At AWP in February, I heard Benjamin Grossberg talk about–and I’m paraphrasing–how writing could whirl up its own subjects (I remember the image of a whirlwind, although perhaps that was my addition), how, instead of lacking a subject, you could write and the act of writing would create its own subjects, call them forth. (It makes me think of the way a fire can make its own weather.) I was intrigued, and wanted to see what the writing whirled up for him. Recently at Open Books I picked up a copy of Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath. Later, I noticed that it won the 2005 Snyder Prize from the Ashland Poetry Press.

So here’s the disclaimer–these poems are at a nine-year remove from 2014, so they might not (are likely not) representative of the poet’s current explorations of writing and creative weather. However, Mr. Grossberg has helpfully posted more recent poems on his website.

Back to the book at hand, these are expansive love poems: love between Penelope and Odysseus, love between Hero and Leander, love between men–love and relationships in a time of AIDS. (Yes, we are still in a time of AIDS). Many of the poems are long (and I enjoy long poems), and in many of the poems the lines are long. Without a lot of white space, without a lot of stanza breaks–a kind of whirlwind, an urgency underlying the poems, just as the voice might be quiet while the subject is taut. I think of “Barely April,” with its meditative voice talking about a breakup and glass splinters in the soil, things falling and fallen apart, green growth and danger. Other favorites of mine: “Underwater,” “Drowning,” “The Deer,” “A Middle Class Consideration of Lust,” “Amerigo Vespucci, 1506, Contemplates another Sheet of Vellum,” “The Man Who Had His Bone Marrow Irradiated Writes Jeanne Calment.” I had a lot of favorites.

I apologize for not providing a poem here. I had a hard time finding links to poems online, but you can follow the link above to see Benjamin S. Grossberg’s newer poems. Or you can pick up a copy of Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath.

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You’d think it would be a good thing, right? Learning more about language through another language, exploring how the puzzle pieces fit together, reveling in the music (la musica!) of it.

Since I’ve started to learn Italian by listening to learn-Italian CDs in my car on the way to work, I’ve found it harder to write when I pull into a parking space and turn the car off. I generally read some poems first, and that helps sometimes. But later, when I’m walking by the creek, instead of observing the grasses and birds and emptying my mind to receive images, receive poem sparks, I’m rehearsing Italian, conjugating verbs, making up sentences in my head–very simple sentences.

I thought about maybe listening to NPR on the way to work and listening to Italian only on the way home, but I forget to switch to the tuner, and after the voices start asking me questions, I just respond–or I repeat simple words and phrases, which is a kind of comfort.

What ignites your writing? What distracts you from it?

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In June I had the pleasure of hearing Juan Felipe Herrera read at Seattle Arts and Lectures. What an immense presence! What radiance and joy and generosity! This past week, I read his book Love after the Riots, from Curbstone Press.

I couldn’t not think of the Rodney King riots–but, as the title says, this is after the riots, or after and during, and so much is going on. The narrative is fractured–each poem is titled with a time (7:30 pm / Thursday, 12:01 am, 1:03 am / Friday), but I’m not counting on a minute-by-minute chronology–there could be time zones or days (weeks) in between. Are we in L.A. or Paris or Italy or Cuba? People come and go through imagery that makes me think of Neruda. That surprise. All of it bundled in poems that are compact, like notes in brief moments.

Here is a sample poem:

9:20 pm

Back up, Marga talks.
I drive against my best intentions.
Santa Monica, Venice–Albert King on the box.

By the sea & the vices of families
gone asleep in the smoke. 5000 lire
and she does not look at my face.

She says I look like Gregory Peck. The auto
swerves up the alley. She lives alone, now.

Stop for coffee. Read the Times Mirror.
Her skirt, my pants. The wheel stays
alone in the night shade. Silence,
a stone, tiny in her boot heel.

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This week’s poetry pick is Tim Sherry’s One of Seven Billion, from MoonPath Press. These poems are personal–meditations, reflections, and investigations of a life lived–and the life experiences we on this planet share.

Many are nostalgic, setting the reader clearly in a specific time or place, evoking the past with its joys and idiosyncrasies. Many question, delve into the gray area of everything we know that we don’t know. Many celebrate family and long love, long marriage.

Spoken without artifice, these poems are like talking with a good friend who says, “Remember when…” or “What about this? Let’s take a look.” Tim Sherry takes the reader on a journey through living, with time to pause, take stock, and appreciate.

For a sample, read  “The Bird Behind Jesus.”

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With your manuscript?

I first wrote this post on June 3, ready to come home from work and dive into another round of revision. But between the car and the house, I received a phone call–the manuscript had been selected as a finalist. Woo-HOO! Someone liked it, so I set aside that revisiting. This week, I got the news: Didn’t win. So, ready with a fresh printout (so many trees, but I read better, more critically on paper), I’m back to this post:

It’s happened again. I’ve decided I need to rewrite my manuscript. I’ve been working on these poems for three and a half years. No, that doesn’t sound like such a long time–but by the end of two years, I thought I had a solid chapbook-length manuscript. A few months later, I thought I’d crafted it into a full-length manuscript. I sent it out to contests, and I moved on. New poems, new projects beckoned (after the initial floundering, the anxiety of not having a focus).

Two or three times since then I’ve reworked the manuscript, most recently right around AWP. (Imagine being asked whether you have a manuscript ready and saying, “No, I’m hating my manuscript right now.”)

This week, I’ve been reading Mark Doty’s The Art of Description. It’s been wonderful, and it’s also made me feel like a hack. It’s made me feel I need a poetry therapist (and instead, here I am online). It’s made me feel like I need to go back and revisit every poem in the manuscript again, maybe take another look at the 22 poems I’ve already pulled out of the manuscript. And it should be exhilarating, but instead it feels daunting.

How do you get back into a project? Or at what point do you let it go?

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