Archive for June, 2010

During a recent trip along the Oregon coast my father-in-law and I spent a great deal of time photographing the dramatic landscapes we encountered.  Gordon with his still camera and I with my old work horse Canon XL1 captured the beauty that surrounded us.  It was a rare occasion for us shoot together and it is a memory I will always cherish.  It is even more thrilling that I was able to gather footage during the excursion that will appear in the next Poetry In Pictures Series installment, Life.  – NJR


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What’s pugilism got to do with poetry? Well, there’s an easy one-word answer: Ali.

Muhammad Ali not only recited his own poetry; the three-time heavyweight champion inspired it in others. Wole Soyinka, for example, composed a poem about him “Muhammad Ali at the Ringside, 1985”).

New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling credited Ali with developing the “prognosticative poem” in which he predicted “the round in which he would dispatch each opponent,” as in:

Jones likes to mix –

He must go in six.

In Shadow Box, George Plimpton relays a charming anecdote about a meeting he arranged between Ali and the poet Marianne Moore. When he later asked her opinion of Ali as a poet, Moore observed that he “has an ear, and a liking for balance … comic, poetic drama, it is poetry … saved by a hair from being the flattest, peanuttiest, unwariest of boastings.” 

For his part, Plimpton believed Ali deserved acknowledgment for having authored the world’s shortest poem, which, in its entirety, goes:



Such brevity brings us back to another boxing-poetry connection. The producers of the Poetry In Pictures Series do not only make short films. Another movie, No Neutral Corner, a documentary about the business of boxing, is an official selection of the 2010 All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival.



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The Weston Forum ran an inspiring story about singer/songwriter Ellis Paul’s work with students at Weston Middle School in Connecticut.  Through music and storytelling Ellis, taught the children the power of the written word and encouraged them to write poems about their own experiences.  It is wonderful to see schools bringing artists into the classroom to engage children with poetry, music, and art – which is precisely the point of the Poetry In Pictures Series.  It would be great if students around the country could have such experiences on a regular basis.

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In cocktail-party conversation with poet Charles Simic in the early 1970s, the poet Richard Hugo discovered that as a bombardier during World War II, he’d dropped bombs on Belgrade when Simic was living there as child. Simic writes of the meeting in California in his 2000 memoir A Fly in the Soup. Hugo wrote a poem about it. Edward Byrne writes of the encounter, and reproduces Hugo’s poem, at One Poet’s Notes. And Frances McCue told the story on Saturday, June 5, at Looking Glass Bookstore, where she read from her new book about Hugo and the places he wrote about in his poems, The Car That Brought You Here Still Runs.

The discovery of a fellow poet’s survival due possibly in part to his own poor aim left Hugo shaken, and understandably so. He writes in “Letter to Simic from Boulder”:

…Dear Charles, I’m glad you avoided the bombs, that you

live with us now and write poems. I must tell you though,

I felt funny that day in San Francisco.

It’s the kind of story that stays with a person, which no doubt explains why so many poets return to it. It’s a reminder of how much art owes its precarious existence to random chance and luck.

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Charles Simic is upbeat about the state of poetry in America.  In a look back at his term as poet Laureate of the United States at the New York Review of Books blog, Simic says “poetry is read and written more than ever,” which he believes reflects poetry’s enduring importance.  “If poetry is being written and being read now more than ever,” he concludes, “it must be because it fulfills a profound need.”  The Poetry in Pictures Series takes precisely this view as its underlying premise in its effort to engage children with poetry and art.

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