friday roundup with dictionaries, sources, and bridges

My favorite bridge... (photo from wikimedia)

My favorite bridge… (photo from wikimedia)

Dear Reader,

It’s Friday. Today there is no pink eye, no late start (for two out of three children), no half-day (for the remaining third of the trio). My house is quiet, my desk is clear.

Don’t tell the Universe.

I’ll get right to the roundup:

dictionaries  It’s not very often that I need to have a dictionary nearby while I’m reading. But this week I’m reading Stanley Plumly’s essays in Argument & Song: Sources & Silences in Poetry, and I’ve been keeping my dictionaries right nearby to do things like…

…look up mimesis for the 100th time in my life (I can never remember what it means): “imitative representation of the real world in art and literature”

…try to determine whether there is any meaningful difference between suasive and persuasive (for all intents and purposes, no)

…learn the meaning of prolixity: Quality or state of being prolix, or unduly protracted in duration; specifically, a stylistic quality resulting from verboseness, diffuseness, and confusing or tedious copiousness of detail

Pro tip from Stan: No prolixity in your poems.

And thank you to my three favorite dictionaries:


sources  Here’s another pro tip, related to that old saw “write what you know”: Plumly writes, in his essay “Words on Birdsong,”

“Of the many sources of poetry, experience tied to time is fundamental, and, finally, archetypal.”


“Contrivance is endless, a kind of lottery of the imagination. Poets cannot make things up. Poets make things from—from memory; from matter that cannot be changed, only transformed; from the rock of fact that may disappear, eventually, from erosion, but that cannot be willed, out of hand, to evaporate.”

I think what he’s saying is that in order to be compelling, a poem has to have something real behind it: real emotion, real intellectual inquiry, real experience. Something has to be at stake for the poet and/or in the poem. Incredible language, impressive craft—these are not enough. Some would disagree, of course, but the poems that stay with me are those that have it all: incredible language, impressive craft, and something at stake.

bridges  A friend sent me this poem via text earlier this week. It’s W.S. Merwin killin’ it again. I love how it begins in certainty (“as I always knew it would be”), then veers into tentativeness and uncertainty. I love that the tentativeness of the poem is what carries it down the page until, BAM!: what’s at stake in five words. Here is…


THE BRIDGES by W. S. Merwin

Nothing but me is moving
on these bridges
as I always knew it would be
see moving on each of the bridges
only me

and everything that we have known
even the friends
lined up in the silent iron railings
back and forth
I pass like a stick on the palings

the echo
rises from the marbled river
the light from the blank clocks crackles
like an empty film
are we living now
on which side which side
and will you be there


May this day be a lovely bridge to your weekend.

the best laid plans of mice and moms

Presenting the first addition to the bulletin board

Presenting the first addition to the bulletin board

Well, today was going to be the First Official Day Back at My Desk After Summer Vacation, Upon Which All Charges Under My Care Are Back In School.

This morning over tea/coffee, Husband said, “Enjoy your first day of freedom today.” “Shhh,” I said, “don’t tempt the Universe.”

Then Sister woke up with her eye crusted shut.

So I’ve not been at my desk. I’ve been at the pediatrician’s office and the pharmacy. Drops have been instilled, Sister is watching TV and eating Kraft mac-n-cheese, and I am sneaking in a moment here to say go read this article, which a poet-friend linked to on Facebook yesterday, and which reminded me of the Most Important Things.

They are contained in this list of instructions from Jane Kenyon (of blessed memory), which is quoted in the article:

“Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

I can’t always protect my time, work regular hours, or be by myself. But I can and will do these things whenever possible.

I can walk. I can read good books. I can turn the ringer off on my phone (“take the phone off the hook” — seems so quaint now, doesn’t it? ;) ).

As for avoiding too much noise, I think we all have to decide what the “noise” is for ourselves. For me, social media, volunteer requests from school, and my inner critic are the noise that can become too much. I’ll be working on limiting the first and third items on that list, and on being liberal with the NO for the second.

If I could add one thing to the list, it would be: Yes, do all these things, but don’t wait for ideal conditions; just write. This approach is what has made it possible for me to do so much of my work through moves and illnesses and ballet rehearsals and allergy clinic visits and dry spells and All the F-ing Half Days of school and hospital stays and basketball games and feeding people and laundry piled on my desk… you get the idea.

Ideal conditions happen sometimes, and we can and must do things to help facilitate them. But  writing can happen during All The Times (reading counts), even if it’s just in tiny cracks of time in less-than-ideal conditions.

Write on.

friday just-barely-a-roundup: clearing the decks edition





Hello, Reader. Happy end of summer-ish.

I’m tiptoeing back toward my desk, although I have a few things that will keep me from it until Tuesday. Meanwhile, I’m doing my usual thing: up early to squeeze in the poetry.

I’ve also cleared the decks somewhat… . I’ve set aside, not without a certain amount of poet-anguish, non-assigned readings and have begun my assigned readings for this academic year. So far I’m loving what’s assigned, so that’s the good news. I also did my annual shearing of the bulletin board. You can see the before and after. This is always a painful process, too, because nothing goes on the bulletin board unless it’s Important. But a gal needs some visual quietude from time to time, and by the end of this year, I’m sure it will be full again of inspiring quotes, images that tug at me, and a fallen leaf or two.

I have only two things for you today. One is a quote from Seamus Heaney, of blessed memory, from the intro to his selected prose, Finders Keepers:

“(The essays) are also testimonies to the fact that poets themselves are finders and keepers, that their vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers and custodians of the unlooked for.”

The first time I read this sentence, it brought me to tears (although I’d expand “poets” to include all writers). It was a moment of deep recognition, I think, of being seen in his words. Thank you, dear Seamus. And these words make me ask myself: What have you found and kept, discovered and looked after? There lie the seeds for poems.

The second is from Wordsworth, and maybe it also speaks to the creative act:

FRAGMENT (REDUNDANCE) by William Wordsworth

Not the more
Failed I to lengthen out my watch. I stood
Within the area of the frozen vale,
Mine eye subdued and quiet as the ear
Of one that listens, for even yet the scene,
Its fluctuating hues and surfaces,
And the decaying vestiges of forms,
Did to the dispossessing power of night
Impart a feeble visionary sense
Of movement and creation doubly felt.

Source: Essential Wordsworthand a note: the first line should be indented (HTML whiz I am not).


When I read this, I feel like I’m standing in front of a Jackson Pollock painting: “movement and creation doubly felt,” movement and creation seeming to occur before one’s eyes. This poem also reminds me of other fragment poems that are dear to me, like this one by Raymond Carver, and, oh, all of Sappho.

Even fragments can be whole, it seems.

I’m hoping to be a bit more active here now that summer is ending-ish. Happy weekend to all and thanks for reading.

have poems, will travel

Now reading: Copperhead by Rachel Richardson (two thumbs up!)

Now reading: Copperhead by Rachel Richardson (two thumbs up!)

Those four words pretty much sum up the summer.

Well, also: have kids, at pool. And: put on your sunscreen! And: kid projects gone wrong. And: “Are we there yet?” And: laundry never ever ends.

We have been to Portland (pilgrimage to Powell’s Books) and the Oregon coast (“Mom, look: Michigan sand!”). We have been back home to Michigan to see family (ate orchard-fresh cherries; found many Petoskey stones; pilgrimage to spirit dunemade s’mores with cousins; drank wine with Mom; “Let’s go tubing, Grandpa!”).

The photo above is from yesterday (have kids, at park). We rode our bikes to the park, and I gave thanks for forty-five minutes of reading time on a park bench in the shade beneath the redwoods, which, by the way, are looking mighty stressed in this drought.

I’ve always been grateful for the portability of poetry (slim volumes, easily concealed). It’s an art form we can take with us, whether reading or writing.

As for writing, there has been precious little (slept in again, damn!). But there are seasons.

One more trip for me this summer, then back to the P-town for the first day of school (another f*&%$#@ half day).

Then, maybe, some long awaited time at my desk. And orthodontist appointments, and trips to the ballet studio, and grocery runs, and cross-country meets. And all that. And through it all, poetry is with me.

Until soon…

gone fishin’

M0015197 Prehistoric fishing gear, nets, weaving etc. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Prehistoric fishing gear, nets, weaving etc. Musee prehistorique Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet Published: 1903 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Prehistoric fishing gear (wikimedia)

Happy Friday, all. Or actually, it’s a not-so-happy Friday considering this week’s news from Charleston.

I’m going to take a bit of a blog hiatus for the next few weeks. Because, summer.

But first, a poem:


The Fishing Tackle
by Bertolt Brecht

In my room, on the whitewashed wall
Hangs a short bamboo stick bound with cord
With an iron hook designed
To snag fishing nets from the water. The stick
Came from a second-hand store downtown. My son
Gave it to me for my birthday. It is worn.
In salt water the hook’s rust has eaten through the binding.
These traces of use and of work
Lend great dignity to the stick. I
like to think that this fishing-tackle
Was left behind by those Japanese fisherman
Whom they have now driven from the West Coast into camps
As suspect aliens; that it came into my hands
To keep me in mind of so many
Unsolved but not insoluble
Questions of humanity.

(trans. Lee Baxendall)


‘Unsolved but not insoluble.” I’m hanging on to that.

Thanks for reading.

friday roundup, lacking a basic structure but well-intentioned and with 80s movie clip

Uncle Walt with unidentified children (photo here)

Uncle Walt with unidentified children (photo here)

Hello, Reader. It’s summer at the Wee, Small House. School got out a week ago today; by mid-morning on Monday the perennial chorus of “I’m bored” had begun. I have no response to that, since I happen to approve of boredom wholeheartedly.

I’m trying to think of the last time I was bored. It may have been in 1989.

I’ve been reading Uncle Walt, which is how I refer to Walt Whitman in my mind — although I’m not sure why. Either my Advanced Lit teacher in high school called him that (in the same vein, Shakespeare was “Billy Boy”)? Or perhaps it was Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, in Dead Poets Society? Either is equally possible.

Real-time digression:

Q: What is poetry?
A: That page has been ripped out, sir.


I’ve been writing little songs of myself. Or songs of my little self. Memory songs, none of which seem particularly important, but which are asking to be written.

And, of course, I’ve been doing the Mom Thing (so much depends / upon // a two-word / phrase…) which this week has run the gamut from cleaning up vomit, to confiscating electronic devices, to explaining the mission of the International Monetary Fund. But which has also involved reading favorite books with my littlest and marathon Monopoly games. #winning #mostly

Oh, and I’ve been reading Gaston Bachelard. Again, or still. He has so many interesting things to say about image (and other things). Here are a couple:

“(A)n image that issues from the imagination is not subject to verification by reality.”


“To verify images kills them, and it is always more enriching to imagine than to experience.


Can we go back to Uncle Walt now? Because he has me thinking about barbaric yawps and long lines. About momentum and the accumulation of both images and stressed syllables. He has me walking around repeating to myself, Tenderly will I use you curling grass.

I keep going back to section 6 of “Song of Myself” so I thought I’d share it with you. I recommend that you read it out loud. Here it is (scroll down a bit), in a slightly different version that the one I’m reading.

I wish you a summer of sounding all the barbaric yawps of your inmost self and little to no cleaning up of vomit. Amen.

friday roundup: poetry? what is poetry? edition

“Wheat Field” by Van Gogh (wikimedia)

Hello, Reader. Happy first Friday in June. I woke up this morning wondering what I could say about poetry today.

Poetry? I said to myself, What is poetry? It sounds familiar but…

This week, I can tell you a lot about end-of-year nuttiness at school; giving choices to the Resident Teenager about returning his science textbook (“You can take it in yourself today, or you can forget again, in which case, I will take it in tomorrow and you will pay me for my troubles. I charge $60/hour in half-hour minimum increments.”); how in California you can, apparently, get a sunburn at 8:30 in the morning while attending 5th grade “graduation” (for those who may not realize this: it’s actually impossible to get a sunburn at 8:30 in the morning in the midwest); how I tried to fit in one million errands and appointments before the end of the school year. Which is today.

There has not been a lot of poetry going on around here.

So I’m going to share a few things other, more qualified people have said about poetry. I like to collect definitions of what a poem is and/or what poetry is. Here are a few of my favorites:

““If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I knowthat is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” —Emily Dickinson

A poem is “a small (or large) machine made out of words.” —William Carlos Williams

Poetry is “an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.” —Mary Oliver 

“(P)rose—words in their best order; poetry—the best words in the best order.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” —Rita Dove

“Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life.” —June Jordan

“The poem is a plank laid over the lion’s den.” —James K. Baxter

“To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” —Galway Kinnell

And now for one of the very few poems I read this week (how my heart hurts to say that), with thanks to Kelly Cressio-Moeller, my poetry partner-in-crime, for pointing me to it.

Here is “The Field” by Christopher DeWeese published in The Atlas Review.

And happy summer vacation!

friday (mini)roundup: ‘was she fierce?’ edition

Herself at Alta Lodge, Utah

Herself at Alta Lodge, Utah

Happy Friday, Reader. Today’s roundup will be brief-ish (I am not so very good at brief, but brief-ish I can sometimes manage), for there is Another Half-Day of school.

Last week (the week before last?) I posted a photo of a book I was reading, Cartas Aspasionadas: The letters of Friday Kahlo. It is a cool little book whose package (and contents) holds evidence of past worlds; look:


The stamped due dates make me wildly happy.

Anyway, about Frida, a reader asked in the comments: was she fierce?

And I wanted to say, Yes, yes she was! But her letters reveal the art to be fiercer than the woman. Or like all of us perhaps, that she was fierce sometimes, not others.

She doubted the worth of her art, even while it was being acquired by the Louvre. And it seemed that a lot of her feelings of self-worth were dependent upon the status of her stormy relationship with Diego.

Of her painting, she wrote: “I think at least a few people are interested in it. It’s not revolutionary. Why keep wishing for it to be belligerent? I can’t.”

Of Diego: “I love you more than my own skin, and … even though you don’t love me as much, you love me a little anyway—don’t you? If this is not true, I’ll always be hopeful that it could be, and that’s enough for me… .”

And of the intersection of the two: “I’ve lost my best years being supported by a man, and doing nothing else but what I thought would benefit him.” (In fairness to Frida, she also supported Diego once or twice, bailing him out financially by selling her art).

Well, we are all flawed. And women were, for many generations, raised to find their worth in a man and/or a family, and not in their own work. I think that’s starting to change.

So, was she fierce? I think her art is fierce. I think she was fierce sometimes and not others. I think we should all be as fierce as possible in our art, our life’s work, and in our love for others and ourselves. I think we should be fierce about not letting any one of these elements of life devour any of the others.

What she was, though, that I did not know, was a poet. Here is a little poem she wrote in the guise of a letter:


Letter to a Girlfriend in France (probably Jaqueline Breton) by Frida Kahlo

Since you wrote me on that clear and distant day, I have been wanting to explain to you that I cannot leave those days behind or return timely to the other time. I haven’t forgotten you—the nights are long and difficult.

The water. The ship, the dock, and the departure that made you so small to my eyes, imprisoned in that round window, that you were looking at in order to keep me in your heart.

Everything is intact. Later, there came the days, new of you. Today, I would like my sun to touch you. I tell you that your daughter is my daughter, the puppets, set up in their large glass room, they belong to both of us.

The huipil with purple ribbons is yours. Mine are those old plazas of your Paris.


If that’s not a poem, I don’t know what is.

Here is what a huipil is.

All this thinking about fierceness reminds me of a quote from Isadora Duncan:

You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.

Let us all be fierce, wild, untamed, artists, lovers.