Posts Tagged ‘Poetry Foundation’

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Celebrate National Poetry Month!

posted: 4.7.10 by archived

It’s April.

This means that not only is it the cruellest month, but that it’s time to celebrate National Poetry Month in America.

As in many things poetry related, the American Academy of Poets sets the gold standard: here, on their Web site, you can find information about everything National Poetry Month.

They host a detailed FAQ about poetry month and its origins, a national map showing events that are occurring across the U.S., a poetry app for the iPhone, an overview of new poetry books, and resources for teachers, booksellers, and librarians. Sign up to receive a poem every day for the month of April.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, famed publisher of numerous esteemed poets, has a yearly blog for poetry month, Best Words in Their Best Order, which should feature some neat pieces, especially on younger and international poets. FSG publisher Jonathan Galassi, who is also a poet and translator, kicks off the month with a discussion of poetry in translation. They are also running a poem-a-day e-mail, which you can sign up for here.

Probably the best way to get involved with National Poetry Month, though, is to check out what your local library has planned for April–many libraries across the country have poetry events over the next four weeks.

In New York City, for instance, the New York Public Library is running a poetry film series and sponsoring a reading. (If you are in Chicago, the Poetry Foundation has a list of events for the coming month.)  Check your local library’s Web site for what’s going on near you.

In the Classroom:

Poetry month can be a good reason to dig deeper into the standard curriculum. Here are three ideas for taking advantage of April’s offerings:

1. Have students research a particular poet (one you assign, or one they pick) and present their findings.

2. Give credit for attending a local reading and sharing their impressions with the class.

3. Host your own reading and invite family and/or the community: you could use student work or have the class memorize favorite poems.

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before working at Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Poet of the Month: Robert Lowell

posted: 3.2.10 by archived

Born in Boston on March 1, 1917, Robert Lowell was the son of prominent New England parents. Lowell attended Harvard, Kenyon College, and Louisiana State University, where he studied with literary and critical giants like John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and Allen Tate. In his twenties, Lowell converted from Episcopalianism to Catholicism. Though he later left the Church, his strong religious beliefs during this period deeply influenced his early work.

From 1947-1948 he served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the precursor position to the Poet Laureate). Lowell maintained a lifelong interest in history and politics—an interest that shows up in his work—and was a vigorous opponent of the Vietnam War. (During World War II, he had been jailed for conscientious objection.) His life was also dominated by emotional and marital instability—Lowell married three times—and he struggled with alcoholism. Lowell died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 60.

Lowell’s work is famously varied. His early books, Land of Unlikeness and Lord Weary’s Castle, were written under the influence of the New Critics with whom Lowell had studied. They display Lowell’s considerable skill in writing in traditional forms. He is most famous, however, for his 1959 book Life Studies, which was a departure from his earlier writing, and from the sort of writing that was most prominent in the world of poetry at the time. Lowell wrote loosely, without adherence to conventions, and incorporated autobiographical events heavily into his poetry. This volume is considered to have begun “confessional poetry” and altered the course of modern poetry.

A. O. Scott argues for Lowell’s enduring importance in his review of Lowell’s recently published Collected Poems:

Lowell’s story, of heretical, Promethean ambition dragged to earth and chastened, has struck a number of critics over the      years as overly melodramatic, and Lowell, since his death, has been somewhat overshadowed by less self-aggrandizing contemporaries like Elizabeth Bishop or Frank O’Hara, who neither made inordinate claims for the authority of poetry nor a big fuss when those claims proved to be untenable.

They left behind bodies of work, whereas Lowell, like Yeats and Milton and very few others, left behind the monumental narrative of a career, which may well, curiously enough, be remembered longer than any single poem he wrote. It is the entirety of that story—the saga of an audacious maker struggling with the raw materials of history, personality, and language—that gives so many of the poems their aura of courage and pathos.

Curious readers can find numerous online resources on Lowell’s life and poetry. The American Academy of Poets features a brief bio, along with a guide to confessional poetry, an overview of Lowell’s Life Studies, and numerous poems by Lowell, including recordings of Lowell reading “Skunk Hour” and “The Public Garden.” The Poetry Foundation features an extensive bio and bibliography, along with numerous poems by Lowell, as well as articles discussing his work. Recordings on the site include one of Helen Vendler discussing Lowell, one of Troy Jollimore talking about “Skunk Hour,” and one focused on “July in Washington” and politics. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux recently published Words in the Air, the complete letters between Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. (Readers interested in the relationship between these two major twentieth-century poets can read Helen Vendler’s incisive review of the volume in The New York Review of Books.) Lowell’s Paris Review interview, conducted by Frederick Seidel, is available online.

Happy Birthday, Robert Lowell!

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Remembering Lucille Clifton

posted: 2.23.10 by archived

Teaching Poetry mourns the loss of poet Lucille Clifton, who died on February 10 at the age of 73, after a long battle with cancer.

Clifton, perhaps best know to students for her widely-anthologized poem “homage to my hips,” was the author of numerous books of poetry as well as prose. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of working-class African American parents, and attended Howard University.

Her poems frequently focused on the African American experience and family life, and are marked by their sparseness—Clifton usually wrote in short lines without capitalization or punctuation.

Clifton was much lauded.  She was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; won an Emmy, a Lannan Literary Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Prize; and received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was poet laureate of Maryland from 1974 to 1985. She won the National Book Award in 2000 for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000.

There are numerous moving tributes to Clifton in print and all over the Internet. The New York Times featured a lengthy obituary that sums up Clifton’s life and work well. On the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, poet Elizabeth Alexander writes a stirring remembrance of a poet she admired deeply:

No matter how elaborate the words they use, poets strive to tell elemental truths. As Clifton often reminded her acolytes, ‘truth and facts are two different things.’ Time and again, she made luminous poems premised on clear truth-telling, but always with a twist, and with space for evocation and mystery. Her style was as understated as the lowercase type of her poems, a quiet, even woman’s voice telling sometimes terrible truths. Like psalms, koans, and old folks’ proverbs, Clifton’s poems invite meditation and return.

The Poetry Foundation dedicated their Poetry Off the Shelf podcast to remembering Clifton. The American Academy of Poets main site prominently features a tribute to Clifton, and their resources on her include a recording of Clifton reading her well known “homage to my hips” and a lesson plan for teaching women poets.

The Poetry Society of America remembers Clifton on its blog. The PSA was scheduled to present Clifton with their Centennial Frost Medal on April 1. The event will serve as a tribute by other poets to Clifton’s memory.

Readers interested in learning more about Clifton can find a lengthy bio on the Poetry Foundation’s site, alongside a number of her poems that appeared in that magazine, and audio recordings of “praise song” and “why won’t you celebrate with me.”

Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton.

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Poet of the Month: Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

posted: 2.10.10 by archived

Audre Lorde, born on February 18th, 1934, was just as admirable for her activism as for her poetry. Indeed for Lorde the two were inextricably connected.

A native New Yorker born to Grenadian parents, Lorde attended high school and college in Manhattan. As a child she dropped the “y” from her given first name, “Audrey”, because she liked the symmetry between the “e” endings of her first and last names. What poet wouldn’t do the same?

Starting in the 1960’s, Lorde became a civil rights activist. However, as a black lesbian woman, she struggled with racism in the feminist community, sexism in the black community, and heterosexism and homophobia everywhere. Her essays urge her readers to stop fearing the differences between individuals—the fear leads to exclusion, and one group almost inevitably declares itself superior to the other.

In the late 1970s, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 1980 she published The Cancer Journals, a nonfiction memoir of her cancer experience. She also co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in the same year. In 1991, she was named poet laureate of New York state. She continued to write poetry and essays until her death from cancer in 1992.

You can read Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” in Sister Outsider on Google Books.

Listen to a 1977 clip of her reading “A Song for Many Movements” at Poets.org.

The Poetry Foundation has a biography and full text of eleven of Lorde’s poems.

Lorde’s poems and life can show students that not all poets are on a Search for Truth, or trying to Create Beauty, or Express their Innermost Feelings. Sometimes these pursuits are abstract to students: what do they have to do with the real world? Why should anyone study them?

Audre Lorde used her search for truth, and the beauty of language, and her personal experience, to tell people about injustice and try to change American society.

As she said to poet Mari Evans in “Conversations with Audre Lorde,”

“So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either/or position…I loved poetry and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde!

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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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Poet of the Month: Louis Zukofsky

posted: 1.19.10 by archived

As Guy Davenport once put it, Louis Zukofsky, our January poet of the month, is a “poet’s poet’s poet.” Though he stands as a central figure in the development of modern poetry, he hasn’t achieved the widespread recognition of Eliot or Pound or many of the other Modernists, though poets and graduate students may know and appreciate his work.

Born on January 23, 1904, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Russian immigrants, Zukofsky’s first exposure to English literature was in Yiddish translation. He attended Columbia University where he worked on student literary publications and, in 1924, received a master’s degree in English. A devotee of Ezra Pound, he corresponded with the poet who was impressed by Zukofsky’s early work. In fact, it was through Pound that Zukofsky got his first big break into the poetry world: Pound convinced the editor of Poetry to let Zukofsky guest-edit an issue.

In editing the issue of Poetry, as well as a subsequent anthology, Zukofsky was credited with creating the Objectivist movement. (The Objectivism of second-generation Modernists, not the Objectivism of Ayn Rand.) More a sympathetic cast of mind than a defined school of poetry,  Objectivism sought to treat the poem as an object, breaking up the normal patterns of speech by conscious fragmentation. Much in the mold of Ezra Pound, Objectivists were also concerned with incorporating history into their works. Thus it’s not surprising that Zukofsky’s own poetry is often obscure, intellectual, and rife with allusions.

Zukofsky published forty-nine books in his literary career—ranging from fiction to poetry to criticism—but undoubtedly his major accomplishment was his 800-page poem “A,” an eclectic mix of personal reflection and historical allusion. He worked on this epic project throughout his life.

“A is Zukofsky’s masterwork but was only published in full and made widely available in 1979, a year after his death. It includes twenty-four sections—one for each hour of the day—and is what poet and critic Dan Chaisson called “a mélange of styles and forms, from Poundian free verse to Italian canzoni.”

Chaisson writes of the all-encompassing nature of A: “Zukofsky’s life was unusually directed toward the poem that was unusually open to absorbing it; you cannot talk about Zukofsky the man without talking about the poem that collected, to an extent few writers have ever attempted, the history of one person’s perception of experience, from Bach to Watts, from Spinoza to Kennedy.”

We’d love to offer you a sample of Zukofsky’s work here on our blog, but the strict copyright interpretation of Zukofsky’s son makes that impossible. We encourage you to take a trip to your local library to check out his poetry in book form, or browse the many online sources.

Poets.org has a biography with a link on the Objectivists. The Poetry Foundation’s Web site includes a lengthy bio and bibliography along with a number of links to audio recordings on Zukofsky.

The Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo offers links to a large number of critical and academic resources, and Z-Site is a thorough companion to Zukofsky’s work…in case you should find any of it confusing. For those dying for more, Mark Scroggins has written the authoritative Zukofsky biography.

Happy Birthday, Louis Zukofsky!

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Poetry Speaks! Now Online

posted: 12.14.09 by archived

Reading poetry aloud in the classroom is a great idea. Sometimes, however, you ask for volunteers to read and get…total silence. Sometimes even students who are willing to read don’t do the poem justice. Sometimes you have bronchitis. Luckily, PoetrySpeaks.com is here to help.

PoetrySpeaks.com, officially launched November 4, 2009, aims to “create a space where poetry can be discovered and rediscovered.” The brains behind it, Dominique Raccah,  is the founder of Sourcebooks, Inc. and the publisher of the New York Times bestseller Poetry Speaks, (the book), which included three audio CDs of poets reading their work. From the success of that book, she knew she had the fan-base to support the Web site. Online, she’s able to provide many more audio and video resources that foster interest in reading, writing, and listening to poetry.

The site, in the works since 2005, is always adding new features and content. It’s also been developing alliances in the poetry and performance work. A few publishers (Naxos AudioBooks, Tupelo Press, Marick Press) have partnered with the site, and its advisory board includes Anne Halsey from the Poetry Foundation, Bruce George, co-founder of Def Poetry Jam (HBO), and Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate of the United States.

The site has three main sections: PS Voices, which has text and audio for poems by well-known poets (some read by the poets themselves); SpokenWord, devoted to slam poetry; and YourMic, which allows user-poets to upload and share audio and video files of themselves reading their own works. Right now, the site features a short poetry film called “The Captain,” which features the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, read by Allison Janney (one of my favorites!). You can watch the film and read the poem here.

The site also has a PoetryMatters blog and a Poetry Store.

Yes, a poetry store. Of course, there are plenty of places online to post text, audio, and video files of poetry. PoetrySpeaks.com, however, charges for poems: You can buy the text, the audio, the video, or a combination package. And your payment helps to directly support the poet. The set-up is similar to iTunes: a 30-second professional audio recording is free, but the whole poem in MP3 format is 99 cents. (A recording of “The Raven” is nine minutes long; “Ozymandias” is only one minute, forty seconds; both cost 99 cents.) If paying for poetry makes you balk, think of it as breaking the tired-out tradition of the penniless poet.

Do you like to use recordings of poetry in your classes, or do you prefer live readings? Would you consider asking your students to post their own poetry on a site like this?  What other resources could a site like PoetrySpeaks.com provide?

Related Posts on Teaching Poetry

In Defense of Recitation

Who’s Afraid of Teaching Poetry?

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Wallace Stevens, Poet of the Month

posted: 10.5.09 by archived

Wallace Stevens was born on October 2, 1879—130 years ago—and led what seemed, on the surface, a rather ordinary life.

Educated at Harvard, he became a lawyer and spent his life practicing law, eventually becoming vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co.  While leading the daily life of a lawyer, Stevens produced some of the most important American poetry written in the twentieth century—composing lines in his head while walking to work in the morning and writing them down at night. Like composer Charles Ives, Wallace Stevens happily joined work and art, turning down a professorship at Harvard to remain at his firm. Widespread recognition came late, just a year before Stevens’s death in 1955, when his Collected Poems was published.

The Poetry Foundation’s biography summarizes Stevens’s talents: “an extraordinary vocabulary, a flair for memorable phrasing, an accomplished sense of imagery, and the ability to both lampoon and philosophize.” Stevens is frequently regarded as a difficult poet—his poems are opaque and philosophical, his images whimsical, his language complex—but the visceral power of his words is on display in his recordings of his poems, like this one of “To the One of Fictive Music” (with some creative animation):

(See also recordings of Stevens’s poems here and here, as well as these two clips from a documentary.)

Though appreciation of Stevens’s poetry was a long time coming, it is now near universal. Stevens’s Selected Poems, recently published by Knopf, has garnered a lot of attention and occasioned reassertions of Stevens’s place in the pantheon of modern poetry.  “[W]hen we hear the sound of Stevens in poems by subsequent poets,” James Longenbach writes in The Nation, “it is most often the music of austerity, at once worldly and otherworldly, that we hear.”

Reviewing the book in the Times, Helen Vendler makes the case for Stevens as the poet of our age:

Stevens’s conscience made him confront the chief issues of his era: the waning of religion, the indifferent nature of the  physical universe, the theories of Marxism and socialist realism, the effects of the Depression, the uncertainties of    philosophical knowledge, and the possibility of a profound American culture, present and future. Others treated those issues, but very few of them possessed Stevens’s intuitive sense of both the intimate and the sublime, articulated in verse of unprecedented invention, phrased in a marked style we now call “Stevensian” (as we would say “Keatsian” or “Yeatsian”). In the end, he arrived at a firm sense of a universe dignified by human endeavor but surrounded always—as in the magnificent sequence “The Auroras of Autumn”—by the “innocent” creations and destructions within the universe of which he is part.

Happy 130th, Wallace Stevens!

Activity

1. As noted above, Stevens was unique in his ability write great poems while achieving success in the legal world. Why is this so rare? Are poets opposed to work? Consider some poems that deal with the mundane world of work—perhaps “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Gray or “The Unknown Citizen” by Auden—and discuss how the poets conceive of this work as related to their craft.

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Hayden Carruth, Poet of the Month

posted: 8.17.09 by archived

Earlier this month-August 3-would have been Hayden Carruth‘s 88th birthday.

Carruth was a prolific American poet who authored over 30 volumes of poetry, beginning with The Crow and the Heart in 1959. He also contributed essays, introductions, and his critical and editorial acumen to many other books and projects.

Fascinated and guided by the innovations of jazz, Carruth experimented with poetic forms throughout his lifetime. Still, he was considered a modernist who upheld the ideals of 20th century modernism as expressed by T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, e.e.cummings, and William Carlos Williams.

At the age of 75, he won the National Book Award for his 1996 collection, Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey.

Here’s an excerpt from “Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey” on the Academy of American Poets Web site where you can also hear two recordings of Carruth reading his poems.

Scrambled eggs and whiskey

in the false-dawn light. Chicago,

a sweet town, bleak, God knows,

but sweet. Sometimes. And

weren’t we fine tonight?

Galway Kinnell has said, “This is not a man who sits down to ‘write a poem’; rather, some burden of understanding and feeling, some need to know, forces his poems into being. Thoreau said, ‘Be it life or death, what we crave is reality.’ So it is with Carruth. And even in hell, knowledge itself bestows a halo around the consciousness with, at moments, attains it.” (See more on the Academy of American Poets.)

Critics and contemporaries had to a lot to say about Carruth’s linguistic skill and existential bravery. Alastair Reed is quoted on the Poetry Foundation Web site: “[Carruth’s] poems have a sureness to them, a flair and variety. . . . Yet, in their dedication to finding an equilibrium in an alien and often cruel landscape, Vermont, where the poet has dug himself in, they reflect the moods and struggles of a man never at rest. . . . His work teems with the struggle to live and to make sense, and his poems carve out a kind of grace for us.”

Carruth died on September 29, 2008.

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