Poetry: NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast
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: Hoa Nguyen links globalization and goddesses
Tue, Nov 18, 2014
Born in the Mekong Delta and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Hoa Nguyen is the author of three books of poetry, including “As Long As Trees Last,” “Hecate Lochia” and “Your Ancient See Through.”
The ancient Greek goddess Hecate was extremely powerful. So much so that Zeus, father of the gods, gave the goddess a special position, says poet Hoa Nguyen, referencing Hesiodâs epic poem “The Theogeny.”
âHe honored her and âallowedâ her to have dominion over earth, sea, sky,â Nguyen said in an interview with three Advanced Placement poetry students at Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts. back in January 2011.
But, Nguyen, whose newest book âRed Juiceâ came out in September, says that Hecate later morphed from this prestigious, âmysterious and very old goddessâ into something darker.
âEven by Shakespeareâs time, she’s made into the crone, she’s evil,â she told Art Beat.
Itâs a fate that the poet doesnât agree with, so in her book, Nguyen aims to âsteal (her) back from patriarchy, from being vilified.â And Hecate isnât the only one; others, like Mena, the Roman goddess of menstruation, make appearances.
âThe book is very interested in re-positioning the feminine in its appropriate and proper place of power.â
âRed Juiceâ is really a re-issuing of her first two books, âYour Ancient See Throughâ and âHecate Lochia,â combined with previously uncollected poems. All of the poems were composed before 2008, during a 10-year period in which Nguyen gave birth to her two sons. That experience plays heavily into themes in the book.
âWhen you bring children into the world or you are around children, you realize âoh,â now thereâs a certain responsibility that one starts to feel,â she said.
Many of the poems in âRed Juiceâ deal with a concern for globalization and sustainability.
âYou can see that progression in the book, that there is more and more urgency around the concern about financial collapse, concern about environmental collapse, concerns about disaster and surviving,â said the poet.
Listen to Hoa Nguyen read “They Sell You What Disappears” from her collection “Red Juice.”
They Sell You What Disappears
They sell you what disappears itâs a vague âtheyâ
maybe capital T who are they and mostly
poorly paid in China
Why does this garlic come from China?
Itâs vague to me shipping bulbous netted bulbs
Cargo doused with fungicide and growth inhibitor
What disappears is vague I canât trade for much
I can cook teach you cooking ferment
bread or poetry I can sell my plasma
They are paid poorly in Florida
picking tomatoes for tacos
Some CEO is surely a demon
in this poem
Need capital to buy need to buy or else
you are always paying rent one month away
from âthe streetâ
3 neighbors asked for money this week
We are guilty
bringing in sacks of food bought on credit
Trademark this poem mark this poem with a scan code
on the front and digitally store it somewhere
not to be memorized âby heartâ
For Nguyen, concepts of sustainability, globalism and womanhood are linked. She points to outsourcing, saying that when production is removed from the local community, that community is not as strong and self-reliant.
âBut, if you have a resilient community, things reside right there. You are moving with the seasons and you are sharing resources in a way that makes sense. Here’s a river, let’s mill with water power from the grain that we grew over there and let’s collect pecans at this time. That to me is the old matrilineal.â
“They Sell You What Disappears” from Red Juice: Poems 1998-2008. Copyright 2015 by Hoa Nguyen. Reprinted with permission of the author and Wave Books.
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Weekly Poem: David Roderick ponders the strangeness of the suburbs
Mon, Oct 27, 2014
A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and a recipient of the Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship, David Roderick has published two books of poetry. “Blue Colonial,” his debut collection,” won the APR Honickman Prize. Poems from his newest collection, “The Americans,” won Shenandoah’s James Boatwright III Prize and the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize.
David Roderick spent a year traveling abroad, in search of poetic inspiration. In Japan, he wrote prose poems, a form he hadnât previously explored. In Ireland, he became âenamoredâ with composing ballads, and in Italy, he used art as inspiration for his verse.
The recipient of the 2007-2008 Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship wasnât allowed to return stateside until the year was completed, stretching his comfort zone.
âI was trying to live more at the ends of my nerves and trying to experience the sensations of different flavors and textures and rhythms of traffic and customs,â Roderick told Art Beat.
His adventures â both geographical and compositional â laid the groundwork for his new collection, âThe Americans,â even though much of his work from that time didnât make it into the book.
It turned out that traveling around the world helped hone his perception of more familiar territory: the suburbs.
âThey didnât seem humdrum or dull any more, they seemed more strange, and even on the one hand, almost magical, because they are so calm and peaceful and beautiful and green,â said Roderick. âAnd on the other hand, a little strangely dull or almost sleepy, like there wasnât enough action, there wasnât enough life for me.â
Roderick grew up in the suburbs, but left for college and then moved to San Francisco. His later transition back to suburban life as an adult âsparked memories of my own personal past, but itâs also stimulated new feelings about my sense of self, my sense of neighborhood and community, my sense of the country, too.â
It also inspired his latest book, which meditates on some of those dichotomies: urban and suburban, being American but trying to view it from the outside.
The title comes from another famous creative journey that benefited from an outsiderâs perspective. Swiss photographer Robert Frank traveled across the United States with his family for two years in the late 1950s. He distilled 28,000 photographs into an 83-image exhibition and subsequent book called âThe Americans.â
Roderick features other outsiders who have tried to define American culture, like Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political scientist known for his text, âDemocracy in America.â He also writes about significant, recent American events, like the 2008 and 2012 political campaigns, as well as national political gridlock. In particular, Roderick contemplates repercussions of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
âProbably like a lot of us, Iâm still sort of in a daze about the last 14 years and where that event has taken usâŠFor me, a lot of what happens in this book comes out of 9/11 and certainly a poem like âBuild Your Dream Home Hereâ is trying to speak to that historical moment and the aftermath in a fairly compressed amount of space.â
Listen to David Roderick read “Build Your Dream Home Here” from his newest book, “The Americans.”
Build Your Dream Home Here
First the towers
fell, then the Dow. A few years later,
while she was still recovering
from the blind fumbling accounts
of people crushed to dust—
her nights chocked with emergencies,
smoke, the newsfeed, the taped
and sniffed envelopes, the falling—
that’s when they’d built the place,
a roomy number bricked back
from the corner. A bank offered
low interest, veterans no down.
In every closet they’d make love.
They’d space out bushes, lay toast
and coffee on the porch.
for a while, their screened-in story,
where a half-deflated soccer ball
wedged the door. Drunk on lilac,
they cheered whenever a bee seemed
to veer off course.
Now boxes packed
with their belongings cover the lawn.
She checks the buttons on her blouse
and worries about her husband’s
smoking. Will the lilacs survive?
Will their mild, wilting odor still lure
the bees? In some parts of the world,
the wood of the lilac is carved
into knife handles or flutes. LÄ«lek
from the Arabic, meaning “slightly blue.”
The poem connects an idyllic vision of the American dream to a real global tragedy. He says when you are in the suburbs, âitâs hard to feel connected to events that are happening halfway across the country or halfway across the world.â But trying to feel connected while he was abroad gave him the distance to write new clarity.
âGrowing up here inside of it, you tend to take it for granted and assume circumstances are similar elsewhere. So the travel is important to shake yourself out of that certainty, especially or an artist or a writer.â
“Build Your Dream Home Here” from “The Americans,” by David Roderick, Â© 2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
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Weekly Poem: Laura Kasischke points to the lingering past
Mon, Oct 20, 2014
Lingering connections and phantom remembrances are echoes within Laura Kasischkeâs new collection, âThe Infinitesimals.â
âI take the material from memory and things that have been lost and people who are gone and the past, but Iâm trying to give it life again,â said Kasischke.
Kasischke bases many of her poems on real objects or experiences in her life, but says that writing is an outlet for her to untangle more elusive issues.
âThe act of initially sitting down to write the poem is where Iâm figuring out something about the world that isnât tangible or rational or right in front of me.â
âI guess for me the origins of the poem [âThe Common Coldâ] was pretty sensory, just this idea being biological and viral and physical and the experience of having a bit of a fever and being in a crowd,â Said Kasischke. âIn that moment, I felt connected to motherhood and athleticism and being with other parents and this sense of time passing.â
Listen to Laura Kasischke read “The Common Cold” from her new collection “The Infinitesimals.”
The Common Cold
To me she arrives this morning
dressed in some
manâs homely, soft, cast-off
loverâs shawl, and some
womanâs memory of a third-
who loved her students a little too much.
(Those warm hugs that went
on and on and on.)
She puts her hand to my head and says,
âLaura, you should go back to bed.â
But I have lunches to pack, socks
on the floor, while
the dust settles on
the Iâve got to clean this pigsty up.
(Rain at a bus stop.
Laundry in a closet.)
And tonight, Iâm
the Athletic Booster mother
whether I feel like it or not, weakly
taking your dollar
from inside my concession stand:
I offer you your caramel corn. ( Birdsong
in a terrarium. Some wavering distant
planet reflected in a puddle.)
And, as your dollar
passes between us, perhaps
you will recall
how, years ago, we
flirted over some impossible
Cub Scout project.
and saws, and seven
small boys tossing
at one another. And now
those sons, taller
and faster than we are, see
how they are poised on a line, ready
to run at the firing of a gun?
But here we are again, you and I, the
two of us tangled up
and biological: Iâve
forgotten your name, and
you never knew mine, but
in the morning
my damp kisses all over your pillows,
my clammy flowers
blooming in you cellar,
my spring grass
dewed with mucus-
and youâll remember me
and how, tonight, wearing my
Go Dawgs T-shirt, I
stood at the center
of this sweet clinging heat
of a concession stand
with my flushed cheeks, and
how, before we touched, I
coughed into my hand.
here we are together
in bed all day again.
Her poem âThe Invisible Passengerâ came from an experience of boarding a plane. Looking for her place in row 12, she noticed there was no row 13 between her and row 14.
âWas it bad luck and no one wanted to sit there? Or was it because those flying us through the air are superstitious themselves? Thereâs something so irrational about moving through this world and trying every day, whether by using our seat belts or not sitting in unlucky rows, to defy death again.â
Listen to Laura Kasischke read “The Invisible Passenger” from her new collection “The Infinitesimals.”
The Invisible Passenger
Between row 12 and row 14, there
are, on this plane, no seats. This
engineering feat of
gravity and wings, which
flies on superstition, irrationality. The calm
has been printed on my ticket:
Doe and fawn
in a grove below us, her
soul crawling in an out of my clothes.
While, in a roofless theater, a magic act
is performed for children
by an invisible man.
Like the mess
of a cake that I once
baked for my father—
damp, awful, crumbling layers.
Soggy church bell on a plate.
And, my fatherâs dentures, lost
(all his teeth
as a young man
by a military dentist im-
patient to send him
on his way), and
my fatherâs smile anyway.
The poetry in âThe Infinitesimalsâ invites the reader to look into their own past and think for a bit on what it is to experience loss.
âI canât see them, and theyâre over, and people are gone, but theyâre not zero, theyâre too small to be measured or too lost and invisible to be found again, but theyâre still there, because they were there.â
âThe Common Coldâ and “The Invisible Passenger” from The Infinitesimals by Laura Kasischke. Published in 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission Copper Canyon Press.
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Weekly Poem: Saskia Hamilton wants you to âdream overâ her work
Mon, Oct 13, 2014
The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, Saskia Hamilton is author of three books of poetry. Photo by Meg Tyler
Movement and transition resonate in Saskia Hamiltonâs collection âCorridor.â
âThe spirit of the book is a lot about passing through or passing by different lives and landscapes … or in and out of moments,â Hamilton told Art Beat.
One of Hamilton’s interpretations of movement is made through her translation of an Anglo-Saxon riddle — one that has never been solved.
âItâs very hard to translate a riddle that you don’t really know what the answer is,â said Hamilton. âTranslating something like that was a kind of passage — through an Anglo-Saxon world view that’s so different from our own.â
Another connection to the meaning of âcorridorâ is a symbol of death, âlike the passage of one life to another.â
âOn the Ground,â a poem that Hamilton calls a pillar of the collection, was written in memoriam to a young member of her family that died.
âIt was a terrible time, so it comes out of that experience.â
Listen to Saskia Hamilton read âOn the Groundâ from her collection âCorridor.â
On the Ground
i.m. Joshua Shackleton
When the collie saw the child
break from the crowd,
he gave chase, and since they both
they left this world.
We were then made of—
The train passed Poste 5, Paris,
late arrival, no luck, no
magnified in any glass.
is everywhere in language,â
the speaker had said
in the huge hall where
I sat amongst coughers,
students, in the late
February of that year,
at the end of a sinuous
inquiry on sense and sound—
âand very close to the ground,â heâs said.
Like mist risen
above the feet of animals
in a far field north of here.
Hamilton says that âOn the Groundâ is a mediation on falling silent, a theme that pops up in other poems in the book, like in âZwigen,â an Old Dutch word that means âfalling silent.â
She says both poems are “interested in silence … what is the power of withheld speech,â said Hamilton. âBoth are very different mediations on falling silent. âOn the Groundâ is about the death of a child, so thatâs a very severe and terrible silence.â
Hamilton says she was influenced also by the storytelling style of another writer.
âI also thought of Bob Dylan’s way of giving you little glimpses of lives in passing in songs, like in âBlood on the Tracks,â or âTangled Up in Blue,â or âSimple Twist of Fate,â âIdiot Wind,â any of those songs,â said Hamilton.
âOne of my favorites is an outtake from that session, ‘Biograph,’ called âOut to Me,â where you just get these little broken narratives. I think that there seem to me, after the fact when I was reading [my book] over, a similar kind of interest.â
After a number of years spent writing many of the poems that make up the collection — which came out in May — she sat down with a pile of her work and a friend, who “helped me see patterns in it that I would never have been able to discern in advance, shall we say. I needed to bring them all together to see their– in a way, their dream life, the things they were preoccupied with that I didn’t know they were preoccupied with.â
So how does Hamilton want people to experience the work in âCorridor?â In much the same way as the themes she is drawing out: The reader “should just dream over the poems.â
All poems copyright Â© 2014 by Saskia Hamilton, from Corridor. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.
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Weekly Poem: Sam Taylor struggles to speak Chinese
Mon, Sep 29, 2014
The recipient of the 2014-2015 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, Sam Taylor has published two books of poetry, “Body of the World” and “Nude Descending an Empire,” which went on sale in August.
Poet Sam Taylor thinks we’ve taken our environment for granted for centuries and now we’re at a point of “crisis.” That is the driving theme in âNude Descending an Empire,â his recent collection published in August, that he was inspired to write during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Those years marked, âa time when we were initiating an insane war for deeply flawed and deceptive reasons, and also in a time when the urgency of our ecological situation was becoming quite clear and yet still being flouted and mocked,â Taylor told Art Beat.
âI wanted to develop a voice of a citizen poet that could speak poetically into our moment.â
Taylor started to compose the book while living as a caretaker in a remote wilderness refuge. At the time, he lacked any access to electricity, the internet or a phone line. According to Taylor, being secluded in the wild helped reinforce his belief that our natural heritage needs to be protected. Those years helped inform the title of the collection.
âThere was a nakedness to that experience, being immersed in the natural world and stripped of all the dubious meanings our civilization has created, and it allowed me to see the possibility of a whole other way of being and thinking.â
Many of the poems in âNude Descending an Empireâ ask us to experience and contemplate the âcrisesâ of our time through the focusing lens of poetry, but the book also touches on themes of interconnected-humanity and misunderstandings.
In his poem, âThe Book of Poetry,â Taylor recalls his experiences travelling with a friend through Southeast Asia and how something as subtle as a mispronunciation led to the great confusion of their hosts.
Listen to Sam Taylor read “The Book of Poetry” from his new collection, “Nude Descending an Empire.”
Note: this poem contains strong language.
The Book of Poetry (Wo Shi Shiren)
A friend, in Thailand, helping to build straw bale homes
was riding with four Buddhist monks on the back of a truck
piled high with musky bales. âI love water buffaloes,â she burst out
in broken Thai. The monks laughed. I guess that is
a strange thing to say, she thought, but insisted.
âNo, really, I really love them,â trying to unfurl herself
clearly, practicing the Zen Garden of making conversation
with only a few words. âThey are so beautiful, so strong.
Donât you love them?â But the monks just kept laughing.
Every traveler in Southeast Asia has her own story
of tonal confusion: the same syllable spoken different ways
becomes four, six, seven words. In China, Ma
means mother, but also hemp, horse, scoldâdepending if
it is flat, rising, dipping, or falling. Sometimes context helps,
as when ordering food: No one is likely to confuse
âI want to eatâ with âI demand an ugly woman,â
unless one is dining in a brothel, and even then âI want eggplantâ
though mistoned âwhirlpool shake concubine twinsâ
is likely to produce only strips of sauce-smeared nightshade.
Everyone in China wants to know what you do.
Itâs not easy, even in English, for a poet to say that.
When they asked, I said first, âI write,â wo xie,
or sometimes, after I had learned the word, âI am a poet.â
Wo shi shi ren. Often, I was met by puzzlement,
strained foreheads, awkward laughter, Chinese people
glancing at each other for cues, uncertain how to react.
Not so different really from the response in America.
âA poetâ Iâd repeat. Wo shi shiren. Then,
âI write poetry,â trying to make the most
of my minuscule vocabulary. âI write books of poetry.â
Wo shi shi ren: literally, I am a poetry person.
Wo means I; ren means person, or man.
Near the end of my travels, someone told me
shiâwhich is pronounced âsureâ and means poetry
in the high flat tone, as well as the verb âto beâ
in the falling toneâalso means shit
in yet another tone. So, all along I must have been saying
I am a shit man. I write shit. And repeating it.
A shit person. I write books of shit. Understand?
To beâpoetryâshit. Something fitting in how these words
were assigned the same syllable, the same address.
Later, looking the word up, I discovered for each tone, shi
was ten or twenty words, a whole apartment complex
sharing one mailbox. Corpse, loss, world, history, time, stone,
life, to begin, to be, to die, to fail, to be addicted to,
rough silk, persimmons, raincoats, swine, long-tailed marmot,
clear waterâall crowded into the same syllableâsure,
sure, sure. It was also coincidentally the word for yes.
So, perhaps I had said something else entirely
I thought of all the combinations I might have said.
I am a shit person. I write life.
I am a death person. I write being. I shit history man.
I history being person. I write time. I write books of failure,
books of corpses, books of loss, books of yes.
I am a being person. I write to be.
I am addicted to being a man.
I write books of shit, books of clear water.
I am a poet.
It seemed all the world could, even should, have one word
for everythingâtable scales, taxis, bicycles, stones, cities,
time and history and death and life. It was all shit.
It was all poetry. As for my friend, she found out later
water buffalo was a variation of the word for penis.
So, âI love penisesâ she had confided to the Buddhist monks,
the truck jostling, the potholes throwing her knees
against theirs. âI really love penises,â she had insisted,
looking into their celibate eyes. âPenises are
so beautiful, so strong. Donât you love them?â
Since the syllable for monk is also the syllable
of my name on fire in a world of loss, I will answer. Sure,
I love penises and water buffalo and the smell
of wet hay, and vaginas and sautĂ©ed eggplant and concubine twins,
and I want to tell the Buddhist monks, and the Chinese bureaucrats,
and the official from Homeland Security
who stopped me in customs to search my computer, and my mother
the Szechwan horse: I am a shit man writing books of stone
and the clear water has failed, but I am addicted
writing yes in a city of corpses and swine and persimmons,
here at the end of history, now at the beginning of time.
Taylor said his poems normally arenât something he comes up with out of nowhere. Instead he pulls his ideas from raw âsparks and rhythmsâ he finds in his travels. The anecdotal âThe Book of Poetryâ typifies that sentiment.
âThat piece was, I felt, almost given to me just by the things that happened, the coincidental meanings that I encountered or was told about. All the pieces were just there and it clearly was a poem, it just had to be mined, or harvested or built in some way.â
The poem provides humor through the misunderstanding created by a slight shift in vowels, and that the word for poetry in Chinese so closely resembles the word for a bowel movement. Taylor says that as a writer, the quirks of a language and his own comical mispronunciation made it a piece he wanted to write even more.
âIt does particularly relate to a love and fascination with language that most poets and readers probably share, but beyond that itâs a fascination with the particular set of meanings that happened to be in these words, of course one of them being poetry, in the sense that poetry not only overlaps with [expletive] but every word imaginable.â
âThe Book of Poetryâ as it appears in âNude Descending an Empireâ required several drafts, after he left his notebook in a taxicab in China.
Taylor is in the final stages of his next work, which he says will be more experimental in form and style.
âThe Book of Poetry” from âNude Descending an Empire,â by Sam Taylor, Â©2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.â
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Weekly Poem: Carl Adamshick writes for the âmysterious otherâ
Mon, Sep 22, 2014
The co-founder of Tavern Books, Carl Adamshick is the recipient of the 2010 Walt Whitman Award and Literary Art’s Oregon Literary Fellowship. Photo by Liz Mehl
Carl Adamshick has been writing poetry seriously for 20 years, and most of his poems have been short. Thatâs largely what youâll find if you pick up his first collection, âCurses and Wishes,â which won the Walt Whitman Award in 2010.
As a challenge, the Oregon-based poet focused on composing longer pieces for his second book, âSaint Friend,â which hit shelves this August.
âI spent a lot of time writing and being very concerned with economy and what not to say and alluding to things. I learned that itâs okay just to write something and to say it flatly,â Adamshick told Art Beat. âI found that, in a long poem, it’s open to that, it’s open to a more conversational tone that I learned to have faith in.â
With that “conversational tone,” the poet was able to be upfront about what he wanted to convey.
âWith the smaller, slighter poems, there’s more of a puzzle aspect… there’s a lot of word-play and there’s a lot of mystery involved. When you decide to say how it is, emotions are more on the sleeve, and things aren’t hidden. Itâs really been fascinating to me to be open to that, to be open to the words spilling out instead of constructing them in some sort of way and moving them around and being really cautious and thoughtful about all the placement and the exact wording. Itâs been a little looser and a little more exciting.â
Twenty years ago, Adamshick’s friends were his primary audience, reading his compositions at a bar, critiquing each otherâs work over a beer — sort of an informal Master of Fine Arts.
Listen to Carl Adamshick read “Everything that Happens Can Be Called Aging” from his new collection, “Saint Friend.”
Everything that Happens Can Be Called Aging
I have more love than ever.
Our kids have kids soon to have kids.
I need them. I need everyone
to come over to the house,
sleep on the floor, on the couches
in the front room. I need noise,
too many people in too small a place,
I need dancing, the spilling of drinks,
the loud pronouncements
over music, the verbal sparring,
the broken dishes, the wealth.
I need it all flying apart.
My friends to slam against me,
to home me, to say they love me.
I need mornings to ask for favors
and forgiveness. I need to give,
have all my emotions rattled,
my family to be greedy,
to keep coming, to keep asking
and taking. I need no resolution,
just the constant turmoil of living.
Give me the bottom of the river,
all the unadorned, unfinished,
unpraised moments, one good turn
on the luxuriant wheel.
Unlike many other contemporary American poets, Adamshick is not the product of an MFA program, a fact that many point out to identify him as a different kind of voice. But regardless of his educational decisions, he was intent on a creating a life filled with poetry.
âI [was] left to my own devices and picking out my own books and reading my own things for my own purposes…I had a part-time job that I liked, and I had friends that liked poems, and I spent my free time just reading and writing,â Adamshick said. âI was just living this so-called poetic lifestyle that I really enjoyed…but I think Iâve just taken the long road.â
The long road or not, the poet has found a way to send his poems out into the world, which he believes is imperative to the power of verse.
âPoems are meant to be shared. I know that’s very general, but it’s also very true in a profound sense to me. Iâm not writing poems for myself. I feel very strongly that a poem is finished when other people hear it or read it, and I keep that in mind when Iâm writing.â
Adamshick himself has been profoundly affected by the poetry that he has read and, now focusing on the unknown reader that might pick up his work, he hopes to be similarly influential.
âI write for this mysterious other that is going to stumble upon a book, whether in a library or a bookstore or on a website somewhere. I really want some mysterious other that I don’t know, some stranger, to read it and see it as a real piece of art,â Adamshick said. âReading poems has been very enriching and very life altering to me. I feel like whenever I write a poem I assume or I guess that somebody else is going to have that reaction.â
âEverything that Happens Can Be Called Agingâ was excerpted from the book âSaint Friendâ by Carl Adamshick. Copyright Â© 2014 by Carl Adamshick. Reprinted courtesy of McSweeney’s Poetry Series.
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Weekly Poem: Charlotte Boulay reads âOracularâ
Mon, Sep 08, 2014
Listen to Charlotte Boulay read âOracularâ from her debut collection, “Foxes on the Trampoline.”
The road is too hot to move. I’m stuck in the median,
I slept too fast & then too slow.
Sufi says, I’m not only bones & bones—
who loves the saints in the streets? We don’t need
your love, only your briefest notice sustains us.
Dogs crouch in the ancient of their shade,
tooth-brushers spit into their crevices, piss in the gutters
Bedtime—stars like mustard seeds pop
through the smog. There’s a wail & an anguish of horns;
everlastingness reaches up & turns out the light—
Charlotte Boulay earned her MFA from the University of Michigan. She taught creative writing at the university for five years and won both the Meijer Award and an Academy of American Poets Award. Her poetry has appeared in many journals, including The New Yorker, Slate, the Boston Review and Crazyhorse. Boulay currently works as a grant writer at The Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband. “Foxes on the Trampoline” is her first book of poetry.
Photo by Roger Boulay
âOracularâ was excerpted from the book âFoxes on the Trampolineâ by Charlotte Boulay. Copyright Â© 2014 by Charlotte Boulay. Reprinted courtesy of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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Weekly Poem: Mark Ford reads âIn Loco Parentisâ
Mon, Sep 01, 2014
Mark Ford reads “In Loco Parentis” from his collection “Selected Poems.”
In Loco Parentis
were some quite creepy men—one
used to lie down
on the dayroom floor, then get us all
to pile on top of him—and a basilisk-
eyed matron in a blue unifrom with a watch
beneath her right
collarbone. Thump thump
thump went her footsteps, making
the asbestos ceiling tiles shiver, and me
want to hide, or run like a rabbit
in a fire…
What we lost, we lost
forever. A minor
devil played at chess
with us, forcing
the pieces to levitate
and hover, flourishing swords, in midair. I’d grasp
them now, the orotund bishop, the stealthy
knight, the all-
but they dissolve
in my fingers, refuse
to return to the board, to their squares.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Mark Ford is the author of four collections of poetry, including “Soft Sift” and “Six Children.” “Selected Poems” is his most recent work. Ford is also the author of the biography “Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams,” and a translation of Roussel’s last poem, “Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique.” That translation was the runner up for a PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Ford has also written criticism. He published two collections, “A Driftwood Altar” and “Mr and Mrs Stevens and Other Essays” and has had his work published in journals such as the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. Ford earned his BA and Ph.D. from the University of Oxford and he received a Kennedy Scholarship from Harvard University. He currently teaches at University College, London.
Photo by Mark Hinkley courtesy Coffee House Press.
Excerpts from Selected Poems by Mark Ford courtesy of Coffee House Press.
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Weekly Poem: Ellen Bass wants you to eat that strawberry
Mon, Aug 25, 2014
“Like a Beggar” is the most recent book of poetry from Ellen Bass. Photo by Irene Young
In the first poem of her new collection, âLike a Beggar,â Ellen Bass tries to accept what she has spent her whole life avoiding: misfortune.
From the âtrivial to the tragic,â including scenes of melting ice cream in your car and your son hawking your refrigerator for drug money, Bass stops fighting what she calls the unavoidable.
âThis is a kind of a watershed poem for me,â Bass told Art Beat. âOf course you donât surrender just once so the poem has become a kind of teaching poem for me. Even though I wrote it, it talks to me and reminds me what I have to keep doing over and over.â
She closes the poem with a Buddhist story about a woman trapped on the side of a cliff. The woman arrived in that precarious position because she climbed down a vine to avoid a tiger that was chasing her, only to find another tiger below. To make matters worse, the woman looks up to find two mice gnawing at the vine that got her there.
The woman is stuck in a predicament, but she notices a wild strawberry growing near her. âShe looks up, down, at the mice./Then she eats the strawberry.â
During the seven years that Bass worked on âLike a Beggar,â she was going through a challenging time. As a narrative poet, her first inclination was to write the stories of her difficult experiences, but this time she couldnât do that. The events concerned other people and she wasnât able to write about them directly.
âAt first that really threw me for a loop — what will I do? How will I be a poet?â said Bass.
âI soon realized that I had to take this as an aesthetic challenge and that it would be good for me, that it would push me to write in ways that weren’t as familiar to me, that it would push me into new poetic territory.â
What Bass found surprised her. She ended up with a lot of odes and realized âthe harder the times the more important to praise.â That discovery can be seen in an epigraph from Rilke, which she uses to open the collection:
âBut those dark, deadly, devastating ways, /how do you bear them, suffer them?/ –I praise.â
One such poem of praise is for repetition, a daily phenomenon that Bass uniquely sees as a privilege.
âI don’t think Iâm completely alone in loving repetition, but Iâm certainly in the minority in our culture. Thereâs a great premium places on new, adventure, variety, all of that and again, in my family i get teased a lot about my kind of mule-like inclination for repetition.â
Listen to Ellen Bass read âOde to Repetitionââ from her new collection âLike a Beggar.â
Ode to Repetition
I like to take the same walk
down the wide expanse of Woodrow to the ocean,
and most days I turn left toward the lighthouse.
The sea is always different. Some days dreamy,
waves hardly waves, just a broad undulation
in no hurry to arrive. Other days the surfâs drunk,
crashing into the cliffs like a car wreck.
And when I get home I like
the same dishes stacked in the same cupboards
and then unstacked and then stacked again.
And the rhododendron, spring after spring,
blossoming its pink ceremony.
I could dwell in the kingdom of Coltrane,
the friction of air through his horn,
as he forms each syllable of “Lush Life”
over and over until I die. Once I was afraid
of this, opening the curtains every morning,
only to close them again each night.
You could despair in the fixed town of your own life.
But when I wake up to pee, Iâm grateful
the toiletâs in its usual place, the sink with its gift of water.
I look out at the street, the halos of lampposts
in the fog or the moon rinsing the parked cars.
When I get back in bed I find
the woman whoâs been sleeping there
each night for thirty years. Only sheâs not
the same, her body more naked
in its aging, its disorder. Though I still
come to her like a beggar. One morning
one of us will rise bewildered
without the other and open the curtains.
There will be the same shaggy redwood
in the neighborâs yard and the faultless stars
going out one by one into the day.
The poem ends in a much darker space than where it starts, an evolution that Bass wasnât expecting.
âEven people who donât like repetition, we all want the kind of repetition that allows the people that we love to stay in our lives and not die and we don’t want to die. We want to wake up every morning. It surprised me that this poem that started out somewhat playful about my quirks and idiosyncrasies,â said Bass.
âI was validated in my love of repetition. You may think you don’t want repetition, but you really want it, too, because you don’t want to wake up and find your beloved one gone either. â
The title of the collection comes from one line towards the end of âOde to Repetition,â where Bass references going to bed with her wife of thirty years, âher body more naked/in its aging, its disorder. Though I still/come to her like a beggar.â
âWe are all in some way beggars in this lifetime. We are at the mercy of others and at the mercy of what will happen to us. Of course, we can chose how we respond to it, but we are always praying for something to happen or not happen in one way or another. We come with these empty bowls and there’s a great deal that is given to us âŠ We are all vulnerable to whatever might befall us.â
Itâs those vulnerabilities that Bass focuses on in âRelax,â that first poem about misfortune.
âIn the poem, I was able to commit myself more to not trying to escape and instead trying to remember in any moment to eat that strawberry.â
“Ode to Repetition” from âLike a Beggarâ by Ellen Bass. Published in 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission Copper Canyon Press.
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Weekly Poem: Dan Chiasson reads âThe Flumeâ
Mon, Aug 18, 2014
Listen to Dan Chiasson read “The Flume” from his new collection “Bicentennial.”
Here we go up again, up again, the mountain
The men who have assembled it for years
Assembled yesterday, so that you and I
Headed who knows where together, but
Headed there together, will see
From the top the bottom, from the bottom the top,
Then feel the inside-outside-all-over-nowhere
My God I Am Going to Die, Not Someday, Now
Sensation that, once we plateau, feels silly,
Since when were we safer than when we sought
The danger that when it subsided returned
Us to the dangers it had blotted out?
There are no fears, here at the start:
This is when, the book just opened,
Knowing you will one day know the story
You donât know yet changes the story
You are getting to know, the way we know
Before you know what anything means it means
Something: a fireworks display, the birthday
Of the Country; thatâs me; my uncle and I
Are racing through the past on the Python,
Which men assembled absentmindedly that day
And, so you could visit it with me,
I assembled here again inside my memory;
Now, when you remember how things were
Today, you will also remember yourself
Looking forward to yourself looking back
A looking back that, here in your past,
You do already, you already say
About what happened yesterday, remember whenâŠ?
–The future doing its usual loop-de-loop,
The sons all turning into fathers
Until the absentminded men take the ride down.
Dan Chiasson has published four books of poetry, including “Where’s the Moon, There’s the Moon” and “Natural History.” “Bicentennial” is his most recent collection. Chiasson is also a critic. He reviews poetry for the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review and has published one book of criticism, “One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America.” A recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award, a Pushcart Prize and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, Chiasson teaches at Wellesly College.
Photo of Dan Chiasson by Nicholas Chiasson
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Weekly Poem: Alison Powell dissects myths to uncover human complexity
Mon, Aug 11, 2014
Alison Powell has always been a fan of the underdog. In her debut collection of poetry, âOn the Desire to Levitate,â the writer takes that attraction as inspiration for her work.
âI think that poetry, especially in the Western world, has such a tradition of celebrating beauty and celebrating passion and love. Iâve always been particularly drawn to and interested in poetry that sort of digs its way into the crevices of life that may be less attractive, less traditionally attractive,â Powell told Art Beat.
âMany of my poems are preoccupied with trying to find sympathetic perspectives on characters that may not be so sympathetic.â
The poet, a winner of Ohio University’s Hollis Summer Poetry Prize, explored a variety of subjects, from the protagonists of iconic Greek myths to different versions of herself from her own childhood. She harkened it to âapproaching these topics in reverse.â
âItâs normally the mythic character from great Western literature that we read about and expect to be heroic and exalted. Instead Iâm trying to bring them down to earth and have Hercules lamenting what his wife does to him; Eurydiceâs snarky with Orpheus,â said Powell.
One such poem is âAfter Paradise Lost,â where Powell seeks to understand Satan.
âAs many people have said, the character of Satan, despite Miltonâs best intention, comes off as infinitely more interesting than the character of God. Itâs a wonderful accident, but he’s also tremendously sympathetic. He’s a fallen angel, heâs jealous, but he loved God and that’s how he became who he became.â
Powell used poetry to think through Satanâs shift âfrom love to jealousy to destruction.â
Listen to Alison Powell reads her poem âAfter Paradise Lostâ from her debut collection âOn the Desire to Levitate.â
After Paradise Lost
When the evil army comes it is accompanied
by a deceptively novel trumpet, as a woman
wears white and believes in it. An angel
is not spiteful without cause, having been flung
from the hand of God, whose engine, reportedly,
is love itself. How badly the crippled angel
wanted to be first in everything, Godâs
man Friday! He is not without scruple;
he envies the earth. The earth is just
beyond chaos, and rests against chaos,
yet everything that comes from the earthâs Garden
can be tended, pulled, made orderlyâ
blanches and laid before a guestâ
the earth has something called an offering.
The story of the Garden is allegorical
An allegory is like a forked tongue;
an allegory is an infant bastard who is fitful.
The Garden becomes linked with a feeling
of sickness and trepidation: a dream
of taking an air balloon ride over a river
because the bridge is burning.
Powell grew up in rural Indiana, a past she draws on to create new mythic characters.
âThe way I grew up was such that girls had a certain place and were supposed to be relatively nurturing and docile creatures. And Iâm trying to make them into rebellious characters, not unlike what I am trying to do with Eurydice and Satan and Hercules.â
In each instance, Powell, who will teach poetry at Oakland University in Michigan in the fall, is attracted to the nuances of the human experience, âacknowledging the things about us that are not pious or generous or exalted.”
âWhat it means to be a human being is to be profoundly complex and conflicted. I would definitely not say itâs out of any urge to be cathartic — that if we face these things, we can better deal with it. It’s more that we should look at them and even celebrate them, celebrate our passions, even the ones that lead us astray,â said Powell.
âWhen we turn to poetry itâs because we want to be reminded how to slow it down and pay attention. I think that’s especially true now. And part of that paying attention means looking at things that we might not want to look at — or that we’ve trained ourselves not to look at — and appreciating what those things are as well.”
âAfter Paradise Lostâ was excerpted from the book “On the Desire to Levitate” by Alison Powell. Copyright Â© 2014 by Alison Powell. Reprinted courtesy Ohio University Press.
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Weekly Poem: W.S. Di Piero reads âThe Smell of Spearmintâ
Mon, Aug 04, 2014
W.S. Di Piero reads “The Smell of Spearmint” from his collection “Tombo.”
The Smell of Spearmint
He told, he didn’t suggest or ask.
So when the unfinished father
told the son to do it, the son obeyed
and laid out razor and Barbasol
next to the bed-tray’s plastic cups,
ashtray, straws, and mucilage
of scrambled eggs. Forty-three,
he demanded to look clean and spare.
We die with habits of self-regard.
The son, seventeen, can’t know
that when he’s his father’s age,
a life’s love would soap his face,
run the blade, nick a nostril
–hold still, you nervous you–
then pass into time’s menthol airs.
He trowels, plumps, pats the lather,
he turns the head, he drags the trucky
brutish double-blade down
jaw and hallowed cheeks:
it planes the meaty manly whiskers,
it resists its task, yet life feels lighter
in his hand, most of all when it lies
lightly on the cabled throat.
One big bone, the father’s head,
in custody of the speechless son,
the untrained hand that never knew
the contents of that bone, does what
it’s told to do and can’t know
what love will bring back in time.
W. S. Di Piero is a poet, essayist, art critic and translator. He is the author of 10 books of poetry including “The First Hour,” “Skirts and Slacks” and “Nitro Nights.” “Tombo” is his most recent collection of poems. The winner of the 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, Di Piero has published poems in “Poetry” and “Threepenny Review.” He writes a monthly column on visual arts for the San Diego Reader, an independent newsweekly and has published five collections of his essays, including “When Can I See you Again?” Di Piero is the winner of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship and a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund fellowship.
Photo by Beth Weber
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Weekly Poem: Jennifer Michael Hecht riffs off iconic poems
Mon, Jul 21, 2014
Jennifer Michael Hecht. Photo by Maxwell Hecht-Chaneski
In her new collection, âWho Said
,â Jennifer Michael Hecht
âcomments on,â âventriloquizes,â or âmeaningfully transliteratesâ iconic poems throughout history. She has many terms for her work based off some of her favorite verse.
âThe poems that I chose were guided by poems that I love, but also poems that work, that I was able to get a poem out of that was moving and memorable,â Hecht told Art Beat. âI could open them up as a way of looking around myself and seeing what came out of myself by engaging with these poems that mean so much to me.â
In her book, Hecht is in conversation with a wide variety of poems, from Robert Frostâs âThe Road Not Taken,â to the beginning of Danteâs âInfernoâ and John Keats’ âOde to Autumn.â In one poem, Hecht creates a mash-up of the Declaration of Independence and Shakespeareâs Sonnet 29 (“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…”). In another, she responds to a Nirvana song.
â[Emily] Dickinson makes two appearances. I couldn’t keep her out — she just kept singing songs in my head.â
Her âLady Look-Alike Lazarizedâ is based on Edgar Allan Poeâs âAnnabel Lee.â
âWe translate poems from other languages every couple of generations just to keep the language fresh, but of course we don’t do that in our own language,â said Hecht. âItâs fun âŠ to liven these things up again.â
Listen to Jennifer Michael Hecht read “Lady Look-Alike Lazarized” from her new collection, “Who Said.”
“Lady Look-Alike Lazarized”
It was any of many years ago
in this half townhouse, with this tree,
that a woman who lived whom I don’t know,
in a photo you can see. She baked bread,
ate with two fat men,
and her picture looks like me.
I was a child and she was a child
then neither again would be
she in nineteen thirteen
me in two-zero one-three.
And we loved with a love that was more
than a love, at the heads of our centuries.
Let me see less than she’ll see
because I know more than she
and, even from here, it near blinded me.
And with virtue and reason, long ago,
in this picture that looks like me,
a bug blew out of a cough one night,
chilling the woman who looks like me;
so her muscled kinsman came
and took her away from our tree
to bake no more bread for fat men
and escape brutality.
Yes, a wind blew out of a cloud
one night chilling and killing
who looks like me.
Microbes, heartache, and wars
give little way to reason nor pause
at the soaring wrought-iron gate
of Brooklyn, nor at the doors of state.
She was here and in time died,
well before I arrived here or anywhere.
But our love, she for her men, I for my
small and tall friends, is stronger by far
than the love of those younger or richer
than we, and who would be wiser than we?
And neither the redbreasts in heaven above
nor the flounder down under the sea
can ever quite sever my sight from the sight
of the woman who looks like me.
For the moon rarely beams without bringing
dark dreams of the woman who looks like me;
and the stars never rise but I feel my tight eyes
on a dark dream who looks like me. And so,
all nighttime, I lie down by the side of my
searching self and my self that hides. With a
photo from nineteen hundred one-three,
of a woman who looks a lot like me.
Even though the Hecht knew by heart the poems she chose, she still had room to grow her relationship to the works.
âWriting into a poem that you’ve always had certain feelings about, you’re going to get to know it better and in a new way as you are trying to speak to it and really test where it makes its arguments and where itâs going to take you,â Hecht said. âIn some poems, what i really learned more is the rhythm of them and the way that rhyme worked and the way that itâs pleasurable when you put it in the vernacular.â
At the back of the book, the poet included a series of cryptograms. Each cryptogram, when solved, reveals the original verse that Hect is âspeaking toâ in her poetry. While most people who know poetry will recognize the origins, Hecht wanted to invite people to interact with the text.
âThere’s a way in which poetry is this decipherable system, but itâs always going to be so fantastic. Juxtaposing something that is solvable and that you can unravel and that your knowledge goes in to it — the more you know about these poems, the more you’re going to be expecting poems to show up in the cryptogram answers.â
Hechtâs variations on iconic poems, which in the end make up about half of âWho Said,â are not meant to offend long-time lovers of the original works. The first poem of the collection, not even listed in the table of contents, is aptly called âKey,â and functions as just that for her readers.
“‘For people who’ve been around before/I’m offering humbly a little bit moreâ — I’m saying Iâm not trying to take this over, but I am inviting us to play with it in this way,â said Hecht. âI tell my secrets in the book as I always do with my poetry. There is narrative and there is biography and there is my own particular, personal experiences.â
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