Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Did You Come Up With? (Vol. 1 No. 4)

Exercise #0003: "Write a poem in which you take a scientific discovery and relate it to something in another field."

This week's featured writer is Miles B. Waggener. He sent us the poem below and received a free book from the Red Morning Press catalog.

Click here to read an interview with Miles B. Waggener.


Marsh Hawk on the Paddock Bridge

Over seamless fields, drainages to deeper water,
the eye and re-firing neural paths are
dove-rapt and hunting with feeding birds.

Rictal breath visible in the cold,
primary coverts splay and mantle the dove
peppered in blood, liturgical as a curtain

now offered up on memory's rusted girder.
Tendons shimmer, fibrous and oblong gore.
Trace back the dove

leaving the safety of the maple's lattice
to slide its shadow across the snowy field,
as from an old source, from hippocampus through

limbic byways, relive the dove plucked on the wing,
accruing context through the cortex.
There are the rough-edged holes

where blood melts through snow
and leads to fallen aftermath, the hollowed-out reliquary,
as synapses make my tangled way,

where a dove is obliterated, restaged, rived
and steaming on the bridge.
Blood's metallic warmth, like rust

courses through the Papez Circuit, and I'm
cleaning game birds again, or my grandfather
is again in his wheelchair, staring at his hands

in disbelief. As if they don't belong to him.
From hippocampus through cortex,
from the maple, dove shadow glides

out across the snow, back to hippocampus,
back to the disk-shaped face of marsh hawk.
Where within its eye-ring

the parabola sharpens, the circuit hollows
the cell that memory becomes, fovea from which
the heart, and not the eye, might see.

Retrace capturing and caught, re-travel synapses:
my head is on my mother's chest, her heart
beating through her blouse; my body draped

against my father, sweat and burbon, fried chop
and vinegar on his shirt, he's singing Deep
in the Heart of Texas. Remember, and again

the news breaks, our child won't come to term,
blood before the ultrasound, fields and copses
the dove sees in the hawk's grip,

the doctor wants me to sit down, the bird
falls from its branch, and every stone I ever throw
is falling back to me.

Interview With an Author (Vol. 1 No. 4)

Miles Waggener is a poet, translator, and essayist living in Omaha, Nebraska. His book of poems, Phoenix Suites, was published by The Word Works and won the Washington Prize. A chapbook of newer poems, Portents Aside, is forthcoming from Two Dogs Press. A recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts fellowship, Waggener recently joined the faculty of The Writer's Workshop at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

In this interview, Waggener discusses his poem "Marsh Hawk on the Paddock Bridge."

What are your thoughts on the use of science-language and metaphor-in poetry?

I like reading and writing poems that work with the nomenclature of more than one field or sphere of knowledge. Of course poetry is ravenous for new diction and new modes of expression. And Amy Holman's assignment is a great opportunity to build a conceit, an extended metaphor. But such a process demands attention to the fields being compared, and sometime I fail at this. In my hands, an extended metaphor can easily erode into an analogically flat poem, where neither the extended vehicle nor the tenor get much stage time. I've written bad extended metaphors that end up being instructional and binary (gawd-offal and preachy).

Working with a new kind of subject and diction certainly invites a fresh approach. In fact, the hope of the submitted poem was to fuse or braid narratives together, rather than give, say, the science of memory a more figurative role, and ornithology a literal one. I tried not to make one field a crutch for the other. I'm grateful to have been given this assignment, for it reminded me to loosen my grip on the subjects.

How did you interpret this assignment? What were your first thoughts on what it asked you to do? How did that guide your composition?

As mentioned above, I first thought about the hope (and dread) of an extended metaphor and past attempts (train wrecks) at making them. Then I tried to think up a way to weave two fields together. I then turned to Donald Murray's idea of the dialectical notebook, which involves drawing a vertical line down the center of three or four notebook pages. The left sides of these pages were reserved for the science of long term memory, and the right sides were for the marsh hawk, the unlucky dove, falconry, and ornithology. I knew that I was going to make a mess and hoped for the best.

This poem relates the science of memory with the field of ornithology. Which came first during the writing process-the language of memory or the birds?

The birds came first. I had a larval/crummy draft of a poem about the hawk that was going nowhere, and I could draw from that.

What did you find challenging about writing this poem?

While it was liberating to proceed and not know where I was going, there came a moment late at night when all I had were columns of scratch and an empty head. Finding a form and a voice to channel the poem was difficult. I'm not convinced of the poem's form as submitted... but I probably shouldn't say this.

What do you like most about the poem you wrote?

I like the verb "to mantle," when a hawk spreads its wings, fans its tail and arches over prey to hide it from others. I've never used that verb before and want to use it again.

What are you reading right now?

I'm reading Port Trakl by Jaime Luis Huenún, which is translated by Daniel Borzutzky, a great poem sequence from Action Books. And I just finished Anne McLean's translation of Julio Cortázar's Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, which was wonderful. In fact, I've been buying copies of the Cortázar book for people. And, I've been reading student poems. Lots of student poems.

What can you say in terms of writing advice, opinions on the writing process or lessons learned?

Again, I'm grateful for Holman's assignment, which renewed my commitment to taking on new processes and subjects. The assignment made me listen to my drafts more carefully. It was important to remember that in the messy process of drafting a poem, an impasse can turn into a gate. It was good to work through the inertia and confusion, as hard as it was at the time. I need to remember to work through it. (I don't know if this will be of any use to others.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Haas and Schultz Win Pulitzer

Poets Robert Haas and Philip Schultz were awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry yesterday. Haas won for his collection Time and Materials and Schultz for his collection Failure.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bredle Reviewed in The Boston Review

Charlie Clark reviews Standing in Line for the Beast and Pain Fantasy by Jason Bredle in The Boston Review's March/April issue. To read the review, click here.


Monday, March 31, 2008

The Next Big Writer—A Review

Part One

I found the NextBigWriter while surfing the internet for information about writing classes and workshops. I’ve been missing the camaraderie and energy of a workshop environment, so I thought maybe there was some kind of forum online that I could join.

I was attracted to this site because of its format. Before you can post writing to be reviewed, you have to review other people’s writing. By giving reviews, you earn credits. You spend credits when posting your own writing. It virtually guarantees you will receive feedback on your writing.

Of course, not all feedback is equal. The big question in my mind was whether I would get any useful comments on my writing. I decided to give it a try. You can sign up as a Review Member for free, which means you can read and comment on writing but not post your own. I joined as a Writing Member and paid for a year subscription, which cost around $50. You don’t have to join for a year if you just want to test it out, but the per month fee is higher.

The process of setting up an account is pretty easy. You have to give yourself a pseudonym, which becomes your screen name. I chose Barrington Greene as my pseudonym, in case anybody is looking for me on the site. I ignored the warning about not being able to change your pseudonym once you entered it, and I regret that. In retrospect, I should’ve just used my real name, but the site seems to encourage anonymity. Maybe it’s so people will feel more comfortable giving tough feedback? Fine with me.

The first thing I did after getting my account set up was check out the Site Forums. The topics include categories like “Writing Tips and Advice” “Getting Published,” Self-Publishing” “Writing Contests, Challenges, Prompts and Games,” and “ Reviewing Tips.” I clicked on the “Reviewing Tips” forum and read some of the posts. Here’s when I started to think maybe that I made a mistake with the year-long subscription. Most of the posts in this section are complaints from people who thought they were reviewed too harshly. Quite a few posts argue that poetry is subjective and therefore shouldn’t be criticized too harshly. I read the poems by some of the people who posted, and the reviews. The reviews were not wrong. The poems needed a lot of work.

On the other hand, there were some good posts about reviewing. One reminded people that we give our writing up to review because of how subjective our own readings are. Most of us have loved a poem we’ve written unconditionally and it took someone else’s reading to make us reconsider.

Overall, I got the feeling that there are some reviewers who review many things quickly because they just want to earn credits and post their own work. That didn’t seem to be the majority, though.

I was ready to start reviewing and posting my own work. In the next issue of The Writing Assignment (April 14), I’ll chronicle what happens and tell you whether or not The Next Big Writer is the next big thing.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008


If you didn't know, March is Small Press Month. (And don't forget--April is poetry month). To celebrated small and independent presses, Powell's is hosting Smallpressapalooza. If you're in Oregon on March 20, stop by. If not, read at least read about it here.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Interview with Ivy Alvarez and Lee Herrick: Part Two

The Boxcar Poetry Review publishes part two of an informal conversation/interview between poets Ivy Alvarez and Lee Herrick. Click here to read. Click here for Part I.