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Sunday, September 28, 2014


“We're in a freefall into future. We don't know where we're going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you're going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It's a very interesting shift of perspective and that's all it is... joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.”


Grief is a hole you walk around in the daytime and at night you fall into it.   Denise Levertov


Winter Litany   Robin Davidson
                        Krak√≥w, March, 2004

I stand on Wawel Hill
in early March and morning snow
falls in flocks
tiny paper cranes
descending blowing dissolving
one into another
on the cobblestone walk
an avalanche of light

I believe this must be
what death is

this alternate
shining and melting, shining and flying


“I like the floor as a place for grieving. You can't fall off." Kate Braestrup, Main Chaplain to Game Wardens on "Speaking of Faith."


One Heart            Li-Young Lee

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, Friend, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.


Grief Daybook II                    Carol Ann Davis

There are panels of sky
as good as forgotten, 
Evans' gelatin folds of Florida
circa 1934. The line of sky is dark at first

where the gulf lifts it,
then comes to me like a halo 
around the palm tree with its neck bent,

its spray of branches 
leaning out of frame
as if to flee. Its roots pull 
at sand, as if to say,
this is what it takes.
I'd believe, if not for the way

my breath catches, 
if not for the wild faint
sleep's become. The palm's branches

are spears left
where they've fallen 
in the dirty sand, too heavy

for the tide to take them. Where the neck bends, 
cut branches—like stubble on a chin
as seen from below—seem to ask

something of the photographer,
something not washed away

in the chemical bath. The shadow of the trunk
just underlines—means to prove the existence 
of the world. It's three o'clock

and the latticework of 1934 
is pulling around me in this light

as if to say my god, my god,
a hymn sung
by infidels to believers 
as a way to ask for water.


Apprehension in the Blurry Trees                            Cameron Thomas
Fallen, what can a leaf care about being plucked from its

Two crows forage on the roof across the street, stepping
      along a gutter, picking through tan and rusty
      swatches, and casting them to the ground.

One finds what he wants, so he steps to the edge, drops,
      and glides across the blurry trees.

The other remains, keeping a leaf in her beak as though
      it were a body.

She must be the one who speaks from the heart and ruins


Fall down seven times; get up eight.                                          Japanese proverb

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It's Eshle-Man to the Rescue!

I've been struggling mightily with a poem the last few days. Today I spent time sitting at the dining room table staring at the errant piece, getting nowhere (again!). So I decided to give up and read some poetry instead, hoping for a respite from my frustration.

I went to my bookshelf and found Clayton Eshleman's The Aranea Constellation (Rain Taxi, 1998). It's a chapbook of poetics that I don't remember getting; I'm sure someone sent it to me, but I don't know who. So I opened it up, and unbelievably, I immediately came across a different way to look at my problem with my poem.

I'm not going to share that with you today (don't want to sap the power from it till the poem is done), but here are two passages from the chapbook that also struck a chord:

Quoting Anton Ehrenzweig: "Any creative search, whether for a new image or idea, involves the scrutiny of an often astronomical number of possibilities. The correct choice between them cannot be made by a conscious weighing up of each single possibility cropping up during the search; if attempted it would only lead us astray. A creative search resembles a maze with many nodal points. From each of these points many possible pathways radiate in all directions leading to further crossroads where a new network of high - and by-ways comes into view. Each choice would be easy if we could command an aerial view of the entire network of nodal points and radiating pathways still lying ahead. This is never the case. If we could map out the entire way ahead, no further search would be needed. As it is, the creative thinker has to make a decisions about this route without having the full information needed for his choice. This dilemma belongs to the essence of creativity."

And Eshleman's original writing: "There is an archetycal poem, and its most ancient design is probably the labyrinth. One suddenly cuts in, leaving the green world for the apparent stasis and darkness of the cave. The first words of a poem propose and nose forward toward a confrontation with what the writer is only partially aware of, or may not be prepared to address until it emerges, flushed forth by digressions and meanders. Poetry twists toward the unknown and seeks to realize something beyond the poet's initial awareness. What it seeks to know might be described as the unlimited interiority of its initial impulse. If a "last line," or "conclusion," occurs to me upon starting to write, I have learned to put it in immediately, so it does not hang before me, a lure, forcing the writing to skew itself in order that this "last line" continues to make sense as such."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When is a Poem True?

Poetry Daily Prose Feature this week is an essay by Lawrence Raab entitled "Should Poems Tell the Truth?" (originally in New Ohio Review, Fall 2014). This is a question I have wondered, moreso when I've found out that an experience described by a poet was fiction (and I felt betrayed) than when I've written a poem that isn't based on fact (and haven't felt like I was betraying anyone at all). This paradox has interested me over time. Apparently the same is true for Lawrence Raab, who quotes Paul Valery and then ruminates further:

'As Paul Valery writes in "Poetry and Abstract Thought": "A poet's function—do not be startled by this remark—is not to experience the poetic state: that is a private affair. His function is to create it in others." Yet young writers are often startled by that remark. The poem is made for the reader, and is sent out into the world to do its work as best it can, and without any intervention from the author. As Richard Wilbur has said, the poem is "a kind of machine of feeling which other people can use." The rest is private.'

Raab explores specific poems and their relationships to historical fact, and how that affects the reader, and what the moral implications are. If this subject has ever interested you, check out this essay

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Eye Eye Eye Eye

Walking Home on an Early Spring Evening                         David Young

Every microcosm needs its crow,
something to hang around and comment,
alight on highest branches.

Who hasn't seen the gnats,
the pollen grains that coat the windshield
who hasn't heard the tree frogs?

In the long march that takes us all our life,
in and out of sleep, sun up, sun gone,
our aging back and forth, smiling and puzzled,
there come these times: you stop and look,

and fix on something unremarkable,
a parking lot or just a patch of sumac,
but it will flare and resonate

and you'll feel part of it for once,
you'll be a goldfinch hanging on a feeder,
you'll be a river system all in silver
etched on a frosty driveway, you'll

say "Folks, I think I made it this time,
I think this is my song." The crow lifts up,
its feathers shine and whisper,

its round black eye surveys indifferently
the world we've made
and then the one we haven't.


Anatomical Angel                                    by Averill Curdy

L’ange Anatomique, by Jacques-Fabien Gautier Dagoty, 1746

                        Unfastened avidly from each ivory button
          of her spine, the voluntary muscles open
virtuosities of red: Cinnabar

                        the mutagen, and carmine from cochineal
          born between fog and frost, so many little
deaths Buddhists refuse to wear

                        robes soaked in its thousands. Sunsets
          of other centuries fade in galleries to ash.
Red is fugitive: As the voice, the blow

                        of gravity along a nerve opening to an ache
          the body can’t unhouse: As the carnation
suffusing cheek and haunch like saucers

                        from the king’s porcelain rinsed in candlelight.
          Gratuitous as the curl, the urn-shaped torso,
the pensive, brimming gaze of pretty

                        post-coital thought she half-turns over one
          excavated shoulder. As if to see herself
in a mirror’s savage theater as elegy

                        to the attempt to fill an exhausted form,
          to learn again the old ordeals of wound
and hand and eye. To find the source of burning.


Habitus                    Thom Satterlee

Language, he asserted, was a habitus... What precisely
he meant by habitus is not explained, but the context in
which the word is applied to language would suggest a
sense of "clothing... "
— Anne Hudson, "Wyclif and the English Language"

All morning he read from a thick volume
propped on a stand. He read and he read,
and when he closed his eyes
he continued to read
until the words took off their clothes
and laid them down on a hillside
that vanished whenever a cloud
passed between it and the sun.

All his life Wycliffe had wanted this:
the words undressed and he going to them,
a child to a fair, burning to see
if Faith wore her hair in a braid,
whether Why held out its hands, palms up,
and where Simony put his coins
when he stood naked in the light.

But no: Wycliffe had got it all wrong.
He was not going to see the words.
They were coming to him
with their arms loaded with robes
stacked so high he couldn't see their faces,
and before he knew it, invisible hands
began measuring him with ropes
stretched between his wrist and his chest,
from his hip down to the ground,
around his waist and around his neck.

The fitting took all day. He tried on
Son and Friend, Scholar, Reformer,
Heretic; he slipped into Priest,
wore also Doctor Evangelicus
and Morning Star. Some robes
hung too loosely; others pinched his neck.
In the end, he had to wear them all
and learn the sadness of being a word —
only one surface to show the world
while he lived underneath the layers
and listened for the barely audible
sound of his own heart beating.

After the Moon                                                                                                          Marianne Boruch

eclipsed itself, the rumor or darkness
true, the whole radiant business
almost over, only a line,
an edge, like some
stray part of a machine
                                                        not one of us
can figure any more:
what it thrashed or cut, what it sewed
quietly together, what it scalded
or brought back from the dead. After this,
I came inside to sleep.    
                                          But it’s the moon still,
pale run of it shaping
the door closed against the half-lit hall.
The eye is its own
small flicker orbiting under the lid
a few hours.
                        Not so long,
bright rim,
giving up its genius
briefly, mountains under dark, craters
where someone, then no one
is walking.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Eye Eye Eye

The Sand Speaks                            Sandra Beasley
I'm fluid and omnivorous, casual in
my eternity. I'll knock up your oysters.
I'll eat your diamonds. I'm a mutt, no
one thing at all, just the size that counts

and if you're animal small enough, come;
if you're vegetable small enough, come;
if you're mineral small enough, come.
Mothers, brush me from the hands

of your children. Lovers, shake me
from the cuffs of your pants. Draw
a line, make it my mouth: I'll name
your country. I'm a Yes man at heart.

Let's play Hide and Go Drown. Let's play
Pearls for His Eyes. When the men fall
I like the way their arms touch, their legs
touch. There are always more men, men

who bring bags big enough to hold
each other. A man who kneels down
with a smaller bag, cups and pours, cups
and pours, as if I could prove anything. 

from The Desert as Garden of Paradise             Adrienne Rich

What’s sacred is nameless
moves in the eyeflash
holds still in the circle
of the great arid basin
once watered and fertile
probes outward through twigbark
a green ghost inhabiting
dormant stick, abstract thorn
What’s sacred is singular:
out of this dry fork, this
wreck of perspective
what’s sacred tries itself

one more time


Drought                                                       Felecia Caton Garcia
Try to remember: things go wrong in spite of it all.
I listen to our daughters singing in the crackling rows
of corn and wonder why I don't love them more.
They move like dark birds, small mouths open

to the sky and hungry. All afternoon I listen
to the highway and watch clouds push down over the hills.
I remember your legs, heavy with sleep, lying across mine.
I remember when the world was transparent, trembling, all

shattering light. I had to grit my teeth against its brilliance.
It was nothing like this stillness that makes it difficult
to lift my eyes. When I finally do, I see you
carrying the girls over the sharp stones of the creek bed.

When they pull at my clothes and lean against my arms,
I don't know what to do and do nothing. 


Selfless                                                                   Forrest Hamer
When he found himself falling, and he was falling
into love (so, THIS is that feeling of being,
he said to no one in particular),
he opened his eyes and saw him who was looking
back, and each one witnessed
the other less a self than before and
more, and more, but more.

I say to you, the self is promiscuous—most anybody will do;
any body, too; world and worlds—

Know this: falling-apart, fragments-assembling one:
no one in particular is fallen for you, too. 

Something in My Eye                            Allison Smythe
The world is writ in Braille but our hands
are tied behind our backs with finest cashmere.
And yet somehow we know:

Rivers wait for no one, mountains do not mourn,
there are no circles under the eyes of the ancient
hills nor will the silent canyon remember

when you walked it. Between spank and breath
the orchid of mortality is delivered, an unsigned
card pinned to the stem, the memory

of a kiss. The world is repeatedly stained
with ink spilled at twilight. When even dumb
cities bloom without regret like gladiolus

before they wither, what does it mean to wear
flesh, to learn the name of the dark
birds assembled on the wire like beads

on a rosary, time always running out
like a lover sprinting for the bus, the first

drops of 10,000-year-old rain just beginning
to darken the lapel of his fine woolen coat. 

Lullaby                                                         Amanda Jernigan

My little lack-of-light, my swaddled soul,
December baby. Hush, for it is dark,
and will grow darker still. We must embark
directly.  Bring an orange as the toll
for Charon: he will be our gondolier.
Upon the shore, the season pans for light,
and solstice fish, their eyes gone milky white,
come bearing riches for the dying year:
solstitial kingdom. It is yours, the mime
of branches and the drift of snow. With shaking
hands, Persephone, the winter’s wife,
will tender you a gift. Born in a time
of darkness, you will learn the trick of making.
You shall make your consolation all your life.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

3 Interesting Things

The Existentialist Cookbook

1. A two-hour reading and Q&A with Etgar Keret here (from Front Porch Journal). What's not to love!

2. Shawnte Orion, participant in the Writing Process Blog Tour, has a new book out. Congratulations, Shawnte, on the release of The Existentialist Cookbook!

3. Rattle has a call out for Japanese forms for its Spring 2015 issue. Haibun, haiku, tanka, renga--all the different forms--they want 'em. Deadline October 15.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Narrative No-no's

I'm working on a project of narrative poems these days, so different from the lyric poems I generally write. There's a reason I want a narrative thread to my current project, and there are new challenges that come with it. The one I'm struggling with now is prose-iness (prosiness, prosyness, however you want to spell it).

I've found a few things helpful. Here are notes to myself:

1) Pursue constant persistent editing. Pull out anything that isn't necessary, and there will be more of it than there is in lyric poems. This is a difficult balance though, because more explication is necessary than in lyric poems, and yet you want as little as possible. How to decide? Look at the next tip.

2) Get rid of anything that doesn't advance the poem emotionally. If it advances the narrative but not the emotion, cross it out. Then if the narrative has become too sketchy, try again to add what detail you need, but remember the new line(s) must advance the poem emotionally or they will end up getting cut.

3). FORM! I have often lamented my tendency to write little bricks of poems, all left-aligned and stanza-y. Cutting out as much as I could from a narrative poem left me a stack of sickly little bricks that I hated. But then I teased them out--spread the words across and  over lines, indented some lines, used physical space to show where I had left out a part of the story it was my natural tendency to keep in, but that persistent pruning had convinced me to cut out. And then that missing bits didn't bother me anymore--the passage of time, the elliptical suggestion of missing elements there in the form left room for the missing parts without even having to mention them.

And now I had a poem that wasn't all brick-like and typical of me. Success with a narrative poem!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Eye Eye

"Into the Tunnel"     Chad Sweeney

Beyond the shipyard the pounded metal
of bay water, a helical structure of gulls,
and one great arm

sweeps the clouds over the edge.
I’ve wanted to be that decisive
as during the first moments in a new room

I look to find the windows
then go and stand beside them.
Factories stir fire into sky,

an airplane skids across
wrapped defensively in its sound
as a man is shouting into a tunnel —

a man with a name tag on his suit
and two drill-holes in place of ey
is shouting, Hurry son, the pipes have burst!

He is right to be afraid.
Water churns around the boy.
Excruciating to see this happen

and to not embrace them both.
What will you shout into the tunnel
given this one opportunity

when we all promise to listen?


Your eyes are on your side, for you cannot see your eyes, and your eyes cannot see themselves. Eyes only see things outside, objective things. If you reflect on yourself, that self is not your true self any more. You cannot project yourself as some objective thing to think about. The mind which is always on your side is not just your mind, it is the universal mind, always the same, not different from another’s mind. It is Zen mind. It is big, big mind. The mind is whatever you see. Your true mind is always with whatever you see. Although you do not know your own mind, it is there—at the very moment you see something, it is there. This is very interesting. You mind is always with the things you observe. So you see, this mind is at the same time everything. Shunryu Suzuki, Zen’s Mind, Beginner’s Mind, p. 134
Romanticism              Ashley Elizabeth Hudson
Held the telescope to your eye
late into the snowless night
and squinted into the cataract moon.

Oh it's that distant, as the boy who hung
the dingy white sheets and proposed
to the girl who wanted snow.

After the daylight peeled the label
off its clear blue glass and neurotically
became the night. Outside the body,

the disease was a heliotropic iris
offering its hope, as long as you stared
into the microscope.

The boy spent all day draping old linens,
and I suppose a trailer park is a kind
of snow globe, sex a sort of diamond. 

Taper, or Mary Tells All She Knows              Jeanne Marie Beaumont

A string to me says spine. I am patient
in long labors. In taking pains.
Dip, drip. Let them hang.
Repeat the steps.
I adore the odor of beeswax each day.
Authentic & pure as I suppose a
martyr would be. I'm none.
At dusk,
I light the tallest all along the stone mantle.
It is true I am a wisp of a woman,
smoke comes out my mouth,
my head heats up,
and sometimes if I hear a word that's especially apt
my eyes bounce like breezed flames.
But you shouldn't confuse
me with them.
These were born in the clean shrine of tedium
to accumulate evenly, cane straight.
Burning, they fly the flags
of thin victors.
And when they disappear—as is written—
leaving behind them no trace,
this is no miracle but ex-

Gloucester                                                             Ann Snodgrass
This seascape's now more cataract
of tired eyes—swept as it was by
too many winds, too many clouds
that are no longer.
Sails rise, fail.
It's time, then, for the children
to take over. Strange how they
just can't lie.
We, on the other hand, who came
here to forget, watch nameless
seabirds dive—soar—
dive, finding nothing.
Sails rise once again, fail.
It's certain then: anyone
could see that a child
would draw me—
even my own—as an outline. 

Obey Gravity      Cynthia Arrieu-King & Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis
A turnip puts a leg down in the earth
swift fingers of wind in her hair, crying
pebbles but not for reasons.

One star holds the sky pinched into place
the next keeps the beach from floating
another: a sea in satiny motion

colliding with shredded moon, salt
resisting large-bodied intentions to
  drag it down. Anything with lungs

can float there. Tripping forward,
anything with legs can hold its breath
for two summers or drop a penny. Anyone

out there? Anyone afloat in the snow globe
of someone else's memory: obey gravity.
Don't tip the turnip, the world up. Top-down,

shift your golden flags to indicate direction,
hold up your ounce breath invisible as a
hand pulling the blood through the tunnel

of artery of muscles, telling the eye beware,
the dawn the good-bye dreams, minute
the pillow's last kiss. The body, heavied

storehouse for gazes, pressed tight with
embraces, loaded with water, bugs, burlap—
thing to be stacked against floods. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Things I Like

Things I like

*the color yellow next to the color dark blue

*when my husband brings home take-out tom kha gai (Thai chicken soup in a coconut base)

*when a poem I've been working on more than six months suddenly solves itself: a fix it took me more than six months to see, but there it is

Monday, September 1, 2014


6. The Critic  (from CHANTS)                 William Dickey

I unscrewed the lip from the mouth, the mouth I discarded.
I unscrewed the lid from the eye, the eye I discarded.

Here is a doll made from pieces. The pieces hate one another.

Here are the doll and I in a posed photograph.
After the photograph was taken, I unscrewed the camera. 


Self Portrait                   Edward Hirsch

I lived between my heart and my head,
like a married couple who can't get along.

I lived between my left arm, which is swift
and sinister, and my right, which is righteous.

I lived between a laugh and a scowl,
and voted against myself, a two-party system.

My left leg dawdled or danced along,
my right cleaved to the straight and narrow.

My left shoulder was like a stripper on vacation,
my right stood upright as a Roman soldier.

Let's just say that my left side was the organ
donor and leave my private parts alone,

but as for my eyes, which are two shades
of brown, well, Dionysus, meet Apollo.

Look at Eve raising her left eyebrow
while Adam puts his right foot down.

No one expected it to survive,
but divorce seemed out of the question.

I suppose my left hand and my right hand
will be clasped over my chest in the coffin

and I'll be reconciled at last,
I'll be whole again.


Address to an Absent Lover          Sarah Manguso
The boy speaks in Russian (I understand him neither in the dream nor in real life). He opens his eyes and looks at me, apologizing in English for keeping them closed.

When I wake up I think he must have seen me. But when I kiss him he looks surprised, as if he were blind.

The night I met you I wrote It is possible I have imagined my entire life.


My great-grandmother's lamp is mine now. It is made of rose quartz -- that is, it is made of poetry.

More poetry: A coin you dropped when you took your pants off is still on the floor. Please come back and pick it up.

More: The scar on my hand I got cleaning the house for you has outlasted you. In this way you are indelible, but only as long as I have my hand.
Pantoum Quilted from Agnes Martin's Writings by Carol Moldaw
Composition is an absolute mystery.
To penetrate the night is one thing
(you get light enough and you levitate),
to be penetrated by the night, another.
To penetrate the night is one thing, the mind knows what the eye has not seen;
to be penetrated by the night, another.
Overtaken, we feel a certain devotion.
The mind knows what the eye has not seen.
Perfection, of course, cannot be represented.
Overtaken, we feel a certain devotion.
Think of a shibori-dyed silk organza quilt.
Perfection, of course, cannot be represented
pieced and layered, a little bit off the square.
Think of a shibori-dyed silk organza quilt
but without batting, transparent, floating,
pieced and layered, a little bit off the square,
the layers hand-tied together with horsehair
(but without batting, transparent, floating).
Try to understand, court misunderstanding.
The layers hand-tied together with horsehair,
the grids of the layers overlap like voices.
Try to understand, court misunderstanding.
The seams, like leading, show through.
The grids of the layers overlap like voices.
One thing I've got a good grip on is remorse.
The seams, like leading, show through.
Before it's put on paper, it exists in the mind.
One thing I've got a good grip on is remorse.
Technique a hazard, interruptions a disaster,
before it's put on paper, it exists in the mind.
Rectangles lighten the square's weight.
Technique a hazard, interruptions a disaster,
composition is an absolute mystery.
Rectangles lighten the square's weight.
You get light enough and you levitate.


With That Moon Language

Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, What every other eye in this world is dying to hear?



From "Elegy in X Parts"
Matt Rasmussen


The self-murder mystery
begins like this:

We are more likely
to kill ourselves

than be killed
by someone else.

I am the pistol
saying I will only

say this once.
Do not open

the tiny door
in the back

of your head.
All alone when

all alone, we
are asleep

inside our
murderer. There’s

a metal word
in the chamber

of my mouth
and my eyes

are bored out.
I’m a noose

using the body
against itself.

I see
what’s too awful

to be true—
that house

with one lit window,
my brother’s

punctured skull

yet is.