Jo Bell; photograph ©Alastair Cook

Quite possibly the best thing about the Internet for a poet is the ease with which one can learn about other poets and their work from far-flung corners of the world.

Over the past few years I’ve come in contact with the poems of some remarkable poets whose work I may not ever have discovered through the traditional means of poetry publication and exchange.

And their work grows increasingly important to me as I get to know it better and, in some cases, get to know the poet through Facebook and other social media.

One of my absolute favorites is Jo Bell, to whose work I was first introduced by Alastair Cook. Alastair, who has made a couple of filmpoems featuring my poetry, has done a few with Jo as well.

Jo holds the unique position of UK Canal Poet Laureate, and lives on a narrow boat, “Tinker,” making her way around England. She’s a self-described “poetry freelancer,” sharing her wares like the tinkers of old their tin works. Only it’s poetry she’s repairing.  Her performances are brilliant and enjoyable (see her reading as part of Poets & Players at the Rylands Library).

Her signature verse is “The Shipwright’s Love Song,” and it’s a tour de force: replete with her timeless language, the double entendre of the ship/woman, her deft use of enjambment, such as “rudderless/ and yawing,” and slant rhymes “swell –/the smell,” the exclamation, a kind of gasp of recognition that begins the second stanza, “Oh, her skin was salt!” – and that ending, which you have to hear her read to truly appreciate the rhythm. Simply remarkable.

Much of Jo’s poetry does what poetry should do, makes you see things differently, to notice worlds new to you, and worlds you only thought you knew. Jo’s poems have what all well-written poems have in common, as I’ve written elsewhere: “They sing. They make you dance. And they give you a new way of looking at the world.”

Here is Jo Bell’s poem, “The Shipwright’s Love Song,”

 

Oh, but the lines of her!
The curve and glinting swell –
the smell, as sweet as pitch pine,
thick and hot as tar.
Oh, I was launched and splashing in the slipway,
happy to be rudderless
and yawing, mast head
touching to the foam.

Oh, but her skin was salt,
was starred with gasping salt beneath my tongue,
and slowly
she came round to me –
bucking and slipping at my touch,
making way in fits and starts
to reach me and be calm.

Later, long before she rocked me into sleep
I saw the seas, saw all of them in one blue ache:
unlandmarked, vast; horizonless.

 

c) 2003 Jo Bell. Used by permission of the author.

 

Here is Jo reading the poem: Shipwright on Soundcloud

And here is a videopoem version by Marc Neys (aka Swoon): Shipwright by Swoon

If you enjoy this poem, do yourself (and her) a favor and order Jo’s book, NAVIGATION, which is available through Moormaid Press in the UK: NAVIGATION

The Telegraph has a nice profile of Jo this weekend: Jo Bell in the Telegraph

And, finally, you can follow Jo’s blog, here: Bell Jar Blog

 

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Block Island Southeast Lighthouse, 1875. Photo by SEA.

Block Island Southeast Lighthouse, 1875. Photo by SEA.

When you read this, I’ll be on yet another island with Samantha, this time Isla de Vieques, an island-municipality of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean, part of a group of islands some call the Spanish Virgin Islands.

Much of the island was formerly a bombing range of the US Navy (most of that area is now a National Wildlife Refuge), so much of Vieques was long closed to tourism.

Islands always make me think of lighthouses, of which there are two on Vieques, the ruins of Puerto Ferro and the restored Punta Mulas lighthouse.

Thinking about visiting those lighthouses reminded me of Alfred Corn’s poem, “Lighthouse,” which closes his latest collection, Tables.

I first became aware of Alfred’s poetry when I worked on the editorial staff at Viking Press in the late 1980s. Viking published his collection The West Door and his essay collection, The Metamorphoses of Metaphor. I also worked on his anthology, Incarnation: Contemporary Writers on the New Testament, which featured writers such as Annie Dillard, Robert Hass, Anthony Hecht, and John Hersey.

According to the biographical entry on the Poetry Foundation’s website, “Early in his career, Corn says, he aimed to write poetry that sounded like conversation and to find ‘verbal equivalents for visual realities.’ These conversational patterns have evolved into an attention to rhythm and an eye for detail. He often employs strict formal and metrical devices in his personal and social histories.”

As poet Thomas Disch has written about Corn’s poetry, “It is not the regnant mode among poetry academics at the moment, but since at least the time of Byron and Wordsworth it has been the kind of poetry that most commends itself to readers of poetry.”

I commend to you, dear readers of poetry, Alfred Corn’s poem, “Lighthouse”:

 

Pilot at the helm of a hidden

headland it steers free

from convergence with the freighter

when fog and storm clouds gather

 

Sparking communiqué no full stop ends

its broadcast performed in a three-sixty sweep

the cycle burning up five solar seconds

 

Midnight eye that blinks away

invisibility a high beam

revealing as it scans whatever seas

or ships return terra firma’s landmark gaze

 
c) 2010 Alfred Corn, used by permission of the author.

 

Erica reading the poem at the wedding of Samantha and Scott, April 5th, 2014.

Erica reading the poem at the wedding of Samantha and Scott, April 5th, 2014. Photo by David Feldt.

When Samantha and I married last Saturday evening, we weren’t just bringing together our hearts, bodies, minds, and souls; we were bringing together our two families.

Each of us has three children from our previous marriages — my two boys and a girl; her two girls and a boy.

Comparisons to “The Brady Bunch,” the eponymous 1970s TV series, with which we grew up, are ever-present. “Except we don’t have Alice,” we usually reply.

We wanted our children to be incorporated into the ceremony. And they were: my oldest son, Jasper, was best man; Samantha’s oldest son performed “In My Life” by The Beatles on guitar for the processional.

Walker, my younger boy, was ring-bearer, while his twin sister, Elizabeth, and Samantha’s youngest, Sasha, were “bridesmaids bearing flowers,” decidedly not “flower girls.” Samantha’s older daughter, Erica, was asked to give a reading during the community blessings segment of the ceremony.

I was tasked with finding an appropriate poem for Erica to read.

“Perhaps something about a blended family,” Samantha suggested. Scanning the Internet, I came up empty. How could there be no poems about blended families? (Or, at least, poems worthy of the name in this poet’s opinion.)

The poems I found were either over-written, overly sentimental or just plain bad. This seemed a shame in an age when blended families are almost commonplace.

So I wrote one. Luckily, the poetry group to which I belong, “52,” came along with a weekly prompt for a poem on praise.

Erica did an amazing job reading it at the wedding and we were all very proud of her — and not a few of us were moved to tears. This was not so much a validation of the poem’s value, but because she delivered it with so much feeling. I post it here in the hope that other couples on the path of blending their families may be searching for a way to honor such a beautiful and complex union.

Here is my poem in praise of the “Blended Family”:

 

When families are blended
it’s not like a smoothie,
where all the ingredients
combine to make a new flavor.
In the multiflavored family,
each flavor remains unique,
each name remains its own.

There is joy in blending families,
but sometimes tears, too.
You don’t deny the one for
the other, you are more
together, yet equal apart.
You are “and” rather than “or.”
There is more of you–

So praise our blended family,
let it bring abundance into all our lives.
Let there be strength in our numbers,
as there are now more shoulders
to lean on, more hands to lend,
more hearts to be kept in,
more love to share in its union and bond.

And let each of us
make the best that is all of us
shine more brightly, now, together.

 

–Scott Edward Anderson

 

 

 

 

Our JourneyThis is a very special April for me, and a very special first poem for this 2014 edition of National Poetry Month. Tomorrow, Saturday, April 5th, I am getting married to my best friend, soul mate, partner, and fiancee, Samantha.

Ours has been a long road with many obstacles, detours, and diversions to finally arrive at where we are going to be on this certain April day.

I wrote a poem for the occasion. Actually, I wrote it for the poetry group to which I belong called 52, which is challenging me to write a poem each week during the year. We decided to print the poem on the back of the program for the wedding (see photo).

Poet Jo Bell (whose work I will feature later in the month) started group 52 and supplies most of the prompts for this virtual poetry workshop that numbers over 500 members worldwide. (You can find the prompts here: 52.) One week, the prompt was to write about Journeys. It was the perfect prompt to get me thinking about how we got here.

Here is my poem “Our Journey”:

 

How did we get here?
We say it all began with a yes,
But, really, it all began
With an across-the-room
Magnetism, with a searing
Feeling every time I tried to look away.
As if, there was something I had to see,
That only you could show me
And that I didn’t know you had.
What was it? You’ve shown it
To me almost every day since.
A fabric rent and become whole again,
A mystery with a resolution
That surprises us, every time.
A face as if seen through glass,
Scratched or etched
To a fine filigreed, subtle design.
No, no, that’s not it.
It’s more like glass that’s been glazed
With a pale, soapy film,
Which, once it is rubbed off,
Is clearer than the glass itself.
The two of us on separate, nearly parallel paths,
Not knowing we were looking for each other.
So many times, our paths nearly crossed,
But didn’t. Near misses we can only attribute to –
To what? Some kind of cruel,
But beautiful joke played by the Fates?
Nevertheless, here we are,
Together at last or again or finally.
On a journey together that results in a walk
Together down another path
On this certain April day.

 

–Scott Edward Anderson

 

5 Questions for Poets

April 2, 2014

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, Charles Demuth (American, 1883–1935)

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, Charles Demuth (American, 1883–1935)

Jonathan Hobratsch, writing in the Huffington Post, celebrates National Poetry Month by posing 5 questions by readers of poetry to some of the “top poets” writing today. Alfred Corn posted the questions to his friends on Facebook.

Here are my answers:

1. Do the Internet and social media contribute to the well-being of poetry?

On the plus side, my work has reached audiences beyond the reach of traditional publishing venues, and I’ve met and been exposed to poets from around the world whose work I could not have otherwise found. My community of poets has grown and challenged my work in new and fascinating ways.

2. What do most poorly-written poems have in common?

Language or structure that doesn’t serve the poem. Over-writing or lazy writing. Sentimentality. Lack of music. Basically, when it’s clear the poet hasn’t listened to the poem.

3. What do most well-written poems have in common?

They sing. They make you dance. And they give you a new way of looking at the world.

4. How important is accessibility of meaning? Should one have to work hard to “solve” the poem?

Poetry should be neither a Rubik’s cube nor a road sign.

5. What book are you reading right now?

All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, the Legendary Irish Famine Ship by Kathryn Miles; The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert McFarlane; Orr: My Story by Bobby Orr; and Navigation by Jo Bell.

Here’s a link to the original article: 5 Questions for Poets