Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Thousand Words is Directly Equivalent to One Picture

Iain Marshall. Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

Below you'll see pictures from the July Sexy Poets reading. I really appreciate everyone who took them, sent them to me, or posted them on facebook. Pic creds go to Genevieve Mihalko, Sara Kennedy and Anna Vitale. Totally stole some of these off of facebook, but I don't think anyone cares.

Thanks for an amazing reading and a great hang out afterwards. Part of what I look forward to with the reading is getting drunk at the brewery afterward, because everything is so electric and everyone is so giddy post-poetry. You guys are great :-)

Melissa Welsh starting off the night. Photo taken by Genevieve Mihalko.

Andrew Stevens, MC McGee. Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

Half of the audience, laughing at Andrew Steven's hilarious jokes. The audience not pictured may or may not have been laughing as well. Photo taken by Genevieve Mihalko.

Lucy Carnaghi. Picture taken by Sara Kennedy.

Theresa Rickloff. Making a funny face. Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

Theresa Rickloff, less silly face. Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

Iain Marshall. Photo taken by Genevieve Mihalko.

Anna Vitale. Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

More Anna Vitale action. Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

Crew hanging at the Corner Brewery afterward. Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

Theresa Rickloff & Matt Thomas in the background looking attractive. John Peter Demsick in the foreground. Photo taken by Sara Kennedy.

Lucy Carnaghi & Carson Boron at the Corner Brewery. Photo taken by Anna Vitale.

A fistful of Sexy Poets. Left to Right - Lucy Carnaghi, Andrew Stevens, Theresa Rickloff, Ian Murray & Iain Marshall. Picture taken by Anna Vitale.

Anna Vitale & Theresa Rickloff. Picture taken on Anna Vitale's camera but presumably not by her. Poets don't do Myspace poses, apparently.

Lucy Carnaghi and Theresa Rickloff. Photo taken by Anna Vitale.

As ALWAYS, thanks to Beezy's Cafe for being an amazing host and supporting Ypsi poetry. Without you we couldn't be doing this!
And to the Corner Brewery for making great beer for us afterward. Without you, we wouldn't be high-fiving as much.

We love you Ypsilanti,
The Sexy Poets

Friday, July 30, 2010

Readings and Craft

Sexy Poets #3: “Required” Reading

Like everyone else who reads, I like to open conversations with things like, “dude, you have GOT to read this book!” I get excited about them, even material that most people might regard as “crap,” ie. genre fiction. For example, I just read my first mystery novel, ever, A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery. It was Milne’s only mystery novel. It’s not bad. Predictable, but the accidental detective is pleasurable enough a character that I enjoyed the book. Then there were the first three books in a series called The Chronicles of The Black Company, by Glen Cook. I read much dark fantasy, back when I used to take the time to read such things and, since my wife thought I was about to suffer a stroke after three (joyous) readings of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, she demanded “light” reading. I complied, then went right back to my Stacks-of-Thousand-Pound-Books reading. I’ll delve into “dessert” readings more often. She had a point.
And that brings me to mine. Earlier in the summer, I went back in time–so to speak–and read a few of those “must read” books for poets. Namely, Johnathan Holden’s The Fate of American Poetry, and Robert Pinsky’s The Situation of Poetry. Both are on a dozen Ph. D. reading lists, and for good reasons, but neither are books that I might take to the cliche’ deserted island. I would choose others and, I believe, anyone with a mind toward writing poetry would do well to include them, along with a first-aid kit, Swiss Army knife, and something with which to build a fire. Here are three to begin.

1. On Poetry and Craft, by Theodore Roethke.
This is a compilation (edited by Carolyn Kizer) from his two prose notebooks, On the Poet and His Craft, and Straw for the Fire. His insights into poetry, teaching, and the mind are wonderful. Roethke is remembered, not only as a great poet, but as the first “teacher-poet,” from whose classrooms poets Richard Hugo, Carolyn Kizer, James Wright (outstanding poets, all) and others emerged. By the way, Roethke’s family home in Saginaw, MI is a landmark worth visiting. He was born and is buried there, and it has long been my intention to gather a group of Ypsi folk together and caravan north for a visit. It is something to stand on a place where someone of Roethke’s talent stood, to look around and see what he saw.

2. The Triggering Town, by Richard Hugo.
Hugo’s book contains one of my favorite writing exercises. It contains lines that I have repeated in classes fifty times, myself, and have said to many readers of the SexPo blog, in person. Hugo was one of Roethke’s students, and some of that comes through in this book, but it is Hugo, through and through.

3. Pot Shots at Poetry, by Robert Francis
Francis is not widely known by younger poets. I’d heard his name batted around once or twice, but hadn’t read anything by him. For my birthday, this year, I received a gift certificate for one of my favorite used bookstores (West Side Books in Ann Arbor), and discovered him there. “Pot Shots” is exactly what it sounds like, mostly. Francis fancies himself “the Satirical Rogue,” mostly outside academia and, indeed, outside much of modern, mainstream society, while living much of his life in Amherst, MA. The book was published by the Poets on Poetry series out of the University of Michigan, which has produced numerous books that are damn well worth the effort, written by a veritable who’s who of poets of the last 50 years. Here is a link to their catalog.
These three books are certainly not the only books worth reading on the subject. There are many, many books. Donald Hall’s Claims for Poetry is a collection of essays on the subject written by dozens of good poets. There is T.S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s prose on the subject, and the ancients wrote at length on it as well, not to mention “defenses” of poetry by Shelley and Sidney and numerous others (which has always bothered me; I just don’t understand why poetry needs defending, I guess, but that’s me).
The larger point in bringing the subject up, of course, is not to just give everyone something to read. I bring it up because all of these readings, and the hundreds I have not mentioned, here, is a collective expression of poets considering their craft, and the poet, whether “established” or “would-be,” must consider craft. Poetry is an art, no doubt, but it requires work (and play) to write it well. That work is the craft of it, the serious part, where deep reading and deep thought about it happen. To not engage in the crafting of poems, we risk much, none of which is helpful to the poet, the poems, or to their audiences. In fact, craft is so important that I want to scream and flail about and throw things to encourage others to notice. But that is a subject for another time. I'll try not to break any windows, but I make no guarantees, once I get going.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Now, For My Next Trick

Some Thoughts On Revision: Hardly a Complete Treatment

I am going to write a short article about revision. I will revise it three or four times, put it on the blog (or maybe send it to TR for her thoughts), maybe revise it again, make some last minute changes and, ten minutes after I’ve posted it, wish I had worked through three or four more drafts. That’s how it works. I’m going to make these thoughts public, in writing. That is scary. I am going to make it public before people I respect, and before whom I don’t wish to embarrass myself or damage whatever reputation I possess. In fact, I could spend two hours per day for the next week working on this and, at the end of the week, hate it. But I’m not going to. I just wanted you to know. So...
Among the many questions that arise, subside, and arise again over time is the difficult question of whether one should engage revision. To even use the word, “engage,” is a qualification of its own and merits discussion. Some (almost all) writers claim that revision is a need as vital as water, while others claim that revision intrudes upon their “purest” thought/emotion. These latter stick–at least in public– to Horace’s “first thought, best thought” declaration (to which even he doesn’t seem to have adhered). There are few poets, from any time, whose work has not undergone revision at the poet’s hand. William Blake worked from “divine inspiration,” but Blake was, by profession, an engraver and printer. He gouged words and pictures into copper plates as part of a rather painstaking, expensive, and time consuming process that led to his art. I think we can assume he revised his written “masters” once or twice before he dragged out his numerous other tools. Revision, after all, is one more tool in the box (I hate that metaphor, but it serves well enough, I suppose). Not to do so might have meant a re-making (and the financial cost) a project he believed he’d finished. He was carving it into metal, so it had better be “right.” This is, however, not to say that the end product lacked “divine” influence, whether from the Christian God, or one or more muses. British Romantics often laid claim to such inspiration. And then came William Wordsworth. Rather, then “went” Wordsworth.
After he published his “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tinern Abbey,” which was recognized even then as a masterpiece, he claimed that it was written in one, muse-inspired sitting, during which he was at one with nature. Gosh! How about those muses! Then he died.
This means, of course, that other people perused his belongings, one item of which was a steamer trunk. When opened, they discovered that it was full of one thing: drafts of “Tintern Abbey.” I relate the Wordsworth anecdote because it serves as a lesson in how poets really view revision. All of us revise, and we should. Maybe not fifteen minutes after the first draft is written, but it needs doing. If there is no other reason, there is this: three days (or three minutes) after the initial composition–that is, after the muses whisper their honeyed words into our ears–we’ve grown smarter, more in touch with language, the universe, and ourselves; we turn the honey into mead. The muses did not show up and say, “here, have a poem. Write that sucker down and be remembered through the ages.” I don’t think that’s how the muses–whatever that means–work. It seems to me that the first boost of inspirational goodness comes from “that place.” Great. But it’s a starting point. They’ve shown up and given you a really good idea, an image, a few lines or phrases, a sound, but it is up to us to make something of it. We can see this in myriad artists in all forms who claim they don’t revise; even those who decry it as nearly blasphemy. Turns out, they all revise. Even Michelangelo revised, regardless of which form he worked on a given day.
There are many, many reasons to revise. Understand, I do not mean “editing.” Editing is commas and periods and spelling. I mean “re-thinking,” “re-seeing,” and making what you said be said better than you said it last time. The desire to not look/sound/feel “dumb” before our peers is a pretty solid reason. I think of a man I worked for some years ago, whose English usage–he was American–was so bad that, as a joke, I created The John K. Doe International Dictionary, which operated as a spoof (only sort of) spelling and translation guide. John used the sound, “irregardless” roughly three times per hour. I worked there for 4 ½ years. During that time, I struggled to not spell or to pronounce words like John, speaking properly in his presence without trying to sound arrogant. Now, almost 20 years later, I sometimes find myself having to correct myself, because I used a “Doe-ism” in conversation. Like all of us, upon hearing ourselves commit similar offenses, I roll my eyes, shake my head, and re-speak. This is revision.
Consider it from a teacher’s perspective, since all writers are, inevitably, whether we want to be, or not, teachers. If we create a document in which appear grammar, usage, spelling, or other errors, and a student (audience) points them out, I don’t care how hip, nihilistic, drunk, hip, or intelligent we are, the verbal stumbling and red face washes over us immediately. This is less because we handed out material containing errors, but that we are an authority figure who passed out such material. And, yes: the writer must be an author-ity figure. Sorry. Consider how much worse it feels to misrepresent oneself or one’s abilities. Where writing, using the language, and presenting new ideas are concerned, a writer commands authority or, at least, demands attention for a few lines in time. We have to know “our stuff,” and we want what we’ve written to be the best representation of our minds, and our creative abilities. This is how we convince our audience to read/listen to anything we have to say, which is difficult enough. Making the effort to say it better is a way we show them, and ourselves, both respect and attention. Otherwise, we slobs with pens. It’s also how we, as artists, “own” our creations.
Another place where we meet the problem of revision head-on is when we read our work to audiences. How many times have you read , and changed a word as you approached it? Or stumbled over a line and realized, as you spoke the words, you didn’t like them?
One final example, and I’ll stop harping on revision for a little while, and let you, gentle readers, rend the flesh from the bones of these incomplete and imperfect thoughts. Think back to when you were a student: fifth grade, twelfth grade, freshman year in college last semester of graduate school, it doesn’t matter. How proud of your work were you to turn in an unrevised assignment? This is a popular, “appear smart” (when the smart you are is probably smarter than the facade you put forth), and “see how cool I am” practice that, I think, reaches into that seemingly primal desire we all have to “make art now” and to really own our “first thought, best thought” desires (which probably stem from our desire to be connected to something divine...but who knows?). I used to make this claim regularly, even though it wasn’t always true. And I–like I suspect, you–receive that writing–or even something I’d spent effort upon–back a couple of weeks later, re-read it, and think something to the effect of, “Oh my god, I did NOT turn this in...” As I suggest above, two weeks later, you’re ability to use the language, to refine your own ideas, improves dramatically with a little time away from the piece.
Revision makes our writing better. That is revision’s whole point. Since writing is also a way of teaching ourselves things, of coming to grips with difficult concepts (personal, or not), it makes us smarter. There is a caveat, here, that should not stop us from revising our work, and it is this. As you revise, ALWAYS keep copies of earlier drafts. Over-revising can, indeed, ruin your work. Deleting that stanza may seem like a great idea on Tuesday, but on Thursday, prove the death of the poem. This happened to me. I deleted the last stanza of a 90 line poem, and can’t reproduce the stanza. The poem now lives in my “dead poem” file because I over-revised it (read as: murdered) the poem. But I learned the lesson, and that is the only murder I’ve ever committed.

Post Script: While digging through a box of old “papers,” I re-discovered the lost stanza. I’ll have to read that poem at a SexPo in the future...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Out of the Sands of Time - EMERGES THE NEXT SEXPO READING! also a blog update.

Thanks for staying posted with a silly summer schedule, everybody. The June reading was canceled due to scheduling conflicts and different poets not being available, etc. But no matter, onward to July.

The next reading is Monday, July 26th @ 5:30pm. Beezy's Cafe - 20 N. Washington, Ypsilanti MI
Here's what I have planned for your sensory pleasure:
Lucy Carnaghi,
Iain Marshall,
Theresa Rickloff
Melissa Welsh
& Anna Vitale (who is saying good bye to the area, soon. Le sigh.)

Hope to see you guys out there! Get me on here or facebook if you have any questions.