Monday, December 31, 2007

"Ah the Delight . . ." by Franco Fortini

I just finished reading the Italian Poetry Portfolio in the December 2007 issue of Poetry. I highly recommend it. The whole thing is online. I found this poem by Franco Fortini to be a good one to end the year on. Happy New Year.

Ah the Delight . . .

Ah the delight of dawn!
Over the grassy lawn
the spark of silk, of silk
spat out by some small spider
to be the breeze's pawn.

A distant siren whines
from the freeway. Sun shines!
What a Sunday, what peace!
An old man's tidy peace,
his favorite hour of all.

The ants march on in rows.
They're off to do who knows
what harm to the ripe pears ...
Such sun now on the wall!
The lizards heed its call.
(Translated by Geoffrey Brock)

(Franco Fortini, from the December 2007 issue of Poetry.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

World's oldest orangutan dies at age 55

AP Photo Caption: In this photo released by the Miami Metrozoo, Nonja, 52, the oldest orangutan in the United States, opens a holiday gift filled with bananas, raisins, and popcorn at Miami Metrozoo, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2004, in Miami. Nonja, who was born on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and lived in Miami since 1983, was found dead Saturday morning Dec. 29, 2007, said Ron Magill, spokesman for the Miami Metro Zoo.

There's video here.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

"Neighbors" by David Allan Evans

I'm currently reading Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Kit and I came across this little gem in the chapter about using details.


They live alone

she with her wide hind
and bird face,
he with his hung belly
and crewcut.

They never talk
but keep busy.

Today they are
washing windows
(each window together)
she on the inside,
he on the outside.
He squirts Windex
at her face,
she squirts Windex
at his face.

Now they are waving
to each other
with rags,
not smiling.

(David Allan Evans, from Train Windows, 1976 Ohio University Press)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Smuggled monkey dies

A tiny monkey some dude smuggled into the country from Peru died while in the custody of the feds. Let this be a public service announcement: no smuggle monkeys. Seriously. Whatever happened to "take only pictures, leave only footprints?"

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Excluded from Frescoes" by Michael Teig

In the spirit of the holidays I have been looking for poems about gratitude since I am big on thank you cards. Here's one I stumbled upon and liked.

Excluded from Frescoes

Thank you for the gift. Never have I seen
a more thoughtful tea-strainer.
For you I'm striking a silent movie pose.

For instance, I step out and take in the moon
like a tourist. It puts tiny gloves on the ferns.
It's bigger than life size.

I've a room here just for sitting. If I want
I fetch some music to slap me around. I've three other rooms--
in this way the house resembles a cow's stomach.

I have the feeling we'll be excluded from frescoes
despite the fitful way you loved me, Alice,
I'm confident we're finally on our own.

If I need to think of you and I do
I let telephone wires paraphrase the landscape
till there's just a city block, a sooty building,

you settled into a chair with your legs and hair up
and your face adjusting to that new weather
right after the TV's been turned off. Hello.

Just past the hill here is the truckstop
borealis. This is Barkeyville.
Maybe we could argue over ice cream.

(Michael Teig, from Big Back Yard 2003 BOA Editions, Ltd.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hair metal and poetry, together at last

I'd like to say that I always knew that my love for hair metal and my love for poetry would cross paths at some point. But I would be lying. Thank you to Rob Sheffield for combining the two in his article in the Dec.27-Jan. 10 issue of Rolling Stone about hair metal festival Rocklahoma.

"It's a fantasy that artists should have long, productive careers. William Wordsworth invented modern poetry in one ten-year bang, 1797 to 1807, but then he was cashed out, although he lived to write utter crap for another forty-three years. Walt Whitman wrote all his great works from 1855 to 1865, and then sucked for the next twenty years. T.S. Eliot? Spent the twentieth century dining out on poems from his 1915-25 hot spell. ... That's the way showbiz works, whether you're Walt Whitman or Skid Row - you grab hold of a hit or two, then you milk it forever."

Bonus feature: Rolling Stone's Hair Metal Fashion 101.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Monkey sex in the news

The sex lives of monkeys is getting a lot of play in the media these past few days. Have yourself a little primate sex ed by reading the following:

Like humans, monkeys too will pay for sex
A study "has shown that male longtailed macaques exchange grooming for the right to mate with females whose fur they cleaned."

Study reveals why monkeys shout during sex
"New research indicates that females shout during sex to help males ejaculate."

And, my favorite:
Randy monkeys wash hands, feet in urine
"Capuchin monkeys wash their feet and hands in urine to get comfort or sex, research now suggests."

All the more reason not to keep monkeys as pets.

Neko Case talks poetry in Poetry

Neko Case has a great little essay in the November 2007 issue of Poetry called "My Flaming Hamster Wheel of Panic About Publicly Discussing Poetry in This Respected Forum."

Here's the beginning:
"When I was asked by Poetry to write an article for them I was ecstatic. I was flattered. I felt important! I agreed immediately. About twenty minutes after sending my e-mail of acceptance I paused to triumphantly sharpen my claws on the bookcase when I noticed the blazing, neon writing on the wall. It said: YOU'VE NEVER EVEN PASSED ENGLISH 101 AND EVERYONE WHO READS THIS MAGAZINE WILL KNOW IT. Why do I care? I'm not sure. I think it's because I don't want to let poetry down. Poetry is such a delicate, pretty lady with a candy exoskeleton on the outside of her crepe-paper dress. I am an awkward, heavy-handed mule of a high school dropout."

Read the rest here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"The Old Man at the Wheel" by Frank Bidart

I'm usually not a fan of "poems about poetry," of which I think there are far too many. It takes a writer of great skill to make a poem about writing more than just a naval-gazing exercise. I think Frank Bidart does that well in this poem from the Oct. 2007 issue of Poetry. If you dig this, check out his other poem in that issue here.

The Old Man at the Wheel

Measured against the immeasurable
universe, no word you have spoken

brought light. Brought
light to what, as a child, you thought

too dark to be survived. By exorcism
you survived. By submission, then making.

You let all the parts of that thing you would
cut out of you enter your poem because

enacting there all its parts allowed you
the illusion you could cut it from your soul.

Dilemmas of choice given what cannot
change alone roused you to words.

As you grip the things that were young when
you were young, they crumble in your hand.

Now you must drive west, which in November
means driving directly into the sun.

(Frank Bidart, from the October 2007 issue of Poetry.)

"Rear View Mirror" by Joan Murray

I was going through some back issues of American Poetry Review and I came across this poem by Joan Murray. Thought I should post it before the magazine was lost to the recycling bin (I can't keep everything, as much as I would like to).

Rear View Mirror

If you'd seen her there, trying to rise, you'd understand
why I didn't make a sound. If you'd seen how many times
her spindly forelegs dug themselves forward, trying to
lift the stone cart of herself off her yearling flanks-
if you'd watched her head toss left and right,
searching for instructions from any corner-
if you'd seen how she finally broke through
the cowl of her pain and pulled
herself upright, you'd know
why I sat there paralyzed.

Then you'd have seen how she was denied the heady
moment given to any flimsy fawn who makes it to its feet-
how she couldn't pause a second to feel gravity
pull away from her hooves and slink back in the earth.
And you'd have stayed there with her too,
hanging onto the wheel like an exhausted god
till she tossed her death on the heap of her shadow
and hauled herself to the woods,
one leg scratching jaggedly behind her
like a lie on a lie-detector test
until she disappeared.

Only then would you have pulled apart your harness
and stepped out and seen the smashed side mirror
pressed flush against the window where your shoulder
had just been. Only then would you have
touched the caved-in door that held the
sudden wave-like thud of her wriggling spine.
Only then, Demeter-like, would you have
brushed the tufts of fur, still stuck in the
rear window gasket-and probed
a finger through the wet grassy smear
that her flailing hoof had left there.

Only then would you have figured out the strength
to go after her into the dark place where she'd gone-
to search for her and keep searching-
just the way you'd have done if you'd come to
in a dark room after labor, and found no one there,
not a cry, not a sound-like that time-
when I slid down on a sheet below a mirror-
so I couldn't see my daughter come or go.
But this time, with the cars rushing by,
I watched in the mirror. I watched.
And I saw where she'd gone.
And I followed her in.

(Joan Murray, from The American Poetry Review, September/October 2006).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Judge uses poem in terrorism case

Judge in terrorism case begins his written decision with the poem "Song of Israel" by William Knox.
Listen now.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Happy Monkey Day!

Hey! It's Monkey Day! At least in Wyandotte where Biddle Gallery, a downriver art gallery, has declared it so.

According to their Web site: "MONKEY DAY is December 14. Monkey Party, Friday, December 14th, 6-9PM. Monkey inspired art by local artists. Featuring Metro Times cover boy and late night with Jay Leno fame Carl Oxley III. Also, Dave Moroski, John Benson, Terri Sarris, Davin Brainard, Tara Hackett, Joey Merchant, Rick McQuaid, Dan Stewart, Doug Spalding, Claudette Jocelyn Stern, Leo Kuschel, Jessica Flint, Gretchen Kramp, Donna Hazen, and more. DJ Dan spins tunes. Free banana with every purchase. Click here to see some images from the show. Also sign monkey day petition. Help make it a national holiday!"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Reunited and it feels so good..."

Woman Reunited With Pet Monkey After Court Battle
Okay, so in one news article I read, the monkey owner is quoted as saying the following: "I am in seventh heaven, and I am the happiest I can imagine ever being, right now," Gazewitz said. "This is the best Chanukah..."

Now check out this news report and listen to what the reporter says at the end. My money's totally on her changing the monkey's name to Jesus.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Love Letter Written In A Burning Building" by Anne Sexton

Having just finished writing a long essay about Anne Sexton's poetry, I thought it fitting that I should share one of her poems. This poem is rather new to me as it is not in the Selected Poems that I have, which is a shame as this is quite a good poem. Thank you to Meg for introducing me to this.

Love Letter Written In A Burning Building

I am in a crate, the crate that was ours,
full of white shirts and salad greens,
the icebox knocking at our delectable knocks,
and I wore movies in my eyes,
and you wore eggs in your tunnel,
and we played sheets, sheets, sheets
all day, even in the bathtub like lunatics.
But today I set the bed afire
and smoke is filling the room,
it is getting hot enough for the walls to melt,
and the icebox, a gluey white tooth.

I have on a mask in order to write my last words,
and they are just for you, and I will place them
in the icebox saved for vodka and tomatoes,
and perhaps they will last.
The dog will not. Her spots will fall off.
The old letters will melt into a black bee.
The night gowns are already shredding
into paper, the yellow, the red, the purple.
The bed -- well, the sheets have turned to gold --
hard, hard gold, and the mattress
is being kissed into a stone.

As for me, my dearest Foxxy,
my poems to you may or may not reach the icebox
and its hopeful eternity,
for isn't yours enough?
The one where you name
my name right out in P.R.?
If my toes weren't yielding to pitch
I'd tell the whole story --
not just the sheet story
but the belly-button story,
the pried-eyelid story,
the whiskey-sour-of-the-nipple story --
and shovel back our love where it belonged.

Despite my asbestos gloves,
the cough is filling me with black and a red powder seeps through my
our little crate goes down so publicly
and without meaning it, you see, meaning a solo act,
a cremation of the love,
but instead we seem to be going down right in the middle of a Russian
the flames making the sound of
the horse being beaten and beaten,
the whip is adoring its human triumph
while the flies wait, blow by blow,
straight from United Fruit, Inc.

(Anne Sexton, from Love Poems, 1969).

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Denise Levertov on creativity and self-destruction

I've been reading a lot about Anne Sexton this past week as I prepare to write an essay about her prosody and her madness. I came across these thoughts by Denise Levertov on the distinction between creativity and self-destruction and felt they were worth sharing. Something I've thought about a lot.

"Innumerable young poets have drunk themselves into stupidity and cirrhosis because they admired John Berryman or Dylan Thomas and came to think that they must drink like them to write like them. At the very least it is assumed that creativity and hangups are inevitably inseparable. One student (male) said to me recently, 'I was amazed when the first poet I met seemed to be a cheerful person and not any more fucked up than anyone else. When I was in high school I got the idea that you had to be fucked up to be a real artist!' And a young English teacher in a community college told me she had given up writing poetry because she believed there were unavoidable links between depression and anxiety and the making of art. 'Don't you feel terrible when you write poems?'

"What exactly is the nature of the confusion, and how has it come about? The mistake itself lies in taking what may possibly be an occupational hazard as a prescriptive stimulus to artistic activity. Whether artists as a class are in fact more vulnerable than other people, or whether their problems merely have more visibility, a serious and intelligent statistical study might perhaps tell us. It makes no difference: the point is that while the creative impulse and the self-destructive impulse can, and often do, coexist, their relationship is distinctly acausal; self-destructiveness is a handicap to the life of art, not the reverse."

(From Anne Sexton: The Artist and Her Critics, Edited by J.D. McClatchy, 1978 Indiana University Press)

Friday, December 7, 2007

When pet monkeys attack

Don't you hate it when you reach down to pet a cute little monkey and said monkey attacks your face?

For more information on why monkeys are not good pets see The Small Monkey Fact Sheet.

"Ode to the Midwest" by Kevin Young

So, Kristie Kachler presented this poem during prosody class last night and it made me quite happy, indeed. I thought, Why haven't I read more of this Kevin Young person? He's now on my to do list. Or, at least, reading his poetry is.

Ode to the Midwest

The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
—Bob Dylan

I want to be doused
in cheese

& fried. I want
to wander

the aisles, my heart's
supermarket stocked high

as cholesterol. I want to die
wearing a sweatsuit—

I want to live
forever in a Christmas sweater,

a teddy bear nursing
off the front. I want to write

a check in the express lane.
I want to scrape

my driveway clean

myself, early, before
anyone's awake—

that'll put em to shame—
I want to see what the sun

sees before it tells
the snow to go. I want to be

the only black person I know.

I want to throw
out my back & not

complain about it.
I wanta drive

two blocks. Why walk—

I want love, n stuff—

I want to cut
my sutures myself.

I want to jog
down to the river

& make it my bed—

I want to walk
its muddy banks

& make me a withdrawal.

I tried jumping in,
found it frozen—

I'll go home, I guess,
to my rooms where the moon

changes & shines
like television.

(Kevin Young, from the July/Aug. 2007 issue of Poetry.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Become a monkey

Thank you, Carly, for reminding me about The Monkey Museum where anyone (like, say, Bob Dylan) can become a monkey. Once my wife and I have kids we are SO getting one of these done.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Anne Sexton

I just finished reading Anne Sexton: A Biography by Diane Wood Middlebrook. I now know that Sexton killed herself by getting in her car and letting it run in the garage with the door closed. I had often heard that she killed herself by putting her head in the oven like Sylvia Plath. Not so. I highly recommend Middlebrook's book to anyone who wants to know more about Sexton. It's quite well done, though if you have any romanticized notions about Sexton as a "mad poetess" then this book probably isn't for you. I was compelled to read this book after finishing Selected Poems of Anne Sexton, edited by Middlebrook. The poems are in chronological order and reading it straight through was like watching Sexton spiral out of control into madness. Her poetry is much more controlled - hell, it was just better - early in her career. From Selected Poems I developed a theory that when Sexton began writing the poetry helped control the madness. Toward the end of her life, the madness was clearly controlling the poetry and her life. Middlebrook's biography confirmed my theory.

Here's a poem I particularly like by Sexton:

I Remember

By the first of August
the invisible beetles began
to snore and the grass was
as tough as hemp and was
no color – no more than
the sand was a color and
we had worn our bare feet
bare since the twentieth
of June and there were times
we forgot to wind up your
alarm clock and some nights
we took our gin warm and neat
from old jelly glasses while
the sun blew out of sight
like a red picture hat and
one day I tied my hair back
with a ribbon and you said
that I looked almost like
a puritan lady and what
I remember best is that
the door to your room was
the door to mine.

(Anne Sexton from All My Pretty Ones, 1962)

"Phyllis likes corn chips"

As you know, I always strive to bring you the latest and greatest in monkey news, so when I came across the headline, "Monkey Returned To Original Owner," I was intrigued (though, for the record, I don't condone or encourage keeping monkeys as pets). The link led me to, an Alabama news site that, judging from the story below, is in need of a proofreader and/or literate staff writer. The story as it appears on their site is below. I have not edited or changed anything. In a way the story reads like a poem -- a badly written poem, but still. The last line/sentence is my favorite.

Monkey Returned To Original Owner
Friday, Nov 30, 2007 - 05:53 PM

Three Calhoun County workers made a surprising discovery after they came across a monkey seated in a ditch along side a road.

The monkey was returned to the original owner, Carl Weaver.

The monkey's name was Phyllis and was 19-years-old.

The Monkey had been missing since Monday.

The monkey's mate of several years died recently, and she may have wanted to run off, or was stressed out.

The monkey and owner live at a place on the calhoun-etowah county line.

According to the Weaver Phyllis likes corn chips.

Monkey Fest video

Watch footage of Thailand's Monkey Fest courtesy of National Geographic.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The Writer" by Richard Wilbur

Thank you to Rachel Feder for mentioning this poem in prosody class tonight and for Kristie Kachler for reading it out loud. I had read this poem years ago and loved it, yet was later unable to remember the author or the name of the poem. All I could remember was that it had something to do with a sparrow flying around a little girl's bed room. It turns out, I had the wrong bird. No wonder I couldn't find it.

The Writer

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

(Richard Wilbur, from New and Collected Poems, 1988 Harcourt Brace)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Girl" by Eve Alexandra


Be careful if you take this flower into your house. The

peony has a thousand lips. It is pink and white like the lady’s

skirt and smells sharp and sweet as cinnamon. There are a

thousand ants living inside but you will only see one or two at

a time. I am like that down there--pink and busy inside. The

dark is a bolt of cloth, crushed and blue, and I unfurl against it.

If you lie down on the floor of the closet the hems of silk will

lick you. My own gown is thin as the skin of dried grass so I

can see the ants dancing down there. The night has big paws.

I imagine the wool of the bears, the cloth of monkeys. the night

smells like vetiver and cedar. His mouth is cool with mint and

warm with rum, and I am not afraid as he rubs his wool against

me. I saw the bear dancing at the circus when I was small. He

was wearing a green felt cap with gold bric-a-brac and kept by

a thin wire thread. My brother bought me a sucker for the train

ride home, and I am like that now on the inside, burning soft

with lemon. What fruit do you like best? I like tangerines.

And the night leaves me these. A small paper bag on the bedside

table. The wrought iron and roses like an altar. I am glowing now.

My teeth are stitching kisses to my fist. I go to the river. My legs

are frogs legs. Tiny wands, see how they glisten. A thousand fish

swim through me. I am a boat now. I know no anchor. My hair

unfurls, copper and cinnamon. Look how it opens, beautiful world.

(Eve Alexandra from The Drowned Girl, 2003 Kent State University Press)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monkey Fest!

Monkeys party hearty in Thailand.

“To Help the Monkey Cross the River” by Thomas Lux

To Help the Monkey Cross the River

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

(Thomas Lux, from The Cradle Place. 2004 Houghton Mifflin Company)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Please Don't Eat the Monkey

Monkey Meat at Center of NYC Court Case
[...] But after she consented to a search, the agents came across a tiny, hairy arm hidden in her garage. "Monkey," she explained, claiming the arm was sent to her out of the blue "as a gift from God in heaven." [...]

"Insect Life of Florida" by Lynda Hull

Seeing as I spent Thanksgiving in Florida, I thought a poem about Florida would be appropriate for today, my first day back in Michigan.

"Insect Life of Florida" by Lynda Hull
In those days I thought their endless thrum
   was the great wheel that turned the days, the nights.
      In the throats of hibiscus and oleander

I'd see them clustered yellow, blue, their shells
   enamelled hard as the sky before rain.
      All that summer, my second, from city

to city my young father drove the black coupe
   through humid mornings I'd wake to like fever
      parcelled between luggage and sample goods.

Afternoons, showers drummed the roof,
   my parents silent for hours. Even then I knew
      something of love was cruel, was distant.

Mother leaned over the seat to me, the orchid
   Father'd pinned in her hair shrivelled
      to a purple fist. A necklace of shells

coiled her throat, moving a little as she
   murmured of alligators that float the rivers
      able to swallow a child whole, of mosquitoes

whose bite would make you sleep a thousand years.
   And always the trance of blacktop shimmering
      through swamps with names like incantations—

Okeefenokee, where Father held my hand
   and pointed to an egret's flight unfolding
      white above swamp reeds that sang with insects

net over the sea, its lesson
   of desire and repetition. Lizards flashed
      over his shoes, over the rail

until I was lost, until I was part
   of the singing, their thousand wings gauze
      on my body, tattooing my skin.

father rocked me later by the water,
   on the motel balcony, singing calypso
      above the Jamaican radio. The lyrics

here the citronella burned, merging our
   shadows—Father's face floating over mine
      in the black changing sound

night, the enormous Florida night,
   metallic with cicadas, musical
      and dangerous as the human heart.

(from Collected Poems, 2006 Graywolf Press)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Monkeys fair and square

"Two researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center have found that brown capuchin monkeys have a sense of fairness and will reject inequitable rewards, much as humans do." Read the story.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monkey Wallpaper from National Geographic

For all your desktop decor needs, including the amazing Red Uakari Monkey.

Karyna McGlynn in Ninth Letter

UofM MFA alum and Zell Fellow Karyna McGlynn has work in the Spring/Summer 2007 issue of Ninth Letter.

Ms. McGlynn also has two chapbooks coming out soon. More on that as I get more details.

Linda Gregerson in the Kenyon Review

Here are two poems and an interview done in March 2007 with Linda Gregerson in The Kenyon Review.

Highlights from the interview:
"I suffer from the can't-chew-gum-and-walk syndrome: it takes something remarkable to make me notice the world if I'm trying to move through it."

"...God knows nothing makes one feel the passage of time more keenly than staking one's heart to a child."

"...I feel the world can be measured by how it treats its children. I cannot bear the harm we do to them; it makes me wild with grief. And there's nowhere else to go with such grief--I mean one can, one must, try to do some practical good in the world but it's always such a pittance--so I go to words."

"It's always the hardest, and the truest, part of composition for me: reaching a point where the poem needs to go more deeply into itself by going elsewhere. Authentically elsewhere, somewhere I haven't pre-plotted. I often find that point by writing slightly beyond it, into a fulfillment that's too predictable. So I have to cut back to the precipice and be stranded there for a while. It's a very uncomfortable place; it drives me crazy. And it's where the thing either does or does not become a poem."

"I simply can't write the poem without a provisional shape for the stanza. So I locate the early phrasing, the language with which the poem is to begin, and try to "score" it against (that's a telling confession, no doubt: against) a pattern of lineation. And I throw it out and start again-it has to be on the computer by now - and fiddle with it endlessly until I have something I think will accommodate the pitch of diction, the relative pacing, the formality or informality of the voicing. Line five never, ever gets written until lines three and four are firmly in place."

"I work inside a tightly bounded metric; it's all I can do to vary the pattern with dactyls and anapests or to end a clause on an unstressed syllable. That's one of the reasons syntax is so important to me: if the syntactical units expand and contract, if they can be made to move with variable pressure, then there's something at odds with the meter."

"The world is so rich with the cumulative textures of material practice, the intricate dynamics of our own and other people's daily labors, the tenuous workings of human memory-it seems a pity if poetry is to leave them out."

"The students [at the University of Michigan] are wonderfully varied in their methods and aesthetics. Some are working on a shattered page, in fragmentary syntax, with conspicuous debts to contemporary music and visual culture. Some are working in a much more restrained and classical vein. Many of them have decided to test the parameters of their own 'found forms' by writing from time to time in a received or inherited form, even in rhyme. One is working on a Pushkin-style novel-in-verse. Several are experimenting with performance modes or collaborations with visual artists, videographers, musicians. Many poets now, not just the young but especially the young, are compelled by mixed genres. The possibilities are terribly exciting. The challenge, predictably enough, lies in tempering all this burgeoning possibility with some meaningful form of stricture. One wants the gorgeous, expanded palette of color and movement but one doesn't want to be a perpetual dilettante. The expansion of methods must somehow lead to freshening or intensification rather than a watering-down. The problem is daunting and thrilling at once: how to locate the hard edge, the limits, the embodied grammar that will give this new work its own center of gravity."

"I try to encourage in my students a meticulous attention to the elements of poetry: to syntax, image, idiom, cognitive pacing, tone. To punctuation, for heaven's sake. I try to teach them to be wary of paraphrase: to hunt down and banish all those poetry-impersonators we all let into our work from time to time, those moments of reporting-on-discoveries-made-elsewhere. I try to encourage them to think on the page. The real poets are those who make use of it all: they hone their craft to accommodate a single, foundational motive, a sort of cognitive hunger. Mindfulness, you might call it, or good faith curiosity."

"...I think we still, we Americans, suffer from underdevelopment when it comes to poetry and the contested, large-scale differentials of power we often refer to as 'politics.' Poets are dreadfully behind the writers of fiction in this regard, more so than the varying aptitudes of literary genre would require. We're desperately afraid of moral earnestness. But why should that be the reigning specter? We need somehow to enlarge and deepen the terms of engagement."

Happy Thanksgiving from Matthea Harvey

Here are some cool poems by Matthea Harvey to get you ready for Thanksgiving. Her newest book, Modern Life, is out now from Graywolf Press.

Implications for Modern Life
By Matthea Harvey

The ham flowers have veins and are rimmed in rind, each petal a little
meat sunset. I deny all connection with the ham flowers, the
barge floating by loaded with lard, the white flagstones like platelets
in the blood-red road. I’ll put the calves in coats so the ravens can’t
gore them, bandage up the cut gate &; when the wind rustles its
muscles, I’ll gather the seeds and burn them. But then I see a horse
lying on the side of the road and think You are sleeping,You are sleeping,
I will make you be sleeping. But if I didn’t make the ham flowers, how can
I make him get up? I made the ham flowers. Get up, dear animal.
Here is your pasture flecked with pink, your oily river, your bleeding
barn. Decide what to look at and how. If you lower your lashes,
the blood looks like mud. If you stay, I will find you fresh hay.

(From Tin House, Issue 24, Summer 2005)

Setting the Table

To cut through night you'll need your sharpest scissors. Cut around the birch, the
bump of the bird nest on its lowest limb. Then with your nail scissors, trim around 
the baby beaks waiting for worms fall from the sky. Snip around the lip of the 
mailbox and the pervert's shoe peeking out from behind the Chevy. Before dawn, 
rip the silhouette from the sky and drag it inside. Frame the long black stripe and 
hang it in the dining room. Sleep. When you wake, redo the scene as day in doily. 
Now you have a lacy fence, a huge cherry blossom of a holly bush, a birch 
sugared with snow. Frame the white version and hang it opposite the black. Get 
your dinner and eat it between the two scenes. Your food will taste just right.

(From Cue, Winter 2005, Volume II, Issue I)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Public Space

I recently discovered A Public Space, a cool, relatively new journal out there in the literary world. Check it out.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets

When thinking of an anthology to use for my creative writing class next term, I looked at a lot of them. By far my favorite is The McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets. It is hands down one of the most vibrant and interesting anthologies I have ever come across. It contains poems from established names like Charles Simic and Yusef Komunyakaa alongside names that were, at least to me, new. Like Brandon Som, for instance, whose two poems in the collection are terrifically brilliant. This book was compiled based on little poetry "chains" - ten of them, in fact - of poets picking poets (hence, the title of the book). The end result is diverse in terms of style and contributors and manages to escape the politically correct/canonically forced sterility of so many anthologies. I urge you to buy it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Robert Haas Wins National Book Award for Poetry

Robert Haas, who was, admittedly, my third choice after Linda Gregerson and David Kirby, has nabbed the National Book Award for Time and Materials (Ecco/HarperCollins). Congratulations to him.

Stanley Kunitz quote

From Stanley Kunitz's acceptance speech at the 1995 National Book Awards for his book Passing Through: The Later Poems:

"Poetry, it cannot be denied, requires a mastery of craft, but it is more than a playground for technicians. The craft that I admire most manifests itself not as an aggregate of linguistic or prosodic skills, but as a form of spiritual testimony, the sign of the inviolable self, consolidated against the enemies within and without that would corrupt or destroy human pride and dignity.

"I do not think that it is admirable to live by words, for words, in words. In the best poetry of our time, but only the best, one is aware of a moral pressure being exerted on the medium is the very act of creation.

"By moral, I mean a testing of existence at its highest pitch. What does it feel like to be totally oneself? An awareness of others beyond the self, and a compassion for them, a concern with values and meanings, rather than with effects, an effort to tap the spontaneity that hides in the depths rather than what forms on the surface, a conviction about one's power to distinguish between right and wrong choices, even symbolic choices.

"Lacking this pressure, we are left with nothing but a vacuum occupied by a technique."

Linda Gregerson video

On the University of Michigan Web page there's a link to a video interview with Linda Gregerson. What she has to say about poetry is really interesting. The video is kind of strange in terms of production. I don't understand why so much of the video is of Linda stalking around in the woods behind her house, a coffee cup in hand. Perhaps that's what the folks at the University of Michigan News Service think poets do. Then again, perhaps that is, in fact, what Linda does. I don't care. She's still brillant.

Also check out the interview with Linda on the National Book Awards site. I'm rooting for her to get the National Book Award for Magnetic North. I believe the winner will be announced tonight. Stay tuned.

Monkeys in the news

Thank you, Amanda, for sending me a link to this New York Times article on monkeys in India, which contains the following quote: "They attack patients who are being rolled inside the hospital, pull out IV tubes and scamper off to drink the fluids."

In other monkey news, here's a distressing story from

And then there's this bit about monkey cloning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Discarded Halo by Matthew Olzmann

Matthew Olzmann just had a chapbook published. It's available through - at least, it is published by them. Personally, I found their Web site migraine inducing and impossible to navigate, so you might just want to contact Matthew directly at

Below is a poem I first came across in The Boxcar Poetry Review last year. At the time I did not know who Matthew Olzmann was (I now have the pleasure of knowing Matthew and his wife, Vievee Francis, who is also a poet). "Nate's Glass Eye" opens Matthew's chapbook and, in my opinion, says plenty about why you should want to read the rest.

Nate’s Glass Eye
By Matthew Olzmann

I ask him to keep an eye on my things.
I return to find a blue iris and a pupil that never
dilates, glaring up at me from my plate
of fettuccini and stuffed olives.

I used to believe the body was like Lego bricks,
pieces that could be plucked off and replaced,
a simple procedure, executed by any man
with a scalpel, a wrench, a green mask.

My wife has had seven surgeries.
Her thyroid gland is in a jar, waiting for her
in the ether of eternity. She has no way
to grow a new one, but a lifetime of pills

tells her she doesn’t have to. Donate your organs
after death, and they call the art of extracting
your entrails organ recovery, as if the heart
were a vessel, buried by the waves,

and a team of rescue divers could salvage
the remains. I used to believe
if the body died, the guts went as well.
But kidneys can be kept alive for twenty hours

after the body’s expiration date. The heart,
almost as long if death is due to massive
head trauma. And if the gears can fit
into another puzzle, they can continue

flexing, asking, What time is the game,
or, Where do I live? But what happens to the man
whose heart tries to hammer its way out
through a stranger’s chest—the rest

of him stumbling through shadows, a hand
exploring the hole in his torso, searching for valves
that the mouth can no longer name. I used to believe
the body came with a warranty, breath was certain.

But what’s it mean when you stare into an eye
without a lid or a fist without fingers?
And what kind of sign is it, when the parts
built from glass outlast what’s left of the flesh?

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Karate Team" by Best Friends Forever

Okay, this isn't a poem (or is it?), but this song has been making my day all day. It's a little number from Best Friends Forever, a.k.a. my friends Alana DeRiggi and Holly Mae. Check it out:

"What I Learned From My Mother" by Julia Kasdorf

Last month Stacy and I attended a funeral at Tom Lynch's place in Milford. The grandmother of a friend had passed away. Lynch has poems in frames up all over the place. I read this one there for the first time and haven't been able to get it out of my head since. So I'm sharing it with you.

What I Learned From My Mother
By Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewing even if I didn't know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

(From Sleeping Preacher, 1992 University of Pittsburgh Press)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mary Jo Firth Gillett and Sophia Rivkin

I just returned from Mary Jo Firth Gillett's reading/book launch party at the Scarab Club in Detroit for her first book Soluble Fish, for which she was awarded The Crab Orchard Series in Poetry's First Book Award. I am excited to finally have this book in my eager hands. I've known Mary Jo for years through her workshops for Springfed Arts-Metro Detroit Writers and she has become a mentor and friend. I am a big fan of her work and very excited for her. Based solely on the poems she read from the book, I urge you to pick up a copy of Soluble Fish.

Here's a poem from the book. One of my favorite Mary Jo poems:

Chicken Tile
By Mary Jo Firth Gillett

The first time I saw my mother cry I was five or maybe six and being
careful not to step on the square tile in the middle of the kitchen floor.
It held the shape of a rooster with bright cockscomb and open red beak
that seemed to jump out at me. I tried not to look at it or at my mother

standing over the sink, her back to me, her narrow shoulders quivering
like the neighbor’s collie who’d slunk home that night whining, his leather
leash dragging; and on Dixie Highway, the thin body of my eleven-year-old
neighbor sprawled flat in the rain in her cotton print dress. It was then

I knew that terrible things happen – for every thousand birds seen
swooping in perfect parabola, one is snagged by some sudden momentum,
some momentary lapse of impulse or instinct. And, walking home
on a bone-cold day in a white cocoon of snow, I was eight and hadn’t thought

of my dead neighbor in months. Crossing Shea Avenue wrapped like
a mummy in my scarf, I heard the crunch of something heavy
rolling toward me. I jumped and the car fin barely caught my shoulder
spinning me around unhurt, but small and twirling and rigid as a little

ballerina in a jewelry box. Home again, I pulled off my heavy clothes
and the wet wool stink rose around me and the chicken’s shiny black eye
stared; and I stared back hard at that stupid, gaudy bird placed so improbably,
so immovably in the square tile, flat in the middle of our kitchen floor.

(From Soluble Fish, 2007 Southern Illinois University Press)

Another fellow poet, Sophia Rivkin, read prior to Mary Jo. Sophia is also a wonderful poet and it was so great to hear her work again (I was in one of Mary Jo's workshops with her several years ago but have not had the pleasure of working with her since). She said she has a manuscript titled The Valise that she's shopping around. Any publisher would be foolish to refuse it. Below is the title poem, which I found online.

The Valise
By Sophia Rivkin

Mother, father, I hold you in your valise,
invent you as you invented me.
The Europe you escaped is an old man
with gnarled fingers, a thumb
splayed as a paddle.
He is tied to a village,
drags a cow, my mother’s wooden hut,
the grandmother cooking mash
in a black pot. His mouth is a black pot—
he is swallowing Russians, Germans,
eating Jews—my mother is hiding
from him in a haystack.
Over her head a sky of smoke,
a city of blood.

The valise will not close—
the moon falls and shreds
into the black hole of history,
broken, gap-mouthed—
knowledge a little crumb
caught in the seam.

I would speak to you,
mother, father,
asleep in gloom and silence.
I would comb your hair,
open the window, let in light.
But I walk the corridors
of this railroad station,
huge room, vaulted ceiling,
echoes from stone walls.

The valise is grown to my fingers,
it holds my name.
I cannot put it down.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Revenge" by Taha Muhammad Ali

I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Taha Muhammad Ali read at the University of Michigan on Nov. 8, 2007. The second to the last poem he read, "Revenge," was one of the most moving and powerful poems I've ever heard. For those who weren't at the reading or who would like to relive the experience, I found a video of Taha Muhammad Ali and Peter Cole reading at the 11th Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival last year. The text of the poem, also available on that page, is below.

translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin

At times ... I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.


Likewise ... I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.


But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

April 15, 2006

This may be the beginning...

...of something really wonderful between us. But, seriously, don't get your hopes up. Or do. I'm not the boss of you.