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Tag Archives: poetry
Trampoline, a literary journal based in New Orleans, has published a couple of my poems: CAT Scan and First Light.
I was invited to read some of my poems for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Attic Institute for Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon. This poem is called Medic and is part of a manuscript I’ve been working on called Thicket of Arrows.
The Alba Journal of Short Poetry has published one of my poems — Loafing. It took me a long time to realize that a poem does not need to end — it only needs to persist in its argument.
One day recently my friends Steve and Cathy asked me if I would teach their grandsons, ages nine and eleven, some basics about writing poetry. They were being homeschooled by their mom during the Covid-19 epidemic — so I created some lessons. I sent them out in the morning and we met over Zoom at the end of the day to discuss the lesson and read people’s poems out loud. It went so well, I thought I would make the lessons available to others as a workbook. Kids Write Poetry – A Workbook for Young Poets is my way of serving the community during a difficult time.
Here is the first lesson as an example:
Poems are built from pieces: words and lines are the two basic building blocks. The goal of the first exercise is to make one line poems that tell a story. A story can be suggestive and not necessarily have a beginning, middle and end. One-line poems can sketch an idea. Sometimes the sketch-style poems are the most interesting ones. Here are some examples of one-line poems from one of the masters, the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos:
I erase the shadow completely with this gold pencil.
The night always behind my pages. That’s why my letters shine so brightly.
Your clothes, thrown on the chair, still smell of the sea.
To speak constantly about wrong things is like being wrong.
Notice how his lines do not always make sense in the conventional way. Poems are interesting when they put things together in new ways. Don’t worry about it making sense or not. Your brain will always make its own sense of things anyway. We are meaning making creatures. The best poems can often be read or interpreted in multiple ways. Also notice how his lines are built from interesting physical objects combined with actions that are unexpected. You don’t expect, when reading about clothes on a chair to have them smell like the sea! How cool is that!
First assignment: write ten one line poems in the style of Yannis Ritsos. You can use physical objects from your own life as a starting place, or just start from imagination, which is as real as anything in the so-called real world anyway. Don’t worry about making sense!! Write a few where they seem to make very little sense, even if they are just a list of things. Also, make it fun. You write for your own enjoyment and for strangers.
So for example, I am looking at my very messy desk right now. Here are some things I see and some other things they bring to mind:
Two used containers of ant bait. A family portrait.
Piles of stuff everywhere. I wish I could staple my life back together.
You can download it here: Kids Write Poetry – A Workbook for Young Poets.
I was prepared to hate it / well, hate is a strong word /
let’s just say give it wings and let it sail past the bridge
/ but it doesn’t suck / it doesn’t pretend to get on its knees
and make the rafters sing / it is a red owl on a bicycle with hungry eyes /
“Who isn’t bruised around the edges, peaches poured
into the truck bed, receipts faded to white?”
it sends out science mannikins to shout about being nervous in secret /
it collaborates with machines to make rain squalls / it argues for
a better kind of blindness / it warns others about dreaming in stairwells
and at crime scenes / it is a crime scene painted in butterscotch broth /
“The cop speaks and I call a plum into is his mouth
and it doesn’t shut him up.
The cop kneels in the grass below my friends, my friends
crowned with August and Salt. My marigold my wave.”
tendrils and tips and sprockets combine to give it firm plant awareness /
“cyborg means man made” I didn’t know / it is like new sounds added
to frost in the stubble by the road / in a Wyoming winter snow drifts
come and go like grainy herds of buffalo / this book is like those herds
mated with seigniorage — the profit made from the minting of coins /
ducats in the pillow / francs thrown into the Seine / everything costs
what you are willing to throw away / this book is completely free
in that sense / it is madly lyrical / and worth your time.
Note: this review is for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club. Soft Science
is forthcoming from Alice James books.
Storm Over Houston was first published by Clementine Unbound.
A shadow props up the gutted barn
where we spent the night.
To be keen all the time–not to swerve,
ten minutes out of every hour,
is enough most days.
A man with boulders in his soul,
a dock trying to hold onto
it’s string of boat horses,
a bone-drenched woman
with praise for a God
who was as stealthy as a barn cat.
Out on the highway
no sound now,
as if someone
had picked them all up
from a skiff with a pruning hook
and put them in a sack.
In Alt-Oz, the Tin Man gives Dorothy the stink eye.
The Scarecrow has no desire to hop down
from his perch and follow her on the road
to the Emerald city and an uncertain destiny.
Things are okay in the forest.
Witches and flying monkeys
will only bother you if you stir things up.
Dorothy, without companions,
is forced into selling real estate
in the poorer neighborhoods on
the north end of Oz.
She dyes the ruby slippers black
to attract less attention
and settles down with one
of the taller munchkins.
She never goes home.
Except at night in her dreams,
when she rides the hurricane
back to Kansas, looks around,
and is stuck in that moment,
the moment of indecision
–go or stay–
for the rest of her life.
She wakes each morning,
puts out the cat, makes coffee
and watches the flying monkeys heading south,
on their way to disembowel
a few unlucky munchkins.
Troublemakers, no doubt.
fiery moon sets
deer in the garden.
a goldfinch in the fountain
shakes off water like a labrador
When the sky
opens beneath you
and you do not fall,
you hesitate to tell others.
What can you say?
The faint scent of gardenia
in the still air before nightfall.
Ivy grows up through the boards
of the garden bridge.
A rabbit runs across the bridge
and stops in front of me.
We stare at each other,
waiting to see who will move first.
The next morning I am not there
and the rabbit doesn’t stop.
chant to us
and give us
to howl too
I wasn’t looking for a friend,
here in this rich man’s private garden
thrown open to the masses for a few days,
and yet I found you.
Cousin to the sea of black irises
that grew behind the white clapboard
victorian era army house where I grew up,
the ones that swayed in the wind
like drunken sailors at a beach party.
Bolder than the fire dancers on Oahu,
hairy and loose-lipped like Elvis,
they all competed for attention.
How could anyone not see them?
I guess the same way
we don’t see friends
for years and years
until we run into them
at a garden party.
The author Cheryl Strayed says in a recent essay you must be a “warrior and a motherfucker” when it comes to being brave and resilient in your writing. I don’t believe this is enough. You must become a mental strip artist, an artisan for the broken, a pub singer of the damned, a babysitter of lost ideas, a window cleaner in a shit storm, a pole dancer in a literary hurricane, a taxi driver for the faintest of whims, a rambler through cemeteries, a curdler of fermented ideas, a rodeo clown at a funeral and a parade street sweeper of bullshit.
A writer must be able to ask the question: if in Alexandria in 275 BC, a 180 foot long gold-plated phallus was paraded through the streets of the city, flanked by elephants, a giraffe, a rhinoceros and decorated with ribbons and a gold star (according to Athenaeus,) where did they put the damned star?
Assembling a poem letter by letter in lead type to print on handmade paper is an act of sexual reproduction. Each letter comes from a worn wooden tray,a snippet of the tribe’s DNA code, facile in the hand, expectant.
Words reassemble themselves, replicating their ancient legacy,
ready to construct a new being. The hive mind provides the creative spark. Old stories recombine, sprout new green feathers and take wing.
You can feel the deep joy of nature in it. A happy parent now steps aside knowing the power and the limits of his role.
(First published by Red River Review)
I read you first for sound,
For basalt cliffs dripping in the rain,
For lines like seasoned chunks of oak crackling
In winter’s wood stove,
For glaciers scouring down to stone
And pecker-fretted apple trees
Dropping Gravensteins with a thump
That ring your poems round.
I read you a second time for fruit,
For tragedy fermented with time and wonder.
Drawn from spider webs and rime ice
And the breath of horses and the shoes of children.
Your poems are like golden muscat grapes
Bursting with tangy juice and bitter seeds to ponder.
I read you a final time for breath.
When my own is made halting by this splintered season
And I am lost enough to pull my own ladder road in behind me.
You breathed deeply of life and drank from its deepest sorrows.
You remind me there is oxygen enough
On life’s widest sunlit prairies and in its darkest crevices.
An ox makes a place to sleep in the straw.
Winter stretches its ice blanket over the barn.
A killer whale pulls one end northward towards Kigiktaq.
Morning, before sunrise, gulls where there were only blue sticks.
The sea makes a heaving shudder, lifting a rogue wave to look around.
The river ebbs, exposing the bones of an old hunter. Observant. Revenant.
A few stones shine like old moons.
In the mountains of Nepal I once saw a water buffalo being killed for food by a man using the blunt end of an ax.
The buffalo did not run and did not go down. It just stood there taking blows to the head. Like it knew something I didn’t.
The region I was in practices Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism says there is only a vivid emptiness. It may be visited, but is unaffected by our day to day actions, like a buffalo that never goes down.