Mark Van Aken Williams

Mark Van Aken Williams
Tip of the Mitt, USA
May 01
Williams is the author of "The Burlesque of Graceless Acting," as well as "The Prophet of Sorrow," a finalist (historical fiction category) in the following awards: 2010 Book of the Year Awards (Foreword); 2010 International Book Awards; and National Best Books 2010 Awards. "Circus by Moonlight: Poems 1997-2007" was published in 2009. Author of the comedy novel, "The Hillbilly Vampire Chronicles," written under the pen name, Tonto Fielding.


SEPTEMBER 20, 2011 9:45AM

Recommended Poets (Open Call)

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As someone once said, “I really want a poem to spout roses and spit bullets.” I agree. It’s no wonder that one of my favorite songs from a while ago was Send Lawyers, Guns and Money by Warren Zevon.


Now I'm hiding in Honduras

I'm a desperate man 

Send lawyers, guns and money

The shit has hit the fan


So what constitutes a good poem? For me, it is something that says more in a few words than a novel can in five hundred pages, with wit and word-play. It has an extraordinary mixing of music and image, word and thought. The job of the poet is to choose the right words, not only for sound (the music of poignant language) and connotation (landscape), but even for the countenance of them. 


The poem corresponds to a centrifuge of sound, alliteration and rhythm. The reader will be walking into a world for the very first time; a world of terseness and parsimony. 


Poetry IS about words!


Another person also said, “What makes a good poem? A good poet.”


So I have two great poets to recommend to you: Zbigniew Herbert and Miroslav Holub. They are two of my favorite poets.


Zbigniew Herbert is an avant-garde poet from Poland, who experiments with precise, restrained rhythms. His poetry is continually exposed to the impersonal, external pressures of politics and history. He started writing poetry during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and during the years of Stalinism his poems were continually banned. A. Alvarez says “Irony", such as Herbert’s, “is a two-edged weapon, which turns on the poet as readily as on the world outside. It is based on a sense of his own ineffectual fragility when faced with the steam-roller of political force." His politics is of sanity and survival; something that is completely relevant for this new century.


Also a survivor of WWII, Miroslav Holub was conscripted as a railway worker under the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. He went on to become one of his country’s most important scientists, as a research immunologist at The Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine. He argued that, “The emotional, aesthetic and existential value is the same (that scientific method and poetry-making are basically similar)…when looking into the microscope and seeing the expected and when looking at the nascent organism of the poem.” He felt an affinity for the aesthetic of his fellow doctor-poet William Carlos Williams, who is also one of my favorite American poets (along with Wallace Stevens). 


So here’s Holub spitting a few bullets at you-


Here too are dreaming landscapes,

Lunar, derelict.

Here too are the masses,

Tillers of the soil.

And cells, fighters

Who lay down their lives

For a song.


Here too are cemeteries,

Fame and snow.

And I hear murmuring,

The revolt of immense estates.


Does anybody have any poets that they would like recommend to me?

Zbigniew Herbert
Zbigniew Herbert
Miroslav Holub 

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This is great! I will post a link to it on my FB poetry group.
I concur with your definition of great poetry, although I had not heard of Zbigniew Herbert and Miroslav Holub. Is the poem you posted a translation from the original? If that is the case, I will come back with two poets I like, whose works have been translated.
Thank you - this is an excellent open call.
I recommend Selected Poems by Zbigniew Herbert (translation by Zbigniew Herbert and Peter Dale Scott), and Poems Before & After by Miroslov Holub (collected English Translations by Ian & Jarmila Milnar, Ewald Osners and George Theiner).
Mark, I'm tempted on working on a longer post for your Open Call. I spent some time today thinking about so many poets and their works, and asking myself what I liked the most about each. They are mostly American and British poets. Then I selected two other poets whose works I also like very much. Orhan Veli Kanik is a Turkish poet whose works have been translated. I found an earlier blog in which I had posted one of his poems which speak a lot to me, so I'll give the link if you'd like to read the poem.

The other poet is the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy . Most of his works were translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. I don't read Greek, but based on the translations, many of his works fill the criteria you spoke about. Here is one:


The setting of houses, cafés, the neighborhood
that I’ve seen and walked through years on end:

I created you while I was happy, while I was sad,
with so many incidents, so many details.

And, for me, the whole of you is transformed into feeling.

There are also some excellent poets on Open Salon whom I like to follow. Great post. Thank you.
FusunA-- Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You may be interested that I quote Turkish poet, Necib Fazil, at the beginning of my novel The Prophet of Sorrow.
I like all poets. most poetry.

I don't care for or about rules in poetry. so my idea of a poet is one who creates with words. rules are the anathema of poetry. poetry is poetry is art. you compose. you create a mental cadence. rhythm. pictures or a mood.

art does not follow rules. rhymes annoy me unless they are so subtle and delicious, the fact of the rhyme is besides the point. rhyme for the sake of rhyme is either boring or sublime. every time I try to write a poem that rhymes I end up writing a limerick. limericks are great. they're fun. they're light. bringing light.

then there's bukowski.
a drunk vantage
mean filthy there was
a poet. he
in lonely broken
still of cheap shit wine

I like hunter thompson, who was a journalist but in my opinion, he was a poet.
Great open call. I like my own poetry and I have been writing a very long time. I don't consider it structured and professional and only recently have been sharing it more frequently. I read the work of many older poets, from them I hear things and feel things, Walt Whitman, Joyce Kilmer, Frank L. Stanton. I also like the work of song writers like Billy Joel and others.
paul simon, too.

Oh yes, whitman. i sing the body electric!

t.s. elliot then of course e.e.
and sylvia plath and maya angelou last but not least.
Mark, I wasn't aware that you wrote a novel, much less quoted Necip Fazıl Kısakürek in the beginning of your work. Pleased to meet you - drawn by the title, this is your first post I read. Did you quote from NFK's poems or other works? Thank you.
course poetry is so subject to personal taste, can it really be recommended?
I have spanned a wide universe of thought, action and intent when it comes to poetry. There are rules, but they are flexible and made for breaking, bending and warping beyond comprehensible structure.
W.B. Yates (sounds like Yeets)
Tolkein (who do you think wrote all those poems and songs in his novels?)
Poe (oh, man, one of the best in his time and still today)
Solomon (from the songs of Solomon in the bible)
Maya Angelou
Dylan Thomas and
Bob Dylan
Bernie Taupin (penner of much of Elton John's work)
Billie Joel is awesome!
Joe Strummer

I completely disagree that poetry is formless and rules less, otherwise how could it become poetry? The intent and idea to me is all about how to create rhythym, meter, timing with words. It is also, in contrarywise view at times, how to create a vision, a meme, a picture of something in a few choice words, using them like stones in a pond, rippling outward, each creating their own waves over the previous and leading up to the next in order to present an idea, a thought, a view.

Prose, like Shakespear's and his sonnets are all about form and tight structure, while remaining within those rules, he created things of utter beauty which are reachable and at times deeply touching to anyone with stirrings of emotion within them.

Send Lawyers, guns and money,
Get me out of this jam.

Music is but poetry set to sounds to add melody, rhythym, tempo and it gives it a kick.

Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison (Richard Starkey is funny, but not much of a poet)
Dave Matthews
Snoop Dogg

Many of these are acquired tastes and acquiring them is part, I think, of being a poet one's self. You must stretch your mind, your point of view and your comfort zone to attain your own poetic voice. Anyone can write a country western 'cry in your beer song' all you gotta do is have your feelings hurt or returned and BAM you got a hit! (not really true, but you get the idea.)

Poems don't have to have a rhyme, many of mine don't. Rhyme can be simple, iambic pentameter (the ABAB or AABB sort) with a rhyme and rhythym that is strong, relatively inflexible and still make a decent impact on the reader. It takes a certain amount of thought, skill and deftness with words to make them work, which is why I recommend at least working on them for a while. I think they help focus the mind on how to structure thought, vision and words.

Consider it beginning instruction in poetry. Anyone can grab a paint brush and start slapping and swinging away at a canvas, calling themselves 'artist.' Saying it doesn't make it so. Learning techniques, brush strokes, paint mixing, the science and art of shading and presenting 2D as 3D, and good drafting skills are all essential components of making an artist better.

In other words, pure talent is great, but it is always enhanced by acquiring skill. Skill does not come without practice or learning from others. Poetry is considered an art form and therefore, to my view, it seems it complements itself with skills learned from practice and the study of masters in the field.

And don't forget experimentation. Anyone who wishes to truly dig in and get poetic will, at some point in time, try something they have yet to see others do. Not to compete, but to attempt to create something heretofore unseen, unknown, unconsidered.

I started writing poetry at age 12. It was my first real foray into writing of any kind beyond, "What I Did For Summer Vacation" essays at the time. It started with a recurring dream that awoke me each time with tears on my face, not of fear, but of sorrow and beauty.

If poetry sometimes seems childish, remember that sometimes it's the heart and mind of a child who produces it. It is still capable of extreme wisdom, beauty and impact if you take that into account.

And there's a difference between childish or childlike and juvenile.

The key, ultimately, to poetry is an affinity and comprehension of meaning in words. Archaic, obsolete, colloquial, double meaning, alliteration, otomotopeaic, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms and common useage, slang, hip and rebellion related useages are all important in their turns.

As I write prose, it is nothing like my poetry (most of the time.) As I write poetry, I am attempting to convey something with a few choice words, their placement and their meter, as well as the meaning of the words and their careful juxtaposition on paper (or on a screen of phosphors, pixels and thin films of emissivity.)

Okay, that's my view. Hope to find out more about this from the perspective of others. Words!
@ dunniteowl ....wonderful, wonderful comment!
There are so many published poets that I have read and loved. William Blake, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda and Ann Sexton are among my favorites. I just finished reading With Deer by Aase Berg, it has the Swedish version on one page and the translation on the other. It is an example of the anti-poetry movement.
Here is an example:
The Red Kiss:
Deep lilies sway. The sorrow-mussel's pearls itch and bleed. Heavy fish streak between the stones. One the breast bottom, the heart of fear pounds fourteen feeble beats. The limbs still suffer. Corals hide fat and skin. Her lips seek the surface to be saved by oxygen. But on the sludge bottom, the tracks of the red kiss still glow.
I am currently reading Ventrakl, the poems of George Trakl ( an Austrian poet who died in 1914) translated using very unusual methods by Christian Hawkey. Creating poems that are more Christian Hawkey than Trakl.
Here is an example:
A fountain sings.
Clouds, white and tender along the edge of night, white birds
Fluttering up the wandering boy's white nightgown.
Softly a white night drifts in.
And myrrh blooms silently over the white eyelids of the dead.
We meet
With shepherds and white stars. We drink
The white waters of the pool. Mother even carries and infant in her
white moon.
Yet more radiant is the white stranger, a white shirt made of stars.
Or, on a cold night, the white cheeks of sisters, their white eyebrows, white heads.
rated with love of all kinds of poetry.
THANK YOU, all! I'm not prepared to contribute much today but hope this Open Call will stay "open" for a good long time! I was in a _really_ down mood when I came here just now; still deeply engrossed in having earlier read Louis Menand's long article on T.S. Eliot in the latest 'New Yorker" and feeling -- so to say -- the loss of poetry to (within) prose. [How well, in my opinion, Eliot managed to mix -- combine? Alternate? the two styles. I never knew him personally but I did "run into him once" and always felt a bit ... what? Personally possessive (of all things!) about him. My list of favorite poets would be endless and I won't waste your time or mine with it at the moment. But as to my own poems ... I stopped writing them years ago. They were "lyric" in a very specific sense because I was for years a performing musician (instrumentalist and singer -- oldfashioned type 'stuff') and it was when my singing career had to end that I started writing the (at lest attempted) fusion/expression of words and music. It wasn't an "in style" at the time and eventually I stopped. Now you've all inspired me to get out of my "prose rut" -- both as to what I read and what I write. So, in the old throw-away line: "Thanks, I needed that!". Very much.

Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments and suggestions.