Columns

On Love Poems (and Other One-Horned Beasts)

By Sandra Beasley on 2.11.10

I’ve been writing love poems.

Or rather, I’ve been trying to write love poems.

To be precise, I’ve been cursing the blank page where my love poems should be. I’m in love, damn it. Where are the poems? When I’m sad, I can write about sadness. When I took a cable car up Mount Pilatus, I could describe the view from 7,000 feet.

It’s not uncommon for a lover to ask, “why aren’t I in your poems?” Usually the poet thinks, “You don’t want that. Showing up in poems is a bad sign.” There is a truism that poems do not thrive on the agar of contentment. No, that’s not quite it; great poems do not thrive on the agar of contentment. Mediocrity flourishes in any petri dish. William Butler Yeats, in “Meditations in Time of Civil War,” diagnosed the problem. “Only an aching heart,” he said, “Conceives a changeless work of art.”

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Hate Poem: The Story Behind the Hate

By Julie Sheehan on 2.10.10

Okay, false advertising. This is not the story behind the hate—there is no story behind the hate, or if there is, I’m not telling. Instead, I have an observation, one that has probably occurred to many: hate and love can be described in the same, outlandish, hyperbolic and indistinguishable terms, probably because hate and love require the same degree of passionate intensity. Don’t say Yeats didn’t warn us, but it may be that hate and love are the same thing. Surely both are equally capable of mass destruction.

Weirdly enough, when we’re talking about language, not people, hate redeems love. Hate poetry, I mean, redeems love poetry. Take those sagging lyrics from “I Love You Truly” and substitute the word hate for love.

That’s what I did for the first lines of this poem:

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Why I Write

By Dorianne Laux on 2.08.10

I have recently begun to think of writing as what Susan Sontag calls “a wisdom project” in her forward to Another Beauty, a collection of autobiographical essays by the great Polish poet Adam Zagajewski.

“…autobiography is an occasion to purge oneself of vanity, while advancing the project of self understanding—call it the wisdom project—which is never completed, however long the life.”

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You Have Flown to the Dangerous Country

Thoughts on Haiti

By Elizabeth Spires on 1.29.10

A few years ago, I reviewed the children’s classic Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti, written by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes in 1931. The Haiti presented in that book was a simple, lyrical place, in some ways almost paradisaical, and totally at odds with the terrible scenes of destruction and human suffering we are seeing in newspapers and on television broadcasts since the earthquake. Even before the earthquake, however, Haiti’s troubles in recent years, its political instability, social chaos, and poverty, made it an unlikely destination for most travelers.

This didn’t deter my husband, who began making regular trips to Haiti in 1995 to research a trilogy of historical novels (All Souls Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and The Stone That the Builder Refused) about the Haitian slave revolt of 1791. Since he is an intrepid, resourceful traveler, who recognizes little in the way of danger, I decided it would be pointless to worry about his safety until the day of one trip, when the Haitian Times landed on our doorstep in Baltimore running the bold headline “Kidnappers Run Amok.” Fortunately, his plane to Haiti had already taken off, which was a good thing, since I know that that particular story wouldn’t have stopped him from going. But my misgivings on that occasion spurred the poem “You Have Flown to the Dangerous Country.”

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Snail: The Story Behind the Poem

By Elizabeth Spires on 1.27.10

Elizabeth Bishop once described the writing of a poem as a “happy accident.” She knew that the image or event that triggers a poem is always unexpected. It can’t be planned or contrived, willed or wished for.

This has certainly been true for me. I remember how a long-ago trip to the town dump in Stonington, Maine—certainly not a beautiful or “poetic” place—inspired a poem of mine titled “The Woman on the Dump.” And, a few years later, how a visit to my daugher’s elementary school led to my writing “Snail.”

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All Living Things Have Shoulders

From The Ticking is the Bomb

By Nick Flynn on 1.22.10

For those few years when I worked in New York City public schools as an itinerant poet—Crown Heights, Harlem, the South Bronx—I’d lug a satchel heavy with books on the train every morning. Much of what I taught was directed toward finding out what the students saw every day. It was a way to honor their lives, which isn’t generally taught in public schools. The beginning exercises were very simple: Tell me one thing you saw on the way into school this morning. Tell me one thing you saw last night when you got home. Describe something you see every day, describe something you saw only once and wondered about from then on. Tell me a dream, tell me a story someone told you, tell me something you’ve never told anyone else before. No one, in school at least, had ever asked them what their lives were like, no one had asked them to tell about their days. In this sense it felt like a radical act. I tried to imagine what might happen if each of them knew how important their lives were.

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New and Selected

Friday Links for the Discerning Reader

By The Editors on 1.08.10

• Watch out DC, poetry is about to stop being polite and start getting real. The Real World goes to DC the same year that the Beltway Poetry Quarterly turns 10 years old!

• Readers of Fiction Writers Review are getting a special subscription rate (just $12) on Poets & Writers Magazine between now and January 15th. Act now! Operators are standing by.

• The new issue of Cerise Press is now available. Francophiles rejoice!

• Poetry and e-readers. Match made in heaven? or Neruda is spinning in his grave? Comment with your thoughts in haiku form.

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In Praise of Public Libraries

By Sandra Beasley on 1.05.10

Not long ago, I took part in a fundraiser for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1895, this family of public libraries serves 2.6 million visitors each year at nineteen locations throughout the city. But a 1.5-million-dollar deficit for 2010 has resulted in orders to close four branches, in neighborhoods already “underserved” at best, and merge two others. Hours of operation will be shortened by almost 30 percent. Thirty staff positions will be cut.

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New and Selected

Friday Links for the Discerning Reader

By The Editors on 12.11.09

• This week we liked “On Translation” by Mónica de la Torre. Listen!

Sandra Beasley picks the Best Poetry Books of 2009 for the No Tells blog. Check out all of No Tells guest Best of ‘09 lists.

• Do you Swindle?

• The election of Oxford University’s Professor of Poetry post will now involve online voting. Do you think that’s a good idea? Take our online poll.

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Interview with Cynthia Cruz, Professor and Poet

By The Editors on 11.23.09

Letter from a Young Poet” is an ongoing series from Poems Out Loud which aims to chronicle the experiences and insights of young poets as they find out what it means to call oneself a writer: from contests and rejections, to themes and obsessions, to what bids each of them to write. Now we bring you the third installment of the series featuring Cynthia Cruz, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and the Julliard School.

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