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.

Friday, May 06, 2005

More Neruda

For those of us who love the sea, there is no end to our attempts to describe how it affects us. I am fortunate to live in an area where I can get to the Atlantic Ocean relatively quickly. When I stand gazing out over rocky cliffs or a smooth beach, I feel connected to the world, calmer than usual, soothed, I think, is the best word. The sea is healing.

Pablo Neruda wrote a wonderful short poem which captures the essence of the sea in a remarkable way. I found it in The Essential Neruda, ed. by Mark Eisner. I have included the Spanish as well, just for fun.

Have a wonderful weekend.


Un solo ser, pero no hay sangre.
Una sola caricia, muerte o rosa.
Viene el mar y reúne nuestras vidas
y solo ataca y se reparte y canta
en noche y día y hombre y criatura.
La esencia : fuego y frío : movimiento

Pablo Neruda


One single being, but there's no blood.
One single caress, death or rose.
The sea comes and reunites our lives
and attacks and divides and sings alone
in night and day and man and creature.
The essence : fire and cold : movement.

Pablo Neruda

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Rita Dove

The Academy of American Poets is featuring some new work by established poets. I found one by Rita Dove entitled "Vacation"--which I probably latched onto because I could really use one--and I was struck by how much I resonated with the experience in the poem. It is included in a new collection entitled On the Wing: American Poems of Air and Space Flight.

Airports are often discussed as stressful, inconvenient, even dangerous places; but I have always loved the feeling of hanging out, waiting to board, having no place to be in that moment but in my chair, reading or sipping coffee. It's almost a time-out-of-time experience, maybe because I have no control over the schedule. I will move when instructed, and leave the plane when intructed. Kind of a relief after all the decision-making I do in my daily life.


I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Rita Dove

Monday, May 02, 2005

If the moon were my sister...

Some of you may remember from a previous post that my sister is a planetary scientist. Recently, she participated in several meetings with colleagues about how Native Americans view science; specifically, the very different and special view native people have about the universe--the moon, the planets, the stars, etc.--being a part of a very large, loving family. Here is her response to one woman's teaching about this sujbect. When this woman read it, she was moved to tears. I felt that it was so poignant and lovely that I had to post it. Plus, she is my sister, so she gets special privileges. :-)


Suddenly I feel very guilty that I've never visited. Just allowed
myself to be content with postcard meteorites sent in the mail,
and pictures from afar. The postcards remind me that there are
things we will never understand about ourselves, if we do not make
the effort to understand the other person. I look up at her with
my telescope, and see her waving. She's been really patient with
me. I get in my spaceship and take a trip. I orbit several times,
which is my way of knocking because I don't want to be rude. And
then I listen and am so thrilled when she says 'Come on down.' I
land as softly as I can. On the ladder looking down, I stop and
wait for permission to actually step off. I realize that I'm about
to get footprints all over the floor. But she's not hung up on
that, she just wants me to keep all that metal spaceship stuff
confined to a few places in the house, and not scattered all over.
I listen, and also learn there are some rooms guests should leave
just as is, and of course I respect that. She wants to share,
and offers me some rocks. But in exchange, she wants some from me,
of course. So she can understand me, too. So I go and come back
with rocks from Earth to give to her, one for every one I take.
And her gifts are so precious. They don't look like rocks to me
anymore, but gems. Gifts from my sister, like family photos from
our past that will tell me all sorts of things about her, and about
me too. And then I go, with promises to return soon. But not too
soon. It was just a first real visit, after all, and we both want
to go slow, and grow a relationship that will last all our lives.
We are very different people, and understanding takes patience.
Good thing she has that.

Jennifer A. Grier, Ph.D.

Photo taken by Ron Wyman; found at the Nasa web site