Thursday, December 30, 2010

Received/Reviewed Poetry Books 2010


Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku, Barry George, Accent’s Publishing SPALDING SERIES
Barry George’s collection honors the ancient tradition of Haiku with careful attention to form. The form lends a tangible feeling of weight to each word and yet the imagery turns and turns again from dense and earth-bound to diaphanous and spacious (quite an achievement for 17 syllables, tiny little 5-7-5 moras). Each haiku in this collection is a work of art set like a painting on the page. In many places George twists the tradition away from its roots in nature to use modern visualizations of average people in everyday life. He creates characters which reflect the universality of living, not to recreate the haiku form, but, I believe, to give homage to the past while drawing it forth into a relevant and vibrant future. Each haiku is gift, a portrait of modern life and the vitality and energy of one of the earliest forms of poetry, syllabics, which has remained vibrant through the ages, is beautifully reflected in these meticulously polished jewels.

*A note on the Spalding Collection, these books are beautifully printed and put together by hand which adds a personal element to each edition not found in many of the larger presses. The interior design is zen-like. Kudos to Accent’s Publishing for valuing the art of bookbinding as well as the crafting of poetry.


Across the Grid of Streets, Quincy Lehr, Seven Towers Publishing
I’ll start by saying I am not of big fan of neo-formalism. I’m not a fan of long poems that rhyme written after, oh, the 18th century because it seemed to me rhyme itself was a cliché’ and historically speaking, formal poetry had been used, not to capture life, truth or history but to encapsulate stories which promoted whatever political agenda (usually misogynistic in tone and patriarchal in topic) was relevant to whatever ruling cast paid the pipers (so to speak.) But okay, then. Where did that chip on my shoulder come from? I don’t know. Anyhow, I got over it. Lehr's talent with story telling draws the reader in and the pacing in his book is equal parts Wordsworth and Wilde, on crack maybe, but I mean that in a good way. Lehr also tackles the urban landscape bringing us face to face with the utter isolation of a singular vision caught up in multiple agonies. Cancer and death are topics delved with raw and unflinching clarity. These are not your momma’s lyrical love poems but the well honed lyricism I surprisingly found fitting to the topics and actually framed them in such a way which made the investment in reading worthwhile.


Venison: A Poem, Thorpe Moeckel, Etrusian Press
A book length poem? In couplets no less--what was he thinking!? That’s what I thought when I began reading Venison, doubtful one poem could be sustained through an entire manuscript. Well, I was wrong and pleasantly surprised. Moeckel’s Venison engages in sustainability and substance, not to mention sustenance. On the other hand, let’s mention sustenance. The poem (book) is part reverently meditative, part treatise on the natural order of life and death, predator and prey, part recipe on authentic living. There are sometimes delightful, sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing revelations which parallel the common activities of preparing food and feeding one’s family. A fascinating journey from hoof to table, from the forests to the kitchen, from regret to gratitude with a tender reckoning of the grace and responsibility involved in each life we come in contact with.  Probably one of the most unique poetry books I've ever read.


Bright Felon, Kazim Ali, Wesleyan Press
I’m not often stunned, but Bright Felon, an autobiography, stuns me. Not because the topic is a difficult one but because of the rare glimpse of torment which is balanced somehow by the ability to express that torment. Heart-wrenching, yes, but there is also beauty, yes there is much beauty here in the approach to the subject matter and in the honest, unflinching look at self in relation to tradition and what happens to the self when all the constructs of tradition began to crumble. A journey into self-acceptance, it isn’t quite clear if the journey is completed as at the end of the book Ali leaves us with the haunting missives:

             Will I find myself or fine myself stopped in the street for stumbling for
             not living in a place, not being bound anywhere to a family,
             nation, or god...

             Are you Muslim or will you love.

             I will not answer.

Declaring himself separate and orphan, isolated and set adrift, there is still a hopeful tone (which I found remarkable) in the concluding two lines:
            Fathered by sound I am.

            Kind mother your kin.

Bright Felon is not your normal autobiography, prose and poetry crafted with precision and passion make this book a must read.


A Cold Wind From Idaho, Lawrence Matsuda, Black Lawrence Press
I’m going to gush on this one, but I’ll try hard to restrain myself and be all professional and what not. I grew up in Idaho, was taught the state history in fifth grade. We learned about the abandoned sliver mines, Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, the Snake River and the commerce of farming; we learned Boise was the capital and the Mormon trail brought several settlers up from Utah. What I did not learn, what I knew absolutely nothing about until receiving this remarkable book was this: Mindoka. A dark secret in my home state that no one talked about. How did I not know about Mindoka??? I didn’t. It makes me feel ashamed, for myself for not knowing and for the community, the government for creating the tragedy and the schools for not even mentioning it as part of the state’s history. Mindoka was one of ten Japanese concentration camps in America during World War II. Matsuda revisits the site of his family’s captivity and reclaims his past. The poems in this book stitch together a family history which creates an epic, or an epistle of timeless importance. Matsuda delves into difficult topics, poverty, isolation, discrimination, family tragedy, with touching humor, sadness, and an elegant brushstroke of poeticism, redemption through language in a very literal sense.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Analee Struggles to Understand Diversity (1st Grade)

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*Another excerpt from my Inspiration Journal which I kept a few years back in Cathryn Hankla’s Image and Word course at Hollins University. *

“Do we celebrate Hanukkah?”
“Why? Because we’re not Irish?”
“No, because we’re not Jewish.”
“Do we celebrate Kwanzaa?”
“Why? Because we’re not Jewish?”
“Do we celebrate Christmas?”
“Do Jewish people celebrate Christmas?”
“Why? Because they’re not Irish?”

Analee doesn’t wait for me to answer but starts cheerfully singing “Light the Menorah” and then closes with this final question:
“What’s a dreidel?”

Friday, November 26, 2010

John Sweet, "More Words in Short Choppy Lines" + Photography


broken hand w/ mirror

in this world where
almost everything is beyond
your control and your
choices are limited to false
god, slave, impotent king

vote or don’t vote
shoot or don’t shoot and
                      either way
the starving continue to starve

grow old


eat handfuls of dust

send postcards back to
your loved ones, to
your enemies

let them see you
for the empty threat you
                   always were


 the refusal

shoot the doctor in the
back as he walks away then
tell him he’s a coward while he
dies at your feet

it’s an addiction,
like humor

it’s a punchline

you capture the soldier, a
boy of fifteen or sixteen, and
then you torture that fucker
until he’s on the floor in a
pool of his own shit and blood

this is how wars are won

make your children
understand this

tell them how much you hated
your own father,
how much he hated you

show them the scars

explain how they can only
grow up to
repeat your mistakes


 blue skied surrender

you near an ocean
          not my own
and what we have between us
                                 is silence

choices are made
absences explained

you tell me not to tell you there was
never any hope
but what does it matter?

i have these pictures
and my faith in sunlight

the train tracks here
echo the curve of the river

men with the heads of carrion birds,
with fangs and claws,
live in the trailers up in the hills

money is power and
               power is god

death is death, but there are
better and worse ways
to approach it

i choose running away

choose willful blindness

have only ever been brave
when there was nothing
valuable at stake


pythagorus, dismantled

and grey skies and
almost rain

no need to worry

no pain no
fear when the pills
take hold

woke up alone on
the living room floor

feel asleep with no
need for god

thought i had enough
but the children
         were gone

thought i had enough
food, but my hands
just kept bleeding

the bottle was empty

fought through the
past to reach this
moment and then found
out there was no
way back

a man hung of his
own free will
can never be a nation

darkness offers
no safety

boil up whatever
splintered bones
you can find and let
this last meal we
share be a feast


postcard to california

and you and i like
forgotten kings cutting wires,
like ghosts in empty fields

you and i staring
blindly into the sun

drowning, but slowly,
five years and then ten,
blood turned to amber,
empires to dust and
then you and i like
open flames

you and i like ashes

all of the years we will
spend growing cold



grow up fearing
men w/ answers

grow up fearing
growing old

reach the age at
which you are
no longer any use to

sit beneath the
dull yellow heat of
august skies and
consider suicide

consider sleep

the fear of dreams

of waking up
one day closer to

of not
waking up at all


 the obvious

you, still w/ the
taste of poison coating
your mouth

still w/ the need to write
these meaningless goddamn poems
about metaphorical deserts

so what if you’re lost or
if you’re never found?

so what if the middle is
worse than the end?

we’ll all be dead and
forgotten soon enough


 into view

not blindness
but the sky gone dark

porch lights

bitter wind

in any story, you
are only the sound of
dead leaves down
sleeping streets

in any dream, i am
only the moment
of despair

you wake up
sweating and see with
absolute clarity how
all of our kingdoms
will fall



just kill yrself a little,
maybe, just to see how it
feels, just to be able to still
step back out of that room
into pale april sunlight

just to have something to
talk about when your
lover starts to turn away



untitled, grey on grey

and you can feed your children
the poison or you can wait
for someone else to do it for you
and, beyond this, you
have no choices

beyond this,
your life is good


Monday, November 15, 2010


Berry Day

”It’s Red Berry Day!” the children said to me
when I asked why. I didn’t know they would forget
the reason they avoided the holly tree
where they had buried their pet.

When I asked, “Why?” I didn’t know they would forget
how they feared the holly tree would die,
where they had buried their pet.
The fear faded as the years went by.

Berry Day 2

How they feared the holly tree would die,
its roots stabbing deep into the rabbit’s skull,
the fear faded as the years went by.
They gathered holly berries by the bucket full,

its roots stabbing deep into the rabbit’s skull,
and scattered them on our trampoline.
They gathered holly berries by the bucket full,
the dirt scoured the rabbit’s bones clean,

and scattered them on our trampoline.
The reason? They avoided the holly tree,
the dirt scoured the rabbit’s bones clean.
“It’s Red Berry Day!” the children said to me.

Berry Day 4

This is part two of a poem/story sequence that I've been putting together for Flocoimo.  Read more about Floyd County Imagination Month and see what some wonderful writers and artists are doing here:  Ad Hominem
Here's the first part of the story:

My Children Picked the Berries from The Hollytree Bush

They saved the rabbit from the creepy cat,
Then brought it home in hopes that I might tend
The wounds, and help it heal. Though I knew that

A promise would not change how this could end.
It was too small, so they chose a strong name
A name which would repair, a name to mend

The broken bones, and heal what would be lame.
It seemed to work at first. Leonadis,
 Destined to be the King of Rabbits, fame

Of his miraculous life, his near miss
With death, would spread to all of the warrens!
Each night they sent him to sleep with a kiss,

Then said a prayer that he might hop again.
And though we loved the best we could, one day
We found him cold and still, and then— and then

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Revelations, More or Less

I’ve always thought of revelation as a divine manifestation of truth which comes in some dramatic form, a combustible bush, a tub-thumping, thunder rumbling voice from above, a moment extremely dramatic in nature which elevates its place in time beyond the present moment. A- GONG- of eternity if you will, a wind chime echo into forever, not just the pebble dropped to ripple in the pond but the pond in the ripple. All-encompassing. Rare. Special.

But maybe not.

Maybe revelations are more like leafs falling off trees, so ordinary and plentiful that unless you look closely and pay attention you don’t notice the patterns of sun and shade, the prism of light caught in the morning dew clinging to the last stubborn maple leaf-clinging to the tree, or the way the wind turns a pile of them into a tornado of color. You laughed at this when you were younger, do you remember?

Do you still laugh? Do you see each leaf, or just a pile of waste?

Hope is a frightening thing.  When we kill wonder we don’t have to worry about hope.

Several years ago when my family was still new and small we went camping in Kentucky. It was early fall, the fields were freshly harvested and plowed. The earth smelled clean in a way that it can only smell when the air is so cold the inside of your nose twinges a bit when you breathe it in.

Our friends told us they often went arrowhead hunting when the fields were freshly plowed and this seemed like a splendid idea to me. Not to my husband. While I spent, oh at least a half a day walking the fields, keeping my eyeballs to the dirt, he preferred to stay in camp. I was annoyed at first that he didn’t care to join me on my quest but I got into my imagination and thought of who might have left arrowheads there, what they were doing, what happened to them. I began to say silent prayers, humming what I imagined was a Native American way of humming, hey ay ay ay, ho ay ay ay, softly to myself as I bent to pick over yet another clump of-looks-more- like- a- rock-dirt.

I lost track of time, I felt the sun begin to heat my face and arms and I wrinkled my nose up at it. Ouch, yup. I was getting fried. I was determined that I would absolutely not leave that field until I found an arrowhead. There was one there, I could feel it. I got into some kind of zone. Time didn’t mean anything. I ignored the rumble in my stomach. Forgot all about the people I was camping with and imagined the field in which I stood as it had looked a few hundred years ago.

“If I were an arrowhead, where would I be?” I found some rocks that were more granite and obsidian than dirt-clods and every time I found one my heart would pound and I would think, this is it. Each rock was THE ONE. This is it. No, toss. THIS is it. No. Toss. This one. No, this one. I lost myself completely in the process.

I finally found one. It was a beauty, too large to be only an arrow, it looked more like a spear tip. It was a deep gray and a contradiction of itself because although it was very sharp with hard edges it was butter smooth. It felt like magic. I felt like magic because I found it.

Fast forward twelve years. Our family is much larger. Five kids. We’ve hopped around a couple states and settled in Virginia. I didn’t have much time for things like hunting arrowheads, or showers for that matter. My husband and I were coaching a soccer team. It was a new soccer field and the grass was sparse but the rocks were plentiful. We were gathering as many rocks off the field as we could to make the area more safe for running when he found one. Just like that. He wasn’t even looking. He brought me over this beautiful white quartz triangular shaped rock.

“Hey! Is this an arrowhead?”

I took it my hands. A moment of intense jealousy reared up from somewhere deep. It was absolutely gorgeous. The edges were very thin, slightly chipped. It wasn’t as smooth as mine had been and much smaller. I doubt I would have recognized it for what it was if he hadn’t of placed it right in my hands. I recalled the effort it took for me to find “my” arrowhead. Why did he get to find one just like that, no hard work, no hours put in combing the ground, just bending over picking up rocks and there it is? That’s so not fair!

“Yup.” I said dryly, handing it back to him.

“Cool!”He said, “You keep it. I know you like that kind of stuff.”

I held it in my hands feeling slightly ashamed. Didn’t he understand what he’d just done? Didn’t he know how difficult finding one of those could be? How unique? How special?

He went off, gathering more rocks and tossing them off the field and I put the arrowhead in my pocket and stared after him, bemused.

I've thought about these two moments a lot over the years and I used to think that maybe he and I were just on different paths that led to the same place. I didn’t understand his way and he just didn’t understand mine. Maybe finding that arrowhead wasn’t so special or momentous. I worked, I looked I found it. He wasn’t looking and he found one and didn’t think much about it.

Lately these moments have come to my memory again and again but for some reason it’s finally (after so many years!) come to me, more of a –ping- than a –GONG-, and it’s a lesson I’ve learned before and seem to have to keep re-learning, maybe that’s what a revelation is, more or less, a full understanding of something we’ve not understood before.

What occurred to me was that my husband was just doing what he normally does, no one asked him to clear rocks from the field. He saw that there was a possibility that a child could get hurt so without thought to what was in it for him, or what he could get out of the situation, he just started picking up rocks and making the place safer. He wasn’t asking to be blessed, he wasn’t asking for anything. He was just paying attention and doing what needed to be done. While in my case I was most certainly expecting a blessing, looking for something, certain I’d find it. I’m not sure one way is better than the other because I know that when I found the arrowhead I was transported, in awe, it was a profound almost mystical moment for me. I held the arrowhead in my hands and felt the history, imagined the ghosts of the past whispering in my ear, approving my find. For him, it was an arrowhead, a rock on the field, a pretty trinket his wife might like.

His only joy in the find was in giving it to me.

So perhaps recognizing a blessing is like recognizing a revelation, it doesn’t matter if we look or not, it doesn’t matter if we feel it or understand it deeply to the core of our being…and it is silly to worry too much about it, it just is.

photo by Mike Moro

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Mountain I'm Willing to Die On

Thank you Guest Blogger Glennon from Momastery for allowing me to feature this:

Along with every other concerned mama, I’ve been watching America’s response to the bullying related suicides closely. People seem to be quite shocked by the cruelty that’s happening in America’s schools. I’m confused by their shock. I’m also concerned about what’s not being addressed in their proposed solutions.

The acceptable response seems to be that we need to better educate students and teachers about what bullying is and how to react appropriately to it. This plan is positive, certainly. But on its own, it seems a little like bailing frantically without looking for the hole in the boat through which the water is leaking.

Each time one of these stories is reported, the tag line is: “kids can be so cruel.” This is something we tend to say. Kids these days, they can be so cruel. But I think this is just a phrase we toss around to excuse ourselves from facing the truth. Because I don’t think kids are any crueler than adults. I just think kids aren’t quite as adept yet at disguising their cruelty.

Yesterday I heard a radio report that students who are most likely to be bullied are gay kids, overweight kids, and Muslim kids.


I would venture to guess that at this point in American history, gay adults, overweight adults, and Muslim adults feel the most bullied as well.

Children are not cruel. Children are mirrors. They want to be “grown-up.” So they act how grown-ups act when we think they’re not looking. They do not act how we tell them to act at school assemblies. They act how we really act. They believe what we believe. They say what we say. And we have taught them that gay people are not okay. That overweight people are not okay. That Muslim people are not okay. That they are not equal. That they are to be feared. And people hurt the things they fear. We know that. What they are doing in the schools, what we are doing in the media - it’s all the same. The only difference is that children bully in the hallways and the cafeterias while we bully from behind pulpits and legislative benches and one liners on sit-coms.

And people are sensitive. People are heart-breakingly sensitive. If enough people tell someone over and over that he is not okay, he will believe it. And one way or another, he will die.

So how is any of this surprising? It’s quite predictable, actually. It’s trickle-down cruelty.

I don’t know much. But I know that each time I see something heartbreaking on the news, each time I encounter a problem outside, the answer to the problem is inside. The problem is ALWAYS me and the solution is ALWAYS me. If I want my world to be less vicious, then I must become more gentle. If I want my children to embrace other children for who they are, to treat other children with the dignity and respect every child of God deserves, then I had better treat other adults the same way. And I better make sure that my children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in God’s and their father’s and my eyes, they are okay. They are fine. They are loved as they are. Without a single unless. Because the kids who bully are those who are afraid that a secret part of themselves is not okay.


Dear Chase,

Whoever you are, whoever you become. You are loved. You are a miracle. You are our dream come true.

Chase, here is what would happen in our home if one day you tell your father and I that you are gay.

Our eyes would open wide.

And we would grab you and hold you tighter than you would be able to bear. And while we were holding you we would say a silent prayer that as little time as possible passed between the moment you knew you were gay and the moment you told us. And that you were never once afraid to tell us. And we would love you and ask you one million questions and then we would love you some more and finally, I would likely rush out to buy some rainbow t-shirts, honey, because you know mama likes to have an appropriate outfit for every occasion.

And I don’t mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, than we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated. People, every person, Is Divine. And so there would be celebrating. Celebrating that you would be one step closer to matching your outsides with your insides, to being who you are. And there would be a teeny part of my heart that would leap at the realization that I would forever be the most important woman in your life. And then we would tell everyone. We would not concern ourselves too much with their reactions. There will always be party poopers, baby.

We just wanted you to know this, honey. We’ve worried that since we are Christians, and since we love The Bible so much, that there might come a day when you feel unclear about our feelings about this. Because there are a few parts in The Bible that discuss homosexuality as a sin. So let us be clear about how we feel, because we have spent years of research and prayer and discussion deciding.

Chase, we don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin. Your parents are Christians who carefully choose what we believe and follow in the Bible. Some will tell you that this approach to Christianity is scandalous and blasphemous. But the thing is, honey, that the only thing that’s scandalous about this approach is admitting it out loud. The truth is that every Christian is a Christian who picks and chooses what to follow in the Bible.
Several years ago I was in a Bible study at church, and there was some talk about homosexuality being sinful, and I spoke up. I quoted Mother Teresa and said “When we judge people we have no time to love them.” And I was immediately reprimanded for my blasphemy by a woman who reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10. But I was very confused because this woman was speaking. In church. And she was also wearing a necklace. And I could see her hair, baby. She had no head covering. All of which are things that are sooooo totally against the Bible Rules. * And so I just assumed that she had decided not to follow the parts of the Bible that limited her particular freedoms, but to go ahead and hold fast to the parts that limited other people’s freedoms. I didn’t point this out at the time baby, because she wasn’t a bad person. People are doing the best they can, mostly. It’s best not to embarrass people.

What I’m trying to say is that each Christian uses different criteria to decide what parts of the Bible to prioritize and demonstrate in their lives. Our criteria is that if it doesn’t bring us closer to seeing humanity as one, as connected, if it turns our judgment outward instead of inward, if it doesn’t help us become better lovers of God and others, if it distracts us from remembering what we are really supposed to be doing down here, which is finding God in every human being, serving each other before ourselves, feeding hungry people, comforting the sick and sad, giving up everything we have for others, laying down our lives for our friends . . . then we just assume we don’t understand it yet, we put it on a shelf, and we move on. Because all I need to know is that I am reborn. And here’s what I believe it means to be reborn:

The first time you’re born, you identify the people in the room as your family. The second time you’re born, you identify the whole world as your family. Christianity is not about joining a particular club, it’s about waking up to the fact that we are all in the same club. Every last one of us. So avoid discussions about who’s in and who’s out at all costs. Everybody’s in, baby. That’s what makes it beautiful. And hard. If working out your faith is not beautiful and hard, find a new one to work out. And if spiritual teachers are encouraging you to fear anyone, watch them closely, honey. Raise your eyebrow and then your hand. Because the phrase repeated most often in that Bible they are quoting is Do Not Be Afraid. So when they tell you that gay people are a threat to marriage, honey, think hard.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but I’ve been married for eight years and barely any gay people have tried to break up my marriage. I say barely any because that Nate Berkus is a little shady. I am defenseless against his cuteness and eye for accessories and so he is always convincing me to buy beautiful trinkets with our grocery money. This drives your sweet father a bit nuts. So you might want to keep your eye on Berkus. But with the exception of him, I’m fairly certain that the only threats to my marriage are my pride and anger and plain old human wanderlust. Do not be afraid of people who seem different than you, baby. Different always turns out to be an illusion. Look hard.

Chase, God gave you the Bible, and He also gave you your heart and your mind and I believe He’d like you to use all three. It’s a good system of checks and balances He designed. Prioritizing can still be hard, though. Jesus predicted that. So he gave us this story. A man approached Jesus and said that he was very confused by all of God’s laws and directions and asked Jesus to break it down for him. He said, “What are the most important laws?” And Jesus said, “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love others as yourself.” ** When in doubt, Chase, measure all your decisions and beliefs against that. Make damn sure that you are offering others the same rights, courtesies, and respect that you expect for yourself. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.

Chase, you are okay. You are a child of God. As is everyone else. There is nothing that you can become or do that will make God love you any more or any less. Nothing that you already are or will become is a surprise to God. Tomorrow has already been approved.

And so baby, your father and I have only one specific expectation of you. And that is that you celebrate others the way we celebrate you. That you remember, every day, every minute, that there is no one on God’s Green Earth who deserves more or less respect than you do, My Love.

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ***

Love, Mama

PS. We thought we should mention, honey, that if you’re straight, that’s okay too. I mean, it’d be a little anti-climactic now, honestly. But your father and I will deal.

PPS. All of the above holds true if you are overweight or Muslim too. No problem on either count.

PPPS. As daddy read this essay, I watched his gorgeous face intensify. He teared up a little. Then he slammed the letter down on the kitchen table and said emphatically and without a touch of irony, “DAMN STRAIGHT.”

Which, when you think about it honey, is really the funniest possible thing daddy could have said.

Love you Forever.