Category Archives: poetry

Poems, thoughts about poetry and links to places that have published my poems

Ripping Off Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams depart
Life is a worn-out athlete
With a failing heart

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams vanish
Life is an iron prison
Bleak walls and anguish

NaPoWriMo #8: Rewrite a famous poem

I like to have my students analyze “Dreams” by Langston Hughes and then write their own stanzas following his pattern. When we’re finished, everyone reads them aloud following the original. If it’s done right, if sounds like one long poem. The kids usually have fun with it, and some come up with some really cool metaphors. Much better than my weak attempt above, which I’m sharing in response to NaPoWriMo’s prompt to rewrite a famous poem.

Made or Just Happened

They say Voyager crossed the heliopause
last summer with thirty thousand years to go
to clear the sun’s gravity. Our plutonium
spark, a flicker of human warmth returning
to the stars like that first purple martin
returning again in the spring to the place
where he was hatched or the salmon
swimming up blue streams. We are called
home to where our atoms first began,
the water, the sky, the stars. The silent iron
in our blood aches for the supernovae
and so lying on our backs beneath
the wind-swaying oak trees, we hold
hands and watch the stars, imagining that
long journey whose end we’ll never know.

PAD 2014 #2 | We Write Poems: We Wordle #12

In the Kettle, the Shriek by Hannah Stephenson

I’ve been enjoying Hannah Stephenson’s blog, The Storialist, for several years. She posts a poem every day, usually inspired by someone else’s artwork. They’re quite good, amazing really, when you consider she does this every weekday. So I was happy to read her collection In the Kettle, the Shriek (Gold Wake Press, 2013).

These poems are full of warmth, wit, and so many questions. I really like the way she asks questions in her work. I found myself stopping in my tracks, sometimes doubling back after a few pages as I realized my thoughts weren’t keeping up with my reading. Go slow, with this book. Too fast and you’ll miss something. I suppose many books are like that, but In the Kettle, the Shriek rewards that doubling back.

Many of the poems seem to throw a bunch of vivid images and intriguing ideas out there, and I wonder what will stick, where is this going, and then I think, who cares, I’m enjoying the ride. But at the end, the poet often manages to both tie it all together and reveal something new in a single line that is often a question. This is the genius of the work, I think, and what I found so compelling, so interesting.

This is a very positive book. There is darkness, death, panic, extinction, in these pages, but there is light too. A gentle reminder that things will often work out if we are strong, if we are brave. I was especially struck by “Pressing Ghosts,” in which the speaker shares her own fears that her work is unremarkable and dull (it isn’t!) and concludes with:

Even so, I keep creating, I am capable.
I will calmly allow its heaviness
and stand when it goes. It will.

Strong work here, and I look forward to rereading In the Kettle, the Shriek one day. In the meantime, I will keep reading Hannah’s work at The Storialist.

Weaving a New Eden by Sherry Chandler

Weaving a New Eden Cover Image

Weaving a New Eden by Sherry Chandler

Deep roots fascinate me. My siblings and I grew up following the whims of the US Navy. Being of a place, deeply rooted, is foreign to me. As far as I know not many branches of my family have generations-long roots to any particular place either. We’ve always felt a little bit like tumbleweeds.

So books like Sherry Chandler’s beautiful Weaving a New Eden (Wind Publications, 2011) really interest me. I’ve known Sherry online for a while now, and I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading her fine book, but I do think books tend to come up in my pile when they are supposed to and this one came up when I needed some inspiration, and, boy, did it deliver.

The poems tell the tales of the women who settled Kentucky, Sherry’s home state, from Rebecca Boone to Sherry’s own family members whose stories are so movingly told in a section called “The Grandmother Acrostics.” (By the way I’ve never seen acrostics so well done).

There follows a long sequence of poems about Rebecca Boone, famed frontiersman Daniel’s wife, that had me going back to Wikipedia to read some of the history behind the poems, but I always found Rebecca’s voice as written by Sherry more compelling than anything I’ve ever read about Daniel. There’s something in Sherry’s work that honors more than celebrates or mythologizes these people and so while Daniel Boone seems as mythic as ever, Rebecca is real, and her sacrifices, her losses, hurt.

Weaving a New Eden is an exploration of place as told by and for the women who built it. Beginning with a meditation on personal loss and carrying through a fragmentary poetic history of the settling of Kentucky and circling back again to “The North Yard,” a sonnet crown, in which Sherry writes eloquently of the cycles of life and death in her own settled yard, often with a scientific understanding of the world that would have been alien to the frontierswomen we met earlier in the book.

This is a wonderful, beautiful, book, worth taking your time with. It took me two weeks to read because I kept going back, rereading, and then letting the poems rest in my mind for awhile before moving on. I look forward to her next book. In the meantime, I will enjoy her twitter feed, rich with her micropoetry.

Check Out the Poetry Storehouse

The Poetry Storehouse is a very cool new resource for bringing new life to poetry:

The Poetry Storehouse is an effort to promote new forms and delivery methods for page-poetry by creating a repository of freely-available high-quality contemporary page-poetry for those multimedia collaborative artists who may sometimes be stymied in their work by copyright and other restrictions. Our main mission is to collect and showcase poem texts and, in some instances, audio recordings of those texts. It is our hope that those texts will serve as inspiration or raw material for other artistic creations in different media.

A few of my poems are there too, along with a reading of my 2010 poem “For the Goddess of the Empty Sea” by Nic Sebastian. Do check it out, and maybe even create something new from what you find there.

On “The Tyger”

Something I’ve always liked about Blake’s “The Tyger” (one of my favorites) nicely stated by The Pathology Guy:

Although Blake was hostile (as I am, and as most real scientists are) to attempts to reduce all phenomena to chemistry and physics, Blake greatly appreciated the explosion of scientific knowledge during his era. But there is something about seeing a Tyger that you can’t learn from a zoology class. The sense of awe and fear defy reason. And Blake’s contemporary “rationalists” who had hoped for a tame, gentle world guided by kindness and understanding must face the reality of the Tyger.

Baobab Girl by Nic Sebastian

There was a beautiful sunset, the kind we get in Texas, all sky and cumulus clouds outside the window of animal emergency a few Fridays ago. Once again Joey and I were back for fluids to cope with an episode of bloody diarrhea. While there, I read Nic Sebastian’s Baobab Girl, a short collection I downloaded a long time ago before I got a Kindle and last Friday, I finally read it.

Stunning.

Sebastian’s Dark and Like a Web is one of my favorite short collections, and this one didn’t disappoint either. Baobab Girl takes the reader all over the world through experience, myth and legend. The language is pure delight: fresh and often startling. Lines like “Ivar’s silver eyes / are moon-lure, his voice / honey of ash sap” have played in my head for days as has the imagery and story told in “Under the Yew.” These 12 poems are to be savored and at some point reread.

Great poetry transports us, and this collection certainly did that. As I finished the last poem, the vet came into the room to tell me Joey would be fine. I was startled. I had almost forgotten I was in the EC with a sick pup and night falling all around.

Leap by Heather Grace Stewart

After reading Where the Butterflies Go, I was interested to read more of Heather Grace Stewart’s poetry and so next up was Leap, a shorter collection than Butterflies and interesting for the way it moves between the real and online worlds. There are a number of poems in which the author seems to be wrestling with what it means to live in such a socially interconnected time, but as with her other collection my favorites are the poems inspired by parenting since that’s the focus of my life right now. It’s good to read poems that capture parenting and the way it changes marriage with such insight, wisdom, humor and well, yes, grace. A good read all around especially “Autumn Will,” “Beautiful Chaos,” and “Valley.” I look forward to reading her third collection Carry On Dancing, which is coming up soon in my reading pile.

Where the Butterflies Go by Heather Grace Stewart

I just finished reading Canadian poet Heather Grace Stewart’s collection Where the Butterflies Go. The book is divided into three sections: Pain, Growth and Family and it was the last that resonated most with me. Equal parts meditation, celebration and reflection on family life, marriage and parenting, the poems here are full of keen observation of relationships and the small details that make each family unique and special to its members. My world now is so full of learning this whole parenting business, I found myself frequently smiling and nodding along as I read. I especially enjoyed the way Stewart’s book moves between poems that recollect the transition from childhood to adulthood and others that celebrate childhood innocence through the eyes of a wise mother who knows that innocence is fleeting. Beautiful work.

NaPoWriMo Redux

For the third year in a row, I attempted the NaPoWriMo poem-a-day thing. I managed 34 poems, one each day, 22 of which were small stones and the rest longer form poems. I always have mixed feelings about this as it tends to upset my usual inclination to do some revision before posting. Not that there wasn’t revision, just very little. Still, I think I have some things to work with.

In the past, I’ve managed to write a few April poems that I wind up liking, but this year I’m not so sure. I’m just happy that I was able to write every day, something of a small accomplishment in and of itself. For a while now, the past year really, I’ve been trying to find a way back into daily writing and now that sleep and restful nights are becoming more common, I’m finding the time to get back in touch with that part of myself.

As I said a few years ago after napowrimo, the time spent not writing is just as important as the time spent writing and that hasn’t changed, but carving out a little time to write has brought a bit more balance and even clarity to my days. I am the sort of writer who writes regardless of whether or not inspiration strikes, but if I don’t write every day, I won’t be ready when it does.

I’m still trying to make sense of writing and my relationship to it. I suppose I always will, but I do know that sitting and writing something—anything—every day is critically important whether what I write is good or a rambling post like this one.

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Kudos to some of my fellow poem-a-day writers: Deb, Angie and Joseph whose poems I read and greatly enjoyed even if I didn’t comment as much as I should have.

I’m eagerly looking forward to the arrival of my copies of two new books: Ancient Lights by Dick Jones and The Most Beautiful Thing by Fiona Robyn.