Category Archives: Poetry

Spending time most gloriously with 500 poets and poetry translators

Gathered at another table

A year ago, the table welcomed 300 poets and translators. A year later, 200 more poets and translators have joined the festive gathering, making for some interesting shuffling in the seating arrangements, to say the least. Are Helen Adam and Fleur Adcock having a surprising meeting of minds? How about ee cummings and Nancy Jo Cullen … or Edna St Vincent Millay and Joe Strummer? Anselm Berrigan is now next to his father, Ted, and his mother Alice Notley is further down on the other side, engrossed in conversation with Idra Novey. We trust Helen Guri and Jason Guriel will have no mishaps with wine glasses or cutlery …

I’ve been tweeting a #todayspoem tweet every day since December 26, 2011, inspired by this. In addition to revisiting and going deeper in my own poetry collection, #todayspoem has compelled me to go further afield in print and online, and my daily tweets have reflected both my own explorations and those sparked by other generous and eclectic #todayspoem contributors. While I continue to imagine what this 500 poets and translators I’ve tweeted would have to say to each other if I sat them at a table … again, I’m fantasizing about the new guests who will be joining them in the days, weeks and months to come.

The following are links to more information about each of the unique poets and translators from whose work I’ve tweeted in a little over two years – personal web sites, articles, interviews, essays, biographies and bibliographies. I kind of hope that these might be starting points for others to explore these artists, too. The excerpts from their work that I incorporated into #todayspoem tweets are saved as part of the Today’s Poem Pinterest board.

Tea table image from chestofbooks.com

how the gods pour tea, by Lynn Davies

how the gods pour tea, by Lynn Davies

You know how with a really great, involving, engaging work of fiction, you can feel like you don’t want the book to end because you’ll miss the stories, the characters, that narrator’s voice in your head? I’m not sure that is often said of poetry collections … but I know I didn’t want this poetry collection to end. Davies’ voice throughout is warm, accessible, wise, observant and whimsical in a charmingly earnest way. Whether a poem’s subject matter is grounded in the real world or takes off in otherworldly flights (or just hops) of fancy, you trust completely where Davies is going to take you.

Her often economical expression by no means suggest she skimps on resonance, either.

“Might be grief in a puddle
and the puddle dries up.”
(from “On Mercy”)

“licks the shadows of trees off her paws.”
(from “Senility”)

“a river braiding light
as it rounds the bend.”
(from “Trout Lilies”)

“To be clear
as a crocus
among last
year’s shoe-
leather leaves.”
(from “Arrival”)

“I leave books open
in every room
of our house.”
(from “Alone”)

“I love you like crates of potatoes
and abandoned roads.”
(from “The Great Escape”)

These simple, elemental words and phrases … and many more … will vibrate in your mind, in your cells, long after you reluctantly turn over the last page.

Thank you to Goose Lane Editions for providing a review copy of how the gods pour tea, by Lynn Davies.

See also:

Lynn Davies – how the gods pour tea (an interview)
(The Toronto Quarterly)

Small acts of poetry

Louise Gluck

Even in the afterglow of the Griffin Poetry Prize festivities, which are about as close as you’re going to elevate poetry and poets to a combination of Nobel Prize veneration and rock star status … loving poetry still feels like a rarified pursuit. It touches you, excites you and jazzes you – and yet the eyes of your colleagues, friends and loved ones might still glaze over when you start to rhapsodize about Don McKay, Tomas Transtromer or Louise Glück.

It isn’t enough to try to defend and promote a somewhat misunderstood or underappreciated art form by insisting that those song lyrics your sister can’t get out of her head, even that clever advertising slogan that resonates for your co-worker … well, just might have an element of poetry to it. No, poetry should not be the spinach hidden in the brownie recipe. And no, the benefits of poetry should not be a clinical Yahoo Answers entry, complete with crowd-sourced ratings, right in there with how to remove grass stains from silk or how to configure your web site’s htaccess file.

You want to see that light in your doubting loved ones’ eyes sparked by a whimsical or startling insight from John Ashbery or Kathleen Jamie or Dina Del Bucchia or Lorna Crozier or Phil Hall or … And if you can create that illumination while supporting the poets and publishers and curators of collections and readings events who make it all possible, all the better. Some small acts of poetry are in order.

You can start with something modest and fleeting (but still thoughtful and tailored to the recipient) like this …

Facebook stealth poem

With so much poetry offered online in delicious treasure troves and repositories, from Poetry Foundation to The Academy of American Poets to The Poetry Archive to the Griffin Poetry Prize to countless journals and publications (Arc Poetry Magazine, ditch, Forget Magazine, Jacket2 … and … and …) … well, it’s easy to find and post the perfect stealth poem on the appropriate subject, in the ideal style, striking just the right tone, for someone who needs it … or doesn’t yet know he or she needs it.

Poems in the Waiting room

Feeling adventurous? Want to kick that stealth poetry thing up a notch? How about trying it in real life, easing some poetry into unexpected locations where people might need it more than they realize?

My own forays into real life stealth poetry have been inspired by Poems in the Waiting Room, a UK-based initiative spearheaded by the Arts in Health charity, which publishes and supplies short collections of poems for patients to read while waiting to see their doctor and to take away with them. There is no charge to the patient or to the National Health Service. What a receptive setting into which they’re introducing poetry – one where people are seeking comfort or at very least some distraction or diversion. With that in mind, I left this in my dentist’s office …

Stealth poetry by Roo Borson

… and this in my doctor’s office, where I was thrilled to see someone actually pick it up as I was departing after my appointment.

Stealth poetry by Jennifer Still

Oh, and then there’s #todayspoem, the daily small act of giving and receiving poetry that many of us have been practicing on Twitter for a year and a half. I’ve described and discussed (gone on about it?) it enough on this blog that it warrants its own category. More than 250 individuals on Twitter have contributed at least once and usually much more frequently to daily tweeted poetry excerpts that – a mere hashtag away – run the gamut of the art form and range from earliest days to the freshest, newest voices. Simply look at the gorgeous book covers and radiant faces shining out here.

The Argossey, by Ben Ladouceur

I was inspired to think about small acts of poetry (and lifted the phrase, which I hope she won’t mind) from a quietly moving piece by poet Amanda Earl recently posted in the ottawa poetry newsletter.

I am the last person to rabbit on about the therapeutic value of poetry. I don’t really need poetry to have some kind of function in society. I don’t really know what my point is here except to say that these small acts of poetry helped me through a very difficult time.

What were those small acts of poetry that had such powerful and healing effects? Read Amanda’s story here.

The elegance and grandeur of the Griffin Poetry Prize events and the relatively substantial media attention they garner, combined with the diversity of poetry and poets the prize showcases, needs as its counterpoint the small acts of poetry that bring it home, by virtue of the personal and trusted recommendation, the hand-delivered physical book object, the intimate connection when it’s most needed … to bring it all swiftly, soundly and beautifully to heart.

What are the small acts of poetry you’re going to give and that you’re going to look forward to receiving?

See also:

being Bogey, a poem by Leslie Greentree

go-go dancing for Elvis, by Leslie Greentree

My #todayspoem choice yesterday was an excerpt from the poem “being Bogey” by Canadian writer Leslie Greentree. She has kindly granted permission for me to post the complete poem here.

being Bogey

by Leslie Greentree

ever since you told me Casablanca was your favourite movie
I knew you would leave eventually     could see how the appeal
of sacrificing yourself to a higher good would be stronger than
anything I could offer you     how you were one of those men
who had to do what was right and honourable

you be Bogart then     lay yourself at the altar of an old empty
promise     at the feet of the children who will eventually scorn
your sacrifice as weakness spit I hate you when you won’t buy
them a car or this season’s green Capri pants whenever they
turn those practised pouting eyes on your stricken face

who shall I be then     Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember
she too must have always secretly known that love could never
conquer all the pissy details of reality     that’s why she couldn’t
offer him her flawed self     shall I sit here now with a blanket
over my legs pretending I’m not crippled

the worst part is that even though I’ve been hit by a truck there
is still a part of me that knows that this is the best way to make you
love me     if you had stayed eventually I would have driven you
away in tiny increments with my sharp tongue and my clawing
need

now you will pine for me always and I for you     absence and loss
the only guarantees of a great and lasting love     the ideal and
torment of what’s lost somehow more real than making supper
washing dishes taking out the garbage     but I’m still crippled
still sitting under this blanket and I’m not as drawn to the
romance of this movie as you

From go-go dancing for Elvis, by Leslie Greentree
Copyright © 2003

Leslie Greentree’s go-go dancing for Elvis was shortlisted for the 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize. Learn more here.

Celebrating the beautiful book object – Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler

Although the calendar says it’s spring tomorrow, Mother Nature is having none of it here in Toronto. As a howling wind swept around my house in the east end yesterday, variously tossing down rain, snow, sleet and hail in succession, a little package arrived from Edmonton’s NeWest Press. When I opened the package, it was as if a warm spring breeze wafted out …

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

Flipping through, sampling intriguing dashes of poetry from Jenna Butler’s third collection, I found I was as enamoured by the fresh first impressions of the physical book as I was by the words on the page. No surprise, then, to discover that this book’s design was imagined with the signature subtlety, attention to detail and fidelity to the subject matter that characterizes all of Natalie Olsen’s fine work. (Learn more about her work and creative process at her Kisscut Design blog.)

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

The lattice of leaves and tendrils, underpinning the themes and images of nature throughout Butler’s collection, is echoed throughout the book. Swoon … even wee leaves sprout from the page numbers. Spring is in the air!

Just as the book’s epigraph from George Melnyk states, “the visual turns visionary.”

Thank you to NeWest Press for providing a review copy of Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler.

300 poets and poetry translators at a table

Gathered at a table

William Blake and Robin Blaser have a meeting of minds over appetizers, and the rest of the vibrant, clattering table of poets fades into the background. Lucy Maud Montgomery drops her napkin and Jacob Arthur Mooney gallantly picks it up and returns it to her. Kimmy Beach and Brendan Behan plot postprandial mayhem over dessert, and convince Milton Acorn, Helen Adam, Al Purdy and Paul Quarrington to join them. Suzanne Buffam flirts with Charles Bukowski. Margaret Avison has reassuring words for Ken Babstock. Billy Collins and John Cooper Clarke swiftly find they have much in common; Warren Zevon and Jan Zwicky are less certain of that, but are cordial and collegial nonetheless.

I’ve been tweeting a #todayspoem tweet every day since December 26, 2011, inspired by this. In addition to revisiting and going deeper in my own poetry collection, #todayspoem has compelled me to go further afield in print and online, and my daily tweets have reflected both my own explorations and those sparked by other #todayspoem contributors. So, while I’m imagining what this first 300 poets I’ve tweeted would have to say to each other if I sat them at a table … I’m also imagining the new guests who will be joining them in the days, weeks and months to come.

The illustration, added with good-humoured respect for all fine poets and translators, is Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party — Illustration to the fifth chapter of Alice in Wonderland by John Tenniel. Wood-engraving by Thomas Dalziel (from www.victorianweb.org).

Revisiting poets on #todayspoem

Some Trees, by John Ashbery

Well, I’m closing in on 10 months (211 poets in 288 days, to be exact) of #todayspoem. Yep, and so far, I haven’t missed a day. As I’ve mused before, did I have any idea I’d be this far along a journey through poetry when a bunch of us bookish Twitter friends had the first #todayspoem discussion back in late 2011? I knew I would commit to it, and I did. What I didn’t know was how far-ranging a journey it would be, and how much I’d learn from both my own explorations, and from the discoveries I’d make through the generosity and creativity of other #todayspoem contributors (who I hope I’ve accurately captured in this Twitter list).

As far afield as I’ve gone at times with #todayspoem, I notice from keeping track of my choices that there are poets I’ve returned to more than once. The following is a list of the poets I’ve visited and revisited for #todayspoem inspiration, with links (where available) to some of their poems that I’ve chosen, read, enjoyed and derived inspiration or solace from early in the morning.

 

Celebrating Anne Carson Every Day In August

I’m thrilled to introduce Bookgaga blog visitors to a very special guest book reviewer. Amanda Earl is an eloquent and prolific literary supporter, and writer and artist in her own right. I suspect many of you reading this blog already know her and perhaps have met her in person at one of the many arts events in which she takes part. Amanda’s most recent poetry chapbooks and e-books are “Sex First and Then A Sandwich” (above/ground press, Ottawa, Ontario, 2012), “me, Medusa” (the red ceiling press, UK, 2012). Her poems appeared recently or are forthcoming in Rampike, fillingStation and In/Words Magazine. Amanda is the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the Bywords Quarterly Journal, and the (fallen) angel of AngelHousePress. Follow her on Twitter @KikiFolle or Pinterest pinterest.com/kikifolle/. For more information, please visit amandaearl.com.

If I understand correctly, the object of Today’s Poem (#todayspoem) is to expose the general tweeting public (the Tweetosphere) to a daily dose of poetry in 140 characters or less. These poem bits are also posted by ardent poetry enthusiasts or Internet junkies, take your pick, on Pinterest, along with a photo of the author or book cover. Today’s Poem is the brainchild of Vicki Ziegler, who I know as @Bookgaga on Twitter, but haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. I am trying to lure her to the Ottawa International Writers Festival this fall for tea and book mayhem.

I began taking part in Today’s Poem this year, most likely in January. At first, I simply opened a book of poems at random and tried to find an excerpt that was compelling and brief enough to post. I had some trepidations about this exercise. What if I wasn’t representing the poet’s work properly by excerpting those 140 characters? I found I often had to exclude parts of lines to fit within the 140-character limit or I could choose to continue in another tweet, thereby breaking the line with the noise from the traffic of other tweets. But the thought of the goal of the exercise, to help people (and myself!) rediscover or discover exciting poetry, motivated me to dive in. I think this is a very creative use of Twitter, which is often just a place for narcissistic self-promotion and the repetition of sweet homilies. I commend @BookGaga for her altruism and initiative.

July 12: “Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea./Susie Asado.” Gertrude Stein

Short Talks, by Anne Carson

My most recent month-long ritual has been to post lines from the work of Anne Carson, not just her poetry, but also her translations of Greek and Latin plays, her essays and her novellas in poem form. I am fascinated by Carson’s exploration of form, the tension between formal elements and the everyday. As a former translator myself, though never a literary translator, I am interested in Carson’s take on the translation, both in the essays she writes about a single word, such as “bittersweet” and the translations themselves in the way in which they enliven and create their own new spaces, much in the way Erín Moure, another literary hero of mine, does with her translations from the Galician or invented personas.

I think of Anne Carson as a model of literary exploration, my older poetic sister. She is eclectic and daring, willing to try anything to explore the limits of her craft, and I respect that, aspire to it for my own writing. Not to mention that she didn’t have her first book published until she was 42 when Brick Books published Short Talks, probably the most treasured of her books on my shelves. While I’m past 42 by many years, Carson demonstrates that there is hope for the spineless.

Starting August 1, 2012, I posted a line from the most recent collection of her work I own, Nox. I don’t have Antigonick yet, Carson’s update of Antigone in a form similar to that of a graphic novel.

 

My poetry shelves are arranged for the most part alphabetically, and for the most part, according to the order that the work was published, but books have a tendency to unsort themselves for the avid reader. I posted lines from Carson’s work in approximately publishing order with most recent first.

August 1: “The phoenix mourns by shaping, weighing, testing, hollowing, plugging and carrying towards the light.” Nox (New Directions, 2010)

I am intrigued by Carson’s focus on the retelling of myth and the reanimation of Greek and Latin literature to present day. I wasn’t educated in the classics, alas. Carson’s writing is a way to learn about them, a way in.

I love Carson’s wit and sense of humour:

August 8, 2012: “Always planning ahead that’s me, practical as purgatory my mom used to say.” Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (Knopf, 2005)

Am astounded by the beauty of her lines, which aren’t sentimental, but visual and memorable, often with an edge:

August 12, 2012: “A fell dark pink February heaven/Was/Pulling the clouds home, balancing massacre/On the rips.” Men in the Off Hours (Knopf, 2001)

The Beauty of the Husband, by Anne Carson

August 18, 2012: “Hotel gardens at dusk are a place where the laws governing matter/get pulled inside out,/like the black keys and the white keys on Mozart’s piano.” The Beauty of the Husband (Knopf, 2001)

Carson deals with concerns such as death, anger, youth, beauty in ways that resonate and strike a universal chord.

August 23, 2012: “Youth is a dream where I go every night/and wake up with just this little jumping bunch of arteries/in my hand.” Plainwater (Knopf, 1995)

For a very good overview of Carson’s work and insightful interviews, I heartily recommend:

  • the Blaney lecture from October, 2010

I have been gratified by the responses of others on Twitter and Pinterest. Carson’s lines from Today’s Poem have been retweeted and repinned by people from all over Canada and the UK, possibly from the States too. One of the goals of this exercise for me is to spread the good word about poets whose work excites me.

August 31: “Sappho begins with a sweet apple and ends in infinite hunger.” Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton University Press, 1986)

Six months of #todayspoem

Poets Linda Besner, Robin Blaser, Lavinia Greenlaw, Ko Un, P.K. Page and Ian Williams

or 147 poets in 184 days (or so)

Did I have any idea I’d be this far along a journey through poetry when a bunch of us bookish Twitter friends had the first #todayspoem discussion back in late 2011? What I did know is that I felt very committed from the outset to giving it a concerted try. I would do my best to read and share via Twitter every single day an excerpt from a poem to which I’d given some consideration and reflection. So far, so good. I was still enthusiastic when I checked in after two months, and six months in, I’m still interested, motivated, intrigued, jazzed … and have yet to miss a day.

What I didn’t know when I sent my first #todayspoem tweet on December 25, 2011 was where my poetry explorations would take me. What I also didn’t realize is how many others would be along for the adventure, and how their contributions, comments and insights would send me off on new side trips along the way.

Overall, the exercise (which has never felt like an exercise, actually) has compelled me to revisit and go deeper in my own library. It has also inspired me to go further afield in print and online, with poets with whom I was already familiar, but also very excitingly with poets old and new I was encountering for the first time.

And what of the daily poetry excerpts and selections themselves – my own and those of other #todayspoem contributors? Well, every day is a fresh intersection with where I am and how I’m feeling and what that day’s poem provokes, evinces or confirms. Not a day goes by that those simple tweets and where they lead have amused, amazed, surprised, touched, agitated, intrigued and more. Try it for yourself.

So, without (much) further ado, here is a list of the poets whose work I’ve read and incorporated in #todayspoem tweets since December 25, 2011. For each name, I’m going to link to a biography, article, interview, review or some other resource that might inspire you to go off on a few poetry side trips yourself. Thank you to the poets, publishers, #todayspoem contributors and poetry lovers in general who have filled and enriched the first six months of this venture, and are likely to help me turn this into a lifelong habit.

“How often I look back
for the moment my footprints
fade from sight

the dew undisturbed and the moss – “
Emily McGiffin, As Air from Between Dusk and Night (2012, Brick Books)

“To crow
would have been
out of place;
and besides
this rooster
wanted to be different.”
Irving Layton, The Laughing Rooster (1964, McClelland and Stewart)

“The paper’s still empty, the poem unwritten.
You would have done better to have talked to your mother.”
PK Page, How to Write a Poem from Coal and Roses (2009, Porcupines Quill)

“For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.”
Christopher Smart, from Jubilate Agno (written 1759-1763)

“Kevin Costner stayed in this hotel
Babe Ruth and Calvin Coolidge too
This is a sacred place”
August Kleinzahler, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“I started spelling my name backwards,
retreating from the space a name makes.”
Rosemary Sullivan, Sisters from The Space a Name Makes (1986, Black Moss Press)

“and the wind began to blow and all the trees began to bend
and the world in its cold way started coming alive.”
John Darnielle, Woke Up New from Get Lonely (2006)

“It’s the spot where the dogs
always stop overlong, then look at me as if to say,
Explain this, please.”
Chase Twichell, The Park From Above (2012, Plume Poetry)

“And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Peace from Poems (1918)

“It was the last conversation I ever had with her.
I told her I liked baseball, to make her happy.”
Dave McGimpsey, What Was That Poem? (2011, Walrus Magazine)

“Outside there are sirens.
Someone’s been run over.
The century grinds on.”
Margaret Atwood, Secular Night from Morning in the Burned House (1995, McClelland and Stewart)

 

See also:

 

Leaping into a #todayspoem treasure every day

What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire, by Charles Bukowski

Two months and a bit into it, the #todayspoem inspiration is still going strong. Check the hashtag any day of the week – and at any time of the day, for that matter – and you’ll see that a core of regular contributors from around the world are starting, ending or pausing in their days to savour and contemplate a good poem, and then share it with others. There are more than 70 contributors sharing their #todayspoem selections daily or periodically – I’ve captured them in a Twitter list.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m amazed every day at what #todayspoem contributors are reading and sharing. I faithfully bookmark/favourite the #todayspoem tweets and go back at every opportunity to explore the links, videos, pictures of pages taken straight from volumes, knowing that I’m going to be dazzled, amused and moved anew. I have this lovely feeling, too, that for every person sending out a thoughtful #todayspoem tweet every day or every week, there are even more people quietly reading, enjoying and reflecting on the poems we’re sending out into the ether.

I’m still experimenting with ways of archiving and showcasing all the #todayspoem selections, with links to texts and more information about the poets, poetry collections and publishers. Once I’ve got that figured out for my own selections, I’d also love to be able to find a way to aggregate all contributions in one place, if possible. Anyhow, this month, I started gathering and “pinning” my poems on Pinterest. What do you think?