Saturday, December 29, 2012

Is Writing a Poem Like Shoveling Snow or Poem-a-Day 15

Embroiled as I am in my poem a day project, I must write a poem today. So far I have written 10 poems for 14 days. On two days I wrote two poems trying to make up for my trip to NJ when I wrote nothing. Are they all real poems? I don't think so. I suspect some are and some might be put together or usefully scavenged. Many of the things I've written about are the sort of impressions that fly through your head so quickly that they are often ignored.  I have a lot of trouble coming up with titles which is not something I usually have trouble with. Also, I seem to be continually hovering in the 12 to 15 line range (eek--sonnet) although I guess I could just make my lines longer or shorter to get away from that.

I fear I must also shovel some snow today even though I've parked at the end of the driveway and my street is plowed. My old car would just bull through the buildup--crunch, crunch. But I'm cruising lighter now, good for everything but the unshoveled driveway and the the unplowed parking lot.

Shoveling snow is like writing a poem because:
  1. It has to be done to get anywhere (although different roads)
  2. It uses muscles that never get exercised at any other time
  3. It's beautiful out there
  4. It's laborious
  5. It sometimes seems endless
  6. It's good to pause in the middle and look over what's been done
  7. Sometimes the snow comes thickly, sometimes in little gusts

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Plans for Poem-A-Day: the Unmasked Confessional

I have signed up to take part in a poem-a-day writing group over winter break. Don't shake your head wearily. Don't remind me that I had a lot more energy many years ago. I don't think I had more ideas in the past or more ease of creating or more notions about how to get the ship in or out of the bottle (wherever that metaphor came from). I think I have more now. I can turn to myself and pull something out--a thread, a handkerchief, my soul, a song, a frito crumb. I have hope in what has proved to be a vast well waiting.

I am always entranced at the outset of a time frame or schedule like this as if it were New Year's Eve--planning how my life will be different, more dedicated, my eyes never closing all the way, my mind poised to snatch at the impressions and shapes and ideas congregating, foregrounded in the head's temples, charging from one to the next.

I begin to avoid my desk for some days before. I don't want to put my eggs in a too-early basket. But maybe I could write something today and tack it in for day 11 when I might have run dry? Surely pre-writing is against the whole spirit of the thing. I must leap on each day of the month like a tiger ready to tear off a good poem.

Really, I embrace this idea as 30 days of being awake. 30 days of attending the paper. 30 opportunities to surprise myself. I don't expect a poem each time, but a useful nugget or an astounding freewrite like a white water cataract.

And I will have resource to some secret ideas and seeds. One of which is "coconut."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I am thankful to be a poet. It makes me happy. It occupies my mind and strokes my hair. (Not in a sick self-congratulatory way but lovingly.) My gray cells celebrate the ring-a-ding pinball course of thought. 

Of course, there are the days I loathe my work or torture myself with accusations of being lazy. (And sometimes I am.) There are the tedious days when I look up journals to send my work to, and try to think which 4 to 6 poems go together in a provocative way. And there are the days of rejections or the weeks. The dread silence when everything is out.The days when one can only regurgitate the banal or the cliched.

White paper (or screen)--it should be an occasion for joy. A space to have my say with metaphors, alliteration, line breaks.

Writing poems is work for which I rarely get paid which means that it's the side-scramble, the column that sometimes gets jettisoned. But it has shaped me more than anything else except being a parent. It has taught me how to see the world in a way that makes for a deeper life. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Intellectual Texture or Finding the Tabletop

I don't think this is something I have ever called for in quite this way, but recently I was making comments/notes on a student's poem and I wrote, "Cheese, cheese, cheese--you need a cracker."

And it was true. I was swirling in a vortex of color and sensation--kind of like the The Manchurian Candidate, Frank Sinatra's eyes about to roll up into his head! And as much as I beg for image in any of its guises or on any of its layers, I needed some kind of tabletop to get my foot on, too, so I could stand up and see what was going on in the poem.

I needed some grounding or stage which implies direction or a stance, and I needed some other kind of information as counterpoint to act as a balance to the heavy dose of image that was pouring on me like syrup. And I needed measure.

This should be easier to mete out than sound texture, but it doesn't seem to be, maybe because sound has more recognizable dualities and information texture is more like a color wheel or a centrifuge gone wild. The tongue limiting but the mind endless and without time.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Have I already mentioned I'm writing a series of poems? I have 7 (for sure), 1 maybe, 2 more which are as yet evanescent ideas. In an arbitrary way I am thinking there should be twelve. But maybe 14? Since one of my extremely evanescent ideas is to play around with the crown of sonnets idea but with poems that aren't sonnnets--using a line from each poem to assemble a new one. This is something I might really do or maybe it's a place holder for me while the real poem-to-come gathers its powers.

Fortunately, for me, I'm going to a lecture on poetics on Monday. This is exactly the kind of occasion that calls forth ideas (sometimes completely unrelated) and provokes a poem. The last poem I wrote was originated and half-concocted in a lecture by Bill Berkson called "Hands On/Hands Off." (Let me just say that I am always trying to pay attention, but sometimes I get called away.)

I've also planned some writing time on Saturday morning--more than just a list of ideas, please. Before that happens, I want to send out to a couple more journals (electronically, please) and decide where I'm sending my manuscript. I should have a list with deadlines for this.

My other office plan is to throw away some of the enormous quantities of paper that reside in columnar fashion on the floor. Of course, I have to look at all the sheets of paper in the course of doing this which is why I don't.

Have now looked up requirements of crown of sonnets and see that I'm only interested in writing the 15th heroic sonnet. But still am interested in the idea. All form is malleable after all or maybe mallet-able.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Grading Poems

This is a difficult thing.

Ideas of surprise, cliche, originality, even music are affected by how much one reads and, I guess, in what century. But if your instructor writes notes suggesting many changes and none are made--well? If your poems do not lift off the page, even a little, even like a chicken with clipped wings--well.

I realize it's paradoxical to say at the same time in the same conference make it longer and make it shorter--develop and delete, but people who have been practicing a while understand that there's so much chaff that drifts out of our figurative poetic mouths. Let the great wind of revision blow those unnecessary, already understood-from-context words away.

Some of my students have made me happy by finally furnishing titles that are not labels. Some have purged but not opened wider. Some have not turned their portfolios in. Some have stopped centering the text. Some have not corrected the spelling errors. How much weight to be given to ambition?

What ends with a period does not have to be a sentence. Maybe there don't have to be any periods at all. When is a fragment too fragmentary? Answer this question with the body of the poem: How can the reader know what I know?Why are you stopping too soon?

The good news is that these are only midterm grades--short-term markers of how flexible and calisthenic are the poet/poems.

In other news, I'm thinking that there should be poetry flash mobs across the land. What poem would they recite in unison? Also, cogitating the idea of a group poem whose primary worth would be in sound and performance.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writing Poetry--What Is Required?

If you were going to answer my question--which of course is not rhetorical--and you were itemizing little gobbets of need in your head, please don't trot out the word MUSE which concept I have always taken against. Is it a man/woman thing--the undertones of sexuality and gender predisposing me to find the idea that I need another being to create incredulous? Perhaps. I do not want or fear (the wrath of) a muse.

Listing necessities:
  • time--This is what I always want--time to think about this particular poem, but also to plan out a series or to just unload the heavy apple tree of my head. I can remember having time just how I wanted it for three weeks once when I received a grant and took off from teaching. Then my mother broke her arm and her leg. But I find there are all kinds of nooks and crannies of time that can be made useful, the necessity of writing squeezing into my life like toothpaste. Of course, would I write more/differently if I had leisure in which to find and pursue my projects?
  • space--It is very nice to have one's own office, even though my office at home functions best as a repository of papers I should go through and file or throw away. I like my wooden table that was once my kitchen table as the place where my poems congregate. But I have also written in the car, the bath, the bed, at the office (shh), in classrooms, in dreams, recently at the kitchen table at my writers retreat with people drifting in to find their first cup of coffee, at other people's poetry readings . . .
  • computer--I almost always start writing long hand, sometimes encouraging revision with longhand as well. I really like being able to physically cross out with my pencil or pen or draw arrows or flip back and forth to different pages in my notebook. But at a certain point, I need the computer to be able to tell how long a line looks, what words I can move up and down, how the shape feels, the white space, what would happen if I took out all the punctuation and so on. And of course now there's the electronic submission--heaven!
  • idea or the thing that natters at me--This is sometimes just a whisper, sometimes the cataloging voice that says you need that even though I have no idea why. I always try to pay attention. (This is not the muse talking to me.)
  • critical faculty--something that pushes in the beginning to better, newer ways of presenting, rejecting the usual, and then cleans up at the end--traffic cop and washerwoman.
  • books--The one thing I would do if I had more time would be to read more books, journals, science articles, essays, poems, novels to get a better view of the world, both literary and otherwise.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Retreat Island

I'm getting ready for a writers retreat on a nearby island. This is an annual event that has been going on since 1995. Lo, those many years ago, we found an old farmhouse to rent on Kelleys Island that had many bedrooms and beds. We wrote to our writing friends, and said what do you think? Should we start our own writing retreat--a come on Thursday, leave on Sunday kind of thing? They all said yes.

Now, every year we go in September or October when the weather is still good-ish (there was the year when the ferry scared me, the waves on the lake enormous and bleak) and the rental rate has come down. We all bring 2 gallons of drinking water and a roll of toilet paper and share the cooking at the dinner hour.

During the day we swim or walk or go into town to buy more coffee or find the hidden lakeshore path or visit the quarry. We sit in the kitchen and talk about what we're reading or what our students said or why we don't go to that yoga place anymore or how we have a new writing plan. Some of us use the time to finish projects or plan the coming writing months. Some of us sit in the sun until we're addled with happiness, frittering our time so that we return from the island restored.

In the evening, we read our work aloud. We have a schedule and a timetable that we stick to for discussion and an attentive audience that cares about language and movement and creative form. As with any writers group there's this interesting backlog attached to each work. I can remember S's train story or C's first chapter or T's piece about her mother. All of that rushes into the room behind the new work, demonstrating how far we have come.

This year we're celebrating someone's fabulous book deal (which has happened before). But we're also going to have a little memorial for one of our number who will not come again.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Group Reading--8 Writers/8 Minutes

One of my writers groups had a group reading last night at a local bookstore. This is something I put together when I heard that another group in Cleveland (all poets) had performed in this way. In my reading, eight writers read for 8 minutes each--4 read poems, 3 fiction, 1 essay. What was most interesting to me was style of reading aloud and what kind of cuts people made to long pieces of fiction. Also, maybe how something is different at a reading than at a workshop-like meeting. The impulse to edit is (mostly) pared away.

I went first which I usually like because then I can pay attention to the rest of the reading without nervous quaking or inner palpitations. I read fast last night (do I always?)--3 poems from my work series and a 4th poem that I characterized as cheerier. Long breaths, good voice, few errors. I felt like I was giving each word a little extra push of energy, kind of like using a sledgehammer, where it's not only the weight but the extra oomph your muscles give that create a bigger effect.

Although I had practiced, I regretted not doing so a little more since these were mostly newer poems, and none I'd read in this kind of setting. If I'd practiced I could have had more eye contact which I believe helps to put a reading over well, even though I here confess that I sometimes pretend eye contact when I'm really looking at the far wall or the back of a chair. I like my audience, but sometimes they can be distracting. For instance, I never look at my sister, if she's there, especially if there's some kind of family content to the poem.

It was a good reading, even though my part was brief because I immediately got into the zone, the performative place where you feel more alive, where your poems feel gestural, rock solid.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Syllabus as Jumble or My Love/Hate Relationship with Planning

 Before I actually have to start crossing stuff off on old syllabi and typing in new information and inculcating the new template and finding the page numbers of poems, making a syllabus is fun. I'm going to try using The Poet's Companion this semester. It has a nice approachable tone and such good, succinct discussions of things like image and metaphor and repetition, although maybe I'm not so interested in teaching "Writing the Erotic" or "Self-Doubt," things I feel students can experience on their own. 

Things are slowly coming together and I'm feeling zippy about having a visiting poet in October. Here are some of my early notes that might be folded in (if the syllabus were souffle--but then you really couldn't say "subject to change").

--Iris’s html poem
--Neruda--tone, line, image
Sexton--allusion, narrative, tone
Plath--tone, image
Ryan--compression, rhyme
a chapter of triggering town?
Roethke--sound, tone, suggest rather direct
Moore--sound, shape, line break
exercise with poem--assign points to image as it is more descriptive, apt, unusual
--Week 1--short class--poems to read--freewrite on place--place as homework assignment Place is landscape!! what is landscape supposed to convey. read a little? landscape as backdrop? colors and forms to mimic mood? pastoral--reaching back to a “golden age”, escape from realism; rural/urban? WHAT KIND of landscape?
--Week 2--Post it poem exercise--words--exchange--color, emotion attached to color attached to story of why that emotion? what else?
--Week 4?--Material--their material--they have to bring in a piece of material--how is it, how it can be amended. Then words--how is it, how it can be amended. Here is the piece of glass, how can I amend paragraph, description of object, description of process, how has it flown like a bird to something new? Is the poem the process or the new bird?
--more on reading work aloud
--Websites--still that old one, Blackbird, Ante, very different those two, maybe the oldster PSA or something. Make listing on syllabus.
All about the word
    • sound as unit and line
    • tone/diction/complexity
    • as related to images of the world
    • patterned
    • how does a white space hush my mouth

Monday, August 13, 2012

Notations on a Set of Student Poems

  • "Why are these three lines better than the new stuff? Because they feel startling--not because of strange word order but because of observation/presentation--how what is described is both apt (or more than apt) and idiosyncratic."
  • "Do effective repetition check."
  • "I am interested in this and where it might go. Maybe use this to change poem direction and create more surprise (which is the difficulty with a repeating line form)."
  • "Necessary?" 
  • "More whack-a-doodle stuff?" 
  • "It's not that you can't wander in a poem, but the slip or the leap has to work."
  • "Erk."
  • "Confusing 1--how is this useful, connected? Confusing 2--what's going on?"
  • "Seems as if it's going somewhere, then just stops."
  • "Questions in last three lines of physicality."
  • "Too soon. Telegraphing the terrific changes to come. Don't." 
  • "A=when too much is too much. B= when too much is great."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Final Drafting: Send Off Time

Working on the ms. this weekend.
  • I put back two words that I'd taken out last time
  • I reordered the last two stanzas in a poem--moving away from finality
  • I took the stand alone poem away from the beginning of the book (before Part I) and put it into the midst of Part III
  • Part IV (last part) didn't seem lumpy as it had on last read-though
  • I fixed the page numbers and the Tof C
  • I updated the acknowledgments page
I think that maybe this is it and that I'll start sending it out which is a good thing because I have some ideas for other work curling up like tendrils, like morning glory vines.

I also worked on the third part of a poem (which will actually come first), zoning in on the last two lines of it, questioning the language which turned out to be a big plus. From my notes on this: "I don’t like the contradiction of lay/moved. Maybe I shouldn’t say 'Lay' although it’s a nice rep. What did we do if not lay? cringe? yearn? sat? paused. But I guess part of the problem is that the beach = the world.  We tarried (only if I was from another century!)."  Problem solved I think. It wasn't just the contradiction of those two words but also their relative colorlessness.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Waiting for the Mail

I just read a review of the new book On Poetry by Glyn Maxwell. I must have it. Here is the review.

The part of the review that sold me was: "What Maxwell calls poetry, good or bad, is different from song precisely because it carries its own music within it. Where song lyrics are written to function within a musical frame, poetry is framed by silence; it's always working against the void. 'Poets work with two materials, one's black, one's white,' Maxwell writes. 'You want to hear the whiteness eating? Write out the lyrics of a song you love … If you strip the music off it, it dies in the whiteness, can't breathe there.'"

I like this thinking about the white space as an active agent, the dangerous void with big teeth eating stuff up, the thing we balance against/above like a gymnast.

FYI: Do you know about the Poetry Daily Newsletter roundup? It's a great collection of articles/reviews from around the web that are of interest to poets.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Now We're Cooking with Gas!

My title was really only supposed to refer to how hot it is and how creativity can sometimes be sapped in the struggle to endure. But as soon as I typed it in the title box  it made me think of Sylvia Plath! (I don't think I need to explain why.) And somehow summer is mixing up with madness--the sound of her bees in the background growing louder and louder (as someone I know just complained about the cicadas).(Piping hot referring to just this kind of sizzle in the pan.) (Hot potato!--Where there's smoke!)

Maybe I should throw in "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" here which is not very useful re: summer since we're all trying to get into something  else--the shade, the AC, the swimming pool. Change of venue.

But with writing, we're trying to get into the zone which involves heat, combustion, the elements flying together to conflagrate. It's all about the interior. Come lightning, come thunder, come dizzying tyrannical rain of words. How to get into the landscape of the extreme and stay there for a while.

I think it's time for me to begin again, to get out the old notebook and jot down the dream from yesterday with its wonderful weird images (hedge clippers--really) and the notes from last week about mini-moons and see what I'm trying to tell myself. Time for commitment. Time to require. Time to revive great expectations of the self.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

(Inevitable?) Delay

Even though I have more free time in the summer and generally more energy and longer days and more serene swims and inspiring breezes as I weed or trim and the patterns to be observed of sun and shade and more attention to the contrasts of the wonderful blue of the sky and the clouds, I still have trouble writing as much as I want.

1. I always start out by counting all the weeks--a bountiful number
2. and thinking about the "housecleaning" of writing to be done (sending out, sending out, sending out
3. [and finding/deciding what places to send to]). 
4. I always long for an extended idea--a series or sequence to work on--which I think I have this summer.
5. I make an enormous list of any possible idea of merit.
6. And then something gets in the way.

This summer I screwed up my knee for a few weeks (much better now) and I'm also feeling the heat and there's the herculean task of cleaning for house guests and in half of the back of my head some thinking about what I'll be doing in the fall. I also have to deduct out any planned vacation time. So I'm down to six weeks in July and August (after July 16th).

But yesterday I started to stick some bits and pieces together that might be a new poem (involving "cupcake") and I just now thought (as I disassembled part of the vacuum cleaner) that maybe I could try a NAPOWRIWE--a week where each day I write a new poem. I like it!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Who Decides This Stuff?

Working on a 3-part poem today, maybe. Am I done with my manuscript? Yesterday, I did a T of C page number check and reviewed Section 4. Section 4--is there a rhythm problem? Should I reorder a little bit between more flattened, end-stopped and more flowing (not to say verbose) stanza poems? What does the subject matter say? I also deleted 3 words out of one poem.  It's true I can still send it out if I have a few doubts of the miniscule, obsessive variety.Will I really be daubing at this thing through these longest days of the year?

(Have I mentioned that I love electronic submissions of whole manuscripts?)

The poem I'm thinking of working on today has the strange problem of having the most fantastic title in the world. (I'm serious.) As soon as that happens, the stanzas get a little self-conscious. Do they stand up as tall as that title? Does that title represent?

Also, it seems I'm writing with line breaks again. Who decides this stuff? Isn't it supposed to be me? I think the line break has to do with the rhythm of the sentences. Maybe I'm becoming more cohesive and less stuttery? Maybe before I get sucked back into the study of perfect end words, I should spend some time in an open field/tab/use of white space in a big way experiment. Although not with this poem which needs to be small on the page, its parts contained.

I began reading submissions for Barn Owl Review on June 1st. They're piling up fast and I'm not yet into the rhythm. I like seeing what's out there especially in terms of new perspectives/approaches. Also finishing a book review of Mark Haddon's The Red House.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Initial Pleasures

The first summer deadlines for manuscript competitions and open readings are closing in. I can feel the huff of each day in June as it passes me by like a giant very slow fan of calendar pages. Time to work a little harder.

I'm pretty sure I've got the order down—shoehorning in those two newer poems (gladsome surprises). But now to consider the Table of Contents where poems are represented only by titles. What do you get from reading the T of C? What should you get? The title of this post refers to what I'd hope for—an initial pleasure for the reader. Titles that strike sparks, grab you by the hair, imbue you with angst, stop you dead in your tracks, locate you in my personal neck of the woods.

I know the title "To Autumn" worked pretty well for Keats, but that was in 1819. There weren't so many poems then. Same goes for Sonnet #131, unless I am into numerology. Maybe if it was in binary code or something. I also really don't like the repetition involved if there is no title and the first line is used for the title. It's like that funny misstep you make when you go upstairs and there isn't one more. 

Can a title be like a threshold where you gather a sense of the room of the poem? Should it launch you like a diving board? Maybe it's the grave piling you cling to on the edge of the mad rush of the poem and its magnetic swampiness.Or the invisible pull that turns you in the right direction.There should be a suggestion of tone, language. If the book is divided into parts, there should be a sense of the tributaries as well as a sense of the river.

OK, I just took a look. Lots of two-part titles which I like—a kind of exuberance of communication. Titles with parentheticals and also titles like eighteenth century novel chapter titles—"Title Right Now or What Happened after the Title fell into the Manuscript."

 I'm a little surprised by one thing. In the past I have inveighed against one word titles. But I see I have four such titles: "Butterick," "Marzipan," "Nacre," "Accolade." In my head I can concoct many arguments for the necessity of their brevity. For the first three, many thoughts on the uniqueness of the one word. But "Accolade"? Maybe I should revisit that.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Standing Back for a Better View

I'm writing a book review right now (only notes so far), but after I send it away Sunday, I'm going to focus on last tweaks of the manuscript. I found an old list of things to think about from when this book was only half done. I also was trying to get a handle on what this book was at the time:
  • about danger as well as death, as in the dead have it easy now?
  • a teensy bit of self-mockery? maybe only applied to extremity of feeling?
  • when exuberant to the extreme
  • when more pierce-y
  • if 25, need 23 more (22 if aphoristic works--surely a two-pager)
  • meaningful but not instructive
  • gesturing toward the unknown
  • the "letting go" of control of voice's exuberance is new to book
  • the non-lineation is new to book
  • the a-sentence is not new but feels newer because no line breaks?
  • the going against an end is not new but maybe more pronounced here--closer to non sequitur but not
  • more humor?
  • some more lyric, some more stuttery within stanza. Is there the same quality of language in each? quality of image? Does it depend on whether poem of condition or poem of incident?
  • to make subject matter less threatening become off-hand or jokey
  • the devolution of the past
  • some swagger-y, some serious
  • lots of birds
  • a poem about beauty redefined as suggested in "Watching Me" 
  • think about if poems have flaw, not commercially but intrinsically

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Five Poems and Counting

Working at Tahoe: OK, I exaggerate a little since 2 1/2 of those poems were substantially begun before I came to Tahoe. But one of those poems is for the book I had thought was done which is good.

So far this week, I also made a long list of possible ideas noting where some thing might dovetail with each other. And I did some good free writing on "American Jobs" so that I have at least a base from which to think about what else I might include. Maybe a little homage to Mark Nowak in the form of a haibun.

I also wanted to think about my writing. I've begun reading Talk Poetry: Poems and Interviews with Nine American Poets. A quote I would like to consider in relation to my own work is from an interview with Linda Gregerson: "how to locate the hard edge, the limits, the embodied grammar that will give this new work its own center of gravity." I'm especially interested in that hard edge.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I feel a little fizzy, but in a good way. I'm going away for 8 days to Lake Tahoe with four writer friends. This is something we've done before, and it is a little piece of heaven (except for the bear part). It is the kind of undirected time that writers long for. My quandary for the next few days before I leave is deciding what is my writing plan (and what clothes to pack since it might snow one day!).

  • I really want to write some new poems, especially maybe in the new series I'm thinking about that has to do with jobs, working, the economy.
  •  But I also am drawn to completing more of these extremely atypical funny aphoristic poems about men and women that I started when I was a little more bitter. 
  • Also, I want to perfect the ms. I think it's the right order, been edited, been concentrated on plenty. But maybe a couple more walk-throughs.
  •  And I've printed out an interview by Anne Carson that I think might direct my thinking--maybe not direct, but provoke--to new ways of making a poem.
  • I'd also like to make a list of still viable poem ideas, reading through my jottings and notes that get left behind to see what might still be valuable.
Often, I'm an undirected poet working from the things that fly into my head from the world or that rise from my murky creative depths without conscious pre-planning. Note that I did say conscious since even when I'm just writing what occurs to me, there are clusters of themes and similar registers. But I don't want to waste this time.

Other years, I've written two long poems there (you know, numbered sections long). I also put a chapbook together there one year. And I think the link between these tasks and the week is how close to the matter I can remain, untroubled by electricity bills and commutes to work.

But also, other years, I've lain on the stone steps in the sun and just felt. But then I wrote a poem about that.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mother, May I or Against Permission

I'm feeling a little wiggy and free, like bouncing in my seat although the wildest thing I might do is have a shot of bourbon or not wear sunscreen when I go out in a few minutes to mow the lawn. I just turned my grades in! Huzzah! No more wrestling over quality and quantity and revision bravado and surprise inspiration and the good plain luck of having a talent.

So why did the above title suggest itself to me. (Do you remember that game--"Mother, may I?" "No, you may not!) I'm at one of those rare times when there are no expectations for a few hours or days. Why am I thinking about permission and rejecting that stance? I was a very dutiful child always conscious of obligation and ritual--quite frighteningly so for a little while.

Are all moments of freedom/release related to each other? This small soaring away from the gradebook reminding me of all other flights?Maybe it's the students reminding me of the thrill of abandoning syntax and punctuation to see how that makes language on the page different. Maybe they remind me of myself when I first stopped rhyming or using question marks or using line breaks. The necessary hubris that allows a writer to walk the plank over the unknown. What's keeping me up in the air?

Let me just say that I never tell my students something has to be earned. I find myself quite scornful of this sentiment.Maybe it's not the sentiment but the language. Just as epiphany seems to have fallen out of style, or at least out of mine. A poem does not have to have a little peak at the end--our own personal Himalaya (although put that way it sounds kind of fun).

Monday, April 30, 2012

(What is Necessary) Image Above All

I think I might have mentioned earlier my feelings about form--not dismissal which seems too brutal and foolish, but perhaps thinking of it as of secondary importance. Even as I write that, I realize what a firestorm of disagreement and repudiation I might unleash. And it's all because I learned how to write when free verse still felt new and subversive. Let me begin again. Point one of my personal manifesto.

When I teach poetry, whether literature class or workshop, the first thing I discuss is image. Image as setting, image as tone, image as the referent of emotion. Image which allows the reader to put his or her finger into the physical world of the poem, understanding what is true because he or she knows this is how sunlight really does feel on skin. Image establishing a world and an authority.

Stark image--standing in for. A chair in the poem that we can sit on. Complex image which feels wonderfully apt at first encounter and then keeps unfolding, accruing meaning, suggesting more the longer we consider. 

I was having a little facebook conversation about this with someone late last week, trying to enumerate the examples I might use--Bishop, Plath. That fork poem by Simic. And then this morning I opened a book of poems by Tomas Transtromer, Windows and Stones. I was struck dumb with admiration in the second poem:
"Now my letter is with the censor . . . . / my words leap like apes onto a grating/ shake it, go stiff, and bare their teeth." (from "To Friends Behind a Border")

How else to inhabit the world if not through the senses?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Imaginary Geography (or do I mean landscape?)

When I was young, my sister and I played a game called Good Land and Bad Land. Good Land was on the right side of my grandmother's backyard which had a giant sycamore tree. Bad Land was on the left; it was narrower and had the garage (always a place of potential menace/discomfort). I don't fully remember what happened in this game, except that we would sometimes move from one side of the yard to the other by walking on the grass and whatnot growing in the cracks of the walkway. Both sides had a border of rosebushes. (OK, we used to be Catholic. That probably explains a lot.)

I was thinking about this only because in my class I've been asking students about their good lines and bad lines.I think I have a pretty good eye/ear for this. Unlike my childhood game, the point here is to eradicate Bad Land and live only in the good lines--lines that sing (I'm sorry, they do) exploding our consciousness with their imagistic wildness. Lines that are bold and long and unabstract. Lines that are clipped as if each new phrasing were held in small hands. Lines like diving boards or knives or fragrant combs of honey. Lines that no one else could find the words to say. Lines like ripples in a pool or waves in the ocean. Lines that will not let you alone. They grip you as should each title,each word, each first line, each last. Lines that break you apart and put you together new.

(My sister remembers Good Land and Bad Land as being played at our house on Mapledale as well which could kick off a great discussion of the reliability of past senses [or as we know it--memory].)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Good News

The good news is that I've written another poem for the manuscript--"Clamshell, Get Back"-- and even figured out a pretty terrific place for it to nestle in the ms. I think it goes, but somehow it feels unbalanced in comparison. I think it's the cheese factor--you know, it hasn't aged enough--or it hasn't somehow pushed into my brain asserting its rightness as a poem will do. For instance, I'm still fiddling around with the order of the last four stanzas. I notice I like to have a stanza that is a short, gritty list as a kind of "turn" stanza towards the end.

I'm pleased about this poem because it came from a number of notes I took when I was sitting and resting my feet at AWP (OK and in a few panels/readings, too) which makes all time spent in the pursuit of poetry just that much more worthwhile.

I've been getting some acceptances (keep your eye out!) and some rejections lately. This must mean it's time for another giant outpouring of work into the great maws of lit magazines everywhere. I just sent to Chagrin River Review (which is new and local to me) and I see next on my list is Conte (where they have liked me before). Think of me tomorrow morning hustling at the keyboard. (Electronic submissions are the best.)

So plans for the weekend--send poems out, last edits and table of contents fiddle on manuscript, make ms. submission list, maybe send the remaining chapbook out as well.

(My quotation for this last week's class: "Art is the elimination of the unnecessary." --Picasso.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Because It Is April, I Must Confess

April 1st--wrote a book review and graded papers.
April 2nd--attended an informal remembrance of Adrienne Rich, graded papers, worked on a blog post.
Two days into April and I've already missed the possibility of complete NAPOWRIMO. I have never achieved complete NAPOWRIMO. I yearn to have a life in which NAPOWRIMO could work.

Other years, I've enlisted in numerous groups, not even always in April. I have written poem parts, I have worked from someone else's posted exercises, I have set aside so much time per day to concentrate. It just doesn't seem to be the way I work. I often think if only I had a series idea!

The closest I've ever come to writing every day was a three week period when I wasn't working because I'd gotten a grant. Then my mother broke her arm and her leg and my parents moved in temporarily.

Every time I moan in my head about not having time, I think about a friend who wrote a novel by setting aside 10 minutes every day. And I think I'm getting better at paying attention to my writing needs, even during what is the cruelest academic month. Maybe I could have a NAPOWRIWEEK this April. But which one?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thoughts on Form (in the Large) or There are Many Ways to Make Music

I have been running from form for years. And metrics. I think because it feels like a box, I say don't put me in it! Don't tell me I have to pose a problem and then solve it. Don't tell me there should be 10 syllables in each of my lines. I might be a milquetoast, but on the page I'm a rebel. Don't fence me in (a little twangy guitar music here not really frantic enough for my emotional response!). Of course, I know that I'm unconsciously working the system in my free verse way. Using the broken pieces of form and meter and rhythm to make my own patterns and echoes. I've understood this, intellectually, ever since I took "Forms of Poetry" from Leonard Trawick who opened my eyes to the meaning and uses of measure and tradition and made me write a sonnet and a sestina.

All this is a long introduction to my present quandary. I'm putting together a book of prose poems. They are poems without line breaks but with stanzas.The book is divided into 4 sections (unnamed) with an introductory poem standing before and outside of section 1. (I believe the last advice I got floating in the creative writing ether was that dividing a book into sections was bad. But come to think of it, I can just resist this encomium as well as many others.) Can I place a lineated poem as my introductory poem? It is standing outside of the book sections. I think it might work in its subjects and references. It is perhaps a little different in tone, left over from the book before where the speaker is in a very jumbled universe with a jangly voice--think too much caffeine with a slab of betrayal a la mode.

It all comes down to the question "does it work"? Can its well-thought-out line breaks hold the door open to poems with lines like a gust of air or a gush of water sluicing out over the page with some pebbles and broken flowers and scraps of paper tumbled in. It has a great title--"Ready as Mayo."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Unlocated City of AWP (10,000 strong)

Going to AWP is like suddenly having cable television. There is so much, too much, how can it be too much? It's addictive. How can you miss this panel? It's exhausting. Look there's a whole other wing of opportunity in the Southeast Hall. Combing through the book fair for the enterprises you know and the surprises of magazines and presses and programs you didn't. Recognizing someone's name because they're a WOMPO! Buying a book because it's called Charlotte Bronte, You've Ruined My Life. Visiting the book signings of people you know. People reminding you of how you know them in the restroom line. Finding the best swag--a tiny button of Emily Dickinson's face.

AWP was in Chicago this year which is probably why I went. Its events were divided between two hotels on S. Michigan Avenue, and I was nestled in between. From my twelfth floor room, I could look out on the suprising pale blue of Lake Michigan and the soothing symmetry of the lakefront park. To my right were the museums and the crouching frog of the planetarium with its one huge eye. To the left was Navy Pier where the ferris wheel lit up every night.

The first panel I went to was on rhyme--Apollonian, Dionysian--and someone imitated a sitar. The last event I went to was an accident because I could not find the ballroom of Gerald Stern. But the poets who read in celebration of their online magazine's anniversary were terrific. The reading ended with a guitar and a song. 

Best time--lunch with two friends who live far away, talking about the work.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chi-town (although I like coffee)

I'm planning on going to the AWP Conference this year. I'm only going Thursday through Saturday (March 1st through 3rd), so already I'll be missing some fabulous stuff. But the truth is that there's so much going on at the conference that it can be overwhelming. In terms of sheer numbers, the amount of attendee bodies alone seems preposterous. Registration was closed this year (for the first time) at 10,000.

I just had a conversation with someone who has never gone before. We were talking about networking which I know I should always do, but somehow have not the faintest idea of how to accomplish. Ask me to write a sonnet, and I won't want to, but I know how. Tell me to find out what's wrong with a poem and I can sift through and put a finger on it (or several/them). Maybe if I wrote a poem about networking, I would discover how to do it.

What I like to do is go to panels about poetry to find out new stuff. One year, the name Harryette Mullen was mentioned everywhere and that's how I came to her work. Another time, people got excited and vociferous (audience members) in a panel discussing form versus free verse. I also like to wander around the book fair and look at presses and anthologies and books of poetry and books of thinking about poetry. Readings are good, too--those who have arrived, the old warhorses of valor, in the evenings, and the energetic new at all the off-sites.

If you find yourself wandering the book fair on Friday, March 2nd, between 3 and 4, you will find me at the BkMk table (C1-C2) doing a book signing of Lake Erie Blue. And if you stop and say hello, I'll imagine I'm networking successfully!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lighter than Air (momentarily)

Sunday I finished judging a contest of 500 or so poems. Talk about feeling light, the pressure being off, any number of other remarks that equal relief. There was the relief from the task--done. But also the relief from confrontation, from facing up to each poem with its murky wonder and fabulous hubris and sheltered flaws. Lifting cloud-like into the afternoon sky.

Last fall, I sat with three other poets zipping through a stack of poems. It was pretty awe-inspiring that mostly the same poems (although in different orders) plucked at our attention, making it into the last 20.

In my most recent Judgment Day, I was pleased that unconsciously, I had chosen a range of styles and gestures, interested, too, in how many things can light up the brain with pleasure like a mini-thunderstorm flashing up there. So much good work.

Now I hope to return to Blackbird, my manuscript (Get Sorrow Out, If That's What That Blackbird Is) and fool around with this idea I have for a poem about a wind turbine like a heavy metal sunflower.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


I'm feeling a little lonely for my manuscript. All the before work, during lunch, Saturday morning time in which I might write is being taken up by a book review, recommendation letters, and a contest that I'm judging. And then Thursday, I had an idea for a new class I'd like to teach.

On the way to work yesterday morning, instead of thinking about a poem, I was thinking about this blog entry and wondering if I should mention how it started snowing big impossible flakes 20 minutes before I had to leave. For some reason, the snow didn't seem invasive and onerous as it often does.

And now the snow is back this morning (not needing any inspiration). One thing I'd like to do when I squeeze through the impasse of other obligations is to write a poem like "February Report on Conditions in the Interior" by Jeff Gundy. It has a form that is not a form, a series of numbered observations or "conditions." Nice.

Friday, January 20, 2012

How We Think in My Head

Here's my informal (post-it) list thinking about the ms:
sound--I used to only be able to revise if the new line had the same rhythm as the old
intention--the poem's? mine? both?
meaning-ability--or as a poet-friend calls it "aboutness"
coherence (web of)
repeating words

also, order
short/long or maybe density/relief

Usually, by the time I've gotten to the point of putting a manuscript together, I've already banged on the poems and held them up to the light. But there are still little sore spots that I hope can be fixed and the quandaries caused by good criticism. So these are the things I think about, not in the order of importance.

This morning I was mulling over the first three poems. The first poem standing alone outside a section--should I do that? (yes) Deleted 4 words over two poems. Revisited a discussion about the end of "The Lost Predella": I don't dislike either of these [stanzas] but they don't feel like an end. Maybe this [stanza] belongs to another poem? Is it too soft? Should the poem be left in early turmoil? (turmoil--such a great word). . . . Literalizing it is ruining it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I teach creative writing, and after the fall semester was over, I realized what I should have told my students--the white space inside the poem is what's important. This was a reaction to centered text and uninspired line breaks. But it also seems evocative in exactly the right way for someone (me) who wants to puzzle over her writing decisions.

Right now I'm working on a manuscript of poems, and I spent the morning thinking about order and beginning the read for final revisions. I questioned "peter pan collars" in a poem. Should it be capitalized? A few lines later I'm capitalizing Butterick. (Just an insert to assure you very few of my poems have to do with sewing.) says Peter Pan, but then I rejected accuracy for the sake of sense. Butterick is a brand name and peter pan merely a style. No caps.

So stuff like that. And maybe remarks about the weather and what I'm reading.

Tabula rasa. Space for something to happen. The landscape of poetry which often seems as if its forming in my head.