Howl and Other Poems was published in the fall...

City Lights Books' Pocket Poets Series made poetry portable.

I started this post back in October, before becoming aware of quite a number of Poetry Apps for smartphones — that’s what I get for being stuck with a BlackBerry Storm, which sucks at storing apps and is so bad that no one in their right mind would write an app for it much less have one…er…ah…yeah.

Anyway, I’ll amend this post at the end with a few links to good lists of apps, which you can try if you are an iPhone or iPad user or perhaps even an HTC or Android user.  At some point, I’ll join you.  Here’s what I wrote in October:

My pal Andy Swan had a lively dialogue recently that I overheard on Twitter.   He was talking about letting innovators innovate and not be beholden to some altruistic standard that dictates what they should work on.

(Microlending site Kiva.org is wrestling with this question, too, as they recently admitted their main competitor is, well, “Farmville,” the game where you can waste time tending a virtual farm instead of helping Kiva build real farms.)

Anyway, one of Andy’s points was about whether innovators should focus on solving societal ills or focus on solving problems that gnaw at them.

“What if Edison[‘s] not being able to read at night is not a legitimate problem while others starve,” Andy wrote.

He went on to say, “Innovators should build what they love.  The market will distribute.”

I wondered what I would build if I were to just build what I love.  And it got me thinking.  I would love to build a new way of distributing poetry; one that makes it easy, portable and enjoyable for people.

What I’m thinking is something between and app and a book.  As transformational as City Lights BooksPocket Poets series, only with better design and more consistent, high quality poetry.

Of course — like my idea from over a decade ago for a poetry cable TV channel — there’s no money in it. Would that my interests were more like the virtual corruption you can participate in on “Mafia Wars,” but there it is.

I mentioned the idea to a dear friend of mine who said that perhaps I’m wrong; maybe there is a market for it. Not a huge market, perhaps, but certainly more than just a handful.

What features would you want in such an app, device, or “book”?  Searchable index by poet, title, first line, assumed first line, theme, occasion, time-period, style?

It wouldn’t have to be a huge amount of storage on a device or would it? Could it be in the cloud and accessed via the cloud? Would you have to build in incentives for people to continue using it, contests, triva, etc.?

I’m just throwing this out there and will wrestle with it down the road. I may even pull together a Survey Monkey to gauge the interest need for features, and where the money is going to come from.

 

Well, it turned out there are quite a few apps out there already, so my idea was a little late in the game.  Here are some links to some lists of apps you may want to explore:

Quick Access to Poetry in the Age of Technology (NY Times)
An essential poetry app as addictive as raspberries (Poetry Foundation)
Poetry Apps (Randall Weiss blog)
Poetry Apps (Emerging Writer blog)
Apps for Poets (App Advice b log)
A New Poetry App for the iPhone (Brian Spear)

I like what Spear, a poet and editor of The Rumpus, says in that last post about his ideal poetry app (back in May of 2010!):

The poetry app of my dreams is an aggregator, one that scans the web daily for new publications and then pulls them into a reader.  It would need to push traffic to the online journals of origin and would have to include a way to limit the places you receive poetry from–maybe set it up so that the user gets a poem from a place and then decides whether or not to receive future updates from that journal.  Swindle is a start toward that on the web, but I haven’t found anything like that for the iPhone yet.

Has that need been met?  Do you have a poetry app you recommend?  Do you want to build one with me?  What would you build if you could build what you love?

 

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John Haines Photo © Dorothy Alexander

In the spring of 1997, I was living in Anchorage, Alaska, and was invited by the University of Alaska Anchorage to put together a program for their annual Writing Rendezvous conference.

I thought about the fact that I was in Alaska and we were coming to the close of a century and that poetry seemed to be at a crossroads.

And then I thought about John Haines.  Any panel on poetry in Alaska must feature John Haines, I thought. Haines was a kind of unofficial permanent poet laureate of Alaska.

Since moving there to homestead in 1947, Haines had crafted and composed poetry of great solitude and sincerity out of his Alaska experience.

Haines was pleased to join the panel, although he said something about being too old to be of interest to the audience.  Then I told him the panel would be rounded out by a young spoken word poet and an Alaska Native woman poet.  He got a spark and became more interested in the prospect.

I don’t remember much about the panel — and I confess I don’t have my notes at hand.  It was called “Poetry at the Edge of the Millennium” or somesuch.  I do remember the panelists were engaged with each other and engaging to the audience.

And I recall that Haines stirred up a bit of controversy on the panel talking about spoken word versus conventionally printed poetry.  That was pretty typical for the poet.

“He was a cantankerous, insufferable, unbendable old bastard but he was a damn good writer,” longtime friend John Koolstra told the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.  “He is Alaska’s best writer.  He was a standout.”

So when I heard that John Haines died last night in Fairbanks at the age of 86, I thought about his poetry.

From his isolated cabin above the Tanana River in Alaska’s Interior, he learned  “to make things for myself, to build shelters, to weave nets, to make sleds and harnesses, and to train animals for work.  I learned to hunt, to watch, and to listen.”

And there he crafted poems out of a spiritual wilderness where his solitary imagination confronted existence without the comforting illusions of society (to paraphrase poet Dana Gioia).

Here is John Haines’ poem “Fairbanks Under the Solstice”

Slowly, without sun, the day sinks
toward the close of December.
It is minus sixty degrees.

Over the sleeping houses a dense
fog rises—smoke from banked fires,
and the snowy breath of an abyss
through which the cold town
is perceptibly falling.

As if Death were a voice made visible,
with the power of illumination…

Now, in the white shadow
of those streets, ghostly newsboys
make their rounds, delivering
to the homes of those
who have died of the frost
word of the resurrection of Silence.

–John Haines

 

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Side Portrait of the poet Edwin Morgan, aged 8...
Image via Wikipedia

The great Scottish poet Edwin Morgan passed away nearly two weeks ago and the tributes and accolades have continued throughout the Edinburgh Book Festival that’s just ended.

I’ve been fortunate to follow much of it via Twitter, having connected with such wonderful poets and poetry lovers as @ByLeavesWeLive, @OneNightStanzas, and @craftygreenpoet among others, who have made me feel like I was there alongside them, paying my respects.

Morgan was a remarkably gifted poet, and gifted not only in the sort of conventional sense of the word.  I mean he had an incomparable ear for the rich variety and breadth of poetry that one rarely sees in this day of specialization and of literary “camps.”

Morgan saw the magical in the ordinary and wasn’t about to limit himself by the constraints of either subject matter or style.  He could be funny, such as “The First Men on Mercury,” but he was equally adept when he turned his hand at tender, more traditional love poems.

One of my favorites — probably my favorite Morgan poem — is “Strawberries,” which you can read in its entirety at the Edwin Morgan Archives at the Scottish Poetry Library.

For now, I’ll just quote the ending, which is stunning even without mention of the strawberries or the scene between two lovers:

let the sun beat

on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

–Edwin Morgan

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Poet Kiki Petrosino, who has been tweeting as @harriet_poetry for the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog, tweeted a question this morning:

Good morning, poets. If poetry=a tree with many branches of influence, then to whose twig do you attach your own bright leaf?

I’ve thought about this question over the years, but started to visualize it a bit in reaction to Kiki’s (or Harriet’s?) question.

My poetry is rooted 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 have had some great guidance along the way from poets Alison Hawthorne Deming, Donald Hall, Colette Inez, and Karen Swenson, along with a cast of other friends, both poets and poetry readers.

If I look at poetic influences — teachers by example, rather than in person — Elizabeth Bishop, and by extension, her Hopkins, Herbert and even Moore, could be counted among mine.

But also Pound, Rimbaud (in the Varese translations), the two Kenneths, Rexroth and Patchen, at various times, especially in my early days; the Robert Lowell of Life Studies, and novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje.

I’d have to add to that list a trio of Irish voices (tenors?), including Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, and Paul Muldoon. And while we’re on the British Isles, let’s not forget Geoffrey Hill, John Clare and, of course, “the Bard,” Robert Burns.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose “Mariner” was given to me by my Aunt Gladys, directly influenced my first “serious” poem (now lost, thankfully) about my great grandfather, a whaler who sailed out of New Bedford.

There’s also a curious group of more experimental influences from Anne Carson and Mina Loy to Lorine Niedecker and Jorie Graham. Walt Whitman, Fernando Pessoa, and Allen Ginsberg, all great experimenters themselves, were also part of my early poetry reading education.

It’s an eclectic, multi-branching tree, to say the least.  I’m not sure one can see the influence of any one more than another in my work — someone once wrote that the influences of Bishop and Hall were most evident — but it would be a rather spectacular looking tree, should one chose to design it.

One could get easily lost in such a forest.

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I recently discovered the work of photographer and filmmaker Alastair Cook through Anon Magazine (we both appear in Anon7).  He wrote about a project he calls FilmPoem, which are short films he’s made based upon contemporary poems.

“The combination of film and poetry is an attractive one,” writes Alastair. “For the poet, perhaps a hope that the filmmaker will bring something to the poem: a new audience, a visual attraction, the laying of way markers; for the filmmaker, a fixed parameter to respond to, the power of a text sparking the imagination with visual connections and metaphor.”

His project reminds me (in spirit if not in style) of some films I made in Super 8 back in the mid-1980s — I called them “cinepoems” — two of which were shown at an independent film show at Cleveland State University in 1985. One was based upon Kenneth Patchen‘s “I Went to the City” and the other was called “Through the Glimmerglass (And What We Saw There).”   (I really should digitize those films and make them available.)

I have always been fascinated by the combination of film and poetry and it’s great to discover Alastair’s work.  Here is his film “Adrift,” based upon a poem by the fabulous Juliet Wilson (whose work also appears in Anon7):

Adrift from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

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I signed off of Twitter Saturday night with this note:

“Goodnight from my condensery…”

A friend saw it and wrote to ask what I meant by “condensery,” which seemed to have to do with making milk, not poems.

I was working, revising some poems, and meant “condensery” as a reference to the poet Lorine Niedecker.

It is an interesting choice of words, because condense means “to make denser or more compact; especially : to subject to condensation,” according to Merriam-Webster, which perhaps connotes compactness rather than concision.  Concision, cutting away or making more concise, is probably closer to my method of revision.  (I try not to make my poems more dense as I revise; and I rarely, if ever, can get as compact as Miss Niedecker did in her poems.)

Niedecker called her desk a “condensery,” in part to connote her process and in part to make it clear that, for her, her desk was a physical place of genuine, creative labor.  Making poems is real work.

Here is Lorine Niedecker’s poem “Poet’s Work,” from which the phrase comes, in its entirety:

Grandfather
advised me:
Learn a trade

I learned
to sit at desk
and condense

No layoffs
from this
condensery

##

You can read more about Lorine Niedecker and her poetry at Poets.org

Her collected poems are available here: Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works.

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A few years ago, my friend the designer Jan Almquist, who was teaching a course at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, asked if one of his students could use a poem of mine for a video project.

Jeremy Collinson chose “Indwelling,” a poem that is part of my ecopoem sequence called “Dwelling.” The poem originally appeared in the University of Pennsylvania’s literary journal, CrossConnect. Here is the animated video, a filmpoem, if you will of my poem “Indwelling”:

A number of the poems from my Dwelling sequence have been published. You can find a sampling here.

And here is the text of the poem:

 

Indwelling

 

 

Shooting stars cross a city night sky.  In the moment

before they fall, think about dwellings,

 

houses made of brick, stone, and wood—dwelling and indwelling—

miracle keeping matter together, from imploding or inverting.

 

How dwellings become a city, interdependent.

How stars become a night sky, suspended.

 

(Late fall, nearly winter, fog-caul warms night air through inversion.  

The meteor version of life heads straight to the matter of our bed.)

 

What holds up the sky holds each one of us, too—

as we move against one another in this taut, elastic field,

 

warming with each movement, causing little inversions

all around us, and shooting stars—

                                    there goes another.

 

–Scott Edward Anderson

A curious thing happened to me yesterday in New York City.  Robert Hass read at Poets House and gave a program for children in the morning.  I took my six-year-old son, Walker, with me because he’s started writing poems (he’s got me beat by 3 years!) and we spent the day in the City alone together.

Bob Hass reading Walker's poem

When I told Walker we were going to see and hear one of my poetry teachers, he said, “That’s cool, because he taught you and now you’re teaching me and when I have children I’ll teach them…it’s like we’re keeping it going.”

Indeed, it felt like that when I introduced Bob to my son.  Bob has grandchildren Walker’s age and it wasn’t lost on me that there was something transpiring between our three generations.

Walker brought one of his poems to share with Bob and handed it to him in an envelope.  During the program, in which Bob was reading poems by children from his River of Words project, he pulled out Walker’s poem and asked if Walker wanted to read it.  Walker shyly declined and Bob asked for permission to read it to the audience.  Walker beamed.  (So did I.)

Bob read Walker’s poem and declared, “This is a real poem.”  We both smiled.  It was a magical moment to have a mentor appreciate the work of your son.  I was really feeling blessed that morning.

Bob and Walker

Later, after wandering around Tribeca and the wonderful riverside parks along the Hudson, Walker and I sat on the rocks behind Poets House in the newly opened South Teardrop Park and listened to Bob and his wife Brenda Hillman read their poems into the late afternoon.  What a magical day.

Here is Walker’s poem, “The Snow I’ve Been Waiting For”:

The Snow that crunches beneath my feet.

Oh the wonderful snow, snow, snow.

The snow that tastes so wonderful.

The snow, the snow, the snow.

The snow I’ve been waiting for all along,

The snow I’ve been waiting for all year.

The snow, the snow, the snow.

The Snow I’ve been waiting for.

–Walker Anderson, 6

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For the past 13 years I’ve been sending out a poem-a-week email during National Poetry Month. Each week, I introduce a poem to readers on the list, which is now over 300 strong. 

At month’s end, I’m always asked to extend it beyond the month of April.  In lieu of that, I think I’ll publish poems from the series here from time to time, as long as I can get the poets’ permission.

(If you’d like to subscribe to the list for next year, send me an email at greenskeptic[at]gmail[dot]com.)

#

My friend Lee Kravitz — whose memoir, Unfinished Business: One Man’s Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things, comes out next month — is a great reader of poetry.

So when he handed me a book of poems at Thanksgiving last year, I knew it would be worth reading.

He told me two things about the book: it was written by another good friend of his and she was an intensive care physician in Washington, DC.

The book was Night Shift by Serena J. Fox.  And one thing you quickly learn from her poems is that Dr. Fox is no Dr. Williams making house calls in a small, northern New Jersey community.  She started her career in the emergency room of Bellevue Hospital in New York City, one of the busiest ERs at the time – the early era of AIDS.

(I had an experience at Bellevue in the early 80s – probably while she was in residence there — involving an attempted suicide by a neighbor. It was not a fun place to be back then.)

As a poet, Fox has an uncanny ability to apply her poetic sensibility to the reality she witnesses through her work.  I admire the way she seamlessly weaves medical terminology – a rare gift that perhaps only Jane Kenyon mastered before her – and the harshness of life as she sees it into a poetry that transcends reportage.

Fox tackles a variety of forms and styles from traditional lyrics to fragments and more experimental sequences.  And she is equally adept at short and long forms — her long poems, including the title poem, “Northeast Coast Corridor,” “Blood Holies,” and “551,880,000 Breaths” are remarkably varied and sustained collages of images and information, stories and voices overheard.

How glad I am that Lee introduced me to her work and pleased that I can introduce a sample of it to you here.

Here is Serena Fox’s poem,

The Road to Çegrano, 1999

(with Patch Adams and Clowns, Skopje, Macedonia)

 

Pinpricks of poppies

Populations

Of them—

 

Supra-oxygenated

Arterial

Oblivious to

 

Camps and tents

Of no interest to

Scythes

 

Unregulated

Flaunting bright

Points in

 

Grass and fields—

The other side of

Fences.

 

In the camps

Children

With blackbird

 

Beak eyes

Scavenge trinkets

Touches

 

Kisses from

Strangers—

A busload of

 

Ferocious

Clown-doctor

Revolutionaries

 

Carrying

Medical

Supplies and

 

Angry

Armloads of

Peace.

 

One-on-one

With the villagers—

Six thousand here

 

Thirty-nine thousand

There—

Dust

 

Is the only

Accumulation—

Rust-colored

 

Covering the tents

And doctors

Without borders.

 

The clown-doctors

Come armed with

Red rubber

 

Noses

Electric-blue hair.

The kids riot for

 

Stickers

Attention.

They quiet for

 

Bubbles

Blown gently

Balloons

 

For the boy

Leg in a

Cast

 

Group photos

Promises to send

Pictures.

 

Thank G’d the

Fighting

Stopped.

 

What would they have

Done in winter

Summer?

 

But where to send

Them?

Back to the

 

Burning?

Over the fence

The fields?

 

Out toward the

Mountains—

Bubbles

 

Balloons

Boys, girls, bombs,

Poppies?

 

–Serena Fox, from Night Shift

(Copyright Serena Fox.  Reprinted with permission of the author)

——————————————————–

Serena sent me this note about the poem: “In May of 1999 I joined Patch Adams for a one-week trip to Macedonia and the refugee camps holding thousands of people who had scaled snow-covered peaks to get out of Kosovo. We were an eclectic assortment of clown-doctors who had traveled with Patch before and others like me who hoped to contribute in some small way to soothing the chaos going on in the former Yugoslavia.

I thought I was going to deliver intravenous supplies and help set up a clinic outside the camps for women. I also ended up roving the camps with children of all ages and forgoing my usual reserve for my first red rubber nose and a blue wig. As usual the people I met gave me infinitely more than I could ever give back. I was impressed by the efficiency and cleanliness of the UN sponsored camp.

The most vivid sensory memory is that of the foothills covered with poppies, women in the fields wielding scythes, the slowing of time and the redness of the poppies which had the exact quality, for me, of arterial blood.”  –SJF

 

If you missed poet Paul Muldoon on The Colbert Report, including the poet and Stephen Colbert reading Muldoon’s poem “Tea,” you must watch it now:

Paul Muldoon on The Colbert Report

Colbert is doing more for bringing poetry to a wider audience than just about anybody. Shall we compare Stephen Colbert to a Summer’s Day?

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