Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Draft: Phases

by Amy Unsworth

The geese stitch the night with their cries
and the cold seeps through the layers
upon layers, wool, silk, skin, muscle.

Forget the moon in her longing. Who
can bear to be reminded of the immensity
of loneliness, her cold white face.

The cold white sheets spread clean
across our bed. The laundry in tidy
piles: five socks, the fifth folding

in on itself, waiting. The days
add minutes, in beginning and ending.
The dark, a cipher, un-coding.

Our dogs snarl and snap then stretch,
returning to sleep, the down
rises like glacial peaks worn smooth.

Pages Rustle: Featured Poet Tim Mayo

Every so often, I'll be featuring a new poem, my thoughts on the work, and a conversation with the poet. I hope you'll enjoy and come back again for the next installation!


This week's poem from:

The Kingdom of Possibilities

By Tim Mayo

Mayapple Press


Frame of Reference with Sun Breaking Through

If the truth be known, I lied about the sun: how its
light shafted through the parting clouds as if
an unknown entity were blessing the landscape below,
the curving rows of grain molded to the hill’s shape,
how the field dipped out of sight then rose again
from an unseen vale climbing like the pelted back
of some animal yet to be classified: phylum
genus, species.

Even the landscape I made up
cobbling together parts of Breughel with memories
of a child’s book, The Farmer in the Dell, Old MacDonald,
the perfect rows of corn corduroying into the horizon,
and somewhere midfield and off-center to the left
a red tractor tries to gain the top of the hill.


Back to the sun:
I could have just left it there,
the high drama of its shafts stabbing
inspiration into the brown and green land,
demonstrating how divine intervention
plays out its not so subtle hand,
and you could have gone home,
rolled down your bed for the night
and pulled up the covers against the dark
knowing that the unconsciousness of sleep
was still safe, and the brush strokes
of my hand were benevolent, as always,

but I have left clouds, instead, and you must
sort through the sky as best you can.


One way to read Tim Mayo’s “Point of Reference” is as a commentary on the study and practice of literature today: on the canon, and the contemporary jettisoning of the canon for lesser known, more inclusive, works. The canon’s long history of interaction with the Divine provided a central point of view that everyone trained in the western classical tradition could accept or dispute. The contemporary desire to eradicate the tradition for the inclusion of other paths and voices is a decentralizing force stripping away traditional notions of what “good” and “great” literature is. Readers who value the canon and the canon’s interaction with the Divine as part of their point of reference find it unsettling when the canonical traditions are stripped away and devalued. As a poet who obviously has studied the canon, Mayo has created his own song of Innocence and Experience here with his two landscapes, one of the Ideal and the Divine, vs. the natural and mundane world where without such an ordering principle, life is more difficult to “sort through.”

The first stanza’s landscape, with the references to Breughel (and hence Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts”) and the “rows of corn corduroying into the horizon” represents the lost Ideal, some bucolic, pastoral wonderland filled with plenty and light where even the vales can be neatly filed in orderly categories. This is the place of fantasy, the Ideal that we hold every autumn against that only exists in art or recalled in softly glowing “memories of a child’s book;” the good and orderly that we often tend to seek. For literature, the Ideal gave readers parameters through a simple comparison of the new work with the old. If the newly created book or poem fit the rules or broke the rules in interesting ways, then the work might be designated important. If the play or novel was not easily classified, then the work was most likely excluded, as has been the case with many works by women or writers outside the dominant norm.

The second stanza, which is an unmaking of the first, toys with our doubts, our fears and our uncertainty in this not-so-perfect world. This stanza provides an adult world where the stories from our childhood may not sooth us as we lie down to sleep, and where “divine intervention” may not clearly show “its not so subtle hand.” Where what we have been taught does not always explain the world we see around us. A world where the creator’s hand might not be “benevolent, as always.” Instead, the stanza represents a world filled with doubt and unclear motives. The only thing certain about the unmade landscape is the clouds that one must “sort through . . . as best you can.” For literature, the current inclusive, subjective acceptance of a wide variety of work as important has had a similar consequence of creating a great quantity of “clouds” that must be sorted through. Without the centralizing force of the canon, who is to determine the “good” when none of the traditional rules still apply? Since questions of what makes a poem good have changed dramatically in the last one hundred years, especially since the rise of modernism, it’s not surprising to find a poet struggling with the topic in his work and coming to the final conclusion, as the speaker states, that each of us “must sort through the sky as best you can” even without that secure frame of reference.


Q & A with Poet Tim Mayo

Q: Since I’m talking about the canon in this reading of you poem, I’m going to ask you about your education in literature and writing. Has your experience been “classical” or “non-traditional”? Is there a particular poem or poet whose work brought you to poetry?

Tim Mayo: I don’t remember getting interested in poetry until I was a sophomore in High School. I remember that one poem I showed to my English teacher was an imitation of Sandburg’s poem about the fog creeping in on little cat’s feet––or however it goes. I was in a military school in northern Indiana at the time, so Sandburg makes sense. Soon after that I left military school and went to a very progressive school in Western Massachusetts which emphasized the arts. It was at that point that I really began to read poetry and came across the two poems which probably I first fell in love with: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “Howl.” So, although I don’t think of my own work as being eclectic, I seem to have always read eclectically, and my tastes in poetry seem to be wide enough to answer your question by saying “non-traditional.” It’s interesting that I’ve given you two longish poems and I never write long poems (never say never), but these drew me to poetry and I still hold them dear to me, but now along with so, so many others.

Q: How do you view the canon as part of your growth and development as a writer? In another poem from the book, I saw a bit of resistance to (and eventual embrasure of) the confessional mode, you seem to concentrate more about these issues of “how to write” as a subject matter than many contemporary poets whose works I’ve read. Why do you feel this is an important subject for you?

Tim Mayo: When I was younger, except for imitating poets, I had no sense of the canon. Today, I would guess I am in the process of trying to become a part of it, but if we are all governed by (and we seem to try to be) Ezra Pound’s precept “Make it new,” then we are all trying to write against the canon or some sort of tradition we label as being old hat. Although even as I say that I think of what one of my teachers Liam Rector said about trying to recognize and honor through your art the poets who preceded you. I think I am just stumbling along. There are some of my poems which at least begin as direct descendants of other poems, but then they seem go their own way or speak antiphonally to that poem out of which they grew. Compare the first two lines of “The Loneliness of Dogs” to “Musée des Beaux Arts” or read “At a Walmart in Southern New Hampshire” and then read Ginsberg’s “In a California Super Market.”

As for the confessional mode, which really is a ball and chain around the ankles of most poets writing today, I have taken the path of writing about what I know. This has meant that my poems are often anecdotes coming from something I have experienced and internalized to a point that the experience has an emotional weight and meaning for me. I don’t think I can write about something which doesn’t have that. But my intentions in writing about anything which has happened to me is not to recount my life, but hopefully to find and convey to the readers what it is about that particular experience which resonates for me and make it resonate for them as well. I’m looking to try and make universal observations out of individual and specific anecdotes. Boy does that sound highfalutin. The poem I think you referred to in your question “The Confessional Poet’s Confession” does poke fun at that confessional mode, but at the same time makes a serious confession and observation about how we (us poets––or actually anyone) often never look beyond our own personal pain to recognize the experience of others and be aware that we aren’t the only people suffering out there. It does happen to twist the joke into a serious (at least serious sounding) confession of what seems to be the speaker’s fault in a failed relationship. I’m not sure I want to say more about it.

Why do I write about writing? I guess it has something to do with a wish to be able to say or describe something, a phenomenon, so exactly that everyone just says, “Yes! That’s it!” That doesn’t really answer your question, but I think it is the wish that I might be able to do it someday in a poem. That how “it” was expressed would seem so absolutely right, no one could or would want to think of an alternative way to express it. Of course this is idealism, sheer fantasy or just the impossible at best.

Q: Who do you look to as “good” poets whose work you admire and might emulate?

Tim Mayo: Of the living poets whom I admire, there are many more than I can list. In any case here are a few. I put Charles Wright and Stephen Dunn pretty much at the top of the pile. This in itself is a quandary. For example, I am an atheist and Wright, I would say, is not, but I admire his meditations on all this as well as his sheer mastery of the line, his marriage of imagery and sound. As for Dunn, I think it is his poignant observations of secular life and the psychological truths he manages to splay open that I like. He is very deft at revealing these things. Ted Kooser can bring things to a heightened vivid description, but not so much about psychological things as making physical observations (Delights & Shadows). I am also a fan and devotee of many other poets. Mary Oliver, though to me I come away thinking she is writing the same poem over and over. I mean we all do that (my writing about writing is probably just that), but we usually try to disguise it (I obviously didn’t), and pretend we have a wider range than we have. She doesn’t which in some ways is very honest, but her complacency about it may not necessarily make for great art. You could say Wright is writing the same poem over and over, but I don’t seem to get bored with him, if he is. I also like Robert Haas. I studied under Henri Cole and love his work. As I do with other teachers of mine, April Bernard, Ed Ochester and the late Liam Rector whose work I’ve just begun to appreciate. I love the passion of Martín Espada. How he can make poetry out of politics which is something very few poets can do. I’m not much for making a hierarchy, I love so many different poets for so many different things, and I think if you do, then it is easier for you to see new paths to follow as an artist. Not that I am necessarily following any new paths, but I might start to soon.

Of the dead poets. There are too many, and I’m going to leave out many who are important to me as I have done with the living, but here we go. I do see Dickenson and Whitman as the true mother and father of American poetry. Everything we seem to have and do comes from them. I love Keats’s lushness of sound and imagery, Donne’s ability to construct conceits. I love Auden, Yeats, Shakespeare, of course, and to go American again, Williams, Hart Crane though the latter is too reckless with his poems. I don’t think he ever developed a unifying sense of a poem. He never lived long enough for that to possibly happen. I wouldn’t try to emulate Williams. I think his legacy writing in American speech patterns both freed us from the artifice of 19th century diction which you see a bit of in Hart Crane, but it ended up leading us down the path (through no fault of his own) to where we emulate speech so much in our poems, it’s hard to recognize them as poetry and it’s hard to insert anything which is startling vis à vis lush sound combinations (because people don’t talk that way) and it is hard to write something with truly startling imagery (also because people don’t talk that way) and well wrought metaphors or conceits since that is something which doesn’t happen in normal speech, because normal speech is not well thought out nor planned. But most of all this emulation of speech has lead to a total break down of any sense of line and stanza. I confess I may well be as guilty of this as anyone else. However, when I open a literary journal, I can read a poem in tercets or quatrains where syntax and sense have absolutely no correlation with the poet having organized the poem in either tercets or quatrains. The poet doesn’t even seem to be writing against them, he/she seem more to be writing and just cutting them up in lines that he’s gathered into threes or fours because that’s how he/she “feels” the poem should be. A little too much feeling one’s way through the poem. This I find to be also true for the way poets organize the line unit in a lot of poems. The reasons why a line ends where it does mystifies me at best in many poems I read. Again I don’t necessarily exclude myself from this. I struggle trying to justify to myself why the line should or should ot end where it does (the curse of open poetry/free verse) and I am probably in the end just as guilty as those I am criticizing.

Q: Of course there are many ways of reading “Frame of Reference,” and another of the interesting ones is that the poem plays with ideas of truth and trust between the writer and the reader, and also of the writer’s ability to be both creator and destroyer for the small space of the poem. So, how did this poem come into being?

Tim Mayo: As I mentioned I am an atheist and this poem seemed to develop out of an imagined one way conversation between God and some poor indivisible mortal under God. This was my governing impulse behind the poem, but it came out more as an artist (of which you can think of God as an artist) creating something designed to keep you wondering, hence the final couplet.

I think your mention of “trust between the writer and the reader” strikes a chord. I have always tried when I am writing to imagine that one of my readers whom I will reach is someone who is not “literary” and who may have very little experience with poetry. So I try when I make allusions to something literary in a poem that it doesn’t occupy a place in the poem where the reader comes away not understanding the gist of the poem because he doesn’t know what I was referring to. Oddly enough my poem “The Third Little Pig” may the big exception to that principle. I doubt the poem can be understood if you don’t know the story, but a poem based on “The Three Little Pigs” is very different from one based on some obscure reference to a lesser known work which only someone with an academic background would pick up on even though the principle is the same. I have had several people come up to me after either having read my book or after a reading I’ve given and said “I don’t usually read or like poetry, but your poems got to me.” Those comments mean a lot to me, but so does praise from the community of the well read. What can I say? I want it all.

Q: Any other thoughts on poetry?

Tim Mayo: I guess in the end it all boils down to what we think poetry is for. To me it must on some level delight the reader not through just a clever verbal manipulation, but also on a deeper more thoughtful level through metaphor and imagery. I think it also needs to provide some sort of comfort and satisfaction. Not the kind of comfort which says everything will be all right, but the kind which says to the reader you’re not alone in your troubled thoughts, that there’s at least this one other person who wrote this poem who has also experienced the same anguish you have. Or close to it. As for satisfaction, well, I think of that as the reaction the reader has when he/she says “yes, that’s it!”


Three More Poems to Note:


"Naming the Emotions"

"Father Poem"


Poet’s Biography:

Tim Mayo holds an ALB, cum laude, from Harvard University and an MFA from The Bennington Writing Seminars. His poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Arbutus , Avatar Review, Babel Fruit , Big Toe Review , The Chrysalis Reader, Del Sol Review , 5 AM, Inertia Magazine, Mannequin Envy , Poet Lore, The Rose & Thorn Literary E-zine ,Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac.

Among the awards his poetry has garnered are two International Merit Awards from Atlanta Review; he was also a finalist in the 2007 WinningWriters.com War Poetry Contest and twice nominated for the 2008 Best of the Net Anthology. In 2000 he was a semi-finalist in the “Discovery/The Nation Poetry Contest and has been awarded two fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center’s annual Vermont Artist’s Week.

His chapbook The Loneliness of Dogs (Pudding House Publications 2008 ) was a finalist in the WCDR 2008 Chapbook Challenge in Ajax, Ontario, Canada, and his most recent publication The Kingdom of Possibilities (Mayapple Press) was a semi finalist for the 2009 Brittingham and Pollock Awards, a finalist for the 2007 Main Street Rag Award and lastly, a finalist for 2009 May Swenson Award. He is a former member of the Brattleboro Literary Festival author committee and lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.

For more about this poet see his webpage: Tim Mayo and at his Red Room Author Page


Purchase information: Mayapple Press and elsewhere on the web.


Upcoming on Pages Rustle: work from Carol Levin's Red Rooms and Others


Pages Rustle: Featured Poet Brian Daldorph

Every so often, I'll be featuring a new poem, my thoughts on the work, and a conversation with the poet. I hope you'll enjoy and come back again for the next installation!


This week's poem from:

From the Inside Out: Sonnets

By Brian Daldorph

Woodley Press



He needs this cell. It was getting cold
out there and he’d done all the drugs he could buy.
It was either jail or die.
Sometimes he thinks he’s getting too old
for this shit, but it’s too late to start over
with some sweet-eyed lover
who says, “You and only you are the man I love.”
He’d be late for his wedding again,
and what woman would choose a man with a cracked brain?
He sees the young punks in here scared
about what they’ve gotten into, not
the cocky kids they were on the street who dared
to run faster than the cops. He ended up in this cell
where it’s warm enough. And three hot meals.


“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”
Henry David Thoreau

Brian Daldorph’s book of “From the Inside Out: Sonnets” utilizes many variations of the sonnet form. The sonnet form seems particularly appropriate for “Fall” and the other poems which are set in a jail cell. The poem, like the subject, must make do with a limited amount of space and breathing room. In the condensed lines we learn a great deal about the inhabitant of the cell: a sketch portrait in minimum of a habitual drug user, with a knotty life story at last taking ownership of his past actions. This is a poem of a man whose quite desperation has led him to an almost unthinkably constrained life.

In “Fall,” the tight construction of the sonnet requires a compression of the narrative but Daldorph manages, with some carefully selected modifiers, to imply quite a bit of the character’s back-story. One of the appealing aspects of this sonnet is the poet’s use of eye or sight rhyme that helps to reinforce the subject matter through the form: things are not always how they look. The reader doesn’t always get what he or she expects the form to provide, especially when the sonnet is read aloud.

Restraint might be the best adjective to describe the narrator’s approach; in looking quietly, Daldorph manages to fill the poem with an intensity of implied emotion. It would be easy to treat the convict with disdain for his ruined life, but somehow this portrayal is more sympathetic than one might expect. The sympathetic view succeeds in this poem because it is not didactic, the constrained form of the sonnet helps the poet to hold the emotional rein in check and prevent the all too easy slide into moralizing. One way the narrator builds this sympathy is through the contrast between the older inmate and the “young punks.” This portrayal shows the subject recognizing his younger self in the youth who aren’t so cocky now on the “inside.” The regret, although implied, is clear.

The way the inmate acknowledges his own faults and misgivings allows the reader a glimpse at how tenuous our civilized lives are and how difficult life must be when through addiction and poor choices the last way to provide food and shelter also means paying with one’s freedom. As Henry David Thoreau stated, “the cost of a thing it will be remembered is the amount of life it requires to be exchanged for it.” The cost for the inmate seems terribly high.


Q & A with Poet Brian Daldorph

Q: I’m interested in hearing about your work in the Douglas County Jail. How did you become a poet in the jailhouse? How has that influenced your work?

Brian Daldorph: I've been working at Douglas County Jail since 2001. Years go by! Two of my colleagues in the English Dept set up the program, and when they left, I took over. I've had many different teaching experiences in my career, including teaching in Japan and Senegal, but my jail teaching's been my best experience of all. It's endlessly exciting to see that the art form I love can bring so much to people in dire circumstances. I've learnt so much from my long commitment to jail work. My new book, Jail Time, is about my teaching there, and some of the people I've met.

Q: The speaker’s point of view in this poem is sympathetic in the manner it catalogs the inmate’s losses and lost opportunities. And there are so many hints towards a back-story that this poem feels like it might be a condensed version of a story. How did this poem come to be?

Brian Daldorph: This jail poem is really an amalgam of stories and characters from the jail. True of many of the poems. This is the artistic element, really. To take the raw material and try to transform it into something coherent, more than the sum of its parts.

Q: The photographs at the section breaks in your book show a ruined world that is fascinating in its decay; are you the photographer as well? Is your writing particularly inspired by the visual arts?

Brian Daldorph: These photographs are by my exceptionally talented former student, Matt Porubsky. (I collaborate with him in a number of different ways). I asked him for photographs that caught the mood of the poems rather than intentionally illustrated them, and these are the haunting poems he produced, visual poems really.

Q: For you, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the sonnet form?

Brian Daldorph: The title of my book, From the Inside Out: Sonnets, has several ideas. My idea about writing sonnets is that if you work with the form consistently, which I did, writing hundreds of sonnets over a 6 to 8 year period, then you can internalize the form and write out from the form rather than writing into it as though it's set out in front of you. I love the strong form of the sonnet, how it intensifies language, yet the poet can push against it and make use of it in any number of ways.

One more point I'd like to add: Jail Time published by Original Plus (England) and I'm very pleased with it. I think it catches a lot of what I've experienced with my jail teaching over the years. (purchase information: Jail Time)

I liked what Mike Caron had to say about Jail Time and it seems and apt description of “Fall” as well:

"What these poems do provide is something akin to dispatches from a nearby place we are far too conditioned to see as a foreign country. If we pay attention to Brian’s poems we may discover the inhabitants of that place are not so alien as we imagined. The distance is really not that great."
--Mike Caron, Programs Supervisor, Douglas County Jail


Three More Poems to Note:

“Prodigal Winter”


Poet’s Biography:

Brian Daldorph teaches creative writing, literature, and writing at the University of Kansas. He has also taught in Japan, Senegal, England, Zambia, and the Douglas County Jail. Two books of his poems, The Holocaust and Hiroshima: Poems, and Outcasts, were published by Mid-America Press. Jail Time, a collection of poems written about his writing class at the Douglas County Jail, was published in April of this year.

For more about this poet see his page at Kansas Poets .


Purchase Information: Woodley Press and elsewhere on the web.


Brian also has an upcoming reading:

TWP POETRY READING SERIES @ THE JOHNSON COUNTY LIBRARY Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - 7:00 pmJohnson County Public Library, 9875 W. 87th, Overland Park, KSPoets Brian Daldorph and Bill Bauer. Brian Daldorph, teacher at the University of Kansas and Douglas County Jail, edits Coal City Review. Bill Bauer's Pear Season and The Boy Who Ate Dandelions, published by Mid-America Press, was selected by The Kansas City Star as one of its most noteworthy books of 2006.


Upcoming on Pages Rustle: work from Tim Mayo’s The Kingdom of Possibilities.


Pages Rustle: Featured Poet John Gallaher

Every so often, I'll be featuring a new poem, my thoughts on the work, and a conversation with the poet. I hope you'll enjoy and come back again for the next installation!


This week's poem from:

Map of the Folded World

By: John Gallaher

Akron Series in Poetry

University of Akron Press


Anecdote of the Little Houses

They're folding maps out across the yards,
over the houses
on the north side of the street
and on the south.

Look, darling, they say, the houses
are all lit up.
It's a summer night, in blue.

In the houses, they've gotten new clothes
and they're trying them on.
They're saying yes,

and they're saying no,
whenever they step from a room.
They're saying, I think so, and is, or isn't.

The people
are folding maps out
across the streets.

Time keeps running out, they say,
and there keeps being more of it
as the surfaces flash by.

And below,
after they stop at their houses,
the lines rise above the lines.

The red and blue lines
rising and falling all night
in their sleep.


The experience of reading John Gallaher’s work is a bit disconcerting in both its stick- figure familiarity and its other-world strangeness. Not surprising for a book entitled “Map of the Folded World,” there is an eerie two-dimensionality to the reality portrayed. It is as if suburban America was dropped into Plato’s cave and Gallaher is writing of the shadows. This is “our” American life but rendered from outside the houses looking in. I’m reminded a bit of the dispassionate tone of Raines in “A Martian Writes a Letter Home,” especially in the way that a lack of emotion is projected onto the anonymous inhabitants of the poem. (There are several other parallels in the poem’s subject matter as well: a discussion of time, the way the way things flash by, and ending in sleep)

But even in its strangeness this poem is also very connected to the poetry that has come before. The title alludes to Wallace Steven’s “Anecdote of the Jar” and with the way a simple object reorders the perception of reality from that of wilderness to that of inhabited land. Similarly, the maps of “Anecdote of the Little Houses” create a reordering of the three dimensional world into a two-dimensional “surface” world lacking the former’s complexity and depth.

In some ways, the poem distills us to our common parts: “They’re saying, I think so, and is, or isn’t” like we all do at one point or another. But the speaker doesn't seem to connect with the other inhabitants of the poem. Perhaps he might be critical of the contemporary society that is content to sleep peacefully in a superficial world, or he may merely be looking at the landscape as an outsider, not willing to adopt for himself the way other people live. Or perhaps, more optimistically, the speaker is trying to accept the way Americans live without passing judgment. The marked dispassionate tone keeps the reader guessing.

The poems highlights as well, our human, domesticated desire to have the way mapped out for us, to only go where the lines lead us and our easy satisfaction of living between the very lines that box us in and limit us. I like the Rorschach blot ambiguity of the red and blue lines above the sleepers, which may be the telephone and cable lines which are our umbilical cords to the media–driven reality we live in, or the lines on the map of our towns and suburbs that contain and constrain us, or even lines on the monitors representing our breathing and heart-rates blinking out towards our inevitable ends. Nevertheless, we feel safe in that mapped off world; we can sleep.


Q & A with Poet John Gallaher

Q: I’m very much always looking for a poem’s “significance,” and this is a poem that is in some ways resistant to a single way of understanding. As the poet, do you subscribe to McLeish’s idea that “a poem should Be/ not mean”?

John Gallager: A teacher of mine, Wayne Dodd, used to say that a poem should “mean AND be.” I always liked that formulation, and would like to, as he would say, associate myself with those remarks. But I feel like that might be hedging, to leave it at that. I am drawn to moments where meaning is deferred, knowing that meaning is inevitable, as our lives contain meaning, or embody meaning. So yes, I would side with the “Be” if such a choice were demanded. (And again, to remind myself that there’s a lot of meaning tucked away in that “Be.”)

Q: I notice in your biography that you’re originally from Oregon and now have settled in the Mid-West. How have your many relocations affected your work?

John Gallaher: I’ve lived all over the place. From Portland, I went to Wichita, where I moved when I was adopted. Then my family moved to Orange County California, and then on to Birmingham, Alabama, and Long Island, New York. As an adult, I’ve lived in central Texas, Athens, Ohio, Conway, Arkansas, and now, finally, in Maryville, Missouri, where I’ve now been for seven years (with my wife and children).

I’m quite sure that these relocations have had a large impact on my work. They’ve certainly had a large impact on me. I always dread the question: “So, where are you from?”

Q: In “Anecdote of the Little Houses,” you’re certainly flagging Wallace Steven’s poem “Anecdote of the Jar.” Would you consider Wallace Stevens & Modernists to be a major influence on your writing? Or do you look more towards the New York School poets?

John Gallaher: The only two Library of America editions that I’ve purchased are the Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery ones. I know their work better than I know anyone else’s. So, if that might be evidence, I suppose the answer would have to be that I have a foot in each world. But, truth to tell, I read the poetry of Rae Armantrout (and Michael Palmer, Martha Ronk, and Charles Wright, as well) and numerous others nearly as much. There’s such a large world of reading out there, and I adore so much of it, I’d hate to narrow myself to one (or even two) influences. And that’s just poetry. I’m also very interested in painting. That’s probably had as much (or maybe even more) influence on the way I see things, or attend to things as poetry has had.

Q: I wonder in a “chicken versus egg way” about the creative process. Did you write the poem first and then find the title or did the title come first. How did this poem come to be?

John Gallaher: From what I can remember, the poem came to be around the image of the map rising and falling over the people as they sleep. I like looking at paintings quite a bit, and I often like to think up paintings that don’t exist. Painting can allow for a very specific, even neutral, stance toward a scene. I’m quite envious of that. Paintings are accepted more easily by viewers, I think. There’s more of a social aspect to them. They call out for the viewer to participate, and viewers usually seem fairly willing to do so. I wish poetry were more like that.

As for the title, I simply love the “anecdote” form, as it filters through Stevens. Calling a poem an “anecdote” is one of the ways I to try to get the reader into a participatory circumstance with the poem. I toyed with calling it (among other things I no longer remember) “Anecdote of the Map,” but in the end I liked the intimacy of “house.” “Map” seemed a little too abstracted to me, though now, looking back at it, I kind of wonder if that might have worked better.

I keep a little notebook with me at all times, and in it I write whatever comes to mind. That’s where I get most of the lines and titles that I use. I’m not sure in this case which came first, but I usually always write from a title first, though I often go back and revise the title later. I change things a lot. I like to revise. “You must revise your life,” as they say.

Three More Poems to Note:

"What We're Up Against"

"Poem for the End of January"

"In the Direction of X. In the City of Zero."


Poet's Biography:

John Gallaher is the author of the books of poetry, Gentlemen in Turbans, Ladies in Cauls (Spuyten Duyvil, 2001), The Little Book of Guesses, winner of the Levis Poetry Prize, from Four Way Books, and Map of the Folded World, from The University of Akron Press, as well as the free online chapbook, Guidebook from Blue Hour Press. Other than that, he's co-editor of The Laurel Review and GreenTower Press. Currently he's working on a co-authored manuscript with the poet G.C. Waldrep, titled Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, which is forthcoming from BOA Editions in Spring 2011.

For more about this poet see his blog: Nothing to Say & Saying It .

Purchase Information: University of Akron Press and elsewhere on the web.


Upcoming on Pages Rustle: work from Brian Daldorph's From the Inside Out: Sonnets


Summer & Such

The house became available earlier than expected and we've been moving and settling in and making new homes for everything. The poetry books abound and no longer are stuffed in a back room out of view. I'm thrilled to have bookshelves aplenty in the new house and at hand!

I will be back with more Pages Rustle in the near future. After a little break from poetry, it starts whispering once again and I can't ignore it for long.

Happy Summer & a very Festive 4th of July to you!

Pages Rustle: Featured Poet Amy Fleury

Every few weeks, I'll be featuring a new poem, my thoughts on the work, and a conversation with the poet. I hope you'll enjoy and come back again for the next installation!

This week's poem from :

Beautiful Trouble

by Amy Fleury

Crab Orchard Series in Poetry

Southern Illinois University Press

Commotions of the Flesh

after a line from Epicurus

To live in the world
is to live in the body,
the deepest heap of wants.

To hell with the mind
and is pursuit of its own
proper good. I am concerned here

with the commotions of the flesh.
Living in the fissure between desire
and the having, I have failed,

failed, failed to control myself.
From tooth to tongue, gullet to gut,
I have taken in the religion

of pork chop and gin, tasted
red meat and confection,
nectarine and absinthe.

And I have been pulled along
by the wild vein-song of sex,
the hunger that coils in the blood.

My children sing out to me
from their hammock between my hips;
they coax my fingers to touch.

Forgive me my weaknesses,
for bleeding and sweating and snoring,
for giving in to gravity’s tug.

Forgive my shivering, these tears,
this stomach rumble and bone-racket,
this agitation of the willful heart.


As the old saying goes “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” and the speaker in “Commotions of the Flesh” clearly knows about weakness in the face of temptation. What I like about the poem is that it takes on some heavy theological concerns: what to do with ourselves when we have God that gives us a messy disobedient body and then asks us to deny that body? She says she won’t address the mind thereby eliminating the need to address other struggles: those of faith, doubt, intellect, meaning and understanding. We have a hard enough time with the body alone.

Even though the speaker says “to hell with the mind” the whole poem is filled with motion, the verbs throughout: pursuit, pulled along, coils, sweating, rumble, agitation. These all show the speaker’s mind in conflict and in turmoil, not in peaceful repose. The speaker demonstrates the difficulties of being in the world, and of failing to do the difficult things that are asked of us.

We’re only different from the animal rule of instinct by our ability to reason, to deny ourselves these desires of the sensual world: our “deepest heap of wants.” And how often the mind fails to control the body’s deep instincts: we drink too much, eat too much, and let our drive for sex overwhelm our mind’s “pursuit of its own proper good.” How difficult is “control,” when it means attempting to overcome what we’re physically hardwired to do? The poem takes us right back there to the Garden, where we try to not eat of the forbidden fruit.

The poem doesn’t give us the stereotypical apple but provides us instead with “pork chop and gin” and “nectarine and absinthe.” (With that “sin” unmistakable in the middle.) After a stanza that ends with “religion” these shine in high relief as things denied: the unclean meat, the alcohol, the sweet flesh of the nectarine standing in as the fruit of knowledge. The next stanza even hints at the serpent that led to damnation, here as “the hunger that coils in the blood.” What can we do in the end but ask for forgiveness and live with our “willful heart,” our agitated, troubled selves with choices always before us, always the apple there within our reach.


Q & A with Poet Amy Fleury

Q: I often wonder where the seeds for poems come from. You quote Epicurus at the start; what were you reading when you began to form this poem? Or can you tell us a little about how this poem came to be?

Amy Fleury: I was actually reading Marcus Aurelius's Meditations in which Aurelius quotes Epicurus extensively. This was the match that lit the bit of kindling I'd already had, which was the first stanza of the poem: "To live in the world/is to live in the body,/ that deepest heap of wants." I'd been pushing that phrase around for awhile, but that just seemed too aphoristic. Sometimes you just have to wait around for something to knock loose the rest of the poem, and that is what happened with this one.

Q: The speaker of the poet says "to hell with the mind" but the whole question of the poem seems to be questioning if the mind is actually capable of controlling the body, do you think this is a question that poetry can address and provide a satisfactory answer? Should poetry even try?

Amy Fleury: Poetry should try everything, but having said that, I'd also say that I believe poems, and art in general, should be more about asking than answering, more about nuances than absolutes. I suppose this is the same as Keats's notion of negative capability--to live with mystery and uncertainty without the need to resolve them. The irony, of course, is that one can't ever wholly dismiss the mind, just as one can't dismiss the body.

Q: In a way, this poem acts much like one of John Donne's sonnets, at the end there's a bit of a turn and it is difficult to tell which way to read those last two stanzas and I like how there's a bit of ambiguity there for the reader. Do you read Donne? Do you see any of his influence in your work, here?

Amy Fleury: It's been many years since I've actively read Donne, though I spent a great deal of time with his poems and those of other Metaphysical poets when I was a student and admired them very much. Your question prompted me to flip open the Holy Sonnets and my eye was immediately drawn to the nineteenth which begins:

Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begot
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vows, and in

Struggling with contradiction seems to be a central occupation of life, for instance considering what we ought to do and what we want to do (which is not always contradictory).

Q: After reading this poem, it seems that the world is full of both wonder and temptation, is this the "Beautiful Trouble" of the book's title?

Amy Fleury: Interestingly, I didn't realize how obsessed I was with this until after I'd compiled the manuscript, which really speaks to the revelatory nature of the writing process. It comes up again and again in the poems, how we need sorrow to know joy, hunger to appreciate satiety, trouble to recognize peace, and so on.


Three More Poems to Note:

"Aurelia Waiting"

"A Prayer for Intercession"

"Sonnet for Dissonance"


Poet's Biography

Amy Fleury is a native of Nemaha County in rural northeast Kansas, and graduated from Nemaha Valley High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree and her M.A. from Kansas State University, Manhattan, and her M.F.A. from McNeese State University.

Fleury’s work has appeared in American Life in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, North American Review, The Southeast Review, Laurel Review, 21st, and The Yalobusha Review. Southern Illinois University Press published her first collection of poetry, Beautiful Trouble, in 2004. It was the winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, and was also included in a list of 100 notable books of 2004 published by The Kansas City Star. Her book was given the number one spot on the “cream of the crop” list, the top ten of the 100 originally listed.

Amy Fleury has been a recipient of the Nadya Aisenberg Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony and a Kansas Arts Commission fellowship in poetry. She lived in Topeka, Kansas, where she taught creative writing for ten years at Washburn University, where she was Professor. As of the Fall of 2008, she became the poet in the M.F.A. program at her alma mater, McNeese State University. Biography from poet's page at : Kansas Poets

For more about this poet see her pages at the Map of Kansas Literature .


Purchase Information:

Southern Illinois Press and elsewhere on the web.


Upcoming on Pages Rustle: work from John Gallaher's Map of the Folded World.


Draft: With Light

It's spring again, tornado season in Kansas. Last year, we were witness to the aftermath of the one that touched down in Manhattan. This year, another one has passed closely by in my county. You can see a fairly close up view of it in this video. Too close for comfort in my opinion.

So, not surprising, that my draft for the NaPoWriMO ends up with a tornado in it:

With Light
(a draft, by Amy D. Unsworth)

All day the sky brooding
the children muddy, the dogs picking
delicately across the soggy yard.

The sky, oh pewter sky,
how tired we grow of your threats
your clouds bunched into fists.

The long finger of the tornado
scraped across the plains
a welt, a warning. We’re not

comfortable yet with spring
with the grass grumbling
upwards, the mosquitoes

writing their memoirs
across the face of the ponds,
the sun-drunk cows swishing

away the flies. We cower
under the stairs, padding
ourselves with pillows.

Nothing comes of this:
pajamas soaked with sweat
the night interrupted

with lightning and hail.
Oh give us back our sleep
let the leaves remain

the branches unbroken
the flowers cup’s upturned
the frogs in their amorous chorus

along the banks of the drainage
ditches. Why this swollen ground
the carcasses of the worms--

winter was unkindness enough
the world shrunken and cold.
Give us spring, the air filled
with nothing but light.