Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday Muse: Connecticut's Poet Laureate

Dick Allen was named Poet Laurate of Connecticut on June 14, 2010. His appointment is for five years, from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2015. Allen succeeds John Hollander (2007-2009), Marilyn Nelson (2001-2007), Leo Connellan (1996-2001), and James Merrill (1985-1995).

An appointee to the honorary position, created by law in 1985 (Act 85-221; Connecticut General Statutes Section 3-110f), must have an "outstanding reputation" and have achieved distinction in poetry, demonstrate excellence in work and history "of substantial publications", and have the capacity and willingness to be an advocate for poetry and to promote appreciation of poetry through readings and other public presentations and teaching in "diverse communities". The position comes with a stipend of $1,000 a year.

Nominations are made to a panel of poets and literary professionals. The panel that selected Allen included the 1994 Pulitizer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, Academy of American Poets executive director Tree Swenson, and poet Rosanna Warren, who teaches at Boston University.

* * * * *
I've always like the very simple definition of poetry
as "language measured and super-charged", for it seems
to combine poetry's two basic elements: some kind of rhythm
and poetry's great intensity. For me, it's the sound of poetry
that most often initiates a poem... I love how lines and phrases
can be held in the memory... I like how poetry can "leap" so
suddenly from here to there... I love the simile, the analogy,
the allusions, the secret codes, and how narrative and 
meditative poetry can move so rapidly and beautifully from
aspect to aspect, time to time, person to person. I love 
poetry's passion. And I love the craft of poetry....
 ~ Poet Dick Allen*

Dick Allen is an acclaimed, award-winning poet and public speaker, with hundreds of appearances to his credit. His published work includes the Zen Buddhist-influenced Present Vanishing: Poems (Sarabande Books, 2008), which was honored in 2009 with a Connecticut Book Award for Poetry;  The Day Before: New Poems (Sarabande Books, 2003); Ode to the Cold War: Poems New and Selected (Sarabande Books, 1997), a runner-up for the William Carlos Williams Poetry Award bestowed by the Poetry Society of AmericaFlight and Pursuit (Louisiana State University Press, 1987); Overnight in the Guest House of the Mystic (Louisiana State University Press, 1984); and a "pop epic",  Anon and Various Time Machine Poems (Delacorte Press, 1971). 

Allen co-founded a movement called Expansive Poetry (see his explanatory essay referenced in Resources below), which concerns itself not with the confessional and autobiographical but with far-ranging or "expansive" content — history, politics, religion and spirituality (Allen has studied Buddhism for decades), nature, technology, and other broad subjects and aspects of contemporary life. (It's important to note that not being "confessional" does not mean that the personal and emotional are absent from Allen's poems.) Strong narrative and dramatic elements play their roles. Allen also writes in "Randomism", a hybrid form of lyric-narrative poetry he invented and even describes in his "Poem for My Sixtieth Birthday". One of his projects, The Space Sonnets, took him decades to complete and numbers some 207 sonnets. 

Allen's subject matter, style, form, and voice vary widely. He uses meter and rhyme, and traditional as well as free verse forms. In one poem he'll assume a formal, narrative voice; in another, be conversational or colloquial. Here are excerpts from three poems that allow you to see just a little bit into Allen's world of poetry:

He was about drainpipes, spyglasses, red Pegasus
on a Mobil sign,
and knew, as other boys didn't he was vanishing
like the first innings of a baseball game,
but couldn't stop it. He was about
how you count to ten and look around
for nobody there. While everyone slept,
he wound his wristwatch backward and uncombed his hair,
whispering "Shazam! Shazam!". . . .
~ From "A Boy Called Vanish" in The Day Before: New Poems

My aunt, drowning in birdcalls, telephones
to say a wren has built its nest within
the little thoughts of her TV. A cardinal
is flying backward through her porcelain

and she can't stand it. . .
. . . . 

. . . A thousand miles away,
I hold the hambone into which she weeps,
and hear, behind her voice, the purple finch,
the evening grosbeak, and the rapt bluejays.
~ From "God Gives to Every Bird Its Proper Food but They Must All
     Fly for It" in The Day Before: New Poems

Our children half-lost, we gather at the table
Making small polite jokes
About weather and coffee. . .
. . . . 

. . . That hot potato, Pain,
Goes round and round the table. Who of us
Are blameless, who share blame
For why our children left a crust

Of blood across their wrists, gulped pills, or think
Their terribly thin bodies still are fat,
Did drugs, did drink
Behind ripped billboards of their raw self-hate?

We don't know . . . .
~ From "Parents Support Group" in Ode to the Cold War

Allen is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and Ingram Merrill Poetry Foundation. His prizes include a Pushcart (2005), the Poetry Society of America's Caroline Davis Poetry Prize, a Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Award, and a Robert Frost Annual Poetry Award. His poems have been featured at Poetry Daily and Verse daily, and on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac and Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry. They also have been published in such literary magazines as Image JournalPoetry, The New Yorker, The Sewanee ReviewAtlantic Monthly, PloughsharesHudson Review, Smartish Pace, and New Criterion. His work is found in many national anthologies as well, including The Best American Poetry volumes (including the 2010 edition), The Best American Spiritual Writing 2007, and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet.

Allen is retired from the University of Bridgeport, where he was Charles A. Dana Professor of English and director of creative writing, as well as director of the UB Visiting Writers Series, which brought leading poets to Connecticut. A mentor to both beginning and accomplished poets, Allen created and taught many courses during his UB tenure (1968-2001), including international poetry and fiction. He has been a judge for numerous competitions and selection committees, such as the Poetry Out Loud State Finals (2007). In addition, he has been a guest poet for Tricycleteaches a master class at West Chester University's Poetry Conference, and writes reviews for The American Book Review.


All Poetry Excerpts © Dick Allen

* Quotation from Dick Allen "Notes from an Abandoned Interview" at Poetry Net (2003)

Dick Allen's Website

Dick Allen's Explanation of Expansive Poetry, "Overcoming the Tic of Techniques: The Emergence of Expansive Poetry"

"A Day in the Life of Dick Allen", The Cortland Review

Dick Allen Interview at Poetry Daily

Dick Allen's Poems Online: "A Cautionary" and "Would This Day Never Day" at Allen's Website; "The Accompanist" in North Dakota Quarterly (Summery 2007); "Elvis" and "Rats" at Expansive Poetry Online (2006); "Grandfather" in Mipoesias (2005); "Cloud No Bigger than a Man's Hand" (July/August 2009) and "Zen Living" in Poetry (July 2001); "Poem for My 60th Birthday" and "Tone Poem in a Small Forest Clearing" in The Cortland Review (February 2000); "Private Grief" in The Atlantic Monthly (October 2003; audio is available also); "Prayer Flags" in Agni Online (2008); "Considering the Tribonites" in Rattle (2008); "Pixels" in Versedaily (2009); "The Flutist" and "Cliff Painting" from Ode to the Cold War (on GoogleBooks)

Dick Allen's Poems in The New Criterion: "Back of the Hand" (November 2009), "Taking the Bull by the Horns" (October 2008), "On Tenterhooks" (May 2006), "France" (February 2002), "Ferns" (November 1996), "Homefront" (March 1992), "The familiar" (October 1987), and "Cities and Empires" (October 1985) 

Dick Allen's Poetry Foundation Page

Dick Allen's Publications in Library of Congress Catalogue

Dick Allen's The Day Before: New Poems on GoogleBooks

Leslie McGrath on Dick Allen's The Day Before, Book Review in The Cortland Review, Spring 2004

E.K. Mortenson on Dick Allen's Present Vanishing, Book Review at Gently Read Literature, March 1, 2009

Arthur Mortensen on Dick Allen's Ode to the Cold War, Book Review at Expansive Poetry & Music Online Poetry Review

University of Bridgeport Annoucement of Allen's Appointment 

Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism and CCCT Poet Laureate Page

Connecticut Page at

Video of Dick Allen Reading Smartish Pace Poems:

Dick Allen Poems in Smartish Pace from Smartish Pace on Vimeo.

1 comment:

S. Etole said...

There's much difficult truth in his words ...