Note to self: Summer has flown by. Get going on this.
I would be remiss in my duties to not include Amiri Baraka (originally LeRoi Jones) here, as I am currently writing a big paper on his play Dutchman. (If you want to hear about his use of masks and lynching allegories in it, feel free to email!) This guy led quite a life, and did a little of everything. Poems, plays, essays, books, you name it. He’s quite polarizing and confrontational, but I’m into it.
I read one chapter from a book of his on music (Black Music), and it was pretty mind-blowing. He’s like a madman running down the street tossing out ideas, and you have to figure out which one you’re going to grab and follow to the end. A Beat in the best way. And that’s his prose! His poetry is something else.
Chalk Rae Armantrout up to the same mysterious process of discovery as Lisa Jarnot. She’s on that same “poets to check out” list of mine, but I learned of her in some mysterious anthology whose name has been lost to history. Or the library. Maybe I’ll go loiter in the stacks and see if any books there ring a bell. If anyone needs me, that’s where I’ll be. Anyway, I checked her out, and I dig her work.
Poets.org has a pretty extensive bio of her if you’re interested. I’m all about just laying some poetry on you right now, though.
I have no idea how I found out about Lisa Jarnot. I became aware of her around the time I read The Outlaw Bible Of American Poetry, but she’s not in there. I think I just associate that book with good discoveries because that’s how I found out about Mike Topp. But for whatever reason, I found myself with a list of poets to check out and she was one of them. Now you should put her on your list of poets to check out. DO IT.
There’s not a ton of info on the web about her, but that’s how some people roll. She has a bio here, and her blog is here. I can say for certain that she did not want to be my Facebook friend right after I discovered her, but that’s also how some people roll. I’m not bitter. No, really! Anyway, let her work speak for itself:
Where to begin with Ivor Cutler?
Well, he was a poet, musician, all-around kook, and he played Buster Bloodvessel in Magical Mystery Tour. John Peel used to play his music all the time, and people complained, and so he played it even more!
I discovered him when I was in a bookstore in England. I had been making little books of my own, and I came across a little book in this store. It was full of strange drawings and writing, so I bought it. It seemed up my alley.
I was hooked. He writes odd prose poems with odd little drawings, and it all makes sense if you know what you like.
Here’s a video of him reciting one of his poems.
And here’s a song:
I read a story where a college once called him and wanted him to perform. After they told him the payment for the show, he thought about it, then whispered, “Offer me less money.” They did, and he shouted, “DONE!”
Apparently when Paul McCartney called him about being in Magical Mystery Tour, the only response he got out of Ivor was “oh.” They don’t make them like this anymore.
I spend a fair amount of time derping around on Tumblr. One day I noticed that an account called “One Dollar Poem” had liked a few of my posts (of different genres – I tend to span the fields of writing, chickens, and general internet idiocy over there) and I clicked on the name to see what their deal was. (I also get followed by a lot of pornbots for some reason, so I was seeing if they were legit.) They are legit! For $1 they will write you a poem and post it, for $3 they will write you a poem and mail you the actual poem on paper. I splashed out on the $3 version. Dig it.
Anyway, being the curious sort, I had to know more, so I sent them some questions, and they were nice enough to respond. Go buy some poems once you’re done reading!
1. Someone already asked “who are you” on Tumblr. Are you few, or many? Is this a collective effort, or that of a lone wolf? (Dodge this as you see fit. I’m cool with secrecy.)
M: We’re Alaina and Megan – two friends who live quite far apart but are excitedly collaborating together for one dollar poem.
A: We are two, for now.
2. Who are your favorite poets?
A: My favorite poets are lyricists like Kendrick Lamar, Brandon Flowers, Jai Paul, Ben Gibbard, FKA Twigs, among many others. I used to spend hours reading over different lyrics websites as a kid and, to this day, I pay very close attention to what my favorite bands/musicians are very literally saying to me in their music.
M:My favorite poets are the American greats – Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson. I often travel alone and find lots of inspiration in their works so heavy in themes of nature, solitariness, and self.
3. How did this idea come about? It’s so simple, but so great. Had it incubated for a long time, or did you just jump right in?
M: The idea for one dollar poem was more of a journey than an epiphany. When I was in high school I used poetry as a way for dealing with all the feelings of being a teenager, carrying around notebooks full of things I had written, writing short blips of words strung together on the back of my math homework, and occasionally sharing poems on my livejournal account. On my dresser I kept a poem a stranger had written on a scrap piece of paper and given to me at basement punk show – I would look at it for years and years and always loved it. This was the original inspiration behind one dollar poem.
Daydreaming at a horrible desk job one day I grabbed a scrap piece of paper, wrote Alaina’s name down the side of it, and started filling in the gaps. when I was done, I sent it to her. it reminded me much of the poem I had kept on my dresser for so many years, how it was simple but still evoked a feeling. I thought that I could do this for not just Alaina, but other friends, for acquaintances, for strangers. The idea for one dollar poem was born.
I had shared my idea with Alaina, but building the framework to get started got swept under the rug for a number of years. I wanted to do the writing, but the leg work seemed beyond what I had the time or skill to do. When Alaina contacted me out of the blue this year and said “Let’s do one dollar poem together” I knew it was the energy the project needed.
4. What kind of typewriter do you use? (I have 2 non-functioning IBM Selectrics, and an Erika from East Germany that does umlauts, so I might be a typewriter weirdo.)
A: With no knowledge of typewriters, I bought a Brother SX-4000. Megan and I decided within roughly 24 hours that, in order to get this project off the ground, we would have to jump in head first. So, I bought the first piece of equipment that had good reviews + looked like it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out. I really enjoy typing on it, but I am not used to the slight delay between the speed I type and the speed with which the typewriter can process information. Sometimes I lose my train of thought. I don’t know if I type too fast or if my attention is easily drawn elsewhere. Probably both.
5. Have you ever eaten a whole pie? If so, what kind? How long did it take? One sitting, or over time?
A: Yes. I made Jónsi & Alex’s strawberry pie (http://jonsiandalex.com/recipes) and ate the whole thing by myself over the course of three-ish days.
6. Given the unsustainability of factory meat farming, could you see yourself/yourselves turning to insects as your primary source of protein? (Scientists are thinking about this. I’m vegetarian, so no bugs for me, thanks.)
A: I’d eat a bug but I think I would feel pretty sad about it.
M: I eat a plant-based diet and think I get enough protein through greens, so I’m happy to stay away from insects.
7. Are there other Tumblr poetry/writing/whatever sites you recommend?
A: Not really, and it’s not because I think other sites are not good, but because I don’t seek them out. I am inspired by everyday language. I am interested in my friends’ feelings when they’re deeply emotional about something. And I genuinely find a lot of inspiration in any randomly generated combination of words.
M: Alaina is more versed in Tumblr than I am, but I also keep a travel blog where I have a large catalog of writing: http://bertabroad.wordpress.com
As you may or may not know, I get a little excited for Poetry Month. And here we are. I’ve got big things planned this year. Each Monday I’m going to post about a poet (or poets) that I think are worth checking out. I was going to just leave it at that, but then on Tuesday, the Poem-A-Day email I get (which was started during Poetry Month, if you can believe that) featured a poem I really liked: (The Carousel by Zachary Schomburg). I asked the Zachary if it was cool to share it here, and he said o.k. He’s not just a poet, he’s also an artist and you can see his drawings on his Tumblr. Below is his drawing of Patti Smith.
I’m in a carousel.
The kind that spins
people to the wall.
There is a woman
and a man and a man
inside of it too,
and a man operating it.
Everybody I love is
looking down at me,
laughing. When I die,
I’ll die alone.
I know that much,
held down by my
own shadow, wanting
to touch the woman,
the man, the man,
across the curvature.
I won’t be able to even
look. I’m on a train.
I’m a tiny spider.
A tiny star.
Or a giant spider.
When everything stops,
I’ll open the only door
to the carousel and
it’ll be the wrong one
I’ve forgotten entering.
Fans of my annual Poetry Month Freakout may remember I did a write-up on the greatness of Stevie Smith last year (or, just scroll down a few posts, I’ve been a bit of a deadbeat once poetry month ended). The BBC just did an article on her, given that there was just a big event celebrating her in the UK. Always an unheralded tastemaker, I am. Dig it.
Remember Snowmaggedon last year, and my MBTA haikus? (I hope at least you remember the haikus, I forgive you for blocking out last winter. We had flurries this morning and I went into a fugue state.) Well, even before that haiku excursion, I wrote a haiku a day, back in 2011. Some of those haikus are now up at Keyhole Press’ website. If you like what you see there, you can get the whole collection here.
I actually have had a pretty good summer this year, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to slack as far as making August count is involved.
I first came across the poetry of Stevie Smith when I was a teenager. Once again, I think it was in some collection of literature meant to be used in the classroom. I don’t remember if it was one from a class of mine, or if I came across it in some other way (the used bookstore obsession began early). I do know two things for certain. The poem of hers I first read was “Not Waving but Drowning,” and for the longest time I thought she was a man because I am a doofus and apparently learned nothing from Stevie Nicks. (Though, the book could have included some biographical information that might have cleared this up. JUST SAYIN’.)
More recently I discovered that she also illustrated many of her poems. This completely added to the appeal, since stylistically she keeps it simple, which I enjoy. Sometimes a doodle says more than a grand work of art (and sometimes a doodle IS a grand work of art). This is not to besmirch grand works of art. Everything has its place.
Anyway, while Not Waving but Drowning is her best known poem and it seems like I should go for a deep cut, sometimes you just have to play the hits. Here’s a scan of the poem (from The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith) with the illustration that was so dearly lacking from the version I first encountered.
A few years ago in a fit of Poetry Month Mania, I took out a book called The Outlaw Bible Of American Poetry. It’s gigantic, so I knew not everything in it was going to appeal to me, much like other sorts of Bibles. I was right. However, I hit one section and was mildly floored. Maybe even more than mildly. And maybe I wasn’t floored so much as totally excited, because here was someone that was doing something I hadn’t seen before, but was exactly what I was looking for. It was a poem by Mike Topp, and here it is:
What’s he doing there? Is this a joke, or is it poem? What does he actually mean? It worked on so many levels I had no way to not be totally into it. I immediately went out and bought what books of his I could find.
His poetry is nothing like you’ve ever seen, and when you think you’ve got him figured out, he does something different, and you have to figure him out again. I say don’t even try to figure him out. Just dig it.
Here’s one called Broken Dish:
I dropped a dish and broke it while listening to a record. So I just played the record backwards until the dish came back together again on the floor and hopped up into my hands.
And finally, there’s the one he may be best known for: Them Hot Dogs
How about Them Hot Dogs,
Ain’t they neat?
Little piece of bread,
Little piece of meat.
Go buy all his stuff, and follow him on Twitter too: @miketopp
I come from a family of teachers. As a kid, I had these two elderly aunts who had taught generations of people in their town. I spent a lot of time with them, and they had tons of cool old books, which I dug through eagerly. One of these books was called Along Story Trails, and I think it was a “reader” for a classroom. It had a wide variety of stuff in it – folktales, poetry, short stories, and abridged versions or excerpts from longer pieces, to name a few. It was where I first encountered Beowulf (an adaptation), Rikki Tikki Tavi (sparking a lifelong love of the mongoose), and this poem by William Carlos Williams, often referred to as “As the cat,” given that’s the first line.
What I love about this is the illustration (a cat, years before the internet!), and how it helps a young reader visualize the action in the poem, and how the words reflect the movement of the cat. This remains my favorite Williams poem. Note the “plum” jar, likely referring to another famous Williams poem.
Sadly, I lost my original copy of this book years ago, but was able to find another. I use it in school visits a lot to show how I came to be such a voracious reader. (I then show the comic books I read as a kid to point out that I didn’t just read fancy poetry, I read EVERYTHING.)
Happy Poetry Month! And don’t forget I’ll be on Boston Public Radio on WGBH radio for the MBTA Poetry News Quiz this Friday around 1:30. I’ll be facing off against Liam Day, who has written a book of poems about MBTA buses. Tune in!
Big things are happening! I’ll be a part of a MBTA Poetry News Quiz on Boston Public Radio on WGBH Radio on Friday, April 10th. The news quiz is on around 1:30. With any luck, I will have a collection of MBTA haikus ready then too (however, problems, as we all expected, are ongoing – this is going to end up being an epic collection). I’ll be facing off against Liam Day, who has written a book of poems about MBTA buses. You can stream it online, so tune in.
To kick off Poetry Month, I thought I’d share a found poem by Tuli Kupferberg off his album of found poems called No Deposit, No Return. There’s some hilarious stuff on there, some of it very NSFW, but I chose one called “Social Studies,” and you’ll figure out soon enough where it was taken from (click the words “Social Studies” back there to hear it).
And while we’re in the found poetry mood, here’s one of mine:
Hairy and slender
with slim fingers and black nails
the Capuchin monkey’s hands
are just right
a bottle of juice