Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 30 Sep 11 12:36
By the way, should I have written "Garcia Marquez" above, rather than "Marquez"? I suspect I should have.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Fri 30 Sep 11 13:05
Ooh, excellent question, I want to hear you say more about that too, Mary! About Garcia Marquez or just Marquez, I am not sure -- I think I've mostly seen it the former way. I'm having another "That reminds me of a poem" moment here as well, thinking of Auden's "The Novelist": http://poetry.poetryx.com/poems/55/
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Fri 30 Sep 11 19:41
From an off-WELL reader: Thank you for this introduction to Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey and for having poetry as the topic for two weeks. Mother Goose rhymes and writing poetry in school were part of my childhood. Writing and reading poetry in adolescence kept me sane giving words to feelings that seemed far too large and overwhelming. Annie Dillard, in the final chapters of her book American Childhood, delighted me as she described poetry's place in her survival of adolescence. In grad school, after mind-numbing hours researching in the library, I would wander to the shelves and pull out the poetry journals. Concurring with Therese's comment Wednesday, poetry definitely created space during long days in the library. Strangely this experience of poetry resonates with what Jonathan Franzen writes in an essay, "Sifting the Ashes," but he is talking about cigarette smoking. " Time stops for the duration of a cigarette; when you are smoking you are acutely present to yourself: you step outside the unconscious forward rush of life. This is why the condemned are allowed a final cigarette, this is why ( or so the story goes) gentlemen in evening dress stood puffing at the rail as the Titanic went down: it's a lot easier to leave the world if you're certain you've been in it. As Goethe writes in Faust, 'Presence is our duty, be it only a moment.' " I do not know what it is to smoke, but I do know this is my experience of reading or hearing poetry.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Fri 30 Sep 11 20:47
Wow, is that ever a good comment! Thank you so much (and thanks for posting it, Julie). Beautifully written, marvelous use of a fine quote, and spot on, and I say that as one has both smoked and written.
Paula Span (pspan) Fri 30 Sep 11 22:38
I'd be interested in hearing whether new forms of digital publishing have expanded poets' ability to reach readers, given how hard it seems to be to get traditional publishers to get excited about poetry (Norton and whoever publishes Billy Collins and Kay Ryan excepted). Have either of you given it a shot? Does the prospect fill you with dread or glee?
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 1 Oct 11 08:58
Seconding Jennifer's response to that off-Well reader's post--it almost makes me want to start smoking. But I will stay with the nicotine of words, as Franzen's own prove so mesmerisingly restorative to the moment. Beginning to answer Paula, those new forms are a pretty broad spectrum. Almost any publishing poet will be found on the web, deliberately or boot- legged, and the increase of outreach in the immediate moment and of accessibility in the long run is a fine thing. From the Writers Almanac poems (which stay up forever on their site) to Slate to the web presences of formerly all-paper periodicals (New Yorker, Atlantic, Poetry), I quite like that my poems can be found for free (mostly) and easily. The big poetry organizations (The Poetry Foundation and The Academy of American Poets) both have a lot of poets up with profiles and sample poems; one of my favorites is the non-U.S. one, Poetry International--a great place to browse the poets of the world. That the poet doesn't control the content of those sites is a wee bit difficult sometimes--my profile on the Poetry Foundation is primarily a very out of date one from Contemporary Authors. I also love the sites--there are more and more of them--that put out a poem once a day or once a week--Poetry Daily is the ur site here, I think, but I also love Panhalla (couples poems with artwork and music), Slate's "Classic Poem" (Robert Pinsky opens a discussion about some older poem that's out of copyright), a new site called Gwarlingo.com that's doing a "Sunday Poem," and the relatively new column Lisa Spaar is doing for The Chronicle of Higher Education/Arts & Academe, the "Monday Poem," for which she writes astonishingly good essays... Then there are the webzines... But I don't think any of these magazine-model sites are actually what you were asking about. THis post has gotten long, so I will perhaps go on in another one.
William F. Stockton (yesway) Sat 1 Oct 11 09:18
Don't want to derail your response to Paula's question, but perhaps you might also talk about what it means that we can often see or hear the poet reading. This was rarely the case 15 years ago. It is probably only a 7 or 8 year old phenomenon, if we're discussing it having an effect on the general public's level of interest in poetry.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 1 Oct 11 09:21
I think you were asking more perhaps about book publishing... I would by the way question your original premise to some degree. For both Random House proper (Billy Collins's publisher) and Grove Atlantic (Kay Ryan's publisher), the poets' work drove the success, not the publishers. Random House did lift Billy from Pitt, where he started out, because of his wild popularity, but when Grove Atlantic took Kay on, she was still not terribly well known, and the press before them, Copper Beech, deserves a lot of credit too for taking her early, when she was downright unfashionable, and just as good as after she caught on. I've done one book with a small press (the now gone Quarterly Review of Literature Poetry Series), one with a university press (Wesleyan), four with HarperCollins, and now a new one with Knopf, and I've felt wonderfully well supported by every one of those places. My last two books (After, 2006, and Come, Thief, just published) are both available as e-books, and quite recently Wesleyan made my second book, Of Gravity & Angels, 1988, available that way as well. So, the line between e-publishing and print publishers is not black and white... For the totally new formats, I've done one thing, and that was because it was a piece that didn't fit into any possible print home. In June, Amazon Kindle Singles brought out a long essay with new translations on Basho and haiku that I'd had in a drawer for years because it was too long for any periodical, but not long enough for a regular book. They retitled it "The Heart of Haiku", did the e-formatting, offered me my choice of ten possible covers, and promoted it--as they do all Kindle Singles--when it first came out and for as long as it stayed on their top ten bestselling Singles list. What totally stunned me was that it stayed top ten for something like 6 weeks, sold a huge number of copies, and was Amazon's top ten poetry book of any kind or any format for two months. A startling experience, and a very good one. But I wouldn't race to bring out a new poetry book that way (these are readable on almost any device--any computer, iPad, smart phones--but they can be bought only from Amazon). And when I finally have my next book of essays ready, I'm sure I'll want to do that the old-fashioned way too. The whole landscape is changing, and none of us can know what it will look like in 5 or 25 years. I'm thrilled with the Kindle Single and how it worked out--but I see it as more an alternative to having put the essay into a magazine (for which this was enormously superior) than to publishing a book. And I can still put this piece into my next book of essays, and doubtless will do that. I could even still expand it and bring it out as a print book--but that I probably won't do. (I would not though be surprised if at some point the Kindle Singles program begins offering Print on Demand as an option for the Singles; and wouldn't that be kind of ironic? But some of the readers of "The Heart of Haiku" have clamored for a paper version...) We are not supposed to talk sales numbers in public, but I'll also add that even though the Single stunned me with its quick sales, my now 21 year old Vintage Classic translation of the two great women poets of ancient Japan, "The Ink Dark Moon," has still sold in much, much higher numbers, it just took longer. It's become a classic for anyone who loves Japanese poetry. I am not sure that a book available only as an e-book Single can ever do that. Maybe, but I'm not sure. The "long tail" is an interesting thing--it preserves access, but someone has to know to go looking. To end this long, long answer, I'll just say that I think the real life of poetry is one poem at a time, passed by hand from one person to another, because in some moment it's the only possible language that can hold a thought. Poems don't live in ink or electrons, they live in us.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 1 Oct 11 09:22
That other question slipped in while I was typing this last one... let's let fingers breathe for a minute and come back to it, and maybe Mary will arrive and say something also.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sat 1 Oct 11 10:38
So much useful information there, thanks, Jane. I particularly like the way you put this: "I think the real life of poetry is one poem at a time, passed by hand from one person to another, because in some moment it's the only possible language that can hold a thought. Poems don't live in ink or electrons, they live in us." Not to interrupt the flow here, but while we're waiting to hear more from Mary (Sugar Zone is officially coming out today, so she may be up to her neck in the business of putting the word to the street), here are a couple of links to sites with listings of our poets' reading schedules: http://www.marymackey.com/ http://www.barclayagency.com/hirshfield.html
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 1 Oct 11 11:00
Ah, so many wonderful questions. I want to thank the reader who posted about poetry stopping time and allowing a space for contemplation. I find the same space for contemplation, not in smoking but in meditation, which I have been doing for many years. I think one major difference between novels and poetry is how often we go back to poems and how rarely we reread novels. You might, perhaps read a favorite novel five times, but we read the poems we love over and over and even commit them to memory. We draw on them for comfort in hard times, recite them at our weddings and funerals, send them in love letters. In part, because of the deep emotional resonance of poetry and in part because poems are short enough to take with us like a small overnight bag, we cherish them and keep them closer to our hearts and draw on them in times of grief and joy.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 1 Oct 11 11:11
As for digital publishing, I welcome it. Right now my agent is in the process of putting all my novels into digital form. Three of them--the novels about the goddess-worshipping cultures of Old Europe--will be available in e-book format in a month or so. (They are "The Year the Horses Came," "The Horses at the Gate" and "The Fires of Spring"). But what excites me even more is the prospect of people being able to hear me read my poems. This is especially true of the poems in "Sugar Zone" some of which contain Portuguese words and phrases. If you dont speak Portuguese, the trick is to ignore these words or treat them as if they were a chant or an incantation. Ive made sure that every poem in Sugar Zone can be read as if it were written only in English. I proofread all the poems that contained Portuguese words twice: once with the Portuguese and once without itso each of these poem is really two poems. On the other hand, if you do speak Portuguese or any other Romance language like Spanish, youll be treated to subtle levels of meaning which enhance and deepen the poems. Portuguese is a beautiful, musical language. So Im very happy to know that there will be places online where people will be able to hear me read some of these poems out loud.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 1 Oct 11 11:13
Here's an example of one of the poems that contains some Portuguse words: Dreaming of the Bullet-Proof Cars of Maceió This is the terra do açúcar e maus sonhos the land of sugar and bad dreams infinite darkness without borders where birds passing overhead smell like biscoitos molhados/wet crackers sour milk and the sweat of sex aqui/here in the night room doorknobs turn your hands mirrors reflect receding galaxies and the clown who lies on his back beside you twitching and suffering is your soul wake up acordar! tell me why nothing moves why starving people lean into their shadows like flies caught in amber why the past goes on eating the present like a rising ocean eats the beach tell me why they are burning palm trees on the road to the airport why the water tastes like ashes why the windows of the cars are blind at low tide the children drink cachaça and call on Iemanjá fishtailed mother of storms wake up and tell me why the sand beneath this city keeps shifting why all the stores are stocked with hallucinations tell me why Solange left and where she went
Ozro W. Childs (oz) Sat 1 Oct 11 18:22
I have such a limited experience with poetry. As a high school student, I fell in love with Garcia Lorca, and have read his poems over and over in Spanish (Neruda ain't bad, either, but Lorca was my favorite). Then or certainly not long afterwards, I became enamored of Gary Snyder (and if Kerouac was telling the truth, a lot of women did, too). His poems about life as a forest-fire lookout and about the feeling of places in the Northwest blew me away. My admiration increased after his return from Japan and the Far East. So when I moved to San Francisco in 1970, I never missed the chance to hear him read. And read he did, usually with another poet or two, in those years. The idea that poets should read is not something new. It may not be *entirely* what sells their work, but people who care, go, and they tend to write about it in the newspaper. I thought then, and think now, that Gary Snyder figured out it was very important that he develop his voice to the point where people would listen, jaw agape, when he read his own work. Maybe he always had that talent, but I think that is something he had to learn. Recently, I heard Jane read some of her poems, and it seemed to me she, too, has trained herself to acquire a voice that makes you want to keep listening to whatever she has to say. And now I'm sorry I haven't heard Mary read some of her work, at least, not recently.
Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Sat 1 Oct 11 20:37
What a terrific discussion. My mom is a poet and asked me to read get poems starting when I was maybe 10 or 12 -- for clarity, for dead spots. I didn't become a poet, but I think I did develop an ear for cadence, and it did a lot for my self esteem to be thought of as someone whose opinion on such things mattered. Anyway, there have been times when our relationship was strained, and at those times her poetry was a way for us to get at each other, to reach through and understand each other on a "heart level," I guess. My husband has said, after hearing her read, "if she'd just write everything in a poem I'd understand her so much better." I wonder if either of you have found your poetry helps you in a very personal way, if you find yourself communicating with people through your work, not in a cathartic way but just by being able to reveal shrouded parts of yourselves.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 1 Oct 11 20:44
Poetry definitely helps me reveal a side of myself that most people rarely see. I appear to be, and mostly am, a very cheerful, upbeat person. But I have a very serious, darker side that takes life itself quite seriously. I think the poems in "Sugar Zone" express this the way nothing else I have written does, including my previous collections of poetry. Several people have said that they can't believe that my novels (particularly the comic ones like "The Stand In" and "Sweet Revenge") come out of the same brain as "Sugar Zone."
Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Sat 1 Oct 11 20:47
Haha. And do you think they do? I mean, do they all feel like you?
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 1 Oct 11 21:18
I went off to do a poetry reading, and suddenly there are three or four different questions on the loose here! I do think Oz has it--the Beat poets, and the poets protesting the Vietnam War, were the start of the current culture of poems read aloud. But Dylan Thomas and Edna Saint Vincent Millay both did major reading tours in their day, with huge audiences. As for voice, I suspect Gary and I both draw from the same well: in Zen practice, you learn to chant from the hara, and you learn something about the expression of intimacy in breath and larynx and tongue. That helped me a great deal when later I came to reading my poems. Poetry's always been about ear and voice, even when it's coming in by ink and eye, you hear it. Sound-awareness is what changes thoughts and words into poems. Amy, that is a remarkable description of how poems gave you and your mother a kind of alternative mode of communicating. I do think that good poems can't help but reveal. They reach deeper into the pocket of the self, and find a way to bring the almost-inexpressible thing into expression.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sat 1 Oct 11 23:07
Yes. This is all so good--thanks to everyone. I love the way this discussion has evoked stories of the varied roles poetry has played in each person's life, what it's meant to us as readers and writers. I'm curious about the public aspect of poetry, and not just the readings and festivals. Both of you have had experience with bestseller lists; you've both been featured on Keillor's Writers Almanac; you've appeared in places where poetry meets a broader audience, composed of people you can't see when you're composing. What have those experiences been like? What has it taken from your writing to get there? What has it brought to it?
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sat 1 Oct 11 23:17
I love Breaking the Fever, but I'd say Sugar Zone is not only darker but even deeper and richer in language and imagery.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sun 2 Oct 11 14:38
Jennifer, your question is a large and unponderable one. It's particularly ironic for me that something that began as profoundly private and solitary has led to so much that seems outward, and is outward, and connects with others in ways both visible and invisible. When I write the first draft of a poem, I'm still very much as I was from the start: not particularly aware of others. There is just something I need to find, or see, or work through. I write first drafts as I did in childhood, in some combination of extra awareness in one dimension and self-forgetting in another. I am inside the unfolding, I am the paper being unfolded. Does that make any sense? After publishing seven book of poems now, and the essays and translations as well, I do think of others at other points in the process. I revise in the awareness that it's likely someone other than me will see the poem. But I don't think the whole area of outer success (or non-success) has much of anything to do with the poems. An increased feeling of connectedness must in some way come into the poems, but not the various forms of "recognition." That happens in a different plane of existence. And it feels very important to me that they be kept separate. It's a wonderful, startling thing if a person tells you a poem has helped them, has changed their life--but I don't think it would be possible for me to write a poem if I were thinking about that at all. It would paralyze me, I'm pretty sure, if I did.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sun 2 Oct 11 16:01
There's a lovely passage in Agatha Christie's autobiography about her grandson's toddler days, when he was learning how to negotiate stairs: "This is Matthew going downstairs," he declared over and over as he worked it out. I think we have to get past a similar self-consciousness to make art. Until the ego stops talking, the subconscious can't get a word in edgewise. As long as I'm saying to myself, "This is Jennifer writing a poem," I am not, in fact, writing a poem but telling a story. The story's only good if it helps me learn how to go downstairs in my mind without thinking. I was actually asking less about the motives for and effects of writing than publication, though. Somehow you have to get from that private impulse to the point where you select specific pieces, type up clean copies, pick places to send them, and go to the post office...and that's just to get started. At your level, there are agents and book publishers, travel schedules and readings, and a host of other worldly activities, most of which, unlike writing, can't be done in a bathrobe, so there must be other rewards. You mentioned making a difference. Perhaps experience is another. To narrow the question down to something smaller and more ponderable, I wonder if you could tell us a bit about the outward part of being a poet. What experiences have you had as a result of putting your work in the public eye? What does it feel like to rub shoulders with a celebrity like Keillor or see your name on a bestsellers list?
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sun 2 Oct 11 19:24
I will probably going quieter in this conversation pretty soon--this question is apt, because I fly off tomorrow for some class visits, an interview, and a reading at Smith, in Massachusetts. And I think Mary's first reading from her book is tonight. So one quick answer is: distracting. Sometimes dreadfully, sometimes thrillingly. Sometimes both at once. But to take up one thread of this, I've never rubbed shoulders with Garrison Keillor--only heard him read something like 15 of my poems on the radio over the years (and once, wish me a happy birthday!). I am always impressed with how well he reads--it's rare to hear your own poem said by anyone else, but when I do, I'm often surprised. With Garrison Keillor, I always find myself nodding. When he spoke, quite recently, "I Ran Out Naked in the Sun" from the new book, he paced it exactly as I do--which told me the line breaks and stanza breaks were doing their work, and he also underplayed it, which I do as well. There've been a couple times I thought he read my poems better than I do. (The title poem of the 1997 book "The Lives of the Heart" was one.) I know by the way that Garrison Keillor did two poems from Mary's last book of poems, and won't be at all surprised if we soon hear he's done some from this new one. Since we announced this as a poetry festival, with poems, here is "I Ran Out Naked" from The Writers Almanac website, and the url for hearing him read it: I Ran Out Naked In The Sun by Jane Hirshfield I ran out naked in the sun and who could blame me who could blame the day was warm I ran out naked in the rain and who could blame me who could blame the storm I leaned toward sixty that day almost done it thundered then I wanted more I shouted More and who could blame me who could blame had been before could blame me that I wanted more "I Ran Out Naked In The Sun" by Jane Hirshfield, from Come, Thief. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now) <http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2011/09/12> It's easy to find the various others on that website as well, including the other one from this book, "Three-Legged Blues," but since I've mentioned it, here's that one: Three-Legged Blues by Jane Hirshfield Always you were given one too many, one too few. What almost happens, doesn't. What might be lost, you'll lose. The crows will eat your garden. Weeds will get what's left. Your cats will be three-legged, your house's mice be blessed. One friend will take your husband, another wear your dress. No, it isn't what you wanted. It isn't what you'd choose. Your floors have always slanted. Your roof has paid its dues. Life delivered you a present a too-small pair of shoes. What almost happened, won't now. What can be lost, you'll lose. "Three-Legged Blues" by Jane Hirshfield, from Come, Thief. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now) <http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2011/09/22> and, because why not, here's a link to an audio file of "Three-Legged Blues" put into proper blues form, and sung by David Lochelt (who is Kay Ryan's brother-in-law--we worked this out at her kitchen table): http://www.drunkenboat.com/db10/08poe/hirshfield/ I will add that this is a very atypical poem for me--the rhyme, the subject, the tone, the mood--and I was absolutely relieved to find out that people hear it as I meant it--both funny and, somewhere under the surface, awful. I've always admired people who can be funny when things are disastrous--it seems to me a useful skill for breaking the spell of certain kinds of unnecessary despair, and it makes everyone around you feel better as well. I was happy to have mustered up that spirit, for once. (This has gotten long, so I'll close this post and say a little more in another.)
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 2 Oct 11 19:28
I love seeing Jane's poems posted here. I can hear her voice and Keillor's voice both when I read them. I actually did rub shoulders with Keillor. After he read two of my poems on The Writer's Almanac, I had the pleasure of giving a pre-Keillor reading seminar on him and his work and then I got to introduce him: all for California Arts and Lectures. I spoke to him after, and he was very kind, intelligent, and in general a great guy. I think he's done a great deal for poetry, particularly in bringing it to people who might not otherwise read it or who might mistakenly think they didn't like poetry.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 2 Oct 11 19:36
As for what the public aspects of writing do, that's a very intersting and very complicated question. Let's start with the bad and end with the good: The bad: it can take so much time that you have little or no time left to write. This is particularly a problem if you have a best seller and do book tours, workshops, and a lot of readings (all of which your publisher--not to mention the bookstores--need you to do because they need to sell books). I am just starting this process right now, so I don't feel so cut off from time to write, but I bet Jane would say that she is longing for some quiet, isolated time to write her poems right now. Instead she is doing a wonderful but very demanding book tour. Another difficult thing can be the reaction of a very small minority of your readers. A few people will always dislike you for being successful and feel that they must put you in your place. Thus they will come up to you, say terrible things about your work, and even say terrible things about you personally. This is very rare, but it happens. Finally, the world is changing in ways that makes it hard for artists of all types. It used to be that you wrote a book, painted a picture, wrote music and someone else agented it for you, publicized it for you, and sold it for you. Most writers I know are not very comfortable with self-promotion and most would rather be writing than be in sales. But at present publishers no longer send you on the kinds of book tours they used to send you on (unless you are very famous indeed) and you are expected to be your own publicist through the use of social media, sky writing, and whatever else you can think up. This takes a huge amount of time that I, at lest, would much rather spend writing.
Members: Enter the conference to participate