I used to read a lot of poetry when I was younger. I mostly read the classics in Elementary School and High School. I even wrote poetry in Jr. High and College. I recall having a poem published in a teen magazine, maybe "Seventeen," when I was about 13 or 14, which was the target age for readers of "Seventeen" back then. I doubt anyone 17 would actually be reading "Seventeen."
The last poem I wrote was back in 1979. It was about my doctoral research at the Edison National Historic Site in New Jersey. It was published in the first issue of "Sheaf," a British poetry magazine. My sister had a poem published in the same issue. I can't find a copy of that magazine to reprint either of our poems, but my sister has had many poems published since then and is a professional poet.
I used to snicker at the notion of Alice as a "professional poet," but over the years she's had many of her poems published, published a book, won some awards, and Edited the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal since 1984.
I didn't realize how important she was to this publication until I read an online history of the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal. My sister Alice is mentioned about half-way down. Heretofore I considered my sister to be somewhat flaky, but compared to the other free-spirits editing the HALJ, Alice appears to be the most organized and professional member of the Editorial team!
My sister's poetry is mostly free verse. I'm more traditional and prefer the classics: Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Emily Dickenson, Langston Hughes, and William Wordsworth among a long list of well-known poets.
So what is a poem? Many people think a poem is something that rhymes. "I'm a poet and I don't know it," kind of thing. That's verse or doggerel, but not poetry. Poetry isn't rhyme or meter, or verse. Poetry is imagery through language.
The best poetry in my opinion (and this is my opinion blog), is simple and elegant and stirs the emotions. It takes you somewhere with words that you can't get to any other way. A few blogs ago I quoted from Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," which is considered a children's story but is secretly a profoundly moving poem.
My sister wrote a poem about the loss of a tree in "The sound of a tree gone."
The water falls and falls and falls.
Like the om in Tibetan ritual,
Its highs and lows,
Like a slit-drum,
The pond at the bottom,
Like a clear night,
And another sound of falling,
Further into the forest,
Sharp, quick, buzz, snap,
A rush of wind,
The toppling of a great tree,
And stillness at the bottom,
But no continuity,
And only an empty night
As the tree is hauled, rattling, away.
Rogoff, A. E. (2005). Mural: Poems by Alice Elizabeth Rogoff. Austin, TX: Blue Light Press. p. 35.
Great poetry can be simple, and seemingly childlike, like Silverstein or Dr. Seuss, or grandiose and florid like Wordsworth's I wondered lonely as a cloud. I liked that one so much I set it to music 40 years ago.
Why am I suddenly blogging about poetry? Well I volunteered to be the Arts Advisory Committee's member on the Parks Commission's interview team for San Ramon's next Poet Laureate. Interviews will be held this Monday evening. We have three applicants, but at this point in time I don't know who they are yet.
The Poet Laureate position was created six years ago. San Ramon's first Poet Laureate was Pat Perry, who was appointed for two, two year terms. The current Poet Laureate, Elaine Betts, was appointed for 18 months. Elaine also writes the Reaching Out blog in the San Ramon and Danville Expresses. Dublin and Pleasanton and several other local cities have Poet Laureates now too. Poetry is gaining a foothold in communities across the country.
Some duties of the Poet Laureate are to:
• create and read poetry at civic events such as public ceremonies and dedications
• serve as a resource and liaison between the City’s Cultural Arts Program and local literary organizations
• act as a resource on the topic of poetry should the Arts Advisory Committee need that expertise
• conduct poetry workshops or staged readings
• compile an anthology of poems by San Ramon Poet Laureates and make it available on the web.
The interview committee will make a recommendation to the City Council for the appointment at their meeting on Tuesday night. While the City Council usually follows the Commission's recommendations, it doesn't always. So even those of us on the interview team will not find out who San Ramon's next Poet Laureate will be, until the Council votes on the appointment.