Posts Tagged ‘Joelle Hann’

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Approaching Valentine's Day

posted: 2.8.10 by archived

What to do with poetry around Valentine’s Day? Assign students doggerel? Analyze Robert Burns? Recite Shakespeare?

Poets around the country have dealt with sentimentality in a few inventive ways.

In 2008, when Ted Kooser’s book Valentines had just been published, NPR’s All Things Considered recounted how the former poet laureate had been sending an original Valentine’s Day poem to women all over the country for the past 20 years.

In 1986, when the project began, his list contained a mere 50 women. In 2007, the number had grown to 2,700. According to the story, he spent almost $1,000 in postage that year.  Read the full piece and listen to Kooser’s valentines here.

But back to this year. Anticipating a sticky day of chocolates and roses, writer-provocateur Jonathan Ames, with poets Mark Halliday, Bob Hicok, Donna Masini, and “break-up expert” Jerry Williams, will host an anti-Valentine’s Day party in Brooklyn, NY (February 11). The poets are launching the compilation, It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Breakup (powerHouse books) and celebrating, as the listing says, “the darker side of love.”

If you’re looking for well-loved poems as models for writing or for teaching, or even as gifts for friends, the videos on Favorite Poem Project’s Web site are quick and inspiring.

Finally, the Poetry Foundation has a fabulous resource page, organized by themes such as “funny love,” “classic love,” “teen love,” and “break up.” The page includes audio resources and feature essays such as “Love Lessons from High School Students,” by Brian Staveley, that should prove helpful for lesson planning, teaching, and getting through the day itself.

However you teach, ignore, deny, or celebrate Valentine’s Day in the classroom, drop us a line and let us know how you did it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Categories: Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Teaching Advice
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P. K. Page: 1916-2010

posted: 1.25.10 by archived

In 2005, my high school in Canada invited me to give a poetry workshop and reading. After the workshop, the instructor who’d invited me—one talented Mr. Terence Young—took me along on a social call to none other than literary giant P. K. Page. It was an unexpected pleasure during my visit to Victoria.

Then approaching 90, P. K. showed no signs of slowing down. She mixed us stiff cocktails and talked a blue streak. She drank more than I did. When I expressed an interest in Brazil, she talked about her two years there in the 1950s and grilled me on my Portuguese. She was sharp and amusing and easy to like. But I, for one, was also a little afraid. She was full of fire.

On January 14, Canadian poet, essayist, and visual artist P. K. Page passed away at 93.

Patricia Kathleen Page was born in England in 1916 and moved with her family to Alberta, Canada, when she was quite young. Her parents were both creative, artistic people, and she grew up surrounded by the arts. She was a prolific writer, publishing two new books just two months before her death.

As a young woman living in Montreal, she belonged to a group of poets who founded the magazine Preview (1942-45), associated with then-prominent Canadian poets F. R. Scott and A. M. Klein. While not a card-carrying member, she sympathized with Quebecois Communists who resisted the Anglo-Canadian establishment in Montreal, a French city. Her work was interested in language play as well as concepts from psychoanalysis.

Her first book As ten as twenty was published in 1946 and in 1954 her collection The Metal and the Flower won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, Canada’s highest literary prize. She had a strong sense of social justice and believed in practicing literary form. As she said,“I make myself sit down and write sonnets and villanelles and sestinas because you need bones. If you don’t know all that, you have a very shaky scaffolding for your art.”

Working as a scriptwriter for the National Film Board of Canada, she met her husband Arthur Irwin, who at the time also worked in film. Thanks to his later diplomatic career, she lived for several years in Australia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Brazil.

While living in Brazil she painted often, and kept track of her daily life in a diary later published as Brazilian Journal. (I took her journal on my second trip to Brazil. It was an insightful and often hilarious companion, navigating the absurdity of a northerner in a tropical country without enough of the local language.)

In this 1983 CBC interview, she speaks about her experiences in Brazil, and reads “Traveler’s Poem.”

The CBC Web site published a poignant remembrance of Page’s life written by her friend and fellow writer Rosemary Sullivan. The page includes a video of Page reading her most popular poem, “Planet Earth,” which the United Nations selected in 2001 to be read simultaneously in several locations around the world to celebrate the International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.

Upon her death, the Premier of Canada, Gordon Campbell,  issued this statement: “As an author, poet, teacher, scriptwriter and painter, P. K. Page was an extraordinary and varied force in promoting and developing Canadian culture. Her efforts helped to set the stage for decades of cultural growth in our nation.  Her long and illustrious career saw her achieve great heights including eight honourary doctorates as well as being named to both the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.”

Poet and friend Lorna Crozier said in a 2004 profile in Victoria’s local newspaper, the Times-Colonist, “Her engagement with the world is obsessive, passionate and totally clear.”

Some of  P.K. Page’s poems are available online:

“Deaf-Mute in the Pear Tree”

“Cullen in the Afterlife”

“After Rain” (inspired by Rilke‘s “Autumn Day“)

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Poets House: New Home, Fresh Start

posted: 12.7.09 by archived

With no rent to pay until 2069, and 11,000 square feet in a newly-constructed “green” residential building in Battery Park City, Manhattan, Poets House literally has a new lease on life.

Founded by the late poet Stanley Kunitz and arts administrator Elizabeth Kray in 1985, Poets House lived for many years at 72 Spring Street in a Soho loft.  It housed an extensive library of poetry titles, hosted readings, workshops, book launches, and sponsored poetry in the schools. Kunitz established the institution as a public service to stimulate dialogue and education on poetry and to provide a place for poets to gather.

He also established the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, a prestigious  residency where juried artists and writers focus on artistic projects for 9 months in a beautiful, secluded setting.

Poetry lovers at Poets House

Poetry lovers at Poets House, c. 2009 by

Poets House now has a collection of over 50,000 poetry titles, including chapbooks, journals, tapes, and digital media. In its new location, it has more space for workshops and readings, as well as a new Children’s Room to foster a love of poetry in young minds.

Other innovations—spectacular when you consider they are done in the name of poetry—include an outdoor ampitheatre, where readings will be held in fine weather, much the way music is performed in the summer at Tanglewood. In the near future, projections of sonnets on the sidewalk outside Poets House will welcome visitors into the distinctive space.

Poets House, Reading Room, photo by Elizabeth Felicella

Poets House, Reading Room, photo by Elizabeth Felicella

Recent programs include lectures on poetics and poetic movements, workshops with renowned poets such as Naomi Shihab Nye, seminars on poetry from around the world including the recent 500 Years of Latin American Poetry and Polish Poetry Now, and conversations with poets of various sensibilities and aesthetics.

In late September, celebrities—poets and otherwise—gathered for a week of festivities when Poets House re-opened after an almost 2-year transition from Soho to Battery Park. Marie Howe, Kamiko Hahn, Charles Bernstein, Regie Cabico, Quincy Troupe, Galway Kinnell, and Natalie Merchant were among the poets and entertainers. Excellent event planning by PH staff made it quite a media event.

Natalie Merchant at Poets House opening, c. 2009 by

Natalie Merchant at Poets House opening, c. 2009 by

Poets House is a tremendous gift to the public and to American culture. “Poets House is not just about creating an opportunity for people to fall in love with language, but to enter a conversation with all the poets who ever lived—to enter into a conversation between the living and the printed word,” says Executive Director, Lee Briccetti.

Poets House would make a great field trip, or an excellent winter break destination for budding readers and writers.

Stanley Kunitz, twice the US poet laureate, died in 2006 at age 100.

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Enjoying Thanksgiving with Poetry

posted: 11.22.09 by archived

Thanksgiving is in the air. Can it also be in the classroom? If so, in what form? Before you instructors and students head to festivities this week, perhaps there’s time for one more fun assignment.

There are the  traditional approaches to the holiday, with poems such as Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Thanks” or  W. S. Merwin’s “Listen” serving as models.

Lauren McClung writes that Komunyakaa’s poem sparks interesting writing. “Usually I have the students read it and then spend some time writing their own “thanks” poem.  Often the students will borrow the list-like form and let their own ideas flow.  If they have a hard time I may point out how it begins with thanks to an object.  This has been a great trigger for my classes.”

Sherine Gilmour agrees that while the Thanksgiving the holiday doesn’t provide much fodder, the idea of thankfulness does. She offers the Gerald Stern poem “Lucky Life.”

Sarah Heller writes that the William Matthews poem “Depressive,”  published in the Winter 1980-1  Ploughshares journal, contains the great line “the turkey is stuffed with the memory of turkey…” which could be used as a prompt.

Or, she says, check out Marie Ponsot’s new book for a poem written in the voice of a turkey.  “Not T-giving specific,” warns Heller, “but still.”

Finally, as the New York Times reported last Thursday, so often these kinds of festive gatherings can bring out the most regressed behavior from all parties involved–parents, grandparents, children, siblings, and other relations.  Did you know there is a “Mothers-in-Law Anonymous” section on Good fodder for poems, perhaps?

Enjoy your holiday! (Gobble gobble.)

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Bringing Keats to the Big Screen

posted: 11.8.09 by archived

It can be a treat when talented directors decide to bring poets and their poetry to the big screen. In the recent past, the focus has been on 20th century poets—think of Sylvia (2003) on Sylvia Plath, Il Postino (1994) on Pablo Neruda, and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) on Dorothy Parker.  The imaginative 1998 Shakespeare in Love, which drew on real characters and plays, was entertaining but largely fictional.

This September, New Zealand director Jane Campion (The Piano, An Angel at My Table) brought us a biopic about  John Keats (1795 – 1821), one of the most romantic of the later Romantic poets.  Bright Star dramatizes the love affair between Keats and his Hampstead neighbor Fanny Brawne.  Campion decided to make the movie lush in image and sound, heavy with emotion, and short on Keat’s social life. (No Charles Lamb. No Percy Bysshe Shelley. None of that set.)

This, as some reviews have said, was a smart movie. Since Keats was such a rich character, his life offers too many channels to explore in one feature-length movie. And it was clever of Campion to deliver Keats’s exquisite poems on the stream of an intoxicating love affair. General movie goers may not have known of Keats, and general students of poetry may not have known of the affair. The result: more poetry for all.

Fanny, played by the milk-skinned Abby Cornish, begins as a spirited seamstress and designer stitching fantastic stand-up collars and intricate pleated skirts. Keats, played by Ben Whishaw, is whimsical, serious, and thin, nursing his ailing brother Tom.  Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider), Keats’s rascally friend and quasi-benefactor, triangulates the love affair,  his jealousy growing in pace with the couple’s affections.

While the movie’s  lupin- and daffodil-filled fields and the blossoms of English spring are dazzling, even better is Whishaw’s reading of Keats. At the screening I attended, everyone stayed for the final credits in order to listen to the entirety of Whishaw reading “Ode to a Nightengale.”  (You can hear a brief excerpt here [click “download”].)

(Caleb Crain, writing in the On Language column in the New York Times last Sunday, muses on Keats’s language and some of Campion’s language choices for Bright Star.)

The film wasn’t a total success for me since the lovesick pining followed by howling grief became hard to sit through. I also would have liked to have seen more of Keats’s life in poetry and I was dismayed that Fanny’s proud sewing was reduced to mere stitching as she became more besotten—but perhaps that’s just the reality of  first love. (I’m comforted by the fact that she did not end her days traipsing the heaths of Hampstead reciting poetry, as the film says, but rather went on to marry and have a family.)

It was a pretty picture that leaned more in the direction of a love story than a cinematic-literary masterpiece.

An informal poll around the office finds opinions on poet biopics are pretty low. They suffer from “heavy-handed miserablism”  or are “a collection of pious platitudes masquerading as courageous” delivered by “bloviating and gesticulating” characters. (Watch for future posts here by these two passionate writers.)


1. Do biopics help make poets and their poetry more approachable for students? Or do their efforts to appeal to the mainstream turn students off? How do you manage student responses?

2. Which biopics work best in your classroom? How do you assign them?

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature
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posted: 10.26.09 by archived

by Carolyn Lengel

Poems can be fun, and sometimes they can even be funny. For proof, look no further than the haiku collected in the SPAMku archive.

Most of the poems on the site are really senryu, which is parodic, rather than haiku, which includes a seasonal reference—both types, however, require the same five-syllable/seven-syllable/five-syllable form.

Curated by John Nagamichi Cho of MIT, the SPAMku archive grew from a collection that filled a small paperback (SPAMku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf, Harper Perennial, 1998) into a gelatinous, porky giant with more than twenty thousand contributions.

Although the SPAMku archive no longer accepts new verses, the poems contributed by volunteers and enthusiasts are a revelation. Everyone, it seems, loves a poetry challenge—and what could be more challenging than crafting a poetic ode to a prosaic canned meat?


Here are some favorites among the archive’s many, many delights:

Roseate pork slab,
How you quiver on my spork!
Radiant light, gelled.

—L. Sheahen

Zen Buddhist SPAM quest:
“What are the ingredients?”
What do you desire?

—Alex Dunne


Give your students the poetry challenge they crave. After a class discussion of the appeal of combining formal Japanese poetry with a not-very-dignified pork product, ask every student to write a SPAMku. (Vegetarian/vegan students can write Tofuku if they prefer.) Who knows—perhaps you’ll end up with a SPAMku archive of your own.



Carolyn Lengel is a senior editor for English at Bedford/St. Martin’s, where she works mainly  on handbooks. She is not a poet (although she did write a YouTube sonnet about Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan for the National Day on Writing), and she generally does not eat Spam, though she admires Spam both as a word and as an aesthetic object.

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The Art of Revision

posted: 10.19.09 by archived

By Sage Cohen

One of the trickiest—and most liberating—aspects of poetry is that there is no Gold Standard against which we measure its worth. Without this standard, it can also be difficult to evaluate when a poem is finished. Because each poem is trying to accomplish something different, it is up to us to decide when the poem has arrived. This is not easy to do, even when one has been writing for decades, but it sure is satisfying to practice!

The important thing to remember about revision is that it is a process by which we become better acquainted with the poem and push it farther toward its own potential. In the revision stage, we revisit and may reinvent the choices we’ve already made with language, image, voice, music, line, rhythm, and rhyme.

The tricky balance involves wildly experimenting with what might be possible in a poem—beyond what we first laid down on the page—without losing the integrity of idea or emotion that brought us to the poem in the first place. This is a skill that develops over time, through experience and largely by feel. If it seems like you’re groping around in the dark when revising, welcome to the club!

The process of revising poems is unique for each poet; often, each poem has its own, unprecedented trajectory. I’ve had a few “whole cloth” poems arrive nearly perfectly complete in one contiguous swoosh of pen to paper. And I have other poems that have taken me more than fifteen years to finish. More typically, I work on a poem for a few weeks or months. Sometimes, I think a poem is finished, but years later, it proves me wrong, demanding a new final verse or line structure or title.

For the purposes of establishing a revising practice, I recommend that you divide writing and editing into two completely separate acts that happen at two different sittings, preferably on different days. The goal of this checks-and-balances system is to give yourself the space to let it rip when you’re writing without fearing interference from your inner editor. Don’t worry: If it’s bad now, it will still be bad next week; you can fix it then.

Once you feel you’ve exhausted every last drop of poetic possibility in the writing of the first draft, or any time you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, put your poem aside for a while. The next time you return to it, you’ll be wearing your editor hat.

In my experience, time is the greatest of editors. The longer a poem sits untouched, the more likely you are to have a sense of how to proceed when you sit down to revise.


Don’t know where to start with your revisions? Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is most alive in your poem? Underline the line(s), word(s), phrase(s), stanza(s) that seem to be the kindling feeding the fire of this poem so you can easily reference what’s working throughout the revision process.
  • Is there introductory information at the beginning or summary information at the end that could be trimmed?
  • Who is speaking? What would the poem be like if told from a different perspective? (For example, if a poem is about an experience shared by a mother and daughter, and told from the daughter’s point of view, try telling it from the mother’s point of view.)
  • Where is language weak and flabby? How can you give it more energy and muscle? Can passive verbs become active? Can modifiers be cut? Should “dropped” be changed to “plummeted”?
  • Verb tense: What would your poem be like in a different tense than it was written? Even if it happened in the past, try the present, and vice versa. See what gives it the most power and energy.
  • Does the shape of the poem (line length, stanza breaks, white space) mirror the emotion and rhythm of its content? Should it?
  • Are punctuation and capitalization consistent?
  • Is there good music of repeating sounds throughout the poem?
  • Does each line break create the desired interest, pause, movement, and focus on key moments or words?
  • Does the title serve the poem? How can the title take the poem further?

Remember that only you know the best way to craft your poem. Have fun, be willing to experiment, and you’ll learn a little more about revision each time you try.


Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing, publishes the Writing the Life Poetic Zine and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit Join the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at!

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Peer Review, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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