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Leslie McGrath
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Hi Tomas, I wish more MFA programs would give craft lessons on how to give readings. Fiction writers have their own set of issues. But poets have the whole s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s issue,amount of patter, as well as "degree of singsonginess" as I've come to call it. We had one great afternoon while I was at Bennington, during which Don Hall and Liam Rector gave pointers-- competing pointers-- for giving a poetry reading. My favorite takeaway? Always read UNDER your time allowance. Did you get any education in grad school about pacing and vocalization at readings? I'll bet a trench coat would look fantastic on you.
Dear Tomas, What a way to start your week! You head right for one of our jugular issues-- self v. persona. It's a measure of your devotion to craft that readers come away a mite confused about just who was speaking. If I'm reading correctly, being able to put on that half-bear head and move around the page while wearing it was an epiphany for you. Me too. This is one of my favorite things to talk about with undergraduates having their first exposure to poetry. Some make the leap easily in terms of distinguishing between poet and speaker. Others never do. But it's a great joy to watch the spark alight. I love the ability to create a mosaic of self, fiction, and fantasy. You have your rat-faced friends. That might just be my ex-husband peeking through the rocks in your accompanying photo. Thanks Tomas. I'm looking forward to reading more. Leslie
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Lately I’ve been in a frenzy of contest-entering and publisher-nudging, having completed a second manuscript of poems. But the sense of pride and relief that comes with finishing a project knowing you’ve done your best is fretfully short-lived. All the focus on the work itself, on its integrity as a little universe of logic and emotion, now changes direction. It shifts to the larger world. Which contests are open now? Which presses are accepting manuscripts? Do I have a chance with this press? Can I afford the entry fees? Has my writing evolved? Will I make a fool of myself?... Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
That's such a difficult subject to write about, but Valvis does the reader better than the father in the poem ever did for the speaker by moving us through the fear and pain through shifts in time and tone. Nicely done!
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I bought a few ears of butter & sugar corn at a farm stand yesterday morning. All afternoon-- through grading assignments, doing laundry, revising a poem, walking the dog—I let thoughts of sweet corn move through me. Rather, I let the textures and possibilities of taste rise and fall through the permeable membrane of my consciousness. I have a fine taste memory, as I think many cooks have. I can taste ingredients, combinations of ingredients. It’s been very hot and humid, so I’d made a mild chicken salad with red grapes, tarragon, and toasted pecans for supper. Corn with a... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Most of us know that Hippocrates wrote “First, do no harm.” This edict is used by Western medicine in the oath that physicians use as part of a covenant to their patients. Hippocrates also wrote, “Let food be thy medicine” and most of the world (China and India) relies this connection between food and health. I learned to as well. Five years ago, realizing that poetry was not going to pay my bills, I took a seven month long course at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan. They train “Holistic Health Counselors” (HHCs) who then go and open practices... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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I’ve promised pie filling today. Here it is in the form of a literary controversy which, like the pie plates, doesn’t appear to have gotten much light. The 2012 edition of Pushcart Prize anthology contains within its introduction by publisher Bill Henderson the following statements: “I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous — great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.” I think very highly of the Pushcart Prizes. I believe that... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Amy-- no msg in the umami paste, thank goodness. And we should think of doing a dialogue week here when you're the James Merrill fellow. That'd be rousing! David, the image of your Pimm's cocktail stayed with me all day. I've now got a bottle of gin in the freezer and a fresh bottle of Pimm's at the ready. Just as soon as I grade a couple dozen essays. Leslie
I think the little pie plates (only 3 inches in diameter) were for savories too. Yeas-- I love Swiss chard so much I'd marry it. I'm trying to grow some in my rocky little garden.
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I’ve been dying to show you all these beautiful old pie plates we found recently. They were resting on a beam above the ceiling of a bedroom in our house. The house was built in 1749 and is thought to be one of the first farmhouses in my town of Stonington, CT. Like many very old houses, it’s been added onto over the years. Still, it’s a little old Cape Cod style home which once was a sheep farm, then a Christmas tree farm, now home to a boat builder and his poet wife. My husband Bill is one of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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The limbic system, one of older parts of our brains (the cerebrum, where conscious thought coalesces, is the newest part) is the seat of emotion and memory formation. It’s also the part of the brain that governs our sense of smell. There’s a direct route between the sense of smell and memory. Think of the thousands of scenes in literature in which a character’s memory of a long-ago event surfaces because of an association with a particular scent: a grandmother’s perfume, a father’s cigarette, a warm dessert lifted from the oven. These examples have always struck me as unsubtle, even... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Hi Stephanie, Thank you for those kind words. The corn zipper is my new favorite thing. It's made in Switzerland! And has a cutout smiley face. I think all tools should have some sort of smiley face on them.
Hi Marilyn, That's my fault, since I didn't post the entire poem. Its tone is one of hurt and rejection. That's how I read it. I hope she'll reply if I'm off base. (I got her permission to post it.)
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Last Saturday I had a bucket list experience: I spent two hours with in a high-end kitchen supply outlet store with my daughter, who works there, and her employee discount. I realized that I bought things not only because I needed them, or wanted to replace an older version, but also because the words used to describe them were too delicious to forgo. The “corn zipper” is a case in point. This tool allows a cook to strip an ear of corn right from the root of each nib. The promise of efficiency is delivered in the word “zipper” and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Szymborska wrote in a poem that her soul was “as plain as the pit of a plum.” Such an apt self-description for a poet whose work, like stone fruit, is sweet flesh grown around a corrugated reality. Food is everywhere in literature, and rightly so. Often this is explained as “all human beings eat.” But the universality of eating is only a small part of what makes food so damned compelling. Humans are eaters, but we’re also growers, harvesters, shoppers, preparers, sharers, and finally, eliminators, of food. The words for food, its preparation and consumption act like magnets. Mentioning a... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Caroline, these posts are fabulous! I'm going to point my poetry students toward. them. I was struck by Herman Munster's elliptical talents, by the way. I've read worse in a couple of recent issues in hip literary magazines.
What a joy to see you here, Jane, and to read this beautiful reply to this morning's post. How timely that I was able to get it online the morning the police began to "crack down" on demonstrations in Oakland and Atlanta. I'm hoping the demonstrators, many of whom appear to be educated in the practice of nonviolent protest, will continue that tactics, even as they meet fear and, yes, violence. I love the thought of Syrians, like the Libyans and Egyptians before them, all asking much the same question, "Who are you protecting?" of their governments and police forces. And now the question is being asked in more and more languages across the world. I can't help but think about the hundreds of thousands of people who, like me, are stepping out from the ether to see what's happening and think anew about dignity, and yes, empathy. I smiled while I looked through your photos. Would it be too cheeky too suggest you *not* quit your day job and turn to photography? With love and gratitude.
Hi Amy, I love the idea of you and Doug onstage! I never get over, despite how vociferous and complex it seems, how small the poetry world is. Doug's just about to move back to that area. Sometimes I wonder what the effect of social networking sites will have on our literature. It certainly *is* reassuring to be able to be in contact with our peers, to broaden our group of friends, and to venture back out into "the land of flesh" as I've come to call it.
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I spend so much time online that the majority of my friendships are virtual, particularly friendships with other poets. We’ve taken to the quiet and ease of the electronic ether like the strange birds we’re often accused of being. And I like it that way. But over the last few weeks, as I read about the protests on Wall Street which have spread throughout the country, I’ve wanted to see for myself what these “occupations” were all about. Ignored at first by the mainstream media, the first coverage I’d read in the New York Times was so dismissive that my... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
I’ll be reading on Friday September 30th at the Susquehanna Center for Creative Arts in Columbia, PA with David Mura and Jesse Waters at 6:00 PM. This is part of a continuing series of readings and art exhibitions for The Handprint Identity Project, organized by sculptor Milton Friedly of Elizabethtown College. Professor Friedly paired ten poets with ten fine artists in 2008, asking them to collaborate on the subject of the handprint and its relation to identity. First exhibited in 2009, the Handprint Identity Project continues to grow and exhibit at various venues. If you’re in the area, please come... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
It was such a pleasure to watch you unfold, Damon, and allow yourself to be immersed in the place where your poems come from. I remember the first time I spent days in the company of real writers-- I came away with a sense of having been given permission to live in the world in the way that felt best for me. And that I was not alone. Welcome, fellow poet.
My goodness, I read the original post here by Stacey just a couple of hours ago and suddenly Best American Poetry is Popularity Central. I'm so pleased! Stacey works very hard in terms of looking for and scheduling bloggers for this site-- and well as providing regular content herself. As one of the bloggers here, I've been encouraged to blog about my opinion on anything American poetry. Why shouldn't Stacey have the same ability as the dozens of us she features? It's already been mentioned that Stacey didn't start this conversation. I believe Erin Belieu did. And hundreds of poets, including myself, joined her. I'm in an unusual situation here, being a poet with four years of graduate training (including four courses in grad level experimental methodology and multivariate statistics) in psychology. I've published as a psychologist. The P&W methodology is, in my opinion, very elementary. Not only that, but I believe it gives too much weight to student funding and not enough to the pedagogical efforts of the faculty. Also, where is the followup data that anyone attending an MFA program might most want to see: evidence of publication, both in lit mags and published books by graduates? Wouldn't this be a relevant measure of an MFA program's "success"? I hold no negative feelings toward Seth Abramson, who clearly works very hard on this ongoing project. What I'd like to see, however, is the addition of a research methodologist in the organization and statistical analysis. It wouldn't be terribly expensive and might go a long way in terms of legitimizing the results in the eyes of poets. It might also be more helpful to the people considering graduate training in literature. I've heard from a number of sources at the 2011 edition of Best American Poetry is particularly good. I'm looking forward to using it in my classes....and hopefully attending the launch reading in NYC soon. All thanks to Seth, Stacey, David, Erin, and anyone else who spends a significant amount of time working on behalf of other writers.
Hi Damon. Thanks for the comment. They *do* seem paradoxical, don't they? And yet White has found a way for his poems to hold them both. It's one of the reasons good poetry works. It can hold truth, the quotidian, paradox, the whole boxful of our felt existence.
Hello "IrishPoetry." I appreciate your time and eloquence. It does my heart good to know that the time I've spent reading piles of manuscripts,arguing for those I believe in, then writing blog posts like these-- all things I do out of my love for poetry and the (perhaps naive?) sense that I have a responsibility toward the art that is wider than simply writing it-- is not wasted. It's a complicated business, isn't it, despite our best intentions. Luck and timing are always factors in the contests. And even the winner is on his own once the book appears in the world. A few positive words by the likes of me, the chance to answer a couple of questions, the exposure a blog as widely-read as this can bring him-- these are good things. Mike's work deserves them. Ultimately, though, his reputation-- and yours-- and mine-- is out of his hands. It rests rightly on the work. I've just one thing to add-- and I'd be grateful for your reply letting us know about the state of things in Ireland. Here in the US, the recession is wreaking havoc with our literary publishing. More and more small presses are asking the poets whose work they'd like to publish to contribute to the cost of producing a book. Self publication via any number of increasingly sophisticated options is becoming more common and more respectable. Is the same thing happening in Ireland? I find it reassuring that despite the economic, historical, and even cultural circumstances, poetry finds its way into the world. appreciatively, Leslie
Yesterday I blogged about judging the Washington Prize. 2011 was The Word Works' first year using an electronic submission method, which resulted in about a fifty percent increase in submissions. Once the decision was finalized by the judges, we learned that we’d chosen work by Mike White, a native of Canada who earned his doctorate at the University of Utah, where he now teaches. Though his poetry has been widely published in literary magazines, this will be White’s first published poetry collection, entitled How to Make a Bird with Two Hands. I asked him to describe his experience with book... Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2011 at The Best American Poetry