August 16, 2016

Poetry in the Wild

I've been emailing with a high school teacher, planning toward National Poetry Month events next April. A lot of poets sigh for dramatic effect when April comes around--and I sigh too, primarily in dread of figuring out my tax forms. But I'm thrilled by the travel, which in 2017 will take me to Russell Sage College in upstate New York and Auburn University in Alabama, as well as the opportunity to do local outreach.

Often, a conversation with a teacher includes a statement such as "Oh, good, we'll have just finished the poetry unit." But celebrating poetry in April would be so much easier if we didn't think of poetry in terms of "units," but rather an everyday presence. Kids grow up surrounded by language--newspapers and magazines, novels, comics and graphic novels, internet articles--and so they begin to absorb, organically, what makes for style and innovation in these modes. Part of the intimidation attached to poetry is that readers "new" to the genre worry that they aren't equipped to judge what is good. They don't trust their brain, which means they're afraid to get their hearts involved. 

Those eight-year-olds who are passionate about Shel Silverstein? We need to find a way to keep them in the poetry fold. Those readers should become the eighteen-year-olds who are passionate about e.e. cummings. 

All of which is to say, I'm a huge fan of initiatives that implement poetry into daily life. 

In May, I got to serve as one of three judges for the student component of Arlington County's "Moving Words" competition, which puts the winners' work on metro buses all around town. I was startled by the images, originality, and intensity of voice. You can read all the winning poems here; as you'll see, age was no guarantee of dominance. My favorite, Lucy Rissmeyer's "Big Electric Cat," describes the cat's "Jelly bean toes, claws of broken glass." 

September is on the horizon. Here are links to three of my favorite "public poetry" projects in 2016. I'd love to see a ten-minute discussion in every classroom that uses one of these projects, or something similar, to ask:

What makes us recognize these lines as poetry?

When you read it aloud, what words do you notice?
What would you do if you ran across this on your own?
How and where would you put poetry in everyday places?
What poem would you choose to display, and why?

Wall Poems in Charlotte, North Carolina

Photo by Amy Bagwell

The concept is straightforward: take advantage of otherwise vacant wall space all around Charlotte by presenting brief, pithy poems in bright colors. The execution, directed by Amy Bagwell and her team, is unforgettable.  For more on the Wall Poems initiative, check out their websiteFor a partial photo-"tour," go here.

Cookie Fortunes in Miami, Florida

After your last slurp of spicy noodles, you reach for the satisfying crunch of a fortune cookie. Instead, you find a riff on Frank O'Hara's "Lines for the Fortune Cookies." Created by Benjy Caplan for the annual O Miami festival and distributed by the midtown outpost of Delivery DudesCheck out all the 2016 O Miami Festival's projects.

Sidewalk Surprises in Boston, Massachusetts

Rain falls in downtown Boston, and a poem--perhaps Langston Hughes, perhaps Elizabeth McKim--materializes under your feet. Once stenciled, water-resistant "ink" lasts for about a month before naturally degrading. Mass Poetry's website has more on the project, curated by Boston's inaugural poet laureate, Danielle Georges.

If teachers started off every month of the school year with a mention of poetry in the wild, rather than waiting for "the poetry unit," perhaps April could feel a little more like a celebration, and less like an indoctrination. 

P.S. - If you're wondering where I've been, the answer has largely been "writing essays" (more on that to come) and "in Florida," including our residency for the University of Tampa's MFA program and a week at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. I let this blog go dormant, and I took a Twitter hiatus, to see if I missed such things. 

I did. So I'm back, and back on Twitter too--you can find me there @SandraBeasley

P.S. pt 2 - I'm teaching TWO poetry classes for the first time with 24PearlStreet, which is the online learning component of the legendary Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Each is designed as a one-week intensive. Each will feature a mix of guided readings, revision of existing drafts, generative prompts for new ones, and my line edits on a few poems of your choice. 

"Your Voice: Work It, Raise It, Change It"
October 10-14, 2016

We often regard the author’s voice as having an inherent, unchangeable quality. Many writers have invoked the analogy comparing one’s voice to a fingerprint. But one person's “fingerprint” is another person’s rut, and no poet should feel trapped in his or her voice.


"You Should Write Poems About That"
January 23-27, 2017

We are writers, but not just writers. We bring different areas of expertise to the table—whether a profession, another creative passion, travel, or the experience of parenting a sick child. Have you ever had someone say “You should write poems about that,” and not known where to begin? This one-week intensive course unlocks that material.

FAWC just unveiled their roster for 2016-2017. It's a jaw-dropping list...

...but what they need to advertise more widely is that there are DISCOUNTS available for enrollment, namely:

-Early Registration Discount: Receive 15% off tuition if you register by October 1. 

-MFA Discount: If you have or are earning an MFA in Creative Writing, use code MFA50 for 50% off any one-week intensive class. 

If you're curious about these classes, email me; I'm happy to answer any questions. 

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