In which we discuss the literary canon, and who gets to decide what’s ‘great’ ~

In which we discuss the literary canon, and who gets to decide what’s ‘great’ ~

This post is courtesy of my blogging for Nimrod Literary Journal — a wonderful journal of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photography, & more. I’ve been associated with Nimrod almost all my writing life, with short hiatuses when I moved away from Tulsa. I adore it. This post began as I tried to get some input from numerous academics, poets, writers, and other literati types on my FB page about what makes a poem great, and who gets to decide. From there, it went to a spirited discussion of the whole literary canon. So here you go, a confusing discussion of an exceptionally confusing topic ~

https://nimrodjournal.blog/2018/09/07/what-the-heck-is-the-canon-anyway-and-why-should-my-students-care/

the dance upon our toes ~

the dance upon our toes ~

I watched the most amazing half-hour series yesterday — Poetry in America’s 1st episode in this spring’s offerings. Centred on the iconic Emily Dickinson, and her poem “I cannot dance upon my toes,” it’s one of the few poetry specials I remember to make manifest the links poetry has to other fine arts. Specifically, music & dance.

Yo-Yo Ma ably represents the music side of things, playing the cello as if it was a voice reading. His incredible fingering & bowing turn the simplest rill of notes into something astonishing, much as Dickinson takes ordinary words & creates an image that stuns.

Dancer Jill Johnson, poet Marie Howe, and actress Cynthia Nixon (who plays Emily Dickinson in film) join host Elisa New in unfolding the layered origami of Dickinson’s poetry. It’s astonishing, and so worth watching!

In other poetic business, NaPoWriMo’s prompt today is magick! Seriously —  use magic(k) in your poem. It’s good practice! And here’s mine — a fusion of yesterday’s prompt (which I missed!) & today’s:

She finds herself dividing like a cell

Is it mitosis or meiosis ~ she doesn’t

quite remember. Perhaps the brain

is what does not cross over.

Perhaps the cells cannot communicate.

It was never easy.

 

This cell   this one she lives in now

neatly divided   borders clean-edged

is the mother   the wife   the sister/daughter

she from whom the other cells draw energy

 

That cell   the one of brilliant colours

as formless as internal music

pleochroic    emerald ruby citrine

is who she might have been

who she is    sometimes

in her dreams. Messily bordered

without shape or form.

 

And somewhere in the middle

is the space that neither one inhabits

that void of becoming

before the words begin.

NaPoWriMo/ National Poetry Month/ & just a poem ~

NaPoWriMo/ National Poetry Month/ & just a poem ~

Today’s the 6th day of one of my favorite months — National Poetry Month. Which is also National Poetry WRITING Month, NaPoWriMo. AND…my birthday month! How filled w/ great stuff can a month get?

The NaPoWriMo prompt for today is about the line — about changing it up, about playing with it. But since I didn’t write yesterday, or do yesterday’s prompt, I’m combining them. A word in a language not my own — riffing on what it looks & sounds like it means — and line change-ups. You can let me know how that works for you. Here you go:

Torschlusspanik[1] ~

how our frantic panic

burned like a torch

incinerated any good

intentions

whatever we once knew

of any middle path

through

how lust too was a torch

an incandescent inferno

a purgatory

in which both our bodies

burned to cinders

now

the cooling of lava

the way the embers bank

how they glow

beneath the black ash

of what we lost

to time

[1] Torschlusspanik is a combination of three German words, and literally translated means “gate-shut-panic.” Apparently the term dates back to the Middle Ages in reference to the panic medieval peasants might have experienced as they rushed to make it back inside the city gates before they closed at nightfall.

I also want to offer another poem I love, one I read at my first public reading (where I was asked to choose a poem to read). It’s by one of my favourite mentor poets — Denise Levertov. An anti-war poem, it looks at the people of my childhood home, ViệtNamAnd the ways in which we forget that the real victims of real wars are real people.

I hope that’s not too much food for poetic thought!

epeolatry revisited ~ the poem

Here’s today’s NaPoWriMo post (still playing catch-up!):

Epeolatry[1] ~

I can taste it: the airy mouthfeel of eh

the whisper plosive of

how the round liquidity of ol fills

the back of my throat like thick honey

and then the crisp wafer of trēē

breaks between the teeth.

It is my secret delight

my hidden pleasure

that I take out in solitary hours

and eat gluttonously

fondling the buttery syllables.

[1] epeolatry: the worship of words

Epeolatry, or the love of words that begets (begat?) poetry ~

Epeolatry, or the love of words that begets (begat?) poetry ~

I see the word epeolatry and I feel obliged to confess: I’m a total word nerd. I was that kid you hated in 4th grade, who begged for spelling words, and won the spelling bee, and had her nose in a book so often that even my grandmother – an old teacher – yelled at me: Girl! Get your nose out of that book! I didn’t invite you to read all weekend!

Recently I learned a new word: ‘squeg.’ It means to ‘oscillate between max and zero, as in an electronic current.’ But the student who brought the word to class (she had it played against her in Scrabble) thought it meant the apogee of a conversation. I thought when I heard her definition: hmmm… who knew conversations had apogees?

Still, it’s a new word, however discordant it sounds. It’s hard to make melody from a ‘q’. I used to love the word queer, until it began to be used to beat up dear friends and family. I liked the way the mouth pursed to make the qu dipthong, and then almost smiled to make the ee. It’s noticing (and caring about) things like this that confirm my complete word nerdiness.

All of this makes me quite odd, if you think about it: ‘squeg’ is an unlikeable word. Says me. But how can you like or dislike a word, you ask? Now a sentence – that’s different. It may be poorly written, unclear, etc. We all remember THOSE classes. But an orphan word? Unattached to its parents subject and predicate? Naked of modifiers? Ungendered in its lack of pronouns? What’s to hate about that??

I give you… music. There is no music in ‘squeg.’ It even lacks the onomatopoiea  of ‘squelch.’ Or the whispery dead finality of ‘squish.’ It’s the ‘g.’ The whole word becomes guttural. And for word nerds? That’s enough.

Except actually, according to this Venn diagram, Venn diagram nerd and geekit’s word ‘geek’: if you’re obsessed w/ words (guilty), and reasonably intelligent (debatable), then you’re a word geek. No rhyme, unfortunately, but accurate. Which should be worth at least as much as rhyme, even if it doesn’t sound as good.

Which leads us (oh so meanderingly) to National Poetry Month. And my charge to you this month to post a poem to social media. Maybe even daily! It should be one that’s somehow special, or at least one you have strong feelings about (I may post one I HATE!).

Today’s poem from me to you is one that’s as awesomely ridiculous as possible: Ogden Nash’s The Tale of Custard the Dragon. He’s one of my favourite poets — there’s not a pretentious bone in his devilishly funny body of work. I just remembered this one, so here it is. Enjoy! And remember: a worship of words is a necessary evil in a world that values poetry!

 

 

 

[1] The worship of words.