My Recent Browsing History

Here are some of the recent articles that have caught my eye.

Is the human brain hardwired to appreciate poetry?
George Saunders: what writers really do when they write
Storyhealing

Literature can enthuse medicine, and medicine can inspire literature. They are complementary treatments for being human.

The Stubborn Optimist

Following the persevering example of the writer and activist Grace Paley

THE ILLNESS AND INSIGHT OF ROBERT LOWELL

A new book is the first to bring clinical expertise to the poet’s case. What does it reveal about his work?

Did Jane Austen die of arsenic poisoning? Maybe. Maybe not.

April Is National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month, held every April, is the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.

Inspired by the success of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), the Academy of American Poets founded National Poetry Month in April 1996. This celebration aims to:

  • highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets,
  • encourage the reading of poems,
  • assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms,
  • increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media,
  • encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and
  • encourage support for poets and poetry.

kid with booksNational Poetry Month features several projects aimed at getting students interested in reading, thinking about, and writing poetry. One such project is Dear Poet, a multimedia education project for grades five through 12 that asks students to write letters in response to hearing poems read by award-winning poets. Both students and teachers can find information on how to participate here.

The National Poetry Month website also offers links to lesson plans for teachers as well as lists of poems organized by occasion and of poetry events (“poetry near you”). You can also sign up for the following newsletters:

  • Poem-a-Day Newsletter
  • Academy of American Poets Newsletter
  • Academy of American Poets Educator Newsletter

Here are 30 ways to celebrate national poetry month (click on this link to see the list presented with links to resource materials):

  1. Order a free National Poetry Month poster and display it at work or school.
  2. Sign up for Poem-a-Day and read a poem each morning.
  3. Deepen your daily experience by reading Edward Hirsch’s essay “How to Read a Poem.”
  4. Memorize a poem.
  5. Create an anthology of your favorite poems on Poets.org.
  6. Encourage a young person to participate in the Dear Poet project.
  7. Buy a book of poetry from your local bookstore.
  8. Review these concrete examples of how poetry matters in the United States today.
  9. Learn more about poets and poetry events in your state.
  10. Ask your governor or mayor for a proclamation in support of National Poetry Month.
  11. Attend a poetry reading at a local university, bookstore, cafe, or library.
  12. Read a poem at an open mic. It’s a great way to meet other writers in your area and find out about your local poetry writing community.
  13. Start a poetry reading group.
  14. Write an exquisite corpse poem with friends.
  15. Chalk a poem on the sidewalk.
  16. Write a letter to a poet thanking them for their work.
  17. Ask the United States Post Office to issue more stamps celebrating poets.
  18. Recreate a poet’s favorite food or drink by following his or her recipe.
  19. Read about different poetic forms.
  20. Read about poems titled “poem.”
  21. Read the first chapter of Muriel Rukeyer’s inspiring book, The Life of Poetry.
  22. Subscribe to American Poets magazine or a small press poetry journal.
  23. Watch Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ latest Poets on Poetry video.
  24. Watch or read Carolyn Forche’s talk “Not Persuasion, But Transport: The Poetry of Witness.”
  25. Read or listen to Mark Doty’s talk “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now.”
  26. Read Allen Ginsberg’s classic essay about Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”
  27. Watch a poetry movie.
  28. Sign up for a poetry class or workshop.
  29. Get ready for Mother’s Day by making a card featuring a line of poetry.
  30. Celebrate National Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30, 2015. The idea is simple: select a poem you love, carry it with you, then share it with coworkers, family, and friends.

The following organizations helped make National Poetry Month 2015 possible: 826 National, American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, Graywolf Press, National Council of Teachers of English, National Endowment for the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Papyrus, Random House, and Scholastic.

WordPress Writing 201: Poetry Class, Day 10

It’s the final day of this course, Day 10, which offers the following challenges:

  • Prompt: future
  • Form: sonnet
  • Device: chiasmus

Sonnet

A sonnet is normally composed of 14 lines of verse.

There are several ways you can split your sonnet into stanzas (if you wish to), though the most common ones are 8–6 and 4–4–3–3.

Likewise, if you decide to use rhyme in your sonnet, you can choose between various rhyming schemes, like ABAB BCBC CDCD EE, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, or ABBA ABBA CDC DCD, among others.

At their best, something happens between the first and last verse, and especially between the first eight and final six lines. You want your reader to have experienced something more than just a brief sonic pleasure. You want to present a fully-formed thought.

Chiasmus

At its simplest, a chiasmus is essentially a reversal, an inverted crossing (it got its name from the greek letter chi – X)… From a fairly straightforward reordering of words — where A and B are repeated as B and A — a chiasmus can develop into more complex structures: instead of words, phrases. Instead of phrases, ideas or concepts. Chiasmus is effective in poems because it’s a form of repetition — and by now we all now how crucial repetition is for poetry. But the reversal injects the repeated words with freshness, and allows us to play with (and radically change) the meaning of a line.

Writing Process

I had seen today’s assignment last night, so when I came across this article, I knew it had to be my future subject.

A Brave New World?

In an article in The Guardian a doctor announces,
“Full-body transplants could take place in just two years.”
Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero says he should be able
To graft a living person’s head onto a donated body.

This procedure could prolong the lives of people with terminal illness,
Canavero says, and he’s developing a program
To train neurosurgeons to do the complex surgery
Necessary to make the procedure work.

Forget the complex surgery. What would it be like
To wake up inside a brand new body? Would the brain
Think it lived inside an alien creature?

And what about the consciousness that once belonged to the grafted brain?
Would it still retain its sense of identity?
The brain does not = consciousness, nor does consciousness = the brain.

WordPress Writing 201: Poetry Class, Day 8

Today’s Day 8 assignment involves:

  • Prompt: drawer
  • Form: ode
  • Device: apostrophe

Ode

An ode is a laudatory poem celebrating a person, an object, a place, etc. It can come in any form these days, having shed its ancient (and much stricter) formal requirements.

At their best, odes are both a compelling portrait of something and an investigation (tacit or explicit) of the poet’s own relation to that thing.

For your poem today, focus on details — the things that make your chosen object unique — but also on the effect it produces on others (you or someone else).

Apostrophe

apostrophe (a-POS-truh-fee) … occurs when the speaker in the poem addresses another person or an object (usually personified) directly.

You can write a poem that is made up entirely of one extended apostrophe, or switch back and forth between addressing your reader and addressing someone (or something) else.

What tone and flavor will you choose for your apostrophe? Will it be plaintive, nostalgic, angry, admiring? The way you shape your address will greatly influence the feel of your poem.

Writing Process

One way to go about composing your ode would be, first, to make a list of the qualities and details you’d like to highlight, and then try to work them into a poem, crossing off those you’ve covered. Another: write as if you’re shooting a movie, following the subject of your ode from top to bottom, from left to right, etc.

My first task is to choose an object to center on. I chose the inscribed bracelet that I put on every morning because of its association with a friend of mine and also because I take it out of the drawer of my nightstand to put it on (clever incorporation of the prompt drawer).

bracelet

(The photo is the best I could do at the office with my phone.)

Here are the qualities and details of the bracelet that I’d like to highlight:

  • gold
  • inscription
  • scratched from long usage

An Ode to My Bracelet, in Memory of Frayne

Every morning after I’m showered and dressed
I open my nightstand drawer,
And take out my jewelry: a watch, three rings,
And you, my beloved gold bracelet.

You’re golden, just like Frayne,
My friend in whose memory I wear you.
She wore your sister in silver
Because she believed the inscription.

“Forever is now” she wanted to stress.
Her cancer advancing, she wanted to
Appreciate each day that she had left
And live it to the fullest.

She did. And now the scratches on you
Remind me of how very many days
I’ve worn you since…
Forever. Now. Always.

WordPress Writing 201: Poetry Class, Day 7

Here’s the assignment for Day 7:

  • Prompt: fingers
  • Form: prose poetry
  • Device: assonance

Prose Poetry

A prose poem is any piece of verse written using the normal typography of prose, while still maintaining elements of poetry, like rhythm, imagery, etc.

The words may be arranged typographically like any piece of prose, but the sounds, the rhythms, and the imagery all pull us in the direction of poetry.

Since you can’t use the page (or screen) the same way you do with regular verse — you simply write to the end of each line — the power of the language needs to come through via other channels: repetition, well-chosen consonants, striking similes and metaphors, or any other device you feel might tip the scale toward poetry.

Assonance

the strategic repetition of vowels in close proximity to each other.

Writing Process

I can’t document why I wrote about this topic because it came to me unawares, as so often happens when I read or think about something, then leave it to percolate while I move on to something else.

But here’s an interesting aside: As a result of this course, I’m beginning to think sometimes in rhyming couplets. I thought prose poetry would be relatively easy to write because of the lack of constricting form. But the rhyming couplets keep coming out to play, making the writing sound more like traditional poetry than prose poetry.

Go figure.

Remembrances

This photo album in my lap contains memories from times past. As my fingers turn the pages I focus on the faces of those whom I’ll never see again anywhere but here.

My father is here. The fading photos mirror my fading memories of someone who died just before I turned twelve. The earliest photos, from before I was born, show him happy, handsome in his Navy uniform. Then a few show him holding me, a tiny baby. In several more I’m two or three. My father appears in only black and white, the fate of someone who died before the common use of color photography.

Grandma T., who helped raise me, is here as well. In black and white she and Grandpa stand outside the farmhouse in upstate New York, where I spent the happiest two years of my childhood life. Grandpa died early, but Grandma lived long enough to appear in color before she disappears.

My in-laws are here, too, the ones who showed me that marriage could be a bond forged in loving harmony. Their love and acceptance shaped the adult this adolescent me grew up to be and altered my view of family. They’re preserved in color photography.

And friends appear here. Anne and Frayne, the two who, for me, remain the touchstone of my definition of friend. Both lost within ten months, but here, in color, they continue to smile at me.

My fingers close this book of the people who’ve turned my world from black and white into colorful remembrances of life.