Friday, November 8, 2013

Sitting Next To My High School English Teacher, Thinking About Poetry

Poets Forum is becoming my annual poet getaway for a day.  Heading into the city on a peak train.  Walking through the rush of tailend of rush hour.  Sitting all day listening to poets talk about poetry.  Ooh, and they serve flavored tea.  It's a little bit of heaven.

And, walking through the city, I get to see things like this:

Kevin Larimer, Editor of Poets & Writers spoke first. He told me a lot of what I already know, but lots of the audience scribbled down his every word, so it was obviously stuff people don't know.  I know that people don't know it because I'm an editor, and almost half the submissions are proof that people cannot follow instructions.  What he did say that was helpful, something I've never really thought about, was if you submit to a hard copy journal, research their distribution.  If they have none, then no one will be reading your work.  Hmm.  Tru dat.  He also said some things that made me think I should update the Nassau Review guidelines again, so it actually did help me in my professional capacity, which is what I wrote on the paperwork to get my job to pay for my train ticket, which means I wasn't lying.

Poetic Explorations with Kevin Varrone, Lee Ann Brown, and Rachel Eliza Griffiths: this panel discussed the use of organizing principles and themes to develop work.

Kevin Varrone discussed box score: an autobiography.  It's his recent collection available as an app.  His poems are in the form of virtual baseball cards.  They can be read in any order.  They include music.  This is a poet who has crossed the verge of something wonderful, creating something wonderful.  I downloaded the app.  Uh. May. ZING!

Lee Ann Brown discussed how coverlets and patterns and the Appalachians influenced her collection.  She has a river poem in her collection; it runs line by line across the bottom of the pages.  I am a lazy poet.  I would never do that.  Because I'm lazy. 

Rachel Eliza Griffiths discussed her obsession with fictional characters and their possible alternative outcomes.  Her collection offers poems in persona; she climbed into the minds of these fictional characters and wrote from their perspectives.  When she read from her collection, she made me feel like I couldn't possibly ever put together a worthy sentence again.

The Poetic Impulse with Lia Purpura and Ken Chen: this panel discussed what drives a poet to write poetry instead of using other art forms.

Lia Purpura reminisced about a quote book she and her friends mailed back and forth to each other when she was a teenager, collection overhead conversations, movie titles, and headlines to collect language.  She discussed playing the oboe, leading me to wonder yet again, "what is it with writers and oboes?"

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Allure Of The Oboe

Lydia Davis has long been one of my favorite writers. Since college, I've followed her tales of quirky, funny, sarcastic, witty banter. Last year, I saw her at the Y and was psyched (she read with Per Serstead, whose name I'm spelling wrong who read an awful book about a horse that was named one of the best books of 07 by the NYTimes--seriously, a horse?). Now, I finally finished The Short Stories of Mary Gordon. I am convinced that she and Lydia Davis share a brain. At times I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading Davis, I was reading Gordon. They have the same tone, same point of view. Only Gordon's book was over 400 pages and there were only so many stories I could take.

The oddest similarity I found was that when they speak of music, they both speak of the oboe. Is this a common thing among writers? Am I missing a very important part of the writing process? Should I take up the oboe? Aside from the oboe being very phallic and funny to say, is there a greater symbol I'm missing? Does anyone really play the oboe anymore? 
She pondered, "What sparks a poem?," indicating that the answer of "I don't know" really does not help others who want an answer, so instead of not paying attention to where her poems come from, she made a list of things that sparked her poems in her most recent collection, which included: events that have no language in an attempt to find language for them; odd kinds of sadness; attempts to describe emotions never felt before; sound.

Finally, she indicated that diligence and desire make up a poet's work.  Sitting down creates a space for work even if sometimes nothing comes to fruition.

Ken Chen pointed out that non-poets and non-poetry-readers have a difficult time figuring out what makes a good poem.  He recalled the first poem he really enjoyed about a cave boy, stating that metaphors in a poem have an intuitive logic that makes poetry. Poetry models a certain kind of thinking; poetry is an art of intimacy. The spark of poetry is subject matter plus inspiration, and we can easily steal from other art forms as well as lines of other's people poetry that create the materiality of language.

He then said something about poetry that is true but I'd never really thought about: a poem's perspective cannot be wrong.  Hm.  How about that?  This is when I really started to like Ken Chen (I liked him already when he began his talk by saying he ran away as a kid, he hated all this language stuff because English was not his first language, and then said he thought it was all bullshit--heh heh).

Finally, he said that we are in an age of poetics rather than poetry.  We are learning how to become more embodied in writing that than intellectualizing poetry itself.  We are getting in touch with the scrappy trash side of language.

Blaney Lecture: Carolyn Forche's "Not Persuasion But Transport: The Poetry Of Witness"
Carolyn Forche began her lecture by saying she was so nervous because she didn't realize how large of an audience she'd have.  Then she talked about how when she was abroad, she heard automatic gunfire going off and was told that was how they applauded.  She's been in the presence of automatic weaponry, yet we made her nervous.  She discussed the life of wandering and how the poem is ghosted language carrying images of suffering.  The role of the poet is to have responsibility to support all writers and their writing, especially those who face political struggle.

Also from her lecture: knowledge and wisdom require time and evaluation; literature requires sustained contemplation.  We live between two unknown realms: before birth and after death.  The art we make is communication for our descendants; what we leave behind is what we hope for the future.

In the morning, as I sat sipping my first cup of orange tea, I saw two familiar faces, two women who had taken my poetry workshop at the Graphic Eye Gallery this past year.  They sat with me.  We chatted about how our writing has been going.  The caught me up on things going on with women in the group, all of whom are very busy and most of whom are nearing or past the age of retirement (one is in her 90s, and during our workshop, when I prompted them to revise the poems they'd written during the first half, she announced, "Well, I liked what I wrote so I didn't change anything."  And because she's in her 90s, she can totally do that.  Who's gonna fight with a 90-year-old?).  

What made this day even better was that for most of the day, I sat next to Ms. W.  After the first panel, there was a longish break during which I sat tweeting and eating a sandwich I'd brought in with me because I travel nowhere without food.  When the second panel was about to begin, I looked up and saw her standing in our row of seats.  We  hugged.  It was delightful. 

This is why I love Ms. W.  After the third break, we were discussing how the room was filling up with more and more people.  There were two empty seats in front of us, but one had been occupied, so I said, I wonder if that woman is coming back.  She replied, Oh, you mean Coughing Woman?  Heh heh heh. During the previous panel, the woman had been clearing her throat and trying to do that thing where you quietly take out a cough drop when we all know that cough drops come in the loudest packaging ever so not only does your cough interrupt everything, but so does your trying not to.  So Ms. W called her Coughing Woman just as I would refer to her as Coughing Woman, which is why we get along.  And when I indicated my lazy-poet status after seeing the river in the collection her friend bought, she laughed at me, and I like when people get me. She was the first person to publish my writing in our high school literary journal, so she totally totally gets me.  We also shared a love for Mandy Patinkin when he starred in Chicago Hope.  We totally get each other.

On my way home, I was inspired by this:

And puzzled by this:

as it was still October.  Twas the season of pumpkins, not Christmas trees.  Now tis the season of turkeys.  Jack's is a little ahead of itself.

Regardless of the season, Poets Forum proved inspiring and wonderful yet again.  Now I should go write some poetry.

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