Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010

As part of her talk on Frost and contemporary poetry, we asked poet Jarita Davis to read several poems from her new manuscript. One of these poems, Davis's "Harvesting a Return," homes in on its cranberry harvest subject in a way very comparable to Frost's "After Apple Picking."

Here is Davis reading her poem, "Harvesting A Return."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Processional" by Joan Larkin

In Tamilnadu

where it’s still morning,

where the mixed scent of

burning rubber, incense

and excrement hasn’t yet

heated to a thing you sweat

through your feet and tongue,

where day is beginning to burn

through the neem leaves,

a long string of men

snakes along a dirt route, chanting

and in their center like a gold bead

lofted on their shoulders

a man sits in a painted box

its canopy dyed bright yellow

and he, too, is clothed yellow

and his face upturned to the sun

is smeared with turmeric:

a man the color of saffron grain.

He’s leaning back in his high seat

and you see from your safe distance

his stiff posture and open mouth.

You stare as if you’ve never seen the dead:

Francis in his smeared bedding,

your father a waxwork

freakish in mortuary rouge,

all the young men in varnished coffins.

Each death its own strangeness,

a gold face tilted to the light.

Yet common to all. You’re

in this moving line. And he is,

the one you carry, the one you praise

and want to spare.

The line jolts forward

Jaya, jaya, Shiva Shambho

toward the wood and fire,

and you breathe the scent

of everything alive.

Joan Larkin is the author of My Body: New and Selected Poems, which received the Publishing Triangle’s 2008 Audre Lorde Award. Her website, www.joanlarkin.com has more information about her previous books including Cold River, A Long Sound, Housework, and Sor Juana’s Love Poems (translated with Jaime Manrique). She has edited four anthologies of poetry and prose and co-edits the University of Wisconsin Press memoir series Living Out. Now in her fourth decade of teaching, Joan teaches in Drew University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Poetry Writing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Background on "Processional" by Joan Larkin

1. How did your poem come into being?

I traveled through South India in late 2000 and 2001. The unexpected sight of a decorated corpse being carried upright in a chair startled me and stayed with me long afterward. It came back to me years later, when I was sitting at a desk in New Hampshire. I didn't know where the image would take me, but it naturally connected to thoughts of loved friends, and the poem began to spill down the page like the long narrow movement of the funeral procession through trees.

2. Do you have a favorite line or phrase or word in your poem?

The phrase "of everything alive" -- the last line of the poem -- captures for me the way death and life are inextricably joined; I wanted to end the poem with the sense of aliveness in every moment, to express joy about every detail of experience.

3. Do you have a line that gave you particular difficulties?

This may seem a small thing, but poems are made of details –– every word and syllable is a choice: I struggled before choosing to say "clothed yellow," instead of what would have been the more familiar phrasing: "clothed in yellow." I wanted the stronger beat and closer connection between the two words without the unstressed extra syllable "in," but for a while I worried that the phrasing might seem strange and stop the reader. Now, the economical choice seems to me the right one.

4. How long have you been working on poetry?

I wrote silly comic verse at about age 8 or 9, got serious in high school with a ponderous sonnet about Julius Caesar, and in college listened to a teacher who advised me to choose poetry over fiction and focus on becoming a stronger poet. I liked telling stories, and the desire to write fiction kept resurfacing, but I've finally realized that my deepest impulse is more lyrical than narrative.

5. To read the poem out loud to an audience, how would you introduce it?

I'd probably say very little! I might say that "Tamil Nadu" is in South India, or mention the details in my answer to question #1, above, or say something about how fascinated I was in India to see faces painted with bright vegetable dyes to show loyalty to particular gods. Or I might mention the connection I found myself making to the many deaths of friends in the AIDS epidemic. These two threads fused, in the poem, with what I hope is a sense of life's vividness and mystery.

6. What poet's work has taught you the most?

It's hard to name just one, but Emily Dickinson keeps surprising me; reading her always feels like a fresh encounter, not a second-hand experience. I'm still learning from her immediacy and thrift, and the combination of wildness and aptness of her metaphors for interior life.

7. Do you have a favorite Frost poem? If so, what is it.

I grew up in Massachusetts, and Frost's distinctive voice was one of the first that spoke to me. Vividness of sensory details, economy, strong rhythms, and the way darkness and light live together in his poems still move me with their power. Among many memorable Frost poems, I think I'd choose "Desert Places" as one favorite––but on a different day it might be "After Apple-Picking"!

Background on "Journey withMan and Crows" by Raphael Kosek

1. How did your poem come into being?

In a very ecstatic moment—contrary to many others which are generated in a dark moment; my interest here was with sound and emotion. This was one of those poems that telescopes outward first, then inward—kind of an “aerial view” so to speak. And those crows seem to be at the periphery of everything . . .

2. Do you have a favorite line or phrase or word in your poem?

“their noteless unwritten music/piercing old timber, deepening distance”

3 Do you have a line that gave you particular difficulties?

Yes: getting from “cutting color like stained glass” to “riotous rising of the pheasant”; I cast about shamelessly until I came up with “until”! The problem was how to smoothly connect the two images. The poem is all one sentence, so you have to be careful that everything fits, rolls along smoothly.

4. How long have you been working on poetry?

Since age 12 and continuing up through college, then a long hiatus in between until my forties when I realized I’d die a very bitter old woman if I didn’t write. I still remember my first line of poetry: “With great relief and lightness comes the rain.” And I suppose I have always looked to poetry for “relief” and as a way to deal with this life.

5. To read the poem out loud to an audience, how would you introduce it?

This is one of those VERY FEW poems that nearly wrote itself; I didn’t know where it was going, but I liked the feel of this “ride” and just gave the horses the reins as they say . . . and of course, it is the journey. And crows, they are always around, at the periphery of everything. Also, I have recently taken up canoeing and am quite in love with it—so that certainly explains that part of the ride.

6. What poets' work has taught you the most.

I would have to say that the late Jane Kenyon’s work taught me the most: that the best poetry makes the ordinary extraordinary; that you can successfully combine dangerous abstracts (like “heart” and “joy” and “grief” ) if you use very concrete imagery to get you there. Her sometimes seemingly simple poems are anything but. Also, Jane Hirshfield has taught me to be spare when it’s important; the right word or image takes the place of many sentences. Again, she is another poet who mixes the concrete with the abstract judiciously and effectively. Billy Collins has shown me that poetry is really serious play, and that you can disarm the reader with humor, and that you must orient the reader in the beginning of a poem before you carry her “off.” The Eastern European poets, Czeslaw Milosc, Wislawa Szymborska, and Adam Zagajewski have also taught me to “telescope” outward in order to arrive inward. And vice versa.

7. Do you have a favorite Frost poem? If so, what is it.

“Desert Places” because it rings so true for me; also “Out, Out” because it’s a tour de force.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Route 1 North, Woolich, Maine" by Tess Taylor

"Route 1 North, Woolich, Maine" has already appeared in the journal Memorious, and in 2008 as Best of the Web.

TESS TAYLOR, 2010-2011 Amy Clampitt Resident, has received writing fellowships from Amherst College, the American Antiquarian Society, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. Her chapbook, The Misremembered World, was published by the Poetry Society of America. Her work appears widely.