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Natalie Merchant Sets Children's Poetry to Song

Review by Julie Swarstad
Leave Your  Sleep by Natalie Merchant
Natalie Merchant is an American singer-songwriter who has been actively releasing records since 1982.  Merchant was originally a member of the alternative-rock band 10,000 Maniacs until she began a career as a solo musician in 1993.  Her most critically-acclaimed albums include Tigerlily (1995) and Ophelia (1998).  Leave Your Sleep (2010) is her first album since 2003's The House Carpenter's Daughter.  Visit her official website at: http://www.nataliemerchant.com/.

Leave Your Sleep marks Natalie Merchant's first foray into the world of poetry.  "I'm a late arrival to the party," Merchant said in an interview about the album as she discussed her connection to poetry.  Despite her late introduction to the genre, Merchant's latest album--a two disc collection of children's poetry set to music--is a testament to the power of language and story in children's lives.  The collection includes children's poetry from well-known poets Edward Lear, Jack Prelutsky, e.e. cummings, Ogden Nash, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, along with a host of nursery rhymes and nonsense songs from more obscure writers.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Language and Representation of the Holocaust

by Bryan Davis

Holocaust Education Teacher InserviceBryan Davis is the Director of Holocaust Education at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

What words did victims of the Holocaust use to attempt to represent their experiences during the war?  They were faced with the unthinkable challenge of realizing (depending on when they wrote) that what they wrote would be used as a marker of their place individually, and the Jewish place collectively, in history, as they were being systematically annihilated and that at the same time, words were inadequate for representing the horrors they experienced.

Hélène Berr was a twenty-one year old student in the English Studies Department at the Sorbonne when, in 1942, she began keeping a diary in her home in avenue Elisee-Reclus in German occupied Paris.  Hélène came from an affluent family, she was well read in British literature, especially the Romantic poets, and she was a gifted amateur violinist.  Hélène's diary served shifting and overlapping purposes for her during the time she kept it from April 1942-February 1944.  At times Hélène hoped the diary would provide a message to her fiancé Jean who had fled France to join the resistance, while increasingly, as the persecutions around her grew closer and more brutal, she hoped to use the diary to "tell the story."  On October 10, 1943 she wrote:

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Interacting with Natasha Tretheway's Native Guard

by Timothy DykeNative Guard by Natasha Tretheway

Timothy Dyke is a first year Masters student at the University of Arizona in creative writing. From 1992 to the spring of 2010, he lived in Honolulu, Hawaii and taught English to high school students at Punahou school. He serves as an Education Intern at the Poetry Center.

Visual art can be a safe and engaging entry point into poetry for young learners.  Students who become confused when asked to say what a poem means can feel a sense of relief and eagerness if asked to choose a crayon that matches the "color" of a poem, or when invited to draw a picture inspired by words on a page.  Poets and visual artists have collaborated for centuries, and some of the best examples of these multimedia explorations can motivate young people to look at the written word through a visual lens.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gary Snyder: Writing from Personal Conviction

Review by Julie Swarstad
Danger On Peaks by Gary Snyder
Born in 1930, Gary Snyder has published sixteen collections of poetry and prose including Turtle Island (New Directions 1969), Mountains and Rivers Without End (Counterpoint 1996), and most recently Danger on Peaks (Shoemaker Hoard 2004)Snyder is the recipient of numerous awards including the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Turtle Island,  the 1997 Bolligen Prize for Poetry, the 1997 John Hay Award for Nature Writing, and the 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.  Snyder is a professor of English at the University of California, Davis.

Snyder will read at the University of Arizona Poetry Center on Thursday, October 7 at 8 p.m.  There will also be a Shop Talk on his work on Monday, October 4 at 6 p.m.

Although he is often associated with specific movements or beliefs, Gary Snyder above all else is a poet who speaks for what he believes in.  Snyder's writing is often firmly labeled Beat poetry or nature writing, and while both of these things do accurately describe his work, his writing never fits as neatly within these categories as one might expect.  Rather than pigeonholing Snyder within any one of these categories then, it might be fruitful instead to teach him as a poet who speaks boldly from within his own beliefs and his own ideas.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poetry Birds

by Joni WallacePoetry Birds 4

Joni Wallace's poetry collection Blinking Ephemeral Valentine was selected by Mary Jo Bang for the 2009 Levis Prize and is forthcoming from Four Way Books (March, 2011). Her poems have been published in Boston Review, Barrow Street, Blue Mesa Review, Conduit, Cutbank, Forklift, Ohio, Laurel Review and have been featured in Connotations Press, An Online Artifact. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana. Joni is also a musician and co-founder, with poet Ann Dernier, of Poets' Studio.

"These are the poetry birds, Mom," says my beaming five-year-old, presenting me with her drawing. "And...they are famous."  For the last two years these birds have graced the wall in the room where I write. If they had a song, it would be  "attention, pay attention."  And they remind of something Dean Young wrote of poets: we are trying to make birds, not birdhouses.  This same "birdness" is what Richard Shelton calls "claritas:" those moments of clairvoyant transcendence that come through poems when poems work.  

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Giving Arizona High School Students a Voice: Ten Years of Young Corridistas

by Julie SwarstadA Decade of Young Corridistas

Founded in 2000, the University of Arizona Bilingual High School Corrido Contest celebrates the corrido--a musico-poetic form unique to the U.S.-Mexico border region--by asking high school students to write their own corridos. Three winners are chosen each year by a distinguished judge, and music is written by a professional musician to accompany the corrido. The Poetry Center celebrates the first ten years of the contest by publishing Ten Years of Young Corridistas in September 2010.

The Poetry Center will hold a panel discussion by corrido experts on Saturday, September 24 at the Poetry Center. A benefit performance for the Corrido Program, featuring many of Tucson's top Mariachi musicians takes place Saturday, October 2.

The University of Arizona Poetry Center's Bilingual High School Corrido Contest is truly unique in what it celebrates.  For the past eleven years, the contest has challenged high school students to learn about the corrido form and its deep connection to the U.S.-Mexico border region while demonstrating this knowledge by writing a corrido of their own.  Edited and published by the UA Poetry Center, the winning entries presented in Ten Years of Young Corridistas cover an incredible range of topics and demonstrate remarkable emotional depth.  They speak to community concerns, personal hopes, and cultural values, presenting the voices of Arizona's high school students at their finest.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Engaging with Sherwin Bitsui's Torrent of Words

Flood Song by Sherwin BitsuiReview by Julie Swarstad

Sherwin Bitsui is a Dine poet originally from White Cone, Arizona.  He received an AFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts Creative Writing Program and has been awarded numerous grants and fellowships, including the prestigious Whiting Writers' Award, along with publications in American Poet and The Iowa Review.  Currently residing in Tucson, Arizona, Bistui is the author of two collections: Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press 2003) and Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press 2009).   Bitsui is a frequent guest in classrooms as a visiting poet through the ArtsReach program.

Bitsui will read at the UA Poetry Center on Friday, September 10th at 8 p.m. along with Ofelia Zepeda and Alberto Rios.

In Flood Song, Sherwin Bitsui explores "the dimming atlases of our lungs," atlases which are infused with his Dine background and a distinct sense of place that is both rural and urban with a hint of apocalypse.  This sense of place is rendered in a stream of surrealistic images that rush and brim with an energetic, almost wild, power.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Alberto Ríos and the Power of Story

by Julie SwarstadThe Dangerous Shirt by Alberto Rios

A two-time graduate from the University of Arizona, Alberto Ríos is a writer whose stories show us the overlooked magic of the world.   Born in 1952 in Nogales, Arizona, Ríos is the author of six full-length collections of poetry, including The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2002.  His publications also include several volumes of short stories and a memoir.  Six Pushcart Prizes, the Arizona Governor's Arts Award, and the Walt Whitman Award are just a sampling of the honors received by Ríos.  Ríos is currently a Regent's Professor of English at Arizona State University.

Alberto Ríos will be reading at the UA Poetry Center on Friday, September 10th at 8 p.m. along with Ofelia Zepeda and Sherwin Bitsui.

Alberto Ríos writes, "Science may be our best way of understanding the world, / But it may not be our best way of living in it."  The Dangerous Shirt, his latest collection of poetry, provides an answer to the question this statement makes, affirming that story is perhaps our best way of living in the world.  Ríos' poetry is story woven into verse, and his writing can be an exciting entryway into storytelling through poetry in the classroom.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Discovering "Worlds of Words" at UA's College of Education

When I set out to find the Worlds of Words collection, I knew little beyond that it was located in the basement of the Education Building.  After a few unsuccessful attempts in various stairwells, I opened a door and knew I had found the right place.  The walls of the stairwell were covered in posters promoting literacy with bright, colorful illustrations all pulling me forward into an incredible collection of children's books.

The most immediately striking thing about WOW is the sheer number of books they house.  There are books everywhere, filling shelves in four rooms, covering tables, sometimes even stacked on top of each other on the shelves in sections where there wasn't quite enough space.  This impressive collection is housed in a series of interconnected classrooms which have been converted into a library space with tables and chairs scattered throughout.  The lighting is slightly dim and the atmosphere cool and quiet, a perfect respite from the world above.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Ofelia Zepeda and the Poetics of Vision

by Julie SwarstadWhere Clouds Are Formed: Poems by Ofelia Zepeta

Ofelia Zepeda is a Tohono O'odham poet and professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. Her works include Where Clouds are Formed (2008), Ocean Power (1995), Home Places: Contemporary Native American Writing from Sun Tracks (1995), A Papago Grammar (1983), and When It Rains, Papago and Pima Poetry = Mat hekid o ju, 'O'odham Na-cegitodag (1982).  She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999 and is the Poet Laureate of Tucson.

Ofelia Zepeda will read at the UA Poetry Center on Friday, Septemer 10th at 8 p.m. along with Natalia Toldeo, Alberto Rios, and Sherwin Bitsui.

From the first lines of her latest collection, Where Clouds are Formed, Ofelia Zepeda makes it clear that she sees the world with a preciseness of vision that few writers achieve as completely as she does.  Where Clouds are Formed explores memory, experience, and myth while remaining firmly situated within the landscape of southern Arizona.  Zepeda lays out her stories and ideas bit by bit in short, almost clipped statements which reveal her ideas at a restrained, thoughtful pace.  "The piece of skin riding on my shoe falls," she writes, "At dusk a coyote wanders through the wash. / He picks up my scent. / It leads nowhere."  Zepeda's sentences are tightly packed with just what is needed to convey her ideas in a clear, seemingly straightforward way.

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Monday, August 23, 2010
Arizona Board of Regents