Monday, April 30, 2012

Say Yes To A Poem

Lucille Clifton said, "…I don't say No to poems." This letterpress printed card is a response to her and to her quote.

Postcards can make poetry instant and available. An acquaintance of mine, Thien-Kieu Lam, has recently been altering postcards, copying over poems by hand, mailing the cards and documenting them for her one hundred postcards project.

I think Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003, captured a universal feeling when he commented in a TED talk regarding poetry in daily life (minute 2:08-3:00):
I'm pretty much all for poetry in public places: poetry on buses, poetry on subways, on billboards, on cereal boxes…and my sense is it's good to get poetry…off the shelves and more into the public life…When you get a poem on a billboard or on the radio or a cereal box or whatever, it happens to you so suddenly that you don't have time to deploy your anti-poetry deflector shields that were installed in high school.
Sudden poetry. No time to think about whether you want to read it let alone whether you like it. It doesn't matter if you like it. Does it move you? Say yes to reading as well as writing.

If you would like one of my postcards to appear in your mailbox, please go to contact information, and email me your papermail address. The celebration of poetry doesn't have to end when National Poetry Month does. And the poem isn't just about poetry.

Stats regarding my postcard, for those who like them (invisible colophon, and I mean invisible): never mind that this was letterpress printed on a Challenge cylinder press from hand set metal Caslon 471 type, wood type, and collagraphs on Magnani Pescia pale blue 100% cotton paper. Signed and numbered in an edition of 97. What's that on your tie? A semi-colon?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poem In Your Pocket Day!

Today is the day to share poems! It's Poem In Your Pocket Day.

I bought a copy of Poem in Your Pocket: 200 Poems to Read and Carry (blue cover) and Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets (red cover) to see which poems were included. Neither of them has a table of contents, but they do have detailed bibliographies. 

In the red-covered book, I was delighted to find a childhood favorite of mine, "Eletelephony" by Laura E. Richards. And a longtime February favorite, Gertrude Stein's "A Very Valentine." I read through the 100 poems and found that many of them seem to be included because they illustrate something specific: teaching poems. Bruno Navasky, who selected the poems, is a teacher and his bio explains that "he has used nearly all these poems in the classroom." Many anthologies are put together for their pedagogical value rather than chosen for the stellar qualities of the work. It depends what you want to use them for. I did find some poems that tickled my interest, particularly in the sections called, "The Sweet Earth," "Lots of Play" and "The Grandpa Knee":
  • "Only Cherries" by Kenneth Patchen
  • "The Outlet" by Emily Dickinson
  • "The Pasture" by Robert Frost
  • "maggie and milly and molly and may" by e.e. cummings
  • "Solitude" by Charles Simic
  • "Seesaw" by Thom Gunn
  • "Instruction" by Conrad Hilberry
  • "Hide and See" by Kay Ryan
  • "Moment" by Hildegarde Flanner
  • "Why Animals Stay Away" by Alberto Ríos
  • "The Hot Stove" by Hal Sirowitz
  • "why some people be mad at me sometimes" by Lucille Clifton
  • "Note to Grandparents" by Grace Paley
  • "Dudley Wright" by Franz Wright
  • "There is No Word for Goodbye" by Mary Tallmountain

In the blue-covered book, out of 200 poems selected by Elaine Bleakney, only about a dozen caught my eye. This particular collection seems to have been assembled based on their fitness for an occasion, which is fine if you would like to give a poem rather than a Hallmark card. The themes, which sound provocative enough, are: Love & Rockets; Dwellings; Friends & Ghosts; Myself I Speak & Spell; Spring & After; City, My City; Eating & Drinking; and Sonic Youth. Again, these aren't the best of the best, but there are notable ones, some great ones, and the intro about poems, money and potential by Kay Ryan is thoughtful and wry. Included in the collection is a poem I like to read to classes for its rhythm: "Apple" by Gertrude Stein.
  • "Runaways Café II" by Marilyn Hacker
  • "Paradise Motel" by Charles Simic
  • "Home Is So Sad" by Philip Larkin
  • "Entrance" by Saskia Hamilton
  • "Kitchen Song" by Laura Kasischke
  • "Watermelons" by Charles Simic
  • "The Reassurance" by Thom Gunn
  • "Tenderness and Rot" by Kay Ryan
  • "Mr. T—" by Terrance Hayes
  • "The Great Figure" by William Carlos Williams
  • "Fear" by Grace Paley
  • "DSS Dream" by Martín Espada
  • "How Lonely It Is" by Richard Wright

These poems have a freshness, even a magical quality to them. They "make the strange familiar, and the familiar, strange," a concept about art that traces back to Novalis (a.k.a. Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr [baron, or "free lord"] von Hardenberg), a German Romantic poet/philosopher/writer of the late 1700s: 
To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery, and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as the extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.
As I sorted through all these poems I was happy to be introduced to the work of Lucille Clifton and Charles Simic, both of whom were able to "educate the senses to see…." 

Reading was worth it, as usual.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Poet's Work: Gleanings

In the book, The Poet's Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art, Reginald Gibbons, the editor, begins by explaining that poets before the 20th century didn't have a  tendency to write about their work; apparently poets wanted to write poetry, not write about poetry. If poets do write about poetry, do they write well?

Because of the 1979 publication date, the first thing I did was count how many women are included: Marianne Moore, Louise Bogan, Denise Levertov. Three.

To be fair, I bought the book primarily because it contains Dylan Thomas's "Poetic Manifesto" (184). In it, he writes about how the sound of words was the first influence on him in his childhood: 
And these words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of milk carts, the clopping of hooves on cobbles…I cared for the colors the words cast on my eyes.
Sounds turn to colors. The ears and eyes connect. The beginning of writing poetry with one's whole body.

While he writes about his love of words he also describes their limits, "…I do not like writing about words, because then I often use bad and wrong and stale and woolly words." He read everything and learned about "bad tricks" (often disguised as "technical devices"), and how "good tricks" were difficult to master. He believed he could learn from both the bad and good writers. And that he could and should use any trick necessary to make the poem work. Never mind what he says, Thomas shows that he can write about poetry with clarity. The book is worth looking through, if only for his piece.

Denise Levertov writes of forms (254). My understanding of her piece is that for some people, structure already exists in the world to be written about, while for others, they must write to give the world structure. She writes that to begin writing poetry: 
…first there must be an experience…of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech.
"Brought to speech" echoes of being brought to one's knees, as if a poem were a prayer. The words fall into a compelling order, a structure that must be communicated. The meaning becomes clear. The writer is compelled to write. Her essay has inspiring portions, such as the one above, but overall I found it hard to follow. William Carlos Williams (201) shows how the ordinary suddenly becomes magical: 
For under that language to which we have been listening all our lives a new, a more profound language underlying all the dialectics offers itself. It is what they call poetry.
Writing and reading poetry are ways of seeing language from a different angle. As Williams points out, we've heard the words all our lives. Rearranging the words can create new meaning. Digging below the surface brings up treasure. The gathering of words. Feeling the intense experience. Uncovering the mystery. These are all part of the poet's work.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Layout for Word Processing a Poetry Book

Let's say you want to print out and make a little chapbook, pamphlet, or even a thicker book of poems and/or photographs. Figuring out what goes on which page can be daunting. While many programs exist to help you set up pages for a book with signatures, there is a simple way to set up the signatures with a word processing program. This will be more useful as a tutorial if you are actually setting up a file.

Example: A 12-page book, three signatures, two folded card (65 lb. coverstock) pages in each signature. These folded pages will make the size of the book block 4 1/4" x 7". For a hardcover book: make five signatures, the first and fifth will be endpapers that can be glued to front and back boards. By using cardstock you can print on both sides of the paper with no show through.

Paper grain for copy, inkjet, and laserprinters usually runs long. We are going to assume that your paper does, too. First, set up the document as a template with margins, indents & spacing, columns, and font as follows:

Format < Document
Top: .75"
Bottom: 4.5"
Left: .5"
Right: .5"
Gutter: 0

From Edge: Header and Footer each at .5"

Format < Paragraph (indents and spacing)
Spacing: Line Spacing: Exactly At: 18 point (This will give you even spacing should you desire initial caps that are 18 point.)

Format < Columns
Number of columns: 2
Column #1: 3.25"
Spacing: 1"
Column #2: 3.25"
Check the box for equal column width.

Font < Minion or Palatino or Gill Sans
(These are the most legible print fonts and are slightly narrow. Times and New Times Roman are okay, but overused and not as pleasant.)

Making the Template (Note: the pages in the photos were printed portrait; they are shown trimmed to size)
Paste numbers and indicators onto the columns as placeholders. Use column breaks after each.

Front, page 1: L column is text 6 (poem 4 shown); R column is Title (title and image shown)
Back (page 2): L column is half title, image, or blank (blank shown); R column is text 5 (image shown)

Front, page 3: L column is text 4 (image shown); R column is text 1 (poem 1 shown)
Back, (page 4): L column is text 2 (poem 2 shown); R column is text 3 (poem 3 shown)

Save this doc as "Signature_Template1." One of these signatures, for example, can accommodate a story that is originally 2-3 pages, double-spaced, 12 pt. type. This signature will have two folded pages.

If you want more than one signature, copy the signature template, and revise the numbering:
Front, page 1: L 7; R 14
Back, (page 2): L 8; R 13

Front, page 3: L 9; R 12
Back, (page 4): L 10; R 11

Save this doc as "Signature_Template2."

For a final signature with a colophon or back matter, copy the signature template, and revise:
Front, page 1: L 1; R 8
Back, (page 2): L 2; R 7

Front, page 3: L 3 (colophon); R 6
Back, (page 4): L 4; R 5

1 - 3 could hold part of the body of the book. Save as "Signature_Back_Matter."

For a hardcover book with an image on the endpapers copy the signature template, but revise:
Front, page 1: L blank; R 1 blank
Back, (page 2): L (print with pattern); R blank

Remove all numbers. "Right 1 blank" gets glued to the boards. Print two copies, flip one over for the end of the book. Save as "Endpapers."

The Layout
  1. Duplicate the file "Signature_Template1" and rename for your story or project.
  2. Paste segments in order from your original file into "Signature_Template1copy."
  3. Check the formatting.
  4. Look at the column breaks. See where sentences end, how lines are split. Read through to see if the pauses between columns would work better if the text were split in different places. Your document at present is in sequential order, but won't work as signatures, yet.
  5. When you are happy with the file, save it. Keep it open.
  6. Duplicate the "Signature_Template1" file, the one with the numbers.
  7. Paste the columns that correspond to the order in the proper places.
  8. Print on both sides. Trim to 7" by cutting off the bottom.
  9. Repeat for more material and more signatures by following the above with "Signature_Template2."
Instructions for sewing: Single Signature Binding (95); Two-Sewn-As-One (100); for 3 or more, pp. 165-174, 181, and from Chapter 7 in Making Handmade Books. Shown: French Link Stitch binding ready to be cased into hard covers. Finished book is shown at the top of the post.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lucille Clifton: Poetry and Truth

Following threads, breadcrumbs, or seeds can get you into trouble or take you somewhere you've never been. In this case, a treasure hunt with a pleasant surprise at the end. National Poetry Month inspired me to buy Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets published in conjunction with the Academy of American Poets, and I found a poem that tugged at my heart by Lucille Clifton. The poem also happens to be one of the quotes embedded in the sidewalk on Library Way in front of the New York Public Library.
why some people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and i keep on remembering

How often we are faced with other people longing for us to agree with them, feeling they know best, when our own hearts say otherwise. Clifton's other poems share that approach; she looks on knowingly, with a wink, or in surprise while people act in ways that make no sense to her, be it casually bulldozing trees or being afraid of differences. In an untitled poem that begins, "still," she writes about the scissors man sharpening in the "white folks' section" and later in the poem, "and our edges / and our points / sharpening good as anybody's".

The subjects aren't always easy, but she handles them with humor and heart, as well as with an edge. The contrast of funny/human/edgy pulls us in: we believe her. In an article in The New Yorker she is quoted as saying, "truth and facts are two different things." Truth lives: truth speaks. We can feel that truth in our faces and shoulders when we laugh and cringe. A quote from Clifton in the same article made me cry; she described her eventual afterlife as a "pissed-off Negro in heaven": "when I get to where I'm going I want the death / of my children explained to me."

Her voice is strong on the page and strong in the air. Listen to her read.


You can also find "why some people…" in her book Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000.  Other poems that moved me: "Blessing the Boats," "Sorrow Song," and "Sleeping Beauty." This book won a National Book Award for Poetry in 2000.

In her earlier collection, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980, the poems are short, she rarely uses capital letters, and she uses her own spellings when she needs to. She writes about connections between people; being African-American; being a woman; being born with twelve fingers; being proud and present in her body (listen to her read "homage to my hips"); her complicated relationship with a father who sexually abused her; spirituality; dreams; and forging her own way. There are poems that connect contemporary life with history, and poems that climb inside historical, literary, and biblical characters to talk about modern life. This was one of two books that were nominated for a Pulitzer prize in 1987 (the other was Next: New Poems). She won many fellowships and awards, including an Emmy for her writing contribution to the televised version of Free to Be You and Me.

Lucille Clifton died from cancer on February 13, 2010. She was 73. Four of her six children survive her. 

You can read an interview with Lucille Clifton here. In it, she says, "I don't say No to poems." By saying Yes to what comes to her and by embracing all subject matter and any forms, Lucille Clifton says Yes to truth and to life.

photos for this post were taken by the Wanderer at New Califorkian

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Central Park Poet

I'm a poet
I'm not a bad man
They let me out every Tuesday
Where you from? California?
Everybody's got to come from somewhere
That's a poem
I got three poems here
A dollar a poem
So that's three dollars
But you can give me five if you want to

Can you help out a brother?

Where you from? California?
Everybody's got to come from somewhere
Next time, then
That's okay
You're still okay in my book, Pops

[fist bump]

—Alisa Golden

Monday, April 9, 2012

Is It a Poem, Yet?

I just
break up
the lines
is it a
or a
card game?

Laying down words a few at a time, like the stepping stones in a garden, begins an exploration. Get your hat, let's go. What happens when you shuffle those stepping-words around? Move one next to another, separate a phrase? You can move faster or more slowly as you continue on the quest.

Magnetic poetry works on the principle that all you need are words. You can buy boxes of pre-chosen words that relate to various topics, but anyone who has tried to make a poem with them knows that the word you want is always missing. Why is that?

We need rhythm.
Poetry is about sound and the repetition of sounds.
We need imagination.
Poetry is about connecting the moment to a memory.
We need clarity.
Poetry is about comparisons so we can make something new, familiar, or something familiar, new.
We need time.
Poetry has breath between the lines, sometimes slow and deep, other times quick and hard to catch.

Where are you right now?
Describe a few details slowly, breaking the lines as you go.
What does the moment remind you of?
Connect it to something else.

Judith Tannenbaum, a wonderful educator and training coordinator for San Francisco's WritersCorps, has written several books of and about poetry. One of  these is called Teeth, Wiggly as Earthquakes: Writing Poetry in the Primary Grades, which describes the process of writing and teaching poetry very clearly, giving excellent examples and easy-to-understand activities that are specifically aimed for a classroom setting, but could be useful to anyone who would like to begin writing poems, and to those who might like to refresh their ideas of poetry. Some of the sections are:
  • Body Poems
  • Writing from Objects
  • Writing from Sensory Experience
  • Question Poems and Personification
  • Repetition
  • Walking Excursions to Write Poems

Magnetic Poetry is a start, but it is hard to go very deep with it. It does, however, force you to be creative with the words you are given, even if you don't end up saying what you wanted to say.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Poetry Walks & Book Fences

April may be National Poetry Month, but poetry is available every month in some public places.

The Berkeley Hills in California have hidden paths, hidden only if you are not paying attention: they have signs that tell you they are there. Yosemite Steps is the only one of the paths that I know of that has a Poetry Fence.

In DelRay, VA, a neighbor created a poetry fence as well, this one featuring pens on strings so passersby can comment.

In Tempe, AZ, you can find Words Over Water, a 4,800 pound stone book at Tempe Town Lake, a collaboration by Alberto Rios, Karla Elling, and Harry Reese.

A poetry garden created in 1999 in memory of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Duncan, and other Beat poets who lived in the neighborhood may be found at the Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School at Lincoln and Milvia streets in Berkeley, CA. At one time they held an annual open mic in the garden on the last Saturday in April, but when I dropped by this week the garden looked wintry, the poetry by students sunfaded, the fence, neglected. This garden needs some love (and, possibly, money).

In Boston, MA, the Berkeley Community Garden, now run by a nonprofit group apparently has "poetic fragments excerpted from gardeners' conversations" in Chinese and English built into water basins and thresholds. The gardeners speak Chinese, English, Creole, Spanish and Portuguese. Some photos of the garden are here. Community poetry in a community garden sounds good to me.

Creating a pocket-sized "book fence" might be an interesting collaborative project with six friends, neighbors, or book group participants. Each person makes a Woven Accordion (Making Handmade Books, page 135 or Painted Paper, page 148) without the cards, and prints out six copies of a favorite poem on paper. Exchange poems, fold them in half, and weave the folded poems into the accordion. You could make six slim single-signature pamphlets instead. Here are the dimensions for the variation shown in the photograph below:

  • Use heavyweight paper, 18 x 5" (45.7 x 12.7 cm), grained short, for the accordion.
  • Instead of two slits as described in the book, make four slits parallel to the longest side that are 1" and 1 1/2" (2.5 and 3.8 cm) from head and tail.
  • Print out, type, or write out six copies of a poem (you can get 4 on a page of standard copy paper) and cut down to 4 1/4 x 5" (10.8 x 12.7 cm), grained long.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Poem In Your Pocket

April is National Poetry Month, which brings with it much creative activity. If you are in New York City on April 26, and you happen to be at Penn Station or out in public, look around for the people handing out papers; the non-profit organization, Academy of American Poets have claimed the day as "Poem In Your Pocket Day," and they are giving poems away. The idea is that you select a poem that you love and carry it with you all month, sharing it with friends and family. You can sign up to receive a poem every day during the month of April via email, and at their website you can also find out about poetry events near you. This event is in its tenth year. 

In Berkeley, all during the month of April you can pick up a poem by a Bay Area poet at Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore. Carry it in your pocket and unfold it and share it with friends on April 26. On their website they bill it as the "Fifth Annual Pocket Poem Giveaway." 

Two books with tear-off pages have been published in conjunction with the Academy of American Poets: pocket poems that are meant be torn out: Poem in Your Pocket: 200 Poems to Read and Carry (with an intro by Kay Ryan) and Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets.

You might make one of these pocket books from Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms to save your choices or to hold your own poems:

  • (p. 33) X Book with Pockets
  • (p.43) Twist Card
  • (p.57) Pocket Triangle & Diamond Book
  • (p. 69) Winged Book
  • (p. 73)  Pocket Frame Book
  • (p. 75) Flag Book with Envelope Pages
  • (p. 96) Paper Bag Book
  • (p. 112) Accordion with Pockets
  • (p. 137) Magic Wallet
  • (p. 186-201) Envelopes & Portfolios
  • (p. 53) or try the Crown Binding with removable pages and include a couple of copies of each poem  

-    -    -    -    -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   - 

i. Street Music (September)
In the shade of eucalyptus
with waving leaves
a slight, white man is wearing
a newsboy's cap
sitting on a sidewalk bench
outside the laundromat
waiting for a washer
playing clarinet
with a twinkle
in his tone.

ii. Street Music (March)
A white cup beside him
on the wooden bench,
a clarinet at his lips
sending out
tendrils of tunes,
a hatless man plays an encore
for Spring, oblivious.
What a shame
if someone tosses a folded dollar
into his coffee.

—Alisa Golden