April 16, 2018

What is Poetry?

The Greek word poiesis means “making.” 
  • Jorge Luis Borges believed that “poetry is something that cannot be defined without oversimplifying it.  It would be like attempting to define the color yellow, love, the fall of leaves in autumn.”  
  • Joseph Brodsky described poetry as “accelerated thinking."
  • Seamus Heaney  called it “language in orbit.”
  • Coleridge claimed that poetry equals “the best words in the best order.”
  • Gertrude Stein decided, “Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns.”
  • George Santayana said that “poetry is speech in which the instrument counts as well as the meaning.” 
  • Paul Valery said the difference between poetry and prose is physiological.  
  • Marianne Moore says it like this: 
It comes to this: of whatever sort it is,
it must be "Lit with piercing glances into the life of things";
it must acknowledge the spiritual forces which have made it.

April 14, 2018

Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) decided, “Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns.”

Poetry & Memory

Poets and writers draw material from every day experience, from place, from memory and from interactions.

I gather together the dreams, fantasies, experiences that preoccupied me as a girl that stay with me and appear and reappear in different shapes and forms in all my work. Without telling everything that happened, they document all that remains most vivid. ~Bell Hooks, essayist 
The past is never dead. It’s not even past. ~William Faulkner, novelist
Certain experiences mark us, and images and memories lodge in the subconscious to emerge and re-emerge in dreams and in stories. They frame an individual's reality and filter new experience.  In poetry, another element is the body.

Paul Valery said the difference between poetry and other kinds of writing is physiological. Poetry is connected to the breath. Whether or not the poem is in formal verse, the rhythm, meter, and beat affect the lines in a poem, and these affect the reader who speaks these lines. In a poem, a reader steps into the breath of the writer for a few moments and from the writer, through the page, experiences the images, the body, and the experience. What has marked another writer is capable of marking a reader.  

Writing teacher William Zinsser said: 
Memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition. It may look like a casual and even random calling up of bygone events. It’s not; it’s a deliberate construction.
As a window, a photograph, and a deliberate construction, the image and poem is grounded in the body and also is a pattern of sound. It may be lyrical or not. It may be formal or not. The poet chooses words, vowels, consonants. The poet creates the energy.

I think of the poem as an instrument. It is a body with memory; a culture with a his(her)story. It has a shape with a resonant chamber, an architecture with a listening space, an ear for sound and composition. The poet deliberates on every element: the sound might be mellifluous or cacophonous. The poet makes the pauses and almost-rhymes, the length of lines and stanzas, and the arrangements and disarrangements. Along its strings or nerves, music rises in the images.  Listen. See.

March 31, 2018

Advice from Virginia Woolf

"Then let your rhythmical sense wind itself in and out among men and women, omnibuses, sparrows—whatever come along the street—until it has strung them together in one harmonious whole. That perhaps is [the writer’s] task—to find the relation between things that seem incompatible yet have a mysterious affinity...."  from A Letter to a Young Poet, 1932. 

Read more at https://lithub.com/essential-writing-advice-from-virginia-woolf/

March 4, 2018

Writing Workshop for Women Veterans

Women Veterans are invited to a retreat at Giant's Ridge in Biwabik.

I will be teaching a writing workshop at this event, on Saturday May 5, 2018 from 3:00-5:00 pm.

Every veteran has a story to tell, and we welcome you.


Recently, the Washington Post reported the United States has 2 million women veterans, and once they are back from duty, their service is often unacknowledged or even forgotten in our culture. Their stories are just now beginning to emerge. 

Read more at :

Form and Fairy Tales

I happened across an interesting essay by Kate Bernheimer, "Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale."
The essay begins by three inscriptions from Walter Benjamin, Italo Calvino, and Angela Carter.  Walter Benjamin says:
The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children
because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on
in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be,
the teller of fairy tales.
The fairy tales are enduring cultural narratives that have shaped every storyteller on earth. Bernheimer asks us to appreciate their qualities, which are not the qualities often celebrated or taught in creative writing classes. She says they have "four elements [in]  traditional fairy tales: flatness, abstraction, intuitive logic, and normalized magic."   She goes on to explain these four characteristics:
Fairy-tale characters are silhouettes, mentioned simply because they are there. They are not given many emotions—perhaps one, such as happy or sad—and they are not in psychological conflict.
 So, it is curious that we are so deeply imprinted by these characters.
Fairy tales [often tell not show]…rely on abstraction for their effect. Not many particular,
illustrative details are given. The things in fairy tales are described with open language.
Often called "just-so" stories, fairy tales relate events that would seem to have no connection, that are outside of concepts of cause/effect, commonly thought of as plot.
The language of traditional fairy tales tells us that first this happened, and then that happened. There is never an explanation of why. In fact the question why does not often arise....
The natural world in a fairy tale is a magical world. The day to day is collapsed with the wondrous. In a traditional fairy tale there is no need for a portal. Enchantment is not astounding. Magic is
Bernheimer says fairy tales bring together traditional and fantasy and avant garde writers, Countless poets have written work connected to fairy tales. Here is the first stanza of Sylvia Plath's Mirror:

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles.
I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart.
But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

This poem alludes to the queen's words, mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Fairy tales are a rich source of material for all poets.

Read Bernheimer's full essay here: http://www.katebernheimer.com/images/Fairy%20Tale%20is%20Form.pdf

February 19, 2018

Chance ::: Poems

Chance ::: Poems - Reading and Book Release Celebration on February 20, 2018, 6-8 pm in the Sax Brothers Gallery, Tweed Museum at UMD. A quartet of poets, Michael Kleber-Diggs, Julie Gard, Sheila Packa, Kathleen Roberts have their work brought together into a book with full color visual art by Kathy McTavish. The poems are also coded spaces that explore the intimate relationship people have through their devices to a rapidly developing networked omniscient intelligence.

December 2, 2017

Neruda: Wheels That Have Crossed Long, Dusty Distances

Pablo Neruda (from an introduction to his own work) wrote: 
It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coal bins, barrels, and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter's tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things - all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized. 
In them one sees the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and disuse of substances, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artifacts, inside and out. 
Let that be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand's obligations, as by acids, steeped in sweat and in smoke, smelling of lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we live by, inside the law or beyond it. 
A poetry impure as the clothing we wear, or our bodies, soup-stained, soiled with our shameful behavior, our wrinkles and vigils and dreams, observations and prophecies, declarations of loathing and love, idylls and beasts, the shocks of encounter, political loyalties, denial and doubts, affirmations and taxes. 
The holy canons of madrigals, the mandates of touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing, the passion for justice, sexual desire, the sea sounding-willfully rejecting and accepting nothing: the deep penetration of things in the transports of love, a consummate poetry soiled by the pigeon's claw, ice-marked and tooth-marked, bitten delicately with our sweatdrops and usage, perhaps. Till the instrument so restlessly played yields us the comfort of its surfaces, the woods show the knottiest suavities shaped by the pride of the tool. Blossom and water and wheat kernel share one precious consistency: the sumptuous appeal of the tactile. 
Let no one forget them. Melancholy, old mawkishness impure and unflawed, fruits of a fabulous species lost to the memory, cast away in a frenzy's abandonment-moonlight, the swan in the gathering darkness, all hackneyed endearments: surely that is the poet's concern, essential and absolute.
Those who shun the "bad taste" of things will fall flat on the ice.
Neruda, Pablo. Selected Poems. Grove Press. Translated by Ben Belitt. 1961.


November 6, 2017

Poetry as Technique: Strange and Wonderful

Poetry is all details. It's physiological. Poetry is breath, and poetry is perception. Schlovsky writes about the technique in art of defamiliarizing the familiar and slowing perception. He also applies this to poetry. Here are excerpts of Victor Schlovsky's essay "Art as Technique:"
And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar," to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object…
In my article on plot construction I write about defamiliarization in psychological parallelism. Here, then, I repeat that the perception of disharmony in a harmonious context is important in parallelism. The purpose of parallelism, like the general purpose of imagery, is to transfer the usual perception of an object into the sphere of new perception - that is, to make a unique semantic modification.
In studying poetic speech in its phonetic and lexical structure as well as in its characteristic distribution of words, and in the characteristic thought structures compounded-from the words, we find everywhere the artistic trademark - that is, we find material obviously created to remove the automatism or perception; the author's purpose is to create the vision which results from that deautomatized perception. A work is created "artistically" so that its perception is impeded and the greatest possible effect is produced through the slowness of the perception. As a result of this lingering, the object is perceived not in its extension in space, but, so to speak, in its continuity. Thus "poetic language" gives satisfaction. According to Aristotle, poetic language must appear strange and wonderful; and, in fact, it is often actually foreign: the Sumerian used by the Assyrians, the Latin of Europe during the Middle Ages, the Arabisms of the Persians, the Old Bulgarian of Russian literature, or the elevated, almost literary language of folksongs. The language of, poetry is, then, a difficult, roughened, impeded language. 
As Schlovsky writes, "...the general purpose of imagery is to transfer the usual perception of an object into the sphere of new perception," and "the language of poetry...is a difficult, roughened, impeded language."  This brings to mind the multitude of object poems and figurative techniques that take imaginative leaps.  Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" comes to mind with the lines

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. 
And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, 
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, 

gleams in all its power. 
. . . . . . . .

This is a torso only, and yet the eyes are like ripening fruit, and the gaze "gleams in all its power." It is not entirely strange to refer to an all-knowing, all-seeing god, but the sense of perception coming from the marble statue is wonderful and unsettling. Aren't museums and statues meant to be seen and not seeing?  The up-ended expectation reverses the direction of perception. This creates a shift in self-perception, in consciousness:  a knowledge of being seen by Apollo. The narrator can no longer bear his old way of being. He speaks not in second person point of view as if the force of encounter has already removed him from the "I."  The poem ends with the memorable lines "for here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life."  The repeated words "you. You..." are nearly stuttering.  This new vision, mentioned by Schlovsky, or a "semantic modification" has haunting results. 

Readings & Book Signing

Poetry Reading  Nov 13, 2017 at 6 pm
Knights and Ladies of the Kaleva
Aallottaren Tupa 15, Duluth
Kenwood Lutheran Church,
2720 Myers Ave., Duluth.

Book Signing
Night Train Red Dust
November 25, 2017 2:00-3:00 pm
Zenith Bookstore
318 Central Ave N, Duluth, Minnesota 55807

Celebrating Our Common Ground
Saturday, December 2, 2017 7:00-9:00 pm 
Duluth Township Hall, Homestead Road, Duluth 55804
(This is a Community Arts and Heritage Event) Images, Words and Music.
Photography Exhibit, Drawings by students at NSCS, Music and Storytelling
I'll talk about writing about place and read a few excerpts of Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range and new work in progress.