Columnists

Completely Political

By Gerald Stern on 8.24.09

Budd Schulberg who wrote “On the Waterfront,” died this August at 95. He was famous for his novels, short stories and screenplays, and for the fact that he named names (unfortunately and unforgivably) for the McCarren-Walter Un-American Activities Committee, a precursor to McCarthy and McCarthyism, but was more or less unknown to the new generation. He said that it was the writer’s duty to speak out against injustice.

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Notes on the First Person

By April Bernard on 8.21.09

Those of us who live within the poetry of past centuries, as well of course as within the poetry of today, are bemused by the current confusion surrounding the first person “I” in poems. From Sappho’s lyrics to the sonnets of Shakespeare, to the odes of Keats and the quatrains of Hardy, the looseness and the elusiveness of the first person has been a hallmark of the lyric from its Western beginnings. When Shakespeare writes, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold, / When yellow leaves, or none, of few, do hang,” he is writing of himself and not writing of himself.

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Haibun / Hybrid

By Kimiko Hahn on 4.28.09

There is a good deal of chatter and blogging and general what-not (poetic and academic) about hybridity. But I wonder if this is something new? What does hybridity even mean to a Eurasian, born in the middle of the twentieth-century? I mean, one has only to look towards non-Western forms to find some of what is being re-invented.

I have written elsewhere about the zuihitsu and how this century-old form feels a lot like Williams’ Paterson or perhaps today’s “lyric essay.” I’ve considered how the monostich most engages me as a tanka—and rendered as one-line instead of the five-lines found in translation.

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The Need for Roots

By Martha Serpas on 4.24.09

Prayer, writes Simone Weil, is absolute unmixed attention. So is poetry. Paradoxical. Present tense. My poetry has also been influenced by Weil’s concept of decreation, “undoing the creature in us.” Rather than use the landscape as a metaphor for the self, I have applied her concept concerning human transcendence to the land. The destruction of Louisiana’s wetlands and the loss of Cajun culture embody theological longing: Tragic destruction is required for new creation.

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Read This

By Kim Addonizio on 4.20.09

When I first read Keats’ poem, “Ode to a Nightingale,” I didn’t understand it. I was blown away, and I didn’t know why. “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? / Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?”—those are the last lines of the poem. After reading them, I felt as though an electric current was running through me. I didn’t know what certain words in the poem meant, like “Hippocrene.” I didn’t know exactly what Keats was saying about hearing this bird singing, or why, at one point, he wrote about wanting to die. Later, I memorized that poem because I loved it so much. As I memorized and reread it, more of its meanings unfolded.

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Visitors

By John Kinsella on 4.17.09

In some ways I have been increasingly cutting myself off from contact with the ‘outside’ world. I still get out and about, traveling by train and (soon) ship, and turn up to lecture or teach classes, but these are discrete spaces that belong to their actions, and not places of social choice or growth for me. I am increasingly focused on the block of stony ground on a hillside we have been making our home, in the region I have always considered my home-place, though I have had many homes (especially in Ohio and Cambridgeshire), and the reference place/space for so much of what I write. But it is not my land, though the government (and as an anarchist, I neither believe in nor respect any government) might defend my right to ‘ownership’ against my beliefs and wishes.

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Poetic Sabbatical

By Linda Pastan on 4.15.09

When I think about my childhood, the years divide themselves into ordinary time, bounded by school, and vacation time—as if the two periods were of equal length. For a poet who lives a somewhat solitary existence in the Maryland woods, today’s vacations provide me with an alternative kind of life, restoring my often flagging creative energy. Perhaps that’s why they too seem longer than they really are.

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The Poetry and Poets of Ireland and America

By Eavan Boland on 4.10.09

I began to write poetry in Dublin when I was a teenager. It was an intimate, charged literary place back then, even for a student. When I walked out of the gates of Trinity College I relished the atmosphere in the city—grey, rainy, and self-confident. There seemed to be a broad appreciation of poetry. Many people could quote it; and they did. Somebody at night might start a poem by Yeats; someone else would finish it. Poetry permeated even casual conversation.

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Writing on Drawing on Writing

By Nathaniel Bellows on 4.08.09

When I was working on my first book, On This Day, I was so daunted by the idea of writing a novel that I turned to drawing to help me through the process. I’d always made drawings in my life, so it was a natural and comfortable practice to fall back on. As a result, the book developed simultaneously in both visual and verbal forms—on some days I’d draw from what I’d written and on other days I’d write from what I’d drawn. The two disciplines became interconnected in telling the story and showed me how combining them could not only support and inspire the process of writing the book, but also result in an unexpected final product. (The drawings were used as endpapers in the hardcover and paperback editions of the book.)

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Why I Write

By B. H. Fairchild on 4.06.09

Difficult to know why one writes.  More difficult to know why one writes poems, especially with a background such as mine—machine shops, oil fields, small-town Kansas—where boys did not grow up to write poems.  There is such a thing as falling in love with language, which happened to me as a child without my being aware of it, and this leads to a reading or a writing life and often both.  There is also the endless work/eat/sleep routine of blue-collar life, which can make one search for some point to it all and then eventually to locate it in literature, where life always comes to a point.

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