Friday, April 28, 2006


I recently received the latest issue of poemmemoirstory (PMS), an annual literary journal published by the University if Alabama, Birmingham. The title's acronym refers to the fact that all of the authors are women. I don't relate my own sense of womanhood to that particular experience of bloating, pain, and chocolate craving, but there is some wonderful poetry in this journal.

The following poem about the power of self-love is by Niki Sixx. Ms. Sixx's bio says that she is a member of the Cave Canem Workshop, whose mission is "the discovery and cultivation of new voices in African-American poetry." If you are an aspiring African-American poet, check out their nicely-designed site.

Have a wonderful weekend, and remember ladies: shoot.


find one thing to love
inside yourself
carry it like a gun
in guerrilla hands
and when government
defeats you, mountains fall
lovers leave, and the words
of women before come
crashing to the ground
hold this love between
your hands, sing its name
like the alphabet
and shoot woman. Shoot.

Niki Sixx
PMS Number 6, p. 44

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


GutCult is an online journal featuring poetry, essays, and poetry book reviews. This poem by Graham Foust is in Issue 6:

Just a Voice

I could not be famous
to this place.

Pale with light,
I think here—

one eye small,
the other swollen—

and I look: You’re always
walking. Your shadow

is a sky.
You are why

I say entire
life, entire world.

Graham Foust

I'm captivated by the narrator's relationship to place in this poem. S/he feels alone and unrecognized--"I could not be famous / to this place." The narrator observes with very strained vision--one eye is"small," the other is "swollen"--and states, "you're always / walking." Who is this "you"? Could it be another reference to place, this place whose "shadow / is a sky?" The narrator feels insignificant in this world s/he describes, and unable to properly describe it (the injured eyesight). Even the "shadow" of this place "is a sky." This is how the narrator conceives the contrast between the "entirety" of his/her life--small and wounded--with the entirety of the world--big, light-filled, and indifferent.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Duane Ackerson in Rock Salt Plum Review

Here's another online poetry zine for you: Rock Salt Plum Review,which features interviews, essays, book reviews, and, of course, poetry. This poem by Duane Ackerson is in the current issue, Spring, 2006:

Notes on Decoding Snowflakes

All those books full of
sure-fire formulas
for writing books,
all those instructions
for stained glass windows or doilies,
all this must come from somewhere
and be pointing someplace.

One more workshop should do it;
the vat of molten lead
come to a point;
the phoenix,
push aside ashes
and re-feather the fire.
Class, take note;
take flight.

The apter students take fingerprints
off the rain,
convinced it's cutting
piano rolls on the side.

The less apt try to unravel
the DNA for Rhapsody in Blue,
derive the formula for Fats Waller or Monet,
while cummings protests:
careful, you'll crush
the tiny hands of the rain.

Duane Ackerson

It's a wonderful poem; we see the real writers living in and observing the world and believing in the magic even a simple rain can create. The "less apt," as the narrator states, live in the writing about the world. They live in the abstract ideas about the world rather than the world itself, in an attempt to reduce writing to a formula. They ignore the magic.

I understand the feeling that taking a workshop will make you a poet. I'm taking two weeks of poetry workshops myself this summer. I remember a few years ago it struck me quite suddenly that writing makes you a writer, not study. Study is very valuable, absolutely; but it is not writing. Simple, right? But I can occassionally be a little dense.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Julie Doxsee in Shampoo

The current issue of the online poetry journal Shampoo has some wonderful postmodern poetry. I love poetry that is challenging, even a bit oblique, yet well-crafted and with a sense of unity. Today, I've been looking at this poem by Julie Doxsee:


Clouds take blue from could. Could be clouds are
the rind of a ripe sky.

An outside eye holds all lakes and oceans in one

The body casts an object onto its shadow two or
three times. An eclipse lives nowhere then wrestles
awake. Nighttime can’t stretch darkness when the
moon is engulfed by noise.

Hold a piece of dust at arm’s length and watch its
two-dimensional twin burn at noon. Gray stranger,
make your gray a happier thing. Nighttime erases as
it grows over the eye.

The earth’s rind forms the hard outer layer where
fruit sprouts. Leaves detach from xylem after
sucking skin. A rock conducts its upside-down

Discovery invites the collapse of something high.
Sky. Paradise. Wing-pilot. Echelon. Uncrater
holding bits of ground.

Uncover the rock. Fig leaves fall off and die, but
there are more fig leaves in a grove you’ll visit

Julie Doxsee
Issue 27

When approaching a poem like this--lots of wonderful imagery that may seem at first to be unconnected--it's a good idea to start with the imagery that strikes you. For me, the idea of an "eclipse" is what captured me first. In the third stanza, the "body cast an object onto its shadow--" the body in front of the sun creating its own small eclipse, resulting in shadow. "An eclipse lives nowhere--" it does not exist until that blockage of sun by an object, when it "wrestles awake." When viewed in the context of the title, "Erosion," we can imagine a sense of the self fading in the darkness of an eclipse, of some bit of self eroding off and forming shadow.

In the next stanza, the narrator continues the imagery of shadow and light. "Hold a piece of dust at arm's length." Now we have moved from a large body eclipse to a tiny particle of dust. Even something that tiny exists and has form; but at noon you can see its "two dimensional twin burn at noon--" the eroded shadow created by the blockage of light. This stanza ends with night, as does the previous stanza; the night "erases / as it grows over the eye." Here, the self erodes away into non-existence in the creeping darkness.

Think of this poem in terms of erosion or fading; of covering and uncovering; of the boundaries of self and how light and dark affect the existence of self. What do you see? How do you read this poem?

Monday, April 17, 2006

3rd Muse Poetry Journal

I spent time this weekend checking out some online poetry journals. There's great poetry being published online.

The current issue of 3rd Muse Poetry Journal has some lovely work, including this poem by Sarah J. Sloat:

Saw You, Want You

Saw you - corner of 8th
and Crescent, asking
a lady in fur for directions.
My mouth went limp when
you called her “ma’am.”
You smiled, and I felt
I might not have to walk
through life with this boulder
between my hands. I want
to lie down in your drawl, fall
asleep on the tilt of your eyebrow.
I kick myself for wearing
that hippie poncho, for not
having the car to drive you
where you meant to go.
I never did anything
like this before.
I was the 5’5 brunette
carrying a takeout pizza.
The walk signal went green.
I sneezed, and
you blessed me.

Sarah J. Sloat
3rd Muse Poetry Journal, Issue 33

This poem is a perfect example of how concrete detail can convey emotion. The narrator doesn't need to tell us what she feels; she simply describes the scene and her thoughts. "My mouth went limp / when you called her 'ma'am...' I want / to lie down in your drawl." A city girl falls fast for a southern guy. In that moment, she feels a lightening of her burden--literally, the pizza; but more generally, perhaps she feels the possibility that one day she won't be a single girl alone subsisting on takeout.

The ending is poignant and mysterious: "I sneezed, and / you blessed me." The narrator is noticed, if only peripherally, by this guy. Perhaps his "blessing" is a portent of positive things to come; if not with him, then with someone else.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Little Haiku

I think I'll wrap up the week with these two lovely haiku poems by Taneda Santoka, translated by Scott Watson. They are found on page 32 of Vallum v. 3:2.

all day
without words

rub a

I particularly like the serenity created by that second poem. Beautiful.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Empress Eifuku

In the Japanese Court Poetry book I mentioned in the previous post, there is a poem by Empress Eifuku (1271-1242), written in the tradition of Japanese courtly love (p. 402):

In my heart,
Weakened now by your betrayal
To the point of death,
Even misery takes on pathetic beauty
And my bitterness is gone.

I asked before whether something negative could become "sweet" simply because of its constancy, as Saigyo suggests in his poem. Empress Eifuku's poem seems to reiteriate Saigyo's sensibility. The authors state that Eifuku suggests "the whole course of an affair by writing its surprising conclusion--that suffering at its worst point yields to beauty and release, if only in death"(402).

Saigyo, however, sees his sweet loneliness as a companion, a reliable part of his life that will not abandon him. Empress Eifuku feels her suffering as a relief, a freedom from the bondage of passion. In her experience, misery turns sweet ("my bitterness is gone") because she envisions an end to it, even if the end is death.

Monday, April 10, 2006


One of the presents my husband bought me for Christmas was a first edition book entitled Japanese Court Poetry by Robert H. Brower and Earl Miner, published in 1961 by Stanford University Press. I looked through it this morning and found this great poem by Saigyo (p. 261):

My mountain village,
To which I have abandoned hope
That any friend will come,
Would be a wretched place to live
Were it not for this sweet loneliness.

Saigyo, 12th c.

Like the previous poem, this one hits us with a little surprise at the end, one that demands our attention. Part of what Saigyo is doing is reflecting on the joy of solitude, but that is clearly not all that's involved. He lives in a "wretched place" where he longs for a visitor, but he has "abandoned hope" that anyone will show up. His solitude seems to be unchosen. He has no friend, so loneliness itself has become his companion, the one constant, reliable factor in his life.

Is it possible for a seemingly negative circumstance to become a source of "sweetness" in our lives, simply because of its constancy?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Erin Noteboom in Vallum

Do yourself a favor and pick up the current issue of Vallum. You won't regret it. There is so much wonderful writing in there.

This untitled work by Canadian poet Erin Noteboom presents the possibility of having to choose between two things we all want:

ink brush ideograms
on a pair of teacups
my husband
pouring pale jasmine asks
happiness or love?

Erin Noteboom
(Vallum, Vol. 3:2 p. 29)

Can you imagine someone you're married to asking this? As if he were saying, "Assam or darjeeling?" Both are wonderful--but you can't mix them or you'll ruin the flavor. Is he playing, joking around? ("One lump or two?") Or has he had a sudden moment of self-awareness? This image, which at first appears to be a warm, typical domestic scene, feels poignant and sad to me.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Thank you, thank you, thank you for the kind questions and continuing posts on this humble little poetry blog. I am not lost. I have been ill, dealing with the symptomology of polycythemia vera, and the relentless infections I tend to get from the treatment. For a while, I was just too sick to write; then I spent time making up work for a class, then I just sort of lost my will to write; not writer's block, just writer's angst. These phases come and go, but poetry is always there, waiting for me to come back to my senses.

So I bring you Terayama Shuji in the lovely bi-annual Canadian journal Vallum. The featured theme of the lastest volume is "Japanese Imaginings," and it is a real treat, especially for those of us who study the Japanese language. Many of the authors' original Japanese text is included along with the English translation. I love when editors do that!

Real Tears

She was a liar.
She met a man, a liar, and their love
Was a lie--and reciprocal.
Under one roof, under false pretenses,
Their happiness was a lie.
A story of loneliness and love
And known now to the seagulls who know this.
She was a liar.
Her husband was a man she kept secrets from:
She loved a sailor, a liar,
Abandoned the happiness that was a lie
For a sailor who upped anchor.
And her tears were real enough. Real tears.
But who'll believe them?

Terayama Shuji (v. 3:2 p. 20)
Translation by Marc Sebastian-Jones

This is a great poem. I love the perfect use of punctuation, and the questions it brings up: Why be a liar? Why love a liar? If you're both liars, why not love each other, leaving the honest folks alone? Why leave one liar for another (especially when you've discovered the ability to make real tears)? Is there truly a point beyond which you can no longer prove your ability to be honest, where you've sacrificed any chance for an honest relationship? "But who'll believe them" implies that no one will, but actually leaves the door open, if you're looking at the text with optimistic eyes.