Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Dear Poets, Lovers of Poets and Friends,

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and an even more splendid new year
2012. Thank you for all the support you have shown the BN Poetry Award
since 2008. It has been an enjoyable, painstaking and worthwhile
process. Next year, as we celebrate the 4th poetry award, as a team,
we would like to share with you that there will be a new board of
directors whose first meeting will take place in the first quarter of
2012. The website will also be up and running with regular updates.
Beverley, left in Masai outfit, celebrating the end of the year.
The team is in touch with the agent for Shailja Patel, a renowned poet
and spokesperson of Kenyan and Asian origin. We hope to bring her in
July next year or at least in 2013. Her performances are known
world-wide and we trust that funding will be available for this. The
media have been very supportive and some of the publicity links for
the award are below,
• www.monitor.co.ug/.../A_platform_for_female_poets_90429.shtml- news
article in The Monitor newspaper commenting on poetry award.
• http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/9/31/693948 article
• http://www.wougnet.org/cms/content/view/411/58/
• http://blogspirit.ug/node/14184

The winners of the BN poetry award:-
In 2009-Lillian Aujo, first for her poem, Soft Tonight, Catherine
Kemigisha, second for Better at Dawn and Sophie Alal, third for her
poem, The Rebel Fell.
In 2010, Sophie Alal was first with her poem, Making Modern Love,
second was Regina Asinde for her poem, Fragrance and third was
Nakisanze Segawa for her poem, The Hustler.
In 2011, first was Sanyu Kisaka for her poem A Handswing of Disguised
Depravity, second was Rachel Kunihira for her poem Battling Darkness
and Flavia Zalwango was third for her poem, Beads of Hope. There have
also been annual poetry workshops since 2010 and this will continue.
A great appreciation to the sponsors especially Stitchting Doen the
main sponsor, madandcrazyblogspot, UHMG, Uganda Clays, WordAlive,
Amakula, Bayimba, thanks also to the judges for their patience and
expertise and to the volunteers that run around to put it all
together. The competition runs again early next year and information
shall be placed in several media spaces.
Looking forward to collaborating with you again.

Warm Regards,

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Give me room to move my feet-book launch

Hey, Mildred Barya, Ugandan poet living in the US is launching her third poetry collection, Give me room to move my feet on Tuesday 20 December 2011.

The enthralling book above, Give me room to move my feet published by Amalion Publishing House in June 2009.

The book has some of the most heart warming, ludicrous and entertaining poems I have read in a long time. Mildred will be launching her book at Isha's Gallery on Kenneth Dale Drive Kamwokya from 8:00pm during Poetry in Session. You are all invited. The books will be on sale at 40,000/- only. Time to celebrate the end of 2011 with great poetry.

one of the 100 poems published in this book is below, Stormy Heart.

Stormy Heart

A heart like mine
But generous
I welcome him,
We are us.

Shades start to peel
Revealing hwo they are
Once more,
I’ve been deceived.

There are many
Coming through my open door
My sister advises
I should have a selection method
Tight and soundproof
But that way, I tell her
I might block the real thing
Cut the oxygen to my heart
What if there’s nothing left of a heart?
I see splinters.

Another time a friend asks,
Have I any children?
‘I am sure there have been men.’
‘At your age they’ve given you no children?’
‘They’ve given me principles,’
He laughs,
I tell him there’s another thing,
Absent fathers
Missing husbands
Lone mothers
There are too many.

Now I am seated by the ocean
Wind roars,
Waves roll and rock with the shore
Turbulence swells
Just like it is
With my stormy heart.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wamathai December, 3rd December @ The Michael Joseph Centre, Safaricom House

Wamathai.com presents Wamathai Spoken Word December on Saturday 3rd December 2011 at The Michael Joseph Centre, Safaricom House on Waiyaki Way.

The event will be hosted by TV personality Anyiko Owoko & Blogger and Auditor Robert Kunga.

There will be Poetry Performances by: Wanjiku Mwaurah, Asali, Pearl, Jeremy Levinger, Lonesome Bounty, Mike Kwambo, Kennet B, Nuru Bahati,Kevin ‘Man Njoro’, M.K, Abu Sense, Claude Baus, Ngartia, Dave Ndirangu, Aisha Salim, Ami, Mugambi Nthiga, Vickie Zosi, Mark Anthony, PotentAsh and many more

Music by: Elani & Afrology

The event will feature an exhibition of poetographs from the Koroga II project, a collaboration between Kenyan poets and photographers.

Other Details

Time: 4pm – 7pm
Charges: Kshs. 300 in advance & Kshs. 400 at the gate

Advance tickets are available from WWW.TICKETSASA.COM & at the Michael Joseph Centre reception desk.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

to all writers..

Kwani? Open Mic Reloaded December 2011

Poetry Slam

- Winner walks away with a cash prize of ksh10,000
- Runners Up walk away with a Kwani? Gift Pack

Featured Artist: Davis Ntare (TPF Winner 2010)

MC: Cindy Ogana.
Date: 6th December 2011.
Time: 7 -9 pm.
Venue: Club Soundd.
Entry: 200 Ksh.


Davis is a multi-talented individual with an interest in music production and performance, abstract art, photography and song writing. He uses his art and Music to reach out to people in a positive way. He has a diverse musical background, including playing the trumpet in a brass band back home, doing background vocals for renown musicians and singing in the school and church choirs.

Davis Hillary Ntare’s journey to stardom started when he won the Tusker Project Fame top prize in 2010. He later produced yet another winner of the East African music talent show, his first single, Sheka Sheka, produced and arranged with Robert "rkay" Kamanzi.

Davis is a force to reckon with in the African music scene, and is accompanied by a performing band that will knock you off your feet and into the dance floor!!!!! Started in October 2011 the band has already made its debut in high profile events and performs every Sunday at Shebeen Bar & Restaurant in Upper Hill, Nairobi.

For updates on upcoming performances, please visit : www.facebook.com/davishillaryntare


Having lived in the lovely Pearl of Africa for a minute; I have to admit that this is a show I will not be missing for anything.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


WAPI Universal presents Kibera's On Top Octopizzo, Tanzania's Ibra da Hustler, Mombasa's Nguchi P, BLNRB's Alai K, Kalahari Crew, Rabbit, Dandora's DJ Supreme and Cuba's KUMAR

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's all right, it's only Nawal

It’s all right, it’s only Nawal. And what a formidable woman Dr. Sawaadi is. She and Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Laureate 1991, were amongst the unforgettable faces of the 2nd African Women Writers’ Symposium held in November 2011, Johannesburg. On invitation from Department of Art and Culture and Urban Voices Festival, the creative spaces at the various events metamorphosed into a revolution.

Abena (Ghana), Bev )Uganda) and Roshnie, Urban voices

Diane Ferrus signing her poetry collection, I will take you home, from the title of the poem which was instrymental in bringing back the remains of Sarah Baartman.

Sharing from her not really sordid but memorable childhood, Dr. Sawaadi said that as a child, she could feel the sadness in her mother’s eyes because she was born a girl. Reflecting on the unfairness and injustice of the patriarchal and rigid upbringing she had, made her question God, who favoured boys over girls. Her journal entries from the age of ten have led to the extraordinary Nawal, author of 47 books, 26 of which have been translated. Her strength lies not only in writing but during the early 2011 Arab uprising in Egypt, the 70 something year old camped in Tahrir Square, symbolically revolting against a dictatorship that had destroyed education and had brought unspeakabe injustice. Her life is made up of such moments that have built this courageous woman who even after imprisonment, fights even harder now for just causes.
Nawa, leading a meeting

Nadine Gordimer, whose potency runs like still deep waters, and whose 88th birthday we celebrated amongst much aplomb, opened one of her sessions with a statement that echoed differently with everyone.
“I am not a woman writer just as men are not male writers, we are all writers. We are all in this together. I do not accept a biological difference.”
The reactions varied with some women saying that they embrace their womanhood and Africanness with pride while others agreed strongly. That is how the symposium ran, as panel after panel discussion ran on, from the role of the writer, Africa dreaming and the power of the poetic voice and new ways of reading, writing and networking, it was through this we met extraordinary women. I will never forget Karabo Kgoleng, a journalist with SAfm and her take on social networking, how while it may be useful, she is not interested in what people ate for breakfast. Also, her struggle with placing literary reviews in papers.
Tsitsi Dangarembga, award-winning novelist and film maker said that the nature of good writing should be that it opens up spaces for others, during the panel discussion, Writing Freedom: Reclaiming the future.
The amazing talent during the readings and performances were incredible, from Abena Koomson, US based Ghanaian spoken word performer, Napo Masheane, a founder member of Feela Sista! together with Myesha Jenkins. Other performers were Gcina Mhlope, Samira Negrouche and the list is endless. Another poet I was so happy to meet was Michelle Mcgrane, whose blog I am loving. I’m so glad I could make it and even gladder that this is not the end.

Michelle, in center

Nadine's cake

As an outcome of the symposium, another meeting emerged, The African Arab Creative Women’s Movement. Coordinated by Tsitsi Dangarembga and Nawal Al Saadawi, the aim is to bridge the glaring gap between the women writers from the Arab dominated part of the continent and the rest of the African women writers. The idea looks promising and with a tentative meeting scheduled for June in Cairo, we can only wait for another literary revolution.
Lizzy Attree, Caine Prize administrator, Kadija Sesay, founder of Sablelit Mag and Ellen Namhila from Namibia.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


by Ernest Hilbert

The sky is warm and heavy before rain.
You throw down anchors.  They till lines in soft
Mud, blooming muddy clouds.  You sometimes slow,
Sometimes speed, as you pass forest and plain.
In summer, mud smolders; in fall, leaves waft
Onto the deck.  The water rolls and glows.
At ports you take on granite, grain, sandstone.
Canals narrow and widen.  Locks buoy
And release.  The barge rests more deeply
In sluggish brown water.  You are alone.
It doesn’t seem to move but does; though free
It holds to its course, pulled toward the sea.
Memories gather, and thoughts become strange.
Between naps, the banks hardly seem to change.

Ernest Hilbert’s debut collection Sixty Sonnets (2009) was described by X.J. Kennedy as “the most arresting sequence we have had since John Berryman checked out of America.” Adam Kirsch wrote of Hilbert’s limited-edition chapbook Aim Your Arrows at the Sun  that, “like Robert Lowell, Hilbert is drawn to scenes of carnage, where the true face of humanity seems to reveal itself.” 

Hilbert’s poems have appeared in The New Republic, Yale Review, American Poetry Review, Parnassus, Boston Review, Verse, New Criterion, American Scholar, and the London Review. He attended Oxford University, where he edited the Oxford Quarterly. He was the poetry editor for Random House’s magazine Bold Type in New York City (1998-2003) and, more recently, of the Contemporary Poetry Review (2005-2010). He hosts the popular blog and video show E-Versed Radio. He is an antiquarian book dealer in Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife, an archaeologist.

I really love this poem,  have not yet received permission of the author but have reached out and hope to hear back soon.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Traditions ~ A. E. Stallings

Another Lullaby for Insomniacs

By A. E. Stallings

Sleep, she will not linger:
She turns her moon-cold shoulder.
With no ring on her finger,
You cannot hope to hold her.

She turns her moon-cold shoulder
And tosses off the cover.
You cannot hope to hold her:
She has another lover.

She tosses off the cover
And lays the darkness bare.
She has another lover.
Her heart is otherwhere.

She lays the darkness bare.
You slowly realize
Her heart is otherwhere.
There's distance in her eyes.

You slowly realize
That she will never linger,
With distance in her eyes
And no ring on her finger.


by A. E. Stallings

What butterfly—
Brain, soul, or both—
Unfurls here, pallid
As a moth?

(Listen, here's
Another ticker,
Counting under
Mine, and quicker.)

In this cave
What flickers fall,
On the wall?

Spine like beads
Strung on a wire,
Of our desire,

Moon-face where
Two shadows rhyme,
Two moving hands
That tell the time.

I am the room
The future owns,
The darkness where
It grows its bones.

The Mother’s Loathing of Balloons

by A. E. Stallings

I hate you,
How the children plead
At first sight—

I want, I need,
I hate how nearly
Always I

At first say no,

And then comply.
(Soon, soon

They will grow bored
Clutching your
Umbilical cord)—

Over the moon,
Should you come home,

They’d cease to care—
Who tugs you through
The front door

On a leash, won’t want you
And will forget you

On the ceiling—
A giddy feeling—

Later to find you,
Puckered, small,
Crouching low

Against the wall.
O thin-of-skin
And fit to burst,

You break for her
Who wants you worst.
Your forebear was

The sack of the winds,
The boon that gives
And then rescinds,

Containing nothing
But the force
That blows everyone

Off course.
Once possessed,
Your one chore done,

You float like happiness
To the sun,
Untethered afternoon,

Marooning all
You’ve left behind:

Their tinfoil tears,
Their plastic cries,
Their wheedling

And moot goodbyes,
You shrug them off—
You do not heed—

O loose bloom
             With no root
                              No seed.

A. E. (Alicia) Stallings is a poet who writes some of the most exciting lyric poetry today.  She rides the rules in an original way, finding a very modern music in traditional verse forms.   The MacArthur Foundation recognized her in this way:
A.E. Stallings
A.E. Stallings is a poet and translator mining the classical world and traditional poetic techniques to craft works that evoke startling insights about contemporary life.  In both her original poetry and translations, Stallings exhibits a mastery of highly structured forms (such as sonnets, couplets, quatrains, and sapphics) and consummate skill in creating new combinations of meter, rhyme, and syntax into distinctive, emotionally compelling verse.  Trained in classical Latin and Greek and currently living in Athens, she brings a wide knowledge of Greco-Roman literature, art, and mythology to bear on her imaginative explorations of contemporary circumstances and concerns. (More here.)
A. E. Stallings received an A.B. (1990) from the University of Georgia and an M.St. (1992) from the University of Oxford.  Her additional works include the poetry collection Archaic Smile (1999) and poems and essays in such publications as Poetry, the Atlantic Monthly, the Hudson Review, and the Yale Review.  She makes her home in Greece with her husband and two children and also serves as director of the poetry program at the Athens Centre in Athens, Greece.

Another Lullaby for Insomniacs appeared in Poetry Magazine in 2004, and had been previously collected in both Archaic Smile : poems, selected by Dana Gioia for the Richard Wilbur Award and published by University of Evansville Press, 1999 and again in Hapax: poems, published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2006.  Ultrasound appeared originally in Archaic Smile : poems, and can be found also in 32 Poems

A Mother's Loathing of Balloons was originally published in Poetry in 2009 and will be collected in upcoming Olives: poems, to be published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2012.

There is an insightful overview of her career in The Mezzo Cammin, Woman Poets Timeline Project.  Recently she joined Jeffrey Brown on the PBS Newshour for a conversation following her being named a 2011 MacArthur fellow.  Enjoy ~

(Poetry reprinted by permission)

Images ~

Artisan Poets

Ojimi Bead carving of Bird
East West Poetry will have its first anniversary soon and it's interesting to look back at how an idea found its form.  Originally I wanted to use the subtitle "Artisan Poets for a New Generation."  A little pretentious, I admit, so it was dropped ~ but I mention that here because it lies beneath the foundation of the site: the love of craft and well-crafted work.

There is a unique and interesting beauty in well-made, lyrical verse, and, over the past century, our world has been less rich for its loss. Mastering any art or magic it takes years of practice to produce works of grace. Though I'm just a journeyman, I have worked enough in my own way to appreciate the gifts, grit and tenured talent it takes to make lyrics appear both luminous and effortless.

I love well-crafted verse in the same way that I love a garden with stone steps and paths that bring me to standpoints where something unexpected is featured and so discovered or, if revisited, savored.  Carefully crafted poems can be as marvelous as an Ojime bead, a mile of detail in a quarter-inch of boxwood.  There is a thrill in the precision, the playfulness, the breathtaking finish.  It gives the stuff of language a crystalline structure ~ the poet compresses and condenses, then shapes it with a well-practiced hand.  

We are fortunate to live in a day when when some amazing poets are revisiting and refreshing the lyric arts, fortunate to live in a day when A. E. Stallings is writing for us.  Alicia ~ whose books are true delights ~ is young, playful, passionate and precise, crafting work that is architecturally advanced and filled with light.  Her sense of timing and ear for the music of the language are both challenging and refreshing.  Enjoy her Blackbird Etude below and look to the next posting to read more.

Blackbird Etude 

For Craig

The blackbird sings at
the frontier of his music.
The branch where he sat

marks the brink of doubt,
is the outpost of his realm,
edge from which to rout

encroachers with trills
and melismatic runs sur-
passing earthbound skills.

It sounds like ardor,
it sounds like joy. We are glad
here at the border

where he signs the air
with his invisible staves,
“Trespassers beware”—

Song as survival—
a kind of pure music which
we cannot rival.

A. E. Stallings's poem Blackbird Etude originally appeared in Poetry Magazine (2009) and will be collected in her forthcoming book, Olives: Poems, a TriQuarterly Books imprint, to be released by Northwestern University Press in the spring of 2012.

(Poetry reprinted with permission)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Moth on a summer night
By Jennifer O'Grady

Adrift in the liberating, late light
of August, delicate, frivolous,
they make their way to my front porch
and flutter near the glassed-in bulb,
translucent as a thought suddenly
wondered aloud, illumining the air
that's thick with honeysuckle and dusk.
You and I are doing our best
at conversation, keeping it light, steering clear
of what we'd like to say.
You leave, and the night becomes
cluttered with moths, some tattered,
their dumbly curious filaments
startling against my cheek. How quickly,
instinctively, I brush them away.
Dazed, they cling to the outer darkness
like pale reminders of ourselves.
Others seem to want so desperately
to get inside. Months later, I'll find
the woolens, snug in their resting places,
full of missing pieces.

Moth in a New Hampshire morning

Jennifer O'Grady
This delicate poem is originally from Poetry. I discovered it this morning from the Writer's Almanac's daily newsletter.  You can follow the link and hear the poem read aloud by Garrison Keillor - or read it aloud yourself.  It fills the mouth like a good wine - delightful, complex on the tongue, with a lovely long finish.  And if you read it aloud yourself, or to someone near you, you'll find yourself drifting back to it in days to come. 

Jennifer O'Grady is a graduate of the Columbia University Writer's program and the author of the volume of poetry ~ White, published by Mid-List Press and available through Amazon.  She describes the poems in the following way:

It occurred to me from something Mark said that we do not see colors (even as basic a color as white) in the same way. This realization impacted my experience of marriage and gave rise to my book's title poem. The attempt to come to terms with this fundamental and unalterable difference of perspective as it inhabits and shapes the most intimate of human relationships is a theme that runs through White. Stylistically, the poems of White are expressed through single-voice narrative as well as verse that juxtaposes two or more voices or texts to convey a divided and ambivalent consciousness. More that what is said in a poem, I am interested in what is not said, the pauses and silences, the space that flows around lines and between stanzas. It is within that space that much of our communication is made palpable, and the boundaries between self and other are illuminated. 

The two lovely images come from the design blog Hunters and Gatherers, whose mission is to 
...hunt for precious finds. Objects that represent timeless beauty and tell stories of time and place, taste and utility, integrity and influence. We're passionate about expanding our visual vocabulary and gather indigenous palettes, textures and forms that provide us with inspiration and application for our everyday lives.

Of the photos of moths, they say, 
There are many memories that surface on warm summer nights in New Hampshire- memories of camp with the smell of campfires, countless stars in an inky night sky and moths scraping the screens and shadowing the porch lights. We have what seem like a trillion of them in NH and one seems more beautiful than the next in the light of morning. 
I think this speaks to what Jennifer was reaching for in her poem also.  Other poems of Jennifer O'Grady's on the web are Illuminated Page (Poetry), and How to Clean Practically Anything, (Poetry Daily, originally from Southwest Review).  I hope you enjoy ~  

(used with permission of the author)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Poems for members of Congress to read

Please read this delightful piece by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, on how poetry may be just the thing to humanize the legislators in Washington.  I Yield My Time to the Gentleman From Stratford-Upon-Avon

He asked David Orr, poetry columnist for the Book Review, to select some good poems for members of Congress to read ~ here is a link to Bedside Table Suggestions for Congress


Friday, August 5, 2011

After the Storm ~ Chapel Hill, NC, 1985

by Corinna McClanahan Schroeder

He stepped onto the porch and lit his pipe,
inhaled the scent of pine. The hail had sheered
the needles from the trees — the ground now lost
beneath white stones. Sunset’s afterglow threw
its light up from the west, and in the east,
the petulant clouds retreated into black.
How rare, he thought, to see two sides of sky
instead of one blank scope. His pipe to lip,
he paused and listened to the hiss and crack
as the hail sublimed to mist. The vapor rose,
a slow, encroaching fog that masked the earth.
Inside, his wife was sleeping, belly burdened
with child — the undesigned result of love — while here,
the sublimation as form gave way to form. Fear swelled
inside his throat with father — that shape to come.

But overhead, between the east and west,
a distant star established his space, a mark
as ancient as his thoughts. Exhaling smoke,
he watched the fog disperse until no sign
remained — only the slow and steady whir
of summer pushing itself from day to day.

From Measure, Vol. II, Issue 2, 2009

Corinna McClanahan Schroeder
There is a small river that runs between the significant transitions in our lives that poets explore.  After the Storm is a remarkable rendering of one of these, capturing the moment with a quiet dignity.    

Corinna McClanahan Schroeder holds an M.F.A. from the University of Mississippi where she was the recipient of a John and Renée Grisham Fellowship.  She is currently a Ph.D. student in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California where she holds a Wallis Annenberg Endowed Fellowship.  

Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Tampa Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cave Wall, and Linebreak. She is the recipient of a 2010 AWP Intro Journals Award in poetry and an honorable mention in Copper Nickel’s 2011 poetry contest, and she is currently a 2011 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship finalist. Read more by following these links ~ Pebble Lake Review, Barely South ReviewGlass:  A Journal of Poetry.  

(used with permission of the author)

Summer Stars

by Carl Sandburg

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

I found this Carl Sandburg poem on E-Verse Radio and it seems to capture the gorgeous lazy music of a summer night. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


by April Lindner

At cruising altitude the earth comes clean,
the slapdash rummage sale of man-made things
and nature’s thousand tangled hues of green,
made tidy by the miles. Seen past our wings,
roads run straight, and silos glint like dimes,
each swimming pool slick as a polished gem.
Even mountain ranges, wild sublimes
of river, butte and canyon, figure trim
and tailor cut, their splendid disarray
mere patterns on a rug. Obedient
and orderly, the planet curls away,
its edges gently smudged, but on descent
it tugs us back, its noise and ample mess
as welcome as a lover’s sloppy kiss.

Coming into Cape Town
Coming back from Africa ~ so many hours on airplanes over amazing landscapes ~ I discovered April Lindner's wonderful poem Neat in one of my new favorite journals, Think Journal (click the name or the links on the right).  In my mind, this is the best type of contemporary verse - it's beautifully crafted, freshly observant, linguistically and metrically interesting and lovely. I'm looking forward to reading more! 

April Lindner‘s poetry collection, Skin, received the 2002 Walt McDonald First Book Prize from Texas Tech University Press. Her poems have appeared in The Hudson Review, The Paris Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Mezzo Cammin, and The Formalist, as well as in numerous anthologies and textbooks. With R. S. Gwynn, she co-edited Contemporary American Poetry, an anthology in Longman’s Penguin Academics series.  She teaches at St. Joseph's University and you can find details of her publications there. 

April Lindner
Visit her at her website April Lindner.com, look for her poetry collection Skin, or read selections of her work on the American Life in Poetry blog by Ted Kooser, on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, or a poem from Skin in the Writer's Almanac archive. 

(used with permission of the author)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

East West Poetry News

East West Poetry is now configured for mobile devices!  Let me know if you run across any issues.  Thanks ~ Jaye

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Advice from a Caterpillar

by Amy Gerstler (Dearest Creature)

Chew your way into a new world.
Munch leaves.  Molt.  Rest.  Molt
again.  Self-reinvention is everything.
Spin many nests.  Cultivate stinging
bristles.  Don't get sentimental
about your discarded skins.  Grow
quickly.  Develop a yen for nettles.
Alternate crumpling and climbing.  Rely
on your antennae.  Sequester poisons
in your body for use at a later date.
When threatened, emit foul odors
in self-defense.  Behave cryptically
to confuse predators: change colors, spit,
or feign death.  If all else fails, taste terrible.

I received Amy Gerstler's book Dearest Creature as a Mother's Day present and this was the first poem I read.  What a great gift! Read more about her at the Poetry Foundation.  I'll add more information about her when I have a free moment.  Enjoy ~

Friday, May 6, 2011


by Jaye Shore Freyer

Adults spoke an audible braille
I could mimic but just half comprehend ~
must have been that my mind was as green
as the fields of those afternoons ~
as untethered and untamed as a wren

Take Casualty Calls ~ a term 
common as weeds in my seventh year;
the soft southern arc in my inner ear 
knew call, that lazily stretched
its neighborly vowel, 
making a visit genteel;  
and casual's sensual sound 
rubbed its back like a cat 
slipping along the back of my throat,
carefully side-stepping my tongue.
Did I ask?  If I did, 
it was probably defined 
as 'work to be done'.  

Da Nang, Kwang Tri, Dong Ha 
the same ~ can still feel how they felt ~
rolling around in my mouth ~ 
colored balloons of sound
held by the slender twine of a pause ~
over and over again - hop scotch
jumping rope with friends,
pumping the swing 
till it tugged at it's reins

And then, what ended on the airport tarmac
was a beginning of a long silence,
not just for me but all of us.

Collage of my Dad, 1967
When I think about our current wars I think about my own family - the years when I was young and having a father see action seemed fun, exotic, important ~ a grade school child's view of the world.  It all changed when my father came back from Viet Nam and the fun fell out of it. I realized how badly I'd bungled understanding what was going on.  In the days before Google children were left to figure what grown-ups were talking about and my parents seemed to make a conscious effort to leave us to our childhood as much as they could. 

The events this week, with the capture/killing of Osama bin Ladin, triggered a recurring thought that my son and his friends were the age I was here when the towers went down, and I have wondered what they make of what they have (haven't ) understood about the events that course through their lives.  They seem so much savvier than I ever was but I'm curious to see how they capture their point of view for us  ~  I'm looking forward to hearing their voices ~ and know it may take years for this to happen as it has here for me. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three by Kay Ryan


by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)

Unlike igneous
porphyry, famous
since the Egyptian
basin business,
periphery is no
one substance,
but the edges
of anything.
Fountains, for instance,
have a periphery
at some distance
from the spray.
On nice days
idle people circle
all the way around
the central spout.
They do not get wet.
They do not  get hot.
If they bring a bottle
they ket kicked out, but
generally things are mild
and tolerant at peripheries.
People bring bread the
pigeons eat greedily.


by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)
for E.B.

I thought you were
born to privilege,
some inherited advantage ~
like an estate framed
in privet edge,
or a better-feathered
shuttlecock for badinage,
or other French pretensions.
I never thought you knew about exhaustion ~
how we have to leap in the morning
as early as high as possible,
we are so fastened, we are so dutiful.

A Certain Kind of Eden

by Kay Ryan (from The Best of It ~ New Poems)

It seems like you could, but
you can't go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It's all too deep for that.
You've overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you're given
for control.  You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
you even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens.  But those things
keep growing where we put them ~
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us in thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

Kay Ryan ~ poet
I discovered Kay Ryan for the first time a few days before she won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and since then how well-known and well-regarded she is - she was the poet laureate for the United States from 2008-2010, and has won countless awards.  She also has spent a career teaching in a community college and championing community college education - not the normal path of privilege.  I admire her independent voice and her courage.

I found her book,  "The Best of It", new and collected poems, on sale when our local Borders was going out of business.  What a lucky day it was for me.  I had not heard of her and I opened it expecting to be disappointed as I am by so many books of poetry I buy - but this one was different.  The first poem chosen at random was brilliant -- a cut gem of thought, and the next - and the next.   Her language is lyrical but tightly woven.  Her insights are clear and provocative.  Her poems are short - most 12 - 18 lines - with no waste, nothing frivolous.  She does what, in my mind, a poet should do - capture the moments we wish we could capture - but with grace, insight, agile intelligence, and the sort of music that comes from years of practice.

The Best of It ~ 2011
winner of Pulitzer Prize 
Annie Dillard says, "These are poems that inspire us with poetry's greatest gifts:  the music of language and the force of wisdom."

Here in a New York Times review when she was named poet laureate, Patricia Cohen writes, "Known for her sly, compact poems that revel in wordplay and internal rhymes, Ms. Ryan has won a carriage full of poetry prizes for her funny and philosophical work"  Recently, the New York Times reviewed this particular book and stated, "poems are as slim as runway models, so tiny you could almost tweet them. Their compact refinement, though, does not suggest ease or chic. Her voice is quizzical and impertinent, funny in uncomfortable ways, scuffed by failure and loss. Her mastery, like Emily Dickinson’s, has some awkwardness in it, some essential gawkiness that draws you close."

If you only buy one book of poetry this year it should be this one - I bet it will give years of pleasure ~ promise.   

Saturday, April 16, 2011

To an Old Philosopher in Rome

by Wallace Stevens

On the threshold of heaven, the figures in the street
Become the figures of heaven, the majestic movement
Of men growing small in the distances of space,
Singing, with smaller and still smaller sound,
Unintelligible absolution and an end -

The threshold, Rome, and that more merciful Rome
Beyond, the two alike in the make of the mind.
It is as if in a human dignity

Two parallels become one, a perspective, of which
Men are part both in the inch and in the mile.

How easily the blown banners change to wings...
Things dark on the horizons of perception
Become accompaniments of fortune, but
Of the fortune of the spirit, beyond the eye,
Not of its sphere, and yet not far beyond,

The human end in the spirit's greatest reach,
The extreme of the known in the presence of the extreme
Of the unknown. The newsboys' muttering
Becomes another murmuring; the smell
Of medicine, a fragrantness not to be spoiled...

The bed, the books, the chair, the moving nuns,
The candle as it evades the sight, these are
The sources of happiness in the shape of Rome,
A shape within the ancient circles of shapes,
And these beneath the shadow of a shape

In a confusion on bed and books, a portent
On the chair, a moving transparence on the nuns,
A light on the candle tearing against the wick
To join a hovering excellence, to escape
From fire and be part only of that which

Fire is the symbol: the celestial possible.
Speak to your pillow as if it was yourself.
Be orator but with an accurate tongue
And without eloquence, O, half-asleep,
Of the pity that is the memorial of this room,

So that we feel, in this illumined large,
The veritable small, so that each of us
Beholds himself in you, and hears his voice
In yours, master and commiserable man,
Intent on your particles of nether-do,

Your dozing in the depths of wakefulness,
In the warmth of your bed, at the edge of your chair,
Yet living in two world, impenitent
As to one, and, as to one, most penitent,
Impatient for the grandeur that you need

In so much misery; and yet finding it
Only in misery, the afflatus of ruin,
Profound poetry of the poor and of the dead,
As in the last drop of the deepest blood,
As it falls from the heart and lies there to be seen,

Even as the blood of an empire, it might be,
For a citizen of heaven though still of Rome.
It is poverty's speech that seeks us out the most.
It is older than the oldest speech of Rome.
This is the tragic accent of the scene.

And you - it is you that speak it, without speech,
The loftiest syllable among loftiest things,
The one invulnerable man among
Crude captains, the naked majesty, if you like,
Of bird-nest arches and of rain-stained-vaults.

The sounds drift in. The buildings are remembered.
The life of the city never lets go, nor do you
Ever want it to. It is part of the life in your room.
Its domes are the architecture of your bed.
The bells keep on repeating solemn names

In choruses and choirs of choruses,
Unwilling that mercy should be a mystery
Of silence, that any solitude of sense
Should give you more than their peculiar chords
And reverbations clinging to whisper still.

It is a kind of total grandeur at the end,
With every visible thing enlarged and yet
No more than a bed, a chair and moving nuns,
The immensest theatre, and pillared porch,
The book and candle in your ambered room,

Total grandeur of a total edifice,
Chosen by an inquisitor of structures
For himself. He stops upon this threshold,
As if the design of all his words takes form
And frame from thinking and is realized.

Wallace Stevens wrote this incredible poem for his former Harvard philosophy professor, George Santayana, who had influenced him deeply.  Santayana spent his final years in Rome.  He is perhaps best known today for the his remark that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This is a poem that never tires of being reread - beautifully written admiration from one person to another.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Black Lines

by Jaye Freyer

It was here I heard the loon's long lay,
A piercing moving melody, a voice foreign and strange
A visitor strangely alone, swimming
on the currents of the lake.
Here my thoughts fly forth
in the weighted willing wonder of a song
Rhetoric and logic left behind
Like the body of this heavy awkward bird
Whose voice is to the wilderness
What my thoughts are to a complicated earth ~
A sleek and sensuous singing to the others of my kind
An echo of a lyric music launched from lean black lines

Kandinsky's 'Black Lines' from
the Guggenheim Museum collection.
I was fortunate enough to see a loon up close on an Adirondack lake and its song was hauntingly beautiful.  Not long before I had seen this painting, Black Lines, by Vasily Kandinsky; the colors bursting from the black lines made me think of both the song of the loon and about poetry - how something incredible can burst out of few little black lines on a page.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Annie Dillard ~ Metaphysical Model with Feathers

What I know of dimension
Is an old suspicion:
That time is a crack as long
And thin as a wing.

Time is whole and fully fledged always.
We discover its fullness; we pace it out blind on the wing.
We live in time's quills as senseless as lice.
And the eagle - the petrel? -- and the petrel,
Rock Peter walking on water, the petrel
Full noiselessly flies.  It plies
The created ages; it beats the boundless along,
Rising without  surcease, spiraling down,
Sliding breastbone bent and feeling
The inbound curve of the real.

If time cruises the breadth of the timeless,
Perpendicular, buoying its wings, then
We may guess the style of the rest:

This is the shape of the one god, holy,
Who generates the ages, rapt,
Who tolerates time as a hole in its side,
A petrel blind and churning.  This
Is the one god, flailed by wings,
And this is the one time, this raveling hole,
Swift in god and voiceless, black beak shut.

I love what Annie Dillard dares here - most of all I love her language.  It is the language of the poem that has helped it stay with me all these years.  The sonic beauty - it can walk along beside you - you can feel the steady stride and when it steps into a dance.

I remember taking dance lessons and how difficult it was to follow another person's lead.  You may have the steps worked out in advance for a particular type of dance but doing it with someone was different than doing it theoretically.  Two breaths have to find a unison within the work of the music.  Working with a poem seems very much like that to me - you meet the poem hand to hand and you step through it together as though it were a dance.  Within that model, this poem is one of my favorite dances.  I love the music in the language and the dance.  I like how she takes on big themes and though I'm not sure I agree or even understand with what is going on in this poem intellectually (it made much more sense to me in my twenties than it does now), I still continue to like the dance.

Metaphysical Model with Feathers by Annie Dillard appeared in the The Atlantic Monthly vol. 242 (October 1978): 82.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Lines composed a few miles above the 92nd Street Y, on visiting a Rae Armantrout reading during a tour of the publication of her book Versed,  March 12, 2009.

  by Jaye Freyer

Poet as dark & light as the day & night
Unfiltered & indiscriminate -- effervescent:
Thought occurs, rises up, finds height & breaks.
In the blink of an eye, is in this day

No demands:  no hammers, bolts, chisels, beams
No blueprints; no canvas tightly stretched, pre-sketched,
No thoughts of voice, footnotes, context,
No resources spent - save but the moment
That it took to write.

Just a moment
That may or may not replicate
Like the seer writing poems upon leaves
Three thousand years ago on a hill in Greece
Blowing them from palm to wind
Those poems still
On occasion

I listened to a podcast by Poetry Magazine in 2009 where a young broadcaster stated that Rae Armantrout was the most dangerous poet in America.  I was immediately gripped with a desire to see her.  Happily she was scheduled to do a reading at the 92nd Street Y a few weeks later and I bought tickets for the family.  I was completely surprised by the person who Rae Armantrout was, as well as by her poetry (which I liked a great deal).  I wrote these lines a few days later.  

A friend in college, a classical scholar, likened poets' endeavors to the oracle at Delphi who (I thought he said) wrote her prophesies in verse on laurel leaves and cast them to the wind for the fortunate to find.  I must have made some of that up because I can't find any such description for the activities of the Delphic Oracle on the internet but I love the image - the idea that the writing of a poem will, for the most part, have no more impact on anything than a leaf cast on the wind.  

Turn that thought over a few times and it starts to become interesting.  Coming across a leaf with a poem written on it would be interesting but that any leaf passing by may be inscribed with a poem seems intriguing - and what if all leaves are inscribed with something of a mystery to be deciphered - that would be transformative.  Metaphysically, a poem of a stranger may 'land' for me today but on another day be unreadable, and so it would not 'land'; that when a poem really 'lands' it is an epiphany, an other-worldly bit of light that comes in like a gift.  The image has always been a favorite of mine as it speaks volumes to the quiet nature of this sort of writing. 

I featured what I liked best about Rae's poetry - what seems so effervescently effortless.  She may really toil with her poems but they have a lightness of being that is compelling.  She has attracted some mighty minds to write about what she is writing about - with good reason I guess - but I would advise rather than reading about her writing to just read it or listen to her reading by clicking her name in the title above or save the scroll and click here Rae's Poetry Reading.  

A Resemblance (from Versed) by Rae Armantrout  

As a word is
mostly connotation,

matter is mostly


(The same loneliness
that separates me

from what I call
”the world.”)


Quiet, ragged
skirt of dust

encircling a ceramic



”Are you happy now?”


Would I like
a vicarious happiness?


Though I suspect
yours of being defective,


Sunday, March 20, 2011

On this first day of spring

Chickadee in spring trees

A bird the color of the tree and trees
The grays and browns and bits of black
As though the tree itself had chirped
Let loose a bit of itself to hop
about and discover flight

I saw a chickadee this morning in some still bare trees and was captivated by its marvelous spirit.  I wrote these lines I'm sharing now.

Friday, March 4, 2011

whispers arise

the music is for the sad man
lying helpless with nothing but hope,
plain hope feeding lice
and gnats and flies and ulcers
and of course worms.

things come and hit hard
and overcoming becomes even harder
but he sings on
full of truth and kindness
and painful honesty;

all peculiar weaknesses
that never aided a man..

only sank him into distress
till he writhes out slow
niceties that fed a man to grains.
but his whispers rise on..


Misfortunes are a real man's way of trudging through life.


hands hold
palms grease
fingers twirl
like its an agreement
beyond all fallacies and truths
hidden inside
religious undertones.
lets agree..

and agree we shall.