After 10 years, eight royal poems and 700 bottles of sherry as payment, UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion steps down from the role at the end of April.

He looks back at his experiences while in the post, both good and bad, and offers up a bit of advice for his successor.

Read the interview here: BBC Motion

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Two articles about Afghan poets in two days. What are the odds? Yet, here are two stories that, if you care about poetry, you will want to read:

The first, from the Sunday Times of London, is about a 25-year-old woman, the late Nadia Anjuman, a poet who risked her life to keep writing under the Taliban, and who was murdered by her husband after publishing her first book:

The defiant poets’ society. Attending a reading and writing class like this one could end in mutilation or murder for Afghan women — and simply leaving their homes could mean death. Christina Lamb returns to Afghanistan seven years after the fall of the Taliban and finds a country still rife with the persecution of females.

Read the full story here: Nadia Anjuman

The second, from the BBC, is about how the violence in Afghanistan is affecting the themes of contemporary Pashto poets. In a country with a rich poetic tradition, poetry remains relevant and vibrant today:

Afghan poets tackle scars of war by Dawood Azami. The violence in Afghanistan and the Pashtun-inhabited parts of Pakistan is making itself felt on the cultural and social life of the Pashtuns.

Read it here: Pashtun Poetry

Humbled after reading these two stories, in the wake of my post from Saturday whining about not yet having my book published.

For more on Nadia Anjunam’s poetry: Universe

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“Rejected is such a harsh word….I prefer…declined,” a friend wrote to me after I Twittered about a recent rejection.

While I appreciate her sentiment and her affection, a rejection by any other name still smells not sweet.

I’ve started to send out a manuscript of poems again, after a few year hiatus. I’m targeting a select list of publishing houses that have open submission periods. So I need to steal myself against rejection, knowing how few books of poetry get published each year.

There are a few first book contests I’ll probably enter as well (I’ve come close a couple of times with an earlier iteration of my ms), but the fees have gotten higher and I’m not convinced that’s the way to go.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had either the time or inclination to submit, but I’ve worked over this manuscript quite a bit these past few years.

I have sent it — or a slightly different version — to two poets with whom I’ve studied or worked in the past, and they have both said it’s ready. And the bulk of the poems have been published in journals or magazines, both in print or online.

Nothing prepares you for rejection, however. When that note comes in the mail or over email it is still like a slap in the face. And yet, as another friend once told me, you need to just look up who is next on the list and send it out to them. It’s like an assembly line.

So, I accept that a certain publisher didn’t find room on its list for an important first book, that they rejected it or declined to take it on, and I’ll move on to the next on the list.

I can’t think of anything better to say on Earth Day than what the early classical Tamil poet Auvaiyar wrote two millennia ago:

Bless you, earth:

field,
forest,
valley,
or hill,

you are only as good
as the good young men
in each place.

Auvaiyar (Tamil: ஔவையார்)(also Auvayar) was the name of one of the most famous and important female poets of the Tamil canon of southern India.  She lived during the Sangam period (c. first and second century C.E.) and wrote 59 poems in Purananuru (புறநானூறு).

Poems translated by A.K. Ramanujan from Poems of Love and War.

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I was reading Steven Johnson’s Wall Street Journal article on “How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write,” Monday morning and began to wonder about how the E-Book will change poetry publishing and writing.

I love books, always have, since I was a little kid and my Aunt Liz gave me a copy of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

I collect books.  Not in the way a rare or first edition collector does, although I do have a small group of 1sts, but rather as a collector of, well, books, of literature.

Many of the books have their own stories, especially the books of poetry that line the dozen or more shelves in my living room: where I purchased the book, how I learned about the poet, what I was doing in Berkeley or New York or Paris or India or wherever when I bought it.

Now along comes the Kindle.  How will that change the way I read or write poetry?  How will affect how I buy poetry? How empty my bookshelves would seem if all my books were in electronic form.

Most of the poetry titles I buy fall into three categories: the latest collection of poems by poets whose work I am interested in (or poets I know); new poets I read about in Poets & Writers or find in a journal; and books I stumble upon either in a used bookstore (less frequent these days) or the local bookstore chain.

One thing I find disturbing about Johnson’s review of the Kindle experience was how he (or any Kindle reader) could suddenly stop reading one book and quickly download another.

While I appreciate that hyperlinks may help illuminate a text or help you learn more about what you are reading, it bothers me that books will never be read the same way again.

(And if hyperlinks are de rigueur in E-Books, can ads be far behind?).

Of course, this can lead, to use Johnson’s own words to, “Entirely new forms of discovery.”

I like what Johnson says about imagining “a software tool that scans through the bibliographies of the 20 books you’ve read on a specific topic, and comes up with the most-cited work in those bibliographies that you haven’t encountered yet.”

This reminds me of my old practice of scanning the Index of biographies of famous poets for the names of writers associated with them.  Eliot–>Pound–>Joyce, is one voyage of discovery I remember well.

But this can be taken to the extreme: I’d hate to see an “intelligent” recommendations search incorporated such as they have on Amazon: “Readers who are reading this book are also reading…” Ugh.

I’m intrigued, but also a little concerned about the notion of “a la carte pricing,” which Johnson says “will emerge, as it has in the marketplace for digital music.

“Readers will have the option to purchase a chapter for 99 cents, the same way they now buy an individual song on iTunes,” suggests Johnson. “The marketplace will start to reward modular books that can be intelligibly split into standalone chapters.”

So, for fiction, we’re looking at the return of the serial.  But what about poetry, which may have to devise another pricing scheme, such as “per line” or a minimum purchase per poem.

(And how will poetry fare when it is “competing with every page of every other book that has ever been written”?)

If the Kindle already includes blog or newspaper subscriptions, can journal or individual poet subscriptions be far behind? How about a “Poem-of-the-Month” Club? Anybody game?

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John Timpane wrote about the Philadelphia Poetry Scene in the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend:

San Francisco is famous as a great poetry town. As it should be.

But move over, San Fran: Philadelphia should be as famous for poetry as it is for cheesesteak and Rocky. Philly is a bursting cauldron, a dizzying maelstrom, a chorusing kennel, yea, a mad laser light show of verse.

This area offers renowned journals such as the American Poetry Review and a whole raft of vibrant Web sites for poetry and literature, such as the Fox Chase Review and the Wild River Review. Besides its series of readings by the world-famous, the Free Library also offers Monday Poets, a reading series/open-mike (where all comers can read), on the first Monday of every month from October to April. It’s in the Skyline Room of the Central Library, which, says coordinator Amy Thatcher, “has got to have the best view of Center City” in town. For next year, she’s looking for good poets from all over the area.

Read the full article: Philadelphia Poetry Scene

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“Once I asked myself, when was I happy?
I was looking at a February sky.
When did the light hold me and I didn’t struggle?”

–Deborah Digges, “Broom”

I guess the light stopped holding her.  Deborah Digges died a week ago, an apparent suicide, having fallen from the top of McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

I’m saddened by the suicide of this remarkable poet.  And wondering why so many poets seem to burn so hot they flame out and can’t find their way out.

I was troubled by the suicide of biologist Nicholas Hughes, whose mother took her own life in a famous episode many years ago, earlier this month.  And I was troubled by the mass suicide of Indian farmers reported earlier this week.

Clearly Ms. Digges struggled.  Failed marriages.  The death of her last husband three years after marrying him. Rescuing her son from the brink.

Yet it doesn’t make it any easier, thinking of her standing at the top of that stadium in Amherst, contemplating or not. Did she hesitate, reconsider?

She was, as Tufts English Department Chairman Lee Edelman said, “a poet of breathtaking talent and astonishing verbal dexterity. Her poems join a keen and unsentimental intelligence with a passionate love for the particularities of things in their beauty, their transience, and their complexity.”

I remember when Ms. Digges’ first collection, Vesper Sparrows, came out; it was quite an achievement.   Poet Jorie Graham, whose work I greatly admired at the time (1986) wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Ms. Digges poems asked “of nature that it sing along and provide, at every turn, proof of our rightful place among things.”

She wrote from the intersection of humanity and nature, and often explored the interstices between the two.  She seemed filled with and fully committed to understanding our relationship with the natural world, but also our destructive tendencies.

Here is Deborah Digges’ poem “Trapeze,” in its entirety.  And a link to an audio file to hear her read it:

See how the first dark takes the city in its arms
and carries it into what yesterday we called the future.

O, the dying are such acrobats.
Here you must take a boat from one day to the next,

or clutch the girders of the bridge, hand over hand.
But they are sailing like a pendulum between eternity and evening,

diving, recovering, balancing the air.
Who can tell at this hour seabirds from starlings,

wind from revolving doors or currents off the river.
Some are as children on swings pumping higher and higher.

Don’t call them back, don’t call them in for supper.
See, they leave scuff marks like jet trails on the sky.

Trapeze by Deborah Digges

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