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 images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 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 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.

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.