Acoustic music and poetry

If you were to match a musician with a poet for an evening of culture and entertainment, who would they be?

A month ago I noticed this ad:

An evening of acoustic music and spoken word/poetry at Pepperdine University

An evening of acoustic music and spoken word/poetry at Pepperdine University[1]

Who wouldn’t want to attend this event? Two great artists on one stage for one evening. Makes sense to me.

Acoustic music and poetry fit together. Nearly a decade ago, I participated at a bookstore café event with musicians.[2] It is something I really enjoyed doing. The marriage of poetry and music resonates with an audience—especially an audience who does not know that they might enjoy poetry.

A few years ago, the Rooftop Poets (somewhat legendary) roof garden book launch and poetry performance featured jazz to accompany an evening of poetry.[3]  Three poets and two musicians joined for a lively evening of poetry, music and light refreshments.

What about you? As a poet, who would you love to work with for an evening of acoustic music and poetry? I have my wish list. What about you?

NOTES: [1] An evening of acoustic music and spoken word/poetry
[2] Malaprop’s Music/Poetry Gig Meditations
[3] A poetry reading and jazz show on the Roof Garden of the Battery Park Hotel

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Best reads of 2013

The best books I read in 2013 (that may or may not have been published during the calendar) follow an eclectic path―from fiction to poetry, non-fiction to graphic novels. Instead of providing a review of each book or why I consider it a “best read,” I will provide a quote from each book if possible.

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine Lengle

“A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. – Mrs. Whatsit”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

2. American Primitive by Mary Oliver

3. Blankets by Craig Thompson

“I wanted a heaven. And I grew up striving for that world– an eternal world- that would wash away my temporary misery.”
― Craig Thompson, Blankets

“How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement – no matter how temporary.”
― Craig Thompson, Blankets

4. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

“The worlds of folklore and religion were so mingled in early twentieth venture German culture that even families who didn’t go to church were often deeply Christian.”
― Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

“Bonhoeffer thought of death as the last station on the road to freedom.”
― Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

5. Channel Zero by Brian Wood

“…and all of a sudden, world cultures become the Monoculture, the same conversation, the same clothes, the same show.”
― Brian Wood, Channel Zero

“And, all over the world, one by one, we quit fighting it.”
― Brian Wood, Channel Zero

“It’s about learning how to give a shit again, about finding ways to make things better. It’s about anger as a positive force of creation. It’s about your right to not have to live in the world they’ve built for you.”
― Brian Wood, Channel Zero

6. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost Of Discipleship

7. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

“For what are we born if not to aid one another?”
― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”
― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

8. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

“What can’t be helped must be endured.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

“This religion that scorned the beauty and goodness of this world was a puzzle to me.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

9. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated. ”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

“Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

10. The Prodigal God  by Timothy Keller

“Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.”
― Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God

11. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows about the details of her mother’s life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the daughter.”
― Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

“The painful things seemed like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.”
― Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

12. River Inside the River: Three Lyric Sequences by Gregory Orr

13. Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins

14. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

“What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
― Nicholas G. Carr, The Shallows

“Culture is sustained in our synapses…It’s more than what can be reduced to binary code and uploaded onto the Net. To remain vital, culture must be renewed in the minds of the members of every generation. Outsource memory, and culture withers.”
― Nicholas G. Carr, The Shallows

15. Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom by Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath

“[We owe the Greeks] our present Western notions of constitutional government, free speech, individual rights, civilian control over the military, separation between religious and political authority, middle-class egalitarianism, private property, and free scientific inquiry.”
― Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath, Who Killed Homer?

Is poetry dead? or can poetry matter?

Is Poetry Dead?

Earlier this year a quiet and quite active discussion took place in a small corner of the public square. It began with Alexandra Petri’s article “Is Poetry Dead?” [1] John Deming immediately responded with an “Open Letter to Alexandra Petri.” [2] A Few days later, Richard Higgs tossed the question to a group of poets and writers. [3] The topic was actively discussed for months.

Alexandra Petri asked “Is poetry dead?” Referencing Richard Blanco, she writes, “. . . poetry, a field that may very well be obsolete.” She continues:

I say this lovingly as a member of the print media. If poetry is dead, we are in the next ward over, wheezing noisily, with our family gathered around looking concerned and asking about our stereos.

In her article she offers some harsh yet reasonable analysis: “These days, poetry is institutionalized. Everyone can write it. But if you want a lot of people to read it . . . there are a few choked channels of Reputable Publications.”

John Deming immediately replies to this “attack on American poetry” by stating that there are more than “2,000 books of poetry are published each year in the U.S.” He did not reveal where he got that number, but I suspect much of those poetry books are independent or small press publications. Further, knowing intimately how the publishing business works, I suspect that the majority of those poetry books published do not exceed press runs of more than 500 copies. With all due respect to Mr. Deming, his open letter is more a reaction to Ms. Petri’s article and less a defense of American poetry’s life (or death). He does offer a pointed question for both Ms. Petri and for poets: “. . . what kind of ‘change’ [do] you mean. Literal political change?”

Can poetry effect change?

Years ago Dana Gioia asked “Can Poetry Matter?” in his essay published in The Atlantic Monthly [4] [5] I will not go into a lot of detail about his essay because I do not want to spoil his conclusion, but I do encourage you to read it. Mr. Gioia’s question is a better question than Ms. Petri’s. Introducing great poetry in school is part of the equation as well as encouraging the love of reading books to children. Mr. Gioia offers other ways to promote the reading of and love of poetry. The Academy of American Poets published a report years ago that stated that adults who purchase and read poetry books were introduced to poetry at an early age.

Alexandra Petri does present some valid concerns. Like Ms. Petri, I have attended poetry readings where “the attendees were almost without exception students of the poet who were there in the hopes of extra credit.” For that matter, I’ve been that poet (like Charles Bukowski) [6] reading to an audience of “. . . friends, . . . other poets / and the handful of idiots who have wandered / in / from nowhere.” Mr. Deming makes some equally valid points that poetry is “far from obsolete . . .” As someone in the publishing industry I know that poetry books do sell, but not as well as fiction or non-fiction. But lack of book sales revenue does not mean that poetry books are not effective or revolutionary. How many memoirs or novels have you read that feature a few lines of poetry as an epigraph printed at the beginning of the work?

I am convinced that there is a large audience of people that do not know that they enjoy poetry. They have to be introduced to great poetry. The fact that the August 31, 2013 issue of the New York Times featured a large front page photo of the poet Seamus Heaney (printed above the fold in contrast to a small photo of the President of the United States below the fold) testifies to the relevance of poetry in America. [7] Can poetry effect change? The poem “The Names” by Billy Collins was read before a special joint session of Congress in 2002 commemorating the victims of 9/11. [8] Can poetry matter? These are just two examples that attest to it’s impact (if ever so little) in our culture.

NOTES: [1] Alexandra Petri, “Is poetry dead?,” The Washington Post ComPost, January 22, 2013, accessed January 29, 2013 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2013/01/22/is-poetry-dead/
[2] John Deming, “Open Letter to Alexandra Petri,” Coldfront Magazine , January 22, 2013 accessed January 29, 2013 http://coldfrontmag.com/news/open-letter-to-alexandra-petri?goback=%2Egde_1651527_member_208175181
[3] Richard Higgs, “Is poetry dead? Washington Post blog article, and a brilliant response,” LinkedIn Poetry Editors & Poets Group, January 25, 2013, accessed January 29, 2013 http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Is-poetry-dead-Washington-Post-1651527.S.208175181?qid=64a426de-d879-42c3-b90d-5c25b99fe691&trk=group_most_popular-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egde_1651527_member_208175181%2Egmp_1651527
[4] The Atlantic Monthly; May, 1991; “Can Poetry Matter?”; Volume 267, No. 5; pages 94-106.
[5] Dana Gioia, “Can Poetry Matter?,” The Atlantic Monthly, May, 1991, accessed January 29, 2013 http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/poetry/gioia/gioia.htm
[6] Charles Bukowski, “poetry readings,” The Writer’s Almanac, September 11, 2008, accessed January 29, 2013 http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2008/09/11.
[7] “The New York Times pays tribute to Seamus Heaney,” TheJournal.ie , August 31, 2013, accessed September 25, 2013 http://www.thejournal.ie/new-york-times-seamus-heaney-1063056-Aug2013/
[8] “Poet Billy Collins Reflects on 9/11,” PBSNewsHour, accessed September 25, 2013 http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/video/301

No more Free Lunch

This weekend I received a letter in the post informing me that Free Lunch is closing shop. The news really disappointed me for two reasons. One, I was hoping to have some poems published. Two, I reviewed an issue of Free Lunch for Small Press Review and really enjoyed the publication. Some literary/poetry publications are dense with inaccessible poetry and my work doesn’t seem to fit. But Free Lunch felt like a good fit. Here’s an abridged version of the review I submitted to Small Press Review:

Free Lunch presents an engaging 20th Anniversary issue. Unlike many poetry magazines that contain a smattering of good poems and a couple great poems, the Spring 2009 issue of Free Lunch collects stellar work by Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn and many others. It is my habit as a reader to dog-ear pages in books or magazines that elicit some sort of physical response; like smacking a book on my knee and saying “yeah” to the amusement of fellow bus riders. Lyn Lifshin writes, “I love the sense/ of her contentment/ feel it moving/ inside me the/ way when a/ poem works…” in her poem “Writing a poem is like why and when a cat purs.” In “Advice from a Pro,” X. J. Kennedy writes, “I vowed to make my work intensley sober.” There are many great poems by poets Roger Aplon, Denise Duhamel, and others. And, in short, my copy of the 20th Anniversary of Free Lunch has almost every page dog-eared with praise.