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Catherine Woodard
http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/
poet
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Marie Ponsot held us in her spell, reading with radiant authority and a deep pleasure in the power and play of language at the University Club, NYC, where friends and family gathered Nov. 19 to celebrate her legacy as poet, teacher, and benefactor to The Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s College. It came as no surprise that Ponsot, class of 1940 and this year’s recipient of the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (among her many other honors), asked the audience to hold applause when it broke out after she read a second poem. Quiet observation and imaginative attention to the power of poetic structures are key in Ponsot’s poetry. One thinks of Ponsot’s most recent book, Easy, and realizes that this ease is hard won, as she affirms in a PBS News Hour profile. Each of the twelve poems Ponsot chose for Tuesday’s event reveals experience enfolded within experience, as in “Pre-text,” in which the first, lunging steps of a “sudden baby” lead backwards in time erasing suddenness in an eloquent gesture. In “On a Library of Congress Photo of Eunice B. Winkless, 1904,” a young woman’s proud but precarious control over the “animal horse” results in her fall into “a pool like a tame star.” In Ponsot’s luminous yet uncompromising vision, we come up short but still win. “Did it again. Damn Fool!” the rider exclaims, and the poem ends with an observation on the authority of the imagination, the poet asking, “And when do I act on better evidence?” In “Hard Shell Clams,” Ponsot commemorates the intimacy of a day shared with her father, yet remembers also “what I would not let us say.” A series of glowing tributes to Marie Ponsot’s legacy followed a convivial settling in. Dean Richard Greenwald of St. Joseph’s introduced President S. Elizabeth Hill, who praised Ponsot’s “generous embrace of life” and her poems that “blaze like the sun or glow like warming embers.” Alice Quinn, who edited Ponsot’s return to publishing with her 1981 Admit Impediment, remembered being careful not to damage “the copious beauty” and celebrated Ponsot’s “thrilling relation to the poetic canon and poetic form.” She described the eleven poems that appeared in a recent edition of Poetry as “marvels of intellectual curiosity and acuity that will also break your heart.” To illustrate, she read Ponsot’s “Roundstone Cove,” which ends with the acute and comforting observation, “Fog hoods me. But the hood of fog is sun.” Rosemary Deen, co-author of Beat Not the Poor Desk, described Ponsot’s inspired teaching syllabus and expressed enduring admiration for the way this “mother, breadwinner, cooker of two French meals a day, and poet” managed to find “those twenty minutes before going to bed” to write. Finally, Jackson Taylor, Director of The Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s and first to hold the newly endowed Ponsot Chair in Poetry, introduced Marie Ponsot by quoting her advice to him: “You gotta get lucky. The way to get lucky is to be open to luck.” Clearly, there is... Continue reading
Posted Dec 15, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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When I am lucky enough to travel, I always think about communities, about how each of us is defined by layers of communities. I grew up in Kenly, N.C., a town of 1,400 people in rural North Carolina, and have now lived more than half of my life in NYC where I’ve always known a writing community, first in journalism, now in poetry. The most innovative model I know for non-profits who want to make a difference in their community, literary and otherwise, is in Spartanburg, S.C. Meet Betsy Teter, executive director and editor of the Hub City Writers Project, the only independent press I know that also runs a non-profit book store. CW: How did Hub City Press get its start? BT: Basically three writers met each other when a new coffee shop opened in Spartanburg. We certainly had no idea that we ultimately would have seven employees, a press that has sold 100,000 books all over the country, and a non-profit independent bookshop on the town square. Our bookselling operations now help fund a successful summer writers conference, a poetry book prize, residencies, a mentor/critique program, a story-into-film film festival, college scholarships for local teens, donations of thousands of books to local schools, regular creative writing workshops and dozens of readings annually. All of this started with the idea for one book, an anthology of authors writing personal essays about the experience of living in Spartanburg. In the beginning, back in 1995, we focused on telling the story of Spartanburg, through personal essay, natural history, art, poetry, etc. Readers in town loved that writers cared about what happened here and also that we were interested in preserving through words what was special about our community. We reflect our community, and that’s what makes us successful. We use the assets that are here, we give back, and we are helping to define what it means to live in Spartanburg, S.C. CW: Where does the name come from? BT: We modeled ourselves after the Depression-era Federal Writers Project, because we were writers working to build community. The name Hub City is a throwback to when Spartanburg was a railroad hub in the late 1800s. We are working to create a literary hub now. CW: How does Hub City work? BT: We like to say we are a "vertically integrated" literary arts organization—developing new writers from the ground up through workshops and conferences, sometimes publishing them, and then selling their books. Last year, a local writer who we first met at one of our summer writers’ conferences brought us $50,000 from sales of her novel, which we published at Hub City Press and sell in the bookstore. That success is creating opportunities for a lot of other writers. We are a 501c3 non-profit and we have tremendous financial support from our home community, even now that our publishing focus is more regional and national. A healthy bank account feeds creativity and energy, so we just kept growing and expanding, pulling more... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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The birth of a book is a blessed day. The day I interviewed Sudeep Sen in January at his apartment in New Delhi about editing The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry, his latest poetry book Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1978-2013 arrived in boxes from Gallerie Publishers. Shelves and shelves of poetry books share top billing with an eclectic collection of visual art, including Sen’s photographs. He took the photo on the cover of the anthology. Behind his desk is a framed draft of a poem by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the prolific Indian writer and later-in-life visual artist. Birthday cruise for Derek Walcott, 83 Sen, 48, introduced me to his extremely charming mother in the ground floor apartment so I saw Fractals join the shrine on a dining room side table of her son’s more than two dozen poetry books, translations and anthologies. Later in January, Sen was the contemporary poet honored to read at a Nobel Laureate conference in St. Lucia. Coincidentally, Tagore was awarded a literature Nobel exactly 100 years earlier. Derek Walcott, the 1992 literature winner, lead the Q&A after Sen’s reading. “The biggest gig in my life thus far – certainly the most precious, moving and meaningful,” Sen emailed me after. CW: All 85 poets in the anthology were born after India became a republic in 1950. How does that influence their relationship to English as a language? SS: There’s a confidence in the language, an unabashedness. One or two generations ago English was a post-colonial language. It’s no longer the case. For me, English is an Indian language. It is one of our 26 official languages. CW: So it’s about owning the language not in reaction to a colonial history of oppression? SS: No, it’s more than that. English just happens to be one of the tongues they are using very freely as an everyday thing. Take me for instance, I have three mother tongues: English, Bengali and Hindi, that’s how I grew up. It’s very unself-conscious. English is a language I learned from my parents and grandparents who are Indians. When I travel abroad, people say “oh you speak English very well” and I say “and so do you.” The English language is interesting because there are so many different Englishes. There is Caribbean English, Australian English, American English, English English, Asian English, Indian English. CW: What did selecting the poets teach you about those Englishes? SS: That it is complex. Take David Dabydeen in the book, whose work is known as part of Caribbean literature. He’s from Guyana and grew up in the UK, an Indian diaspora poet who writes just fabulous English poetry of the highest order. His ancestors were Indian laborers. He writes about cooking dhal and roti and curry. Some of his poems are very steeped in Western painting, including this fabulous love poem called “Turner” I excerpt in the book. The Indian diaspora is very complex too. The older diaspora is five or six generations... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Sen reads his poem "A Blank Letter" on BAP Friday.
Sen reads one of his poems in the post tomorrow. I will add it in print too. Good idea. 646 251-8500 www.catherinewoodard.com 907 Fifth Avenue NYC 10021
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When I am lucky enough to travel, I always think about communities, about how each of us is defined by layers of communities. I grew up in Kenly, N.C., a town of 1,400 people in rural North Carolina, and have now lived more than half of my life in NYC... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2013 at Catherine Woodard
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The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry is a testament to the power of think global, write local. All 85 contemporary poets selected by the editor, Sudeep Sen, are Indians who write in English. They live in India and across the world, and write about everything under the sun in a variety of traditional forms and free verse. Sen, a poet with serious anthology credentials, took the bold step of selecting mostly new work; more than 90 percent of the poems are unpublished. So it’s a terrific snapshot of the vibrancy of English poets in India and the diaspora. Other features also break the expected in refreshing ways. The poets are listed alphabetically by first name “so that there is a further sense of intimacy and a community-feel among fellow poets,” Sen states in the well-written, six-page introduction. Many of the poets are new to me, so I can’t lament greatest hits that might be missing. However, readers can get a good feel for each poet because generally there are at least four pages of poems and a few considerably more. (I can’t argue that Sen should include himself; however, 15 pages seems excessive.) Many of the poets have had long careers: Amit Chaudhuri, Arundhathi Subramaniam, David Dabydeen, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Vijay Seshadri, Vikram Seth. Some only have one book or chapbook, such as Sridala Swami and Siddhartha Bose, whose playwright and performer credentials are far longer. What all the poets share is a confidence with English as one of India's 26 official languages. All included are born after 1950 when India became a republic and the world’s largest democracy. At 541 pages, the anthology has heft and heart and lots of experimentation with formal forms as well as free verse. “You’re likely to encounter a pantoum next to an acrostic poem, a triolet juxtaposed against a ghazal, lyric narratives, Sapphic fragments, Bhartrhari-style shataka, sonnet, rubai, prayer chants, rap, reggae, creole, haiku, tanka,” the introduction promises and delivers. Sen also backs up his observation that “The subject matter is staggeringly large. There is introspection and gregariousness, politics and pedagogy, history, science, illness, fantasy, love, erotica, sex and death.” He isn’t shy about promoting Indian English poetry, that’s for sure. “I would provocatively assert that the best English poetry written by Indians in the contemporary national and international literary arena is perhaps as good — or superior — to Indian fiction in English as a whole.” A pointless, if provocative claim, I would argue. But I would second Sen’s conclusion that “Indian poets are in full flight” and thank him for making it so easy to read so many. Tomorrow: a Q&A with Sudeep Sen. ******* I couldn’t find an online source to purchase the anthology with shipping outside of India, including www.harpercollins.co.in. (Readers, please comment below if you know a source.) I also recommend Sen's selections at Prairie Schooner Feast Anthology of Poetry by Indian Women, available online. And a call for submissions. Editors Charles Fishman and Smita Sahay are seeking... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Walking Delhi with Himanshu Verma, an emerging arts curator, follows a trail where poets share top billing with rulers and religious leaders. Poets get prominent positions in India’s history – literally – with their shrines and tombs near those of emperors and saints across Delhi. The place to be buried in Delhi from the 14th to 19th C was Nizamuddin, a village named after the exalted Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Not far away is a vast World Heritage site, the tomb of Humayun, the second of six powerful Muslim Mughals who controlled Northern India from 1527-1707. Eternity in the vicinity was a mark of status for nobles and warriors too. But who is buried closest to the white marble mausoleum of Nizamuddin who died in 1325, none other than his disciple and eminent Muslim poet Amir Khusrau, who died just six months later. If all you know about Hindu-Muslim relations in India is the wrenching partition in 1947 and subsequent political assassinations, the relationship between this saint and poet and the broader culture is a good place to get perspective on why India is simultaneously the Hindu capital of the world and the second largest Muslim nation. Most, not all, of the Islamic Mughals were tolerant of people of other faiths, including the indigenous Hindus. Khusrau was a cultural cross-pollinator, writing poetry primarily in Persian but also in Hindi. He drew on both languages for the first known printed dictionary. His poems take several forms, but Khusrau may be best known for expanding the development of ghazal. Khusrau mined ghazal for lyrics with his fusion of Persian and Indian musical traditions to create the Sufi devotional music, qawwali. Hindu and Muslim pilgrims, not to mention music lovers, still crowd the courtyard between the tombs of saint and poet for Friday afternoon qawwali. The path to the tombs twists through narrow alleys and bazaars, a bustling Muslim marketplace since the Middle Ages. One route goes past a still-preserved sandstone step well built by Nizamuddin to provide water and a scenic meeting place in the neighborhood. Then picture eight or nine singers and musicians, called a party, performing powerful poetic lyrics of love and longing. The intoxication with the beloved is understood to be the divine, but oh how well the metaphors work for the mere human as in a Khusrau excerpt below: O sweetheart, why do you not take me to your bosom? Long like curls in the night of separation, Short like life on the day of our union. Flash forward to Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869), a master of ghazal, who was alive during the unsuccessful Indian rebellion against the British in 1857. Traditionally ghazal is a short poem of divine anguished love, in couplets all using the same rhyme, with the poet’s name in the last stanza. Ghalib expanded the focus to philosophy and the troubles and mysteries of life. For example, he compared his unhappy arranged marriage to a second imprisonment following the confinement of life itself. Reading... Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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BRINK The meaning of quiet – those corridors Knew it well. Softly girls. This building is old, Mother C lisped up stairs, her wimple Flaring like a halo. At table, tennis, we twirled spins like neat habits. A single smash could dismantle our world. Outside school, a man with a cleft lip spiced slices of raw mango. Red chilli burst into our mouth like explosions of sea water. The heat moved us to shower. We limp-toed into womanhood in spotless socks, a generation afraid of bringing things down. A backyard of bramble and weed was where we found noise. It wandered knock-kneed and had a tongue full of pins. Through this poem, I discovered Anindita Sengupta in a new anthology I will review here tomorrow. “Brink” caught my eye on a flight from Mumbai to New Delhi on New Year’s Eve. I already intended to visit protests there on violence against women. So yes, I was ripe to land on this hinge line of “Brink:” “a generation afraid of bringing things down/ A backyard of bramble and weed was where/we found noise.” I also admired the poem’s focus on the “meaning of quiet” and the deft insertion of the meaning of unquiet through a table tennis scene: “A single smash could dismantle/ our world.” Just outside the school in that poem, explosions are found, alliteratively and literally, in “spiced slices of raw mango.” City of Water, Sengupta’s first collection of poems, was published in 2010 and won the Muse India Young Writer award in 2012. She lives in Mumbai and is pictured with her nine-month-old daughter, Amaya. I love how quickly you can travel the world and the world of ideas on the Internet. I offer a few postcards from my travels after meeting “Brink” on paper. My first stop was Ultra Violet, a site for contemporary feminism in India that Sengupta founded and edits. I’ve been reading it regularly since my return to New York for its sophisticated coverage of civics and culture and have had a few email exchanges with Sengupta. Ultra Violet reflects her ear and eye as a journalist and poet. She is one of six international journalists recently awarded new media fellowships to report on topics of global health by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Sengupta will focus on maternal and reproductive health as this link explains. A delightful discovery of my trip to India was the large number of journalists who write poetry or poets who support themselves as journalists. Print journalism, at least for now, remains a robust business in India. As a newspaper reporter for more than two decades before I made poems, I fantasize about more cross-fertilization between poetry and journalism in the United States. Both poets and journalists aspire to compressed truth. I’d love to see more experiments like NewsPoet where a poet spends the day in the newsroom at National Public Radio reflecting on the day’s stories and composes a poem for the night’s... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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If the recent protests in India prove to be a tipping point for a safer place in society for women, language may need as much reform as police or judicial procedures. As the mother of two daughters in college, I chose to start 2013 at the New Delhi protests over the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a female paramedical student. I was in India to meet my eldest daughter who’d been traveling with a classmate born in Nepal. As a poet and former journalist, I also dove into the language of the event, spending my nights surfing the extensive coverage in English on 24-hour news channels and reading the robust print media. Many of the words were worrisome. "Eve teasing" is a common media moniker in India for a broad spectrum of sexual harassment, essentially everything that falls short of rape. Verbal street harassment, flashing and molestation are all a lot more serious than the archaic euphemism suggests. In a 2012 poll, 78 percent of New Delhi women reported verbal or physical sexual harassment and 98 percent of young men admitted it's commonplace among their friends. I sensed a hunger for leadership in framing the debate. The presence at protests of so many young men as well as parents with their children was encouraging and mirrored hopes for change reported by media. I discounted fringe theories such as the regional minister who concluded, “stars are not in position.” (One expects noise from the most conservative corners as I recalled the barbaric theories about rape from several U.S. Congressional candidates this fall.) Most discouraging, however, was the range of government and religious officials across the nation who blamed women for the violence, whether because of immodest dress or a decline of Hindu values. The son of the President of India, a member of Parliament, called female protesters "highly dented and painted" women who “have no connection with ground reality.” A popular Delhi spiritual leader said the gang rape victim could have saved herself by praying at her attackers’ feet. And far too many of the screaming heads on television were yelling for chemical castration even though experts pointed out that violent crimes against women are more often about power than sex. Even the propensity to label the 23-year-old a girl in headlines indicated how language contributes to the lack of respect and response from the streets, the police and the courts. Only one of more than 600 rapes reported in New Delhi in 2012 has produced a conviction. And few people dispute that rape is vastly underreported because of the widespread conviction that only people with political connections will get any semblance of justice from corrupt, underpaid, poorly trained and mostly male police departments and the overwhelmed and understaffed courts. Even so, there is no shortage of reporting about violent attacks each day. In two national newspapers, daily roundups of recent rapes across the nation are headlined “Criminals Everywhere” and “Meanwhile…” In early January those briefs included a dead... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Catherine Woodard is now following The Best American Poetry
Feb 16, 2013
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Catherine Woodard worked to return Poetry in Motion to the NYC subways and is a board member of the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in RHINO, Painted Bride Quarterly, Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review and other journals. She has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2013 at Catherine Woodard
Love these names. CW
Likely Anthony and the Knicks still will need that poem next year. So let's stick with your vision of Steve Nash schooling the young Lin and Shumpert. CW
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NBA coach Phil Jackson won 11 championships, six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also was a player for two titles with the Knicks in the 1970s. A Jackson literary tactic was to select books for his players on long road trips. In that spirit, I asked BAP readers to pair poems with NBA and WNBA players. Thanks for the entries. My winners of the Poet Poke. NBA CHAMPS Mary Karr, award-winning poet and best-selling memoirist, offers Losing Steps by Stephen Dunn for the San Antonio Spurs from her native Texas. Despite a 20-game winning streak in the playoffs, the Spurs were worn down by the younger Oklahoma City Thunder in the semifinals. “I'll testify for the Spurs with Losing Steps. You can say we all suffer a little slowdown with knee aches that thwart our best games. Speed is a gift from the gods, and as a Texan, I pray they get their legs back.” Also from Karr, Loony Bin Basketball for Phil Jackson as a coming attraction. Her poem for Jackson will be appear in POETRY magazine in September 2012 . Todd Muller is founder of Ball In, a website which started as paper zine in the mid-90s dedicated to the idea that basketball is the best way to find meaning in this world. Todd, always a good pickup teammate, tossed me Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which I am assigning to Ron Artest, the Los Angeles Lakers forward who legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. Mr. World Peace was suspended for seven games right before the playoffs for a flagrant foul elbow to Thunder guard James Harden. Overall, he has been suspended 10 times in his 13 years. World Peace would be wise to study Shelley’s sonnet about art and language long outlasting the other legacies of power. Overheard on National Public Radio just before the playoffs. “They are going to need World Peace going forward…Might be curtains for World Peace.” Brett Fletcher Lauer is a poet and managing director of the Poetry Society of America. His knees are 33 years old, young by any standard but the NBA. He suggests as summer reading the The Magic of Numbers by Kenneth Koch for the two teams in the finals, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, and the many older players who’ve already cleaned out their lockers for the year. Lauer with memories of the basketball net in his family’s driveway: “Playing against my three older brothers, age provided huge advantages such as their superior motor skill, height, and physical strength—like when they did that thing where they held me back by placing their hand on my head and my arms flailed around unsuccessfully trying to reach them, reach the ball, reach anything but air. But in the timeline of an NBA player, it doesn’t seem to work that way I thought both teams might enjoy Kenneth Koch’s mediation on the magic of numbers and youth.” Mark Coatney of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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A presidential poll on the web asks: Could Obama beat you in basketball? Yes (46%,1,237 Votes) No (39%,1,048 Votes) Maybe (15%, 418 Votes) Baller-in-Chief.com is the name of the website collecting the votes and all things Obama and Basketball. Editor Claude Johnson also researches pre-NBA history of African Americans in basketball as president of Black Fives, Inc. Johnson launched the website in 2008 to promote the first president who plays more basketball than golf. “No matter how trivial, if it happens and it involves Obama and the word basketball, Baller-in-Chief is there.” according to a review by the Things Insular Blog of the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. The nontrivial is there too including the terrific analysis of how basketball has shaped our 44th president: Audacity of Hoops by Alexander Wolff for Sports Illustrated in 2009. Obama’s first basketball was a Christmas gift from his Kenyan father; all Obama remembers directly about his dad is from that 1971 visit. Basketball helped Obama sort out complicated issues of racial identity as an adolescent. Pickup hoops in college and law school influenced his notions of teamwork, on and off the court. Basketball was a way to connect with Chicago South Siders as a community organizer and to appeal to the basketball-mad swing states of Indiana and North Carolina. In North Carolina, the support of retired UNC Coach Dean Smith was almost as good as an endorsement from God. If hoops could decide the upcoming election, Obama could already start scheduling games after January for the White House basketball court. I’m pretty sure Mitt Romney can’t make a behind-the-back pass. His closest reference to basketball is an awkward observation at a campaign event in Fort Worth, Texas. “I met a guy yesterday, 7 feet tall,” the Republican candidate said. “I figured he had to be in sport, but he wasn’t in sport!” Sports, with an s, is what millions of Americans will play, coach and watch this weekend, including the NBA finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat. Likely most of the 600,000 viewers of the Obama Mixtape on YouTube also feel more comfortable with that final s. The Romneys hope to win at a sport championship this weekend. Ann Romney's dressage horse Rafaica appears headed to the London Olympics based on a strong showing last week at U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters in New Jersey. The competition concludes this weekend. In dressage, formally clad riders guide extremely expensive horses through a series of complex, dance-like maneuvers. Points are deducted if the riders speak. How you talk in basketball matters. Some syntax is monosyllable simple. Warn a teammate of a coming "pick." Yell "switch" if the pick was still too good. Other linguistics of basketball, however, require all the nuance of sophisticated cultural diplomacy. A little trash talk helps earn respect from teammates and opponents. Too much, and you might find your next shot residing just above your Adam’s apple. And that player who just stuffed you may be your teammate in... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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“Kill your darlings” is a common command in creative writing classes. William Faulkner (1897-1962) usually gets the credit; sometimes Mark Twain (1835-1919) is mentioned. Regardless who said it first, it’s a savvy way to fine tune writing, particularly poetry. Darlings are those lines that tingle all the way from the brain to the fingers translating that brain. Reread a darling, and you smile again, and again. The basketball equivalent is a stunning scorer, someone whose sheer athleticism is an addictive thrill. But it’s an altogether different decision to decide if the phrase or the scorer helps or harms the poem or the team. Which brings me to Carmelo Anthony, who joined the New York Knicks in February 2011. The Knicks aren’t the only franchise held back by a darling but it’s the team where I live. Melo is a gifted pure shooter; he averages almost 28 points as a Knick. But Melo is a clunker as a team player, a ball stopper who disrupts the flow of the offense, just as wording that calls too much attention to itself harms a poem. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad poem. It may still be better than most, but it won’t ever go to another level. I’ll bet that Anthony never plays on a championship team. Superstars may win games. Teams win championships. Anthony has the worst playoff percentage of the last two decades and is the only marquee player listed in the worst ten. So I hope Melo was listening to the post-game analysis after the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Miami Heat in the first game of the best-of-seven-series Tuesday. Kevin Durant, the league’s scoring champ for the last three years, led the Thunder with 36 points. LeBron James, Most Valuable Player three of the last four years, scored 30 for the Heat. The analysis credited the patient team play around Durant for the Thunder’s come-from-behind victory. While Anthony was out with a groin pull, point guard Jeremy Lin emerged from the bench to orchestrate a taste of team play for the Knicks. My favorite moment of this season is Landry Fields spontaneously kissing the side of Lin’s head, in the sheer joy of a team victory. Offensive flow not only disappeared when Melo returned; the diva squeezed out Coach Mike D’Antoni. Mike Woodson, the new coach, did a great job stepping in, but his system is based on more Melo. A basketball insider I adore quotes all kind of correct statistics on why Anthony is the most impressive Knick. Even so, she and I agree on our favorite Knick, center Tyson Chandler. Tyson anchors the team on defense and leads the NBA in shooting percentage. Chandler will never be a darling. I admit I’m regularly accused of reducing all of life to a basketball analogy. But there is a parallel in the collaboration of a small team of words in a poem and only five players at a time on a basketball court. Sure, component parts also have to... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Loss must linger on the minds of the 28 NBA teams not on the court last night when the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Miami Heat in the first game of the championship series. LeBron James of the Heat and Kevin Durant of the Thunder are in their 20s, certain to dazzle for years to come on their way to the Basketball Hall of Fame. But neither superstar is likely to usurp Michael Jordan as the greatest NBA player ever. So why did Quincy Troupe, poet and former professional basketball player, write a villanelle for the winning shot Jordan sank with six seconds left for his sixth NBA championship as a Chicago Bull in 1998? Doesn’t a form often associated with loss seem a strange fit for the reigning champ of champs? Troupe offered two excellent explanations at a craft talk this spring at Poet’s House where he compared the Jordan villanelle “Forty-One Seconds on a Sunday in June, in Salt Lake City, Utah” to a free verse poem for Magic Johnson, the improv king of NBA point guards. To Troupe, the villanelle’s echoing lines matched Jordan, so often returning to the championship to terrorize his opponents. No one who guarded Jordan would need evidence of the link to loss found in these four villanelles by Dylan Thomas, Edward Arlington Robinson, Sylvia Plath, and Elizabeth Bishop. Troupe also described Jordan as a mechanics player who over and over again literally soared above opponents with a 48-inch vertical leap. Players knew exactly what Jordan was going to do; they just couldn’t stop him. The repetition of a villanelle is precisely that predictable. The resonant image of a Jordan dunk or jump shot is the hang time. The first line of the Troupe villanelle, by form repeated three more times: “rising up in time, michael jordan hangs like an icon, suspended in space.” In contrast, Troupe’s first basketball poem in 1985 heralded an improv player, Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, an agile and innovative point guard, the epitome of surprise. Was Troupe an improv or mechanics basketball player? At 72, he still answers with his body as well as his words, as if he is trying to twist around an opponent. He wasn’t a tall point guard so “you’re going to learn improv or you are going to get stuffed.” Troupe’s segue from basketball to poetry? Jean Paul Sartre and a busted left knee. Seriously. Troupe joined the Army in the early 1960s and went from boot camp to basketball for Army and All-Army teams in France (nice work if you can get it) and a French pro team. Then he blew out his left knee. So Troupe tried writing “an awesomely bad novel” -- the sexual conquests of a pro athlete touring Europe. A French girlfriend said a family friend might have some advice. That writer, “a little French guy with glasses,” turned out to be Sartre, who suggested Troupe learn control over language by reading poets. Practiced control,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Basketball poems bugged Quincy Troupe for a long time, particularly his own. No poem he’d ever read­ – or written – captured the speed of basketball, until he wrote an ode to Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. in 1985. “They were all just too damn slow,” said Troupe, a former pro basketball player and the first Poet Laureate of California. “Basketball is quick, quick, quick.” After 20 drafts – the rewriting continued even after A Poem for Magic was published – Troupe finally (maybe) is finished with the poem. Troupe compared versions at a craft talk this spring at Poets House in New York City and read the final version from his 1996 book Avalanche. A Poem for Magic My eyes are full of basketball, open and closed, during the March to June stretch of NCAA and NBA finals. (Thanks goodness the WNBA then takes over for the summer.) But Troupe’s reading is the first time my ears have ever been full of basketball. Not just sounds that conjure associations, squeaky sneakers or a bouncing ball. But an earful of the players (or poets) who master the mechanics and then elevate an art to a level where the rest of us mere mortals can only just admire, slack-jawed and inspired. Troupe’s free verse frenzy of “herk & jerk” captures the rhythm and images of how Johnson “wiled your way to glory” as the point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. Tall, agile and a consummate team player, Johnson was one of the game’s greatest passers as well a potent scorer: “head bobbing everwhichaway/ up & down, you see everything on the court.” All game long, fans expected surprise from Magic. Highlights of Johnson’s greatest passes capture for me the rare thrill as a poet of suddenly connecting two words in a transcendent way. Those moments are even more impressive to me than Johnson’s five NBA championships and three MVP awards. Troupe, the author of nine volumes of poetry, literally opens up the spacing of the poem in the last version and adds more enjambments to mirror Magic’s mastery of change of pace. A long indent sets off “a new-style fusion of shake-&-bake/ energy”, with energy enjambed to the next line. Forty-three lines into “A Poem for Magic,” a “we” suddenly appears for just three lines: "in victory, we suddenly sense your glorious uplift/ your urgent need to be champion/ & so we cheer with you, rejoice with you." And disappears, just as fast, in the next line, indented so far it almost slides off the page “for this quicksilver, quicksilver, / quicksilver moment of fame.” But that quicksilver moment is just enough connection to keep us coming back, to play or appreciate the arts that elevate. ************ Return to BAP tomorrow to learn why Troupe decided Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan was a villanelle and what Jean Paul Sartre and a busted left knee has to do with it. Also email me at cathywoodard@gmail.com if you’re interested in channeling your inner... Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Basketball poems bugged Quincy Troupe for a long time, particularly his own. No poem he’d ever read­ – or written – ­captured the speed of basketball, until he wrote an ode to Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. in 1985. “They were all just too damn slow,” said Troupe, a former pro... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2012 at Catherine Woodard
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In the New York Botanical Garden in November, Marie Ponsot paused in front of a towering tree. She recalled as a little girl she delighted her mother with the observation that trees are just like big bunches of flowers. That power of pause, of reflection transformed with language, often with a jolt of joy (or pain), makes Marie Ponsot, 91, an inaugural NYC Literary Legend. She is a poet who sees and seizes the lyric moment in her work and in her life. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the 2012 Literary Honors Thursday. Joining Ponsot, were Walter Dean Myers for children’s literature, Paul Auster for fiction, Roz Chast for humor, Robert Silvers for literary life and Robert Caro for nonfiction. “The clarity of cloud is in its edgelessness,” asserts the poem Ponsot read at the Gracie Mansion ceremony. That poem, "This Bridge, Like Poetry, Is Vertigo," ends with these four lines: “Late at night when my outdoors is/indoors, I picture clouds again:/Come to mind, cloud./Come to cloud, mind.” Mother to seven, mentor to many, Ponsot writes and teaches with a child’s delight in exploration. But this child reads Latin, translates French and has published numerous poetry collections. The most recent are Easy (2009), Springing (2002) and The Bird Catcher (1998), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Among many honors, Ponsot holds the Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal for lifetime achievement and was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2010. Professor emerita of English at Queens College, CUNY, Ponsot also has taught in national and international graduate programs. With colleague Rosemary Deen, Ponsot wrote Beat Not the Poor Desk. This revolutionary text for effective writing teaching won the Shaughnessy Medal of the Modern Language Association. Ponsot still teaches at the Unterberg Poetry Center of 92nd Street Y and at The New School. The city ceremony capped a week of Ponsot appreciation that began Monday at the KGB Bar in the East Village. She first read “TV, Evening News,” a poem that begins with a “screenful of chaos” from the war in Afghanistan. “I don’t know the languages,” the speaker claims, “I safe screen-watch.” But nevertheless Ponsot connects all of history and humanity in the third, six-line stanza: “Achilles is not there, or Joshua either…/My children are thank God not there/any more or less than you and I are not there.” As a tank takes out a wall, Ponsot subverts a word of worship: “the house genuflects,” and a woman howls in the dust before the camera cuts to the next shot. Ponsot is seriously Still Against War, her trademark yellow button and the title of two books of poetry by former students from several decades. Jamie Stern, poet, publisher and lawyer, gathered three dozen students at her Tribeca loft Tuesday to read from Still Against War II. And to take a challenge to describe beyond clichés Ponsot’s bright smile and blue eyes, eyes simultaneously piercing and generous. “She smiles like she has a secret but... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Catherine Woodard is now following The Best American Poetry
Apr 26, 2012
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The drinks at the 2nd Poetry & Cocktail Slam at Back Forty were designed to have a bite, to sneak up on partakers – like the seven paired poems, like any good poem. Drink in hand, Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Club read each poem in front of the NYC bar or restaurant alchemist who invented the cocktail. Poet and performer, Holman read with his own magic: softly, slowly for “Somewhere I Never Traveled” by E. E. Cummings or booming for “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The benefit for the Academy of American Poets was hosted by Peter Hoffman at his East Village restaurant with tasty treats from his kitchen. This year’s cocktail recipes and some of the poems will join the inaugural ones at www.poets.org/cocktails. Tom Macy from Clover Club in Carroll Gardens paired his berried and bubbly drink Clever Girl with the Emily Dickinson poem that begins "NATURE rarer uses yellow." Like many a Dickinson poem that lulls by surface sublime from the natural world, Macy floated a yellow pansy in the drink. All the better to heighten the punch. “Just like me,” said Jessica Knevals ordering a Clever Girl, wearing yellow heels as bright as the flowers. “I’d be lying if I said you were the first person to say that,” Macy replied. Bar banter fueled by alcohol is likely more interesting to the bar patrons than the bartender. But pack in poetry lovers on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon and a drink based on Dorothy Parker Gin from the New York Distilling Company prompts replies to Holman in full Parker poems. The longest Parker recitation was from Christopher Michel, also the only living poet on the menu at this year’s slam. His Poem in which I am an asshole as a poorly behaved poet guest inspired a rye drink with the longest lines of the afternoon, A drink which can make you an asshole, mixed by Tom Richter of the Beagle. “Because it will sneak up on you,” Richter said. Holman and Michel read the poem together while the Beagle owner covered his eyes. ”They truly are mixologists,” Holman praised those to mix, shake and pour the libations. "And they make more money than poets.” Catherine Woodard has played coed, pickup basketball in New York City for three decades. Her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, RHINO and other journals. In 2011, Woodard was a featured poet at UnshodQuills.com, co-published Still Against War/Poems for Marie Ponsot and was a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She will be a 2012 fellow at the Hambidge Center in Georgia and is a board member of the Poetry Society of America. Woodard is a former president of Artists Space, one of the nation’s oldest spaces for emerging visual artists. Woodard has a MFA in poetry from the New School University and MS in journalism from Columbia University. Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
John Wooden, who coached UCLA to a surely unsurpassable record of 10 NCAA basketball championships, considered poetry one of his most effective coaching tools. Poetry was not for game days, but for the locker room, bus rides, hotel lobbies and especially during practice, where Wooden believed “the real work is done, the real improvement made.” He wrote about how poetry shaped his legendary career in a prose piece for Poetry magazine and in his many books. This 2012 Final Four weekend, it’s hard to imagine Wooden reciting poetry in the tattooed turnstile men’s college basketball has become, where the best players move onto the pros in a year or so. But there is not a player or coach in March Madness who is not in awe of Wooden’s 38-game tournament winning streak. “I constantly incorporated bits of poetry, rhymes, and maxims to help focus attention, give direction, and create inspiration,” said Wooden who died in 2010, just shy of his 100th birthday. Wooden also liked to recite poems, out loud or in his head, to fall asleep, including a couple of his own. Don’t Look Back was one of them. Poetry was as valued as physical strength on the small farm in Indiana where Wooden grew up. Each night his father, Joshua Wooden, read to his four sons by coal lamp – Tennyson, Whitman, Shakespeare, Longfellow, and the “The Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley. “While he could lift heavy things men half his age couldn’t lift, he would also read poetry to us each night after a day working in the fields raising corn, hay, wheat, tomatoes, and watermelons,” Wooden wrote in 1997 in Wooden A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court. “My own love of poetry came directly from my dad’s willingness to read to all his boys each night back on the farm,” Wooden said. “I developed a love for it before I even realized it. It has stayed with me – to my great benefit – all of my life.” Basketball also started on the farm with a ball his mother made by stuffing a black sock with rags and a rim his father forged from the rings of a barrel. His high school basketball team played in the state championship three times and won once. Wooden was All-American for three years and won the NCAA championship at Purdue, where he graduated with a degree in English in 1932. He’s one of only three people inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Wooden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor in 2003. Wooden, who retired from UCLA in 1975 after 27 seasons, was proudest to be known as a good teacher. In a 2009 Gatorade commercial directed by Spike Lee, Wooden recites a poem about setting a good example by Rev. Claude Wisdom White, Sr. Wooden broke my heart in 1968 when UCLA annihilated Dean Smith and my beloved North Carolina Tar... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Poetry rides the rails again in New York City. After a four-year hiatus, Poetry in Motion is back in NYC subways, reinstated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in collaboration with the Poetry Society of America (PSA). Re-imagined in NYC under the aegis of the MTA Arts for Transit, the poems are now partnered with art in the subway posters and also printed on the backs of three million MetroCards each season. That means 12 million poems in pockets annually. Which makes Arts for Transit by far the largest publisher of poems in the world. Graduation, a poem by Dorothea Tanning, paired with art by Joan Linder, is the restart. The MetroCard distribution, random and refillable, is one in 10, at windows and machines. Two poems a season will ride in 1,500 cars, about a quarter of the fleet One of the most popular public literary programs in American history, PSA’s Poetry in Motion launched poems in transit in more than 20 U.S. cities. (My disclosure: My activism for Poetry in Motion began the moment I knew it disappeared in NYC and led me to the PSA board. As to my recent March Madness NCAA Basketball posts for this blog, I confess my favorite women’s and men’s teams are departed in the one-and-done tournament NCAA format. I needed rebirth.) Gene Russianoff, staff attorney of the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy organization, read a Robert Frost poem at the relaunch celebration in Grand Central Station. “It brings a bit of the unexpected to the riders’ days,” Russianoff said. “I mean the good kind of unexpected.” I’ll continue to count on the Straphangers to watch my back on how the MTA spends my money; Poetry in Motion to inspire, again. Catherine Woodard has played coed, pickup basketball in New York City for three decades. Her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, RHINO and other journals. In 2011, Woodard was the featured poet at UnshodQuills.com, co-published Still Against War/Poems for Marie Ponsot and was a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She will be a 2012 fellow at the Hambidge Center in Georgia and is a board member of the Poetry Society of America. Woodard is a former president of Artists Space, one of the nation’s oldest spaces for emerging visual artists. Woodard has a MFA in poetry from the New School University and MS in journalism from Columbia University. Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2012 at The Best American Poetry