friday with another screen door and balance juggle

The screen doors pursue me.

I went 44 years without reading a screen door poem, and here in the last two weeks I’ve come across two that will fold into the Important Poems file of my mind.


But first a word on balance. Earlier this week, I shared a Gwendolyn Brooks quote about “poeting” (her word) being just one element of a lived, human life.

I went on to say: Yes, but. Yes, but creative people must sometimes say no in order to make their art. I said: It’s all in the balance, I suppose.

A reader wrote asking if I think the balance is really possible. My answer is no. I used the wrong word. I’ve never balanced my life, I’ve only juggled the various elements of it. So, if the balance (whatever that is) seems to you impossible to achieve, you’re not alone. Also, the non-art-making world may wish for us to balance rather than juggle. The non-art-making world may not understand why simply parceling out a certain number of hours per week for our creative work, for example, does not work for the art-makers. [*Returning now to say: Yes, but. Yes, but setting aside regular time is also important]. That the art-makers must respond to the art when it’s ripe for making. Or sometimes, let’s be honest, when the deadline approaches.

Making art is Other. Let us juggle avidly.



Shall we repeat with the logicians that a door must be open or closed?


Here’s a little ars poetica from Franz Wright that makes use of the screen door’s liminal equivocality:


The poem seeks not
to depict a place
but to become one—

and loneliness…

Mute child-ghost
of yourself
at the screen door.


The poet Kaveh Akbar recently organized a tribute to Franz Wright to coincide with the first anniversary of Wright’s death. It’s here and in the latest issue of Pleiades if you’re interested.


Also Bachelard:

But is he who opens a door and he who closes it the same being?

friday roundup: gaps, a finding place, and “The Last Move”

Reader, I am trying to write an essay about the work of Larry Levis.

This feels like an impossible task since so much has already been written about the work of Larry Levis, and because his work is so singular and, well, completely amazing.

I’m trying to write about the shape of his poems and his unique handling of the elegy.

I’m trying to do this during a stretch of time that has included only two full days of school in two weeks (“ski week,” half-day, late start, another half-day…).

It struck me a day or two ago: this is why I cook. Because it’s not hard. Because I can do it with one hand tied behind my back and any number of children doing any number of things in the near vicinity. Because I am actually good at it.

May I recommend, Reader, always having something you are good at in your back pocket while you are attempting the impossible.

Anyway… on to the roundup.

gaps  In attempting to write about the shape of Larry Levis’ poems, I’ve been thinking and reading about form. I turned to the venerable old work horse “Some Notes on Organic Form” by Denise Levertov. Her argument is basically that the perception of an experience that triggers a poem, and the form of the poem itself, are inextricably linked. In Levertov’s framework, the poet discovers the form of a poem in the process of its making. Formal elements are put in place because of the demands of the content. She says:

“Form is never more than a revelation of content.”

This all makes sense to me, and has accompanied my thinking on form since I first read the essay many years ago. But what didn’t stay with me was the last bit of the essay, which I’ve now rediscovered:

“(T)here must be a place in the poem for rifts too —(never to be stuffed with imported ore). Great gaps between perception and perception which must be leapt across if they are to be crossed at all.”

I think one of the things I love best about poetry is leaping across the gaps.

a finding place  Someone posted a quote about poetry from Jeannette Winterson on Facebook yesterday, so then I had to go find where the quote came from, and Reader, I found gold. You can find gold, too; it is right here.

What you’ll find is Winterson’s essay on the necessity of poetry, through an exploration of T. S. Eliot’s work. Here are my favorite nuggets:

” So when people say that poetry is merely a luxury for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read much at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language—and that’s what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is.”


“Art lasts because it gives us a language for our inner reality… .”


“Pain is often a maimed creature without a mouth. Through the agency of the poem that is powerful enough to clarifying (sic?) feelings into facts, I am no longer dumb, not speechless, not lost. Language is a finding place, not a hiding place.”

That’s my favorite bit right there: Language is a finding place.

“The Last Move”  And speaking of finding places… . Fans of fairy tales will know there’s a whole group of stories that scholars believe came into being to help ease courtship anxieties. “The Robber Bridegroom” is a prime example—yeah, the one where bride narrowly escapes being chopped up and eaten by her groom and his buddies. And then there’s “Bluebeard.”

I’ve recently come across a poem along similar themes that I feel should be in the canon. It’s from Ada Limón‘s Bright Dead Things.

You must read it: here.

Suffice it to say, I’ll never look at a water tank in the same way again.

Thanks for reading!


friday roundup with ruins, ars poetica, and laundry

Tintern Abbey (wikimedia)

Tintern Abbey (wikimedia)

Reader, GREAT NEWS: this time the laundry is not mine!

(not that there isn’t some laundry in the vicinity…)

Since the last roundup there have been two trips to the mall. It’s a miracle that I’m still here to tell the tale — that’s how much I hate the mall.

On to poetry:

ruins  I’ve been reading A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line, recommended to me by one of my po-friends. The essays are short, therefore manageable, and often inspiring (although a few I’ve classified as trying-too-hard-to-be-clever). Here are some highlights:

From Kasim Ali:

The line is a means by which we “explore the fleetingness, uncapturability, and pure tragic drama of a single moment that passes and has to pass.”

“To proceed line by line means not to feel yourself forward in the dark but to throw yourself with abandon into the arms of darkness.”

From Scott Cairns:

“A sufficiently textured line (that is a troubled and troubling line) is the poet’s best defense against the tyranny of syntax.”

“… (E)ach line, in turn, avails a momentary opacity that can extend, or complicate, or otherwise enrich the syntactical overlay of meaning… .”

And, my personal favorite, from Catherine Barnett:

“…poetry is a ruin of prose…”

!!! “a ruin of prose” !!! I swoon.

ars poetica  I wrote a short ars poetica this week. It goes like this:



Poetry is a greased pig.


Then I read an ars poetica by Anne Hébert: her poem “Mystère de la Parole (The Mystery of the Word).” It is actually much more inspiring than mine, especially the last two stanzas:

“Oh my blackest brothers, all feasts secretly carved; human breasts, calabash musicians where captured voices clash

Let the one who’s been given the work of the word accept you like an extra dark heart, and don’t let him stop until he has justified the living and the dead in a single song at dawn among the grasses.”   –Anne Hébert

!!!! “An extra dark heart” !!!!  I swoon again.

laundry  I’ve also been reading Tess Gallagher’s Moon Crossing Bridge this week. One of my favorite poems in the collection is “I Stop Writing the Poem.” Here it is:



to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.


I love how the poet widens the lens just a touch at the end of this poem in order to complicate it (something to try for your next ending, perhaps). If you read the collection, you discover that someone actually has died, and that “watching to see how it’s done” at the end is even more devastating.

And now, I must gird my loins for attending the costume parade. In the rain. I hope you have a spooky day and a spectacular weekend. Thanks for reading.

assembling a whole little world

"the world is a scary place but I have waterwings" by Lisa Swerling

“the world is a scary place but I have waterwings” by Lisa Swerling

Hello, Reader, and happy Tuesday. I’ve been here and there — orientation meetings, packing lunches, making hurried last-minute purchases of shoes that fit, and taking care of my nephew for the week. I not a little baby! he says over and over. And no, he’s not — he’s two. I confess, I’ve never thought twos were all that terrible; I love the age. And I’ve loved having my nephew around the house. I’ve tried to keep my poetry expectations reasonable, and have spent 90% of my writing time working on an application — with a little morning reading and writing to keep the poetry muscles limber.

Still, poetry always seems to find me (does this ever happen to you?). On Sunday, while my boys had their hair cut, I was wandering through an art fair up in the College Town, and I came across the most amazing little shadowboxes. Here’s one:

"First Flight" by Lisa Swerling

“First Flight” by Lisa Swerling

Can you see the teeny-tiny woman on the bottom of the box? The artist, Lisa Swerling, calls these works of art “glass cathedrals.” I was so intrigued by them that I asked her how she began making them, and what her process is.

Lisa told me that a friend had given her a tiny figurine of a man that, for some reason she (Lisa) didn’t understand, she carried around for years. She didn’t know what she would ever do with the man figurine, but she knew she had to keep it.

Then one day, she thought, I wonder what would happen if I put him in a box? So she did. She talked about how the world can seem enormous and we can feel so small. She talked about how tiny things can become bigger, and enormous things smaller, when they’re put into a box. And, she said (I’m paraphrasing, but closely): “Once I put him in a box, he became part of a whole little world.”  She meant the world inside the box.

Of course, the whole time, I was thinking about poems.

You know that little scrap of language you’ve been carrying around for years — the one you’re not sure what to do with? Yes, I’m thinking about that little scrap of language, and about what might happen if you put it in a little box.

The little box of a poem.

The poem-box might be made of constraints you put in place: I will use these 5 words, the poem will be one long sentence, no longer than 10 lines. Or the poem box might be made of a traditional form: a sonnet, a villanelle, a (Saints preserve us!) sestina.  Or perhaps the poem box is made of a traditional poem with a window punched through it, or the door wide open — a variation on a traditional form, I mean. Or the poem box might even build itself as you go along, and notice the shape (literal and figurative) this poem seems to take. Then you’ll have this teeny tiny scrap of language inside a box.

Yes, the poem might assemble a whole little world.

If you’d like to see more of Lisa Swerling’s glass cathedrals and learn more about her work, visit her website here. Personally, I’m going to start saving my allowance so I can buy one.

Whatever little world you’re assembling today, I hope you enjoy being in it.

friday roundup: one more reason to love Google, the history of stanzas, and A Primer

Dante's tercets, forever unfolding

Dante’s tercets, forever unfolding

Reader, it’s cold in the Peninsula Town. Here in the Wee, Small House the furnace shakes rattles and rolls, and I keep nagging my kids to “put your jacket on, it’s freezing!” This is what I’ve become: a jacket-nagger when it’s (gasp!) 50 degrees. Yes, I’ve turned my back on 50-below as if I’d never experienced it. NorCal: where we use the term ‘winter’ loosely. And I’m loving it. Now, on to the roundup:

one more reason to love Google  Ah, Google. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. First there’s the way I can type in “blue screen of death” and — voila! — you bring up an image of the blue screen of death! Second, there’s… well, this could take way too long, so let’s skip straight to Google Translate. Did you know you can enter text in almost any language into Google Translate, and Google Translate will, well, translate it for you? Lately, I’ve been using Google Translate to sink down deep into language-play. I enter the text of a poem I’ve read and let Google translate it. Then I write a homophonic translation from the translated poem. You have to be willing to write ridiculous things like “A jar, a war, wrong house. The western guest. Undress for the tour. Unfasten it, damn it, a sick hay bin.” A sick hay bin? Groan. BUT what happens is, every now and then you get a really interesting and fresh phrase that just might lead you into a poem, or at least some scraps for a poem. And you have to be willing to work a bit from the translation to the sensical. Example: I went from,

of war your wife why an ocean rolling a brand getting my ear, to,

The door to your life is open, holding another, smaller door

It’s pretty cool if you’re willing to just play and see where the crazy-language will take you. One of my po-friends actually has a whole series of homophonic translations of another poet’s work. That takes a lot of revision. What I’m suggesting is just letting the language bubble up and see what happens.

the history of stanzas  Last weekend, I went to a poetry salon led by Genine Lentine. She played a clip from this video of Mark Doty. Amongst other things, he talked about stanza making and the history of stanzas. Here are my notes, jotted down quickly:

  • stanzas parcel the poem out in a way to help the reader; you’re asking the reader to pay attention for a long time
  • stanza-making as imposing one pattern upon another
  • couplet: meditation, movement through consciousness, “all that airiness”
  • tercet: forever Dante’s; unfolding, braiding down the page
  • quatrain: connote story, ballad; tells reader they’re being told a story

They start talking about stanzas at about the 12 minute, 20 second mark, if you want to hear it for yourself.

a primer  Reader, we’re not traveling for the holidays, so I’ve been feeling a little homesick for the Old Country, also known as Michigan. Here is one of my all-time favorite poems (you’ll have to scroll down to the second poem on the page). It’s called “A Primer” by Bob Hicok, and it’s about being from somewhere. And it’s a really funny poem, especially if you’re from Michigan, where, according to this poem, February is thirteen months long (it’s true, I swear it!) and the state motto is “What did we do?” Funny, and by the end, quite poignant. I hope you enjoy it.

Happy Friday, Reader, Happy winter, or depending on where you live, “winter.” I hope you’re from somwhere, too. I hope you tell the world everything you can.

friday roundup: the turn, a deepening, and ‘now that the fields belong to the crows’

...and also now that the putting green belongs to the crows... (wikimedia)

…and also now that the putting green belongs to the crows… (wikimedia)

Friday again, and a minimum day here in the Peninsula Town, so my time for kid-free activities is halved (but my aspirations are not!). I’d go grocery shopping but the frig is so crammed full of odds and ends that there’s no room for more. In theory, I could do some holiday shopping. In reality, there are more pressing items that need my attention: clean sock and underwear, for example. But first, let’s turn to poetry…

the turn  Last night at my poetry workshop group, someone brought an article by Michael Theune: Poetic Structure and Poetic Form: The Necessary Differentiation. In this article, the author argues for a more explicit discussion of what we call “the turn” in a poem — the place in a poem where the poet takes us in a new and different direction than the one we may have anticipated (classic example: a sonnet’s volta). Theune suggests examining a poem according to its structure rather than its form, and defines structure as “the pattern of a poem’s turning” (whereas “form” would refer to classic forms: sonnet, ghazal, sestina, blank verse, etc.). I’ve only read the article once, so I’m still digesting, sifting, and thinking — but I’m excited to have a new (to me) way of studying how a poem unfolds.

a deepening  Another interesting discussion last night was around the use of repeating lines, as one person brought a triolet. Someone wisely pointed out that when using repeating lines or phrases in a poem, its important that the reader’s understanding of, or encounter with, the repeating line/phrase deepens by the the time the poem ends. Although I may have intuited this in my reading a writing, I don’t think I could’ve articulated it before last night (this is why I love writing groups — I learn so much! And also because of the food and wine.). Something to think about as you’re reading and writing repeating lines and phrases.

And here’s an example of a triolet that does this particularly well: click here then scroll down to “Dactylic.” The poem begins with someone (probably a child) counting his toes. This might be a sweet and touching scene no matter what, but then the poem takes us back into history: Sapphic meter, “Generations of singers / keeping, conquering time.” By the end, we’re back to Tino counting his toes, but because this act has been linked to the continuum of art in the world, our understanding of the act of counting toes is richer and more weighty.

[I pause here to say: Yay poetry!]

now that the fields belong to the crows  This week I’ve been reading We Live in Bodies by Ellen Dore Watson (pardon the link to Amazon, but Powell’s didn’t have it). I particularly love the following poem from the collection (BTW, I know this poem is about 6 weeks too late for the parts of the country already experiencing winter, but the poem’s just right for NorCal right now 🙂 ):


Now That the Fields by Ellen Dore Watson

Now that the fields belong to the crows
and the dark rolls in on a cart with supper,
we thicken the skin of the house, tuck a caterpillar
of hay, a reverse moat, around the foundation.

Half the crickets in Conway died last night
under cold rocks — or do they all go at once, once
chainsaws are oiled and this new air reeks of apples?
Now that the last chrysalis has refused to open and our ears

are full of frantic roadwork, emergencies are blooming
like chrysanthemums — four in one weekend: first a heart
forgets the rhythm, then a woman leaps a ditch and hears
a loud crack in one of her body’s branches; one man falls off

his roof, another sits up and says: Breathing is just too hard,
now that the leaves are blushing to see their true selves
and the flies droning their I told you so song.
One blazing maple has taken over the town.


Amongst other things, I love that the dark rolls in on a cart and that the house’s skin thickens. I love the bold, journalistic statement: “Half the crickets of Conway died last night” (can’t you hear how much quieter the world is after that?), and the way she takes ownership of one spot on the map without saying she’s going to. I love that by the end, the town has been taken over by “one blazing maple.” It makes me want to write a poem that takes ownership of one spot on the map of my life. Et tu?

Okay, Reader, speaking of turns, it’s time for me to turn my attention to… well… looking around the house right now, let’s just say I’ve got lots of options. I hope you have lots of options for the rest of your day, too, all of them good. Thanks for reading.

monday morsels: deadlines, owning it, revision, links

Know what I love about banana bread? It’s like eating cake for breakfast.

Monday night already! This week, my house seems empty and quiet — no toddler in sight. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves at Monday Poets. But when the rubber hit the road, we got our coffee and treats and got down to business. I thought I’d share a few things we talked about today, quick and dirty.

Deadlines have power. We agreed that having a deadline inspires work in a way that not having deadlines can’t. In fact, I’ve learned to give myself deadlines, and then pretend someone else gave them to me. I’ve used this excuse for why I can’t (fill-in-the-blank volunteer opportunity here): “Sorry, I’m working on a big deadline so I can’t do it.” And it’s always true — it’s just that self-imposed deadlines are harder to hold ourselves to, aren’t they? I hereby give you permission to treat your self-imposed deadlines like they came down from on high carved in stone.

Owning it. We talked about the power of claiming the title ‘poet’ or ‘writer’ — how that very act can help us, and those around us, take our work more seriously. On a side note, we laughed about how whenever you tell someone, “I’m a poet,” they (if not completely dumbfounded) ask, “Oh, have you published anything?” Did you ever hear anyone ask a surgeon if she’s ever completed a successful prodedure? Ask an attorney if she has any clients? Ask a teacher, “Have your students ever learned anything from you?” We had a good laugh thinking up questions we could ask people of other professions. All in good fun, of course.

Craft topic: revision. We all brought our own collections of revision tips, and highlighted our personal favorites. Then someone asked which revision tips I use most often — and I really had to think about that, but here’s what I do most often:

  • cut syllables (e.g., if there’s a two-syllable word that can be replaced with a one-syllable word, I replace it)
  • revise for sound/music (yes, sometimes this means adding syllables back in)
  • research etymology of important words to see if the words’ roots inspire any changes to the poem
  • re-lineate in couplets (for some reason, when I can’t figure out line breaks in other forms, doing a draft in couplets really helps me figure out line breaks)
  • re-draft, starting from scratch

Other favorite tips from the Mondays:

  • cram the draft into a form
  • write the poem over from last line to first
  • double space the poem, then add lines between existing lines to see what happens
  • go back to early drafts to see what hasn’t made it into the current version, and whether it might belong (I never do this! But I’m going to start!)

Links we shared (I have not read all these so I can’t vouch for their usefulness yet):

one zillion writing prompts from Charles Bernstein
Kay Ryan on recombinant rhyme
Linda Gregg on the art of finding
David Lehman on the Cento

As usual, I enjoyed the good company, the poetry talk, and the excellent treats. Now it’s bedtime already. Hope your week is off to a good start, and thanks for reading.

when in doubt, read

public domain – wikimedia

Last week I wrote about being a poem-hater. This week, there were three rejections. My poems spent a full week in the resting drawer before I felt I could look at them again. Some weeks are like that.

Since I was busy doubting my poems, it seemed a good time to immerse myself in the poems of others. I read two really good books, and they both reminded me of why I love poetry and why I think it’s important.

The first was Grace, fallen from by Marianne Boruch. For starters, I completely fell for the title. I’m immediately thinking that language is important to this poet, phrases, and definitions, and how language gets used to tell about everything, even grace, even falling from grace. The poems let us inside the mind of a poet who sees things circuitously but, in the end, clearly, and who isn’t afraid to let us go where her mind goes. I read a subtle (and wry) humor in many of the poems, which is not to say they were light. Her use of language is interesting — for example, a sudden fragmented section in an otherwise vernacular poem. Loved it, Reader, loved it!

Next was The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. What is it with the Stegner Fellows? It seems like every time I fall in love with a group of poems, they were written by a Stegner Fellow. Thank you, Universe, for the Stegner Fellows, and this week, especially for Gabrielle Calvocoressi, the master of the series of poems. Although there are several standalone poems in the book, there are also four series, three of them quite long. One is a series of persona poems in which different witnesses recount the last time they saw Amelia Earhart. One is in the voice of a young person (teenager maybe?) who watches drive-in movies from a field near the theater. One is a cycle of poems about a circus fire and its aftermath. Reader, all I can say is, Wowza! She uses the series differently in each — the Amelia Earhart poems dwell together at the beginning of the book; the drive-in poems are dispersed throughout the book, but each subsequent poem uses the previous poem’s last line as its first line (an effective way to create continuity despite the physical distance between poems). In this book place is important — the poems unfold in small towns that feel rural and hard-working — as is the idea of witness. I’m going to be reading Amelia Earhart for a long, long time. You can learn more about the author and read a few of her poems here.

Yesterday, I finally had the courage to sit down with the stack and face my own poems. Even after a spate of rejections. For each poem, I asked myself, Do I believe in this work (this idea came from Kelly and Kathleen in comments on a previous post — thanks ladies!)? If I did, I wrote believe on the bottom of the poem. It was helpful to reframe the question that way — not Do I like this poem? because sometimes we just don’t like our poems — but do I believe in this work. I’m happy to say that I wrote believe on almost every poem, and I even liked most of them better than I did last week. 🙂 Time heals all wounds.

friday roundup (oops – on saturday): knife, simple gifts, and the number zero

public domain from wikimedia

Reader, when I think of the list of “I wills” I wrote last week about all the ways I’d preserve a little corner of each day for writing, I have to laugh. Maniacally. I could’ve kept that post short and sweet by saying, “I will fly by the seat of my pants, catch as catch can, and hope for the best.” At least, that’s how the first week of summer vacation has gone. So, I didn’t get to the roundup yesterday, but here it is, better late than never:

knife  I very rarely write prose poems, mostly because I can’t often articulate for myself why a certain piece needs to be in prose form. The three poems I have in prose form are all about illness / the body — subjects that seem too raw for the craft of lineated poetry. The poet Fleda Brown wrote about this idea on her blog last week, and included her long prose poem, “Knife,” in the post. I first read “Knife” in Fleda’s collection Reunion, which I highly recommend. In the meantime, go read her blog for some amazing poetry and thoughts about the prose form.

simple gifts  Two gifts from the blogosphere this week — one on revision and one on submissions:

First, Sandra Beasley gives us this strategy for revision: “I take a reasonably polished draft and remove all the line breaks so it becomes a prose paragraph. Next I edit it in that form for syntax and flow, which ensures I don’t have excess language in there simply for visual rhythm (e.g., writing toward a median line length). Only then do a I re-break the poem again, rethinking all line and stanza options. If it ends up as before, lovely. But often it does not. And sometimes I have to come to terms with what’s missing, and dive back in to revise on a content level.” I’ve put poems in a block of prose to help me think about linebreaks, but never thought to actually revise in that form, then re-lineate. Happy to have a new tool in my revision toolkit!

Second, we have manna from heaven. For the last couple weeks I’ve been thinking about making (and posting) a list of all the journals that are open for submissions during summer. I moaned and groaned thinking about what a lot of work that would be. Then, a gift: Diane Lockward is already compiling this list! Here is the list of journals A through F; and here’s the list for journals G through P. The rest of the alphabet will follow at Diane’s blog, so stay tuned. Diane also has lists of poetry-only journals, and print journals that accept online submissions. Thank you, Diane, for these helpful tools!

the number zero  Reader, remember how this is going to be my summer of submissions (S.O.S.)? Yes, well, this week has been brought to you by the number zero. Although I did begin my process of “getting organized” for my summer subs, I didn’t actually submit anything this week. The siren song of new work proved too strong, and I also did some good revision on recent drafts. Still, I need to remind, refocus, and reprioritize (is that a word?). Going to set myself a goal of five subs for next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hope your summer is off to a good start! Happy weekend, and thanks for reading.

friday roundup: NaPoRevMo update, finding the time, and parallelism

The Flight of the Prisoners by J.J.J. Tissot
public domain from wikimedia

Reader, my alarm went off this morning but apparently I didn’t hear it. There was a mad scramble of lunch packing and sunscreen application instead of my usual dark and quiet writing time. So I’m a bit later than usual with the roundup. Here we go:

NaPoRevMo update  Those who’ve been reading along know that instead of writing a poem a day for poetry month, I’ve decided to revise a poem each day. So far, I’ve kept to my goal, which feels good. I arranged the poems by subject, and this week tackled three in the Mail Order Bride series (including my fave title right now: “Fifteen Years Later the Mail Order Bride Finds Her Answer to His Ad in the Sock Drawer”), and two long-ish prose poems about my experience of chronic illness. Some of the revision was a simple spit-and-polish; others were full re-drafts. Stay tuned next week for some posts on particular revision strategies that have been useful for me. How is poetry month going for you?

And speaking of poetry month, don’t forget to sign up for your free poetry books on this blog and many others (look in the left hand margin)!

finding the time  Many times when I tell people that I’m a poet with three children, they ask me: “How do you find the time to write?” Well, there are many ways. Mostly I find it by getting up really early. Other times I skip housework, let laundry pile up, or serve scrambled eggs for dinner. I’ve been known to draft and/or revise poems on the way to the zoo, on the sidelines of a soccer game, and even while driving — by having my kids repeat and remember a particular phrase until we’re home and I can write it down. For many years I kept my hair long so I wouldn’t have to spend much time having it cut, styled, or otherwise fussed with (in fact, I’m considering doing that again). And then there have been the times when I’ve just accepted that life itself was going to have to be my poem for a particular week.

But the thing that has helped me most in finding time to write is this mantra: do your own work first. Before your blog post, before checking in on Facebook, before working on the review you said you’d write, before critiquing your po-friend’s latest draft, before all that — do your own reading and writing. You’ll find ways to get the other stuff done, but it’s much too easy to put off your own work and let it go undone. Don’t.

Read more on this topic this from Anne Lamott in Sunset Magazine. And please note: this is not to get all rigid and shaming and inflexible. There are times when life really does (and really must) interfere with writing time. Be gentle with yourself during those times, and during the rest of the time, get ‘er done. **Updated to add: the poet Molly Fisk sent me the link to this article, for which I am grateful.

parallelism  Some of my favorite poems in all of literature come from the Hebrew scriptures and wisdom literature. Regardless of whether you read this particular literature as part of your spiritual practice, there are things to learn from the ancient texts. As a poet and pilgrim, I’m particularly fond of the Psalms. If you read the Psalms as a writer, you start to notice the conventions they use to express praise, lamentation, love, desperation, etc. In particular, the Psalms are known for their use of parallelism, in which an idea or image is presented in one line, and then expressed again, sometimes more specifically, in the next line.

My favorite translation of the Psalms is by Robert Alter who teaches at UC Berkeley. On this Good Friday, I share with you and excerpt from his translation of Psalm 137, which scholars believe was created at the time of the Babylonian Captivity.

“By Babylon’s streams,
there we sat, oh we wept,
when we recalled Zion.

On the poplars there
we hung up our lyres
For there our captors had asked of us
words of song,
and our plunderers — rejoicing:
“Sing us from Zion’s songs.”
How can we sing a song of the Lord
on foreign soil?
Should I forget you, Jerusalem
may my right hand wither.
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I do not recall you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my chief joy.”

If you are running out of ideas for NaPoWriMo, try a poem that employs parallelism and see what happens. (P.S. Please forgive me for not using Alter’s form of cascading indents — I could not get WordPress to let me do it!).

That’s all for today, Reader. Blessed Good Friday, happy first week of poetry month, and have a wonderful weekend.