Columnists

Emily Dickinson’s Utopian Tongue

How Her Poems Revitalize Language

By Lisa Williams on 10.07.09

Emily Dickinson’s poems are a paradise for words. I say this because it was her poetry that sparked my awareness of what language can be. In this language utopia, words are not fixed entities but facets of conception. Other facets are hinted at in the suggestion of homonyms, synonyms, puns: a world of words beyond those seen. Even though one word has been chosen, others hover in the air around it, “Invisible as Music / but positive on Sound” (#501) as if the text were a ghostly palimpsest. Thus, a Dickinson poem “is not Conclusion”: a reader often has the freedom to see one word yet hear and imagine others, not just because a reader imposes the (contemporary) subjective approach to a poem while reading Dickinson, but because Dickinson’s poems were written with that sort of multi-verse in mind.

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Marilyn Chin reads from ‘Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen’

By Marilyn Chin on 10.05.09

A couple weeks ago we posted a short excerpt from Marilyn Chin’s hilarious debut novel Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen. Since then we’ve been able to get a recording of Marilyn reading that excerpt. It’s from chapter 4, about halfway through the novel, and is called ‘Why Men Are Dogs’.

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By Way of Introduction

Ellen Wehle’s First Book of Poetry

By John Dufresne on 9.30.09

I once sat with the late George Garrett at a poetry panel at a Georgia writers’ conference. The panelists were heralding the triumph of accessible poetry, poetry so simple, clear, and direct that Everyman could understand it instantly. George leaned over to me and said, “Soon, even our dogs will understand it.” This story comes to mind because I’ve just read my friend Ellen Wehle’s first book of poetry, The Ocean Liner’s Wake. Ellen’s poems should be read and then read again.

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A Field Guide to Getting Lost

A One-Question Interview with Nick Flynn

By Nick Flynn on 9.22.09

Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, has written a new memoir called The Ticking is the Bomb that will be in stores in January. Poems Out Loud got an early look at the new book and had the opportunity to ask Nick if he would participate in a one-question interview. He graciously agreed.

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Like That, The King

By Rebecca Wolff on 9.11.09

I thought I might take this opportunity to address the King. The title of my recent book of poems is The King, and in the flap copy for the book (which I had a hand in) an analogy is drawn between this putative monarch and other kinds of higher powers. “The King” is established as a trope standing in magisterially for any kind of external-reality force one might come up against: “the Other,” among others. Unlisted among them is the reader. Unlisted among them the editor and publisher.

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The Anxiety of Influence,  Part I

A Mother’s View

By Linda Pastan on 9.08.09

My husband is a scientist/physician, and our eldest child has become a doctor. My middle child is a chef—half science, half art. But it was only when my youngest child became a writer that I started to worry about this genetic thing: were they programmed to follow our footsteps, or was it our example, our influence that determined which paths they chose? Why was I not disturbed by any of this until my daughter Rachel became a writer?

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A Design Against Darkness

Poetry for Troubled Times

By Kim Addonizio on 9.02.09

Sometimes the world seems to me utterly random, possibly malevolent, and therefore frightening. I always go back to Robert Frost’s sonnet, “Design” which closes, “What but design of darkness to appall?—/ If design govern in a thing so small.

When I read this poem, I end up feeling oddly comforted. Someone else was asking the same questions, feeling the chill, getting it down in language. Someone was fashioning a poem. A design against darkness.

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Memoir and Poetry

By Honor Moore on 8.28.09

Back in the mid-eighties I wrote a poem called “Memoir” for a friend who had died of AIDS. It seemed the perfect title for an elegiac poem that combined memory with dream and imaginative vision, so much so that I took it for the title of my first book of poems. When Memoir, a collection that drew on love, dream, memory, and family, was published in 1988, the title was seen as evocative and original. Memoir was an obscure genre—the earliest I remember reading was Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, in which the author’s prose was poetic and metaphorical and in which her narrative drew on myth and cultural history as well as autobiographical incident.

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American Hybrid

From Anthology to Conversation

By Cole Swensen and David St. John on 8.28.09

By way of introduction, we are the editors of a poetry anthology called American Hybrid. A poetry anthology is an implicit conversation about poetics, about history, about the role of the arts in society, but the conversation just starts there. We’d like to use this Poems Out Loud column to let that conversation overflow into the literal, where American poetry can be discussed in its widest sense, its current state and its future.

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In Defense of Teaching

What can be learned in a creative writing class?

By David Baker on 8.26.09

I start this column for Poems Out Loud on Day Four of the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, held for eight days each late June in sleepy Gambier, Ohio. This year six of us teacher-writers are working with ten or eleven students apiece, with sections in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Typically we offer two special sections for new writers of poetry and fiction. We have all come from our homes, families, and jobs to sit in little rooms with each other and talk about our chosen genre—to write it, inspect it, study its history, retool our drafts. What, I asked my group, brought them here?

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