12/2/2019 5 Comments
A Poet Praised
In response to a question at a recent reading about admired poets, I mentioned the poet William Bronk. I first heard the name many years ago in a conference with my teacher Laurence Perrine, author of the widely used text Sound and Sense. He found Bronk's work exceptional as did the acclaimed poet Peter Kane Dufault whom I met much later. The poems have a remarkable music, their abstractions resonant. One absorbs an insight. In his poem "Frailty" (from Living Instead, 1991), treating our desire for "mastery," he concludes: "Yet the frail world goes on/ unmastered, unmastering, and so do we./ Better to love us both the way we are."
11/25/2019 0 Comments
The Purpose of Poetry Notes
The blog is for serious writers and readers of poetry as a means for a dialogue on the difficulties and joys in engaging with poetry in a culture lacking recognition of its value. The purpose includes calling attention to the work of contemporary poets. Veterans Day provided an occasion for mention of poets who have rendered an account of their participation in a war. Owens' "Dulce Et Decorum Est" compares soldiers to "old beggars under sacks." In "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," the American poet Randall Jarrell portrays an inglorious experience in the Second World War. Comments focused on poetry are encouraged, questions welcome.
11/20/2019 1 Comment
Poem as Biography
In celebrating an individual in a poem, a poet can uncover a self-truth in the reality of another. In the sequence on his mother in The Haw Lantern, Seamus Heaney reveals not only details of a family life but his sensitivity to the gift of their relationship. At her deathbed, recalling their peeling potatoes together, he writes " I remembered her head bent towards my head/ Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives--/Never closer the whole rest of our lives." (Poem 3).
Veterans Day brings to mind the work of poets on the war they have experienced, among them Wifred Owen, killed in action on November 4, 1918, fighting for England, a week before the World War I armistice. In his poem Dulce et Decorum Est (a Latin quotation from the Roman poet Horace: "It is sweet and becoming to die for one's country"), he describes the horrors suffered in modern warfare, concluding that the saying is an " old lie." In his famous poem, Owen emphasizes the tragedy, not the glory of war.
11/4/2019 3 Comments
Poetry offers a unique medium for embodying an experience or an individual in an image.
The leaves of the geranium I named
for her are curled up like her hands
the night of her heart attack, a sign,
the nurse said, she was giving up.
But she let death go that time.
So this geranium, four years ago
all leaves when I invoked
her spirit on its behalf, scared
if nothing changed, eternity
might also have its boundaries,
shortly flowered in such abundance
friends noticed. Now these stiffened stems
look past treatment as usual,
at risk to prove her here in a flower,
performing for joy in the world.
Her BMW and Other Poems ( Columbus: Pudding House Publications, 2007)
Included in: Open Season (Cincinnati: David Robert Books, 2015)
and Among the Absent (Georgetown: Finishing Line Press , 2019)
10/28/2019 1 Comment
Writer's block is a familiar experience for poets, painful and frustrating, perhaps inevitable. After the murder of my daughter Elizabeth in 1994, I found I was unable to work in poetry. Six months later I began the poem "Her BMW," the first in a collection of nineteen poems celebrating her life, Her BMW and Other Poems. The remarkable spirit that enabled her to live with joy, amidst challenging hardship sustained me in the writing. In that car, a battered model, she travelled from one loss to another without credit card or phone. Wherever I was living, she could find me.
10/19/2019 0 Comments
Quality not Quantity
In his introduction to the collected poems of Philip Larkin, whom he considers a great poet, Anthony Thwaite brings out that Larkin's reputation began with the publication of The Less Deceived, to be followed by The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows, books of fewer than fifty poems. I recall my joy at finding The Less Deceived, in a bookstore at Southern Methodist University, invigorated by a unique voice and colloquial rhythms in formal verse. The poem TOADS begins:
What should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?
The Less Deceived
Thwaite writes that after High Windows Larkin published only eight poems.
My copies of The Less Deceived and The Whitsun Weddings, bought in the sixties, were remaindered, evidence of our culture's dismissal of even exceptional poetry.
10/14/2019 3 Comments
AMONG THE ABSENT
My fourth collection of poems Among the Absent, New and Selected Poems, published by Finishing Line Press, is available from the Press and on Amazon. The book has selections from previous collections: Blue Stone, 1986, Her BMW, 2007, and Open Season, 2015.
At a recent reading in Alexandria, Virginia, from the new book, I was asked how long it took me to write a poem. Sometimes years! A new poem "On the Railway Bridge" had its first version in William Meredith's creative writing class in 1959, the writing more diffuse and a different title, the experience rendered unchanged, the language honed. Another new poem "What Singer" I held on to for at least twenty years before I finally found the words to let it go. The advantage for a poem is that it remains with you, can return at its own moment on a train ride, on a walk, and even in company.
9/23/2019 1 Comment
Recently I read to a group of seniors in a retirement community. Not readers of poetry, many found rapport with poems rendering the experience of another in a language resembling music, intensifying its effect. Believing poems "had to rhyme," some were drawn in by poems with the rhythm of speech and a story like their own. For seniors reading contemporary poetry by gifted artists can be especially rewarding in the celebration of individuals no longer present and a past held in memory.
4/27/2019 0 Comments
More on Reading to the Unfamiliar
Recently I read from my work to an audience unfamiliar with contemporary poetry. They were surprised that poetry could connect every day experience to the memory of grief and losses, revitalizing the past and shedding light on the present. Poems like Marie Howe's title poem from her book What the Living Do speak of a stopped up kitchen drain and a broken grocery bag in addressing her brother. lost to cancer. Poems in the book follow her brother's fatal suffering. She celebrates her life in remembering him. To include the reading of the work of other poets in presenting one's own work is effective in encouraging the reading of poetry, essential to the vitality of our culture.
Neva Herrington is a poet and former educator. She is currently working on a new book of poetry, a collection of short stories, and her memoir. Her inspiration comes from her own experience and the work of other poets.