Friday, March 31, 2006

On the eve of construction: Poetry Month begins

It’s about to begin, that month when poets and media intellectually couple to celebrate poetry month. As I’ve said before, the celebration has its naysayers. But personally, I like the fact that my favorite genre struts to center stage.

Activities are as diverse as the poets. Poet Jayne Jaudon Ferrer does a special newsletter celebration. She selects a poem for each day in April and emails it. Last year’s poems arrived in my inbox daily, and I enjoyed every one of them. She favors diversity in her selections, and there’s never a dull poem. Jayne will happily add you to the list for free; to get the newsletter, visit her signup page.

I received an email today from Poetry Daily, a special edition of the regular newsletter. PD selects 20 past featured poets to select poems to be delivered to you each weekday in April. PD leans towards university presses and MFA style, but many of the poems will certainly be pleasurable. Visit the PD site for more info.

As always, the Academy of American Poets who founded National Poetry Month in 1996, will have a variety of events and abundance of information on their Net site. The Academy is a veritable bastion for the purest form of writing, leaning towards poets established within the Northeastern literary network (Southerners are of course included if they pass the smell test). It’s a great resource; visit the Academy page .

Do visit the feature I’m writing and coordinating at The Writer. Just announced: the scoop on guidelines for an opportunity to read at the Library of Congress. I talked with Patricia Gray, coordinator of Poetry at Noon for the LOC, and the woman has a vision poets can help bring to fruition. Read more at The Writer online.

In Jacksonville, Peter Meinke arrives April 8 at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts for a top quality writers’ festival. Adult members from the community can attend; the fee is so low it’s almost silly. To learn more, visit DASOTA Net pages.

My first NPM event is with poetry compatriot Dorothy Fletcher. Dorothy set up a program with Starbucks, “Authors at Starbucks.” She and I do free workshops and assorted readings there—Starbucks devotes a lot of resources to literacy and treats authors incredibly well. We’ll read and do a workshop (sponsored in part by the National League of American Pen Women, Jacksonville) on Sunday, April 9 from 1-3 p.m. Poetry CafĂ©, as we tagged it, will be held at Starbucks Coffee Company in Lakewood Plaza, corner of San Jose and University, in Jacksonville. For a full description, visit the writers’ resource site I edit.

Otherwise, I’m speaking to a variety of groups during April and I’ll do my special poem for the month as always. I’ll have the poem up on my Net site soon.

Another small treat for you: I’ll feature a top poetry site link at the end of each April column.

So do poetry a favor. Grab the nearest willing ear and pull it along to a poetry event. Buy a book published by a small press. Stand on a street corner and recite “Howl.” Or read something racy by Sharon Olds at your next club meeting.

It’s all good.

Recommended poetry link: Ron Silliman
Why? Because nobody does poetry better. Or more extensively.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

April is the kindest month

If you’re a poet, you know all about April. And if you’re not a poet, here’s a tip. That’s the month when Poetry takes center stage with a deliberately capital P.

Now there are poets who think this is silly. The thinking goes that poetry should be special every month. A few years ago, Charles Bernstein garnered quite a bit of press for himself by voicing anti-poetry month sentiments. He summed up further thoughts in an essay for the University of Chicago Press Net site, and later read a briefer version of the essay on public radio. Pretty good press for someone who doesn’t like the annual celebration.

Each to his or her own I say. As for me, I like the idea of National Poetry Month. Each year, I write a special poem to commemorate the occasion, and I get a number of invitations to speak about and read poetry. It’s always been a mission of mine to turn people onto poetry—not just my own, but to other poets as well. There are certain poems that stay with me, poems that I recommend to audiences because I admire the skill of the poets. Poems like Wendy Cope’s “The Orange,” Julie Carter’s “But Soon,” Kim Addonizio’s “Therapy”, and just about all verses by Emily Dickinson, many by James Wright, Charles Simic, Frank O’Hara, Billy Collins, Elizabeth Bishop and others too numerous to list—these are poems and poets I tell others about.

It’s easy to persuade people to read poetry if you’re passionate about it. I suppose from my list you can tell I’m a very diversified reader, and I confess to being a diversified poet as well. I bore easily.

The American people love poetry, all sorts of poetry. Smarmy poems and sophisticated poems, spoken word poems and prose poems, sonnets and rambling free verse. I know because I’ve logged thousands of miles traveling this great country to connect others to poetry. I’ve received many kind emails and expressions of appreciation for my own work, and I’ve enjoyed book sales that please my publisher.

But I’ve also been bashed on the trope by poets who didn’t care for my style or subject matter. On one occasion, I became very angry at a poet about that sort of thing, but in a short time, I let the anger go and never looked back. Because for me, poetry is a pleasure separate from love or friendship. I have many people in my life to ease my journey through the human condition. So I won’t worry about those who can't. And poetry, that purest form of writing, goes far beyond petty concerns of the human realm.

So I’ll pursue my usual NPM ramblings. I’m doing a very pleasant reading with Dorothy Fletcher at Starbucks Coffee Company (Authors at Starbucks) on April 9. Dorothy and I do these events together in part, as an outreach for the National League of American Pen Women, Jacksonville branch. And I’ll devote the entire month of April at Bookbeat to NPM events and themes.

Mainly I do poetry for me. I can’t sit still long enough to get a manicure, and I never did like to shop. That my efforts encourage others is the silver lining in a very intriguing cloud.

Visit The Writer online for a special celebration of National Poetry Month in April. The Writer’s Online Poetry Spotlight 2 will continue through the month. I’m enjoying reading the variety of poems submitted.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Good Reads

Reading is both a learning process and a means of escape for me. Three excellent books have brought me pleasure lately, two of them poetry and one a novel that includes poetry.

Carol Goodman’s THE GHOST ORCHID (Ballentine Books, 2006) weaves myth, history, poetry, mysticism and mystery into a tale that takes the reader on a journey of self-revelation with the main character Ellis Brooks. The Bosco estate, a retreat for artists and writers, also functions as a character by undergoing change and by impacting on the actions of those in residence. Adding a layer of luxury to the novel are the sonnets written by Goodman’s husband Lee Slonimsky whose collection will soon be released by Ochises Press. The sonnet is one of my favorite forms to read and to write. Slonimsky’s sonnets are among the very best I have seen in contemporary American letters. He brings the form to an exceptional level, and integrating his poems into the novel was a masterful stroke on the part of Goodman. I’d highly recommend this book to any reader, and it can be appreciated with a variety of perspectives. Goodman is an accomplished novelist who always spins a riveting and memorable tale.

Claudia Grinnell’s CONDITIONS HORIZONTAL (Missing Consonant Press, 2001) is a collection of poems that illustrate why free verse is a complicated form. No one is more gifted than Grinnell when it comes to poetry, and reading this book has been sheer pleasure. I’ll do a full review of it soon at Creative Writer US.

My publisher sent me a copy of THE POWOW RIVER ANTHOLOGY(Ocean Publishing, 2006), edited by Alfred Nicol. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed thumbing through this book—poems by Rhina Espaillat always ring well to the ear and the heart. I hadn’t read Bill Coyle until now, and discovering his work was a special treat. I look forward to reading all the poems. The anthology is a collaboration by the Powow poets, a New England group spurred to action by Ms. Espaillat.

These books certainly brought some calming moments to a schedule that for me has been too hectic of late. This is my busiest year ever, with newspaper work, magazine work, online work, and my latest book about 40% complete. So time with a rewarding read is a great way for me to forget my own work. If you’re looking for a good book that will soothe you like a friend, I highly recommend each of these.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A holy moment

Years ago, as a student at the University of South Carolina, I dreamed of becoming a writer. Because I have always been unconventional, I dreamed of being a writer without a day job. I aimed at earning a living by words.

I never realized the mix of skills I’d need to fulfill that dream. I didn’t know then I’d have to be a small business owner, marketer, secretary, and general errand girl as well as a writer to sustain myself. A friend of mine, W. Thomas Smith, Jr., is one of the only other writers I know personally who does the same thing I do. His career is far more distinguished than mine, because he’s written for the cream of the national crop and his credits are very impressive.

When I traveled to South Carolina this past weekend to read at the book festival there, I invited my fellow writer to have coffee with me. We traded stories about our constant deadlines, time-challenged workdays, and unrelenting email, how there’s never enough time in a day. Then he invited me to talk to his journalism students at the University of South Carolina where he is an adjunct faculty member in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Today when I returned to the office, I made a pot of Popayan coffee and tinkered with a poem while I awaited Thomas's call. I marveled at the technology that would allow students in South Carolina to ask me questions as I sat here in my Florida office.

They asked fine questions—about the writing process, about the need to establish an area of expertise, about sonnets and poetry and inspiration—even about healthcare topics. Their voices sounded so positive and hopeful. And as we were ending the call, I thought of something to share.

Many years ago I sat in a classroom on that same campus, dreaming about doing exactly what I am doing now. It was a holy moment.