I am honored to have been named the fifth Poet Laureate of West Hartford for the years 2015 - 2017. The post gives me the flexibility to spread the appreciation of poetry with any project I choose. For example, the first laureate Maria Sassi, pictured on the right, established a biannual reading series at the Noah Webster House. My immediate predecessor, Ginny Lowe Connors, on the left, took on the ambitious project of placing poems on artistic weather-resistant stands in West Hartford’s parks.
I knew instantly what I wanted to do. I plan to replicate, on a smaller scale, the work done by Robert Pinsky when he was U.S. Poet Laureate. Pinsky asked Americans to submit a “favorite poem” and write a paragraph about its significance to them. I recognized some of the poems. Some were new to me. But what took my breath away were the words of ordinary Americans testifying to the power of poetry in their lives. This project, called “America’s Favorite Poem Project,” was published and has a website: www.favoritepoem.org.
My goal is to take poetry out of the classroom, the library, and the writing workshop, to the streets. Perhaps my roots at a student in Berkeley are showing, but I believe we have as much to learn from readers of poetry as from writers. Over the next two years, I will be asking West Hartford residents to nominate their favorite poem and send it to me at FavoritePoemWH@gmail.com. I hope a book and a community reading will result.
Poetry and Art Meet in Austin, Texas
In photo: Laurel Daniel, Susannah Morgan and Christine Beck
I recently asked my publisher for the contact information for Laurel Daniel, the artist who created the painting on the cover of my book, “Blinding Light.” I knew her painting was the perfect choice when I discovered that she had independently titled her painting “Blinding Light.” Imagine my surprise to learn that Laurel lives in Austin, Texas, where my newly-married daughter had moved three months ago! Clearly, I needed to meet this woman with whom I shared so many coincidences.
We met at The Davis Gallery in Austin late in June. The gallery was humming with works from different artists who exhibit there and Laurel walked me through, pointing out highlights of each artist’s work. The assistant gallery director, Susannah Morgan, is enthusiastic and fascinating to talk to. This was my only “sightseeing” this trip, and an excellent choice.
Laurel then presented me with the original of “Blinding Light: “There’s no one I’d rather have own this painting than you.” I was overwhelmed both by her generosity and by another unexpected coincidence. The original clearly dispelled my belief that the painting was of a sunset. The version that appears on my book shows an orangey-yellow sun that I concluded was sinking into the sea and a darkened sky. When I looked at the original, I saw I was wrong. The sun in the original is yellow, not orange and the light is that of morning, not evening. The moment mimicked the “aha” moment we often experience in poetry, when we instantly perceive some truth that was hovering beneath our consciousness.
For me, it was as clear as night from day—literally! I thought I was looking at night, but I was actually looking at day. Or, how does night masquerade as day? Or, which is a “better” representation of my poetry collection—the idea of sunset or sunrise? Can both be true simultaneously? Or, how is my experience “colored” by the fact that this painting travelled digitally from Austin to West Hartford, Connecticut and took on more darkness through each transmission? How do I experience the painting knowing that the scene is a sunrise very near my daughter’s new home?
As we shared our stories over lunch, I learned that Laurel is expecting the birth of her first two grandchildren next month, a sunrise experience. I am experiencing my eldest daughter as a new wife creating a life in Texas with her husband, sunrise for her, sunset for me. And yet there is the sweet circularity of the sun, and the sure knowledge that practicing the art of gentle waiting, the sun will rise again on each experience I initially perceive as an ending.
Posted by Tony Fusco
I think it is essential to your growth as a writer to share your work and to bounce it off someone who is another point of view, but only if you have the desire to take that message and use it to evaluate your work.
Don't you just love August? I always get that adrenalin burst, knowing fall is fast approaching. I'm excited to be teaching as an intern at Southern Connecticut University this fall in ENG 302, Intermediate Poetry Workshop. I'll be working with Professor Jeff Mock and absorbing as much of his teaching wisdom as I can. In Spring 2013, I'll be teaching my own section of ENG 202, the first level workshop.
I just completed a three-day workshop with the poet Tony Hoagland, sponsored by the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at the Hillstead Museum in Farmington, CT. Tony gave us wonderful ideas for poetry prompts, particularly those that we can use at the beginning of a workshop to get the poetry muscles working. If you would like to read more about my summer workshop with Tony, I have posted a separate article under Workshops. Tony is devoted to teaching poetry teachers. You can read more about him at www.fivepowerspoetry.com.
I'd love to hear what inspired you this summer. What did you write? What did you read? Who gave you a boost?
Last week, the Greater New Haven Chapter of Ct Poetry Society and my fellow MFA students joined in a workshop to submit at least one poem for publication. We all submitted to the journal Paper Nautilus, which uses www.submittable.com for submissions (formerly Submishmash). We also searched journals using www.duotrope.com. Each of us clicked "submit."
For those who had never submitted a poem, the sense of accomplishment was terrific. We all had fun encouraging each other. Then I got to be the first to share the quickest rejection letter, actually email, from Three Penny Review,which I received within 24 hours of submission. I reminded everyone that Portland Review rejected a poem from me in March of 2011 and then apparently reconsidered and accepted it in August. So "no" may not even mean "no."
Notes of the Questions and Answers from the workshop are posted under Teaching and Workshops.
Feel free to add your own rejection stories to this blog. It helps to have a sense of humor and to truly believe that "no isn't personal."
Richard Wilbur and the Power of Coincidence
The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a weekend of workshops, readings, and plays June 1-3. One highlight for me was the reading Saturday night by Richard Wilbur. Wilbur is a formalist and at age 91, an indomitable testament to the power of poetry. He read in a light drizzle, with the occasional bleats of sheep and goats in the distance. His poems were enchanting and demonstrated the power of really, really good rhyme. So subtle, yet so incredibly satisfying was it to anticipate and then recognize the unexpected rhyme.
But more unexpected and startling was Wilbur's reading of a speech from The Misanthrope, a play by Moliere. The speech is by Eliante, a minor character, who riffs on the euphemisms attributed to women to describe their less-than-ideal characteristics. Wilbur translated the play into verse in 1965. As he began the lines, I felt them reverberate in my fingernails. Eliante was my first dramatic role, at Princeton University's Theatre Intime (no women admitted then; I was a townie ringer). In the air, a speech I hadn't thought about since I was 19. Yet the words were as familiar as my phone number. Richard Wilbur, reading "my" lines! Delicious! (The hubris of the young apparently extends indefinitely.)
What a fitting coincidence to introduce my blog, as it demonstrates the "page and stage" at work. I recall my stage fright back then, but my confidence that if I could just remember the first word of my speech, the rest would follow, as song lyrics follow effortlessly. Right then, in 1967, I learned the power of poetry.
Thank you, Richard Wilbur, and thank you, Sunken Garden. I hope you readers will comment on some of the odd coincidences that have formed you as a writer.