Friday, August 29, 2014

School Poems

This week, for me and so many others, school was back in session. It was a fun week of classes (I always look forward to the start of the semester), full of promising energy and new faces and names. For those of you that teach/learn, hope that it is off to a wonderful start...

This got me thinking about poems about teaching and school. It's hard to write about teaching others to write--well, it's hard to do it well. Many teaching poems can wander into condescension, which is not a mode I enjoy reading.

There's the classic "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes...always a good choice. I tried my hand at this one, "Composition," a few years ago. And I really love David Gewanter's "English 1" --it's very poignant. Here's the poem (copied here without permission, only because it's available in its entirety here at Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and because it's a wonderful poem):

David Gewanter

FIRST, We tied to each other

NEXT, Coconuts for the swimming

THEN, The Boat-Soldiers shoot

MEANWHILE, Many dying

AND THEN, We swam with dead People

LATER, We get on the land

FINALLY, We left our dead Friends.

What grade does this exercise deserve?
Homework folded like a handkerchief,

a little book of tears, burns, escape--

And still I mark the blasphemies

of punctuation, common speech;

the English tune will help them live.

Rickety Hmong boy, flirting simply
with the loud girl from Managua--
I taught him how to ask her out,

taught her how to say no, nicely;
my accent and suburban decorums
are tidy and authoritative as

the checks I make for right answers
the rosy golf-clubs on the page.
By next year they'll talk their way

out of trouble instead of smiling
as they do hearing me drone Silent Night--
They join in, shy and hypnotized,

Saigon chemist, cowed Haitian, miming
the words I once told my music teacher
that Jews shouldn't sing: "Holy Infant."


What are your favorite poems about school? I'd love to hear your recommendations. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slow Dance

Slow Dance

The dance is made from gestures toward satisfaction
that never fully satisfy

Falsetto to taffy-pull the time
and plaintive voice full of almost-love

Arms draped around necks and waists in the dark
and the leaning together of bodies

This can be said, and what can be said
is only euphemism

Everywhere there are bodies clanging together

there will one day be no bodies

Every body you give yourself to

will crumble

As with most things pleasure ends
That is how we come to know it

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Water Wings

Water Wings

Oh the overwhelming cuteness of humans
How a large number of us just agreed
without discussion that British Literature
should be referred to in nickname as Brit Lit
Every word can be shortened to carve out
its sweet heart When we fill plastic bags
with air and tie them to the small limbs
of beloved children so in water their body
remains at the surface Floaties we call them
Slipped on like strong orange muscles grasping
their arms outside the skin Translucent hands
of all who yearn only to protect this child

Tuesday, August 26, 2014



It’s not so much that time is money
but that money is a metaphor for time

We can slow its blur to a silver coin
A small flat circle Think of the penny

we flatten to a thin oval A penny made
by squishing a penny beyond its borders

An important quality of coins is
they should make a sound when dropped

and they should fit in the belly of
a plastic pig If you covet a thing

turn it over to read the meaning it has
been given It wants to be owned

It is brimming with your own desire
That’s why it ends in 99

Monday, August 25, 2014

It Has Learned to Feed Itself

It Has Learned to Feed Itself

This air plant never tires of clinging
to rock
It never thirsts

It only knows how to hang on
and to sort the invisible

This is water
This is food
That is the empty part of air
that we must not resent for lacking
what we need

The song of the air plant goes
Man, this cliff-face sure is cozy
and look what the wind wants to bring me

Friday, August 22, 2014

Waiting on My Bookshelf...

So many slim books! This week's shelfie, from top to bottom:

Thursday, August 21, 2014



No no no I say it emphatically to the pumpkin beer
in mid-August appearing in the grocery store
It isn’t fall yet but it will be If the calendar
could just hold still There are those of us
trying to take its picture but all we get is a blur
It seems strange that August 1 2014 has already
ended Seven of the months have toppled over
We accept this but on delay Instead of feeling
one age or another we start to memorize the year
we were born We remember a number and sing it
inside our face Accidentally we have slipped
a past season in with the current one On occasion
it has been December for half a year On occasion
we have wanted the death of leaves back
in summer Beneath the palm trees a root cellar
awaits Screw the hourglass No wait unscrew it
and take a swig

Tuesday, August 19, 2014



The tree becomes a shelter
for its own fallen limbs
One reclines in the shade flapping a leaf
in greeting

When I was in high school I thought
that the best dates happened
in parks like this one

and in this park specifically

with its groundskeeper’s cottage at its center

The park participates in the illusion
that love constructs an instant privacy

and you can think
All of this is ours
Everyone in the park can think this

Monday, August 18, 2014

Just Wild Enough

Just Wild Enough

The unmown grass a green ocean splashing
up around you
as if you weren’t even there

The sun and rain have pulled the high tide
from these fields each week

These are blankets yanked by the beloved
asleep beside us

Each week we take part of what stirs

Friday, August 15, 2014

Katherine Bernard and Henry Review

Still from Katherine Bernard's "Thirsty," via The WILD
Recently, I was reading The WILD magazine (a fashion/arts publication I really enjoy). I especially like their art section. A week or so ago, they'd posted a short video by writer Katherine Bernard, and a Q & A with her.

The video is called "Thirsty," and it portrays a conversation between two women while they are both shopping online for clothes. It's not a narrative at all--rather, it deconstructs the absurd language of clothing and branding. For example..."Look at the broken-boyfriend, in the soft Hickman wash," one of them says to the other, while a movie still of a beaten-up Leonardo DiCaprio flashes across the screen. "I actually like the destroyed boyfriend..." the other replies. HA. "Boyfriend" branding is a huge pet peeve of mine...why must a jacket belong to a man before it can belong to a woman? What is the appeal of borrowing/not owning a garment?

Please watch the video (just scroll down the page a little, and you'll see it). It's just a few minutes long, and completely hilarious and clever. The short Q & A is great, too.

After watching THAT video, I was pulled into the rabbit hole after Katherine Bernard, the director. She runs Henry Review, which is a video reading series. I absolutely LOVE this idea!!

The short videos feature authors reading work into the camera (mostly work that they have written, but a few of them read work by someone else). There are also some short interviews up on the site.

The idea of an all-online reading series is pretty exciting to unites a few of my interests. The only thing I wish about the Henry site is that its videos were embeddable. I'd love to include them here, but they are only available on the site itself. I can understand why they'd made that decision (they need exclusive content for their site), but I always think that the more sharable things are, the more they will grow. I wonder if they'd ever make a few of the videos embeddable...that would work nicely, I think (like when print journals feature a few of their pieces online, and the rest are only available if you purchase the issue).

I noticed plenty of fiction readings on the site, which is nice...varying levels of comfort from the readers (which makes sense, of course, and I actually like). A standout for me was this video of poet Lizzy Straus reading her piece, "Signs You Are Really a Mermaid" (the image below is a still from that video). But I'd definitely recommend exploring all the videos and seeing what strikes your fancy (Kathleen Hanna reads on there, and Sigrid Nunez). Also....they are open for submissions! (I just may have to submit something, and hope some of you do, too).

Lizzy Strauss's reading on Henry Review

Thursday, August 14, 2014



The chased apple leads to the end
of the chase, and still, what you know
is you want it. Look at an apple
and you feel it in your hand, hold it
and know its taste, the end of summer.
Green of the weeds that split the street,
a color that cuts and pulls away.
Bowl of fruit, bowl of ridiculous fruit
ridiculous for how we place them all
together in the illusion of family,
apple on banana on orange,
all in a basket, maybe one green apple
that has tumbled free. For centuries
we try to get this right, and it becomes
a message: look at this fruit in front
of me, use my eyes, let all else drop
and hold onto that mouthful of nothing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It Takes a Pet to Know a Pet

It Takes a Pet to Know a Pet

Fat furry bee, let’s make amends.
What you want and what I want are not so different.
I’ll let you borrow my flowers for dinner
and you let me live in this house behind them.

Civilization Is Built from Friendships
has never been carved in marble
or tossed gently into the dark from marquee lights.
Let us propose it from a place of safety.
The compost worms will sing their song
of all we have thrown away.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

You Were a Portal Once

You Were a Portal Once

Ghost of a mirror
with a nail for a brain

Now that the weight of you is gone
what I want to ask you is this

Are you free or are you missing
or have you made a home in waiting

Monday, August 11, 2014

From One Thing to Another

From One Thing to Another

Where does the truth of the cake
come from The filling or the cake
There are also consequences of
buttercream frosting The mouth
of a taster is one complicated place
Who you have gone out walking with
and who you have been in that coat
and who flits from west to east within
your thoughts becoming your kite
Oh ye of many selves A full sink
containing suds and delicates
forgetting their stains in the bath
In a dream I had an argument with
a scholar He was shouting at me
You can’t just go from one thing
to another thing to another and
call this a poem This is not poetry
And I was saying calmly Sir
That is exactly what I’ll do

Friday, August 8, 2014

Part and Parcel: Matt Mauch

I read Matt Mauch's second book, If You're Lucky is a Theory of Mine, while sitting in the waiting area of an auto repair shop (new tire). The wait went more quickly with these intense, funny, high energy poems, and it was one of those the world-inside-the-book-became-the-world-outside the book moments. I noticed wheels, and gears, and pulleys everywhere in the book, and I asked him some questions about this. His response is FASCINATING--read our exchange below.

 Note: After the interview below, read “Brilliant machine that I am” and "When you start your car and remember you left something you need in the house, think of engaging the emergency brake not as means, but as end," both of which appear with permission from the author. Order your copy of If You're Lucky is a Theory of Mine here.   

Q: While reading your book, I kept noticing machines, gadgets, and mechanical systems (often, these are related to cars). What are your thoughts about machinery? What, if any, is the relationship between poetry and machinery?

A: I grew up in a place where it wasn’t uncommon to boast that you’d rebuilt an engine. While I only ever rebuilt a lawnmower engine, in shop class, under expert supervision, I knew people (quite a few) who rebuilt car and truck engines, pretty much all on their own, sometimes to spec (pickup engines, say), sometimes for higher performance (Mustang, GTO, and Road Runner engines were likely to be rebuilt this way). No matter what you’re rebuilding, no matter the purpose of the final product, the questions that hang over everything you do are, “Will it start?” and “If it does, how well will it run?”

Those questions are analogous to the questions I ask myself when I write poems. The meticulous work one does (fractions of fractions of fractions of an inch make all the difference in the world) when rebuilding an engine is like the meticulous work one does when making a poem.

I knew a guy who had 1968 Mustang fastback, with an engine rebuilt for high performance—so much so that it could barely idle—and he used it to leave tire marks (two of them; it had some sort of limited-slip differential, and you can Google “limited-slip differential” if that sounds like gibberish) from the main doors of the high school (in the small Midwestern town where I grew up) all the way to the street—about 30 or 40 yards total. The rubber melded to the concrete, or so we all believed, given that none of the industrial cleansers the janitors used could remove the marks, which stood for years (for all I know, they could still be there) as a testament to the engine-rebuilder’s perseverance, luck, etc., in the same way that a great poem stands as a testament to the poet’s perseverance, luck, etc.

Rebuilding an engine, though, I suppose, analogy-wise, is more akin to writing a sonnet than it is to writing the kind of organic-form poetry I write. But I had people in my formative years who taught me about that, too—about organic form—the most influential being my grandfathers (especially my maternal grandfather, Greg Kass*) and my dad, who saw every broken thing as an opportunity to test their ingenuity. If something mechanical broke, they studied it, looked around their garages and basement tool shops for wire and whatnot (Vice Grips® were often used as both a tool and a working part of the final solution), and set about to fix the thing. More often than not, they succeeded. A broken window fan, in their hands, might enter its next life with an unorthodox switch on it, but you could still turn it on and off and adjust the speed from low to medium to high and back.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Shady Valley

Shady Valley

Thank god there are no holes to fall into
and we can assume that all of this is grass
and under it the docile dirt

There are many assumptions we make
about the Earth, our planet, our pet

which is funny
but not to us

because a pet does not know it’s a pet

An appropriate amount of water continues to fall
over Shady Valley so that it remains lustrous
and not a swamp

No alligators here
No wolves

Sleep can find us here

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Summer Break

Summer Break

If a woman sits outside for two hours
and returns home with eleven mosquito bites

how many bugs should she be angry with
and how many should she forgive

The jagged weeds I evicted from between
the marigolds fill half a brown yard waste bag

and when I fold the bag over it looks like
it holds an enormous lunch

I want to take marker to it and on it write the name
of an enormous child

Is this what an adult should do
I have stayed up till all hours wondering this

I am wringing extra hours from this day
just to squander them

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

So We’ve Heard

So We’ve Heard

This patch of quiet seconds is a symbol
for silence For a moment you close in on
how disturbance falls away The branch
slouches The neighbor’s dog’s collar
jingles out of the yard How much is
an example worth My currency has
always been the image or a portrait
of a sound you recognize A clearing
away of sound What does that sound
like The patio grows serious around me
and then together we listen for the future

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Rules of Satisfaction

The Rules of Satisfaction

To the canary-satiated felines who soon lack
their canary I wish I could console you
A snake slurps down a caterpillar and thinks
You call that a meal

Satisfaction has a half-life
For Pete’s sake life has a half-life
Accept this into your heart for Pete
whoever he is

From inside the belly
a creature made from what it misses

Friday, August 1, 2014

All Hail the Mighty Creamsicle!

Hope you're enjoying summer, friends! Happy August.

The Storialist. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.