The Maryland Writers’ Association created the Writers’ Round Table Program to encourage writers, poets, playwrights and authors through monthly articles and activities.|
The Notable Maryland Author articles and associated Fun With Words writers’ prompts are the centerpiece of the program. Each month, Southern Maryland Newspapers will feature a Maryland Writer’s Association article about an author. Marylanders are encouraged to read the articles and try their hand at the writing prompts each month.
Author: Karl Shapiro
Genre: Poetry, which is a form of literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm.
Sample reading list: “Person, Place and Thing,” “V-Letter and other Poems,” “To Abolish Children,” “The Old Horsefly,” “Essay on Rime,” “Trial of a Poet,” “Poems of a Jew’ and “The Bourgeois Poet.”
“Poetry is innocent, not wise. It does not learn from experience because each poetic experience is unique.” — Karl Shapiro
Karl Shapiro was born in Baltimore, his family moved to Chicago and then returned to Baltimore where Shapiro finished his education at Baltimore City College.
He attended the University of Virginia (1932-1933), the Peabody Institute (he was a piano performance major) and Johns Hopkins University (1937-1939), though he never completed his degree. He wrote poetry all through high school and college and his first works were published in 1935.
He was a company clerk with the U.S. Army stationed in the Pacific Theater of War, specifically New Guinea, during World War II. There, Shapiro wrote the poems that became “V-Letter and other Poems.”
Literary success came quickly in 1945 when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for “V-Letters” and from 1946-1947, he served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.
A Jew, he first wrote traditional form poetry, but felt traditionalist poetry stifled a poet’s creativity and shifted to a style similar to ‘that of Walt Whitman.
He also considered himself an iconoclast and wrote poetry to challenge and chastise. He regularly targeted dehumanized technocracies that “fostered urban decadence and sent men and women to war without regard for their worth as persons.” He openly proclaimed his Jewishness and set himself against Modernism.
Shapiro was fortunate to find continuous work in academia throughout his career at Johns Hopkins (1947-1950), Chicago University (1950-1956), University of California at Berkeley (1955–1956) and Indiana University (1956–1957).
He was most influential as professor of English and editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 1956 to 1966.
After briefly joining the faculty of the University of Illinois Chicago from 1966 to 1968, he moved to the University of California at Davis where he became professor emeritus of English in 1985. It was while he was at UC-Davis that Shapiro was awarded the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1969.
Shapiro died at the age of 86 on May 14, 2000, at a New York City hospice.
Fun With Words
The MWA invites you to have fun writing poetry like Karl Shapiro. Using up to 100 words, pick a topic or issue that you feel could be challenged or chastised and do it in poetical form. Title your work and submit to: https://marylandwriters.org/Notable_Maryland_Authors by the 22nd of the month to receive an MWA Fun With Words submission certificate. Selected responses will be published on the MWA website.
Last month, readers were asked to write narrative history like Taylor Branch. The following are some responses:
This Damn War
George and I grew up together. We lived on neighboring farms. We fought the same bullies, fell in love with the same girls. Then this damn war came along. We both heard the call to serve and off we went. We’ve seen plenty of action – Antietam, Bull Run, and lots of other battles. Tonight, we made camp in this nice valley. George got the first watch. I’m just sitting here watching the campfire. Around midnight we heard a shot. Before I knew it, we were all running for cover. George was my best friend. I had to bury him today.
— John Rutherford,
Asschewin’ Done Right
After leading a night ambush patrol, the Lieutenant forsook the rack and stayed up for a scheduled visit from the IV Corps commander. Retired LTC John Paul Vann was the civilian directing the war in Vietnam’s Delta. Vann, a key figure in the State Department, was largely responsible for the Vietnamization of the war.
The briefing went well. The Lieutenant was elated, having spent time with a legend. Escorting Vann to the helicopter the Lieutenant was pulled aside for a private word.
“Night duty aside, beer in uniform during daytime not acceptable, Lieutenant.”
With that, he turned and was gone.
— Leslie Dickey,
Where the River Styx Divides
Home from fat roads, John Wilkes Booth loved target shooting. Nothing focused the eye like inaugurating a shiny Deringer upon a yew tree disfiguring his family’s property. Brooding older brother Edwin benched nearby, lost in Shakespeare.
John said, “Trade poetry for pistol?”
“Mother says you performed for Rebels.” Edwin glared.
“Audiences south are eager to hand over cotton money.”
“Edwin, I ever tell you the Tale of the Ethical Rich Man?”
“Because there isn’t a one.”
John fired at the ball-battered trunk, a blind moment of flame, thunder, smoke. And summer smelled like a distant barn burning.
— Lawrence McGuire, Waldorf
While trying to re-invent the wheel, caveman Zoog made some accidental discoveries.
As Zoog states: “Spoke and axle good for poke mammoth, for play drum, and for bonk food that slither.”
Attempting to invent the precursor to record-scratching, Zoog was rubbing the spoke and axle together when “POOF!” an ethereal orange tongue leapt out, scorching Zoog’s leopard-skin shorts. After grunting; “BURN! HOT! OW!” Zoog pulled from his pocket the charred remains of a small woodland creature.
Zoog thought to himself: “Mmmm! Crispy critter smell yummy!”
So Zoog took a bite.
May 5th, 10,023 B.C: Fire discovered; Barbecue invented.
— Steve Baker, Waldorf
It was 20 years since British troops stopped at the brick Red House Tavern, an Ordinary for refreshment on the old Iroquois trail road where William stood. Deeply disappointed, in front of the lot where he bought feed for his livestock, he looked at what was called, since childhood, the Crossroads. William had failed his Colonial family Skinker. He was baffled after laying out lots and deeding the land. What’s wrong with calling the town Skinkerville? Despite his petition signed by forty-five local residents, the General Assembly thought otherwise. They named the town after a broken-down feed store, Haymarket, Virginia.
— Rob Billingsley,
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