Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Poetry’

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Beautiful Imagination: Reading and Writing Alongside Cornelius Eady

posted: 9.27.10 by archived

For the students in my first-year writing course, contemporary poetry was a revelation. After all, Cornelius Eady’s “Brutal Imagination” tells the story of an event that most students are too young to remember, yet it happened in their lifetimes. They recognize Eady, the way he draws on pop culture, on Buckwheat from “The Little Rascals” and Uncle Ben. The way he uses slang, cusses. If poetry has, for my students at least, come to mean “timeless,” that is, uprooted from history (and from their lives), inhabiting the rarefied air of universal human values, what then to make of poems like Eady’s?

Students weren’t certain—these are poems not about “diversity” or some other school-worn phrase, but about blackness, whiteness, motherhood, murder, lying. But students were certainly curious. This isn’t to say they found reading Eady’s poems easy, or that they immediately “got them.” They didn’t. But the difficulty of poetry receded as students strove to understand the imaginary black man, Susan Smith, in Eady’s version of the story. Students sensed he had something to say. [read more]

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Poet of the Month: William Wordsworth

posted: 4.12.10 by archived

For Poetry Month, we chose an old favorite for poet of the month: William Wordsworth.

Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 –April 23, 1850) is one of the most important English Romantic poets. Critics consider Lyrical Ballads (1798), a collection by Wordsworth and fellow poet Samuel Coleridge, to be the publication that began the Romantic era in poetry.

Wordsworth and his Romantic contemporaries valued emotional experience over logic and reason, breaking with the values of the English Enlightenment. Poems like “The Daffodils” and “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” have become classics because of their eloquent expression of the author’s personal experiences, close observation of nature, and evocative emotional content.

Wordsworth defined good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” and though these spontaneous feelings inspired many of his works, the quality of his poems shows that they were written with care. He began writing an epic poem about his life at age 28, and worked on it for the rest of his life. It was published as The Prelude after his death in 1850, and was dedicated to his contemporary and collaborator, Samuel Coleridge.

In the Classroom:

1. Have students research the fruitful but complicated relationship between Wordsworth and Coleridge and use it to fuel a discussion of literary friendship.  What can they make of the differences between “Tintern Abbey” and “Kubla Khan,” for example?

2. Some of Wordsworth’s language won’t be accessible to some students, but in his day Wordsworth strove for clear, everyday speech.  Use a few lines from his “Preface to “Lyrical Ballads” to talk about how language changes.  Ask students to think of examples of common language today that might sound “stuffy” in 100 years.

3. Have students use Poetry Foundation’s great collection of flower poems to find a poem to compare with “Daffodils.” Have students compare their descriptions of nature, the poets’ responses to nature, and the emotional content (or lack thereof) of the poems.

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blog-photo Cecilia Seiter is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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Poetry, Proliferating

posted: 3.8.10 by archived

Last month, David Alpaugh wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called “The New Math of Poetry.” In it he describes the explosion of poetry publishing, particularly online, and what it means for poetic culture. He bemoans the potential loss of a brilliant poet or two in all the poetic static.

Whether there are actually as many published poets as Alpaugh claims and whether we as a culture lose something when a brilliant poet goes unrecognized is up for debate (as the article’s comments section shows). But there’s no denying that poetry, like journalism, prose fiction, music, visual art, and most other media is easier to publish than ever. And poets of all ages and skill levels are rising to the challenge. Whether you like this development or not, it does make it harder to find new, good poetry outside of a few traditional venues like Poetry or The New Yorker.

With that in mind, we’re going to start a new feature here at Teaching Poetry where we round up some of the best poetry journals, magazines, and blogs out there. We’ll have a theme for each round-up, and we’ll try to find the best online examples of different types of poetry journals.

Hopefully this will help you navigate online poetry, and maybe find a new favorite poet. (As of right now, we have no affiliation with any of the blogs we’re going to mention. If we ever do mention an affiliated blog, we’ll disclose it.)

For our inaugural round-up we offer you one site that has the content and power of a thousand: Web del Sol. David Alpaugh mentions WDS at the beginning of his Chronicle article, and for good reason—the home page is teeming with literary content. Founded in 1994 by Michael Neff, and only the second organization to put a poetry journal online, WDS now calls itself the literary locus of the Web. It’s a collaborative cultural effort that includes several journals, reviews, and zines, as well as links to hundreds of other literary sites.

Feeling overwhelmed by the WDS home page? Click on eSCENE to narrow down your options a bit. eSCENE is a digest of highlights from fiction, poetry, and new media journals. They publish the editor’s selections at least six times a year—which should be enough to keep you  reading all year round.

Of course, please let us know of your current favorite poetry sources in the comments below—we’ll be sure to mention you if your recommendation winds up in a post.

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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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Season's Greetings! A New Take on "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"…

posted: 12.22.09 by archived

Clement Clarke Moore’s seminal 1823 Christmas poem “A Visit from Saint Nick”—which became “The Night Before Christmas” and a world-wide favorite—is as emblematic of the holiday season  as candy canes, snowmen, and loop-tracked rock’n’roll holiday tunes in retail stores.

However, new research suggests that Moore, a biblical scholar, might have plagiarized the poem.

It’s true: The poem that gave us the roly-poly, white-beard-donning, red-suit-wearing Santa, along with his reindeer, from Dasher to Blitzen (sorry Rudolph!) in fact might have been written by Henry Livingston Jr., “a gentleman-poet of Dutch descent,” says Don Foster, English professor at Vassar College.

The poem was first published anonymously in a Troy, New York, newspaper. Only after Livingston had died did Moore claim to be its author. It was a time when gentlemen often published anonymously, considering newspaper publications beneath them.

Foster’s literary analysis as well as the sleuthing of Livingston’s heirs suggests that Moore could not have penned the often imitated and parodied poem (“A Florida Night Before Christmas”? “A Laboratory Night Before Christmas”?). For one thing, Moore, who owned much of what is now the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, was too much of a grouch. As the New York Times writes, “He took a stern approach to being a parent, and his poems and writings often focused on the annoying noise of ‘clamorish girls’ and ‘boisterous boys.'”

Authorship might be a moot point now, anyway: This poem has almost become a part of the fabric of Christmas itself.

As well as the classic 1950s scene rendered in the YouTube video above, you can also hear Bob Dylan recite the poem on his XM radio show, or build your own made-to-order “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” using “crazy libs” to sub in certain words for others.

Whatever you decide, enjoy these poetic tidbits—and enjoy your well-deserved holidays.

Teaching Poetry will be on a two week hiatus now until January. We’ll see you in the New Year.

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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?

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Poet of the Month: Rainer Maria Rilke

posted: 11.30.09 by archived

“Now the hour bends down and touches me
with its clear, metallic ring;
my senses tremble. The feeling forms: I can
and I grasp the malleable day.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours, as translated by Edward Snow

This is approximately how I felt as I settled in to write my post this morning. Rainer Maria Rilke is Teaching Poetry’s Poet of the Month for December. Friday is the 134th anniversary of his birth in 1875, and December 29 is the 83rd anniversary of his death in 1926.

Born in Prague, René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke had an unhappy childhood. Until he was old enough to attend school, his mother dressed him in girls’ clothes and treated him as a daughter, possibly because her first child, a daughter, died at only one week old. Rilke’s parents sent him to military school at the age of nine, hoping he would become an officer and improve the family’s place in society. Although Rilke was drawn to the glorious aspects of the military and war stories, he was more interested in becoming a poet than an officer. Even as a child, Rilke showed an interest in reading and writing poetry, which followed him to military school and beyond to university studies in Prague and Munich. He published his first volume of poetry, Leben und Lieder (Life and Songs), at his own expense in 1894.

René became Rainer at the suggestion of Lou Andreas-Salomé, an intelligent and influential woman whom Rilke met and fell in love with in Munich. Her marriage to Carl Friedrich Andreas did not stop Rilke from traveling with her (twice) on long trips to Russia and continuing their affair until 1900. In 1902 Rilke came to Paris with his wife, the sculptress Clara Westhoff, to write a book about Rodin. Rilke was always interested in the visual arts, having studied art in Prague and Munich and developed a practice of art criticism. After meeting and studying Rodin, Rilke eventually became his secretary and helped promote Rodin’s sculpture in Europe. Rodin encouraged him to write every day about anything that caught his attention instead of waiting for inspiration to strike. Rilke also loved Cézanne’s paintings, particularly the still lifes. They expressed an intensity that Rilke had tried to capture when describing a single object in poetry—seeing the object fully, knowing it completely, and capturing its essence in one short, well-crafted poem.

Throughout his career, Rilke consorted with intellectuals and aristocrats, though not always well; he was prone to anxiety and melancholy, became ill often, and was rarely happy in one place for long. He was not always liked, but required patronage to continue his writing. One of his patrons was Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis; she welcomed him to Duino castle where he began the Duenieser Elegien (Duino Elegies) in 1912. They were not completed until 1923, due to the First World War and Rilke’s poor health and emotional state. Rilke also published Die Sonnete an Orpheus (Sonnets to Orpheus) in 1923, just three years before his death from leukemia. These two works are his most famous, and widely considered to be the height of his poetic achievements.

Today, The Rainer Maria Rilke Foundation (est. 1986) hosts a museum, lectures, and celebrations of Rilke at the Maison de Courten in Sierre, Switzerland, the town where Rilke spent the last five years of his life (before you start planning your trip, be aware that their Web site is only in French and German). Much of Rilke’s poetry is available online in German and in English. The quality of the English translations varies, particularly online where anyone can offer a translation. It’s worth it to look up and compare a few translations, both for the sake of judging the poem fairly and for the sheer linguistic fun of it. The Poetry Foundation has several Rilke poems in English and some interesting articles considering Rilke and his poetry.

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Send Us Your Turkey-Day Assignments!

posted: 10.31.09 by archived

Holidays can be hard to write about. The “what you did on your summer vacation” prompt probably tops the pile, but tired sentiments about gratitude and world peace might not be far behind.

With Thanksgiving coming up, the Teaching Poetry blog wants to know how you approach this holiday with your students. Do you assign elegant odes or SPAMku? Do you avoid the topic altogether?

  • How do you get around clichés and get your students thinking for themselves?
  • What models do you use?
  • If you teach creative writing, what assignments work best for generating original turkey-day themed verse?

Send in your thoughts, your favorite assignments–or stories of classroom disasters. We’ll be collecting your insights over the next couple of weeks and posting your responses on November 16th, just in time for the holiday. Then, we’ll ask you to vote for the coolest activity!

E-mail assignments to: aflynn (at) bedfordstmartins (dot) com

Deadline: anytime before Friday, November 13
Vote on all submissions: November 16
Favorites go live: November 17

Stay tuned!

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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.

Activity:

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.

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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 www.sagesaidso.com. Join the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at www.writingthelifepoetic.typepad.com!

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Jim Carroll: 1949-2009

posted: 10.7.09 by archived

by Cecilia Seiter

Poet, musician, and author Jim Carroll died of a heart attack in New York on September 11th of this year. He was best known for his memoir, The Basketball Diaries, about his high school years playing basketball for a private school, while simultaneously supporting his growing heroin addiction. The New York Times has a good obituary; The Guardian writes about Carroll’s poetic legacy; for a more personal remembrance, with pictures, poetry, and an interview, try poet Tom Clark’s blog.

While learning more about Jim Carroll’s life, and reading some of his poetry (I picked up Fear of Dreaming, which contains selected poems from 1969-1993) what struck me was how inextricably linked his life and works were to New York City. Born on the Lower East Side, spending his adolescence in Inwood at the northern tip of Manhattan, and going to high school on the Upper West Side, Carroll had the run of Manhattan from a young age. The poetry workshops on St. Mark’s Place, which he attended starting in 1965, encouraged his writing. And, what better place than Manhattan during the sixties and seventies to find the mix of art, drugs, and rock and roll that were so influential to his work?

In many of his poems, Carroll refers to specific streets and and places in New York, as if to let the reader in on the places where he hangs out. These references also ground the poems in geographical reality, and invite the reader’s knowledge of the street or neighborhood to  enhance the experience of reading the poem.

You could do your own walking tour of Manhattan based on Carroll’s poetry, though the streets aren’t the same anymore. In a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, Carroll himself said,

The New York that’s in my poems is the New York that’s in my head…I walked past Times Square the other night and it was just like being in Vegas or something. But it wasn’t the sleazy Vegas. I can remember when I was a kid going up to Times Square and it was this breathtaking sense of depravity, which I think every kid should go through and be exposed to. Now, it’s more like Disneyland or something.

Jim Carroll is definitely worth watching and listening to. You can hear him read his poem “Heroin” here, thanks to the Paris Review (who first published his poetry in 1968, and published excerpts from The Basketball Diaries in 1970). This video, from the film Poetry in Motion (1982), shows Carroll reading “Just Visiting”, from “The Book of Nods” (the clip ends with some bonus footage of Charles Bukowski).

A final thought on writing poetry (versus playing basketball) from Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973:

Poetry has too many variations. Mr. Frost was right about one thing: there are always promises to keep, and variations on that theme. With basketball you can correct your own mistakes, immediately and beautifully, in midair.

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blog-photo Cecilia Seiter is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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