‘An ordinary making’ in recent poetry feeds and shares

First, I love the idea of this recipe — and this graf (source).

The careful regulation of sentences, the tunneling into uncomfortable states of mind and feeling, could threaten to asphyxiate, but Boyer has a dark wit and knows when to shift modes. The dramaturgy of the book bestows enormous power on apparently small moments — as when Boyer shares a recipe for “A chocolate cake for when you own only one small round pan.” That recipe is the totem of an alternate ars poetica, an ordinary making, a writing of the shareable, edible ordinary — which on some blessed days tastes good.

That story about poet Anne Boyer comes from the recent New York Times Sunday Book Review, which was all about poetry and which friend David thoughtfully saved for me. Thank you, David! Another great line from the issue comes in a quote from Jennifer L. Knox’s new work, “Whoever tied the Mylar birthday balloon to the dead squirrel on Main Street thinks big.” So bizarre and true.

Also. I was sorry to read the other day about the death of C.D. Wright, whose poems had turned up several times in this blog. The three that appeared are all still very, very good (and dark and passionate and when read aloud will get through to anyone, I have no doubt):

  • Everything Good between Men and Women,” which begins with the first lines continuing the title, “has been written in mud and butter / and barbecue sauce.”
  • Flame,” which needs to be seen to be most appreciated and is basically a series of words but what a series of words.
  • This Couple,” which is so full of yearning it hurts. “Now is when we love to sit before mirrors / with a dark beer or hand out leaflets / at chainlink gates or come together after work/ listening to each other’s day. The engine dies….”

Meanwhile, in my slow, slow New Yorker catch-up — I’ll get there one day, I swear — there’s a good new one from Meghan O’Rourke, “Poem of Regret for an Old Friend.”

She begins, “What you did wasn’t so bad. / You stood in a small room, waiting for the sun. / At least you told yourself that.”  I’ve been on both ends of this one. You too?


Five poems recently

This Inwardness, This Ice” by Christian Wiman. “… this discipline, this glaze, / this cold opacity of days / begins to crack. …”

On Turning 37” by Kareem Tayyar, via Lori. “… Whitman was 37 when he wrote ‘Song of Myself’, / Rousseau was 40 when he first picked up a paintbrush in his Paris apartment….”

Apology” by Joanna Klink. “Lately, too much disturbed, you stay trailing in me / and I believe you. How could I not feel / you were misspent….”

Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “… You are very young to be a poet. I also like how your poems take / up an entire page (it makes our reading assignment go faster). …”

Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye. “… I want to be famous to shuffling men / who smile while crossing streets, / sticky children in grocery lines, / famous as the one who smiled back. …”

‘It is a dark fall day’ but…

Two of my favorites recently:

Because today is a dark fall day and I’m happy, though she’s at work now, that her jacket hangs in the hall next to mine. “Fall Song” by Joy Harjo. “It is a dark fall day. / The earth is slightly damp with rain. / I hear a jay. / The cry is blue.”

Untitled” by Fabio Morabito. On St. Francis of Assisi: “Every time, more widowed of my possessions, / every time, more bland to my writing tools. / Why not take off like him? What stops me from / returning to the woods, the bird, the wolf?”

Also good, from the January issue of Poetry, which I just got read last weekend, after a subscription issue last winter: Kathy Fagan’s “Perpendicular,” Rae Armantrout’s “Followers” — the first stanza is what gets me, framing an image of which I hadn’t thought in years or decades — and Mark Levine’s “Climax Change,” which I don’t entirely understand but must be a ton of fun to read aloud.

And then there’s this: “Las Chavas.” Episcopalian priest Spencer Reese and former U.S. poet laureate Richard Blanco team up to teach poetry at a school for girl orphans in Honduras. They share the girls’ best work with us, and we’re fortunate for both the teaching and publishing.

‘Keeping me almost warm enough…’

Thanks to friend Becky for dropping off a preview copy the other day of Susan Gardner’s new poetry collection “Lifted to the Wind.” After a week buried in the Internet (even more than usual), sitting with close reads of nature was a surprise — strange at first and then refreshing.

Like fall when you don’t expect it to be cold out, but then you find it’s not too cold and just brisk enough. (Like this weekend.) Gardner’s site hosts two of my favorites from the book, “Nebraska Sunrise” and “Chilly.”

Four favorite stumbled-over poems most recently and why

There She Is” by Linda Gregg. “When I go into the garden, there she is. / The specter holds up her arms to show / that her hands are eaten off.” Dark but honest about the world and welcoming, no more so than in the final lines.

Baseball and Classicism” by Tom Clark. Because it’s October. Because so many of the month’s games have been great. Because this poem lives up to its name and manages to combine the two elements in such a short space. Because delight.

From Book of Hours” by Kevin Young. Imagery by comparison rarely has so light a touch, so easily worn a humanity or so cumulative a narrative effect. A poem you need to take a quiet moment to scroll slowly and read to yourself.

Repetition” by Kay Ryan. I’m a big Ryan fan, but not all of her poems grab me for days and don’t let go. This one did. I think it’s because I’ve been working at the same place for five years and, for the longest stretch in a long time, have no thoughts of leaving. Or it’s because I’ve been dating the same woman for four years and — after a couple relationships previously where four years was the end — we’re instead getting married in the spring. Or it’s because I walk from that woman to that work place every day, and my usual stores sit along the route. “Few are / the willing / and fewer / the champions.” Count me in, for these things I’ve mentioned above. Investigated and grown well, familiar is far from flatness.

‘Walking the streets of Cork…’

Love how the new issue of Poetry is all about young Irish poets. There are so many good and different reads. Even the editor’s note is strong.

One notable difference between this issue and the Contemporary Irish Poetry issue of 1995 is how evenly women are represented. In 1995, out of forty poets and translators presented, only six were women. I had to make no conscious effort to achieve gender balance in this selection.

LGBT themes have been explored by a handful of poets of an older generation such as Padraig Rooney, Mary Dorcey, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, and Sarah Clancy. As to the representation of racial diversity in Irish writing — that must await the next generation. Walking the streets of Cork I take great pleasure in hearing local accents emit from Filipino, Nigerian, and Chinese teenagers. I look forward to reading them in a special Irish issue of Poetry in the future.

My favorites from the issue:

Also, from the back-matter: “But the best education in the poetic art must oscillate between the two — between the need to dream fiercely and the need to communicate,” Thomas McCarthy writes. He quotes André Gide: “The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. Essential to remain between the two, close to madness when you dream and close to reason when you write.”

(Off to Google both McCarthy and Gide.)


Picked up Ron Padgett’s new collection, “Alone and Not Alone,” a while back and just got a chance/remembered to pull it off the shelf and read it. The New York Times, amid saying nice things about the book, opines on Padgett’s openness in saying “nice” and excerpts one of my favorite poems from the book in doing so.

Dinner is a damned nice thing
as are breakfast and lunch
when they’re good and with
the one you love.

That poem’s called “Pep Talk,” for what the food gives us. I also like one about a butterfly. And one about what it means to relax. And one about the first person to say “I think the world of you.” My favorite passage from it end up on this page, a page that oddly says almost nothing else.

Don’t go around all day
thinking about life—
doing so will raise a barrier
between you and its instants.
You need those instants
so you can be in them,
and I need you to be in them with me
for I think the world of us
and the mysterious barricades
that make it possible.

‘The green Wi-Fi fuse’

I love the July/August issue of Poetry as much as I’d loved any magazine issue all year, I think. I’ve just finished it, and new love can be overstated love. Enjoyed? Is that a better word? Enjoyed more than any magazine issue all year. Let’s withhold love to wait for time. I’ve enjoyed the issue because of how strange and different and young and open it is, filled with voices that throw around love without waiting for time.

I enjoy the beginning, Amy Newman’s “Howl,” opening, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by wedding 
planners, dieting, in shapewear, / dragging themselves in cute outfits through the freezer section for the semifreddo bender, / blessed innovative cloister girl pin-ups burning to know the rabbi of electricity in poverty, obedience, in the dream stick of opium and the green Wi-Fi fuse….”

Then into a long poem about an early New England witch hunter, then an appreciation of limericks, with Anthony Madrid both mentioning Evanston and writing one that made me laugh out loud (the blackjack one), then two pieces of art made of letters, numbers and symbols, all of which your brain would like to form into sense but cannot.

Then there’s a whole section the magazine apparently worked on with Tavi and her Rookie people. Has the average age of the writers in this publication ever been so young? What a data set, should it ever exist. I would say the theme of the section is taking chances with poetry, with sharing, with exposure, in an environment (school/teen often here but any will do) filled with player also unsure of themselves and developing in different directions, sloppy but earnest, as likely to be with you as to run into you.

Closing the issue are short essays on poetry from Ai Weiwei, Rhymefest and others, but the last major section is a collection of poetry by Alice Notley, who I’d never heard before this issue (I’m unfamiliar with most of the names in each issue of the magazine, which only makes me more interested in them) but who writes with the same fever. “This fire all there is … to find … I find it / You have to find it. It isn’t love, it’s what?”

Poems tilting toward spring

Wrote a while back. Never posted, never really finished.


The Spring Poem,” by Dave Smith.

Awaking in New York,” by Maya Angelou.

Spring,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The birthday of the world,” by Marge Piercy.


Yes, we can look backward to winter or, sadly, to the present still-winter. I’m looking out the window at the increasing flurries right now, and the forecasters say freezing rain will follow. This first day of March, as I mentioned earlier today, follows Washington’s coldest February in 36 years.

Meanwhile in Chicago, coming off a month of great poems related to Black History Month, and a brutal and continuing winter, the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day feed resumes more-varied broadcasting today with an Emily Dickinson poem comparing traumatic pain to snowy cold and death.

But all isn’t lost in a snowbank. There’s some hope in the verses. The chilly pain can be “Remembered, if outlived.” A final line mentions, after the chill and stupor, the possibility of letting go. Letting go bad? Or letting go good? I’m choosing to be optimistic today, even as the snow blows.

Looking for more about the poem, I came across a site called Shmoop.com, which seems to be CliffsNotes-meets-Buzzfeed. (A related-stories area gets the header, “People who Shmooped this also Shmooped….”) Shmoop chases this Dickinson poem for its millennial (or younger?) audience, and the site’s conclusions make my day.

Sooner or later, everybody gets a shock. And we’re not talking about the kind of shock you get when you try to slide a Hot Pocket out of the toaster oven with a fork. We’re talking about the kind of deep emotional shock that comes when something seriously bad happens.

Maybe you miss the final shot at the big game even though you’re awesome. Or it could be that you discover your Dad has a secret family in Costa Rica. Or maybe somebody close to you dies.

Whatever it is—no matter how huge or miniscule—the period of time right after the initial pain can be pretty crappy. You can feel lost, alone, and totally numb to the world.

Whenever you’re feeling like this, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” is a poem that’s there for you. Don’t expect it to be there with sunshine and roses, though. Nah, it’s that friend who’s there to say, “Look, dude, I know how you feel.” As you read these lines that perfectly capture the conflicted feelings that come after a trauma, you’ll know it’s being straight up with you.

So, like the angsty tween readers of Shmoop, let us try to move forward with hope. In poetry selections of this time of year, I see so much “Look, dude, I know how you feel” happening. We know spring lurks!

Related favorites of mine recently include…

Probability,” by Lia Purpura.

Most coincidents are not
miraculous, but way more
common than we think—
it’s the shiver
of noticing being

Abide” by Jake Adam Work, and Natasha Trethewey’s first selection for the poem feature in the redesigned New York Times Magazine. It’s a slow burner, growing warmer, and worth it.

Trethewey’s second selection, “Moth Orchids” by Ellen Bass, is fantastic too. Trethewey writes: “Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings showed us how sensual flowers could be. Ellen Bass’s poem does this, too, reminding us of the power of metaphor: how one thing is like another, how desire can be reflected in the way we see and how our sustained attention — to language, to the things of this world — can reward us again and again.”

An Old Woman’s Painting” by Lynn Emanuel speaks to the warmth we find even when the nights are cold, mentioning autumn but still fitting for this time of year when we doff or don our coats depending on the time of day. “Let the world stand wearily on the stoop of  the jail / of  the world….”

And then there’s “I Allow Myself” by Dorothea Grossman. It begins:

I allow myself
the luxury of breakfast
(I am no nun, for Christ’s sake).

Last, we have “The Mushroom House,” which isn’t a poem at all but an actual house. Click to see the photos. The name fits, and right now I wish I could live there.

The architect, inspired by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, created an undulating design with rolling curves and curls. Because of the home’s cavelike exterior, created by a polyurethane foam coating, many people are surprised to find it light and airy inside, not dark and gloomy.

“It is very, very private,” Frances said. “It is open and free but very private.”