Thursday, July 31, 2008

Poetry Placement (a response)

I was happy to read Kirsten Ogden's Poetry Placement on The Kenyon Review blog on Wednesday. I think she's on to something: using "poetry placement" like companies use "product placement" to promote their merchandise. I missed the episode of AMC's Mad Men that she is referring to; well - ok, I haven't seen a single episode. It looks like a smart, entertaining show, but 10 pm on a work night?...well, yes, it's past my bedtime. I think it's time to include it on my FiOs DVR. But I digress.

Mad Men is popular, and mentioning a sophisticated collection of poetry by one of the key poets of our modern age in the context of the show surely caught the attention of a lot of people...people who probably never heard of Frank O'Hara or his book...people who are now interested in reading it to see what all the hype is about. I didn't even see the episode, and I'm interested! That's pretty good.

Now, I'm not saying that if poetry is prominently mentioned on TV or in a movie, etc., the audience would necessarily feel the urge to go to their local Barnes & Noble to snatch it up. I mean, when you think about movies - each time you see a can of Coke or a FedEx box (Cast Away, anyone?) or such - that doesn't mean that you will go out and become a preferred Coke drinker after years of drinking Pepsi (just an example). But it will get your attention. And stay in your mind...Maybe make you curious... And poetry is much better for you than Coke. It's the real thing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


When most people think of "bikers", images of the scruffy/grizzly, tattooed, leather-clad warriors of the road who cuss worse than a sailor and have a maniacal look in their eyes come to mind. I suppose some are, but truthfully - most aren't. I'm not a biker, but in the past few years, I have come to know many and have been surprised by how much they dispell the stereotype. Even if they have that rough'n'tumble look about them, bikers are intelligent, often hold a white-collar job, live well, and would seem more at-home on the golf course than on a steel horse.

Why do I mention this? In two words: Road Poet (and its sibling Road Poet-NY). I recently learned that August is National Biker Poetry Month (NBPM). Bikers and poetry? That combination seems as likely as Britney Spears opening for Metallica. But it's true - and why not? OK - yes, I'm a skirt and have never been on a bike. From what I hear, though, there is such a sense of freedom, a sense that all is right with the world, verging almost on the philosophical and spiritual, that it must be inspiring.

I'm going to explore this Road Poet a little more, but in case you're interested in NBPM, there is a schedule for those of you in the Northeast on Road-Poet NY. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Could we be better neighbors?

I live on a sleepy, dead-end street. At the end of the street are tracks for the local train, lightly hidden by a scattering of trees; behind my house - a cemetery. Can't ask for quieter neighbors than that. The houses all around us have children under the age of 10, and it's nice to see the kids play out in the street with each other, unaffected by traffic or the pressures of the world. Neighbors say hello and even chat a bit. All told, it's a pleasant place to be.

Still, and an older neighbor pointed this out to us a few weeks ago, there are some neighbors that move in and we have no idea who they are. They don't have block parties like they used to. I don't even know much about the neighbors I do talk to. Most places, people don't even get that much from their neighbors. What do you really know about the people next door to you? I think we've become so isolated in our little worlds. Antisocial? Definitely. I know I don't go out of my way to be involved in their lives, and they do the same. We tend to shut down and focus on our own problems rather than opening up to new people. It's really nothing new. Life isn't a Leave it to Beaver episode...although it did seem different when I was a kid.

I think that's why I smiled when I read Why Mr. Rogers was the Best Neighbor Ever. Who doesn't remember the cardigan-clad man with the slow drawl and zippy sneakers? He seemed so harmless - and he was. I guess we have to be cynical and wary of people; better to not trust than to find that you have a pedophile or murderer as a neighbor. Still, it's nice to imagine, for a minute, that our guards are down and we can trust again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Snippet of Little Me

Funny how nostalgia can wash over you fast and furiously, without warning and seemingly triggered by anything - a song on the radio, formation of clouds, a walk down the street. If you read my blog yesterday, it should be of no surprise where this waltz down memory lane is coming from - the impending slide out of one decade into another, and the unavoidable comparision of myself then and now. So is it a mere coincidence that last night when I turned on the TV, Disney's "The Kid" was playing? (And by the way, if you've never seen it, let's just say, it's not a complicated movie but it's cute and amusing and even stodgy folks would get the message.)

Like most adults, I probably would never recognize myself if Little Me walked up today and said "hello." What would I tell her about the world and how things would change, both good and bad? Would I tell her anything, or let nature take its course? I look at this old photo of me (go ahead, you can laugh), thinking of me with skinned knees (and I still have the straight-line scars to prove it), thinking nothing bad would ever happen. Ah, innocence. All in all, though - I would tell her that she will be fine...a little banged up, but just fine.

Alot of writers have explored this pseudo-existentialist idea, and have tossled with the theme "If I knew then what I know now." I remember having a "discussion" with a close friend a few years ago and my position was, if you approached life and viewed it the same way now as an adult as you did when you were, say 10 or 15, you had issues. She disagreed. Maybe Emily Franklin's "It's a Wonderful Lie: 26 Truths about Life in Your Twenties" or Ellyn Spragins' book "What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self" would have helped me make my point.

Then again, maybe Little Me would remind not to forget who I was, and how there's still a piece of her left inside.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

And you may ask yourself...

Another milestone in my life is approaching and is looming over me like some megalith at Stonehenge. I admit, I'm having trouble with this one (psst - my birthday). I suppose it started a few years ago when I had to admit that I don't remember things as sharply as I once did, that I have more gray hairs than I can count, and that my body is already showing signs of breakdown. OK, maybe I'm being a little dramatic. I still get complimented that I look (and probably act) younger than I am. Most times, though, I'm told that I look tired - a.k.a., the polite way of saying I look like crap. I now relate more to the geriatric population than to the gen-Yer's. Still, it's been a great ride so far.

I think about the Talking Heads' song "Once in a Lifetime" and think, well, "how did I get here?" A birthday is as good of a time as any to take inventory on that wild roadtrip to see where I've been:
- 12 sheltered years of Catholic schooling
- 1 foreign exchange student
- 1 death in immediate family
- 4 years as a conservative at one of the most liberal colleges
- 7 beautiful countries visited outside of the US
- 1 major car wreck
- 1 minor back surgery
- 1 wonderful wedding to one extraordinary man
- 4 residences that I've called "home"
- 3 companies where I've worked since college
- 6 people that I would trust with my life
- 1,576 songs currently on my ipod
- 1 movie seen in the theatre in the last year
- 0 casts worn for broken bones
- countless friends lost, found and made

Probably more than you need to, or care to, know, but there it is. Of course, there's much more to this ever-evolving story. It's interesting to reflect on how things have changed, how the world has changed, how I have changed...and will continue to change. I ask "where does that highway go to?" It is stretched out far ahead of me and I'm looking forward to the next lag of this roadtrip.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"I spent $20,000 for that??"

I have to start this blog entry with a DISCLAIMER:
First, I believe a college education is a valuable asset to have in today's world - because, let's face it, a high school diploma doesn't get you too far anymore - and support those willing to challenge themselves to grow and learn and develop into responsible human beings, no matter what field they go into. Second, I wish I had listened to myself a little more closely in those crazy college days and had a little more confidence to pursue the field that I now know would have been a perfect fit for me. Not that I'm complaining about the route I eventually followed, but there's always the "what if". I find myself trying to bury that ever-present twinge of jealousy toward those I know who have become journalists, writers, English teachers, publishers and even editors. That could have been me.

I remember being a senior in high school, when my father asked "what will be your major?" I paused and thought about it; I think I even considered "journalism" but quickly decided "psychology" - a major as elusive now as it was then, I suppose. Granted, I enjoyed psychology - graduating with honors - and although I didn't go into the clinical field, I did learn much that I have applied directly in my career. Still, I always snuck those non-essential creative writing courses into my course schedule...just...because...and probably remember the advise of those professors more than my psych profs.

So, why should it be a surprise that someone, Columbia College Chicago, finally decided to make "Poetry" an official undergraduate major? Maybe because poetry is already covered under the umbrella of "English" or "Literature" or one of the existing majors. Maybe because, and let's be honest here, it's just not one of those lucrative career fields. I don't know. In the same breath, I think it's great that there would be such a demand and interest in poetry that it would warrant a college to allot enough funds to create a new major - especially when it seems most colleges are cutting back and sticking to the basics.

All I know is that if I told my father those many moons ago that I wanted to major in "Poetry", he would probably have disowned me, and certainly would not have paid his hard-earned money to put me through school to study something that may or may not have produced any marketable skills in his daughter. Then again, would I have had the confidence to have demanded this be my chosen field?

What do you think about "Poetry" as a major? Good idea, bad idea, just don't care?

For those of you who are considering this major, check out the CCC poetry blog.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Self-Help Books

All the positive energy and smiley words -
so precious. so, so precious.
like a little lamb that bounces into the woods,
chasing out the darkness.
And who knows the root of this evil?
It's not evil, just misguided
perceptions that happen standing still.
The pages, all the pages that confided
it's not me. It's them. It's you.
But is it true? APA just might agree:
Bad relationships - chapter 1-2
Dependency - chapter 3
Social Anxiety - chapter 4
Depression - chapter 5
and more! There's much, much more
wrong with me. Can I survive?
Yes, if we just think positively
the ickies will go away. {Whew}
I suppose this skewed reality
is why I avoid these books too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Can't Sleep? Take One of These...

Having trouble sleeping? Listen to someone reading a poem.

Ok, not quite - but that's the idea behind the world's longest movie, "The Cure for Insomnia." Created in 1987, it runs (depending on the source you read) anywhere from 85-87 hours, with Lee Groban reading his nearly 5,000 page poem of the same name, interspersed with heavy metal and X-rated video. Have I seen it? In a word, no. Even when I have trouble sleeping, I think I can manage just fine without staying up for 3 and a half days watching. Have you seen it? I'm curious if it lives up to the hype and if it's the psychedelic trip that it sounds to be. I don't even know if, in today's digitalized world, it still exists and can be viewed by anyone anymore.

I just thought this was funny. I mean, people have trouble staying awake when listening to a short poem, let alone a 5,000 pager. It's my impression that when most people even hear the word "poem" that it makes them feel cramped and like they are living this 3 and a half day diatribe.

Was it done for art? Shock value? Drugs? Not sure. This video from a few years ago is of Lee Groban himself (seemingly an upstanding kind of guy) explaining, in part, the project:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Therapy Day?

Therapy Day? Well, no...but after reading this, you might think it should be.

So, I've been grappling with something for a long time. How personal do you get when you write, or, how personal do you get when you write online (or other publication) and for all to see?

I can see this going two ways:
1) I get personal. That's what people do online - they open up, raw and honest, to get a point across, to relate to the audience, or to just be noticed. After all, we are a voyeuristic society, and love train wrecks. How else do you explain the phenom of celebrity, or E! for that matter? Poetry should be pure, whether in observation or emotion, but to what level?

2) I give you glimpses but never really reveal the truth, out of fear (I would probably call it "courtesy") of not embarrassing myself, my friends or family. I've seen things, man. THINGS. But seriously, there's a lot more that could be released than what I've been giving. Read my personal journals, and you'll see the darker paints of me. I am crap at writing fiction, so heading in that direction to mask what's really there isn't such an option right now. But holding back doesn't do justice to the art, either.

I guess I've always worried that if I reveal too much in my writing, people will think I'm a head case, and maybe I, I am - I'm pretty sure...or interpret the situations I write about differently than intended. I have to get over this fear...but keep it balanced...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In the News...

Found an interesting blog, the Poetry Hut, that links online articles of poetry in the news. Short, sweet, to the point - and a good reminder that poetry is still out there, folks, working its magic in the real world, one way or another.

Ron Silliman occassionally does something similar, but his is more of a rolling list (that sometimes is unnecessarily long) than a condensed top 10 stories of the day. Either way, check them out.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Implications of Rain

Maybe it's the way the light casts down and bends
around the evergreens; the clouds descend
and infiltrate the undergrowth; the shadows crawl
along the forest floor, into membrane walls.
The gloominess exasperates
that it's Monday; and so it takes
that much more blood to climb from bed.
My heart crawls where shadows tread.

Sound is imprisoned like each day before -
the lonely drop that signals hundreds more,
all of which are indifferent to my prayers for sun,
and soon my prayers dwindle down to none.
The perfidy exacerbates
that's it's Sunday now; the levee quakes
with water moaning for God to take -
to take the bruise-colored clouds that shake -

Clouds, squeezed almost dry, remain aloft -
impervious darkness, trailing off,
(or blending, really) into the damp night shade
and horizons met where the distinction fades.
These are the days that ghosts stumble upon;
my eyes adjust to see before they're gone.
Silence hasn't changed in all these tired days
except the ringing echo that always stays
and seems to grow louder in intensity
and I wonder if the sun will ever shine on me...

...Then I wake...and it's still Monday morning;
insignificant hills shrug off the storming.
Time for me to crawl along and do the same;
such are the implications of rain.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Feel It All

I love Feist. Her songs are catchy and intelligent, and with the tinge of vulnerability, she captures the mood I'm in today with "I Feel It All." I'll let you analyse the lyrics today on my behalf. lyrics

I Feel It All - Feist

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Smile

A smile in simplicity
is as rare as emerald stones
without fracture or resistance
or obligations to reflect.
And though its luster is foreign
against the worn surfaces shown,
its brevity of being haunts
with pure joy that it projects.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What's Your Type?

As a graduate of psychology and as the arm-chair analyst that I am, I am still fascinated by personality types, what makes each of us tick, how the combination of "nature" vs. "nurture" works to build this ever-evolving being that we present to the world.

I was thinking the other day: What is the personality of a poet? Is there one? Why do some people gravitate toward poetry and writing, and others don't? I guess there would be as many answers to that as there are poets out there. My assumption is that most poets are introspective and probably introverted enough to be able to tune into their surroundings (and themselves). Perhaps the right brain developed a little bigger than the left. Is that all? And to that end, do poets even want to be pigeon-holed into a category? We are each as different as our words.

I came across this article on the Web: Poetry and Personality, which follows the Enneagram inclusive of 9 distinct personality types. In reading over Dr. Bast's page and explanation of the enneagram and link to personality, I can't help but think "I fit into more than one of these categories!" Is that where my inner conflict comes from? I don't know. I am not a shrink nor do I visit one.

What do you think? Is there any truth to it? Is there another scale for personality types in poets? Or is it gibberish? I'm really interested in your opinion on this.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lullaby song

Poetry and music go hand in hand. In fact, I think they share the same skin. I'm often influenced by music in my writing. Sometimes, it's better to just sit back and let the music do the writing for you, painting landscapes and drawing emotions that otherwise would remain hidden.

This "video" is a "remix" of a song you probably heard years ago: Deep Forest's "Sweet Lullaby." I listen to it when my mind is weary and I need to regain focus. It also takes me to another place, like so many other songs.

So, today - no writing, just listening:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Modern Poets (a response)

I was moved the other day by Nic Haralambous and his blog posting on July 1 when he acknowledges that there are many fine poets from the past who brought us the quintessential poems we have learned or heard or quoted over time; however, he also asks the poignant question, who are the poets of his (our) era?

His question is the crux of another key question: does poetry still matter? If poetry is still significant in these modern times, who are our leaders in the fight to keep it so? The conclusion came, as many of us have recognized, that modern songwriters are filling in that gap now and claiming the crown as the poets of our time. I agree, absolutely. Afterall, why do you think I post my "favorite lyrics" on here? Why are we inspired, enchanted, empowered, or reminded when we hear the words to a song? Because it's poetry.

I responded to his posting that I believe poetry still has a place in our society. And it does. It should never be discounted. On a small scale, think about how many times you quote something that has become almost trite, only to remember that it was derived from a poem. But, to his original point, who's creating these words now? Who are the modern poets?

I search for them. There are writers, for certain. But most are minor and like me, just trying to get the message out there, whether successfully or not. There are very few "greats" that future generations will quote in fondness. Maya Angelou? Ok, there's one. What about Charles Simic (US poet laureate)? Ever hear of him? There have got to be more. Are there?

In the meantime, I'll let the gap be filled by mr. ipod...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Happiness Is...

So, apparently, Denmark is the happiest place on earth. Who knew? In a study directed by Ronald F. Inglehart, PhD - political scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research - he discovered that Denmark is leading the rest of us in happiness points. I would have thought "The Netherlands" for all its hedonistic treasures.

The article on MSNBC is brief and obviously does not break down the scientific evaluation of the study, but I suspect there are some flaws. The two things that stand out are the that Denmark was selected because it is "prosperous", and "the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives." Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I think alot about this topic - what makes us happy and why - and so this study caught my eye, as I'm sure it must have struck a cord with author Eric Weiner. On my more-or-less defunct blog Beyond the Exit Signs, I talked about his book The Geography of Bliss and his search for that very thing. First, he identified Iceland as the happiest place, but for reasons more substantial than that "it's properous. " Happiness to him was determined by strongholds like close-knit relationships and stability. I'm sure they have those, too, in Denmark.

What determines happiness is one of those things we tend to think alot about in the Western World and I'm not sure if we'll ever come to a resounding conclusion. What's certain though, for all its money and supposed stability, the United States is not ranked anywhere near the top of the happiest places. I would probably say less so this year than any recent year with the economy as it is. Ironically, on the same day (July 1), MSNBC also has an article that the U.S. leads the world in drug use. I feel our position slipping...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Poetic Justice, Indeed

Middlebury College professor and writer Jay Parini's essay on A Case of Poetic Justice first appeared in the Washington Post on June 22, 2008. To summarize: a few kids in Vermont vandalized Robert Frost's summer home back in December (i.e. - broke in and threw a blowout) , were caught and part of their "sentence" (community service) was to discuss Frost's poetry with Parini. As he points out in his essay - that's hardly "punishment" and as it turned out, it was a revealing lesson to those kids.

Parini recently wrote a book on "Why Poetry Matters" (do you sense a theme on my blog here?), and his essay is brilliant in demonstrating that, yes, it does matter. To those kids, he was able to get through to them the challenge of choice and following the "road not taken."

Poetry is not punishment and its magic is when you can apply it to your own life (or even take you out of your own life for a while).

I won't rehash his entire essay - it's best if you read it for yourself. If you've never read Frost or the quintessential "The Road Not Taken" - do yourself a favor. You can thank me later.