all momentum. But the music still applies, still trumps any narrative.

This argument disintegrates when we get to automatic writing and chance operations. Poetry has room for everything, but I’ll suggest those are the exceptions that prove the rule–and I’ll keep listening to hear the poem’s music.

Guest Blog Post, Dorianne Laux on The Dodge Poetry Festival

Dorianne LauxI had planed to keep a daily journal of my impressions of The Dodge Poetry Festival, but was so tired each night I could hardly keep my eyes open. I don’t know how many people attended this year, though the festival usually draws around 12 to 15 thousand. Thank gawd it’s biennial. I don’t know how they would plan such a massive undertaking without the break of a year between events.

The first time I ever went to the Dodge Poetry Festival I traveled there in a car with my friends, The Grubins: Dave, Joan and their daughter poet Eve Grubin. I was unfamiliar with New York, and so had no idea in what direction we were headed. But soon the city seemed to slip away and when the car stopped and we stepped out, we stood in a dirt parking lot the size of Detroit. I could not believe it. I remember asking Eve, “Every car in this lot is here for poetry?” Yes, she said as she took my astonished hand and lead me to the tents. This was Waterloo: Valhalla for poets. Except we were all alive!

What used to be a circus tent, mud and boots affair, has now moved to the streets of downtown Newark’s Arts District where poetry lovers stroll, fast-walk, or flat out run from one event to another. The day is packed with panels, talks and readings, as well as music and food. Books are for sale by every poet there as well as poets from former festivals. Literally hundreds of thousands of poetry books are stacked in rows 10 deep on the fold out tables, as well as Dodge Fest merch: t-shirts, mugs, baseball hats and jerseys, all with the Dodge logo proudly displayed. One woman I spoke with said that when she filled out her form for the suggestions box, she asked, “Why not scarves?”. It was getting chilly by the end of the fest so I feel sure I would have snagged one.

It’s really too much to take it, or to do justice in so few words. If you are a poet or a reader of poetry, it’s one of those things you must journey to at least once in your life. When I give a poetry reading, I’m still amazed that anyone shows up. Why would you stop watching TV or shut down your computer to go listen to someone read a poem? But they do, in droves. Some buy four-day passes so they won’t miss a word.

The first time I attended the Waterloo Dodge, I was there to listen to poets I revered, like Stanley Kunitz, Lucille Clifton, Gerald Stern, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Stephen Dunn, C.K. Williams, as well as newer poets I’d come to love Li-Young Lee, Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Tony Hoagland. Nothing prepared me for the sound of 3000 people settling into folding chairs as Stanely Kunitz began his slow walk across the stage. When he reached the microphone, the sudden quiet was so loud I could hear the tent top high above us billowing in the breeze. And as he spoke, the silence grew around his voice, the poem knitting itself into the air. When it was over, the silence sat a moment longer, still and close, and then the applause rose up to fill the void like sudden light through tall windows.

The other moment among the many moments I’ll never forget was when Marie introduced me to Stanley before the reading. I was shy, worried about what to say. I was shocked that the body that housed this great voice was so thin and fragile, and when he stood up I wanted to say no, don’t. But his eyes shone and he gripped my hand in his and planted a soft sweet kiss on my cheek. I blushed like a girl. For days, I did not wash my face.

Launch of Superstition Review Issue 8

We are happy to announce the launch of Issue 8 of Superstition Review. Following are some of the artists and writers featured:

Michael Velliquette

Art: Michael Velliquette is a mixed media artist who makes dimensionally complex paper sculptures and drawings. Museum exhibitions include Slash: Paper Under the Knife at the Museum of Art and Design (New York) and Psychedelic at the San Antonio Museum of Art. A monograph titled Michael Velliquette: Lairs of the Unconscious is currently available on Amazon.com through Devibook Publishers.

Fiction: William J. Cobb is a novelist, essayist, and short fiction writer whose work has been published in The New Yorker, The Mississippi Review, The Antioch Review, and many others. He’s the author of the novels—The Fire Eaters (W.W. Norton 1994) and Goodnight, Texas (Unbridled Books 2006)—and a book of stories, The White Tattoo (Ohio State UP 2002). His new novel titled The Bird Saviors is forthcoming in 2012.

Interviews: Chase Twichell is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon, 2010) which won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award from Claremont Graduate University, and the Balcones Poetry Prize. She is a student in the Mountains and Rivers Order at Zen Mountain Monastery.

Nonfiction: Lee Martin is the author of the novels, The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction; River of Heaven; Quakertown; and Break the Skin. He has also published two memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones, and another memoir, Such a Life, is set to appear in 2012. He is the winner of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University.

Poetry: A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Dorianne Laux’s fourth book of poems, Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton), is the recipient of the Oregon Book Award and was short-listed for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions, as well as Superman: The Chapbook and Dark Charms, both from Red Dragonfly Press.

Submissions Period for Issue 9: We publish art, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry twice a year in April and December. Our Spring submissions will open January 1 for Issue 9, which will launch in April 2012. We accept submissions online here.

 

 

 

 

 

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