Thursday, November 15, 2007

Matthew Lippman's One-to-One Poetry Consultations

This is an atypical post. This blog is ad-free, and I like it that way. But when the poet leading my past and present online poetry workshops approached me for suggestions on publicizing his "virtual" consulting practice, I immediately offered to help him out myself. (Technically, I guess, I haven't violated my no-ad policy, to the extent that I am not being paid to post this!)

And when I read what he sent me to share with you, I was even happier that I'd made that offer. Why? Because learning about his approach to his one-to-one e-consulting will also give you a glimpse into how this very accomplished poet-teacher line-edits and critiques poetry. Valuable insight, freely available on the blog.

So without further ado, I present...Matthew Lippman and his one-to-one poetry consultations.
Matthew Lippman is a poet and a teacher. In 2005 he won the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize for his poetry manuscript, The New Year of Yellow, which was published in January of 2007 by Sarabande Press. He has been a high school English teacher for 11 years. Currently he teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at Chatham High School in upstate New York, and has been a member of the faculty, Writing Division, in Columbia University's Summer Program for High School Students, as well as an instructor at The Gotham Writers' Workshop. In 1990 he received his MFA from the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and in 1997 he was granted a master's in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. His poetry has been published widely in such journals and anthologies such as The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review, Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn, and The Best American Poetry of 1997. In 1991 he was the recipient of the James Michener/Paul Engle Poetry Fellowship from the University of Iowa; in 2004 he won a New York State Foundation of the Arts grant for his fiction.

Matthew Lippman's One-to-One Poetry Consultations

I offer one-to-one poetry consultations that run eight weeks and consist of a weekly lecture, assignment and line-by-line critique. The lectures are about a specific poet or poetic theme. The critiquing process is very thorough and involved. The assignment is based on the lecture [Editor's Note: lecture is sent via e-mail] and after the critique is given, I ask that you show me a revision which I also comment on.

Cost: $600 for eight weeks


The weekly lectures focus on two elements/aspects of poetry. The first is to focus on a particular poet. I will talk about his/her style, voice, presence in the poetry and then give five or six poems by the poet for you to read. I have written about everyone from Jane Miller to Marianne Moore to Juan Felipe Herrera to Billy Collins. The second type of lecture focus on a specific motif, i.e. "time" in poetry or The Poetry of War. In these lectures, I will ruminate on a subject and then have you read a number of poems by different poets that fit under the umbrella of the weekly theme.

Assignments and Critiques

The assignments are based on the lecture. For instance, if the lecture of the week is based on Work Poetry, I will ask you to write a worksong. If the lecture focuses on a specific poet, I will ask you to write a poem in the "spirit" of that poet.

Critiques are intensive and thorough. I do a line by line critique of the poem which addresses all aspects of the poem from voice to diction to the use of imagery, the use of figurative language. I will then ask to see a revision of the poem.

Example of critique (Editor's Note: Poet Lauren Hewitt has granted permission for Matthew to republish her poem and his accompanying critique.)

The Edge of a Sphere

An unborn sees through concave surroundings
Slippery in its bubble (I love this line, so wet and true.)
Adorned in expectations(I don't know if this rings true, "adorned in expectations" only that, how can we know what those unborn creatures know, feel, etc.), and
Dressed in dreams of the living
Haunted by what has gone before
It witnesses from a floating realm: (These three lines are wonderful. I might cut "adorned in expectations" and have the piece read, "Slippery in its bubble/and dressed in dreams…" This feels right to me. It's because the phrase that I keep referring to, feels over-written. A bit Baroque. But the rest of the writing feels much more grounded and organic.)

The Catahoula bayou, thick
Muggy, yeasty (beautiful)
Good for raising dough
Hot as an oven
Lime moss hangin' low
Silhouette draped Myrtles with
Profiles of breast-plated Spaniards
Ladled sockets where eyes supposed (great image)
Weathered stone statuary sinks slowly into dripping emerald, while (the alliteration here works well.)
Green eats its own vomit. (Spectacular stanza. It is everything to me that poetry is--delicious in content and in the execution of expressing/illustrating the content. It's as lush as that lime moss and that green that "eats its own vomit.")

Some things aren't born 'til they're dead
Like pressed flowers or a red-oak rocker (Great stuff here.)
It's like,
My Leopard Hound getting prone in the flats because
She's got that Louisiana heavy
She can't help it; she's just got to get muddy
She's got one cracked-glass, marbled grey eye
And, another one that is yellow-gold, like a cat's. (Lauren, this writing is huge. It's so evocative and pure in the way that you see something out there in the world and you know it is right in its bones. The moment when you write, "She's got that Louisiana heavy…" is so fresh and finely tuned. So far, the poem feels incredibly crafted. You capture too, a bit of that Wright feeling, and I am duly impressed. It feels to me as if you are onto something new here. Something, as I said before, fresh.)

Eyes are around us (Is the "us" the speaker and the Hound? It's a little unclear here.)
Stationed infants under plastic
Pale and feeling for an opening in the ice
Gape mouth and cradled in the bony arms of the dead
Like finding an edge on a sphere
Little chubby finger tips keep slippin'
Scoopin' for eyes, and
Until they find that edge… they ain't goin'nowhere. (The writing here is very evocative but I am not sure, as of yet, what/who these infants are? "Stationed infants under plastic/Pale…" has me wondering? I'm not sure. It's important that the writing be both evocative and accessible. In this stanza, the poetry is fascinating but I find myself groping.)

Everything living has linear propulsion
It has periphery
It has dimension
Everything dead lies still, and
Everything unborn resides in death's crevasses. (Yes…This is an important and powerful stanza. It brings together the satellites of thought that you have set in motion. It's an excellent moment in the poem. It provides perspective and is illuminating. It is the holy trinity of ideas in the poem. I love the last line of the stanza. It's beautifully rendered and I dig the notion--that everything not born is not dead but lives in the crevasses of death. It's Rilkean, a bit of Blake too. Great stuff.)

Like how an ol' salmon fish gets home (And the leap is great. That you move from the heady to the "ol' salmon getting" home. Such a nice shift. Also, the shift in tone works too. You are moving all over the place in the poem. It has texture, layers. Is built upon itself. Damn fine. Damn fine.)
After a long comfy life at sea
It's gotta swim upstream
It's gotta find home so's it can die;
Can't die 'til it's home
She's gotta find some edges (The edge of a sphere. Brilliant and subtle) in the stream
Some tangled rock to receive her eggs
Little globes ogle (I would cut this line. A bit too much.)
Bouncing free, slitherin' through stream
Until the catch of tumbled river rock traps 'em. (Excellent)

I was digging deep today (Another tone shift. Another shift in vision. Yet you stay with the spine, connected to the spine of the poem. These last three stanzas are some of your best writing yet. Impressive.)
At the edge of the foundation of a weeping cottage that was built in 1913
It needed to be repaired for wood rot and water damage
I had to dig down through three or four generations (This moment here is so poignant, "four generations"--of earth, rock, family. It all makes sense here. It's fantastic.)
Where run-off had covered a sand box
Within three shovels of one another
I unearthed two glass marbles,
A grey blue merle-like one, and
A blonde-bullion cat-eye.

Lauren--This is an incredible poem. This poem is unbelievable. It gets stronger as it moves on. The last three stanzas are particularly powerful. I love what you are doing here. How you go about it, how you kick up the dust and heave me into this world of the unborn, and then shot me back into the past, the digging at the end. What impresses me most here is the shift between stanzas--in tone and voice--because it illustrates a kind of poetic maturity and the rise of vision. I knew it all along, back there in the good ol' days of [previous online workshop] , that you had something going on. Well, it has come to fruition here, in this poem. I would look at the first four stanzas closely and make some small revisions. But the fourth stanza is the one that needs the most work. After that, though, the poem is a conflagration of poetic beauty. It's the raw intensity coupled with the magnetic language. I read this and I feel like I am reading some new voice that I have never been privy to. And believe me, I've been reading poetry for a long time. So, have a stiff drink and get down to the business of the next poem.

What I meant about "Southern Writers" or writers from a region is that they share a sensibility of landscape, of voice and tone of voice. There is a shared language. It's like people who grew up in NYC and then, to get more microscopic--Brooklyn is Brooklyn and a whole different world than Queens. And then in Brooklyn, the neighborhood of Park Slope is radically different than that of Canarsie. It's fluid, yes, but there is that voice that permeates. Faulkner, O'Connor, Capote, McCarthy, Welty--brilliant and nuts and whacky and Southern.

I understand what you mean about the self-indulgent, the confessional. It can get boring at times. There is something about writing from a place outside and then letting the inside in, economically though. It's a removed intimacy. A well intentioned and beautifully fabricated lie that speaks volumes of resonant truths about self and the world--this, for me, is the heart of a moving poem.

Okay. Hope this floats your boat. Am sending the third lecture and assignment in a different email.

Great stuff. I am enjoying this immensely. Best, Matthew

To find out more--or to inquire about your own series of consultations with Matthew--please e-mail him here. And, newsletter subscribers--you can look forward to an interview with Matthew on the topic of teaching online in the next issue.

1 comment:

Lisa Jean said...

I am just finishing up a One-to-One class with Matthew and it has been great fun, plus I learned a lot and my poetry has improved. What more could you ask.