If I Were a Poet

February 28, 2019

If I were a poet I would stop
for every hitchhiking line
and give it a ride
to wherever it could take me.
I would let it smoke in the car
and not turn up my nose
at the smell of urine and asphalt.

I would welcome the baggage
it casually tossed onto my backseat,
and the greasy, matted, misplaced modifiers dangling
from the edges of its woolly watch cap
would not tempt me to avoid
awkward eye contact. Though it ranted
and rambled and raged
and wept and wailed and whined,
the shallow, contrived, unnatural, pointless quality
of over-alliteration would not provoke
my disdain. If it were raining and it had
a rumpled, ugly, smelly, wet
dog with slobbery jowls, mud-caked
paws, and puppies in the pouch,
I would not throw a prophylactic blanket
over my decorous rear seat upholstery.
I would welcome each mud splatter and dirty
double-entendre.

If I were a poet
and a toothless hitchhiking poem
in a black leather jacket and yellowed cotton shirt
stumbled dazed and disoriented onto the shoulder
of my awareness, waving bloody hands with dirty nails,
screeching alternately incoherent gibberish and precisely
articulated obscenities from the corner of its mouth,
I would stop, roll down all four windows,
hop into the back seat,
and toss it the keys.

Jim Benton

Lady of Miracles

February 28, 2019

Since you walked out on me
I’m getting lovelier by the hour.
I glow like a corpse in the dark.
No one sees how round and sharp
my eyes have grown
how my carcass looks like a glass urn,
how I hold up things in the rags of my hands,
the way I can stand though crippled by lust.
No, there’s just your cruelty circling
my head like a bright rotting halo.

Nina Cassian
Trans. Laura Schiff

a knot of perceptions

February 28, 2019

There is the additional, often shattering notion gotten from reading a great deal in anthropology, that in poetry our motives are utterly similar to those who made cave paintings or petroglyphs, so that studying your own work of the past is to ruminate over artefacts, each one a signal, a remnant of a knot of perceptions that brings back to life who and what you were at the time, the past texture of what has to be termed as your ‘soul life.’

Jim Harrison
Introduction to The Shape of the Journey: New & Selected Poems

I believe in ghosts

February 28, 2019

In one aspect, yes, I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.

Laurie Halse Anderson
Wintergirls

an alchemist of life

February 28, 2019

I would have preferred if you had loved me less and understood me more. But perhaps you didn’t love me enough, or didn’t have the imagination, madness, or balls to become an alchemist of life like I was, to spin gold out of the boredom and emptiness that surround us.

Margarita Karapanou
Rien ne va Plus
Trans. by Karen Emmerich

Editorial guidelines

February 28, 2019

1.In describing breasts of a female character, avoid anatomical descriptions.

2.If it is necessary for the story to have the girl give herself to a man, or be taken by him, do not go too carefully into details…

3.Whenever possible, avoid complete nudity of the female characters. You can have a girl strip to her underwear or transparent negligee or nightgown, or the thin torn shred of her garments, but while the girl is alive and in contact with a man, we do not want complete nudity.

4.A nude female corpse is allowable, of course.

5.Also a girl undressing in the privacy of her own room, but when men are in the action try to keep at least a shred of something on the girls.

6.Do not have men in underwear in scenes with women, and no nude men at all.

The idea is to have a very strong sex element in these stories without anything that might be interpreted as being vulgar or obscene.

Editorial guidelines
Spicy Detective magazine, 1935

Sappho in Her Study

February 26, 2019

The files in the filing cabinet
Are all talking at once.
Mumble jumble, say the files
In the filing cabinet.

The desk, discreet,
Discloses nothing.

Rough drafts live
A roustabout life,
Tumbling from shelves,

While books, published
and smugly replete,
No longer feel the need
To compete.

Stationery sprawls,
Casual as sunbathers.

In the locked drawer,
Love letters lie.

Kelly Cherry

enough white space

February 26, 2019

I know what I want is impossible. If I can make my language flat enough, exact enough, if I can rinse each sentence clean enough, like washing a stone over and over again in river water, if I can find the right perch or crevice from which to record everything, if I can give myself enough white space, maybe I could do it. I could tell you this story while walking out of this story. I could — it all could — just disappear.

Maggie Nelson
The Red Parts

Obviously poetry is the most tiny, compact genre of language and I think as a child falling in love with listening to poetry even before I could read it for myself, I felt that transporting magic of an image or a phrase or a lyric or just language that sounded carefully chosen, luscious, precise. I loved the feeling with a poem early on and still do that you could read a few lines and be carried away, be carried away from your current situation, your own preoccupations.

Really poetry was the magic carpet for me and I love stories and novels and essays and journalism, good journalism and everything as well, but usually it’s a little longer and there’s a little more flab in it, I guess, or excess. It’s not as refined and carefully selected as a poem. So I love that miniaturist but huge quality of a poem and the way a poem trusts us as readers, as interpreters to feel it, go with it, understand it, hold it without a lot of didactic explanation.

I have very little tolerance for the sort of piece of writing that keeps pounding us over the head with its message or telling us, “Do you get me, do you understand, did you pick up what I meant?” and that style of writing, that kind of didactic explanatory writing is very popular in the world, very common, exists in all fields. I mean someone recently gave me a cookbook and I gave it away because it was so didactic.

I mean it acted like it had to tell you what “stir” meant. Maybe it was written for children or something but it had a tone and I thought, “I don’t want to eat that food. It’s too bossy.” I like to play around with my recipes. I don’t want a cookbook hanging over me, and poetry is the most respectful genre, I think, for the reader in terms of, you know, go where you will.

Maybe you won’t go exactly where I was when I wrote this poem but it may be somewhere interesting and I love that sense of possibility as a reader, as a listener. And so writing poems, finding connections between images, layers of metaphor, being willing to hint, as the poet William Stafford used to say. He loved poetry because there was a hinting, suggestive quality about it and then a lot of trust.

You know, you’ll be able to take this somewhere that matters for you. Walt Whitman saying, “To have a great poem, you have to have a great audience.” So that mutual interaction. I try to write scenes even in prose books which feel or sound poetic. I’m not sure I always succeed but certainly when I’m rereading the text to myself I hope for that. I try to hear the language, feel the richness of a phrase. You’re still weaving a tapestry even if it’s a prose book.

Naomi Shihab Nye
Interview on AdLit.org

no sign of movement

February 26, 2019

The lips were as red as ever. But there was no sign of movement, no pulse, no breath, no beating of the heart.

Bram Stoker
Dracula