Sadly, what I read in March was mostly transactional and transitional in nature. I found myself at the crossroads of many online commitments. My interim poetry group was wrapping up our regular Wednesday night “in-between” sessions since most of us would be signing up for another season of Thomas More’s Draft to Craft with Pauletta Hansel, my longtime poetry teacher and friend. Some of the group wanted to continue on Sundays, but I find the peer group most helpful in-between sessions of instruction. Besides, I need to have some days of the week that have nothing to do with Zoom.
So, I finished up reading and discussing the poetry anthology, The Book of Luminous Things, with my very-much-appreciated Poets Muddle Through group. Thanks so much to all of you who have helped me consider my personal poetics and how that relates(or doesn’t) to the reader. We also took some detours into articles by Dana Giola.
For three weeks, I was also enjoying one of my free classes for taking part in Carnegie Learning Center’s Poetry Gauntlet, a delightful romp through poetry’s humorous side with instructor Eileen Tatum Rush. We read lots of humorous poems and examined what makes something funny to an audience. This is where my attention started dividing from just reading in March. For homework, I watched a documentary of stand-up comedian Tig Notaro’s battle to remain funny while going through some major life crises. The film, entitled Tig, spoke eloquently to the topic of creating humor from very serious events. I learned so much about writing for audiences from this film that I was still quoting it today when I realized why my poetry parody of Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody” didn’t quite land for my Writer’s Table listeners.
My continuing commitment to a once-a-month meeting with the Poetry Gauntlet always has some poetics readings attached. We’ve read some Richard Hugo for February and Stephen Dobyns for March—that whole “Who do we write for/why was this created?” discussion. For next month’s meeting, we’re reading various chapters from The Rag-Picker’s Guide to Poetry, edited by Maurice Manning and Eleanor Wilner. I confess to not yet having started on that assignment, but hey—it’s still March, right?
Each month of the Gauntlet, we also read a poetry collection. For March, we read Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher. I already had an autographed copy of this book on my shelf and remembered reading it through when I first bought it—at some Appalachian gathering, I’m thinking. Most likely Mountain Women Rising or the Ironweed Gathering. But my second reading revealed so much about what I didn’t notice before. Kettle Bottom is a masterwork of dramatic narrative poetry—the kind my friend Bear Howard used to write when we edited our college literary magazine together. The poems speak directly to the reader with rotating points of view that both characterize and advance the plot of this poetry-as-historical-fiction adventure. I had the satisfying feeling upon re-reading Kettle Bottom, that maybe more real life contemporary events and even ancient history become more “first-hand” when experienced in this format.
And of course, Pauletta Hansel has us reading some poetics about what we do well as poets and what we do that still renders our words powerless. We’re considering “Poetry Superpowers vs. Poetry Kryptonite” by Lee Ann Roripough, a writer with which that spit-fire inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, must have some familiarity as I heard her tell Gayle King on CBS that her speech impediment had somehow become her “superpower” as she found her present voice in the struggle to conquer her particular kryptonite.
On my own, I decided to spend some of my usual March reading time streaming Falcon Theatre’s excellent two-person show, The Agitators. It proved to be yet another artistic expression of a real-life relationship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Filmed largely amid the Mercantile Library’s historic trappings, the film was a sight to behold. Even the anachronistic sirens going off in downtown Cincinnati couldn’t distract from the play’s bold message and the director’s craft. I’m glad for these enriching distractions during March. I hope your month has been deepened by new and interesting tugs at your attention. April, come she will.