Posts Tagged ‘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!


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.


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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Helen Vendler: Close Reader In Action

posted: 9.28.09 by archived

by Andrew Flynn

Helen Vendler is famous for reading poems closely. Her skills are certainly on display in this discussion with master interviewer Christopher Lydon a couple of years ago. It appeared on his Internet radio show Open Source.

Vendler talks about her then-new book on W. B. Yeats, Our Secret Discipline, offering thought-provoking analysis of a number of poems, including the famous “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death”:

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Vendler makes many illuminating observations (the discussion of the poem begins at minute 5:12)—about the poem’s history, its form, and its content—but I was particularly struck by her analysis of time and place. Vendler notes:

The thing that Yeats does that to me is astonishing in this poem is that he makes the airplane take off. When the Irish airman begins speaking, he’s on the ground, saying “I know that I shall meet my fate/Somewhere among the clouds above”—so he’s looking up to the clouds in the sky, the clouds are above. Later, he says, “A lonely impulse of delight/ Drove to this tumult in the clouds”—this tumult that he is now experiencing in the clouds, where he is surrounded by the clouds and is up in the air. And, somehow between line two and line twelve the plane has gone up into the air and he is speaking from the air, where he began speaking from the ground. And that seems to me one of the sort of amazing things Yeats could do in a poem, without telegraphing it, without saying, “First I will show him speaking on the ground, then I will show him aloft in his plane.” He doesn’t say a word. He just makes it happen. It’s all show and no tell with Yeats.

I’d read this poem a dozen or so times before, but I’d never noticed this major shift in time and place. Her analysis makes for fresh reading of this well-read poem, though I’m still trying to figure out what happens between lines two and twelve.

The quality of Vendler’s reading is that it reveals both subtleties that benefit academic debates on interpretation and also make the act of reading more pleasurable.

In her Poems, Poets, Poetry text, Vendler includes “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death” in chapter 6 on “Constructing a Self.” The chapter focuses on space and time, testimony, typicality, and motivations—considerations that help readers understand how poets create their speakers. Vendler advises:

As you read a poem, ask yourself question about the speaker constructed within the poem. Where is he or she in time and space? Over how long a period? With what motivations? How typical? Speaking in what tones of voice? Imagining life how? Resembling the author or different from the author? The more you can deduce about the speaker, the better you understand the poem. If you think about what has been happening to the speaker before the poem begins (if that is implied by the poem), you will understand the speaker better.

Helpful advice—and the entire Open Source interview with Christopher Lydon is well worth a listen.

Take a favorite poem that you think you know well. Then consider Vendler’s advice quoted above. How do these considerations about the poem’s speaker change the way you read? How does it change your understanding of the poem’s meaning?


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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Kay Ryan, Poet of the Month

posted: 9.21.09 by archived

by Andrew Flynn

Kay Ryan, the US Poet Laureate, turns 64 today.

Ryan is not a household name—not even a poet’s household name until quite recently—and her journey to the Library of Congress does not follow the course of a typical literary career. “It feels very unlikely,” Ryan told Charlie Rose in an interview last November. “I hadn’t ever expected this to happen to me.”

She grew up the daughter of an oil-well driller in the San Joaquin Valley in the 40s and 50s, in a working-class culture that did not welcome the pretensions of poetry. Her adult life has been spent teaching writing—but not of the MFA variety. Since the 1970s she’s taught remedial English classes at the College of Marin, her local community college. She lives in a house she shingled herself, is an avid runner, and has never taken a creative writing class. Carol Adair, Ryan’s fellow teacher at Marin and longtime partner, died earlier this year. Ryan wrote about their relationship and marriage in Salon.

Ryan’s success came later in life. Her early works attracted little notice. The first published essay on Ryan’s work appeared little more than a decade ago—but its author, poet and critic, Dana Gioia, proclaimed her achievements in no uncertain terms. “Over the past five years,” Gioia begins, “no new poet has so deeply impressed me with her imaginative flair or originality as Kay Ryan.” Gioia, who became Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, also became a champion of Ryan’s poetry. The last ten years have marked a rise to prominence for Ryan, with highlights including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001, the eminent Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2004, and appointment as Poet Laureate of the United States in 2008.

It only takes one poem to show Ryan’s unique style. Her poems are short, sometimes funny, almost always accessible, yet rich and complex. Analyzing the internal wordplay of “Paired Things,” Dana Gioia picked out the hallmarks of a Ryan poem: “dense figurative language, varied diction, internal rhyme, the interrogative mode, and playful, which elusively alternates between iambic and unmetered lines.”

Paired Things

So many paired things seem odd.
Who ever would have dreamed
the broad winged raven of despair
would quit the air and go
bandylegged upon the ground, a common crow?

“[C]lown suitcase” is her own description of her poetry. “[T]he clown flips open the suitcase and pulls out a ton of stuff,” she said in her Paris Review interview. “A poem is an empty suitcase that you can never quit emptying.” She’s balked at Gioia’s Dickinson comparison—“[H]ow would you like to be compared to God?”

Adam Kirsch wrote in praise of Ryan’s appointment as Poet Laureate, commending her “diffidence and self-sufficiency” and her “dark vision and metaphysical scope,” offering an incisive reading of Ryan’s poem “Chop”:

Here are the short lines, plain diction, and buried assonances—”sharp/chop,” “step/stamp”—that define Ms. Ryan’s verse. But once you ponder the miniature allegory of “Chop,” that homely music starts to look desperately ironic. For Ms. Ryan’s bird is an emblem of man in his arrogant mortality.

Something similar could be said about much of Ryan’s work.

The Library of Congress has aggregated the wealth of resources about Ryan available on the Internet, including essays, interviews, and recordings of readings. If you’ve never read Kay Ryan before, she’s worth discovering. If you don’t read much poetry, she’s still discoverable.

Kay Ryan is noted for her frequent use of recombinant, or internal, rhyme. (See, for instance, “four-oared” and “afford” in “Turtle.”) How is the effect of internal rhymes different than traditional, end-of-the-line rhymes? Why does Ryan seem to use internal rhyme in “Turtle”? For example, how does internal rhyme add emphasis to certain images or change meaning?


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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Poems are Fun!

posted: 9.14.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

I hadn’t realized this until I took the time to click through our archives, but the overarching argument of all the Bits poetry blogs I’ve written so far has been that poetry can, in fact, be fun… and toward that end, poetry should be read aloud and recited, incorporated into our daily lives, and actively enjoyed.

As educators, this is our mandate: resuscitating the literary arts and exciting students. It’s a difficult challenge, often because—as previously discussed —it’s easy to get frustrated by indifference and “turn to public domain big guns to inspire respect if not obeisance.” Unfortunately, the inherent fun of poetry usually slips away during the resultant fracas.

The following short films, Poems are Fun (1956) and Let’s Read Poetry (1957), are great—if a little dated—reminders that poetry can and should be lived and learned, that poetry is fun! I’d love to see what these would look like today.  Any thoughts? In any case, enjoy:

Poems are Fun (1956)

Let’s Read Poetry (1957)

A recap, for those just tuning in:

In Defense of Recitation

Who’s Afraid of Teaching Poetry?

Ars Poetica: For Students Who Wonder What the Point Is, Anyway

Contemporary Politics/Poetics

Why So Serious: Are Happy Poems Taboo?

Minute by Minute with #Micropoetry

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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Minute by Minute with #Micropoetry

posted: 9.8.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

It’s easy to say that poetry is dead. So easy, in fact, that I’ve said as much before on Bedford Bits: “it’s easy […] to fall into the trap of thinking of poetry as frivolous. Or as unapproachable solipsism. Or both. Largely irrelevant, in any case.” But, like a poet, I wonder about Death (capital “D”).

Is Poetry in a coffin, unsold and unread (or worse: forcibly, joylessly read)… or has it been reconstituted, its component parts unknowingly incorporated –- immanent -– into the subconsciously literary, the reflective and minutely observant; the people with Things to Say. That is, into Poets (capital “P”), both self-identified and otherwise. Take Twitter:

A quick check of Twitter (which is considered – like poetry – to be largely irrelevant) reveals a quickening pulse within the poetic corpse. Not villanelles or catalectics, but something shorter: “twaiku” — twittered haiku — and casually shared micropoetics.

Some might say this is mostly empty verbiage. They say it’s better to leave poetry to the professionals. But again, this is where our poetic problem originated. Twaiku may not be canon –- although, I am Twitter friends with Shakespeare –- but Poetry is bubbling up, tweet by tweet, into contemporary pop-consciousness.

This minute, regardless of whether anyone thinks it’s an essentially historical or privileged art form, poetry is being created and celebrated, shared and reposted and thrown away. Yoko Ono is making international news by judging Twitter poetry competitions (the prize: free admission to poetry events!); Twitter micropoetry is being codified, at least popularly on Wikipedia, as a legitimate “genre of poetic verse”; and we may even have our first serious Twitter poetry book, Tweet, Tweet: a mysticotelegraphic fistbump panegyric to the american open road odyssey (Mark Fullmer, 2009).

This forthcoming film/poetry collection, teased in the below book trailer, documents — minute by micropoetic minute — Fullmer’s “road trip from Brea to Flagstaff to Albuquerque to Denver to Provo to Ferdley to Big Sur and back” — and definitely doesn’t look anything like your grandmother’s mouldering book of Victorian twaiku.

Tweet, Tweet, by Mark Fullmer (Trailer):

So, is Poetry dead? Of course not — that’s just something we say. Poets are, as previously discussed in Why So Serious?: Are Happy Poems Taboo, driven by mortality and marginalization.

And have we really come from The Odyssey to “The Wasteland” to this? Yes and no — like almost everything else, you can find poetry alive and thriving online, but that’s just the popular fringe. Some will take solace in this explosion of poetic creation, others can always look to the traditional sources, which chug on regardless.


1. Take a look at Twitter searches for #micropoetry and #twaiku. What can be said about these short poems (140 characters maximum) as a whole? Do you think they work as poetry (why or why not)?

2. Given what you’ve noticed in the above exercise, try your hand at writing Twitter-style micropoetry. If you don’t have a Twitter account, just try to keep these short-bursts under 140 characters long. Of course, part of the vitality and fun of tweeted poetry is the social interaction, so — if you feel comfortable — try posting some of your micropoetry on Twitter. Be sure to end your post with a hash tag (#micropoetry or #twaiku).

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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Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day—Daily?

posted: 8.24.09 by archived

If you find that even the liveliest poems sometimes feel dead on the page, if now and again you’d like to be at a reading rather than reading, or if you’re just trying to squeeze more poetry into your busy schedule, Our Daily Sonnet will be a treat. Dismayed by the dearth of recordings of Shakespeare’s sonnets available on the internet, Adam Tessier decided to record videos of friends and strangers reading the Bard’s poetry. Videos will appear once a day, every day, until all 154 sonnets have been read.

Today’s sonnet:

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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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Why So Serious: Are Happy Poems Taboo?

posted: 8.10.09 by archived

In a recent “Teaching Poetry” meeting, we wondered why poems about happiness weren’t popular. Or were they?

We gave ourselves the assignment to come up with five poems about happiness. But as we started to make our selections, we wondered if the real topic wasn’t “poems that make us happy.” In trying to sort this out, the following conversation ensued:

Nick R: I’ve been thinking about my favorite happy poems — I need to check if they’re actually happy or just bittersweet-hopeful. I want to pick Sharon Olds’s “First Boyfriend” as my first one, but that might actually not be exclusively happy. What gradations of “happiness” are we dealing with/accepting here?

Kim W: Hmm, interesting question. Poems about things that make you happy should count, right? As long as they aren’t undercut by a “but it’s all for naught since we’re gonna die anyway” vibe.

Anyway, maybe the debate over what makes a poem a happy poem is more interesting than the poems themselves.

Joelle: Poetry never is exclusively happy, is it? And what is “happy” anyway?

I was thinking of Jack Gilbert’s poem “Alone,” about his wife who has died. The intimacy of it makes me “happy,” or at least, I enjoy it.

In case you’re curious about the Gilbert poem, it begins:

I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody’s dalmatian . . .

Nick R: I’ve decided that I’m much less invested in intrinsically “happy” poems, and more interested in the story/context of poetry that makes me happy.

So, without context, here are the poems I could think of (off the top of my head, and mostly canonical) that make me happy:

–Sharon Olds, “First Sex
–Richard Brautigan, “The Beautiful Poem“/”Love Poem” (These two only make me happy when read back to back.)
–Andrei Codrescu, “Who’s Afraid of Anne Waldman
–Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California“/”America” (As companion pieces)
–Frank O’Hara, “Why I Am Not a Painter
–Phil Levine, “M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School — Detroit 1942
–Philip Larkin, “High Windows“/”This Be The Verse
–Everything by Frank O’Hara

Also, one quatrain in the Auden poem, “On the Circuit“:

Is this my milieu where I must
How grahamgreeneish!  How infra dig!
Snatch from the bottle in my bag
An analeptic swig?

Kim W: I think the idea — there should be poems that make a study of happiness, just as there are poems that make a study of death, melancholy, love, loyalty, sex, loneliness, etc. — is intriguing.

In the pantheon of human emotion, happiness is just as important as any other experience, right? So why doesn’t it get due respect? Do artists, poets, and intellectuals generally view happiness as a myth or a sham? A fairy tale invented by the media and the advertising industry? It’s curious that we can’t find many poems that are meditations on happiness.

Nick, I was reading your book, Triangulating Happiness, again last night and thinking that the whole collection should be on my list, since it’s a book-length meditation on happiness. Right? (If not, please explain so I can disagree.)

Andrew F: For my money — people don’t need to do something with their happiness other than just have it, so they don’t write about it. Not less important than death, melancholy, loneliness, etc., but in no way frustrating, so there’s less impetus to write about, which is why it’s underrepresented.

Kim W: A literature teacher once made that same argument. He reasoned that there were no happy poems because the poets were too busy being happy to write about it happiness. But I don’t buy that. There are happy songs, right. We like happy songs because listening to them makes us happy. Art doesn’t just explore emotions, it evokes emotions.

Nick: Writing is traditionally solitary and introspective, so I think it’s easy to go that route and give the world another coy memento mori.

I set out to write forty-two explosively happy, or at least life affirming, poems that would (hopefully) go past the fleeting Frank O’Hara thing and maybe have some happy gravitas of their own. A lot ended up bittersweet/treacley regardless, but yes.

And I agree with Andrew, people tend not to theorize happiness . . . but I think that’s a mistake. Everyone knows what unhappiness and depression feels like, it’s easy to emote. I don’t think most people have a handle on happiness, personal or ethereal.

Kim W: I’m intrigued by Nick’s idea that happiness is harder to represent than other emotions. (Of course, all our emotions are tangled up together, but that’s another discussion entirely.)

It’s tricky to represent that life-affirming optimism, without getting autobiographical, and it’s hard to avoid the self-congratulatory tone that sometimes goes with that. Whitman avoids it in Leaves of Grass by tying happiness to larger forces of nature.

Joelle H: Maybe happiness is more palpable in language against the backdrop of poignancy? Is the fleeting nature of happiness more palpable than the actual state of happiness? Does it need tension to be representable in language?

Kim W: Are you saying that the threat of losing happiness is more representable (because of its tension) than the in-the-moment experience of happiness?

Joelle H: “Knowing” that happiness is transitory is more knowable in “art” than the actual state of happiness, which, I think, is a highly personal experience. It’s easier to “beam” happiness than to explain how you feel to someone — whether in a poem or not.

Nick R: In the graph below, I feel like any of the quadrants on their own is basically boring. I’m interested in the progression from C (and D, although that’s a weird quadrant) to B.

I feel like most of the poems that we think about when we think about happy poems are forgettable because they’re A. And I don’t like a lot of poetry because it’s C, with little movement. D has the potential to be interesting, but I’m more interested in movement.

This graph may or may not be inherently flawed (my attention is split by MLA updates).

Nick's Poetry Graph

Kim W: Where did you get this graph?

Nick R: Just threw it together on MS paint — realizing now that C and D should be switched, but otherwise I think it sorta holds up.

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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?

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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Memorization and its Discontents

posted: 7.14.09 by archived

By Andrew Flynn

Memorizing poetry is the bugbear of students everywhere. Or, at least that is how I remember things. I felt hatred mixed with ironic bemusement at being forced to memorize Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy in my senior English class, and I was not alone. As with many similar tasks, I stuffed the text down on a Tuesday night and regurgitated it Wednesday afternoon for the test, never having properly digested it at all. So things went.

I have no doubt that high school and college students across the nation have similar stories about the tribulations of rote memorization. So, it may come as a surprise to many to learn that our teachers were not just sadists, as we had long supposed. In the teacher’s notes to her Poems, Poets, Poetry, esteemed critic Helen Vendler explains the value of memorization: [read more]

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