Category Archives: Personal

Eureka

Here is the last first draft of my video. I plan to revise the ending.

Bob Holman

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This man deserves a post of his own. More than that, he deserves a medal for everything he has done over the years to keep poetry alive. If the art of the word makes it through this lowbrow American era, Bob will be to thank in large part.

I’m not going to detail his whole resume. That would be laborious and insincere. You can check out his site for that. I wanted this post to be more like a tribute. Bob’s wife and the mother of his children died this year, yet he still organizes shows, teaches classes, and gives readings every week as well as scouring the world for poetic talent. It shows how deeply he cares about this. He is an iron horse, a juggernaut. Maybe losing himself in this keeps him going. I’ve gotten to know him somewhat and only have more respect for him the more that I learn. What’s more, he always returns phone calls and emails and is always willing, even eager, to talk at length about all things poetry. This is an immeasurable boon for a journalist and an act of generosity for which I will long be in his debt.

The Poetry Foundation

The Poetry Foundation, based in Chicago, is perhaps the best online resource for poetry enthusiasts in the English speaking world. With a vast, encyclopedic scope, they seek to cover everything of significance in poetry on an international level. It was founded in 2003 with a grant from the philanthropist Ruth Lilly and is an evolution of the Modern Poetry Association, founded in 1941. They currently produce Poetry magazine, which began in 1912 and is the oldest publication devoted to verse in the English language.

Since my blogsite aims to cover modern poetry, it would seem a major omission to fail to mention the Poetry Foundation.

The founder of Poetry magazine, Harriet Monroe, stated the publication’s purpose in its first issue as:

to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach.

In its earliest editions, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams – all of whom were close friends of Harriet Monroe – graced the pages.

Currently, more than a third of the poets published in Poetry magazine are appearing in print for the first time. Now more than ever, the magazine is embracing, and hoping to define the future of the art form.

More to come….

American Life in Poetry

One of the biggest obstacles facing the dissemination of poetry in our culture is the absence of it in the mainstream media. In the early twentieth century, contemporary poetry was published and reviewed every week in the majority of newspapers and general-interest magazines in America. In the fifties, mainstream publications began curtailing this practice and today only highbrow journals like the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker still publish new poetry. Former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser began addressing this problem during his tenure in 2004-2006. He started the American Life in Poetry project, which is a free weekly column for newspapers and online journals featuring a poem by a contemporary American poet and a forward to the poem by Ted Kooser.

From the website:

Kooser observed that “Poetry has remained a perennial expression of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual lives, as witnessed by the tens of thousands of poems written about the tragedy of September 11 that circulated on the Internet. Now I’m hoping to convince editors that there could be a small place in their papers for poetry, that it could add a spot of value in the eyes of readers. Best of all, it won’t cost a penny.”

American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the Library of Congress. You can sign up to receive the column each week in your email. I did, and this is what I got this week:

American Life in Poetry: Column 140

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Here's a holiday poem by Steven Schneider that I like very much for its light
spirit and evocative sensory detail. Isn't this a party to which you'd like to
be invited?

Chanukah Lights Tonight

Our annual prairie Chanukah party--
latkes, kugel, cherry blintzes.
Friends arrive from nearby towns
and dance the twist to "Chanukah Lights Tonight,"
spin like a dreidel to a klezmer hit.

The candles flicker in the window.
Outside, ponderosa pines are tied in red bows.
If you squint,
the neighbors' Christmas lights
look like the Omaha skyline.

The smell of oil is in the air.
We drift off to childhood
where we spent our gelt
on baseball cards and matinees,
cream sodas and potato knishes.

No delis in our neighborhood,
only the wind howling over the crushed corn stalks.
Inside, we try to sweep the darkness out,
waiting for the Messiah to knock,
wanting to know if he can join the party.

City Lore

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On November 4th, I attended the 4th annual brevitas Festival of the Short Poem at the Bowery Poetry Club. The gathering of about 40 published poets, including former poet laureate Billy Collins, drew a large crowd.

The last to read (as the poets performed in alphabetical order) was Steve Zeitlin, proprietor of City Lore.

Steve Zeitlin

Steve Zeitlin

City Lore is an npo that produces various programs and publications intended to inform the public of the artistic life and cultural heritage of New York City. Check out the website (linked above) for a listing of City Lore activities.

Here are some images from events that City Lore has been part of in the last few years (click on the links under the thumbnails for full-size image galleries):

Streetscapes of a City in Mourning (post 9/11)

Missing: Streetscapes of a City if Mourning (post 9-11)

Puerto Rican Day Parade

Puerto Rican Day Parade

West Indian Parade

West Indian Day Parade

As a practicing poet, Steve Zeitlin is concerned with the poetic life of the City, and with making City Lore an advocate for poetry in mainstream American culture. Before I met him, or indeed had any idea who he was, I was captivated by his reading at the brevitas show on the Bowery. Maybe only because his was the last reading (though I suspect otherwise), his words, recitation, and general demeanor, had a profound impact on me.

Steve began his segment by saying a few words about Woody Guthrie, the great middle-American folk-poetry hero and forefather of Bob Dylan.

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Woody Guthrie

I got me a sort of a one-man religion – but it takes in everybody. My religion is so big, no matter who you are, you’re in it, and no matter what you do, you can’t get out of it.

– Woody Guthrie

Steve read that quote and then went into his own poetry. I’d advise anyone to pick up a copy of his work, but I will only reproduce here the last short poem he read.

Animated Stardust

Sentient being,

Are we on a quest to understand the universe

Or are we some figment of Creation’s quest

To understand itself?

Frail and human creatures of the cosmos

Can we sense the presence

of our own Creator

In this animated stardust?

This dust that renders visible

A stream of light –

Particles dancing in a beam of light!

“Strangling Culture with a Copyright Law” – NY Times Op-Ed article by Steve Zeitlin
“Rock and Word” – article by Steve Zeitlin
“The Life Cycle: Folk Customs of Passage” – article by Steve Zeitlin

Honesty not Optimism (written with mild despair)

Over the weekend I wrote a long draft of a magazine feature article highlighting the efforts of Dave Levine to stimulate the poetry scene in New York. I wrote it with a tone of optimism, because this is what I would like to have. But I knew something was fundamentally wrong with it from the moment I put the first word down. I’m not talking about style or readability; it was just flat wrong. I don’t think there is much to be optimistic about in the New York poetry scene. You want an answer to why there isn’t a big movement like the Beat generation happening today: Nobody gives a shit about poetry. It isn’t a major cultural force in New York. Was it ever? I imagine a golden era of men like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg holding court in the Village, inspiring large crowds, waking up millions of sleeping Americans with their bright new American vision, REALLY making a difference.
Jack Kerouac reading his poetry

Today it seems that the people who do care about poetry could all fit into a room. Their group is small enough to be called a cult, or a tiny subculture. They probably all know each other. There are no poems that are breaking down doors in our society, nothing on the order of a Howl. God bless those few, those islands in the stream, for holding on to something precious. But contemporary American society is far from entering a period of renewed interest in artful verse, in my humble opinion. From now on, I am going to approach this subject honestly, as I see it, not exaggerate reality because I still hold on to a fairytale of New York.

The stuff of Podcasts

Since my piece is about contemporary performance poetry, I feel that I need to provide examples of this, in whole, not chopped up. It feels like a violation to chop up little pieces of a poem and offer them as examples of the whole. The professors of my course may have had something else in mind when they assigned the task of creating a podcast (they probably want something like a radio piece), but my particular topic seems to call for the use of this medium. So here is a plethora of contemporary performance poetry of different sorts and I hope to continue adding to it. (Of course, I have to figure out how to put these into podcast format)

One of the best performance poets I have seen yet is Regie Gibson. He has a wide range of styles and I may end up including more of his stuff. Luckily, he has given me permission to use his intellectual property for this.

This is a comic poem written by Oscar Brown Jr (Regie is just performing it):

This is an original:

Here are some examples of Slam Poetry, from a recent slam at the Bowery Poetry Club:

Molly Katherine:

Kareem Johnson (I like this because, unlike most slam poetry, it isn’t self-centered, identity driven):

This is something a little different. A poet named Eve Packer and two jazz musicians create a funky fusion:

Bob Holman, head honcho, MC of Manhattan poetry, reads d.a. levy at a reading in honor of levy’s birthday. Levy is a legendary Cleveland poet/anarchist, died when he was 26, in the 60’s:

All of these have to be formatted. I want to just have a blank screen with the name of the reader, the poem, and a little context written in white over a black background for the duration of the reading. This entry is a work in progress.

Here is Bob Holman’s reading in Podcast format, with some contextual narration added.