poem

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I’m grateful that today my poem Sketch in Blue with Darker Water appeared online at Glass: A Poetry Journal.

It began as a color study, and became something else. It began as a way to thread color through a manuscript, and I ended up (so far) with five colors—red and yellow forthcoming; green and purple still seeking homes.

It went through many drafts in April 2015, when I decided to work on an exercise a day.

The lesson for me? Keep working. Keep exploring.

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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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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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I know that it’s just a building, and that Hugo House lives on—thriving—and will return in a new building. But my history with the house goes back to when it was New City Theater, and I was trying to be a modern dance choreographer, and then the years of taking classes, teaching a few, readings and readings and readings—plus finding a publisher at an event called Finding Your Publisher. Last week when my daughter sent me a photo of the demolition, that part of the transition hit me in the gut.

Audience of Ghosts

When the house comes down,
the rooms of my body hurt—
empty air, all my years
in the second story now a legend
with no map, histories nesting
in my body like timbers splintered.

Shoulder to stranger we wrote
on the plaster, pen after pen
one kind of good-bye. There
is the hand I forgot to pack,
the words I forgot to look up,
buried the heart’s four classrooms,

steaming between my ribs the kitchen
when it was a dressing room,
the theater where I danced,
the cabaret table where I listened,
with red wine, the stage
where the sign said eat the mike.

When the house comes down,
only the shadows of rooms—
and our writing on the walls,
words into dust, debris
of the house come down
in the push and shovel, bucketful,

bucketful. Later, you send me a photo,
remains behind a cyclone fence.
I think of the house as a funeral
parlor, its older incarnation.
You tell me it was beautiful
seeing all our words tumbling.

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