FEBRUARY, How Hard Can Poetry Be?

I know that April is National Poetry Month, but for me, this February seems like my poetry month. 

Writer in the Schools

First, on February 1st, I finished up a visiting poet gig with fifth graders at St. Peter's School in Canton, and on February
Lillian and Dorothy Gish
13th, I began another with Massillon's Franklin School third graders. While I am at it, I am reading up on the history of Massillon, and I learned that Franklin is the namesake of an older Franklin School in Massillon, where the Gish Sisters attended-- when they were in school rather than onstage.

It's been awhile since I have done Writer in the School work, and I shouldn't because I spend way too much time worrying about it and planning, but it is such a good reminder of what fun poetry is. At the end of the first class at Franklin, three children came up and hugged me-- which, as I recall being told, we are not supposed to do in school, but clearly they had not gotten that memo.

And what a different response I got  from the professional Scottish writer who read in Cleveland this month. During Q and A, I asked him what poets he reads. Looking stunned, he said, "Oh poetry is just so hard, so hard." His brow furrowed, and then, "But I love Van Morrison, and songs are poetry, right? I mean Dylan has won the Nobel, and Leonard Cohen." Well, me too. I love Leonard Cohen, and "Brown Eyed Girl" is very singable. But he couldn't even name Carol Ann Duffy? She's the British Poet Laureate from Scotland who has written:

Yes, I think a poem is a spell of kinds
that keeps things living in a written line,
whatever's lost or leaving--lock of rhyme-- 
and so I write and write and write your name.

That just doesn't seem that difficult to me. The children have been reading poems by Christina Rosetti, Carl Sandburg, and Alexander Pope (they thought he was a stitch), and by lesser known contemporary poets, children's poets, and children their own age, and so far, they don't seem to find any of them so difficult.

Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry

Also, on February 4th, I turned in copy for "Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry," a blog of sorts that I curate for National Poetry Month at the Cuyahoga County Public Library. Now into its sixth year, beginning in April, the blog presents a poem a day by a published poet from one of seven Northeast Ohio counties. The library sends out an email every day with a link to the poem of the day, along with a prompt, and since we are going on six years now, with no repeats (except for one accidental repeat on my part), we are on our 180th poet this year. I don't think there are many regions of this country where we'd have so many so good poets. (Russia, yet. Nicaragua, yes. The U.S.? Not so sure. But Cuyahoga-- yes!) The poets must have had enough formal publications to be accepted by Poets & Writers, so they all have achieved a level of professionalism. This year, we end with a poem by Leila Chatti, the  Annisfield Wolf Fellow at Cleveland State, and smack in the middle of the month, there is a poem by Charles Malone, "Poetry in the Schools," which has "a bit of piracy in it" as many works written under the influence of children do have.

If I am going to steal any of the lines from the children at Franklin, it may have to be from the child who is just smitten with Godzilla, whom I have yet to deploy in the poem. And such deployment, huh?

If you are signed up to receive the emails for "Read + Write," be looking for the first on April 1st-- and it is no joke. If you aren't signed up yet, you can sign up to receive a writing prompt and a daily poem by a Northeast Ohio poet by signing up here.

My Poet Friends Publish

In addition, this month I've received and read two terrific books of poetry by my friends Don Cellini and Laura Weldon.

Don Cellini is the translator of the bilingual Historia Solar/ Solar History by the Latin American poet Jair Cortes. Cortes has clearly read a lot of science and modernist American poets Eliot, Pound, and Williams, and his poetry can seem hermetic at times. No problem for me or third graders, but just so you know. Don has spent a lot of his poetry life translating Mexican poets, in addition to writing his own poems, some of which you can find at his website linked above, and Cortes' work is lucky to have him.

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of a second book of poetry titled Blackbird which Susan F. Glassmeyer has nailed when she says, "Her poems blossom from an inherent curiosity and grow strong under her compassionate treatment of the subject matter. Such fresh images and heartfelt insights move me to be a better writer." We talk about "voice" in poetry, and Laura's poetry voice is absolutely one with her own voice, as in these lines from the last poem in the book "Anything, Everything:"

"Find everything you're looking for?" a clerk asks    
and I say, "I'm still looking for world peace."

Laura stuns readers, just like she stuns clerks, with sweet phrases whose horrid opposites we've grown inured to. Her very clear natural images, are the ones that we've been ignoring, and suddenly, we can see them for all they are worth, like the crying baby stunned into silence by the grandfather who carries it outside into nature to really see grass, and "trees, birds, rain.".

Finally, for me...

...and this is the kick for my own poetry month-- I decided to take the challenge to collect 100 rejections in 2019. Since literary rejection is my forte, this just meant I had to send more out than usual and not that I'd have to try for rejection. However, in a curious reversal, so far into the year, I've had one rejection and five acceptances. Go figure. I'd call it reverse psychology accept there has been no psychology involved, just steeling myself to do all the copying and pasting and emailing and posting to Submittable and noting on cards where things are going.

I'm also back at blogging, once a week, home again. Hope to see you next Monday.