Tag Archives: Poets&Writers

Ostranenie: Making Strange

An article in the March/April issue of Poets & Writer’s Magazine by Tony Eprile recently gave me that all too forgotten feeling of “ah-ha.”

Eprile begins his piece by talking about the examination of the woodpecker and the act of pecking wood out of hollow trees. This grabbed my interest as we have recently identified several pileated woodpeckers on our property in West Virginia. We have observed, heard, and at it’s most basic sentiment simply enjoyed them as little pets on our property. However, not once have I stopped to ask, how can they do what they do. I have seen. I have not observed. Eprile, I personally thank you for this challenge.

It’s one of my focuses for 2013: to be present. I juggle a lot of balls, like most people, but what I don’t do well is be fully present in some of the moments or experiences I’m a part of. As Eprile writes, “You have to train yourself to see as if everything is brand new….” I don’t do this enough. I will do this more.

I’m pretty sure some of my best “readers” would describe me and my work as intense, long-winded, scattered. I realize these are not positive descriptions but in the same breath I can say there’s a certain part of me that revels in the manic chaos that finds its ways into my perspective. As I describe in one poem, “…window frames become film slides in a View-master.” The blurred perspective sometimes gets too discounted and tossed in the “unappreciative” pile. I will slow down. Just a little. 

If I do more observing, more slowing down of one’s perspective, will that singularity of style be stifled? I’m sure there’s some message about balance in here somewhere. Yoga is always on my to-do list. Eprile goes on to explain this ability to observe as opposed to see “requires training and patience.” Patience? I have none. It’s a genetic deficiency. Now What?


This whole article then lead me to thinking about my first college writing assignment centered around descriptive writing and how much I enjoyed it. In college, I was fine with being directly within a moment, savoring it, letting it dissolve on my tongue and mucking around in it for awhile. Today, I’m so concerned with “what’s next” that the absoluteness of certain moments, the singularity of an experience is wasted on me. I have only been seeing. If that. I will try to observe.

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Poetic Influence: Where Are All the Readers?

Weeks ago, NPR reported that they found some long lost poems of Robert Frost right around the time of the 50-year mark of his death.  I immediately thought of an interview the College newspaper printed about me my sophomore year at Morehead State University. The title of the article: “Poet-cheerleader says writing makes her relax.” I found the article in a shoebox cleaning out my closet last week and cringed as I read my comments. I was naive and engaged in way too much posturing. The interviewer asked what my poetic influences were, and I said I read a lot of Robert Frost.

That was a lie. I said Robert Frost because of a book of poems my father gave me for Christmas one year. I never read the book. I said I read Frost and that he was an influence to me. Probably in an attempt to sound smart or influenced. This leads me to a common problem within the literary landscape.

Where are all the readers?

I ask this question knowing I have committed the sin of writing without reading in my earlier years as a writer, but seeing as how I’ve had some brilliant minds and good guidance over the last decade, I can say that I know see the intrinsic link between being a writer and being a reader. But do the masses?

With just over 100 full-residency and low-residency MFA programs in the country, the space for creative development is expanding far more quicker than the audience of poetry readers is expanding. In fact, some would argue the readership is diminishing if anything.

I had a student approach me after class the other day and announce, “I want to be a writer.” My first response: “Who are you reading?”  His response was similar to the response I get from my beloved dog when I ask him a question: tilt of the head, furrowed brow, expression of “huh?”.  I told him to read religiously – as often and as a much as he could. To read that which is appealing and that which is not. To discover what the landscape is and how his voice will play a role. He seemed discouraged. So I tacked on to the end of my speech, ” and keep writing.” His smile returned.

I was asked months ago “What do you want to do with your literary career?” Ethelbert Miller started an obsession that has had me tinkering with various thoughts and plans since that meeting. I believe part of it is to assist in curing the problem above. Reinvigorate the readership. And merge fashion with poetry (hang in there for more on this one).


Jeffrey Levine

poetry, publishing, and mentoring

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