Monthly Archives: December 2010

Poems I’ve Placed My Faith In

 

by David Kinsey

I used to roll my eyes when I’d hear poets say that reading a particular writer and book saved their life. While there are certainly poets whose work is a continual source of inspiration, whose artistry challenges me to take myself back to page, but is that what it means to be saved?  (And really, if all it took was a poem to save you, then were things really that bad off in the first place?) But I digress… The point is that while I’m skeptical about “born again poets,” I do believe in the capacity of poetry to return our language to us. As Terrance Hayes writes in his poem “Snow for Wallace Stevens” which appears in Lighthead, “I too having lost faith / in language, have placed my faith in language.”

So, as we conclude what has been an amazing year, here is a list of poems I encountered in 2010 that I have placed my faith in. (Remember, it’s not that the poems were published this year, so much as the fact that I happened across or was introduced to them in 2010.)

“The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart” by Deborah Digges

“Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa

“Annunciation” by Jean Valentine

“Final Performance” by Cynthia Cruz

“Another Elegy” by Jericho Brown

“Horse in the Dark” by Vievee Francis

“Song on the Subway” by Ocean Vuong

“Impenetrable, Porous” by Metta Sama

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The Working Poet (Part II)

 

by Olaf Hajek

Establishing a writing routine was a crucial part of the process, but it wasn’t everything. After grading papers, interacting with teenagers all day, writing lesson plans, and thinking about my curriculum, I realized that I had to create a mental space for myself as well. Or rather — I had to find a way to re-enter the mental space that had always been there.

While working on my MFA thesis (and later the manuscript for When the Only Light is Fire), I lived inside of my poems.  The poetry was a landscape that my mind was grounded in. Everything I saw, heard, encountered was a contribution to the poetry I was writing and revising. I would listen to the score of Swan Lake on repeat all day long or look at a collection of paintings by a favorite artist over and over again. That kind of immersion simply isn’t possible now. I literally don’t have time for it.

This left me with two apparent options: Either I could start writing about being a teacher or find another way to inspire creativity. Well, if you know me, you know that writing poems about the admittedly strange experience of being a school teacher isn’t really my cup of tea. So, here’s what I did…

I decided to make poetry an important part of my students’ life. Not that I wasn’t already teaching poetry in the classroom, but I made it more personal. I started loaning students copies of my favorite poetry collections. (Turns out, Kim Addonizio has quite a following at my school these days.) When students found a poem they liked, I’d ask them if they could write a poem in response in share it with me. I asked students if they had any poems they’d written that they’d like for me to see. By seeing my students take poetry into their lives, I felt a spark again, a desire for poetry to be a personal part of my life.

I gave poetry to my students in order to access it myself. By blurring the lines between school teacher and poet in my head, I found that it was easier for me to jot down a quick idea in my ever present notebook and expand on that idea later. Even better, reading their own brilliant work (really, these kids are stunning) challenged me to write work that I could be proud of.

Instead of compartmentalizing work and writing, I’ve been trying to use work to inspire writing and vice versa.

The Working Poet (Part I)

by Tim Hawkinson

Every poet is a working poet — which is to say, every poet has to do things other than write poems in order to make a living. Sure, there are a lucky few who literally can write 24/7 365 and not worry about paying bills and health insurance, but that’s not true for most of us. Poets are teaching, editing, working in corporate America, working as carpenters so forth and on — and writing. (To say nothing of poets who are also parents. I salute you!)

Since August of this year, I’ve been teaching 9th and 12th grade English at a Charter high school in Newark, NJ. It’s been an amazing experience, but it has also meant that I’ve had to negotiate the balance between work and writing on a daily basis. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

I wake up at 4:45 am on the weekdays which allows me to write for about half an hour before I have to get ready for work. Initially, I was miserable. I was already waking up at what felt like an ungodly hour and deciding to get up earlier seemed insane and destined for failure. After the first early morning, though, I found that I was so invigorated by the experience of writing that I actually had more energy throughout the day. It was comparable to the energy boost I experience when I go to the gym consistently.

The problem was that thirty minutes was still a very short period of time and with the responsibilities of the day quickly approaching, it was hard to think creatively. So, I started devoted my weekends to generating new work and my thirty minute morning sessions to revising and pushing my work further. Having a foundation in place takes the pressure out and allows me to take the poem one step at a time as opposed to feeling like I have to start from scratch.

Of course, this is just a part of my effort to continue writing while also working full time. More to come later.