Posts Tagged ‘poem’

Isle of Caprice

2-24-700x460This morning, I ran across an interesting article about the Isle of Caprice, which included this postcard and 5 historic pictures from the island, which was cut in half by a hurricane and eventually washed away entirely. I was glad to hear confirmation of the story I first heard from Christopher Mauer, when he came to The Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium to talk about Walter Inglis Anderson. That story led to the poem, “Isle of Caprice,” which started my on my journey into the life and art of Walter Anderson. Though I knew of Anderson’s art when I heard the story, the image of the artist drinking fresh water from a pipe rising out of the waves of the gulf inspired me to explore his artistic vision further and led to my book, Barrier Island Suite.

Here are a couple of interesting facts, I learned from the article today:

The original name of the island was Dog Keys. Walter Anderson speaks of Dog Keys Pass in his logs (I titled another poem after it), and I’d never been able to identify which island or keys it referred to. Now I know that he was referring to the place where Isle of Caprice was located.

The article also confirms that name of the island during its heyday as a resort as Isle of Caprice — some have questioned whether it was Isle of Capris or some other spelling. I’m glad to know that detail is historically accurate!

The article also confirms what I’d always suspected, that the island was just outside of federal jurisdiction, so it was legal during prohibition to sell alcohol there. Unfortunately, the resort only existed for about 3 years before the Great Depression hit and tourism was dramatically reduced.

For more details and especially to see photographs of the island that once thrived off the coast of Mississippi, go to Only In Your State

Free Books!

To celebrate the launch of Barrier Island Suite, I’m trying the giveaway feature on Goodreads. 5 lucky winners will each receive a copy free — but it will take you longer to get yours, so why not buy one today! Books have started shipping from Texas A&M University Press Consortium.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Barrier Island Suite by Kendall Dunkelberg

Barrier Island Suite

by Kendall Dunkelberg

Giveaway ends May 04, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Day of the Dead: the genesis of a poem

Okay, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I check my stats in WordPress to see how many people are visiting my blog and what they’re looking for. Lately, the number of visitors has risen dramatically, largely because of some posts I wrote awhile back while troubleshooting my DSL modem. Blogging lesson: if you want traffic, write about technology. But this blog was initially supposed to be about poetry and life. I can’t help it if sometimes technology takes over life! However, I was pleased to see someone recently was searching on an interpretation for my poem “Day of the Dead.” That caused me to reread the poem on Nov. 1, and though I don’t want to tell you how to interpret it — isn’t that as much the reader’s choice as the writer’s? — I would like to give a little background information.

Gravestones on the Artcroft propertyThat poem was written in Nov. 2005 on a beautiful, sunny fall day when I was walking around the property at Artcroft, a truly unique and magical artist retreat near Carlisle, Kentucky. I had the great pleasure to spend time on the farm of Robert and Maureen Barker at a time of year when no other artists were around. For much of the day, I had the place to myself and could walk the pastures, woods, and ponds looking for inspiration. One day, Maureen showed me an old cemetery on the property, and that became the genesis of the poem. There we found several gravestones scattered on the ground near what had been a field. They were either toppled by the forces of nature, by vandals, or by a farmer clearing the field and not paying attention to the old graveyard at its edge. The history of the site remains a mystery.

GravestoneAt the time, I had been thinking of my own father’s death a couple of years before in December. The poem “Requiem” had come to me a few days previously. The time of year and the time of my life seemed to coincide for contemplating mortality — a theme that I wanted to explore in the book Time Capsules, as I was realizing a seasonal cycle for the collection that was beginning to come together. The epitaph in the poem “Gone, but not forgotten,” came from one of the stones, though unfortunately not one that I captured in a picture. The irony of the statement was not lost on us, and yet as Maureen and I paid reverence to those whose stones had been scattered there, they were not forgotten entirely, though we did not know anything more than their names and dates.

Of course with the title, I was thinking of the the Mexican celebration on Nov. 1, as well as the more familiar version of All Saints Day, a day of remembrance. The belief that a veil is removed between two worlds at certain times is a common one. It may be the coming of winter that turns our thoughts towards death or it may be a reminder like visiting a graveyard. We may need these reminders, both to acknowledge those who have gone before us and to return to the everyday world with a renewed sense of vitality.

So I thank whoever searched for the meaning of this poem for giving me the reason to revisit it and remember where and why it came to me. And I thank Robert and Maureen for providing the experience and the time for reflection that allowed it to become a poem.

How to Judge a Poetry Contest

Okay, I’ll admit it, everyone is different in this regard, so I ought to just title this “How I’m Judging the Davenport Poetry Prize for Knox College.” There, now that I’ve included the name, some enterprising Knox students googling my name or their school, might stumble upon this page. That’s all right. I promise not to reveal the winners nor those who won’t win. With 21 entries, there’s only one thing for certain: 18 people won’t go home with a cash award.

This is a small contest (in terms of numbers). I’ve judged bigger ones with more entries, but my method is about the same. One of my first goals is to read everyone’s poem a couple of times. Another goal is to fool myself into making a decision, because it isn’t easy to disappoint 18 out of 21 people. They are all people, after all. And all of those people are poets. So how to decide?

My method is to start sorting. Initially, I”m not looking for who’s in the top three coveted spots. That would be too daunting. Instead, I’m looking for whose poems strike me as worth another look. But rather than sorting into two piles (again, too daunting), I sort into 3-4 piles: Very good chance, good chance, maybe not, quite likely not. So far, I only have 3 piles, though I haven’t decided what to call them yet.

When I have made it through the stack once, I will go back through each pile again and sort until I end up with 2/3 in one part and 1/3 in the other. I like to read most poems at least twice, since I find my initial reaction to a poem may depend on when I read it or how I reacted to the poem before it. Sorting helps me to look at poems in different orders and different contexts. Reading a poem a second or third time, I usually see it better than the first time, though initial impressions are often true (but not always). Some poems get three or four readings at this stage as I weigh which pile they ought to be in.

One aspect of the Davenport prize is that the next round involves conferencing with students. Everyone’s work has merit, and I wouldn’t mind talking with any of these poets. But my time is limited, and 14 half-hour conferences will likely take me more than 7 hours, figuring some time in between, breaks, lunch, etc. This will be spread out over two days, and I’ll also be giving a reading, for which I’ll need to prepare.

So what am I looking for in a prize-winning or even conference-eligble poem? I’d like to find some lines that I wish I would have written in a poem that I would never think to write. Vivid imagery is one way to achieve that; another is interesting use of rhythm and sound. Ideally, there’s some of both. I appreciate unity and concise language (even in a long poem). Ultimately the poems I’ll gravitate to are the ones that reward multiple readings as I go back through them to prepare for the conferences. For that to happen, the poet also has to have something to say. I don’t mean I want a didactic poem (though I’m not averse to it), but I want to feel what the poet feels, and I want a poem that still gives me something to think about after I’ve read it several times. I’ve seen several poems that have this potential. It will take more time with them all before I know for sure which will rise to the top.

Genesis of a Poem

This is not my usual method of writing a poem, but I’m pleased with the way it turned out: A good friend wrote me the other day and asked if I would write a poem for his daughter’s 18th birthday. Since we know her very well, I was happy to do it, though I didn’t have a lot of time to get it done. (And to be honest, if I’d have had more time, I probably would have procrastinated!)

I’ve been thinking for awhile about writing an ‘occasional poem,’ especially in the wake of the recent inaugural poem. So I thought about what this might entail, and was glad the the occasion wasn’t quite so momentous or public. It was comforting to think of inaugural poems I have heard, which usually don’t reference the occasion directly. They have often been written to fit the president, but also incorporate themes and even experiences that come from the poet’s experience as well. They are often loosely organized, almost Whitmanesque, and though I didn’t want to vie with an inaugural poem in length, it was nice to realize that the poem’s unity can come from the occasion as much as from the poet.

With this in mind, I still was stumped about where to begin. So I looked at some recent photographs of a trip where we’d seen the family. Nothing immediately came to mind, but it did bring back good memories. Then I thought that a birthday poem might start by referencing the name of the person. I looked up “Tesse” in a few online baby guides, and wasn’t thrilled, though the meaning of ‘harvester’ did seem appropriate for someone turning 18 and reaching a kind of harvest. This image made it into the poem. ‘Hunter’ and ‘Woman from Therasia” weren’t very helpful, though vestiges of hunting may have survived in one image, and woman appears in the poem. I found a few places that listed the meaning of “fourth child,” though that didn’t help, since she’s the second. I decided that four might suggest square, and used that at one point. Some sites seemed to be influenced by the harvest meaning, and added ‘summer,’ which I thought was useful. Since her birthday is in February, this suggested contrasts, and helped me get to a first stanza.

Of course, a birthday poem might easily reference birth, so I began there, with a seed planted in winter. Other contrasts followed, some going back to the memories and associations I had from photographs and visits. Rather than get too literal, though, I wanted to keep the images a little on the surreal side. And as I was searching for an image and for a title, I thought of the word “tessellations,” intricate mosaic-like geometric patterns. This is something our son has been interested in from his art classes, and we had gone to the M. C. Escher museum this summer and seen his drawings of geese, frogs, and fish other interwoven shapes. This fit the theme of contrasts, and of course the play on words with her name worked for me. Combining that with the idea of the harvest as a rite of passage into adulthood and the paradox of leaving home and staying tied to it, I had my poem.

Of course, it took a few revisions before I was completely happy with it, or at least happy enough to send it off with birthday greetings! I was also glad that, unlike an inaugural poet, I only had one poem to write. I’ve heard for an inauguration the poet often writes three, and then the President picks the one he wants to have read. That would up the pressure just a bit! Though of course, you’d have two more poems that you could then take and revise on your own terms. We’ll see what happens to this poem after the big birthday (tomorrow). As I told my friend, it was an interesting assignment. It was a bit of a challenge, but turned out to be a rewarding experience. And if Tesse likes it, that will be the main thing.

Merry Christmas

As a Christmas present to the blogosphere, I’m posting a poem from my second book, Time Capsules. It was originally composed on a bitter cold Christmas Eve in 1996, when I was visiting my parents. Lilith, the black lab/border collie mix, who is mentioned in the poem, died several years ago. She was a constant companion for over 14 years on late night or early morning walks.

This year, Iowa has relatively warm weather and our chances of snow are slim. I’m here with my family and our new dog, Zinneke. Though much has changed in the last 15 years, the dark nights of deep winter and the clear air or Northern Iowa, especially walking out into the countryside late at night, still brings a special kind of clarity.

Christmas: Osage Iowa, 10:00 p.m.

I take 10th Street out of town. The only life
on the road is a snowmobile, a couple of cars,
my dog Lilith, and me. It’s ten below
with a light snow. The wind is still tonight,
making the cold bearable. Snow underfoot
and the slightest breeze in the pines create
the only sounds. Then just beyond
the city limits all stops. Around me, empty
white fields and tiny flakes descending
gather up a little stray light to illuminate
the dim landscape. There, half a mile off
the lighted trees at a farmhouse add color
to the stark white of yard lights, muted
now by snow. A car’s red tail lights
glide along the highway headed north.

This stillness is what I’ve traveled two
thousand miles for: the clean, crisp
subzero air, the light invading the dark
to clear my soul. It only lasts a moment,
then the wind picks up and Lilith wants
to play, dashes at me, herds me back
toward home. We run back and forth along
10th Street, stop to savor the cold night,
check the scent of pheasant in the windbreak,
search for a trace of the near-full moon
through thin clouds. The snow obscures
everything even as it makes everything
brighten. The turning point of the seasons
remains elusive, and yet this moment is
enough to take me through another year.