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

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

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.

So You Want My Job: Poet

I’m figuratively kicking myself for not publishing this post sooner. I claim über busyness finalizing poems for my MFA Thesis and revising the project as a whole. But really I have no excuse. I want to publish one post per week and it has been two weeks since my last post.

To clarify the title of this post, I do not currently work as a poet. I would love to, but I have not pursued the prestigious, though unsung career of a poet. It took me a long time to even admit I am a poet. It took me longer still to admit in public I am a poet. Yes, I am a poet. It was hard to get the words out of my mouth for so long. This post is not about me.

This post is about some recent articles I read about brave folks who have taken that leap. First, the poet Jordan Chaney. Jordan was recently on the website Art of Manliness in 2012. The article I discovered was one of my most recent rabbit-holing spelunking excursions.

Art of Manliness is operated by a husband and wife duo. It is not a sexist site, nor is it strictly for men. There are plenty of articles presented that appeal to women. They describe their site as follows:

AoM is a blog about growing up well, aimed at men and their unique challenges and interests. We explore all things manly — from the serious and philosophical to the practical and fun. We seek to uncover how to live with grandpa’s swagger, virtue, and know-how in the present age by wedding the best of the past to the best of the present. The end goal is to create a synergy of tradition and modernity that offers men a way forward and signposts on how to live an excellent, flourishing life.

AoM runs a regular column called “So You Want My Job.” I do so much Internet rabbit-holing, I don’t remember what led me to this particular topic. I think I may have been looking at another article on Art of Manliness which led me to the “So You Want My Job” series, which led me to query “poet” in their search box. Waaaaaaaaay back on March 22, 2012, Art of Manliness published an interview for the series with poet Jordan Chaney working out of Kennewick, Washington. Mr. Chaney has a personal Facebook page as well as an author page as a career Poet. If you are interested in his life as a poet and how he survives as a poet, I encourage you to check him out.

I also recently started following another blogging poet named Katie Hale. It’s funny that I was going to post about the job of a poet because as I was putting this post together, I stumbled across Katie’s blog. On March 12th, 2017, she published a post entitled: . Recently Katie attended StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, where she served as the festival’s in-house blogger. Sounds like an awesome responsibility! There, she attended an event called “Making a Living as a Poet” sponsored by the Society of Authors. Ken Cockburn chaired the event with poets Sarah Hesketh and Harry Giles offering advice and talking about making money from poetry. They offer a different take on the Poet as a lifestyle and not just because they reside “across the pond.”

I posted this partly because it is important to know what others around you involved in your craft are engaged in. You should maintain a constant dialogue with your craft. There is a larger conversation going on about poetry in the world. Every day there are new speakers, new opinions, new forms, new rules, et cetera. By “dialogue” and “conversation,” I don’t mean that you are physically talking with anyone. This conversation includes blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter, Instagram, anything to engage the world outside of yourself. Poetry is not dead, rather, there are exciting things happening in the world of poetry every day. You just have to open your eyes and look for them, open your ears and listen for them.

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan

a better place to be or, she, part i

i lie in bed making snow angels
her sheets are white
like a frozen tundra

like a bridal gown
the assumption of purity
she loved the absurdity

im sprawled out
my left arm and leg hanging off the side

i woke up on the wrong side of this bed
the wrong side of the tracks with
the wrong girl

falling asleep and waking up
feeling trapped in some place
less exciting than
it was the night before

some nights i wish i had just stayed home
stayed up late
writing about girls
rather than putting up with them

she woke before i got up
i had been watching her
thinking of whirlpools
and tornados
but it’s my life
spiraling down

who is she
i wrote her name on my hand so
i wouldnt forget
but who is she

you can leave now she said
trying to salvage small self-respect

thanks for your permission i said
already headed toward the door

are you coming back she said

something’s got to give