Friday, October 2, 2009

Poetry Friday: From the Poetry Pavilion at the National Book Festival

Before I jump into my Poetry Friday post,  a reminder of the Jody Call Contest to win a signed copy of Operation Yes. (Jody calls are poetry, too!)  I already have my first entry, and promises (dares, teases, hopes) from several others who say you're trying it.  Boo-yah!

Also, don't forget to nominate your favorite book in the Poetry category for the Cybils. (I'm a second round judge and I can't wait to see what entries are going to knock me down with their brilliance this year.)

Okay, on to my notes from the Poetry and Prose Pavilion at the National Book Festival, which I deferred from my main Book Festival post on Sunday.

I scrambled into my seat late for Edward Hirsch, who was reading from his own work before taking questions about poetry in general.  I'm a huge fan of his book, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, so it was the Q&A that most rocked my world.

First off, Hirsch is hilarious.  If a questioner asked: "How can you use line lengths to convey meaning in poetry?"  Hirsch would repeat the question at his microphone, garbling it to a put-down of his own poems: "The kind gentleman asked: How come the line lengths in your poetry make no sense?"

After the laughter, he would give a beautifully reasoned answer.  For the line length question, he explained that the norm for spoken English is the five beat length of iambic pentameter---that's what sounds natural to our ears.  So, if a poet uses lines longer than that----Walt Whitman, for example---we hear it as something beyond the everyday, entering into the visionary or prophetic realm.  If a poet uses shorter lines---William Carlos Williams in The Red Wheelbarrow---we hear a focus on the concrete, physical world, perhaps with a sense of loss.

He also said these wise things, which I tweeted (that sounds blasphemous, somehow):

"A poem must have something at stake."

and in response to a question about religion in his poems:

"Poetry is unauthorized testimony."

Wow. I could write all day on those answers.

I have more from the Poetry Pavilion, but that's all I have time to write up today.

Here's an Edward Hirsch poem for you, and if you follow the link, there's a recording of him reading it, so you can pretend you're in the pavilion, listening:

Wild Gratitude
by Edward Hirsch

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey,
And put my fingers into her clean cat's mouth,
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens,
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air,
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight,
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart,
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing
In every one of the splintered London streets,

Read the rest here.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Kelly at Crossover.


  1. Sara,

    I so wish I could be there with you!

  2. Ohh, unauthorized testimony, testimony being the report of someone who has felt, seen, heard. Lovely, lovely. And his poem made me long to read the Christopher Smart again, and so I shall.

    I am thinking of my own Jody Calls, and marching along today. Have fun!

  3. Thanks for this post today -- I needed the shot in the arm provided by the the Hirsch recording ... and your jody call posting! I haven't posted anything poetry-related today, but do so enjoy refueling on Poetry Fridays.

  4. Enjoyed this post! Thanks.

  5. Oh, Edward Hirsch how I adore you...
    I have not read this one before and it is just positively achey, isn't it????
    Thank you...

  6. Thanks for sharing the Edward Hirsch poem and your reflections of his reading! It sounds like an amazing event!!

  7. Holy wow, I love that poem! I saw it on Friday but wanted to come back and read it without noise around me. Little Willow needs to see it, too. Man, that is beautiful.

    So is "Poetry is unauthorized testimony." Didn't you have a post a while back with succinct statements like that about what poetry is? Or am I making this up? Wouldn't it be neat for someone to compile these?

    Jules, 7-Imp

  8. Yes, Jules---I think you're thinking of the post I did in April, where I quoted Hirsch quoting other poets on what poetry is.

    He blew my mind; he really did.

  9. What an amazing experience that must have been! Thanks for sharing it with us. I'm thinking about jody calls now...


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