Thursday, April 24, 2014

Source Poems:

For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.

Poet Renee LaTulippe of the blog No Water River is with us today, writing about how receiving a book of poetry as a gift can change one's life.
Renée M. LaTulippe

Sylvia Saves the Day

I did not have a terribly literary childhood. There was definitely no poetry beyond nursery rhymes. But my mother did always have a book going and my father sang constantly, so perhaps something sunk in and made me write my first poem at age seven. It’s a night I remember vividly and that I wrote about here. I guess poetry was just in me.

And it stayed in me through high school; or rather, it kept coming out of me, free verse tumbling down page after page. It was the only time in my life I was prolific. But I wasn’t very good at it, this poetry thing, despite Mrs. Musser’s enthusiasm as my creative writing teacher. And despite the reams of juvenilia, she made me the youngest editor of the literary magazine; she encouraged me and praised me; she held me up. And when I graduated, she gave me the complete works of Sylvia Plath. The woman knew me; who knew? The book is a prized possession.

When Laura announced this blog series, I knew immediately the poem I would choose. I didn’t have to riffle through my bookshelves or my memory for The Poem, because it has been there for thirty years.

Would I have preferred a more positive poem, something full of innocence or beauty or peace? Yes, but that would have been dishonest.

My source poem is “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and there’s nothing I can do about it.


You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   
Ghastly statue with one gray toe   
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic   
Where it pours bean green over blue   
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.   
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town   
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.   
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.   
So I never could tell where you   
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.   
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.   
And the language obscene

I opened this book and read page after page until “Daddy” stopped me in my tracks. I could not make head or tails of the poem at the time, but no matter. I knew what it felt like, and it felt like liberation. It had crazy sounds and German and a bad word that were like bonbons in my mouth. How I loved the Panzer-man and the brute, brute force of a brute like you and that glorious bastard! I loved the persistent low moan of the long U sounds, the sounds of a poet doubled over from the violence of it all.

You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

I loved it not because I loved the suffering, but because I loved the exit from suffering. I loved the anger of it. I loved the anthem of it. It was a poem full of viper bites. Speaking it was powerful and cathartic. It was better than breaking dishes. It roiled and soothed all at once. Like singing, it lifted me up, even in its negativity. The rhythms and phrases entered my memory and have been there ever since.

I saw, and still see, the poem as a reinvention of self, a rebirth – a concept I’ve always liked, perhaps because it’s what my name means: reborn. Renaissance. A poem of possibility. Negative but hopeful.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart   
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.   
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through. 

Perhaps “Daddy” resonated because it came to me when I most needed it, at a time of breaking out and becoming and trying not to explode in the process. And Sylvia was there to give me what she had: An exquisite anger. A spitting release.

Ah, Sylvia. Ach, du.

Sylvia Plath
from Harper Collins
Renée M. LaTulippe has co-authored nine early readers and a collection of children’s poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new for All About Learning Press, where she is also the editor, and has poems in the Middle School and Science editions of The Poetry Friday Anthology (ed. Wong and Vardell). She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and blogs on children’s poetry at Renée earned her BFA in acting/directing from Marymount Manhattan College and her MA in English Education from NYU, and taught English, theater, and public speaking in NYC. She lives in Italy with her husband and twin boys. Website: Follow Renée on Twitter: @ReneeMLaTulippe

Previous posts in this series:
Diane Mayr on a haiku by Basho

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Source Poems: "The Singers"

For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.

Today, guest blogger Shirley Brewer invites us to join her in finding a poetic voice.

Shirley Brewer
I came late to poetry.

Granted, I considered myself a writer at age seven (fairy tales), wrote some poems in high school and college (Viet Nam, teenage angst), and used poetry with children in my work as a speech and language therapist in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools (Maryland).

Poetry became real to me on Christmas Day, 1996. I was visiting friends in Santa Cruz, California, and walked to the beach that morning with a notebook and pen.
When I returned, my friends asked me to read aloud what I had written. They pronounced me a poet and I agreed. I took two poetry classes at Anne Arundel Community College in 1997 that fueled my journey. Over these past seventeen years, I often included travel as part of my poetry studies, participating in workshops in various states, as well as in Italy and Ireland.

Ireland! In 1998, I spent two weeks in Dublin immersing myself in poetry under the guidance of Irish poets. Our guest for one session was Eavan Boland, who remains my favorite poet. That evening, she joined us at The Teacher’s Club, where she sat next to me and bought everyone at our table a drink. What a thrill!

Eavan Boland and students.
Photo: Shirley Brewer
The first book of Eavan Boland’s I purchased was In aTime of Violence, in which she explores the social and political realities of her Ireland. Her collection begins with “The Singers.” Here it is – 16 lines:

The Singers
By Eavan Boland

The women who were singers in the West
lived on an unforgiving coast.
I want to ask was there ever one
moment when all of it relented--
when rain and ocean and their own
sense of home were revealed to them
as one and the same?
                                    After which
every day was still shaped by weather,
but every night their mouths filled with
Atlantic storms and clouded-over stars
and exhausted birds?
                                    And only when the danger
was plain in the music could you know
their true measure of rejoicing in

finding a voice where they found a vision.

[This poem is published online at Stanford Magazine and Project MUSE.]

I connected with this poem in a completely visceral way. Every time I read it, I feel myself inside the poem. And I believe this poem has guided my own poetic path.

In the years I studied poetry what mattered most to me was discovering my “voice.” How would I find it? I read poetry voraciously. I still do–every day! One could become dizzy with all the voices! I began attending Peter Murphy’s annual Poetry andProse Getaways in Cape May. Excellent teachers. I slowly began to develop more confidence in myself as a writer. But did I have a voice?

To me, Eavan Boland’s poem speaks of the poetic journey–“an unforgiving coast.” Not an easy path. So much to learn, to read, to know, to weather. So much time not knowing if one is a poet at all. The desire to discover one’s “own sense of home.”

And always, it’s about filling one’s own mouth with words and sounds… “every night their mouths filled with Atlantic storms and clouded-over stars and exhausted birds.”

I often made the connection that–for 32 years–I filled the mouths of children with sounds. With my career change and early “retirement” in 2001, I realized it was time for me to focus on self-fulfillment, as risky as it was–like the dangerous weather of Boland’s poem. Time to follow my vision, to seek a more creative path. My journey brought me to Baltimore City’s Charles Village, to the University of Baltimore–where I earned my Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing/Publishing Arts in 2005–and to the vibrant poetry community that exists in Baltimore/Washington, DC/Annapolis and beyond.

I remember a poetry event at Maryland Hall in Annapolis a number of years ago. There was an intermission right after I read. I heard someone call out my name. It was the wonderful Philadelphia poet, JC Todd, who had been one of my instructors at Peter Murphy’s Getaway. She grabbed both my hands and exclaimed: Shirley Brewer, you have a voice! I’ll never forget that moment. It felt like such a thrilling validation. No matter what we surmise internally, it sure helps to receive external support. A moment to rejoice!

To have a poem inspire you early in your journey, and then serve as a companion all along the way, is the greatest of gifts.

And only when the danger
was plain in the music could you know
their true measure of rejoicing in

finding a voice where they found a vision.

Eavan Boland
from Poetry News in Review
Shirley J. Brewer graduated from careers in bartending, palm-reading, and speech therapy. She has served as poet-in-residence at Carver Center for the Arts and Technology in Baltimore County. Shirley will present "Healing Through Writing" with novelist Tom Glenn at the MWA Conference on April 26, and is scheduled to teach a poetry workshop at LitMore (Baltimore) in May. Recent poems appear in The Cortland Review, Little Patuxent Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Pearl, Comstock Review, Passager, and other journals. Her poetry books include A Little Breast Music, 2008, Passager Books and After Words, 2013, Apprentice House/Loyola University.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Progressive Poem 2014 Is Here!

I'm taking a break from the Source Poem series today to participate in another National Poetry Month tradition: Irene Latham's annual progressive poem.

The Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem lands at a different blog each day in April. As the poem travels around the blogosphere, each poet adds a line. With thirty minds cooking up a rhyming recipe, you know there are going to be some surprising flavors in this poem.

I decided to give the poem a little "Bam!" a la chef Emeril Lagasse.

Sitting on a rock, airing out my feelings to the universe
Acting like a peacock, only making matters that much worse;
"Acting like a peacock,"
from National Geographic
Should I trumpet like an elephant emoting to the moon,
Or just ignore the warnings written in the rune?
Those stars can’t seal my future; it’s not inscribed in stone.
The possibilities are endless! Who could have known?
Gathering courage, spiral like an eagle after prey
Then gird my wings for whirlwind gales in realms far, far away.
"Spiral like an eagle,"
from All About Birds
But, hold it! Let’s get practical! What’s needed before I go?
Time to be tactical— I’ll ask my friends what I should stow.
And in one breath, a honeyed word whispered low— dreams —
Whose voice? I turned to see. I was shocked. Irene’s
“Each voyage starts with tattered maps; your dreams dance on this page.
Determine these dreams—then breathe them! Engage your inner sage.”
The merry hen said, “Take my sapphire eggs to charm your host.”
I tuck them close – still warm – then take my first step toward the coast
This journey will not make me rich, and yet I long to be
like luminescent jellyfish, awash in mystery.
"I long to be like luminescent jellyfish,"
from Wikipedia
I turn and whisper, “Won’t you come?” to all the beasts and birds,
and listen while they scamper, their answers winging words:
“Take these steps alone to start; each journey is an art
You are  your own best company. Now it's time to depart!"
The Fairies in Spring
Arthur Rackham (public domain)
Next up is Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at the Poem Farm. Perhaps the speaker of our poem will at last take flight with Amy at the controls.
You can find past and future entries in the 2014 Progressive Poem here:
1 Charles at Poetry Time
2 Joy at Joy Acey
3 Donna at Mainely Write
4 Anastasia at Poet! Poet!
5 Carrie at Story Patch
6 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
7 Pat at Writer on a Horse
8 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
9 Diane at Random Noodling
10 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
11 Linda at Write Time
12 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
13 Janet at Live Your Poem
14 Deborah at Show–Not Tell
15 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
16 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
17 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
18 Irene at Live Your Poem
19 Julie at The Drift Record
20 Buffy at Buffy Silverman
21 Renee at No Water River
22 Laura at Author Amok
23 Amy at The Poem Farm
24 Linda at TeacherDance
25 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
26 Lisa at Lisa Schroeder Books
27 Kate at Live Your Poem
28 Caroline at Caroline Starr Rose
29 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
30 Tara at A Teaching Life
Tomorrow, Author Amok returns to a month-long series on Source Poems. Baltimore-based poet Shirley Brewer is sharing a favorite poem by Eavan Boland.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Source Poems: "Sea Fever"

For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.

We return to the water today with guest blogger and Maryland-based poet Pat Valdata.

Pat Valdata
Sea Fever, Spring Fever

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like the ocean, and boating, even though the only boat ride I took as a child was the Circle Line’s sedate cruise around Manhattan. Something about traveling on the water appealed to my child’s mind for reasons I couldn’t fathom (pun intended!). Then, when I was in sixth grade, I discovered John Masefield’s “Sea Fever”:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Between the alliteration and the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, I could hear the rhythm of pitch and roll in every line. This was the first poem to give me the “aha!” moment of hearing how the sounds represented the sense. I loved to recite: “To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife….” Say them out loud—isn’t it a fun line to speak? I loved then, and still love, how the wavy smoothness of “the gull’s way and the whale’s way where” transitions into a sudden punch of frigid wind “like a whetted knife.”

I had always enjoyed reading poetry, from Mother Goose to A Child’s Garden of Verses. [Previous Source Poem posts about A Child's Garden of Verses include "The Land of Counterpane" and "Rain."

But “Sea Fever” was the first poem that piqued my interest in craft, not that I could have expressed it just that way when I was in sixth grade. By the time I took literature classes in high school, though, I was seriously interested in matters of craft, although my own poetry consisted of overwritten, angst-filled creepy lines meant to channel Edgar Allan Poe, or short, pithy verses that I thought were as sophisticated as anything written by Dorothy Parker.

And then I read an untitled poem by E.E. Cummings and was fascinated by the poem’s appearance on the page; by sounds like “Just/mud-luscious”; by his trick of writing “eddieandbill” and “bettyandisbel” to visually show the closeness of the two pairs of children who are inseparable at play; and by the mysterious “balloonMan” whose goat-footedness led me to the encyclopedia to learn more about Pan, who is the perfect mythological character to represent springtime, fertility, and eddieandisbel’s & billandbetty’s foreshadowed sexuality.

Cumming’s poetry, which was avant garde when he wrote it, still seemed hip and fresh when I first encountered it in high school (okay, so it was a long time ago). Then it seemed the very opposite of Masefield to me, and it led me into the world of free verse poetry. But now I see how similar the two poems are in their treatment of sound effects; how Cummings, in his use of typography and repetition, is also paying close attention to rhythm; and how both poems celebrate the irresistible wildness of nature that draws me outdoors in just-spring and to the ocean (or at least the Chesapeake Bay) every chance I get.


By Pat Valdata

On the anniversary of your dying alone
I stood on the hard-packed shoreline,
back turned toward the insistent wind.

I picked up a clamshell covered in spume,
ridges smoothed by the tumble to shore.
In the heavy, polished, concave core
I ground sand grains under my thumb.

A gust pushed me three steps closer
to the hiss of spray, the retreating surf,
where wave after wave thrummed ashore,
pushed by last night’s thunderstorm.

I tasted a filigree of freezing foam.
Salt on my fingertips. Too much like tears.

A note about this poem: “Surf” isn’t a new poem. It won the Eastern Shore Regional Poetry Competition in 2006. But it is representative of the “semiformal” way I often write now, paying attention to rhythm and mixing rhyme and off-rhyme, and in doing so, acknowledging the influence of poets like Masefield, Cummings, and many others.

John Masefield, painting by William Strang
Source: The Telegraph
Pat Valdata is poet and novelist whose most recent book is Inherent Vice, a book of poetry published by Pecan Grove Press in 2011, the same publisher that printed her poetry chapbook Looking for Bivalve, which was a contest finalist in 2002. Pat has twice received Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council for her poetry. In 2013 she was awarded a grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation for a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Thanks to this grant and residency, she completed the manuscript for a forthcoming book of poetry that was awarded the 2015 Donald Justice Prize. Pat lives in Elkton and works at the West Chester University Poetry Center.

Previous posts in this series:
Diane Mayr on a haiku by Basho