Best of NaPoMo: Williams, Koch, and Macfadyen

Micah and I are actually ahead of the game for this year’s National Poetry Month and can therefore offer some bonus tracks and flashbacks!

The deal was to record a reading each week by a poet we hadn’t recorded before (we’ve each recorded many) and then share it to our blogs.

Here’s a little flashback mix tape from 2012’s Poetry Month when I was, of all insane ideas, recording and writing about a different poem each day. It was supposed to be “30 Poets, 30 Days,” but I confess–I never told you–day 10 and day 20 were the same poet! I didn’t realize it until May or June and by then the deed was done.

Here’s Day 10: “Your Were Wearing,” by Kenneth Koch

I had been enjoying some of the video “readings” by Mathew Macfadyen which were actually performances, acting the poems out, rather than just reading them, like I normally did. So I thought I would give it a try.  So here is the poem, performed by Mathew that inspired Kenneth Koch to write the poem that I was inspired by Mr. Macfadyen (yes, that is how he spells it) to perform.

Day  19, Prequel and Bonus Track: “This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams

Oh! And here’s Micah’s reading of this poem for last year’s PoMo. If you’ve ever been given a poetry writing assignment by an English teacher or a workshop leader, there’s a good chance you’ve been asked to write your own “Refrigerator Poem,” like that one. A note left for someone, saying more than the words on the page.

Kenneth Koch couldn’t settle on just one note, so he wrote the following, which was probably the most fun I’ve had in memorizing and performing someone else’s work.

Day 20: “Variations on a Them by William Carlos Williams,” by Kenneth Koch

So, whether you are one of those people celebrating National Poetry Month, or one grumbling, “Why do we need this? I read poetry every day!” I wish you more poems in your life and a very happy . . . um . . . April, 2018.

National Poetry Month, Week Three, Bonus Track

cover of the book the carnival of affection, by Philip F. Clark
Published by Sibling Rivalry Press

It was a break from all these snow flurries and colder temperatures the other day, so I decided to take the laptop outside and record a favorite poem. I was going to save this for week four, but sometimes good things just can’t wait.

This year and last, my son Micah and I have been recording poems again for National Poetry Month—not one per day like the crazy 2012 and 2013 years, mind you. And I don’t think I recorded any last year on YouTube. I believe all of them were on Sound Cloud in 2017. If you haven’t played much on SoundCloud, you should give it a try. it’s kind of the YouTube of audio.

Our one rule this year, aside from trying to read collectively from a wide range of poetry “eras,” was that we wanted to make sure we were each reading poems by poets we’ve never recorded before.

Full disclosure: Philip  F. Clark is a good friend. We’ve followed each other’s blogs for some time and finally met face-to-face in NYC last year. I was honored when Philip asked me to read with him at the debut of his book, The Carnival of Affection. But still, I have never recorded his work!

Until now. The difficult thing was deciding which poem of Philip’s to read. I mean, it’s no wonder we were drawn to each other’s work. There is a deep soul kinship in our poems. It’s like they know each other and thus we are connected. I’m not sure how to say it less mystically.

Perhaps the way to express it is by explaining why I chose to record this piece. “Learning” feels very much like a poem I wrote called “Timothy,” about a young man showing his love the way he’d seen men do, “with a fist.” But the speaker in Philip’s poem comes to the conclusion to do the opposite of what he’d seen men do. So they are speaking from opposite ends of the growing-up experience.

We wrote these poems independently and unaware of the other. “Learning” was published in Philip’s recent book, and “Timothy” will be published shortly in my second chapbook. Raised by different fathers, yet brother poems, for sure.

“Sometimes, I Am Startled Out of Myself,” by Barbara Crooker

I somehow got lost from some of my favorite blogs for a while. Thank you to Brian Dean Powers for bringing Words of the Year back to me.

A few days ago I shared my reading of a poem about the Towhee by Barbara Crooker. And Brian shared this and another called “A Congregation of Grackles” in return. You can find that lilting beauty of a poem in the comments of the Towhee post. You can thank me later.

Words for the Year

like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.

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Happy National Haiku

National Haiku Day was yesterday. Do you Haiku?

The Monkey Prodigy

To celebrate National Haiku Day here is a poem made of entirely haiku. It was written by my father and me. Read about it in Green Rune Anthology if you so wish.

Some bridges refuse
to burn but are swept away
by weight of water.

Others succumb to
decay and time. Like people
charred by our anger.

A sturdy friendship
can overcome disaster.
It’s the rust that kills.

Walk by the river
and you ask yourself, wasn’t
there a bridge here once?

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Poetry Month, Week Three: Barbara Crooker’s Towhee

A male Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus...
A male Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) searching for food on the ground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the immortal Bard once said, “A Tohee / by any other name would sing the same.” Okay, I admit it, I might have misquoted. But you get the idea. Birds’ names sometimes evolve, usually because, in the process of studying them, we learn new things about them.

In this case, the Rufous-sided Towhee was once thought to be one species. And though I still tend to think of the Towhees I see while out birding in Penn’s Woods as Rufous-sided, they have officially been designated a separate species from the Spotted Towhee of the west. The folks at Audubon’s “Birdnote” have a nice little summary of the way bird names have changed over the years. It even includes a bird I saw yesterday, the Northern Flicker, which went the opposite direction. Instead of two species, Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted, it is now considered one species with multiple variations.

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whew. And then there’s the pronunciation. I’ve always said it like this: “Toe Hee.” But when I listened to the recording in the above link, my heart sank. I had already recorded today’s poem, but what the heck was this lady was saying! “Towy?”

So I went into research mode and discovered that it can be pronounced both ways. Several articles and every dictionary (for what it’s worth—I’m not sure they actually consult ornithologists) seemed to mention only the pronunciation I have used for years. And while it doesn’t discuss how to say Towhee, Kevin McGowan’s article did a lot to soothe my nerves. As he says:

If it bothers you when people say it differently than you do, lighten up. They’re just birds, for goodness sakes, and THEY don’t care what you call them.

None of these name-changing or pronunciation issues do anything to lessen the deceptively simple beauty of today’s poem by Barbara Crooker. A few articles were rather vague about how the Towhee’s name had something to do with it’s “che-wink” call,  but you can clearly hear in the bird’s song the comforting encouragement to “Drink your tea.”

The poem’s epigraph is from another favorite poet of mine, Jane Hirschfield. Thank you, Barbara Crooker, for writing this poem, which I discovered for the first time today, following so aptly the time I spent in the forest this weekend.

More on that next time.

You can read along in the winter 2014 edition of Little Patuxent Review: A Journal of Literature and the Arts. (Check out more from that issue by clicking here).

Day 15 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: “Stone,” by Charles Simic

Sling-back Sunday maybe? On this day in 2012:

This is another from what’s sort of loosely becoming a best-of collection from my month of poetry recordings six years ago. Each poem was recorded, uploaded to YouTube, and blogged about in the course of a day. So, there are plenty that were fine but can stay in the archives where they are.

This is one that just kind of came together, one of the few I memorize and “performed.” Looking back, my interpretations might have come out different, but I am pleased when it feels like I was present when a little magic happened.

David J. Bauman

Photo by Michelle Blankenship

Well, I finally got a bit of  outside reading done, though I had to try several takes from multiple spots, due to background noise.  I abandoned one reading done from the balcony of a local restaurant, simply because I didn’t like the inflections of my voice. While listening in the car afterward I decided that I hadn’t read the poem right. So I’ll save May Swenson for another day.

In the end, I came back to this poem, by Charles Simic, which I had memorized last week. I frankly am no good at memorizing my own poems. Why? Possibly because they go through so many drafts and re-writes and fits of editing that I am never sure which is the version I most recently decided was the best. With the poems of others I only know one version, and so it’s easier. Therefore, I try meticulously…

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