Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One of the First

Dorothy Allison recently read at University of Tennessee and then came over to my house for a little reception afterward. She is best known for her work Bastard out of Carolina, and in fact, that was one of those books that made me want to be a writer. Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons was another. The poems “Those Winters Sundays” by Robert Hayden, “Alone” by Jack Gilbert, and finally “Hook” by James Wright did me in. About five in all. What all of those works have in common is they opened up the possibility of what one could talk about in literature. That is something that we continue to do as writers: include what has been excluded. I think of the poem by Jack Gilbert called “Not in Literature” that speaks to this idea exactly and ends with “Linda rising from a chair.” We never quite stop that search. Anyway, here’s a link to a recent interview with Allison where she talks about her new novel.—-always-it

I’m curious about other writers out there. What were some of those first works that made you want to write…?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Calls for Submissions

I usually don’t do this on my blog, but I have two calls for submissions that might be helpful to a couple of you here. First, the journal that I edit, Grist, features a genre in each issue that is often overlooked. For the last issue, we published an excerpt of a graphic novel written by Adam Johnson, Tom Kealey, and the Stanford University Graphic Novel Project. And for issue three, we are looking for three ten-minute plays. (This is an opportunity for publication, not production.) So, pass the word on to dramatists. Submissions should be sent by December 15th to: George Pate, Special Genre Editor; Grist; University of Tennessee; 301 McClung Tower; Knoxville, TN 37996. We are also accepting fiction and poetry submissions for the third issue as well if these are received by December 15th. You may send those to Fiction Editor Adam Prince or Poetry Editor Joshua Robbins.

Also, the SAMLA conference (South Atlanta Modern Language Association) is seeking four graduate students to read their poetry at next year’s conference in fall of 2010. Please send five poems and a short bio for consideration to me at: I just read there a couple weeks ago, and it’s always an interesting time. SAMLA is trying to do more for creative writers. And they also have a couple of great panels on songs.

I would write more, but I am deep into putting the final touches on my first poetry manuscript. If anyone wants to sell me a title, I’m buying.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Pat Pattison Has To Say

Pat Pattison, songwriting professor at Berklee School of Music (who also teaches poetry there and has a background in literary criticism) just spoke in an interview about the differences between writing for the page versus writing for the ear. (He’s in my book and will be writing on all of this in more detail.) It’s a wonderful interview and hits upon craft and measure in ways most people understand but can’t articulate. Here’s just one small example of what he said, and if you like this, read the rest of this little gem at

“Since the end of a line in poetry is a visual cue, a poet can end a line, yet let the content continue on to the next line, creating tension, but not confusion:

You may see their trunks arching in the woods

Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground

Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair

Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.

Robert Frost –“Birches”

The tension between line 3’s ending and the idea continuing into the next line feels like the girls are actually tossing their hair…

The end of a lyric line has a sonic cue—the end of a melodic phrase. Because the song is aimed at the ear, when a lyricist tries to carry a thought into the next melodic phrase, it usually creates confusion, since there is a disconnect between the melodic roadmap and grammatical structure.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One of my Favorite Poems for Fall

Here is a poem I wanted to share that I remember each fall. It’s a prose poem by Russell Edson.

The Fall by Russell Edson

There was a man who found two leaves and came indoors holding
them out saying to his parents that he was a tree.

To which they said then go into the yard and do not grow in the living
room as your roots may ruin the carpet.

He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he dropped his leaves.

But his parents said look it is fall.

I want to just give you the poem and step away, but I also would like to make one comment that follows up on a recent post about how each poet has to teach the reader how to read his poem. Edson’s poem is a great example of this “teaching the reader” idea. Prose poems in the U.S. used to be met with much more skepticism, even hostility, than they are now. For example, in 1978, two out of three on the Pulitzer committee wanted to give the award to Mark Strand for his book The Monument that featured prose poems, but one judge, Louis Simpson, opposed this choice seeing as how the book wasn’t “verse” as he put it—and refused him the prize. Since then, more and more poets wrote about the possibilities of the prose poem, essentially teaching the reader how to read them. (I think of Bly’s writing where he discusses how the prose poem describes objects or fables well.) Fittingly, in 1991, Charles Simic received the Pulitzer for his book The World Doesn’t End, which is a book of prose poems.