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Friday, December 3, 2021

Poetic Intervention

The arrival of spring goes hand in hand with images apt to inspire the nearest lounging poet. How fitting, then, that National Poetry Month should fall on this time of year.

In Yolo County the celebration has already begun, but with readings on the way at both The Avid Reader and Bistro 33, the coming weeks promise to be eventful.

The Sacramento Poetry Center, located on 25th St., held its annual poetry conference Apr. 4and 5, featuring readings, workshops and lectures by local and visiting poets. Among its participants was Sacramento State English professor, Joshua McKinney, who read with fellow poets Camille Norton and Jane Hershfield on Friday evening. The following morning he held a workshop with approximately 10 participants.

“What I liked most was the camaraderie, the spirit of sharing a mutual endeavor that I experienced,” McKinney said. “There were some fine writers in attendance.”

Tim Kahl, vice president of the Sacramento Poetry Center, shared a similar viewpoint of the event and said it was one of the best conferences they’ve held in many years. But while this poetic congregation comes only once, local poets can swap critiques on each other’s pieces. The poetry center holds writing workshops every Tuesday evening from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Hart Senior Center on 27th Street in Sacramento.

But for those who missed the two-day event last weekend, there are still two more opportunities within the next few days to get a fix of rhymes and verse.

On Friday at 7:30 p.m., poet Edythe Haendel Schwartz will make her way to The Avid Reader, located at Second and E streets, to read selections from and sign copies of her latest collection Exposure.

Like McKinney, Schwartz is a faculty member of California State University, Sacramento. Interestingly enough,however, she taught in the department of child development as opposed to literature.

“There were other things that I wanted to do that I didn’t have time for … and I’ve been reading poetry my whole life,” Schwartz said. “At first, I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing … but I have done a lot of writing, and once you’re a writer you can write all kinds of things.”

Schwartz’s transition from factual writing to a more creative approach to the written word was smooth due to her academic background in language development. Her long experience with reading poetry also helped.

“I asked for a poetry anthology on my eighth birthday, and I still have it,” she said. “I love the sounds, the rhythms, a beautiful line.”

Just days after this event is an evening of poetry Apr. 16 at Bistro 33, located at Third and F streets. Poetry Night, hosted by English professor and poet Andy Jones, occurs on the first and third Wednesdays of every month at 9 p.m. On Wednesday, Bistro will feature UC Davis’ own University Writing Program lecturer, John Boe.

Boe, a professional storyteller as well as a poet, is scheduled to read and recite his own poems in addition to a mixture of ribald folk and true tales.

“I might tell a story with a puppet,” he said.

When unoccupied with telling tales or writing them, Boe teaches the freshman seminar “Poetry by Heart,” in which students are expected to memorize and recite at least 12 lines of poetry for eight class sessions.

“They must once do something from Shakespeare, and can do at most one contemporary song and at most one of their own poems, but other than that, the choice is theirs,” Boe said. “Often, there are unusual choices: for example, a poem in a foreign language or a poem put to music. The class is a lot of fun.”

With these events in mind, the young undergraduate poet can find plenty of amusement within the next few weeks. For a taste of each poet’s work, read on to page ___. They may just be the inspiration you need to scribble some garbled lines in your notebook and commemorate the month on your own.

 

JAYNE WILSON can be reached at arts@californiaaggie.com.

 

POET CORNER:

 

John Boe

John Boe has been an English department lecturer since 1981 and was the first to win the Excellence in Teaching Award for his courses in the University Writing Program. This summer, he will be going abroad to teach Shakespeare Live! in London for summer sessions.

 

“The Right Word”

 

Where I teach, students write at least 6000 words

For a writing course, In order to teach them how

To choose their words carefully, I require

Four 1500 word papers—each with

The same word repeated 1500 times..

 

These assignments are not as easy as they seem.

I do have standards. I gave the word ‘destiny,’

Repeated 1500 times, a B, and suggested

That ‘fate’ would have been a stronger choice.

 

I gave A’s to ‘afternoon,’ ‘loose,’ and ‘badinage.’

‘The’ and ‘and’ got D’s, as do most

Articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns.

 

I am teaching them that the heart of writing

Is in nouns, verbs, and adjectives (and the perfect adverbs).

‘Licorice,” ‘love,’ ‘red,’ ‘lonely,’—all lovely—

And so they learn to choose their words carefully.

 

For the final, they put their four words together—

With extra words if needed—to make a sentence,

Thus ‘red,’ ‘licorice,’ ‘love,’ and ‘afternoon,’

Yielded an obvious A of a final exam:

 

‘I gave my love red licorice this afternoon.”

 

Commentary:

University Writing Program courses, which I have been teaching since 1981, require students to write 6,000 words of graded work. I usually assign four 1,500-word papers, or five 1,200-word papers. One day I realized that this requirement said nothing about sentences, only that students write 6,000 words. And so I thought how cool it would be (and easy for both me and the students) if each paper consisted of the same word repeated over and over. Such papers would be more like works of conceptual art than college papers. I shared this idea with some of my fellow teachers, who seemed amused, and then I decided to write it up as a poem. I often take something funny I have said or made up and try to turn it into a poem

Joshua McKinney

Joshua McKinney is currently an associate professor for California State University, Sacramento’s English department. Since 1999, he has taught numerous poetry classes and has published two collections of poetry. He was awarded the President’s Award for Research and Creativity in January.

 

“Aspect”

 

From where they stood

the country appeared

exhausted, yet he knew this

to be an error in perception.

 

“That cloud looks like a gun,”

his little son said. It did.

Waiting, he feared

what else the child might see.

 

Amid the scree a few stunted

pines leaned in memory

of weight or wind. Then his son

pointing skyward cried, “Look!”

 

Comments:

We seem to be at a historical crossroad of sorts, and as a parent, I often wonder what my children’s world will be like. “Aspect” is a poem that deals with the uncertainty of that future. We don’t know what the son sees at the end of the poem. I leave this to the reader’s imagination. A pessimist might see one thing, an optimist another.

 

Edythe Haendel Schwartz

Edythe Haendel Schwartz recently retired from the Department of Child Development at California State University, Sacramento after having worked there for 25 years. She was written and published many reviews and is currently a regular writer for Calyx, a journal of art and literature by women.

 

“Lacunae”

 

Mistletoe haloes the dead

oak standing in the park,

empty as a child unfed.

 

The plant clings to bark

living only on what’s left,

oak standing in the park,

 

yet empty, only its cloak left,

lightning charred inside –

like a child living on what’s left

 

of chipped self may hide

in skin, hoping you will hold

her, not strike. She burns inside,

 

an oak standing, growing old

too soon of fending blows

on skin, hoping you will hold

 

her snug against you, fill hollows

the way Mistletoe haloes the dead

oak. No hope of ending blows,

she grows empty, a child unfed.

Comments:

On a hike, I was struck by the wreath-like forms of mistletoe on branches of dead oaks. Mistletoe, while a plant that in some cultures celebrates love and joy, has its sinister side; it can only survive by living off another. The oak is hollow – as is the neglected or abused child – charred inside, the child’s self chipped away. In the poem, I emphasize the word unfed, as the verb “feed” encodes physical care, emotional care, attention, belief in a child’s ability to thrive and willingness to provide the conditions. I think much of my work expresses concerns similar to those addressed in this poem.

The poem is written in a form called a terzanelle (a villanelle in terza rima), allowing words and phrases to resonate in the reader’s mind.

 

 

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