Wednesday, December 19, 2012

W.H. Auden on J.R.R. Tolkien

The mere fact of this existing is enough to justify the history of the old grey lady.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Because a shackle is never enough to hold a man: Jake Adam York

The problem with being a reviewer is that I will never be able to review everyone while you can still know not only their words but them.

Jake Adam York, a poet who was simply good, passed this weekend. Jake and I met only a few times at conferences and yet I feel his loss deeply. Perhaps it was because each time we met he was not only kind but inclusive, warm, and intellectually engaging. Perhaps it is because he's only 6 years older than I am and yet died of a stroke. Perhaps it's because so many of my close friends are close friends of Jake and I grieve for them. Perhaps it's because Jake, as a poet and editor, cannot be replaced in literature. Perhaps all four.

This is an elegy he wrote. It originally appeared in Diagram. Rest in peace, Jake.

Elegy for James Knox

Because a shackle is never enough
to hold a man, but only his body,
and because the body must be made
to hold the man, to join with the chain
until the grip is overwhelming,
they took you from the prison
and sold your labor, your body
for five dollars a month, into the mine
to dig coal for Birmingham's furnaces,
the heat already pressing in on you
like a hand, the coal dust
in your lungs' own flexings
lacerating breath right out of you
little at a time, the hard pump of the arms
speeding it up in the candle-lit dark
that lay on your skin the way 
they already saw you, a density
to be burned so iron could rain
from rock, purified and bright.
But to take you out, the hands
sudden from the tight, dark heat,
and beat you with a wire
spun from the kind of steel
you had begun to forge in the shaft, 
to return your muscles' work this way
till you were red as ore, and then
to tie and dip you in a laundry vat
and boil the hair from your body
as if it were any pig, and then 
call it suicide, as if you had done this
to yourself, to say you drank
bichloride of mercury instead of sweat,
instead of blood, instead of heat
and coal and nigger, to rule it
poison, to inject your dead body
with corrosive metal and call it
another day at the office, ready
to do it all again should the sun rise,
God willing, to ship the coal out
to charge the ironworks so someone else
could draw you from the hearth
for forging a thirty dollar check
in Mobile, and burn you into textbooks,
something dark to be turned
like this chip of iron I finger
as I think of you,
a small, hard strip of Alabama
that's losing, that's turning back
red as the clay that buries it all—
was it ever, will it ever be, enough?

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit

Well, of course it's good.

But there are a few quirks. One is the expanded role of Azog. I suppose Jackson put him in in order to "amp up" the "danger" of the piece AND to give gravitas to Thorin but I don't know how necessary he is. If anything it makes it harder for one to take small children to the film because, in general, it's not terribly "scary" without Azog. Again, that's perhaps the reason for his inclusion but I'm suspect of the overall benefit to the story.

The second is the increased role Radagast plays. Not that I mind Radagast, but I find it hard to believe that Jackson would deliberately skip over Tom Bombadil and then come back with a very Bombadilian Radagast.

The other complaints/oddities make sense within character improvement and Jackson's reframing, such as Bilbo's advice to the trolls on cooking dwarfs. I would have very much enjoyed seeing Gandalf ape their voices but part of Jackson's "drama" in this piece is tension between Thorin and Bilbo (which I assume will come to a head with the discovery and theft of the Arkenstone) and having Bilbo save the company a few more times than in the novel is important to that.

However, it is odd that Gandalf sort of more or less pops in when needed (rather than being around more) but oh well, he's a wizard, right? The real deus ex machina problem is that the eagles don't speak at all. Coupled with their double appearance in saving people in LOTR, Jackson appears to simply make them into salvation engines--which is sad specifically because their appearance in The Hobbit and their conversations with Thorin & Co provides so much more explanation for their behavior in the subsequent events.

Anyway, it's a great 3 hour romp. Looking forward to the others.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dangerous, Sensible, or Both?

From an interesting article about decision theory:

"It is wise to value winning over the possession of a rational decision
theory, just as it is wise to value truth over adherence to a particular mode of reasoning.
An expected utility maximizer should maximize utility—not formality, reasonableness,
or defensibility."

What is "winning" in poetry?

Everyday poetry

Does anyone encounter poetry on a daily basis?



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What the hell, Boston Review?

So Boston Review has done an interesting thing, asking a pile of poets to write about "the most significant, troubling, relevant, recalcitrant, misunderstood, or egregious set of opposing terms in discussions about poetics today," focusing ultimately on the dangers of binary thinking in poetry.

Unfortunately, the first thing I came upon (thanks to reddit) is this piece of crap by one Katie Degentesh. I don't know her from Adam and she may be the nicest person in the world, but that doesn't excuse something like this:

"If it’s not a legitimate poem, your body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down, up to and including eversion, where your uterus could be forced partially or completely inside-out, or fall or be forced out of the vaginal opening (prolapse). For example, if you’re a man writing poetry about having gay sex with another man, you might get AIDS because your rectal wall is only one cell thick, or you might get fired from job after job because your poetry knows real jobs are for The Man."

Apart from kicking the tired GOPinhead horse here, this is exemplary writing of the pomo-naked-emperor school that Dawkins was decrying.

But let's look at the whole list.

Ange Mlinko has an interesting if ineffective heroic couplet jab at Marjorie Perloff (her essay "Poetry on the Brink" being the catalyst for this) which tries to be Pope and misses but still amuses.

Maureen McLane offers words that are skinny and on the left and not much else. Perhaps her work is an exercise on demonstrating the importance of syntax by its absence.

Stephen Burt writes an essay about "neo-modernism," saying "a neo-modernist poet makes art that tests the limits of “art,” requiring us to ask what counts as a poem, what counts as good, what we assume about art more generally, and whether we ought to reject our prior assumptions" which might be interesting if it weren't some bullshit rehashed from a Pound essay that's a century old. People: please understand that these questions aren't interesting. Don't ask us to figure out what counts as a poem. Don't test the limits of art. WRITE GREAT POETRY.

DeSales Harrison skirts the question entirely while talking about the role of the critic ("praise, don't trash" essentially) which is nice in some ways but entirely tired in others.

Matthew Zapruder actually talks about the binary distinction between poetry and lyrics, arguing that it is both  generally asked for the wrong reasons and ultimately useful and interesting.

Anthony Madrid writes an interesting introduction to an essay on the value of irony in the context of feelings but then had to go to lunch with Jesus and Jimi Hendrix so never finished the darn thing.

Sandra Lim's piece was, I believe, written by The Postmodern Generator. All it's missing is "praxis" and "ontological." And purpose, but I suppose that's the point.

Annie Finch, unsurprisingly, blows these folks out of the water (of course this is simply bias talking as much as anything else) with a lovely piece on "the stale form/freedom duel." Which, unlike everyone except Zapruder actually addresses a real question that interests folks beyond the fetishists of verse.

Dorothea Lasky has the kernel of what could be a very interesting essay-critique on the position of the poet in relation to poetry along the scientist-mystic axis. It isn't, though.

Evie Shockley argues against any binary distinctions by using binary distinctions. Or rather she points out where these are destructive to women and minorities which is an argument that can only be made by validating such dichotomies.

Rebecca Wolff makes a good (or at least interesting) point ("exigency over duty") in a horrible, terrible, no-good way, coming off as someone who has spent the better part of two decades in a one-sided conversation.

Lytton Smith namedrops more than I do to lamely make the point in overwrought, pretentious inkwash that poetry is important as a written and aural artform and we shouldn't neglect the latter. Hear, hear but leave the purple prose and hipsterism at home. Pound did it better and with more humor.

Noah Eli Gordon. No idea what the hell he's talking about. But he uses both "liminal" and Utinni! in the same essay so clearly he is a master of time and space, a post-modern (or is that neo-modern?) Colossus striding etc.

Robert Archambeau argues that binary distinctions can be useful if we let them run amok and use them for understanding and not control. Too much Adorno for my comfort level, though.

Cathy Park Hong writes about race which is its own dichotomy. Instead of insisting on continuing the dichotomy of a poet's color I wish she'd written about a poem's content. Ah well. That doesn't get one "academicized" which is apparently a good thing (?).

Dan Beachy-Quick sounds like Derrida mixed with Pirsig and, apart from an interesting etymological digression of "chorus" doesn't do anything new or interesting.

Marjorie Perloff, Marjorie Perloff is the worst of them all. Her "defense," which can only be described as "butthurt" doesn't tackle any of the interesting points raised (Zapruder, Finch, Wolff, and Archambeau come to mind) but instead attacks the low-hanging fruit of dreck written by pseudo-intellectuals (no need to re-name names). Here is an important note for you, Dr. Perloff--no one knows what you used to do. They only know your recent work. Now, I think it's important to argue (as Perloff does) that these folks could have done some more fact-checking if they wanted to attack Perloff's positions via something more than strawmen and ad hominems--but that doesn't mean they were going to and getting in a huff about it is puerile.

Perloff's Original Essay isn't much more than a collection of things I've read before. She does amusingly misplace importance and ambiguity in the point of the title "Today's Not Opposite Day," having missed, it seems, playing that childhood game.

Where it really fails, however, is buying into the silly idea that the story behind the poem makes the poem, telling us of so many great new works composed in or as a response to tragedy. Who cares? Give us great poems and if the circumstance is important to the poem put it in there. The poetry Perloff is praising can't exist outside of its own context which is to say it is either a fetus or a dying man on life support. It's high time to be born or pull the plug.

Bye-bye Laptop

So the Qii keyboard might not be the end-all-be-all but it's a nice beginning.

With a slightly larger phone/tablet we'll be living in Star Trek soon.

Also: if you want to buy this for me, I'll let you ;)

Monday, December 10, 2012


The question of the existence or non-existence of God and whether or not this is provable by any system of analysis is the wrong question.

The right question is which universe is more interesting. To my taste, a universe with a God, even a Spinozan one, is the only one that has a little ginger in it.

The Postmodernism Generator

Reading a Dawkins review called "Disrobing Postmodernism" lead me to

The Postmodernism Generator

Which is either terrifying or hilarious depending upon your vantage point.

I think the only proper humanities response to such a creation is to make erasure sonnets out of the whole thing.

I'm sure someone could get tenure for that. Or a panel at AWP.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What a student took away from Prufrock

Don't get trapped talking to the weird kid drinking punch in the corner by himself at a party who not even fantasy mermaids will talk to.


200 posts, everyone! 400 much sooner than 4 years, I promise!

CPR on Joseph Epstein

Read CPR's great essay by David X Novak on the delightful and curmudgeonly Joseph Epstein.

Bespoke recordings

From the musician Mike Doughty comes the idea of "bespoke recordings" of music.

I don't know whether I'm appalled or amazed. A little of both, Henry, really.

I mean if, for $600, I could have a personal recording of, say, Sylvia Plath or T.S. Eliot reading something only for me. . .well, that would be pretty awesome. I might even be intrigued by some living poets who I won't embarrass by mentioning, though $600 might be too steep. Of course $600 for *anything* is generally too steep (the life of a poet and teacher, right?) but that this is even hinted at as a viable economic model is pretty damned impressive.

We should be selling the performance, the experience of poetry.

Why aren't we?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Would you read the poem if it looked like prose?

So I asked in that Codrescu AMA if he saw a distinction between verse and prose. It's an important question if we're not all spitting in the wind.

So I thought, as Jill Essbaum once related, that poems are "skinny and on the left" and thought, well--let's look at them that way.

Here's a poem from A.E. Stallings' excellent Olives, delined:

Jigsaw Puzzle

      First the four corners, then the flat edges. Assemble the lost borders, walk the dizzy ledges, hoard one color—try to make it all connected—the water and the deep sky and the sky reflected. Absences align and lock shapes into place, and random shapes combine to make a tree, a face. Slowly you restore the fractured world and start to re-create an afternoon before it fell apart: Here is summer, here is blue, here two lovers kissing, and here the nothingness shows through where one piece is missing.

Here's a Plath poem delined:


     I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. What ever you see I swallow immediately just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike. I am not cruel, only truthful--the eye of a little god, four-cornered. Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall. It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers. Faces and darkness separate us over and over. Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me, searching my reaches for what she really is. Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon. I see her back, and reflect it faithfully. She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands. I am important to her. She comes and goes. Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness. In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

And a Shakespearean sonnet:

     How can my muse want subject to invent, while thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse thine own sweet argument, too excellent for every vulgar paper to rehearse? O! give thy self the thanks, if aught in me worthy perusal stand against thy sight; for who's so dumb that cannot write to thee, when thou thy self dost give invention light? Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth than those old nine which rhymers invocate; and he that calls on thee, let him bring forth eternal numbers to outlive long date. If my slight muse do please these curious days, the pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise. 

And one of mine:

     On this wet rock you come, my hair around your waist in streams like ocean foam; the pressured salty taste rests upon my tongue. As we swallow the night the morning rises stung and stained with our delight. Here in this temple crows are swelling from the altar screaming the holy vows I promised I would keep. I have done much more than falter and vengeance never sleeps.

Well apart from my missing a comma (sorry, Annie!) and paling in comparison to the other three poets, I don't know that any "damage" is done to these poems by delining them. Of course, you get a lot of extra meaning possible with enjambment, etc. but is that at the cost of people who are terrified by work that is "skinny and on the left"?

So are we caught in a trap of convention that limits our impact as writers?

Andrei Codrescu AMA on reddit

Not really sure what else to say.

Happening right now.

Read it on reddit!

Literature is about the past

Here's the money shot from an interesting article by a fellow named Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It appears in full on Salon which is dreadfully cluttered with advertisements. Go there at your own aesthetic peril.

Outside of the niche and isolated genre of science fiction, literature is about the past. We do not learn physics or biology from medieval textbooks, but we still read Homer, Plato, or the very modern Shakespeare. We cannot talk about sculpture without knowledge of the works of Phidias, Michelangelo, or the great Canova. These are in the past, not in the future. Just by setting foot into a museum, the aesthetically-minded person is connecting with the elders. Whether overtly or not, he will tend to acquire and respect historical knowledge, even if it is to reject it. And the past — properly handled — is a much better teacher about the properties of the future than the present. To understand the future, you do not need techno-autistic jargon, obsession with “killer apps,” these sort of things. You just need the following: some respect for the past, some curiosity about the historical record, a hunger for the wisdom of the elders, and a grasp of the notion of “heuristics,” these often unwritten rules of thumb that are so determining of survival. In other words, you will be forced to give weight to things that have been around, things that have survived.

Since our friend NNT is pretty good at discussing the importance of unlikely outcomes, I wonder what specifically he would say about our American poverty of poetry.

NNT does give us (in Antifragile) about the best definition of mythology there is:

Mythology is "the expression of historical intelligence through potent metaphors."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Literary magazines--who reads 'em?

Apart from assuming that the folks at Tin House and Poetry aren't terribly pleased with me or at least my work, I'm rather intrigued by the idea of literary journals.

Here's a lovely list of "The Top 50"

from "Every Writer's Resource" which totally sounds legit, right?

Anyway, it's not a bad list of the big, bad boys in literary magazineing.


Who reads that stuff? I mean, a lot of folks read The New Yorker or The Atlantic Monthly but do they read the poems? The short stories?

How many of the 80,000 people with a subscription to Poetry AREN'T poets? I tried to read and review it cover to cover for a few months but it was terribly tedious.

Which probably says more about me than the magazine but as a critic I shouldn't admit that, right?

Do you read literary mags? I do--at least the four that are on the links bar.

But what's the purpose? There's a real question to be asked about what the presentation of and access to literature is doing here in these United States. I suppose the ideal situation would be to convince Disney/Pixar that there should be poems at the start of each film. Anyone have John Lasseter's email handy?

James Franco is supposed to be the modern savior of poetry, right? USC student? Actor-Poet-Heartthrob? Do more people read poetry because of him?

Where are people reading these days? Maybe we can stick poems at the beginning of Fifty Shades of Grey or buy them as Amazon's "Special Offers" for the Kindle. That, of course, would take money--where's the money in poetry?

Was it ever there?

Anyway, the idea of Litmags is/ought (Hume, please) to be to shepherd poetry (and prose) to a wider than the average coffee house audience. If that's true, why don't we call them "reading mags"?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why isn't poetry better than a movie?

I mean really that's an unfair question.

A movie is a "total work" in all that Wagnerian sense (especially, I would guess a musical specifically but isn't that what a soundtrack does without subjecting us to singing actors?) and a poem isn't.

But do poets even try? Who is writing poetry and who is writing Poetry?

Who is writing because they want to write and who is writing because they want to change the world?

Which is better?

Moreover, what motivated, say, Tennyson?

Here's a fellow that was so damaged by reaction to his second book of poetry that he didn't publish anything for nearly a decade.

I don't think I'll say we should haggle over the "is there a problem with poetry" question. There is. Teaching for 13 years now, I can say for an absolute certainty that there is a problem, in America, with poetry.

Hardly anyone teaches it and children simply fear it--they're not interested in engaging with it at all because they believe it's either some secret language they're not privy to or it's a meaningless drivel of "I think it means XYZ and who are you to tell me my opinion is wrong?"

At any rate they don't read poetry in the main. There are a precious handful of them who do--but most of their appreciation for verse has been withdrawn to lyrics.

I don't doubt that in the 18th century students wrote down the lyrics to hymns and drinking songs and other popular tunes--why wouldn't they? But did they not also commit the lyrics of poems to their memory and graffitos?

So why the stop? What's the problem?

I've explained before that it's twofold: one, we don't teach it and two, poets don't write it.

Now, there *are* poets who are thinking about writing the sort of poetry that would get people interested again in poetry in a general way.

There's work by Rebecca Lindenberg, Jill Alexander Essbaum, A.E. Stallings, Ernest Hilbert, Kelli Anne Noftle, and myself that *point* in that direction--the idea of an openness and accessibility. Hell, the glossary in the back of With Rough Gods is there explicitly because people no longer know their mythology.


That ain't it. Rebecca waxed on her facebook the other day about the Victorians having an idea that we as moderns find quaint but is, indeed, of a power. I've discussed this in short with Annie Finch but we've not gotten the chance to sit down and work out an idea.

But I think I'm beginning to see the light as it were. One criticism (?) of my work, especially WRG, is that I'm writing for a very specific audience of intelligent people who love both poetry and mythology and, for those people, WRG is an indispensable work.

Color me shocked but I thought I'd written it for everyone. 9 months into its publication life, however, with a hundred or so books sold and two dozen ebooks ordered, I think my critic was on to something--she is a brand specialist after all. Perhaps I wasn't as accessible as I thought.

I think, maybe, that even us poets who are writing (or think we might be writing or who I think might be thinking they're writing--there's only so much conversation I can start about why folks write poetry and what they intend to do before the other half of the discussion walks away for a different drink--sorry for being such a nerd, guys) for the common man don't have any idea what the hell we're doing.

Which is, in part, why I'm tinkering with children's literature. I think if you can't write a good poem for kids, maybe you're not doing it right. I've written (and written about?) a couple of fairy tales in my beloved Blues-Beowulf meter (4 beat caesura American) but I don't know if that cuts the mustard. Narrative with meter and rhyme might be the order of the day. If it's good enough for Poe and Tennyson why isn't it good enough for us?

Which leads to the next question--at who should we be aiming? Like Jesus says, your measures measure you--who is the paragon we must either Newtonianly stand upon or Bloomianly kick down? It's worth noting that the scientist says we build upon the past and the lit crit guy says we kill it. Who is doing better these days?

So I started this blog with a call to narrative. I keep up the call. But I add: make it for kids and make it rhyme. Let's hook them while they're young.

What's in a blog?

Back when I started Strong Verse (the blog), as a response to a need for a more "soapboxy" forum from Strong Verse (the poetry magazine) I worked on defining and describing poetry worth reading and writing.

Then I started writing some reviews about that, which got me into some pretty lovely places with regards to houses for my work.

It also has been a good exercise in reading.

Several times I've fallen off the wagon into politics and social commentary.

I think I'd like now to try posting daily. If anyone's still reading (folks are on RSS, yes?) then perhaps we'll get a lively conversation going.

Perhaps not.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Harriet (the Poetry foundation) responds to my Dickman/Mayakovsky review.

Well, it seems like my negative review has garnered a bit of notice over at Harriet.

While I'd prefer my several positive reviews to get more traction, it looks like folks only care about controversy. Ah well.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Review at CPR: Maykovsky's Revolver

Hello all!

I have a new review up at the Contemporary Poetry Review:

All Messed Up: G.M. Palmer on Matthew Dickman('s book Mayakovsky's Revolver).

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

With Rough Gods now on the Kindle!

Hello and happy fall to everyone (or happy spring to our austral friends)!

With Rough Gods is now available for only $0.99 on the Kindle! 
DRM free and share-enabled--spread the news and download the book!

Much love to you all,

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The folks running the London 2012 Olympics are Fascist Ninnies!

N.B.: The following is a bit of a political post, spurred on by the previous actions of the London Olympics folks and this post by Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing. I mean, really, folks--learn how the internet works and, moreover, respect your customers--that is, your fellow humans.

Hey, 2012 Olympics Schultzstaffel! I'm linking to you RIGHT HERE! You suck and your policies suck and you should feel bad!

Note: I hope the individual athletes do well. I love swimming & gymnastics. But the committee and all those in charge can sod right off.

P.S. Now in September, I can say, sadly, I only got to see water polo. It wasn't a very good summer.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Review: Olives by A.E. Stallings

(N.B.: my apologies for rescuing another review from development hell. I hope it still makes an impact.
Olives is a great book)

Reviewed: Olives by A.E. Stallings. TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern Press, 2012. $16.95

Olives opens at its end, with an eponymous anagrammatic poem:

Is love
so evil?
Is Eve? Lo,
love vies,
I love so
I solve.

More than a collection of great poems, Olives is a book. In Kevin Kelly’s “What Will Books Become,” a book is “a self-contained story, argument, or body of knowledge . . . it contains its own beginning, middle, and end.” Frost declared that from a collection of twenty-four poems the book should become the twenty-fifth. Few books of poetry live up to these ideals. A.E. Stallings’ third book of poetry, Olives, exceeds them, “full of the golden past and steeped in brine.”

“Olives” is also the title of the book’s opening poem:

Sometimes a craving comes for salt, not sweet,
For fruits that you can eat
Only if pickled in a vat of tears—
A rich and dark and indehiscent meat
Clinging tightly to the pit—on spears

Of toothpicks maybe,
Paradigmatic summers that decline
Like singular archaic nouns, the troops
Of hours in retreat. These fruits are mine—
Small bitter drupes
Full of the golden past and cured in brine.

Like every poem in the book, “Olives” is both immediately rewarding and able to be endlessly mined. This hymn to “dark and indehiscent meat” is, by its name, a hymn to the book, the collection, and poetry. Olives is an ambitious collection; not merely a smattering of poems published in the last decade or so but a whole built from distinct parts. Its integrity as a book is, in Stallings’ sublime way, a subtle answer to found poetry and flarf. If your idea of poetry is to build something from disparate, tangential parts then Olives is truly “the twenty-fifth poem.” The speaker says “these fruits are mine” and the reader responds—these fruits, these olive-poems, are ours. Craving to be drowned beneath the tide of Stallings’ verse we are submerged “in a vat of tears” as she packs us in a treasury of poetry.

“Jigsaw Puzzle,” reimagines the indehiscent olive-poem as a puzzle unable to shed its “lost borders” and “dizzy ledges.” It should live prominently in every English literature classroom as, like a jigsaw puzzle, it dances between chaos and completion:

First the four corners,
Then the flat edges.
Assemble the lost borders,
Walk the dizzy ledges,

Hoard one color—try
To make it all connected—
The water and the deep sky
And the sky reflected.

Absences align
And lock shapes into place,
And random shapes combine
To make a tree, a face.
Slowly you restore
The fractured world and start
To re-create an afternoon before
It fell apart:

Here is summer, here is blue,
Here two lovers kissing,
And here the nothingness shows through
Where one piece is missing.

The missing piece, of course, is the puzzle, the journey to completion that is our substantive search. The missing piece is what we crave.

By “Recitative,” a story begins to emerge—there is a couple at the center of Olives, “frayed like ravelled sleeves” when faced with the world, but together:

“. . .we were young, did not need much
To make us laugh instead, and touch,
And could not hear ourselves above
The arias of death and love.”

As the story progresses, the young lovers of Olives are engulfed “beneath the tide” of “arias of death and love,” emerging after death, hell, and birth.

“Sublunary” is indispensible in three ways. First it cements Stallings as having, among living poets, the greatest command of and fluency with the power of the sound of English. The conflicting consonance and assonance in the first two lines alone and its reflection of the conflict between the speaker and her lover is staggering:

Midsentence, we remembered the eclipse,
Arguing home through our scant patch of park. . .

More than anyone else now writing, Stallings’ work sounds good in the way poetry should. Clearly this is a bold statement. Since realizing (some time in between being told so by Michael Hofmann and William Logan and writing for my blog Strong Verse) that my knowledge of contemporary poetry was narrow to negligible, I have increased the scope of my reading, from Christian Bök to Timothy Murphy, from the new avant garde to what Silliman calls “the school of quietude,” from the children of Language Poetry to the Neo-Formalists. 

What I have looked for is not simply writing that “makes me feel as if the top of my head were taken off,” not only writing that is “the best words in the best order,” but writing that successfully juggles sound, image, and form, where each “person of the trinity” informs and enhances the other.

Where I found that was not in the work of Rae Armantrout or K. Silem Mohammed. Indeed, it is only in those whose work is sneered off as belonging to “quietude” that I, perhaps ironically, found good sound. Every poet is interested in “saying something.” Current poets’ experimentation with forms of all kind is perhaps unparalleled in the history of writing. No poet since Ezra Pound walked the earth has dared to ignore image. But since the birth of Rock & Roll whole troops of poets have seen fit to ignore poetry’s sonic nature. Stallings’ work is not just “the best words in the best order” but the best sounding words. Stallings is not only “saying something” with her poetry but saying it in the best way.

The second is that it introduces the concept of “arguing home” that is seminal to the growth of Olives’ speaker and her lover in the first section, “The Argument.” Set importantly against an eclipse, “Sublunary” demonstrates that these two may be cleaved from their family, past, and home, but will always cleave together.

The third is that in “Sublunary” we are introduced to the dominant symbol of Olives, the shadow. The importance of shades and shadows in the book peaks in the third section, wherein the speaker is revealed as Psyche, who is herself a soul and shadow. Throughout the book, shadows play consciously against the ripeness and fleshiness of by the olive.

On first reading, “The Compost Heap” seems out of place. Lovely, certainly, and, with its line “we left the garden in the fall” it naturally follows “Four Fibs,” a poem about Adam and Eve. Once you have read Olives in its entirety, however, the poem’s place within the greater narrative is solidified. It was upon reading this poem during my second read-through that Stallings made me aware this was no mere collection of verse. Not only does the poem work much better once you know the entire collection, it even points to its own quiet importance as “latent in its heart,” a subtlety of placement not seen since Ariel, which is perhaps the only American book of poetry in the last fifty years that can match the integrity and quality of Olives.

Understanding the deft construction of Olives as a whole, we should all be allowed to grin that the first sonnet in a collection of a poet known for her facility with formal poetry is titled “Deus Ex Machina.” As with “Four Fibs,” “The Compost Heap,” and “The Dress of One Occasion,” “Deus Ex Machina” continues to catalog the stresses that surround the now married young couple:

Because we were good at entanglements, but not
Resolution, and made a mess of plot,
Because there was no other way to fulfill
The ancient prophecy, because the will
Of the gods demanded punishment, because
Neither recognized who the other was,
Because there was no difference between
A tragic ending and a comic scene,
Because the play was running out of time,
Because the mechanism of the sublime
To stay in working order needed using,
Because it was a script not of our choosing,
Because we were actors, because we knew for a fact
We were only actors, because we could not act

The lack of punctuation at the end is no typo. Not only does Stallings here channel Eliot, notable opposite her previous channeling of Dickenson in “The Dress of One Occasion” but she leaves the scene incomplete. The titled god never appears from the machine. The actors—the lovers—are left waiting, unable to act, at this point in their life unable to distinguish “between / a tragic ending and a comic scene” which both foreshadows the next section’s dealing with death and the important symbolism of intrusion which will figure in the speaker’s future pregnancy and birth, summed up in “Telephonophobia”:

At any hour, the future or the past
Can dial into the room and change our lives

to which “The Argument,” “Burned,” and “On Visiting a Borrowed Country House in Arcadia” reply, leaving the speaker and her lover with the uncertainty of “Burned”: 

You cannot unburn what is burned.


You longed for home, but while you yearned,
The black ships smoldered on the coast;
You can’t go back. It’s time you learned

That even if you had returned,
You’d only be a kind of ghost.
You can’t go back. It’s time you learned
That what is burned is burned is burned.

The final poem of the first section, “On Visiting a Borrowed Country House in Arcadia” not only necessitated an immediate read-aloud to my wife of the first stanza:

To leave the city
Always takes a quarrel. Without warning,
Rancors that have gathered half the morning
Like things to pack, or a migrane, or a cloud,
Are suddenly allowed
To strike. They strike the same place twice.
We start by straining to be nice,
Then say something shitty.

But steals Penelope’s false dream of “the unseen ivory gates,” revealing the gulf of the “immense / ancient indifference / that does not sleep or dream” as a pitiless strain that tears at the edges of all love. Here Stallings leaves her lovers spent with the night cold between them.

In “Extinction of Silence,” Olives' second section, elegies and other funeral poems are introduced with the painfully named “Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Ascribed to Martin Luther.” Its questioning refrain summarizes the death to come:

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night?

The next poem, “Two Violins,” with its Frostian choice and critique of artistic influence arguably belongs to the opening ofOlives. It serves here, however, as an introduction to the deaths of the speaker’s teachers and mentors, reinforcing their deaths and “sad notes” on which she has built her life.

One was fire-red,
Hand-carved and new—
The local maker pried the wood
From a torn-down church’s pew,

The Devil’s instrument
Wrenched from the house of God.
It answered merrily and clear
Though my fingering was flawed;

Bright and sharp as a young wine,
They said, but it would mellow,
And that I would grow into it.
The other one was yellow

And nicked down at the chin,
A varnish of Baltic amber,
A one-piece back of tiger maple
And a low, dark timbre.

A century old, they said,
Its sound will never change.
Rich and deep on G and D,
Thin on the upper range—

And how it came from the Old World
Was anybody’s guess—
Light as an exile’s suitcase,
A belly of emptiness:

That was the one I chose—
Not the one of flame—
And teachers turned in their practiced hands
To see whence the sad notes came.

The next five poems, “Country Song,” “Sabbatical,” “The Ghost Ship,” “Handbook of the Foley Artist,” and “Extinction of Silence” explore not just metaphors for death but for rebirth as well, signaling the change that is to come, both in Olives and the life of its speaker. This is perhaps made most clear in “The Ghost Ship,” which:

. . . flies no flag,

Has no allegiance to a state,
No registry, no harbor berth,
Nowhere to discharge her freight
Upon the earth.

Two graveyard poems, “Funereal Stelae: Kerameikos, Athens” and “The Cenotaph: First Cemetery of Athens” close out the section. It is hardly surprising that at the physical center of Olives should be a poem about an empty tomb, a pit, “the grave of nobody.” It is in these two poems where the musicality of Stallings’ verse, and especially her rhymes, is at its most lovely. “Funereal Stelae” is delivered with a hint of Coleridge and Tennyson:

In the Museum of Sorrow stand
The marble dead on either hand:
Each seated formally on a chair
In profile, with a mild, blank stare.

Here Stallings bends the boundaries of a funereal ruin into fragments by which verse is shored. Conversely, in “The Cenotaph” (which is what Robert Lowell likely wanted to sound like), Stallings’ speaker realizes, like H.D.’s speaker in Trilogy, that what she seeks is not to be found among the dead:

The day I went to the First Cemetery
Looking for famous graves, the sky was blue
As wild irises in February
And there were mourners walking two by two
And gravediggers who had folk to bury
Along the cypress-vaulted avenue:
Priests and florists, all that’s understood
In the solemn bustle of death’s livelihood.

I came there seeking the adventurer,
The poet, the novelist, composer of song,
And though I had no map, yet I was sure
I’d come upon them if I wandered long
Among the plaques and formal portraiture,
The rows of marble headstones hundreds strong,
Eponymous mausoleums with their claim
To immortality, at least in name.

Then in the lesser alleys of the dead
Among the graven years mumbled with moss,
I felt somebody watching and turned my head,
And there a small girl stood, as at a loss,
And looked at me, as if something I’d read
Aloud was too loud, as if she might toss
Her curls and put her hands upon her hips,
But pressed instead a finger to her lips

To say, “Don’t wake them,” and she seemed to smile
To find herself and someone else alone
Sharing a secret for a little while,
Though I could walk away and she was stone.
I could not find among the rank and file
Among the rude democracy of bone
Any of the famous men I sought
Although I scanned the legends plot by plot.

But I found widows bent over the task
Of tending shrines, and women washing the grime
Patiently from angels who wore a mask
Where acid rain turned marble into lime.
A woman stopped me on the path to ask—
As someone asks a stranger for the time—
Where she could find the Sleeper, to lay a rose
Upon that breathless beauty’s long repose.

But roaming lost amidst death’s anterooms,
I did not find the exile or his bust,
Nor the swashbuckling ransacker of tombs
Who sifted stories for the golden dust
Of kings and queenly ladies at their looms,
All that was not devoured by moth or rust;
Nor the composer, nor the novelist.
The more I looked for them, the more I missed—

It was the grave of nobody I sought—
It was the purling of the ash-gray dove
In cypress boughs, and plastic flowers bought
To be the token of undying love
Some twenty years ago—they could not rot
But faded to a kind of garish mauve
Just like the fading afternoon—while I
Wandered between two dates, and earth and sky.

More than any poem in Olives, this one at the dead center of the book lays bare the seeking speaker with subtleties word-by-word (“I scanned the legends plot by plot”), construction-by-construction (there is a page break that is nearly baffling between lines three and four of the third stanza—until you realize that line four is where you discover the girl is a statue), and omission-by-omission (of all the people she is unable to find, a poet is not one of them).

“The Cenotaph” ought to be the final poem in “Extinction of Silence” but it is followed by “Pop Music,” a poem that on first reading seems to belong in Section IV, “Fairy-Tale Logic.” Once read a few times, however, it is clear that “Pop Music” is a riff on “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” suggesting that unheard music will, instead of being sweet, be “the music that your son will listen to / to drive you mad,” making “Pop Music’s” place in the book not just sensible but integral. “Extinction of Silence” becomes not simply a section of poems about death. Coming after the relationship-building “arguing home” of “The Argument,” the “Extinction of Silence” is not just the intrusion of the past that changes lives but the intrusion of the future as well. Silence will be extinguished not through death but because a child is coming into the life of the speaker and her husband. “Pop Music” serves as an elegy to what was once hip, a hymn to the unwilling passing of the torch of “cool.”

The next section, “Three Poems for Psyche,” is “a bold and reckless light” following the elegies of “Extinction of Silence.” Here our speaker becomes Psyche, Life, Breath, Spirit, Soul, the Shade, the solitary female hero of antiquity.

The first poem of the triad, “The Eldest Sister to Psyche” is a line palindrome (the 16th line is the 17th and so until the last is also the first) in which the “ugly sister’s” envious advice gets turned on its head so, as in all good stories, the complications, doubts, and dangers she warns of are eclipsed by the majesty and mystery of “this palace, those invisible hands.”

The central poem of the triad, “The Boatman to Psyche, on the River Styx,” is a terza rima style-check to Dante with Olivian shadows in full swing. A pregnant Psyche (“a double tug upon / the earth, and twice the trouble”) weighs down Charon’s scow not only with “the thing itself” but also weight

Out of the queasy future, ticking and ticking

Like a kind of bomb,
An X-ray developing in your chemical bath,
Your dark room.

Psyche has come with her weighted womb to seek Persephone. Charon delivers her, but not
without warning:

If she gives you a wooden box

Yea big—scarcely big enough for an infant—
Don’t open it, though you crave
A peek, a free sample. You say you won’t,

But the living have a flair for narrative.
What if I tell you all the beauty ever worn
By loveliness was borrowed from the grave

And belongs to the unborn?

Here Stallings taps into emotion and fear at its naked core. This is the emotional center of Olives. Stallings has led us through love and death into hell—but it is a hell not of fire but of waiting and advice. Every expectant mother is both terrified and thrilled at the change of life her child will wreak. Charon, with his own “flair for narrative” can’t help but pile fear on trepidation, like so many “helpful” mothers and their own horror stories.

The third section’s third and final poem, “Persephone to Psyche” is as stunning and devastating as Persephone’s stolen beauty. Here Stallings’ fearlessness of English rhyme and her deftness with multiple meanings give birth to a poem as tragic as it is catchy. Here the voice of ancient, lovely, childless wealth speaks to the young heroine, who possesses the only gift the queen cannot have:

Come sit with me here at the bar.
Another Lethe for the bride.
You’re pregnant? Well, of course you are!
Make that a Virgin Suicide.

Me and my man, we tried a spell,
A pharmacopeia of charms,

And yet… When I am lonesome, well,
I rock the stillborns in my arms.

This place is dead—a real dive.
We’re past all twists, rewards and perils.
But what the hell. We all arrive.
Here, have some pomegranate arils.

I heard an old wives’ tale above
When I was a girl with a girl’s treasure.
The story went, Soul married Love
And they conceived, and called her Pleasure.

In Anhedonia we take
Our bitters with hypnotic waters.
The dawn’s always about to break
But never does. We dream of daughters.

In the two lines “and yet. . . When I am lonesome, well, / I rock the stillborns in my arms” I find everything that is excellent in Stallings’ work. There is the deft control of sound; as “When” becomes “well” and “-borns” becomes “arms” we see the connection between time and health, between death and life. The double meaning of “well” reminds us that Persephone is a creature of dual nature—she literally lives in two places. The image of the queen of the dead whose desire for children can only be assuaged by rocking those who
never lived is both heartbreaking and beautiful. I stand at the abyss of these two lines and know I am in the presence of poetry.

Section IV, “Fairy Tale Logic,” finds our protagonist now a mother. The section begins with an eponymous poem which by virtue of its leading off the section tells us that parenthood is “full of impossible tasks” and “the will to do whatever must be done.” The difficulties in parenting are continued in “The Catch,” a poem that recalls Plath’s “Mirror”: “In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman / Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish,” though here the “terrible fish” is not the speaker but her child:

Something has come between us—
It will not sleep.
Every night it rises like a fish
Out of the deep.

It is hardly surprising that Stallings should recall Plath. Apart from trivial parallels about expatriate female poets who write about their children, Plath (or perhaps Heaney) is the only poet to whom it seems fair to compare Stallings, all others resting in her shadow. Stallings, of course, has the distinct advantage of being alive and well.

The next two poems, originally published separately, “Lullaby for a Colicky Baby” and “Baby Talk” are here printed on the same page as “Two Nursery Rhymes: Lullaby and Rebuttal.” Though I give Stallings wide berth when it comes to her artistry, I find these poems in need of polish, especially the ending of “Baby Talk”:

Now there is a sorrow you call teeth
That gnaws at me, that’s cutting its way through.
You cannot comfort me. I used to weep,
But now I keen: I sharpen and I cry.

Here is where Stallings verse should fall “in the gray zone between free and blank verse” (Mike Juster, writing for Able Muse) but instead falls short, disserving her verse. The lines scan in iambic pentameter (with a headless first line):

  /        x   x  x   /   x     /     /    /
Now there is a sorrow you call teeth
  x       /      x    /     x        /  x    x    /        /
That gnaws at me, that’s cutting its way through.
 x     /    x      /    x     /   x   /    x    /
You cannot comfort me. I used to weep,
  x     /   x    /    x    /   x    x   / /
But now I keen: I sharpen and I cry.

While the sentiment expressed is excellent--appearing to be the very height of what a teething baby feels (and I applaud the pyrrhic feet) the end falls clunky. The awkwardness begins with the second line’s superfluous second “that” and ends with the doubly awkward italics and repeated “I”s of the final line. I see no reason other than metrics why the ending phrase should not be “I sharpen and cry.” One could make a fine argument that the baby’s only frame of reference is the I; indeed this is a well-worn psychological path. It doesn’t, however, make the third “I” necessary unless there is a very bad mystical pun I am missing. Moreover, the italics feel like a hamfisted (or babyfisted?) reminder that we are being given split definitions of “keen.” Thank God it’s not a footnote but its on the nose nature is just as disruptive and it is also a bit insulting that the reader is not trusted here.

The next olive-poem is the sonnet “Containment,” tying the reader and the speaker back to Charon and a concern about how the past and the future’s intrusion upon the present creates a “harmonizing doubt from many ifs.” “Accident Waiting To Happen” (in which Plath’s “thumb stump” or Heaney’s “snug as a gun” would not be out of place) harmonizes that doubt by having the Psyche-Mother-Speaker and her child occupy the same poetic space. By the the end of the poem:

And my aim is steady.
You’re falling for me,
I feel it. I’m


One is aware that you, the reader, along with Stallings’ Psyche, are “ready” for the plenitude of parenthood, having been so prepared by the first half of the poems in “Fairy Tale Logic.”

In the remaining poems we are inhabiting fully a world of parents and children--a world far richer than the sterile promontories of most poetries. It is here that Stallings plays with language as a child plays with blocks, that is to say to her and our delight, even dusting off the old gem “hirple” to find a rhyme with purple in “Dinosaur Fever.”

“Tulips” at first appears to be exactly as lighthearted as “Dinosaur Fever.” In the context of the remainder of the book, however, deeper meanings can be seen in the poem’s last few lines:

The tulips make the other me
(The backwards one who’s in the mirror,

The one who can’t tell left from right),
Glance now over the wrong shoulder
To watch them get a little older
And give themselves up to the light.

Apart from the fact that in my reading notes I wrote “Alice!” after the mirror line and the poem being followed by “Alice in the Looking Glass” (to which I noted “of course.”), one understands that while the tulips stand in for the children, there is also the fact that the tulips will not live forever; though the mortality of one’s children is not a popular or pleasant topic, it is one we publicly acknowledge all too scarcely in the 21st century West. Here the shades and shadows of Olives that had previously pointed to Hades, remind us, as parents, that there is always a shadow around our children. It is that shadow that makes us creep in
to their bedrooms at 2 am just to check their breathing. It is that shadow that so terrified Barrie's Mrs. Darling. Stallings’ Psyche, however, acknowledges the shadows of her children, accepting their power and thereby strengthening ours.

In “Alice in the Looking Glass,” “where everything reverses save for time,” where once the speaker could herself inhabit the world of shades and shadows and reflected images she can no longer return. “The time is past for going back” and her past exists only in memory, in reflection.

“Umbrage” and “Hide and Seek” close the direct usage of shade and shadow in Olives, with “Hide and Seek” seeing the importance of shadows coming into its fullness: 

My son was pretending. He said, “I am a shadow!”
He did this simply by shutting his eyes:
Inhabiting the same space as his body
While keeping all the light from coming in.
I laughed and kissed him, though it chilled me a little,
How still he stood, giving darkness his shape.

This is an unconscious ars poetica that serves art far better than so many intentional manifestos. What is art but “giving darkness [our] shape,” letting it “inhabit the same space as [our] body”? We sublimate to language, risking losing ourselves to find great art, which even at its most uplifting leaves us “chilled a little.”.

At the point in Olives where one could nearly drown, “Sea Girls” come to the rescue. These are not the wreathed girls of Eliot, though, but mispronounced “gulls,” “some metamorphosis that Ovid missed,” changed by the child of Psyche who at first resists such “spellbound maidens” but in the end acquiesces: “it is I who am mistaken; / But you have changed them. You are the enchanter.” If we are to read Olives as a great book, one that speaks not only to us but through us, we ought to be struck by the power Stallings is
imbuing us with; we “are the enchanters”; it is through our misreading and reading (or is it metamorphic reading?), in “the work[ing] at words” that we “watch the heavens’ flotsam” and glimpse that which is “almost human” in us all.

The final three poems engage, in a way reminiscent of the earlier poem “The Catch,” what is between the mother and the child--which is also what is between the artist and the art and the audience and the art. In “Listening to Peter and the Wolf with Jason, Aged Three,” “the wolf is in the music” and “the music’s in the room,” as is the poetry, released in speech. “The Mother’s Loathing of Balloons,” a screed against empty and false comforts, joys, and distractions, finds Stallings’ Psyche at her Plathiest, worried that her children who: 

. . .grow bored
Clutching your
Umbilical cord

will ultimately forget her as they forget the balloon “on the ceiling” and that the balloon
itself will:

. . .float like happiness
To the sun,
Untethered afternoon,

Marooning all
You’ve left behind?

Where a hundred familial fears play themselves out at the end of a

. . .loose bloom
With no root

No seed.

Olives’ final poem is “Another Bedtime Story,” a Puck-like coda to “Fairy-Tale Logic” and the book itself, in which Olives are poems and fruit, shadows are Hades and children, and going to bed is lovemaking and death.

One day you realize it. It doesn’t need to be said--
Just as you turn the page--the end--and close the cover--

All, all of the stories are about going to bed:

Goldilocks snug upstairs, the toothy wolf instead
Of grandmother tucked in the quilts, crooning closer, closer--
One day you realize it. It hardly needs to be said:

The snow-pale princess sleeps--the pillow under her head
Of rose petals or crystal--and dreams of a lost lover--
All, all of the stories are about going to bed;

Even the one about the witches and ovens and gingerbread
In the dark heart of Europe--can children save each other?--
You start to doubt it a little. It doesn’t need to be said,

But I’ll say it, because it’s embedded in everything I’ve read,
The tales that start with once and end with ever after,
All, all of the stories are about going to bed,

About coming to terms with the night, alleviating the dread
Of laying the body down, of lying under a cover.
That’s why our children resist it so. That’s why it mustn’t be said:
All, all of the stories are about going to bed.

I know of no better collection of poetry than Olives. There are books to which it is equal but as a pure a work of poetry, as a gathering of scattered olive-poems into one jar (anecdotal or not), it is unsurpassed. Buy this book and buy it for everyone who loves and reads--not just poetry but words, the “bitter drupes” of meaning A.E. Stallings has here gathered into Olives.

With Rough Gods: The Album

Hello everyone!

After I recorded (but not yet publishing) a traditional audiobook, I got a sneak preview of the audiobook album for Ernest Hilbert's Sixty Sonnets and was blown away--live band, orchestra, all sorts of stuff.

So I rethought the audiobook for With Rough Gods. Collaborating with a few friends (calling themselves Girl Scout Fight Club), I produced With Rough Gods: The Album which is available to download for only 99 cents from Bandcamp.

I hope you enjoy the album as much as we enjoyed making it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Recent Publications

I'd like to thank the good folks Ernest Hilbert of E-Verse Radio, Rusty Barnes of Fried Chicken and Coffee, and Jeni Stewart of Burlesque Press for publishing these works in the last two months. Not only are they awesome for publishing my work, they're just plain awesome. If you're not reading their magazines, you should be.

"Now is the Winter's End" and "Wedding Spring" at Burlesque Press

"Translated from the Greek (for Alicia Stallings)", "On the Sixth Day", and "This Fond Imprisonment" at Burlesque Press

"September" and "Rawhide" at Fried Chicken and Coffee

"Catullus 16 (Pedicabo)" (translation) at Burlesque Press

"Hemiplegia", "The Long Defeat", "Pushing the Muse", "The Wind & the Willow", "Winemaking", and "Contemporary Poetry" at E-Verse Radio

Enjoy and give these folks your love!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gatsby Vocabulary Fun

Was Daisy Gatsby's goal or gaol?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Things you don't learn until after publication

That the "good" review outlets want the book before publication and sent by the publisher.

That no one really cares about your book like you do.

That getting friends to like a book on Amazon or tweet about it is like pulling teeth or herding cats.

That one sale on Amazon can jump you up 500,000 spots in their sales rankings.

That anyone might read your book and love it.

That the work is never over.

If you want to help, apart from buying a book, you can head over to my twitter and retweet something about the book or just talk about it with the hashtag #withroughgods. Or you can write about it on your blog or facebook. Thanks!

Friday, April 13, 2012

With Rough Gods: first review

A lovely review can be found here from blogger Bill Ectric.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Goodnight, my next to last love

Adrienne Rich has died. The penultimate love of my poetic life--one of only three who were alive when I was writing. Gwendolyn Brooks died a few years ago. Mary Oliver still lives.

The Observer (by Adrienne Rich)
Completely protected on all sides by volcanoes
a woman, darkhaired, in stained jeans
sleeps in central Africa.
In her dreams, her notebooks, still
private as maiden diaries,
the mountain gorillas move through their life term;
their gentleness survives
observation. Six bands of them
inhabit, with her, the wooded highland.
When I lay me down to sleep
unsheltered by any natural guardians
from the panicky life-cycle of my tribe
I wake in the old cellblock
observing the daily executions,
rehearsing the laws
I cannot subscribe to,
envying the pale gorilla-scented dawn
she wakes into, the stream where she washes her hair,
the camera-flash of her quiet
(The Floating Poem, Unnumbered)
Whatever happens with us,
your body will haunt mine--tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by the sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come--
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there--
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth--
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave--whatever happens, this is.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

With Rough Gods--Now Searchable!

Howdy folks!

Those of you who've been waiting to "try before you buy" With Rough Gods can now search inside the book for a preview.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Here's my reading from AWP

For those of you who couldn't be there--you can go here!

Monday, March 5, 2012

3 Poems from With Rough Gods at E-Verse Radio

So if you don't know E-Verse Radio you ought to (and I should update my links page, right?).

I'm not just saying this because they're promoting my book, With Rough Gods, but because the online magazine is a constant delight.

Love them!