Friday, December 02, 2005

André Naffis in Bonfire

I recently received the latest issue of Bonfire in the mail. This poem on page 97 appeals to me for its description of the statue and the contrast between ancient and modern culture.

Tokyo Rain

A laughing Buddha sits
wrapped in soaked orange robes,
shouldering a bag, slit eyes,
jade smile, head lowered, hands fastened in
a comical, rounded dough,
a plaque reads:
'I have a big
belly so that I can
accomodate things in our world
which are difficult to accomodate.'

A bat-wing-like umbrella darkens
sidewalks, as rain season
winds rip Omikuji fortune
paper slips
hung from treetops, performing
a mid-air ballet as traffic rolls
swiftly by.

André Naffis

The laughing, rounded Buddha is Hotei, the Buddha of health, happiness, and well-being. He is the reminder that spiritual peace does not require sacrificing laughter and pleasure. People often rub Hotei's belly for good luck.

Omikuji are slips of white paper upon which are written fortunes. Tying an omikuji onto a tree near a shrine will allow a good fortune to come true, or help an unlucky fortune to stay away.

The speaker witnesses in one space--and in one moment--the contrast between a deity who promises to "accomodate" all earthly difficulties and the reality of the modern world, illustrated by the passing traffic. The futures of those who visited the shrine are literally blown around in the wind, signifying an unknown future. The motorists, meanwhile, travel so quickly that they do not even notice Hotei and his offer to help.

Photo found at this netsuke site

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jeremy Glazier in The Antioch Review

This poem by Jeremy Glazier is on page 740 of the current issue of The Antioch Review.

Directions for a Duel

Fill the chamber of your pistol
with pinecones, rose petals,

small coins you've already shot holes in.
When you enter the saloon,

the player piano will stop
and for a split second you will know

the hand each player holds.
Keep your eye on the one you came for,

and kill him
when the redhead
winks at you from behind the still.

This will be your sign
that everything is possible.
Sling the body over your shoulder
and bury it in the stomach

of the sandstorm that waits for you
outside the city limits.

Jeremy Glazier

This beautiful poem encapsulates a metaphor for the discipline and art of writing poetry. If I were to translate it (non-poetically), I would write something like this:

Fill your mind with texture, fragrance, and ideas you've been bandying about. When you write, time will seem to halt; and for a split second you will see every angle of your subject. Stay focused; when the muse strikes, get the words down on paper. Then you will know you are a poet. Carry your poem to the outside world and add it to the storm of submissions flying around in the mail.

That's the Amy take on it. What's your take? Why do you think Glazier changes the form of the poem after the words "and kill him?"

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Timothy O'Keefe in 32 Poems

Thank you to everyone for wishing me a speedy recovery. I am still in bed with a sinus infection. Fortunately, I feel well enough to blog today; and fortunately, I received the new issues of 32 Poems and The Antioch Review last week. This poem by Timothy O'Keefe is on page 12 of 32 Poems:


A clear-gold cicada shell
hooked hard to wet bark.
Center-split: antennal
to lower thorax. Molt-clean.

its clutch in the dark.

a body-peek green.
a droning wind-hinge.
A fingerful of sudden wings.

Timothy O'Keefe

This poem appeals to me both for its literal description of a cicada shell and for the figural depiction of the sensation of love. I used to find these shells all the time when I was a kid; when I found one, it scared me, until I got up close and saw it wasn't a live bug.

Imagine that instant when the cicada emerges--green, raw, unfolding, then suddenly flapping with new life. Now read the poem again, as if it were not about a cicada shell at all, but simply a description of love: clutching, split, clean. Green, fresh, and new. A droning just below your surface. A sudden flutter of wings just barely in your grasp.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Objectivity, Shmobjectivity.

I'm sick. I have a nasty sore throat, runny nose, and I injured my back a few days ago, so I can't really turn my head right or left. The end table is decorated with used tissues, a half-empty cup of tea, water, meds, and a couple of books. Every so often, I lie down to relieve the nausea. I am the definition of pathetic in pajamas.

So I spent some time reading the poetry in the new issue of The Antioch Review. I was thinking things like, "Nice word choice." "Hmm, interesting rhyme scheme." "Another sestina. Are sestinas in now, or something?" and, "I guess all the poems have to fit on one page or you're not allowed in." (Although exactly one uses up two pages.)

And then, BAM, a massive, literary anvil fell on my head in the form of the last poem, "Mother at the Piano," by Fredrick Zydek. I am not even going to pretend to be objective about this poem. Maybe in a week I could do a nice, neat analysis, but right now I'm still reeling. Let's take a look at it, then I'll tell you why.

Mother at the Piano

She didn't play often
and she didn't play well.
Her right hand could read
everything in treble clef

except chords, rest signs,
quarter notes, and tempo.
Her left hand was used
like a drum beating out

a waltz where a rumba
or fox-trot should be.
But she could pound out
a tune or two. If no one

was looking, melody
would flood the house
like relatives on a Sunday
afternoon. I would hide

in my room and listen.
She always sang off-key.
It didn't matter. When
Mother made music we

knew two things. She
was glad about something,
and for a little while
nothing needed dusting.

Fredrick Zydek

Holy crap. Okay. My mother was an obsessive cleaner, and when we heard that vacuum start, we (my sister, brother and I) would run to our rooms. When cleaning started, yelling started. She was a very unhappy person anyway, but the miserable factor increased exponentially during cleaning. Things would get slammed, knocked around, bumped by the vacuum, and glared at. Each kid would get called down for some cleaning infraction. My brother would get a cloth shoved in his hand and yelled at for not "seeing that dust" on the coffee table. My sister would be down on her hands and knees searching through shag for little fragments of anything, because my mother blamed her for the hairpin that had caught in the vacuum. And me. Best not to talk about me.

And, my mother played a bit of piano. I started playing when I was eight, and picked it up so quickly that she stopped playing altogether. Only--on rare ocassions--some urge would take her and she would play a little tune, perhaps even singing along, weakly, and off-key. You bet we hid. But we listened, glad to have her attention on something not us, waiting for the last note, knowing that the brief silence that followed was only a prelude to the cleaning and yelling.

Holy crap. I guess that's why we read poetry, though, isn't it. I guess. Don't ask me now. Maybe later when I'm less sick and less freaked out.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Dee Cohen in pith

One reason I write this blog is to encourage poetry lovers to read poetry. Sounds redundant, but the truth is that a lot of aspiring poets don't read much poetry at all. Thanks to the internet, it is incredibly easy to find remarkable poetry without spending a dime. There are many good online poetry journals; pith is one of them.

I love this poem by Dee Cohen in pith in the Spring 2001 issue--the imagery is stark and threatening despite its commonplace setting.


Last night waits in the kitchen.
Skillet still on the stove
and pan tipped into the sink,
blood drained to the bottom.
A drawer pulled open,
forks, spoons and knives
pitched forward.
Plates on the table,
unscraped, unstacked.
Chairs shoved back,
garbage can toppled,
grounds and rinds and bones
spill from its mouth.
The back door stands open,
the driveway is empty.

The morning sun bangs
on the windows,
the floor tiles buckle
and tilt
and you grab for the counter
like someone on a small ship
in a big ocean.

Dee Cohen

Sounds like someone has a hangover. There is a sinister mood to this poem--"blood drained" into the sink, a cutlery drawer left open, "grounds and rinds and bones" spilling from the "mouth" of the trash can, the deserted driveway. It sounds as if a monster has smashed through the kitchen, devouring people along the way.

I would guess this is the after-effects of a party seen through the eyes of a very hung-over host. "Last night waits" to be dealt with; no matter how much fun they had at the feast, someone has to clean up the mess. What was delectable only a few hours ago now seems nauseating and threatening. The host has been abandoned by the guests, and no matter how sick, s/he must face the damage alone.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

From Joshua Weiner's The World's Room

I have been re-reading the poems from Joshua Weiner's beautiful book The World's Room, and this one on page 23 reminds me a lot of Danny's sensibility. I just had to post it. Plus, it's just a gorgeous, poignant poem.

Lines to Stitch Inside a Child's Pocket

Boy now, man later; and all the story in between:
Yes breaking down to No, joy to pain.

Milk now, meat later; separation, fuse.
Swim the river rising and with patience take your aim.

Miss once, miss again; and your whole life seems a waste.
The target is yourself becoming brave.

Who soon, who later?--whatever happens next--
Someday you'll lose us in the in-between.

Joshua Weiner

"The target is yourself becoming brave." What do you think of this line? I think it is the heart of the poem. Without it, the poem becomes too sad, too depleting. In the midst of the pain and loss, the speaker identifies a purpose to keep living and struggling.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Pattian Rogers in Poetry

This poem by Pattiann Rogers is in the September issue of Poetry on pages 420-21. What a way to start the week, and on Halloween, no less--pondering the very quality of life and the boundaries of death, and questioning how human recognition of something affects or does not affect its significance. Here we go:

Address: the Archaens, One Cell Creatures

Although most are totally naked
and too scant for even the slightest
color and although they have no voice
that I've ever heard for cry or song, they are,
nevertheless, more than mirage, more
than hallucination, more than falsehood.

They have confronted sulfuric
boiling black sea bottoms and stayed,
held on under ten tons of polar ice,
established themselves in dense salts
and acids, survived eating metal ions.
They are more committed than oblivion,
more prolific than stars.

Far too ancient for scripture, each
one bears in its one cell one text--
the first whit of alpha, the first
jot of bearing, beneath the riling
sun the first nourishing of self.

Too lavish for saints, too trifling
for baptism, they have existed
throughout never gaining girth enough
to hold a firm hope of salvation.
Too meager in heart for compassion,
too lean for tears, less in substance
than sacrifice, not one has ever
carried a cross anywhere.

And not one of their trillions
has ever been given a tombstone.
I've never noticed a lessening
of light in the ceasing of any one
of them. They are more mutable
than mere breathing and vanishing,
more mysterious than resurrection,
too minimal for death.

Pattiann Rogers

Cool picture found here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tom Sleigh's "The Door"

Back in July I posted a beautiful poem called "The Hammock" by Tom Sleigh. Here is another one from the same book--The Dreamhouse--on pp 69-70. Garnet posted a photograph and a short poem which questions the function of perception, and I think this poem speaks to that idea.

The Door

Fifteen years in each other's heat
And you still picture me the single man
Living hand-to-mouth on my own heart...

And you, how do I see you? The question
Stinging, my eyes slide off yours.
Your poker-faced stare become another barrier--

It's as if who we thought we'd be to one another
Waits outside knocking on the door,
At first composed, then pounding so hard

The door no longer is an entrance in
But the one thing we must always keep closed.
And so we wonder what the face

Beyond the door looks like until it rears
Like mist in the steaming sun, that stranger's
Always shifting, spotlit glance egging us onward

To the verge of space where we sense love
As we've never known unstoppably expanding,
Billowing and towering through the clear deep noon...

--And yet those features burn off
In the heat and leave us still facing
The warped-shut door and what we know is true:

The sun shining impartially back in our eyes
With a light that we both love and half-despise;
Your face as it appears to me; mine as it seems to you.

Tom Sleigh

This poem reminds me of the sensibility in "The Hammock" in that it alludes to a moment of clear, expanded awareness. In "The Hammock," the awareness is a more universal feeling of awe and belonging and peace; in this poem, the awareness occurs between two people who long to see the reality of the other. The "door" of perception makes this nearly impossible--much of the human exprience is about recognizing and dealing with perception--but at times the face of the other "rears / Like a mist in the steaming sun." A sun-drenched mist is, however, bound to dissipate, just as the "features" of the other will "burn off / In the heat," abandoning the speaker to stare once again at the door.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Poetry Writing Month?

I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.
                                          William Faulkner

This is an interesting quote, but I wonder if it is true. Writing a novel is hard. Last year I successfully completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, and now I am trying to decide if I should do it again this year. It is a serious commitment, although very rewarding. Anyone out there doing NaNo for the second time (or third, or whatever?)

I am also wondering, what about a poetry writing month? Suppose I challenge myself to write one poem a day for the month of October? By December, I would have thirty drafts of poems to revise. Even if only half of them turned into something good, that would be a lot. My own NaPoWriMo (apologies to Chris Baty.)

What do you poets think? Anyone up for some intense poetry writing? Or is it time for a month of novel writing?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Eric Beeny in 32 Poems

You would be doing yourself a favor if you get a copy of the current issue of 32 Poems. I keep going back to it and rereading. Great stuff.

This one is by Eric Beeny and is on page 14:

Graveyard Pharmaceuticals

the world is a bottle
of pills.

once night's cap is unscrewed,
the clouds must be

headstones become chewable
tablets, like
the kind commandments
were chiseled into.

Eric Beeny

A bottle of pills as a metaphor for the world at night--funny thing is, I read it first as the world at night as a metaphor for a bottle of pills, although the first line makes it clear that "the world" is the subject. The phrase "night's cap" is wonderful--the top lifted off of night, also the allusion to a "nightcap," the ritual of a final drink before bedtime.

"[H]eadstones become chewable / tablets, like / the kind commandments / were chiseled into." "Chewable" brings to mind headstones that have been weather-beaten, and which are bound to disintegrate just like the bodies underneath them. They have words "chiseled into" them, like commandments--the birth and death dates are unchangeable, stated facts. Pills also have those little letters or numbers bevelled into them, identifying what they are.

The connection here between pills and death is striking to me. People take pharmaceuticals in an effort to live longer or in some way make their lives more manageable. But there is something about the necessity of the daily ritual of taking a pill that that reminds you of your own mortality.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Kimmy Beach at Greenboathouse Books

After the roundabout discussion Moose and I had over the complicated grammar in the previous Dickinson poem, I thought I'd post a contemporary, accessible poem. I like this for the commonality of the depicted experience (taking pictures with friends) with the creepy twist of being watched or shadowed by someone without knowing it. I found this poem in the archives of the Greeboathouse Books site. Check it out; there's some great stuff over there.

(who lurked for three days)

you appear blurred in the background
of photos taken before we knew you
your eyes on Brenda
she takes over the taverna
noisy tourists on all sides of us

I can make out your pressed white shirt
the dark moustache
Brenda's laugh holds you

here you watch us down
another bottle of Retsina
in this picture we pose for an American
holding my camera

over Brenda's right shoulder
just above the hand I have placed there
you lean in
watching with no expression

we don't meet you until three days later
you are in every photo
studying us from behind
and to the right

Kimmy Beach

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"As from the earth the light Balloon..."

I just returned from Albuquerque, where I visited with extended family. Saturday morning, we went to the International Balloon Fiesta and watched the Mass Ascension. This occurs early in the morning, when the balloons (about 750 of them) are filled with heated air, then untethered and lifted into the sky. For a few hours, the New Mexico horizon is dotted with balloons of all colors and shapes from all around the world. It is a beautiful sight.

I found this lovely poem by Emily Dickinson, which captures a little of the mystery of the ascension. By the way, thanks for all the kind words and good wishes I have been reading in the comments, along with some insightful poetry analysis.

As from the earth the light Balloon

As from the earth the light Balloon
Asks nothing but release --
Ascension that for which it was,
Its soaring Residence.
The spirit looks upon the Dust
That fastened it so long
With indignation,
As a Bird
Defrauded of its song.

Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mark Strand's Dark Harbor

I just got a rejection in the mail for my latest batch of poems, which is a bit disappointing, but now at least they are free to be sent somewhere else.

A few days ago, I purchased a copy of Mark Strand's book Dark Harbor: A Poem, published in 1993 by Alfre A Knopf, Inc. It begins with a poem entitled "Proem," a poem that serves as a preface to the book. In it, the speaker sets off on a journey, confident of "the way" and his desire to follow it. He does not reach his destination, but that does not bother him. It is the journey itself that allows him to "breathe," to say to himself, "This is the life." Let's use this as encouragement to keep following our poetic paths, eschewing discouragement and negativity, and enjoying even the rejections that may often appear disguised as obstacles.


"This is my Main Street," he said as he started off
That morning, leaving the town to the others,
Entering the high-woods tipped in pink

By the rising sun but still dark where he walked.
"This is the way," he continued as he watched
For the great space that he felt sure

Would open before him, a stark sea over which
The turbulent sky would drop the shadowy shapes
Of its song, and he would move his arms

And begin to mark, almost as a painter would,
The passages of greater and lesser worth, the silken
Tropes and calls to this or that, coarsely conceived,

Echoing and blasting all around. He would whip them
Into shape. Everything would have an edge. The burning
Will of weather, blowing overhead, would be his muse.

"This is the life," he said, as he reached the first
Of many outer edges to the sea he sought, and he buttoned
His coat, and turned up his collar, and began to breathe.

Mark Strand

Monday, October 03, 2005

Jenny Browne in xconnect

Here's another one for you from xconnect: writers of the information age vol. 6. Pick up a copy of this book; there is such a great variey of poetry in there.

This one is on page 17, and is written by Jenny Brown:


Why not iron your dream
on a T-Shirt
or wrap your face
round a mug that steams, be seen
and heard?

Remember the big history book
with a picture of Alexis St. Martin,
the flap of his stomach lifted
by Doc Beaumont to show
how he digested the latest news
and his wife's potatoes.

Now I have a new recipe
I want to try but I need
a spring-form pan, I need
to remove the sides
of my own life, get a little
more visibility. I am whispering

my plan to the man sitting
next to me, but his ears
are pierced.

Jenny Browne

Stanley Kunitz states that one should end a poem with an image "and not explain it." Browne does exactly this. What is the power in using this technique? What do you think is the significance of a listener with pierced ears?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mark Halliday in xconnect

I was browsing through Barnes and Noble a couple days ago and picked up the latest copy of xconnect: writers of the information age. It's published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, and features some wonderful work by both poets and short story writers. The current volume (VI) also includes poems by the late, great Robert Creeley.

This poem on page 65 by Mark Halliday stuck with me for it's strong sense of sound and rhythm and humor:


It's true that I was a turkey yesterday
and a bit of an asshole the day before that
but that is all flotsam gone over the dam
thanks to our being in this
vastatious unknowable flux. Which makes for
hump upon hump of sadness except when I'm thinking
of my turkeyhood yesterday not to mention
anus behavior two days back.
Today is--
I wake
to rain whickles and the bonking
or workmen placing cobbles in the lane,
don't they care da da da da the rain?
Lane, rain--can I not release this brain
from rhyme and make this day a secret
villa in the forest of some alternative to
Spain? Nobody can say
how I might be today--oggi
oh gee--let today be "Death to all those
who ever yammered on about the Death of the Author"
day. Let me be the most amazing non-poultry!
There is no proof that I cannot.
...No positive proof. Euripides,
"Outlaw Blues," come with me now babe
we got nothingness to lose.

Mark Halliday

When I read the line "Let me be the most amazing non-poultry!" I knew I loved this poem. Its seemingly random, stream-of-consciousness style is simply the sheen on a complicated, unified, beautifully crafted poem. Sometimes the use of this kind of humor can come off as too snarky or crass, because it is used for its own sake--to shock or grab the reader. But Halliday clearly has mastered how to use it. The desire to be the best "non-poultry" he can be is a passionate declaration by the speaker--he just wants to learn how to be human! But what a lesser poem this would be if he shouted, "Let me be the most amazing human!"

What do you think?

Freaky turkey photo found here.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Check me out

The new issue of eratio is out, and three of my poems are in it. So instead of posting a poem for you today, I'm pointing you toward this highly regarded journal where you can read my work, as well as poems by amazing writers such as Jack Foley, Dan Masterson, Marcia Arrieta, and Eileen Tabios.

Thanks to editor Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino for putting it all together, and placing me in the company if these gifted poets.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Arlene Ang in Shampoo

Check out the poetry journal Shampoo for some well-crafted, compelling poetry. The current issue includes the following poem by Arlene Ang:

First Name: Laron

Coarsened by dungarees,
he whitewashes my walls.
His brush thriftily dampened
into the can is spared of drip.

Face tipped to his backside,
I am thinking he may ask me out.
The pungency of his wet paint
makes me hold my breath.

Like tossed coin, a sober globule
lands on last week’s newspaper,
obscures what the Premier quipped
regarding women on the moon.

Arlene Ang

I love the word choices in this poem: dungarees instead of jeans; a brush "thriftily" dampened; face "tipped" to check the guy out; a "sober globule" of paint. Ang is a master of creating compelling imagery and tone through judicious word choice.

The word "dungarees" is interesting; it is a word that evokes a man who is more earthy and who labors for a living that the word "jeans" would. There is something primitive in the speaker's description of him--his clothes, the "dampened" brush, the "pungency" of the paint, and her checking-out the guy's physique. It is a moment of nearly pure attraction.

A drop of paints lands on the paper, covering what I'm sure is a highly relevant quote about "women on the moon." Does anyone know to what this refers?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Langston Hughes: Rivers and New Orleans

I am leaving for vacation tomorrow, so I won't be posting for about ten days. Before I go, I'd like to suggest three places to donate for katrina disaster relief:

Red Cross
The Humane Society
Black America Web

I am going to leave you with this gorgeous poem by Langston Hughes, which I found at The Academy of American Poets. The speaker uses the depth of rivers to illustrate the depth to which his soul has grown, and the connection between himself and his ancient heritage. It seems an appropriate reflection given the tragedy on the Gulf Coast. Take care, and read some poetry.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy

bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Charles Bukowski Poem on New Orleans

Charles Bukowski is known as a Los Angeles beat poet, but he must have spent some time in New Orleans to come up with this poignant, unusual love poem to the city.

Young in New Orleans

starving there, sitting around the bars,
and at night walking the streets for hours,
the moonlight always seemed fake
to me, mabye it was,
and in the French Quarter I watched
the horses and buggies going by,
everybody sitting high in the open
carriages, the black driver, and in
back the man and the woman,
usually young and always white.
and I was always white.
and hardly charmed by the
New Orleans was a place to
I could piss away my life,
except for the rats.
the rats in my small dark room
very much resented sharing it
with me.
they were large and fearless
and stared at me with eyes
that spoke
an unblinking
women were beyond me.
they saw something
there was one waitress
a little older than
I, she rather smiled,
lingered when she
brought my
that was plenty for
me, that was
there was something about
that city, though:
it didn't let me feel guilty
that I had no feeling for the
things so many others
it let me alone.
sitting up in my bed
the lights out,
hearing the outside
lifting my cheap
bottle of wine,
letting the warmth of
the grape
as I heard the rats
moving about the
I preferred them
being lost,
being crazy mabye
is not so bad
if you can be
that way:
New Orleans gave me
nobody ever called
my name.
no telephone,
no car,
no job,
no anything.
me and the
and my youth,
one time,
that time
I knew
even through the
it was a
of something not to
but only

Charles Bukowski

The speaker expresses nostalgia for his time in New Orleans--a time when he was broke, could only afford a rat-infested apartment, and was doing nothing particularly productive. This time was important to him because of its simplicity--"no anything / me and the / rats / and my youth"--and because New Orleans left him "undisturbed." Despite the harsh living conditions, the speaker remembers being happy there, reveling in "something not to / do / but only / to know."

A kind of Zen point of view permeates this poem: the not-doing, the peaceful acceptance of one's place in the moment, the lack of guilt and the aquiring of an "undisturbed" life. The speaker is not, in this moment, looking for anything more; no ambition, no desire, no need to be with anyone but himself. This creates contentment, even with the rats.

Check out the previous post in Living Poetry's New Orleans series.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

New Orleans poet David Brinks

David Brinks and Andre Codrescu are the founders of the New Orleans School for the Imagination in the French Quarter--"right above the Gold Mine Saloon"--a non-profit oganization for poetry, arts, yoga, and buddhist thought. They had just built brand new studio space in which they were planning to offer Saturday poetry workshops.

Codrescu is the editor of the journal Exsquisite Corpse. This poem by David Brinks is in their online issue:

the red earth

I was born from a gentle rise
in the left trouser-leg
of my father

my mother's kiss formed me into a fish

inside their volcano of approval
I discovered a legendary
moonsplit plum where I slept
an eternal history
of nine months
in the land of trembling water

the great earthquake of my mother's body
was my first poem

-Dave Brinks

I think this poem appeals to me right now partly because of the line "in the land of trembling water." I am also drawn to its depiction of beauty being created out of an arbitrary meeting and born from a violent event. The speaker is formed in a "volcano," sleeps in the seemingly eternal but ultimately temporary security of a "moonsplit plum," then is born when that security is shattered by a bodily "earthquake."

This birth is the speaker's "first poem," a statement that claims the poem as experience and a state of being rather than an artificial process. It also declares the poem as a birth, a creation; aligning the poem with birth imbues it with inherent mystery, humanity, and pain.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Some nifty posts

There is so much going on in the poetry world right now--debates, discussions, new work, reviews, philosophizing, etc. I thought I'd list a few of the interesting posts I've been reading lately.

Josse has a thoughtful post about the legistlative threat to our national park system, and one with another lovely poem by Mark Wunderlich.

Rolling Thunder's BZoo Radio--you can stream their station live. They offer folk, bluegrass, rock and spoken poetry. Where else can you get that mix?

Jordan's long poem Their Fields is published as an ebook.

Gilbert won the Golden Point award for English language poetry.

Dead Poet discusses the differences between poetry and prose.

Robin asks which New Orleans writers are important to us, and chimes in on the discussion about poetry contests.

Roger weighs in on "Ars Poetica."

Whimsy Speaks takes issue with Alan Gilbert's declaration that desire has been "hijacked" by capitalist culture.

Gabriel wonders if mediocrity is "abundant in today's poetry."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Jorie Graham

I have been reading Jorie Graham's Swarm. In this collection, Graham uses a lot of white space, sentence fragments, single, separated words, and parentheses. The poems look like pictures on the pages, and beg to be read aloud.

Here is an excerpt from "Daphne" on page 44:


Pick     a card.

Wrong again.

Interrupt belief.

Write down hope.

Move lips in sleep.



Be less.

Be found.

Be muzzled.

Say write hard answers on me.

Bear down make clear.

The moon rises.

Will never be perfect.

Be good open mouth.

Don't scream.

This poem reads as a list of imperatives. An unseen speaker instructs Daphne--the nymph who was changed into a laurel tree while fleeing Apollo's unwanted attention--on how to escape the love-struck god. She must become an object, something that is "less" than fully human, something "found," and "muzzled;" something that is acted upon--"write hard answers on me"--rather than the actor, the one who used to run and hunt and enjoy the riches of nature.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tom Daley

Here's another one from the current issue of 32 Poems by Boston's own Tom Daley:


In the stairwell of the airport parking garage
a dragonfly lies without rebuke,
inert and dessicated,
papery fossil of an extinguished grace.
Its blue-black head droops,
knobby and askew.

What a darting was here,
what whirled profusion--
mylar wings ribbed with veins
hammering a downdraft,
hinged between water tension
and the weight of the sky.

Tom Daley

In the previous post, I mentioned that memory, to a poet, can be just as tangible and present as anything going on in the "real" world at that moment. In this poem, the speaker describes not a memory of the dragonfly, but an imagining of the energy and life that once existed in the now "inert and dessicated" corpse. S/he creates this description out of previous experience with dragonflies--how they move, their speed, their lightness--and pure imagination.

As poets, we spend a great deal of time trying to describe something--a feeling, an object, a thought, a philosophy, etc. We want to properly convey the experience through words. We want to be accurate, but artisitic and original. I think that the imagination can never be overestimated in crafting a poem. If it's a feeling we want to describe, how might that feeling be reflected in nature? How might an object be described if it were an animal? How might the color red smell? Or, as the speaker imagines, how might an already dead dragonfly exist if it were still alive?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver's The Leaf and the Cloud is both a pondering and a questioning of how the poem can be used as a reflection of the natural world. As the speaker says in "From The Book of Time" on page 17, "maybe the world, without us, / is the real poem."

If you love to read descriptions of the natural world and consider what our role is as both inhabiters and observers of nature, get this book. It is a startling and beautiful rendering of how a poem can use the sensuality of nature to explore emotion, circumstance, and philosophical questioning. Great stuff.

Here is an excerpt from "Work," a lengthy segment in which the speaker muses over the nature and purpose of writing poetry.


All day I have been pining for the past.
That's when the big dog, Luke, breathed at my side.
Then she dashed away then she returned
in and out of the swales, in and out of the creeks,
her dark eyes snapping.
Then she broke, slowly,
in the rising arc of a fever.

And now she's nothing
except for mornings when I take a handful of words
and throw them into the air
so that she dashes up again out of the darkness,

like this--

this is the world.

Mary Oliver

The speaker is describing the process of writing memory into poetry. By throwing a "handful of words...into the air," she conjures her dog Luke to her side. "This is the world," the speaker states; not just what we can actively touch and see and hear, but also that which we create from our own minds. To the poet, memory can be as tangible and present as the world rushing around right outside the door.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Julianna Baggott on Marie Curie

When I was a kid, Marie Curie was my greatest idol. I wanted to be a physicist for years, and I loved reading biographies of Curie, fascinated by her intelligence, drive, and passion for nuclear physics.

A Polish woman who lived most of her life in France, Curie (born Marie Sklodowska) had two children with husband Pierre Curie, also an eminent scientist. Pierre was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn carriage ran him down, crushing his head.

The following poem is in the current issue of 32 Poems (Vol. 3 No. 1) on page 22:

Marie Curie Gives Advice to her
Daughter Irene Before her Wedding

I remember this moment--the pram distilled,
its sediment was an infant,
no longer something born from me,
not residue, not pitchblende,
but its own particle,
an open mouth, a cry,
within its head, a mind wrestling with thoughts
--my motherland could be there,
driven into the skull,
some ancient homing.
Years I have soaked
in radium.
I've begun to bleed light.
I see your father again
crossing streets in rain--
the doors are locked,
his umbrella fills with wind,
the horses approach,
hauling a wagon of soldier's uniforms--
something to dress the dead--
it's come to crush him.
My navy suit with solid stitching crushes me.
And since then I've begun to confuse
the glowing test tubes
with wicks of the moon, a dazing field of stars,
my own soul, and a moment goes by
when I forget the brutish charm of work.
My hope, daughter, is that
what you love doesn't come to kill you,
eye by eye, ear by ear, bone by radiant bone.

Julianna Baggott

Marie Curie died from complications of radiation poisoning, although it is unclear whether in 1926--the year of Irene's wedding--she was aware that her ill health was due to radiaton. The first physicists who worked with these elements were mostly ignorant of the connection between their later ill health and radiation, which seems shocking to us today. What is especially poignant is that Irene goes on to become one of the most revered scientists in France, like her mother also wins the Nobel Prize (along with her husband), and later dies of leukemia contracted from exposure to radium.

Both of these women worked in an exciting, difficult, and deadly field, but before they left the earth, they made remarkable accomplishments for science and for women. They lived lives of dedication and passion.

Marie Curie photo found here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Mark Wunderlich

I have participated in two workshops with Mark Wunderlich at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and it's about time I posted one of his very fine poems. He has two volumes of poetry: The Anchorage and Voluntary Servitude.

Here is one of his poems on

The Bruise Of This

The night I woke to find the sheets wet from you,
like a man cast up on the beach,
I hurried you off to the shower to cool you down,

dressed you, the garments strict and awkward in my hands,
and got you into a taxi to the hospital,
the driver eyeing us from his rearview mirror--

The blue tone of the paging bell,
the green smocks, metal beds,
plastic chairs linked

in a childhood diagram of infection,
and when they wheeled you by
there was a needle in your arm,

the bruise of this
already showing itself,
and rather than watch gloved doctors handle you

in their startling white coats and loose ties,
I took a seat outside and waited,
time yawning, thick and static--

and made clear to me in the bright light of speculation
was time's obstacle in the body,
and those things I could do that might cushion it.

Mark Wunderlich

No matter what kind of poetry you like to write--whether you prefer free verse, traditional, postmodern, romantic, or whatever--you can never go wrong using clear, strong, carefully crafted imagery. This poem is a fantastic example. Every stanza brings a new, powerful image to the poem and carries the reader through the experience.

Someone with night sweats this severe is very ill. The speaker attends to this person with careful urgency--perhaps this is not their first trip to the emergency room. Every space these two occupy is painted for us: In the bed, we see someone "cast up on a beach." In the taxi, we see the furtive glances of the driver in the mirror. In the hospital we see "greens smocks," even a "blue" bell. We see the needle and the bruise it has caused. We even see time, "thick and static."

The speaker is made aware, within the frightening arena of an emergency room and the lack of control a patient's relative has, of "time's obstacle in the body." A fascinating way to end the poem, in that it is somewhat cryptic in a poem of such clear imagery and chronology. It has something to do with this illness--perhaps illness is the obstacle to time in the body, i.e. time is inhibited by the illness. The speaker wonders what can be done to "cushion" the obstacle--make it less powerful--thereby giving time a better chance. The "bruise" can be seen as the emotional scar left on the speaker by loving and caring for someone with a dangerous disease. It is very urgent and sad poem, but not without hope.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"Spare Change" Poetry

Those of us who are city-dwellers are familiar with "Spare Change," a newspaper sold on the streets by homeless, or formerly homeless people, to provide them with a source of income. I picked up a copy a couple days ago. Did you know there is a poetry section?

Here's one I like. It's on page 6 of the August 4 issue:

After the Crash

people light candles
in a small town,
wrap yellow ribbons
around street posts
and trees. Stores
close. Friends
wander in a daze
stand in small
circles. One reads
from a letter the
victim wrote the
day before: "summer
has been great,
between performing
at Carnegie Hall
(I got roses) and
attempting to get my driver's license,
pedestrians beware."

Lyn Lifshin

I am compelled to read this poem over and over because of that last cryptic line. What does it mean? Was the "victim" killed as a pedestrian by a driver, thus making the line a poignant ironic statement? Or was s/he a driver? Was anyone else involved? We are given just enough information to understand the town's grief over the loss of a talented, young person, and that's it. This short poem successfully captures the emotion of loss and grief simply by painting an image.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Grace Paley

At FAWC, I had the pleasure of hearing Grace Paley read to a packed audience. There were people sitting in chairs outside in the dark humidity, being bitten by mosquitos, just to hear her. She is a short story writer and poet. I found the following poem in the plagiarist poetry archive:

This Life

My friend tells me
a man in my house jumped off the roof
the roof is the eighth floor of this building
the roof door was locked how did he manage?
his girlfriend had said goodbye I'm leaving
he was 22
his mother and father were hurrying
at that very moment
from upstate to help him move out of Brooklyn
they had heard about the girl

the people who usually look up
and call jump jump did not see him
the life savers who creep around the back staircases
and reach the roof's edge just in time
never got their chance he meant it he wanted
only one person to know

did he imagine that she would grieve
all her young life away tell everyone
this boy I kind of lived with last year
he died on account of me

my friend was not interested he said you're always
inventing stuff what I want to know how could he throw
his life away how do these guys do it
just like that and here I am fighting this
ferocious insane vindictive virus day and
night day and night and for what? for only
one thing this life this life

Grace Paley

Wow, what can I say about this? Those of us who struggle with illness will always be frustrated by those who take their health for granted; imagine the reaction of someone fighting to stay alive hearing about a healthy, young life thrown away for no real reason.

And yet, there was a reason. His heart was broken, but more than that, he had come to a psychological state where dying seemed the logical course of action.

What I find so effective about this poem is Paley's working in of urgency, of an almost-rescued feeling, with the parents "hurrying... from upstate" to help him out, even speculating about the actions of witnesses and rescuers who weren't there. It feels as if the young man was almost saved, but in fact, he carried out his death in secret seclusion.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Joshua Weiner

Just returned from a week at the FAWC in P-town, and I tell you I did not want to come back. Poetry workshop in the morning, afternoons on the beach reading and writing, evenings listening to readings and watching slide shows of visual artists. I heard the stories of Grace Paley, the poetry of Joshua Weiner and Robert Pinsky, the fiction of Julia Glass, and saw slides of block prints by Peik Larsen. Others who read during the week were Norman Mailer, Mark Wunderlich (my workshop leader), and Mary Oliver. Can you imagine such a lineup? What a week. And I have several new drafts of poems to work on.

I'm going to feature a few poems by the writers who were at FAWC this week, starting with Joshua Weiner. This poem is from his book The World's Room, University of Chicago press, p. 61:

Bruno's Night

Up the hill of snoring
The father climbs in dream,
The mother sinks in silence
And baby sucks its thumb.

But struggling next door
Boy Bruno smells the dawn
While the sick, the sad, the torn
Apart quiet their song.

Dropped curtains hide the night's
Inspired fantastic pomp
That liquidates with light--
Don't oversleep--Wake up!

Run to the grimy window,
Press your nose to the dirt.
Under the dawn: you follow
The mass of gathering earth.

This is the last poem in the book, and it ends on such a poignant, and somewhat ambiguous, note. I imagine this boy in a home of persistent struggle and sadness, perhaps even brutality and/or poverty. The father "climbs" only in dreams, the mother "sinks," and the ungendered baby shares their room. Bruno's window is "grimy" and dirty. He is a boy of amazing sensitivity--he can smell dawn breaking--and he forces himself to wake up so he won't miss it. He ignores the dirt on the window, putting his nose right in it, so he can watch not the dawn itself, but the earth as it pulls together under the rising light.

This boy finds beauty in a world full of cramped struggle, and he finds it not in the transcendent faraway sky, but down on the earth itself. He can find joy in a world that so far has forced him to look for it. I wonder about the future for Bruno. His sensitivity is what allows him to uncover the world's wonder, but it is also what will make him vulnerable to its brutality.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

"Minimal Sound"

I'm headed back to the FAWC today, this time for a week-long poetry workshop with Mark Wunderlich. And a little beach time.

Generally, I don't like poems about poems. Barbara Guest's newest book, The Red Gaze, is an exception; each poem continues a reflection on the poet's art. It is full of little glimpses of detail, memory, and color. The following poem is on page 29:

Minimal Sound

What we are becomes a memory, the hand may open a secret lock.

The poem enters on tiptoe, climbs the terrain,
weary, it listens to minimal sound, the slowed
tree branches are drawn on purpose, part of the same program.

Here, the poem's world is fragile; the poem itself must tread very carefully, and it has become "weary," perhaps of trying so many times to capture the truth of the world. The poem's talent is it's ability to hear "minimal sound," the smallest bit of detail or movement or color, the qualities that would be scared off by a loud entrance. Then, the writing: "the slowed / tree brances are drawn on purpose," the poem listens carefully to the world it inhabits, but eventually must stop and put down on paper what it finds.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tom Sleigh

While I was at the FAWC, I heard Tom Sleigh read several of his new poems. He is a great reader; his tone, expression, and manner add energy to the work, and he has a subtle way of bringing the listeners into the world of each poem with him. Very enjoyable.

I picked up a copy of his book The Dreamhouse, published in 1999 by the University of Chicago press. Here is one of the poems from that book I really like (pp. 50-51):

The Hammock

Your hand pushes me away
so that I float into the night,
then swing back, back from the nebulae
to our drifting conversation.

Among the race of star demons
what I saw out there--
golden chains, the spindle, sirens
chanting the music of the spheres--

blurs and streaks across star-flung
distances the chain-link fences
can't fence out. Between
your hand and the hammock's

slow rocking the Void
expands, twisting threads
tautening, slackening, stretched
almost to breaking:

Do you feel that wobble
of earth's axis, space
whirling past the ice-capped pole?
The pines like judges stare down at us:

What should we recant, here,
tonight, as if we'd only just begun:
Off-center already, losing
equilibrium? The world-soul moving

through the strung-out stars moves
in threads that creak and moan,
breathes between your mouth and mine.
Pushing me away, you bring

me home, your attraction drawing
down the alchemical sign:
Love draws the soul
the way a magnet draws iron.

This is a beautiful depiction of an inherent connectedness of all life, of "golden chains" which bond us all together, transcending even the boundaries of "chain-link fences:" divisions of politics, religion, culture, race, etc. As the speaker glimpses the "nebulae," s/he understands the illusory nature of these divisions; it is one "world soul" which exists, expanding and contracting, connecting life through "threads that creak and moan," and living in the space between people, not inside them. These tenuous threads, often stretched to near breaking, pull us inevitably together.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Back from P-town

Yesterday I returned from an intensive memoir writing workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown on Cape Cod. The weather was stunning, and despite the work, I did manage an afternoon on the beach. Fabulous.

The workshop was led by Marcie Hershman, and if you enjoy reading memoir, check out her book entitled Speak to Me , an account of her dealing with grief after the death of her brother. Marcie is also the author of several novels and a wonderful workshop leader. She is teaching a week long memoir workshop in the fall at FAWC, so check it out if you have something important from your life experience that you want to get down on paper.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Fine Arts Work Center

This weekend, I am attending a memoir writing workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass. In August, I'll be doing a week long poetry workshop there with Mark Wunderlich--my second workshop with him.

If you ever have the chance, check out the summer and fall workshop offerings at FAWC. The instructors are accomplished artists and writers, and many, if not most of the classes are open to artists of all levels. I came away from last year's workshop feeling quite inspired. Of the three poems I wrote that will be in the next issue of eratio, two were generated during that time.

Plus, if you go in the summer, you get to hang out at the beach in the afternoons, which is exremely important for artistic inspiration. :-)

I'm hopping on the ferry later today--I'll see you on Monday!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Little Box

A while back, I wrote a post about being claustrophobically surrounded by boxes, because I had just moved, and had not yet unpacked. Robin suggested that Vasko Popa had some good poems about boxes. I found one at the ezine pith:

The Little Box

The little box gets her first teeth
And her little length
Little width little emptiness
And all the rest she has

The little box continues growing
The cupboard that she was inside
Is now inside her

And she grows bigger bigger bigger
Now the room is inside her
And the house and the city and the earth
And the world she was in before

The little box remembers her childhood
And by a great longing
She becomes a little box again

Now in the little box
You have the whole world in miniature
You can easily put in a pocket
Easily steal it lose it

Take care of the little box

Vasko Popa, from Homage to the Lame Wolf
Oberlin College Press

She, the little box, is born into the large cupboard of the world. As she grows and gets her "teeth"--her experiences, her sense of self and purpose, her gumption--the world is born inside her, into the empty place reserved for it. After a time, she longs for childhood when the world was big and magical and outside; so she is once again born into it. Now we have the "whole world in miniature," where the sense of self and purpose has intimately tied to the world, but small and easily lost or stolen. Therefore, self, purpose, and the relationship to the world must be protected and cherished.

One can also read that the child herself must be protected and cherished. I read both.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Knowing when it works.

Last week I wrote two poems. I mananaged, with each of them, to cut to the raw of some truth, and I knew it when I did it. Now, when I reread them, I still feel it.

Since then, I have written two more, and although I worked harder on them, they don't have the same quality of pointed honesty that the others do. I think. I need to sit on them little--then we'll see.

That's how it happens with me: write it out, cut away the dross, take down the on-ramp (often my first stanza just turn out to be something to get me going), don't skimp on the end. Now, what's there? Is it honest?

I can't describe this sense of truth I strive for in my poetry. I just know it when I get it, and it doesn't happen every time. It's not entirely, but it is partially, emotional, psychological, physical, logical, and the result of experience.

Do you know when you get something right in your art, whether writing, sculpting, painting, etc.? How do you know it? How does truth hit you?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

..but the moon is lovely.

Check out the NASA photo gallery.

I was responding to a comment, and I thought the questions involved might interest other poets and artists, so I'm posting my response here. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Hi Silver Moon,

You're right to choose whatever name you want. And a poet should write about the moon, if that's what the poem requires.

What makes Brehm's poem so complex is its commentary on this very topic. He has begun this perfectly lovely poem involving the moon, but he is distracted by a critical voice that tells him he can't write about the moon. It's not only a statement about trying to avoid cliche, but an illustration of how that persistent, critical voice--worrying about how our art will be judged--affects the art itself.

How do we find that balance, as poets--writing what we need to write, what we are compelled to write, but trying to create quality, literary work, which requires learning what works and what doesn't, evaluating the work that precedes our own, but not surrending our own voice to it--etc., etc., etc. I find it's best to think about it a little, but not too much. The best way is to keep writing, do workshops, and read a lot of poetry.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Cortland Review

False color image of the moon
NASA photo gallery.

Found this over at The Cortland Review online:


Caught sight of the moon
caught in its
net of

and thought-
I've got to get free of that.

John Brehm

I sense a blending of speaker and poet here. The speaker spots the moon, visually entangled in tree branches, and identifies with it; perhaps he feels his own life is tangled up and sees that manifested in the moon's "plight."

On the other hand, there is a concensus among poets that the moon is an overused image. I imagine the poet's attention turning toward the moon, findng inspiration, crafting some words, then thinking: wait. Can't write about the moon. Need to think of something else.

Monday, July 11, 2005


From the Vernal Equinox issue of Bonfire, p. 75:


Clusters of pinecones against winter green,
backdropped by cloudless blue sky.
Silently, afternoon passes between
the moment and eternity.

Captain, this absence of monsters and rocks--
sailor, shut up. Let it be.
The voyage from nowhere to nothing and back
beaten by drunk, brawling seas,

sometimes will toss up a treasure like this:
just hold to the stillness and see
shadows of what, on the island of peace,
waits with your name in her sigh.


Although I am always interested in poems that deal with awareness, particularly its transient nature, my mind gets a little dulled by overused vocabularly such as "stillness," "moment," "journey," etc. What I like about this poem is the introduction of the sailor's and captian's voices in the second stanza; their interchange stands as a conversation between a young, energetic, easily bored go-getter looking for promised excitement on the "voyage," and the older, wiser, more experienced person who knows that excitement isn't all its cracked up to be, and that "the island of peace" is the ultimate goal.

I also like that the presence on the island whose shadow sighs the sailor's name is a feminine presence. It brings to my mind both the archetypal goddess image and the tradition of sailors viewing their ship as a protective, feminine companion.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Sylvia Plath

Why have I not read Sylvia Plath before? I rented the movie "Sylvia," starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and the next day I ordered both The Bell Jar, her novel, and Ariel, a collection of poems.

The Bell Jar took me right off guard. The narrative is deceptively simple, almost childlike; devastating similes such as "to the person in The Bell Jar, black and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream" added up to create an atmosphere of suffocation and morbid distortion. It's very disturbing and highly relevant. I loved it.

Here's a poem from Ariel:

Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly--

A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky

Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

Sylvia Plath

This poem reflects the mixture of beauty, morbidity, and suffocation that I see over and over in Plath's work. The speaker is awed by the gorgeous red poppies that have sprung up so late in the year, and even refers to this phenomenon as "a love gift." She finds this more beautiful than the colors of the morning sky or the blood seeping through the coat of an injured woman. That is how Plath gets me; from sky to bleeding to death in one brief stanza. In the third stanza, the sky is described as "igniting its carbon monoxides," creating that trapped, suffocating, poisoned-air feeling that exists in the bell jar. Finally, the speaker can't help but compare her own sense of insignificance to the poppies: "O my God, what am I," she asks.

Perhaps it is too glib to suggest that this question was the fundmamental question posed in Plath's work--the "what am I" juxtaposed with all the goodness or beauty she felt separate from--but in the context of the poem, it does illustrate her persistent feeling of separation from her environment, her sometimes distorted view of herself and her surroundings, and frustration at finding a wall between herself and her world that she could never knock down. The speaker can't properly enjoy the poppies, because even that ends up being about her own insignificance; not in a big/small way, or a nature/human way, but in a worthy/worthless way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More Fear and Graveyards

Over at PoemHunter I found a companion poem to the one by Teasdale in the previous post. It's interesting to me that both of these poets deal with fear as a fear of death; or more specifically, a fear of being buried, of being isolated from life, of being utterly alone.

In these poems, death seems to be the opposite of life--the western idea of polarity, where life is understood by its opposite, death--rather than a continuation of life on a different plane of existence: heaven, enlightenment and nirvana, or reincarnation. I think each speaker fears, more than anything, being trapped: death=burial=stuck in one place, alone.

In Gluck's poem, the second stanza suggest that the ghost which roams the graveyard is not a disembodied spirit, but a spiritless body. We usually imagine the body as being lifeless after death--it decays, after all--and the spirit as that which continues. But the speaker sees the spirit as stuck on a small rock, and the body as doomed to roam the perimeter, observing the former weight of life.

The Fear Of Burial

In the empty field, in the morning,
the body waits to be claimed.
The spirit sits beside it, on a small rock--
nothing comes to give it form again.

Think of the body's loneliness.
At night pacing the sheared field,
its shadow buckled tightly around.
Such a long journey.

And already the remote, trembling lights of the village
not pausing for it as they scan the rows.
How far away they seem,
the wooden doors, the bread and milk
laid like weights on the table.

Louise Gluck

Sunday, June 19, 2005


I have a recurring experience I call night terror. I wake up with a quick jolt in the middle of the night--sometimes I swear it's because I heard something--and am suddenly slammed with terror in my gut. I find it difficult to breathe for a few minutes. Often I think someone has broken in and is going to hurt me in some undefined but terrible way. I have been experiencing this since I was quite young, although not all the time.

I was thinking about this and started to look for poems about fear. I found this one by Sara Teasdale over at PoemHunter, and I was struck with how well she describes night terror. In the end of the poem, it is all about fear of death. Teasdale doesn't hold anything back in this one.

What are you afraid of? What makes your heart pound and your breath shallow?


I am afraid, oh I am so afraid!
The cold black fear is clutching me to-night
As long ago when they would take the light
And leave the little child who would have prayed,
Frozen and sleepless at the thought of death.
My heart that beats too fast will rest too soon;
I shall not know if it be night or noon, --
Yet shall I struggle in the dark for breath?
Will no one fight the Terror for my sake,
The heavy darkness that no dawn will break?
How can they leave me in that dark alone,
Who loved the joy of light and warmth so much,
And thrilled so with the sense of sound and touch, --
How can they shut me underneath a stone?

Sara Teasdale

Monday, June 06, 2005

Boxed In

I'm living among boxes. I'm sleeping among boxes. I'm dreaming about boxes. I walk around boxes, eat off of boxes, and use boxes as end tables. My cats are hiding in boxes, and my dog is threatening to chew a box apart.

I have just moved into Boston, downsizing from a large house in the suburbs. I love the city. The boxes, not so much.

Are there box fairies that might come and unpack everything overnight? Are they for hire?

I have no poetry books. What posessed me to pack all of my poetry? I have no clue where the poetry is. Did I spell "posessed" correctly?

Anybody know a good poem about boxes, Boston, or moving? Help me out--I got nothin'.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


This poem in the current issue of crazyhorse caught my attention, in part because I am classically trained in piano. When one watches an extraordinary painist, it does seem as if he has magic in his hands.

Schumann by Horowitz
translated by Alexis Levitin

They are a peasant legacy, the hands
These little hands, generation
after generation, come from far away:
they mixed mortar, opened trembling
furrows in the black earth, sowed seed
and harvested, milked goats,
grabbed hold of pitchforks to clean out
stalls: from sun to sun no
work was alien tho them.
Now this is how they are: fragile, delicate,
born to give body to sounds
which, in other epochs, other hands
perservered in writing as if
writing life itself.
Seeing them, no one would say
the earth flows in their blood.
They are aged hands, but on the keyboard
they are capable of the unbelievable: joining
in the same measure the murmur
of September woods and the laughter
of children on their way to the sea.

Eugenio de Andrade

(no. 67, Spring 2005: p. 17).

A little background:Vladimir Horowitz was born in the Ukraine and found success a concert pianist under communist rule. During a tour of the United States in 1928, he defected, and later became a citizen.

I don't know much about his ancestry, but I assume the poem refers to a family tree of hard-working peasants, and how their struggle and labor still flow through his hands, even as he plays.

Friday, May 27, 2005


Anon, a poetry journal based in Scotland, considers all submissions without knowing who the authors are. They ask poets to leave their name and contact info off of the poetry, and they do no want any cover letters, cv's/resumes, or list of publication credits. The authors are credited if they are accepted for publication. I think it's a great idea.

I have been reading Anon Three, and I found some wonderful work. In particular. I like the following poem by Rose Kelleher (p. 42):


This is a hologram of me
that fades and flickers as it stirs
the soup. Unseen machinery
projects my flesh: an engine whirs
behind the wall, and generates
repeating waves of sound and heat.
A pulsing pattern stimulates
a skin, devoid of blood or meat.

The hologram is sputtering
with static, and the color's dim,
but it continues buttering
his bread, and that's enough for him;
while you are unimpressed, who own
the best of me: the pulp, the bone.

Rose Kelleher

Although I am not a huge fan of rhyming poetry, Kelleher handles the rhyme in this poem so expertly that I didn't even notice it until perhaps the third reading. I believe it benefits the poem; it is not rhyming for rhyming's sake. It is a well-crafted form, mixed with effective enjambment, that creates a striking exploration into the speaker's sense of identity.

I see in this poem a woman engaged in a an activity that she has done a thousand times for her family--cooking soup at the stove. She has begun to feel invisible, as if a projected image could be doing this task and no one would notice. Perhaps her own sense of awareness is diminished by the months or years of repetition.

Her husband does not notice this; he is just happy to get his soup and buttered bread, as he is accustomed to. As long as his routine stays fixed, and he gets what he needs, he's fine. The others, however--those who "own / the best of [her]: the pulp, the bone" are "unimpressed." I imagine these are her children, who are aware of the "hologram," who know that this is not their mother, but only projection. They are waiting for the real thing to return.

This reading may be a bit literal. It is what came to mind with a few readings; I have no doubt that more will hit me as I think about the poem. What do you see? Do you relate to this speaker? Do you sometimes feel like a mere hologram, and find that no one even notices?

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Spoon River Poetry Review

Have you ever picked of a journal of poetry or literature and not found anything to engage you? Nothing that resonated with you or grabbed your attention or lit that spark of sudden realization in your gut? Don't you hate when that happens? Yesterday, I purchased a literary journal, read all the poetry, and sort of shrugged. There are plenty of famous, talented poets and well-crafted writing. Was it the poems are just me? Maybe I was having a weird day, I don't know.

This morning I went back to the current issue of The Spoon River Review, vol. XXIX, no. 2, which has lots of poetry I really, really like. I am posting one by Alan DeNiro (p. 42), a poem that is a very funny but very angry rebuke against those who buy into consumerist culture.

If you have a favorite small press poetry journal you love--particularly poetry only, but literary is fine--let me know, even if it is very small. I am always on the lookout. Thanks!

Moby Dick II

You! With the semipermanent features!
And the Best Buy in your pocket!
And the limber subliminal cells telling you what to buy!
And the popsicle stick scythe!
What do you think you can cut with that?
You have a Lincoln Navigator for a sphincter!
What do you hope to accomplish with that?
Naming vehicles after famous presidents like that!
And also perhaps Vasco do Gama!
Go ahead and titter! This poem
Will never change your life!
But then again you're a vampire!
So you're kind of dead anyways!
Who was Ahab's first mate and later died?

Alan DeNiro

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Antioch Review

In the current issue of The Antioch Review, there is a poem by Alessandra Lynch that is so striking in its voice that I want to share it (vol. 63, no. 2, Spring 2005, p. 316):

by Alessandra Lynch

Cause I was lonesome
for spur, dug
my naked heel
in glass. Cause I needed
clank, got my bones
thin and close to the hard world.

Cause I lost grasp of what was
former smoke, shifty ghost-foots, thready
past, gripped the visible
moon-horn, turned leathern face
to the old-cat sun, clutched
the rope, jerked on the boot and saddled quick.

My cattleprod cramped a shadow.
My gaunt rifle ready for damage.
Got used to sleeping in bad spaces
snowed-in with burlap.
Cause I was odd-eyed, hungered with wolves,
I yowling bristled yellow like prarie.

Cause I ached for the stars, palomino
went lame. Cause I had no thought
to cry home, memorized the swagger,
hip-twist, slow smile. And mostly
my quiet was scorched. And most of my whiskey
drunk fast. Most of my sundowns forgot--

Most of the staredowns stared off--
Most of the town killed to dust--
Most of the world smothered by hats--
Most tongues cut out--I spoke in grunts--
Most of the sky was mine.

Till the low hawk swung down.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

eratio postmodern poetry

There are some wonderful poems in the current issue of eratio. Take a few minutes and check them out. This is the kind of work that inspires me to be a better poet.

I want to describe this poem by Rosanna Licari as "haunting." I know that is an overused adjective in poetry criticism, but I can't help it. The last two lines get to me. What do you make of them?

the coast road

last night someone called my name
and i woke up to no one
but a book beside me

i measure sparsity between lines
and wonder what could have been said
then consider swimming in silence
thoughts float against skin
and seep into marrow —
if you dare speak of courage

i've had days filled
with dressing gowns, cups of tea
toast and too many cigarettes

once i took the long way home
beauty was stuck in my throat
for months.

Rosanna Licari

The speaker seems caught in a life of loniness and routine. She finds "sparsity" rather than meaning when she reads between the lines of her book--her only companion--and a metaphor for her life. When silent, her thoughts become palpable. "if you dare speak of courage:" the courage to confront her inner life, those thoughts and awareness of lonliness that threaten to seep through her whole body.

What follows is a list comprising her routine: dressing gowns, tea, toast, smoking. But there was a time when she broke from the rut, when she "took the long way home." The title refers to the "coast," the wildness and fluidity of the sea. Perhaps the long way home was a love affair, or a trip, or simply a drive to which the title alludes. "The coast road" also brings to mind the idea of "coasting" through life, possibly a way to describe how she has been living so far.

When the speaker breaks from coasting, when she sidetracks from her routine long enough to be aware of some life and beauty outside her home, the beauty becomes "stuck in [her] throat for months." Why? Perhaps it is too painful for her, once she returns home, to remember the beauty she is passing up. Perhaps that moment of awareness was a transient sensation; a powerful second of connectedness that flew off as soon as it came, and the memory haunts her.

What do you think?

Monday, May 16, 2005


Bonfire is a quarterly literary journal based in the U.K. Its tag line is "an international conflagration," and they feature poets from the U.K. and around the world. If you go to their site, you can use PayPal to purchase a sample copy on .pdf. It's the most efficient, coolest way I've seen to get a sample copy of a print journal.

DB Cox, a "blues poet" and musician originally from South Carolina, is one of the featured poets in their current issue. I was particuarly taken by this poem of his:


take me
to a place
where midnight

don’t want
to see the sun
anymore—put me
on a train

with no windows
where nighttime
lasts forever
& a speed-mad

engineer with
a mechanical heart
high balls
a coal-black engine

time tunnels
like a bullet
leaving a gun

where the speed
of darkness
is faster than
the speed of light

of a nocturnal scene
mingus & monk

behind a tan-skinned
lady, white orchid
in her hair
singing “keeps on a rainin”

just give me things
i can depend on
red wine, old times
the repetition of a song

DB Cox

If you know that Cox is a lover of the blues, and you know the basics of the blues musical structure, then the title already gives us a hint of the nature of the speaker's yearning. Repetition is at the heart of the blues: "Oh, my dog died this morning, and my woman ran away. Oh, my dog died this morning, and my woman ran away. The sky is so cloudy, looks like it's nothing but rain today." (Don't make fun of me, I'm just making this up now to make a point). :-) Cox's poetry has a strong, blues-like rhythm and vernacular, although it doesn't hold strictly to the form. (Check out Sterling Plumpp's poetry for some beautiful, strict blues poetry.)

The poem brings to mind a late night in a blues club, "a nocturnal scene / mingus and monk softly / behind a tan-skinned / lady, white orchid / in her hair / singing 'keeps on a rainin'." Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk are two famous blues musicians, and Bessie Smith (1894-1937), the singer of "Keeps on a'Rainin'," is one of the most well-known American blues singers.

The speaker wants things he "can depend on," and for him that means coming back to the music that has sustained him through his life and work: the blues. I get the feeling that this could be a picture of heaven for the speaker--all the most wonderful blues musician gathered in one nocturnal spot, with him right in the middle of it all.

(By the way, I found three conflicting dates of birth for Bessie Smith, but they all agree she passed away in 1937.)

Picture of Bessie Smith found at NPR

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Just Look

I love poetry. I love to read it, write it, and I love to write about reading it. That's what I do here. Poetry criticism is a challenge and a joy.

Then there are days like today where I feel as if I have nothing to say. Sometimes it is better just to read and let the poem sink into me; to let it have whatever impact it's going to have, and not worry about putting that experience into language.

This Walt Whitman poem over at The Academy of American Poets set me free today. It says everything I feel and wanted to put words to. It has done my work for me.

For today, anyway.

When I Heard the Learned Atronomer

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide,
and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with
much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman

Image found at the NASA web site.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Birmingham Poetry Review

I spent part of my weekend checking out a few poetry journals, trying to keep up-to-date with what's out there. This is a great time for poetry; there is truly something for everyone.

Although I love studying the works of well-known poets, I want to pay some attention to the gorgeous and striking work that is being created right now, which deserves to be read but will never get the kind of PR allotted to "The DaVinci Code." At the Birmingham Poetry Review site, I found this poem by Fernand Roqueplan, and just had to share.

Everything Repeated Many Times

Met a man on a downtown Biloxi bus,
his affliction some doctor must
have phrases or explanations for:
everything repeated many times.
He described his house, called his house
yellow yellow yellow just like that:
thought maybe his mind worked in threes,
then he said his favorite color—red

red red red. I wasn't sorry for him
or irritated, thought how nice
having a head jabbed full of words
stripped of eloquence,
sophistry and oration tripped up:
afflicted with everything
repeated many times,
how difficult it would be to lie.

Told me his name name name—
John. I asked him again, and he said,
"My name name name is John."
Leashed to description
we call and contain; trammeled by ego
we badger and bestow.
"This is my stop stop
stop stop stop," John said, "the casino
with the red red red neon swordfish."
Someone laughed, and John stepped down.
When my turn came I whispered it a block
early to see how it sounded: stop stop
stop stop stop.

--Fernand Roqueplan

It's fascinating to read a poem where the speaker is encouraged to question the function of language in such an energetic way. The speaker feels that normally we are "leashed to description" and "trammeled by ego;" he finds honesty and even accuracy in the way John speaks. If something is red, and you want to emphasize that with language, how do you do that? Red, red, red. Why waste words on something so simply done?

Please take a few minutes to check out the Birmingham Poetry Review. There are three poems from the current issue you can read, all of which are wonderful.