Happy Frank Stanford Day

ImageWhen I was in grad school in Bowling Green, Brian Ownbey introduced me to Frank Stanford. The 1991 collection The Light the Dead See had just come out. It contained selections from most of Stanford’s books. At the time no other book made a greater impact on me. Today is his birthday.

Here’s an article at the Poetry Foundation web site all about him.

New Book by Ray Greenblatt

My friend and fellow Pennsylvanian Ray Greenblatt just released his latest book, Bleached Spines, from Poetica Publishing. I think this is his 14th collection. Ray frequents the Mad Poets events around Philadelphia and shows up at Schuylkill Valley Journal readings, which has published a lot of his work.
I know a little bit about this book, since I wrote the back cover blurb, so I’ll share that with you here:

“Ray Greenblatt’s poetry is one of authority, observation and a devotion to the moment. His poems are populated with characters, landscapes, rooms and personal shadows, and he lets these fragments become instruments toward understanding.

Poets often instruct newer writers to include details, to pay attention to the small things that make the world real and specific, yet details without insight makes for a boring and unenlightened art. Greenblatt clearly believes this too, because he rummages around through streets and trails for the particulars, yet always employs them as means toward a greater insight. It’s that openness to insight, a willingness to let the world show you something new and surprising, which makes life interesting, and these poems wonderful and instructive. You can see this openness to surprise throughout the book. In “Earth Stood Still” the speaker moves from a pastoral description into the revelation “I tried to dance / but felt like a tree in growth.”

Sorting through those transcendent moments seems to be a constant and fruitful preoccupation. Moments such as we find in “Expectation” in which the poet observes “we have already placed / in memory sun-slanted colors / transient odors” show us a poet who is loyal to his environment. That, I believe, is an important point—a poet earns the reader’s trust by his authenticity, honesty and his ability to match the words to the experience, not twist the words into something artificial. There’s nothing artificial here. Greenblatt’s words work because he has put the time and attention into earning them.”

You can see one of the poems from the book here. Ray will be reading at various spots around Philly probably this fall, so I urge you to buy a copy directly from him. You can send $15 to:

Ray Greenblatt
P.O. Box #39
Charlestown, MD 21914

Musehouse Featured on WHYY Friday Arts

Musehouse, the new writing/literary center in Philadelphia, is being featured this month on WHYY (public television) Friday Arts show. In it director Kathleen Bonanno talks about why she started the center and importance of writing in the community. She shares some of her poems from Slamming Open the Door. You’ll also see cameos from Leonard Gontarek, David Bananno, Amy Small-McKinney and Joanne Leva.

By the way, I teach a class in poetry writing at Musehouse. You can check it out and sign up here.

You can watch the Friday Arts program on TV or check out the video here.

The Pessimism of Jack Gilbert

Update: I recently learned the Jack Gilbert passed away Sunday, November 11. You can read more about that here.

I came across this set of interviews with Jack Gilbert today(April 23, 2012). He’s one of my favorite poets, and I’ve mentioned him on UnIambic several times. I love the simplicity, the sincerity of his poems. How he’s able to be completely at ease pouring out intense emotion without being sentimental or maudlin about it.

In the interview he discusses some of his apprehension with publishing, his disappointment with much of the contemporary po-biz and his poor outlook on the future of poetry. OK, some of that I agree with, but I also feel he shortchanges poets in a big way. Yes, there are the career-minded poets, the post-modern tricksters, the posers and all the rest: “Much of postmodern poetry has no significance at all.” But he overstates how much poetry or poets have changed, and underestimates the sincerity of many of today’s poets.

That’s not surprising really. For a large part of his adult life I believe Gilbert has lived a partial hermit’s life, if not physically (as in the years he spend on Greek islands) then mentally or emotionally. He’s a person who thrives on removing himself from the pressures of the rest of the world, while he focuses on the inner world.

He says: “I don’t believe people would continue to write poetry, most of them, if there was no money to be made in poetry.” Here I assume he’s referring to the career academicians and big prize money winners, yet how could he not realize that poetry is so much more than that. Look around here (the greater Philadelphia area). There are scads of poets, with no academic affiliations,  working alone and together for just the pleasure of the poems themselves (see this recent Philly.com article on the scene.)

He also says some things in this interview which are a bit dishonest to himself. His comments on craft, for instance, he critiques the workshop experience here:

“Nobody wants to talk about how a poem works, what its purpose is. They all want to deal with the outside of the poem. Does it look good? Should I take the left line out and put it over here? How should I make the rhythm correct and such. But hardly anybody talks about the strategies of poetry, or how you make poetry live, how to use concrete detail rather than similes, goddamned similes, the weakest kind of resource there is in poetry. People are so much in love with similes. It’s a pity. The mechanics of poetry have little to do with design.”

Yet he came out of one of the most celebrated workshop programs (Iowa Writers’ Workshop). Speaking of similes here’s a couple of lines from one of my favorite Gilbert poems Finding Something

“The arches of her feet are like voices

of children calling in the groves of lemon trees

where my hart is as helpless as crushed birds.”

His craft is not the obvious, meticulously tinkered craft, but it’s a craft that shows he understands the workmanship of writing, the effort that goes into making something feel effortless.

Anyway, this interview, while illuminating, also makes me sad because I don’t feel poets and poetry warrant the negativity and pessimism he heaps upon them. I hope and believe he’s wrong.

The interview is from the book  Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs which I’ve just added to my Amazon wish list.

Interview with Nathaniel Perry on APR

I recently conducted an interview with Nathaniel Perry, author of the very fine collection of poems Nine Acres.

I encourage you to get over to the the American Poetry Review to read the whole thing.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the interview:

Grant Clauser: Did the concept for this book develop after you’d already written a few of the poems, or did you envision the collection and then write to fit within the mode?

Nathaniel Perry: I did write a few of the poems first and then the concept came to me pretty quickly. I think the first poem I wrote was the one with the seed catalog (“Vegetable crops to Avoid and to Choose”), and it happened to be in that form of simple rhymed quatrains in tetrameter, and I had maybe thought of doing a group of 10 or so with the titles from the M.G. Kains book, but the form felt fun, and was engaging for me, and I soon decided I was going to do all of the chapters.  I guess I didn’t initially even realize it was going to be book-length.

GC: I find this book to be very much like a journal—recounting the events of a year. Like a journal it tells a story, without relying on narrative. How fully formed in your head was this narrative when you were writing it?

NP: Strangely, not really at all as I was writing it. I assumed that I would put the poems in the order that they appeared in the original book, but then somebody pointed out to me very late in the process after I had already written all of the poems that there were 52 poems which was equal to the weeks in a year and it dawned on me that they could fit into the cycle of a single year. I remember taking all the poems and just sorting them out by spring, summer, fall, winter and seeing what that looked like and being pretty happy with that. I’m still happy with it.

GC: I noticed shifts and waves in the relationship between the husband and wife throughout the book.

NP: Well, you’re married. There are always shifts and waves. I won’t hide behind the fact that many of these poems are sentimental and sweet, but I like to think that’s still possible without being necessarily bad, and so the way to do that is to be true to the way relationships are. They can be hard and frustrating and full of doubt while simultaneously being joyful and intimate and full of starlight, so I wanted to show what an actual relationship looks like.

Nathaniel Perry