Working with Me

May 1, 2023

Several of you have asked about working with me privately, individually or in classes, so I’m going to schedule a Fridays at 4 zoom session this week for anyone who would like to explore the possibilities.  You can also read about the topic on the Work With Me section of the web page.  If you can’t make the session, you can email me with your suggestions and preferences.  Scroll all the way down for the zoom link.

Here are some of my thoughts for classes.  I’m thinking roughly of five- or six-week classes, and the cost will depend on how many people sign up.

Classes  I have many ideas, and am also open to hearing your own suggestions.  Some are solely reading classes, because I think reading widely and well is central to your own writing.  Some would include focused reading combined with your own writing.

1.  Single authors. The best way to get to know any poets is to read whole books, to read most or all of their work.  I’d consider anyone from Homer to Terrance Hayes to Alice Oswald.  Who would you like to look at in depth?

2.  Single books. I think of Louise Gluck’s Wild Iris and Faithful and Virtuous Night.  Or, on a bigger scale, Derek Walcott’s Omeros.  Or C. D. Wright’s book-length poem Deep Step Come Shining.  There could also be a class where each person chooses a book they’d like to discuss in depth.

3. Long poems like Ginsberg’s “Howl” (you can read an essay I wrote about it on my website), Wordsworth’s “The Prelude,” Wallace Stevens’ long poems. This is one topic where you could be working on your own poem while reading other examples.

4.  Craft classes: the free verse line, point of view in poems, persona poems, many other possibilities.

I hope these thoughts will spark suggestions of your own.

Manuscript consultations

Working on a manuscript means looking deeply into a group of poems to discover central patterns and bring them to the surface.  It’s similar to listening for what a single poem wants, but on a much bigger scale.  It requires looking deeply, patience, lots of back and forth discussion, and letting go of intentions.  It’s thrilling to see the shape gradually emerge from the fog, like a photograph coming clear in a darkroom.



And because no post here should be poemless, here are a few to think about.



Denise Levertov

Two girls discov
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me
(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even
what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,
the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that
a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.
Rick Barot
At a certain point I stopped and asked
what poems I could write, which were different
from the poems I wanted to write, with the wanting
being proof that I couldn’t write those poems, that they
were impossible. What I could do
was different from what I wanted. To see this
was the beginning of work that could be work,
not simply pursuit after pursuit that was
bound to fail, yearning for qualities that were not mine
and could not be mine. Aiming for a muscular
logic that could be followed by a reader’s mind
like an old stone wall running along a landscape, I got
nothing so solid or continuous. The authority
I wanted dissolved always into restlessness,
into a constant gathering of images whose aggregate
seemed like things that had come to settle
inside a glove compartment. I had no faith
in my flaws, but I had a grudging faith
in the particular. There was the actual stone wall,
its mongrel irregular blocks harmonized into use, rich
and ordinary as a soul. There was the flea
that landed on my forearm one night as I sat reading.
The black speck of it, then the outsize sting.
The flea that is an insect, has no wings, can jump
vertically seven inches and horizontally thirteen inches.
The flea that looks, through the magnifier,
like the villain spaceship from a science-fiction movie,
that can live for years in good conditions, and lives
by drinking the blood of animals and birds,
in a practice that is called, by science, hematophagy.
Langston Hughes

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.



Wallace Stevens

Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

The Author to Her Book

Anne Bradstreet

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ’mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.


Here’s the zoom link:

Sharon Bryan is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Sharon Bryan’s Zoom Meeting
Time: May 5, 2023 01:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 964 6841 5666
Passcode: 995491
One tap mobile
+12532050468,,96468415666#,,,,*995491# US
+12532158782,,96468415666#,,,,*995491# US (Tacoma)

Dial by your location
+1 253 205 0468 US
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
+1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)
+1 719 359 4580 US
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 669 444 9171 US
+1 360 209 5623 US
+1 386 347 5053 US
+1 507 473 4847 US
+1 564 217 2000 US
+1 646 931 3860 US
+1 689 278 1000 US
+1 929 205 6099 US (New York)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
+1 305 224 1968 US
+1 309 205 3325 US
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 964 6841 5666
Passcode: 995491
Find your local number:



Share the word

What Prompts a Poem

April 22, 2023

In one of the last Fridays at 4 discussions I mentioned my bafflement at the current popularity of prompts for poems, and that’s still on my mind, partly because I don’t think any of the poems I love and go back to started that way.  I can’t imagine Frost or Bishop or Plath  or Clifton or Szymborska wanting or needing a prompt from someone else.

But when I read a poem I love, I do imagine how it might have come into being–where did it start, and why is it shaped the way it is?  I can only guess, unless the poem itself reveals its origin, or the poet talks about it in an interview, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining how it came about.

For each of the poems below, I’m going to walk through what I know or imagine about what prompted them, what brought them into being–the spark and the kindling.



Alice Oswald

This is what happened
the dead were settling in under their mud roof
and something was shuffling overhead

it was a badger treading on the thin partition

bewildered were the dead
going about their days and nights in the dark
putting their feet down carefully and finding themselves floating
but that badger

still with the simple heavy box of his body needing to be lifted
was shuffling away alive

hard at work
with the living shovel of himself
into the lane he dropped
]    ]    not once looking up

and missed the sight of his own corpse falling like a suitcase towards him
with the grin like an opened zip
]    ]     (as I found it this morning)

and went on running with that bindweed will of his
went on running along the hedge and into the earth again
as if in a broken jug for one backwards moment
]    ]      water might keep its shape


I’ve posted Oswald’s poem before.  It astonished me the first time I read it, and continues to reveal more of itself each time I read it.  It’s also an apt example, because the poem tells us exactly how it began, in that third line of the sixth stanza: “(as I found it this morning).”  It’s a startling first-person intrusion into what’s been a third-person point of view, and calls more attention to itself with the parentheses.  We’re briefly taken outside the poem we’ve been reading to the earlier event that prompted it.  The poem might have begun with that, or might have left it out altogether, so why this choice?  The rest of the poem is the imagined story of how that observed scene came to be.  That single parenthetical line unzips the story for a moment to show us its origins, to remind us that art doesn’t simply report facts, but transforms them.  It reminds us that the poem is a made thing, a construct.  And we carry that glimpse of the person behind the poem into that stunning final image of the badger preserved “for one backwards moment” between life and death.  It lets us feel the emotions that drive the poem: the urge to preserve what’s lost, or will be.



Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I was planning to include this poem–one of the most read, and certainly the most misread–but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to put it next to the Oswald poem until I was thinking hers and realized how much they have in common.   This poem too reveals its origins: the speaker was out for a walk and came to a fork in the path.  The poem spends its first three stanzas on arriving there, debating about which path to take, then taking one.  It seems straight forward enough, but  the first line of the fourth stanza upends everything we thought we knew–just as that parenthetical interruption complicates and deepens Oswald’s poem.  Those first three stanzas weren’t simply a description of the speaker’s walk–they were the constructed story that he was going to tell about it.  This is similar to Oswald’s poem, where most of the poem is a work of the imagination, with little glimpses of what the imagination began with.   Here there’s no difference between the two paths, no reason to choose one over the other–but humans need meaning and explanations for their choices, so he invents one.  I don’t think the poem necessarily began with an actual walk–though it might have.  But I can imagine him having wrestled with some other choice altogether, should I do this or that, realizing it was like flipping a coin, maybe even hearing the phrase “fork in the road” in his head and deciding to ground the poem in that image.


from  HOWL

Allen Ginsberg


I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in
]   ] the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural
darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering
on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-
]   ] light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the
]   ] windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and
listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana
]   ] for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried
]   ] their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward
poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time between…


Once again we know a lot about how this poem began, because Ginsberg described it himself, in his incredibly useful book, The Annotated Howl.  Ginsberg learned that a man he had known during a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital, Carl Solomon, had been rehospitalized for his illness.  Ginsberg reacted out of grief and rage, and that spark fell on a tremendous piling of kindling.  Ginsberg had been writing poetry for ten years, and  before that studying literature.  He had completed two poetry manuscripts, but neither of them had been published.  Many of those poems were rhymed and metered, and driven by his love for Blake and Keats.  He had written to William Carlos Williams, both because he admired his work and because they were both form the same town, Paterson, New Jersey, and Williams made some helpful suggestions.  When Ginsberg sat down at his desk in San Francisco to write what became “Howl,” one of the greatest poems of the twentieth century, he was full of emotion, and was also trying desperately trying to find his voice as a poet.  The phrases he was hearing needed some kind of long line, so he began the first draft with three-line stanzas that step across and down the page, like the ones in Williams’ late poems.  But that structure turns out not to be sturdy enough, and soon those step-downs collapse into the long lines we associate with Ginsberg.  If you read the drafts, you can see him discover them.




Wislawa Szymborska      trans. by Clare Cavanagh

They say he read novels to relax,
But only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If anything like that turned up,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.
True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’d had enough of dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggles to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction
with its diminutions.

Hence the indispensable
silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
seducers scurrying to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly
in the last.


I like the simplicity of the connection here between the poem and what began it: “They say he [Darwin] read novels to relax.”  That was all it took for Szymborska to speculate on why that might have been, and also why he wanted only novels with happy endings–something that might seem surprising for a trained and sophisticated scientist.  I like it that she doesn’t say “he might have had enough of dying species,” but just declares that he has, thinks and speaks for him.  I’m not usually a fan of lists, but I keep going back to the one that takes up the poem’s last stanza.  It catalogs the details we–and Szymborska–would right if we were in charge of the world, all the injustices of real life.  I think of Dickens, though his novels are darker and more complex than the ones she has in mind here.  But goodness prevails, just as it sometimes does in life.  So maybe those novels aren’t complete fantasies, just elaborations of the best of times, of people’s best impulses and not their worst.  The phrase in the poem that most strikes me is “fiction/ with its diminutions.”  Hmm. What an interesting choice of words.  Would life be diminished if it lacked cruelty and injustice?  I’m still thinking about the implications.  The image that most stands out for me  is “cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,” the only original image in a long list of deliberately overfamiliar examples.  I’m still thinking about that, too.



James Tate

Jim just loves to garden, yes he does.
He likes nothing better than to put on
his little overalls and his straw hat.
He says, “Let’s go get those tools, Jim.”
But then doubt begins to set in.
He says, “What is a garden, anyway?”
And thoughts about a “modernistic” garden
begin to trouble him, eat away at his resolve.
He stands in the driveway a long time.
“Horticulture is a groping in the dark
into the obscure and unfamiliar,
kneeling before a disinterested secret,
slapping it, punching it like a Chinese puzzle,
birdbrained, babbling gibberish, dig and
destroy, pull out and apply salt,
hoe and spray, before it spreads, burn roots,
where not desired, with gloved hands, poisonous,
the self-sacrifice of it, the self-love,
into the interior, thunderclap, excruciating,
through the nose, the earsplitting necrology
of it, the withering, shriveling,
the handy hose holder and Persian insect powder
and smut fungi, the enemies of the iris,
wireworms are worse than their parents,
there is no way out, flowers as big as heads,
pock-marked, disfigured, blinking insolently
at me, the me who so loves to garden
because it prevents the heaving of the ground
and the untimely death of porch furniture,
and dark, murky days in a large city
and the dream home under a permanent storm
is also a factor to keep in mind.”

I think this poem could be an ars poetica for Tate’s poems, a response to “Why do you write that way?”  I can imagine more than one thing that might have prompted it: Maybe he was actually gardening.  Maybe someone was trying to persuade him to try it.  Maybe he saw a neighbor gardening and thought, why would anyone do that?  Maybe the revery began with glimpsing packets of seeds in the hardware store. Maybe he stepped on a worm.   However it began, it’s clear that “Jim” is someone for whom nothing is simple and straightforward.  The title starts with an impossibility–defining gardening.  And as the poem goes on, the speaker sees right through the veneer of daily life to the dangers the rest of us try to ignore.  And sees through himself, to his obsessiveness.  As a poet, Tate constantly questions the very nature of reality, and so does Jim.  They share a high sense of the absurd, and find it in the most ordinary things.  Whatever the seed was for the poem, it fell on the fertile soil of Tate’s imagination and metaphysics: Question everything.  Take nothing for granted.  That’s an approach that leads to terrific poems, but seriously complicates daily life.











Share the word

Bedside Books

March 20, 2023

This week I’m interested in what poetry books we’re all reading right now.  What’s on your bedside table–or chairside, or desk?  The poems here are from mine, and range in time from the 1920’s (Mistral’s poems) to 2023.  I hope you’ll comment on these and add own examples.  Just a reminder that the next Fridays at 4 (eastern time) will be in two weeks, on March 31st.



Molly Tenenbaum


In old gray wood

so soft a fingernail

can scribble it, they’ve bitten

new tan trails.

Little cartographers,

chiseling maps

by subtracting the actual

land of the map.

From my house, they scrape

their house

and hang it from my house,

their house whose door

looks like the hole

a blunt pencil goes in.

In my house, the scraping’s

of teeth with floss,

of carrots with a rough brush,

of the brain,

for the hornets

chewing in there,

while these other

pencil-faced oblivions

of me go sharp and busy

all day about

their laminations.


from The Arborists, Moon Path Press 2023



Arthur Sze


Stopped in cars, we are waiting to accelerate
along different trajectories. I catch the rising

pitch of a train—today one hundred nine people
died in a stampede converging at a bridge;

radioactive water trickles underground
toward the Pacific Ocean; nickel and copper

particulates contaminate the Brocade River.
Will this planet sustain ten billion people?

Ah, switch it: a spider plant leans toward
a glass door, and six offshoots dangle from it;

the more I fingered the clay slab into a bowl,
the more misshapen it became; though I have

botched this, bungled that, the errancies
reveal it would not be better if things happened

just as I wished; a puffer fish inflates on deck;
a burst of burnt rubber rises from pavement.


from Sight Lines, Copper Canyon 2019




Marvin Bell

This year,
I’m raising the emotional ante,
putting my face
in the leaves to be stepped on,
seeing myself among them, that is;
that is, likening
leaf-vein to artery, leaf to flesh,
the passage of a leaf in autumn
to the passage of autumn,
branch-tip and winter spaces
to possibilities, and possibility
to God.  Even on East 61st Street
in the blowzy city of New York,
someone has planted a gingko
because it has leaves like fans like hands,
hand-leaves, and sex.  Those lovely
Chinese hands on the sidewalks
so far from delicacy
or even, perhaps, another gender of gingko–
do we see them?
No one ever treated us so gently
as these green-going-to-yellow hands
fanned out where we walk.
No one ever fell down so quietly
and lay where we would look
when we were tired or embarrassed,
or so bowed down by humanity
that we had to watch out lest our shoes stumble,
and looked down not to look up
until something looked like parts of people
where we were walking.  We have no
experience to make us see the gingko
or any other tree,
and, in our admiration for whatever grows tall
and outlives us,
we look away, or look at the middles of things,
which would not be our way
if we truly thought we were gods.


from These Green-Going-to-Yellow, Atheneum 1981



Gabriela Místral (1889-1957), Chilean poet, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945


El mar sus millares de olas

mece, divino.

Oyendo a los mares amantes,

mezo a mi niño.


El viento errabundo en la noche

mece lost trigos.

Oyendo a lost vientos amantes

mezo a mi niño.


Dios padre sus miles de mundos

mece sin ruido.

Sintiendo su mano en la sombra

mezo a mi niño.



The sea cradles
its millions of stars divine.
Listening to the seas in love,
I cradle the one who is mine.

The errant wind in the night
cradles the wheat.
Listening to the winds in love,
I cradle my sweet.

God Our Father cradles
His thousands of worlds without sound.
Feeling His hand in the darkness,
I cradle the babe I have found.


from Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral, trans. Langston Hughes, Indiana U. Press, 1957



Holy ocean rocks its millions

of waves in the sun.

Listening to the loving seas

I rock my little one.


Wandering in the night the wind

rocks the wheat.

Listening to the loving winds

I rock my sweet.


The Father rocks his thousand worlds

silent, mild.

Feeling His hand in the darkness

I rock my child.


from Selected Poems of Gabriela Místral, trans. Ursula K. Le Guin, University of New Mexico Press, 2003



Me encontré este niño

cuando al campo iba:

dormido lo he hallado

en unas espigas…


O tal vez ha sido

cruzando la viña:

buscando los pámpanos

topé su mejilla…


Y por eso temo,

al quedar dormida,

se evapore como

ha helada en las viñas…



I found this child
when I went to the country:
asleep I discovered him
among the springs of grain…

Or maybe it was while
cutting through the vineyard:
searching in its branches
struck his cheek…


Because of this, I fear
when I am asleep,
he might melt as frost does
on the grapevines…

trans. Langston Hughes



I came on this little boy

when I was in the fields;

I found him sleeping

in the standing wheat.


Or maybe I was coming

through the vineyard,

looking for the little cluster,

and brushed against his cheek.


And that’s why I’m afraid

he’ll disappear like

frost from the vine leaves

if I stay asleep.


trans. Ursula K. Le Guin





Adam Zagajewski

Figs are sweet, but don’t last long.
They spoil fast in transit,
says the shopkeeper.
Like kisses, adds his wife,
a hunched old woman with bright eyes.

from True Life, trans.  from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh, FSG 2022












Share the word

Mary Ruefle’s Poems and Prose

March 13, 2023

  This week I’d like to talk about Mary Ruefle’s poetry, and some excerpts from her prose.  Her work always shakes me awake, and makes me see the world in new ways.  Sparks fly.  Please feel free to add your own comments and favorites, and we’ll discuss it all at this week’s Fridays at 4 (eastern time).


One of the loveliest possibilities
is that the truth is made of glass
but shaped like a hammer
by using it you’ve broken it
think of it! & it lies broken
at your feet not in your hands
never can you hold it, lassie
it will not come back
but there it is, verily
no matter what matter is
wonderful quiet white clouds
in the night sky



It was one of those mornings the earth seemed
not to have had any rest at all, her face dour
and unrefreshed, no particular place– subway,
park– expressed sufficient interest in present circumstances
though flowers popped up and tokens
dropped down, deep in the turnstiles. And from
the dovecots nothing was released or killed.
No one seemed to mind, though everyone noticed.
If the alphabet died– even the o collapsing, the l
a lance in its groin– what of it? The question
‘krispies, flakes or loops?’– always an indicator of
attention– took a turn for the worse, though crumpets
could still be successfully toasted: machines worked,
the idiom death warmed over was in use. By noon,
postage stamps were half their width and worth
but no one stopped licking. Neutrinos passed,
undetected. Corpulent clouds formed in the sky.
Tea was served at four. When the wind blew off a shingle
or two, like hairs, and the scalp of the house began
to howl, not a roofer nailed it down. That was that.
When the moon came out and glowed like a night light
loose in its socket, no one was captious, cautious or wise,
though the toes of a few behaved strangely in bed–
they peeped out of the blankets like insects’ antennae,
then turned into periscopes scouting to see
if the daze that was morning had actually managed to doze.



Ann Galbraith
loves Barry Soyers.

Please pray for Lucius Fenn
who suffers greatly whilst shaking hands.

Bonny Polton
loves a pug named Cowl.

Please pray for Olina Korsk
who holds the record for missing fingers.

Leon Bendrix loves Odelia Jonson
who loves Kurt who loves Carlos who loves Paul.

Please pray for Cortland Filby
who handles a dead wasp, a conceit for his mother.

Harold loves looking at Londa’s hair under the microscope.
Londa loves plaiting the mane of her pony.

Please pray for Fancy Dancer
who is troubled by the vibrissa in his nostrils.

Nadine St. Clair loves Ogden Smythe
who loves blowing his nose on postage stamps.

Please pray for William Shakespeare
who does not know how much we love him, miss him and think of him.

Yukiko Pearl loves the little bits of toffee
that fall to the floor when Jeffrey is done with his snack.

Please pray for the florist Marieko
who wraps roses in a paper cone then punches the wrong code.

Muriel Frame loves retelling the incident
that happened on the afternoon of November third.

Please pray for our teacher Ursula Twombly
who does not know the half of it.

By the radiator in a wooden chair
wearing woolen stockings sits a little girl
in a dunce’s cap, a paper cone rolled to a point
and inverted on her hair; she’s got her hands
in her lap and her head bowed down, her chin
is trembling with having been singled out like this
and she is sincere in her fervent wish to die.

Take it away and give it to the Tartars
who roll gloriously into battle.



I am rejecting your request for a letter of rejection. One must reject everything in order to live. That may be true, but the rejected know another knowledge—that if they were not rejected, heaven would descend upon the earth in earthly dreams and an infinite flowering of all living forms would form a silveresque film over our sordid history, which has adventitiously progressed through violent upheavals in reaction to rejection; without rejection there would be no as-we-know-it Earth. What is our ball but a rejected stone flung from the mother lode? The rejected know that if they were nonrejected a clear cerulean blue would be the result, an endless love ever dissolving in more endless love. This is their secret, and none share it save them. They remain, therefore, the unbelieved, they remain the embodiment of heaven herself. Let others perpetuate life as we know it—that admixture, that amalgam, the happy, the sad, the profusion of all things under the sunny moon existing in a delicate balance, such as it is. Alone, the rejected walk a straight path, they enter a straight gate, they see in their dreams what no one else can see—an end to all confusion, an end to all suffering, an elysian mist of eternally good vapor. Forgive me if I have put your thoughts into words. It was the least I could do for such a comrade, whose orphaned sighs reach me in my squat hut.



The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.


Some excerpts from her essay collection Madness, Rack, and Honey

from “On Beginnings”:

You might say a poem is a semicolon, a living semicolon, what connects the first line to the last, the act of keeping together that whose nature is to fly apart.  Between the first and last lines there exists–a poem–and if it were not for the poem that intervenes, the first and last lines of a poem would not speak to each other.

Would not speak to each other.  Because the lines of a poem are speaking to each other, not you to them or they to you.


But it is growing damp and I must go in.  Memory’s fog is rising.  Among Emily Dickinson’s last words (in a letter).  A woman whom everyone thought of as shut-in, homebound, cloistered, spoke as if she had been out, exploring the earth, her whole life, and it was finally time to go in.  And it was.


from “Secrets”:

The words secret and sacred are siblings.


The origins of poetry are clearly rooted in obscurity, in secretiveness, in incantation, in spells that must at once invoke and protect, tell the secret and keep it.


Poems are written in secret….


When the secret is exposed we turn away.  When the secret is hidden we try to see it.


We speak of secrets from the point of view of the teller or keeper, but what of the listener?  What about the one who hears the secret?  What happens to him?


from “Madness, Rack, and Honey”:

The great sculptor Giacometti once said, “I do not know whether I work in order to make something or in order to know why I cannot make what I would like to make.”


from “Someone Reading a Book”:

Kafka, in a letter: “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?  So that it can make us happy, as you put it?  Good god, we’d be happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves.  What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide.  A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.  That is what I believe.”


There is a world that poets cannot seem to enter.  It is the world everybody else lives in.  And the only thing poets seem to have in common is their yearning to enter this world.

Share the word