The Poem as Comic Strip

Poetry Foundation

In mid-May, while researching articles and poems about Ted Kooser, the 13th U.S. Poet Laureate, I came across some beautiful and unique pieces on The Poetry Foundation’s website.

I will not copy the jpgs or pdfs directly to this site for copyright reasons. Rather, I’ll post a few links to the content on The Foundation’s website. This link takes you to the original six articles which began with “The Poem as Comic Strip” and ran for a series of six articles each with different authors, artists, and poets. Fred Sasaki published a seventh piece entitled, “Poem as Comic Strip Redux”, which followed three years after The Foundation published the sixth article.

The editors of The Poetry Foundation commissioned six artists to comb through their archives of poems in the public domain and create comic strips based on those pieces. If you haven’t visited the archives, I encourage you to do so. I have spent hours jumping from poem to poem, poet to poet in the website. I’m betting you’ll find more than you bargained for and forget to come up for air! Online poetry archives are the next best thing to brick-and-mortar bookstores and I find poetry rabbit-holing is the most rewarding!

The six artists chose the following poems, in order of their appearance: Diane Wakoski’s “Belly Dancer”, Emily Dickinson’s “It was not Death, for I Stood Up”, Russell Edson’s “Of Memory and Distance”, Kenneth Patchen’s “The Snow is Deep on the Ground”, Ted Kooser’s “The Giant Slide”, and A.E. Stallings’ “Recitative”. You can find text versions of each poem in The Foundation’s archive through a quick search to go along with the picture and review the poet’s original vision.

These poems as comic strips remind me of Billy Collins’ animated poetry which you can find on YouTube. This link will take you to a playlist of nine videos including “Walking Across the Atlantic”, “The Best Cigarette”, and “The Dead”, three of my favorite Collins poems and accompanying videos!

I’m not an artist, but this would make a great exercise for any poem that strikes you. I can also see, rather than a writing prompt, a drawing prompt come out of this.

As always keep writing (and drawing)!

Cheers,

Bryan

Poetry 180

Poetry 180

Billy Collins, the 11th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry founded Poetry 180 to promote poetry in schools. The program allows teachers and schools to print a poem every day for the 180 days of the traditional American school year to read and discuss with their students. Not only does it promote literacy, but it connects the Poet Laureate to an audience of young readers and introduces them to the world of contemporary poetry. Although Collins created the program for educators, it is free and open to anyone with an Internet connection.

Collins described the program, “A 180-degree turn implies a turning back — in this case, to poetry. The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple: to have a poem read each day to the students of American high schools across the country.” Personally, I would like to see Poetry 360, 540, or 720. (Those are actually skateboarding tricks, but they’re the first thing I thought of when I read “Poetry 180”)

The great thing about this list is that it isn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill classics you would expect. I’m surprised there are no excerpts from Shakespeare, but I’m sure teachers allow plenty of time to study the Bard of Avon through his plays. Collins designed Poetry 180 as a journey through both traditional and contemporary poems. It is meant to be an introduction to poetry for High School students, and, amusingly begins with Collins’ own “Introduction to Poetry”. I don’t recognize all of the names on the list, but I am excited to explore poets I am not familiar with! Some of the more notable poems are Theodore Roethke’s “The Bat”, Charles Simic’s “The Partial Explanation”, Robert Bly’s “Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter”, Dana Gioia’s “Thanks for Remembering Us”, Howard Nemerov’s “A Primer of the Daily Round”, and more. I want to keep going, but I’d end up listing all 180 poems and continue listing my favorite poems and poems I want to read and poems I am inspired to write.

The list of poets here includes American poets and foreign poets, teachers, scientists, former U.S. Poets Laureate, and prize-winners of all caliber. Just a few more to check out soon are Ted Kooser, Mary Oliver, Denise Duhamel, Sharon Olds, Donald Justice, Stephen Dobyns, Kenneth Koch, Edward Hirsch, Ron Padgett, Wislawa Szymborska, and Tomas Tranströmer. Collins included several poets more than once and this is one point where I disagree with him. I wish he would have opted to include Sylvia Plath, Philip Levine, Charles Bukowski, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and others.

The series of pages on the Library of Congress’ website has a few great links. There is a list of all 180 poems, a link to read more about the program akin to a FAQ, a short post on how to read a poem out loud which is great for practice and in preparation for open mic events, and finally legal notices and permissions for the Poetry 180 program as well as for the full list of poems.

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan

 

American Life in Poetry

KooserFellow Poets! Last week I published a post about Juan Felipe Herrera, the current Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Mr. Herrera is currently in his second term as Poet Laureate. I wanted to write about him because I read an interview The Washington Post published in March 2017 just prior to National Poetry Month.

This week, I am inspired to write about Ted Kooser and American Life in Poetry. Mr. Kooser served two terms as the prestigious U.S. Poet Laureate when he was appointed the 13th Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. It was Kooser’s own National Poetry Project, American Life in Poetry, which first drew my attention to him. According to the website,

“American Life in Poetry is a free weekly column for newspapers and online publications featuring a poem by a contemporary American poet and a brief introduction to the poem by Ted Kooser.”

Like any great project, Kooser presented a mission and a vision for ALP which is simply to promote poetry. I subscribed to ALP in May 2013 when they were in their ninth year and they are still going strong. On Monday, May 15th, they published their 634th column!

Some background on Ted Kooser. He’s got his own poet website: The Official Website of Poet: Ted Kooser. Here you can read his personal biography detailing his collected works, listen to him reading and talking about his poems, read some press reviews, and more. Mr. Kooser currently features only six poems on his site and lists the works they are published in as well as linking them to where you can purchase those works. Mr. Kooser also has an extensive couple of pages on The Poetry Foundation’s website. The Foundation’s biography is even more extensive than on Kooser’s site. Additionally, the Foundation has 26 of Kooser’s poems, 1 article, and 17 Audio & Podcast files. The Academy of American Poets has a sizable biography page for Kooser as well as four poems. Fortunately, they are four different poems than on the Poetry Foundation. Since he served as a U.S. Poet Laureate, you can also find loads of information on the Library of Congress’ pages. There is a brief summary of Kooser’s tenure as Poet Laureate, a page listing all Poet Laureate Projects including Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, and several articles and blog posts about Kooser and his work.

On The Poetry Foundation’s biography, they quote critic Dana Gioia who described Kooser as a “popular poet”—not one who sells millions of books, but

“popular in that unlike most of his peers he writes naturally for a nonliterary public. His style is accomplished but extremely simple—his diction drawn from common speech, his syntax conversational.”

Poetically, Kooser reminds me of Philip Levine and Billy Collins. Incidentally, they both served as Poets Laureate, Levine from 2011-2012 and Collins from 2001-2003. Perhaps I will write more about them later.

One of the things I like best about Mr. Kooser is that he is approachable and helpful as a poet. On August 8, 2016 I wrote to Mr. Kooser for advice on breaking into the poetry world. I have my own ideas and I have written about them on this blog. Mr. Kooser graciously replied that same morning. He suggested to focus on the task at hand, focus on the poem you are writing at the moment. Submit to quality literary journals and continue to submit. Get noticed and keep moving forward, keep progressing. I like writing to poets I admire and sending them compliments on my favorite poems of theirs. It is always a pleasant surprise when they write back!

If you care to check them out, three of my favorite Kooser poems are “Abandoned Farmhouse,” “Look for Me,” and “So This is Nebraska.” You can find all three on The Poetry Foundation’s website.

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan

Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate

 

JuanFelipeHerrera.web-31
Juan Felipe Herrera from The Poetry Foundation

When I started writing this post, I had a different beginning and an entirely different direction for the writing. Rather than focus on a solitary interview with The Washington Post, I want to highlight more of the reading material available on the United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. I thought it was cool that the Post interviewed U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera on March 2, 2017, but at 610 words including title and questions,it is a bit short in my opinion. The length makes for a quick read and that is one of the intents of the “Just Asking” section of The Post. Still, when it comes to poets, especially Poets Laureate, I want as much as I can get! I want to know what they’re thinking, where they get their inspiration, and what they are publishing next!

 

The best resource to learn about Herrera’s contributions as Poet Laureate is the Library of Congress’s website. Here you can learn about Herrera’s national project “La Casa de Colores” (The House of Colors) as well as three major projects he initiated during his appointment to a second term.

Two other articles of interest on Herrera’s tenure as Poet Laureate appeared in The New York Times and NPR. The Times published their article on June 10, 2015, and NPR published their article on April 12, 2017. NPR’s article featured five videos of Herrera reading his poems. Seeing and hearing poets read their work fascinates me. Poets come from all walks of life and it is cool to get a feel for how they interact with their work.

To learn more about the position of U.S. Poet Laureate check out the Library of Congress’ FAQ. One of the things I love about the distinguished poets is they each bring something unique to the position. From 2011 to 2016, Herrera serve as a Chancelor of the Academy of American Poets.

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan

The Onion

onion_fb_placeholderThe Onion? America’s Finest News Source? Yes, that Onion, the parody news media outlet. Like so many of the articles and essays I have found about Poetry, I don’t remember exactly how I first stumbled across the story. But what does The Onion have to do with Poetry?

In June and July of 2016, I was taking a course called MCW640B Advanced Workshop in Poetry II through National University. At some point during the course, I found an article entitled: “Shadows Meet The Clouds, Gray On Gray, Like Dusty Charcoal On An Ashen Brow, Nation’s Poets Report.” What could be better than that? Poets as meteorologists, not so much predicting the weather, but describing it as only poets can. Of course the article is a parody, my favorite form of sarcastic writing. The article begins: “NEW YORK — According to a growing consensus of U.S. poets, shadows—inky sharp as a raven’s beak—meet the sullen bloat of clouds, their hues a pallid loam, each a dancer, each alone, like dusty charcoal on an ashen brow.” The sentences are poetic, though tongue-in-cheek, pieced together somewhat haphazardly, and hilarious! I don’t know if The Onion has any poets on staff, but they write some funny stuff, especially when they are making fun of my true passion. As poets and as humans we have to be able to laugh at ourselves.

I went back to The Onion‘s website recently to see if there were more. In a search for “poem,” “poet,” and “poetry” I found a total of 22 parody articles. There are seven full-length articles, and 14 short paragraph-length articles, and one obituaryesque death announcement. Additionally, there are a few brief “radio broadcast” news stories between two and five minutes each. Aside from the article mentioned above, the other six full-length articles are: “Bush Regales Dinner Guests With Impromptu Oratory On Virgil,” “I Could Write A Better Rubaiyat Than That Khayyam Dipsh*t,” “Maya Angelou Honored For Courage, Blackness,” “Nation Afraid To Admit 9-Year-Old Disabled Poet Really Bad,” “National Endowment For The Arts Funds Construction Of $1.3 Billion Poem,” and “Sappho Delights Crowds With Poetry.”

The death announcement from May 28, 2014 is “Maya Angelou, Poet, Author, Civil Rights Activist, And—Holy Cow—Tony Award–Nominated Actress, College Professor, Magazine Editor, Streetcar Conductor—Really? Streetcar Conductor? Wow—Calypso Singer, Nightclub Performer, And Foreign Journalist, Dead At 86”.

At times, the articles push the boundaries of propriety as in the death announcement of Maya Angelou. While May 28, 2014 was indeed the day Angelou passed and the announcement was intended to be humorous, maybe that wasn’t the best way to honor her. There is also the parallel between Luke Petrowski’s Hopeweavings and Mattie J. T. Stepanek’s Heartsongs. The former is the fictitious 9-year-old in an Onion article while the latter is the real-life poet who died at the age of 13 from dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy. Not to make light of DMM, I think there may have been a better way to find humor in the situation. Perhaps The Onion could have selected a different subject, one that didn’t so closely resemble a real-life tragedy. Think about it, is there true artistic merit in the creations we praise, or are we too quick to praise art because of the tragic condition of the artist?

Keep writing and don’t ever take yourself too seriously!

Cheers,

Bryan

National Great Poetry Reading Day

As far as obscure holidays go, this is one of my favorites and I only learned about it this afternoon. (A few minutes ago really, at 1231hrs). My cousin started a Facebook page called “Whatadaytocelebrate” where she posts herself, her family, and her friends celebrating obscure holidays on a daily basis. Some of the past few days have been National Hug a Plumber Day, Pretzel Day, etc. Apparently, April 29th is National Great Poetry Reading Day! It takes place during National Poetry Month, which is extremely fitting.

I wanted to find out more about NGPRD so I turned to Google. There is a website called National Day Calendar, which was the first link to pop up. I haven’t found the owners or operators of the website. For today, they provide a limited amount of information of poetry and literacy. They list a few of the great poets in their opinion: William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Frost, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot. They have a section for each day called “How to Observe”:

Settle back, relax and read your favorite poetry. Use #GreatPoetryReadingDay to post on social media.

Finally, at the end of the post, they have a “History” section. I was hoping to find something substantial, unfortunately they say, “Our research was unable to find the creator and origin of National Great Poetry Reading Day.” But don’t let that stop you! Take their advice on this beautiful Saturday. Settle in, relax, and read your favorite poetry! If there are local organizations or businesses near you celebrating today, by all means, get out there and read to a captive audience! If you record it in any way or want to let everyone on social media, the world wide web, and the blogosphere know what you’re up to, use the hashtag “GreatPoetryReadingDay as well as #NPM17!

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan

Blogging 2.1

Today I feel lethargic. Ugh. I turned in the first draft of my MFA Thesis on Tuesday and I am biting my fingernails waiting for a response from my professor. I wonder how much revision the manuscript will require before the board will accept and approve it. So today, with little to do, I am distracted my the work to come. I started a post several weeks ago and then published a separate post. Right now I have six unpublished posts I am drafting for the future.

I feel like a true blogger now. A few weeks ago I published my 25th post and received my 20th follower! The numbers are climbing. I’m reaching more and more people when these posts publish to my Twitter account, LinkedIn profile, and Facebook author page. In fact, I am up to 29 posts (30 including today’s) and 34 followers! I’m not a numbers guy and I’m not doing this for notoriety, but it is cool to look at the WordPress stats page and realize how far I’ve come. I’ve had 450 total views and 288 total visitors.

Last week I published a poem I wrote and linked it to my blog. I’ve linked my posts to other websites and WordPress blogs, but never circled around to myself. I’m starting to publish a substantial body of work and I feel great. This is therapeutic, but I am constantly reviewing my motives for publishing a blog. In the beginning I said that I would do this once I completed my MFA, but I couldn’t wait. I had a two-month break between classes and I was bored so I started exploring WordPress’s Blogging University which is an amazing and informational set of tools. I’ll need to refresh myself with some of the tools because all of the cool things you can do with a blog are perishable skills. I would love to design a blog from the ground up using more pictures and linked objects.

Reel it in, starting to ramble. This morning I was thinking how awesome it is to be a poet! I’m sure my wife isn’t happy about the mess, but I’ve got all of the most recent poetry magazines littered about the kitchen countertop. April 2017 Poetry, Spring/Summer 2017 Poet Lore, April/May 2017 Of Poets and Poetry, April 2017 Strophes, Spring-Summer 2017 American Poets, March/April 2017 The American Poetry Review, May/June 2017 Poets & Writers, May/June 2017 Writer’s Digest, and May/Summer 2017 The Writer’s Chronicle. I love to surround myself with inspiration and what better way to receive inspiration than with the freshest poetry and poetry news? I encourage you to check out these publications if you haven’t already.

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan

*Of Poets and Poetry is the Florida State Poets Association bi-monthly newsletter. They are a member of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. If you reside in the United States, think about joining your state’s poetry organization.

My Favorite Poem

For a long time I wouldn’t have said I had a favorite poem. Earning an education in public school, I had few exposures to poetry and nothing as widely celebrated as National Poetry Month, which The Academy of American Poets created in 1996 when I was a sophomore in High School. I grew up not really knowing much poetry. Public school had us studying classic, mostly safe poets like Robert Frost and William Shakespeare, though we studied the latter more as literature than poetry. I remember liking Robert Frost and I still do, but in some ways I think you couldn’t get any more average. I wish we would have studied more diverse texts and poets like Charles Baudelaire, Charles Bernstein, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Charles Bukowski (just to stay in the ‘B’s and list them alphabetically, of course).

In honor of National Poetry Month (#NPM2017), I want to share my favorite poem. My absolute favorite poem in the world is Stuart Dischell’s “She Put on Her Lipstick in the Dark” which is in the form of a pantoum. From The Poetry Foundation‘s glossary a pantoum is:

A Malaysian verse form adapted by French poets and occasionally imitated in English. It comprises a series of quatrains, with the second and fourth lines of each quatrain repeated as the first and third lines of the next. The second and fourth lines of the final stanza repeat the first and third lines of the first stanza. See A.E. Stallings’s “Another Lullaby for Insomniacs.”

It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. It also isn’t terribly easy to write, though I don’t find it as difficult a form as the dreaded sestina. Here is my favorite poem:

SHE PUT ON HER LIPSTICK IN THE DARK

I really did meet a blind girl in Paris once. It
was in the garden of a museum Where I saw
her touching the statues. She had brown hair
and an aquamarine scarf.

It was in the garden of the museum I told her I
was a thief disguised as a guard. She had
brown hair and an aquamarine scarf. She told
me she was a student from Grenoble.

I told her I was not a thief disguised as a guard.
We had coffee at the little commissary. She said
she had time till her train to Grenoble. We talked
about our supreme belief in art.

We had coffee at the little commissary
Then sat on a bench near the foundry. We
talked about our supreme belief in art. She
leaned her head upon my chest.

We kissed on a bench near the foundry. I
closed my eyes when no one was watching.
She leaned her head upon my chest. The
museum was closing. It was time to part.

I really did meet a blind girl in Paris once. I
never saw her again and she never saw me.
In a garden she touched the statues. She put
on her lipstick in the dark.

I close my eyes when no one is watching. She
had brown hair and an aquamarine scarf. The
museum was closing. It was time to part. I
never saw her again and she never saw me.

The Lead Faculty for the National University Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and my personal mentor, Professor Frank Montesonti, encourages MFA students to communicate with published poets. Why not? They’re human like the rest of us. They came from the same unpublished, unrecognized streets we did. And it’s so cool when they write back! I have written to five major poets and all, but one sent me a personal response. On Monday, July 11, 2016 I e-mailed Mr. Dischell expressing my love for his poem and humbly sharing with him a poem I wrote in response. “It’s Always Dark when I Put on My Lipstick” is not a pantoum and is written from the perspective of the woman. Mr. Dischell wrote me the very next day and graciously complimented my poem! It was funny because the day I wrote to him, he was a guest speaker at the American University in Paris and had been asked to read “She Put Her Lipstick on in the Dark.”

Other notable examples of the pantoum are Carolyn Kizer’s “Parent’s Pantoum,” John Ashberry’s “Pantoum,” Airea D. Matthews’ “Descent of the Composer,” Randall Mann’s “September Elegies,” Denise Duhamel’s “Lawless Pantoum,” Carolyn Kizer’s “Parent’s Pantoum,” and Marilyn Hacker’s “Iva’s Pantoum.” There are so many great examples out there, but Dischell’s is my all-time favorite.

Keep writing! (Maybe try a pantoum of your own?)

Cheers,

Bryan

“Pantoum.” Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 April 2017.

Dischell, Stuart. “She Put on Her Lipstick in the Dark.” National Endowment for the Arts, 2009. Web. 12 April 2017.

It’s Always Dark When I Put on My Lipstick

It’s Always Dark When I Put on My Lipstick

      For love of Stuart Dischell’s “She Put on Her Lipstick in the Dark”

Oui, I met a man in Paris once,
not the only man I’ve ever met
in Paris. It was in a museum
in a garden. I was looking

at the statues; getting a feel
for them with my fingers. Men
want to walk me to the café,
to the entrainer, and to the boutique.

They want me with coffee
and they want to help me
to cross several rues.
He sidled up to me, asking

which statue I favoured.
He said he would steal it for me;
just say the word. I told him
he needed a new line. I felt his

metal security guard badge
and his nightstick. I kissed him
anyway and leaned my head
on his warm chest. Paris was

cold and I wore my aquamarine
scarf. We sipped lovely cups
of coffee near loud machines.
I couldn’t see and I couldn’t

hear. I nearly missed my train,
Paris to Grenoble, seven hours
and 45 minutes. I never saw him
but I remember his face.

National Poetry Month

I posted several weeks ago about #NaPoWriMo, the slick hashtag for National Poetry Writing Month, a similarly named cousin to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November). National Poetry Month is upon us and in full swing! Countless poets are celebrating the month with challenges, contests, and prompts. Poet bloggers are blogging and sharing the good news.

2017npm-poster_0The Academy of American Poets has an amazing page this year called 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month. True to its name, there are 30 activities listed, one for each of the 30 days in National Poetry Month. Additionally, they published lessons for teachers for all primary, middle, and High School grades. You can order this year’s National Poetry Month poster for free from the Academy’s website. You can also find an Adobe pdf version with clickable images linked to related poems. It’s not easy to explain, but trust me, check out the pdf and spend an afternoon clicking through the poems for each picture, it’s a blast!

One of the coolest ideas this year is #10: “Ask your governor or mayor for a proclamation in support of National Poetry Month.” I live in a suburb of Jacksonville so I e-mailed and sent letters to both the mayor of my town as well as Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville. So far, Mayor Curry e-mailed me back with a link to a page on his website for submitting proclamation requests. The process was simple and I expect to hear Mayor Curry’s final determination. I haven’t contacted Governor Rick Scott of Florida, yet, but that is my next step.

When I wrote to Mayor Nix and Mayor Curry, I also asked them about appointing a Poet Laureate for their respective town and city. Mayor Curry directed my question to the director of the Jacksonville Public Library. I am excited to hear from Mrs. Barbara Gubbin and I am hopeful that Mayor Nix will reply in an equally enthusiastic manner. Florida has an appointed Peter Meinke (personal website linked) as the most recent Poet Laureate, a position I hope to attain some day!

This year I am following two prompt generators for National Poetry Month. Robert Lee Brewer, the former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, publishes Poetic Asides, a regular blog on the Writer’s Digest website. Brewer publishes a poetry prompt every day for the 30 days of April and as an added bonus, he includes a “Two-for-Tuesday”! The great thing about this challenge is you can publish your response poems directly to the thread under the post.

The second set of prompts I follow is WordXWord’s Thirty Thirty Poetry Challenge. You cannot publish your poems directly to this website. To submit your responses to the challenges, Thirty Thirty set up a Facebook page at 30/30 Poetry. Although it is a closed group, it is not difficult to request membership.

I hope I have inspired you to write today!

Cheers,

Bryan