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.

a poem on memorial day

"Night Bombers Getting Off from the Trezennes Aerodome, 1917" by Harold Wyllie (wikimedia)

“Night Bombers Getting Off from the Trezennes Aerodome, 1917″ by Harold Wyllie (wikimedia)

(The Fantasia of a Fallen Gentleman on a Cold, Bitter Night)

Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy.
In a flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now I see
That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.

by T. E. Hulme (16 September 1883 – 28 September 1917)

friday roundup on saturday. because, life.

Solitude by Émile Bernard (wikimedia)

Solitude by Émile Bernard (wikimedia)

Hello Reader. I sat down to write this post yesterday but Plans Changed.

Since the last roundup there has been: three flights; one family wedding; one million hugs from one million aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers, fathers, brothers, nieces, nephews, brides, etc.; one sweet baby held in my arms; one foreign object in one child’s eye; one foreign object removal procedure; three half-days of school; three appointments at the allergy clinic; one bout with stomach flu (not me, thank goodness); five sore throats; copious amounts of tea; many dinners cooked and a few abandoned; one poem draft begun and left in flagrante delicto due to, well, life.

Through it all I have been reading (some) and writing (barely) in whatever cracks and crevices of time open up to me. Here’s what’s on my mind these days:

on getting lost  Oh, that’s right — I’ve also been watching the videos from this MOOC and scribbling notes like crazy. Then napping. Most of the content has been really good and has given me lots to think about and a few new tricks to try. There have been many little gems tossed about by Very Famous Poets, but here is one from a Slightly Less Famous Poet, Mary Hickman, who was talking about prose poems. She said:

“Prose loses itself to find itself. Poetry loses itself to stay lost.”

I love this idea, and it reminds me that the point of reading poetry is not to “get” it, but to experience the poem and whatever it opens up for the reader.

essentials  If you, like me, were not an English major and there are Holes in your poetry education, and if you, like me, feel overwhelmed when faced with 912 pages of Whitman’s collected poems (or 847 pages of some other poet’s collected poems), may I recommend Ecco’s series called Essential Poets. It’s odd — on all the vast Interwebs I cannot find a link to the series as a whole, and even to find individual titles is not always a snap. But bascially, the titles go like this: “Essential (Last Name of Very Famous (Usually Dead) Poet).” Inside these volumes are selections of the most essential works of each poet.

I will not at this time attempt to define “essential” comprehensively. I think of it as: here are the poems all the other, better-educated poets know about from this poet, and that you should, too.

Anyway, I’ve been re-reading Whitman and some words from Galway Kinnell’s introduction to his selections for Essential Whitman sparked my interest this week. Kinnell, explaining his selections in the face of Whitman’s habit of revising ad infinitum, writes:

“All writers know this law: revision succeeds in inverse ratio to the amount of time passed since the work was written.”

I did not know this law, said the poet who just had a poem published that she worked on for nine years before sending out.

“Revision is most likely to improve a poem when it directly follows composition, because it is, in fact, a slower, more reflective phase of the creative act.”

Yes! I have certainly experienced at least the latter half of this statement.

“The only exception to the law is that ill-written and extraneous material may be excised with good effect at any time.”

I’m all for getting rid of anything ill-written and/or extraneous.

In general, I’m not a fan of all-or-nothing statements, “every poet knows” pronouncements, and/or “only exceptions.” But I do think it’s very interesting, novel, and true to my experience that revision can be another phase of the creative act.

lastly, a poem  I’ve been reading Ruth Ellen Kocher’s domina Un/blued and it is fascinating. There are not a lot (only one that I could find) of poems from domina Un/blued find-able online. I’ve also been thinking a lot about solitude, and in my searchings found a Kocher poem on that subject that I think is very fine. Here it is:

Cartographilia by Ruth Ellen Kocher

The door doesn’t understand solitude anymore than you
having always sought or been sought

I mean to say I know less and less
And know you know less and less also

The shore edge foam and caw of water
You lose

Instead of knowing You sleep somewhere else
You feel the air preparing to speak

I do knot know what the air says to you
The closet with your shoes is quiet like the door

(first published here)

I feel deliciously lost for the purpose of staying lost at the end of this poem. I would like to stay there.

Alas, duty calls: laundry, groceries, cleaning the house. Thanks for reading and happy Memorial Day weekend to you.

notes on retreating

corner of desk with pens, flameless candle, and totems

Retreat still life: corner of desk with pens, flameless candle, and totems

retreat v. (of an army) withdraw from confrontation with enemy forces -> move back or withdraw -> withdraw to a quiet or secluded place; n.1.  an act of retreating -> a signal for a military force to withdraw; 2. a quiet or secluded place -> a period or place of seclusion for prayer and meditation; 3. a military musical ceremony carried out at sunset.

from the Latin re- “back” and trahere “to draw”


In this post, I wrote about having planned for silence. And although that very quiet, poetry-intensive week now seems a world away, and although I fight against the impulse to consider schedules and responsibilities as “enemy forces,” I thought I’d write a bit about what I learned by retreating.

1. I had no idea how tired I was (and my guess is that most of us have no idea how tired we are). Although early morning is typically my best time for creative work, I set no alarms. I slept 10 hours most nights, and learned that I am just as capable of writing poems at 9:00 a.m. as at 5:00 a.m.

2. I had no idea how productive I’d been this academic year. All year I’ve been telling myself, “I’m in a fallow period,” that my focus has been polishing the manuscript and beginning to send it out, not writing new poems. But actually I have written a lot new poems this year. I guess it took having the time and space to really spread out (literally and figuratively) for me to have a sense of what I’ve written this year.

3. It really does make a difference to have uninterrupted time. Given time and space, my imagination and intellect could really unfurl. I was not impeded by thoughts like: “Oh, shoot — I’ve got to get that prescription filled today” or “I’ve got to get the chicken out to thaw” or “30 more minutes till pick-up” (is it just me, or is it always 30 more minutes till pick-up?).

4. I could live on tea, wine, cheese, bread, fruit, and yogurt.

5. And poetry.

6. Okay, and the occasional cookie.

(7. Um, and also nibbles of dark chocolate here and there. One must sustain oneself).

While I was away, a friend sent me a quote from Kafka: “I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man.”

Let the people say, Amen.

So, note to self: Every time I go away by myself for writing purposes (a grand total of two times in my life), I am reminded of how important it is to go away by myself for writing purposes. My goal is to make a practice of planning for silence and solitude, to fold it into my life so that — for me and for my family — it becomes regular and unremarkable.

If you need solitude to do your life’s work, I encourage you to plan for it, too. Hermit, or dead man — whatever works for you.

friday roundup for which I cannot think of a title (sorry)

Claude Monet. Das Pfirsichglas. Öl/Leinwand, 55,5 x 46 cm. Galerie Neue Meister, Galerienummer: 2525 B. Veröffentlichung nur mit Genehmigung und Quellenangabe. (wikimedia)

Claude Monet. Das Pfirsichglas. Öl/Leinwand, 55,5 x 46 cm. Galerie Neue Meister, Galerienummer: 2525 B. Veröffentlichung nur mit Genehmigung und Quellenangabe. (wikimedia)

Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. It has been One of Those Weeks. I will not bore you with the details. I will just share some things from the (very small) space of poetry in my life this week.

reading first   Weeks like this — I think of them as O-fers: Life: 357, Poetry: 0 — I turn to a very special file I keep in my cabinet. It has just one item in it: a piece of paper with just one sentence on it. Here is the sentence:

“Love reading first, and the poetry will find its place… Then write, and love the work of writing –“

Rita Dove wrote this, and her words are a comfort to me during times when life is winning and there’s not much room for writing poetry. Regardless of the shenanigans Life is up to, I can always find a few minutes to read here and there. I make sure I find those minutes. This practice, and Dove’s words, always remind me of the source of my poetry: reading. The writing comes later. Sometimes much later. I can live with this.

a little less extinguished   Now and then the old “Is poetry dead?” debate flares. While I used to pay attention to that debate, in recent years I’ve just become bored with it. This week, I came across some words that express why. They are from Katie Ford (apologies to those who have already seen this on my Facebook status this week, but I think it bears repeating):

“When you are alone, you are with a poem, not with ‘Contemporary American Poetry.’ If the poem slays you, you will be a little more alive, a little less extinguished.”

When I read this, I thought: Bingo. I have never, ever sat down with Contemporary American Poetry. But I have sat down with a poem countless times. It is a poem that is alive, and it is a reader who is alive. Amen.

Hurry, tailors.   One of the things I found time to read this week is the most recent issue of Cave Wall, one of my favorite journals of poetry and art. Amongst the many fine poems, there was one that spoke to me especially as I’ve continued to ponder our torn world. It is a mending poem, and one of several poems in the issue by Sandra Beasley whose newest book Count the Waves is just out from Norton. After I read this poem, I was a little less extinguished. I hope you will be, too.


The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, Line #4983: “HOW LONG AGO WAS IT?”
by Sandra Beasley

The seams of our gold world weaken —
gussets fray under the arms of the post office,
and the oriole’s throat loosens its embroidery.

There are two ways a world can be edged:
with selvage, as a weft retreats
into itself, or with a marrying stitch.

Hurry, tailors.
Thread the needle of your bodies,
gather and placket. Hem the peach’s flesh

where the stone pulled free. I
can only watch as each sequin of water
dissolves at your touch. But still,

skirt the shore in its ocean.
Clothe the house in its roof.
There is a threadbare spot in the eastern canopy —

You, lift the bobbin. You, measure the cut.
Don’t look down, tailor.
Steady the hand that dares mend a sky.


Let us all be menders.

Have a wonderful weekend, and thanks for reading.

friday roundup: truth, art, hope

Friendly reminder with penguin paperweight (don't ask) and stapler.

Friendly reminder with penguin paperweight (don’t ask; involves sensitive middle child) and stapler.

Hello out there.

Well, wow. I feel really quiet today, and have all week as world and national events have unfolded. That old question: What can one person possibly say or do in the face of such injustice, devastation, terror?

But of course there are things a person can do. Times like these, I remind myself that — as the years-old tag from a bag of Good Earth tea that I have taped to my bookshelf says — “Your choices will change the world.”

So I keep choosing: truth, art, hope.

(Also, I keep choosing civic engagement, support for candidates and organizations that work for what I believe in, awareness of my own privilege in the world).

That middle word in the first list helps me with the other two. Sometimes art is a way to the truth. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gives me hope.

Here is a poem that speaks the truth.

Here is one that gave me hope this week, by reminding me how to start again each day.

Here is an excerpt from a poem written decades ago that still speaks to our particular moment.

I’m going to wander off and be quiet some more. Happy Friday. Let us combine. Amen.

friday in lieu of a roundup: silence can be a plan

Silence by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (wikimedia)

Silence by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (wikimedia)

Hello and happy Friday.

Today I’m planning for silence.

By which I mean, I’m preparing to leave tomorrow for a little cottage near the ocean where, for one week, I’ll read and write without any competing demands (laundry, meals, homework help, broken fingers, settling arguments,dentist appointments, track meets, leaky faucets, grocery runs, and the like). And without the sounds of other people’s voices, and bouncing basketballs, and overheard Pokemon episodes, and the chorus of “Mars, Mars We’re Going to Mars” from the third grade play, and perhaps best of all, without the nightly whine of leaf blowers blowing out the parking lot of the grocery store loading dock across the street.

I did the same last year for the first time, and learned what a gift it can be to plan for silence.

And yet, it’s a struggle. Mainly against guilt. Spiteful Gillian, who really doesn’t hang around these parts much anymore, has made a comeback. She wants to know: “How can you abandon your family for a week just so you can go off and (air quotes) make art (end air quotes)?” She wants to know: “Wouldn’t that money be better tucked away for college — which is in FIVE YEARS (this one, in particular, kills me every time — FIVE YEARS till my oldest goes to college). She says: “What if the house burns down, what if someone gets sick or breaks a finger, what if the earthquake finally hits and YOU ARE NOT THERE?”

She’s so annoying.

I counter her, saying: Writers and artists have always needed periods of solitude in order to do their work. I am setting a great example for my kids; I am showing them how to be committed to one’s work as well as one’s family. I am not (air quotes) abandoning (end air quotes) anyone — I am doing my job. I am a person who needs periods of quiet and solitude in order to be my true self.

Also, I have left them a bunch of homemade food in the freezer, so get off my back Spiteful Gillian, geez!

But someone has said it better than I ever could (shocker). Here’s Adrienne Rich on silence:


Silence can be a plan
rigorously executed

the blueprint to a life

It is a presence
it has a history a form

Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence

(from “Cartographies of Silence”)


So off I go, into a plan rigorously executed. I may or may not be around this corner of the blogosphere during my time away — I tend not to do well with grand pronouncements of I will or I will not, but instead with going with the flow.

Whatever you need to do your life’s work and be your true self, make a plan to get it. Execute it. Rigorously. Make it the blueprint of your life. Amen.