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Poetry: NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast by Jim Lehrer

Poetry: NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast

by Jim Lehrer

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10 Min.


A special NewsHour series that couples profiles of contempory poets with reports on news and trends in the world of poetry.

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Weekly Poem: Ron Padgett reads ‘Thinking about the Moon’

Mon, Mar 17, 2014

Thinking about the Moon

As a child I thought the moon
existed only at night:

there it was
in the dark sky.

When I saw it in daytime
I knew it was the moon

but it wasn’t the real one.
It was that other one.

The real moon had moonlight,
silver and blue

And the full moon was so big
it seemed close, but

to what? (I didn’t know
I was on Earth).

“Thinking about the Moon” is reprinted by permission from Collected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Ron Padgett.

Photo by John Sarsgard/Coffee House Press

Photo by John Sarsgard/Coffee House Press

Ron Padgett is an American poet, essayist, fiction writer, translator and member of the New York School. His latest book “Collected Poems” is a compilation of his works from 1960-2004, including 11 previous publications and dozens of uncollected poems. Padgett is the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Poetry Society of America, and the National Endowment for the Arts and was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist in poetry. His work has been translated into 18 different languages.

The post Weekly Poem: Ron Padgett reads ‘Thinking about the Moon’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Weekly Poem: Rachel Zucker pulls inspiration from the noise of New York

Mon, Mar 03, 2014

Rachel Zucker

Rachel Zucker was once told that poets either write out of noise or out of silence and she has no doubt which category she falls into.

Zucker just published a new collection of poems called “The Pedestrians.” A native of New York, she has lived in the city for almost her entire life, which has greatly influenced her poetry.

“Being a New Yorker is very intrinsic to my personality,” Zucker told Art Beat. “New York has always shown up in all my poems, but in this book, I was really interested in being more explicit about it and not just writing about New York, but writing in a way that somehow mimicked the experience of living in New York.”

She wrote poems in forms that felt “rushed” and “chaotic,” that implied many voices, what she calls “high population density poetics.”

“I think the writing both absorbs the city and everything that I am as part of New York, but I think the writing also is an attempt to carve out some sort of quietness or some sort of aloneness within that very hectic, cacophonous storm.”

That goal in Zucker’s writing is reflected in poems like “i’d like a little flashlight.”

“In a way it’s a very, very private sort of solitary poem of a single voice talking about wanting to get even more and more quiet and more and more focused and more and more alone … we normally think of loneliness as a really bad thing, but once you have a lot of people in your life in close proximity to you, loneliness takes on a new appeal.”

Listen to Rachel Zucker read “i’d like a little flashlight.”

i’d like a little flashlight

& I’d like to get naked & into bed & be
HOT radiating heat from inside these
blankets do nothing to keep out the out keep
my vitals in some drafty body I’ve got in & out
in all directions I’d like to get naked into bed but
HOT on this early winter afternoon already
dusky grim & not think of all the ways
I’ve gone about the world & shown myself
a fool shame poking holes in my thinned carapace
practically lacy woefully feminine I’d like to get
naked into bed & feel if not hot then weightless I
once was there a sensory-deprivation tank
Madison WI circa 1992 I paid money for that
perfectly body-temperature silent pitch-dark tank
to do what? play dead & not die? that was before
e-mail before children before I knew anything
just the deaths of a few loved ones which were poisoned nuts
of swallowed grief but nothing of life
or life giving which cuts open the self bursting busted
unsolvable I’d like to get naked into the bed of my life
but hot HOT my little flicker-self trumped up somehow
blind & deaf to all the dampening misery of my friends’ woes
I’d like a little flashlight to write poems w/ this lousy day
not this poem I’m writing under the mostly flat
blaze of bulb but a poem written with the light itself
a tiny fleeting love poem to life a poem that says
Look here a bright spot of life oh look another!

That desire for a sense of quiet is a direct response to the “crush of the whole city” around her.

“I’m not sure that I would have felt the call to write that poem if I were living in beautiful rural Vermont or something, and that my outside world was very quiet and sparse and bucolic. That desire that I talk about in that poem is inspired by the feeling of being one person almost in a borg cube amidst so many other people, so many other consciousnesses and voices and needs and desires.”

For Zucker, it’s the noise of New York that inspires her.

“i’d like a little flashlight,” from “The Pedestrians.” Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Zucker. Reprinted with the permission of Rachel Zucker and Wave Books, Seattle, Washington.

The post Weekly Poem: Rachel Zucker pulls inspiration from the noise of New York appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Weekly Poem: E. E. Cummings biographer reads his poem ‘Cambridge Ladies’

Mon, Feb 24, 2014

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church’s protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things–
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
…the Cambridge ladies do not care above
Cambrdige if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

Photo by Michael Falco

Photo by Michael Falco

Susan Cheever’s new biography of the poet is called “E. E. Cummings: A Life.” She has also written biographies about Louisa May Alcott, Bill Wilson and her father John Cheever, in addition to 12 other published fiction and nonfiction books. She is a professor in the MFA programs at Bennington College and The New School.

The post Weekly Poem: E. E. Cummings biographer reads his poem ‘Cambridge Ladies’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Weekly Poem: Suzanne Cleary tried to learn Italian, instead she wrote a poem

Mon, Feb 17, 2014

Suzanne Cleary

Poet Suzanne Cleary

Suzanne Cleary loves the sound of Italian. When she picked up a copy of “Italian Made Simple,” she was determined to teach herself the language before a trip to Italy.

Instead Cleary came away fascinated by the characters in the book.

“The man, Mario, struck me as someone who was just an enthusiast which, I supposed I am too,” Cleary told Art Beat. “So I kind of identified with Mario to a certain extent. As I read through the book, I saw in him a real kindness towards Marina and she towards him as well … these two characters, Mario and Marina, just struck me as interesting people, so I thought I’ll spend a little time with them.”

What Cleary came away with is a poem that tells the story of Mario and Marina.

Listen to Suzanne Cleary read “Italian Made Simple

Italian Made Simple
tells the story of Mario and Marina,
and by the end of Chapter 1, I’ve got it:
the r is a d, and Mario and Marina
will fall in love, he an American
planning a business trip to Italy,
she an Italian teaching English
in a school in centro, downtown,
which I take to mean Wall Street,
maybe Tribecca or Nolita.
For the first lesson, they meet
in Marina’s ufficio, where they repeat
the half-dozen Italian phrases for hello.
Both of them remain patient,
cheerful, even, in the face of their task.
They name every single blessed thing
on the desk. What good fortune it is
they cannot yet say, so many small things
here before them: the pen, the paper, and
the pencil, too, the newspaper, the lamp.
Marina pronounces each word slowly
while Mario watches her lips, repeats.
What is this? Marina asks in Italian.
What is this? and Mario, under a spell,
answers, although he cannot yet
be said to understand these words
that are little more to him than sounds,
air blown through the shapes
that Marina’s lips make his lips make.
By Chapter 4, simple Italian leads Mario
and Marina to the window, to the words
for street, hospital, bicycle, child,
where simplicity threatens to abandon
these two people who are just trying
to live, an idiomatic expression
for to make money. No, says Marina.
That is not a child. That is not a girl.
a woman, a car, etcetera. Mario loves
the word eccetera, which he figures
will save him lots of time. When their time
is up, Mario and Marina walk to the door,
at exactly the same moment say la porta.
The next moment, they laugh. Eccetera,
eccetera. Because I cannot live
in the simple present, where Italian Made
Simple begins, I read ahead.
In Florence, on his business trip,
Mario buys for Marina a gold bracelet.
A gold bracelet Mario buys for Marina.
Mario for Marina buys a gold bracelet.
He does not yet understand that Marina
already knows that he loves her,
that she has loved him since Chapter 5,
Familia, wherein Mario showed quick
concern for her ill niece. Mario, alone
in Florence, on the far side of his voyage
through the definite pronouns, the prepositions,
the baffling procession of possessive forms,
Mario sits at a café, drinking
the beverage he ordered by mistake.
When the waitress sets it brightly before him,
Piacere, Mario says, ever gracious.
Mario, at the end of my textbook,
of your slow, sometimes laborious story,
how will I live without you?
You do not yet know that the final lesson
finds you and Marina deciding to marry,
to live in Rome, yet here, in Chapter 20,
Firenze, still you sip and savor.
You open your dictionary.
The small table at which you sit
is called tavolino, just as you had thought,
and you smile to yourself,
now that you are lonely, now that you know
you know by heart,
the meaning of every single blessed thing.

Through writing that poem, Cleary found that Mario and Marina were in love, though that was not necessarily expressed in the book itself. She took poetic license with a few moments.

“I don’t recall, for example, if in fact Mario buys a bracelet for Marina, but when I thought of that idea, I thought wouldn’t it be funny to just have a few sentences there that are so typical of what you find in language instruction books, where you have the subject and verb switched and you’re experimenting with different sentence structure.”

She also doesn’t think Mario ordered a drink by mistake at a café, but, having done so herself, she added that tidbit in as extra color.

“I always hope that for any one character, I will be invoking other characters or making my reader think back to something from her or his own life. Mario is never just Mario. I hope he’s going to ultimately be a little bigger than that particular character.”

Cleary likes to write poetry about people. She likes to think of her poems as a way to record the moments that she sees and hears, but in the end, her poetry is more than a recording.

“I am trying on one level to just simply describe things whatever it is, but there, I guess there is no such thing as simple description. The person describing is always going to affect the objective reporting. So I do let myself imagine into scenes.”

By letting herself in to the poems, Cleary is always on a path of discovery. In fact, it’s that element of surprise that keeps her writing.

“If I knew ahead of time what I would be writing when I started a poem. I probably wouldn’t feel a great motivation to finish that poem or I wouldn’t feel really that excited about writing that poem … I don’t feel that I write poems because I necessarily have something that I must say, but I do feel there is something that I must discover, and that’s what motivates me to write.”

The post Weekly Poem: Suzanne Cleary tried to learn Italian, instead she wrote a poem appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Weekly Poem: Nick Lantz uses ‘how-to’ guides as inspiration

Mon, Feb 10, 2014

Photo by Vicky Lantz

Nick Lantz’s new collection of poems is called “How to Dance as the Roof Caves in.” Photo by Vicky Lantz

If you pick up Nick Lantz’s new poetry collection, “How to Dance as the Roof Caves in,” you’ll recognize the “self-help” theme running through the titles. To name a few: “How to Travel Alone,” “How to Forgive a Promise Breaker,” “How to Dance When You Do Not Know How to Dance” and even “How to Appreciate Inorganic Matter.”

When he first started composing poems for this book, he found a website with a bunch of “how-to” articles. Always on the lookout for a new project, Lantz was inspired.

“I was just struck by so many of the titles because they were things as simple as ‘How to Boil Water,’ but then some of them were very specific like ‘How to Choose a Wedding Chapel in Gatlinburg, Tenn.,’ Lantz told Art Beat.

He used the titles as the starting point for many of his poems, but when he got to the end of the writing process, he still had a long list of how-to titles that he wanted to use.

And so he gathered several of the titles together into one poem called “Help,” often juxtaposing their meanings to create a narrative.

Hear Nick Lantz read “Help”

—a found poemHow to Sit at a Computer
How to Smile
How to Reach a Consensus
How to Remove Bloodstains from Clothing
How to Love Learning about Things
How to Tell People You’re Keeping Your Maiden Name
How to Call Bolivia
How to Believe in God
How to Make a Wedding Toast

How to Survive without Cooking
How to Enjoy Arizona All Year Long
How to Treat Dehydration
How to Get Rid of Black Circles under Your Eyes
How to Avoid Marriage and Other Committed Relationships
How to Choose a Wedding Chapel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
How Not to Always Talk about the Same Things

How to Ignore People
How to Find Cat Urine with a UV Light
5+ Tips for Boiling Water
How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
How to Control Perfectionism

How to Buy Cruelty-Free Makeup
How to Practice Nonviolent Communication
How to Win a Street Fight
How to Stop Being Needy

How to Be Popular
How to Be Confident
How to Be Attractive
How to Make a Meal Plan for One

How to Be Your Own Valentine
How to Buy Tablecloths for Your Wedding
How to Choose a Pencil
5+ Reasons You’re a Control Freak

How to Perform Self-Hypnosis
How to Survive a Freestyle Rap Battle
How to Escape Materialism and Find Happiness
How to Live on Minimum Wage
How to Raise Your Leg up to Your Head
How to Survive Federal Prison
How to Survive a Fall through Ice
How to Call in Sick When You Just Need a Day Off
How to Detect Lies
How to Have a Perfect Marriage

How to Do Nothing
How to Buy Nothing
How to Be Thankful
How to Be Busy
How to Relax When Relaxation Techniques Don’t Work
How to Do It Yourself
How to Stop Excuses
How to Recognize a Manipulative or Controlling Relationship
How to Know When You’re Hungry

“There’s an interesting way in which stories or narratives can emerge through implications and juxtapositions.”

Lantz pointed to one sequence in particular: “How to be popular”/”How to confident”/”How to be attractive”/”How to make a meal plan for one.”

“You start to get a sense of a character trying to cheer themselves up or bolster their confidence and then falling back on their meal plan for one.”

Lantz found a kind of character among the titles and the articles. He explained that the very existence of the guides — that someone felt they were necessary — implied a story.

One title he brought up was “How Not to Always Talk about the Same Things.”

“It was very clear that the person who had written it had someone in mind when they wrote it … and that this resentment was sort of spilling over into the how-to guide. Even though it was ostensibly for anyone, it was clearly (the author) venting in a passive aggressive way at this one person who they found really annoying.”

As a poetry teacher, Lantz helps others discover the meaning that he can illuminate in a title or a poem. His experience is that people who don’t know poetry as well are nervous. They expect it to be impenetrable, when really it’s much more “accessible.”

“People expect that the interpretation of a poem is more complex than it really is … they think there is something more to it, that it’s a puzzle that has to be unlocked, some sort of Di Vinci code cryptography where it’s going to explain the nature of the universe once we crack the code of this particular poem.”

But, poetry for Lantz isn’t about the final conclusion. It’s about the discovering.

“I like to say that poems are about giving the reader an experience and interpretation as such isn’t necessary.”

Nick Lantz. “Help,” from How to Dance as the Roof Caves In.” Copyright © 2014 by Nick Lantz. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

The post Weekly Poem: Nick Lantz uses ‘how-to’ guides as inspiration appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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Weekly Poem: Peter Cole writes about why we read poetry

Mon, Jan 27, 2014

Peter Cole

Peter Cole thinks of all poetry as translation.

“Writing one’s own poetry, you’re translating a nonverbal experience or a less than articulate experience into something much more articulate,” he told Art Beat.

In addition to writing his own, Cole translates Hebrew and Arabic poetry into English. When Cole finished translating 2,000 years of Jewish mystical poetry for his previous project “The Poetry of Kabbalah” (Yale University Press, 2012), he was ready to start producing his own work again, but it wasn’t a simple or easy transition.

“Every morning you come to your desk. There’s lots to do and it can be that way for many years. And then you finish and you feel a certain pressure and you want to write your own poems, or they want to be written, but there’s the terror of course, what will you do when you have all that time and all that space?”

So Cole wrote about a poem that deals with that fear, “Quatrains for a Calling.”

Hear Peter Cole read Quatrains for a Calling.

Quatrains for a CallingWhy are you here?
Who have you come for
and what would you gain?
Where is your fear?Why are you here?

You’ve come so near,
or so it would seem;
you can see the grain
in the paper — that’s clear.

But why are you here

when you could be elsewhere,
earning a living
or actually learning?
Why should we care

why you’re here?

Is that a tear?
Yes, there’s pressure
Behind the eyes–
And there are peers.

But why are you here?

At times it sears.
The pressure and shame
and the echoing pain.
What do you hear

now that you’re here?

The air’s so severe.
It calls for equipment,
which comes at a price.
And you’ve volunteered.

Why? Are you here?

What will you wear?
What will you do
if it turns out you’ve failed?
How will you fair?

Why are you here

when it could take years
to find out–what?
It’s all so slippery,
and may not cohere.

And yet, you’re here …

Is it what you revere?
How deep does that go?
How do you know?
Do you think you’re a seer?

Is that why you’re here?

Do you have a good ear?
For praise or for verse?
Can you handle a curse?
Define persevere.

Why are you here?

It could be a career.

In “Quatrains for a Calling,” a poem from his new collection “The Invention of Influence” (New Directions, 2014), Cole begins by having a conversation with himself and the reader.

“When you read it and someone asks ‘Why are you here?,’ I’m asking the reader, ‘Why are you here? Why are you here reading this poem?’”

Cole and the reader are on a journey together. “In a sense, we’re engaged in the same pursuit, the same quest trying to find out what we’re trying to get from poems.”

Cole’s poetry is influenced by Jewish mysticism. He draws on Kabbalistic concepts for the titles of the poems and the themes he explores throughout “The Invention of Influence.”

For those who aren’t as familiar with the Kabbalah, there’s a handy section of notes in the back of the book where he explains relevant mystical histories and notions.

“I understand that people don’t walk around with knowing a lot of these things.”

But, for Cole, some of those notions are central to his philosophy.

“For the Kabbalists, whether they are writing poetry or whether they are engaged in a theological speculation, the stakes are incredibly high. Worlds are made and unmade based on what you might do or say or sing,” Cole explained.

“That’s something I identify with as a poet. I think the stakes are very high for poetry, at least I want the stakes to be very high.”

The Invention of Influence (c) 2014 by Peter Cole. Reprinted with permission by New Directions.

The post Weekly Poem: Peter Cole writes about why we read poetry appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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