Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Poetry Writing and Poetry Reading

As the semester comes to a close today for my Poetry Writing class, I take this moment to reflect once again on the significant degree of development witnessed in the poetic skill of the students during the past few months. Recently, I participated as one member on a panel at a symposium discussing the creative process. Accompanied by distinguished and enlightening artists from separate fields—including painting, sculpture, acting, playwriting, and music—I was asked a familiar question by the moderator, who wondered whether creative writing could be taught.

Frequently over the years, I have been challenged to defend creative writing courses and the notion anyone could learn creative writing in an academic setting the way other subjects are presented and comprehension achieved. Even colleagues in the English department and elsewhere throughout the university sometimes have posed questions out of curiosity or displayed a bit of skepticism concerning this topic. Each time I have been asked about this, I have repeatedly responded with an affirmative and enthusiastic answer. Of course, as is the case in painting and music classes, creative writing courses provide opportunities for students to gain knowledge and to practice the craft. With proper training and encouragement, each individual should demonstrate advancement in his or her abilities over a period of time.

However, I always have qualified my replies by reminding all that accomplishments at the highest levels of creativity and achievements of excellence in writing poetry or fiction, as in any other art, depend upon a certain amount of inherent qualities held by an author—an acute sensitivity to the sound and sense of language, an inquisitive mind filled with imaginative and innovative perspectives, and a deep desire to continually better oneself expressed through ongoing study of examples produced by other writers (past and present), as well as great dedication exhibited in one’s own hard work and an admirable ambition accompanied by the willingness to risk failure.

One of my poetry writing teachers, Dave Smith, once explained in his book, Local Assays: On Contemporary American Poetry:

Can creative writing be taught?
Writing can be and always has been taught. One may teach both the forms and formulas of literature. One cannot teach how to write masterpieces of great art. Art history, art appreciation, and studio instruction teach a great many valuable things about painting. There has never been a course which could teach even the most talented apprentice to be a Michelangelo. But was Michelangelo self-taught in a void? In writing what is taught is respect for time, history, discipline, struggle, expectation, and accomplishment.

When my students end a semester in poetry writing, I usually suggest their task has just begun if they truly want to excel as poets. I recommend that they consider the term’s lessons about how to employ language effectively—and any basic knowledge gained about composition, style, or form—ought to be seen merely as a start toward a more singular and stimulating voice, as well as an invitation to use the tools consequently provided by classroom discussions to find words, lines, and stanzas that supply the literary means to stretch one’s vision, perhaps allowing an instinctive initiation of imagery or an intuitive attainment of insight.

Nevertheless, each semester during the last week of classes I pleasantly discover one reward of teaching poetry writing. For years the syllabus in my poetry writing course has included a culminating event to celebrate the fine poems attained by the students in compositions contributed as class assignments. Fortunately, through the long-standing cooperation of Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art, each semester my students have had the honor of presenting a formal reading in the wonderful setting of one of the museum’s main galleries (shown in the video tour above) to which all at the university and townspeople in the surrounding community are invited for an evening of poetry, followed by a chance to speak with the student poets while enjoying refreshments during a reception in the lobby.

The other night my students read a sampling of the various poems produced during the semester, including an ekphrastic piece each had written inspired by an artwork in the museum, a tradition begun more than a decade ago in 1996 when writers at the university created poems in response to the artwork of Charles Burchfield as part of a special exhibit of the artist’s major paintings. A unique bond between painting and poetry enhances the placement of the students’ reading in the museum, as every poet remains true to the painter’s goal of eliciting emotional or intellectual reactions through vivid and expressive imagery.

Throughout the hour of the students’ presentation, I was impressed by the assortment of subjects and variety of perspectives offered in differing and distinctive voices, as well as the range of tones that were properly spread from solemn and elegiac to humorous and joyful. Elements of craft evident in the construction of the poetry frequently seemed to have been selected and implemented in a natural manner, fitting together seamlessly and effectively. Students, some of whom might have begun the semester without a complete awareness of the ways one establishes lyricism in language while evoking authentic emotional reactions through rich images, shared with the audience assorted examples of their poetry that now carefully and subtly blend those components.

Additionally, I admired the courage revealed during the students’ reading as they gazed out at those in the rows of chairs before them. To deliver one’s personal thoughts and emotions to others in lyric poems often leaves the writer feeling very vulnerable, especially when speaking to numerous strangers. Nevertheless, although I’m sure a number of the students originally might have been nervously hesitant about a public reading of their poetry when they first learned about it in the syllabus at the start of the semester, a certain amount of competence and confidence gathered through class conversations and workshop of their poems apparently permitted them to read with more assurance.

Indeed, the students previously had attended excellent presentations at the museum earlier in the semester by a couple of visiting writers, and they had observed how an experienced poet like Susanna Childress skillfully entertained and engaged an audience. Certainly, such experiences could have been sources of further intimidation and engendered even more anxiety for beginning writers; however, as the students read their poetry in the museum gallery this past week, all watching could appreciate the increased ease and striking success with which they now delivered their words.

Clearly, few of the students in my creative writing classes ever contemplate continuing with poetry or fiction writing as a vocation, and some may never publish a poem or read their poetry publicly again. Normally, not all the students are majors in creative writing or English. In fact, this time there were majors in biology, psychology, physics, and computer science, among others.

Nevertheless, I hope all of them will be avid readers throughout their lives, and I believe creative writing courses develop better readers as well as better writers, particularly by encouraging a supplemental view through the author’s eyes when reading. Additionally, as Dave Smith further writes: “Creative writing is one of the few formal opportunities in education for self-discovery and self-creation. It leads a student less to right answers than to right questions. It creates more intelligent, informed, and responsible readers by immersing them in the actual process of imaginative exploration and accomplishment.”

I am convinced I recognized some of these resulting qualities listed by Smith in my students and their works as they took part in the formal presentation at the Brauer Museum of Art this past week. Therefore, perhaps whenever I am asked again whether one can learn to write poetry, or someone even seems suspicious of the value in a creative writing course, I may just suggest the questioner attend the next end-of-semester student reading, where any doubt likely will be dismissed with each fine poem read by a new poet.

1 comment:

Anna G Raman said...


I have tagged you for a meme (details on my blog). I've read one or more of your blogs before and I'm sure you love books (so I didn't break the rules!)