(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.

I LONG TO HOLD THE EDITOR’S PENIS IN MY HAND

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. 

Horizons

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.

SHOULDERS

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,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

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.

THE GENOME FOR LUCKY

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.

_________________________________________________________

THE GALLERY OF FAILED FLIGHT ATTEMPTS

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!

THE POET AND THE POEM, 2013

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 http://alanwking.com. 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 scene4.com.

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.

NEAR MISSES

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 Poets.org, 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.

TWO-HEADED BOY PT. TWO

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.

Poem of the Day: 1/9/13

Richard Blanco, chosen to deliver a poem for President Obama’s second inaugural address, was, as his bio says: “….made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States—meaning his mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born. Only forty-five days later, the family emigrated once more and settled in New York City, then eventually in Miami where he was raised and educated.”

It is a difficult (and some would say unenviable) task–being the master poet selected to capture the American moment in a poem, and he will be the fifth poet to try, following the footsteps of Robert Frost (John F. Kennedy), Maya Angelou and Miller Williams (Bill Clinton) and Elizabeth Alexander (Obama) but, from what I’ve seen of his work, he’s a terrific poet to do just that.

What a wonderful, amazing fire must be burning in this poet’s heart today, as he sets to the task. I hope great creative currents swirl around his words, his heart, his voice. Today I’m getting to know Richard Blanco better, his beautiful lyricism, his stories, his voice, his way of making the past present, his palpable imagery.

Check out this e-chapbook, to introduce yourself to his work, then do as I’m doing: order his other books today!

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Read more about Richard Blanco here, including poems, interviews, audio poems and much more!

Here is a great NYT article about our new inaugural poet.

Poem of the Day: 1/8/13

You’ve been wondering: how do you get from a squirrel to an ex-husband? Well, here’s your answer. Meg Kearney’s work in her book Home by Now is driven by narrative and her fantastic ability to keep the reader guessing what’s around the corner. I love that her poems begin here, go there, and end over here, taking us on a journey, using line breaks as suspenseful twists that upend our expectations.

CARNAL

I suppose squirrels have their hungers, too,
like the one I saw today with the ass end of a mouse
jutting from its mouth. I was in the park;
I’d followed the stare of a dog, marveled
as the dog seemed to marvel that the squirrel
didn’t gag on the head, gulped so far down
that squirrel’s throat nearly all that was visible
was the grey mouse rump, its tail a string
too short to be saved. The dog and I couldn’t
stop gawking. The squirrel looked stunned himself —
the way my ex, The Big Game Hunter, looked
when I told him I was now a vegetarian.
We’d run into each other at a street fair
in Poughkeepsie. The hotdog he was eating
froze in his hand, pointed like a stubby finger,
accused me of everything I’d thought
I’d wanted, and what I’d killed to get it.

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Purchase Meg’s book Home by Now directly from Four Way Books.

Visit Meg’s website, where you’ll find this poem, and others.

Visit the Solstice Low-Residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College, where Meg is the Director.

Poem of the Day: 1/7/13

Here, on the brink of a new semester, standing on the shore with my students, pushing our poetry longboat out to sea. One set of oars for each of us, and me rowing with them in unison. I will remind my students that this is a craft, this art, that rides on the sea; it’s work, not mystery. There is no goddamned “muse.” No lightning. We make by our sweat and toil a gliding over the water. Or we don’t.

And I will share with them this poem by my mentor Tom Lux. It long has been my mantra, my reminder of the fact: of the work of this art–the chiseling that makes spark. This poem is in Thomas Lux’s New and Selected Poems, which is that cavernous hole in your life–if you don’t have this book. So buy it today. Take the info from this website to your independent bookseller, and they’ll order it for you.

AN HORATION NOTION

The thing gets made, gets built, and you’re the slave
who rolls the log beneath the block, then another,
then pushes the block, then pulls a log
from the rear back to the front
again and then again it goes beneath the block,
and so on. It’s how a thing gets made – not
because you’re sensitive, or you get genetic-lucky,
or God says: Here’s a nice family,
seven children, let’s see: this one in charge
of the village dunghill, these two die of buboes, this one
Kierkegaard, this one a drooling

nincompoop, this one clerk, this one cooper.
You need to love the thing you do – birdhouse building,
painting tulips exclusively, whatever – and then
you do it
so consciously driven
by your unconscious
that the thing becomes a wedge
that splits a stone and between the halves
the wedge then grows, i.e., the thing
is solid but with a soul,
a life of its own. Inspiration, the donnée,

the gift, the bolt of fire
down the arm that makes the art?
Grow up! Give me, please, a break!
You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth’s core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere.
And with that you go to work.

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Here, you learn from Tom, too.

Poem of the Day: 1/6/2013

David Blair, (who went by “Blair” most often, and onstage–and D. Blair in print) knew how to light up the stage and the page. Blair’s death in 2011 ripped a hole in the heart of Detroit, and in so many different worlds. He crossed my mind today, as he often does. And so I picked up his book today and gave it a kiss, and here, let it kiss you back. What a soul this true troubadour Blair had. How lucky I was to know him. Blair’s performances were so angelic; he’d be drenched in sweat–from strumming his guitar, from singing, from reciting his amazing poems. I never wanted to wake up from those dreams. He was one of the most talented, hardest working poets I know, and one of a handful of artists I’ve ever known who bent the steel of the world to conform to his life in art.

He was so good, Blair, at so many things, one of them being the tribute poem–here paying homage to the beauty, power, and enduring force of Motown. In this poem I love how his metaphors of music and race crackle under the needle. The literal ceiling here you can see in the Motown Museum, how the engineers cut a hole in it to create natural reverb. But the figurative ceiling in this poem, like the “border” at the end of the record, is a theme I see in so much of Blair’s work–that sings of limitlessness, of music that goes beyond the walls, of humanity that transcends racism, sexism, homophobia.

Get to know Blair’s work if you don’t know it; you can find recordings of his performances all over YouTube. And look for his book from which this poem is taken, “Moonwalking,” which celebrates and examines the life of Michael Jackson, and many other things. There are copies floating around online, though the book is out of print. You’d have to shoot me to get my copy.

MOTOWN

A record gets placed on a player.
A perimeter of darkness
like cruising Outer Drive
at dusk. A field of deep blue.
A black revolution. On top,
a map lives, red veins and blue.

A needle’s placed
in the groove. It follows
a highway of vinyl.
The music of hoods, surrounded
in temptation and funk, the rough and
tumble of a boulevard.
Smoky from chain smoke.
Here, we take chains and use them for percussion.

Here, we stick holes in the ceiling for reverb.
We cut holes in the ceiling ’cause sky ain’t no limit.
Cut holes in the ceiling so the music can echo
back off the block. A whole nation cuttin’
the carpet. Floored by the music
of Starrs and of Wonders.
And they just keep coming
reminding that when your arm hits that border,
the music ain’t over.

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Here, Blair wraps his huge heart around Detroit, which wrapped its heart around him.

News about Blair’s death, by Kim D. Hunter, another fantastic Detroit poet

Poem of the Day: 1/4/13

If we sift through last year’s stuff, what do we learn? What would we burn?
In “Burning the Old Year,” Naomi Shihab Nye does just that. Watches it curl to flame. I wonder if each of these stanzas is like a little bonfire, with each line being of diminishing length. I love the line: “lists of vegetables, partial poems /” being one with accumulating scraps of lines and stanzas and poems unfinished.

What I really love here is not only what the fire in Nye’s poem takes, but what it leaves: a space. And that there is a dance here in these flames, a celebration of new life, of open air, a “quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves…” And the only thing crackling in the end: the wasted time. All those popping gaps the fire maneuvers around. May this year give the fire more to eat of me.

Read “Burning the Old Year” over at the Poetry Foundation website. Over there, you can read more Nye poems, and read more about her.

Poem of the Day: 1/3/13

We have a small landscape painting on our wall by our friend Lisa and I find it hard to walk past every time I see it. At first glance it is fairly unremarkable, a brushed dark forest of tall pines, a wild grey sky. But right at its core the grasses are touched with a welcoming gold, a path into the darkness. And if you’re led there, a small dab of blood, of fire, of some heat beyond the trees. The painting pulls you in. Or tries to.

So an image is crucial, but it isn’t enough.

One landscape painting is a landscape painting only, is every other landscape painting, a facsimile we walk past, having seen it. And another draws us beyond the frame: makes our heart the landscape. Draws us inside.
It is something human that pulls us in. That red dab of vulnerability. Death, fear, sorrow, love–that swath or stroke of blood or fire is longing: which gives the image atmosphere. Which calls us in.

In Doug Ramspeck’s slow and haunting series of couplets in “Crow Epistles” we are presented: winter. Crows that go beyond a river. Crow calls in a bare landscape. Snow tracks leading to the door. The moon. This is beautiful and lyrical enough, but landscape alone. What gives this natural world and this poem its fire, its blood, its longing, are its first two stanzas. Its father flown off. So the poem haunts.

CROW EPISTLES

My father flew away finally
with the crows. And then it was winter.

We heard him calling sometimes
from the woods as snow came down.

It was a kind of faith, the falling snow.
And always the crows seemed harmless

in the trees. The hours were blind
beyond the river, an offering

of masked leaves and brown earth,
the wet smell of mud in the swales,

snow prints in our dreams that arced
down to the river then back,

approaching the back door
like tooth marks in an apple.

And once we saw a lone black feather
dropped and resting in the falling

snow, snow that wanted nothing
from the field but its erasure.

And come morning the crows
were gathering in the distance,

watching the snow coming down,
the obelisks of their black bodies

motionless, the way you might
imagine a prayer arising

from the stillness of a breath.
Though later, after dark, the nightly

drama of the moon conducted
its pale sojourn above the trees,

where it briefly stayed before
drifting its smoke toward the river.

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“Crow Epistles” by Doug Ramspeck is from a recent issue of AGNI. More poems by Doug Ramspeck can be found here!