Ken Craft

3 posts

The Top 9 Posts of 2019

9

As we close not only a year but a decade, you might not be wondering what the nine (aren’t you sick of 10 already?) most read posts were on this blog called “Updates on a Free-Verse Life,” to which I can only say, “Mindfulness, buddy! Let’s Zen up and pay attention!” (Translation: “Wonder no more!”)

So, without further ado, let’s amuse you as much as I just amused myself by seeing what posts drew the most lightning this past year. It’s a curious mix but, if nothing else, we are a curious lot. That’s one of the good parts about humans. And one of the few good parts about cats! (Sorry, cat lovers. My dog put me up to that joke.)

Here’s the order, from ninth most read to most read:

  • #9: Teaching an Imitation Poem with The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee All credit to the teachers of the world, who probably helped to propel this into the Top 9 because it’s a great introductory poetry-writing lesson that uses imitation to show kids that they are (wait for it!) imagery and metaphor machines (only they didn’t know it).
  • #8: “Apollo and Marsyas” Zbigniew Herbert Redux  I read a BIG collected works of Zbigniew Herbert, a poet you should know from Poland, and included a translation of one of his famous poems in this post. This cracked the Top 9 by dint of search engines looking for English translations of his Greek myth-based poem, “Apollo and Marsyas.”
  • #7: Poems That End with a Question  I like questions more than answers, maybe because the world is so full of loudmouths with answers. This post riffs on why I like questions, yes, but more importantly it includes the lovely poem “The Inheritance” by Stephen Dunn. This blurb ends with a question, too: Have you read it?
  • #6: Waxing Poetic About Teachers  I’m not sure if this was driven up on the charts by teachers themselves (ha-ha) or by students. Whatever, the post includes three poems about teachers, the best damn difficult job you can get on the planet. Hint: If you must teach, do it in Finland. I hear they treat their educators like true professionals there. Huzzah!
  • #5: Opposition in the Poetry Classroom  Another teaching-based (but can be any ole poetry writer-based) post, this post examines poet/teacher Brendan Constantine’s idea, “The Opposites Game,” wherein creative sorts (students or writers) try to find synonyms for abstract words that resist synonyms. Discuss!
  • #4: Ada Limón’s Stretch Drive  I’ve read a couple of Ada Limón books, and this post features four poems that struck me as wonderful. Keep writing, Ada! You obviously have more fans than just me. Thus the #4 position here!
  • #3: The Pronoun “I” and Poetry  If you’ve followed any of my posts, you know I chafe at the idea of RULES in poetry: that is, things thou shalt do and things thou shalt not do. Whether you’re following rules or breaking them, you just have to do it well. This post discusses some poetry pooh-bah’s insistence that using the pronoun “I” is lame in poetry writing. In it, the pronoun “I” no sooner finishes a marathon then it begins doing 100 push-ups. Sic semper silly rules!
  • #2: How To Review a Poetry Collection Is there any one way to review a poetry collection? There is not. But this is one way, or at least a way to get you started. I do know it is more difficult than reviewing a novel or nonfiction book, so there’s that. I’m not sure what drove this to the runner-up position. Students? Reviewers? Teachers offering students helpful links? Thanks to all of them, wherever they may have originated from.
  • #1 Most Read Post of 2019: Funeral for a Poem  I have always enjoyed Greek poet C. P. Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaka,” but I only learned about it because it was read at Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s funeral. Apparently my voyage to discovering this poem is being replicated every day by many searchers on the Internet, who searched for this “it’s all in the voyage, not the destination” gem through words related to Jackie or her funeral or Cavafy himself. Whenever I’m feeling down, I simply reread this poem and boom. All better! It is based on The Odyssey and Ulysses’ long trip home–a trip so long that it becomes the story. We all know where our home will ultimately be, so it bears repeating here: Let’s focus on the journey and make it a good one.

Speaking of “good ones,” may 2020 be a safe, happy, and healthy one for all of you loyal fans who read this page now and again. I appreciate your visits!

It’s a Sherpa!

Sherpa

The new book is a preemie. Expected in December, arrived in November. And it’s a Sherpa! Most unusually, a lost one. I figured, if I ever hired a sherpa to see me to the summit, that’s exactly what would happen. Nowhere to go but up, and we still get lost.

A few people have asked, “Do the poems in Lost Sherpa of Happiness have something to do with Nepal or Mount Everest?” Uh, no. Like most things in life, it’s more complicated.

The idea started with the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the Indian prince who would eventually become the Buddha. Legend has it that he lived a royal life in a royal palace when his royal curiosity got the better of him (sound familiar, Adam and Eve?). When Siddhartha journeyed outside the protective walls of his royal digs, he encountered old age, sickness, and death. This shook him up mightily. So much so that he gave all his worldly goods up and set out on a quest for enlightenment and nirvana (which look a lot like happiness in my book).

These poems, then, are about man’s endless–and often rocky–search for happiness. Thomas Jefferson called it “the pursuit of happiness,” and Buddhists and Hindus call it samsara, but round and round it goes because the line is not a direct one and may take more than this lifetime.

Why? Because life isn’t easy and the obstacles are many. Interestingly enough, these obstacles exist as much INSIDE your head as OUTSIDE your body. Thus, the poems range from the challenges of childhood to middle age to the wintry days of our lives’ Decembers.

The second of the new book’s three sections (called “searches”) treats exclusively on animals. We’re not the only ones who have it rough, trust me. My hope was to mirror life by including humor, sadness, nostalgia for the past, hope for the future, desperation, and joy. And as was true with my first poetry collection, The Indifferent World, nature poems are as profuse as birdsong in April.

My sophomore effort: If I smoked, I’d light up a cigar to celebrate. If I drank, I’d pour myself a tumbler of Jameson Irish whiskey. As I do neither, I’ll just take a deep breath, inhale the crisp air of gratitude, and try to keep up with my sherpa, who seems to be losing me….

 

Take the Free Book (and the Long Odds)!

TIW

I’ve written about Goodreads’ Book Giveaways before. To say the least, I have ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, they’re good publicity for the little guy (read: humble author) who’s lost in a big jungle (read: the published world). On the other hand, the odds of winning (meaning you) are longer than a certain island off the Connecticut coast, and the odds of garnering a review (meaning me) are wider than a certain mouth in the White House.

In any event, for the third go-round, The Indifferent World, is now available as a Goodreads Giveaway until June 9th. Yes, you could win a signed first (and no-doubt last) edition for free, and yes, you could get hit by lightning (unsigned, I’m guessing), but that’s why Hope waited til last to slip out of Pandora’s box. It’s also why you might just enter your name.

I’m rooting for you, trust me. The fact that you’re reading this post tells me you’re a fan of poetry’s, or at the very least, a fan of writing’s. That means you’ll probably actually read the book if you win. It also means you’ll be kind enough to write a review.

If I could fix the damn giveaway, I would. This is the Age of Authoritarians, after all, so one can dream about silver linings that work in one’s favor, no? The past three GR Giveaway books I’ve mailed into the world, suitcases packed with destination stickers, have disappeared into a void. Nothing but nothing in response! Just Simon & Garfunkel’s dreaded “Sound of Silence” (cue melancholy disc jockey).

Those books, I fear, were snapped up by the Freebie Junkies, the professional Goodreads Giveaway people who have 398,875,193 books on their “To-Read” shelves and 0 books on their “Reviews” shelf.

But, no. This time–perhaps the last time–I have faith. And, as the New York Times has failed to publish this version of the “Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book” series, I’ll slip it in here in case free things intrigue you:

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

The idea lies in the first of the book’s four sections, titled “Woods & Lake.” This suite of poems was inspired by my years on a Maine lake where time seems to have stopped because not much has changed there since the Eisenhower Administration. Were he alive, even Thoreau would be at home there. (Thoreau gets a cameo in one of the poems, by the way).

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

By God, I can write poetry! Originally, the plan was to write short stories with a long-term plan for working up to novels. In fact, I actually completed a young adult novel in the 90s. The feedback from one New York editor was something to the effect of “wonderful descriptions… it’s the plot that needs attention!” Like my lake surroundings, my prose often took leisurely turns toward lyricism and imagery. Poetry in prose’s clothing, in other words! Coupling that realization with a full-tilt teaching schedule, my shift to the more compact (and challenging) genre was complete.

In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Some writers start with a master plan, an endgame in sight before the first word is writ. This would not be that book. The Indifferent World evolved as I wrote and rewrote it. Eventually I noticed common themes and grouped the poems accordingly. The four parts are entitled Woods & Lake, Homebodies, Mysteries, and The Indifferent World.

Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Most of the book was written to his music. It fit the mood I was trying to create. I wanted the poems to be simple yet thoughtful, something readers could relate to. Like Pärt’s music.

Persuade someone to read “The Indifferent World” in less than 50 words.

The poetry is approachable. It’s also not afraid to break “rules” because, frankly, I was not up on the “rules” when I was writing it. I did not avoid certain words, like (gasp!) “darkness.” I did not avoid certain topics, like dog poems. Instead, I wrote what inspired me, figuring that would inspire readers, too.