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?

“human being being human”


This POETRY tribute issue (June) devoted to Gwendolyn Brooks is fantastic—poems of homage, notes and photos from her archives, essays on her work and her life and their bearing on our poetry and our times.

One of my favorite bits is the following quote “written on a slip of paper in her archives”:

Who “does life” as a “poet”? One lives as a human being. In that activity, life “as a poet” is included, I guess, along with life as a black-eye pea boiler, life as a baby-maker, life as a lecturer, life as a Listener, life as a typist-for-five-lawyers. I never gave up love, lunch, book-reading, movies, restaurant-romping, strolling, friend-visiting, for “life-as-a-poet”-ing. Poeting has been, always, part of this life, my life as a warm-hearted resilient, open eyed human being being human. —Gwendolyn Brooks

This  may hold a little something back—creative people must sometimes say no to things in order to have time, space, and solitude to make their art. But the idea of art as one element of a very human life seems just right to me. The trick is in the balance, I suppose.

Also not to missed in this issue: Patricia Smith’s poem, “A Street in Lawndale.” Its third section begins,

Murders will not let you forget.
You remember the children you had—suddenly quarry, target—
the daughters with gunfire smoldering circles in their napped hair,
the absent sons whose screams still ride the air.

—Patricia Smith, from “A Street in Lawndale”

Here’s the POETRY Magazine website if you want to get your hands on this issue.

friday roundup: to sound through, apocalyptic poetry, and “They fall from my life”

I want to be the Woman with the Cracked Face. P.S. Don't they look heavy? from wikimedia

I want to be the Woman with the Cracked Face. P.S. Don’t they look heavy? from wikimedia


Um, wow. That week went by fast.

This morning at the Wee, Small House, there was a frenzied search for a “white elephant” gift for the 5th grade gift exchange, a moment of panic during which I wondered if I was supposed to provide gifts for the 3rd and 1st grade gift exchanges (I chose ignorance, which is bliss), and a spirited debate between Husband and I about where to set up the annual Christmastime jigsaw puzzle:

Me: Can I set it up on the card table in front of the fireplace?
Him: No.
Me: Grrrrrrrr!
Him: (furiously searching Google for “puzzle boards”)

I confess, I actually growled. We are, as yet, undecided. But now, on to the roundup:

to sound through I’ve been thinking a lot about persona poems lately. Partly because I still have several Mail Order Bride poems that aren’t quite done (if you have know idea what I’m talking about, read here, here, and here). Also because I’ve been working through a series of persona poems around the Demeter/Persephone myth. And also because two more personae, who I’m not quite ready to talk about yet, are knocking at my door and demanding to be let in. Sigh.

According to my sources, the etymology of the word persona is a bit murky, but may have come from the Latin personare which means “to sound through” — as in the masks used in ancient Greek and Roman theater to amplify voices on stage (world’s first PA system, see photo above). I like this idea of the poet’s voice and experience “sounding through” whatever persona the poet is working within. For myself, I think the most effective persona poems are those that effectively marry a universal (or nearly universal) truth of human experience with the known (from myth or legend *or — I’m just realizing I should’ve added — history &/or current events)) or imagined truth of the persona. For more persona poem reading, here’s an essay by Jeannine Hall Gailey on the use of personae by Lucille Clifton, Louise Gluck, and Margaret Atwood. I found it thought-provoking and insightful.

apocalyptic poetry Well, it appears that the Oreo Cookie was right — here we are. But over at Escape Into Life, Kathleen Kirk has curated a poetry feature around the theme World Without End. I’m honored to be part of the feature; mine’s the last poem down, but don’t skip because the art and the rest of the poems are fantastico. I confess, I’m totally jealous of Karen Weyant’s disco poem — why didn’t I think of that? Thanks to Kathleen for this timely feature.

[I pause here because I feel the need to apologize for linking to so many of my own poems. Normally, I’m not so self-referential.]

“They fall from my life…” Reader, this week I read a poem that took the top of my head off. I can’t find it anywhere online, so I’m going to hope the gods and goddesses of fair use will have mercy on me if I print it here. Because it’s amazing. Here it is:


Ovarian Tree by Olena Kalytiak Davis

All night the dull ache
of an overripe dream: a room
swollen with women — Look
at their hands, their hair, fern-like,
falling —
bouquet’s of adder’s tongue
hung by the root —
in a gravity that rests so low
it drags on my heart, bends
down these boughs; the hysteria
of hands and hair and gravity
and a beauty so rare
it is familiar: Look
at their waists, that’s how they bend.
Look at their wounds, that’s where
their children play. They fall
from my life until
there are no women left,
only children pulling at berries, and berries dropping
and dreaming of a new blossoming

When I’m awake, I’ll call this curvature of the soul a state.
When I’m awake, (where are the women?)
I will have forgotten.


I am so wowed by the imaginative leap that turns ovaries and fallopian tubes into an ecosystem — a room full of women; hands and hair and plants and roots and boughs; that low-resting gravity. This poem comes from Davis’ book And Her Soul Out of Nothing, which I’ve been reading and loving (and learning a lot from). Buy it here.

Also, I love that in her bio on the Poetry Foundation website she says her life is:

“mostly, getting my children raised, or just dressed: finding two  matching socks, making sea creature mobiles, reading The Magic School Bus and Moby Dick to them, sweeping over and under the mess, including scraps of construction paper and scraps of the western canon.”

OMG, my life too!!!!!! 🙂

And now, Reader, I am Behind on Everything. And it Might Rain (I’ve intuited that the phrase “Might Rain” is always capitalized in California). And, yes, the most wonderful time of the year, etc., etc., etc. So I’ll sign off, but not before wishing you a wonderful and restful weekend and holiday. See you back here soon.