Archive for the ‘Inviting Guests’ Category

Poem In Your Pocket Day (4/24)

Just in time for “Poem In Your Pocket Day,” here’s a poem by Nancy Carroll, from her recently released chapbook, Night Walks, (Yak Press, 2014). Feel free to clip this poem, carry it around in your pocket, and share it!Image


Balancing Point

Inviting Guests: “Op Ed” offerings by itinerant authors –

After Considerable Pause
by Rick Kilpatrick

Dance is a sort of silent rhetoric.
– Canon Thoinot Arbeau

At the barre– most poets have had to deal with the conundrum of deciding where best to break the lines and stanzasin their poems, particularly when first starting out.

"Dancer at the Barre" Edgar Degas. circa 1880. Pastel on paper. Shelburne Museum, Vermont USA.

Perhaps part of the problem is that there really aren’t any set rules to guide a person as to whether or not the line should break after one word rather than another. However, line breaks are very important in helping guide the reader through a poem as the poet is more often than not physically absent and unable to read the poem to the reader, pausing when needed, adding emphasis to one line over another or that other line over the next. The white space at the end of each line adds a forced silence that causes the last image or thought before it to hang in the air informing the reader of the poet’s intentions.

On pointe – if three poets were given an identical sentence to break into stanzas with as many lines as they each wished, there is a good chance that you would end up with three rather different looking stanzas. While the sentence’s underlying meaning won’t change dramatically, the position of the line breaks will alter how the sentence is read and how it is understood as each subsequent line builds upon the ones that fall before it unfolding new layers of meaning to the poem as the controlled narrative of the poem is slowly revealed to the reader. Take, for example, a sentence from one of David Tucker’s poems reconfigured here without its intended line breaks:

“Class is over, the teacher and the pianist gone, but one dancer in a pale blue leotard stays to practice alone without music, turning grand jetés through the haze of late afternoon.”

The sentence is lyrically pleasing, the pauses controlled by way of punctuation and imagery placement and as simple prose its poetic beauty is undeniable. However, with Tucker’s line breaks as originally written his short poem, “The Dancer,” is strikingly more beautiful. The poem contains two sentences in a single stanza, the first of which reads as follows:

Class is over, the teacher
and the pianist gone,
but one dancer
in a pale blue
leotard stays
to practice alone without music,
turning grand jetés
through the haze of late afternoon.

Première – the first line leaves us lingering on “the teacher” and while the title perhaps hints at what kind of teacher, we can’t be sure of this until we read further. But the brief moment of thought that the white space provides us with allows us to conjure up all of the previous connections our minds associate with this image before it is appended with the new image of “the pianist,” connecting the teacher to the title’s dancer, whom we have yet to meet.  However, since “class is over,” and the teacher and piano player “gone,” we are faced with a negation of sorts as school is closed and the people we have been introduced to at this point are not even there. Even the long sounds of the “o” and “n” in “gone” hover seemingly longer at the end of line before continuing the negation on the next with “but one dancer.” By breaking the line between “gone” and “but” Tucker forces us to slow down while keeping us off guard and unsure of where he is going to take us with the dancer. He stays with her, instead, just as the dancer “in a pale blue/ leotard stays.”

Temps lié sur les pointes – we are compelled to pause at the end of each new bit of detail, Tucker never giving us enough to complete the image entirely yet what he has always vivid and relevant to the portrait he’s helping us paint. The lines so far have been sparse and limited to single bits of information, and one might feel tempted, with the line “to practice alone without music,” to insert line breaks after “practice” or after “alone.” But the combined images and the musicality of the line serve together as a crucial moment in the poem, the longer line revealing an increased pace and the focus now on the dancer “turning grand jetés / through the haze of late afternoon.” The movement of lines and breaks now mimic the movement of the dancer as she picks up speed.

Chassé – it is hard not to ignore the urgency Tucker’s line breaks have instilled into the poem. Without line breaks this urgency is less decided, and even less so when the line breaks are misarranged, as they are in one possible alternative arrangement below:

“Class is over, / the teacher and the pianist gone, / but one dancer / in a pale blue leotard / stays to practice alone / without music, / turning grand jetés / through the haze / of late afternoon.”

(Note: this is not how Tucker formatted his line breaks in the poem—see full poem below.) With the lines formatted in this manner, the poem lacks surprise, predictability is high, its musicality reduced. The poem’s natural rhythm is now choppy and consequently the images appear choppy as well. Read each version out loud and you immediately hear how Tucker’s line breaks never feel forced and the pauses never unnatural.

Seconde– the poem continues with its compelling attention to imagery in its second sentence, the language simple yet lovely and soft, the rhythm controlled, each line filled with a completeness that resembles Haiku at times—white space that arouses a harmony of sensory perceptions:



Her eyes are focused
on the balancing point
no one else sees
as she spins in this quiet
made of mirrors and light—
a blue rose on a nail—
then stops and lifts
her arms in an oval pause
and leans out
a little more, a little more,
there, in slow motion
upon the air.

Degagé – the first sentence builds slowly on a contemplation of what is and isn’t there, the absence evoking a stillness in the slow motion that is extended through the long drawn out sounds of the end words. Tucker wants us to dwell on each moment while our imaginations fill in the empty spaces:

The Dancer

"The Dancer" by David Tucker.

The words “class” and “teacher” are enough to place us in the same empty hallways and mirrored rooms of the dance school where we can see the dancer; picture the quiet room she’s in. By the time the second sentence begins we are already fully engaged in the poem, and have moved into a more internal landscape than the external one of the first seven lines. We see what she sees, even though we are told the opposite. The pace of the poem spins faster as the dancer starts spinning in a “… quiet / made of mirrors and light— / a blue rose on a nail—,” the em dash increasing the quiet on either side of the stunning metaphor of the dancer, who “then stops and lifts / her arms in an oval pause.” The images unfold like flip cards, frame by frame as the dancer “leans out / a little more, a little more”; frame by frame we can picture her dancing “there, in slow / motion / upon the air.” From beginning to end the tension is controlled, the poem tight, the end words mimicking every pause and lift and jeté the dancer makes.

Rick Kilpatrick is a recipient of the American Academy of Poets Honorable Mention, the Rachel Sherwood Award for Poetry, and the Patrons Association Award for Writing. His work has appeared in numerous literary journals. His first chapbook, A World Less Paved, was released Spring 2009 by Transcurrent Press. He has an M.A. and an M.F.A. in creative writing.

Afternoon Collage

Planting Zone: guidelines for poem-culture enthusiasts

Ekphrasis: Creative Writing Via Visual Arts
By Nancy Carroll

It happens that very often that my writing with pen
is interrupted by my writing with brush,
but I think of both as writing.
Kenneth Patchen, on his book, Painted Poems


"Afternoon Collage, 2011" Nancy Carroll. Photo collage of "Head with Open Eyes" 1922-24, by Alexel Jawiensky; AND Helen Frankenthaler’s 1968 "Adriatic".

after "Afternoon Collage, 2011"

"A Quick Take" Nancy Carroll. After "Afternoon Collage, 2011" also by Nancy Carroll.

Graphic description — “ekphrasis” is a daunting Greek word that simply tags a poem as having been inspired by a work of art. One of the earliest known examples of ekphrasis is Homer’s poem about Achilles’ shield in the Illiad – and the relationship between art and poetry begins, and is later continued by Virgil and Dante. Also defined by James Heffernan in Museum of Words as “a verbal representation of a visual representation,” as a collaborative process between poet/artist/subject, ekphrasis not only provokes new works of art, but the very process is considered an art unto itself.

Speaking out — as a writer who relishes this process, I find that visual art offers me immediate access to imagery, texture, and story. The mere engagement with one photograph or painting can connect me to landscapes or stories I would have never discovered within the confines of my own backyard.  Between Shifts” is a short poem I conceived from Edward Hopper’s 1927 oil painting entitled Automat:

Between Shifts

"Between Shifts" (2009) Nancy Carroll. Ekphrasis.

Dramatic description — the young woman drinking her coffee alone in a New York City automat at night suggests that this portrait is more than just a quick cup of coffee. Hopper details her situation as she stares down into her coffee cup. It is dark outside and a radiator is painted to her right. Her composed, constrained posture evokes tensions (“she is folded laundry”) that I interpret as both financial and relational, giving me my final line, “and only the coffee cup is waterfall.”  This painting speaks of New York, the Depression and the quiet desperate moments that could only belong to this young woman as she is illuminated beneath the green glow of a winter city night.  Hopper provides succulent visual images that easily translate into verbal images, which provides new narrative to the original painting.

SynergySharon Dolin’s 2003 poetry collection, Serious Pink, focuses on the work of three abstract painters. She uses their engagements with color for poetic discoveries. As jazz is to music, so is abstraction to art. In her poem “Ochre,” she addresses Richard Diebenkorn’s color movements by inviting us to:

Sharon Dolin

"Ochre" (2003) Sharon Dolin.

Just as with jazz, abstraction insists on movements that are non-linear. This unconfined visual patterning frees the poet to write as Dolin writes just before the previous lines:

"Ochre" continued. Sharon Dolin. 2003.

"Ochre" continued. Sharon Dolin. 2003.

Dolin interprets the painter’s musical position between gradations of color and discovers landscape, her intrinsic response to his extrinsic expression. She challenges us to engage emotionally, rather than remaining outside as a passive observer. By asking us to embrace “ochre,” a color used by artists and house painters, we recognize the “shapes” that transport us into a larger experiential movement of language and sound.

Telling a story — in Terri Witek’s 2006 collection, Carnal World, the poet includes poems about the works of Picasso, Monet, Titian, and Cotan, as well as addressing John Singer Sargent’s portraiture of the Sitwell family (circa 1900). Witek gives us many private moments between canvas and paint layers—and as in her poem, “Bonnard on Painting Marthe Bathing,” we observe an artist embroiled beyond his art and becoming transparent with one simple monologue:

Terri Witek's "Bonnard on Painting Martha Bathing"

"Bonnard on Painting Marthe Bathing". Terri Witek. 2006.

Witek’s lyric moment extrapolates from Bonnard’s image, music and composition what possibilities lie beneath the surface—uncovering, and exposing a deteriorating marriage.

With Bonnard as the poem’s speaker, the idea of “the male gaze” is shifted from solely an artistic abstract avenue that observes female form into an emotional concrete purpose or confession. And what still fascinates me is how (as illustrated with this poem) Witek extends Bonnard’s original visual project into an ekphrastic collaborative gesture that unites arts/artists through time and space. A writer can easily write a poem about any art from any historical period or any geographical place.

Applications of Whimsy – ekphrasis also is useful for teaching creative writing to all age groups. From grade school to college, asking students to write their own stories or ideas about art helps develop language skills in an open playing field. There are no rules, except to use elements of poetry as metaphor, diction, syntax, narrative, line logic, point of view and location.

Barbara Flug-Colin teaches a poetry-writing program at a New York elementary/high school for physically challenged students.  In her article, “The Train at the Chimney: Teaching Writing by Discovering Art,” Colin discusses how the artistic process leads to the ekphrastic process, “I’ve discovered the value of discovery. Matisse said his process was one of ‘form filtered to its essential.’ I have created a class exercise call ‘Matisse Mysteries” to point out this process students must find Matisse hidden in his paintings. . . discovering this process helps us with our processes.” Colin further elaborates with the illustrative example of a fifth-grader named Lyle, who wrote funny, long-winded poems for two years, and then spontaneously wrote the following while looking at a postcard of Matisse’s The Yellow Hat:

She is a housewife

"She is a housewife" by fifth-grader, Lyle, after "The Yellow Hat" by Henri Matisse.

Creative Process — once again, ekphrasis proves an important collaborative project that provides students a viable way to learn to process what is purely visual into their own written artistic expressions. These skills will serve them well, no matter where they are in their educational development.

Artistic media — fascinating, exhilarating, provoking are all words that describe how ekphrasis continues to drive me as a poet. No matter what other projects interest me, ekphrasis remains a vital gateway for discovery, invention, and awe.

Nancy Carroll’s poetry has been published in Borderlands: A Texas Poetry Review and Prime Decimal Magazine. She received her M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge, and is a member of the L.A. based writers’ consortium, Southland Poets & Writers.  

First Person Public

Inviting Guests: “Op Ed” offerings by itinerant authors –

Hearing Poetry’s Charm
by Leon Khachooni

Like music and dance, poetry is a temporal art, thus the magic in poetry is best experienced when heard. My great-grandmother could recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in its entirety. I’m told the performance this delicate old girl gave was so powerful, it never failed to enchant all within earshot.

In my family as I was growing up, poetry was separated from the experience of it, relegated to stories about it. The only access I had initially was to attempt to decipher how cold and cruel words on a page (my mortal enemy at the time) could bring such pleasure and satisfaction. I wanted to be enchanted too.

It was not until I encountered Greek mythology, epic poetry, the plays of Shakespeare, and the epics of Arthur and Gilgamesh in Junior High that I began to feel the living magic of language artfully rendered as poetry. The key to it all, for me, was hearing the words spoken aloud.

To this day, I view poetry as merely residing on the page, preserved in text. Until I can hear the rhythm and music of a poem moving through the atmosphere I cannot feel its charm. By sight alone I could only approximate the potential of a poem; by hearing it aloud I can experience the pleasure in the language, I am given its proof of life.

This “pleasure” is the aural effect, not easily deducible by an unaccustomed reader. It was not until I began to put the pieces together from my survey courses in Literature and Theory that I gained a new perspective.  The most profound shift came from reading the philosopher Hegel. He classified six arts, separated them into the first three, the durable: architecture, sculpture, and painting; and the last three, the temporal: dance, music, and poetry. This ordering had me perplexed. Weren’t poetry and literature durable? It wasn’t until I began to consider poetry an art that exists only in time, an ephemeral and passing experience, not an artifact, that I began to understand.

In my second semester of grad school I began attending poetry readings. At first they seemed awkward affairs, gatherings of reticent personalities uncomfortably going about the act of performance. The poets themselves seemed hesitant and reluctant at best; at their worst, by their  participation, condescending. This I could not understand, not from my perspective.

As I attended more and more readings I began to understand the immense weight of performing such intimate and intensely emotional material, alone and naked, if you will, to a room of complete strangers. And as I continued, I found many poets I consider to be cutting edge masters of the contemporary reading.

Two of my current favorites are Li-Young Lee and Chris Abani; each, for their breadth of experience and expertise as poets. Both excel at bringing their poems to an audience with unparalleled candor and grace. You can get a good taste of what it is they do on YouTube, but I strongly suggest you make the attempt to attend their readings in person. There is no substitute for experiencing a temporal art performed by its creator.

This past Thanksgiving the family watched Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. With the small children getting more and more restless, and a couple of adults needing a bathroom break, the movie was paused. Before being mentioned in the film, my mother recited William Earnest Henley’s (1849-1903) poem, Invictus, from memory. The room fell silent, including the children. When the absent adults returned, they knew they had missed something and my mom was encouraged to repeat the short poem. Hearing her speak Henley’s words aloud was more memorable than the movie and the Thanksgiving dinner combined.

About the “guest author” of this post:

Leon Khachooni is the consummate “Renaissance man” – a performer whose occupations include (but are not limited to) musical, theatrical, and literary arts. He holds a Master of Arts in English from California State University, Northridge, where he studied “thinking.”

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