We've lived in the South now almost as long as we've lived anywhere else, but today is, I think, the first time Halloween has fallen on a Sunday, which, apparently, means there are two Halloweens: one on the 31st for the non-religious kids, and one on the 30th for the kids of parents who view the Sunday-Halloween combo as sacrilege and so prefer to do "Trunk or Treat" events in church parking lots or hold "Harvest Festivals" at an area farm or to make their costumed offspring trudge shyly around the local mall and harass bored Footlocker employees and the guys at the Cash for Gold kiosks for stale BubbleYum.

A few years ago, I posted Larry Levis's "Elegy for Poe with the Music of a Carnival Inside It." This year: two Halloween-type poems by Robert Wrigley and Louise Glück. Wrigley because, yeah, the poem's got a pumpkin in it, but also because it's just a scary good poem. And Glück because it is one of the legitimately creepy poems I know of.




The Pumpkin Tree

Up a lattice of sumac and into the spars
of the elderberry, the pumpkin vine had climbed,
and a week after first frost
great pendulous melons dangled like gods
among the bunches of lesser berries
and the dazzled, half-drunken birds.

Then the pumpkins fell, one by one, each mythical fruit’s
dried umbilicus giving way in a rush
of gold and a snow of elliptical leaves.
A skull thud, the dull thunk of rupture,
a thin smoke then, like a soul, like dust.

But the last, high up and lodged
in a palm of limbs and pithy branches,
sways now in the slightest breeze and freeze
after freeze caves in on itself
and will, by spring, cast its black

leathery gaze out over the garden
like the mummy of a saint or an infirm
and desiccated pope. Below, where the others fell,
that seed not eaten by winter birds,
one, say, buried in meat and a sheath

of skin, will rise. From its blunt,
translucent nubbin, a leaf trifoliate
and a stalk as succulent as bamboo, it will climb
blithe as a baby Christ up the knees
of the wood it cannot know it is bound for.

Robert Wrigley
from Reign of Snakes
(audio via Poetry Foundation)

More poems by Robert Wrigley posted at Against Oblivion:

"I Like the Wind"
"Sweetbreads" (with audio)
"Do You Love Me?"

All Hallows

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Louise Glück
from The First Four Books of Poems

Additional poems by Louise Gluck posted at Against Oblivion:

"The Red Poppy"


Gaffigan on Halloween is about 2min 28sec in:

For the end of October

"The most expansive and moving poet to come out of the American Midwest since James Wright." — Marilyn Hacker

“[Baker] captures the everyday in all its surreal repetition.” — Chicago Tribune

“Surprising yet compelling....A mature poet with a keen eye.” — Weekly Standard

“Baker craft[s]...lyrical moments from the patient observation of landscape and animal life...such moments possess that rare ability to delight and provoke.” — Harvard Review

Neighbors in October

All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon
with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting
chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke.
Down the block we bend with the season:
shoes to polish for a big game,
storm windows to batten or patch.
And how like a field is the whole sky now
that the maples have shed their leaves, too.
It makes us believers—stationed in groups,
leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters
over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,
bagging gold for the cold days to come.

David Baker
from Midwest Eclogue

Other Baker poems posted at Against Oblivion: "Monarchs Landing and Flying"

Here's a link to Baker's W.W. Norton page.

New Willow Springs

The current issue of Willow Springs has two new poems by Joseph Millar, and their website (here's a link) is currently featuring both poems, as well as a statement by Joe about the originations and craft approach of each poem and a note on what he's reading. Here's one of the poems, and be sure you check out the Willow Springs website to read the other.


I’m writing this down with a pen from Rite Aid
which no one gave me and I did not steal,
my hand curved over itself
like the claw of a possum
following the late November light
into the woods where Tolstoy was buried.

Me and James Wright sit down by a red pine,
watching a wiry dog chase the crows
and hoping the rain will hold off.

We speak of the smell of certain saloons,
the bar lit gold by glasses of beer,
the dartboard and shuffleboard,
the mirrors and coats and the women’s dark hair.

We talk of the high school field’s cut grass,
the tough skin of the tackling dummy—
stopping every so often
to take a swallow of water and lime—
the fresh landscape of a woman’s back,
the Ohio River sucking its banks.

We talk of Li Po and Vallejo,
of telling the critics to stick the shield
of irony up their ass
and the three policemen
who appeared at Tolstoy’s funeral
whom the crowd forced to show
respect for the dead,
who took off their hats
and knelt down in the leaves.

Joseph Millar
from Willow Springs, Issue 66

Links to some of the other poems by Joseph Millar posted at Against Oblivion:

"At Bay Meadows with Robert Herrick" from Overtime
"Love Pirates" from Overtime
"Dark Harvest" from Overtime
"Feeding Tristam's Snake" from Fortune
"Fall Night" and "Caroling" from Fortune
"Lyrical" from Fortune

Saint Judas

Jerome Rothenberg's Poems and Poetics blog has an interesting post about artistic creation, gnosis, and the "Gospel of Judas," in which he describes how the gnostic works "present us...with religious and poetic propositions that open up new windows on reality – or reopen old ones."

Here's an example from the "Gospel of Judas," provided by Rothenberg, which certainly "reopens" reality for me.

Assignment: fill in the one missing line:
Judas said to Jesus, “[What] is the long duration of time that the human being will live?”
Jesus said, “Why are you wondering about this, that Adam, with his generation, has lived his span of life in the place where he has received his kingdom, with longevity with his ruler?”
Judas said to Jesus, “Does the human spirit die?”
Jesus said, “This is why God ordered Michael to give the spirits of people to them as a loan, so that they might offer service, but the Great One ordered Gabriel to grant spirits to the great generation with no ruler over it—that is, the spirit and the soul. Therefore, the [rest] of the souls [—one line missing—].


Saint Judas

When I went out to kill myself, I caught
A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
My name, my number, how my day began,
How soldiers milled around the garden stone
And sang amusing songs; how all that day
Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
I held the man for nothing in my arms.

James Wright
from Above the River

Myth & Mode

Here are two striking poems by Jane McKinley and Matt Nienow, both perfect for this time of year as fall descends and the day-to-day feels a bit duskier, sepia-toned, maybe even a tinge of the allegorical moving in on the periphery.

For me, contemporary myth poems deserving of at least another reading are a rare find. Usually what I find are poems that recontextualize a myth or mythic figure, but I don't end up thinking about the myth or this world in any way remotely approaching the new. These poems by McKinley and Nienow, though, floored me.

I've been thinking about the last few lines of this Jane McKinley poem for weeks: "She's caught between two worlds, an eye in each, / the way I am this morning...." A lovely music here, too.

McKinley's first book, Vanitas, winner of the Walt McDonald First Book Prize, is forthcoming from Texas Tech UP. Early 2011. Here's a link to another of McKinley's poems, "Speaking Gillican," posted at Poetry Daily.

The next poem by Matthew Nienow (be sure you click over to read the other good stuff published in the current issue of The Collagist) is one of those rare poems that hit me so hard in the gut on a first read that I actually uttered an expletive loud enough for E. to ask me what was the matter.

The matter was, as you'll find, that Matt's poem is a myth poem that also takes on a classical ode structure. And, no, I don't think I'm contorting the definition of "ode." There's no casual tossing around of the term in his poem. It gestures toward the Pindaric in structure and the Horatian in sensibility, and I find it to be deeply nostalgic, and moving. I think you will, too. Also, be sure to click the link and visit Matthew's blog, "It Goes Without Saying."


Persephone Descending

As if she were cock-eyed—one eye trained on what’s below,
the other squinting toward the sky—the landscape divides.
What’s at her feet is variegated, tinged with ash:
goldenrod smothered by silver, Queen Anne’s lace laid waste
by frost, curled into a bird’s nest, flecked with shroud.

The eye still angling life reels in a blaze of pomegranate,
quince, a copper beech, blue plums, and sun-streaked wheat.
She’s caught between two worlds, an eye in each,
the way I am this morning, winter pawing at my feet
while autumn rages through the trees, dying to fall.

Jane McKinley
from The Georgia Review, Fall 2010

Ode to Paul Bunyan

To have been blinded by the blade
just sharpened, its devil-toothed
grin swimming through the air
like whole schools of fish
or the ocean itself, a cliff
of agates, a sliver, a gleam,
the slit eye of a monster, a gash
in a silver creature’s side,
an opening to another world,
the crescent moon captured
and put to work, commanded
by the one man closer to god
than any other, who perhaps
should have been named Jesus
if Paul Bunyan hadn’t had
the perfect ring and pitch.

O, to have been witness to your work,
your ox, to have stood clear,
to have felt the thunder
of your cough, the shirring
of your breath, the rain
of your perspiration,
the earthquake of your step,

to have seen you sleeping
and think you the most beautiful mountain,
to have seen Babe standing over you
and think her the sky.

Matthew Nienow
from The Collagist, Issue 15


I had the pleasure of hearing Marge Piercy read at University of Tennessee last night, and wrote town the titles in my pocket notebook as she read them, though my pen was having issues and much of my handwriting is illegible. I've deciphered my ink scrawls as best I can, and here's a rough setlist:
  • "To be of use"
  • "What are big girls made of?"
  • "Putting the good things away"
  • "Eat fruit"
  • "Woman in a shoe"
  • "Your father's fourth heart attack"
  • "Good old days at home sweet home"
  • "On Shabbat she danced in the candle flames"
  • "The fundamental truth"
  • "Gifts that keep on giving"
  • "Love's clay"
  • "Deadlocked wedlock"
  • "Tracks"
  • "Swear it"
  • "Tao of touch"
  • "Football for Dummies"
  • "Colors passing through us"
  • "My mother gives me her recipe"
  • "The yellow light"
  • "Art of blessing the day"

Thinking I'd post some video of her reading to give you a feel of the event, I did a search on YouTube and found there's not a whole helluva lot out there. Lots of homemade videos of people reading her poem "Barbie doll," but only a couple of her.

I did, however, to my great surprise, find a video of Piercy reading "Eat fruit," and it is actually from last night. I'm sure it is from last night because I recognize those people caught in the shot.

Here's the video clip, and then another favorite poem from last night.

The yellow light

When I see—obsolete, forgotten—
a yellow porchlight, I am transported
to muggy Michigan evenings.
My breath is thick with July.

We are playing pinochle.
Every face card is a relative.
Now we are playing Hearts
but I am the Queen of Spades.

Mosquitoes hum over the weedy
lake. An owl groans in the pines.
Moths hurl themselves against
the screens, a dry brown rain.

Yellow makes every card black.
The eyes of my uncles are avid.
They are playing for pennies
and blood. One shows off

a new Buick, one a new wife.
The women are whispering
about bellies and beds.
It always smells like fried perch.

I am afraid I will never grow up.
I think the owl is calling me
over the black water to hide
in the pines and turn, turn

into something strange and dark
with wings and talons and words
of a more powerful language
than uncles and aunts know,
than uncles and aunts understand.

Marge Piercy
from Colors Passing Through Us

"Not one is not held in the arms of the rest"

Mule Heart

On the days when the rest
have failed you,
let this much be yours--
flies, dust, an unnameable odor,
the two waiting baskets:
one for the lemons and passion,
the other for all you have lost.
Both empty,
it will come to your shoulder,
breathe slowly against your bare arm.
If you offer it hay, it will eat.
Offered nothing,
it will stand as long as you ask.
The little bells of the bridle will hang
beside you quietly,
in the heat and the tree's thin shade.
Do not let its sparse mane deceive you,
or the way the left ear swivels into dream.
This too is a gift of the gods,
calm and complete.

Jane Hirshfield
from The Lives of the Heart

What the Heart Wants

See then
what the heart wants,
that pliable iron
sprung to the poppy's redness,
the honey's gold, winged
as the heron-lit water is:
by reflecting.
As an aged elephant answers
the slightest, first gesture of hand,
it puts itself at the mercy--
utterly docile, the forces
that brought it there vanished,
fold into fold.
And the old-ice ivory, the unstartlable
black of the eye that has traveled so far
with the fringed, peripheral howdah
swaying behind, look mildly back
as it swings the whole bulk of the body
close to the ground. Over and over
it does this, bends to what asks.
Whatever asks, heart kneels and offers to bear.

Jane Hirshfield
from The October Palace

The Lives of the Heart

Are ligneous, muscular, chemical.
Wear birch-colored feathers,
green tunnels of horse-tail reed.
Wear calcified spirals, Fibonaccian spheres.
Are edible; are glassy; are clay; blue schist.
Can be burned as tallow, as coal,
can be skinned for garnets, for shoes.
Cast shadows or light;
shuffle; snort; cry out in passion.
Are salt, are bitter,
tear sweet grass with their teeth.
Step silently into blue needle-fall at dawn.
Thrash in the net until hit.
Rise up as cities, as serpentined magma, as maples,
hiss lava-red into the sea.
Leave the strange kiss of their bodies
in Burgess Shale. Can be found, can be lost,
can be carried, broken, sung.
Lie dormant until they are opened by ice,
by drought. Go blind in the service of lace.
Are starving, are sated, indifferent, curious, mad.
Are stamped out in plastic, in tin.
Are stubborn, are careful, are slipshod,
are strung on the blue backs of flies
on the black backs of cows.
Wander the vacant whale-roads, the white thickets
heavy with slaughter.
Wander the fragrant carpets of alpine flowers.
Not one is not held in the arms of the rest, to blossom.
Not one is not given to ecstasy's lions.
Not one does not grieve.
Each of them opens and closes, closes and opens
the heavy gate--violent, serene, consenting, suffering it all.

Jane Hirshfield
from The Lives of the Heart

Marge Piercy Reading at University of Tennessee

Via Tennessee Today:
Poet, novelist and essayist Marge Piercy will read her poems and chat with the public next week in Knoxville.

Piercy will read from her work “The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems of Ritual and Remembrance,” at Temple Beth El of Knoxville, 3037 Kingston Pike, at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17. On Monday, Oct. 18, she will host an informal author chat from 3 to 4 p.m. at 1210-1211 McClung Tower on the UT Knoxville campus and will present “Poetry of Jewish Identity, a reading” in the University Center auditorium at 7 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.

Piercy is the author of 17 books of poetry, including “The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme,” and 17 novels, including “He, She, It” and “Gone to Soldiers.” She has published stage plays, a book on the craft of poetry, and a memoir, “Sleeping With Cats.”

Sponsors include the UT Creative Writing Program in association with the John C. Hodges Better English Fund, the Ready for the World international and intercultural initiative, the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies, Writers in the Library, the UT Commission for Women, the Sisterhood of Temple Beth El of Knoxville and Heska Amuna Synagogue.

House built of breath

Words plain as pancakes syruped with endearment.
Simple as potatoes, homely as cottage cheese.

Wet as onions, dry as salt.
Slow as honey, fast as seltzer,

my raisin, my sultana, my apricot love
my artichoke, furry one, my pineapple

I love you daily as milk,
I love you nightly as aromatic port.

The words trail a bitter slime like slugs,
then in the belly warm like cabbage borscht.

The words are hung out on the line,
sheets for the wind to bleach.

The words are simmering slowly
on the back burner like a good stew.

Words are the kindling in the wood stove.
Even the quilt at night is stuffed with word down.

When we are alone the walls sing
and even the cats talk but only in Yiddish.

When we are alone we make love in deeds.
And then in words. And then in food.

Marge Piercy
from The Art of Blessing the Day

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy
from To Be of Use

Wendell Berry on October 10

October 10

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of a crow sounds
loud—a landmark—now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

Wendell Berry
from Selected Poems


After this post mentioning William Carlos Williams's In the American Grain, I went to my "Poets on Poetry" bookshelves to take down my copy and give it a quick review. Well, the book wasn't there, which means, I suppose, that I loaned it out some time. Probably to a student. And, as is rarely the case, it didn't get returned to me, which is, in the end, just fine with me.

Maybe that student will continue reading, continue writing poems, because they've got the book. Or maybe they won't, but will stumble on it one afternoon like this one, and will remember the class they were in, and think generous thoughts about their classmates, and think of me fondly, as I do my teachers.

I've been thinking a lot about my teachers as of late, and not finding the Williams reminded me that it was my teacher and mentor Garrett Hongo who first charged me to read it.

I've also been rereading my teachers' poetry collections, and doing this because I'm seeking, I think, to reconnect to my student-past, and seeking to, at the same time, recontextualize my student-teacher-present while coming to terms with my teacher-future.

Sure, education is something that continues for a lifetime. Yeah, I get that. But now that I've completed my PhD coursework and finished my comprehensive exams, this is all a strange reality, a strange liminality.

I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day and he asked me to try to describe what it feels like to be nearly done with my schooling. I think he was expecting me to rave with joy, but what I said was that, while there's a deep sense of completion--these lines from Jon Anderson come to mind: "Done, there was a kind of exultation / that wanted to go on."--there is, also, a feeling of grief.

I'm still sorting out the implications of this, but it is true nonetheless. A threshold has been crossed, and a critical part of my becoming has been left behind. Is it wrong to grieve this? I don't think so.

Again, Jon Anderson: "My grief is that I bear no grief / & so I bear myself."

While there is a tone of sadness, the chord struck within me is also appreciative and optimistic, and hopeful for the what's-to-come.

I started rereading Garrett Hongo's The River of Heaven last night, and E. asked me if my perspective on his work has changed in the years since I was his assistant, and since I worked so closely with him at University of Oregon. All I could say was, "Nope. He's still the man and he knows how to write a good fucking poem."

I'm going to type up and post Garrett's poem "Mendocino Rose" in just a minute, but before I post that here I want to quote some from his commentary on the poem, a background which can be found in his memoir Volcano.

And I excerpt this here because his description of grieving and of feeling and of connecting sorrow to power is something I find very helpful right now as I try to understand my own life as it becomes.

Here is Garrett describing his grieving process after the loss of his father,  a description that becomes, in the end, a meditation on grief and its elegiac processes moving toward a powerful beauty. You'll see this in poem as well.

From the chapter "Mendocino Rose" in Volcano:
When I realized what the man was singing, true grieving rose up in me like a swelling breaker and I dove under it. I looked off from the black asphalt road winding ahead to the roses blooming around me as though they were a music too. I looked off over the cliffs across the Pacific....It was not only a place but a resolve of purpose, I suppose, a feeling of connection not so much to any particular place, though that helps, but to the world of feeling and openness to it, that exchange between the human and whatever might be the rest--the infinite, say, or the natural world of pure spirit that the nineteenth-century romantic philosophers defined as sublime. Whatever it is that is greater than the self but that, nevertheless, empowers the self, overwhelms and inspirits the self. "And who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic orders?" wrote Rilke, skeptically, in his Duino Elegies. "Even if, suddenly, one of them were to grip me to his heart, I'd vanish in his overwhelming presence." Beauty is nothing but the start of a terror we can hardly bear, he concluded, a scorn so serene it could kill us. It is the Buddhist's vajra, the lightning bolt of pure, cosmic perception, a grieving that leads to eternity.

Mendocino Rose

In California, north of the Golden Gate,
the vine grows almost everywhere,
      erupting out of pastureland,
from under the shade of eucalyptus
      by the side of the road,
overtaking all the ghost shacks and broken fences
      crumbling with rot
and drenched in the fresh rains.

It mimes, in its steady, cloudlike replicas,
      the shape of whatever it smothers,
a gentle greenery
      trellised up the side
of a barn or pump station
      far up the bluffs above Highway 1,
florets and blossoms,
      from the road anyway,
looking like knots and red dreadlocks,
      ephemeral and glorious,
hanging from overgrown eaves.

I'd been listening to a tape on the car stereo,
a song I'd play and rewind,
      and play again,
a ballad or a love song
      sung by my favorite tenor,
a Hawaiian man known for his poverty
      and richness of heart,
and I felt, wheeling through the vinelike curves
      of that coastal road,
sliding on the slick asphalt
      through the dips and in the S-turns,
and braking just in time,
      that it would have served as the dirge
I didn't know to sing
      when I needed to,
a song to cadence my heart
      and its tuneless stammering.

Ipo lei manu, he sang, without confusion,
      I send these garlands,
and the roses seemed everywhere around me then,
      profuse and luxurious
as the rain in its grey robes,
      undulant processionals over the land,
echoes, in snarls of extravagant color,
      of the music
and the collapsing shapes
      they seemed to triumph over.

Garrett Hongo
from The River of Heaven

WCWs Vs. The Tea Party

Tinfish #20 Cover Art
Click image for more info
Last month, Susan M. Schultz, editor of Tinfish Press, posted a thoughtful piece at her Editor's Blog. In it she examines William Carlos Williams' In the American Grain and his attacks on the Puritans' fear and hatred of the new and the wild.

Provocatively, Schultz then connects Williams and the Puritans to our current political discourse, to the Tea Party movement and Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, to ethical issues of naming and seeing, and finally to creative writing pedagogy.

I'm glad I bookmarked it and came back to it this morning. Certainly worth reading. I recommend it to you.

Here's a teaser:
Against O'Donnell and her ilk, I hear Williams calling out the Puritans, making his argument over and again that American violence and American sexual repression are allied. Turn to the end of "Voyage of the Mayflower," and Williams turns O'Donnell against herself (again I blush): "What prevented the normal growth? Was it England, that northern strain, the soil they [Puritans] landed on? It was, of course, the whole weight of the wild continent that made their condition of mind advantageous, forcing it to reproduce its own likeness, and no more" (68). Not only did the Puritans refuse to generate new names for the places, the plants, the animals they encountered in the New World, according to Williams, they also refused to touch the place they entered. Their purity was a mark of their fear, and their purity condemned them to isolation and violence.

"But it was October"

It's fall. You must, therefore, click here to re/read this piece by Colin Nissan titled "It's Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers."

Here's an excerpt, redacted (as best I can) for the children:
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal. I'm about to head up to the attic right now to find that wicker fucker, dust it off, and jam it with an insanely ornate assortment of shellacked vegetables. When my guests come over it's gonna be like, BLAMMO! Check out my shellacked decorative vegetables, assholes. Guess what season it is—fucking fall. There's a nip in the air and my house is full of mutant fucking squash.

It's finally feeling like the world's on the verge of fall around here. Had to break out the car coat and stocking cap yesterday morning heading out for work. Cider and pumpkins are for sale at the grocery store. The Honeycrisp apples can't be far behind. Morning's dark lasts noticeably longer, and I'm beginning to feel that general urge to hunker down.

It's also the fall season of manuscript submissions, and mine is out there for the first time. Praise Nothing is currently at six contests, and I'll add at least six more to that number by the end of the year. Now the waiting begins. That, and the working on the new poems.

And speaking of the poems, I recently received my contributor's copy of the new issue of New South which contains my poem "Field Rows," a poem that, I'm humbled and honored to say, Robert Wrigley selected for the 2010 New South Poetry Prize.

And what an impressive issue it is! Jim May and all the folks at New South are doing such good work, and I feel fortunate to have my work appear in their journal for a second time, and this time alongside such fine poets as, among others, Judith Harris, Brian Barker, David Wagoner, and Tony Hoagland, as well as two friends, Jeff Newberry and Cody Lumpkin, and other poets whose work I wasn't previously familiar with but, I'm sure of this, will now see everywhere.

I also received some good news from Jake Adam York at Copper Nickel. My poem "A Patterning of Fire, a Gathering of Ash" will be published in a forthcoming issue, Issue 15, I think.

On a whim, I'd entered the poem in their contest figuring that the small entrance fee was worth it because it paid for a subscription. While I wasn't selected as a winner, I was a finalist for the prize, and feel great about that, but mostly I'm extremely happy to have this poem in particular placed in what is, I think, one of the country's finest literary journals.

"A Patterning" is the longest poem I've published to date, coming in at eight pages, and it's also the big one that closes my book manuscript. So, really looking forward to seeing it in print.


I've posted this poem by Stephen Dobyns before, but I want to give a shoutout to Luke Johnson for reminding me of it this fall.

How to Like It

These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let's go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let's tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.

[Click the link to read the rest of the poem at Luke's blog, Proof of Blog]


In Autumn

At day's light
I dressed my cold body & went out.
Calling the dogs, I climbed the west hill,
Threw cut wood down to the road for hauling.
Done, there was a kind of exultation
That wanted to go on; I made my way
Up through briers & vines
To a great stone that rises at the hill's brow,
Large enough to stand on. The river
Below was a thick, dark line.
My house was quaint.
I sat, not thoughtful,
Lost in the body awhile,
Then came down the back way, winding
Through stands of cedar & pine.

I can tell you where I live.
My grief is that I bear no grief
& so I bear myself. I know I live apart.
But have had long evenings in conversation,
The faces of which betrayed
No separation from a place or time. Now,
In the middle of my life,
A woman of delicate bearing gives me
Her hand, & friends
Are so enclosed within my reasoning
I am occasionally them.

When I had finally stood, high above
The house, land, my life's slow dream,
For a moment I was required
To turn to those deep rows of cedar,
& would have gone
On walking endlessly in.
I understand by the body's knowledge
I will not begin again.
But it was October: leaves
In the yellowed light were altered & familiar.
We who have changed, & have
No hope of change, must now love
The passage of time.

Jon Anderson
from The Milky Way: Poems 1967-1982


Here's a poem by my first poetry writing teacher/mentor, Laurie Lamon.


we marveled
at the bathroom tile and the retractable
clothesline, the bedroom window’s iron grille

whose nails, driven into brick, had pulled
loose and held through decades
of rust and wind, world wars, a thousand

thousand burning sunset hours. We watched
dusk flame against the window ledge
where our sack of cold food stayed cold,

and where the pigeons we named Edward
and Sophia had basked, their pearl-gray breasts
pulsing with the ordinary blood

of mates alighting in a narrow space
inside a view’s corridor—wind and cage of wind
swung above the street like a painting on a nail.

Unsettled, they carried upward
their feathers’ ladders of dirt and air, and met
the evening’s narrow cross-hatched

winds, their bodies laden with the small exegeses
we imagined to be thirst and hunger,
hunger and gladness.

We had turned our chairs to watch through flecks
of paint and faded fingerprints the street,
the rooms across from us—in daylight, a woman’s back,

a blue-white hinge of desk and window,
the sweater draped across a chair
and falling earthward—an abundant, pale yellow.

Laurie Lamon
from Without Wings

Support a poet and poetry! Click here to purchase Without Wings from CavanKerry Press.

Here are links to other poems of Laurie's posted at Against Oblivion:

"Bird Call, Wave"
"Prime Number"


Yesterday afternoon I needed to .pdf (yes, it's a verb) a batch of student essays and was finally forced to clean off the lid of the scanner where piles of receipts, credit card and medical bill statements, literary journals, and general correspondance, had accumulated and subsequently been ignored over the last couple of months while studying for my final preliminary exam. (Yep, I'm happy to report that I am now ABD.)

Buried under an old issue of The Writer's Chronicle, I found a stack of photos I'd been meaning to scan for perpetuity's sake, several of which were from a trip to the Oregon State Penitentiary. This happened when I was teaching literature, comp, and poetry writing, at Chemeketa Community College, and was invited by the prison chapter of Toastmasters to bring my students in for a joint reading and brief workshop.

Here's a picture of me at the event. Young, enthusiastic, excitable, and, most certainly, adrenaline-filled and sweaty. Six or so years later, I like to think all but the first and the last adjectives still apply.

(If you ask my students, the first doesn't. The other day, one of them guessed my age to be 37. I am still a ways off from late thirties territory, so I'm not sure if this number is a complement or not. I prefer to think it is.)

I started teaching in September, 2001, only a few weeks after 9/11. Intro to Poetry Writing at University of Oregon. Hard to believe I'm now into my tenth year of teaching. Can it be? Check my math.

I'm proud of this, and also feel grateful to have had so many amazing students, and to be fortunate to have been able to keep in touch with a large handful of them. Last week, I received an email from a woman in that first poetry writing class updating me on her life and whereabouts, the poetry she's still writing. Small blessings.

Last Friday was another small blessing, and a powerful one. I had the chance to talk about poetry live via Skype with students in Effingham, Kansas, a town with a population of not quite 600. It's about an hour and a half northwest of Kansas City. A rural area of townships and unincorporated communities.

The students had read a fifteen-page sample of my poetry, and, for a good forty minutes or so, I fielded their brilliant and insightful questions about my poems, about what inspires my work, about why my poems have so many religious allusions and don't seem to offer any redemption, why I write about Kansas, about the role of poetry in the world. An unforgettable experience for me, and hopefully a good one for those young writers.

The national media pundits as of late have been giving some attention to education in this country, and it seems to be this documentary that's drawn their gaze.

Certainly it's an understatement to say there's a lot to address in this country in terms of education. Off the top of my head: there's the legacy of initiatives like direct instruction, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top. Arguments to be made about teacher pay and performance, unions, budgets that need to be balanced. ESL, charter schools, school violence, busing, elimination of arts education, parental involvement, US rankings compared to the rest of the West. The list goes on....

And while it's difficult to even begin addressing this issue, while it's difficult to even know where to start, maybe one place to begin is by thanking our teachers, by taking a moment to send an email to a teacher who inspired you. Send a note of thanks to a teacher who put you back on the right path, to one who wouldn't let "I can't do it" slide by without responding with, "We don't do 'I can't.'"(That one's from Mrs. Van Noord, my 7th Grade English teacher.)

Last night, I watched A&E's new reality show "Teach: Tony Danza." Here's the promotional clip if you haven't seen it.

The show makes me uncomfortable.

I worry about the sensationalization of education's very complex realities becoming quote-unquote "reality." I worry about the kids/students becoming characters. I worry about dropout rates, school violence, prejudice and injustice, class difference, becoming entertaining boiler plate at worst and cheap and passing political slogans at best. I worry that the line between truth, experience, and the deep reality of people's lives, will again be blurred by camera crews, production, and ad revenue.

But the show also touched my heart.

In the first episode, you see determined kids who want to learn, who want to get out, move up, make a better life for themselves. You see parents determined to help their kids, to wrench a future out of their school's/community's/city's/nation's apathy, parents who have been waiting for a teacher who cares. Moving to say the least.

The "reality," however, is already far from real.

I found Danza to be a sympathetic figure, but, then again, he only teaches one class per day. When the camera finds him with a mug of beer at a bar after the first day of teaching and coaching, I found myself momentarily identifying with him, thinking, "You can do it, Tony. Hang in there, buddy." But just as quickly as I sympathized, I thought of those teachers I know, and the real reality of their teaching lives.

A good friend of mine is currently teaching seven college classes. Some semesters he's taught as many as eleven between in-the-classroom instruction and online. Keep in mind, a full load college load is four classes per term.

For years, my wife taught in a poor, rural school. Taught all seven class periods every single day, tutored students before and after school and during lunch, and coached volleyball, all before getting home around 8 o'clock with a stack of work to grade and lessons to plan.

This isn't about teacher pay, but if you want to crunch the numbers, that puts her salary way below minimum wage. Tony Danza will, no doubt, make a good chunk of change for teaching his 40min per day.

This isn't about teacher pay. It's about what teacher's make.