Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Rime of the Ancient Mariner

When you have a chance, listen to this classic lyrical ballad read by Richard Burton.

Why did the Mariner shoot the albatross?
How does the symbolic meaning of the albatross evolve throughout the poem?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Samuel Taylor Coleridge1772 - 1834
Part I

It is an ancient mariner
And he stoppeth one of three.
--“By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, 
Now wherefore stoppest thou me?

The bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
Mayst hear the merry din.”

He holds him with his skinny hand, 
“There was a ship," quoth he.
“Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!” 
Eftsoons his hand dropped he.

He holds him with his glittering eye-- 
The wedding-guest stood still,
And listens like a three-years’ child:
The mariner hath his will.

The wedding-guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed mariner.

“The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared, 
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill, 
Below the lighthouse top.

The sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon--"
The wedding-guest here beat his breast, 
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The wedding-guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed mariner.

“And now the storm-blast came, and he 
Was tyrannous and strong; 
He struck with his o’ertaking wings, 
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

Listen, stranger! Mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice mast-high came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken--
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there, 
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled, 
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play, 
Came to the mariners’ hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moon-shine.”

“God save thee, ancient mariner! 
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!--
Why lookst thou so?” “With my crossbow 
I shot the albatross.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Politics of Location

Great post on Adriene Rich:

On the subject of identity, Rich is exemplary. the best advice I received from her prose comes from an essay called “Notes Toward a Politics of Location.” As she discusses the attempt to try to find a sense of place in a world of globalisation, conflict and ever-changing boundaries Rich states:                   
        “Begin, though, not with a continent or a country or a house, but with the geography closest in – the body.”

Across the curve of the earth, there are women getting up before dawn, in the blackness before the point of light, in the twilight before sunrise; there are women rising earlier than men and children to break the ice, to start the stone, to put up the pap, the coffee, the rice, to iron the pants, to braid the hair,to pull the day's water up from the well, to boil water for tea, to wash the children for school, to pull the vegetables and start the walk to market, to run to catch the bus for the work that is paid. I dont't know when most women sleep. In big cities at dawn women are traveling home after cleaning offices all night, or waxing the halls of hospitals, or sitting up with the old and sick and frightened at the hour when death is supposed to do its work.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day of Silence Poem - Due Monday

After Friday's class - see previous post - I would like you to respond in verse.

WRITE a thoughtful POEM that incorporates words, thoughts, ideas from the videos.

You've made a list of 100 fears. Perhaps, revisit that list
and see if there is any creative catalyst to a poem. 


to THE (Senior blog) /YOUR (individual) BLOG -

and PRINT a HARD COPY for Monday.

Consider the following titles - free to create your own: 

"Get over it"

"Kids Can Be Cruel"

"They were wrong."

"The Underdog"

"Stop it"

"This is who I am"

"My Closet"

"Be Real"


"I love Nathan Lane"

"Be Authentic"

"Never Apologize"

"Your Story"

"Bust a Door Open"

What do you think would be a good title for a poem after hearing these videos?

Share title ideas:

If you haven't seen these TED Talks yet...

And you need a little courage to share your poem.

Watch these this weekend. We all have a story or a poem to share.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Words Matter: the Day of Silence

Welcome to class.
Today is GLSEN Day of Silence April 11th, 2014

Open a new window to or just click here.
Review what I wrote first - start at the bottom - or read the transcript.

Screenshot from transcript

In light of yesterday (Wednesday's) violence
at Franklin Regional High School near Pittsburg,
I want to bring some awareness to the power of
words - and the pain of bullying.

Plus the power of connection and compassion.

And yes, the power of poetry. The power of words.

Words can fail us in the aftermath of tragedy,
yet we may find solace in poetry that gives voice to
our sorrow and loss.

But how can poetry give voice
to those who are

In poetry, we see and hear the invisible.

In poetry, we inspire. We listen. We learn.
We find empathy. We not only see the invisible,
but we see through the eyes of the other.
We may even see ourselves more clearly.

What words inspire you?
What videos inspire you?

With youtube videos of spoken word, def poetry jams, TED Talks, and PSAs,
poetry has evolved.

In class, honoring this Day of Silence, here is your assignment:

Watch any and all of the videos below.
Hopefully, you brought headphones.

Take notes for your poem due Monday.

Post quotes, thoughts, and possible poem titles to

Again, lines that resonate - write them down or share them;
maybe work them into your own poem.

Click here for more details on your HOMEWORK.

Click for more information on the Day of Silence.

While not malicious gossip, nor direct threats,
perhaps, the meanest action may be ignoring someone.

Not just giving a person the silent treatment,
but ignorance to the fact that they exist
and that person's story and identity is
different than your own. Isolation

will drive a person mad in prison, but
what does it do to a person among us
in society. They float unacknowledged in the halls,
on the sidewalk, in our world, in our lives.

A sea of faces blending into the background,
extras in a movie where we are are the stars
and they are minor characters: student
#1, student #2, student #3, etc.

I wonder what would happen if we walked
in other shoes, saw through their eyes.
What do we see? If we listen,
what would we not just hear but truly learn?

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.” 
― Ralph EllisonInvisible Man

GLSEN wants to know: 

What are you doing to end the silence around 
anti-LGBT bullying and harassment? 

Share what you are doing #DayofSilence

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Poetry in Man's Search for Meaning

In his powerful story of survival from the Holocaust, 
Victor Frankl writes in Man's Search for Meaning:
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salva- tion of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in posi- tive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way - an honorable way - in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory." 

A mediation on this final line.

Frankl on PBS

Do you know any poets?

A student asked me in class the other day if I knew any poets.

Personally? I replied.

Not to name drop, but I realized I've taken for granted my experience with extraordinary poets and their poetry.

Poets may be some of the most interesting people you'll meet. They are at heart story tellers that take notice of the world around them and find the words that tend to fail us.

Look into the biographies of poets and you'll discover colorful lives that compel them to write. Contrary to the general perception of poetry as dry and dusty, I've admired the humor of poets I've met - the quick wit in conversation. I have a friend George Bilgere, a friend's professor at John Carroll. George read his poetry at my former school. Since then, we've met up a few times to talk poetry and life, telling stories and sharing laughs.

In grad school at The Bread Loaf School of English, I was fortunate to take a summer workshop for six weeks with Pulitzer Prize winning poet and Princeton Professor, Paul Muldoon. At Bread Loaf, I heard 1976 Pulitzer Prize winning poet John Ashbury read; I especially enjoyed talking with him afterward at the reception. (As poetry editor to the New Yorker, Paul Muldoon interviews Ashbury on this podcast.)

I still regret not taking poetry with David Huddle at Bread Loaf.

In college, I had a dear mentor in that was a published poet Deborah Burnham. I wish I had studied with Al Filreis; I highly recommend taking his Coursera ModPo.

Although not a poety, my mentor from high school, an English teacher and Milton scholar, is a published novelist Paul Kalkstein. Princeton undergrad and Yale grad school, Paul was also my lacrosse coach and house counselor. He may be the most influential teacher I had, even though I never had a class with him; to be honest, I was afraid of disappointing him since I knew he had high expectations.

I also regret never seeing my favorite poet Seamus Heaney, but I did study with arguably the most demanding professor at Bread Loaf, Victor Luftig of the University of Pennsylvania. Victor taught "Heaney in Context," a course that would alter my view on poetry and the teaching of poetry.

I've attended readings by former Poet Laureates Ted Kooser and Billy Collins in Cleveland.
Listen to Ted Kooser's intro below where he shares a funny story of how a young boy said he looks like a hobbit.

I enjoyed listening to Sharon Olds, 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, a few years ago at my last school. Here's Muldoon talking poetry with Olds for the New Yorker.

Another visiting poet and professor, Jay Parini, inspired this blog and furthered my exploration into poetry. As an English department, we had dinner with Jay; then, he visited my class and a creative writing class where he talked of his writing process:

“The first draft of anything I write is usually always a cliché, so I go back and try to sharpen the words,” Parini explained. “Word choice is crucial, because if you have the right noun or verb, you don’t need to hustle up a bunch of adjectives or adverbs (to make your point). I also have favorite words that I find myself using, but they are often just holding places until I can go back and find a better word to use."
As Parini suggests, understanding the importance of diction, especially the connotation of words, is vital in poetry - and in life.

Poetry is about finding the fresh words and moving beyond cliché to express ourselves. Poets bring poetry to life though the instrument of their voice. Listen to poets read their poetry - read their prose on poetry.

Lastly, I have been fortunate to have colleagues who write poetry - and I hope to have some visit a class soon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April Fool's Day - a day late and a year later.

From the Wall Street Journal.

When was the last time you bought a contemporary book of verse? 
Yet the stuff still gets published, prizes awarded.

March 31, 2013 7:04 p.m. ET

April, the poet told us, is the cruelest month. As it happens, it is also National Poetry Month, which makes its debut on April Fool's Day. And the biggest fools of all may well be those who believe that contemporary poetry matters in the least except to those who, against a high barbed-wire wall of national indifference, continue solemnly to churn it out.

Poetry in our day is in the same condition as verse drama at the beginning of the last century: an archaic practice, a dead genre, a done deal. We still have people playing the role of major poets, but only because the world seems to require a few people to play the role: "In art, in medicine, in fashion we must have new names," wrote Marcel Proust. We know the names: Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich and a few others. It is only their poetry that we don't know, or can't be brought to care about.

In the room the poets come and go, / muttering, yo!, / where's the prize and what's the dough? But if I ask a literary gent or lady to quote me a single line or phrase from any of our putative major poets, they cannot do it. The magazines—the TLS, the New Yorker, Poetry and the rest—go on publishing the stuff, prize committees meet to issue awards and descant on the importance of poetry to civilization, but it is all finally an intramural game.

Like so many people of my rapidly diminishing generation, I walk around with lines and entire passages from the poetry of W.B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings, and others rattling around pleasantly in my head. But nearly all the poetry written since the years those poets wrote doesn't register, resonate, ring, do any of the elevating things that poetry is supposed to, and once indeed did, do.

When was the last time you bought a book of verse by a contemporary poet? My guess is around the same time that I did—the 12th of Never, if a precise date is wanted. And this tends to be true of genuine literateurs, lovers of language and its artful deployment. W.H. Auden said that if one were born later than the 1890s one had no chance to become a major poet. (He was born in 1907 but somehow got his bulky body over the bar.) Philip Larkin, who may not have been a major poet, at least created some memorable but not necessarily newspaper-publishable lines and phrases: "They [you-know-what] you up, your mum and dad."

But otherwise the poetry game is over, kaput, fini, time, gentlemen, time. This even though reams and reams of the stuff gets published, prizes awarded, poets laureate appointed to the resounding boredom of all but those who either write or teach poetry (usually one and the same people). Years ago I wrote an essay on this subject called "Who Killed Poetry?," which stirred up beehives of poets in protest. I suggested that the academicization of poetry did a lot to help kill it; I also concluded that too much poetry was in production, with Gresham's Law relentlessly at work, in this instance the crappy driving out the second-rate. I also concluded that so many people who drifted into the writing of poetry didn't have very interesting minds: a family member dies, they saw a tree of unusual shape, a little-known Matisse painting excited them, so they take to their computers and trivialize the subject or experience by encasing it in a more or less complex contraption of verbal self-absorption currently called a poem.

I now wonder if quite as considerable a reason for the death of poetry is that the international attention span has been much reduced by so many fresh distractions, leaving fewer and fewer people who have the patience and intellectual curiosity to work out the rich complexity of a well-wrought poem—that is, if anyone is around who could actually produce one. My main point is that if any of your children or grandchildren comes to you and declares a wish to become a poet, send that child directly off to bed without any dinner, and return to your place on the couch before the television set.

Mr. Epstein is the author, with Frederic Raphael, of "Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet," published this week by Yale University Press. This op-ed is based in part on the book.