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.

Fox Chase Review

ryerssMany 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.

ryerss farm for aged aquinesUpon Anne Waln Ryerss death she bequeathed funds to establish a hospital for ill, aged and injured animals and additional funds to maintain a…

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Review: Seven Places In America by Miriam Sagan

seven places coverFrequently 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,

Gives way

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.

meadowlark

body of liberties

forest

body of knowledge

dream

body of research

fireflies

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.

Who Put the Washington Post in Charge of Poetry?

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.

Interview with Me for Missouri Writers’ Conference

MWC interview grant ClauserIn 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.