Walking on the roof of hell, gazing at the flowers

It was haiku day, thus the paraphrasing of Issa. The poems workshopped today by our youngest class members (both still undergrads) astounded me with their originality and skill. If they are any indication of the future of poetry, then poetry is in very good hands.

I also had my conference today with Arda, and we worked on a new-ish draft of mine that is quite weird but has potential. She is an ardent teacher who gives passionate attention to every possibility in a poem, so although I usually feel like workshopping is not the best use of my time in a class, her insights this week (not just about my own poems) have been instructional and helpful in thinking about possible avenues for revision and about the ways that a poem works.

Tonight I’m feeling a little strange. Headache, which I think is brought on by the muscular discomfort of the horrible bed, has plagued me on and off all day – not debilitating, but annoying enough to necessitate breaks from screen or reading. I also have spent part of the evening packing as I need to check out tomorrow before heading to class, so tonight has been a bit of a wash as far as getting work done, although I have done some online reading and submission research, including following some of the responses to the big Triquarterly editorial faux pas that has left many writers angry. (Link is just one response…check Twitter or Facebook for more of the reaction.) I also dug deeper into Jessica Piazza’s Interrobang (still impressed with the language play and form) and read some of Arda’s book It is Daylight. (Very unique – on the surface, her poems seem simple, but there is a whole created universe in there…)

I do have homework to read which involves Berryman and Harryette Mullen – not exactly the poets to tackle with a tired, headachy brain – so I will keep this short. Oh, and I’m also supposed to write a “who am I” poem using one of the ideas of persona, perspective, or address we have discussed this week. Suffice it to say that I will be up for a while yet. It has been a fruitful week of ideas, but my back, my head, and my heart will be happy to be home tomorrow.


Today’s Soundtrack

  • Walking - The Hazards of Love - Decemberists and Codes and Keys - Death Cab for Cutie (go to comfort bands when I’m feeling out of sorts…)
  • Writing – Coffeeshop music (waiting for my conference) – wasn’t bad. All indie/alternative selections. No Radiohead.
  • Reading – Pandora Meditation Radio and silence.



I’m me, and what the hell can I do about it?

Today’s post title courtesy of “Introducing Álvaro de Campos” by Fernando Pessoa (translated by Edwin Honig) – also a reminder. In a week of reading LOTS of poets and poems, my usual despair kicked in. How did he/she do that? Why is that so incredible? Why can’t I write like that? And today, Pessoa gave me answer: because I’m not (insert other poet’s name here). Because I’m me. And there really isn’t anything I can do about it, and that’s okay.

Of course, reading and borrowing techniques/ideas from other writers has always happened. Hell, even Shakespeare did it. But there’s a difference between learning from other writers and comparing yourself to other writers. The first can be productive – the second is mostly demoralizing.

So, today I have been trying to focus on just writing, my writing, not writing to fill a prompt or to mimic another writer or to try and imitate someone else’s success. So far, so good.

Other highlights of the day:

Zucchini Walnut Bread from an Amish bakery at the Farmer’s Market. Enough said.

One of my Bishop/Lowell poems “The Running Away” is featured on the website of The Labletter. Four of these poems were featured in their 2014 print issue, and it is kind of them to give this poem another life online.

Extract(s): A Daily Dose of Lit has accepted a flash piece of mine that should appear some time this week (perhaps tomorrow).

Lowlight of the day:

Catching the trailer for The Giver. Another book I love that the movies will probably ruin. (See also The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Hours…I could go on…)

Hoping that tonight will be submissions night – I have 6 or 7 planned, but I’d be happy with 3 or 4. Because that’s me.

Today’s Soundtrack:

  • Walking (knees can’t take running three days in a row any more): Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner
  • About Town: Future Islands - Singles and Manchester Orchestra - Cope
  • Writing – MaybeSheWill - I Was Here For a Moment and Then Was Gone
  • Reading  - Morning Parade - Morning Parade and Morrissey - The Best of Morrissey

Oh, Sun, I’m so grateful to you!

It was the perfect summer day here today (around 75 yet breezy), so I took every opportunity to run and walk and read and write and eat outside before sequestering myself for homework tonight. Plus today’s topic was conversation in poems, thus the line from Frank O’Hara’s “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” as a title, so there’s that. ( I could have used Crane’s line “Because it is bitter, And because it is my heart,” but that’s not really how I’m feeling today. )

I did a LOT of drafting – some stream of consciousness, some for the exercises given by our instructor, and some that was culled from random phrases in the small Moleskin I carry in my purse all year to pull out on occasions such as these when there is no particular “project” I am working on. I am enjoying these “experiments” – I’m not sure that they are poems at this point, but that can come later.

Trying to make it a point to read something other than poems while I’m here – yesterday’s wisdom came from Mark Strand’s essays – today, two of MANY underlined passages from Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle:

from “On Beginnings”:  “You might say a poem is a semicolon, a living semicolon, what connects the first line to the last, the act of keeping together that whose nature it is to fly apart.”

from “On Sentimentality”: “A good poem is seldom comfortable; either it vanquishes us with anguish or electrifies us with ecstasy or makes us pause and consider a new sense of the world or unravels us altogether, but never does it make us feel comfortable…”

I also started reading Interrobang by Jessica Piazza, and I am going to be re-reading this book many times. The use of form and rhyme is something I’ve been experimenting with more and more, and I think I have much to learn from this book. Plus the organizing principle is unique and clever. (And who can resist a sonnet crown? I mean, THREE different sonnet crowns?)

Tomorrow in class, we tackle Fernando Pessoa, which I tried to read carefully tonight, but it just made my brain hurt. (I’ll have to try again with fresh eyes in the morning…) Here’s hoping the family who was either smoking or cooking in their room last night (and kept setting off the smoke alarm in their room and waking up the whole floor as the desk clerk came up to reset it) has checked out and paid their “no smoking” room fines. Then I can get a good night’s sleep and be grateful for the sun again tomorrow.


Today’s Soundtrack:

  • Running: Kongos - Lunatic
  • Around town: Black Keys - Turn Blue and Kaiser Chiefs Education, Education, Education and War
  • Drafting – God is an Astronaut - All is Violent, All is Bright and Far from Refuge
  • Reading – A combination of Pandora’s Meditation Radio and background television noise from shows I care nothing about. (Dead silence at home is okay – in a hotel, when alone, it kind of freaks me out unless I’m going to sleep.)



There may be horribles; it’s hard to tell.

Some poets may recognize the title line from John Berryman’s “Snow Line,” one of the poems we read for class today. But I thought it was also appropriate as I try to write drafts to the exercises given by the instructor this week. When I write to exercises or prompts that are very specific, my old rule-follower instincts kick in and that is usually not a good sign for my poems.  So, there may be horribles this week. But it is hard to tell. At this point, I’ve drafted a poem about a valise (it’s a workable draft, but not sure that I’m into it), and tonight a poem about cottonwood fluff. Not two subjects I would have chosen otherwise. Of course, the poems are not JUST about those things, and at least everyone in the class is in the same boat of sharing brand new drafts at the start of class.

Just the first night and day that I’ve been away, and I feel like I have done a TON of reading and writing work. Did some online reading including the following:

Molly Spencer’s “Aubade with Transverse Orientation” at Heron Tree is gorgeous, gorgeous. Wow. Just like Molly! She is a talented poet and a lovely human being. Someone give her a prize and publish her manuscript, please.

New issue of Menacing HedgeI love this journal and love that they feature both audio of published poems and usually several poems by each writer. Featured in this issue are some lovely lyric beauties by Sandra Marchetti and some gut-wrenching (literally and figuratively) poems by Risa Denenberg.

I like to curl up at the public library here in Iowa City – comfy chairs, lots of light, perfect quiet and a well-stocked 808-813. I read and take notes from books I haven’t seen – today’s pick was Mark Strand’s book of essays A Weather of Words: Poetic Perfection. Some things to consider that stuck with me:

“Lyric poems (…) fix in language what is most elusive about experience and convince us of its importance and truth.” (His definition of the lyric and its functions and features is one of the clearest and best I’ve seen.)

On the endings of poems – they “release us back into the world with the momentary illusion that no harm has been done.” (They do, don’t they?)

“Something beyond knowledge compels our interest and ability to be moved by a poem.” (Duh. But YES!)

I also did my book purchasing for the week:

  • Madness, Rack and Honey by Mary Ruefle. I wasn’t going to buy my own copy as I have it on hold at the library, but I’m glad I did. I was underlining the introduction, for goodness sake.
  • Seam byTarfia Faizullah – recommended by a million people
  • Granted by Mary Szybist – earlier work
  • Interrobang by Jessica Piazza – also recommended by several friends
  • It is Daylight by Arda Collins – my instructor for this week.
  • What Light Can Do - by Robert Hass – essays on art and creativity

Whew. I also have some revision drafting on the agenda tonight. Going to try and “stitching” technique suggested by Tom Holmes of Redactions. There may be horribles. But there also may be delightfuls. It’s always hard to tell.

Today’s soundtrack:

  • Running – Jack White’s Lazaretto
  • About town (walking, lunch, etc.) – St. Vincent – St. Vincent
  • Reading – Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
  • Drafting – White Noise. (seriously) & some soundtrack music from The Social Network, courtesy of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Good Reads

Not the website. (I know that I’m supposed to be active there, that it’s a good way to share your own reading as well as promote the books you write, but I can’t imagine having the time to manage ONE MORE THING online than I already am. As evidenced by my incredible neglect of this blog since spring.)

I’m talking about actual things I’ve read. Or heard read. It’s been a good week for that. Here are some things you may want to check out:

The new issue of Stirring: A LIterary Journal, featuring a devastating poem by Kami Westhoff called “Tiny Weapons.”

This incredible poem by Gabriella R. Tallmadge at The Dialogist. She is quick becoming one of my favorite poets. Someone give her a giant prize and publish her book, please.

The Road to Emmaus, the new book by Spencer Reece, who I was lucky enough to hear read at a special Rhino Poetry event at editor Ralph Hamilton’s home. Many of his poems are long (as the one linked here), and I feel I learned something from reading them about how to maintain a long, linked narrative.

The new issue of Poetry magazine featuring a dazzling array of poems I enjoyed, especially Traci Brimhall’s “Better to Marry than to Burn” (another of my favorite poets) and “Belief in Magic” by Dean Young, who just keeps getting better.

And, last but not least, finally a close read of The Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon. I always appreciate the realness of her poems. Although they are carefully crafted, they have a real voice. This book also deals with choosing the creative life and what that means in terms of family and how others perceive you, so it was a good choice for me right now.

In two days, I’ll be leaving for my week in Iowa City. I will post from there (daily, hopefully) since I will be free of life’s usual duties and trappings.

A fortnight and odd days

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur. My 30th wedding anniversary brought a long-awaited vacation last week which was wonderful but quick, and productive curriculum work at school this week has made this one go VERY quickly with little time for contemplation or writing. Plus I had a birthday. But I am now old enough where that is not a big deal. Or too big a deal. Never mind. *shakes fist *Get off my lawn.

I did manage some reading and a little drafting over this two week period:

  • Finally read Donna Taart’s The Goldfinch. Although there were parts of it that I enjoyed quite a bit, there were also large chunks where I was disinterested or didn’t care for the plot turns. Worth reading, but not the masterpiece I was expecting after reading some of the rave reviews. Loved the characters of Hobie and Boris much more than the main character.
  • Received my Big Poetry Giveaway win from Susan Rich over at The Alchemist’s Kitchen: Susan Elbe’s A Map of What Happened. Set in Chicago, this poetry volume is rife with strong and resonant images and emotional impact, especially for this Chicago area native whose father could have been a character in some of these poems.
  • Needing a kick in the pants to draft, I have been creating word banks from the Verses app on my phone. This little app is like magnetic poetry tiles that you can remix over and over. You can move the words around the screen or as I do, (since the screen is so small), make lists of them in your notebook and write from there. I particularly think one of these word bank drafts has some promise.
  •  I received this book as a gift from the family of one of my students at the end of the year. I have been using it for morning pages, and the little pull-off quotes at the bottom are being saved for a future project. I love it. Take a look.

I am anxiously awaiting the results of both a chapbook contest and an open submissions period for a different chapbook at a different press. I have several subs out to journals, and I am preparing for a week at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival coming in early July. Iowa City has become a writing home to me, and I am looking forward not only to my class with Arda Collins but also to my favorite writing haunts and uninterrupted quiet time to work.

Summer has finally arrived. And as a bonus, I get to watch men with amazing legs play the beautiful game almost every day of the week. What’s not to like?

Getting “Paid”

“An artist is not paid for his labor but his vision.” – James Whistler

According to Mr. Whistler, I am both dead broke and incredibly wealthy this week. I have done an intense amount of labor this week, but for a different kind of art – making my home a nicer place to be. That means painting, weeds, lawn, tree trimming, vacuuming, scrubbing…all the chores that don’t get done during the restless last weeks of school. Although my back doesn’t like me much right now, the results will make the upkeep for the rest of the summer less taxing.  And one is not paid for this kind of work – thus, according to Mr. Whistler, dead broke.

It was good to be busy this first week off school as it is strange not having my son come home for the summer. That’s not happening anymore – ever again – and although I miss his presence, he is following his vision of what he hopes for his own life. That’s a rich reward, as is a long-awaited getaway with my husband and good friends to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and my upcoming birthday. (I’ll let you guess that number…ugh.)

And, vision is “paying off” in other ways- poems that were accepted in the Spring are starting to pop up on the web and in print: “First Night Alone” is in the new issue of DMQ Review, and “before and after” is in the new print version of Redactions Both of these poems are a part of my new manuscript (tentatively titled Washed with Hymns and Singing) just accepted for release in 2016 by Sundress Publications. And I will have news soon of a project that I can hardly believe is coming to fruition that involves poems, art, dolphins, shape-shifters, and folklore. (See…you’re intrigued, aren’t you?)  Rich, indeed.