21 Most-Mentioned Poets

As the year comes to a close, I find myself in a reflective mood. Having compiled a list of the more than 350 poets I have mentioned on my website since I began writing about poetry in 2003, I was curious to discover which poets I have mentioned most often in the last ten years.

What follows is that list of poets — most alive, some dead; most writing in English, some not; many I have met, some I won’t and never will. Click on the name or image for a brief summary of who each one is and and what they mean to me, and to read what I have written about them over the years.
Continue reading…

The Story Behind the Poems (Plus Audio)

the sunfish, around whom / jellyfish revolve like planetsEvery poem begins somewhere. Compose Journal asked me to write a few words about the three poems that appeared in their Autumn issue.

It was fun to recall where they first took shape — from a Belgian Inn in the Cotswolds to a train platform in London, drawing on figures as different as Neruda, Proust, and Feynman.

Modern science is showing us that reading poems, unlike reading an instruction manual, lights up the parts of our brain that deal with music, memory, and introspection. I suppose you could say it is from those places in particular that these three poems emerged. (more…)

Read the full story here.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/122132509″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/122133167″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/122133097″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

<a href="https://soundcloud.com/tags/compose%20literary%20journal" target="_blank">Listen to audio recordings of the poems here</a>

Read the text of the poems here

“I Am Tired of Being a Man”

Sex reassignment surgery was not commonly known in Pablo Neruda’s time. And Facebook did not exist. So, when he first wrote “I am tired of being a man,” he likely did not endure the same kind of ribbing I got for making it my status update. In searching for a good English translation of the poem “Walking Around,” which made this line famous to me, I simply could not find a version that I really liked.

Neruda is tough to translate well. I imagine similar perils await poets who try to translate Wallace Stevens into another language. Foremost among them is a kind of strangeness that makes linguistic, but not literal, sense. Many of the versions I found were over-literal in places where they should have favored more adherence to tone and theme from line to line. Also, given a Spanish word that resembled an English word, first-language-English translators almost always chose that English word, even if it did not carry the most precise shade of meaning across from its Spanish cousin. This reliance on word-by-word mapping actually introduces more and inappropriate strangeness into the poem, not the least through awkward syntax.

And so, I set out to preserve more of the fluidity and atmosphere of the poem in rendering my own translation.

Walking Around
by Pablo Neruda
Continue reading…

Featured Poet at Artists’ Union Gallery, Ventura

I read a range of poems, many new pieces fueled by the MFA — and even some poems about the passing of our son. It was the first time reading them in public, save for a few I read in workshop at the last residency. It felt necessary — like it was time; another stage of honoring and letting go. I also dedicated the first part of the reading to the memory of Sandford Lyne, opening with one of his poems, reading a couple new translations I had done of Machado and Neruda (two of his favorites) and ending the first section with a eulogy in honor of his great spirit.

The place was packed. Roe, our indefatigable host, joked that the event was a sell-out just like Mary Oliver’s reading last week (though Cambell Hall admittedly does hold one or two more people than the Gallery). Still, it was nice to see standing room only. More high praise and fond support: Doris brought her cookies and of course left with an empty bowl. I could not have had a more supportive group in which to read such intimate and personal poems.

Seeing Li-Young Lee read from his own deeply sorrowful, grief-stricken poems last week gave me a model for what it means to honor the experience and honor the art even though it is deeply personal. I felt in some way that seeing him read gave me the strength to do what I had to do tonight.

On Being Poetry Homework

I had the opportunity to chat with my former teacher, Suzanne Lummis, at the Café Solo celebration. It is always stimulating to talk shop with her, but in this case something she said really got my wheels spinning. She mentioned that she is currently using the Open Windows anthology in her introductory poetry classes. Because one of my poems is featured in that anthology, this means her students are reading my work very carefully as part of their studies. What greater satisfaction could a writer want than to know others are reading their work with care? Somewhere I heard the average amount of time spent admiring a painting in a gallery is something like six seconds. Likewise, it seems all too common that we leaf through poetry books in a quick and cursory way. I know I am guilty of this as well.

But for all my rhapsodizing on the positive implications of Suzanne teaching one of my poems, it suddenly occured to me: my art has been assigned as homework. The dreaded drudgery of academic life that prevents parties, curtails social interaction, and keeps you from remaining in college forever: is homework. The moment turned sour at the thought of someone having to read what I wrote.

Yet thankfully, I recall the moment during a lecture at Mt. St. Mary’s (so far my only, but still treasured, poetry teaching experience) when I had the privilege of introducing a young college student to Pablo Neruda. She read Amor, America out loud in Spanish, and I could see a deep chord had been struck in her psyche as she described her ancestral homeland through Neruda’s eyes. To think my own homage to Neruda anthologized in Open Windows might possibly have a chance in itself of connecting some future student to the great legacy of poetry — well, that washes the bad taste from my mouth at the thought that my work has now become homework.