Tuesday, January 20, 2009

202: How I Spent the Inauguration

Some are in the crowded Crest Theatre watching the inauguration projected onto a big screen, but the enormous television here was enough for me: the beloved turkey and brie croissant I'd dreamed about since my last visit here and Sambazon's Organic Acai smoothie, my bed freshly made and poetry dancing through my brain.

I'm back from morning workshop, where Kimiko Hahn did not hesitate to peel apart the poems, giving good advice, little snippets I jotted into my notebook:

- In a list poem, each element needs to be equally extraordinary, or "out it goes"
- Isolate each item in a list poem and check it against the rest
- Where is the poem most honest? Where do we trust it the most?
- In revision, attempt different drafts--not just one new draft--put them in a drawer for a few weeks and see which one works the best.
- If you have trouble with titles, come up with five very different ones. Give it some time, see where those take you.
- Watch out for: overused phrases, phrases that promise too much
- The use of unique, repetitive articles (in this case, "a pleasure" and later, "a confession") to help poem resonate
- Be careful of the melodramatic moment
- If you use repetition in your poem, try altering it to give new meaning
- Splice in phrases (words spoken by characters in poem, etc.) to focus poem
- Some poems need a radiant spark, a surprise to pull items together
- Rule of thumb: know your threshold for repetition (or you could lose your reader, but also know it can be an incantation ("She Had Some Horses" by Joy Harjo)
- Hahn also brought up the poem "Skunk Hour" by Robert Lowell, which is essentially a panorama and has a moment of focus where the speaker states, "My mind is not right" and continues on--and in this, it is an act of telling in order to show.

I write this as Elizabeth Alexander reads her poem. (See a video on preparation for the event.) I think of words, "spiny or smooth," as she puts it, and I'm so glad to be here at this time. I hadn't realized only a few others have read at inaugurations / related events: Robert Frost, who recited a poem from memory when the sun and the wind prevented his first to be seen; James Dickey, that famous jerk with talent; and Maya Angelou, whose snippets of poems grace Hallmark cards as well as Miller Williams, who I had not heard of previously (though I did know of his daughter, Lucinda Williams). Last year, I read Alexander's collection American Sublime, which I really enjoyed, as I began the Vermont College's poetry reading list.

Today is so absolutely filled with hope for me: a re-energizing of my own writing self, a much needed respite from cold weather, and this, oh this, today when hope becomes president.

I'll be back again, after craft talks, a trip to the ocean, and tonight's reading. I'm sure I'll have much more to say.



Anonymous said...

Am I being too anal? James Dickey read at Carter's inaugural gala not the inauguration itself.

Poet Miller Williams (father of Lucinda Williams) read an original poem at Clinton's second inauguration.


Molly said...

Whoops. That's what I get for scanning the NY Times article. Edited to fix.