OMG! I finished! I did 30 poems in 30 days. It was exhausting and I was so cocky when I started. I thought I could just do some exercises in stanzas every day, nothing too high stress.
But even a little poem took about a half hour a day and the longer ones hovered around an hour a day. Turns out I had no issues with putting up unfinished work. My problem was dredging up the energy to get it done every day.
Beyond the forms I used from a book I was reading (The Ode Less Traveled), I didn't use any subject prompts and never made a decision on what to write about until that day or the night before at the earliest.
It was haaaaaard y'all!
And I was pleasantly surprised using Hello Poetry. I respect it for its Google-like simplicity. Also, I was surprised that so many people were online reading these poems. I was surprised to see which poems "trended" (like items trending on Google, become popular fast). Trending was an interesting issue because the poems I thought people would not like they sometimes did and the poems I thought they would love they sometimes didn't. And trending isn't everything. Some poems didn't trend (get read by a lot of people over a short period of time) but they did find a large amount of readers over a long stretch of time. For instance, see below.
The Poem Statistics
I have 30 poems up on Hello Poetry with a bonus opening haiku. In total, they've been read 3,369 times. Yes...three THOUSAND. Unbelievable. I received 12 likes on individual poems and 8 fellow Hello Poetry writers started "following me" which basically seems to mean they've bookmarked my homepage to check out again later. That's what I've gathered from finding others to follow myself.
These were the five poems that trended (numbers as of this morning):
But over time, five other poems received as many if not more reads:
- An Artifice that Time Forgot - 283 readers
- Crossing the Mississippi - 109
- American Ghost - 104
- Things I Love About Rhoda (As Told by Mary Richards) - 376
- Things Those Tests Do Not Test - 180
So as seen above, my most popular poem did not trend. My least popular poems were my most recent one and the one dedicated to the Boston bombing:
I still can't believe I did it. It took a lot of physical energy and I was glad when the month was over just so I could rest today! This took some sweat.
To see all the poems, visit my Hello Poetry home page.
I'm going to be MIA from blogging for about two weeks. Monsieur Bang Bang is graduating with his Masters in Archaeology and the entire clan is coming for two shindigs at our house. Then we're going to plan a move. So happy post National Poetry Month everyone and I'll see you on the other side.
I received a jacket blurb for my book of poems this spring from David H. Levy, the poetry-appreciating astronomer famous for his co-discovery in 1993 of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9, which collided with the planet Jupiter in 1994. What a thrill this was... and so very appreciated:
"Remember when, in Carl Sagan's Contact, the main character said "They should have sent a poet?" Now we have. In a skeptical age, it is extraordinary that we still have dreamers. Mary McCray is one of the best and brightest. From the great Tharsis volcano on Mars to Olympus Mons, these poems are a celebration of what is best about humanity's exploration of the planets. We are moving out among the stars, and Mary McCray is leading us there." --David H. Levy, astronomer and author of The Quest for Comets and David Levy's Guide to the Night Sky
I was on cloud nine I tell you!
Last week I also received a review in Savvy Verse & Wit. Excerpts from the review:
"These poems mesh not only the exploration of space with the modern world here on Earth, but they also harken to older themes of Manifest Destiny dating back to America’s youngest roots as a nation. It’s a collection about the opportunities space exploration can represent, which is highly ironic given the government’s recent decision to shut down the manned shuttle program...a reflection of space, and the amazing experience of “Sex in Zero Gravity”:
“astronaut, astronaut –/kiss me with your incomplete sentences/and your raw relativity,/run your fingers like lasers,/escape velocity through my motor heart,/the acceleration thrust/of your deep-space Cadillac cruising/my jelly-fish tremors,/touching the swirling hurricane/that is the red G-Spot of Jupiter/”
There has never been such a beautiful references to spaceships taking off and hurricanes on foreign planets in poetry to describe a sexual encounter.
[The book] is imaginative and one of the best written science fiction collections of poetry out there, and it will have readers questioning their place in the world and the need to explore more."
Last week, the book also received a mixed review in Star*Line , the publication of The Science Fiction Poetry Association. Reviewer Susan Gabrielle felt I "offer some uniqueness of language and lovely images" but she didn't respond to the humor in the book. Whereas Savvy Verse & Wit singled out the poem "Sex in Zero Gravity" as a "beautiful reflection of a sexual encounter," Gabrielle read that poem as satire and wanted me to deal with the book's "subject matter in a serious and sustained way."
I talked this over with my husband due to the fact that my poems are, to a large degree, humorous. I gravitate to the queer and comical take. How should I take this first not-so-hot review? Monsieur Big Bang surmises that science fiction poetry is struggling to be taken seriously right now and so they may not feel inclined to enjoy the kind of funny I do with space poems.
I'd love to hear from others about this. What is your take on humorous versus "sober" poetry? Especially in the context of space and science fiction themes?
Although my journey in forms is far from complete, so far I have made it through five books on the subject. If you are new to this sort of thing, I find it helps to take these books in small chunks, go away for a while and come back later rather than be overwhelmed by this brave old nerdy world.
When I was an undergraduate at The University of Missouri-St. Louis, The Poet's Handbook by Judson Jerome (of Poet's Market) was our assigned reading for one of my workshops. We never got around to it and for years I let it linger on my bookshelf intimidated by its very cover. Years later, I gathered some stones and read the book. Was I wrong! This book was a gentle soul, easing me into the study of forms, starting from a look at free verses and the importance of the line.
Myself, I have never been able to keep the terms of scansion memorized, no matter how many of these books I read. Although I do feel I have the musical concepts solidly internalized from years of reading, writing and listening to music closely. But like any good mechanic, you only become more engaged with the tinkering you do when you learn how the car works.
That said, it is comforting when Jerome says, "It compounds frustration, if not confusion, to realize that neither Chaucer nor most of the poets who followed him up to modern times ever actually analyzed verse this way. They just wrote it with rather amazing metrical consistency, and these complicated adaptations of Classical metrical [scansion] terms have been introduced by prosadist to explain the phenomena of the poet's practice."
That's right! Poets didn't bother with bracketing out their lines with marks and numbers. And scansion and metrics are not scientific laws. The whole "science" is rather inexact but better than nothing when it comes to studying a poem's engine. In fact, depending upon how you read a poem, there can be open controversy over whether a certain phrase is make up to be one antipast or an iamb next to a trochee. No one needs to get that crazy or snobbish about i.
The Poet's Handbook is an accessible textbook that covers most everything metrical including a healthy section on rhyme. However, there's not much on the popular forms like sonnets and sestinas.
Years later I picked up this book at a library sale, Poetic Meter & Poetic Form by Paul Fussell. Both Jerome and Fussell make valiant cases for the use of forms, although Fussell is more dense and stuffy in his defense of why we need to care about music:
"...that regardless of the amount and quality of intellectual and emotional analysis that precedes poetic composition, in the moment of composition itself the poet is most conspicuously performing as a metrist."
Composition! Dear me. He can be a bit heavy handed as in, "Civilization is an impulse toward order."
Maybe true, Jack, but thousands of years of civilization hasn't made us all that civilized. But here is where my politics creep in. Unfortunately, a discussion on form invariably leads toward politics. Hippie liberals are free verse fanatics and conservatives are nostalgic for an era of Andy Griffith order that never was. Forms and free verse are like kids in a custody battle in the middle of it all.
I think young writers today are happily living with writing in a melding of both free verse and forms as they like, which is as it should be. Older folk still seem to have their axe to grind, (like the kind of "classical" poetry The New Criterion has been consistently whining for over the last decades). The establishment complains there is no variety or passion, specifically anger, in modern poetry, all while refusing to acknowledge the very passionate and angry poets already out there. Is it a coincidence this poetry is being written by minorities and young women? When you dig beyond the common complaints and ailments, the bedrock is always political when it comes to free verse versus form.
Anyway, if you'd like something more advanced, this book is interesting for that and Russell focuses his study on metrical variation (how to set up an expectation in meter and then thwart it for effect) and like Jerome's book, there is a section on free verse and how it fits in. He makes an excellent point with:
"a free verse poem without dynamics...perceptible interesting movement from one given to another or without significant variations from some norm established by the texture of the poem... will risk the same sort of dullness as the metered poem which never varies from regularity...The principle is that every technical gesture in a poem must justify itself in meaning."
Russell also covers the sonnet extensively but not much on other popular forms like sestinas and pantoums.
This is surely your stuffy, highbrow choice.
I don't know where I picked up Rhyme's Reason by John Hollander but its best attribute is that it's skinny and concise, less than 100 pages. But the book covers verse systems, meters, free verse, "aberrant forms," and various popular forms such as odes, sestina, villanelles, etc. I like that it also covers rhetorical schemes such as the epic simile. It also has the best section on rhyme of the books here.
This is good for a fast breeze through all the basic concepts. Not much evangelizing which is always appreciated.
Lewis Turco's The New Book of Forms was the popular must-have book on forms when I was at Sarah Lawrence College in the mid-1990s. Turco's divides his study on metrics into sections: the typographical, the sonic, the sensory and the ideational level. I found this organization to be elusive and confusing and I had more question marks by his text than in any other book. However, the real meat of this book is the last 175 pages which include an index of every form imaginable with examples.
I've used this book entirely as an invaluable encyclopedia of forms. But it's very lacking on the background behind those forms so it wont do on its own.
This is the book I just finished over the weekend, actor Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Traveled, a book that was given to me by a friend. This one is an oddball in the set. Fry is both accessible and off-putting. He's upper crust British, a Shakespearean actor (which gives some perspective on blank verse), and he goes blue inexplicably in parts beyond the naughty limericks (which are great, btw). He's also a (very knowledgeable) layman attempting to teach to newbies. Experienced poets may have no patience for this. Because I like to re-visit subjects as a newbie occasionally (as Zen Buddhists instruct me to do), I found this refreshing. His book even includes lessons and tables. He's also good at bringing in pop culture examples (a gesure too lowbrow for the other books). I also appreciated he definition of what poets do, that we are concerned with precision, "exactly about the exact, fundamentally found in the fundamental, concretely concrete, radically rooted in the thisness and whatness of everything." Later he says, "Much of poetry is about consonance in the sense of correspondence: the likeness or congruity of one apparently disparate thng to another. Poetry is concerned with the connections between things."
But his attempts at humor often fell flat with me.Very flat. And of course he falls into the political pit, calling most contemporary poetry, "feeble-minded political correctness...it is if we have been encouraged to believe that form is a kind of fascism." WTF? He defines "free-form meanderings" as "prose therapy" and navel gazing. Hey, a form doesn't prevent one from navel gazing. Then he goes on to say he is "far from contemptuous of Modernism and free verse" and he worries you'll think he's an "old dinosaur." Which I do BUT as my grandfather always said, you can learn something from anybody and I did enjoy this book overall.
A good light choice for newbies and the eternal newbie.
Years ago, I came across some poetry of Miroslav Holub in The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry. I bought a used copy of his book Poems, Before & After which has been sitting on my shelves for a year or two.
This book was another surprise for me this year. I started to make a list of the poems I liked in this anthology and I was checking off every single poem so I gave up the list.
Holub was a Czechoslovakian poet and well-established microbiologist. His poems are a lovely melding of science and humanity. The book is divided into poems before 1968 and poems after 1968, the year the democratic revival was crushed by the Russians.
He has great commentary about poetry. The prose piece "Although" talks about how "a poem arises when there's nothing else to be done" and "art doesn't solve problems but only wears them out." From "The root of the matter"
There is poetry in everything. That
is the biggest argument
...the root of the matter
is not the matter itself.
...poetry should never be a thicket,
no mater how delightful, where
the frightened fawn of sense could hide.
These poems in their surreal escapades reminded me of my favorite short story writer, Donald Barthelme, and are elemental weavings of the scientific, the haunting, the human and the moral. The poem "Evening idyll with a protoplasm" is a good example:
Over the house spreads
the eczema of twilight,
the evening news bulletin
creeps accross the facades,
the beefburger is singing.
A protoplasm called
bulges from all the windows,
tentacles with sharp-eyed old hags' heads,
it engulfs a pedestrian,
penetrates into beds across the road,
swallowing tears and fragments of quarrels,
pregnancies and miscarriages,
splashing used cars and television sets,
playing havoc with the price of eggs,
simply puffing itself with adultries,
crossing off plotting spores of
And even after dark it prosphoresces
like a dead sea drying up
between featherbed, plum jam and stratosphere.
All the poems expertly mesh contemplations on biology with the horrors of humanity. Some of my very favorites are "Heart Failure," "The end of the world," and "Reality." The After poems are darker, more cynical, and incorporate more storytelling. I loved the Brief Reflections On series, "Brief reflection on test-tubes" being my favorite. He delves even more deliriously into language in this section.
Metaphors face extinction
in a situation which itself a metaphor.
And the whales are facing extinction
in a situation which itself is a killer whale.
The book ends with some poems laid out in theatrical script that read almost like avant-garde short films. Of those "The Angel of Death" and "Crucifix" are my favorites.
As part of my multi-media explorations of the world of poetry, I've searched Netflix and sprinkled my movie que with movies about poets or poetry. I am old fashioned and still get DVDs mailed to me; haven't tried streaming yet . Here are my first three movie reviews of poetry-related movies:
The Raven (2012)
Mr. Big Bang and I actually saw The Raven, starring John Cusack, last year in the the-A-ter. Basically, this movie took some basic facts about Edgar Allan Poe's life and embellished them into a psychological-action thriller, ala the latest Sherlock Holmes fare.
I'm not against this sort of thing by definition (I kind of liked Gothic from 1986), but the results here were disappointing for these reasons:
The pictures below say it all, over the top and heavy handed.
Total Eclipse (1995)
First of all this movie was hard to get a hold of. It was the first and only movie that sat languishing in my Netflix que waiting for all the girls and boys who are obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio to get their hands on it first in order to see all his naked scenes.
And there's plenty of nudity to go around between DiCaprio who plays Arthur Rimbaud and David Thewlis who plays Paul Verlaine. That's one perk of the movie but other than that you get DiCaprio playing his sullen, cocky and incorigable best (as seen in many other films of his early oeuvre) and Thewlis plays his pathetic, doormat of a mentor. Both are in this 1871 bisexual affair for their own poetic ambitions (only Thewlis falls for good).The movie is full of their gay, ugly tantrum fights.
I will say Thewlis has an extraordinary profile and I found his mugging more interesting than DiCaprio's mugging although both characters became very unappealing very fast. Rimbaud is an attention-whore with a juvenile urge to shock and Verlaine is a veritable psychopath who sets his wife's hair on fire for no reason. Worse than that, he can't take a hint.
The movie, like many, glamorizes poetry. However, there are very few scenes of the poets actually talking about poetry (as you know they would be) or writing any of it. At one point Rimbaud has been trying to write (off camera I guess) and he cries out, "It's so difficult!" but then later states soberly, "The writing has changed me."
Verlaine dramatically calls absinthe "the poet's third eye." At one point Rimbuad laments, "The only unbearable thing is that nothing is unbearable." What? Is that a logic puzzle? The movie was supposedly based upon the correspondence between the poets and like most biopics, the narrative is choppy and uneven.
But there were things I did like: the movie covers class issues among poets, something I feel is rarely discussed today. Rimbaud and Verlaine both struggle with money and time. There's a good exchange in this regard between Rimbaud and his mother:
Rimbaud's Mother: This work you do, is it the kind of work that would lead to anything?
Rimbaud (angrily): I don't know. Nevertheless it's the kind of work I do.
Who hasn't had that conversation with their mom? The movie is also about how some people literally consume their mentors and how dangerous that relationship can be.
Rimbaud, when asked to read some of his poems declares, "I never read out my poetry!" In the end, there is professional truth in his monologue about why he gives up writing poetry (he had been mostly full of hot air about it: "I decided to be a genius...I decided to originate the future!") and at the end, he dismisses his mentor as a "lyric poet" and goes off to Africa.
Roger Ebert had this to say, "The poems can be read. The film must stand on its own, apart from the poems, and I'm afraid it doesn't. To write great poems is a gift. To be interesting company is a different gift, which neither Verlaine or Rimbaud exhibits in "Total Eclipse." One admires the energy and inventiveness that Holland, Thewlis and DiCaprio put into the film, but one would prefer to be admiring it from afar."
The White Cliffs of Dover (1944)
Gee, do I love it when my obsessions converge! On my other blog, I Found Some Blog...by Cher Scholar, I've been tracking Cher's month as co-host of Turner Classic Movies on Friday nights. Cher is a huge fan of classic movies and since 2011 has been dropping by to co-host movie nights on TCM. This month she's been doing a series called It's a Woman's World, powerful female-starring movies of the 30s and 40s. The first Friday was a set of four movies on Motherhood. Last Friday she did a set of war movies, one of which was the movie about an American (Irene Dunne) living in England during World War I and World War II called The White Cliffs of Dover, a movie I've only ever heard of because it was one of Elizabeth Taylor's first movie appearances.
But interesting to us on this blog, the entire film was based on a poem. Imagine that! It's a very long poem (a "verse novel" says Poem Hunter) by Alice Duer Miller called "The White Cliffs." A verse novel. Imagine that! The narration of the film starts out with Irene Dunne reciting the first stanza of Miller's poem and then flips over to poetry written for the film by Robert Nathan. Poetry written for a film! Imagine that! The Los Angeles Times did a story about Robert Nathan when he died in 1985. He had published 50 books of poetry and fiction.
Alice Duer Miller's original poem was influential in many ways. According to Poem Hunter:
The poem was spectacularly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, selling eventually a million copies - an unheard of number for a book of verse. It was broadcast and the story was made into the 1944 film The White Cliffs of Dover, starring Irene Dunne. Like her earlier suffrage poems, it had a significant effect on American public opinion and it was one of the influences leading the United States to enter the War. Sir Walter Layton, who held positions in the Ministries of Supply and Munitions during the Second World War, even brought it to the attention of then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Alice Duer Miller was also influential as a suffragette:
She became known as a campaigner for women's suffrage and published a brilliant series of satirical poems in the New York Tribune. These were published subsequently as Are Women People?. These words became a catchphrase of the suffrage movement. She followed this collection with Women are People! (1917)
The movie is your basic war-time romance/tearjerker about a woman who loses everyone she loves in two wars. I don't particularly like war movies and a weekend watching four of them ("Three Came Home" from 1950 was particulary harrowing) put me into quite a funk. People never learn. None of our laments about war are new, etc.
The New York Times recently called the movie "A Cinderalla story in sweet disguise" but I couldn't disagree more. Her life was full of tragedy and lonliness shortly after she married. Had she picked boyfriend number one, she might have had an entirely happier life in America.
At least the movie is good for the appearance of Roddy McDowall who plays the young, charming son.
Write about what you know. Write about your times. Stay relevant. Respond to what's happening in your world. Do you feel this is a poet's responsiblity? If so, what are some themes you think readers in the future will be curious about when they look back on our times? Find other polls.
Some news items over the last few weeks:
Ever since I did the post about poets who have read poems at presidential inaugurations and discovered singer-songwriter Lucinda William's Dad, Arkansas poet Miller Williams spoke at Bill Clinton's second inauguration, I've wanted to do a post on Lucinda Williams here.
I was fortunate to have seen both Lucinda and Miller Williams at a concert/reading they did together at Royce Hall at UCLA years ago. I've also read Miller William's book Making a Poem. But before I even knew about him, I was a fan of Lucinda.
My dad is a huge fan of Lucinda Williams and one day he sent me five CDs from her long oeuvre. Coincidentally, I had just broken up with a Northern Irish boyfriend I had in Los Angeles. I was ripe for the kind of tragic break-up lyrics she had to offer.
My two favorite albums of hers are Essence and World Without Tears. Lucinda did a run of shows in LA where she performed a different album every night with special guests. I chose to go to the show where she played Essence. My boyfriend's favorite alt-country singer, Mike Stinson, was there that night to play with her. He was on the arm of famous groupie-tell-all-author Pamela Des Barres and they stood right behind us when Stinson wasn't playing on stage.
Lucinda has an element of gritty southern gothic in her music and lyrics. In fact, I feel her songs are driven more by their poetry than by her melodies or arrangements. From Essence, the song "Lonely Girls" really lingers over the words in a kind of mesmerizing plodding dirge:
Cover lonely girls
Sung by lonely girls
Worn by lonely girls
Shine on lonely girls
I oughta know
About lonely girls
On this album I also love "Steal Your Love" and "I Envy the Wind"
I envy the wind
That whispers in your ear
That freezes your fingers
That moves through your hair
And cracks your lips
That chills you to the bone
In the creepy song "Get Right With God," she sings
I would sleep on a bed of nails
Till my back was torn and bloody
In the deep darkness of Hell
The Damascus of my meeting
On the album World Without Tears, my favorite song is "Worlds Fell," which is all-in-one a tribute to a love affair, an homage to the words that helped to bring it out, and commentary on the uselessness of words in emotional moments:
Like roses at our feet
When you let me see you cry
You silent lips against my cheek.
Lucinda Williams songs have a starkness compared to other rock and pop songs because she doesn't always use rhyme, even off-rhymes. Her stories are rough-shod and her lyrics are filled with hard-edged descriptive nouns. Her songs alternate between bar-soaked heartbroken ballads and righteous alt-country rockers.
Interestingly one of my favorite poets is Kim Addonizio and this year I found a quote on her website that said "Kim Addonizio writes like Lucinda Williams sings." Andre Dubus III
In other ways Lucinda has influenced the events of my life. I met Mr. Bang Bang eight years ago on Match.com. He said he responded to my profile because I had listed Lucinda Williams as one of my current favorite artists. I had just been to see her open for Willie Nelson at the Santa Barbara Bowl with my dad. That show also made me a lifetime Willie Nelson fan. For a while I fantasized about starting an all-girls tribute to Willie called Nellie Wilson. Ah, the dreams of youth.
Last week I finished Impertinent Voices, Subversive Strategies in Contemporary Women's Poetry, a book a found mucking around on Amazon.com. This is a very academic book, more about feminist theory than about poetic strategy. And definitely a book describing things as they were during the second wave of feminism. This book was published back in 1991, back when the media was saying young girls were in some kind of backlash against feminism (this was actually a Time Magazine cover story). This was before Riot Grrls and Bust Magazine and Bitch Magazine made third wave feminism relevant. So as a third waver myself, there were aspects of this book I found to be outdated. For instance, back when second wave was in its full throes, feminists felt that men still controlled the meanings of language and culture cues. Third wave feminists feel we have made inroads in this area (thanks to groundwork done by the second wavers, of course) and we feel more in control of our own labels, language and meanings. One example: women today would never think to describe a woman who is assertive or angry or pushing boundaries as "impertinent" because we don't accept that what she is doing is rude or inappropriate by definition. She is telling it like it is. Screw impertinence.
That generation-gap aside, this book did some good things for me. This book opened me up (finally!) to Sylvia Plath. There are about three chapters devoted to her struggles and strategies in this book. If you have trouble connecting with Plath, as I have over the years, this book might help.
The book also has chapters devoted to Adrienne Rich, H.D., and Audrey Lorde.
Months and months ago I received this catalog in the mail and haven't had time to discuss it. I love getting these catalogs. They're full of free sample poems from new poets and I actually do buy books from them. I've tagged the following poets and books for checking out:
Daisy Fried's Women's Poetry (gritty poem here about women's poetry mashed-up with car parts), Denise Duhamel's Blowout (I always love her frank poems), Laura Read's Instructions for My Mother's Funeral (seems poingnant to me now that my Aunt Merle has just passed away), Paisley Rekdal's book Animal Eye looks good (she does a poem about the movie The Fly called "Intimacy").
The poem "Getting Down With the Mofos" by Elton Glaser was some sing-songy childlike language/ars poetica poetry. Alicia Suskin Ostriker's poem "Fire" is a great fire and brimstone piece. And I liked these lines from Jan Beatty's poem, "Visitation at Gogama:"
I saw my birth father young and alive,
he stepped out of a brown house with a white
sign on the side: WILD BILL (his nickname)
in big block letters. I saw him the way he was
before he made me.