friday roundup: imagination radiating, modifier or amplifier, and “Pale / by the road to the North”

Klimt: "Mountain Slope at Unterach on the Attersee" 1916

Klimt: “Mountain Slope at Unterach on the Attersee” 1916

Hello, Reader and happy Friday. Since the last roundup there has been one, actual FULL week of school (the only one since school started a month ago — and don’t worry, this week was not a full week again, so the kids aren’t getting exhausted or anything. Ahem.); three critical response papers and one creative packet completed and turned in; one novel abandoned (reading, not writing), one Nutcracker audition (not me); two cross country meets (not me); two tennis lessons (not me); one allergy appointment (not me); one orthodontist appointment (not me); one four-point plan (every single one of us). I think if I hear of even one more four-point plan in my lifetime I’m going to have to consider becoming a space colonist despite my fear of flying. **I’ve come back to add a nuance here, because I am no expert about what should be done about QSIS (which some call ISIS or ISIL), but I abhor the slick packaging of words of war.**


Oh also: one marathon drafting session and two worthwhile revisions. Also one measly submission. Alas. This week I bring you:

imagination radiating Last week I had to take a break from le Bachelard. He was starting to get under my skin. It was when I got to “the increased intimacy of a house when it when it is besieged by winter” that I knew I was in trouble. Then when I read, “Winter is by far the oldest of the seasons” and “on snowy days, the house is too old,” I said to myself, Okay then. Enough of that. I put the book aside. (I used to do that with boys, too, and later men; if they started to get under my skin I was like, See ya!)

But Bachelard, Bachelard. I couldn’t stay away. I went back to it. And now I accept the Feeling of Doom that comes when one reads a book they know they will never again live without. Wherever I go in my life, I will be carrying Bachelard along with me — literally and figuratively. It’s like a marriage.

Anyway, here is something to think about regarding images and what Bachelard calls “poetic revery”:

“Poetic revery, unlike somnolent revery, never falls asleep. Starting with the simplest of images, it must always set the waves of the imagination radiating.”

No pressure.

modifier or amplifier  A poet-friend introduced me to this article on line by Rebecca Hazelton. In it, Hazelton says:

“Line can be difficult to talk about because it doesn’t operate independently of other poetic elements, as sense, syntax, sound, and rhythm can. Instead it is a modifier or an amplifier of sense, syntax, sound, and rhythm — which is precisely why an exploration of line can so illuminate poetry as a whole.”

The article then goes through close examinations of line in various poems, and suggests several exercises we can use to explore the options opened up to us by different uses of line in our own work. I have read, marked, scanned and tagged this article as a keeper. I hope it’s useful to you.

“Pale / by the road to the North” Here is the poem I was planning to post last week. Then, Life. It’s by the late Johannes Bobrowski, a German poet who was imprisoned in Russia during WWII and was relatively unknown in the U.S. until his work was translated in the 1960s. I, for one, am glad to have found his work. Here is:

NORTH RUSSIAN TOWN by Johannes Bobrowski

Putoshka 1941

by the road to the North
falls the mountain wall. The bridge,
the old wood,
the bushy banks.

There the stream lives,
white in the pebbles, blind over the
sand. And the caw of crows
speaks your name: Wind
in the rafters, a smoke
toward the evening.

It comes,
a glowing in
the cloud, it follows the winds,
it watches for the fire.

Remote fire breaks forth
in the plain,
far. Who dwell near
forests, on streams, in the wooden
luck of villages, listen
at evening, lay
an ear to the earth.

!!!”the wooden luck of villages”!!! Yes. Also, note his very astute use of “an” in the last line, rather than “your” (I know this was translated, but, let’s assume the translation is faithful). “Your” would’ve limited the power of that ear. The ear would’ve belonged to those “who dwell near forests… .” The “an” allows the ear to belong to the dwellers, yes, but also allows the town itself to become an ear laid to the earth. Well, that’s my reading anyway. Also: O, how he builds tension with his syntax and line. I aspire.

And now, since the kids don’t have school today I guess I will go do a bunch of mom stuff. Happy Friday, happy weekend, and write on.

friday roundup: on finding, primal images, and “a reachable planet”

Hello. It is Friday. All week I have wanted it to be Friday, mostly because on Friday we usually order pizza which means I don’t have to cook. Last night for dinner I served salad and boiled eggs. People complained. I shrugged. I worked out twice this week, so I think I should be done for the year.There either was, or I dreamed, a mountain lion sighting (at first I wrote “citing” — which would also be interesting). At my desk everything clunks and jerks, falls flat on its face and stays there, head folded in its arms. Let’s hope this roundup goes better:

on finding  This week an article by Linda Gregg came to my attention. It’s called “The Art of Finding.” In it, Gregg says: “I believe that poetry at its best is found rather than written.”

She is not talking about found poetry here. She’s talking about the act of discovery — the discovery one makes by writing and/or reading a poem, or as she says, “what is found out about the heart and spirit.” Craft, she says, is only a starting point. Here are her words about “finding” a poem:

“There are two elements in ‘finding’ a poem: discovering the subject matter and locating the concrete details and images out of which the poems are built. In this instance, I do not mean the subject matter to be the ideas or subjects for poems. Instead, I am referring to finding the resonant sources deep inside you that empower those subjects and ideas when they are put in poems.”

It’s a short article, but well worth reading as you consider your generative process– find it here.

primal images  I’m still slogging through — as I think of it fondly, in a poor French accent — le Bachelard. Last night I read about primal images — those that speak to something deep and intrinsic in us. He says:

“Great images have both a history and a prehistory; they are always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never experience an image directly. Indeed, every great image has an unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special color.”

This quote sent me back to a Stephen Dobyns essay on figurative language. In it he says the best images are those that contain an element of both knowing and unknowing (I am paraphrasing here). The best images “create the impression that it could give additional meaning each time the reader returns to it” (that was not a paraphrase).

Every time I read stuff like this I think : Yeah, no pressure! But I can only hope that taking this in and mulling it over will work its magic on my poet’s mind.

By the way, the Stephen Dobyns essay is in his book Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry.

lastly  I’ve been reading Open Interval by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. This is not assigned reading. Yes, I stray. It’s what poets do, right? Anyway, I’m a sucker for Icarus poems, and also ekphrastic poems, and she has one that is both in the fine tradition of other ekphrastic Icarus poems (a few of which I’ve linked to in this post). I’ll leave you with it and a wish for a relaxing weekend for everyone:


ICARUS by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

–for Gus Wing who always knew me when I came home

I hold him together now
Though he is dispersed

He was once held
Together by

Matisse imagined

The hot red throb
A reachable planet

At a man’s center and
All else burned

Away so that against
The sky we saw

Outward inward
The same infinite

Those stars near us

Exploding their color
Flared like

The yellow feathers of birds
I learned

To fly I learned
To want to fly

From him when he flew and
He fell

The way night will
Always fall

Blue skies straight through
To black


friday roundup: permission edition

Vincent: A Meadow in the Mountains - Les Mas de Saint-Paul. wikimedia

Vincent: A Meadow in the Mountains – Les Mas de Saint-Paul. wikimedia

Hello, Reader. Well, there was *almost* a full week of school this week. But not quite. And many appointments. And planning for milestone birthday (not mine). Writing and reading happened. This is a good thing. The Muse has been a bit reticent, but sometimes she’s that way. I’ve still been showing up at my desk to see if she’s hanging around. Now let us discuss permission:

permission: n. act of permitting; a formal consent; authorization; leave; license or liberty granted. From the Latin permittere, “let pass, let go, let loose; give up, hand over; let allow, grant, permit,” from per- “through” + mittere “let go, send”

Got that? Because it’s going to be important. Now:

the trapdoor on the top of my skull  Do you read brain pickings? I do. They once featured a really interesting article about Ray Bradbury’s list-making habits. According to the article, he would begin writing by making lists of nouns — whatever came to him. Stuff like:


As he made the lists (they were longer than this excerpt — sometimes pages long), the lists would break away from themselves into a longer piece, or an idea for a longer piece. The way I see it, Bradbury’s list-making was a way of giving permission for the unconscious to surface and to bring with it a wealth of material. He suggests to us as writers:

“Conjure the nouns, alert the secret self, taste the darkness… speak softly, and write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page…”

I believe he just gave us permission to write any word, not any good word, or beautiful word, or rich or amazing or nuanced word. For me permission is a necessary condition for creation. You can read the whole article here.

basically unreadable  At my MFA residency, one of the faculty (not my faculty mentor, but another faculty member who had read some of my work) suggested I read The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. “It’s basically unreadable,” he said laughing, “but you should read it.”

I am reading it. It’s basically unreadable. But it’s really interesting. And in it, Bachelard, amongst other things, writes about the importance of solitude and reverie in a creative life. In his view, the house is that protective, intimate space where reverie can happen, where one has the freedom and the protected intimacy to create. He says: “poetry appears as a phenomenon of freedom.” And he says a lot of other stuff (much of it unreadable). And I think his view of the house — specifically one’s first house, presumably a childhood house — might be a bit privileged because not everybody has the experience of protective, intimate space in their home. But we all need some kind of protective, intimate space where we are free to imagine in order to do our creative work. Also he says this thing which I’m going to type below just because it’s beautiful:

“And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired, and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. (S/)He knows instinctively that this space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when, henceforth, it is alien to all promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic.”


Personally, I once loved a garret. I once slept in an attic room. I’m going to keep reading this basically unreadable book.

and now, a poem  A poem that also examines the idea of permission, and places where one feels protected and free. This is one of those poems that you just have to read out loud to fully appreciate. It’s not a skimmer. It’s lovely, it’s by Robert Duncan, and it is “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow.”

Funny, often I am permitted to return to the laundry room. I mean the garage. Anyway, may you always have the time, space, and permission to do your work, to live your life. Thanks for reading.



friendly reminder: do your own work first

I seem to need to learn things, and then re-learn the same things, and then re-re-learn, and re-re-re-… well, you get the idea.

Over the last 10 days or so, I’ve re-learned this: do your own work first.

The reason I had to re-learn it is that I started an MFA program and — oh dear — I have assigned reading.

Long-time readers here know how integral reading is to my creative process. And here’s the thing: not all of the assigned reading gets my creative juices flowing. Which is not to say I’m not enjoying it and learning from it — I am. But I still have to do my own work — with reading that does get my creative juices flowing — first.

It’s kind of like that oxygen mask thing they say on airplanes (that I always try not to hear because even thinking about needing an oxygen mask on an airplane makes me feel like I need an oxygen mask).

So I’ve continued to get up before dawn to read what I want to read, and to write whatever flows from that. Later, after the kids are off to school, I move on to the assigned readings (and yes, I realize how lucky I am to have this flexibility).

Days and weeks will come when I have to choose which to do. I will do my own work first.

Unless of course a bleak season comes along. And I think it’s important, when being bossy and telling people to do their own work first, to discuss bleak seasons. Because they do come, and they sometimes mean putting things aside, even your own work. Here is what I’ve said before about bleak seasons. If you are in a bleak season and you’ve had to put things aside, even your own work, remember this: no one can take your (insert your passion here) badge away from you. Life is very lifelike. Bleak seasons come. They also go. Hang tough.

Now off to the work of feeding the hungry… .




friday roundup: snap out of it edition

Snap out of it!

Snap out of it.

Hello, Reader. Meet the snap out of it doll=>

My mother gave me this doll one fateful summer — the summer when all three kids were old enough to whine and fuss in earnest, and with a goal in mind. Like:

Me: It’s time to put your clean laundry away.

Them: Waaaaah. But I’m toooooo tiiiiiirrrrrreeeedddddd.

Me: [Thinks to self: Connect and redirect. Gives a quick hug]. Being tired’s no fun. It’s time to put your laundry away.

Them: Waaaaaah. Buuut Moooooooommmmmm. I’m toooooo tiiiiiirrrrrreeeeddddd.

Me: [Thinks, Where is that F-ing doll? Finds doll. Hands doll to child] Snap out of it. [walks away]

If you look closely, you will see that the snap of it doll has gotten enough use so as to be in need of mending near her ear. I feel I can relate to her deeply on that point.

But lately, I, too, have felt the need to…

snap out of it  Not because I’ve been whining about putting my laundry away, but because I’m back from the first residency of my low-res MFA program, and I’ve had a hard time snapping out of: Oh look here I am with a bunch of people who care about what I care about and who are reading what I’m reading and who are also interested in rhetorical strategies for lyricization of a narrative and here we all are all day and all night doing our writerly thing.

I mean, I get this sense from the washing machine that it expects me to have this deep connection to it, but I’m just not feeling it. And then, these people who are always STARVING.

Them: Mooooommmmmmmm, I’m STARRRRRRRRRRRVING.

Me: Starving? Really!? Do you want to know about starving!!?? Come here, look at this. Do you see this? [shows photo from New York Times] These people are trapped on a mountain by a terrorist group. There is no food or water on the mountain. If they leave the mountain to try to find food and water, the terrorist group will kill them. THEY are starving. YOU are SO NOT STARVING [walks away, mutters under breath].

Them: [insert deer in the headlights look].

So, yeah, as usual, a little pain on re-entry for all of us. I’m sure I’ll stop feeling disoriented any second now [waiting, waiting.... waiting]. Or maybe not. Maybe disorientation is what we need to write poetry. Le Sigh. Anyway, …

here’s what I’ve been reading (says the prairie dog at my desk):

  • Descending Figure Louise Glück
  • Charming Gardeners David Beispiel
  • Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry (all by men, I must add)
  • Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson
  • How to Live on Bread and Water by Jennifer K. Sweeney
  • Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (also all men, I must add)
  • Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
  • Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
  • The Everything Parenting a Teenager BookT by Linda Sonna. Le Sigh.
  • Occasionally, the New York Times.

At some point, I will have to focus on 2 or 3 of these texts and let the others fall away for now. I’ll do that. As soon as I snap out of it.

speaking of which  Right now, I want to hand the snap out of it doll to the whole wide world. I want us all to stop killing each other. I want us all to stop thinking that some people are worth less than other people. I want us to start caring more about our planet. I want the police to go back to wearing those nifty blue shirts and caps with a visor on the front. I want there to be fewer guns in the world, on our streets. I want people to stop making and playing video games that turn killing other people into entertainment. I want us to say hello to each other in the morning when we cross paths walking through our neighborhoods (when I do this in the P-town, people look at me like I’ve just sprouted a third eye). I want no one to be trapped and starving on a mountain top, literal or figurative.

[steps off soapbox]

In that spirit, I offer you a poem by the beloved Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim who died this week. I give you:

Travel Tickets by Samih al-Qasim

The day I’m killed,
my killer, rifling through my pockets,
will find travel tickets:
One to peace,
one to the fields and the rain,
and one
to the conscience of mankind.

Dear killer of mine, I beg you:
Do not stay and waste them.
Take them, use them.
I beg you to travel.

(A.Z. Foresman, trans.)


Happy weekend reader. Here’s to snapping out of it [raises glass -- full of water].