Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lynn Levin Gives Poetry Workshop at Huntingdon Valley Library

The traffic was crawling as I inched my way to the Library.

Such luck! Taking a poetry class with Lynn Levin, who teaches at both Drexel and Penn. She's written 6 books, including the one we used as a guide....

It was most helpful!

Lynn told us she is a compulsive note-taker, as I scribbled away. She toured Old Friends cemetery where race horses are buried. She took notes on one Ruhlman, who was buried there. His claim to fame? He was a mean horse. And, in 5 lines she told us that.

The form Ruhlman was written in is called:

Cinquain. It was invented by an American poet oddly-named Adelaide Crapsey.

Syllables in each line are:


How, I wondered, am I ever going to write a poem with those syllables?

Lynn made it easy for us. We interviewed our neighbor, asking certain questions, and then coming up with a cinquain about them!

Paula sat next to me. We interviewed one another and came up with really nice poems about one another.

Lynn would snap her fingers when we finished reading, a very different and audible way of showing her appreciation. Yes, she's very creative.

I learned the terms "enjambment" - the thought runs onto the next line - Good notetaking, Ruthie! - and "caesura" - a stop in the middle of a line - using a punctuation mark.

Here are my two poems about Paula:

did you see the size of her ring? Don't look
now. She's eating salmon, spitting
out bones.

purple nails flail,
eating pecan-crusted
salmon, softly spitting bones

Lynn said - and this is SO interesting! - that every poem should contain a little bit of violence and some element of gravity.

Susan and Lynn interviewed one another for their cinquains. Susan wrote a tasty poem about Lynn's favorite foods. It got lots of finger snaps.

Lynn gave us a gift at the start of the class. She piled poetry magazines on the table and we could take whatever we wanted. I took the famous Ploughshares - as hard to get into as the New Yorker. I'll add it to my bedtime reading pile.

Another 'prompt' was to write an Unanswerable Letter. I got two 'cards' from Paula. I must include the words in my Letter. See if you can guess what the words were.


White lace, white sandals,
a gown that glowed beneath
the noonday sun in Central Park
That, Dear Walt, was Dan & Hannah's
Wedding. Everyone was there, except
the New York Times. Huge rocks, boulders
really, coughed up from the depths of the
earth, housing children gaming for a peek.
Before we were all born, bears roamed free,
their marriage consummated while naked,
no finery needed.


Talk about the best day of our lives!
For years, my darlings, all I could say
was "Dan and Hannah's Wedding."
Were you there?
The soft sands of Cape May
the ocean's ebb and flow
soundless, then louder, a growl like
a big black bear
How, indeed, did the bear
mar your union?

Our assignment for next week is to "swipe a line" from another poem and make that be the title of our own poem.

In Ploughshares, I read: Let me practice silence with you.

It's from the poem "I Like to Live with Hermits" by Nicholas Samaras. 

I sure have a lot of catching up to do with modern poets.

Early on, I asked Lynn if she grew up in the Midwest.

St. Louis, Missouri, she said. Takes one to know one, said the girl from Cleveland, Ohio.

The Poetry Workshop is a two-parter. Darn! I can't come next Thursday b/c I'm taking a bus trip to Baltimore, courtesy of the Cheltenham Adult Evening School.

We'll view the American Visionary Museum - one of my favorites - and another one whose name I can't remember.

In my stead, my writer friend Carly Brown will attend the workshop.

Pictures please!

 These are some poetry books I have. My book of Robert Frost is an ancient Pocketbook with yellowed pages. I love it! Others, except for the Rilke, are poets whose books I bought at readings.

 Can't wait to dig into Lynn's latest poetry book.

Here's her inscription. "In poetry sisterhood."

The four of us didn't realize, until it was time to go, that we're all Jewish.

I told the group I'd written a poem "Passover Fantasy" about the reconstitution of my family. Here, I immodestly post it.


She has stopped making seder.
mother dines alone, breaking the
matzoh in pieces.
The table is bare.
house silent but for the
often ferocious winds of
April that sound like
the children fighting.
Her potato flour sponge-cake
gobbled by all, even the
white dog named Triscuit,
and that black-haired husband
of hers who died, bald
from the radiation, at fifty nine.

Let’s bring them back.
Can you see them running home?
Back to this huge six-bedroom house
lawn fertilized by Juan
and his team of matadors,
the kids in the backyard
playing duck- duck- goose
laughter spilling over to the
Austins in the back – we weren’t supposed
to let them hear us curse – their tomatoes and
cornstalks reminded mom of the trip she
took to Amish country as a girl.   

With a whistle Lynn brings us together
We crowd around the long table
and view ourselves in the mirror
daddy’s nose always looks crooked
my long brown hair parted on the wrong side
grape juice for the minors
Manichewitz for the majors
Aunt Ethel arrives, her death will bring us
a fortune, my house, Donna’s condo,
I sat in the largesse of her lap
and fondled her tiny red-nailed fingers
her amber bracelet
smelled her thinning hair
like mine in latter days.

L’il brother David reclines in his
chair, silent by age six,
speaks with his Polaroid,
the only way he can view us
before his overdose at twenty-eight.

My two Mommies, as I once called them,
serve the feast after prayers and handwashing
and hiding of the afikomen
by now we are tired, the brisket and onions
only make me sleepier
I go up to my room for a little nap
and hear the sounds of my family downstairs.

Unforgettable sounds amid the clatter of
dishes and putting into the dishwasher
the parade of the sparkling clean water
from the one-faucet sink
I hear them all, all the sounds,
the laughter, the bark of the dog,
the snap of the Polaroid,
even now, even now
alone in another room,
forty-five years away
waiting for sleep to come.      

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