Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Two Photos: Velina Ilieva


"Ocean Soul"

~ Velina Ilieva lives in Bulgaria. You can see more of her work at her home page.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Two Poems: Howard Good


I had trouble learning
to tie my shoes,

so my mother took me
to a rabbi. I was five,

six. He demonstrated
on his own shoes first.

Sometimes I think
I dreamed the rabbi

with his long, scary beard.
My mother is dead now.

I still make two loops
and slip one through the other.

* * * * *


Furtive glances and whispers,
bare, bereft trees,
unfaithful gods lolling about
a galaxy of tinfoil stars,
the dead from the newspaper
receding into white space
while strangers stare
at their inscrutable backs,
on my machine a voice
I don’t recognize announcing
a new age, though horses scream,
and it’s night, and the creek
overflows as with sudden tears.

~ Howard Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of the poetry chapbook, Death of the Frog Prince (FootHills Publishing, 2004). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Right Hand Pointing, Stirring, Slow Trains, Poetry Bay, Sidewalk’s End, Plum Ruby Review, Wilmington Blues, The Rose & Thorn, 2River View, Prairie Poetry, Armada, Eclectica, and Lily.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Three Photos: Whiter-Shade

"Doorways of Time"


"Sky and Brick"

~ Jim (Whiter-Shade) lives in Canada. He often gets comments that his photos look like paintings. He doesn't reveal how he gets that effect, but the images are amazing. You can see more of his work at his homepage. This is the second selection of his work (first set)to appear in this space.

Two Poems: Maureen Tolman Flannery

Snow Shrouds His Ground

Now that the raging windstorm
and vengeful cold have passed,
an other-worldly whiteness descends
upon the place of our waiting.

In the old log cabin
we attend impending death
as our western forbears must have done.

Dispersing the dense mountain dark,
a candle burns on the doily on the table
beside his bed, beside the frost-ferned window.
Outside, beneath squirrel-busy trees,
the deer come daily to eat
dry remains of what he planted last spring.

Somewhere beyond the wall--
out by the root cellar
ivy holds ice around the frozen pipes,
but we don’t mind carrying water to wash him.

We have draped lavender cloth
upon the plank ceiling above his bed
for the times he still,
at some inexplicable call to presence,
opens unfocused eyes to its delicate hue.

We swab his tongue with a wet sponge,
for the air is dry
and his shallow breaths
do not absorb the moisture of our tears.

Today, if he stays,
we will build a fire in the stone fireplace
to welcome visitors
and warm us as we work
on the fine, pine coffin in the big room.

* * * * *


Those old Roman bone-throwers
listened to the rattle of remains,
knew how the dead make different sounds
to speak from the ground around them.
Diviners tossed knuckle bones from a former battle
to predict a victory
or caution a general that he might forestall his fate.
They sensed how the dead,
being themselves so reconfigured,
effect the arrangement of parts,
write in designs of their cast-off hardness
clues to the nether-world’s whimsy.

When death parked her painted wagon by our grove,
she sparked my wonder at her comings and goings.
A dark gypsy beauty admired from afar,
her darting gem-eyes almost flirt, luring with their implied promises.
This curandera-midwife gyrates the journey that is her dance.
Her bell-ribboned ankles tap exotic rhythms
as she clanks worn cedar castanets absent-mindedly at her side.
With intimate secrets of every client, she keeps herself aloof.
I long to be inside her confidence,
to see her by the campfire in a nightgown
and her face scrubbed clean.

Like a child on tiptoe,
my ear pressed to the keyhole of the great unknown,
I catch snippets of conversations with the silence.
I hang around the hospice listening,
sharing the gurgle of moist air that churns with yearnings
of mothers or wives who went before.
All have something helpful or important to convey
to the loved-ones they await.

The dying themselves, like newborns,
know more than they let on.
There are folk-tales they pass among themselves.
Some, having heard from the other side,
do not know what to make of it. I try,
study expressions of the dying
the way a pregnant woman stares at babies
in a shopping mall, compile and collate messages,
distill the acrid wisdom.

Some nights I sleep in graveyards,
sheltered by the interest of the dead,
hoping to be trusted with their truth.
It’s not their being gone I covet,
but their having learned life’s ultimate response;
not silence, but their ear for sweeter music.
I snack on pan muerto and sugar-candy skulls,
devour banquets left on the Day of the Dead.

Outside Ixtamal the Yucatan sun bleaches
blue and fuchsia tombs, hornitos
where flesh-clean skeletons are crouched in stucco shrines
adorned with decorations as distinctive
as each bus driver’s tribute to his girl and Guadalupe.
Fetal, barely fitting, I huddle in these graves respectfully
with the bent-down bones of someone else’s loved ones,
breathing musty air of burnt-out vigil lights
and dust on plastic roses,
always asking.

~ Maureen Tolman Flannery's Ancestors in the Landscape: Poems of a Rancher's Daughter was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Other books include A Fine Line, Secret of the Rising Up: Poems of Mexico, and Knowing Stones. Her work has appeared in fifty anthologies and over a hundred literary reviews, recently including Birmingham Poetry Review, Pedestal, Calyx, Atlanta Review, Xavier Review, and North American Review. She is winner of the 2006 JoAnne Hirschfield Poetry Award.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Poem: Karla Linn Merrifield

Swept Away in the Land of the Archetypes

Even a giant cedar cannot stand
against the ancient fear of night,
not when that night follows a red sky,
not when the night is in December
and the granite cliff, to which
the tree has clung for two thousand years,
discerns it shall not endure another day.
The Westerlies, the Westerlies,
are coming on Pacific Gorgon winds,
coming to unstone the coast.
The edge will crack;
the sea will claim all there.

So how can I possibly stand against
the most ancient of human fears
of the night? Mine is not a small
worry, is not of world’s end by tsunami
or typhoon. Not of any San Andreas
rending earthquake or the Medusan meltdown
of antipodean ice. Not even of fiery disasters
apocalyptic. Rather, as a moonjelly is
when swept far inland onto red lava
sluicing down Mt. St. Helena once again,
I am afraid: It is not that I will die,
but that you will be the one so claimed.

~ Karla Linn Merrifield has had poetry published in publications such as CALYX; The Kerf; Redactions, Texas Poetry Journal; Bluelines; Earth's Daughters; Negative Capability; Paper Street. In fall 2004, FootHills Publishing published Midst, a collection of her nature poems and in April ’06 issued THE DIRE ELEGIES: 59 Poets on Endangered Species of North America, a poetry anthology that she edited. She teaches writing at SUNY Brockport and is contributing editor to Sea Stories, the new literary-artistic journal of Blue Ocean Institute.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Two Photos: Päivi Valkonen

"Du Hast Mich"

"Icy Feeling"

~ Päivi Valkonen lives in Finland. This is her second appearance in Elegant Thorn Review. You can see more of her work, including prints for sale, at her homepage.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Two Poems: Britt Kaufmann


"He's feeling his mortality,"
My mother said over the line.
I wonder, what texture it could be?

Does he reach out his hand
To finger the shimmer of a wedding veil,
Or hold his hand out flat

To let the summer breeze push sun
Thinned muslin against it?
Will his sweaty palm leave

A forever handprint like the one
My father left on the thigh of my mother's
New black velvet skirt, before I was born?

Does he clutch tightly,
Bury his fingers in red chenille
Feeling only the tension in his hand?

Maybe his fingers are spread wide,
Like my baby's, as she reaches,
Too slowly, for the cat as he purrs

Past, feeling only the cool silk tail
Slip under her grasp,
Instead of warm plush fur.

* * * * *

Smell & Memory

Dogwood blossoms never do in vases:
in life, their flat faces turned heavenward on
sparse knuckled branches—
indoors, cut, they fall out of arrangement.

So garland them, like a crown,
round my head when you bury me.
And if my hair is white
to match my skin in pale death,
adorn me in a pink variety.

But lay me under a lilac
blooming in the early spring,
never satisfied by one life:
roots reaching out to push up new
shoots until there will be a forest
covering my grave.
I will not rise again. Still,

sweet scented lilac
wafts wide on the breeze,
so you will remember me.

~ Britt Kaufmann says, "I prefer to consider myself a poet or writer. And now more than ever in my life, I feel myself fitting that definition. While my publications are still few, I am setting writing goals and meeting them." You can find her at her homepage.

Monday, December 11, 2006

William Meredith at The Academy of American Poets

Five poems have been added to the William Meredith exhibit at The Academy of American Poets. Meredith is one of our finest poets, and a poet who tends to be neglected when the awards go around. You can read his landmark essay "Reasons for Poetry" at the site.

From the site:
According to the poet Edward Hirsch, "[Meredith] has looked generously and hard at our common human world. He doesn't slight the disasterous, the 'umpteen kinds of trouble' he has seen—accountability weighs heavily in his poems—but his work reverberates with old-fashioned terms such as fairness, morale, cheerfulness, joy and happiness."

Meredith's honors include the Loines Award and a grant from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the International Vaptsarov Prize in Poetry, a grant and senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and two Rockefeller Foundation grants. He was a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980 and is currently a Chancellor Emeritus of The Academy of American Poets.

Meredith began to suffer from expressive aphasia after a stroke in 1983. This means that he has lost the ability to express himself at will. As the poet Michael Collier explains in his foreword to Meredith's most recent publication, Struggle at Speech (1997): "Trapped, as it were, inside his body, which has profoundly betrayed him, for the past decade and a half Meredith has remained occupied with the poet's struggle—the struggle to speak."

He divides his time between Uncasville, Connecticut and Bulgaria, where he was been granted honorary citizenship, with Richard Harteis, by decree of President Zhelev ini 1996.

You can find much more of Meredith's work at his homepage. Here is one of the poems he hosts at his site:

If the kept secrets of our finished lives
Some day rise up, what a doomsday they will have:
From the numberless houses, deserts, caves
Of its human stay, each whole anatomy
Of the man's affection, and the woman's, each family
Of true deceptions, will be reunited, abler than old bones
To sing, and with more to sing about--a valley
Of buried secrets, rising to claim their own.

'Why were we secret?' one of the true may ask
Among the yawning bodies of affection
That wake on the valley floor. 'Why did I risk
My blood and hair and bones in that deception?'
Or another, more thoughtful secret ask, 'Hence-
forth how will a person relish hate or shame,
Or manage love without its reticence,
And everybody calling things by name?'

But then a voice will silence all who had slept
And the host of the false secrets will tremble
As the names are read of those that were well kept,
Of all with honest reason to dissemble.
All generous and well-intentioned lies,
All expensive silences, will earn eternal silence then,
But all vain secrets will that voice expose
Like the flaming souls of wicked medieval men.
Therefore, my secrets, shades of hate and fear
And love (who outnumbers all the tribes
As, when the names are published, will appear)
Prepare yourselves, so live that when that blast
Of bright exposure rends your flimsy robes
And you stand named and naked at the last,
One judging will say, after your long sleep,
This is my faithful secret, him I will keep.

Please take a minute to stop by the William Meredith page at the Academy of American Poets and his homepage. Meredith is a poet deserving of much more attention than he has received.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Two Poems: Margaret James

Now and Then

It is the new slant of light,
the framed sunrise, oak leaves and fir.
It is her voice in the darkness, needy and soft,
the warm comfort of flannel bedding.

It is a rainwater well somewhere in Louisiana
and the grandmother's hands, honey, biscuits.
It is her bed as tall as a mountain
the floral printed sheets and her low snore nearby.

We are woven into these attachments.
We walk out on the teacher to travel back.
It was once the Mother leading,
now the great distance becomes the friend.

* * * * *

Jane Doe

I bring her a potato knish warm,
wrapped in tin foil as a present
to her present state: wrapped in a blanket
in the Sunday morning lit doorway of a sushi restaurant.

Seven days later, I do it again.
This time she is walking,
pacing the winter sidewalk
in summer pants, ripped almost to short.

My gift of pants in size 9, she declines,
says, “Maybe next week.”
I ask if there is anything else I can do,
“No, not now.”

No, not now in my cozy chair,
my children asleep in their dreaming beds,
while their mother remembers the lady's brush starved hair
and realizes with the deep pain of regret -
I didn't care enough to ask her name.

~ Margaret James, from Eugene, OR, is a regular contributer here at ETR. You can see more of her poetry at her Zaadz blog.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Challenges of the National Book Award Short-List for Poetry

Liz Rosenberg's Boston Globe article from Sunday, "In the year's most honored poetry, language reinvented," presents an inside look at the poetry selection for the National Book Award.
Poetry's tools are many -- imagery, rhythm, sound play, story, character, silence, line breaks, surprise, and what Aristotle called the genius that cannot be taught: metaphor. Most poets, if they are being desperately honest, will admit that 90 percent of the poetry they read is offensively bad to them. A poet cannot be indifferent to poetry. One may avoid it. But poetry is too familial -- one tends with poetry books, as with one's family members, either to love or to hate them.

Five poetry books were finalists for the 2006 National Book Award -- which was won last month by Nathaniel Mackey for "Splay Anthem" -- and I think the selection was bewildering at best. It is worth noting that nine of the 10 poets chosen as finalists this year and last have been men . This makes one wonder not about the condition of women poets but rather about how and why such books are judged. The judges this year seemed not to be concerned with beauty or with feeling. Nor were they troubled by issues of clarity or accessibility.

These are only some of the qualities associated with contemporary poetry. They are by no means the only ones, nor are they, apparently, the most highly prized. All five of the books strike out on their own path, and away from what one might call the typical book of free-verse poems. All are passionately engaged in reinventing language.

Read the rest -- it's an interesting look at the state of American poetry and the poets favored by a few critics as our best and brightest.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Photo: Erin McElroy

"Tunnel Smile"

~ Erin McElroy is a mixed media artist from Delaware currently living in Easthampton, MA. You can see more of her work at her homepage.

Two Poems: Kika Dorsey

I am the Gatherer

My son carries the hunter inside of him
the way a stegasaurus carries his tiny walnut-sized
brain; preciously he craves any story of sharks
or tyrannosaurus rex, how their pointed teeth
could rip meat, how fast they could run. He carries
his hammer and swishes it through the air like
a claw and growls “aahrrr…” My son kicks his
sister and bares his teeth at her; he’s in a savannah
amongst large plodding saurapods,
and he is the allosaur attacking them. He snatches up
his stuffed puppy and announces that he is a wolf,
the harmony of his body merciless, the poor
puppy oblivious of his doom. But in the evening
he slips onto my lap and says
“I’m a baby dinosaur” and I take him in my arms,
my little reptile. I gather him to me like a lapful
of berries because he is the hunter, and I am
the gatherer, I am the large skull, I am the shelter.

* * * * *


As if making a career of pain they fall
constantly, my small children, as if traveling
from air to ground and then weeping were
a rehearsal for the performance of life—up, down—
like the rhythm that created them, a drumbeat
of flesh, like stone against earth, woodpecker
against tree, dream against daylight, weeping
against laughter. My daughter has purple
bruises and bumps on her forehead while our
lilacs open to mirror her marks, my son too is
covered in marks of play, little supernovas on
his galaxy of flesh. I know their bodies by heart,
but each fall brings a new sentence in their skin’s
language, sometimes taking me by surprise, as
if saying I am vulnerable, separate, I am bludgeoned
by the world.

But in this life we must live, does it not pay to fall,
to feel the hardness of ground, to know we are alive
in a city of concrete or a country of soil and grass.
my children fall with their hands splayed out in
front of them, embracing the air, they fall
gently on grass, hard and fast against park benches,
they fall gracefully, joylessly, they fall
with courage in their throats, with daring in their limbs,
they fall to hear the full volume of their inner fugue,
to hear their voices like the teeth of wolves bite
through the air, they fall
to assure themselves of their mother’s lap, their falling
the absence of maternal protection, a door
into the world where the palm that scoops clay
makes fire, an unstable element, and in time hardens
the pot with which we cook, that hand that will
lightly fling aside mountains and bury the dead, that
hand on the body which through falling
will rule its world.

~ Kika Dorsey's poetry has been published in Anyone is Possible, Coffeehouse Poetry: An Anthology, Between the Lines, The Denver Quarterly, The California Quarterly, among others. She has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington in Seattle and has taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Washington, the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Metropolitan State College in Denver.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Two Poems: Paul Hostovsky

Poetry Unit

We had a substitute teacher today.
He did this weird thing with his mouth.
Like he mouthed the words before he said them.
Like he was rehearsing them or something.
We didn’t like him. He didn’t tell us
why Miss Schluger was out. He just
shows up in the middle of our poetry unit
moving his mouth and mouthing the words
and writing something illegible on the blackboard
and holding the chalk like a pen so it makes this
sound like oh my god please stop and no one
can read it because it looks like algebra
or something. So CeCe Santucci
raises her hand and asks him what it says
and he does the mouth thing and says it says
What is the smallest unit of poetry?
like it’s math or science or something.
So Caroline Coakley raises her hand and says
in a voice that says she’s got the right answer,
the smallest unit of poetry is the stanza.
But he shakes his head no and opens his eyes
wide like he’s looking around for something
he’s already got and wants us to give it to him.
And someone says it’s the line, and someone
says it’s the word. And now my stomach is
making these sounds like oh my god please stop
and I look around and up and there’s Robert
Frost smiling down at me from his high
horse and snowy woods on the bulletin board
and someone says the rhyme and someone says
the foot. And I could care less because I hate
poetry now and this weird guy with his mouth
and his word problem like math in the middle of
poetry. Then suddenly it grows silent like everyone
is stumped or dumb or dead or something, and even
my stomach has stopped like it’s listening hard, and the sub
tilts his head like he’s listening hard too, and he’s smiling
like there’s something funny in the air. But
there’s nothing in the air but silence. And air.

* * * * *


You’re alive and riding your bicycle
to school and I am worried about you
riding your bicycle all the way to school
so I get in my car and drive like a maniac
through the dream over curbs and lawns
sideswiping statuary and birdbaths along
the way frantically seeking you everywhere
the rear wheel of your bicycle disappearing
around the next corner and the next and then
I am riding a bicycle too and sounding
the alarm which sounds like a bicycle bell
so no one believes it’s an alarm and I pedal
faster and faster my knees bumping up against
the handlebars which by now have sprouted
ribbons with pompoms and a basket attached
with your lunch inside and I’m pedaling to save
my life and your life and finally when I find you
in the dream you aren’t dead yet you’re alive
and a little angry and embarrassed to see me
all out of breath on a girl’s bicycle holding
your lunch out in my hand trembling with joy

~ Paul Hostovsky's work appears in Shenandoah, Carolina Quarterly, New Delta Review, Poetry East, and others. He has two poetry chapbooks, Bird in the Hand (Grayson Books) and Dusk Outside the Braille Press (Riverstone Press).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Two Photos: Tomas Kaspar


"Indian Beach"

~ Tomas Kaspar says this about his art: "If anything, the camera has taught me one thing about nature and that is there is a lot more to discover than what first meets the eye. " You can find more of his work at his online gallery: Kaspar Gallery. Look for more of his to appear on this site.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Two Poems: Kyle Torke


You wake one morning, the snow pressed atop the iris,
Their swollen heads bent in prayer,
And realize you’ve trespassed in joy, and the muscular pleasure
Will soon arrive to pluck your collar,
Drag you across the street, and deposit you with the other waste
In a canal whose ice is mushy
And provides no solid footing; your shoes fill with water.

If you make it back to your little room,
Regret will be waiting, leaned against the wall in a shadow,
A pistol across his lap, smoking,
And he will say, “You should have gathered the harvest
When the mice were resting,”
And you’ll wince and know all four legs will touch the floor.
Your memory is the bullet.

The next winter, your wound heals and you stretch to break an icicle,
But loneliness calls from an alleyway
Where a policeman beats an addict, the needles spread around them
Like casings from a fire-fight, and you
Choose not to snap, the finger of light a harbinger, a tiny connection
To a spinning planet that bucks and whimpers
And tries to throw you; the alley stretches before you like a dirty river.

You wake in the morning with a needle
In your arm and the iris announcing a thaw, small drips of water like blood
Filling your socks, and joy blocking the light
At the end of the cardboard box, each flower in a pot, and the sun streaking
Through small holes, incisions teeth might make,
And she says, “I wish the trees with deeper roots would tap, tap, tap
And dance with me”; and you can only smile.

* * * * *


A fog has settled on your garden,
The tumultuous tomatoes unevenly
Spaced like beating hearts keeping
Many souls alive, and your memory
Is a pasture the builder scraped
Two weeks ago, layered concrete
Around rebar and smoothed
The walkways that will, eventually,
Lead somewhere; already, before
The saplings settle in place, before
The flower beds sprout ordered life,
One row of xenias, two of marigolds,
On the edges of the white stone
And between the bricks where bits
Of sand blew (from the neighboring
Fields where the cows low and stare),
The green tendril of volunteer clover
Thinks about exploding purple
And attracting bees, about reaching
Toward the light, waiting for rain,
And spreading kin into a long, sweet
Swath of purple and green lovely
As fresh turned soil and equally full
Of the life the tilled earth will bring.

~ Kyle Torke teaches writing and literature courses at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Gorsky Press released his first full-length collection of poems, Archeology of Bones, in June 2001. He has poems in Perigee, Wild Goose Review, Tar Wolf Review, and poems forthcoming in Karamu. A group of five poems was a finalist in the New Letters Poetry Competition.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Review: The End of the Poem by Paul Muldoon

This is from The Guardian (UK), which inspires me to wonder why US newspapers never really review poetry books. Hmmm.

The reason behind rhyme

Paul Muldoon's Oxford lectures, The End of the Poem, offer a trenchant and clever analysis of the power of poetry, even finding space to salute Christ as a 'great punster', says Peter Conrad

Sunday November 19, 2006
The Observer

The End of the Poem by Paul Mundoon
Buy The End of the Poem at the Guardian bookshop
The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures
by Paul Muldoon
Faber £25, pp432

Paul Muldoon's premonitory title does not mean what it seems to say: these lectures, delivered during his time as professor of poetry at Oxford, are far from being an obsequy for the art. Poems, if they are good, need never end. A poem, as Auden said when explaining how one was written, cannot be finished: it is simply abandoned by a poet who can add no more to it. The reader then takes over and, with luck, discovers another kind of endlessness: reading leads to rereading, as the words are coaxed into releasing subtler, richer meanings, dilating into ever ampler contexts.

Unlike many of his predecessors, Muldoon chooses not to generalise about poetry. Instead, he explicates individual poems, one per lecture. The procedure demands close attention, but the results are revelatory. Reading here is a collaborative recreation and, at their best, Muldoon's interpretations - sometimes whimsically tenuous, often breathtaking in their intellectual boldness - are like improvised, free associating poems.
Read the rest of the review.

You can find the book at Amazon for $19.80, which is much less than the $30 cover price.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Two Poems: Jennifer Hill-Kaucher

The Alphabet Backward

Soon snow will cover everything
and the body will forget
the bruise of spring, melted wax
of summer. The world slings
into itself, cuts its grooves – an almanac.
Soon snow will cover everything –
fenceposts wear hats, trees are furred
in white – the landscape reversed as a layette.
Memory falls to collect at the feet in a blur
and the body will forget.

* * *

Lovely Boat

A girl folds a red lotus, centers a candle
and floats it downstream. As it passes the bridge
a man with a net scoops it out. This is tourism
in China. She has creased hundreds of prows,
but never diced a sheet for confetti to throw,
or to tuck into an envelope with a letter.

In Philadelphia’s Chinatown, my daughter and I
sit under the gold dragon at a restaurant
where shrimp crawl and curl their last in a tank
by the door. The instructions for the Jongie Nara
“Lovely Boat” origami are all in Chinese.
We puzzle it out through the images and laugh –
Start with a rectangle, turn it into a tricorner hat
and bend, twist, writhe? Our wonton soup
grows cold. When our first boat forms,
a shiny blue miniature among the gargantuan
tassels and murals of spring, I want to find a river
and let her watch the water whisk it away, too fast
for any hands to catch.

~ Jennifer Hill-Kaucher is the author of four books of poetry: “Questioning Walls Open,” from Foothills Publishing in 2001, “Nightcrown,” a crown of sonnets in a limited edition lotus book in 2003, “Book of Days,” from FootHills Publishing, 2005 and "A Proper Dress," 2006. Her previous poem in ETR appeared here. She also edits Paper Kite Press.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Three Photos: John Craig




Artist's Statement:
I raise the camera to my eye and I look through the viewfinder. I go into a place of silence, a place of inner stillness. The room could be filled with noise and rumblings of a passerby or I could be in the forest sitting next to a raging stream. At that instant of composition I go into stillness. Letting my conscience evolve into the environment that surrounds me. Next I move into a moment of unearthing discovery, looking to see the unseen to find the spark where God lives and art grows. Following that I move into the “yes of the blessing” when I capture that sacred frame that lived only for that finite second of stillness. To conclude I move into the point of celebrating the gift, that presence of grace that I alone was able to see, experience, document and share with the world.

~ John Craig is a frequent contributor to the Elegant Thorn Review. He is a Pittsburgh, PA based photographer with a B.A. in communications and over 15 years of experience. You can find him at his blog, Craig Photography.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Two Poems: Lyn Lifshin


paint chips slowly.
It’s so still you
can almost hear it
pull from a porch.

Cold grass claws
like fingers in a
wolf moon. A man
stands in corn bristles

listening, watching
as if something
could grow from
putting a dead child

in the ground


SEPTEMBER 26, 1996

this morning the pond
looks like marble. Rose
and charcoal dissolving
to dove, to guava, rouge.
Only mallards pushing
holes in the glass, so
unlike the pond, deep in
trees, almost camouflaged,
startling as coming upon
your reflection in a mirror,
just there under trees and
the wooden bar and the
driftwood benches blackly
jade with pines dripping
into it, shadows close to
my hair. What I didn’t have
blinded me so I hardly saw
the small birds, blue,
pulling out of moss and
needles as if reaching into
the dark for their color

~ Lyn Lifshin is one of the most widely-published poets in America. You can find her at her website.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Two Poems: Tim J Brennan


there are other women
out there i could love

but will never
meet in the places
where i’m going

where i’ve been
has led me to you

just as certain words
remain unread, so
do i remain lost
in your throat

my fingers reading
your open spine

you touching the dark
places between my stars


Dreaming of Emily Dickinson

i sometimes dream
about Emily Dickinson,
her seemingly stoic allegories
speaking of lost love

flies buzzing, yellow halos,
unblossomed thighs,
apple orchards,
new shoes in Eden

she was a woman
i loved even though
she didn’t know,
wouldn’t acknowledge,
wouldn’t have known what
to do even if she had known

she was my home town,
all my favorite streets,
elm lined lovers’ lanes

i would have died
for her Beauty,
instead i died
for her Truth

today i saw a woman
who reminded me of her

i wanted to tell her it was
she who once touched
my face and found me there

~ Tim J Brennan hails from southeastern Minnesota. His poetry continues to be a work in progress.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Two Photos: Whiter-Shade

"Nature's Sculpture"


~ Jim (Whiter-Shade) lives in Canada. He often gets comments that his photos look like paintings. He doesn't reveal how he gets that effect, but the images are amazing. You can see more of his work at his homepage. Look for more of his work to appear in this space.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Two Photos: Aeterna Doloris

"The Empty Bench"

"Broken Window II"

~ Aeterna Doloris is 19 years old and lives in Portugal. More of her work can be found at her homepage.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Poem: Margaret James

not far from the tree

I say, “I will hang upside down for your fruits,”
like the small gray and black birds with the jay caps,
those creatures who flutter so joyously
on the other side of the window, on the other side of the fence.

Dozens of beating wings -
sideways, frontwards, upside down wings
beating for green, blue, purple berries.

You are this tree with the gradually changing leaves
near the black crow who sits laughing
at all of us little birds.

And I repeat, “I'll hang upside down for your fruits.”

But you ask me for patience and a quiet tongue,
alien acrobatics that I am not so eager to attempt.

~ Margaret James lives in Eugene, Oregon, and is working on a degree in comparative religion. You can read more of her work on her blog at Zaadz. I am pleased to say more of her work will be appearing here.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Poem: Jennifer Hill-Kaucher

Birds of North America

"What you see in a guide is what you see in nature."
~ The Golden Guide to Field Identification, North American Birds

My mother watches families of wrens
move in and out of the birdhouse,
names the chickadees and titmouse,
curses the sharp-shinned hawk that lurks
on her fence. The shrubbery, full of finches,
holds its breath. Even the squirrels, doves
and chipmunks that pick at the dropped seed
are invisible. The hawk cranes his neck
at every rustle. A yield light eye
hones in when the first finch darts out
and his movement is one quick mechanical
drop and lift into the air, a light brown pennant
against the blank sky.

A common yellowthroat circles the room of light
beamed into the sky by the World Trade Center.
Disoriented, it flies into the glass and falls, stunned.
A woman on a scooter zips by the perimeter of buildings,
brown bags and labels the dead or dazed.
The dead are frozen. The dazed are freed.

All three outbuildings burned down,
the one closest to the house filled
with partridges, quail, doves and a peacock.
He kept his shop in there, sanded tops and ships
between the coo and guttural warbles.
There was nothing to do. She watched from her dishes
at the kitchen sink. In the morning before sunrise,
ash scent and birdsong crisscrossed in the fields.

~ Jennifer Hill-Kaucher gave me no biographical information, but this is her first appearance in Elegant Thorn Review. Look for more of her work in the future.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Poem: Jennifer M. Wilson

Pesky Angels

The dead walk these hours
ruling the living with their imperfect recollection.

I beat away the angels with my stick
as they flock like gulls over my head,
begging for bread and attention.

Around me people prostrate themselves on the sidewalk
crying for mercy at the gate of their own soul’s mansion.

~ Jennifer M. Wilson holds a degree in Communications and Comparative Religion from Ithaca College. You can read more of her work at her website.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Two Photos: Päivi Valkonen

"Two Seasons"

"Campus Area III"

~ Päivi Valkonen is from Finland. You can see more of her amazing photography at her homepage.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Flash Fiction: Thomas J. Misuraca


Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It's been...

You know how long it's been, Father Francis. I hope you had a nice week. Wasn't the weather delightful? I was able to get out of the apartment a couple of days, and my hip didn't act up at all.

Agnes took me to the mall on Tuesday. She had the nerve to ask to borrow four dollars for lunch. She hasn't paid me back yet. I hope she mentions that she stole from me in her next confession.

I wouldn't mind if I had the money, but I'm on a fixed income. I got a package in the mail saying I may be the winner of a million dollar sweepstakes. I filled out that form and sent it in immediately. hope that's not considered greed. All I want is enough to get by. When I win, I'll make a big donation to the church.

Rich, that nice boy in my building, came by yesterday to change a light bulb. He had to stand on one of my chairs. His bum was right in front of me, and I couldn't help but to stare at it. I tapped it playfully, but I don't think he noticed. Is that a sin, father? I would never do more than look. I'm so old, I wouldn't remember how.
Rich agreed that our apartment complex has gone to pot. The new manager is terrible. She rents to all these low-lifes. I thought I smelled marijuana the other day. I asked Rich if he knew what marijuana smelled like and he said it smelled like pumpkin pie. It didn't smell like any pumpkin pie I ever baked.

I used to bake all the time, but now I'm too tired. And who'd eat it? If I eat anything out of the ordinary, it upsets my system and I'm in the bathroom for an hour with diarrhea.

I'm turning 83 next month. I still have plenty of time left, my mother lived to 95. I wonder if my daughter will call to wish me a happy birthday. She probably doesn't remember what day it is. I thought about calling her, but she may hang up on me again. Isn't there a commandment not to hang up on your mother?

It sounds like there are more people out there waiting to talk to you, so I won't keep you. It must be fascinating listening to all those people. Much better than anything on television. Those afternoon serials are nothing but people having sex, and those nighttime shows are too violent. Not like it used to be.

If Agnes comes to confession, remind her she owes me four dollars.

~ Thomas J. Misuraca has over seventy-five short stories published in various literary magazines including Byline, Thema and Art Times. He has also written and edited young adult books for Angel Gate Press. You can reach him at his blog or his homepage.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Two Photos: Bavenmark

"Until It Sleeps"

"Placid and Moonlight"

~ Dennis (Bavenmark) is from Finland, but currently lives in Maidstone, United Kingdom. You can see more of his work at his homepage.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sharon Olds in Conversation

Speaking of Galway Kinnell the other day, his good friend Sharon Olds was interviewed by the Independent (UK) in yesterday's issue. Olds is one of the leading poets of the last half of the 20th century, and she's not going quietly into that good night as we enter the 21st.

Here is the introduction to the conversation:
When Sharon Olds was a child, she was told she was going to hell. "I did worry," she confesses, "that if a beam of eyesight is made of dust, me looking at a flower would get some of the dust of my sinful nature on the flower." It's an unlikely start, perhaps, for a poet who went on to write some of the most sexually explicit poems of the 20th century, one who has won an international following for her celebrations of the human as animal. In Olds's poems, we are creatures who bleed, suck, give birth and - to use her uncompromising word - fuck. "Sexual love," says Olds, "is a subject that moved me immensely. Talk about a total challenge to one's descriptive powers!"
Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fall Poetry Books

From, a review of some new poetry books coming out this fall, including the first book from Galway Kinnell in 10 years.

There are a couple of Kinnell poems in the new American Poetry Review, which I quite liked, so I'm looking forward to this new book.
Strong Is Your Hold, Galway Kinnell’s 11th book—his first in more than 10 years—shows him in an elegiac, retrospective mode:

I, who so often used to wish to float free
of earth, now with all my being want to stay

Kinnell writes as movingly as ever about family, marriage, sex, and friendship; stone tables, old nails, blueberry thickets, garter snakes anchor us in his world. “When the Towers Fell” is his response to 9/11; “Shelley” a striking meditation on one poet’s disenchantment with another. Kinnell’s work shows how the ideal of civic humanism continues to find its poets.

Other poets reviewed include Mark Strand, Alice Notley, Martín Espada, Lynda Hull, James Fenton, and Tomas Tranströmer.

Check out the whole review.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two Photos: Alin Semenescu

"Alone II"

"One Step Closer II"

~Alin Semenescu lives in Romania. This is his second appearance in Elegant Thorn Review. You may see more of his work at deviantART.

Flash Fiction: Suzanne Nielsen

Faces Appear Before A Notary

Rita Sajevic lost her mind on a cloudy Columbus Day six years into the new millennium. Intentions were to stabilize her mid-life crises as she had two job interviews that morning, four hours apart, within 12 miles from her residence. All this was written down on the palm of her hand.

Rita’s cat had not come home the night before and its water bowl sat tepid and full. She went to the window of her apartment that looked out into a quiet street, trees now naked from the recent heavy winds, and she remembered that her cat was livid this time of year. Rita’s cat lived to kill Blue jays.

As she prepared to print out an extra copy of her resume right before leaving that morning something snapped. Instead she slipped out the back door with her Notary Public stamp that was soon to expire, and a ream of typing paper.

She carefully placed the ream of paper in the passenger seat next to her, looped the seatbelt underneath, and put her notary stamp in the glove compartment. She thought about locking the glove compartment, but she couldn’t think of why that would be important. Rita adjusted the mirrors in accordance with her slumped posture. As she fumbled with the rearview mirror she noticed her aging forehead and the white roots of her red hair growing out to tell the truth. She wasn’t a true redhead at all. She hadn’t fooled Jane Moravia. Jane stood across the counter and sold Rita her bottled red dye for over thirteen years at Guertin Drug on the corner of Pleasant view Drive. She wondered if she ought to drive by Guertin’s and tell Jane she was partaking in two interviews this day, and one of them would promise her a future. Rita thought she remembered that Jane Moravia recently had a tumor removed from her left foot, or was it her right, and boasting never won out in the end.

Instead she drove to the corner gas station and attempted to put air in her tank and gas in her tires. A bell on the glass door cha-chinged as an attendant left the tiny building that housed him and a miniature wall of dried goods and beverages.

“Ma’am, I can pump your gas for you if you’d like,” he said, a kid of about seventeen. Rita ignored the young man and returned the gas nozzle to its holster. She slipped on the pavement’s gas glaze before reaching her driver’s door and almost disappeared under her

“Let me help you,” said the young man and that’s when it happened; him on all fours with a face completely notarized in runny black ink.

With the stamp back in the glove compartment, Rita straightened her skirt and adjusted the mirror one more time. In the background she could see a cat carrying a bird in its mouth. She started up the ignition and thought about locking the glove compartment but couldn't think of why.

~ Suzanne Nielsen is a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, teaches writing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and at Metropolitan State University. Her poetry, fiction and essays appear in literary journals nationally and internationally; some of these include The Comstock Review, The Copperfield Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, The Pedestal, and The 13th Warrior Review, among others.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Two Poems: Francine Marie Tolf


"Within each of us there is a God shaped emptiness"

Today I saw a blue heron
ascend from pond water
with slow, soundless wings.
It seemed that
pine trees, clouds of white air
held their breath
as two drowsy arcs
rose and sank
through pieces of mist.

I thought: how easy
to believe in holiness,
to ache suddenly
from the loss it carves.



We touch one another
with defter fingers
at night.

Rain sounds different,
its steady falling
a remembered wisdom.

What if the dark waters
waiting to carry us home
slept inside every one of us?

We were loved
before stars existed.
We are older than light.

~ Francine Marie Tolf lives in Minneapolis, MN. Her work has appeared in Rattle, Spoon River Poetry Review, Nimrod, New Letters and 5 AM.

Two Photos: Diana Calvario

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

"Consciously Living"

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Diana Calvario lives in Luxembourg. She can be found at her integral homepage, at Zaadz, or at DeviantART.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two Poems: William Everson

I have been granted permission to publish some poems by William Everson in Elegant Thorn Review. I did my master's thesis on Everson and was fortunate enough to meet him on a couple of occasions before his death in 1994.

This first poem is the title poem from Everson's first book.

These Are the Ravens

These are the ravens of my soul,
Sloping above the lonely fields
And cawing, cawing.
I have released them now,
And sent them wavering down the sky,
Learning the slow witchery of the wind,
And crying on the farthest fences of the world.

This poem is from The Residual Years, the single volume originally published by Everson's Untide Press -- a hand-press he founded while serving as a conscientious objector in WWII -- that became the title for the first volume of the collected poems, published in definitive edition by Black Sparrow/Castle Peak in 1997.

The Approach

Breaking back from the sea we ran through low hills,
The long deserted pavement falling and winding,
Lonesome farms in their locked valleys,
The coast range, ancient even as mountains,
Moulded by wind.

Till inland we curved to the far converging city,
Seeing it laid at the hill's heel,
Whirlpooled, the long lines of its power,
Beacons for planes revolving the dusk,
The black trails of concrete slipping down grade
To the first clusters, to the city,
Thick in the gloom with its few lights showing,
With its veils, its myriad roofs,
And its heavy pounding heart.

Two Photos: Nasser Majali

"Syrian Wild"


~ Nasser Majali is 26 years old and lives in Jordan. You can view more of his work at his homepage.

Major Poetry Prizes

News from The Academy of American Poets:


New York, October 17—The Academy of American poets and The Nation magazine are pleased to announce that Eleanor Lerman's collection Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds (Sarabande Books) was chosen by poets Carl Dennis, Tony Hoagland, and Carol Muske-Dukes to receive the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, which awards $25,000 to the most outstanding book of poetry published the previous year. The finalists for the award are Christian Barter, The Singers I Prefer (CavanKerry Press); Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven (Knopf); Dorianne Laux, Facts About the Moon (W. W. Norton); and Ron Slate, The Incentive of the Maggot (Mariner Books).


The Academy of American Poets is also pleased to announce that Tracy K. Smith's book Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007) has been selected by Elizabeth Alexander, Kimiko Hahn, and Terrance Hayes to receive the 2006 James Laughlin Award, a $5,000 prize that recognizes and supports a poet's second book. The finalist for the prize is Frannie Lindsay's Lamb (Perugia Press, 2006).


Both Eleanor Lerman and Tracy K. Smith will read from their work at the Academy of American Poets Awards Ceremony & Reading on November 8, 2006. This event is held in New York City and is free and open to the public. For more information, visit

You can read the full announcement for each prize at the Academy website.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Two Photos: Tim Smallie

"The Answer Lies Behind . . ."

"Three Sisters"

~ Tim Smallie lives in London. You can see more of his work at his homepage.

Poem: Bill Hotchkiss

It goes against my better judgment to post very long poems here, but I am making an exception not because Bill Hotchkiss is my good friend and mentor, but because this is an amazing poem worthy of the space it takes up.


SUMMER lightning
Flickers the Sierra,
High granite, pure, hard, black-freckled,
And overburden above timberline,
Basalt and mudstones,
Bunchgrasses, kinnikinnik, cascara,
Whistlings of marmots and picas,
Snowfields and spring flowers in August:
Great waves of thunder crush
Through the sacred dark —
Bullbats and perching hawks
Cry out:
Now here, now there,
The sleeping mountains emerge
Into light and vanish —
Deep in gouged canyons
Ceaseless riverine voices
Whisper syllables I scarcely understand,
Though I attempt translation.

Seasons flow,
Bear me deathward.

I’m not certain who I am,
Where I came from, where I’m going —

Perhaps I’m simply a figment
Of wild imagination —
Bits of rock and particles of soil
In flotation or suspension,
Electric threads that vibrate in the clay,
Struggle to a dream of consciousness:

All process seems illusion,
Visionings of a frightened creature

Attempting through indirection, definition.

Call it miracle sufficient.

An old coyote I met along the road
Told me to speak the minute conscious flarings,
Moments vivid in memory, fragments
But hidden, disguised, incipiently alive —
For each, he said, contains a mystery —
Even as a ghostly azalea blossom
(Hidden in rootstock, in meristem, a portion of ether,
Intense conditioning of space, paradigm and template,
Genetic encodement, yet prior to that)
Makes endless replication,
Produces multitude and ceaseless variation,
Odor of something like honey faint in the air
Of a May morning in a mountain ravine —
Hidden clusters of yellow-throat flowers,
White-petaled, dark-stamened above flowing water.

I know the commandment
And speak without choice.
Do you wish to hear my words?

No matter, no matter.
The best poetry means to be lived.

The words — art, cadences, images —
The mystical creature sheds its skin as it goes.

A Great Coyote grins.

You live another’s thoughts
At the risk of your own,
You bask in another’s poems
And hesitate to test the river’s current.

Old Swollen-thighs solved a riddle
Drew on the cloak of power,
Was envied by those who looked upon him —
Yet ruin came as a summer flash-flood.

The human creature is frail
Death swallows the greatest pride:
It’s foolish to envy anyone,
For life lacks tenure, and no one’s fortunate
Until he’s dead.
Thus sang the ancient ones:
Only the dead have peace.


Friend, I think
We should comprehend one another.
I suspect we’re more alike
Than we suppose.


I remember light that came in a burst,
And with it a blur of images,
A babble of voices, sensations
That filled me with fear —
I cried for the simple beauty
Of dew on the leaves of wild lilac.

I came awake amid streams and mountains,
Forests and long ridges and creek channels
Where half-crazed miners, obsessed,
Once frenzied for gold —
Men who cut and shot each other, hunted Indians
On holidays, tore at the earth, and went away.

Reclusive, I was seldom at ease
Among groups, like a coyote in a cage,
Unable to accept merely human madness.

Perhaps you understand?

We read of torture, lynchings, pogroms,
Death camps, purges, genocide.

American cities are haunted
By pain and fear of violence,
Seething unrest, utter depravity —
Wanting, wanting, wanting —
Inchoate desire, thirst for rare wine.

What I can’t accept, I try to avoid:
That old wound of mine, knowledge
And dread — I’m not quite civilized.

In the forest I carry a gun —
Though not in fear of bears or mountain lions.

The enemy’s real, bipedal, large-brained.

Death, cries the earth, death, death....


My own words trail off behind me
Like wind-driven sparks from a night’s campfire.

I think of a flight of wild swans one morning
In the northern Sierra, white birds on the water at sunrise,
And I regret I never wrote about them until now.

I wish I could make you feel what I felt then —
I wish I could make you see them.


We’re merely visitors. Our stay is brief.


Landforms, lifeforms are the ultimate poems
The source of all poetry whatsoever —
We’re from them and of them — rocks and trees
Are brothers and sisters,
From the earth we receive meaning;
And when we grow tired, the glittering soil
Draws us to its bosom, embraces us.

Forms and processes surround us always,
Forever speaking, capable of telling us
About themselves and about ourselves as well,
Hieroglyphics minuscule cut into stones,
Runes utterly sacred.

Rocks and sediments are rich with clues
Which invite and challenge.

All living things reveal
The same priestly writing, even as now
In muted thrum of a rainy December night,
Coyotes sing chorus to a Coyote-headed God.

A handful of soil contains secrets
Of creation and destruction,
Divinity and the human soul,
Solitary consciousness,
Of a vast, rough-hewn, exacting intellect.

Earth music continues;
But caught in human frenzy,
We often fail to hear.

Yet something’s inside us,
Coded deep in the spindles —
It corresponds, effects harmonic, sings
In the presence of beauty or love or wonder.

Wildness chants to a wildness within,
Suggests but never defines
Harmony with all we construe as life
And all we construe as non-life.

Is not the earth itself
A huge living thing, sentient creature
Drifting through suns and tides,
Infinitely small in a cosmos of titans?

We’re no more than the most minute
Cell in the star-shelled body of All,
God and Goddess forever coupled,
Forever interpenetrating, in spasm....


As a boy, I was obsessed
With the woods,
Was driven to know
Every creek, canyon, meadow, and hill
For miles around my home.

I wanted to take others with me,
Show them places and things I’d found.

I suppose my friends grew weary
Of being dragged off to Goat Rock, Bear River,
Chalk Bluff, or Woodpecker Ravine —
But surely that was where the words began,
In pine and oak woods, hills, arroyos
Of the Sierra’s west slope.

A boy discovers a bee tree
In Fall Creek Canyon, you understand,
A boy talks about the bee tree.
A boy says, “Look, look at this damned bee tree.
And the waterfall. Look how sunlight glints
In the flow, there, just where it curves
And fans over the rock-rooted ledge....”


Before I could ever speak syllables,
I knew what was out there
Was fierce and beautiful,
Corresponding to something
I could vaguely recall.
I sensed this Other had rhythms
And needs of its own, sibilant loveliness
Indifferent to the cries of cougar
Or kingfisher or human being,
Yet beautiful beyond all expression:
I didn’t wish to live without it,
Made certain vows.

Religious and aesthetic awakening,
The dogmas few, commandments absolute....


That young boy obsessed with woods
Is smitten still, and knows it. He’s addicted,
Is drunk and staggers down the years.

Several times I’ve nearly drowned
Because lure of swift-running streams
Overcame good judgment —
A promise of rushing green water,
Effusion prismatic with sunlight.

I’ve been chased by a bear
(Somewhere I’ve read
One should never run from a bear).

I’ve gotten myself stuck
Halfway up a rockface,
At ten thousand foot in the Sierra,
And no one around for miles.

Stepped on rattlesnakes. Slid down mountainside
Snowfields and near broken my neck.
I’ve gotten lost in limestone caves.
Ocean waves are also dangerous.
I’ve learned to beware the kissing bug
And the poison oak
And one or two other things.

Cleave the wood and thou shalt find Me...

I was ten, and the promise of an August day
Drew me up to Genoa Peak — I didn’t tell my parents
For fear of prohibition. Then far below
The blue-black surface of Tahoe gleamed
In showers of sunlight, while westward across the lake,
The snow-touched peaks of Rubicon and Tallac
Boundaried my new-found vision of heights:
I scrambled among granite boulders,
Tested a hand-hold, it came loose in my grasp,
And beneath, motionless, an amber-green scorpion:
Mysterious and potent, I presumed, with death.

Hardly able to breathe, I replaced
The stone shard, made quick retreat.

Lift the rock and I Am there....


Rain cuts through darkness tonight
While higher in the mountains
A white fury of blizzard frenzies,
The snowpack deepens, winds coil out
Through high crags, swirl among cirques.

In the year the stars fell the streams
Were still full of beaver —
Men asked, How’s the stick floatin’?

But beaver vanished, buffalo disappeared
From American plains and prairies,
Wolf and grizzly grew rare:
Our far, sprawling lands were changed —
Emigrants moved westward
Until they confronted the Pacific.
The merely human tide was turned —
And fierce old Eden grew tame in places.

Gold, silver, copper, iron —
Coal, petroleum, uranium —
Dams on the great rivers,
Forests cut. Huge cities rising —
Interconnecting weave of highways.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which way a tide runs —
Waves chew at rocks, rains fall, and snow drifts down.


With mallet and chisel, brush and pincers,
I tease from compacted debris and hardened muds
A fossilized human hand, a skull,
A fragment of glass, a rusted metallic lump.

I see millions of people
Dying of starvation,
And still our numbers grow:
I see diseases sweep
The planet again,
I see bones everywhere.

Survival of this race
May lie in diminishment,
With total population
A tenth its present count.

A merely possible salvation....

During my lifetime (these seasons of witness),
Human numbers have more than doubled,
Have tripled almost.....
Too many people now, and we know it.

Frenzy before long silence.

I recall several wars — astonishing weapons,
Technology we can scarcely control,
Yes, and lurking specter and reality of mass starvation,
Sexually-transmitted super-viruses,
Perhaps unstoppable, hosts of malignancies:
Scientists engage in a frantic race,
But success eludes them —
I see desperate acts, madness and violence,
Religious war, race war, oil war,
Conflicts of competing ideologies:
The only apparent end is power itself,
Cancerous imposition of government
Upon the lives of all,
Humanity forever in conflict with itself,
Horribly ignorant — yet certain in ignorance,
Hatefully willing to die in attempts to strike
Faceless enemies, oblivious that civilizations
Have risen and fallen many times,
That all ideologies fail.

I think of species becoming extinct.
Not since the dinosaurs
Has there been such die-off,
And we, like locusts of the field.

At the last we may leap
Over a cliff-edge ourselves,
Stored lightning behind our eyes
Of little significance.

Death, intones the moon, death, death....


But tonight I look into a black window before me,
Confront my own image, distorted — I think of snowfall
In the Sierra, I think about other ranges
Farther east — Whites, Rubies, Snake Range, La Sals,
Tétons, Wind Rivers, Absarokas —
I see ancient bristlecone pines
Silent in darkness, silver flame-like forms
Huddling high on desert peaks,
Roots tight to weathered limestone,
Trees that live thousands of years,
Endure extremes of heat and cold and harrowing wind:
Witnesses, patient, endlessly patient,
Curious perhaps (if trees are curious)
What may occur next.

These bristlecones
Are gaunt, grave witnesses —
And far too few.


Human life’s a fleeting dream, match-flare
Against delimiting, timeless dark.

Years run inexorably,
And the boy who grew up obsessed
With wandering California woods
Has awakened, puzzled, to find
Himself a gray-beard doctorate,
Member of that class of individuals
He always considered harmless old men
Full of books, their lives somehow behind them.

Death sings in the wind, death, death....


The boy understands what’s happened may be
No more than alteration of dream-setting,
Landscape somewhat changed,
The metamorphosis essentially unmodified.

He and I, one person, walk down a canyon
Where creek alders clad in grapevines
Cast cool shade by running water;
We suspect we’re a long way from home,
Don’t question the matter, proceed in good spirits.

Our sun’s crossed meridian.

These woods are filled with strange, wild voices —
Lights glitter from the stream
We walk beside, reflections so intense
We’re obliged to shield our eyes.


I want to know where the creek runs;

I have no intention of going home yet.

My own conjectures frighten me,
Not in terms of personal, transient safety,
But regards the human race —
Though something tells me I shouldn’t chew
On that old bone.


When I find survey stakes and ribbons
Out in the woods, I remove them,
Though my actions accomplish nothing —

Yes, I carry a gun
But promise not to fire
At non-human animals.

I observe pollution of air and water,
Devastation of landscape, human erosion —
A wearing upon things by the simple fact
Of bipedal passage, including my own.
I think about fires
Harbored beneath
These mountains I love.
I toy with tectonic theory,
Playfully envision sudden shifts
Along the many zones of fracture,
Great new mountain ranges forming.

And the sunlight chants life, chants life, chants....


When I was yet a boy —
During wind and rainstorm in the early hours
Past midnight, I made my way to a hilltop
Where I climbed a pine and clung to a crown
Wind moved like a great metronome,
And from that crow’s nest I surveyed my life —
I was seventeen — the city and the university
Ahead of me, all things
Still clutched in the node of sheer potential —
Yet what I could sense was darkness of storm,
Energy immense of wind and rain.
What, damn it, was it all about?

Now at the edge of age, I laugh:
The life-storm runs past me,
A man who would cry
For times past and friends past,
One who gives thanks for manifold blessings
And senses his days shorten, the net tighten,
A child who intends to stay out until starfall.

Pilgrims between darkness and darkness,
We don’t understand the nature of quest —
But know at least most west-running rivers
Ultimately find their vast Pacific:
We vanish into a zone of wonder,
And long darkness promises peace.

Man may not become wise
Before he owns winter’s share
In the world’s beauty.

Dream-settings are characterized
By unending transformation,
And we must speak.

Old Man Coyote,
The one with all the whims,
He says so.

Review: Library of America’s "American Religious Poems"

Any time Harold Bloom has a hand in editing a book of poems, it's an event. In this case, it's an anthology of religious poems from Library of America -- American Religious Poems -- and he stretches the definintion of what we might think of religious poetry in ways that feel important. The book comes in at 685 pages with over 200 poets, so I'm guessing that he was very inclusive in his selections.

Here is a bit of the review that appeared as a web-only exclusive on Newsweek/MSNBC:
The book, coedited by Jesse Zuba—not only a Yale Ph.D. candidate but a multi-instrumentalist with the jazz-funk jam band Alcibiades Jones—covers more than 200 poets; but Bloom’s introduction is mostly a celebration of Walt Whitman: “a new kind of religious bard,” “our prime shaman,” a writer more “vital and vitalizing” than Proust or Joyce, and author of the single greatest American poem (“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”). He touches on Emily Dickinson—for Bloom, Whitman’s only peer—whose “conceptional originality ... is dwarfed only by Shakespeare’s,” and on Hart Crane, “her greatest disciple.” Bloom knows how over the top all this is: “I do not fear being called hyperbolical, since the Critical Sublime is precisely that.” And I can’t imagine he cares that other readers may find Crane’s prophetic-archaic mode unbearable: “O harp and altar, of the fury fused,/(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)/Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,/Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry …”

But just what is their work (and Wallace Stevens’s and John Ashbery’s and Jorie Graham’s) doing in an anthology of religious poems? They’re certainly not devotional poets, like Edward Taylor—the closest to John Donne and George Herbert early America ever got—or monitory poets, like fellow Puritan Michael Wigglesworth, whose earnest “Day of Doom” has such lines as “Thy best enjoyments are but Trash and Toyes/Delight thyself in that which worthless is.” Bloom can only justify the anthology’s title by redefining “religious” in the way his own 1992 book “The American Religion” did: as he tries to explain it now, the American religion “makes obsolete most distinctions between theism, agnosticism and atheism.” Something like Unitarianism, maybe, a tiny bit like Pentecostalism (Bloom became so interested in “spirit-filled churches” that he attended several services), something like Whitman’s ecstatic spiritualism. In other words, what Christian fundamentalists or ultra-Orthodox Jews would consider irreligious and blasphemous. But Bloom says it, so it must be so. His poets include Christians, Jews and Muslims, as well as all the whatevers; he also has American Indian songs and chants and African-American spirituals. “The Criteria of Political Correctness,” he writes, “I dismiss with weary contempt.” Go ahead and laugh, but I’ll bet the Great Enjoyer really does enjoy it all.
I just added this book to my wish list at Amazon. I already have a couple of very good anthologies of religious/spiritual poetry, but this is a can't miss book. Follow the link above and you can get this at Amazon for around $26 instead of the $40 cover price.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

A Conversation with Poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

The Academy of American Poets has posted parts of an interview with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge at their website. Berssenbrugge talks about creativity and working in the margins.

Here is some of the text:
LH: I am especially interested in your use of the collage method, which includes the use of photographs, laid out on a table along with words and other images. Are you still working in this manner, as in, say, Nest?

MB: My process has evolved slowly. I find books that are contingent to my idea. I like French philosophy, Deleuze, Derrida. I like historic Buddhist texts – anything I read that strikes me as pertinent to my poem I underline. Then I print the notes and cut them out. I add pictures that seem to fit in some way, without questioning too deeply. Sometimes I take Polaroids. It's an unconscious process. When I'm ready to write, I arrange these pieces of text, photos, notes across a big table and compose the poem. I used to appropriate texts directly. Now I alter them more. I work from a "map" of the poem, and I find it's a good way to get more breadth, more horizontality. I also find that the light and landscape in New Mexico, where I live, inspires horizontality.

In "Nest," the title poem of my recent collection, I decided to write about how, in the margin, fertile things happen. When things are fixed, things can't grow. I was specifically interested in the minor mode, instead of a major, victorious tone. I was interested in the shadows, the not-quite-successful – to re-cast failure as convex, positive. I had the urge to explore this minor key and also to include the audience. I used to think just about what "I" wanted to write. Now I've started to think about my audience, what I call the genius of the audience. I was interested in not looking down on that and seeing where I could go. I'm trying to discern what people 'like.'
Read the whole interview.

Two Photos: Aeterna Doloris


"Everything Falls II"

~ Aeterna Doloris is 19 years old and lives in Portugal. More of her work can be found at her homepage.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Review: THE ODE LESS TRAVELLED by Stephen Fry

The New York Times Book Review takes a look at Stephen Fry's attempt to make poetry fun and accessible to the masses. This is no east task, as any poetry teacher could tell you.
[Stephen] Fry, who’s known in Britain as a novelist, comedian, commentator and all-around interesting dude (and in America as the guy who sometimes collaborates with the guy from “House”), has written a book with the cheerfully awful title “The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within” that purports to teach us “how to have fun with the modes and forms of poetry as they have developed over the years.” Or to put it another way, this is J. Evans-Pritchard [from Dead Poets Society] as rewritten by the man who played the sublimely obtuse General Melchett in the “Blackadder” series; which is to say, this is something very odd indeed.

It’s also oddly effective. “The Ode Less Travelled” is at once idiosyncratic and thoroughly traditional — it’s filled with quips, quirks and various Fry-isms (sestinas are “a bitch to explain but a joy to make”), yet still manages to be a smart, comprehensive guide to prosody. It’s organized in three main sections — meter, rhyme and form, with exercises suggested for each — and a smaller concluding section in which Fry gives some general thoughts about contemporary British poetry. It also has a practical, good-natured glossary (a choliamb is a “kind of metrical substitution, usually with ternary feet replacing binary. Forget about it.”) The key to the book’s success is its tone, which is joking, occasionally fussy, sometimes distractingly cute, but always approachable. If Fry thinks the meter of a Keats couplet doesn’t work, he’ll tell you so, and he’s more than happy to admit his own effort at a ghazal is “rather a bastardly abortion.” As is to be expected in any book taking on such a complicated subject, there are a few minor errors. For instance, in a discussion of hendecasyllabic (11-syllable) lines, Fry includes Frost’s “And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver.” (Unlike Fry, Frost is American, and would have pronounced “flower” with two syllables.) But such mistakes are negligible. On the whole, the book is ideal for anyone who’s interested in learning more about poetic forms but doesn’t have an obsessive assistant professor living next door.

Unlocking the Poet Within.
By Stephen Fry.
Gotham. $25.
Read the whole review here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Two Photos: Nasser Majali

"Mini Market in the Bekaa"

"Finished Discussion"

~ Nasser Majali is 26 years old and lives in Jordan. You can view more of his work at his homepage.

Poem: Tim J Brennan

the other night

you were talking
from across the room
i was listening,

i swear, but observed
instead, your bare wrist
extended, holding
that lovely right hand

at that exact moment
you became the oil
painting i’ve always wished
to perch before in a quiet place,
pondering its purpose

you could have been speaking
about tomorrow’s dinner or
the unopened rye bread
on our white kitchen linen
instead, i saw only
the symmetry

sometimes words
are not necessary

only my time lacks
understanding as to
what it all means

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Poem: Bill Hotchkiss

I am extremely honored to be able to post some poems from my early teacher, mentor, and good friend, Bill Hotchkiss. This poem, and those that I will be posting in the coming weeks, are from a new manuscript, The Grave Witnesses: Poems 1980-1992 (forthcoming). Bill lives part of the year in Williams, Oregon, where I grew up and where he will be retiring after this school year.


AT DUSK we drive to the canyon bottom,
Where a half-grown porcupine, not expecting us,
Outraged by our presence, scuttles up a bank —
He bristles, dull claws
Dig at dusty red earth and stones.

We park at an abandoned log landing, get out.
I find yellow and red shotgun shell casings
Scattered, a piece of crumpled metal
With holes in it, target for twenty-two practice.

A bridge across the creek, logs
With overlay of packed dirt, nearly
Washed out — what remains will accommodate
Foot traffic, one at a time, no more.

We cross. On the other side of Oak Run Creek,
The road unused for the past year.
We walk quickly downstream, hurry
In day’s last hour of light. The creek
Is noisy in the draw, hidden by wild grapevines
And maples and young Douglas firs, flow sourced
From springs, water bubbling from under caprock lava
At the foot of Green Mountain and Clover Mountain,
Peaks that were also mountains of fire
A few thousand years back, just north
Of the Tehama upthrust and Mt. Lassen’s cone.

Mule deer crash through brush, vault themselves
Up canyonside. One stops in shadows,
Stares back at us — big doe, half-hidden
Now by a thicket of young oaks.

Bats dart in twilight, creekwater
Hisses through a litter of black stones.

Oak, maple, pine, fir, dry grass, musky flowering weeds,
Some odor Lilith and I both associate with childhood.

Half a mile down we stop, decide to return —
The light’s rapidly failing. I stare
Upward at pale violet sky,
Visible between dark walls of conifers,
Detect three stars. I gaze at an arbitrary point
Of open space — waiting for glow
Of another star to appear, as I know one must.
First a glimmer, then pulsation, then a far sun,
Exactly where I’ve been staring. “Of course,”
I think, and wonder why I’ve never played this
Precise game before, not ever.

The creek continues to hiss among stones, the trail back
To where we left our rig hardly visible in vanishing light.

Sky ravished with stars as we cross
The partly-washed-out bridge that links dream
And consciousness, though I’m not sure which is which:
We open the doors to our truck, get in.

Two Photos: Daniel Caldararu

"Alone Butterfly"

"Mirror to the Soul"

~ Daniel Caldararu is 16 years old and lives in Romania. You can see more of his work at his homepage.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Charles Wright's New Collection of Poems

Charles Wright is one of America's finest poets. He has spent his career searching the space between belief and doubt and recording what he finds there. His work sometimes has the feel of a struggle with the unbearable weight of being pushing against the realization that everything is exactly as it should be. You can also find more than a little Buddhism mixed into his agnostic Christianity.

From The New York Times Book Review:
A World in Permanent Flux

Published: September 17, 2006

Wallace Stevens said “it must be abstract,” William Carlos Williams said “no ideas but in things,” and Charles Wright, even after writing poems for more than 30 years, still can’t decide. Tennessean by birth, Virginian by longtime residence, languid by literary temperament, Wright has written more than a dozen books of poems, including a meditative and elegiac trio of trilogies he’s referred to as “The Appalachian Book of the Dead,” one volume of which, “Black Zodiac” (1997) won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award. In the musing, sinuous poems of “Scar Tissue,” his new collection, as in much of his earlier work, Wright sometimes seems to prize the imagination above all else, describing “the absence the two / horses have left on the bare slope, / The silence that grazes like two shapes where they have been” as if the idea of horses were more important to him than the animals themselves. (Even this poem’s title, “Against the American Grain,” advertises its antipathy toward Williams, author of “In the American Grain.”) But elsewhere Wright seems to place far greater faith in things than in their representations (“A thing is not an image, / imagination’s second best”) and to mock the notion that the abstract imagination could ever be preferable to the physical world’s adamant particulars. After all, “How many word-warriors ever return / from midnight’s waste and ruin?” It’s not the transcendent that persists, but the lowly actual: “Whatever is insignificant has its own strength, / Whatever is hidden, clear vision. / Thus the ant in its hide-and-seek, / thus the dung beetle, / And all the past weight of the world it packs on its back.”

Tim Robinson

By Charles Wright. 73 pp.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $22.

Read the rest.