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.