Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Last Day of the Year

From a beautiful blog: Jing-reed's Musings "Fractal Images: Mosaic"


Simple Graces

snow on cedars
logs on the fire
cajun shrimp
red beans and rice
hot tea
small black dog
a sanctum for poetry
everyone home safe
wind over the prairie

the year ends on a comfortable note

I am grateful. Endlessly.

May the New Year bring grace to your life.

oh, fun.

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Viscountess Amy the Undefeated of Lower Beanthrop in the Hedge
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Dedication & Inspiration

Bly lived for a while in New York City, where he set out to write 12 hours a day at least six days a week. --The Writer's Almanac

I really admire this goal. I can't imagine how I could possibly fit 12 hours of writing into my day. I think I might be able to fit twelve hours of writing into a week. For the challenge, I completed 26 drafts in 31 days. The attempt at 30:30 has taught me this much:

I need to make time to write, to let ideas brew, to examine the world.

Update on the 30:30

Ok, so this drafting a poem everyday business is getting tough. The first few days went well but the last few days I've been struggling. I fell behind, but wrote three drafts yesterday all on a similar topic: a series I suppose. It's strange that I have three seperate ideas in play as I write.

1. I've begun what I hope will turn into a chapbook, there's a narrative idea floating around of a family set in Detroit in the time between the two great wars. There's a few poems towards this in my 30:30.

2. I'm also still struggling to write poems about my cancer experience. I always feel like no one will want to read about what it was like: it's too private, it's too personal, there is a limited audience. But isn't that audience an important one? Would it help if there were more poems in the world so we were less afraid of the challenges that lie ahead? There was no road map for me, perhaps I can put a few dots on the maps for others who (lamentably) must follow.

3. I have a poem about a girl murdered as a witch. A poem about women who are oppressed today. I don't know if this really qualifies as a theme yet.

And the semester ended. And the new semester looms. I am still tired, still have papers to mark with a red pen, and festive merrymaking to attend to.

I am thinking about the gifts I have been given. I do not want to squander them. Tonight I will pull out my flute and fill the house with carols.

A Joyful Noise.

Be blessed as you travel and spend time with your loved ones. Be blessed as you stay home and cook soup in the peace and quiet of aloneness. Be blessed on this holy evening and on the days and weeks to come. Be blessed.

What triggers this?

No Second Troy
by WBY

WHY should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great.
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?


I know what triggered the poem for Yeats; historical context can tell us much about that failed love affair, and her subsequent devotion to the cause.


But I can't figure out why this is the poem on my mind today. Is it that it is pointless to argue with one's self about what one is committed to? Or that I need to accept others for what they are? And not take other's unkindness to heart? But I haven't felt critical of myself or of others recently.

Is it that other passions are just as valid as my passions? But, I know this already; I try to acknowledge this in my day to day life as much as possible.

Why this poem, today?


About Jane: the fear of death shakes me like a rat

from a reading at UVA. Donald Hall introduces his poems. The poems on this page are printed as prose. That does not prevent them from speaking eloquently about Jane's life, her fight with leukemia, and about going on after her death.

She said:
the fear of death shakes me like a rat


In the new Poetry

I found the editorial to be rather interesting this month. "In Praise of Rareness" argues that perhaps editors should publish less poetry. And for the most part, I agree. If you've ever picked up a Collected by a favorite poet and then realized that you've read their best work in the anthologies, then you'll know what he's talking about. He claims that "regular people" (those not involved in the writing poetry life) have singular favorite poems rather than favorite authors.

What do you think? Do you feel cheated by the 10 poems that comprise this month's edition? Or do the drawings make up for it?

But then I think about all the wonderous variety of poetry that doensn't always find a home and I sometimes wish to take more chances with what I read and accept.

And I learn from the poems I read, even if they're not the best-of-the-century quality. I listen to the voices; I look at the trends; I listen for music in a poet's work; I look for poets to go on my "watch list," a list I keep of younger poets whose work demonstrates a spark, a hint, a whisper that they will have more to say.

Should we not comb the haystack?

On "Self-Reliance"

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.
R.W.E, American

My, my, was he smart or what? And what he was saying way back then, still shimmers today. Possibly shimmers even more today than back then. Listen to yourself, he says. Don't just follow blindly along, learn the language of the masters so you can speak with them. Don't rely on all that junk you're collecting in your house. Find your own compass; tack your ship to your own coordinates. Who you are is not in the big moments but in the little ones.

and that hobgoblins line is delicious.

They stared back blankly.

This is America. Does he still speak for us?

I am still listening.

An Anniversary Draft

untitled (as of yet) but about my last chemo treatment:

Draft One

We entered the hospital hand in hand, heads up
face forward into the now familiar routine:
blood work by the nurse whose father
had just finished his final round of chemo,
a stop at the waiting room with the lemon drops
and the cheery staff who talked of Christmas,
Weight, blood pressure, any pain at the incision?
And how are you sleeping, eating, making love?

The visit with the doctor who is encouraged,
encouraged by the results of the lab tests,
the MRI and the CT scan; the best we could
hope for—this the last of eight, the last four
for the microscopic risk, to eliminate rouge
cells knocked loose, escaped, left behind
after the muscle with the bulge like a softball,
was unhooked from my hip much like a sock
unpinned from the clothesline, and thrown spinning
into an abyss, never to return. Then up the escalator
to ward 42, waving at the nurse who sits on the end
the bed and laughs about the antics of my sons.

We tried not to look in the open doors
where we laid, with the lines hooked into
our skin, where our scalps shone pale,
where life shrank to the odor of sweat
soured by poison we took willingly,
another round, another shrinkage,
another day to wait out the chemicals,
the tainted reek of urine, the smell
of coffee, sandwiches, soup turning
our stomachs, five days until we could ride
the wheelchair down the elevator and
to the front door and wait in the cold
on the sidewalk where the taxis idled
and babies entered the world, sleeping,
and the smell of exhaust was the sweetest
smell, of the road, of home, of putting
what we hope is past, at last, behind us.

Press Release

Pushcart Nominations
By steve mueske

Three candles journal and three candles press are proud to announce the following Pushcart Prize nominations:

Lynn Strongin
Tintoretto Twilight

Carolyn Srygley-Moore
Casting Out

Oni Buchanan
Architecture of Tears

Bernadette Geyer

RJ McCaffery
The Angel of Sleep

Tony Trigilio
The Longest Continuing Running Policeman


If you see them around, be sure to say Congratulations!

And make sure you stop by three candles (.org) to read
these very fine poems.

Wind & Walking

. . . and we went out into the cold and wind, so we could remember that we are a part of nature. The epiphany came just six steps out of the building; there's a little weeping tree about 5 foot tall. We stopped and looked at the way the branches curled and twisted and cascaded. None of them could remember ever seeing the tree before; even though we have been passing by for months. Under the old oaks, a gift, an impromptu lesson from D. on how to use acorn caps for whistles. If you are ever lost, he said, now you will know how to call for help. Back in the room the heated air felt too warm. They wrote what they saw as they walked : the way periwinkle catches a blanket of leaves; the swirling carvings on the buildings; a cardinal in the tree with his tuft; the single hedge apple, poison, and fallen; the scrap of fine fur, the drop of blood, which hinted at the death of the rabbit.

If we had world enough and time, the poet said;
but this is the only world, this is our only time.

New Tricks

Ok. So maybe if you're one of those people who actually took a class on Microsoft Word you might know this already. You can "score" your readability and the grade level of your writing in Word by chosing "options" under the "check spelling and grammar." When you get done with your spell check, they'll be listed!

The site, linked above, says we should aim to write between the 60-70 % for readability and the 7-8th grade mark for "standard writing."

But this doesn't work for poetry; the program hates that the lines don't begin with capital letters, and it thinks that the sentences are mighty short. According to the program, one of my last poems was so easy to read that a 1st grader could read & understand it. Alas. I don't think my writing is that simplistic.

It's good to be a word person. We're so easily amused with just a few facts about writing, a dictionary, some white paper, and a few bottles of ink.

As Mr. Strand would say:
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.


So, it appears that blogging is falling out of favor with the poets-in-the-ether.
Now, 30:30 is the "in" thing. I'm playing along. It is a challenge to write 30 poems (or drafts) in a 30 day period. There's a public accountability & peer pressure factor that means I have others looking over my shoulder going "Where is that Draft? Get busy!" Hopefully, the practice will help me establish a daily habit of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard as the case may be.)

at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot


What I wanted to ask. . .

but didn't. If music is the food of love, as Mr. S. would say, what does it mean that Othello has the musicians stop playing? Is it that he's so uncultured that he doesn't appreciate music? Is it that Cyprus has such different music that it is unpleasant? Or is the "Wedding Band" just that bad? (Oh, the choices that a director gets to make! It could be comic! Tragic! Strange!)

Or is it as in Twelfth Night, that Othello doesn't want to have an "excess" of it?

"If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die."
--From Twelfth Night (I, i,1-3)

And then there's the "swan song" that Desdemona sings. Questions & more questions.

For the stage director, music adds dimension to a performance and helps showcase the talents of the actors. But what does it do for meaning? I know that emotional content and experiences are often tied to music. But what does the "Willow" song really add to the play?

I should go to the MLA and see what critics have said about the music. So many research projects, so little time.

Even Easier

I've noticed that quite a few more journals have entered the world of electronic submissions recently. The last time I was researching for submissions there were hardly any print journals that offered an online option. Now, some only accept electronic versions. There are several handy databases with links to journals as well. Nice.

I think it's a great move in general. I've been reading submissions via email or electronic files for about five years. Actually, I've only had paper submissions once, as a reader for Touchstone. The files are so much easier to handle, to share, and for responses.

But, even after an hour long struggle to install a printer driver today, I'm still awfully fond of printing out my poems so that no changes/glitches/gremlins occur during their travels to editors. And I'm fond of postage stamps. Possibly because my older brother once collected them, so I think, perhaps, my boys will want all these stamps from the submissions I've sent out and had returned to me.

It's a process in patience & I'm still trying to learn.

Creation Buzz

What is it about creating a poem, a book, a piece of art, that gives one a buzz? When a poem is "right," I have a "high" that lasts throughout the day.

Who needs red wine?

Oh, and I saw a new journal today "Fickle Muses" which is calling for poetry & writing that intersects with myth and legend. Looks interesting to me.

Not Me. . .

Somewhere in the UK there's an Amy Unsworth that works in a cancer lab. She's published a short piece of non-fiction here at LabLit.

Strangely enough, I had an acceptance in my in-box for the piece although I'd never heard of the site before. But, apparently they've caught up with the right Amy Unsworth now. Thank you Amy for whatever you do to support cancer research & for reminding us to laugh now and again.

Review : The Silence of Men

You can find my review of The Silence of Men at The Pedestal Magazine.

It is an interesting book and does not lead where I thought it might. I made sure that I did not add a "spoiler" to my review, especially since in many ways the poems do appear to create a loose narrative.

I'm learning through reviewing how books of poetry can work. In my studies, I've very rarely looked critically at entire books of poems. But I think as a writer it is essential to do so. Where else are you going to get information about how to order books? I've not had a single person offer advice towards this goal, but I've never really asked either.

I need more books to review; does anyone have any to suggest?

Searching for Chemo poems

I notice that a lot of visitors are stopping by in search for "Chemo poems." I've written a poem or two that discusses my treatment for cancer, but I haven't published them yet. If you would like to read them, I'd be willing to send them to you via email. Just ask.

If you are interested in reading poems that talk about the experience of cancer I can only suggest Donald Hall's "Without." The poems are about his wife (and poet) Jane Kenyon's struggle with Leukemia. "Her Long Illness" discusses her chemo treatment:

Her Long Illness by Donald Hall

Daybreak until nightfall,
he sat by his wife at the hospital
while chemotherapy dripped
through the catheter into her heart.
He drank coffee and read
the Globe. He paced; he worked
on poems; he rubbed her back
and read aloud. Overcome with dread,
they wept and affirmed
their love for each other, witlessly,
over and over again.
When it snowed one morning Jane gazed
at the darkness blurred
with flakes. They pushed the IV pump
which she called Igor
slowly past the nurses' pods, as far
as the outside door
so that she could smell the snowy air.

Kenyon's own poem "The Sick Wife," included in her Collected, also deals with her illness.

You might also try Ted Kooser's poem "At the Cancer Clinic"

(an excerpt)

. . .The sick woman
peers from under her funny knit cap
to watch each foot swing scuffing forward
and take its turn under her weight.
There is no restlessness or impatience
or anger anywhere in sight. Grace
fills the clean mold of this moment
and all the shuffling magazines grow still.

I don't know though why you are searching for these poems. I don't know that they would be a comfort for you if you are dealing with cancer or are a caretaker of a person who is struggling with cancer. Perhaps they might help you feel less alone as you go through what I can only describe as a surreal experience, and a lonely one. I felt and still feel at a loss when people ask how I am, or how I feel because I'm never sure how "real" they'd like the answers to be. Mostly everyone just pretends that it didn't happen. And I pray that it won't happen again.

The courses of chemo that I had during treatment took me to the edge of what I could endure. The last of the rounds, the last hours in the hospital were trying not because of just physical conditions, (the nausea, the overwhelming odor of the hospital which aggravated my nausea, the inability to eat even the most basic of food) but also because of the emotional and mental strain caused by the anxiety of being diagnosed with cancer, the needles and IVs which were a constant companion, and the complete invasion of privacy and lack of dignity that occurs when you are hospitalized. I have only been able to write a few poems because the emotion is still too raw, I still feel sick to my stomach if I think of being in that hospital room. I get anxious thinking about the next scan and the chance that it may belie my feeling of health and healing. I dread having to go back through those doors to have my blood drawn and the port that runs to my heart accessed.

I am lucky, though, I am still here to write this to you. May you be as blessed.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I took the family last night to see the Actors from the London Stage perform Hamlet. My nine year old son was impressed with the portrayal of Hamlet's madness and again with the way that Rosencrantz & Guildernstern were played by a single actor.

Yet on the way home he asked "Why didn't Hamlet just kill the bad king earlier and keep all that from happening?"

At moments like that, I think just maybe they might take after me after all.

New at Three Candles:

"Casting Out" and "The Whistler's Tarantula" by poet Carolyn Srygley-Moore are new additions to the poetry section. Stop by & read!

Start here: three candles

Things I've written

other than poetry. I was recently revisiting a series of articles I wrote for the "beginning poet" at Poems Niedergasse. I think as time permits I'll add a list of my reviews and other articles to the side bar. But tonight, I have other work to complete. So, if you'd like to see these this link will take you to the list of titles:
"From the Pencil Box"

I have a few reviews at three candles as well, I'll link them later.


I'm also excited about being the Prose Editor at three candles. After many years of focus on poetry, it has been interesting to focus on what makes a story or piece of prose compelling. I might have a new selection for you soon.

I'm branching out.


I also believe that to continue to write that one must continue to read and participate in the critical conversation. To that end, I'll be at Dekalb U. this weekend for the ACIS.

Is it snowing there yet?


I'm reading Richard Jeffery Newman's book. More on this soon.


It is suddenly fall. The leaves forget the branches. The branches illustrate the sky, structure revealed after the abandon of green.

Random Acts of Poetry

Coincidently, my husband and I were discussing performing "random acts of poetry" just this morning. Knowing of course that such a good idea had to be already in action somewhere, I looked about on the web and found that the Canadians have such as program and strangely enough this is the week that they celebrate it. (Odd eh?)

See here: http://national-random-acts-of-poetry.blogspot.com/

So, I propose that you too commit random acts of poetry. This can be as simple as reading a poem to a friend, or leaving a copy in a public place or even (if you're brave) reading aloud to a gathering of people (whether they want you to or not!)

I'm thinking about business cards with poems printed on them. A sonnet should fit just fine or another small poem. Or print off a few copies of a poem and mail them to a random sample of people in your town.

We could lead the charge to put poems straight in the hands (and ears!) of potential readers.

So, even if I didn't think of it first, I can still champion for the cause.

Happy Friday!

Heart's Needle

I'm returning to "Heart's Needle" today. Somehow with all the madness in the world over the last few days, this poem has been on my mind. It is that last line: "We try to choose our life." We try, yet the world intrudes. Sickness and death intrude. Hunger, strife, and agony intrude.

They cannot imagine even failing to reaching the benchmarks they've set. Some feel they will go mad, some feel that shame would overcome them. I want to tell them that they can carry on despite the intrusions. A passion is beautiful but life exists beyond. Even after the intrusions, one must kindle hope. Small, secret perhaps, but hope even as we grieve what has past and what we must yet endure.

Towards a different aesthetic?

Do men and women have different poetic aesthetics? Or is this an individual taste issue?

just curious.

Autumn Skies

This evening we sat on the porch and watched the sky move. This is the only place I've lived where at sunset the sun drops below the clouds and the day is brilliant for one last hour. The clouds were round, spilled marshmallows on a blue cloth.

There are orange mums and violas in the pots along with the last of my herbs. The ginger mint too is brilliant against the brown glaze of the pot and the matte surface of the soil. The rue sprouts new leaves.

I admire what persists.

I need a challenge.

Does anyone have a good prompt or challenge? I've been grading papers and feel less than inspired to write poetry.

I feel rusty; I need a little nudge.


Since I'd failed to mention this earlier, I thought it best to mention it now.
I've picked up some extra duties at "Three Candles Journal" where I am now
also in charge of reading prose submissions. So, send me

Stories! Plays! Flash! Essays! Memoir! Creative Non-Fiction!

or whatever else on your desktop that you'd file under prose!

tick tock,
Time's A Wasting. . .

and while I'm at it.

I'll be reading on Irish Poet John Montague at the ACIS conference coming up next month at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. If anyone is around thereabouts and would like to join me for a cup of coffee, send me an email!


The Official Blurb:

The 30th Annual Meeting of the Midwest American Conference for Irish Studies
Northern Illinois University,
DeKalb, IL
12-14 October 2006

-Saturday: Session 6: 2:15-3:30 -
6B: The Poetry of John Montague, Illinois Room
Amy Unsworth (Kansas State University), “Oil for a Rusted Hinge: Poetry as Place of Deconstruction in John Montague's Poetry.”


a mind of winter

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-- from Harmonium , 1923

I find it amazing that poems that I've read time and again can suddenly begin to speak to me. As if they have been speaking a language I had yet to acquire, and all at once I begin to understand more fully, beyond the dribs and drabs of images into the language of the soul.

Hyperbole? Perhaps.

What happens in Middle School?

What happens in Middle School that kids stop being readers? What happens in High School that makes them want to turn their backs on poetry forever? I am trying to win readers back. They are silent in class, but when I read what they write they do know what they refuse to say in front of their peers. Every once in awhile, I see a twinkle in an eye, and know that at least someone has felt a poem speaking.

Make much of time.


Define "Essential"

I'm working to finish up my plan for my non-majors Intro to Lit. for the fall semester. When it comes right down to it, I have about 10 days to teach poetry without skimping on other genres which too must be taught. Ten days. If I can teach 3 poems a day, that's 30 poems with less than 20 minutes to talk about any given poem. If I teach 50 poems, that's 10 minutes a poem. I have an anthology selected, so I'm trying to pick a wide range from what is in the book.

It boils down to 400+ years of poetry in 10 days or less than one poem per decade. I can name at least 40 poems from the last 40 years that must be read. How do you decide on poems that will make students become readers? How can I make them fall in love with words?

The poetry reading was quite lovely. We all crowded into the coffeeshop and drank lemonaide and chatted with conference attendees from all over the world and those from a bit closer to home. It was lovely to hear the poets' voices, the inflection they choose as they read their own work. We read in alphabetical order, which meant I was last, and was responsible for saying goodnight. When the poet before me stood up to read, my hands began to shake. I brought my youngest son out of necessity. I heard his every shuffle, wiggle, sneeze, whisper. Before I read, he asked if we were almost done. Yes, yes, after I go. I read my poems, I looked over my own shoulder and questioned if I was reading loud enough, if I was reading slowly enough, if I was making eye-contact. When I finished, the crowd clapped as they do, and my son cheered loudly. You Rock Mom! I think he cheered because we were finished and I'd promised him a cheeseburger on the way home. I couldn't stop smiling.

Word Cloud

I found this at C. Dale Young's blog. You can try it too: Snap Shirts' Word Cloud

Drawing In

The summer is reaching its height of broiling temperatures. The pots of herbs are baking in the sun; caterpillars have eaten the rue down to just stems. Still, a weed or two pops up from some seed blown in by the wind or gathered unknowingly in the handfuls of soil.

In the heat, the mob of kangaroos bathes in dust and watches without concern as we tread through their exhibit. At the sheep station, the tank is filled with cool water and my sons splash their faces and hands. The sheep doze in the shadow of the barn. The native art shows a waterhole and the tracks of many creatures that drink. It is a different way of seeing, all of our footsteps mingling, creatures of the light, of the dark, and of the half-light of dusk and dawn.

I am gathering in-- plans, perfect cherry tomatoes, the lazy laughter echoing through the house-- before the routine of the school year is upon us again.

Celebrating Kansas

There's a poetry reading Friday at Radina's Coffeehouse to celebrate the opening of the conference of "Nation, Region, and Frontiers." I'll be reading, along with 10 other Kansas poets, some of which I know and others I'm looking forward to meeting.

Freecyle, Hometown Parades, and other wonders of the Modern World

I've just recently discovered Free-cycle. It's a system where you can find new homes for items you no longer need or want. Or find items you might need or want. It's a way to keep used, yet still useful, goods out of the landfill. There's over a thousand participants in my area alone. It's a good sign, I think.

We went to the parade tonight. We have lived in one place for awhile now it would seem. I actually knew people who were on the sidewalk with me. My neighbors drove by with a flat-bed of 4Hers all chanting and screaming and waving. I saw children I recognized from my sons' school and they've grown into teens while I've watched. These are tendrils, roots, fine as cornsilk.

I've been assigned an office which must make it official that I'm going to be teaching here in the fall. A small place, but mine, for now. I can move my books in on Monday.

Rain, Vines, and "The Wild Iris"

This is the summer for vines. The summer squash and the watermelon are racing to fill their spaces before the other invades. The rain has fallen enough that the garden is growing without help from the water hose: lupines, oregano, flat italian parsley, short stocky sunflowers, coral bells, redbell peppers, russian sage.

There is something satisfying about finishing all the little projects that I had left undone out of necessity: putting the closets to order, tidying the bookshelves, pulling weed, and harvesting my herbs.

We are playing chess. The pieces march across, are knocked down, and set up again. My son is learning strategy. It no longer matters who wins. This is success.

I am reading Louise Gl├╝ck's "The Wild Iris." It is cool water from a spring-fed well.
Do we choose the world we live in?


From the Publisher's Desk

Not What I Expected: The Road from Womanhood to Motherhood,

ed. by Donya Currie and Hildie S. Block ISBN 0-931181-26-7 Due Fall 2006

An anthology of poetry, fiction, essays and artwork by Jody Bolz, Carole Burns, Grace Cavalieri, Christina Daub, Mary Doroshenk, Patricia Gray, Clarinda Harriss, Anne Hasselbrack, Jacqueline Jules, Mary Ann Larkin, Lyn Lifshin, Hilary Tham, Donna Vitucci, Mary-Sherman Willis, and tons more. (and me too!)

"A collection that is by turns heartening and harrowing, insightful and irreverent but, page after page, always honest. We don't remember our own birth, we can't reflect our own death, so the squawking arrival of parenthood and its glorious life tangle is our only true relationship with the cycle of creation. Here, in essays, poems and personal dispatches, is a sketch of that singular experience. The best thing you can say about book on birth? It delivers. And this one does."

--Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

“I'm a father of seven and figured that by osmosis maybe I'd learned something about motherhood. But this book opened my eyes and my heart and made me realize how much I don't know and didn't understand. For me, Not What I Expected is a journey through the looking glass, to the other side of the miracle. Reading it is an experience that I will always treasure.”

--William Mckeen, Professor and Chair, University of Florida Department of Journalism. Author of Highway 6: A Father-and-Son Journey Through the Middle ofAmerica

This book, full of pathos and humor, explores every aspect of motherhood. The writers in this anthology take you on a ride to many unexpected places: from the terrifying terrain of losing a baby to the exaltation of a successful pregnancy against the odds. Here you'll find the blood and sweat and grit of parenthood, all the real secrets that nobody tells you before your baby is born.

--Jennifer Margulis, author of "Why Babies Do That" and "Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People We Love"

Explain "Enough"

When one set of goals is reached, how do you decide on the next plan of action?

In the summer heat, I have grown a prairie garden. Last summer, it was grass with mulberry shoots and a few thin wildflowers pushing their way towards the sun. Now, the bed is a procession of nodding blossoms and color. I do not know their names. There is no one to introduce us.

The dog and I walk across a salvaged piece of the real prairie. At the top-of-the-world, he leaps through the tall grasses, arching his back as if he is a dolphin breaking through into sunshine. The light glitters across his dark coat, his tounge lolls pink as a tropical shell.

I want to say "Please listen; stop shaking your head" but this is not what you've come for.
The papers criss-cross the table; no one wants to pick them up. I walk briskly from the air-conditioned room, through the double glass doors. What seemed wise once: cement pathways and cinder-block walls.

New PL For Fall

"Though I do think poetry has some relationship to reality."

-Donald Hall
The New Poet Laureate

Whew! That's a good sign-considering I've just finished writing a 29-page paper on the topic.

Have you read any of his poems written to Jane after her death? I saw the book recently but had to put it back; I don't think I'm ready to read such poems about cancer and the aftermath just yet.

Congratulations Mr. Hall. Enjoy the pears.

One Year

I was diagnosed a year ago. All was clear yesterday at my appointment with my doctor. On the chest x-ray, I could see the wire that runs from my port to my heart .
I have been given two more months of freedom.

I am grateful, and humble, filled with hopes for a summer that includes sand and water, gardens, weeds, inchworms, bike-rides, tadpole chasing, and other appropriate summer past-times with my boys.

Variations in White

Variations in White
by Amy Unsworth

After the surgeon pulled back the white sheet, noted
the absence of stars on the night globe of the mammogram,
I had forgotten. I had stopped thinking of nudging aside
the shuffling generations ahead of me, pressed
at the station’s velvet ropes, queued for the sleeper.

When the cottonmouth rose from the creek’s mud
as my son waded bare limbed, I thought of only
the long length of days without him, of wearing
the lightning strike of his body’s passage on my skin.

When the shell of fever broke and he slept,
a newly hatched bantam, his hair a shock of wet feathers,
I laundered the soiled sheets by hand. The wash water —
tinged with soap and worry— sluiced, forgetful, through the pipes.

But now, the woman— whose wartime photograph
as a bride could pass as mine— unlatches the carriage door,
and settles down there on the satin with a bouquet of callas.

I am the brunette at rail side raising a handkerchief
and the woman who sits white headed, my fingers
pressed to the windowpane frosting over with stars.

-from the Hogtown Creek Review

Welcome & Farewell


Nate to the Three Candles Staff!

You can visit his blog here!


to my students and fellow graduate students! The semester is coming to a close very soon and my class met today as a whole for the last time. There are less than two weeks to go until final grades must be reported. I've had a great class of students this semester which made my transition back to the classroom that much easier. Two years really does pass quickly. It's a bittersweet time.

Brown Paper Covers

Well, if you get something in the mail wrapped in brown paper, this week it just might be a poetry magazine. Hey it worked for Fence, so the Mass. Review thought they'd try too.

I guess good writing isn't enough these days to sell copies, so we "need" to show a nude woman on the cover.

With the Publisher's Weekly article and now this, it's just a little much for one week. Is my calendar wrong? Is it really 2006?

(Or is this the New-New Feminism and we're really "celebrating" the beauty of the female body?)

Why folks? Why?

You Can See God Going to the Islands

You Can See God Going to the Islands
by Amy Unsworth

Where else but walking on sand and water
the last splinter of perfection, the crescent
edge of Bunut Bay, flip-flops in hand?

Or in Bolivia waiting patiently on the boardwalk
at Calacala, to see the paintings on the rising rocks,
one white llama surrounded by the red herds?

Further South the next week, among chinstrap penguins,
stepping gingerly over the clutches tucked in the rocks.
He smiles as they dive, bodies suddenly lissome, into the sea.

A day or two in Turkey visiting the springs at Pamukkale,
resting his feet in the thermal pools, touring the ruins and
recollecting the pillared architecture of Rome.

Maybe then, a few stops to admire the streaked and spotted
gazelle, giraffe, hyena and the scrawny cattle of the savanna;
to wade the Nile winding its way across the continent.

No place but then to return to the hillside gardens,
to inhale the once familiar scent of night air in Jerusalem,
the first almonds hastening to bloom.

from The New Pantagruel

A Bridge is a Better Metaphor

Interesting conversation going on, I'm trying to catch up. I did note that there's a bit of talk here about the role of the internet in women's lives and she's talking about Niederngasse which I've been working for off and on for some time now.

For me the 'net has been a bridge over a chasm which I thought for many years was impassible. I remember the smell of peanut butter and a sense that something essential was missing from my life. I had not been writing; I had been nursing babies and cleaning up spilled juice from sippy cups. I had not been reading other than "Good Night Moon" and "Hop on Pop."

Then one night, I found the 'net. I found conversation about poetry, I found people posting drafts of poetry, I found people willing to comment on my own poetry, I found places to submit. I had no idea of "po-biz" or book contests, or publication stats; I don't know that anyone was blogging yet.

It was the time of the on-line workshop. I workshopped, I critiqued, I grew less hurt by criticism, I learned to take what was important and leave what wasn't. I met a few poets, many of whom you can find on my blog-roll. My writing improved, my understanding of craft improved, my desire to read skyrocketed.

Much of my poetry life, still is here in the virtual world. But I'm finishing graduate school this year,and this is a step I'd probably never taken if it had not been for the support and encouragement of the writers I've met on the web. We move so often that I've never been able to build a group of writers to work with "off-line" but my friends are still here on-line, still accessible with a few keystrokes. Workshop takes dedication and time to spend thinking other poems in progress. Since I'm in school, it's a luxury I don't currently have. I started my blog to have a place to talk about poetry and poetics. Sometimes others join the conversation. Mostly I put my words on the screen and readers visit like ghosts.

I wish the PW article would have talked about how important the web can be for women; how the web has been the bridge between a world of toddlers and a world of letters; how women have been able to participate in the conversation that we might have otherwise missed. Maybe that's the article we should write.

About Poetry: a multitude of tongues.

Well, there's grumbling out on the blogsphere that us poets need to talk more about poetry. So, here goes: On Poetry

Well, I've been doing a lot of thinking about Bakhtin and how he seems to be bad-mouthing poets for what he sees as a self-serving use of language. But, if you look at his description of how poetry works to create context which limits the "meaning" of the words and thus sentences, it is actually a compelling argument for how poetic language actually must work. He argues that at least on one, basic, level of "meaning" that poets exclude alternative meanings and lock in a single (although some poets do play with alternative meanings) meaning for words which are shaped by their context.

This idea, that the meaning is changed when a poem is “explained,” brings about such truisms as Coleridge’s “Poetry: the best words in the best order” and Robert Frost’s “Poetry is what is lost in the translation.” What makes poetry poetry is that the words are locked into this best order to create a precise meaning regardless if we can determine the author’s intended significance(I'm using Hirsch's defintions of "meaning" and "significance" BTW).

But then Bakhtin wants to say that the language in the poetry only is revealing the poet's "self." This seems problematic to me. Does every painting reveal the painter's "self"? Would you criticize the painter for "only using the paint colors on his palette to the exclusion of all other paint colors"? If words are the poet's medium as paint is the painter's medium, why would you criticize him or her for only using "his own words/ meanings" ? What else can one possibly do? Run down to the word store and pick up another few tubes of language? And what's more, even in a novel which Bakhtin champions, the author can only use words that she already "owns" even if they are from a variety of languages. It is impossible to speak or write in any manner that communicates without using one's own word horde. ( I know not everyone cares about that communication issue, and lots of folks believe it's impossible, but I try to communicate when I speak and participate in communication when I listen and read. )

Maybe Bahktin would like the post-modern attempts at heteroglossia, books of poems like "Poeta en San Fransico" and other poems that attempt to cross language borders. But the words are still, must be, can be no other than the poet's own words, even if the poet uses a multitude of tongues.

Reading to the Wind part 2

One should watch what one says. The wind in fact was incredibly strong while I was reading and was blowing my papers around and actually moved a 6ft. long folding table that was set up next to the podium. What was delightful was that several members of my department were on hand to hear me read. Thanks folks!

You can read a bit more about A&S Day here, as well as a (very) brief take on my reading: The Collegian

[And tomorrow, the winning lotto ticket! ]

Reading to the Wind

In celebration of Arts & Sciences Day at KSU, I'll be reading my poetry on April 11 at Bosco Plaza(at the Union)at 12:30. The reading begins at 12:00 and runs through 1:00 and features four readers from the English Department.

Happy Poetry Month!

He says this as if it's a BAD thing. . .

“The language of the poetic genre is a unitary and singular Ptolemaic world outside of which nothing else exists and nothing else is needed. The concept of many worlds of language, all equal in their ability to conceptualize and to be expressive, is organically denied to poetic style.”
-- Mikhail M. Bakhtin

Poem A Day Project

Ghost Road Press will be featuring one of my poems on April 3rd in celebration of Poetry Month.

Cheers! Read More Poetry!


The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.

T.S. Eliot

EXTRA! Extra! Good News!

Ice Sculpture With Mermaid

Is now available for pre-ordering at http://www.threecandlespress.com.

Three Candles is offering really sweet deal - a temporary 10%, no shipping sale. That works out to $11.66. This is uber-cheap.

(Its normally $12.95, plus shipping)

Advance Readers Write:

"'Here we go a-sentencing' Robert Frost said about writing poetry. This is what you'll find in Ice Sculpture of Mermaid with Cigar: exceptional sentences, a wild, wily, Protean imagination, a sometimes generous, sometimes scaldingly wry intelligence, and a whole, properly crazy heart. RJ McCaffrey makes poems that are almost miracles."
— Thomas Lux

(I cut this copy from RJ's Blog => you can read more over there!)

If you know me from around the 'net you probably know RJ too, but I'd like to take a moment to celebrate with him and to encourage you to pick up this book to support both RJ & Three Candles Press.

Throwing Confetti into the Air! `* ~ * ' *

Topping 5K

Sometime next week the blog will have its 5,000th visit. I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who stop by from time to time to read. Poetry is of course an obscure & lonely business, but I feel in some small way connected to this greater community of writers who love the written word as much as I do.

I return to Kenyon, time and again:

Finding A Long Gray Hair

I scrub the long floorboards
in the kitchen, repeating
the motions of other women
who have lived in this house.
And when I find a long gray hair
floating in the pail,
I feel my life added to theirs.

--Jane Kenyon, Otherwise: New & Selected Poems

In Celebration of Kansas

So Kansas is the home of Courage the Cowardly Dog and The Wizard of Oz, but this doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of nice things about Kansas as well.

1. In the two hours it would take to cross L.A. you can drive from Lawrence to Manhattan and still have half of an hour to shop before your dinner reservation. And you won't have to breathe exhaust to do so.

2. The towns are small and usually friendly. If it takes you more than 15 minutes to get across town, you must be pushing your pick-up truck.

3. We have nice places to eat here too: Manhattan's 4Olives has been featured in Wine Spectator. Harry's Up-Town has wonderful Trout.

4. Wild animals exist here outside of zoos. I've seen Bald Eagles in the wild more than once since we've been here. And red fox, coyote pups learning to pounce, wild turkeys flying across the road, geese, teal, pelicans, herons, and more.

5. You can wear blue jeans to dinner if you want. Or dress up to attend internationally acclaimed groups at the McCain's Performance Center. Or attend poetry readings at KU, Rita Dove visited last year; Ted Kooser visited KSU this school year. B.H. Fairchild was here the year before last. And you will likely be able to find a seat and actually hear the poet speak.

Coming Soon!

My poem, which is a dramatic monologue, "And by His Hand, Lightning" is appearing in this collection of monologues. Since once upon a time I was a theatre person, I'm delighted to have my work appear here!

Almost April

It's that time. . .poetry month is around the bend. What will you do to promote poetry in this great land of ours? I don't think I'll have time to write a poem a day. Maybe a poem a week would be a more realistic goal. I might read a poem a day to my students. What is your goal? Have any better ideas?

Tick Tock.


Every once in a while, the whole business of poetry starts to wear on me: the worry about publication, the worry about if it's worthwhile, the conflict between wanting to create and wanting to "matter" as a poet. But then I find a moment of exhortation like this one and all of that falls away leaving the desire to create, to speak of this world, as my essential desire.

Doubt not, O Poet, but persist. Say "It is in me, and shall out." Stand there, balked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until at last rage draw out of then that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a man is the conductor of the whole river of electricity.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson


What the River’s Wife Feels
by Amy Unsworth

Under her feet, the endless mud
the shifting of pebbles, the twig-
half-decayed. The lips of minnows
against her bare calves, the wending
body of a snake, the turtle’s curiosity.

In winter, her lover’s insensible skin,
in summer, his breath rising as morning
mist. Autumn, his chiding for her
steadfastness as the leaves wither
and fall upon her outstretched arms.

Poetry in the Schools

As part of my son's Language Arts program, he came up with this rather impressive poem!


The king of the night,
his empire rises and falls forever
in the realm of mortals.

By J.U.

From behind the piles. . .

of books for my final project, of papers to be graded for my students, of homework that I must make sure my three sons complete, of laundry which needs to find its way into the washing machine, and of poetry which I'm writing and revising, I'm peeking out to say hello.

Spring break is on the horizon. The weather has been exceptionally beautiful. I am well but sleep deprived.

May spring come soon to where you are.

In & For Itself

What I learned from Kant today:

How liberating is the idea that art does not need to "do" something? It doesn't have to teach something; it doesn't have to fit some pre-conceived notion; it doesn't have to have some value as a product. We strive to create, even if what we create never achieves "beauty," we can at least be inspired by beauty to aim for the ideal. Its value does not lie in what it is used for, but rather in & for itself.

Do I believe all this? Is art in itself & for itself enough?


Since I can't help but be influenced by what I'm reading, here's another (Another!) Adam poem. (You'll need to click on the poem to read it. I'm still working on the technology aspects of blogging. ) This is my first draft and I'm not sure if I'll work on it further as the concept has been around the block a time or two before.


Why Metaphor?

Now the sources of all poetic locution are two: poverty of language and need to explain and be understood. [. . .] What Aristotle said of the individual man is therefore true of the race in general: Nihil est in intellectu quin prius fuerit in sensu. That is, the human mind does not understand anything of which it has no previous impression from the senses.
--Giambattista Vico, 1668-1744, The New Science

I understand what Vico is saying to mean that since we don't have the language to convey some experiences and because others cannot understand what they have not experienced (observed, touched, tasted, heard, smelled) that the best we can do is to use poetic language.

I like this argument for metaphor; that it can help us portray what language otherwise prevents us from conveying. Metaphor then helps us enact an experience by drawing on our previous experienced sensual data. I believe this is why blood, bone, moon and the like show up in so many poems, because these are concepts about which we all can quickly relate sensual data. It is more risky therefore (risking failure of communication) to use a metaphor with a vehicle which may be less familiar to the reader.

Eight Rules & The Bowl of Diogenes

This past week I recieved my copies of Poetry and American Poet. Each included an article on criticism. The American Poet included "Eight Rules" by Linda Gregerson and Poetry featured "The Bowl of Diogenes" by William Logan. I found each of them relevant and helpful to me as a writer who often tries my hand at criticism as well as poetry. I've often thought that thinking critically about other people's work helps me to refine and define what I'm aiming for in my own poetry.

Gregerson's article is brief, yet practical advice for the poet/ critic. Her rules include encouraging the poet/critic to write articles that are significant rather than merely thumbs up or thumbs down, she asks us to write in good faith, she invites curiosity in the world, in history, and in theory. She also suggests that we should be honest about our patronage and friends in the business. I find myself agreeing with her. She says "Both poetry and criticism are forms of thinking through, of attempting to be in the world in such a way that the world shall not be lost on us" (American Poet 16). I think perhaps the most important of her requests is that the poet/critic be well read. I believe to be well read helps us to see the greater picture, to find our niche in society, history, theory, and the world.

Logan's article is a recounting of his experiences in a long career of writing criticism, of the waxing and waning of his desire to write it, and in some ways, an argument for the complex in poetry. He also makes a lot of sense in his article, suggesting that criticism is mostly *for* the critic, and is helps the critic to pay closer attention than perhaps he or she would otherwise. He also says "for what is good about good criticism is that it imagines with the same sympathies as the poet" (Poetry 414). I like how he speaks of the complexity of poetry: "Surely we read poetry because it gives us a sense of the depths of language, meaning nudging meaning, then darting away, down to the unfathomed and muddy bottom" (414). I can imagine poetry as a minnow, reflecting a glimmer of sunlight, iridescent: a small essential beauty. And a critic wading in the shadows, searching in the muddy water, exclaiming aloud when the flash and shimmer catches her eye.

American Poet, Fall 2005.
Poetry, February 2006.

excerpts from "Ward 42"

In a recent conversation with A.D. , we have been discussing poetics and if it is helpful or necessary to attempt to define one's own poetics. I don't know that I'm ready to define my overall poetics, but I can talk a little bit about how I went about creating and crafting a particular poem.

The following are part of a poem titled "Ward 42." Each individual section tries to capture a particular emotion that I related to my experience in the cancer ward during chemotherapy. Thematically, I use the sea and weather throughout the poem to act as an ordering mechanism. Some of the sections seem to contradict each other, especially concerning the I.V. pump that delivers the combination of drugs that is at the same time destroying and rescuing the body.

excerpts from "Ward 42"

I lie on my side,
my body frames the hook of a bay,
when I ask of the future
they reply only with the rise
and fall of the diagnosis’s
changeable weather.


The white bed is a cradle,
the swish of the pump
a mother’s heartbeat.
I awaken with my knees pulled up
my thumb in my mouth.


In his white coat, the doctor
arrives midmorning;
like gulls, the interns stand watching.


These are three of the eleven sections. I tried to create stanzas that were vivid, visual, and could stand alone. I tried to keep the tight focus similar to that of a haiku (although these are clearly not haiku.) I also found that I used a lot of metaphorical language, perhaps because there are few words for discussing how chemotherapy "feels" vs. the technical language for what it does.

Thanks for the conversation A.D.!

What Poetry Does

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about poetry and wondering why it has so fully captured my attention. I also ask myself if it is a worthy vocation. Will it make any difference? Does it need to make a difference? Is reading or writing or thinking about poetry a valuable way to spend one's time? I find I am often quite conflicted in my answers. I wonder why I didn't fall in love with Bio-Chemistry or Agriculture or some other field with empirical, measurable, tangible outcomes. But poetry it is.

Here is the start of a list of what I think poetry (and literature) does that is worth valuing:

1. Pays attention to the world and encourages us to pay attention as well.
2. Praises & celebrates life
3. Acts as a witness
4. Portrays different perspectives
5. Challenges us to think deeply
6. Plays with language in a way that can be entertaining and delightful


Are poets crazy? Can literature make us better people? Will I change my mind after reading Plato?

1. Is "yes, a little; but no a lot" a meaningful answer?
2. I certainly believe so.
3. Ask me tomorrow, when I finish. (But I doubt it.)

Yes, the semester has begun. With it comes Literary Criticism, Irish Literature, The Hebrew Bible, and a little Spanish added to the mix. I felt like I had my "real" life back today as I parked in the lot and walked across campus. There was no sudden sunshine on the faces of the students, or a meaningful flight of birds, although the bells did ring on the hour. Merely a walk in the cold morning air, a few minutes in the stuffy office, and the squeak of the chairs in the classroom. The same mixture of confidence and doubt that I face every time I walk into a new situation still is with me. I'm not quite giddy this year, just relieved.

Where We Are Now

It is hard to imagine that it is already 2006. I remember being a child and thinking that the year 2000 could never come. Yet, it has, and here we are six years later.

Small Branches Poetry (the blog) is a year old today. Thank you for stopping in to read now and again. Yes, it's mostly a monolouge, the sound of one voice speaking, but you're welcome to comment, to agree or disagree, as you wish.

I return again and again to The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry edited by J.D McClatchy. This is the book that made me fall for poetry. It collects work from post-WW II through the 80's. Here is where I first read Snodgrass's "Heart's Needle," Levine's "The Horse," and Roethke, and Hirsch, and Snyder, and Kinnell, sixty-five in all. And such great lines, that speak to me as both a person and as a student of poetry:

And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.
--Axe Handles, Gary Snyder

Yet I,
who say this, could not raise
myself from bed how many days
to the thieving world. Child, I have another wife,
another child. We try to choose our life.
--Heart's Needle, W.D. Snodgrass

For 2006, I choose more kindness to those around me, more joy, more time with my husband, more laughter from my children, and as always more poetry & conversations with you.


On the Year's End

On the Year's End/Lines from Su Tun P'O
after Rexroth

It snows as we walk out to Yang Chou Gate.
Along the street the doorways fill with white,
like drifts of willow cotton. I watch, wait,
until the glimmer of your lantern light
has disappeared beyond the hills. Tonight,
I'll raise my cup alone, the wine sour
on my tongue. The rooftops shine with ice, bright
as your pendant of jade. From their tower
the watchmen pound their drums, only two hours
until this year will end. Under the eaves,
the icicles drone like swords where plum flowers,
in spring, will spread their scent among the leaves
and willow's cotton. After the rain,
only a drift of petals will remain.

From The Briar Cliff Review, 2004.