Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy solstice!

Merry Christmas and Happy Solstice -- welcoming the return of light. Here's something from Dan Ladinsky's The Gift, a Hafiz poem that to me is the spirit of this season:

Are not
In pursuit of formalities
Or fake religious

For through the stairway of existence
We have come to God's

We are
People who need to love, because
Love is the soul's life,

Love is simply creation's greatest joy.

The stairway of existence,
O, through the stairway of existence, Hafiz

You now come,
Have we all now come to
The Beloved's

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas and poetry

It seems the only things that get written around here from now till 1-1-07 might be cards, checks and gift tags. Where's time for a poem in all this? And even if time is found, where's inspiration in a week of rain, jostling for parking spaces, gridlock and ineradicable price tags? The only solution at this season is to focus on giving -- not giving things so much as giving time, energy and cheer -- and to read lots of poetry. Here are a few Mary lines that buoyed me up recently, from the newly launched journal Umbrella:

A Red-Gum Log

Hour by hour the log endured
the metamorphosis of flame,
and when its bark was burnt away
it glowed the colour of its name.
By alchemy the log became
transmogrified, crystalline;
and incandescent in its frame
pulsed rubies, bright as cherry wine.
As they shrank to discombine
in ruby cubes like crimson dice,
the log retained its size and line
then shattered into crimson ice.

-- Mark Allinson

Mark is a splendid Australian poet who works mostly in form and completely from the heart. Umbrella is a wonderful new creation by Kate Bernadette Benedict, also a poet with formal inclinations. The journal is conceived as a wonderfully eclectic mix of light and formal and free verse and prose related to poetry, with a mission to publish work inspired by an overarching (umbrella) idea. I'm very pleased to begin working as Umbrella's Contributing Editor, Poetry.

That's how I'm keeping my poetic fires burning through this difficult season. How about you?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hardship and writing

I have a young friend whose article today in the Contra Costa Times cites his desire to write a great novel. He participated in the National Novel Writing Month experiment -- first invented in the SF Bay Area and now a national literary celebration of enormous proportions. He investigated (like a good journalist) how people do this, how the movement began, and he participated, and found that he wasn't up to writing 1,666 words a day for 30 days. At the age of 16. He cites lack of hardship in life, but I know a little of this young man's life. He nearly died shortly after he was born. He has had to live with a medical condition, and that has not always made life easy. I have seen a little of the hardship he has already faced, and I have a feeling that a great novel is in him. Maybe he needs more than a month to release it.

Maybe we all have one great book in us and need only the time and belief in ourselves to release it. Maybe a book is the testament of hardship endured and transformed into understanding, and we all work at our own books. Whether they reach paper or not.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving! Be sure to baste the turkey. When you've finished eating, take a nice walk for the view.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Children's poet laureate

Did you know America had one? I didn't until this week, and had never heard of Jack Prelutsky. Poetry Foundation did a wonderful thing for the state of American poetry when this year they named Prelutsky our first Children's Poet Laureate. Teachers, take note and google his name to find lots of resources for teaching poetry to children. We need to create a new generation growing up with the love of the word.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Things you should never put in a poem

Apparently, there's quite a list. Moon, shard (go figure), love, heart, mother, father, grandmother, cat, dog ... well, you get the idea. Basically, you'll be safe if you eschew (now that's a word you can feel free to use in a poem, along with switchblade) anything with a positive, upbea connotation.

Positive, upbeat -- add those to the list of banned poetry words.

And who are these poetry police, you may ask? Well, Frank Zappa did ask, only he called them the "brain police" in one of my favorite songs when I was a Sunset Strip groupie in the 1960s ... but that's another tale. One basically told in the film Almost Famous. They didn't make the movie about me, but about some kids like my friends, only a lot less blonde and perspicacious (another word you may add to your list of approved poetry terms).

Who are the poetry brain police today? Well, check out this group for a start. Then there's always this group of totalitarians.

My point is that when writing, you should beware such arbiters of "good" and "bad" poetry. Why? Well, one example of a famous, well-published and lauded poet of his time is Robert Penn Warren. Does anyone read his work anymore? Okay, he's still got a page at the Academy of American Poets, but does anyone go there for other than academic reasons?

In fact, does anyone go to the Academy of American Poets site at all except for academic reasons?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On the literary value of a good desk

So much is written about writing craft -- I have a shelf full of books on poetics and two shelves full on the craft of prose (prosetics?) -- yet very little is written about the things on which we write. I don't mean keyboards or papers but the actual surfaces, which increasingly come to my attention as they distract me from my craft or art.

For years I labored day and night at a desk that met my wrists with a sharp edge. It wasn't knife-sharp, but it wasn't rounded either. It created not exactly a pain, but an annoyance every time I picked up a pen and wrote on my legal tablets. In other words, it entered into all my first drafts. Who can say what such an effect causes? Perhaps I wrote better, edgier first drafts than I might have if lulled by a rounded corner beneath my hands. Perhaps I wrote less often, unconsciously shrinking from the minor but persistent pain.

I now sit at a desk with rounded edges, ready file space and width beyond my wildest dreams. It's a desk made of real wood veneer (don't laugh) and accommodates within reach two stacks of file trays, an all-in-one fax-copier-printer, telephone, pencil cup and even one of those thingies you can stick on all the bits of paper you don't want to look at but can't afford to lose. Plus a photograph. Plus shelves for more photographs and cabinets for paper supplies. It is my dream desk.

Have I written more or better poetry while sitting here? Yes. Is it the desk? Who knows, but it hasn't hurt -- my wrist, that is -- in quite awhile. Things get put away, or left open, as the need occurs.

A good desk, like a good title, may be one of our best poetic devices. So how's your desk?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Great places to submit - Part 4

Fringe publishes work that's lively, accessible and fresh. Poetry editor Anna Lena Phillips focuses on just a few poems from one poet per issue (nice to be able to study several pieces by one poet). They also have a "Longer Poetry" that provides for the rare online appearance of multi-page pieces. In Issue 4, which featured a suite of my poems, there was also a wonderful long piece by Barbara Crooker, " Not to be missed!

Their submission policy is good and they respond quickly. The February 1 issue, which will celebrate the zine's first anniversary, has a feminist theme.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Wonderful concert at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral

Friends of mine have organized what is sure to be a moving, vibrant and beautiful choral concert, Love's Perfect Design. The event, to be held on Sunday, November 19 at 3 pm at Grace Cathedral, will honor David Hogan, a composer of liturgical music and conductor of several Bay Area choruses. David died ten years ago in the crash of TWA Flight 800. His daughter, Hilary Hogan, has followed in her father's musical footsteps and is making her SF debut as lead soloist in this event. Hilary and her mother, Terry Hogan Johnson, organized the concert for this tenth anniversary year to honor David Hogan's memory and extraordinary life in music.

Beautiful music made by some of the loveliest voices and hearts I know. They've taken what could be a tragic anniversary and are turning it into a lovely, uplifting performance. Members of several choruses will participate. If you're in the area, don't miss it! The soaring spaces of Grace Cathedral will be quite a place to enjoy these compositions by David Hogan and others. You can order tickets at the linked website above.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Life with the Bipolar Rocket Scientist - Part 2

By popular request, another installment in the memoir of growing up rocket. This one's prompted by the photo of the Monterey coast in my last post.


As we blew into the air tubes, she crossed her eyes and ballooned her cheeks so I would forget that my father had demoted me from being fisherman's helper to being Mother's little helper. After we blew up the air mattresses, Mom and I ambled over the white sand toward of San Felipe the tidepools. In black volcanic rock we found pools that shimmered with tiny yellow and blue fish, sea snails and minuscule translucent hatchlings. I poked my fingers in, trying to touch the jewel creatures as they flickered between crevices.

"See this?" Mom said and pointed to a creature made of purple fingers. "It's an anemone."

I heard the word as her finger poked the tentacles and I watched them squirm, like a flower un-blooming. Together we said it: A-nem-oh-nee. Each syllable waved its fleshy finger.

She pointed to a bright red crab with long, spidery claws clinging to the rock. "Remember the crabs we saw under the pier? These rock crabs are their midget cousins."

I knew how they felt. My mother was adept at the spell of naming, revealing the nature of each natural thing with her low, sweet voice. When I could get her to stop and talk, she conveyed marvels: This was not just cactus, but cholla cactus – you knew by its wriggling branches. That fish was not just fish, but butterfly fish, and suddenly it grew wings. She showed me the world one syllable at a time.
We peered down the tidepool, concentrating on a red rock crab. Its eye stalks swiveled and peered at me. It scooted sideways and disappeared into a crevice. She moved to the next tidepool and waved me over.
"Look! Here's a black turban snail shell. It's perfect. See the white tick marks? Like fine print in a phone book."
She lifted an empty orange shell and showed me. I mouthed turban snail and felt the embrace of the whole beach. For a rare moment, everything aligned: word, sense and sound.

"We need a bucket," she said. "Run back and get one, darling."

I ran from disappointment, anxious lest her elusive attention evaporate while I was gone. When I returned, though, she smiled. She reached down and scooped up a small, perfect abalone shell. Showing me its four holes and mother-of-pearl sheen, she said, "It looks like a flute. You could almost blow into it and make a tune." She pretended to blow, but instead whistled a few bars of Bach, the notes swinging away into the wind like birds.

"You know, this place reminds me of a summer I once spent in the Rockies with my mother and brothers. We hiked in five miles with our suitcases to our cabin, but when we got there, the place was littered! Packrats had gotten in and shredded paper on every surface. We made the best of it. Had a wonderful time, just the way we'll have a wonderful week."

Somehow, the prediction gave me chills.

Behind my mother I spotted three village girls. Mom followed my gaze, turned, took my hand and walked toward them.

"Buenas tardes!" she called out in her college Castilian.

"Hola," they responded, smiling.

They stopped a little way off, giggling. Young and dark-skinned, they were so slim that the neck holes of their dresses gapped.

Mom tried again. "Somos de California. Usted habla inglés?"

This brought peals of laughter, and Mom turned lipstick pink, then red. She struggled out a few more words. The girls responded with more laughter.

Mom yanked my hand. "We're going! Rude, stupid girls! Can't they see I'm trying?"

One of the girls, seeing us turn away, ventured a question: "Mi hermano vive en La Cienega. ¿Lo sabe usted?"

I could see there was some mix-up; the girls looked surprised we were leaving, but Mom kept dragging me.

"They're pulling my leg. Peasants!"

The San Felipe girls continued talking and walking after us, but my mother wasn't listening. I looked back. They seemed sorry. I was sorry too, for Mom was as changed as a poked anemone.

"Let's look for more shells," she said, giving me an unpleasant yank.

We collected a few shells, but she was frowning.

After awhile she said, "Let's head back. I want to get on my straw mat with a book. I've earned a break."

She meant a break even from this fragile ocean world, which included me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Stuck for a title?

Title for this photograph? (comments welcome)

Titling poems is my bete noir (hey, that might make a good title). I have found it so difficult I had to research all the existing articles on the subject, and found there were almost none. So I wrote one, which is often the way I learn something -- researching it and collecting the information in my own article, which can be found here, in a back issue of Avatar Review.

If you have similar problems, and my essay doesn't help, you might try , an amusing website I encountered recently.

New policy at Paris Review

I heard from Poetry Editor Meghan O'Rourke that The Paris Review has modified its policy on poetry submissions, as follows:

The Paris Review will continue to publish portfolios, but will now in addition publish single poems in some issues. According to O'Rourke, the decision was about publishing only poets in portfolio, then quickly unmade because there were simply too many good one-off poems to turn them all down.

They now alternate issues with folios -- featuring not two poets but usually more like four -- and issues showcasing single (and more) poems by the same poet.

They also say they're making an effort to publish both emerging and established poets in both areas. An upcoming issue will consist almost entirely of work that came to us through the proverbial "slush."

So put TPR back on your list of desirable places to publish poetry, if you had crossed them off over the portfolio policy. It's open season again with single poems and for emerging, not already famous poets.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Great places to submit - part 3

The Seneca Review, where Deborah Tall is editor and they are promoting a new species they're calling the lyric essay. I landed a lyric essay there, a short, wild thing I didn't know what to call.

Also, don't forget Kaleidowhirl, Cindy Reynolds' fascinating online quarterly. Get in on the ground floor, before it really whirls away.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Great places to submit - part 2

Good place to send work if you're a woman, that is. Womb will launch with a January 1 issue they say will be "innovative, intriguing and electrifying." They also plan to put together a comprehensive blogroll of poets who blog.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Spiral photos

Oh my gosh.

Great places to submit

Kate Benedict's new venture, Umbrella, is looking for essays on poetry as well as new work. She's also willing to publish already published pieces. Bravo! for this. A pet peeve of mine is that in most cases a poem's debut is also its swansong. The insane preference for "new work" is ridiculous and vain among editors. As though a good poem deserves only one outing.

How would you like to have had only one date in your life?

I was going to start a magazine that published nothing but reprints, but I haven't yet found time. Here's to all the editors who do find time.

More poems to live by

Alzheimer's is a disease that not only afflicts one of two people over age 85, but it also afflicts their families. My early response to learning my father has the disease was to write about the experience -- what I could observe of his experience and of course about my own emotional reaction to losing pieces of our family history, but by bit.

My dad has progressed and is now more confused by simple conversation. He's moving into the realm of advanced Alzheimer's, and in researching what they now call "memory care" for him, I've discovered interesting new techniques in caring for patients.

One of them involves poetry. The Alzheimer's Poetry Project involves reading classic poems to patients, poems they might have learned as children. Gary Mex Glazner is the director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project (APP), which has been featured on NBC’s Today show and NPR’s Weekend Edition. APP's can be started in any community.

Their website states that the project serves people in late stages of Alzheimer’s, those who have a hard time holding a conversation or even speaking. Yet they respond to the poems by saying words and lines along with the poet. They often laugh at a funny poem or weep at a poignant one -- and even people who no longer recognize family members still recognize the poems of their youth.

This wonderful project raised in my mind a sad question -- what will they read to the next generation of patients, people who never learned poems as children? Now that poetry has all but disappeared from schools, along with the rest of the arts, will they try to use mathematical problems to spark aging memories?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Been to Wisegeek, feel more erudite

Wisegeek -- almost as good a find as StumbleUpon. Thanks to Steve Harris for this one.

Check it out. You, too, could be writing for this nascent encyclopedia of weirdness. My favorite article topic is in the above link: Who is Crispus Attucks? Something every American should know.

And now, on to more serious matters ... like spinach. I must be the only person in the country whose diet was just halved by the tragic news of a tainted spinach supply. I must have been eating about 6 ounces a day of raw spinach -- no kidding. Now it will all be Romaines of the Day.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Poems to Live By

It often happens that I am asked to provide a friend with a selection of poems suitable for reading at a major life occasion -- a big birthday, anniversary, wedding, memorial, or even Valentine's Day.

It famously happened to Naomi Shihab Nye, who took the occasion of the request for a gentle chide to her correspondent which became one of her best poems ever:

Valetine for Ernest Mann

I'm going to start accumulating an online collection of links to poems suitable for these occasions, in case you get this kind of request and can't remember exactly where you put that favorite and perfectly suitable poem.

The above would be a good one for Valentine's Day. As I often get the request for a wedding-appropriate poem, I would say you could use this lovely piece from English poet Alice Oswald:


From time to time our love is like a sail
And when the sail begins to alternate
From tack to tack, it's like a swallowtail
And when the swallow flies it's like a coat;
And if the coat is yours, it has a tear
Like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
To draw the wind, it's like a trumpeter
And when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions –
And this, my love, when millions come and go
Beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
And when the trick begins, it's like a toe
Tiptoeing on a rope, which is like luck;
And when the luck begins, it's like a wedding,
Which is like love, which is like everything.

Alice Oswald

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile

I've been reading Alice Oswald's amazing poetry book, DART. It's a 48-page book about a journey from source to outlet of the River Dart in England. Sounds boring. Is absolutely amazing.

Oswald first poetry book, with the above title, is now worth approximately $365 per used copy, according to ALibris.

Would the person who borrowed my copy kindly return it? :)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

McVal Osborne's Beat

My young friend McVal Osborne has become a journalist. He started off with a great article on homelessness in our area. The Times has signed him on as a permanent, part-time reporter. He can only work part-time because, you see, he's still in high school. This is a young writer to watch. McVal is the son of my friends John and Heather Osborne, who probably are still having palpitations over the idea of their talented, bright son becoming a writer rather than, say, a physicist or a judge. My sympathies go out to them. To McVal I'm giving my collection of back issues of Poets & Writers.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Calling all ghazal-masters: Send your ghazals (or your favorite ghazals by someone else) to a poetry event that's a fundraiser for the Northern Arizona Book Festival. Here's the announcement from Rebecca Byrkit, Director, Northern Arizona Resource Center & Artspace, Home of the Northern Arizona Book Festival:

"As an ancillary (fund-raising) event to the Northern Arizona Book Festival, the NAZ Resource Center and Artspace will be hosting guest and "ghazal master" Steffen Horstmann (from Mt. Holyoke, Mass.) at our inaugural "Ghazalpalooza" here in Flagstaff on Saturday, September 16 at 7:00 p.m. We invite anyone in the vicinity with either original or best-loved non-original ghazals to contact me to participate directly . yet additionally, we wish to read submitted original and best-loved ghazals from anywhere and everywhere in the world. These poems will be read by "skilled ghazalists" (!), trained to effect the most affectionate and accurate rendering of ghazals from poets unable to actually be present at the event.

"Steffen and poet Rebecca Byrkit will also offer two two-hour ghazal writing workshops to the community on Tuesday, September 12 and Thursday, September 14, at the Artspace (see address below) from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m."

10th Annual Northern Arizona Book Festival, April 20-22, 2007
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 1871
Flagstaff, AZ 86002-1871

Northern Arizona Resource Center and Artspace
150 W. Dale Suite #6
Flagstaff, AZ

Let's Be Friends

Maybe they haven't heard about this in the Middle East, but as I Stumbled across this web site, it struck me as a sign of the times:

Let's Be Friends

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Great Night for Humor and Poetry

Last night Berkeley's Freight and Salvage hosted Dan & Dale Zola's poetry-and-music event, "A Great Night of Soul Poetry." I missed it, but fortunately it can now be heard online. The performances are professional, lively and often hilarious.

My favorite is the rendering of Naomi Shihab Nye's "A Boy and His Mother at the Nutcracker." First runner-up: Billy Collins' "Child Development." Second runner-up: "Forgetfulness" by Billy Collins. There's some Rumi, some Mary Oliver, some William Stafford -- accessible stuff. The best are the funny pieces. Some of the serious ones don't work as well. I hope they're going to have more of these evenings. Best is to be in a live performance, second-best to listen online. Poetry performances should more often be combined with music.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Working on a new play. Here's a relevant photo.

In other news, I'm having a very good publishing month. I have two poems out in Cranky. Three copies just arrived in the mail, and it's a fine-looking magazine with cover appeal and nice layout. I do wish they'd update theirweb site, though, to reflect that there's an Issue 5).

Also have two forthcoming in Image: A Journal of Art & Religion, two coming out in Caketrain, and an essay coming out in the October issue of Seneca Review.

All in all, I'm a happy writer today.

Friday, August 18, 2006

This is what I'm talking about

Just as I finished my last blog, about how no filmmakers focus on poets unless they're dead or drunk or mad, I come across a hilarious new animated poetry site, Blue's Cruzio Cafe. And guess what -- my firend David Alpaugh's on it, performing his poem about being a dead poet. Check it out. You've got to hear him doing "Electgronic Epitaph" as the Grim Reaper.

Send them something. Maybe you too can be on Poe-TV.

Mad Poets Society

America only seems to love its poets if they're mad. Or half-mad. Or dead-drunk. Perhaps that's why the only poets getting big screen-time this coming fall are Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Bukowski. Bukowski will be portrayed by Matt Dillon in "Factotum," opening in a few days. And the Poe film, "The Death of Poe," is to open sometime in the fall. Of course, there has also been a lot of stuff about Plath in recent years.

We love our poets suicidal, addicted or loony. But who's making a movie about Billy Collins? I think it would be a real Zen fest, a film about a man who sits in a room scrutinizing his bookcase and plants and writing poems that bend time and space in entirely relativistic ways. I'm serious. A cool movie to be made.

Okay, maybe they did make one tiny little film about Billy Collins, but can you rent it on Netflix? Forget it. A $45 DVD is available, however, at Amazon of On The Road with the Poet Laureate.
But that was in 2003. How soon they forget.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Perseids and Sounds

It's that time of year, for midsummer viewing of the Perseids meteor showers (am I developing a meteor obsession?). While I can't quite get up two hours before dawn in the next business day or two, I will stay up tonight to see a few shooting stars. The most spectacular Perseid viewing I ever did was lying on a lawn on Kauai at about midnight. The trick, we decided, was to unfocus your eyes and then your peripheral vision widens to near infinity. In that state you can react faster when it picks up a zip of light.

And Stumble has again brought me to one of my all-time favorite Web sites -- though I can't quite figure out what category to bookmark it in. Sounds has a wealth of ... well, sounds. From birds chirping to cicadas to train whistles. I actually collected a number of train whistles -- vintage to contemporary -- for a theater production I was working on. I recommend their collection of saws -- from hand to hack to chain. Also the kissing sounds. You can assemble your own collection, maybe use them as a soundtrack to a slide show or video.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Is it August? or me?

Maybe it's me, but all the blogs I read lately seem to have been authored by the same whiny post-adolescent with micro-tunnel vision. I've read blog entries about taking licensing exams, burning fingers on a hot steering wheel, preparing for vacations and other illuminating topics.

I'm thinking it's half me -- I just want to scream at a narcissist monologue -- and half August. No one can summon a critical or creative thought.

That said, I'll have to justify this blog entry with a web site offering. These photos can be viewed as a mini-vacation -- and you don't even have to do the climbing (or be ferried up in a basket).

Monday, July 31, 2006

Moon View

Thanks to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac for this item of rocket science nostalgia:

On this day in 1964, Ranger 7 radioed to earth the first clear, close-up pictures of the moon. There were 4,000 pictures in all, one thousand times as clear as anything ever produced by earth-bound telescopes. The pictures showed craters three feet in diameter and up to a foot and a half deep. When the pictures were transmitted on closed-circuit TV into the auditorium in Pasadena, California, where lab workers and news people were gathered, people stood on their chairs and cheered.

Take a look at the new moon this evening and imagine being in that auditorium, or even walking on it for the first time. It seemed as though the future might hold anything, as though we were entering an amazing new super-age. And sometimes, looking up at the moon, I still feel that way.

Here are some excellent moon images from NASA.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Mad enough to think

I love people who make me mad enough to think through an issue for myself. That seems to me the function of the essayist -- to kick-start your own processes of meditation. Gabriel Gudding's essay on the evolution of contemporary poetry is a splendid example of the kind of writing that gets you mad enough to engage (or at least it did me). Mad as in a rage of interest and self-debate. As in "what is he talking about -- does he know what he's talking about? -- wow! what he's talking about" kind of thought-train. I'm still steaming along on it.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Momentary and yet momentous

Was part of my answer to the question, What makes good poetry in the early years of the 21st century? at YahooAnswers.

2River editor Richard Long put up the question and it already looks as though he'll get interesting answers from some interesting poets. Want to answer the question? Click on the first link above.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Poemeleon is a wonderful find -- if only I had better glasses. This new zine is a beautiful read, except for the teeny-tiny font size, which gives me a headache after about three poems. Editor Cati Porter puts her mission for poemeleon this way:

"poemeleon seeks to make visible the invisible. By placing disparate poems alongside one another I aim to highlight not just their contrasts, but their similarities. To quote Forrest Gander: "Like species, poems are not invented, but develop out of a kind of discourse, each poet tensed against another's poetics, in conversation."

Porter has assembled in the first issue a truly fascinating collection of work by a diverse group of poets, including Wendy Taylor Carlisle, Catherine Daly, Eileen Tabios, Marilyn Taylor and Bob Hickok.

But what's with the eyestraining type? I could become addicted to this site if my optometrist gives the nod. Or if I can find a better painkiller for those headaches.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Quotidian Dread

(No, it's not a new band) . . .
Found this via Poetry Hut Blog: Pinsky on the Post. Love the pumpkin poem. Spent a night rather like that last night. Wrote a poem at 3:30 a.m. I used to know a midnight poet who not only dated his poems, but gave them times of night as well. But then he moved on to multimedia.


I stumbled on this amazing site last night. I would have told you about it sooner, but I was up late stumblingupon. I swear it's going to be a verb in the next edition of the online Merriam Webster, like "google."


is better than television. Which is why I lost sleep. I wouldn't stay up for Dave or late night movies or Charlie Rose, but I totally lost track of time through StumbleUpon. Try it out. See what happens. Let me know.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Keillor's Joke at the Expense of Poets

On a poetry listserv I belong to, a debate rages today on the merit of Garrison Keillor's skewering of poets, poetry and especially women poets in his film, show and books. The man who once referred to Anne Sexton as a "hot babe" is taking a little heat of his own this morning in the interesting discussion I've been party to. Poetry Foundation's Ange Mlinko doesn't much like his satirical subjects either. Interesting way to get poetry into the news! I say if it makes even one person think about poetry, it's all to the good. Though I really don't like the way he dishes women poets like Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore. "Bunheaded librarian"? Pul-eeeze!

Monday, June 19, 2006

This morning's poem

I read one every morning. Beats the so-called news, which rarely has anything surprising to say. This morning's was a poem by a Turkish poet in Atlanta Review, "Moonbath: a Lullaby" --

earth's softest sunbath,
photons fresh in from a lunar landing,
but weary of miles, ninety-two million out
to the iron'rich seas and glassy meadows
of a four-billion-year-old crater-pocked rock

The poem got me to thinking about the salad days of the rocket biz, and about how sad I am that I can no longer get my father to reminisce about his work. He's that far gone in Alzheimer's that he doesn't remember writing the book he wrote on management of rocket projects.

But then I remembered that we're doing The Sixties all over again lately, with recreated "Freaky Folk Music", mini-skirts and moon shots. In August, Europe is taking aim at the golden eye in the sky. According to the BBC, they're ready to "light the blue paper" -- in my Dad's day, it was called "lighting the candle" -- and sending Smart 1 (yes, I know, really lame name) into space.

In 2018, NASA plans to plant another flag on the pocked orb. I suppose that's if North Korea or Iran doesn't get there before us. In the meantime, they have taken down the old Apollo tower because it was classified as hazardous waste. Nuff said.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Mezzocammin, the new formalistas and Fringe

Another stunning new zine that just launched is Mezzocammin, a journal devoted to new formal poetry by women, especially contemporary women poets. In the first issue, I found one of my favorite formalistas, the amazing, aptly named Kate Light. The editors also plan a women poets timeline, which they describe this way:

We will also, starting in our December issue, be featuring a women poets timeline, known as "The Timeline Project," which will eventually be the largest database devoted to women's poetry in the world.

Sounds exciting, if a bit vague. Actually, they're inviting comments about the idea, so I imagine they haven't nailed it down totally, except to announce that it will be the definitive world database on women's poetry. How about just starting with the world's largest database of women's poetry in form?

The idea appeals to me, especially as they say in their guidelines they encourage experimentation even within the confines of formal poetry. Kay Ryan is what I suppose they mean by formal and innovative -- and maybe some of the more fearless adaptations of the sonnet I've read in Kate Light's books.

Stay tuned. More new discoveries to come. Anyone have any interesting new magazines to suggest?

By the by, I just got six poems -- count 'em, SIX -- in another innovative new journal I hadn't yet had time to blog about: Fringe Magazine. "The noun that verbs your world." Gotta love a litmag with a slogan like that. They describe the journal as innovative, by/for those on the fringe -- sounds perfect. The issue my work will be in goes live on July 1. Read for yourself.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

zafusy and other matters

What is it about spring 2006? Several new online litmags edited by women poets have launched spectacularly recently. One of my favorites has a name that just sounds like fun: zafusy. It grabbed me right away by featuring one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets on the front page: Amy Clampitt's luscious Marine Surface, Low Overcast. Clampitt has to be one of the only poets besides Walt Whitman who can make of excessive modifiers a zesty art form. Where some other poet trying such a poem would come off as simply over-laden, Clampitt's spin on ... well, just on fog ... is stupendous. So I liked zafusy immediately -- and then I noticed they bill themselves as "experimental." Oh no! I can't submit to an experimental magazine. But then I remembered that one reviewer compared me to Alice Fulton. I had to look up her work and, guess what, she's experimental! But in the most appealingly un-experimental -- that is to say, I could actually understand her poems -- way.

Who cares about labels? And that's one of the things I think the Internet poetry community is able to do well: soften the sharp boundaries between this label and that one. There's too much happening too fast, it's all so fluid, even publishing, that making bins and rules seems unlikely to stick for long.

More on new discoveries soon.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Land of Age

Been there over the weekend. A very cramped place, few amenities, and the price is steep. Had a weekend with aging disabled parents and find myself thoughtful about how we treat our elders in America. I can't speak for other countries, especially those with socialized medicine, but here it's a jungle -- brutally divergent levels of care depending on who you worked for and how much you amassed and where you live. And most good, competent doctors simply have a bin marked "Arthritic, addled elder" to dump you into. In fact, I think they have a prescription so marked. Celebrex for everything. And not much to celebrate.

I don't usually post my poem drafts online, but this was a weekend poem:

My father would have made a good actor:
booming voice, quicksilver moods, ability to forget
one personality as he dons another. Now most
of the lines in the plays he lives are vanishing
he ad-libs from the heart, sometimes with wit.
He forgets the four decades of spite
between them when his sister calls.
He can't remember the no-good son-in-law
I divorced or that he once put the present one
out on the street with his suitcase during an argument.
Are you my son? he asks. Are you
my daughter? Some good things about age
come clear to me in the huge blanks
that cloud our history. I turn
the corner into his room again and say, Hello Dad.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Boxes of words

I found this little web site that seems to have had the same idea I've had -- squares or paragraphs of words that could be identified as poems or could be identified as short-shorts, or ... It's called Six Little Things, and they have an interesting selection of pieces. I like calling them "pieces." I like the whole idea of losing the right-ragged edge of poetry, losing the paragraphs of prose, losing the identifying marks that make a reader think they know what happens next.

I have a few that are sonnets in disguise (don't tell the editor, in case I send some). They're formal verse in sheep's clothing. It amuses me to send them off to editors I don't imagine will catch on. It amuses me to imagine them being published by one of those magazines that states in their guidelines, "No sonnets, no rhyme."

Stealth sonnets. I call them Cubes. Shhh ...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Internet poetry - oxymoron?

It's good to google yourself once in awhile. And even to do so in several different search engines.

Today I used and was delighted to find myself quoted in a fascinating article about online poetry by Frank Wilson, book editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer (May 21, 2006). He quotes several poets from the blogosphere and elsewhere on the Internet. What he picked up from me was a sound bite: "online poetry is a participant sport" -- meaning, as I elaborated, but he didn't quote, that more people write online poetry than read it. I meant it as a comment on the comparison between print journal poetry and its online counterpart. But who really knows? We need some surveys, some studies, some investigative journalism here.

I'm glad Frank Wilson has started the ball rolling. I have a feeling eventually this ball is going to get very big. We're at the stage of trying to figure out what online poetry is by the equivalent of a blindfolded committee trying to describe an elephant. This animal of Internet poetry is probably radically different than we imagine. All depends on your yardstick and your blindfold.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wilbur - audio

The Internet Poetry Archive (University of North Carolina Press) has audio files of Wilbur reading. He reads well. Dimensions of the poetry are heightened -- his wit and heart more evident.

The Archive also has other poets reading: Seamus Heaney and Robert Pinsky among my favorites. Includes Pinsky's amazing reading of "Shirt." Having toiled before a sewing machine a few hours myself, this reading gives me shivers.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Wilbur - a quick survey

Some online readings of Richard Wilbur's work:

Modern American Poetry
Academy of American Poets

And interviews and essays on his poetry:

Dana Gioia
James Longenbach at Slate

I especially like Longenbach's summation of Wilbur's importance with a quote from one of his poems:

"Wilbur's poems matter not because they may or may not be stylish at any given moment but because they keep the English language alive: Wilbur's great poems feel as fresh—as astonishing, as perplexing, as shocking—as they did 50 years ago. There are no other poems like them. Forget anything you've ever heard about the emblematic Wilbur and listen to the last five stanzas of 'For the New Railway Station in Rome.'"

Longenbach quotes these stanzas of Wilbur's:

See, from the travertine
Face of the office block, the roof of the booking-hall
Sails out into the air beside the ruined
Servian Wall,

Echoing in its light
And cantilevered swoop of reinforced concrete
The broken profile of these stones, defeating
That defeat

And straying the strummed mind,
By such a sudden chord as raised the town of Troy,
To where the least shard of the world sings out
In stubborn joy,

"What city is eternal
But that which prints itself within the groping head
Out of the blue unbroken reveries
Of the building dead?

"What is our praise or pride
But to imagine excellence, and try to make it?
What does it say over the door of Heaven
But homo fecit?"

Longenbach goes on to observe:

"Wilbur's great poems are always marked by this combination of the high wire and the homespun. They usually begin in an occasional, almost off-hand manner: He notices something in the world (sheets hanging on a wash line), then invites us to notice it too. Immediately we're drawn into the poem by the movement of the language, and before we know it, the sheets have become angels, and we're swept up in a metaphysical conundrum that feels at once deeply serious and ridiculously human: Do we imagine angels because we do laundry or do we do laundry because of a higher purpose? The poem's title, lifted from St. Augustine, doesn't so much provide an answer as a challenge: 'Love Calls Us to the Things of This World.'"

Friday, May 19, 2006

Finally come to their senses

Poetry, that is. Naming Richard Wilbur the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Prize.

I thought they'd never wake up and smell the poetry. This is a poet whose body of work is really worthy of a $100,000 prize. Whatever you think of it, his Collected, which I got last year, shows a mature talent that spans many years and fads and has weathered it all with grace.

It seems odd to me that the magazine is so blandified -- so all-poems-as-written-by-one-person -- and the Ruth Lilly Prize shows more breadth of understanding of the vast diversity of American poetry.

Christian Wiman, the majordomo now at Poetry, said of the award:

"If you had to put all your money on one living poet whose work will be read in a hundred years, Richard Wilbur would be a good bet. He has written some of the most memorable poems of our time, and his achievement rivals that of great American poets like Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop."


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Book of Being

My daily dose of Savitri:

Thus could he step into that magic place
Which few can even glimpse with hurried glance
Lifted for a moment from mind's laboured works
And the poverty of Nature's earthly sight.
All that the Gods have learned is there self-known.
There in a hidden chamber closed and mute
Are kept the record graphs of the cosmic scribe,
And there the tables of the sacred Law,
There is the Book of Being's index page;

-- Aurobindo Ghose

The Book of Being's index page . . . that was the stunner. I have been reading Aurobindo's marvelous book, The Future Poetry, in which he describes the different levels of poetic inspiration. I have to think that line is from the topmost level. It's the combination of the majestic Book of Being with index page that catches my breath.

Have you had your Savitri today?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz

We all knew he couldn't live forever -- could he? But the picture of the poet at 100 years old, full of verbal vigor and lyrics might inspired those of us writing past the half-century mark to again consider ourselves young poets. I thought, when I heard the news, that I wish I had sent him my book. It would have no doubt landed in a great pile, but would have added to the visible tribute nevertheless, even if it lay in a corner unread.

I also thought of lines from his poem "The Round", one of my all-time favorites:

I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
"Light splashed . . ."
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
whena new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

May your new life be splashed with supernal light, Stanley. May the new day you now embark on turn its fresh pages with the shake of anemone petals and of late-blooming roses. May it be full of curious gladness.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Stafford and the Poem-A-Day Exercise

I just found a lovely memoir of William Stafford on Lorna Dee Cervantes' blog. I had forgotten that I read in his Writing the Australian Crawl that he wrote a poem a day as part of his regular practice. One I'm beginning to share, along with a daily walk.

Stafford wrote his poem after his daily walk. No wonder he was so prolific. Walking is the easiest way to get my creative juices going. I don't know why, but once I'm outside my mind expands along with my horizons. I've been this way since childhood. Perhaps it was growing up in southern California, near the ocean, with moderate temperatures day and night, most of the year. Wandering outside was just natural. Some days, with all the windows and doors open, and our floor-to-ceiling glass at the back of the house, it was hard to tell if you were inside or outside.

I just got back from an evening walk, another lovely way to settle down the creative fire. Watching the hills turn pink and then mauve and then the sky lights up. Arriving at peace, wherever you head, just by looking up.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Did we all know that Poetry Foundation is podcasting? Or the there's a lot of poepodcasting going on at e-poets? Remind me to figure out again how this microphone thingie works.

Friday, April 28, 2006


Time voyages with Thee upon its prow
And all the future's passionate hope is Thou.

-- Sri Aurobindo

This arresting quote came to me as the antidote to watching too much of the news -- or the "olds" as I have taken to calling it. My husband does not find this amusing.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Writing exercises

Mostly, I've been skeptical. Especially of the exercises, workshops and seminars designed to "generate new work." As though a poem were a pot, the more the better. Maybe that's not even true of pots, but at least you can plant a flower in one. Poems should be rarer creatures.

With that prejudice in mind, and especially skeptical of any such rigid practice as writing a poem a day, I decided to take up a fellow poet's challenge and try to write a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month (an event that occurs mostly in the minds of poets).

Surprised by fluency, I'm racking up two or three poems a day. When as an adult I still spent a portion of every day at the ballet barre doing the same old exercises I had done when I was seven, I thought it was an art form unique for its repetitive qualities. Maybe ballet and piano playing. Can you imagine a painter painting the same strokes every day for practice? Not unless the artist is Chinese, dipping a brush into an ink pot and cranking out the thousandth bamboo leaf.

My daily poems are becoming not an exercise but an obsession with limbering my imagination. Call it the Muse, call it accessing the subconscious, call it whatever you will, but there's a gate that can be somewhat pried if you practice opening it. I won't say what you enter by going through it is a field of genius. But it helps the work. Definitely. Try it for a month and see.

I plan to make May National Poetry Month as well.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

National Poetry Month

Seems to me mostly a self-congratulation party. Our local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, has had not one item that even mentions it -- and the Chron usually covers poetry books. Just whose party is it, I'm wondering.

Well, obviously The Academy of American Poets takes it seriously. You can sign up to receive an emailed poem a day in April, selected by one of their poets. And they initiated the Poetry Read-Athon for schools, an excellent idea to bring an otherwise neglected subject into grade school classrooms. Let's hope with some sense of fun. Their Celebrate NaPoMo section lists all the basic things poets already do -- and let's face it, who else is reading their site? All very hopeful ideas about getting poetry out into the larger culture, yet largely ineffective.

I decided to take out my resentment of the culture's ignoring of poetry by simply writing a poem a day for the month. Forget trying to do something for poetry. I'm making poetry do something for me. So far, it's working.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A good day in poetry

I have been thoroughly enjoying my National Poetry Month exercise of writing and reading at least one poem a day. Today's exercise was especially rewarding. I found a delightful article by Naomi Shihab Nye about the idea of "sneaking poems into your day." I wrote a poem I felt happy to consider revising -- always a sign of inspirational fruitfulness, the itch to make it better. And I was emailed by Felicia Sullivan, Editor of Small Spiral Notebook, that a rave review of Femme au chapeau was just posted by reviewer Laura McCullough.

As I survey my direction in poetry -- look out, here comes a major brag -- I feel significantly encouraged. Femme au chapeau has had a series of excellent notices:
The Pedestal Magazine
Smartish Pace
Alsop Review
Comstock Review
Small Spiral Notebook

I think I'll keep doing what I'm doing.

Hapy Easter! Hope you wrote or read a poem, took a walk, or otherwise worshipped in the wide style of embracing the earth.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Poetry online - the question

Is it achieving critical mass, in terms of respectability? Are we yet at the point where you would rather publish in an admired zine than one of the gazillion print journals that increasingly no one but contributors read?

In my case, the local poetry community is lively, determinedly neo-Beat and impenetrable. Too many poets trying to get too many readings too few poets attend, unless Robert Hass or Jane Hirschfield might be there, etc., etc. It's a distinctly clubby atmosphere -- odd for supposed Bohemians, and I don't mean the kind that hang out at the Bohemian Club (or do I?). I've been invited to do few readings and the audiences have been sparse, unless I brought my own.

Contrast that with the democratic, lively, determinedly non-poetically partisan atmosphere that prevails on the Web. Zines abound and are mostly hungry for good work, especially hungry to convert print poets to online poets. With email, it's easy to strike up acquaintances that can even deepen into virtual literary friendships based on dialogues about poems.

Sound like the poetry world dream machine? Except for the lack of pay, I think it is. And since when did pay matter in the poetry world? (Except for professorships, I get that. But for the rest of us.)

I'd like to hear what others have to say. Are we finally at the turning point? Or does online poetry still have far to go in terms of garnering critical respectability?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

George Herbert

Where have you been all my life? Thanks to a "slightly modernized" version edited by Henry L. Carrigan, I can now read this quintessential English mystical poet with pleasure and very few linguistic bumps in the road. Think Shakespeare with spirituality. I love the poems in "The Church" especially, lovely mystical odes that use language and devotion playfully, with an intimate, endearing tone so different than the preachiness I was expecting.

Carrigan has given a similar treatment to the beautiful poetry of Ramon Lull. I look forward to Carrigan unlocking more of these treasures for us.

And now, back to Whitman . . . and bailing out the water, which continues to rise around here. Something like 36 straight hours of rain, with the most rainy days in March ever recorded in the SF Bay Area. I'm thinking ark, animals . . .

Monday, April 10, 2006

Whitman, where have you been

All my life? In searching out poems for an upcoming reading event, I decided to read all -- yes, ALL -- of Whitman. It's the only way to read him. Excerpts will not do. I went down to my local used book store and got a big fat hardcover collection, printed in 1931. Back when they favored big type, the kind my eyes like even when I have my lenses in. Emblematic of his expansiveness, the large letters sprawl across a page never wide enough for the long breath of his lines. If ever there was an argument for Olson's breath-of-the-line, this poetry is it. But you need big bellows to sing along with such long-listing encomiums.

It's like surfing the big ones, a ride on the North Shore -- like over-flying America without a plane -- like liking everything regardless of personal utility. Whitman renews your faith in similes. He also seemed to be able to see and hear at a distance, which made me suspect supernatural powers. Certainly, his language powers are supernatural. Here's an excerpt from my current favorite:

THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day,
or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads -- all became part of him.

The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud; These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.

Friday, March 24, 2006

This Just In

Gum chewing improves memory. Now where did I hear that? Kidding. Click on the link. Okay, maybe it wasn't just in -- but I just found it. Been doing a lot of chewing lately, on my new diet regimen. Lots of leaves, lots of gum. Makes for a tight face, with all those strong jaw muscles under the surface. I wonder when they'll write the article about gum chewing substituting for a facelift?


If anyone's interested in viewing relics of the Buddha, including those pearls enlightened beings are said to create in their bodies, you can take a look here. The exhibition is making its way around the world. Hey, I've seen sacred relics around the world. The pearls beat Saint Catherine's finger any day in the week. No grisly factor.


More from Wallace Stevens. Why do I find his use of arcane words so delicious, where in other poets it's just plain irritating. For your dictionary hunt of the day, I offer "lacrustine" (Google it):

The Doctor of Geneva

The doctor of Geneva stamped the sand
That lay impounding the Pacific swell,
Patted his stove-pipe hat and tugged his shawl.

Lacustrine man had never been assailed
By such long-rolling opulent cataracts,
Unless Racine or Bossuet held the like.

He did not quail. A man who used to plumb
The multifarious heavens felt no awe
Before these visible, voluble delugings,

Which yet found means to set his simmering mind
Spinning and hissing with oracular
Notations of the wild, the ruinous waste,

Until the steeples of his city clanked and sprang
In an unburgherly apocalypse.
The doctor used his handkerchief and sighed.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Art About Art

Been thinking about this topic again, ekphrastic art -- art about art. In the current issue of Kaleidowhirl (guest-edited by moi) Jeanine Hall Gailey has a poem that continue to intrigue me: "Ode to Jeffrey Koons." It's the opening stanza I keep re-reading, pondering how it manages so well to evoke a painting I'm not even familiar with:

O commodities trader
with hallucinating toddler soul,
you coax monstrous floral puppies
to romp through museums,
space-age rabbits to eat
silver carrots on plexiglass altars.
Overpaid street entertainer, balloon artist.

Poems about paintings fascinate me, maybe because as the daughter of a painter, I grew up watching paintings grow up. I think my ideal way of going through a museum would be to have a headset that whispered ekphrastic poems into my ear as I viewed the paintings.

Lynne Knight has a fabulous book, Snow Effects, that focuses on an art exhibition that came through San Francisco five years or so ago, "Impressionists in Winter." Small Poetry Press was wise enough to print color reproductions of the art on facing pages, so poem and painting are paired.


Sunspinner is a new zine out of southern California, but I won't hold that against them. Their dual focus is on poetry and fiction, and they also post interviews. High quality work, very attractive site, issues not too crowded and easy to read. And of course, I'm plugging them because they plugged my poem, "Waking Early at Dottie Lou's", which is in the current issue of Kaleidowhirl -- thus proving that everything that whirls does eventually come around. (I have no idea what I mean by that.) (And here's to you, Dottie Lou, wherever you are reading this.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sun Comes Out for Birthday Celebrations

Our fickle West Coast weather has done another stunning turn, from snow and hail and lots of rain into sun and Bay Area warmth. Who knows what the next few days will bring, but at least we're getting the cosmic nod for now! A lot of thin people rushing around ... everyone quietly sparkling.

I'm still hunting for poems about kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Anyone know of such? I did find Naomi Shihab Nye's stunning poem Kindness, but I continue to search. All ideas appreciated!

This winter I've discovered Harryette Mullen (a recommendation of Naomi's). It's intoxicating, recursive and word-wild stuff. Reading Mullen alongside Alice Fulton's intense verbal pyrotechnics is enough to make me believe Wallace Stevens is alive and being channeled through these poets. I can imagine either Mullen or Fulton having written these Stevens lines:

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.

Though I think no one writing right now reminds me of one of my favorite Stevens poems, "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" -- no poet I know matches the sheer visual spectacle and verbal and philosophical reach of lines like these, from Part 1:

Paradisal green
Gave suavity to the perplexed machine

Of ocean, which like limpid water lay.
Who, then, in that ambrosial latitude
Out of the light evolved the morning blooms,

Who, then, evolved the sea-blooms from the clouds
Diffusing balm in that Pacific calm?
C’était mon enfant, mon bijou, mon âme.

And these lines, from Part 2 of "Sea Surface":

And a sham-like green
Capped summer-seeming on the tense machine

Of ocean, which in sinister flatness lay.
Who, then, beheld the rising of the clouds
That strode submerged in that malevolent sheen,

Who saw the mortal massives of the blooms
Of water moving on the water-floor?
C’était mon frère du ciel, ma vie, mon or.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

East Comes West

I expect to see a number of my East Coast friends shortly. Lots of poetry, music and drama in the week ahead! Now if we can just get the weather to cooperate. It's been behaving like East Coast weather, with snow on the mountain and fifteen-degrees-below-normal daily highs ("Chill out" -- not so nice an expression this week).

I've been reading Alison Lurie's nonfiction book Boys and Girls Forever. It sent me back to some of my childhood's most delightful moments. Lurie writes about the forces that may have compelled authors to write children's books, from Louisa May Alcott to J.K. Rowling to Salman Rushdie (yes, that guy. He wrote a kid's book). It interested me that Lurie ascribes disruptions in childhood happiness to the drive to write children's stories. She says in her foreword:

"It often seems that the most gifted authors of books for children are not like other writers: instead, in some essential way, they are children themselves. There may be outward signs of this condition: these people may prefer the company of girls and boys to that of adults; they read children's books and play children's games and like to dress up and pretend to be someone else. They are impulsive, dreamy, imaginative, unpredictable."

But doesn't that describe every writer? And don't about 98.999% of writers have unhappy childhoods? I'd like to see a book about writers with happy childhoods. Now there would be a surprising thesis: that childhood happiness drives art. Could happen!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Great reviews of Femme

I'm very excited to have had three great reviews of my book, Femme au chapeau. The first one, by Terry Brown-Davidson, was published at The Pedestal. She called it "thrilling, one-of-a-kind poetry" and compared it to Wallace Stevens. I guess I thought it was a fluke of the kind the cosmos visits on you right before you take a giant pratfall. Such has been my Chicken-Little upbringing. Then Barbara Crooker wrote a glowing and detailed review for Smartish Pace -- and also praised its combination of formal elements and free verse. Okay, one is flukish, two is ... And then Sherry Chandler wrote another great review on her blog.

Now, I'm thinking, all right! I can keep on writing this way and a few readers are going to like it. Even if it's only the four of us, that makes my ... not even day or week, it makes my year.

Barbara's review stated my poetic interests well. She said, " One of the things I've been observing recently is that poets no longer seem to be constrained by either strict adherence to form or pigeon-holing ('formalist'); instead, many new collections are emerging that I'd call 'semi-formal,' shuffling an equal measure of formal poetry and free verse, keeping the reader on her toes, as she moves along, engaged in either the narrative or the lyric imagery, and then finds herself caught up short, realizing, 'Hey, that's really a sonnet (or a pantoum, etc.), and has to go back and read the poems one more time, paying more attention to form and how the poet worked in the formal elements."

Bless you, Barbara, for saying what's been on my mind for quite a few years.

I could mention a few others doing similar semi-formal things, who have inspired me: Kay Ryan, Kate Light, and the amazing English poet Alice Oswald. Those are poets of tremendous invention and grace, and I'd be lucky to write a poem that begins to do the kinds of things I've read from their pens.

Then of course, there is Elizabeth Bishop, who defied so many rules and creates so many unique formal elements it's impossible to classify her.

These are my standards -- impossibly high, and that's the idea. But thanks to my generous reviewers, I have been encouraged to keep reaching. And reaching is what makes me a happy girl.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

New Bishop poems?

They're billed as "fragments". If someone sent through my old notebooks after I expired and hauled out bits and pieces and called them poems, I'd be haunting them. When it's a poem, I'll let you know -- that's my philosophy of writing. Until then, it's just material. It's the putting together that makes it.

Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox has just been released. Publishers Weekly says of it, "This book is as much Alice Quinn's as Elizabeth Bishop's. The New Yorker poetry editor spent countless hours with the 3,500 pages of Bishop (1911–1979) material housed in the Vassar College library..." A Newsday article calls it a "poet's newly found treasures." I hardly think being housed in the Vassar College Library constitutes being "newly found", and I reserve judgment on whether it is full of treasures.

I'm off to throw away handfuls of my old material, in case, as my husband so amusingly put it, "that asteroid has my name on it." Worse, he named the names of people he will turn to in sorting it all out. I better label my notebooks carefully.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jane Hirshfield at the Well, NEA & Contest questions

In the Writers section of The Well, Jane Hirshfield is being interviewed. You can post comments and questions via email to this week-long discussion.


NEA poetry fellowship applications are due (postmarked) March 1. I must say, they have made the online PDF application form extraordinarily difficult to fill out. I kept trying to use a backspace to delete and being bumped out of my non-saved page. The form won't let you save it as a file, so you must fill it out perfectly from an already printed out and hand-written-on form. They no longer have Word app forms you can download. Messy.

But most people I've consulted seem to think they really only pay attention to the samples. You get 10 pages of single-page poems, or one long 10-page sequence. Period. No two-page poems. It's an interesting process, trying to figure out which are your best 1o poems.

Which would you say are yours? How would you assess "best" for this purpose?


I've been collecting poems on the theme of divine love as it appears manifest in the world around us. Rounding up the usual suspects, Hafiz, Rumi, Sri Aurobindo, John of the Cross, Mirabai and Lalla, with a few contemporary things from Frost, Stafford and others salted in, it occurred to me that most poets don't address topics such as generosity, kindness, service to others and the like. The exceptions are often-quoted because they're so scarce. I think of Naomi Shihab Nye's wonderful poem Kindness. Where are the poets who write about something beyond the narrow confines of the self and its small grudges and complaints?

Friday, February 10, 2006

"No wins" changes

I started off the year by publicly complaining about not having won anything -- not a Pushcart, not nothing -- and wondering why it felt so bad, even though I don't highly think literary contest wins are the be-all-end-all of achievement.

Lo and behold, my near-stoicism is put to the test by the news that came in the email today. My short story "Fog: Launch Scrubbed" placed sixth in the annual Writer's Digest short story competition.

And yes, I was jumping around my office and wondering who to call first. I'm human. Next, I was wondering when and how I should email my agent about it. Should I drop it in an otherwise casual "just writing to say hi" kind of email, or subject her to the jumping-up-and-down kind.

I gratisfied my immediate share-desire by posting an announcement on a poetry board I frequent and poetry listserv I belong to.

Then I asked myself, "Exactly what does this mean?" Calmer now, I re-read the email and remembered that the story will be published only on the Writer's Digest web site, not in the print mag. Does this mean I should expect book editors to come knocking? Should I list in my bio from now on (when sending out prose, of course). Should I telephone, rather than email my agent -- since now the manuscript from which the story is excerpted is obviously a lot more valuable.

As the afternoon deepened into evening, and I spoke to the editor at WD, I calmed further and realized that what it means is: it's nice. It's great to have your work appreciated.

And that's all I need to think about. It's the same as it was before the email: it's all about the work. And getting it somewhere out there. The rest is up to the reader.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Neglected poets - 2

Alice Oswald. The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile. River Dart. Am I one of the few who is becoming passionate about this poet's merit? Why don't we hear more of her on this side of the pond, I wonder. She's a poet who memorizes her work as she composes because she's a professional gardener and spends her days far from pen and paper or computer, and the work shows the kind of compression and depth you might expect from such a novel composition process. Samples:


I can't sleep in case a few things you said
no longer apply. The matter's endless,
but definitions alter what's ahead
and you and words are like a hare and tortoise.
Aaaagh there's no description — each a fractal
sectioned by silences, we have our own
skins to feel through and fall back through — awful
to make so much of something so unknown.
But even I — some shower-swift commitments
are all you'll get; I mustn't guage or give
more than I take — which is a way to balance
between misprision and belief in love
both true and false, because I'm only just
short of a word to be the first to trust.

He consults his map. A huge rain-coloured wilderness.
This must be the stones, the sudden movement,
the sound of frogs singing in the new year.
Who's this issuing from the earth?

The Dart, lying low in darkness calls out Who is it?
trying to summon itself by speaking...

An old man, fifty years a mountaineer, until my heart gave out, so now I've taken to the moors.
I've done all the walks, the Two Moors Way, the Tors, this long winding line the Dart

this secret buried in reeds at the beginning of sound I
won't let go of man, under
his soakaway ears and his eye ledges working
into the drift of his thinking, wanting his heart

How should we evaluate this kind of poetry?

Hint: used copies of her first book now sell for over $80. I wish I could remember who I loaned mine to!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Neglected poets

The subject of recognition having come up -- with such wonderful responses! -- I find myself thinking about this category of poets. I've read some interesting ideas on Silliman's Blog, and on a women's poetry listserv I belong to, there's an ongoing discussion of "Foremothers" -- a specific category of neglected poet. The idea intrigues me, as poetry fads roll by like waves on a beach. I've been finding my poetry bearings for about the last ten years, and in that time I've often been confused about who are the "important poets" I should read and study. Who in the last 50 years I should look to. The players keep changing, and the score cards fluctuate wildly in such a short span of time. It can't always have been this hard to determine, can it? When the Modernists hove into view, there were only a handful of Important Poets to rebel against, and only one major direction away from them -- free verse.

Some of my favorite neglected poets have been hiding in plain sight, like Roethke, whom nobody studies anymore. Or thye've been masquerading as grass by being so everywhere they're nowhere, like Whitman. Of course, many of my "discoveries" appeared our of my own ignorance, like Bishop -- though I did obsess over her work a bit before there was so much buzz. I have in recent years "discovered" Kunitz, Moore, Rogers, and that never really reckoned Bly. I loved Kay Ryan's quirky, narrow poems before she got the big prize, and before her last book, which kind of spoiled it for me by being repetitive. I loved Billy Collins while he was spurned (and perhaps still is) by the elite establishment.

But I remain puzzled by the biggest "undiscovered" poet in English who's hiding in plain sight: Aurobindo Ghose. Not many modern poets have written epic poems. Savitri is in a class by itself. It's been turned into an opera, studied as a mystical text by thousands of Aurobindo's followers, but I've never come across a critical discussion of it as poetry. Yet by any rational measure, it's a phenomenal work:

* Sheer number of lines (23,837)
* Number of times rewritten (I believe it was six)
* Scope of subject (a myth from the Vedas)
* Length of time continuously in print (since 1951)

It's easy to see why Savitri is hard to approach. Vedic myths aren't exactly the common coin of Western culture. And I have to admit, I haven't read it all the way through. I actually made my way in it with the help of a friend's outline of the plot. And yet any fragment of it I have picked up I have savored. Whether it appealed entirely to my rational mind, every bit of it that I've looked at has appealed deeply to me esthetically and perhaps on other levels too. For example, this excerpt strikes me as universal, and personal in the best literary sense:

A silence sealed the irrevocable decree,
The word of Fate that fell from heavenly lips
Fixing a doom no power could ever reverse
Unless heaven's will itself could change its course.
Or so it seemed: yet from the silence rose
One voice that questioned changeless destiny,
A will that strove against the immutable Will.
A mother's heart had heard the fateful speech
That rang like a sanction to the call of death
And came like a chill close to life and hope.
Yet hope sank down like an extinguished fire.
She felt the leaden inevitable hand
Invade the secrecy of her guarded soul
And smite with sudden pain its still content
And the empire of her hard-won quietude.

Then, of course, there's the sheer awe I feel at the idea that he sustained such limpid imabic pentameter (blank verse) for more than 23,000 lines. Reading Savitri is kind of like reading The Lord of the Rings. You savor it as much for the awesome effort as the plot.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Another year, no Pushcart

Do you get caught up in this nonsense, too? Another year, I say to myself as the new digit 6 flips into place, and no Pushcart, NEA, Guggenheim -- or even a spot in Poetry magazine. I'm adept at making myself crazy as I flip through the pages of Poets & Writers and their announcements of awards won. "I didn't win that one . . . or that one . . . or even that puny one . . . " I mumble as the cheerful mug shots flip by. Well, who wouldn't grin like an idiot when having your photo snapped for an award announcement?

The trouble begins far before the grant application, award opporunity or contest entry crops up. In fact, it begins in human nature itself. Why must we compare ourselves in every direction to know where we stand and what to think of ourselves? It's the antithesis to creating a work of art, that looking furtively around for what others have done and ticking off the marks of what one HAS done. It's hindsight, and not creative vision, and yet I find myself often spending precious time alloted for reading and writing poetry on measuring myself against the wall of others' achievements and find myself not too tall.

I even do it right after I HAVE achieved something. What is that about?

A recent conversation with a poet friend offered an idea for a subtler form of comparison, and one that might be creatively fruitful, instead of sending you off on a pity-binge. It's to read poems that move you and then write back. Write poetry that responds to -- even engages with and references other poems. And you don't even have to cite the other poem as an epigraph. The conversation in question was about Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems, and the subtle dialogues with other, well-known poems my poet friend found in some of Wilbur's poems. We lamented that few people read this literary historical context in today's poetry, and even fewer write into it.

A much better topic to dwell on than to ponder why in yet again another year I haven't won or been nominated for any kind of poetry award.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Out of the paths of the morning star

To celebrate the turn of a fresh new year, a quote from Aurobindo Ghose's visionary epic poem Savitri:

Out of the paths of the morning star they came
Into the little room of mortal life.
I saw them cross the twilight of an age,
The sun-eyed children of a marvellous dawn,
The great creators with wide brows of calm,
The massive barrier-breakers of the world
And wrestlers with destiny in her lists of will,

The labourers in the quarries of the gods,
The messengers of the Incommunicable,
The architects of immortality.
Into the fallen human sphere they came,
Faces that wore the Immortal's glory still,
Voices that communed still with the thoughts of God,
Bodies made beautiful by the spirit's light,
Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,
Carrying the Dionysian cup of joy,
Approaching eyes of a diviner man,
Lips chanting an unknown anthem of the soul,
Feet echoing in the corridors of Time.
High priests of wisdom, sweetness, might and bliss,
Discoverers of beauty's sunlit ways
And swimmers of Love's laughing fiery floods
And dancers within rapture's golden doors,
Their tread one day shall change the suffering earth
And justify the light on Nature's face.

You can read the whole of Savitri online at the official web site. The site also includes Aurobindo's comments on the writing of Savitri. I found this quote especially interesting: Savitri is blank verse without enjambment (except rarely) - each line a thing by itself and arranged in paragraphs of one, two, three, four, five lines (rarely a longer series), in an attempt to catch something of the Upanishadic and Kalidasian movement, so far as that is a possibility in English.

For anyone who wants to write epic or narrative poetry, Savitri is not to be missed. Happy 2006!