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When "Heaven" appeared in the NYC subways, many admirers of the poem asked author Patrick Phillips for permission (not that they needed it) to highlight his poem in funerals and memorials. Several mailed programs that reprinted "Heaven." One father wanted permission to make t-shirts of “Heaven” for the third anniversary of his son’s suicide. "It felt incredible to have people speaking back in that way," Phillips said at an Oct. 25 celebration of 25 years of Poetry in Motion. The program is a partnership between the Poetry Society of America and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Arts & Design. Fans typically reached Phillips through his website to describe why the poem touched them. Several composers wanted permission to set “Heaven” to music. One woman carried a MetroCard with the poem on the back for a year; then retired it to her bulletin board at work once it expired. Phillips always wrote back. His replies are tender and personal; the exchanges are moments of civility and connection. A few excerpts from the more than 25 that arrived directly in his inbox: Ashley: Your poem "Heaven" is one of my most favorite ever. After the recent death of my mother, I find myself coming back to it again. It comforts me and brings out tears as well. I like the world you created in that poem very much. Phillips sent condolences to her and her family for the loss. Ashley continued the conversation with a question: I was wondering if I might ask you the inspiration for that poem. If it's too personal I understand. Patrick: Not too personal at all, Ashley. I wrote it around the time my wife's father died, too young, from really merciless prostate cancer. He was a dear friend of mine, and I was feeling very sad that my sons would never know their wonderful grandfather. Around that same time I was also reading a lot of Renaissance poets like George Herbert and Ben Jonson. I was moved by and envious of their faith in a heavenly reunion, and the poem was really my version of that... My imagining how beautiful it would be if we could all be together again somehow, with Ollie there with my sons... Not sick, not weak, but the way he used to be. The poem is just a dream in which "time avails not," as Whitman put it, and my grown sons somehow get to know my lost friend. And now I'm all teary on my commute home! *** A rider whose kitty had recently been poisoned: what you said soothed my heart… Patrick: I'm also so sorry to hear about what happened…, and can really sympathize, as our silver tabby Simba is curled up on the desk next to me even as I write this (as he is most days!). We both send condolences. All the best, P *** Others were just appreciative of a moment of reflection during their commute. Tom: I was on the C train today, jammed against... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
When Marilyn Nelson's poem, "A Strange Beautiful Woman" appeared in New York subway cars this year, she saw lots of selfies with the poem on Facebook. Most fans presumed the narrator in the poem was an older woman coming to terms with aging. In reality, Nelson wrote the poem in her thirties. The power of poems popping up in surprising places is an invitation for a moment of reflection, a pause in the everyday for a conversation with oneself or with another, regardless of the interpretation. The Poetry Society of America and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have collaborated for 25 years to place poems in the path of 6 million daily subway riders. Poetry in Motion presents "poems to people who might not seek them," Nelson said. "But there they are." Poets in Motion poets and Alice Quinn, center Nine Poetry in Motion poets celebrated a quarter century of transit poems Oct. 25 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at Lincoln Center. Billy Collins, Aracelis Girmay, Major Jackson, Jim Moore, Paul Muldoon, Nelson, Patrick Phillips, Katha Pollitt and Kevin Young read their poem and two others from a new anthology The Best of Poetry in Motion: Celebrating 25 Years on Subways and Buses. Published by W.W. Norton, the anthology is edited by PSA executive director, Alice Quinn. Elise Paschen and Molly Peacock of PSA read poems by Lucille Clifton and Walt Whitman from the early years of the program they co-founded with the MTA. Many of the poets told stories of how honored they are to hear back from appreciative readers via social media and email. "Poems once in motion...continue to move their readers," according to Collins. Veronique Hakim, MTA managing director, agreed. "Our customers tell us they love this program." Hakim and several poets praised MTA Arts & Design director Sandra Bloodworth for pairing the poems with MTA art commissions and placing poems on the backs of about 5 percent of MetroCards since 2012. "This is a way of making a poem something that can be used," said Nelson, winner of the PSA Frost Medal for lifetime achievement. "That you put in your pocket, not just as a keepsake, but as something that is useful." Above Girmay's poem "Noche de Lluvia, San Salvador" is art by Elizabeth Murray, also the cover of the anthology of 100 poems. Girmay echoed the other poets when she described the personal affinity she has with her favorites. "So many of these poems feel like mine because I've ridden with them," Girmay said. Return to The Best American Poetry blog Friday for Minnesota poet Jim Moore's coincidental above-ground exchange with a fan on Spring Street and Saturday to read email exchanges between Patrick Phillips and Poetry in Motion lovers from across NYC. Catherine Woodard is the author of Opening the Mouth of the Dead, a story in poems recently published by lone goose press in two editions: paperback and limited-edition book art. She helped... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Some fans of Poetry in Motion are moved by the poems they read in the New York City subways to write to the poets, contacting them through the internet and social media or via the sponsors, the Poetry Society of America and MTA Arts & Design. Here's poet Jim Moore of Minnesota talking about the good wishes he literally walked into on Spring Street during a visit to New York City. Moore's poem is in a new anthology, The Best of Poetry in Motion: Celebrating 25 Years on Subways and Buses, published by W.W. Norton and edited by PSA executive director Alice Quinn. Moore, Billy Collins, Aracelis Girmay, Major Jackson, Paul Muldoon, Marilyn Nelson, Patrick Phillips, Katha Pollitt and Kevin Young read from the anthology Oct. 25 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Several told stories of how grateful fans tracked them down to relay what the subway encounter meant to them. After “Love in the Ruins,” ran in 2013, Sue Mattison emailed appreciation to Moore and he wrote back to her. She reached out to him again this summer: Hi, Jim. It's Sue Mattison from Connecticut, your subway poetry fan. I keep the poem about the tablecloth tucked into my calendar holder. It allows me every now and then to come across it as a little gift to myself. Yesterday was one of those times. I sat down, read it, teared up. thought about my mother and all the beautiful tablecloths she had, and how they set the stage(table) for so many loving holidays, special occasions, and every night dinners for my parents, 4 sisters, and me…The memory of the subway, my finding you, and your incredibly generous response remains so lovely in my mind.” Mattison met Moore face-to-face for the first time at the launch reading. A fourth grade teacher in Darian, CT, she posts quotes from her students' writing around the classroom. "It's important to celebrate words," Mattison said. More about Poetry in Motion from The Best American Poetry blog: Reflections by Marilyn Nelson Happy 25th Birthday Poetry in Motion & video of "Grand Central" by Billy Collins Catherine Woodard is the author of Opening the Mouth of the Dead, a story in poems recently published by lone goose press in two editions: paperback and limited-edition book art. She helped return Poetry in Motion to the New York City subways and is a vice president of the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, anthologies and CNN online. A former journalist, Woodard chairs an advisory committee for the News Literacy Project. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
W.W. Norton, edited by Alice Quinn The Best of Poetry in Motion: Celebrating 25 Years on Subways and Buses is a newly published anthology of 100 poems. Edited by PSA Executive Director Alice Quinn, the book includes half of the 200 plus poems and much of the history of the popular, trademarked joint venture between the Poetry Society of America and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Since the New York debut in 1992, Poetry in Motion also has appeared in more than 25 other cities across the nation. A sampling of those poems are searchable by city and poem title on the Poetry in Motion atlas. Many of the poets featured in the new anthology will read their contributions and relay their stories on Oct. 25 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at Lincoln Center. Poets include Aracelis Girmay, Major Jackson, Jim Moore, Paul Muldoon, Marilyn Nelson, Patrick Phillips, and Katha Pollitt. Return to The Best American Poetry blog for those reactions during the next few days. Since 2012, art commissioned by MTA Arts & Design is paired with the poems. Two new poems appear each quarter and also are displayed on roughly five percent of MetroCards, potentially reaching 1.7 billion transit riders annually. Poet and artists bios available at Unexpected encounters with a poem in transit can "provide a sudden sense of mental and even spiritual nourishment by connecting us with the deeply human realms of love and loss, joy and death," Billy Collins writes in a forward to the anthology. The MTA has twice commissioned poems by Collins for the 100th anniversary of Grand Central and the opening of the new Second Avenue Subway. Poetry in Motion aims to be a moment of contemplation or whimsy and offers a respite from the daily onslaught of advertising. Collins : "The poem is not a pitch, but an offering, a gift." Catherine Woodard is the author of Opening the Mouth of the Dead, a story in poems recently published by lone goose press in two editions: paperback and limited-edition book art. She helped return Poetry in Motion to the New York City subways and is a vice president of the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, anthologies and CNN online. A former journalist, Woodard chairs an advisory committee for the News Literacy Project. Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Marie Ponsot received the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award by the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project at Fordham University at Lincoln Center. The Oct. 20 celebration also marked the 75th essay posted on the timeline, which aims to be the largest international database of women poets in the world. The timeline project was founded in 2010 by Kim Bridgford, poet and editor of “Mezzo Cammin,” an online journal of formalist poetry by women. The inaugural award was co-sponored by the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University. “Ponsot's poetry is an amalgam of fierce intelligence and courtly grace,” said Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, poet and Fordham professor, and author of the Ponsot essay, Marie Ponsot & the Difficult Art of Ease.” Born in 1921 to a family that loved poetry and literature, Ponsot still claims the Catholic identity of her Queens childhood. While raising seven children, Ponsot translated 37 books from French to English, co-authored two books on the pedagogy of writing, wrote numerous radio and television scripts while teaching at Queens College. A beloved mentor, she also taught at Columbia University, the New School and 92St.Y “Being raised in a household respectful of the power of language and the mysteries of faith clearly provided a strong linguistic and imaginative foundation upon which a young poet could build,” said O’Donnell, who teaches American Catholic studies as well as English and creative writing. Ponsot has published seven poetry books. Numerous awards include the Lily Prize and Frost Medal for lifetime achievement. She was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2010. Ponsot uses poetic forms in her own work and as a teaching tool as “instruments of discovery,” O’Donnell noted. She popularized tritina, a shortened version of a sestina. Discovery is another theme in Ponsot's deep interest in the primal poetry of an infant's babble. Language Acquisition by Marie Ponsot Burn, or speak your mind. For the oak to untruss its passion it must explode as fire or leaves. The delicious tongue we speak with speaks us. A liquor of sweetness where its root cleaves ripens fluent, as it runs for the desirous reason, the touching sense. The infant says “I” like earthquake and wavers as place takes voice. Earth steadies smiling around her, in reply to her self-finding pronoun, her focal choice. We wait: while sun sucks earth juices up from wry root-runs tangled under dark, while the girl no longer vegetal, steps into view: a moving speaker, an “I” the air whirls toward the green exuberance of “You.” Ponsot, 96, read two poems celebrating women from Collected Poems (Knopf, 2016): “Aunt Grace Wears Beautiful Clothes” and “Among Women.” Among Women by Marie Ponsot What women wander? Not many. All. A few. Most would, now & then, & no wonder. Some, and I’m one, Wander sitting still. My small grandmother Bought from every peddler Less for the ribbons and lace Than for their scent Of sleep where you will, Walk out when you want, choose Your... Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
“I wish to speak a word for the art of poking around,” begins philosopher and nature writer Kathleen Dean Moore in a fine art book beautifully built around her essay by lone goose press. I wish to speak a word for the artistry of Poking Around, the limited edition letterpress collaboration by lone goose proprietor Sandy Tilcock and artist Margot Voorhies Thompson. Poking around is exactly what they did for 10 days at the PLAYA residency for writers, artists and scientists in Summer Lake, Oregon. PLAYA’s high desert landscape is very much the fourth collaborator in the project. I arrived the same April night as Tilcock and Thompson and spotted them at sunrise combing the shore of the playa, an alkaline lake surrounded by desert, mountains and forests. What they found poking around often found its way into their pages in inventive ways. Thompson scooped up coarse dirt while hiking on the hillside the second day to study the complexities of colors underneath her feet and to add to her array of stains. Tule reeds, which Native Americans used for many things including weaving, doubled as something to draw and something to draw with. A bit of barbed wire for the final page marks the human hand on the landscape. Moore’s essay is from her 1996 book Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water. While her focus is paying attention in the natural world, Moore acknowledges that the art of poking around “can be practiced in libraries and antique stores and peoples’ psyches.” At our first communal dinner that week at PLAYA, three book artists, two stream biologists, a sculptor, a photographer and several writers discussed how crucial poking around – inside and outside of our heads – is to all art and to science. We agreed our best work is seldom what we set out to do but what we discover. PLAYA’s setting is steeped in surprise. During his 1843 mapping expedition, Captain John C. Frémont stood in several feet of snow on what he named Winter Ridge and looked down the snow-free playa he named Summer Lake. Because he had already seen the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Frémont correctly surmised there was a vast stretch of land in the West where water does not flow to an ocean that he called the Great Basin. One of my favorite pages of Poking Around is inspired by the cracks in the crust of the alkaline lake. Because PLAYA attracts residents who speak science as well as art, I now understand that the polygonal patterning is tensegrity, a structural term coined by Buckminster Fuller and an efficient way in nature or in building to control compression. In the video, Tilcock and Thompson explain the design evolution possible working together at PLAYA. They have collaborated several times before but never in the same space and time. Tilcock’s workshop, with its 1940 Vandercook 219 proof press, is in Eugene. Thompson lives 120 miles away in Portland. Only a few steps separated their PLAYA studios,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Michael Jordan with Coach Dean Smith The obituaries of legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith have heralded his civil rights activism and team-above-self philosophy as much as his basketball legacy. President Barack Obama honored Smith with the Medal of Freedom in 2013 as a leader who transcended his sport. This week, I asked the motley crew at my middle-aged, co-ed basketball game, to pause in respect. I wore black socks and black headband to mourn, and a Carolina blue shirt to celebrate the life that shaped my values and ethics as much as any member of my biological family. For once in my life, I could stand at the three-point line and feel like Michael Jordan – who called Smith “more than a coach…a mentor, my teacher, my second father.” I raised my index finger and pointed downcourt, the way Smith taught players to thank teammates for an assist. In my close extended family in the tobacco belt of North Carolina, Dean Smith was a deity. He echoed what they taught me about loyalty, humility and hard work. Coach –there was only one for my kin – connected me to my father who struggled with depression and alcoholism. None of that changed when I played for UNC rival Wake Forest in college. My junior year, in March, my father killed himself with a shotgun. For the rest of that season and many after, Coach Smith signaled from the sidelines all that my father wanted for me. At 56, I’ve not got a lot of game left, but I still have a lot of Dean, on and off the court. Or at least I hope so. Finding the Net I could count on my father, closed down, bed bound, for Carolina basketball. He would come out for supper, snacks, our Boys in Blue. Dean Smith delivered. Forty minutes of family, triumph, selfless defense, four corners of calm. I seldom saw the bourbon or pills. I watched perfect pass after perfect pass trounce the devils. And my father fade. I will find the open man. In Third Grade My Father Loves Me Best When I Watch hoops with him I can stay up late if I nap after school. The nap is my idea. I know why Coach Smith is the Dean of college basketball. Open the 1957 scrapbook When our Tarheels beat Wilt the Stilt for the National Championship, the year before I was born. Talk politics I know the Constitution is a do-over of some Articles Confederation. I can name the Supreme Court. Ask about Washington, D.C. The trip he shook hands with Sam Rayburn, the big boss of a House, but not the White one. Understand football How guards and tackles protect quarterbacks. That safeties must save the day. Laugh with him about playing God of the Grapevine in Glendale. His younger cousins were angels. Fetched grape juice, Ritz crackers. (poems from a work in progress, For Opening the Mouth of the Dead) Catherine Woodard helped... Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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
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
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 907 Fifth Avenue NYC 10021
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
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 (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
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
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
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
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
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
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) 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
“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
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