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.

Opening Community to Poetry

Building a sense of community in a city as fragmented and dispersed as Los Angeles is truly an accomplishment. Building it from a diverse background is amazing. Yet building it upon a form as often gentrified, obscured, and misunderstood as poetry is nothing short of a miracle.

Today I witnessed poets from around Southern California and people from the community of Highland Park connect with poetry in an honest and profound way. It made sense — after all, the Arroyo Arts Collective had been bringing poems into this neighborhood to display in shop windows for the past ten years. Not only that, but they encouraged and sponsored translation of each poem into another language spoken in the community — over 20 languages in total, from Vietnamese to Persian.

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Opening Windows to Poetry

A few months ago, I discovered that one of my poems that won the Poetry In The Windows V competition had been selected to be anthologized in a volume called Open Windows celebrating ten years of this biannual Los Angeles based competition. Due to a lack of udpated contact information, I just received word that the prepublication and book signing party will be held in Highland Park on April 17th. This competition, the poems, the poets, and the community spirit involved is truly a well kept secret in LA. I highly recommend checking it out and picking up a copy of the anthology.