Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Closely Connected

Image of the Day:  The Nashua River in its deep Fall green skin. 

What I'm reading:  Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, by James Nestor.  "Human blood has a chemical composition startlingly similar to seawater" and "...we're more closely connected to the ocean than most people would suspect" (6).

What I want to write:  poems with the following titles:  River Restless, River Running High, River in November's Death Light.

What I am writing: 

What I have been doing:  running alongside the river.

What I ate yesterday:  salad with grilled shrimp that tasted like dirt.  Not in a good way, either.

What I have this morning:  stomach ache.

What poem I am reading \ what poem you should be reading:

Dear Empire,

These are your jellyfish. They are the artist's obsession. The way their
forms are taken by tides. Pulled towards the shore or towards some
unknowing place. Our beaches are cursed by thousands of these little

Yet she fills her canvases with their clear and brilliant orbs. Occasional
tendrils seem to slide off the edge. Their little hidden fires. Their little
underneath parts papering the dark.

To have a mind as hers. To have an eye that understands the little
shocks beneath. To consider that these ghosts have such an edge. Such
a sting.

Oliver de la Paz

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Invitation to a Reading

Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) is honored to present fellows and finalists from MCC's Artist Fellowship Program in the 2014 Commonwealth Reading Series. All events in the statewide series are free and open to the public.

Thursday, October 30, 2014, 7 PM
Back Pages Books, 289 Moody Street, Waltham MA

Featuring award-winning writers and poets:
Carol Berg
Steven Edwards
Anna V.Q. Ross
Stephen Tapscott
Linda K. Wertheimer...

Learn more:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Its Own Universe

Image of the Day:  The red and yellow outline of Fall being drawn in the trees' leaves.

Happy Fall!  And time to get  your flu shots--ugh.  I got the stomach bug and have had it for the last one million days, it feels like.  At times, I would feel better, eat or do something I shouldn't, and then feel awful.  I hope that it is going away, but it sure eats up a lot of time and energy. 

And speaking of belly-aches, I have a poem here in the latest issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal.  It is a wonderful journal so poke around and read the other poems.

Emily Dickinson has a wonderful poem about pain:

Pain—has an Element of Blank—
It cannot recollect
When it begun—or if there were
A time when it was not—

It has no Future—but itself—
Its Infinite Contain
Its Past—enlightened to perceive
New Periods—of Pain.

That whole notion of pain being its own universe is so apt. 

Anyway...other poets who are writing things you should be reading:
Diane Lockward has a thought-provoking blog post about the wasting of time here.
Susan Rich has some excellent advise about choosing poems for a residency here.
Sarah J. Sloat has the most exquisite poems here in the archives of the always lovely DMQ Review as well as the latest Tinderbox Review so be sure to read them all.

So that should keep you busy for awhile.   Be well!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Amorak Huey’s Ars Poetica...

Amorak Huey’s Ars Poetica Disguised as a Love Poem Disguised as a Commemoration of the 166th Anniversary of the Rescue of the Donner Party


Amorak Huey’s poem in the first issue of TahomaLiterary Review is a masterful example of how to create a poem that creates an echo of itself in the mind. I think I recently read somewhere that poems teach us how to read poetry and this poem does an extraordinary job of teaching us how to read and to read variously. The poem also teaches us about the multiplicity of ourselves. 


The poem, in the form of couplets, begins with a declarative sentence that feels axiomatic:  “This is life:  a series of difficult choices ending in death.”  Here we have no persona yet, no character involved in an action.  The second line creates a plea but still in command form:  “Along the way, try not to judge too harshly.”  The command form continues into the next stanza and with the title in mind, the reader starts to pause and reread the lines washed through the various disguises from the title.  Each line then is creating three separate accounts of itself.  “Share what you have, but not all of it.” 


So far, each sentence has had no line breaks and no figurative language.  What is remarkable, however, is that each sentence takes on the weight and scope of the three possibilities created in the title:  the experience of making a poem, of making love, and of making the choices of each individual in the Donner party.  The second line of the second stanza reads, “Also, avoid shortcuts during winter months, or late fall” and this axiomatic language continues, this how-to language that could seem trite but for that title.   The sentence continues into the third stanza: “lest your own late fall yield a new way of tasting the world—“ and here we have an utterly devastating line encompassing beauty, ugliness, and brute survival as each layer creates a different flavor in the mouth of the reader. 


The second line of the third stanza continues the previous thought: “limb and root, outcome and inspiration—“ and here we the sensuous details of limb and root with the word “limb” creating various images in our minds: the limb of a tree, the limb of a lover, the limb of a dead body in the snow.  Limb also carrying the word  and work of being in limbo at this point in the poem. 


The fourth stanza:  “the height of the stumps reveals the depth of the snow” again that logical language full of various possibilities of disquieting interpretation.  The second line, “as the brightness now is equal to the blindness later.” How our changing perception through time and experience blots out the intensity of the moment.  I love how the echoing b sounds in brightness and blindness creates an intimacy between the words.  The sentence continues into the fifth stanza: “as today will be rewritten tomorrow.”  Such poignancy when experienced through the title.  How memory works on us and we work on it to create a narrative that is never true to the situation as it occurred, in creating a poem, in creating a lover, in creating and recreating the monster inside us as we made/make the choice to eat or not.  Huey ends that stanza with the line, “Its why we must keep moving.”  And here we have the use of the word “we” for the first time and our involvement in all these possible actions deepens. 


The poems shifts perspective in the sixth stanza or gains a perspective.  We become placed, grounded with the simple first word of the line, “Somewhere.”  Here is the entire stanza:


Somewhere in the middle distance, an ocean

rises like a great column of light,


I wondered why the choice of the word “middle” here, in the middle of the line.  I think this is important for perspective, sort of a groping around for familiarity or security.  And also, I like how the m sound echoes the m sounds in the previous line of the words must and moving.  And of course you have the echo of the word “muddle” included in the word.  In this stanza we have so many visual images as well that adds to the grounding of ourselves, of where we actually are.  The light is different here as well, did you notice?  The blue bright light of the ocean versus the white blinding of the snow earlier in the poem. Color now, albeit subtle and unspoken, but here. 


The seventh stanza:


beckons like the salt and sweat of a first kiss.

This is why we carry on so.  Knowing hunger


I just have to pause here and revel in how that line breaks after those two works, “knowing hunger.”  That is an impeccable line break and teaches us what a line break can do, with such simple language.  We all know hunger of various kinds and coupled with that sweaty and salty first kiss from the line above, we discover what the metaphoric possibilities of those kisses might be: the kiss of a successful poem, the first kiss of the lover, and the first kiss of a body entering ours we never thought to taste.  How that line break makes us linger for a second and feel the hunger after that kiss.  Isn’t there always a hunger after a kiss?


The poem takes a turn in the eighth stanza.  Having known hunger “is but the first test.  Like this. Only faster.”  How can this be?  What this is Huey creating?  This moment.  We are all involved here in this moment, sharing it but it moves and the poem spins.  Notice that all the words here are single syllabic words, simple words moving us forward and quickening the action.  How single moments can spin us dizzy us. 


The poem continues: 


The season turns.  The wind’s slow sway


the frostbite and flame, the infection creeping—

I thought myself too tired to go on.


Here we have an actor a someone having the immediate sensation  of experiencing all of these situations at once. Our sympathy, our empathy is heightened now having moved slowly with the speaker to this point this exhaustion of possibilities of exploration.  How the I creates meaning. 

But the poem continues:


Then you appeared, as if from California

or heaven, and held out your hand.


My ghost bones stirred. 

I let you in.  You carried me out.



I love how the mythos of California and the Donner Party all convenes in that line and then deepens with the mention of heaven.  And that last line, such simplistic language, such simplistic action and we enter into a relationship with language, with each other, and with the experience of salvation. 


This is a poem about how a poem after that first reading continues to create waves of memory, of emotion, and of empathy.  How someone you meet can utterly shatter you. How a situation and the choices we make constantly creates a different person from who we thought we were at the outset.  Through the layers and disguises we meet ourselves many times over, and each time we are changed. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tricking Myself

Image of the Day:  House finch, with its purple-streaked head, and a male cardinal all got up in red, sharing space in my window feeder.  Studies in red.

So I ran five miles for the first time ever yesterday and felt pretty good!  I ran without listening to music and found a rhythm, a pace.  On the way back, I kept tricking myself, telling myself it was much much longer than it appeared, which for some weird reason, seemed to help me keep going. And then I had a social gathering event and drank vodka.  That went right to my head.  I mean I ate and everything but still.  So today I'm exhausted.   

I'm not going to do an August a Day poem thingy.  I was so tempted but I just can't this month.  But I got the Oulipo Compendium and so will be studying that.  I also cut up, in anticipation of a few Oulipo exercises, some old poems of mine that weren't working and hope to rework them into other poems that will work.  I still have poems out that I submitted in January and am waiting on.  And other newer submissions I'm watching in my submittable account, watching as they go from "Received" to "In Progress" and then checking Duotrope to see who's rejecting or accepting things.    It's a wonder I can get any other work done at all. 

But I do have a poem here at the Silver Birch Press blog.  They've paired my poem with one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo, and I love that the self-portrait they chose of Kahlo's has a thorn necklace around her throat.  I always wanted to do a series of ekphrastic poems on Frida, but I just couldn't get enough distance, I think, to write anything that spoke of me or to me or whatever.  Maybe some day.  Silver Birch Press is devoting the whole month of August to Self Portrait poems, so check around and look at the other stuff.  Really fantastic work.  And I do love it when journals pair the work with art.  Just so much more conversation happening. 


Mid-drought, more sun.
When did the tumbler

of water, bedside, fill
with dust? When did you

learn you were a riverbed
no river would touch?

Andrea Cohen

The Cincinnati Review
Summer 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The One in Contact

Image of the day:  Milky clouds creaming a blue bowl of a sky.

So this is sort of indicative of how my week has been going:  I'm driving my son to his music lesson from our house and I think I've timed it as usual but I'm ten minutes late because usually I'm in the center of town, which is ten minutes away, so of course the instructor has left by the time I get there--and when my husband gets home, who is the one in contact with the instructor, I want to send an apology via email, which he does--only to find out when he checks his email that the instructor had canceled.  Canceled earlier in the day.

My chapbook, Just Beneath Our House I Hide My Other Body, is in the First Ever Hyacinth Girl Press Thunderdome!  Margaret Bashaar, editor extraordinaire, is, instead of just putting up lists of semi-finalists, finalists, and the four winning chapbooks, making brackets instead, and out of hundreds of manuscripts, mine is one of 32 to battle it out.  So that's exciting and very entertaining. 

I think I told you that I was enrolled in what's called a MOOC course, which stands for a Massive Open Online Course, about How Poets Write.  It has been such a great course and I've loved watching the videos.  If you're interested, here's a link to one of the videos on you-tube.   It's about the pleasure of poetry.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6cdVX7RRsk  One of the things the videos have been stressing is ways of using constraints or rules to get you to write a poem in surprising ways. 

And one of the books they suggested reading was Srikanth Reddy's Voyager, which I just bought. He had a whole process about how he wrote this book, using the memoir of Kurt Waldheim, that he talks about here at this link.  It's quite fascinating. 


  by Peter Kline     

You wound a ball of twine around my eyes
then pinned the end between my fingers.

You gowned me in white tissue
like a hothouse nectarine.

The furtive door at last unbarred, I was
amazed at the garden's suggestion

throating from vining flower-walls
in breaths that quickened with mine.

How long I lingered beneath
sun awnings and a stone-and-mortar sky,

only you know. For when I found the throneroom
festooned with pelvis bones,

the twin-fingered god on whose nether lip I hung
a kiss, a crape-gartered barb,

was you--you the pursued, yours
the bull's head draped with fragrant lash-black hair.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Inside Their Skin

Image of the Day:  Small green globes of unripe tomatoes, holding summer's juice inside their skin.

I'm enrolled in this free, online poetry workshop and they have these videos of poets talking about the craft of poetry, which is fabulous and reminds me of so much good poets and poetry I need to read and reread and today I was reminded of Robert Creeley.  You should read this poem about love and language here.

So in April, while I was trying to write a poem a day and failing, I did write a few Swedish Fairy tale poems.  I made these completely up but it was fun.  My father's side of the family is Swedish, and I got this book, Jolly Calle and other Swedish fairy tales, but I can't seem to get into them.  So I just made up my own.  Anyway, you can read one of them here, at Rose Red Review.  You should also check out the art work and other writers in there.  And then go write your own fairy tale, using your heritage. 

Yesterday my son and I went to a nearby town's fourth of July parade.  They had, of course, closed off the main street into town and the parade was all lined up as we walked into town past it.  Our own private preview.  It was a great parade but LOUD.  My son dancing and clapping and getting more excited about a packet of carrot seeds being thrown to him rather than all the candy. 

I hope you enjoyed your fourth. 

Mary Ruefle quoting Milosz:  "The purpose of poetry is to remind us / how difficult it is to remain just one person" (140).

3 am

Winter and I am awake again
in the darkness of a moonless night
no light to drive out the black animal
that creeps about my head
tonguing its way around hidden hurts
like an evil mother
licking to life the morbid thoughts
of 3 am.

 Nicki Griffin