Click this link to read it.
Frequently while reading Miriam Sagan’s latest poetry collection, Seven Places in America, I was struck with waves of jealousy. The book is constructed around her journeys and residencies at what, at least through her writing, must be some of the most wonderful places in the country for a poet to meditate on things great and small. This is especially true for a poet like Sagan, who has an affinity for the more rustic or natural places.
Some of these places were official writers’ retreats, while others were just places that accommodated her, and she accommodated them. Either way, she made the most of these visits, as good writers can, by using the foregrounds and backdrops as gateways for her poems to pass through or stretch out within. Her poems ride “the boat of the mind/that floats on air” tacking through waterways looking for purchase. When they land on hard ground, you know it, as in “10,000 Islands,” part of a series titled Ever/Glade (which, incidentally, made me think of Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia.
I longed for departure
As if it were love
As if it would take me out
Of myself, of my accustomed way—
Sandbar of white pelicans
Lifts off, wheels into the sun
Silver flash of fish before the prow
Maze of low islands, one after the other,
to open water.
Do you see what she did there? The very quiet leap from the silent meditation of longing for departure to the dramatic scene of birds rising and a boat rushing among islands. For me, these poems are at their strongest when she uses her environment as the A in an ongoing Q & A with themselves.
While I found poems to relish throughout the book, I think my favorites are in part V, which were written at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, New York. Maybe being a Pennsylvanian drew me to these poems as they describe scenery very like my own home.
In the first poem in that section, Sagan uses, with dramatic effect, the refrain “body of” in a chant-like list of things you might find in any eastern woodland.
body of liberties
body of knowledge
body of research
body of principals
That’s fun, as are a lot of the poems in this book. You can feel the author’s delight coming off the page. At the same time, there are also haunting moments, such as in “Tree House,” where the speaker reflects in attendant language (“The creaks and meows of night,/Shadows of the copper beeches.”) on the material landscape of a childhood while simultaneously acknowledging the psychological landscape.
There were moments I thought the poet may have fallen into her own traps—pushed a metaphor a little too far, took the readers’ trust for granted, but then come moments of wonderful self-awareness, as if she knows where she’s taking us and is grinning a little inside, like here, in the poem “Stone Quarry Hill”:
If this poem were Chinese
I’d say my hair is gray (which it is)
And that I haven’t heard
News of you in a long time.
If I’m being played, I’m OK with it. Even when she asks “Why must inspiration be a vista?” you know she knows the answer is more complicated than that. “An inner self/that also shifts shape” is the visita we’re really meant to contemplate: “how what we ignored or couldn’t explain/remained in plain view.”
You can buy Seven Places in America here on Amazon.
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.
Today the Washington Post published an article by Alexandra Petri that asked, Is Poetry Dead? The article was a response to Richard Blanco’s poem at President Obama’s 2nd inauguration. I get that Petri didn’t like the poem. So what? But what bothers me more is she somehow decided that she’d been granted the power to decide what poetry is supposed to be, supposed to do, for everyone else.
It’s a stupid and ill-argued article, but it’s also a reflection of what so many narrow-minded people probably believe about poetry. The article makes ridiculous and incorrect assumptions, but my guess is it’s not that far off from what a lot of people were thinking while Blanco recited his poem. Why is that? Why does Petri insist that poetry needs to change something? Does Petri even read any contemporary poetry (I doubt it)? Does Petri understand the enormous variety of poetry flourishing in the US right now?
Possibly even more important–how has an attitude like that spread? Has poetry moved away from popular society or has society moved away from poetry? Was poetry dumped by its girlfriend or the other way around?
But wait, there’s more. John Deming wrote an open letter response on Coldfront. You have to read it.
In April I’m traveling to Missouri for the 2013 Missouri Writers’ Conference. I’ll be teaching two sessions there, a one-hour session called Core Issues and a longer, three hour, session called Building Trustworthy Poems. You can learn more about and register for the conference here.
To help promote the confernence, Margo Dill conducted an interview, which you can see here.
These two videos were recorded at a Mad Poets’ Society event in Media PA in 2012.
More about Harry Humes here.
One of American’s most beautiful poets, Jack Gilbert, has passed away. He was 87. He is easily the most important poet to me as a reader and as a writer.
WAKING AT NIGHT
The blue river is gray at morning
and evening. There is twilight
at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark
wondering if this quiet in me now
is a beginning or an end.
(from The Dance Most of All)
Some links below:
Poetry and Music in Wyncote: October 21st, 1:30 pm
Rodger Lowenthal is Having a House Party!
Poets HAYDEN SAUNIER, GRANT CLAUSER, PAUL SIEGELL and JOE ROARTY… with special, musical guests playing blues, Irish, rockabilly, bluegrass.
GRANT CLAUSER is the author of the book, The Trouble with Rivers ( Foothills Publishing, 2012). He earned an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University where he was a Richard Devine Fellow. In 2010 he was selected as the Montgomery County Pennsylvania Poet Laureate by Robert Bly. He started the Montco Wordshop in Lansdale and he has conducted workshops for the Musehouse Writing Center and Philadelphia Writers Conference. His favorite dry fly is the Parachute Adams. (http://www.uniambic.com/)
JOE ROARTY has been shiprekkd on the shores of the susquehanna and has made his way 2 Philly. He is a performance artist who has performed his work across the United States.(http://www.foxchasereview.org/10SU/JoeRoarty.html)
PAUL SIEGELL is the author of three books of poetry: wild life rifle fire (Otoliths Books, 2010), jambandbootleg (A-Head Publishing, 2009) and Poemergency Room (Otoliths Books, 2008). Paul is a senior editor at Painted Bride Quarterly. Kindly find more of Paul’s work – and concrete poetry t-shirts – at “ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL” (http://paulsiegell.blogspot.com/).
213 MAPLE AVE, WYNCOTE, PA 19095
DONATION $15.00. (All proceeds to poets & musicians)
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Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining a fantastic group of poets reading at the 25th annual (wow–25 years) Mad Poets Festival in Media PA. An impressive crowd of poets attended and read, including Joseph Farley, Leonard Gontarek (and his teenage son Max), David Kozinski, Allison Hicks, Peter Krock (editor of the Schuylkill Valley Journal) and many more.
A highlight for me was seeing Daniel Hoffman, the nation’s first Poet Laureate (before the title had that name) and winner of the National Book Award. He’s 89 years old,turning 90 very soon, and read a poem about that at the festival (see video below). I mentioned to him before the reading that I’d recently been reading his book The Center of Attention and was actively stealing ideas from it. His 14th book of poems is soon to be released.