Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

New Piece up at The Rumpus

I’ve had my ass handed to me so many times when I write about poetry that I’m a little gun-shy, but for some unknown reason, I’ve written a piece about Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day” over at The Rumpus. Here’s a taste.

As a poet, I appreciate the gesture made toward the arts when the President-elect asks a poet to present a work at his or her inauguration. I’m as big a dork for it as there is—it’s rare that the art form I’ve chosen to work almost exclusively in gets that kind of exposure.

But I’m starting to think that it’s just not working, that maybe the limited history of the Inaugural Poem is enough to tell us to quit while we’re… well, if not ahead, at least not too far behind. Read the rest

Crossposted at Incertus

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Elizabeth Andrews, Praise Song for the Day, The Rumpus | Leave a comment

I love Julia Alvarez

I’ve liked her poetry for a long while, but I especially love what she’s done with the AP’s request for an inaugural poem. I’ve written before about my problems with Frost’s poem for Kennedy, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that I wasn’t alone. Alvarez voiced many of the same reservations, though in a far better–and poetic–way than I did. Here’s her poem:

The land was never ours, nor we the land’s:
no, not in Selma, with the hose turned on,
nor in the valley picking the alien vines.
Nor was it ours in Watts, Montgomery–
no matter what the frosty poet said.
We heard the crack of whips, the mothers’ moans
in anthems like an undertow of grief.
The land was never ours but we believed
a King’s dream might some day become a deed
to what we did not own, though it owed us.
(Who had the luxury to withhold himself?)
No gift outright for us, we earned this land
with sorrow’s currency: our hands, our backs,
our Rosas, Martins, Jesses, our Baracks.
Today we give our land what we withheld:
the right at last to call itself one nation.

I’m teaching occasional poetry in my Poetic Forms class in a couple of weeks, and I planned to bring in the inaugural poems anyway. I’m adding this one to the list.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | inaugural poems, Julia Alvarez, Robert Frost | Leave a comment

W. D. Snodgrass, 1926-2009

W. D. Snodgrass died yesterday at his home in upstate New York. I can’t say I know a lot of his work. I’ve only taught a poem or two of his in the past, but I can say that I recognize a bit of myself in his poem “April Inventory”. I’m a bit older than Snodgrass was when he wrote that poem–about 9 years, judging by the copyright date–but working as I do on a college campus, I can certainly relate to these lines:

The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.

That feeling has been driven home particularly well this year since my daughter started college. That, combined with my teaching of Freshman Composition for the first time in a couple of years, really made me feel old. I actually had a student in my class who had been a classmate of my daughter when she lived with me after Hurricane Katrina. No more fooling myself into thinking that I had something in common with my students–all the hip-hop listening in the world won’t bridge that gap, I’m afraid.

The poem, in the end, is about coming to grips with the differences between one’s expectations and the realities of one’s life, and accepting them. The poem concludes:

There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.

That’s a pretty ending, if not particularly illuminating, but given that the poem has a touch of the mid-life crisis in it while the poet is barely thirty-one, I guess I can forgive it.

January 14, 2009 Posted by | April Inventory, W. D. Snodgrass | 1 Comment

Poetic Lives Online: Random Poetry Links

The following is a new feature I’ll be doing every week for The Rumpus. I’ll be cross-posting them here in the hopes that I might actually do some po-blogging of my own, instead of focusing so much on Incertus. Thanks to Stephen Elliott for giving me the shot.

With the inauguration of Barack Obama swiftly approaching (though not swiftly enough for some), the return of an inaugural poet/poem has gotten some play. Josh Corey has a “Poem for the Inaugural Poem and Marianne Amoss provides some background on just what Poets Laureate do, aside from the occasional poem. And sticking with the world of politics and literature, I’ll be chewing over these remarks from Marjorie Perloff at the recent MLA on the importance of close reading for a while.

I want Meg Hamill’s book, Death Notices, based on nothing more than this review. You’ll have to scroll down for it.

Susan Schultz has some interesting musings on looking at a book of poetry as an artifact, especially in the classroom, and Able Muse has a wide-ranging interview with poet/translator Geoffrey Brock, which covers the intersections between translation and poetry, the difficulties of political poems, and the emergence of a new poetics–Post-Newism.

And finally, Linebreak is almost a year old, which means it’s about time they reject some more of my poems. There are some good poems in their archive.

If you have any suggestions for inclusion in this column, which will appear (roughly) once a week, share them with me at briankspears-at-gmail-dot-com.

January 12, 2009 Posted by | Geoffrey Brock, Josh Corey, Linebreak, Marianne Amoss, Marjorie Perloff, Meg Hamill, Susan Schultz, The Rumpus | Leave a comment