Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate

Tracy K Smith
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Fellow poets, today, the featured poem from the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series is Tracy K. Smith’s “Watershed”. One of my favorite parts of the series is the “About This Poem” section where the poet confesses their inspiration for the poem in question. Of ‘Watershed”, Smith says:

‘Watershed’ is a found poem drawn from two sources: a New York Times Magazine January 6, 2016, article by Nathaniel Rich entitled, ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,’ and excerpts of the narratives of survivors of near-death experiences as catalogued on www.nderf.org.”

The Poem-A-Day series consistently inspires my own adventures in poetry as it exposes me to new techniques and perspectives. I have typically been slightly distrustful of found poems, but to look at them from Smith’s perspective is unique and exciting! Why not construct a found poem using pieces from several sources?

I went away this past week and when I came back, I was surprised to find a handful of news headlines announcing the selection of a new U.S. Poet Laureate. Not that I didn’t believe it, but I was intrigued. As far as I know, Juan Felipe Herrera recently entered his second term as Poet Laureate. I’ve been learning more about the position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, but one thing I haven’t specifically looked at is the actual term of appointment. I knew Poets Laureate were appointed for one to two years, but I wasn’t clear on when the appointment officially began. I haven’t been able to find an official start date, but the Librarian of Congress’ article announcing Smith’s selection says, “Smith will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season in September with a reading of her work in the Coolidge Auditorium.”

On Wednesday June 14th, several outlets published articles announcing Tracy K. Smith’s selection as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The Academy of American Poets published a brief article. Dana Isokawa the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine published an online exclusive about Smith’s selection. Camila Domonoske published an article for NPR entitled “Tracy K. Smith, New U.S. Poet Laureate, Calls Poems Her ‘Anchor’. Several more outlets picked up the stories around the country.

I always return to The Academy of American Poets and The Poetry Foundation as my primary sources for all things poetry. The Academy’s resources on Smith consist of a biography, two articles Smith wrote, two additional articles written about her, and three of her poems including “Duende”. The Poetry Foundation has archived ten of Smith’s poems, a biography, and a four minute video from PBS’s NewsHour Poetry Series.

Reading through Smith’s bio, she is an excellent choice to succeed the current Poet Laureate. Among her honors, she is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and is currently a professor at Princeton University leading their Creative Writing program. Additionally, Smith wrote a short article for the New York Times’ “Does Poetry Matter?” series entitled “Wipe that Smirk Off Your Poem”. Yesterday the Academy of American Poets published a quick interview with Smith entitled “Four Questions for U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith”. The Poetry Foundation recently featured the newly selected U.S. Poet Laureate’s poem “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?” in an e-mail. She wrote the poem in 2011 ruminating on David Bowie and published it in Life on Mars through Graywolf Press. One final piece I would like to highlight is Renee H. Shea’s article “Far From Ordinary: A Profile of Tracy K. Smith” from the March/April 2015 Poets & Writers Magazine.

Considering her diverse background and the eclectic nature of past Poet Laureate projects, I am excited to see what Smith comes up with for her project.

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan

 

Poem-A-Day

Poem-A-DayI’m on vacation this week so I’ve been writing a short post throughout this past week and scheduled it to publish this morning at 1000hrs EST. I hope you’ve all had a great week!

The homepage of the Academy of American Poets features a daily poem known as Poem-A-Day. The following description tells you everything you need to know about the program so I won’t belabor the point:

“Poem-a-Day is the original and only daily digital poetry series featuring over 200 new, previously unpublished poems by today’s talented poets each year. On weekdays, poems are accompanied by exclusive commentary by the poets. The series highlights classic poems on weekends. Launched in 2006, Poem-a-Day is now distributed via email, web, and social media to 350,000+ readers free of charge and is available for syndication. For more information about how to syndicate Poem-a-Day, contact poem-a-day@poets.org.”

I never knew the Academy published a book until I stumbled across this article. You can order the book directly from the Academy’s online store (recommended). You can also pick it up from several online retailers. The Academy’s website describes the book in a single, concise sentence:

“Inspired by Poem-a-Day—the original and only daily digital poetry series featuring over 200 new, previously unpublished poems by today’s talented poets each year with classic poems on the weekends—this new book includes poems by John Ashbery, Rita Dove, U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, and many more.”

The description on Amazon.com is surprisingly more in-depth, though I don’t necessarily think it needs to explain the entire contents of the book.

“For 80 years, the Academy of American Poets has been one of the most influential and respected champions of contemporary American poetry. Through their successful Poem-a-Day online program, the Academy continues to celebrate verse by delivering poems to thousands of e-mail subscribers each morning. Now for the first time, the poems selected by the Academy for this program are available in book form so that they can be collected and savored.

Loosely organized according to the flow and themes of the seasons (for example, the month of February includes poems on love, lust, and heartache), this substantial volume is designed to encourage the daily practice of reading poetry. A thematic index is included so that poems can be sought out for popular occasions such as marriage, graduation, and holidays, or enjoyed any day of the year.”

I plan on picking this book up soon! For now, the Poem-A-Day column has introduced me to an incredible amount of new poets and styles. It has also inspired several of my own poems whether emulating the featured poem, responding to it in “conversation”, or picking it apart.

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

 

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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

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.

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

Because We Come From Everything: Poetry & Migration

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Academy of American Poets Chancellor @professorea

More than one year ago, in November 2015, more than 20 nonprofit poetry groups came together for a singular purpose. Now 26 member organizations strong, the Poetry Coalition, seeks to “promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.”As a poet, this is a mission near and dear to my heart. It lines up 100% with any proposal initiated by the U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress.

This month, the Poetry Coalition is launching its first initiative, Because We Come From Everything: Poetry & Migration.Check out either of the two links for more information on the Poetry Coalition, its member organizations, and the migration-themed events they are hosting this month. Both links will take you to pages on the Academy of American Poets’s website. The Coalition encourages participation in any of the programs member organizations are holding throughout the month. Additionally, they invite like-minded organizations to host their own events. The Coalition has one simple request, and that is that you use the hashtag #WeComeFromEverything to share your efforts across social media platforms for anything related to this project. Get creative, get out there, and get involved!

Keep Writing!

Cheers,

Bryan