ISSN 1551-8086
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   poets list
   Francisco Dominguez & Aire Celeste Norell
   Marie Lecrivain & Angel Uriel Perales
   Sheikha A.
   Steve Abee
   L. Ward Abel
   Carl Abt
   Han Adcock
   Elizabeth Addis
   Aderemi Adegbite
   Adeolu Emmanuel Adesanya
   Neil Aitken
   M.I Akande
   Shahd Al-Shemmari
   Lynn Albanese
   Alaina Renee Alexander
   Scott Alexander
   Gwyndyn Alexander
   Nicole Alexander
   Inalegwu Omapada Alifa
   Maureen Alsop
   Rafael Alvarado
   Steven Alvarez
   Veronica An
   G.D. Anderson
   Zack Anderson
   Amy Anderson
   Kristine Anderson
   Lori Anderson-Moseman
   Grace Andreacchi
   Renae Andruse
   Arlene Ang
   Roger Angle
   Stephen Anstay
   Azure Antoinette
   Theresa Antonia
   Aurora Antonovic
   Maria A Arana
   Carlye Archibeque
   Joseph Armstead
   Feral Artist
   Baron James Ashanti
   Charlene M. Ashendorf
    Askew
   Gregory Austin
   Shawn Aveningo
   maeghanne ayers
   Goodness Lanre Ayoola
   John-Patrick Ayson
   Jim Babwe
   Sophie Bachard
   Vasile Baghiu
   Bridget Bagne
   song-hue bahk
   Michael Baker
   Prerna Bakshi
   Anna Balint
   David Banuelos
   Jared Barbick
   J. Mae Barizo
   Peter Barlow
   Matthew A. Barraza
   James Barros
   Jeni Bate
   Jonathan Beale
   Richard Beban
   Gary Beck
   Gary Beck
   Lytton Bell
   Hakim Bellamy
   Michele Beller
   Laura Bellotti
   Stefanie Bennett
   Hayley Berariu
   Lawrence Berger
   Kevin Berger
   Mike Berger, Ph.D.
   Tom Berman
   luis cuauhtemoc berriozabal
   Craig Berry
   Nick Bertelson
    Besskepp
   Mary Rose Betten
   Cheryl Beychok
   Gwendolyn Beyer
   François Biajoux
   Heitham Black
   Jarvis Black
   Beau Blue
   Rose Mary Boehm
   Bonnie Bolling
   Julie Bolt
   Lek Borja
   Cristogianni Borsella
   Gerald Bosacker
   Amanda Boschetto
   Wendy Bourke
   Jack G. Bowman
   Jennifer Bradpiece
   Bob Bradshaw
   Marcielle Brandler
   Peter Branson
   Sumiko Braun
   Adam Bresson
   Quiana Briggs
   Jack Bristow
   paulo brito
   Alan Britt
   Michelle Brodeur
   Lynne Bronstein
   Charles Brooks
   Leah Brown
   Deborah Edler Brown
   Adam Levon Brown
   Jason Sanford Brown
   zoey brown
   Bob Browning
   Sir Mark Bruback
   MC Bruce
   Jeffrey Bryant
   Kate Buckley
   Robin M. Buehler
   Ron Burch
   Graham Burchell
   Maria Rose Burgio
   Betsy Burke
   Matt Burns
   Richard Burrill
   Zachary C. Bush
   Tony Bush
   Elissa Calvin
   Joseph Camhi
   Velene Campbell
   Don Kingfisher Campbell
   Neil Campbell
   Don Kingfisher Campbell
   Dana Campbell
   Luis Campos
   Janine Canan
   Lyn Cannaday
   Pasquale Capacosa
   Joey Capone
   HélÚne Cardona
   Britton Laine Carducci
   D.J. Carlile
   Julia Carlson
   Alicia Carpenter
   Jonathan Carr
   Patricia Carragon
   Oscar Carrasco
   Jared Carter
   Michael Aaron Casares
   John Casey
   Lisa Castro
   Rachael Kelechi Caulker
   Nika Cavat
   Michael Caylo-Baradi
   Steve Ceniceros
   Michael Ceraolo
    Cerise
   Robert Cesaretti
   Cheryl Chambers
   Lita-Luise Chappell
   Shibani Chattopadhyay
   Lisa Cheby
   Beth Cheng
   Ralph-Michael Chiaia
   Juhi Chowdhury
   David Christensen
   Phil Clark
   Terry Clark
   Darice Clark
   Terry Clark
   Charles Claymore
   Jeanette Clough
   Kim Cochran
   Ed Coet
   Tobi Cogswell
   Megan Coker
   Bruce Colbert
   Karen E. Cole
   Merrill Cole
   Christopher Coleman
   Larry Colker
   Beverly M. Collins
   Christiane Conésa-Bostock
   David Concepcion
   Christiane Conesa-Bostock
   Brendan Connell
   Alice Constantine
   Jack Cooper
   Flavia Cosma
   Rachel Coventry
   R. Paul Craig
   David Cravens
   William Crawford
   Natalie Crick
   Rosemarie Crisafi
   Carla Criscuolo
   Chris Crittenden
   Benjamin Crowley
   Susan Culver
   Joe Cyr
   Jim D Babwe
   Morgaine d'Abney
   Karen Corcoran Dabkowski
   Daniel Daian
    Dalton
   Catherine Daly
   Iris Dan
   Marie Lecrivain & Daniel Gallik
   Dan Danila
   Michelle Daugherty
   Piper Davenport
   Kathrine David
   Gareth Davies
   Holly Day
   Frank De Canio
   Gregory De Feo
   Steve De France
   J de Salvo
   J. de Salvo
   kumari de Silva
   Pijush Kanti Deb
   Shalla DeGuzman
   JD DeHart
   Diane Dehler
   Aurelius Demarco
   Darren C Demaree
   Gloria Derge
   Chris Derrico
   Lea Deschenes
   Maurice Devitt
   Theo Diamantis
   Mike Dias
   Martin Dickinson
   Edward J DiMaio
   Mark Dixon
   Peggy Dobreer
   Rosemarie Dombrowski
   Francisco J. Dominguez
   Linsly Donnelly
   Lisa Helene Donovan
   Kevin Doran
   John Dorsey
   Marvin Dorsey
   Marvin Louis Dorsey
   Laura A. Lionello & Douglas Richardson
   Doug Draime
   Donelle Dreese
   Dale Duke
   Jawanza Dumisani
   Henri Dumolet
   Max Dunbar
   t. joseph dunn
   Robin Wyatt Dunn
   Tyler Dupuis
    Durenda
   Walter Durk
   Douglas Dvorkin
   Ron Dvorkin
   Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi
   Alfie Ebojo aka alfie numeric
   Elisabeth Adwin Edwards
   Patricia J. Edwards
   Sabrina Edwards
   Miguel Eichelberger
   John Elison
   Julian Ellis
   Neil Ellman
   K. Eltinaé
   R.M. Engelhardt
   Margarita Engle
   Jon Epstein
   Sufi Erter
   Eli Eshaghian
   Michael Estabrook
   Alexis Rhone Fancher
   Richard Fein
   John Feins
   Emily Fernandez
   Melissa Fischer
   W.S. Fisher
   Jamie Asae FitzGerald
   Amelia Fleetwood
   Jake Fleshner
   John Jay Flicker
   David Flynn
   Arthur Charles Ford
   Liz Fortini
   Sesshu Foster
   Heather Fowler
   Clint Frakes
   Sarah Francois
   Amelie Frank
   Amélie Frank
   Alex M. Frankel
   Allie Frazier
   E.L. Freifeld
   M. Frias Frias-May
   Suzanne Frost
   Delia J. Fry
   Elliott Gabay
   Steven Gabriel
   Timothy Gager
   Daniel Gallik
   J Gamble
   Ishmael Garay
   Jerry Garcia
   Daniel Garcia-Black
   Gabriella Garofalo
   Vince Garofalo
   Yvonne Garrett
   Nelson Gary
   Donna Gebron
   Ulrike Gerbig
   Janice Gero
   Ursula T. Gibson
   Rebecca Gimblett
   Tony Gloeggler
   Steve Goldman
   Vesna Goldsworthy
   Melanie Gonzalez
   Jeffrey Graessley
   Allison Grayhurst
   Jeff Green
   Timothy Green
   Jeanie Greensfelder
   Rhoda Greenstone
   Amos Greig
   John Greiner
   John Grey
   Summer Griffiths
   Danielle Grilli
   Brian Grillo
   John Grochalski
   Wendy Grosskopf
   Andrew Grossman
   Ro Gunetilleke
   Kenneth Gurney
   John R. Guthrie
   Debashish Haar
   Erik Haber
   Hedy Habra
   Tresha Faye Haefner
   Matthias Hagedorn
   James Hall
   Tom Hamilton
   David Harrington
   William Harris
   Matt Harris
   Dawnell Harrison
   J. Alana Hauenschild
   Kari J. Hayes
   KJ Hays
   Ann L. Healey
   Eloise Klein Healy
   Jessica Healy
   Jim Heavily
   Dan Hedges
   Paul Hellweg
   Samantha Henderson
   Jack Henry
   David Herrle
   JD Heskin
   Kenneth Hickey
   Jerry Hicks
   Marvin R Hiemstra
   Ed Higgins
   Carlos Hiraldo
   Sherri Hoffman
   Guy Hogan
   Ali Hosseiny
   Dave Houston
   Eric Howard
   Nate Howard
   David Howard
   Bryon D. Howell
   A J Huffman
   Hunter Lee Hughes
   Roger Humes
   Trista Hurley-Waxali
   Elizabeth Iannaci
   Thea Iberall
   Armine Iknadossian
   Gedda Ilves
   Alegria Imperial
   Victor Infante
   Victor D. Infante
   Augustus Invictus
   Susan Irvine
   Alexandra Isacson
   Natalie Itzhaki
   Amber Jacob
   Scott Jacobson
   Larry Jaffe
   Sonika Jaggi
   Emmanuel Jakpa
   Matthew James
   Andrea Janov
   T.A. Jennings
   Ivan Jenson
   Dani Jimenez
   Alex Johnson
   Michael Lee Johnson
   Tao Jones
   Strider Marcus Jones
   Lois P. Jones
   Georgia Jones-Davis
   Jasmin Jordan
   Quentin Josephy
   Liu Jue
   Ruth Juris
   Gene Justice
   Gary Justice
   Pete Justus
   Mikel K
   Scott C. Kaestner
   Sheema Kalbasi
   Peycho Kanev
   Rachel Kann
   Jay Kantor
   Paula Sfier Kattan
   Russ Kazmierczak
   James Keane
   Gretchen Keer
   Aaron Keller
   Collin Kelley
   Kamuran Kelly
   Bernard Kennedy
   Raud Kennedy
   Kathleen Kenny
   Stephen Kerr
   Hari Bhajan Khalsa
   Just Kibbe
   Jerome Kiel
   lalo kikiriki
   Franklin Lafayette King
   Ashley King
   Robert S King
   Sofia Kioroglou
   Rusty Kjarvik
   Kenny Klein
   LeAnne Kline
   Deborah P Kolodji
   Tracy Koretsky
   Edith Kornfeld
   George Korolog
   Dimitris P. Kraniotis
   Thomas KrÀmer
   Mark Krewatch
   Chris Krueger
   Amanda Krut
   Gerard Kuc
   Christopher Kuhn
   Donna Kuhn
   Len Kuntz
   Craig Kurtz
   Tammy Ho Lai-Ming
   Daniel Lambert
   Anthony Langford
   Donald Langosy
   Ray Lanthier
   Phillip Larrea
   Phillip Larrea
   Kasandra Larsen
   Wolf Larsen
   Ethan Latham
   Lisa LaTourette
   Marie Lecrivain & Laura A. Lionello
   Marianne LaValle-Vincent
   Kevin Lavey
   Judith A. Lawrence
   Eric Lawson
   Richard Leach
   Anne Lecrivain
   Marie Lecrivain
   Noah Lederman
   Kevin Patrick Lee
   Emma Lee
   Pete Lee
   N.M. Leepsa
   Alexandra Leggat
   Laura LeHew
   Gary Lehmann
   Sharmagne Leland-St. John
   Kevin LeMaster
   Michal Lemberger
   Kim Leng
   Roland Lesterin
   Tiffany Lettieri
   P.A. Levy
   Martin Lewis
   Cheyenne Lewis
   Anthony Liccione
   Cynthia Linville
   Laura Lionello
   Zachary Locklin
   Jessica Lopez
   Harold Lorin
   Tess. Lotta
   B.D. Love
   Adam Lowis
   Ron Lucas
   Andrew Lundwall
   Rick Lupert
   Suzan Lustig
   Radomir Luza
   Stosh Machek
   John MacKenna
   Sarah Maclay
   Stefanie Maclin
    Magdalena
   Gary Maggio
   Holly Magill
   Anthony Magistrale
   Marieta Maglas
   Suvi Mahonen
   Donal Mahoney
   Robert Maiolo
   Kelly Ann Malone
   Michael Malota
   Shahé Mankerian
   Angela Consolo Mankiewicz
   Chris Mansell
   H.E. Mantel
   April-May March
   Rick Marlatt
   John Marshall
   Agnes Marton
   Francis Masat
   Anthony Mason
   Lee Mason
   Hyatt Mason
   Johnny Masuda
   Mira N. Mataric
   Ellyn Maybe
   Michelle Mazzetti
   Mary L. Mazzocco
   Ted Mc Carthy
   Austin McCarron
   Terry McCarty
   Paul McConnell
   Brendan McCormack
   Deborah McCreath-Akbar
   Catfish McDaris
   Bray McDonald
   Karen J McDonnell
   Matt McGee
   Allen McGill
   Afric McGlinchey
   Terance James McGunigle
   David McIntire
   Cat Angelique McIntire
   david mclean
   Isobel McQueen
   Fernando Meisenhaulter
    Mephistopheles
   Corey Mesler
   Melissa Michaels
    Mike the Poet
   Robert John Miller
   Scott Miller
   Richard Lee Miller
   Hany Haggag Abdl Mobdy
   Richard Modiano
   William Mohr
   Sonnet Mondal
   Jason Monios
   Leslie Monsour
   Amanda Montei
   Patrick Mooney
   Greggory Moore
   Carl Moore
    Albert Lee Moran
   A.J. Morelli
   Christopher Mulrooney
   Frank Mundo
   Barbara-Marie Mundt
   Augusto Munoz
   Mark Murphy
   Craig Murray
   Kristine Ong Muslim
   JL Nathan
   Nimah Nawwab
   Leslie Maryann Neal
   Jason Neese
   Raghab Nepal
   Robbi Nester
   Mindy Nettifee
   Martina Reisz Newberry
   Beth Escott Newcomer
   Peter Nezafati
   Scott Nichols
   keith niles
   Dave Nordling
   Aire Celeste Norell
   Steve Norwood
   Laura Nye
   Toti O'Brien
   Charlotte O'Brien
   Suzanne O'Connell
   Katie O'Loughlin
   Peter O'Niell
   Tom O'Reilly
   Akor Emmanuel Oche
   A.J. Odasso
   Rita Odeh
   Kirsten Ogden
   Daniel Olivas
   Maurice Oliver
   Marc Olmstead
   Philip ONeil
   Nzingah Oniwosan
   Chika Onyenezi
   Nina Orlovskaya
   Sergio Ortiz
   David Ishaya Osu
   Scott Thomas Outlar
   Holly Painter
   Lizbeth Palma
   Heather Palmer
   Greg Patrick
   Miss Natalie Patterson
   David E. Patton
   Tim Peeler
   Steve Pelcman
   Angel Perales
   Alice Pero
   Angela J. Perry
   Helen Peterson
   Brenda Petrakos
   Adam Phillips
   James G Piatt
   Rebecca Pierce
   Gareth Pike
   James Pinkerton
   Rob Plath
   Kushal Poddar
   Contributors to poeticdiversity
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   Traian Pop Traian
   Bethany W Pope
   Wayne E. Popelka
   Elisha Porot
   Adrian Potter
   Ren Powell
   Frank Praeger
   Kristena Prater
   Luke Prater
   Shannon Prince
   Stephany Prodromides
   Hattie Quinn
   Octavio Quintanilla
   Beverly J. Raffaele
    Raindog
   Catherine Rajca
   Steve Ramirez
   Mauricio Alejandro Ramos
   Vishnu Rao
   Ingrid Rattay
   James Rauff
   Kasey Ray
   Bili Redd
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   Marie Rennard
   Luivette Resto
   E.W. Richardson
   John Richmond
   Francisca Ricinski-Marienfeld
   Kevin Ridgeway
   Lillian Ridgeway
   Dee Rimbaud
   Elijiah Rios
   Cat Risinger
   Ariel Robello
   Ebi Robert
   John D Robinson
   Paula Rodriguez
   Nydia Rojas
   Daniel Romo
   Emily Rose
   Rina Rose
   Diana Rosen
   Poet-broker Rosenthal
   Alison Ross
   James Robert Rudolph
   Walter Ruhlmann
   Gina MarySol Ruiz
   Cody Rukasin
   Cody Rukasin
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   David W. Rushing
   Maryann Russo
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   April Salzano
   Bryan Sanders
   Lisa Marie Sandoval
   Cecile Sarruf
    Sasparella
   Ethan Sassouni
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   Lorraine Sautner
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   Sondra L. Scott
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   Anthony Seidman
   Oleg Semonov
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   Dahn Shaulis
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   June Shiitake
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   Rishan Singh
   Durlabh Singh
   Kalpna Singh-Chitnis
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   Lee Sloca
   Carol Smallwood
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   Clinton Smith
    smzang
   Kate Soto
   Ghetto Speare
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   Karr Stratynberg
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   Annette Sugden
   J. C. Sullivan
   Dee Sunshine
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   Jonathan Taylor
   Mark Taylor
   Allen Taylor
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    The Unarmed Man
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   Lynne Thompson
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   Sarah Thursday
   Ilona Timoszuk
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    TJungle
   Chrys Tobey
    tolbert
   Imani Tolliver
   A. TOMIC
   Anthony Torchia
   Mary Torregrossa
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   Ryan Tranquilla
   Alain Marcel Treadaway
   Pedro Trevino-Ramirez
   Ben Trigg
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   Maja Trochimczyk
    Troy
   The TruthHearse
   Tatiana Tulskaya
   Yelena and Roman Tunkel
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   Gene van Troyer
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   Brenda Varda
   Luis Rubio Vargas
   Carmen Vega
   Ms. Veronica
   Papa Vic
   Clee Villasor
   Ajise Vincent
   Curran D. Vinson
   Jason Visconti
   Anca Vlasopolos
   Daniela Voicu
   Claire Walker
   toren wallace
   r.k. wallace
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   Sharieff Walters
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   Denise R. Weuve
   Rev. Dave Wheeler
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   Kelley White
   Leigh White
   J.T. Whitehead
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   Robert D. Wilson
   Amye Wilson
   Alicia Winski
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   Nina Womack
   Seth Woolf
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   Julie Yi
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   Gregory T. Young
   Omar ZahZah
   Mariano Zaro
   Michael Zeltser
    
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Peggy Dobreer
February 2006
   

 

Paul Cummins:
Back To Craft

I first encountered Paul Cummins, in 1997, as a new faculty member in the Human Development Department of Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences. It was his custom to greet the incoming faculty during orientation meetings, and to send us into the teaching year, fueled by the vision upon which the programs were built, still the Headmaster at that time. The buzz in the room was that we were about to encounter one of the greats, that we should expect this address to be one of the highlights of our teaching year. I was not disappointed. I became a fan of Mr Cummins' books on education and culture; and a teacher, greatly influenced, and improved by his wisdom and innovative programs.




Several years later, a Crossroads colleague, John Brennan, introduced me to Paul Cummins' poetry in WordWrights Magazine. I loved it!



This interview was granted on November 2, 2005, at The New Visions Foundation office, housed on the New Roads School campus, in Santa Monica, California. In Paul's modest office, a transformed classroom named Chompsky, we sat down to talk about his poetry.





PD : Can you talk about when you first started to write poetry, and what part it plays in your own education, and the creative process?



PC: I think overall Im a late bloomer. I was definitely a late bloomer when it came to poetry.

I didnt really fully understand it. Even as an undergraduate at Stanford, I just didnt. Although my roommate was continually quoting poems to me. Particularly when hed had a couple beers at a party, hed get up, and recite an entire poem. I liked it, but I still didnt understand it. And then I took a class from Yvor Winters, who was a poet/critic, and I was interested, but it was still pretty difficult for me. Then when I was at graduate school, I was looking for a doctoral dissertation, and I had a couple of ideas I was interested in, but my dissertation chair said, Those are great ideas but theyve been done. And I happened to mention that I liked Richard Wilbur. So, my dissertation chair said, Well, why dont you do your thesis on his poetry, because I dont think anybodys paid much attention to him, at least at the scholarly level, yet.

So, I did some research, and found that very little had ever been written about him, and he had published four wonderful, but thin volumes of poetry. He is not a prolific writer, but hes an extremely elegant craftsman. So in the process of reading the complete poems written to that date in the life of Richard Wilbur, I was thrown into all sorts of the intricacies of the stuff of poetry: meter, and rhyme, and imagery, and metaphor, and how you structure a poem, and so on; because its hard to understand his poetry. You have to get knee deep into the poems.

I found one poem of his: A Black November Turkey, and I saw that it had three different meanings playing off of one word, and that it wasnt an accident. When I went to the dictionary and looked it up, I saw that all three meanings could apply. So I started getting just immersed, in what poetrys all about.

And I found one night, that I woke up in the middle of the night, and I felt a poem composing itself. So I stumbled over to the desk and wrote it down. And I was looking forward to waking up in the morning, and reading my first poem. And I went in the morning, and looked at it, and it was just awful! It was just this bad imitation of Richard Wilbur.(Laugh, laugh) But what I did learn from it was that there was a little something inside of me that was actually now beginning to want to try to write poetry.

And then, I remember, shortly thereafter, my family was driving up to Yosemite, on Highway 14, I think it was, and we came to a place that said Red Rover exit, and I went into the phrase Red Rover, Red Rover and I just went into it. And I changed it. When kids play it, its whoever goes over.

And so for the next twenty or thirty minutes, I kept going over it, and memorizing it. I didnt want to loose it. I pulled into a gas station, went into the mens room, sat down, and wrote it outthe whole thing.

And I liked it, still, to this day.

So, I wrote it all out in my head, and its one of the few times in my life that Ive done that. But, again, it was this message that there was stuff inside that wants to come out, and poetry is the only place where some of this stuff can come out, in the way I want it to come out. That is not to say that you couldnt take that poem, and write out a prose version of it - but it would be different. It would be talking about the experience, rather than trying to kind of recreate the experience, and be in it.

Now, Red Rover, Red Rover, send Emily over. Send Emily over, and over, again. And over, and over, Red Rover, Red Rover, and over, and over, and over again. But when you're talking about Red Rover, and its a game that children play, and heres what happens in the game, thats the prose version of it, but the poetry, the rhythm, the images What somebody once said to me, and I tried to explain it to a class once, is that poetry is almost like a bomb; like concentrated energy. When you read it or write it, its like a bomb. It kind of explodes on the page, and explodes inside the reader, if its any good. So at its best its an experience.



Red Rover



Red Rover, Red Rover

Send Emily over

Send Emily over

And over again.

And over and over

Red Rover, Red Rover

And over, and over

And over again.



And as she grows older

Red Rover, Red Rover

Still she comes over

And over again.

And over and over

Red Rover, Red Rover

And over and over

And over again.



But then comes a day

When is becomes was

And was then has been

Oh Rover, Red Rover

And over and over

Is over, is over

It's over, Red Rover

It's over again.



Now, in terms of the relationship of poetry to my education, there isnt a day that goes by now, that I dont read a few poems. Sometimes its a favorite, or when new poems come out. Whenever I read the New Yorker, or get my new issue of Poetry Magazine, or the American Poetry Review, or whatever. I am constantly reading, and learning someone new that I really like.

In the classroom, I think its a great way of grabbing kids. Because youve got this six, eight, ten, or thirty-line poem in front of you, and already you can see what the writer wrote, you dont have to send the kid home to try to read a five hundred page novel, which he, or shes probably not going to do. So, youve got this wonderful teachable moment, and if you pick your poem carefully, then you can pick poems that are particularly teachable. Some poems are not very teachable, but others lend themselves to it, they just cry out to be brought into the classroom. And all the ingredients of good prose writing are present in poetry. They are just present in a more concentrated fashion.



PD: Do you write prose in addition to poetry and non-fiction?



PC: I dont think I have the talent to write fiction. I tried it once, as an undergraduate. My roommate was wonderful at it, and my stuff was just horrible. It was embarrassingly bad. But it was also at a time in my life where I couldnt write poetry either, so I dont know if I tried to write fiction today, and I stayed with it, whether I could or not. I just know that Im not driven to do so. Whereas, I know that I am constantly driven to write the essence of given experiences into poems.

I was over at the home of a dear, dear friend, who just died, and it was the point at which, well, for a while she was wearing these wild kinds of wigs, and hats, and things, and then she just decided to stop doing that, and she took them off. And what was there, was this short cropped grey hair, where she was always flowing black hair, and she had this mannerism, in meetings, or whenever we were talking, to toss her hair back. And I wrote a poem to her, called "Tossing Hair." And I liked it. I dont always like what I write. But I liked that particular one, and I read it to a couple small groups of people, who knew, that when she stopped wearing the wigs, that was the moment of, why pretend?..but Im sure I more than answered your question.



Tossing Hair



She tosses back long black hair

A conductor like sweep of the hand

Prefacing careful considerations with this

Gesture unconsciously graceful as waves

Of the tall Kansas grass

Wafting in the summer winds;

Stirring and rearranging gravity

In our conference rooms and seminars,

Her gesture cloying in its cadences

Yet changing the very currents of our thought.

When her hair began to disappear,

She adorned rainbows of scarves

Then soon allowed us to see

A new silver-gray crop of hair

A terrible new beauty born there

And we could feel a shift

In the weight of the air.



When you write a poem you can go right to what it is you want to capture. You dont have to create atmosphere. You dont have to set it up. I remember one poem I wrote a little while back that also captures a moment. (Thats what happens to me a lot.) My grandfather had fainted and fallen, and called for help. When my father and I found him, he had, kind of slid off the toilet between the potty and the wall. And so, there he was, this lovely, silver-haired, 84 year-old man, who was the most kind, gentle man, and he was stuck there. Years later, when I wrote the poem (I was twelve years old when it happened, so he was long gone when I wrote about it) I just sat down and went right there, I didnt have to go into the history of my father, or my grandfather, or what the house looked like.I just got right to that particular moment and what it represented to me, and then, without trying to moralize, or anything, there it is.



A Gentleman From Iowa



When I think of my grandfather,

Dead now for forty years,

I think first of fine white hair-

As thick as August wheat,

As pure as starlight,

As soft as

Dandelion dust;

I think of notebooks of homilies

Filled with a lifetime of cut-outs

Of the Do unto other variety;

But mostly I think of one afternoon:

My father and I summoned

By his plaintive calls for help,

From different ends of the hall,

We arrived at his bathroom

And found him wedged between

The toilet and the wall.

Unable to move, with a twinkle

In his lovely, peaceful eyes,

He said not a word but let

The situation speak for itself.

There was no embarrassment,

Simply light laughter, and love;

A recognition from three generations

Of what has been, what will come,

And what holds it all together.



PD: I remember that poem from your book. Is A Postcard From Bali your only book of poetry?



PC: Yes, its my only published book of poetry, but each year I gather what Ive written that year, and self-publish it, and give it to family and friends. I havent had the courage yet to approach a larger publisher. I have a problem and that is, my poetry is almost too accessible, and sentimental, when its bad. I mean, when its not great. Somehow, it is not the kind of poetry, that is at all in vogue today; which is poetry that is highly dense in metaphor and images, to the point where sometimes, I almost feel as if the poet is really obscure, then thats what helps sell him, or her but then, thats just sour grapes for not writing that kind of poetry, and not being capable of writing that kind of poetry. I write what Im capable of writing. Its funny, people, almost everybody but critics and other poets, think its wonderful, but then that is suspect, because the general public thought that Rod McKuen was wonderful, and he wasnt all that great a poet. There are a lot of people who think Hallmark cards are fine verse, and it brings tears to their eyes. I hope thats not the kind of poet I am.



PD: Well, I think your poetry captures the essence of a well-lived life. If its sentimental, then I think the world is in need of a little more sentiment these days. Maybe Im confusing sentiment with reverence.



PC: And, I guess, theres also a difference between sentiment presented with some degree of subtlety, style, and craft, and pathos sentimentality, you know, sloppy sentiment. Theres a fine line.

Say youre trying to write a poem about your dog. People can get so icky on such topics. Ive written one about my Golden Retriever that, I think, is actually kind of a nice poem. But its dangerous when you write about family, love, the passing of time, the beauty of sitting by the river watching the water; it can be such a clich, and so, one enters into those arenas, writing on those topics, with fear and trembling.



PD: You are possibly more well known for your non-fiction writing, and your educational vision; how do you compare that writing, with writing poetry? Does it come from the same place?



PC: Well, the passion may come from the same place. But with poetry I really cant be in a room full of people. I have to get very quiet. When Im in that place, I stay as long as I can, and let whatevers trying to get out, get out, because then the phones going to ring, someones going to be saying, you forgot this meeting, get your ass over there, and wherever that place is, its gone, and its really hard to recapture it. So, I find that I, unlike other poets, want to get out as much as I can get out, and then go back, and start playing with it, and scratching out, and rearranging, and so on.

Writing my doctoral dissertation on Richard Wilbur, I asked him how he worked, and he said he would sit at his desk, and I remember him saying that his family sometimes thinks hes comatose, because he would just sit there. He said he would sometimes spend a whole day on one line. Then when you read him, hes so god damn elegant that you realize what went into it.

But I dont write that way. I mean the Red Rover poem came out in twenty minutes. I wrote one the other day, a first draft anyway, and then what Ill do is, once I get the first draft written, then Ill go back and start editing. And even though my wife says I have the worst rhythm in music and dancing that shes ever seen, when it comes to language, I do have a sense of rhythm, its not great, but I do have a sense of rhythm, and I have a sense of where the lines should break.

So each time I rewrite a poem, I rewrite the whole thing and say it out loud. Then I can hear clumsiness, and I can see that Ive broken a line where it shouldnt be broken. It should go on one more word, or it went on one word too many, and that word needs to be in the next line, so Ill put my slash line in there, and keep going.



PD: So, Richard Wilbur is one of your main inspirations?



PC: Well early on, and then I went through an intense phase, and then its just lasted thereafter, of reading Yeats poetry.

I was a history major who almost got drafted, and at the last moment I was offered a job teaching English. This was during Vietnam. I knew I didnt want to go into the army, so even though I was a History major, I took the job, and that summer, at UCLA, before the semester started, I took two courses; one on modern poetry and one on Shakespeare.

The modern poetry class was just extraordinary because every poet we did (from Hardy, to Yeats, Eliot, and Pound) well, I was excited by all of them. And I remember particularly reading Yeats, and then picking up Richard Elmans biography of him, and then my wife and I went to Ireland, and we were in Galway, so I rented a car and drove out to Coole Park. I completely puddled-up, looking out there, hearing the words for myself, being there, where this magnificent poet wrote this magnificent poem. So, I went through a Yeats phase, and now I go back, and pick a poet out, and read him. Old ones, and new ones.

I also have a lifelong love affair with Robert Frosts poetry. I just think when you go through his poems, theyre toughtheyre tough-minded poems. John Ciardi, another poet and critic, once said, Robert Frost was no lollipop." ( Laughter) And I think thats right on.



PD: So far, youve mentioned only male poets; any favorite women poets?



PC: Yes, mostly twentieth century poets. Yes, I think Marianne Moores poems are wonderful. I went through a Sylvia Plath stage, where I read a lot of her work. I still think shes quite extraordinary. Denise Levertoff is wonderful. And a personal friend (we sat on a board together), whose poetry I just love, is Carolyn Forch. And Emily Dickinson, of course.



PD: Who do you think had the most direct impact on your writing?



PD: I had poetry lessons from a guy named Peter Levitt, who had a huge impact on me. He teaches at Antioch, and he lives on an island off of Vancouver. So, he does most of his teaching electronically, now, but I used to go to him, off and on. Id go once a week, or once every two weeks, and bring him a poem, and hed read it, and say, Well, why? Hey, drop those last two lines. Take this stanza here and make it the second. or, Paul this is crap. Go back and try this one again. This one just doesnt work and theres no fixing it. Or hed say, I really like this but maybe you need to go deeper into this image.

And the one liners that used to come out of Peter Levitts mouth. I have a whole notebook at home of Peter Levittisms. And one of the things he said, is that poetry is a conversation between strangers. I remember (in fact I used it in a poem once) Peter had a huge impact on my wanting to write.

He was teaching creative writing, and I got up the courage one day to ask if he would give me private lessons. And I paid him as if I were going to a piano teacher.



PD: There is the ongoing debate about form and content within the poetry community, which is more valid; between the more academic/ traditional writers, and the modern/slam style poetry.



PC: Phillip Rahv, an American critic back in the late 40s, theorized it as the debate between the pale faces, and the red skins. And the pale faces were poets like Wallace Stevens, and Richard Wilbur, as opposed to poets such as Walt Whitman, and Allen Ginsburg. Both are valid, both can be inspirational. It just depends on what the reader likes. A lot of readers gravitate toward one in a given mood, and the other in a different mood. There are times when I feel like reading Whitman, and then times when I feel like reading Stevens.




PD: What do you think are the most important things that a writer can bring to his work?



PC: Well, what weve just said. What do I wish I could bring more to the table? Well, I think of Dylan Thomas, when he was aspiring to poetry. Dylan Thomas was a guy who just had poetry in his bones; and I read a biography, and he said that for months at a time, he would write these rolling sentences, almost like the King James Bible; or hed become Tennyson for a month, and hed write Tennysonian verse; or hed try to become Keats, and hed emulate Keats.

I went through a period, where I tried to take a poem, and follow the same rhythmic pattern, and then change the language a little.

So, one of Shakespeares sonnets begins, When to the session of sweet silent thought, and I might keep the when, but I might say, When in the moments of whatever, change the words, therefore learning what the patterns were, and what the substitutions were. Thomas did a ton of that. So, you look at some of his poems that look free and abandoned, and you start to see the structure. And the same with e.e. Cummings. I remember analyzing a poem of his, and the line pattern was one of the most intricate I had ever seen, but you wouldnt even notice it.

I guess the answer to your question, What do you need to bring to the table?, is, I think, some knowledge of your craft. And authenticity is essential. One of the dangers of studying other peoples images, and other peoples rhythms, is like coming out of the dream, and finding the bad Wilbur poem. Its hard in the year 2005, if you read tons of poetry, to hear your own voice. And thats an expression we hear all the time. Writers are constantly talking about how difficult it was to find their own voice.

Or, for me, to be able to change the voice that Ive got, when Im still struggling to find it, and when I feel Im an accumulation of all these other voices.



PD: But arent we always an accumulation of everything weve learned up to the moment?



PC: I suppose so. I suppose, maybe, Im beating myself up unnecessarily, but Im nonetheless aware of the danger of borrowing, without realizing that that is what youre doing. And thats why, again, I think it's so important that when you do write, you get to that quiet place. Ive thrown away as many poems as Ive kept. And the ones I do throw away are the ones that are skating on the surface, and then they sound contrived, and they dont sound right, and they dont feel right. Ive probably kept some that still fall into that category. If I had the courage Id probably go back with a rake, and throw more of them away.



PD: What do you think it is that makes a poem become universal, and last through time?



PC: Well, universal themes, I suppose, and again, craft. A lot of people write about the passage of time, birth, death, and why do some poems survive, and some dont? I guess some people do it really well, and some dont. You know, Salieri was a really good composer. He wrote some really nice stuff, but he wasnt Ludwig von Beethoven. There you go! Over time, craft and quality survive.



PD: And quality transcends? What guidance would you give to a new poet?



PC: Id fall back on a lot of what Peter Levitt did. He once had me take a big sheet of paper, and markers, and then he suggested that I do some deep breathing, and write whatever the page suggested to me. And then throw out everything except one line, which would become the first line, and whatever that one line suggested, was what I would write.

And Peter says, It doesnt matter what you write about. What he was trying to do, was to teach me to think in a nonlinear way.

There was one poem that came out of that:



Sidewalk



Standing under a streetlight

Bent like Harold Lloyds clock,

It is better to purchase alternatives:

meanwhile shadows linger on cracked sidewalks

As in silent midnight dreams.

Hallelujah! the crazy screams

painting furiously an invisible canvas.

And there, by god, there emerges

Our doppleganger the ragpicker

Standing within the mute canvas,

His hands searching empty pockets,

eyes staring at a statue of god

in the lonely center square.



I kind of like it, even though it is hard to give a one for one meaning to it.



PD: So this came from a phrase?



PC: It came from playing around, using that method, and then getting rid of a lot of it, recrafting it, so its a complete, and kind of weird way of composing a poem; but what Peter said is, It doesnt matter what you get down on the paper, how you get it down, where it comes from! That doesnt matter, but what finally matters is the shape that you give it.



PD: Back to craft?



PC: Right. Yes. Back to craft.





Bio: Paul Cummins serves on the board of trustees for The American Poetry Review. His poems have been published in The New Republic, Poetry L.A., WordWrights Magazine, and Slant, among others.

In 2002 Argonne Press published a collection of his poetry entitled A Postcard From Bali.

Mr.Cummins was a founder of Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, where he served as headmaster for thirty years. He continues to pursue his educational vision, as a founder, and current Executive Director of The New Visions Foundation, which umbrellas New Roads School, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, and the Center for Educational Opportunity. He is also spear-heading the development of an educational village, which will blend community nonprofit services, with educational reform projects, and will address the needs of foster care students, and students with special needs. The Herb Alpert Educational Village is described in detail, in chapter twelve of his latest book, Proceed with Passion: Engaging Students in Meaningful Education, published in 2004 by Red Hen Press.

His additional nonfiction publications include Dachau Song: The Twentieth Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper (Peter Lang 1992), For Mortal Stakes: Solutions for Schools and Society (Peter Lang & Bramble Press 1998), Keeping Watch: Reflections On American Culture, Education and Politics (Firstbooks Library 2002).




*For information on The New Visions Foundation go to www.newvisionsfnd.org

copyright 2006 Peggy Dobreer