Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

December 3, 2010

If you like Lucille Clifton, you will really enjoy,  “Black Swan” by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon.  I stumbled upon this book in the UMW bookstore last Spring.  Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, a Virginia resident, is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and was a semi-finalist for the “Discovery”/The Nation Award in 1999 and 2001.  Her poetry collection entitled “Black Swan” was the winner of the Cave Canem Prize.

            Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon delivers, in “Black Swan,” compact lines fraught with enjambment, and more enjambment in its internal line breaks.  The poems in this collection incorporate biblical and mythological references interspersed with the African-American experience and vernacular language to deliver a piercing, often heart-rending portrait of the female experience.  From the very beginning of the opening lines of the first poem, Van Clief-Stefanon’s, signature, compact lines and understated punctuation draw the reader in:

Imagine Leda black –

Skinny legs        peach-switch

Scarred         vaselined to gleaming

Like magnolia leaves          Imagine

A teenager         hips asway like moss

Switchin’ down a dirt road


This collection of lyrical narrative is a truly irresistible, must-read that cuts straight to the heart.  I find myself coming back to it again and again.  I could not find any readings from “Black Swan” but here is a video of her reading at the Virginia Festival of the Book, March, 2010, from her book entitled “Open Intervals.”

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon at the VA Festival of the Book v=zDjOw_CNuf4

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Allen Ginsberg’s insight

December 3, 2010

Hey all, i have a bizarre post to show you here today, but i hope you find it interesting nonetheless. For my poem recital, sounds like i’m performing ballet when i say it like that, i have chosen to go back to my old favorite and staple, Allen Ginsberg. Not only do i love his poetry in general, but i feel that his language and voice of his writing makes reading his works out loud even more dynamic and entrancing. For my interpretative performance earlier in the semester, Everett and i performed Ginsberg’s series “Magic Psalm,” “The Reply,” and “The End” in which Ginsberg is writing under the influence of Ayahuasca about the experiences he is having. As such a prominent figure within the Beat Movement, it is unsuprising to find Ginsberg experimenting with drugs, afterall it was the 50’s, 60’s and 70s. After my performance, i was inspired to look at Ginsberg’s other poems that are addressed to various mind-altering substances. I stumbled upon “Lysergic Acid,” otherwise known as LSD, and fell in love with the out-of-this-world lyrics and images he uses. It made me wonder whether or not Ginsberg had had anything to say about LSD so, naturally, i went to YouTube to see if there were any interviews with Ginsberg on the topic. Instead of an interview with Ginsberg talking about the drug personally, i found an interesting clip of him outlining the history and creation of LSD within America. I am including the interview, although i am bad at figuring out how to get the video to play within the post so, if nothing else, you will have the link to check it out. I will be performing Ginsberg’s “Lysergic Acid” on Tuesday, so check out the video if you’re curious and prepare for a ride through Ginsberg’s subconscious on Tuesday.

Allen Ginsberg in the Sky with Diamonds

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“Howl” as a Graphic Novel

December 2, 2010

I stumbled across this article on NPR today, which discusses Allen Ginsberg and what his work has meant to the author of the article.  It’s an interesting commentary complete with a fun personal story she tells about Ginsberg, but what really struck my attention was the fact that “Howl” has been transformed into a graphic novel.  It was released this fall and the illustrations were done by Eric Drooker, a friend of Ginsberg’s from the Lower East Side of NYC.  The two had collaborated on Illuminated Poems during the 1990’s and the collection was published just a year before Ginsberg passed away.  When thoughts of creating a motion picture about Ginsberg began popping up, Drooker was approached about illustrating some of the scenes which have in turn resulted in large portions of this graphic novel.

Here is a link to the introduction of Howl: A Graphic Novel, which is written by Eric Drooker.  It describes some of his own personal experiences with Ginsberg and how they have shaped his thoughts for the book.

Here is a link to some of the other images that can be viewed from Drooker’s book.  I find all of them fascinating; it’s so interesting to see how Ginsberg’s work is interpreted by other people, especially someone who actually knew Ginsberg and worked with him.  Some of Drooker’s images are so literal and true to the text, while others are really individualized and unexpected.  I have really been enjoying looking through the graphic novel and finding new ways to interpret the poem.  With the release of the graphic novel and the motion picture, it’s interesting to see how “Howl” has been reworked for older audiences to enjoy and new audiences to discover.

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Why I Think the Debate about Spoken Word Poetry is Mute

December 2, 2010

Poetry – that elusive thing that once breathed into the universe leaves its echo engraved upon the hearts of men.

Notice that I do not mention words, written or otherwise, nor do I mention rhythm, beat, tone, form, or any of the dozens of other things that poets contrive to place upon the meaning of poetry.   That is because, to borrow from Ralph Waldo Emerson, words are symbols for things.    As such, poetry of men uses symbols in the form of letters and words, to create something which can then represent things, emotions and connections in a new way that constructs and makes clear in the minds of other men a whole new way of understanding the world.   Emerson’s impossible job description of “The Poet” makes clear to me that men can never truly be poets. 

That which poets construct, with words, is but a meager symbol of the true poetry that exists in the ever-changing, yet never-changing, seasons of nature.   True poetry exists only in nature – in being.   Poetry of men is merely a symbol of those emotions felt in the dances of butterflies as they flit from one bloom to the next or in the slow unfolding of a ruse bud to the morning sun. 

Poetry – that which is written and treasured by men in the catalogues of time – is but a symbol constructed of more symbols in a vain attempt to capture the essence of the one true universal poetry – that which can never be adequately expressed except in the experience of being.

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What is John Cage Doing????

December 2, 2010

John Cage walking on water errrrr performing \”Water Walk\”

I have been meaning to do a short post about John Cage ever since working on the Black Mountain College multimedia project. The first time i learned about cage was in my freshman seminar with Gardner Campbell called Rock/Soul/Progressive and it was a study of music’s transcontinental journey from the U.K. to America from 1950 to the present. When we studied Cage, we categorized him under the microscope of the progressive genre and focused on the avante-garde movement of the 20th century in general. Overall, i think Cage is a bit of a nutcase, but he nonetheless pushes the envelope of what people generally consider as art and how they perceive it and for that i support Cage’s cause. I just wanted to post a video that gave more a prop to the idea The Black Mountain College, where Cage often taught and composed, had regarding art as a musical and visual performance. Even though it hardly makes any sense to me, i would love to have been able to see some of Cage’s artistic performances and demonstrations like the one in the video. I just can’t help imagining Cage coming out on a Late Night talk show as the entertainment and performing “Water Walk.” It’d be so enetertaining and confusing at the same time. Nonetheless, Cage is a poet in his own artistic right and his influence on the avante-garde in general is monumental.

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V.M.I. Poetry Symposium

December 2, 2010

For those of you who idicated an interest in submitting to the VMI Poetry Symposium, or who perhaps did not but have since written a stellar paper or poem that you would like to submit.

The Deadline is  Tomorrow;  December 3.  Here are the details

What to submit: A 250-word abstract of an original critical paper on poetry or a selection of original poems. 

Submission requirements: Completed papers must be of appropriate length for a fifteen-minute oral presentation (2100 words maximum); poems, which must now be submitted in entirety, must be of appropriate length for an eight-minute oral reading by the author (1120 words maximum).  Submissions must be sent no later than Friday, December 3, 2010 by email to Peggy Herring at  Submissions must include the name and contact information of a faculty sponsor as well as student’s name and contact information.  Critical papers may examine poetry in general, particular poets, poems, movements, issues, technical features, etc. There will be a special session on Shakespeare.

If you wish to submit multiple poems, the instructions request that they be submitted as a single Email attachment.

If you are needing to do an abstract of a paper, I would reccommend using the auto summarize, this can be found in word under tools.  Select something smaller such as 10% or 100 words auto summarize.  Then cut and paste your intro to the top.  And read through to tweek, since this tool is helpful, but by no means perfect.

I hope lots of my fellow students will submit.  Good Luck and Let’s Represent.

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My own definition of poetry

December 1, 2010

In response to the various definitions of poetry listed, I like how she created a discussion through many voices.  I think a definition needs to act more like a discussion.  This is the discussion that’s been going on in my head since last Tuesday:

I was thinking about the desk in combs 111 that people have been drawing on for years.  I looked at it and wondered if it could be poetry–it has some poems on it, as well as drawings and thoughts and, yes, it includes several references to Trogdor.  The desk is a brainstorm of expression.  I do not think it is poetry.  Poetry can be a result of refined and revised expression, but they are not one in the same.

Poetry is often taken to be art in general.  This takes meaning away from the craft of poetry as society accepts all individuals as poets and diminishes the art and skill that goes into this specific genre.  Poetry, in the sense of a specific form of art, fills a gap between prose/regular speech and image or musical art.  It plays with some of the same ideas as those genres as it utilizes rhythm, like music, or plays with word structure to form pictures or to give ideas through the physicality of the words as they stand (chiasmus, or cutting stanzas in half to show brokenness, etc.)

Poetry also uses language to surpass the limitations of language.  Elliot took the stance that to discuss poetry would diminish its meaning, for there is no way to show what a line does except for to quote that line.  Language takes away from poetry if it tries to describe it, just as it would take away from music or an emotional, supernatural, or epiphany moment.  Poetry moves something in us that goes deeper than language.  If done right—this eliminates Wordsworth, as he was appropriately named—uses all of the arts: musical, imagistic, and linguistic, to create meaning.  It eliminates words that we need for regular speech or prose, understanding their meaning in the line without their inclusion, and it does not always claim meaning outright, creating a thought process based on ambiguity to convey meaning and to move something in the reader, without explicit definition.  Music and artwork to the same thing, but they do not use words to do so.  It can also tell stories, like prose, conveying meaning without stating the meaning—leaving language no room to distort it while utilizing words to enable it.  It is not that poetry is a better art than the others—it is just an intrinsically transitory art that uses elements from all of the other forms.

Individuals who do not abide by this, believing that poetry is just expression, violate the art.  They are guilty like people who write songs with lyrics that do not match the emotion of the musicality, e.g. Hoobastank and their song Lucky that employs extremely passionate and angst-filled melodies(?) to convey a meaningless and empty song about a guy who feels lucky around some girl that left him.  Poetry is a difficult craft that requires meaning.  It is a craft that requires the ability to convey something without being able to define it with words—it surpasses language with language.

…and poetry can give chills (I always think of Bishop’s “The Art of Losing”).  I don’t know why, but I just needed to say that too haha.

So I guess, difinitively, Poetry is a category of art that can mix with other arts to form a mixed media, but it has clear boundaries that separates it from others.

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On Beauty

November 30, 2010

A few summers ago, I read Zadie Smith’s novel, On Beauty which deals with different racial and familial issues.  I began to think about the novel again after our section on spoken word.  I realized that as heavy as her statements are on the previous  issues, she also makes bold Henry Louis Gates-esque statements about spoken word’s place in the canon.  The daughter, Zora, an industrious student who is in an esteemed college poetry class, falls for a spoken word poet and a lot of other complicated things happen.  Eventually, though, Smith reinforces the importance of spoken word in the academic world and to see how you’ll just have to read the book.

Zadie Smith

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What is Poetry?

November 30, 2010
Going back to our discussion a while back about what poetry entails and whether it can be defined, I looked up a few definitions and explanations of poetry thinking it might spark some more conversation:
Wikipedia – Poetry (from the Latin poeta, a poet) is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning. Poetry may be written independently, as discrete poems, or may occur in conjunction with other arts, as in poetic drama, hymns, lyrics, or prose poetry
“used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities…in lieu of its apparent meaning????” Doesn’t that make poetry sound like just a bunch of pretty words? – the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.

Does this make poetry sound like its just for “pleasure?” What about poetry with purpose? What about poetry of the everyday? – Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response. Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define.
“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these.” – Emily Dickinson
“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” – William Wordsworth
“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.” – Allen Ginsberg
Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words. – Edgar Allen Poe
“Poetry is any use of language that somehow exceeds sense with strangeness and style.” – Todd Swift
“Poetry is a small car full of border collies.” – Jay Ruzesky
(I’m sorry, the blog won’t retain my spacing so it looks a bit squished together : ( )

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November 30, 2010
  • Class will not meet on Thursday, Dec. 2 since we completed our business today.
  • The blog will “close” for grading purposes at midnight on Sunday, Dec. 5.
  • Recitations will take place during our final exam slot, 8:30-11 on Tuesday, Dec. 7.  You must memorize and recite, with reasonable expression, at least 14 contiguous lines of poetry, from one poem or shorter poems that are juxtaposed in a series.  Poems should come from our primary authors for the semester but may be any poem at all from those volumes.  You need to know the page number so I can follow along/prompt as necessary.
  • I will try to finish the interpretive performance grading in the next few days and will let you know when you can come pick it up.
  • If I do not finish earlier, I will bring your graded mutinous poetry projects to the final.

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