Thursday, December 30, 2010

faux haiku on being a poetry judge for a student literary magazine:

I wrote this very quickly the other day after reading a few very good poems and many poems that flustered me (maybe I just didn't get them?) in a packet of poems sent to me by the editor of a student literary magazine. I am honored they thought of me to be a poetry judge. It means that I have perhaps done enough in my community to merit this (what seems to me) recognition.

I realized quite a few things while I was reading, most of which could be summarized in this faux haiku:

let me get out the gavel....
i've learned the reason
editors delegate.

I hope that the faux haiku at least evokes a few giggles. I also hope to remember to utilize what I've learned here, not to judge others' work, but to consider graceful ways in which to frame how a writer may create more effective poetry and why some of the commonalities in each of those poems should be avoided.

I consider the term "poetry judge," strange and unsettling, quite possibly because I consider poetry an art I am still and will always be learning. I am a student and I hardly consider myself an expert. I also think that poetry is for everyone.

I found myself wanting to write all over the poetry pages with yearnings, suggestions and questions for the writers. While I read, I had a general feeling of reaching out so that each writer could eek out of the abstractions, used as crutches, what they really meant. I yearned so much for the stories that were hiding behind those tall, tall abstractions....

I suppose that means that I should definitely pursue, amongst other things, my MFA. My heart seems to be in it, even if it takes ten years before I am able to formally coach this craft.

Friday, December 24, 2010

I want to share something with you:

A lot of people know about the poetry therapy and other therapies workshops that Art from Ashes (AfA) uses to empower youth. Many do not know that AfA also hosts poetry therapy workshops for adults. I have attended two of their workshops now, have seen many youth workshops, and have adored the work that the folks at this organization do. I have adored the organization for many years now. What they do is powerful, beautiful, effective, and very close to my heart.

I want to share the following because I deemed the exercise as helpful and I really love what came out it. Reading it almost every day has been empowering, and I plan on continuing in this vein. I want to live a happy and empowered life, to make decisions from my heart, not from my hurt, and to transform my view of everything about me that seems to me as broken into blessings, or gifts for myself and those around me. I hope that doesn't sound silly, grandiose, or egoic. I hope it sounds true, because this is what I mean it to be; true and healing. The experience, both times with the workshops, have been healing ones for me. I am grateful for the work that the organization does and I am grateful for the ways in which the workshops have begun transforming my mindset.

I choose to let others be where they are without expecting them to live up to their promises or my hopes, wants, or expectations.
I choose to enjoy my own company.
I choose to make myself the beautiful meals I would make for a lover.
I choose to love what I have considered my deepest faults.
I choose to believe that the colors green, orange, and red seeping in through the window blinds as the sun rises as healing colors. I see them, and they are healing my deepest wounds.
I choose to believe that I am as wise and strong and powerful and beautiful as the sign on my door says I am -- the one I read just before leaving my house.

I hope you are all well, whoever is reading this.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 apple is a pome...

This is a decided prompt based on some Facebook comments that came after my post, " apple is a pome...". Here are the comments I received:

Jaime: "A potato is a pomme de terre..."
Nancy: "beware the bad pomme..."
Piper: "and a poem is a pomegranate. :)"

Here is my go after all the comments and ideas mixed (a quick three minute poem):

to eat, or to be eaten by the inevitable edit:
beware the poem that has eyes!
it is hungry, and can see you from any angle,
but so are you. The water pot
is already boiling and the knives
are poised to peel
away the skin and extract
its knotted vision.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Non-Sequitur Exquisite Corpse Pot Luck (October 24)

It is autumn, a long time away from the last Exquisite Corpse shindig. We've met again underneath Anita's apple tree, but with a variable cast:

Anita Lonergan
D. Shane Peterson
Craig Svonkin
Sandra Maresh
Tameca L Coleman

It's cooler now. There are no bees out doing their good work. There are greens left in the garden and apples on the tree. The tree has done well this year. The garden is tilled, readied for winter.

We have a wonderful feast, again. There's the Waldorf Salad that we almost all had a hand in. The apples and celery were cut in the car on the way to Anita's. There was a stop made to the store for walnuts and mayonnaise. At Anita's, we added the walnuts, mayonnaise, nutmeg and cinnamon and stirred them all together with a lovely old wooden spoon.

There were the sandwiches from a neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant, the Lonergan's buckwheat waffles, homemade jams from the garden, a lovely pan of greens and vegetables, and a beautiful, cocoa dusted Bundt cake. Tummies were pleased.

Despite a slight chill, and a greying sky, we decided to sit outside underneath the apple tree. We went three rounds, just as we went the time before. The first time, to warm up, we wrote with the ability to see the lines that came before. The second time, we folded the pages over, so that we were blind when we wrote our next lines. The third time, we wrote poetic bits on torn pieces of paper, scrambled them in a hat, and chose the pieces at random and read them in no particular order. The results of this activity follow:

Round 1:

We five sitting under the apple tree
contemplating life, love, & sex in the garden

A hole in the fence & grey skies
frame the circle, the squirrel in the compost,
taking chunks from the autumn harvest,
enjoying a discarded pumpkin,

The talk, the words, bees moving from
flower to flower,

none of us performing the role of bees.
The Bees do that.

Round 2:

The tree, the talk, enjoying an encounter between
diverse peoples, but similar

we are laughing, thinking, comparing life experiences.

Jets in the missing man formation. Who's not here?

The alliums are gone now, the peaches, too.
The pumpkins and the berries give way
to the greens, and the apples mulching
into the earth.

Can I live amidst the squalor?

Green of the hose, green grass, green
leaves, green house, all varied colors
by the same name.

Tapping and jet roar. Schmutz in the city.

Cover the windows. It's time. The season
has come to its next dot, resting
here until the next writer picks up the next sentence.

Schmutz dropping on his sweater, he

"Sum up air, sum up noise," Doe
says, but one can't sum up.

Round 3:

1) We are writers, the 5 of us, comparing notes, lives,
roommates, "I am best when I speak, not when I write."

2) I was gonna roll on the floor laughing.
I come from here. I ain't Chicano. I ain't shit.
No accent on the Dia De Muertos.
Kinda like the Hornada de Muertos.

3) Writing is not speaking
Is not singing or humming.
It has its own pains & pleasures,
rhythms & embarrassed pauses.

4) We're all just going to keep everyone guessing:
The hints of accents in our voices, misplaced & misinterpreted,
and the breadth of knowledge and interests
defy labeling.

5) Wrecked cars & broken sonnets litter the front yard: schmutzy.

Please stay tuned for future shindigs!

originally posted at the Exquisite (!) Corpse Pomes (!) blog:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Two Kinds of Decay

The first word that initially came to mind after reading Sarah Manguso's book, The Two Kinds of Decay, was "stark." The subject matter could be what brought that word to mind. Add to that, the author's treatment of her memoir as distanced, if not clinical. Her writing is very controlled. She also shirks sentimentalities effectively, despite the painful and personal nature of the material. Further, the short chapters, block paragraphs, and abundance of white space seem to form a visual context of strict form.

These are a poet's tools, without a doubt. Though the style of the piece, its voice, and tone initially threw me, I appreciate the tools Manguso used a lot more now. She is consistent and uses her devices deftly and with purpose.

Manguso describes, studiously, with clarity and concision, medical procedures, characters and events from her life, her confessions, as well as the hows of living with a rare form of Guillain--Barre syndrome. The book could be a sort of polished journal in which she writes with disregard to time and instead writes in what sequence the details make sense to her. The book is a recounting, wound tightly to a couple of principles which I can very much appreciate and relate. She writes constantly from the point of observation, distance, and simply, so that nothing is missed and the reader is held close to the text until the end. In the end, the reader is not left with a hole, or depressed, and not even with apathy, but with a new way of seeing that the author herself has come to and shown quite well.

The book is poetic in a meaning-follows-form kind of way. The crisp precision of Manguso's narrative, the observant distance with which she relates her story, the segments of short chapters and blocked paragraphs which reveal a bounty of white space on the pages, and the chapter titles around which the author seems to write certain memories as if they were prompts, come to mind. I would even argue that there is a poetic turn where Manguso explains a way of seeing that has become a part of this work:

My existence shrank from an arrow of light pointing into the future forever to a speck of light that was the present moment. I got better at living in that point of light, making the world into that point. I paid close attention to it. I loved it very much.

Further, an affirmation that the author is very studied in her treatment of the material. She writes a note about how such things (memoirs) should be written:

I resisted as long as I could. A narrator must keep a safe distance from the story, but a lyric speaker must occupy the lyric moment as if it is happening. Or so it seems to me at this moment.

I believe that Sarah Manguso has done the job she has described above well. Because of this work, I have ordered her books of poems and am anxious to read them soon.

originally published for Explication. Analysis. Conversation. (, October 16, 2010 and crossposted at GoodReads (

Friday, October 15, 2010


Lately, I am reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh. He speaks to the issues that presently reside within my heart. Also, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks so beautifully and clearly about those things and he makes the remedy simple.

I have a lot of anger and disappointment to deal with. I figure after many, many years I should deal with these things so they can stop getting in the way of my goals and my happiness.

I have so much anger and disappointment within me it often hurts me physically. I have major heart burn and frequent headaches nearly every day which inflame when my emotions do so. It's difficult for me to not recognize the correlation between the inflaming (and literal burning) and the emotional state I am in at any given time.

Thich Nhat Hanh suggests something really beautiful. He suggests that instead of stuffing emotions we should "get in touch with our anger." We should understand it and treat it as if it was our own child. Normally, I think most of us vent. We spew our frustrations out onto a friend or an acquaintance or a stranger. We hit pillows and cry ourselves to sleep at night until we are so fatigued it seems the anger has dissipated. In the morning, when the anger returns, we have a whole new day to wait in before we can practice our anger into the pillows again. That's what Thich Nhat Hanh says we are doing. We are practicing anger and this is not healing at all, nor is it good for the person or thing towards which we are angry. We'll explode when we see them because that is what we have been practicing.

Instead of suppressing or practicing anger, Thich Nhat Hanh says that we should recognize and nurture our anger as if it is a child. We should take care of it and understand it and then transform it.

We should not fight our anger, because anger is our self, a part of our self. Anger is of an organic nature, like love. We have to take good care of our anger. And because it is an organic entity, an organic phenomenon, it is possible to transform it into another organic entity. The garbage can be transformed back into compost, into lettuce, and into cucumber.
--Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames.
originally published at Grow (, October 15, 2010, and crossposted at GoodReads (

Monday, July 26, 2010

Non-Sequitur Exquisite Corpse Pot Luck (July 18)

On July 18th, underneath Anita's apple tree, eight of us got together for a potluck, sights in the garden and some exquisite corpse. We went three rounds. The first round had us write, one after the other, with the ability to see what had been written before. The second round had us write a line on the same piece of paper without being able to see the line that came before. The third round, had us each write on a scratch piece of paper, pile the papers together, and then read them randomly. The results follow:

Round 1:

shady seven, city sounds softly
chatting, asking suggestions for

words, but when silence says
everything. Everything, and what's seen
without words; the mini-bee turning in its flower,

part of the cycle. Or the dream.
While the Beats smile knowingly,
having done it all half a century ago,

when turtles went underground
under two inch thick cement slabs,

under lead pipes and earth packed hard
beneath years of traffic and chaos.

An ancient tool shop operator
gave dinosaurs several pieces
of shrapnel steak. Dinosaurs
ate pipes and lumber.

Cracking underneath the stone weight
each dinosaur's breath shimmering
in the plant's growth.

Round 2:

Summer hums around, circling the
salon. Tomatoes progress, onions double,
pumpkins travel down the path.

Just enough cloud cover, and just enough sky,
under the apple tree, next to plush clover--
myriad forms of cover....

Down South. South of the border.
Musical language, languid music.
It's not like here, ya know.

And to string a sentence
together you need pumpkin butter,
blackberries, half ripe, and Anitatea.

It was like ink bleeding through a piece
of paper. Or blood through butcher paper.
A sickening smell, like rotten meat wafted from

Over the rainbow there were
pieces of light.

The stillness of the wind
speaks to the leaves.

Round 3:

1) We were born after the war.
Then we were in the war.
Now our children and grandchildren
are gone to the war.

2) All of the rocks strewn along the path
and the constant chatter of the
passing cars, cans thrown.

3) The music was tangible. I felt almost as heavy as a mist,
but not quite. More like a tingle at the tips of your
toes when they fell asleep.

4) In exquisite corpse land
we never decided to leave
Point Pleasant beach.
Instead we launched
a hand-made book.

5) Died in the check out line
with a crab, he did.
Seafood is dependable.
Trees give us amnesia
good for the onion fields.
It's shell gave way
to red lobster.

6) Shadow and light spackled paper--
the pen courses over the pattern
another level of black and white.

7) Laughing, sharing notes & souls plot
a course in the garden, under the apple
tree, next door the door opens.

(in no particular order, since Frank's suggestion that naming who wrote what would kill the whole idea of the exquisite corpse, as it's the product that matters, and not who wrote what).

Anita Lonergan
Michael Lonergan
Frank Bessinger
Kat Willow
Tom Gerlick
Sandra Maresh
Max Rommerdahl
Tameca L Coleman

Originally posted on the Exquisite (!) Corpse Pomes (!) Blog at I hope to have more such shindigs in the not so far future.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Story Collecting

During the last portion of my undergraduate degree in writing, I decided to take an interpersonal communications class. Among all the things I learned, familial story telling intrigued me the most. I learned that families could become close-knit by telling each other their stories. A close-knit family is something I have craved since I was a kid. Both sides of my family are spread across the country, literally, and none of us keep in regular, open contact, let alone tell stories about our lives to each other. We know little about each other over our impressions of who we are. The impressions are something, certainly, but without experience of another, there is no or little rapport.

I want a rapport with my family members. Because of this want and this knowledge that stories can build family closeness, I decided to take another class about writing biographies. I had an urge to become a story collector, to compile the stories into a volume for my family members to share. I wanted to contact my aunties and uncles, what grandparents were left, and have conversations with their great-great grandchildren. This became overwhelming to me, not only because of the long lists that began accumulating in my mind of persons with whom I wanted to contact, but because those I contacted were hesitant, closed, almost unwilling to share the stories that I asked for. I related that we could just remember the good things, the happy times, fun quirks and tall tales if there were any, but the hesitancy remained. I was even told to just "make stuff up."

I almost gave up then. Of course, I needed to complete my assignments for the class, else fail, so I inserted some fiction.

During that time, I consulted my mother a lot. Out of all the people I interviewed, she was the most open to share. In fact, she gushed. I couldn't keep up, and I had to call back many times with questions to fill in the gaps.

I know that my Mom wants to write a book sometime about her life, and I think she should do so. I am not sure if she has put word to pages, yet. I do know that she is eager every time I call to ask her about her memories. Because of my mother's eagerness, I decided to start a series of interviews and poems related to her stories. It's a way for both of us to satisfy something. I can deepen the relationship between my mother and I through story telling, and we together can begin putting her life to pages.

Sometimes I feel as if I am doing something wrong, that she should begin her book, and I should leave her stories untouched until she is ready to write them. The trouble with someone else writing your stories, is that there will always be another filter through which the story is being told.

One example is the first poem of the collection I am writing for my Mom from her stories, called "Mermaid," which documents some images from her time in Okinawa during the Vietnam war. My mother commented to me that her time in Okinawa was one of the happiest times in her life. It wasn't enough for me to document the images she related as just that. I applied my own irony, my own filter, and then published the work.

The poem was published last year in the online poetry magazine called Pirene's Fountain, and follows:


When Mom wasn’t making cakes
or practicing her off island dialect
of Japanese to the scowling market ladies,
when she wasn’t taking classes on ikebana,
when my sister and I were not at school
on the Kadena air force base,
she drove us across Okinawa.
We’d hang out of the windows,
hair plastered to our necks, enthralled
by green on green, terraces and vineyards and jungles
green, women with baskets on their heads
traveling down the road in their bare feet.
We passed cart-driven men, their ox carrying
bundles of sugarcane. We left them in dust,
giggled as we passed, waved and smiled,
pointed until Mom made us stop.

These were the best times for me:
When the car arrived at the reef,
after we’d seen the oranges, yellows,
and the reds of the sun setting over the water,
after fried chicken and Nehi soda,
after the first sighting of stars,
we hunted cowries with our flashlights,
the drying starfish and conk shells there.
We found shells nicked by seagull beaks,
with something inside of them, still living.
We found sea glass, coins, trinkets, sand
dollars and oyster shells.

One night there was a woman
balanced on a rock over the water.
She was just sitting there, running
a comb through her impossible length
of hair. At first I thought
her a mermaid, but her feet
folded to her side like arms
hugging in close. Her tattered
skirt and ill-fitted blouse
waved in the cooling night.
Her hair, greyed-black, whipped
at the rock, just as the air force jets
sped across the sky on their courses
to and from Vietnam.

She became a silhouette against the sunset,
etched behind my eyes, forever.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why I Write

They called me the gentle giant.

I waited the whole season, warmed the bench, and wore navy and gold sports socks pulled all the way up to my knees like a dork so I could match my teammates' socks and those polyester gold shorts and tops we had to wear. I cheered the girls and shouted at the referee for his idiocy and I looked intermittently at Coach, to see if she would let me onto the court.

I played well enough during scrimmages. The ball plunged into the basket, or rolled around the rim to score. I passed over up-stretched arms, blocked and dribbled. I ran fast. But in the game, when the ball finally came to me, I held it to my chest with both damp palms gripping the sphere. I gawked about bewildered at the crowd, at the coach, at my teammates open for a pass, and I froze. If someone bumped me trying to get to the ball, I would say, "Oh, excuse me...Oh, sorry, excuse me."

I wasn't great at sports, despite what an athletic build and some height might say. I was prone to social awkwardness too. The inevitable wrong thing would pop out of my mouth and apparently I gave looks that seemed painfully slighting. I didn't know what to talk about with my peers at practice between plays. I couldn't give compliments, let alone take them well and most of my jokes were duds or puns that evoked blank blinks and quick intakes of air. At the pizza parties, not knowing what to say, I listened to all the girls jabber about this or that and I choked down slices, and gulped down Dr. Pepper to dislodge the cheese from my throat.

My mother wouldn't ever let me play sports again after that year, anyway. She attended one game and decided that was all she needed to see. My friend Camille with the braces tripped and knocked faces with another girl, whose lip caught onto Camille's metal braced teeth. Blood puddled on the court and both girls were helped to their respective benches. The blood and braces put the fear of broken limbs and torn skin into Mom's imagination.

While the principal read the team's successes the next morning over the intercom, I listened to the feats and scores of my teammates, and I wrote in my journal about being nerved out over it all and about how Mom wouldn't let me play anymore and how I was sad about it. I knew that not playing the next year would mean deeper separation from the peers I had played with that year and I wrote about that too.

Writing wasn't a new thing. I had been writing since I knew how. I wrote letters for play-pretend in grade school. I even tried to write a little novel about a family of beavers who never seemed to need to come up for air. When I realized writing could bring recognition, the habit was reinforced. In the third grade, Emily Trunket read some silly poem she had written in front of the class. I thought her work piddle. I had been writing copy-changed limericks and nursery rhymes for many months already. I in turn wrote a poem that my teacher so loved, I not only got to read it for the class, but I got to take it to the principal's office with a little waterfall pasted to it (by the teacher). It looked like a page straight from an inspirational calendar.

My eighth grade English teacher had a workshop surrounding one of the poems I had written outside of school and had shared with her. Although I had been writing all that time before, I had never had such an active audience. A group of thirty or more of my peers were held captive in a class over my work, and they were discussing it! This was like a dream come true. I've craved its repetition ever since.