Two Award-Winning Poets Visiting the Region

If you’re in NEPA, there are two events worth checking out this week. Two poetry heavyweights are giving FREE readings! First, Maria Mazziotti Gillan is reading at Keystone College, in Evans Hall, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

Here is her bio:

Ms. Gillan has published 21 books, most recently the poetry collection What Blooms in Winter (NYQ, 2016) and the poetry collection with some of her paintings, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets (Redux Consortium). She is the founder and executive director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, Paterson, N.J. and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. Ms. Gillan is also director of the creative writing program and professor of poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY. She is the recipient of many awards for poetry and service to the literary community. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The New York Times, Poetry Ireland, Connecticut Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Christian Science Monitor, LIPS, and Rattle, as well as numerous other journals and anthologies.

Second, Yusef Komunyakaa is reading at Binghamton University this Thursday evening. For his bio and details about the reading, click here.

We’re lucky to have two big names and wonderful poetry advocates visiting this region within a day of each other.

 

Writing with Teens

I want to give a shout out to the fine folks at the Osterhout Library for letting me teach a poetry workshop for teens last week, in honor of National Poetry Month. The workshop was just what I needed, as the semester winds down and I, like my college students, start to feel the burnout that comes with a waning school year. At first, I was unsure if the workshop would be successful, since every teen wrinkled their noses confessed to me that they dislike poetry and don’t want to write it.

However, I first wanted to share with them contemporary poets and ideas that I thought they could relate to. I handed them a packet containing poems about teen/parent relationships and poems about place/location. We launched into Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s poem “Betrays.”  After I read the poem out loud, I was surprised by the number of comments. In fact, their comments were on the same level as some of my college literature courses. We probably could have spent the entire workshop discussing their poems and their reaction, but I wanted them to write. I wanted them to overcome that hurdle and their disdain for the genre. I gave them a simple prompt, in response to Maria’s poem. Write about your parents or a specific childhood memory.

 

At first, 20 minutes passed, and then 30. They barely looked up from their paper. By the end of the block of time, they each had a solid draft. One teen told me that he never tried writing before, but now he wants to start a writing group! Another teen mined his memory to address the day his dad left. Heavy stuff! We went over one more poem and did one more prompt. By the end, their minds opened to poetry, and I committed to doing another poetry workshop with them at some point, most likely over the summer. This is what National Poetry Month should be all about, not worrying so much about publication credits, but reaching communities that need poetry as a means of expression and communities that may not be that exposed to the art form.

Two More Poems for National Poetry Month

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I had a chance to pick the poems of the week for TheThePoetry blog. I meant to repost links to the poems on here each week, but due to my schedule of readings and work load, I didn’t have a chance yet to post the last two poems for the month.

Here is a link to Jeff Rath’s poem “On This Side,” and here is a link to Amanda J. Bradley’s poem, “Swallowed Whole.”

I hope that National Poetry Month was productive for the writers and led to the creation of new drafts or revisions of old poems. Keep reading and keep writing!

National Poetry Month at the Hoyt Library

In his essay, “Can Poetry Matter,” Dana Gioia talks about ways to make poetry readings more accessible. He has a lot of suggestions, including adding music to a reading, combining the literary arts with the visual arts, among other ideas. I’ve tried a lot of these in the past, and they do indeed work as a way to broaden the audience for poetry. He also stresses the importance of sharing poetry other than your own and reading a poem or two by someone else as a way to keep tradition alive.

While thinking about ways to do something different for National Poetry Month, some of my friends and I were approached by The Hoyt Library in Kingston, PA about doing an event for them. So, we decided that we’re going to do a panel/reading. As part of the panel, we’ll read/discuss two or so poems by some of our favorite poets and then share a few of our poems inspired by those poets. This is a way for us to give away and share poets that we love.

So, if you’re in the area and want to celebrate National Poetry Month, then come to the Hoyt! The event will be this Thursday, beginning at 6 p.m. and held in the reading room. The other poets involved are Dawn Leas and Scott Thomas. We’re looking forward to the event and would appreciate a strong turnout to ensure the Hoyt continues having events like this in the future.

Poems of the Week

During the month of April, I’ve been asked to select poems of the week for TheThePoetry blog, and doing so has been an honor and treat so far. As a way to celebrate National Poetry Month, I’ll post my selections here. All of the selections I’ve made so far are by poets whose work I deeply admire and poets who have been supportive of me in my career as a poet.

The first selection, which ran last week, is the poem “Bliss” by Christine Gelineau, which you can read here. The most recent poem of the week is “Watching the Pelican Die” by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, which you can read here. I am lucky and fortunate enough to know both poets. Christine was one of my mentors during my time spent completing my M.F.A. at Wilkes University, and Maria is currently one of my professors in my Ph.D. program at SUNY Binghamton. Both poets are strong supporters of their students and wonderful writers. I hope you enjoy ther work.

The website also just published an interview with Maria, some of which I want to quote here as a way to think about poetry, especially the narrative form that she and I use most often.

In regards to the narrative form, she says, “My vision of poetry is that it should be based on some essential truth about what it means to be human and I think narrative poetry gets at those truths more directly and effectively than many other types of poetry. I want to give people permission to tell their own stories and to look at the world unflinchingly through the their own eyes rather than worrying about what critics or literary theorists say about writing. Like Faulkner, I believe literature is about the truths of the human heart and not about intellectual analysis.”

Later in the interview, she says of the writing process, “I think it is unfortunate that so much of our education trains us to subdue all that is wild and primitive and honest inside ourselves and in our writing. I think that we have to be willing to let go, to ignore our intellect and allow instinct to take over. In revision, we can use our intellects, but in writing the poem we need to believe that this instinctive voice knows what we need to write and as soon as we look that very middle-class,suburban inside voice, we lose the energy and vitality in our work. Even in revision, we have to be careful, to prune the work with delicate hands.”

 

Enjoy the poems and enjoy the interview!

 

Some Reading for National Poetry Month

Happy April 1! In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d re-post Charles Bernstein’s essay “Against National Poetry Month,” an essay that is quite sarcastic at times, especially in the last paragraph, but an essay which  addresses the ways in which poetry has been under house arrest over the last few decades, to use a phrase from Adrienne Rich. Sometimes, I find Bernstein to be too over the top, but here, I agree with  few of his points.

One of his main gripes is that National Poetry Month promotes what he dubs safe, mainstream, anti-intellectual, non-challenging poetry. To quote from his essay, “Promoting poetry as if it were an ‘easy listening’ station just reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way.” There I agree with him.

He also makes a good point about poetry and capitalism when he states that a lot of the major corporate sponsors and chain bookstores that push National Poetry Month are also the ones who limit poetry’s accessibility by refusing to carry books by small poetry presses. He even calls out the New York Times for being a sponsor of National Poetry Month in the past but not giving any serious space for poetry book reviews or poetry itself.

I am not against National Poetry Month as much as Bernstein, and I am happy I have four or so events this month and tend to have a busy April every year, but I do think poetry should hold importance year round, and there are countless writers, conferences, small presses, editors, and book reviewers who try to ensure poetry is relevant beyond the month of April.

I am hoping some other folks will read Bernstein’s essay and offer comment.

Harpur Palate Launch Party

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, you should celebrate National Poetry Month by checking out the Harpur Palate Launch Party.

Harpur Palate is a journal run through the graduate English program of SUNY Binghamton. Its past issues have included new and established voices, including Sherman Alexie. This event will feature readings by four contributors to the new issue, including  William Cordeiro, Anna Catone, Benjamin Nadler, and I,  as well as the winner of an intern-sponsored writing contest.

Refreshments will be served, including wine, cheese and cracker platters, and desserts including a chocolate fondue fountain. This event will be held at RiverRead Books in downtown Binghamton, on Court Street. It starts at  7 p.m.