Mark your calendars for this Saturday at 11 a.m. for a virtual reading Via Zoom of the winning sonnets in the Maria Faust Sonnet Contest, which includes my sonnet “The Worth of August”! If all goes well I will read my sonnet; a family health crisis that came up unexpectedly means I’m not sure I can do this, but hope I can. And if I can’t , they have wonderful readers from among the judges and actors from the Shakespearean Festival acting company. The other winners are quite an impressive group, including poets Gail White, Barbara Loots, and Richard Meyer (who’s frequently won prizes in this contest). Not to ignore the others, including the top three prizewinners. It’s a fantastic event, so don’t miss it. Just click the link above. So excited to be a part of this great tradition!
One of the complaints common among non-English majors is that poetry today is often inaccessible, sacrificing general audiences for academic ones, or that the qualities of rhyme and meter have been sacrificed on the altar of modernism and free verse. Martin Elster, however, simply writes the kind of poetry he writes, both formal and rhyming, because as a musician this is what he intuitively prefers. His is a unique voice, and his new book Celestial Euphony gives us poetry that is not self-consciously “accessible,” but rather engages the reader with a rare sort of clarity and art, bringing us perspectives on nature, science, and human nature that are wrought with the intent of conveying them in the best way possible. So below is the press release from the publisher for his book, which can be purchased here.
We’re pleased to announce the release of Martin Elster’s new poetry collection, Celestial Euphony. Many of you might know him by his pen name, Miles T. Ranter, under which he participates in our weekly poetry contests. In addition to winning many of our contests and earning an honorable mention in many more, Martin has seen his work published in numerous publications and anthologies, and has won or placed in several poetry competitions. Celestial Euphony is available in paperback and Kindle.
“Martin’s fluid movement among various frames of reference— from astrophysics to musicology to botany to etymology—creates a structure of sheer imaginative play, which frames his utterly humane eye. His poetry explores the lyrical, intellectual, affective forces of language, while staying rooted in sensitive subjectivity. Martin is a joyous craftsman!”
Matthew Kirshman, author of The Magic Flower & Other Sonnets
“Stepping into Martin Elster’s work, I’m taken by its rhythms and musicality. These are poems to read aloud, savor their sounds, and enjoy a meandering walk through the world around us.”
Frank Watson, editor of Poetry Nook and author of The Dollhouse Mirror, Seas to Mulberries, and One Hundred Leaves
Through ballades and ballads, acrostics and ghazals, sonnets and Sapphics—both lighthearted and ruminative—the evocative poems in this collection portray the sights and sounds of our natural and manmade environments, the plants and animals everywhere around us and our relationship with them, sometimes pleasant and beautiful, often harmful and ominous.
There are poems about terrestrial musicians and interstellar musicians, the songs of spring peepers and katydids, the plight of spiders and polar bears, humans in love and at war, songbirds vying with urban cacophony, lonely dogs and ghostly dogs, and very serious musings about the huge and mysterious cosmos that we are all a part of and how we click with it.
About the Author
Martin Elster, who never misses a beat, is a percussionist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Aside from playing and composing music, he finds contentment in long walks in the woods or the city and, most of all, writing poetry, often alluding to the creatures and plants he encounters.
His career in music has influenced his fondness for writing metrical verse, which has appeared in 14 by 14, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Better than Starbucks, Cahoodaloodaling, Eye to the Telescope, Lighten Up Online, The Centrifugal Eye, The Chimaera, The Flea, The Speculative Edge, THEMA, and numerous other journals, e-zines, and anthologies.
His honors include Rhymezone’s poetry contest (2016) co-winner, the Thomas Gray Anniversary Poetry Competition (2014) winner, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s poetry contest (2015) third place, and four Pushcart nominations.
A sample poem is below:
Waiting for Dawn atop Butterfly Mountain
A dilapidated lepidopteran
dying atop The Mountain of Butterflies
holds out her wings to the darkness — wings as thin
as the mist that swirls beneath monsoonal skies —
and pictures the tea farm women, who often glow
like painted sawtooths dotting the plantation;
and, wallowing in the Mahaweli’s flow,
trumpeting in carefree conversation,
elephants plashing, washing away all worry.
Unlike them, she’s alone here on this rock,
a decent rock on which to dream. No hurry
to flee the fleeting memories that flock
like the birds of Sinharaja: the cunning jackal,
the whistling thrush, the fish in every lake
(which lure the hungry to come with boats and tackle
and float on magic molecules that slake
the roots of rice), the din of Devon Falls
reverberating through a green expanse
where a muntjac barks, a magpie calls and calls,
and footsteps crack the chrysalis of her trance —
men climbing toward her haven. Soon the sun
will oust the night. Slowly she beats her wings,
wings like frozen wood as, one by one,
they gain the hilltop, quicker as someone sings
a hymn to dawn, then darts away as a bell
blossoms like an orchid on the height
and, rising with the most resounding knell,
fades like the constellations at first light.
The lovely publisher and online venue Animal Heart Press is featuring my poetry and photography on on their site starting today, June 10, for one week!!! Today’s featured poem is “In the Interim.” Check the site daily for more poetry, photography, poetry readings from my new book To Love the River, an interview, and for a finale, a short film!! Huge thanks to Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Horan, Assistant Editor Amanda McLeod, and the whole AP team. A dream to work with!!!
Updates: Friday, June 14, I read selections from my book, To Love the River!
Thursday, June 13 (as well as Tuesday June 11), poetry and photography posted.
Wednesday, June 12, interview with Amanda posted. Please check it out!
When it comes to form, nobody does it like Terence Hayes: he understands the larger view of form as a Force that can drive a point right into your heart. In this New Yorker article, author Dan Chiasson says that the sonnet, a form Hayes calls “part music box, part meat grinder,” became the poet’s vehicle of choice for his recent book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin , because for him,
the sonnet offered an alternative unit of measurement, at once ancient, its basic features unchanged for centuries, and urgent, its fourteen lines passing at a brutal clip.
In the book, the American sonnet both contains and assaults his assassins: “I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.” The form itself being the brainchild of “the L.A. poet Wanda Coleman, who died in 2013 and who coined the term ‘American sonnet.‘” Who considered the term as referring to a more “improvised” sonnet that used jazz techniques and musical patterns.
The language is powerful and immediate, exuding worlds and threats. This is what sets Hayes apart: the combination of power, poetic skill (unique use of craft), unrelenting content, and an intensity of heart that drives all this into a tour de force of words closing in on flesh.
All cancers kill me, car crashes, cavemen, chakras,
Crackers, discord, dissonance, doves, Elvis,
Ghosts, the grim reaper herself, a heart attack
While making love, hangmen, Hillbillies exist,
Lilies, Martha Stewarts, Mayflower maniacs,
Money grubbers, Gwen Brooks’ “The Mother,”
(My mother’s bipolar as bacon), pancakes kill me,
Phonies, dead roaches, big roaches & smaller
Roaches, the sheepish, snakes, all seven seas,
Snow avalanches, swansongs, sciatica, Killer
Wasps, yee-haws, you, now & then, disease.
A list that also serves as ammunition, a kind of automatic fire that thrills with its sheer brilliance and expanse of imagination. And also with its truth, how he disgorges the racist and white supremacist attitudes made flesh in the form of Donald Trump and his followers. To which this collection is addressed, among other things.
“This word can be the difference between knowing / And thinking. It’s the name people of color call / Themselves on weekends & the name colorful / People call their enemies & friends.”
These poems all happen in the mind, which has been portioned into zones called “I” and “you.” Both assume countless different roles, but what remains constant is their reliance upon each other and their tendency to flip positions. This makes the work morally ambiguous in ways some readers will resist: I suspect that not everybody will recognize “blackness” as any part, even a rejected part, of Trump, a man whose loathing of black people seems unabashed.
Yes, “Hayes isn’t describing canonical melancholy, the pined-for vision of mortality that poets sometimes indulge in. He fears a more immediate kind of danger, which can’t be aestheticized or glorified in verse. “You are beautiful because of your sadness,” Hayes admits. And yet: “You would be more beautiful without your fear.”
In the form he invented:
The Golden Shovel
My first full-length poetry collection, To Love the River, is now on sale at the publisher Kelsay Books’ website! This is much sooner than I had imagined, months earlier than its projected publishing date, so this is a huge and happy surprise. The book is the culmination of many years’ work, the subject matter spanning a river’s worth of emotions and experience condensed into the craft of both formal and free verse poetry.
The cover art is by the Swedish artist — a pioneer of abstract art pre-Kandinsky! — and mystic Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) whose séance-inspired (and later simply inspired) paintings are finally getting recognition in her first solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. Like her work, my poetry also reflects a subtly spiritual perspective on life.
Here is one sample poem from the book, which echoes the “dawn” theme woven through some of these poems, “The Word for Dawn,” first published in Sukoon journal.
The Word for Dawn
Fajr: the j a mere mirage, light on the tongue,
just melting into r, no vowel between,
bluing into nothing but a turning of the lips.
I hear it like a distant motorcycle,
its street lost in a cricket’s heartbeat,
and I find it leaking tiny drumbeats from
my son’s earbuds fallen from his ear,
buzzing in his sleep. Newborn wasps,
tinny, revving j’s straight through the r’s
that rise and thread their little lights
where teeth touch lips and feel the furry f’s
a darkness, void, a space of hairy night.
A single hair-edge turning from the deep.
J.D. McClatchy is a name I kept running into everywhere but which had not been attached to any particular poetry. As if he was more of an essayist or critic. I should have thought “librettist,” a title which he earned over and over again with his many well-received libretti. But in fact he was first and foremost a poet, and a masterful one at that, particularly with form. This article describes him as a “thrilling, passionate” teacher who made his students focus first on form, which gave at least the writer of that article the understanding of the effective power of restraint (form). Quoting him from an interview in The Paris Review, the article gives us his take on the value of form:
“It’s like adoring the open sea, the clash of elemental forces, the overpowering scale of water and sky, the sleek majesty of sloops, the billow of sail and pull of line—and wanting to study and pay homage to it all by building a model of a favorite boat—and then deciding to do it inside a bottle,” he said.
Exactly. I love this guy.
More on his life and work can be found here. As longtime Editor of the Yale Review, and recipient of many awards and grants, he certainly made his mark in the art of poetry. His subject matter penetrates beneath his poetry’s polished exterior. Here are a couple gems:
To steal a glance and, anxious, see
Him slipping into transparency—
The feathered helmet already in place,
Its shadow fallen across his face
(His hooded sex its counterpart)—
Unsteadies the routines of the heart.
If I reach out and touch his wing,
What harm, what help might he then bring?
But suddenly he disappears,
As so much else has down the years…
Until I feel him deep inside
The emptiness, preoccupied.
His nerve electrifies the air.
His message is his being there.
I like trees because they seem more resigned
to the way they have to live than other things do.
Here the oak and silver-breasted birches
Stand in their sweet familiarity
While underground, as in a black mirror,
They have concealed their tangled grievances,
Identical to the branching calm above
But there ensnared, each with the others’ hold
On what gives life to which is brutal enough.
Still, in the air, none tries to keep company
Or change its fortune. They seem to lean
On the light, unconcerned with what the world
Makes of their decencies, and will not show
A jealous purchase on their length of days.
To never having been loved as they wanted
Or deserved, to anyone’s sudden infatuation
Gouged into their sides, to all they are forced
To shelter and to hide, they have resigned themselves.
The late great poetry venue Jazz Cigarette quit nicotine and transformed into a brand new e-zine, Petrichor, where my poem “Pharma Aesthetica” has been published. It’s a found poem, and a formal poem, composed largely of excerpts from hair care products, and employs rhyme and meter. There are some wonderful poems there and it’s well worth your time to pay a visit.
In fact, I had forgotten about the new name, but happened to read about Petrichor accepting submissions, so checked the site to see if it seemed like a good place to send work and, there to my surprise, my poem. Ah yes…now I remember… And a happy surprise it was too. I enjoyed writing that particular piece very much. So, happy reading. May a light rain and a gentle breeze come your way, along subtle humor and surprising ways of looking at things such as you’ll find in this poetry and visual arts venue.
Thrilled to find my sonnet “The Buoy” is up on Autumn Sky Poetry Daily today here. Please check it out!
Poems2Go is more a project, one could say, than a publication in the usual sense, although it is that too. From their About page:
Poems2go is a poetry project created by Christine Jones and supported by a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation, to bring more poetry to more people to more places. Inspired by the book Poem In Your Pocket introduced by Kay Ryan, poems2go offers poetry to take with you, tuck in your pocket, your wallet, or to share.
You can check here for places to find the poems printed on 4 X 6″ loose-leaf paper to take home, literally 2 go. Or you can check out the featured poems on their website. Where you can also find my poem “The Scrimshaw Man,” a pantoum. As well as the other poems, a wonderful collection of them I’m proud to be among. While there, check below my poem for my statement on why poetry matters.