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.