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Monday, March 31, 2014


Hidden                                                 Naomi Shihab Nye

If you place a fern
under a stone
the next day it will be
nearly invisible
as if the stone has swallowed it.

If you tuck the name of a loved one
under your tongue too long
without speaking it
it becomes blood
the little sucked-in breath of air
hiding everywhere
beneath your words.

No one sees
the fuel that feeds you.

Dear friend, I can believe in the influence of Mars as fully as I can in the aorta. It’s all invisible, in a normal day—though felt, as rhythm or excitement or pressure. You have the plate you can’t drink from. And that one’s missing an arm. And making art, too, is a kind of disappearing. A bucket with holes, on purpose.    Kate Greenstreet, from The Last 4 Things


The Ghost Back Home                       Fred Muratori
Even the Apocrypha make sense when you can't see life for
the vision of it. In spite of everything we don't know, which is
Everything Minus Us, nobody offers believable explanations.
Take that as a good sign. No one speaks on the ferry to
, either, and yet it gets us there, to a new shore, which
after several days or centuries resembles the shore departed
from. No details needed when a place describes itself (
Is is good
as said
, as Stevens might have written on the way to a poem.)
Imagined truth rolls bones with doubt. The question cannot
hear the questioner, and finds itself framed, in a museum, the
subject of a pamphlet visitors pocket but don't read. Walking the
perfectly arrayed bricks of Edgartown, you might pass expensive
cars in which lonely dogs bark as if they knew something dark
about you—an eighth grade prank that ended in sirens, what
you told your spouse about the scar on your abdomen. Dogs
seem to know everything that has never been recorded and
nothing that has. Now, while you're away from home, rumors
could be percolating through the damp soil of your back yard,
spreading beneath the lawn like an invisible fungus, preparations
in motion. On your return your friends will greet you differently,
like someone they knew once, years ago, but thought had died.


Still Life with Jonquils      by Andrea Hollander Budy

The usual bowl of fruit, yes,
and at attention in a blue porcelain vase
wands of jonquils not yet bloomed,

gray-green buds
like translucent cocoons,
their wet and yellow wings

stirring against the thinning threads
of gray, about to give way —
the way a woman whose wrist

has been lightly touched beneath
the starched tablecloth recognizes
a man's invitation, Its promise,

as the chatter of dinner guests blurs
into nonsense and she begins to feel
the invisible tug on the knot

fixed at the body's center
to be undone . . .

The painter knows
what not to execute, knows we bring
our own heat to the canvas,

knowing exactly how
these jonquils would look
if open.

But not letting them.


It has been said above that the doctrine of mystical “unknowing,” by which we ascend to the knowledge of God “as unseen” without “form or figure” beyond all images and indeed all concepts, must not be misunderstood as a mere turning away from the ideas of material things to ideas of the immaterial. The mystical knowledge of God, which already begins in a certain inchoative manner in living faith, is not a knowledge of immaterial and invisible essences as distinct from the visible and material. If in a certain sense nothing that we can see or understand can give us a fully adequate idea of God (except by remote analogy), then we can say that images and symbols and even the material which enters into sacramental signs and works of art regain a certain dignity in their own right, since they are no longer rejected in favor of other “immaterial” objects which are considered to be superior, as if they were capable of making us “see God” more perfectly. On the contrary, since we are well aware that images, symbols and works of art are only material, we tend to see them with greater freedom and less risk of error precisely because we realize the limitation of their nature. We know that they can only be a means to an end, and we do not make “idols’ out of them. On the contrary, today the more dangerous temptation is to raise ideas and ideologies to the status of “idols,” worshipping them for their own sakes. Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, p. 104-5


Written by Allan Peterson

To have that letter arrive
was like the mist that took a meadow
and revealed hundreds
of small webs once invisible
The inevitable often
stands by plainly but unnoticed
till it hands you a letter
that says death and you notice
the weed field had been
readying its many damp handkerchiefs
all along

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mother, Alone

I want to be alone. Alone for a long stretch of time, knowing that later tonight I'll spend time with some interesting people. Interesting people include anarchists and artists and mothers. Because mothers are by their nature both artists and anarchists. Except for those that aren't; those who don't understand motherhood as I do.

My children are asleep in the other room. It is time for them to get up. It is past time for them to get up. When I wake them, they will smell like babies, though they are no longer babies. They will smell like babies in a few strategies spots that only I, their mother, know. I will duck in and try to get a whiff of babysmell in these few strategic places, and they will bat me off slowly, sleepily, and not at all seriously. If I get a whiff and plant a kiss they will growl, but they will smile sleepily while they are growling.

Then I will have had a babysmell whiff, but I will not be alone. I will be surrounded by the artists and anarchists I call my children, and it will be my job to reign in the anarchy and stimulate the artistic impulses in them, which often requires putting off my own artistic and anarchic impulses. Putting them off for later. This is a hard thing to do. It is a hard thing to be a mother some times. Other times, it is the easiest thing in the world.

Being an artist is never an easy thing. Being an anarchist is sometimes an easy thing and sometimes not. Everything, except being an artist, is sometimes easy and sometimes not. That is why I am an artist. Because I crave stability. Ha ha. That was a joke. The anarchist in me made a joke about art.

The mother in me needs to wake up my children now. To wake up my little artists and anarchists and to put my craving for art and anarchy away till later. When I am alone. I crave being alone even now when I am alone, my children asleep in the other room. Get up, children, it's your mother calling.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Submissions Call: Japanese Poetic Forms

Rattle has a submissions call out for poems based on Japanese forms (haiku, renga, haibun, senryuu, tanka, etc.).

It's for their Spring 2015 issue, with a deadline of October 15th. I'm going to encourage some of my students to submit! Maybe you should too!

Incidentally, The Roaster Moan Poetry Cooperative has a class starting next week in Japanese poetic forms, with Alan Summers as teacher. Check it out, but do so soon!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Doubleback Books: Just Like It Sounds!

If you've had the heartbreak of your book going out of print with very few copies in circulation due to a small press closing (and I've had that heartbreak), here is good news. Doubleback Books is a new press devoted to reissuing books that have no long available, but really should be.

As Doubleback says on its website: "if you are the author of a book that has recently gone out of print because the press closed, we want to read it. If you are the former editor of a recently closed press with books you believe deserve to return to print, we want to read them. If we love them, we want to give the world another chance to love them, too."

Check out their submissions guidelines.

(And may I say, what a really smart model. Here are books that have already been through the selection and editing processes, have been deemed worthy, and then through no fault of their own have become unavailable. The editors of this press are taking advantage of sifting and priming work already done by other editors in the past--smart! And how great for the writers!)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Good News for Mendeleev's Mandala

Congratulations to Geoffrey Brock, whose manuscript Voices Bright Flags won the Ninth Annual Anthony Hecht Prize from Waywiser Press.

I was very pleased to have my manuscript Mendeleev's Mandala selected as a finalist for this prestigious award.

Congratulations to the other finalists too: Heather June Gibbons, Johnny Horton, Jerome Luc Martin, Kathryn Nuernberger, Austin Segrest, and Mike White.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Goodbye, Bill Knott

A few years ago I got an email through this blog from the poet and visual artist Bill Knott, telling me that he'd read some of my work online and wanted to know how to get a hold of my books. Because of the time difference between the US and Japan, by the time I had woken up and checked my email and had time to reply to him that I'd gotten so much of his poetry for free over the years that it would be my pleasure to send him my poetry books, he'd already found a way to purchase my work himself.

Later he wrote me to tell me he'd read and liked my books, as opposed to so much of what was out there these days, and he encouraged me to continue with my work. Knott was a teacher at Emerson for years, and despite his self-proclaimed status as an outsider, he had a lot of in-depth contact with many poets over the years, offering support to many. But for me, having taken no classes or degrees in poetry and having precious few contacts in the poetry world, his reaching out was a kindness and a validation that I sorely needed. Sometimes I wonder if my poetry exists at all-- like Don Marquis who said "Publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo"--sometimes I wonder if I exist artistically at all, but through an exchange of emails over a few weeks, Bill Knott made me feel that I did, even as it was clear he felt his own legacy was ephemeral to non-existent. Bill Knott was my petal's echo.

Read more about Bill Knott's life here. And this tribute here. Despite his reputation for being cantankerous, he was truly a good-hearted man and a gifted poet. I read his poems first in high school, and was intrigued by his pseudonym with its backstory. Later, through the internet I got to know his visual work as well.

His very famous poem on death is the first of his I ever read, ironically:


Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.
They will place my hands like this.
It will look as though I am flying into myself.

Bill Knott


Today, I'd like to share this other poem of his:


We brush the other, invisible moon.
Its caves come out and carry us inside.

Bill Knott


Come inside, outsider.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Poetry and Wisdom

Recently I heard an established poet say that poets may have a special feeling for language, but they don't have any more wisdom than the average person. Which is true. It's language that has more wisdom than the individual (poet or otherwise).

Language is and was made by people, collectively, and as such it contains the collective wisdom of the ages. But it isn't in there obviously, largely because by making miniscule decisions about how to speak or write throughout time, individuals didn't notice that they were encoding wisdom in language. And yet they were, each time they made decisions about word choices.

Poets, by paying attention to word choice, sometimes tap into that wisdom, not because the poets themselves are wise, but because language is. Take the easy example of words that sound similar. Look for a theme here: vestal virgin, vagina, vulva, Venus, virile, vixen. You found two themes, right? And you're probably thinking, Wait, you forgot valentine, or ovulate, va va voom, venereal, or vamp, and the list goes on and on.

And having words sound similar is one of the least subtle clues that language gives us about words that belong together (or don't belong together--there can be so much power in those combinations too). Many times the compulsion to place two words next to one another is something we can't explain even to ourselves, and yet we know there is something powerful in the arrangement. And that's the job of poets, to be exquisitely sensitive to how words should be paired, or arranged, for the most effect. Even when / even though we can't say why the words are in the right order, when we're lucky, it's obvious to us and to everyone that we've found an order that holds something, some kind of wisdom or power or meaning that we can't paraphrase, something that is embedded in the language itself, put there by people who lived long before we did who themselves did not know what they were putting in the language anymore than we know what we are extracting. But they were compelled in their choices to put it there, and poets are compelled in their choices to chase it.

And if we could say what it is, in other words, it wouldn't be poetry.

If we could say what it is, we wouldn't need poetry.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What I Did Instead of AWP

I didn't go to AWP. In fact, I have never gone.

It isn't that I didn't/don't want to, although being the introvert I am, I suspect that even had I gone/if I go, I would have spent/will spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed.

Still, I'd like a chance to be so overwhelmed someday, when I don't live so far away that cost and travel time would burden my family. Someday.

Here's what I did instead of go to AWP:

1) Got excellent news concerning not one by two of my poetry manuscripts. Will tell more later, when appropriate.

2) Went to book club where we discussed And the Mountains Echoed, which was complex and interesting and yet didn't leave me wanting to read the other two Khaled Hosseini's bestsellers.

3) Got a haircut that I hate and still haven't figured out how to cope with.

4) Had tea with my closest Japanese friend during which time she told me she is moving.

5) Heard from my closest non-Japanese friend that she may also be moving.

6) Got a check for two poems that will soon be appearing in the Vermont College of Fine Arts' journal Hunger Mountain.

7) Took my son to a 4 1/2-hour awards ceremony in which children sat in a different section than their parents, so I was all alone, the only 'foreigner' in a sea of Japanese. I confess that at one point, for about an hour I put my iPod ear bud in one ear and ignored some of the endless drivel of the ceremony. Son received a medal for his academics.

8) Worked hard on three poems for my new project.

9) Baked desserts for my family, after not baking during the two years I was working on my newly-completed masters.

10) Cleaned out my bookshelves and got rid of over 100 books, but it didn't make much of a dent.

11) Wrote syllabi for the new school year starting in April.

Not quite the same as AWP, but no complaints here!