Trying to make a poetry school that's for everybody.

I'm Hannah Lee Jones and I began Primal School as a space to document my journey as a student of poetry independent from a graduate path in English lit or creative writing. I also wanted to leave a resource others can use: book recommendations, articles, posts on what I'm reading or learning, and most importantly, interviews with poets exploring the craft of poetry itself. Whether your path includes an MFA or not, my hope is that the knowledge that gets shared on here will help you find your own way. Learn more, or if you're interested in my writing visit the news page  

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"eternal graffiti 

written in the heart of everyone" 

- Lawrence Ferlinghetti's definition of poetry

 


 




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Primal School is a new blog featuring interviews with poets discussing a single poem they have written and exploring their insights into the writing process — all presented in language that's as approachable and digestible as possible. Each interview is a kind of "teaching post" or "poetry lesson" designed for poets who are learning and writing outside of the MFA system. Browse interviews by topic using the tag cloud to the right or by name in the poet index; check out the resources page under the toolshed, and feel free to get in touch. 

Entries in Jack Gilbert (2)

Thursday
Oct132016

Life's Great Lies, Thought Made Flesh, and the Ritual Possibilities of Form: Joseph Fasano on His Poem "Hermitage" 

Joseph Fasano

When I initially contacted  Joseph Fasano  for an interview in late July, I had several poems in mind as possibilities to discuss. But when he suggested "Hermitage" I felt in that choice something of a predestiny; it was the first poem of his I had ever read, and when we had our interview I was reminded what about it had so commanded my attention and drawn me to all of his work: lines of unusual breath and music, cultivated from language of the kind his teacher Mark Strand described as "so forceful and identifiable that you read [these poets] not to verify the meaning or truthfulness of your own experience of the world, but simply to saturate yourself with their particular voices." Rilke's "inner wilderness", twined with Fasano's bracing intelligence, were strongly in evidence throughout this exchange. — HLJ 

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It strikes me that the subject on which this poem turns consists in its final two lines: "the great lie // of your one sweet life", that thing at the poem's opening that was once "too much." The speaker's address to a "you", the reader, seems to presuppose that at one time or another everyone will have to reckon with such a lie in their own lives. So let's begin there and work our way backwards…tell us a little about the great lie that began this piece. 

All I know is that it's different for everybody, that great lie. It's a platitude to say that we all lie to ourselves in some way to live. Maybe we tell ourselves things are fine when they're not. Maybe we need to believe they're not fine when they are. In any case, of course it's true that a certain falseness in the way we live might protect us from a radical truth we're not ready for. Maybe we need an actual, practical change in our living situation. Maybe we need a change in our way of seeing things. Whatever the case may be, it's terrifying to face the nakedness of a new truth–or perhaps I should say an old truth, an ancient truth that has been living inside us – especially when we hardly have a language to talk about that truth.

I see this poem as the speaker's way of beginning to saying 'yes' to certain things that he had previously rejected–things perhaps in himself, things perhaps in the world. But what interests me most is the silence after the last line. It's clear to me that the speaker of this poem has yet to find a language in which to say that 'yes,' in which to live it to its fullest. I see the final question as both confident and desperate: What would you have done? What should I do? Everything we say asserts our deepest beliefs, even when we're unaware of those beliefs. But what happens when those beliefs change, radically and even perhaps without our knowing? What steps forward to fill the new silence of our lives then?  

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HERMITAGE

It’s true there were times when it was too much
and I slipped off in the first light or its last hour
and drove up through the crooked way of the valley

and swam out to those ruins on an island.
Blackbirds were the only music in the spruces,
and the stars, as they faded out, offered themselves to me

like glasses of water ringing by the empty linens of the dead.
When Delilah watched the dark hair of her lover
tumble, she did not shatter. When Abraham

relented, he did not relent.
Still, I would tell you of the humbling and the waking.
I would tell you of the wild hours of surrender,

when the river stripped the cove’s stones
from the margin and the blackbirds built
their strict songs in the high

pines, when the great nests swayed the lattice
of the branches, the moon’s brute music
touching them with fire.

And you, there, stranger in the sway
of it, what would you have done
there, in the ruins, when they rose

from you, when the burning wings
ascended, when the old ghosts
shook the music from your branches and the great lie

of your one sweet life was lifted?

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Thursday
Aug112016

Life's Wrecked Railings, Being a Ruthless Reviser, and Finding Light in the Barrenness: Lauren Camp on Her Poem "Rail Runner Express Crash on I-25 South of Santa Fe"

Lauren Camp. Photo Credit: Anna Yarrow

AWP 2016 was my sudden and massive induction into a community of poets I'd never read and knew I needed to be reading. I was drawn in this way to Lauren Camp for many reasons: her attunement to the world's problems, her love for bringing poetry to older and younger communities outside of the academic universe, and her belief in poetry as something that isn't static on the page but dynamic and carried by all. I returned home, read her collection  The Dailiness  two times through, and took months to follow up with her about an interview in part because there were so many poems in it that spoke to me, and with an immediacy that made me care. I'm looking forward to spending time with  One Hundred Hungers,  her latest book. And check out her radio work with Audio Saucepan, as well as her recording and discussion of Jack Gilbert's "Failing and Flying" at  the Sundress Publications blog. – HLJ

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My first reaction to this poem was to feel as if you’d just confessed something intensely private to me, as if over late-night drinks at the kitchen table.

That’s a wonderful reaction, and oh lord, why am I always confessing things? Lately, I’ve been writing about politics by writing about what I want to turn away from.

In my poems, I commingle analytical thought and optimism. I always want (somehow) to reach the beautiful—and if not a beautiful resolution, at least an emotionally responsive (and therefore beautiful) poem.

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RAIL RUNNER EXPRESS CRASH ON I-25 SOUTH OF SANTA FE 

One summer day, I witnessed the murder
of speed and money, a train
and armored car twined beneath a pockmarked sun.

I missed the tire squeal, but sat
In the nervous framework of vehicles
that bloomed down the Interstate. An ambulance
 
had been dispatched. We all gawked
as an EMT tended the scrapes and whispers
flung against the road – in this same threadbare spot
 
where a gasoline truck toppled, then exploded
several months before, metal
melting to its unsuspecting driver.
 
Even now I fear the whack, the severed bodies
swallowing thready air.
 
How much easier it is to be looking over
what has rolled over through light fragmented
on the underside of someone else’s car.
 
We continue driving forward, frantically strategizing
details and errands until we meet tomorrow’s headline. 
 
But this is my bend in the road,
my wrecked railing.
 
A personality test defines me as lemon-sour
so I take the test again, changing answers.
 
Forgive me.
 
This time it calls me blue
And I become a river of blue, flowing back and forth
on the Interstate in my beat-up Subaru,
 
never putting my compassion down,
never leaving the road with my imperfect eyes. 

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