Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thoughts on Poetry for Lifelong Learners

Cover by Bobo

I'm still in the process of getting the new issues out, with about half the run in the mail so far. I've been a bit bogged (should that read: "blogged"?) down with a variety of projects all seeming to come together at once, including another introduction to poetry class next week, this time for Oasis lifelong learners. So, the rest of the run will be going out during April before I start it all over again with two new issues.

Meanwhile, Curtis Dunlap over at Blogging Along Tobacco Road has put together a blurb/review, with a few poems from each issue of #167 & 168. It's a nice little sampler; hats off to you, Curtis.

I'm mixing things up a bit for this introductory poetry session ("How to Read Poetry [& Why]" is the session title), adding a few new poems, both less and more challenging. In the past I've used Billy Collins's "Introduction to Poetry" in my preliminary remarks to help assuage any lyrical apprehension, as well as opening with James Wright's "The Jewel" and 4 or 5 poems by Issa. To ease folks into the poem section, this time I'll be opening with "The Lanyard" by Collins, a poem many non-poetry reading people respond to positively in an emotional way, which is the exact point where I try to make a connection for them to the world of poetry. Next I ramp it up with "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver, a decidedly better poem that provokes a similar reaction, so the easing in continues. I thought it might be good to show folks that they can "get" Shakespeare, so I'll be using three poems in tandem: Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day"), Howard Moss's modern take "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," and Sonnet 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"). This may be a bit risky; in the past, my primary intent was to provoke discussion. Since I've had only partial success with that, this time I thought exposure to work might be a good approach. Since it's a bit of gamble that I might lose them with the bard, I'm hoping the bridge of Moss's poem will do the trick:

Howard Moss's "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day"
Who says you're like one of the dog days?
You're nicer. And better.
Even in May, the weather can be gray,
And a summer sub-let doesn't last forever.
Sometimes the sun's too hot;
Sometimes it is not.
Who can stay young forever?
People break their necks or just drop dead!
But you? Never!
If there's just one condensed reader left
Who can figure out the abridged alphabet,
-----After you're dead and gone,
-----In this poem you'll live on!

We'll see how that goes; the trick I think is in the recitation and I'm planning to use my best Jersey accent to get this one over. I'll be rounding the class out with "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same" by Robert Frost (a big favorite of mine), "Filling Station" by Elizabeth Bishop and, if there is time, "Let Evening Come" by Jane Kenyon, and "maggie and milly and molly and may" by E. E. Cummings.

This week's taste from the Lilliput Review archive goes back to March 1993. I've noticed that the past three issues have the Royal portable typeface, so we are into the pre-computer era. At this time, I would type each poem up individually, cut it out into tiny pieces and place them carefully on blue lined graph sheets. If line lengths were problematic, I'd need to reduce the size via the copy store, bumping the darkness so everything more or less matched. Once the art and words were laid out to my satisfaction (this was simultaneously painstaking and pain-inducing, kneeling on the floor with glue sticks or elmer's etc.), it was off to the copy shop to get it all printed up. The lack of control at this point was really an issue. I'd run off 200 double-sided copies and sometimes they would be too dark or too light, depending if the underpaid copy shop person gave a shit that day. Then there were the inevitable typos, misalignments etc, not as instantly corrected as today.

I'm down with the PC era, though some of the quaintness and required skill-set have disappeared. Well, enough with the nostalgia, here's three poems from #41:

Lucky Life
you know how the
dead never plant their faces
against the windows you look out of
and how even when
you're up high
you don't think about gravity
John Grey

3/27/92 - a brief interlude
my shadow. . .
pinned to the wall

with knives
of skin
Bill Shields

at the nursing home
-----wound around the alarm clock
---------the dusty cord
Patrick Sweeney

Finally, yesterday was the birthday of a long-time sentimental favorite of mine, William Wordsworth. Since my favorite Wordsworth is a little too long for here, let's let Issa have the final word: this one's for you, William -

there's a house!
a field full
of daffodils
translated by David Lanoue



Evan Bend said...

Hi Don,

Good luck with the class! OK, I'll admit my fondness for "the Lanyard" (squarely putting me in the non-poetry reading people class). For me the added humor is in the line "I had never seen anyone use a lanyard or wear one," since librarians easily make up one of the top 5 lanyard wearing professions on the planet -- I've actually seen librarians get excited by new lanyards. Just had to share that.... Have been enjoying the blog and lilliputs. Thanks, Evan

Anonymous said...

Hi Don:

Lanyards are worn by a great many fly fishermen. If you want to get away from a traditional fly fishing vest, which holds the whole nine yards in maybe twenty or thirty secret pockets, you can just wear a simpler fishing shirt with four pockets and use a lanyard to hold all the extra stuff around your neck. They cost $30.00 or $40.00 from a catalogue or retail outlet, but I made one for nothing some years ago and am still using it. Just to add a bit to "Lanyard Lore"!


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


"The Lanyard" is a good poem - it touches a good many people and I include myself in that.

And, yes, at the Carnegie we are all lanyard wearers - seems everywhere you go these days. Somehow, a boxy red and white one might just be the ticket.

Us librarians do get excited about the smallest, sometimes strangest, things. Thanks for the good words.

And J.L.S., though I've done a bit of fishing way back when, I had no idea about the lanyards. I wonder if the fishing style would translate over to the library...