Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Poetry Isn't Safe: a new kickstarter!

Hello everyone!

Please check out my newest project:

Poetry Isn't Safe

Please share and support the film!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

We Real Cool Vampires: Happy Halloween!

I stole this idea from David Hernandez at the Rumpus via Tara Skurtu. Oh the cheezy fun!

We Real Cool Vampires

We real cool. We fly in the night 'cause we
Left school. We hunt in a pack and we

Lurk late. We sharpen our teeth--our claws
Strike straight. We raise Hell when we

Sing sin. We drink bloody girls who taste of
Thin gin. We rock Ann and roll Jill and

Jazz June. We're coming for you--you're gonna
Die soon.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Margaret's Song

Here's my song for Margaret.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Alissa Nutting: Tampa loves Strong Verse

So if you're one of the 8 people who didn't read Alissa Nutting's Tampa this summer, let me point you to my Amazon Review. It's a fun book if you can have fun reading a disturbing topic (note: I can!).

Alissa picked up a copy of With Rough Gods recently and had this to say about it:

Everything you love about reading ancient myths, rendered in lucid, incredible poems--a clear winner! As an enormous fan of fairy tales, origin stories, and mythology, I found this book to be essential and enjoyable.

Short, lovely, and to the point! As she was a former editor of the incomparable Fairy Tale Review, I couldn't be happier with it.

Thanks, Alissa!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review With Rough Gods

Hi all!

If you already have With Rough Gods, I'd love it if you took a moment to say something nice about it at the following places:

Book Digits



If you don't have it, GET IT!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Haiku for Margaret & loss

Over at Lutheran Surrealism (see the links list) there's a haiku contest up. Much of the commentary is, fortunately or un-, not haiku. Ah well. I've been taking the opportunity to write some emotionally healing one-offs to deal with the loss of my youngest.

Here they are. I'll update if more get written before Sunday. Enjoy!

A missing daughter
Summer fades into autumn
And silenced laughter

Indefinite In Context

impossible loss

words unravel like a tear

winds abrading me

Not a crook

My wrinkled thumb stumps
air now no weight is there my
arm cradles absence.

Holy Matrimony

We are wound by God
to breed immortal children
even though they die.

A sunken island
wishes to unmoor itself
and drift, forgotten.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Elegy for Margaret by Michael P. Bobbitt

Elegy for Margaret                                                                                                         

“Is her still dead?”
A 3-year old big sister giving voice
To a very grown-up confusion—
Baby Margaret, blameless and perfect in her mother’s embrace,
Swaddled in the arms of death.

Surely there’s been some mistake,
The Reaper with a wrong address
Or a God distracted by beauty elsewhere in creation
To let this happen.

“Why is she so cold, daddy?”
“Because this is just her body, sweetheart. Her spirit lives in our hearts now.”
And yet there are still forms to sign,
Flowers and dinners and details to arrange—
All the things that people do—
Well-meaning friends grasping for something to say
When no poet or minister
Could ever find a single comforting word
That would but wither in the face of this despair.

A family strewn instantly against the rocks, irreparably broken.

Because we’re not starfish or lizards.
When you cut away a part of us
The empty space is there forever,
A phantom chord ringing unresolved in our ear—
A one/three clamoring for a five
Or even the sting of a minor seventh—
Anything but these missing notes.

When already her song
Was the joyful refrain for so many,
The unfinished symphony of a life unlived.

Mother and Father must go on shepherding,
Encouraged by the Christ story
Because Resurrection is yet possible:
That a baby’s light cannot be entombed,
Shining still on a family that refuses to go dark.
On her sisters that must bear this loss together.
In the carefree affection of Genevieve,
In the calculating whimsy of Josephine,
In the grace and poise of Cordelia.

In all of us
Who resolve to carry on in the midst of sorrow.
To sing into the stillness of heartbreak.
To answer the impermanence of life
With the eternal promise of love.
Suffer the little children…
For of such is the kingdom of heaven,
But suffer one another as well, friends—
Because the kingdom of Earth
Holds but small refuge
Beyond each other.

And the hopefully frequent memories
Of this sweet child—
Wide-eyed and laughing—

A peace in the hearts of men.

Friday, August 9, 2013

For Margaret Palmer by A.E. Stallings

For Margaret Palmer
who died suddenly at two months old

Life is brief and grief is long,
Joy is deep and sorrow wide,
Love is heavier than song,
Life is brief and grief is long.
The lullaby is right, is wrong:
Hunger, kisses, milk, and sleep.
Life is brief and grief is long,
Sorrow wide as joy is deep.

     A.E. Stallings

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Interrobang by Jessica Piazza

This is not a review.

I was going to write a review of Jessica Piazza's wonderful book Interrobang but my youngest daughter Margaret died suddenly on Monday, August 5th. Instead I will leave this poem which was my favorite in the book when I first read it two weeks ago and is now far more important to me. Please buy Jess's book. Anyone who can write this deserves your patronage.

Love of dolls

The week her daughter died, the room her girl
had occupied became a home for dolls.
The first an angel: fearsome, glass-gazed gift
to dull a mother's utter grief; the next
a paint and porcelain she numbly bought
from QVC. It looked like her. And now
she sees her small grandchildren grow, and knows
it's good. But they can't guess each small dress
arranged by day comes into disarray
by night. They bring her more, naive. Don't know
she weeps in the overflowing sea of limbs
that manage, year by year, to commandeer
the bed, the floor, and more. An orphanage
of girls. A thousand eyes that cannot shut.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What's Wrong With A.E. Stallings?

Perhaps the answer is nothing.

As evidenced by her two new poems in this month's issue of Poetry, "Sestina: Like" and "The Rosehead Nail," Stallings maintains my claim that she is the best American poet since Sylvia Plath. Her poems seem specifically calculated to make me swoon.

By "me" I mean anyone with a serious education (traditional or autodidact) in the classics, poetry, and poetics. If you're the kind of person who owns an OED and for whom "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" holds a dear place in your heart, you're going to love A.E. Stallings' poetry (if you don't already).

And yet I wonder.

Look at the vocabulary of both poems. "Sestina" uses "desuetude" and "Nail" "quincunx." While I love the challenge of both finding and providing unfamiliar words (especially ones that sound so lovely: see "indehiscent" in her poem "Olives") I know from experience both reading and teaching that vocabulary can be a huge turn-off for some folks.

And that's sort of the crux of the question. In a world with a triple division of poetry: popular, traditional, and obfuscatory, I would like to know what the uninitate thinks of the average Stallings poem. Is she merely a "poet's poet"? Worse, is she merely this "poet's poet"? Most of me doesn't think so, though in reading contemporary poetry with my students I've gotten a lot more traction with the poems of Jill Alexander Essbaum or Joshua Mehigan or Brian McGackin than I have with Stallings' poems.

Maybe it's not her it's me?

Perhaps I see Stallings' poems and see exemplars for what I have tried to write. Lord knows reading her "Three Poems to Psyche" so soon after the publication of With Rough Gods was incredibly unsettling. But I don't think I'm unrealistic about the potential audience for poetry. That is, I know big words scare people. Someone once told me that I was writing poetry for the intellectual crowd as well. Somehow I didn't see this (like seriously, my first book is about Greek Mythology--who ELSE was I writing for?) and was taken a bit aback.

Artists always need to balance their desire to communicate with the ability of the audience to comprehend. While I agree with both Dante and Eliot that the experience trumps the understanding, the possibility of comprehension must exist. It clearly does in Stallings' work--so is there a problem?

Maybe it's everyone else?

I am unsettled still when I read her work and am concerned about its reach to a broader audience. As I count her among my favorite poets and among our best poets, that concern bleeds into a more general concern for poetry.

Why is it that difficulty in poetry should stop an audience cold when this is not the case for other forms of art? Folks loved Inception. LOVED IT. Lost, too. I hear both students and adults debate the complexity of this song, that lyric--the complexity of some puzzling video game.

Why have they lost the ability to appreciate such puzzles in poetry?

There are plenty of answers but I think I am more interested in this question: what do we as poets do if we acknowledge this disparity?

Is it a compromise of art to acknowledge and adjust your work to accommodate the limitations of your broader audience or do you accept that your art--by its nature--limits its own audience?

A.E. Stallings work thus far gives her a solid claim to be the best poet of our age. But will she be our age's favorite poet? What value is there in either honorific? In any honorific? Laurels are just leaves, after all.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Scholarship in poetics: is it really that hard?

So twitter showed me a new article at Harriet today:

Rhyme by Anthony Madrid

In it, Mr. Madrid makes the claim that non-visual rhymes (tough and fluff) are better than visual rhymes (blow and show) because they create cognitive dissonance.

That would be nice if it weren't untrue (indeed, maybe they do on a second, third, fifteenth reading--but that's not what he's getting at in his article).

We "hear" what we read. It's one of the reasons poetry has to "sound good" even if it's "closet verse."

But asking the average poetry scholar to know about cognitive science appears to be a losing battle. I wish it weren't so.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Overrated Writers and You

So Anis Shivani has a HuffPo article on the 15 Most Overrated American Writers.

On the one hand, we probably spend too much time tearing folks down. On the other hand, this is funny stuff--and while I like one poem from almost every poet he mentions, that's the only poem of theirs I like.

On the other-other hand, I wonder if I should start throwing up articles on Huff and see who reposts them.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

BRE at AWP13

Everyone! Come to The Best Reading (and after-party) Ever at AWP13!

Thanks to all who helped with the Kickstarter, this reading will be recorded!
The film is slated for release in May.

Readers will feature:

Annie Finch
Erica Dawson
G.M. Palmer
Heather O'Neill
Jessica Piazza
Michael Bobbitt
Nick Courtright
Rebecca Lindenberg
Tara Skurtu
Thaddeus Gunn

To get your invite and the location, email AWPsBestReading AT gmail!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Without Definition

"Without definitions, poetry is impossible."

When theory discussions are relevant to the presentation of poetry, you'll find them on Theory Tuesdays at Literary Magnet.

Enjoy and discuss!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Just what is poetry, anyway?

So after someone telling me that Homer and Tennyson didn't write poetry I'm wondering what it is I do then?

Not that I'm Homer and Tennyson-class--but you get the idea. Poetry has become something either indefinable or unimportant or both.

Perhaps that's why this blog (and the magazine it came from) is called "Strong Verse" not "Strong Poetry." I'm interested in the craft of writing verse, not slapping a silly "it's automatically art" label on some words.

More to it though, what's the delivery system of poetry?

Back when poetry was first created in those good old prehistorical times folks didn't read nor write--so they had to listen to a poet chant. Maybe they did it around a fire, maybe in what would become an amphitheater.

At any rate is was the voice that mattered. Folks could only see large gestures--so there could and likely would have been some motion--but an emphasis on that was what drove us to drama (the first split from poetry?).

Then along came the historical world. Folks could read--well, some of them--but performance was still king (at least if your audience was more than the king who could read anyway). But poets, who now could rely on the exobrain of paper for memorization, could devote more time to versecraft. Hence the rigor of national poetic forms.

Then came printing and the rise of literacy.

Here you have the ability of verse to reach the person interested in poetry before the poet. This creates a few problems, notably the difficulty of transmitting inflection and performance. The Beatles could create "concerts" with their Pepper-and-on albums but that's because they could record. Printed words don't carry the same weight.

Which speaking of, the rise of printing mirrored the rise of musical notation which could carry the same weight as performance. Unfortunately no such easy guide was given to the written word. Readers had to rely on a knowledge of rhyme and meter to eke out how a poem should be read (unless they were lucky enough to catch the poet--and how often did that happen? Legit question, btw).

Also now the music of poetry had to compete with the standardized (and far more performed) music of music. And drama and and and.

Then came sound recording and broadcast capabilities. While wax recordings of Tennyson exist, what is clear in them is that there's no notion of performance. He intones and warbles "Haalf a leeeague, haalf a leeague" in a rhythm familiar to many who attend contemporary poetry readings. Even the reportedly gorgeous and vivacious Edna St. Vincent Millay reads her poetry as if she's at a funeral.

Why do we think people want to listen to this?

Who has effectively recorded poetry (without music)? Garrison Keillor?

Is it really that hard or is it simply unlearned?

At any rate it hardly matters because TV (and more importantly internet distribution of video).

But where are the poets of TV? Of film?

Why did we stop in the 19th century and leave well enough alone? Did all of the folks who would have been our greatest poets just become song- and screenwriters?

Aural storytelling is powerful. Visual storytelling is powerful. Why not have some animated or even live-action recreations of poems?

We must rethink our delivery methods. Print is wonderful and powerful but we can't leave performance poetry to the performance poets and visual poetry to the avant garde.

What do you want to see as a poem?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Poetry off the Page


What does the world of writing look like when you can pick up your poem and pass it around?

Developments like this will rend the veil between purely visual and purely linguistic art (it's difficult at this point to call such theoretical work "aural" though one would assume the proper areas of the brain will still be activated).

Who will be the first visual poet to make art from this?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Amorak Huey's "Dungeon Master's Guide. . ." in The Collagist

So I love learning about new publications and new poets.

Saw this lovely poem in The Collagist (thanks, Sun Dog Lit!) and I had to share:

The lunchroom is an unguarded wilderness
of potential humiliation. So is conversation.
This is when every girl is out of your league,
when you realize such leagues even exist.

You know, I was that boy. Were you?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Met only in words: Sylvia Plath, 50 years later

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Here is a brief article on Sylvia Plath's final days.

I put that here, at the beginning, because it's not the drama of suicide that is important in Plath's death. Suicide is indeed terrible. Please ask someone for help. No one wants you to die.

What we lost, however, was our finest modern practitioner of the sound of the English language. Had she not killed herself, Plath would still be with us, alive and likely kicking at the ripe old age of 80.

What we have instead is a controversial collection of Plath's last work, butchered by her estranged husband, Ted Hughes, and "restored" by her daughter, Frieda. While I prefer vastly the thematic arc of her original intent (moving from "Morning Song" to The Bee Cycle, specifically ending with "Wintering": from "love" to "spring"), the "manic woman" that Plath became in the American consciousness was, essentially, cemented by Hughes. 

This results in an awful lot of eye rolling when I name Plath as a great poet. People know her, if at all, as a violent, lost soul, the author of "Daddy" or "Lady Lazarus." 

At Literary Magnet, my new literary magazine, I've said a bit more about the way I learned to love Sylvia Plath.

What I'd like to say here, though, is that as poets and lovers of poetry, remember the words Plath placed together. Study them. Live within those sounds--the only place she remains.

As people, simply love each other and don't, in the words of Jillian Becker, "endure long remorse" for something that could have been done.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Orange Bottle by Joshua Mehigan


Joshua Mehigan's "The Orange Bottle" is just fantastic.

It's got everything I've been calling for since I started this blog. It's narrative, long enough to satisfy, and plays with sound in some wonderful ways:

For instance, listen to the way Mehigan changes sound in this stanza near the poem's end:

In the car away from that place,
the family had a pleasant chat.
He seemed fine again, and humble,
though his speech was oddly flat.

The c's, ch's, t's and f's throughout--except the c's being replaced with h's in the third line--which reinforce the humility (which Mehigan's poem posits as restricted humanity, at least for our subject) and the t's being entirely absent--that is, the only hard sound in that third line is the "g" of again, which is hardly cacophonic while all the other "oddly flat" lines have far more displeasing sounds.

Utterly delightful craftsmanship, I must say.

Keep it up, Poetry, and I just might renew my subscription, even if all you give me is rejection (and the occasional commentary on my reviews. . .).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My electronic newspaper

Now that the morning newspaper tradition is obsolete, what do you do to fill that void?

Here's my newspaper replacement routine:

Read the funny papers: Sluggy, QC, Penny-Arcade/The Trenches, OOTS, Erfworld, pfsc, xkcd, etc.

Update Literary Magnet. (You can participate by reading!)

Check my twitter since I follow a lot of folks who talk about literary news.

Check reddit, especially r/literature, r/cogsci, and r/redditdayof (I'm not going to link anyone to reddit if I can help it--that's your own black hole of information to discover).

Check the drudge report. I know it's a flaming pile of inflammatory screed BUT it's really a collection of news feeds and spares most commentary apart from headlines. If there's a neutral site that does this, I'd love to know about it.

Read the new posts on E-Verse Radio and CPRW.

See if Kirby has said anything fun at Lutheran Surrealism.

There are a few other sites I visit, but I go to these places nearly every day. Since Google handles most (if not all) the ad revenue on the sites that use it (note: no ads ever on Literary Magnet), it seems not that newspapers have died but simply Google has become the world's largest distributed (or dis-mastheaded) newspaper.

What do you read daily?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

And Literary Magnet is born

Back in 2006, I was awarded a grant for the furtherance of poetry.

I have tried several times to get a little literary mag off the ground.

Finally, I have come upon the way and thing I want to publish.

I would like to introduce you to Literary Magnet.

Each day you will be treated to a new poem, illustrated poem (you know, like a webcomic), review, or other literary work.

I hope it becomes part of your newspaper replacement daily routine. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Memorizing poetry

Why undergo the laborious process of memorizing a poem these days, when—tap, tap, tap—you have it at your fingertips? Has this become another outmoded practice? When I was a Boy Scout, in the sixties, I spent some hours trying to learn Morse code and even, on a couple of overly sunny, headachey afternoons, trying to communicate by flag semaphore. Some things were meant to disappear. (And many of my students wish that assignments to memorize poems would follow them.)

The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.”

A 250th post whine.

Clearly, I don't get Poetry.

A Don Share tweet led me to this poem which gave me apoplexy:

"The Gargantuan Muffin Beauty Contest."

Love is in the air, it’s in the whisper of the trees.

This is not America, this is the cover version:
sun, sex, sin, divine intervention, death and destruction,
welcome to The Sodom and Gomorrah Show.
All those white muffins trying to be black muffins!
Give us our daily muffin, save us from temptation.
Jimmy Buffett was singing, Why don’t we get drunk
and screw? In Times Square the most beautiful muffins
in the world were hanging on a thousand screens.
Where are my singing Tibetan balls? Am I dead?

I hope you recognize all the clever references and the oh-so-unsubtle allegorical use of "muffin."

In the immortal words of Liz Lemon, "what the what!?"

Please tell me what I'm missing. Because I see the work *I* write and the work of other folks I like and think "yeah, that's pretty good stuff." And some of it, truly, does appear in poetry.

And then I see this and ask "WHY GOD WHY?" Maybe I'm missing something.

Maybe it's just sour grapes. Poetry rejected these two poems, for instance. 

But if you've got some insight, I'd love to hear it. Maybe I'm not old enough or British enough, or something. Maybe my poetry sucks and I don't know good poetry from a muffin.

Literary cage match: Literary Fiction vs Children's Fiction

Which 20th Century books are more important to the West?

1900s: Heart of Darkness (1902) versus The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
1910s: Ethan Frome (1911) versus Peter and Wendy (1911)
1920s: Ulysses (1922) versus Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
1930s: Of Mice and Men (1937) versus Mary Poppins (1934)
1940s: The Stranger (1942) versus The Little Prince (1943)
1950s: The Old Man and the Sea (1951) versus The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)
1960s: Catch-22 (1961) versus A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
1970s: Gravity's Rainbow (1973) versus The Princess Bride (1973)
1980s: Beloved (1987) versus Redwall (1984)
1990s: Infinite Jest (1996) versus Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Let's talk about death, baby!

So like, people, like really like to talk about poetry being dead.

This bro is all "DAG YO, SLAMS KILL POETRY"

When what he probably really means is that a lot of performance poetry is bad.

Well, duh. A lot of poetry is bad.

A response here addresses some points, but skips over its most important one:

"poets should learn their trade."

We should ALL be excellent writers AND readers.

Look to the March 7th reading, everyone. You'll see some living poetry for sure.

Graphic Novel; how about Graphic Epic?


What would you all think of a "graphic epic"?

That is, an illustrated verse narrative?

Do you read graphic novels?


That sort of thing?

What if the words sounded as good as the story read?

What if it also were presented in not only a static format but also like a "motion book" a la Reading Rainbow?

If you're reading this, I'd love some commentary. Don't just think it, type it!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hourly Comic Day 2:10-3:10

Hourly Comic day 1:10-2:10

I got home and had to change the font. Sorry!

Hourly Comic Day 12:10-1:10

Hourly Comic Day 11:10-12:10

Hourly Comic Day: 10:10-11:10

Hourly Comic Day 9:10-10:10

My favorite so far:

Hourly Comic Day 8:10-9:10 am

Hourly Comic Day: 7:10-8:10

Hourly Comic Day: 6:10-7:10 am

hourly comic day!

It's hourly comic day.

In honor of my second favorite literary form, I'm going to participate in hourly comic day.

Each comic will be a haiku, with each line illustrated by google images.

Enjoy the bad work!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Speaking of knowing what you're talking about. . .

Now here's an interesting (paper on a) study.

Here is the actual study.

The important information (for us writers) is this:

"When thinking about a positive past event, people should be happier when they describe it using the imperfective aspect (which brings them mentally closer to it) than when using the perfective aspect.  When thinking about a negative past event, people should be sadder when they describe it using the imperfective aspect (which brings them mentally nearer to it) than when using the perfective aspect."

That is--if you want to make someone feel a past emotion (or event) more keenly, use the imperfect (he was dying). If you want that to be more distant, use the perfect (he died).

Not that we don't "know" this intuitively--but we don't always create what we intuit and it's important to know from a neurological standpoint why we should make certain decisions as a writer.

Also, think about what Meursault would have been like had he said "mother was dying yesterday" instead of "mother died today." Whole different ballgame, I think.

Is it too much to ask to know what you're talking about?

I just read a review on a book of poetry by a mentally ill writer. I won't link it or reference it beyond the following quote:

"The arithmetic of language is unsolvable."


I sigh because this statement is nonsense. First of all, if we're going to apply the term arithmetic to language then we're going to get into linguistics which, though non-trivial, is certainly solvable.

But that's not really the point. The point is that the essay waxes philosophic about mental illness and writers and seems wholly ignorant of any current research regarding neuroscience. People with schizophrenia frequently create arresting art. Etc. etc.

If you want to know about the mind as it relates to art, I recommend starting not with philosophers, but with Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary (note: that goes to a .pdf).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Religion in a comic

say nothing at all and love someone

Brief Reviews: Gabriel Spera and Laura Walker

The Rigid Body
Gabriel Spera
Ashland Poetry Press, $15.95

Laura Walker
Apogee Press, $15.95

Here are two books that are radically different.

Spera's work, which I have praised before, is a lovely balance between tightness and expansiveness. Like each poem really wants to have these huge Whitmanesque lines but Spera's sensibilities rein everything in.

Unlike Standing Wave, however, Spera seems a bit freer in The Rigid Body, loosening up, namechecking works, borrowing, and generally having as good a time as he can have. Now, if you guess from his Randian Hero author photo (or is it Jobsean Hero?) or the general tenor of the poems, you might not think it's that much fun. Indeed, my one complaint is that Spera is a bit serious. But who isn't these days?

Anyway, it's a good book. My personal favorites are perhaps his two most clearly allusive poems, "The Hive" and "The Forsaken Cry." "The Hive" recalls Plath, both "Blackberrying" and The Bee Poems:

Something must've died, I figured, judging
by the orgy of fat black flies
that smudged the air. But no, they weren't flies,
but bees. . .

And "The Forsaken City" is a riff on Auden's Musee des Beaux Arts with a dash of Dante and modern torture thrown in:

About torture, they were all wrong,
the old masters, how little they understood
its tactics and procedures. . .

Get it, read it, love it.

Now, on to a book I ought not to like if you follow what I tend to say about poetry, Laura Walker's Follow-Haswed. It's an erasure book, like Ronald Johnson's Radi Os. I mention Johnson because I've not seen a better example of the style of erasure than his reduction of Paradise Lost.

Erasure is a trick, sure. But it can result in some nice literary moments. Follow-Haswed has many of these. The concept of the book is that Walker took entries from the OED between "follow" and "haswed" and erased erased erased until she came up with something rather poetic.

"go" has stuck with me:

[bees] are reddy to flye
that when they
they make a great humming
from their word
I lost
from their word
I lost him

Walker does a good job of finding the Eliot/Cummings element within the OED. As it's made up mostly of quotes supporting the usage of the words, I don't see that this is terribly surprising but, as I say, it can be nice. Indeed, I thought I would just hate the book but it rises above the cuteness of found poetry techniques to make some art.

And isn't that what good form is? One doesn't like a sonnet because it rhymes or a villanelle because it repeats lines. Nor should one like a poem because it is an anagram of Shakespeare's sonnets or something gleaned from computer printouts. One should like a poem because it's good poetry. Walker does that--and that's something to be praised.

Sylvia Plath's Bee Poems

It's insane that these poems, the correct ending of Ariel, aren't easy to find online. Here you go. NB: with the exception of the final line of "Arrival," each stanza should be five lines. Apologies to Sylvia for formatting difficulties with her longer lines.

Sylvia Plath's Bee Sequence:

The Bee Meeting

Who are these people at the bridge to meet me? They are the  villagers—
The rector, the midwife, the sexton, the agent for bees.
In my sleeveless summery dress I have no protection,
And they are all gloved and covered, why did nobody tell me?
They are smiling and taking out veils tacked to ancient hats.

I am nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me?
Yes, here is the secretary of bees with her white shop smock,
Buttoning the cuffs at my wrists and the slit from my neck to my knees.
Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice.
Thev will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear.

Which is the rector now, is it that man in black?
Which is the midwife, is that her blue coat?
Everybody is nodding a square black head, they are knights in visors,
Breastplates of cheesecloth knotted under the armpits.
Their smiles and their voices are changing. I am led through a beanfield.

Strips of tinfoil winking like people,
Feather dusters fanning their hands in a sea of bean flowers,
Creamy bean flowers with black eyes and leaves like bored hearts.
Is it blood clots the tendrils are dragging up that string?
No, no, it is scarlet flowers that will one day be edible.

Now they are giving me a fashionable white straw Italian hat
And a black veil that molds to my face, they are making me one of them.
They are leading me to the shorn grove, the circle of hives.
Is it the hawthorn that smells so sick?
The barren body of hawthorn, etherizing its children.

Is it some operation that is taking place?
It is the surgeon my neighbors are waiting for,
This apparition in a green helmet,
Shining gloves and white suit.
Is it the butcher, the grocer, the postman, someone I know?

I cannot run, I am rooted, and the gorse hurts me
With its yellow purses, its spiky armory.
I could not run without having to run forever.
The white hive is snug as a virgin,
Sealing off her brood cells, her honey, and quietly humming.

Smoke rolls and scarves in the grove.
The mind of the hive thinks this is the end of everything.
Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics.
If I stand very still, they will think I am cow-parsley,
A gullible head untouched by their animosity,

Not even nodding, a personage in a hedgerow.
The villagers open the chambers, they are hunting the queen.
Is she hiding, is she eating honey? She is very clever.
She is old, old, old, she must live another year, and she knows it.
While in their fingerjoint cells the new virgins

Dream of a duel they will win inevitably,
A curtain of wax dividing them from the bride flight,
The upflight of the murderess into a heaven that loves her.
The villagers are moving the virgins, there will be no killing.
The old queen does not show herself, is she so ungrateful?

I am exhausted, I am exhausted—
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
I am the magician's girl who does not flinch.
The villagers are untying their disguises, they are shaking hands.
Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished, why am I cold.

The Arrival of the Bee Box

I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.

The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can't keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can't see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.

I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.

How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appalls me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.

They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

The box is only temporary.


Bare-handed, I hand the combs.
The man in white smiles, bare-handed,
Our cheesecloth gauntlets neat and sweet,
The throats of our wrists brave lilies.
He and I

Have a thousand clean cells between us,
Eight combs of yellow cups,
And the hive itself a teacup,
White with pink flowers on it,
With excessive love I enameled it

Thinking "Sweetness, sweetness."
Brood cells gray as the fossils of shells
Terrify me, they seem so old.
What am I buying, wormy mahogany?
Is there any queen at all in it?

If there is, she is old,
Her wings torn shawls, her long body
Rubbed of its plush--
Poor and bare and unqueenly and even shameful.
I stand in a column

Of winged, unmiraculous women,
I am no drudge
Though for years I have eaten dust
And dried plates with my dense hair.

And seen my strangeness evaporate,
Blue dew from dangerous skin.
Will they hate me,
These women who only scurry,
Whose news is the open cherry, the open clover?

It is almost over.
I am in control.
Here is my honey-machine,
It will work without thinking,
Opening, in spring, like an industrious virgin

To scour the creaming crests
As the moon, for its ivory powders, scours the sea.
A third person is watching.
He has nothing to do with the bee-seller or with me.
Now he is gone

In eight great bounds, a great scapegoat.
Here is his slipper, here is another,
And here the square of white linen
He wore instead of a hat.
He was sweet,

The sweat of his efforts a rain
Tugging the world to fruit.
The bees found him out,
Molding onto his lips like lies,
Complicating his features.

They thought death was worth it, but I
Have a self to recover, a queen.
Is she dead, is she sleeping?
Where has she been,
With her lion-red body, her wings of glass?

Now she is flying
More terrible than she ever was, red
Scar in the sky, red comet
Over the engine that killed her—
The mausoleum, the wax house.

The Swarm

Somebody is shooting at something in our town
A dull pom, pom in the Sunday street.
Jealousy can open the blood,
It can make black roses.
Who are the shooting at?

It is you the knives are out for
At Waterloo, Waterloo, Napoleon,
The hump of Elba on your short back,
And the snow, marshaling its brilliant cutlery
Mass after mass, saying Shh!

Shh! These are chess people you play with,
Still figures of ivory.
The mud squirms with throats,
Stepping stones for French bootsoles.
The gilt and pink domes of Russia melt and float off

In the furnace of greed.  Clouds, clouds.
So the swarm balls and deserts
Seventy feet up, in a black pine tree.
It must be shot down. Pom! Pom!
So dumb it thinks bullets are thunder.

It thinks they are the voice of God
Condoning the beak, the claw, the grin of the dog
Yellow-haunched, a pack-dog,
Grinning over its bone of ivory
Like the pack, the pack, like everybody.

The bees have got so far. Seventy feet high!
Russia, Poland and Germany!
The mild hills, the same old magenta
Fields shrunk to a penny
Spun into a river, the river crossed.

The bees argue, in their black ball,
A flying hedgehog, all prickles.
The man with gray hands stands under the honeycomb
Of their dream, the hived station
Where trains, faithful to their steel arcs,

Leave and arrive, and there is no end to the country.
Pom! Pom! They fall
Dismembered, to a tod of ivy.
So much for the charioteers, the outriders, the Grand Army!
A red tatter, Napoleon!

The last badge of victory.
The swarm is knocked into a cocked straw hat.
Elba, Elba, bleb on the sea!
The white busts of marshals, admirals, generals
Worming themselves into niches.

How instructive this is!
The dumb, banded bodies
Walking the plank draped with Mother France's upholstery
Into a new mausoleum,
An ivory palace, a crotch pine.

The man with gray hands smiles--
The smile of a man of business, intensely practical.
They are not hands at all
But asbestos receptacles.
Pom! Pom! "They would have killed me."

Stings big as drawing pins!
It seems bees have a notion of honor,
A black intractable mind.
Napoleon is pleased, he is pleased with everything.
O Europe! O ton of honey!


This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife's extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat's eyes in the wine cellar,

Wintering in a dark without window
At the heart of the house
Next to the last tenant's rancid jam
and the bottles of empty glitters--
Sir So-and-so's gin.

This is the room I have never been in
This is the room I could never breathe in.
The black bunched in there like a bat,
No light
But the torch and its faint

Chinese yellow on appalling objects--
Black asininity. Decay.
It is they who own me.
Neither cruel nor indifferent,

Only ignorant.
This is the time of hanging on for the bees--the bees
So slow I hardly know them,
Filing like soldiers
To the syrup tin

To make up for the honey I've taken.
Tate and Lyle keeps them going,
The refined snow.
It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers.
They take it. The cold sets in.

Now they ball in a mass,
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women--
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanish walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It's so cold in Poetry we gotta get down on Poetry

Perhaps you are familiar with the youtube sensation songs "It's so Cold in the D" or "Friday."

Like, I ain't linkin' to them. You know them anyway.

It's so Cold has over 6 million views.

Friday over 40 million.

The highest poetry video I can find? Something from Def Jam with about 2 million views.

What gives?

I like poetry and all but when we can make a poetry video that gets more traction than a video ironically watched by hipsters and loved by the masses well, then we might be able to look A. Petri in the face.

Monday, January 28, 2013

10 (Better) Reasons Poetry's Not Dead

Here I responded to a list of ten substandard examples of great American poetry.

I was then called out by my friends at the Cambridge Writer's Workshop to produce my own list. I ought to be wholly arrogant and just say my book, With Rough Gods, but I assume you folks are getting tired of that. Besides, there's better work than mine that was published in 2012.

So let me give my own ten reasons poetry's not dead in America, with explanations.

#10: Poetry jams/slams/open mikes.

Yes, you're going to hear a pile of offal verse at one of these. But that "pile" is the very reason poetry isn't dead in America. It may be a bit soured by our off-base educational system and the industrialization/academicization of poetry but it's alive and kicking in the trenches which is where it counts most. In a similar vein:

#9: Poetry journal slush piles.

Lit magazines get somewhere between 10-1000 times more submissions than they can publish, let alone want to publish. If we assume (from my own experience as an editor and making up numbers anyway) that 75% is crap, 20% is okay, 3% is good but doesn't work and 2% fits the publication, we can again see that folks are writing and writing and writing. Now, are they reading? Well--let's look at the best of what they have to read and then ask some questions about why they're not reading it.

#8: Broetry by Brian McGackin.

No, it's not Tennyson. But who cares? Broetry is the most fun you'll have reading poetry as an adult. It's like Shel Silverstein's Uncle Shelby books but a bit less mature and secure. Whatevs bro. Read it and have a good time. Laugh out loud when you read a poem. When's the last time you did that?

#7: Sixty Sonnets by Ernest Hilbert.

Sixty Sonnets is to Broetry as The Story of O is to Fifty Shades of Grey. They're both about the same sort of characters but Hilbert is being literary whereas McGackin is simply enjoying himself. What does this mean, exactly? It means that Sixty Sonnets, while not having as broad an appeal--and perhaps getting a chortle and not a guffaw--is more rewarding for folks that stick with it and has more lines that stick in general.

#6: Annie Finch.

Instead of including one of Annie's books, I'm just including Annie. If I had to narrow things down to books, I'd go with her two latest: Among the Goddesses and A Poet's Craft. I haven't reviewed APC yet but if you want to learn about poetry and don't need an MFA (I would like to need my MFA: anyone got a spare low res job?) you'd do better with your money to buy A Poet's Craft and go to conferences. Anyway, Among the Goddesses is a book you can give to a wide swath of people who are interested in literature and get them to realize that narrative has a place in poetry. Wonderfully good stuff and we are indebted to the good Dr. Finch and her work in and with American poetry.

#5: Ludlow by David Mason.

Narrative poetry is the best selling poetry in America. That's because narrative poetry includes books like Ellen Hopkins' Crank. Now, Crank is not good poetry but Ludlow is. And, at least last I heard, Ludlow does very well for Red Hen Press (more on them later) and Mr. Mason (unless it's Dr.--let me know, y'all). But the book is good for poetry. It's a good story. It's good verse. It's a great read.

#4: Red Hen and Cooper Dillon Presses and CPRW and E-Verse Radio (and those like them).

Red Hen Press is undoubtedly the best small press for poetry in the US. Their books are of consistently high quality and, even better, books of poetry you want to read.

Cooper Dillon Press is my favorite micropress and one of the best. Each book they put out (3ish a year) is fantastic AND Adam Deutsch's outlook on editing and publishing is refreshing.

CPRW is "the best damn poetry review online." Excusing natural bias, I implore you to take a look at Garrick Davis's wonderful production of reviews, analysis, and excellent thinking on poetry in America--you'll see it's alive and well.

E-Verse Radio is an eclectic collection of music, poetry, stories, and lists. One gets the idea that it's what a modern literary magazine ought to be. I hope that more journals like it take root.

There are literally hundreds of small and micropresses and wonderfully quirky literary American journals out there. The problem is not one of existence but of distribution and advertising. I think this is in part because as intellectuals we overvalue our own knowledge and not the advice of ad/PR people who are, of course, inherently evil. But maybe that's just me projecting.

#3: Writer's Workshops, Conferences, and MFA programs.

Look, I know that these are just as much a part of the problem as they are part of the solution. But you can't discount the power of the "po-biz." Do I think that these outlets and conduits could be better arranged to serve poetry and the people and not poets and pocketbooks? Absolutely. But there are programs out there that, at least as far as I can tell, do this. Even a corporo-advertising behemoth like AWP is full of greatness if you're willing to separate the wheat from the chaff.

#2: Harlot by Jill Alexander Essbaum.

I debated just saying "Jill Alexander Essbaum" but I really, really want you folks to read Harlot. Maybe with a huge phallus and naked lady on the cover it's not for everyone. But really it is. I don't think there's an adult who has breathed who can't identify with the words between its sheets.


#1: Olives by A.E. Stallings.

This book is so good it hurts. If I were Bill Gates rich, my foundation would buy copies of this for all of you. I would call Amazon and say "hey, tell me how much it would be to send a copy of Olives to everyone who has ever bought anything from you guys" and then gladly pay it. While Olives isn't perfect as a book of poetry--it requires the reader to have a familiarity with poetry and so, like Harlot, isn't perhaps the first book of poetry one should read--it is as close as a book has gotten in decades. When I read Olives, I felt precisely like Peter Buck as he wrote regarding song "Crazy" by Pylon:

"I remember hearing their version on the radio the day that Chronic Town came out and suddenly being depressed by how much better it was than our record."

Read Olives. Read everything on this list. Go to every event. Participate in poetry. You'll see it's alive and well--and by these very actions its readership and influence will grow and bloggers won't feel the need to declaim its death.

Kickstarters ARE good for literature

Well, folks--we got funded.

195% funded.

While that's not enough to add a professional photographer or fly in a special guest, it ought to be enough to throw a heck of a party.

Start your Kickstarters, people. Get literature done.

Friday, January 25, 2013

People, don't try to prove Petri *right*!

So everyone's getting in on the Petri act (indeed, I was a day late).

The folks at Flavorwire have weighed in as well.

The problem is, as near as I can tell, most, if not all of those books suck.

Now granted, I don't have a copy of any of them in front of me--but what I can glean from Amazon and Google is that they're filled with the everyday sort of poetry one finds so forgettable--the kind of verse Petri was (rightly, though impolitely) complaining about.

Indeed, the first book is praised for "stalks the borderlands of English and Spanish, fabulist and realist, here and there, with a backpack filled with shifting identifications — Chicano, gay, abnormal — that spill out into the sand" which tells me that the writer for Flavorwire is apparently more interested in people and labels than poetry.

Now, I'll say that I at least found the Powell and Dennigan books interesting enough that I'm leaving their names here so I can remember to look up the works more in depth--but really, all that claptrap is forgettable goo.

Now, maybe it appeals to poets--but Petri's entire point is that poetry is irrelevant outside of the world of poetry.

Praising books that answer to that call is not helping anyone.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pope it up, y'all!

From teh Popez:

"The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young," Benedict said in his message. "Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there."

Dag, yo.

Why poetry should sound good even if it's never spoken

Yes, that's right.

Poetry should--poetry MUST--sound good. Even if it's never read aloud.

Why, you ask?

Well, just read this nice sciency article on how we read "silently."

It's not terribly new information (though this study may be a more definitive presentation than previous speculations) but it's terribly important to remember:

When we read we speak internally. Poetry is inherently an aural art form. We cannot forget this.

Petri, Poetry, and Propriety

One good thing about the Coronation of Obama I (when did this become such a thing? Bush II?) is that, owing to the inclusion of an inaugural poet, folks are talking about poetry, even if to decry its usefulness.

In that vein, I'm sure you've already read the engineered-to-get-all-ten-million-US-poets-to-generate-ad-revenue hit piece on poetry by one Alexandra Petri.

Ms Petri's first relevant piece of information:

"There are about six people who buy new poetry, but they are not feeling very well. I bumped very lightly into one of them while walking down the sidewalk, and for a while I was terrified that I would have to write to eleven MFA programs explaining why everyone was going to have to apply for grants that year. The last time I stumbled upon a poetry reading, the attendees were almost without exception students of the poet who were there in the hopes of extra credit. One of the poems, if memory serves, consisted of a list of names of Supreme Court justices. I am not saying that it was a bad poem. It was a good poem, within the constraints of what poetry means now. But I think what we mean by poetry is a limp and fangless thing.

Poetry has gone from being something that you did in order to Write Your Name Large Across the Sky and sound your barbaric yawp and generally Shake Things Up to a very carefully gated medium that requires years of study and apprenticeship in order to produce meticulous, perfect, golden lines that up to ten people will ever voluntarily read."

My good friend Jessica Piazza rightly said on her book of the face that, fundamentally, Ms Petri was correct (if a bit rude). If one only knows about Contemporary American Poetry (CAP) from what is praised in the press, taught in survey courses (when they were in college a decade or so ago--or worse: high school), and bandied about at bookstore poetry readings one would likely get the impression that poetry is:

"generally in free verse, although it could be a sonnet, if it wanted. It describes something very carefully, or it makes a sound we did not expect, and it has deep layers that we need to analyze."

I've written extensively before on why this is inherently a problem with CAP--but that was five years ago. 

Since then I have discovered a few things about poetry in America today.


Poetry's position in the traditional publishing world is absolute garbage--and not without reason. The best selling living American poet (*) is Billy Collins (or was last I checked--Mary Oliver may be on top now). He has sold about a quarter of a million books of poetry during his lifetime. Ender's Game sold that many this year. Fifty Shades of Grey sold (I shudder) six million copies. Why? Because poetry's not as interesting? Well, I think that we have to at least admit, poets, that we're not doing a very good job of marketing. But I think also we aren't doing as good a job of entertaining. The collection Hot Sonnets is at least as sexy as 50SoG and I daresay Jill Alexander Essbaum's Harlot is a hot mess sexier. But, if you followed those links to Amazon you'll see the inherent problem with poetry distribution. Hot Sonnets, at least for Amazon, is unavailable--or, you can get it for $215. Harlot is $15. Neither book is available as an ebook. 50SoG is $9 (for an order of magnitude more text--irrespective of quantity vs quality). Nine dollars.

Now, I understand the economy of scale preventing the availability of Hot Sonnets and Harlot as cheaply available traditional print books. But why aren't they print-on-demand? My own With Rough Gods is POD and so is Jill Alexander Essbaum's The Devastation. But Jill's book isn't available through Amazon. Why? Because the publisher isn't interested in dealing with Amazon. Now, I dearly love Cooper Dillon press--they're one of the best micro presses in the country--but to not have distribution through Amazon seems just silly. It's where people go to buy books. That and real book stores (my students are forever complaining that our local Barnes & Noble doesn't have X edition of Y book--I keep reminding them to go online) which will have to be addressed at a later date. Moving production to POD (with distribution through all available channels) eliminates this problem of unavailability (though it can clearly reduce profits--hell, WRG only costs $4 per author copy but I only get $2 when Amazon sells it--insert eye roll).

But it still doesn't address the more important question: why aren't these books available as ebooks? It's not *that* hard. Take a .doc, save it as .html, open it in Sigil, format it as an .epub, and then convert it in Calibre to every format you need it in. Then distribute away.

Why don't we do this? Partially (if not wholly) it is because poetry publishers are either 1) huge conglomerates who don't care but still publish "names" for recognition or 2) small publishers who are still dearly in love with the idea of "making books" and not "distributing literature." Note: I'm not even going to touch the distribution of literature-as-performance which is offered to us by the ubiquity of distributed video.

So that's the production side of marketing addressed--but not the marketing side. TV and Radio and Magazines exist to sell ads. Movies are replayed on TV to sell ads. Movies also exist, like plays and novels, to sell themselves. Poetry needs to either get more entertaining or figure out how to sell ads. Either way folks need to get out of their own navels and write better poetry. We need to take Longfellow as a model, not Zukofsky.

Of course, most poets reading this immediately are no longer interested: how DARE I tell them what to write? But you know what? Yes. I am telling you what to write. I am telling you to expand your boundaries and horizon--to get over yourself. To find out what actually WORKS in poetry to get the most people in and try writing that for a change. Give it your own personal stamp but do what works. Of course, one has to find that.


Poetry is still being taught incorrectly in schools. If we taught watching movies or listening to music the same way we insist on teaching poetry it would be no wonder if folks turned off their eyes and ears.

Part of this is overzealous teachers. In their NEED to make sure we know that "poetry doesn't have to rhyme" they make it seem like good poetry never rhymes (or doesn't any more). Because "poetry doesn't have to have meter"--and hasn't for the better part of a century in schoolrooms--they don't teach meter and they were in turn not taught meter so they couldn't if you convinced them they should. So kids just get some dribbly crap thrown at them and then the teacher acts as if they poem holds a secret message that must be unlocked.

If you are a teacher and do this, stop. If you know a teacher who does this, tell them to stop.

Here's the "secret" to teaching poetry:

Poetry is supposed to sound, if not "good" at least "interesting." Read it aloud. Don't let the kids read it unless they're good readers. Or if you do, immediately read it afterward. If you're not a good reader, you probably shouldn't be teaching literature.

Poetry has no room for context. So yes, allusions must be explained.

Poetry uses figurative language. So yes, one must talk about what the metaphor "means."

BUT "what the metaphor means" or to what the allusion refers are simply things that expand the purpose of the poem. Imagine them, not as messages to be decoded, but as a word you don't know. If you saw a piece of writing with "concupiscent" in it and didn't know the word, you'd look it up. If a book referred to the Boer War and you didn't know about it, you'd look it up. Now, frequently in prose there's room for context--but poetry doesn't have that. It demands the reader bring that. But once you understand the allusions and have at least thought about the metaphors, there's not anything "secret" to do. You can "get" the poem. Maybe it's about love. Maybe it's about memory versus love. Maybe it just sounds good (though we hope not) but if it "has deep layers that we need to analyze" then something is wrong. Specifically because of that word "need."

But part of this is the problem of the poet as well.

The word should be "want." A poem should be able to draw you in but also be enjoyable in one experience. You know, like any bit of litertainment. There are folks that see a movie once. There are folks that see a movie a hundred times. The same with novels. Why should we as poets expect only the second group and attempt to cater to them (if we actually think about catering to anyone except ourselves)? Why shouldn't we also think about group one? I.e. if your poem must be analyzed to be enjoyed you're doing something wrong.


The world of Contemporary American Poetry is lush, diverse, lovely, and alive.

Excellent performances (as well as terrible ones) can be found at poetry readings. I recommend, Ms Petri, that you seek out poetry readings that are regular occurrences, not one-offs for a professor's new book. 

Some of the best poets writing today are writing in meter and rhyme. Indeed, when I started writing I was pretty anti-meter and rhyme. Of course, I was also fifteen. By the time I discovered form, rhyme, and meter several years later I felt for sure "I was the only one." And then I discovered folks like A.E. Stallings, Kim Addonizio, David Yezzi, Erica Dawson, and David Mason. And then I was lucky enough to meet them (note: this isn't actually luck, folks--go to a poetry conference like AWP or West Chester and you can meet them, too!). It's not just that they're nice people. 

They're great poets. I've reviewed several books here. I wish I had the time to review more. Anyway, Ms Petri--if you're reading this--read those poets and the others I've already mentioned. You'll find that Contemporary American Poetry is far more diverse than you've been lead to believe.

That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. I continually say we need, as poets, to tell stories. The grip the lyric mode has on Contemporary American Poetry is destructive. We ought to also explore illustrated poetry distributed similarly to webcomics. We can do more. But, Ms Petri, it would help if you used that passion not to excoriate poetry but to support it.

It is likely that you didn't know there was poetry worth supporting. But there is. Those folks I mentioned. Those books I linked to. The reviews I've done. Read those books. Discover that poetry is alive and well. It can and will be stronger. More folks should and will read it. It needs to adapt, not die.

Would you, instead of being "harsh" be helpful?

I do hope you will.

(*) actually the best selling living American poet is Ellen Hopkins, the author of the Crank series. If anyone knows how I can get an agent to look at one of my two verse novels without first publishing my own prose novel (as that seems to be the model), fill me in.