you’ll never need a writing prompt again: join me for Reading as a Generative Practice


“Magic Word” from Jennifer Richter’s Threshold (plus my reading notes).

On Sunday, May 31, from 2:00-4:30PM, I’ll be teaching an online course through The Writer’s Center on reading as a generative practice, and I invite you to join me.

“Love reading first,” writes Rita Dove, “& the poetry will find its place. Then write, & love the work of writing.” This has been very true in my writing life, and is even more true if I’m reading in a way that’s attentive to how the text in front of me might nudge me toward my own next poem.

This workshop explores the importance of reading for your writing practice, and the ways close reading of a poem can be a generative act. We’ll read poems by contemporary poets, discuss specific methods for finding entry points to our own poems through the work of others, and use one (or more) of the strategies to write something new. Once you’ve learned to read this way, you’ll never need another writing prompt!

It’s a class that’s appropriate for any poet at any level, and I’d love to “see” you there, or, on Zoom, rather. You can find details and registration information at this link.

friday roundup (sort of) with a body and a rough net

Hello, reader, it’s been a while.

Summer has come and gone, the kids are in school, and—now that I’ve finished my MFA—some days I have time to do nothing for a while.

A short while.

The other day, I put up corn and tomatoes with my aunt. We blanched them, then cooled them in a cold water bath, cleaned (corn) and diced (tomatoes), then put them in containers for freezing. It reminded me of the importance of sometimes doing things that allow me to be just in my body, to take a break from what’s caught in the rough net of my mind.

I love the phrase “cold water bath.”

Most days I’m busy reading, writing, editing book reviews for The Rumpus, sending out poems and manuscripts of poems, looking for work, taking people to the orthodontist, making dinner, dropping off and picking up from ballet, etc.

I’ve been writing only small things. A list of words, a phrase, a grammatical construction: “The (n.) is what the (n.) (v.).” “Where (n.) (v.) you can find a way to (v.).” “I say (x) so as not to say (y).”

I’ve been casting about for something to read that will (get ready to laugh with me) Finally Make Sense of Everything Once and For All, that will (as I think of it) save me: a book of poems, just one poem, a couplet, a line, one word, rafter, loiter, femur, blanch.

Did you know the technical term for a joint (the kind in our bodies) is articulation? We say that one bone “articulates” with another where they join. Did you know that, amongst other things, articulate means “to divide into distinct parts”? Isn’t it odd that we use a word that means “to divide” to indicate a joining? From the Latin articulare, “to separate into joints,” from articulus, “a part, a member, a joint,” also, “a knuckle, the article in grammar.” A knuckle(!). Did you know that, amongst the many architectural (as opposed to corporeal) joints, there is one called birdsmouth. BIRDSMOUTH(!!!).

[This, by the way, is how one word can Finally Make Sense of Everything Once and For All, can save someone, at least for a while. A short while.].

I’ve been listening to the Commonplace Podcast while folding laundry, chopping onions, sewing ribbons on pointe shoes, ripping out ribbons from pointe shoes because they need to be repositioned, sewing ribbons on pointe shoes again (true story). If you’ve never listened, I recommend it enthusiastically. Rachel Zucker has interviewed poets (and some other people) and recorded their conversations. There are many gems for poetry, the writing life, and for all of life, really, in these interviews, and I’m grateful for the way they catch in my mind’s net and pass the time while I am in my body, folding, chopping, sewing on, ripping out, and sewing on again.

I’ve been reading women poets along with other poets and readers of poetry on Twitter. If you’re looking for books by women poets, search the hashtag #SeptWomenPoets and you will find treasure. This project is the brainchild of Shara Lessley. It’s been fun to read and tweet along.

Here’s a poem from one of the books I’ve read this month, which also happens to be by someone from my old writing group (during my California days): Even Years by Christine Gosnay (Kent State University Press, 2017). There is a particular joy in reading the poems of a friend and colleague, poems that you read when they were just born and solitary things, poems that you’ve watched grow up and begin to join together in constellations of theme and thought, poems that are now bound in a book.


AKADEMOS by Christine Gosnay

I give my daughter the name Hypatia, tell her
the monks pulled Hypatia through the streets
and sewed her back together. I give my daughter

an astrolabe and tell her ships baste slit-
seams in the ocean to snag falling bodies.

Earlier, white stones fell from my hands
and landed on the road
until I could not see one stone.

I give my daughter a body and a rough net,
tell her to straighten her back and be ready
to weave the welkin sphere that bleeds

skeleton-blue and gray. I give my daughter
eyes and a sky.
I give my daughter a long, bright day.

My daughter carries a harpoon. She drifts
the sea with her barb the size of a needle.

Sea full of bodies, she sings, stalling. Then bends
her back, out she climbs. Oyster shells
bunched in her net.


Happy weekend, thanks for reading.

friday roundup: to carry over, a house at a crossroad, and doing the opposite thing

Róng manuscript image from wikimedia

Reader, today it’s taking every ounce of me to do my own work first. With the help of a few closed doors (hiding unmade beds, piles of dirty laundry, and the like) and some encouragement from my wonderful mother, I am here at my desk to bring you this week’s roundup:

to carry over  I used to have a good memory. Then I had children. So, I forgot to share one of my favorite radical revision strategies. I call it translate/retranslate/mistranslate. The idea comes from the poet Nina Lindsay who has written several poems as “mistranslations” of other poems (usually Chinese, I think). I don’t know enough about Lindsay’s process to say anything about it, but here’s what I do sometimes when I’m stuck on a poem: Select the text and paste it into the “from” box on Google translate. Choose a language to translate it into and translate it, then repeat the process to retranslate it back to English. Based on the retranslation (which is also probably a mistranslation, at least in some lines), grab a phrase, and/or willfully mistranslate a phrase to move you into the next version of your poem. The word translate comes from the Latin for “to go beyond” (trans) and “to carry over” (latus). Sometimes this trick helps me to go beyond my current ideas for a draft, while carrying over at least a ghost of the original poem.

a house at a crossroad  And speaking of Nina Lindsay, here is one of her mistranslations — a stunner of a poem. I’m sure I’ve shared this poem before (maybe on my old blog), but it’s one of my favorite poems of all time, so I’ll share it again.

the opposite thing This week, I’ve been reading Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversations with America’s Poets. It’s a book comprised of transcripts from a poetry seminar led by Pearl London at the New School. Working poets such as Maxine Kumin, Robert Hass, Amy Clampitt and many others, came to the seminar with current drafts and discussed their drafting and revision processes, as well as their ideas about their own work and poetry in general. I’m really loving this book, and learning a lot. Right now, I’m reading the 1979 session with Louise Gluck (pardon my lack of umlaut). One of Gluck’s assertions is that “as soon as you can place yourself (in a certain category of poetry or poetics) –well, as soon as I can place myself and describe myself–I want immediately to do the opposite thing” (parentheses mine). She says she wanted to find out what kind of poems she could write when her “habitual devices were refused.”

I was also very interested in her discussion of fragmentation and the use of white space. She talks about white space as a way “to use silence to… almost… if you can properly frame an image or a verbal gesture in white space, in silence, you can make of that whole movement something equivalent to a single word; that is, the way a word, a contained word, explodes into meaning. It’s like those little Japanese stones that you drop into water. They become flowers. That’s a metaphor very attractive to me — the idea that something small should ramify.” I’ve never thought of white space in quite those terms, but now I will.

I recommend, con mucho gusto, Poetry in Person to the poets in the readership. It has helped me to notice things I might not have in others’ poems, and inspired me to try new things, i.e., refuse habitual devices, in my own. Sometimes is very freeing to work against type.

And speaking of working against type, I’m going to return to my own work now. I’m going to work against the June Cleaver type inside me, who wants swept floors, perfectly made beds, and plenty of T.P. in reserve.

Which, when (mis)translated by Google Translate, means: “June, the ax inside me, who is not willing to sweep the floors, or perfect beds. A large number of T.P. in the reserve.”
I swear I didn’t make that up!