New Issue of Poets’ Quarterly

The new issue of Poets’ Quarterly just launched late last week. I’m thrilled to have an essay published on the influence of Ezra Pound on William Carlos Williams’ and T.S. Eliot’s poetry. My essay can be read here. The magazine also published my review of Martha Collins’ latest collection of poems, White Pages, one of the most provocative, interesting books I have ever read in regards to race and class. You can read that review here. In addition, they published my review of Jim’ Davis latest collection of poems, Assumption. Davis is the editor of North Chicago Review.

Check out the complete issue. There is a wonderful interview with National Book Award finalist Stanly Plumly, an essay on what not to do when submitting your work to literary journals, and over a dozen other reviews.

The Ghost of Form

I have been spending a good portion of this summer doing a lot of reading for my first Ph.D. field exam, which is focusing on William Carlos Williams and T.S. Eliot. What I have always liked about these poets is their differing views on approaching poetry and form. Williams felt that American poetry should sound distinctly American, and he aimed to capture the American vernacular in verse, and to his ire, Eliot was more of a traditionalist who often referenced Shakespeare, Dante, Greek mythology and other classicist literature, while using more traditional forms in his work, especially in his later work. Williams famously said that The Wasteland set American poetry “back 50 years” for its references to classic literature and its reliance in certain sections on traditional meter. Yet, as experimental as Williams was, certainly more so than Eliot, he did not believe that verse could ever be truly free. In the book William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, by Joel Conarroe, the author makes a great point that for Williams free verse did not exist because poetry requires some sort of measure. This is a little different, however, from Eliot’s belief that behind free verse there lurks a ghost of meter. Williams believed that the measure had to reflect the times and not necessarily rely on tradition. Thus he believed in trying to capture American speech in verse as he heard in such speech a musicality, a sense of measure.

Eliot and Williams’ views on free verse and form are important, especially to anyone teaching a creative writing class. These are two of the most influential and experimental poets of the 20th Century, yet they did believe in establishing some form and structure, though they approached that task rather differently. Whenever I have taught intro to creative writing and even upper level creative writing class,  I have encountered students time and time again that believe in no rules.  So what separates their poetry from chopped prose? A good exercise regarding form is to take a free verse poem by Williams, or even Walt Whitman, and find some structure in it. Look at the line lengths. Count the syllables. Look at the stanzas.  I have done this before, and it helps students to understand that even free verse needs some sort of measure and some backbone of structure.

Poets on Stamps

The United States Postal Service has decided to create stamps in honor of some of some of the most influential 20th Century American poets. The list includes Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, Theodore Roethke, Denise Levertov, and Joseph Brodsky (who was actually born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. in the 1970s, after he was exiled by the Soviet government). If you like poetry and haven’t heard of most of these names, pick up a contemporary American poetry anthology or their collections. A lot of them shaped and influenced the genre not only through their poems, but also through their essays on craft.

 

As is, this list stands as a pretty good representation of some of the most influential poets of the last century. I did wonder why some names were left off, though. It’s funny to see William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens pictured on stamps, but not T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, the other two godfathers of Modernism. Sure Pound and Eliot spent part or even most of their careers oversees, but they were born in America. I also wonder why Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell (Sylvia Plath’s early mentor), don’t get a stamp. And what about Whitman and Dickinson?  I’m hoping there will be another set of stamps to feature some more poets. But it’s cool the USPS is even releasing this set, which I’ll buy and save once it’s released.

Yes, Poetry Matters

Over the last few years, and especially this year, there have been HUGE cuts to the arts in state and federal budgets, as this country tries to pay for two wars (even if they’ve been “scaled down”), and tax cuts for the wealthy.  Since these cuts started, I haven’t come across a lot of articles that make a solid defense for the importance of the arts, especially for poetry. However, a friend posted on Google + yesterday an article published at the Huffington Post by poet/book reviewer Roger Housden, who makes the case for poetry. Read the article here. In the article, Housden points out that we may never be the same again after reading poetry, that poetry “calls to us” and can ignite a fire within us. I agree with this theory. When I had my first poetry workshops as an undergrad at West Chester University, I was never really the same again. I felt that fire he mentions in the article, and I started writing poetry, thinking about it, and organizing readings. I hope other students have this same opportunity and schools don’t do away with such classes because of budget retraints.

Poetry is also important, he writes, because it “uses the common currency of our daily speech. It uses words that are known to all of us, but in a sequence and order that surprises us out of our normal speech rhythms and linear thought processes.”

Above all, poetry nourishes the imagination through surprising language and imagery, a point made well in the William Carlos Williams poem “Of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” also quoted in the article.

It is difficult
To get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably every day
For lack
Of what is found there.