WP_20160817_001 (169x300)There used to be a fence attached to this gate.

One day, I noticed that the fence had disappeared, but the gate stood alone.

This morning, while my husband was working on home maintenance, he asked whether I was attached to the gate, or whether he could take it down.

“It’s a metaphor,” I said. “I’m not sure yet to what, but it’s a metaphor.”

He said, “Okay, you can keep the metaphor.” He is understanding, and he understands that he is married to a poet.

I need to understand that if I use a gate in a poem as a metaphor, you’re going to see the gate first.

I recently brought to a workshop a poem called “Self-Storage.” First, I had other titles involving cows or the absence of cows and an abundance of buttercups. I was thinking about storage and hit upon the idea of self-storage, then quickly looked up Rebecca Hoogs’s marvelous poem (in her book by the same name), to make sure that it was different enough to avoid any idea that I could possibly, ever, copy (I couldn’t and wouldn’t, and if you haven’t read her book yet, there’s no time like now).

Okay, that might have been a digression.

Back to it: I meant the idea of storage in a metaphorical way (I talk about a cardboard box in the closet), but people immediately—and understandably—pictured the actual rows of units with the steel doors that roll up. Of course they did. We haven’t even gotten into the poem, and that’s what I’ve given them.

What I learned: The metaphor jumps off from the physical (just as a simile does), so I need to be sure that I’m putting people where I want them to jump.

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This question comes up sometimes at readings: How do you start a poem—with a line or a thought or an image? They’re so closely linked that trying to figure out which comes first can get tricky. But, having read Bethany Reid’s blog posts, I’m going to set all three aside and say that my best poems come from a feeling—the feeling behind or under the thought, something as compelling as a two-year-old tugging at my jacket, something that doesn’t want to let go.

I fail when I ignore that tug or say, “Later.” I’m really not good at stopping whatever I’m doing and writing that poem that’s asking to be written. I have pulled over to the side of the road, but rarely. I have stopped on my way out the door to work, but not often and not this morning.

And this morning, I realized: No matter how well I can remember the words I was thinking, and even if I find time to write them down later, to try to kick-start that poem, I probably won’t have the same feeling. It’s possible I’ll be able to get some echo of it back, but after a commute and traffic, it isn’t likely. By then, I’m at a distance from that initial impetus—a remove that’s great for revising but not for generating.

If what start’s a poem is that feeling, I resolve try harder and be better at stopping EVERYTHING and listening to that poem pulling at my sleeve, to write it down. I’ll need to, because what’s next (what’s now) is graduate school, and I’ll need all the poems I can get.

Recently, at the end of a Costco shopping trip, I did listen, and in my blazing hot car I wrote as long as I could stand it. Because I had to return to Costco today—and just for fun—here is the poem:

This Is My Costco Poem

For the couple ahead ambled, pausing
to peruse each label
as another woman pondered
six or more possible sausage choices.
For I nearly left the new pens
in the basket, having never
purchased pens here until now.
For the mother ahead of me bought
a bazillion wondrous things,
but not the big box of Snapware
on the lower rack of her cart.
For such was then added to my order.
For the cart steered heavy, too heavy
halfway through the parking lot.
For I had no room in my cupboards
to keep that much plastic,
although I coveted the clicks of the lids.
For I found some confusion
at the customer service counter
before it was my turn to return.
For I have red peppers and tomatoes,
I have four kinds of meat
and a station wagon resplendent
under the sun, miles of stop-and-go
traffic with one more store for peanuts.
For I have promised myself
after shopping I will not drink gin
shaken or stirred. For I have sweat
and sweat and sweat and sweat
and this poem that perseveres.

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Here is another poets respond poem. The past week, months, year have been heartbreaking on the streets of my country and everywhere. Still reeling from the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile and the five officers shot, I hear the news of Nice, and the next day, the news from Turkey.

Allons enfants

My body became ache and fossil
creaking as the creek runs low in summer
and I thought the world’s body
its planet—earth skin, river veins,
wide bodies of water, its salt and iron—
but tonight the world is our bodies,
the street again red–Brussels, Beirut,
Boston, Istanbul, San Bernardino,
and the count stays at more than
but the number keeps rising,
Dhaka, Baghdad, Orlando, and Paris,
and Paris, and Nice, a throng of bodies
to watch the fireworks bursting
in their air, the truck speeding
into bodies, laws of velocity
against the physics of flesh
and breath torn through,
people leaping from the promenade,
people draped in table cloths
and blood, a child’s stroller crushed
and every body a name,
a favorite color, favorite food,
a hand to hold, how badly
the world needs its day of glory,
how all we people need the world whole.



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WP_20160702_003 2Earlier I posted about this on Facebook, and I always wonder about mentioning the same news twice, but here I’ll take the time to tell you that each of my two poems in the Spring 2016 issue of Prairie Schooner touches on being a mother.

The first is a letter to the mothers of the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram—and daily it breaks my heart that these young women, the ones who have so far survived, have been gone so long. I started trying to write the poem in September 2014, months after the abduction. I was writing it in my head as I stirred the red sauce for Christmas dinner that year. In January 2015, the first real draft arrived. All along, with new rumors and false promises of a truce, I kept hoping that the girls would be able to return to their families, and I would gladly abandon the poem.

The second poem is about grown children coming home, and it begins

The house exhales behind me,
drains its rooms of resting air.

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The Spring 2016 issue of Cimarron Review arrived, and I’m delighted and honored that it includes my poem “Honey Locust,” along with poems by Alexandra Teague, Sandra McPherson, Marty McConnell, and more.

The poem isn’t online at this time, but it begins

Its leaves litter the front hall,
ambassadors with caveats,

and there’s a Marilynne Robinson reference. (Can you find that part in the book?)

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