An Interview

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In which I read two poems from my chapbook “Transported” and three new pieces and talk about the process of poetry and about language.

Thanks to my friend and poetry colleague Alice Wallace, who invited me to join her in an interview with Randy Harris on the local community radio station, KTAL, where we shared our poetry and our thoughts about writing and words.


Two different poets with different styles.  Thanks to Randy and KTAL, and Cindy in the control booth, we had a great time.


Joanne Townsend: Between Promise and Sadness

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Those of our readers who live in Las Cruces, or who were contributors to Sin Fronteras Journal may remember Joanne Townsend, an active poet in our circle since she and her husband Dan moved down from Alaska in 2005, with several poems in the Journal.  She hoped to produce a collection of her poems in her later years, but when she died two years ago, she left a pile of poems in hard copy with no indication of a possible order.

Thanks to Joe Somoza for his ordering skills and Ellen Young and Christine Eber for following up with the details, a manuscript was created and has now been published by Cirque Press.

Sample, from “Ponder, Partake”

On the church grounds, a single white iris,
its velvet petals calling
wind from the west.
Speak, Memory  Nabokov insisted.
Crimson spilling into parched throats –
Wine.  Poetry.

Poetry was central to Joanne’s life.  Between Promise and Sadness” is available on Amazon via the Cirque Press website: From Promise to Sadness

Recommendation: Postcards from the Lilac City by Mary Ellen Talley


Every part of the country has things everyone knows if you live there, but comes as a surprise to outsiders. Like White Sands in southern New Mexico. I had been to Seattle several times but had no idea that Spokane was known as the Lilac City. If I hadn’t read Talley’s chapbook, I still wouldn’t know that. But you don’t need to know that to read this book; all is soon explained. And the poems here do many good things besides giving information.

Postcards from the Lilac City begins with stories of growing up in a certain place, Spokane, Washington, with change over time: a carousel taken down and later restored, bike riding before helmets were worn, the time when bikes are replaced by a brother’s old car.  Already there is good language and some experiment in form; in the later sections the experiments are bolder.  In the middle section, “Spokane Postcards,” a stanza of description is followed by a letter from the author to someone from back home – never mind that many of these missives have too many words to fit on a typical postcard.  The last section, “After Vietnam” does not return to a historical approach, as one might expect, but presents various moments in a variety of forms from an adult perspective.  The whole makes a satisfying read, sharing specifics of experience in poems carefully crafted.

Three Short Poems Online


The RavensPerch has published three of my poems this week.  You can find the first, “Over the Dam” at https://theravensperch.com/over-the-dam-by-ellen-roberts-young/

Does anyone else remember singing as a child, “Swim, said the mama fishie, swim if you can”?  I don’t recall what brought that old song to mind, but it evolved into this little poem.

Then click on next to see my others.  Extended family will recognize the locale of “Formation.”  The poem began at the cottage I visit each year in June—not this year or last, but the year before.  Some of my poems take a long time to reach their proper form.

The third poem, “Evening” is one that began last year in a poetry webinar with Marj Hahne. “What are you feeling now?” she asked.  “What color is it?”   Beige is a color I think of as neutral, but as the poem developed it came to represent something definitely on the down side.  Perhaps one could say that “blah” became “the blahs.”

The RavensPerch is not the easiest site to browse in, at least for me, but the curious reader will find quite a variety of interesting material in the current batch.  They publish a set of works twice a month. They invite readers to leave comments.

A Late Launch

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I am about to do my first reading for my new book which came out a year ago.

Omicron permitting, I will be the featured reader at the Sin Fronteras Open Reading at Palacio Bar in Mesilla on February 16, sharing poems from Lost in the Greenwood.  The poems describe and respond to 500-year-old tapestries and the world that created them, combined with personal reactions and reflections.  (That’s one of the unicorn tapestries from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the cover.) Gather at 7:30 p.m.  Reading begins at 8:00.  Open reading follows.

Here’s a brief sample poem from the collection:


Unlocking the past is
No simple matter when it’s wrapped
In thick carpets of color that
Combine the daily and the dreamed.
Of the joys and sorrows of the
Renaissance there is in fact
Nothing left but threads.

More about the book at http://www.ellenrobertsyoung.com

Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

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The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans.

She juxtaposes mundane and more serious dangers, as in the opening of:

I Spend My Days Putting Away,

the small blue car here, the skipped
heartbeat there, everything
stowed and safe.  I don’t want

anyone tripping, or slipping
into that world that isn’t this one.

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Two others in this series can be found via Pierce’s website, https://catherinepiercepoet.com/poems/ by clicking on Two Poems (Kenyon Review).  Several other poems from the book are listed there, including “High Dangerous” and the Abecedarian.  For other samples, check out “Enough” and “Tether Me.”

Pierce lifts up for examination the fragility of relationships, of the human experiment, of a world in which there is always a chance of losing one’s bearings. A world which delights, even while the speaker is frightened for it or for her own balance in it.

I would not have known of Catherine Pierce’s work if a friend hadn’t sent me this book.  It is definitely a keeper. I’ll be eager to see what she does next.

Late Bloomer

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The cluster of yucca plants by my driveway has bloomed twice this year, each time many stems grow tall, bloom and fade and I cut them down.  Then this one stalk appeared, but something about the weather or the season prevented it from stretching above the leaves, so it bloomed surrounded by the plant’s green.

It’s a late bloomer, like me.  Most people who know me now have no idea how slow I was to learn to think for myself.  I got good grades and succeeded mostly by doing what I was told.

I began thinking of myself as a poet in my 20s, but it did not occur to me that there is a teachable craft to writing until I was able to join workshops – not classes – many years later.  (I don’t mean things like grammar, which are important to communicate; I’ve known those rules since childhood.)

Once you know the rules of a craft, it’s much more fun to learn how and when they can be broken.

It makes possible surprises like these well-shaped blooms surrounded by green.

Recommendation: Held Together with Tape and Glue by Pamela Hobart Carter

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Pamela Hobart Carter’s new poetry book, Held Together with Tape and Glue is a collection of gentle meditations, mostly on ordinary topics.  Some of the poems are erasure poems, but I couldn’t tell which if I hadn’t read the acknowledgements in the front of the book.  There’s no flaunting of technique here, but the poems are very assured.

Consider the opening of “Relined”:

Look at the world
as if for the first time

Beside us
A sense of passage

to carry your self
into its next version.

Or “On the Word”:

Here we are.  On the page.  On the word.
On the dot or the hook or the serif.

Here we are.  In the big city. In this house.
In this room or the kitchen.  Here lies truth.

Truth lies, here on the sofa, with us,
with our feet are up, stocking-footed,

shoes tidily stowed in the closet
when we came in from clearing dead leaves. . . .

One of the longer poems, this one ends: “How did we get so good at calendars and clocks, /still ignorant of true passage.”

One of my favorites is “Bed” which goes through the making of a bed in detail: tug the corners, match the sides, use your hand like an iron to flatten the sheet.  It ends “smooth/as. smooth/ the mind. /done said/done, and day/is readymade.” 

Here is a short poem in its entirety:


Reuse Monet’s haystacks
and meadows, bogs
and rivers. Include ordinary water,
mist, and ice. Associate everything—
thorns may point to red, to circulation,
a royal universe.

Clasp and hold—floating—
the intricate craft
of the heart.  Bask calloused fingers
in the tributaries. Grow, out of facts
habitually forgotten, a family—
brightly colored—of women
preparing to speak.

The hints of collage in this poem are the only place in the book where I find something which might relate to the book’s title.  But these poems are not “held together with tape and glue,” they are woven with intricate craft (to use another meaning of that word in this poem.)  And each calls for reading at least twice.  This is a short but very satisfying collection.

Recommendation: Risking It by Sylvia Byrne Pollack

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The poems in Risking It appear straight-forward but often have twists and word play hiding in them.  The poet shows herself to be a person of long experience who admits the bad but lightens it with language. A career in science may have helped to produce this attitude, and certainly added to the rich variety of her vocabulary.

Consider this ending of “Did You Fail Lithium or Did Lithium Fail You?”

. . . . . The inevitable ditch

into which everything falls is filled

with dank water, toads, milfoil.

Word is sent for some desiccant.

Word is sent for a sump pump.

Word returns empty handed.

And the reader is left thinking of all the ways words are unable to make things better.

The poet lives in a world where even such things as stones and tomatoes have personality.

Or even cancer cells.  “Girls Gone Wild” is about breast cancer cells who “want/to take a road trip, reach/the lymph highway ASAP,/spend spring break travelling or/ beached somewhere warm like her liver.”

After describing treatment, the poem ends with acceptance:

She came back with a scar her oncologist called

disfiguring but she figured

it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded

than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.

The poet has strong political opinions which she expresses briefly in the voice of an alter ego called The Deaf Woman, avoiding dogmatism, concealing anger.  “What the Deaf Woman Cannot Hear” is a poem about the horrors of gas chambers.  It concludes:

What comes next in my country?

wonders the deaf woman

the disabled woman

the disposable woman.

Here’s one short poem in its entirety.

Ars Poetica

The poem that declines to be written

because it is self-conscious, shy, cryptic

or shallow is a poem that must nevertheless

be treated with respect—like a wild goshawk.

Don’t try to take off its hood too soon.

Let it rest in the dark as the two of you get

to know each other.  Your voice is important.

When the day comes, let it fly, watch where

it soars.  If it disappears into the forest, you must

let it go.  But if it flies back, feed it.

For Sylvia Byrne Pollack, even not yet written poems have personality. And while this instruction is a lot to ask, the respect that she recommends here is something she gives to everything she writes about.

I hear this book is up for a couple of awards.  It deserves one.

Interview: Lost in the Greenwood

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My interview with Lynn Moorer about Lost in the Greenwood, which we recorded via zoom, aired on KTAL Community Radio last Friday, August 13.  It is now available for listening on their archive page.


You will be able to hear me read seven of the poems in the collection, a good sampling if you’re curious to know what the book is about.  Having to record via computer audio instead of a separate mike made some of the reading a little stilted (it’s hard to hold a book, lean in without blocking the computer sound, and not lose your place!) but you’ll get the drift.

My interview with Lynn Moorer about Lost in the Greenwood, which we recorded via zoom, aired on KTAL Community Radio last Friday, August 13.  It is now available for listening on their archive page.

It was fun to do; Lynn comes up with interesting questions.

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