Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Judging Poetry Out Loud

This past week I had the honor of judging the Statewide Poetry Outloud Competition. This is competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Check out this great video of last year's winners performing.

The competition was held in Anchorage and high school students from 11 different cities and villages from all over Alaska came. They had each memorized three poems and they performed them for the audience. I was amazed at the power these kids evoked. One student performed "Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward" by Anne Sexton. Her performance reduced two of us judges to tears and made me realize the amazing value of this project. To perform well a student has to really get the poem--has to internalize it and make it their own. And we could immediately tell who has really gotten into the poems. The Alaskan winner, Alev Kelter, from Chugiak High School in Achorage was wonderful.--I have rarely seen such passion in a high school student for anything, much less for poetry. We talked to her afterwards and she told us she's a hockey player too. Now there is a well-rounded Alaskan student!

After the judging, all of us judges (John Straley, Erin Hollowell, Anne Hanley, and Jerah Chadwick) along with Susan Olson, the State Arts Council staff member who runs this project, went out for dinner at Sacks. John bought everyone champagne and we spent hours just chatting about poetry, about life in Unalaska (where Jerah lives), and about our various teaching lives. It was such a treat to hang out with two former and one current poet laureate of Alaska.

Moments like this...they remind me why we are doing what we're doing. We aren't alone in the love of poetry, and when we get our little tribe together, and discover we all speak the same language, it feels like coming home. Bliss!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Poem from Thirst

Mary Oliver is my favorite poet. Here is a poem from her new book Thirst.

Walking Home from Oak-Head

There is something
about the snow-laden sky
in winter
in the late afternoon

that brings to the heart elation
and the lovely meaninglessness
of time.
Whenever I get home--whenever--

somebody loves me there.
I stand in the same dark peace
as any pine tree,

or wander on slowly
like the still unhurried wind,
as for a gift,

for the snow to begin
which it does
at first casually,
then, irrepressibly.

Wherever else I live--
in music, in words,
in the fires of the heart,
I abide just as deeply

in this nameless, indivisible place,
this world,
which is falling apart now,
which is white and wild,

which is faithful beyond all our expressions of faith,
our deepest prayers.
Don't worry, sooner or later I'll be home.
Red-cheeked from the roused wind,

I'll stand in the doorway
stamping my boots and slapping my hands,
my shoulders
covered in stars.

Mary Oliver, Thirst

Isn't that lovely? All of her books have been dedicated to "Molly Malone Cook." This latest book has the same dedication but Molly's dates are following, making me think she must have died. I think Molly is her partner, although it's hard to find information on Oliver on the Internet. If this is the case, it puts such a pall on these sweet poems.

I woke up this morning at 4:30 with the first few lines of a poem in my head...but I couldn't quite get my legs to swing out of bed, and the poem is lost. All that's left is the word "stark." Not much to go on. In my memory these lost dream poems are always brilliant.... Has this ever happened to any of you?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Weekend on Eagle Beach

As we walked along Eagle River toward the beach, sun shining on the snow crust and seaweed, the Chilkat Mountains shimmering in the distance, a woman on skiis came by and said to us, "This is why we live here!" Exactly what I'd been thinking all day.
After a few hours walking along in the sun, we hiked back through the snow and hemlock trees to the cabin, which glowed yellow through the gloaming.
The Gotschall Cabin is lovely. It's warm and has a full kitchen. The two lofts above the main floor are filled with mattresses so we could pile up several for each of us, and cover them with our quilts. We ate chili and cornbread and then made s'mores on tea lights scattered across the long dining table. A perfect weekend.

I saw one raven out on the beach. RuthAnn called him in a great raven voice and he came back and circled us a few times. No poems on him yet, so I'll leave him for now.

I did get one new poem out of the weekend. I took a pic of Corey holding AnnaCaroline up on the loft railing. She loved it and we snapped this pic but now that picture gives me heart palpitations. It always feels so hard to balance between being a relaxed parent enjoying her joy, and the ever-watchful, fearful parent who keeps her safe.

I have been surprised I haven't written more poems about her (although her feedings have taken the place of my early morning writing sessions). I think she'll be good material, as I have such complex and conflicted feelings about the whole experience of being a parent. I've been afraid I'm going to write only sappy, simplistic poetry about her (since my feelings about her are not conflicted and are pretty simple!!). But maybe the way to approach it is to focus on experience. And of course, to write those other poems simply for her.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Camping, Mary Oliver, and Personification

A blogger today reminded me of Bernd Heinrich’s work, which sparked some motivation to get back to writing. After having AnnaCaroline (who is now 9 ½ months) I haven’t gotten out as much as I used to, and haven’t written as much either. Corey, AnnaCaroline and I are going camping this weekend—our first time really out, and I’m so excited, although nervous that I’m so out of shape I might not be much of a cross-country skier any more. But it will be good to get a nature shot straight to the heart.

In class this week I’m teaching personification and reading Mary Oliver (my favorite poet) and thinking about how personification can really work. I fear I’ve been using it poorly—objectifying objects to serve a larger thematic purpose. Oliver reminds me that when personifying, we have to let the objects move as they would in the natural world, and then look at how what they do informs our own lives. This seems important because it allows for the possibility that we’ll make real discoveries through observation and research, rather than falling on old ideas about natural objects.

Maybe I’ll take Heinrich’s book Mind of the Raven out with me, and reread some of it as inspiration. And who knows, maybe a few Ravens will teach me a thing or two about how to move gracefully through a February rainforest.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Poetry on the Bus

I just found out I've had a poem accepted for the Poetry Ominbus project! The Juneau Arts Council and Capital Transit partner to put poems on the all the busses in Juneau. It's such a cool idea. I ride the bus pretty often and last year it was great to see everyone's poems up there. Here's the poem they accepted:

Womb Rain

Silver bells of rain on the porch roof
recall us to the womb

the ringing of shower streams
against a taut, bare belly

and our first water selves,
small tails, webbed hands touching

our first faces. Perhaps in heaven
the room where babies wait

has a metal roof, and a chorus of rain
singing us into being.

I've been surfing around to see bus poems in other cities, and I found this terrific poem that was posted on a bus in Seattle:

My Sandwich

That man stole my sandwich.
I had it five minutes ago,
And I know
He’s always after my sandwiches.
He eyes me conspicuously
As I eye him back
We make eye contact.
There’s a blatant connection.
Oh yes,
I’m on to him.
Oh wait, here it is.
Lindsey Baggette
Eastlake High School
Grade 11

It's that fabulous? I laugh every time I read it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Composition Ravens

I started this blog to help promote my first book of poems, Freshly Rooted, and hopefully to start a conversation about poetry, Alaska, poetry in Alaska, and everything in between.

Here is a poem from the collection:

Composition: Ravens

Three black knives
cleave morning air.
Snow has softened the sound
but even driving
beside them, we hear
the slicing of wings.
One has a bright orange
peel, the other two stroke,
young swimmers, toward
the concrete wall, kick
off at exactly
the right moment,
toward the highway,
guardrail left
quivering and greasy
in their wake.
They could spend
all morning breaking each
others’ hearts, doling out
the energy they need
to survive the night—
aching to capture the bright
orange jewel, to decorate
their own mouths,
flashing, iridescent
against a white canvas,
loving their terrible bodies.