Saturday, July 26, 2008


Poems at qarrtsiluni. Check the journal out. Great combination of image and text.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The other afternoon I went to the fifth floor at MoMA to see Monet's waterlilies. It was packed naturally. July in New York. But I managed to get close. Next thing I know, I'm getting choked up. Something about the intimacy of his hand. And the age of the paint, the age of his strokes. The colors. The panels. I guess the deep effort, the work and how Monet seemed to be there in the crowded gallery, full of tourists sprawled on the benches. Folks posing before the painting as their friends snapped photos for the album. Like we were at the Grand Canyon.

I went there to think and prepare for a class I'm giving this weekend on looking and writing, sketching with words. We're going to spend time at the museum. I wanted to visit some of the works again. So I looked at Giacometti's thin strange figures. There was Matisse's red studio, drawing a crowd of course, the way red can. And Pollack's mad splashes. I found some Rothkos. And Kiki Smith's women, which looked a bit like gravestone rubbings. There were some neat photos by the Bechers, known for their typologies. Oh, I could have roamed for hours but it was closing time. I ducked outside to dash in and out of the prefab houses in a lot next door. Small dwellings -- perfect for a writer!

Now I'm working on getting my readings. I'll offer a handful of so-called ekphrastic poems that riff on and off of visual works of art, some at MoMA. Then present some strategies for close looking and writing. Then we'll spend time in the galleries wandering and writing. It's really a generative workshop. Here's the thing. I need a disclaimer. Because as much as I love visual art, I'm all thumbs when it comes to the practice. And I don't have a background in art history or graphic design. I'm your basic English major, with lots of literature and language courses. What little I know I've picked up on my own. Like most writers I'm an observer. I like to look and listen. Nuance is important. And just gazing. Even with my eyes closed. You see better when your eyes close and your mind opens.

I yearn to be able to make. Do I repeat myself? Wish I could draw or paint or sculpt. (Have tried knitting. Sewing. Not good.) (I can bake bread.) (And other forms of cooking.) It's paint and color and canvas I lust after. I envy poets who can draw. That kind of mark-making. When I'm looking at a visual work of art, it seems closer to the imagination than language. Then the process of words moving across a page to create images feels clunky. I resign myself to language. No, that's melodramatic. I love words and letters and everything they can do. I am thus resigned to looking at art. And let Monet's swirls of blue and green swim and shimmer so that I might pretend.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Are you looking for something to read as summer winds along? Thinking about poetry, perhaps, especially contemporary poetry? Would you like some assistance in knowing what's out there? Poet and publisher Eileen Tabios offers an amazing service on her blog The Blind Chatelaine's Keys. Every few months she pulls together an online journal full of book reviews on poetry. The journal, Galatea Resurrects, features books by poets from the post-avant to the school of quietude, to use terms coined by the don of the poetry blogging world, Ron Silliman.

This is an amazing endeavor and I've had fun contributing reviews to Eileen's journal. For me, it's an exercise in close reading and thinking. As I write about collections like Bone Pagoda by Susan Tichy or The Marvelous Bones of Time by Brenda Coultas I have a chance to study technique and voice and style. When I read Child in the Road by Cindy Savett I see again how it is to write from the dark center of powerful emotion and how language guides me through. When I return to Brigit Pegeen Kelly's The Orchard to write about it, I push myself to examine the work of the line, particularly the densely laden line. I learn from my reading and then from my writing. And hopefully I carry that back to my own work.

My reviews are among 68 postings on the latest issue of Galatea Resurrects -- a record. There is a healthy selection of work by poets who won't get ink in the Sunday book review sections or in establishment journals like Poetry. Often collections are reviewed multiple times, so you, dear reader, can have additional perspectives. Along with my review of Brenda Coultas' book, poet Patrick James Dunagan writes about it too.

Thus, this is a rich feast arranged by Eileen Tabios. I marvel at her diligence and thank her. She has other projects you'll learn about if you visit her blog. And do roam around the reviews at Galatea Resurrects. You'll find it a great mix of books to savour as the summer declines toward the dog days.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

cicada song

by Louise Glück

In your extended absence, you permit me

use of earth, anticipating

some return on investment. I must report

failure in my assignment, principally

regarding the tomato plants.

I think I should not be encouraged to grow

tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold

the heavy rains, the cold nights that come

so often here, while other regions get

twelve weeks of summer. All this

belongs to you: on the other hand,

I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots

like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart

broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly

multiplying in the rows. I doubt

you have a heart, in our understanding of

that term. You who do not discriminate

between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,

immune to foreshadowing, you may not know

how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,

the red leaves of the maple falling

even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible

for these vines.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I've been pretty remiss about posting here recently. Lots going on family wise that intervenes as it must. And summer is whirling past me in sad and good ways. And always too fast. So it goes, Billy Pilgrim wisely pointed out.

And so it goes that I have news to share. In one of my incarnations I get to work with one of the best small museums around -- The Katonah Museum of Art, where I've been giving workshops as a visiting writer. For the past few years, young writers, from 3rd grade through high school, actually bring their notebooks to the museum's galleries and write--poems, other stuff. It's a pretty wonderful collaboration indeed. The folks in the museum's education department are completely into exploring how writers and visual artists collide, how poems and other kinds of writing can arise from the experience of close looking, how we learn how to think by looking and then writing.

The exhibitions at the museum range from contemporary artists using glass to ancient Buddhist texts to this summer's California Impressionists. In another life maybe I was or will be a visual artist. However, in the here and now, I can't draw worth a hoot. But I love the stuff -- the brushes and pencils, the palettes of messy colors bumping into each other, the darkroom, the kiln, the drawing board. I like to get lost in the looking, to visit places in my imagination when I look and write. And working at the museum lets me breathe in all kinds of visual works.

And now I'm officially writer in residence...ta da! I'm excited about the unfolding of this endeavor, about creating more collaborations. Who knows -- dance and writing and visual art, music and art and writing. It's a work in progress. Above, I've posted a painting from the summer exhibition, All Things Bright and Beautiful: California Impressionism.

One more small headline -- another poem accepted by the online journal qarrtsiluni! Do visit and read some of the work there. The latest issue on water has been compiled as a podcast. Take a listen and you're bound to feel as if you've had a nice long swim in the surf. Good things happening there, so I'm pleased to have my poem, "Anecdote of Air," included in the upcoming issue on "transformation." I'll note its posting here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

on books


THERE is no frigate like a book
  To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
  Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take      
  Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
  That bears a human soul!

That by Emily Dickinson...with thanks to Chris and Pamela for their help. Since summer is book time, I think I'll keep adding poems on books, on the pleasure of reading. I'm not so interested in poems about poetry. Again, your suggestions greatly appreciated!