Wednesday, June 23, 2010


In a good way…

In praise… in delight...

Today I opened up Susan Browne's Zephyr, from Steel Toe Books.


These poems are amazing.

These poems are conversational—chatty even.

…like pondering how twenty-five hundred
left-handed people are killed annually from using
right-handed products.

You think maybe you know these poems, maybe you worked with them at an ice cream parlor or a bar. You can imagine sitting in these poems' kitchen, at the blue Formica table, and drinking coffee, or lolling on the river bank with a bottle of red wine.

And then

a little gasp

Your sister talks to her husband's ashes
that are in a black enamel box on her dresser
between the Eternity perfume bottle and a dish of earrings.

but the conversation continues

You rode your bicycle up the hill behind your neighborhood,
stood in the mustard weed and listened to the eucalyptus leaves clapping...

and you're enjoying the way the images careen, as though you're on that bicycle, too, until suddenly the shoe drops, the axe falls, the bough breaks, and something in the world, something in you has changed.

Thank you, Ms. Susan Browne.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A bit more about fragments

I've been having a wonderful time exploring this approach on another poem—and I've remembered a couple more things:



space is


The white space emphasizes (or creates?) the more fractured experience, but it also allows the reader to make his or her own leaps from word to word, line to line, stanza to stanza. That happens in any poem, but with a lot of white space, the reader has more time, more room. Or that's my theory.


One lusciously ethereal example that helped inform our work in Sarah Vap's class was Anne Carson's translations of Sappho. Because so much of Sappho's work was lost, it has become fragmented, and so it leaves the reader openings.

I confess that I sometimes I have trouble reading some of the more broken-up poems. I'm a narrative woman at heart, and I want it all to make sense. Buttoned-up and tied with a bow.

But I'm trying to let go of things, and maybe my old ideas about sense can loosen up a little. In the meantime, it's fun.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Locks of Love

Today, my daughter and I went for haircuts together. The ponytails went to Locks of Love. The rest went for booms in the Gulf.




Friday, June 18, 2010

New [fragment]

How do you break



] the narrative?

How do you loosen into the nonlinear?

How do you let go?

In April, I took a class on short poems with Sarah Vap at Richard Hugo House—and last night, I took the poem I'd been working on from that afternoon to my poetry group.

They asked, "What was your process?"

The best answer is: "Take a class from Sarah."

I stand by that.

But in the interim, here's how I approached my poem.

(This is the reduced version. For the full experience, again, take a class from Sarah.)

  1. Print out a copy of a poem that speaks to you. (In class, we looked at many examples of different shorter-form lyric poets.)

  2. From a stack of images (old pictures or postcards, thoughts you've jotted down, anything that sticks—although I do think that the more visual and foreign, the better), choose a few and then write images in the margins of that printed poem. Short images. One or two words. Riff, but don't force anything.

  3. Pick a number (x). From the poem you chose and the images you wrote, write a poem in x number of sections.

  4. Choose the word that speaks to you. Circle it. (This word will become a theme that runs through your poem.)

  5. Start a new page, and choose a different word (so many choices!). Write a new poem that uses the new word over and over and over again—as much as possible.

  6. Start a new page, and write one line. Turn the page.

  7. Whatever you want to do: short bursts, anything goes, turn the page each time. A lot of fresh pages.

  8. Now, take a little rest.

  9. The next day, in the margins of each page that you wrote, write more images that come to you. These are not whole poems or even whole poems. These are bursts.

  10. Repeat as many times as you want.

    This is fun. This is play.

  11. Repeat this again over several days. The margins will be one Hell of a mess.

  12. Pull everything together into one place—a page in OneNote, another file in your computer, more pages in your notebook.

  13. Highlight the lines or images that still feel important to you.

  14. Write or type those images onto a new page or file.

  15. Take a good look, or wait. Take out anything you don't need.

    Maybe, take out more.

This experience took me way outside of my comfort zone. I like narrative, I like all the blanks filled in, and I feel a little edgy around fragments. But learning to write, however uneasily, with the fragments was good. It was even fun.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Starland, by Sniedze Rungis

The solstice is still a few days away, but the summer edition of The Smoking Poet is here, packed with poems and stories, plus interviews and reviews, art (see the art?), a good cause, and a cigar lounge.

What do you think?

And what will you submit for the fall issue?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Two plus thanks

Today, two rejection notices (one in email and one by post, so very balanced). But thanks to Diane Lockward's list of summer journals, I have plenty of new possible homes for these poems.

Thanks, Diane!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

So much for that bright idea

In sending publishers query letters for my manuscript The Body Makes a Plot, I thought I'd go through my poetry collection, identify poets whose work seemed similar to mine in style or subject matter, and then send queries to the publishers of those poets.

However, W. W. Norton, Henry Holt & Co., and Wesleyan are either not considering submissions (or queries) or read by invitation only. Dear Editors, how can you invite me if you don't know about me?

(At this point, you might be asking "Joannie, why are you trying to query Norton, Henry Holt, and Wesleyan?" Good question! Because they've published Sandra M. Gilbert and Roberta Spear. And because, at 50, I feel like I don't have time to be shy and shrinking.)

I'm trying to contact a couple of other publishers, based on the poets they've published in the past. But most of the list is out either because the press in question is regional (Wyoming or Central Valley in California) or you have to be someone to know someone to ...

Okay, enough of that already. It was a targeted approach. Perhaps, tomorrow night, I'll dig into the database at Poets & Writers. More random, but maybe with more luck.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Earlier this morning (or "Dear June")

When we forgot what the sun looked like we forgot that we forgot every year. In skips and bursts we recalled the word for this sky blue, the name of this light, yellow, or at the day's end, especially blessed, we said gold, as in precious, alchemical, our hearts in their bony cages lifting as the cedar boughs draped a new green and we could see the clouds making shapes, a child's puzzle billowing. We forgot that we forgot every year, the pall casting over, the galleries of gray, a flat stretch of time, and the lake abandoned.

Two minutes of real June lit candles in us and we were happy to say thank you, to smile until the weather blew in and we forgot.