Tell it Slant: How to Write a Wise Poem, essay by Camille Dungy

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Few essays on writing poetry grab me by the collar, slam me against the wall, and say “Listen, dammit!” But this one did.

Camille Dungy’s words sear through the fog. She tells it slant. She tells it true. She explains how some masters have done it. If you’ve not read her poetry, seek it out. You’re in for a treat. If you have the good fortune to attend a lecture or reading by her, do so. She’s energetic, wise and kind. She knows.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/247926

Originally posted in June 2014.

National Poetry Month: A Few of My Favorite Poems & Poets

I love these poems and poets for various reasons – technique, beauty of language, intellect, rigor – but mostly, their words burrow into my brain and won’t quit whispering to me…

Jane Hirshfield, “Not Moving Even One Step”

Carolyn Forche, “The Colonel”

Arthur Sze: “Kintsugi”

Antonella Anedda: “A Winter Night in the City”

James Wright: “To the Saguaro Cactus Tree in the Desert Rain”

Camille Dungy, “Association Copy”

Who are your favorites? Link in the comments.

Nocturne with a Line after Kees

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Nocturne with a Line after Kees

I close my eyes and see nothing but rain.
And after, take pity

for what turns beyond sight: the wretched
flower, a hiss from the road. Last night the wind
stole sleep from my body,

leaving me alone, wordless, listening
for her next breath. An alchemist,

I transmute the memories of old wounds laid open.

*****

This first appeared in Ijagun Poetry Journal, in December 2013, and was posted here in December 2015.

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Recording of “Awakened, He Turns to the Wall (Cento)”

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Awakened, He Turns to the Wall (Cento) 

Then, everything slept.
Where were you before the day?

You see here the influence of inference,
whereby things might be seen in another light,

as if the trees were not indifferent, as if
a hand had suddenly erased a huge

blackboard, only, I thought there was
something even if I call it nothing,

like the river stretching out on its
deathbed. No one jumps off.

* * *

A cento is composed of lines from poems by other poets. This originated from pieces by: Larry Levis, Jacques Roubaud, Lorine Niedecker, Gustaf Sobin, Denise Levertov, Elizabeth Spires, William Bronk, Vicente Huidobro, Ingebord Bachmann

For further information and examples of the form, you might peruse the Academy of American Poets site: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/poetic-form-cento

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Track (after Tranströmer)

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Track (after Tranströmer)

2 p.m.: Sunlight. The subway flows
beneath us. Flecks of darkness
shimmer madly on the wall.

As when a man cracks a window into a dream,
remembering everything, even
what never occurred.

Or after skimming the surface of good health,
all his nights become ash, billowing clouds,
strong and warm, suffocating him.

The subway never stops.
2 o’clock. Filtered sunlight, smoke.

* * *

I’ve been dipping into Friends, You Drank Some Darkness, Robert Bly’s 1975 translations of Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf and Tomas Tranströmer, and I couldn’t resist playing with one of my favorite poems. A different darkness, a separate space, another landscape…

This first appeared here in April 2015.

Still Hands (Cento)

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Still Hands (Cento)

I let it burn, rooted as it is. Now
nothing else keeps my eyes

in the cloud – get close to a star,
and there you are, in the sun.

What about all the little stones,
sitting alone in the moonlight?

Silence complicates despair.
I have believed so long in the magic

of names and poems,
and I know that you would take

the still hands to dryness and
loose rocks, where the light

re-immerses itself. It’s not the story
I want. We cannot live on that.

* * *

Credits:
Sharon Wevill, Julia de Burgos, Francis Ponge, Mary Oliver,
Alberto de Lacerda, Robert Hass, HD, Jacques Dupin, Francesca Abbate, George Oppen.

“Still Hands” appeared in Issue Four of Long Exposure, in October 2016, and prior to that, on this blog in July 2015.

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20th Century Protest Poetry

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I’ve just found, and followed, David Meeker’s impressive blog, 20th Century Protest Poetry: Poems That Make a Difference. Scrolling down the home page, you’ll find relevant poems, including Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel,” Roethke’s “The Geranium,” and Nazim Hikmet’s “Letters from a Man in Solitary,” preceded by brief introductory essays. I wish I’d found this sooner, but will make up for lost time.