Congratulations, Simon Brown!

by Matthew Koslowski on May 6, 2010
in Essays

In This Essay

So Much Things to Say: 100 Poets from the First Ten Years of the Calabash International Literary Festival edited by Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer.

My friend, Simon Brown, has a poem included in the anthology, So Much Things to Say!

I’ve mentioned Simon before, in one of my first essays The Prestige in Poetry. I called him “a poet of great promise” and I am glad to see his work starting to get the recognition that I expect from him.

This is the start of great things for Simon and his work.

Check out Simon’s blog, The Written Word. And read an article about the Calabash International Literary Festival on The Jamaica Gleaner.

Giving Poets a Bad Name

by Matthew Koslowski on April 30, 2010
in Anecdotes, Essays

We sat in the small square of chairs set before a microphone and two tables, one with two books on little stands and the other piled with books. Three women walked from the escalator over to the table and one of them, our poet, sat down at the table between the two books.

The time was not yet 3:30pm, the appointed time.

I chatted with my girlfriend. She asked me what I knew of Louise Glück’s work. I admitted I knew little besides her The First Four Books of Poems, which sat on my lap waiting to be signed.

I had bought the book largely for the silver sticker that read, “U.S. Poet Laureate.” While I lived in Chicago, I wanted to get acquainted with contemporary English-language poetry and would regularly peruse the book shelves there. When I saw that sticker, I figured there were worse poets with whom to get acquainted. A few times I thumbed through her work but it did not much resonate with me.

“What will you be reading today?” a member of the small audience asked.

Louise looked startled. “Reading? Why did you think this was a reading? I am not reading today. If you’ve got a questions, I’d be happy to have a conversation with you all. And, of course, I’ll sign.”

On the little table, just beside her with her books, a sign said, “Reading & Signing.” There was a collective sigh of disappointment.

She looked at our blank faces. “Please understand, that I hate to read my work. I think the performance cheapens my poetry. My poems, when spoken, get transformed into a linear progression of words that only happens once. I apologize if there was a misunderstanding, but I clearly told Barnes&Noble that this was to be a signing event.”

When Homer, and the singing minstrels who sang his epics, gave voice to his poetry, did that cheapen the work? When Shakespeare’s actors gave voice to the grand poetry in his plays, did that cheapen the work? I thought these questions but did not dare give them voice.

She added, “I only read if my publisher demands it. Or if there is a huge financial incentive.”

No, Ms. Glück. It is not the performance of your work that cheapens it: it is your attitude.

Pen to Paper

by Matthew Koslowski on April 14, 2010
in Essays

In This Essay

The Mystery of the Messy Notebooks: Why Agatha Christie’s method was utterly deranged by Christine Kenneally, Slate, April 12, 2010.
Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Letters on Life: New Prose Translations by Rainer Maria Rilke (Ulrich Baer, ed. and trans.)

On Monday, I was reading Slate. What inspired me to read it that day, I am not sure: it has not been one of the sources that I regularly turn to for my news.

Perhaps because I want to be a writer myself, I have always found it fascinating to listen to stories about how artists, musicians, and authors create their work. Without any real study, the descriptions of the creative process stick with me.

For example, years ago I listened to part of an interview with Michael Stipe of R.E.M. (Perhaps the entire band was being interviewed, my memory is vague.) I remember nothing about that interview, save this one thing: R.E.M. records the music without Michael Stipe present and then they give him the rough cut on a tape. He walks around listening to the tape again and again until he is able to put words to the music.

But I am glad that I decided to read Slate this week. Otherwise I would have missed a great article about the writing process that Agatha Christie employed. If you can call how Agatha Christie wrote a “process.”

Read more..

How the Writing is Smarter than the Writer

Last night at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, I saw a joint reading of Andre Dubus III and one of his mentors, Thomas E. Kennedy. During the question and answer session following the reading, Andre answered questions about his forthcoming memoir.

One thing that he said really caught my attention and I have been thinking about it since he said it.

That’s the wonderful thing about writing. The writing is smarter than the writer. I set out to write an essay and then realized this would take a book to tackle. I learned more about myself and the history of my life. My only hope is that I write something useful that people can relate to. Besides my wife.
– Andre Dubus III, with the poetic license that is memory.

Not too long ago I stumbled across Everett Bogue’s blog Far Beyond the Stars and Colin Wright’s blog Exile Lifestyle. Both blogs are very, very good. Even before reading these two advocates of minimalism, I had thought that I would like to reduce my belongings to a trunk worth of clothes and a trunk worth of books. They make the goal seem even more worth pursuing.

Today, while the idea that the writing is smarter than the writer was rolling around in my head, I was reading Everett Bogue’s free ebook How to Create a Movement and Colin Wright’s free ebook How to be Remarkable.

Both ebooks talked about the importance of having passion.

So, I stopped to ask myself, “What is my writing telling me? Where is my passion?” I thought about Literature&Literacy, about the post that generated the most interesting discussion. What did I come back to again and again?


My real passion has always been poetry. I love to read novels and probably have read more novels than poems in my life time. But there is something in the poetry that strikes me, something I retain from poetry that I don’t as much with a novel.

Perhaps that’s not entirely fair. I remember my Senior Directed Readings in the Humanities at Ohio Wesleyan University. I studied the development of the sonnet from Petrarch to John Donne. One of the first things I read was Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poetry along side his sonnet cycle Astrophel and Stella. When Sidney defends “poetry” he’s defending what we would now call literature, novels as well as poems.

I have read novels like Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novels The Sand Child and The Sacred Night which were poems. And I have read and heard recited “poems” which were not even prose.

So, I am going to start following my bliss. I don’t know how that may change my writing. But Sir Philip Sidney might have an idea.


Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she (dear she) might take some pleasure of my pain:
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:
Oft turning others’ leaves to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burned brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay,
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,
And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”
–Sir Philip Sidney from Astrophel and Stella


by Matthew Koslowski on March 17, 2010
in Anecdotes

The covers were all rolled in on themselves. I knew all the pages would be stuck together. The first book I picked up was On Love and Barley: The Haiku of Basho. And it dripped like a wet sponge.

Despite the grief at having lost hundreds of dollars worth of books, I found comfort in picking up the works of Basho. Although he could have had a comfortable life as a military officer or a small official, Basho renounced that to become a poet, to teach poetry, and to travel. His disciples built him a modest hut and planted him a banana tree. In fact, they built him several huts throughout his life because each was destroyed.

All Basho owned was some clothes, his hut when he had one, his banana tree, and his art.

I have long admired Basho’s poetry and the sparseness of his life. Back in college I remember, perhaps after spending time reading Basho, saying that a trunk full of books, a trunk full of clothes, a pen and paper, and a sleeping bag was all that I should ever need.

Quite against my choosing, my life will be more spare. More spare materially, but perhaps more full.

Perhaps because I picked up Basho first and I remembered my old ideal of living a life around my art instead of around material goods, I was not too grieved by the loss of my books. There were some losses I will grieve.

Many of the papers I wrote in college and course readers and other miscellany were soaked through.

The next book I picked up was priceless. As a Christmas gift, I received a dual language edition of Rilke’s poetry, in the original German with Russian translations. A hardcover book, I had had some hope that I could save it and set it in front of a space heater. When I looked in after it the next day, it looked swollen and beyond saving.

Another priceless book, a dual language edition of Petrarch’s Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics in Italian with English translations by Robert M. Durling, sat in the water. I have two copies of that book, though only the ruined one is accounted for right now and the other may share the other’s fate. What I do know is that I received the one that was ruined as a gift from my favorite college literature professor, Dr. James Biehl.

Then I picked up Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus. While sad to lose that book, I chuckled. How appropriate a book to lose. As I picked up books and papers, tried to guide water to the sump pump, I felt there was something Sisyphean in the effort. And beyond the effort of clean up, I thought of other Sisyphean tasks.

Will I work to earn money to buy these books again only to worry that they may get ruined again? Or will I use this opportunity to create my life more consciously, to consume less but enjoy more?

Perhaps even Sisyphus can smile.

« Previous PageNext Page »