I wrote a review of Amy Small-McKinney’s new book, Life is Perfect. You can see it here at Philadelphia Stories. Do check it out, because it’s a wonderful book.
In my graduate school workshop I was labeled the Tree, River, Fish guy because most of my poems had some combination of those elements in them. I’m not sure exactly how that happened, or how I got in the habit or writing about situations that generally fell in the category of nature poetry, but here I am, 20 years later, still doing it. I like fishing, camping and generally staying away from crowds, so maybe that’s how a nature poet is born.
I’m also drawn to poets who’s subjects overlap mine (though that’s hardly a prerequisite for a poet I like), but it happens. I’m hoping to teach a short class or reading group on “nature” poetry at Musehouse someday, if I can convince enough people to sign up. If you’re interested, and in the Philadelphia area, let me know.
While collecting ideas I came across an anthology, Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary Nature Poetry. From the title it seemed perfect—I could probably use this for a text for the course, but I think it’s out of print and the press out of business. I picked up my copy used.
Anyway, after Amazon delivered my copy, I opened the book to see who and what was inside, and was struck by the titles. No, it’s not that they were spelled wrong or employed gratuitous profanity. They were boring.
I know I don’t always write the best titles for my poems, but I do take them seriously. I do sometimes struggle with titles, change them several times and think hard about what work they do or don’t do for my poem. To see a book full of “nature poems” with titles like The Deer, Landscape, Spring, Wish, Meadow… you see where this is going. And it keeps going like that… 300 pages worth of poems with one word titles. Open up a field guide to the birds of North American and look at the index. You’ll find as much creativity there as in the table of context of this poetry anthology. Should I go on? Annuals, Wave, Chimney Swifts, The Birds, The Bees (I confess that I have a poem called The Bees too), The Mouse, Cold, Turtles, Slug, Song , etc.
The worst two, from Marvin Bell and Cornelius Eady: Nature and Nature Poem.
But there are good titles here too, a few: I Stand Beneath the Mountains with an Illiterate Heart, A Little Heart to Heart with the Horizon, Lion of God in Vermont in May, The Snow Monkey Argues with God (a David Huddle poem, and one of my favorites in the book), Kicking and Breathing, Protecting the Children from Hurricanes, In Answer to Amy’s Question What’s a Pickerel (I’ve admired this Stanley Plumly poem for years) and so on.
When I was sending a book manuscript around to friends for opinions, one friend told me to look at my titles, because he believed there were only a few that attracted enough attention to warrant a stranger opening up to that page.
Is that what a title is for? In the Musehouse workshop I run, we had a discussion about titles last week. Some, we decided, were necessary to set the stage, establish a place or situation, like the titles in these poems:
In the Nursing Home by Jane Kenyon
She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.
She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.
Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.
Turning Forty By Kevin Griffith
At times it’s like there is a small planet
inside me. And on this planet,
there are many small wars, yet none
big enough to make a real difference.
The major countries—mind and heart—have
called a truce for now. If this planet had a ruler,
no one remembers him well. All
decisions are made by committee.
Yet there are a few pictures of the old dictator—
how youthful he looked on his big horse,
how bright his eyes.
He was ready to conquer the world.
Some titles serve to capture a theme, contribute to the mystery, create (or even upset) a sense of context or a hundred other things. There are no rules. But there are a lot of lazy titles out there. Apparently nature poets are some of the worst offenders. Of course some of these boring, single word titles may be a lot more than is obvious at first look when attached to the poem—when used right, a simple title can cast a larger shadow than the word itself. But you’ve got the read the poem, do the math, to find out.
Also, read this post where Jane Hirshfield shares some of her thoughts on nature poetry.
While this isn’t specifically about poetry, it’s a great story and a really neat place. Also, I’ll be reading at the Ryerss Museum as part of the Fox Chase Reading Series on February 24. Details here.
Originally posted on Fox Chase Review:
Many who attend our Fox Chase Reading Series at Ryerss Museum and Library in Northeast Philadelphia are familiar with the story of how the Ryerss Burholme summer home became a museum and library and the grounds a large park for the enjoyment of the people. When touring the museum we learn of how the Ryerss were animal rights activists long before it became popular with stories of Anne Waln Ryerss saving abused horses and bringing them back to Burholme to care for them. Anne’s stepson, Robert Waln Ryerss, a Philadelphia attorney, was instrumental in helping create the Pennsylvania SPCA and the Anti-Vivisectionist Society of Pennsylvania. The Ryerss Museum and Library features a pet cemetery and many portraits that the family commissioned of their beloved animal companions.
Upon Anne Waln Ryerss death she bequeathed funds to establish a hospital for ill, aged and injured animals and additional funds to maintain a farm. The farm was established by Robert Waln Ryerss in the Bustleton section section of Philadelphia on 80 Acres at Krewstown and Meeting House Roads. The Farm moved several times before settling in at its present home on Ridge Road in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The farm known now as Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines continues the vision and mission of Anne Waln Ryerss in caring for horses at the farm.
Remember earlier this week when a columnist for the Washington Post Online said stupid things about poetry, and the poetry world reacted with fire and pitchforks? Well here she sorta kinda takes it back. End of story. Now we can get back to fussing with our line breaks and other world-changing stuff.
Lots of great Philadelphia poetry here.
Originally posted on Fox Chase Review:
Moonstone Poetry Lives with a weekly series of poetry readings at
Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom Street.
Each week of the month will have a different host. All programs will include an open reading.
First Wednesday of the month be coordinated and hosted by Elijah B. Pringle, III, former on-air host of Panoramic Poetry at October Gallery.com, he is the author of At the Cornerstone, Feeding the Sparrow, and Second Saturday at Serenity. His work has been in Edison Poetry Review, Fox Chase Review, The God’s Must Be Bored, and will have a Feature is The River Poets Journal.
Second Wednesday of the month will be coordinated and hosted by Charles Carr, a native Philadelphian, born and raised in Southwest Germantown. In 2007 Charles was Mad Poets Review First Prize Winner for his poem “Waiting To Come North”. In 2009 Cradle Press of St. Louis published Charles’s first book of poetry: paradise, pennsylvania. Charles’ poems have been published in various print and on-line local and national poetry journals. Charles has recited his poems at various regional poetry events. Haitian Mud Pies, Charles’s next collection of poems will be published in 2013.
Originally posted on Black Lawrence Press News:
Bruce Cohen, author of two sublime poetry collections–Swerve and Placebo Junkies Conspiring with the Half-Asleep–delivers a credo of writing advice, infused with his characteristic wit and charm, via LitBridge: “I write my first draft like there’s no tomorrow & the time bomb strapped to my chest is ticking madly away & I revise like I will live forever, that the world is in a continuous & all inclusive game of freeze-tag. I constantly remind myself: no subject matter is taboo—avoid “poetic” topics as I find they often handcuff me & I am petrified I will slip into the predictable. I find it useful to try to trick myself, to drive into strange neighborhoods & let language guide me until I get to some other landscape within my brain. I have an advantage as I am horrible at reading maps & I don’t own a GPS. It’s rare, but sometimes it even snows in the Sahara.” We could read Bruce all day, he’s so good. Click here to read the entire piece, and here to buy his two enduring collections.
Great line-up and the Ryerss Museum is one of the coolest venues for a reading.
Originally posted on Fox Chase Review:
Join us for our last reading of 2012!
The Fox Chase Reading Series presents our featured poet/writers reading on October 28th @ 2pm featuring the poetry of Michele Belluomini and David Kozinski at Ryerss Museum and Library, 7370 Central Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. 19111. The Featured Poets will be followed by an open mic.
Yesterday we had one of the most perfect weather days for the month of October–cool enough to feel like fall, but warm enough to feel comfortable spending the day outside. And how did I spend that day? By participating in one of Rodger Lowenthal’s poetry and music parties. These parties, held in Rodger’s Wyncote, PA backyard, aim to bring poets and musicians together for an afternoon of performances. The atmosphere was unpretentious and engaging for all. At this most recent one I joined poets Paul Siegell, Hayden Saunier and Joe Roarty along with several jazz and rock musicians to entertain a very welcoming crowd seated in lawn chairs.
Rodger’s backyard is framed by a tight barrier of tall trees (they would occasionally release a display of yellow and orange leaves on our heads), which helped amplify the sound resulting in pretty impressive acoustics (particularly for Joe Roarty’s barbaric yawp).
First, I want to thank Rodger for the invitation and for welcoming all of us to his home. He’s planning another one in May, so plan to be there.
Here are some videos I recorded at the party. All are wonderful poets, so I encourage you to look for more of their work.