Poetry, process, progress.

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Poems 7, 8, and 9: Web Weekend

Poems 7, 8, and 9: Web Weekend

If you are  reading this and you’re a poet, you know that getting that first book is very hard. More established poets have told me that getting the first book is no guarantee that a second will be easier or the third. Reduced funding to higher education has been chipping away at what was always a lean operation in the university and non-profit press world. This makes the work that independent journals do so very important, web journals in particular. Producing a web journal is not free, but it  has different costs than print journals and books, costs that can be made invisible by the donated labor of its editors and designers. On weekends for Poetry Month, I will feature web journals that are doing what they can to highlight the best in contemporary poetry. This weekend’s selections are from my personal list of “places that haven’t published any of my poems yet.” They encourage with the “send again,” but that meeting of the minds has yet to happen. I’ll keep trying.

THRUSH is an online journal in search of beauty. It finds it. Here is a poem from January 2017 from Catherine Pierce, Chadwick Lake, 8:15 a.m.

Sixth Finch is the second of this weekend’s trifecta of superb online literary journals. The Wreck by Sarah J. Sloat is a good example of the breadth of what they showcase. Sometimes journals pinpoint their aesthetic too narrowly. SIxth Finch take a healthy range.

DIAGRAM is a journal like no other–it is the place for poems that  may not fit elsewhere but that definitely need to be read/seen. From issue 17.1, here is Wallpaper Eulogy by Michele Finn Johnson.

Poem 6: W. Todd Kaneko

Poem 6: W. Todd Kaneko

I wish I could buy all the poetry I want, but I never catch up it seems. Then, the beauty of the internet and all the web journals is that I can read  work from a poet for some time before actually buying a book. W. Todd Kaneko has a book and it’s worth buying– The Dead Wrestler Elegies — but that is not all he is and today’s poem, You Cannot Stand against Giant Baba shows it. It is from Waxwing, a good journal to aspire to be in.

Day 5: Alicia Ostriker

Day 5: Alicia Ostriker

I gained a number of new-to me poetry books buying from Jane Hoogestraat’s poetry shelves to help fund a scholarship in her name. So many books, so little cash. The following poem  is from The Book of Seventy by Alicia Ostriker (2009). the title poem is one to read again and again, but I also like “Everything alive’–so, small, so ambitious.
[Robin photo by Ken and Nyata, found on Flickr]

Everything alive

everything alive wants to surge and wilt

by its own rules, the tide in its veins, and in April
the green force is irresistible

But one great rule is life’s tenacious webbiness
another great rule is change
nothing stands alone, everything succeeds

and disappears
so the birch trees close their eyes in the rain
and robins drink their bliss

Day 4: Michelle Disler

Day 4: Michelle Disler

{Bond, James] alphabet, anatomy, [auto]biography by Michelle Disler (2012) is an unexpected gem, poetry that pushes boundaries and by doing so, gives poetry more room to breathe. This is not a kitschy pop culture tome played for laughs or for the moment. It is a serious, multi-tangental look at a complex embodiment of gender. Formatting really matters with many of the poems, so I’ve taken a photo of the poem “Heart [Bond, James].” Click to enlarge and read.

Day 3: Larry Levis

Day 3: Larry Levis

Larry Levis’ last book, Elegy (1997), continues to be a huge influence on me as a poet. I love the intricate narratives laced with strong images and the long streams of iambs don’t hurt either. It is still free verse, but it veers close to blank verse at times, and that musicality hold the narrative together. Also tying the collection together are repeated leitmotifs, a technique as old as the rosy-fingered dawn but still effective. Here is the poem that stays with me most. I wonder if there is a journal out there yet that is gutsy enough to print a poem this long. Some say they want to,but will they? Does it take the stature of a Levis to earn the right to length and complexity? I hope it has not come to that.

[image from sBurke2478 on Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/14863785@N03/3084938952]

Elegy for Whatever Had a Pattern in It


Now that the Summer of Love has become the moss of tunnels
And the shadowy mouths of tunnels & all the tunnels lead into the city,

I’m going to put the one largely forgotten, swaying figure of Ediesto Huerta
Right in front of you so you can watch him swamp fruit

Out of an orchard in the heat of an August afternoon, I’m going to let you

Keep your eyes on him as he lifts & swings fifty-pound boxes of late
Elberta peaches up to me where I’m standing on a flatbed trailer & breathing in
Tractor exhaust so thick it bends the air, bends things seen through it

So that they seem to swim through the air.

It is a lousy job, & no one has to do it, & we do it.

We do it so that I can show you even what isn’t there,
What’s hidden. And signed by Time itself. And set spinning,

And is only a spider, after all, with its net waiting for what falls,
For what flies into it, & ages, & turns gray in a matter of minutes. The web
Is nothing’s blueprint, bleached by the sun & whitened by it, it’s what’s left

After we’ve vanished, after we become what falls apart when anyone

Touches it, eyelash & collarbone dissolving into air, & time touching
The boxes we are wrapped in like gifts & splintering them

Into wood again, at the edge of a wood.


Black Widow is a name no one ever tinkered with or tried to change.
If you turn her on her back you can see the blood red hourglass figure

She carries on her belly,

Small as the design of a pirate I saw once on a tab of blotter acid

Before I took half of it, & a friend took the other, & then the two of us
Walked down to the empty post office beside the lake to look,

For some reason, at the wanted posters. We liked a little drama
In the ordinary then. Now a spider’s enough.

And this one, in the legend she inhabits, is famous, & the male dies.
She eats its head after the eggs are fertilized.

It’s the hourglass on her belly I remember, & the way the figure of it,
Figure eight of Time & Infinity, looked like something designed,

Etched or embossed upon the slick undershell, & the way there was,
The first time I saw it, a stillness in the pattern that was not
The stillness of the leaves or the stillness of the sky over the leaves.

After the male dies she goes off & the eggs

Live in the fraying sail

Of an abandoned web strung up in the corner of a picking box or beneath
Some slowly yellowing grape leaf among hundreds of other
Leaves, in autumn, the eggs smaller than the o in this typescript

Or a handwritten apostrophe in ink.

What do they represent but emptiness, some gold camp settlement
In the Sierras swept clean by smallpox, & wind?

Canal school with its three rooms, its bell & the rope you rang it with
And no one there in the empty sunlight, ring & after ring & echo.

It magnifies & I can’t explain it.

Piedra, Conejo, Parlier. Stars & towns, blown fire & wind.
Deneb & Altair, invisible kindling, nothing above nothing.

It magnifies & I can’t explain it.


Expressionless spinster, carrying Time’s signature preserved & signed
In blood & hidden beneath you, you move two steps
To the right & hold still, then one step to the left,

And hold still again, motionless as the web you wait in.

Motionless as the story you wait in & inhabit but did not spin
And did not repeat. You wait in the beehive hairdo of the girl
Sitting across from me in class, wait in your eggs,


Wait in the hair the girl teases & sprays once more at recess.

Lipstick, heels, tight sweater, leather anklet.

The story has no point but stillness itself, absence in a school desk,
The hacked and scratched names visible in the varnished wood,

No one there, the bell with its ring & after ring & echo.

In class, I remember, she would look back at me with a gaze deeper
Than calm, blanker than a pond’s scummed & motionless surface,
Beneath which there was nothing, nothing taking the shape of someone

Who had already drowned but could not die, & so sat in class
Because she had to, because that was the law.

Mrs. Avery went on & on at the blackboard so we could know
Who Magellan & Vizcaino had been, or sometimes she would make

The boy who spoke only Spanish read from a book,
Watch him as he used his forefinger to point at each syllable

He would read, read & mispronounce, & stumble over, & go on.


And this isn’t much of a story either, but it’s one I know:

One afternoon in August, two black widow spiders bit Ediesto Huerta.
He killed them both & went on working,

Went on swinging the boxes up to me. In a few minutes the sweat
Bathed his face until it glistened, & still he went on working;
And when I asked him to stop he would not & instead

Seemed to begin to dance slowly in the rhythms of the work,
Swing & heft & turning back for another box, then

Swing, heft, & turning back again. And within a half hour or so,

Without him resting once but merely swinging box after box

Of peaches up to me in the heat, the fever broke.


In the middle of turning away again, he stopped dancing,
He stopped working. He seemed to be listening to something, & then

He passed out & fell flat on his back. It looked as if he had gone to sleep
For a moment. I let the idling tractor sputter & die, & by the time

I reached him, he had awakened, &, in the next moment, his face

Began twitching, his arms & legs danced to something without music
And then stiffened, his jaws clenched & his eyes fluttered open
And turned a pure white. I made a stick from a peach limb & tore

The leaves & shoots off it & stuck it between his teeth

As I heard one was supposed to, &, in this way, almost
Killed him by suffocation, & so took the stick out & threw it away.

And later lifted him by the one arm he extended to me & pulled him up onto
The bed of the trailer. He dangled his legs off the rear of it.

We sat there, saying nothing.

It was so quiet we could hear the birds around us in the trees.

And then he turned to me, &, addressing me in a name as old as childhood,
Said, ‘Hey Cowboy, you wanna cigarette?’


In the story, no one can remember whether it was car theft or burglary,
But in fact, Ediesto Huerta was tried & convicted of something, & so, afterward,
Became motionless & silent in the web spun around him by misfortune.

In the penitentiary the lights stay on forever,

Cell after cell after cell, they call their names out, caught in time.

Ring, & after ring, & echo.

In the story, the girl always dies of spider bites,
When in fact she disappeared by breaking into the jagged pieces of glass
Littering the roadsides & glinting in the empty light that shines there.


All we are is representation, what we appear to be & are, & are not,
And representation is all we remember,

Something hesitating & looking back & caught for a moment.

God in the design on a spider’s belly, standing for time & infinity,
Looks back, looks back just once, then never again.

We go without a trace, I am thinking. We go & there’s no one there,
No one to meet us on the long drive lined with orange trees,
Cypresses, the bleaching fronds of palm trees,

And though the town is still there when I return to it, when I’m gone
The track is empty beside the station, & the station is boarded up,
Boarded over, the town is overgrown with leaves, with weeds

Tall as windowsills, window glass out & dark inside the shops.

The classrooms & school are gone & the bell, & the rope
To ring it with, & the boy reading form the book, forefinger
On a syllable he can’t pronounce & stumbles over again & again.


All we are is representation, what we are & are not,

Clear & then going dark again, all we are
Is the design or insignia that misrepresents what we are, & stays

Behind, & looks back at us without expression, empty road in sunlight.
I once drove in a ’48 Jimmy truck with three tons of fruit
On it & the flooring beneath the clutch so worn away I could see

The road go past beneath me, the oil flecked light & shadow

Picking up speed. Angel & Johnny Dominguez, Ediesto Huerta,
Jaime Vaca & Coronado Solares, Querido Flacco


And the one called Dead Rat & the one called Camelias;

We go without a trace, I am thinking.


Today you were lying in bed, drinking tea, reading the newspaper,
A look of concentration on your face, of absorption in some

Story or other.

It looked so peaceful, you reading, the bed, the sunlight over everything.

There is a blueprint of something never finished, something I’ll never
Find my way out of, some web where the light rocks, back & forth,
Holding me in a time that’s gone, bee at the windowsill & the cold

Coming back as it has to, tapping at the glass.

The figure in the hourglass & the body swinging in the rhythm of its work.
The body reclining in bed, forgetting what it is, & who.

While the night goes on with its work, the stars & the shapes they make,
Cold vein in the leaf & in the wind,

What are we but what we offer up?

Gifts we give, things for oblivion to look at, & puzzle over, & set aside.

Oblivion resting his cheek against a child’s striped rubber ball
In the photograph I have of him, head on the table & resting his cheek
Against the cool surface of the ball, the one that is finished spinning, the one

He won’t give back.

Oblivion who has my face in the photograph, my cheek resting
Against a child’s striped ball.

Oblivion with his blown fires, & empty towns…

Oblivion who would be nothing without us, I am thinking,


As if we’re put on the earth to forget the ending, & wander.
And walk alone. And walk in the midst of great crowds,

And never come back.

Day Two: Karen Craigo

Day Two: Karen Craigo

This poem is from Karen Craigo’s 2016 chapbook, Escaped Housewife Tries Hard to Blend In, available from Hermeneutic Chaos Press. A bit of a disclaimer–some poets I know in real life, others I don’t. Po-biz is a small world compared to some others and it doesn’t take too many degrees of separation to reach anyone. Karen and I were a year apart in the same MFA program and might have similar aesthetics, but in the end, I think we are actually very different poets. One thing I think we do share is deceptive clarity, a positive thing that can be mistaken by the too-quick reader as poetry that is too prose-like or not very deep. Oh dear. However, I think Craigo’s poetry fills a much needed place in contemporary poetry in that it gives voice to the otherwise unvoiced and shows that narrative poetry is still a living, breathing poetic choice. Interested in more? Her 2015 book No More Milk is available from Sundress Publications.

Escaped Housewife Gives Three Good Reasons for Taking Up the Bagpipes

On occasion she has cried
herself our—out of breath,
out of salt, head hot and humming,
she has heard her voice wane
before she has said all
she has to say.

The instrument holds screams
like a camel.
With the bag tucked
in the V of arm to body,
she can howl through her sleep
and rise ready
to start again.

One voice isn’t nearly
enough. She likes how each
stiff tentacle makes its own
reedy hiss to release her heart’s
ugly harmonies, to deflate
the leather sack
she lives in.


A poem a day for Poetry month

A poem a day for Poetry month


I have been doing the PAD Challenge every year since 2010 and this year will be no exception. Because many journals have fairly strict rules about what is considered prior publication, I stopped posting my daily drafts on my blog and took down the drafts for the first years when I did blog it. I still draft though, and April tends to be a very productive month because of it. In honor of poetry month then, and as a supplement to the PAD Challenge,  I will be posting a poem a day, poems that have either influenced my writing or that I just plain love.  Here is poem one, a poem I chose not only for its influence on me and others, but as a good poem to remember my cousin Rick by on the day of his funeral. “Wild Iris” by Louse Gluck is from her 1993 collection, Wild Iris. I give the Amazon link for the book here in case readers want to buy the book, always a good idea in April or any other month. Amazon reminds my that I bought this book January 24, 2001, which was during my MFA coursework. The book and this poem still resonate. (more…)

Teaching Creative Writing Online

Teaching Creative Writing Online

This is a companion post to my post in Just a Blog about the benefits of a Teaching Writing Online class. Given that OWI (online writing instruction) is so heavily centered in composition studies, of what use would a Teaching Writing Online class be to a creative writer, especially writers who intend to teach creative writing after they get their MA or MFA? The online introductory writing class, usually a gen-ed, has the advantage of flexibility in scheduling. If a section or two of Intro to Poetry or The Short Story needs to be added, an online section can be added without worry about where to physically put it in the building. Combine that ease with GAs eager to gain teaching experience in creative writing and you have a winning situation, at least financially and for the university. Even more often than with their composition counterparts, creative writing GAs are selected to teach online writing classes without preparation, sometimes in their first semester of graduate school, the rationale being “Chris is such a talented writer that she/he won’t have any problem teaching online.” I remember an especially talented poet a few year back who was going to teach online the first semester, literally months from being an undergraduate and with no teaching experience or coursework. I gulped and offered to share strategies and even some of my hard-won materials for the very course he/she was gong to teach in three days with nothing prepared and got the look. I know the look. It is a bit pitying and says “You mean well, but don’t insult me; I got this.” I don’t know how it went. No one really does, including, I think, that grad student.

This is all too common and it doesn’t have to be. No one would place a GA into a composition classroom without at least a concurrent pedagogy class the walks them through that first semester. Especially good programs, and I think my university’s composition program falls into that category, add a first semester required course in composition  theory and pedagogy offered the first semester besides the required praxis class. Creative writing GAs get those classes too that first semester, but good as that background is, it does not counter the stresses and needs of teaching a writing class online. Another thing my university does is to have the creative writing GAs answerable to a master teacher. We have several faculty members serving as master teachers, but the online sections are usually outside that system. Informal mentoring will have to do, but much of that relies on the student and how willing they are to be mentored without it being required.

Taking the required composition courses and applying the theory learned there to their creative writing teaching is a good start. If a grad student is selected to teach creative writing online, it would help a lot to either already have credit for Teaching Writing Online or to take it concurrently. I have two poets this time and one has already restructured his class based on readings for the course. I heard from his/her creative writing mentor and he is very happy with the student’s initiative and the result.

So, what can a course in teaching writing online do for creative writers who plan on teaching online? Here are a few things:

  • Familiarize them with a variety of LMS. These change and where you get a job may not have Blackboard. If you learn the needed functions rather than the needed steps for a specific software, you will never become outdated.
  • Emphasize building in redundancy and different channels of communication. Triangulate. If a student missed the announcement on the site, they might read the email instead. If they miss the email, they may view the video reminder.
  • Learn assignments that are multimodal. With the rise of erasures and other techniques that are visual, the online class is the natural place for visual techniques.
  • Learn basic video–at least enough to have regular 3 minute or under videos that either give the bullet points for an assignment or encourage students, that say yes, this may sound hard, but you can do it.
  • Learn other uses for blogs besides a diary-like personal space.
  • Gain an essential view of the online classroom as much more than a container for files.
  • Develop a forgiving nature for students who get confused even though the instructions seem obvious to the instructor.
  • Learn ways to workshop online. I can think of three without trying. Both groups or whole-class can work.
  • Learn ways to conference with students online. This is vital and needs to happen at least at the midpoint so that students can discuss their portfolio with you.

This is a far from inclusive list. The most important though, I believe, is like with the online composition classroom, to see the online creative writing class as living, breathing space, not a warehouse for files. This is studio space and real people need to be able to live in it and to grow as writers.


The words leak out my ears

The words leak out my ears

I see that it has been a very long time since I posted here and believe me, it is not because I went into dry-storage. I taught poetry over the summer then went straight to a busy fall semester with three writing-intensive courses and of course, the onset of creative writing submission season. It has been a good year for me so far, with half of my goals met–I have placed more than twenty poems this year and my poem Things Found Along Boyer Road Between El Dorado, KS and the Dump from TAB was nominated for Best of the Net. The rest of my goals are still to happen. I don’t have an accepted book manuscript, but I have two manuscripts outs there, and one has been chugging its way up more than one press’s ladder. I do not have any Pushcart Prize nominations, my other goal, but the cutoff isn’t until December 1.

These may seem like strange goals in that all of them involve just plain luck. After all, there are lots and lots of good poetry out there and not all of it gets published. I set the goals anyway so that I do my part, the part that has little to do with luck: working every day on writing, revising, and sending out poems. If I don’t do it, the words may literally leak out my ears never to return, and that would be a shame. (more…)

Subject Matters

Subject Matters


My Intro to Poetry students are doing thirteen poems this summer, not all of them being included in the end-of-semester portfolio, but still–I can see how the sheer number of poems could lead to anxiety. (more…)