Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Breathe In/Breathe Out; Read/Write

I'm convinced that if I am not producing text it is, in large part, because I am not reading. Therefore, for me, there is no such thing as "writer's block," only "reader's block."

Writing without reading is like breathing out without breathing in. You can do it for a while, but then you get down to those last few molecules that you have to strain to get out, and then you finally get down to nothing. At this point you either inhale fresh air (read), lose consciousness (stop writing for a while) or die (quit forever).

Or maybe you're breathing, but not deeply enough to be as healthy as you could be. What you need is a regular brisk walk or jog along new poetic paths to get the vital language flowing. Perhaps you're already in great shape, reading/writing every day, taking in and putting out high quality life-giving work, but lately the air in your neighborhood seems to have a stale odor about it.

Whatever your situation, you can benefit from fresh winds of language to get you going again. Therefore, a regular feature of this blog will be the sharing of poets that can be particularly stimulating in the production of new work. I recently discovered (quite by accident), an excellent new source for such poets: The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets.

In his forward to the anthology, J.D. McClatchy speaks about the poems of these thirty-five poets (emblematic of "a whole new generation of exceptionally talented--differently talented--poets"), creating a clearing "for what couldn't before have been anticipated, even by the poem itself--the passing thought or startling image that makes a thrilled reader stop and wonder"(italics mine):

"This is what good poems do. This is what David Yezzi's anthology does. You are holding now a whole new world
of thought and feeling. Reading it will make it yours, will change your sense of what is possible and necessary.
Plato, when he met Socrates, immediately burned his own poems. I am not suggesting you [will] do that. I am
suggesting you read these new poets, poets who question how we know what is familiar. You will not want to
burn the poems you admire. You will want to add these to them."

And, I might add, you will want to add your own, in the sacred space left by them.

Most poems included in New American Poets are taken from the poets' books, many of which have won major awards. Here is a list of the poets, along with their books of poetry at the time of printing, so you can google them and get a taste of their divergent, yet harmonious flavors:

Craig Arnold
Made Flesh

David Barber (Poetry editor of the Atlantic Monthly)
The Spirit Level
Wonder Cabinet

Rick Barot (Teaches at Pacific Lutheran University and in the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College)
The Darker Fall

Priscilla Becker (Teaches poetry at Pratt Institute, at Columbia University, and in her Brooklyn apartment)
Internal West
Stories That Listen

Geoffrey Brock (Teaches creative writing and translation at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville)
Weighing Light

Daniel Brown (Works at IBM, and lives in Baldwin, New York)
Taking the Occasion

Peter Campion (Rome Prize Winner, teaches at Auburn University and edits the journal Literary Imagination)
Other People
The Lions

Bill Coyle (Teaches English at Salem State College in Salem, Mass.)
The God of This World to His Prophet

Morri Creech (Teaches creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte)
Paper Cathedrals
Field Knowledge

Erica Dawson (PhD Candidate in English from the University of Cincinnati)
Big-Eyed Afraid

Ben Downing (Coeditor of Parnassus: Poetry in Review)
The Calligraphy Shop

Andrew Feld (Assistant professor at the University of Washington and the editor in chief of the Seattle Review)

John Foy (A senior financial editor at Itau USA Securities Inc.)
Techne's Clearinghouse

Jason Gray (Coeditor of the online magazine Unsplendid (http://www.unsplendid.com).
Photographing Eden
Chapbooks: How to Paint the Savior Dead and Adam & Eve Go to the Zoo

George Green (Teaches at Lehman College, CUNY, in the Bronx)
Poems have appeared in the anthologies Poetry 180, 180 More and The Best American Poetry 2005 and 2006

Joseph Harrison (An associate editor of the Waywiser Press)
Someone Else's Name
Identity Theft

Ernest Hilbert (Antiquarian book dealer in Philadelphia)
Sixty Sonnets

Adam Kirsch (Senior editor at the New Republic)
The Thousand Wells

Joanie Mackowski (Teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Cincinnati)
The Zoo
View from a Temporary Window

Eric McHenry (Teaches at Washburn University)
Potscrubber Lullabies

Molly McQuade (Formerly taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Rutgers University, among other schools)
Stealing Glimpses: Of Poetry, Poets, and Things In Between
An Unsentimental Education: Writers and Chicago
By Herself

Joshua Mehigan (Lives in Brooklyn)
The Optimist

Wilmer Mills (Taught poetry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Right As Rain (Chapbook)
Light for the Orphans (full-length collection)

Joe Osterhaus (Taught at Boston University, University College at Washington University, and at John Hopkins)
The Domed Road

J. Allyn Rosser (Teaches at Ohio University)
Bright Moves
Misery Prefigured
Foiled Again

A.E. Stallings (Lives in Athens, Greece)
Archaic Smile

Pimone Triplett (Associate professor of creative writing at the University of Washington and teaches at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers)
The Price of Light
Ruining the Picture

Catherine Tufariello (Lives in Valparaiso, Indiana)
Keeping My Name

Deborah Warren (Lives in Andover, Mass.)
The Size of Happiness
Zero Meridian
Dream with Flowers and Bowl of Fruit

Rachel Wetzsteon (Teaches at William Paterson University)
The Other Stars
Home and Away
Sakura Park

Greg Williamson (Teaches in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University)
A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck
Errors in the Script
The Silent Partner

Christian Wiman (Editor of Poetry)
The Long Home
Hard Night

Mark Wunderlich (Teaches literature and writing at Bennington College)
The Anchorage

David Yezzi (Executive Director of the New Criterion and editor of New American Poets)
The Hidden Model

C. Dale Young (Works full-time as a physician, edits poetry for the New England Review, and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers)
The Day Underneath the Day
The Second Person

So, pick a poet or two (or ten) and sample their work. When you find one that splits open your head or your heart, sit down and write a response to one of their poems until language geysers up in an unstoppable stream. Then do it again. Again. Breathe in. Breathe out. Every day. Remember?

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