Oh, did you actually want to sit in your own chair at your own desk? —Mrs. Brown

Hello, Reader. It’s been a while. Nearly every day I think of something I’d like to write here, but for now other areas of life—kids, teaching, editorial work—are keeping me mostly quiet in this space.

I’m here today to share a little news, most urgent of which is this: I am now an official poet because I have a cat. Mrs. Brown (named after Judi Dench’s Queen Victoria in the movie of the same name) came to town in December. She was very shy at first, but is getting comfortable in our busy house, and particularly so in my study where she’s taken to napping (or not) on my chair and climbing up onto my lap to “help” me with whatever I’m working on. I must admit: I am besotted.

In other news, I have poems in the current issues of Gettysburg Review, New England Review, and Ploughshares. Three of them are from my new manuscript, so it’s nice to see those poems getting some traction in the world.

Here is my review of Christian Anton Gerard’s Holdfast at Tupelo Quarterly.

Lastly, I’m delighted to have won the Lucile Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America with my poem “Interior With a Woman Peeling Oranges, Snapping Beans.” This poem began on an evening in December 2016, as I was listening to NPR’s live coverage of the fall of Aleppo. It began as as attempt to reconcile the lack of suffering in my life with the horrific suffering of others. It began because those two things are irreconcilable. You can read the poem here.

As always, I hope to be back here again sooner rather than later. Until then, write on!

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).

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: 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.

“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.

a very mini roundup: crude emergency bridges, no direct English translation, and elegy

I survived my scary-busy day yesterday. I did not break, just collapsed into bed around 11:00. Here is a very mini roundup as promised and then I’m off to my happy place, the library.

crude emergency bridges  From Kay Ryan’s essay, “Specks” in September’s Poetry magazine:

“While writing a poem the hot wire of thought welds together strange chunks of this and that.

It can’t completely combine the disparate elements and make a new element of them, but it can loosen the edges of mutually disinterested materials enough to bond them so that a serial lumpy going on is achieved, crude emergency bridges made, say, of brush and old doors, just barely strong enough to get the thought across before the furious townspeople show up.” 

no direct English translation  I’m a sucker for those things that go around on Facebook — words or lists of words with no direct English translation. There’s one (which I’ve now sadly forgotten) that means the opposite of schadenfraude (for which there is also no direct English translation, or at least no one word in English that captures it). Here’s a word that I’ve been needing my whole life that finally arrived in my FB news feed this week; I’ll share it in case you’ve been needing it, too:

hiraeth (n.) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past. (More info here).

Apparently a few other languages have comparable words, such as the Portugese saudade, which is the title of the painting pictured above…

elegy  … and this is how I feel about Linebreak. Linebreak of the weekly e-mail. Linebreak of poems I loved every.single.time. And, O Linebreak, first home of the Mail Order Bride. I’m so sad that Linebreak is no longer going to be publishing new work, but I’m so grateful for the presence it has been in my poetry life for the last few years. Here’s their swan song, which you may have already seen, but I’m sure you’ll agree that these poems warrant re-reading. I’m especially taken with “Elegy” and its amazing syntactical shifts that conjure a wild grief. Thank you, Linebreak and editors Ash Bowen and Johnathon Williams — you had a great run.

Happy Friday, all!

friday roundup: why we need libraries, taking notes, and “she who divides herself”

An artist's rendering of the Library of Alexandria wikimedia

An artist’s rendering of the Library of Alexandria wikimedia

Happy Friday, Reader! Here we are again. Yesterday afternoon while Sister was at ballet class I sat in the waiting room and looked at my calendar for the next 10 days. And I am afraid. Very afraid. I’m so afraid that I’m afraid I’ll have to take next week off from blogging. Maybe I’ll be able to post some fragments here and there — since blogging is part of what keeps me sane.

Meanwhile, starting around 3:00 today we’re have a big, weekend-long cousin festival at our house. There will be cousins and sleeping bags, pancakes and pizza, lego marathons and the cutest two year old in the history of two year olds. Also meanwhile, my mom just told me that the BART isn’t running due to a strike (how did she know this before I did?). Sigh. There goes my plan for taking transit for my reading. And now, on to the roundup:

why we need libraries  This speech by Neil Gaiman has been making the rounds on Facebook, and my response to it is yes, yes, yes! There is a segment of thinkers (something tells me many of them live in my zip code or in nearby zip codes) who believe that books are so, like, 1986. And that the library is dead, because we now have the interwebs. I have many, many gut-level, sentimental reasons why I think libraries are more necessary then ever. Neil Gaiman has his reasons a bit more thought out, so I’ll share a couple of them with you:

“But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.”


“Books are the way we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.”

Because I’m a complete library nerd, I’ve also been reading The Oxford Guide to Library Research by Thomas Mann. Mann points out that (1) there are many resources that exist only in physical form and are not available on the Internet (e.g., rare books, maps, subject encyclopedias, site-licensed subscription databases, archives), and (2) that the best, most comprehensive research can’t be conducted on a platform that returns results based on frequency of searches, keyword ranking, and/or advertising. He also points out that:

“…there is an inherent bias in screen-display formats toward the pictorial, the audio, the colorful, the animated, the instantaneous connection, the quickly updated, and the short verbal text… .”

This is probably fine for some things, but is not fine for actual scholarship. So, yeah, based on that research we’ve all heard about that people read very differently on the web than they do in a book, this post is already WAY TOO LONG. But, in conclusion: The library is dead, long live the library. Amen.

taking notes  Do you read brainpickings? It is an amazing website chock full of information on creativity (so,yes! we need the interwebs, too). Yesterday a quote from Aaron Koblin (who works for The Google’s creative lab) about taking notes caught my eye:

“They say an elephant never forgets. Well, you are not an elephant. Take notes, constantly. Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies…the medium doesn’t matter, so long as it inspires you. When you’re stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook. Mash those thoughts together. Extend them in every direction until they meet.”

I think it captured my attention because it’s so true for my writing process. Whenever something tugs at my mind, nags at me, makes my heart skip a beat, etc., I put it in a note — either in my physical notebook or in Evernote. Then I draw on those notes for poem-making. I find it fascinating that the same thing works across such a wide ranging creative spectrum that includes poetry *and* software programming. Do you have your notebook handy?

“she who divides herself” If They (whoever They are) say libraries are dead, what about independent bookstores? What about print journals? I’m happy to report that from the looks of things, they’re still kicking. Last summer when we were in the Old Country, Husband and I walked into an indie bookstore and I was thrilled to find actual copies of print journals, including a few issues of Third Coast. I bought them, of course, because money talks. This week, I’ve been reading through the Fall 2012 issue, and came across a stunning poem by Christina Cook (whose poem “Summer Requiem” was featured in this roundup). Reader, for your Friday, here is…


Postmortem by Christina Cook

When the boundaries are erased, once again the wonder: that I exist.”
— Dag Hammarskjold

Not I, but the mangy cackle of gulls
and the reeds they beat flat when they land;

the garden whose gray-blue slate gave way to weeds
and ribboned bodies of voles deranged by death.

When my face is most in shadow, I find the moon
to be the dark epitome of itself:

soon to start over from zero,
becoming the answer, which I am

to the question, which I also am.
Spectacularly self-destructive and, evidently, fertile,

I am the old fairy tale: she who divides herself by two
is always one, in the end.

Wind whines through the hollow pipe
of night, softly, it is said

that she who halves her life by death will find herself
the twin of many such things.

first published in Third Coast


I can think of about seven different poems I could write using lines or phrases from this poem as starters. Starting with a poem whose title is “I am the Old Fairy Tale.”

And now, this she-who-divides-herself actually has to go to Safeway so that there is something for the cousins to eat for dinner. However you divide yourself, I hope you are always one in the end. Thanks for reading.