JCM Eldred

Living in Heat

 

We kept rabbits as pets.  From them I learned

how to live in our flat inland stretch

skirted by those rushing somewhere past burned

skin, past the heat so hell hot it can catch

and distill memories, those confessions framed

in shame for burning acts we failed to do.

Yes, rabbits housed in hutches.  We named

them something adorable.  As I grew,

they and their names have been forgotten,

which is unfair—because rabbits can recall

in their rapid breath and bedtime cotton

human routines and rituals and all

the indignities of creatures who fall

asleep confined, who wake to creep and crawl.

 

Holding the Quick Shiver

 

I cupped the rabbit’s head and cradled its tail

as always.  That day, an Edenic snake—

just a quick shiver really—crossed our trail.

Poisonous? My father grabbed a metal stake

or perhaps a shovel. He brought it down fast,

decapitating the snake with one hit.

The rabbit scratched, drew blood until at last

my father gripped it by the scruff, raised it

by that fur on its neck until it stilled.

Then he rocked and stroked it with husbandry touch.

After that day when the snake was killed,

I walked gingerly between house and hutch,

pushing past the panic at that spot of dirt,

holding so tight that nothing could hurt.

 

Vigilance and Vigils

 

 

His porcelain angel, His china doll.  He didn’t need a papal council to vote

his daughter into sainthood, to mark a feast day on which he could pray to heal all

bruised by his iniquities.  He understood retribution.  Because of his sowed wild oats,

his porcelain angel, his china doll

 

fell to earth, lived a scant two years with the stench of milking cows and goats,

with tractors that tip, rattlers that strike, coyotes that call, with lethal

chemicals that bleach and bleed, frayed electric that smokes into throats—

 

Appalling, all on the farm that stomps, mauls or kills. How could he foresee the most

deadly was that small pet door through which she could wriggle, crawl,

waddle to pool deck? He found her adrift on reflected sunlight, her spirit afloat.

His porcelain angel, His china doll.

 


A California native, JCM Eldred received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and now teaches in the MFA program at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of two nonfiction books: Sentimental Attachments and Literate Zeal. Her latest book, of collection of poems entitled More Sonnets from the Portuguese, is forthcoming in Fall 2016.

Note: The poems “Living in Heat” and “Holding the Quick Shiver” are used by permission of Whitepoint Press LLC. They will be appearing in More Sonnets from the Portuguese this fall.

David Stone

Love Lines for Your Valentine

Still need to write your Valentine? Use lines from a local poet.

Someone seeking clarification about another’s romantic intent and who enjoys the use of lowercase letters like e. e. cummings might appreciate a line from Cindy Rinne’s “Another Park Poem.” Inspired by a walk in Riverside’s Fairmont Park, Rinne wrote, “did you try to carve the bark/ leave a heart…” Rinne lives in Redlands. Her next work is titled “Quiet Lantern.”

Courageous individuals who are willing to be vulnerable might use lines from Cati Porter’s poem “Clearly.” “Look at me/ and tell me that you want me, that you want to heart/ the distance and that you cannot in the object see/ a flaw, and though I am (flawed) I am for you, and/ there is a small tight thought that is wound in me,/ that knowing that you love, a lightning, a lightning/ on the inside: so that you see; so that you know.” Porter lives in Riverside. Her latest book “My Skies of Small Horses” comes out this month.

Seasoned lovers may like to use lines from “Litany” from Claremont poet Lucia Galloway’s latest chapbook “The Garlic Peelers:” “O love, what is your wish?/ We’ve half again as much to say as we have said./ Set down the goblet, and the carmine wine/ sheets down its sides to pool in the bowl./ Let’s drink our words instead of hoarding them.”

Sweethearts who remind you of characters from the The Big Bang Theory should appreciate lines from Marsha Schuh’s “You and Me in Binary.” Appropriately published in the computer textbook Schuh co-wrote with Stanford Rowe, Schuh imagines a world based on four, considers the dominance of the decimal in our world and closes her poem with pondering the numerical effects of becoming a couple: “Then we unlearn it all /learn to speak binary,/ a better way,/ two as opposed to eight or ten,/ the most significant bit,/ the least significant bit/ one-two, on-off, you-we,/ binary.” Schuh resides in Ontario.

Lovers in a more ambiguous relationship may resonate with lines from the Palm Springs poet and writer Ruth Nolan. In her forthcoming book, “Ruby Mountain,” she writes, “shouldn’t I pretend you did it for love/ shouldn’t I believe it was a mistake/ shouldn’t I wonder why not/ shouldn’t I wonder why. . . .”

Those pained may appreciate the words of the title persona in Nikia Chaney’s “Sis Fuss.” The poem “Syllogizing Sis Fuss” closes: “we all hurt. And if we all/ hurt then we all hurt/ each other and the next.” Chaney lives in Rialto.

Jennifer and Chad Sweeney from Redlands are a couple, who are both accomplished poets. Jennifer provides profundity and striking imagery in her book “Salt Memory.” She writes, “As water poured into the heart flows out the palms, so does love return, as thirst, as satiation—the shape the lost ocean has carved onto the salt brick desert.”

With characteristic quirky humor in his book “White Martini for the Apocalypse,” Chad writes, “It was love./ She taught me to drive her bulldozer./ I taught her to forge my signature!”

In earthier lines from his poem “Effects,” first published in Caliban, Chad writes, “The best sex in the world happens during conjugal visits. I’ve gotten myself into prison twice, just to have it. That’s why I’m calling. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Chad Sweeney teaches creative writing at Cal State San Bernardino.

The longing and transformative power of love comes through in the closing lines of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Listen” from her forthcoming collection, “Bird Flying Through the Banquet,” 
“Let your eyes rest/ on my face. Arrest me/ in turn. I will burst/ from the seed/ of myself.” Kronenfeld is professor emerita from UCR.

Ontario poet Tim Hatch gives words to the desire to comfort one’s dearest when he or she is gone: “Scatter my memory where my memories are sweetest. Gulls cry, salt breeze carries me away. When you’re there you can breathe deep, take me inside and remember.”


For a wider array of classic poems to use for Valentine’s Day, search the Poetry Foundation’s website for “Poems for Valentines” or the poets.org site for “love poems.”

Blink of an eye / ideas and people connect / in haiku by Timothy Green

Frogpond

In Japan, the brief poetry form is all about socializing. Why not here, too ?

When my grandmother’s hearing had grown too poor for the telephone, we started exchanging letters. Once a month—on the same day as the Edison bill—I’d receive a handwritten letter, pressed firmly with a retired schoolteacher’s perfect cursive, yellowed paper cut neatly from the same ancient notebook. Family gossip, news of my father, the weather back east, details of her various ailments.

She’d close every letter with a haiku. It was both a hobby of hers, and a nod to my odd profession. Her last was probably her best:

snow-covered sundial

waiting

to tell time again

I imagined her as the sundial, snowed in by age, her bed long-since moved to the living room so she wouldn’t have to negotiate the stairs, waiting patiently for whatever spring might come in whatever existence might come next.

When I had a moment, I’d tap out a hasty reply, glancing out at the palm trees on Ventura Boulevard from my office window, and close with a responding haiku.

it’s December too

in California

the crickets shout!

There was a joy to the haiku that I’ve only recently come to understand. Easy to write but impossible to master, they never grow old. You can write them in the car stuck in traffic, or plop them easily at the end of a newspaper article. Haiku are so simple they can be simultaneously silly and profound, and that contrast has kept them fresh for centuries.

Most often my grandmother’s haiku would offer a shift in mood, adding levity or perspective or clarity to the information that the letter had shared.

lost my other shoe—

now even the right

isn’t left

Almost a decade later, I still remember many of them fondly, and they always embody my grandmother’s quietly sarcastic personality.

More recently, I interviewed Richard Gilbert, a haiku scholar at Kumamoto University in Japan. He described with great enthusiasm the beloved space haiku holds within Japanese culture. With a total population of 130 million, it’s estimated that 12 million attend a regular haiku group. Witty celebrities compose haiku-like senryu live on TV.

Haiku itself descends from a party game, so it should be no surprise that they’re fun to write. At the kukai, as it was called, friends would gather around a bottle of saké, taking turns composing lines on a chosen topic. Class boundaries and social conventions dissolved as participants adopted pen names, many of them humorous. Bashō was named after the banana tree outside of his hut.

Listening to Gilbert tell it, haiku as a social act sounds like so much fun that I can’t help wishing we made it a part of our culture in the West. An outlet for playfulness and creativity and face-to-face interaction, haiku embody much of what we seem to be lacking in the age of smartphones and Facebook.

So let’s start now. Why not cap off your annual holiday letter with a summary haiku? Turn a family dinner into your own kukai, composing short poems about the season.

Before you start, it’s important to know what haiku are and what they aren’t. No other form of poetry is so misunderstood. Haiku are not three-line poems of five, then seven, then five syllables. Counting syllables doesn’t make any sense in Japanese, which is divided into units of time and not sound. You can think of traditional haiku as three lines that are short, then long, then short in duration, but even that generality isn’t an important rule in modern haiku.

The heart of a haiku is really the kireji, the cutting word, which is almost a form of punctuation that divides the poem in two. In English we might use a dash or colon—this division separates the first image from the last, creating a comparison that can be evocative or uncanny. The best example is Bashō’s famous frog:

old pond—

frog jumps in

the sound of water

That dash is the kireji, and it signifies a complete cut in time and space. The haiku presents one image, an old pond, and then another isolated image, the frog jumping into the sound of water. How the two images relate to each other is left up to the reader—and it’s that interactive, connective leap that stirs our thoughts and emotions. This is one of the many things Bashō meant when he said, haiku jiyu, or “Haiku is for freedom.”

Much more goes into classical haiku, but this is all you need to know to write decent modern haiku in English. Don’t count syllables, just count images or ideas: There should be two.

watching football

my keyboard

almost silent


To learn more about the history of haiku, you can find my interview with Richard Gilbert in issue #47 of Rattle, or read his translations of contemporary Japanese haiku poets at his website.

Two Stories by Nan Friedley

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.

***

The Last Encore

Venue: Back to the Grind

Characters: Master of Ceremonies, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Anne Sexton

Master of C: Welcome to Ghost Walk’s Dead Poets’ open mic night. This evening we are pleased to present three confessional poets who are making a special appearance, back from the dead, to share some of their most memorable work. Our first poet, Sylvia Plath, in a state of severe depression resorted to suicide by oven in 1963, welcome back to our world. Give it up for Sylvia.

(MC and audience applause, cheers)

Sylvia Plath:   Thank you so much for the warm welcome. I will be reading an excerpt from Lady Lazarus a poem that feels particularly relatable this evening.

Lady Lazarus

Dying

Is an art, like everything else

I do it exceptionally well

 

I do it so it feels like hell.

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I’ve a call.

 

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.

It’s the theatrical

 

Come back in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Amused shout

 

‘a miracle’

That knocks me out

There is a charge

 

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge

For the hearing of my heart

It really goes.

 

And there is a charge, a very large charge

For a word or touch

Or a bit of blood

 

Ash, ash

You poke and stir

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

 

Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.

 

(MC and audience applause, cheers)

 

Master of C:   Thank you Sylvia. We sure do miss you. Wish you could have stayed with us to write more amazing poems. Our next poet, John Berryman, decided to end his life by jumping off the Washington Avenue bridge on the campus of University of Minnesota in 1972. Let’s welcome John to our stage to perform a poem from his Dream Song book.

(MC and audience applause. cheers)

John B:   Thanks for bringing me back for an encore reading this evening. I’ve chosen Dream Song 14:

Life, Friends, is Boring

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

We ourselves flash and yearn

and moreover, my mother told me as a boy

(repeatedly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no

 

Inner resources,’ I conclude now that I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored

people bore me

literature bores me with its plights and gripes

as bad as Achilles

 

Who loves people and valiant art, which bores me

And the tranquil hills, and gin, look like a dog

And somehow a dog

Has taken itself and its tail considerably away

Into mountains or sea or sky, leaving

behind me, wag

 

(MC and audience applause, cheers)

 

Master of C:   Thank you Mr. Berryman for your many Dream Songs we enjoyed through the years. It was so inspiring for you to lend voice to your words. Our final poet of the night is Anne Sexton. When life became too overwhelming for Anne, she locked herself in the garage with her car running to eventually die of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1974. We are so happy you have returned to join us for open mic night. Please welcome Anne Sexton.

(MC and audience applause, cheers)

Anne Sexton:   Thank you. It is so nice to see so many young people in the audience who are interested in poetry. Although it may not seem like it, writing was a source of comfort to me as I hope it is for you. I will be reading:

Waiting to Die

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember

I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage

then the almost unnamable lust returns.

 

Even then I have nothing against life

I know well the grass blades you mention

the furniture you have placed under the sun.

 

But suicides have a special language.

They want to know which tools

They never ask why.

 

Twice I have so simply declared myself

have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy

have taken on his craft, his magic.

 

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,

Warmer than oil or water

I have rested drooping at the mouth-hole.

 

I did not think of my body at needlepoint.

Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.

 

(MC and audience applause, cheers)

 

Master of C:   Thanks Anne for sharing your powerful poem with us. Perhaps your words will bring strength and courage to those in need. I want to thank all of our dead poets this evening for giving us a glimpse into their worlds. Let’s bring them back on stage one more time.

(MC and audience claps and cheers for encore, but no dead poets return to stage)

Master of C:   I’m afraid they are not coming back. They are lost to us now except on pages. Thanks for joining us tonight. Be safe going home.

***

Coveted

Venue: Annex

Characters: Homeless Hank, Eloise the Librarian, College girl/News Anchor, Boyfriend/News Anchor

Props: shopping cart, garbage bags, cane, pillow, sleeping bag, two microphones

Hank:       I like to hang out in the library parking lot…park my portable home on wheels in the back. I’m a collector. Wandering around the city I’ve found some gems. You’d probably be surprised by what I have in my cart. I’m a people watcher too…especially like pretty young girls…ones with long hair and longer legs.

Eloise:       I’ve been watching him from my office window in the library. He leers at young girls, drools when he sees one he really likes. Disgusting…dirty letch. I wonder what’s in his cart…curious if he has anything valuable.

(young college age girl walks by)

Hank:       It’s my lucky day! She’s heading to my secret hideout. I’d like to keep her warm tonight. Maybe just talk about my collections. I could give her a gift.

(Hank follows the girl, pushing his cart)

Eloise:       There he goes. She’s not paying any attention to him… with those earbuds and texting, she doesn’t even hear him. I better tag along. I wonder what he’s up to. I’m a little slower these days. (walks with a limp using her cane)

(Girl waves to young man by Mission Inn service entrance)

College girl: Sorry I’m late. Couldn’t find a place to park.

Boyfriend:   That’s o.k. I just got off…big party in the Music Room.

(Girl and boyfriend hug and walk off together)

Hank:       I was so close. She would have been a lot of fun. Guess I’ll just call it a day.

(Hank gathers his grimy pillow and sleeping bag from his cart, curls up on the annex steps and goes to sleep)

(Eloise waits till she is sure Hank is asleep…beats Hank with her cane. She walks away with Hank’s cart, smiling)

Eloise:       Serves him right. Tomorrow there will be an article in the Press-Enterprise about a homeless man found beaten to death. The police will request information about a bloody cane next to the body. I won’t be calling any time soon. (crazy laugh)

Girl News

Anchor:   On December 21st, the longest day of the year, is National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day. It started in 1990 to remember those homeless who have died on the streets in our communities. Each night, over 51,000 homeless sleep on the streets of LA.

Boy News

Anchor:   There is no official tracking of the number of homeless deaths. In LA county when no relative comes forward to claim the body, the person is cremated. In 2012, all the remains were buried in one unmarked grave…1,756 forgotten souls.

Literature in Idyllwild by Jean Waggoner

The words of a good story jump off the page to charm, cajole, reason and wrestle with the human imagination. They carry us away, while anchoring us more profoundly to our world. In summer, libraries entice young readers with prizes for significant amounts of any kind of reading, as adults, too, search for new flights of brainy experience.

Riverside readers live in one of the largest counties in the country. When joined with San Bernardino as the Inland Empire (Inlandia, as some of us prefer), our locality is about as big as the state of Rhode Island. We have plenty of places to go and things to see, as well as a huge library system to draw upon for reading, listening and viewing material. Nonetheless, those of us in the county’s rural parts, like Idyllwild, don’t have easy access to a good book store without driving some distance, or as Mount San Jacinto’s people say, “going off the hill.”

Sure, there’s online shopping, but what can a literary-book or CD-gifting auntie do at two O’clock on a Wednesday afternoon to get a birthday present mailed to a thirteen-year-old in the county seat by Friday, when no such virtual store delivery has arrived?

Idyllwild readers know how to find good reading material, of course. Our library offerings include used book sales and several of the town’s thrift and “junk-tique” shops carry old books. The Nature Center or Forest Service offer selected new books on topics of outdoor interest, including publications by Inlandia members Myra Dutton and Sally Hedberg.

For Mackenzie, who turned thirteen on July 10th, this auntie broke from tradition and selected writing, instead of reading materials: a journal and a booklet of flowery sticky-notes from Idyllwild Gift Shop (whose proprietor has often posted Inlandia workshop fliers on her bulletin board). Tactile and old tech, the gifts brought back teen memories, a spiritual link from one generation to another.

The shopping excursion also elicited some community appreciation of what we do have in Idyllwild. We’ve got organizations that promote the arts in our schools, often drawing on retiree talent. In the literary arts, we have theater, writing and book club groups. The Idyllwild Arts campus, a fine arts high school, also offers summer classes for kids and adults.

Although we have no literary laureate who writes specifically about our mountains, quite a few published writers work or vacation here, and luminaries like Ann Rice have stayed awhile, somewhat incognito, among us. Local stories have been collected, showcased and archived by our highly acclaimed Idyllwild Historical Society and Idyllwild writers continue to add local color to literary writing. The literary climate is alive and well, here!

Sadly, long-time Idyllwild resident Myra Dutton will no longer serve as co-leader of our Idyllwild Inlandia Writing Workshop, after this summer. We understand, and we value the gifts she has inspired us with, including her “daughter of the plains’ meditation” on the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World, which she shared in this beautiful poem:

Riding the Sacred

I have heard the secrets here,

felt the breath and beat of wind

across the grass-maned prairie,

and I climb on the back of this Earth,

as if I had journeyed centuries before,

her wild hair twined in my hand.

National Poetry Epoch by John Bender

If April’s really the cruelest month, per our old American expat T.S. Eliot, why is it National Poetry Month?

One month is too short, and poetry desires thoughtful reflection, emotional investment and delight, not brief periods of frenzy—post one poem a day on Facebook, maybe someone will notice amid all the social-media noise.

So, given the power vested in me as this week’s grumpy, yet hopeful, Inlandia Literary Journeys columnist, I hereby declare 2015-2016 as National Poetry Epoch. Forget April. We have a great year ahead of us.

Skeptical? Well, at least for the Inland area, this year already has proved momentous.

The Library of Congress recently named former UC Riverside professor Juan Felipe Herrera as poet laureate of the United States for 2015-16. He officially begins in September with events at the library’s National Book Festival.

Herrera, who just finished his term as California’s poet laureate, becomes the second US poet laureate with strong ties to UCR. Best-selling poet Billy Collins, who served as national laureate from 2001-2003, received a masters in English from the university in 1965 and earned a doctorate in Romantic Poetry at UCR in 1971.

So forget about the people from LA who look down on our area. Forget about those on the East Coast who don’t even know we’re here. We’re no literary wasteland. We can boast of two poet laureates who lived here, worked here and breathed the same smog we breathe.

I’m not familiar enough with Collins’ work to know whether his time in the Inland area is reflected in his poems, but I know that this area’s stark beauty and working-class mixing bowl of huddled masses have informed Herrera’s poems.

And I know that Herrera will welcome our help making his time as US laureate a tremendous time of poems and poetry—an epoch of enthusiasm!

While he was at UCR and during his time as California’s top poet, Herrera joined then-Inlandia laureate Gayle Brandeis, Inlandia Executive Director Cati Porter and me at a guerrilla reading in downtown Riverside.

Our aim was to surprise the workers and businessmen at lunchtime with a surprise poetry reading. It wasn’t as guerrilla as I wanted it to be, because when the state’s poet laureate is going to read, you alert the city fathers.

And so, amplified by a small public address system powered by a battery from a defunct 1963 Buick—the whole contraption contained in the back of a child’s wagon—we brought poetry to downtown Riverside’s pedestrian mall.

During that November 2013 event, which you can find on YouTube by searching for “California Poet Laureate holds impromptu-style reading downtown,” Herrera was the pied piper of poems, the ambassador of allusion—clearly a guy who relishes sharing poetry.

He released more energy than that Buick battery, inviting passersby to compose their own poems on the spot. He made me and his other co-readers feel like the most important poets on the planet, even translating one of my lines into a cool Spanish phrase, “¡Raja la calabaza!” (which of course I’ve incorporated into the text of the poem.)

During his California term, Herrera brought poetry to other unexpected places, reading at the re-opening of the Oakland Bay Bridge and inspiring hundreds to join him in writing “The Most Incredible and Biggest Poem on Unity in the World.”

I have no doubt that he plans even bigger unifying events during his term as national laureate, so why wait?

As poets, literary fans and readers, let’s all pledge to share poems with others during the next year. Let’s invite friends to breakfast and give them a reading while they digest. Let’s volunteer at schools and teach the children to write poems, let’s give free readings at hospitals, bus stops!

Let’s go to readings wherever they’re held. Let’s buy poetry books, attend poetry workshops.

Let’s write love poems for poetry.

It’s our turn. It’s our epoch. Juan Felipe needs our help. We have work to do.


To learn about upcoming readings and Inland literary events, go to inlandiainstitute.org

Young Poets Have Lessons for Us All by Timothy Green

For our children, summer means trips to the beach, barbeques, and long stretches of glorious boredom. School is out, the days are long, and the possibilities endless. For this poetry editor, summer vacation also serves as a break from publishing adults, focusing instead on children, as I work to compile the annual Rattle Young Poets Anthology. With the help of their parents and teachers, thousands of children age 15 and younger share work with us each year. Listening to their voices is as soothing as ice cream on a hot day.

When most people think of “children’s poetry,” they think of poems written by adults for kids—they think of Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss. They don’t think of children themselves as poets, and it’s very difficult to find any anthologies of poems written in the other direction, by children for adults. That’s unfortunate, because, as I’ve quickly learned, children are absolutely brilliant wordsmiths.

This shouldn’t be so surprising. The early years of language development are magical. No other time in life is full of such wonder, such imagination, and such playfulness. Young poets don’t write out of habit; they haven’t yet learned how to be cliché. They write with a natural spontaneity that adults have to work hard to achieve. “The cents of a penny/ is less than your love,” writes Zoey Sheffield, age 6. Lines like these seem as effortless as they are abundant.

There’s more to young poets’ work than just the strange and beautiful ways that they construct language, though. Children are writing about most of the things that adults do, with a depth of understanding and attentiveness that deserves more respect than it’s usually given. Eight-year-olds are responding to climate change. Eleven-year-olds are trying to processes the graphic terrorism of ISIS. Four-year-olds are thinking about their parents’ struggles with anxiety and depression.

Until I started reading these poems, I never realized how rich and complex the interior lives of children really are. Consider this short poem by Briar Sprungin, age 8, and the level of emotion it captures:

The Woman

I was racing down the stairs,

a woman of white caught my eye.

She had two braids down to her toes.

She was mumbling something.

I asked if I could help her

but she didn’t say a word.

Then she whispered in my ear,

“Survive,” and disappeared.

It turns out that children are also great teachers of poetry, of what poetry is, and what it can be. In compiling these anthologies, we ask the young poets why they love poetry, and their answers provide some of the best insights I’ve found.

“I think of poetry as an art to transfer our thoughts about the world or imagination that lives around us onto paper,” writes New Zealand’s E. Wen Wong, then age 11, “[O]ur minds are search engines constantly producing ideas to make an impact on the world, whether it is big or small.”

Madeline McEwen, also age 11, says that poetry “gives us beauty even when the world seems ugly.”

Meanwhile, 7-year-old Cody Dane likes “making new rhymes,” and has the profound realization that “you can learn more when you’re rhyming.” His contribution to the 2015 anthology is this three-word poem that would make any concrete minimalist proud, exploring the way perception becomes awareness (through rhyme):

My Cat

Fur Purr Her

In a conversation with Rattle many years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winner Sharon Olds remarked that “There isn’t a bad poet in the 1st grade.” The most amazing thing that I’ve learned in editing this anthology is just how true that statement is. The thousands of poems that we receive for the anthology every year are but a tiny fraction of what is produced. Everywhere in the world, from the Inland Empire to Africa to Singapore, children are writing moving and memorable poetry—doodling with words for classes or for fun, but making so much more than refrigerator art.

These are small but powerful voices—we only have to listen and learn.

Poetry Month Scouts: A Guest Post by Marsha Schuh

Since the Academy of American Poets first established National Poetry Month in 1996, poets and poetry lovers have celebrated the month through readings, workshops, festivals, and “poem-a-day” challenges. Each year, the number of events seems to grow. Each year, I begin a poem-a-day challenge with the intention of writing 30 poems during the month of April, but I’ve never been successful—until 2015.

In March of this year, I stumbled upon a particularly inspiring challenge called PoMoSco, short for Poetry Month Scouts. PoMoSco was sponsored by the Found Poetry Review, and 213 poets from 43 states and 12 countries around the world took part. By its conclusion, they produced more than 6,000 poems, and I was one of them! Each participating poet had the possibility of earning 30 digital merit badges for the month’s creative work. The prompts were divided into five categories named for the method of their generation: remixing, erasure, out and about, conceptual, and chance operation. You can read all about the badges and more at PoMoSco.com. Each category provided six distinct badges that varied in their level of difficulty. Poets chose their own source texts and venues from which to craft their poems.

One of my own favorites was “First in Line” according to which we were to choose a published book of poems and craft our own poem using select first lines, keeping the wording of the original intact, and organizing them in any order, thus creating an original “cento.” I chose Barbara Crooker’s wonderful book, Gold, and after the experience of creating my cento, I was hooked. Two other badges that I especially enjoyed were “Crowd Source” and “Survey Says.” In the first, we were to choose a concrete noun (I chose “doorway”) and ask at least ten people to either define the word or explain what the word made them think about or feel. From the gathered words alone, we had to create a poem that did not mention the original word. The second badge entails making up a questionnaire of eight to ten questions and asking several people to answer them in writing. The words we collected from their answers constituted the word bank for our poem. Not only did this challenge result in a pretty good poem, but it also helped me learn some fascinating things about my friends.

I think this poem-a-day challenge was so much fun and so motivating for me because of the quality and inventiveness of the prompts. Jenni Baker, Editor in Chief of the Found Poetry Journal, and her team of scoutmasters and badgemasters did a great job of creating the challenge, motivating us, and maintaining the very professional website. Poets who took part in PoMoSco were forced to write outside their comfort zones and to experiment with new ways of thinking and writing. We discovered new tools and learned to let go of our own techniques and favorite ways of doing things; this sparked more creativity. We also met and learned from the fellow “scouts,” made new friends, and created a close and supportive community of writers.

PoMoSco is the Found Poetry Review’s fourth National Poetry Project, and this one was, in the words of one of the other participants, “the best poetry month project yet.” She wonders how they will be able to top it next year. Be sure to check next March for the 2016 challenge. If this year’s project is any indication, it should be great fun, highly original, and exceptionally motivational. You may still visit the website—PoMoSco.com until May 31, 2015 to read this year’s great—and sometimes wild—collection of poetry.

Colin Dodds

Palm Springs, California

Suspended in anticipation,
I’ve taken two duffel bags
out to where they made the desert sprout with kitsch

I’ve been discouraged
The sign says IDEAL MALL
The stores sell golf carts and iron doors

Driving tipsy down Frank Sinatra Drive
along a colonnade of dead palms
I avoid detection

The ripples start to the south,
the home of sullen seas and fresh catastrophes
and I wait in the earthquake, for the punchline

Indio, California

The highway sign read
Indio and other desert cities
as if they were already an addendum
to a Biblical catastrophe

The sky became naked, merciless
The highway narrowed, lost lanes
Loneliness became a cosmic affair

By a railroad graveyard,
the date farms die, the houses sit unfinished
and the noise overwhelms the signal at last

A man, maybe not old, but ill-used,
bicycled over to beg a dollar
from the only other man for miles
outside his car or home

The dollar, he said, was for a Corona
to shelter him from the stars,
distant mountains and blind eyes of cars—

His eyes black as snakeholes
under a baseball hat, he let a silence hang
over the man with a dollar, who shrugged,
got in his car and moved along

Yucca Valley, California

The sun blasts the paint off a luxury car
from a million miles away
The sign says a fire could start a flood

The wind hollows out the rock
The bright yellow moth explodes
on the windshield

It’s the never-ending way of matter:
Everything against everything else

The kangaroo rats and desert rats sprint
under the tires of the car
I sigh out their weight in prayer

Needles, California

In Barstow, they’d named a meteor
after an old woman

A distant valley of amusement parks
became a vast animal feed mill

The land emptied out
all of it FOR  SALE  BY  OWNER

A double-wide trailer
sat a quarter mile from the road,
one wall kicked out in disgust

At night, the parades began—
the big trucks driving in clusters

The dark was so dark
that driving was like falling through space

A lit number flashed in the darkness
And I puzzled for miles if it was the price of a room,
the temperature of the air, the speed limit or an exit number

The highway impersonated the sky—wide swathes
between headlights, gas stations and traffic lights

The night impersonated eternity—silent, absolute,
yet broken by human habitation


Colin Dodds is the author of Another Broken Wizard, WINDFALL and The Last Bad Job, which Norman Mailer touted as showing “something that very few writers have; a species of inner talent that owes very little to other people.” His writing has appeared in more than two hundred publications, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Poet and songwriter David Berman (Silver Jews, Actual Air) said of Dodds’ poetry: “These are very good poems. For moments I could even feel the old feelings when I read them.” And his screenplay, Refreshment, was named a semi-finalist in the 2010 American Zoetrope Contest. Colin lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Samantha.

A Writers Week Reading and the Mystery of Poetry by Judy Kronenfeld

On February 3rd, the second day of Writers Week, I heard the UCR Creative Writing Department’s new poets, Associate Professor Katie Ford and Assistant Professor Allison Benis White read in the campus bookstore lounge. My friend, poet and artist Lavina Blossom, came with me. It was the first poetry reading I had been to since my knee replacement surgery in November, and the several months of intensive therapy and recovery following. And maybe, because of that, I was particularly delighted to be out in the world, and focused on the nuances and music of words. In any case, I think both Lavina and I were heart-struck, mesmerized. We each bought one of the poets’ books (and will be exchanging, soon).

The poets indicated that Tom Lutz (Professor of Nonfiction in the Department) had suggested that they arrange a responsive reading, each poet “responding” to the other with a poem of her own. Because of this, it seemed that each poet saw some aspects of their own and the other’s work which had perhaps not been salient to them before. Each poet’s work is informed by an experience of personal trauma. Many of the poems in Ford’s Blood Lyrics (Graywolf, 2014) concern the very premature birth of her daughter and the uncertainty that she will live and thrive; the poems in White’s Self-Portrait with Crayon (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2009) are prose poem meditations on Degas’ art that body forth almost hidden feelings about abandonment by her mother when she was a child. However, it is clear from some comments the poets made during the reading, as well as from their work, that neither poet is remotely “confessional” in the limited sense; artistry utterly transcends the merely private.

I have been reading Ford’s Blood Lyrics and have been struck, as I was during the reading, by the ways her fierce poems keep turning and surprising with their diction and imagery. Here’s the opening of “Of a Child Early Born”:

For the child is born an unbreathing scripture

and her broken authors wait

on one gurney together.

And what is prayer from a gurney

but lantern-glow for God or demon

to fly toward the lonely in this deathly hour;

and since I cannot bear to wish on one

but receive the other,

I lie still, play dead, am delivered decree:

our daughter weighs seven hundred dimes,

paperclips, teaspoons of sugar,

this child of grams…

Ford’s poems confronting the public world are among the best “political” poems that truly are poems I’ve read. Here’s the beginning of “Foreign Song”:

To bomb them,

we musn’t have heard their music

or known their waterless night watch,

we musn’t have seen how already

the desert was under constant death bells

ringing over sleeping cribs and dry wells.

I have not yet obtained a copy of Self-Portrait with Crayon (though it’s on its way from Amazon). But I do want to report on a brief, wonderful conversation I had with Allison Benis White after the reading. I was absolutely struck by what she is doing in this book. I found an interview with her that allows me to share, in her exact words, something close to what she told me as we talked:

When I started writing prose poems that meditated on Degas’ artwork, I didn’t know I was writing a book. In fact, I wrote the first one as a random exercise in response to a postcard of Degas’ “Combing the Hair” I brought home from London—and in responding to that painting, I found, to my surprise, that I could write about my mother’s disappearance in a way I never could before.” So I tried again, with Degas’ “Dancers in Blue,” and it worked again. So I kept going. I had found a way in.

The first thing I said to Allison was something like this: “It’s the difference that matters, isn’t it, when you work from a piece of Degas’ art.” It had struck me forcefully that her use of Degas is one of those extraordinary lucky accidents at the heart of poetry. I asked if Allison had ever studied Degas and learned that she had not; these poems are completely apart from “academic” knowledge. It is just because the Degas works are completely other, though perhaps instinctively attracting, that this poet was able to use them in the most nuanced way to explore her abandonment, and even more. What started out as a “random exercise” completely metaphorizes her experience in the most visual manner. I felt that I was in touch with the mystery at the heart of poetry. And could only wish for the next transformative “accident” for my own work!

Here’s the first paragraph of “Curtainfall” (which I got from Google Books), so you can hopefully see something of how these meditations work:

Back to your own mind and the blank look of the curtain half-

lowered and red velvet. Their heads are already gone. Only

the closest dancer who kneels and looks away. Soon her head

and neck. Soon her shoulders. And when she is gone, only the

backs of their heads who stand and applaud into the absence

of movement. Nothing else will ever happen.