Instagram and Poetry Month

 

This past April was National Poetry Month, as it has been every year in the U.S. since 1996. While I do sympathize in some part with the criticism of the month, its triviality for designating a time of the year for the public’s attention to poetry (the point being that afterwards, you’ve taken brief notice of the fact of its existence and can now continue with your general neglect of poetry), I decided to say Bernstein be damned and take on a self-challenge.

I wrote a poem each day this April and posted it to my Instagram feed (not too far of a scroll away). Being my birth month, I associate the Spring and the re-awakening of the earth in this hemisphere with creative activity. But never have I forced myself to compose one poem, each day, for a month, as if I were manually breaking open seeds and thrusting them to the surface prematurely. Most took in some light (and likes) amidst all the visual splendor of that medium. After week one I gained a steady pace of alternating between writing and posting, then took time to peruse the other poets at work through the convenience of Instagram’s self-making engine.

What I found was a strange mix. There was certainly cobwebs-upon-cobwebs of cliched and tired metaphors applauded with fan hearts and digital accolades, but there were also some authentic voices stringing together solid and resounding verse. In some cases, poets in either camp are making the leap from the app to bookstore shelves. My old employer of West Coast indie fame, Powell’s Books, has collected a number of such authors for your interest and support with handheld yet plug-less reading. Mostly self-published at first, these poets have made the successful transition to authors with contracts by the proving ground of Instagram – which no doubt saves the publisher most, if not all, publicity expenses upon their volume’s release.

Is poetry now a well-read form again, as it once was in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century? Probably not as it once was, and perhaps “well-read” is a generous and not altogether substantial statement. The scrolling must continue on Instagram, indeed, it feeds off such motion which your twitching digits reinforce. What seemed so noble or profound in scant lines once jammed between the colorful plate of food before, and the glorious body come after, may not hold for much longer with its own spine. These are not uncharted waters, but the fog of short attention is always rolling in to obscure our appreciation of the beautiful and the trash alike.

Instagram and Poetry Month

From One Equinox to Another

Now that autumn has arrived (this very night full of the cool breezes and beads of soft rain that wash away the heat and bear away the humidity), I am posting a piece that I attempted to shop around to various local journals and magazines when the spring equinox was upon us here in upstate New York. It is entitled “The Swifts of Spring” and was finished in late May of this year:

The night sky begins to pale toward morning. There is a bright chatter that rises up before the sun. It wakes you in the still yellowy night, lit only by a few streetlights. In the alley below, an exhausted and tearful weeping sounds over a deep but impotent protest. It’s the playing out of a lover’s quarrel, the current theme set to birdsong above the village streets an hour before dawn. Their voices soon fade away as night diminishes and I roll back over into the short dream before coffee.

I’m no birdwatcher but as I acquaint myself with my new home of Catskill, I watch on Main Street the arcs and lines of birds with the daily trails made by my fellow residents below going into Catskill Grocery & News for coffee, smokes and scratch-its; strolling between the Greene County courthouse and the county offices; working out to Zumba music from the open door of the Community Center; heading into the Community Theater for the latest Captain America film or out of Kirwan’s Game Store for fresh air. Weekenders from the city also trounce the sidewalks, and a part of me feels as if my partner and I’s move is just as transitory as their visit. However, we both know this is now home and these residents, our community.

From creekside to the tombstones at the top of the hill, across the variously stormy and sunny skies, the village now has a rarer visitor. Since the first two weeks of May, twenty or more migratory Chimney swifts have been sighted. Swifts are exceptional creatures and commit their energy to an almost totally airborne life. They eat, mate, and do everything but sleep in the air, having no ability to perch like most common birds. In fact, they are in the same order as hummingbirds, Apodiformes, meaning “footless” in Greek. Since leaving their wintering homes in South America, their high-pitched squeaks and chirps have been lilting overhead.

How much envy has greened our race for ages while admiring the flight of birds. Whereas a bird would use a crease in the ripple of a wind to bank or roll its body further along its course of flight, we clumsily trip on the edge of a slightly upturned sidewalk block. Some of us drag our feet while walking – I myself have an odd ‘duck-footed’ gait that reveals itself slowly in the wearing down of the backside of my heels. We feel the rule of gravity’s kingdom on our shoulders and try our best to straighten the somewhat crooked sway of our travelings. It’s no wonder that birds were imitated for a good many centuries by would-be aviators before we had to figure out our own means of catching the air.

(As an interlude, I scribbled the following poem while musing on this phenomenal influence:

 

Aviators

 

You have to admire

The stapled wings of foolish inventors

As much as the quilled designs

Of Leonardo –

Both inspired by the grace of birds

As much as – or more than,

The mechanics of flight)

 

It’s now the breeding season. Chimney swifts make nests of twigs which are glued together using their own saliva, holding their clutches of 4 or 5 eggs. In the early morning the other birds of this village, the house sparrows, starlings, and purple finches, keep their nests in the slightly open cracks between cornice and gutter or among the now greening vines along the side of the old Oren’s building. The making of nests is in the nature of all birds, from the complexity of the bower to the simplicity of the penguin. For the benefit of the swifts, Catskill features many chimneys from the 19th century that no longer hold flames. It seems fitting with the Thomas Cole National Historic Site’s new studio and exhibit on the painter’s architectural designs that the swifts are making new use of our old brick. For local historians, this could be a point of pride in a town once known for its industrious brickyards.

I’m uncertain how long the swifts will be flying among us this spring. A brief bit of research shows that incubation and nesting takes a combined 40 days. And as much as I can glean from eBird.org, no sightings of Chimney swifts have been recorded in Catskill in the last decade. It makes one wonder at their being here, soot-dusted and gulping down great amounts of insects each day, to return at sunset to a few chimneys hanging in the air. If you live in this village or are visiting in the next few weeks, observe their grace while you can.

I hope more than a few of us took in the sight of their arching flights. There was ample time and number, as by the close of August more than 40 were in the undulating groups of parents and their brood before taking flight from Catskill, Hudson, Saugerties and number of other towns and villages in the area. Soon after they left, a legion of spiders soon filled the insect-eating vacuum left by the swifts and populated the streetlight, windows and facade of my building along Main St. to a creepy extant.

From One Equinox to Another

Speaking Music

The Scotland-based transatlantic publication Dark Horse Magazine is celebrating its 20th anniversary. A recent article by former U.S. Poet Laureate Dana Gioia entitled “Poetry as Enchantment” is available to read online here. I recommend it as an example of criticism done judiciously and with consideration to the future of the craft. Mr. Gioia writes of the sense of wonder at critical invention in a poem that can be understood intuitively be a reader. This same poem can also be examined to gain working knowledge of its form and structure, as a building is examined to discover how it is held up. More often than not today our wonder is subsumed by the task of the critic, as the child is surpassed by the adult.

"Spring Song" by Simon Glucklich
“Spring Song” by Simon Glucklich

Being able to listen to a poem read out loud is something the deaf are not able to do. But poetry began as an ancient oral art requiring no physical sight but the eye of imagination. Reading a poem on the page is likewise what the blind are not able to do. Poetry today stands somewhere between the page and the air, riding the backs of linguistic symbols and launching their arrows of meaning toward the reader. Somewhere between the old and the new, the sight and the sound of a poem, is its sense, which does not seek a house of understanding in one of our five physical senses. Both the deaf and the blind encounter this sense in poetry, and for those of us with senses intact, comparisons can be made and criticism “done.”

Poetry reading doesn’t begin with the critical eye. If it does so, say in the increasingly stringent quarters of an ideologically “rich” academia, a very narrow and more often literal or linguistic reading occurs. The study and enjoyment of poetry cannot be sustained by this activity alone, nor can it be continued with it at as the helmsman. There’s something in the immediate apprehension of language made in poetry that delights the intellect and connects it to the heart and the body – perhaps, feeding our souls. Enjoy the article and if you have the time, listen to a new poem I’ve recorded for the public at my Soundcloud. Spoken word – or spoken music?

Speaking Music

A Personal History of National Poetry Month

In 1996 during the Clinton administration National Poetry Month was placed in April following our country’s observance of Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March. Why April for poetry? One can recall Eliot’s opening line of The Waste Land (‘April is the cruellest month’) and Chaucer’s first words in his General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales (‘Whan that April , with his shoures soote’) as well as the tradition which unites those two works, the centuries of celebration in Christianity of the Resurrection, to understand the place that the great month of April holds not only for poetry but our culture here in the West.

For all of us on the Eastern seaboard, it also seems that April is the month in which Spring has finally arrived and winter lay behind! Not as cruel as Eliot’s reckoning.

This can be a time to turn our reflective faculty of observation to the making, reading, distributing and reciting of poetry, whether it be traditionally “Western” or not, in schools, homes, public spaces and wherever forms of media are shown or heard. The first reading took place April 9th of 1996 at the Library of Congress with then U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and poets Rita Dove, Anthony Hecht, Mark Strand, as well as Carolyn Forche, Linda Pastan, and our current Laureate as of 2014, Charles Wright. Many other readings and events were planned and held across the nation for the beginning of this new month-long observance.

writing

In 1996 I was a boy of 11, soon to turn 12 on the 30th, and at the time I had probably written some poems as an exercise in middle school English. My call to poetry as an art would come two years later when I composed “Leaves of Rebellion,” an allegorical poem seen in the seasonal changes of a tree, for my Speech & Writing course in Lewiston, NY. This poem satisfied the assignment and as a comfortable ‘B’ student I preferred to leave my efforts at “just enough to pass.” We had just moved across the country from Oregon and though we were now living in our first house as a family, I felt more despondent than ever with my new surroundings.

In this atmosphere I took my course, got my credits – but when two more poems were “needlessly” composed, over-achievement became a self-possessed obligation to create in this medium. I won’t leave any examples here for scrutiny, because the sorts of poems they were can be read in all the notebooks of the young since the Ancient Greeks or earlier: they were lovelorn, lonely things, bemoaning my family’s poverty, my introverted nature, an unrequited love, an intense dream, dark thoughts turned toward the end of life, and many more on these over-used and tired out subjects.

As all writers know after years of ceaseless activity, eventually a voice finds its way out and puts one’s situation in the world in writing which affords a fresh take on life. I reckon there is a connection between my disappointment of moving, losing friends, self-deprecation, and my subsequent growth of introspection, reflection and eventually a discernment that approaches a more objective light. There are too many examples from writers’ lives to claim this phenomenon to be uniquely mine! Poetry can end up re-constituting and re-making a life. Eliot knew this, and perhaps, so did Chaucer.

And so, looking toward my 30th birthday on the last day of this month of April, I look back at my life in poetry and keep my eyes ahead at life unfolding. For National Poetry Month, we can all find a moment each day to awaken ever so slightly to the vitality of poetry. There might just be in your school, at your neighborhood library or even in your own family, a child taking up their pen or pencil to the page to place in verse the feelings or images which have been whirling around inside them. Nurture this impulse with sharing poetry or just “be there” for them with your compassion. As much as my own work was been welded together with anger or sadness, they have been lifted up and formed convergences with the help of new friendships and loving words.

A Personal History of National Poetry Month

Holding On to Ephemera

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The above is an image recently sent to me by a talented and genuine soul of the Northwest. He holds in his friendly hand an accomplishment of mine from 2006, Haiku Composed on an English Tour. It is the only self-published volume of poetry which I have arranged, printed and hand-sewed together. As a little bit of millennial ephemera, the chapbook exemplifies the DIY publishing ethos that seeped into my young blood in my first few years out of high school.

At the time I met my friend Mark, I was living in the liberal atmosphere of Portland, Oregon and attending an arts school. Though poetry had been my primary creative medium since I was 13, I intended to study photography and soon after printmaking at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. In the above chapbook, Mark’s copy being only one of a proposed 50 copies, drawings and clippings from maps I used while on a solo bicycle tour through England & Wales accompany the haiku which I wrote at the end of my days’ journeys. I had left PNCA and was embarking on a new chapter of my life altogether, and Haiku was the symbolic result of this period.

I am thankful to Mark for sending me this photo, quite unexpectedly, as he was searching through an old portfolio at home. Discoveries like these can become in a moment the unexpected blessing and reminder to the giver of such cherished and beholden ephemera. That friends keep and hold on to the little pieces of creativity that unknowingly become a benchmark for their personal history is affirmation enough that efforts are worth their short suffering and the support of friends is invaluable help to complete their work.

Holding On to Ephemera

New Activity in the Soil of Old Roots

2015-02-21 19.41.27

In my last three years of composing poetry, a bevel of new expression has given an edge to the language that has appeared beneath my pen. Concluding an exploration of themes of space travel that has reached back into my childhood and moving forward along the horizon line of our possible future in the stars, the above manuscript has been arranged and titled “Hugh Melody & Other Voices.”

I am approaching a number of poetry presses and publisher’s contests in order to find a home for the manuscript while I attend reading series in NYC that might afford an opportunity to test these compositions on an audience. I can be contacted directly if there are interested writers, readers and publishers out there who support emerging poets in finding homes for their work.

A selection of poems have been recited and recorded using Soundcloud and can be heard here for a taste of my style.

Periodic updates on future work, readings or forthcoming publication in journals will be posted here.

Happy reading – GDB

New Activity in the Soil of Old Roots