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.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Poem is What's on the Paper

Since I became serious about poetry, I've "sweated through the fog with linguists and contenders" as Whitman said, trying to come to terms with the dichotomy between a poem on paper and the same words spoken from behind a microphone. When respected poets read poems from a page, I've sometimes cringed when the reader didn't pause appropriately follwing the period at the end of a sentence at the end of a stanza. When you're reading a short story to friends, do you pause at the end of a paragraph? Do you pause between paragraphs and before the next chapter when reading a longer effort?
. . . . . Would you believe that an inordinate percentage of students I've asked to read aloud from prose in middle and high school don't even pause at a period (.) before reading what follows? This incapacity to understand the purpose (or perpus, if you're a less-educated middle school student or president of the United States) of a simple period drives me nuts, the way the disinclination of more practiced adults burns me at poetry readings. But I digress . . . .
. . . . . If you've not yet subscribed to the email version of The Writer's Almanac -- Garrison Keillor's wonderful effort -- I urge you to do so when you finish reading this ramble. If you're as smart as I hope you are, you'll figure out how. The email and radio show program (a few minutes every weekday on WUIS-FM (91 9 as the station on-air people have taken to mis-stating it over the last year or 91.9 if you have more than dirty cotton between your ears) has made me a better poet and a better hummin' bean. Here's the point in telling you this:
. . . . the May 26 email included a poem entitled "The Lost House" by David Mason. This is a wonderful poem, and if I could share it with you here without getting arrested, I would. Google David Mason as I intend to do, and you'll probably find more about him.
. . . . The poem is exquisite, a joy, a revelation, 24 lines (six stanzas) long. The enjambment between the lines are masterstrokes. I didn't even notice it until I had read the poem about six times and begun to decide it was an excellent poem. But I realized, as I appreciated Mason's technique, that pausing between stanzas, is the oral technique of the sadly misinformed. So here's the NEWS: The poem is a poem only on the page. Here is where it is a poem. ANYWHERE else it is a poem READ or RECITED, but it is NOT A POEM. Is the tuna in the ocean a fish? YES!
. . . . . Is the tuna in my noodley cassarole a tuna? NO! It is a tuna on a plate, but it is NOT A TUNA.
. . . . . What does this mean for readers and reciters? It means that reciters should pay as much attention to the structure of the poem on the page as we consider the genealogy of the fish.
. . . . . Understanding this FREES the reader/reciter (or FREE'S the reader/reciter if you're an under-educated middle school student or a president of the United Snakes) from allowing himself and herself from being distracted by concerns that are irrelevant. The result? The likelihood of your audience understanding the poem are multiplied bigtime! And if leading your audience to understanding what the poet said is not the point of your sharing aloud, if being aloof, mysterious, hauntingly and convincingly modern-poet-like, you should rethink why you open your granola intake port.
. . . . . Poetry shared aloud is a revelatory, affirming, illuminating catharsis for intelligent people who have poetry inside. By not hobbling the process by paying attention to the physical appearance of the poem on the page -- all the while paying attention to upper case usage (WHEN THERE ARE occasional worlds begun or STATED in Upper case), punctuation (or making your own punctuation up as the author intended you to do when eschewing it during the creative process -- and concentrating on the point of the poem, you affirm your validity as a poet and speaker of poetry, and you will bring new poetry advocates into this wonderful and nutty-wild world. I hope that is your goal for poetry. I am happy to state for the record that it is mine.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Lady Destiny - a poem

Lady Destiny

Destiny punches no time clock
so if you think you've found yours,
be generous in giving her all they hours she will demand.

Others will not consider your allegiance
and they may think you're a mutant fruit on the tree
that's best nipped in the bud.
Give the skeptics their two cents' worth
but keep the rest for yourself
and for Lady Destiny.

Do your best to play the game
of the drones who pack the pollen home
and the mud daubers who are too ofen deaf
to her call.
Because the hive rewards the team player
with sustenance
that allows you
to listen long
to Lady Destiny.

Don't ignore her when she calls your name.
She will be your one true love
seeking you as you seek her throughout your years;
returning to reward your sacrifice
and to punish your indifference.

And after you do all the things you choose,
though you forget their names and faces
to your final day,
you will remember Lady Destiny,
and you will judge
the value of your life
to be only as worthwhile
as you were true
to her.

-- Job Conger

. . . . . It's been a quiet week, poetry-production-wise, so here is a poem I wrote in 1996. Coming up this coming Wednesday is a poetry and prose open mic, sponsored by Poets & Writers Literary Forum, at IMO's Pizza, 651 Durkin Drive, Springfield, Ill ennui, signup for open mic starting about 6:45. I don't plan to attend BUT if you have not attended before, or haven't in a long time, and you e me that you WILL attend -- writer@eosinc.com -- I will attend.
. . . .Why so conditional? The venue needs faces that are new to the regulars, myself included. I have heard so many of the same poems by the same fine poets -- and good people, fine conversationalists who don't beat their dogs or keep their significant others unwatered and locked up in a pen (no pun intended) for days at a time -- who haven't written anything new in two years, that I can almost silently lip-sync their words as they read them. With one exception, I've brought at least one new poem or song to each IMO's reading I have attended over the last year. I'm not asking the same of the rest of the world, but it's getting harder for me to live up to my own expectation of myself. If you e me by Wednesday noon, I will not only attend, I will bring a new poem to read.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Young Writers Navigate the Maze

Picture notes:
. . #1 - Anita Stienstra welcomed an incipient Emily Dickinson to the microphone. All contributors were given two copies of the 2006 Navigating the Maze.
. . #2 - P&WLF president Dave Pitchford welcomed everyone to the evening's reading.
. . #3 - Anita reads a fine poem from the 2006 edition. The excellent illustrations throughout the publication were also produced by students.

On April 27 at the Hoogland Center, Poets & Writers Literary Forum welcomed young poets, poets' families, older poets and poets' friends to a reading from the organizations annual Navigating the Maze anthology of poems written by young people. The attendance and the venue were a major improvement from the first reading of its kind which had taken place at Barnes & Noble eight years ago.
. . . . Though organizers didn't mention it Thursday night, I was president of P&WLF when NTM was begun. Anita Steinstra conceived the idea, and she remains the prime mover behind the enterprise today. Poems for that first issue were selected as we sipped coffee at Bixby's Bagels on the near southwest side of Springfield. The first reading took place in the B&N coffeeshop where we shared tables and chairs with an assortment of book enthusiasts who also happened to be there at the time, howls from the nearby cappucino machine, and the peripheral buzz of folks talking at tables in raised voices to combat the distraction eminating from the nearby microphone.
. . . . This was the second NTM reading at Hoogland, and by any account, the better. An earlier event a year or two ago was held in a smaller meeting room. Hoogland's Club Room was perfect.
. . . . Introductory remarks by P&WLF president Dave Pitchford made the kids and fams feel welcome, and emphasized the value not only of writing poetry, but memorizing it. (Dave has memorized two poems, himself!) He also extolled the memory of Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay. NTM is co-sponsored by a group called the VLA, perhaps better known as the Vachel Lindsay Association.
. . . . Anita Stienstra also addressed the audience, read a few poems herself, and after the kids had read, Corrine Frisch, president of the Vachel Lindsay Association spoke and read the only poem I could hear distinctly from my perch in the extreme right front of the room. I'm sure my incapacity to hear the others was simply sub-par treble and a low volume setting. My hearing isn't what it used to be, so I'm sure that was a factor. (I can't hear a poem spoken to a microphone, but I can hear a whispered caustic remark about one of my poems three tables away at an open mic; go figger.) Corrine's delivery was an excellent example of how to do it right.
. . . . Though organizers didn't mention it, there was a visitor to the event would could not only have recited a few Vachel poems, but also a smattering of Whitman, Ferlinghetti, Pope, Sandburg and Frost. None of the speakers recited one poem. Lead by example? Not Thursday night.
. . . . . The lesson that came clear to me during this very well organized event was that if you're a kid less than 14 years old, you should understand that your "reading behind a microphone" days await you in the future. I would be surprised if any of these eager sprouts had had any choral singing or theatrical stage experience under their "belts" before attending Thursday night and bravely, gladly, generously agreeing to read their poems aloud to an audience that numbered well over 40 people. It would also astound me to learn that more than two had ever been closer than 10 inches from a microphone. The reason for this is obvious. Writing poetry is a solitary endeavor. "Writing a poem" and "reading a poem aloud behind a microphone" are oxymoronic phrases which require different skills. No wonder most poets and many creative writers don't like to give speeches: they must embrace what they do not enjoy: being extremely exposed to many eyes and being judged (by many) every nanosecond they effuse words from their trembling lips. Some poets -- can't say many poets because I don't know it's many -- believe their work is DONE when the poem is penned upon the page. "END OF POEM" they think. For poets who don't want to rely on "Fate" delivering appreciative eyes to their words on paper, they must "sell" their poems by sharing them aloud. You may not want to read about a baseball game for three hours, but you'll watch a game on television. I may not want to read a poem silently, but I'll listen to the author, or a fan, read it.
. . . . Teachers and poets organizations assume too much when they assume young poets -- and older poets -- can read or recite a poem from a microphone successfully without learning how.
. . . . Teachers should instruct students, who want to read or recite poetry, how to stand behind a microphone. There should be time set aside after school or during a study period for this. With a small speaker and inexpensive microphone, teaching during regular classtime should not bother classes in adjacent classrooms. Teach the students about projecting the voice. Simply standing an inch away from a microphone and speaking will not reveal the poem to a listener more than 10 feet away.
. . . . Organizers should lead every poet to the live microphone and show how to use it. Have the poet who intends to share a poem aloud read a line or two into the microphone a few times so he or she can hear how it sounds when it sounds right . . . and when it sounds wrong. This leadership need not inconvenience family and friends because most will be socializing anyway. The effort should take 30 to 45 seconds per poet. Don't set the speaker volume and walk away for two hours. Have someone sitting by the volume control listen to each poet and adjust the output so when a reader begins too softly to be heard by an owl, the person on the volume control can adjust the output and thus, allow each reader be heard.
. . . . Many students who aspire to be readers and reciters of poems also aspire to act on stage, to sing in a choir or band. Those students will learn how to use the most beautiful instrument in the world -- the human voice -- in the course of becoming actors or singers. But, as said earlier, often, effective readers are not always poets, and vice versa (no pun intended). Friends of poetry should not bet these kids will learn how to speak effectively somewhere else, or worse, assume they will learn elsewhere. Those who know how to share poetry out loud are just as able to instruct young people with ears for poetry as a drama coach or choir director. For every incipient Ginsburg or Lindsay there are incipient Teasdales and Dickinsons and Frosts. Discover those quiet blast furnaces who may someday warm the world and teach them how to be heard. You're doing kids no favors when you don't.
. . . . Don't write them off by saying "They're just kids. Tonight is probably the only time they'll read a poem in public, so we won't make a big deal out of L O cution. At most, they'll be center stage for 53 seconds, they will reap warm fuzzies from mom and dad, pontificating platitudes from the emcee, and that will be it." Teach young people the rest of what being a poet can be about. Ensure their success by showing them how to do things right early in the process. To do otherwise is to deprive young people of endless hours of learning and self-actualizing, rewarding activity. The woeful adult apathy and disinterest in the blooming successes of children (and grownups) sharing poetry out loud continues to deprive our community, our world, of unpredictable, unimaginable delight that we will never appreciate until we HEAR their words.
. . . . Kudos and thanks to P&WLF and participating students and parents for a memorable evening.