Poetry in the News

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Poetry Teachers & Writers Symposium

this just in, forwarded from Joan Logghe by Dale Harris, who notes that she went to their website, no online registration, you have to register by email at this point, contact Jane Lin <janelin@unm.edu>

Hey writing friends. Here is a sweet and free day for you. Should be lovely so sign up and come be with us at UNM-Los Alamos. Info and registration below.

This year's Jim Sagel Memorial Lecture is actually a one-day symposium especially geared toward anyone who teaches poetry or poetry writing as well as students interested in poetry.

More information on the event web page:
http://www.la.unm.edu/PR/symposium.html.

Although the event and lunch are free, space is limited.

Flyers will be posted on campus, but feel free to print out the downloadable flyer from the web site to give to anyone who might be interested. Forward this to friends and colleagues as well. We are sending invitations to area schools from elementary to adult.

Thanks and hope you'll join us,
Jane Lin, Poetry Writing Instructor

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More about Jane:
Jane Lin teaches poetry writing at UNM-Los Alamos and is at work on a first book manuscript. Born and raised in New York, she studied under Denise Levertov at Stanford University and received her MFA from NYU where she was a New York Times Fellow. Since settling in Los Alamos in 1998, Jane encourages local poets by co-organizing the monthly Poetry Gatherings at Mesa Public Library and maintaining the Nuclear Poets mailing list of local poetry events In her secret identity, she develops 3D graphics software for Darkling Simulations where she is affectionately known as the "code poet." Her poems have appeared in Five Points, Washington Square, RATTLE, Santa Fe Broadside and Harwood Anthology.
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Signs and Portents

The night before her death a herd of elk
straddled the road, magnificent companions
to the winter. They grazed while the car passed on.

The hours before she took her life, a rabbit leapt
into the road under daylight, and I braked
and it leapt into the dry faded grass.

The end of that long day I drove through dusk and night,
I searched for antler crown and fur, coyote cross
and owl swoop, found no consolation.

The week's end a bull elk stood in the road after the rosary.
It represented nothing, but heaved its hulking mass
into motion, left me quickened in my braking car.

Copyright © 2001 Jane Lin, from Santa Fe Broadside, Issue #24, December, 2001


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Laughing Dove Poems - Tamra Hays

Brazenly snagged from Tamra Hay's blog, Hays Travelogue, which has a separate poetry section, Laughing Dove Poems. An idea for poetry writing bloggers to consider. NM poet gone expat, Tamra keeps being out of the country for Poets & Writers Picnic but we keep hoping our schedules will be in sync some future August.

Hay's Travelogue is highly recommended as stop on your virtual getaway or globe trotting staycation. Tamra explains the travelogue and its destinations. "Mike and I are teachers from Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2002, we were bitten by the travel bug and since then, we have been slowly moving eastward — Spain, Italy, and Cairo. This fall [2008], we will be living and working in Istanbul where Mike has accepted a position at Robert College."


Wordle Picture Poems

Take some of your favorite text to Wordle and create a picture poem. Here’s what happened to my manuscript of poems from Spain.

wordle-selection3

What I liked about this is that some new images jumped out:

The woman grieves like a small bell.

The clothesline carries the house.

Time–another thick night.

Fields and kitchen–two desires.

[Image attributed to http://www.wordle.net.]


© Tamra Hays, 2008

Laughing Dove Archive



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Malibu Dale

MALIBU

1.

the sea breathes onto the land,
a long gasp of breaking waves.

concrete bulwarks contain the force,
eventually must fail.

O Sister Ocean,
O Brother Shore,
sing plainsong,

praise each moment
swelling to the next,
each pulsing splash of a second

2.

we watch the play of ocean on this slice of shore,
brief interval in rows of beach homes.

coastal rocks curry the manes
of incoming waves, wild horse spirits
of the sea.

surfers mount them,
promised a mighty ride,

young gods and goddesses
dancing their mortal joy.


Dale Harris
January 22, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

The meaning of modern poetry, whatever

Contemporary poetry is lacking in what people really want from the arts — a bit of mystery and drama, argues Jeremy Noel-Tod in a Telegraph column titled "The meaning of modern poetry." Before citing, linking and all that good stuff, let me pause momentarily (not to mention in shock) to contemplate the notion of a popular newspaper column about poetry. The Telegraph is not alone... The Guardian also publishes a substantial and lively pieces about poetry. This when US newspapers of record, cultural beacons to their respective communities, are dropping book review sections. To be fair though, I doubt The London Mail does.

"The best contemporary poetry”, wrote TS Eliot, “can give us a feeling of excitement and a sense of fulfilment different from any sentiment aroused even by very much greater poetry of a past age.”

Most poetry readers tend to be time travellers....Ezra Pound, his severer friend, used to lament that “the thought of what America would be like if the classics had a wide circulation troubles my sleep”. But the thought of what the world would be like if everyone only read “Now That’s What I Call Poetry 2009” is equally worrying.


The occasion for this piece musing on the future and meaning of modern poetry? The annual TS Eliot Prize, awarded last week for the best collection of new verse published in the UK or Ireland to Scottish nature poet Jen Hadfield for her Canadian travelogue, Nigh-No-Place. Her joins Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney as winners of the award..


Noel-Tod continues:


The effort that goes into widening the readership for contemporary poetry, therefore, often seems misplaced. The late Adrian Mitchell used to say that “most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people”.... Children still like real poetry. A recent anthology of playground songs edited by the poet Richard Price reported this sublime lyric from Aberdeen:

“Under the black bushes, / Under the trees, / Boom boom boom / Under the blue berries, / Under the sea.”

There’s not much to do with that but enjoy its rhythm, its rhyme and its far-off suggestiveness. But when, as teenagers, children start to have to explain literature to pass exams, the homebrew of skipping rhymes gets left under the hedge.


Exam passing is part of the system that tests and rewards literal rather than lateral thinking. Poetry is lateral thinking, sound, rhythm, powerful language pushing the envelope as Octavio Paz explained it - but still ludic, capable of play, language at play in the fields of the human. Turning this into fodder for exams and explications effectively shuts it away far more effectively than censorship, How much greater and irresistible the pull were if the turned off only knew how sublimely subversive and wildly alive it is.

Friday, January 23, 2009

NM Arts Funding Alert

Yes, NM art funding is in jeopardy. Join the advocacy effort. To reduce the redundancy of cross posting, let alone the effort of drafting a separate, letters oriented appeal, click over to my write up on Mountainair Arts.

Bring your word skills to bear on the issue: explain to your legislators how important the arts are to the NM economy and how they can contribute to economic recovery.

from Americans for the Arts page on The Arts and Economic Recovery (OK, so I could not resist adding to the original write up after all - maybe I'll click them over here, a cross-cross post):
"In early January, Americans for the Arts presented its policy recommendations to the Obama-Biden Transition Office on how arts groups and artists can be supported in the economic recovery plan. The policy recommendations are available here. The focused efforts of Americans for the Arts are not only dedicated to sustaining the health of the arts field, but also on helping it gain momentum so that the arts can grow and prosper in the first half of this new century. We also hope the additional resources available here will allow arts groups to remain fiscally healthy in this time of economic uncertainty."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Contemporary Italian Poetry

Overview of modern Italian poetry, article by Franco Buffoni, poet, translator, professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Cassino, distinguishes six major different directions: Post Neo-avant-garde; Neo-Orphic and/or Neo-Hermetic; Civil Poetry; Mannerisms; Heirs of the Lombard line; and Dialect Poetry.

POEMS BY Franco Buffoni


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The Job of the Poet by Elisa Biagini

To paraphrase poet Paul Celan, poetry serves to shed light on inside of ourselves: to understand the world and to understand each other. I use writing in order to allow the hidden movements of things to emerge, to view the secret life found under the skin. In this light, I have chosen to observe the body, which becomes the metaphor, the lens though which to read the world, a microcosm of fascinating workings

POEMS BY Elisa Biagini


(just warming up in anticipation of a collaborative foray into poetry Italian style)



Thursday, January 15, 2009

Arts Announcement: Call for Nominations

Did you know that you can submit a nomination for the Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts?

Eligibility:
  1. Individual living artists working in any discipline (including literary & performance, e.g. spoken word) who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in the arts
  2. Individual non-artists who have made significant or distinguished contributions to the arts in New Mexico
  3. Businesses, non-profits or foundations with sustained involvement in and support of the arts.

http://www.nmarts.org/images/top_corner_logo.jpg

Nominators: Can be individual New Mexico residents or representatives of businesses or organizations in New Mexico.

Entry Deadline: Postmarked by March 6 or hand delivered by 5 p.m. March 6 to the New Mexico Arts offices.

More Info and Nomination Form: Go to http://www.nmarts.org/awards or call 505-827-6490 or 800-879-4278.

The Governor's Arts Awards were established in 1974 by Governor Bruce King and First Lady Alice King to celebrate the enormous roles – both economic and cultural – that artists, craftspeople and arts supporters play in the life of New Mexico. During its 34-year existence, a diverse and prestigious list of painters, weavers, sculptors, dancers, musicians, storytellers, poets, actors, playwrights and potters have been honored. Past awardees include Georgia O’Keeffe, Laura Gilpin, Max Evans, Wilson Hurley, Joy Harjo, Bill Mauldin, John Nichols, Pablita Velarde and Cipriano Vigil.

Nominations for the awards are invited each year from arts groups and interested New Mexicans. All nominations are reviewed by a committee of the New Mexico Arts Commission, which sends its recommendations to the full Commission and to the Governor.

(Download nomination form here)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

International Poetry event/festival/symposium

Paul White, of Poetry @ Paul's (monthly poetry readings at his home), writes about plans for an international poetry event in Santa Fe:

A few days ago I sent out an email to some poets and friends asking for input on the idea of an International Poetry event/festival/symposium. There was a positive and enthusiastic response. Jill Battson graciously offered the SW Literary Center to host a meeting where we can discuss ideas.
Now we've got a date and place for the think tank to discuss an International Poetry event/festival/symposium!

SW Literary Center writers room 826 Camino Del Monte Rey which is off St. Francis Drive. The meeting will start at 5 pm Thursday January 29th. The Center is part of Recursos de Santa Fe, an educational, non-profit organization specializing in symposiums and conferences in the arts, sciences, humanities and letters, and tours focusing on Southwest culture, architecture and history.

I've gotten lots of good ideas responding to my last email (that's the one pwp didn't get) and I'm hoping you can attend and present your ideas in person at this meeting.

Also, the next Poetry at Paul's is looking like late February or mid March.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sanjevani Poetry Circle: Mitch Rayes

Mitch Rayes was born in Detroit. For years he worked as a professional outfitter in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico. During the 1990's, he was influential in the developing Albuquerque poetry scene as a founder of the poetry non-profit Flaming Tongues, as editor of the Tongue newsletter, and as producer of several Albuquerque Poetry Festivals. He also has a long history of musical collaborations with area poets, both live and on recordings. Mitch will bring his guitar and read from new work drawn from his Mexican experiences.

Monday January 12, 2009, 7 pm at Sanjevani Health & Lifestyle Center 7920 Wyoming NE Suite B-- south of Paseo Del Norte (Bank of the West Complex)
Free! (Donations appreciated)

Also:

January 21 - MAS Poetry, featuring Tufick "Tom" Shayeb

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kenya: Introducing poet and artist bloggers

This blog post about Kenya's blogging poets and artists is from Global Voices, post by Njeri Wangari, 2009-01-08 in Arts & Culture and arrived at this NM plog via Shared Items (sidebar feature) on Tamra Hays' Travelogue: not just poetry & new poets (plog raison d'être) and a window on the world (internet raison d'être) but poetry blogging exempla ne plus ultra.

The arts scene in Kenya has, for a long time now, been quite vibrant with numerous musical concerts & festivals, gallery openings, literary festivals, theatre plays and acrobat shows in Nairobi and Kenya’s other major towns. Poetry however is a new form of art that has only gained a following in the last 3 years.

This was shortly after the start of poetry evenings by the [1] Kwani Trust, a Ford Foundation funded literary publishing firm. The evenings dubbed ‘[2] Kwani Open mic Nights’ brought together poets from Nairobi and different parts of the country as well as from other countries in Africa and beyond.

[3] The need to start blogs, as most poet bloggers shared with me, was mainly due to the fact that most, if not all, could not get any publishing house willing to publishing their works. This frustration and the demand by the now growing number of fans, led these poets to venture into blogging as a way of publishing their poetry. For artist bloggers the need to start blogs was driven by the cold shoulder given by mainstream local radio stations.

However, unlike poets who have fully discovered the potential of blogs and are using them to their advantage, Kenyan artists are yet to venture into this. Again, even fewer have discovered and fully exploited music marketing forums/applications on the internet such as MySpace or Youtube or social websites like Facebook in a bid to build a fan base or let online visitors sample their music.

[4] Mike Kwambo is a poet as well as a recording artists, he has always had a passion for both forms of art despite not getting a venue to share his talent. In August 2006, his campus lecturer encouraged to persue his talent in music and poetry. Soon after, during a seminar organized by Martin Keino for Sportsmen, he got to learn about blogging. He had attended the seminar as he is also a Rugby player. He soon started his blog that features his poetry and the occasional human interest topics. As a sample, here are the first few verses of a recent poem he posted, titled “[5] My struggles as a man“:

my struggles as a man…
they keep me from self actualization and wholeness
I have an inability to communicate my emotions
I have been socialized to suppress them
the only form of communication I know is aggression
I feel silenced when frustrated, disappointed, sad or lonely
because I cannot identify what it is I am feeling
I do not know how to express it constructively
probably this is the reason I speak in sheng’
because without an emotional outlet I feel like a mute person
a mute person trying to speak a foreign language

According to Kwambo, the blog has had a great impact on his pursuit of music and poetry.

[6] Muki Garang is a hip hop artist and poet who blogs about urban culture, music, poetry, occasionally politics… and in general social commentary. Here's a video of one of his spoken poems titled “[7] A poem for Africa“, that he posted on Ghetto Radio:

The impact Muki Garang's blogging has had has been mainly to newbie bloggers, his fans and rivals as he quips. He tells me:

I consider myself a pioneer…. on a tone down note… what critics post makes a whole load of difference from what the average fan says… it creates checks and balances hence… tightening your laces.

Muki hopes to revamp his current blog to a full blown website by the end of the year as he hopes to introduce new insights into urban culture and loosen it up to just ‘CULTURE'… whose growth is often hindered severely by foreign gatekeeping.

[8] Naliaka Wafula is a lady poet who also ventures into prose, music and art. She is a journalist by profession and, with her partner, she started a monthly poetry and live music evenings dubbed Rhythm & Spoken under the group ‘Project Heshima’. Her blog - which is actually a blog for the Rhythm & Spoken evenings, is quite young as it was started a few months ago. As she confides in me, the main reason she started it was to provide accurate reliable information to the shows fan base.

[9] [10] Her blog mostly features information about the upcoming Rhythm and Spoken events, as well as reviews and [11] pictures of the performances such as the one on the left of Mike Kwambo. It also [12] features poets, neo soul and afro soul music as well as featured bands that get to play during the poetry evenings. The blog has had a great impact on the artists who perform during the evenings as they get featured on the blog artistes and are able to showcase their talents. Naliaka Wafula says:

What's the point of art if nobody can see it right? I will most likely start another blog featuring my work in the near future.

And she adds that blogging is no easy task especially with poor internet speeds as is the experience in Kenya.

Dennis Dancan Mosiere - who goes by the stage name [13] Grandmaster Masese - is a musician, poet, writer, dance and an actor. He is more known in various art venues for his signature [14] Obokano – an 8 stringed musical instrument from the Kisii community in Kenya.

He started blogging in 2006 as a way of reaching out to more people to read his works and to be able gather feedback. It was a way for him to publish his works as he had, for a long time pursed local publishers, magazines and other mainstream media without luck. His blog is mainly about his writing although he occasionally puts up information that is of interest to his readers. Here is [15] the latest poem that he posted on his blog:

Africa,
Oh Africa,My father,
Your agonizing wailing and weeping
Keeps our next neighbours peeping
Their heads shaking in dismay
As your disease gets its way

Why,Why,oh why
Why hurt your heart and wail
hate your fall and fail
Your punch punches but your heart
And your torch torches but your hut
Oh why?

Masese says his blog has helped him know his fan base, collect criticism, advice, admiration, even outright negative commentary. But as he admits, it has helped mould him into a better performer. He also appreciates the fact that his poetry is able to reach readers and poetry lovers globally and that encourages his even more:

I want to be able to make it a place where you can get enough stuff from visual to audio. I need to get videos and audio files for the blog on various issues and forms.

These are just some of the many Kenyan artists and poets who have discovered the power of blogging and what it can do, not only to market themselves but also a way of keeping direct contact with their fans.

Other bloggers of note in the Kenyan art scene are [16] Kenyanpoet, [17] Neema Ngwatilo, [18] June Wambui, [19] Cindy Ogana and [20] Eudiah Kamonjo, among others.

By visiting their blogs, one can attest to the sheer talent and energy. One can only look forward to the proliferation of Kenyan artist and poetry bloggers and a spectacular show of talent online.


Article printed from Global Voices Online: http://globalvoicesonline.org

URL to article: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/01/08/kenyan-poet-and-artist-bloggers/

URLs in this post:
[1] Kwani Trust: http://www.kwani.org
[2] Kwani Open mic Nights: http://kwani.org/main/category/events/poetry-open-mic/
[3] Image: http://projectheshima.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/rs-dec-poster.jpg
[4] Mike Kwambo: http://kenyanexpressions.wordpress.com/
[5] My struggles as a man: http://kenyanexpressions.wordpress.com/2008/12/05/my-struggles-as-a-man/
[6] Muki Garang: http://mukigarang.surfacescan.com
[7] A poem for Africa: http://www.ghettoradio.nl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=237&Itemid=40
[8] Naliaka Wafula: http://projectheshima.wordpress.com
[9] Image: http://projectheshima.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/img_00311.jpg
[10] Her blog: http://projectheshima.wordpress.com/
[11] pictures of the performances: http://projectheshima.wordpress.com/2008/10/28/rhythm-spoken-october-10th/
[12] features poets: http://projectheshima.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/featured-poet-sandra-mushi/
[13] Grandmaster Masese: http://www.grandmasterobokano.blogspot.com/
[14] Obokano: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obokano
[15] the latest poem that he posted on his blog: http://grandmasterobokano.blogspot.com/2008/12/africa.html
[16] Kenyanpoet: http://kenyanpoet.blogspot.com/
[17] Neema Ngwatilo: http://www.ngwatilo.com/
[18] June Wambui: http://violasiris.wordpress.com/
[19] Cindy Ogana: http://poetryloveandgod.blogspot.com/
[20] Eudiah Kamonjo: http://eudiahkamonjo.wordpress.com/about/

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Art Beat (PBS): Weekly Poem

'Your Art History' by Jason Gray

'Photographing Eden' by Jason Gray

1. First Lesson

The first thing I ever heard from you
Was how to paint the Savior dead.

I felt unseated, struck like Mary
At the angel's visitation,

And fell in love with your voice. Here
Was prophecy: I sensed the words

Shook you as much as they shook me.
But the foretold means nothing if none

Can read what's on the summer air
And what is not: against the dark

A flash of fireflies, a speck
Of water on the brightest day.


2. Interpretation

Here you are the Corinthian Maid,
Trying to get your lover into the sun
To trace his shadow. Always he must go,
Always you stay. How you will learn to love
The rock you drew on when he's gone.
Born out of need to keep at least a ghost
Of our loves, the history of art is this:
The bitter kiss of chalk left on your lips
When stone is film plate and adored.
Forget the process, love the aftertaste.

When Adam left to tend his olives,
You were left to bear his image.
His knee-high boys with jelly-covered fingers
Grasped your skirt and marked their territory.
The jelly stains were little hearts all over you.
No woman had ever been so loved, you told yourself,
And scratched a stick into the ground.


3. Case Study (The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck)

Here she stands stained blue
And ready to divide
Into a copy of God,

Who focuses His light
Through the window-lens-her name
Projected upside-down

As if the painter knew
Years hence all newlyweds
Would be thus joined and sainted.


4. Inspiration

Right now you are afield
Taking impossible photographs
Of a wedding-someone you
Once loved, and someone else in white.
The invitation plain
And on the level; still, you wonder
If this is a fiction you're creating.

Look at the image reborn
In the chemical bath, the darkness drawn
Out of the white, and fixed
Forever. Though maybe some time later
You'll find a small square emptied
Of its memories, the way her dark
Hair loosened from the veil
And spilled over the dress, his tie
Undone and hanging down
His wine-stained shirt-front as they fall
Into the car and disappear.

Go. The world is nothing
But waiting for the light to burn
All the images
Of what it will be like henceforth,
And what it used to be.
Like a ring, glinting inside the paper,
The twist of silver tells us so.

--

Jason Gray is the author of "Photographing Eden" (Ohio Univ. Press, 2008), winner of the Hollis Summers Prize, as well as two chapbooks, "How to Paint the Savior Dead" (Kent State UP, 2007) and "Adam & Eve Go to the Zoo" (Dream Horse, 2003). His poems and reviews have appeared in Poetry, the American Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, the Southern Review and elsewhere. He co-edits the online journal, Unsplendid and reviews poetry on his blog, Line Art.


Read more weekly poems about art on Art Beat, the PBS art blog. PBS Editor's note: For more poetry, visit the NewsHour's Poetry Series.


Monday, January 5, 2009

40 Writing Contest Deadlines

UPCOMING WRITING CONTEST DEADLINES

The deadlines for 40 writing contests fall between January 15 and February 15, including Glimmer Train Press' prizes for a short story about family & very short fiction.





From Poets & Writers online magazine


Friday, January 2, 2009

Suburban Rapture: Phyllis McGinley

In 1956, the sociologist David Riesman studied a series of lengthy interviews commissioned by Time magazine that sought to determine how college seniors imagined their lives would look in 1970. Without clairvoyance, they couldn’t foresee the divorce and the reinvention, the yurts among the redwoods, the sex and self-help. Riesman, of course, had no idea how dramatically the world would change either, but still he was struck by the students’ tightly circumscribed collective vision. Members of the class of 1955 did not see themselves in demanding jobs and penthouse apartments. Unlike the skyscraper fantasies of his fellow Depression-era graduates, Riesman observed in his essay “The Found Generation,” theirs lacked a careerist, urban spirit. (“No life in the ulcer belt for me,” as one student put it.) The subjects were male, but Riesman noted that a survey of college women conducted by Mademoiselle in 1954 had yielded similar results. “The civic-minded life, the gregarious life,” he remarked with measured astonishment, is “anticipated as a pleasure and an end in itself.” What surprised him was the extent to which so many bright and seemingly discerning young people yearned for Westchester over Washington Square, regardless of the contemptuous view of suburban life mounting among the literary and intellectual class.

Phyllis McGinley, photo bySam Falk/NYT(1960)

Phyllis McGinley would have surmised the results and needed none of the inquiry. By the time Riesman’s essay appeared, she had been living contentedly for a number of years as a wife, mother and well-known poet in Larchmont, N.Y., writing reverentially of lush lawns and country-club Sundays in The New Yorker, Harper’s and elsewhere. A devotee of convention in nearly every respect, she committed herself to form, which during the high moment of the confessional poets seemed anachronistic enough to count as new-fashioned. McGinley’s light verse sought to convey the ecstatic peace of suburban ritual, the delight in greeting a husband, in appointing a room, in going to the butcher. Anticipation pervades her work, the feeling of something quietly joyful about to happen — beloved friends coming for dessert, perhaps, as in these lines from “June in the Suburbs”: “Through lupine-lighted borders now / For winter bones Dalmatians forage. / Costly, the spray on apple bough. / The canvas chair comes out of storage.”


The poem is from “The Love Letters of Phyllis Mc­Ginley,” a slim volume published in 1954 that went into seven printings in hardcover, eventually selling close to 150,000 copies. Seven years later, McGinley, who died in 1978, received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for “Times Three,” which spanned her work over 30 years. In his foreword, W. H. Auden praised her dexterous, unostentatious rhyming and found in her familial sensibility a likeness to Austen and Woolf, yet also a singular, accessible voice. “I start a sentence: ‘The poetry of Phyllis McGinley is . . .,’ and there I stick,” he wrote, “for all I wish to say is ‘ . . . is the poetry of Phyllis McGinley.”


McGinley is almost entirely forgotten today, and while her anonymity is attributable in part to the disappearance of light verse, it seems equally a function of our refusal to believe that anyone living on the manicured fringes of a major American city in the middle of the 20th century might have been genuinely pleased to be there. McGinley received her Pulitzer the same year that Richard Yates’s “Revolutionary Road,” the basis for Sam Mendes’s new movie, made its debut. To Yates, Connecticut wasn’t dull; it was tragic, the end of something. Since the ’60s, versions of the same idea have prevailed almost without interruption — in fiction, in film, on television, in the countless illustrations of grinning fathers presiding over barbecues, kitschy images in which we are meant to see portraits of mournful delusion. From Cheever to “American Beauty,” we have tended to read mythologies of suburban lament as if they were reportage.


McGinley loved Westchester in no small measure because it was so much easier than the place she came from. Born to a struggling land speculator and his pianist wife in 1903, she moved with her family from Oregon to Colorado, where she was put to work farming at a young age. When she was 12, her father died and the family moved again, to live with a widowed aunt in Utah. “We never had a home,” McGinley told Time in 1965, “and to have a home, after I got married, was just marvelous.” McGinley was not thrown into marriage by default. Having taken to musical theater at the University of Utah and won college poetry prizes, she came to New York in her 20s and found work writing commercial jingles and later teaching. Having married happily at 33, she loved domesticity the way a woman can only when it has come late to find her. McGinley’s life with her husband, Bill Hayden, was, her daughter Patsy Blake told me recently, “a sanguine, benign, adorable version of ‘Mad Men.’ ” The couple entertained avidly: the regular guest list included Bennett Cerf, the drama critic Walter Kerr and leading advertising executives of the day.


The occasion for McGinley’s appearance on the cover of Time in June 1965 signaled a new chapter in her career, this time as a reluctant polemicist. For years, McGinley had been out-earning Hayden, a communications officer at Bell Telephone. She sold her poems but also children’s books — including “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” on which the animated television Christmas classic is based — and women’s magazine essays that paid tribute to thrift, child-rearing, béchamel sauce, house hunting. (“Whatever happened to the guest room?” a typical one began.) The fervor around “The Feminine Mystique” — in which Betty Friedan dismissed McGinley as one of the “housewife writers” — had prompted McGinley’s publisher to persuade her to compile the pieces as a collection. The resulting book, “Sixpence in Her Shoe,” was published in 1964 and became a best seller despite its neo-Victorian tone.


“A liberal arts education is not a tool like a hoe . . . or an electric mixer,” McGinley wrote, dismayed at a world she thought was conspiring to make women feel as though any acquired erudition would be wasted in a life of riffling through recipe cards. “It is a true and precious stone which can glow as wholesomely on a kitchen table as when it is put on exhibition in a jeweler’s window or bartered for bread and butter.” She went on to dismiss the already benighted suggestion that Bryn Mawr was a threat to what ought to get done in a kitchen. “Surely the ability to enjoy Heine’s exquisite melancholy in the original German,” she wrote, “will not cripple a girl’s talent for making chocolate brownies.”


McGinley’s point, an eternally divisive one, was clear: a woman who enjoyed herself as a wife and mother should not submit to imposed ambitions. McGinley was a Democrat and socially liberal — in 1968 Nelson Rockefeller appointed her to a bipartisan committee to study the abortion issue, and she came out resolutely on the side of choice. And yet she shared with Phyllis Schlafly the paradox of promoting traditionalism (in Schlafly’s case virulently) as she pursued a more digressive course for herself. It was McGinley’s salary, according to her daughter Patsy, that allowed Patsy and her sister to attend private school in Greenwich, Conn., and later Wellesley and Radcliffe. In “The Feminine Mystique,” Friedan chided McGinley, her Larchmont friend the playwright Jean Kerr and Shirley Jackson for betraying women, and themselves, by refusing to emphasize their sizable aspirations. (Today Friedan would level the charge at someone like Caitlin Flanagan, for whom McGinley’s positioning seems to have provided a kind of template.)


In “The 5:32,” a poem about a woman meeting her husband at the train, she proved again that she seemed to find roses where so many others were turning up crabgrass: “She said, If tomorrow my world were torn in two, / Blacked out, dissolved, I think I would remember / (As if transfixed in unsurrendering amber) / This hour best of all the hours I knew.”


Larchmont was lovely, but after a time McGinley moved on — all the way to Weston, Conn. And she relished it just as much.

NYT, Dec 24, 2008, by Ginia Bellafante, a television critic at The Times.

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