* 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.

* Sylvia Plath, boarded trains & the friday influence

Metaphors – Sylvia Plath

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.


This week on the Influence: Sylvia Plath!

Much is made about the life of Plath, to the point that much of her work is overlooked outside of a handful of poems.  Personally, my favorite poems of hers are the ones where she shows off how much of a poetry geek she was (and by poetry geek I mean poetic virtuoso!).

This poem in particular is a marvel.  I was stumped as to what it meant or what it was doing the first few times I read it years ago.  It says nothing big, really, (not in the classroom/dig up the meaning kind of way) but in figuring out how to read it, I learned much about what a poem could do.

I read and reread the poem, and it wasn’t until I took the first line to heart – a riddle in nine syllables – that I started to see nine everywhere – nine letters in the word “Metaphors”, nine syllables per line, nine lines in the whole poem.  Which only leads into the concept of the poem – pregnancy and its nine months of effort.

Through syllabics and form, Plath is able to express several (nine!) of the facets of her experience with impending motherhood.

The poem endears itself to the poet in me that likes to work out extra layers in a poem as part of the process and overall meaning.  The cinquain tributes from a previous post are an example of this side.

here – this train’s a’coming…

In other happenings, the construction at our house has stirred some inner soul construction – specifically the decision to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing.  More on this front as it develops.  For now, I have – as the lady said – Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Happy training!


* anagram haiku

I recently finished filling up a notebook.  Before shutting it away for a year or more, I thought I would share a few small things from it.  These short lyrics arrived out of something I call anagram haiku.  Please enjoy and perhaps try a few yourself.


the gods

run like dogs

through our lives



itself in brags

the cherry tree


trees with swag



a brief




is a phase:

ask the sky


Happy asking!


* Louise Bogan, an update & the friday influence

Roman Fountain – Louise Bogan

Up from the bronze, I saw
Water without a flaw
Rush to its rest in air,
Reach to its rest, and fall.

Bronze of the blackest shade,
An element man-made,
Shaping upright the bare
Clear gouts of water in air.

O, as with arm and hammer,
Still it is good to strive
To beat out the image whole,
To echo the shout and stammer
When full-gushed waters, alive,
Strike on the fountain’s bowl
After the air of summer.


This week on the Influence: Louise Bogan.

This poem takes me in right away with its music: word choice plays out the water in its w’s and r’s, and the fountain later in the m’s.  The pacing also adds to the musical element.  Note the choice comma in the fourth line “Reach to its rest, and fall” which mimics the flow of the water.

The stanza structure also plays out the concept.  The first two stanzas have their symmetry, four lines each, rhyming couplets. Then there’s the drive and rush of the last stanza, its rhymes a bit more scattered, the form there hidden and changing as water does in a fountain.

All of these things come together to make the poem an experience with several layers.  Safe to say: they don’t, ahem, make them like this anymore.  Or enough.

This poem took on a new life for me after reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (a novel every poet would be charmed by).  In the book, the main character tells a story about how he read Bogan’s poem to a crowd and how the reading of it aloud really affected somebody, to the point that the person, not a regular reader of poetry, came up to him and asked about “that fountain poem”.

This scene makes me think about what poems have had that effect on my life, have hooked into me and taught me something.  It is my goal to write something that will have people asking about it later, something worth reading.


In other news, if you take a look up top you’ll see I have added an official page for my chapbook The Wall.  On it is ordering information, some very kind words from Naomi Shihab Nye, and a photo from the day I received my copies.  I got to pick up my copies straight from the printer.  They came in a white box very similar to a cake box.  Sadly, no cake.


Here’s one more by Bogan:

Solitary Observation Brought Back from a Sojourn in Hell – Louise Bogan

At midnight tears
Run in your ears.


Happy running,


* using ‘like’ and liking it

(a note on motion)

The heart is a thing in motion,

like the stars, like the ocean.



In early 2010, I filed for divorce.  I had never thought I would get married, much less that if I did that it might not work out.  Owning up to a relationship not working hurts no matter what side you are on. I spent the first month of the process reeling in late nights, beer, coffee, and words.

Two nights in particular stick out to me.  I got home one night and read the first of a number of nasty emails from my ex (she had every right).  The turn, though, from confidant to stranger hit hard.  Her words haunted me.  I was stuck between beating myself up and needing to move on.

I spent that night playing around with different phrasings of the above lines.  The original was (embarrassingly enough) something like: the stars are always in motion, the heart with them.  When I came back to the words the next day, I cut much of the free write out and found myself, of all things, rhyming.  At a time in my life when few things were harmonious, here were these two lines wanting to chime.


What I see in these lines is a meeting of the personal with an admission of insignificance.  However vast the heart inside me felt at the time, the stars and ocean were always vaster.

Another thing I see in these lines is the affirmation of a lesson learned: For years I had carried with me something Galway Kinnell had said about simile, how the word ‘like’ pointed to where imagination cut off from reality.  He said it in the context of avoiding simile.  The lesson for me with these lines is that there is a time and place for ‘like’.  In these lines, it needs to be ‘like’ because while, yes, all three things – heart, stars, ocean – are perpetually moving, of the three things listed, the heart is the one thing that eventually ceases.

Mortality as played out in word choice.  Whoa.

Seriously, this distinction, this cut between imagination and reality, lifted the lines from the mire of naivete that rhyming couplets evoke and made them self-aware of that naivete, made them realistic as well as hopeful.