The New Yorker has an excellent poem about the fragmentary nature of Greek lyric poet Sappho's extant poetry--its "redactions" and more. She was from the island of Lesbos and lived about 630-570 before current era. I am looking forward to Stanley Lombardo's new translation, due out soon.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Thank you to Kyle Waugh, literary executor of Kenneth Irby’s estate, for making possible this broadside of an unpublished 1965 poem “Oh Grand Chord,” printed by Michael Klausman and Patrick Tillery of Wry Press in Longmont, Colorado. Among my favorite lines:
“our eyes in the air north hold ducks”
Appreciation also to the Kenneth Irby family. Contact email@example.com for further information.
For more on Ken Irby and his poetry on this blog: Ad Astra Poetry Project by Denise Low: Kenneth Irby (2007)-- biography, poem, and analysis http://deniselow.blogspot.com/2007/12/ad-astra-poetry-project-9.html ; a draft of my essay about typographies in Irby’s works http://deniselow.blogspot.com/search?q=kenneth+irby and see Jacket2 for the final essay; a link to my New Letters On the Air interview with Irby (download for a small fee): http://deniselow.blogspot.com/2015/07/denise-low-interviews-kenneth-irby.html ; and a collection of photographs of Ken from my archives, posted at the time of his death: http://deniselow.blogspot.com/2015/08/kenneth-irby-dies-july-30-2015.html
Friday, February 17, 2017
This was my presentation for the Associated Writers and Writing Programs panel Uneasy Alliance: Poets Laureate & Government Agencies, Feb. 9 in Washington D.C. Thank you to Patricia Clark for adding me to the panel. Several people asked me to post my remarks, and thank you for your kind encouragement.
I’m Denise Low, poet laureate of Kansas 2007-2009. Poets laureate positions are now among
|AWP-Photo by Fred Viebahn of Kimberly Blaeser, Denise Low|
Kansas is a canary-in-the-mine state for the United States. It was crucial in the Free State battle of the 19th century. John Brown fired his first shots against marauding Missouri slavers in the Battle of Black Jack, 1856, near Baldwin City. A hundred years later, Brown versus Topeka Board of Education was the deciding legal case determining school desegregation. Kansas is a political hotbed.
In 2004, Kathleen Sibelius, secretary of health under Obama, was governor of Kansas. She established the poet laureate position. The Kansas Arts Commission, a state agency, researched the position for her and determined its scope. Jonathan Holden was the first Poet Laureate in 2005, and I was the second, starting duties in 2006 and continuing appearances until 2009. Duties included judging Poetry Out Loud, giving an ecumenical invocation for the governor’s arts awards, and many other wonderful activities. The Internet was newish, and I started a blog, still going, that dates to 2006. I posted poetry broadsides every couple weeks, eventually published as a book, To the Stars: Kansas Poets of the Ad Astra Poetry Project (Washburn Center for Kansas Studies/Mammoth 2010, Kansas Notable Book)
All went well. Caryn Mirriam Goldberg was chosen 3rd Ks. Poet laureate and began her term, summer of 2009. In early 2010, she organized (with my assistance, but she was the prime mover!) a conference of state poets laureate in Lawrence.
Then, 2011, U.S. Senator Sam Brownback took office as governor. You may not have heard of him. He was a member of the Values Action Team and a leading social conservative in the Senate. He converted to conservative Catholicism in 2002 and is a member of Opus Dei. He, before Trump, subscribed to the policy of dismantling government institutions. He had presidential aspirations.
Did I mention the Koch brothers are from Wichita, and they backed his career? If you have read Thomas Frank’s first book What’s the Matter with Kansas, you will see where I’m going. He explains how people are persuaded to vote against their own best interests, even if it means losing the family farm. Many family farms were lost.
One of the first things Brownback did was to defund the Kansas Arts Commission. He gave no reason. The KAC was well run and high profile in this rural state. Arts events were funded in remote areas where the tax base supports only bare essentials. In addition to the arts, the Koch brothers and Brownback despise public education. Home-schooled fundamentalist Christians are the ideal. So Brownback cut taxes to the point public education, the arts, the roads, health support for severely handicapped people, and social services were barely functioning. I can testify that after seven years, trickle-down economics in Kansas is a complete bust. This year Kansas has a 360 million dollar deficit, expected to be half a billion next year, in a small state. Brownback uses funding for schools to balance the budget, and they, once excellent, are faltering.
Back to the arts commission. Brownback tried to establish a private arts organization that would approve fundamentalist Christian arts programs only. He appointed wealthy citizens to the board. Eventually, this failed—arts administration is not an amateur game. The tea party Kansas legislature even voted to fund the KAC, but Brownback vetoed the bill. The KAC is gone. Gone. Poets in the Schools, grants to artists, dance performances, art exhibits, concerts, quilt workshops--all gone.
Caryn Mirriam Goldberg, with allies, did a Kickstarter in 2011 to keep her position viable for a year. She approached many angels. Finally, the Kansas Humanities Council agreed to accept the program. This nongovernment organization is not at the whim of politics. With the KHC the focus of the position shifted from arts to humanities content, so there is more emphasis on community building rather than aesthetic/craft issues. No problem. To this day, the KHC is the home of the poet laureate, and the position is doing well.
And Kansas people have awakened from the delusion that Brownback is helping anyone. His approval rating is way down, 18%. The Koch brothers abandoned his bid for the presidency, and even Trump has not put him in any position (we were hoping he would leave Kansas but feared for what he would do to the country). The legislature of Kansas is now, after 2016 elections, moderate Republicans and Democrats, so a slow repairing has begun. Tax cuts have been reversed by the state legislature, February, 2017.
There is a happy ending, perhaps. The poets of Kansas keep up an internet presence of poetry projects, and the latest theme, 2017, is resistance—you can see poems of resistance online at 150 Kansas poems, “Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance, and Solidarity.” Thank you to Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg for her heroic resistance to government sabotage and to the KHC for its support.
Do prioritize support for the arts. They do go after the poets first. The National Endowment for the Arts is in danger. Americans for the Arts is a general organization that supports all arts programs, especially the NEA. AWP is a member and lobbies each year through the Arts Advocacy Day initiatives on Capitol Hill, this year March 20-21. Making poetry is a political act.
As poet laureate I went all over a large and diverse state, from inner cities in KC to sparsely populate High Plains areas. Libraries, arts centers, and schools all create a situation of deep literacy, critical to being a good, informed citizen. Today more than ever, this is an essential charge of our public life as writers.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
The summer of 1968, I worked as a temporary postal employee in Emporia, Kansas, my hometown. Fellow workers despised me as a college-student temp, and so I spent my breaks alone, reading poetry in a nearby park. I had once played with the city band in the park's gazebo, and already it showed evidence of change--fresh paint and new benches. Cicadas chorused around me. Dazzle-blue sky patchworked the elms. Solitude was alive. Kevin Rabas catches this sweet taste of small-town life in his new book Songs for my Father: A Collection of Poems and Stories (Meadowlark Press, 2016). The book is authentically regional; it busts stereotypes. For example, golf courses are a natural fit for places where land is cheap, and every Kansas town over 1000 souls has a course. Rabas celebrates the intersection of natural forces—grass fires, here—with golf in this poem:
Prairie Hills Course
Hank Jones hauls by the bucketfuls
the black pock-marked eggs, the golf balls
that made it out of the range and into the prairie
and were rolled over by flames, when the country course
was windswept at the edge by fire, a fringe
of late June red and yellow, fire as high as Hank’s waist.
Here, Rabas select images and fragments of narrative to witness this odd, vivid moment. The single sentences sweeps through like a wind gust. Colors are elements of nature as well as gravity, distance, three-dimensional existence. Rabas describes “fire” in terms of human scale, without sentimentality—yet the import is clear. Big skies relegate humans to minor roles.
“Autoshop, Twilight,” “John North Ford—Emporia,” “’67 Mustang Fastback": more artifacts of the historic past occur in well tuned poems and prose. Rabas is a jazz percussionist and writes about music with heart and in-depth knowledge. The book brings back not nostalgia, but rather it restores some memories of perfect beauty. Yesterday on the street I saw a 1979 AMC AMX in original olive green, mint condition, still a striking muscle car. This book will delight those familiar with the grasslands setting as much as the sight of a forgotten, perfect car. Others are also welcome.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
International author Xánath Caraza’s latest book is a moving prayer, in Spanish and English, to water
DONDE LA LUZ ES VIOLETA / WHERE THE LIGHT IS VIOLET by Xánath Caraza, Nov. 15, 2016 Translated by Sandra Kingery, Introduction by Beppe Costa, 208 pages, perfectbound, $18 ISBN: 978-1-939301-69-7 For inquiries and multiple orders: firstname.lastname@example.org or for online discount $14.50 PayPal Click here.
International author Xánath Caraza’s latest book is a moving prayer, in Spanishis nothing if not a paean to Venice, Murano Island, and likewise to Rome, Pompeii, Florence, et al. The poet is ever swept away by all complexities of natural splendor (waterways, flora, and fauna), under a colorful vaulting sky, an exuberance conveyed in sensual verse, and chromatic flourishes, Greco-Roman mythology serving, at times, as backdrop.” See more information at Mammoth Publications
Xánath Caraza, award-winning author, teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and makes presentations in Europe, Latin America, and the U.S. She is Writer-in-Residence at Westchester Community College, New York. She writes for La Bloga, Periódico de Poesía, Revista Literaria Monolito, The Smithsonian Latino Center, and Revista Zona de Ocio. She is originally from Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. More information and news at Xanath Caraza
Saturday, October 8, 2016
At the 2016 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference last spring, Claudia Rankine challenged members to improve inclusivity of MFA Programs and literary organizations. David Haynes, a trustee of AWP, is heading up a new AWP Committee on Inclusion. Its goals are in the new AWP Chronicle, including (1) conversation about inclusion in "pedagogy," curriculum, administration, and social environment. . . ." (2) development of academic program benchmarks for "inclusive literary communities and how to teach effectively among diverse students" (3) review of AWP "governance, policies, and projects to ensure inclusiveness and equity." I'm humbled to be part of this committee, along with Bonnie Culver, Oliver de la Paz, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Christopher Merrill, January Gill O'Neil, Craig Santos Perez, Jerod Santek, Eduardo Corral, Luisa Igloria, Julie Landsman, Sonya Larsen, Katie Hae Leo, Adrienne Perry, Kristine Sloan, and Johnny Temple. See Rankine's comments on the AWP website, available to the public: “”In Our Way: Racism in Creative Writing
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Lawrence-KC area writers interested in the art of memoir, this free workshop is in Lawrence, Oct. 15: This workshop is part of the Pulitzer Project in Kansas: William Allen White and Freedom of Speech, sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council.Register at: 785-841-4109 or Hickox@watkinsmuseum.org. See the Watkins Museum, city historical museum's Facebook page:
Prof. Kim Stanley has served for ten years as a book discussion leader for the Kansas Humanities Council. For KHC, she has used stories to teach hospice values, to lead book discussions in a state prison, and to conduct a project teaching imprisoned fathers to read to their children. She was lead scholar for a Vietnam War project: “The Big Read” (funded by the NEA). B.A., Trinity University in San Antonio; M.A., St. John’s College at Santa Fe; Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin
Monday, October 3, 2016
My favorite definition of a writer is: "A writer is a person who writes." Perhaps ten years is the average apprenticeship, as my mentor Carolyn Doty used to tell me. Master writer (and teacher) Linda Rodriguez has a blog about how writers are like pianists--they both need regular exercise in their genre. Here is the beginning of her essay and a link to the entire piece on the Writers Who Kill blog:
"Pianists know they must practice every day, playing scales and various exercises that stretch the fingers
'Nobody can teach creative writing–run like mad from anybody who thinks he can. But one can teach practices, like finger exercises on the piano; one can share the tools of the trade, and what one has gleaned from the great writers: it is the great writers themselves who do the teaching.' –A Circle of Quiet
For years now, I've created my own finger exercises, as well as borrowing from other writers who've written books about writing, and used them in my journals." http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2016/10/scales-for-writers.html
Linda Rodriguez has published three novels in the Skeet Bannion mystery series, Every Hidden Fear (Minotaurhttp://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com/
Sunday, September 18, 2016
At the Wichita Public Library, Sept. 10, 2016, I was honored to be part of a panel associated with the Local Author Fair. WPL organizers included: Sarah Kittrell, Collection Development Manager; Julie Sherwood, Program & Outreach Manager; and Racine Zackula, Fiction Selection Librarian. These questions are from Racine.
Wichita Public Library Panel: Publishing Trends, Comments by Denise Low
Wichita Public Library Panel: Publishing Trends, Comments by Denise Low
|Photo by Roy Beckemeyr|
· What are the biggest trends in publishing currently? Brevity is the most obvious trend. The internet loves quick reads in social media format. Print media are following this trend, such as Kindle “singles” and the markets for novellas and short story collections. Social media encourages topical, newsworthy writing, relating to recent trends. There is a quick news cycle, so quick responses are popular, like poems about Prince’s death within a few days. Responses to deaths of black men in new recently have been effective use of this trend.
· Have any of these trends been surprising? One of the great surprises to me is the rise of the importance of radio—what I grew up with! Podcasts make radio long-lasting, beyond the live broadcast. People do want to hear the author’s voice. If a writer has not already posted some audio excerpts from writings, now is the time to do so. Of course every writer as a permanent website—not just a Facebook page. The websites are permanent and easily navigable.
· Is the cross-pollination of writers who are self-published going to traditional publishing and established authors who are with houses going to self-published hurting or helping the industry? Many self-published writers are breaking through; however, that is the exception. Fantasy and science fiction are areas where self-publishers are doing well. Still, the goal is to get the big contract with a national publisher. Self-published writers need a large readership before they are taken seriously. Distribution and publicity are huge problems. The good thing about self-publishing is the democratization of writing. William Stafford said we all are poets; some people just stop writing poetry. So self-publishing gives everyone a voice. The result is quality is hard to sort out. Many self-published writers do not know the craft and rules of grammar that well. Self-publication has led to a lot of fragmentation.
· Do you think that we are moving more toward a model of “renting” our book electronically? I have noticed that some print books are only on a limited print run and if they are sold, they are bound in leather and signed and more of a collector’s item. Several issues come to mind: (1) Print-on-demand, which is computer-based printing of books, has made printing of books much easier. POD is not self-publication—many university presses use POD, for example. This comes at a time just after the book industry started a negative cycle of profit-based, not quality-based, practices. The hardback book edition comes out first, at a high price, and if it sells, then the next year paperback editions may or may not come out. Only wealthy readers can pay $25-35 for a new bestseller. So when POD and electronic books developed, new formats reach more people. Rentals is a newish platform, and I’m sure it will be monetized as much as possible. (2) I also think libraries and bookstores will become “sample” stores, where people can see the object and then order the electronic version if they are interested. (3) the tradition of art books, print-media works created by artists, has not bled into coffee table books. The printed book in a fine edition is an art object. Fine arts editions, especially hand printed, have been collectibles for decades. (4) And finally, because platforms change so quickly, print is the standard for lasting. Libraries for archives
· What have you or other writers you know, found helpful in developing their work? Use of libraries! Since I was a kid, the world of books—the scale of books found in the library—seemed like a replica of the whole world. It is. The two libraries in my small town were havens to me. Also as a writer I found classes, including academic instruction, invaluable. Groups, which often meet in libraries, were very helpful. A few dear souls reached out and mentored me. My appreciation to them. Still, one of the biggest influences was the library, for its resources; meeting spaces; events (conferences and readings), and archives.
· In terms of poetry publishing, have you found that having multiple ways of communicating –(1) The biggest change I see is how poetry (and prose) readings are no longer literary events. They are TED talks, or rather sales pitches for book/poetry concepts. Multiple readers are on an evening’s slate, rather than one at a time—so there is a frenetic, competitive energy, like speed dating. Venues want to draw numbers to count for grants applications. This is the new climate. Self-published poets are put alongside established, credentialed poets. The hierarchy is breaking down, which may be a good thing. However, quality is less certain. (2) Multi-media and multi-genre in poetry change the craft of word arts. Performance and slam poetry are fairly new and have different rules of engagement and effectiveness. Also, genres specific to media are developing. Poetry that is left-hand justified with capitals at the beginning of each line are much more common. Whatever the medium, quality always shows—depth of detail, precision, pacing, content.
· Why would someone go to a publisher when electronic forms are so readily available? Publishers offer prestige (important to academics seeking tenure and promotion), expertise, promotion platforms, and community, for a start. Publishers endorse the quality of a writer’s work implicitly plus give their authors a team of experts. In some cases, a book even makes money.
· What do authors do when they have a finished manuscript to publish besides polish it once more? When you have a finished MS: What is the audience? (1) The first commandment is to consider the audience. Is your work for yourself, or does it have a topic to share with others? Then find the right niche publishing platform for the audience. (2) Then what are motives? If you want to be an author and live the glamourous life of an author, great. Be clear. Decide a strategy. If you want to follow your heart, write for your family and community first, then expand if it happens naturally. Because I had a restrictive day job, for years I wrote what I could and wanted to write. That was poetry, which has a terrible market. But I loved it, and it led to great experiences and community, including becoming Kansas Poet Laureate. Always, though, I understood there was no large audience for my writing.
Friday, July 22, 2016
Thank you to Annie Newcomber for permission to reprint this interview she did with Jeanie Wilson about her husband, Thomas Zvi Wilson (1931-2012). The Thomas Zvi Wilson Reading Series of The Writers Place presented a tenth anniversary celebration of the publication of his and Jeanie's The Door into the Dream (Mid-America Press, 2006). The series Facebook page describes the series: "Mr. Wilson’s objective was to broaden outreach for The Writers Place and create an additional venue for poetry and prose writers to read. After Thomas’ health failed, his wife Jeanie Wilson, an emeritus board member of TWP and poetry and short story writer, curates this popular reading series in his memory." The free series, founded in 2001, is third Tuesdays of the month. The readings take place at Johnson County Central Resource Library, 6-8 p.m., 9875 W. 87th Street in Overland Park, Ks., 913-826-4600.
Jeanie, what led your husband to the idea of developing the reading series? His primary
|Jeanie & Thomas Zvi Wilson|
How did he become involved in The Writers Place (TWP)? Tom had turned his attention from visual arts to poetry and wanted to become involved in TWP, the rising hub of the literary community in Kansas City. Eventually, he served on the Board of Directors and eventually as treasurer.
What were some of his dreams for the Kansas City writing community? At the time, there were separate pockets of writers and locations, and Tom had hoped to provide opportunities for these various entities to collaborate and to bring writers together to share their writing. I believe that collaboration is happening with the help of so many writers, organizations, and volunteers.
Did he see himself as an artist first or equally as a poet and an artist? I believe for Tom the identities were integral and each art form fed off the other.
What do people not know about Thomas that you wish was known? As much as he loved to write, he had a passion to help other people: writers, visual artists, and inmates at Lansing Prison. It was a longtime struggle in his division of time. Also, he was unique in that he was able to use both left and right sides of his brain, synthesizing in poetry and art.
Do you have a favorite poem that Thomas cherished? Might you share? I have selected a poem by Mark Strand, which Tom and I both treasured because it spoke of love late in life, which was our miracle.
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into light. . . .
How did Thomas suggest that poets could best hone their craft? He recommended and practiced that a poet read other poetry, write constantly and revise methodically. Some of his poems had been revised 40-50 times.
What did he want his audience to look like? What people was he trying to draw to the readings? All ages and ethnicities. The ideal audience member was hungry to hear the poems and to learn something new from the reading that evening.
What made him most proud of the Reading Series? He was very pleased when a new writer excelled and went on to publish.
What were some of his opinions on poetry? The poem should communicate the human experience or artistic idea to the reader. He had a great deal of poems on the artist, Edward Hopper. Poetry and art crisscrossed in his poetry.
Can you share a little bit about Thomas’ life and background? He was born in 1931 in New York. His family lived in a Jewish community. His parents abandoned him when he was about five to seven years old. He was extremely intelligent and thirsted for life in and outside the community. The community members raised him until at 14. He ran away and started a new life of his own. To him life itself was a gift not to be wasted. He never stopped learning and creating in some manner.
Poets often ask me how you select your readers. What do you suggest to someone who has this aspiration and goal? If they are interested in reading, I like to visit with them and read some of their work. In some cases, I know the individual and their work already. Similar to Tom, I do not require that a writer has published a book prior to reading. He enjoyed helping new writers of all ages and backgrounds.
What inspired you and Thomas to write your antiphonal poems? Initially Tom and I had paired our poems around a common theme or word and performed readings with these paired poems. Our publisher/editor, the late Robert Jones, approached us and asked us to write a book of these paired poems.
What advice would he give today’s poet? First and foremost, he valued life and did not want to waste a moment or day. Regarding poetry, once again, he would recommend to read other poets, write constantly, and revise the poem diligently.
What do you see as Thomas’ legacy? Tom served as a model of friendship in helping writers and artists advance their art and writing. He set the standard in how writers should treat one another. The Thomas Zvi Wilson Reading Series serves as a vehicle to provide opportunities for writers and poets and stands as a testament to this extraordinary man. June, 2016