Friday, May 25, 2012

Spring term concludes by 'Washing the Elephant'

Our Spring 2012 session at the Shepherd's Center concluded with two wonderful poems, "Washing the Elephant" by Barbara Ras and Jennifer Barber's "In the Hebrew Primer."

Ras displayed what C.K. Williams describes as "zaniness and unpredictable cunning...verbal expertise and lucidity" and a profound knowledge of the world. "Washing the Elephant" explored desire, guilt and memory over time, coming back always to the image of the elephant:'s always the heart that wants to go out and wash
the huge mysteriousness of what they meant, those memories
that have only memories to feed them and only you to keep them clean.

For more reading, about and by Barbara Ras, check:

Interview about "Washing the Elephant"
More poems

Jennifer Barber used the technique of compression and spareness to present us with, perhaps, a plot summary of some of the Old Testament, but much more besides:

A woman a man
I was, you were, we were.

We were, indeed. I have enjoyed our time together this spring and will be working on our annual Shepherd's Center Anthology over the summer, which will contain poems by all group members who presented them, including Leo Kelleher and Dave Upstill whose skillful and evocative work we enjoyed this week.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Emerson captures heat, decay, sadness along U.S. 1

In "Elegy in July for the Motel Astra," by Pulitzer winner Claudia Emerson, a poet with ties to Greensboro, we felt summer heat "shimmering/above fresh blacktop," could almost small overripe cantaloupe, and most of all felt the sadness of abandoned dreams.

Below is a link to a useful website called Biscayne Bay Review. I have shown the page for Emerson, which contains lots of information, more poems, and, if you'll scroll down a bit,  an excellent short article called "Claudia Emerson, An Appreciation" by Susan Settlemyre Williams.

For an excellent longer article on Emerson, check:

Emerson finds in the flea market a metaphor and "testimonial to human loss." She also writes of it in "At the Route 1 Flea Market." It is a metaphor that I have also found meaningful:

“At the Flea Market”

Dented cans, lettuce edges brown:
Cavernous room, dim light.
Built to be—what?—a warehouse,
Architect’s sad default.
The coarse jest of tee-shirts,
Suspicious wrist watches,
Prehistoric computers,
Damp blue air thick with
Cigarette smoke, ripe cantaloupe,
Hope and despair.
The vendors’ faces shadowed, blank:
“I can do better on that.”  (RHD)

We conclude this week with pieces by Barbara Ras and Jennifer Barber,  which, like all good poems, are about several different things at once.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Collins, Bilgere prompt smiles, thoughts

We found in Billy Collins the ever-present wit and good will, making the reader a participant in the poem, and, just at the point at which we thought it was supposed to be funny, jolting us with an image that demands further consideration (in this poem, the "ripples that move toward,/not away from, a stone tossed into a pond.").

We could readily understand why Collins chose George Bilgere for the University of Akron Poetry Award in 2002. "Grecian Temples" is enjoyed most when read aloud and rapidly, and contains much recurring imagery that, again, has a deeper point in mind. For more of George Bilgere, check and

There are almost 5 million Google entries for Billy Collins. The poem by David Orr, which is a review of The Trouble with Poetry written in the style of Billy Collins, can be found at

The very long essay by Ernest Hilbert that takes a rather negative view of Collins can be found at

On Thursday we will look at a long poem by Claudia Emerson, a recent Pulitzer winner who did a reading at Elon a few years ago.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Merwin addresses "the profound power of memory"

Some readers are put off initially by the fact that W.S. Merwin does not use punctuation, but we found in our reading of "A Single Autumn," "Near Field," and "Rain Light," three poems that address "the nature of time and mortality" that the "words wash over you" and make you concentrate on the power of the imagery. We come away convinced of the precept I was given some years back, that you cannot study contemporary poetry without considering W.S. Merwin. There are numerous articles to be found about Merwin on the internet. Here are a couple of very accessible ones:

On Thursday, May 10, we will find Billy Collins, as always, hugely entertaining and with something extra to say. Likewise George Bilgere, the winner of a competition that Collins judged.