SPOTLIGHT ON CONNIE WANEK

http://writersalmanac.org/bookshelf/connie-wanek/

Connie Wanek

Connie WanekConnie Wanek is the author of four books of poetry, including her latest, Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems (2016). She is also the author of a book of prose called Summer Cars, published in 2014 by Will o’ the Wisp Books. She recently took the time to speak with us at The Writer’s Almanac as we celebrate National Poetry Month.

You were born in Madison, Wisconsin — the second of sixth children. Can you please tell us about your childhood, the sights and other sensory sensations that remain vivid in your memory? You were an avid tennis player, correct?

When I was a child I lived on what remained of an old farm after the land was sold off, five acres and a hand-built house and barn, outside Green Bay, near Duck Creek and the stone Catholic church with creaky wood floors where we went every Sunday, back when Mass was in mysterious Latin. It was always winter in that church, people tracking in the snow, coughing, and stomping and crossing themselves. Our school was a rural one-room structure, Highline Elementary (it burned down long ago), with 17 students total, grades one through eight, taught by a single overwhelmed teacher. When she quit, we didn’t have school for several months! I was almost 11 when we moved to a Wisconsin village, Verona, where my mother’s mother lived, and where I finally went to an ordinary elementary school. I was very shy — and desperately behind in math. I suppose I never did catch up.

The farm, as we called it, smelled like ponies (I talked my dad into buying several, since we had the big barn) and also faintly like the sulfur of smashed ancient chicken eggs around the pump house where the coop had been. The barn loft, up the wooden ladder and through a square hole, was a cathedral, though it still had old piles of hay, and light came streaming through cracks in the boards, through the knotholes, burning the dust motes. They were like those floaters in your eyes, wandering somewhat out of your control, but you could affect them with a wave of your hand. I might have been more religious if they had held Mass in the hayloft.

I didn’t start playing tennis until we moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico when I was going into seventh grade. I loved running madly and hitting the ball as hard as I could, but I never liked keeping score or playing matches. I have a line in a poem: “You never had to crush me and I never had to cheat.” That’s my idea of how sports should be played. That would eliminate a whole lot of our culture, however, and I recognize I am the anomaly.

When did you leave home for the first time? It could have been summer camp or a larger time, like leaving for college. Where do you consider “home”? I’ve read that you relocated several times growing up.

I wonder if “home” is more about people or more about place. The first time I ever left home was right after high school. I drove alone up to Denver for the summer, found a job as a clerk at a 7-Eleven convenience store, found an apartment after sleeping in the car for a few nights, and stayed alive. I’m sure I missed my parents far more than they missed me. There were six of us kids, after all. At the end of August, I went home to Las Cruces to start college at New Mexico State, and I remember driving all night from Denver, desperate to get home, and then when I arrived in the morning, just sitting in the parking area with the several other sleeping cars that so many family drivers seemed to require, and crying. I could cry right now, honestly, but that’s what it’s like to get old and miss those faraway years and times.

Home is where my people are. I’m trying to be near them these days, but they refuse to stay put! If home is also a place, though, for me that place is Duluth, Minnesota. I lived there more than 25 years, raised my kids there, worked at the library, worshiped the lake, wandered around Hartley Field, and felt part of the tribe of writers and artists and wilderness lovers who also call Duluth home.

In “The Death of the Hired Man,” Robert Frost wrote, using two voices:

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

They have to take you in.’

‘I should have called it

Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’

That’s a poem that really should be read again in today’s political climate. I would say that Mary, in the poem, has the voice we need right now. I love it so much.

When did you start writing seriously?

I suppose I’ve written little poems and stories since I knew my name was Connie since I could tie my shoes. But writing seriously … that was in college when I gave up on being a visual artist. I really didn’t have the talent for that. As far as trying to publish, that would have been when my kids were older and I was in my late 30s, in Duluth, and I could carve out a few hours in the morning, before anyone was up, to write. Trying to publish seemed like the next step, once I had some poems I thought were worthy. Phil, my husband, and I were close friends with Louis and Ann Jenkins (still are) and Louis provided a model for me in many ways as a poet who really devoted his soul to his work.

Have you had any unusual jobs?

I don’t think so. They all seemed rather obviously designed to provide a little income, though working at the Mount Royal library in Duluth was most meaningful to me. I think lucky people are those who are truly interested in their jobs, so it doesn’t feel as though they are trading their lives for the money required to stay off the street and out of debt.

What is the one thing that should be part of a writer’s routine, in your opinion? Is there something you wish you’d been told when you were first starting out?

I think it was hard for me to learn patience, in pretty much every area of my life, but especially my writing. Revision was very hard. How could I light a fire again when all the kindling and logs had burned to ash? For me, and perhaps for others, too, it’s important to be able to set something you’ve just written aside for a time, a few hours, a few months or years (ha!), then look at it again with dispassion. In writing, as in life, one’s errors are clearer in retrospect.

Your poetry has been praised by the likes of Maxine Kumin, Bart Sutter, Linda Pastan, and Joyce Sutphen, to name a few. Who are the poets that have shaped and influenced you?

It would impossible to name them all. I also learn from work I don’t particularly like, as well as from other genres. It’s clear that I gravitate toward the natural image and clear language, both as reader and writer. The poets you named certainly are invaluable to me. I am constantly amazed by the number of wonderful poets we have, our literary riches. I know I learned the most, though, from my closest friends, which makes perfect sense to me, and from Phil, my husband, who is a great reader. Also, I would like to say here that the selections and the historical background on The Writer’s Almanac are a daily joy. Many mornings give me marvelous poems from people I’ve never heard of, which illustrates the beauty and breadth of our literary landscape.

What matters most to you in a poem?

I want to be touched, to feel a kinship. Dylan Thomas says that in the end, “You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words.” Yes, I want to be moved by words.

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Ted Kooser writes a lovely introduction in your latest collection, Rival Gardens, in which he says, “[Connie] was not a professor of creative writing on her way to a better position but a person who worked at a public library [and] fixed up old houses for resale, a part-time painter and decorator, a gardener, a full-time mother, and a journeyman framing carpenter of our beautiful American language.”

 I was so moved by this. When I read your poems, there is such life in them. I’ve read well-crafted poems from students/graduates of MFA programs, but they sometimes feel rarefied or removed from the common daily minutiae that make poems relatable and inspiring in the first place. So many today are on the straight path to an MFA — poetry in particular. Is it valuable to sit in a classroom and study form, aesthetics, and devices for extended periods of time? Or is it just as important, perhaps more so, to simply get outside — observe — write by living foremost? Perhaps there is a middle ground. I wonder how a waitress or a mailman or a veterinary assistant with some good poems under his/her belt could best approach getting their work published. I’d like to believe they are out there, writing in little notebooks or on iPads at the end of a shift.

First, thank you for these incredibly kind words. I am so grateful to Ted Kooser also. He has been a model for me in many ways — he is certainly one of our finest poets.

I worked on an MA in English as a teaching assistant, and I think it was great fun (as well as a job), but I never felt there was a future for me in academia. Why? The numbers were against me: at least 1,000 applicants for every position in an English Department back in the late ’70s. So be it. I think it’s lovely that there are many university programs that encourage and teach creative writing, whether it leads to a job or not. I think when we are young writers, we imitate, in the great tradition of apprentices of all sorts. Finally, it’s your own life, the particularity of it, that shapes “your voice.” You are exactly right when you say that looking out at the world is crucial. We learn that as we mature.

I think I drifted quite a bit in my life, took many paths of least resistance. I wouldn’t call that a virtue, though. I did the work-at-hand as well as I could.

Poetry is a big house, and there are rooms dedicated to many different kinds of poetry. There’s a room for the kind I like to read and write; there are rooms for a wide range of approaches. We should feel free when we try to write, I think. Unconstrained by what we have done before, and what anyone has done before, for that matter.

A former poet laureate of Wisconsin, Max Garland, used to be a mailman in Kentucky. It’s not easy to break into publishing, now or ever, but I think the best approach is to start with the small literary magazines, online or print, in your area, and maybe to join a writing group. A lot of people find that to be very encouraging, and certainly, at least one good reader is crucial to every writer.

Can you tell us about your poem “Girdle” from Rival Gardens? It was featured on TWA in March. I laughed out loud after reading it.

I have written a lot of “object” poems, and that’s how this poem started. Focus on an object and see where it leads. I thought … hmmm, a series of poems on women’s undergarments … but this is as far as I got. There’s a line about a heaven for pets in this poem, and I want to say I believe that, if there’s a heaven for people, there’s a heaven for pets, too.

You’ve also written prose, a book of short stories called Summer Cars (2014). Do you enjoy writing prose? Does a story start like a poem that couldn’t be contained? Is it nice to have all those extra words at your disposal? I imagine writing a poem is more difficult, somehow.

Oh, for me, writing poetry is far easier. So much less typing! But you’re right, “Summer Cars” was originally a poem that could not be contained. I kept getting ideas—what’s the story of each of those lovely cars that emerge up north in May, nosing up to the stop signs? I would like to write more prose, certainly, and maybe if I drink enough coffee, I can sustain a narrative more easily and keep my fingers hovering over the keyboard.

Do you routinely write from a particular desk? If so, what’s on your desk right now?

Desks are so serious and intentional. Sometimes I feel like I have to sneak up on a poem, which is hard to do sitting at a desk. I’m a bit like an old hound looking for a quiet place to curl up. A dog with blank paper and a pencil, and one eye half-open—sniffing for a poem on the air.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?

I’ve had wild dreams and I was irresponsible as a kid, but actually, I’ve gotten very boring over the years. I think maybe the wildest thing was climbing Long’s Peak in Colorado, 14,280 feet, in tennis shoes with a peanut butter sandwich and a tiny plastic canteen meant for a child. I was 18. What could go wrong? It was just a hike, right?

Thank you for taking the time to do this!

It was my pleasure, truly, and a great, great honor.

 

Interview by Joy Biles

 

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MARK STRAND, POET LAUREATE

mstrand

Poet Mark Strand (books by this author) was born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada (1934), though he spent much of his adolescence in South and Central America. His father worked for Pepsi-Cola and moved the family from Cuba to Peru to Mexico. Strand once said, “I never found my own place. I really come from nowhere.” For a long time, he spoke English with a heavy French accent.

Strand’s parents wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer, but he wanted to be a painter, so he enrolled in the Yale School of Art. He’d been painting since he was 13, when he did a self-portrait after copying figures from a book on Donatello, the Italian Renaissance sculptor.  Strand was a good student at Yale, though poor, and he worked as a waiter and delivered laundry to pay his way. He also started to read poetry, mostly Wallace Stevens, which led him to enroll in English courses, and his professors encouraged his writing, and he decided to become a poet. After Yale, Strand went to Italy and studied 19th-century Italian poetry. “I was never much good with language as a child,” he said. “Believe me, the idea that I would someday become a poet would have come as a complete shock to everyone in my family.” He wrote steadily during the 1960s, enjoying the wild atmosphere that came with being an artist. Some people complained his poems were too intense and dark, but he dismissed his critics, saying, “I find them evenly lit.”

Strand’s books include Sleeping With One Eye Open (1964), The Continuous Life (1990), and Almost Invisible (2012). He won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Blizzard of One: Poems (1998) and even served as poet laureate for the United States, though he was uncomfortable with the post. He said, “It’s too close to the government. It’s too official.”

He served as poet laureate of the United States from 1990 to 1991 and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1995 to 2000. He taught English and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City. He died at eighty years old on November 29, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York.

Mark Strand died in 2014. In his last years, he stopped writing poetry and returned to art, mostly making collages by hand.


Harmony in the Boudoir
by Mark Strand
After years of marriage, he stands at the foot of the bed and
tells his wife that she will never know him, that for everything
he says there is more that he does not say, that behind each
word he utters there is another word, and hundreds more be-
hind that one. All those unsaid words, he says, contain his true
self, which has been betrayed by the superficial self before her.
“So you see,” he says, kicking off his slippers, “I am more than
what I have led you to believe I am.” “Oh, you silly man,” says
his wife, “of course you are. I find that just thinking of you
having so many selves receding into nothingness is very excit-
ing. That you barely exist as you are couldn’t please me more.”
“Harmony in the Boudoir” by Mark Strand from Almost Invisible. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. .

SOURCES: WIKIPEDIA/MPR

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BILLY COLLINS INTERVIEW

Interview by Joy Biles for The Writer’s Almanac

Billy Collins

Billy Collins - photo by Bill HayesBilly Collins is the author of twelve collections of poetry, including his most recent Aimless Love (2013) and The Rain in Portugal (2016). He is also the editor of Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, and Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds. A Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York, and Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Winter Park Institute of Rollins College, he was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003 and New York State Poet from 2004 to 2006. In 2016 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

You grew up in Queens and, an only child, have said that your mother read to you often. You said: “I have a secret theory that people who are addicted to reading are almost trying to re-create the joy, the comfortable joy of being read to as a child by a parent or a friendly uncle or an older sibling. Being read to as a child is one of the great experiences in life.”

Can you tell us about growing up in New York, the books you loved, the sights and tactile memories that remain vibrant in your memory?

I was born in the French Hospital, which was on West 30th Street, so I can proudly say I was born in Manhattan, but we lived in Jackson Heights, Queens. Now that Brooklyn is saturated, Queens has become the new hip destination. A little late for me. They say people who claim to have happy childhoods are just good at repression, but I had a family as sturdy as a milking stool, the three legs being my mother, father and me. My mother did read to me just about every night at bedtime. If I had a babysitter, she would be handed a book and told to read to me. Most of them read a couple of sentences and said, “OK, I read to you, now go to sleep.” Once I outgrew Mother Goose, my mother read the classics of the day: memorably, Black Beauty and The Yearling. Later I was on to the Hardy Boys and the collie novels of Albert Payson Terhune. More animals than human characters. So reading and the saying of poetry were common activities in my childhood. I think a point occurs in the reading development of some young people where they change from identifying with the characters to identifying with the writer, that mysterious, creative presence behind and in the words. The more noticeable that shift, the more likely it is that the reader will become a writer, or at least fantasize about being one.

You published your first poems in the back of Rolling Stone magazine. They paid $35.00 a poem. Did you get letters from the large readership for any of these poems? I think it’d be terrific if traditionally nonliterary print magazines published poetry nowadays, and music fans seem like a rightful and appreciative audience for emerging poets.

Thirty-five dollars might not seem like a lot of money for a poem, even a short one, but at the time a pack of cigarettes cost 32 cents. We’re talking cartons! Rolling Stone is not a literary magazine, but the little poems (mostly involving states of mind while staring at something) were read by lots of people. What it lacked in highbrow cachet, it made up for in subscribers.

Although you never attended a writing program or took writing workshops, you did meet poet Robert Frost when he visited your class at Holy Cross College. What was this experience like?

Frost paid a visit to my college in 1962 to give a reading, not surprisingly because Frost popularized the now-ubiquitous practice of inviting poets and prose writers to university campuses. About six or seven students who made up the staff of the student literary magazine were invited to join the poet and a few teachers (mostly Jesuits) for dinner in a private room on campus. So technically, I did have a meal with Robert Frost, but none of us dared to ask him a question or even say a word. Frost was elderly, his face deeply furrowed under that blinding white hair, and we were intimidated. Plus, the priests kept shooting us looks of discouragement just in case we opened our mouths and made fools of ourselves. At least that is the way I interpreted those glances.

Do you think writing workshops are helpful, now that you’ve gone on to teach many?

There is no guarantee that you will leave a workshop as a better writer, but you will be a better reader. No harm in that. One of the workshop’s drawbacks, as someone pointed out, is that some teachers want their students to write poems just like theirs, only not quite as good. I tell my students that I don’t know how to write their poems. And even if I did, I wouldn’t let that take time away from trying to figure out how to write my poems. I never took a workshop, mostly because such things simply weren’t around much when I was young. Plus, I was attracted to writing poetry because you did it alone. In fact, the main subject of my early poems was being alone.  I laughed in agreement when Kay Ryan told me that she would consider taking a workshop “an invasion of privacy.”

So many bios about you mention that you didn’t publish your first book until you were 40 years old. As if that’s ancient! It’s not as if writing is playing tennis and you’re past your prime. Why do you think there is such focus on the age a writer publishes his or her first book? It’s as though you may as well not even try if you haven’t published prodigiously by age 23.

The pressure to publish early, often prematurely and at your own peril, arises from a single source: the MFA craze. Once a pleasurable activity becomes part of academic curricula, something inside it dies

You said something once, and it always stuck with me. You may or may not recall. Actually two things. One: Always put your best poems first in a book. And two: Avoid a poem with cicadas. I’m paraphrasing. But ever since I heard you say this, I notice poems with cicadas everywhere — every fourth or fifth chapbook has a poem mentioning them. They were not there before you pointed it out; I’m sure of it. It’s a curse on the poetry world that once seen cannot be unseen.

More importantly, I now always read the first five pages of any poetry collection, even if I end up skipping to other pages from there. Why put the best poems first? I think one might want to spread them around. How do you determine what is the “best” poem — or the ones to put first? Do you want readers to approach your collections sequentially? 

Here are the two ways to arrange the poems in a manuscript: a) when you submit a ms, front-load it. Put all your best poems right up front. (If you can’t tell which ones are your best, it’s too early for you to be thinking about publication.) Editors are among the few people who read mss from front to back; if you catch their interest early, they might just keep reading. b) after your ms has been accepted, tell the editor you’d like to change the order of the poems. An editor doesn’t want to get in the way of that, leaving you free to fiddle the poems into some kind of “creative” order. Remember that what editors are looking for above all else in a manuscript is a reason to stop reading it.

Don’t get me started on cicadas. When I see one, I stop reading the poem. Next!

In 2001, you launched a project called Poetry 180, encouraging high schools to read one poem over the intercom every day, with no analysis or discussion allowed. You said, “[My hope is that it will] take poetry out of the coffin of an anthology … [that] it floats out to the student in an unexpected way.” Can you tell us more about Poetry 180?

The best thing I can say about Poetry 180 is that it works. Based on many hundreds of anecdotal reports from high school teachers, their students love hearing a poem a day and even clamor for it. It’s not “school” poetry, and students are not asked to interpret it.

Do you have a certain place you write, a favorite desk? Does it face a window or wall? What time of day do you like to write? Do you prefer silence or some sort of ambient noise as you concentrate?

I write anywhere. I don’t require a scented candle or a favorite cardigan. I can write on a train or in Yankee stadium. When it comes, it comes. Of course, I can enjoy a long train ride and extra innings in the Bronx without writing a thing.

What’s the deal with mice, Mr. Collins? They enjoy coming around your poems. 

Too much attachment to cartoons plus living in a porous 1860s farmhouse for many years.

Please tell us about your latest collection, The Rain in Portugal (2016). The first poem in the book is called “1960” and was recently featured on Almanac.

I can’t say much about the contents, but the book’s title is an admission that I’m not much good at rhyming. One of the themes of my poetry is absence, in this case, the absence of Spain.

Advice for aspiring writers? Poets in particular.

Read, read, read. Aim for 10,000 hours of reading. Start with Wordsworth’s The Prelude.

Interview by Joy Biles

 

Robert Frost Reads “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”

From a rare 1958 film shot at Frost's farmhouse in Vermont.

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

HOW THE TRUMP STOLE AMERICA

December 5, 2016

by JOHN PAVLOVITZ

unknown

In a land where the states are united, they claim,
in a sky-scraping tower adorned with his name,
lived a terrible, horrible, devious chump,
the bright orange miscreant known as the Trump.

This Trump he was mean, such a mean little man,
with the tiniest heart and two tinier hands,
and a thin set of lips etched in permanent curl,
and a sneer and a scowl and contempt for the world.

He looked down from his perch and he grinned ear to ear,
and he thought, “I could steal the election this year!
It’d be rather simple, it’s so easily won,
I’ll just make them believe that their best days are done!
Yes, I’ll make them believe that it’s all gone to Hell,
and I’ll be Jerk Messiah and their souls they will sell.

And I’ll use lots of words disconnected from truth,
but I’ll say them with style so they won’t ask for proof.
I’ll speak random platitudes, phrases, and such,
They’re so raised on fake news that it won’t matter much!
They won’t question the how to, the what, why, or when,
I will make their America great once again!” 

The Trump told them to fear, they should fear he would say,
“They’ve all come for your jobs, they’ll all take them away.
You should fear every Muslim and Mexican too,
every brown, black, and tan one, everyone who votes blue.”

And he fooled all the Christians, he fooled them indeed,
He just trotted out Jesus, that’s all Jesus folk need.  
And celebrity preachers they crowned him as king,
Tripping over themselves just to kiss the Trump’s ring.

And he spoke only lies just as if they were true,
Until they believed all of those lies were true too.
He repeated and Tweeted and he blustered and spit,
And he mislead and fibbed—and he just made up sh*t.

And the media laughed but they printed each line,
thinking “He’ll never will win, in the end we’ll be fine.”
So they chased every headline, bold typed every claim,
‘Till the fake news and real news they looked just the same.

And the scared folk who listened, they devoured each word,
Yes, they ate it all up every word that they heard,
petrified that their freedom was under attack,
trusting Trump he would take their America back. 
from the gays and from ISIS, he’d take it all back,
Take it back from the Democrats, fat cats, and blacks.
And so hook, line, and sinker they all took the bait,
all his lies about making America great.

Now the Pantsuited One she was smart and prepared,
she was brilliant and steady but none of them cared,
no they cared not to see all the work that she’d done,
or the fact that the Trump had not yet done thing one.
They could only shout “Emails!”, yes “Emails!” they’d shout,
because Fox News had told them—and Fox News had clout. 
And the Pantsuited One she was slandered no end,
and a lie became truth she could never defend.
And the Trump watched it all go according to plan—
a strong woman eclipsed by an insecure man.

And November the 8th arrived, finally it came,
like a slow-moving storm but it came just the same.
And Tuesday became Wednesday as those days will do,
And the night turned to morning and the nightmare came true,
With millions of non-voters still in their beds,

Yes, the Trump he had done it, just like he had said.

And the Trumpers they trumped, how they trumped when he won,
All the racists and bigots; deplorable ones,
they crawled out from the woodwork, came out to raise Hell, 
they came out to be hateful and hurtful as well.
With slurs and with road signs, with spray paint and Tweets,

with death threats to neighbors and taunts on the street. 
And the grossest of grossness they hurled on their peers,
while the Trump he said zilch—for the first time in years.

But he Tweeted at Hamilton, he Tweeted the Times,
And he trolled Alec Baldwin a few hundred times,
and he pouted a pout like a petulant kid,
thinking this is what Presidents actually did,
thinking he could still be a perpetual jerk,
terrified to learn he had to actually work,
work for every American, not just for a few,
not just for the white ones—there was much more to do.
He now worked for the Muslims and Mexicans too,
for the brown, black, and tan ones, and the ones who vote blue.
They were all now his bosses, now they all had a say,
and those nasty pantsuited ones were here to stay.
And the Trump he soon realized that he didn’t win,
He had gotten the thing—and the thing now had him.

And it turned out the Trump was a little too late,
for America was already more than quite great,
not because of the sameness, the opposite’s true,
It’s greatness far more than just red, white, and blue,
It’s straight, gay, and female—it’s Gentile and Jew,
It’s Transgender and Christian and Atheist too.
It’s Asians, Caucasians of every kind,
The disabled and abled, the deaf and the blind,
It’s immigrants, Muslims, and brave refugees,
It’s Liberals with bleeding hearts fixed to their sleeves.
And we are all staying, we’re staying right here,

and we’ll be the great bane of the Trump for four years.
And we’ll be twice as loud as the loudness of hate,

be the greatness that makes our America great.
And the Trump’s loudest boasts they won’t ever obscure,
over two million more of us—voted for her.



 

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REGRET

by Louis Jenkins

There’s no use in regret. You can’t change anything.
Your mother died unhappy with the way you turned out. 
You and your father were not on speaking terms
when he died, and you left your wife for no good reason.
Well, it’s past. You may as well regret missing
out on the conquest of Mexico. That would have been
just your kind of thing back when you were eighteen:
a bunch of murderous Spaniards, out to destroy a
culture and get rich. On the other hand, the Aztecs
were no great shakes either. It’s hard to know whom
to root for in this situation. The Aztecs thought
they had to sacrifice lots of people to keep the sun coming
up every day. And it worked. The sun rose every day.
But it was backbreaking labor, all that sacrificing.
The priests had to call in the royal family to help,
and their neighbors, the gardener, the cooks…. You
can see how this is going to end. You are going to
have your bloody, beating heart ripped out, but you
are going to have to stand in line, in the hot sun, for
hours, waiting your turn.

“Regret” by Louis Jenkins, from Tin Flag: New and Selected Prose Poems. Will o’ the Wisp Books. © 2013

 

 


ljswedenLouis Jenkins’ poems have been published in a number of literary magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 1999 (Scribner, 1999) and Great American Prose Poems (Scribner, 2003) His books of poetry include An Almost Human Gesture (1987), All Tangled Up With the Living (1991), Nice Fish: New and Selected Prose PoemsJust Above Water, The Winter Road and Sea Smoke. His most recent books are North of the Cities (2007), European Shoes (2008), Before You Know It: Prose Poems 1970-2005 (2009), Words and Pictures, with Richard C. Johnson (2012), and Tin Flag (2013), all published by Will o’ the Wisp Books. Mr. Jenkins was awarded two Bush Foundation Fellowships for poetry, a Loft-McKnight fellowship, and was the 2000 George Morrison Award winner. Louis Jenkins has read his poetry on A Prairie Home Companion and was a featured poet at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in 1996 and at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, Aldeburgh, England in 2007. Louis Jenkins and Mark Rylance, actor and former director of the Globe Theatre, London, co-wrote a stage production titled Nice Fish, based on Mr. Jenkins poems. The play premiered April 6, 2013, at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and ran through May 18, 2013.

Regarding (Most) Songs

by Thomas Lux

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Whatever is too stupid to say can be sung.

The human voice can sing a vowel to break your heart. It trills a string of banal words, but your blood jumps, regardless. You don’t care about the words but only how they’re sung and the music behind-the brass, the drums. Oh the primal, necessary drums behind the words so dumb! That power, the bang and the boom and again the bang we cannot, need not, live without, nor without other means to make sweet noise, the guitar or violin, the things that sing the plaintive, joyful sounds. Which is why I like songs best when I can’t hear the words, or, better still, when there are no words at all.

“Regarding (Most) Songs” by Thomas Lux from The Street of Clocks. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

 

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Thomas Lux is an American poet that holds the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne, Jr. Chair in Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology and runs Georgia Tech’s “Poetry at Tech” program.
BornDecember 10, 1946 (age 69), Northampton, MA
EducationEmerson College (2003), Emerson College (1972–1970)

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BLESS THEIR HEARTS

 

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Bless Their Hearts
by Richard Newman

At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids’
toys—they’re only one and three years old!
I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

“Bless Their Hearts” by Richard Newman, from Domestic Fugues. © Steel Toe Books, 2009.


 

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Richard Newman is an American poet and the editor of River Styx. He is the author of three full-length poetry collections: All the Wasted Beauty of the World, Domestic Fugues, and Borrowed Towns. Wikipedia
BornMarch 25, 1966 (age 50), Illinois

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FACING NORTH

 

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Ninety billion galaxies in this one tiny universe—
a billion seconds make thirty-two years.

No matter how many ways we conceive it,
this generous wedge called Ursa Major
more than fills my sight.

But now, as I turn to put out the lights
and give my dog her bedtime cookie,
my eyes become the handle of the great Milky Way,
and carry it into the house.

-by Dan Gerber


“Facing North” by Dan Gerber from A Primer on Parallel Lives. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007.


 

THE LAST WORDS OF MY ENGLISH GRANDMOTHER

 

 

by William Carlos Williams

There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed—

Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat—
They’re starving me—
I’m all right I won’t go
to the hospital. No, no, no

Give me something to eat
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.
She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please—

Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher—
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear—
Oh you think you’re smart
you young people,

she said, but I’ll tell you
you don’t know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I’m tired
of them and rolled her head away.


From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. © New Directions Press, 1991.


 

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William Carlos Williams
Poet
William Carlos Williams was a poet closely associated with modernism and imagism; he figures among the group of four major American poets born in the twelve-year period following 1874, including also … Wikipedia
BornSeptember 17, 1883, Rutherford, NJ
DiedMarch 4, 1963, Rutherford, NJ
SpouseFlorence Williams (m. 1912–1963)