Chicago Poetry Scene Top 135
PENNY BLUBAUGH'S AWARD PAGE
Posted by : cj on Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - 10:49 AM
Penny Blubaugh is a Young Adult Librarian in a suburban public library outside of Chicago.
She has studied poetry with Debra Bruce, Mark Perlberg, and Ron Koertge and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College.
Some of Penny Blubaugh's current poet favorites include David Budbill, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ron Koertge, David Kirby and Denise Duhamel, and she’s quite taken with the poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop.
She lives in Chicago where she bikes, skates, reads, and does yoga on
the kitchen floor.
How to View the World – Instructions
Straddle the moon as you would a horse,
your right leg over, your left leg straight,
and vertebrae by vertebrae
curl your back into the crescent.
Watch for sharp edges.
You may wish to unroll the blanket you’ve strapped to
your ladder. Remember, you’re traveling in space
It may be chilly.
Watch everything and write it down
in the Moleskine notebook you’ve brought.
When sunrise begins to eat the India
ink of night, repeat the steps
in reverse. You may find you need to dangle
from the ladder’s second to the last rung.
To ensure landing safety, hold on until
your feet brush the tips of the grass.
For full moons, see Instruction Sheet Two.
She bangs through the door
followed by the rustle of
her ankle-length cape,
purple, bullet-stopping, “P”
embossed in yellow.
The fast, flash embodiment
superhero of the world
of words. Call one-eight-
hundred POET-HELP! when you’re
desperate for a phrase,
longing for inspiration,
want love, drama, or
a cool, pure metaphor to
beautify a square
day suffering from edges
of soul-deep darkness.
Instantaneous, smooth fix.
Better than pot, sex,
pint mugs of beer, chocolate.
Go ahead. Admit
it. You need help. She’s right here.
This conversation between myself (PB) and Ron Koertge (RK) took place in a series of e-mails during June 2006. Koertge is the author of Making Love to Roget's Wife and Geography of the Forehead, both books of poetry, as well as young adult novels including The Arizona Kid, The Brimstone Journals and Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (both in verse), Stoner and Spaz, Margaux with an X, and Boy, Girl, Boy.
PB: One of the things that I really love about poetry is the way it tells tiny stories that could have started somewhere else, and may finish there, too. Little slices of just about anything.
What is it about poetry that makes it attractive to some and abhorrent to others?
RK: It's a bit of a commonplace to say that as far as liking poetry lots of people have been burned early on, but I think it's true. Billy Collins says that high school is where poetry goes to die. People don't forget trying to ferret out meanings in poetry; unlike elephants the disillusioned don't turn on their masters. They just give up on poetry.
Another question about attractive/abhorrence is the writer part, e. g., why do some writers hate poetry and why are others drawn to it? I had a prose writer tell me that poetry never gets anything done compared to prose. An answer to that is the well-known one: "Well, yeah, poetry is merely beautiful."
One of the problems with talking about poetry is that there are so many kinds. No one just talks about food; it's soul food or gourmet food or fast food or whatever. So there's soul poetry and gourmet poetry and fast poetry, etc. More people would like poetry if they could just see how many kinds of it exists. Who doesn't like Ed Field, or Denise Duhamel, or Tony Hoagland?
PB: High school burn – how true. I think it happens with a lot of literature, but more people turn against poetry than turn against reading, even if they only stick with the N Y Times bestsellers. But poetry – aarugh!
Working in the library, it's always sort of sad in April when every teacher decides that their classes have to "do" poetry. Kids have no idea what they want – they just want to do the damn assignment and get it over with. So they grab any book, and when they get to school they start the dissection. Pow. Certain death.
Or, they only get introduced to romantic poets, or Shakespeare and they aren't ready to read them. They can't get past the language to find the relevance.
Still, somebody must be getting it. Ted Kooser and Billy Collins drew huge crowds when I saw them. So, is there some kind of a resurgence going on?
RK: I tend to think there is a kind of ground swell that's specifically due to Billy and Ted. They're both so accessible and charming. Accessible in the same way but charming in different ways. Billy is urban, Ted not so much. Kooser says that his habit was to take his poems into the office (I think he sold insurance) and show them to the secretaries. If they didn't get it, he'd re-write. (By the way, everything Garrison Kellior reads on his show is gettable at once.)
Maybe people are just relieved at hearing poetry they understand. I was in Utah working with some people in a swanky retirement community. I read a few poems by different people (Fairchild, Kowit, Olds) and then had them do some exercises. At the end of the seminar two of the women said how happy they were that 1.) they didn't have to figure out the meaning, and 2.) the poem simply meant what it said.
PB: I had a very similar experience here. We had someone from the Poetry Center of Chicago come to the library's monthly writers' group and work with the mostly senior citizen members. She gave them the poem she was going to work with in advance and it was different, and strange. They said it was weird. I said no, it was cool. They said they'd try to work with it.
So, what she did was to read them the poem, have them read the poem, talk about some of the lines and then she gave them a worksheet where she used lines from the poem and left blanks for them to fill in. They said it was too hard and they couldn't do it: write poetry – oh, no! She said sure you can.
By the end of the evening they all had a poem and they read them out loud. Pretty neat. And I saw her pull the same trick with high school students using Journey by Mark Strand.
But both of these, even the strange poem whose author I can't remember right now, were accessible. What about poems that are just hard?
RK: "Hard" is a little like "poetry" and "food" in that here are different kinds/degrees. The so-called language poets, for instance, just leave me cold. I rarely "get" the poem and if what they're doing is what I've read they're doing (language has been co-opted and ruined by ads and politicians so poets need to use language in another way) then I'm not the person who should be reading these poems. That should be someone more gullible than I.
Then there's somebody like John Ashberry whom I never understand and almost always like. With some difficult poets (especially in magazines) I get the sense they're being hard on purpose, that their goal in writing is to be enigmatic. With other recalcitrant poems I don't feel like that, and it's fun to puzzle over them.
PB: I know what you mean. There are certain things I start and don't even finish because I'm completely lost. And when someone reads one of those stream-or-consciousness poems out loud – well, I just drift. But there are other things that just sound good, even if I'm not sure what's going on.
RK: Trying to convince a casual reader that he or she should mouse around in a poem for fun probably won't work. They'll fall back to high school and Mrs. Byzantine's English class and they'll look for meaning. I'm waiting for a sense of harmony to emerge and willing to give the poem ten readings. Sometimes.
PB: Or just read it, like something about it, and let that be enough.
Books I Like
Poetry Books I Like
The Lady of Shallot
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, illustrated by Genevieve Cote
Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Murray Kimber
Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems
collected by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka
A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms
Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka
Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets
How To Read a Poem and Start a Poetry Circle
The Making of a Poem (how and why of forms)
Mark Strand and Evan Boland
In the Palm of Your Hand: the Poet’s Portable Workshop
Rules of the Dance (even more forms)
How to Read a Poem: and Fall in Love with Poetry
Edgar Allan Poe and the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and
Early Mornings: Remembering My Father, William Stafford
The Treehouse: Eccentric Wisdom from my Father On How to Live, Love,
Poetry 180: a Turning Back to Poetry
Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR’s All Things Considered
First Loves: Poets Introduce the Poems that Captivate and Inspire Them
Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times
edited by Neil Astley
This Art: Poems About Poetry
edited by Michael Wiegers
Making Love to Roget’s Wife
Two and Two
19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
Naomi Shihab Nye
Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse
Big Leg Music
Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer
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