For posterity (and/or if you weren’t lucky enough to be in attendance for last week’s “My Favorite Poem” event at ASFA), here’s a list of our readers and the poems/poets they favored — with links! Thanks so much to all the participants…
Anna Butcher (Hoover) | ASFA-CW Senior
Ben Allen (Vestavia) | Pharmacist
Beverly Radford (Cook Springs) | Retired Educator
Andrew Brown (Vestavia) | Actor/Comedian
Lauren-Elizabeth Dewberry (Pell City) | ASFA-CW Senior
Judy Jones (Highland Park) | Retired Banker
Brielle Morrow (Montgomery) | BTW-CW Senior
Linda Williams (Fairfield) | Banker
Murray Vella (Homewood) | Nanny
J.D. Peppers (Crestwood) | Stylist
Lee Gaines (Montgomery) | BTW-CW Sophomore
Lisa Oestreich (Downtown Birmingham) | Physician
Jack Royer (Mountain Brook) | News Anchor (CBS 42)
BTW-CW Chair Foster Dickson
We’re pleased to report that our annual My Favorite Poem event was a smash success. Many thanks to the folks at Reed Books, Birmingham Arts Journal, as well as our ASFA-CW parent group, all of whom worked hard to make it happen. Thanks, too, to our friends and fellow creative laborers from the Booker T Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery, who joined us as well. Thanks to the generosity of the large crowd on hand on Friday night, we’ll be able to send a check for over $650 to the BTW Fame Board, which will be earmarked to help the BTW-CW department recover from the recent fire that decimated the school’s campus.
This is what happened to us last week:
- Random-word renga happened to us.
- As did a Camus quote (from “The Myth of Sisyphus”): “…Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.”
- 2001: A Space Odyssey happened to us. We talked about how some movies make meaning for an audience and some invite the audience to make meaning on its own. The latter kind of movie is more abstract and ambiguous, on purpose. Not every interpretation of such a movie is valid, but by definition there’s always more than one valid interpretation. Sometimes those interpretations are very different and may even be at odds with one another. A movie like 2001 (and a filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick) is very comfortable with that idea.
- David Foster Wallace happened to us. He made us consider the lobster. There were footnotes. And existential angst.
- The Clash happened to us. It was loud. Instinctive. (Secretly intellectual.)
- Also Mr. Slatton happened to us. He shared his insights and experiences re: music, creativity, instinct, intellect. A good time was had by all.
- Books happened to us. As in the ones we’re reading right now.
- Some Rock & Roll pictures happened to us. That was cool.
- We encountered invitations to create.
- We noticed all kinds of things.
- And there were dolphins. Leaping! (Sometimes.)
She (and most certainly he) who doesn’t know history is doomed to repeat it. Or something. But last week was excellent, so I’d gladly repeat it in a heartbeat. FWIW.
- We watched not one but two black-and-white movies! And guess what? No mumbling! One had Gregory Peck in it. The other had The Beatles. They were both made around the same time: 1962-1964. They were both interested in the nature of reality, in the importance of perspective and how perspective changes what we see and (therefore) understand about the human experience. They were also both interested in telling a specific story about a specific group of people in a specific time and place — and, in the process of all that specificity, they both captured something essential about the Cultural Moment.
- We got jiggy with the surrealism — collectively.
- We shared our work — either with one person (i.e., me) or with the whole class.
- We visited the Cultural Capital which was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, we more than visited. It was kind of like a massive study abroad program. And some people went to one section of the city. And some people went to others. Really we fanned out, covered all the quadrants. And then some. This was all in preparation for visit from a Very Special Guest Star.
- We read and talked about Paris and food and how Ernest Hemingway wrote both of them.
- There were different colored pieces of paper with crazy questions on it! And we (i.e., some of you) answered them!
- As per usual, we encountered invitations. To create!
- We put some new stuff out on The Second Shelf. All surreptitious-like.
- And we noticed what we noticed when listened to some funky music.
This is what “we” did last week. (FYI: It was awesome.)
- We finished writing some Seven-Sentence scenes/stories and then we shared (some of) them. We talked about how sometimes not knowing the whole story (or the whole back story) is actually good because it increases the tension. We also talked about the difference between blowing smoke in the general direction of someone’s face and smashing a plate over his head.
- Then we watched another gray and mumbly movie! Except for the mumbly part was intentional this time because it had Marlon Brando in it. And he could’ve been a contender. Also there were pigeons. Lots of different kinds of pigeons.
- We said things matter. Objects. In stories. It’s not an accident that the Eevill Super-Nazi likes clocks in The Stranger. Just as it’s not an accident that pigeons (and hooks and jackets) figure prominently in On the Waterfront.
- We visited the Cultural Capital! and everybody was wearing caps and gowns and a super-mega-billionaire British lady was all talking about how she wanted you to fail. Miserably. A lot. Because that’s what she did. Until she didn’t. Not sure if this is related, but I think she works for Amnesty International or something.
- We (that is to say: you; which is to say: some of you) read [y]our life story to everybody(ish). Turns out some of you are o[r]bituaries. Or nations with closely guarded borders. Also paint samples. Rocks. Reluctant siblings. Also, these persons-places-things featured prominently: Dentistry. Al Green. Seattle. Billy Collins. Legos. Also memory, loss, lyricism, worry, frustration, imagination. And metaphors. Lots of metaphors.
- We read this weird essay that was like a collage.
- We read some Philip Levine poems and heard him talk a little to the NPR people. Which reminds me…
- [A Retrospective Note in “Defense” of Philip Levine: Generally speaking, the verdict on Levine’s work (the very limited sample we read) was a semi-collective: Meh. That’s fine. I don’t expect or even want you to “like” everything you read. It’s extremely important to dive into the meh though, especially when you’re meh about a well-known writer or text. Why? Because reading is never an absolute, objective experience. It’s relative. There’s a context and that context changes over time. It changes from writer to writer, too. Philip Levine is rooted in a very particular context: white, working-class man from the Rust Belt in the second half (third quarter?) of the 20th Century. It’s understandable that poems rooted in such a context might not resonate with you now (or ever). That doesn’t mean the work or the writer isn’t significant, nor does it mean it’s useless for you to understand why other people find the work/writer significant. In fact, that disconnect should pique your curiosity. It’s a clue that the work/writer is likely coming from a completely different set of contexts (experiences/values, etc) from you. Writers don’t reject those sorts of differences out of hand; they explore them.]
- We read two short prose pieces: one by Melanie Rae Thon and one by Michael Ondaatje. They were both sort of about water (but not exclusively) and they both read a lot like nonfiction, though one was in an anthology called Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories and the other was in an anthology called In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction. Which was weird. I mean. We got over it, but it was a little odd at first. We finally suggested that the authorial pose — what does he/she call it? — and (perhaps more important) a reader’s expectations are two crucial variables when it comes to sussing out the difference between fact, fiction, nonfiction, and/or truth.
- Which lead us — yet again — to a brief discussion of The Toolbelts. And that’s always a good time.
- Also we talked about how it’s good to write about your life, whether you call it a poem or a story or an essay or a screenplay.
- However: sometimes it’s hard to tell the story all the way true. For several reasons. One, it could be you don’t remember everything about the story. Two, it could be some of the story’s really boring. Three, it could be the process of writing helps you discover a theme or thread you want to develop further than the actual events would allow. And, of course, four: it could be it’s pretty private and there’s parts of the story you don’t want to share.
- Writer’s embellishments are fine unless you have created the readerly expectation — directly or indirectly — that you aren’t embellishing. If you embellish in that case, you run the risk of breaking your reader’s heart. And not in a good way.
- As per usual, we encountered invitations. To create!
- We also noted a thing or three about not following the assignment (by A LOT).
- And we noticed what we noticed when we weren’t noticing the noticing. Or something along those lines.
FYI/411: We is an all-encompassing term around these parts. It pretty much means me and the walls and the rugs and the air conditioner and the mold and everybody/everything else who was with us in this room. At any time. Last week.
So. Yes. Here goes:
- We talked about space (the final frontier). Also: we were excellent about taking care of the space. Thank you, us!
- We talked a little about process and a little less about three other words that are related and important: TRY. PRACTICE. PROJECT.
- We watched a movie. It was gray. And melodramatic! (Also a little mumbly.)
- We visited the Cultural Capital, which in this case turned out to be a fiery place called London. (And PS: isn’t it awesome that fiery is spelled f-i-e-r-y? Why, yes. Of course it is.)
- We talked about the relationship between fact and truth. Turns out they’re brothers. Or: bros, to be exact. Which is to say they often punch each other in the face but their mom makes them love each other anyway. Also there’s something called the “Truth of Fiction,” and maybe that’s their cousin who’s the senior class president of the high school in the next town over. Or something.
- We talked about Toolbelts.
- We read a really short essay by Robin Behn. And talked about its Toolbelts.
- We read a poem by Brigit Pegeen Kelly and a poem by a poem by Darcie Dennigan. We did the whole read-it-and-say-whether-we-liked-it-or-not-and-why thing and then also the whole compare-contrast-the-two-poems thing. And we talked about how poems can be surreal. Sometimes disturbing. Also nostalgic (= missing something, sweetly). Also we talked about sound and syntax and brains, and also the osmosis of influence (influence of osmosis?) and how sometimes very strong influences present themselves in very subtle ways.
- We read a really short essay by Tim O’Brien. And it turns out it’s so short, it’s actually much longer and goes by another name in real life. Or no: it’s actually much longer and goes by another name on the internet which is probably not really real life.
- We put some new stuff out on The Second Shelf.
- We encountered invitations. To create!
- We took a walk. And we noticed things.