Esther Buffler Poet in Residence
In 2002, friends and family of Esther Buffler, our first
Poet Laureate, set up a memorial
fund that will enable the Poet Laureate Program to arrange an annual residency for a
poet-in-residence in the Portsmouth School Department.
The following report and poems were written as part of Mark DeCarteret's visit to Portsmouth High School as the Esther Buffler Poet in Residence.
I start them off with another lie. That poetry is little more than a list. And isn’t much different from what I’ve heard said of fiction. That it’s a line-up of lies that gets at some greater version of truth. This naming of sorts, that spreads out both blessing and blame. I persist with this fib, presenting evidence from the past: Whitman’s long-winded index in “Song of Myself,” Stein’s minimalist muster in “What Do I See,” and Stan Rice’s barely managed death-call “Playing in the Yard.” And then I ask them to further it. Have them round up some reasons we’re known to keep lists. Then see if these reasons figure into any poetry. Like how we keep lists to remember things. To buy (into) and do. These needs and “supplies.” And how poetry’s recollection, this ongoing reminiscence. Item after item of survival, provision. And how a list’s where we’re given to “wishes.” And how poetry’s flush with desire. How we devise lists to “visualize.” While poetry sees to these other worlds. And how we list all our “favorites.” A strategy that both highlights and “isolates.” And how poetry celebrates, raises speech from the slumbering tongue. “Ordering,” but also rousing “mayhem.” And how lists mostly go untitled. Are arbitrary. And poetry’s all about equal time. Where the flawed and the oft-ignored are given top bill. Right up there with the lofty and fulfilled. Those endlessly entitled.
I then have them apply these ideas to some writing, asking them to respond (in a literal and metaphorical sense) to a number of prompts directed at an object not only bookish and oft-viewed but overlooked (even though its imbued with untold powers)--their pencil or pen (but first share Emily Dickinson’s swell spell “If it had no pencil,” Bill Knott’s koan of a knock-knock “What About Pens?” Jean Valentine’s intricate simple “The Pen,” and Weldon Knees’ meta-meant lament “Covering Two Years”). Asking where their pen or pencil’s from? And what are its origins? What does it dream about? And what are its desires? What is its relationship to the paper, your hand? I then randomly jot them down on the blackboard. But rather than have them routinely resolve the poem right there, I swap subjects on them. Stage the old switch-a-roo. Settling on the most celebrated and sent-off, Spring (prompting ourselves with Esther Buffler’s pastoral portrayal of the season “The Lilac”). We then add an ode to the title for status-sake. And a colon. Like a couple of dollops of un-conventionality, the curious. And because our unified muse is running low on fumes at this point we simply siphon off the verbs (visually, texturally, phonetically, etc.) from the word Spring. And then we work at it some more.* Playfully.
I’d like to extend my gratitude to all those who were instrumental in establishing the Esther Buffler Poetry Residence, the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program Board of Directors, and Mimi White as well as Sherry Fawcett, Patrick Ganz, their students, and Portsmouth High School.
— Mark DeCarteret
*Both Block Four classes worked individually with these approaches and brought in their poems the following day to workshop.
One (More) Ode: Spring
by Patrick Ganz’s English 10 College Prep Class
Frolicking through dusty corners, under the desk,
mother bloomed, then swung through WalMart
with nothing special outside, shopping till she dropped,
her hands so easy to get along with, be-blung.
Trees, these old friends, screamed and bled,
and dreamt of 80’s guitars solos ringing out—
Spring’s masterpiece with its unchewable cap, roller coaster riding.
How we sung, best of friends, with the paper explaining, these hands holding strong!
O lightly cushioned grin of mine, may you never run out of ink.
One Ode: Spring
by Patrick Ganz’s English 11 Class
Being so blue, how it can ring factories—
Spring jumping on the floor in that dust and the garbage
as if it song made by a little child’s hands in the hills of Africa?
How Spring erases its mistakes!
That box of Cracker Jacks, Staple-spurred,
wanting so much to be tired out, used by robots—
thriving on words that haven’t any meaning
like that part of the masterpiece—Krafty dinners
wanting to be thrown up, more signs of Spring so unable to last.
From Patrick Ganz’s English 10 Advanced College Prep Class:
My Pen Poem
by Alison Rahn
My pen was found on an abandoned desk,
Probably just like a lot of the rest.
My pen has a bright orange plastic shell tube,
So it won’t break, seeing it has a lot of writing to do.
My pen has a soft finger grip to release the pressure,
It helps me with my writing cramps for sure.
My pen sleeps on the grip, as its pillow,
To my pen, it’s a soft as a willow.
My pen can still feel the motion of my writing that day,
When it sleeps, it wishes the feeling would just go away.
My pen is sleeping and feels like it’s on a wave,
After a day of being writ with; my writing… slave.
My pen runs softly on white lined paper,
But you can see the ink better on yellow paper.
My pen’s ink sinks and combines well,
With the soft and cheap paper that never sells.
My pen and paper work well together,
Making me not want to put my papers through the shredder.
I Am a Pencil
by Gamble Morrison
I am a pencil.
My head has worn out, yet, it has been
replaced by a new, more efficient one
though it may slip off from time to time.
I have shrunk over the years, machines
chewing away my wooden skin, only to
sharpen my long, cold, dark heart, as it often
goes dull, the perfection of my being is
necessary. I have served my masters well,
giving my blood for their script. But when
I am weathered and gone, none shall shed tears for my death. I am
always replaceable. After all, I am a pencil.