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poetry

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

Teaching in the Prisons: An Interview with Richard Shelton

Richard SheltonInterview by Elizabeth Maria Falcón

Richard Shelton is the author of numerous books of poetry and nonfiction, including Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer (2007), and The Last Person to Hear Your Voice (2007). In 1974 Shelton founded the Creative Writing Workshops at the Arizona State Prison, which is still serving prisoners and which has since served as the model for many other prison writing programs. He is an emeritus Regents' Professor of English at the University of Arizona and has been associated with the Poetry Center since its founding.  Richard Shelton will give a poetry reading at the Poetry Center on Thursday, September 2, at 8:00 p.m.

Elizabeth: So before we start talking about your work in the prisons, what brought you into the profession of teaching?

Richard: I guess I always wanted to be a teacher.  I think I always knew.

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Tuesday, August 31, 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

A Sixth-Grader Speaks: Self-publishing on Lulu

What I needed, one year ago, was an easy way to put get my poems into collection form, an easy way to "publish" my poems. And Lulu was definitely that.

At that time, I was visiting my grandmother in Montana, and was having great fun, and I wanted to get my poems "published" but I really didn't want to waste time that I could be spending otherwise (since I was of course, on vacation). But it turned out to be really enjoyable, and a short process. You fill out your form, attach a document, choose the style you want it to be published in (spiral bound, hard cover, etc.), and then get to the more creative aspects, from choosing your cover to picking out your font styles.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Review of Christopher Nelson's Blue House

Review by Elizabeth Maria FalcónBlue House by Christopher Nelson

Christopher Nelson is a master's candidate and Jacob Javits Fellow at the University of Arizona. In 2009 his chapbook Blue House, selected by Mary Jo Bang for the New American Poets Series, was published by the Poetry Society of America. You can purchase a copy of Blue House at http://nelsonpoetry.blogspot.com. He is also a teacher of composition, creative writing, and literature. Click here to read Chris Nelson's recent interview with WordPlay on teaching.

Familial "troubles" are tricky to render.  If the poems are too personal, they run the risk of being sentimental, melodramatic, and could easily alienate the reader.  If they are too aloof or impersonal, they risk of being insensitive, not genuine, and leaving the reader wondering why s/he should care.  However, Blue House is neither confessional nor distant.  Nelson has crafted a meditative speaker who, even while employing the third person as a distancing tactic, manages to sustain an intense closeness to the subject--familial devastation--and a direct connection with the reader, and manages to leave the reader devastated.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If the Mango Tree Could Speak: Inviting Collaboration

Collaborative Poetry can push an experience and build group cohesiveness, validate feelings and foster confidence with words. My first experience facilitating a collaborative poem remains a model for my other forays into group writing.

In 2000, I was working with an inter-generational group of refugees from Central America in the Owl and Panther Program, a partnership of The Hopi Foundation and the Pima County Public Library. We started the workshop by viewing the poignant film If the Mango Tree Could Speak. The film documented youth who couldn't flee the violence in Guatemala and El Salvador as the families in this workshop had. We watched and listened as the youth in the film shared what they experienced and witnessed.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On the Teaching of Poetry: An Interview with Chris Nelson

Interview by Elizabeth Maria FalcónChristopher Nelson

Christopher Nelson is a master's candidate and Jacob Javits Fellow at the University of Arizona. In 2009 his chapbook Blue House, selected by Mary Jo Bang for the New American Poets Series, was published by the Poetry Society of America. He has taught composition, creative writing, and literature for several years at Catalina Foothills High School and, most recently, at the University of Arizona. His interviews with poets can be read at http://nelsonpoetry.blogspot.com.

Elizabeth: What inspired you to teach to the Poetry Center's Reading & Lecture series?

Chris: There's a history to that inspiration that goes back ten years, which is how long I've been enjoying the Poetry Center's offerings. Actually, it goes back further than that, in a round-about way: as an undergraduate at Southern Utah University I had the privilege of being in a small writing program (directed by poet David Lee) that was visited by several talented poets: Samuel Green, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, and Leslie Norris, to name a few. During these visits I remember feeling something new to me: poetry as a living thing, as something that would inhabit the room and pass among us. These moments with living language were catalytic and quickening in a way that time alone with my favorite books was not. I remember hearing Joy Harjo sing her poems, and now when I read them, I can hear her vocal inflections and sense a poem's lilt and pulse. I remember Robert Hass's fascinating introductions to his poems; there was such seamlessness between the man and the poet that he was often well into reading a poem before I realized that he was no longer introducing it. I would draw inspiration for weeks from one such visit. So, you see, I'd caught the bug, the poetry virus.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fried Water, Putty Fours: A double review of Marjorie Winslow's "A Cookbook for Dolls"

Baby Doll with ButtonsPart I: A review of Marjorie Winslow's Mudpies and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Dolls
by Emberly Davis

This book has been rated nine stars out of ten.

Emberly Davis is a 4th grader at Drachman Elementary and enjoys cooking, writing, reading, acting, swimming, and building parachutes for eggs.

If you like dolls and like feeding your dolls and if you like cooking, baking, or boiling you would like this book. There are so many recipes. My favorites are: Fried Water, Mock Mud Puddle Soup, and Pencil Sharpener Pudding. I like this book because it is very imaginative and very nice--not violent at all. What you'll need to read this book: a good imagination, stuffed animals or dolls, some sand, some water, pebbles, leaves, and other little trinkets. Possibly a tea set for dolls. So when you read this book, I think you'll like it. If you like dolls.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This Is Just to Say: I'm very sorry for tying you up and making you watch educational television

Elizabeth Falconby Elizabeth Maria Falcón

Teaching 5th grade this spring at Corbett, I had a tendency to over-pack my lesson plans.  There were so many activities, poems, discussion topics, and other exciting things I wanted to share that it was often a challenge to finish the lessons in the sixty minute class period.  So one day, I decided to simplify.  I created a lesson plan that involved only reading and discussing one poem, individual writing time, and sharing time.

We started out by reading William Carlos Williams' poem, "This Is Just to Say."  I asked a volunteer to read the poem aloud, then I read it aloud, then we talked about the speaker and the intended audience, the motivation behind writing the poem and the tone of the poem.  

My students needed no prompting to know that this "apology" note was no apology--they loved how the last stanza of the poem rubbed in the crime:

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010
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