wearing motley

Sarah Sloat hits a Nic nerve with this blog post.

Yes. You SO have to watch out for pinched people. And not be influenced by them. Red and orange? Neverr! some conventional voice said to me whenever it was ages ago and from then on I never thought of them together, much less ever put them together. Until who knows why one day I suddenly said !screw that! and I only had to do it once and now it’s just me in the world all over – red and orange, RED AND ORANGE. Some pinched person on a listserv said not so long ago – NATURE?! why are people writing about fields and mountains when people are DYING in URBAN HELLS everywhere?! And I went gulp emotionally and began second-guessing my whole poetry landscape (which is, quite simply, cluttered with trees and mountains and owls and bats and NATURE), but not for long, only till I remembered red-and-orange, RED and ORANGE, and stopped gulping and went on my wicked motley-wearing way, rejoicing. You really have to watch out for pinched people.

‘Temptation by Water’ – Diane Lockward

I thought I’d start this review with readings of two of the poems in it, because Diane Lockward’s collection Temptation by Water is definitely the sort of collection you want to read aloud. So here we go:  

(poem text) “The Temptation of Mirage”
(poem text)

I’m someone who spends a fair amount of time reading poetry aloud and I know very well by now that there is poetry that leaps willingly into your voice, and other poetry that, well – has to be coaxed. And as I noted in this post, writing well for voice has emotional and intellectual imperatives as well as the pure sound/voice imperative – it’s not just a matter of dutifully sounding things out as you write. Diane’s poems are definitely in the ‘leaping to voice’ category, which of course makes me happy that I picked her collection as one of my April review options.

So. These poems are cohesive and convincing, they make sense on all three levels (voice, emotional, intellectual). Also, if you’re a person who prefers ‘accessible’ poems, these are for you – although that does not mean that there is any lack of sophistication or complexity about them. On the contrary. The narrator is wise and empathetic and subtle, and has a wicked sense of humor. And a talent for making odd and unexpected connections that totally work . Potatoes, exotic fruit, a condemned building, an essay, language itself — all appear as reifications of some pretty complex emotional and spiritual geography. The collection is hugely varied in theme and subject matter and approach; it’s dark and funny and wise and heartbreaking, all about people, food, the earth and her plants and animals, and haunted by many ghosts and familiars. As mother of my own two boys, I notice one haunting in particular, by a sweet boy baby who morphs into a troubled son, darkly roiling a steadfast mother’s heart.

This fine collection is definitely worth your time – go read it!

Update: You can hear Diane talking to Dave Bonta and Kristin Berkey-Abott about the collection and poetry in general here. Another reason to go and take a listen is that they say nice things about me in there too (thanks, guys!)

Poets, do you promote poetry-not-your-own?

Amy King asked this question on Twitter. She has just finished a marathon tweeting session on behalf of the Academy of American Poets, in which she spent many hours asking questions, promoting poets, poetry, poetry presses and poetry initiatives.

I answered her question with a prompt tweet that said ‘every day!’ Because what with Whale Sound, Voice Alpha, flagging things I like on Facebook and Twitter and writing the occasional review, I do spend a lot of my total poetry time online in promoting other poets. Now I focus, though, am not sure if ‘every day’ was 100% accurate. Do I promote poetry-not-my-own every day?

Whether I have been doing so or not, I’ve decided to articulate and formalize this commitment going forward. I will do at least one thing every day – even if it’s just as small as linking to someone’s poem or collection or website or blog – to promote poetry-not-my-own.

So there you have it.

the Rector on Good Friday

the sky is not pluming charcoal
the air does not quiver
with hot yellow grief

it is April centuries later yet
bending dark occupies
his soul, his eyes
are empty brown rooms

he lives the day tuned
to an old oboe
follows it winding
down hours of ancient pain

in younger days I pulled
on him: Grandfather
remember I am flying
this kite and you
are helping me

now I only sit with him
or touch his cheek or bring him
something to drink


“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.”

Are you a professional or non-professional poet?

Read with interest this blog post by Charles Jensen, in which he wrote:

Over the last few years, I have encountered and had the pleasure to work with some amazingly talented poets who live entirely outside the academy. I’ve come to understand this is more common than many people think, particularly those who spend the majority of their lives and careers within the academy.

These “outsider” poets generally have no idea that poetry is so entrenched in higher education. They perceive poetry as open to everyone, not as a cloistered and privileged pursuit. They have less awareness of the inner machinations of what some folks call “pobiz” and are generally the happier for it. They may or may not have heard of AWP if they’ve attended it. They read many poets, focusing, perhaps, on what their friends in their poetry circles are reading, what has been nominated for national awards, or what their booksellers or librarians recommend. I think this community of poets is growing not more larger, but more visible.

There is this duality in the poetry community, although I tend to think of it as professional / non-professional, rather than academic / non-academic. The professional poets, in my mind, are the ones whose living is somehow tied to poetry — whether writing it, or teaching it, or both. Each hour of teaching, each publication credit, everything they read or write or do as a poet, has a potential or actual dollar value for this group, and all their decisions need to be taken with this fact in mind. (I hasten to add that I am in no way asserting that anyone is ever foolhardy enough to try and make a living actually selling poems. What money there is in poetry definitely does not come from selling poems.)

The non-professionals (people like me) earn their livelihood in some way completed unrelated to poetry and do the poetry thing pretty much as a hobby. (Although labeling poetry ‘hobby’ doesn’t seem right – in fact screechingly un-right – but I guess that’s a separate post.)

Obviously, the common factors that unite the two groups (addiction to writing and reading poetry, desire to be read and understood etc) are much stronger than those that separate them, which is probably why the separating factors don’t tend usually to get much play.

It’s funny – Charles’ sense seems to be that there are more ‘professional’ than ‘non-professional’ poets out there, and I always had it figured in my head the other way around completely. It has always seemed to me – based purely and vaguely on the evidence of anecdote, impression and interactions with other poets over the years – that most of at least the online poetry community is ‘non-professional.’

Am I wrong there? Are we mostly professional poets online, do you think?


A review of Forever Will End On Thursday!

Note that Dave Bonta is reviewing a book a day for April. Those of you who have written thoughtful poetry book reviews know how much intellectual and emotional energy it takes to put together just one review, let alone one a day.

And those of you who have had reviews written about your collections know how much it means to have someone focus on, weigh, and carefully articulate their thoughts on your poems – whether they like them or have doubts about them, whether they are seasoned critics or not.

We’re in a lonely business, us poets, and although we do much general cheering on of each other, much of it is inevitably on principal, in the team spirit, driven by the conviction that putting in to the community is as important as taking from it.

We don’t often stop and stare at each other’s work, really look at it. So it’s wonderful, it feels tender and respectful – and nourishing – when someone pauses in their life to make a moment of stillness and focus centered on your poems, gathers their thoughts on the poems, and writes them down. And it seems to generate a particular kind of affirmative energy in the recipient, an energy that is thoughtful and reproductive, qualitatively different from run-of-the-mill self-promotion energy and from general rah-rah-team energy and more useful, I would argue, to poetry.

So huge kudos to Dave Bonta for his heroic undertaking this month! And while you’re giving those, do us all a favor and write a poetry review!

Those of you who are on Goodreads might enjoy the Poetry Readers Challenge, masterminded by Sarah Sloat, which challenges members to a) Read at least 20 poetry books a year and b) Review the books. Without sarcasm. Re-read, recommend, try a poet you’ve never heard of.

religious texts as love poetry?

I started off this NaPo intending to write 30 prayers and charms. The prayer bit sort of took over and as I wrote, I began thinking more and more about relations with the divine (however defined) and the imperatives and texture that go into those relations. I recently hit something of a wall with the prayer-writing and so have decided instead to read religious texts, with an emphasis on finding text that strikes me at the same time as poetry. (Read them with voice, I mean – which is not at all the same thing as reading them with one’s head.)

Starting with what is most familiar to me seemed like a good idea. I was raised a Christian in the Anglican tradition and, text-wise, just happen to be most familiar with (and fond of from a poetry perspective) the King James Version of the Bible. I noted in a blog post yesterday that one thing I did realize while thinking about writing prayers is how similar to a (dysfunctional, co-dependent..?) romantic relationship one’s relationship with the divine can be, which made starting with the KJV version of the Song of Songs an immediate no-brainer. I’ve posted the first half of the Song at Whale Sound today (just under 10 minutes worth of audio), and may or may not get to the other half. Partly because I also want to research and voice religious texts from other traditions that approach the divine in roughly similar fashion — ie essentially as love poetry, in whatever form.

I’d be grateful for any suggestions others may have for any texts, from any and all religious traditions.


that would be Nic Sebastian falling off the NaPo bandwagon


Just had a couple days of a giant day-job crisis which took all my extra emotional energy and just destroyed the NaPo mood. I don’t have a prayer or a charm left in me. So sad…

In unrelated good news that I really don’t deserve, I have three poems up at Canopic Jar , and two of them are Gabriel-in-love poems, yay!

One thing I did realize while thinking about writing prayers during NaPo is how similar to a (dysfunctional, co-dependent..?) romantic relationship one’s relationship with the the divine (however you define that) can be. (is?)

In other undeserved but still excellent news, Scot Siegel has also published my review of Rose Hunter‘s To The River at the Untitled Country Review. Thanks, Scot & Rose!

‘Manaquest’ by Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick

Earlier this year I read a poem on Whale Sound called Book of Gaigemon III by Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick. I asked her ‘Who is Gaigemon?’ She said, “Gaigemon is a dark force. The Book of Gaigemon is a series. Sort of in chapters. Like a gospel.” I liked that response as much as I liked the poem, so when I was looking for poetry books to review during April this year, I made a point of looking for anything by Shannon.

And I’m glad I did, for I found Manaquest. Here is another whole mythology from Shannon, this time built around the sky-dwelling wolf Manaquest and his relationship with three laughing girls in Utah.

The 20 poems in this chapbook form a tight self-referential conversation that nonetheless morphs continually – to the next step, while bouncing off the previous step; one step back, three steps forward. Repeated key words bind the girls and Manaquest to each other and to the action. Stars, cedar, maps, language, letters, sugar, towers, twine and trust are thrown back and forth between the players, inserted and re-inserted into always-differing places in the dialogue, in a 20-piece long ‘unpacking’ process. The laughing girls are puckish and irreverent, flirting with language and the wolf, with danger, with blood, nets and snakes, as girls everywhere deal according to their personalities with foreboding and hopes linked to the concepts of sexuality, vulnerability, communication, and the ties that bind.

This is a wacky and charming tale with strong and delightful illustrations by Goodloe Byron.

Go read it!

back when editors & typesetters, not poets, broke lines…?

This is very interesting from an e-poetry publishing perspective. Is the e-reader the new Gutenberg in this regard, and have we come full circle…? Wanda Coleman at the Poetry Foundation:

Does the (ah-hem) neophyte poet emerging in this century know that poets didn’t always break their own lines? Who broke them and how? Are those so-called lines and “enjambments” that some professors of poetry wax so eloquently about, truly the work of the creative writer? Or rather an editor with an eye for graphic design? Or a creative book designer? Or, more likely, a creative typesetter of eras past? Does the student or lover of poetry realize that those sainted breaths set in today’s literary stone, weren’t necessarily the work of said poet? Isn’t it tragic that amnesia regarding the art and attitude of printing poetry (we shall skip China and pick it up with Gutenberg, forward) allow many contemporary poets to mistakenly or deliberately take credit for their “appropriations” of old-timey line breaks authored by those long dead book designers and typesetters? Is it known that, occasionally, there are writers and poets who disdain the grunt work of breaking their own lines? Is it understood that they leave that literary labor to others—others who become invisible over time and prolonged worship?

‘Mercy Island’ by Ren Powell

The narrator in this fine collection is explorer and cartographer of a multitude of emotional, spiritual and international landscapes. Whether ruthlessly illuminating even the darkest corners in the rooms of herself, or putting on the lives of other women like so many beautiful garments, with tenderness and respect, Ren Powell’s narrator holds our attention and enriches our thinking.

The themes of death, sexuality and violent change – for humans and animals alike – run close to the surface throughout the collection. The earlier sections are fraught with pain and lack of trust in others and in the mechanisms of life and emphasize self-reliance:

There are
no permanent bridges,
So I carry a continent
on my back.

while the later poems expand geographically and thematically and become more open-hearted, empathetic and confident, while still retaining their fine awareness of the existence and impact of random pain in the world.

Something is lost
leaving the heather:

The craggy beauty
of an old woman’s throat
the mellow man’s joy -

Something is lost
to the morning’s mackerel
as they slap Halleluiah

There is a deep and moving empathy with other women across the globe in these poems. I particularly commend three beautifully tender portraits of women – Gulah; On Karl Johan; and A Strange Woman. I wish more of Ren’s poems were available online so I could link to the ones I really love in this collection! My ultimate favorite is A Request for Sound from a Televised Report from Afghanistan, which is stunning in its musicality, delicacy and empathy. The ghazal that she has known runs a close second, as does Spinster’s Shroud – a lyrical description of a dress made from “hollowed egg shells / and white thread” – that contains entire universes of longing and expectation and pending pain.

There is a lot to absorb both in terms of content and perspective in this collection, but it’s well worth your time. Go read it!

Update: Ren added some links to poems from the collection that are online in the comments at the Goodreads version of this review.

showing off

This is what you get when you enter your home-coded ePub file into the validator here and it’s a valid XHTML ePub document. Probably doesn’t look like much to you, people, but let me assure you it was a deeply welcome sight after endlessly multiple repetitions of ePub hugely crossed out with giant red crosses…

death of the blog?

The death of the blog? People have been writing about this a lot lately. My sense is not death, just moving into another phase of life. Remember how the conventional wisdom was – you MUST update your blog regularly and frequently otherwise you will lose readers? Not any more. People read blogs via feeds, so it doesn’t matter if you post once a day or once a month, your post gets pushed out to their feed – they don’t have to keep checking in on a silent blog, to eventually give up checking.

e-poetry: hanging indents – success!

Yes! Went way out of my comfort zone on this, but it worked!

I downloaded eCub (thanks again, Mr. Bonta…), which calls itself “a simple .epub creation tool” and it actually is, although I have to say it probably did help that I have a least a smattering of a background with html and CSS. All you need with eCUB is an html file of your poems, a CSS page to govern it, and a cover image. The software actually generates a CSS page for you, but I fiddled with it to add Dave Bonta’s hanging indent magic. And it worked!

I worked with Chrissie’s Cloud Studies first, because I felt like a completely evil publisher for having touted hanging indents which didn’t work on a Kindle. Well these do, Chrissie! That is, the MOBI file definitely works on the latest generation Kindle. And since it was converted using Calibre from the EPUB version, I’m pretty certain the EPUB version is good too. But would some kind person reading this test the EPUB file for me on their iPAD or Sony Reader or Nook…? Both versions work beautifully on the Calibre built-in readers, of course, but I no longer trust them for details like this.

Unfortunately, WordPress does not allow me to upload either type of file for easy linking here, so I’ve had to put them in a bit of a weird place (it’s free and rather manically ad-filled, I’m afraid) for the moment while I figure how best to store them online.

Cloud Studies in EPUB
Cloud Studies in MOBI

- The hanging indents work!
- It’s much quicker than Smashwords, which can take many hours to crunch your Microsoft Word doc upload on a busy day.
- I was able to create the EPUB first, then convert that to MOBI using Calibre – very easy.
- You can test fixes and work-arounds in a few seconds, publishing and unpublishing while working between eCUB and Calibre. With Smashwords you upload and wait for several hours before you see if your fix works.
- With Smashwords, uploading = publishing, so although you can upload as many revised versions as you want, you always risk having an imperfect version out there being downloaded for several hours before you can upload a fix.

- The coding is time-consuming – but I’m not yet sure whether it’s less or more work than Smashwords formatting.
-Smashwords is also an amazing packaging and distribution platform, which jazzes up your product with its own personal web page, blasts it out into the ether, allows people to post reviews on it, and keeps track of downloads, etc. It doesn’t do all the marketing and promotion for its authors, but it sure gives them a good initial leg-up.
- You can’t use your own home-made e-files on Smashwords – it only works with e-books produced using Smashwords technology.

So that’s that for the moment… Still much to think about and always many more publishing challenges ahead.