Message in a Bottle
National Poetry Month Special: Welcome Guest Star Megan Snyder-Camp

The final entry in our special series in honor of National Poetry Month features a guest blogger, poet Megan Snyder-Camp. Her first collection, The Forest of Sure Things (2010), won the Tupelo Press/Crazyhorse First Book Award. She lives in Seattle, where she is the chair of First Book-Seattle.

Thanks for tuning in to the series, and don’t forget that in celebration of National Poetry Month, we’re running a poetry contest open to all ages. The contest ends April 30th, so enter soon.

—James

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This month I have been thinking about how, exactly, poetry fits into my days, especially since this year I didn’t even consider joining in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month, where you write a poem a day). I consider myself a practicing writer, but I also have a four-year-old and two-year-old at home, and a new nonprofit chapter that lives under the dining room table. My experience of poetry is often in passing, often borrowed, often shelved. My “office” is the little cabinet that holds the printer. My goal for National Poetry Month was, I thought, feasibly low ball: to read one poem a day. That’s happened maybe twice.

Here’s how the week really went, and where the poetry fit:

Monday: While making dinner, thumbed through the April issue of Poetry. Found this beauty, by Vera Pavlova (tr. Steven Seymour):

Poetry should be written the way adultery is committed: on the run, on the sly, during the time not accounted for. And then you come home, as if nothing ever happened.

Tuesday: Volunteered at a large-scale children’s book distribution. Noticed that none of the books were poetry, and thought about how perilous many people’s introduction to poetry is: often in school, sometimes by a teacher who doesn’t much love it. I remember being taught that poetry was orange juice concentrate; prose was the jug. (which would you rather reach for?) Thankfully nowadays that image reminds me of the bright certainties in the poetry & art of Douglas Florian, one of my favorite childrens’ poets. Whom I still haven’t read to my own kids … what am I waiting for? Need to request his honeybee book at the library.

Wednesday: At a light, I looked up and saw what I thought was a seagull—white, high. But it was a long light and the bird never flapped, just spiraled lower until I could see a wide gray tail, thick body: a snowy owl! I’d heard about the irruption a while back but had given up looking. Almost wrecked the car. That night, waiting to meet a friend at a bar, I brought out my library copy of Susan Stewart’s Red Rover and found on page one:

THE OWL

I thought somehow a piece of cloth was tossed
into the night, a piece of cloth that flew

up, then across, beyond the window.
A tablecloth or handkerchief, a knot

somehow unfolding, folded, pushing through
the thickness of the dark. I thought somehow

a piece of cloth was lost beyond the line—
released, although it seemed as if a knot

still hung, unfolding. Some human hand could not
have thrown that high, or lent such force to cloth,

and yet I knew no god would mind a square
of air so small. And still it moved and still

… and then my friend walked in. Goodbye for now, serendipitous owl. At the table we talked about the donations my friend was helping secure for our nonprofit’s May 19th Read-A-Thon, where Martha Silano and Daemond Arrindell will be among the poets (and other folks) reading aloud the first books they loved as kids. One auction-headed gift: Heather McHugh’s beautiful and scary-looking copy of an old fairy tale, with a long and poetic inscription about falling in love with this book at the age of four.

Thursday: For a freelance gig, I got to research (and discover) Bulgarian poet Nikola Madzirov. Here’s him on translation, in an interview for the California Journal of Poetics:

There are many poems in which we can recognize ourselves without having written them, just as there are cities where we have imagined ourselves much earlier before we travel there. The translator is a silent deconstructor, a night guard of the bridges of difference and understanding.

Wow! Adding the title to my wish list. 

That night, I hosted a poetry reading for the very first time. Thanks to Lacey Jane Henson who runs the celebratory and always-packed Off Hours series, I had the pleasure of inviting three Seattle poets who work has served as a model and inspiration to me: Melinda Mueller, Christine Deavel, and Sarah Steinke. I hadn’t realized what an emotional experience it would be, beginning with my struggle to write intros that would be good enough, that would share some of what it was they’d each taught me and why I return to their work again and again. But finally, intros in pocket, the pure joy of hearing, one after another, those voices rise from the page with powerful new work. It was like a jukebox from heaven. The experience reminded me that I should make more time to let writers know when they move me—send an email, mail a note to the publisher. Or my resolution for 2012 (2013?): write a full-on review! Join the conversation.

Friday: Heard Sierra Nelson read at Open Books from I Take Back the Sponge Cake, her lovely new collaborative choose-your-own adventure poetry book. We got to vote on each page-turning. Awesome.

Saturday: Got a rejection from a long-shot journal; now to find somewhere else to send that batch. Worked on a grant application during kids’ nap. It’s not writing poetry, and not reading it either, but still, what I love about grant applications is how they can cover for prayer in a pinch: the work of having to articulate exactly what you want, what it would look like, why you need it so bad, to research the plane fare and look into museum hours. Fingers crossed.

Sunday: Stole another hour for the grant application. Packed brave & lovely Darcie Dennigan’s new book, Madame X, along for the ride, but still haven’t gotten to sink into it. Waiting. Impatient.

—Megan Snyder-Camp