Monthly Archives: June 2014

Childish Efforts

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I sometimes mention in my bio pages that I wrote my first book of poetry aged 10. In a masochistic mood on a recent trip to my parents’ house, I pulled the book out for the first time in a decade or three, blew off the dust and had a read. Here’s a photo of the best of the lot from Poems for All Occasions.

You won’t be surprised to see that it isn’t great. My grasp of meter was a bit shaky, as it is for most beginners. But it was clearly an independent effort, as the teachers used to say about the saddest-looking science fair projects. No adults helped here.

I’m not sure that either my poetic sensibilities or my sense of humour have changed much in the intervening decades.

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Nightmare by Proxy

I had dithered over whether to go to the poetry conference in West Chester, mostly because I was taking so much other leave from work in quick succession. While I was in DC over Easter, my non-poet sister Sandy finally persuaded me I should go. I bought the plane ticket.

That very night she had an anxiety dream on my behalf. In it she was trying to write a sonnet for a workshop but kept forgetting how many lines it was supposed to have and how many beats per line. Finally she got to the end, but found she had miscounted and it was only 13 lines. In desperation, she filled up the last line with “words, words, words…” until she had reached 10 syllables.

At West Chester, I attended a reading which included a sonnet where the last line began:

               Just words, words….

If there had been any more than 2 repetitions of “words” I probably would have broken into hysterical laughter.

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West Chester

Wow, it’s been a long time since I blogged. In my defence, this was my first full weekend in the country since before Easter. Since then, I’ve been to DC to help take care of my Dad when he was released from rehab, had a long weekend in Jersey, went to my annual scientific conference in Milan followed by a holiday in the Lakes, and went to a formalist poetry conference in West Chester Pennsylvania. Later on I might write about some of those other adventures, but for now I’ll talk about the conference.

My main reason for going this year was that my sister Susan won the big book award, the Donald Justice poetry prize, and gave a special reading (as well as a reading of light verse on the last evening). I’d never seen her do a formal reading before, and it was super fun to be there for her big moment. She memorizes most of her poems and delivers them smoothly. It was great to see so many people coming up afterward to tell her how much they liked it.

I also enjoyed meeting so many people who I know through the online poetry forum Eratosphere. They’re a friendly and interesting bunch. My favourite moment was introducing myself to Susan de Sola, who told me that I didn’t resemble my sister at all. I laughed, and then she said. “Oh, I see it now!”

The panels were interesting and accessible – unlike the MLA conference. I snuck into a session of that once with Susan and was completely mystified by the jargon. Here, even when they were being a bit abstruse, it was still firmly rooted in the text (which they often supplied copies of), so I at least got the gist of what they meant.

The highlight of the week was my workshop with Alicia Stallings. She’s a favourite poet of mine, and a very good teacher too. I had been worried about my ability to keep up with homework (and wondering what had moved me to spend my holiday voluntarily doing homework), but in the end there was only one assignment and it practically wrote itself. I blogged about a year ago about my failed attempt to write a poem in metrical hendecasyllables. For this workshop I had to take one of my poems and split it into stanzas — and what do you know, splitting up my turgid 18 lines of hendecs into 4 sapphic stanzas really improved it. The structure of the stanzas formed a focus to cut around, which was just what the poem needed. It now looks much more inviting on the page. Still some work to do, but I no longer see it as unsalvageable.

On the down side, I had a nasty cold (which I still have), and sat around all week coughing like some sort of Memento Mori (or least a Memento Mary).

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