Sunday, December 28, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
MICHAEL POAGE (1945 - )
Michael Poage has been a Kansan since 1985, when he began serving United Church of Christ congregations in Council Grove, Lawrence and Wichita. He has advanced degrees in both theology and creative writing. While a student at the University of Montana, he studied poetry with Richard Hugo and Madeline Defrees, one of the great teaching teams of the 20th century. He learned economy of words and focus. This poet’s work begins with commonplace moments that are synecdoches—parts representing the whole (as sunflowers represent Kansas prairies). Poage’s poems resemble enfolded macramé knots made of simple twine. His words are familiar yet they evoke nature’s possible theological order.
“Pelagic” in this title means living in open waters, referring most often to birds. With this poem, then, Poage might refer to how prairies resemble large bodies of water. However, he turns the sky, not ripples of grass, into the ocean, with the bird “swimming in the air.” The counterbalance is land, or “home’s street.” To extend the water comparison further, he then imagines the moon also moving within an oceanic sky. He suggests the moon is love, “beauty,” and mystery—all universal associations. The “small bird” and the moon both share the same fate as humans: all are “condemned” to struggle in “the open sea.” Home is the familiar, and the sky is the natural world with all its powerful, uncertain forces.
In the breath
of a hand
we saw a small bird
swimming in the air.
to home’s street.
is a human back
in an act of passion
with all its beauty
and common questions
to the open sea.
Education: BA, Westmont College, 1967; MFA in Creative Writing, University of Montana, 1973; Master of Divinity, San Francisco Theological Seminary, 1985.
Career: BORN, (Black Stone Press, 1975), Handbook of Ornament (Black Stone Press, 1979), The Gospel of Mary (Woodley Press, 1997), god won't overlook us, (Penthe Press, 2001), and Abundance (219 Press, 2004). He has taught at Friends University (Wichita), Wichita State University, and the University of Latvia in Riga, Latvia. Currently, he is pastor of Fairmont United Church of Christ, Congregational, in Wichita; some sermons are posted at http://www.fairmountucc.com/sermons.htm
_________________________________________________________________________________© 2008 Denise Low, AAPP 27 © 1997 “Pelagic,” Michael Poage, from The Gospel of Mary (Woodley http://www.washburn.edu/reference/woodley-press/Reviews/mary.htm ) © 2004 Denise Low, photo
Monday, December 22, 2008
NY Times: "Mr. Obama’s inauguration, on Jan. 20, calls for an 'occasional poem,' written to commemorate a specific event. This is not precisely what Ms. Alexander does, but she is preparing for the challenge.
“'Writing an occasional poem has to attend to the moment itself,' she said in an interview, 'but what you hope for, as an artist, is to create something that has integrity and life that goes beyond the moment.'”
I took inventory.
The moon was not quite full, not
the usual passion, rough on its one edge,
smooth around most that
I could not see, so I was reminded
of you, keeping love out
of mind, out of sight.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Here is the biography from her home page: http://www.elizabethalexander.net/home.htmlAlexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and professor at Yale University. She is the author of four books of poems, The Venus Hottentot, Body of Life, Antebellum Dream Book, and American Sublime, which was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She is also a scholar of African-American literature and culture and recently published a collection of essays, The Black Interior. She has read her work across the U.S. and in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America, and her poetry, short stories, and critical prose have been published in dozens of periodicals and anthologies. She has received many grants and honors, most recently the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954,” and the 2007 Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers. She is a professor at Yale University, and for the academic year 2007-2008 she is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?
c. Elizabeth Alexander, from American Sublime (Minneapolis: Gray Wolf, 2005).
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Why do we write? I imagine that each of us has his or her own response to this simple question. One has predispositions, a milieu, circumstances. Shortcomings, too. If we are writing, it means that we are not acting. That we find ourselves in difficulty when we are faced with reality, and so we have chosen another way to react, another way to communicate, a certain distance, a time for reflection.
If I examine the circumstances which inspired me to write–and this is not mere self-indulgence, but a desire for accuracy–I see clearly that the starting point of it all for me was war. Not war in the sense of a specific time of major upheaval, where historical events are experienced, such as the French campaign on the battlefield at Valmy, as recounted by Goethe on the German side and my ancestor François on the side of the armée révolutionnaire. That must have been a moment full of exaltation and pathos. No, for me war is what civilians experience, very young children first and foremost. Not once has war ever seemed to me to be an historical moment. We were hungry, we were frightened, we were cold, and that is all. I remember seeing the troops of Field Marshal Rommel pass by under my window as they headed towards the Alps, seeking a passage to the north of Italy and Austria. I do not have a particularly vivid memory of that event. I do recall, however, that during the years which followed the war we were deprived of everything, in particular books and writing materials. For want of paper and ink, I made my first drawings and wrote my first texts on the back of the ration books, using a carpenter's blue and red pencil. This left me with a certain preference for rough paper and ordinary pencils. For want of any children's books, I read my grandmother's dictionaries. They were like a marvellous gateway, through which I embarked on a discovery of the world, to wander and daydream as I looked at the illustrated plates, and the maps, and the lists of unfamiliar words. The first book I wrote, at the age of six or seven, was entitled, moreover, Le Globe à mariner. Immediately afterwards came a biography of an imaginary king named Daniel III—could he have been Swedish?—and a tale told by a seagull. It was a time of reclusion. Children were scarcely allowed outdoors to play, because in the fields and gardens near my grandmother's there were land mines. I recall that one day as I was out walking by the sea I came across an enclosure surrounded by barbed wire: on the fence was a sign in French and in German that threatened intruders with a forbidding message, and a skull to make things perfectly clear.
It is easy, in such a context, to understand the urge to escape—hence, to dream, and put those dreams in writing. My maternal grandmother, moreover, was an extraordinary storyteller, and she set aside the long afternoons for the telling of stories. They were always very imaginative, and were set in a forest—perhaps it was in Africa, or in Mauritius, the forest of Macchabée—where the main character was a monkey who had a great talent for mischief, and who always wriggled his way out of the most perilous situations. Later, I would travel to Africa and spend time there, and discover the real forest, one where there were almost no animals. But a District Officer in the village of Obudu, near the border with Cameroon, showed me how to listen for the drumming of the gorillas on a nearby hill, pounding their chests. And from that journey, and the time I spent there (in Nigeria, where my father was a bush doctor), it was not subject matter for future novels that I brought back, but a sort of second personality, a daydreamer who was fascinated with reality at the same time, and this personality has stayed with me all my life—and has constituted a contradictory dimension, a strangeness in myself that at times has been a source of suffering. Given the slowness of life, it has taken me the better part of my existence to understand the significance of this contradiction.
Books entered my life at a later period. When my father's inheritance was divided, at the time of his expulsion from the family home in Moka, in Mauritius, he managed to put together several libraries consisting of the books that remained. It was then that I understood a truth not immediately apparent to children, that books are a treasure more precious than any real property or bank account. It was in those volumes—most of them ancient, bound tomes—that I discovered the great works of world literature: Don Quijote, illustrated by Tony Johannot; La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes; the Ingoldsby Legends; Gulliver's Travels; Victor Hugo's great, inspired novels Quatre-vingt-treize, Les Travailleurs de la Mer, and L'Homme qui rit. Balzac's Les Contes drôlatiques, as well. But the books which had the greatest impact on me were the anthologies of travellers' tales, most of them devoted to India, Africa, and the Mascarene islands, or the great histories of exploration by Dumont d'Urville or the Abbé Rochon, as well as Bougainville, Cook, and of course The Travels of Marco Polo. In the mediocre life of a little provincial town dozing in the sun, after those years of freedom in Africa, those books gave me a taste for adventure, gave me a sense of the vastness of the real world, a means to explore it through instinct and the senses rather than through knowledge. In a way, too, those books gave me, from very early on, an awareness of the contradictory nature of a child's existence: a child will cling to a sanctuary, a place to forget violence and competitiveness, and also take pleasure in looking through the windowpane to watch the outside world go by.
Shortly before I received the—to me, astonishing—news that the Swedish Academy was awarding me this distinction, I was re-reading a little book by Stig Dagerman that I am particularly fond of: a collection of political essays entitled Essäer och texter. It was no mere chance that I was re-reading this bitter, abrasive book. I was preparing a trip to Sweden to receive the prize which the Association of the Friends of Stig Dagerman had awarded to me the previous summer, to visit the places where the writer had lived as a child. I have always been particularly receptive to Dagerman's writing, to the way in which he combines a child-like tenderness with naïveté and sarcasm. And to his idealism. To the clear-sightedness with which he judges his troubled, post-war era—that of his mature years, and of my childhood. One sentence in particular caught my attention, and seemed to be addressed to me at that very moment, for I had just published a novel entitled Ritournelle de la faim. That sentence, or that passage rather, is as follows: "How is it possible on the one hand, for example, to behave as if nothing on earth were more important than literature, and on the other fail to see that wherever one looks, people are struggling against hunger and will necessarily consider that the most important thing is what they earn at the end of the month? Because this is where he (the writer) is confronted with a new paradox: while all he wanted was to write for those who are hungry, he now discovers that it is only those who have plenty to eat who have the leisure to take notice of his existence." (The Writer and Consciousness)
This "forest of paradoxes", as Stig Dagerman calls it, is, precisely, the realm of writing, the place from which the artist must not attempt to escape: on the contrary, he or she must "camp out" there in order to examine every detail, explore every path, name every tree. It is not always a pleasant stay. He thought he had found shelter, she was confiding in her page as if it were a close, indulgent friend; but now these writers are confronted with reality, not merely as observers, but as actors. They must choose sides, establish their distance. Cicero, Rabelais, Condorcet, Rousseau, Madame de Staël, or, far more recently, Solzhenitsyn or Hwang Sok-yong, Abdelatif Laâbi, or Milan Kundera: all were obliged to follow the path of exile. For someone like myself who has always—except during that brief war-time period—enjoyed freedom of movement, the idea that one might be forbidden to live in the place one has chosen is as inadmissible as being deprived of one's freedom.
But the privilege of freedom of movement results in the paradox. Look, for a moment, at the tree with its prickly thorns that is at the very heart of the forest where the writer lives: this man, this woman, busily writing, inventing their dreams—do they not belong to a very fortunate and exclusive happy few? Let us pause and imagine an extreme, terrifying situation—like the one in which the vast majority of people on our planet find themselves. A situation which, long ago, at the time of Aristotle, or Tolstoy, was shared by those who had no status—serfs, servants, villeins in Europe in the Middle Ages, or those peoples who during the Enlightenment were plundered from the coast of Africa, sold in Gorée, or El Mina, or Zanzibar. And even today, as I am speaking to you, there are all those who do not have freedom of speech, who are on the other side of language. I am overcome by Dagerman's pessimistic thoughts, rather than by Gramsci's militancy, or Sartre's disillusioned wager. The idea that literature is the luxury of a dominant class, feeding on ideas and images that remain foreign to the vast majority: that is the source of the malaise that each of us is feeling—as I address those who read, who write. Of course one would like to spread the word to all those who have been excluded, to invite them magnanimously to the banquet of culture. Why is this so difficult? Peoples without writing, as the anthropologists like to call them, have succeeded in inventing a form of total communication, through song and myth. Why has this become impossible for our industrialized societies, in the present day? Must we reinvent culture? Must we return to an immediate, direct form of communication? It is tempting to believe that the cinema fulfils just such a role in our time, or popular music with its rhythms and rhymes, its echoes of the dance. Or jazz and, in other climes, calypso, maloya, sega.
The paradox is not a recent one. François Rabelais, the greatest writer in the French language, waged war long ago against the pedantry of the scholars at the Sorbonne by taunting them to their face with words plucked from the common tongue. Was he speaking for those who were hungry? Excess, intoxication, feasting. He put into words the extraordinary appetite of those who dined off the emaciation of peasants and workers, just long enough for a masquerade, a world turned upside down. The paradox of revolution, like the epic cavalcade of the sad-faced knight, lives within the writer's consciousness. If there is one virtue which the writer's pen must always have, it is that it must never be used to praise the powerful, even with the faintest of scribblings. And yet just because an artist observes this virtuous behaviour does not mean that he may feel purged of all suspicion. His rebellion, denial, and imprecations definitely remain to one side of the barrier, the side of the language of power. A few words, a few phrases may have escaped. But the rest? A long palimpsest, an elegant and distant time of procrastination. And there is humour, sometimes, which is not the politeness of despair, but the despairing of those who know too well their imperfections; humour is the shore where the tumultuous current of injustice has abandoned them.
Why write, then? For some time now, writers have no longer been so presumptuous as to believe that they can change the world, that they will, through their stories and novels, give birth to a better example for how life should be. Simply, they would like to bear witness. See that other tree in the forest of paradoxes. The writer would like to bear witness, when in fact, most of the time, he is nothing more than a simple voyeur.
And yet there are artists who do become witnesses: Dante in the La Divina Commedia, Shakespeare in The Tempest—and Aimé Césaire in his magnificent adaptation of that play, entitled Une Tempête, in which Caliban, sitting astride a barrel of gunpowder, threatens to blow himself up and take his despised masters with him. There are also those witnesses who are unimpeachable, such as Euclides da Cunha in Os Sertões, or Primo Levi. We see the absurdity of the world in Der Prozess (or in the films of Charlie Chaplin); its imperfection in Colette's La Naissance du jour, its phantasmagoria in the Irish ballad Joyce created in Finnegans Wake. Its beauty shines, brilliantly, irresistibly, in Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard or in Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. Its wickedness in William Faulkner's Sanctuary, or in Lao She's First Snow. Its childhood fragility in Dagerman's Ormen (The Snake).
The best writer as witness is the one who is a witness in spite of himself, unwillingly. The paradox is that he does not bear witness to something he has seen, or even to what he has invented. Bitterness, even despair may arise because he cannot be present at the indictment. Tolstoy may show us the suffering that Napoleon's army inflicted upon Russia, and yet nothing is changed in the course of history. Claire de Duras wrote Ourika, and Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom's Cabin, but it was the enslaved peoples themselves who changed their own destiny, who rebelled and fought against injustice by creating the Maroon resistance in Brazil, in French Guiana, and in the West Indies, and the first black republic in Haiti.
To act: that is what the writer would like to be able to do, above all. To act, rather than to bear witness. To write, imagine, and dream in such a way that his words and inventions and dreams will have an impact upon reality, will change people's minds and hearts, will prepare the way for a better world. And yet, at that very moment, a voice is whispering to him that it will not be possible, that words are words that are taken away on the winds of society, and dreams are mere illusions. What right has he to wish he were better? Is it really up to the writer to try to find solutions? Is he not in the position of the gamekeeper in the play Knock ou Le Triomphe de la médecine, who would like to prevent an earthquake? How can the writer act, when all he knows is how to remember?
Solitude will be his lot in life. It always has been. As a child, he was a fragile, anxious, excessively receptive boy, or the girl described by Colette, who cannot help but watch as her parents tear each other apart, her big black eyes enlarged with a sort of painful attentiveness. Solitude is affectionate to writers, and it is in the company of solitude that they find the essence of happiness. It is a contradictory happiness, a mixture of pain and delight, an illusory triumph, a muted, omnipresent torment, not unlike a haunting little tune. The writer, better than anyone, knows how to cultivate the vital, poisonous plant, the one that grows only in the soil of his own powerlessness. The writer wanted to speak for everyone, and for every era: there he is, there she is, each alone in a room, facing the too-white mirror of the blank page, beneath the lampshade distilling its secret light. Or sitting at the too-bright screen of the computer, listening to the sound of one's fingers clicking over the keys. This, then, is the writer's forest. And each writer knows every path in that forest all too well. If, now and again, something escapes, like a bird flushed by a dog at dawn, then the writer looks on, amazed—this happened merely by chance, in spite of oneself.
It is not my wish, however, to revel in negativity. Literature—and this is what I have been driving at—is not some archaic relic that ought, logically, to be replaced by the audiovisual arts, the cinema in particular. Literature is a complex, difficult path, but I hold it to be even more vital today than in the time of Byron or Victor Hugo.
There are two reasons why literature is necessary:First of all, because literature is made up of language. The primary sense of the word: letters, that which is written. In French, the word roman refers to those texts in prose which for the first time after the Middle Ages used the new language spoken by the people, a Romance language. And the word for short story, nouvelle, also derives from this notion of novelty. At roughly the same time, in France, the word rimeur (from rime, or rhyme) fell out of use for designating poetry and poets—the new words come from the Greek verb poiein, to create. The writer, the poet, the novelist, are all creators. This does not mean that they invent language, it means that they use language to create beauty, ideas, images. This is why we cannot do without them. Language is the most extraordinary invention in the history of humanity, the one which came before everything, and which makes it possible to share everything. Without language there would be no science, no technology, no law, no art, no love. But without another person with whom to interact, the invention becomes virtual. It may atrophy, diminish, disappear. Writers, to a certain degree, are the guardians of language. When they write their novels, their poetry, their plays, they keep language alive. They are not merely using words—on the contrary, they are at the service of language. They celebrate it, hone it, transform it, because language lives through them and because of them, and it accompanies all the social and economic transformations of their era.
When, in the last century, racist theories were expressed, there was talk of fundamental differences between cultures. In a sort of absurd hierarchy, a correlation was drawn between the economic success of the colonial powers and their purported cultural superiority. Such theories, like a feverish, unhealthy urge, tend to resurface here and there, now and again, to justify neo-colonialism or imperialism. There are, we are told, certain nations that lag behind, who have not acquired their rights and privileges where language is concerned, because they are economically backward or technologically outdated. But have those who prone their cultural superiority realized that all peoples, the world over, whatever their degree of development, use language? And that each of these languages has, identically, a set of logical, complex, structured, analytical features that enable it to express the world, that enable it to speak of science, or invent myths?
Now that I have defended the existence of that ambiguous and somewhat passé creature we call a writer, I would like to turn to the second reason for the necessity of literature, for this has more to do with the fine profession of publishing.
There is a great deal of talk about globalization these days. People forget that in fact the phenomenon began in Europe during the Renaissance, with the beginnings of the colonial era. Globalization is not a bad thing in and of itself. Communication has accelerated progress in medicine and in science. Perhaps the generalization of information will help to forestall conflicts. Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler's criminal plot would not have succeeded—ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day.
We live in the era of the Internet and virtual communication. This is a good thing, but what would these astonishing inventions be worth, were it not for the teachings of written language and books? To provide nearly everyone on the planet with a liquid crystal display is utopian. Are we not, therefore, in the process of creating a new elite, of drawing a new line to divide the world between those who have access to communication and knowledge, and those who are left out? Great nations, great civilizations have vanished because they failed to realize that this could happen. To be sure, there are great cultures, considered to be in a minority, who have been able to resist until this day, thanks to the oral transmission of knowledge and myths. It is indispensable, and beneficial, to acknowledge the contribution of these cultures. But whether we like it or not, even if we have not yet attained the age of reality, we are no longer living in the age of myths. It is not possible to provide a foundation for equality and the respect of others unless each child receives the benefits of writing.
And now, in this era following decolonization, literature has become a way for the men and women in our time to express their identity, to claim their right to speak, and to be heard in all their diversity. Without their voices, their call, we would live in a world of silence.
Culture on a global scale concerns us all. But it is above all the responsibility of readers—of publishers, in other words. True, it is unjust that an Indian from the far north of Canada, if he wishes to be heard, must write in the language of the conquerors—in French, or in English. True, it is an illusion to expect that the Creole language of Mauritius or the West Indies might be heard as easily around the world as the five or six languages that reign today as absolute monarchs over the media. But if, through translation, their voices can be heard, then something new is happening, a cause for optimism. Culture, as I have said, belongs to us all, to all humankind. But in order for this to be true, everyone must be given equal access to culture. The book, however old-fashioned it may be, is the ideal tool. It is practical, easy to handle, economical. It does not require any particular technological prowess, and keeps well in any climate. Its only flaw—and this is where I would like to address publishers in particular—is that in a great number of countries it is still very difficult to gain access to books. In Mauritius the price of a novel or a collection of poetry is equivalent to a sizeable portion of the family budget. In Africa, Southeast Asia, Mexico, or the South Sea Islands, books remain an inaccessible luxury. And yet remedies to this situation do exist. Joint publication with the developing countries, the establishment of funds for lending libraries and bookmobiles, and, overall, greater attention to requests from and works in so-called minority languages—which are often clearly in the majority—would enable literature to continue to be this wonderful tool for self-knowledge, for the discovery of others, and for listening to the concert of humankind, in all the rich variety of its themes and modulations.
I think I would like to say a few more words about the forest. It is no doubt for this reason that Stig Dagerman's little sentence is still echoing in my memory, and for this reason that I want to read it and re-read it, to fill myself with it. There is a note of despair in his words, and something triumphant at the same time, because it is in bitterness that we can find the grain of truth that each of us seeks. As a child, I dreamt of that forest. It frightened me and fascinated me at the same time—I suppose that Tom Thumb and Hansel must have felt that way, when they were deep in the forest, surrounded by all its dangers and its wonders. The forest is a world without landmarks. You can get lost in the thickness of trees and the impenetrable darkness. The same could be said of the desert, or the open ocean, where every dune, every hill gives way to yet another identical hill, every wave to yet another perfectly identical wave. I remember the first time I experienced just what literature could be—in Jack London's The Call of the Wild, to be exact, where one of the characters, lost in the snow, felt the cold gaining on him just as the circle of wolves was closing round him. He looked at his hand, which was already numb, and tried to move each finger one after the other. There was something magical in this discovery for me, as a child. It was called self-awareness.
To the forest I owe one of the greatest literary emotions of my adult life. This was about thirty years ago, in a region of Central America known as El Tapón del Darién, the Darién Gap, because that is where, in those days (and I believe the situation has not changed in the meantime), there was an interruption in the Pan-American Highway that was meant to join the two Americas from Alaska to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. In this region of the isthmus of Panama the rainforest is extremely dense, and the only means of travelling there is to go upriver by pirogue. In the forest there lives an indigenous population, divided into two groups, the Emberá and the Wounaans, both belonging to the Ge-Pano-Carib linguistic family. I had landed there by chance, and was so fascinated by this people that I stayed there several times for fairly lengthy periods, over roughly three years. During the entire time I did nothing other than wander aimlessly from one house to the next—for at the time the population refused to live in villages—and learn to live according to a rhythm that was completely different from anything I had known up to that point. Like all true forests, this forest was particularly hostile. I had to draw up a list of all the potential dangers, and of all the corresponding means of survival. I have to say that on the whole the Emberá were very patient with me. They were amused by my awkwardness, and I think that to a certain degree, I was able to repay them in entertainment what they shared with me in wisdom. I did not write a great deal. The rain forest is not really an ideal setting. Your paper gets soaked with the humidity, the heat dries out all your ball point pens. Nothing that has to work off electricity lasts for very long. I had arrived there with the conviction that writing was a privilege, and that I would always be able to resort to it in order to resolve all my existential problems. A protection, in a way; a sort of virtual window that I could roll up as I needed to shelter from the storm.
Once I had assimilated the system of primitive communism practised by the Amerindians, as well as their profound disgust for authority and their tendency towards natural anarchy, I came to see that art, as a form of individual expression, did not have any role to play in the forest. Besides, these people had nothing that resembled what we call art in our consumer society. Instead of hanging paintings on a wall, the men and women painted their bodies, and in general were loath to create anything lasting. And then I gained access to their myths. When we talk of myths, in our world of written books, it seems as if we are referring to something that is very far away, either in time, or in space. I too believed in that distance. And now suddenly the myths were there for me to hear, regularly, almost every night. Near the wood fire that people built in their houses on a hearth of three stones, amidst the dance of mosquitoes and moths, the voice of the storytellers—men and women alike—would set in motion stories, legends, tales, as if they were speaking of a daily reality. The storyteller sang in a shrill voice, striking his breast; his face would mime the expressions and passions and fears of the characters. It might have been something from a novel, not a myth. But one night, a young woman came. Her name was Elvira. She was known throughout the entire forest of the Emberá for her storytelling skills. She was an adventuress, and lived without a man, without children—people said that she was a bit of a drunkard, a bit of a whore, but I don't believe it for a minute—and she would go from house to house to sing, in exchange for a meal or a bottle of alcohol or sometimes a few coins. Although I had no access to her tales other than through translation—the Emberá language has a literary variant that is far more complex than the everyday form—I quickly realized that she was a great artist, in the best sense of the term. The timbre of her voice, the rhythm of her hands tapping against her chest, against her heavy necklaces of silver coins, and above all the air of possession which illuminated her face and her gaze, a sort of measured, rhythmic trance, exerted a power over all those who were present. To the simple framework of her myths—the invention of tobacco, the first primeval twins, stories about gods and humans from the dawn of time—she added her own story, her life of wandering, her loves, the betrayals and suffering, the intense joy of carnal love, the sting of jealousy, her fear of growing old, of dying. She was poetry in action, ancient theatre, and the most contemporary of novels all at the same time. She was all those things with fire, with violence, she invented, in the blackness of the forest, amidst the surrounding chorus of insects and toads and the whirlwind of bats, a sensation which cannot be called anything other than beauty. As if in her song she carried the true power of nature, and this was surely the greatest paradox: that this isolated place, this forest, as far away as could be imagined from the sophistication of literature, was the place where art had found its strongest, most authentic expression.
Then I left that region, and I never saw Elvira again, or any of the storytellers of the forest of Darién. But I was left with far more than nostalgia—with the certainty that literature could exist, even when it was worn away by convention and compromise, even if writers were incapable of changing the world. Something great and powerful, which surpassed them, which on occasion could enliven and transfigure them, and restore the sense of harmony with nature. Something new and very ancient at the same time, impalpable as the wind, ethereal as the clouds, infinite as the sea. It is this something which vibrates in the poetry of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, for example, or in the visionary architecture of Emanuel Swedenborg. The shiver one feels on reading the most beautiful texts of humankind, such as the speech that Chief Stealth gave in the mid-19th century to the President of the United States upon conceding his land: "We may be brothers after all..."
Something simple, and true, which exists in language alone. A charm, sometimes a ruse, a grating dance, or long spells of silence. The language of mockery, of interjections, of curses, and then, immediately afterwards, the language of paradise.
It is to her, to Elvira, that I address this tribute—and to her that I dedicate the Prize which the Swedish Academy is awarding me. To her and to all those writers with whom—or sometimes against whom—I have lived. To the Africans: Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ahmadou Kourouma, Mongo Beti, to Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country, to Thomas Mofolo's Chaka. To the great Mauritian author Malcolm de Chazal, who wrote, among other things, Judas. To the Hindi-language Mauritian novelist Abhimanyu Unnuth, for Lal passina (Sweating Blood) to the Urdu novelist Qurratulain Hyder for her epic novel Ag ka Darya (River of Fire). To the defiant Danyèl Waro of La Réunion, for his maloya songs; to the Kanak poetess Déwé Gorodey, who defied the colonial powers all the way to prison; to the rebellious Abdourahman Waberi. To Juan Rulfo and Pedro Paramo, and his short stories El llano en llamas, andthe simple and tragic photographs he took of rural Mexico. To John Reed for Insurgent Mexico; to Jean Meyer who was the spokesman for Aurelio Acevedo and the Cristeros insurgents of central Mexico. To Luis González, author of Pueblo en vilo. To John Nichols, who wrote about the bitter land of The Milagro Beanfield War; to Henry Roth, my neighbour on New York Street in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Call it Sleep. To Jean-Paul Sartre, for the tears contained in his play Morts sans sépulture. To Wilfred Owen, the poet who died on the banks of the Marne in 1914. To J.D. Salinger, because he succeeded in putting us in the shoes of a young fourteen-year-old boy named Holden Caulfield. To the writers of the first nations in America – Sherman Alexie the Sioux, Scott Momaday the Navajo for The Names. To Rita Mestokosho, an Innu poet from Mingan, Quebec, who lends her voice to trees and animals. To José Maria Arguedas, Octavio Paz, Miguel Angel Asturias. To the poets of the oases of Oualata and Chinguetti. For their great imagination, to Alphonse Allais and Raymond Queneau. To Georges Perec for Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour? To the West Indian authors Edouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau, to René Depestre from Haiti, to André Schwartz-Bart for Le Dernier des justes. To the Mexican poet Homero Aridjis who allows us to imagine the life of a leatherback turtle, and who evokes the rivers flowing orange with Monarch butterflies along the streets of his village, Contepec. To Vénus Koury Ghata who speaks of Lebanon as of a tragic, invincible lover. To Khalil Gibran. To Rimbaud. To Emile Nelligan. To Réjean Ducharme, for life.
To the unknown child I met one day, on the banks of the river Tuira, in the forest of Darién. At night, sitting on the floor in a shop, lit by the flame of a kerosene lamp, he is reading a book and writing, hunched forward, not paying the slightest attention to anything around him, oblivious of the discomfort or noise or promiscuity of the harsh, violent life there just next to him. That child sitting cross-legged on the floor of that shop, in the heart of the forest, reading all alone in the lamplight, is not there by chance. He resembles like a brother that other child I spoke about at the beginning of these pages, who was trying to write with a carpenter's pencil on the back of ration books, in the dark years immediately after the war. The child reminds us of the two great urgent tasks of human history, tasks we are far, alas, from having fulfilled. The eradication of hunger, and the elimination of illiteracy.
For all his pessimism, Stig Dagerman's phrase about the fundamental paradox of the writer, unsatisfied because he cannot communicate with those who are hungry—whether for nourishment or for knowledge—touches on the greatest truth. Literacy and the struggle against hunger are connected, closely interdependent. One cannot succeed without the other. Both of them require, indeed urge, us to act. So that in this third millennium, which has only just begun, no child on our shared planet, regardless of gender or language or religion, shall be abandoned to hunger or ignorance, or turned away from the feast. This child carries within him the future of our human race. In the words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, a very long time ago, the kingdom belongs to a child.
J.M.G. Le Clézio, Brittany, 4 November 2008
Translated by Alison Anderson© THE NOBEL FOUNDATION 2008General permission is granted for the publication in newspapers in any language after December 7, 2008, 5:30 p.m. (Swedish time). Publication in periodicals or books otherwise than in summary requires the consent of the Foundation. On all publications in full or in major parts the above underlined copyright notice must be applied.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Matthew Henriksen edits Typo & Cannibal Books. Recent poems appear in The Cultural Society, Third Coast, Handsome Journal, and Poemeleon. He recently moved back to Fayetteville, Arkansas, from Brooklyn, but like many good poets, he is a native of Wisconsin and an avid baseball fan.
Jordan Stempleman is the author of Their Fields (Moria, 2005), What's the Matter (Otoliths, 2007), Facings (Otoliths, 2007), The Travels (Otoliths, 2008), and String Parade (BlazeVOX, 2008). Individual poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Big Bell, Court Green, The Hat, Jacket, and New American Writing. He lives in Prairie Village, Kansas, teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute, and is the Associate Editor of The Continental Review.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
William Sheldon was born in Fort Collins, Colorado, and moved from Montana to Kansas at the age of five. His father was an English professor at Emporia State University, so he has grown up with regional literary works, as well as immersion in this place’s culture. Sheldon excels at the spare, emphatic stories of the western dialect. His poems show that wisdom is the ultimate use of words, not momentary amusement. Each poem suggests, through character and metaphor, a method of understanding the larger world.
For example, blind Uncle Walt in “A Kind of Seeing” hears—or otherwise senses—a rattler while the narrator bales hay. Uncle Walt carries a stock cane instead of a white cane, and he uses it as a teaching tool. The blind man’s feat of hearing a snake, though, is not the remarkable event of the poem. When the narrator wants to kill the venomous serpent, Uncle Walt says, “There’s worse than snakes,” and he lets the animal leave in peace. The nephew learns danger is the natural order of this cosmos, including the unspoken realm of human interactions. Yet revenge is not the appropriate response. Here Sheldon expounds a natural theology, based on lessons that arise in nature.
A KIND OF SEEING
Uncle Walt walked
the old Crook place
blinder than a rock,
swinging his stock cane
with spiteful accuracy
on the old cow
when she crowded
my lugging of the grain.
Or halted me with it
at the waist
“Watch that wire”
before I felt its metal bite.
Once he hooked me
ass-end over appetite
from a half stack of bales,
and before my wind was back,
gently from the straw
and slid the diamondback
off into the whispering grass.
And to my “Kill it,”
his dusty voice,
“There’s worse than snakes.”
Education: M.F.A. Wichita State University (Creative Writing 2006); M.A. and B.S. in English, Emporia State University English (1986, 1984); A.A. Dodge City Community College (1982).
Career: He has worked as a carpenter’s assistant, stage coach driver, bus station attendant, and journalist; for the last 17 years he has taught at Hutchinson Community College. His books are Retrieving Old Bones (Woodley 2002, Kansas City Star Noteworthy Book) and Into Distant Grass (chapbook Midwest Quarterly, 2008). He received a Kansas Arts Commission fellowship.
____________________________________________________________________________________________© 2008 Denise Low, AAPP 25 © 2002 William Sheldon “A Kind of Seeing”
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Love Poem by Francisco Aragón
Just let the San Andreas
stay put, keeping this tunnel
intact, enough to amble
out of it, past Louie’s Dim
Sum a Saturday afternoon,
breeze detectable off
the bay—visible in the distance,
carrying with it the smells
of open air markets:
crab freshly caught
and seahorses piled
in bins along Stockton...
or Jack, strolling out of the tube
connecting Polk Gulch
and North Beach—on his way
to Aquatic Park to spread
the Sporting Green
on his favorite patch of grass...
He is ferrying the portable
radio to his ear
listening for the count
in the bottom of the ninth
begins to smooth
the pages with his palms
before he sitsto keep it dry:
the split seat of his pants
for Jack Spicer (1925–1965)
© 2004, Francisco Aragón
This poem first appeared in Jacket #26.
The reading features an introduction by The Latino Writers Collective, based in the Kansas City metropolitan area, organizes and coordinates projects for the larger community, especially to showcase national and local Latino writers and provide role models and instruction to Latino youth. Its mission is to foster an environment where the voices of Latino students, blue collar workers, professionals, and homemakers can finally be heard, sharing their experience and vision with a broad audience. Performing embers of the Collective include José Faus; Linda Rodriguez; Maria Vazquez Boyd; Gabriela M. Lemmons; and Gloria Martinez Adams. Work by members of the Collective appears in the recently published anthology, Primera Pagina.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Between the lines: Andrew Motion's advice to the next poet laureate
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday November 26 2008 00.01 GMT
"Be warned. If you interpret the job as I have done - that being poet laureate means not just writing poems but trying to champion poetry - you will find there is an unimaginable difference between leading a relatively private life and the public life suddenly required of you. It is not just about having to get up early to appear on the Today programme. It is everything that comes with having your life picked over.
"Be aware of the almost continual slew of requests to do or write this or that. It took me a while to work out what I could and should say no to. Part of the job, of course, is that the poet is required to write on public occasions. These poems can be difficult to write; left-handed poems written with a right hand, so to speak. They have a tendency to excite news editors to ring people up until they can find someone to say how much they dislike them - which is far from easy to deal with. The royal poems I have written I think belong in a slightly different place from my normal stream of work, which isn't to say I disown them. They were particular responses to particular moments.
"Do not wear yourself out. Keep enough time for your own writing. That is not just a question of getting up an hour earlier; it means the more difficult task of preserving staring-off time, thinking time. The laureateship takes over your life. An American publication described it as "a double-edged chalice". A ridiculous mixed metaphor, but true enough. There are so many pressures, exposures, demands and wearinesses. But it is also a post full of opportunities to do good things for poetry. What I am proudest of is the establishment of the online Poetry Archive, where a million pages of poetry are read each month. I couldn't have done it without being poet laureate; I couldn't have raised the money or had the ear of people in government.
When people say that the post is hopelessly outmoded - well, in a way it is. But it creates the chance to do things for poetry that are unique. I have enjoyed it. But I am looking forward to enjoying a little more peace, and a little more privacy."
• Andrew Motion, speaking to Charlotte Higgins
Thursday, November 20, 2008
from Fire to Fire by Mark Doty
His music, Charles writes,
makes us avoidable.
I write: emissary of evening.
We’re writing poems about last night’s bat.
Charles has stripped the scene to lyric,
while I’m filling in the tale: how,
when we emerged from the inn,
an unassuming place in the countryside
near Hoarwithy, not far from the Wye,
two twilight mares in a thorn-hedged field
across the road—clotted cream
and raw gray wool, vaguely above it all—
came a little closer. Though
when we approached they ignored us
and went on softly tearing up audible mouthfuls,
so we turned in the other direction,
toward Lough Pool, a mudhole scattered with sticks
beneath an ancient conifer’s vast trunk.
Then Charles saw the quick ambassador
fret the spaces between boughs
with an inky signature too fast to trace.
We turned our faces upward,
trying to read the deepening blue
between black limbs. And he said again,
There he is! Though it seemed only
one of us could see the fluttering pipistrelle
at a time—you’d turn your head to where
he’d been, no luck, he’d already joined
a larger dark. There he is! Paul said it,
then Pippa. Then I caught the fleeting contraption
speeding into a bank of leaves,
and heard the high, two-syllabled piping.
But when I said what I’d heard,
no one else had noticed it, and Charles said,
Only some people can hear their frequencies.
Fifty years old and I didn’t know
I could hear the tender cry of a bat
—cry won’t do: a diminutive chime
somewhere between merriment and weeping,
who could ever say? I with no music
to my name save what I can coax
into a line, no sense of pitch,
heard the night’s own one-sided conversation.
What to make of the gift? An oddity,
like being double-jointed, or token
of some kinship to the little Victorian handbag
dashing between the dim bulks of trees?
Of course the next day we begin our poems.
Charles considers the pipistrelle’s music navigational,
a modest, rational understanding of what
I have decided is my personal visitation.
Is it because I am an American that I think the bat came
especially to address me, who have the particular gift
of hearing him? If he sang to us, but only I
heard him, does that mean he sang to me?
Or does that mean I am a son of Whitman,
while Charles is an heir of Wordsworth,
albeit thankfully a more concise one?
Is this material necessary or helpful to my poem,
even though Charles admires my welter
of detail, my branching questions?
Couldn’t I compose a lean,
meditative evocation of what threaded
over our wondering heads,
or do I need to do what I am doing now,
and worry my little aerial friend
with a freight not precisely his?
Does the poem reside in experience
or in self-consciousness
about experience? Shh,
says the evening near the Wye.
Enough, say the hungry horses.
Listen to my poem, says Charles.
A word in your ear, says the night.
Monday, November 17, 2008
As I drove into Kansas along the turnpike this week, I saw the sign “Welcome Pheasant Hunters.” Fall is hunting season, and I remember well the family friend who took me along with his sons to learn shooting and hunting. I loved it.
Today’s poet, Michael L. Johnson, also takes readers along on a hunting trip, and along the way, he helps us reflect more deeply about our human identity. Johnson has taught creative writing at the University of Kansas for almost 40 years, and I appreciate all his good works.
Warmly, Denise Low
MICHAEL L. JOHNSON (1941 - )
Michael L. Johnson, a longtime poet, also lectures and writes about the American West. His new prose book, one of the best on the subject, is Hunger for the Wild: America’s Obsession with the Untamed West (2007 Kansas Notable Book). In addition, Johnson has written about the cultural history of this region in verse form. He also publishes prose and poetry about art, culture, and many other topics. He has been a professor at the University of Kansas since 1969, teaching creative writing and literature. Since he was born in next-door Missouri, he knows this area well.
Hunting is one of this region’s traditions, and “Hunting Again” is a terse sketch about the stalking process, written as though readers were in the field with the narrator. The rhythmic pace is regular and efficient. Discomfort of the expedition is noted in details—the “heft” of the gun; the prick of “burrs” and the “clutch of underbrush.” But Johnson does not leave readers with a flat image. In the second stanza, he digs more deeply into the experience. As the hunter seeks to take another being’s life, he also confronts his own mortality, his own “uncertain ghost.” He confronts a memory “so deep,” which is the underlying nature of humankind: We are predators, and this poem does not make apologies for this survival skill.
Things are different out here,
our ears tuned for a flush,
eyes set for scat or tracks.
Our soft hands heft oiled steel,
part branches, pluck off burrs.
Our legs ache from mud’s tug,
rough clutch of underbrush.
Our noses trust the dog’s
to discover the ghosts
of birds, where they are or
only where they might be.
We remember so deep
having done this before:
in the stalk, in the quick
moments of violence,
we discover ourselves,
our own uncertain ghosts.
Education: Michael Johnson received his BA from Rice University (English 1965); MA from Stanford University (English 1967), and PhD from Rice University (English 1968).
Career: The poet has published seven books of poetry: From Hell to Jackson Hole: A Poetic History of the American West (Bridge House Books 2001, Ben Franklin Award from the Publishers Marketing Association), Violence and Grace: Poems about the American West (Cottonwood Press 1993), Ecphrases (Woodley Press 1989), Familiar Stranger (Flowerpot Mountain Press 1983), The Unicorn Captured (Cottonwood Review Press 1980), and Dry Season (Cottonwood Review Press 1977). He has published 1000+ poems in Westview, California Quarterly, Illinois Quarterly, Northeast Journal, Portland Review, others. He has presented many poetry lecture and craft workshops at conferences.
____________________________________________________________________________________________© 2008 Denise Low, AAPP 26 © 1993. Michael Johnson “Hunting Again.”
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
This multimedia package includes Denise Low's responses to landscape images by Paul Hotvedt. Text includes prose poems and an accompanying essay about creative dialogue between memory and landscape. Hotvedt's images include digitized images, cards, and videographic interpretations. Included in the DVD are paintings, readings, and interviews with Hotvedt and Low about the creative process. Packaging is by Deb Dillon, and music by Josh Conner and Brandon McCune.
Advance copies are available for sale on Paul Hotvedt's website: http://paulhotvedt.com/cgi-bin/p/awtp-home.cgi?d=paul-hotvedt .
Monday, November 3, 2008
James McCrary celebrates recent publication of his collected chapbooks All That (Moscow, Idaho: ManyPenny Press). He first came to Lawrence in 1965 and mostly has lived in Kansas since, except for short spans on the coasts. In the sixties he was an active poet associated with Ed Dorn, David Ignatow, Ken Irby, and John Moritz, with publications in Grist magazine. In 1990 he began teaching poetry at the Lawrence Arts Center and curated several reading series, including the Poetry Slam. He also worked with Burroughs Communications.
McCrary writes a minimalist verse that follows thought so closely that it becomes an abstraction. His writings have much in common with abstract paintings. John Fowler writes of this poet that “The simplicity of language, the sparseness of the word on the page, the way a few words stretched my mind across big spaces, all this is here.” McCrary’s years in Kansas have marked his language, as poet Charlie Plymell notes that this poet’s resembles “a Kansan who doesn't want to waste any words.” This minimal approach creates emphasis.
McCrary’s writings are like gesture drawings of artists, where ink outlines horizons and encloses balloons of space. The first line of this poem sets up the philosophical framework, questions about “out there.” Then the words suggest the very basics of thunderclouds gathering: clouds, movement, “electric,” “a bit of wet,” and then more movement. Then the narrator compares weather to thought, which is “there” and “here” at once or “t(here)”.
Thinking about out there
the clouds gather
push east and south
where hopefully they will
do what they do
covering both sun and land
with the mass of them.
a bit of wet
then move on toward the
easy hills of west missouri
or simply dissipate and
reflect above the kansas river
where the loss is obvious
not much else is t(here)
Education: Jim McCrary received a BA in English (1987) and an MA in Creative Writing (1989), under David Bromige. Both degrees are from California State University-Sonoma. Career: The poet has five books of poetry: Coon Creek (Cottonwood Books, 1970), Edible Pets, (Tansy Books, 1987), West of Mass (Tansy Books, 1991), and All That (ManyPenny Books, 2008) http://www.lulu.com/content/4363355 . He has published a half dozen chapbooks. He has published in over 100 magazines, anthologies, and online venues, including Exquisite Corpse, Caliban, and First Intensity. He edited his own ‘zine Smelt Money, print-version blog. He received a Phoenix Award. ____________________________________________________________________________________________© 2008 Denise Low, AAPP 24 © 1994 James McCrary, “7/25/91, Poems of the Place”
Friday, October 24, 2008
The official spoken language of the universe is English,
and the official written language is Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Deep space explosions and telepathy require no subtitles.
All creatures known and unknown possess mouths.
The rule of sequels obtains, even in parallel universes,
and gravity gives rise to reason, weightlessness to panic.
Despite our investment in it, the moon sheds little light.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Elizabeth Dodd has lived in Kansas since 1989, when she became an English professor at Kansas State University. She publishes poetry and personal essays, and the natural world appears vividly in all her writings. She also publishes commentary on nature topics that are related to ecological issues, or ecocriticism. This is an emerging field of study in American belles lettres, one that has genesis in the 1930s writings of Nebraska author Loren Eiseley. The Flint Hills area of Manhattan often inspires her prose and verse, and from these she moves to human concerns.
This poem, "Lyric,” begins with a question of faith. Bishop George Berkeley questioned materialism when he asked “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?" Here, Dodd’s scattering of “broken” bark and branches across snow create a “grammar” of affirmation. She includes the speaker of the poem—“I turn sideways”—as another natural element, not a dominator of wilderness. The poet’s “hillside” consists of unseen realities, including song, the essence of lyrical poetry. Her verse transcends matter, and her answer to Bishop Berkeley is “Yes.” Poetry is a sixth sense.
(Unfortunately, the original spacing will not translate to this page.)
It doesn’t matter
a tree falls
or doesn’t on this hillside.
I am here
in this buoyant silence
lifting from snow cover.
There is no story to tell
about cause and effect,
no one to pull
the stiff sheet of grammar
over a scattered pattern
of bark and branches
broken on the snow.
I turn sideways
and the wind slips among us,
so many vertical,
Education: Elizabeth Dodd received a B.A. in English and French from Ohio University in 1983; an M.F.A. in poetry from Indiana University in 1986; and a Ph.D. in American and British Literature from Indiana University in 1989.Career: Dodd has p two books of poetry: Archetypal Light (University of Nevada Press, 2001) and Like Memory, Caverns (New York University Press, 1992, Elmer Holmes Bobst Award). Her books of essays and criticism are In the Mind’s Eye: Essays Across the Animate World (University of Nebraska Press, 2008), Prospect: Journeys & Landscapes (University of Utah Press, 2003, William Rockhill Nelson Award), and The Veiled Mirror and the Woman Poet (University of Missouri Press, 1992.)______________________________________________________________________________________© 2008 Denise Low, AAPP 23 © 1992 Elizabeth Dodd “Lyric” (New York University Press).
Friday, October 17, 2008
Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins)
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State University Press)
Richard Howard, Without Saying (Turtle Point Press)
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press)
These are all established poets with salutory previous book publications--no surprises like Troy Jollimore, for example. Also note that the majority of these poets are published by academic or small literary presses. I encourage apprentice poets to find these books, read them, and look at the poets' strategies as they re-create the world with tracks on paper.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
On Oct. 3, 2008, in Lawrence, Kansas, the 26th Annual Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award was presented to Tenth Circuit Judge Deanell Reece Tacha.
Speakers at the award ceremony included Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Judge Carolyn King of the Fifth Circuit, Chief Judge Robert Henry of the Tenth Circuit, Judge John Lungstrum of the District of Kansas, Judge Sarah Barker of the Southern District of Indiana, John Tacha, and Daniel Low.
The Devitt Award honors Article III judges whose careers have been exemplary. Judge Tacha has been a judge on the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals since 1985, served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, chaired the Judicial Division of the ABA, chaired the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on the Judicial Brach, was President of the American Inns of Court, chaired the Appellate Judges Conference, was a member of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, was president of the Kansas University Alumni Association, and has been active in numerous other professional, civic, philanthropic, and cultural organizations.
During the ceremony, Daniel Low remarked on how inspirational Judge Tacha was, and he read a poem written in honor of the occasion by Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low:
For a Kansas Judge
Central Plains wind stops for no woman
nor beast—not the cattle nor the sparrows.
Sometimes it carries straight-line rain
and sometimes glistening prisms of mist.
Pawnees and Spanish fought in the winds
and Cheyennes and American soldiers.
West winds blew through council fires
and brick court houses on town squares.
Gravity tugs the wind into whorls, never
easing its grip. These laws do not vary.
Each community learns the same lessons:
how sun returns after winter, how kindness
fosters survival, how the stories circle,
how law holds even the sky in order.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Welcome to autumn, “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” and here is a poem about falling leaves, but it is not like Keat’s “Ode to Autumn” nor anything else. Judith Roitman writes about the passage of time, a traditional end-of-year concern, but she is an original. She experiments with how language can mirror consciousness. Images appear, and also fragments of thoughts, but this very American poetic form of experimental verse does not connect dots in expected ways.
Judith Roitman has lived in Lawrence since 1978. Besides being active as a poet, she is professor of mathematics at the University of Kansas. She is Guiding Teacher at the Southwind Zen Center and an active member of the Jewish community in Lawrence. These multiple roles inform her writing. In addition, she is a voice among poets like Ron Silliman who comment on contemporary experience of poetics (http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/). Clarity of vision is a hallmark of her writing, but the logic is unreliable, as chaos theory shows how random events are the rule, not the exception.
“As a Leaf” is a poem about the motion of falling leaves, perhaps set in the autumn season. Here, focus is on each image as it occurs, and not the expected connections among them. Readers must fill in stories, if there are any. This poem is also about perception itself, as real images are copied on our retinas (“Copy to copy”) and “transformed” into human experience. I also find this poem to be about poetry itself, which is like “turning the wrong corner” and finding new ways to perceive reality. A lyrical image is “suspended wasp motion” as time itself continues to move forward like heartbeats and like the slow, floating wasp’s flight. The ending thought, about the tension between immobility and action, resolves with the “& so on” of continuing creation as our galaxy continues to spread outward across the blue sky. This kind of poetry asks the reader to participate fully.
AS A LEAF
Copy to copy as a leaf falls transformer to transformed
light on glass moving as hands denied & flight
suspended from wings but without looking
all things against blue the blue room blue house
we find it this way every so often turning the wrong corner
the right one filling up all gone against blue
covered within light the heart the sign of it steady
the wire angling up into vision
things ready to fall
& others spinning up suspended wasp motion
within derelict acts & clarity of motion
stillness within motion & so on.
Education: Judith Roitman graduated from Bayside High School in New York City (1962); Sarah Lawrence College with a BA in English (1966); University of California-Berkeley (1974).
Career: This poet has published poems various journals, including First Intensity, Black Spring, Locus Point (on the web), Bird Dog, and Wakarusa Wetlands in Word & Image (Lawrence: Imagination and Place, 2005). She has published these chapbooks, or books under 50 pages: The Stress of Meaning: Variations on a Line by Susan Howe (Morris, Minn.: Standing Stones Press, 1997); Diamond Notebooks (Buffalo, New York: Nominative Press Collective, 1998); Slippge (Elmwood, Conn.: Potes and Poets Press, 1999); and No Face: New and Selected Poems (Lawrence, First Intensity 2008).
Friday, September 5, 2008
BRIAN DALDORPH (1958 - )
“Last Word” is from Daldorph’s new book of sonnets. Readers may be surprised at how this does not follow the pattern of a Shakespearean sonnet, yet some of the lines do rhyme; there are fourteen lines; and the ending is an unexpected reversal. This is a contemporary sonnet—it still has a lyric, emotional focus, yet it uses the sonnet form as a guideline, not a straitjacket. One of the enduring qualities of the sonnet form is its length, which sustains thought as long as most of us can concentrate. It fits the human mind like the length of a breath is gauged to our lung capacities.
The speaker of this dramatic monologue is a writer. He believes God is counting his words, like breaths, from birth to death. As he writes late at night, he listens to night music of train whistles and “Yardbird,” nickname for Charlie Parker. For The speaker here, these evoke thoughts of mortality. He may think that he will live forever, but in this poem he imagines his end—a single significant word. This prompts readers to ask the same question.
God knows the number of words I’ll write.
God knows my first word
and He’s been keeping score since then,
even when I’m up past midnight
listening to night trains and Yardbird,
trying to hold onto my heavy black pen.
Sometimes I think I could write forever,
just sit at my desk and not move
beyond the twitching of my hand. I’d not need a lover.
Words would be my picture-framed love.
Eventually there’d be only my last word left
to write. Perhaps I’d think about it for days,
stretched out on my death bed.
What should it be? Rain? Sea? Alone? Amaze?
Education: Brian Daldorph was born in Harrogate, Yorkshire, England. He received a BA at the University of Kent (1983); MA at Illinois State University (1985) and Ph.D. in English at the University of Illinois (1990). His dissertation topic was the poetry of W.S. Merwin.
Career: This poet has taught English at the University of Kansas since 1990. He also has taught in Japan, Senegal, and England. His books are The Holocaust and Hiroshima: Poems (Mid-America, 1997); Outcasts (Mid-America, 2000); Senegal Blues (219 Press, 2004); and From the Inside Out: Sonnets (Woodley, 2008). He publishes and edits Coal City Review.____________________________________________________________ © 2008 Denise Low, AAPP 21 © 2008 Brian Daldorph “Last Word” in From the Inside Out (Woodley)
Monday, September 1, 2008
I first knew of Ted Kooser, former U.S. poet laureate, as an editor of Midwestern poetry books in the 1970s. He labored at this task for years with his Windflower Press, and in the process, he energized many poets, including Nebraska's state poet Bill Kloefkorn (born and raised in Kansas). I came to know Kooser's fine, mysterious poetry soon after he visited the University of Kansas for a reading in about 1978. This first book by Kloefkorn went into numerous printings, and it was a legendary small press bestseller of the day.
Below, we have been discussing the publication history of Kloefkorn's breakthrough book, and here is some clarification from Kooser in a recent email, reprinted with permission:
"If the date on the Windflower edition of Alvin Turner is 1974, that's when I did the first printing. I wouldn't have changed the original year when I did subsequent printings. Unfortunately, all my papers about Windflower have been sent to the university library, which will eventually have all my things on deposit. I think that the Roadapple edition had been out of print and unavailable for quite a while when Bill asked me, or I proposed, to take it on. But this is a long time ago and my memory is fuzzy.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I am grateful to Brian Salchert (email@example.com ) for recalling the publication history of this seminal Midwestern book. With his permission, here is the sequence of three editions of this book:
"William Kloefkorn's popular first book of poems, Alvin Turner as Farmer,
was originally published by Road Runner Press in 1972 as a special issue
of Road Apple Review vol. iv no. 2. Mr. Kloefkorn's friend and colleague,
Bill Evans, did pen and ink sketches for the book, one of which was for
the cover. Terry Smith and Brian Salchert were the editors. Both the
press and the magazine were established by Doug Flaherty.
"Subsequently, Ted Kooser's Windflower Press published Alvin Turner as Farmer
in 1977. (This date is correct according to mockingbird.creighton.edu/.)
"In 2004 Logan House Press published Alvin Turner as Farmer a third time."
I do not know how mockingbird.creighton.edu arrived at 1977 as a copyright date. Was this another edition? Does anyone have any information?
Fall Workshops at The Writers Place:
Writing Creative Nonfiction with Conger Beasley, Jr., Saturday, September 6, 11 AM - 1 PMCost: $20 members / $30 nonmembers
Master Class in Fiction with Robert Day, Friday, September 12,10 AM - 1 PMCost: $25 members / $35 nonmembers
Getting Started Writing Short Stories with Adam Desnoyers, Wednesdays, October 1 & 8, 6 – 9 PMCost: $40 members / $60 nonmembers
Writing Persona Poems with William Trowbridge, Saturday, October 4, 11 AM – 12:30 PMCost: $15 members / $25 nonmembers
Writing for Young Audiences with Eileen Bluestone Sherman, Saturday, October 18, 11 AM – 1 PMCost: $20 members / $30 nonmembers
Call The office at 816-753-1090 or check the web site at http://www.writersplace.org/default.aspx?PageID=44for more information.
Monday, August 18, 2008
This poet has been a mainstay of the Kansas City poetry scene, where he co-founded the Riverfront Reading Series. He served on the editorial boards of Woodley, Potpourri, and BookMark Presses and on the boards of The Kansas City Artists Coalition and The Kansas City Writers Place. He co-edited (with Carl Bettis) the magazine The Same (2000-2007), for which he is the current editor. He is also contributing editor to the online magazine, Big City Lit. After retiring, he moved to Mount Union, Pennsylvania. His poetry is chock-full of surprising language and philosophical twists. “Like a Tree” is a poem I have tried to write many times, without this poet’s success. Miller compares his body at length to a tree with the idea that human organic forms are like other natural forms—hair is like “leaves”; digits are like “twigs”; and lungs have bronchial alveoli like “sponges.” This breaks down the separation of body and mind, expounded in the philosophy of René Descartes. Miller posits reality as a unified field, where thought is a natural process, like gravity. Humans and trees both are mortal and eventually will fall.
The poem shifts into high gear with the description of the head, which includes “inner petals” where he connects “what our brains conceive” to the physical voice. The poet’s words are organic constructions, “unwrapped and uttered by way of bone and blood.”
LIKE A TREE
The body owns us, lets us, inside it, live
and breathe through branchy sponges it provides:
the head covered with hairs like leaves,
the trunk’s limbs sprouted
with fingers and toes like twigs,
and within, the heartwood’s dark thuds
are the ax man’s steps, which will bring it down,
this body with a head like a bloom,
and with inner petals, too, delicately tissued
purses and pods of sap and seed,
and the Adam’s apple, the vocal chords and tongue
give us a voice which is the body’s voice,
full-throated, words of the flesh,
unwrapped and uttered by way of bone and blood.
Only by the always-bodily thing are we
brought to what our brains conceive
before the body falls like a tree.
Education: Philip Miller attended public schools in Kansas City, Kansas. He received a B.A. (English and Psychology 1965) and M.A. (English 1966) Emporia State University.
Career: This poet taught English at Kansas City Kansas Community College (1986-2002). His books are: Cats in the House, Woodley Memorial Press, 1987; Hard Freeze, BookMark Press, 1994; From the Temperate Zone (with Keith Denniston) Potpourri Press, 1995; Branches Snapping, Helicon Nine Editions, 2003; Why We Love Our Cats and Dogs (with Patricia Lawson) Unholy Day Press, 2004; The Casablanca Fan, Unholy Day Press (forthcoming). He won the Ledge Press chapbook award (1995).
____________________________________________________________ © 2008 Denise Low, AAPP 20 © 2003 Philip Miller, “Like a Tree,” in Branches Snapping. © 2001 Denise Low photo.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Here is a poet who performs poetry as well as he writes poetry. I first heard him read at a poetry slam fifteen years ago, and I was impressed with how much substance he put into his spoken word creations. He reads and performs often in northeast Kansas, often in support of good causes like Art Togeau and the Langston Hughes Literary Awards.
To hear Barry Barnes, attend a performance August 1st 6pm-8pm at the Union Pacific Railroad Depot, 402 N. 2nd St. Also appearing are the Bopaphonics, Zydeco Tougeau, Matt Fowler, and myself. You can download spoken word and music at http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=186910480
Barnes draws on the poetic tradition and enlivens it each time he performs. At a recent performance, I heard Barnes recite from memory a number of poems by Langston Hughes, Robert Burns, and Shakespeare. This writer also appears on spoken word recordings that improvise on Hughes’s poetry. He writes about very contemporary themes, like Hughes, yet at the same time and on the same stage, he reaches back to previous centuries.
“Kicked to the Curb” is a rarity in American English verse: a successful social protest poem. The straightforward dialect is made powerful by parallel yet varied comments. This is not a simple anti-war poem—the poet lists some plausible reasons for the conflict in the second stanza. The costs of war, nonetheless, are clear. A political poem shares qualities with narrative poetry: embedded within these images is a storyline. Finally, this is a moral comment that protests the treatment of returning veterans, especially those with war wounds. The title has shock-effect, or hyperbole (exaggeration) to move readers to action.
KICKED TO THE CURB
An army of amputees
return from overseas.
Traumatic brain injuries:
can’t hear, can’t think, can’t speak, can’t see.
post traumatic stress syndrome
can’t concentrate, can’t eat, can’t sleep.
Unexplained disorders and diseases
and what for?
What is the reason for this war?
Revenge for 9-11.
To free Iraqis.
War on terror.
When all our soldiers finally come home
will they be forgotten and kicked to the curb?
Education: Barry Barnes is a life-long resident of Lawrence, where he attended public schools.
Career: This poet’s book of poetry, We Sleep in a Burning House, is from Mammoth Publications (2008, http://www.mammothpublications.com/ ). He adapted poetry of Langston Hughes to musical form for Plain and Simple Truth (Chameleon Productions 2007). He appears with the Bopaphonics on these Chameleon spoken-word productions: Let America Be America Again (2006), Channeling Langston (2005), P-Bop (2004). Super Cow is another ensemble CD. His poems appear in the compilation Kaw! Kaw! Kaw! (Gonk Monster and Chameleon Productions 2000). Barnes produced CDs: Blue in a Red State (with Stacey Fox 2003) and Straight Out of Kansas (2005). He works for Hallmark in Lawrence. See http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=186910480 .
____________________________________________________________ © 2008 Denise Low, AAPP19 © 2008 Barry Barnes, “Kicked to the Curb.” © 2007 Charles Goff III, photograph.
Friday, July 25, 2008
"So, what it's like being a State Poet Laureate.......?
"Being poet laureate has helped me in so many ways. I can now articulate more clearly how my role as a poet is community-based. All poets are advocates for the arts. All poets work with a centuries-old tradition of wisdom. We add our own pieces to that tradition, from our time, and that great river keeps flowing forward. As a poet laureate, I have become more excited about younger poets and their upcoming roles of spokespersons for their generations. All poets are revolutionaries, creating “it” new each morning."