I'm honored to say that I'll be sharing the stage with poet Arthur Smith this Thursday evening (7pm at the Laurel Theater) for the monthly meeting of the Knoxville Writers' Guild. Here are the details:

Poets Read, Disclose Writing Process at May Meeting


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Arthur Smith and Joshua Robbins, both award-winning poets, will read from their latest books at the May Knoxville Writers’ Guild meeting.

The event, which will be open to the public, begins at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 2, at the Laurel Theater, at the corner of Laurel Avenue and 16th Street in Fort Sanders. A $2 donation is requested at the door. The building is handicapped accessible. Additional parking is available at Redeemer Church of Knoxville, 1642 Highland Ave.

“We will each read from our new books and speak about our respective processes for writing lyric poetry and how we each attempt to explore a deep-seated faith in the mysterious and redemptive powers of poetry,” Robbins said.

Smith’s “The Fortunate Era,” published by Carnegie Mellon University Press earlier this year, follows a narrator through personal loss and – looming in the future – the threat of our own extinction. In the process, the poems range from the microscopic to the cosmic, from the worlds of literature, science, culture, politics and religion

Robbins writes from a suburban landscape of strip mall bars and vacant lots in which addicts and itinerant preachers, hymns and the turnpike's whine are all made to confess, to testify to the hard truths of faith and doubt in middle-class America, in “Praise Nothing,” published by University of Arkansas Press earlier this year.

“It should be a fun evening,” Smith said.

Both men teach at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Robbins teaches literature and creative writing, and Smith is a professor of English. Robbins has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations, and his other recognitions include the James Wright Poetry Award, the “New South” Prize and selection for the “Best New Poets” anthology.

Smith is the author of four collections of poetry and his awards include a “Discovery” / “The Nation” Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes.

Copies of both books will be available for purchase at the meeting.

This event, in some ways, feels like the culmination of years of work. Back in the Oregon MFA days, I took a seminar from Garrett Hongo on elegy. I worked for Garrett as his assistant that first year and, one evening, as he often did, Garrett called me and said I should read something for our discussion the following Wednesday. I was to read his "good friend Art Smith's book Elegy on Independence Day." I read it, devoured it, ended up writing my first grad school paper on it.

Art was a big reason I ended up at the University of Tennessee for my PhD work. I've learned so much from him about trade craft, poetics, the writing life, how to be a better man.

(Students: if you're looking for someone to blame for my "six lines per day" assignments, Art Smith's your guy.)

I'm honored to read with him. And I'm proud to call him my friend.

Hope to see you Thursday evening. Here's a poem from his most recent collection, The Fortunate Era:


Back then, for all I cared,
God could have been a spider
Glossy as a buttercup
Sunning in the garden
Of the first woman
Time gave me to
And then took back.

What I mean is, once, like ice,
Something pierced my heart
With a light
So fierce
It heightened
Every thin-stemmed flower after.

That’s how I think of God now,
Each time—
Going back to her—
That immense and holy cold, an arrow
sinking in.

Arthur Smith
from The Fortunate Era

Other poems by Arthur Smith posted at Against Oblivion:

"Elegy on Independence Day"
"The Brilliant Days"
"Golden Gate"
"Sea of Blessings"

Find What You Love &...Then What?

Today I am thinking about the artistic life, in which discipline and excess are so often flip sides of the same coin. I recently stumbled across an essay on The Guardian's music blog by concert pianist James Rhodes, who advises us to "Find What You Love and Let It Kill You." This is how he begins:

After the inevitable "How many hours a day do you practice?" and "Show me your hands," the most common thing people say to me when they hear I'm a pianist is "I used to play the piano as a kid. I really regret giving it up." I imagine authors have lost count of the number of people who have told them they "always had a book inside them." We seem to have evolved into a society of mourned and misplaced creativity. A world where people have simply surrendered to (or been beaten into submission by) the sleepwalk of work, domesticity, mortgage repayments, junk food, junk TV, junk everything, angry ex-wives, ADHD kids and the lure of eating chicken from a bucket while emailing clients at 8pm on a weekend. 
[Full text here]

In pursuit of a career in music, Rhodes later says "Admittedly, I went a little extreme – no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight." He traces the title advice back to poet Charles Bukowski. But the specific provenance is iffy--the most credible source I've seen places the line in the context of a letter, the full text of which reads:

My dear, 
Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains. 
For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it's much better to be killed by a lover. 
Falsely yours,
Henry Charles Bukowski

And one has to reconcile this advice with some of the other things Bukowski had to say about "love," which he compares here to a fleeting fog:

The pride of a full-time artist is that we make a living doing what we love. Of course, the reality is that our job then includes all kinds of things we do not love. We drown in email like everyone else. I lose sleep over my complete failure at keeping track of airline miles, Amtrak Rewards, or Hilton points. Rhodes mentions "hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews"; I would add to that list eight-hour drives, coffee machines grinding mid-poem, and casual delays in what to you is critical income and to others is a piddling honorarium not worth the paperwork. 

The advice to those embarking on start-up is often "Work, family, sleep--pick two." I would tweak that advice for those embarking on a full-time career in the arts, to "Location, comfort, children--pick two." If you can buck those hard choices, good on ya. I'm just being honest about what I've seen in my own experience. 

But damn it, choose two. You deserve two. Whatever your choices may choose to be, they should not be to let your art kill you. Rhodes knows that, deep down. His vignette of what motivates him to stay on this difficult course is an evocation of immortality through music, the very opposite of death:
The indescribable reward of taking a bunch of ink on paper from the shelf at Chappell of Bond Street. Tubing it home, setting the score, pencil, coffee and ashtray on the piano and emerging a few days, weeks or months later able to perform something that some mad, genius, lunatic of a composer 300 years ago heard in his head while out of his mind with grief or love or syphilis. A piece of music that will always baffle the greatest minds in the world, that simply cannot be made sense of, that is still living and floating in the ether and will do so for yet more centuries to come. That is extraordinary. And I did that. I do it, to my continual astonishment, all the time. 

These moments of creative elation, of a communion with history, are real. To pursue them takes ego and sacrifice. Bukowski, that talented bastard, had the chutzpah to engrave on his tombstone "Don't try." What? Would Rhodes agree, given his own aggressive training? The phrase comes from a letter to John William Corrington:
Somebody at one of these places...asked me: 
"What do you do? How do you write, create?" You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: "not" to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.

You can get a longer elaboration on this idea in "So You Want to Be a Writer," a poem published posthumously in 2003. Bukowski articulates a great philosophy for the act of writing. Don't try. The best works are not motivated by the pursuit of money or fame or deadline; they cannot be forced.  Your strongest art will be hard on you in its creation. Physically taxing. Emotionally consuming. You want to claim you die a little death at the end of each major revision, and I'm right there with you.

But "Don't try" is a lousy philosophy for creating a career as a writer. That's why being a full-time artist is hard. You have to have a temperament that honors the muse in the individual acts of performance or creation--then harnesses her to the cart like a work horse. I'm not entirely sure I'm cut out for it, yet. I procrastinate. I panic. I shy away from perfectly reasonable non-invasive opportunities to monetize this blog. 

As I said at the outset, excess and discipline are not mutually exclusive; I would venture to say they are inextricably intertwined in creative types. We can sit at a desk or stand at an easel for five hours, enjoying refining a single small detail, then opt to drink away another five hours past the point of even the most general pleasure. We will obsessively proof a piece, but be unable to balance a checkbook. We can read an entire novel in one sitting or spend an afternoon flitting through clippings like a dilettante. 

The most unfair aspect of Rhodes' essay (well written, engaging overall) is his challenge to take advantage of an imaginary six "free" hours in the day--after six hours sleep, after eight hours at an office job, after four hours of housework--to pursue the dream of being an artist. I'll be honest: if I could have gotten six hours out of each day to write in the context of employment elsewhere, I might have chosen that instead of this trapeze act. But I have these things I'm annoyingly determined to keep a part of my life too: Friends. Parents. Trying a new wine flight on a breezy day. Walks through the National Zoo. Seeing plays.  

For every six hours I write well, in ascetic mode, there are two hours I need to fritter away first, not to mention the two hours zoned out after. That's how I free-associate the ideas that become poems or essays. "What if rather than a book club you joined a writer's club?" he asks. But reading is a critical part of my writing process. You have to gestate before you give birth. Supporting myself through my writing places an intense pressure on me, yes. It means I have to write really damn well, and often, and I have to pitch and market and hustle. But it's also the only way I could conceive fitting my writing into the context of the life I want to lead, and the person I want to be. 

Find what you love and prioritize it. Find what you love and challenge yourself to get better at it. Find what you love and share it with a community. But don't make what you love into a pyre to throw yourself on. There are lots of things in this world that can kill us. I refuse to let my decision to choose the life of a full-time writer be one of them. 

"Everything / leads me back"


Reading night and the fire that lances
the sky, reading day and the arabesques
of strewn corpses, I become my brother’s
Siamese twin. Rubbing the ashes of his
bones unto my face I become his blue
screams at birth. And despite what I’ve
told myself, what I’ve grown to believe,
despite my bunkered heart and fortified
skin, my thick bile and phlegm, I am bled
white by an appalling battle. I have cleansed
my body with the soap of his fat, stuffed
my pillows with his shorn hair, I made
dice of his molars. Everything, and my
contradictions above all, bring us closer.
Will I walk on four now to recall what I
thought was human? Will I climb the tree
shedding skin whispering the apple’s secret?
What poisons will house themselves in
my gills? Will I be a victim again? And again
a murderer? I split in two and two more,
and I fill a room growing like yeast into
all the selves I’ve known. Everything
leads me back, unified and cellular, to
the womb we shared. Reading thunder
made in preachers’ salons, reading lightening
that severs the sun’s rays, my silences spill
an ooze that fastens me to him. My cowardices
hook us into one destiny. See how short
my arms are. Take a look into my blind eyes.
Every breath I inhale is the cold wind
that makes us embrace like statues of
eternal lovers. In every exhale there’s a
wisp of silver smoke from the warm clay
that binds us. Reading night, reading
day, I twin myself to my brother.

Khaled Mattawa
from Tocqueville

Other poems by Khaled Mattawa posted @ Against Oblivion:

"Growing Up with a Sears Catalog in Benghazi, Libya"
"Echo & Elixer 2"
"Corpus Christi"

"You can understand / Wanting to"

As we conclude the semester, my intro poetry students are writing about poetic structure, specifically the Greek choral ode structure deployed in many lyric poems. Included in our readings for this inquiry is Arthur Smith's new collection, The Fortunate Era. Today seemed to be the day that the readings fully clicked with the majority of my students, in large part because of our discussion of this poem:

Golden Gate

All the known jumpers off the Golden Gate
Chose to face the known Bay
And not the towering cold Pacific.
There are witnesses. You can understand

Wanting to, trembling out there
On braided cables, wind-whipped
Hundreds of feet in the air. From that height,
Water has the density of rock. It’s surprising

A handful have lived. Any one of them
Would tell you jumping is an act
You have time to reconsider.
In a heartbeat, they knew.

Arthur Smith
from The Fortunate Era

We also talked about the documentary film The Bridge. None of my students had ever seen the Golden Gate Bridge in person. Few had been to the Bay Area. All agreed: "You can understand / wanting to."

We are saying thank you


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin
from Migration

Additional Merwin poems posted at Against Oblivion:

"A Contemporary"
"Worn Words"

National Poetry Month

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I would like to point out that T.S. Eliot was a spectacular talent...

...who was just one crazy hairstyle and a cackle away from making an excellent Disney villain, as revealed here:

The man had some killer eyebrows, yo.

While we're teasing the greats, Leslie Pietrzyk has been sharing amazing tidbits from Kathleen Spivack's With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz & Others over at "Work-in-Progress." Read the latest post--about the time Anne Sexton and Elizabeth Bishop finally met--here

On a different note, I've been thinking a lot lately about goals, in part as I prepare to move back to DC in later May. Being in North Carolina for a month has helped clarify my thinking about the city I've lived in and loved for over a decade. Are we a good town for literature? My answer to those who ask is usually "Yes, but we're fragmented." We only managed to merit one category of this year's City Paper awards. Some of our best and most successful writers are total recluses. It can be frustrating when great events are going on mere blocks away from each other, with no awareness. 

That said, there's a renaissance going on right now. Split This Rock has become a vibrant festival that brings major poets of witness and political activism to town. The storytelling scene is blowing up thanks to buzz attached to Story League, which--founded just two years ago--now produces showcases every week in DC and New York. Representatives from organizations such as Barrelhouse, Big Lucks, 826DC, and others are hosting packed events and combining forces under the umbrella "DC Lit" (details to come). The programming staff at major institutions such as the Library of Congress, PEN/Faulkner Foundation, and the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series are great people--young and energetic, open to new ideas, approachable. This past Monday, a stolen day back home, I met up at Cleveland Park's Spices with four other women writers, two of whom have books slated to be out within the year, to share ginger salad (okay, so I hogged most of it) and toast each other's successes with sake.

In short, it is a great time for artists to live in DC. But if I'm going to stay there, I need to articulate my goals as a writer. I don't mean goals like "Write a best-seller" or "Win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry"; those are givens and, er, impossible to strategize. I mean goals for myself as part of a literary community. In some ways this is about being more selfish with my time, in some ways less. Here is what I have come up with so far:

-Create a space where I meet socially with writers once a week. Brunches and cocktail hours one on one are great, but you know what? They are a time killer. What I'd love is a comfortable venue and a group of 8-10 friends who make it a habit to show more times than not--no RSVPs needed, as long as you can get general critical mass of 5-6 people. DC has not shown itself to be good at this. People are overscheduled. My beloved Oxford, Mississippi, has this down to a science. 

-Find a monthly reading series to co-host. I love hosting poets; the talent they bring to town, the manic high I get as an emcee, the opportunity it offers when chatting with folks at AWP. But I feel bad bringing someone to town when they then lose money on paying for a hotel. So, I put this out to the universe with a caveat: I need to find a way to offer them $100 honorarium per reading. Or, a place big enough to house them. 

-Cement a monthly workshop group. This, I am actually lucky enough to have the makings of, but we could be a little bigger and more robust in our attendance record. The trick is to get not only likeable people, but people whose work you respect enough that when they push you, you don't get defensive. Plus, find a spot a little more atmospheric than the Pennsylvania Avenue Cosi. 

-Be diligent in attending the readings that broaden my horizons, especially in terms of prose. Let go of attending the readings that will not. 'Nuff said. 

-Develop a relationship with a local school. I have fond memories of the "poetry lady of Fairfax County Public Schools," a.k.a. Rose MacMurray, and I'd like to pay it forward. But I'll be blunt--too many times I've experienced flakiness. The date gets changed at the last minute because of testing. We're meeting in a classroom with 15 students; no, it's the auditorium, with 60. The students haven't gotten the handout in advance. There's no water. There's no microphone. I'm really not the diva type but I'd like to have a stable, ongoing relationship with a school that does right by their kids--and their guests.

-Become a regular at a spots...that is, a regular "do not disturb." I used to be really good at this. Tryst, Teaism, or Kramerbooks: you could always find me with a pot of tea or a beer, and a stack of poems to workshop or an essay to edit or a book I'm determined to finish. Somewhere along the way I lost this habit, in which location = accomplishing work, and I miss it. I have my eye on Soho Coffeehouse or Modern Times at Politics and Prose as the next incarnations of my "office."

Obviously, I'm a list-maker at heart. It is how I get to where I need to go in the otherwise directionless world of being a full-time writer. What are your literary goals? Does the place you live help satisfy them?

What Kinds of Times are These

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

Adrienne Rich
from The Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995

Tax Day

Tax Man

Thunder Bob used to drive for Consolidated Freight
before the small bones began to press
against the nerves in his lower back
and his right foot went numb.
Now he slouches in blue suspenders,
forearms propped on a steel desk, doing my taxes.

In the den his wife watches the Simpson trial
and he wants to get me done, squinting down
at last year’s forms, muttering, a Chesterfield
burning away between his fingers. You need
more write-offs, he says, peering sideways
through the smoke. Since you can’t afford a house,
why not have another kid, eh?
Rain blowing in off the bay rattles the windows
and the branches of the pin oaks moan. He knows
my wife moved out last year. The kids I’ve got
are waiting, eating cold Chinese by the TV.

You watch, he tells me. Soon they’ll start messing
with Social Security. I can hear the lawyer’s voices
carping down the airwaves and I think sometimes
the rain will never end, a bleak mudcaked creature
prowling the landscape, entering our homes
while we sleep, its ragged breath like quicklime
misting our faces.

Driving home through the storm I think of him
leaning against his porch, telling me
to be careful. Try to kick down more cash
into Retirement, he’d said, bracing himself
on his good foot. Nobody knows for sure
what the hell’s going to happen.

Joseph Millar
from Overtime

More poems by Joseph Millar posted @ Against Oblivion:

"Sentimental" from Willow Springs
"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

Upcoming Readings

This Saturday, I'll be reading poems from Praise Nothing alongside Will Schutt, winner of the 2012 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, who will read from his first book, Westerly.

On Saturday, April 12 we'll be at Parnassus Books -- yep, the glorious indie bookstore in Nashville founded by Ann Patchett. The reading starts at 2pm. From what I understand, Parnassus doesn't hold that many poetry events and so we're really hoping to bring out a good-sized crowd and to set a precedent for future poetry readings. If you're in Nashville or know anyone who is, can you send them our way? Promises to be a great event.

I've also just been asked to give a reading for the Writer's Night series at Artifactia in Knoxville. I'll be reading along with Linda Parsons Marion whose third book, Bound, was recently published. Not yet settled on the date for this event, but it'll be sometime soon in April. I'll let you know.

I've also got a reading as part of the Knoxville Writers' Guild speaking series. I'll be reading with award-winning poet Arthur Smith at 7pm on May 2 at the Laurel Theatre. Free admission and signing to follow.

Art's most recent book, The Fortunate Era, was just published by Carnegie Mellon University Press and it is a stunner. I reread it recently and sat on the couch shaking my head and laughing and wondering, "Damn, how does he do this in poem after poem?" Highly recommend his book.

Hope to see you soon!

Interview with "First Book Interviews"

Thanks to Keith Montesano for interviewing me for the First Book Interviews series online and for giving me the chance to discuss the process of assembling and submitting the manuscript for my first book, Praise Nothing.

The interview series, originally started by Kate Greenstreet in 2008, was a critical research database for me as I determined where (and how) to send out my manuscript for the first time a few years back. First Book Interviews was also a source of encouragement and hope during a emotionally-draining process of significant financial expenditures, publication and prize near misses, and, of course, rejection letters.

Reading these interviews, I knew that if I just kept the faith and persisted, the manuscript would find the right home. And I'm blessed to say that the poems certainly did fine the right home in the University of Arkansas Press, a place I could only have dreamed of when I started out.

Some of my favorite interviews: James Allen Hall, Dan Albergotti, Sandy Longhorn, Michelle Bitting, and Bobby C. Rogers.

Here's an excerpt from my interview:
What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out? 
Wash, rinse, repeat
I finally arrived at the closest approximation to the book’s current form when I had the chance to leave Tennessee and return to Lawrence, Kansas, for a period of concentrated work on the manuscript during the summer of 2010. Before moving to Knoxville, I lived and worked in Kansas for a few years and I yearned to get back to the Sunflower State.
For two weeks: just me, the stack of poems, a tiny loaner cottage, and the Kansas summer heat. Getting to the final order took a process of spreading all the poems out on the living room’s dusty hardwood floor, assembling a draft, and then reading and rereading. Wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat and repeat. 
In many ways, the assemblage process was similar to my poem revision process: making pass after pass over the draft, tinkering with the count and measure, culling superfluous lines, improvising and moving the puzzle pieces around until I finally recognize the picture. I was also fortunate to have a few poets read the manuscript and offer their affirmations that I was heading in the right direction. 

Very Important Poems (and Resisting Them)

The trains come through Hickory every few hours. Nothing haunting about it--the clank of freight, the chuff-chuff of speed, and always the whistles. I love it. Not much like the morning carillon of the National Cathedral, my neighbor at home, but lovely--and much livelier company around 3 AM. 

I've been focused on finalizing my manuscript. Reminds me of one of those puzzles in which you are supposed to slide squares numbered 1 through 15 back into order, except the painted numbers on these squares are has worn away--I can just barely feel the outline of their cardinal molding under my fingertips. This week I added a poem back in, which required editing it so it didn't over-echo with the poems before and after it, and which moved everything around so that suddenly another poem seemed worthy of coming back in, then a third. Turns out that first poem isn't invited back after all--it is a sestina I wrote in 2005, and just feels too young--but I suspect that if I hadn't faux-included it, and labored accordingly, that third poem would have never found its spot. So much of organizing poetry manuscripts is about liberating yourself, or tricking yourself, or both. 

Of course, I wouldn't be spending all this time on order (for better or worse) if I was drafting. But a couple of attempts to write this week faltered, because I think there is only one poem left to write for this book, and I want so badly for it to be a Very Important Poem. A poem that makes the reader jump in the air, like a character in a Toyota commercial. A substantive poem that turns into a two-pager when you galley it up. A poem that ties up all this manuscript's threads of travel, of love, of loneliness, with one potent truth claim. Bah. You can't write that way. You can write a poem out filled with urgency, or mouth-watering food descriptions, or good knock-knock jokes, but beware trying to write the Very Important Poem. 

To paraphrase something Jane Hirshfield said, in an interview with Michael Collier on the topic of "unearned luck," you can't bless your own poem directly; you can only acknowledge outward. 

So, I need to back off, and let a poem sneak up on me. Far from DC's annual April carnival--cherry blossoms & readings galore--my way of celebrating National Poetry Month has been to prioritize time with books. I spent this week with recent collections by Philip Schultz (who I also had the pleasure of interviewing on Friday), Anne Champion, Allison Benis White, Jane Hirshfield, Mary Biddinger, and Matthew Dickman. His Mayakovsky's Revolver is particularly worth your attention.

Because the collection is dedicated to Dickman's older brother, who died of an overdose, it would be easy for this collection to overflow with Very Important Poems. But Matthew Dickman neither eulogizes nor lionizes. The diction is conversational. The line breaks add energy, though there are no stanza breaks, no overt plays with form. Instead, you will be drawn in by the voice, whether proclaiming "The Summer's Over, Jack Spicer!" or creating an "Elegy to a Goldfish." The speaker locates lightness in pain. In Paris, we find Portland. These poems are loose and brave and funny, though the whole time you know you're on a bridge looking out over a very dark river. 


Because I miss you I have made a pile of clothes
along the bed, your exact height and weight. I’ve invented
you for a night! I put the dumbbells
of my hands around the sweater that’s your waist and let them
fall asleep there. The moon is in the yard
floating through the blinds, becoming a zebra
with glowing stripes, asleep on the floor. In my fourteenth dream
about you we were in Paris. But I’m simpleminded, and also
I want to be with you in Paris! I want baguettes
and petit déjeuners. I want the rue de la Lune and hotel sheets.
French handcuffs and French bottled water. I have
added another T-shirt to you
because maybe by now you’ve had dinner. In the morning I will
attach a couple wires to the socks and boxers
that are being your head. I’ll pull down a big heavy switch
and see if you don’t rise up, moaning, your arms out
in front of you, your legs
beginning to kick, and I will hold you up and kiss you
where your mouth hurts because it’s new and was only a handkerchief.

~Matthew Dickman

"This is just the place for you."

The Soul as Rooms for Rent

Good light a few hours each morning and cheap,
just you’ll want to think about the neighborhood–

Not dangerous, don’t misunderstand–just dead, storefront
church and hourly-rate motel boarded up both.

Buses don’t run past eight and not at all on Sundays.
Means you’ve got to think ahead since the market’s

Gone under, but honey, you don’t look like a big eater,
and I bet you like quiet some too. We’ve got that,

Quiet. I’d bet, in fact, this is just the kind of place
you were hoping for. Over there’s the stove;

Pilot’s out but it works fine, don’t worry, and that, well,
that’s formica, not original, but looking out

There’s the under-eaves scrollwork, only wanting some paint
and maybe the thrashers’ nests cleared out.

Or maybe not. Nothing here, the hardwood
sure echoes. That walnut? Maple? Anyway,

I bet you don’t have a whole lot of furniture. No.
This is just the place for you. And we can do

Month-to-month. Whatever you need. I don’t know,
you could set up a little table beneath the window there,

Make yourself a cup of coffee, maybe get some work done.
Just imagine that. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Jeffrey Schultz
from 32 Poems, Fall/Winter 2012



Waking, I look at you sleeping beside me.
It is early and the baby in her crib
has begun her conversation with the gods
that direct her, cooing and making small hoots.
Watching you, I see how your face bears the signs
of our time together—for each objective
description, there is the romantic; for each
scientific fact, there's the subjective truth—
this line was caused by days at a microscope,
this from when you thought I no longer loved you.
Last night a friend called to say that he intends
to move out; so simple, he and his wife splitting
like a cell into two separate creatures.
What would happen if we divided ourselves?
As two colors blend on a white pad, so we
have become a third color; or better,
as a wire bites into the tree it surrounds,
so we have grown together. Can you believe
how frightening I find this, to know I have
no life except with you? It's almost enough
to make me destroy it just to protest it.
Always we seemed perched on the brink of chaos.
But today there's just sunlight and the baby's
chatter, her wonder at the way light dances
on the wall. How lucky to be ignorant,
to greet joy without a trace of suspicion,
to take that first step without worrying what
comes trailing after, as night trails after day,
or winter summer, or confusion where all
seemed clear and each moment was its own reward.

Stephen Dobyns
from Velocities

More poems by Stephen Dobyns posted at Against Oblivion:
"How to Like It"
"The Words We Have Spoken"