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The Rag-Picker's Guide to Poetry

Poems, Poets, Process

Eleanor Wilner

Publication Year: 2013

The venture of this inviting collection is to look, from the many vantages that the 35 poets in this eclectic anthology chose to look, at what it was—knowing that a poem can’t be conceived in advance of its creation—that helped their poems to emerge or connected them over time. The Rag-Picker's Guide to Poetry permits an inside view of how poets outwit internal censors and habits of thought, showing how the meticulous and the spontaneous come together in the process of discovery. Within are contained the work and thoughts of: • Betty Adcock • Joan Aleshire • Debra Allbery • Elizabeth Arnold • David Baker • Rick Barot • Marianne Boruch • Karen Brennan • Gabrielle Calvocoressi • Michael Collier • Carl Dennis • Stuart Dischell • Roger Fanning • Chris Forhan • Reginald Gibbons • Linda Gregerson • Jennifer Grotz • Brooks Haxton • Tony Hoagland • Mark Jarman • A. Van Jordan • Laura Kasischke • Mary Leader • Dana Levin • James Longenbach • Thomas Lux • Maurice Manning • Heather McHugh • Martha Rhodes • Alan Shapiro • Daniel Tobin • Ellen Bryant Voigt • Alan Williamson • Eleanor Wilner • C. Dale Young

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. 1C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-4

That we see poets as “rag-pickers” points to our place in time, to the way we contemporary poets forage wherever something of value and use might be found as material or form—in the past, in the woods, in the world’s literature and art, in pop culture, in public events, in chance encounters, in the landfills of history, in...

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How I Escaped from the AutobiographicalNarrative of Crisis and Resolution andDiscovered Oscar Wilde and theTradition of Theatrical Repartee

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pp. 5-13

A philosophical poet, that’s what I wanted to be—a concept juggler, something along the line of Wallace Stevens. I had visions I wanted to communicate. What they were, I no longer can entirely recall. But no one understood the poems I wrote. Words scattered around the page, congested as a head cold, here; neo-ideas, rife with noncontext, there. What is...


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pp. 14-21

Cadaver, Speak to Me

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pp. 21-27

The Pressure of Reality

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pp. 28-33

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Transition: Some Thoughts onPedagogy and the New Old Sound

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pp. 34-38

Lately I’ve been driving about four hours round trip to get back and forth to the classes I’m teaching. I don’t mind the drive, but I did realize that I’d need a project in order to make the most of all that open, empty time. I’ve decided to spend the next fifteen weeks listening to the latter half of John Coltrane’s catalog. Partially because I love John Coltrane and mainly because, like most things I love, I...

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Ambiguity’s Haunted House

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pp. 39-45

“God Trumps Beelzebub (Among Other Bad Angels) Who Drove Me to Suicide in 2004” is, as the title says, about my one-and- only suicide attempt. I never thought I would do such a thing. I love my family. On the other hand, I was oppressed all summer by the prospect of teaching a four-hour graduate class. To prepare, I was reading 7 Types of Ambiguity by William Empson and thinking...

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“Without Although, Without Because”:Syntax and Buried Memory

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pp. 46-52

A decade ago, I was growing tired of my poems. They felt suspiciously tidy and knowing—even, at their worst, smug. Perhaps their ironies were necessary responses to life’s confounding mysteries and paradoxes, or perhaps they were just cowardly feints and diversions. My poems were elegant little boxes that shut...

Going Elsewhere

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pp. 53-58

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Cinematic Movement of Metropolis andUn Chien Andalou

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pp. 59-63

Writing Metropolis and Un Chien Andalou came from an effort to jumpstart the writing process after a four-year hiatus from it. The idea would be threefold: I wanted to write some poems that moved cinematically, in whatever way I would come to define this. And I wanted to watch some of my favorite films, and I wanted to watch films I always wanted to watch. So although the approach...

Lyric Stories

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pp. 64-69

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Place, the Personal, and the Political:Connections

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pp. 70-76

The three poems here are from different decades of my writing life. They have different forms, different subjects, different emotional centers, and different relations to place. Yet as Robert Haas famously said about all the new thinking resembling all the old thinking, let’s say that all the new poems resemble all the...

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Lucky’s Speech

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pp. 77-83

Just about midway through Waiting for Godot, one of the most remarkable moments in the play occurs: Lucky speaks. Before this moment of speech, Lucky has been utterly without speech. He is the long-suffering, much-abused lackey of Pozzo, who finds a sadistic glee in making Lucky do everything he wants, no matter how absurd or pathetic: “Stop! (Lucky stops.) Back! (Lucky moves...

The Grace of Accuracy

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pp. 84-91

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How Far Out It Goes

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pp. 92-95

It has always been difficult to talk about what the process of writing a poem is like for me, other than that every poem takes many drafts and that I try to follow Mr. Frost’s dictum “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” I also favor stamina and doggedness. I’ll try to do a little more here by writing...

The Song Can Also Be a Story

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pp. 96-100

No Elegies

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pp. 101-107


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pp. 108-113

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Learning from Time & the Poem Itself

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pp. 114-118

I write, or scrawl, rough, sprawling first drafts from scraps—images, sounds—that have lodged in my mind and won’t let go. Later, I look hard at what I’ve written in my notebook to see if a draft does all it can to explore (or exploit) what attracted my attention. As Mandelstam so brilliantly said, when a poem hangs around in your mind, you know it isn’t finished (or words to that effect)...

Rhyme and Quantity in Free Verse

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pp. 119-125

Unplanned Sequences

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pp. 125-128

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The Expressive Use of Landscape

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pp. 129-133

“Feelings, oh I have those,” goes a poem I love, “They govern me.” The poem, however, is spoken by a field of poppies, and it comes from Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris, a foundational book for me exactly for its use of landscape and speaker to think about subjectivity, the human’s position in the world, the role of art,...

Honky Tankas

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pp. 134-136

Sonnets, Holy and Unholy

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pp. 137-141

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Two Public Poems

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pp. 142-149

The idea of a capacious public poetry that would not be mere editorializing, propaganda, or preaching to the choir has fascinated me since the 1960s, and I’ve discussed it a great deal in my critical writing. But my own more ambitious public poems have not been acts of will. They have come on me out of the blue...

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Why Prose if It’s a Poem?

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pp. 150-153

I never set out to write a single poem in prose. In fact, I’d always avoided even reading those. They seemed to me to be cheating poetry out of its rightful music. Or requiring so much of prose it collapsed under the unfair burden of trying to sing with its mouth closed. When a prose poem worked (and I accidentally...

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Point of View

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pp. 154-162

Often when I look over poems that haven’t worked out, especially poems that focus on other people, I find that the surest path to revision is tinkering with the point of view, experimenting with either narrowing the distance between poet and subject or stepping back. In such a case a few small changes, which take only...

Needlework Poems

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pp. 163-168

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Process, After the Fact

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pp. 169-174

The process I want to talk about is the one that goes on after the poem is written, when the poem’s writer becomes its first reader. Since I believe that we write the poem we need to read, then it would seem that we are engaging something that we didn’t yet know and may even have had strong reasons to avoid...

A Romance with Information

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pp. 175-179

The Necessary Fiction

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pp. 180-185

Public Places, Night

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pp. 186-190

The Reaches

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pp. 191-198

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Five Versions

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pp. 199-201

“Looking Up Past Midnight into the Spin of the Catalpa Blossoms” is the first poem in my most recent collection, They Lift Their Wings to Cry. I was thinking that I wrote it quickly. But I find in my computer files that I spent twelve hours and fourteen minutes writing about twenty drafts over the course of six months. The first version surfaces in a series of poems and notes for poems generated in...

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Writing as an Act of Reading

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pp. 202-207

In social settings I can go with the flow, generally, but when I’m by myself I’m as reflexively contrarian as any other two-eared double-hung human being. Thus for a time I took reading and writing for terms of contrast, or even mutually exclusive acts. But now I see them (like most counterpoises) as aspects of a single entity. All...

Same Bird: New Song

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pp. 208-212


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pp. 213-218


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pp. 219-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029679
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472052035

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2013

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