clarity with louise glück

Came across this week’s poem reading through James Longenbach’s solid book, The Art of the Poetic Line (Graywolf Press). Longenbach does a great read of the poem, noting how the poem is grounded in straightforward syntax in the first line, and returns to this foundation in the poem’s last lines. In between, the poem plays out the ramble and run of memory.

When I read the poem the first time, it was cut and interspersed throughout Longenbach’s prose. Yet, when I read the final lines, I was blown away by them as if I had read it straight through. While Longenbach’s insights added to the piece, of course, it was the power of Glück’s lyricism – it’s ability to remain charged even through essayic insight – that ultimately had me catching my breath.

[Image description: A sketch by Vincent Van Gogh entitled “On the Road to Tarascon.”]

The last two lines of the poem stopped me with their clarity. What’s said there is said as clearly as the first line of the poem; the clarity here, however, rings out in such a way that I was compelled to read and reread the poem a few times. Like flipping a coin and watching the light change, then go back inside the coin when it falls flat, this poem delivers its lyric insight in an urgent way.


Nostos – Louise Glück

There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been
forty years ago — behind,
only meadows. Drifts
off crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from tennis courts —
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

from Meadowlands (HarperCollins)


Happy looking!


shameless with hayden carruth

I found this week’s poem reading through The Seleced Poetry of Hayden Carruth (Macmillan, 1985). In his introduction, Galway Kinnell quotes Carolyn Kizer’s response to the question of what it takes to be a poet: “It is necessary to be absolutely shameless.” There are many things this could mean. For one, Carruth was writing at a time when the term “confessional” was rooting itself into the poetic landscape. But there is more to what Kizer means than gossip, per se. There is a depth of feeling to Carruth’s work that is tapped into indirectly.

fireAn example of what I mean can be found below. The narrative of “In Memoriam” is straightforward through the first six lines; the stoking of a fire in winter described in these lines grounds the poem in physicality. The repetition of the word “suddenly” in line six, however, marks a turn from the physical to the emotional. The speaker goes on to describe reading the poems of a recently deceased poet in the same straightforward manner as the fire, only this act of reading coincides with an increase of heat in the room. This coinciding blurs the physical and emotional in a shameless way; the heat that overwhelms the speaker is evoked on both levels. Rather than state his grief directly, the poem moves on carrying the charge of these blurred states through imagery. The admission (or confession) in these lines, however, occurs in the clarity of each line, and rings out because of it.

In Memoriam – Hayden Carruth

This warmish night of the thaw
in January a beech chunk
smoldering in my Herald
No. 22A box stove suddenly
takes fire and burns
hot, or rather I suddenly
who was reading the sweet
and bitter poems of Paul
Goodman dead last summer
am aware how my shed
becomes a furnace, and taking
my shovel I ladle
a great mush of snow
into the stove’s mouth
to quieten it
and then step quickly
outside again to watch
the plume of steam rise
from my stovepipe straightly
and vanish into mist.


Happy misting!


marvin bell & monopoem giveaway

Obsessive – Marvin Bell

It could be a clip, it could be a comb;
it could be your mother, coming home.
It could be a rooster; perhaps it’s a comb;
it could be your father, coming home.
It could be a paper; it could be a pin.
It could be your childhood, sinking in.

The toys give off the nervousness of age.
It’s useless pretending they aren’t finished:
faces faded, unable to stand,
buttons lost down the drain during baths.
Those were the days we loved down there,
the soap disappearing as the water spoke,

saying, it could be a wheel, maybe a pipe;
it could be your father, taking his nap.
Legs propped straight, the head tilted back;
the end was near when he could keep track.
It could be the first one; it could be the second;
the father of a friend just sickened and sickened.

from Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000 (Copper Canyon Press, 2000)

This week’s poem is impressive in the way it works the theme of obsession via sound and rhyme. The first stanza is pretty straightforward with its end rhymes; tension is created within each line, however, by the subtle use of consonance within each line (“clip” “comb” “mother” “home” “paper” “pin”). Obsession is implied in the use of the word “it” to open each line. The poem departs from this structure, repetition, and rhyme in the second stanza. The voice then becomes clearer, distanced. This distance and interruption then makes the return to rhyme in the third stanza all the more dramatic. This last stanza’s rhymes, however, are slant/off (“pipe” “nap” “second” “sickened”). This fraying of the preciseness of the first stanza brings the poem back into the immediacy of obsession, with the poem’s ending adding more possibilities to what “it could be” rather than resolving the obsessive meditation.

monopoem prep 2 080917
[image description: an ink and pencil sketch of three marbles]

This particular poem compliments my latest Mosca Dragón monopoem which features my poem “Canicas” from my book, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press) which also dwells on childhood memory.

This new monopoem also features the ink and pencil sketch shown here and will be sent along to the 10 winners of the Small Fires Goodreads giveaway. Thank you to all who entered!

I have a small number of extra copies of this monopoem, so if you are interested in receiving a copy of this monopoem, send an email to

Happy marbling!




blurring via bei dao

Sometimes a poem blurs the line between where one is and what one feels in a fruitful way. In Bei Dao’s “The Boundary,” one sees this kind of blurring happen in the repetition of the phrase “I want to go to the other bank”  and the images between them. The repeated phrase has the directness of desire and logic, which is tested by the images of the river “altering” both sky and speaker. These observations lead up to the repetition of the opening phrase, which, in being repeated, feels like an attempt to counter the altering just implied.

Yangshuo Li River Valley Fisherman China BoatAs the poem develops its ending, the image of a pigeon flying towards the speaker is another observation, another thing altering what is in the poem, and completely interrupting the desire of the opening phrase. The image of the pigeon is one of action; the boundary of the title, then, can be seen as being between this active reaction to the world and the more passive, internal (re)action of observing and desiring that is poetry.


The Boundary – Bei Dao

I want to go to the other bank

The river water alters the sky’s colour
and alters me
I am in the current
my shadow stands by the river bank
like a tree struck by lightning

I want to go to the other bank

In the trees on the other bank
a solitary startled wood pigeon
flies towards me

translated by Bonnie S. McDougall from THE AUGUST SLEEPWALKER


Happy banking!


Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

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at Goodreads.

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