Notes on My Week at the Frost Place, Franconia, New Hampshire, August through August 9, 2014.
Here I am at the Frost Place near Franconia, New Hampshire deep into poetry with a few dozen other participants. A kind of low-key Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference with Patrick Donnelly as the organizer. Donnelly gave his talk last evening on Generic Lyric Poetry (or GLPS), which he describes as poetry characterized in one way or another as follows: stiff, formal, self-important, overstated, lacking in syntactical vitality, gratuitous repetitious, overwrought in its diction, and tending to lapse into sentimentality and conventionality. (I am summarizing, of course.) I wasn’t entirely convinced by his examples–poetry from good journals, poems he thinks exemplifies these traits, but no poem or poet I recognized. He applauds poems that speak from a recognizably human voice, with all the quirkiness that our age, gender, and class give us. Donnelly’s examples of “good” poetry are by Jane Kenyon (“The Sandy Hole”), Tom Andrews (“The Death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson”), Chase Twichell, Diane Seuss, and Roethke. Also Martha Rhodes, and Adrian Blevins. Some of these poets are new to me. But I always call to mind Yeats’ prescription to not worry about other contemporary poets, by which I think he means don’t try to please other poets too much, and have humility in the enterprise.
In a workshop later in the day, Jennifer Grotz (University of Rochester) spoke about shifts in tone in the poem (and mentioned Ellen Bryant Voigt’s book on tone, and an essay by Hoagland that appeared in APR); she also speaks of ambivalence and its importance (the tension between irony and ecstasy may be how she is going to put it in her talk tomorrow morning). Grotz also said, interestingly, I thought: “I write to please myself and if I also please others, all the better.” The question is what do you do when you please yourself, but others are not as pleased as you are. Do you rewrite to please them more?
This morning’s talk was Jennifer Grotz quoting Adam Zagajewski on Ecstasy and Irony, two contradictory elements “meeting in poetry” (from Two Cities: On Exile, History, and the Imagination). She presented Zagajewski’s poems “How Clowns Go”, “Life Sentence,” and “Watching Shoah in a Hotel Room in America” as examples of this tension; and we discussed the ways Zagajewski juxtaposes life’s terrors (the Holocaust and death and decay) to ordinary living (drinking tea, watching television). Grotz will read from her own work this evening at the Frost house in Franconia with its spectacular views of the mountains. Last evening, Patrick Donnelly read, along with an interesting poet I did not know named Cleopatra Mathis who teaches at Dartmouth and whose book is Book of Dog. Mathis was wonderful.
Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet, whose chapbook was published by the Frost Place this summer, gave an interesting craft talk this morning about ways of representing shifts in thought (and feeling) within a poem, as Elizabeth Bishop does in her “One Art” sonnet with the parenthetical “(Write it!)” We had a lively discussion with examples of poems by Marianne Boruch, Brenda Hillman, and Jori Grahm.
Our final lecture of the week was given by the poet Afaa Weaver, who spoke more personally about his own journey to poetry, and the price in various terms that poets must often pay to be poets. He introduced his own poetic invention, the bop poem, which uses a line from a popular song as a refrain. Later I came on an example of bop in Annie Finch’s Spells. Weave gave a superb reading from his own poems in the evening.
The comradeship of the group was warm-hearted and enlivening, making for a very good experience.