shit goes wrong


I have mostly been writing my thesis nonstop for the last two weeks. A draft is due tomorrow. I should be working on it now (and will soon), but I’m stopping by here to share a link to two of my poems in this month’s THRUSH poetry journal.

They are poems from my first full-length manuscript which is currently making the rounds.

At first glance, they might appear to be poems about love gone wrong—Persephone and Hades, you know the story. But when I wrote them they were attempts to reckon with the reality of serious, chronic illness. Illness that was never going away.

More broadly, I was attempting to reckon with the problem of suffering. Suffering, which—as long as there are sentient beings in existence—is never going away.

Shit goes wrong.

Sometimes something dark kidnaps you and takes you underground through a rend in the earth. You’re down there, you’re hungry, you miss your mother.

But after a while it becomes your life. YOUR life. And so, while you wouldn’t choose it, you can’t exactly wish it away either.

Here are the poems, and make sure to read the rest of the issue, too. Thanks for reading.


(Note: The first poem is also an ekphrasis of the painting above, View of the Campagna, 1832 by Friedrich Wasmann; oil on paper mounted on cardboard, Hamburger Kunsthalle. You can find a larger image of it here).

PSA: send your poems to Heron Tree


A quick note today to get the word out about one of my favorite online journals, Heron Tree (full disclosure: the good people at Heron Tree have published my work).

If you’re not already reading Heron Tree, I recommend it. I love their format. They publish one poem each week online, and then compile the year’s worth of poems in a printed edition. It’s a win-win: you get to live with one poem each week all throughout the year… then find the poems all over again in the bound edition. I often reach for my copies for inspiration before drafting… gathering a few words here and there, maybe using the map (or structure ) of one of the poems.

Heron Tree is open for submissions until June 1. They read blind (I love this about them). Send them your best! Guidelines are at this link.


friday roundup on saturday: just a poem


Still Life at Museum Cafe with Destroyed Ham Sandwich, Empty Cup of What Was Tea, and Book of Poems.

Hello, Reader, and happy weekend.

Sometimes of a Friday one abandons one’s Plans and just goes to the museum. I did this yesterday. I went to the museum to see the Turner exhibit. By myself. I haven’t been to a museum alone since I lived in NYC in my twenties. I even rented one of those hand-held units with ear phones that tells you about the art as you walk through the galleries (mini-review: slick and interesting, but I’m not sure I’ll do it again as other peoples’ words may have crowded out my own thoughts and questions about the art, and the little scraps of language that often arrive as I consider works of art). It was all very wonderful except for the guy who kept stepping right in front of me as I viewed the paintings to take photos of the art with his iPad.

I just want to share one poem from Prairie Schooner, the summer 2015 issue, which I read this week. I fell hard for Simon Perchik’s “You draw the map on her dress.” You can read the poem here. You can subscribe to Prairie Schooner here, and they even have issues available in e-book format if your house, like mine, is being overtaken slowly by books and lit mags (I pause here to recall this conversation between the husband and me: Him: Do we have to have all these books piled up all over the house? Me: Yes.).

Have a wonderful weekend. Write on.

friday roundup: From Tiger to Prayer, Big P, and haying

Happy Friday, all. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right (although, I confess, not very often). From all indications, I was right last week when I said I was through my quota of Normal Weeks for the year. It’s back to nursing the sick and brokenhearted, orthodontia ad infinitum, and setting (very) early alarms in the hopes of having some poetry time each day. Sometimes I get tired of the effort it takes to fit poetry into small and hard-won slivers of time. But a few things I read consoled me this week. I share them with you:

From Tiger to Prayer  Early in my poetry adventures, I was lucky to learn from Deborah Keenan. She is a wonderful poet, teacher, and human being. It was Deborah who taught me how to really work as a poet — how to read the work of other poets and use those poems as springboards into my own work. Her signature exhortation to “get a grip” is always ringing in my ears. “Get a grip” — on your work, on what’s important in it. “Get a grip” — on what poems (of your own, of others) are crucial for you, of what the world needs you to say as a poet. “Get a grip” — a grasp, a hold of; gain purchase, traction; an understanding of, an awareness of; a travel bag. Yes.

This week Deborah arrived as if an angel in my mailbox in the form of her book of writing prompts From Tiger to Prayer. In classic Deborah-style, these are not your everyday writing prompts such as “Write a poem in which you’re a character in your favorite movie,” or, “Write a poem under the title of a newspaper headline from today’s paper.” These prompts go deeper. They speak to your particular voice as a poet. They are rich enough to return to over and over again. A few examples:

“‘Tiger’ — one poem. ‘Tigers’ — one poem. Singular and plural. This alone can carry you for years as a poet.”


“Write a page full of poetry, sweeping horizontal lines. Repeatedly fold it. I mean it. Fold it vertically, horizontally, diagonally, like an old-fashioned paper fan — understand where the poems are waiting based on the folds.”


“Look for the poems in the world that seem to have been written so that you can write the companion poem. Then write those poems.”

You can buy this spectacular, small, and beautiful book from broadcraftpress.

Big P  Whatever you’re doing right now, stop. And go immediately to Gulf Coast‘s website to buy a copy of their current issue. Aside from all the good writing between the covers, you will find an essay by Tony Hoagland, “12 Things I know about the Life of Poetry.” Here are some gems from within:

“You can learn more from reading a single book of good poems over and over than from rushing through a shelf full… . You can learn more artistically from reading a single poem many times with great attentiveness, than from reading incidentally encountered poem after poem.”


Make a “conscious and deliberate, overt, voiced commitment to the humanist soul-preserving agenda of poetry.”


“You have to love Poetry more than Your Poetry… . When I am bent, and poor, and pathetic, and in need of restoration, I go back to Big P.”

Let the people say, Amen. There is so much more in this essay — including hot springs, Ferris wheels, fear and trembling, motorcycle gangs, churches, and all your old girlfriends and boyfriends. You must read it.

haying  As for me, when I am bent, and poor, and pathetic, and in need of restoration, and behind on the papers due for my MFA program, and tired of trying to fit a life of poetry into small and unpredictable slivers of time, I go back to Certain Poems. One of my Certain Poems is “haying” by Deborah Digges, from her posthumous collection The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart. This poem reminds me of why poetry claimed me. It reminds me about attention. And riches — the treasure of language. It reminds me to find the words that belong to a particular poem. It reminds me why I will never stop finding small and unpredictable slivers of time, of why I’m writing papers in the first place.

You can click here — Haying-DeborahDigges — to revel in her language and attention.

And you can listen to her read it here, but be prepared to weep at the way her voice is both strong and delicate — the way it both holds fast to, and slips off of, each word.

I will do the same, then pull myself together and wash the dishes, write some papers, wipe the brow of a small one resting on the couch. Amen.

friday roundup: walking the plank, how to end a poem, and when in doubt, art

by Howard Pyle, wikimedia

by Howard Pyle, wikimedia

Dear Reader,

Are you still there? I am still here. I am still juggling, dancing, dashing and dodging, but alas, never balancing. I am still reporting to my desk in its four-foot stretch of wall space with regularity — “as if it were a given property of the mind / that certain bounds hold against chaos… .” And they do. Intermittently. As one of my first teachers of poetry (and a mother of four) used to say: “Life is very lifelike.”

Anyway, onto poetic thoughts and musings….

walking the plank  I am still reading A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line (Wow — just noticed the price on that baby. Hunt around. I found it for much cheaper). I am still finding gems page by page, sometimes a whole essay of treasure. After figurative language, line is probably my very favorite element of poetry — both in reading and writing. I like it best when reading or writing a line of poetry is like walking the plank. Here is Catherine Barnett (who I quoted a few weeks back as saying poetry is “a ruin of prose”) on this march-toward-death quality of the line:

“Poetry gives me endless options, and where and how to end the line is, for me, one of the most energizing possibilities, uncertainties, because it holds within it the possibility of beginning again at the next line, and that little vertical fall is fuel, libido, a little vertigo — and because it holds within it the possibility that the line won’t end, not / this / time. Preserving your options is only a poor man’s strategy for forestalling death. A line-break is the same. Mortality confronts you at every line. Is this it? Is this it? Is / this / it?

Let us give thanks for smart poets who write essays and books on craft so that we can read them. Amen.

how to end a poem  (insert maniacal laughter here). And lo, it is said, “Endings are hard, man. Like drawing hands.” Yes they are. But I gave a little craft talk on endings at my poetry group a couple of weeks ago, and the outcome was a list of strategies for ending a poem. I could kick myself for not making this list ten years ago. Here is the list:

  • Bold claim
  • Shift to the imperative voice
  • Direct address (“Greetings, Earthlings.”)
  • Apostrophe
  • Dialogue / something spoken
  • Make a list
  • Ask (a) question(s) (Personal favorite: Lucille Clifton, “quilting,” “how does this poem end? …”
  • (needless to say) Strong image
  • Explicit entry (or re-entry) of the speaker
  • Big swerve (e.g., description, description, description, statement that seems to have nothing to do with the description but obviously does because it’s in the same poem)
  • Change in perspective (a widening or narrowing of the lens, so to speak)
  • Return to or break from pattern used previously in the poem (formal, syntactical, metrical, etc.)

These strategies are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They are not offered as The List, just a list. One that I plan to keep adding to as I study poems and their endings. It will not make endings easy, but now you have a list of things to try when you don’t know how to end a poem (or maybe you already had this list and I am late to the party).

when in doubt, art  Sometimes the world feels heavy and incomprehensible (most times?). Then it feels like whatever tiny lines we can write on a blank page don’t matter. Because tsunami. Because QSIS. Because the plane. Because the girls. Because school shootings. Because starving children. Because midterm elections. Because “surgical strikes.” And the list goes on. When the world feels too heavy to write about, I often turn to art and write an ekphrastic poem. Art, I feel, is reliable. It always has more to give — more beauty, more comfort, more hope, more humanity. And of course, art is of this world, too — so then I feel better about the world in a roundabout way.

Anyway, I read a stellar ekphrastic poem in Blackbird this week, and I’ll leave you with it. It is “An Early Nude by Rothko” by Lindsay Bernal.

Happy weekend!

I beg you: subscribe to Linebreak (for about the cost of a latte)

Subscribe to Linebreak for about the cost of a latte (photo from wikimedia)

Subscribe to Linebreak for about the cost of a latte (photo from wikimedia)

Reader, GREAT NEWS! Linebreak — one of my all-time favorite journals — is making a comeback.

For those who don’t know, Linebreak is/was an online journal that published one (stellar) poem a week, delivered to your inbox, and accompanied by an audio file of another poet reading that week’s poem. For years, I awoke eagerly on Tuesday (I think it was Tuesdays) mornings waiting to see what Linebreak had in store. Editors Ash Bowen and Jonathon Williams never failed to dish up a poem I (a). loved and (b). could learn from. In doing so, they introduced me to the work of many poets I’d not read before. If you’re not familiar with the great work Linebreak put out into the world, you can read (and listen to) it in their archives.

(And, full disclosure: I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Linebreak because they were the first to give the Mail Order Bride a home. Thanks, guys.)

Sadly, Linebreak stopped publishing last summer (I think it was last summer). I grieved, and I know I was not alone.

But the important thing is that Linebreak is making a comeback. They’re running a subscription campaign, asking for $3/month — as they point out, about the cost of a latte.

I would give up many a latte to have Linebreak back in action. I’ve subscribed and I hope you will, too. Here’s the link: subscribe today! (and forgive me all my parentheticals this morning).

friday roundup: just barely edition



Reader, I confess: I have not done much reading or thinking this week unless it was reading and thinking about a grant application I finally finished this morning. Still, small things have arrived or announced themselves gently. Although I feel this is just barely a roundup, I will share them now with you:

twitter illiterate  To which I say: Yes, yes I am. I’ve had a Twitter handle for a while now but I never tweeted until Wednesday. On that day, VIDA invited writers to photos with the hashtag #VIDAcount in advance of the annual VIDA Count. I’m kind of shy about posting photos of moi, but I really loved looking at everyone’s photos and the “I/we count” messages. I thought as long as I could get my old poetry friend, Emily Dickinson, to pose with me, I could bring myself to do it. So I did. You can look at the Twitter stream with all the many photos here. Emily and I are there somewhere.

So I guess I’ve thrown my hat in the Twitter ring, or at least peeked over the edge. Which makes me nervous because I don’t really know how to use it, or what the twitter manners are, or anything like that. Recently, I read this article that helps explain at least some of the twitter basics. I offer it to you in case you are also twitter illiterate.

As I think about how I might use Twitter moving forward, I’ll tend toward tweets about what I’m reading, useful articles, beloved quotes, amazing art, and retweets of the like. I’ll be tiptoeing in slowly, but if you want to tune in I’m @mollypoet.

if other professions were paid like artists  This article by Michelle Aldredge at Gwarlingo has been circulating on Facebook, and I found it to be very thought provoking. Beyond bringing up the issue of artists being expected (and sometimes willing) to do their work for free, it points out several commonly held “distortions” about art and money, and articulates several questions meant to help artists think about their own approaches to money and compensation. It asks creative people to quantify things like how much money they need to earn each month to feel secure and comfortable, and how they can best reach that goal. I confess, my poetry does not contribute very much to our family’s bottom line at this stage, but as I attempt to make my way (and my living) in the poetry world, I’ll be thinking about this article and the questions it asks. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go donate to Gwarlingo.

many fine poems  Weeks like this when it’s hard to find wide open space in which to read a collection of poems, or even to spend a while with one issue of a print lit mag, I’m especially grateful for the Interwebs and all the fine poetry that’s available at the stroke of a key (or several). This morning I spent some time with Thrush Poetry Journal‘s March issue. Go on over and read it. Particular favorites of mine are “Year of the Drowned Dog” by Kelly Cressio-Moeller (who, full disclosure, is a po-friend of mine) and “Aubade with Polar Vortex and What it Means to Survive You” by Sara Henning.

And now…. I know it’s almost cocktail hour in some time zones, but it’s time for hot tea and a few quiet moments at the Wee, Small House. Happy weekend and thanks for reading.

friday roundup: new ventures, poetic adultery, and “love leaking out unguarded”

Hestery Prynne, that famous literary adulteress. When it comes to poetry, I am guilty as charged.

Hestery Prynne, that famous literary adulteress. When it comes to poetry, I am guilty as charged.

Happy Friday, Reader. It’s a cool, grey day in the P-town. We need rain, so everyone is hoping for that. Meanwhile, I fear my children are becoming Californians: Mom, will you drive me to school today in case it rains? Um, no. But Papa is a softie and did agree to give a lift to Eldest on his way out of town.  My parting words: “Take your rain jacket with you because you’re walking home.” His reply, “I know, Mom, I know (insert heavy sigh here).”

Now for the roundup:

new ventures  I was excited to find out about two new poetic ventures this week. The first is a new journal that Kelly Davio and Joe Ponepinto are launching, the Tahoma Literary Review, a journal of short fiction and poetry. As Kelly writes on her blog:

Tahoma Literary Review isn’t just another literary magazine project. We’re not following the existing publishing, editing, or business models, but are trying a new approach altogether. We took time to truly listen to writers’ and readers’ wants and concerns as we planned  TLR, and took time to consider how we might reframe the discussion about what functions a journal should serve.

To read more about this new venture, and the specific ways in which TLR is not just another lit mag, go here.

In other news, Two Sylvias Press is opening soon for its first chapbook contest. After having read Two Sylvias’ e-anthology Fire on Her Tongue, I’m looking forward to seeing what else they’ll put out in the world through this contest. Details are here.

poetic adultery  This is just a quote from Vera Pavlova that seems very apropos to my life right now, and maybe to some of your lives as well:

Poetry should be written the way adultery is committed: on the run, on the sly, during the time not accounted for. And then you come home, as if nothing ever happened.

~ Vera Pavlova

love leaking out unguarded  Well, you’ve probably heard by now that Maxine Kumin passed away yesterday. It feels like a lot of poetic giants are passing from the earth these days, no? (Denise Levertov, or as I like to think of her, D-Lev, has a poem about this from back in her day: here it is). One of my favorite pieces of writing about writing is Kumin’s foreword to The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton. If you’ve never read it, go get you some.

I read once that before a journal agreed to publish one of Kumin’s early poems, they required her husband to vouch, in writing, that she had indeed written it herself. Can we just say we’ve come a long way (#virginiaslimsmoment), but maybe not far enough yet because that was only about 50 years ago.

At any rate, when I first began to study poetry seriously, Kumin’s poem “Family Reunion” made an impression on me for the subtlety of emotion it communicates — that poignant love of a parent for her adult children — and for its beautiful language.

Here it is.

Happy Friday, and thanks for reading! And don’t forget to send me your favorite bad poem — or if “bad” seems too drastic, let’s say “less-successful.” Details here.

friday roundup: if I can muster it edition

the ghostly boats of Abydos, wikipedia

the ghostly boats of Abydos, wikipedia

Reader? Hi.

I sat down just now wondering what I’d done this week — what had I read, remembered, pondered, written? Scramble-brain set in. Which is why it’s good to have a record of things: that stack of books next to my desk, the journals stashed in my purse for impromptu poetry moments, my trusty notebook. I looked back and decided I actually can muster a roundup this morning (afternoon for some of you). Here we go:

tools for reparation  In this post I mentioned that I’d checked out a book called The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. I’m always drawn by stories of later-in-life undertakings, but was especially drawn to this book because it’s written by a poet, Molly Peacock. I was hoping I’d learn something — come to new insights, or find ways of articulating a previously muddled thought — about poetry. I have not been disappointed. I want to share with you some excerpts about perfectionism, passion, and craft, which I think can be applied to any art:

“Great technique m eans that you have to abandon perfectionism. Perfectionism either stops you cold or slows you down too much. Yet, paradoxically, it’s proficiency that allows a person to make any art at all; you must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you also must have passion, which, in an odd way, is technique forgotten.”

“The joy of technique is the buldging bag of tricks it gives you to solve your dilemmas. Craft gives you the tools for reparation.”

“Sometimes a blunder shifts the observer into a greater tenderness of observation.”

“When invention fails and you are overcome by what you may have ruined, knowing how to reconstruct releases the energy to fix the flaws and go on. Craft dries your tears.”

I love that last sentence best: “Craft dries your tears.” Amen.

more than style  Here’s an article by David Biespiel that someone linked to on Facebook this week (thank you, whoever you are… I can no longer remember). He talks about a movement in poetry toward “subjectlessness” in which style itself becomes the raison d’être of the poem, and argues for more substance in poetry — in a world where all sorts of actual disjuncture, distress, and ellipses (e.g., war, injustice, people disappearing from the face of the earth) unfold every day. He says, “Deftness has become a substitute for compassion.” (I have oversimplified here a bit in the interest of brevity).

I’m on the fence about what to think about this. My personal preference as a reader is to have something at stake in a poem — that it go beyond a mere exercise of language. For me, poems become more powerful when they can illuminate our experiences in some meaningful way, when they can tell me something about being human that I didn’t know, or couldn’t articulate, before. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think what’s at stake needs to be something political. And I tend to think there’s room for all kinds of poetry, and all kinds of preferences on the part of readers. And even room for some subjectlessness at times — because, doesn’t even that sometimes reflect our experience?

What do you think about what Biespiel has to say? Share in comments if you like.

an intended tide  This week I’ve been reading the most recent issue of 32 Poems. Which I love. A lot. I’d like to share with you Sandra Beasley’s poem from this issue (which I’m unable to find online):


The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, Line #1015: “Please Come In The Boat Of To-Day”
by Sandra Beasley

Beneath whitewash, beneath brick, beneath mud,
fourteen boats of Abydos row toward eternity.
No bodies here — only the ghost-shit of ants,
who consume the hulls but leave the shape behind.
Each timber tongues its neighbor, tenon to mortise,
with nothing but rope to hold them together.
No pegs, no joists.
Who builds boats like that?

Only those expecting to unbuild boats like that,
to stack the tamarix planks on their heads,
to walk seventy miles to the Red Sea in search of
trade. Fair is a human conceit. Priests know this.
Carpenters know this. They bundle the reeds
anyway, packing seams tight for an intended tide.
They cut planks from a cedar with a deep taproot
that salts the earth around itself, and will not burn


A vade mecum is “a book for ready reference” or “something regularly carried about by a person” (fans of A Room with a View will remember the Baedeker?). I love the idea of appropriating old texts for new insights. I love how the image of these ghost-boats speaks to both endurance and ephemerality. I love the question that acts as a pivot point in the poem, “Who builds boats like that?” And then, the poet has the courage to answer, and somehow we see ourselves in “those expecting to unbuild boats like that… .” There is so much here that I feel I can mine as person and poet.

And now, it’s time for me to lift anchor for the library where I have found an even sunnier, even quieter corner, and — bonus! — there is a man who sits there most days who is not afraid to tell people, “You’re not supposed to talk in this room.” I’m grateful for him, since the best I’m able to muster is an annoyed look and a raised eyebrow.

Happy friday, happy poeming (or whatever you love to do) and happy weekend. Thanks for reading.

“in poverty and solitude, at night”

Gypsy Woman with Baby, wikimedia

Gypsy Woman with Baby, wikimedia

Happy December, Reader. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are now enjoying turkey soup, turkey tetrazzini, turkey tamales, turkey chili, turkey… turkey… turkey… .

Here at the Wee, Small House, we are through all the turkey and have turned back to the usuals: spahgetti, black beans and rice, white bean soup, pinto beans, red beans and rice, chili beans, beans… beans… beans… .

But let’s talk poetry. Today, I’m happy to share the December issue of Stirring, A Literary Collection, which includes one of my poems along with the work of several other poets and writers. It’s a great issue; stop on over and take a look.

My poem, “The Mother,” is here, and I thought I might write a little about where this poem came from.

Do you know of the journal Poetry East? It’s a great journal out of De Paul University, and every now and then they have a special issue called “Origins: Poets on the Composition Process.” The “Origins” issues publish poems accompanied by the poet’s notes about the writing of the poem. Because I’m fascinated by process, I absolutely love these issues.

So, about a year ago I cracked open the Origins from Fall 2005 (poetry — it has no expiration date), and the issue began with a poem by Jane Hirshfield called “The Poet,” which you can read here.

I then read the composition notes that accompanied the poems. This poem came out of an experience Jane Hirshfield had of writing in residence at the Bellagio Center for Scholars and Artists near Lake Como in Italy. Apparently, there are some pretty nice digs at the Bellagio Center — so nice that Hirshfield felt blocked: “What more expectable response than guilt at such largesse? What more normal result than silence?” she asks in her notes.

She went on to write about asking for a more humble room, after which “instead of being frozen by the sense of the of unearned — and unearnable — privilege, I could suddenly look at it directly, by the means I have always faced my perplexities, confusions, and sorrows: through the writing of a poem.”

To which I say, Yes.

Something broke open in me at reading her words, but viewing them through the lens of motherhood. I confess, there were some thoughts along the lines of Oh, Janey, cry me a river — because, yes, I am at times a small, small person, and because I might have just lounged in that luxury and slept. But there was also a sense of knowing that feeling of guilt at such largesse — the indescribable riches of having three children, and yet the burden of it as well.

Both the Muse and the mother often exist, in Hirshfield’s words, “in poverty and solitude, at night.” Um yes, sometimes the only solitude for the mother is at night if she’s lucky. And by poverty, I mean only that there is a certain asceticism of motherhood that I’ve never been able to deny — sometimes my two arms are really just not enough to hold the incredible blessings and the equally as incredible demands of motherhood.

Whatever dislodged in me at reading Hirshfield’s words produced my poem, which uses her syntactical map (one of the many ways I beg, borrow, and steal from other poets). And, like Hirshfield, “from that point on, I wrote fiercely… trying to make use what I could of the remaining gift of time and silence and paper I had been given.”

To which I again say, Yes.

Thanks to Donna Vorreyer, guest editor, and the other editors at Stirring for including my poem in this issue. May you always have the gifts of time, silence, and paper. Amen.