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 …
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 …
… 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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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 …
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.)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)
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:
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)
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.
“a rediscovery and immersion into poetry, specifically the joy of reading poetry aloud” – Audiobook narrator and voice artist Xe Sands discusses how she has expanded her poetry landscape thanks in part to #todayspoem
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?
How bunches of us bookish sorts on Twitter decided to start our day with some poetic inspiration – and share it with each other – is described here. You can always quickly tap into what we’re most recently sharing and discussing by simply checking out the #todayspoem hashtag on Twitter. You can check the hashtag and see new contributions at just about any moment of the day or night, as contributors are posting an astonishingly diverse and eclectic range of poetry selections around the clock and from around the world.
I’m amazed every day at what #todayspoem contributors share. I don’t have time to read them all on the spot, but I faithfully bookmark/favourite them in Twitter, and go back at every opportunity, knowing that I’m going to learn something new, be entertained, be moved, be surprised … and it’s all those great moments that keep the day rolling along, truth be told.
I’ve kept track of my own #todayspoem selections so far and just wanted to share them, just for fun and perhaps for enticement to more of you to follow and maybe join in. At very least, stop by, read and enjoy. If you’re tempted to pull a book of poetry off the shelf (even a virtual shelf, such as the great poetry resources online at sites such as The Scottish Poetry Library, The Academy of American Poets and the Griffin Poetry Prize, amongst others) and inspired to share what you’ve found, just add the #todayspoem tag to your tweet and a network of poetry lovers will get to enjoy it.
My #todayspoem selections so far …
December 25, 2011 Lorne Daniel (@LorneDaniel) Dog on Ice, from Drawing Back to Take a Running Jump Weedmark Publishing
December 26, 2011 Robert Graves The Cottage
Excerpt: “Now somehow it’s come to me To light the fire and hold the key”
December 27, 2011 Roo Borson The Garden, from Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida McClelland and Stewart (@McClellandBooks)
Excerpt: “Eye of the lake half-closed with ice. Ducks at one end, sleeping.”
December 28, 2011 Charles Wright Little Landscape, from Scar Tissue Farrar Straus and Giroux (@FSG_Books)
Excerpt: “To lighten the language up, or to dark it back down Becomes the blade edge we totter on.”
December 29, 2011 Derek Mahon Homage to Gaia, from Life on Earth Gallery Press (@TheGalleryPress)
Excerpt: “Coleridge kept an Aeolian harp like a harmonica lodged in an open window to catch the slightest flicker”
Excerpt: “Just for today, if I were to pass myself in the street I wouldn’t even raise my hat, or say hello.”
January 20, 2012 Valerie Rouzeau (translated by Susan Wicks) Cold Spring in Winter Arc Publications (@ArcPoetry)
Excerpt: Mirror just let me see is this my head? But aren’t I grimacing, a new line too a bar across my forehead?
Miroir dis-moi voir c’est ma tête? N’ai je pas une grimace, une nouvelle ligne aussi à me barrer le front ? Valérie Rouzeau
One daunting, harried morning, Heathcock paused to randomly draw a book of poetry from a shelf, and to just as randomly select and read a poem. Mary Oliver’s “Egrets” momentarily took him away from not enough sleep, from kids needing to get to school, from deadlines demanding to be met … and after that brief respite …
I closed the book, transformed, bolstered from the inside out.
From that day forward, each morning I read a poem.
A bunch of us book friends on Twitter – including Harvey Freedenberg, Jeanne Duperreault and Elizabeth Bastos – starting discussing the power of randomly selected and surprisingly resonant poetry to lift one’s spirits and put a new spin on the day. From that conversation, we agreed that we could all quite happily manage the New Year’s resolution of starting our day with a poem. We’d swiftly grab it from a bookshelf or online, as suited, and we would take the time to read, savour and contemplate, like a brief morning meditation. And then we’d share our choices with each other, using the #todayspoem Twitter hashtag.
Even before January 1st, several of us jumped in enthusiastically. The selections are diverse, whimsical, touching, haunting, prescient, eye-opening. Let me share a few of the tweets that have help to draw those of us who know about it (so far) into this exquisite shared experience:
As you can see, everyone is sharing their #todayspoem experience a little differently, with an image, a link, an excerpt, whatever fits in a tweet. Each tweet is enough to spur a moment of delight or recognition or, handily favorited in Twitter, is a lovely bookmark for future poetry explorations.
The #todayspoem experience is a dual delight. You treat yourself to an energizing moment of reflection in the morning, and then you have others’ shared #todayspoem gifts to enjoy just by going to the hashtag at any time. Care to join us?