Friday, April 11, 2008

Hass and Earth Poetry

Still thinking about last night's appearance by Robert Hass at Walnut Creek's Lindsay Wildlife Museum, I found this article by Sue Gilmore in the Contra Costa Times announcing the upcoming event. It's a good profile of Hass and captures some of the inspiring and hopeful quality of his talk and reading. He made a statement that impressed me: that he had learned about the importance of community from becoming Poet Laureate. It speaks to a deep humility that informs his writing and his work on behalf of the planet and literacy, two causes he sees as combined.

Earth poetry tends to bifurcate into ode or rant. Back when I had first published my book Earth Lessons, I acquired some anthologies of earth poetry. They deeply disappointed, as they fell neatly into those categories in such predictable ways I felt nothing would be saved from this meager way of viewing our situation on our planet. Hass' new poems seem to be insightful about the problems yet hopeful about our ability to tend the garden of earth which we clearly dominate. One other thing he said that I found true: Nature is over. That wild place untouched by man -- there isn't any left on earth. Now, it's up to us to tend the garden we have taken over.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Robert Hass and the River of Words

Never let it be said there is no cultural life east of the Caldecott Tunnel. (That's a local Bay Area joke.) Robert Hass, former U.S. Poet Laureate and winner -- a few days ago -- of the Pulitzer Prize, spoke tonight and read poetry in Walnut Creek. He appeared at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, a unique wildlife hospital and museum and a perfect venue for this highly earth-conscious poet.

I just got back from the reading -- free, courtesy of the Lindsay and the Contra Costa County Library Association -- and I am impressed. Not so much by his beautiful writing, though that too was moving. But what impressed me was the distance of his journey from the kind of poet he was perhaps ten years ago, to the kind of poet he is today. River of Words is the project to inspire children to write poetry about their natural environment, a project he founded as his main contribution as Poet Laureate.

River of Words was clearly the apple of his eye tonight. He talked about its impact and read more from their anthology of children's poetry than from his own work. I'm glad he did. I didn't know much about the program and I was inspired by its connection of the power of poetry to the power of awareness of the planet we inhabit.

The children's poems had the rich earth-awareness from which all good poetry springs. Hass is a perfect leader for this movement, and clearly this was more than a school enrichment program. It's a spiritual movement, and a hopeful and growing one.

I noticed that Hass used the word hope a number of times. I had heard him read many years ago for the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference Benefit. He was a charming poet and reader then, but his work didn't go deep, at least for me, that day. Tonight I heard a very different person, a person changed by the charge he felt inspired to take up when he assumed the office of Poet Laureate -- it seemed to me not as an honor but as a spiritual obligation. He seems to have fulfilled it in the way those kinds of obligations are meant to be fulfilled.

Buy River of Words anthology! Encourage your local schools to look into the program. Support the Lindsay Wildlife Museum too.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Poetry book publishing takes a hit

Check out Jilly Dybka's article on Poetry Hug about Amazon's move to restrict POD publishers from listing their books with Amazon unless they use Amazon's own Booksurge printing service. Another monopoly grows bigger. Scroll down in the article to the link "Why This Sucks So Much For Small Publishers."

I'm concerned. The publisher of my book Femme au chapeau is David Robert Books (a WordTech imprint), uses Lightning Source. They say that quality is an issue with BookSurge. All I know -- as I can't identify books printed with BookSurge to compare -- is that the quality of my book is extremely good. The publishers worked long and hard with me on the cover image and the look of the book from stem to stern. I am very happy with the result.

But now, thanks to Amazon, that little "Order" button at the bottom of my page may no longer point to Amazon. Barnes and Noble carries my book too. At a discount for members. And also used copies.

The real issue, though, is the promotion of poetry books. Anyone looking for a specific book can find an online way to purchase it -- in many cases direct from the small press. How does anyone interested in poetry find out about new titles? Not such an easy thing.

And that's why no one reads poetry anymore. If there were a NY Times Bestselling Poetry List, the whole country would be reading poetry. If only to have things on hand for those wedding and funerals and big anniversaries people are always seeking poems to celebrate. And of course they'd have to include rap and slam CDs.