Poet Laureates, Writer’s Block, Joy

Congratulations Joy Harjo! A month ago (I’ve had writer’s block), Ms. Harjo, poet, writer and musician was named the 23rd poet laureate of the United States. Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, which gives her the additional distinction of becoming the first Native American to hold the position.  Click here to read her poem, Once the World was Perfect

The term laureate means to be wreathed with laurels as a mark of honor. Like most people, I’ve seen pictures and movies of Greeks and historical figures wearing a crown of laurel wreaths, but I didn’t know until this year when Jaki Shelton Green became the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, that the honor comes with an actual wreath of laurels. Click her name to see the photo! The talented Ms. Green also has the distinction of being the third woman and the first African American to be appointed to the role.  When I went searching for a picture of a laurel wreath to accompany this blog, all I found were men, or blond women, hence the mannequin.

So what exactly is a poet laureate? The national official title is the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.  There are a few official duties, but basically the job is “to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.” For more details, visit: http://loc.gov/poetry/about_laureate.html.

You too can be a poet laureate! I encourage you to appoint yourself  poet laureate of  your place of work, your school, your book club, or just your own home. If you are not a poet, then be an advocate for any and all expressions of creativity.

I’ve been planning on writing this post for over a month, but “writer’s block.” The very phrase is synonymous with “excuse” and it’s not really accurate. I’ve had ideas, but I haven’t been able to quiet my mind, set aside the issues and concerns of “real life” and do the work of creating.  Fast forward to last night. I went to dinner to celebrate the birthday of my friend and writing mentor Judy Martel who passed away in July, 2017. A wonderful woman with a wide network of connection, her birthday has become an opportunity for friends and family to gather and remember her.  I remember the lessons  Judy. I’m here.

Now, as the Poet Laureate of my one-bedroom apartment, I am going to promote some poetry, and hopefully some joy.

Just two days ago, I came across the 2019 Joan Ramseyer Memorial Poetry Contest while browsing a list of Calls for Submission. Ms. Ramseyer was the mother of a writer and poet by the name of Bram Seyer. He writes this about her on his blog:  “In the last year of her life my mother, Joan Ramseyer, turned to verse to express the heat of ideas percolating in her mind, like bubbles in a teapot escaping into steam.”  The memorial contest is a way for him to honor her life and celebrate the homey poetry she wrote. The theme this year is JOY! Read the full guidelines here and consider writing and submitting a poem about joy! https://bramseyer.wordpress.com/joan-ramseyer-memorial-poetry-contest/?

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I’m not that kind of …

… poet, writer, artist, cook, tailor, ___ fill in the blank.

In a world of almost 8 billion people, everyone wants to be unique, and stand out in a crowd. I get it, but that statement is vague and dismissive. Not only does it raise more questions, it’s a way to end a conversation before it even gets started. I’ve been thinking about this since a poet I was talking to a few months ago, about writing to prompts, said to me, “I’m not that kind of poet.”  Really? Have you tried it? Why? But that was the end of the conversation.

“I’m not that kind of cook,” could mean two things. Either you prefer to cook by winging it and you never follow a recipe, or, that you are not comfortable cooking unless you have a recipe to follow. Both are valid points of view, and each one tells us a different story about you.

“I’m not that kind of poet,” could mean you only write free verse, or it could mean that you stick to classic poetic forms. Either way, I want to know more about your poetry.

These are only two meager examples. There are so many art forms and avocations that people aspire to. Everyone has a story. Be brave. Tell me yours.

~//~

And now in the category, TIWIW (Things I wish I Wrote):

“We poets are a passionate bunch. I don’t go in much for poet stereotypes, but I think this much is true, at least as it applies to our feelings about poetry itself. We care a lot about language and we’re always looking for the best way to do what we do—it’s one of the things I enjoy about us.”  – Camille Rankine

This great quote by Camille Rankine, is from her blog post,  “The Known Unknown: Persona, Empathy, and the Limits of Imagination,” on the Poetry Foundation website. The article is about poetic identity, cultural appropriation, and “the murky moral territory that is writing in persona.”

Heron Clan VI Launches!

This week I attended the book launch party for the Heron Clan VI poetry anthology. I am very happy to have three poems included in this book. And yet, I am even more proud of the fact that I was able to contribute in another significant way to the book as an editor. (Squee!)

Last year I was honored to have two poems in Heron Clan V, (which was great, even with the typo.) A month or so after the book release I buttonholed Doug Stuber, owner and primary editor of the Heron Clan series, and peppered him with questions about the editorial process. Maybe he needed another editor; maybe he just wanted to shut me up; but he invited me to join the editor’s committee. (Squee!)  I’ve copy-edited many books, and formatted many documents, but I knew this would be the largest project I’ve ever done, and I jumped at the chance to be part of it.

The whole experience was even more satisfying and rewarding than seeing my poetry in the book. Everything was educational as well as fun, especially sitting with the other editors in selection meetings. I’ve submitted my work to quite a few poetry journals, and, of course, received far more rejections than acceptances.  Now that I see what it’s like on the other side of the process, I am much more relaxed about submitting. Poetry may be art, but publishing is still business. Don’t take it personally! After the selections were finalized and the poets notified, Doug and I got down to business on putting the book together. Lots of opportunity for personal growth!  

I had met some of the contributors before this, and I’m getting to meet more. The HC anthology series showcases a great diversity of voice. In addition to local poets, there are poets from out of state, former poet laureates, a founding member of the Beat Poetry movement, poets from South America, and young poets just starting their careers.

If you are interested in getting your own copy, please email me or leave a note in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one of mine that is included.

Wall

I want to build a wall
thicker than my skin
but thinner than stone.

The one I have is not working.
Organic and overgrown,
I want to replace this briar.

I want a wall I can see through
so I’ll know what’s coming.
Chain link is ok. Barb wire is not.

Don’t send a knight
with a shining silver sword.
There are no dragons here.

Give me a gardener
with callused hands in worn leather gloves
and a machete to cut down these weeds.

Winning at Life with Poetry

As an optimist with an idealist streak, I believe that poetry can change the world, one reader or listener at a time. Today’s story is how I got to be a better version of myself, because of Poetry.

Yesterday I attended the 10th anniversary party for Living Poetry, my home base for poetry in NC’s Triangle. Despite the pounding rain that caused minor flooding in the area, about 20 brave souls gathered at the NC Botanic Gardens for lunch and poetry.  These annual gatherings always involve sharing poetry in some way. Earlier this year, I suggested to my friend Bartholomew Barker, LP organizer, that he and his co-organizers turn the event into a fundraiser,  (group expenses are primarily Meetup.com fees, some  printing costs and the party costs) by holding an Open Mic competition. Attendees vote for the winner, $1 a vote. They decided to go with it.

Two of the LP organizers donated copies of their poetry chapbooks as the prize for third-place. I chipped in a box of magnetic poetry tiles. The second-place prize was The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove. The first-place winner would receive The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, and all the “votes” (dollars) they had received. The remaining “votes” go to Living Poetry.

Out of habit, I checked Robert Brewer’s blog for the April 13, Poem-A-Day prompt before I left home. The prompt, “Write a view poem,” sparked an idea and I composed one during the drive over, which I scribbled down as soon as I got there. When it was my turn, I performed the two poems I had pre-selected pieces — one of which was a known crowd-pleaser — and this freshly minted poem:

The view today is grey skies and rain.
I hate driving in it; it’s such a pain.
I’m more than damp. I feel wet.
Please tell me if it’s stopped yet.
I’m done but for just one note.
I’m only here to get your vote.

Every poetry reading is a performance, or at least, it can be. Whether a poem is funny or serious, high art or doggerel, it is fundamentally entertainment.  Being a natural ham, I enjoy the performance aspect of poetry. Now I can’t say for sure if it was the quality of the work I brought with me, or the performance, but apparently, this is what it takes to win!

I can’t tell you how happy I am with this beautiful thesaurus with it’s 1000+ pages of definitions, word lists, and short essays by a wide variety of writers. You probably want to know how much money I won. Unfortunately, I never counted it.

Generosity is a core value, but given the financial realities of my life, I don’t generally donate money to causes. I do strive to be generous with people though, in terms of time, attention, and mentoring. That is until today! The applause and the beautiful thesaurus with cash tucked inside was exhilarating and inspiring! Bart brought the prize to me and had stepped away but I stopped him and said loudly, cause that’s how I do it, “OK, this dollar is for the vote I gave myself,” and peeled one off, “and these two are for a lottery ticket because I’m feeling lucky, and these go back to the pot.” And then I handed the rest back to him with more applause. I felt like a millionaire at a high-end charity ball! It was so much fun – I called four people when I left to tell them the story and to squeal about it all over again! By the way, I did stop to get a Powerball ticket for Saturday’s drawing. I did not win that one but it’s OK. I still have the immense satisfaction and connection of being a member of a thriving poetic community.

It’s Poetry Month Again!

It’s time again to celebrate poetry. Inspired by Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), the Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month in 1996. This month we celebrate the legacy of poets and poetry for their contributions to our culture and lives. It’s also a great time to encourage people to read and write poetry.

I wasn’t always a poet, but when I stepped into the water, I never looked back. I’m lucky to live in a place where writers and poets abound. For me, poetry is always alive and well; so, it’s with great appreciation and gratitude that I have seen this annual celebration of poetry continue to grow. Now more than ever we need poetry.

If you’ve been following my blog, then you’ve heard me talk about the annual Poem-A-Day challenge. Honestly, I don’t know if he started the whole crazy thing, or if he’s just the most well-known proponent, but Writer’s Digest blogger, Robert Lee Brewer, has been encouraging (pushing and  prodding) poets across the country to write a poem every day during April for almost 10 years now.

For the last five years I’ve had varying degrees of success completing the challenge.  Last year was my most successful year with 30 poems written in 30 days.  It was rewarding and satisfying, but it wasn’t easy. Will I be able to do it again? Do I want to try? Frankly I’m undecided. But I couldn’t resist writing one today, April 1.  If you want to try your hand at this, check out Robert’s blog, Poetic Asides, for daily prompts. This is the poem I wrote to his first prompt:

For today’s prompt, write a morning poem. Maybe you’re a morning person, maybe not. Your poem can be about a morning. Or it can be set during the morning. And those who’ve done this before probably already know that I have no problem with you interpreting this as a “mourning poem.”

Morning

The twelve hour clock is as cruel as April
for the night dweller.
Did Airy know his Greenwich Mean Time
would be my undoing?

My eyes do not open until noon
with is neither a.m. or p.m.
The truest meridian is midnight.

Time is a state of mind.
Morning is when I make it.
Brunch is at always at two.
Where is my coffee?

 

Poetry in Plain Sight

The quest to become a published author can be difficult and arduous, and generally there is more disappointment then success. However, don’t let that stop you. The journey can be weird; there will be highs and lows. Do it anyway! Today’s post is one of those high/low publication stories, in which I appear as both the hero and the village idiot. Enjoy!

The picture accompanying today’s post is me, holding a poster of my poem, “Talk to Me!” (Full poem below.) The poster is from the Poetry in Plain Sight project which is a North Carolina initiative, launched in 2013, to bring NC poets and their poetry into NC public spaces. I’m honored that they selected my work. There are a lot of writers and poets in this state. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one. But don’t throw rocks. Especially if you’re in downtown Winston-Salem, NC. You might hit a window with a poem on it.

PIPS is run by the Winston-Salem Writers’ program in collaboration with the North Carolina Poetry Society and Press 53. Four poems are chosen monthly and displayed on posters in street-visible locations throughout arts districts and downtown areas in Winston-Salem. This year they expanded to Waynesville NC in the west and New Bern NC in the east.

I submitted in December 2017 and was notified by email in February 2018 that I would be in the March 2018 – March 2019 Poetry in Plain Sight program. I was told that my month was January 2019. The email also stated:

Details about upcoming Poetry in Plain Sight, Live! events are forthcoming. One complimentary poster copy will be given to each poet at the Live! event, or mailed after the event if you are unable to attend. There will be an opportunity to purchase additional copies.

So, I waited. And waited. And life goes goes on. Fast forward one year and I have a vague memory that I never heard from the PIPS folks. In the back of my mind I felt that I needed to do something but then the thought went away. Fortunately, after many years of being a member of the local poetic community, I finally joined the North Carolina Poetry Society. (Pro tip: Don’t wait to take advantage of resources like this organization in your local writing community.) In the NCPS February newsletter was a list of the poets appearing in W-S in February for Poetry in Plain Sight. Wait. What? Did I miss it? Yes! I missed the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to W-S (about 2 hours from where I live) to see my poem taped to a store window.

Disappointment lay upon me like the lead apron at the dentist’s office. I was also angry with myself and annoyed with the program. After a thorough search of my email I confirmed that I had never received notice of a live event, nor notice of where exactly my poem would appear. W-S is the fifth largest city in the state. Was I supposed to just drive around randomly? I will spare you the details of the email exchanges to focus on the bright and shiny end result. The poster arrived in the mail this week!

They spelled my name wrong.

I’m still going to frame it. In the meantime, here is the poem on said poster. Enjoy!

Talk to Me
Can we talk?
It’s not important
except that it is.
I want to talk to you
with speech, using sound,
and facial expression.
I want to punctuate my words
with hand gestures
instead of emojis.
Call me, anytime.
Stop by, or or we can meet.
I’m looking for conversation,
unplugged and acoustic,
live and in person.
Otherwise, the words pile up
like old paper backs
on over-flowing bookshelves.

 

The Business of Love

 

Today is February 14, Valentine’s Day. Fifty one percent of American consumers plan to celebrate this year, which is down from years past. However, those that do celebrate are spending more than they have in the past: $162 on average which is 13% up from last year. These statistics come from an annual survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics; and were reported on the National Retail Federation website.

What does that have to do with you? Nothing, unless you happen to be an artist of some sort, and you want your art to be enjoyed, and hopefully purchased. Love, all human emotion, is what makes great art (literature, poetry, music and more). Get good at expressing love and you will find an audience.

My writing focus for the last several years has been poetry, and I believe that no one can call themselves a poet if they have not written a dozen or so love poems. It’s just part of the job. Will they all be good? Of course not! It would be great hubris to think every phrase that falls from one’s fingers is quality. But keep writing anyway! Sooner or later, something something will work.

I am not celebrating Valentine’s today, but I am celebrating the publication of my poem, Where is Love? in a brand new poetry anthology! The graphic for this post is from the cover of the book: Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love, edited by Claudine Nash, published by Transcendent Zero Press, available for sale on Amazon as of yesterday!

Whatever you are doing, or not doing today, I hope you find a little love and tenderness, and poetry, in unexpected places.