Posts Tagged With: authors

Ekphrastic Poetry: Inspired by Art and Structured According to W. C. Williams

For the past six years, I have been conducting ekphrastic poetry workshops in classrooms throughout western Kentucky, guiding students in grades 3 – 12 to write original poems inspired by works of art that are recorded and broadcast on our public radio station, WKMS-FM, every weekday in April to celebrate National Poetry Month. Response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, not only as stimulus to writing and listening to poetry, but also as motivation to appreciate public radio and its role in the cultural life of the region.

Typically, one class period is all the time available for the workshops. Because of time limitations, I use short poems by William Carlos Williams as structural models, and images from “Picturing America,” a program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, to inspire the writers. In 2011-12, we used images from the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program, “Journey Stories.”

Williams’ short works (most notably “the red wheelbarrow” and “this is just to say“) offer permission to break some rules and focus on economy of language without sacrificing meaning. Especially with younger students in grades 3 – 6, the short poems are useful to review common core poetry concepts regarding stanzas, line breaks, word choices, imagery, etc. Between the images and the model poems, students of all levels are able to complete the assignment: to write a minimum of one poem before the end of the class.

A simple organizer guides writers in the number of stanzas and words per line of the poem. Students are urged to write, not to ponder too long over any aspect of their poems. Once they have a draft, it is easier for them to see where adjustments are needed. We dive right in and work fast, but there is always time allotted for students to read their poems aloud, with emphasis on reading loud and clear. Feedback focuses on specific strong points in each poem. (There is always something positive to say, now isn’t there?)

Some sophisticated concepts that are readily discussed in relation to the work include things like word choice, imagery, near rhyme, rhythm, line breaks, stanza breaks, point of view and parallel structure. Grammatical concepts sometimes arise — verb tense, subject-verb agreement, active voice — and, all are discussed within context. Kids beg to write more, and even after the bell has rung, they clamor to share their work.

Here are a couple of my favorites from this year’s batch:

Constance Alexander, faculty scholar, college of education, Murray State University,

Categories: Arts Education, Literary Arts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Can a poem still change anything?

On January 22, 2013, the day Alexandra Petri asked this question in an article titled “Is poetry dead?,” seven people in Lexington, Ky., were tattooed with words of their choice from a poem Bianca Spriggs had written as a love letter to, about, and for Lexington.

On the pages of the Washington Post, Petri responded to her own question without skipping a beat: “I think the medium might not be loud enough any longer.” In Lexington, Andreea McClintock and Sonya Sisk showed up at Charmed Life Tattoo at 3 p.m. after carefully rearranging their work schedules in the ER. Because they are friends, they wanted to get their poetic tattoos together.

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Can a poem change anything?

Titled “The _______ of the Universe: A Love Story,” Bianca’s poem challenges the belief that poetry is outdated, irrelevant, and useless, that you might as well put it out of its misery by donating the whole genre to a book drive to be shipped some place where no one speaks its language.

Bianca started her poem by inviting everyone to write with her on her Facebook page. Asking people to fill in the blank of “Lexington is the ______ of the Universe” was like offering free tickets to the opening day of Keeneland, take the grandstand seats and remember the sunscreen!  (“the opening day of Keeneland” became part of the poem when Bianca asked folks to tell her their most beloved places in Lexington.)

At 496 words, including the title, Bianca’s poem is already spread across 247 bodies, soon to be 249. Each day, Bianca’s words stretch, go for a brisk morning run in the dark, carry a newborn, bake chocolate-bacon cookies, drink buttered-rum flavored coffee, and do all the things that make up our daily lives. On January 22 at 2 p.m., Kate Hadfield got tattooed with “and were so busy,” a phrase that reminds her of her ever-busy life as a poet and dancer. When Kate dances, Bianca’s words refuse to sit still; they absolutely refuse to die.

Reading Bianca’s poem is, more often than not, a public act: one that takes place in public and makes it necessary to look at skin, ink, and hair, not yellowing pages. “Hello, fried delicacies!” we shout to Hampton Fisher whose tattoo might just be the funniest. At 8 p.m. on January 22, Mikey Wells got “from” — a word he chose to remind him of where he comes from. Like many others who received Bianca’s words as tattoos, Mikey does not hesitate to take his right shoe off, revealing his part of the whole. His tattoo makes you wonder, “from where?” Mikey is from Lexington.

Can a poem still change anything?

Bianca’s poem—spread like a city-wide mural over 249 bodies—changes our ideas about poetry, tattoos, art and love. “The ________ of the Universe” changes our ideas about a city large enough to adopt so many willing to sink deep roots in Bluegrass soil.

Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova

****Note: This blog entry is 496 words long, the same length as Bianca’s poem. Reading “The ________ of the Universe” after this blog entry should make it clear that poetry can get a lot more mileage per word than prose.

Categories: Literary Arts, Other | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s going on in Kentucky? by Lynnell Edwards

I was privileged to be part of two Kentucky-centric panels at the annual conference of the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) this year in Chicago, which, with almost 10,000 in attendance, is undoubtedly the largest gathering of writers, editors, promoters and lovers of literary writing in the United States, if not the world.  So it was a surprise when out of this carnival of ages and faces, of academics and independents, of the conventional and the frankly unconventional, a member of the audience at our reading for the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference asked: “With four panels—and counting—focused on or showcasing Kentucky writers, Kentucky is the single most best-represented state at the conference. What’s going on in Kentucky?”

What’s going on indeed.

I don’t remember that there was a single, extended answer from our panel—someone joked about the water (or maybe it was the bourbon)—but there was consensus that at least some of it had to do with our ability to support one another, for the established to mentor the emerging, and for the urban and the rural to find points of engagement and admiration. The Kentucky literary community is a big tent, a literary front porch that welcomes all.

Now a month past that question a more expansive response begins to take shape, though the brief space here allows just a few notes toward a full discussion of “what’s going on in Kentucky.”

First, a strong community depends in large part on the willingness of its members to work for common good. Among Kentucky’s most highly published contemporary writers are also some of the state’s best literary citizens. They run reading series, put on festivals and operate literary presses and journals that take chances on new writers; they visit schools and offer writing workshops for teens; they send out newsletters and share opportunities; they fund prizes and raise money for literary causes.

But it’s not clear that all this literary citizenry is necessarily peculiar to Kentucky; perhaps it’s just a particular convergence right now of literary folk who are also enthusiastic organizers.

A second reason, perhaps, gets more precisely at the question of a writer and her region. We are a conflicted history of a conflicted people. Kentucky is eternally a state of contradictions: are we north or south? And if we’re part of the Bible belt, then why are our top industries gambling and distilled spirits? We have a bounty of natural resources and beauty that we are systematically destroying. We are abundant in our literary wealth, yet continued and historically poor support for education and a powerful current of anti-intellectualism keep our graduation and literacy rates low.

As difficult as this condition makes it to get anything done in Frankfort,  I do think there is a particular kind of passion and violence in Kentucky’s conflicted history, in our complete disregard for the rules that can impart a fearlessness in its writers, however they make their claim to Kentucky. Hunter S. Thompson exhibited this kind of fearlessness when he reinvented journalism as did Robert Penn Warren of the prior generation when he reinvented literary criticism; the late poet Aleda Shirley in her final book “Dark Familiar” stared down mortality with a fearless eye; James Baker Hall brought the all-seeing camera’s eye to his fearless composition on the page. And now, Nikky Finney writing devastatingly beautiful poems about Condoleeza Rice in her National Book Award-winning collection “Head Off and Split”; Wendell Berry—not because he’s the most radical writer on the environment around (he’s not)—but because he fearlessly reaches into philosophy, religion, science, natural history and political science to create a far-reaching, widely accessible polemic about what we’re doing to our Earth and why. All of them fearless Kentucky writers. What’s going on in Kentucky?  Don’t be afraid to ask.

Lynnell Major Edwards is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently “Covet” (October, 2011), and also “The Farmer’s Daughter” (2003) and “The Highwayman’s Wife” (2007), all from Red Hen Press. Her short fiction and book reviews have appeared most recently in Connecticut Review, American Book Review, Pleiades, New Madrid, and others. She lives in Louisville, Ky. where she is on the board of directors for Louisville Literary Arts, a non-profit literary arts organization that sponsors the monthly InKY reading series and The Writer’s Block Festival. She is also associate professor of English at Spalding University. She also teaches creative writing workshops at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and is available for readings and workshops in a variety of settings.

Categories: Literary Arts | Tags: , , , , ,

Social networking for booklovers: five reasons to check out LibraryThing

LibraryThing, a popular social cataloging and network website, is marketed toward people like me who are crazy about books. Case in point: I’m in my late twenties and my idea of a fun Friday night is browsing the shelves of a bookstore with a cup of coffee in hand. When I learned of the existence of LibraryThing in early 2010, I knew I had found an outlet for my bibliophilistic leaning.

Why did I give LibraryThing a chance? Read on.

#1 – Share Your Collection

Like it or not, our choices in books communicate messages about ourselves to other people. Have you ever peeked at someone’s book collection when visiting their home for the first time? Or slyly glanced at the books held by another person in a bookstore? One of the fun aspects of LibraryThing is choosing what books to include in your online catalog. Opening this collection to other LibraryThing members offers you the chance to shape an image of yourself and your tastes.

LibraryThing allows you to enter up to 200 books for free or an unlimited number for $10 (yearly subscription) or $25 (lifetime subscription).

#2 – Connect with Readers Like (and Unlike) Yourself

Besides the act of reading, the flip side to being a booklover is discussing books with other enthusiasts. LibraryThing offers you a wide platform to voice your opinions. You can join discussion groups on topics ranging from the Twilight series to winners of the Man Booker Prizes. Start your own threads and converse with people from around the globe. Write reviews of books in your catalog and read other people’s reviews. Debate, analyze, and question. It is this dynamic exchange of ideas that makes LibraryThing a fantastic tool for deepening your reading experience.

#3 – Let New Books Find You

With thousands of books published every year, it is difficult to choose which ones to invest your time in reading. Based on the books in your catalog, the website makes recommendations and provides a list of members with similar preferences.

You can even enter giveaways for free books in exchange for reviews. Through this program, I learned to appreciate a genre that I was determined to snub: adaptations of literary classics. Imagine the look on my face when I received a free copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls in the mail last year. I grudgingly gave the novel a chance and have since bought other similar works (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Android Karenina, The Meowmorphosis).

#4 – Not Just Hype for Authors

If you are an author, LibraryThing is a means for you to make connections with potential readers. The website claims to have over 1 million members, some of which are libraries, publishers and bookstores from around the world. You can become an official LibraryThing Author with a page dedicated to your work. Post a bio, a photo, links to your website, information about your books, and a catalog of your personal library for readers to peruse. Publish information on your readings, book signings and other events on LibraryThing Local (see reason #5).

#5 – Leave the Computer Behind for Awhile

LibraryThing offers a Local page that can be customized to your location, with listings of libraries, bookstores, author readings and literary events up to 100 miles away.

So Why Did I Give LibraryThing a Chance?

LibraryThing celebrates the pleasure of being a person who loves to read. Years and years ago, I felt like an oddball as the child who always seemed to have her nose stuck in a book. I’ve since accepted myself as a true “bookworm” and take pride in the name. The success of LibraryThing only serves to validate this passion. If you share my feelings, take a look at the website. Who knows? A few weeks from now, you may find yourself involved in a world-wide readathon or doing flash mob cataloging.

Heidi Caudill, adminstrative associate

Categories: Literary Arts | Tags: , , ,

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