National Poetry Month: Putting more Verse in the Universe!

April 11, 2014

Ah, April!  I imagine the origins of National Poetry Month stem from the hope that an abundance of poetry might encourage an early arrival of spring.  At our Co-Op in North Carolina, the doilied dogwoods, pink cherry trees, puffy bradford pears, and red tulips are blooming; the bright trumpets of daffodils have faded into their stalks, and azaleas are on the horizon.

Here are 10 ways we’ve decided to celebrate poetry this April, and we encourage you to do so too!

Poetry Month Revelry: Putting more “Verse” in the Universe!

And of course, you can always share this post, or email/comment love to the editors at Tate Street High Society!  What are you doing to celebrate poetry this April?

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Short Story Reverence: Nancy Reisman’s “Illumination”

January 24, 2014

Teaching short stories for the university setting is one of my favorite Lucia's Dress?aspects of my profession, and in preparation for this spring, I happened upon Nancy Reisman’s “Illumination.” Set in Buffalo, NY, 1933, what struck me about this piece is how the main character, Jo, is trapped by her body; trapped in a way that circuitously wraps itself into her actions and the way in which she sees her life through metaphor.  Reisman has a fantastic sense for creating tension with intimacy and distance; the writing, too, so closely knit, is difficult to cut even a  piece to examine without feeling uncomfortable.  Her first paragraph:

Lucia Mazzano is a loaf of bread.  Black hair pinned into a tight rosette, black lashes, olive neck, olive fingers, tapered, small, her dress a long flute, yellow of forsythia, yellow of butter.

“Illumination” was first published in Tin House, and can be found in The Best American Short Stories (2001), edited by Barbara Kingsolver.

Poetry Sounds: Robert Pinsky, “The Shirt”

July 28, 2013

Poetry Sounds is a new segment at Tate Street High Society that features poets reading aloud their work.  Sometimes, as readers, we forget that poetry is an intensely visceral form, one that began with ancient storytelling and song in which bards interpreted and communicated the  heroics of the time. Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky reminds us of the importance of listening to the genre of poetry in this fascinating interview with the Paris Review:

…the medium of poetry is the column of breath rising from the diaphragm to be shaped into meaning sounds inside the mouth. That is, poetry’s medium is the individual chest and throat and mouth of whoever undertakes to say the poem—a body, and not necessarily the body of the artist or an expert as in dance.

In homage, we’ll start with one of Pinsky’s  poems, “The Shirt,” in which the sound imagery and cadence underlie the power of the astounding narrative that he develops.

What are your favorite poems to read aloud?

Sophocles’ Antigone, Modernized

July 3, 2013

Burial at Thebes CoverSeamus Heaney brings his skill of translation to the ancient Greek tragedy, “Antigone,” first written by dramatist Sophocles in the 4th century BC.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 79 pages.

While Heaney’s “The Burial at Thebes” play translation was published in 2004, the crispness of the controlling pentameter he offers Creon and the lilting rhythm of Antigone borrowed from 18th century Irish lament Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire create a sense of modernity and honesty within the meter. Of the latter, Heaney says this:

I remembered the opening lines of Eihbhlin Dhubh NiChonaill’s lament, an outburst of grief and anger from a woman whose husband had been cut down and left bleeding on the roadside in County Cork, in much the same way as Polyneices was left outside the walls of Thebes, unburied, desecrated, picked by the crows.  But it was the drive and pitch of the Irish verse that clinched it: in the three-beat line of Eibhlin Dhubh’s keen I heard a note that the stricken Antigone might sound in the speedy haunted opening moment of the play…

And, with Seamus Heaney’s empathetic and technical brilliance, “The Burial at Thebes” maintains the honor and emotional tenor necessary to give voice to a young woman fighting for dignity of the dead, and the strained loneliness of a King trying desperately to hold on to power.

A cooling summer read for nostalgia, defiance, and historical significance.

Suddenly, A Review

May 3, 2013

KeretOn the surface, Etgar Keret’s stories aren’t so much stories as they are fabular anecdotes that unfold with the concision and wit of a fatally funny joke (many of the stories in his newest collection come in under two pages, many of them are as funny as they are bleak). What’s more, you might accuse Keret of gimmickry or occasionally preciousness—consider that there are stories in his latest collection, Suddenly, A Knock at the Door (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2012), in which an angel appears, a pet goldfish grants wishes, and an unrepentant killer is reincarnated as Winnie the Pooh (!)—but these recriminations miss much of the weird joy that Keret evokes here, and much of the sadness, too. These are finally stories about what it means to live in the world, to be compromised by it, and to be compromised by one’s own desires.

Chicago’s Poetry Whores

January 29, 2013

Yes, exactly.

According to Kathleen Rooney’s expose, “Pimp My Poem,” you can find poetry whores in Chicago.

What is the set up?  Here’s Rooney to set the mood:tattoo victorian

“You will enter a dim room appointed with fireplaces, silk tapestries, velvet banquettes, and damask wall hangings flecked with tiny mirrors and sequins. Every available surface will be either carved hardwood or plated with gold leaf. Because no self-respecting bordello would be caught without a piano player, there will be one, alternating his sets with DJs spinning the greatest hits of the 1890s and early 1900s.”

And, if you wear period–read: Victorian–clothing, you get in without having to pay the $10 cover.

But, once you’re in, you can buy a chip that will give you access to a one-on-one poetry reading from one of the “troupe of acclaimed poets who provide visitors with the most unique and intimate poetry experience available in Chicago. (from the Chicago Poetry Bordello website).”

Rooney argues that the Brothel provides a service that fills a niche and a need for the literocrats of today’s society. “The poem you get for five dollars at the Poetry Brothel is literally more dear than the dozens you get for zero dollars at a regular reading because most people do not actually believe the best things in life are free.”

Does a payment, dim lighting, a slight buzz, and a costumed tempter/ temptress reshape the way we value poetry?  It’s an interesting question, and though the answer definitely is one of double entendre, the novelty and gumption of this tactic deserves wonder and admiration.

And…would you go, if you had the chance?

Curious George

January 27, 2013

Tenth of DecemberIn his latest collection, Tenth of December (Random House), George Saunders pulls back on some of the outlandishness of his earlier stories, though not on his idiosyncratic approach to telling them, which combines the stylized fun-making of employing a debased American sociolect (rife with cliché, slogans and corporate double-speak) and Saunders’ greatest gift as a storyteller, namely his seemingly limitless capacity for empathy. What’s left is a collection of stories that begin as funny, weird little baubles only to unfold into deeply-moving narratives about its characters’ flailing imperfect attempts at happiness, humanity and redemption. In the best of these stories—”Tenth of December” (available for free at The New Yorker) and “Victory Lap”, which both feature awkward young boys suddenly faced with the impossible need for heroic action—Saunders will make you laugh and weep, sometimes all at once.

Tender as the Night

January 21, 2013

In a word: tender. That’s how we’d describe the stories in Chad Simpson‘s new collection, Tell Everyone I Said Hi (Iowa), the winner of the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Yes, Simpson writes with deep tenderness for his characters—the disappointed, the lovelorn, the Midwestern—whether they’re flailing at impossible love or on the precipice of irrevocable acts, whether swamped in flooded basements or by dead-end jobs. These are beautiful, sad stories; read them.

November Novel Madness! With 100% more math!

November 13, 2012

We at TSHS have mentioned the international craze that is National Novel Writing Month (colloquially known as NaNoWriMo) as a potential writing utensil before. But let’s look at in a little more depth, shall we?

If you’re unfamiliar, every November, hundreds of thousands of aspiring novelists (and some established ones) buckle down for thirty days and try to generate 50,000 words of prose. Moreover, many of them are successful. As I write this, in fact, NaNoWriMo 2012 has already generated nearly 1.5 billion words. That’s a lot of typing, friends.

Of course, there are a number of ways to accomplish this lofty goal. If you’re more of a dogged, steady-wins-the-race kind of person, 1,667 words per day for thirty days will get you to 50,000. Prefer taking the weekend off? 2,273 words every week day = 50,000. Or maybe you can only write on the weekends. Writing 6,250 words every Saturday and Sunday yields 50,000, too.

Even with the breakdowns, does all this seem a little bit insane? Yes, of course! But we might ask ourselves: so? Arguably, NaNoWriMo is as much about setting and achieving goals as it is writing. And, as with any long endeavor, making it to the finish line feels pretty good. Even if your literary autobiographical novel devolved into a Hunger Games-esque dystopia with dragons . . . you still wrote a novel. Sure it’s lousy, but that’s the point of any first draft, isn’t it?

And if you’re wondering, many a NaNo champion has gone on to fame and fortune, including Erin Morgenstern of The Night Circus fame.

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month? What’s your novel-writing strategy?

Inauguration Poems

November 10, 2012

As the political fanfare expires, we can look to the poets to prepare for the inauguration.  Although the tradition is not a staple of American politics (President Kennedy started the tradition with Robert Frost in 1961), we hope that our president, the poet will consider to uphold his decision to include poetry in his inauguration to a second term.

The history of the inaugural poet is spotty at best. After Kennedy’s  initial selection of Robert Frost as the first inaugural poet, it wasn’t until nearly half a century later when Bill Clinton rekindled the poetry commission for his inauguration.  He chose the iconic Maya Angelou, who swept the audience with her pathos and gravitas.  For Clinton’s second term, he chose a lesser-known poet, Miller Williams (father to country singer, Lucinda Williams) in 1997.  Then, it wasn’t until Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 that we witnessed another poet at the podium: Elizabeth Alexander. Her poem, “Praise Song for the Day” promised to unite with stark imagery:

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

We would love to see the inauguration poem become a true tradition of the United States. Whom might Obama choose in 2013?  Whom would you like to see speaking in verse to the world?

Robert Frost, Although it was not what he planned to recite, due the sun’s glare and weather conditions, he recited “The Gift Outright” (1961):

Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of the Morning” (1993):

Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day” (2009):


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