Posts Tagged ‘Nick Richardson’

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Contemporary Politics/Poetics, pt. 1

posted: 8.3.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

Historically, poetry and politics went hand in hand: orally transmitted national epics, commissioned elegies, Ozymandias’s shattered visage in the sand. But poetry may be the last thing that comes to mind when you think of contemporary American politics. Washington seems too antiseptic and bureaucratic –- too full of statistics and lobbyists, too devoid of romance — to sustain a fragile quatrain.

If this description strikes a chord, you may be surprised to learn that poetry in politics survives! But first, some background: did you know that Abraham Lincoln wrote poetry? It’s true, check out the two bittersweet, thanatotic cantos of “My Childhood’s Home I See Again.” And do you remember when, more recently, Jimmy Carter became the first U.S. president to publish an entire poetry collection (Always a Reckoning, 1995)?

Of course, we can (and should) expand our politics/poetry focus beyond the smiling righteous. There’s something in the easy tears of tropical dictators that makes me, at least, expect a lurking verse or two . . . and a quick Web search doesn’t disappoint. Apparently one-time military dictator Manuel Noriega is said to have been a poet before he turned to drug trafficking and . . . whatever else he was up to in Panama; Saddam Hussein is rumored to have written poetry about George Bush while awaiting trial in 2004.

Two articles mingling politics and poetry recently made the internet rounds, ultimately coming to rest en masse in my inbox! The first centered on Washington’s second big gesture toward poetics since inauguration day (the first being the first ever White House Poetry Slam): President Obama claimed “a great affinity for Pakistani culture and the great Urdu poets.” How funny that something as seemingly small as an individual’s poetic appreciation can grow to represent a cathected geopolitical stance!

The second article (entitled “Sarah Palin, The Anti-Poet”) examines — tongue firmly in cheek — found poems created by adding line breaks to excerpts from some of Palin’s more syntactically byzantine speeches. Regardless of political affiliation, it’s interesting to see: 1) the perceived dissonance between a politician and a poet (despite Lincoln and Carter); and 2) how well some of these found poems actually work, both rhetorically and as “poetry.”

William Shatner Recites Sarah Palin’s Farewell Speech as a Poem:

The above are just a few (literal) instances of contemporary politicians turning poetic. Can you think of any other examples?

Activity: Search for traditionally unpoetic government speeches and documents online. Add line breaks to create your own found political poetry. Does your found poem work as poetry — why or why not?

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Nick Richardson is an associate editor at Bedford/St.Martin’s. He holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Boston College and has published three books (two poetry, one prose) that exhibit what poet Andrei Codrescu has called “a fresh sort of daring in the overstrained broth of contemporary American poetry.” He is also the publisher of A Mutual Respect Books and Music, an underground chapbook press operating out of Brooklyn, NY.

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Poetry: Ownership & Understanding

posted: 5.21.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux put a lot of energy into their poetry blog, The Best Words in their Best Order, this past April—it’s worth checking out. Their interview with Publisher’s Weekly poetry editor Craig Teicher specifically caught my attention:

Excerpt

FSG: You teach Creative Writing at Pratt and Columbia. I did my time in an MFA program, where I taught a few undergraduate courses in poetry. In my experience it seems fairly easy to get students excited about sharing their own work, but not so easy to get them excited about critiquing their colleagues and published works of poetry. Do you have this problem when you teach?

CT: I teach mostly undergrads with whom, I’m grateful to say, I don’t have that problem. Though I will say I’m a big believer in the notion that, for a poet, anything one does is done to enrich or broaden one’s own poems, so when I teach published poetry to my students, and even when I’m leading a workshop, I’m always urging my students to pretend they had written whatever is on the table, to try to read it as if they were spontaneously thinking the work under consideration at that moment.

What do you think about temporarily claiming ownership of a poem under analysis? I can certainly see how it’d be an interesting thought experiment…a sort of literary method acting to help students get into the poem. I’m also hesitant, though; the poet in me feels like it may be an overly aggressive pedagogical tactic.

Be sure to check out the whole interview at The Best Words in their Best Order!

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Nick Richardson is an associate editor at Bedford/St.Martin’s. He holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Boston College and has published three books (two poetry, one prose)…exhibiting what poet Andrei Codrescu has called “a fresh sort of daring in the overstrained broth of contemporary American poetry.” He is also the publisher of A Mutual Respect Books and Music, an underground chapbook press operating out of Brooklyn, NY.

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Who’s Afraid of Teaching Poetry?

posted: 5.17.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

I recently contacted forty or so English adjunct friends—all composition and rhetoric instructors—for tips on teaching poetry. About half responded that, while they do teach a poem or two in their classes, they were too uncertain about their methods to share any pedagogical tricks or assignments in a public sphere. The rest were quiet as chrysanthemums.

In an effort to break the ice, what follows is my own experience teaching poetry in a first-year composition class.

It was my first semester teaching, and my students had just finished the second drafts of their final research papers. About half were desert dry; the rest: talk-radio screeds. The peer-review hadn’t gone very well, either. The problem: I’d assumed that everyone knew what a good research paper looked like, but it was clear from the drafts that I’d highlighted the one-two punch importance of good research and a strong thesis…and glossed over form. I cleared our schedule for the next class once I realized what was going on, canceling all readings and asking everyone to please take a break from their papers.

The next class period I came in with photocopies of Allen Ginsberg’s two page polemic: “Poetry, Violence, and the Trembling Lambs”—a selection from Deliberate Prose, his book of essays. I had the students read silently, and then we talked about how his argument worked and failed (mostly failed) rhetorically. [read more]

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In Defense of Recitation

posted: 5.9.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

While I love poetry, there are only a few poems from which I can casually quote: “This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot, and “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These were the three poems I was forced to recite as a student of the New Orleans Public School System (although, to be fair, “This Be The Verse” wasn’t actually assigned—it was recited as an act of defiance).

“Kubla Khan” was the first, a long poem I chose for the line: “A savage place! as holy and enchanted / As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted / By woman wailing for her demon-lover!” This particular recitation remains memorable for the way my eighth-grade teacher, Blake Bailey—the now celebrated Yates and Cheever biographer—attempted (and failed) to bite back laughter at my shifts between stumbling forgetfulness and high drama: “by…like…woman wailing !”

Some students have more luck with these mnemonic exercises than I did:

“High School Student Shawntay Henry Wins $20,000 First Prize in National Poetry Competition” (Poetry Out Loud – National Recitation Contest)

Recitation need not be tortuous (in fact, it can be lucrative). The mere act of reading poems aloud, or hearing them read, can be galvanizing, and can help push an assignment from a collection of words on a page to a transformative emotional experience. Take, for example, the following recording of W. B. Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”:

For discussion:

1. I chose to share this version of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” because it includes Yeats’s own commentary on writing and recitation: “It gave me a devil of a lot of trouble to get into the verse the poems I am going to read, and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose.” Does Yeats’s reading seem strange to you (as he thinks it will)? And is this hyper-poetic enunciation effective?

2. Take a moment to read the “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and then listen to Yeats’s reading again. Does his articulation enhance your understanding of the poem?

3. How would you read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” aloud to best impart your particular interpretation of the poem?

More free video and audio resources can be found here:

Penn Sound
http://www.writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/

Poets.org – Audio and Video
http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/361

Poems Out Loud
http://poemsoutloud.net/about/

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Nick Richardson is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Boston College and has published three books (two poetry, one prose)…exhibiting what poet Andrei Codrescu has called “a fresh sort of daring in the overstrained broth of contemporary American poetry.” He is also the publisher of A Mutual Respect Books and Music, an underground chapbook press operating out of Brooklyn, NY.

Comments: (3)
Categories: Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature
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