* some words from W. H. Auden & the friday influence

“I will love you forever” swears the poet. I find this easy to swear to. “I will love you at 4:15 pm next Tuesday” – Is that still as easy? (Auden)

Can you make it?
Can you make it?

This week on the Influence: W. H. Auden.

Auden’s one of those guys I come back to in my thoughts, and whose words I butcher in conversation.

Like there’s the essay where he talks about how if you have a poet who writes because he believes strongly that he has something to say, let that poet become a politician, a journalist, or anything else because he doesn’t have a chance of becoming a poet.  But if you have a poet who is genuinely interested in putting one word next to another and seeing how they might affect each other, bleed into one another, then maybe – just maybe – that person might turn out to be a poet.

His writing – poems and essays – have been with me long enough to have become part of the layers of sedimentary rock that make up the floor holding up my writing self.  (As is evident, I am not so with the smarts as him!)

Usually the “some words” posts are made up of longer quotes, but I feel I have quoted, paraphrased, or said things shaped by the man enough throughout the Influence’s existence that I can do right by him best by simply admitting it.

His gift for aphorism is almost as great as Oscar Wilde’s.  But his distinction is how he will say a thing both sharp and true (Wilde seems to always be going for the kill).  Case in point:

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

He also has a sensibility about reading that makes him kindred with that other great reader, Jorge Luis Borges:

There are good books which are only for adults.
There are no good books which are only for children.

AND I keep finding more aptly said things – apt because with all the big moves going on in my life at the moment, I need to hear things like the following said:

You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.

Amen.  That might be my mantra for the next few years.


The following poem exhibits much of the same bite and vulnerable spirit that rings through in the quotes above.  Enjoy.

The More Loving One – W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.


How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.


Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.


Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.


Happy timing!


p.s. PhD update: For those of you keeping up, I am happy to announce that me and mine are Cincinnati bound!

* Robert Hayden & the friday influence

Those Winter Sundays – Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.


I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,


Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?


This week on the Influence – Robert Hayden!

*the man*
*the man*

This poem gets a lot of love – on the internet, in anthologies, in classes – and deserves every bit of it.

I opened up my reading this past Tuesday with this poem, reciting it from memory.  It is one of those poems I’ve carried close to me for years now.  The poem never stops teaching me something.

Here’s what I said about it at the reading:

This poem opened up a lot of doors for me.  It is a poem of presence: blue black cold – splintering breaking – there is presence in the very sounds!  But the poem ends with that question – What did I know, what did I know… and that question comes from a place of absence.  The origins for my book The Wall started from a similar absence, from not knowing my father at all growing up because he died when I was six and spent most of those last years in prison.  The poems start from absence – like a blank page, and the poems fill it up.

This week was a big week for me – I don’t get them often.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of it.

See you next Friday!


p.s. A little more love for Hayden from the Poetry Foundation can be found here.

* update: the reading

Happy to report that the Windfall Reading last night was a great success!

The evening started off with Tim Volem introducing Eliot Treichel who read from his collection of short stories, Close Is Fine (Ooligan Press).  He read “The Golden Torch”, the last in the collection, a story about the trials and tribulations between father and son.

More about Eliot can be found here.

Anita Sullivan, poet and editor of Airlie Press, then gave me a generous and warm introduction, after which I proceeded to go through poems from The Wall with their own take on the trials and tribulations between father and son.

There was a theme.  Sort of.

Want to take a listen?  Go here.

Here’s me kicking the poetry jams:


All in all, the night went well.  Thank you to all who came.

A special thanks again to Anita Sullivan for a great introduction.  More about Anita’s work can be found here.

ALSO: please note the new tab above for Audio – there are links to both the KLCC radio interview from Monday (Thank you to Eric Alan and Michael Canning!) as well as to last night’s reading.

See you Friday!


* on poetry readings

If poems are children, poetry readings are PTA meetings. 

— Vera Pavlova

PTA welcome

You don’t go to poetry readings for the poetry.

Mind you, this isn’t a remark from a cynic, far from it.

I am a believer in the poetry reading, both its flaws and magic.

From the rambling what should I read next talk to the front row while shuffling papers folks to the stand-up-comedy folks who make an open mic a little bit more bearable (when they’re funny).

From the rhyming love poems about a fickle ex that will charm a smile out of you if you let them to the angsty, blood-dripping love poems about a fickle ex that will make you go back to your angsty teenage self and give them a hug.

From the slam poets who do it right and fill the room up with duende ala Buddy Wakefield, Roger Bonair-Agard, and Patricia Smith (the latter of which I heard about word of mouth at poetry slams for years before the rest of the poetry world caught up with her!), to the would-be slam poets who rant, cuss, and flail to no avail.

(sidenote: if I hear another variation of the line “eyes have eyelids to close/but ears don’t have earlids/so they can always hear” I will consider the trope public domain).

From the poets who preface their poems with stories more compelling than the poems themselves to the mumblemumblemumblemumblemumblethankyou poets.

You don’t go to poetry readings for the poetry – you go to see people try.


fiction writer Eliot Treichel, and poet José Angél Araguz. 

Tuesday, February 19, 5:30, Eugene Public Library–Free!

Eliot Treichel

    José Angél Araguz


I have read my poetry in front of people for thirteen years now – which means I’ve gotten up and tried for thirteen years.

As I have previously mentioned, I count age 17 as the first year of my taking writing seriously, seeing as it is the year where I first typed up poems of mine, submitted them, and got them published.  I realize now that I forget to factor in my first open mic readings and poetry slams into that year.

In the time since that first year, I have slammed, ranted, shuffled papers, told compelling stories, worn army fatigues and a sari (not on the same night!), and, occasionally, done a good job of reading a poem.  I have also hosted several open mics – from my days with the Student Writer’s Association (SWA!) at the College of Santa Fe to monthly open mics at Del Mar College where I taught.

The best thing about readings is afterwards, when people go up to the poet and recite a line they really liked, that caught on them like an electric burr on the air of the evening.

On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.

Next Tuesday, come see me try!


p.s. Just confirmed that Eliot and I will be doing a radio interview Monday afternoon on the local station KLCC!  Mas details later!

* Eugene Gloria & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Eugene Gloria!

I have only recently become acquainted with Gloria’s work through his second collection, Hoodlum Birds.  Through the collection, he displays an ease and elegance with the line that is both admirable and engaging.

In the poem below, I’d like to point out two dynamic parts (among others) to watch out for while reading.

First, there’s what the word hat does in the fourth stanza, how it embodies a sense of loss, its suddenness and its power to shake us from the day to day.

Second, these lines from the penultimate stanza:

Fugitive as watercolor, 
the short walk to my maple trees dials light.

These two lines could be a poem on their own.  I pored over them when I first read them, engaged with just what the words were doing, what they evoked inside me.  How light can change subtly in even the shortest of walks – having the eye to notice that and then to put it into words is a gift.

More info on Eugene Gloria’s work can be found here.

check out them maples...
check out them maples…

Suddenly October * – Eugene Gloria

His wife had died from cancer. 
There weren’t enough details, 
only this reason to wear a dark shirt.

In February, you would’ve found him, 
hunchbacked, finishing nothing, 
warming his hands over a meager fire.

Then in March, 
pruning the vineyards. By September, 
making wine.

In my dream, I see him as my autumnal
father with a gray fedora, doing his chores, 
and then a big wind comes and steals away his hat.

The world is vast, 
more boundless than all that birds inhabit. 
It is a graspable earth where larks imply the sky

entire cities of breaths and vistas. 
Fugitive as watercolor, 
the short walk to my maple trees dials light.

What is October but the smell of bonfire smoke, 
when fathers leave and carry with them 
their scent of mild decay.


Happy scenting!


* previously published in Prairie Schooner & Gloria’s second collection, Hoodlum Birds.

** photo found here.

* some words from Ram Dass & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: some words from world renown American spiritual teacher Ram Dass!

But first, a confession: there isn’t much that I read – be it novels, essays, cereal boxes, texts, etc. – that doesn’t get filtered through my how-does-can-this-relate-to-poetry filter.  I read everything with eyes looking for a symbol, a metaphor, or simply a set of words that captivates.  I end up thinking (and saying) some goofy things but ultimately I am kept engaged and interested.

I say this as preface to today’s post in order to make it clear that I am no expert on the works of Ram Dass or meditation – I have simply read through his book on mediation, Journey of Awakening, and found in it many things that relate to poetry.  Or at least my sense of it.

Dude, c'mon: there'll be chicken wings!
Dude, c’mon: there’ll be chicken wings!

In his book, Ram Dass exhibits a great gift for sampling works from various cultures and beliefs.  W.H. Auden once said that a sign of a writer’s strength as an essayist isn’t what he says but what he quotes.  In this spirit, Ram Dass rocks.  Case in point:

There is a story that as God and Satan were walking down the street one day, the Lord bent down and picked something up.  He gazed at it glowing radiantly in His hand.  Satan, curious, asked: “What’s that?”  “This,” answered the Lord, “is Truth.”  “Here,” replied Satan as he reached for it, “let me have that – I’ll organize it for you.”

I read the above as a parable on poetry workshops as I have experienced them at times.  There are at times two kinds of readers in a group: one willing to be astonished in their consideration of the words before them, and another who feels compelled to say something, to fix, to organize.

Ultimately, both kinds of readers, like the ideas of good and evil, help make the world go ’round.

Here are two more:

If you do not get it from yourself

Where will you go for it?

(Zenrin, The Gospel According to Zen)

It is all an open secret
(Ramana Maharshi)


I see the last two quotes as having to do with generating work: the first, an idea Philip Levine shared once: It won’t get written if you don’t write it.  The second, how inspiration is seemingly endless while at the same time being impossible at times to get at – but once you tap into it, that thrill, like learning a secret if only for a moment, a few lines.


Happy secrets!


* some origins, manu chao & the friday influence

In regards to the question “When did you start writing?” I give several answers depending on context.

If it’s a professional context, I say seventeen, that being the year that I first typed up, printed, and sent off poems to a real lit mag.  I call it the year I began to take my writing seriously, the act of sending my poems out into the world for consideration an act of considering them worth, uhm, considering.  (Two got published on that first try – bless those forgiving editors!)

If it’s more of the “When did you know you were a writer?” kind of question, then I go a little farther back.  I talk about how as a kid I used to rewrite lyrics to songs I heard on the radio, how I filled up notebooks with various takes on other people’s melodies.

I look back and realize that putting my words into other people’s songs probably taught me something about form, about structure and rhyme.  What exactly I learned, I don’t know.  (I’m a terrible rhymer in poems!)

The core of the experience, though, cultivated an obsession with words – sounds, meaning, phrasing – of saying something and saying it concisely, aptly.  Inevitably.

I threw away those notebooks sometime in middle school – a friend found me scribbling in one of them and asked what I wrote.  I said homework, tucked it away, and later that night tossed them all into the garbage.  Not a scrap remains.

words, yo
words, yo

What has stayed with me through the years is a distinct respect and fascination with song lyrics.

In this spirit, let me share some of the lyrics of French singer Manu Chao!

I have been listening to his first album “Clandestino” non-stop this week.  Manu Chao, after being in a few other bands, took to travelling and picking up different influences from the various street music he encountered to create a hybrid sound that is as much diverse as it is simple.  His songs remind me of Garcia Lorca being influenced by the folk culture of Andalusia.  His travelling manifests itself in his writing songs in French, Spanish,Italian Galician, Arabic, and Portuguese.

Here’s a line that I keep turning over my head:

El hambre viene, el hombre se va –

(Hunger comes, man leaves)

This is a fine line – more than that, you see in the words themselves how one letter changing (hambre = hombre) evokes so much of the meaning of the line.  Now, take the line within its context in the song “El Viento (The Wind)”:

El viento viene
El viento se va
Por la frontera

El viento viene
El viento se va

El hambre viene
El hombre se va
Sin mas razon…

(The wind comes
The wind goes
Across the frontier

The wind comes
The wind goes

Hunger comes
Man leaves
Without a reason…)

Suddenly the words take on a whole other meaning.  That change from ‘a’ to ‘o’ in the words (hambre/hombre) seem almost a trick of the wind itself, the same wind that is being sung about.

Part of my general fascination with song lyrics is how you can do certain things in a song that you can’t do in a poem.  I say this not to discredit one side or the other but to show them both as the formidable modes of expression that they are.

In his lyrics, the wordplay of hambre/hombre play out concisely the theme of vagabond that Manu Chao explores throughout his whole first album.  Taken solely as words, the line is simply a proverb.  But put to music, put within the larger context of musing on wind and then the even larger context of an album about transiency and the line becomes downright mythic.

Cool.  You can listen to the song here.

And a fun one can be found here.

Happy bongoing!!!


* photo found here.

* quick update

Hey y’all!

Just a quick post to announce an upcoming reading:

Tuesday, February 19th


@ the Eugene Public Library

I will be reading alongside fellow Eugene writer Eliot Treichel.

It will be my first official reading for my chapbook, The Wall.  I look forward to putting some of these poems in the air.

For more info on the reading, please check out the Lane Literary Guild’s website here.

I’ll post more updates on prep for the reading as it gets closer to the date.


In other news,  I cut my hair.  Check it out:

nothing's wrong - I'm shorn...
nothing’s wrong – I’m shorn…

You can’t really see it well cuz I’m scared to take a photo.  I haven’t rocked a goatee in a minute either.  We’ll see how long this lasts.

Please note: that IS my writing blanket on my shoulders there.

Ani knit it last summer as a sort of lap blanket.

I, being twelve, wear it across my shoulders like a cape.

So I guess I have a writing cape.

This way I feel like I’m fighting crime when I submit poems.

I am the goddamn poet!!!



* Phil Levine & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Philip Levine.

When I read the following poem to Ani she picked up on something I did not when I first read it four years earlier: that it takes place in Spain.  This makes sense seeing as Phil Levine has spent much time in Spain and written often on the poets who suffered and survived in the Spanish Civil War.

Having herself spent time there, Ani spoke of the place in the poem as if she had been there, the way one does in the light of experience.

This is the world…  Indeed!

What moves me still about the poem is the scope of human understanding, how much gets put into the poem, and yet it is only one man’s glimpse, as fleeting and unknowable even now.

the *photo* of time
the *photo* of time

The Music of Time – Philip Levine *

The young woman sewing

by the window hums a song

I don’t know; I hear only

a few bars, and when the trucks

barrel down the broken street

the music is lost.  Before the darkness

leaks from the shadows of

the great Cathedral, I see her

once more at work and later

hear in the sudden silence

of nightfall wordless music rising

from her room.  I put aside

my papers, wash, and dress

to eat at one of the seafood

places along the great avenues

near the port where later

the homeless will sleep.  Then I

walk for hours in the Barrio

Chino passing the open

doors of tiny bars and caves

from which the voices of old men

bark out the stale anthems

of love’s defeat.  “This is the world,”

I think, “this is what I came

in search of year’s ago.”  Now I

can go back to my single room,

I can lie awake in the dark

rehearsing all the trivial events

of the day ahead, a day that begins

when the sun clears the dark spires

of someone’s God, and I waken

in a flood of dust rising from

nowhere and from nowhere comes

the actual voice of someone else.


Happy nowhereing!


* from Phil Levine’s News of the World.

* William Meredith on the friday influence

This week’s poem is The Illiterate by William Meredith.

This one is a favorite.  I memorized it years ago and come back to it often.

The simplicity of both the subject matter and form is deceptive.  It is a sonnet but note how the rhymes work, how they envelope around the last syllables – man, hand, hand, man – playing out the story of the poem in the word choice itself.

The extended metaphor takes over after the first line and comes back in the turning over of words at the end of the poem.

I won’t say too much  more, seeing as this is a poem about what is left unsaid.


letter-proud *
letter-proud *

The Illiterate – William Meredith

Touching your goodness, I am like a man

Who turns a letter over in his hand

And you might think this was because the hand

was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man

Has never had a letter from anyone;

And now he is both afraid of what it means

And ashamed because he has no other means

To find out what it says than to ask someone.


His uncle could have left the farm to him,

Or his parents died before he sent them word,

Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.

Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.

What would you call his feeling for the words

That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?


Happy keeping!


* image found here.