I’m a sucker for a good metaphor.
When prose rises to lyricism, my heart dances.
My love affair with the odd juxtaposition began when I was seven and wrote my first four-stanza piece. Here’s the "chorus":
Oh sea, oh sea
the great red sea,
my love, my dove,
the great red sea . . .
Pretty funny for a kid who lived in New Mexico. I have no idea what it meant, but it sure sounded good.
In middle and high school, I remember long hours sitting with a friend in the library and reading e e cummings to each other. In college, I graduated to Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams.
Here’s something most people don’t know about me: I’ve always wanted to go to the National Poetry Slam. I’d love to compete — if only I wrote true poetry and could be cool enough to pull it off in performance. (Where did I put that beret?)
Last weekend, I had a marvelous time at the Wrangling with Writing conference in Tucson, AZ. I hope to write about it in a future post. But for right now, I wanted to introduce Murderati readers to Taylor Mali. He was the keynote speaker at the con and it was one of the high points of a great, great experience. I’m including two of his poems here.
The first is called The The Impotence of Proofreading. It’s a brilliant take-off on a subject close to every writer’s heart. Warning: there’s a fair amount of "adult language" herein — so don’t listen to it at high volume at work. (BTW: The man sitting on stage with him is Billy Collins, a former poet laureate of the U.S.)
This next one is What Teachers Make (which should be an anthem for all teachers everywhere . . . including those of us who like to teach aspects of writing or the writer’s life)
Well, if that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will.
For today’s discussion, tell us about the poets you love — include readings or excerpts if you can find them.
Tell us about mystery writers whose works bring the kind of satifaction we can find in good poetry.
I can’t wait to see your responses . . .
I’ll be at Bouchercon briefly this year — from Friday afternoon until the middle of the luncheon on Sunday when I have to scoot off to the airport. My panel is Sunday at 10 am:
"A TOWN CALLED MALICE (The Jam)
with Ann Cleeves (m), Martin Edwards, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett, Carolyn Wall . . . and yours truly.
I hope to see some of you there.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” was one of the first poems to catch my attention. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser gave me a new appreciation for Yeats, Keats, Browning, Frost, and several others.
Some of my favorite contemporary poets are Philip Levine, Donald Justice, and Sharon Olds.
I recently co-edited THE LINEUP: POEMS ON CRIME and saw several connections between crime fiction and poetry: ta sense of purpose in every word, the planting of clues, revelation of character, movement toward resolution.
I’ll be on a panel at Bouchercon called “Poetry in Motion”, with Reed Farrel Coleman, Sophie Hannah, and John Harvey: Friday, Oct. 10, 10:00-11:00 A.M. Looks like you’ll miss it, Pari, but I’ll try to attend your Sunday panel.
I have so many favorites.
For some reason, I just remembered Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s The Penny Candy Store Beyond the El. I took film classes in college so I could have access to the cameras, and the first “film” I made was in response to this poem:
The pennycandystore beyond the Elis where I firstfell in lovewith unrealityJellybeans glowed in the semi-gloomof that september afternoonA cat upon the counter moved amongthe licorice sticksand tootsie rollsand Oh Boy Gum
Outside the leaves were falling as they died
A wind had blown away the sun
A girl ran inHer hair was rainyHer breasts were breathless in the little room
Outside the leaves were fallingand they criedToo soon! too soon!
I had the good fortune to work with Pulitzer winner Maxine Kumin for a few weeks in the early 80s. Also Stephen Spender, one of Auden’s old pals.
James Lee Burke and Dennis Lehane do some interesting things with language, just to name a couple.
Oh, I’m really happy I did this post. A whole new world of poets is already opening to me.
Gerald,I’m so sorry I’ll miss your panel. It sounds exactly like the kind of thing I’d love.
One thing about poetry is that so much of it IS mystery in itself, the images that are left hanging for us to decipher ourselves.
Billie,What a beaut. Thank you for sharing that one. There are so many rich images there. And the last stanza . . . wow. It’s filled with such emotion; I thought immediately of my own daughters.
Dear Jude,Great examples of mystery writers whose prose is poetic. James Lee Burke is one of the first people I thought of as well.
Tell me, how did you have the opportunity to work with Kumin and Spender? What were those experiences like? True poets do see the world very differently . . . at least that’s been my observation.
How about a mystery poetry slam at a convention? So vs. Coleman. I’d be down for that.
In terms of newer authors, Tana French uses language beautifully.
The irony here is that I’m a teacher, and would no doubt enjoy the “what a teacher makes (I’ve seen the written version).” However, because I’m at school, the website that hosts the two things you’ve embedded (I assume youtube) is blocked. Pitiful, eh?
Naomi,What a great idea!!!! I LOVE it. A mystery poetry slam would be so cool and incredibly entertaining.
I haven’t read Tana French yet, but will.
Jake,Yeah, it’s YouTube. I’m not surprised that it’s blocked. But please, when you get home, do watch his rendition.
It’ll make you incredibly proud.
I’m game for a slam if Reed and a few others are. I’ll have copies of THE LINEUP on hand, but I’ll bring a few of my other poems in case we get something going.
Both are great videos, Pari. (Of course I had to spellcheck that sentence twice before posting.)
My favorite poet is our mate, Ken Bruen.
Gerald,I hope this flies. You’ll be there earlier . . . maybe you could see if Reed would be interested. Heck, we could even do it in the hotel lobby or someone’s suite.
I’ll be rooming at the Ramada. (Even that sounds like it could be the beginning of a poem, doesn’t it?)
Louise,You made me laugh. Thank you.
And you’re so right about Ken! Absolutely.
I’m always in awe of those who can write really good poetry. Poetry requires a precision and economy with words that I’ve never been good at, and I love reading the work of someone who’s mastered those skills.
So, my favorites? Among my “top 10” are Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”, and “The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock”, by Gwendolyn Brooks. But I think my all-time favorite would have to be “For Strong Women”, by Marge Piercy:
A strong woman is a woman who craves lovelike oxygen or she turns blue choking.A strong woman is a woman who lovesstrongly and weeps strongly and is stronglyterrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strongin words, in action, in connection, in feeling;she is not strong as a stone but as a wolfsucking her young. Strength is not in her,but sheenacts it as the wind fills a sail.
The whole poem can be found online at http://www.dragonflydream.com/Strong.html.
Tammy,That’s a beautiful poem. Thank you, I’d never read it before.
BUT . . . the link you put didn’t work; I couldn’t get to the additional page. Feel free to repost.
Oh, as far as favorite poems, I have two I’ll throw in (since someone already mentioned “The Raven”):”Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley”Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Two of my all-time favorites, because one points out the futility of pride in the face of time and nature, and the other because it speaks about knowing yourself and striving to find the greatest adventure in each day.
Pari, chop the period off the end of the link, and it’ll work fine. That is, the URL should be:
Jake,Thank you for these. I’m having a lot of fun reading today.
Tammy,Great. Thank you.
They both had six-week residences at the University of Louisville, where they lectured and held workshops and private sessions in my graduate-level creative writing class. I was 19 at the time.
Spender’s been gone now for many years, but I recently listened to Maxine on an episode of NPR’s Prarie Home Companion. I’ve been meaning to see if I can find her email address, and write to her and ask if she remembers that time at U of L. She’s really a remarkable talent.
Here’s one of my favorite Maxine Kumin poems:
Gassing the woodchucks didn’t turn out right.The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchangewas featured as merciful, quick at the boneand the case we had against them was airtight,both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.
Next morning they turned up again, no worsefor the cyanide than we for our cigarettesand state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.They brought down the marigolds as a matter of courseand then took over the vegetable patchnipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.
The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrillingto the feel of the .22, the bullets’ neat noses.I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from gracepuffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,now drew a bead on the little woodchuck’s face.He died down in the everbearing roses.
Ten minutes later I dropped the mother. Sheflipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teethstill hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.Another baby next. O one-two-threethe murderer inside me rose up hard,the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.
There’s one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keepsme cocked and ready day after day after day.All night I hunt his humped-up form. I dreamI sight along the barrel in my sleep.If only they’d all consented to die unseengassed underground the quiet Nazi way.
Jude,Holy crap, that’s potent. And I wasn’t ready for that last line either . . .
I just discovered Maxine released a mystery novel back in 2000. I’ll have to read it now.
Thanks for the great post, Pari, and for reminding me of my poetic past.
What a lovely post, Pari. I’m a big believer in poetry, that’s where I got my love of words. I’m still partial to Tennsyson’s THE EAGLE:
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;Close to the sun in lonely lands,Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;He watches from his mountain walls,And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Jude,It really was a pleasure. Thank you for the great conversation.
J.T.,What gorgeous imagery. Thank you for sharing it.
See you at Bouchercon (I hope!!!)
Hey guys, I know this may not be the best place, and Pari I apologize for hijacking such a wonderful post.
However, I know how many of you have been listening to me gripe about being unpublished for a while, so I thought I’d use this spot to thank you for any prayers, well-wishes, etc. I hope you won’t think me self-important or grandstanding, I’m just really happy and wanted to share the good news with my virtual friends.
I just got an email from Spinetingler Magazine that said they want to publish a short story of mine in the Winter issue. I am on Cloud Nine right now. I hope you all have as good a night as I’m having right now!! God bless!
Congrats, Jake…that is awesome news! I’ll be on the lookout for the Winter edition so I can buy a copy. Way to go!
Jake, congratulations!!!! I got my start with a short story too. I”m sure good things are a’coming, my friend.
Jake,This is great news! Feel free to hijack my space any time you’ve got something THIS good!
Thank you so much. Seriously, all of you. Thanks. One thing, Ms. Hutchison. The email said the Winter Issue, but it’s already up on the site, and this guy was also co-guest-editing the Spring Issue, so I think it may be that’s the one.
Truthfully, I don’t care, I’m just so excited that it’s going to be out there! Geez, I hope you guys like it…I wrote it like two years ago, and just tweaked it before sending it in. Please be honest and tell me what you think whenever it gets out there!
Oh, and Ms. Ellison, I promise I had not read your story in Killer Year when I wrote this one. I swear (although it was pretty creepy when I read yours afterward…you’ll see what I mean….)