Some treasures for your poet soul

Even though the light is coming back, there is still plenty of darkness (actual and perhaps metaphorical to go around. Thank you Terri Windling for reminding me of this beauty.)

What is the single most important thing for a young poet to know about writing poetry?

Today’s answer, since tomorrow’s would surely be different: Write the poem that only you could have written.

Trust your experience of the world, of your own life, of the poem. Trust that the world matters, that your life matters, that your words matter. Then doubt all these things enough to ask if what you’ve written is sufficient, surprising, contains art’s mysterious surplus. Has the poem found something that it, and you, did not know before it was written? Have you found fully and accurately the images, the phrases, the story, the feeling, the arc and surge of transformation? Then trust again, because if you only doubt, you will overwork the dough until no living yeast remains in it; if you over-doubt, you will try to please others instead of your own sense of the poem, of your life, of the world. Be willing for your work to be odd, peculiar, to be itself in the way a giraffe is itself and knows no other shape or gait of being. By such strange inventions of existence, the poem becomes the poem, the world becomes the world, a person becomes, perhaps, a more fully human person.    

the amazing Jane Hirshfield, being interviewed by Mary Mackey on Marsh House Press

Of Lists and Longing

Bluebells in Ireland, May 2018

2018 didn’t quite go the way I thought it would. I could say that it was better and worse. I could enumerate all the broken pieces and all the shining moments. Every life has such. Mine is nothing special.

After a picture-book snowy December, we are pounded by rain, raveled by high winds. The gracious curve of the snow banks is now pocked and dirty, broken limbs, unburied trash, dog shit. And yet, a junco landed on the railing outside my window and clearly looked me in the eyes. There was a break in the cloud cover this morning unveiling a tiny sunrise, all golden and pink for the few minutes it held open.

2019 comes apace, a date I could not have even imagined when I was a child. The world now is different and the same. Politics eerily repeating itself like a warped tape, but I take a breath and there is ocean, rain, tomatoes to grow. 

Books to read. And so, I cross the threshold to the new year, the new list. I’ve been keeping a reading list for a decade or more, and how I wish I started sooner. Looking back, I see patterns, interests evolve and then fade away. But poetry. Oh, poetry remains. So this year I read 138 books, 82 of which were poetry collections. I’ve listed them below in alphabetical order by title. A rich stew of ideas, language, and heart’s blood. 

May the new year find us all looking toward the light. May we listen well. May we feel heard. May we not forget our place in the web of all life on this planet. May we remember that kindness is better than money. May no person be made to feel less than human, less than worthy of compassion. May we find teachers that help us become the most full expression of our hearts.

And may we read some poetry that connects us to each other.

Poetry Collections Read 2018

A Sleepwalk on the Severn by Alice Oswald
American Purgatory by Rebecca Gayle Howell
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins by Terrence Hayes 
Anaphora by Kevin Goodan
Be With by Forrest Gander
Bind by Christine Murray
Bird-Woman by Em Strang
Bloodroot by Annemarie Ní Churreán
blud by Rachel McKibbens
Bread fro a Stranger’s Oven by Janlori Goldman 
Break the Glass by Jean Valentine
Bucolics by Maurice Manning 
Cairn by Peggy Shumaker
Ceremonial by Carly Joy Miller
Companion Grasses by Brian Teare
Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil by C.D. Wright
Corpse Whale by dg nanouk ok pik
Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn 
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Echolalia in Script: A Collection of Anemic Writing by Sam Roxas-Chua
Ends of the Earth by Kate Partridge 
Extra Hidden Life, among the Days by Brenda Hillman
Feast Gently by C.G. Waldrep 
Feel Free by Nick Laird
First the Feathers by Amanda Bell
Flight by Chaun Ballard
Fur by Grace Wells
Geomantic by Paula Meehan
Human Hours by Catherine Barnett
If You Have to Go by Katie Ford
Inside, Outside, Morningside by Marjorie Kowalski Cole 
Insistence by Ailbhe Darcy
Joy: 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman
Lessons on Expulsion by Erika Sanchez  
Lies by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
Liffey Swim by Jessica Traynor
Maiden Names by Martin Dyar
Miraculum Monstrum by Kathline Carr 
Notes from the Journey Westward by Joe Wilkins
Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil 
Once in the West by Christian Wiman 
Randomer by Colm Keegan
Rising, Falling, Hovering by C.D. Wright
Rock Piles Along the Eddy by Ishmael Hope
Ruination Atlas by Sarah Pape 
Sailing the Forest by Robin Robertson
Saudade by Traci Brimhall 
Saying Your Name Three Times Underwater by Sam Roxas-Chua
Scavenger Loop by David Baker
Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey by Hayden Carruth
Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers 
So Far So Good by Ursula K. LeGuin
Some Say the Lark by Jennifer Chang
Something Yet to Be Named by Kersten Christianson
Songs from the Blue River by Paul Kingsnorth
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss 
Swithering by Robin Robertson
The Astrakhan Cloak b Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
The Best American Poetry 2017 – Editor, Natasha Trethewey
The Dream of Reason by Jenny George
The Echo of Ice Letting Go by Julie LeMay 
The Emperor of Water Clocks by Yusef Komunyakaa
The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven by Brian Teare
The Glacier’s Wake by Katy Didden 
The Grief Performance by Emily Kendal Frey
The New Testament by Jericho Brown 
The Rain Barrel by Nicholas McLachlan
The Spirit Level by Seamus Heaney
The Undressing by Li-Young Lee
Things as It Is by Chase Twichell
This is Yarrow by Tara Bergin
This World by Teddy Macker
Thrust by Heather Derr-Smith 
To Those Who Were Our First Gods by Nikole Brown
Tough Luck by Todd Boss
Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith
Water and Salt by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha 
Witch in the Bushes by Rita Ann Higgins
Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino
With the Dogstar as My Witness by John Fry
Woman Reading to the Sea by Lisa Williams 

The work


Let us consider the work. And for me, words are the work, poetry is the work, the soil is the work, the bright shattering broken bludgeoned beautiful world is the work.

“I don’t mean it’s easy or assured, there are the stubborn stumps of shame, grief that remains unsolvable after all the years, a bag of stones that goes with one wherever one goes and however the hour may call for dancing and for light feet. But there is, also, the summoning world, the admirable energies of the world, better than anger, better than bitterness and, because more interesting, more alleviating. And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe—that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life.”

—Mary Oliver