friday roundup: re-entry edition with 3 women poets

Goodbye, big room where no one would approach you to talk

Goodbye, big room where no one would approach you to talk

Well. Here I am back in the Peninsula Town. There is no gathering of the poet-tribe in the P-town (indeed, people here are heard to be “monetizing” and “productizing” and “calendaring” things left and right!). There is no Dickinson Quiet Space in the P-town (but there is tree work being done on my street). There is no little house on an island with wide open days for writing poems in the P-town. There are no daily afternoon walks through a green forest in the P-town. But there are the bright faces of three children, who appear to have grown a foot each in my absence. There is Husband, and the Wee, Small House which  — wee and small as it is — is home. And there is the library and the full complement of my books on their shelves, and one cannot run away from home go on a self-designed writing residency forever. And yet….

… reality doesn’t impress me  So I’ve been hiding. Fellow writers will relate to the bumps and bruises of re-entry after time devoted to quiet, creative pursuits. I’ve been coping the best I can by eating comfort foods, saying NO early and often (and also late and often), wearing my most comfortable Danskos, and by reading Kelli Russell Agodon‘s Hourglass Museum.

The quote that serves as an epigraph to the book is from Anaïs Nin:

“Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another.”

Enter, Reader, the Hourglass Museum.

Is it possible for a book to know someone? I feel like this book knows me. It knows about the struggle to make art in today’s world — world of useful occupations and requests for field trip chaperones and “chores / without names.” It knows about the desire to find art and beauty even amidst worry, grief, and loss. It knows that some of us — maybe all of us? — walk around in this world (where things are productized and monetized and calendar’d) holding our wounds in our hands (this image is from the poem “Mural of a Writing Residencey or The Best Part about Manet’s ‘Dead Matador’ is the Bull”).

Aside from being full of beautiful, imaginative, and cutting (in the best possible way) poems, this book has brought me comfort upon re-entry. I am grateful for it. I will likely have more to say about it at some point, but meanwhile you can buy it here.

I drag them across the page  From the pages of Poetry magazine, here’s a piece by Natalie Diaz of When My Brother Was an Aztec fame. She talks about why she writes, and why particular obsessions or subjects recur in her work, particulary the subject of her brother’s mental illness and its effects on her family. Of recurring subjects, she says:

“Maybe my writing is never about my brother. Maybe it is always about me, what I don’t understand, what I fear the most.”

She says, of writing a first draft:

“I didn’t write it down to build a poem. I wrote it down because that is what I do with the things that unravel me. I drag them across a page.”

Can I get an ‘amen!’? I recommend the whole article wholeheartedly. If you don’t want to scroll up for the first link, you can find it here.

and the hour took her  Yesterday, the National Book Critics Circle announced their 2013 winners. Finalists for poetry were Frank Bidart, Lucie Brock-Broido, Denise Duhamel, Bob Hicok, and Carmen Giménez Smith (details here). Frank Bidart won for Metaphysical Dog.

But I’m not here to talk about Frank Bidart (sorry, Frank). I’m here to talk about Carmen Giménez Smith — because when the list of finalists was announced and making the rounds on Facebook, I saw a few comments along the lines of “I’ve never heard of Carmen Giménez Smith.”

I’m here to make sure more people hear about Carmen Giménez Smith, a feminist poet, a Latina poet, a politically aware poet. She is also an essayist, by the way. Here’s a story on her from NBC. Here’s a list of her books. And here’s one of her poems that I particularly love.

Happy Friday, Reader. Happy weekend. And whatever you’re dragging across the page these days (literally or figuratively) I wish you well with it.

sunday words: some pleasures that are final

“Yet who reads to bring about an end however desirable? Are there not some pursuits that we practice because they are good in themselves, some pleasures that are final? And is not (reading) among them? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

from Virginia Woolf’s essay, “How Should One Read a Book?”

friday roundup: learning from Virginia Woolf, wingbeats, and about those daffodils…

What would Dorothy Wordsworth do? (photo from wikimedia)

What would Dorothy Wordsworth do? (photo from wikimedia)

Reader, it’s Friday again. How does this happen? Just yesterday it was Monday, and now we’re only two days away from the next episode of Downton Abbey. Yes, the flitting of time works out well for us that way, doesn’t it? Here’s this week’s roundup:

learning from Virginia Woolf This week, I’ve been reading excerpts from the journals and letters of Virginia Woolf ( in this book). In a couple of places, she outlines her plan for work “for the next fortnight.” Oh, she says offhandedly in the entry for Thursday 14 May 1925, “I should consider my work list now. I think a little story, perhaps a review, this fortnight.” It struck me as I read this that a fortnight seems like an utterly sane period of time over which to plan. Whatever happened to the fortnight, anyway? Why has the week taken hold of us so? I may just give the fortnight a try in my writing and household planning — on the premise that it seems hard to get anything done in one week, but maybe if I had two weeks to focus on the same set of tasks I might get somewhere (I understand this is not 100% rationale, but that’s okay with me). I’ll let you know how it goes.

Here are a couple other things I’ve learned from Virginia Woolf: 1. That even very successful writers struggle with doubt. About her novel The Years, she wrote: “I think I anticipate considerable lukewarmness among the friendly reviewers — I suppose what I expect is that they say now Mrs. W. has written a long book all about nothing — respectful timidity… that this is the long drawn twaddle of a prim pudist bourgeois mind, & … that now no one can take Mrs. W. seriously again.” Um, Virginia? 2. That even very successful writers have times outside “the flow”: “I am not reeling it off, but sticking it down.” I pause here to sigh for all the “sticking-it-down” that’s been going on at my desk lately. 3. That a new problem can be a good thing: “A new problem… breaks fresh ground in one’s mind; prevents the regular ruts.” She was writing about how to employ the element of time in To the Lighthouse, but I think this is true in life as well as writing.

wingbeats  Last week on her blog, Diane Lockward wrote about working her way through Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry. I immediately ordered the book (I confess, there are times when I fall prey to and their doggone “one click ordering” #naughtypoet) and I want to shout out a big THANK YOU to Diane. This book has already paid for itself by giving me several new ways of working and extensions of some of my old methods. What I like about this book is that it not only has straight writing prompts, it also has exercises that look toward process and method rather than focusing on the production of a single, prompted poem. I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to shut me up about Wingbeats, so take this as fair warning.

about those daffodils… (caution: profanity ensues) One of my poet friends sent me a link to this poem by Jennifer Chang and, Reader, I cannot stop reading it. I am completely in love with this poem (despite its use of the word my BFF’s mother cannot abide in the first line, please forgive me, Mom W.). The poem appeared in The Nation (Feb. 7, 2011) but I can’t get the text on The Nation‘s website because I’m not a subscriber. I’ve linked to a tumblr site so you can read and relish this fierce, imaginative poem.

Happy Friday, happy weekend, and thanks for reading. Stay tuned next week for more “next big things” and who knows what else.

Sally Rosen Kindred’s next big thing


Today it’s my pleasure to host Sally Rosen Kindred’s “next big thing.” Sally and I connected after I saw some of her awesome poems in Cave Wall and I decided I should stalk her online 🙂 (Facebook has its faults, but it is good for stalking other poets). What I discovered is that not only is Sally a wonderful poet, she’s a kind, witty, and all around wonderful person as well. I’m excited to share her responses to the questions about her next big thing. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sally Rosen Kindred:

What is your working title of your book (or story)? Darling Hands, Darling Tongue

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? The poems explore the world of Peter Pan through previously muted voices, mostly of girls and women—including Tink, Wendy, Tiger Lily, and a mother who reads the story to her sons.

Where did the idea come from for the book? The idea began when I read JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy to my boys. Though I felt close to the story, I’d never read the complete version, and it surprised me. I remarked on-line about Tinker Bell’s coarse language and violent tendencies (which I found oddly endearing), and Emily Croy Barker (whose wonderful novel, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, is due out this August!) said, “Somebody should write a pomo novel about Tinkerbell as a misunderstood roundheels.”

I thought that was one of the most fabulous ideas I’d ever heard.

But, I’m not a novelist. And, though I love the idea, a roundheels wasn’t quite what I had in mind. So on Mother’s Day, 2011, I began writing a poem through the Tink I believed in…which led to a poem from the Wendy Darling I claimed…which led to another.

The idea also came from conversations I’d been having with my dear friend, writer Nancy Quick Langer. I’d been reading Nancy’s moving essays about motherhood—which you can find on her blog, and talking with her about them, and those conversations helped feed the poems, as did her feedback on the drafts. The chapbook is dedicated to Nancy, whom I can’t thank enough for her friendship and wisdom and literary mind.

What genre does your book fall under? Poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oh, I wouldn’t dare cast anyone. I want my readers to build their own visions!  But David Tennant can do something, because in my poem universe, David Tennant can do anything he likes.

When will it be released, and who is the publisher? The chapbook will be out in March 2013 from Hyacinth Girl Press. Editor Margaret Bashaar is a talented poet and publisher, and I’m so thrilled she took this on.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It took me roughly a year—from Mother’s Day 2011, to final revisions in a coffee shop in Pittsburgh in June 2012. A really good year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Books I admire that do things like what I hope to be doing with persona and myth include Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, Louise Gluck’s Wild Iris, Ava Leavell Haymon’s Why The House Is Made of Gingerbread, Lisa Russ Spaar’s Glass Town, and Jeannine Hall Gailey’s She Returns to the Floating World. Lesley Wheeler’s The Receptionist and Other Tales is a novel-in-verse, and my chapbook is not, but some of those “Other Tales”—there’s a Captain Hook poem, for instance—I would love to have my work compared to.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? One stylistic inspiration was poet Angela Vogel, whose smart, dense lyrics have lately challenged me to tighten my hold on syntax and voice.  Of course, I love the persona poems in the books mentioned above. I’ve also been a long-time fan of many fairy-tale poems in the gorgeous on-line journal Goblin Fruit.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Titles of poems in the collection include “Notes from a Fairy Autopsy,” and “Wendy Darling Has Bad Dreams.”  I’m hoping Tink’s autopsy report and Wendy’s nightmares pique somebody’s interest the way they did mine.

Four poems in the collection appear in this issue of diode.


Well, I don’t know about you, Reader, but I now have a whole list of books and poets to read and re-read. And of course, I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. Thank you so much, Sally, for sharing your next big thing with us.

Sally hereby tags the following writers: Julie Brooks Barbour, Julie L. Moore, Devon Miller-Duggan (who will be blogging at, Kimberly L. Becker, and Lesley Wheeler. Some of these writers will be guest-posting here about their next big things, so stay tuned for that.

And also stay tuned for poet and editor Kristina Marie Darling’s next big thing, which I’ll be posting here in the next week or so.

craft tips from the high desert and your brain on Jane Austen

I want YOU to read Mansfield Park (photo from wikimedia)

Good morning, Reader. The toddler invasion begins soon, and I will be a busy auntie. But first, here are some craft tips I picked up at my writing retreat. Many are tips we’ve heard before, but I find a refresher course on craft never hurts.

  • At the end of a line a comma or no punctuation leads to forward propulsion of the poem; a period stops forward propulsion.
  • Ending lines with short words also creates forward propulsion.
  • Use commas to help organize the reader, but not for pacing. Use line for pacing.
  • If you have two adjectives, choose the best one unless they are doing two very different things.
  • Being attentive to the music of the language makes a small poem bigger.
  • If you’re going to enjamb in a way that causes a slip in meaning, make sure this strategy is working for the poem.
  • You can almost always make your poem better by chopping off the first few lines and the last few lines (Don’t you HATE that!?).
  • Use all five senses: this is how we know we’re human.
  • The ending is a door out of the poem, and it should open out. The door out of a poem often looks nothing like the rest of the poem.
  • An image makes us re-see and refocus on what we thought we already knew.
  • Use Anglo words, which tend to be more immediate and intense, over Latinate words, which tend to be more abstract (to wit: “School’s closed because of a bad storm,” vs. “The educational institution is not operating due to inclement atmospheric conditions.”).
  • Avoid “cognitive handles” — don’t say “I remember” and then tell what happened; just tell what happened (the concept of “cognitive handles” was attributed to Heather McHugh).
  • Vary the syntax of your lines — you’re writing music.
  • Use linebreaks to heighten seeing.
  • A poem is an enactment, not a report.

That last one is my fave.

And now, here’s a really fascinating article about your brain on Jane Austen. Doesn’t it make you happy to live in a world where scholars will study what happens in our brains when we read Jane Austen? Me, too. In a nutshell, the research shows that when we read closely, our brains act as if we are experiencing the book, not simply reading it. No wonder I can’t bear to read in-depth articles about politics.

Have a great day, Reader. I think the toddler and I will do some Halloween decorating. Wish me luck with that.

all the acts of love

Woman Ironing by Candlelight, public domain from the National Archives via wikimedia

Today, I’m thinking of Tilile Olsen’s story “I Stand Here Ironing” (except my version of the story would have to be titled, “I Stand Here Settling Arguments” — but that’s another post). Not because I am so much in despair as here narrator is, but because of this passage:

The old man living in the back once said in his gentle way: “You should smile at Emily more when you look at her.” What was in my face when I looked at her? I loved her. There were all the acts of love.

I’ve been wondering how often it is I’ve smiled at my children this week. I’m thinking not too often. The truth is I’m tired. And it’s harder to smile when you’re tired. Still, I sometimes think I should smile more because they don’t see ‘all the acts of love’ — the meal planning and prep, the after-bedtime dishes in the sink, the late-night research on speech therapy options, the setting of limits, the settling of arguments, the sorting of laundry (and, um, well,… I generally don’t iron). They just float through their days, as they should. And even if they saw them, these many acts of love, they wouldn’t know them for what they were: all my best work to raise them up right, to nourish them body and soul, to give them wings and a nest to come home to from time to time.

Reader, it has been hard to carve out writing time. If I get up at 5:00 a.m., I might get an hour in before people wake. Last night I hired a babysitter and went to the library after dinner. I did get some good work done, but by about 8:00 I was just trying to stay awake until after the babysitter had the kids in bed so I could go home.

But I will keep trying because I really believe that having a life of one’s own — a writing life, in my case — is also an act of love, for myself and for the children. Someday, when they’re grown, they will no how hard Husband and I tried (oops, just typed tired :)) to raise them up well. Someday, they’ll also know how important it is to do what you love. They’ll see all the acts of love for what they were. Someday.

For now, I’m going to try to smile more, while I stand here settling arguments, and by hook or by crook, I will submit five packets of poems by tomorrow at 5:00 p.m.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the ambassador to the kingdom of siblinghood just called. There’s an argument to settle :).

summer reading: a midwife and an X-acto knife

Hello, Reader. Summer vacation is an hour and a half away. I’m sneaking a quick post in before the Kinder “celebration” (I really hope they’re not wearing miniature caps and gowns) to tell you what I’ll be reading this summer.

a midwife  I have a bad habit of going to the library, seeing a bazillion books that “look interesting” (this is what I tell myself) and bringing them all home. The result is too many books not enough time. C’est la vie. Last week when I went to check out books with the kids, I came across A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. It’s by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and won the Pulitzer. Hmm, I said to myself, looks interesting. And the good news is that it is interesting — to follow the daily life of a midwife in colonial times in her own words, which are also illuminated by the author’s analysis. I’m a little bit nervous, though, because I keep jotting little notes to myself when I come across an intriguing phrase. Things like:

“I Crost a stream on the way on fleeting Loggs & got safe over”


“Clear morn. I pulld flax the fornon. Rain afternoon. I am very much fatagud. Lay on the bed & rested. The two Hannahs washing. Dolly weaving. I was called to Mrs Claton in travil at 11 O Clok Evening.”

Nervous? you ask, Why nervous? Well, because, this his how the Mail Order Bride began. Step 1: Hmm, that looks interesting. Step 2: Check out book and begin reading. Step 3: Jot down intriguing phrases and ideas. Next thing you know, someone’s taking you over and demanding poems be written. Still, I’ve learned to trust these little nudges of interest and language. They don’t always turn into something, but you never know when they might.

an X-acto knife  I’m sure I’ve said before on this blog that I consider Louise Gluck (pardon my lack of umlaut) to be the X-acto knife of poets because she is so precise and can cut to the bone. She comes from an X-acto knife family, so this makes perfect sense to me. I think I’ve been trying to really read and really study her volume The First Four Books of Poems for at least a year and a half. I keep interrupting myself by reading other books that look interesting, moving cross-country, and the like. This summer I’m determined to really read and really study Gluck’s early work. I so admire her ability to be both delicate and cutting in the same poem, and the way she uses just the shadow of a shadow of a narrative.

Now, must away….. . What are you reading this summer? I’d love to know.

friday roundup: bedrock, my inner feminist, and meet your new poet laureate

bedrock – photo public domain from wikimedia

Friday again. I am amidst the flurry of end-of-year activities. Class plays, field day, Kinder fun day, 4th grade Water Day, etc., etc., etc. Surely I’m not the only parent in the world who’s ready to fly the white flag of surrender? Thank goodness summer vacation’s just a few days away so we can all get back to being good-enough parents.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to keep up with my writing life, too, and here’s what’s on my mind this week.

bedrock  The women of VIDA have recently launched a new blog, HER KIND (which I assume is named after this poem by poetry foremother Anne Sexton). VIDA is known for their analysis of gender balance, or more accurately imbalance, in publishing (“the VIDA count”). I’ve really enjoyed reading HER KIND, and this week an interview with poet Rebecca Seiferle really resonated with me. She said,

I’ve been struck lately how there is a kind of current that flows like a river through one’s work and life and that it’s not necessarily very dependent on us, our will or intent, and that most of what we can do is work, labor, in the midwifery sense, to become transparent to it. It’s not an ultimate journey, in the sense of an end, so much as ultimate in terms of the bedrock that the current flows over, is shaped by, and shapes.

I think this is a wonderful perspective on poetry and any life/life’s work. You can read the whole interview here.

my inner feminist  And speaking of gender imbalance, so many things have been riling up my inner feminist lately. My inner feminist has never required a whole lot to get riled up, but she was really honked off during the recent discussion of contraceptive coverage — which, it seems, was mostly the between and amongst men (the conversation, that is). The most recent is this report on gender imbalance in political coverage. In an election season where women’s bodies are so much at stake, it seems we should be hearing primarily from women, not men. I’m pretty sure if the media tried hard they could find well-informed, articulate, female experts with whom to discuss the issues of contraception, family planning, and abortion rights. And P.S., I am 100% convinced that if we took the men in Congress and put them in a room with a bunch of children aged birth to 3 years (and let’s make them hungry, tired children just for kicks), not only would birth control be covered, it would be free. Okay. End of rant. Moving on.

meet your new poet laureate  Much happiness and excitement in the poetry world after the Library of Congress announced that Natasha Trethewey will be our next poet laureate. Natasha Trethewey is a fab poet, and she has a special place in my heart for selecting Threshold by Jennifer Richter for the Crab Orchard Series in poetry — one of my favorite books of all time. You can learn more about your new poet laureate and read some of her work here.

Okay, Reader, it’s off to Field Day for me. Have a wonderful Friday, and thanks, as always, for reading.

friday roundup: the cruelest month, Braiding the Storm, and God inside the letter ‘O’

Today’s roundup is brought to you by the letter O.

the cruelest month  I enjoy and admire so much about T. S. Eliot’s work (personal fave: “The Journey of the Magi”), but as for his assertion that April is the cruelest month, well, that’s where Eliot and I part company. Anyone who is in any way connected to a school — teacher/professor, parent, custodian, administrator, even the students that are old enough to have shed childhood’s protective coating of obliviousness — knows that May is actually the cruelest month. All the end-of-year activities pile up in an unwieldy stack. Myself, I am juggling the Stack de Mayo in one hand, moving boxes in the other. As co-room-parent of Room 9, I find myself planning a cakewalk. Something inside me says, Never put a poet in charge of a cakewalk. Do you think it would be okay to have the kids walking around the circle to Foster the People? Whatever the Stack de Mayo holds for you, I hope your juggling act is working out okay.

Braiding the Storm  Please allow me to give a shout-out to my Bay Area poetry pal, Laura E. Davis, whose chapbook Braiding the Storm is now available for pre-order here. She also has a great series of Chapbook Rookie posts on her blog with advice for those who find themselves on the chapbook trail. Did you know that the term chapbook originated from the word chapmen (or peddlers) who sold these small volumes on a variety of subjects as part of their stock?

God inside the letter ‘O’ One thing I love about the Bay Area is that there is always something literary going on. Alas, I am seldom able to attend all the events I’d like to, and I missed Bruce Snider’s reading last week, but here’s a poem by him for your Friday. Go read it to find God inside the letter ‘O.’

Short and sweet today, Reader. Must resume my juggling. Have a wonderful long weekend, and thanks for reading.

friday round-up: why read it?, the book you’re afraid to read, and the men who became streetnames

desperate times call for desperate writing surfaces

Dear Reader, did you think I’d forgotten the roundup today? No, indeed. This morning I was busy rounding up squirrelly fifth-graders into class lines at morning yard duty. I don’t do yard duty very often, but when I do I’m right in there with the same class of yard duty gals as the one who my kids describe as “the mean yard duty lady with the megaphone.” I don’t have a megaphone yet, but I admit the prospect is tempting.

Then I was rounding up things around here. I’ve packed two boxes now! Am I done yet?

At any rate, for today’s round up I want to talk about the books you don’t want to read. Here we go:

why read it?  I’m taking a class up in the college town and we’ve been reading a wide variety of poets. For this week, we read Tomaz Salamun‘s A Ballad for Metka Krasovec. I have to say, it’s not my favorite book. It starts out very fragmented, without footholds, or connective tissue. As the book goes on, the poems take on more substance syntactically speaking, with titles, narrative threads, etc., and you kind of think to yourself, Geez, this guy can write. Why was he putting us through all that at the beginning? Okay, so, the obvious answer is because it was some sort of artistic strategy. Long story longer, there’s one person in the class who has not been shy about his distaste for a lot of contemporary poetry. This reader wants a poet to be generous — not to withhold or create puzzles that keep the reader at arm’s length. He had started reading the book and put it down after the first several poems. He asked, very genuinely, “Why read it?” So we talked about that as a class. We all have our personal taste in poetry, right? Some books we love; others we struggle through and just don’t like at all.

For me the answer to “Why read it?” is: because I might learn something. Or I might find ten words used in a way that interests me and gives me an idea for my work. Or the way the poet gets out of the poem on page 23 might help me figure out my most recent failed poem about fill-in-the-blank. Sometimes it’s good to struggle through a collection you don’t particularly love to see what you might learn. If, on the other hand, you’re reading purely for enjoyment and you hate the poems, I give you permission to put it down and move on.

We also had a really interesting conversation about the professor’s assertion that Salamun was “creating a persona” of himself in order to make a social comment (the book is rife with autobiographical details of the sex, drugs, rock-n-roll variety that I, for one, could’ve lived without). Some of the women of a certain age, myself included, wondered why we were talking of the poet “creating a persona” for this book, while last week, when discussing a book by a woman poet, we talked freely of her use of personal details in her work — no discussion of the woman poet “creating a persona” to  make a statement. Do I smell a possible double-standard? But that’s a post for another time, or perhaps for a doctoral dissertation.

the book you’re afraid to read  There’s the book you don’t like, and then there’s the book you’re afraid to read. Come on, admit it, we all have one or two. Maybe we’re afraid the book will bring up issues we’d rather not stir up. Maybe we’re afraid it’s going to be so good we’ll be shamed into writer’s block for months. Maybe we’re afraid this book is the book we were going to write.

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! Last night in the dance studio waiting room, I opened Steam Laundry by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell (which I won in Erin‘s Big Poetry Giveaway, thanks Erin!). I began with the author’s note, and put the book back down with a stone in my gut. I was afraid to read this “novel in poems” about a wife who had followed her husband West during the frontier days. The Mail Order Bride’s ears were ringing. I was afraid my book — you know, the one I haven’t written yet — had already been written.

What do you do when you start to panic? I write. I started digging in my purse for a pen and paper. No paper. No paper? Oh, no. But, luckily, I had brought the priority mail envelope the book had come in. Desperate times call for desperate writing surfaces. Away I went on a draft called, “I Find Myself Without Paper, Holding a Book I’m Afraid to Read.” The draft is all about the fear that someone else has already written my book. It ends:

What worries me is, whoever
wrote it, what if they forgot
the most important part,

which is the pre-dawn moment adorned
with stars and my mother’s hand
pressed to her throat. Translation: Goodbye.

I’m not saying it’s ready for prime time. But I will say this: you never know where a draft is lurking. Also, once I wrote through the fear, I started reading the book and immediately understood that (a). this is not my book, and (b). this book will help me think about my work in new ways. No fear, poets, no fear!

the men who became streetnames  And about Steam Laundry, I’m on page 45 and I love it so far. I’m sure I’ll be telling you more about this book soon. For now, though, here’s the opening poem. I love how it looks at a town through the eyes of its founders.


River Town

The men who became street names
meet in a saloon in the afterlife.

They raise glasses, clink. Whiskey spills over the lip
on onto their dirty fingers. They smile

and nod, bob their heads in the only agreement
they’ve ever all shared:

it’s a pleasure to see the roads they cut
through stands of willow paved.

Whether they’re in heaven, surrounded by dance hall girls,
straps falling over shoulders,

or they’re in hell, sweating in starched paper collars,
bones aching with regret, they’re still with us,

perched on poles, peeking out between
the loops and columns of the letters on their names.

The two brothers-in-law who intersect
at the library and the Korean restaurant

watch a man jaywalk, wondering if he ever sold out a partner,
or brought a bank to ruins.

The bank president looks down from his corner
onto run-down apartments.

On Saturday nights, cruiser lights reflect off him,
as men in handcuffs shuffle through the winter’s first snow.

The rent collector snakes from First to Third, disappearing
before Fifth. On that street, everyone locks their doors.

When a boy jumps his bike over a curb, and looks up,
he thinks he hears faint applause.

And the woman signaling left on Isabelle feels an inescapable
longing as the tick of the turn signal counts out

her heartbeats, as if she had to sneak out of town
in the middle of winter in a sled, hands clasped in a wolf fur muff.

All of them wish they could climb back down, muddy
their feet on the riverbank, but the afterlife, if anything,

is green and reflective, and perfectly still,
unlike the river, which so long after they bottomed out,

is still going in the same brown direction.

— by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, in her book Steam Laundry


Reader that’s it for this week’s round up. I think it’s plenty. In fact, I suddenly have this feeling that I talk too much. Have a wonderful weekend. I hope you have some time to read something you really love. As for me….. I’ll be, um, packing.