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home : blogs_old : tone's book zone August 28, 2014

Tone's Book Zone
By Sue Tone
stone@prescottaz.com
A blog for readers and book lovers. Postings will include information on book festivals, library activities, local authors, classroom visits, book groups, writing and publishing tips, reviews, bookmakers and bookmaking, and how volunteers can help children and adults acquire a love of reading.
Thursday, February 27, 2014

Where have all the poets gone? Nowhere, it turns out; they're alive and kicking

 by Sue Tone

Allan Andre at work in Union Square, Manhattan, October 2013.

Yavapai Community College in Prescott, Ariz., offers free author readings four or five times a year through the Hassayampa Institute's Southwest Literary events. This month, Jimmy Santiago Baca appeared to read, sign and promote his newest book of poems, Singing at the Gates.

While Baca has provided over the years different accounts of his life leading up to his incarceration in Florence Prison, he admits that he was basically illiterate at the time he went to jail (17 years old or maybe 21 years old, it varies). Then he stole a guard's textbook and taught himself to read so well he soon was earning money from submissions to magazines.

I used one of Baca's poems a decade ago to inspire juvenile delinquents in the south Phoenix Durango Juvenile Detention Facility. Baca wrote about his first ride to the prison in the back of a deputy's car and ended the poem with an upbeat "I'll-walk-out-of-here-with-an-unbroken-spirit" type of statement.

The rough, tattooed 16- and 17-year-old kids wrote about their earliest experiences, and we put the poems into first (and only) print editions they took home when released. It was a very effective way to get these kids to reflect on life's events.

Like many people, speaking in front of an audience scared me as a child. A piece my eighth-grade English course work was oral recitation. I don't know if this happens in present day Arizona, but it was true for all grade levels in South Africa in the 1960s. Maybe the memorization was a challenge I couldn't resist, but reciting a poem from memory felt more like reading from a page than giving an oral report.

So I learned Paul Revere's Ride by Longfellow and Barefoot Boy by Whittier. I never completely memorized Poe's The Raven, unfortunately. However, even the first few or last lines are fun to recite - especially to children on some dark and dreary night. Hey, that rhymes!

Poetry has not gone away entirely - maybe the memorization has, which is a shame. Baca actually makes a living with his books, readings and work with troubled youth.

Someone else who is able to pay his rent in New York City is Allan Andre who sets up his typewriter on a small table in Union Square and writes poems on demand. This month, he's been working his craft in the 42nd Street subway station in Time's Square from 5-9 p.m. on Mondays. He's written more than 5,000 poems to date.

"Taking requests for form or content, I integrate them into a spontaneous piece. After many years of doing this, it is now a major part of my career," said the poet, musician and teacher on his website allanandre.net.

He was at Union Square in October when I took this photo.

I think writing poetry is an art. Creating it on the spot after a brief conversation with someone takes a lot of practice and skill. Next trip to NYC, I'm having Andre write me a poem. I'll share it here.

If you remember a favorite poem, whether memorized at one time or not, pray tell, reflect upon it here.

And my friend, Patty G., would you mind sharing your Valentine poem for single people? Loved it!






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