Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Photo by GaborfromHungary, morguefile.com
Thoughts in a Zoo
By Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

They in their cruel traps, and we in ours,
Survey each other’s rage, and pass the hours
Commiserating each the other’s woe,
To mitigate his own pain’s fiery glow.
Man could but little proffer in exchange
Save that his cages have a larger range.
That lion with his lordly, untamed heart
Has in some man his human counterpart,
Some lofty soul in dreams and visions wrapped,
But in the stifling flesh securely trapped.
Gaunt eagle whose raw pinions stain the bars
That prison you, so men cry for the stars!
Some delve down like the mole far underground,
(Their nature is to burrow, not to bound),
Some, like the snake, with changeless slothful eye,
Stir not, but sleep and smoulder where they lie.
Who is most wretched, these caged ones, or we,
Caught in a vastness beyond our sight to see?

Source: My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (Anchor Books, 1991).

On this final day of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I share this riff on the heroic sonnet (they usually have an alternating rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefghghii, while this is aabbccddeeffgghhii) by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen. Cullen's piece is a great example of what good poetry can do. It speaks into Cullen's own historic moment, when the nation was very racially divided and injustice prevailed, yet it also has a more universal application that extends beyond it. No matter the era, we tend to put other people in particular categorical boxes, not unlike animals at the zoo, and seek to contain what we consider dangerous.

I hope this month's foray into poetry has opened your eyes to new connections, like Cullen's recognition of his own caged self in the "smoulder[ing]" eye of a zoo snake.

What surprising things have you learned from this series? 
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 Laurel Garver
Photo by GaborfromHungary, morguefile.com
Thoughts in a Zoo
By Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

They in their cruel traps, and we in ours,
Survey each other’s rage, and pass the hours
Commiserating each the other’s woe,
To mitigate his own pain’s fiery glow.
Man could but little proffer in exchange
Save that his cages have a larger range.
That lion with his lordly, untamed heart
Has in some man his human counterpart,
Some lofty soul in dreams and visions wrapped,
But in the stifling flesh securely trapped.
Gaunt eagle whose raw pinions stain the bars
That prison you, so men cry for the stars!
Some delve down like the mole far underground,
(Their nature is to burrow, not to bound),
Some, like the snake, with changeless slothful eye,
Stir not, but sleep and smoulder where they lie.
Who is most wretched, these caged ones, or we,
Caught in a vastness beyond our sight to see?

Source: My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (Anchor Books, 1991).

On this final day of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I share this riff on the heroic sonnet (they usually have an alternating rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefghghii, while this is aabbccddeeffgghhii) by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen. Cullen's piece is a great example of what good poetry can do. It speaks into Cullen's own historic moment, when the nation was very racially divided and injustice prevailed, yet it also has a more universal application that extends beyond it. No matter the era, we tend to put other people in particular categorical boxes, not unlike animals at the zoo, and seek to contain what we consider dangerous.

I hope this month's foray into poetry has opened your eyes to new connections, like Cullen's recognition of his own caged self in the "smoulder[ing]" eye of a zoo snake.

What surprising things have you learned from this series? 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SUGAR
by Jessica Bell

You were Yiayia.
But I called you Zacharati.
That was your name.
It meant sugar.
Photo by Max Straeten, morguefile.com

Your parents must have known
that when you aged,
you’d litter your kitchen
bench with it,
when you’d make halva,
and wipe your hands
on your fraying apron
exactly seven times a day.

I’d count.
You’d giggle.
Papou would cross himself.

Every day I’d watch
you press baked almonds
into the squishy centers
of the diamond-shaped
brown sweets.

You were granting them hearts.

And that’s when you’d bring out the sugar.
And a sieve.

And sprinkle your name all over my world.

Source: Fabric. Edmonton, AB: Vine Leaves Press, 2012. p. 22.


Childhood memories are a powerful source for poetry ideas. Bell's piece is all the sweeter (pardon the pun) because she also weaves in a sense of place and culture, using Greek words and presenting her grandparents carrying on traditions.

Bell's collection Fabric is woven though with elements of Greek language and culture. It's a wonderful read. My review is posted here. For more on this and Bell's other poetry books, novels and writing resources, see her website.



What lines or images stand out to you? What childhood memories might you tap as inspiration for your writing?
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 Laurel Garver
SUGAR
by Jessica Bell

You were Yiayia.
But I called you Zacharati.
That was your name.
It meant sugar.
Photo by Max Straeten, morguefile.com

Your parents must have known
that when you aged,
you’d litter your kitchen
bench with it,
when you’d make halva,
and wipe your hands
on your fraying apron
exactly seven times a day.

I’d count.
You’d giggle.
Papou would cross himself.

Every day I’d watch
you press baked almonds
into the squishy centers
of the diamond-shaped
brown sweets.

You were granting them hearts.

And that’s when you’d bring out the sugar.
And a sieve.

And sprinkle your name all over my world.

Source: Fabric. Edmonton, AB: Vine Leaves Press, 2012. p. 22.


Childhood memories are a powerful source for poetry ideas. Bell's piece is all the sweeter (pardon the pun) because she also weaves in a sense of place and culture, using Greek words and presenting her grandparents carrying on traditions.

Bell's collection Fabric is woven though with elements of Greek language and culture. It's a wonderful read. My review is posted here. For more on this and Bell's other poetry books, novels and writing resources, see her website.



What lines or images stand out to you? What childhood memories might you tap as inspiration for your writing?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Kubla Khan
Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Photo credit: alanmort from morguefile.com

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

    The shadow of the dome of pleasure
    Floated midway on the waves;
    Where was heard the mingled measure
    From the fountain and the caves. 
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
     A damsel with a dulcimer
    In a vision once I saw;
    It was an Abyssinian maid,
    And on her dulcimer she played,
    Singing of Mount Abora.
    Could I revive within me
    Her symphony and song,
    To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Source: English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967. 430-31.

I felt I had to throw in one of the Romantics, because they've come to define how so many conceive of poetry: strictly metered and rhymed and full of anachronistic vocabulary like damsel and thrice.

What I love about Kubla Khan is its song-like flow and dreamy quality. Coleridge himself admits this is a versification of "a vision in a dream." Now whether that dream took place during REM sleep or one of his opium benders isn't entirely clear. But clearly it does show that poetry doesn't have to be all about feelings or landscapes here and now. There's a rich tradition of exploring the mythic and fantastical in verse.

Have you ever written something inspired by a dream? If you were to write a poem about a mythical or fantasy world, which one would you choose? 
Monday, April 28, 2014 Laurel Garver
Kubla Khan
Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Photo credit: alanmort from morguefile.com

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

    The shadow of the dome of pleasure
    Floated midway on the waves;
    Where was heard the mingled measure
    From the fountain and the caves. 
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
     A damsel with a dulcimer
    In a vision once I saw;
    It was an Abyssinian maid,
    And on her dulcimer she played,
    Singing of Mount Abora.
    Could I revive within me
    Her symphony and song,
    To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Source: English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967. 430-31.

I felt I had to throw in one of the Romantics, because they've come to define how so many conceive of poetry: strictly metered and rhymed and full of anachronistic vocabulary like damsel and thrice.

What I love about Kubla Khan is its song-like flow and dreamy quality. Coleridge himself admits this is a versification of "a vision in a dream." Now whether that dream took place during REM sleep or one of his opium benders isn't entirely clear. But clearly it does show that poetry doesn't have to be all about feelings or landscapes here and now. There's a rich tradition of exploring the mythic and fantastical in verse.

Have you ever written something inspired by a dream? If you were to write a poem about a mythical or fantasy world, which one would you choose? 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

by Theodore Rothke (1908-1963)

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Photo by Alvimann, morguefile.com
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Source: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Doubleday, 1961)


This piece, unlike many I've presented during the A-Z challenge, is in a very rigid form. You might have noticed that beyond the strict rhyme scheme, some of the lines are repeated verbatim.

The form of Rothke's poem is a villanelle. Poets.org describes the form like this:

The highly structured villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets [three line stanzas] followed by a quatrain [four line stanza]. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem's two concluding lines.
Complicated, right? I've honestly never attempted to write one, but I can see the puzzle-like appeal of trying to compose to such a formula and somehow have it not only make sense, but also speak truth or beauty into the world. Quite a tall order.

What ideas or images strike you?
Saturday, April 26, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Theodore Rothke (1908-1963)

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Photo by Alvimann, morguefile.com
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Source: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Doubleday, 1961)


This piece, unlike many I've presented during the A-Z challenge, is in a very rigid form. You might have noticed that beyond the strict rhyme scheme, some of the lines are repeated verbatim.

The form of Rothke's poem is a villanelle. Poets.org describes the form like this:

The highly structured villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets [three line stanzas] followed by a quatrain [four line stanza]. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem's two concluding lines.
Complicated, right? I've honestly never attempted to write one, but I can see the puzzle-like appeal of trying to compose to such a formula and somehow have it not only make sense, but also speak truth or beauty into the world. Quite a tall order.

What ideas or images strike you?

Friday, April 25, 2014

by W. D. Snodgrass (1926-2009)


Flowers like a gangster's funeral;
Photo credit: Seemann from morguefile.com
Eyeshadow like a whore.
They all say isn't she beautiful.
She, who never wore

Lipstick or such a dress,
Never got taken out,
Was scarcely looked at, much less
Wanted or talked about;

Who, gray as a mouse, crept
The dark halls at her mother's
Or snuggled, soft, and slept
Alone in the dim bedcovers.

Today at last she holds
All eyes and a place of honor
Till the obscene red folds
Of satin close down on her.

Poulin, A. Jr., ed. Contemporary American Poetry. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. 483-4.

Though written in fairly plain, workaday words, this piece is full of jarring juxtapositions that contrast who the recently departed woman was in life versus who she has become in death. I think this piece has a lot to say about today's glamour culture, and they way women are treated as if they matter only if they conform to certain standards of beauty. The sweet innocence of her snuggled under bedcovers jars with the final image of a red-satin lined coffin. In attempting to glamorize the deceased, they've turned her virginal innocence into a whorish spectacle.

What lines or images stand out to you?
Friday, April 25, 2014 Laurel Garver
by W. D. Snodgrass (1926-2009)


Flowers like a gangster's funeral;
Photo credit: Seemann from morguefile.com
Eyeshadow like a whore.
They all say isn't she beautiful.
She, who never wore

Lipstick or such a dress,
Never got taken out,
Was scarcely looked at, much less
Wanted or talked about;

Who, gray as a mouse, crept
The dark halls at her mother's
Or snuggled, soft, and slept
Alone in the dim bedcovers.

Today at last she holds
All eyes and a place of honor
Till the obscene red folds
Of satin close down on her.

Poulin, A. Jr., ed. Contemporary American Poetry. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. 483-4.

Though written in fairly plain, workaday words, this piece is full of jarring juxtapositions that contrast who the recently departed woman was in life versus who she has become in death. I think this piece has a lot to say about today's glamour culture, and they way women are treated as if they matter only if they conform to certain standards of beauty. The sweet innocence of her snuggled under bedcovers jars with the final image of a red-satin lined coffin. In attempting to glamorize the deceased, they've turned her virginal innocence into a whorish spectacle.

What lines or images stand out to you?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

a concrete poem
by KD
This poem is proof that shape poems can be sophisticated, not simply clunky, childish strings of words fancied up using gimmicky typography. (There are plenty of examples of the latter online, however).

True confession: I don't exactly know who wrote this untitled piece and would love to give better attribution. I found it on someone's Tumblr page. I'd happily backlink the author if I could get an identity. My only clue is that this is someone from the Midwest or northern US or possibly Canada, where they use "anyways" rather than "anyway."

My favorite phrase here is "softer than the velvety chocolate inside of your vendor croissant."

What lines or images strike you?
Thursday, April 24, 2014 Laurel Garver
a concrete poem
by KD
This poem is proof that shape poems can be sophisticated, not simply clunky, childish strings of words fancied up using gimmicky typography. (There are plenty of examples of the latter online, however).

True confession: I don't exactly know who wrote this untitled piece and would love to give better attribution. I found it on someone's Tumblr page. I'd happily backlink the author if I could get an identity. My only clue is that this is someone from the Midwest or northern US or possibly Canada, where they use "anyways" rather than "anyway."

My favorite phrase here is "softer than the velvety chocolate inside of your vendor croissant."

What lines or images strike you?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Studying poetry will make you a better writer, no matter what genre you aspire to master. Poetry uses a number of techniques that I believe are quite transferable to other kinds of writing.

Today, I'd like to share a technique to "steal" from poets--using the sound device assonance (repeated vowel sounds) to ramp up the emotion in your fiction. The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked.

morguefile.com

Consider these examples. Say them aloud. How do they make you feel?

1. John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn’t dropped through the hole in his pocket.

2. Lisa worried they'd think her rude if she cooed at their cute baby, so she chewed her lip while brooding on his tiny blue shoes.

3. Wading deeper into the creek, Ross felt the coldness seep through his sneakers. Shining eyes seemed to peek through the reeds. A cheeping frog sent a shriek of fear streaking up his spine, but he ground his teeth. Must stay silent. Must not be weak.


In my first example, Can you feel John's inner ache? The repeated oh, oh, aah, ahh,make the passage seem to moan and groan on the page. The repeated O sounds (both short and long) make you verbalize John's pain response.

In my second example, Lisa's entire inner monologue does coo at the cute baby, even if she refuses to do it aloud. The repeated long U sound carries it. This is an excellent, subtle way to add layers of meaning to your character's thoughts. Characters might consciously deny something while the sounds in their words convey a deeper, hidden, unconscious desire for the denied thing.

In my third example, the creepy feeling is reinforced by a series of little shrieks, like one might hear upon having a bug scurry over bare skin: Eeek! Ross is screaming inside, even if he's being tough and silent on the outside.

Your turn:
Chose an emotion you want to convey and think of the most primal sound you associate with it, such as Os for groaning with pain, Es for screaming with fright. Write a sentence, paragraph or scene in which you repeat the sounds.

Hint: a rhyming dictionary will help you identify words with the vowel sounds you need.

How might you use this technique today to improve your writing?
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Laurel Garver
Studying poetry will make you a better writer, no matter what genre you aspire to master. Poetry uses a number of techniques that I believe are quite transferable to other kinds of writing.

Today, I'd like to share a technique to "steal" from poets--using the sound device assonance (repeated vowel sounds) to ramp up the emotion in your fiction. The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked.

morguefile.com

Consider these examples. Say them aloud. How do they make you feel?

1. John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn’t dropped through the hole in his pocket.

2. Lisa worried they'd think her rude if she cooed at their cute baby, so she chewed her lip while brooding on his tiny blue shoes.

3. Wading deeper into the creek, Ross felt the coldness seep through his sneakers. Shining eyes seemed to peek through the reeds. A cheeping frog sent a shriek of fear streaking up his spine, but he ground his teeth. Must stay silent. Must not be weak.


In my first example, Can you feel John's inner ache? The repeated oh, oh, aah, ahh,make the passage seem to moan and groan on the page. The repeated O sounds (both short and long) make you verbalize John's pain response.

In my second example, Lisa's entire inner monologue does coo at the cute baby, even if she refuses to do it aloud. The repeated long U sound carries it. This is an excellent, subtle way to add layers of meaning to your character's thoughts. Characters might consciously deny something while the sounds in their words convey a deeper, hidden, unconscious desire for the denied thing.

In my third example, the creepy feeling is reinforced by a series of little shrieks, like one might hear upon having a bug scurry over bare skin: Eeek! Ross is screaming inside, even if he's being tough and silent on the outside.

Your turn:
Chose an emotion you want to convey and think of the most primal sound you associate with it, such as Os for groaning with pain, Es for screaming with fright. Write a sentence, paragraph or scene in which you repeat the sounds.

Hint: a rhyming dictionary will help you identify words with the vowel sounds you need.

How might you use this technique today to improve your writing?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spoken word poetry is meant to be experienced as a performance, heard rather than read silently. The piece I'm sharing below is a segment from a longer TED talk by spoken word poet Sarah Kay. More of her work can be found on YouTube.

)

Absorbing a spoken word poem is a very different experience from reading it on a page. If you miss a turn of phrase, it's simply gone. You can't easily "reread" and consider your interpretation. You have to take it in, interpret on the fly, absorb what you can. I think that being a listener rather than a reader also takes away some of your sense of controlling the text. You're instead a passive recipient. You can't work for the understanding, you have to let it come to you.

What strikes you about Kay's poem? In what ways do you find it better and worse than reading a poem silently?
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 Laurel Garver
Spoken word poetry is meant to be experienced as a performance, heard rather than read silently. The piece I'm sharing below is a segment from a longer TED talk by spoken word poet Sarah Kay. More of her work can be found on YouTube.

)

Absorbing a spoken word poem is a very different experience from reading it on a page. If you miss a turn of phrase, it's simply gone. You can't easily "reread" and consider your interpretation. You have to take it in, interpret on the fly, absorb what you can. I think that being a listener rather than a reader also takes away some of your sense of controlling the text. You're instead a passive recipient. You can't work for the understanding, you have to let it come to you.

What strikes you about Kay's poem? In what ways do you find it better and worse than reading a poem silently?

Monday, April 21, 2014

By Deborah Guzzi
Photo credit: Gracey at morguefile.com

randomly I stare into
each reflective surface
forever pondering the
lines of age, pain and joy
each one a splendid testament
culled from a full life
teased endlessly, eternally
into distorted images
of the soul of me
never quite
seeing...I

surely, I am
not this shallow
only time can plane my cheek
insight my eyes to fade
turn the plumpness of lip to
crinkles of mirth
enlivening the gray
languishing in silver
forever seeing but parts of the
ecstasy I
reflect

Source: poetrysoup.com

You might have observed, through my use of color, that the first letter of each line, when read downwards, forms a word. This is a poetic form called an acrostic, and was used frequently in ancient poetry like the Hebrew book of Psalms. What is particularly clever about this piece is that the poet recreates the word backwards (or in mirror image) in the second stanza, reinforcing the sense of reflections.

Acrostics are a somewhat slighted form, in part because it's often one of the first forays into poetry writing for early elementary students. But as Guzzi shows, the form can be quite sophisticated in the hands of an experienced poet. Even within the confines of form, she has some striking sound patterns, like "culled from a full life" and "plumpness of lip."

What lines or images strike you?

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Monday, April 21, 2014 Laurel Garver
By Deborah Guzzi
Photo credit: Gracey at morguefile.com

randomly I stare into
each reflective surface
forever pondering the
lines of age, pain and joy
each one a splendid testament
culled from a full life
teased endlessly, eternally
into distorted images
of the soul of me
never quite
seeing...I

surely, I am
not this shallow
only time can plane my cheek
insight my eyes to fade
turn the plumpness of lip to
crinkles of mirth
enlivening the gray
languishing in silver
forever seeing but parts of the
ecstasy I
reflect

Source: poetrysoup.com

You might have observed, through my use of color, that the first letter of each line, when read downwards, forms a word. This is a poetic form called an acrostic, and was used frequently in ancient poetry like the Hebrew book of Psalms. What is particularly clever about this piece is that the poet recreates the word backwards (or in mirror image) in the second stanza, reinforcing the sense of reflections.

Acrostics are a somewhat slighted form, in part because it's often one of the first forays into poetry writing for early elementary students. But as Guzzi shows, the form can be quite sophisticated in the hands of an experienced poet. Even within the confines of form, she has some striking sound patterns, like "culled from a full life" and "plumpness of lip."

What lines or images strike you?

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday Mourning
by Sr. Genevieve Glen, OSB

The fisherman had aged, they saw, when dawn
at last broke through that endless night.  He had
no words to strengthen them, his bluster gone
to silence. One by one they came. Grief bade
them gather there. The shadowed room was clad
in memories. Furtive eyes sought out the spot
where He had stood.  The big man’s shame burned hot.
The One with whom he’d sworn to die was dead.
And he was not.

©2011, Abbey of St. Walburga, http://genglen.blogspot.com 

painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch
This poem shows us Simon Peter in the time following Jesus' crucifixion. All his hot-headed desire to create an uprising has been quashed. He is a revolutionary quelled, struggling to come to grips with what has gone wrong.

Knowing what we do about Peter's actions in the preceding days, I can only imagine the depth of his grief and his even deeper confusion. Peter adamantly opposed Jesus every time he spoke of his death. He attacked one of the guards who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He then followed to where Jesus was being held, hoping for news, but perhaps also staking out the place in order to try another violent rescue.

But bravery fails him. He denies Jesus, we're told. But perhaps there's some truth in his declaration: "I never knew the man." Because Jesus didn't turn out to be the fiery revolutionary many were hoping could come and overthrow Rome. As Peter came to grips with the truth of where his hopes really lay, he was devastated.

This Jesus wasn't going to foment a rebellion. He had another plan entirely. A completely insane one: To lay down his life.

Holy Saturday is a good time to sit in this space with Peter. To come to grips with the frailty of our plans and dreams. To let the wrong sorts of dreams die so that God's dreams for us in the world can be awakened.

Wishing you all a blessed Easter!

What about Peter's life and story resonates with you?

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Saturday, April 19, 2014 Laurel Garver
Holy Saturday Mourning
by Sr. Genevieve Glen, OSB

The fisherman had aged, they saw, when dawn
at last broke through that endless night.  He had
no words to strengthen them, his bluster gone
to silence. One by one they came. Grief bade
them gather there. The shadowed room was clad
in memories. Furtive eyes sought out the spot
where He had stood.  The big man’s shame burned hot.
The One with whom he’d sworn to die was dead.
And he was not.

©2011, Abbey of St. Walburga, http://genglen.blogspot.com 

painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch
This poem shows us Simon Peter in the time following Jesus' crucifixion. All his hot-headed desire to create an uprising has been quashed. He is a revolutionary quelled, struggling to come to grips with what has gone wrong.

Knowing what we do about Peter's actions in the preceding days, I can only imagine the depth of his grief and his even deeper confusion. Peter adamantly opposed Jesus every time he spoke of his death. He attacked one of the guards who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He then followed to where Jesus was being held, hoping for news, but perhaps also staking out the place in order to try another violent rescue.

But bravery fails him. He denies Jesus, we're told. But perhaps there's some truth in his declaration: "I never knew the man." Because Jesus didn't turn out to be the fiery revolutionary many were hoping could come and overthrow Rome. As Peter came to grips with the truth of where his hopes really lay, he was devastated.

This Jesus wasn't going to foment a rebellion. He had another plan entirely. A completely insane one: To lay down his life.

Holy Saturday is a good time to sit in this space with Peter. To come to grips with the frailty of our plans and dreams. To let the wrong sorts of dreams die so that God's dreams for us in the world can be awakened.

Wishing you all a blessed Easter!

What about Peter's life and story resonates with you?

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Friday, April 18, 2014

by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)


inset from a medieval painting, artist unknown

The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs' eyes followed him, a cheerful stare--
even to the sow that always ate her young--
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.

But evenings the first star came to warn.
The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
to shut the cows and horses in the barn
beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
safe and companionable as in the Ark.
The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
The lantern--like the sun, going away--
laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
he felt the bats' uncertain staggering flight,
his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
touching him. But it took him a long time
finally to make up his mind to go home.

This piece is an extended allusion to the biblical parable of the prodigal son, a story Jesus tells in the Gospels about a son who leaves home, squanders his inheritance and ends up in poverty, taking work as a swineherd, the worst possible profession for a nice Jewish boy. In Jesus' story, the son "came to himself" and decides to return home to reconcile with his family. This piece stays at that dark period before the decision is made.

The author Elizabeth Bishop (winner of the Pulitzer and the National Book Award for poetry) generally wrote poems that seem unrelated to her life, in contrast to her contemporaries, the "confessional" poets, including Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and W.D. Snodgrass. Yet if you read about her life, you can quickly understand why she would choose to explore this particular Bible parable. Like the prodigal son, Bishop experienced a sense of dislocation. She lost one parent, then another. Was bounced among relatives in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts. Missed a great deal of school because of bouts of asthma. Though a New England native, she spent large chunks of her life in France and Brazil, made possible in part because of a substantial inheritance from her father.

Bishop's poem is a great example of literary borrowing that's quite common in poetry. You don't need to dream up narratives on your own to explore some aspect of human nature--you are free to take existing narratives and characters and explore them in your own way.

What lines or images stand out to you? If you were to write an allusion poem, what story would you enjoy exploring and rewriting?


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Friday, April 18, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)


inset from a medieval painting, artist unknown

The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs' eyes followed him, a cheerful stare--
even to the sow that always ate her young--
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.

But evenings the first star came to warn.
The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
to shut the cows and horses in the barn
beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
safe and companionable as in the Ark.
The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
The lantern--like the sun, going away--
laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
he felt the bats' uncertain staggering flight,
his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
touching him. But it took him a long time
finally to make up his mind to go home.

This piece is an extended allusion to the biblical parable of the prodigal son, a story Jesus tells in the Gospels about a son who leaves home, squanders his inheritance and ends up in poverty, taking work as a swineherd, the worst possible profession for a nice Jewish boy. In Jesus' story, the son "came to himself" and decides to return home to reconcile with his family. This piece stays at that dark period before the decision is made.

The author Elizabeth Bishop (winner of the Pulitzer and the National Book Award for poetry) generally wrote poems that seem unrelated to her life, in contrast to her contemporaries, the "confessional" poets, including Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and W.D. Snodgrass. Yet if you read about her life, you can quickly understand why she would choose to explore this particular Bible parable. Like the prodigal son, Bishop experienced a sense of dislocation. She lost one parent, then another. Was bounced among relatives in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts. Missed a great deal of school because of bouts of asthma. Though a New England native, she spent large chunks of her life in France and Brazil, made possible in part because of a substantial inheritance from her father.

Bishop's poem is a great example of literary borrowing that's quite common in poetry. You don't need to dream up narratives on your own to explore some aspect of human nature--you are free to take existing narratives and characters and explore them in your own way.

What lines or images stand out to you? If you were to write an allusion poem, what story would you enjoy exploring and rewriting?


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

by Donald Justice (1925 - 2004)
Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover.
Metal stand. Instructions included.
   --Sears, Roebuck Catalogue
Photo credit: jeltovski at morguefile.com
              O my coy darling, still
              You wear for me the scent
         Of those long afternoons we spent,
               The two of us together,
    Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes
                 Of household spies
    And the remote buffooneries of the weather;
                         So high,
    Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,
              Which, often enough, at dusk,
    Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,
Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.

              How like the terrified,
              Shy figure of a bride
         You stood there then, without your clothes,
                  Drawn up into
         So classic and so strict a pose
      Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew
Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.
         Or was it only some obscure
      Shape of my mother's youth I saw in you,
There where the rude shadows of the afternoon
         Crept up your ankles and you stood
         Hiding your s-x as best you could?--
         Prim ghost the evening light shone through.


Source: poets.org

An ode is typically an elaborately structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual. Among English poets, Keats is considered the master of the form.

Justice, however, isn't glorifying something glorious. By writing an "ode" about a man's bizarre relationship with a dressmaker's dummy, he satirizes love poems generally. This is another instance of form/content dissonance that makes you pause, raise an eyebrow, and perhaps laugh.

What silly thing do you think would make a good topic for a satirical ode?

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Thursday, April 17, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Donald Justice (1925 - 2004)
Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover.
Metal stand. Instructions included.
   --Sears, Roebuck Catalogue
Photo credit: jeltovski at morguefile.com
              O my coy darling, still
              You wear for me the scent
         Of those long afternoons we spent,
               The two of us together,
    Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes
                 Of household spies
    And the remote buffooneries of the weather;
                         So high,
    Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,
              Which, often enough, at dusk,
    Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,
Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.

              How like the terrified,
              Shy figure of a bride
         You stood there then, without your clothes,
                  Drawn up into
         So classic and so strict a pose
      Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew
Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.
         Or was it only some obscure
      Shape of my mother's youth I saw in you,
There where the rude shadows of the afternoon
         Crept up your ankles and you stood
         Hiding your s-x as best you could?--
         Prim ghost the evening light shone through.


Source: poets.org

An ode is typically an elaborately structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual. Among English poets, Keats is considered the master of the form.

Justice, however, isn't glorifying something glorious. By writing an "ode" about a man's bizarre relationship with a dressmaker's dummy, he satirizes love poems generally. This is another instance of form/content dissonance that makes you pause, raise an eyebrow, and perhaps laugh.

What silly thing do you think would make a good topic for a satirical ode?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

by Laurel Garver

Photo credit: o0o0xmods0o0o at morguefile.com
Yesterday
all my troubles seemed so far
across the street my best friend
or close enough stepped on her
gerbil squish
She was walking it on a leash
like a dog pretty dumb I think
probably she forgot everything else and
burst into Tomorrow
I love ya tomorrow you’re
only a day
around the block
the Bartelli boys who like to stick
crawly things into people’s lunches
bought the gerbil guts for 50¢ &
2 red rubber balls & a swirly
marble all stuffed into
her hand too late for me
to yell cooties she smiled toothy
and wiped scritch scratch
her bloody shoe in the grass.

Muddy-Fingered Midnights, p. 20.

I wrote the initial draft of this piece for a poetry class in graduate school. As you might guess, I was experimenting on a number of fronts here: interpolating song lyrics, breathless stream-of-consciousness style, tone/subject dissonance and finally, voice. You could say my choice was somewhat in reaction to the mop-pushing megalomaniac in my poetry class who loved to use allusions to the Gilgamesh epic, among other pretensions. Being around him made me want to write real, to get past all the grad school trying-to-sound-important BS. What could be less important-sounding than some silly kid story?

I worked from of a true childhood tale a high school friend had shared about one of her neighbors who thought it would be fun to walk her hamster on a leash, then inadvertently killed it. I vaguely recall that money had been exchanged to use the rodent remains for some ghoulish purpose.

My initial inclination for telling this had been to take a knowing tone, looking on this scenario with adult eyes. But it felt entirely wrong. I realized that if I was going to be true to this story, I needed to enter into the child worldseeing the neighbor girl as the kid I imagined she was, impulsive and apt to burst into song. I mined memories for details, like what the truly evil kids did for fun. Instead of 30 pieces of silver, the beloved pet is sold off for kid treasuresthe sorts of things I admired from my parents' desk drawers or my siblings' closet floors. By using onomatopoetic words, I tried make the gore concrete but not sensationalized.

The title, by the way, refers to the lyric snippets that in the original, both included the word "away." But in this context, when we're small, our world shrinks. Troubles are across the street. Tomorrow is just around the block. Not quite away.

If you've always wanted to try poetry, but don't know where to start, dip into your well of memories, and not just the shiny-happy ones. It's in the sandbox we discover some of the startling truths about life.

What lines or images strike you? How might you experiment with stream-of-consciousness or tone/subject dissonance?
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Laurel Garver

Photo credit: o0o0xmods0o0o at morguefile.com
Yesterday
all my troubles seemed so far
across the street my best friend
or close enough stepped on her
gerbil squish
She was walking it on a leash
like a dog pretty dumb I think
probably she forgot everything else and
burst into Tomorrow
I love ya tomorrow you’re
only a day
around the block
the Bartelli boys who like to stick
crawly things into people’s lunches
bought the gerbil guts for 50¢ &
2 red rubber balls & a swirly
marble all stuffed into
her hand too late for me
to yell cooties she smiled toothy
and wiped scritch scratch
her bloody shoe in the grass.

Muddy-Fingered Midnights, p. 20.

I wrote the initial draft of this piece for a poetry class in graduate school. As you might guess, I was experimenting on a number of fronts here: interpolating song lyrics, breathless stream-of-consciousness style, tone/subject dissonance and finally, voice. You could say my choice was somewhat in reaction to the mop-pushing megalomaniac in my poetry class who loved to use allusions to the Gilgamesh epic, among other pretensions. Being around him made me want to write real, to get past all the grad school trying-to-sound-important BS. What could be less important-sounding than some silly kid story?

I worked from of a true childhood tale a high school friend had shared about one of her neighbors who thought it would be fun to walk her hamster on a leash, then inadvertently killed it. I vaguely recall that money had been exchanged to use the rodent remains for some ghoulish purpose.

My initial inclination for telling this had been to take a knowing tone, looking on this scenario with adult eyes. But it felt entirely wrong. I realized that if I was going to be true to this story, I needed to enter into the child worldseeing the neighbor girl as the kid I imagined she was, impulsive and apt to burst into song. I mined memories for details, like what the truly evil kids did for fun. Instead of 30 pieces of silver, the beloved pet is sold off for kid treasuresthe sorts of things I admired from my parents' desk drawers or my siblings' closet floors. By using onomatopoetic words, I tried make the gore concrete but not sensationalized.

The title, by the way, refers to the lyric snippets that in the original, both included the word "away." But in this context, when we're small, our world shrinks. Troubles are across the street. Tomorrow is just around the block. Not quite away.

If you've always wanted to try poetry, but don't know where to start, dip into your well of memories, and not just the shiny-happy ones. It's in the sandbox we discover some of the startling truths about life.

What lines or images strike you? How might you experiment with stream-of-consciousness or tone/subject dissonance?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

If you find the idea of writing poetry completely intimidating, you might want to try out a creativity tool I rediscovered: magnetic poetry.

I recall magnetic poetry being the hot new thing back in the mid-1990s, usually sold in bookstore gift sections. Several local coffee shops near me kept cookie sheets coated with the small magnetized pieces of type you could arrange into forms of expression.

The challenge was to work with the words at hand and arrange them into something at least partially coherent. The truly patient would dig through the sticky bits to find just the right words. The impatient would sacrifice coherence. The guffawing teenagers usually left behind suggestive little ditties like this: white curve / in a window / moon rise / blush and run.

I picked up a new set of magnetic poetry at a flea market over the summer--the "romance" set, which I knew would have lots of fun additions to the two sets I already own. When we first got the set home, my daughter and I noodled around for a good forty minutes trying different combinations.

My creativity was spurred by three words that had come linked together on one of the perforated sheets: "slow," "velvet" and "dance."

Here's what resulted:


I noticed a few interesting things working in this medium. First, one tends to go light with using articles, because who wants to spend twenty minutes digging for an "a" or "an"? Second, odd combinations pop up all the time and can cause your subject and tone can shift dramatically as you compose. This piece shifted when the word "pleasure" caught my eye. I got thinking what a cliched concept it often is and let my imagination roam for new ways to conceive it.

If you haven't ever played with magnetic poetry, I highly recommend it as a warm-up tool. Seeing stacks of words randomly juxtaposed will stir your imagination in wonderful ways.

Have you ever played with magnetic poetry sets? If you were to take the words I used, how would you rearrange them?
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 Laurel Garver
If you find the idea of writing poetry completely intimidating, you might want to try out a creativity tool I rediscovered: magnetic poetry.

I recall magnetic poetry being the hot new thing back in the mid-1990s, usually sold in bookstore gift sections. Several local coffee shops near me kept cookie sheets coated with the small magnetized pieces of type you could arrange into forms of expression.

The challenge was to work with the words at hand and arrange them into something at least partially coherent. The truly patient would dig through the sticky bits to find just the right words. The impatient would sacrifice coherence. The guffawing teenagers usually left behind suggestive little ditties like this: white curve / in a window / moon rise / blush and run.

I picked up a new set of magnetic poetry at a flea market over the summer--the "romance" set, which I knew would have lots of fun additions to the two sets I already own. When we first got the set home, my daughter and I noodled around for a good forty minutes trying different combinations.

My creativity was spurred by three words that had come linked together on one of the perforated sheets: "slow," "velvet" and "dance."

Here's what resulted:


I noticed a few interesting things working in this medium. First, one tends to go light with using articles, because who wants to spend twenty minutes digging for an "a" or "an"? Second, odd combinations pop up all the time and can cause your subject and tone can shift dramatically as you compose. This piece shifted when the word "pleasure" caught my eye. I got thinking what a cliched concept it often is and let my imagination roam for new ways to conceive it.

If you haven't ever played with magnetic poetry, I highly recommend it as a warm-up tool. Seeing stacks of words randomly juxtaposed will stir your imagination in wonderful ways.

Have you ever played with magnetic poetry sets? If you were to take the words I used, how would you rearrange them?

Monday, April 14, 2014



By Scott Cairns (1954— )

A little loam and topsoil 
is a lot. 
—Heather McHugh

Photo credit: ronmerk from morguefile.com 

A vacant lot, maybe, but even such lit vacancy
as interstate motels announce can look, well, pretty
damned inviting after a long day’s drive, especially
if the day has been oppressed by manic truckers, detours,
endless road construction. And this poorly measured, semi-
rectangle, projected and plotted with the familiar
little flags upon a spread of neglected terra firma
also offers brief apprehension, which—let’s face it,
whether pleasing or encumbered by anxiety—dwells
luxuriously in potential. Me? Well, I like
a little space between shopping malls, and while this one may
never come to be much of a garden, once we rip
the old tires from the brambles and bag the trash, we might
just glimpse the lot we meant, the lot we hoped to find.
.

Source: Philokalia: New and Selected Poems (Zoo Press, 2002)

As a country girl who has put down roots in an urban area, this piece resonates with me. Even a small patch of nature "dwells luxuriously in potential" --potential to bring a bit of beauty and respite for the weary, nature-hungry soul. I like that Cairns uses poetry to look past the now of "old tires," "brambles" and "trash" to see a glimpse of possible garden space. The transformative power of the imagination makes a little patch of littered land into "a lot"--in more sense than one, encouraging the reader to expand application to other wrecked spaces, be they landscapes or relationships.

What lines or images stand out to you?

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Monday, April 14, 2014 Laurel Garver


By Scott Cairns (1954— )

A little loam and topsoil 
is a lot. 
—Heather McHugh

Photo credit: ronmerk from morguefile.com 

A vacant lot, maybe, but even such lit vacancy
as interstate motels announce can look, well, pretty
damned inviting after a long day’s drive, especially
if the day has been oppressed by manic truckers, detours,
endless road construction. And this poorly measured, semi-
rectangle, projected and plotted with the familiar
little flags upon a spread of neglected terra firma
also offers brief apprehension, which—let’s face it,
whether pleasing or encumbered by anxiety—dwells
luxuriously in potential. Me? Well, I like
a little space between shopping malls, and while this one may
never come to be much of a garden, once we rip
the old tires from the brambles and bag the trash, we might
just glimpse the lot we meant, the lot we hoped to find.
.

Source: Philokalia: New and Selected Poems (Zoo Press, 2002)

As a country girl who has put down roots in an urban area, this piece resonates with me. Even a small patch of nature "dwells luxuriously in potential" --potential to bring a bit of beauty and respite for the weary, nature-hungry soul. I like that Cairns uses poetry to look past the now of "old tires," "brambles" and "trash" to see a glimpse of possible garden space. The transformative power of the imagination makes a little patch of littered land into "a lot"--in more sense than one, encouraging the reader to expand application to other wrecked spaces, be they landscapes or relationships.

What lines or images stand out to you?

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

by Mark Strand (1934 —)

In a field
I am the absence
Photo by grtguru for morguefile.com
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Source: The Contemporary American Poets. New York: New American Library, 1969. p. 330.

Spare and deceptively simple, this poem addresses the nature of reality. What is presence? What is absence? How does the universe fit together? What is my place in it?

What lines or images strike you?

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Saturday, April 12, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Mark Strand (1934 —)

In a field
I am the absence
Photo by grtguru for morguefile.com
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Source: The Contemporary American Poets. New York: New American Library, 1969. p. 330.

Spare and deceptively simple, this poem addresses the nature of reality. What is presence? What is absence? How does the universe fit together? What is my place in it?

What lines or images strike you?

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Friday, April 11, 2014

by Angela Felsted

Photo credit: hotblack from morguefile.com
precisely when night fingers
brush the ankles of the cherry tree

precisely when a freckled
bullfrog starts its croon
up at the moon

precisely when the screams
of children fade into the pliant mud
when splashing rocks
peruse the river bottom made of pebble dots

the shadow of breath of dusk
exhales across the gilded ground
a silver cloud sent heaven bound
aches for mother, father sun,
tries to run

on red-striped wings
past the ring of phantom sky
above a canopy of trees
where star buds nest in humid leaves

their summer
wishes touch my hand
kisses trapped by molten sand

lit up glass
etched secrets in the withered grass

Source: Poetry Pact volume 1. Eds. Angela Felsted and Richard Merrill. Fairfax, VA: Jazzy Press, 2011.


This soundscape piece takes us to that magical twilight hour of summertime when the night comes alive. Felsted is a friend of mine from a poetry critique group whose work I enjoy very much, not only because she creates such evocative images, but also because of her sense of play. There's a little rhyme, but not too much; there's a little bouncy lilt, just enough. My favorite image of the piece is "star buds nest in humid leaves" and how it juxtaposes the celestial and horticultural to speak of the insect world.

What lines or images strike you?



Like poetry? Enter to win my collection!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
Friday, April 11, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Angela Felsted

Photo credit: hotblack from morguefile.com
precisely when night fingers
brush the ankles of the cherry tree

precisely when a freckled
bullfrog starts its croon
up at the moon

precisely when the screams
of children fade into the pliant mud
when splashing rocks
peruse the river bottom made of pebble dots

the shadow of breath of dusk
exhales across the gilded ground
a silver cloud sent heaven bound
aches for mother, father sun,
tries to run

on red-striped wings
past the ring of phantom sky
above a canopy of trees
where star buds nest in humid leaves

their summer
wishes touch my hand
kisses trapped by molten sand

lit up glass
etched secrets in the withered grass

Source: Poetry Pact volume 1. Eds. Angela Felsted and Richard Merrill. Fairfax, VA: Jazzy Press, 2011.


This soundscape piece takes us to that magical twilight hour of summertime when the night comes alive. Felsted is a friend of mine from a poetry critique group whose work I enjoy very much, not only because she creates such evocative images, but also because of her sense of play. There's a little rhyme, but not too much; there's a little bouncy lilt, just enough. My favorite image of the piece is "star buds nest in humid leaves" and how it juxtaposes the celestial and horticultural to speak of the insect world.

What lines or images strike you?



Like poetry? Enter to win my collection!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Thursday, April 10, 2014

by Laurel Garver (that's me)
photo by Edumigue for morguefile.com

Under a smooth moon
we watch fireworks
heave purple fluff
and spray a thousand blossoms
that petal-dance
down summer shadows
to where we cuddle,
flame-drunk, bliss blistered,
sighing, OH!
at the frantic pull
to soar away,
to be all light.

From Muddy-fingered Midnights, 2013. p. 44.

I composed this piece using magnetic poetry sets, and the image that got the whole thing going was "fireworks." I spread my collection of magnetic words across a tabletop and picked out any and every word that might connect to how fireworks look, sound, and feel either literally or metaphorically. I also thought about contexts in which one experiences fireworks and the emotion of those contexts.

Once I had a big stack of words, I got down to composing. Fluff needed a color modifier, and purple had a repeating vowel sound. Blister and flame bring to mind the fire of fireworks;  I wanted both burning terms to resonate with the romantic context, so I paired them with modifiers that give them a passionate twist. Many of my first choices weren't used; many of the strongest images needed to be contextualized, which meant digging for more words that would resonate with them.

What are your favorite tools for brainstorming and developing ideas? Have you ever played with magnetic poetry kits? 


Like this poem? Enter to win my collection!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
Thursday, April 10, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Laurel Garver (that's me)
photo by Edumigue for morguefile.com

Under a smooth moon
we watch fireworks
heave purple fluff
and spray a thousand blossoms
that petal-dance
down summer shadows
to where we cuddle,
flame-drunk, bliss blistered,
sighing, OH!
at the frantic pull
to soar away,
to be all light.

From Muddy-fingered Midnights, 2013. p. 44.

I composed this piece using magnetic poetry sets, and the image that got the whole thing going was "fireworks." I spread my collection of magnetic words across a tabletop and picked out any and every word that might connect to how fireworks look, sound, and feel either literally or metaphorically. I also thought about contexts in which one experiences fireworks and the emotion of those contexts.

Once I had a big stack of words, I got down to composing. Fluff needed a color modifier, and purple had a repeating vowel sound. Blister and flame bring to mind the fire of fireworks;  I wanted both burning terms to resonate with the romantic context, so I paired them with modifiers that give them a passionate twist. Many of my first choices weren't used; many of the strongest images needed to be contextualized, which meant digging for more words that would resonate with them.

What are your favorite tools for brainstorming and developing ideas? Have you ever played with magnetic poetry kits? 


Like this poem? Enter to win my collection!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

by Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure.
A. P. CHEKHOV The Cherry Orchard

  1  FROM THE NURSERY
Photo by damoiselle at morguefile.com

When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad -- even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours -- the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.


           2  BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.


3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.


           4  OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep's
frail wicker coracle.


5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors -- those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.


       6  IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life -- in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .


           7  PARDON

A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.


           8  CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can't
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can't sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can't read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.


  9  WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.

Source: poets.org

I hope you'll forgive the length of today's offering, because it's a powerful piece. Researchers have found a strong link between depression and creativity, so it's a small wonder that many writers and poets struggle with this illness. Many, like Sylvia Plath, take their own lives. This poet, though she struggled with depression her entire adult life, died of leukemia, not suicide.

Her snapshot approach with the stanzas is striking and worth emulating. When trying to tackle a large topic that has many faces, giving us facets rather than an integrated narrative is quite powerful. That she ends with a scene of finding tranquility and beauty (thanks in part to the medication Nardil, an MAOI) gives the piece a hopeful air. The "unholy ghost" of depression may come again tomorrow, but Kenyon is determined to keep fighting it.

What lines or images stand out to you?
Wednesday, April 09, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Jane Kenyon (1947-1995)

If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure.
A. P. CHEKHOV The Cherry Orchard

  1  FROM THE NURSERY
Photo by damoiselle at morguefile.com

When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad -- even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours -- the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.


           2  BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.


3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.


           4  OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep's
frail wicker coracle.


5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors -- those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.


       6  IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life -- in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .


           7  PARDON

A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.


           8  CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can't
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can't sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can't read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.


  9  WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.

Source: poets.org

I hope you'll forgive the length of today's offering, because it's a powerful piece. Researchers have found a strong link between depression and creativity, so it's a small wonder that many writers and poets struggle with this illness. Many, like Sylvia Plath, take their own lives. This poet, though she struggled with depression her entire adult life, died of leukemia, not suicide.

Her snapshot approach with the stanzas is striking and worth emulating. When trying to tackle a large topic that has many faces, giving us facets rather than an integrated narrative is quite powerful. That she ends with a scene of finding tranquility and beauty (thanks in part to the medication Nardil, an MAOI) gives the piece a hopeful air. The "unholy ghost" of depression may come again tomorrow, but Kenyon is determined to keep fighting it.

What lines or images stand out to you?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

by Dana Levin (1965— )

Photo credit: mimicry from morguefile.com
Through shattered glass and sheeted furniture, chicken
wire and piled dishes, sheared-off doors stacked five to a
wall, you're walking like cripples. Toward a dirty window,
obstructed by stacks of chairs.

And once you move them, one by one, palm circles through
the grime and cup your hands round your faces, finally able
to see through—

Charged night. Sheet-flashes of green, threaded with sparks,
the pale orange pan of the moon—

Finally, what turns the wheel: the moon ghosting a hole
through a rainbow, the rainbow's rage to efface the moon,
which the moon sails through slow as a ship, in the shape of
cross-legged Buddha...

Lotus-folded, a figurine. The kind you once found in the
Chinatown markets, for a dollar and a dime—

Saying you're dying, you're dead. You can withdraw from this
orbit of mirrors.

Source: poets.org

I was first drawn to this piece because of the way it engages with everyday objects and has such a lovely melodic flow of sound and rhythm--"pale orange pan of the moon."

But when it came to interpretation, well,  I admit I was rather at a loss for some time. It's easy to let these sorts of interpretive puzzles scare one off of poetry entirely. But some of the most interesting ideas have layers, and the best way to express them is through figures of speech including allusion and metaphor.

With that in mind, I examined the poem again, looking for recurrent images and themes, as well as references to larger ideas or works (allusions). A few recurrent images are of mess/ruin, night, and things that mediate our views (dirty window, mirror). I think the key to unlocking the set of symbols here is the Buddha figure, and what he represents.

My knowledge of Buddhism is limited to an undergraduate comparative religions course. But I do know that a core concept is the idea that this present world is an illusion and that to attain enlightenment, one must enter a state of oneness with the universal life in which there is no division, no individual. This piece is a meditation on finding enlightenment--understanding "what turns the wheel" (of Dharma) and knowing that "you can withdraw from this / orbit of mirrors." I'm sure far more could be said by someone who's well versed in the teachings of Buddhism. (If you are, please chime in).

I'm sharing this poem with you, and my rudimentary process for puzzling it out, to illustrate some important things about poetry. First, if you don't immediately "get" a poem, don't despair. Poets' networks of symbol and meaning often can be "decoded," at least a little, if you're willing to take the time. Second, it can be very helpful creatively to read outside your own intellectual and religious tradition. Levin's approach to expressing big ideas is an intriguing one.

How do you approach a piece of art that's initially not easy to understand? What's your take on this poem? Which lines or images stand out to you?


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Tuesday, April 08, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Dana Levin (1965— )

Photo credit: mimicry from morguefile.com
Through shattered glass and sheeted furniture, chicken
wire and piled dishes, sheared-off doors stacked five to a
wall, you're walking like cripples. Toward a dirty window,
obstructed by stacks of chairs.

And once you move them, one by one, palm circles through
the grime and cup your hands round your faces, finally able
to see through—

Charged night. Sheet-flashes of green, threaded with sparks,
the pale orange pan of the moon—

Finally, what turns the wheel: the moon ghosting a hole
through a rainbow, the rainbow's rage to efface the moon,
which the moon sails through slow as a ship, in the shape of
cross-legged Buddha...

Lotus-folded, a figurine. The kind you once found in the
Chinatown markets, for a dollar and a dime—

Saying you're dying, you're dead. You can withdraw from this
orbit of mirrors.

Source: poets.org

I was first drawn to this piece because of the way it engages with everyday objects and has such a lovely melodic flow of sound and rhythm--"pale orange pan of the moon."

But when it came to interpretation, well,  I admit I was rather at a loss for some time. It's easy to let these sorts of interpretive puzzles scare one off of poetry entirely. But some of the most interesting ideas have layers, and the best way to express them is through figures of speech including allusion and metaphor.

With that in mind, I examined the poem again, looking for recurrent images and themes, as well as references to larger ideas or works (allusions). A few recurrent images are of mess/ruin, night, and things that mediate our views (dirty window, mirror). I think the key to unlocking the set of symbols here is the Buddha figure, and what he represents.

My knowledge of Buddhism is limited to an undergraduate comparative religions course. But I do know that a core concept is the idea that this present world is an illusion and that to attain enlightenment, one must enter a state of oneness with the universal life in which there is no division, no individual. This piece is a meditation on finding enlightenment--understanding "what turns the wheel" (of Dharma) and knowing that "you can withdraw from this / orbit of mirrors." I'm sure far more could be said by someone who's well versed in the teachings of Buddhism. (If you are, please chime in).

I'm sharing this poem with you, and my rudimentary process for puzzling it out, to illustrate some important things about poetry. First, if you don't immediately "get" a poem, don't despair. Poets' networks of symbol and meaning often can be "decoded," at least a little, if you're willing to take the time. Second, it can be very helpful creatively to read outside your own intellectual and religious tradition. Levin's approach to expressing big ideas is an intriguing one.

How do you approach a piece of art that's initially not easy to understand? What's your take on this poem? Which lines or images stand out to you?


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 07, 2014

Excerpt from Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words
by Susan Wooldridge
photo by Linzi, morguefile.com

I have a strong gathering instinct. I collect boxes, hats, rusty flattened bottlecaps for collages and creek-worn sticks to color with my hoard of Berol prismacolor pencils. When I was a kid I’d lie in bed imagining I was a squirrel who lived in a hollow tree, foraging for acorns, twigs and whatever it takes to make squirrel furniture.

Most of us have collections. I ask people all the time in workshops, Do you collect anything? Stamps? Shells? ’57 Chevys? Raccoons? Money? Leopards ? Meteorites? Wisecracks? What a coincidence, I collect them too. Hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers. That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, Quarrel, love seat, lily. I gather them into my journal.

The great thing about collecting words is they’re free; you can borrow them, trade them in, or toss them out. I’m trading in (and literally composting) some of my other collections—driftwood, acorns and bits of colored Eater egg shell—for words. Words are lightweight, unbreakable, portable, and they’re everywhere. You can even make them up. Frebrent, bezoncular, zuber. Someone made up the word padiddle.

A word can trigger or inspire a poem; and words in a stack or thin list can make up poems. Because I always carry my journal with me, I’m likely to jot down words on trains, in the car, at boring meetings (where I appear to be taking notes), on hikes and in bed....

When I’m playing with words, I don’t worry about sounding  dumb or crazy. And I don’t worry about whether or not I’m  writing “a poem” word pool. world pool, wild pool, whipoorwill, swing. Words taken out of the laborious structures (like this sentence) where we normally place them take on a spinning life of their own.

Exercises: 

  • Toss words, say them, sing them, chant, notice and let yourself get excited about them 
  • Collect nouns and verbs especially. We want the heart and guts: blood, sweat and tears. We want the action: lure, slink, release, trickle, churn 
  • Label things strangely. Put lightning on a shoe, trigger on a stone. Label a car, spoon. This turns everything upside down and loosens us up. 
  • Pair verbs with nouns. You might wind up with a tarantula spin or table exiting the long room 
  • Collect words for things you love. Mix these with your verbs. 
  • Create a word ocean for your classroom 
  • Create your personal universe of language that includes at least one word that’s an important abstraction, like truth.
Source: Poemcrazy: freeing your life with words. Chapters 3 and 4.

If you were to start collecting words today, what are some favorites you'd add first? 


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Monday, April 07, 2014 Laurel Garver
Excerpt from Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words
by Susan Wooldridge
photo by Linzi, morguefile.com

I have a strong gathering instinct. I collect boxes, hats, rusty flattened bottlecaps for collages and creek-worn sticks to color with my hoard of Berol prismacolor pencils. When I was a kid I’d lie in bed imagining I was a squirrel who lived in a hollow tree, foraging for acorns, twigs and whatever it takes to make squirrel furniture.

Most of us have collections. I ask people all the time in workshops, Do you collect anything? Stamps? Shells? ’57 Chevys? Raccoons? Money? Leopards ? Meteorites? Wisecracks? What a coincidence, I collect them too. Hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers. That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, Quarrel, love seat, lily. I gather them into my journal.

The great thing about collecting words is they’re free; you can borrow them, trade them in, or toss them out. I’m trading in (and literally composting) some of my other collections—driftwood, acorns and bits of colored Eater egg shell—for words. Words are lightweight, unbreakable, portable, and they’re everywhere. You can even make them up. Frebrent, bezoncular, zuber. Someone made up the word padiddle.

A word can trigger or inspire a poem; and words in a stack or thin list can make up poems. Because I always carry my journal with me, I’m likely to jot down words on trains, in the car, at boring meetings (where I appear to be taking notes), on hikes and in bed....

When I’m playing with words, I don’t worry about sounding  dumb or crazy. And I don’t worry about whether or not I’m  writing “a poem” word pool. world pool, wild pool, whipoorwill, swing. Words taken out of the laborious structures (like this sentence) where we normally place them take on a spinning life of their own.

Exercises: 

  • Toss words, say them, sing them, chant, notice and let yourself get excited about them 
  • Collect nouns and verbs especially. We want the heart and guts: blood, sweat and tears. We want the action: lure, slink, release, trickle, churn 
  • Label things strangely. Put lightning on a shoe, trigger on a stone. Label a car, spoon. This turns everything upside down and loosens us up. 
  • Pair verbs with nouns. You might wind up with a tarantula spin or table exiting the long room 
  • Collect words for things you love. Mix these with your verbs. 
  • Create a word ocean for your classroom 
  • Create your personal universe of language that includes at least one word that’s an important abstraction, like truth.
Source: Poemcrazy: freeing your life with words. Chapters 3 and 4.

If you were to start collecting words today, what are some favorites you'd add first? 


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Saturday, April 05, 2014

by Robert Lowell (1944-77)
photo by Sebastian Ritter, wikimedia commons

I chain-smoked through the night,
learning to flinch
at the flash of the matchlight.

Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewal,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.

My eyes throb.
Nothing can dislodge
the house with my first tooth
noosed in a knot to the doorknob.

Nothing can dislodge
the triangular blotch
of rot on the red roof,
a cedar hedge, or the shade of a hedge.

No ease from the eye
of the sharp-shinned hawk in the birdbook there,
with reddish-brown buffalo hair
on its shanks, one asectic talon

clasping the abstract imperial sky.
It says:
an eye for an eye,
a tooth for a tooth.

No ease for the boy at the keyhole,
his telescope,
when the women's white bodies flashed
in the bathroom. Young, my eyes began to fail.

Nothing! No oil
for the eye, nothing to pour
on those waters or flames.
I am tired. Everyone's tired of my turmoil.


Lowell's use of sound patterns assonance really makes this piece sing. Note the assonance (repeated vowel sounds), like the a in flash...matchlight and the oo in tooth / noosed. I also admire the ch, j, sh consonance repeated in the stanzas (blotch, hedge, sharp-shinned, reddish) and the textural interplay of dryness and wetness in the imagery.

What lines or images stand out to you?


Like poetry? Enter to win my collection!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
Saturday, April 05, 2014 Laurel Garver
by Robert Lowell (1944-77)
photo by Sebastian Ritter, wikimedia commons

I chain-smoked through the night,
learning to flinch
at the flash of the matchlight.

Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewal,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.

My eyes throb.
Nothing can dislodge
the house with my first tooth
noosed in a knot to the doorknob.

Nothing can dislodge
the triangular blotch
of rot on the red roof,
a cedar hedge, or the shade of a hedge.

No ease from the eye
of the sharp-shinned hawk in the birdbook there,
with reddish-brown buffalo hair
on its shanks, one asectic talon

clasping the abstract imperial sky.
It says:
an eye for an eye,
a tooth for a tooth.

No ease for the boy at the keyhole,
his telescope,
when the women's white bodies flashed
in the bathroom. Young, my eyes began to fail.

Nothing! No oil
for the eye, nothing to pour
on those waters or flames.
I am tired. Everyone's tired of my turmoil.


Lowell's use of sound patterns assonance really makes this piece sing. Note the assonance (repeated vowel sounds), like the a in flash...matchlight and the oo in tooth / noosed. I also admire the ch, j, sh consonance repeated in the stanzas (blotch, hedge, sharp-shinned, reddish) and the textural interplay of dryness and wetness in the imagery.

What lines or images stand out to you?


Like poetry? Enter to win my collection!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Friday, April 04, 2014

Arranged by Annie Dillard (1945 —)
from Mikhail Prishvin, Nature’s Diary, 1925
Photo by messy cook at wikimedia commons

How wonderfully it was all arranged that each
Of us had not too long to live.  This is one
Of the main snags—the shortness of the day.
The whole wood was whispering, “Dash it, dash it . . .”

What joy—to walk along that path!  The snow
Was so fragrant in the sun!  What a fish!
Whenever I think of death, the same stupid
Question arises:  “What’s to be done?”

As for myself, I can only speak of what
Made me marvel when I saw it for the first time.
I remember my own youth when I was in love.
I remember a puddle rippling, the insects aroused.

I remember our own springtime when my lady told me:
You have taken my best.  And then I remember
How many evenings I have waited, how much
I have been through for this one evening on earth.

Mornings Like This: Found Poems.  New York: Harper Perennial, 1996. 1.


Today's poem comes from a poetic genre that unapologetically makes borrowing its raison d'être [reason for being, a very handy French phrase when you want to sound cosmopolitan :-)]. As the byline says, this piece is "arranged" by the living poet Annie Dillard. The raw material from which she built the piece, however, is someone else's writing. This kind of poem is called "found poetry"

Found Poetry, as the Wikipedia article defines it, is "a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. The resulting poem can be defined as either treated: changed in a profound and systematic manner; or untreated: virtually unchanged from the order, syntax and meaning of the original."

Found poems, in other words, take other people's texts and jiggers them into poetry, either by simply altering the line breaks and such, or by mashing together snippets.

This is clearly one of the least intimidating types of poetry to try yourself. Gather and cobble, and voila, poetry.

Is this something you'd be willing to try? Where might you find inspiring source material? 
Friday, April 04, 2014 Laurel Garver
Arranged by Annie Dillard (1945 —)
from Mikhail Prishvin, Nature’s Diary, 1925
Photo by messy cook at wikimedia commons

How wonderfully it was all arranged that each
Of us had not too long to live.  This is one
Of the main snags—the shortness of the day.
The whole wood was whispering, “Dash it, dash it . . .”

What joy—to walk along that path!  The snow
Was so fragrant in the sun!  What a fish!
Whenever I think of death, the same stupid
Question arises:  “What’s to be done?”

As for myself, I can only speak of what
Made me marvel when I saw it for the first time.
I remember my own youth when I was in love.
I remember a puddle rippling, the insects aroused.

I remember our own springtime when my lady told me:
You have taken my best.  And then I remember
How many evenings I have waited, how much
I have been through for this one evening on earth.

Mornings Like This: Found Poems.  New York: Harper Perennial, 1996. 1.


Today's poem comes from a poetic genre that unapologetically makes borrowing its raison d'être [reason for being, a very handy French phrase when you want to sound cosmopolitan :-)]. As the byline says, this piece is "arranged" by the living poet Annie Dillard. The raw material from which she built the piece, however, is someone else's writing. This kind of poem is called "found poetry"

Found Poetry, as the Wikipedia article defines it, is "a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. The resulting poem can be defined as either treated: changed in a profound and systematic manner; or untreated: virtually unchanged from the order, syntax and meaning of the original."

Found poems, in other words, take other people's texts and jiggers them into poetry, either by simply altering the line breaks and such, or by mashing together snippets.

This is clearly one of the least intimidating types of poetry to try yourself. Gather and cobble, and voila, poetry.

Is this something you'd be willing to try? Where might you find inspiring source material? 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 —)


Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, wikimedia commons


Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be


       For he's the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap


      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

This piece is what's called ars poetica, "art of poetry," a poem that explores the nature poetry as an art. Here Ferlinghetti compares a poet to a tightrope circus performer or one of the fearless welders who assembles the beams in high rises.

The way the lines are precariously balanced on the page further reinforces the ideas Ferlinghetti is exploring, visually recreating the balance pole tightrope walkers use.

What lines or images strike you?

Like poetry? Enter to win my collection!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
Thursday, April 03, 2014 Laurel Garver
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 —)


Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, wikimedia commons


Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be


       For he's the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap


      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

This piece is what's called ars poetica, "art of poetry," a poem that explores the nature poetry as an art. Here Ferlinghetti compares a poet to a tightrope circus performer or one of the fearless welders who assembles the beams in high rises.

The way the lines are precariously balanced on the page further reinforces the ideas Ferlinghetti is exploring, visually recreating the balance pole tightrope walkers use.

What lines or images strike you?

Like poetry? Enter to win my collection!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win