I'm very happy to be part of Savvy Verse & Wit's National Poetry Month blog tour this year. I'm going to spend the month reading celebrity poetry. If you check back to this post all month, I will be creating a master list of celebrity poets and reviewing my own books of celebrity poets.
I'll start with a recap of the books I've reviewed so far, some links to celebrity poems online, and a list of books you can buy if you decide to dive into this exciting world of celebrity profundity.
Coming soon I will add a review of Tupac Skakur's book of poems, A Rose That Grew from Concrete and the new book by James Franco, Directing Herbert White.
Jim Morrison is probably the best known celebrity poet (if you don't count the lyrics of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan). Read the full review here. I said basically,
Morrison is good at noticing what's going on around him. In this book he mulls over ideas of voyeurism and participation, film studies (he was a film student), issues of power and possession, alchemy, and a few interesting comments about motherhood. The random notes included are not fully formed. They seem almost like notes for future essays. And many of the poems seem like a string fo terse images in search of a vague mythology...
In the end, Morrison seemed to view death as a clean slate, from "Hurricane & Eclipse" where he says, "I wish clean/death would come to me" to "If Only I" where he claims "If only I could feel/me pulling back/again/& feel embraced/by reality/again/I would gladly die." Maybe it's this very state of mind that appeals to teen boys, stressed out by the fog of adolescence and living a life not yet fully in control.
Some interesting lines:
"Real poetry doesn't say anything,
it just ticks off the possibilities."
"I hear a very gentle sound,
With your ear down to the ground.
We want the world and we want it...
We want the world and we want it,
now, now, NOW!
In my inaugural celebrity poet book review post, I reviewed Jewel, Suzanne Sommers and Jimmy Steart. Read the full reviews here. I waited a long time to score the Sommers book (before eBay came along) and I love it even thought the poems are a bit thin. Example:
I don't give you time
Because you're a cliche
I meet a thousand times a day.
There's no need to talk.
I know you're handsome
And extremely good in bed.
But really there's nothing to say,
Only a kind of game to play.
Only a tedious cliche
I meet a thousand times a day.
And I always forget your name.
I really didn't enjoy Jimmy Stewart's poetry. They were indulgent and better suited for a children's book. Exceprt:
from I'm a Movie Camera
I'm a movie camera. Instamatic is my name.
I'm Eastman's latest model,
Super 8's my claim to fame.
I was on a shelf in Westwood
when an actor purchased me
And took me home to 918 in Hills the Beverly.
Links to Celebrity Poetry Online
It's easy to make fun of celebrity poetry but they've committed no crime except taking advantage of their fame to publish poetry. Is that so bad? Taking up space from non-famous poets maybe but if you were famous, would you stop writing poetry? (Assuming you're a non-famous writer today). Everyone is on their own journey. Don't hate them because they love poetry. Some celebrity poets, like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell are actually very good.
He said, "Fundamentally, we're repairmen. Everybody's broken somewhere. You can't get through life without it. You've paid your artists and your filmmakers and your poets and your novelists to be basically your handymen. They're your repairman and we're willing to go into the garage where all this junk is lying around and we start to tinker away and when you contextualize and make small sense of those things, they just start to repair those small pieces of you."
I'm five days into National Poetry Writing Month and to help me get through the marathon I've set up a theme for myself, poems about language. This was partially inspired by the Al Filreis' ModPo MOOC course I completed last year.
Each poem incorporates two famous sayings or quotes in the text. So far I've been writing about how language compares to what is, writing as a threat to tell, writing as journey vs. writing as truth vs. writing as representation vs. writing to make a commodity, the ability of poetry to be progressive, and language theory.
Of course these are not polished and perfect little pieces. The goal is to pop one out every day. That means you only get a few hours to conceive, draft it out and revise. No workshopping. No morning after. Lots of regrets. But maybe learning to live with regret is the lesson.
You can read my progress at http://hellopoetry.com/mary-mccray/
This is the second year I've used the Hello Poetry site and it has been a good board for meeting other poets and watching reading trends.
The graphic above comes from a site on Language from the University of Minnisota.
Loved reading The Hungry Ear, Poems of Food & Drink edited by Kevin Young. This book does something I've been saying poetry should do: present around a subject of study. This could be the way into non-poetry-readers hearts and minds. I mean, who doesn't know a foodie they can give this book to?
Scientists would likely love science poems. Artists would likely love a collection of ekphrastic poetry, welders would love poems about welding. And foodies would love poems about food. Because they love to eulogize food. And bingo! Poets eulogize stuff. Foodies would love to dig deeper into the nature of food with this book, love to think beyond the cookbook, beyond essays about food or cultural food studies. This book is full of (figuratively) juicy little spirituals about food.
Poetry can spread if the gifts of poetry are presented around a subject.
I did wonder about the order of the poems. You'd find three onion poems in a row. I can't decid whether or not that was a good thing (variations on an onion) or too much onion (the poems weren't stirred up enough).
But there are many beautiful poems here, many new to me (Joy Harjo's ode to the kitchen table "Perhaps the World Ends Here") and some old favorites (Tom Lux's "Refrigerator, 1957" to William Carlos Williams' "This is Just to Say"). My favorite section was one called Short Orders about restaurant food.
I've been so busy this year, I almost forgot it was coming. But I'm up for the challenge again!
My parents are visiting us half-way through the month for a week and a half so I've constructed a theme for myself this year, 30 Poems about Language, and will be sampling aphorisms in each poem to help me get it done while hosting company and going to family reunions.
Another poetry month activity I would recommend is a daily check-in to the poetry blog tour on Savvy Verse & Wit. I had a lot of fun last year following the various daily bloggers and their posts, which ranged from discussions of individual poets to ideas for poetry projects to little chats about all aspects of poetry.
I really enjoyed this book of essays by Jane Hirshfield called Nine Gates, Entering the Mind of Poetry. But I was predisposed to like it because the floating spirituality and humor of Zen Buddhism appeals to me.
This book is a dense, philosophical meditation and is difficult in its own way. I would not recommend it to beginners.
Hirshfield's studies more advanced topics of poetry, such as the nature of attention and concentration (an essay I found hard to concentrate on), a detailed study of her own translations of Japanese poets, what originality really means. She discusses economy, quietness, writing as experiencing, words as probes, the poet as a complicated being, the life of words on paper and via sound, the spiritual path of the writer.
Some concise balanced summaries on the history and trends of modernism and post-modernism can be found in various places as well as mediations on the tensions between formalists and conceptualists.
Her study on the issues of translations was particularly interesting. She studies the cultural gaps between Japanese and American poetics and her strategies to cover those gaps.
My job as a consultant to ICANN is to help post translated materials to their web site in various languages. As I was reading Hirshfields chapter on translation, this ICANN video was published about how difficult (but absolutely necessary) translation work can be. ICANN is a good example of translation's necessity. As decisions about Internet functionality and governance are made, stakeholders from around the world need to have access to understanding how those decisions are being made.
If only readers could see themselves as "stakeholders" in both social and spiritual world events and see poems as "documents" providing valuable information, as important as a statement of intent, action plan, treaty or memorandum of understanding.
Last week I went to Phoenix to see the opening show of Cher's Dressed to Kill tour. While Monsieur Big Bang and I were there we flipped through the channels of our hotel's cable and stumbled upon RT TV or Russia Today. Similar to CNN, this cable news station is apparently gaining popularity in the US. According to Wikipedia, "In 2011 it was the second most-watched foreign news channel in the U.S. after BBC World News."
As we tuned in, the show airing referred to RT as "radical thought" and first aired a soapbox video from a gun advocate and his suspicions about the US government. That was followed by the "spoken word artist" Jamie Dunmore reading an environmental poem called "My Call to Humanity" in full and live on the program. I was stunned at how much airtime this show gave him. And then, as if that wasn't radical enough, they interviewed him about his thoughts on how to challenge government propaganda and consumerism! Crazy!
When I came home from seeing Cher in Phoenix, I immediately had started a week of nightshift work supporting the website of ICANN during their Singapore meeting. To keep myself awake, I watched crime shows like Snapped or anything on ID network, or, if Monsieur Big Bang is up, we like to watch ghost shows.
I must say, I'm not always convinced these shows find any ghostly evidence. I think most of what spooks us can be explained by normal events. The rest is either wishful seeking or will explained some day by future scientific discoveries. That is not to say I don't believe in life after death or ghosts per se. I am just not convinced these shows have found the chatty corpse. However, I am addicted to these shows nonetheless.
So I was thrilled last night when I came upon an episode of Ghost Adventures from Season 7 in 2012 called "Tor House." The house was built in Carmel, California, by poet Robinson Jeffers and show spends a good portion of the beginning with readings of Jeffers' poetry, particularly as it relates to the location and his theories about ghosts.
They read his poem "The Ghost" in full at the top of the show.
There is a jaggle of masonry here, on a small hill
Above the gray-mouthed Pacific, cottages and a thick-walled tower, all made of rough sea rock
And Portland cement. I imagine, fifty years from now,
A mist-gray figure moping about this place in mad moonlight, examining
the mortar-joints, pawing the
Parasite ivy: "Does the place stand? How did it take that last earthquake?" Then someone comes
From the house-door, taking a poodle for his bedtime walk. The dog snarls and retreats; the man
Stands rigid, saying "Who are you? What are you doing here?" "Nothing to hurt you," it answers, "I am just looking
At the walls that I built. I see that you have played hell
With the trees that I planted." "There has to be room for people," he answers. "My God," he says, "That still!"
The ghost hunters speculate on his predictions in the poem and the coincidences they have experienced during their production of the episode, which is the 50th anniversary of his death at the house in 1962.
This is one of many favorite uses, among many, of poetry: going beyond aesthetics to mine poetry for practical information based on a topic, in this case ghosts.
The show's participants sat around a table and thumbed through Jeffers' books of poetry, asking questions and looking for clues to his theories about the paranormal, particularly his Stone Tape Theory which they describe and find evidence of in his poem called "Carmel Point"
The extraordinary patience of things!This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—How beautiful when we first beheld it,Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rock-heads—Now the spoiler has come: does it care?Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tideThat swells and in time will ebb, and allTheir works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beautyLives in the very grain of the granite,Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.—As for us:We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confidentAs the rock and ocean that we were made from.
Particularly they focus on the line "lives in the very grain of the granite." They also find something in the poem "Granite and Cypress."
Then they do a full, dramatic "on location" reading of the poem "Inscription for the Gravestone." Their shared performance of the poem are both funny and moving. I'm amazied just that they are doing it!
In discussing his death bed, they read from "The Bed by the Window."
I chose the bed downstairs by the sea-window for a good death-bed
When we built the house, it is ready waiting,
Unused unless by some guest in a twelvemonth, who hardly suspects
Its latter purpose. I often regard it,
With neither dislike nor desire; rather with both, so equalled
That they kill each other and a crystalline interest
Remains alone. We are safe to finish what we have to finish;
And then it will sound rather like music
When the patient daemon behind the screen of sea-rock and sky
Thumps with his staff, and calls thrice: 'Come, Jeffers.'
Then they interview the staff. Archivist/writer Joan (Meyers) Hendrickson tells of a ghostly experience she had where she heard keys jangling in the lock and saw an apparition cross a room to a window. She wrote a poem about the experience called "Revenant" which she reads on the show. I loved her line, "the long deceased stone mason come to visit the reliquary that held his heart".
Like all ghost shows, this one finds random, non sequitur EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) and possibly a video apparition outside Hawk Tower which could be explained by video calibration. They do debunk some orbs and the humming of a piano wires which occurs when the host starts to talk too loud.
You get a tour of the beautiful grounds of Tor House and the coast of California and learn a bit about Robinson and his mystic-wife Una. You see the artifacts of his life including his writing desk. It was like visiting a writers house on Book TV but with an EVP recorder and a SB7 spirit box.
I was struck by how tiny the page font was all the way back there in modernity.
Opening to a random page to find my marginalia, I came across a great passage on ordering, which hearkens back to one of my favorite guides, Thinking in Writing by Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan.
This quote is from the chapter on Imagery, which starts with the phrase quote "Saying one thing and meaning another" by Robert Frost.
It was Aristotle who first said that metaphor was essential to poetry and was the one thing that the poet could not be taught. It's an intuitive perception of similarities between dissimilars...
..."All thought is sorting," says I.A. Richards, and the poet's achievement is the result of this process"...
Drew then paraphrases T.S. Eliot in saying:
the fine poet doesn't take everything he finds as of equal value. He "sorts" it. It is quite as easy to have too many images as too few. Unlike a logical argument, a poem is not the sum of its individual parts; it's a pattern of living relationships among statements and images, the way they kindle or support of modify one another by the poet's arrangement.
In relation to my response to Susan Howe's organization of her thoughts on Emily Dickinson over the last two weeks, I've been thinking of all the pleasures I get from acts of sorting: sorting papers from an old box found in the garage, sorting during spring cleaning or before a garage sale, sorting laundry, sorting my candy skittles by color before eating them, sorting my lucky charms. Not all poets enjoy the sorted world or the futile act of trying to sort out the world. I've noticed this seems to stem from a fact of temperament.
On the Strength Finders test, one of my five strengths was connection. I naturally zip to what is "like" versus what is "unlike." I'm like this in work and social situations, as well, always thrilled to find out what I have in common with those I meet.
One of my best friends tested high in naturally seeing difference between people, honing in on individual singularity. I feel this would make her a great novelist. She's a connoisseur of characters while my mind is busy creating bridges.
My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe: this was both an worthwhile and frustrating read. I would describe it as meditative, fractured scholarship because it's not organized in the classical sense. By design it's more scattered, anecdotal. That I didn’t mind. It was a poem-like weaving of scholarship on Dickinson’s mindset according to Susan Howe, what she was reading, what intellectual ideals she was exposed to, focusing heavily on Calvanism, Robert Browning, and Shakespeare.
I most enjoyed Howe’s sometimes cryptic scholarship. What I didn't enjoy after a time were the corpulent quotations, sometimes given without any context.
In the end, it felt as much like this was a private correspondence as it was some unfinished and messy intellectualism. Not accessible but not entirely a bad thing.
Poets with Sexy Hair