Sunday, December 28, 2008

Random Lines / Found Poetry

David Elzey, over at Fomagrams, and Gwenda Bond at Shaken and Stirred, have come up with found poems that consist of their blogs' first lines from the first post of each each month this year. I wanted to try it, but since I've only been doing this since July (six months) that would make for a short poem for me, and one that more often than not began, "In honor of Poetry Friday...." I decided instead to go with a random line from each one of my 48 posts., starting with the very first one back in July and moving forward chronologically post by post. I didn't add any connective tissue, so it's a bumpy ride - huge potholes. But what an interesting experiment. It felt sometimes, when I put the random sentences next to each other, that there were two voices speaking, so I added italics for the second voice. It still didn't quite feel like a poem, so I just turned it into mini-prose-poems, divided when they reached some kind of closure, tonally or logically.

Here goes:


So, welcome!! Firm opinions, fine cuisine, and lots of laughter - what more can you ask for? Meanwhile, just look at the fascinating lectures my colleagues on the faculty are delivering. Suddenly, everyone is in context – which is sobering and pleasing. (Someone get me a doctor.)

I love the art of parody and this certainly qualifies. If it does, maybe the message is mistaken. Here’s a link to more information. Here’s a link to the glowing review. The poet sometimes smells a question when the answer is a rose. It’s a lovely puzzle to write/solve.

You can break the rules. Imagine. Below is a sample. Incredible. Perfect blending of the formal elements. I can’t resist the tunk-a-tunk-tunk. I like those tunes and those dancing bears, too.
delight…mystification….Poets, cows and scientists - we like to investigate what our gaze falls on.

“But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: 'It’s clever, but is it Art?’ ” I’d vote for him just for this. Hell of a skeleton there on the table. Preaching to the choir. Obviously. It’s so lucky there’s an audio link. Giving metal a tongue. Don’t miss the prize to be won. Think about giving a subscription to someone.

I was a goner, even before I knew the alphabet. Some say there is a malevolent spirit….But I’m still optimistic. What? Check it out. Just be prepared: because it breaks your heart.

Tomorrow, when I have my coffee, I’m going to pretend I’m in the park. Other than that. Life's little -ifuls (merc, bount-, beaut-) are no tethers to keep me secure.

Here’s my contribution, guided by syllables. The line breaks are strange. It feels like a difficult form to end. There’s a devil at your side….The goofier the better, that’s what I was taught.
Tongue in-cheek, skull-and-crossbones. Every once in awhile, I’m in the mood for John Keats. I blame the light.

Love is strange. I find myself drawn to the unserious this time of year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Poetry Friday: Rounding Out the Year

I sometimes think it would be good (as in, good form) to be serious at year's end. But I find myself drawn to the unserious this time of year. Here, to round out 2008, is a quotation about poetry from the always quotable Calvin Trillin: “When it came to poetry, my father was not an absolutist. Pie was his favorite subject for a couplet, but every three or four weeks he would write about something else….” I am hoping to do a pie poem or two in the near future. Meanwhile, I offer up this poem, which sends a nod to Trillin, as my own way to close out the year:


Jan: Champagne. Hope. Sleet. Rain.
Feb: Sleet. Rain. Hearts. Hope again.
March: New babies. Chicks. Piggies. Lambs.
April: Easter dinner—lamb, chicken, hams.
May: Merry --as in may I / may I not?
June: Marry -- bride in white, groom hot.
July: Lonely Planet. Cameras. Shorts in
Aug: Beach. In the bookbag, Trillin and Sedaris.
Sept: 9/11 and its everlasting postseason.
Oct: Dressing up for candy & dandier reasons.
Turkey dressing. Obama won, thank God.
Dec: Virgin Birth. Wise men in the
Middle East? Jihad.

Poetry Friday today is being hosted by Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Poem to Honor Two Strange Things

Today would have been my mom and dad's 64th wedding anniversary. Though my dad died in 1985, I still call my mom on their anniversary. Sunday my husband and I will celebrate our 37th anniversary, and we still have no idea, really, why it all works. Love is strange, and marriage even stranger. So here is a light-hearted poem in honor of those two strange, deep-hearted things:

To My Husband

Yes, we’re odd as ginger snaps
dunked in Turkish coffee,
we’re hot, beneath the sugar.

We stir each other’s chai
until a foam forms.
We sip, we sleep.

Honey, you still toast
every sesame seed in me—one bite
and it’s Madagascar
all over again.


Poetry Friday is being hosted this week over at Authors Amok.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terza Rima for The Stretch

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect set a difficult challenge for yesterday's Monday Poetry Stretch: terza rima. It's a form that pulls you forward, because the rhyme scheme goes like this:


It's built of tercets - and the second lines of each stanza rhyme with the first and third lines of the next. An elegant form, as Dante proved. Here is my terza rima: it's an interesting experiment, but the form deserves better - my rhymes are too loud. I'm looking forward to seeing other responses linked over at Tricia's site.

The Doctor Says, "He Has Meningitis”

Something flies across the frame.
Then it's gone—the day appears
then disappears. Same

as most days. But when I clear
my throat, the hospital wall
sways. And when I near

the sill, something hits: small,
a bird's body, a bird’s eye.
How strange life is when all

the world seems to be dying.
Today it's a sparrow fooled
by glass. I blame the light.

The story's true:
The child lives.
But the bird dies. And the view.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Poetry Friday: Oh, Why Not Some John Keats?

Every once in awhile, I'm just in the mood for Keats:

On the Grasshopper and Cricket

The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead –
That is the Grasshopper's. He takes the lead
In summer luxury; he has never done
With his delights, for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket's song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper's among some grassy hills.


Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader. is in charge of the Poetry Round-Up this week. Thanks, Elaine!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Describing Emily Dickinson to a Pirate

"Hope is the things with feathers / That perches in the soul...."

I have just been reminded (over at The Florian Cafe ) that today is Emily Dickinson's birthday. When I studied Dickinson's work in college - especially the "riddle" making - I grew to love her strange dash- dominated phrasings. Douglas Florian's post reminded me that she seldom traveled, yet she wrote that she knew "how the heather looks / and what a wave must be." It's hard to imagine never having seen a wave, isn't it?

Since I offered up a Blackbeard clerihew yesterday, today I will offer my tongue-in-cheek, skull-and-crossbones tribute to the Belle of Amherst:

Describing Emily Dickinson to a Pirate

There was no parrot, no peg leg, no hook.
She rattled no sabers, shook no swords
except metaphorically, was terrifically
girlie, a loner, a virgin (vestal, as in white dresses.)
Despite a few Wild Nights, no cannonballs.
Eventually died for beauty, though
no walking of plank and no plunk
or splash. Never pissed off the bow
of a vessel under sail. Not hail, not hearty,
not a party girl, disliked stormy weather.
No blimeys, no maties, no arrrrrghs,
though lots— and lots— of dashes—
and she had a thing— for feathers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Time for the Monday Stretch - Ah, Clerihews!!

I'm so happy that Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect is asking us to stretch our way to clerihews this week. CLERIHEWS ARE SUCH FUN! The goofier, the better - that's what I was taught. W. H. Auden wrote some doozies.
The form was invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (pictured here) thus the name. Bentley was a great friend of G.K. Chesteron and wrote four mysteries which have been referred to as the beginning of the "modern mystery." Dorothy Sayers loved those books. Bentley published a book of clerihews titled Biography for Beginners. The form appears, at first, to be simple, but there are nuances to it that make the good clerihews truly good. Cleverness reigns supreme. Here is what a clerihew looks like:

1. Two unmatched (irregular meter) rhyming couplets. The irregular meter is part of the humor. The third and fourth lines are usually longer, so at its best the clerihew feel like it's been written by someone not totally in control of the poem. The rhyme is usually part of the humor, too - it's often torqued or contrived - again, as if the poet had not totally mastered the thing. The clunkiness of the clerihew is a defining feature, not a mistake.

2. One whole line - I was taught that it always was the first line - is the name of someone (usually famous....) Rarely anything else in the name line - if so, it should add briefly to the humor. But generally, nothing but the name.

3. Tone is satirical or, actually, whimsical - it pokes fun at the named person but isn't severe.

Here is the sample that's often given:

Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

[Sir Humphrey Davy, by the way, also wrote poetry, along with being a chemist. He conducted science experiments on his sister's dresses. His friends apparently said this about him: "This boy Humphry is incorrigible. He will blow us all into the air." I say that to comfort mothers out there whose children are incorrigible.]

Back to the clerihew. Here are my contributions. First, a few about writers, then a more or less political clerihew spiced up with Schezuan take-out, and finally, a pirate clerihew.

Four Clerihews for Four Writers

Robert Frost
Didn't often get lost.
But when he managed to
It was usually the fault of a road or two.

W. H. Auden
Occasionally turned up sodden.
(Getting himself plastered
Came after his muse had been mastered.)

Dorothy Parker
Just got darker and darker.
She wasn't really much fun.
But she was awfully clever with a pun.

Ogden Nash
Woke up with a rash.
"I bet it was that cute little duck.
Bad luck."

A Clerihew in Praise of Kung Pao Chicken

George W. Bush and Laura
Might project a less white-bread aura
If they would just eat a little kung pao
Every then and now.

A Pirate Clerihew

Edward Teach (aka “Blackbeard”)
Made lots of people afeard.
You could offer to write him a clerihew,
But he’d just as soon put a sword right through you.

Here is a photo of our soon-to-be ex-president, without dreads, eating something that will not improve his aura, and a picture of Blackbeard looking distinctly Rastafarian (and not at all like someone you would call "Teach."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Editors: "There's a devil at your side...."

Wow, news from the publishing world is grim, grimmer, and grimmest. Here's a YouTube video for the pink-slipped. It's sung, appropriately, by The Editors. "I don't think that it's going to rain again today...." Hold the thought.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poetry Friday: Abbott and Costello and Steinbeck

This Day In History tells me that 67 years ago today The Sea of Cortez was published. It was co-written by John Steinbeck and his friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts (the model for Doc in Cannery Row), and it chronicles their voyage (in a sardine boat!) around Baja California and into what we know as the Gulf of California. The day after the book was released, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the two men were soon serving in the military. Many people feel that Steinbeck revealed more about his personal philosophy in The Sea of Cortez than in any of his fiction. In honor of the sea creatures those friends observed and documented on their trip, and in honor of my good friend, fellow poet Sierra Nelson, who once captained the Cephalopod Society in Seattle, I offer up a poem of my own, written on a ferry home from a writer's retreat at Sierra's mom's place on Hood Canal, about creatures who live below the surface of the water. Things underwater, where I cannot see them, definitely worry me:

Returning to Seattle

Invocation to the gods of this ferry,
impaired as they are by surf, wind, waves, currents,
torrents, etc. (though no more than I am by
eyes, ears, hair, my own superficial ripples lately):
Make me (please) cognizant (unmummy me), keep me
deeply aware and bewondered by the gilled, the dim
swimmers and crawlers beneath me, the bullheads
and dead-eyed dogfish, the cockles, the unlucky clams—
what am I forgetting?— ah, the octopuses, those
hose-armed cephalopods with their predations, their
scary (embold me) tentacles and their slippery nature.
Deter me from disliking (unloving) these creatures and their
unaired (I seek but cannot see) surroundings. Please accept
regrets, etc., for the unkindness of the above & my limitations.

The assignment on the ferry trip home was to write what we call a "hot rivets" poem - one where the last word of one line rhymes with the first or second word of the line below it, having the effect of welding the two together. It's a wonderful form to work with, taking the poem many directions that surprise you (which is one of the great satisfactions of writing, no?)

Today Poetry Friday is hosted by Mommy's Favorite Picture Books (so maybe I should have chosen a sweeter poem.....)


And now for something completely different: This Day in History also tells me that it was on December 5th, 1952 that The Abbott and Costello Show debuted on TV. Probably not an event to remember for most people, and I don't think my parents bought a TV until about 1955, but oh, Abbott and Costello - I used to love going to matinees at our local theater, The Garden, to see their movies. Lou Abbott was so foolish , so sweet, so accident prone and so constantly confused. Here is a little YouTube clip - what can I say? It was a simpler world...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday Poetry Stretch - Bing, Bling, Ca-Ching

Time to begin the week with another poetry stretch, and Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect suggests a form called a climbing rhyme, where the rhyme moves forward in four-word lines - from fourth position in Line 1, to third in Line 2, to second in Line 3. At that point, the fourth word of Line 3 begins a new rhyme sequence, with the pattern continuing. It feels like a difficult form to end - what do you do with the last line? But here's a possibility:

Heard Over the P.A. System at the Mall

Placido Domingo singing White
Christmas? Not right, not
Bing-ish. Politely tell him:
Time to trim your
repertoire, flim-flam man,
humbugger. You can’t sing
Crosby. Banned. Prohibido, Placido.

Here's an adaptation I like as much, abandoning the third line/fourth word requirement, and going with a simple pattern of 4th/3rd/2nd-word rhymes in separate 3-line stanzas:


White, bright bells, tree
tops, kings (three) glistening,
wet sneezes and snow

flakes, listening to Bing
crooning, reindeer singing recorded
carols, blinged baubles wish-

listed, next January banging,
New Year hanging there
syning, langing, aulding away,

longing for more chances,
mustachioed nutcrackers dancing fat
mice, fancy tutu-ing, p.j.'s

on stage– Drosselmeir, Clara,
sugar-plummed fairies, Malled-
out America
's symphonic ca-ching.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Friday -

Today I'm offering up Starfish by Eleanor Lerman. The line breaks are strange - more like a prose poem, deserving of a good solid paragraph. Still, I like it so much. Seems like the perfect poem for the day after Thanksgiving.


This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish
. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

From Our Post Soviet History Unfolds
published by Sarabande Books
The Poetry Friday round-up this week
is over at Lisa Chellman's Under the Covers.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Poetry Stretch - A Question, An Answer

I love the idea of a Monday Poetry Stretch to help us limber up for the week. This time around, Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect has suggested a lune. Here's my contribution, guided by syllables (5/3/5)rather than word count:

A Question, An Answer

You – yes, you, Moon - how
does dead stone
shine? Sunlight finds me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Second Poetry Friday Post Today

Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect has challenged people to write/post a list poem. Here's mine. It was originally written as a bout-rimes sonnet (can you tell by the end words?? Especially the "Hobo-/ken" which I'm especially proud of.) The bout-rimes poem is an experiment I love - it gets you out of your usual vocabulary/topic ruts. And the poem definitely qualifies as a list.


I worry about my head. I worry: Is it June
or is it December? I worry whether the stress
on my brain is greater when the moon
waxes or when it wanes. I howl. I obsess
about everything: cracks in the sidewalk, a snake
in the grass. Sneakers or boots? It's never moot
whether we come or go, eat bread or eat cake.
Life's little -ifuls (merc, bount-, beaut-)
are no tethers to keep me secure. Did Garbo
never get to be alone? And if the play
is the thing, what's not? From Cairo to Hobo-
ken, my anxious nose sniffs, sniffs: Is day
better than night? Jeans with this or rhinestones?
And those terrorists. And perfume or cologne?

Poetry Friday - Not Exactly a Poem

It's the French surrealist painter Rene Magritte's birthday today and I can't resist posting this photo (by Bill Brandt) of the painter holding one of his own paintings. The image has nothing to do with poetry, unless you think about how indirect poetry is - how a pipe is not a pipe. And how a poem is like a mirror, yet is not a mirror. And how like a spiral a poem can be, coming back on itself. And how a good poem reveals something new every time you read it. And how form follows content. And how near-repetition - in the case of a poem, that's rhyme - plays on our senses. And how a poem is comfortable with uncertainty. And how a poem casts a shadow someplace unexpected. And how a poem tells the truth, and how a poem lies. And how open to interpretation any good poem is.

Other than that, the photo has nothing to do with poetry.

The people over at Brimstone Soup are hosting today's Poetry Friday. I think. They might be busy with their November Novels. 5000 words a day for a month can leave you pretty exhausted.

I found another photo to post - this one is also by Bill Brandt, and it's a photo of Bill Brandt. Notice how he only lets one eye show, and lets the camera lens stand in as his other eye? Seems to me that artists always find a tool outside themselves to look through. For a poet, words serve the purpose of a camera lens, no?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday / Parisian Gargoyle

When the long season of rain comes to Seattle, I begin to fantasize about going to Paris. Not Cancun, not Santa Cruz. Paris - where it also rains. Well, in honor of rain and Paris, I'll post a poem from my latest book, Imaginary Menagerie, and it's about a gargoyle. Tomorrow, when I have my coffee, I'm going to pretend that I'm sitting in the park adjacent to the beautiful and simple church of St. Julien-le-Pauvre, in the shadow of Notre Dame. Maybe it's beginning to rain. Maybe a gargoyle from the cathedral looks down on me.


How can a beast speak
with a stone tongue,
with a stone throat?

My mouth is a rainspout.
I screech. I shout.

How can a beast fly
with stone wings?

I fly when the bells ring
and the hunchback is home.

Does a stone beast sleep
in a stone nest?

I am on guard.
I never rest.


Poetry Friday is being hosted this week by Yat-Yee Chong

Thanks to Sara, who sent me on a hunt for photos of gargoyles on the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. They are especially eerie, since they are "modern" (sunglasses, movie cameras, gas masks, etc.) Eek. Here's one to give you nightmares:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day: Yusef Komunyakaa

This seems like a perfect poem for Veterans Day.

Yusef Komunyakaa was born James Willie Brown, Jr. in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1947. He eventually took back the name his grandparents had abandoned when they stowed away on a ship from Trinidad. He served in the U.S. military in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, and he teaches now in the Creative Writing program at Princeton University.

You can hear a vet named Michael Lythgoe read another Komunyakaa poem titled "Facing It" about Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial in D.C. at the Favorite Poem Project site. Just be prepared, because it breaks your heart to see the grief that still fills Lythgoe, 40+ years later.

We Never Know

by Yusef Komunyakaa

He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrels
glowed white-hot.
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbled photograph
from his fingers.
There's no other way
to say this: I fell in love.
The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn't be
kissing the ground.

Friday, November 7, 2008

For Poetry Friday: A Song in Honor of Election Day

To honor the election results, I offer up the lyrics of this lovely song as "Poem" of the Week.

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week (I think) over at CHECK IT OUT

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Obama won?
Obama won!

Obama won!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008


Today, I'm worrying about the integrity of the election - hacked machines, voter suppression, etc. I just can't stop hearing that voice in my head that maybe 2000 and 2004 were rigged somehow. For some frightening pre-election reading, go to this full-text copy of Robert Kennedy Jr.'s article in Rolling Stone, Was the 2004 Election Stolen? (You know what Tom Stoppard said, right? "It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.") But I am STILL optimisitic - I've sent my ballot in. Please, don't forget to vote.

While I wait for tomorrow night's first reports, I offer up these delicious few lines of a long and wonderful poem which plays on McCain's "Straight Talk Express" and on "Joe the Plumber" - it's by Elaine Magliaro over at the Wild Rose Reader and you can read the whole poem here :

Who’s on Board the Straight Squawk Express? or Joe the Plumber Et Al

Joe the plumber,
Mack the Knife,
Hal the husband,
Val the wife,
Don the dentist,
Dick the doc,
Phil the farmer,
Hank the hawk,
Gail the grocer,
Ken the catcher,
Pat the daft

Police dispatcher...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

El Dia de Los Muertos and Vermont College's Ghost

In honor of the Day of the Dead, I'm linking this clip from Vermont Public Radio about the Ghost of College Hall (pictured to the right.) The ghost inhabits the upper stories of the building, which is the architectural centerpiece of Vermont College of the Fine Arts in Montpelier, where I teach. Some people say there is a malevolent spirit that claims the basement....

Friday, October 31, 2008

Poetry Friday - The Love of Stationery Goods

If you want a Halloween poem, click here for a Google Books look at an early edition of Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti (especially that horrible moment when the goblins are all over Lizzie, trying to mash ripe fruit into her mouth - yikes!) The painting to the right is from the edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

Meanwhile, here's a poem from me to all you stationery supply addicts:


I put four bits on the counter
and the box was mine.
Six yellow pencils fit there
side by side, I was perfectly addled,
I was a goner – even before I knew
the alphabet, I knew its cedar perfume –
I flew over the high-humped bridge
painted on the top, over the willow,
the m-stroke for a bird, everything
was suggestion then, before
the putting on of too fine a point.
People expected me to come
to my senses, save the change
in my burning pockets, after all
the box was wooden, cheap

Chinatown, but half a dollar
went a long way toward heaven
when heaven was closer.


It's always been my theory that you could predict who was going to be a writer by the way he or she behaved in stationary stores when young. An early love of pencils, pens, erasers, rulers, graph paper, tracing paper, architectural supplies, index cards, blank books, ledgers.....a love of those is a good predictor, for some reason, of a later love of words.

The poem was first published in The Threepenny Review. If you subscribe to just one literary journal, that's the one you should subscribe to - the editor is Wendy Lesser (who wrote the fascinating Pictures at an Execution and edited The Genius of Language: Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongue) and she fills every issue to the brim with wonderful essays, poems, stories, reviews and art (often photography). TTR is stimulating and intelligent, and it never disappoints. Think about giving a subscription to someone (even yourself!) as a gift.

To see the round-up this week for Poetry Friday, go to Sylvia Vardell's wonderful blog, Poetry for Children.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

M.T. Anderson's Scariest Line???


Don't miss the prize to be won over at Through the Tollbooth. Tami Brown posted it as part of a great interview of M.T. Anderson (and all you have to do to enter is pick the scariest line from one of his books!)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Poetry Friday: Giving Metal a Tongue

Here's a "small poem" by Valerie Worth (1933-1994) from her collection, All the Small Poems and 14 More. Some of those small poems I like - short meditations - some not as much (that's true for any collection, from Basho to Auden) - but this one particular poem - titled simply bell - is nearly perfect, in terms of the way it falls on the ear first, then comes in through the heart and mind, and the way it serves as a metaphor for what we do as writers - giving metal a tongue.


By flat tink
Of tin, or thin
Copper tong
Brass clang
Bronze bong
The bell gives
Metal a tongue
To sing
In one sound
Its whole song.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Kelly Herold at Big A little a.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Poetry Friday: Les Murray, Playful Genius

In honor of Poetry Friday, I'm posting a poem by the Australian poet, Les Murray. I don't think there's anyone who surpasses him right now for rigorous play with sound. He uses form but makes it feel natural and smooth as silk. And the following poem simply has to be heard to be believed (and appreciated) so it's lucky that there is an audio link (click on the symbol at the end of the poem) at Les Murry's home page.

One of the things I try to teach my students is that you can't get very far with a poem if the subject has been done to death - fresh and new is a better place to start. Well, what bats say in "Bat English" is what I would call Fresh and New.

By the way: It's Les Murray's birthday today. Here's wishing him many happy returns of the day.

Bat's Ultrasound

Sleeping-bagged in a duplex wing
with fleas, in rock-cleft or building
radar bats are darkness in miniature,
their whole face one tufty crinkled ear
with weak eyes, fine teeth bared to sing.

Few are vampires. None flit through the mirror.
Where they flutter at evening's a queer
tonal hunting zone above highest C.
Insect prey at the peak of our hearing
drone re to their detailing tee:

ah, eyrie-ire; aero hour, eh?
O'er our ur-area (our era aye
ere your raw row) we air our array
err, yaw, row wry—aura our orrery,
our eerie ΓΌ our ray, our arrow.

A rare ear, our aery Yahweh.

Selected Poems, 1986
Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by Becky over at Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, October 16, 2008

M. T. Anderson, Under Armed Guard

One of the best author photos EVER, bar none. This is M.T. Anderson on the Boston Common with two Revolutionary War re-enacters. Obviously. I think. Or maybe that's friend John Green on one side and friend Tim Wynne-Jones on the other? I wouldn't put it past them. But it's the serious look on Tobin's face that makes it perfect.

The photo appeared in this week's Publisher's Weekly, alongside an interview in which Tobin talks about many things, including those adults who said that Octavian Nothing used vocabulary above a teenager's ability level. Tobin talks about sci-fi where there is a lot of language-building going on next to world-building, and he concludes, "I think kids are excited by language, and they’re not always given credit for that."

Hooray! Well-said. And as far as I'm concerned, I wish some of our leaders would be as honest as Tobin is when he says, about the lessons learned in his research for Octavian, "I think there was also a slow, grinding realization for me of what it is that human beings are willing to do to each other to secure their own luxuries. That was a very sad tutorial I went through, working on this book. There was suffering on an unimaginable scale. I know this is a bit dismal for an interview, but I honestly feel like a full recognition of the capacity of mankind to ignore each other’s suffering is one of the saddest lessons I learned."

I'm all for Hope, I'm all for Change, but first, let's learn the lessons we need to learn, and let's tell the truth about our history, instead of just waving a flag and calling ourselves great. Then , once we've done that, we can turn to optimism and The Dream, if it calls us.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Preaching to the Choir

Yes, preaching to the choir, but I just want to say for the record that I'm proud of all of us who signed the petition. Watch the video at this link:
Authors and Illustrators for Children

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rhythms of the Playground

I read not too long ago about several family members of the Medici family in medieval Florence being exhumed for forensic tests to determine how they died. Not a happy bunch of people - intrigue and mayhem abounded. In honor of Poetry Friday, I'm posting an original poem titled Jump Rope Rhymes in Medieval Florence. I love combining the rhythms of the playground with the darker side of human nature - actually, the darker side of human nature is no stranger to the playground. And as the conversation continues about the current financial crisis, greed, the poor getting poorer, etc., I thought I'd go back to Florence to take a look at lifestyles of the rich and famous.


“We want to see what did they eat, what kind of diseases they had. Did they suffer? I mean, you think of people as wealthy. But maybe they weren't having such good lives.”
Bob Brier, Long Island University, on the exhumation of the Medici

Eight grand dukes
exhumed on a table,
Wealth and a wedding cake.
plague and sable.

Intrigue, vertebra,
x-ray, CAT scan,
who was the daddy,
who was the also-ran?

Welcome, SIDS.
Welcome, pneumonia.
dead Ippolito,
dead Isabella.

Ferdinand says
to Federico:
Grazie. Prego.

Don Giovanni
dead with fever.
Mother, did he
stab his brother?

Cosimo, Cosimo,
strong and able.
Hell of a skeleton
there on the table.

Ducats, beetles,
DNA, femurs,
bleached-out calcium,
secret lovers.

Rotten molars,
gout, tuberculosis,
perfect host,
perfect hostess.

Murder in the morning,
lunch at the Uffizi.
How’s it going, Wealth?
Bloody shi-shi.

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week by Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Things to Consider Before You Sit Down to Write a Poem

How can it be Poetry Friday again? Well, in honor of PF, and because I am currently in Vermont with a lot of other faculty and Board members, trying to help out Vermont College of Fine Arts with some strategic planning sessions (we're asking ourselves to brainstorm the future now VCFA is finally INDEPENDENT - three huge cheers HOORAY!!) I am going to post a few quotations about poetry which I always hand out to my students during our VCFA residencies.I title this hand-out "Things to Think About Before You Sit Down to Write a Poem." This is longer than usual, but I offer it up in case any of these resonate with you. And at the end is a link to Vermont College of Fine Arts, and our wonderful MFA Writing for Children program. The website is being re-designed, so look for a much-improved version by the end of the year.)

Things to Think About Before You Sit Down to Write a Poem

1. “God is in the details.”

Something I believe wholeheartedly – often attributed to the architect Mies Van Der Rohe, though also attributed to Gustave Flaubert, who is also credited with saying “The Devil is in the details,” just to muck us up.

2. “Carving is easy. You just go down to the skin and stop.” (Michelangelo)

This reminds me that artists need to know when to stop. It also reminds me that only geniuses seem to think that knowing where to stop (determining where the skin begins and the marble stops) is easy. It also makes me think about how even a [poem has a skin, an outer edge, beyond which the writer need not go. Let the reader interpret what lies beneath. Give your reader the skin. Then let go.

3. “Increasingly I have felt that the art of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else. What is the other text, the original? I have no answer. I suppose it is the source, the deep sea where ideas swim, and one catches them in nets of words and swings them shining into the boat ... where in this metaphor they die and get canned and eaten in sandwiches.” (Ursula Le Guin)

Though I love the first half of this thought, in terms of all language being a kind of translation (I agree), I’m most fond of the turn at the end, where Le Guin finds herself caught by her own shimmering metaphor and chooses to come back to the world of tuna fish sandwiches. Let’s not get too high-minded and poetic about all of this.

4. “…the main concern of the fiction writer is with mystery as it is incarnated in human life.” (Flannery O’Connor – who practiced what she preached.)

Though O'Connor speaks to fiction writers, I think it means even more to poets. If we could just keep in our minds, while we write - the idea of mysteries made flesh, we would stop trying to over explain. (see #2, above.)

5. “Poetry is the most direct and simple means of expressing oneself in words: the most primitive nations have poetry, but only quite well developed civilizations can produce good prose. So don’t think of poetry as a perverse and unnatural way of distorting ordinary prose statements: prose is a much less natural way of speaking than poetry is. If you listen to small children, and to the amount of chanting and singsong in their speech, you’ll see what I mean.” (Northrop Frye)

I’ve always believed people who want to write poetry (whether for children or adults) should simply go eavesdrop on a playground. But I like this quotation because it says something else as well. Many writers believe that poetry is language that has been artificially torqued and manipulated, and that prose is the most natural (thus, easiest?) of forms for our thoughts, but the effort to state what we think in an articulate and organized manner (witness the effort involved in writing a good essay) is extremely difficult. My advice to many writers is to read The Best American Essays each year and study the strategies of people who handle prose with precision and beauty. (I also advise writers to read Northrop Frye.)

6. “But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: ‘It’s clever, but is it Art?’ ” (Rudyard Kipling)

This one reminds me that there’s a point beyond which being witty just doesn’t fly. I don’t follow this advice as often as I should. But I wish I did - being clever is never enough. Messing around with rhythm, sound and form is fun, but the most essential thing to remember is that I should have something authentic to say.

7. “The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.”
(Chinese proverb)

We are accustomed to the Marvelous Unreal. But the Marvelous Real? How do we do that? How do we walk on the earth and make it magic?

8. “What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.” (Logan Pearsall Smith)

Remember: Be subtle. Trust your reader to understand – to hear the subtext, the whisper.

9. “But mark, madam, we live amongst riddles and mysteries—the most obvious things, which come in our way, have dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot penetrate into; and even the clearest and most exalted understandings amongst us find ourselves puzzled and at a loss in almost every cranny of nature’s works.” (Lawrence Sterne)

A continuation of Numbers 4 and 7, I think – and my obsession: mystery.

10. “Both poet and painter want to reach the silence behind the language, the silence within the language. Both painter and poet want their work to shine not only in daylight but (by whatever illusionist magic) from within.” (Howard Nemerov)

You don’t really think of silence as a writer’s goal. But it’s there.

11. “When it came to poetry, my father was not an absolutist. Pie was his favorite subject for a couplet, but every three or four weeks he would write about something else….” (Calvin Trillin)

This quotation I keep on my computer. It reminds me to laugh. Reminds me poetry means different things to different people. Reminds me not to get in a Pie rut.

Vermont College of Fine Arts
(We're in the process of redesigning our website - a better site soon!)

And the Poetry Roundup this week is being hosted over at Two Writing Teachers.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poetry Friday: Curiosity (Bovine and Otherwise)

In honor of Poetry Friday, I am going to post two poems: one by Hayden Carruth which might be sentimental but which I'm in the mood for, because I'm going to Vermont next week and the moon will be moving from a Harvest to a Hunter's. I'm also posting a recent poem of my own about curiosity. Its generative source is William R. Corliss's fascinating "Science Frontiers" newsletter. You can read Corliss's observations online, too. Definitely spend some time there - the site is full of poetry disguising as weird science.


The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them–forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.

Hayden Carruth

As we get closer to the presidential election, I wonder more and more about people who are not curious, who don't ask questions, who don't seek answers and are completely comfortable with that. Is curiosity a blessing or a curse? Does being un-curious mean you are more content? Of course, I think the answer to that question is "Only if you are bovine."

Come to think of it, even cows are curious, as seen in the photo above. Poets, cows and scientists: we like to investigate what our gaze falls upon. Poets might actually have more in common with cows than scientists in terms of our ability to tolerate a lack of answers ("For how / in that great darkness could I explain / anything, anything at all....") But to exist without curiosity, as some people seem able and willing to do? Unimaginable.

Natural Curiosity

We are eager to understand
the behavior of chickens,
constantly crossing the road now
as they once crossed the Pacific
from Chile to Tonga to Samoa.
Who knows how?

To find out, some say
we must follow the path
of the sweet potato
or the bottle gourd.
Others say look for DNA.

Even more say good lord
why fuss.
But they are not us.

Or, for example, cosmology.
What's up and out there,
what are the chances
for rarer prepositions
or propositions?
The alignment of certain
elements of the universe,
quasar polarizations,
hot and cold spots, a lot
of spiral galaxies spiraling or not
on their axes of rotation,
filaments lining up single file
to converge upon the earth?

To counter discombobulation,
compile two lists.
Across the top of the first
write People Who Wonder.
Across the other,
People Who Are Certain.
Add your name
to the shortest one.
Run to poll the nervous man
behind the green curtain.
Consider which candidate
to vote for in the next election.

Then consider the fundamental
trembling of electrons.


Julie Larios

Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect .

Friday, September 19, 2008

Poetry Friday - May Swenson's Sense of Play

In honor of Poetry Friday, and in honor of the last weekend of summer, I offer up this wonderful poem by American poet May Swenson (1919-1989), a woman who knew how to play with words. If you're a teacher, try using it to help your students forge a new relationship with words as malleable objects. I see both delight and mystification (each has its appeal and its purpose) in the faces of kids when I share it with them. Some are immediately pleased; with others it takes a little time for the light bulb to go on. I guarantee you that once that happens, once they understand what kind of power we have to make words "play," kids are simply lit from within about it. As a teacher you can sleep nights knowing you've taken children one step closer to loving the language they speak.


berries of Straw
berries of Goose
berries of Huckle
berries of Dew

berries of Boysen
berries of Black
berries of Rasp
berries of Blue

berries of Mul
berries of Cran
berries of Elder
berries of Haw

apples of Crab
apples of May
apples of Pin
apples of Love

nuts of Pea
nuts of Wal
nuts of Hazel
nuts of Chest

nuts of Brazil
nuts of Monkey
nuts of Pecan
nuts of Grape

beans of Lima
beans of French
beans of Coffee
beans of Black

beans of Jumping
beans of Jelly
beans of Green
beans of Soy

melons of Water
melons of Musk
cherries of Pie
cherries of Choke

glories of Morning
rooms of Mush
days of Dog
puppies of Hush

—May Swenson

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Laura Shavon at Author Amok.

Speaking of kids and their imaginations, their innate sense of play, their delight and vulnerability, I offer up this photograph, which commemorates a sad day in history - 19 September 1941, exactly sixty-seven years ago today - when Nazi's first forced German Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothing. Look at those sweet faces.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we bang out tunes to make the bears dance, when what we long for is to move the stars to pity.” (Gustave Flaubert, seen at right.)

I'm not completely sure about that - I like the sound of what Flaubert says, but I like those tunes and those dancing bears an awful lot, too.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wallace Stevens, Flaneur

Wallace Stevens (shown in photo at right) once said, "It's not always easy to tell the difference between thinking and staring out the window." I've decided to use that as my blog "description."

And he also said this (I can't resist the tunk-a-tunk-tunk):

The High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven.  Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle.  That's clear.  But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets.  Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones.  And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began.  Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince.  But fictive things
Wink as they will.  Wink most when widows wince.