Monday, January 26, 2009


Kiki Smith, Getting the Bird Out

Do you memorize your own work? I mean when you participate in a reading? I don't. I know the poems pretty well, some almost by heart because I've revised them so often. But I have a script -- the poems themselves. I read with the pages in front of me for security. There's a lectern maybe. Or I have my notebook or my book, if that's what I'm reading from.
Over the weekend, I recited two of my poems as part of a performance of poems that were organically strung together in a kind of play. There were 14 poems in total, some read by actors, most recited by the poets who wrote them. All were written in response to contemporary works of art in an exhibition at a nearby museum.  

To memorize and recite one's work, I discovered, was quite different than reading it.  I had to lose the line breaks. An audience of non-poet types don't much care about ends of lines. It was hard to lose them. I like line breaks a lot. Maybe too much. I think about the words at the end of my lines, the sound, the air, the enjambment or not. Not that I emphasize the breaks as I read, but they are there and I hear the ghost of them. It was hard to let them go but once they fluttered away, other sounds emerged and then there was new air and I found another voice inside my poems.  Which may sound curious -- that whole thing about finding "your voice." But, that's not the voice I found. Hard to describe.

Which leads me in a round about way to Elizabeth Alexander and how she read her poem on that freezing inauguration day just a week ago.  I don't have anything extremely important or new to say. Just that as I recited my poems, I thought about how she sounded. How we get into a habit of sound, of speech patterns with our writing and reading -- the voice inside our heads that we hear when we read silently is how Tom Lux describes it in his poem. Breaking out of those grooves isn't so easy. I had some help from a theater person. I didn't want to get all performy. I wanted to recite my work in a real way, in my voice but from a deeper more resonant part of the body, the way you reach down a little deeper when you sing. I think that happened. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Knot Work
(After Ann Hamilton)

Cotton-knotted and witch-white, I'm woven
and worn, fingers thread bare from knot talk,

each plaiting a melody, how I weave a story --
hand-made and mended to the sure-footed--

my lace work a dance, its filaments link

] what's to eat-where's shirt-lunch-home [

form to form. I read knots to decipher
how words pleat like rain over avenue and field.

Forever weaving and unweaving, I study
light's texture in knuckle work: the felt,

the clenched, the cottony stress
of noun, the vagary of verb.

Word-filled, they chatter, their tangled syntax

] worm holes there are holes worm [

warping my knotty grammar,
my embroidered eloquence.

I'm wrought from not-talk, blah-blah
knit into a day's topography.

] feminine chit-chat [

O binary language, memory's ligature strewn
across a table, unmake and unknot 

me as darkness loosens its strands
and blue dawn wounds the sky.

] no worry     stitch in      time to tapestry [

O code of twist and fringe, you are sutured truth -- all lashed and looped

] cloth -- be still I'll talk [
and chattering like old rags.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Kiki Smith, Mother, 1991

Madonna of the Wall

A paper-maiched, tendrilled muse of droop and slop, I know something
about string and the cartography of a neuron. About on-goingness.
My song is a crone's rant about the body as arrival and departure.
The torque of my shoulder to breast is the story of how sky
was born to guide wanderer or warrior.
I know too the pliant scent of fontanel -- small gate open to womb
or stone -- a place of origin, like the cave of rivulet and moss. A place of exodus.
In piled puddles of hair, read: milk of Madonna, Medusa or Medea.
I am them. Their years are my years, crinkled like old seaweed.
I know drowned children, what they wonder as water fills chest and lung,
what bad ask their eyes, their gaze mapping death, turning us to stone.
This is my lexicon of slop and droop, its spew dousing the heart's thicket.
My parchment skin loosens.
Last felt touch is breath against air.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Kiki Smith Blue Girl

Something kind of wonderful happened yesterday. I had sent
a batch of poems over to an arts organization, which 
is co-sponsoring a performance entitled
The Form of Matter.  And two were selected! 
This means that I'll be reading my work, along
with other poets,  standing in front of two art works
by women I've long admired -- Kiki Smith and Ann Hamilton. 
I've written (like a few times!) here about how pulled
and drawn and compelled I am to looking at and thinking
about and taking from the visual arts. The opportunity 
to read poems written in response to
sculptures by these women makes me very very happy. 
A joyous way to start this year.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


from Home by Marilynne Robinson

Why do we have to read poetry? Why "Il Penseroso?" Read it and you'll know why. If you still don't know, read it again. And again. Some of them took the things she said to heart, as she had done when they were said to her. She was helping them assume their humanity. People have always read poetry. Trust that it will matter to you...Know what must be known. Ancient fathers taught their ancient children, who taught their ancient children, these very things... It is like a voice heard from another room, singing for the pleasure of the song, and then you know it, too, and through you it moves by accident and necessity down generations. Then, why singing? Why pleasure in it? And why the blessing of the moment when another voice is heard, dreaming to itself?

Thursday, January 1, 2009



In your dream you met Demeter
Splendid and severe, who said: Endure.
Study the art of seeds,
The nativity of caves.
Dance your gay body to the poise of the waves;
Die out of the world to bring forth the obscure
Into blisses, into needs.
In all resources
Belong to love. Bless,
Join, fashion the deep forces,
Asserting your nature, priceless and feminine.
Peace, daughter. Find your true kin.
--then you felt her kiss.

by Genevieve Taggard