For the last three years I have been doing the NaPoWriMo challenge. In this challenge, you write a poem a day for the full month of April. For the first year, I was all free form, meaning only that I was free to explore any form I wanted to experiment with. The second year I did a project called “30 Poems About Language” inspired by a modern poetry MOOC and the modernist and language poems I was reading in that online class.
This year, in response to readings I’ve been doing for my web content strategy and/ social media marketing job tasks and a pilot class on mindfulness I had attended at Central New Mexico Community College, I decided to do a set of cognitive bias poems called “30 Poems About Suffering.” I would pick a cognitive bias from the Wikipedia list and address that bias with mindfulness techniques (and also something from the news of the day to try to prove I wasn’t writing ahead). Incorporating the news turned out to be the hardest part. There were other technical challenges, one poem itself explaining why there are only 29 poems.
Turns out cognitive biases so crucial to understanding why we don’t agree with other writers (or humans) about politics, art and and day-to-day life. The site The Hipper Element posted a great video this week explaining the power of our mental biases:
“Watch a smart, adult man UNLEARN his intuition about how to ride a bike. Then RELEARN it. Then watch his 6-year-old son do it in a fraction of the time. This video is so relevant to UX [and political strategists and artists and writers], it’s hard to know where to start. As UX designers our job is to unlearn our own intuition, so we can design for people who think differently. But it takes a lot of effort, and it’s hard to undo.” Watch the video.
Here are my 2015 NaPoWriMo "30 Poems About Suffering:"
And yet there' smore information about biases! Culturally, we’re very biased about color.As a poet, this is good to know:
“This graph from Information is beautiful shows what color most commonly represents what emotion across cultures. Look at number 84: Wisdom. In Japanese and Hindu cultures wisdom is purple, while it is brown in Native American and blue in Eastern European. Or Love, which is Red in the Western world yet green in Hindu, yellow in Native American, and blue in African cultures.”
From the blog post on Pickcrew. Click on the color wheel at the top of this post to view the full spectrum of cultural biases on color.
When I was working as the Interim Faculty Admin at the Institute of American Indian Arts a few years ago, one of the instructors there was teaching from the book Composition in Art by Henry Rankin Poore. I was able to read a bit of it while I was there. The section on entrances and exits in pictures seemed particularly useful to a the composition of a poem as well:
“While mystery, subtlety and evasive charm all have their place in a work of art, they should not stand in the way of one necessary quality—immediate attraction. The picture should be like an open door to the view without anything blocking the threshold.”
“There must be one spot or area to which the other parts are subordinate and to which the eye is immediately attracted…[it] must be simple and uncluttered and have the essential ingredient of leading the eye on further into the picture. Any one element that stops the eye so powerfully that it simply cannot go on is destructive to the composition.”
“Getting out of the picture successfully is every bit as important as getting into it. This does not mean, however, backing out…The exit should be so carefully guarded that after the viewer’s eye has roamed about and seen everything, it comes upon the exit naturally. Providing two or more exits is a common error of bad composition.”
A little snack of food-thought.
I have not connected yet to my local poetry scene in the ABQ. Being slightly hermitish, I need a somewhat more outgoing friend to assist in my branch out. In Santa Fe I did attend two or three readings given by a local poetry society but it was always a trial to drag along Monsieur Big Bang and I never felt comfortable going alone. It's not like poets are overly friendly at such things. Mr. BB did attend a recent Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) author’s event with me to see guest reader Arthur Sze.
CNM is not an art or liberal arts school. The school started as a technical college and has retained its core identity as a trade school. However, the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the resulting riots against police violence did manage to inspire an art piece here that captured the attention on local news. To repeat, the controversial art piece came not from the Art Institute of Santa Fe, or the Institute of American Indian Arts or from the big boy, UNM. No, the controversial piece came from CNM. Joshua Gonzales was one of the artists who made the piece out of plastic and tape. View the news piece.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working with a CNM English professor on a large web-content project and recently came across some recent video work he’s been involved in with his poetry students. Patrick Houlihan hosted a well-made video poetry reading called Cyber Nimbus Melodies.
Seven or so students read about five poems a piece in our production studio. Some awesome green screen backgrounds were used (explosive lightning, fire explosions, a pastoral kitchen scene). The sound quality and lighting gave these readings some pop. The fact is I would have loved the opportunity to practice reading during my undergraduate OR graduate school years. But YouTube wasn’t even a gleam in the Internet’s eye back then. Forget about having a full production studio we could have access to. Imagine this being a class requirement!
There are also some interesting poems here. Donald Seals’ piece “The Voice of Slavery” has a surprise ending. Elements of mindfulness and lives transforming populate his pieces. Dennis Noel had a great reading delivery and I loved his poem about pride and false self-esteem called “A Deadly Sin.” He also invoked Edward Munch, fractals and Zoloft. Fabulous!
Some of the poets became emotional while reading, including Tanya Gonzales (who quotes Marcel Proust about suffering in a poem that ended strong called “Good Grief”) and Reynaldo Garcia. I liked his poem “I Am Learning.” Claire Rutland had a strong one called “Buried Alive” and a untitled poem about issues of communication. Will Vega did a poem in Spanish and talked about willpower. And Josiah Ruanhorse was full of piss and vinegar in long pieces about ancestry and sobriety. Of all the poets, I probably disagreed the most with the content of his pieces (being a working woman and all), but I’d like to check back with him in 20 years and see where he's at then with his political views.
Many of the poets covered themes appropriate to young college students: pressing on, perseverance, failed love relationships, loss and students composed plenty of formal pieces for those naysayers who believe that kids today aren’t learning their forms.
As a poetry reader or writer, it’s important to hear the sounds of different voices, literally. This is the most powerful aspect of an open reading for me. In this "me-me-me" culture—we should always try to practice the art of seeing another person and listening to their physical voice.
CNM’s production studio also posted a video recording of the literary magazine launch.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in New Mexico, poet's here love marathon readings. Each one I’ve ever attended has stretched to at least 2 hours. But this video gives you a good sense of what college poetry readings are all about. A prominent ABQ slam poet named Don McIver begins the reading after Patrick Houlihan does an initial introduction. Houlihan speaks of poems as “brain prints on paper,” as unique as fingerprints. He also talks a bit about the project of putting the magazine together.
I guess I'm beginning to recognize poet faces. I’d just seen McIver a month ago doing a reading at a local showing of the 1980s William Burroughs biopic.
As far as readings go, I like to see what people wear. I saw everything from a Scorpions band t-shirt to sparkly party tops. I don’t know if it’s the Spanish influence here in New Mexico but a lot of the kids invoke the element of blood in their poems. This reminds me of the Spanish poets I like who tend to be more fully connected with ideas of the body and mortality.
While I was at IAIA, there were no student readings that I can remember. This might be because the student literary magazine had to be recalled the year I was there due to egregious layout issues. I managed to keep my copy and blogged about it. I haven’t read the CNM magazine yet but will post more about that soon.
How can poems transform the world? A chat with poet Jane Hirshfield (Washington Post)
Roque Dalton: The Revolutionary Life of a Revolutionary Poet (Roque Dalton, born May 14, 1935, should be seen in the same ranks as Jose Carlos Mariategui and Che Guevara. Like them, Dalton was a seminal figure for Latin American revolutionaries whose life was tragically cut short. (Telesur TV)
Poet Wo Chan uses words to fight oppression (PBS NewsHour)
Wo’s work has recently explored what they describe as “rage” at the power imbalances that exist in the U.S. For Wo, the process of experimenting with language also challenges the systems that create those imbalances.
Acclaimed poet's dog rescued after plunging 300 feet down cliff east of Port Angeles (Peninsula Daily News-Washington State)
Neruda still not reburied (Star Tribune)
The author was revealed this week (Rolling Stone) behind the very popular twitter phenom"So Sad Today." Some even speculated the author might be pop star Lana del Rey. It was, however, a poet named Melissa Broder who has published three books of poetry, most recently 2014's Scarecrone.
I'm in kind of void of postings because I'm on the cusp of a review of New Mexico poetry anthologies, a new new poll and a new list. None of those are ready yet so I suppose this is a good time to talk about the frustration of genres.
My first book of poems struggled for over 20 years to find publication. Although I would read the poems in workshops and at conferences and receive unbelievably positive feedback, something was wrong.
I say that because the level of positive response only confused me in light of the fact that I couldn't get this book any traction. A former editor of Graywolf Press even raved to my face about the poems at a Colrain conference eons ago. But contests and publishers were not interested. Twenty years of contest fees add up to that fact.
Was it the way I read them? I suck at readings so that definitely was not the case.
Meanwhile, a few years ago Graywolf itself published a book of science poems by Tracy K. Smith called Life on Mars, a book that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. My book was titled almost the same thing in one of its incarnations. In fact my 1997 thesis at Sarah Lawrence might be named something like that.
But my poems are different thank Smiths, our Mars subject aside. My poems are about the idea of U.S. manifest destiny as it pertains to our dream of colonizing Mars. Sounds like science fiction doesn't it and what literary publisher would like to publish anything slightly tainted with the stamp of SciFi. Answer: none.
Science fiction publishers didn’t appreciate the book either. Because it wasn't science fiction.
Thank God, technology in my lifetime has allowed me to pull my own project to fruition (self-publish) and move on with my life.
I'm only reminded of all this because last week USA Today published a story about how Elon Musk plans Seattle office for Mars colonization. The poems in Why Photographer’s Commit Suicide are based on Michael Collins’ book about similar plans to colonize Mars.
I now worry that my second book will suffer the same tragic fate. It’s another mashup book only this time its a mashup of Buddhism and cowboy stories. Cowboy stories. Oh dear. Sounds like cowboy poetry. Another literary poetry problem child. Such a throwback. Although they're not cowboy poems!
Philip Levine who explored the working lives of American people. (The Independent)
Should the poet laureate have to write about the royal birth? (The Guardian)
Palm Tree and the Poetry of M.S. Merwin (The New Yorker)
Yeats’ 150th Birthday Parties (The Guardian)
Arthur Sze Finalist for Pulitzer Prize (Albuquerque Journal)
Documents confirm fascists murdered Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca (World Socialist Web Site)
From the archive, 27 April 1915: Editorial: A Poet’s Death; The death of Rupert Brooke leaves us with a miserable sense of waste and futility, yet it is impossible to withhold even the most precious personalities (The Guardian)
Alissa Quart, The Money Poet (The New Yorker)
American Poets magazine has a Walt Whitman essay by Mark Doty and in their annual report, they discuss a poetry reading they hosted recently called Poetry and the Creative Mind which they say tracks the influence of poetry on readers from other disciplines. I hope we get a report on that someday. I think it melds well with the Poetry on Mars project here on BBP, to get poetry into the hands of researchers in order to provide practical subject-based backup, a kind of laser-like focus on a topic, or further testimonial evidence to a study.
I went to Red River a few weeks ago and left all my books at home. I was forced to visit the bookstore of a mega-chain in order to find some reading material for the weekend. If you’ve been in a Target you know that they have at least 2 aisles of books. Let me just say Walmart has a lousy book section. There was less than a quarter of an aisle of reading material in there! But then I guess plebs aren’t getting under paid to read.
The April issue of O Magazine features National Poetry Month. The article is called "Why Poetry Matters." Former us poet laureate Natasha Trethewey opens up the discussion with this content: “In an era of sensory overload, there is stillness and clarity to be found in verse.” She goes on to elaborate how in poetry she found a “place to place grief.” Poetry, she says, also provides us with community, it shows us to ourselves, it acts as refuge, and serves to continue a cultural legacy.
Laura Kasischke, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award says poetry can be “understood in parts of our brain that appreciate sounds, or smell.” This section also included prompts from The Poet Tarot Deck (from two sylvias press). What Oprah magazine article would be complete without product promo? I’m snide but you know I’m going to buy this as soon as I can scrape up fifty dollars.
There are also six short book reviews and reviews of two poet memoirs.
A friend of mine recently purchased for me a gift subscription to the tabloid magazine The Star. Inside there’s that good ole National Amateur Poetry Competition advertisement. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this sucker.
By the way, here is a handy list of writing contests to avoid: https://winningwriters.com/the-best-free-literary-contests/contests-to-avoid (their own site’s contests might be best avoided as well).
From my colleges
Here is a CNM article on slam poet champion, writer, TEDx presenter, teacher, dedicated activist, mother, CNM tutor, and now Albuquerque’s newest poet laureate, Jessica Helen Lopez.
A University of Missouri-St. Louis blog post: Bilingual poet’s second collection shifts to second language
National Poetry Month
Poet booths in subways: Bespoke Poetry Hits The Subways With Peanuts-Inspired "The Poet Is In" (The Gothamist)
Gary Snyder (NPR)
James Merrill (Bend Bulletin)
Patti Smith Punk Poet Laureate (The Guardian)
Video poetry: Red Riding Hood Revisisted: https://vimeo.com/3514904
I visited the local CNM library in search of New Mexico poets. Didn’t find any. But I did find many Sherman Alexie works. Alexie is not a New Mexican poet but he is an American Indian poet from the Spokane tribe located in Washington state. Although Spokane is very different from the tribes of southwestern New Mexico, he does provide both profound and humorous insight into the American Indian Experience. I started with the oft recommended children’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. As described, it was excellent and a perfect place to start with Alexie if you’re a confused gringo. Truly, if you’re looking for Indian perspectives you have millions of alternatives. Natalie Diaz is a very hot Mohave poet right now. Joy Harjo is a perennial favorite of mine. But just check out this Wikipedia list.
I’m becoming really attached to Alexie in fact and the well-rounded way he talks about race reminds me of Richard Wright (just perused Richard Wright’s collection of haiku at the library). Like Wright, Alexie knows how to balance the complexities of race by using both good and bad characters from all sides. Good white people and bully white people. Good Indians and bully Indians. And the badness that ensues when trying and failing to be good.
Similar Alexie stories occur in poems, short stories and the novels, like Grandma’s stolen powwow regalia which shows up in An Absolutely True Diary and in short stories from the collection Ten Little Indians. An Indian mother singing Donna Fargo’s "Happiest Girl in the USA" is another story that shows up in different fiction and poems.
The poems in One Stick Song (2000) are also a good introduction to Alexie with poems like "Unauthorized Biography of Me," "An Incomplete List of People I Wish Were Indian," "The Mice War," "Sex in Motel Rooms," "Powwow Love Songs." In his stories and poems, Alexie can describe both Rez life and city life. What I like about his poems, they’re all different in tone and format.
The Business of Fancydancing, (1992), contains poems that are a little rougher. But worth reading are "War All the Time," " Misdemeanors," "Missing," "The Reservation Cab Driver," and "Giving Blood." Alexi is good at setting the scene and giving you a tight kick in the pants.
For work I’ve been reading both marketing and usability studies and essays on user interface design. A common idea across all of these areas is the trend toward creating more scannable content. This is primarily because users come to software and Internet pages to accomplish tasks, not to be entertained or enlightened.
Speed readers grab what they need and go! Designers use bolding and other tricks to help people scan a page. I see myself doing it when I come across a list of marketing tips. I scan for the main points and read further where I need to.
I can feel the knuckles crunching on the hands of writing academics, their blood pressure rising to a steam. Is quality reading losing the battle? Reading poetry takes attention. It’s the antithesis of scanning. It’s slow reading.
Monsieur Big Bang and I are also listening to The History of the English Language podcast with Kevin Stroud. In one episode he describes Old English Scops (or poets) who were once happily employed traveling to villages providing poem-casts of the latest news. Back then, poets were charged with keeping the news flowing in a time when nobody could read or write. Rhyming provided ways of understanding and memorizing that news. Truly, poets were the social media of their day. We’re fine with that right? Well then…check your self-serving diatribes about social media at the door.
Communication efficiency in the old days was good if it served poets. Is language efficiency bad now because poets are left out? Culture changes and therefore communication changes. Society is doing what it needs to do. This doesn’t mean that poetry should be eradiated from communication. It just means we won’t use it the way we previously did. Poems are not for distributing the news anymore. They’re for meditative moments, considered protests and language inquiry. Poems are not scannable; but wait, here comes the next experimental poem exploring scannability! Wait for it!
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
“Fall down seven times, get up eight!” – Japanese Proverb
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away many small stones.” – Confucius again!
And some more ridiculous reviews:
“The final blowup of what was once a remarkable, if minor, talent.”
– Clifton Fadiman, The New Yorker on Absolom, Absolum! by William Faulkner, 1936
“…a book of the season only…”
– New York Herald Tribune
“The Great Gatsby falls into the class of negligible novels”
– Springfield Republican on The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
“Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.”
– La Figaro on Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert 1857
From Bill Henderson's Rotten Reviews
I've been subscribing to Poetry magazine this year. I can't say I'm completely enjoying my first few issues but April 2015 has much to recommend in it. The issue is dedicated to hip hop poetry and I enjoyed almost every poem. Nate Marshall lists a 7-point blueprint for BreakBeat writing and Kenneth Goldsmith's conceptual manifesto ends the issue. Good fodder for discussion on what poetry is supposed to do. There are some truths in there, some narcissisms and quite a few contradictions.
I'm busy working on my NaPoWriMo pieces. Met a few new poets over there. Hello Poetry has gotten into NaPoWriMo in 2015.
I love it when my blog obsessions overlap. In 1975 Brit Pop Star David Essex appeared on Cher's solo TV show (YouTube). Now he's released a book of poetry, Travelling Tinker Man & Other Rhymes. (The Independent)'
Charles Simic Displays a Poet’s Voice and His Passions (The New York Times review)
Tomas Tranströmer died last month at the age of 83
Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti laments changing San Francisco (PBS NewsHour)
The new Maya Angelou stamp quotes Joan Walsh Anglund by mistake (People Magazine)
Making Poetry Vibrant (and Not Complaining)
Gentleman Poet’s Hunt & Light Kickstarts New Poetry Book (Dan's Papers)
Take a Poet to Lunch in April (My San Antonio)
Poets with Sexy Hair