Generative Writing Workshop in Roslindale, Massachusetts

Roslindale just welcomed a new creative space called Create Art in Community, and I’m excited to be offering a generative writing workshop there this April. Please join me for some exercises designed to get the creative juices flowing and encourage play with words. Both new and experienced writers should enjoy the class. All forms of writing welcome: poetry, fiction, memoir, or any combination.

When:

Wednesday evenings, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Four dates in April 2020: April 1, 8, 15, 29

Where:

Create Art in Community, 11A Corinth Street, Roslindale MA

In the heart of Rozzie Square. Roslindale Village stop on the Needham Line Commuter Rail, multiple bus lines from Forest Hills. Municipal parking lot close by and free on-street parking.

Sign Up at the Create Art in Community Website

When the Horse Begins to Neigh on the Page: An Interview with Poet Eileen Cleary

Photograph of poet Eileen Cleary

Eileen Cleary seems to have found a way to clone herself. In addition to holding two MFAs from two different Boston institutions, she manages the Lily Poetry Salon and publishes the Lily Poetry Review. Her Lily Poetry Review Press will be publishing its first titles soon. She has studied with teachers near and far and seems to know everyone in the Boston poetry scene — and many on the national scene as well.

Eileen is a nurse and poet who earned an MFA at Lesley University and second at Solstice of Pine Manor College. She is twice a Pushcart nominee and has work published or upcoming in journals such as Naugatuck River Review, J Journal, The American Journal of Poetry, Solstice, and Sugar House Review. Her work has appeared as a Rainworks Installation in Newton, Massachusetts.

Her debut poetry collection, Child Ward of the Commonwealth was published by Main Street Rag Press in June 2019

Frances Donovan: What first brought you to poetry?

Eileen Cleary: I’ve always loved to read poetry. I had a sense that I could write it from an early age. But, I never wrote it seriously until I wrote a poem in response to unethical research on human subjects. I was a different person when I reached the end of that poem, and I could never go back to being a person who didn’t write poetry. 

Donovan: How were you a different person?

Cleary: I found a way to transform trauma into art and in so doing, discovered a power and a freedom I’d never known. I was changed because we all live in an inner world, but must also maneuver in an outer world. Poetry has made it possible to translate my inner self to the outer world, myself to myself.

Donovan: It sounds like social consciousness was one of the things that really cemented poetry in your life. It can be difficult to write poetry that is politically aware without descending into didacticism or cliche. How do you navigate those waters?

Cleary: Poetry’s reach can touch the core of any issue. It has been said over and over, and it seems to be true, that all poetry is political. We are all responsible for the state of the world. We witness joy and pain. All poems are  of that witness. If the poem speaks authentically, uses the art of arranging words for its sounds, syntax, music, imagery, tone, and lexicon to transform experience into art, if a poem is compassionate and empathetic, it transforms the shadow of the horse we write about and it begins to neigh on the page.

Donovan: You mentioned transforming trauma into art. Child Ward of the Commonwealth is a great example of that process — it’s based on your own life experiences, isn’t it? What was it like for you to revisit such difficult memories? How did you take care of yourself during that process?

Cleary: Yes, Child Ward of the Commonwealth is based on my life experience and that of my family. It was extremely difficult to revisit these memories but also essential. In fact, unavoidable. Once the trauma revealed itself as having to be spoken, I could not contain it. Moreover,  I thought of all of the children currently in foster care, or who may be starving or abused and neglected. The desire to give words to that distress was not only for myself, but for them. 

Caring for  myself during that time meant that I needed trusted friends with whom to share my grief. I had to believe that there would be someone who might want to read or publish material that wasn’t mainstream, and was frankly hard to endure, even for a reader. I had to go against my instinct to hide and secret away any family shame. It was important to allow myself to cry, to mourn and sometimes, to put the material away and be kind to myself.

Donovan: Who have you studied with?

Cleary: Some of the poets I’ve studied with are  Steven Cramer, Erin Belieu, Sharon Bryan, Joan Houlihan, Fred Merchant. Kim Addonizio, Bruce Weigl, Barbara Helfgott-Hyett, Tom Daley, Teresa Cader, Brenda Shaughnessey, Lucie Brock-Broido, Kevin McLelllan, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Iain Haley-Pollock, Kathleen Aguero, Nicole Terez-Dutton, Megan Fernandes, Martin Espada, Annie Finch, and Anne Marie Oomen. There were also poets at Lesley who I did not have as semester mentors but who impacted me greatly in seminars and workshops, including Rafael Campo, Cate Marvin Dupont, Kevin Prufer, and Adrian Metejka.

Donovan: Tell me about your experience at Lesley.

Cleary: There is so much to tell. One important thing is that I met some of the best friends anyone could ever hope to find. This is true of the Solstice Community as well. I remember arriving at the campus for my first residency and realizing I could finally have that conversation about verbs I’d been aching for. I would sit in the dining hall and let the other students’ conversations about their characters. or a storyline or poem wash over me, and I felt like I had finally found a place where other people claimed their rich imaginings and inner thoughts, where they even mined them for the page. Something in me opened. Also, I was an eager apprentice, learning from all of the mentors and my fellow students, who were infinitely more advanced than I.

Donovan: You also have an MFA from Pine Manor College. Please tell me about your experience there as well, and what prompted you to pursue an MFA at two separate programs.

Cleary: I had started writing poetry after a long career focusing on science and nursing. As a nurse, I work hard to become credentialed in my practice areas. I am used to life-long learning and study. I realized that as a poet, I needed to apply that work ethic to my studies. The MFA at Lesley set me going and I continued my studies for two years after at Solstice. This allowed me to establish habits of studying and practicing craft for 30-35 hours a week for four years and has served me well. I dearly love my Solstice community and would not trade Lesley for Solstice or vice versa. They’re both integral to my foundation and the community in each is and will always remain important to me.

Donovan: What do you do to be a good literary citizen?

Cleary: I often read manuscripts for friends or new poets, and offer detailed line edits, reordering, and discussion at no charge. I try to write at least six or eight book reviews a year. I run a literary salon which features other poets. The work I do for Lily has me donating a minimum of 20 hours a week. I also donate the money for the publishing.

Donovan: Tell me more about the Lily Poetry Review and the new Lily Poetry Review Press. These, along with the reading series, are great examples of good literary citizenship.

Cleary: I started the journal, the press, and the salon for the same reason. I am in love with poetry and poets, period. I didn’t know if I would ever be a published poet, but I knew that I would never stop reading or listening to poetry.   I found a way to immerse myself in poetry and to be surrounded by poets. I want to highlight and share as much beautiful work as possible and believe that poetry is art, resistance, and essential to my soul. I knew I wanted a reading series where I could spend intimate time truly listening to poets read their work and having conversations with them, So many times after readings, I find myself wishing I could ask about process or experience or technique. There are amazing things that happen when the words floating around the room at a reading enter into conversation. My friend Christine Jones and I talked about the importance of conversations with poets. Thus, the Lily Poetry Salon was born. There is no shortage of talented and interesting poets, but there are often times when they won’t be published. I wanted to do my part in putting more poetry into the world, and I have to say, no matter the cost, the hours, the challenges, there is nothing like seeing a beautiful journal with the voices in conversation or holding a poet’s collection and knowing it encapsulates a piece of their humanity.

Donovan: What poets do you keep returning to again and again?

Cleary: Emily Dickinson, Lucie Brock-Broido, James Wright, W. S. Merwin, Franz Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Frost, Louise Bogan, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Lucille Clifton, Louise Gluck.

Donovan: What are you reading right now?

Cleary: I just finished Mary Ruefle’s Dunce.

Donovan: Very few poets can make their living solely through book sales or reading fees. Many of us — but not all — teach or edit to put our supper on the table. Is this the case for you? If not, what’s your day job?

Cleary: I work full time as a hospice nurse, on the night shift.  I would love to teach and look forward to a door opening for that when the time is right. I work extra hours in order to afford to publish other poets. 

Donovan: What does your writing practice look like right now? Has it changed?

Cleary: When I started the Lily Poetry Review and Lily Poetry Review Books, my writing practice shrunk to allow my editing and publishing practice to expand. I would say that I am now reaching an equilibrium. My most important practice is to read poetry. As long as I am doing that each day, I feel the rest will flourish.

Cover image for Cleary's book Child Ward of the Commonwealth

Donovan: I divide my writing life into three categories. There’s the purely generative work — free-writes and first drafts. There’s revision — polishing those drafts. And then there’s the po-biz — the business of sending out work to journals, networking, reading your work, reviewing others’ work, selling books, running a social media account and/or a website. How do you strike a balance among these?

Cleary: I try very hard to attend other poets’ readings at least a few times a month. As I mentioned, my own writing has taken a back seat this year. I find that editing the journal and the poetry collections for Lily is an act of love and generosity. I know that this work is making it possible for me to share the art that others create, to put more beautiful poetry into the world. I’m working to strike a balance.

Donovan: What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out in your poetry career?

Cleary: At the very beginning, let’s say at the very beginning, I’d have loved a little encouragement — to have someone say they believed in me and my work or my potential. I would have liked for someone to tell me what was working and help me to have faith. I nearly gave up in despair of my work, but my love of words, poets, and poetry sustained me. It is not that poets always need outside affirmation to feel accepted or to be a poet. But when someone is starting out, before they get their footing, they need encouragement and support. The person who first gave me that support was Jason Reynolds after a student reading during my second or third semester at Lesley. He walked up to me in the cafeteria and let me know that I was a poet. And that is all I needed. I clung to that brief and hopeful conversation for a long time.

Later, others like Erin Belieu and Tom Daley and many of the folks in my community gave that support. So I think if I had anything to say to new poets it would be: Hold one another in high esteem. Let one another know what you admire even as you yourself may be struggling to know what you can redeem in your own work. If someone who is just starting out admires you, take time to read their work, have a brief conversation or sit with them for coffee. You will never regret taking the time to say a few words, and like Jason Reynolds or Erin Belieu you may be the glue to help that person stick with poetry long enough until they can believe in themselves.

Donovan: What’s next for you?

Cleary: I am about to carve out some time to work on a manuscript in which the ghost of John Keats features prominently and which also encapsulates the grief and Iove I have for a friend who recently died. I have a hospice manuscript is in its germinal stage, and am happy to say that some of those poems are to be published by JAMA and The American Journal of Poetry in January.

I plan to write a critical essay about Marcia Karp’s poetry and I would like to begin writing a different type of book review. I will be trialing looking at an author as a whole and “reviewing” all of their books in a larger essay while tracing their writing journeys. There is a Story Theory of nursing. In order to practice the Story Theory one must listen to a person’s life history and retrace their journey. In this way, the nurse meets the patient right where they are, understanding how they arrived. I want to apply the Story Theory to my critical writing about poets, reading their stories in the lines of their poetry. This will tell me their obsessions, the evolution of their craft and technique, the impulses which move them to write. I will premiere this in-depth “Story of a Poet” in the Summer 2020 issue of Lily.

I will continue to read from my Child Ward of the Commonwealth for the next several months. I’m very grateful to be able to read with wonderful poets. Upcoming dates are:

  • Saturday, February 22, 2020, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. at the Miller White Fine Arts Gallery, 708 MA-134, South Dennis, MA, with Robert Carr, Tamora Israel, Kate Wallace Rogers, and Al Starkey Music by Rose Martin
  • Thursday, March 5, 2020, 1:45 – 3:00 p.m. at AWP, Lily Poetry Review reading, Bookfair Stage 1, AWP, San Antonio, TX
  • Thursday, March 5, 2020, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., at La Vallitas Historic Arts House, 418 Villita St, San Antonio, TX, for Tupelo 30/30 and Conference Alumns (an off-site AWP event)
  • Friday, April 3, 2020, 7:00 p.m., at Chapter & Verse Loring-Greenough House, 12 South Street, Jamaica Plain (across from the Monument)
  • Tuesday, April 28, 7:00 – 10:00 p.m., The Poetrorium at Starlite Bar and Gallery, (Open Mic and Poetry Show) 39 Hamilton Street, Southbridge, MA

Donovan: How can people find you?

Cleary: I have a website, it is admittedly not jazzy. Maybe I can work on that too! https://eileenclearypoet.com/

You can find my Lily Poetry review project at https://lilypoetryreview.blog/

Buy Child Ward of the Commonwealth from Main Street Rag

 

February and March 2020 Poetry Readings in Boston and Environs

Poetry to Warm a Mind of Winter: Photograph of a Cardinal on a Branch. Photo credit: James H via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0.

I don’t know about you, but I’m aching for spring already. Here are poetry readings that will bring us in March, which is almost spring in New England. Thanks as always to Daniel Bouchard for publishing these listings. Follow him on Twitter. I’ve also discovered Lori Desrosier’s site, which posts poetry news in Western Mass. And a series in Shelburne Falls not listed below called Collected Poets.

Of special note below:

  • Tamiko Beyer at home.stead in Dorcester
  • Carla Schwartz at the Old Manse and home.stead
  • Martha Collins at Arts at the Armory Somerville and the Brookline Public Library
  • Jericho Brown at Smith
  • Joan Houlihan in Hopkinton
  • Zara Raab in Newburyport
  • Daniel Bouchard’s MIT Reading Series

Sunday, February 2, 1 – 3 pm
Tzynya Pinchback and John Bonanni
Poetry: The Art Of Words
Plymouth Public Library/Otto Fehlow Room
132 South St
Plymouth, MA

Sunday, February 2, 2 – 4 pm
Rachel Kann (featured reader)
and open mic
Jewish Poetry Festival
Temple Sinai in Brookline
50 Sewall Avenue
Brookline, MA

Thursday, February 6, 7 pm
Barbara Thomas
Andala Cafe
286 Franklin St.
Cambridge, MA

Friday, February 7, 7:30 pm
Tamiko Beyer
Unearthed Song & Poetry
Home.stead Bakery and Cafe
1448 Dorchester Ave.
Fields Corner
Dorchester, MA

Friday, February 7, 7 pm
Joey Gould, Carol Hobbs, and Open Mic
Poetry at the Y
West Suburban YMCA
276 Church St.
Newton, MA

Friday, February 7, 7 pm
Bradley Trumpfheller
Brookline Booksmith
Harvard Street, Coolidge Corner
Brookline, MA

Friday February 7, 7 pm
Cynthia Bargar, Adnan Onart, and Carla Schwartz
Old Manse Poetry in the Parlor Series, New England Poetry Club
269 Monument St.
Concord, MA

Saturday, February 8, 10:30 am
Howard Kogan and Mark Lipman
Wake up and Smell the Poetry
77 Main St.
Hopkinton, MA

Saturday, February 8, 4 pm
Ariana Reines and José Angel Araguz
The Liminal Reading Series
The MIT Press Bookstore
301 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

Sunday, February 9, 3 pm
Joan Kimball, Eve Linn, and Jason Tandon
Concord Poetry at the Library Series
Sponsored by the Friends of the Library
Concord Free Public Library
129 Main Street
Concord, MA

Sunday, February 9, 3 – 5 pm
Eileen Cleary, Edison Dupree, and Gloria Monaghan
New Poetry and Open Mic
New England Poetry Club
Arts at the Armory Café
Somerville, MA

Thursday, February 13, 5:30 pm
Tracie Morris
McCormack Family Theater
70 Brown St.
Providence, RI
(free and open to public)

Saturday, February 15, 4-6pm
Raquel Balboni Book Launch, with Ben Mazer
Outpost 186
186 Hampshire Street
Inman Square
Cambridge, MA

Sunday, February 16, 2 – 4 pm
TBA and Tanya (Tingyu) Liu
Brookline Poetry Series
Hunneman Hall, Brookline Village Library
361 Washington St.
Brookline, MA

Friday, February 17, 7 pm
Patricia Cleary Miller
Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Plympton Street
Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

Tuesday, February 18, 7:30 pm
Kathleen Graber
Campus Center Carroll Room
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Thursday, February 20, 7 pm
Martha Collins and Susan Eisenberg
Cervena Barva Press
The Armory, Basement Room B8
191 Highland Ave
Somerville, MA

Monday, February 24, 8 pm
Jason Tandon and Judith Baumel
Blacksmith House Poetry
Spiegel Auditorium
56 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA
$3

Tuesday, February 25, 7 pm
Joan Naviyuk Kane
Stata Center, Room 32-155
(corner of Main and Vassar)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA

Thursday, February 27, 7 – 9 pm
Vivienne Shalom, Maureen McElroy, and Queen Hodge
Rozzie Reads Poetry and Open Mic
Roslindale House
120 Poplar Street
Roslindale, MA

Sunday, February 23, 4 pm
Darcie Dennigan and Elaine Kahn
The Liminal Reading Series
The MIT Press Bookstore
301 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

Sunday, March 1, 1 – 3 pm
Jim Brosnan and Terry Johnson
Poetry: The Art Of Words
Plymouth Public Library/Otto Fehlow Room
132 South St
Plymouth, MA

Monday, March 2, 8 pm
John Murillo and Jacob Strautmann
Blacksmith House Poetry
Spiegel Auditorium
56 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA
$3

Friday, March 6, 7:30 pm
Carla Schwartz
Unearthed Song & Poetry
Home.stead Bakery and Cafe
1448 Dorchester Ave.
Fields Corner
Dorchester, MA

Sunday, March 8, 3 -5 pm
Stephen Delbos, Jason Tandon, and Joyce Wilson
New Poetry and Open Mic
New England Poetry Club
Arts at the Armory Café
Somerville, MA

Sunday, March 8, 3 pm
DeWitt Henry and Sara London
Concord Poetry, the Library Series
Sponsored by the Friends of the Library
Concord Free Public Library
129 Main Street
Concord, MA

Tuesday, March 10, 7:30 pm
Jericho Brown
Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Thursday, March 12, 7 pm
Raquel Balboni, David Blair and Katherine Hollander
Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Plympton Street
Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

Saturday, March 14, 10:30 am
Joan Houlihan, Terence Hegarty, and Deb Goss
Wake up and Smell the Poetry
77 Main St.
Hopkinton, MA

Saturday, March 14, 3 pm
Zara Raab and Jodie Reyes
Powow River Poets Reading Series
Newburyport Public Library
92 State Street
Newburyport, MA

Saturday, March 14, 4 pm
A celebration of Stephen Jonas’s Arcana
with editors Dave Rich, Joseph Torra, and others
The Liminal Reading Series
The MIT Press Bookstore
301 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

Sunday, March 15, 2 – 4 pm
Martha Collins and Joan Naviyuk Kane
Brookline Poetry Series
Hunneman Hall, Brookline Village Library
361 Washington St.
Brookline, MA

Monday, March 16, 7pm
Charles North
Stata Center, 32 Vassar Street
Room 32-141, MIT
Cambridge, MA

Monday, March 16, 8 pm
Katherine Hollander and Angela Voras-Hills
Blacksmith House Poetry
Spiegel Auditorium
56 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA
$3

Monday, March 23, 8 pm
Christian Wiman
Blacksmith House Poetry
Spiegel Auditorium
56 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA
$3

Wednesday, March 25, 7 pm
Luke Salisbury, Denise Provost, and Zvi Sesling
A Hastings Room Reading Series event
First Church Cambridge
11 Garden Street, Harter Room
Cambridge

Thursday, March 26, 7 – 9 pm
David Miller and Kate McCann
Rozzie Reads Poetry and Open Mic
Roslindale House
120 Poplar Street
Roslindale, MA

Monday, March 30, 8 pm
David Barber and Katherine Coles
Blacksmith House Poetry
Spiegel Auditorium
56 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA
$3

Tuesday, March 31, 7:30 pm
Sara London and Nathan McClain
Campus Center Carroll Room
Smith College
Northampton, MA

Unearthing Surprising Moments: A Conversation with Poet Sarah Dickenson Snyder

Photograph of poet Sarah Dickenson Snyder

Sarah Dickenson Snyder has written poetry since she knew there was a form with conscious line breaks. She has three poetry collections: The Human Contract, Notes from a Nomad (nominated for the Massachusetts Book Awards 2018), and With a Polaroid Camera (2019). Recently, poems have appeared in Artemis, The Sewanee Review, and RHINO. She has been a 30/30 Poet for Tupelo Press and was accepted both times she applied to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. One poem was selected by Mass Poetry Festival Migration Contest to be stenciled on the sidewalk in Salem, MA. Another was nominated for Best of Net 2017.

Sarah took some time to speak with me via email.

Frances Donovan: What first brought you to poetry?

Sarah Dickenson Snyder: The first time I saw a poem in a book and its intentional line breaks, I was hooked—I just loved how it looked. I was probably in 1st grade. I wrote and wrote even more when I realized that poems didn’t have to rhyme and that I could pour out a seemingly endless fountain of thoughts and memories. I ended up sending a stack of twenty poems to Bowdoin College as my college essay. 

Donovan: Did you study poetry at Bowdoin?

Dickenson Snyder: I took a few classes—there were only just a few in the English Department, certainly no writing classes at that time; I was a Religion major.

Donovan: Was there a particular poet whose work was really meaningful to you in those early years?
Continue reading “Unearthing Surprising Moments: A Conversation with Poet Sarah Dickenson Snyder”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Two, Third Packet

Photo credit: Nilufer Nilufer Gadgieva Flickr, CC 2.0

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the second semester, I studied with poet Kevin Prufer. We spent the semester looking at narrative versus lyric poetry. This is the cover letter to the third packet.

Dear Kevin:

As you pointed out, the critical work in my last packet was a little thin. I hope I’ve redeemed myself with this one. It’s always possible to do more with grad school work, but I feel confident that I’ve given sufficient time and attention to James Wright’s and D.A. Powell’s work. I read your essay on Powell, and am glad that I did so after finishing my own paper. It can be difficult for me to approach a text with any kind of original thinking after reading another’s interpretation. I think you managed to say with more perspective and eloquence some of the things I was trying to say in my own paper. I especially appreciated the parallels the death-dancing German painting and Powell’s exuberant music. I hadn’t really paid attention to Powell’s exploration of spiritual redemption in Cocktails – especially in the Bibliography section – but can see it clearly in hindsight.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Two, Third Packet”

Ross Gay’s Wild and Sensual Poems

Ross Gay’s poetry is lush with sensual pleasure. He uses strong imagery, musical language, and an unusual approach to poetic line to achieve this lushness. He eschews punctuation in many of his poems, relying almost entirely on white space and line breaks to achieve his phrasing. I’ve tried doing some similar with my own work, but Gay commits himself entirely to this technique, forcing it to do the work of commas, periods, capitalization, dashes. In “to the fig tree on 9th and christian,” —the first in his latest collection, catalog of unabashed gratitude— his short lines stutter down the page, slowing the eye at points both expected and unexpected. With no punctuation and no capital letters, he relies on the reader to suss out where one sentence ends and the next begins. This elision works both in concert with and counterpoint to his line breaks. The opening lines rush forth with enjambment through three separate thoughts:

… probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a
broom…

Continue reading “Ross Gay’s Wild and Sensual Poems”

Rachel Zucker’s Unclear Narrative

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the second semester, I studied with poet Kevin Prufer. We spent the semester looking at narrative versus lyric poetry.

————-

I’ve been approaching this semester with an alternating focus on the lyrical and narrative modes of poetry. But how exactly does one differentiate between the two? And is it even a valid dichotomy? As with the prose-poetry divide, the more one tries to define it, the more slippery it becomes. In an essay published in 2006, Tony Hoagland writes about “a widespread mistrust of narrative forms and, in fact, a pervasive sense of the inadequacy or exhaustion of all modes other than the associative.” He also acknowledges the difficulty of defining the term: “Under the label of ‘narrative,’ all kinds of poetry currently get lumped misleadingly together: not just story but discursion, argument, even descriptive lyrics. They might better be called the ‘Poetries of Continuity.’”

Published in 2004, Rachel Zucker’s The Last Clear Narrative certainly demonstrates the zeitgeist Hoagland describes. At first pass, the title seems like a joke on the reader. Zucker’s language is disruptive, fragmented. It uses not only syntax but white space and idiosyncratic punctuation – all to skillful effect, but hardly the definition of what most people would call a clear narrative.

Continue reading “Rachel Zucker’s Unclear Narrative”

December 2019 and January 2020 Poetry Readings in Boston and Environs

Shop local this holiday season and buy your loved ones books of poetry from the many poets reading in an around Boston this year. There’s a real wealth of them this month and next. Thanks as always to Daniel Bouchard for compiling the bulk of these listings.

Of special note:

    • Fellow Lesley alum Eileen Cleary in Newton this Friday, Dec 6
    • Martha Collins, Frannie Lindsay, and Fred Marchant at the Old Manse in Concord that same evening
    • Jenn Martelli at Arts at the Armory Sunday, Dec 8
    • Ilya Kaminsky at the Blacksmith House in Cambridge Monday, Dec 9
    • Danielle Legros Georges and friends at Grolier Thursday, Dec 12
    • Solidarity Salon in Cambridge Saturday, Dec 14
    • Beloved Lesley professor Kevin Prufer at Grolier on Tuesday, Jan 7
    • Lisa deSiro and Eileen Cleary in Cambridge Wednesday, Jan 15
    • Cape Cod Poetry Review in Wellfleet Thursday, Jan 23

Continue reading “December 2019 and January 2020 Poetry Readings in Boston and Environs”

A Vivid, Wild, and Free-Flowing Interview with Diane Seuss

Diane Seuss was kind enough to speak with me about keeping poetry wild, freaking form, and her latest book, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl.  It went up at The Rumpus today.

“I think of my work as punk-rural,” she says, “in that it emerges from rural spaces, but looks for the toughness, the strangeness, the absurdity, the taut stringiness, the rage and pain of it all as opposed to the homespun. The rural is no less punk than the urban. Roadkill. That’s my aesthetic. Naked dancing on the water tower. Cheez Doodles and a Coke. Cigar-smoking ghosts on the riverbank.”

Read the entire interview here.

Read some of Diane Seuss’s poetry online here:

Photo of Diane Seuss by Gabe Montesanti.

Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke: A Meta-Narrative

Historically, narrative poetry meant epics like the Odyssey or Beowulf – or, in later centuries, poems such as Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The narrative mode stood in contrast to the lyric mode: short, musical poems evoking an internal emotional state. But at some point in the 20th century, the scope of narrative poetry began to narrow from the public to the private sphere.[i] As Dante Di Stefano puts it, “In much high Modernist, and in most romantic poetry, the sources of inspiration for a poem (the psychic wound, the secret trauma, whatever guilt or shame or bliss drove a poet to write) remained at least partially hidden: [with confessionalism], the source became the poem.” The line between poet and speaker blurred. And with it, the line between external narrative and internal lyric blurred as well.

In a 2006 essay for Poetry Magazine called “Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment,” Tony Hoagland considers the current disdain for what Di Stefano calls lyric narrative poetry.  “It seems likely,” he writes, “that narrative poetry in America has been tainted by … the inadvertent sentimentality and narcissism of many [badly executed confessional] poems. Our vision of narrative possibilities has been narrowed by so many first person autobiographical stories, then drowned in a flood of pathos poems.” He also posits a second explanation: “many persons think that ours is simply not a narrative age; that contemporary experience is too multitracked, too visual, too manifold and simultaneous to be confined to the linearity of narrative, no matter how well done.”

Aaron Smith also challenges the current aesthetic, asking, “[Why] do I feel pressure from peers to remove the narrative ‘I’ from poems?” he asks. “Why can’t ‘I’ be imagined on the page? Is the reader afraid to be gay for a little while (to be black for a little while, to be a woman)?”

With The Big Smoke, his third and strongest book, Adrian Matejka neatly sidesteps the question of the autobiographical “I”. The subject of his book is not Matejka himself, but Jack Johnson, a black man and heavyweight boxing champion who defied the laws and customs of the Jim Crow era. Matejka builds the narrative of Jack Johnson’s life with a series of poems that have both lyric and narrative qualities. In the fragmented, multitracked spirit of the age, the poems speak not only with the voice of Jack Johnson, but also his shadow-boxing self, the white women who love him, and the racist newspapers who cover him. These voices work together so skillfully that I zipped through the entire book in little more than an hour. Johnson speaks easily and plainly of the brutality of the time. In the opening “Battle Royale,” he considers the roots of prize-fighting in America: Continue reading “Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke: A Meta-Narrative”