Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Grace Bauer: "Oh, baby. Boom or bust."

September 27, 2009

Cover of the Fall 2009 issue of Prairie Schooner.


I’ve know poet Grace Bauer (email, some of her poems) back from the time when she taught at Virginia Tech along side others such as Ed Falco, David Graham and Jeff Mann. Since 1994, she’s been at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she has stepped in for Hilda Raz (email, webpage) to edit the Fall 2009 issue of Prairie Schooner.

As she explains in an introductory essay, “Baby Boomer Issue(s),”

Maybe it was all the recent news stories about the very first baby boomers on the verge of retirement—and the warnings about the financial havoc this was bound to wreak upon Social Security and the national economy, which was already in pretty dire straits. Or the headlines, one after the other over the last few years, announcing that cultural icons ranging from Ginsberg’s Howl to Motown Records to the peace sign—even the ever youthful Barbie—had hit the half-century mark. Maybe it was the ads for Barneys NY in a December 2008 New York Times Magazine, wishing the world a “Hippie Holiday”—complete with DayGlo-colored images of those fifty-year-old peace signs and a declaration that the store was “having a COUNTER-CULTURE moment” “remembering 1968 forty years on.” Or the advance reviews in the Arts & Leisure section for the reopening of Hair on Broadway. Maybe it was because the daily reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were sounding vaguely like the reports on Vietnam more than thirty years ago (which is maybe why they are restaging Hair). Maybe it was the recent election of Barack Obama, which reminded at least some people of the election of JFK—not since then had they seen so much youthful exuberance and idealism so unabashed it even led to “an open apology to boomers everywhere” from Gen X’er Heather Havrilesky on, where she said “We’re sorry for rolling our eyes at you all these years”—though she couldn’t resist mentioning those of us who might be wearing socks with sandals or smelling like we’d “been on the bus with Wavy Gravy for the last three decades.” Maybe it was just that, to paraphrase a boomer-era song, “something’s in the air”—which is maybe just my own personal sense of “time’s winged chariot” (disguised, perhaps, as Wavy Gravy’s bus or a compact SUV) drawing nearer. But when Hilda Raz asked me once again to stand in as acting editor of Prairie Schooner while she enjoyed a semester of well-earned leave, and asked further if I might want to do some kind of special issue, I immediately said “Baby Boomers!” A bit self-serving, no doubt, since I’m a writer who was born in the midst of that boom, but I wanted to see what such a gathering might look like, and so I set out to see.

On line, you can find excerpts from the Fall issue:

There are also poems from her former colleagues Graham, Falco, and Mann, plus Naomi Shihab Nye, among others (contributors’ notes). The blog for the magazine indicates there will be an interview with Grace about the Fall issue here.

And speaking of permalinks, due to magazine’s method of assigning links, all of the above will be broken once the Winter 2009 issue comes out. But you can still find them by substituting in the url “archives/fall09” for “current”. James Engelhardt, the magazine’s managing editor wrote to let me know that he’s passing on a suggestion to change the linking, but it’s up to the IT guys at the College of Business Admin which hosts the site.


Happy 250th Robbie

January 25, 2009

Portrait of Robert Burns from The Scotsman.

And there’s a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne

A sesquicentennial is the 150th anniversary. (Half again a hundred.) A bicentennial is the two hundredth anniversary. Apparently the 250th is the semiquincentenary. And to celebrate, the Brits have just issued the third set of Robbie (or in the Scot’s spelling Rabbie) Burns stamps.

With the issue of the set, the Telegraph reports,

Scotland’s national bard will overtake Winston Churchill, who has been honoured with two special editions of stamps, while William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens have only received one each.

The night was marked all over the world with dinners in the bard’s honor (even in Lawrence Kansas.) And if you want to plan a Burns Supper for next year, Bennett Fischer of Brooklyn, N.Y. has the recipes. Hugh Porter last year explained all about haggis for Time Magazine in “The Bacchanal of Burns Night.” Of course he was writing from London, so he maunna be thought of as tha gowd standard.

The BBC has coverage of the celebration in Scotland here. Everything you wanted to know about the Scottish Bard can be found here.

The Inauguration: the address, the poem, the benediction

January 20, 2009

Photograph by AP’s Ron Edmonds of poet Elizabeth Alexander reading her “Praise song for the day” at the inauguration of Barack Obama. The photograph accompanied “Poet Elizabeth Alexander, Bridging a Nation’s Past, Present and Future,” Bob Thompson WaPo story on the web tonight which will appear January 21, 2009 in the paper on page C10.

Praise song for the day by Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. A chapbook edition will be published on February 6, 2009 by Graywolf.

(With a hat tip to Mark Doty for giving the proper lineation.)

I was one of about five hundred folks who turned up at the Lyric Theatre today with staples for the food pantry in exchange for a screening of the inauguration of our 44nd president ( or I should say presidency, as Grover Cleveland gets counted twice for non-consecutive terms in 1885–1889 and 1893–1897, thus being the 22nd and 24th president.)

The address as prepared for delivery is here
The benediction by civil rights veteran, the Reverand Lowery is here

I like Alexander’s poem (unlike Adam Kirsch of the New Republic who called it “bureaucratic” or Erica Wagner who found it “unmemorable.”) Maybe not as coherent or disciplined as it could have been, but it’s hard to write for an occasion (as Jim Fisher pointed out in Salon) and to write in language and images that can be perceived on first hearing by a wide audience.

To me, Alexander summonsed up ordinary Americans moving forward, in a poem appropriate for the occasion. Could it be a southern thing, finding this poem perfectly fine, as did poets interviewed in the Ashville area? And the folks at Split This Rock had thoughtful things to say– Melissa Tuckey and Ethelbert Miller (with more at his blog, here) plus Sarah Browning and Joseph Ross in the comments.

Update: Joel Dias-Porter takes a close look at the poem here.

Word of the Day: Archaea

January 1, 2009

Photo of Pattiann Rogers from the Vermont Studio Center, where she will be giving a reading in October 2009.

I wasn’t familiar with the term “archaea” and looked it up after reading the lovely poem by Pattiann Rogers found below (website, email), which first appeared in the September 2005 issue of Poetry. (hat tip to Amy Grier (email). Archaea are a

unique group of microorganisms classified as bacteria (Archaeobacteria) but genetically and metabolically different from all other known bacteria. They appear to be living fossils, the survivors of an ancient group of organisms that bridged the gap in evolution between bacteria and the eukaryotes (multicellular organisms).

The name Archaea comes from the Greek archaios meaning ancient.

From MedicineNet, the authors of the Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary. See also the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology exhibit, Life’s Extremists. Archaea can live where othres wound not survive, for instance in the hot springs at Yellowstone.

Address: the Archaens, One Cell Creatures

Although most are totally naked
and too scant for even the slightest
color and although they have no voice
that I’ve ever heard for cry or song, they are,
nevertheless, more than mirage, more
than hallucination, more than falsehood.

They have confronted sulfuric
boiling black sea bottoms and stayed,
held on under ten tons of polar ice,
established themselves in dense salts
and acids, survived eating metal ions.
They are more committed than oblivion,
more prolific than stars.

Far too ancient for scripture, each
one bears in its one cell one text–
the first whit of alpha, the first
jot of bearing, beneath the riling
sun the first nourishing of self.

Too lavish for saints, too trifling
for baptism, they have existed
throughout never gaining girth enough
to hold a firm hope of salvation.
Too meager in heart for compassion,
too lean for tears, less in substance
than sacrifice, not one has ever
carried a cross anywhere.

And not one of their trillions
has ever been given a tombstone.
I’ve never noticed a lessening
of light in the ceasing of any one
of them. They are more mutable
than mere breathing and vanishing,
more mysterious than resurrection,
too minimal for death.

The Spring 2008 issue of the Georgia Review featured an interview with Rogers by Gordon Johnston, Breaking Old Forms: A Conversation.

DC Poet Judith Harris

December 17, 2008

Photo of Judith Harris from her website.

From Ted Kooser, D.C. poet Judith Harris (website, see also her work at Beltway Poets of which I am also a member,

Gathering Leaves in Grade School

They were smooth ovals,
and some the shade of potatoes—
some had been moth-eaten
or spotted, the maples
were starched, and crackled
like campfire.

We put them under tracing paper
and rubbed our crayons
over them, X-raying
the spread of their bones
and black, veined catacombs.

We colored them green and brown
and orange, and
cut them out along the edges,
labeling them deciduous
or evergreen.

All day, in the stuffy air of the classroom,
with its cockeyed globe,
and nautical maps of ocean floors,
I watched those leaves

lost in their own worlds
flap on the pins of the bulletin boards:
without branches or roots,
or even a sky to hold on to.

Thomas Lux in the WaPo: Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

December 8, 2008

Photograph of poet Thomas Lux (email) from Georgia Tech, where since 2002, he has held the Bourne chair and directed the Poetry at Tech program.


December 7, Mary Karr picked this Thomas Lux poem from his “New and Selected Poems” (Houghton Mifflin, 1997) for her column, “Poet’s Choice 2008. Here’s a 1999 interview with Lux from the Courtland Review.

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

For some semitropical reason

when the rains fall

relentlessly they fall

into swimming pools, these otherwise

bright and scary

arachnids. They can swim

a little, but not for long

and they can’t climb the ladder out.

They usually drown — but

if you want their favor,

if you believe there is justice,

a reward for not loving

the death of ugly

and even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,

rats) creatures, if

you believe these things, then

you would leave a lifebuoy

or two in your swimming pool at night.

And in the morning

you would haul ashore

the huddled, hairy survivors

and escort them

back to the bush, and know,

be assured that at least these saved,

as individuals, would not turn up

again someday

in your hat, drawer,

or the tangled underworld

of your socks, and that even —

when your belief in justice

merges with your belief in dreams —

they may tell the others

in a sign language

four times as subtle

and complicated as man’s

that you are good,

that you love them,

that you would save them again.

“Tarantulas on a Lifebuoy” is from .

Mary Karr has published four books of poems, most recently “Sinners Welcome.”

Philip Levine: Our Valley

November 24, 2008

Still from PBS Video of poet Philip Levin, one of my favorites, reading “Belle Isle 1949” for the PBS project, Poetry Everywhere.

We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,
melted snow. I remember going under
hand in hand with a Polish highschool girl
I’d never seen before, and the cries
our breath made caught at the same time
on the cold, and rising through the layers
of darkness into the final moonless atmosphere
that was this world, the girl breaking
the surface after me and swimming out
on the starless waters towards the lights
of Jefferson Ave. and the stacks
of the old stove factory unwinking.
Turning at last to see no island at all
but a perfect calm dark as far
as there was sight, and then a light
and another riding low out ahead
to bring us home, ore boats maybe, or smokers
walking alone. Back panting
to the gray coarse beach we didn’t dare
fall on, the damp piles of clothes,
and dressing side by side in silence
to go back where we came from.

Here’s Levine’s page from the Academy of American Poets and a poem from the November 2008 Poetry:

Our Valley

We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

Philip Levine

Lannan Literary Awards

November 21, 2008

Photograph of poet Mark Doty from the LA Times whi won the National book award for Fire to Fire, his new and selected poems from Harper Collins (2008.)

Jordanian poet Islam Samhan arrested

October 23, 2008

Photo by Salah Malkawi for The National

Virgina Literary Awards

October 18, 2008

Acccording to tomorrow’s uncredited story in the Richmond Times Dispatch, which I’m guessing may be a press release reprint, Shenandoah editor R.T. Smith, who received the Library of Virginia 2002 poetry award for Messenger is again the recipient of the poetry prize for Outlaw Style: Poems which the of judges hailed as offering

a brooding understanding of both the riches and horrors of Southern culture.

He won out over other poetry finalists Blessings and Inclemencies by Constance Merritt and Littlefoot: A Poem by Charles Wright.

Wesley C. Hogan, assistant professor of history and co-director of the Institute for the Study of Race Relations at Virginia State University, won the non-fiction award for Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America which

explores how the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee broke open the caste system in the South and offers new insights into the internal dynamics of SNCC as well as the larger civil-rights and black-power movements.

The judges felt that …[she] reminds us of the ongoing quest for democracy while highlighting its complexity and fragility and thatHogan’s voluminous research and graceful style engaged the reader from beginning to end.

The other finalists for the nonfiction prize were Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and Peter Wallenstein for Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History. Honnorable mention went to What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War by Chandra Manning.

For the first time since the inception of the Library of Virginia Literary two awards for fiction to creative wrting professors. George Mason University’s Helon Habila for Measuring Time and Old Dominion Universaity’s Janet Peery for What the Thunder Said, are winners for the best work of fiction. The judges felt that the literary styles of both, though different, were

equally impressive and equally worthy of the award. “Measuring Time” plays with our conceptions of history, showing it as something lived and told rather than documented. In “What the Thunder Said,” the language and structure of the novel appear effortless, the judges said, the narrative voice is authentic and evocative of the Depression during the Dust Bowl years and Peery’s prose is beautifully lyrical.

This year’s other fiction finalist was The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown, who won the category in 2005 for Confinement and in 2001 for The Hatbox Baby.
. . .

The winner of the People’s Choice Award in the fiction category is Puss’n Cahoots by Rita Mae Brown and in the nonfiction category, Unruly Americans by Woody Holton. The finalists for these awards are selected by a panel of independent Virginia booksellers and librarians from the list of books nominated for the Library’s Literary Awards and winners are decided by readers voting online and in libraries.

David Wojahn, who teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and directs its creative writing program, received the Weinstein Poetry Prize. His first book, “Icehouse Lights,” won the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. He is the author of six collections of poetry. The Weinstein Prize winner is selected separately from the Library of Virginia’s Literary Awards by a special board of curators.

Pamela Duncan Edwards was honored for “The Old House,” winner of the second annual Whitney and Scott Cardozo Award for Children’s Literature.

Rita Dove is the recipient of the 2008 Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award. A former Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, Dove is the youngest person — and the first African-American — to receive this highest official honor in American letters. She held the position for two years. In 2004, then-Gov. Mark R. Warner appointed her Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a two-year position. Dove is Commonwealth Professor of Poetry at the University of Virginia.