Friday, June 8, 2007

Join me in creating the Republic of Poetry

I am so proud to be a Hampshire College alum. The college is exemplary in so many ways and continually allies itself with people I admire. The speaker at my commencement in 2004 (chosen by a student vote) was brave and pioneering journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. This year's speaker, also chosen by students, was brave and pioneering poet Martin Espada. His inspirational speech advocates justice and love as strongly as it does resistance and determination.

Espada wrote: "In the Republic of Poetry there is no war, because phrases like 'weapons of mass destruction,' 'shock and awe,' 'collateral damage' and 'surge' are nothing but clich├ęs, bad poetry by bad poets, and no one believes them. They bleed language of its meaning, drain the blood from words. You, the next generation, must reconcile language with meaning, restore the blood to words, and end this war."

Read the whole speech.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Small Poems in No Room

It would be great if I had a room of my own, with a door I could shut, a comfy armchair in the corner, and a desk by the window. I would write there for long hours, noises filtering in faintly from outside. Alas, I have no such room, and neither do many other writers who do their best to scrape together words as hastily as I grab my breakfast before running down the stairs on my way to work.

So, Virginia Woolf said a woman deserves a room of her own. Well—deserves and has are two different things. Sandra Cisneros said (and I paraphrase) that poetry is the particular art form of the poor, busy, working woman without a room of her own. It can be written on scraps. It can be written at the reception desk between calls. It can be written on lunch breaks—I take mine by a fountain, which sometimes splatters my page when the wind blows.

Poetry is often at its most powerful when it is most condensed. Think of how the haiku is revered. Think of Emily Dickinson and her four-line landscapes. This is different than the epic, grandiose work of Whitman or Ginsberg. I realized the other day that in my writing goals for grad school I’d written that I wanted to write longer, more complex poems. Do my poems have p*nis envy? Or too much American super-sized pride? Why not hope to write shorter, more complex poems?

Part of me (the scared part) is still searching for the ONE answer to how to write well…. I guess that scared part is the same part that looks to blend in with the American monoculture. But the diversity of the world, of art and nature continually throw monkey wrenches into the gears of those creaky assumptions. I am grateful for that. I am grateful for the challenge of juggling work, school, relationship, self, and writing in a corner of the living room early in the morning when I’m the only human awake, when I almost have a room of my own.