letter to the semi-secret super library nerd lending program

Hester Prynne, labeled.

Hester Prynne, labeled.

Dear Semi-Secret Super Library Nerd Lending Program,

I know I’ve been pestering you a lot lately, and I hope you don’t mind me contacting you directly, but there’s something I feel I need to say.

Let me explain.

Yesterday, I was, yes, requesting yet another somewhat obscure book from you when I visited my borrower profile page. I just wanted to see what the status was of my pending requests, but here is what I saw instead:

“Borrower Type: Individual (fines)”

(insert arrow to my heart here)

I just want to say that I am so sorry, and I know what this is about. This is about Madeleine and the Eiffel Tower, isn’t it? I don’t know what to say besides I have looked everywhere for that DVD, EVERYWHERE. And also there was a two-year-old in my house that day, and well, I don’t know if you have any experience with two-year-olds, but… . Well, never mind.

I also just want to say that I tried to pay for it already — which would’ve cleared my fines — but they wouldn’t let me. No, they said I had to wait for the bill. And while for most bills, I don’t mind the wait when it comes to clearing my name with the library I am always eager to do so. So I am now in the waiting period. And meanwhile: fines.

And one last thing: I know you didn’t know me until after I had kids, but I want you to know that until my oldest child was two I had an absolutely pristine record at the library. Pristine! I don’t know if you have kids, but sometimes they seem to have magic powers in the area of causing certain objects to disappear. Forever. If you come across my favorite wooden spoon or the blue star that goes on the bottom of the stacking toy or especially the missing diamond earring from the pair that my dad gave me on my wedding day, would you kindly let me know? Thanks.

So, I hope you can give me another chance. I mean, I would never, NEVER lose one of your items. In fact, your items have a special section of bookshelf near my desk. And I hope once I get the bill and clear my name, you too will clear my name in your records so that I can once again be a worthy borrower of your incredibly important program.

Hanging my head down in shame,


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.

winter contagion with Human Dark with Sugar with old and new library cards


Hello Reader. I tempted the malevolent forces of the Universe with my almost-giddy post about finally getting back to my writing desk. Which I was certain would happen yesterday.

It did not.

A most miserable form of winter contagion has befallen three out of five of the inhabitants of the Wee, Small House. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say there has been a lot of laundry, a lot of care-taking, and a lot of cleaning up after the stricken.

I’m back and forth between dumfoundedness and maniacal laughter, sprinkled (in my better moments) with the zen-like mantra: “Relax. Nothing is under control.” Strangely enough, this mantra has helped me relax.

Today, between loads of wash, I staked a claim for poetry by sneaking off to the library to pick up an item I’d requested through the Super Library-Nerd Lending Program. If nothing else, I will have committed that act in the name of poetry today — this must mean something.

While there, the librarian said to me, “I’m sorry but your library card is no longer usable. I’ll have to give you a new one with a new number.” (Note the condition of my library card in photo above — it’s a little, ah, beat up). This poor man had no idea how close I came to bursting into tears and weeping on his desk. I become attached to my library cards. I save them all. My library card is my ticket to the world, and a record of where I’ve lived. My card number is etched on my heart. I was *so* looking forward 20 years hence to bragging, “I”ve had my library card so long it starts with 2000!”

I faked a smile. “Okay!” I said, too-perkily, “but can I please keep the old one?”

(Insert librarian’s am-I-speaking-to-an-allien look here).

“Sentimental reasons,” I said.

“Ummmm. Sure,” he replied.

I am now back at the Wee, Small House. I have Human Dark with Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy to look forward to. Maybe tomorrow. For now, it’s back to the laundry.

And I’ve learned my lesson. I’m never, ever going to say, “Tomorrow, I’m going to spend all day at my desk” out loud again.

friday roundup, vacation edition #2: views, skirts, and poetic citizenship

summertime and the living's easy

summertime and the living’s easy

Reader, don’t tell: I’m working on vacation. Yes, for the last few hours, I’ve been reading and writing poetry. That’s because vacation is about the only time I have built-in child care and also because for me poetry is a vacation. Here’s to vacation! Today we have another vacation edition of the roundup. Let’s talk about views, skirts and poetic citizenship.

views  When you tell people you’re going on vacation in Michigan (especially if it’s right before or right after you tell people you like to go rock pickin’ while you’re there), they usually look like they feel sorry for you. I think they’re thinking of Roger & Me and the worst stories you can imagine about Detroit. But Reader, you should see (what I think of as) my little corner of Michigan. Here, I’ll show you:


See what I’m sayin’?

Today I’m working at what I consider to be my Native Library, even though this library didn’t come into my life until I was 20. On the porch that runs along its side and looks out over the bay, I am as much at home as in my mother’s kitchen. This library is in a house built on an island, and I’m quite sure there’s no better place for a library than in a house built on an island. My view as I work is the bay under sunlight, a thousand shades of blue, green and even gold somehow. This is much better than my view as I work in writing studio 5.0. I’m loving every minute of it. And yes, I’m now going to make you sit through a slideshow of my beloved Native Library. Forgive me. P.S. Click on one of the photos to scroll through in closeup.

skirts Reader, you have to buy one of these skirts. If you’re the skirt-wearing type. They are the very thing in my (okay, it’s really not mine) little corner of Michigan. You might think this has nothing to do with poetry but actually it does, it does! Because if you, like me, found out that you’re going to be reading at LitQuake, San Francisco’s literary festival, and if you, like me, did a five-second happy dance and then plunged into the bottomless pit of despair about what on earth you’re going to wear when you read at San Francisco’s literary festival, and if you, like me, are a forty-something mother of three who has never been one of the cool kids (or even any other, any aged person, mother or not, who has never been one of the cool kids) and are quite sure you have nothing you could ever possibly wear to read in San Francisco’s literary festival, well then, despair no more: these skirts are for you. And me.

Here’s why you want one: They are flattering, versatile, comfortable (I mean, so comfortable that I wore one all day yesterday instead of giving up, as I usually do, on the skirt, as soon as I’m in range of some yoga pants), reversible — yes I said reversible — two skirts for the price of one, and affordable — about $50, and that’s technically for two skirts. And you can wear them when you’re giving a poetry reading! That last reason is obviously the most important one. If you have an army jacket and some kickin’ boots to throw on with it, so much the better (sadly, I do not). Okay, enough of my little foray into fashion. Let’s talk about…

poetic citizenship  A few weeks ago, Drew wrote about poetic citizenship on her blog. She asked, What have you done to nurture the literary community? Part of the reason I started this blog is that I think it’s very important to shine a light (in Drew’s words) on the work of other poets and writers. So, over the next [oh no, it’s summer, do I really have to make a time commitment?] few weeks? couple months? little while? Let’s say little while. Over the next little while I’m going to be posting a few more “next big things” and a few author interviews. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I’ve enjoyed preparing for them and gathering them up (a process that I’m still in the midst of).

Meanwhile, happy Friday, happy weekend and thanks, as always, for reading.