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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Big Poetry Giveaway!

Thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich for spearheading The Big Poetry Giveaway once again this April for National Poetry Month.

I am giving away a copy of my fourth collection of poetry, Reckless Lovely, just released from Saturnalia Books, along with a copy of David Daniel's Clean, the just-released winner of the Four Way Books Intro Poetry Prize.

To enter to win, post a comment on Blue Positive letting me know you're in.

At the end of the month, I will number all comments and pick two from a hat. The first drawn will receive Reckless Lovely; the second will receive Clean. Ready, set, go!

Winner of the Four Way Books Intro Poetry Prize, Chosen by D.A. Powell

Aimee Nezhukumatathil writes "Martha Silano's poetry is gloriously street-smart and fully roaming and ripe. I want to slow-clap when she fixes her exacting gaze on warthogs, space probes, millipedes, or miracles. These stunning pages, like a "land-less landmass, [a] dollop-y desert dessert unloosed," fold moments of joy into something 'Reckless Lovely,' with inventive, chewy language, and a relentless appreciation of music and delight."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Ninth Grade English Teacher, Edwin Romond

I had not seen him in person since 1978, when I was 16 years old. Edwin Romond was my ninth grade English teacher at Metuchen High School, in Metuchen, New Jersey. Before I had the luck of being taught by Ed, I hadn't  been exposed to the wonders of literary analysis, or the weekly rigors of vocabulary quizzes, or deep discussions about compound vs. compound/complex sentences. I hadn't even written a book report, and I surely would not have understood before stepping into his classroom what was meant by a motif, or foreshadowing, or character analysis in the works of Theodore Dreiser or Arthur Miller.

Ed changed all that.

Between September and the winter holidays, something in me drastically changed. Instead of reading books about my baseball heroes (my first book report was on It Ain't Over Till It's Over), and being somewhat interested in books, I found myself presenting my findings on the notion of the boxed-in motif in Death of a Salesman. 

I was too young to be aware that we were in the presence of an incredibly gifted educator, that magic took place in his classroom. I just kept hoping that Romeo and Juliet would somehow not end up dying so tragically, boarding the bus to Edison Valley Playhouse to see the play we'd just read performed on stage.

That was just the normal course of things in Mr. Romond's class. We read books, we cared about the characters as if they were living people, and we discussed the inner workings and construction of great literarure - how all of it demanded to be looked at closely and carefully.

On Fridays we read from a Bantam paperback collection of contemporary poems and lyrics, including John Lennon and Bob Dylan. This was our reward for making it through the week with the harder stuff, I guess, or perhaps Ed wanted to let us know that writers were alive and among us - making poetry, writing songs, though he never mentioned that he was one of them.

I didn't find that out he was a poet until the following year, when he announced to the entire school that Robert Bly would be reading in Highland Park, and we just had to experience this man's amazing poetry.

Who could say no to such an opportunity? I had never heard of Robert Bly, but since Ed was so enthusiastic and insistent, we all piled into my friend's car and met him at the reading.

I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready to take it all in. Bly performed his poems, donning masks and railing against The Establishment. I hadn't known that this was a career option.

The next morning a poem, "The Night of Robert Bly," circulated around school. It was written by Ed, more living proof that poems could be made by not just a well-known poet like Bly, but by someone I knew.

I'd written a few poems but didn't show them to anyone but my closest friends until I enrolled in my first workshop in 1987. Ed was the teacher who pointed the way.

Years later, my mother sent me a clipping from The News Tribune, a long piece about Ed's successes, along with a sampling of poems. A smiled when I saw that a few of them were about baseball.

When I finally got around to contacting him in 2004, he was busy (very busy) with events honoring his teaching run of 32 years, now drawing to a close.

This past Wednesday night we read at the Barron Arts Center, in Woodbridge, NJ. Ed shared poems on a wide range of subjects -- Jesus's puppy, his mother's homemade cookie recipe, a massacre in a one-room school house in Amish country, and a tribute to his most beloved high school teacher. I listened to every luscious word, the voice I remembered so well from that class in the fall of 1976, opening me up to all the possibilities of a life devoted to literature.

Monday, February 17, 2014

AWP Off-Site Event: Race & Ethnicity: Three Poets Expand the Dialogue

Please join us on the evening of February 26th in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, an easy light rail ride from downtown Seattle, for a reading with three amazing poets!

Location: The Garden House, 2336 15th Avenue South.
Time: 7-9 pm.

There will be wine/beer and refreshments.

Co-sponsored by RockIt Community Arts and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture.
Patricia Smith
Aimee Nezhukumatathil 

Martha Collins

Note: Lee Sharkey has had to cancel her trip to Seattle due to a health-related matter.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Channeling Mary Ruefle

I don't know which I like more - first drafts, endlessly tinkering through draft after draft, or the feeling when you know (or pretty much know) you can send a poem out into the world.

Let me share a little secret. "Despite Nagging Malfunctions," which goes live today at The Superstition Review, began in a little room called The Stellar's Jay Suite at the Kangaroo House Bed & Breakfast in East Sound, Washington. I was there as a resident for Artsmith last February, spending a fabulous week, mostly on a day bed with a notebook in my lap and a stack of books at my side, researching everything from typhus to Saturn (hmmm, why was I researching typhus? I can no longer recall, but there it is, scrawled in my notebook: "highly contagious caused by bacteria in lice. 10-40% chance of dying. Between 1918-1922, typhus killed three million").

But I digress.

To begin "Despite Nagging Malfunctions," I first had to find out that Voyager 2 , well, "despite nagging malfunctions"(according to an archived 1977 New York Times article), launched in September of 1977.

I also had to come up with a list of statements from various poems by Mary Reufle, including:

I was given [concrete gift] ...

I smelled ...

I discovered ...

I fell in love with ...

My mother ...

My father ...

I learned ...

One morning ...

I saw ... [image of animal]

State a piece of advice. Dismiss or muse on it. Ask a question.

Go back to talking about the same animal.

Don't be [animal].

In other words, I made myself a little poem draft road map.

It wouldn't be the first time someone worked from a blueprint, would it?

I hope you enjoy the completed version. It was a fun poem to write, especially gratifying to get Tycho Brahe's prosthetic nose into a poem, and some Emily Post wisdom.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Giving & Getting: Poetry Book Recommendations, Part 1

During this season of giving consider giving poetry books purchased from local book sellers or directly from the presses who published them. 2013 was a banner year for poetry. Here are just a few of my favorite new releases: 

The New York Times recently featured Kasey Jued's poem "To Swim" on their ArtsBeat page, which is how I first found out about Kasey's work, along with her amazing new book, Keeperwinner of the 2012 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from University of Pittsburgh Press. Kasey's work appears to be autobiographical, that is, it shares images/memories from the speaker's childhood, but her work is also very much NOT about her own personal "abouts" - it's about the abouts of owls, dogs, bees, rain, and blackberries, which under her spell become somehow holy, become something equal to God. Two of my favorite poems in the book, "Race Track, Hialeah, FL" and "Skin," are about racehorses and sharks, respectively. I love how, in "Race Track, Hialeah, FL," we are given the metaphor of the track's green center "like a place on paper / where, years later, I'd set / my compass tip, careful / to make my circles concentric, / meaning they shared a heart." WOW! I also love, in "Skin," this conversation going on between two kids: "My friend / said even the skin of a shark / could cut you: under its silver / a million tiny blades." These are poems exquisitely calm and full of reverence for the natural world, brimming with creatures of the wild worth paying attention to. Puns be damned: this book is a definite keeper.

Stag's Leap: I was told it would be a good read, but I did not know it would be this good. In a long career with many, many excellent poems/accolades to her credit, Olds has written some of her best poems in this volume cataloging the unanticipated breakup from her husband of thirty years. The voice of these poems is by turns elegiac and angry, victorious and downtroddingly wrecked. There isn't a weak poem in the book, but the ones that stand out demand to be read again and again, like the one ("Tiny Siren") where she finds the photo (a year before he tells her he's leaving her) of her husband's future new wife in the Whirlpool, and the one ("Poem of Thanks") where she considers "the touch of the long view" as opposed to the one of someone who is "passing through," lovingly listing the many places where they "did it": "Colleague of sand / by moonlight -- and by the beach noonlight, once, / and of straw, salt bale in a barn, and mulch / inside a garden, between the rows ..." If you want a sneak preview, I highly urge you to listen to Olds read from Stag's Leap plus a few of her earlier books, here.

At long last Seattle poet Rebecca Hoogs has a full-length collection of poetry, Self-Storage! Her poems are smart, sharp,  and sassy, with plenty of pleasing ear candy, as in (from "L'Oeuf"): "Love is a brunch and a racket. / I know it means nothing, / barely worth the oofing / before the offing, but still / I load up my basket / and watch them hatch: / chicklets of zip...".  Who wouldn't want a book with a love song to the word suck and  an accentual syllabic poem in the voice of Ariadne? Give this to someone who feels refreshed by poems that champion sound and rhyme and eschew all order of earnestness in the confessional mode.

In Bob Hicok's Elegy Owed the speaker, as always, seems to be whispering into the reader's ear at a crowded party, sharing the most intimate and sorta creepy details of his past  ("He was made to touch a corpse as a child" - from "Coming to life"), while also uttering the most utterly quirky and unexpected lines in all of contemporary poetry: "If lightning/ loved me, it would be sewn / with tongues, it would open / my mind to the sky / within the sky. " See what I mean? I'd love to meet Hicok's speaker at a holiday party as I'm deciding between the caviar with Triscuit and the guac and chips. Instead of reflecting on our teaching methods and catching each other up on our various athletic endeavors, he would turn to me and say "I've gone up the fire escape / in my brain, where everything / is a mist and a slow wet kiss ... " (from the title poem), and I would love him dearly for it. 

Mary Szybist's Incarnadine won the 2013 National Book Award, and for good reason. Sample some of the poems from this gorgeous book here and here. I love her work - am smitten with it. Nuff said.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dusting, by Marilyn Nelson


Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
pearl-necklace viruses;
winged protozoans:
for the infinite,
intricate shapes
of submicroscopic
living things.

For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
spreading their 
inseparable lives
from equator to pole.

My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light. 
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.

I am thankful for dust, too, and also for my trip this past summer to France, getting to walk past these men on my way to the Camille Claude museum in Nogents.

And I am thankful that I have been given time to write

and that I have access to fresh and local foods

And I am thankful for views like these

And I am grateful to my parents for instilling a passion for learning

even though I still have no idea why this saint is blasting off like a rocket.