The Mark Blog

Poem of the Week: "Notice" by Steve Kowit


This evening, the sturdy Levi's
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
suddenly tore.
How or why I don't know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
got into this street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi's ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.

Steve Kowit

Writing Prompt: Write an Anaphora Poem

Today's prompt comes from The Journal.

Poetry Prompt: Write an anaphora poem. An anaphora is "the repetition of a word or expression several times within a clause or within a paragraph." In poetry the repetition of the phrase can be just at the beginning of each line, setting the tone as a meditation or a mantra, or it can be utilized more subtlety within the poem. The poem can be free verse or prose style.

According to The Academy of American Poets, Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Walt Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," Section V of "The Waste Land" by T. S. Eliot, and "From a Litany" by Mark Strand are all excellent examples of how modern writers have found inventive ways to use anaphora. See another example below:


October (section I)  Louise Glück 

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn't Frank just slip on the ice,
didn't he heal, weren't the spring seeds planted
didn't the night end,
didn't the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters
wasn't my body
rescued, wasn't it safe
didn't the scar form, invisible
above the injury
terror and cold, didn't they just end, wasn't the back garden
harrowed and planted—
I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren't the seeds planted,
didn't vines climb the south wall 
I can't hear your voice
for the wind's cries, whistling over the bare ground 
I no longer care
what sound it makes 
when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound 
what it sounds like can't change what it is-- 
didn't the night end, wasn't the earth
safe when it was planted 
didn't we plant the seeds,
weren't we necessary to the earth, 
the vines, were they harvested?


The Kind of Writer I Aim to Be by Mehnaz Turner

So I had my midterm review in the Mark Program this past Sunday. Technically, this was round two of the defense with one more round to follow come December. To prepare for this most recent conversation, I had to submit an updated draft of my po-manuscript a couple of weeks ago. I also anticipated questions on craft, structure, and aesthetics.  I wasn't disappointed.
My manuscript since July has definitely evolved for the better, and I owe this to my Mark mentors. My book in progress is about thirty pages leaner now, and it’s organized into four sections. It’s more focused and more readable than it was when I first began. What still needs work is my revision of individual poems. There’s a lot to do before the Final Defense, and in many ways, I’m just getting started.
Something that came up for me during the defense "talk" was my resistence to articulating my aesthetic choices in a specifically academic way. When asked about my revision process, for instance, I gave a broad yet authentic response. It seemed the committee wanted my thinking at times to reflect a deeper understanding of my work. And I couldn’t help wondering, is such a deeper understanding really necessary? Many of my artistic choices–from layout to line breaks–feel intuitive. There’s a logic behind them, but this logic isn’t always conscious or concrete in my mind. I don’t really know if I want it to be.
While I admit that I’m a workshop junkie, I have not pursued an M.F.A. The M.F.A., as I understand it, is meant to help writers hone their craft by making them more conscious of their approach to writing. While I agree that voracious reading and critical thinking are essential to one’s growth as an artist, I’m not so sure it’s essential to be able to intentionally explain every choice one makes.  Not every writer needs to be able to communicate their expertise on craft. This is not to suggest that I am opposed to talking about my work–I just prefer doing so in a more casual free-associative way. I aim to be an artist, not a literary critic of my genre. I want romance...  Not academic formality.
And I feel pretty good about this. I mean, I’m excited for the final review, and I plan to think through my work in preparation for this conversation because it is expected, but I am also feeling more confident in my less than academic understanding of my poems. I want my writing to evolve organically, wildly, and subconsciously. I want it to improve. But I’m comfortable with "intuitive" whims guiding the thrust of my sensibilities. I’ve never been that person in workshop who mystifies others with perceptive insights into po-analysis. I admire, maybe even envy, writers who can do this. But the fact is, this is not the kind of writer I aim to be. Writing for me is a complex task...I want the thinking that follows to remain simple.
That said, I’m fortunate to be traveling through the Mark program. What’s been most galvanizing is having engaged mentors pour over my work and point out tendencies–good or bad–in what I’m doing. I’m lucky to be getting this detail-oriented feedback. Being in the Mark has also been a time of discovery for me. I’ve realized how much I love the idea of putting together a book, and though I take this task seriously, I’m serious about not over-thinking it. I’m starting to respect my preferences more, which is making me more optimistic.
Being an artist is a choice some of us make. Some artists also make the choice to be literary critics of their own work. This is not my preference. I choose poetry, not scholarship. I want to be able to discuss my work, but I’m most comfortable doing so in a less formal associatively. Enlightened, foolish, or naive, this is the kind of writer I aim to be. 

Up the Ante: Win an Award from PSA


Today the Mark Blog introduces you to the world of poetry prizes. Recently PEN Center USA partenered with the Poetry Society of America in an effort to broaden both organizations' ability to recognize worthy writers and their work. This year, the PEN Center USA Literary Awards Festival will give our new joint prize, the PSA Poetry Award, to Craig Santos Perez for his book, from unincorporated territory [saina].

Both PEN Center USA and PSA give out numerous literary awards every year. The Poetry Society of America gives awards for specific poetry projects and a variety of accomplishments by poets. For example:

The Norma Farber First Book Award gives $500 to a poet for a first book of original poetry written by an American and published in either a hard or soft cover in a standard edition in 2011.

The Louis Hammer Memorial Award gives $250 in recognition of a distinguished poem in the surrealist manner.

The George Bogin Memorial Award give $500 for a selection of four or five poems that use language in an original way to reflect the encounter of the ordinary and the extraordinary and to take a stand against oppression in any of its forms.

The PSA will be accepting submissions for their 2012 Awards season from October 1 to December 22, 2011. Read more about their annual awards here.

Poem of the Week: "The Flurry" by Sharon Olds

The Flurry
Sharon Olds
When we talk about when to tell the kids,
we are so together, so concentrated.
I mutter, “I feel like a killer.” “I’m
the killer”—taking my wrist—he says,
holding it. He is sitting on the couch,
the old indigo chintz around him,
rich as a night sea with jellies,
I am sitting on the floor. I look up at him,
as if within some chamber of matedness,
some dust I carry around me. Tonight,
to breathe its Magellanic field is less
painful, maybe because he is drinking
a wine grown where I was born—fog,
eucalyptus, sempervirens—and I’m
sharing the glass with him. “Don’t catch
my cold,” he says, “—oh that’s right, you want
to catch my cold.” I should not have told him that,
I tell him I will try to fall out of
love with him, but I feel I will love him
all my life. He says he loves me
as the mother of our children, and new troupes
of tears mount to the acrobat platforms
of my ducts and do their burning leaps.
Some of them jump straight sideways, and, for a
moment, I imagine a flurry
of tears like a whirra of knives thrown
at a figure, to outline it—a heart’s spurt
of rage. It glitters, in my vision, I nod
to it, it is my hope.

Writing Prompt Thursday: An Ancient Challenge from Poets & Writers

Ruminate on the following lines by Greek poet Aeschylus: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget / falls drop by drop upon the heart, / until, in our own despair, / against our will, / comes wisdom / through the awful grace of God."

Use these lines as the epigraph to a poem. Once you've finished the poem, delete the epigraph.

Up the Ante Wednesday: Hedgebrook

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come.

Hedgebrook was founded on Virginia Woolf’s belief that giving a writer a room of her own is the greatest vote of confidence in her voice. What we’ve discovered in the ensuing decades is the power of community: bringing women together is equally important in nurturing and informing their voices, and emboldening them to speak.

Located on beautiful Whidbey Island near Seattle, Hedgebrook offers one of the few residency programs in the world exclusively dedicated to supporting the creative process of women writers, and bringing their work to the world through innovative public programs.

Hedgebrook's selection process occurs once a year, in the fall. Through a completely anonymous, two-round process, approximately forty writers are invited for residencies of two weeks to six weeks. The residency season runs from February to November. Learn more.

Taking an Aesthetic Stand to Life by Mehnaz Turner

So I’m a high school English teacher by day, and teaching has been keeping me plenty busy this past month. With the school year in full gear now, finding the time to write can at times be a challenge. I mean, I find the time. I try to make it work. I have to. But this feeling of a being a poet-artist seems to be lingering in the background as my grading piles up and lesson prepping consumes my creative juices.

I enjoy teaching and the stimulation it brings. But when teaching dominates my intellectual faculties, it’s hard to honor the lure of the page consistently. So I’ve been grappling with this. My life these days is pretty cluttered with errands, chores, and pragmatics. Playing with language becomes secondary when this happens. And I can’t help wondering, how do I consistently answer the call to write in this busy life I’m leading lately? How do I honor this call when I’m not always in the midst of poets..?

And as I’m writing this it’s hitting me that for me, being a writer has a lot to do with wonder. It’s making the choice to view the world through poet goggles, to view the world as numinous and magical and beautiful–every day. It’s taking an aesthetic stand to life. It’s the willingness to work alchemy on routine thought patterns and externalize one’s experience in the form of an art object.

So I guess I’m writing this to remind myself to take this leap more consistently...each day. I have a long commute to work and several details to work through and many individuals to serve, but I want to make room for the capacious call of that Self beneath my worldly self. I want to remember to bear witness.

These days in the Mark Program, I have been working on revising my manuscript... but I want to keep generating new work. I want to stay curious, posing some existential or romantic question every day that beckons me to discover answers on the page.  That inspires me to take an aesthetic stand.

Poem of the Week: "Her Kind" by Anne Sexton

Listen to Anne Sexton read this poem.

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Anne Sexton