|APRIL GIFTS 2011
1 How Zen Ruins Poets Chase Twitchel
2 Words Can Describe Tim Nolan
3 Adjectives of Order Alexandra Teague
4 Old Men Playing Basketball B.H. Fairchild
5 Healing The Mare Linda McCarristan
6 Practicing To Walk Like A Heron Jack Ridl
7 Sanctuary Jean Valentine
8 To An Athlete Dying Young A.E. Housman
9 The Routine After Forty Jacqueline Berger
10 The Sad Truth About Rilke’s Poems Nick Lantz
11 Wall Christine Garren
12 The Heart Broken Open Ronald Pies, M.D.
13 Survey Ada Jill Schneider
14 The Bear On Main Street Dan Gerber
15 Pray For Peace Ellen Bass
16 April Saturday, 1960 David Huddle
17 For My Father Who Fears I’m Going To Hell Cindy May Murphy
18 Night Journey Theodore Roethke
19 Love Poem With Trash Compactor Andrea Cohen
20 Magic Spell of Rain Ann Blandiana
21 When Lilacs Frank X. Gaspar
22 Burning Monk Shin Yu Pai
23 Mountain Stick Peter VanToorn
24 The Hatching Kate Daniels
25 To My Father’s Business Kenneth Koch
26 The Platypus Speaks Sandra Beasley
27 The Baal Shem Tov Stephen Mitchell
28 A Peasant R.S. Thomas
29 A Green Crab’s Shell Mark Doty
30 Tieh Lien Hua LiChing Chao
April Gifts #1 —2011 How Zen Ruins Poets
I never know exactly where these annual “April Gifts” selections will take us. I start packing my bags in January by preparing an itinerary of 30 poems and mapping out a probable monthlong course. But sometimes the road veers off toward an unexpected poem that alters the trip I had planned. This is somewhat like writing a poem. You get an inspired idea, what you think the poem must “say” and how it should “look”, then possibly after the first draft (you’ve given it all the gas you can) the wheels fall off the poem and you’re sitting by the roadside realizing you might have to accept a ride elsewhere.
Today’s poem was not among my original 30 for this year's selection. It turned up “by accident” (if you believe in such things) on the Blue Flower Arts website (http://www.blueflowerarts.com) while I was surfing the internet for seeds that would produce blue flowers! The author was “new” to me, or so I thought, until I noticed her name on the spine of a book I’ve enjoyed for almost 20 years—The Practice of Poetry, Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach. Today's poem, How Zen Ruins Poets by Chase Twichell, is a perfect place to begin our journey for National Poetry Month. This poem made me sit up and pay attention the way you might if you received the “warning stick” between your shoulder blades while falling asleep on your zafu in the zendo.
How Zen Ruins Poets
Before I knew that mind could never marry the words it loved, in which it lost itself, in which it dressed itself, in which it sang its most secret tender and bitter hymns, I also loved the thrill of thinking. Since birth I’ve swum in the clear, decisive muscles of its currents, the places where the water seemed to reconsider its course before continuing, then the sudden onrush of falls. I lived inside language, its many musics, its rough, lichen-crusted stones, its hemlocks bowed in snow. Words were my altar and my school. Wherever they took me, I went, and they came to me, winged and bearing the beautiful twigs and litter of life’s meaning, the songs of truth.
Then a question arose in me: What language does the mind speak before thinking, before thinking gives birth to words? I tried to write without embellishment, to tell no lies while keeping death in mind. To write what was still unthought-about. Stripped to their thinnest selves, words turn transparent, to windows through which I sometimes glimpse what’s just beyond them. There, a tiny flash—did you see it? There it is again!
—by Chase Twichell
NOTES ABOUT THE AUTHOR Chase Twichell was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1950, and has lived for many years in the Adirondacks with her husband, novelist Russell Banks. A practicing Buddhist, she is the author of several books of poetry, and her work often reflects her spiritual practice. Ms. Twichell continues to write and sits on the board of the North Country SPCA, a no-kill shelter, in rural Essex County, N.Y, in the Adirondack Park.
Twichell’s driving desire to be a visual artist was thwarted in her youth when she was sent away to a repressive boarding school, forbidden to paint. In a subversive act, she channeled her creativity energies into writing poetry. “It started out as a kind of secret life. But my journal was a place for me to discover that language had power, and that it had a secret life of its own."
Ms. Twichell views writing a poem as an act of questioning what it means to have human consciousness and the language to truthfully and accurately convey it, so that the finished poem throws a fresh and surprising light on what it means to be sentient. Her poems reflect her spiritual practice within the ancient tradition of Basho and Dogen, as well as the contemporary company of Gary Snyder and W.S. Merwin.
EDUCATION, TEACHING & WORK EXPERIENCE Chase Twichell received her B.A. from Trinity College and her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has taught at Princeton University, Warren Wilson College, Goddard College, University of Alabama and Hampshire College. Ms.Twichell left academia to start Ausable Press, a not-for-profit publisher of poetry. From 1999 to 2009, she ran the publishing company using money she inherited from her grandmother to help offset the "marginalization" of poetry and help worthy poets get their work into print. For the first five years she did everything herself: selecting the poems, designing and typesetting the books, handling correspondence and doing bookkeeping. The press became quite successful and in 2009 the company was acquired by the largest publisher of poetry in the country, Copper Canyon Press.
While at Iowa, Twichell also studied graphic design and letterpress printing, then worked for nine years setting type, doing design and presswork, answering the phone and emptying the wastebaskets. Rumor has it she was also a drummer for several rock bands.
PUBLICATIONS & AWARDS Her seventh book of poetry, "Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been" was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2010. Her work has received fellowships including one from the National Endowment for the Arts, and several literature awards, one from the Poetry Society of America for The Snow Watcher, a collection deliberately pulling lyric and memory into the meditative state.
IN HER OWN WORDS "The Rules" Chase Twichell uses in her poems: Tell the truth. No decoration. Remember death.
Poetry is an expression of not only the way that I perceive the world, but the way I perceive human consciousness in the world. Not being able to pursue it would be like suddenly being unable to speak.
Zazen and poetry are both studies of the mind. I find the internal pressure exerted by emotion and by a koan to be similar in surprising and unpredictable ways. Zen is a wonderful sieve through which to pour a poem. It strains out whatever's inessential.
April Gift #2 —2011 Words Can Describe
Today’s poem first appeared in Legal Studies Forum, a journal publishing literary works by and about lawyers. Tim Nolan was a poet long before he became a lawyer. He practices litigation for a law firm in South Minneapolis where he lives with his wife and three children. Nolan says that becoming a lawyer was really just a result of a lack of imagination, but born out of an earnest need to make a living. He describes himself as a better poet than a lawyer, but adds that he is
a mighty good lawyer.
Words Can Describe
Did you ever think the astronauts should have done
a better job describing the Moon for the rest of us?
We spent billions of dollars to send them there,
to walk around on that glassy sand in those
synthetic mukluk boots, driving their goofy, lunar
dune buggies, slapping a golf ball 5386 yards
to an endless sand trap. We heard that static through
corridors of space until they had the chance to describe
exactly, ROGER, what they saw, AFFIRMATIVE,
and instead we heard: "Words can’t describe,"
CHECK, "the stark beauty," A-OKAY,
"of the landscape . . . I mean the moonscape."
They were young. Inarticulate. Absolutely
without words to describe what they saw. But then,
when they watched the Earth Rise from the Moon’s
fluorescent horizon, I remember, their words were pure
excitement and Oh, my God and It’s so beautiful.
We knew what they meant from our Earth-bound
imaginations. We knew that the rising Earth was
the jewel of our breathing, the swirling of our weather,
a wondrous cat’s eye marble rolling across black velvet,
reminding us of our daughters’ faces, the freckled
continents, those oceans of blue eyes, the determined set
of our son’s jaw in the angle of a peninsula. And that stillness
around the globe like a lake viewed through the pine woods.
They were speechless because they were reminded of everything
they missed. From their tin-foil shed, on the Sea of Tranquility,
first witnessing, ROGER, the beloved’s face out there. —by Timothy J. Nolan
Timothy J. Nolan is a busy man. In addition to his work as a lawyer, he is an avid supporter of the arts, a husband of 30+ years and a father of three. He has written hundreds of poems and when asked how and where he finds time to do so, he would say that for a poet, poetry is not an idle hobby but a natural facet of daily life. After all, we all find time to blink, don’t we? And breathe?
EDUCATION • College: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, B.A. • Graduate School: Columbia University, New York City, M.F.A. • Law School: William Mitchell College of Law, J.D., cum laude Nolan worked as an archivist at the Whitney Museum in NYC, and read the poetry slush pile for The Paris Review before becoming a lawyer.
Tim Nolan’s poems have appeared in nationally renowned journals like Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review and The Nation. His only book of poems, The Sound of It, is available
from New Rivers Press (October 2008). Garrison Keillor has read Mr. Nolan’s poetry on his national radio program The Writer’s Almanac.
IN HIS OWN WORDS In the 19th century poetry was published in the newspapers on a daily basis. Many of the poems were often not very good as we look at them now, but many were written by lawyers. Lawyers write, and lawyers are intensely involved with language. It’s not so uncommon for lawyers to be writers, and not just poets.
If you’re trying a case in front of a jury, you have to be poet, playwright, Montessori schoolteacher, explainer and simplifier, and you have to choose your words. All those things are talents that you need to write a good poem, too. Good legal writing and good poetry ought to share lots of characteristics. They both ought to be simple, direct, convincing, interesting language, interesting sounds. You should be able to read a legal brief out loud and not bore somebody with it. If you can’t, then it’s not good legal writing. It’s the same with poetry. You should be able to read a poem out loud.
April Gift #3 —2011 Adjectives of Order
Adjectives of Order
That summer, she had a student who was obsessed
with the order of adjectives. A soldier in the South
Vietnamese army, he had been taken prisoner when
Saigon fell. He wanted to know why the order
could not be altered. The sweltering city streets shook
with rockets and helicopters. The city sweltering
streets. On the dusty brown field of the chalkboard,
she wrote: The mother took warm homemade bread
from the oven. City is essential to streets as homemade
is essential to bread. He copied this down, but
he wanted to know if his brothers were lost before
older, if he worked security at a twenty-story modern
downtown bank or downtown twenty-story modern.
When he first arrived, he did not know enough English
to order a sandwich. He asked her to explain each part
of Lovely big rectangular old red English Catholic
leather Bible. Evaluation before size. Age before color.
Nationality before religion. Time before length. Adding
and, one could determine if two adjectives were equal.
After Saigon fell, he had survived nine long years
of torture. Nine and long. He knew no other way to say this.
—by Alexandra Teague
Alexandra Teague was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and has since lived in Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Hawaii, and California.
Teague earned an MFA from The University of Florida in 1998, and was a 2006-2008 Stegner Fellow at Stanford. She teaches English at City College of San Francisco and lives in Oakland.
PUBLICATIONS & AWARDS
Teague was recently awarded a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship and is spending the Spring working on her second manuscript. She has published poems in many periodicals, among them the Iowa Review, Missouri Review, Paris Review, and Slate, as well as in Best American Poetry 2009, Best New Poets 2008, and the Yale Anthology of Younger American Poetry. Her first book of poetry, Mortal Geography, won the Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and was published by Persea Books in April 2010. Her poetry has appeared in Best New Poets 2008, and Best American Poetry 2009, as well as journals including The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, and New England Review.
TEAGUE & TATTOOS
While researching today’s poet, my travels took me to a blog titled TATTOOSDAY, a tattoo blog dedicated to meeting and appreciating body art in the NYC area. Part of that effort is the “The Tattooed Poets Project” where I found photos of Alexandra Teague who sports two tattoos, one of them poetry-related. Check out her visual art at:
During April, TATTOOSDAY features a daily tattooed poet and his or her poem. If you are a tattooed poet, blog writer Bill Cohen wants to hear from you.
IN HER OWN WORDS
My standard self-trivia is that I’ve visited all 50 states; I’ve also lived in 8 of them. I’ve always had a strong sense of impermanence and wariness about getting too comfortable in one version of reality. I definitely love traveling: Oaxaca, Guatemala, the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Japan. I’ve hiked all 220 miles of the John Muir Trail through the High Sierras. Hiking and camping there was one of the most powerful, transformative things I’ve ever done.
April Gift #4 —2011 Old Men Playing Basketball
In celebration of the NCAA men’s and women's basketball tournament, I bring you today’s poem to ponder, along with a piece of trivia about this year’s unpredictable upsets. Out of 5.9 million brackets submitted to ESPN.com’s “bracket challenge” before the men's tournament began, only two (!) correctly picked a Final Four of Butler University, University of Connecticut, University of Kentucky, and Virginia Commonwealth University. I’m rooting for Butler because coach Brad Stevens (humor me here) is a kind of masterful poet. He doesn’t panic, doesn’t fret, yell or scream. He makes impeccable choices on the court, revising the game according to what it demands moment to moment. Coach Stevens has a keen understanding of human nature, just like today’s poet B.H. Fairchild.
Old Men Playing Basketball
The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves,
rise toward the ball, falter, and fall away.
On the boards their hands and fingertips
tremble in tense little prayers of reach
and balance. Then, the grind of bone
and socket, the caught breath, the sigh,
the grunt of the body laboring to give
birth to itself. In their toiling and grand
sweeps, I wonder, do they still make love
to their wives, kissing the undersides
of their wrists, dancing the old soft-shoe
of desire? And on the long walk home
from the VFW, do they still sing
to the drunken moon? Stands full, clock
moving, the one in army fatigues
and houseshoes says to himself, pick and roll,
and the phrase sounds musical as ever,
radio crooning songs of love after the game,
the girl leaning back in the Chevy's front seat
as her raven hair flames in the shuddering
light of the outdoor movie, and now he drives,
gliding toward the net. A glass wand
of autumn light breaks over the backboard.
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.
—by B. H. Fairchild
POET NOTES ON B.H. FAIRCHILD
“B.H.” stands for “Bertram Harry”, a family name shared by his father and grandfather, though Fairchild most often answers to “Pete”. Having lobbied for a simpler name, the elder Bertram returned from WWII to find his wife had caved under her mother-in-law's pressure to uphold family tradition. Fairchild's father insisted they ignore the birth certificate and use “Pete” instead.
B.H. Fairchild was born in Houston, Texas in 1942 and was raised in various hardscrabble towns in Texas, Oklahoma, and southwest Kansas in the Fifties and Sixties. Fairchild says: The movie “The Last Picture Show” (1971 Peter Bogdanovich) is probably the best visual and dramatic representation ever of the kind of small towns in which I grew up. I saw, or tried to see, that movie when it was first released, and after the first two minutes I had to get up and leave. I later saw the whole film, but that first look - tumbleweeds blowing across the main street, dirt in the air, the absence of trees - was hard to take.
EDUCATION & WORK
Fairchild attended the University of Tulsa and University of Kansas, working part-time as technical writer for a nitroglycerin plant and English tutor to the Kansas basketball team. Through high school and college he worked for his father, a lathe machinist. Fairchild taught English and Creative Writing at California State University, San Bernadino, and Claremont Graduate University.
A prolific writer, Fairchild's third book, The Art of the Lathe (“workhorse narratives suffused with tenderness and elegiac music”) won multiple awards and was subsequently a Finalist for the National Book Award. His poems have appeared in Southern Review, Poetry, Hudson Review, Yale Review, Paris Review, The New Yorker, Sewanee Review, and many other journals and in several anthologies. He has been the recipient of fellowships and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The American Academy of Arts and Letters recently awarded him the Arthur Rense Poetry Prize for "consistent excellence over a long career."
IN HIS OWN WORDS
A large part of my intent in “The Art of the Lathe” was to blur the line between craft and art. The men in those shops, including my father, were highly skilled laborers who performed tasks whose intellectual complexity was at least equal to if not more demanding than those performed by academic intellectuals. Take a good look at Machinery's Handbook if you don't believe me. As a child my first sense of beauty may have been lamplight reflecting from the blue spiral of iron as it peeled off of a threaded end of drill pipe.
There were fathers in undershirts at twilight, home from work, watering their lawns, hose in one hand, beer in the other, mothers talking on front porches, kids screaming and running through the yards, playing stickball in the street, all of this until dark. This was before the great narcotic, television, came along to pull everyone inside and turn neighborhoods into cemeteries. There was the occasional weekend fishing trip to the beach in Galveston. But then came the move to Kansas, exile from paradise, and that constant, unvarying cycle of work/eat/sleep that made less and less sense to me until it made no sense at all. As that cycle began to dominate everything, to appear inevitable and unending, and as the isolation of the town became claustrophobic (the nearest large town was Amarillo, Texas, 180 miles away, which was also the nearest bookstore), I think I would have died if it hadn't been for the excellent local library and jazz. I played tenor saxophone pretty well, though I had a completely oversized sense of my own talent.
I was working in almost complete isolation, had never taken a poetry writing class or workshop, and therefore did not hear the phrase “find your voice” used much. Furthermore, I don't think I quite believed in it. I was trying to find my mind more than my voice.
April Gift #5 —2011 Healing The Mare
Healing The Mare
Just days after the vet came,
after the steroids that took
the fire out of the festering
sores-out of the flesh that in
the heat took the stings too
seriously and swelled into great
welts, wore thin and wept, calling
more loudly out to the green-
headed flies-I bath you
and see your coat returning,
your deep force surfacing in a
new layer of hide: black wax
alive against weather and flies.
But this morning, misshapen
still, you look like an effigy,
something rudely made, something
made to be buffeted, or like
an old comforter-are they both
one in the end? So both a child
and a mother, with my sponge and
my bucket, I come to anoint, to
anneal the still weeping, to croon
to you baby poor baby for the sake
of the song, to polish you up,
for the sake of the touch, to a shine.
As I soothe you I surprise wounds
of my own this long time unmothered.
As you stand, scathed and scabbed,
with your head up, I swab. As you
press, I lean into my own loving
touch, for which no wound
is too ugly.
—by Linda McCarriston
Poet Linda McCarriston is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. She lives in Rockport, Massachusetts, with the half-Arab (half-Morgan) mare, now 27 years old, that she has kept since the mare was 18 months old. Yes, even to and from Alaska. McCarriston writes about women, children, animals, and the healing that deals with the domestic violence that marred her childhood in working class Lynn, Massachusetts and her subsequent feelings as a wife and mother. According to National Book Award winner Lisel Mueller: "Linda McCarriston accomplishes a near miracle, transforming memories of trauma into poems that are luminous and often sacramental, arriving at a hard-won peace.”
EDUCATION, TEACHING & WORK EXPERIENCE
McCarriston completed her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont, and a BFA at Emmanuel College in Boston. She has taught at Vermont College, Goddard College and George Washington University. In addition to poetry readings "on the circuit," she's read and spoken in prisons, public schools, family shelters, women's centers, and such gatherings as the Alaska Governor's Summit on the Neglect and Abuse of Children. One of fourteen poets from the Americas, she was honored for her expression of solidarity and compassion for Native American women in the poem "Indian Girls," which caused great controversy in Alaska. McCarriston has been invited to contribute to panels and speaking series on subjects including women's history, American education, censorship and self-censorship.
PUBLICATIONS & AWARDS
While McCarriston was writing for the Maine Sunday Telegram in 1979, Ploughshares printed her 5 poems named, "Moon in Aquarius", "Eve", "Desire", "The Cleaving" and "Intent" as her first poetry publication. Her poems have since appeared in many other journals and in a broad range of anthologies. She has received numerous prizes and awards for her work including two literature fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Of her three collections, Talking Soft Dutch, Eva-Mary and Little River, the award-winning Eva-Mary (Tri-Quarterly Books/ Northwestern University Press) has received the most attention.
IN HER OWN WORDS
The following is an excerpt from the Bill Moyers' book and film, The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets. MOYERS: You tell students that poetry is about "Saying what we don't want known; it's saying the unsayable." And you write often about the brutalities of domestic violence in your own childhood. How do you decide to write about such painful experiences?
MCCARRISTON: Those who argue that poetry says the unsayable generally mean the unsayably beautiful or the unsayably profound, but the unsayable can also mean what people simply don't want said, ever. That's why poetry is extremely radical—poetry allows the individual experience to strike like lightning through the collective institutional consciousness and to plumb the depths of actual communal experience so that what people don't want said in fact gets said, and in a way that is unignorable.
The simplest definition of poetry that I have is heightened speech. I think that poetry is truly inspired, truly vatic or bardic. It is extraordinary speech that at times comes through a poet with extraordinary power. It allows one to speak with a voice of power that is not, in fact, granted to one by the culture. In other words, as a woman in this culture I did not have the stature from which to speak those poems. I was simply a common woman — I was not authorized to speak in my institutional way, I was not a judge, I was not a priest; I was not a psychiatrist, I was simply a housewife — and yet the stature and authority of poetry itself visited me, permitted me, enlivened me, enlarged me, and those poems were written by me. If I had been a novelist, I think I might have been able to do something similar, but the fact that poetry does not respect institutional power and that it comes to all sorts of people means that I was permitted to assume a voice of stature to utter these poems.
April Gifts #6 —2011 Practicing to Walk Like a Heron
One of the unexpected joys of offering these poems every April is that in my attempt to get permission from poets to post their poems, I inevitably make friends with writers who would otherwise be strangers to me. In just this short season thus far I have already heard from three of last year’s featured poets. Their passion for poetry is an inspiration, their poems enliven me, and their encouragement for this April Gifts project is icing on the cake. I have news from one of last season’s poet, Celia Gilbert, who will be featured in the upcoming Spring/Summer issue (April 30) of The Tower Journal, an online literary journal committed to publishing the works of emerging writers alongside the work of professional writers. Mary Ann Sullivan who operates the site will be presenting Celia’s poetry, art and a short story. Gilbert’s book of poems, Something To Exchange, was reviewed in the Spring 2010 issue. Do yourself a favor and go exploring at www.tower journal.com.
Finding today’s poet, Jack Ridl, was truly serendipitous. My husband heard an interview with Jack on the radio (likely NPR) and thought I would appreciate his work. I missed the interview but followed up by scouting around on the internet and found that Jack’s poems spoke to me. They are rooted in believable embodied experience and therefore utterly trustworthy. When a poem alters or improves my breathing, all of me pays attention. I located Jack in glorious Michigan where, after 37 years of teaching college English, he writes poems and facilitates writing retreats. He was as happy as I was to have today’s poem featured by Little Pocket Poetry. Jack wrote: “You write these pieces and fling them out there and hope and hope they land in the heart and soul for which they were written.” I can relate. Sending a poem out into the world is sort of like putting a love note in a bottle and tossing it in the sea. What are the odds anyone anywhere will ever find it, let alone cherish it.
Practicing to Walk Like a Heron
My wife is at the computer. The cat
is sleeping across the soft gold cushion
of my chair. Last night there was a frost.
I am practicing to walk like a heron.
It's the walk of solemn monks
progressing to prayer on stilts,
the deliberate cadence of a waltz
in water. I lift my right leg within
the stillness, within the languid
quiet of a creek, slowly, slowly,
slowly set my foot on the dog-haired
carpet, pause, hold a half note, lift
the left, head steady as a bell before
the ringer tugs the rope. On I walk,
the heron's mute way, across the
room, past my wife who glances
up, holds her slender hands
above the keys until I pass.
—by Jack Ridl
POET NOTES Jack Ridl grew up in both the world of basketball where his father was a well-known head coach at Westminster College and the University of Pittsburgh, and the world of the circus, inherited from his mother’s family. Of his poems, Naomi Shihab Nye has written, “Jack Ridl writes with complete generosity and full-hearted wisdom and care. His deeply intelligent, funny, and gracious poems befriend a reader so completely and warmly, we might all have the revelation that our lives are rich poems too. What a gift!” Ridl lives with his wife, Julie, two dogs and two cats, along a creek that winds into Lake Michigan. His daughter is the artist, Meridith Ridl.
EDUCATION, TEACHING & WORK
B.A., Westminster College (1967); M.Ed., Westminster College (1970).
Professor Emeritus (1971-2006) Hope College, Holland, Michigan.
Ridl is retired from teaching at Hope College for more than 37 years and who with his wife, Julie, founded the college’s Visiting Writers Series (www.hope.edu/vws/)
PUBLICATIONS & AWARDS
Jack Ridl’s collection, Losing Season (September, 2009, CavanKerry Press), chronicles a year of hope and defeat on and off the basketball court in a small town. Ridl has been named one of the 100 most influential sports educators in America by the Institute for International Sport and he is the son of beloved Pitt Basketball Coach Buzz Ridl. Broken Symmetry was published in 2006 by Wayne State University Press and was selected by the Society of Midland Authors as the best book of poetry for 2006. Ridl is also the author of three chapbooks, including Outside the Center Ring from Pudding House Publications, a collection of circus poems published in 2006, and Against Elegies, which was selected by Sharon Dolin and former Poet Laureate Billy Collins for the 2001 Chapbook Award from The Center for Book Arts in New York.
A new collection of poems by Jack Ridl will be published in 2013.
The title takes its name from today’s poem: Practicing to Walk Like a Heron!
Visit Jack’s website to find out about his Michigan workshops and to read his wonderful essay Degrading The Grade which Jack hopes will stir up trouble. He certainly shares some of poet William Stafford’s views on this subject. By boycotting the grading system, I put away being a tough grader and became a “tough responder.” Jack says: The reward became, dare I say, spiritual and communal rather than a “seal of approval. They (the students) discovered the real reasons for creating. What became important was not confined to the “product.” Importance and value expanded into the process, not because it led to a product, but because the process itself brought valuable experiences, insights, revelations. — ridl.wordpress.com/2008/02/19/degrading-the-grade/
I was amused to learn that Ridl came to poetry through a side door. He really wanted to be a song writer and knock Paul Simon off the charts. He wrote songs for Fifi Lee, whose brother is the poet Li-Young Lee (one of my favorite poets). Li-Young Lee was around 8 years old at the time. Learn the rest of the story in this interview with Jack at: www.writersonprocess.com/2010/06/interview-with-a-writer-poet-jack-ridl.html
IN HIS OWN WORDS
Q: What do you see as your job as a teacher? What do you try to do in the classroom?
A: The thing about me is I'm not too big on education so I've always felt like, 'well I'm working with students on poetry here. I could also be working with students on poetry in my garage, in the church basement, or out in the field.' The education part is irrelevant. I'm not here to educate anyone. I'm here to give people poems, that's what I want them to have for the rest of their lives. I'm not about educating anybody. I didn't even like school. So, maybe that's ultra subversive, to be in an educational institution and not be terribly affirming of education.
I always thought if you [students] got into something, your own inner selves would master it. The mastery comes from within. I can't make you, well I could, but then you'd just be an ox pulling a cart and I'd be there cracking the whip. I want the ox to want to pull the cart. And if not, then just munch some grass. It doesn't bother me any! I really don't want to be the person who makes you 'master' something. I like students to discover what they want to master and that they can. If they discover it, then I can help them do that. Then I can say, here's how to use a line break. But to make you, I'm not interested. You have your spirit and I don't want to violate it, but I'm here to help you be with it, find it, go with it, develop it - that's my job.
I know why you tap the bat four times before stepping into the batter's box. Most call this a superstition. I don't think it is. I think it's something that shifts the psyche into the place it's meant to be. So yeah, a certain pen, blank book, comfortable chair, ragged shirt and comfortable socks, all that stuff creates something like integration. Whew, heavy. And I've a chair that looks out a window down the creek behind our house. At the same time, I developed a way to write that enables me to start writing anytime. Kind of like Frank O'Hara saying something like he better know he can write on a Manhattan bus at rush hour.
April Gift # 7— 2011 Sanctuary
Looking into a Jean Valentine poem is like looking into a lake: you can see your own outline, and the shapes of the upper world, reflected among rocks, underwater life, glint of lost bottles, drifted leaves. The known and familiar become one with the mysterious and half-wild, at the place where consciousness and the subliminal meet. This is a poetry of the highest order, because it lets us into spaces and meanings we couldn't approach in any other way.
People pray to each other. The way I say "you" to someone else,
respectfully, intimately, desperately. The way someone says
"you" to me, hopefully, expectantly, intensely ...
—Huub Oosterhuis (Dutch theologian and poet)
You who I don’t know I don’t know how to talk to you
—What is it like for you there?
Here ... well, wanting solitude; and talk; friendship—
The uses of solitude. To imagine; to hear.
Learning braille. To imagine other solitudes.
But they will not be mine;
to wait, in the quiet; not to scatter the voices—
What are you afraid of?
What will happen. All this leaving. And meetings, yes. But death.
What happens when you die?
“... not scatter the voices,”
Drown out. Not make a house, out of my own words. To be quiet in
another throat; other eyes; listen for what it is like there. What
word. What silence. Allowing. Uncertain: to drift, in the
restlessness ... Repose. To run like water—
What is it like there, right now?
Listen: the crowding of the street; the room. Everyone hunches in
against the crowding; holding their breath: against dread.
What do you dread?
What happens when you die?
What do you dread, in this room, now?
Not listening. Now. Not watching. Safe inside my own skin.
To die, not having listened. Not having asked ... To have scattered
Yes I know: the thread you have to keep finding, over again, to
follow it back to life; I know. Impossible, sometimes.
—by Jean Valentine
Jean Valentine was born in 1934 in Chicago, Illinois. A longtime resident of New York City, she was named the State Poet of New York in 2008. Her lyric poems delve into dream lives with glimpses of the persona, the political, and the spiritual.
EDUCATION & TEACHING EXPERIENCE
Valentine received a BA from Radcliffe College in 1956. A respected teacher, she has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Graduate Writing Program of New York University, Columbia University, and the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
PUBLICATIONS & AWARDS
Jean Valentine’s first of 11 books, Dream Barker and Other Poems, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1965. Subsequent collections of poems include The River at Wolf (1992), Little Boat (2007), and Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965–2003, which won the National Book Award in 2004. Her most recent book, Break the Glass, was published by Copper Canyon Press in September 2010. Valentine has been awarded grants and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Bunting Institute. In 2000, she received the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America. She is the recipient of the 2009 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets.
IN HER OWN WORDS
In response to a question about writing and revising, Valentine has said: It seems to me to be a process of looking for something in there, rather than having something and revising it. I don't consider that I really have anything yet--except inchoate mess. As I work on it, I'm always trying to hear the sound of the words, and trying to take out everything that doesn't feel alive. That's my goal: to take out everything that doesn't feel alive. And also to get to a place that has some depth to it. Certainly I'm always working with things that I don't understand--with the unconscious, the invisible. And trying to find a way to translate it.
Valentine understands that in order to write about the unseen world you have to start with something physical, palpable. There is no other language for us. Even Rumi uses a cup or a table or a light, just because it's our world we can speak to each other about or through.
April Gift #8—2011 To An Athlete Dying Young
A teenager was killed early Sunday morning after crashing into a utility pole. The police officers said they spotted the teen driving about 65 mph in a 35 mph zone on Winton Road shortly after 1:30 a.m. An officer attempted to catch up to the vehicle and stop the driver, but police said the car sped off and crashed into the pole. The seventeen year-old driver was pronounced dead at the scene. —The Cincinnati Enquirer (April 4, 2011)
Today’s poem is an orphan that came knocking at my door. It was not on the original docket for this year’s April Gifts. In the short distance between my home and office there is now a new hand-made white cross planted in the green mud of spring on a gentle slope of a neighbor’s yard. Usually you see such crosses on highways and interstates where something went awry and death claimed the life of a young person. Painted in black letters, first names call out to us— “Kyle”, “Becky and Pam”, “Johnny R ”. They are the kind of impromptu sign you make in your basement or garage when you take a hammer to your grief.
I didn’t know “Michael” who died in the accident on Winton Road, but his 21 year-old cousin, a patient in the office where I work, is deeply mourning his loss. Does it matter that Michael was not an athlete, nor a promising student, or that he had stolen the car he crashed? The poem I offer today (familiar to you I hope) is a white cross of mourning for any family who wants their dead child back again.
To an Athlete Dying Young
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.
—by A. E. Housman
Described as "the poet of unhappiness", Alfred Edward Houseman was born on March 26, 1859 in Worcestershire, England. Housman was one of seven children who much preferred his mother to his father. Her death on his 12th birthday was a devastating blow, which is surely one source of the pessimism inherent in his poetry. Housman was an English scholar and celebrated poet whose lyrics express a Romantic pessimism in a spare, simple style. Some say it is unfortunate that he was neither flashy nor daring, producing old-fashioned verse that used simple forms and humble language to evoke time, place and mood. But he did so with consummate skill.
EDUCATION, TEACHING & WORK EXPERIENCE
While a student at Oxford, Housman was further oppressed by his dawning realization of homosexual desires. These came to focus in an intense love for one of his fellow students, Moses Jackson, an athletic young man who became Housman’s friend and roommate but who could not reciprocate his love. In turmoil emotionally, Housman failed to pass his final examination at Oxford.
From 1882 to 1892, Housman worked as a clerk in the Patent Office in London, where Jackson also worked. In the evenings Housman studied Latin texts in the British Museum reading room and developed a masterful gift for correcting errors in them, owing to his command of the language and his feeling for the way poets choose their words. Articles he wrote for journals caught the attention of scholars and led to his appointment in 1892 as professor of Latin at University College, London.
A.E. Hausman’s classical scholarship – “erudite and witheringly dismissive of his rivals” - still has its followers, but it is his poetry that reached a far wider audience, beginning with his 1895 collection A Shropshire Lad. His second volume of poems, Last Poems, was a collection of previously unpublished poems chosen for his friend Moses Jackson to read while Jackson was dying of cancer in Canada. After Housman’s death in 1936, a posthumous collection, More Poems, was published that alternated between reveries on the beauties of nature and personal reflections on his unrequited love for his Oxford friend Moses Jackson.
A.E. Housman took afternoon walks in a school-boyish cricket cap, grey suit, starched collar and elastic sided boots. He said 'hello' to no one; this was walking time, talking was for dinner. Every year, too, he vacationed on the Continent; flew there, presumably in converted bombers when passenger flights were in the pioneer stage and the crockery was real, the cutlery silver.
He'd lived in the same three Victorian rooms ('bare, bleak, grim, stark, comfortless,' various people called them) until he was too frail to climb the stairs. Eventually he moved into a nursing home where he died, in his sleep during the day.
Small talk didn't come easily (didn't in fact come at all) for Housman, and as a dinner guest his long silences could be a problem. On the other hand, he was at ease with his brother, Basil, and his sister-in-law, Jeannie. They knew a different man — a happy, teasing, slightly bantering older brother — and were puzzled by his forbidding reputation. His brother, Laurence, also said of him: 'he had the happiest laugh I've ever heard.' And he was widely known for his wit and humour (waspish and dry) both in conversation and in the prefaces of his books.
In 1997 (70 years after Housman’s death) British playwright Tom Stoppard wrote a play, The Invention of Love, portraying the life of A. E. Housman, focusing specifically on his personal life and love for his college classmate, Moses Jackson. Stoppard sought to give Housman a sympathetic hearing as a passionate, brilliant man unable to break out against the strictures of society. Considered by many to be Stoppard's finest play, it has been called "esoteric". In fact, to demystify the play's many historical and academic references, the New York production team provided the audiences with a 30-page (!) booklet on the political and artistic history of the late-Victorian period. For more information about this play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invention_of_Love
April Gift #9—2011 The Routine After Forty
The Routine After Forty
Because my mother doesn’t ask questions,
not the way I would, grilling the oncologist
until she ripped a corner off the examining-table paper
and drew it out, I don’t really understand
what it means to have the markers for cancer.
But later in the week, the technician
giving me a mammogram is surprisingly clear
when I ask her, and reassuring. Everyone’s body
produces cancer cells all the time,
she tells me. She’s blond and ample,
looks like someone who could fix
a leaky sink, then make a pie
to take to a party. But we slough off
the irregular cells, catching early
whatever bad is pitched our way.
Listening to her, I love my body,
its diligence, the work I know nothing about.
Markers in the blood show the body no longer able
to do this. I’ve shed my paper jacket,
the one handed to me so I would feel less naked
as my breasts lay on the glass plate
like fish on ice. When the jacket slipped,
I let it fall, so now I’m standing here
topless with a little sticker like a pasty
on each nipple, a reference point for the radiologist.
The technician and I have passed the formality
of modesty. Bad things bombard us daily
but for years we are stronger than what will kill us.
You can get dressed now
she tells me, but what I want
is to put my head in her lap,
have her stroke my hair while I tell her
how much I will miss my mother
when she is gone.
The markers of grief,
because my body will accommodate
the vast loneliness of my life without my mother.
My head in the technician’s lap,
her fingers lacing my hair,
tell me again about how hard the body tries,
how most of the time it wins.
—by Jacqueline Berger