Monday, December 31, 2012

Fantasy of Fewer Possessions

Fantasy of Fewer Possessions

One plate.
One tool for cutting.
One piece of string,
tied around a wrist.

Unfinished linen gown
dragging through the dirt,
earth clutching at the hem,
don’t leave me.

One sky to hold all the stars,
one plastic bag full of
one million goldfish.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Winter sky postcard, anyone? Hope your weekend is wonderful. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things I Have Accidentally Learned About While Writing Poems (The December 2012 Edition)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On Plumbing and Revision

Plumber hero.
In an apartment I once lived in during college, I prided myself on being able to perform minor surgery on our plumbing. Very minor, but very victorious.

Forgive me if I get a bit overly-technical here, but in the back of the tank, that windshield wiper-lever thingy would disconnect from the rubber plug, resulting in the water not being able to fill back up.

With the help of a piece of a wire hanger (and my hands in some freezing cold water in the back of the tank), I could reconnect it, and feel like I’d done some good work (I know, very self-congratulatory--but I’m not a very handy person).

When I think about revising poems, it doesn’t feel like demolition, nor does it feel like painting or repainting. The kind of revising I do feels like fixing plumbing (what I’d imagine it’s like, at least--what a strange fantasy!). I imagine myself sitting on the floor in front of a sink, both cabinet doors open, all the pipes exposed and leaking.

My changes to poems are always fairly minor (usually replacing or cutting individual words or lines, tightening a particular image, or playing with punctuation). And I don’t always know what I’m doing when I’m tinkering with a poem--I don’t know how I want it to turn out, I just know that there might be a trouble spot. If I fiddle too much with a particular poem, there’s a chance I might just let it be (which means....what? I guess that I don’t submit it anywhere or see it as more than an exercise).

For me, the trick is always to let the poem be what it wants to be. I can feel myself too carefully reprettying lines at times, and I have to work against that impulse. I also am on the lookout for places where jumps in logic seem to make perfect sense to me, but I can’t figure out why, and I’ve lost the connecting threads in revision (this happens in my titles sometimes).

I love hearing about other writers’ revision processes. I’ve known writers who rewrite an entire poem several times. Or writers who let poems sit, and return to them over a matter of years (I adore sifting through Brian Brodeur’s splendid site, How a Poem Happens--if you don’t know it yet, get yourself comfortable and wander through the extensive archives and enjoy).

So I’m curious. How do you revise? What images characterize how you revise your creative work?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Inspiration, in Eight Minutes or Less

Never fear--no infomercial here. I wanted to share this video of one of my favorite writing activities with you.

In this video, the unflaggingly delightful Lynda Barry will steer you through a brief (but crazily effective) exercise. I’ve used a variation of this exercise with my writing students (and I always participate, too). The power of writing to help us to unpack our memories (whether sensory, emotional, or just the logistics of a scene) is astounding.

The activity also reinforces a lesson I constantly repeat to my students (and myself): what we notice matters, and what we all notice about even the most similar scene is strikingly varied.

Too often, we dismiss our own observations as insignificant. There is so much value to being attentive to the world around us, and attentive to our own reactions to this world.

To start: write a list of ten random words (you can write them on index cards or slips of paper, or just as a list on a sheet of paper). Don’t overthink this.

And now, over to Lynda Barry, Champion of Creativity and Goodness.

How was this activity for you? Anything interesting come up? Which tutorials, activities, or prompts are most helpful to you?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Experiments Week

It's the last full week of 2012. What better time to start taking my own advice? (Spoken like a true, proud procrastinator--I often want to write a book called Procrastinating Effectively: Best Practices for the Deadline-Driven.)

To keep myself on my toes, this will be a week of weirdo programming (like Shark Week, or the silly, doctored book cover above). I'm going to be posting here, but I won't be posting new poems (maybe I'll write them still, or maybe I'll just focus on revising and tinkering...

For a while, I've been thinking about changing up my routine, or taking time away from writing new poems every weekday. Back in June, I wrote this post about Creativity and Time, and Stefan Sagmeister's practice of taking sabbaticals. When I read Erin Loechner's recent post on Slow Blogging, I got inspired and excited.

One of my strengths is the being in the everyday-ness of life, I think. But this creates a weakness in me in that I sometimes overvalue routines or structures, without re-evaluating or stretching. In my writing, I often feel myself relying on what feels certain or comfortable, as opposed to taking more risks (a lot of perfectionism comes from the avoidance of failure--Leo/Virgo cusps, can I get an amen?).

The other reason for my deliberateness in my process and use of time: many competing projects and deadlines (this is a human issue, not just mine---well, maybe it's an American issue). For the first time in my life, I bought a dry erase wall calendar this year, to try to feel more organized and less scattered. (By the way, my cats respond by putting their front paws on the calendar, and slowly slipping down, thus erasing what I've written.)

My writing is a place where I try to give myself permission to fail (and sometimes I do, in that I don't always love the poems I post here on my site). What I keep learning is that the more I remove obstacles, structures, and certainty, the more I will learn to trust my voice and decisions. As an artist, this is crucial. I'd like to do a little less guarding against uncertainty.

I'm curious also to know about your own creative challenges--what are you working on/working through these days?

This week, I wonder what will happen.  Let's find out together.

Friday, December 21, 2012

This Is the Year

Instead of sending you a card, I'll drive this truck past you and honk.

I saw this truck a couple of weeks ago, while walking home from teaching. I love the colors and textures, and how everything is strapped together.

Happy almost holidays! 2013 is almost here. Honk!

Thursday, December 20, 2012



Dusk sloshes against the sky,
showing to us the darkness
that is always there, the stars
that are always there. The first
star, we say, as if they blink off
and then return for us. Where
will this one night go as we roll
around our corner of the star jungle.
Where can it go when out there in
deepest space, there is no day, no
evening, no beginning of an end
and no end.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And How’s That Working Out For You

And How’s That Working Out For You

I am not checking the eggs
in the grocery store
to see if they are broken.

I am checking the eggs
to prevent them from breaking.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Will Happen When the Sun Dies

What Will Happen When the Sun Dies

Pick a forever thing,
and watch it go gooey
or corroded in your hand,
blob of diamond,
desiccated car,
forked-up yolk sun.

Is that inky cloud
a black hole
or a bok globule.

Tell your neighbor,
and pass it on,
keep watching for a new sun,
babies who’ll be here
in a thousand years,
in ten thousand years.

Five million years
equals forever
only to us.

Monday, December 17, 2012



This is the year you are alive in.
Before, you can’t know the plagues

that ravaged the villages, the city
before the great fire, the green land

before the grey city. These are
the times you have already seen,

your joy, your faltering, the year
that changed you. Your life is a

ruler, but all you have of it is your
one end. It uncovers itself to you

one inch at a time, a tree worming
out from its roots, the ground,

thickening. This is what your name
sounds like in the voices of those

you’ve loved. Here is your view
in the morning, your mind gathering

the day before it is here, a great
down comforter, voluminous. Here,

a corner, what you had perceived as
the center, the heart acreage. This is

the body you belong to right now,
and these are the bones you have

always had. You have made peace
with the knowledge you can’t take

it with you, but you want to hold
it for as long as you can, at least.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Inspired by...

Currently inspired by...

Kjell Varvin’s most recent installations. I’ve been following his work for a long time, and have written about it on the The Storialist (here, back in March of 2010--weird that it was over two years ago!). Here's an interesting interview with him, too.

"The Joy of Burning Down the House," by Ben Schrank (on FSG’s Work in Progress). I love the questions that Schrank asks of writers here: “Why does no one writer want to admit that the process of writing, while often terribly trying, can also be bliss? Are writers trying to keep this secret to themselves?” I completely agree with him--it’s a painful pleasure/pleasurable pain. And it is FUN. We (writers/artists) need to accept accountability for our work and decisions...

Kishi Bashi. Read more on him and his music in my Musical Interlude at Spoonful.

This video on Michael Wolff on living with curiosity and attentiveness. Love this.

The semester is finished, and I’m almost done with grades. I am so looking forward to doing some good "research" (reading, writing, exploring of ideas, finally catching up on blogs) over break! What's inspiring you these days?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Enjoy Your Horse

Enjoy Your Horse

Take this grass, take this land,
this barn. Take

the horse you already have,
give her to me.

Let your horse live here, with
me. She will be

fed. Brushed. Safe. The other
horses will speak

to her as one of their own, she
will find love here.

You can see her whenever you
like. She will always

remember you, her name in
your voice means

peace that emanates throughout
the universe, this

will not change. You may miss
her, but you can

check on her. You can envision
her walking toward

the apple tree’s shade. She will
want for nothing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lake and Land

Lake and Land

Lake and land, twinned
when the lake is still.

If the trees go snowpale,
the water matches the hill,

whitens. Fire in the pines
means a picture of fire

shining back from below.
Rabbit darting from the briar

shoots across the water, too,
as if gliding on its back, on ice,

feet up, flailing. See the lake
and the land, and live twice.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

To Do

To Do

Every note you wrote yourself
returns to the cardboard backing,

uninking itself. The paper below
goes plump and smooth as a pillow,

forgetting what you’d written
to remember, to do. The checks

you send come back, dollars
swimming into your account

like gasoline sucked back into
the pump. Goodbye, tax returns,

goodbye, each job, most recent
to oldest, your summer job

at the bakery, Saturday nights
you watched two children

down the block, the pizza you
all ate frisbeeing into the box,

into the pizza shop and oven,
shredded cheese shriveling

into distinct petals, floating up
into a hand, a bag of cheese,

a fridge. The children shrinking,
bed to crib to arms to belly,

and then you, smaller each day,
returning to warmth, and light,

and darkness, giving your body
back, limb by limb, simplifying,

a lump of warm ice, cells fusing,
melding, slow boil back into level

liquid, natural as air’s glinting snow
disappearing as it tumbles down.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Dove One Year Becomes

A Dove One Year Becomes

Baby doves the next,
becomes no doves,
the near silence of the yard
at night, becomes my needy
ears that year, unsatiated by
toad trill or the road’s yawn,
a car or two going home,
becomes the thing I hope for
when the pine tree twitches,
Dovey, is that you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

Currently reading and enjoying...

This poem, “Free Bible in Your Own Language,” by Heather Kirn Lanier at VerseDaily

The Paleofuture blog by Matt Novak, which describes itself as “A history of the future that never was.” I can’t stop reading this blog---it’s so fun and entertaining! I love what the past thought The Future would be like. I’ve been reading posts on The Jetsons, fashion, and past predictions.

This article, “Horror Doesn’t Have to Be Ugly: A Look at the Comics of Emily Carroll,” by Matthew Brady (at The Hooded Utilitarian). I love Carroll’s work--this is an insightful analysis of her comics and aesthetic.

This great exercise, “Tiny Masters: An Artful Trick to Writing the Personal Essay,” by Sherry Simpson (in Brevity).

This gorgeous essay, “Daughter Species,” by Amy Monticello, on what grief feels like (this piece feels so brave).
What are you reading these days?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Future Needs

The Future Needs

The guts of the car clank and chug.
All of the future needs none

of your permission. Your handwriting
is still awful, your h, n, and m need one

less stroke than you provide, bob
their tails. Why, when you feed one

of your hungers, is it your sweet tooth.
And when you brush your teeth, some

of the enamel gets spat out, scrubbed
too hard. Smaller circles, leave some

of your bones intact. The year is
almost gone, and the week’s done

in days, but you squeeze the end
of the tube. Is the seed done

when the plant dies, not for the dirt,
it isn’t. You know the future needs no one.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012



Why can’t the best part of the song last
forever. What’s wrong with The Chorus
Waltz. Soak the chords in echoes, would
you, I can hold the sound even as it
decays. When the song ends, then where
does it live, the snake back in the basket,
or uncoiling within me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012



Soon, flowers. White petals here
above smooth bark. Gray for now,

dark bones of the tree. Months more,
sixty snows more, could be hundreds,

cannot yet count this year’s crop of
snows. Later, surely, white petals,

tree full of white moths come to say
The ground is soft enough to dig.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Next Year, Jerusalem and Dromedary Extension Kit

Next Year, Jerusalem and Dromedary Extension Kit

A pile of hay, dented in the center
where the baby will go,
a couple, hands over their hearts,
heads tilted toward the baby.
Everything facing the baby in the hay,
three men holding golden cups,
ermine or velvet at their throats, a lamb,
a cow, donkey, another lamb,
more hay, the wooden beams to mean
a barn, more hay to scatter
around. The ground beneath them,
dirt paths leading to the barn,
a star, a dome to suggest the sky,
the inn nearby, the women
and men sleeping in their beds,
hay in the pillows, bakery
near the inn, a few more houses,
then the apothecary.
Then shepherds, then sand,
and then the blue-green
Dead Sea nicked with ripples,
dented in spots to hold
the bobbing bodies of swimmers.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Next Big Thing (Behind the Scenes at The Storialist)

Writer friend Luisa Igloria (she’s wonderful--read her work here) kindly invited me to take part in this self-interview called The Next Big Thing (not referring to my opinion of myself, thank goodness--referring to what I’m working on now). So, step into my studio/office/laptop/brain, and I’ll share a bit more about The Storialist, and how I use it in my writing practice.

Where did the idea come from for the blog?

I started The Storialist in 2008, when I was living in Vancouver, BC. I was between jobs, and unsure of where to direct my energies. I had been missing writing, and had been reading lots of blogs. One of my favorite blogs was (and still is) Scott Schuman’s The Sartorialist. I so admired how he made his art a part of his daily life. I was originally writing poems about his images (I’d look at the image he posted everyday, and write a corresponding poem). It forced me to write each day, and provided me with a sort of prompt.

The blog has definitely evolved since then. I now respond to many different types of art in my poems. And the connection between my poems and the art is more and more tenuous. I used to worry that the reader wouldn’t see the connection between the image and the words. In the past couple of years, I’ve completed abandoned this worry. I’ve realized it’s not my job to decide how readers interpret my work. It is extremely freeing. More and more, I am giving myself permission to explore whatever I want to in my writing and on this site (hence Fridays, which I see as fun days, where I can post whatever I feel like sharing/working on).

I see The Storialist as my workspace. When I write poems I feel less proud of (which happens all the time), I’m ok with sharing them because it’s all a part of what I’m working on right now. It’s my studio and my sketchbook.

What genre does your work fall under?
This is a daily poetry blog, but I also post thoughts on art, artists, and creativity.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition of your poems?

One time, I was fantasizing about hiring actors to stage and perform my poems. That idea had no legs, but it was fun to think about.

I know I’d like Woody Allen, Tim Burton, and Wes Anderson to collaborate on directing a movie version of my poems (too much quirk?). Let’s make it an animated film...maybe something like Coraline? Bjork might have to make a cameo.

What is the one sentence synopsis of the blog?
Poems inspired by images, updated every weekday (this may change eventually).

Who or what inspired you to create this blog?
I’ve already mentioned Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist.

My husband, Marcus, has always been a huge supporter, inspiration, and source of knowledge about the internet/blogging/Twitter...he has highly influenced my love of social media.

Of course, art is a huge inspiration. Visiting artists’ sites and thumbing through their work gets my gears turning.

Other creative heroes of mine: Lynda Barry, Tim Gunn, Jan Zwicky, Jim Henson.

What else about your blog might pique the reader’s interest?
I used to write my poems and post them on the same day--but now I write them the day before, and pre-post them. It allows me to write under less pressure (one day I will write a book called Procrastinating Effectively!)

I crave my writing time. When I sit down to write something for this site, I begin by pushing all other concerns from my mind (the millions of papers I have to grade, the event I need to finish organizing, the emails I need to respond to, the dinner I should start). Another thing I’ve realized is I have to trust that I will write something. I may not love it, but I can write something, if you give me an hour or hour and a half, a computer, some music, and an image I’m interested in. My writing practice teaches me: there will always be new ideas and words.

Ok....your turn! If you’d like to take part in The Next Big Thing, just answer these questions on your site (about a book you’ve written, or about your blog), and include a link in the comments section here. Then, pass it along, and invite other writer friends to play.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Astronaut Interviews

The Astronaut Interviews

Which is more important: the longing
to run, or the longing to return. How
would you feel about being the only
human on a planet, and walking on it.
On a scale of one to ten, how dependent
are you on gravity, emotionally. Talk
to me about your previous experiences
with discomfort. With the dark. With
loneliness. If you think you see a creature
scurrying off into the darkness, would you
chase it. Are you prepared for what you
will be bringing home with you. What
do you imagine it will feel like to sit
on your steps in the early evening,
flannel blanket around your shoulders,
seeing the places you used to work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Back in the Body

Back in the Body

Body, why will you not house me.
I lean away from you, my leash.

When I jump, there is no certainty,
no tall-building-leapingness,

no superpower. If I cloak myself
in sweat, will I be sealed in,

Saran-wrapped. Can’t my bones
be closer to the surface so I can

burrow beneath them, speech bubble
sucked back in, anchor crawling

back to the boat, hoisting itself back
over the edge, panting, dripping.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Come Home

How to Come Home

Ow, but why. Is it pain,
or the memory of pain,

lava or cooling lava or
a lava dream. The lava

will turn into land, look,
a new mountain, even.

Now you are the guest.
Mt. Welcome Home

invites you in. Soon you
see past the strangeness

of all the new rock, the
land that now blocks

a portion of the sky over
your town. One morning,

you will start the coffee,
stand before the window,

and the sky in your head
will match the sky you

stare at. Sleeping town,
sleeping volcano, cool

streets, steady, steady,
sleep ready for you again.

Monday, November 26, 2012



Don’t you know what absence
makes. Weren’t you ever

taught. The heart will grow
and stretch, reaching for

what is farthest, though
it is not far, it is not there.

Absence makes the heart grow
hungrier, dragging back

bluestone, sarsen. Get used
to the taste of igneous rock.

Get used to the taste of fire.
Don’t you know what absence

tastes like yet. You do or you will,
pass us that feldspar, would you.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Answer Is...

It's true--the answer IS trees. I see this little brick circle on my way to class, and I keep imagining what I'd paint inside. Why not this?

I hope your weekend is full of things to be grateful for (and gratitude, of course)! Thank you for reading this week.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Animals Assume

Animals Assume

Hunger means
seek food with your nose
and eat what you find.
Follow warmth
and light.
Tuck your legs
beneath your own
warmth, bring your face
to the floor. Let your body
do the body’s work,
if there is pain,
bring it to your tongue.
All of this happens
in one long day,
today you sleep,
today you wake
and urinate and eat,
today you see a spider
and smack it with your paw,
today you watch snowflakes
from the window,
today you hide
from strange sounds,
you get more and more
of today and your hunger
returns to tell you
you should eat.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Living Daylights

Living Daylights

To find that part of me
still flickering,

to chew and exhale flames,
a dragon with a mouth
crammed with Bazooka Joe,

to use my heart
as a flashlight,

to meet my ghost
as a dance partner,
spinning away from me,
and back toward me,

to sift out the glowing shards
with unshaking hands
and swallow them back down,

to greet my fiery shadow,
saying, here is our bed,
our mirror, we can learn
one another again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Do You Read Me

Do You Read Me

Today, whatever I notice
I dedicate to you. Observing
is an act of devotion,
transmission. Other brain,
how’s it coming in,
first the honeyed, searing
scent, then the beep
of the self-checkout machine
at the grocery store,
then the white petals jutting
out from a stand of
floral arrangements, lilies
placed just at nose-
level, so that every time I
reach for another item
from my basket (lilies, bread,
lilies, toothpaste, lilies,
coffee) I get a face full of
flowers, here, these
are for you.

Monday, November 19, 2012



Treefuls and gutterlengths.
The dark or light hem creeping

out beneath a door. The strength
of matter is constantly tested, heaping

helping after helping of gravity,
or rain, or illness onto the land,

our heads. The body as nasal cavity,
time as neti pot, water, the hand

that pours. The human condition
is permeability, Play-Doh trying,

beneath its lid, for lotus position
even as it’s squished up and drying.

Friday, November 16, 2012

This Week, Feeling Inspired by...

The Matt & Kim concert in Columbus (on Wednesday night). Their energy and joyfulness is incredible and completely contagious. In the best way possible, there was a distinctly Sesame Street/singalong feel to their performance (see my blurry photo at the right--yup, those are balloons that they passed out to the audience!). I was reminded of singing songs in kindergarten, when my teacher would point at the students, encouraging us to sing along with her even more loudly, whether or not it sounded good. They also worked bits of hip hop songs into their show, dancing wildly. It amazed me how they managed to be both performers and fans onstage--maybe that’s why the audience responds so exuberantly to Matt and Kim. They honor the power and fun of being a devoted fan by blurring the line between performer and audience. (How would this work at a poetry reading? Could it? Not with the same volume, but somehow....)

This bumper sticker, spotted while driving to work one morning: “Trees are the answer.”  Sound familiar?

This article, “Diamonds Unearthed,” from

This video by Paul Octavious (I love his photography, too). I’ve been thinking lately that one of the most essential qualities that artists can have is attentiveness. This video is a beautiful example of how being present can lead to inspiration.

Ghana In Fog from Paul Octavious on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Answer Is Trees

The Answer Is Trees

What can hold the heart
you carve with your
wood-handled knife.

If the birds haven’t
left, but aren’t
in the sky, where
do you know to
look next. Today,

my car is sticky,
gummy windows.
Why. Who did this.

How come you chose that
house, on this street.
Why do you look
up while you walk.

Who cannot run from
bugs or fire.
Who cannot run
but can outlive
the whole village.

What will your daughter
remember from
the Atlantic
Ocean. What will

make her long to pet
the land, her soft,
fluffy creature.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

As Far As We Know

As Far As We Know

The Earth is a swimming pool,
but solid. The Grand Canyon
wouldn’t be the shallow end,
or even the baby pool. To get
to where the diamonds are born,
we’d have to dive down through
a hundred Grand Canyons, stacked.
We can’t go there. Space, sure,
a matter of distance, travel time.
But how to explore the unbudging
depths of our home turf, that place
which is too hard for us to chew
through. Every so often, the planet
spits out glittering bits of wisdom
for us to gather up. We play on
the surface, children on the beach,
squealing when the sea foam
skims our toes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Steam Clock

Steam Clock

Not a postcard with a steam clock on it,
not a Hudson’s Bay blanket, white wool
with stripes of green, red, yellow, indigo.

If you bought a magnet with the ocean,
mountains, silvery buildings and a bridge,
then what, you would have another magnet.

Memory loosens, stretched out like an
old sweater that anticipates how the body
will fill it. What was the name of that bar,

no one remembers, no one will ever tell
you, and your life goes on unengulfed
by fire and dozens of sinkholes.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Single Servings of Comfort, Compassion, and Reverie

People need poems sometimes. This thought reassures me.

When we fall in love, marry each other or watch our friends marry each other. When someone we love leaves. When someone we love is sick or in pain. When we are in pain. When a new human enters the world. When the world changes, and we are overwhelmed.

Even when nothing can be done to fix a situation, poems provide single servings of comfort, compassion, and reverie. Tell me what to make of this, we ask the poems we look to for comfort. Tell me what house to build around this experience.

I wanted to share a few of the poems I look for in times of weakness and pain. And I would love to hear your recommendations, too.

“blessing the boats,” by Lucille Clifton
“Recovery,” by Jan Zwicky
“Directive,” by Robert Frost
“Five Odes on Absence” or “Never-ending Birds” by David Baker
The Crying Hill” by Yusef Komunyakaa
“Tree,” by Jane Hirshfield
“Under One Small Star,” Wislawa Szymborska

Thursday, November 8, 2012



Fifty birds converge over a tree,
in the tree, seem to become
the dark branches.

For a minute, no shadows but
the tree’s shadow. Once all
the birds land

where the leaves should be,
it’s easy to see them as
leaves, easy not

to see them there. The tree,
teeming with birds, holds
still. One minute

more, and the tree exhales,
the bark loosens, shatters,
lifts, and scatters.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It’s Ok, You Couldn’t Have Known

It’s Ok, You Couldn’t Have Known

First the baby T. Rex, little guy,
raising his head to look around
Dinosaur Hall, and then at you.
He’s only two. Can’t know where
he is, who he could have been.
The teenager and the momma
Tyrannosaurus rouse next,
shake their heads like wet dogs.
Steel poles bend and snap,
and the bones move, bodies
again. Here comes Stegosaurus,
cantering along the tiled floor,
creaking when he stops (out
of habit) for a breather. Quilts
of prehistoric dust unfold
above you. Nothing is on fire.
Dino Hall is quiet, save for
bone on bone, bone on tile,
bone clattering against the
walls. No alarms. Allosaurus
skidding by, eying Spike.
No, you aren’t safe. But where
are you going to go, when
the dinosaurs wake up. Poor
things don’t know they aren’t
dinosaurs anymore, that
they’re full of holes, that outside
these walls they will not know
where the land they once slept on
went, where the world has gone.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012



What kind of being
does our longing

create, cedar-cloaked
ghost clutching

at our knees, riding
shotgun, showing

us how the farthest-
away hills earn

the translucence
we keep draping them

with, even when
it keeps sliding off.

Monday, November 5, 2012

We Call It Sky

We Call It Sky

Not the lid viewed
from inside the aquarium,
but the surface of the water
viewed from beneath
that we mistake for a lid.

Are there any aquariums
out there,
maybe overturned
or green with the weird life
that thrives within the abandoned.

Is there anything but loneliness
for them out there.
We think we hear them trying to speak
to us, glug glug glug
coming down from the sky,
or maybe it’s our own questions
echoed back, gurgling.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

Currently reading and enjoying...

Issues 4 and 5 of Barn Owl Review, especially the poems from Nin Andrews (“Sisters,” and “Why God Is a Woman” in Issue 4).

This interview with Kristina Marie Darling from the Barn Owl Review blog. I love what she says about using historical sources and research as inspiration:

The best advice I can give is this: don't be afraid to edit, rewrite, and fictionalize these sources.  Many contemporary poets find inspiration in historical subject matter, but they're hesitant to change the materials they find for their own purposes.  They feel like they won't do justice to their chosen subject by rewriting history.  I've definitely been guilty of these things myself.  But this kind of mindset makes it extremely difficult for the writer to showcase their own voice, style, and vision in a research-based project.   

“At the Mall,” by John R. Campbell in Terrain (Fall 2012).

“My Multiday Massage-a-Thon,” by John Jeremiah Sullivan in the NY Times.

Thursday, November 1, 2012



If sleep is a city you can’t find
again, float toward it by picturing
the streets you used to walk along.
Fill in the holes, the pink azaleas
here, the post office here. The house
with the orange door here and
here, the house with dozens of
miniature ships in its window,
red and white. The scummy rocks
marked where the water once rested,
and the ducks, and the dogs,
and the air. Tell the world where
it belongs, in pieces.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Blowing on Ice Cream

Blowing on Ice Cream

In a few minutes,
you will wish that
the soup you are
blowing on now
were warmer. Where
is that perfect
experience, and
why do we expect
to discover it,
the triple scoop
ice cream cone
not leaking
through the
napkin, along
your palm and
wrist, that hot
tomato soup
coddling the
the roof of your
mouth like
bathwater does
your body,
only endlessly.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We Are Here for You

We Are Here for You

We are the yellow field
that looks yellower
in gray autumn.

We are the root beer
barrels that the rolled
hay bales remind

you of. We are your
mother’s hands
painting the bread

dough with egg white.
We are the sheen
and the warmth

and the fragrance of
the bread. We are
every whale who

swam alongside your
boat in the ocean,
we are the terriers

and black labs who
burrowed beneath
the fence in the yard

and came home when
you called. We are all
the apples within

the orchard, growing
or fallen. We are
the warmth under

the down blanket that
settles over you, and
the light in the morning

that tells you to come look
at it, and the strength in
your legs when you stand.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Painting Speaks to You

The Painting Speaks to You

Thank you for coming
tonight to watch the kids,

there’s money for pizza
in the kitchen, bedtime

is 10:30, don’t let them
just wet their toothbrushes

to pretend they’ve brushed,
please watch them brush,

what else am I forgetting,
I want to make sure you

know everything you need
to so that you’re all safe

and happy, so that you
all grow up and feel at least

three versions of love.
I wish I didn’t have to

leave, but since I do, know
how much you mean to me,

and remember to wear gloves,
and go to the dentist, and say

thank you to your teachers and
be kind to those who are strange

or in pain, for once you were
or will be strange in a land

unfamiliar to you. There is
so much to say in limited

space, you’ll need to say
these things to your children

also, and to the sitters looking
after your children that you must

speak to about the children
they are caring for, tonight

or in fifty years or in
a thousand years.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

Currently reading/enjoying/watching....

This page about the star life cycle from NASA. This helped me write a poem last week, "Novae," but I keep returning to read more.

This poem, “Made for TV,” by Kathleen Kirk (on StorySouth).

Also this poem, “Breakfast for Supper,” by Christine Stewart-Nunez.

This interview with artist Mary Carlson on Bomb’s blog. Carlson makes some fabulously weird sculptures (check out her Saints and Demons work--WOW!), but I especially love her porcelain Flowers.

And this new process video from Robert Josiah Bingaman (I wrote about his process videos and gorgeous work before). It spawned an interesting conversation I had on Twitter with a few other artists and creative folk....I was asking them a question about poems, which I’ll now ask you. Upon watching this video, I was struck by how many hours (196!!) went into this painting, how many months, and how many layers. I loved watching Bingaman’s underpainting, and how that shaped the final image as we see it.

I was wondering--is there some sort of underwork present within all pieces of art, whether or not it is visible? I’ve never spent even more than 5 hours on an individual poem (more on my collection, now that I think of it---many hours on organizing/arranging, and many more to come), but I wonder if some of the energy from the first images/words on the page survives editing.

What do you think? Is there “underwork” in what you create? And what are you reading/enjoying?

Thursday, October 25, 2012



If I am your lifeguard
will you be my lifeguard,
one of us in the water,
one in the chair. Which
would you like me to be,
the one eating a soft pretzel,
or the one sleeping on a
pink towel with a green palm
tree sewn onto it. The one
with her feet in the pool,
sitting on the steps, or the
one in line for the high dive.
I keep thinking there’s enough
time for me to be all of them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rounding Third

Rounding Third

Touch anything, and scuff it,
either the thing or your finger.

The best sponges work not by
cleaning, but through abrasion,

the outer layers of a wall and
a smudge lifted off. Even if

I listen to all of my music
at the same volume, even if

all the songs have the same
voice and words, fall is still

rounding third and leaving,
winter waits, and after it,

spring, and summer, and
another and another fall,

heading home. The words
we are taught first tell us

the moving pieces of our
world: we count up to ten,

sing the letters, learn colors,
shapes, animals, seasons.

What sound does the dog
make. What falls from the sky

in the winter when it’s cold.
We can learn what to expect.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The View

The View

Through looking,
we try to prolong
pleasure, clamping
eyes onto landscape,
say, as we would flip
down the metal latches
sealing a guitar case.

What’s farthest away
fades, and is most
beautiful. Mountains
painted in watercolor
on a tarp, tissue paper
ocean that doesn’t seem
to slosh around, not
from back here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Video: Seasonally Affected (Revisited)

Happy Friday, everyone! Isn't it?


I wanted to share with you a short video from the last Paging Columbus event I hosted (the theme was "Hello Darkness, My Old Friend). I decided to read "Seasonally Affected," the first poem I ever made a video with (and boy, was it low-tech---I carried my laptop down the street in the snow for that one! And look how long my hairs were!).

This video is nothing fancy (and I got myself in profile, mostly, based on where I put the tripod--I didn't check out where to stand beforehand!), but I wanted to share it anyway. The three readers that night (Jennifer Hambrick, Nathan Moore, and Kelly Kathleen Ferguson) were just'll be able to watch their footage in the next few days, as I finish editing their videos.

A big thank you to everyone who read my poems this week! Hope your weekend brings you more of what you enjoy most.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Dearest Future Humans,

My Dearest Future Humans,

I think of you now
as I watch a copy
of my apartment building
rising where there once
was nothing, a dirt lot
that must once have been
something else, the ground
just doesn’t grow bald
and flat and level.

I think of you, Future Ones,
Pre-Ghosts, in a town hall meeting:
slow ceiling fans, a podium,
a roomful of distressed parents
not even a twinkle in your
parents’ parents’ eyes yet.

What are we going to do about
that old Liberty Lane complex
you are asking, about our just now
being-built building. It’s time to rip
that hazard down, been abandoned
now for so many years.

I’m trusting you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Windows Make Shadows

Windows Make Shadows

Windows make shadows
of windows and shadows

of the rooms they belong
to. The two cats belong

to their window, directly
across the street, directly

at eye level with me while
I put on my sweater. While

I feed one arm into a sleeve,
they watch. I dangle the sleeve,

four yellow eyes swivel
in the dark, dart and swivel,

billiard balls with black cores.
No human home, apple cores

and lipstick-spotted coffee cup
and fitted sheet refusing to cup

the corner of the mattress. No
lady over there, just here, no

figure in the mirror, just this body,
and the mirror’s slouching body.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Not On My Watch

Not On My Watch

Between one sound and the next sound
is also a sound, as a forest is tree,
air, tree, light, air, plant, fog, tree,
tree, tree, air, tree, tree, air, air.
We know what nothing looks like,
we think, staring at air, dust, cobwebs,
the edges of the masks of our faces
that we peer through, like windows.
No forever in Timeville, not on my
watch, no hand to track infinity,
no infinity without a finite thing
inside it to count.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

Currently reading/watching/enjoying:

This mesmerizing video, “Shutters Shut, ” by the Nederlands Dans Theater. The choreography is set to Gertrude Stein’s “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso, ” and it is amazing. What a poem looks like (well, what a poem by Stein looks like!). 

This article, “The Most Romantic Story Ever Told,” by Aimee Bender (in the LA Review of Books). Bender discusses fairy tales, and investigates the enduring popularity of Beauty and the Beast. I love her interpretation of why readers/viewers root for the Beast. She explains, “We grow attached to the beast because we love who he is. We love that he is a beast, that he is rough-edged, moody, troubled; kind, connected, and real.”

This awesomely strange poem, “Information Kiosk,” by Jason Bredle (in Anti--). I am also reading his new book, Carnival (from the Akron Series in Poetry). More on that later...

What are you reading/enjoying?

Thursday, October 11, 2012



All I ask is that a bench be placed here
in orbit (I understand there’s no space
anchor yet), near the edge of a serene
black hole, and that, along the back,
right between the sitter’s shoulder blades,
there is a silver plaque, on which, in an
attractive font, is written: In loving memory
of memory, hers and yours, and all thoughts
that have yet to be spilled, spat out, or spun,
and may you experience pockets of reverie
. And if you wouldn’t mind, dear, armrests.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012



Teak is particleboard,
everything is. Contiguous,
cohesive, dense as the contents
of a vacuum bag. You know
how experience can shimmer
when it seems sewn together,
a sequined scarf, shaken,
jingling. How the edges
of memory and observation
reach for one another,
the fiery Red Maple leaves
this afternoon become
the damp leaves you’d gather
in your hands and throw,
the reverberating clatter
of the rake if it scraped
pavement or stone instead
of grass.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Grocery List on the Fridge Is Cave Art

The Grocery List on the Fridge Is Cave Art

and magnet-trapped postcard, height chart

along the door frame, coupon clipped
out for your coffee, your name in script,

almost unrecognizable, on a wedding
invitation. Also art: sofa you’re dreading

replacing, jar of screws and bolts that go
to something, a futon of five years ago,

a flimsy shelf. The blinds you break
a little every day, the teeth you take

more seriously now that some are stained,
the empty phone jacks, the well-maintained

counter with its few pasta sauce spots,
the darkened underside of pans and pots.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Heritage Tree

Heritage Tree

Not the clearing, the woods.
Not the lesser magic of birds

thrown into the air, then gone,
but the 175-year-old Heritage Tree,

the great-great-great grandbaby
squirrel skittering where her ancestors

once skittered. Not the flowers,
but these unmelting candles,

who cannot leave the way they
came in. Oh woods, teach me

how to grow in stillness, how
to be a maker of the dark.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Process Video: Flourless

Happy Multimedia Friday! Time for another process video. This video takes you behind the scenes (OOH! SCANDALOUS!) of my poem "Flourless."

As a new experiment, I've added some "asides" for you--I narrated my thinking process in additional text file for your "pleasure" (more like your added neuroses--my apologies for my scattered brain!).

Process Video (with Asides)--Flourless from Hannah Stephenson on Vimeo.

I've noticed a few changes in how I work, certainly....more certainty and trust that I can write SOMETHING, but less of a plan or strategy going into my writing sessions (for instance, I thought for sure I'd write something rhymed when I wrote this poem, and then I didn't--or recently, I've though, ok, today I want to write a LONG poem, and then I write a little 8-line ditty).

What's new in your process these days? Any changes you're noticing?

Thursday, October 4, 2012



To make food taste better, add
hunger. Add absence.

I want to bake, but I have no
eggs, so I start to type

my ingredients into the search bar:
flour, I write, and up comes

flour sugar butter, before I finish
my list. What if we named

recipes for what they are not,
and we do, sometimes:

flourless cake, no-bake cookies.
The mind sifts back in

the flour, the oven. I can take
my mind off my hunger,

out of my body, trap it in a bowl
in a cabinet. If you want

to make a pie from scratch, home-
made, whole-made, first

you have to invent your hunger,
then you have to hear it,

the pleasure you call into your mind,
flour sugar butter

suspended in beams of light, the future
asking you for life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Thigh Master

Thigh Master

If you squeeze your thighs together
you can make them smaller. Erosion

of the body, voluntary erosion, carving
out the smaller you, the slim, green shoot

protruding from the garlic clove, running
through its core. While leading me through

a gym, trying to sell me a membership,
the sales rep was stumped. You mean,

you don’t want to lose any weight,

she kept confirming, aghast, like

zero pounds, like no weight at all
Lady, I thought, let’s not plot to banish

my flesh. A body will wander from itself,
ascend, return, and wander off again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fake Flowers

Fake Flowers

The idea of the flower,
petals cut from creased
polyester, glue dew drops,
flexible stems of green
plastic tapering at the ends,
where, if you nicked
the casing, there would be
wire exposed, waiting
to be twisted up against
the end of another wire,
not to make a bomb,
to make a wreath in honor
of the undying, which no
season calls us to celebrate.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

Currently reading and enjoying:

The Poetics of Reverie, Gaston Bachelard (1960). I was practically live-tweeting my reading experience of this book, I’m loving it so much (though I stopped myself, so as to not be too obnoxious). Bachelard is unafraid of the exclamation mark--I equally enjoy his ideas and style (it comes across as so endearing and surprising). Here’s a swoony tablespoon for you:
“Whoever lives for poetry must read everything. How often has the light of a new idea sprung for me from a simple brochure! When one allows himself to be animated by new images, he discovers iridescence in the images of old books. Poetic ages unite in a living memory. The new age awakens the old. The old age comes to live again in the new...What benefits new books bring us! I would like a basket full of books telling the youth of images which fall from heaven for me every day.....For, up there, in heaven isn’t paradise an immense library?” (25).

Tight Spaces: Hard Architecture and How to Humanize it, Robert Sommer (1974). Speaking of the joys of immense libraries, I checked this book out this week. Sommer’s book is fascinating--he is questioning the ever-increasing hardness of architecture (think of how many public structures use steel, concrete, and glass), and links it to “a desire to maintain order, discipline, or control” (3). I particularly enjoyed his chapters on airports and university classrooms. (Thanks to Christopher Schaberg for the recommendation of this book, via Twitter---check out his blog and book, The Textual Life of Airports).

This poem, “Never-ending Birds,” by David Baker. I was lucky to have had him as a professor in grad school (I admire his work so much, and am grateful for his generosity and wisdom as a teacher). I heard him read at the Riffe Gallery last night---wonderful as ever!

This post about a 100 square foot writing studio/retreat (called Watershed), designed by a company called FLOAT (directed by Erin Moore). Be sure to check out the stunning photos. Thanks to my Uncle Jerry for bringing this place to my attention!

As always, I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

There’s the Body

There’s the Body

There’s the body we have
and the one we alter.

There’s the collective body
of which we are cells.

There’s the body we point to
in portions as babies,

to learn the maps of our parts,
head, shoulders,

knees, toes, our version of
the table of contents.

There’s the body escaping
from us, early on,

the nose a grandfather steals
and shows to us

in his fist, the baby partially
disappearing from

mom or dad under the blanket,
Where’s the baby,

there she is! There’s the body
we want to be rid of

while still living, misty and light.
There’s the body

we speak of to doctors, telling
symptoms as we’d

describe the noises our sick car
makes to a mechanic,

a clack-clack-clack, a wheeze.
There’s the body

we once imagined for ourselves,
long-haired, long-legged

teenager, the body we once thought
we had, thick, fleshy,

but was not how we were, we see,
by looking at a photo

of us. There is the body that others
tell us we have, staring.

There is the body we forget about
while sleeping for hours,

the mind in the body, the hamster
in the wheel. There is

the body we tend to, trimming,
scrubbing. The body

that stirs or aches, to tell us when
to stop or rush,

there is the body you can’t feel
within you, a fridge

with full shelves and drawers.
There is the body

that is yours and the body that
you cannot keep.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

If You’re Lucky

If You’re Lucky

The unrelenting clarity
of a brick wall, of a concrete
floor ringed with paint where
a can has been set down and lifted,
as a steamy, dripping coffee cup
marks the wood of the table.
A pool with a deep end only,
marble walls, no lights
A shore to cap up the ocean,
brakes and a handsy guardrail.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. Can of Worms

Mr. and Mrs. Can of Worms

Mr. and Mrs. Can of Worms
have his-and-hers worms,

monogrammed with a blue
or purple cursive W.

There are the parties they plan
and the parties that they have.

They have a hot air balloon
coupon, expired for a few

years now, still in an envelope
in a drawer. They coo and dote

over the aloe plant, renounce
chemical cleaners for two ounces

of white vinegar in a spray bottle
mixed with water. A lover’s squabble

is what they call their wormy wrath,
withered and soft from a long bath.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Drawing Richard Harrow

Jack Huston as Richard Harrow (photo via DeviceFX:    

When viewers of Boardwalk Empire are introduced to Richard Harrow, the first thing we notice about him is that he looks lonely and sad. He’s sitting alone, in front of a window in a veterans’ hospital, and when he turns toward us, we see that half his face has been burned off (and permanently, irreparably damaged).

Ah, here’s my person on this show, I thought.

Many popular current TV dramas (Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy, and yes, Boardwalk Empire) feel Middlemarch-y (these four, especially, could be released in a special edition box set called “AMC, FX, and HBO proudly present....Daddy Issues”--it’d have to be a large box). These shows recreate a historical context and conflict, onto which they project personal stories and power struggles.

Boardwalk Empire
is the Middlemarchiest of the bunch, with overlapping narratives about law, crime, love, and family. Until I find my person in these shows (Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark, I'm looking at you), I’m not fully emotionally invested. Favorite characters provide an anchor in these heavy, often-bloody, multi-volume shows.

Enter Richard Harrow (superbly played by Jack Huston).

The Storialist. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.