Wednesday, December 19, 2007

la fovea

What is this strange concept? I love the visceral images included in poetics. Check it out.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thursday Prompt: I never...

Getting to Know You: Sometimes I have my students play "two truths and a lie." You tell three things about yourself and the class must guess what the lie might be. The key is to tell the lie convincingly enough and select truths so ludicrous that each is disguised as the other.

Drinking Game: I never. I never ate a watermelon whole. I never... The game is to pick things you think everyone else has done. Often this game can get raunchy, such as, "I've never had sex in a public place..." It becomes a confessional game, where others have to take a drink, or a shot, when they themselves have done that never.

Today's prompt: Write your own "I never" or tall tale. See if you can disguise it as the truth.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

telling lies

In Nin Andrews' Sleeping With Houdini*, a collection of prose poems, she wrote of an interview with a famous poet, where the poet confesses that he thinks of lies when he writes poems.

"Lie beautifully," she writes. "Lie convincingly. Lie. And then he did tell me his secret. The secret of the beautiful lie."

Writing poetry is a bit like telling lies. Even the confessional poems. We take the truth and bend it a bit, take poetic license, tell lies. It's the only way I can get away with it sometimes.

I've decided to try telling lies here, just for daily practice, for the beauty of art.

* This is my second review. I enjoyed writing the first so much, I thought I would give it another go.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Calendar Advisory/Photo Opportunity
For Immediate Release

Intermedia Arts presents
Emergence: Intimate Evenings of Poetry and Prose
Writer-to-Writer Mentorship Series Readings—January 7th & 9th, 2008

WHAT: Join mentors Anya Achtenburg, Louis Alemayehu and Jude Nutter for two spectacular evenings of poetry and prose, featuring thirteen of the twin cities’ most talented emerging writers. Emergence: Intimate Evenings of Poetry and Prose celebrates the passion and dedication of new and emerging writers, and brings to a close our fall semester of Writer-to-Writer, the adult mentorship program in which intimate relationships are created and nurtured between artists, mentors, and the written word. Writer-to-Writer is made possible thanks to generous support from the Jerome Foundation.

Fall 2007 Writer-to-Writer Mentees:
Gregory Chamberlin
Trisha Collopy
Cynthia French
Kathryn Holmquist
Robert Karimi
Julia Klatt Singer
D. M’Chelle
Debra Stone
Meghan Stotko
Molly Rose Sutton Kiefer
Francine Tolf
Greg Watson
Mary C. Yang

For the most up-to-date information, call Intermedia Arts at (612) 871-4444 or visit Intermedia Arts is located at 2822 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408.

January 7th & 9th , 2008
7:00 PM at Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
$5 suggested donation

Digital photos, audio, video, interview and photo opportunities are available upon request.

Writer-to-Writer is an adult mentorship program that gives emerging and established writers the opportunity to advance to their next level of artistic development. Participants meet regularly throughout the program, with one established writer mentoring four-to-six emerging writers. Writer-to-Writer creates intimate relationships between artists. Mentors act as artistic catalysts and partners, providing each mentee with artistic feedback and professional guidance. This program allows advanced artists to develop their community-based teaching skills while working to support and strengthen our local literary community.

Intermedia Arts is a catalyst that builds understanding among people through art.

Julie Bates
Phone: 612.874.2815

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Non-conventional form

Recently, in my morning poems, I wrote in the form of a works cited page.

I've read poems that resemble grocery lists.

I've read poems that appear as want ads.

I've read very clever poems as Q&As.

Here is this week's prompt: Take a conventional form, one that belongs truly to something else, something mundane, or something prose might claim as its own, and write a poem. Think table of contents, think mapquest directions, think memo, think text message, think interview, think health care plan. Think beyond the patterns of every day poetry and reinvent the patterns of every day rhetoric.

Monday, November 26, 2007

thinking about chapbooks

I've been thinking about the beauty of the chapbook, especially now that I am looking to late winter, thinking of fine press / letterpress / bookbinding (courses I will be taking at the Anderson Center and The Loft, both lovely art organizations in Minnesota), and I'm thinking about the trajectory of my own writing. I am thinking about having national lit mag credits and how I look forward to it, am waiting patiently, will get there, I think, and I've been methodically writing that poem a day. I am thinking about the chapbook, and I've begun redirecting some of those poems of the day into a thematic unit--those about my paternal grandparents, about their home in Michigan (just returned yesterday, thirteen hours of driving, much to think about and digest). Theirs is a sweet, subtle relationship, and my memories are quiet but poignant, I think. I hope. This is what I am working on now: applying to MFA programs, sorting out summer workshop options, and on the side, writing about my grandfather. Also, finished the review for CutBank and am patiently hoping it will get published. A humble contribution, one I would love the opportunity to return to...

Hope your Thanksgivings were good, full of rest, full of good food, full of family, full of making, maintaining, returning to peace.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"For a poem is not timeless. Certainly it lays claim to infinity, it seeks to reach through time—through it, not above and beyond it. A poem as a manifestation of language and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the—not always hopeful—belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense too are underway: they are making toward something. Toward what? Toward something standing open, occupiable, perhaps toward an addressable Thou, toward an addressable reality."

-- Paul Celan

Thursday, November 15, 2007

wishing for words

How do you use words for something you love so passionately--something so big, something where words are the most important? I don't know how to explain the feeling I have when I am driving home after my Thursday Intermedia workshops.

Full, this is true. I am still writing in my head. I realized how I would put together that Autobiographical Sketch for UC-Irvine (curses, they want a personal statement and an autobiography?) (Of course, others want me to write a piece on how I will contribute to diversity on the campus. And other topics.)

Full, I think of lines of poems. I dream up how I might jigsaw words into little poems, snippets I sketch out in my notebook as I drive. I should pull over, I know. And Husband, long ago, bought me a tape recorder for just such instances. What I really need is a laptop--a way to quietly spool out the thoughts in my head onto the page. Composing poems in my head. They drift out so quickly, like cotton candy fluff, drift away, forgotten.

This is some kind of cruelty though.

If asked, "Why poetry?" I would fumble the question. I would say something about loving the compact form, the precision and choice of words, the reflection on humanity, the capturing of a small moment. All these messy words to describe something so perfect, so small.

I might mention how I love small things: little knick knacks you can put into the palm of your hand, works of art; I always pick the splinters of chips or slivers of cake, a collection of food already divided; I love those small, tender moments, the glance, the quiet reflection of the world around us, the way his hand fits into mine.

But I don't really know how to explain why poetry makes my body sing, makes me feel more alive than any other, pleases me as we dissect language and discuss the importance of one word, one arrangement, one line break. I just know, I just feel.

Monday, November 12, 2007

we don't know sun in winter, here in minnesota

However, during exam week at my high school, I will be in Palm Beach, while my students stare out the icy window, the snow crusting over the landscape. I will be in Palm Beach, a hotel with white sheets, walking distance from where I need to be, my laptop sprawled on the bed, books stacked at my side.

For I have been accepted into the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.

I didn't expect it to happen; I had simply applied in practice for graduate school, with only a vague hope of going. I applied long ago, thinking I wouldn't get in, but I'd have the methodic practice of application. Palm Beach was a kind of pipe dream, I suppose, and I get the impression it's gotten a great deal less competitive, now that it has more funding and can open up to more workshops, but nonetheless, I am grateful for the opportunity, especially given the topic of my own workshop, which is addressing revision (so much needed for me).

My principal has given me permission to go, open arms, which is so wonderful. She was open in the same way to the Intermedia program as well, when I had to miss an hour and a half of parent-teacher conferences. I am glad for this kind of support, especially when it takes me away from the classroom in the very last week of the semester.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Congratulations, Jude

My Intermedia Arts mentor, Jude Nutter, recently won the Minnesota Book Award for Poetry. CONGRATULATIONS!

Working with her and in this group has been really wonderful for me. Excellent critiques and conversation.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Take a Line

Go to Randomly find a poem. Choose a line. Use it as your first. See where it takes you.

Friday, November 2, 2007


I am currently teaching Paradise Lost to a jumble of juniors and seniors in high school; this is the curriculum left behind by the permanent instructor whose job I am taking for this year. I am impressed that he will tackle this again and again and I am finding myself falling in love with the puzzle of the language, just as I finally fell for Shakespeare.

My own style is free verse, as is the majority of poets writing today. Thus, the line break becomes crucial, the word choice and stanza break imperative to meaning. I have dabbled in form before, and I appreciate those contemporary poets who can sink into tradition and heritage and manage to create a decent rendition of a sonnet, a villanelle, a cinquain.

And there are the haiku, the small breaths, the puffs of poetry, that can cause the intake to be so startling.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Family

I have a body of work inspired by the lives of people I care about--there are, of course, the typical love poems, the poems about childhood (angry or not), the poems exploring relationships with exes.

There are two people who surface in my poetry the most--a close girl friend of mine, who happens to be incredibly bright, a scientist, and full of personality. Her life explodes, making nature as metaphor easy.

I also have been working a series of poems that focus much on Alzheimer's. My grandfather, a professor of Education, has recently been institutionalized, and I have been a distant witness to the progressive movement toward dementia. These poems also drawn in the devotion of my grandmother, his wife of sixty three years and her own experiences in trying to maintain that love and dignity at the ends of their lives.

This is my prompt for you this Thursday: Write about your family, but don't go for the easy poem, the one about a parent or a sibling. Try to find someone in your tree, maybe branching even farther out from grandparent, to someone who has a story to tell--maybe write it as a persona poem, maybe as someone discovering a story, maybe simply a narrative. But tell a story from the annals of your own family history.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Visual Dictionary

One of my favorite tools as a writer is my visual dictionary. I picked up a copy at the University of Minnesota bookstore, and I can learn the precise terms for a bird's anatomy, for the body's bits, for the geography across the ocean.

So here is today's prompt: go to this site, an online visual dictionary. Pick a subject at random and use it: write a poem involving the intricacies of whatever you choose.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

an tic i pa tion

Sometimes, I anticipate the mail a little too much--knowing exactly when that estimated response time listed on the website is over, knowing my application to something is due any moment. I feel ridiculous, like a puppy, scampering toward the rusty mail slot, angry at the sheaf of envelopes, the junk mail getting in the way.

An tic i pa tion noun 3. expectation or hope

I was fully prepared to bolt home after school today; I had readied my excuse (they are coming to measure replacement windows; I killed a yellow jacket with a book, shattering one of our bedroom windows), though the splay of envelopes on our wooden porch floor was my true reason for haste. I knew this: the mail did not come yesterday, and I was told we'd find out on Monday if we were accepted by Intermedia Arts into their Writer-to-Writer SASE mentorship program.

And indeed, being told it was a "highly competitive round" with "some truly phenomenal applications" (mine would be the "some of not," perhaps), I was also told this: "Congratulations! You have been selected..." I think these are the sweetest words, the best ways to open a letter to a writer. It's so thrilling and frightening, this application process (good practice for graduate school, I thought, if I were rejected, as was the Palm Beach application, which I still have a month to hear back about). This, with a C.V., an artistic statement, and a series of poems. This, something I had done in practice as an undergraduate, a reality as I applied. A small step, a lovely first move toward what I hope will continue to be a true re-entrance in the world of poetry.

Now, if only I'd hear back from Mid-American.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Reading the Newspaper

I write a poem a (week)day with a partner; the intention is not to critique but to quietly read, compliment, encourage. It's a ritualistic pleasure for me: every third hour, during my prep hour, I do the following: I take yesterday's empty can, go down to the cafeteria and recycle it and buy a new Diet Coke, return to my classroom, with my damp soda and the screen surrounded by post-its of my favorite words, and I write. I try to write at other times and while it happens occasionally, it is easiest for me during this small space of time, with these particular tools. I haven't always liked what I've written, but it has come out without resistence.

And, lacking topics, I immediately went to the newspapers, a wealth of narrative and storytelling. I selected this story. And I wrote this morning poem, this first draft:

The gold wrapped around your finger means:
money, marriage, a commitment to the flux
of paper on your desk. It does not tell you
that two thousand would emerge from the dark
of a mine in Carleton, South Africa. You cannot
imagine what it might be for your face to turn
soot-gray, the way your life might play a merry-
go-round on the backs of closed eyelids.

What would you remember, then? Would you think
of your honeymoon in Mexico, the way you sipped
drinks the color of parrots, and fought each night
before making love? Would you remember the day
you gave birth, baby slippery like boiled noodles,
grunting from your womb? Would you consider
the shape of space, the way your home has transformed
into a place of strangers?

You cannot imagine what it would be to remain behind,
the hundreds more still waiting, beneath the rubble,
the ululations at the surface cause rock and gold
to slide on the contours of your body: your face, your breath,
your fingers. What gold would stay,
wrapped around these that remain, the mosaic of memory
splayed for all the world to see?

So now it is your turn. Find your favorite newspaper, select a story at random, let it inspire you. The best stories for me: ones with photographs, ones from across the globe, ones that are rich in action and dramatics, ones that stirs the human to cry out, to gasp, to be moved.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

when you are close

I received a very kind handwritten note from the Beloit Poetry Journal on Friday, telling me one poem almost made it and explained that the sixth stanza was what did it.

At first, I felt disheartened--almost?! I wanted to call out, "Take the stanza out then! Just slide it out, like a hard boiled egg, I do not mind." I blindly trust editors, but I know that's not enough.

It has boomeranged back out, along with the three other companion poems, and I will be content with my handwritten note, hope I can write a row of new poems to send to them again.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


You can go here to purchase your very own copy.

Limited edition (100 copies); poem permanently linked here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

best american poetry 2007

I am with Teresa, who has trouble with anthologies--the poems knocking against each other, rattling around--particularly those whose organization is based on alphabetizing the author's names.

Carolyn Forche says you must read a book of poems from beginning to end in one sitting.

Anthologies might be better for hallway reading. Between each bell, I stand guard outside of my classroom--to let students know that I do read constantly, a variety of things, and to remind those hooligans that starting a fight in the J pod is not an option because a teacher is there at all times, a silent reading sentinel.

And I've read Best American anthologies sporadically; for a while, I wanted to start at the beginning of the story series and read straight through, especially because it's a gorgeous way to meet a new voice, but I found myself disappointed at the end, wanting some gems to stand out but only found stones.

There were two that clambered out of the din of the hallways for this recent anthology, and I read them back to back (perhaps this is why reading in one sitting is wise--it does not change my attitude as a reader much; I'm likely to be as receptive to the beginning as the end): Maya Rosenberg's "If I Tell You You're Beautiful, Will You Report Me?: A West Point Haiku Series," and Natasha Saje's "F." I read the contributor's notes on both and was surprised at how very different their backgrounds were: I was instantly jealous of Rosenberg, younger than me, whose only publishing credit ended up in this anthology; Saje, a professor, with meaty credits to her name. Perhaps this is why being voyeuristic isn't always the wisest as a reader--peering into the secret lives of the authors. I am tainted by jealousy or respect, but when I read the words, I didn't know who, just what--beautiful language, words and phrases that I could taste on my tongue.

Sometimes I worry that I am not a very good reader of poetry, that I cannot recognize a good poem when it is in a form that does not always appeal--sometimes highly experimental or highly formal poetry frustrates me, even if it's from a master. Sometimes poems written in sparse language don't catch my attention. I love poetry that is in love with language, that uses figurative language well, that I can hum in my head long after reading it. I like poems that I can taste on my tongue, that reveal the world up close and brave. I love poems that beg to be framed, to be read again and again, to be that worn piece of paper I carry in my wallet.

Of course, much poetry needs a second chance--to read a second time, when the voices are quiet in the hall, or in our head, and we can spend time with the poem, invite it over for dinner, hold hands in the park. Returning to poetry. Again and again.

Thursday Prompt: I give you three images

"Colors of Summer" by David Short

"Birch Silhouette I" by James Wiens

"Gold Swirls" by Lisa Kowalski.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

poem a day

In the spirit of morning pages, of consistent practice, of writing your way out of block, a new poetry friend, Jen Johnson, and I are embarking on the poem-a-day project so many of my other poetry friends have already taken on. Stephanie and Laressa; Eireann and Shana. And now, Molly and Jen. Each day, little treasures in the mail: a poem, written in the twenty four hours that is today, and in return, encouragement, randomly scattered prompts, and a quiet audience. This is not for critique; this is for methodical practice. This is so our singular poems do not go into a void.

I love the image Stephanie creates of her daily poem: she prints it out, hangs in somewhere, to dry, before she sends it off to Laressa. The poem exists, meditates, prepares itself to move on.

In other exciting news, I will contribute a review to CutBank's poetry blog. This will be a first for me--a review that counts more than the space of my own blog, where each word matters, and I will live and breathe a book, as what I will say goes beyond the flippant reaction of a singular reader. I want to do well by this magazine and by the poet--honesty, consideration, interpretation.

Happy Wednesday, all. Tomorrow, a prompt, and more on a cold dissipating. (Sleeping through the night, no waking up in confusion, staring at the clock and into the darkness, my nose a snaked faucet, desperate for relief.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

in a dayquil / nyquil fog

I wonder if being doped up on cold medicine can make your writing better? I'm thinking not, though it hasn't stopped me from continuing my poem a day venture. I've found myself vacillating between hating myself as a writer and loving what is happening with my writing; I suppose this is a natural push-pull when you force yourself to write. Most of my irritation with what I was producing has come with deadlines: I love to learn for learning's sake, but given a structure, and I rebel. Perhaps I can understand my students' desire to pull back a little more too.

It's week four of the school year, and I'm trying to keep balance: a teacher, a person who is applying to graduate school, a person who is finishing a Master's in Education, a person who is learning how to be a wife, a partner, a person who gets enough sleep every night.

It's quiet and peaceful in the fall. There is still a little energy left from the summer, and autum storms are rolling in. Tonight, the sun disappeared early, giving way to lightning and subtle thunder. The dogs were anxious to return inside, sopping wet, and I took an afternoon nap, hoping to sleep off some of this sick.

It's only Monday; this week will drag its feet. But we will all manage to find ourselves at the other end of it, small steps in learning following.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thursday Prompt: Epistolary

We've written notes, texts, emails. We've mourned the slow demise of the handwritten letter--the long epistle by post, a treasure indeed.

For today's Thursday prompt, you are to write an epistolary poem, meaning a poem as a letter. It can certainly be fictional; write it as a persona poem, write it to yourself, write it to a lost lover, write it to an object. But make sure this poem is a direct address--one in which you are composing to someone or something else.

More on epistolary prompts here.

Some examples here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Molly Sutton!

  1. A sixteenth century mathematician lost his nose in a duel over his love for Molly Sutton, and wore a silver replacement for the rest of his life.
  2. Molly Sutton can sleep for three and a half years!
  3. In 1982 Time Magazine named Molly Sutton its 'Man of the Year'.
  4. The only planet that rotates on its side is Molly Sutton.
  5. Molly Sutton can be found on a Cluedo board between the Library and the Conservatory.
  6. Two grams of Molly Sutton provide enough energy to power a television for over twenty-three hours!
  7. To check whether Molly Sutton is safe to eat, drop her in a bowl of water; rotten Molly Sutton will sink, and fresh Molly Sutton will float.
  8. It can take Molly Sutton several days to move just through one tree!
  9. The blood of mammals is red, the blood of insects is yellow, and the blood of Molly Sutton is blue.
  10. About 100 people choke to death on Molly Sutton each year.
I am interested in - do tell me about

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Saturday, September 15, 2007

collecting things for poetry

1. When the 35W bridge collapsed, MPR had an interview with some expert, who spoke of harmonics and the way traffic needed to be tuned to the bridge itself, the truck's vibrations, etc.

2. In a friend's blog, she mentioned "Metro Island" heating. She wrote, "The sun from the previous day is absorbed into the metal, concrete, and other surfaces around the city and then released into the night air, making it an entire eleven degrees cooler twenty five miles from the city."

Friday, September 14, 2007


Newly discovered:

"We live and work in a city that sits where the Arabian Desert meets the Persian Gulf. Such a location makes for a climate of intense heat and humidity. Occasionally, we even see fog, unusual in a desert. More often, though, the air is heavy with sand and dust, blotting out the sun and reducing the cityscape to something two-dimensional, without depth, without relief. It can make for a world that seems somehow less than alive.

Enter diode, teeming with “poetry that excites and energizes. . . . poetry that uses language that crackles and sparks.” We set out to find poetry that creates an arc between writer and reader, an arc that hums with the live current of language. We believe our first issue does just that. We bring you poetry from well-known poets such as Chris Abani, Bob Hicok, Suzanne Frischkorn, Rick Barot, Jake Adam York, and Peter Jay Shippy, but also from some poets you may not yet know but will be pleased to discover. We express our deepest gratitude to all of them.

Join us, then. Read. Connect. Be alive. "

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thursday Prompt: I Am Thinking of My First...

When I find a blog whose writing and experiences I find compelling, I tend to go back and slowly devour that blog. I did that with this and this blog, and I do not regret it--the writing is fresh, the reflections are real, and I hope to see more of their writing in print in the near future.

And I'm currently reading this blog, from beginning to current. Teresa was in a workshop I took this summer with Carolyn Forche, and her writing reminds me of something you could crawl into--the hide of a skinned animal, the flesh of a fruit. She is raw and completely aware of her surroundings.

I stumbled upon a poem called "I Am Thinking of My First Deer," which is such a wonderful way to enter a poem, and in honor or in reaction, I wrote my own first draft of a poem I think may live to a revision called "I Am Thinking of My First Bee Sting," where I hope will eventually find a way to juxtapose the beauty and vanity of my grandmother with destruction and protection. It's not doing that yet, but I think, for me, first drafts can do two things: they can simply be an enjoyable way of drooling thoughts onto the page, or they can be the seed of something, and you can see it happening right there (or maybe see it right there a little while later). I think I've known the first drafts that might live on; some first drafts have done little in the way of changing just yet, and others, like the one I wrote today, have a long, long way to go, but I'm excited to see where it will go.

This is something I'm struggling with the most right now: revision. How do you know when to revise? How do you even approach it? MDB used to tell us we needed to wait months sometimes to revise a poem as we needed that distance; Carolyn Forche told us a poem has a certain shelf life in a poet, and at some point, the poem does expire. I'm torn between wanting to let the poem percolate and being afraid of it molding over when I thought I could let it set for a while.

With all that said, today's prompt is to write a poem that is either titled "I Am Thinking of my First _________" or has an opening line this way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"A poet's work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep."
—Salman Rushdie

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What I share with my students on the 6th anniversary of 9/11

Keeping Quiet

by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let's not speak any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn't be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren't unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I'll go.

-from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Please see also: Poets Against the War. I have a poem there, along with a former professor, MDB.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


This happened a month ago, in the wake of my wedding, and I didn't exactly forget to tell you, but instead, wanted to wait until my life was a little more quiet.

As you already know, I have begun sending poetry out again on a randomly regular basis. And I've really begun to immerse myself in regular meditation and exploration of poetry. I used to breathe poetry, devour it for breakfast, snack on it in Lind Hall, sleep with it in my bed; and there was that day, in Winona, when I realized, you cannot truly eat poetry. (So when I am asked the question, "Why did you become a teacher?", I say truthfully, "Because I love literature and want to pass that passion on," but I do not mention the seed beneath that sapling: Because I needed to make the rent and this was the only way I could think to do it. And even deeper: Because I failed myself.)

Oh, I don't know if this is really true. You won't get a full recap of my first week as the likelihood of being discovered is even higher this year, but I will tell you this: I have left that building each day, joyous. My days start rough, but quickly turn, and I celebrate the lessons I've been able to teach, celebrate the students I have in my classroom. There's a really wonderful mix--from the freshmen in the ALC to the seniors in the Brit Lit class. It's going to be a good year indeed.

But all of this doesn't mean I'm not going to turn away from my momentous search for putting poetry at the forefront of my life. Perhaps I won't be accepted into an MFA program; I won't allow that to close the world of poetry off to me forever. But I do know this: I need to dedicate more time to the written word in my life, to read good books, to not waste time.

And in this, I have begun the practice of sending poetry out into the world again. And one will appear in a few weeks in a place where you can read it.

As you already know, my friend Eireann has started the fabulous Yes Press with Brian (so artistic) and Zach (so talented). And my poem "Harry Houdini" will be their October poem: what I can only assume is Eireann's was August, and Shana Youngdahl, someone I am just getting to know through a small community of poetry we have erected (the blocked blog linked above--we have some shy folks, including me, I think) contributed the September poem.

And I must give you a side note here: Eireann has rejected me before, so don't think she had pressure to take me just because we are friends or because we commissioned Brian to make our wedding invites or because Zach was in a spring poetry group with me. Okay, okay, maybe they did. All the same, you can purchase a subscription to the poetry postcard broadsides here or buy them individually as well. The last were available September first, so I can only assume Harry will arrive October first--I'll sing out when it does, however!

And happy weekend to all, now that weekends mean so much again.

Gros bisous~~

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Thursday Prompt: You Can't Have It All

Listing poems have a nice rhythm to them, I think, and a ready-made layout. I love the idea of a recipe poem from life--these are the beautiful things, or the hard things, or the things I can only wish for myself or someone else.

Today's prompt is to write a listing poem. Check out You Can't Have It All by Barbara Ras, a lovely, sensory version of what I'm talking about.
Feel free to leave a link in the comments to your own take on this prompt! I will come back each Thursday with a new prompt, in hopes to give motivation to myself and maybe others.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

wearing your [poetry] on your [heart]

These were not actually purchased from the website, but from a one in ten auction, honoring the mother of Eireann Lorsung. (Her mother suffered an aneurysm and this auction then helped with the medical bills.) You can purchase your own dictionary (or other ephemera) necklaces at The Foundling.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

written in the morning, honeymoon in alaska

A first draft I wrote in the foggy early-morning of our honeymoon in Alaska:

There is nothing left between us but
battered pillows and fallen punctuation.
We can find our way down the hallway,
made new, see where the poem
will take us. The truth is, we haven't
fought, but our pillows are wasted
and the punctuation I speak of
is the comma of your shoulder, the
pause before you murmur in the dark
of the cabin, "Two black bears," and
behind the orange curtain is Alaska,
glaciers so compact the only color left
is blue, and inside the curtain
is the honeymoon, hungry and awake.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Dear Anne Carson,

Dear Anne Carson,

I am writing you this letter because I believe it's always nice to hear what readers have to say about your work, even if your reader is nothing more than a humbled high school English teacher who sometimes has trouble with tricky word pairs (who & whom, lay & lie being the ones fighting me the most) and often has typos in her blog and can't spell her way out of a paper bag. My teacher Michael Dennis Browne (who is a poet himself) always urged us to write letters to those poets we are reading; I suspect this is because he liked the letters himself. I always tell my students to do things (tell those teachers you love that you love them) that I wouldn't mind receiving myself.

Of course, this is a blog entry and not a letter, but that is OK. It's as close as I can get, for now. Please forgive the spelling and typos, though.

But these are my inadequacies, and this is about you, though not about inadequacies, but rather, magicalities, the things that have sprung up in your work and inspired me.

I write this sitting in what we call our "second bedroom," but I'm slowly accepting that I could start to call it "a studio." After all, poetry lines the walls, my desk is newly cleared, and the futon is upright, ready for a lounging read. I've begun to turn to this place as somewhere of safety, escape. Do you have a place like this in your home? I know I'll have to give it up one day once we start having children, but for now, I will relish in my space. Virginia Woolf would be proud.

I've only read two of your books: The Autobiography of Red (read, in one sitting, as one poet has recently recommended, yesterday afternoon, while my fiance cleaned the downstairs, annoyed I was not helping, especially after I stomped around, hating how messy our house is) and Plainwater (this, "assigned" by another poet in a poetry group that fell apart this summer, but I still have my reading list, and I will still happily work my way through these books).

I must admit, starting with Plainwater was perhaps inadvisable as I found myself often confused. This was not a book to read in one sitting; instead, I caught little bits of it as my students read or planned theatre, as I should have been reading the plays a second time along with them, but instead, read your book, jotting down words and phrases that tasted like a peach on my tongue:

- sharp ribcage
- blue lips of ocean
- nerves pouring around
- Freud says a dream is either a wish or a counter wish
- Are you going to put that chair back where it belongs or just leave it there looking like a uterus?
- Water is something you cannot hold. Like men.
- I feel summer sinking into the earth.
- I am wondering about the color green. Why it hurts like sound hurts inside a jar.
- ... he remembers she used to get little bruises on her hips from lovemaking.
- arms rubbery with joy
- on trial for ... betrayal of pleasure
- his voice is standing above me
- sky so blue it comes off in your eyes
- (brush strokes) leaving areas of white exposed to view like sudden bones
- root silver, cream black

I also read, at the urging of Eireann, then of Carolyn, (aforementioned two poets) Autobiography of Red. It's interesting, but I read this book just after a poetry workshop in which I read a poet who reminded me a lot of you, who startled me in such a concise way, who mixed in essay with sparse poetry, who gave me images to roll around on my tongue like hard candy, so beautiful. He said you were one of his favorites, and I understand where that influence comes from now; you are lucky to have such a talented poet looking up to you. You are lucky to have so much talent yourself.

Here are some small phrases from this book that lingered with me:

- rummaging in his face with her eyes
- they recognized each other like italics
- why are you alone in this huge blank garden like a piece of electricity?
- photography is a way of playing with perceptual relationships

This poem, which is a novel, which is a poem, was something I could enter and travel through... And feel the shifting emotional landscape of the characters and love the way wings were natural and the shifting of mythology, the genre-bending and the pace. I love the smoothness of this book, the little bookends, the interviews in conversational form, the if-then consequences. The way I felt the love and yearning, the way the family was enough and not enough, the way it was all so important at such an early age.

And I will read more. I have a long way to go as a student and a poet, but I think I'm on the right track now.

Gros bisous,

Saturday, August 4, 2007

poetry of witness

I have been thinking so much about this small gap in time we are moving through and the big changes in my own life (without, even, a true change in geography): meeting Carolyn Forche & becoming connected to the poetry community in a very deep and wonderful way, becoming someone's wife exactly one week from today, my travels to see two oceans this summer, the collapse of the 35W bridge, and beginning a new job (and dealing with what it means to have been budget cut from a job).

I approached this week's workshop with a manuscript that I both loathed and depended upon. This was, though rough, my twenty "best" poems, and one I added that I wrote on Tuesday. We dove into workshop, reading thick manuscript after manuscript, two working on their second book of poems, others with so many phrases that gave me chance to pause, to catch my breath, to revel in the beauty of words. I felt humbled in this room.

And in the middle of this week, the tragedy we are all so familiar with, though some of us are still lingering, still following the news incredibly closely, as the rest of the world has already moved on, thinking of home rooms and bombs in Baghdad. Our community is still so rocked by this, so precariously teetering on the realization of what has truly happened, how what we have lost is so grounded in the locality of our state, how we will always remember where we were when we found out, just as we might remember where we were on 9/11 (it was always The Fiance delivering such news, and I'd always thought it was less than it truly was--really? planes? but the Oklahoma City bombing had immediate causalities and--really? the bridge collapsed? no one will be hurt, right?). (Someone wouldn't let that happen, right? It couldn't happen, not to us; that always happens so far away.)

And the wedding! Of course, I cannot forget the wedding, with my dress hanging in the window, with the Adidas shoeboxes stacked in the dining room, with the RSVPs sorted, and my hairstyle debated. And the rain! It rained here today, and The Fiance told me there is a 30% chance of rain on our wedding day, which is supposed to give us luck, but we aren't affiliated with any church (or religion), so it will be awfully difficult to wander through the muck of a marina and woodsy park if there is rain about. I hate to wish for no rain; Minnesota is suffering from a fairly dramatic drought this summer. You can see it in the cornfields--the places where the green should be green but is just as yellowing as wheat, as the corn silk itself.

This summer has been so fast paced, and yet, working at This High School seems a thousand years ago. Here's the thing that is probably so human about my moving: I'm ready for it, the moving on, but I don't want my school to be ready. I want them to have some small ache, or suffering, for my absence. (At least, I know, Emily will miss me!) And everything about this summer: the theatre course, the trip to Charlotte, the writing workshop--it's all been so wonderful and so gratifying and so good for me (and I wish I could just have a life that is full of this--travel and experience and small moments of part time work and poetry, all the time, poetry)--but so much of this summer has felt like one preparation leading into another with so little time in between. I find myself wanting to reside in the moment, to mull it over, again and again--how I want to think about my work beyond this past week, how I want to think about redemption in what I am doing--but really, what is the very most important, and I cannot deny this: I am marrying my favorite person in the whole world in exactly seven days.

Other pieces of news I follow:

NY Times Article: Charles Simic Becomes Poet Laureate

Friday, August 3, 2007


After twelve hours on campus, so much to do with poetry, with looking out on the Mississippi, with dinner and wine, after driving to and from and watching the way the city glows at night, I will leave you with this:

Workshop went well today. My manuscript was on the block, and there was helpful feedback, and much encouragement, which, I think, was one of the most valuable things for me right now, especially in this time of self doubt as a writer. Carolyn (who I can call Carolyn, but it's so strange because, really, I'm silly enough to still put poets, especially of her caliber up on this pedestal, which isn't very fair, but I'd rather poets raised up than some of the others I've seen listed in the "role model" category) gave me many great tips, but the one I think I needed to hear the most, right now, is that I don't need to worry myself too much over revision. Worry about generating and riding this tidal wave that is my current writing life. I have time now to write, and I haven't been able to stop, not really, so I will do this.

And, this is the best news of all, I will continue to work with Carolyn, who has promised to help me work on a manuscript to apply for graduate school and to write me a letter of recommendation. (Lucky life.)

And as we departed, the promises to have a reunion next summer, in Maine or Oregon, perhaps, the gorgeous coastal places to inspire this mighty band of poets, and Carolyn saying to us all, "Really? Will we really get together?" in that voice that is hopeful, like a child before Christmas. She doesn't really realize what a gift she has been for all of us.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

the shift of my landscape

The route to school today was not as difficult, sardined, or frustrated as I had anticipated.

Crossing the Mississippi is an accepted movement in the Twin Cities; it slices through Minneapolis and major roads bridge between banks.

I used to think how amazing it was to cross the Mississippi on the Washington Avenue bridge, moving from the east bank of campus to the west.

Class was still good today. All members accounted for, two staying home. One had wanted to stay with her children, which made sense. We continued with critique, the bridge coming up in conversation, and if we looked out the conference room window, we could see the line of media vans, their antenna spiraling up from this safe place, my college.

I thought of how Carolyn Forche is a poet of witness, one who has recorded the newsworthy. I think of how, in the days after 9/11 we spoke of the comfort of poetry, and every September 11th, in my classroom, we read "Keeping Quiet" by Pablo Neruda out loud.

And I think of how writing about these things is so difficult, when you see the scope and range of your own geography shift like this. Yes, I am writing now, and I've written words about yesterday, and I wonder about those 9/11 poems, the ones with true reference in the afterward, and if those poems will ever work, when we have our own freight for that day. How these become history, and sometimes it is distance we need the most to write well.

I will leave you with another poem I scribbled in my notebook. I need to note: Sharon Olds is considered a poet whose personal life is opened up for the reader. She claims the things in her poems did not actually happen but instead, she twisted the truth. Carolyn Forche, in workshop, has told us that we sometimes go where the poem takes us, sometimes it isn't rooted in truth, but something based on truth. I won't tell you how much of this poem is true--how much is created. I say this, not only because I know my mother will read it, but also because I recognize it as important to change things, to alter, in order to create a better story. I am the kind of person who forgives James Frey his lies in A Million Little Pieces because I want the story to be good. I am OK with being betrayed with the truth. Of course, the whole poem could be truth. You'd never know. (It feels incredibly rough, but I thought I'd share anyway, since generating and revision are parts of the importance of workshop.)


I always believed my parents met
on a blind date, the one in which
my mother was the replacement for
the girl who was sick. I imagined
them in the back of a tan Duster,
a white corsage clipped to my mother's wrist,
knocking against each other
on the slippery upholstery at each bend
in the road. They were never driving.

But this isn't how it happened,
and I'm learning so much about
my parents isn't true. I haven't slept
right since the night my father slept
on the pulled out mattress and I knew
about the divorce before she did.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


This is my writing notebook. It is one of the most visually appealing and well traveled little books I've had in a while: it has journeyed with me to Green Bay, to Charlotte and Charleston, to the Twin Cities, and will go to Alaska (besides its regular residence here in town). It's square, a little beat on the edges, but in those pages, I have begun to feel like a poet again--that blissful, etching, scribbling, wonderful feeling I had when I was taking MFA classes as an undergraduate.

And Carolyn Forche continues to be brilliant, lovely, and has had us all laughing with her stories. Here are the little nuggets from today's workshop:

- when we write about [the Holocaust] [or anything big, like 9/11 or Civil Rights], we are writing not just about the event but in the aftermath of the event
- write about something by narrowing the focus instead of trying to take in something so huge (she then spoke of how CD Wright used to make them write five hundred words about one word, like an onion or a brick)
- Length of lines: How much weight does each line bear? What is truncated, left out?
- Compact poems as "hand grenades"
- keep a folder for each poem and its drafts, keep a folder for all the most recent poems in a manuscript
- David Abrams - The Spell of the Sensuous
- trust that what you've already said has done its job (don't overdo it)
- boning the chicken, lift the comb skeleton from the flesh of the fish
- Joseph Brodsky taught that there is a word for which the sake of the poem was written (to which she told an entertaining story, complete with accent, of how Brodsky would machine gun fire questions at his students after memorizing poems, complete with punctuation and line breaks)
- gesture of a poem: how it opens up or closes down at the end, how it yearns or meditates, how poems can be juxtaposed, argue with one another, how they move toward preservation and memory
- Larry Levis - Sensationalism

- Nothing to do with writing, but this is something that has been on my mind, especially after visiting my Midwestern transplanted friend in Charlotte and having a conversation about racism in the South and in the Midwest: the North is more covert about its racism, though isn't any less so racist

I will leave you with this: not a poem, but a little note about a venture my friend Eireann and her lovely friends Zach and Brian (who is making our programs and made our beautiful invitations for the wedding) are beginning: Yes Press has just released its first broadside postcard, and you can purchase them individually or by subscription (which is what I did--so you should do it too--since it's what all the cool kids are doing!).

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

walking the poem

Another day of startling beauty, finding others' talent overwhelming, finding myself keeping time with my pen, filling pages of little notes, writing two poems that might actually transform, grow. I find that poetry, and being witness, being present to poetry is like a balm for me. I do not need the other soothers, the other modifications that regular days might need.

A few things I noted today at random:

- the word "telos" means that which we are headed toward (with a suspended ending)
- keep in mind the different audiences for different modes of poetry and that there are quite a few species of poetry
- (on death) we have trouble with the festival pitching its tents
- the concept of the intermission poem to wend your way from one section to the next
- when you throw all the poems up, what has the most gravity?
- books and names thrown about: Paul Celan, Fanny Howe's Gone, The Motets, Olena Kalytiak Davis' And her Soul Out of Nothing and Shattered Sonnets, Jacques Rouboud's Some Thing Black, Dancing in Odessa

Three lovely things about ordering the manuscript:
- walk the poem--put manuscript on the floor--labyrinth of your poem--pick it up and physicall move it around (Linda Gregg does this)
- Read through manuscript, copy down just first line and last line, see what poem this makes--type them as couplets and see how they sound together and if a couplet sounds strange there, this is a poem to move
- when ordering poems, don't think about what the poem is about but what gestures the poem is making

I wrote two poems while in workshop also, so don't forget the first draftness of them. I will share one today, to close this humble post on day two of workshop with Carolyn Forche:

Like threads being pulled out from
the stamen, veiny flower, we are undoing
the wedding dress. It hung on a hook
in the bedroom closet for twenty years.
It collected dust, tears, pollen.
At night, when we were sleeping, it would
slip off the hanger and wend its way
around the room, in the moonlight.
We are killing the dress, plucking
feathers. I wish it would bleed; I wish
it would cry out as it deflates. I wish
I knew how to keep it from acting
the martyr.

Monday, July 30, 2007

meeting Carolyn Forche

When I think of last night, and I think of this morning, I cannot even wrap my mind around the reality of it: I have been in a room, twice, with Carolyn Forche. She knows my name, and, at this point, has read twenty of my bare naked poems, poems I both love and hate, poems that shame me and must be written.

I've kept little moments in my writing notebook, and I'll share them here:

- use italics rather than quotation marks to notate intruding voices
- arc of disclosure--book of poems as one poem--read last line of poem into next poem to see how they speak to each other
- motifs to set (blue table, before something terrible happens, a bell rings)
- there is a period of time that a poem can be revised--at some point, the poem dies within the poet
- sometimes the poem says things happen (that didn't)
- what arises in the poem isn't always the truth, but a kind of truth
- be aware of the consciousness of the poet
- sometimes you can only tell it plainly

Then, while we were reading, discussing, little snippets of poems would bloom up on my page, and I'd have to stop, have to close out the noise and just write for a moment, things about dreaming and pressing kisses in, something about tiaras and parades. Little moments of filtration and dissipation. Syncopation.

After, I wandered down to the university bookstore, because I must buy more poetry to read after I've had poetry on the brain, and I also picked up a visual dictionary and I LOVE it. I also plan to order a etymological dictionary, such a small treasure for a poet. (disaster--distance from a star) She said what I already knew: it's so important for a poet to have a meaty reference library. I've been building that bookshelf (or two) in that studio (so silly to call it that, the second bedroom) for a little while now. One of my favorite contributions comes from Kelly, who somehow remembered, which touches me so much, that I'd lusted over the New York Public Library Desk Reference. Many months later, on my birthday or for the holidays, she bought it, wrapped it up, and presented this poet's gift.

This week, too, is a gift. Right now, I cannot seem to ground myself in the reality of living poetry for a week like this. Yes, the wedding is hemming in, and I have to consider the practicalities of starting my new job, but for the most part, I am allowed to breathe poetry for a while. I can sit in my room, music low, and look at diagrams of seed pods and see how they will rise up on the page.

And the more I do this, the more I know this is what I want to do. I am doubtful of any level of talent at this point, but I know that it makes me happy, and that feels so important. It's scary because failure seems more logical than success, but I cannot accept myself as anything else--living, breathing poetry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

sometimes they let the poets loose

Last night, due to her mother's hospitalization and our own myriad distractions, Eireann suggested we instead take a walk downt o Minnehaha Park and write and read out loud to one another. Our general format has been to sit in a circle in her living room, discuss our reading, do a prompt, critique. Lately, we've needed a little poke, something to get us moving. I don't know if it is uncertainty, or the distractions in our lives, or that there isn't enough to say, but we've felt a little slow, a little quiet, sometimes a little like (to use a cliche), pulling teeth.

The walk was refreshing, nice movement, a little change. We took a meandering route, stopped at the edge of a Catholic grade school to listen to a bagpipe rehearsal. So many, dressed like ordinary people... I will share what I wrote from the walk, rough and raw:

The poets have been let loose in the garden
and all they can hear are bagpipes.
They come from St Helena, the Catholic
grade school, that mournful sound
that fills up rooms like chalk dust.
There are globes in the window, the sort
w all saw in childhood. And
in the parking lot, there are still more,
looking like American tourists
in tshirts and shorts, sneakered feet
shifting the formation. We are all
tourists here, in this life, and let loose,
we are startled by the raw red
of tree stumps, a collection of mallards
(how perfect the pairs), the reflection
of trees in the creek like watercolor.
So many have paused by the bagpipes--
a father who lifts his infant
like an airplane, a man walking his dog,
a new family with a double stroller.
We are all tourists here, against
the backdrop of colored shingles,
blacktop pavement, and summer light.

The house, above, where Longfellow lived. Song of Hiawatha. Minnehaha Parkway. Street lamps, night shimmering, mosquitoes rising out of dry grass. The color of nylons matching the green of the grass just as the sun hits it. Singing "Favorite Things," two small voices, whispering, "Wait, wait, let's try to harmonize this time." Laughter. Spot lit hostas, a bike ride, big dogs who can sit and stay. Frightened ducks, all in formation, lining up against the current. Lingering. Summer, lingering.

In some ways, this was good. Eireann says she's had too many writing groups that ended up socializing too much; this group, I think, hasn't had the chance to socialize enough. We need to speak to each other in order to trust each other, offer up little tidbits (sister Tessa getting married August something, working for a gardening place and taking care of a cat and a gerbil for the summer, working at Coffee House press, living at home, finding ways to recover from a family near-tragedy). We can become more human. Appreciate each other's voices. It's good to not know too much, because then we have trouble separate the poet from the poem, but just enough to feel comfortable saying: "Don't do the obvious things here. Of course cigarette smoke is in a cloud. Tequila, ash trays. That's a little better." And to say, "I am interested in line breaks," and want to know more about how line breaks function in the poet's world--to be able to rest on the words, the narrative, the passion of poetry. That's what I think we're beginning to do, appreciating each other in new light. Understanding that she knows her Latin, her greenery, she will write narrow poems about relationships, she will struggle to not write about herself, he has a series of poems and another he has one long poem, maybe even in translation. To speak French. To listen to French. To talk about "Macdo" and lavender and dreams of other countries. To travel through each other's words (especially when mortgages keep some of us rooted in geography). To hope, to hope, to dream. To be comrades in words.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

little word machines

Last night, the heat kept our minds wading through poetry at writing group. It was still good, so good, the thing I look forward to so much, and I carried little snippets in my mind as I walked out. So much of our lives are so busy, striking up against each other, and these few hours, we are quiet, we look at words, and we discuss with a glass of water and a plate of cookies. We pass around sheafs of paper, little roses for one another.

Zachary mentioned how(who was it?) someone calls poetry, "Little word machines."

Nothing superfluous.

Things I need to remember in my own poetry: don't explain, don't tell the reader what you are doing. Do it. And: chronology may seem natural, but it isn't always the way to go. After all, chronology is memoir, as Eireann put it. Use images to tell the story.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

out of doors

Finding inspiration in every moment, every small movement: camping allows time for peace and quiet observation, for recording everything green, all the aches, the rawness of sleeping on the ground with the tick count high. I wake as the sun rises and not because my alarm tells me so but because we are ready and the sun is low, the mist has a blue-purple hue and we cannot see where the ground and the sky separate.

I think of poet Mary Oliver, how her words dig into the earth. I think of my own words, how the natural world rises up as metaphor, as driving force and symbol.

I leave you with these words:

by Mary Oliver

The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn't a place
in this world that doesn't

sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,
but now, for a while,
the roughage

shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it's done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—
what can you do
about it—deep, blue night?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

the senses {living as a poet should}

Second meeting of the poetry writing group tonight. I sketched out observations, little pieces that fed my senses, as we wrote, discussed, and workshopped:

This is how my five senses live on N. [the mind of the poet with heightened senses]:

1. The way the breeze ripples the leaves, shadows dancing on a busy carpet. The quality of light is much like that on the bottom of a swimming pool, like the playful light is chasing itself, falling forward, sighing back.

2. My brain has the consistency of pomegranate seeds. Each globed piece, a thought, a focus, all gelatenous lumpy (breast mouse), that loose and slippery sense of movement.

3. The sound of lawn care: constant mower, angry trim, vibration of weed whacker, the sweep of grass beheaded. Then broom on concrete, this is the first of summer's vaniety.

4. An airport nearby, planes scuttling across the landscape. I've been so aware of planes when I write poetry in a spiral bound notebook. I had workshop with MDB that morning, before they cancelled school.

5. Rumble of motor. Thunka thunka on strips of tar. Down the street is a greasy spoon with a cartoon hot dog on the awning. This is movement on cool pavement as the sun is setting somewhere far away.

6. Sound of grandfather clock, that ancient rhythm of home. We are all sad in our own family' my grandparents' clock is spoken for, that one relic we were all hoping to take with us, to me, a calming reminder of summers spent there, of pontoon boats and wild Christmas trees, of the smell of well water and vegetable gardens. Perhaps I can find one, the same, hang it in effigy.

7. The sounds of a one sided telephone conversation, an urgency cracked open, but a calm sound too, the hum of a man's voice who is confident that everything will be All Right, his wife will manage to return to the geography of here. Each moment could bring a phone call from relatives or food, concern and giving.

8. Curtains like linen or broadcloth. Muslin. Small weave, texture, knotted.

9. A kitchen cove spilled over with photographs above the sink, curling at the edges.

Other things:

Our discussion of what moves us in poetry, what gets us excited, what sparks our interest, led us to consider this essay. Our homework for next week is to write our own "I am for an art" or "I am for a poetry," whatever that might be. For me, finding a way to put handles on my preferences helps me figure out where I am going. It makes it portable, transferable, understandable.

I will need to check out more of Elizabeth Bishop, read Julia Kasdorf (for her precise metaphors that widen out), find "The Anecdote of the Jar," (I can't remember why now, but we were talking about poems that people generally hate and we love and vice versa; we read "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop out loud and then liked it again) and especially Anne Carson, whose Autobiography of Red sent shivers down the spines of more than one workshop participant.

Love this: Eireann calls adverbs the "Twinkies of language." We can say it better with a noun or adjective. Love that we each tell a poet to take away verbs, add verbs, be more conscious of nouns. A big clash of readers, a poem that will need reconstructive surgery.

My own poem, along with last week's, will have something to say as I revisit it, palm the suggestions, roll them around until the stone is smooth, and leave something new, a little better in the process.

And some thoughts on the blog in general:

Eireann and I lingered, and she talked to me about poems that are muscular, without all the extra clothes. I think my poems are now in confused layers: Hawaiian shirts paired with hoop skirts and a woolly winter jacket. But here, in the blog, I can be effusive (her word) because these places don't have rules and (I hope) will never really have any. I think about how some writers of blogs are incredibly self conscious, speaking of editing, of being hyper aware of their writing. I think this is the one place, aside from my notebook, where the really horrifying writing comes out, particularly when I am in freewrite mode, that I feel OK about letting it all sort of hang out over the sides... which is silly because this is the one place where I have a modest audience, but then: it's not being published. Not truly, not in a little book that you can hold in your hands and sniff that booky smell. Rather, it's just here, it's what it is, and there are very few expectations to how it will all come out.

Poetry plays such a different role in my life. It may be theraputic, as this blog certainly is, but that's not the main purpose. Poetry needs to be compact, concise, moving, telling. Poetry needs to take you to places magically and in the best words possible. Poetry needs to have purpose, to have images, to create a sense of something wider.

Now I am truly rambling. Exhausted. (Things worth staying up too late for: good conversation, hearing a person when they need to be heard, asking something that needs to be asked, rekindling friendships that might have been on haitus, renewing vows to self and poems.) It is time for bed, and I wish you all sweet dreams and good health.

Monday, June 4, 2007


Me, this summer: thinking about poetry, thinking about revisiting, revising, reemerging. Thinking of the phoenix who rises up from the ash, only to be consumed again. Thinking about the million different people a poet can become in the real world and how to fight those to get word on page. How this will be a place, a new beginning, an extension of my self. Thinking about the smell of fruit when it is fresh, about campfire, about the luxury of sleeping past five, about cotton sheets, about the sound of fans, about the seedlings in the garden. Thinking about Tuesdays and that week at the end of July, thinking about meeting Carolyn Forche, about putting together a portfolio, about the old poems. And the new.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

the poetry reading

After a department meeting, my friend Emily and I made the sluggish journey to Uptown, where Eireann was giving a reading at an adorable tea shop called the Tea Garden.

As I drove home afterwards I jotted a few things down on the notebook in my lap (I have taken to carrying my bulky camera with me, and I've always carried a notebook, but now I've begun to have it out, at the ready, these words slipping in and out so rapidly--in fact, what I wrote was not even what I thought, and I liked what I had thought, but I am not fast enough while driving at seventy miles an hour):

The sound of the espresso grinder loud and percussive. I would have been easily distracted, fallen into disappointment at the smothering, but Eireann remained solid, confident in her stance, her words lifting above the usual din of coffeeshop. Outside, the world of Minneapolis went on, but here, within, we listened to poems woven, made of muslin, of calico, of grosgrain ribbon. Tonight, we are the beneficiaries of words, good poetry.

Eireann read both from her book and poems printed out, recent, and near-recent. There was one, and I wish I could remember which, but it made me gasp because a moment was so startling, and I thought to myself, "This is what good writing does. It surprises the reader and gives us something that begins like a warm stone in the heart, radiates, feels as if you want to keep it there forever." It's so hard to do that, especially if you are the person who feels everything has already been said.

This is what Zachary from the Tuesday writing group said two days ago: that we live in a culture where everything feels as if it has already been done, been said, that there are so many options, and our generation struggles against this. Of the eight people in the room in Minneapolis, Eireann and Zachary exuded the most knowledge and authority, but didn't seem too put off by the bumblers (and I really am mostly referencing me here) who are earnest but not as learned. (I always feel like such a failure in the gathering of knowledge department, always a little behind the storm, just trying to catch the lightning before the best fireworks are gone.) Later, I discovered that Zachary is of Gendun Editions, which explains why he was interested in what font I had used in the poems I distributed on accidental salmon paper.

I think to myself, today, as I see Scott King, owner of Red Dragonfly Press and husband of a colleague, and as I think back to Zachary with his thick poem and reams of poets to recommend, his memorized Hugo poem (in French, no less), his recognition of the stylings of language poets, his poise and confidence that he was meant to be writing poetry, and his description from the prompt, of broken wrist bones and fierceness, his startling women in his workshopped poem--I think of these people, and I wonder: How do they get these jobs? How is it that I am trying to keep students from whacking each other and leaving gum under their desks and these folks are writing poems and sliding them through antique machines, creating these gorgeous pieces of art and bringing words into the lives of others?

I think a lot of it is knowing what you want and taking risks. And so much more is about talent. And of course, maybe even just being in the right place at the right time, knowing people. For now, I will bask in the glory of others, know that I am truly enjoying myself, and continue to scribble myself. I am returning to myself. Hello, poet. Hello, poetry.

Oh, and I ran into an old classmate from the U at the reading. We took an advanced poetry workshop with Ray Gonzalez. She spoke of the MFA program there and coming out with disappointment, that she went in with expectations, and is afraid there aren't many female mentors and isn't a lot of funding to replace a poet who is phasing out. She also said she went for one specific professor, who she had taken a brief course with in Iowa, but it turns out she'd essentially learned all she needed to know from him in that brief course, that this person taught the same things again and again. I'd had this professor as well and enjoyed him, but I forget easily and needed to hear the same thing; at the time, I essentially needed that environment to begin to grow. We go into these things with different needs and expectations, and I guess a big part of what I need to consider now is what do I want, what do I need (beyond the big question: am I talented enough? but I won't even touch that one now, so late on a school night).

Scenes from a poetry reading aftermath.