October 6, 2017

A Poem's Capacity

What is the difference between poetry and prose? Poems rely on figurative language. In metaphors, the writer can reach more meanings. As Mary Oliver said, a good poem casts more than one shadow. In addition to the ability to evoke more, poems also seem to use voice somewhat differently. A poet throws her voice into other things, animals, plants, and beings. For instance, Denise Levertov wrote:
When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
Poets leap into figurative language, and figurative language has more imaginative capacity. Here's an excerpt by "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath:
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
Other writers have written about the difference between poetry and prose. Irish poet Seamus Heaney said poems are melodious and true. French poet Paul Valéry said that poetry is physiological. Connected to the breath, poetry is a little machine made to recreate the experience in the reader. The language is memorable. In prose, the words are not meant to take any focus away from the story. The words dissipate once meaning is delivered. Gertrude Stein found another difference between poetry and prose--nouns. She said:
Poetry is I say essentially a vocabulary just as prose is essentially not. And what is the vocabulary of which poetry absolutely is. It is a vocabulary based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun. Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun. It is doing that always doing that, doing that doing nothing but that. Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns. That is what poetry does, that is what poetry has to do no matter what kind of poetry it is. And there are a great many kinds of poetry. So that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose.
This is from her essay, "Poetry and Grammar," in Lectures in America (1935). Stein's experimental prose sheds light. There are many 'object poems,' and these essentially center upon the use of nouns. These noun poems are personas. Like in Plath's poem, the object is voiced. Louise Glück, in her beautiful collection Wild Iris projects her voice into the irises, poppies, violets, and other blooms in the garden. She speaks also as if she were the creator, God. As if in dialogue with other poets, Charles Simic goes inside a stone and makes it more capacious:
Go inside a stone.
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.
This is not all the poetry can do. Sound becomes is an important element: vowel assonance, consonance, and repetitions. Melodious, as Heaney said. The voice also can be direct, from the poet to the reader. In the following poem by Antonio Machado:
Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship's wake in the sea.
The words traveler, road, walk, path, no, never weave back and forth in the poem's lines and weave an interesting net around the reader that takes away the ground where we walk. The world of poetry is a different world; things are not as they seem. In the following excerpt of John Haines poem, "If the Owl Calls Again," there is yet another technique, a shape-shifting, when the narrator in the poem becomes an owl: "I'll wait for the moon/ to rise/ then take wing and glide to meet him." The boundaries are more fluid in poetry.

These are one of many changes that poems can create, and in this way, they become fascinating, flexible, and charming mechanisms. Agency and voice can change in a poem, and a poem can enact changes in both poets and readers. Gertrude Stein is right; they are created by loving the names of things and loving the language that we speak. They are perhaps the closest thing to magic. Poems are enchanting beasts.

September 8, 2017

Upcoming Poetry Readings

If you are in the area, please come!


September 9, 2017 at 2 - 6 pm:  A Finland Celebration!  The Crown Ballroom, Hibbing, Minnesota  http://bit.ly/2vMq71W

September 22, 2017 at 1 pm:  Finnfest 2017 at the Hilton in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Friday and Saturday reading events will occur in the sunny glass Atrium in Orchestra Hall.  https://finnfest.us/festival-2017/

November 13, 2017 at 6 pm : Ladies of the Kaleva, Duluth, Minnesota

In Finland: Sibelius: Kullervo and Kortekangas: Migrations

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence!

Migrations will have its premier in Lahti, Finland this fall.  October 19, 2017:

Migrations (Finnish Premiere), Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo-soprano, YL Male Voice Choir, Sinfonia Lahti, cond. Dima Slobodeniuk

The music is composed by Olli Kortekangas, the text is written by Sheila Packa. The Minnesota Orchestra Symphony is conducted by Osmo Vänskä.

Arts Express Workshop September 30 & October 7, 2017

I hope you can join us to do creative work in a supportive healing community!

Arts Express - For area cancer survivors & caregivers

Join us for one or all of our upcoming Arts Express activities this year! From a brief intro to a multi-day workshop in Duluth, our artist/teachers can guide ANY body into arts. Poetry writing, sketching & collage, movement, even video-making.
Arts Express Workshop:
Join a small group for this two-day workshop of expressive writing, drawing, and moving. Art for anybody guided by experienced artist/teachers: Sheila Packa, Elizabeth Kuth, and Lisa McKhann. Plus extra video component at UMD with Joellyn Rock, for 9 lucky participants who want to bring it all together in digital re-mixing!

Workshop - 10 hours of Creative Time
Saturday, September 30 and October 7
10:00 am - 3:00 pm
At Duluth Art Institute's Lincoln Center
2229 West 2nd Street, Duluth

Optional Video Collage Session
Tuesday, October 10 or October 17
3:00 pm - 7:00 pm

UMD - Motion & Media Across Disciplines (MMAD) Lab

There will be a $20 registration fee. Space limited to 18 for the workshop.

Here's the link: http://www.projectlulu.org/arts_express/index.html
Register Now
Your spot in the workshops will be confirmed upon receipt of the registration fee.
Send $20, payable to Project Lulu, to:
Project Lulu, 2109 Minnesota Ave., Duluth, MN 55802
For more information about this Arts Express workshop, please contact Jeanne Riese, jeanne@projectlulu.org.

August 19, 2017

The Pleasure of Getting Lost

Valéry wrote in his “Discourse on Aesthetics:”

      Poets enter the enchanted forest of Language with the express purpose of
      getting lost, getting high on being lost, looking for crossroads of significance,
      unforeseen echoes, stranger encounters; they fear neither detours, nor
      surprises, nor the dark. But the man who comes here excitedly running
      after “truth,” following one single and continuous road...not wanting to lose
      either his way or the road already covered, risks capturing only his own
      shadow. Gigantic sometimes, but still just a shadow. 

To engage with poetry brings a writer into new regions, not necessarily a new landscape but a new attention to possibility, a new consciousness. In time, a good poem will continue to evoke new meanings and, in doing so, refreshes perception and experience with its power. 

May 18, 2017


Ann Carson's new book promises to be interesting. As always, she provides both amusement and food for thought as she explores form. There is no designated order for reading the parts, it is as she suggests "a free fall."
Float, her most ambitious publication since Nox (2010)... a boxed collection of twenty-two individually bound chapbooks in a sleek plastic case, it includes some traditional lyrics, some translations, some plays and scenes from plays—what readers might think of as lyric-dramas. It also features essays, lists, and loosely structured meditations. In fact we might say the pieces “float” in a loose network of relations, interchangeable in order and readable as individual projects, but connected by a strand of interrelated themes—the problem of representation, translation as an act of creation, and the idea of “network” itself. The book, if we can call it a book, contests not only conventional understandings of genre and readership, but, through its collective disjunction, the classificatory modes by which we comprehend our realities. Float urges us, at least implicitly, to reconsider the essential divisions we fashion between subject and object, self and other, bodies and the spaces they inhabit.

Read the full review at http://bostonreview.net/poetry/john-james-astralize-night

On the other side of the spectrum, Robert Hass book recently came out, A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry.  It's 400 pages.  He orders the manuscript starting with poems of one line, couplets, triolets, quatrains, and in ascending order and he considers the history of the particular stanza and its effect in a poem. The book represents an accumulation of years of notes, and he also makes lists of poems for the reader to investigate.  It is a thorough analysis.

As he notes in the brief introduction, this has been a work in progress for two decades. His modest goal is to explain how the “formal imagination actually operates in poetry,” the “way the poem embodies the energy of the gesture of its making.” Hass begins with analyses of a single line, then two, three, and four, which take up the book’s first 100 pages. Next, he moves on to form (blank verse, sonnet, etc.) and genre (ode, elegy, satire, prose poems, etc.), finishing up with stress and rhythm. Along the way, he draws on hundreds of examples of lines, stanzas, and complete poems from the history of poetry, which he carefully selects to illustrate his points. 

The full review is at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/robert-hass/a-little-book-on-form/

Lately, I've been contemplating the past year's work on my desk, poems, prose, and memoir.  Both of these book offer thoughts about structure.

April 23, 2017

Cecil Taylor: The Attempt to Levitate

Cecil Taylor, jazz musician and poet:

“So poets who perhaps attempt to levitate—the process to achieve that, the thing that all poets have in common, the internal material—is the development of the senses to respond to the particular media you’re working in. And since that kind of work has no basis in commercial reality, then the activity must be about developing those monuments to the flowering of the senses.”

This exhibit was at the Whitney Museum, NY in 2016.

February 24, 2017

Sibelius Kullervo Kortekangas Migrations: Minnesota Orchestra

I'm thrilled that Kortekangas set my poems into the music.  "Migrations" is well matched to the driving and intense Kullervo, composed by Sibelius.  The Minnesota Orchestra performance, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, recorded here on CD, is stunning and beautiful.

Here are awesome reviews:
The Guardian:

Helsinki Sanomat:

San Francisco Chronicle http://www.sfchronicle.com/music/article/Sibelius-Kullervo-review-10934690.php

Klassik Heute (Germany)

Pizzicato: Remy Frank's Journal about Classical Music (Luxemburg)

Infodad.com / TransCentury Communications

MusicWeb International (United Kingdom)

Finnish Music Quarterly

Crescendo Magazine (Belgium) Apr 7, 2017

The CD is available anywhere, but also at: http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/buy/merchandise/cds-a-merchandise

To get the poems:  http://www.wildwoodriver.com/  The four poems are drawn from the books Cloud Birds and Echo and Lightning.

RondoClassic Magazine. (Helsinki, Finland):

December 26, 2016

Democracy: A Poem by Leonard Cohen

In these dark days Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman found comfort and hope in the work of Leonard Cohen. Together they recorded this new version of “Democracy.” Amanda composed the piano and Neil recorded the lyrics. Their friends David Mack and Olga Nunes created this stunning video to go with the song. 

December 13, 2016

One River Many Stories

Congratulations to Tom Isbell and the cast at UMD Theater.  "One River" has been chosen to travel to the KCACTF Region 5 Festival this January. This is a unique and moving performance that celebrates the history and people of the St. Louis River in Minnesota. And yes there are a few poems of mine in the script.

Also--if you missed your chance to see "One River" this fall, or would like to see it again--there will be having an encore performance at the Marshall Performing Arts Center at UMD in mid January before they leave for the festival. Hope to see you there!  

Kayla Peters playing the character of Sheila Packa in the play.