National Poetry Month

Why I’m Playing Bongo Drums on Thursday

1. The Beat Poetry Happy Hour will take place at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City this Thursday, April 17 from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, featuring Tao Lin, Zachary German, Clarissa Beyah Taylor, Larissa Shmailo, Joy Leftow and, of all people, me playing bongo drums. How, you may wonder, did I end up playing bongo drums? Well, it has something to do with a recent Bowery Poetry Club Beat Poetry Happy Hour I attended. A drummer was struggling a bit onstage, and I casually sauntered over to host George Wallace and said "I can play bongo drums better than this guy."

I meant it in a sort of smart-ass generic way, the way I might also say, for instance, "My mother can pitch relief better than Aaron Heilman". The actual truth, though, is that my mother can't pitch relief better than Aaron Heilman. The actual truth is also that I don't know how to play bongo drums. However, George took me literally and signed me up, so I will fake it as best as I can this Thursday. I will also shout out a poem or two, and if you are anywhere near downtown New York this Thursday at 6:30 I really hope you'll come by. I guarantee it will be fun.

American Life in Poetry: At the Edge of Town

Poet Laureate Ted Kooser highlights a poem each week in his American Life in Poetry series. Kooser often chooses poems from lesser known poets who focus on simple everyday topics. From time to time we'll post the reprinted columns here and give you a chance to share your thoughts. This week's selection by Don Welch delicately describes a life's work that might easily be overlooked.

Because Everyone Loves Math

In the beginning it was 5-7-5, then U2, then Sudoku ... now a whole different numerical sequence is sweeping the globe: the Fibonacci sequence, that is. After a call for poems based on everyone's favorite mathematical progression, Gregory Pincus' GottaBook Blog soon became "Fib" central, attracting hundreds of Fib writers from all walks of life. The phenomenon even caught the all-seeing eye of the New York Times. The combination of this quirky form and the wildfire buzz of online attention has resulted in upwards of a thousand Fibs written this month ... and counting. I hate to say that this seems to be much more successful and addicting than my brief run with writing verse based on the Side-Angle-Side postulate.

Poetry Prize Patrol

As if all the fame, fast cars and free gin in poetry weren't enough, just look at all of these fabulous prizes!

-- icon was honored with the 's annual on Monday. The Golden Rose is considered a crowning achievement given to only the most accomplished and enduring poets and has been in existence since 1920. The New England Poetry Club -- founded by such poetry heavyweights as Amy Lowell, Robert Frost and Conrad Aiken -- is the sponsor of the oldest poetry reading series in the U.S.

Whoopee Ti Yi Yo …

That's right, pardners -- in case you didn't know, it's officially Cowboy Poetry Week. While everyone's in a tizzy about Ginsberg and Bishop, the very popular and very active Cowboy Poetry movement is just moseying along, doing its thing during National Poetry Month as well. Celebrating the history, culture and character of the Old West and cowboy lifestyle (insert tired Brokeback Mountain joke here), the genre's following is surprisingly dedicated and widespread. To read more about cowboy poetry or sample some poems, check out The Wyoming Companion's Cowboy Poetry Gathering page. There's an interesting archived story (from the NY Times, even) about the cowboy poetry phenomenon here and you can listen to some colorful and heartfelt cowboy poetry audio at the Western Folklife Center website. There are even large gatherings of cowboy poets during several festivals and roundups held around this time of year. While the Cowboy Music & Poetry Roundup in Denver is already over for 2006, you can still read this enlightening interview with cowboy poet Baxter Black, which shows that, through all styles, backgrounds and approaches, maybe all poets are pretty much the same after all:

Poetry a Go Go

A few recent poetry newsbites...

-- The San Francisco Chronicle has a nice review of Book of Sketches by Kerouac.

-- The Loft Literary Center of Minneapolis has announced that it will cease publication of its print magazine, Speakeasy. The last issue is due out this summer. The center plans to expand its online presence as a way to continue its excellent standard of promoting and recognizing great poetry and prose.

-- British novelist and poet Muriel Spark died on Friday in Florence, Italy. Spark is best-known as the creator of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Her tightly crafted work is often noted as being bizarre or dark -- she remarked, "I'm often very deadpan, but there's a moral statement too, and what it's saying is that there's a life beyond this, and these events are not the most important things. They're not important in the long run."



The mosquito is so small
it takes almost nothing to ruin it.
Each leaf, the same.
And the black ant, hurrying.
So many lives, so many fortunes!
Every morning, I walk softly and with forward glances
down to the ponds and through the pinewoods.
Mushrooms, even, have but a brief hour
before the slug creeps to the feast,
before the pine needles hustle down
under the bundles of harsh, beneficent rain.
How many, how many, how many
make up a world!
And then I think of that old idea: the singular
and the eternal.
One cup, in which everything is swirled
back to the color of the sea and sky.
Imagine it!
A shining cup, surely!
In the moment in which there is no wind
over your shoulder,
you stare down into it,
and there you are,
your own darling face, your own eyes.
And then the wind, not thinking of you, just passes by,
touching the ant, the mosquito, the leaf,
and you know what else!
How blue is the sea, how blue is the sky,
how blue and tiny and redeemable everything is, even you,
even your eyes, even your imagination.

-- Mary Oliver

Poets on Poetry

Ask a group of poets for their advice on how to read or write poetry and you'll likely get as many answers as there are poets. When these differences are distilled into poems, we end up with a rich array of work. Here are two poets on poetry just in time for the weekend.

In a recent online discussion of how to teach students haiku, someone pointed out this gem of a recording: Ginsberg on "writing slogans", haiku and more...

For another poet's take on poetry, try Kenneth Koch's insightful essay "On Reading Poetry". Yesterday's Poem-a-Day podcast also featured Mark Strand (who is one of my favorite poets to listen to) reading Kenneth Koch's Permanently. Strand's voice has a rich steady quality that lends itself gracefully for reading poetry and this blends well with Koch's subtly intense verse.

American Life in Poetry: What We Need

Each week Poet Laureate Ted Kooser offers a selected poem along with a few words that celebrate poetry's impact on everyday life events. From time to time we like to share the reprinted columns here, and provide you a chance to add your comments. The latest pick in the American Life in Poetry series examines the sometimes overlooked story of what you don't see.

American Life in Poetry: Column 055


A circus is an assemblage of illusions, and here Jo McDougall, a Kansas poet, shows us a couple of performers, drab and weary in their ordinary lives, away from the lights at the center of the ring.

What We Need

It is just as well we do not see,
in the shadows behind the hasty tent
of the Allen Brothers Greatest Show,
Lola the Lion Tamer and the Great Valdini
in Nikes and jeans
sharing a tired cigarette
before she girds her wrists with glistening amulets
and snaps the tigers into rage,
before he adjusts the glimmering cummerbund
and makes from air
the white and trembling doves, the pair.

Poetry for Everyone

There really is something for everyone -- that is definitely true in the world of poetry. Of course there are all kinds of styles, forms, schools and subjects that many of us are already familiar with. But what about when you're hankering for something a little off the beaten path? Sure, experimental poetry is nice, and cut-ups are sometimes cool, too ... like reading tea leaves and seeing your Uncle Lester. Sometimes you just need poetry to be a little bit different; such as poems that tackle the subject of headaches and migraines, poems exploring anthropological concerns and some mighty fun gangtsa haiku. If being a gangtsa isn't for you, you may enjoy something a bit sweeter, like Peeps haiku. Those are just a few highlights of some often overlooked genres during National Poetry Month, and I'm sure we'll be hearing much more from the gangtsa-anthropologist, Peeps-loving, migrane-suffering poetry fans everywhere.