Poems On Line

1 Comment

I’ve had three poems accepted so far this year, and they all showed up on the internet this month. Here’s something about them.

First to “go live” was “Thickening” at 3 Elements Review:  http://3elementsreview.com/current-journal. 3 Elements puts out a prompt each quarter. I’ve been trying them for almost a year, now.   This was my first success. The prompt was “miasma, simmer, whimsy.” Unfortunately, they seem to have decided their prompts were too easy. This quarter’s prompts are two word phrases. Ouch! They’ve gone over my head.

Heron Tree accepted “Green”: http://herontree.com/young1/. This poem also came from an exercise, though it is far removed. There is a poetry exercise in wide circulation by Jim Simmerman called “Twenty Little Poetry Projects.” His claim is that if you follow his instructions to write 20 lines according to his criteria, you’ll end up with the basis of a poem. I never got all 20 items in, and half of them fell out in the revision process. But I do have the poem to suggest his system works.

The third poem developed from no prompts but my own ideas. “American Dreaming” is included in Kind of a Hurricane Press’s anthology titled “Objects in the Rear View Mirror.” This piece is not very accessible; you have to download the ebook version of the anthology and go to page 143: http://www.kindofahurricanepress.com/p/bookstore.html.  All the pieces are about driving. My piece is mostly about maps, including the colors of roads (see my post of July 7). I also brought Route 66 into the poem. I didn’t realize until I moved to New Mexico that Route 66 nostalgia is much older and broader than the television show. As a teenager I was a fan of that show, but I could never see why, of the buddy heroes, the dark one (George Maharis) got all the press in the magazines. I liked the tall blond (Martin Milner) better.

It was evidence that I was not in the main stream. If you’ve read my poems or some of my blog posts, you know there are still ways I don’t fit in. Now I like it that way.


Anniversary and More


The Biography

The Biography

Today, February 8 completes three years on this blog.  It has had its busy and its slack times, but I’ve enjoyed it all.

I began this blog to publicize my biography of John Emerson Roberts. This was one piece of an effort which involved a variety of Linked In Groups and even Linked In Ads, as well as connecting with other bloggers.

I named this blog “Freethought and Metaphor” in part because I hoped that I would in

My new poetry collection

My new poetry collection

future have poetry books to advertise – and now I have one.  I realized as soon as I came up with the title that these are indeed two sides of my mind, as my subhead says.  My left brain thinks about ideas and my right brain creates poetic material.  Sometimes these two sides cooperate, sometimes they wander down different trails.  And there are times when my left brain pretends to cooperate but really wants to run the show.  Those times do no produce successful poems.

Humans are bilateral, but who really had only two sides?  A third place where I put my energy is work on hunger and justice issues.  There are disputes about what constitutes justice, but most people agree on what hunger is, even when it is hidden under fancy names like “food insecurity.”

I was delighted to discover Word Soup, an organization which uses poetry to support hungry people by asking for a small donation to their local food bank to accompany submissions.  I couldn’t pass up the chance to combine these two usually separate parts of my mind.  They accepted two of my poems, which can be found at: http://wordsoup.weebly.com/issue-five-february-2015.html

My father-in-law used to count his age not by years completed, but by the year he was in.  He was well into his 99th year when he died.  Today is not the end of three years for this blog.  It is the beginning of the fourth year.  And I plan to keep going, though I have no plan laid out for it.

Please check back to see what I come up with.  And check out my books on the Books page.

Words From Mary Ruefle

Leave a comment

“Metaphor is not, and never has been, a mere literary term.  It is an event. . . .   If you believe that metaphor is an event, and not just a literary term denoting comparison, then you must conclude that a certain philosophy arises: the philosophy that everything in the world is connected.”
(“Madness, Rack and Honey,” p. 131)

“Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.  If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?”
(“Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World,” p. 191)

“A poem is a finished work of the mind, it is not the work of a finished mind.”
(“Kangaroo Beach,” p. 222)

“I remember “remember” means to put the arms and legs back on, and sometimes the head.”
(“I Remember, I Remember,” p. 245)

My idea for a class is you just sit in the classroom and read aloud until everyone is smiling, and then you look around, and if someone is not smiling you ask them why, and then you keep reading―it may take many different books―until they start smiling, too.”
(“Twenty-two Short Lectures,” p. 255)

“When students are searching for their voice, they are searching for poetry.  When they find their voice, they will have found poetry.  When they find poetry, they will live to regret it.”
(“Twenty-two Short Lectures,” p. 259)

“I will tell you that if you think I know something or anything, I am just pretending to know as a way to pass the time.  Personally I think we should all be in our rooms writing.”
(“Lectures I Will Never Give,” p. 279)

These statements come from Mary Ruefle’s book of lectures/essays, Madness, Rack and Honey. There is plenty more in the book to savor, ponder, and even question―or to play with as a prompt, if you like.  Ruefle is a complex person, as these samples suggest, and she doesn’t worry about smoothing over complexities or contradictions.

Ruefle has published several books of poetry.  She is also known for “erasures” in which she takes a printed page and removes all but a few scattered words to make her artistic statement.  See http://www.maryruefle.com.

Word Play


I have been learning a lot about tanka from Ribbons, the journal of the Tanka Society of America – too bad the acronym is in such heavy use elsewhere – and I have been experimenting with the form.  Sometimes, I know all I’ve got is a five line poem.  In the following two short pieces, the play of homonyms took over.


My thoughts coast toward
the California coast; others
shore up the Jersey shore.
Is it a fault to lie by omission
about where the fault lies?


My brother wanted
to coast down the mountain,
returning from the coast.
Papa said no, of course,
the road no sled or ski course.

Have fun with words.  You never know what might come of some word play.


Recommendation: Eliza Griswold

1 Comment

Eliza Griswold’s book Wideawake Field is not new.  It was published in 2005, but it describes conditions that are as much with us nine years later as they were then.  Many of her poems are poems of witness; she is a journalist who has worked in many difficult locations.  Other poems focus on relationships, primarily their ending.  Here is one of the poems describing a harsh world:


The soldiers are children and the monkey’s young.
He clings to my leg, heart against calf―
a throat filling, refilling with blood.
Last week, the children ate his mother―
dashed her head against the breadfruit.
A young girl soldier laughs,
tears the baby from my leg
and hurls him toward the tree.
See, she says, you have to be rough.
When she was taken, the girl’s
heart too pulsed in her throat.

This poem combines a relationship and her work context:

Hi-Lo Country

Only today did I think of your gear:
chalk bags, cam lube, harness, friends―
all lying about taking care.  You play
with death up there; the good kid’s hit,
risk’s cheap high, like whippets,
ve never done whippets,
and neither have I.  You gasp at the welts
on my back left by Congolese fleas
as if my job were an affliction.
Look at yourself on your knees
in the most beautiful place in the world,
craving fear.  That’s addiction.

She leaves it open which, the speaker or the addressee, is the more addicted.  It seems ― and is certainly appropriate ― that Griswold turned to poetry to help her work through some of the ambiguities of what she has done and what she has seen.  “Authority” describes some of these ambiguities, in remembering a past incident:

The flaming city makes it rain.
The siege has changed the weather.
We lie together on the luggage:
the generator that won’t work,
a poisoned rice sack.
This is so many years ago
and fifteen seconds.
I’m embarrassed to remember
the time before I grew
uncertain about you,
or that I had a right to say
where I had been
and what I saw there.

Griswold says a lot in short, tight poems.  I recommend this book because these poems make vivid some of the situations in the world which flood our news, yet are kept at a distance by the television or computer screen.  This is important work for poetry to do.


A Few Thoughts on Poetry and Science

1 Comment

Galileo is said to have muttered when he was forced to recant the heresy that the earth was not the center of an Aristotelian universe, “E pur si muove.” – “And yet, it moves.”

Muriel Rukeyser, in her essay “The Life of Poetry’ asks the reader, “What is our ‘E pur si muove?’”

This question is in the context of her conviction that poetry and science are similar processes, in which we seek to learn the true relations of things.  And in both cases, she believes that the answers come in the form of questions.

Science is not static; the universe is not static: poetry is not static.  Each moves. And the motion of a poem is motion in time, like music.  Science is not, properly speaking, a study of objects.  The poem is not words or images, which can be separated for study; it is a series of relationships between words and images.

These are a few of the stimulating ideas from Rukeyser’s “The Life of Poetry” first published in 1949 and reprinted in 1996.  By her title she suggests that poetry is living, organic.  Poems do something in the world.

The poet and the scientist are on parallel paths.  I think Rukeyser’s ideas are supported by some of the developments in science since she wrote; the poets may be having trouble keeping up.

Thinking About Line Breaks

1 Comment

Poets talk a lot about line breaks.  There is even a site called linebreak.org, as if that were a synonym for poem.  We need synonyms for “poem” because there is so much debate about what counts as a poem.

James Longenbach takes a different view.  Lines don’t break, he insists.  They just end.  It is the sentence structure that may or may not be broken by the end of the line.

Some lines are end-stopped, when a sentence ends where the line ends.  Where the line ends with the end of a phrase, Longenbach calls it “parsing.”  Where the meaning goes right past the end of the line and into the next in order to make sense, Longenbach calls it “annotating” – a term from a Milton scholar.  Milton did a lot of this.  Often in these lines the sense appears to end but doesn’t – the meaning is changed by what comes in the next line.

This play with terminology is a good reminder not to get stuck in habitual patterns, whether in writing poems or talking about them.  Labels are a hindrance to thinking new thoughts and seeing things in new ways.

“The music of the poem,” Longenbach reminds us, “”depends on what the syntax is doing when the line ends.”  There is no better or worse in the ways the syntax can be broken – or not.  Variety is what makes the poem effective.

Going to the other extreme, in Made and Remade I included two poems which have no line breaks: where the line as you see it ends is merely a function of where the margin is.  Here is one of them:


Walking in this desert I can picture you at work in your study because I have also walked on cobbled streets by Independence Hall, seen portrayed the men who met there, your contemporaries.  Your manse in a northern town at a river’s mouth calls to mind rocky shores I’ve walked on, their ten foot tides; I can see you there.  Yet, walking on sand I too easily picture your heath as always yellow, forget your concrete details do not become sidewalks, driveways alongside asphalt roads.  You have no need to bind with cement, build on your discrete images; all point in the same direction, while my direction shifts with desert winds.

Check out http://www.linebreak.org.  They publish a poem every week, written by one poet and read by another.

James Longenbach’s book is The Art of the Poetic Line (Graywolf Press, 2008).  It is a very small book rich with examples of good poems.

See the Books page for Made and Remade and use the Contact page if you’d like to get a copy directly from me.

How One Poem Came to Be

1 Comment

Reading Bruce Holsapple’s new book, Wayward Shadow, I was struck by the line “It’s the way you fix yourself in place.” It made me stop to think about how each of us does that. I thought, I’d like to explore that idea in a poem of my own.

It seemed an idea that would benefit from repetition, which led me to consider using the villanelle form, which led me to looking through Holsapple’s book for a possible second line. Instead I found two fragments.

I still thought I would be writing a poem about myself, but I began to see in the lines that came to mind echoes of the ideas that permeate Wayward Shadow. It may be that the way I “fix myself in place” happens to be similar to Bruce’s. In the end, I felt I had captured something of the persona in his book. So this is now a villanelle for Bruce Holsapple.

In Place

Using lines from Wayward Shadow

Climb a mountain, formulate a phrase:
you settled on these deeds because you knew
it’s the way you fix yourself in place.

Life has taught you this. There will be days
when energy is slow to waken to
climb a mountain, formulate a phrase.

Outside and in you need to claim your space.
Shop, fill the fridge, set simmering a stew,
it’s the way you fix yourself in place.

Record the colors on the high rock’s face.
It’s a sure antidote for feeling blue
to climb a mountain, formulate a phrase.

A sentence to rewrite, steps to retrace?
What circles is the animal in you:
it’s the way you fix yourself in place.

As these familiar actions work to raise
your spirits, you may wonder why so few
climb a mountain, formulate a phrase.
It’s the way you fix yourself in place.

If you’d like to get to know the real Bruce Holsapple, Wayward Shadow is available on Amazon.


Recommendation: Susana H. Case, Salem in Séance

Leave a comment

Susana H. Case’s book of poems, Salem in Séance is constructed around the idea of a séance at which participants in the Salem witch frenzy of the late seventeenth century speak to the author, giving their different views of what happened. And the author sometimes speaks back.

The actors do not appear according to the chronology of the historical events, but in three sections by roles: Detentions, Accusations and Authorities. The characters are a little hard to keep track of, perhaps partly because so many names begin with P: Proctors, Putnams, Porters and Parrish. As a person who likes history I wanted, at first, a list of who was involved to keep track of them all. Later, I concluded that the lack of such a list and the neglect of chronological sequence adds to the impression of chaos and confusion that must have prevailed at the time.

Case weaves texts from the period into the poems, distinguished by use of italics. Her own comments are indicated by italics within brackets. These interjections are used with restraint, which gives them more force; a great deal can be suggested about alternative possibilities and understandings in a few words. Sometimes the speaker responds briefly to the interjection, other times not. These interruptions never bend the story the speaker is telling.

A poem which uses both kinds of insertions is “A Father’s Son.” The speaker is Cotton Mather.

In 1692, my excoriating father, Increase,
finally brings the colony’s new charter
from England.
We can take witches such as have rendered
themselves obnoxious
to trial.
[A Mather through and through.]
I am my father’s son. This battleground
with Satan―accusations

fly unleashed, like my vowels used to whoosh
through echoing rooms, women
on brooms.
[To your political advantage.]
The threat is burning for eternity―
forgiveness is bad for business.

The cure for a surfeit of witches is
before a lasting skepticism.

Two dogs full with evil in their eyes
are hanged by the neck
on Gallows Hill.

Selections from these poems don’t convey the full impact, but I’ll include one more short poem which is a good example of Case’s tight, no words wasted, style.


Nathaniel Hawthorne,
of great-grandfather
John Hathorne,
trial magistrate who believed
in guilty
before being proven
guilty, a very religious
man, wealthy,
the only magistrate involved in Salem
not to repent,
restores the w
to his family name
for reasons of dissociation
now that he is done with college,
the w
three hundred years before.

He, as much as anyone,
understands the importance
of a letter.

Salem in Séance is published by WordTech Editions, the imprint which is publishing my book, Made and Remade. I am happy to see my book on the same list with such a well-crafted work.

You can find out more, read more sample poems. or order a copy via: http://www.wordtechweb.com/case.html

Playing with the Tradition

1 Comment

I’ve been doing practice exercises from Mary Kinzie’s The Poet’s Guide to Poetry, a big, thick book full of good information about the effects of rhyme, rhythm, stanzas and repetition.  It has a short set of suggested exercises in the back which are particularly good for someone like me who has resisted rhyme (end rhymes, that is) and meter in my own work.

One of her exercises, however, is called “Linked Form Using Lines by Another.”  By “linked forms” she intends any of those forms which use repeated lines, such as the pantoum, triolet or villanelle.  I may have overdone things by creating a triolet using lines from two others.  You will probably recognize the two different sources:

Thank you god for most this amazing day.
It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil
in a Greek press.  Grey dawn filtered each ray
with thin clouds that thickened slow.  I say
thank you, God―for most this amazing day
has filled to spilling our wells, our spirits, our soil.
Thank you god for most this amazing day.
It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil.

It seems to me that this device is rather like a musician doing variations on a theme by one of his or her predecessors.  It is a sign of appreciation of the other’s work.  It doesn’t happen as much in writing.juniper

We had a day today that showed signs of spilling out rain for our wells and our soil, but there was barely enough to settle the dust for a bit.  Summer is when we get our good rains.  And in this sunny desert, those are the days that have a greatness to them.

Older Entries