Celebrities have been making news in the poetry world. The actress Kristen Stewart (who played Bella Swan in The Twilight movies) shared one of her poems (“My Heart Is A Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole”) with readers of Marie Claire. Critics, especially entertainment writers, pounced on it. Jenn Selby writing in The Independent called it “the worst poem of all time.” Facebook and Twitter blew up with snark. I did see one positive use for the poem; Chicago writer Kathleen Rooney said on Facebook: “Kristen Stewart’s poem is extremely teachable. In my classes today, we’re using it to play ‘Angels & Demons,’ (which I learned from Mark Neely) with half the class saying something positive about it and half saying something critical, then taking our favorite line and writing our own poem from there–some of the lines in it are actually really good.” Maybe this poetry exercise can be useful to when you want to jump-start your writing. Of course you don’t have to use Kristen Stewart’s poem.
A much buzzed about happening in Chicago was the February 20 Poetry Foundation/Chicago Humanities Festival event featuring poet Frank Bidart and actor James Franco. There were readings by both men, a conversation between the two, and a screening of the short film “Herbert White,” which Franco created based on Bidart’s poem of the same name (from the book Golden State). The poem is about a serial killer necrophiliac. The poetry and literary work of James Franco get about as much praise as Kristen Stewart’s poetry, but incites even more outrage. Chicago writer Ian Belknap has a one-man show titled, “Bring Me the Head of James Franco, That I may Prepare a Savory Goulash in the Narrow and Misshapen Pot of His Skull.”
Amtrak has announced it will give writers free residencies riding on their trains. There is no current way to apply for a residency with Amtrak other than contact through social media. You might want to read this article on The Wire to see how it all works.
March marks the 100-year celebration of the publication of “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg in Poetry. If you have read this blog before, you might know I am a fan of Carl Sandburg, a poet sometimes dismissed. Controversy and critique over the substantive quality of poetic work is nothing new; just read William Carlos Williams in 1951 review dissing Sandburg’s Complete Poems. The Newberry Library is planning a special celebration of “Chicago” and Carl Sandburg Wednesday, March 12 from 5 to 7 pm.
I thought I’d share some of Carl Sandburg’s poetry, especially since the first makes reference to writing on a train, and the second one shows that all his poems don’t sound alike or look the same. As you’ll see, Kurt Vonnegut wasn’t the only writer to use “So it goes . . .”
Poems Done on a Late Night Car
I am The Great White Way of the city:
When you ask what is my desire, I answer:
“Girls fresh as country wild flowers,
With young faces tired of the cows and barns,
Eager in their eyes as the dawn to find my mysteries,
Slender supple girls with shapely legs,
Lure in the arch of their little shoulders
And wisdom from the prairies to cry only softly at
the ashes of my mysteries.”
II. USED UP
Lines based on certain regrets that come with rumination
upon the painted faces of women on
North Clark Street, Chicago
In the rain and wind
Like mouths of women
Beaten by the fists of
Men using them.
O little roses
And broken leaves
And petal wisps:
You that so flung your crimson
To the sun
Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry
in the darkness.
EVERY year Emily Dickinson sent one friend
the first arbutus bud in her garden.
In a last will and testament Andrew Jackson
remembered a friend with the gift of George
Washington’s pocket spy-glass.
Napoleon too, in a last testament, mentioned a silver
watch taken from the bedroom of Frederick the Great,
and passed along this trophy to a particular friend.
O. Henry took a blood carnation from his coat lapel
and handed it to a country girl starting work in a
bean bazaar, and scribbled: “Peach blossoms may or
may not stay pink in city dust.”
So it goes. Some things we buy, some not.
Tom Jefferson was proud of his radishes, and Abe
Lincoln blacked his own boots, and Bismarck called
Berlin a wilderness of brick and newspapers.
So it goes. There are accomplished facts.
Ride, ride, ride on in the great new blimps—
Cross unheard-of oceans, circle the planet.
When you come back we may sit by five hollyhocks.
We might listen to boys fighting for marbles.
The grasshopper will look good to us.
So it goes …
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)