Tuesday theme – Autumn Leaves

Today’s theme song for ENGL 203-04 is “Autumn Leaves,” composed by Joseph Kosma, with French lyrics by Jacques Prévert and English lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It’s performed here on the theremin by Pamela Kurstin.

As the autumn leaves begin to turn here in western New York, our thoughts in “Fluid Readers, Fluid Texts” turn to leaves of a different kind: the leaves of manuscripts.

Why are they called “leaves,” anyway? What’s the connection between foliage and a folio? Continue reading “Tuesday theme – Autumn Leaves”

Page Poetry

The idea behind page poetry is simple; choose a block of text and alter it to possess different meanings. It is a way to analyse text through New Criticism which is both creative and challenging.

For example:
The Sea
(This image came from an online post )

However simple the idea sounds, in practice it is much more difficult. The poet must not only have an idea in mind for the poem, but also must shape the chosen text into the parameters of the poetry.
I created an example below (please excuse my artistic skills):

This is a section of text used is from the very beginning of the Alice in Wonderland novel by Lewis Carroll.  I modified the text to create this poem.
section of text used is from the very beginning of the Alice in Wonderland novel by Lewis Carroll.
I modified the text to create this poem.

The method I used to create this poem is as follows:
1- I located a block of text *
2- I discovered the main quality within the text which I wished to amplify (in this case, the disjointed aspect of dreams)
3- In pencil, I circled the words and phrases I wished to include in the poem
4- I numbered the order in which I wanted to connect the words and phrases to create the poem
5- I wrote the poem out on another piece of paper to make sure it ‘made sense’ or was formated to my language liking:
………..she peeped into
……….very sleepy
when she wondered
…….it flashed across her mind
………………………..burning with time
…………………another moment down
……………………………….she fell
……………plenty of time
………………….shall think nothing of tumbling
….Let me see:

6- I titled the poem “Alice Dreams”
7- Used oil pastels to block out the text I did not want to include
8- I created a visual guide to the order in which I wished the eyes of the reader to follow the words/phrases that I did not block out

You do not have to be an artistic genius to create poetry in this fashion. The steps can be easily followed on the computer screen:

Created using Microsoft Word
Created using Microsoft Word

Finally, I would like to point out the differences when I add punctuation and spacing to the poem to visualize it as a separate entity:

Alice Dreams

She peeped into nothing.
Mind…very sleepy…
When she wondered
(it flashed across her mind)
burning with time,
another moment down,
considering, she fell…
Plenty of time,
but noticed disappointment.
She shall think nothing of tumbling…
Let me see:

As an artistic person who also loves reading and writing, I was fascinated by page poetry. There is really not all that much to find about it online.

*the text used can either be written by you (be an original work) or be something pulled from a pre-existing text.

On Seamus Heaney’s Death

A number of people in the department and on campus have written to me about Seamus Heaney’s death, so I just want to share a couple thoughts about him.

Yeats once said that a poet is never the bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast; he has been reborn as an idea, something intended, complete, so I guess it’s fitting that the last time I saw Heaney, in Ireland a little over three weeks ago, he was having breakfast. He had just given a reading the previous night (I’m guessing it was his last public reading), and that morning, as I was having my own breakfast while stealing glances his way, I thought of that quote. For Yeats, of course, the whole idea of The Poet means a kind of paradoxical blending of individuality and collectivity — by adhering scrupulously to his or her own vision the poet gives expression to (and is reborn as a part of) something communal, more type than man, more passion than type. It’s all pretty typical high modernist stuff, and in certain moods, I agree; but when I saw Heaney that morning and thought about his reading the previous evening, I felt like Yeats only gets it partly right.

Theres an old Irish expression that (old) people use when they don’t know a person referenced in a conversation. They’ll ask, who is he when he’s at home? During Heaney’s reading, he didn’t go with all the really famous stuff  — “Digging,” the poems about bog people, the major translations, his beautiful and conflicted responses to Northern Irish violence — but, instead, gave us short, simple, vivid lyrics, most of them about rural life in Ireland. It struck me during the reading and again at breakfast that if being a Poet means, for Yeats, a kind of rebirth, a kind of transcendence, being a poet (with the small p) can also be a way of becoming more fully who one is when one is at home — that bundle of accident, in all our silly humanity, at the breakfast table.

When Heaney was introduced at the reading by the president of the Yeats Summer School, she said that Heaney decided once again to give a reading, even though he has not been in the best of health, because he said he owed it to Yeats. That sounds pretty audacious -— though, if anyone has earned that right, it’s Heaney — but during the course of the reading it became clear to me that the choice of simple lyrics, as opposed to the biggies, was really an act of humble tribute, a return to poetry as something beautifully ordinary.

All of which is an elaborate way of saying that Heaney, for all his fame, was a thoroughly humble person. Over the years, I’ve seen him interact with lots of fans, including many Geneseo students eager to have their books signed and to ask questions about their own encounters with his poems, and he was always, just that — humble, kind, open, ready to talk.

The first time I met him, in 1995 at a hotel bar in Sligo, I was one of those eager students. A group of us, all in graduate school, had pretty much cornered him, testing out our ideas for seminar papers and doctoral theses, and, while I don’t remember what he said (I was too self-conscious about meeting the great poet to actually listen to him), I remember his manner —  friendly, interested, obviously content to sit around and talk poetry, even with (what must have been an unbearable) gaggle of graduate students.

Okay, I’m starting to use alliteration and odd metaphors (gaggle?) in my phrasing — time to wrap this up. When Heaney read, when he talked in bars, when he sat at breakfast smiling shyly to passersby, he always seemed, to me at least, to be at home as himself, at home as both poet and person, person and poet.

Heres one of the poems from that last public reading. Its a nice one for summer’s end:


Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeards.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasnt fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped theyd keep, knew they would not.


“Poetry Written in Porcelain” reads the headline in today’s New York Times about Edmund de Waal, potter and author. The headline asks us to consider de Waal’s carefully crafted vessels as metaphorical poems.

Or are we meant to take the statement literally?

“My making and my writing is one thing,” Mr. de Waal is quoted as saying “Pots turn into words, and words turn into pots.” And later: “When I make something, I hear it.”

This proposed equivalence between poetry and concrete objects isn’t new at all. You’ll find it, among other places, in Keats’ ” Ode on a Grecian Urn” and in Archibald MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica.”

If the “practice of criticism” has a theoretical side that consists, in part, of defining the terms in which that practice is conducted, then poetry is one of those terms we’re called upon to define.

What is poetry? Should our definition be broad enough to encompass de Waal’s pots as literal poems? If not, what would our definition require in order for the pots to count as metaphorical poems?