October 18, 2017

Philip Larkin: Unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity

Philip Larkin was born in Coventry, England in 1922. He is best known for his clipped, spare poems that explored post-war England. Though he was a very popular English poet, he didn't work very hard at self-promotion.

His father introduced him to the writing of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, and he was sure he would become a novelist. By By the time he enrolled at Oxford in 1940, he had written five full-length novels. He destroyed them but he did complete two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947) and his first collection of poetry, The North Ship (1945).

He tried to write another novel, but couldn't finish it, and so he said, "I didn't choose poetry; poetry chose me."

Philip Larkin spent more than 30 years as a university librarian, never married and lived alone. My first impression of him was a small bio in an anthology we used in school. He sounded like quite  the glum, curmudgeon.

He once said: "I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any — after all, most people are unhappy, don't you think? Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth."

He didn't try hard to promote his work. He never traveled to America. He never gave readings. H was nominated for Poet Laureate but declined the position when it was offered. Still, he is often described as England's best-loved poet.

Sample poems



October 15, 2017

A Celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Dodge Poetry Festival


The Warren County Community College in New Jersey presents "A Celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Dodge Poetry Festival."

This free event will be on Saturday, October 21, 2017 at Warren County Community College (475 Route 57 West, Washington, NJ 07882)

Poets and panelists include Martin Farawell (Director of the Dodge Poetry Program), Laura Boss, Kenneth Hart, Susan Jackson, Charles H. Johnson, Tina Kelley, Diane Lockward, John McDermott, Peter E. Murphy, Khalil Murrell, Priscilla Orr, Joe Weil, Gretna Wilkinson and Sander Zulauf.

The program will run from 12 noon through 4:30 pm.

12 to 12:45     Panel Discussions
1:00 to 2:15    Poetry Sampler: The Dodge Festival Poets
2:30 to 3:00    Poems by Martin Farawell
3:00 to 3:45    Favorite Poems by Others, as read by Dodge Poets
4:00 to 4:30    Favorite Poems from the First 30 Years of the Dodge Main Stage, as read by Martin Farawell

For directions to the college: warren.edu
For information, please contact BJ Ward



October 5, 2017

Prompt: Finders, Keepers



WordPress offers an Intro to Poetry 101 freebie online “course” to inspire you to write 10 poems in 10 days. Really, it is just a very brief one-word prompt and some poetry form and language suggestions. I don’t normally need much prompting to write, but it is good to get poked into writing once and awhile.  
On my Writing the Day website, I devote myself to the ronka form, but I took up this October challenge and let some other forms slip onto the site. Poems for this little side project are tagged #poetry101 there, and you can see poems by others as part of this project at wordpress.com/tag/poetry101.
One of their prompts was the "found poem" which is a form we used on Poets Online back in 2010. I decided to use it again because it is such a deceptively easy form. Easy in that someone else has done the writing for you, but a good and more difficult exercise in what makes a poem a poem. And what better prompt could I use for a found poem than a prompt that I found.
Here is what Wordpress gave us to use:
found poem is composed of words and letters you’ve collected — randomly or not — from other sources, whether printed, handwritten, or digital, and then (re)arranged into something meaningful. Since a found poem is made up of words and letters others have created, it’s up to you, the poet, to find them (hence the name), extract them, and rejig them into something else: your poem.


The classic way of going about the creation of a found poem is scissors and newspaper in hand: you cut out words and phrases and arrange them into your poem. You can then either snap a photo and upload it to your blog, or simply transcribe the resulting text into a new post.
That said, you can control the degree of randomness you impose on your available stock of words, as well as on the procedure you follow to create the poem. You can photocopy a page from a book (even a book of poetry!) and select every fifth word on the first ten pages. Repurpose one of your unpublished drafts into something new. You can even use your books to create some book spine poetry, or recycle your tweets (one online tool will actually do it for you) and other social media messages and turn them into a poetic meditation on… anything, really. Another popular option is erasure or blackout poetry, where you cross out words from an existing printed page until the remaining ones produce a new meaning.

As with our earlier attempts at found poetry, there are some rules for submissions:

  1. Use only the words found in the source - no changing verb forms, making plurals etc. 
  2. but the title can be original (and often makes a difference in the way the poem will be read.
  3. You can add or subtract capitalization and punctuation. 
  4. Your tools are careful selection, ordering, line breaks and stanzas. 
  5. You must identify the original source either in the title or a note at the beginning or end of the poem. (If the source is online, you could give a link for the reader to follow.)
Deadline for submissions is November 5, 2017

September 22, 2017

Emily and Love

I don't think most people associate Emily Dickinson with love poems. I have always felt there was a "quiet passion" in her poems and therefore in Emily.

Here is one her poems that is not as often read as her more famous ones.

It was a quiet way—
He asked if I was his—
I made no answer of the Tongue
But answer of the Eyes—
And then He bore me on
Before this mortal noise
With swiftness, as of Chariots
And distance, as of Wheels.
This World did drop away
As Acres from the feet
Of one that leaneth from Balloon
Upon an Ether street.
The Gulf behind was not,
The Continents were new—
Eternity it was before
Eternity was due.
No Seasons were to us—
It was not Night nor Morn—
But Sunrise stopped upon the place
And fastened it in Dawn.

Emily Dickinson's Hair
In 1853, Emily enclosed this lock of her hair in a letter
addressed to her friend Emily Fowler.      via Flickr


September 15, 2017

The Poetry of Death

Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon

When death, as public as a President or as private as a lover, overwhelms us, it speaks itself in elegy’s necropoetics.


I recently read Donald Hall's article in The New Yorker, "The Poetry of Death." It sounds like a real downer, but I recommend that you give it a read.

Many readers of this blog probably know that Donald Hall was married to Jane Kenyon and that they shared a life of poetry.

Jane Kenyon and I almost avoided marriage because her widowhood would have been so long, between us was there such a radical difference in age. And yet today it is twenty-two years since she died, of leukemia, at forty-seven—and I approach ninety...

I heard the two of them talk about their shared life in poetry in a session at a Dodge Poetry Festival a few decades ago. That was before Jane was diagnosed with leukemia.



We inhabited not the natural world but the landscape of leukemia. I read a draft of “Without” to Jane. From her bed, Jane said, “You’ve got it, you’ve got it!” A year later, I put the poem into the past tense, and eventually it became the title of my book of Jane’s death.
But poets know that death plays a big role if poetry. It is aprt of poetry history and all poets eventually deal with the topic in their poems.

Poetry begins with elegy, in extremity, as Gilgamesh laments the death of his companion Enkidu, watching worms crawl out of Enkidu’s neck. Homer sings of heroes as they die in battle, and Priam weeps to see the body of his son Hector dragged around the walls of Troy. Virgil follows Aeneas from the graveyard of Troy to the founding of Rome, Dido’s pyre flaming on the way. In the fifteenth century, poetry emigrated from Chaucer’s England north to the Scots, where William Dunbar wrote his elegy for the makers—in Greek, a poet is a “maker”—and grieved over twenty-five dead and dying Scots poets.