Isn’t it time for poetry to be dead, again?


Isn’t it about time for the annual “Poetry is Dead” article? Usually the death knell for poetry arises in the month of April, ostensibly “National Poetry Month.” The meager ratcheting up of poetry coverage brings out the hand-wringers and nay-sayers to remind us that “no one reads poetry.”

But what if you’re one of the people who not only (GASP) reads poetry, but in addition to writing it, you BUY it? What if you’re one of those people who reviews it, rates it on Amazon and Good Reads, recommends it? What if, for Pete’s sake, you’re one of those weirdos who actually buys poetry for other people?

What do you think of yourself then? Are you nobody?

Emily Dickinson wrote (sometime before her death in 1886, but dang it if we aren’t still talking about her):

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

I like to imagine, when my pencil is scratching across the notebook page early in the morning, others who are lifted out of the constant grind of daily decisions by writing. I imagine them with their faces toward the light like mine, with their eyes open and their ears on the words. I see them pressing poetry books into the hands of those who might go under for want of a kindred soul. I know they’re out there, those poetry lovers.

The other day I was in the grocery store, slinking along with my canvas bags and my head full of Li-Young Lee’s poetry (oh yes, his new book The Undressing in the car). Suddenly, a man that I only see about three times each year roared out, “I bought your new book and the poems are making me cry.” He grabbed my arm and swung me toward him. “I love this new work,” he continued in a voice so loud I felt like I might melt before it.

I know that he lost his father last year. Somehow, at least one of the poems that I’d written had been a key for whatever was locked inside him. I could only hope that he felt like I did when a poem fit perfectly inside an empty space I’d been carrying, a space made of feeling alone and now filled with words.

I could only smile and thank him. Thank him for reading my work and telling me so. Thank him for reading poetry. For reminding me that when I am at my desk, I am not truly alone. I think of tne notecard that is stuck beside me on the filing cabinet:

“Writing poetry is a chance to give yourself an authentic life instead of an excuse.”
~Brendan Galvin

And for that, among so many other things, I am grateful.

Welcome, Every Atom!

Dear friends and family,

As many of you know, my new poetry collection, Every Atom, releases today, April 2nd! I want, first of all, to thank you for all the support you’ve already given me in writing these poems, over all the many years it took me to write them. You know the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Well, the same is true about books. Even if you don’t think you helped me write this book, you did, just by being in my life and being nice to me. So, thank you, thank you, thank you for that. (PS If you purchased me a beer at some point when I was in despair, you get an extra thank you!)

You all know how hard it is to get the world to pay attention to a book, particularly poetry, and particularly if it’s published by an independent press. Some of you have asked how else you might help spread the word. Thank you. Here’s a list of some very concrete ways you can do that:

  1. Order the book now via your favorite bookseller (support indies!). When you do, tell the bookseller about the book. This can help raise awareness and interest. If you don’t live near an independent bookstore, Every Atom is available online at IndieBound and Amazon.
  2. If you’re on social media, post a link to my website (, where people can read all about the book and order it themselves.
  3.  If you’re in a book club or know people who are, please recommend the book. I love meeting with book clubs, either via Skype or in person. I will soon have discussion questions posted on my website just for book clubs.
  4.  Review it on Amazon, B&N, and Goodreads. People pay a lot of attention to customer reviews, and the more reviews you get on Amazon, the more likely Amazon is to recommend it to other customers.
  5.  If you know journalists, radio or TV broadcasters, or bloggers, please tell them about the book. I’m very happy to guest blog or to do interviews, online, in print, or on radio or TV.
  6. Do you work for a writing conference, campus reading series, literary nonprofit? I love to teach, and I am willing to travel to read for students and communities of all sizes.
  7.  Are you a college professor or instructor of creative writing or literature? Consider adopting the book for one of your courses. I can send you discussion questions specifically written for your classes.
  8. Finally, good old-fashioned word of mouth remains the absolute best way to sell books. So if you like the book, please tell five reader-friends. Heck, make it ten.

Once again, thank you so much for your love, friendship, and support. I couldn’t have written this book without you. I’m lucky to have each of you in my life. And I sincerely hope you enjoy Every Atom! Let me know what you think when you do (unless you hate it . . . then maybe keep that to yourself…. PS. You won’t hate it.)

Love and gratitude,

Sunday Cleaning


It’s Sunday, early afternoon, and I have just finished cleaning the house. More precisely, I have just finished scrubbing the kitchen sink with Bon Ami. I apportion household tasks in the following way: every other week, I clean the house, and during the alternate week I do the laundry. Even writing this makes me cringe. My mother’s housecleaning regime was constant. When she had completed the circuit of cleaning, she just started over. A quick search of my childhood memories would reveal that in essence, cleaning the house was her hobby and career.

My standard of clean is very different than my mother’s. It would not be an exaggeration, and I could find people to corroborate this statement, to say that you could pretty much eat off of any surface in my mother’s home. I can remember with vivid clarity the moment I discovered that the top of my mother’s refrigerator was dusty. I didn’t say anything, no teasing or anything snarky, because I was sincerely shaken to see a thick layer of dust. The same one that’s on the top of most refrigerators in the world. But not my mother’s. Never my mother’s. That dust indicated that something was going horribly wrong in her life (and actually her memory).

When I finish cleaning my house, I feel a sense of accomplishment and peace. For those few moments, there is nothing amiss. I can sit down and read a book or write. If someone stopped over, they would notice nothing but the view or my dog leaping about. My mother never sat down to read a book. She watched afternoon television, Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, but only as she cleaned or ironed or folded or cooked. If there was a moment when my mother felt at ease in her own home, I never saw it.

It pains me that in some way she handed down the idea that part of my self-worth is connected directly to my home. But she did. And it is. She and I wrestled over the cleanliness of my bedroom for all the years that I lived at home. Or how neatly I folded the clothes. Or which way my shirts were facing on the hangers in my closet. Later, when I lived on my own, she came to visit my home only a single time, a dark college apartment. She ran her finger along the edge of a bookshelf, coming away with dust. That Christmas, I received a vacuum cleaner from her. She never set foot in any of the many places, near or far, that I lived, ever again.

My mother’s history and my own are intertwined. I feel the tugging almost viscerally when I clean. How much it meant to her to give us all a perfect house. How much I’d rather spend time doing almost anything else because I can never do it right. How much our patriarchal culture has colored everything we do, including what we’re taught as children about our roles and values.

At public readings, when I read poems from my book Every Atom, I sometimes find myself wanting to explain my mother, explain myself. Even though the poems explore what our relationship was, honestly, sometimes painfully, I want to defend her, defend myself. Every person is just one domino in a long chain. She became who she was with the input of all the people and events before her, and I have become (continue to become) who I am for a thousand reasons.

So now I’m going to sit down and read a book. Watch the sky. Allow myself to be present in this moment, remembering my mother.