How I Discovered Poetry: Dorianne Laux

How I Discovered Poetry ~ Dorianne Laux


Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette je te plumerai

A song my mother sang about plucking a lark:

La tete – the head
Le nez – the nose
Les yeux – the eyes
Le cou – the neck
Les ailes – the wings

Au Claire de la lune

My mother sang to my sisters, to me, the French words translated thus:

Under the moonlight,
My friend Pierrot
Lend me your pen,
So I could write a word
My candle is out,
I’ve no more light
Open your door for me…

Frère Jacques, Frère JacquesDormez-vous, dormez-vous?

My brother’s name was John, and we called him Jack. His two names, oddly combined, made me wonder if he could hear us in the other room, one wall away.

Are you sleeping brother John?

Sur le pont d’Avignon

On the bridge of Avignon
They are dancing, they are dancing…

These were the first poems that came to me in the dark, songs from my mother’s lips. I understood very little of the language, or what the songs meant, they were simply pretty tunes meant to put us to sleep. I remember singing along to Alouette, touching my pudgy finger to my nose, my eye, my neck. I loved the part when I patted my own head. Had I been able to translate the other words to conjure the image of a lark, a bird I had never seen, never heard of until I read a poem by Adam Zagajewski when I was in my late forties, a yellow lark dead in someone’s hands, being plucked, feather by feather, of his living coat, well, I don’t know what. Those songs were my entryway into poetry. They taught me that language was mysterious, that it could lull you or waken you into a different reality or deepen reality. There was much that was wrong in my house. It wasn’t a safe place or a pretty place, children were beaten and abused, the neighborhood was tough, the landscape dry and weedy, the ground ungiving and rough. But there were songs, moments, when the mysteries of language lifted us up and made us, ragged as we were, a family. I’ve been trying to find that place, with words, ever since.

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House Passage of Hates Crimes Bill

Pelosi: House Passage of Hates Crimes Bill Honors Our Commitment to Ideals of Justice, Equality and Opportunity

To: POLITICAL EDITORS

Contact: Brendan Daly, Nadeam Elshami or Drew Hammill of the Office of the Speaker of the House, +1-202-226-7616

WASHINGTON, April 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued the following statement this afternoon on the House passage of H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. The House passed the legislation by a vote of 249 to 175.

“Throughout our history, this nation has sought to uphold the ideals of our founding – that all are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, with the passage of federal hate crimes legislation, we have affirmed these ideals and the inclusiveness that our nation stands for by extending the protection of its laws to all: ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’

“All Americans have a fundamental right to feel safe in their communities. This legislation will help protect Americans against violence based on sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or gender identity.

“Congress has been debating federal hate crimes legislation for 17 years. It was more than 10 years ago that Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered. The time for debate is long over. I am proud that today the House has acted and in so doing, honored this nation’s commitment to the ideals of justice, equality and opportunity.”

Taken from here

How I Discovered Poetry: Christopher Hennessy

How I Discovered Poetry ~ Christopher Hennessy


I DON’T THINK I UNDERSTOOD THE ASSIGNMENT

Preface

To understand why I am here,
sitting next to you, watching
how you tip your coffee just so,
or wondering why you tug
at the strand of hair
that won’t stay put behind your ear
(or why, even now, I feel the next word
must be ‘must’ but on the next line)
or imagining what you would say
if you knew I wanted you
to become a strand of words
like pearls around my neck…

to understand all of that, of me,
there are three things you must know about me
that is, the me before the ecstatic moment(s)
in my life when I came to the end
of the lobotomized frill of a boy I had been

and grabbed on to with my soul’s
monkey toes the thought that
though I wasn’t a poet
I could pretend to be one
until I was a poet…
and this would save
me from myself

Number one. I was ugly.
Or at least that’s how I saw myself.
My brain conjured sickness
like cheap tricks, and my body
was all spreading skin.
I saw ‘poetry’ as a contraption
that would make me beautiful.
Somehow when I put a word
on a piece of notebook paper
(the fringe like decoration)
and pointed to it as myword,
— a set of secret initials naming a perfect me
I felt like I would turn out
to matter, be matter, not the bloat
of space, spiraling vacuum,
that I would find
just the right word
to take away the fear
that I was, deep down, a freak
….or worse that I wasn’t here at all,
that the shoulder I was looking over
in Algebra class (where we all wrote
our poetry-less first poems)
was my own.

Number two.I was self-absorbed.
No surprise there.
My father had told me stories
about how he’d written stories
and poems and folks had listened
to him, enraptured, and mom had swooned.
Somehow I was the only one who didn’t hear him.
Somehow I hadn’t discovered blood
was mutual, that I was, in fact,
his son, though everyone told me so
every chance they could get.
So when I wrote my poems
it was this triumphant act of creation,
of original sin, of delight in the id,
of ‘I am so large I outshadow
even the father
of the Word.

Number three. I was in love.
Why else turn to poetry?
Everyone knows that.
His name was Ben
and he was brooding
but cool and he loved to write
and still he was one of the boys
who got to punch
the other boys in the shoulder,
who could shower
after gym without fear
and still write poems about wanting
to walk among fallen leaves anywhere
but where we were.
I thought I wanted
to be him, so I wrote
into him, around him, toward him….
But it was him I wanted
and every single poem
I’ve written since,
I think it must be true,
was, is, a love poem to him.

ARE YOU THERE, VODKA? IT’S ME, CHELSEA

For shits and giggles, I am reading the hilarious Chelsea Handler’s latest book, Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. I am happy to report there has been tons of giggles and thankfully no shits. Don’t get me wrong, Chelsea is funny, but not make you shit yourself funny. If you are in an emotional rough spot, if you just need a laugh, if you love Chelsea Handler, you must read this book!

Here’s a taste:

“Call my aunt,” I said to Lydia, as my mind shifted back and forth from how I was going to brush my teeth to whether or not I would have access to Internet in prison. There was much planning to be done if I truly was going to prison: My first priority was to start thinking about what kind of gang I would join.

I hoped my uncle wasn’t still mad at me for choosing to have sex with a family friend instead of him when my cousins and I were playing the “Who Would You Rather Have Sex With” game. The premise of the game is you have to choose between two people who you would rather have sex with—sober—or your entire family is killed. Usually, the choice is between two real winners like David Hasselhoff and Gary Coleman. A couple of weeks prior, when my fourteen-year-old cousin Madison asked me if I would rather have sex with her dad (my uncle) or their family friend Rusty, I course chose Rusty, because he was not a relative. My uncle didn’t take kindly to this when Madison told him. He took it as a personal insult that I would rather sex with someone I barely knew. “We are related!” I told him.

“That’s really shitty, Chelsea,” he replied as he took another sip of his double vodka and grapefruit. “I’ve been like an uncle to you.”

“You are my uncle,” I reminded him.

“Not by blood,” he replied.

Yes. Buy Chelsea Handler’s latest book, and you won’t be disappointed!

How I Discovered Poetry: Charles Jensen

How I Discovered Poetry ~ Charles Jensen

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin for almost my entire life, hanging out, with few exceptions, with the same kinds who’d been in my kindergarten and preschool classes. When I was 13, my parents sold our house and started building a new one; during the twelve months it was going to take to complete, we moved to a small island in Lake Michigan, off the tip of the peninsula separating Green Bay from the Great Lake. My 8th grade class had just 11 students in it, most of them related to each other—cousins, cousins by marriage, or the kind of cousins who called each other’s parents “aunt” and “uncle” but weren’t actually related at all.

It was during that year I had my first earnest encounter with poetry. Through Wisconsin’s Artists-in-Education program, we spent part of our year enjoying residences with working artists. One, a visual artist specializing in collage and painting, encouraged us to work up frenzied diorama-like wooden panels that somehow said something about our lives. I struggled to do this. I glued things to my board. I drew stick people. I might have tried to draw a deer. This was not my strongsuit. I almost always nearly failed art class, though only partly through a lack of trying.

The other artist was a poet named David Steingass. He seemed enormously tall, with dark hair and a thick mustache. I think he had a mustache. He does in my memory, at least. He worked with us on short poems, and the advice he gave me on one of my pieces—“Don’t break lines with weak words like ‘and’ and ‘the;’ hold out for the strong words”—has always stuck with me.

My school was so small we had one teacher for almost every subject, and we sat in desks like elementary school kids, even though we also had lockers out in the hall by the high schoolers. One of our daily tasks was to write something—anything—in a journal our teacher was forcing us to keep in order to make us write something each day. Although I see the value now, back then I resented it, and probably as some kind of “I’m hipper than this” statement, I started using my notebook to play around with poems rather than straightforward introspective writing. They were deeply influenced by the schlock fiction I loved to read—Sue Grafton, Stephen King—and often featured a strangely furious presence called “IT” that was in pursuit of an ill-fated speaker. (I know, it’s so derivative—gimme a break; I was 13.)

It was after that year, when I was back in my old home town, attending the high school my brothers attended, that my English teacher pulled me aside after class and said I should keep writing poems. So I did. I wrote and I wrote, and I showed them to her, and she’d nod her head and say, “Awesome!” Or worse, she’d shake her head, hand it back to me, and say, “You can do better than that.” I always tried harder. I started to think of poetry as I thing I could do. I never thought of it as a life. It just kind of became a part of me. It suddenly became more than just a thing I could do.

Beth Gylys Event on Wednesday

It is no secret that I adore Beth Gylys. She is an all around sweetheart and my former professor. However, even if these things weren’t accurate, I would still adore her for the poetry she writes. So, yes, you must attend this:

On Wednesday evening, April 29th, at 7:30 p.m. in the Kopleff Recital Hall, GSU soprano Sharon Stephenson and tenor Richard Clement, accompanied by pianist Peter Marshall, will be performing “Eight Personal Ads”, compositions by internationally acclaimed composer Dan Welcher, lyrics taken from Beth Gylys’s book of personal ads Matchbook. There will be a reception afterward. The event is free and open to the public. Please attend and invite your friends!

How I Discovered Poetry: Sandra Beasley

How I Discovered Poetry ~ Sandra Beasley

On the final day of the Scholastic Book Fair, I walked into our school library with a packet of dollar bills folded over and crammed down into the mini-pocket of my imperfectly pegged, not-Guess-label bluejeans. You know, the front pocket inside the pocket–the one for super-important things. I had begged my mother for a little extra money. After The Baby-sitter’s Club, after Encyclopedia Brown, after deciding I could check out the lavishly illustrated, hardcover Jane Yolen book from the library rather than needing to buy it, I had $1.50 left. I picked up Piping Down the Valleys Wild, a poetry anthology edited by Nancy Larrick. I chose it because I liked the soft- and pink-edged cover, of a lamb merrily springing along. I liked the fact that even if I only had time for a page or two, a page or two was enough.

Even now, Karla Kuskin’s poem echoes in my head: “I’m a lean dog, / a mean dog / a wild dog / and lone….” I was a lone dog that year: too desperate to be liked, too in love with my own sadness. Books were my buffer. I read poetry on the school bus. I read poetry in my grandfather’s garden, down by the unnameable purple flowers. I read poetry in my tent. I read poetry while eating artichokes one leaf at a time. I read poetry on the cold mornings in my house, standing over the air vent with my nightgown tucked under my feet, trapping all the hot air against my thighs before it could escape to the rest of the house. I read that book in bed until my eyes grew tired, and so I took turns shutting one eye, then the other. I read that book until my arms grew tired, and so I tied a length of string around the book’s spine and scotch-taped it to hang down from the ceiling via a length of packing string. The book fell down and bonked me in the face right after I’d finally gotten settled again under the covers. Emily Dickinson, Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale.

So often when we move forward in school and in life, we look back at our most-adored books with a twinge of embarrassment. We outgrow the things we loved. But I have I never had to disown the poets; they travel with me. They gather in number. I felt like a lone dog back in the day when all the other girls wore Guess jeans, and I couldn’t afford them. But I’m part of a bigger pack now. We race. We dare the moon with our howling.