Free E-book: 30 Years of Phoenix Poets

Phoenix EBookThe University of Chicago Press makes a different e-book available free every month. For October, it’s “Thirty Years of Phoenix Poets: 1983 – 2012,” a sampler of 30 poems, one from each year that the well-regarded Phoenix Poets series has been publishing.

To get yours, click here, and follow the instructions. If you’re a Kindle user, you’ll find it in the Kindle bookstore. Enjoy!

A Charm [1983] from David Ferry’s Strangers

I have a twin who bears my name;
Bears it about with him in shame;

Who goes a way I would not go;
Has knowledge of things I would not know;

When I was brave, he was afraid;
He told the truth; I lied;

What’s sweet to me tastes bitter to him;
My friends, my friends, he loves not them;

I walk the daylight in his dream;
He breathes the air of my nightmare.

5 Ways to Beat Reader’s Block

Reader’s block, suggests Dysfunctional Literacy, is the malaise that overcomes us sometimes so that we’re barely able to turn one page to the next, let alone concentrate or meditate on the books in our laps.

We walk past that book several times a day, giving it untrusting, sidelong glances. We pick it up and go through the motions but don’t remember much, and care less than that about what we do remember. The pressure builds, and we start to think that reading sucks, and our disloyalty kills us a little. All feeling of accomplishment leaches out of doing the dishes, running three miles, making a snow fort, or, you know, actually working at my job.

At least that’s how I experience it.Good thing D.L. is here with some remedies:

1. Stop reading. “Last summer I went on vacation and deliberately did not read or write anything.    I was told I was a much more pleasant person to be around when I wasn’t trying to read and write.”

2. Read classic literature. “Readers who aren’t into classic lit should choose a short book.  The Great Gatsby is great for reader’s block.  Les Miserables might be a disaster. Moby Dick?  Haha!  Moby Dick.”

3. Read a book you know you’ll dislike. “Books that I knew I’d dislike that got me out of reader’s block: Gorilla Beach by Snookie- supposedly written by somebody else. I really don’t like admitting that I actually read a few pages of that.”

4. Read a book you’ve read before. “This is risky.  Sometimes staying in a comfort zone is what causes the rut in the first place…Or it may kick-start a reader’s enthusiasm for reading.”

5. Do a lot of writing. “If a reader can’t muster enough energy to read, how can the reader find the enthusiasm to write?  Sometimes writing can get the brain going.  And if it doesn’t, then maybe the reader will get so frustrated by writing that reading will become an easy alternative.”

Read the whole article at Dysfunctional Literacy.

Every book review, said the anonymous document, must follow three rules:

1. The review must tell what the book is about.

2. The review must tell what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.

3. The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.

Robert Pinsky first encountered these rules in the 1970s, when his employer gave him a photocopied style-sheet that also included everything an obedient, paid scribbler needed to know: quality of typewriter ribbon required; size of margins; where to double-space, use italics, all-caps, or quotation marks; and where to put the reviewer’s byline.

“If this template is not actually Aristotelian,” writes Pinsky (of the three rules–not the ribbon, margins, and bylines), “it has that philosopher’s breathtaking plainness and penetration. To sneer at it as obvious would be a mistake. Even the clunky or stammering expression of the three rules (‘what the reviewer thinks about what the author says about that thing the book is about’) works as a hammer, driving home the essential principles and their distinctly separate, yet profoundly interrelated nature.”

(Found at Slate’s Culturebox.)

An Awesome Map of Independent Bookstores Across the USA

Dwell has compiled a really terrific map of independent bookstores throughout the United States.

The pegs on the map “highlight the kinds of places where you might roam for hours, scouring the shelves and scouting the stacks…thrilled by the prospect of discovering obscure out-of-prints, rare editions and favorite second-hand paperbacks.”

It’s an ongoing project, growing as readers submit info about booksellers in their communities. Many readers have also submitted helpful descriptions and reviews of the stores, too, that are posted with links to the stores’ websites under the map.

Check out the map, maybe for places stop for a break as you hit the road to visit family this weekend!

“A Poetry Handbook,” by Mary Oliver

A Poetry HandbookNot a ground-breaking book, but a clear, skillful, personable take on, as Oliver puts it, “the part of the poem that is a written document, as opposed to a mystical document, which of course the poem is also.”

Oliver handles the usual handbook topics–sound, figures of speech, lines, and so on–and her voice is distinctive, bracing but never strident, like a favorite teacher’s…

She is wry and opinionated: A successful writing class is one “where no one feels that ‘writer’s block’ is a high-priority subject.”  She is directive: “You cannot swing lines around, or fling strong-sounding words, or scatter soft ones, to no purpose.” She is confident: “A stanza break will inevitably result in either a felt hesitation or a felt acceleration.” She is appreciative and creative: Keats’s commentary on negative capability “is as up-to-date as a sun-rise.”

And she tempers her views, without ever weakening them, by acknowledging other ideas: “I don’t mean that this is all there is to it by any means.” And by honoring those who gloss things differently: “Neither of us has to be wrong; we may both be in the bounds of the reasonable.” And by an openness to try the techniques of others: “There are other ways…there are innumerable ways.”

The few hours I spent reading Oliver’s Handbook felt like the opening review week of master-class in poetry-writing, and I put the book down remembering much that I’d known before and feeling ready to read, write, and learn what’s next.

(Click here to buy A Poetry Handbook.)

“Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer,” by Roy Peter Clark

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every WriterClark’s book is more about style than content or correctness. And the 50 strategies are so practical, readable, entertaining, and genuinely helpful that writing with “style” becomes just as substantial and reachable a goal as writing good content with correctness.

That’s fantastic. And maybe even better is the book’s structure. Clark has built this book like a fractal image: Its pattern and value is the same from far as from near, and it’ll make you a better writer in 50 ways, no matter how closely you examine it:

It takes *5 minutes* to read the table of contents—each item of which is a complete piece of instruction. (“Begin sentences with subjects and verbs”… “Cut big, then small”… “Seek original images”… “Build your work around a key question”… Turn procrastination into rehearsal”)

Double the value by flipping through and reading each chapter’s subtitle, too (*15 minutes*). (“Watch those adverbs: Use them to change the meaning of the verb”… “Let punctuation control pace and space: Learn the rules, but realize you have more options than you think”… “Learn the difference between reports and stories: Use one to render information, the other to render experience”)

If you have *a couple of hours*, read through the first few paragraphs of each chapter. Clark explains each strategy and includes one or two examples right up front.

If you have *a couple of weeks*, read the entire book, three or four chapters a day. Each chapter builds from explanation and example to a fuller discussion of the importance and effects that using each strategy has.

And if you have *several months*, dive into the workshop ideas at the end of each chapter. These are tremendously balanced—between prompts to reflect and to act, between analysis of others’ writing and my own, between my past writing, and my present and future writing; between simple/brief activities and complex/time-consuming ones. Not every workshop activity seems equally fruitful to me (how could they?), but there will be something productive here for any writer at any time.

This is the kind of writing book I’d buy to send off to college with my kids, regardless of their majors.

(Click here to buy Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.)

“Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry,” by Kenneth Koch

Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write PoetryFirst of all, what a joyful book!

Only the first 20% or so of the book is prose, and this is divided between Koch’s story of finding success teaching  elementary kids to write poems in 1960’s New York classrooms and Koch’s observations about what qualities and attitudes in their teacher bring kids and their writing to life. The remaining 80% of the book is an anthology of poems his young students wrote. These are divided according to the assignments Koch used to help the kids get started.

Koch focuses on the kids’ accomplishments and creative capacity throughout the book, but it’s clear he was as willing and enthusiastic to learn as any of them. The result of his humility and energetic work was a great experience for him and his students and a genuinely encouraging book for any of us who teach.

It’s likely that Koch’s writing prompts and classroom techniques will seem familiar, maybe even tired, to those of us who grew up even a few years after this was published in 1970. Really, though, that’s a sign of Koch’s success. The respect with which he treated children’s imaginations and the hopeful seriousness that runs through all his advice about teaching informed the attitudes of many, many writing teachers after him. If this story seems well-worn now, it’s because he did it and told it so well in the first place.

And the kids’ poems? They’re a sign of Koch’s joy in his students’ work as well as his evidence that the teaching methods he writes about are successful and that teaching kids to write poems at all is entirely worthwhile. Also, many of them are a lot of fun.

I’ll come back to the first 60 pages again whenever get tired teaching and to the 240 pages of poems if I ever start to wonder whether my students actually have imaginations.

(Click here to buy Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry.)