Monday, March 2, 2015

Monday Muse on 'A Poet's Sourcebook'

Cover of A Poet's Sourcebook

Ask a poet for advice to learn how to write poetry and she is most apt to respond, "Read, read, and read." In her very personal anthology A Poet's Sourcebook: Writings about Poetry from the Ancient World to the Present (Autumn House Press, 2013), Dawn Potter reveals just how deep and how wide-ranging she herself goes while exploring and thinking about the literature on her shelves—work, Potter says, that reveals a kinship that, quite possibly, only one poet can have for another: ". . . The native land we share is poetry, and the very act of choosing these particular voices from among all the other voices of history was like embarking alongside them on a voyage to our collective home. . . ."  

In her Introduction, Potter describes the anthology as "[n]either a craft handbook nor a theory manual," stressing that it is "merely one reader's record of the long human need to make poetry. For no matter how distant in time those individuals have become, reading about that need, in both their own words and the words of others, keeps our relationship with them intimate and immediate."

Representing 91 authors as diverse as Homer and Sappho, Phillis Wheatley and Brenda Shaughnessy, A Poet's Sourcebook is not a volume to read cover to cover; rather, it impels dipping into its pages to uncover the kinds of serendipitous discoveries that accompany re-familiarizing oneself with the texts of Plato, Aristotle, and Ovid; re-engaging with the likes of Shakespeare, Bradstreet, Milton, and Blake; re-considering Shelley and Keats, Bronte and Whitman, Dickinson and Rilke, Woolf and Pound; and recalling the depth of inspiration and breadth of influence of Rich and Levertov, Snyder and Milosz. Moreover, A Poet's Sourcebook introduces names that may or may not be known to general reader, student, or teacher: Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Lynda Hull, Autumn McClintock, Garth Greenwell, Mike Walker. I especially appreciate Potter's attention to balance, which gives us the unmistakable voices of such poets as Audre Lorde ("Uses of the erotic: The Erotic As Power") and Naomi Shihab Nye ("Poetry"). Some of Potter's selections are inspired: the late Jack Wiler's over-the-top rant, "Things I Can't Say at East Brunswick High School", and his friend Teresa Carson's elegy, "The Temple of Delight: John Keats and Jack Wiler". 

The contents of A Poet's Sourcebook, wholly selected by Potter, are organized by chronology (by writer's date of birth) and, helpfully, broadly by theme (e.g., "The Art of Poetry", "Poetry and Death", "Poetry and Identity", "The Task of Poetry") and author. Potter provides concise, useful, often insightful headnotes for each selection that give inclusion of the particular selections historical, cultural, and literary context and relationship—with the writers to others of the past and present, to Potter herself, and to the anthology's readers. In addition to essays, the anthology includes correspondence, journal entries, interviews, scripts, translations, and poems, which, taken in their entirety, make A Poet's Sourcebook a rich reference that rewards with every reading. 

A Poet's Sourcebook is, in a word, indispensable.

Dawn Potter is a poet, the 2015 director of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, Franconia, New Hampshire; a visiting writer in schools, and a freelance editor for academic and literary presses. She also is on the editorial board of Beloit Poetry Journal. The author of the memoir Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009),  Potter also has published three poetry collections: Same Old Story (CavanKerry Press, 2014), How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry, 2010), and Boy Land & Other Poems (Deerbrook Editions, 2004). Forthcoming from Deerbrook Editions is Potter's The Conversation: Learning to Be a Poet. Potter, whose excellent poems and essays appear in numerous literary periodicals and journals, writes daily at her blog, where readers will find her musings about life in Harmony, Maine, cooking, playing with her band, current events, and rich literary conversation.

Dawn Potter on FaceBook and Twitter

CavanKerry Press Pages for Same Old Story and How the Crimes Happened


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