House Under Construction

You step out your door for a moment to go to the mailbox, and boom. Your sturdy house that one moment ago was right there, is gone in a poof, as if zapped by a miles-high, space invader somewhere above the clouds.

So it feels sometimes for the poet whose manuscript has been rejected by a press.

And maybe a week later, zapped again. And then again.

But it’s not only the zap! that stuns. It’s the note in the mailbox, which, in most cases, is impersonal, if not a form rejection slip. There you stand amidst the rubble, beginning to pick up the pieces (if you’re insanely dogged and haven’t gone fetal) and you have no clue why, other than that you just purely suck and have no artistic future.

It’s got to be the order of the thing. Maybe I should move the last 5 poems to the beginning.

I bet that opening poem is just too new.

I haven’t published enough individual poems in journals. I knew it. 

The cover letter must be off-putting. 

I bet the judge knows the contest winner well. Or wants to. 

This editor just doesn’t like poets with names like mine. 

The manuscript shouldn’t be 51 pages. I should make it 52 pages. Even numbers are better. And 5 + 2 = 7, and that’s my lucky number. 

Maybe My Funky Pajamas is the wrong title. 

Fact is, we just don’t know, in most cases. We’re left to wonder (okay, obsess) about what is obviously so GodAwfulWrong with our poems, with our manuscript, with us. And if we’re not careful, these initial frustrations may lead to deeper emotional traumas, a crushing lack of confidence, even conspiracy theories of every imaginable kind about the cruelty of editors, the incestuous poetry publishing world. (Or so I’ve heard. Of course I would never sink to such levels of irrational postulating.)

Well, if you’re standing on a pile of rubble scratching your head, allow me to recommend the Colrain Manuscript Conference. Started and facilitated by poet, editor and teacher Joan Houlihan, this conference meets multiple times a year in varying (but always beautiful) locations. The goal in these brief but busy conferences is, of course, to help poets tighten the screws of their hopeful books-to-be.

Having a manuscript that I felt confident in but that been zapped a few too many times, I was excited to attend, and having just returned, I must tell you: it was well worth it. I knew the conference featured top-notch editors; I knew we’d be working on making our manuscripts better. But I wasn’t sure just how. Well, let me tell you—the work began a few weeks prior to the conference. I’d already been in deep with my manuscript, cutting and slashing, moving poems around, re-ordering. Then came the “pre-conference assignments,” that involved getting in much deeper by isolating what were, in my mind, the best and worst poems in the collection, considering the order, listing titles, writing in prose about the aims of the collection, and more. By the time the day of the conference came around, I was already exhausted, and holding a far better manuscript in my hands.

Then came the conference (!)—where for two days on gorgeous Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, my manuscript was scrutinized by the brilliant faculty, and the other poet-participants, and yes—by me, watching as new good holes opened in clumped-up sections, as poems I thought were less-than-great rose higher due to better placement, as weak poems fell away. The environment was good-edgy, everyone eager to get their money’s-worth, to trim and cut and slash and rattle their manuscripts into collections en route to publications.  The participants were an exciting range of styles and experience, some newer to the art and/or publishing, others who had a book under their belt and were trying to publish a second, others who were veterans of the conference, but all of whom were passionate, hard-working poets engaged and persistent, hoping for a boost on the long road to publication.

And as for conspiracy theories about wizards behind the curtain or cruel editors with flamethrowers torching piles of manuscripts and laughing? Pure bunk. Here were editors and poets, in the case of my conference faculty (it changes conference to conference), who, prominent as they are, were some of the friendliest, most down-to-earth and most passionate readers of poetry I’ve ever witnessed, offering us a rare and pure transparent glimpse into their editorial process and the thinking they do—while reading our manuscripts aloud to the group—a process poets aren’t often privy to. They could be tough on the poems, on the manuscripts, yes, and thank goodness(!), but their insight was so staggeringly dead-on, their critical connections so complex and instantaneous, that, frankly, I caught myself gasping a few times. I gained a great deal as a teacher, too, and can’t wait to bring some of these new skills back to my students.

It was a terrific experience: editors at the same table with poets and busy with a mutual task—doing the micro-work of the poetry workshop on a more macro-level, widening (and narrowing) the lens, helping us to get a clearer picture of the book inside the manuscript, while also offering their insights and wisdom about publishing trends and giving advice related to the highly competitive world of poetry publishing.

I returned home with a manuscript that had been twisted and jostled, cracked and tweaked, but whose spine is now much better aligned. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more editing to do, so I can get this latest draft in the mail soon.


The Light Beyond the Body

Last night I mulled with friends the question of psychic abilities, specifically if it might be possible for one to either transmit or receive, either consciously or accidentally, the thoughts of others. I loved the idea, but, as usual, leaned toward the Big No. We also discussed the experiment–that the molecular structure of water could be supposedly altered by one shouting mean things at it, or by cooing to it. I love this thought, too. But No.

And today, as my wife and I walked through the cemetery (because what better place to feel more alive in your jogging shoes) we considered this same question,  along with the question of whether it is possible that there are fields of energy so to speak–that we, as human beans, may have the power, perceived or not, to enliven or enervate. She, as a dedicated yogi, believes this without a shred of doubt; in fact, the practice of yoga is, among other things, a way to cultivate that very energy, that invisible field beyond the body, that my wife says extends 9 feet. (Big No said to her, always the logician–well, so, on days when my “energy” is “bad,” just stand 9.1 feet away).

I was willing to offer that I do truly believe that we have tremendous effect on the so-called “energy” of a space–considering I, for one, can, and have, driven a fat black stake with my mopes straight through the light of another’s blissful moment with my cynicism, and (though very rarely) vice-versa. This, however, I chalk up to non-verbal cues, the emotional waves we cause with our glances, with our body language. I have even dubbed it “sitting in the middle of the trampoline,” when one brings their dark psychic weight into a space, causing others to tumble toward them. And conversely, it seems, or at least it would follow logically, that one can be a lifter–that one can, with a smile, a joke, a brightness, LIFT those around them. Perhaps. And again, I lean (maddeningly) toward the palpable, the concrete, the physical realm of explanation–that we can effect each other’s moods, outlooks, moments–by the physical, verbal or nonverbal expression of our emotions. About that I have no doubt.

But can we cause quivers in the “energy”–in some supposed field–of a space, with our mind, our spirit, our psyche, our own energy field?

Again, I lean toward the Big No. Which is something of an “I Don’t Know” in disguise. Deeper down, it’s a Big I Don’t Know, but sometimes it’s fun to wield the Big No, like a little caveman thumping the Earth with a big No drumstick. I even sometimes like to point my Big No at the sky and shake it around.

Wing’d Muse moving my artsy little pen? Big No.

Psychic Energy? Fun idea, but No.

Crystal emanating a quasi-divine Kryptonite? Big No.

God watching over us? Lord forgive my Big No, but maybe No, or No, Maybe.

But what about prayer? What about the millions around the earth, in meditation? Imagine (ssssshhhh, Big No) the luminous waves of millions in meditation, in prayer, in hopeful contemplation?

What about the breath of a child, speaking to a tree–as I often did as a child (um and OK, maybe did recently: little yes) and believing–NO–knowing that tree is a willing confidant. Or that flower or butterfly. Or those who speak their troubles to the Wind.

Who am I with my Big No to say that doesn’t work? Maybe I need to stuff my Big No into my mouth until it sprouts a Yes tree.

A few hours ago, I read a Facebook status by my dear friend Charlie Brice, who wrote that last night his wife Judy was in so much physical pain last night that he decided to share with her one of my poems. He said it helped her, that it made Judy–if only for that short while, feel better. I was deeply moved by that. (But deep down, what did my niggling little Big No say to that?–Well, that’s simple, said Big No: it distracted her from the pain. There was nothing spiritual happening.)

Big No……NO.

Maybe here is where I draw the line.

I’ve never gone to the blank page to be frivolous (though frivolity better be a major ingredient), to fling words around until they make a shape. To write a poem for the sake of writing a poem. No. I go to the page–I write a poem because I have been stirred by enough poems to know that they make shapes of the air, and that those shapes enter the ear and the heart of the listener and the reader, and that they alter what’s down there. I have felt the glow of poems, have felt them get into my blood. And I hope my poems do the same for others. I spend a long time making poems–knowing if I find the  right notes they might just make a song that will stir another, soothe them, rouse them. After all, I’ve seen the hairs of my arms stand-on-end after reading a poem, or listening to a song. I’ve felt, perhaps, my own molecules change shape while standing before a painting. Maybe have even felt the Light Around My Body stir.

So YES. Big Yes (for a moment anyway) to this Light Around the Body, to this Field, and to US, to the way we stir each other’s energy, molecule by molecule, whether by a glance, or by our breath, or by, here’s a thought: (Why Not, Big No?) a thought.

It’s a pleasant idea, anyway. And you know what they say about ideas.


Winter Mind

Often in winter, the first stanza of Wallace Stevens’s terrific poem, “The Snow Man” pops into my head. “One must have a mind of winter / To regard the frost and the boughs / Of the pine-trees crusted with snow…”

So today I revisited the poem and it was wonderful to hold this perfectly packed ice-ball of a poem in my hands again. It is a brilliant piece and thrills me with each visit, with each re-reading.

Already this season has brought much snow and some brutal cold, and we have a long way to go. I hope, like Stevens’s snow man, I might find some way to be winter-minded, to merge enough with winter’s bare facts so as not to impose any of my cluttered etchings upon its blank canvases, in order to behold the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

Part of the perfect enigma of this poem is that Stevens seems to hint that we, not being Nothing enough as the snow man, may not be able to experience such an empty eye enough to see winter bare and true as it is, that we may not be able “not to think / Of any misery…”

But to be like the snow man, or to “have a mind of winter” suggests to me a slowing down, a stillness, a halt. I needed this reminder today, when I’ve been at such cross-purposes with winter’s quiet calm. I need to stand still and watch—to be a better listener in the snow.


One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-Wallace Stevens, 1921

Pints and Poems (and Vinyl!)

Thanks to the packed house at Harmony Brewing Co. last evening in Grand Rapids who came out to hear the reading by Diane Wakoski, Patricia Clark and me. The beer was decent, but the poetry was better. It felt great to resurrect the Prophet, and to unleash his doomsaying over the crowd. Raucous and rollicking host Michael Sikkema runs a great show in that private upstairs room behind the bar–the Pints and Poetry Series, nearly a year old, is thriving.

Prior to the reading, I also thoroughly enjoyed some downtown record-hunting at Vertigo Records with my friend Jay. He scored some Fugazi and Cult. I bought some favorites, the debut albums of Okkervil River and The Rural Alberta Advantage, and decided to snag the new Bill Callahan, while I was at it. After Ye Olde Recorde Shoppe, Jay and I headed to Brewery Vivant, where we caught up with one of my favorite poets, the wonderful Linda Nemec Foster, and her husband, Tony.  If you’ve never been to Brewery Vivant, make it your next dinner destination in GR, the beer is stunning, the food fantastic, and the atmosphere incredible; it’s in what looks like a mini abbey/cathedral, though I learned it is actually an old funeral home. The spirits are tasty, and the beer far from dead.

Grand Rapids: you Rock.

Mellow Fruitfulness

Here in mid-Michigan, it’s been the Autumn of Keats’s Ode: o’erladen, oozing, mellow-misted. On several occasions, running through Island Park, I’ve stopped because I’ve had to, just to take it in, the blaze of reds and golds, the swirling-down leaves, the leaves riding the back of the Chippewa River, so much deep blue sky, and of course those days of fall’s long dragging hem-trailing clouds. Everything feels a turning toward. 

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by so much poetry these recent days, and sometimes even of the written variety. My students continue to amaze me with their bravery to dive in and out of new territories, new forms. I’ve loved diving with them deep into the work of Vievee Francis, Matthew Olzmann, Catherine Wing, Dianne Seuss, Sean Thomas Dougherty. In recent days we were stunned by Sean Thomas Dougherty’s visit to the Wellspring Literary Series. Sean knocked us back into our bodies with his honest voice, his tough and sensual lyricism. After his reading, I had a great time with Sean and students at the Bird, shooting pool, then at home chatting with Sean and my wife late into the night.

A few evenings later, I was hugely fortunate to facilitate a reading by my mentor Thomas Lux, followed by a pilgrimage with Tom the next day to see Roethke’s museum and grave, then lunch in Saginaw, then dinner with my wife, Tom and Bill Knot back at the Fanning abode. Sitting with these two incredible American poets as they shared stories of other famous American poets from over the years, I had to keep picking up my jaw. It is an evening I will never forget. 


Next, I look forward to a reading with Diane Wakoski and Patricia Clark in Grand Rapids on November 3 and a visit by Dianne Seuss to the Wellspring Literary Series on November 4. 

It will be a busy fall and winter of writing new poems, of mining for some new work. In the meantime, I continue to send out my two manuscripts, hoping to secure a publisher for one or both of those. There have been a few tugs on the line and there are some silverfish out glinting in those currents. 

I hope for you, whoever you are, and wherever you are, there has been such abundance, so much nectar in the hours. 


Another Michigan Town Sprouting Poetry

Thanks to the great audience who came out for the first annual north45east reading last night, held at Art in the Loft, a beautiful wide-open gallery space in Downtown Alpena, with huge windows and a view of the lake. I was honored to read with such a lineup of poets, and lucky it was a book-buying crowd, especially as I drove the nearly 3 hours both to and from the reading. Though I didn’t need the confirmation of our state’s beauty, it was a gasp-inducing drive across the fields and forests of Northern Michigan. And I was lucky to not hit an elk or a deer on the way home, winding the back roads beneath the sprawling stars. 

The event’s founders. Anne Bastow Heraghty and Joe Bastow, a brother and sister team, are Alpena natives who have returned to the town of their childhood and are working hard to stir up the poetry fire there. I hope to be fireside in that lakeshore town again as soon as possible. Thanks, Alpena! Image

(Poetry in) Michigan (in Poetry)

Poetry lovers, Michigan lovers, and Poetry in Michigan lovers: you’re bound to love this book. New Issues Press will be publishing a Michigan poetry anthology this October called Poetry in Michigan / Michigan in Poetry, and I’m thrilled to be included in its pages. Edited by celebrated Michigan Poets Bill Olsen and Jack Ridl, the selection is diverse; the poems cover many geographies and states of being within this state. This is a great state of poetry and for poetry, and this book proves it. It’s a weighty text, a 200-pg hardcover, and at that it’s only a slice of poetry; these editors had a tough job not including so many other good poets. I call for a Volume Two!

And speaking of Michigan poetry, I have a great reading to tell you about. Head to Alpena on August 8 for the first annual north45east poetry reading from 6-9pm at Art in the Loft. I’ll be reading with Dennis Hinrichsen, Natalie Ruth Joynton, Keith Taylor, David James, Marc Sheehan, Anne Bastow Heraghty and Joe Bastow. Can’t wait to hear all those voices. 

I’m After a Long Silence

Into a body unfamiliar. Into a poem as into a flesh stepped out of. Now I know I don’t want to know what I know but what the poem wants me to know. I’ve been long gone from the voice of making poems and long gone from the light that’s there–as in a dream we’re long gone from the day, or worse: as in a day and long gone from a dream. I want no more the fear of the unfamiliar. But the ache of my tongue languaging what I can’t say. The opening of the whole sky as if the sky is a body. There is no body. So I am gone enough already. If I have too much of a knowing, I am country and territory, when I’m only land and slipping into sea and sea to begin with. And so I will step into my voice reading poems and hope you will listen this Tuesday. These poems from Severance are the first poems I’ve not made with my hands or voice but by listening. My hands made them of course. But for once they are unruly in all the classroom of the world and not making their letters neatly how the teacher says. They are strangers even to me but I know them and love them and am nourished by their hunger. They open their moths to swallow the light. They are more toward a hum and hush where all the voice goes. Toward a more perfect silence. Here’s one. I hope you will listen. 

Poem of the Day: 5/22/23

OK, I know there’s a practical template for the poet vs. editor poem, or the poet-writing-in-the -form of a rejection letter poem. It can be a bit tiresome. This could be it’s own sub-genre, or could certainly warrant an anthology. However, every once in a while I come across one of these vindictive little revenge poems that more than settles the score. “I Long to Hold the Editor’s Penis in My Hand” by Francesca Bell is such a poem.  In fact, I think this poem could almost serve as a nail in the coffin for this theme. I may just print this one and keep it handy.

Note: Make sure you read that title correctly. I first read it as “…the Editor’s Pens…” and the poem is far less satisfying when read that way. This piece is in the terrific current issue of Rattle, which is one of my favorite journals on the market.


and tell him personally,
I’m sorry, but I’m going
to have to pass on this.
Though your piece
held my attention through
the first few screenings,
I don’t feel it is a good fit
for me at this time.
Please know it received
my careful consideration.
I thank you for allowing
me to have a look,
and I wish you
the very best of luck
placing it elsewhere.

Read more about poet Francesca Bell here, where you can also read more of her poems.

The Sanity of Rain and Poetry

Linda Pastan’s reading this evening was, like her work, clearly dazzling. Especially this evening I felt lucky to walk under an umbrella in this small town to her reading and thankful to hear the sanity, grace and power of poetry in a small, quiet church. Poetry like Linda’s is truly louder than bombs–and reminds me that what draws us together is much bigger and stronger than what tries to rip us apart. Prayers and hope and poetry to those in Boston and every town in the world that experienced such violence, today–and every day.

I must work to fight my own disgust and cynicism–to find the hope beneath, and the faith in humanity. Poetry helps me do that. Here is Linda’s poem Somewhere in the World, from her collection Traveling Light, which is a poem I need today.

Anyone within driving distance of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan tomorrow should gather with us at 2:15 in the Park Library Auditorium at CMU to listen to Linda talk about her art, her life and her art life. 


Thanks to all who came out to the reading at Alma College last week, especially to my students and colleagues who drove down from Mount Pleasant. I read with Chris Dombrowski, who read from his terrific book Earth Again. John Rybicki hosted the reading and the Alma Library was packed; it felt so good to lift up some of my poems and let them leave my throat.

Tomorrow evening I’ll be reading with Matt Roberson at 8pm in the Baber Room of the Park Library at CMU, and am looking forward to hearing Matt’s new stories. His fiction is brilliant; his stories always walking a beautifully tense line between humor and grief. You can buy his books at your local bookseller, and read some stories here. I especially recommend Impotent for your summer reading list.

On April 14, I’ll be teaching a workshop on sound in poetry which is being hosted by the newly formed Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters. GLCL is run by Zachary Tomasziewski, who used to work at Literary Life Bookstore in Grand Rapids. If you’re interested in attending the workshop, grab a spot! 

This spring, I’ll be editing my manuscripts-in-progress, as well as starting a new one, tentatively entitled “The Light and Heavy Chest.” I’m also hoping this summer to write a body of songs, but we’ll see. Mostly, I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch in the early morning, drinking coffee and listening to the birds.

The Fingering Air

In my most recent manuscript, Our Sudden Museum, there is a poem entitled “What is Written on the Leaves.” I wrote that poem in Deerfield Park, here in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, in October a few years ago, on a bench under a maple, surrounded by a blanket of leaves, in a place so quiet I could hear leaves snapping from the trees. It was a place of great peace and quietude; however, I couldn’t hear my own voice due to the incessant hum of grief and fear, of worry. I sat there for a long time before I started writing, hoping I’d find something to say, until I started looking around me at what was there, lying right in front of me, in so many scattered messages.

Today is such a voiceless day. My wife has been mute for the 15th straight day and no tests are telling us why. I miss my wife’s voice. I miss the sound of her laugh. I’m forgetting the sound of it the way I forget what leaves look like, decorating all the bare trees on our street the way they did months ago. And no sun, no spring. And no flowers opening their bright mouths up through the earth. And just for a little icing, today I received a crushing rejection from the editor of a press I’d hoped would want my manuscript. That is a meaningless thing compared to worrying about Denise’s health, I know–but cause to further hold my breath, to feel all the ugly weight the ego can muster in self-defense, self-loathing, in anger at The Universe.

So many reasons to moan.

Or not.

Today, looking for a document in my files, I came across this file of “What is Written on the Leaves” today that I recently recorded. I was excited at the passing thought that the poem will be featured in an anthology of Michigan poets due out later this year. Then I remembered this: A couple years ago I read this poem to an audience at Art Reach Center of Mid Michigan. The next day I received a phone call in my office from an elderly woman who, though she’d long since attended a poetry reading, was in that audience. In her phone message she told me that all of her family members were dead. That all of her friends were dead. And that she too knew her time was coming soon. She lives alone in a senior center nearby, and was asking for a copy “of that poem you read about the leaves letting go…” She wanted “to hold my poem in her hands and read it every day until it was (her) time to go.”  She wanted a copy of it to hold in her hands. To help her live and to help her die.

I will never forget that phone call, and I’ve never had more proof about the reason why I make this art.  When I first wrote a poem, I wrote because I loved words. Because I needed to say something in words and I hoped someone would listen. And that still, is the only reason I write–knowing that if someone–even myself or one other person–will listen, they will hopefully take pleasure and solace in hearing the words, and in that communion we will both be, for a moment, more alive, more connected.

Yes, I hope to publish my work, and I hope this manuscript will be good enough for someone, somewhere, at some point–so the poems can reach more people, ultimately. But ultimately, I must always remember that I don’t write for editors. Not for accolades. Not for prizes. Not for ego. I write a poem because I want to stir the air. Hopefully enough air to break some of the silences between us. To shake dust. “In the space between our bodies, the air has grown small fingers…” says a great lyric by Steve Kilbey of The Church–and that’s what poetry can do.

If only a poem could massage my wife’s throat, bring her voice back from the silence. I wrote her a poem the other day to try to do even that. It’s sitting on her desk, where she’s using her fingers on the keys to speak this moment.

Today I felt as if I’m entering into new darknesses, into places I don’t know that my heart can handle the weight of. There are strong roots under my house unsettling me. I’ve felt them breaking right through my walls in recent days.

So: time to have no walls. And to do what this whole winter has been telling me to do: to lay myself bare. To let the wind come. And to do what this spring, when it comes, will tell me to do: to be strong enough to be supple. To be brave enough to break.

Here’s to the air between us stirring. I hope you enjoy this poem, too. You can give it a listen here.









Is All We Need

I don’t like most holidays–days that line us up like children and make us have the same answer, the same expression, that make us color with the same crayons the same shape the same emotion, and worse: that pressure us to express ourselves with the contents of our wallets. Fucking Scrooge, I know. But yeah, this day has me thinking about love and what that means and who doesn’t have it and why there isn’t enough to go around. And I do wonder if we love our parents, our partners, our children, our fellow shoppers and walkers and passersby and passengers etc more, and in small ways, and in expressive ways and in ways that let them know we love them, even without saying it; I wonder if that kind of love, small as it can be, is the ripple, the stir that becomes tidal, becomes wave big enough to thaw ice. I think of this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, from her book Red Suitcase, which your independent bookseller can order for you.


A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.


Here’s more about Naomi Shihab Nye.

Here’s her poem read by a Lake Wobegonian.

I hope today and every day you love your loves and they love you back.

Poem of the Day: 2/4/13

Because we’ve seen this before: this thug season loosens its grip on our throat. Let’s us go. Here’s one for the changing light. And one for what’s encoded in those ice encrusted twigs. The buds to be. And soon more of those mishap warm days. I love how Susan Blackwell Ramsey’s poem captures all of this–that the genetic coding in what seems errors, might just be luck. Her poem below is featured in the Marlboro Review. This first line had me in its sonic grip. And I love the internal rhyme of this piece, the pacing of it. And the verbs: “ferns” and “bitchslapped” in the same poem? “Blizzard babies”? Nice. Remember, shiverers. What begins with sidewalk ice will end with love.


Sidewalk ice so thin frost ferns its surface,
cat-ice. February sheathes claws to let us think
we might escape. It’s toying with us. Wind
that bitchslapped me last week today plays with my hair.
On bare twigs house finches are improvising riffs
no female finch with any sense will heed.
The bird that breeds now will hatch blizzard babies
which would die and take those fool genes with them.
Still, the angle of the sunlight prods,
the air is soft and what if they were right,
what if this is anomaly, an odd
but permanent early spring? Maybe those fledglings
would survive, mate and spread recessives for luck,
just the way others in my family tree
took the right boat, chose to leave Oklahoma,
went rollerskating a certain afternoon
in Detroit in nineteen forty two
so that when I looked up, there you’d be.

To read more of Susan Blackwell Ramsey’s work, visit her website. 

And buy her book, A Mind Like This, from Indiebound or The University of Nebraska Press.

Poem of the Day: 1/28/13

Matthew Olzmann, whose first book Mezzanines arrives this April from Alice James Books, is a master of humor, surprise, and heart. I’ll never forget seeing Matthew read, well, perform, that first time in Detroit, several years ago, how stunned I was hearing his poems unfold. His ability to alter the reader’s perspective, to balance hilarity and ugliness, to create tension and surprise. How lucky I was to work with Matthew for several years at InsideOut Literary Arts Project, to hear his new poems, to see his work continue to mature and develop. I look forward to his first book with huge excitement.

The poem below, copied from Issue 6 of Anti- is just one sample from the web. But Google him and read as many poems as you can find before his great book comes. As I’ve been doing, whetting my appetite.



An entire exhibit is devoted
to Billy Nelson of Coatesville, Indiana, age eight.

The crumpled wings of paper planes that sank
like anchors into the rough sea
of living room’s shag carpeting.

The white sheet, once used as a parachute,
now hanging like a flag of surrender.

The stairs from his childhood home—
each one, a former launching pad.

These are all noble entries.

But look to the pedestal at the end of the hall.
See that empty jar?
It’s not empty.

That jar holds the blind faith that fueled his takeoff
on the day that he wore a red cape and safety goggles.

His heart buzzed with jetpacks and rocket fire,
Even the wobbly pigeons from his backyard
soared in this vision.

People told him anything was possible
as long as he believed.
People said this.

Poem of the Day: 1/21/13: Poetry in the Glare

As I watched poet Richard Blanco step to the podium, taking his place in the national spotlight, it was hard not to wonder what my fellow Americans were thinking, particularly those many Americans for whom this might be their only exposure to poetry for a long time. Two stanzas in, I realized that I was clenching my teeth and holding my breath, inwardly cheering for this poet the way one watches a teammate at the free throw line taking a last second shot. I wanted him to be individually successful in this moment, as a poet, to recite well a fine poem, which I believe he did, that tries to capture an American moment as only poetry can. I was rooting for Blanco as one who wears the same throwback jersey.

We may or may not wonder about and/or lament the many reasons poetry no longer occupies a central place in our culture, but it is difficult to argue against that fact. I understand that for many, watching a poet come to the stage must still seem an oddity, and somehow akin to other decorous and traditional curiosities of the day: the cannons firing blanks out on the lawn, the giant gilded portraits of Adams and Madison et al in the Great Hall. Especially following a powerful speech by our fantastically eloquent Commander-in-Chief, and squeezed into the glare between performances by Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce, it’s hard not to ask: What place does poetry occupy? What can it communicate to our culture now?

Unlike some poets, I’m quite cynical about the former question. I recognize that to the wider culture poetry may seem outmoded and peripheral, insular and strange, though I personally feel that poetry remains a thriving river that runs behind the scenes and through the American–and human–spirit, regardless if its din is drowned out. And though many may feel otherwise, regarding the latter question, I know that poetry has something unique and powerful to offer us as individuals and as a nation, and I hope there are some Americans who felt that today in a way they haven’t before, or for some time. (Although apparently it wasn’t Eric Cantor).

Ultimately I’m thrilled, and so grateful to Barack Obama for continuing the tradition of featuring an inaugural poet, and for his proclamation in so doing, that, at its core, answers both questions affirmatively–that poetry has a place on the national stage and still has, centuries later, a message that speaks directly to our humanity, a message that is simple, and, like Blanco’s, that cuts through the pomp and the glare, that reminds us of the sun rising, of a rainbow of fruit, the breath of our songs, of traffic going by, of our work and our hopes, of us looking to the sky, of our many languages, of our one today.

If you missed Richard Blanco’s recital of his inaugural poem, give it a listen!

Radio, Radio

Hi all,

The public radio program “The Poet and the Poem” has launched for this year. A full schedule is below. If you’d like to listen, my interview will be broadcast on January 30. The shows are featured on Pacifica stations nationwide. Or just CLICK HERE!


Program #1: Mississippi Born Natasha Trethewey, U.S. Poet Laureate JAN 9

Natasha Trethewey is the Library of Congress’s Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2012-2013. Born in Gulfport, Mississippi, Trethewey received a BA from the University of Georgia, an MA from Hollins College (now Hollins University), and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts. Her first book of poems, Domestic Work (2000), was selected by former Poet Laureate Rita Dove as winner of the inaugural 1999 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was published by Graywolf Press. Her subsequent poetry collections include Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf Press, 2002), Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), and Thrall (Houghton Mifflin, 2012). In 2010, Trethewey published Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press), a memoir that details the struggles of her family living in Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Her honors include the Pulitzer Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2012, she was appointed the State Poet Laureate of Mississippi.

Program #2: Washington D.C.’s Poet Alan King JAN 16

Alan King is an author, poet, and journalist who lives in the D.C. metropolitan area. He writes about art and domestic issues on his blog at In addition to teaching at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, he’s also the senior program director at the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop, a Cave Canem fellow, and VONA alumnus. Alan is currently a Stonecoast MFA candidate, and has been nominated twice for a Best of the Net selection. He is also a Pushcart Prize nominee. Drift (Aquarius Press, 2012) is his first book.

Program# 3: New Mexico Poet Sheila Black Jan 23

Sheila Black co- edited Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press 2011), which was named a Notable Book for 2012 by the American Library Association. She is the author of House of Bone and Love/Iraq (both CW Press), and two chapbooks, How to be a Maquiladora (Main Street Rag) and Continental Drift with painter Michele Marcoux (Patriothall, Edinburgh UK (ALA). A third full-length collection, Wen Kroy, won the 2011 Orphic Prize in Poetry from Dream Horse Press and is forthcoming in Winter 2012. She was recently selected by Poet Laureate Philip Levine to receive a 2012 Witter Bynner Fellowship in Poetry. She lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with her husband Duncan Hayse and three children, Annabelle, Walker, and Eliza. She works as a Development Officer for the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Foundation.

Program# 4: Michigan Poet Robert Fanning Jan 30

Robert Fanning is the author of two full-length poetry collections, American Prophet (2009) and The Seed Thieves (2006), as well as a chapbook entitled Old Bright Wheel (2002). His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The Atlanta Review, and other journals, and have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. His writing awards include a Creative Artist Grant from ArtServe Michigan, the Inkwell Poetry Award, and the Foley Poetry Award, and he has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize. A graduate of the University of Michigan and Sarah Lawrence College, he is a professor of creative writing at Central Michigan University and lives in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, with his wife, sculptor Denise Whitebread Fanning, and their two children

Program #5: Maryland Poet Alan Britt (Feb. 6)

Alan Britt recently read poems at Manhattan’s Tribute World Trade Center, New Jersey City University’s Ten Year 9/11 Commemoration, and—as part of the We Are You Project—at the Wilmer Jennings Gallery in New York City’s East Village. His poem, “September 11, 2001,” appears in International Gallerie’s Poetry in Art/Art in Poetry issue (v. 13, no. 2, Dec. 2010). His most recent book is Alone with the Terrible Universe (CypressBooks, 2011). Recent anthologies that include his poems are Emergency Verse: Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State (Caparison, 2011); The Poet’s Cookbook: 33 American Poets with German Translations (Forest Woods Media Productions/Goethe-Institut, 2010); American Poets Against the War (Metropolitan Arts Press, 2009); and Vapor transatlántico (Transatlantic Steamer), a bilingual anthology of Latin American and North American poets published in 2008 by Hofstra University Press/Fondo de Cultura Económica/Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Britt teaches English and Creative Writing at Towson University, Maryland.

Program # 6: Maryland Poet Karren Alenier (Feb 13)

Karren LaLonde Alenier is author of six collections of poetry, including Looking for Divine Transportation, winner of the 2002 Towson University Prize for Literature, and On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane and Paul Bowles, new from Kattywompus Press. Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On,her jazz opera with composer William Banfield, premiered at New York City’s Symphony Space’s Thalia Theater in June 2005. Composer John Supko is collaborating with her on How Many Midnights, an opera love story about Jane and Paul Bowles. She writes for Scene4 Magazine at

Program # 7: New Hampshire Poet Baron Wormser (Feb 20)

Baron Wormser is the author/co-author of twelve full-length books and a poetry chapbook. His titles include The Road Washes Out in Spring: A Poet’s Memoir of Living Off the Grid; Scattered Chapters: New and Selected Poems; and a work of fiction entitled The Poetry Life: Ten Stories. In March 2011 his most recent book of poetry, Impenitent Notes, was published. He is a former poet laureate of Maine who teaches in the Fairfield University MFA Program and directs the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. Wormser has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Program # 8: New York State Poet Louis Asekoff (Feb 27)

L. S. Asekoff has published four books of poetry: Dreams of a Work (1994) and North Star (1997) with Orchises Press, and The Gate of Horn (2010) and the verse novella Freedom Hill (2011) with TriQuarterly/Northwestern University Press. His poems have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, and Ninth Letter, and he has received awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fund for Poetry. He attended Bowdoin College, Trinity College (Dublin), and Brandeis University and taught for forty-two years at Brooklyn College where he was coordinator of the MFA Poetry Program and faculty associate of the Wolfe Institute for the Humanities. He lives in Clermont, New York, with his wife, the printmaker Mary Louise Kalin.

Program # 9: California Poet Brian DeShazor (March 6)
Brian DeShazor is a writer, artist, musician, and public broadcaster. He recently collaborated with editor Joanne Griffith on Redefining Black Power: Reflections On The State of Black America (City Lights Books, 2012.) His forthcoming book, The Queer Time Capsule, is an extension of his recent art installation of the same name, exhibited in the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, New York City, 2012. He lectures throughout the country on the history of public broadcasting and its role in the social and artistic movements of the 20thcentury, including African-American civil rights, the black power movement, the black arts movement, women’s issues, LGBTQ rights, and the anti-war movement. He is the producer and host of the program From the Vault on public radio, and Director of the Pacifica Radio Archives in Los Angeles.

Program # 10: Ireland’s Poet Eavan Boland (March 13)
Eavan Boland is the Director of the Creative Writing Department at Stanford University. One of Ireland’s best recognized women poets, Boland’s collections of poems include In Her Own Image (1980), Night Feed (1982), Outside History (1990), and In a Time of Violence (1994). She has also written a prose memoir, Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time (1995), Collected Poems (2008), plus articles and essays. She was raised in Dublin, New York, and London, and since the eighties, she’s been teaching in colleges in Ireland, and in America

Program # 11: Maryland’s Poet Lucille Clifton (March 20)
This is Lucille Clifton’s last interview. She died in 2010.
She was one of the past century’s most beloved and popular poets. The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton was published, posthumously (2012, Boa Editions.) She served as the poet laureate of the state of Maryland from 1979 to 1985. She is owner of Pulitzer Prize nominations for poetry in 1980, 1987, and 1991, the Lannan Literary Award for poetry in 1997, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1997, the Los Angeles Times Poetry Award in 1997, the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Award in 1999, and the National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000 (2000). She was also a National Book Award nomination for The Terrible Stories (1996). Her last book is Voices, Boa Editions, 2008.She is remembered with honor.

Program # 12: ( March 27) a 58:00 Special FEATURING 4 Poets in celebration of Italy’s 2013 ANNO DELLA CULTURA ITALIANA in America; Emily Ferrara, Sabine Pascarelli, Rose Solari, Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Program # 13 + 14 (TBA) Witter Bynner Fellows chosen by Natasha Trethewey

Poem of the Day: 1/15/13

A filmstrip. Its edges gnawed, frayed. The white static hiss in the frame. Image after image. When I read Laura Kasischke, I’m in a dark theater watching strips of film leap, sometimes associatively, from image to image, sensation to sensation. I fill in the gaps. Or don’t. Her poetry finds that space between dream and real, between memory and the present. In Laura Kasischke’s “Near Misses” we’re presented with such a leaping through and across time, here with a central narrative core, as the poet wonders how miraculous it is to navigate through our days, fraught with dangers as life is: so many errant arrows flung at us. So we appreciate what we have, what is before us, what is simple, and miraculous. Where we are, for now, safe.


The truck that swerved to miss the stroller in which I slept.

My mother turning from the laundry basket just in time to see me open the third-story window to call to the cat.

In the car, on ice, something spinning and made of history snatched me back from the guardrail and set me down between two gentle trees. And that time I thought to look both ways on the one-way street.

And when the doorbell rang, and I didn’t answer, and just before I slipped one night into a drunken dream, I remembered to blow out the candle burning on the table beside me.

It’s a miracle, I tell you, this middle-aged woman scanning the cans on the grocery store shelf. Hidden in the works of a mysterious clock are her many deaths, and yet the whole world is piled up before her on a banquet table again today. The timer, broken. The sunset smeared across the horizon in the girlish cursive of the ocean, Forever, For You.

And still she can offer only her body as proof:

The way it moves a little slower every day. And the cells, ticking away. A crow pecking at a sweater. The last hour waiting patiently on a tray for her somewhere in the future. The spoon slipping quietly into the beautiful soup.


This poem is reprinted from, where you can read it–and find out more about Laura Kasischke and her poems, her stories, her novels, and more!

Poem of the Day: 1/14/13

Born in and from the same cell, song lyrics and poems share many of the same elements, and there are still a handful of lyricists for whom a song’s language is not mere afterthought, or something to tack onto a good melody, whose songs are driven as much by the urgency of an idea, of imagery and metaphor, of the power and intricacies of the words themselves, of narrative. I am a poet much less because of the poetry I read growing up, but because of the music I listened to. And I’d still rather hang my words on a melody any day.

In this spirit, and since I’m still walking around singing Neutral Milk Hotel’s catalogue having seen their frontman Jeff Mangum play solo on Saturday night, today’s poem is by Jeff Mangum. A simple test to determine if lyrics are good: remove the song. For many lyrics, this exposes their vapidity or their over-emphasis on rhyme, their lack of anything interesting etc.

Not so with Mangum. Even if you don’t know the tune here: this “poem” itself sings.


Daddy please hear this song that I sing
In your heart there’s a spark that just screams
For a lover to bring
a child to your chest that could lay as you sleep
And love all you have left like your boy used to be
Long ago wrapped in sheets warm and wet

Blister please with those wings in your spine
Love to be with a brother of mine
How he’d love to find your tongue in his teeth
In a struggle to find secret songs
that you keep wrapped in boxes so tight
Sounding only at night as you sleep

Brother see we are one in the same
And you left with your head filled with flames
And you watched as your brains fell out through your teeth
Push the pieces in place
Make your smile sweet to see
Don’t you take this away
I’m still wanting my face on your cheek

And when we break we’ll wait for our miracle
God is a place where some holy spectacle lies
And when we break we’ll wait for our miracle
God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life

Two headed boy she is all you could need
She will feed you tomatoes and radio wires
And retire to sheets safe and clean
But don’t hate her when she gets up to leave


And here’s the song if you want to hear these great words filled with fire.