A Day of Words: Poets Forum, 2013

The day didn’t start well. I woke up too early. And despite encountering a beautiful young buck during my run, I moved crankily through my morning routine.

Then I was late. The light on my car was shouting at me that my tires needed air, but someone at the gas station was blocking the pump. I forgot to check EZPass and didn’t have enough cash to pay the toll through the Lincoln Tunnel.

After finally arriving Manhattan, I got stuck behind a bus, behind pedestrians, and then behind a cop waving me down to tell me I’d made an illegal turn, since at 10:32:10 am on a Saturday, I couldn’t make a right turn onto 7th Avenue.

Boy, life sure is hard for a Bridge and Tunneler.

I’d nearly turned around to give up and go back home, but there’s something about viewing a traffic ticket as an entry fee that makes you feel like you need to make the most of the day in Manhattan.

So I went onward to the Poets Forum, an annual conference put on by the American Academy of Poets. I’d really wanted to make it in time for the second session of the day, Reading and Writing Long Poems, primarily because I wanted to see Anne Waldman speak. I’d seen her read once before from Dark Arcana, Afterimage or Glow.

However, it was Toi Derricotte‘s words that stuck with me the most about long-form poetry. She said that she found long poems came as “the expression of something in me that wasn’t expressed for a long time.” She also encouraged us to experiment with form, that as poets, we decide the rhythm and meter of a poem, and where a line break is most meaningful.

A paragraph can subvert the idea of form and put the reader in a more natural place.

I also really liked the idea of doing research on a poem, and approaching certain topics in a more journalistic and documentarian way. In this vein, Waldman said she kept a lot of files to keep her longer works separate, which wasn’t something I’d ever really thought of before.

I was also particularly interested in the session on American Poets Abroad, primarily because I aspire to assign that same title to myself. It was a fun panel, and I’ll admit I felt a great sense of local pride at the talk of Walt Whitman being one of the common threads in exposing American poetry to people abroad.

I appreciated Marilyn Hacker‘s take on what it’s like to be an American writer writing in English, when the majority of the language you’re hearing and speaking is not English. There’s a difference between writing in your mother tongue, and then the language of your daily life. I’ve found that it makes sense for the two to bleed, and I wrote some poems with a mixture of English and Italian after my trip over the summer. But English is so rich, and so easily incorporates new words.

It was comforting to be in a room with so many other people who are passionate about poetry. Poetry is, often, a solitary activity – one of the most solitary of the arts. It’s easy to forget that this world of words and legendary poetic figures doesn’t only exist in your head. Other people feel the same way, and struggle the same way with voice, and feel inspired the same way when form and length and prose is debated.

I have lots of challenges for myself coming from today, the most important of which are: submit to at least one journal/magazine per month, experiment more with form, especially rhyme (scary!), and to start thinking of works as to how they may fit into a book or specific theme/project. Above all, keep working.


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