December 27, 2013
Who’s to say how images come to stick in our mind and how they make their way into our poetry?
There’s an image of my oldest son, Jasper, that stuck with me over the years and I recently ran across a photograph that captured the image and inspired lines in my poem, “Becoming.”
“The way a sunflower towers over a child,
each year growing shorter–
–no, the child growing taller.”
In the photograph my son is in the summer of his second year. We we were living in Anchorage, Alaska, where the sunflowers grow tall in the nearly full-day sun.
He’s measuring himself up against a sunflower — and bending the sunflower down to touch his head.
There are other images of Jasper in his youth that appear in that poem and things that we saw out on hikes together.
Here is my poem, “Becoming”:
Say that childhood memory
has more relevance than yesterday–
a moose calf curled up against the side of a house
merely saying it may make it so.
The way a sunflower towers over a child,
each year growing shorter–
a hermit crab crawling out of a coconut
–no, the child growing taller.
a sharp-shinned hawk swooping over a stubble field
imagining the earth, “the earth is all before me,”
blossoming as it stretches to the sun–
a brilliant red eft – baby salamander — held aloft in a small, pink hand
Is home the mother’s embrace?
a white cabbage butterfly flitting atop purple flox
The child sees his world or hers
stroking the furry back of a bumblebee
head full of seed, until it droops,
spent, ready to sow the seeds.
Say that our presence in the world
a millipede curling up at the child’s slightest touch
is making the book of our becoming.
–Scott Edward Anderson
December 16, 2013
So it will come as no surprise when you learn I’ve written a Foreword to a new book called Poetry at Work: (Masters in Fine Living Series) by Glynn Young, himself a poet who has worked for many years in the world of business.
You should definitely buy the book — for yourself and for your colleagues, which you can do by clicking on this link: Poetry at Work: (Masters in Fine Living Series). Here is my Foreword:
On the one-year anniversary of 9/11, we held a vigil or memorial service in the office where I worked. We thought it best to set aside time to reflect, remember, and reconnect with each other.
Gathering in the conference room, we shared our thoughts, memories, and connections, our stories, prayers, and poems.
I read W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” and we followed it with a moment of silence. Others shared poems, told of where they were when they heard the news, someone sang a hymn, I believe; most of us cried.
It was the most powerful staff meeting I’d ever attended.
Later that day, I circulated Auden’s poem by email to my colleagues at work and to a larger poetry email list I maintain for National Poetry Month.
The poem, Auden’s reaction to the Nazi invasion of Poland, seemed an appropriate response to the shock we all still felt about the attack on the World Trade towers, and the massive loss of life such as we hadn’t experienced on our soils since the Civil War.
Auden, writing not far from lower Manhattan, begins the poem,
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
This poem was widely circulated in the aftermath of 9/11, as if the poem struck a collective chord both emotional and visceral. Great poetry is timeless.
Back in the mid-to-late 90s, I delivered a series of talks about poetry and business life to groups of corporate leaders, Rotary clubs, and small business associations. I read poems — not my own — about how it felt to fire someone, what it was like for a woman in corporate America, and why it’s so hard to let go when you retire.
I loved the reactions of the businessmen in the room, especially the older men who had experienced a lot of the feelings described.
Invariably, most nodded along with something that hit home; many looked skyward and blinked back tears. Poetry moved them to tears.
Poetry at work is no longer an anomaly. David Whyte, Clare Morgan, James Autry, and others helped make it acceptable. So, too, did many individual leaders and managers who were open to letting poetry into their companies, offices, and discourse.
In Poetry at Work, Glynn Young argues for the poetry of work — at work, in work, and in the workplace. He finds it in the big things, such as the crisis to which he helped respond as a speechwriter for a chemical company, and in the small, everyday interactions we all experience at the office.
Long ago I received a bit of advice from an older poet who told me to go out and get a real job and write about real life. It was sage counsel and I am the better for it. I have no regrets about being a working poet rather than an academic.
I have spent my entire working life as a poet. Indeed, I was a poet even before I had my first job.
The closest I ever came to having a traditional “poetry job” was when I worked on the editorial staff at Viking Press — that and one lecture on the process of revision given at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
I have always tried to bring my poetry to my work life and to let my work life influence my poetry. The work that lent itself best to my poetry was the 15 years I spent with The Nature Conservancy, in part because much of my poetry is focused on the natural world and our species’ relationship with it.
The Conservancy offered me opportunities for first-hand field observations, unparalleled access to the scientific knowledge of some of the world’s foremost biologists, and travel to many of the Earth’s last great and most spectacular places.
My time with the Conservancy provided a beautiful symbiosis between my work and my poetry. I have not since been able to reclaim that symbiosis, yet my work life still informs my poetry in other ways.
I may not find direct, poetic inspiration from my day job now, but it affects the way I work on my poetry. Rather than writing late at night after being out in the field, I now find odd, furtive moments: walking to or from the office between meetings, on my subway commute, and while waiting for elevators.
Occasionally, I’ll be struck by some phrase or sentence heard on a conference call and I’ll worry it until finding its marrow or proving it useless. Part of it might resurface while I’m driving between cities or on an airplane or it may be lost forever.
I had a meeting a little over a year ago with a European colleague at the Grand Hyatt in New York. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance from outside the firm for which we both work.
As we met and ascended the stairs to the Lounge at New York Central, I was reminded of a poem I wrote in that bar many years ago, while working for an international publishing agency.
“Drink Meeting at the Grand Hyatt Sun Garden” wasn’t a very good poem, I think, but it well illustrated my discomfort at the time, as an artist in a business setting.
The name of the bar has changed, as has my comfort level with business life over the years. Here is “Drink Meeting at the Grand Hyatt Sun Garden”:
Jazz standards fill the atrium,
black and white and one uniform shade of gray
—is this a Woody Allen film?
I’m waiting for Soandso on business,
not my business,
but the people I work for, theirs—
Any moment Woody will walk in
with Mia Farrow or Somebody,
an entourage, paparazzi.
He’ll head straight for my table,
and shake my hand;
the press will want to know
who I am, and I’ll no longer
be “a minor poet, not very conspicuous.”
I fight the urge to bolt
out of the Sun Garden bar
and find some dark, unmonikered pub,
like those my father frequented.
I realize the discomfort he must have felt
when he’d visit the clean, well-lighted
establishments of Tokyo, or LA, or Miami
on business, not his
but the people he worked for, theirs—
This is not my world:
a foreign post for a poet
and accidental businessman.
I suspect they’d throw me out
if not for my Brooks Brothers suit
and American Express card, not mine
but the people I work for, theirs—
Soandso is late, or lost,
or has forgotten…no,
it turns out she’s been waiting
in the lobby, fifteen minutes, twenty,
only just now thought
to check the bar—“Silly me…”
No Woody, no Mia, no Diane Keaton.
(But wait, isn’t that Mr. Shawn by the piano?
And isn’t that Donald Trump on the divan?)
Just a meeting, information shared—
perhaps, one day, we could be friends—
not my business,
but what has become mine—
I light a cigarette after Soandso has gone.
“Are you finished with this one, sir?”
I order another drink
and finish my poem. This
is my business.
The world is my office.
I try to bring poetry to my work life as much as possible, whether I’m giving a speech or presentation, leading trainings or writing copy for an annual report or business plan.
It’s not always easy to bring poetry to work, but as my friend the management consultant Cam Danielson says, poetry adds a dimension to me that others don’t have — a way of paying attention to and perceiving the world that perhaps challenges or even changes the worldview of others.
In the end, we don’t give ourselves enough time for poetry — at work or at home. If we did, our business life might be less stressful and more satisfying. We might find our work more rewarding. We might, as Young suggests in his book, find the poetry at work.
–Scott Edward Anderson
November 12, 2013
A stellar lineup of poets, musicians, publishers, and poetry organizations gathered last night to pay tribute to Seamus Heaney.
Heaney, the 1995 Nobel laureate in literature, died after a fall on Friday, August 30, 2013, in Dublin. He had suffered a stroke in 2006.
The event, organized by the Poetry Society of America, the Academy of American Poets, Poets House, the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y, the Irish Arts Center PoetryFest, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Heaney’s US publisher, took place at the Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City, an appropriate venue for such a stentorian public poetic figure.
Among the readers were Heaney’s fellow Irish poets Eamon Greenan, Eavan Boland, Greg Delanty, and Paul Muldoon, along with Tracy K. Smith, Kevin Young, Jane Hirshfield, and Yusef Komunyakaa. You can read the full list here: Heaney Tribute.
One poem that was missing was one that I thought of shortly after the news of Heaney’s death. We were heading out to Martha’s Vineyard for a week with Samantha’s family to celebrate the 70th year of her mother, Lee Langbaum. The New York Times the morning we left had Heaney’s picture on the front page and ran his obituary, but I could get to it until much later in the day, aboard the ferry.
It was sad news indeed, for those of us who loved his poetry and for the world that lost a remarkable voice. Heaney was a wonderful poet and a warmhearted man, as most of the people gathered at Cooper Union last night — whether on stage or off — would attest.
I only met him twice, and only very briefly after readings, but he was gracious and generous both times. The last time I saw him was at a reading three years ago or so at Villanova University.
The poem that came to mind on Martha’s Vineyard, came to me as we were talking with the oyster shucker outside of Home Port Restaurant in Menemsha. Of course it was “Oysters,” a poem that was missing last night.
Here is Seamus Heaney’s “Oysters”:
Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.
Alive and violated,
They lay on their bed of ice:
Bivalves: the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean –
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.
We had driven to that coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool of thatch and crockery.
Over the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters south of Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege
And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.
–Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013
October 25, 2013
Brooklyn Poets is a great new organization that hosts a reading series, poetry writing classes and workshops, as well as a monthly “YAWP,” which allows poets to try out new work or share old work.
They also produce some of the coolest t-shirts available.
Each week, they feature a Brooklyn-based poet on their website, Brooklyn Poets, including one of their poems and an interview conducted via email.
I was honored to be Brooklyn Poet of the Week for October 14-20, 2013. They featured my poem “Running,” along with a brief explanation about the writing of the poem, and the interview below.
What are you working on right now?
Promoting my new book of poems, FALLOW FIELD. I have a bunch of poems I wrote last April during National Poetry Month that need my attention soon, and another big poem and prose project I put aside some years ago and need to get back to work on. I also have another book of non-fiction that is in proposal development with my agent.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day is spent with the love of my life, Samantha, doing whatever we want, with or without our kids (we have 6 between us), and always involves some poetry, cooking a good meal, drinking some wine, eating chocolate, plenty of coffee, and a whole lotta love. And, these days, exploring Brooklyn, our home.
How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?
I returned to Brooklyn nearly two years ago and live in Park Slope, although I spend part of every week in Philadelphia, where my kids live. I lived in Carroll Gardens and Bay Ridge years ago. I love Park Slope because it feels like a small town and we’re close to the Park. I love city life, but I need to be close to its nature, too.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.
Samantha and I got engaged this spring and when we were looking for a venue for our wedding, we stumbled upon the Green Building in Carroll Gardens. It used to be a brass foundry. When she sent me their website to check out, I noticed the building is located on the corner of Union and Bond. What better place for a wedding? It felt like the Brooklyn gods were shining on us.
Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?
Auden, Whitman, Marianne Moore, David Ignatow and Ada Limón. Auden for his variety; Whitman, his YAWP; Moore for her eccentricity; Ignatow for his mundane humor; and Ada for the beauty of her language and vision.
Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?
Greenlight, definitely, for the selection and the layout. Community Bookstore in my hood. Unnameable Books in Prospect Heights, which has a great selection of used poetry books. I’m looking forward to that new poetry-only bookstore, Berl’s. Why? Because we need more bookstores full of poetry. (And the Grolier Bookshop is too far away from Brooklyn.)
Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn?
Prospect Park. I do a lot of my composing in my head, especially while walking. The park is perfect for wandering. Some of the poems I wrote in April when I was writing a poem each day were composed on my iPhone on the 2 or 3 train. As for reading, I love reading in bed to my fiancée; she falls asleep whenever I start reading to her, but I just keep going.
Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?
Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Sharlene’s on Flatbush (a new favorite), the Farmer’s Market in Grand Army Plaza, Little Neck, the 4th Avenue Pub (an old favorite), and of course 61 Local, which I learned about from the Brooklyn Poets YAWP. Our kitchen is one of my favorite places in Brooklyn. I love cooking in our kitchen. My son Jasper says my meals there are “on point AND on point.”
Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate food,
And what I love to cook you should love to eat,
For every meal I prepare cheers me as good and good for you.
If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.
My kids got their faith from their fa-ther:
Red Sox fans, not fans of the Dodgers.
Whether living in Alaska, Philly or Brooklyn
And tho’ we show respect when Mo’ comes out the pen,
It’s the “B” and scarlet socks that we’re love-in
And those gold black and white ones once worn by Robby–
Bobby Orr, y’all, to me as a kid he was bigger than Biggie.
When we traded him to Chi’town that was a sin.
Blackhawks didn’t know Bobby and they don’t know Jack.
My love, Samantha, is here and wherever my love is, that’s my home.
Thanks to Jason Koo and Brooklyn Poets for featuring me as Brooklyn Poet of the Week.
October 23, 2013
My reading of the poem comes from Kelly Writer’s House at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, recorded on September 22, 2008.
As with his filmpoem of another of my poems from this collection, “Naming,” Alastair’s vision of my poem is impressionistic rather than literal.
There’s a great synergy between my words and the flow and textures of his film, especially the way the woman’s hair mimics the rye grass waving in the wind and how the occasional flash of her lips seem to kiss goodbye what the subject of my poem never could.
You can watch Alastair’s filmpoem here:
September 16, 2013
This fall, the Aldrich Press is publishing my long-awaited new collection of poetry, FALLOW FIELD.
The book consists of 45 poems, representing my best work from the past quarter century.
You can order your signed copy of FALLOW FIELD here:
My poetry has received the Nebraska Review Award and the Aldrich Emerging Poets Award, and I have been a Concordia Fellow at the Millay Colony for the Arts.
My poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, and anthologies or online, including the American Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Anon, La Petite Zine, Many Mountains Moving, and Terrain, among other publications.
I am also the author of a book of natural history, Walks in Nature’s Empire, published by The Countryman Press in 1995.
The paperback book is 96 pages, including front and back matter, with a gorgeous cover photograph by my good friend Joshua Sheldon (see picture), which was taken at the same time and has the same origin of inspiration as the title poem. (You can read the poem and its story here: “Fallow Field.”)
Here is what others have said about this collection, FALLOW FIELD:
“Scott Edward Anderson’s poems honor the reality that the things of the world – rye grass, fall warblers, ravens, owls, ‘Sargassum drifting/ in a pelagic wave,’ lovers and sourdough bread – speak to and for our innerness. Here the sense of place is not simply a matter of geography, but of feeling one’s way into that sense of becoming that makes one’s path clear. The book’s fourth section is comprised of poems that beautifully embrace the very human need to join the inner and outer, a territory defined, as the poem titles suggest, by ‘Becoming,’ ‘Shapeshifting,’ ‘Cultivating,’ ‘Mapping,’ and ‘Healing.’ Guided since childhood, as the book’s closing long poem relates, by nature’s teaching, Anderson is devoted to finding the words for what it means to dwell mindfully among others on the wounded earth.”
–Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Rope: Poems
“I was impressed by Anderson’s engagement with nature — especially the way in which his lyrical lines sketch the profound relationship between humans and their environment.”
– Jonathan Galassi, author of Left-handed: Poems
“Wow, Pop, I had no idea you wrote so many poems!”
– Walker Anderson, the author’s 10-year-old son
My poetry is rooted in nature and grounded in what Robert Hass called the “strong central tradition of free verse made out of both romanticism and modernism, split between the impulses of an inward and psychological writing and an outward and realist one, at its best fusing the two.” (Hass, Introduction to Best American Poetry 2001)
I studied with Hass and with Gary Snyder, along with the late Walter Pavlich, and received some great mentoring and advice from poets Alison Hawthorne Deming, Donald Hall, Colette Inez, and Karen Swenson, as well as wonderful friends and readers.
My poetry is informed by a deep engagement with the natural world, attuned to the smallest details and complexities of nature and our experience of place. Attentiveness and mindfulness are critical to my method of working, both as the poem first evolves and later, through the often rigorous process of revision.
I believe poetry is the most direct language with which to approach our place in the world and reconnect us to nature. By nature, I mean not only the natural world, but also the built environment; not only the processes and causal powers of the physical world, but our immediate experience of the spiritual and the non-human.
For the past twenty five years, I have been building a body of poetry that tries to achieve my goal of writing that is open, approachable, and eminently readable, at the same time that it is intellectual and revels in the joy of language. FALLOW FIELD represents the best of my poetry over that time.
Order your signed copy of FALLOW FIELD below: