Stare at any one thing
it recedes into form
Roof edge beyond the window
becomes a floating angle, abstract
against cloud-clotted background,
rain layered foreground.
Say anything over and over,
word you love or word you loathe
it reduces to sound,
As a meditation,
this nudges us
closer to edges,
toward wilder realms rarely visited.
But be wary of ideas
ranted over and over.
They lose something too,
lose the softness of grass on bare feet,
of hand touching hand. They become
strictures against the way rain speaks,
barriers to what nourishes
the ground we are.
Laura Grace Weldon
First published in Sisyphus Literary Magazine, issue 6.3
“Ostranenie” is a literary term coined by Russian writer and critic Viktor Shklovsky to describe how art takes reality out of context, making the ordinary seem strange.
I got a suspicious email back in August. It alleged I’d won a statewide contest. I am not so easily fooled. I wrote back:
“In case you are a wealthy foreign prince, I have nothing to extort. I’m a friendly hermit who drives a rusty 2004 Honda and wears worn out shoes.”
The emailer responded with contact info for the Ohio Poetry Day Association (OPD), which has awarded Ohio Poet of the Year since 1938. He said he wasn’t affiliated with the organization, but was helping out since they had trouble getting in touch with me. He asked me to call Amy Jo Zook, contest chairperson for Ohio Poetry Day and coordinator for Poet of the Year. He explained the organization is run by such a venerable board that they only operate by phone and mail.
Suspicious indeed. But I investigated.
I googled Amy Jo Zook and discovered she has a doctorate in English, won the Ohio Poet of the Year award herself back in 1988, and has volunteered for literary causes for decades. I reverse-searched the number I was given and it matched up with her name.
Hmm. Could this be a real thing? My publisher had sent my book off for several awards…
A Nigerian prince seemed a more likely possibility than my winning anything. Rather than think about it, I went back to editing manuscripts. When that distraction didn’t work, I took a bucket of kitchen scraps out to the chickens, picked some green beans, and watered our mulberry saplings. I still couldn’t muster up the courage to make the phone call. Maybe it was the memory of my mother listing among a woman’s sins the attitude, “she certainly thinks highly of herself.”
That evening, bolstered by two substantial glasses of Merlot, I finally called Dr. Zook. She explained that books are nominated by publishers, literary groups, libraries, and other independent sources — self-nominations are not accepted. No list of nominees is released. The choices are narrowed down to eight or fewer books, which the OPD judges then compare individually before voting.
She told me about the history of the award.
Back in 1938, the State of Ohio set the third Friday of every October as Ohio Poetry Day. This was the first poetry day established by a state government in the United States, thanks to Tessa Sweazy Webb who spent thirteen months lobbying the Ohio General Assembly. She argued, ‘For each living reader a living poet, for each living poet a living reader.’
And Dr. Zook told me about her years handling the details of Ohio Poetry Day and its publications, all proudly done without email or internet. She said the annual OPD event takes place the weekend of October 18-19th at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, Ohio with workshops, readings, and all OPD awards. (She mentioned Mary Oliver was Ohio Poet of the Year in 1980!)
All this to say, I was indeed voted Ohio Poet of the Year on the strength of my newest collection, Blackbird.
My impostor syndrome is now in full flare. Vast appreciation for Tessa Sweazy Webb, Ohio Poetry Day board and judges, and my wonderful publisher at Grayson Books, Ginny Connors. Also, vast shock at finding myself in any category that includes luminaries such as these recent Ohio Poet of the Year winners: Susan Glassmeyer, Kathy Fagan, and Maggie Smith. Sometimes good news IS real.
Pinch me when you see me.
“Poetry is more a threshold than a path.” Seamus Heaney
Your father, whose voice scared me,
whose head loomed a full 14 inches over my mine,
bought us our only housewarming gift;
a bright blue, six cubic foot wheelbarrow.
We laughed at its size, laughed as you gave me
a bumpy ride over the first lawn
we giddily called our own.
He seemed to believe our future
would be one of Paul Bunyan-sized loads.
In it we hauled firewood, dirt, rocks,
crinkled leaves topped with squealing toddlers.
It held a big block Dodge engine.
It toted rolls of fencing, chicken feed, cow manure.
It carried trays of tender seedlings
out to the garden, waiting
as I blessed each one into soft earthen beds.
Today you mend the rusted body
of our battered blue wheelbarrow.
I wish your father lived to see
its wooden handles smoothed from use
and what it carries, still
on that one sure wheel.
You don’t have to stretch your movie-watching habits far to include movies infused with poetry. Here’s a short, by no means comprehensive list.
Biopics (often loosely) based on poets’ lives
Neruda dramatizes the search for the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet during the 1940’s, when he became a fugitive in his own country due to his Communist leanings.
A Quiet Passion explores Emily Dickinson’s life from her school days to her later years.
Kill Your Darlings looks at a 1944 murder that draws together beat generation poets Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.
Howllooks at the 1957 obscenity trial against Allen Ginsberg.
Set Fire to the Stars portrays a week in 1950, when aspiring poet John Brinnin takes his idol, Dylan Thomas, on a retreat in hopes of readying the legendary poet for a series of poetry readings in the U.S.
Reaching for the Moon Elizabeth Bishop took a trip to Rio in 1951, intending to stay only long enough to battle her drinking problem, but met and fell in love with famed architect Lota de Macedo Soares, staying 20 years.
Total Eclipseis a dramatized account of Arthur Rimbaud’s affair with Paul Verlaine.
Sylvia tells of the relationship between poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.
The Basketball Diariesis a harrowing story of athleticism, addiction, and redemption based on poet Jim Carroll’s autobiography.
Barfly is based on Charles Bukowski tumultuous life.
Before Night Fallsis adapted from the memoir of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, who was jailed for ‘ideological deviation’ and forced to denounce his own work.
Piñerotells the story of Puerto Rican poet-playwright Miguel Piñero, whose urban poetry is recognized as a forerunner to rap and hip-hop.
An Angel at my Table tells the story of Nene Janet Paterson Clutha, a New Zealand woman who published under the name Janet Frame. After years of psychiatric institutionalization, Frame was scheduled for a lobotomy that was cancelled when, just days before the procedure, her début publication of short stories was unexpectedly awarded a national literary prize.
Endless Poetry portrays Alejandro Jodorowsky’s young adulthood of the 1940s and 50s, in the electric capital city of Santiago. There, he decides to become a poet and is introduced into the bohemian and artistic circle of the time.
Big Bad Love highlights the struggles of a poet and writer dealing with his own war memories and alcoholism. Based on the short stories of Mississippi writer Larry Brown, Brown’s own poems and those of William Carlos Williams, are in the film.
Slamis about a young man’s dedication to spoken word poetry after his release from prison.
Dead Poets Society—Robin Williams plays an English teacher in an East Coast boys’ prep school who inspires his students to love poetry, among other life lessons. The film, which popularized the tradition of carpe diem poems, features verse by Frost, Tennyson, and Shakespeare.
Shakespeare in Love—The endeavors of a young William Shakespeare, with allusions to Shakespeare’s later work.
The Kindergarten Teacher is the story of an Israeli kindergarten teacher who is convinced that one of her students is a poetry prodigy, and becomes obsessed with what she perceives as his ability.