Newest #PoetLaureate for the #USA is Tracy K. Smith

Newest #PoetLaureate for the #USA is Tracy K. Smith

[photo credit, from the article (link below): James Estrin/The New York Times]

USA’s Library of Congress has announced Tracy K. Smith as its newest national treasure, the country’s “poet laureate consultant in poetry,” the 22nd individual to hold that position.

A Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet (for her 2011 science-fiction-themed collection, Life on Mars, Smith, 45, who holds a BA from Harvard University and an M.F.A. (Master’s in Fine Arts) from Columbia, is the Director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.

Mazel Tov!

Here is a great article about her life, current projects and past creative work:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/books/tracy-k-smith-is-the-new-poet-laureate.html

Read and listen to some of her poetry and read more about her/all her writing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLIH6ewfplA
and
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/28/books/review/life-on-mars-by-tracy-k-smith-book-review.html
and
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/55522
and
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/tracy-k-smith
and
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/05/wade-in-the-water

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Honoring World #Poetry Day, March 21st, with a review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s latest collection

World Poetry Day is March 21st, 2016: Celebrate Poetry Globally

To honor this day and #Women’s History Month, both, I’m reviewing and discussing some of the poems from one of my favorite poets and authors, fellow #feminist/#Buddhist Ursula K. Le Guin. Her latest collection, Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, is a delight.

late in the day real
Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, by Ursula K. Le Guin
http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Index-LateInTheDay.html

Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite writer. No contest. In fact, I wrote a review of another poetry collection early this year, which I enjoyed enormously: https://sallyember.com/2016/01/19/homage-to-and-review-of-ursula-k-le-guins-finding-my-elegy-new-and-selected-poems/ Some of the explanations of my connection to Le Guin are repeated from that post, below.

I have enjoyed, admired, appreciated, envied and learned from her novels, novellas, short stories, essays, and poetry for over forty years. She is about my mom’s age (in her early 80s, now) and still going strong. She is my idol, my mentor, and my role model. I also found out, after reading a recent collection, that she and I share not only a love of writing, speculative fiction, feminism, social justice, pacifism and environmentalism, but also, Buddhism and meditation. Frabjous day!

Poetry is meant to be read aloud. I enjoy reading poetry aloud as if I am the poet, wondering as I hear each word, line, idea, image, stanza, what the poet was imagining and how this exact turn of phrase came to capture it. Knowing how long many poets take to conjure the precise manner in which to describe and evoke every part of their intention, I want to savor it.

I do NOT read in that artificial, almost-questioning (upturned inflection on the end of lines), drawling almost-monotone that many poetry readers make the horrible mistake of using.

No.

I read poetry aloud as if each poem is its own story, because this unique version of that story is interesting, new, and not mine. I use the line breaks and punctuation as suggestions to help me go with the poet’s flow. I smile, I laugh, I pause, I taste the words on my tongue.

Try it. You’ll like it!

In her introduction, Le Guin discusses the interdependent relationships among seemingly inanimate objects (whose apparent lack of sentience she and others challenge), places, humans, animals, life events and circumstances with eloquence and grace. As in all of her public writing and speeches, she has a way of turning things around with her verbal kaleidoscope to inspire us to see things from new perspectives with each turn. Her unique points of view become more accessible as one continues to read and ponder her body of work, which I’ve been doing for over forty years (she’s been writing for over 60).

This collection is divided into eight sections: Relations, Contemplations, Messengers, Four Lines, Works, Times, The Old Music and Envoi, but I couldn’t explain them or why some poems are in one but not another section. I was very impressed, though, with her poems about things, especially kitchen objects. Amazing.

Enough of all that explanatory stuff. You can get that elsewhere and any time. Let’s enjoy some of her poems!

I marked pages of this book with pieces of scrap paper so I’d remember which stanzas, poems, titles, lines caught my heart. Here are some, in no particular order. I sometimes annotate or explain. Find your own parts to love and for your own reasons.

Le Guin has many poems rooted (pun intended) in nature, and those in this collection follow that trend. She is also the child of two anthropologists and somewhat of a social and physical scientist herself. I love this opinion she expressed poetically and eloquently, from the introduction to this volume (excerpted from a speech she gave in May, 2014, at a conference that occurred at the University of California/Santa Cruz, “Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet”), in which she explained her view of the relationship between poetry and science and why we need both:

Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need the languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stockpiling endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.

By replacing unfounded, willful opinion, science can increase moral sensitivity; by demonstrating and performing aesthetic order or beauty, poetry can move minds to the sense of fellowship that prevents careless usage and exploitation of our fellow beings, waste and cruelty. (p. ix)

One of my favorites from this collection, Constellating, situates relationships between people as if between stars:

Constellating
Mind draws the lines between the stars
that let the Eagle and the Swan
fly vast and bright and far
above the dark before the dawn.

Between two solitary minds
as far as Deneb from Altair,
love flings the unimaginable line
that marries fire to fire.

How beautifully she depicts that intangible bond humans create to connect us which is like nothing else, yet she finds the commonality in constellations.

In The Games, Le Guin manages to indicate our views on aging and reflecting on past accomplishments in a perfect metaphor:

The Games
The crowds that cheered me when I took the Gold,
who were they then? Where are they now?
It’s queer to think about. Do they know how
you look at the hurdles, long before you’re old,
and wonder how you ever ran that race?
I’m not sorry, now all’s said and done,
to lie here by myself with nowhere to run,
in quiet, in this immense dark place.

Definition, or, Seeing the Horse is the type of poem about poetry that I usually eschew. But, one stanza from it is so perfect I have to share it, here, because it perfectly captures the limitations of poetry:

Definition, or, Seeing the Horse
from iii. Judith’s Fear of Naming
To define’s not to confine,
words can’t reach so far.
Even the poet’s line can only hold
a moment of the uncontainable.
The horse runs free.

Le Guin has written many essays, books and articles about the art and craft of writing, but never have I read or heard her convey what she feels about being a writer so well as in this poem, My Job. She lyricizes about writing’s being something she first learned as a child (“I started out as a prentice”) and is still learning. My favorite of her sentiments are these:

from My Job
Sometimes the pay is terrible.
Sometimes it’s only fairy gold.
Then again sometimes the wages
are beyond imagination and desire.
I am glad to have worked for this company.

Two poems, side-by-side in this book (which cannot be an accident), show her wonderful deployment of language and imagery: Sea Hallowe’en and Between. In all of her poems, she demonstrates her mastery of many different poetic forms: rhyming and non-rhyming, exploding into free verse and staying within those more formally ruled for meter, line length, repetition and other constraints. She calls herself a “caperer,” in her essay about her poetic choices and learning to write in various forms in her Afterword, meaning, one who moves among all forms and free verse as she wishes. She also writes here about how a form can “give” her a poem. Fascinating stuff. Love to read about her process.

From Between, I especially admire this final couplet:

A winter wind just whispers where
two winter trees stand tense and bare.

And, from Sea Hallowe’en, who can’t love this whimsical phrasing that ends each of the stanzas?

west to the tide rising,
cold, cold and wild.

a ghost on a north wind blowing
wild, wild and cold.

At best, I am a mediocre poet, despite having been published and won poetry prizes at a younger age, having written songs that were performed, and including my poetry in my science-fiction books as if written by its protagonist, Clara (http://www.sallyember.com/Spanners for more information). I make no claims to being an actual poet if Ursula K. Le Guin is an example. I yield and bow to her and many others for entertaining, informing, inspiring and enlivening us with their use of words and images.

She writes and speaks often about the rewards of writing and art and the politics and capitalism that haunt the industry. This poetry collection is ended with a speech she gave on these topics. The final lines are very moving:

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds, but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. its name is freedom.

Yes.

Ursula K Le Guin photo
image from her website, photo ©by Marian Wood Kolisch

Thank you, Ursula, for sharing your deep and soulful moments with us all. May your contributions to our literary and emotional landscapes always be known as blessings while you still live and after you die, and may all beings benefit.

Find these poems, this and all her other work here: http://www.ursulakleguin.com


For more information about poetic forms and World Poetry Day:

Poetry adds moments of beauty to our everyday lives, connects our emotions in unique ways, and helps people everywhere express themselves in amazing ways. Poetry of all kinds is definitely something to celebrate, so join us in looking around the world for inspiration. In honor of World Poetry Day, we (The New Rivers Press) wanted to share with you some unique global poetry styles.

Ghazal: an ancient form of poetry dating back to 700 CE in the Arab lands, and later Persia. It is fairly intricate, but contains anywhere from 5 to 15 independent couplets that create a beautiful whole, all with lines of the same length, meter, or syllable count. It is an extremely well-known form in Iran, where the 14th-century Persian writer, Hafez, published his famous ghazal collection, the Divan of Hafez. For examples of ghazals and more detailed information, visit http://poets.org or The Ghazal Page.

Haiku: arguably one of the most well-known types of international poetry forms, this form comes from ancient Japan. It consists of three short lines with five, seven, and five syllables each. The subject of a haiku was originally restricted to nature and the seasons, but that later was opened up to many different subject matters. Some of the most famous Japanese haiku writers include Basho (the “saint of haiku” in Japan), Buson, and Issa. For more in-depth history of the haiku, check out Poetry through the Ages or Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Doha: another ancient form of poetry common in India. It is a 24-syllable couplet, typically in Hindi. The lines are split unevenly, with the first line having 13 syllables and the second having 11 syllables. It was made more famous by such poets as Kabir and Nanak at the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century, as well as Goswami Tulsidas, whose work, Ramcharitmanas, is still famous among Hindus across northern India. To find out more about this and many other poetry forms, explore the book A Poet’s Glossary, by Edward Hirsch.
from The New Rivers Press‘ newsletter, Riverine, Volume 3, Issue 7, http://www.newriverspress.com/

Also, the Poetry Foundation has a great website and mobile phone app that can put almost any poem and poet right into your hands any time: http://www.poetryfoundation.org They also put out Poetry Magazine and a poetry podcast.

5 Stars: Delighted to Read and #Review Mary Oliver’s Felicity: Poems

5 Stars: Delighted to Read and #Review Mary Oliver’s Felicity: Poems

Felicity Mary Oliver poems
Cover of Felicity: Poems by Mary Oliver
published in October, 2015

Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for her poetry several decades ago, has long been one of my favorite poets. If you have not found her poetry, you are missing out on many delights from dozens of publications. Go catch up or start here. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.

She, like Ursula K. Le Guin and many others whose poetry I admire and resonate with, utilizes many of her walks in the natural world to populate and explain her inner experiences and outer relationships.

As I have written before (about to quote myself, here): “Poetry is meant to be read aloud. I enjoy reading poetry aloud as if I am the poet, wondering as I hear each word, line, idea, image, stanza, what the poet was imagining and how this exact turn of phrase came to capture it. Knowing how long many poets take to conjure the precise manner in which to describe and evoke every part of their intention, I want to savor it.

“I do NOT read in that artificial, almost-questioning (upturned inflection on the end of lines), drawling almost-monotone that many poetry readers make the horrible mistake of using.

“No.

“I read poetry aloud as if each poem is its own story, because this unique version of that story is interesting, new, and not mine. I use the line breaks and punctuation as suggestions to help me go with the poet’s flow. I smile, I laugh, I pause, I taste the words on my tongue.

“Try it. You’ll like it!”

As I usually do, I marked pages of this book with pieces of scrap paper so I’d remember which stanzas, poems, titles, lines caught my attention. Here are some, in no particular order. I sometimes annotate or explain. Find your own parts to love and for your own reasons.

Moments was so important to me that I gave it to my Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist on the occasion of my last of 12 sessions with her in my TBI recovery treatment this month, as a kind of “Thank You” and a window into my psyche she might not formerly have had, otherwise. It is brief, so here it is in its entirety.

Moments

There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?

There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.

As I read this collection, I realized that somewhere between her last collection of poetry and this one, Mary Oliver seems to have fallen—quite unexpectedly, to her—in passionate love in her 70s. That gives me hope, long single myself at the age of 61 and not having met anyone suitable for many years; I had given up. Thanks, Mary!

Many of the poems in this new collection are about that first wonder, doubt, then acceptance of her “condition,” being in love again at her “advanced” age, and then some extremely sweet descriptions of their relationship’s minutiae and tender times.

Here is a short poem like that, This and That:

This and That
In this early dancing of a new day—
dogs leaping on the beach,
dolphins leaping not far from shore—
someone is bending over me,
is kissing me slowly.

Oliver divides this collection into three parts, like a symphony or play. Part I, “Journey,” is followed by Part II, “Love,” and is capped by Part III, “Felicity.”

Very intentionally, Oliver begins this collection with Don’t Worry and ends with A Voice From I Don’t Know Where—the only poem in Part III. The two pieces she chose to sandwich these romantic but challenging years do it quite elegantly and sweetly. This "voice" tells her to be happy with this new love, but in much better language than that. The book ends with a strong acknowledgment, giving her permission to enjoy her life:

A Voice From I Don’t Know Where

It must surely, then, be very happy down there
in your heart.
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”

During this “Journey” (the title of Part I), Oliver ruminates on trees, meadowlarks, storms, swans and many other beings and land formations that give her pause and inspiration, show her delight and her curiosity at her state of affairs (pun intended).

I love this metaphoric romp a lot, given her (and my) ages, especially this part, from Cobb Creek:

Cobb Creek

I jump
and for the first time in seventy-seven years
I fall in.

What a beautiful splash!

She uses epigrams to start each section from Rumi, which I appreciate, but I like her own pithy quotes the best. Here is my favorite, from A House, or a Million Dollars:

a House, or a Million Dollars

Love is the one thing the heart craves
and love is the one thing
you can’t steal.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your thoughtful and joyful moments with us all.

Poet-Mary-Oliver
image from Oliver’s appearances/reviews in several newspapers

May your contributions to our literary and emotional landscapes always be known as blessings while you still live and after you die, and may all beings benefit.

Find this collection and all of Oliver’s other work here: http://maryoliver.beacon.org/

Homage to and Review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems

Homage to and #Review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s
Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems, 1960 – 2010

Finding my Elegy cover

Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite writer. No contest.

I have enjoyed, admired, appreciated, envied and learned from her novels, novellas, short stories, essays, and poetry for over forty years. She is about my mom’s age (in her early 80s, now) and still going strong. She is my idol, my mentor, and my role model. I also found out, after reading this collection, that she and share not only a love of writing, speculative fiction, feminism, social justice, pacifism and environmentalism, but Buddhism and meditation. Ah, pure bliss!

This latest collection of her poetry so delighted me that I had to write not just a short review on Amazon or Goodreads, but an entire blog post, complete with images, video, quotes. I hope you run right out and buy, borrow or sit and read aloud from this collection ASAP. You will be glad you did.

Poetry is meant to be read aloud. I enjoy reading poetry aloud as if I am the poet, wondering as I hear each word, line, idea, image, stanza, what the poet was imagining and how this exact turn of phrase came to capture it. Knowing how long many poets take to conjure the precise manner in which to describe and evoke every part of their intention, I want to savor it.

I do NOT read in that artificial, almost-questioning (upturned inflection on the end of lines), drawling almost-monotone that many poetry readers make the horrible mistake of using.

No.

I read poetry aloud as if each poem is its own story, because this unique version of that story is interesting, new, and not mine. I use the line breaks and punctuation as suggestions to help me go with the poet’s flow. I smile, I laugh, I pause, I taste the words on my tongue.

Try it. You’ll like it!

Le Guin has many poems rooted (pun intended) in nature. This little bird caught her attention several times. She mentions the Swainson’s Thrush by name; sometimes it is unnamed and alluded /referred to throughout this collection.

I had to find what the Swainson’s Thrush looks and sounds like. Enjoy!

I marked pages of this book with pieces of scrap paper so I’d remember which stanzas, poems, titles, lines caught my heart. Here are some, in no particular order. I sometimes annotate or explain. Find your own parts to love and for your own reasons.

I want to give this poem, For the New House, to my son and his wife when they find their first home to purchase. I adore the entire poem, and here are my favorite lines:

For the New House
And may you be in this house
as the music is in the instrument.

I also welled up with tears reading this next one, Song for a Daughter, imagining myself as a new mom hearing this from my mom, and sharing this with my son’s wife should she/they be lucky enough to have a child. Le Guin captures so much of the complexity of these relationships elegantly and succinctly, with beautiful turns of phrase, like these from the first and final stanzas:

Song for a Daughter
Mother of my granddaughter
listen to my song:
A mother can’t do right,
a daughter can’t be wrong….

Granddaughter of my mother,
listen to my song:
Nothing you do will ever be right,
nothing you do is wrong.

Soldiers perfectly depicts the horribleness of most wars, particularly our most recent USA-led wars, in which the military industrial complex—to enrich corporations—sends/inspires young men (and women) to go to their deaths or disfigurements with lies and for specious causes. The anguished images of this powerful poem end with this, which completed the breaking of my heart:

Soldiers
And soldiers still will fill the towns
In blue or khaki clad,
The brave, the good, who march to kill
What hope we ever had.

Unsurprisingly, given the title, and with Le Guin’s being both a Buddhist (we meditate daily on impermanence) and in her 80s, much of the poems in this collection are concerned with the end of life: the end of her own life, the changing of the seasons, the ruination of nature and places. She draws upon rich and varied imagery from many religious/spiritual traditions, employing words and phrases from several languages and invoking aspects of the rituals of Native Americans/Native Canadians and other indigenous peoples (harkening to her anthropologist father’s influence, as always), among others.

I especially liked Every Land (which starts with an epigram from Black Elk), in which she repeats this line, “Every land is the holy land,” at the end of each of the three stanzas, like a wistful refrain.

From one of the longer poems, At Kishamish, which is divided into named sections, these lines from “Autumnal” were quite moving. They eloquently evoke the juxtaposition of being somewhere now, when we’re so much older, suffused with so many memories of having lived and been at that same place so many times with our children as our younger selves:

At Kishamish

AUTUMNAL
It’s strange to see these hills with present eyes
I hold so clear in my mind always, strange once more
to hear the hawk cry down along the meadows
and smell the tarweed, to be here—here at the ranch,
so old, where I was young—it hurts my heart.

One of the “good-bye” poems here could make a statue cry: Aubade, which means “a song or poem to greet the dawn.” The term is unironically used here as the poem’s title. Le Guin simply depicts what might be said between lovers or long-time intimate friends or family members who must now part due to death. She frames it perfectly in two gorgeous stanzas, which I quote here in their entirety:

Aubade
Few now and faint the stars that shone
all night so bright above you.
The sun must rise, and I be gone.
I leave you, though I love you.

We have lived well, my love, and so
let not this parting grieve you.
Sure as the sunrise you must know
I love you, though I leave you.

Tibetan Buddhists talk about the “between place,” the Bardo, the state between a person’s pre-birth to our birth, and of the time between our body’s death and the shifting of our consciousness to our next incarnation. Le Guin speaks to this and illustrates her readiness, willingness, almost eagerness to “move on” to be In the Borderlands. Fittingly, this poem is placed on one of the last pages of this collection. Le Guin leaves us considering her perspective in this way, putting her thoughts of yearning to leave her body into this poem in the form of a conversation between her soul and her body, ending it in this final stanza with gentle humor and grace:

In the Borderlands
Soon enough, my soul replies,
you’ll shine in star and sleep in stone,
when I who troubled you a while with eyes
and grief and wakefulness am gone.

Thank you, Ursula, for sharing your deep and soulful moments with us all. Once again, due to your artistry with words and your generosity and intelligence, you have paved the way for me and others to follow with some surcease from pain and lighter hearts as we face our own partings, disappointments and deaths.

Ursula K Le Guin photo
image from her website, photo ©by Marian Wood Kolisch

May your contributions to our literary and emotional landscapes always be known as blessings while you still live and after you die, and may all beings benefit.

Find these poems, this and all her other work here: http://www.ursulakleguin.com Her latest poetry collection, Late in the Day, is my next poetry read!

Discovering My Inner Con Where do I find it? for Yeah Write Poetry Challenge #192

deception

Discovering My Inner Con

I’ve been deceiving myself.

I find the lie

When eyed spam from psychics

Caused my stomach’s flip.

Please, Sister Charlatan,

Tell my bunko bosom

What it wants to hear.

—Sally Ember, Ed.D.
12/14/14