meta-blogging: past, present, future

Well, gosh.

I suppose apologies are in order, first of all, for disappearing off the face of the Internet. For those who follow me on Facebook, you know that I haven’t completely vanished or anything, but it’s been a disservice to those of you who care about my whereabouts and only have access to this blog and/or Twitter. So: everything is fine! I’m alive!

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way.

CSHS has been a bit of a trial. To be frank, submissions have not come in as regularly as we’d hoped, and neither Tessa nor I had capacity to do things like promote and market it, to try and drum up some interest. (For those of you that have showed interest and support, thank you.) But on top of that, something I’ve been keeping under my hat for a little while — which is now public, so I can talk about it — is that I’ll be taking over the editorship of Assaracus starting on 1 September, not to mention going back to school a bit. So, that’s been on my mind. The result of all this is that Tessa will be taking the reins of CSHS from here on out, and I will be in a support role as needed; details to follow, but probably on the CSHS blog, and from Tessa.

That’s the past. At present, I’ve just started my two-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center, which means life has slowed down enough that I can get things done, such as this blog post. This summer has seen a lot of motion under the influence of Various Forces; stillness is a welcome reprieve. It occurred to me that it’s been almost two years since I even submitted anything for publication, and most of that time has been spent developing my craft, workshopping, making more connections in the writerly world, hell, even just reading more. Dream goal: to leave here in two weeks with a manuscript draft in hand. Barring that, I’ll settle for getting more into a rhythm of getting work out into the world more again.

Maybe that sounds self-serving… but I think that lately I’ve felt my writing disappearing into a vacuum. I don’t write for any greater purpose — certainly not at my day job — and the extra stuff, the blog, the journal, etc. is all done without any benefit other than the strengthening of bonds with others out there who write too. My day job pays rent and loans, engages my mind, connects me with coworkers, and feeds me lunch; there’s little tangible result to my writing these days. I want to try to make my writing more valuable to myself again; it’s not that I need some kind of adulation or reward for getting my thoughts out onto the page, but there’s only so many hours in the day, and when I’m forced to choose, the adult-busywork stuff has a lot going for it nowadays, which is bizarre. Balance is needed!

In the interest of going “pro” with all this, I’m going to be shuttering this blog for a bit. Not forever; and hopefully not even three and a half months, which is how long it’s been since I posted on here. But I’m leaning towards building a “writer page” website, and keeping the majority of my public-facing stuff on it (as well as developing more public-facing stuff to even put on there). This blog may go private, and be more for very rough drafts (as it is now), random goings-on in my life that I don’t feel like sharing with the whole world, and other sundries. I may return to doing prompts and revisions, and keep those public. But anyway, details to follow.

Those are the main bits. I won’t be worrying too much about all this until I’m back from the residency, unless I get really bored and block-y one of the days. But I’ve been telling Tessa for days now that I’m going to make this post, so I forced myself to buckle down and write it.

As a side note, what the hell is up with this new WordPress post format? Yeesh. I’m searching around for tags and things, and it’s like re-learning how to tie your shoes.

War Paint

Just saw on that Natasha Trethewey will be serving a second term as Poet Laureate! I am okay with this, because I am still not very familiar with her work, and now I will have more opportunity to become so while she is still in the spotlight. The blurb adds, “Trethewey will undertake a signature project: a regular feature on PBS NewsHour Poetry Series for which she will travel to cities and towns across the country meeting with the general public to seek out the many ways poetry lives in American communities.” Pretty cool, says I. Maybe she’ll come visit New York and I can meet her this time without getting all tongue-tied.

Meanwhile, a poem. I’ve been trying to write more and more not to prompts, instead drawing on random happenings around town, random memories and thoughts/dreams I haven’t cannibalized properly yet for material, other works stumbled across, and experiments with sound and structure. So this one was part memory, part meditation on childhood, I guess. I tried to be as deft with the subject and my opinions of it as I could, but I don’t think you have to dig very deep to unpack the full idea of it. If you have any problems, um, let me know?

War Paint

First graders under the lone mulberry tree
take up the purple berries and crush them
between thumb and forefinger, smearing pulp
beneath each eye. Cowboys and Indians,
today. These boys hollering flecked with dirt,
their women in the root-hollow, rolling pebbles
into the centers of muddy spheres.

The blacktop with its fragments of glass
stained pinkish with the sorry shit of sparrows
singing in the mulberry becomes a mesa
which becomes a battlefield. Both sides charge
and collide. Missiles exchanged.
Black and purple berries and the red clay mud
pound back and forth, while the voices reach
that child’s pitch part laugh, part scream,
and rattle the chain-link fence.

After the skirmish, their women tend wounds
with spit and mulberry leaves. Some things
are learned too late; only old medicine will do
for now. The teacher blows her whistle.
And the fathers will remember their own wars
and shudder at the same old machinery.
And the mothers will say, well, they’re just
children. Yes, they’re only children.

reading: collin kelley, “render”

A few days into the vacation, and things are drifting along nicely. I haven’t gotten done quite as much as I’d like, but I’m trying not to beat myself up about it: just as important as the daily writing/reading I want to do is the daily time to do Absolutely Nothing. Seriously, there have been a couple points where I just lay there not moving, almost like one of these “nap” things I’ve heard about, except I think you have to be asleep for those. But at least I’ve done one draft per day so far, and seen groups of family/friends as well, which is nice. The late morning Starbucks crew has become very familiar with my presence.

So, on the train home, I finally had the wherewithal to get through the rest of Collin Kelley’s collection Render, which I picked up at the Rainbow Book Fair and have been too busy to just finish. (You may have seen one of the poems from this collection on Verse Daily a month ago, “To Margot Kidder, With Love”, a poem that I think typifies the book.) Collin himself is also very pleasant in person (and was kind enough to sign my book!), as well as a prolific Tweeter, holding monthly “poet parties”. You can check out his blog here:

I mentioned before (I think when talking about Jessie Carty’s chapbook, An Amateur Marriage) that it can be a challenge for the poet to carry over a particular point of view to the reader. There are confessional poems, dialogic poems, nature poems, universal poems, each of which pushes further and further out from the first person, and to relate intense, specific personal experiences in a compelling fashion can be much harder than making sweeping statements about the cosmos. Render rides (sometimes openly, sometimes coyly) on an extended metaphor of snapshots from the author’s life, starting not long after birth and carrying right up to the present. But many of the poems (I’d say the majority; I haven’t counted up) weave pop culture and geography particular to a time and place into the biography, creating a necklace of touchstones that different readers will react to. The casual references to World’s Fairs, Blondie, and Steel Magnolias are all historical reference to me, and some like Helen Keller’s house or Antietam are historical to everybody; but Star Wars, Star Trek, and Hanna-Barbera are timeless. The book is rich with an entire vocabulary of wholly American allusion, from “Zapruder-style” to “JC Penney knock-offs”; I doubt any one reader will have the exact same nostalgic resonance with the proper noun buffet.

It’s an interesting conceit that lends uniqueness to the author’s voice, but blended with that are situations and themes which are wholly familiar like discovering sexuality, parental friction, and family road trips. (I enjoyed the Civil War references peppered throughout, because I remember well when we drove out to Gettysburg when I was a kid. I thought it was just about the most boring thing I’d ever done.) The effect is what you would expect from a chain of snapshots arranged on a darkroom line: each square holds a few bits of information that are apparent or easily deduced, but it takes the subject (and/or photographer) to give the proper context that we can all relate to. Kelley also is fantastically raw and open about his past, in a way that, if it’s invented at all, does not sound forced or embellished, and doesn’t make the reader feel like a voyeur. It takes a great deal of courage to admit to locker-room goings-on, and a bold self-awareness to reconstruct and analyze memories of a mother’s affair, or beginning to take on gay identity. Too many poets (guilty!) veil their admissions with impenetrable metaphors.

What distinguishes this book from “confessional” poetry is the tone, in my opinion: there are no coming-to-grips moments or re-discovering trauma that you see in therapy poetry. The author has no illusions about the past, and is thoughtful with his analysis of its effects on him. A helpful trick for writing poems of this sort might be to try replacing “I” with “you” or “s/he”, to see whether the autobiographical has the same power when applied like a sticker to the reader, or some absent person. It’s a balancing act: you don’t want to be unfaithful to the stories you’re trying to tell, but you also don’t want to get so caught up in your own experience of them that they become impossible to relate to in the way you’d like the reader to. The poet must be a chameleon: subtle, even mythological, able to change colors and patterns to suit the observer, but still ultimately a lizard. Render is instructive to the poet who wishes to find that balance. The poem about visiting Helen Keller’s house features see-saws as a metaphor, and I’d carry that over into the process of crafting each Polaroid poem of this sort: on the one side, you must remain wholly yourself. On the other, you stack details (the pop culture references, the historical timeline framework, the hints of teasing apart an event to get to its emotional core) until you reach equilibrium. Of course not every poem will succeed in this, but when you average them out — and this applies to Render — the whole becomes a clear portrait.

Overall, the book reminds me of one of those portraits of faces that is made up of other, miniature portraits of faces. And I could talk further about the whole construct, but I want to share snippets from what are probably my three favorite components of the collection:

“She likes long hauls, seeing the world, while my mother turns bitter and adulterous, no sizzle in the bacon my father brings home. I stay up all night to watch Blondie on the Midnight Special, learn Debbie’s shawl dance with a ripped bed sheet, purloined heels, face smeared with lipstick, sucking a candy cigarette, Mother’s whereabouts unknown.”
– “Parallel Lines”

“Before you made me a witch,
got forced in the basement to pray,
your mother stripping you, whipping you
with a belt in those sure Jesus strokes,
you kissed me once in the backseat,
crouched low, out of my dad’s line of sight
in the rearview mirror.”
– “Ian”

“I say, cut the parlor tricks, Mary.
If you want a little respect, come flaming
out of the sky on a thunder cloud,
ride it like a magic carpet over Middle America…”
– “The Virgin Mary Appears in a Highway Underpass”

I think there’s a great deal of Whitman-heritage in the book to be admired: there is an honest, American, passionate voice ringing through the pages. If you’re a fan of that poetry which captures the everyday cultural, the immediately historical, and the familiar emotional, you ought to enjoy this one. Do get thee over to Sibling Rivalry Press and acquire yourself a copy, if my chat about the collection has inspired you enough. And then come back in the near future! I’ve been reading a furious pace, and I’m eager to share, you guys.

The Refinery: joseph harker(??)

Tomorrow evening the vacation begins! It is much needed, and I am hoping that it will be the appropriate balance of relaxing and productive. Donna is doing a summer residency, and I thought, I wish I could do one of those too; but then I took a page from Peter Murphy‘s book and thought, I’ll do a retreat on my own time. A writing staycation, if you will. So, it’s down to the homestead for several days, and I’m committing myself to writing time each day. Then back up to NYC for the last evening of poetry workshop on Monday. I had kicked around spending next week in Canada or New England, but the logistics ran away from me, so I think I’ll stick to the Hudson Valley if I go anywhere at all. Perhaps some city exploration and finding new venues to write will do some good for the old muse as well.

But meanwhile, I’m doing the thing I’ve threatened to do for a while, and carving myself up on the Refinery altar. I do want to spend some time editing and revising some older pieces, so I ought to get in the habit of doing it. Workshop is nice because it’s an opportunity to hear feedback on the poems you know aren’t quite right yet, but can’t put your finger on what the problem is. (I don’t habitually bring poems that I know are terrible, out of embarrassment, nor the ones that I love, for fear that they are actually terrible, too.) When you have those middle-of-the-road poems, particularly the ones that grow out of prompts, I think workshop is good practice for external critique, and a lot of the strategies people use in them can be adapted for internal as well. This one that I’m going to tear apart is one that I put down a couple weeks ago with the hunch I’d use it for this purpose, so it may look familiar:

“Heart’s Thaw”

After such a long time heartsick,
to see the birds’ northward line
and the archery of homecoming–
from the bone to the flesh grown thick
moans a green sound, the rhyme
of the body with the sky hums
vowel on drowned vowel– the signs
meaning spring and rain running
will fill each part and cavity– the sun
paints bird backs as a flame the wick,
gravity claims their upward climb–
and the flock tacks right, lowly divine
with the sleepless heart caught undone
in its wake– knotted by the quick
turn, by the art of so many dimensions
and leaves who burn with becoming.

I’m going to break from usual Refinery practice and not introduce the author because it’s, you know, me. And because it’s me, I can flesh out some of the rationale and resistance a bit more thoroughly. But otherwise, what’s bothering me about this poem is:
– In workshop, we often talk about the cry of the occasion as an essential ingredient for a poem, that is, the event/thought/image that demands a poem be sculpted around it. And I tend to get Socratic when I look for that cry, continually building question on question: why did I choose to write about this? But is it really worth writing about? Is there some element I can nail down as the compelling part? Is it really compelling? Why? And so on. I know that this was done to a WWP prompt, asking for a “body-soul Zen moment”, but the danger of prompts is that it’s a forced choice. The event in question here is seeing a flock of birds returning in the spring; is it compelling? Am I looking for something deeper than what’s there? This isn’t to say that simple observational poetry, nature poems, or basic emotional poems don’t have the value of others and shouldn’t be written, but there ought to be something damn compelling to make them pop. I’m not convincing myself that this momentary event, which (to be honest) didn’t actually impact me enough to be called a body-soul Zen moment, so the poem feels a little bit fake and lacking in depth.
– But part of that good be chalked up to the prompt itself. Remember: prompts can be cages as much as they can be foundations, and it’s good to break free of them if the poem demands it. I think I did toss aside some elements of the prompt — it was part of a longer series that I haven’t been taking part in — but not enough. If you’re going to let the poem spread its wings enough to cast off whatever prompt-egg it came from, you have to flap them hard to get those little bits of eggshell off. In workshop, we also talk about the second subject of the poem, where you have the other “what is the poem about” underneath the surface interpretation. I think that I got caught up in trying to create this mood around a one-dimensional image, and though I wanted to dig a little bit deeper, I didn’t do enough work in that regard to give the poem depth. (I was also distracted by other elements, though, which I’ll get to.) Not to toot my own horn, but this is another reason I try to give multi-faceted prompts: they force the mind to do more than one level of work, and give the poems richness. It’s a skill I’m still trying to master too, though I suspect it’s easier to be effortless about it.
– I think I was too cryptic at certain points, too. The title and the poem’s events may give some context to the emotional information in the poem, but there’s not a lot of reflection, just a raw sense of feeling X, Y, Z. Again, not to say that’s not a valuable impulse to share, but it wasn’t what I set out to write, and it feels clunky in the trappings I tried to place it in. Never leave the readers confused; tantalize, mystify, and entrance them, but don’t perplex them. How many people can honestly read the poem above and say they understood every single word and the work it was doing among the others? Because I can’t, so if you can, do fill me in!

That being said, there are some things that when I look at, I’m proud of:
– This was an image I’ve tried to get down for years without success. Although it may not be as profound as I make it out to be/felt I needed to portray, and though there’s not a lot of specifics given, I’m glad I finally wrote something about it. It was a day in spring when one of the trees outside my house was just completely chock-full of birds. They all rose at once at one point, and formed this flock that dipped and turned as one, hundreds of them, sounding like thunder. And there was nothing transformative or enlightening about it beyond the simple wonder of the power of nature. The challenge with writing about that in verse is to keep the core of the idea from being so cloaked in poetry’s devices that it gets lost.
– There really are a couple of phrases I’m really proud of, which were the genesis of the poem to begin with. I think the archery of homecoming came first, and looking back, I almost feel I wasted it on this poem; though after revising it, maybe it will become a more solid piece that I’ll be more comfortable with as a box for such phrases. And the rhyme of the body with the sky was another one I liked, though I must have re-written it twenty times trying to get the mouthfeel of it just right. The idea of tangible, primal things being vowels, and then the unexpected rhyme between them, was something that occurred to me and filled me with delight. Lastly, that knotted by the quick / turn, I knew it had to enjamb. That sudden curve of the flock was what I wanted to capture, though I’m not sure it worked out. Don’t get me wrong, there are other phrases that I think fell kind of flat, but I think those three I feel happy with.
– And of course I was trying to do kooky things with sound. In workshop, they call me a sound poet because, perhaps due to my linguistics background/day-job, I love experimenting with rhyme and meter, throwing lyrical flourishes in, creating nonce forms around internal sounds, etc. But as with all things, all poetry is a balancing act between what the poem needs and what you want the poem to have. The sound got in the way, probably, of a lot of explanation — or at least suggestion to, again, entice and entrance — that would have better served the lyric. Now, there are plenty of poems (e.e. cummings, anyone?) and songs (Sigur Ros, anyone?) that play with sound and language, and don’t concern themselves with much else, all well and good. For me, though, I like to keep that intentional, structured sonic richness in poems that have a heartbeat when I can, and it’s very delicate to get right. That being said, I do like the sounds in this one, too.

And the little nitpicks that make these Refineries so much fun:
– The middle of the poem is the weakest. I feel confident saying this.
– There seems to be some ego-deletion in the poem, on another read, which is surprising but not unwelcome.
Aunt Emily, with her hyphens and penchant for deleting function words, may have made too heavy a mark.
– I do think the poem is exactly the right length. Not too long, not too short. A haiku wouldn’t have done it justice, a sestina would have been interminable (as they often are, let’s admit).
– What was I thinking with the title? I can’t tell if it helps or harms.

Well, I have generated for myself at least some food for thought. And if the fact that I’m doing one of my own poems was too subtle a hint: send me poems! Email is best (linksfreude) (gmail) (com) (fill in the blanks), but links in the Comments box are always fine, too. If you don’t feel like sending one for revision, and would rather have a prompt, try this one on for size:

Choose a memory of yours based in sound, and write a list of beautiful, bizarre phrases to describe it: then pick your favorite. Examine the rhythm and sound of that phrase. Is it iambic, dactylic, trochaic, some mix of meters? Does it repeat consonants or vowels? Try to create some specific sound and meter rules for yourself and invent a nonce form just for this poem, based off that line. Describe the memory and what you learned from it, no more, no less; use at least one body part, one color, and no verbs with more than one syllable.

Complicated enough for you? I certainly hope so. ^_^

The Spider

And also, a poem. DVerse wanted a “bathroom poem”, however that is to be interpreted. So I rolled with the spider theme, having seen one in the bathroom the other day; but also, another attempt to exorcise this idea of the spider as the spirit animal. I think she’s a good shape for that analytical part of ourselves that (for poets in general, maybe) takes the tragedies of others and turns them into writing, which always strikes me as callous on top of whatever other value it has (instructive, cathartic, etc.) What is the psychosis of the writer that death leads to good writing about death? What is the animal shape of that part of the spirit which simply allows itself to mourn?

I think I was also trying to do subtle things with sound, but they were so subtle they disappeared. Womp womp.

The Spider

She stares eightfold from the showerhead
before continuing her web.
A grey body skirts along blue tile.
Barring water, the little deaths
will string their constellation to the windowsill.

It can be so easy to claim kinship,
confusing webs for words,
when the epilogue belongs to someone else.
The spider is the one who dangles from it.
She is just out of reach in the totem-dream,
harbored on the underside
of the cabinet, shaded by the shelf.

Some of her outdoor cousins
are long-lived too. You’ve seen them spin
between tree branches, webs well-built
as ten o’clock fog in early June,
those scraps too stubborn to melt.

reading: jane hirshfield, “nine gates”

Cripes, have I really been silent for a week? Sorry about that.

I am in a weird place today. First of all, I spent five hours in line starting at 7 this morning (which those of you who pay attention to my Twitter may have seen) waiting for Shakespeare in the Park tickets, successfully acquired; as a result, I am Really Very Tired. Then, because I had been away from the Web for almost 24 hours, I came back to find out that the mother of a friend passed away yesterday afternoon. And a few hours later, the child of two other friends was born. It was just strange to see that mix of extreme sorrow and joy while sleep deprived, I guess, but it constructed this weird place around me, so that’s that. I suppose there’s no better time to write a book review thing, is there?

I’ve made much ado about Jane Hirshfield‘s book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry lately, and I’d like to share some thoughts about it. First, if you haven’t read Jane Hirshfield’s poetry, please do so; good places to start might be “This Was Once a Love Poem” and “Seawater Stiffens Cloth“. I’d hazard to say these are longer than typical pieces of hers, but they maintain her same sensibility that smacks strongly of traditional Japanese poetry, Taoist and Buddhist sensibility, a keen observational eye for nature and a gift for surprising metaphor. If you want to know how to do haiku or tanka in English “correctly”, Hirshfield, along with traditional luminaries like Sandburg, Snyder, and Williams, is an excellent resource, not only because of her poetic skills, but also because she is trained in Zen Buddhism, and is a prolific translator of Japanese poetry. (Nine Gates features several haiku that are nice to keep in your pocket.)

A brief anecdote: Hirshfield reminds me a little bit of my high school creative writing teacher: they have (in my opinion) similar features, are close in age, and share interests in both Zen and women’s poetry. (OK, so maybe the similarities end there.) Recently, I was chatting at dinner with that teacher (who is also a Life-Mentor for me) about Natalie Goldberg’s philosophical and imaginative Writing Down the Bones, our “textbook” from that class, and mentioned that Nine Gates might serve as an equivalent for poetry. It turns out that is not quite the case: Hirshfield’s book does not contain exercises for writing individual poems, or strategies to get yourself to write more. But I do think that it could be considered the next step, if you feel that you’re ready, and it’s a book rich enough to be read and digested again and again. A lot of the terminology, history, philosophy, and vocabulary in it are not for the faint of heart. Heaps of care are put into every sentence, making the book fantastically rich, but not suited for a quick skim or piecemeal adoption of methods. More than anything, it’s a primer that gives training on how to write: the mindsets and thoughtful considerations a poet must take on to get into their own work.

(Start with Goldberg. Then go Hirshfield. That’s my advice.)

And once you do wade in, there are some wonderful topics that are covered. Each chapter is one of the “gates”, ranging from how rituals and spaces affect or strengthen a poet with the sureness of any religion, to keeping the delicate balance between the self and the self-destructive, from the origins of poetry as a cultural necessity, to the difficulties of translating from one language to another. There’s something for everyone in here, and though the author guides with a firm hand, all she does is get you through the gate itself: you are the discoverer and recorder of what lies on the other side. What is helpful is the way that she names and categorizes aspects of writing, the self, and the interaction between the two, in ways that you hadn’t thought of before. For example, she discusses the three “modes” she labels subjective, reflective, and objective: those poems that have an “I”, those where the “I” is present but not front-and-center, and those rare ones that are (almost) entirely divorced from the “I”. At another point, she also discusses the six “energies through which poetry moves forward into the world it creates”: music, rhetoric, image, emotion, story, and voice. My favorite might be when she draws on two Greek myth-figures, Mnemosyne (the Titaness of Memory) and Hermes, to discuss the oral versus the written traditions, and the nuances poetry takes on in/from each.

For all of these terms and more, Hirshfield helpfully provides examples that range from ancient Egyptian love poems found on papyri to Whitman and Dickinson. She quotes the opening of a 12th-century Japanese Noh play and Allen Ginsberg with equal ease. I always appreciate the showcasing of such encyclopedic knowledge because it truly demonstrates the universality of poetry; the Egyptian poems from 3500 years ago are just as coy and colorful as a similar verse written today might be. Every series of words put together in the right order has its proper time and place, which could be anywhere, anywhen. I guarantee you won’t care for every single poem in the book. This is an advantage, because you are then drawn closer to authors you admire. The book reinforced my suspicions that while haiku are delectable for me, I don’t think I will ever be satisfied only with that aesthetic of negative space: I appreciate it and can admire it nonstop, but in my own writing, I feel more confident that the reflective mode, the energies of music and emotion, are more important to my work.

At least, I think so. Which brings me to the final, most important point I’d like to make. The book has made me seriously question, again and again, my own writing. Today, especially: my friend added a poem of Li-Young Lee’s to his mother’s eulogy that was heartbreaking, and I thought, I will never write anything like that. It might not be true, but I think Hirshfield’s book has made me more self-aware. However, it’s the kind of reality check that does more good than harm. Rather than having the editor-voice which just spits and says “this sucks” for what you write, you get more of a philosopher-voice that gently points out the wavering thought-space you were in as you drafted your peace, a geomancer-voice that shows you the bad feng shui blocking your poem’s energy, the muse-voice that brightly suggests you reinforce X Y or Z aspects of your style, etc. If you have the same reaction that I did, you’ll find yourself writing less, but writing much more mindfully, and feeling better about what you actually struggle through. Not everything needs to be a throwaway piece to keep your hand moving (though of course, you should never give up that valuable practice entirely either).

Overall, I think this is a book that will be at my side for a long time. Read it when you’re ready; then immediately read it again. Then keep it with you, ready for some kind of divination, when you need a key to unlock a thing that has no name. It’s a remarkable way to train your writing and to get it into a place where you are comfortable with it. I feel assured of this, even if I haven’t yet gotten to that place myself. But yes: it’s a climbing rope, a blunt knife, and a microscope of a book, all at once. Consider this my hearty recommendation!


TGIF indeed, ladies and germs.

I’ve got this incipient cycle of poems that are for a certain persona. Not sure where it’s going to go, but I’ll probably be focused on them for the next couple of weeks, and drafting not-so-often here. (Although I said I was cutting down anyway.) And I put in for vacation from the 6th to the 15th of June (plus the weekend after, so really the 17th), which I hope will be a much-needed jolt of relaxation and time for writing. Not sure if I’m going to travel anywhere yet, but the Berkshires are looking mighty tempting if I can swing it, as is Montréal. But hell, even just reclining at home would be nice. And my sister-in-law is due in mid-June, so I’ll probably want to stay around these parts to go home for any impending becoming-an-uncle…

Speaking of having time to write, that was one of the key components in my poem for Sam Peralta’s prompt at dVerse, to write a glosa. I’ve seen this form before, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it before: it involves taking a four-line snippet of a well-known poem, doing four ten-line stanzas off it that successively end with each of the four lines, and rhyming lines six and nine in each with the last. (Plus, tipping your hat to the poet’s style helps.) Since it’s often a tribute form, I chose a dead poet I’ve been admiring more and more lately, Jane Kenyon, and used her poem “Dutch Interiors” as the basis for mine. This character of the merchant’s wife, so cryptic yet elegant, interests me. I started thinking about what Kenyon’s personal heaven might be like, and wondered if there was an echo to be found in this poem that is ultimately a slightly cheeky take on the presence of the divine.

But, you know, just read it as you will. I wrote it as such.


And the merchant’s wife, still
in her yellow dressing gown
at noon, dips her quill into India ink
with an air of cautious pleasure.
~ Jane Kenyon, “Dutch Interiors”

This is what comes, after:
always the sun just beyond reach,
a fat bumblebee in the blossom
gathering pollen to make time
(which will seep and slowly flow)
but too drunk. He never will.
Instead all things are frozen:
the room, the table, the water glass
forever beginning to spill,
and the merchant’s wife– still.

Far below her, the counting-houses
churn their presses, the fisherman’s
fishing, and the king is up a tree.
When you’ve no more life left,
how dazzling to see it spread out
for writing! She gazes down:
what else to do but memorize
the flicker of light on silver scales
and the color of the king’s crown
in her yellow dressing gown?

And she forgets the feel of silk
and the tumbling coin’s sonata.
Only the words, now. The words
join together in her like knots of wind
meeting overhead. Up here,
it is all the glory of watch and think,
waiting for the sun to start up again.
And she feels its wings click close
as her hymn reaches its brink
at noon, dips her quill into India ink.

The merchant’s wife, who is poised
without need, who smiles when
there’s nobody to smile at, knows
when things are too good to be true,
and when they’re just good enough.
This place: she’s taken its measure.
In other houses, other bargains:
but here she is content to be a hand
spilling its simple treasure
with an air of cautious pleasure.