May 31, 2016
Among the treasures held by the Library of Congress, the Thomas B. Harned collection of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) papers offers an unguarded glance into the poet’s process. According to the notes by Alice L. Birney that introduce the collection, the notebooks “feature personal philosophy, poetry trial lines, notes on Civil War scenes, notations on needs of wounded soldiers in Washington hospitals, names and addresses.”
There’s a bit of mystery around the collection that sounds like a poetry prompt in itself. Harned was one of Whitman’s three literary executors. He donated some 3,000 items to the Library in 1918. After “a 1942 wartime evacuation of treasures” (to repositories in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia, among other places) ten of the Whitman notebooks in the Harned collection “went missing.” Four of them were returned in 1995 after they were brought to Sotheby’s for evaluation. Six are still missing. Read the story here.
While Whitman’s notebooks have been transcribed into various books, the LOC collection allows the viewer to browse each one page by page, seeing, for example, the earliest drafts of lines from “Song of Myself” in Whitman’s hand. There are some 98,000 items in the LOC Whitman collection. View Recovered Notebooks from the Thomas Biggs Harned Walt Whitman Collection here.
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May 30, 2016
We recently featured a rather hefty list of upcoming summer festivals and retreats in the Cascadia region. In case that wasn’t enough to get your poetic juices flowing — or in case you expect to spend your summer at your desk — here’s one more option.
Two Sylvias Press is offering two Online Poetry Retreats — June 27 – July 22, 2016 and August 1 – August 26, 2016. Participating poets will receive prompts, inspiration, a book and critiques by cofounders and editors of Two Sylvias Press, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy. Read more about the retreats and sign up on the Two Sylvias website.
May 29, 2016
Boil beets to see their seams.
Drop three in a pot
skin and all — let them
simmer in their juices.
This stage is crucial: practice
patience. Watch them bleed,
then walk away. Scrub your toilet,
write a note. Distract yourself.
Once what seems like
too much time has passed,
prod one with a fork.
If it’s ready, it will yield.
Snatch it up by long-rat tail,
run it under cold water.
Be forewarned: when blade meets breast
you’ve bound yourself to bulb.
If you prick a finger, you will not
distinguish between beet’s blood
and your own.
. . . . .
*Copyright 2016 by Jessica Lee. Broadside illustration by Christian Smith
May 27, 2016
The Hugo House Summer 2016 catalog is now available for online browsing. Registration begins June 6 and classes will begin in July at the new/temporary Hugo House First Hill, 1021 Columbia Street, Seattle.
There are 17 poetry classes, ranging from one day to six weeks in duration, as well as a robust schedule of readings and writings, so you’ll be able to dip or dive into poetry this summer.
May 26, 2016
The other day, we talked about poetry that appears in the rain. This post offers the opposite: poetry that vanishes in the rain.
Daniel Rowland is the Pavement Poet. He travels around England, busking poems — silently — in chalk, in public spaces. A self-described Druid and pagan, he is interested in the “impermanence of thought” and often writes poems on political and social issues. While he occasionally has to deal with the local constabulary and often observes the indifference of the passing public, he also inspires conversation and even finds others joining in.
Of course, Rowland isn’t the first to think of this. The Academy of American Poets encourged chalk poetry in a National Poetry Month post in 2004. Michigan State University Center for Poetry holds an annual Poetry Chalking. The Guerilla Haiku Movement conducts, and encourages others to host, haiku chalkings.
And, of course there is “The Poem of Chalk” by Philip Levine:
The Poem of Chalk
On the way to lower Broadway
this morning I faced a tall man
speaking to a piece of chalk
held in his right hand. The left
was open, and it kept the beat,
for his speech had a rhythm,
was a chant or dance, perhaps
even a poem in French, for he
was from Senegal and spoke French
so slowly and precisely that I
could understand as though
hurled back fifty years to my
high school classroom. A slender man,
elegant in his manner, neatly dressed
in the remnants of two blue suits,
his tie fixed squarely, his white shirt
spotless though unironed. He knew
the whole history of chalk, not only
of this particular piece, but also
the chalk with which I wrote
my name the day they welcomed
me back to school after the death
of my father. He knew feldspar.
he knew calcium, oyster shells, he
knew what creatures had given
their spines to become the dust time
pressed into these perfect cones,
he knew the sadness of classrooms
in December when the light fails
early and the words on the blackboard
abandon their grammar and sense
and then even their shapes so that
each letter points in every direction
at once and means nothing at all.
At first I thought his short beard
was frosted with chalk; as we stood
face to face, no more than a foot
apart, I saw the hairs were white,
for though youthful in his gestures
he was, like me, an aging man, though
far nobler in appearance with his high
carved cheekbones, his broad shoulders,
and clear dark eyes. He had the bearing
of a king of lower Broadway, someone
out of the mind of Shakespeare or
Garcia Lorca, someone for whom loss
had sweetened into charity. We stood
for that one long minute, the two
of us sharing the final poem of chalk
while the great city raged around
us, and then the poem ended, as all
poems do, and his left hand dropped
to his side abruptly and he handed
me the piece of chalk. I bowed,
knowing how large a gift this was
and wrote my thanks on the air
where it might be heard forever
below the sea shell’s stiffening cry.
May 25, 2016
“May my silences become more accurate.”
(May 25, 1908 – August 1, 1963)
Alice Fulton will be the featured poet for the 53rd Annual Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Reading, Friday, May 27, 2016, 8:00pm at the University of Washington Roethke Auditorium (130 Kane Hall). The reading is free and open to the public.
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photo by Mary Randlett, 1963