Poet's Ramble

Poetry can be as simple as a four-line revelation hastily scrawled on the back of your phone bill. Poets ask for trouble if they have anything important to say, and the best ones slog through plenty of it. Poems are the instant coffee in your spoon that you chew on without adding water. I am a poet, and this is my story.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More David Radavich poet pictures.

Last week I tried to post 10 medium size pictures I took of Eastern Illinois University professor David Radavich during his April 19 reading at Poets & Writers Literary Forum in Springfield, Illinois. Only three made it onto the page, located at my Writer's Chronicle page. I'm hoping that by posting the remaining 7 as small pictures, the rest will appear at this posting. If you know David (I don't have his email address) please tell him the pictures are up.

Is it possible for visitors to copy these pictures for personal use? Try it and see, and if you can, be my guest; my treat. Any ArtsLinks supporter who desires larger, higher definition renditions of these pictures sent via email is invited to e me. For information about how to become an ArtsLinks supporter, visit the bottom of the web page indicated here - - - > http://www.aeroknow.com/artslinks.htm

Poetry Out Loud - Regional Remembered, reposted

A glitch prevented me from revising the original Regional Remembered post, so I am reposting it here.

Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a national enterprise that promotes the memorization reciting of poems among high school students. In so doing, it fosters appreciation of the language, understanding of poetry as an art, and better understanding of how to communicate orally. Their website, intended for educators, but good reading for everyone, is www.poetryoutloud.org I became involved with POL when Springfield Area Arts Council assistant director Penny Wollan-Kriel asked me to be a judge for the April 5 Regional Contest, held at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in lyrical downtown Springfield.
. . . . The contests invited students tp select poems they intended to recite from a large list, with texts of poems, at the POL website. Included there, but not recited by any Regional or State contestant, were two Vachel Lindsay poems: and General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.
. . . . Before I attended a poetry open mic (my spelling, and it seems to have caught on) which was sponsored by Poets & Writers Literary Forum (of Springfield) in 1994, I assumed that all poems shared at these events were memorized, so I memorized the three I planned to share there before heading out to Barnes & Noble. After all, that's how we shared poems in Miss Ruppelt's Fifth Grade class at Blackhawk school in 1958, and it was how Nick Lindsay shared his father Vachel's poems at a 1962 Springfield High School assembly as I watched, enraptured from a front row, center aisle balcony seat. And that's how I shared every poem I presented at a P&WLF activity for three years. Memorizing poetry has never been a big deal with me, no more so than putting on shoes when I go to church or not picking my nose so much when I'm eating dinner with a girlfriend's parents. My experience with P&WLF showed me that while memorizing is fine, it's not part of the social imperative at these gatherings. I also learned that it's a heckovalot better to read a poem well, with suitable intonation and sensitivity, from a piece of paper than it is to share it poorly memorized and stumbling around the poem like a drunken etymologist. Even so, even after I started reading my poems from paper occasionally at open mics, I recited almost every Vachel Lindsay poem I shared with an audience. Only exceptions were his The Chinese Nightingale and Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan. When I've a featured poet/speaker given center stage for 45 to 60 minutes, I still memorize every poem I share. Poetry Out Loud was "right up my alley,"and I was delighted to help with the Springfield Regional.
. . . . Southeast High School English instructor Joni Paige carried the ball for Springfield. I understand other high school English departments were invited to participate, but interest elsewhere had been zilch. Southeast had a competition to select students to recite at the Regional Contest. The winners, who came to Hoogland April 5 were Aren Dow, Brittany McDermott, Chris Pugh, Lauren Richmond and Kaitlyn Sanders. Students from Southeast later explained to me that only seniors were declared winners during the intramural contest, even though at least one non-senior had recited better than those who were selected to come to Hoogland. Re my reaction to that news, I consider the organization of things Joni Paige's deck to deal. I was impressed with the students who came to the Regional Contest, and have no argument with how the cards were dealt.
. . . . . The contest consisted of two rounds with each student reading one poem in each round. Two winners were determined from the total scores.
. . . . The elements of presentation by which the poems were judges were exquisitely appropriate, almost perfection. There were four grade levels: weak, fair, good and excellent, indicated by number scores of 1 through 4 respectively in the following criteria: volume, speed, voice inflection, posture and presence. evidence of understanding, pronounciation, gestures, eye contact, level of difficulty and overall performance. I will write separate blog columns regarding those elements. A missing fifth element is addressed in my blog about the State Contest.
. . . . . Master of Ceremonies was David Farrell, the "Don Pardoe" of the WUIS program State Week in Review. In Farrell's banter between recitations, he mentioned how Aren Dow had revealed in his bio that he was competing so that he could beat Kaitlyn Sanders at something. Dow's confidence was matched by his ability as a reciter. He and Kaitlyn were the two students judged winners of the Regional Contest. The other students were almost equally impressive. Every one of them deserve congrats for their interest in the American language, their considerable effort engaged in memorizing their poems, and their apparent calm heads when appearing, some for the first time, alone on a stage with a bunch of strangers gaping up at them like so many cod in a fish market.
. . . . . Kudos to everyone involved with the Regional Contest!

Poetry Out Loud - The State Was Great

Serving as a judge at the Poetry Out Loud State Contest was an unexpected honor and pleasure. The event included judges and staff Grace Wenz, Esther Kaplan, Melinda LaBarre, Dennis Rendleman and me from the Regional Contest and added new judges John Knoepfle from Springfield and Susan Guthrie from Chicago. As with the Regional Contest, on hand were an acurasy (make that accuracy) judge who had the texts of the poems in front of her during the reciting and a prompter, also with poems in view, who provided words to reciters who could not remember the words and needed a prompt, the first word or two of what followed.
. . . . Contestants were Springfield Regional winners,Aren Dow, Kaitlyn Sanders plus Bueana Cox, Sharee Glenn, Sydney Jones, Ariela Rotenberg and Brandon Sidney, winners from the Chicago Regionals.
. . . . Most of these young people were dressed as though they had just stopped by during a regular day at school, but a few were attired as though they were going to be facing an audience in a competition of some significance. I had seen no words in print describing appropriate clothes for the contests, there was no mention of appearance in the judges' guidelines, and the obvious difference between those who dressed for the occasion and those who did not absolutely did not affect my evaluating them as reciters of poems. Did it make a difference in how I reacted to them as people? Absoutely. As a judge, could I, did I talk with those who acknowledged with their attire the importance of the State Contest and congratulate them for their astuteness of character and dedication? Absolutely not. But if they, or people who know them and saw them read these words, I hope word will get passed to those exceptional students. Regardless of whether or not the organization credits clothes for contributing to the presentation, those who strive to deliver maximum positive impact to the audience should keep appropriate togs in mind. Truth is, poetry is about words delivered; not about shirts and shoes. So appearance is not a consideration; right?
. . . . Wrong. How the presenter carries himself/herself matters. Consider the hands: open, pointing, clenched, hanging loosely or joined at the front as though competing in a spelling bee. Consider the arms : in motion in harmony with stance and inclination of the head, are factors in judging. And what about those feet? Are they motionless, with legs together and hands joined? For a long time, traditional poetry readers and reciters have conformed to what I call the spelling bee pose, a time-honored classic, possibly Greek or Roman or Victorian mandate, because that's what was the norm, the preferred way to share poems. Didn't matter if the poem was about a barn fire with horses dying or a rabbit's loosing race with a hawk or a lover's lament over rejection by the woman who was queen of his domain, the classic stance has been the "rule" for sharing poetry.
. . . . The art of sharing poetry out loud has evolved since ancient Greece when poets competed as stridently as athletes in periodic national contests. Poetry Out Loud organizers acknowledged this by noting the expectation of a "theatrical" element in the reciting. Vachel Lindsay used the theatrical element in his recitals to packed theaters and auditoriums in the late nine-teens and twenties. He called is presenting the "higher vaudeville," and though his description was accurate for its time, today's poets relate to higher vaudeville as they might relate to a hand crank for starting your Toyota Camry or a running board. I call the business of sharing poetry out loud, virtually the same criteria used by Poetry Out Loud, Unleashing the Poem. I won't expound about that here. Suffice to say, most of the poets in the State Contest proved they knew what contemporary poetry presentations should be because they did it! Some exceptionally well!
. . . . The first poet stumbled four or five times, forgetting words and pausing with a nod in the direction of the prompter for some help. She was the only poet to experience such difficulty so obviously, and it occurred only during her first reading. During the second and final rounds she shone like the sun. Based on the forms distributed to the judges, I had no option other to evaluate the talented young lady on the criteria included on the judges' forms. Her score for that heart-in-your-throat first recital was higher than it would have been in a contest where memorizatiion mattered.
. . . . Judges' evaluation criteria were the same in the State Contest as for the regional. There was no place for evaluating the level of memorization or for regular judges to mark deductions for lapses in memory. I hope Poetry Out Loud reconsiders this and adds such capacity to future judges' reciter evaluation forms. One of the judges remarked after the contest that failure to memorize a poem adequately, and stumbling during the presentations was not a big deal, but I disagree. Without MEMORIZATION, a major pillar in the foundation of poetry reciting crumbles like saltwater concrete. If a person has stage fright, the place to eliminate those butterflies is in practice sessions, the countless rehearsing until the words are second nature.
. . . . Memorizing the words are only the first part of the process that leads to competition. It's the first part to master. Everything else -- stance, volume, gestures, speed. . . -- follows. Why? Because in fine tuning the recital, the memorized poem becomes even more imprinted on the mind. By the time a person recites a poem for the first time, he or she should be able to say the poem aloud while playing volleyball and not miss a word.
. . . . Two rounds of recital led to determining the four finalists based on those scores. The results were no surprise. Finding four top finishers from a field of seven was not a process the regular judges were not in on, and rightfully so.
. . . . BUT, instead of seven reciters at the State Contest, there should have been 37. A small point; a wish. It was the first effort. I'm confident the number next year will be higher. Judges were instructed not to base their final round score on the total impression made during the first two rounds added to the final round, but on the basis of the final round alone. The young lady who had suffered passing memory lapse at the very start of the contest was on the same footing as the other three finalists. Round three was clearly the cream of the cream in poem choice and in delivery.
. . . . The wait for the results . . . . . . . was a nail biting time. I had a favorite, whom I expected to win, but my hands became cold and clammy during the wait, which was not long. The final tabulators were superb.
. . . . "And the runner up is . . . . (inhale) . . . . . . . . . Springfield's Kaitlin Sanders . . . . . . . and the winner is . . . . . . . . . . . Chicago's Ariela Rotenberg (EXhale!. . . . . Ariela will attend the national competition May 16. WOW! Sweet satisfaction. Expectations met!
. . . . I talked with Ariela and her mother during the luncheon that followed and learned the whole experience had begun for her in March 2006. She had memorized two poems for the regional and memorized a third after she won there. Her final-round poem was one she had presented at the regionals. She went with what she was most comfortable with, and her delivery had been absolutely first class!
. . . . So WOW! What a contest! I wish I could be present in Washington, DC when Ariela takes to the stage again, but even though I won't be there, my heart will be front row center. I was impressed with every contestant I was privileged to see and hear at regional and state this year. And I look forward to next year's competition. Kudos, congratulations and thanks to Penny Wollan-Kriel, Springfield Area Arts Council, Illinois Arts Council and everyone else who was a part of Poetry Out Loud 2006!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Going From Bad to Verse

So there I was at 12:45 on a Tuesday afternoon somewhere along Vachel Lindsay's The Santa Fe Trail when my friend Jim Johnston took this picture. It's the picture of a poet engaged in the second-most important mission of the poet. The first most important mission of the poet of course is writing poems, and my presentation included two of my own (Vachel Was a Preacher and Don't You Take the Mashed Potatoes). I recited these Vachel Lindsay poems:
. . . 1. The Illinois Village
. . . 2. The Proud Farmer
. . . 3. The Beggar Speaks
. . . 4. The Flute of the Lonely
. . . 5. The Congo
. . . 6. The Santa-Fe Trail
. . . 7. A Curse for the Saxophone
. . . 8. Niagara
. . . 9. The Broncho That Would Not Be Broken
. . 10. Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight
. . . .
The last two were by request. I have enough Vachel Lindsay poems in my pocket (memorized and ready to recite) that so far, when I've asked if an audience member has a favorite Vachel poem that he or she wants to hear, I can respond by reciting the poem.
. . . . . A woman I met at the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site last December (first name: June) and I was privileged to share poetry at Rochester Public Lbrary's Topics to Chew on lecture series because I told her I wanted to speak to her group, and she talked to the right people, and library director Nancy Kruse invited me. That's her, posing with moi before she knew what she was in for.
. . . . Springfield architect and friend Jim Johnston, artist Vern Taylor and I made the trip, courtesy of Jim's good wheels, and the presentation went well. Jim and Vern have seen me "perform" as a songwriter/slinger before, but not so much as a poet. And I know them primarily in connection with my ArtsLinks.com enterprise http://www.aeroknow.com/artslinks.htm so it was a treat to share their hometown good vibes during the presentation.
. . . . The effort could not have gone better. Springfield poets who hang with Poets & Writers Literary Forum of Springfield http://www.pwlf.com have heard me recite Vachel Lindsay poems for the past 10 years, and because I like to recite them often -- no better way to maintain proficiency than to recite poems often -- many P&WLF members have heard me recite these poems so many times, some of them can almost move their lips silently as I do my "thang." I know some performing artists weary of the same songs over and over, but when there are people I don't know in the audience (and there were almost 40 in Rochester) I crank up my performance level and truly enjoy reciting any poem I know. So there was great karma, and all seemed to enjoy the event.
. . . . Thanks to Rochester Public Library and Nancy Kruse for the opportunity and to Jim and Vern for helping make it happen.
. . . . Future postings here will include my poetry (probably more than you really want to know about it), thoughts about sharing poetry in public, what makes a poem work in public. I've seen many poems and poets succeed, and many poems and poets not succeed. I believe too many people walk away from poetry, don't enjoy poetry when shared aloud, because they've not heard poetry shared as it should be shared. Your thoughts shared in feedback to this blog will help determine content here, so don't be shy about picking up what I hurl in your direction and hurling it back.
. . . . Thanks for reading this!