29 April 2012

Yusef Komunyakaa (National Poetry Month)


The alpha wolf chooses his mate
For life, & the other she-wolves
Stare at the ground. Yellowish
Light drains from notorious eyes

Of the males, stealing their first
& last sex. The pact's outcast,
The albino we humans love,
Whimpers, wags his tail,

& crawls forward on his belly.
He never sleeps at night.
After pacing down thorny grass
Where the alpha male urinated,

A shadow limps off among the trees.
Already sentenced into wilderness,
As if born wounded, he must stand
Between man & what shines.

Yusef Komunyakaa

28 April 2012

Nikki Giovanni (National Poetry Month)


in life
one is always

like we juggle our mothers
against our fathers

or one teacher
against another
(only to balance our grade average)

3 grains of salt
to one ounce truth

our sweet black essence
or the funky honkies down the street

and lately i've begun wondering
if you're trying to tell me something

we used to talk all night
and do things alone together

and i've begun

(as a reaction to feeling)
to balance
the pleasure of loneliness
against the pain
of loving you

Nikki Giovanni

26 April 2012

Naomi Shihab Nye (National Poetry Month)

Found in the library of a Seattle high school where I am waiting to see three of my favorite YA authors.

YA or Bust! and the Mailing of the Manuscript

Really, I should be asleep right now.

I can't decide if I'm awake because:
1) This is often the time I am awake
2) My husband had a nightmare from which I had to wake him (after he woke me?)
3) I'm so excited about my trip to Seattle today to see three favorite YA authors!

Honestly? I think it probably comes down to a combination of all three.

As my Facebook peeps may already know, earlier this week I mailed off my manuscript for a major critique. I am at once thrilled and, okay, a tiny bit nervous. I have shared pieces of it, but I have yet to show anyone the entire thing.

I cried when I finished writing it.

I cried when I finished editing this last round.

There is a great deal (emotionally) invested in this novel (which fascinates me because it is in no way my story). I know there are good parts, strong parts, to the work. And I also know that it's not done, that it needs some refining before it can be put to bed.

But more than being nervous, more than being thrilled, what I am is absolutely curious. I am so looking forward to hearing what another person has to think. I am curious to know what some absolutely objective, professional person thinks of my work. I'm not certain of the timing of all this, but I'm guessing it will be at least a month before I know.

But for now, I'm in the happy in between time. The manuscript is in the mail (scheduled to arrive tomorrow) and I know it will be at least a few weeks before I hear anything, so it's not yet time to begin the anxiously waiting game.

To say my life has been full these past few months as I've worked through revisions would be an understatement. My days and nights (and mornings) have been filled with writing/editing, reading, and working. I've gotten to see some amazing writers talk (Heidi W. Durrow, Julia Alvarez) and I've been inspired by their wisdom and their works.

But now what?

I have a few ideas percolating for my next novel. About a month ago a character began to pester me. I don't know her name yet, but I know a little bit about her. And there's another character too, appearing in the distance, waiting for me to get to know her story. I have just the vaguest details, a tiny peak at what they want to tell me. This is a bit like how Holden and Jezebel came to tell me their story.

I don't know when I'll actually begin writing. There is a part of me that really likes the NaNoWriMo yearly schedule. New work in November. Take December off. Edit/revise the rest of the year.

For now, I've got a ton of reading to catch up with. Between my reading assignments and my editing, I just haven't had the time I would have liked to read all the many wonderful new books that have been released this spring.

And today, in a few short hours, I hit the road with a dear friend to drive to Seattle for the YA or Bust tour featuring three amazing authors. Stephanie Perkins (who I know I've talked about before), Gayle Forman, and Nina LaCour.

This is why I should still be asleep. It's going to be a long day, there and back again. But there will be good music, good company, some good food, and an inspiring event to end the evening before the long drive home.

25 April 2012

W.S. Merwin (National Poetry Month)

Travelling Together

If we are separated I will
try to wait for you
on your side of things

your side of the wall and the water
and of the light moving at its own speed
even on leaves that we have seen
I will wait on one side

while a side is there

W.S. Merwin

24 April 2012

Julia Alverez (National Poetry Month)

Last night I saw the beautiful, wise, inspiring woman I have adored since I was first assigned to read How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents for a college class. I saw her once before, in the fall of 2001, where she called attention to me (to me!) at the start of her reading at Powell's. (That's a story for another blog...) It was lovely to see her again and learn a few more lessons. Her latest book (today is the official pub date), A Wedding in Haiti, is an amazing we-moir (her words), not a memoir.

Here's one of her poems...


We keep coming to this part
of the story where we're sad:
I've broken up with my true love
man after man.
You've found It;
Once, It was god.
Once, revolution
in the third world.
Now, It's love.

You'll survive, our mothers said
when romance was once.
Now they keep tight faces
for our visits home
and tell their friends
all that education
has confused us,
all those poems.

They have, we laugh,
and buy the dreams--
Redbook, House Beautiful,
Mademoiselle & Vogue--
to read our stories in them
and send the clippings home.
Sometimes the bright chase
of ad lovers in a meadow set
sells us to belief again
in that worn plot of love. . .

Sadly, we turn the page
to right our hearts,
knowing our lives too well

22 April 2012

Another one of my own (National Poetry Month)

Jellyfish Wish

Sometimes I wish I could be

as simple as a jellyfish

pulsating gracefully through my salt water life
no brain, no spine, no bones, no heart,

nothing that breaks, nothing that aches.

Jessica Valeske

20 April 2012

James Laughlin (National Poetry Month)

Nunc Dimittis

Little time now
and so much hasn't
been put down as I
should have done it.
But what does it matter?
It's all been written
so well by my betters,
and what they wrote
has been my joy.

James Laughlin

19 April 2012

Derek Walcott (National Poetry Month)

To Norline

This beach will remain empty
for more slate-coloured dawns
of lines the surf continually
erases with its sponge,

and someone else will come
from the still-sleeping house,
a coffee mug warming his palm
as my body once cupped yours,

to memorize this passage
of a salt-sipping tern,
like when some line on a page
is loved, and it's hard to turn

Derek Walcott

18 April 2012

e.e. cummings (national poetry month)

may i feel said he
(i'll squeal said she
just once said he)
it's fun said she

(may i touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she

(let's go said he
not too far said she
what's too far said he
where you are said she)

may i stay said he
(which way said she
like this said he
if you kiss said she

may i move said he
is it love said she)
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing said she

but it's life said he
but your wife said she
now said he)
ow said she

(tip top said he
don't stop said she
oh no said he)
go slow said she

(cccome? said he
ummm said she)
you're divine! said he
(you are Mine said she)

e.e. cummings

17 April 2012

Geof Hewitt (National Poetry Month)

Typographical Errors

Don't let them bother you, she said.
After all, those are just worlds.

Geof Hewitt

16 April 2012

Billy Collins (National Poetry Month)

Another Reason Why I Don't 
Keep a Gun in the House

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for a barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

Billy Collins

(This is one of my favorite examples of how a title makes a poem. If it was simply called something like "Beethoven and the Neighbors' Dog," it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining.)

15 April 2012

Neil Gaiman (National Poetry Month)

I got to spend my last birthday listening to Neil Gaiman read this poem. It was the first time I was introduced to it despite having possessed the book (Fragile Things) it can be found in since publication. One thing I've learned about books is that they come to you best when you need them the most. As Neil Gaiman says in the introduction of the book, talking about this poem, it really does work when read to an audience. Now it is one of my absolute favorites. I hope you enjoy.

The Day the Saucers Came

That day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them, golden
Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,
And the people of Earth stood and
    stared as they descended,
Waiting, dry-mouthed, to find what waited inside for us
And none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow
But you didn't notice because

That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,
Was the day that graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran,
But you did not notice this because

On the saucer day, which was the zombie day, it was
Ragnarok also, and the television screens showed us
A ship built of dead-men's nails, a serpent, a wolf,
All bigger than the mind could hold,
     and the cameraman could
Not get far enough away, and then the Gods came out
But you did not see them coming because

On the saucer-zombie-battling-gods
     day the floodgates broke
And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites
Offering us wishes and wonders and eternities
And charm and cleverness and true
     brave hearts and pots of gold
While giants fefofummed across
     the land, and killer bees,
But you had no idea of any of this because

That day, the saucer day the zombie day
The Ragnarok and fairies day, the
     day the great winds came
And snows, and the cities turned to crystal, the day
All plants died, plastics dissolved, the day the
Computers turned, the screens telling
     us we would obey, the day
Angels, drunk and muddled, stumbled from the bars,
And all the bells of London were sounded, the day
Animals spoke to us in Assyrian, the Yeti day,
The fluttering capes and arrival of
     the Time Machine day,
You didn't notice any of this because
you were sitting in your room, not doing anything
not even reading, not really, just
looking at your telephone,
wondering if I was going to call.

14 April 2012

Bathing with William Stafford, a sonnet I wrote once upon a time (National Poetry Month)

Bathing with William Stafford

Tonight I took a bath with dear William
Stafford. How lovely he looked in the light
of candle as I held a glass of wine
to sip while my voice so full of great might

sounded out the words I wanted to hear.
And he was kind. And he was full of strength.
And suddenly, just knowing he was near
made me feel like I too was filled with strength,

like I was somehow more than what I was
before he came to grace my life with words
and inspiration. I’m in love because
he brings me a midnight sky with birds

who understand what it is to sit still
on nights like this, perched on a windowsill.

A few years ago I took a poetry class through the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College. One of the assignments was to write a sonnet, something I'd done maybe once or twice before. The end result of that assignment was this one for William Stafford.

Some people can't stand writing poems that have a form, a structure. When I was writing a lot of poetry, I rarely forced myself to do it. But the thing it taught me, the thing all assignments, forms, structures, taught me, is how wonderful it is to be backed into a corner. You'll never cease to astound yourself with the creative way you get out of it. Think of all those MacGyver episodes, think of all the times you just weren't sure what to do until there was a brilliant flash of light as the bulb lit up and a solution could be seen.

I don't tend to do many "writing exercises" these days, as I work on long fiction. But I still love sitting down with a prompt and just seeing what comes of it. I have a feeling I'm going to do a bit more of that in another week or two after my manuscript has been sent off and I need something to distract me while I wait for the response. I have a few ideas circulating through my brain for what my next book will be, but maybe something entirely different will come to take its place. I'm curious to see.

One thing I heard over and over again whenever any of my teachers talked about William Stafford, was how diligent he was about writing every day. It is a challenge I have long struggled to achieve. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting closer, one day at a time.

13 April 2012

Galway Kinnell (National Poetry Month)

The Cellist

At intermission, I find her backstage
still practicing the piece coming up next
She calls it the "solo in high dreary."
Her bow niggles at the strings like a hand
stroking skin it never wanted to touch.
Probably under her scorn she is sick
that she can't do better by it. As I am,
by the dreary in me, such as the disparity
between all the tenderness I've received
and the amount I've given, and the way
I used to shrug off the imbalance
simply as how things are, as if the male
were constituted like those coffeemakers
that produce less black bitter than the quantity
of sweet clear you pour in---forgetting about
how much I spilled through unsteady walking,
and that lot I flung on the ground
in suspicion, and for fear I wasn't worthy,
and all I threw out for reasons I don't understand yet.
"Break a leg!" somebody tells her.
Back in my seat, I can see she is nervous
when she comes out; her hand shakes as she
re-dog-ears the top corners of the big pages
that look about to flop over on their own.
Now she raises the bow--its flat bundle of hair
harvested from the rear ends of horses--like a whetted
scimitar she is about to draw across a throat,
and attacks. In a back alley a cat opens
its pink-ceilinged mouth, gets netted
in full yowl, clubbed, bagged, bicycled off, haggled open,
gutted, the gut squeezed down its highest pitch,
washed, then sliced into cello strings that bring
a screaming into this duet of hair gut.
Now she is flying---tossing back the goblets
of Saint-Amour standing empty,
half-empty, or full on the tablecloth-
like sheet music. Her knees tighten
and loosen around the big-hipped creature
wailing and groaning between them
as if locked with her in syzygial amplexus.
The music seems to rise from the crater left
when heaven was torn up and taken out of the earth;
more likely it comes up through her priest's dress,
up from beneath that clump of hair which by now
may be so wet with its waters, miraculous as the waters
the fishes multiplied in at Galilee, that
each strand wicks a portion all the way out
to its tip and fattens a droplet on the bush
of half notes now glittering in that dark.
At last she lifts off the bow and sits back.
Her face shines with the unselfconsciousness of a cat
screaming at night and teary radiance of one
who gives everything no matter what has been given.

11 April 2012

Kay Ryan (National Poetry Month)

That Will to Divest

Action creates
a taste
for itself.
Meaning: once
you've swept
the shelves
of spoons
and plates
you kept
for guests,
it gets harder
not to also
simplify the larder,
not to dismiss
rooms, not to
divest yourself
of all the chairs
but one, not
to test what
singleness can bear,
once you've begun.

Kay Ryan

10 April 2012

William Stafford (National Poetry Month)

Report to Someone

We think we're all there is, then the big light,
and a call comes and everyone understands.
All right, we're lonely:---trees never need us, and
wind in its wandering visits us then goes away.
And we can't see it but we think there's a light inside
everything. Even at night it wants out and pushes
quietly, insistently on the wall with its tiny hands.

In the silence that comes flooding down from the mountains
a shapeless lament begins to press toward sound.
It can wait: it gains by every day
of being recognized. Without moving
it explores a way to be ready, and when
pieces of time break off it follows them,
alive in their being and unknown but true.

William Stafford

09 April 2012

John Agard (National Poetry Month)

My senior year of college I did a study abroad program in the West Indies, traveling from Barbados to Trinidad and Tobago to St. Lucia. I learned an incredible amount on this journey and was introduced to some incredible poets and amazing writers. This was one poem that my memory has not forgotten and is probably the reason why I have such a thing for mangos...

English Girl Eats Her First Mango

a kind of love poem

If I did tell she
hold this gold
of sundizzy
tonguelicking juicy
mouthwater flow
ripe with love
from the tropics

she woulda tell me
trust you to be

so I just say
taste this mango

and I watch she hold
the smooth cheeks
of the mango
blushing yellow
and a glow
rush to she own cheeks

and she ask me
what do I do now
just bite into it?

and I was tempted
to tell she
why not be a devil
and eat of the skin
of original sin

but she woulda tell me
trust you to be

so I just say
it's up to you
if you want to peel it

and I watch she feel it
as something precious

then she smile and say
looks delicious

and I tell she
don't waste sweet words
when sweetness
in you hand

just bite it man
peel it with the teeth
that God give you

or better yet
do like me mother
used to do
and squeeze
till the flesh
turn syrup
nibble a hold
then suck the gold
like bubby
in a child mouth
squeeze and tease out
every drop of spice

sounds nice
me friend tell me

and I remind she
that this ain't
apple core
so don't forget
the seed
suck that too
the sweetest part
the juice does run
down to your heart

man if you see
the English rose
she face was bliss
down to the pink
of she toes

and when she finish
she smile
and turn to me

lend me your hanky
my fingers
are all sticky
with mango juice

and I had to tell she
what hanky
you talking about
you don't know
when you eat mango
you hanky
is you tongue

man just lick
you finger
you call that
lick you finger
you call that

unless you prefer
to call it
in reverse

08 April 2012

Naomi Shihab Nye (National Poetry Month)

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don't I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

Naomi Shihab Nye

I discovered Naomi Shihab Nye during spring break of my sophomore year of college. I had just picked up Bill Moyer's The Language of Life and she was one of the poets included. It was love at first read sitting on the floor in the Houston airport. (That was an interesting trip...Minneapolis to Houston to Seattle to Portland...and back again.)

While in Portland I wandered into the Looking Glass Bookstore (which sadly no longer exists) and picked up an autographed collection of Nye's poems, Words Under the Words. There are so many poems in that collection that resonated deep within me. She was a student of William Stafford's (whose work will appear later this month) and had worked at Lewis & Clark. I kept dreaming of another life and another time when I could have been one of her students.

It wasn't until a few years after college that I got to see her read.

She is probably one of my top favorite poets of all the poets and choosing one poem of hers to represent this National Poetry Month series was incredibly difficult. In the end, I chose one of my first favorites. I love the entire poem, but that last stanza hits me in the gut every time.

07 April 2012

(An old favorite) National Poetry Month 2012

I Never Did Eat the Mango

You handed me a mango
and asked me to dance.

It was New Year’s Eve
I was wearing a new dress
with a drink in one hand
your mango-gift in the other.

You told me you were driving home
from the beach that afternoon
how you'd stopped at a fruit stand
on the side of the road
discovered this perfect mango
and thought of me.

Such a sensual thing, a mango,
perfect heart,
breast of all the fruits.

We danced for hours to Latin music
and I realized I no longer loved you
I no longer anticipated your lips
or your body brushing against mine.

Close to midnight we sat on the love seat
and you asked for my resolutions.

I remember a long silence before I answered,

I don’t think I’m going to do this anymore.

This is something I wrote several years ago. There is something about it that I have always loved. Maybe it's the title (which is an autobiographical truth...I never did eat the literal mango) or maybe it's the resolution, the point when you realize that a relationship is no longer good and it's time to let it go. Either way, I hope you like it.

I've decided to share one of my own poem's each week this month. I haven't yet decided which ones they will be and I'm rather curious to see what I'm going to find as I sift through the archives.

06 April 2012

Jim Heynen (National Poetry Month)

Falling out of Love

Let it be like balding.
Not the daily loss
that seems to be everywhere,
clogging your drain, sticking
to your comb or tooth brush,
staying in bed with your pillow
while you rise, less whole,
to confront the growing absence.

Let it be like balding,
like the moon rising through the forest,
a slow ascent into the night
you find yourself alone,
whole, declaring,
a crisp October sky.

Jim Heynen

Pablo Neruda (National Poetry Month 2012)

 Pablo Neruda has long been one of my absolute poets with all his odes and sonnets and everything else. This is one of my favorites, of which, I'll admit, there are many...


You must know that I do not love and that I love you,
because everything alive has its two sides;
a word is one wing of the silence,
fire has its cold half.

I love you in order to begin to love you,
to start infinity again
and never to stop loving you:
that's why I do not love you yet.

I love you, and I do not love you, as if I held
keys in my hand: to a future of joy--
a wretched, muddled fate--

My love has two lives, in order to love you:
that's why I love you when I do not love you,
and also why I love you when I do.

Pablo Neruda from his collection of 100 Love Sonnets

02 April 2012

Ronald Koertge (National Poetry Month 2012)

The Ubiquity of the Need for Love

I leave the number and a short
message on every green Volvo
in town

   Is anything wrong?
   I miss you.

The phone rings constantly.
One says, Are you bald?
Another, How tall are you
in your stocking feet?

Most just reply, Nothing's wrong.
I miss you, too.

Come quick.

Ronald Koertge

01 April 2012

Yehuda Amichai (National Poetry Month)

Forgetting Someone

Forgetting someone is like
forgetting to turn off the light in the back yard
so it stays lit all the next day.

But then it's the light
that makes you remember.

Yehuda Amichai

Michael Ondaatje (National Poetry Month 2012)

A House Divided

This midnight breathing
heaves with no sensible rhythm,
is fashioned by no metronome.
Your body, eager
for the extra yard of bed,
reconnoitres and outflanks;
I bend in peculiar angles.

This nightly battle is fought with subtleties:
you get pregnant, I'm sure,
just for the extra ground
- immune from kicks now.

Inside you now's another,
thrashing like a fish,
swinging, fighting
for its inch already.

Michael Ondaatje

National Poetry Month, Adrienne Rich

In Those Years

In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of the words we, of you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
we could bear witness to

But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I


Adrienne Rich

At some point during the first half of my sophomore year in college, someone, I believe a professor, introduced me to the poetry of Adrienne Rich. I was writing a lot of poetry at the time and as soon as I read her, I found something I couldn't help but love. I bought one of her collections and read it on the plane back to school after winter break. I even wrote a poem of my own on the back inside cover "somewhere between Portland, OR and Minneapolis, MN."

A few years later, I got to see her in Portland through an event sponsored by Portland Arts & Lectures. This past week, I was saddened to hear of her passing. This is my way of remembering her.

These days, though I write very little poetry (I had once dreamed of pursuing an MFA in Poetry...), it is still something near and dear to the heart of me. I've decided to (hopefully!) post a poem a day during the month of April to celebrate National Poetry Month. It's a big commitment, especially as I only have a few weeks to get my manuscript ready to send off, but I think it will be good for me. Poetry taught me a great deal about myself and about the world and over the past few years, as I've been focused on fiction writing/novels, I haven't been reading as much as I used to. I'm looking forward to pulling out some old favorites and finding some new ones. I probably won't comment on each and every poem/poet that's posted, but for some I won't be able to help myself.

And if you're really lucky, maybe I'll even post an old poem or two of my own...

My first Adrienne Rich book along with a long forgotten ticket stub.