Posted in news

AWP 2017: It Takes a Village

In February 2017, the RCAH Center for Poetry staff made the trek to Washington, D.C. for AWP. We thought the trip was worthy of some reflection, and will be sharing attendees’ thoughts over the next week or so.

awp17-bookfair

Day one: Director Anita Skeen leads the way into the vastness that is the AWP Bookfair. See more snapshots of the adventure on Instagram.

 

Anita Skeen, Director, RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU

This February was the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU’s first excursion to the Associated Writing Programs Conference (AWP) in Washington, D.C. I have gone many, many times in all my years of teaching but this was the first time I went with five of the six interns from the Poetry Center: Grace Carras, Erin Lammers, Sydney Meadowcroft, Sarah Teppen, and Arzelia Williams. The original plan was for all 8 of us to go, but Laurie Hollinger, the assistant director, was laid low by the flu a few days before we were to leave and Alexis Stark had a commitment with her honor fraternity the weekend of the conference. But they were with us in spirit. Without all the logistical arrangements Laurie had made for us—hotel rooms, registration, rental car, etc.—and Alexis’ box of goodies she packed for us on the trip—fruit snacks, applesauce, cereal, granola bars—things wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. We had financial help for the interns from Lizzy King, the assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Research, and Dean Steve Esquith who paid our transportation costs. Lori Lancour in the RCAH office was wonderful in suggesting avenues for additional funding and when February 8, 2017 rolled around, we had everything we needed to set out on our 10-hour drive to the nation’s capitol. Spirits were high as we sang and ate our way through four states. I was a little worried about driving into D.C. at rush hour and not knowing exactly where our hotel was, but then I realized I had five people in the car under the age of 22 all of whom had navigational devices in their pockets. We would be just fine.

It’s hard to explain to someone who has never attended AWP what it’s like for three days. With 30-35 sessions in every time slot beginning at 9:00 in the morning and ending at 6:00 at night (and then there are the evening events which run from 8:30 until midnight), there’s a real danger for intellectual, emotional, and physical overload. Several weeks before AWP, individuals who have attended the conference before post on their blogs and websites “How to do AWP.” The advice includes everything from “DO NOT try to do everything,” to where the nearby Starbucks are, from what tables at the Bookfair are “musts” to stop at, to what restaurants are where and, this year, where and when the protests would be held. I’ve been attending AWP since 1974 when, I believe, the conference was held in Kansas City and had 300 people in attendance and I still have never learned how not to be overwhelmed. Sessions I attended this year that were particularly meaningful were ones that focused on social justice and activism in the literary community; writing about place; recovering neglected poets; the poem as invocation, the poem as persona; crafting the feminist historical lyric; rural America in contemporary literature; and the importance and power of the work of Adrienne Rich. That last one left me in tears. The keynote address on Thursday night by Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Teheran, was powerful, political and personal in extraordinary ways. Readings by Sonia Sanchez, Ocean Vuong, Terrence Hayes, Rita Dove, and Eileen Myles reminded me why I do what I do, why I write what I write, why we need so many writers to remind us, in the words of Audre Lorde, that poetry is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Finally, I have to reflect on what it was like to be with these five young, bright, energetic, funny, highly-motivated women who were wide-eyed and breathless about what they were experiencing. They attended such a cross-section of sessions from those focusing on social justice and activism, translation, minority writers, publishing, community engagement, literary history, spoken word art and just about every other content area offered. They wandered the Bookfair finding treasures (let me say there were over 900 tables at the Bookfair), getting writers to sign books they had purchased, and spreading the word about the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU and our new Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Series. I asked them to compile a list of writers whom they heard or met that they thought might be possibilities for visiting writers to the Poetry Center or for Wednesday Night Live. Their lists were epic, and I am sure will result in having some writers come to the Poetry Center whom we might not have known about had the interns not attended the conference. Above all, I watched their excitement about literature and its power, about ways of taking poetry out of the academy and into the community, about what it was like to be in the middle of 12,000 people all of whom cared about language, about diversity, about the necessity for free speech and for everyone’s voice to be heard and valued.

It took the work of a village to get us to AWP. We saw the critical and necessary work of a village as we participated in AWP. Now it is our job to help our village grow and thrive.

 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: Los Perdidos Del Bosque, by Pablo Neruda

big-trees-forestThe Lost Ones of the Forest / Los Perdidos Del Bosque

by Pablo Neruda (English translation by William O’Daly)

 

The Lost Ones of the Forest

 

I am someone who never made it to the forest,

one of those turned back by earth’s winter,

headed off by lively scarabs ready to bite

or by tremendous rivers that opposed my destiny.

This is the forest, the thicket is comfortable, the trees

are the grandest furniture, the leaves vain zithers,

the trails, fenced pastures, estates were erased,

the air is patriarchal and smells of sadness.

 

Everything is ceremony in the wild garden

of childhood: apples sit beside the river

descended from black snow hidden in the Andes:

apples whose sour blush hasn’t know the teeth

of men, only the pecking of ravenous birds,

apples that invented a natural symmetry

and move slowly toward sweetness.

 

Everything is new and old in the surrounding luster,

those who came here are the diminished ones,

and those who were left behind in the distance

are the shipwrecked who may or may not survive:

only then will they know the laws of the forest.

 

Los Perdidos Del Bosque

 

Yo soy uno de aquellos que no alcanzó a llegar al bosque,

de los retrocedidos por el invierno en la tierra,

atajados por escarabajos de irisación y picadura

o por tremendos ríos que se oponían al destino.

Éste es el bosque, el follaje es cómodo, son altísimos muebles

los árboles, ensimismadas cítaras las hojas,

se borraron senderos, cercados, patrimonios,

el aire es patriarcal y tiene olor a tristeza.

 

Todo es ceremonioso en el jardín salvaje

de infancia: hay manzanas cerca del agua

que llega de la nieve negra escondida en los Andes:

manzanas cuyo áspero rubor no conoce los dientes

del hombre, sino el picoteo de pájaros voraces,

manzanas que inventaron la simetría silvestre

y que caminan con lentísimo paso hacia el azúcar.

 

Todo es nuevo y antiguo en el esplendor circundante,

los que hasta aquí vinieron son los menoscabados,

y los que se quedaron atrás en la distancia

son los náufragos que pueden o no sobrevivir:

sólo entonces conocerán las leyes del bosque.

 

Copyright 1986 by Pablo Neruda and Heirs of Pablo Neruda
Translation Copyright 1986, 2002 by William O’Daly

 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Snow Theory” by Neil Hilborn

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“Snow Theory”

Neil Hilborn

When you hear the phrase Winter Weather Advisory
you imagine a guidance counselor and snow
that is unsure what it wants to do with its life,
don’t you? Don’t you see skills tests
about its life before it rebecomes
water? The name plate on the counselor’s
desk reads Felipe Rios. Señor Rivers,
as Snow calls him, has a constant supply
of green highlighters. No one knows
how he gets them, because rivers can’t walk
to the store or be guidance counselors,
duh. If snow can drift, so can leaves
and dust and responsibilities. You can have
a light dusting of feathers. Snow is a sentient being
that hates when people drive in straight lines. Snow is
migratory. Snow is a dog that wants
all the sidewalks to be covered
in salt. Snow therefore is a happy dog.
Imagine if fire extinguishers were full
of snow. Imagine the fun we could have.

Copyright © 2015 by Neil Hilborn. Image by Philip Schwarz.

Posted in news

RCAH Center for Poetry, Lansing Poetry Club, LEAP seek Lansing Poet Laureate

This spring, the RCAH Center for Poetry, in collaboration with the Lansing Poetry Club and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), will appoint the first Lansing Poet Laureate. Applications from tri-county area poets are being accepted through March 3 for this culturally significant position. Not only does this appointment honor the selected poet, it also provides increased opportunities for the community to engage with poetry.

The Lansing Poet Laureate will serve as an ambassador for poetry, holding a 2 year term while receiving a $2,000 per year stipend from LEAP. A minimum of three readings and/or workshops will be offered in the tri-county area’s schools and communities, with the intent to foster a love of poetry.

“At a time when so many in this country seem to be focused on technology, trade, and business investment it’s important to realize that not all investment is calculated in dollars and profits,” according to Anita Skeen, director of the Center for Poetry. “We have under-invested in the arts and humanities for years, and as the winds of change threaten both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, it’s very important that we here in the Lansing area who believe that poetry enriches our lives in ways that nothing else can take delight in and support the coming appointment of the first Lansing Poet Laureate. I look forward to the work that our poet laureate will do and to hearing how poetry is reaching new audiences and finding new venues.”

The state of Michigan is currently one of six states without a Poet Laureate. The first and only holder of the position, Edgar A. Guest, served from 1952 until his death in 1959.

Last year, the Lansing Poetry Club and the Center for Poetry were involved in efforts to pass House Bill 4763, introduced in July 2015 to establish a state poet laureate. The efforts were stalled when the bill did not make it out of committee.

The establishment of a Poet Laureate representing Michigan’s capital city is expected to raise awareness of the issue and increase support for a state poet laureate.

For more information and to apply, click here.

The Lansing Poetry Club is hosting an application workshop, Sunday, Feb. 4, from 3-4:30 p.m.

View press release here.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “It would be neat if with the New Year” by Jimmy Santiago Baca

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“It would be neat if with the New Year”

Jimmy Santiago Baca

for Miguel

It would be neat if with the New Year
I could leave my loneliness behind with the old year.
My leathery loneliness an old pair of work boots
my dog vigorously head-shakes back and forth in its jaws,
chews on for hours every day in my front yard—
rain, sun, snow, or wind
in bare feet, pondering my poem,
I’d look out my window and see that dirty pair of boots in the yard.

But my happiness depends so much on wearing those boots.

At the end of my day
while I’m in a chair listening to a Mexican corrido
I stare at my boots appreciating:
all the wrong roads we’ve taken, all the drug and whiskey houses
we’ve visited, and as the Mexican singer wails his pain,
I smile at my boots, understanding every note in his voice,
and strangers, when they see my boots rocking back and forth on my
feet
keeping beat to the song, see how
my boots are scuffed, tooth-marked, worn-soled.

I keep wearing them because they fit so good
and I need them, especially when I love so hard,
where I go up those boulder strewn trails,
where flowers crack rocks in their defiant love for the light.

Copyright © 2004 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Art by Loui Jover.

Posted in Balocating Prize for Poetry, news, Spring Poetry Festival, visiting writers

Spring Poetry Festival Lineup Announced

msu-spring

The Center for Poetry has confirmed the spectacular lineup of poets for the 2017 Spring Poetry Festival. Funded in part by the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, three poets known world wide will be visiting campus for afternoon conversations and evening performances during the month of April.

Tina Chang, born in New York City, is the first female to be named Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. She currently teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and she is also a member of the international writing faculty at the City University of Hong Kong.

A Michigan native, Toi Derricotte‘s poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, the Paris Review, The New Yorker and Poetry. She also co-founded Cave Canem in 1996, a summer workshop for aspiring African-American Poets.

Mark Doty is the author of three memoirs and nine books of poetry, one of which won the 2008 National Book Award. Doty’s performance will also be coupled with the announcement of the Annie Balocating Prize for Poetry.

Each visiting poet will have an afternoon conversation at 3 pm in Snyder Hall’s LookOut! Gallery and an evening performance at 7 pm in the RCAH Theatre.

For more information on Spring Poetry Festival and the poets, visit the Center for Poetry’s website. 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “What Changes” by Naomi Shihab Nye

doha-rainy

 

What Changes

Naomi Shihab Nye

 

My father’s hopes travel with me

years after he died. Someday

we will learn how to live.  All of us

surviving without violence

never stop dreaming how to cure it.

What changes? Crossing a small street

in Doha Souk, nut shops shuttered,

a handkerchief lies crumpled in the street,

maroon and white, like one my father had,

from Jordan.  Perfectly placed

in his pocket under his smile, for years.

He would have given it to anyone.

How do we continue all these days?

 

Copyright ©2015 Naomi Shihab Nye

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Why is the Color of Snow?” by Brenda Shaughnessy

53562-snow-tracks-and-sunshine

Why is the Color of Snow?

~Brenda Shaughnessy

 

Let’s ask a poet with no way of knowing.

Someone who can give us an answer,

another duplicity to help double the world.

 

What kind of poetry is all question, anyway?

Each question leads to an iceburn,

a snownova, a single bed spinning in space.

 

Poet, Decide! I am lonely with questions.

What is snow? What isn’t?

Do you see how it is for me.

 

Melt yourself to make yourself more clear

for the next observer.

I could barely see you anyway.

 

A blizzard I understand better,

the secrets of many revealed as one,

becoming another on my only head.

 

It’s true that snow takes on gold from sunset

and red from rearlights. But that’s occasional.

What is constant is white,

 

or is that only sight, a reflection of eyewhites

and light? Because snow reflects only itself,

self upon self upon self,

 

is a blanket used for smothering, for sleeping.

For not seeing the naked, flawed body.

Concealing it from the lover curious, ever curious!

 

Who won’t stop looking.

White for privacy.

Millions of privacies to bless us with snow.

 

Don’t we melt it?

Aren’t we human dark with sugar hot to melt it?

Anyway, the question—

 

if a dream is a construction then what

is not a construction? If a bank of snow

is an obstruction, then what is not a bank of snow?

 

A winter vault of valuable crystals

convertible for use only by a zen

sun laughing at us.

 

Oh Materialists! Thinking matter matters.

If we dream of snow, of banks and blankets

to keep our treasure safe forever,

 

what world is made, that made us that we keep

making and making to replace the dreaming at last.

To stop the terrible dreaming.

 

 

 

From Human Dark with Sugar, Copper Canyon Press, 2008.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Who Said it was Simple,” by Audre Lorde

tree_roots_attrib_gordon_m-_robertson

 

Who Said it was Simple

Audre Lorde

 

There are so many roots to the tree of anger

that sometimes the branches shatter

before they bear.

 

Sitting in Nedicks

the women rally before they march

discussing the problematic girls

they hire to make them free.

An almost white counterman passes

a waiting brother to serve them first

and the ladies neither notice nor reject

the slighter pleasures of their slavery.

But I who am bound by my mirror

as well as my bed

see causes in colour

as well as sex

 

and sit here wondering

which me will survive

all these liberations.

 

 

 

Audre Lorde, “Who Said It Was Simple” from From a Land Where Other People Live. Copyright © 1973 by Audre Lorde.

 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “On the Pulse of Morning,” by Maya Angelou

california-yosemite-national-park-yosemite-rock-tree-river-nature

ON THE PULSE OF MORNING

As delivered at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, January 20, 1993

                        ~Maya Angelou

 

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

 

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.

 

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words

 

Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.

 

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.

 

Each of you, a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.

 

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

 

They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.

 

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you,
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of
Other seekers — desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours — your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

 

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

 

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

 

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

 

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope —
Good morning.