This is Leslie McGrath's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Leslie McGrath's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Leslie McGrath
Recent Activity
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
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? All this planning and plotting and talking up my work has left me feeling a wee bit dirty. If I were more talented or more well read—maybe more thoughtful—I’d be rolling up my sleeves and starting a new project. Instead I feel creatively bankrupt. As luck would have it, I took part in tributes to two poets last week: James Merrill and Adrienne Rich. An odd couple to be sure. These were separate and very different events, yet they both brought me out of myself and reminded me of the importance of a gyroscopic view. By this I mean that I’m not just of this current time and place in history, writing for (and sometimes in reaction to) my peers. I’m also a single link in a long chain of poets, some of whom I recognize as having influenced my work, others whom I’ve read and passed by, still others whose poems I’ll never know because they’re no longer being read. All of this seems so beyond my control, and yet I realize that by reading another poet’s work, by speaking of it-- or better, speaking the work itself, my little link in the chain does the job it’s there to do. What better way to step away from myself and my times than to pay tribute to another poet? The tribute to Merrill came about when Spencer Reece, who has been living in Spain for a couple of years as a newly ordained Episcopal priest, contacted me with a proposal that he give a reading in Merrill’s apartment, now a writer’s residency. Spencer asked to read not from his forthcoming collection of poetry, but from a draft of a short piece of prose he’s been writing about the four poets he believes have been most important to him. Reece calls the pieces “devotionals.” In his devotional to James Merrill, who he met toward the end of Merrill’s life, Reece recounted Merrill’s encouragement even as he approached a painful death from AIDS, which was kept secret at the time. Merrill’s willingness to engage with a young writer in the face of his own end, said Reece, has had a profound effect on Spencer Reece’s work and life. The other tribute was organized by my friend, the poet-journalist-activist-fireball Bessy Reyna. Bessy put out an appeal to a broad group of poets in CT and MA, asking if anyone was interested in... 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!
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 spritz of lime juice? I had a bright fruit note in the chicken salad. A jazzed-up caprese salad? No, two dishes with the same texture. Creamed corn? Not on such a hot day. I remembered my new corn zipper early in the afternoon, and while stripping the kernels from their cobs, a few thoughts came. Not just about the corn dish. The corn zipper strips three rows of kernels at a time in long pieces. I picked one up and looked closely at the cut side, where three white rows were weeping a very sweet juice. Tercets, I thought, long-lined tercets. I sat at the desk and tried a revision of an elegy I’ve been wrestling with for months. Did the weeping kernels point me in the direction of the elegy? Did the long three-row piece nudge me to try a different tack? As I shifted the lines around, I thought, chipotle, the sweet bite of corn needs a masculine pairing and an aggressive cooking technique. There it was: a quick corn fry with bits of smoky chipotle. There it was: another window into a poem that had felt sealed, ungenerous. I read a piece in Psychology Today by Annie Murphy Paul, who writes on how the brain engages with the world, particularly how it learns. Paul thinks in a way I admire greatly. Her interests are catholic. She looks for connections. And she writes very clearly. The piece, “What the Jazz Greats Knew about Creativity” focuses on new brain research about improvisation by jazz pianists. I’ll pull a quote, but I urge to click through and read it. During improvisational playing, “a region associated with careful planning and self-censorship, became dormant, while parts of the brain connected to the senses — hearing, seeing, feeling — became especially lively. Most interesting, a brain area called the medial prefrontal cortex, linked to autobiographical storytelling, also showed increased activity. Inhibitions released and senses primed, these musicians were engaged in an act of self-expression, using the music to communicate something deep about themselves.” This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Defocusing the thinking part of the mind and allowing the senses to move forward in a kind of neural do-si-do. This is an active shift, one which feels like vulnerability once it has passed. But while you’re in it, oh it feels good. This is the state I describe to my students as “looking at... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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 in which they use a broad range of theories and research about nutrition to help clients improve their health. I found the education, which ranged from Ayurvedic medicine to the latest scientific research in nutrition being done at Harvard, deeply helpful. I opened a private practice as an HHC in 2007, just as the economy imploded. I lasted only a year, but my training led me to a writing gig as a feature writer for the “Conscious Kitchen” column at Natural Home & Garden magazine I developed healthy vegetarian recipes and wrote short pieces about the nutrition and history of each recipe. It was great fun to write these articles, the pay was good, and it was a thrill to see professional photographs of the recipes I’d developed. They looked far less appealing in my kitchen as I tested them! It was at IIN that I began to learn a bit about Chinese medicine, which is based on food. The concept of nutrition as we know it in the western world is quite different in Chinese medicine, which holds that prevention of disease is as important as treatment. There are five basic tastes: bitter, sour, pungent, sweet, and salty, each of which corresponds to the maintenance of an organ system. Balance is a key element—whether between the tastes, whether food is eaten raw or cooked, and the kind of energy the food promotes. Meat, for instance, is warming and strengthens the blood. Like many root vegetables, carrots are considered warming and give grounding energy. They detoxify, strengthening the body systems that omit waste, like the liver and bowel, and are considered a sweet taste. Dark leafy greens, like my beloved Swiss chard, are considered a bitter taste. They, too, are blood strengtheners. Because they reach to the sun, they promote light (fleet) energy and are thought to be particularly important to creative work. I always eaten pretty much anything, but having learned even a bit about these practices, I began to pay closer attention to how eating different foods made me feel. The concept of nutrition opened up, from vitamin and fiber components to the seasonality of what I was eating, how I cooked it, and how well I could think and perform after eating a certain dish over time. I learned that dark leafy greens don’t begin and end at spinach. There’s a great deal of choice: kale, arugula,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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 annual poetry anthologies are a vital means of getting poetry more widely read (beyond the walls of other poets’ bedrooms and academe.) They also serve as a kind of enormous flip book. A look through a decade’s worth of this kind of anthology gives the reader a sense the prevailing preoccupations and styles of American poetry during that period. What I did not know, and what concerns me, is that the publisher of the Pushcart Prize anthology seems to be saying that literature published in electronic form is of lower quality, thus not considered for their prize and their publication. This has caused a great deal of concern among certain online literary magazines, some of whom have decided to no longer nominate for the Pushcart Prize. Radius: from the Center to the Edge,an online literary magazine run by one of the most serious and dedicated editors it’s been my pleasure to know, has allowed its readers extraordinary insight into the effect of this controversy. Here is editor Victor Infante’s piece about his decision to continue to nominate. Infante approaches the issue from the place of the slam versus “literary” distinction, coming as he does—and so many poets continue to—from performance poetry. I approach this issue from the place of print versus online formatting. I may be misreading Henderson’s words. He may have intended to speak only of personal blogs and internet sites on which anyone can post anything. These are not, in my opinion, literary magazines. I spent the better part of four years working with the online magazine, Drunken Boat. An online literary magazine has the same goals and standards and procedures as a print literary magazine. Dedicated editors and readers, who are generally themselves writers, volunteer their time to read hundreds (if not thousands) of submissions of poetry, fiction and nonfiction submitted via an online submissions manager. There is often a multilayered acceptance-rejection continuum as well as training by the top editors in the magazine’s aesthetic. Submissions which are rated highly by the readers are sent to the editor of that genre, who vets the work prior to its acceptance. Acceptance of work for online magazines now usually includes a contract, which outlines the rights of both writer and magazine. There are several differences between print and online literary magazines: Online magazines cost far less to produce. Online magazines use far less natural resources. Online magazines can update... 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.
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 a dwindling breed. He and the ten other men who work at his shop restore old wooden boats. It takes decades to learn to do what they do. Imagine building furniture which must fit a hull’s swoop and curves so perfectly that it can function well in years of rough seas. We have a saying at our house: if it’s food, Leslie can cook it; if it’s wood, Bill can fix it. Last week, Bill turned his attention to an upstairs bedroom whose 5’ 6” ceiling has made it unusable since we’ve been here. After a few weeks of knuckle-knocking inside the room and looking at the way the roof had settled from the outside, Bill put on a dust mask and took a sledgehammer to the ceiling. Three hours of godawful pounding, waves of dust and who-knows-what roiling down the stairs and he was done. There stretched the original beams, and above them, glorious roofers two feet wide. Some very large trees were used to build this house. There’d been a flash and clatter as the lath came down. Bill pulled from the rubble the three pie places in the photo. They’d been resting on a beam since just after the Civil war, very likely the forgotten containers of some man’s lunch as he’d built a dormer on the second story. Why do we think the plates are so old? Because pasted to the roofers are three pen-and-ink drawings: General Jos. Mansfield, “who perished in battle at Sharpsburg, MD”, and two battle scenes between the Union and Confederates. The pie plates are made of stamped steel, available at the time of the Civil war. Over the last 150-odd years, they’ve rested in the dark space between roof and ceiling, collecting rust, holding a story the leads me to the edge of my imagination. What kinds of pies did he eat that day? Apple from the trees in the field? Savory pies filled with bits of leftover lamb and potatoes? Did he leave them there by accident, or like the three drawings, did he hope they’d be found by someone in a future that strained the limits of his imagination? If there’s pie, there’s pie filling, no? That will come, oozy and tart, in tomorrow’s post. Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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 trite. This may be because scent operates more on the level of the unconscious. Its memory-finding ways are working constantly in the background. And writers develop practices which help us orient ourselves in our work by using scent as a marker. A couple of months ago, a friend --I’m waving at you, Laura Orem-- sent me a bag of chocolate mint (yes, there is such a thing) which she’d grown and dried. I keep it on my desk and breathe deeply of its sweet herbaceous scent, which calms me and takes me to the sense of joyful risk from which I write. My office here at home is off the kitchen and I go back and forth from desk to stove during the course of the day. I realized that I wander into the kitchen when I’m stuck in my writing/grading/editing. Cooking is an essential act of creation. For an adept cook, it has all the elements needed for the creation of a poem, followed by much better odds that it will taste the way it should. Rounding up the ingredients for a loaf of Anadama bread, I need to be sure the corn meal is free of bugs, that the molasses has the right sticky consistency, that the yeast is alive. I need to have the right tools to mix them and the accrued knowledge of how much stirring and kneading is just enough. The oven must be accurate, the risen loaf settled into the best position in its heat. After the bread is baked, the process is still not finished—the loaf needs to cool, to rest, to strengthen its crust and settle its crumb. I’ve been baking Anadama bread over the course of the time I’ve written poetry. I’m always struck by the fact that one of the stages of breadmaking always seems problematic, just as I’ve move through stages of competency and experimentation on the page. For years I struggled with the cornmeal to flour ratio, then the freshness of the yeast. When I became proficient, I began to experiment with additions to the recipe and substitutions for the original ingredients. And always, always I struggle with the resting phase. Like a poet who thinks she’s finished a poem and submits it in a rush, I want to saw into each loaf, even tear it open with my hands, and breathe in its first yeasty exhalation before... 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.)
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 I can only hope I hear that zipping sound when I first use it to make succotash. Succotash is a Narragansett Indian word for “broken pieces”, first cooked along the coast of New England where corn and lima beans were plentiful. It’s a simple mixture of the two vegetables, a little salt pork for the fat, and some milk or cream to hold it together enough to make it a dish. It was an inexpensive meal, a thrifty way to put leftover corn to use. I also bought a tube “umami paste”. Umami is part of the flavor spectrum (sour, salty, sweet, and bitter) and first was known to the Japanese, whose cuisine traditionally combines foods to produce a savory taste like that’s found in fish, mushrooms, cheeses, and fermented foods like soy and fish sauce. It’s an earthiness, a brown base note in the mouth. Umami strikes me as being more complex than the other elementary tastes. After all, fermentation takes time and often a number of ingredients. This tube of umami paste seems a sort of cheat, as though one can bypass the effort and knowledge necessary for building umami by squirting some of this goo into soup. Yesterday I came across a food I hadn’t seen in quite some time: cucumber sandwiches. I’d been invited to a local couple’s home for “a Pimm’s in the garden” in honor of two poets who were in Stonington for Merrill House events. Pimm’s is a gin based liqueur made with citrus fruit and spices, very popular in England. Our host was a well-travelled Irishman who had set up an outdoor bar alongside a table of food. There were nuts and corn chips, a large pitcher of flowers, and two enormous pewter trays lined with triangles of cucumber tea sandwiches. My friend the poet Richie Hofman took this photo. Traditionally, cucumber sandwiches are very delicate. Made only with thin slices of peeled cucumber on the very thin white bread (trimmed of crust) with a scrim of butter on the inside so the sandwiches stay crisp, they’re a food more about effort, precision and texture rather than flavor. A cucumber sandwich is a gesture toward the older, more languid times (and places) when people met in the afternoon to chat as the day cooled. Succotash, umami, and cucumber sandwiches. Three very different flavors with background stories as complex as the etymologies of... 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 meal on social media is a guarantee of numerous positive replies. The words for food waste—from garbage to shit—are universal derogatories. A fine poem takes full advantage of the spectrum of sentiment around food, using it as metaphor and gesture. Brittany Perham, whose first collection, The Curiosities was recently published by Parlor Press, uses the end of a meal as a conceit for her speaker’s address to her father in the poem, “Missive (1)”: Father, take back your baskets of bread. I have left your long-laid table. Pour out the milk, father, clear the platters of dusky fish, the potatoes and husked corn, the halved peaches in two-handed goblets. Bury the chicken bones where the dogs don’t dig and leave the gristle to the squirrels. The speaker’s repudiation of the father’s act of provision is immediately clear to the reader. The father is a good provider. He’s put food on the table, lots of it. The feast includes dishes from every food group: grain, meat, milk, vegetables and fruit. The food is plentiful (the baskets of bread and two-handed goblet) and well-prepared (the peaches are halved, the corn husked.) Yet these lines are about disposal rather than consumption. Deny even the scraps to the dogs, those companions to humans. Only the rodents, the lowest of the low, should inherit this food. Are there any metaphors for love more powerful and universal than food? Are there any images more angry (and potentially dangerous to the self) than the denial of the sustenance provided by a parent? We want to know what poisoned the tie between father so deeply that she doesn’t simply refuse him, but has very particular ideas about how the food, now very likely rotten, having been on that “long-laid table” should be disposed of. 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.
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 interest was piqued. I’m old enough to remember precisely the same turn from dismissive to disdainful to curious on the part of the media forty years ago. Those demonstrations were about civil rights and the Viet Nam war. I had begun to think that the days of American protest in the streets were over. After all, our economy had surged for decades toward the end of the twentieth century, bringing a cultural evolution that seemed to embrace many American ideals. I was wrong. Last Friday, I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with two writers whose work I’ve long admired-- writers who were older and more conscious than I during that period: Alfred Corn and Doug Anderson. Both these men have written extensively about those earlier protests. Corn was a student at Columbia University and his book-length poem, Notes From a Child of Paradise, excerpted here, is among other things, an account of his participation in those movements. Anderson served as a medic during the Viet Nam war, which is the subject of his memoir, Keep Your Head Down: Vietnam, The Sixties, And a Journey of Self-Discovery. We spent a couple of hours in Burnside Park, where about fifty tents were set up in small encampments around a bronze statue of General Burnside, who was draped with a red banner which read Amor, Solidaridad, Libertad. The park is bordered by the Providence town hall, a federal building, and numerous office buildings, including the Bank of America. It was lunchtime and the outdoor kitchen served plates of green salad, bread, boiled potatoes and fruit salad to a steadily-moving line of people of various races and ages. I had the impression that Occupy Providence was serving not only the protestors who had committed themselves for the long term, but the unemployed, the homeless, and anyone who entered the park. We met a few people. Bill, one of the organizers, told us he’d been laid off from his job as an ironworker. Another man told us he was a naval architect whose work had dwindled significantly over the last few years. There were toothless elderly, young adults and a few children as well. I felt overwhelmed at times that afternoon. It was moving to see how this group of citizens had established a well-functioning nonviolent protest. It was heartbreaking to see these protests in my country. Last Friday I lost the last bit... 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 out and look at the exhibit, listen to some poetry, and meet us. And the James Merrill House is now accepting applications for Writers-in-Residence for 2012. We've added a couple of brief residency (2-6 weeks) options beginning next year, as well as the longer 4.5 month residency. Promising and accomplished writers in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction who receive a James Merrill residency live in a furnished apartment across the hall from Merrill's own apartment (now a museum) in the seaside village of Stonington, CT. The writers-in-residence also receive a generous stipend. For more information and to download an application, go to: This is a jewel of a residency for a writer or literary scholar looking to make headway on a project in a beautiful, quiet setting, bolstered by a very supportive village populace. 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 contests, as well as to talk about his title and aesthetic. How long had you sent your manuscript out to the contests? About how many contests did you enter? Did you revise the manuscript during the process? I’ve been sending out the manuscript for about five years, though the current version of the manuscript scarcely resembles the original. Before winning the Washington Prize, I probably entered 20-25 different contests, some on multiple occasions. Had you entered the contest for the Washington Prize prior to this year? I’d been a semi-finalist at The Word Works in 2010. Following the announcement of that year’s winner—Brad Richard—I received written feedback on my manuscript from the judges. I couldn’t possibly assimilate all of the varied comments and suggestions, of course, but it was really rewarding (and ultimately constructive) to get a snapshot of how the manuscript was being received once I sent it out into the ether. Your collection is unusual because of the number of short poems (ten lines or less) it contains. What is it about the short poem that attracts you? What attracts me to the short poem is the sense of risk involved. Even at a purely physical level, the short poem is surrounded by white space, islanded. There’s no place to hide in a short poem, no room for what William Carlos Williams called “ornament and encrustation,” no time for meaning and significance to slowly accrue. It all has to happen in the blink of an eye. For this reason, I think that the best short poems, whether written by William Carlos Williams or Issa, draw our attention back to words, to the inherent strangeness of words and their potentially magical combinations. Here’s Issa, for example, with his unique fusion of humor and pathos: In spring rain, how they carry on, uneaten ducks. The successful short poem enacts an interesting paradox: on some level, the poem seems most obviously a gesture of humility, but there’s also great hubris in thinking that a handful of words can generate a complex, rich experience. Would you talk about the significance of the collection's title, specifically its ambiguity. The title How to Make a Bird with Two Hands suggests, broadly, a creative, transformative act. More specifically, the title could hint at origami construction, as well as the shadow puppeteer’s crude magic, a minor God-like capacity to project winged movement onto a screen; but... Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2011 at The Best American Poetry