Friday, December 12, 2014

Such a Jolt

Image of the Day:  The slow and graceful deer shaking their big ears at my dog, barking at them behind the back door.

So this blog is kind of a weird thing for me.  Yesterday, for reasons I can't figure out, this blog had 112 hits or pageviews.  I have no idea why, unless my namesake in fiction, the other Carol Berg, had some news and people were confused.  I had visitors from China, France, the Ukraine, Brazil and South Korea stop by.  Normally, I get like maybe 7-12 visitors unless I'm writing about someone else's poetry, like Amorak Huey, and then I might get 60 or so.  Which is nice, since this blog is all about promoting poetry and writing in general, but still.  So, anyway, just wanted to say thanks for stopping by! (And hey, feel free to buy a book or two of mine while you're here.  They make great presents!  And if mine don't work for you, visit the presses and browse around.  You're sure to find something for someone!)

And I'm officially on break from my other job for about a month, which is nice.  But my boss has retired and yesterday was our last day working together which made me enormously sad.  I love my boss and try and learn as much from her as I can.  I know not a lot of people can say that which is why I also love my job.  And it's so hard to have someone that has been in your life for almost 15 years suddenly not be in your life so much.  Or hardly at all.  I know people come in and out of our lives all the time and it can be such a jolt.  It's been also very emotional for me and now I think I'm sick.  With a cold. Or just a huge emotional hangover.  Last night I was in bed by eight reading my book, State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett.  It's a good read so far.

So here's a beautiful poem from the gorgeous DMQ Review that you should read from beginning poem to last poem.  Nothing like an ode to a punctuation mark to get you rolling. 


Not lips but the opening of lips, the kiss that fits
    a mouth, moistens a tongue with a lungful
of mimosa. Two dots offer aromas of oleander,
    pine, sweet plum. They numb the funk of the manuscript
locked in a trunk. Two dots open to mercy
    in Minneapolis or the middle of Muscatine,
two eyes watching swaths of brush tumble
    in the wind. After a colon, you can wake up as a reptile
or a gilt chandelier in France or ants in a manse
    passing on the left carrying crumbs from the kitchen
while the pastor pens a sermon on olive blossoms
    then fingers his earring. Not a period, a colon
is an open church: Muslims, Jews, dragonflies
    dampened by fog. The rivers of day and night return
in currents of fish. They swim through two dots
    to open the floodgates of silence and sound:
for the mist frozen in its moment, for the green
    alone in its moss, for the bee buzzing above
the pond scum, for the baby laughing
    in her bassinet while the ground shakes.
John Davis
Copyright © 2014  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Into and Out Of

Image of the Day:  Chickadees winging into and out of the dogwood tree and the orange leaves stirring.

I am reading The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo and can't recommend it enough.  I have been, well, had been, feeling very negative about my writing and my writing processes, forgetting that my schedule changes and so my writing time needs to change too.  I actually wrote out a writing schedule--something I had never done before but my days didn't require that.  Or at least I didn't think so. But as she writes, "One of my jobs as a writer is to learn what my rhythms are" (12).  I think I'm still learning that.

You know, I have lots of prompt books and have read Writing Down the Bones before and figured I knew enough about the process of writing.  But this reminded me of some things I knew but also taught me new stuff.  Even though this is mostly geared toward memoir writing I have found some really great ideas in here. 

And I am doing another write a poem every day in November.  Oh and I have finally gotten some acceptances and to some places I love. 

To One Dead
by Maxwell Bodenheim

I walked upon a hill
And the wind, made solemnly drunk with your presence,
Reeled against me.
I stooped to question a flower,
And you floated between my fingers and the petals,
Tying them together.
I severed a leaf from its tree
And a water-drop in the green flagon
Cupped a hunted bit of your smile.
All things about me were steeped in your remembrance
And shivering as they tried to tell me of it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Digging Into

Image of the Day:  The grey tufted tit-mouse digging into the gutters of my house.

Halloween is over and so is the reading at Back Pages Books Thursday night.  I was the first one to read which is always enjoyable but also nerve-wracking.  I was nervous and I think it showed a bit.  But I did get some good reactions from the audience so that was nice.  Then I got to sit back, relax, and enjoy the other writers.  Linda K. Wertheimer read from her interesting book on religious education in public schools. Linda's young son was the true star of the whole show, I should mention. 

Then the poet Stephen Tapscott read from an amazing long poem about Eadweard Muybridge who photographed horses to see if all their feet came off the ground at the same time while galloping.  I was surprised, embarrassed, and very pleased when Stephen quoted a line from one of my poems in his introduction to his poetry. I wish I had had the guts to stay longer afterwards and said thank you and hi to him, but my need to flee after reading in public (and feeling in general overwhelmed) took over.  (If you happen to read this post, Stephen, I'd just like to say how pleased I was that you read that poem in Tinderbox!)

Anna V.Q. Ross read her poetry which I knew was going to be fabulous and heart-wrenching because I had heard her read at Grub Street a long time ago.  I did manage to catch her at the end to say a quick hi.  She read an amazing poem about being shot at while walking with her child in a stroller.

Steven Edwards was the last writer to read and his story was the kind of story I absolutely love and need to find more of: witty, erudite, and funny.  It had elements of past history combined with the conundrum of how humans live and interact amongst each other simultaneously with love and loathing. 

I urge you to find these writers' work and read them. 

Cloud No Bigger than a Man's Hand

It approaches from the sea, too small
for thunder and lightning
but ominous as a closed fist
and what it will bring

nearing us, growing larger,
is completely unknown.
Beware the leaves blowing, beware
the spot on the sun.

All is turned toward it. It rides
the brow of the mind.
Soon, it will shadow one cliff
and a small lifeguard stand.

Beware the leaves blowing, beware
the spot on the sun.
Do your work well. Behold
the work yet to be done.

Dick Allen

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.