Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I often read with a pen, a habit I've had to instill in myself, much like one develops that first taste for beer or coffee. I resisted for so long, mostly because I loved to keep my books pristine, care for the bindings and smudge-free pages, and even as an instructor--five years now--I would use little flags or jot notes in a separate notebook, neither of which were very helpful as I'd forget what I meant with the flags and lose the notes in last week's essays or next year's plans.

Just now, my friend Meryl and I are finishing a shared reading experience, where we promised to write notes in the margins to Ellen Bryant Voigt's The Art of Syntax, little thoughts and doodles and agreements or disagreements. I've carried mine with me to doctor's appointments, so Meryl will also get the progress report of each visit.

And the there are the books with typos and mistakes. I keep thinking to myself, a job as a proofreader might not be so awful, though what pressure to catch every little slip. In the case above, though, the writer was referring to experiences without technology, and when people call the big green goon "Frankenstein," I simply want to cringe and rattle a cage and ask them what they are doing writing a book if they can't recognize a classic such as this. I remember listening to a book-on-CD in one of my commutes where the reader continually mispronounced "Kerouac," and I wondered how no one could catch it, correct her.

I realize my small complaints here are ridiculous, given my fifth-grade spelling capabilities and my shaking-fist struggle to pronounce words such as capuchin (thanks, Gerald, for making me enjoy this poem and stumble through it in poetry seminar--thanks, me, for not figuring out how to pronounce beforehand):
by Gerald Stern

The road the road just south of Frenchtown the poem

the one by Mordecai the river the river the

one on my left if I am travelling north the

car a box with wires loose on top of my

left leg the radio fine the light behind

behind the clock not working the rose so dead

I am ashamed the crows too shiny their feathers

too wet the cliff on my right too red the blood

the blood of an animal, a skunk, they bleed

and stink, they stink and bleed, the monkey on top

of me, a New World monkey, not a howler,

an organ-grinder monkey, a capuchin,

his small red hat is on my head and he’s

on my back, he’s dropping orange peels down my neck

March 22nd on the Delaware River.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

intro to poetry 2

I finished Triggering Town last night, and though I was not moved by oceans with this book, I did find a serious of bits I will want to share with my own students. When I consider the book as divided lectures, it's fine, a nice little slip into something comfortable, an essay to be read in the bubble bath. As earnest early-writing-course reading, I'm not so sure. It didn't cause me to want to run to my notebook and write (though more often it is reading full length poetry books that will do that for me than anything else). I didn't feel buzzy about it, the way I might feel so very inspired elsewhere, and that title has so much gorgeous promise. I had hoped it would be more about how to take triggers and turn them into beautiful poems, how to follow that poetic impulse, but I got lost along the way.

A few moments, comparisons, etc. that will help drive crucial points home to the students, or at least given them something wider to ponder:

Often if the triggering subject is big (love, death, faith) rather than localized and finite, the mind tends to shrink. Sir Alexander Fleming observed some mold, and a few years later we had a cure for gonorrhea. But what if the British government had told him to find a cure for gonorrhea? He might have worried so much he would not have noticed the mold. (7)

One way of getting into the world of the imagination is to focus on the play rather than the value of words-- (16)

Make your first line interesting and immediate. Start, as some smarty once said, in the middle of things. When the poem starts, things should already have happened. (Note: White unlined paper gives you the feeling nothing has happened.) If Yeats had begun "Leda and the Swan" with Zeus spotting Leda and getting an erection, Yeats would have been writing a report. (38)

When rewriting, write the entire poem again. If something has gone wrong deep in the poem, you have taken a wrong turn earlier. The next time through the poem you may spot the wrong path you took. If you take another, when you reach the source of your dissatisfaction it may no longer be there. To change what's there is difficult because it is boring. To find the right other is exciting. (38)

Use any noun that is yours, even if it has only local use. "Salal" is the name of a bush that grows wild in the Pacific Northwest. It is often not found in dictionaries, but I've known that word long as I can remember. I had to check with the University of Washington Botany Department on the spelling when I first used it in a poem. It is a word, and it is my word. That's arrogant, isn't it? But necessary. Don't be afraid to take emotional possession of words. If you don't love a few words enough to own them, you will have to be very clever to write a good poem. (40)

Behind several theories of what happens to a poet during the writing of a poem--Eliot's escape from personality, Keats's idea of informing and filling another body, Yeats's notion of the mask, Auden's concept of the poet becoming someone else for the duration of the poem, Valery's idea of a self superior to the self--lies the implied assumption that the self as given is inadequate and will not do. // How you feel about yourself is probably the most important feeling you have. It colors all other feelings, and if you are a poet, it colors your writing. It may account for your writing. (67)

... the imagination's impulse to create unknowns of knowns... (73)

...memory and the imagination modify and transform experience... (75)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

intro to poetry

In the fall, I am teaching Introduction to Poetry, so I have been test-driving all kinds of books in hopes of finding a perfect fit. This year may be my only year to fill out those book-request forms with books I will actually enjoy reading; when I taught high school, I had little choice as to which texts I would teach, and when I taught the first two years at university, it was a professor who picked for me or it was composition, and really, who can get excited about a comp. textbook (unless it's written by Donald Hall).

Right now I am reading-with-a-pen Richard Hugo's Triggering Town, and though I probably will not opt to assign it (I'm not in love with it), I know I will pull a few moments from it to bring into the classroom. One is the struggle to practice daily writing, something a good friend of mine and I have been trying to do this summer, with limited success. Here is the paragraph that proves others use this analogy too:

Once a spectator said, after Jack Nicklaus had chipped a shot in from a sand trap, "That's pretty lucky." Nicklaus is suppose to have replied, "Right. But I notice the more I practice, the luckier I get." If you write often, perhaps every day, you will stay in shape and will be better able to receive those good poems, which are finally a matter of luck, and get them down. Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don't work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and it never seems quite right. Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why you bothered with all that work on the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems. The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come. Get to work.
pg. 27