Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Take Three

In the last two or three days, I've had three types of poetry publications land in my lap. First of these is The Imaginary Poets from Tupelo Press. Next, I picked up the Complete Poems of D.H. Lawrence while at a local bookstore, and in the mail today was the January issue of Poetry.

The Imaginary Poets, from Tupelo Press, is an anthology of translated poems, bios, and translator's statements, all of which are, as you might have guessed, sprung from the imagination of the poet. Unless I've been reading in all the wrong places, it seems to me that "persona" poems have been out of favor in preference to poems of authenticity, realism, and poems of the experimental persuasion. So, to see an entire anthology that not only prints but demands what amounts to a collection of persona poems is quite refreshing. But the authors had to go beyond the poem, and consider how their imaginary person might have lived, who their influences were, and how this imaginary world coincided with the author's real world. I imagine that the poems along with their respective essays tell us more about the true author than the poems alone, about the poet's area of scholarly interest perhaps or of a formative trip abroad or notable life experience. When this anthology appeared in my lap, I meant to flip through a few pages and then set it aside to be experienced later, but I found myself reading entry after entry in their entirety. There is more to be discussed about this anthology, and if time permits, I'll write a fuller review in the near future.

The new issue of Poetry has poems by Billy Collins and Tony Hoagland (and more, of course!) I was suprised though by Hoagland's "Cement Truck," I thought at first that I was reading Collin's writing. It's all there, the trademark slyness of Collins, the slight tone of poking fun at one's self, the witty description; it reminds me a bit of the way that Collins's "Workshop" works, conjuring images. The other two Hoagland poems were satisfactory, and Collins's work was much as you'd expect: one pokes a bit at ancient Chinese poetry ( and perhaps our fascination with it) and the other at Valery. As far as influence goes, it's interesting to see how much we like to turn to other cultures to give ourselves a little boost. Perhaps this is what Collins is really poking fun at, or maybe he's illustrating how little culture matters in the end; we find the poetry we need no matter where it comes from.

There is also an interesting exchange about the role of the designator "woman's poetry," and I am not sure how to feel about that label. I'm post-women's lib, and I've never felt that there was anything holding me back because I am a woman, but I realize it hasn't always been this way. I've read Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and found the desire to burn down the hallowed halls (which I take to be of the canon) a little disturbing. I've read H.D's Bid Me to Live and understand that she was at times discouraged from writing. I've read Rich's Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law, and plenty more. Yet, I have to say the canon is what drew me to literature in the first place, even if much of it was writen by white guys. If I hadn't first read Shakespeare, I'd not have ended up in a Modern poetry class reading Rich and Bishop, if I hadn't been in the Modern class, I might not have started reading more contemporary poetry. I know that women are still less likely to submit and less likely to win the big awards, but there are women writers out there that demand to be read. So do we need a label "women's poetry?" I still don't know.

And speaking of white guys, and ones who weren't always on their best behavior. . .I've been flipping through D.H.'s Complete Poems. I am reminded of a field of wildflowers that has been mown and every stem crammed into a vase, obliterating the perfect, delicate blooms that must have flourished in the field. If I had come to D.H.'s work only through this collection, I'm afraid I would have set it back on the shelf. But, luckily, I know of a few poems that must be read, like "Snake" and "Piano," so I plan to winnow further to see if there are others there that can equal these.

The Sacred and the Mundane

As it is the season to celebrate, I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May you find peace in these hectic times. We still celebrate by going to church on Christmas Eve, and listening to the carols, and the Christmas story:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city called Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them at the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to them,
Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born today in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,
Let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.
And they came with haste, and found, Mary, Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.


I'm also going to be updating my links over the next week or so, if you'd like to be added to my blog-roll (or deleted from it) please let me know through my hotmail account : small_branches(at) hotmail.com and as I tidy up my blog I'll add you in.

How to be a Happy Poet

Seth has an interesting post about the chaos that is the publishing/academic/po-biz world. He talks about how there is no "right" way to go about being a "poet" and how what happens to us as poets is more chance than anything. In many ways I feel he's right about this, I have always been the type of person that decides what I want to do and then takes the proper steps to accomplish what it is that I desire. So, how do you go about doing this as a poet? What is the correct path? I'm not sure that I know and that is a bit frustrating When I was just writing and submitting, I had a few small sucesses but noticed that the people I saw publishing the most had an advanced degree. I also think that I'd like to teach, which demands an advanced degree as well. But, if fate prevents me from further schooling, I know I can always study on my own, write on my own and still feel as if I am a poet. I don't know if the world will call me one, but still I'll write.

That's a Wrap!

In the past several weeks a few projects have come to their conclusions.

I've finished with eight rounds of chemotherapy. I'm no longer taking any prescriptions. We're down to the part of my care where I just go to the doctor and get lots of x-rays and scans to make sure nothing has survived or returned. Maybe one day soon, I won't be a part of the "shaved head club" like Steve & Steve. Perhaps I'll be able to get my shampoo down off of the shelf where it has lived along with my pony-tail holders and barrettes for the past 5 months. They tell me that afterwards, that hair grows back in differently, that it is probable that I'll now have curly hair instead of the straight hair I've had all my life. I'm used to being bald now, it hasn't been as terrible as I imagined. My hair was waist-length before, and the process of losing it was hard, but I've learned that there are cute hats in the world, and it's much quicker to get out the door when you don't have to mess with your hair.

By the grace of a very generous professor, I was able to take my first poetry-writing class this semester. It was a joy. My fellow students wrote a variety of interesting poems, several which made me push my aesthetic boundaries. I feel as if I also honed my editorial skills this semester because we were required to provide comments in a written form for several poems. I also loved the give & take of the conversations we had about poetry & poetics both about student poems, our own understanding of the art, and about various well-published poet's works. We also were graced with a visit from Ted Kooser this semester, which was lovely. I wrote several poems that I am pleased with, and feel I've significantly improved another poem I'd been working on for quite some time.

Today, I also turned in my selections for Touchstone, Kansas State's Literary Journal. It was a pleasure to read the work we were sent. I was amazed to find an excellent selection of formal work, including sestinas, villanelles, and ghazals in my reading pile. There were prose poems, lyrical poems, narrative poems, and visual poems. I wonder about those who say that writing programs produce "cookie cutter poetry"--my experience would seem to contradict this idea. We certainly had a wide range of work to choose from, and I can't wait until I can officially announce our selections.

Other thoughts, I am leaning towards a MFA next. I have enjoyed the critical aspect of the literature field, but I am ready to be in an environment with other people who take the art and craft of poetry seriously and who want to hone their skills.

After waiting for four years to hear, one of my poems will appear in 2006 in a mother & baby anthology: "This Changes Everything." The publisher is Paycock Press .

But even better than that news is the news that Reb has had a poem selected for the 2006 BAP from MiPo! Congratulations to her & the staff at MiPo!

I really need to send some work out again. It's been over a year.

Live with Joy!

New Review

My review of Rachel Contreni-Flynn's Ice, Mouth, Song is now at three candles. It took me awhile to warm up to this book, but once I did, I found a lot to like.

Some (serious) silliness

The Other Guys

Just for Fun

As action movies *are* the number one genre in our household. . . (right behind Veggie Tales that is!)

You scored as Maximus. After his family was murdered by the evil emperor Commodus, the great Roman general Maximus went into hiding to avoid Commodus's assassins. He became a gladiator, hoping to dominate the colosseum in order to one day get the chance of killing Commodus. Maximus is valiant, courageous, and dedicated. He wants nothing more than the chance to avenge his family, but his temper often gets the better of him.

Which Action Figure Would You Be? v.2

Thanks to Scoplaw & Steve for the link.

Send More. . .

We extended the Touchstone deadline to Friday, so if you're in a writing program and have poems hanging about, send them my way! (E-mail submissions; more info HERE.)

I'm looking forward to sitting down this weekend with the pile of poems and seeing what has arrived from the four corners of the poetry sphere. It feels akin to an Easter Egg hunt or opening presents, that joy of the unknown. Even when a poem isn't perfect, you can at times see that flash of something that tells you that the poet will one day shine if they continue to work at their craft.


The last day of my children's school year was the third emergency room visit: May 27th.
Since then here's a list of the things I wasn't expecting to experience in my 34th year.

  • Ambulance rides: 2
  • Hospital stays: 9 for an approximate 55 days total (thus far)
  • rounds of chemotherapy: 7 with one to go
  • surgeries: 3, one for a biopsy, one to install a port for the chemo, and one to remove the tumor.
  • number of staples post-tumor removal: 55
  • home health equipment: walker, bedside commode, and elevated toilet seat
  • number of interns: who can count?
  • Doctors on my treatment team: 3
  • cat scans complete with barium swallows: 4
  • average number of times it takes to thread an I.V. into my arm, even with the I.V. team: 3
  • times I've lost my hair: twice. It grew back when I had a break from chemo after surgery.
  • poems I've written about this experience: 4
  • Days where C. Dale's blog has been too difficult to read: several, especially when he's had patients with terminal diagnosis.
  • prognosis: very good. the cancer responded to the chemo even though there was only a 40% likelyhood that it would.
  • what my 8 year old said: "I'll love you when you're bald"
  • new vocabulary words (medicine): zofran, anti-nausea
  • number of labs (ie blood drawn): twice per week
  • days I feel lucky to have such a supportive husband: every minute of every day

I've had a difficult time writing about this, obviously it's taken 6 months before I could even broach it on the blog. One of my doctors has encouraged me to write about my experiences, I don't know that I have much that is helpful to say, I don't feel brave or strong or as if I've had an epiphany along the way, but I can say, "here I am, here's what I know." Perhaps that can be enough.


Before the CT Scan

by Amy D. Unsworth

The older gentleman looks my way
a time or two.

It isn’t difficult to figure
a diagnosis:
no hair equals chemo
equals cancer equals my familiarity

with the IV team, needles, and
the shooting pain of a tube
threaded in the vein.

I’m not used to this sort of thing,
he tells the nurse
who mentions bee stings and
a few moments hum of the scan.

His doctor wants to rule out
a mass, a blockage, anything
visible that causes
a little dizziness,
a little trouble breathing.

The nurse forgets to draw the curtain
before pulling the elastic tourniquet tight.
I can’t meet his eyes
as she fails three times to find a likely vein.

Book VI and other musings

Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless--each of us with his or her right upon the earth
Each of us allow'd the eternal purports of the earth
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.

-Walt Whitman

Jeff has been talking about the poetry boards and how many current po-bloggers used to participate at the various sites. I found the on-line poetry community at a time when I had just returned to writing after a long break. I had three small children and no time to go find poets in the city where I was living. The fellow poets I've discovered and admired and have listened to over these past six years have moved with me across three states. The boards gave me an opportunity to participate that otherwise I wouldn't have found.

My faith in my own writing grew while I participated at the boards, and without them I probably would not have taken the next step to return to graduate school for the more formal education in poetry. Jeff also talks about the negative comments that were inevitable, but I found that over time, I learned to listen to both the comments from other writers and to my own internal editor. Learning to judge what was a helpful suggestion and what would not work with my vision of the poem has helped me be a stronger writer.

What has also been amazing has been the many publications in journals and the many, many books that this community has produced. Perhaps when they look back to speak of what was happening in poetry in the 00's they'll mention how the internet brought us together.

Carry on friends.

Carried Alive into the Heart

Poetry is the most philosophic of all writing: it is so: its object is truth, not individual and local, but general, and operative; not standing upon external testimony, but carried alive into the heart by passion; truth which is its own testimony, which give competence and confidence to the tribunal to which it appeals, and receives them from the same tribunal. Poetry is the image of man and nature.

--William Wordsworth
Preface to Lyrical Ballads

What do you believe?

In a recent conversation someone mentioned that they didn't believe that books could make a difference or changes in people's lives. I found this rather shocking, actually, because I feel that books and stories and poems and songs help to shape our views of the world.

I offer up Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry as a way of seeing how if the fairytales of our youth were different, so might be our perspective on the world. I read poems and see ways to live more completely, more responsibly, and more in tune with the world around me. And if you see the world through the perspective of a holy text, how much more are you shaped by what you read?

I heard a few years ago that medical students were being asked to read humanities texts that detail suffering and the experiences of being sick. The hope was that this would make the students more sensitive to their patients' ordeals. I don't know if it works, but it sounds plausible.

How will we know what others know and have known if we don't read? Unlike reality TV, literature has already been proven to pass the test of time.


I recently found out that I'm going to be the Poetry Editor for Touchstones which is the literary magazine here at Kansas State University. We only read work from graduate level writers, and we're taking the 2006 issue to AWP. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be able to make it to Austin.)

The official submissions announcement will come out on the 1st of October, but the news is that we're taking electronic submissions for the first time. So, if you're in a graduate program and are interested in guidelines or if you're teaching and know of any eligible writers, *please* send me an email to small_branches (at) hotmail.com and I'll forward the complete guidelines to you as soon as I have them in my in-box.


It's been busy around here, but mostly in a good way.

More books on the way

The 'net seems full of announcements about publications these days. Steve Mueske has a book forthcoming from Ghost Road Press: A Mnemonic for Desire. And recently I recieved a flyer from Word Press that David Cazden's Moving Picture has also been released. Congratulations, I believe, are in order.


The Powers of Poetry

The very interesting essay by Bly "What the Image Can Do" lists several "powers of poetry" or traits that make poetry work.

1. the image.
2. Frost's "Sentence Sound"
3. psychic weight
4. sound
5. drumbeat ( or Hall's "goatfoot")
6. the narrative

I am always interested in lists like these as while they seem to capture important elements of poetry writing, they rarely seem complete to me. There are other aspects that seem important that are not on the list. What about the visual / page placement / line breaks /stanza breaks?
Since I spent many years as a musician, I know that the rests are as important as the notes and they need to be heeded for the music to conform to what was composed. I feel that the same goes for poetry. To me the written page works as a score for the aural / oral experience of the poem. What else should be added to the list?

Read some Bly on-line.

Less Hair More Cheekbones

Less hair, More Cheekbones

Looks like I'm taking a light load this fall at school because of my life-interupting event, but on the otherhand, this means more time for Three Candles and more time for my writing and hopefully returning to the submission process. My publications arrived en masse this summer: Broad River Review and Miller's Pond. I really didn't send out much work last year with school's demands. I was especially pleased with Miller's Pond as it featured so many poets that I have worked with on-line over the past five years.

Summer Plans Awry

Needless to say I didn't aim to leave my blog unattended for quite so long, but a situation beyond my control arose. Hopefully I'll be back to regular updates before too long, before the weeds completely take over around here!

Since no one has guessed who the "rhetorical serpent" comment was about, it was aimed at C. K. Williams. I've been reading his work for a project and realized (through critical commentary) that he actually uses a double pentameter line quite often. I've been reading a lot of poets who I always thought of as "free verse" but I see more and more formal elements in their work as I become more aware and more familiar. "No verse is free. . ." as the saying goes.

Hope your summer is less eventful than mine.


another hint about the rhetorical serpent

he went there, he says, because he thought in that mute placid
domain of the trees,
he might find beyond the predations of animals and men something
like the good.

. . .

but No, he says, No, the trees and their seeds and flowers are at war
just as we are,
every inch of soil is a battleground, each species of tree relentlessly
seeks its own ends;

Quote of the Day

Ok, so it's more like the quote from a few decades ago. (1984 to be exact)

"If rhetoric is a serpent, then here it becomes a kind of python, steadily wrapping its coils around the reader."

The quote is from a review in Field by David Young. Any guesses as to who wrote the poems he's talking about?

Palabras for the day

Palabras me gustan hoy:

pomegranate & granada

marsopa & porpoise

And the one that makes me a little curious since "transendence" is usually a good thing for poetry and usually words that look quite a bit alike have the same root in the Latin:

trascendente & portentous (!)

I'm mixing up the languages, but it's a learning method. Espero. I'm trying. Es la verdad. Lo siento.

The Robot as a Sympathetic Character

Something a little different for me:

The Robot as a Sympathetic Character

Model 47

Perfunctory. Precision. Open, Shut,
Smile. Carry the comestibles to the ladies’ cars,
Tip, tip the hat. Rain, sleet, sun the same
to me. The manager’s daughter mimicked
me for months. For her the hospital. Open,
Shut, Open, Shut. Smiling,
Tip tip the hat. For me, no legs and
the rats’ endless clambering. Above
the skies fill and empty with clouds.
Tip, tip the hat.

Model 763

I’m one of a thousand—
hundred thousand possibly—
who bothers to count any more?
Trash to curb, toddler to kiddie care
mistress to massage, coffee delivered,
check paid. There’s no need for a
housewife, hussy, madam, Mrs.
I do it all, oh yes, technically
I can do it all. I’m programmed
to please, never tired, rejuvenated
with the blink of your eye—headache
free. Just give me your hand
and you’ll see, though I’m secondhand,
originally custom delivered—it’s not
the work, the work has never been
a problem—only the nights he woke
gasping, hearing her blood pulse
in his dreams then waking to his head
pillowed on my hollow heartless breast.

Model 8789

Yes, I know most everything—history,
Genocide, the fragile music of a conch,
how to tabulate the six hundred-thousandth
place of pi, which characters demand the most
strokes from an ermine hair brush, the hour
of the last monk’s death, the final flight path
of the monarch migration to what was once
Mexico. There is little else to mark now,
beyond what passes—this cased circuitry
impervious to the skies and rivers. The last
live birth, I held in my hands. I washed
the boy in the mountain steam and cradled
it against a chest buffered by a blanket
stitched of field mouse fur. I fed him,
dropper by dropper, mouthful by mouthful
from an ancient cache, but he grew wild
as the geese that still impossibly fly, wild
as the stunted trees marring the plains.
He screamed with the voice of the mountain lion
as the pelts fell tattered from my immaculately formed
limbs. The world’s words, Latin, German, French,
Greek—its entire knowledge—incomprehensible
to the child who would only hear the incessant roar
of the wasting wind, and the grey waves' lash upon
the stony shore. Tiburon, I warned, as his blood
blossomed in the bay, shark, I shouted as he
slashed his feet on the slivered remains of
shell and vertebrae, under the great arch
of a humpback’s ribs. I could only repeat
the worthless words, as the creature rose
from the waters, as frail flesh ended itself in the sea


From Suzanne:

A new book meme circulating around the sphere is going by the name “123.5,”
and its rules are these:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

How could man carving the first wheel
see the later labyrinths
of steel and brass wheels moving interlocked
in a spun fabric of wheels?

National Poetry Month

Buy the T-shirt!

Derrida, Responsibility, and Grace

There are some few, rare, people who can share their knowledge with others in a graceful manner that does not make the learner feel as if they are incompetent or inferior. This weekend at Emporia State, I went to a conference on Derrida and met several such teachers. Hugh J. Silverman, who was the keynote speaker, commented with kindness on every paper he heard over the course of the day, however much or little the papers actually intersected with Derridian theory. Likewise, Wilson Baldridge asked questions that help lead to new discoveries and was kind enough to answer even simplistic questions with patience and respect for the listener. If these represent the manner of lifestyle that Derrida encouraged, I am compelled to read more.

If I one day can be such a teacher, I will be satisfied.

Seeing Stars

No, not at AWP, alas.

In Three Candles Journal you will find a new review of mine. This time it's non-fiction, but I prefer to review poetry. Summer is coming soon. I'd like to read a few books while watching my kids splash, and review a couple of books during my break from academics. So, recommendations and review copies welcomed.

Poorer Today

The world is poorer today. We lost Robert Creeley yesterday.

From Four Days in Vermont

Soon going day wanders on
and still tree's out there waiting
patient in time like a river and
truth a simple apple reddened
by frost and sun is found
where one had left it in time's company
No one's absent in mind None gone
Tell me the truth I want to say
Tell me all you know Will we live
or die As if the world were apart
and whatever tree seen were only here apparent
Answers, live and die. Believe.

Free Talks on Great Poets

. . .is what the postcard says that came in the mail today--with Martin Espada talking about Pablo Neruda and Eamon Grennan on Emily Dickinson up in KC at the library. The return address is Poets House, New York. It's bulk mail that actually makes me feel as if I belong, vs. only being a random consumer. Then I must ask, who sent my name there when I subscribed or submitted? But being on the "poetry reader" list isn't all that bad, occasionally I get a sample copy of a journal or a good offer for subscribing. I'm reading Poetry this year on the cheap.

Which reminds me, I need to subscribe to a few more 'zines as all of my other subscriptions have run dry. I've been buying books, books, oh, and more books recently. I am starting to feel as if I have the beginning of a good library. Nothing as good as Poets House, of course. I want to go there one day and sit with the poetry. But, everything today seems far away.

I'm actually supposed to be in KC on one of the dates of the Great Poet talks. Perhaps I can hear Eamon on ED. Can anyone make me fall for ED? I'm still waiting for the socks to be knocked off my feet.

I read H.D.'s Bid Me to Live tonight and found myself barefooted.

Plain Poems

I wonder sometimes about plain poems. You know, the ones that don't make extravagant gestures, or state grand themes. I find myself writing them now and again and being pleased by them. Perhaps only because they recall a moment in my life. This one particular moment happened last fall. Perhaps guilt? Perhaps to remind myself to bring the stale bread next time?


Four White Geese: Black duck

Morning, and the light off the park pond
blinding as I sit busy with daily worry,
papers, checks, and bills.
They swim across the ripples
to peer at me. Without a sound
they careen their long necks,
and paddle expectantly beside the shore
where I sit. When they finally give up
the implied hope of bread
I feel the breach of contract
as they drift, still looking back,
for some proffered sign
of kindness or kinship.



I'm pleased recently to note that poets whose work I follow seem to be showing up in some really nice places.

Eduardo, for example, was a "Discovery" prize winner.
C. Dale Young has a full page layout for his new book in the newest Poetry.
I ran across the Mennonite Anthology the other day in the library with poems by another friend David Wright who I heard read last year.

I'm also a bit bummed that I'm not able to go to AWP this year. But next year in Austin? A girl can dream.


Thanks to Frank I've been handed "The Stick" Hmm.

Why is this so hard? I might change my mind tomorrow!

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be:
Today: Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems by Jane Hirshfield

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Yes? No? Maybe? I can't think of any right now. I had a crush on Pete Rose once when I was very small, does that count? I'll get back with you on this one.

The last book you bought is:
Twentieth Century American Poetry & Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry

The last book you read:
Good by to All That by Robert Graves

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

The Bible, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, Complete Works of John Donne, Norton Anthology of Poetry.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons)? And Why?

Scoplaw, to see what he's been reading in law school.

Steve Mueske, since I haven't really heard from him in awhile.

Dick Jones, who I don't know, but who always posts interesting things on his website.


*Other Poet's Blogs

There seems to be a "tradition" of doing a roundup and chatting about what the other poets are up to in their own corner of blogland. And yes, if the blog is listed over there on the sidebar, I'm reading it on a regular basis. In fact:
  • Kelli won an award for a Sestina with a long title.
  • Roger Poa is listing books by Asian American Poets
  • Jeff Bahr is usually reading & commenting on his mail (and it's interesting mail) and the book he is currently reading: Spell. He's also talking about poet listings.
  • T.E. Ballard wants to be wealthy and wants more books.
  • Eduardo is at ASU listening to famous poets.
  • Hannah is concerned with watchdog groups.
  • Suzanne is trying to buy a house.
  • Glenn is working on multiple revisions of an old workbook poem
  • Dick is "dreaming in green"
  • Frank, accompanied by a trombone in a former life, is writing about wills.
  • Steve is showcasing new threecandles.org work
  • Tony has his "top ten" up and has his laundry done.
  • Jenni is following Idol and is also looking at houses.
  • Scoplaw survived spring break & is taking law students to task. Ah, and a poem to read.
  • Ron's page takes ages to download on my computer. Why? A smart photo of Jack Gilbert? Yes.
  • Mojo: hmm. Who is this? I haven't a clue. Odd thoughts, random ideas. Commented once on my blog.
  • Jennifer has a photo that will make you hope for spring, if it hasn't already arrived where you are.
  • C. Dale is anticipating AWP.

Links to your right, ladies and gents. Are there other blogs I should be reading everyday? Let me know.

Sneeze, Sniffle, & More Conference Notes

This semester is topping my all time record for time spent "under the weather" and the weather here has actually been rather nice lately. Oh Bother. (As Pooh would say.)

Here at KSU, we held our annual Cultural Studies Conference which focused on "Image, Icon, and Ideology" this year.

  • I did my bit by working to make and hand out the nametags. This meant that I actually had a good reason to chat with the attendees when I ran across them later during the panels and mixers.
  • Attendees came from all over the States, India, Italy, and Canada, too. There may have been even more countries of origin, but I don't have my program with me tonight.
  • oh my. Went to see Tom Huck. He's a woodcut artist and he'll break every single expectation you might have about the genre & what a "woodcut artist" might be or do. For example, his presentation included work that portrayed a bed of bones, Monster trucks, a greased pig contest, and much much more. His personal statement sounds so nice. ARTIST STATEMENT: My work deals with personal observations about the experiences of living in a small town in southeast Missouri. The often Strange and Humorous occurrences, places, and people in these towns offer a never-ending source of inspiration for my prints. I call this work "rural satire". My work has been influenced by an array of artists, among then the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer, the etchings of Warrington Colescott, nearly all of the German Expressionists, and the late great Frank Zappa. But go visit his website. And the stories that go along with these, well, he probably could hold his own on SNL.
  • Who knew that the "swoosh" logo was making its way into the local culture of South America? or Romania? And that it's been incorporated in many odd ways such as on gravemarkers. What does this mean? Will Anthropologists years from now think we worshipped a god named Nike? But wait, wasn't Nike really a godess?
  • What was particularly interesting was the range of people from many different types of departments: Philosophy, Art , Graphic Art, and of course, your good old English & Cultural Studies Departments.
  • Next Year's Call for Papers: Privacy. And one of the Keynote speakers is a poet. This makes me happy. Yes, I'll be at the registration desk next year too, if all goes as planned. Stop by and see me.

So much to say, So little time.

While this is of course the problem of every writer, it is my specific problem this week. I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about poetics and aesthetics, about how I ended up writing the way that I do, and why so much of my critical work points towards elegy & mourning. I thought I was a happy person. Yet, recent drafts have included a stoning poem and two lynching poems; two are set in recent day Sadr City, and one in St. Louis. in the 1917's. For me, sometimes writing is trying to make sense of the world, and sometimes it's trying to makes sense of the self. I state these as two different goals, but I wonder if they're not really the same.

Much better than listening to my mumbling: stop in and read Scoplaw's poem To My Former Protégé. Then if you're in the St. Paul area, go hear Steve Mueske read on St. Paddy's Day.

Conference Briefs

I have arrived home exhausted from the weekend's conference. Here's what I discovered:

  • David Eshelman is a fine performer and he really does have a Black Brother; it wasn't just a catchy title. I saw the photos. And his one man show was funny & thought provoking.
  • The Good Old Days weren't as good as we imagine, epecially when considering Renaissance and the institute of marriage. Who knew they used to sell their wives?
  • Corporate American is using movtivational material from Will S. in their management training booklets. And clips from "Sophie's Choice" can illustrate brutally how people chose between the choices they're offered by their social, economical, and political positions.
  • It takes about 6 hours to drive from Illinois to Missouri. And it's tough to travel all the way from Florida and then have to speak first thing in the morning.
  • Truman State sent about 1/4 of their graduate students to speak and they're a friendly lot.
  • Poets from U of Denver like E.D. much more than I do, and suggest she's the greatest poet of all times. I tentatively countered with Auden, who I adore, but don't know if I'd endorse for the label of "greatest poet of all times."
  • The students I met from Missouri-Columbia were friendly & helpful. (Especially K. H., B.N., and W.B. Thanks!) And it was nice to hear how their poetry Ph. D. program works.
  • Wordsworth's work can be used as a model for the simple & responsible lifestyle that we could choose to make our communities stronger and reduce our footprint on the environment.
  • Arches National Park is beautiful, but overcrowded, and near where "they" tested bombs. That critical work alongside a recounting of personal exploration can sound like good creative non-fiction.
  • There is a pizza place called Shakespeare's in Columbia, good Mexican food on Broadway, and a fantastic Artisan cafe in the basement of what looks like an office building whose portabella panini with feta and pesto was worth the drive.
  • Most students studying Shakespeare are still trying to understand the plot so there is little time to explore the interesting social & political aspects of his work. One doesn't have to teach theory to undergraduates.
  • Film is "sexier" than the printed word. & some independent film producers don't "get" why a person filming out the window of a train could be seen as a danger.
  • The piano player at Jack's Gourmet plays for hours without any sheet music. He also played my favorite piano piece "Fur Elise" as well as "Memory" from Cats. I also think that Jack was actually there, guiding his staff and overseeing the dining room. White table cloths, candles; wear a tie.
  • Rumor that people in Asia and South American don't really understand what "Vegetarian" means.
  • The radio stations in Kansas City are much, much better than mine at home. Especially since they have a classic rock station with the hilarious initials "KY."
  • It's not worth it to make color copies of your handout. (Unless perhaps one is trying to get a job?)
  • I wish that the poets would all bring a few photocopies of their work so that we could at least all exchange and take home a few poems for further review. I like to hear the poems read, (and the poets I heard did a great job) but I'm a visual learner & really would like to see the poem on the page as well.
  • The idea of caves as wombs, no not Freud, but a Native American view. It's hard to use genderless language when speaking of the earth.
  • It's always nice to have a friend to stop and visit on one's way home.
  • University of South Dakota has a special writing program for those needing a little extra writing support. For these students, they attend 5 days a week and learn more basics. But at the end of the semester, they've "caught up" to the group that attends 3 days a week. It sounds like a great plan for everyone.

Driven to Write

In the mail today was the March 2005 issue of the National Geographic and the feature article is all about the functioning of the brain. Doctors and scientists are working to map the areas that impact different aspects of speech, sensory imput, and control. The issue explores different areas of the brain in "mini-profiles." I found the profile of the "Prefrontal Cortext, limbic system, and temporal lobe" to be especially interesting because it talks about a disorder called "hypergraphia, a manic disorder characterized by an irrepressible urge to write" (28). I didn't realize that there was such a disorder. But, the article suggests evidence pointing towards the temporal lobe as "the neural underpinings of literary creativity." So, writing might be a task we're genetically programed to do?

Does this mean as writers, there's something inherently different about our brains? Would this contradict or reinforce the idea that writers are in some way the manifestation of social values and thus their creativity isn't their own, but merely the way that the pressures of the social systems have converged to produce the writing? (Oh, this is literary theory and I only know about a mudpuddle's worth right now. If you know the theorist/theory, please let me know.)
Would it be rather like finding out that the reason Monet painted the way he did perhaps had more to do with his faulty vision rather than genius or innovation?

Writing and Gender

Here is something interesting to try. The "Gender Genie" is a program based off of "key words" that men and women are supposedly more likely to use in their writing. Based on your use of particular words, the Genie will predict if your fiction, non-fiction, or blog entry was written by a woman or a man. The statistics on the predictions are also available so you can see how accurate the Genie tends to be. There's a quite large margin of error, but I'll leave that to the math folks.

According to the Genie, I write like a boy. In my blogging, in my critical work, and (gasp) even in my poetry, I scored overwhelmingly male. In frustration I took three of my poems that deal most with women's issues and I did actually (just barely) score 10 points more on the "female" scale than on the "male" scale. Very odd. I don't take it too seriously. But I was suprised at the results.

If you decide to try this out, report back . I'm interested in seeing how others fare.

Visting Mizzou

Next weekend, I'm going to be at the University of Missouri at Columbia to participate in their conference "Politics and the Artistic Response." If anyone is in the vicinity, I'd be happy to meet up for coffee ( or lunch/dinner) and conversation. I will be reading during the poetry event at 2:45 on Saturday.

Emotional Honesty, Authenticity & Risk

My recent reading has raised questions about emotional honesty in poetry, a few questions about authenticity, and how these two both suggest some element of risk.

Emotional Honesty: I see this as to risk allowing too much of your personality, your emotional state, or your views to be visible to the world. For me, the risk comes in a few guises. Will people think I'm a terrible person if I write about terrible things? Will I be emotionally vulnerable if I let some aspect of my personality or emotional state show? Will I hurt others that I care about if I write poems that honestly reflect how I feel on a situation? Will those I care about "see" themselves in a poem even if I've changed the premise but allowed the honest emotion to seep into the poem? And perhaps a comical one, will someone apply some variation of psychoanalytical criticism to my work and proclaim to the world that I'm off my rocker? I feel as if I am a private person, but the poetry, even though not confessional, still (must) speak/s in someway about me. I think it is Lacan who speaks about how people envision an identity for us which may or may not agree with the identity we imagine for ourselves. So, if people imagine an identity based on a few (non)-representational poems, what will happen? (Yes, I'm interested in issues in identity.)

Authenticity: I know this is a critical issue, Plath's critics took her work to task for daring to speak of the Holocaust even though she wasn't a primary witness. As a writer who enjoys working with personas, I feel sometimes that I might be accused of not knowing of what I speak. Someone might take issue someday with the way I've represented a person from another life experience. I haven't written anything very risky thus far, but there is some subject matter that I'm working on which may push me in that direction. I want to be able to use different voices and try to see/imagine the world in different ways than I myself have experienced it.

I'm putting Sincerity and Authenticity by Lionel Trilling on my reading list. Anything else I should add to the list?

How do these ideas relate to what one reads? Well, I read Gold Cell by Sharon Olds the year before last and didn't care for the subject matter. Because of this, I hadn't explored more of her work. (Yes, I know that the poet/poems aren't the same, but we conflate them anyway. For example: Have you read any Yeats lately?) Well, Poetry this month has two poems by Olds that I like quite a bit. I've revised my opinion. I think I'll go look for some more of her work. Another book for the reading list.

Keep writing yourself into the world.

Chain Mail in Reverse

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida/ Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C.

One of the fun things about blogging is that you can take other people's ideas rather like voluntary chain-mail, without the threat of bad luck if you decide to not play along. So, after visiting Suzanne today and adapting because I don't know how to underline, here are the states I've visited in bold, the places I've lived in yellow & where I am now in purple (which if you lived here, would make much more sense. Go Wildcats!)

Patience & Publishing


Yes, I've heard this a zillion times. It's hard though. People all around are publishing, in the good journals, chapbooks, even books. I am wishy-washy on the submissions game. I have times when I send out a lot of work (oh, say last fall when I spent hours creating a submissions system and sent out quite a few packets) and then other times when I have just 3 or 4 packets out.

I noticed Steve Mueske mentioned his "lotto tickets still out" and that's just it. Sending out a manuscript really does feel like playing the lotto. I played this fall for the first time and I still have a few "still out" but I haven't put as many submissions packets in the mail. I think I would feel better about it if I had sent out more submissions to quality journals & skipped the manuscript. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. I hope the small presses do appreciate the donations.

Does it matter? Should I be more motivated to submit? When I'm in the mood where I hear time's winged chariot, I get annoyed because I haven't been submitting. But for the last few months I haven't felt motivated to get the work out. Writing alone is enough. There will be time, later.


Home for an Ent

I recieved a note from The American Tolkien Society that they're accepting my poem "Lament for an Ent Wife." This pleases me; it's good for the poem to find a home where the readers know what Ents happen to be and are familiar with the backstory that compelled me to write the poem. It was the second time I'd sent them the poem which I mentioned in my cover letter. Their response? " Our records do not show that we've recieved your poem previously. It must have been the goblins. . ."

You can read the poem here.

Black Box Theatre, Oh My!

Whew. Unexpectedly, I was invited to an open mike event tonight. I've not really read my work in public before, but I did start out my early college career in theatre. It's been years though since I was up in front of a crowd in a black box theatre. The dynamics of the room were fantastic, the crowd involved, and the poetry diverse & entertaining. I read three poems: "By His Hand Lightning," "With Sunflowers for Shade," and "Dancer at the Thoroughbred Lounge." The old instinct for the stage, the give and take between a live audience and the performer, making eye-contact with complete strangers, it is addictive. The theatre was full. It gives me hope that the naysayers are wrong, that poetry still is and can be a vibrant art. It was tonight, here on the plains of Kansas, an unexpected gift in an otherwise emotional & exhausting week.

Aspirate (GMT +/-7)

Aspirate (GMT +/-7)

As we lay down to sleep
as we stand at the bluff holding hands
as we move together into night
as I wash the length of your back

somewhere the birds rise at the hunter’s guns
somewhere dew glitters at the feet of cattle
somewhere a young man drinks from a cup of tea
somewhere a woman keens, kneeling on cobblestone.

It must be so, the fireflies and the dragonflies
each to evening and morning take wing
the cicadas to their song, the frogs to their piping
the owl to the hollow oak

and a man and a woman will touch
and a man and a woman will turn away
and there will be loss between them
and there will be a tenderness.

In a meadow a mockingbird stalks a cat
in a bedroom a girl caresses her breasts
near a stable the colts jostle for oats
on a tile floor an old man awakens alone

in a sterile room a woman reaches into a man
in a nearby room a man reaches to a woman
and breath sighs from the body
and a breath swells, cold in new lungs.

Original place of publication: The Green Tricycle

Katlyn “Katie” Collman

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.

Amber Alert

Amber Alert Issued By Police For Katlyn Collman

Americas Amber Alert News Center (Crothersville Indiana USA NA) TAA -- The Crothersville Police Department is investigating an abducted child from the corner of Preston and Oak, in Crotersville, IN. 15 miles southeast of Seymour, IN. Kaylyn Collman date of birth August 13, 1994, a white female, 10 years old, 4'6" tall and 120 lbs. She has brown eyes and brown hair. Katlyn Collman was last seen at 4:20 pm on January 25th at Crothersville Community School, Crotersville, IN. and is believed to be in extreme danger. Katlyn was wearing a red short sleeve shirt, black stretch pants with white stripes and a medium light blue winter jacket. Crothersville Police Department says Katlyn Collman was likely abducted by an unknown suspect, description is a tall white male, 5'8" tall - 6'0", very skinny, 18 to 20 years old, short dark hair, fair complexion. Suspect vehicle is a white Ford F-150 pickup truck, truck year late 80's or early 90's which was last seen in the Crothersville area. If you have any information on Kaylyn Collman please contact Crothersville Police Department at 1-888-58AMBER. ALERT STATUS: AlertDATE OF ALERT: 1/27/05TIME OF ALERT: 1:15pm

This was my hometown when I was a child. I walked home from school everyday. Please take a moment to look at Katlyn's picture. There's no telling where she may be.

Monday January Seventh: Headline

Monday January Seventh: Headline

The first fire that made the paper
consumed Old Man Shively’s
decrepit doublewide.

The town council sighed in relief
and passed new zoning laws
prohibiting such trash inside the limits.

Dressed in overalls and slippers
Shively sat in a folding lawn chair
where his living room had been and stared
towards a sky he’d ignored for years.

He was already drunk. No one thought
to ask who had left a case of Pabst
under the charred sweet gum
or thought to wipe the one empty can,
tucked in the crook, for prints.

The newspaperman wrote:
Electrical Fire stuns Resident
and ran the picture, a toothless widower
with arms as thin as tinder.


It's been said that I'm "non-traditional" poet, but I'm not certain I know what would make me "non-traditional." I'm probably very traditional, as in I read the canon, and want to know about craft, and think John Donne was a damn fine poet. After I graduated from college, I didn't go to a writing program, perhaps that's what the tradition is. Nor did I get to go tour Europe or even Canada for a year. Ah well. I'm certainly a "non-traditional" student, as I've returned after ten years of traditional wife & mother roles. But, ten years out of academic work doesn't mean I haven't been reading, or writing, or thinking about poetry. It took several years away from the university before I realized that I wouldn't be happy without having literature and poetry as part of my intellectual life. I spent several years doing 1950's style volunteering, being in the kids' schools, cutting shapes out of colored paper for teachers and the like. It was good; I felt like I was making a difference in my children's lives. But when poetry began to call again, I realized this, This!! was what I'd been missing. I wrote a poem about still being able to smell the peanut butter when I'd kissed my son goodnight. It was a terrible poem; but suddenly I was writing again. Which launched me into more reading, contemporary work, as well as my old Norton's from school. I always knew I was going back to study literature one day; but the poetry, which had always just been something I did along the way, suddenly reared up and demanded my full attention. I'm indebted to many of you in blog & board land. You helped me gain the confidence I needed to be able to return to school. Thank you; I'm grateful to know you and to travel alongside you.

On Heritage

I'm reading two WWI books with historical detail, the British poets of the Great War, and I've recently read some of the American literature of the time. The books talk a lot about the different cultures, about the troops, and the nationalistic pride of all involved. Which makes me think about my ancestors and how very little I know of them. I'm of mostly German and a little English descent originally, they say. Someone came across to America and the successive generations forgot most everything about having a heritage that might indicate this. My mother says that her mother baked springerlees, and that her grandmother still had some touch of an accent. But, I don't know that there is a single tradition that I continue that is German in origin. Unless potato salad counts. Perhaps this is in part because of the Great War, and the one that followed. Hearing that "Deutsch Kultur" was painted on "the ruins of one of the crematoria at Auschwitz"* and at other sites of devastation and destruction across the continent, might make one eager to no longer been seen as German. Should it matter to me, where they came from? I have never been able to puzzle it out. Perhaps I think about it more because we move more often than a lot of people and do not have as much of a sense of "home" as in "the place where you grew up and all your family lived nearby. " Maybe no one in America does anymore. Maybe this is our common heritage: moving boxes.

*The First World War : A Complete History. Martin Gilbert (note page 101)

What moves you?

Today I have been thinking about poems that stay with me after several readings.

Questions that I've asked:

  • Do they move me in some way emotionally? I Love You Sweatheart. Yes, certainly.
  • Do they engage me with their content or story? The Delicate Plummeting Bodies Yes.
  • Do they mean or be? Mean. Even the excerpt from Stien from Tender Buttons "means" something to me, perhaps because we've adopted into our family's cache of language. But I like a story, a little excerpt even, which helps illuminate some aspect of life.

Other thoughts:

  • I need more than surface gloss. I need content and surface, such as sound that is in accord with the meaning. Yes, I know I've talked about this one before, but Owen's poem seems to do this exceptionally well:

    What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? -
    Only the monstruous anger of the guns.
    Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
    Can patter out their hasty orisons.

  • I need poems whose words fit perfectly and perhaps manage to slip in an extra sense which adds another layer to the poem.


'Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;

I feel as if I'm a demanding reader. I hope that I can remember to demand these things from my own poems.



I discovered this as I was looking to refresh some linguistic skills. The page is supposed to be read in pdf. but I though it was rather fascinating this way as well. I've never been much of a concrete poet (well, except for those two chicken poems) but this caught my eye. I especially liked how this stood out over on the left margin.:


Primacy of the Word

Reading Scoplaw's poem tonight after having a conversation today on etymology, I'm reminded again how much for me the words themselves can be the inspiration for my writing. Yet, like the Scop says, these aren't my words. Which is perhaps one of the positives of being a writer versus a painter or sculpter or creator of crop-circles: the words are free. We can borrow them and combine them, chop them into pieces, squash them together in odd, beautiful, crazy, and fascinating ways.

I'm intrigued by the routes words take to appear in the language. Are there words that are more or less "authentic" for me as a writer to be using? When I increase my knowledge of another language will it be inappropriate for me to consider including words like el césped or una gansa? Was Pound right? All day I've been thinking about el césped, and the Sandburg poem.

I am the grass.
Let me work.

Soy el césped.
Déjame trabajar.

I wonder about translating too. Is it a practical tool for practice? If I'm going to spend time attempting to translate, do I translate into my mothertongue or into a target language. I like the way that trying to translate forces choices much like the choices I make in writing my own poems in English. Do I want "estoy" or "soy"? I choose the permanant "to be/ I am". Do I want "permitame" which is I believe is "allow me (to enter/leave?)" or déjame" which seems to mean "abandon me" or "let me be". And is that the command form of the verb? I don't know enough to say. There may be other better choices; my knowledge of Spanish is old and rusty.
But for now I like the sibilance of the first line and the harsher sounding plosives of the "d" and "t". There is always a give and take when ideas move across the language borders. Something is always lost, perhaps occasionally something sound-wise may be gained.

The linguistics folks say that the States will be officially bilingual sometime around 2020. Me too, I hope, at the very least bilingual. I want to collect words for my pockets, to spill over and out into the streets, the classrooms, and out into the woods and shorelines, and everywhere under my sky.

Mail Call Again!

The Boat of Quiet Hours, The Singing, The Last Uncle.

After the first day of classes, I came home to more books. I could get used to this!
I'm teaching two sections this semester and each of them is smaller than my section last semester, plus the room I'm teaching in is bigger with more chalkboard space. It's the little things really, that make life worth living: a few books, laughing in the office with friends who'd been away over the holiday, not falling in the icy driveway, coming home to the sound of my boys laughing, fighting, and laughing again. The start of the new semester is always filled with promise for me. Maybe it's the new pencils, or the change of scenery; most likely it's the books. Yes, I'm giddy again.


The new books are arriving. The first package arrived today with Repair and Breath. Is it possible to read without being influenced? Will I find that I'm cranking out Detroit poems by the end of the semester?

I've lived near Detroit actually. And have interesting memories of going to the Majestic theatre, I believe that was the name; it was a dark, smoky, ratty old theatre. The crowd wore black and leather with studs and everyone smoked clove cigarettes. And driving in Detroit we were always terrified of taking the wrong exit as people were always getting carjacked. Looking back I think: Who would have wanted my old Mercury?

I just spoke to a friend from Michigan last night whose husband works in one of the "state of the art" new Ford plants. It has a "living roof" which helps cut down on pollution, and saves energy. Things are always changing.

Perhaps I will write about Detroit, or Michigan again. It's the time of the year that reminds me of how cold I always was there. Ah! Nostalgia!

What You May or May Not Know

  • I prefer silver to gold.
  • I prefer coffee to tea, except for in the coldest parts of winter and then I drink tea with evaporated milk.
  • I am supposed to like purple, and have been fussed at while walking to my car past the athletic department for not wearing it on a certain Friday before the game. But they won anyway, even if I was wearing black.
  • I once was a Huron, and then an Eagle all without changing schools. I did change my major from Theatre to Literature when I realized that I'd taken so many electives in poetry and drama that it made more sense that way.
  • I had a two and a half year old and a 9 month baby when I graduated with my B.A., but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else. My third son came along later and thinks he is a cowboy, since he was born in Texas.
  • I have lived in seven states so far. Each of them has something to recommend it.
  • I really haven't met that many famous people, but I did serve soup to Yo Yo Ma once.
  • I think to write poetry one must read, and read , and read, and did I mention read?
  • I teach poetry to sixth graders and they're a lot quicker to pick up on concepts than I thought they'd be.
  • I teach Expository Writing and I like it. This means that there is something practical on my vita, and I should be able to get a job one day while I'm (im)patiently waiting to get a job teaching literature or poetry. I also like getting to know my students and am grateful for the fairly small class size (about 20 students in each section). When I'm not grading papers, I'm studying for my MA in literature. And I love it.
  • Ph. D.? M.F.A? Literature? Poetry? All of the Above? I can only wait and see.

The Semester Dawns & Aesthetics

Linda Pastan

I'm getting excited! The new semester officially begins on Wednesday. I'm especially happy about my independent study in poetry. I'm reading Linda Pastan's work for the first time, excluding an anthology poem here and there. Plus Philip Levine, C. K. Williams, Ted Kooser, Stephen Dunn, and Jane Kenyon. Last semester, I only had three 20th century poets whose work I studied with any type of depth: Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney, and Philip Larkin.

A word about aesthetics: I'm grateful that everyone has different tastes in poetry. I always think about it in terms of home decoration. If everyone did their house in Victorian Finery or Mountain Cabin, how boring would that be? (Oh gee, I love your lace doily, I have one just like that on the top of my coffee table.) So keep writing & reading whatever it is that you like. It's great to know that there is such a variety of vibrant writing out there just waiting to be discovered.

"An Invitation to Poetry"

Courtesy of my local public library, I picked Pinsky & Dietz's anthology to read over the winter holidays and this book helps remind me why I write. If you've not seen "Invitation" it has a nice selection of poems introduced by readers who tell why the particular poem is important to them. These are "real world" readers, not only college professors or aspiring poets. The list includes students, clinical psychologists, and photographers just to name a few. I read the comments and hope that someday my poems will make connections like these with those who are generous enough to read them.

I read this poem when I found it in a bookstore on Commonwealth Avenue. I was trying to find a life for myself and trying to find love. The poem moved me because it was bleak. It acknowledged that there will be bitter winter burning. It still moves me.
--Joanna Wos, about Louise Bogan's The Crows

It as in the suburbs before the Women's Movement so I was often crazy alone. And then I read The Woman at the Washington Zoo. She knew!
--Myra Shapiro, about Randall Jarrell's The Woman at the Washington Zoo

The poem is better than a jury verdict, more ruthless than an execution, yet is compassionate to its core.
--Peggy Little, about Czelaw Milosz's You Who Wronged

I read it and feel like I have been passed a slip of paper with a beautiful secret written on it, and I have been part of the world that the poet shares--and this is good, because often I feel isolation in it. And the music of his words: somehow he manages to struggle, and to be stark or imaginative, and still sound like the kind of soft music we play as medicine for people who are hurting.
--Nicole Long on David Ferry's Seen through a Window


Since Eduardo (Hello Eduardo!) has asked for notebook pages, I thought I'd play along. I typically write down images, and sometimes interesting titles or phrases. I'm terrible about dating my entries, so here is a random page:

the second story deck
the trees dropping branches
drooping coreopsis
flies on fresh dog shit
a rock fallen from the wall
sunlight on hostas
clenched fists on son
one red jelly bean
purple t-shirt
wind-messed hair
branches slapping into faces

trust the kindness of the muse
grocery shopping--fresh greens

prose & cons

graffiti on trains
spring: vultures everywhere
storm tree riders

trussing shuffle
ladders shutters
wet ground drill cord


Another page, dated 8 September 2004, has two drafts of a rough poem: (I won't include the strikethroughs, as I don't know how to format them) But with edits it looks like this:

Passing 1000

Overnight the tally turns over:
an odometer on an old car
on a long road. Briefly
it holds and turns
again. In the rearview:
crosses stand like milemarkers


Mothering & Poetry

I was looking around T.E.Ballard's Blog and found this comment which set me to thinking:

No one ever brings up the correlation that two of the greatest female poets were single mothers when they went off the deep end. Somehow this thought does not make me feel better.

Are there any famous women poets who were also successful mothers?

Emily Dickenson. No.
Elizabeth Bishop Doesn't appear so.
Marianne Moore Again, doesn't look promising.

Sylvia had two, but didn't survive their toddlerhood
and Anne Sexton certainly wouldn't win any parenting awards.

Adrienne Rich said this about mothers:

mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds; our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown.

It seems in general that poetry and motherhood are at odds. I am optimistic about it; I'd rather believe Anne Stevenson in her essay Writing As a Woman* who says :

Surely, in the twentieth century, when society allows so much, it ought to be possible to be a fulfilled woman and an independent writer without guilt--or without creating a bell jar vacumn in which it is impossible to breathe.

but even she isn't completely positive:

It is possible that marriage, children, social obligations have always been ways for me of avoiding the hard work of making poems. But even if this were so, I can't now reverse my decision to have a family. I have to be a writer with a handicap.

My kids take up a lot of time and energy. But they go to bed and I can stay up and write in the quiet of the night. I don't feel handicapped by them, but rather feel at times as if they are my muses. Some of the poems I'm the most satisfied with reflect some moment of my life with them. Yes, of course, they make me wild somedays. Yes, they sometimes interupt my writing. But I am dedicated to my writing too. Can women have it all? I certainly hope so. Time, like always, will tell.

For a quick side trip, if you'd like an account that captures the sense of what it is like to be a mother with small children, I recommend: Helen Simpson's Hey Yeah Right Get a Life.

* from Twentieth-Centry American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry. Ed. by Gioia, Mason, & Schoerke.

Things Taken for Granted

There are a number of things that I tend to take for granted as life gets busy, including a number of the people in my life. Sometimes the lack of one or another gets me thinking. So I'm grateful for the following just in case I hadn't mentioned so lately:

  • My husband who makes fantastic coffee and thinks that morning, before the sun, is the best part of the day. For a million reasons, I'm grateful.
  • For my boys who bicker, scream, laugh, run, break things, and always manage to remember to give me a hug and kiss no matter how grumpy I've been.
  • For my mother who is always there for both me and the boys. For my sister, and all my family in general.
  • For my friends who talk poetry, commiserate about deployments, and in general listen even when I'm complaining. Especially those that challenge me to grow, learn, and be a better person.
  • Libraries. I'd like to own one, but the two in this town keep me in reading material day and night. And books: poetry, literature, history, cookbooks, children's books, art books.
  • The prairie. No matter how rough I think life is becoming, I can walk out onto the prairie and be reminded of the women who tried to make homes out of sod houses, who live miles from their nearest neighbors, who tried to be satisfied with so very little.
  • Back roads, old houses, horses, herds of cattle, geese organizing themselves as they rise from the stubble of cornfields.
  • Candles, electricity, the comforting flicker of the fireplace.
  • The internet, and all those mysterious folks who keep it up and running so that I can study, chat, search, and enjoy.
  • Stained glass at night, the moon, fireworks, fireflies.
  • The list is endless really; I live a blessed life.

Ringing in the New

No ma, if everyone was jumping off a bridge, I wouldn't. But here I am participating in the newest trend in American Poetry: The Blog. Why? I need to get in the habit of writing more often. Since creative non-fiction seems to be the new hot genre, a blog seems a perfect way to practice. But give up the poetry? Never.

Happy New Year to all. Is it really 2005 already?

My motto for the year:

Be Bold. But not too Bold.

Thanks E.S.