Larina Warnock facilitated a series of poet forum discussions for the Academy of American Poets 2006-9 (the defunct site forums.poets.org ). According to Warnock, the site was hacked, so they ended the program. Denise Low was guest poet and host for this series March and April of 2008, when she was Kansas poet laureate. Participants in this archived discussion include Warnock, Steve Bunch, O.P.W. Fredericks , Judith Roitman , and Joseph Harrington (see a sample Harrington poem). This is posted with permission of the Academy of American Poets (7/6/2015), Larina Warnock, and other participants.
Topics include: poetics, Charles Olson, Kenneth Irby (see Jacket2-Irby), William Stafford, Victor Contiski, Lyn Hejinian (see Low’s comments about Hejinian’s K.U. lecture and essay/correspondence about poetics: Denise Low blog), William J. (Billy Joe) Harris, language poetry (lang-po), editors, nature poetry, online forums, exploration, individuality, Patricia Traxler, Donald Levering (poem), deep image, poetry month as ghetto, increase in published books of poetry, Stephen Bunch (and poem), community, Wes Jackson, Judith Roitman (and emoji poems), Joseph Harrington on hybridity and interzones, syllabic measure, Harley Elliott, Harrington on “passive conversation,”
The original sequence begins with a biography and sample poems by Denise Low, here posted below the forum discussion.+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
WARNOCK, Mar. 1, 2006: Denise Low is one of those poets whose work is deceptive. On the surface are images we can easily relate to, but beneath that lies a buried city of emotion, insight, and meaning. We are very lucky for the opportunity to have her here. A special welcome to a poet that constantly reminds me how much I have to learn (in a good way!), and a special thank you to Steve Bunch who brought her here.
LOW, March 1, 2006: First, my thanks for the kind intro to my work. I’ll respond to your offline questions. A brief word on poetics to start. A myriad of styles and traditions are available to American-English writers. The quest is to discover what form fits a content. Many poets delight in language itself, like Flarfing (collaging internet-mined, whimsical accretions of words). Others have ideological aims. As I look at my own writings across three decades, I find a continuity of connection to objects around me. For me, poetry is a continual process of reality testing. Where are we? What are the dimensions of this outward cosmos, and how does it connect to the inner process of consciousness? Ideas interest me, but I keep returning to bedrock. What is this place, and what histories transpired here before me and will occur in the future, at least to the seventh generation? So history, geology, weather, and seasons keep recurring in my writing. Charles Olson is one influence among many, many. When looking at Olson’s influence, there are at least two threads: overt successors who use similar forms, and Ed Dorn would be near the top of my list as well as Ronald Johnson. I live near Kenneth Irby and he certainly works the lode. Breath as a line unit rather than metered beats is one characteristic. But also: I believe Olson had a systemic influence on American poetics–at least those who are not trying to return to Europe in their writings.
A brief word of advice to beginners. If you have taken the step to enter a public forum, rules for writing poetry change a bit. You are accountable to an audience. Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon visited Kansas University recently, and one of the most striking things he said was: as audience, we go to poetry readings, lectures, and even movies to be surprised, not to hear what we already know. And as a teacher, one of my goals is to not bore my students. So a first premise: try to engage your readers.
WARNOCK Mar 02, 2008: Denise, thank you for being with us! I have two somewhat different questions. You say: “The quest is to discover what form fits a content.” I’ve heard all sides of this, I think, and constantly find myself returning to the idea that content and craft are inextricably intertwined in good poetry. Yet a modest review of most literary journals in today’s world tells me that most editors eschew either form in favor of content or vice versa. Do you also find this to be true (and I ask knowing that you are far more active in this world than I am) and if so, do you think there is an identifiable reason for it?
My second question is in regard to your poetry. I can’t help but notice what appears to be a William Stafford influence (Mallard: Nederland, Colorado, reminded me instantly of his “Blue Heron”). I also notice, though, that while you don’t speak specifically of sound in your note on poetics, your poetry displays a very clear attention to it (particularly use of assonance). A few months ago, we had a discussion here about what makes a poem, well, a poem. Do you think sound plays a role in that determination at all, or is it simply a stylistic technique used by some poets and not others?
LOW March 2, 2008: Let me try to kill a mallard and a heron with one stone: I see poetry as infinitely variable with a number of axes: form/content is one. Sound-worked/random sound is another. I think the myriad forms these days comes from the quickened communications and excellent archives we have of recent to deep-past poetic traditions. Editors tend toward choosing the type most comfortable to them. For example: I’m actually kind of tone-deaf. I went for visual image over sound for decades. I remember my first poetry teacher, Victor Contoski, pointing out internal rhymes and my being astonished. Some people dream in color and some don’t. I think we pick out poetry that best matches our mentalities, especially at first. Then with practice with the traditions, we can learn some of the other kinds of techniques. How about you?
WARNOCK Mar 06, 2008: I have a very difficult time determining what editors might be comfortable with or even like. I can read through five issues of a particular journal and still not have the slightest idea what ties the poems together or made them stand out for the editor. Editors’ preferences almost always seem somewhat arbitrary to me. But then, I was never very good at patterning in school, either. In poetic mentality, I’m probably exactly opposite of you. Certain sounds draw me to them and then I craft a poem around those sounds. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to create a poem that not only sounds good, but also makes sense. And sometimes it doesn’t work at all. I have a file of “sound bites”–nothing but a few words or lines strung together that sound fabulous but have yet to become a poem because it is the language surrounding the sound that is harder for me to write. I noted a great deal of excellent sound use in the poems you’ve shared with us and just wondered if that was intentional. About your comment: I think the myriad forms these days comes from the quickened communications and excellent archives we have of recent to deep past poetic traditions. I think we pick out poetry that best matches our mentalities, especially at first. Then with practice with the traditions, we can learn some of the other kinds of techniques. I agree wholeheartedly with this. I think one of the deep past poetic traditions, though, is Ezra Pound‘s “Make It New” mantra and I think that hurts poetic potential in many cases. Some poets strive so completely to be “new” that they never realize how important it is to understand the “old” techniques.
LOW Mar 08, 2008: Some Thoughts on Hejinian: Slippage toward Meaning. Lyn Hejinian read nearby recently (see my March 13, 2008 blog for more on this plus correspondence between Hejinian and Billy Joe Harris) and I appreciated hearing her work voiced. The oral timber added a layer of narrative: this is work by a woman, a woman of a certain age and dialect and biography. Her readings from My Life, composed of long lines that were complete non-sequiturs–each suggesting a narrative, but truncated–resonated, for me, with: (1) interrupted relationships with people who have died–my sister, Richard Schoeck, Tim Griffin, whom I did not know well but saw frequently on the streets of Lawrence; (2) ore samples of Robert Smithson, “Six Stops on a Station,” 1968–with moments mined within language and time, apparently unrelated yet formed within the same Indo-European bedrock. The non-sequitur form evoked real experience of loss. There was slippage toward coherence, not matter how Hejinian tried to undercut it. She writes about the dangers of (apparent) closure and completeness in her essay “Continuing Against Closure”: “If closure is problematic ethically it is untenable semantically, since nothing can restrain meaning, nothing can contain all the implications, ramifications, nuances, and connotations that cascade and proliferate from any and every point in any and every instance of what is or is thought to be. And nothing can arrest the ever-changing terrain of ubiquitous contexts perpetually affecting these.”
Hejinian also presented a lecture in the evening of March 6, “Outside Poetry,” about “literary works that combine or undercut traditional genres.” She included excerpts from poetics (noting that poetry making and discourse about poetics are a whole, both derived from poein, Greek for making) and music, including John Coltrane‘s “Ascension” and Carl Stalling‘s music composed for cartoons. These especially blur genre boundaries. She celebrated the Otherness of poetry by virtue of its fluid, adaptive forms. Of her work, Claudia Rankine writes: “As one of the founding members of the language writing movement, Lyn Hejinian has always been concerned with the referential possibilities inherent in language. In “The Rejection of Closure” she writes, “Language itself is never in a state of rest. And the experience of using it, which includes the experience of understanding it, either as speech or as writing, is inevitably active. I mean both intellectually and emotionally active.” I like that quoted quotation: “Language itself is never in a state of rest.” One of the greatest mysteries to me is time–ever slipping.
LOW March 08, 2008. On what editors are looking for. Editing is an odd gig. Editors, every one I believe, want to be discovered themselves as writers. They show generosity of spirit in extending this desire to others and fulfilling it. Is the tooth fairy in reality toothless? Who nurtures the Fairy Godmother? And so: editors have their own set of quirky filters. One of the qualities editors look for is an excellence of language and a sophistication of syntax. Good editors. So this is a subtextual piece of the experience not related to topic or even specific forms. I also know that editors and/or readers at a magazine accept poems for a range of reasons that have nothing to do with transcendent quality. I spoke with an editor recently who admitted that certain people with connections to the publication continue to publish with them. They do not publish bad poems, but ones that would not rise above anyone else’s. Are there any other editors out there? And I have done and continue to do my share of editing. I try to be open, but for example, in the selection of Kansas-connected poets I am publishing (electronic broadsides and an anthology To the Stars: Poets of the Ad Astra Project), I have an entire set of personal guidelines for the project.
STEPHEN BUNCH Mar. 11, 2008. Hi, Denise. Thank you for joining us at Poets.org. Here are two completely unrelated questions and observations: (1. Recently I was asked why I write poems (I’ve written a poem on that subject). It’s a fair question and I didn’t want to give a glib answer. As I thought about it, I decided that writing poems is, for me, an attempt to make sense of, give some form to, the world in which I find myself engulfed. It’s a way of organizing and giving shape to the barrage of “inputs” I’m hit with every day. How do you answer that question? (2. In a discussion of “language poetry” elsewhere, I opined that lang-po isn’t new at all. Some have suggested it goes back at least to Joyce and Stein, and arguably the surrealists were mining that vein. You’ve mentioned Hejinian in this regard. I also noted elsewhere Louis and Celia Zukofsky‘s “translations” of Catullus. Someone pointed out that the element of surprise is the potential payoff in lang-po, which is what I think you were suggesting with L[yn] H[ejinian]. No question here, I guess, just a few rambling thoughts. Again, thanks for joining us.
O.P.W. FREDERICKS Mar. 14, 2008 Thank you Denise for taking the time to offer your guidance and thoughts on poetry and writing to our members. I don’t know how much time you have had to visit the different forums on this site, but I’m certain you will find a poem to fall in love with, as I have on many occasions. I am the co-moderator for the 101 Poetry Workshop Forum with Larina. How do you see poetry forums such as ours fitting in to the world of poetry today, and what do you find to be the advantages and disadvantages of forums for writers? We see a large influx of novice and young writers who are often sharing their work with the world for the first time and in many ways, I am justifiably a part of that group. Most of my writing over the course of my lifetime has been prose in the form of essays. I returned to writing poetry last year. I have nearly retired from nursing, and I find that quite often I unintentionally include an aspect of that profession in my poetry. An old adage is to write about what you know, but I sometimes wonder how does one go about exploring other topics, i.e. how do you move beyond your comfort zone, and should you? I have spent a few days reading your poetry here as well as those I was able to find on the web after following the links above. I found “Kene: Bald Eagle” to be extremely moving and inspirational, but I must say that the one that has moved me the most is “Two Gates.” It has allowed many of my childhood memories to return, and I’m trying to incorporate these into a poem. If anything ever comes of it, I’ll be certain to credit you as the spark. If it falls flat on its face, I’ll never say a word. I read what I believe was quoted as an e-mail interview you gave to Miranda Ericsson on December 8, 2006 You were asked, “When did you first take yourself seriously as a writer?” Your answer, “I think a humble, open consciousness–that openness to surprise–is the first requirement for my writing. I try to keep learning. This is a process and a way of life, not an achievement to reach a certain age and have a certain amount of recognition.” This is wonderful advice for any writer regardless of their experience and skill. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. O.P.W.
LOW Mar. 17, 2008: On “Nature” poetry as a formula. This question came to me from Billy Joe Harris: “I was at a conference last fall where the speaker went on about how many poets have an over reliance on nature to spread the metaphor for everything — he called it our Oregon model (the majority being Oregon poets) — and blamed William Stafford and Bill Kitteridge and Gary Snyder, for the “formula”: not a welcomed idea, but one we were willing to ponder.” Thanks, Billy [Joe Harris], for that discussion of how reviled “nature” poetry can be. Your comments immediately bring to mind several responses from other writers. I recently heard from Patricia Traxler, a fine writer from California now living in Kansas, about how Stafford’s poetry has been misunderstood to be “about” nature. Indeed, I resisted his work for years because of the focus on internal and language concerns rather than direct Zen-do looks at reality. And let me add another comment from Wes Jackson, MacArthur Foundation winner and director of The Land Institute, dedicated to sustainable agriculture. In his Altars of Unhewn Stones, he has an essay about how rural scenes remind urban people of previous generations and the past they have left behind, or progressed from. The Turner Hypothesis of ever onward evolution, both nationally and as individuals, puts rural life into the old, cast-off “past.” And the fact 90% of the American population was rural in 1900 and by 2000, what 5-8% resided in rural communities/farms/ranches? So nature has become less familiar, less at hand, and like last year’s fashion colors–passé. So that’s for starters. Our challenge as poets writing with this imagery is to make it truly new. In my part of the country, there is a tradition of painting barns and windmills on saw blades. I have yet to see one of these not based on clichés. I do not want to do this with poetry! I love your anecdote and the use of the word “blamed.” And I have certainly seen bad, clichéd nature writing–have written some, truth to be told. We all start somewhere. I’ve also seen really really bad language/urban/confessional/NY school/imagist/formalist poetry as well. Fact is, it’s hard to write well.
LOW Mar. 18, 2008: Hi, and thanks for making me feel at home here. O.P.W. Fredericks. You ask this question: “How do you see poetry forums such as ours fitting in to the world of poetry today, and what do you find to be the advantages and disadvantages of forums for writers? We see a large influx of novice and young writers who are often sharing their work with the world for the first time….” I think that’s a good comment with no definite answer, but we sure are experiencing very quick communication. A visiting writer in Lawrence last week asked that we snail mail, that she likes correspondence in the former sense of the word. But this luxury of time is not for us folks who are wage slaves multitasking away. I think these forums are changing how we use language, how we use our memories, how we calculate, how we formulate our identities. There are pros and cons with this Pandora’s box.
I feel like I got a jumpstart with my writing because I became a poetry reader for a university magazine with almost no experience–I just showed up at a summer meeting. I saw a hundred or so poems a week for five years. This gives a person the advantage of seeing many permutations of a finite craft. Likewise, I feel like these forums improve writing to the point that I see fewer really awful poems. However, there is a point where no matter how schooled or workshopped or well read a person is–a person has to dig in and find something within that has nothing to do with dialogue. Ironically, this turning in helps enlarge us all. So I love these forums. Wish I had time to focus more on relationships within them. I find the relationships I make online are more fragile. Folks I both see and then also converse with online are the ones I have a better chance of staying in touch with. Anyone else on this? Bon soir. And I have a new Ad Astra poet posted on my blog, Patricia Traxler. She’s really a genuine writer. When I last saw her five or so years ago, she was a hermit working on a novel, and she made this decision to devote herself to writing, in a monastic way.
LOW Mar 20, 2008: Steve Bunch, thanks for your help with this guestedness. You’re a longtime ally. In your comments previously you write: “Writing poems is, for me, an attempt to make sense of, give some form to, the world in which I find myself engulfed. It’s a way of organizing and giving shape to the barrage of ‘inputs’ I’m hit with every day.” Absolutely. I find writing poetry as a way to not only organize and shape, but also find some individuality within a more and more mechanized culture. Ever spend time with a telephone tree when you need health care or correction on a bill? And personally, I’ve had a job for 20+ years that I love in many ways, but it’s federal and in many ways very regimented. So the chance to reinvent myself after a day of say federal training on security has really helped me maintain a sense of inner dignity. On good days, I may even get those glimpses of shaping that you discuss. Remember when our professor Victor Contoski used to say that writing poetry about any topic is in itself a political act?
O.P.W. FREDERICKS Mar 20, 2008: Denise, a second question if you don’t mind. An old adage is to write about what you know, but I sometimes wonder how does one go about exploring other topics, i.e. how do you move beyond your comfort zone, and should you?
LOW Mar. 20, 2008: O.P.W., I’m very interested in simulated reality (I love Baudrillard when he’s not writing about women…) and also in the research into consciousness. We get physical reactions to watching movies, salivate when we (I anyway) see chocolate, and calm down when we imagine pleasant tropical islands. So I vote for imagined realities as well as documentation of reality. In fact, I have a rant about how writing poetry is actually a kind of travel writing… what about you?
LOW Mar 21, 2008: Steve Bunch, getting back to what you said earlier about language poetry: “In a discussion of “language poetry” elsewhere, I opined that lang-po isn’t new at all. Some have suggested it goes back at least to James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, and arguably the surrealists were mining that vein. ” Certainly yes Stein, Joyce, and hey Faulkner were reproducing consciousness in nonlinear ways with language. And certainly the surrealists–Andre Breton, etc. But I will say about the surrealists–they were getting at the unconscious states. I find language poetry sites itself in the random chaos of the conscious world. What do you think? With Hejinian, in her recent talk at the University of Kansas and in her comments to Billy Joe Harris, I did not hear any discussion of trying to get at anything outside the laws of physics.
LOW Mar 23, 2008: New Book from Donald Levering. For those of you who follow Levering’s career–and who enjoyed his tenure as guest poet–hope you have a chance to see his book Whose Body from Sunstone Press. He’s been gathering power for years. I love his spider poem posted earlier this year:
SPIDER, by Donald Levering
To make a joyful sound,
just let the divine spider
climb out of your mouth
and go about its business
tying knots around your life.
So you’re a marionette,
you still can feel yourself dancing
no matter who’s pulling the strings.
Even as your divorce decree
is signed, the spider
goes on marrying you
to corners of household dust.
Eight legs, a ravenous mouth,
and the yen to spin silk in shadows.
Who wouldn’t sing?
This shows his ability to jump around levels of consciousness in his writings. He and I studied with Victor Contoski, and what I think we both took from that experience was an appreciation for the mysterious underpinning of the subconscious. This is not a random surrealism, but rather a sense that bedrock of the mind is a coherent if foreign place. Anyone else out there on submerged image poetry?
WARNOCK Mar. 29, 2008: Hi Denise, You’ve posed a few questions throughout your conversation and I thought I’d give a shot at responding: You wrote “So I love these forums. Wish I had time to focus more on relationships within them. I find the relationships I make online are more fragile. Folks I both see and then also converse with online are the ones I have a better chance of staying in touch with. Anyone else on this?” I don’t find Internet relationships to be any more or less fragile than those I make face-to-face, but I say this with the understanding that I am a working mother of four and rarely have the opportunity to develop friendships outside of the workplace. With the critical workshop, I find that the friendships I build develop from a point of common interest that is inherent simply in being part of the same community–a poetry community. So there isn’t as much ice to be broken. I can jump right into a conversation. There’s a certain freedom in that that can’t be found anywhere else.
You wrote, “So I vote for imagined realities as well as documentation of reality. In fact, I have a rant about how writing poetry is actually a kind of travel writing… what about you?” Reality is subjective and all too often, boring. Imagination is required to make any documentation of reality interesting, but reality is necessary to ground our work in a universality that allows us to connect with our readers. Too much of either and the work becomes incomprehensible. Too little of either and the work doesn’t matter at all.
You wrote: “I find language poetry sites itself in the random chaos of the conscious world. What do you think?” I’m afraid I can’t answer this question. I have no understanding of language poetry at all and in truth, little interest in trying to understand it more fully because I can’t get past the irrationality of its central mission.
You wrote: “Anyone else out there on submerged image poetry?” I love poetry that borders on consciousness–the kind of poetry that you read and understand inherently by instinct, but can’t necessarily explain to someone else. Levering’s work has that quality and I was thrilled to be introduced to his work through his stay here. It helped that he was so cordial, too. Another poet that I find uses this technique well is Simon Perchik. His is a different kind of poetry than Levering’s, but I see the same intrinsic characteristics in both. Not as eloquent as your responses, but responses nonetheless. Kind regards, Larina
LOW Mar. 31, 2008: Online: Calls & Responses. Glad to hear from you, Larina, on love of that irreducible part of a poem. Sometimes I find good poems are dreaming in the waking consciousness. Those poems, for me, tend to bury themselves and become part of my inner vocabulary. When I was in France last year my shoes gave out and I bought shoes in a French dept. store. I dreamed about that last night–somehow that became a mythic experience. The mind seizes on imagery in such an unexpected way. Rimbaud’s images are like this also. And this seems to be the most compelling aspect of poetry for me–and Levering certainly hits that locus of the brain. Denise
LOW Apr. 3, 2008: Does “Poetry Month” Ghettoize Poetry? I’m wondering how others feel about April being designated poetry month? It draws attention to word arts, but does that make it possible to dismiss them more easily? The University of Kansas has an excellent program of sponsoring a panel of poets every semester to address freshman and sophomore English classes. I recommend it. This was Tues. night. I was privileged to see Amy Fleury, Kevin Rabas, and Megan Kaminski. All three read and discussed the state of poetry today. Fleury mentioned the contradictory state of the art–how poetry surrounds us in disguised (and bastardized often) forms like commercial pop music lyrics and advertising. Yet it is central to human experience. It centers on language, which is the most human characteristic. My point here–is poetry really marginalized? Kaminski noted that more books of poetry are being published than ever before in history. Is there a reason for poetry month? I’d love to hear other thoughts on this.
WARNOCK Apr. 03, 2008: I like National Poetry Month and don’t feel that it allows us to dismiss poetry at all. During the month of April, I keep poems posted outside my office door and people who wouldn’t usually ever read poetry stop to read and talk about them. There is certainly a surge of bad poetry during April–but there is a surge in bad poetry all the time with the Internet being so widely available and easy to use. National Poetry Month gives us an opportunity–and an excuse–to highlight good poetry. The increase in published books of poetry has happened largely for the same reason. With print-on-demand technology, anyone can publish. With distributors like Lulu and Books of America, anyone can get there book onto Amazon. This may have negative effects on the industry, but in my experience, the people who buy those kinds of books are people who know the author/poet already or are somehow familiar with their work. I think those who are looking for quality poetry to read still look for “real” publishers–and most of the time, aren’t disappointed. Interesting question, Denise!
LOW Apr. 4, 2008: Poem-A-Day for April from Stephen Bunch: Day 3 I appreciate those thoughts. I also like how Stephen Bunch is taking on the challenge to write a poem a day through this April. Here is his Day 3 poem, reprinted with permission:
April Diurnal, by Stephen Bunch
Kingfishers rattle along stream’s edge.
Ospreys rise and hit the flyway.
Luna moths later will search for porch lights.
The newspaper lies unread.
LOW Apr. 04, 2008: Moving Beyond “Write What You Know. I had this question from O.P.W. Fredericks: “An old adage is to write about what you know, but I sometimes wonder how does one go about exploring other topics, i.e. how do you move beyond your comfort zone, and should you? ” Let me take a stab at an answer: My own comfort zone is pretty small and I get shoved out of it every day. Maybe I’m high-strung to start with. But then: in poetry, I struggle more with getting boxed into being called a “nature” writer or regional writer. I do write from my immediate surroundings. I could –and have been– in Cal., N.Y., New Mex., France and write essentially the same poems but in different surroundings. But at some point I really believe any good poet also writes from the inner landscape–not two-dimensional flarf or journalism. And that inner world is where we evolve as people and poets both, and that is the place where growth (i.e. pain) occurs. I like to think newer poems are different in structure, complexity, and/or scope than earlier poems I’ve written. Maybe that’s magical thinking. Maybe as we age as poets, we work at our writing from a different but equally limited frame of time. And then another challenge is to persuade our readers to go along the magical mystery tour with us….
LOW Apr. 08, 2008: Pulitzer Prizes to Hass & Schultz. Here are the Pulitzers this year: “For a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000). Two Prizes of $10,000 each: Awarded to Time and Materials by Robert Hass (Ecco/HarperCollins) and awarded to Failure by Philip Schultz (Harcourt). Also nominated as a finalist in this category was: Messenger: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2006 by Ellen Bryant Voigt (W.W. Norton).”
Boy, what a flurry of events for Poetry Month. At Haskell Indian Nations University, Professor Trish Reeves‘s class read April 14 to 40 friends and family. The story I like about that event is a young man wrote a poem about his grandfather, and the family drove from Wichita so he could be part of the audience. I’ve had moving experiences in Wichita, Emporia, and Lawrence these last few days. I appreciate the organizations that gave me venues: Emporia State University, Wichita Public Library, Kansas Library Association, Lawrence Public Library. And Thurs. night, a group of friends met to read poetry to each other, and it was terrific: Stan Lombardo‘s almost-final draft of translation of Dante’s Inferno; new poems from Joe Harrington (host); Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg; works by Judy Roitman, Megan Kaminski, Elizabeth Schultz, Hadara Bar-Nadav (now at UMKC); and Jim McCrary reading Ed Dorn and his own work (and his selected works is forthcoming). I looked around during the evening and realized several of us were originally in a writers group in the 1980s. Good friends, and honest too. For me this was the best moment (so far) of poetry month–sharing and community and love of words.
JUDITH ROITMAN, Apr. 19, 2008: It was wonderful over at Joe’s, and I found myself thinking later about community, how its borders are flexible, even its center. How communities blend into each other. How each person simultaneously feels at the center and at the periphery. How community is necessary and also how it creates the dangerous illusion of in and out. Earlier in your blog the subject of language poetry came up. I wasn’t present when people formulated lang-po, (whenever that was — in the ancient world at various times some pretty strange linguistic things were happening, or so I am told and people have always known — some people at least — that language is as much a trap as a liberation) although I like to think that I have some of the same concerns, but I was struck at Joe’s how the very different within-poetry genres of the people present somehow didn’t matter. As if the true purpose of all the various versions of poetics out there isn’t to draw theoretical lines in the sand but just to give poets the illusion that they know what they are doing so they can get on with the work.
On another subject, I find emoticons very strange, yet here they are to the left of me for my use, so I will try to write an emoticon poem. Why not?
Translated it reads:
Cry oops Mr. Green.
Mr. Green roll wink.
Laugh. Smile. Frown.
Translated it reads:
Evil, very evil
Joy & happiness
The confusion of the world.
LOW Apr. 22, 2008: On Irby’s Caesura and Olson’s Breath. Also, I was reading last night Ron Silliman’s and Smith’s comments on Ken Irby’s lines and their “structure” rather than organic breath-length; and also their use of pause in that structure. And further discussion online about Irby is about his development of language and focus on sound and etymology. Yet he is excluded from “Language” poetry for what? So his work is his own, uncategorized. But amazing. So I like to look for expertise, whatever the container. Happy Sun in Taurus everyone. Denise
JOSEPH HARRINGTON Apr. 26, 2008: R y’fer it R agin it. I think that the free market fosters dichotomized debates in literature as in other fields – one has to distinguish one’s product from the competition, no? Indeed, I’d go so far as to say this is the function of genres, nowadays. Woe betide the work that won’t fit in (chatter re: “hybridity” notwithstanding). But I agree with Judy and Denise that there are interzones (maybe the other night over here) where the market imperatives are briefly suspended. I was (am) fascinated by the multi-vocal/fugal thing Caryn read, Beth Schultz’s kind of sideways/nightmare-creepy poem (that ended up sounding more like some of Hadara’s stuff), as well as Denise’s ekphrastic prose-poems of late. And Judy’s poem was, as she pointed out, rather jokier than is her wont.
In Lyn Hejinian’s “Best Am. Poetry” a couple of years ago, it interested me to see some of the Ol’ Time Language Poets branching out in new (more representational?) directions – while the 4th or 5th generation followers were the ones reproducing the orthodox 70s-style Langpo. Maybe that’s what happens. You either have to be on top of your game, or not care about the game at all. Dunno . . . Joe. Denise: Can you give your thoughts about Syllabic measure? It’s said to have a very conversational feel but what are your thoughts about its use? thanks joe
LOW Apr. 28, 2008: Making it new, newer, newest. Thanks for those thoughts, Joe, and you point out that situation of po-biz, and perhaps also the human condition, that we have to keep reworking our own verse to “update” or improve it. On good days I like to think of whales who change their songs each migration season. On bad days, I think this is still an aspect of Turner’s frontier hypothesis, where as Americans we have to remain in a constant state of “exploration.” Somewhere outside of these concerns is a genuine human need for poetic expression. And as communities we have even stronger needs for common language. Denise
LOW Apr. 28, 2008: On syllabic measure. Okay, my five cents’ worth: Speaking of Frederick Turner, his son, I believe, F.T. III, wrote a seminal essay published in Poetry about twenty years ago about the human brain as a “neural lyre.” He compared length of poetic lines (syllable count) around the globe, and he found epic poetry to have slightly longer lines than lyric; and all had, no matter the language, close correspondence. He concluded that the human brain can accumulate only so much information (RAM memory if you will) before it needs to process it. He concluded the length and regularity of line length has an organic basis. This fits, I believe, with Olson’s projective verse–a line is, somewhat, connected to the length of a breath. So I think of regular syllabic count in lines as connected to our body processes. Now stop me before I try to connect that to feminist theory this morning…. I will also say, when I first started writing poetry, Harley Elliott‘s smooth, smooth style in Kansas dialect–with lots of use of silences that serve, like in American Indian poetics models (Western Apache and Dine), to give folks time to start a group imaging process–was/is my model. Elliott’s work has the appearance of easy conversation. Of course, that’s a trick. Coyote is involved here as well. And you? Do you count syllables? And you?
HARRINGTON Apr. 28, 2008: Thanks for responding. Your opinions are very insightful. Denise, you wrote, “Speaking of Frederick Turner, his son… He concluded that the human brain can accumulate only so much information (RAM memory if you will) before it needs to process it. He concluded the length and regularity of line length has an organic basis.” I agree with this and think that’s why more simple easily read and understood poetry has far more impact than very abstract verse. Not to say that other forms aren’t beautiful; they are. Poetry should to speak to us in our common patterns of speech with wonderfully sparse meter and stress sprinkled lightly so not to overpower the senses. I find poetry that closely mimics passive conversation to be the most beautiful when it plays and offers us small melodic surprises here and there. I do count but at the same time I try to preserve a conversational tone. I love learning a little bit about you (meaning the poet) and if you sing a bit to me- sparingly- it becomes you celebrating this insight shared. It’s all more important then. It’s a reason I think Haiku is sometimes the most beautiful and profound of poetry.
LOW Apr. 30, 2008: Passive Conversation and the Line. Joe, great comments. I’m interested that you have an appetite for “language” poetry and poets like Lyn Hejinian; at the same time you work yourself to keep the even chant-like quality of verse. Perhaps I go too far using the term chant here, but definitely, lyrics are pitched to another tone than random conversation. Also: what do you mean by the term “Passive Conversation”? Denise
HARRINGTON Apr. 30, 2008: When I use the term “passive conversation“, I mean to describe moments when two people talk with little attention paid to concisiveness or formality; common speak. What i think I mean to say is Robert Frost said something beautifully in a line because of the restrictions of that line. he was forced to shift words around for form. This was beautiful but didn’t sound like common everyday speech. I enjoy poetry that gets as close to common speech and offers sparse iambic surprises here and there. A little music.
WARNOCK May, 1, 2008: Denise, I wanted to thank you again for serving with us for these last two months. You’ve provided much food for thought and I wish you the very best. Please come back to join us for poetry chat any time! Larina
LOW May 1, 2008: Farewell and Gratitude. Larina, you’re the best. I appreciate your hospitality here, and I look forward to the new guest poet! See you there.
I look through glass and see a young woman
of twenty, washing dishes, and the window
turns into a painting. She is myself 30 years ago.
She holds the same blue bowls and brass teapot
I still own. I see her outline against lamplight;
she knows only her side of the pane. The porch
where I stand is empty. Sunlight fades. I hear
water run in the sink as she lowers her head,
blind to the future. She does not imagine I exist.
I step forward for a better look and she dissolves
into lumber and paint. A gate I passed through
to the next life loses shape. Once more I stand
squared into the present, I am almost
a mother to that faint, distant woman.
……….Nothing would give up life:
………..Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.
Cold sun brings this mourning season to an end—
One year since my mother’s death. Last winter thaw
my brother shoveled clay-dirt, she called it gumbo,
over what the crematorium sent back. Not her,
but fine powdery substance, lightened, all else
rendered into invisible elements. That handful
of a pouch, un-boxed, was tucked into plotted soil,
the churchyard columbarium, a brass plaque the only
permanence, and the brick retaining wall. So finally
my mother is a garden, day lilies and chrysanthemums
feeding from that slight, dampened, decomposing ash.
Her voice stilled. One ruddy robin in the grass, dipping.
Kene: Bald Eagle
………………….For Buddy Weso
………………..“O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!” Horatio (Hamlet)
My grandmother said we travel to stars
when we die. This dawn a bonfire hisses
blue flames against banked snow
guiding Uncle’s journey from life
into unknown sky. Clouds obscure
heaven’s embers. Around us white pines
collect tears from the driving wind.
Across the Wolf River a faint cry
and someone says “kene” just as softly
so I barely pick out both the bird’s sound
and the spoken Algonquin word
from the burning, breaking splinters
and explosion of popping orange sparks—
familiar fireplace sounds I recognize—
but just as quickly I doubt soft voices
until again, in full daylight, the sound “kene.”
Mallard: Nederland, Colorado
One perfect mallard
in afternoon reflection
two curved heads dabbling
into a lake’s water-bowl:
slide and blur
until just the tails
touch, tip, shatter,
Dear, like us
two images folded
into a single pose
slipped into dark
held only by breath
until to awaken
to kiss and uncover
two touching, touched skins.
Denise Low, Ph.D., is the 2007-2009 Kansas Poet Laureate, and her blog http://deniselow.blogspot.com posts Kansas electronic broadsides. Her book about writing poetry in the Midwest grasslands, Words of a Prairie Alchemist (Ice Cube Press 2006) is a Kansas Notable Book. Among her ten books of poetry are Thailand Journal: Poems, a Kansas City Star notable book (Woodley 2003) and New & Selected Poems 1980-1999 (Penthe 2000, distributed at http://www.mammothpublications.net ). Spring 2008 she is visiting writer at the University of Kansas, and she has been visiting professor at the University of Richmond. Her home institution is Haskell Indian Nations University. She and her husband Thomas Weso wrote a photo-biography, Langston Hughes in Lawrence. Other writings appear in North American Re., Northwest Rev., Midwest Q., Kansas City Star, Bloomsbury Rev., Connecticut Rev., Studies in American Indian Literature, American Indian Q. and others. She is a 5th generation Kansan of mixed German, British, Lenape (Delaware), and Cherokee heritage.
- Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival. Memoir. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017.
- Jackalope. Fiction. Santa Fe: Red Mountain Press, 2016.
- Mélange Block. Poems. Santa Fe: Red Mountain Press, 2014.
- Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the New Middle West. Lincoln: Backwaters Press, 2011. Critical essays.
- Ghost Stories of the New West: From Einstein’s Brain to Geronimo’s Boots. Topeka: Woodley Memorial Press, 2010. Kansas Notable Book Award, Best American Indian Books of 2010-The Circle (Minneapolis).
- Kansas Poems of William Stafford: Poems, Essays & Interviews. Ed. Denise Low. Topeka: Woodley Memorial Press, 2010.
- To the Stars: Kansas Poets of the Ad Astra Poetry Project. Topeka: Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies and Mammoth, 2009. Commentary on 45 poets. Kansas Notable Book.
- From Kansas to Harlem: The Midwestern Heritage of Langston Hughes. Chestertown: The Literary House Press- Washington College, 2007.
- Words of a Prairie Alchemist: The Art of Prairie Literature. North Liberty, Iowa: Ice Cube Press, 2006. Essays. Kansas Notable Book
- Langston Hughes in Lawrence: Photographs and Biographical Resources. With T.F.Pecore Weso. Lawrence: Mammoth, 2004. Self-published biography, including new research.
- Thailand Journal: Poems. Topeka: Woodley-Washburn University, 2003. Kansas City Star Notable book of 2003.
- New and Selected Poems. Lawrence/Middletown, CA: Penthe, 1999. 2nd edition, 2008.
- Touching the Sky: Essays. Lawrence/Middletown, CA: Penthe, 1994.
- Tulip Elegies: An Alchemy of Writing. Lawrence/Middletown CA: Penthe,1993. Poems and prose.
- Starwater. Lawrence: Cottonwood (Univ. of Kansas), 1988. Book-length collection of poetry.
- Spring Geese and Other Poems. Lawrence: University of Kansas Natural History Museum Publications, 1984. Book-length collection of poetry.
BOOKS: SPECIAL EDITIONS
- In the Direction of North. Online chapbook, Numero Cinq, June, 2014. Poems with paintings by Thomas Pecore Weso. http://numerocinqmagazine.com/2014/06/09/in-the-direction-of-north-poems-paintings-denise-low-tom-pecore-weso/
- The Lenape Code: Cultural Persistence. Short essays with illustrations, in partial fulfillment of a USA Artists Grant. 2012. 50 numbered and signed copies.
- 3 Voices: Seasons, Shrines, Portraits. Lawrence: Blue Heron, 2008. Fine arts edition with DVD.
- Vanishing Point. Wichita/New York City: Mulberry, 1991. Chapbook of poetry.
- Selective Amnesia. Stiletto I (Dec. 1988): u.p. Howling Dog. Chapbook of poetry.
- Learning the Language of Rivers. Midwest Quarterly 38.4 (Summer 1987): 473-510. Chapbook.
- Quilting, Lawrence: Holiseventh, 1984. Fine-press edition.
- Dragon Kite, in Mid-America Trio. Kansas City: BkMk Press-University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1981. Chapbook of poetry.
PUBLICATIONS: BOOKS EDITED
- An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate. Eds. Denise Low, Walter Bargen, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Marilyn Taylor. North Liberty, IA: Ice Cube Books, 2011.
- Kansas Poems of William Stafford, with an introduction. 2nd. Edition. Topeka: Woodley (Washburn Univ.), 2010.
- Wakarusa Wetlands in Word and Image. Lawrence: Imagination & Place and Lawrence Arts Center, 2005.
- Teaching Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. Co-ed. Peter G. Beidler. Special issue of American Indian Culture and Research Journal 28.1 (2004), UCLA.
- The Good Earth: Three Poets of the Prairie: Paul Engle, James Hearts, William Stafford. Essays by Denise Low, Robert Dana, Scott Cawelti. North Liberty: Ice Cube Press, 2002.
- Kansas Poems of William Stafford, with an introduction. Topeka: Woodley (Washburn Univ.), 1990.
- A Confluence of Poems, a school edition. Lawrence: Cottonwood, 1984. Second printing, 1985.
- Confluence: Contemporary Kansas Poetry. Lawrence: Cottonwood (Univ. of Ks.), 1983.
- 30 Kansas Poets. Lawrence: Cottonwood (Univ. of Ks.), 1979.