National Poetry Month Resources

Posted on March 31, 2008. Filed under: Academia, Homeschooling, Poetry |

Was I running a blog? Has it been a year? Let’s just say LONG story and leave it at that shall we? Meanwhile, what you really want follows here:

On the eve of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d compile some useful resources. I’m a longtime member of both the AAP, AWP, and the PSA–which are amazing organizations. And I was thrilled to see the new incarnation of the Internet Poetry Archive while spelunking the web tonight. Plus Bill & Ted’s Excellent Poetry Adventures (couldn’t resist the reference–Billy Collins and Ted Kooser), along with Pinsky’s Fave Poem Project, are extremely all-ages friendly and aimed at a wide audience. Two of my favorite sites–and my homepages at various points (bumped out by the NYT)–are Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.

It should probably be noted–most of what I’m handing you is contemporary American poetry. In many cases, work written in the last decade. Not to say that there isn’t value in the canon of work worldwide that has preceded this present bounty–but most people know about Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. However, if you’re one of the, say, 98% of the American public that’s never read a contemporary poem, here’s a chance to change that.

And, BTW, Jack Prelutsky is now the official U. S. Children’s Poet Laureate. Other children’s poets of note include Eve Merriam, Shel Silverstein, Bruce Lansky (See Giggle Poetry below), David McCord, Karla Kuskin, and Judith Viorst (who also does adult work). My favorite books of children’s poems are Viorst’s “If I Were in Charge of the World” and an anthology called “Reflections on the Gift of the Watermelon Pickle.” Prelutsky’s newer work is also top notch. Well-known poets Gwendolyn Brooks and T.S. Eliot have also produced volumes for children (Eliot’s Book of Practical Cats is where the musical came from).

So, the somewhat haphazard list:

Billy Collin’s Poetry 180 site (also follow the links to the Library of Congress poetry resources)

Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry page (syndicated newspaper column using one accessible contemporary poem with Kooser’s brief analysis of it)

America’s Favorite Poem Project

Internet Poetry Archive

Academy of American Poets (AAP or just “the Academy”)

Poetry Society of America (PSA)

Poets & Writers (the industry–the po-biz–magazine)

AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs)

Council of Literary Magazines and Presses

Voice of the Shuttle (a scholarly clearinghouse including lots of real academic articles on poetry)

PSI (Poetry Slam Incorporated–these are the Chicago folks who started it and still do it better than anybody else)

Poetry Daily

Verse Daily

Poetry Magazine and The Poetry Foundation (more Chicago folks–and the only money in the po-biz)

Project Bartleby

CAPA (Contemporary American Poetry Archive–electronic versions of out-of-print contemporary poetry books)


Giggle Poetry

Scholastic’s Writing With Writers Poetry Section

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Poetry Friday: Wallace Stevens’ The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Posted on April 29, 2007. Filed under: Poetry, Poetry Fridays |

The Emperor of Ice Cream

by Wallace Stevens, from Harmonium

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dwadle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

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On Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man”

Posted on April 7, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Homeschooling, Poetry |

Okay, the much belated entry on Stevens’ “The Snow Man.” If you haven’t had a look at the poem itself yet, find it here in Poetry Friday stack.

This particular poem has been with me since my freshman year of college. And I still find things in it I hadn’t noticed before. Like just now, I was looking at the stanzas (poetry paragraphs)–three lines each. That’s unusual as a form, but I think the evenness of the stanzas suits the coldness of poem’s tone–and the three-point structure almost makes me think of a waltz. One, two, three, one, two, three, he keeps turning us as we dance through the poem.

The evenness of the stanzas says something about the tone as well. We’re being told something in a very level, reasonable voice–flat even. There’s no hurrying to jam extra lines into one stanza, no lingering with a couplet (two-line stanza) here or there. Nor does the poem take up much space on the page–what he’s asserting here is not A BIG IDEA, and trust me, Stevens is a poet capable of asserting big ideas. It’s a small poem, only 15 lines with only a handful of lines more than 10 syllables.

Those numbers may not sound significant, but in poetry they come close to the big magic: 14 lines of 10 metered syllables each is a sonnet. So Stevens is close to the sonnet form here–but choses instead of the sonnet’s more typical four-line stanzas to use his own three-line structure and to use some really short lines, one that’s only 5 syllables long.

In American poetry, the “conversational line”–the dominant line form of the 20th century and still the dominant form today (though there’s great arguments to be made that text messaging and other electronic media are shortening the standard conversational line)–is 8-12 syllables. It’s called the “conversational line” because 8-12 syllables is about how much one speaker in a casual conversation can say at one time:

“Some weather we’re having, huh?”(7)

“Can’t believe it’s this cold in April.”(9)

“I know. I already packed my sweaters away. “(12)

So Stevens is using lines that tend to be a little shorter than the standard conversational line and he’s not using a standard sonnet form, even though he’s close to it. That tells us he’s doing something different from a sonnet (sonnets generally glory in something or sorrow over it) and that he’s probably artificially shortening some of his lines–which speaks of a certain restraint. So what is he doing?

Above all else that Stevens is remembered for–he is remembered as a poet of great imagination. And here, he’s imagining himself as a snow man. He’s trying to imagine what it would be like to be a creature made entirely of snow–but set with eyes, maybe with earmuffs to suggest ears. He’s asking himself, what would a snowman see? What would a snowman hear? What would a snowman feel or think? As poem, it’s an absurd project, but it’s a testament to his immense talent that he can start with such a wacky premise and produce such a beautiful piece.

And I think the success of this pieces lies in the creation of that cold, reasonable tone (none of the emotionality of a sonnet, none of warmth of a casual conversation between strangers), that measured tumbling of the three lines stanzas, those short restrained lines.

He’s got me convinced that’s how a snowman might perceive the world. Has he convinced all of you? Anybody want to post a counter poem? Or perhaps a poem from a different point of view, say one of the spring’s first daffodils? How would the form of that poem be different, how would its outlook change?

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National Poetry Month at Homeschool Kid Lit

Posted on April 1, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Homeschooling, Poetry |

Fitting that our month devoted to poetry begins with a day for fools. I say that in all love–I think it takes being something of a fool to be something as a poet.

Fools take risks. They do tricks. They get away with all manner of outrageous words and deeds. They don’t ask for the attention of the court, by the very nature of what they’re doing, they get it. They exist outside the boundaries that limit everybody else. True, they do so at the king’s whim, but that too is part of being the fool. Knowing that at any moment your life as you know it could be over.

But I digress. Having outed myself as a poet just before National Poetry Month (NPM) and having complained that kids don’t get enough “real poems”–I’ve decided to do my part. Each week I’m going to post on a 20th-century poet whose work includes at least a few relatively accessible pieces that I think parents and children can enjoy together. I’ll post the poems for examination as Poetry Friday pieces, though for the purposes of NPM, any given day counts as a Poetry Friday here at Homeschool Kid Lit.

As for the poets we’ll take up together, I’m going to start with Wallace Stevens. Mainly because I’d never heard of him until college and I wish I hadn’t had to wait that long. Here’s the link to the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Stevens

While the Wikipedia entry’s accurate, it’s going to make him sound a lot scarier than he is. If too much information makes your head hurt, then remember just this much: he was a lawyer, then an insurance mogul–very much a man of the world, nothing like the wispy big-eyed poet stereotype; he’s considered a Modernist–he believed it was important to find the meaning of a thing or an event, though he didn’t believe that religion, the traditional route to meaning and understanding, necessarily held the answers. In terms of his willingness to take on the role of fool? He was positively Shakespearean.

The pieces I’m going to post and offer up for discussion are, I think without exception, from his first book Harmonium, published in 1923.

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Some Thoughts on Poetry and Speed

Posted on March 27, 2007. Filed under: Children's Literature, Homeschooling, Poetry |

Okay, time for a confession: I’m a poet. Academically trained, have a book out and everything. But I’ve been working outside the genre the last couple of years–doing some other worthy and exciting projects, including my first science fiction stories.

Now though, poetry’s calling me back and I’m moving that direction, not just as a writer but as a reader too. I get something from reading and writing poems that I don’t get anywhere else and it’s why I’ll probably always wander back eventually, no matter where I’ve been roaming.

I love the way the language of a poem slows me down. Makes me enter a moment, a thought, a feeling, an experience with a deliberation and awareness I wouldn’t normally bring to the page. It sounds counterintuitive to say such quick little lines, readily consumable in a single reading, can actually go slower than prose–but here’s the thing, in poetry there’s nowhere to go.

To work, a prose narrative has to effectively carry me from page to page, there has to be a reason to keep reading, keep turning those pages. A poem that really works is going to have me stuck on the same page, reading it over and over, wanting to just crawl between the lines and pitch a tent so I can stay there even longer.

Let me give you an example. When I was eleven or twelve, I got into a stash of literature textbooks my Mom had kept from one of her college classes. I discovered both Shelley and Tennyson that year and took to memorizing lines I loved. I was in college before I intellectually understood a lot of what I was reading, but there was something so compelling about the language, I didn’t care that I didn’t get all of it. I took what meaning I could from it and took the rest on faith. By the time I had to write about In Memoriam in college, I’d had six or seven years of rolling these words around on my tongue and in my heart: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, /Believe me, than in half the creeds.” “And Power was with him in the night, /Which makes the darkness and the light, /And dwells not in the light alone…”

I recently read an argument about what kinds of poems we should be offering our kids in order to instill a love of poetry in them. One side argued they need quick and clever rhymes, puns and wordplay to keep drawing them back to the magic of language that’s so wonderfully concentrated in poetry. The other side argued that kids needed poems that would help them explore the subtle texture of the world, develop their emotional and spiritual selves. The text, of course, resolved the argument by saying quite democratically that we need to offer kids all kinds of poems.

I’d buy that resolution if I really believed that most kids, most teachers, most homeschooling parents had ready access to age-appropriate poems of both kinds. Seems to me that while poetry collections aimed at adolescents manage quite handily to move between those two distinct types of poems (I might say between rhymes and poems)–that poetry collections aimed at younger children tend overwhelmingly toward the bouncy stuff. I’d love to be wrong about that assertion, so if any of you are aware of poems or poetry collections for children under the age of 12 that do have that tendency toward slowness, I’d love to hear about them. Comment away!

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