Friday, March 30, 2012

The Big Poetry Giveaway Has Begun Again!

It's that time of year again - National Poetry Month.  A time when many of us poets get frenzied and start doing crazy things like writing a poem a day, handing out poems to random passersby and giving away books of poetry.  This year, I'll be doing all three!  More on the poem-a-day project and poem in your pocket efforts later.  Today's post is about The Big Poetry Giveaway.  Kelli Russell Agodon over at her blog The Book of Kells has been organizing this giveaway for the past three years.  Last year I gave away a copy of my chapbook Inheritance and a copy of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons.  This year, I'll be giving away a copy of the wonderful anthology I'm a part of, What the Redwoods Know  along with a book of poems by Amy Lowell.  
As many of you know, Amy Lowell has been an important part of my journey to becoming a poet.  I wrote my dissertation on her influence on modern lyric poetry.  I'd be happy to give away a copy of Lowell's Selected poems edited by the lovely poet Honor Moore in hopes of getting more people to read Lowell.  In case you haven't read Amy Lowell's work, below is one of her short lyric poems from Two Speak Together.

July, Midnight
Fireflies flicker in the tops of trees,
Flicker in the lower branches,
Skim along the ground.
Over the moon-white lilies
Is a flashing and ceasing of small, lemon-green stars.
As you lean against me,

The air all about you
Is slit, and pricked, and pointed with sparkles of lemon-green flame
Starting out of a background of vague, blue trees.

What Redwoods Know was an extraordinary book project I was a part of this past summer.  As many of you might know many of our state parks in California are facing permanent closure.  In response to this terrible threat, the Sonoma County poet Katherine Hastings organized hikes for poets in Annadel, Sugarloaf and Jack London State Park.  On these hikes we wrote and spoke about the places we were in.  This anthology is a result of the creative work that came out of these hikes.  Below is one of my poems which is included in the book.  It's about Jack London State Park -- the place where I discovered I was a writer on a six grade field trip many years ago. 

At Wolf House

This time, I walk directly to the back steps. 
No circuitous journey.  No wide gaze
accumulating the destruction of this place.
This time, in full light, I meet the gaze of your ghost.

And the world drops away leaving only
flies orbiting, a tether of bird song, distant, tenuous,
a heat that rises from the earth like a promise.
O fairy ring of Redwoods sprung from fiery tongue,
open the blue box of heaven you gate with green fingers. 
There are two wills at work here:
that which will destroy and that which will stubbornly remain. 
Stone ruins rise, half-shadowed and covered in moss. 
A few iron girders propped to hold up walls.

But the breath of wind, that velvet tongue, licks the place clean as bone. 
Spirit and story are what keep the fire-washed stones in place,
that keep the stones lifted off tongues.  What reflects back isn’t recordable:
it grows in you—seeds to places unknown. 

If you are interested in entering to win a copy of Amy Lowell's Selected Poems, or a copy of What the Redwoods Know, all you have to do is write a comment below that contains your contact information.  On April 30th, I'll randomly draw a name out of a hat and send the books to you!  Good luck!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Poetry Invades the State Capital

This past weekend, I attended the state championships of Poetry Out Loud.  Poetry Out Loud is a poetry recitation contest started by poet Dana Gioia when he was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  Dana was at this years' state competition.  He inspired the students (and coaches and family) with both the history and vision of the program. 
Dana Gioia, Brynna Thigpen and myself
My student, Brynna Thigpen, won our Sonoma County competition and was representing our county in the state competition.  I've been a poet-coach in the Poetry Out Loud program for several years now, but I had never seen the competitions above the county level until this past weekend.  It was extraordinary.  Thirty-three county champions descended upon the state capital, reciting poetry in a competition to find a state champion.  Hearing 15-18 year-olds expertly recite poetry from poets as diverse as Shakespeare and Billy Collins in the Senate Chambers was phenomenal.  To compete at this level students must spend hours memorizing and close-reading the poems they recite.  It was such a joy to think in every state the same competition is occurring.  That across America, over 500,000 students have had the opportunity to choose a poem that speaks to them, to memorize it, to deeply understand it and to perform their poems in front of an audience.  My student didn't win the state finals, but she worked hard and did very well.  And in the end, she told me that through the process she had developed a love for poetry that she felt would last a lifetime.  What could be better than that?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

California Poets in the Schools - French Garden Fundraiser April 21, 2:30 - 4:30

Many of you know that I've been teaching poetry in the schools for the past decade or so.  It's an amazing experience to say the least.  This year I taught Sapphic Fragments to students who were writing in English as a second language and was (as I always am) floored by how brilliantly my students wove their voices between ancient Greek fragments and their own modern words. 

Purple flowers divided in earth.
Salt sea, flowery fields, magical, magical world.
All stars.  Roses bloom.  Your tender heart.
Sweet apples on a tree.  Sweet apples on the boughs.
Dark purple-brown butterflies fly in the sunny-shiny sun.
---Estefania, 3rd grade

California Poets in the Schools is the organization that I work for.  And, as with just about everything else in California, the organization's funding has been drastically cut.  In order to allow us to continue to teach in schools that cannot afford to hire us as poet-teachers we've obtained some grant money, but are holding fundraisers in order to match that money.  Long story short, we are having a benefit at French Garden to raise money in order to support teacher poetry in the schools.  If you live in Sonoma County, please come join us!  Students, including our Sonoma County Poet Out Loud champion Brynna Thigpen, will be performing their poetry.  Delicious snacks will be served and there will be an excellent silent auction.

For those of you far away (who aren't struggling for funding yourselves) please consider sending in a tax deductible donation.  You can make checks payable to: California Poets in the Schools (CPITS) and send them to my attention at: 201 Wagnon Rd., Sebastopol, CA 95472

See below for a full description of the event.  Hope to see you there!


Fundraiser for California Poets in the Schools 

On Saturday, April 21, French Garden Restaurant in Sebastopol presents poetry through the eyes and from the voices of youth. The program will last from 2:30 to 4:30, with hors d’oeuvres, coffee, sodas and sparkling water provided by the restaurant, and the entertainment by Sonoma County students, ranging from 2nd grade through high school.

Among the student presenters will be finalists from the Sonoma County Poetry Out Loud Competitions. These students are the crème of their high school crop, having memorized some of the greatest poems written in English and won school-wide competitions in a spelling bee style contest.

Other student presenters will be elementary and middle school youngsters who have written outstanding poems of their own, with the assistance of their dedicated poet-teachers from California Poets in the Schools (CPITS.) CPITS is one of the oldest and largest artist-in-residence programs in the United States. With the guidance of the poet-teacher and the inspiration of great poems from the past, students often write work wise far beyond their years, as in this 2ndgrader’s poem from Graton’s Oak Grove School:

The Great Bird


A bird, all life on the tips of its wings.

If it flaps its wings, a giant earthquake

cracks the earth in two.

Where is this great bird?

I will search in the sky and deep into the earth.

I pray this bird will soon be upon me.

I am old and gray from looking.

But I search for this wonderful bird

until the end of time.

I am still full of hope.

QUINN HORAK, 2nd Grade

Oak Grove School, Sonoma County

Ellen Dougalss, Classroom Teacher

Phyllis Meshulam, Poet Teacher

The French Garden Restaurant is located at 8050 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol. For more information, call (707) 486-7450 to speak with Phyllis Meshulam, Sonoma County area coordinator of CPITS, or 707- 824-2030 to reach the restaurant.

            Come to Sebastopol for the Apple Blossom Parade, and stay to hear poetry!!

This event is free to the students, $5 for their parents, and for others, a recommended donation of $10 - $50. Sonoma County Poets in the Schools is the recipient of a competitive California Arts Council grant for $3,500, but it must be matched dollar for dollar with local money. 100% of all proceeds from the afternoon’s event will go to matching this grant.

A silent auction will be taking place concurrently.

Monday, March 12, 2012

New Review of my Book, Inheritance

One more quick post! Moira Richards reviewed my chapbook Inheritance over at the Fiddler Crab Review.  Check it out here:

Poems Written in Computer Code

I just found a call for work for code poems - or poems written in computer code.  As a former web developer, this type of writing fascinates me.  Computer code when you re-contextualize as a poetic tool, can be expansive, can open up new meaning to words.  When I think about the possibilities that exist in regards to using computer code (such as Perl, XML, HTML and Javascript) to expand language, I am reminded of what Gertrude Stein says she was thinking about when she wrote Tender Buttons.  She claims she was trying to give language back the elasticity and energy it had before the dictionary tied words down to direct meaning.  Perhaps, computer code will offer us another opening or opportunity to invigorate language?  I hope so!  Below, is a link to my attempt at a code poem.  It includes HTML, Perl, XML and Javascript.

Monday, March 05, 2012

AWP 2012

You know you have been at AWP too long when you think you see Dinty Moore at the hotel bar – no, not the hotel bar where the conference hotel, but at another hotel bar on your long journey back home from the world where everyone is a writer to the real life you find yourself immersed in on a daily basis.  I, for one, thoroughly enjoy the emersion that AWP offers.  From the time I stepped off the plane in Chicago, I was braided up in situations and conversations with writers from across the US.  A travel writer guided me to the subway and we rolled slowly into Chicago from O’Hare.  Then, the windy city opened up before me.  I ate deep dish pizza, dodged winds that screeched like red tailed hawks., but otherwise was happily encased in the the Hilton hotel. 

What does it mean to be islanded in a sea of writers?  Today, just before I made the rash decision to bail out early and catch a cab to my airport hotel, I sat across the room from Alice Notely while she drank a cup of coffee.  Call me a stalker, but, sitting there exhausted, I was filled with glee just to be sitting across from one of my favorite poets.  Sure, I’d seen her panel and had her sign the new books I’d bought.  I’d blabbered like a groupie about how once, so many years ago, I’d been a 24 year-old grad student sitting across from her in her Paris apartment asking her questions for an interview I’d later publish in our school lit mag.  She graciously said she remembered, then smiled and turned to the next in line.  But, sitting there just a day later, I felt it all rushing back.  The joy and awe it is to be a young writer and to bump up against the humanity of your favorite writers.  And that's just what AWP offers.  That, and the laberinthian book fair. 
On Saturday, I had the distinct honor of being on a panel with three poets I admire:  Phyllis Meshulam, Gywnn O'Gara and Tobey Kaplan.  We spoke about the joy of teaching poetry recitation to high school students through Poetry Out Loud.  Later this month, we'll be heading to Sacramento to hear our county winner compete at the state level.  She'll be reciting "The Room" by Conrad Aiken, a difficult, but wonderful poem (see below).  My talk was on how teaching students the art of close reading enables them to better connect with and therefore recite their poems. 
One of the highlights of the conference was hearing my former teacher Jean Valentine speak about the recently deceased, Eleanor Ross Taylor.  Taylor was an extradinary poet and Jean was an extraordinary teacher.  (More on this panel later...)
Okay, now it's back to real life.  The laundry, picking up the kids from school, but isn't it lovely that always in the background I'll have memories of this past weekend reeling in my mind?

The Room By Conrad Aiken

Through that window — all else being extinct
Except itself and me — I saw the struggle
Of darkness against darkness. Within the room
It turned and turned, dived downward. Then I saw
How order might — if chaos wished — become:
And saw the darkness crush upon itself,
Contracting powerfully; it was as if
It killed itself: slowly: and with much pain.
Pain. The scene was pain, and nothing but pain.
What else, when chaos draws all forces inward
To shape a single leaf? . . .

For the leaf came,
Alone and shining in the empty room;
After a while the twig shot downward from it;
And from the twig a bough; and then the trunk,
Massive and coarse; and last the one black root.
The black root cracked the walls. Boughs burst the window:
The great tree took possession.

Tree of trees!
Remember (when time comes) how chaos died
To shape the shining leaf. Then turn, have courage,
Wrap arms and roots together, be convulsed
With grief, and bring back chaos out of shape.
I will be watching then as I watch now.
I will praise darkness now, but then the leaf.