Good News and a Little Rant About Poem-A-Day

This week has been strange. I met with my Monday/Wednesday classes three days in a row, kind of. That is, I HELD class three days in a row, because on Tuesday we were supposed to make up a snow day, but only 6 students showed up to my creative writing class and a whopping 3 attended my intro to the novel class.

Students must really like my classes!

And then we were snowed out yesterday by another 4 or 8 inches. And I was really happy. Because lately, work is more and more a place where I'm continually behind and unable to complete the tasks for which I'm responsible. And that's fairly demoralizing and soul-sucking.

On a more optimistic note, it's really gorgeous outside this morning: the wind is almost nonexistent, so all of yesterday's snowfall is still covering the tree branches and the sun is shining and the air is extremely fucking cold and crisp. It's lovely. 

Other good news: Fabulous Beast was a semi-finalist for the Alice James Book Award. The announcement was a good shot-in-the-arm, for I was becoming a little pessimistic about the chances of FB making it into published-book-form. Not that I'm anywhere closer to having the book published, but it's encouraging to see it acknowledged in some way.

Also, I finished writing that review of Paper Doll Fetus, which was a fun venture. I've written a couple of nonfiction pieces this year -- one for that talk I gave with A.P. at the school in the fall -- and one for our union's new member program -- that I'd like to turn into bigger, more complete essays and submit for publication. 

***

So can we talk about Poem-A-Day from The Academy of American Poets? 

I'm on their listserv, and I receive these emails and I like receiving these emails because I do find new poets of whom I was completely unaware previously . . . but good lord, those little "About This Poem" notes -- accessible only on the emails, not on the archive at poets.org -- are driving me up a fucking wall.

It's not the format of the email, or rather, the fact of the "About This Poem" notes. I recognize that The Academy of American Poets is making poetry more accessible to an everyman, a lay reader, by the inclusion of these notes and I actually agree with this approach -- yes, allow people to understand the poems a little bit more and therefore develop an appreciation for the poem, if not a love. 

Too many of these featured poets, however, take those "About This Poem" notes and fuck them up. They fuck them up by being completely and thoroughly pretentious and academic and/or deliberately elliptical or obscure -- either a subversion of The Academy's attempt at democratization with their "About This Poem" notes ("I shouldn't have to explain my poem"/"A poem says what a poem says") or self-aggrandizing ("hey-look-at-how-learned/smart/fancypants-I-am-you-guys").

*Eyeroll* Eyeroll* Eyeroll* Now I'm dizzy. I cannot fucking stand this shit:
This poem explores a Heraclitean idea of love
That's from today's poem, "A Kiss," by David Tomas Martinez, who is probably very smart and whose poem I did admire and who followed that Greek-philosophy reference above with:
showing how, in the end, we often miss some of the most mundane things about the person lost, such as a kiss.
Why muddy the waters with name dropping, when you have such a crystal clear sentence here? And then he mucks it up by ending with:
This poem is an attempt to wiggle my toes in the stream of that kiss.
Please, please don't explain your metaphors with more metaphors. Boo, dude. Boo.

I sympathize with the pressure and weight of these notes. I think I'd be paralyzed with fright at the thought -- I would WANT to say something smart, and that didn't make me appear to be a total pleb. Honestly, I don't know how successful I'd be at that. (Probably not very successful.) If I could, however, I would avoid being obscure, or circular, in my explanation, and I would avoid making what is more or less a Cliffs Notes to a poem require its own Cliffs Notes. (For you younger folk, that's my generation's print version of SparkNotes.)

Granted, Martinez's note really isn't that bad. He made one academic reference. He used some pretty language to describe his use of pretty language. He's not criminal. But today's email is the one that broke me, that made me want to write about this phenomenon. When I have so many other things to do. Because often we vent our frustrations at inopportune times and in misdirected ways, yes?

But to drive home my point, perhaps I'll leave you with a few more of these email-a-day gems:

From Cate Marvin:
This is a poem about the metaphoric value of objects as they travel from one context into another.
 Oh! Good! This totally makes me want to reread it.

From Larry Sawyer:
The final line of my poem makes reference to the pronoun ‘I,’ which might be compared to a sundial’s gnomon casting its shadow across American poetry.
Might be? Don't you know? Also . . . what?


And from Kristy Bowen, whose poem was so much better, so much more alive, than this description:
‘house of strays’ is one segment of a short series investigating the juxtaposition of both interior and exterior habitat—how physical space shapes mental space and how we live both through the subjective idea of ‘home’ and the physical manifestation of it.
*Yawn* This in no way makes me want to read the series, which is probably a lot more interesting than it sounds right here. 

To be fair, there are many, many elegant and simple "About This Poem" notes in the Poem-A-Day emails that add context and weight to the poems they accompany. It's the exceptions, however, that just irk me.

Okay. Rant over. I must drive the kiddies to school now and face more tasks I'm sorely behind in completing.

 

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