Sunday, July 06, 2008

your july 4th annogram

Ann in Alhambra Poetry Calendar 2008
Thanks to Shafiq Naz, editor of Alhambra Publishing’s Poetry Calendar, for selecting “Sugaring” for the 2008 English edition, and to Hélène Sanguinetti, who suggested my work. I am thrilled to be in a volume distinguished “by some of the best American, British, Canadian, Australian, and Irish poets from the 14th to the 21st century.”

Sapphires at Hraefnwood Café
The Sapphires, an award-winning group of women writers, feature novelist Angela
Batchelor, poet Terry Dugan, poet Linda Simone, creative non-fiction writer Sarah Bracey White—and me. We’ve performed everywhere from Manhattanville College to the United Nations, and on Saturday, July 26, we’ll be at the Hraefnwood Café in Bellows Falls, Vermont, at 7 p.m. Hope to see Vermont friends there!

Frost vandals receive ‘poetic justice’
Speaking of Vermont, you may recall in my last annogram learning that teens trashed the Robert Frost farm on the Middlebury College campus. Their punishment is to sit through two classes on the poet taught by Frost biographer and Middlebury professor, Jay Parini. I am sure the ever-crusty Frost would appreciate that discipline—although he would probably ask them to memorize several poems too.

Toadlily poet wins Pushcart Prize
Congratulations to Heidi Hart, whose poem, “Door Psalm,” from Edge by Edge (Toadlily Press, 2007) will appear in the 2009 Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses. To read and/or hear the poem, click on this link.

Camber Press Chapbook Contest
The Fourth Annual Camber Press Poetry Chapbook Award contest is underway through August 15, 2008. The judge is Steve Orlen, with the first prize $1000 and publication of the winning entry. For more submission details, click on this link.

Salute to C.D. Wright
C.D. Wright is one of a handful of women poets who are transforming the uses of language—much like Anne Carson and Hélène Sanguinetti, the French poet I am honored to translate. I’ll review two of her books here, and one by Frank Stanford, an influential figure in her life and co-founder with Ms. Wright of Lost Roads Publishers.

You could call Ms. Wright’s latest book, Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008) her “Howl.” In this book-length protest, the poet incants the number of Iraq-war dead, and vents that she cannot bear :to say their [expletive] monosyllabic surnames” of “the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania” for “dread of it calling up their bland [expletive] faces […].”

If this book were merely a rant, we would soon tire of it. Ms. Wright’s genius is in combining further political themes such as immigration and Katrina, and anchoring such global concerns in motherly anxiety over what will happen to her teen son. She moves effortlessly from the political to the personal with honesty and humor:

He mentions getting jumped in Zihuatenejo and cornered the year before in Oaxaca

the Christmas before in Chicago and mugged once in Brooklyn

and she is What What What Can’t you just stay inside and read
(turning pages)

until you’re thirty or something

(“Rising, Falling, Hovering, cont.”)

Ms. Wright avoids being labeled a confessional poet by using the third voice, notes poet Meredith Trede. This effective device, along with Spanish phrases sprinkled throughout, creates an accessible poem that embraces the world. Suzanne Hoover, an extraordinary poetry professor at Sarah Lawrence, once defined poetry as looking down through several disparate images and seeing something entirely different as a result. This book is a wonderful example of such imaginative layering.

The Lost Road Project, A Walk-In Book of Arkansas, by C.D. Wright with photographs by Deborah Luster, is an Arkansas treasure. My grandmother lived there, so I had occasion to drive with her to the cloud-wreathed, heaven-like Ozarks, eat things like cobblestone bread and Creole pralines, and meet quirky neighbors like Ruby and Reek who entered her home as casually as if they lived there.

Ms. Wright had to have been inspired by my all-time favorite, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the chronicle of three 1930s sharecropper families by Pulitzer Prize- winning poet James Agee and photographer Walker Evans.

Similarly, Ms. Wright has juxtaposed Ms. Luster’s dramatic black-and-white photos against, among other things, a mean cornbread recipe, a blues riff by Sonny Boy Williamson, respective prose and poetry by Arkansas natives Shirley Abbott and Maya Angelou, reflections by historian C. Van Woodward, and a Frank Stanford poem. Ms. Wright’s introduction is a lyrical and comprehensive state history and Ms. Luster’s photographs—like Walker Evans’s work—seem like haunting glimpses into a world few of us would otherwise know.

Moving on to Frank Stanford’s selected The Light the Dead See (University of Arkansas Press, 1991), I wonder whether he is inspired, insane or both. Stanford paints images from the Mississippi levees of his youth the way Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) creates exaggerated pictures of the American west. Reoccurring characters have names like “Born in the Camp with Six Toes” and “Baby Gauge.” In the epic “The Snake Doctors,” locals beat the speaker’s pet pig while the man is in church:

I ran after the hog
He was heading for the river
I jumped on his back
I rode the hog
I hugged his neck
I stabbed him seven times
I wanted the knife to go into me
He kept running
I ran the knife across his throat
And the blood came out like a bird.

Lines like these gallop forward, choppy and alarming, with gospel-like overtones. Knowing that Stanford ended his life at 30, I read his work like a detective—wondering about his intense drive. There is a regional purity in this book, however, rendered in an abstract-expressionist style, that is as original and rewarding as it is disturbing.

’Round the Net
Thanks to:

· Angela Batchelor for insights into her active life as a professor, writer and diarist.

· Novelist Petra Lewis for this NYT article on creativity.

· Detroit News Personal Finance Columnist Brian J. O’Connor for three hilarious essays that have won another national humor prize.

· Translator B. J. Epstein for her fascinating blog, Brave New Words, all the way from Wales.

Discovering the night sky
It is said that Robert Frost invited Emily Dickinson to the Amherst College Observatory to view the night sky. “Amherst College in the poet's day was one of the leading institutions for the study of astronomy,” notes the college’s web site. “Built in 1905 as a technologically advanced astronomy center, the observatory and [original refracting] telescope have been recently restored.”

Can you imagine the conversation between Frost and Dickinson? Anyone who has been asked to look at the stars knows it is a wondrous invitation—especially if given by someone who knows his night sky.

That’s what Bob Davidson, co-founder of Westchester Amateur Astronomers, and a natural “non-scientist scientist” did for many of us—here and at Stellafane, the annual summer gathering of amateur telescope-makers, in Vermont. Bob showed the stars to everyone from NASA scientists to school kids at star parties and other public events throughout the tri-state area. We lost him last month, but not his passion for M objects and galaxies that we will continue to carry and share with others.

Wishing you an inspiring summer night's view of Cygnus, the swan....