Thursday, April 30, 2015

A List Is a Prayer for Control

from "Sleepy Town," by Lili des Bellons

A List Is a Prayer for Control

that humans are accounted for
that today you assemble your selves
and their abilities
that you will respond with appropriate
kindness to every voice pawing at you
that you will not fail
that the world will not become as large
as it is so you cannot hold any of its pieces
that you will not let who you were in the morning
be forgotten
that these few valuable hours enjoy full
and happy lives before expiring
that it will become night only gradually
that the body is a working vehicle
that the beings in your home continue to be
that scribbling over a word means you predicted
the future
that the curled up energy in almost born plants
is rooting for you

[Image above by Lili des Bellons]

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On Poems that List/Take Inventory/Catalog

from the lovely Moonrise Kingdom, a love letter to letters and lists!

I’ve been thinking a lot about list poems lately. These poems might be explicit lists (and perhaps their title addresses this) of things, actions, or people. But I’m also including in this definition poems that want to gather, to present some kind of collection. These poems might read as an inventory, or a recipe, or instructions.

This Saturday, I’m so excited to lead a workshop on this topic at the Columbus State Writers Conference. I’ll share some list-ish poems with the writers in my workshop, and then we’ll write our own versions. Fun, right?

The pieces I’m considering using (although I won’t use all of them):
-“What the Gravedigger Needs,” Rachel Loden
-“Full of Knives,” Zachary Schomburg
-“Poem Without an End,” by Yehuda Amichai (translated by Chana Bloch)
-“The Car,” by Raymond Carver
-"How to Make a Crab Cake,” January Gill O’Neil
-“Inventory,” Gunter Eich (translated by Joshua Mehigan)
-“Stamp Collecting,” Kathy Song
-“Nine Days,” Suzanne LaFetra (not a poem, but an excellent piece!)
-Google Poetics

So now I ask you, oh readerly and writerly friends—do you have any favorite list poems or pieces to share/recommend?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"it was a dream," by Lucille Clifton

"The Fire Within," Ysabel LeMay

it was a dream
by Lucille Clifton

in which my greater self
rose up before me
accusing me of my life
with her extra finger
whirling in a gyre of rage
at what my days had come to.
i pleaded with her, could i do,
oh what could i have done?
and she twisted her wild hair
and sparked her wild eyes
and screamed as long as
i could hear her
This.  This.  This.

[Image above by Ysabel LeMay]
Poem via

I just love this poem, but it also scares the pants off of me (as well it should!). Lucille Clifton is such a master--not just of poetry, but of inner awareness and the ability to speak what seems true, but is not always said. This poem is indeed terrifying (oh, the unreached and impossible potential of our own greatness and power), but somehow it's also reassuring: we will all feel this "This" at some point, and hopefully, it will fade, like the dream that brought it to us. 

Monday, April 27, 2015


"The Banquet," 1958, Rene Magritte


Walk backwards through any museum
and you can see astonishing flickers
and flickerings out of humanity and technology
Here is a mobile and an exploded gunky galaxy
In the next room bars fiery with shouting
and movement Lamps and flower-clogged ponds
Pretty soon it devolves into haystacks and cows
Grotesque infants and shrouded ladies
and steel and iron in a sword with a handle
burnished from its former funeral pyre
I imagine someone whose lucky job it is
at this museum unpacking a box of blades
Lifting this one Holding all of its cool
five pounds with the air conditioner breathing
down on the back of her neck With the sun
Always the same sun presiding outside

[Image above by Rene Magritte]

Friday, April 24, 2015

On "Sally Mann's Exposure"

from "Family Pictures," 1984-1991, by Sally Mann

I find Sally Mann's photographs to be extraordinarily, heart-breakingly beautiful. I just read this long, thought-provoking article by her in the NY Times Magazine, called "Sally Mann's Exposure." In it, she discusses her images of her (often nude) children running around in the privacy of their isolated, rural, safe family home. She addresses making her photos, and she also touches on their reception and her criticism (that these photos are inappropriate, or somehow exploited her children).

In both Mann's writing and images, I see such vulnerability. I firmly disagree with critics who find the children's nudity problematic or sexual. These are photos of play, imagination, magic, and being immersed in a safe childhood. She also photographs her husband, and there seems to be such trust between the two of them--it's lovely.

I found this point of hers very intriguing:
"To be able to take my pictures, I have to look, all the time, at the people and places I care about. And I must do so with both ardor and cool appraisal, with the passions of eye and heart, but in that ardent heart there must also be a splinter of ice."
 All artists and writers have to do this, in a way.

Further along in the article, Mann raises the point that her images did allow her children to be looked at by many people, and described a terrifying stalker who sent letters to her home and kids. She looks back on her work, and states, "With love, rapture and perhaps some measure of foolishness, I made pictures I thought I could control, pictures created within the prelapsarian protection of the farm, those cliffs, the impassable road, the embracing river."
from "Southern Landscapes," 1998, by Sally Mann

The issue of control of our images and art is an important one. Can we ever control its presentation or reception? I don't think so. But all of us who draw from our lives while creating (so, that's all of us!) have to confront this concept in some way.

Hope you enjoy the article--I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pine Notes

"Pines, Spring," 2007, by Christopher Gallego

Friends! Today, I wanted to share with you my essay on pines, pining, and poems, called "Pine Notes." I'm so happy that it found a home with Waccamaw--I absolutely love this journal.

I hope you enjoy the essay--you can read it here.

What have you been writing this week? What creative projects are hanging out in your brain?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Long and Winding Road

from "Alone Together," by Andrew Lyman

"Among Infinite Spaces," 2010, by Jeannie Lynn Paske
"Sunrise Portrait 5:48am," and "Sunrise Portrait 6:37," 2011, by Robyn Cumming
"Farm Road," 1979, by Andrew Wyeth

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Thanks," by W.S. Merwin

"hashi," by Naoya Yoshida

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
[Image above by Naoya Yoshida]
Poem via the Poetry Foundation

When I think of Merwin I think of gratitude and pacing. Merwin has a wonderful sense of momentum and movement in his language...this is a lovely one, isn't it?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Grand Scheme

"...and the living is easy," 2010, by Jan van der Kooi

Grand Scheme

Basket of nothing you are full of good questions
We want to believe that the question itself is a
Good Fairy unfurling from a longing to know
To look at the sole of a rock’s cool foot and say
Well now I have seen that Always we end up
at the river The best place to have a think
Across this small river a grand mansion and on
this side like a weird reflection another enormous
old house Abandoned and condemned Murky
split glass and water-warped moldy walls
It takes barely anything Trickle of water to look
out over and in us already the desire to live here
Rooted at the edge of what mysteriously moves

[Image above by Jan van der Kooi]

Friday, April 17, 2015


Oh, so very excited to see Sufjan Stevens in concert tonight! I've been a fan of his for a long time--we saw him in L.A. about five years ago for his album The Age of Adz. It was a glorious show. This one will be just as beautiful, but much more sparse, I'd imagine. If you haven't yet listened to his new album, Carrie & Lowell, please do so IMMEDIATELY. It's gorgeous and sad and moving. This song is particularly amazing...

Sigh. This one, too:

My perennial favorite of his is probably this one, "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!"

Although "Romulus" is also perfect and one I return to often...

Happy weekend, friends! What music are you loving right now?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Horses Running Fast," by Shane McCrae

"Whisper," by Duy Huynh

Horses Running Fast
by Shane McCrae
We married in an open field a wide
And open field a field of wild and run- / ning
horses wide a field of horses run- / ning through
we married in an open wide
Running and full        of horses open
field / And in we married in        and in we mar- / ried in in
one direction they the hors- / es they
disguised the wind as horses in the wind/The horses running
fast in one / Direction
as the horses running through        / The horses as the horses run- / ning through
and each of us as me and you / As horses running fast
In one direction and
no animal outruns its past

[Image above by Duy Huynh]
Poem via Verse Daily

I just love Shane McCrae's poems. There's no one writing like him right now. If you haven't already, please rush out and read his newest collection, Forgiveness Forgiveness. Here's a brief review I wrote of that book for Columbus Alive, the local arts newspaper.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


"Circle I, II-55," 1978, by Kenneth Noland


The full-of-seeds paper says
every message will self destruct


These low flowers sprouted
from handwriting

If you squint you can see sentences
wriggling out at you

newly-bodied they are delicate here

 [Image above by Kenneth Noland]

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"In Perpetual Spring," by Amy Gerstler

"Return to Nature," by

In Perpetual Spring
Amy Gerstler
Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies  
and trip over the roots  
of a sweet gum tree,  
in search of medieval  
plants whose leaves,  
when they drop off  
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they  
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal  
human desire for peace  
with every other species  
wells up in you. The lion  
and the lamb cuddling up
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,  
queen of the weeds, revives  
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt  
there is a leaf to cure it.

[Image above by Azli Akyuz]
Poem from Bitter Angel, 1990, via the Poetry Foundation.

I adore Amy Gerstler's poems...this one is no exception. Oh, those final lines! This poem feels especially appropriate for this week, as spring is finally jumping up to greet those us of in the Midwest.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On Voice, Identity, and an AWP panel!

Image from the sketchbook of Phoebe Wahl

I write this to you from chilly but lovely Minneapolis! I’m here for the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference, and it has been wonderful so far.

Yesterday, I attended a panel featuring Brenda Shaughnessy, Camille Rankine, Deborah Landau, and Erin Belieu. These stellar writers read some work, and then discussed a variety of intriguing topics centered mostly around gender and identity.

A couple of inspiring comments/concepts have really stuck with me. An audience member asked the writers about when they first took themselves seriously (or when they felt their voice was significant). I loved their candid responses…a couple of them mentioned how instrumental their families (and mothers) were in providing strong, intelligent, assertive female role models. Brenda Shaughnessy described seeing her mother (for whom English is a second language) constantly treated like an idiot merely for her accent, and how this enraged her and helped to strengthen and form her voice.

I couldn’t help but think of my students. I am constantly trying to tell them that their voice matters, and that what they do with that voice can have real power and consequences.

I also enjoyed the panelists’ discussions about identity and intersectionality. An attendee asked the panelists how conscious they were of their female identity while writing poems. It was a fascinating concept to me. Some of my poems feel firmly rooted in my identity, but more often, I feel I am engaging my consciousness with language. I realize that my consciousness is indeed shaped by my identity—this was just a thought-provoking idea.

So. May I ask you? When did you first take your own voice seriously? And how important is your identity to your writing, in your view?

[Image above by Phoebe Wahl]

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Room With a View

"Manifest Destiny," 2006, by Bo Bartlett

from "Windows Above All Else," by Jim Darling

"hot house," by Charlotte Evans

"View From the Window (the clouds roll in)," by Anna Bergin

 "Morning Sun," 1952, by Edward Hopper

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Three Readings from Paging Columbus: Ruth Awad, Joseph Bates, and Adam Clay

Do you know Ruth Awad's poetry? I was lucky to have her read as part of Paging Columbus in February--her work is just stunning.

 Here's Joseph Bates reading from his excellent collection of short fiction, Tomorrowland.

And last, please enjoy Adam Clay's reading. His book of poems, A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World, is so worth reading!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"The Shortest Night," by Yusef Komunyakaa

from "A Forest Tale," by Gabriel Isak

The Shortest Night
Yusef Komunyakaa

I went into the forest searching
for fire inside pleading wood,
but I can’t say for how long
I was moored between worlds.
I heard a magpie’s rumination,
but I don’t know if its wings
lifted the moon or let it drift
slow as a little straw boat
set ablaze on a winding river.
I learned the yellow-eyed wolf
is a dog & a man. A small boy
with a star pinned to his sleeve
was hiding among thorn bushes,
or it was how the restless dark
wounded the pale linden tree
outside a Warsaw apartment.
Night crawls under each stone
quick as a cry held in the throat.
All I remember is my left hand
was holding your right breast
when I forced my eyes shut.
Then I could hear something
in the room, magnanimous
but small, half outside & half
inside, no more than a song—
an insomniac’s one prophecy
pressed against the curtains,
forcing the ferns to bloom.

[Image above by Gabriel Isak]

When I read Yusef Komunyakaa's poem, I'm reminded of how mysterious and beautiful poems are. The weary, half-asleep speaker throws lovely and scary images our way--not being able to fall asleep indeed traps us "between worlds." This ending is one of those perfect moments...the insomniac's vision "forc[es] the ferns to bloom." This is a poem of inside and outside, and of a crossing between those boundaries. I hope to carry this poem's music with me today.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Bookmarks Links/Bedside Table

"Dusk," by Danna Ray

Currently reading and enjoying:

-The Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon (more on this later).

-“Operation Unicorn: Field Report,” an awesomely weird poem by Minal Hajratwala in Granta.

-This article, “Lip-Syncing to the Academic Conversation,” by Sarah Kendzior in Vitae. Kendzior raises some excellent questions about the ethics of placing scholarship behind a paywall.

-The new issue of Split Lip Magazine (edited by Kristina Marie Darling)! I’m so pleased to have five poems in this issue, too.

-The Velveteen Rabbi’s free downloadable Passover Haggadah (a great resource).

Whatcha reading, friends?
[Image above by Danna Ray]

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Green Bird

"Intimacy," 2013, by Monia Merlo

Green Bird

Do you perceive the things
happening to you as magic
as an unfolding of truth that
you prod forward A grocery cart
that gathers today’s inventory
this gelato this sequence of words
this pattern of light on the street
as you break it If so you can feel
the buds in their cocoons wiggling
their toes There is no Big Fate
you head toward It is not like
that More like in front of you
croquet hoops An array of them
materializing one by one Mouseholes
to shimmy through And trailing
behind you a tunnel of staples
leading back to your crib To your
green bird your favorite floating
above you in your mobile

       [Image above by Monia Merlo]

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Idiosyncratic Routine: Three Process Videos

Idiosyncratic Routine. This is the title of that feminist comic in Chasing Amy, and I’ve always loved the phrase.

I want to apply it to artists. You may know that I’m a little obsessed with process and process videos. I’m hooked on videos that show how artists do what they do, and especially love it if they comment on their work.

Here are three I’ve been loving and thinking about lately.

1.“Meghan Willis: Stitched Fervour,” Tsurubride as seen by Aaron Tsuru

This one showcases the work of embroidery artist Meghan Willis (ask Tsurbride) as she prepares for a show in Columbus. The video is made by her husband, Aaron, who is a talented photographer/filmmaker himself. We get to see her as she selects one of Aaron’s photos, chooses colors and fabric, and paints and embroiders a specific piece. I love Meghan and Aaron (both as artists, and people); it’s so great to see an artist from the perspective of someone so close to her. 


2. Process—the painting of “Plastic,” by Robin Eley

The most straightforward video of the bunch, this is nonetheless mesmerizing in Robin Eley’s detail and care. The painting moves from something unrecognizable to something breathtakingly gorgeous. OH, that final product!!!

3.  “Mark Wagner: Money is Material” by The Avant/Garde Diaries

“For a collage artist, destruction is the first necessary step.” We first hear Mark Wagner’s voice about a minute into the piece, and he drops that enticing phrase into our laps. The directors have made an exquisite short video on this artist—we see a lovely balance of material, process, commentary, and finished product. (Sidenote: I wrote this poem inspired by Wagner’s work back in January).


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