Monday, December 29, 2008

Guest Post: Poet Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

It will be hard to let go of an incredible 2008! One of the most significant aspects has been my involvement with the Public Republic Multimedia Journal. It has been published in Bulgarian for two years, becoming one of the most-read Bulgarian online magazines. Since January, it has been published in German, as well.

On September 14, we opened our virtual doors in English and added - the English language edition.

Being part of a startup international project brings a lot of work, but also a lot of excitement and personal satisfaction. The magazine is like a living being that needs care and attention, kind words, time to grow. And it has been growing constantly in terms of authors, readers and the editorial team. For just over three months, we have published close to seventy authors from nine countries. We publish work every day in the areas of literature, art, music or lifestyle, featuring well-established authors, along with previously unpublished authors. We just started a new initiative, “Artist of the Week,” in which we introduce a new visual or musical artist every Monday. Another innovative aspect of the magazine is that Public Republic allows readers to participate interactively with comments.

Being involved with an international online magazine has completely transformed my life and my schedule, having to communicate daily with our editors in the USA, Bulgaria, Sweden, Germany and Brazil. Also, experiencing everyone’s love and generosity towards the project of Public Republic has been most inspiring.

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer was born and raised in Bulgaria, but since 1995, she has lived in the USA. She writes poetry and prose in both Bulgarian and English and enjoys translating between the two languages.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dark Transit

Dear Readers,

I had planned on continuing my discussion of Anne Finch this week, but decided to put her on hold when I stumbled across an astonishing poem at VALPARAISO POETRY REVIEW: "Dark Transit" by Jared Carter.

Dark Transit

Always the passing of trains in the night,
The sound becoming a part of sleep, unnoticed,
Until one night you hear the call, and know
That a certain train had come for you at last.

The cars illumined with strange empty light,
The dining room with its starched tablecloths,
Its gleaming chairs, the lanterns swinging
In time with the headlong surge of the wheels.

Diesel engine, steam engine, wood-burner,
It does not matter, it is slowing down now,
And it has come for you, already you can see
How it glides to a stop in the empty station.

The stationmaster waves his yellow lantern
And confers with the conductor. It is time.
The train has arrived. You must go forward.
Passengers peer from the clouded windows.

The conductor folds down the steps, he beckons,
It is time, it is time, the whistle calls, the engine
Lets off steam, steam roiling and billowing
Far down the edge of the long dark platform.

I've been reading this over and over this past week, trying to figure out what it is that draws me into the world of this poem so forcefully, so completely. I think it's two things actually. First, trains. I grew up in Maysville, KY, a small town in the Ohio River Valley. I lived about two blocks from a fairly busy line used mostly for shipping coal (Although Amtrak goes through as well) to the power plants up and down the river. Because my house was so close to the tracks, I could hear the engines, of course; but I remember being able to feel them as well, a deep tremble that would shake the house late into the night. I remember walking the tracks home from school, trying to balance on one rail. My brother and I would put coins or rocks on the rails to be flattened or smashed into powder by lines of cars.

It's hard to imagine ever feeling so comfortable and welcome in such a barren, indifferent environment. We knew it was dangerous but still felt completely confident and fearless. Part of this same feeling is in "Dark Transit" as well. The poem welcomes the reader with the use of the second tense (which is not easy to pull off) and also with these very invitational, "You Come Too" lines: "it has come for you" / "it is time" / "you must go forward."

Ultimately, it is these invitational lines which make the poem so powerful; they provide opportunities not only for transit, but for transcendence. "Dark Transit" is meant to wake us from our everyday sleepwalking lives, shake things up a little, and set us down a new and different track.

Enjoy the poem,


Monday, December 15, 2008

Preview: Dance Dance Revolution

This week I picked up Dance Dance Revolution by Cathy Park Hong from my local public library. The title attracted me initially; I expected some wry commentary on pop culture, some autobiographical poems. The usual. And, if you already know anything about the book, you'll know I was quite surprised when I opened it and started reading.

Rather than the realistic mode of poetry I've been surrounded by recently, this collection is a work of imagination and fancy. There are two main speakers in the book: the Desert Guide and the Historian. The Desert Guide speaks in an amalgam of pidgin languages, and the Historian transcribes this speech, and every so often, interjects with some interpretation in standard English. The result is fascinating and quite different from anything I've read recently. The closest comparison I could make would be to Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which would be classified as fiction, of course, but both books have the same fanciful play of language working to drive the story. Since I am still in the middle of reading both books, I can't make any firm conclusions. But I plan to report back next time with a review.

In the meantime, here is a sample from the beginning of Dance Dance Revolution:

3. The Fountain Outside the Arboretum

Ahoy! Whitening wadder fountain. Drink. Afta cuppa-ful
o aqua vitae, yo pissin fang transfomate to puh'ly whites
like Bollywood actress swole en saffron,
flashim her tarta molar to she coquetry man.

So musical! So suggestive. I am entranced. More soon.

-- Jill

Monday, December 8, 2008

Anne Finch

Dear Readers,

This week I’m doing some research on the English poet Anne Finch (1661-1720). Here is one of my favorites by her, “Glass.”


O Man! what Inspiration was thy Guide,
Who taught thee Light and Air thus to divide;
To let in all the useful Beams of Day,
Yet force, as subtil Winds, without thy Shash to stay;
T'extract from Embers by a strange Device,
Then polish fair these Flakes of solid Ice;
Which, silver'd o'er, redouble all in place,
And give thee back thy well or ill-complexion'd Face.
To Vessels blown exceed the gloomy Bowl,
Which did the Wine's full excellence controul,
These shew the Body, whilst you taste the Soul.
Its colour sparkles Motion, lets thee see,
Tho' yet th' Excess the Preacher warns to flee,
Lest Men at length as clearly spy through Thee.

“Glass” is an intense observation and meditation on the invention and numerous forms of glass. It is written in heroic couplets, but is also sonnet-length, having 14 lines. The speaker considers the window, the mirror, and the wine-bowl in laudatory terms. But what begins as praise and admiration, becomes a warning in the final two lines, “Tho’ yet th’ Excess the Preacher warns to flee, / Lest Men at length as clearly spy through Thee.” (l. 13-14)

To speak in less than formal terms, I was really blown away by this poem. I think it has something to do with the element of surprise at work in the final two lines, a late volta, or turn. It seems very, very contemporary. There’s a slight ambiguity at work here, as well. A reader familiar with even a small portion of Finch’s work (as I am) would expect commentary on gender issues, and the poem accomplishes that. The sonnet length, the function of glass as a mirror, and the general admonition in the final two lines are representative of the speaker’s warning to women’s excesses of vanity. However, the same admonition can also be indicative of the excess of wine, something somewhat more particular to men. The poem functions on multiple levels and achieves a multiple levels of success. But what is particularly fascinating to me, is that it achieves all this without a single allusion, the trope du jour employed so heavily by the male poets in this time period. Enjoy!


Monday, December 1, 2008

What is the poet trying to say?

Yesterday, I stumbled upon "Effort" by Billy Collins in his new collection Ballistics. My uncle, Tom, had left the book lying on a table at my grandfather's house, so I picked it up and the pages fell open to "Effort." Collins's style always makes me feel as though the poet has sidled up to me at a family gathering to tell me an important (and well-composed) secret, and this time was no different.

(Disclaimer: I'm working from memory here, so please forgive me if I resort to paraphrase) The poem opens with a gentle rant against those teachers who always asked the question mentioned in the title. The speaker then gives us the comical image of Emily Dickinson chewing her pen, looking out the window, trying to figure out what to say. The rant resonates with me now especially because, as I am teaching a mixed-genre workshop here in my community, I often find myself in the position of having to either field this exact question, or listen to the not-so-gentle rants against my students' past teachers who pestered to death any potential love they may have had for poetry with said question.

Collins whispers slyly to the reader: It's okay not to know. And besides, you can relieve yourself of the responsibility of being the authority. The poem then turns cleverly to the speaker's own poetic subject. In letting his readers off the hook, Collins also excuses himself from having to make something with "absolute" meaning. He talks of absence, describes the night. And leaves it to future generations and future ruler-tapping high school teachers to figure out what it is he's been trying to say.

I appreciate the humor and candor in this poem, as well as the characteristic Collins humility that so incredibly accompanies such lovely language and elegant lines. I look forward to reading the rest of his new collection.

News of the submission slog: I am receiving rejections weekly, if not daily, these days. This at least proves I am doing the work of getting my poems out there. And most of my recent ones have been more than the one word, "No" that I once received by email. Can't say that I'd be unhappy to have an acceptance or two thrown into the mix. But I'll continue to slog on. Next targets: Beloit Poetry Journal and Minnetonka Review.

Happy December!

-- Jill

Monday, November 24, 2008

Poetic Doubt in Larissa Szpurlok’s Embryos & Idiots: Some (Rambling) Thoughts on Book 1; Submission News; Thanksgiving Poem

Hello Readers!

Lately, I’ve been reading Embryos & Idiots (2007 Tupelo Press). In the hopes of eventually forming a coherent review, here are some of my thoughts on the first section of the collection.

The complex association and allegory at work in Szpurlok's Embryos & Idiots is, at first glance, somewhat confounding. I am troubled, if that is the right word, because I cannot immediately obtain linear meaning. However, as I read and re-read, as I immerse myself in the sounds and semantics of the language, it becomes apparent that Szpurlok's collection avoids denotation (and celebrates its own associative and connotative systems) as a means to challenge the linear and representational modes of the myths the collection delights in undermining. Szpurlock's production of a mythic narrative (and her dissolution of that narrative) is a feminist critique of and response to the phallo-centric and patriarchic myths of Genesis and Paradise Lost. While this assignment places the collection in the realm of the public manifesta, the collection operates in the private sphere as well. In a number of instances in Book 1, the speaker breaks away from the allegorical narrative to question her audience. These questions represent an ongoing rhetorical trope of what seems to be poetic doubt. In the final line of "Boulders," the speaker asks "This Century wants anything. Is that a soul?" In "Idol": "Anoton spilled the secret- wouldn't we all to get what we want?" In "Reaper,"Does it matter what we're made of?" In "Passive-Aggressive Music": "and what's so important that it makes / you forget, like ammonia, everything? In "Naves and Navels," "Does anyone know? We who are old and full of words?" These types of questions are rampant in the first section of Embryos & Idiots and they are significant because they represent Szporluk's doubt yes, but also her need to validate her (anti-)myth (non)narrative. Her readers, it seems, have a crucial role to play in this process. Everyone else is either an Embryo or an Idiot.

In other news, I’m preparing submissions to American Poetry Review and New Ohio Review. I hope everyone is fortunate enough to be spending time with family and friends this week. Check out this Thanksgiving poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar to get into the holiday spirit. My favorite is: “Oomph! dat bird do' know whut's comin'; /Ef he did he'd shet his mouf.” Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 17, 2008

Sharon Olds: "The Clasp"

To pick up on Matt's themes of writing on the experience of living with children as well as his most recent theme of violence coexisting with beautiful restraint, I would like to offer Sharon Olds's "The Clasp." It contains perfectly within one small stanza the complex ambivalence of parental love.

It begins with a swinging, back-and-forth rhythm: "She was four, he was one, it was raining, we had colds," (1). The rocking syntax of the four quick phrases helps the speaker lay out the facts of the situation while drawing the reader's ear and body into the music of the line. The following line relaxes into a longer clause, though it still resists a full stop: "we had been in the apartment two weeks straight," (2). The reader quickly understands that this lyric will be a confession and prepares to be sympathetic. Anyone, parent or not, who has spent five minutes with children can immediately see the inherent tension in the set up. The narrative then moves to the central action: the mother-speaker grabs the wrist of the older child to "keep her from shoving him over onto his / face, again"-- a perfectly understandable move (3-4)..

The real drama, however, occurs in less than a second, when the mother squeezes her daughter's wrist "to make an impression on her" (6); she reports savoring the stinging sensation, the "expression, into her, of my anger" (9). But the poem shifts again, from the "righteous chant" and staccato rhythms-- grab crush release-- to the parent observing her child experiencing her own revelation: "she learned me. This was her mother, one of the / two whom she loved most, the two / who loved her the most, near the source of love" (19-21). The intimate, innocent mother-daughter relationship deepens a level to envelop something dark. The mother watching the child learn this allows the reader to be present at the moment of the mother's realization. They hurtle together closer to the "source of love," and find "this"-- the speaker refers to the anger only with a pronoun, for the word anger cannot contain all of what "this" stands for: the moment, the learning of something big about the world from a child, the violence, the perverse enjoyment of it, the protecting of one child at the expense of another, and all the subtleties of emotion that occur in a moment of intense loving.

The exercise of writing this post reminds me of the frustration inherent in trying to "explain" a poem. So I recommend you find the poem, read it, and experience the "this" for yourself. I found it in Not For Mothers Only, which I am still reading with pleasure. You can find the full text on the web at

-- Jill

Monday, November 10, 2008

Some Thoughts on “Winter Mix” and “Chaos Theory,” from Carol Ann Davis’ Psalm

Lately, I’ve been reading Carol Ann Davis' Psalm, a collection of poems which explores, among other things, the speaker’s grief at the death of her father.

These poems are at once intensely violent and beautifully restrained. One of my favorites from the collection is "Winter Mix," which begins, "This is a day with ghosts in it, / with husks and some kind of confession at its heart." These lines serve to introduce the poem, as well as the scene. The reader is lead to the next couplet expecting these ghosts, expecting a confession. The ghosts, it seems are represented in the speaker’s meditation on her dead father's photograph: "One day I won't wake up to my father's portrait. / I'll take it and put it / in the sitting room / and it will become small to me." The speaker's prediction that she will overcome her grief is followed by the confession that this will not happen for some time. In the final lines of the poem, the speaker describes the power of the photograph, and the power of her father to transport and transform her "into cumulus and cirrus, / into ganglia and spine, / into zephyrs and waves." This seems to be the most powerful moment of the poem. By contemplating her father's death, the speaker envisions her own "death," her metamorphosis into something utterly non-human. But it is a metamorphosis she admits she is unprepared for when she confesses in the final two lines: "I'm sorry / to come with empty hands."

Another favorite is "Chaos Theory." Highly abstract and experimental, "Chaos Theory" consists of a number of anaphoric, one-line stanzas gathered together under the unified banner of "Chaos Theory," a highly complex mathematical theory, which attempts to explain the random behavior of systems which are defined as having deterministic properties. The theory is confusing, to say the least, but its complexity is indicative of the intricacy of the levels of narrative or non-narrative at work in the collection as a whole. I say narrative OR non-narrative to emphasize the irregular forces of voice, structure and meaning at work in the collection- all of which contribute to the total dissolution of narration taking place in Psalm. "Chaos Theory," while it is a beautiful and random poem in and of itself, acquires its meaning from the poems in the collection which surround it. It emphasizes the notion that the grief of a physical loss is also a metaphysical loss, a loss of meaning, a loss of language.

Hope everyone is well.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Visual Poetry II

As promised, here are the images from Eleni Sikelianos's poem, "Experiments with Minutes." Notice again how creation of the images spur the text, rather than the other way around. (Apologies for the quality of the pictures; I'm a poet, not a photographer.)

At Matt's suggestion, I delved into this month's issue of Poetry Magazine, and wow! I was overwhelmed by the variety and ingenuity of the visual poetry in this issue. Geof Huth's commentary on the works is fun and enlightening, too. He has written a longer article available online, too, at

I'd love to talk about each poem, but for the sake of focusing, I'm going to choose Joel Lipman's excerpt from "Origins of Poetry" (to view the poem see What appeals to me about this poem is the overlapping and interaction between the two texts: the "found" text of the old science book and Lipman's rubber stamp composition. Layering in this way mimics the way in which we are always composing on a palimpsest, one that is never completely erased. Each voice is merely a part in the chorus, and yet, Lipman's lines are clearly the soloist of this piece. Other graphic features-- squiggles, red dots-- also call attention to the artifice, which helps guide the reader's attention. The harmony parts, though, are still audible, and the sheer fun of writing a poem with a title as grandiose as "Origins of Poetry" on a tract about magnetism and electricity makes unimaginable connections possible. Perhaps the origins of poetry are as fundamental as the laws of magnetism. In this way, Lipman's poem aligns itself with the others in this issue: each one questions the origins, and in the process, the limits of language and poetry. A worthy experiment, whether you call it science or linguistics or art or all of the above.

Thanks to Matt for the tip! -- Jill

Monday, October 27, 2008

SAMLA, etc

Hello Faithful Readers!

Please excuse this short and inconsequential post. I'm staying busy this week preparing a visual presentation for the SAMLA Convention Nov 7-9 in Louisville, KY. When I first proposed a topic over the summer, I had no idea these things were so expensive. I'm estimating membership, registration, and printing costs at around $300! I want to build my vita, but is it worth it?

Obviously, this is my first time doing this kind of thing, and I have to admit, I'm a little nervous. Anyone ever done a conference visual presentation? Any advice?

In other news, I got a poem picked up by L.A. Review, and am waiting to hear from Poetry, ABZ, Greensboro Review, and Crazyhorse. Where are you submitting?



I heard from Poetry Magazine after I posted this. Here's what the editors had to say:

Thank you for sending us your work.

We're sorry to say that nothing in this particular submission was quite right for us, but we were impressed. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note to send us more work after a while.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Graphic Poetry and Eleni Sikelianos

Lately, I've been curious about how illustrations and poetry might work together. One of my mentors, Molly Peacock, sparked this seed-idea a few months ago, and it's been growing slowly ever since. I read Marjane Satrapi's amazing graphic memoir, Persepolis, this summer, and it struck me how pictures can move a narrative so effectively while also conveying much emotional information. I've been wondering how that might work in the context of a less narrative form, like lyric poetry.

One of Eleni Sikelianos's poems gave a window into what a partnership between drawing and writing can produce. The following is from "Experiments with Minutes":

If we could shine a flashlight
through the edge of a minute
see the membrane's red
corpuscle, & surface
tension of a second at
the interior atmosphere of an hour
Move the flashlight out
on eternity-- possible? Not. (Duh.)

Below this stanza is a reproduction of what looks to be a postcard or a page from a notebook, which is a sort of graphic, but is still words. The handwriting itself becomes an illustration of a mental process. Sikelianos tries to visualize the invisible. She begins with the "if" that is usually the domain of fiction writers. Poets don't as often seem to speculate. I love that the minutes is conceived as membrane, human tissue (this poems is in fact from a larger collection, Body Clock). I also love the thinky aspect of the language and syntax. The speaker tries on a thought, then rejects it, almost as quickly.

Having already arrived at a dead end, the speaker turns to the non-verbal and begins to draw. What follows is a circle filled with tiny dots. Then, this:

In this conception a minute is round though not perfectly -- its lines disconnect in the drawing of it to meet up with the next / past minute. You might see the small freckles of scattered seconds at the interior (heart-meat) of the minute.

This is a big-meat minute true to its actual size but only took 34 seconds to draw.

What struck me as so original about this graphic poem is the function drawing plays in the poem. Rather than being an illustration of the narrative, the act of drawing creates experience upon which the poem itself is based. The artist/speaker is free to play with the image because it represents something intangible anyway. The language reflects this playfulness: "conception" (birth metaphors) and "heart-meat" (instead of heart beat) are two examples.

Several more very similar looking drawings follow, with reflections on their creations. I urge you read the rest of this poem. I found it in the anthology Not for Mothers Only. I'd also love to hear from you if you know of any other poets working in graphic forms.

P. S. I will try to post a picture of the poem later today so you can see the drawings, too.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Blessing

I’ve very interested in James Wright's poetry, particularly as it functions on a physical level. "A Blessing," especially, hits me somewhere between my heart and my stomach, and not without reason. Notice the physical language in the poem: the eyes of the ponies that darken with kindness, how they ripple tensely, bow, munch the young tufts, the speaker's desire "to hold the slenderer one in my arms," when it nuzzles his left hand, her mane, her forehead, "her long ear that is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist." On one level, "A Blessing" is a meditation on and celebration of the beauty of the anatomy of these two ponies, and by comparison (girl's wrist), a celebration of our own bodies. But with the last three lines, the poem becomes more than observation: "Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom." With this admission, the poem becomes a record, or document of ecstasy. It plots the events that lead to the speaker's immense joy when he is able to step outside of himself, (or at least imagine that he is able to step out of himself). But what makes the poem so powerful, is that it allows the reader to take this journey as well, to experience a small piece of ecstasy, a blessing when we are nowhere near the highway, Rochester, or the two ponies.

It’s an amazing poem, one that cannot be read without some physical response. I’d love to know how it felt for you. Perhaps the hairs on your arms stood up, or the brick in your chest seemed a little lighter. Use the comments link and let me know.

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Web Resource: The Kelly Writers House

A recent email update from the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania put me in mind again about this fabulous resource. Their latest innovation is live webcam directly from the Writers House so that anyone with internet access can tune in (log on?) and participate. This afternoon, for example, you can join podcast host Al Filries (director of KWH) and members of the poetics community for PoemTalk as they record episode 15 featuring Lyn Hejinian's "constant change figures." Each episode of PoemTalk centers around a single poem from the PennSound archive. PennSound is "an ongoing project, committed to producing new audio recordings and preserving existing audio archives," and is a resource in its own right.

A tiny taste of what else goes on at KWH, from their website: "Conceived in the communitarian spirit, the Writers House provides a warm and welcoming home within Penn's pre-professional culture for wild freethinkers, capacious scholars, voracious readers, and creative writers of all styles and stripes. We host an almost outrageous array of writing-related projects, programs, and activities for the Penn and Philadelphia communities: tutoring and literacy outreach projects, reading and writing groups, classes and workshops, book parties and book drives, poetry readings and open mic nights, catered dinners and impromptu coffee klatches."

Also this month at the KWH: L.A. Banks, Jim Shepherd, and more Poem Talk focusing on "I Know a Man," by Robert Creeley. I urge you to browse their website (you will find a link in our feature links list) and join in some of the exciting events happening there. And if you live near Philly or are passing through, make a point of visiting. It is an inspiring community of writers thriving and thinking and creating together. We should all strive to make our own little version of the Writers House wherever we are, be it a writers cabin or even a pup-tent. Make a space for creativity and then invite someone else in.

(Note: The namesake of KWH is no relation to me, Jill Kelly Koren.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Guest Post: Playwright Heather Jones

The Poetic is Dramatic: Poetry Punctuation Strategies in Dramatic Dialogue

Note: You should read the poetry and play selections aloud.

Part 1: line breaks

A really brief discussion of lines and the things poets and playwrights can do with them.

In his poetry dictionary, John Drury says that a line is “like a melodic phrase, lasting a certain length before the piece “turns” to the next line or ends” (159). The difference between the turn of the line in prose and poetry is basically that a prose line always turns when it reaches the margin of the page. In poetry, the poet chooses where to turn the line—or make a line break. Drury quotes Denise Levertov as saying that the line break is “roughly a half-comma in duration….a crucial precision tool [that] can record the slight (but meaningful) hesitations between word and word…”(Drury 160)

One thing we can do with line breaks is enjamb them. The poetry dictionary tells us that enjambment is “The use of a line whose sense and rhythmic movement continues to the next line.” It goes on to say, “Enjambment is like musical syncopation; instead of pausing, the musical phrase pushes ahead. Enjambment speeds up the movement and quickens the pace.” It can also call attention to the last word of one line and the first word of the next. The poetry dictionary says that “Enjambment may quicken the pace over end-stopping—but not always. Robert Creeleys’s poems often have lines broken after an article, which imposes at least a slight pause, a musical effect that slows down the movement.” (116) , as in this poem, “A Reason”:

Each gesture
is a common one, a
black dog, crying, a
man, crying.

A playwright can also experiment with where they turn lines and with enjambment, and have, at least as far back as Shakespeare.

Here, from Macbeth:

I pull in resolution, and begin
To doubt th’ equivocation of the fiend
that likes like truth[…]

Dramatic verse went out of fashion with the advent of playwrights like Ibsen who introduced a more realistic and conversational style to dramatic dialogue. Recently, though, playwrights have begun to introduce poetic moments into their plays, moments that are meant to stand out from the naturalistic and realistic and show us the interior or the metaphysical—what is not readily apparent in real life.
Here is an example of enjambment from Erik Ehn’s Polio comes from the Moon (Bernadette), part of his series of Saint Plays

Lianne Maille: Polio comes from the moon
On gray-green bee wings
Settling on red petals
An ash unseen

Here Ehn makes images the emphasis of the first part of the dialogue, with the more abstract ash unseen at the bottom. In this case, the two voices might function like a chorus, witnessing and interpreting the action. The enjambed dialogue forces us to pause on the images, to see what might not be on the stage.

Heather Jones is a playwright, writing mentor and creativity coach based in Asheville, NC. A link to her blog, Brainstorm!!, can be found in the featured links list to the left.

(photo Robert Creeley in Providence, Jan. 2004; by Joel Kuszai)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Robert Bly's Treatment of the Domestic in "For My Son, Noah, 10 Years Old"

I have to admit, I haven't read much of Robert Bly's work, so I was happy to run across his poem "For My Son, Noah, Ten Years Old."

The manuscript I'm currently working on focuses much of its attention on the domestic sphere and it's exciting to see another poet writing on the subject. There is a specific difficulty inherent in the task of writing about family. I believe it requires the poet to examine his/her success, but also failure as a parent/spouse.

“For My Son, Noah, 10 Years Old” depicts a father/son relationship, and the tranquility created by that relationship. I’m interested in the way Bly sets up this moment. In my own poems, I tend to begin with a textual representation of the domestic and use this representation as a lens to explore/understand relationships/concerns of the outside/undomestic. In “For My Son,” Bly has done the opposite, describing various elements of the natural world before focusing in on the tenderness of the time a father spends with his son. There’s a deep conflict here between the elements of the natural/outside world and the tasks the father and son enjoy together: “but what is primitive is not to be shot out into the night and the dark.” For Bly, the work of the artist and the child are inherently original and distinctly separate from the horse, the chicken, the barn, and the lumber pile.

It’s a beautiful poem and I hope you enjoy the read. Also, if you run across any other poems which seek to depict or represent domestic concerns, please post here or e-mail I’d love to hear from you. Have a good week!

For My Son Noah, Ten Years Old
By Robert Bly

Night and day arrive and day after day goes by,
and what is old remains old, and what is young remains
young and grows old,
and the lumber pile does not grow younger, nor the
weathered two-by-fours lose their darkness,
but the old tree goes on, the barn stands without help so
many years,
the advocate of darkness and night is not lost.

The horse swings around on one leg, steps, and turns,
the chicken flapping claws onto the roost, its wings whelping
and whalloping,
but what is primitive is not to be shot out into the night and
the dark.
And slowly the kind man comes closer, loses his rage, sits
down at table.

So I am proud only of those days that we pass in undivided
when you sit drawing, or making books, stapled, with
messages to the world...
or coloring a man with fire coming out of his hair.
Or we sit at a table, with small tea carefully poured;
so we pass our time together, calm and delighted.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Haiku Guru Barry George

First, apologies for the lateness of this post; we were hit by the remnants of Ike pretty hard and are still without power. I am braving the vagaries of dial-up internet to send this!

And now, to our featured poet for the week: Barry George, a master of haiku and other Japanese forms. He is also featured on Cornell University's Mann Library daily haiku website. Check out this link: to read his work and to browse the archives.

Barry says he is "
drawn to haiku as a way to give attention and expression to immediate perceptions." What amazes me about his haiku is the seemingly impossible combination of the economic use of words with the largeness of image evoked by each poem. Please read and enjoy!

(photo by Marsh Muirhead)

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Short Lesson in Metaphor

One way to examine metaphor is to break it down into two distinct elements: tenor and vehicle. I.A. Richards first used these terms, but I think that they are pretty standard in contemporary analysis/criticism. The tenor is the subject of the metaphor, and normally the subject within a sentence in a poem. The vehicle is usually the predicate nominative, and “carries” the subject. If you’re a math person it might be easier to envision the metaphor as an equation:


Eavan Boland’s “Anorexic," found in her Selected Poems, begins with a perfect illustration of this equation with the simple and straightforward metaphor: “My body is a witch.” Here, “body” is the tenor or subject of the metaphor and “witch” is the vehicle, that which carries the subject into wider contexts of connotation and understanding. As you can see in the remainder of the poem, this simple metaphor in the first stanza directs and energizes the piece through the final line. I'm including a section below, but a google search will find the entire poem. Furthermore, a brief but engaging feminist analysis can be found at Outskirts, an online journal.


Eavan Boland

Flesh is heretic.
My body is a witch.
I am burning it.

Yes I am torching
her curves and paps and wiles.
They scorch in my self denials.

How she meshed my head
in the half-truths
of her fevers

till I renounced
milk and honey
and the taste of lunch.

I vomited
her hungers.
Now the bitch is burning.


In other news, a poem of mine originally published in the Spring 2008 issue of The Louisvile Review has been selected to be featured in American Life in Poetry. Sponsored by The Poetry Foundation, Library of Congress, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and edited and founded by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, ALP "provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems." I'm really excited to be a part of this project.

Monday, September 1, 2008


In my editorial work I am learning the importance of endings. I can be reading along, enjoying the
language and the cadence of a poem very much, eager to follow where the poet leads. And then I come to the end and pfft. Nothing to hold onto. No surprise. No door to re-enter the poem with a new understanding. And I realize that many of my poems are this way: I begin with a vague idea of where things are going, but never quite get there. I guess this becomes a revision issue. I must learn to write beyond the vagueness to find that surprising connection or the germ of the seed for which I've been digging. Otherwise, both reader and poet are left floating in a fog. It might be a beautiful fog, but a fog nonetheless.

Here is one of my favorite endings by Simon Armitage in his poem "The Shout":

We went out
into the school yard together, me and the boy
whose name and face

I don't remember. We were testing the range
of the human voice:
he had to shout for all he was worth,

I had to raise an arm
from across the divide to signal back
that the sound had carried.

He called from over the park-- I lifted an arm.
Out of bounds,
he yelled from the end of the road,

from the foot of the hill,
from beyond the look-out post of Fretwell's Farm--
I lifted an arm.

He left town, went on to be twenty years dead
with a gunshot hole
in the roof of his mouth, in Western Australia.

Boy with the name and face I don't remember,
you can stop shouting now, I can still hear you.

The poem begins in narrative with a relatively simple childhood recollection. The reader follows; suspense builds-- when will the voice no longer be heard? And the ending comes as a total shock: the voice is still being heard. As Kathleen Driskell said in her lecture this past May, the mark of a good poem is that one is compelled to re-enter it. After reading this last line, who can resist returning to the title and the first lines to find out what a second reading will yield with this new knowledge? I cannot. In fact, I often find myself thinking of those last lines.

Now to return to my own work, with an eye toward taking that step from vagueness to statement, from plain narrative to metaphorical significance.

And here's a little bonus video so you can get a taste of Simon Armitage's voice. He's reading a sonnet.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Rejection Slip

I got a rejection e-mail from Gulf Stream Magazine a few days ago, and while it can be frustrating to wait 5 months to hear from a journal and then receive a form note,

"Unfortunately, we are unable to accept your submission for publication at this time. We wish you the best of luck placing your work elsewhere.”

for me, it’s usually, a good thing. I’ve never received any additional comments on a rejection slip, but the slip itself is a kind of impetus. The slip makes me want to reconsider the original submission, revise, or (more often than not) write something entirely new. In that spirit, I’d like to offer up a few journals I’ve been checking out recently. Perhaps we could plan our assault of poems together. Let me know where you’re submitting, or where your poems are being accepted.


This is a really neat press which prints poems on broadsides and asks volunteer ‘vectors’ to distribute them throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe.


Home to one of the funniest poems I’ve read all summer, “You Can’t Pick Your Friends Nose” by Aaron Belz.


I was really excited to find this (relatively) new magazine because it’s based in Huntington, WV, just 60 miles from Morehead. I think I was a little too excited. I submitted some poems a few months ago without noticing the “Reading Period” and, of course, they were sent back with a note telling me the “Reading Period” didn’t open until September. Haha. This Magazine has published a lot of Ohio and Kentucky poets.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Creative ID

During Amy Holman's publishing lecture last spring at Spalding, she suggested a new answer to the inevitable question, "So what kind of writing do you do?" Instead of answering with a genre, Amy urged us to fire back with a "Creative ID," an elevator-ride-length description of our artistic fingerprint. Since then, I've been struggling to compose one for myself. You'll find Matt's neatly tucked into his introduction below. Mind promises to be a little messier, but that's part of my identity, so why fight it?

Here goes: For me, the seed of a piece usually comes from a real life incident or a dream that haunts me until I decide to write it down. From there I write until I find something (usually quite unexpected) to which I can link the seed to help me, and hopefully the reader, make some sense of it. Formally, I like to experiment, using everything from sonnets and tankas to open form and prose poems. Next venture: graphic poetry!

So that's my first attempt at getting something down "on paper." We'd love to hear your Creative IDs, so feel free to post them below, or email them to us, and we'll post them here. Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Good Morning Readers,

Before I begin my introduction, I would like to thank Jill for inviting me to join this blog. I'm excited to begin this dialogue with her and to share it with a community of writers.

About me: Like Jill, I'm a recent graduate of Spalding University's MFA in Writing Program. As a poet, my work is primarily concerned with representations of the domestic sphere; but I'm also interested in interactions between the human world and the natural world. My poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Coe Review, The Louisville Review, New Southerner and Midwest Quarterly. I live in Morehead, Kentucky with my wife and two boys.

Please visit this blog often to read about my current research projects, examinations of particular elements of craft/poems, book/journal reviews, etc.

Monday, August 4, 2008

First Post

Welcome to the poetry blog of Jill Koren and Matthew Vetter. The purpose of this blog is to keep us-- and our readers-- thinking critically about poetry, to create a community of poets, and to share thoughts and resources for doing the work of poetry.

I suppose I'll begin by introducing myself. I'll let Matt introduce himself next week. I am a practicing poet who recently graduated from Spalding University's MFA in Creative Writing program. My poetry has appeared in The Louisville Review and in an anthology entitled Woman.Period (due to launch August 11th!). I currently serve as poetry editor of 94 Creations, a new literary journal. I live in Madison, Indiana with my husband, my son, and sometimes a colony of Big Brown Bats. I look forward to sharing more with you soon.