Archive for July, 2011

End-of-the-Month Writing Notes

Tomorrow is August 1, and while summer is not officially over, it’s the time of year when I have to start thinking about the start of the fall semester.   I am back in the office on August 18, and classes start that following Monday.  Still, I have a few weeks to work on my revisions and hopefully send out some submissions before September. 

Loyal Readers of the Scrapper Poet will notice that I haven’t talked too much lately about my writing; instead most of my recent posts have been about what I have been reading.  It’s true that I am catching up on my summer reading list but this past month I have also accomplished a small task that many poets in the blogging world do every April, and that is drafting a poem every day of the month.  I bought a small notebook and started on July 1.  This morning, as I was reading over my work for the month,  I made a list of poems that I thought were worth “saving” — that is poems that I will revise.  I came out with 16 poems.  16!  In one month!??    I have to say that I have always been a bit skeptical of the one poem a day marathons many poets write, but I don’t believe I have ever written 16 solid poetry drafts in one month.  Now, I am eager to go back and see if these drafts, through revision, will turn into solid poems.

In other writing news……well, to be honest, I can’t quite tell you my good news that I received this week.  But I will, soon.  Promise.

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CFS: Split this Rock Poetry Contest

Contest entries are now being accepted for the fifth annual Split this Rock Adult Poetry Contest.  This year’s judge is Naomi Shihab Nye.  Submissions will be accepted until November 1, 2011.  Guidelines can be found here.

On a related note, do I have any readers who have ever attended Split This Rock?  It’s one of my dream conferences/festivals, and I really want to make an effort to attend in March.

Poets + Novels = Poetic Novel?

I just finished reading Wintering by Kate Moses.  The book is a fictional account of Sylvia Plath’s life and takes place in the last year or so before her suicide.  I can’t say that I loved the prose — in some ways the writing was a bit cold and detached.  However, the story gave me a new understanding of Plath, and after completing the book, I went and picked up my worn copy of Plath’s collected poems to re-read some of the poems mentioned in the novel.  Furthermore, the author offered a chronology of important events in Plath’s life, including dates where she drafted and/or wrote specific poems.

For me, the book brings up a lot of interesting ideas.  A few weeks ago, I took a workshop under poet Andrew Mulvania, and during the course of the class, he mentioned that he wrote a review of five books that depicted the lives of poets.  The review was published in the Missouri Review and because the subject interested me so, I ordered the issue.

In his article, Andrew reviews the following books: The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn (Emily Dickinson); Exiles by Ron Hansen (Gerard Manley Hopkins); The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds (John Clare); Fall of Frost by Brian Hall (Robert Frost); and The More I Owe You by Michael Sledge (Elizabeth Bishop).  All of these books are now on my reading list. 

A few years ago I read The Hours and then watched the movie.  The combination of the two really gave me a clearer understanding of Virginia Woolf — so much so that I think I became both a better reader and a better teacher of her works.  I’m hoping that reading these books about poets’ lives will do the same for me.

On a final note, if you know of any fictional accounts of poets’ lives, please let me know.  I will add the titles to my reading list.

CLSC Book Nine: A Fierce Radiance

I liked Lauren Belfer’s first book, City of Light, so I was really looking forward to getting my hands on her second novel, A Fierce Radiance.  Lucky for me — the other day I was at my local library and I picked up a copy.  And while I can’t say that I enjoyed this book as much as City of Light, I can say it was an intriguing read.

A Fierce Radiance begins during the days that follow the attack on Pearl Harbor and takes the reader into the world of American medicine — more specifically the world of an experimental medicine called…penicillin! The main character is a woman named Claire Shipley, a single mother who is divorced in a time when divorce was taboo.  She is also a career woman, more specifically, a photographer for Life magazine, assigned to cover the breaking stories surrounding the new “miracle” drug of penicillin.

The story then escalates into a mystery when a renowned scientist is murdered, and Claire finds herself trapped in danger and confusion, especially when she reunites with her estranged father and falls in love with a doctor who is searching for the cure that could save millions of American soldiers’ lives.

While I didn’t especially enjoy the love story thrown into the book, I did learn a lot about this time period.  My father served in WW II and my mother was a teenager during the war.  So many things that happened in this novel echo stories my mother used to tell me.  When I finished the book, I couldn’t help think about how far we have come with American medicine.  And how far we have yet to go.

A Week in Burn Lake

Given the recent heat wave that has engulfed Western PA, spending the last few days reading Carrie Fountain’s Burn Lake seems to be appropriate — Fans of the Scrapper Poet know that I am especially fond of poetry books that encompass sense of place and Fountain’s book, a winner in the National Poetry Series takes the reader to New Mexico in a stunning work of both progress and loss.

Burn Lake is a physical place in this collection and is the backdrop for many of Fountain’s narrative poems.  The lake itself is explored in a scattered sequence of poems.  The first “Burn Lake” describes its genesis where the readers find out the town’s favorite swimming hole was man-made and created by accident:  “It was a revelation: kidney-shaped, deep/green there between the interstate/and the sewage treatment plant.”   Hardly the sentimental American pastoral, this poem’s setting is echoed throughout the book in different “Burn Lake” poems including one description of death found on its shores: “We found a duck, a mallard, dead/on the shore, head split, eyes loose//yet when someone poked it with a stick/it shuddered suddenly//and stood up, then collapsed again/and died for real.”

With those descriptions, we, as readers, readily know that this is not going to be a volume of poems about growing up in golden suburbia.  Narratives about childhood and growing up are woven in between the Burn Lake poems.  We learn about the narrator’s brother who “favored cruelty” in “Getting Better” and a young girl’s budding sexuality in “The Change.”  Fountain’s poems are often grim, filled with lost and confused characters. 

Still, in many ways, the book is filled with a quiet determination and sullen hope, as shown in one of my favorite poems, “Heaven” where the narrator details a walk with a friend and the ritual of wish making:  “You were the leader, You’d stop/at the waterfall by the food court, dig a coin/from your pocket and toss it over your shoulder/into the fiberglass river.”

Carrie Fountain’s book was published last year, so yes, it’s relatively new in the poetry world.  It’s been on my wish list for some time.  I have to say that I wish I would have picked this collection up much sooner — it is one of the best I have read in a long time, and as I always note when I find a first book from someone, I can’t wait for her next collection.

In Escape Into Life

Today’s issue of Escape Into Life features poems of mine along with great photography by Mark Cohen.  Take a look!  I love the rough and tumble look of working class childhood Cohen captures in his work. 

Special thanks to Kathleen for recruiting my work for Escape Into Life and for talking about Stealing Dust on her blog today!

CLSC Book Eight: Hellhound on His Trail

I know that I said that summer is for light reading, but I wanted desperately to finish at least one CLSC book before the end of July, so I started Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides.  Sides’ book explores the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the history of this tumultuous time period.  I had prepared myself for a deep, thoughtful read — and I was right.  What I didn’t expect was that in many ways this book was a thriller.  I sat down to start the book and when I looked up I had read over 100 pages!

I was born in the 70’s — and somehow, when I was growing up, the 1960’s were always romanticized for me.  Perhaps it was because I grew up in a small, secluded town and the outside world, for the most part, remained outside.  I was given hippies and hearts and rainbows and the Beatles to represent the 60’s.  Of course, later I learned about the importance of this decade (and why there were hippies and hearts and rainbows etc…)  Sides’ book gave me more depth to both the time period and the cast of characters that were so important — besides Martin Luther King Jr., I learned about James Earl Ray, J. Edgar Hoover, Ramsey Clark (who I once heard speak a long time ago) and Coretta Scott King.  His book is a prime example of how authors should make history come alive for the reader.

Hampton Sides is new to me, and I was excited to learn that he is the author of many history books — all which are now on my reading list. Books I will try to tackle when the weather cools down and I feel like diving into heavy reading once again.

And on Friday, She Rested…

This morning I wrapped up my last Chautauqua workshop of the summer.  I am exhausted — I’ve had great teachers, great workshop peers, and great ideas for writing.  In fact, as I look at the pile of reviewed poems and drafts, I feel a bit overwhelmed.  I think I am taking the weekend off writing — I have a pile of poetry books I want to read instead.  On Monday, I will return to my Chautauqua folder to review what I need to revise, what I need to discard, what I need to send out.

Nature Poem vs. Nature Poem

For many people, the nature poem can be divided into two major categories: the let’s-feel-good, nature-is-just-spiffy poem or the you-must-wake-up-now and do-something-to-save-the-earth poem.  The flaw of easily categorizing nature poetry is why I am especially enjoying my workshop at Chautauqua with Aimee Nezhukumatathil.   Aimee advocates that we enjoy the beauty and wonderment of nature, yet she doesn’t fall into the trap of sentimentality.  For those of you who know Aimee’s work, you understand that the natural world often works its way into the lines of her poems.  You will see a corpse flower, a cobra, an octopus.  She is celebrating nature, yet, readers don’t walk away feeling as they are stepping out of a Hallmark card splashed with flowers.

A few weeks ago, poet Shara McCallum  told me that landscape and the natural world is an important part of my poetic “space” and I think that is true.  Yet others have told me that I do have a doom and gloom attitude in many of my works, and I can see where readers see the danger in my poems (rivers so polluted they could catch fire, cornfields that could hide menacing teenage boys). I took this workshop because I wanted to work with the natural world in my works.

Currently, the class is working on the haibun.  For those of you who don’t know the haibun, it’s a prose poem plus a haiku (I am dumbing down the more specifics of form; for that I apologize).  While I work with the prose poem, I have never really mastered the haibun.  What fascinates me about this kind of poem is the content — nature writing with a touch of darkness.  Yet, I find that there’s beauty in the ominous content.

Tonight, I am finishing a haibun for workshop homework.  It’s about the last fire escape in town — and it features the notorious cowbird, a lazy and ugly bird (my apologies to cowbird lovers) that  drops her eggs into other birds nests.  Once the young hatches, the baby cowbirds push its “adopted” siblings from the nest.  I may have just found my poetic form that fits the landscapes of my world.

Chautauqua Musings

I’m in the middle of my mini-marathon of poetry workshops at Chautauqua.  I wish I had more time to write thoughtfully about what I am learning and what I am writing.  But I don’t.  This week I am working with poet Andrew Mulvania, and next week I will be the workshop assistant in the workshop taught by Aimee Nezhukumatathil.  I also have a stack of books that I want to read, including some new titles in the CLSC series  (The oldest continuous book club in America).  But many of  these books are pretty heavy reading and I’m not sure I want to dive into those pages right now!  Like I said before, isn’t summer the time for light reading?

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