Saturday, December 12, 2015

poem about reading a poem

i’m trying to understand
what you do with language,
why you make those turns -
how you move from this poetic
shifting gears, this hard
speech & how the voice changes.
it is a mystery. this is a mystery.
the way the phrase echoes
as if i’ve heard it before -
somewhen else, maybe
even beyond words & imbedded
in the body, a way of knowing,
the word bearing weight;
the glory of language & how
it shapes the world,
the way it shapes
my memory of the experience:
the reasons i thought that
i could even begin to understand
what lies beneath my reason,
the ebb & flow of speech –
promises, perhaps, possibilities & pauses
- holding it all in the palm of my mind,
grasping at each measured image
to connect each to a moment
we can share so we can discover
where the world divides,
where light divides from dark,
night from day, light
shining on or from the words
& yes, they are promises
but hold them lightly
don’t hold them too tightly
for they are too easily strangled.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


talk turned to piercings
over the lunch hour we shared 
surface comparisons
ears, tongue, nose

i spoke of the modern primitives
the desire to adorn -
to be altered, or altar -
what kinds of objects can be placed under the skin
or through it, how 
the body fights, encases, pushes

how I had toyed with the idea of a prince albert piercing -
i did not tell them why.
i told them of my friend
- let’s call her "T" -
who took turns piercing her nipples
letting one heal before piercing the other

for the rush, she said

i did not speak of st.teresa
how her ecstasy was double-edged
how sometimes pleasure and pain
are entwined, how 
passion is enfleshed
and spirited, how 
i too imagine myself
satisfied with nothing 
less than god.

we did not speak of how 
our hearts are too often pierced
by the words we say and don’t say
the longing to hear your voice

we did not speak of the fragility of skin
how much it is like paper,
how much gets written on it,
what stories we then tell

we did not speak of the human heart, our need
our fear

Saturday, September 12, 2015

just stop

stop looking for Jesus
in all my poems.
i mean - i’m sure he’s in there
haunting the words
(he likes to do that)
whispering in the ear,
confusing the issues –
but I suspect
he’s more likely sitting beside you
while you’re reading,
you keep finding him –
like Waldo –
in every scene.

this need to see him
in every line
is a perverse hide and seek –
where you hide
(and miss)
what the poem is hiding.
you resist the poem –
its ability to surprise you.
you nail it to the page,
flay the words,
filling the empty spaces
with some imagined revelation;
this text, and that text,
and the next word.

let him announce himself;
let him give up the Ghost.
i have no idea what he’s trying to say –
i can’t hear him over your affirmations,
choking on the words
you force into his mouth.

try entering
the poem’s space
and wait.

look for yourself there,
if you must.

maybe Jesus will meet you;
maybe not.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

safety (psalm four)

will you hear me when i call
you, my righteousness, my
hope. this voice must find
a home, a curling place, your ear.
turn your face to me now.
may it be a kind face.
let it be an open window.

every day you trade your glory
for shame. every day you choose
a lie, you lay waste
to the song
you hide.

still, i will sing.
and you will hear.

i may become angry.
i will not point the finger.
Slowly i will lay down
next to you. i will be still.
in the morning
you will find my song
nestled in the hollow
of your neck.

shyly, i offer you this gift.

let me take the doubt
about your neck; let me
be good to you.

let me feel the heat
of your attention,
let joy sound its note
full of good things –
let us become drunk
as we lay down
in peace, and sleep.
let me be safe.

Monday, June 29, 2015

st. agnes

I think our minds respond to things beyond this world. Take beauty: it’s a very mysterious thing, isn’t it?  I think it’s a response in our minds to perfection. It’s too bad, people not realizing that their minds expand beyond this world. - agnes martin

it’s not so much the purity
that imputed poetry -
no saint, you

offer a more fierce protection:
what is yours
and yours alone

i think they misread you
the way you hold the light –
no seductress, you

just keep searching:
what is yours
and what is ours

all those simple figures
traced on skin –
no skeptic, you

a true believer:
searching for truth
in the bones

i keep returning to the promise
of something more –
the sublime, perhaps

you keep skating
on edges:
this prayer.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


can we be this
open? can we really be
this naked flesh
and bone broken
and pressed
and then can we
be honest and
without shame?

this is a man
without guile
he said,
and then pointed
to the moment
the wound was fresh
and heart broken
i wandered
into a desert
full of searching

when the time
was complete
(a week,
40 days,
a year)
i awoke --
found that someone
made a poultice
and wrapped it around me
-- a cataplasmic cast

i found myself
beneath a fig tree.
i reached upwards
and emptied
each branch,
filled my mouth
with seeds,
made myself a home
in the earth.
covered the scars
fingered in the skin
drew in the sand
new figures.

Friday, May 1, 2015

reflections on national poetry month/ NaPoWriMo

april is National Poetry Month in both Canada and the United States, and over the past 6 years i have posted a poem a day to join in this celebration of language and symbol.

in 2010, 2011 and 2013 i simply posted poems that moved me in some way. in 2012 i offered poems that had a more religious sensibility, and in 2014 i focussed on canadian poets. those years i also concluded National Poetry Month with a poem of my own. this year it was again simply poems i enjoy.

each year i have returned to some of my favourite poets – Anne Carson, Jan Zwicky, Nicholas Samaras – but i have also discovered so many new poets, such as Gregory Orr. i have also tried to include a range of poetic voices.

last fall i had the opportunity to attend the Glen West writing workshop with Scott Cairns, another of my favourite poets. it was encouraging in that, while i hadn’t really pursued my poetry for some 15 years, the most recent poems i submitted were pretty solid poems. i wasn’t, it seemed, as rusty as i had thought. when i returned i continued writing poetry, and have enjoyed this reawakening immensely.

this year, inspired by that experience, i took on the additional challenge of posting a new (and as finished as possible) poem each day. i had been thinking of NaNoWriMo and wondered if there were anything comparable for poetry. lo, and behold, there waseth.

i invited several friends and colleagues to join me in this challenge though, ultimately, only Dave von Bieker joined me in this experiment. it was pretty exciting to see what wrote.

while there were days that stretched pretty late before i was able to post something, for most of the month it felt pretty comfortable. i will definitely be revisiting a number of these poems and rewriting/ editing, but on the whole they feel pretty complete. i also look forward to exploring some other formats and using some prompts i gathered over the month. after all, i do have a goal of 50 to 60 finished poems.

i think i would still like to set a standard for continuing to write - perhaps a [finished] poem every 2 weeks? - but in the meantime, if any of my fellow poets and writers would be willing to give feedback, i would truly appreciate it.
until next year...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

NaPoWriMo - day thirty

thirty pieces

the first thing that comes to mind
is silver. not gold.
does this image still have currency?
does it still speak to you?
will you carry it in your pocket,
listen to the jangling of history and myth;
or are these merely coins
emblazoned with a stranger’s face,
more or less worn by hands.

i would like to think that
these poems are an offering,
laboured over -
filled with intention.
i would like to place them
in your hands, to exchange
the words for sound,
to hear you speak the words
and roll them around in your mouth
and mind, to carry them with you
as you walk away.

i would like to think that
some small pieces will be remembered
or pieces of pieces
rediscovered on occasion,
like lost coins between cushions
or money found in pockets
when doing the laundry.

so, here: i give you these thirty pieces.
i have done my best to be honest
about the voice behind the voice.
i have tested what is good, true and beautiful.
i have polished them
and brought them into the light,
and now i place them in your hands.
spend them however you choose.

That's Not Writing by Derek Beaulieu - NPM 30

“That’s not writing, that’s typewriting.”
—Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac

“That’s not writing, that’s plumbing.”
—Samuel Beckett on William S. Burroughs

That’s not writing, that’s typing.
That’s not writing, that’s someone else typing.
That’s not writing, that’s googling.
That’s not writing, that’s blogging.
That’s not writing, that’s wasted, unproductive, tweaking time.
That’s not writing, that’s stupid.
That’s not writing, that’s a coloring book.
That’s not writing, that’s coming up with ideas.
That’s not writing, that’s waiting.
That’s not writing, that’s a mad scribble.
That’s not writing, that’s printing and lettering.
That’s not writing, that’s tape-recording.
That’s not writing, that’s word-processing.
That’s not writing, that’s following the herd.
That’s not writing, that’s copying and pasting.
That’s not writing, that’s directing.
That’s not writing, that’s using high-“polluting” words to confuse readers.
That’s not writing, that’s aggregating, and there are already plenty of aggregators out there.
That’s not writing, that’s printing.
That’s not writing, that’s art.
That’s not writing, that’s Tourettes.
That’s not writing, that’s posing.
That’s not writing, that’s button-mashing, and anyone can do that.
That’s not writing, that’s vandalism.
That’s not writing, that’s acting.
That’s not writing, that’s blabbing.
That’s not writing, that’s hiking.
That’s not writing, that’s just a knife he’s using to eat pie with.
That’s not writing, that’s bullying.
That’s not writing, that’s dentistry.
That’s not writing, that’s just endless blathering.
That’s not writing, that’s yelling.
That’s not writing, that’s butchery!
That’s not writing, that’s a fortune cookie!
That’s not writing, that’s emoting
That’s not writing, that’s just dressing it up after.
That’s not writing, that’s just playing around.
That’s not writing, that’s daydreaming.
That’s not writing, that’s showing off.
That’s not writing, that’s keyboarding.
That’s not writing, that’s calligraphy.
That’s not writing, that’s mindless pasting.
That’s not writing, that’s an action flick.
That’s not writing, that’s a puddle.
That’s not writing, that’s a tragedy.
That’s not writing, that’s assembly line mass production.
That’s not writing, that’s transcribing.
That’s not writing, that’s computer-generated text.
That’s not typing, that’s data entry.

Beaulieu, Derek. "That's not Writing" Please, No More Poetry: The Poetry of derek beaulieu. Dobson, Kit. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2013. 50-51.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

NaPoWriMo - day twenty nine


standing on the bleachers,
getting ready to sing,
my youngest son looks out
at the gathered crowd,
searching for me
while i try to catch his attention
to let him know i am here.
his eyes lock onto my eyes
locking onto his eyes
and a smile brightens his face.
he waves eagerly
as he sees me
seeing him.

was i like that as a boy?
i don’t remember.
all i know is my son
will know my eyes are on him,
he brings me great joy,
his smile is my smile.

i will be this father:
he will walk in the knowledge
that he blesses me.
i will bless him
with both hands.
i will bless him
with words of life.
i will bless him
with joy, and he will know
he is my song.

Monday by Billy Collins - NPM29

The birds are in their trees,
the toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.

They are at their windows
in every section of the tangerine of earth-
the Chinese poets looking up at the moon,
the American poets gazing out
at the pink and blue ribbons of sunrise.

The clerks are at their desks,
the miners are down in their mines,
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.

The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.

Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch,
the headlight of a taxi rounding a corner,
those two boys in wool caps angling across the street.

The fishermen bob in their boats,
the linemen climb their round poles,
the barbers wait by their mirrors and chairs,
and the poets continue to stare
at the cracked birdbath or a limb knocked down by the wind.

By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.

Just think-
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.

And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall with striped wallpaper
and a sketch of a cow in a frame.

I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman's heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.

Collins, Billy "Monday" The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems. New York: Random House, 2005. 7-8.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

NaPoWriMo - day twenty eight


and so we sit and speak of poetry

sipping sherry and innis & gunn

we take turns to read various scribblings

talk about intention and attention

speak of wounds and hope and struggle

opine about the uses of poetry

we live here in this shared language

or the desire for shared language

the rhythm of words and how they connect

words to words and poets to poets

spirits and bodies and hearts

poetry is a way of saying things

you cannot say in any other way

one of us says, and we all agree

with friends only it is possible to be this direct

with friends only is it possible to be this hopeful

perhaps we are even romantic

these lovers of words are my friends

The Introduction by Billy Collins - NPM28

I don’t think this next poem
needs any introduction-
it’s best to let the work speak for itself.

Maybe I should just mention
that whenever I use the word five,
I’m referring to that group of Russian composers
who came to be known as “The Five,”
Balakirev, Moussorgsky, Borodin–-that crowd.

Oh--and Hypsicles was a Greek astronomer.
He did something with the circle.

That’s about it, but for the record,
“Grimk√©” is Angelina Emily Grimk√©, the abolitionist.
“Imroz” is that little island near the Dardanelles.
‘Monad”--well, you all know what a monad is.

There could be a little problem
with mastaba, which is one of those Egyptian
above-ground sepulchers, sort of brick and limestone.

And you’re all familiar with helminthology?
It’s the science of worms.

Oh, and you will recall that Phoebe Mozee
is the real name of Annie Oakley.

Other than that, everything should be obvious.
Wagga Wagga is in New South Wales.
Rhyolite is that soft volcanic rock.
What else?
Yes, meranti is a type of timber, in tropical Asia I think,
and Rahway is just Rahway, New Jersey.

The rest of the poem should be clear.
I’ll just read it and let it speak for itself.

It’s about the time I went picking wild strawberries.

It’s called “Picking Wild Strawberries.”

Collins, Billy "The Introduction" The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems. New York: Random House, 2005. 61-2.

Monday, April 27, 2015

NaPoWriMo - day twenty seven


i walked through the door
and she was already talking.
not a stream of words
but a torrent, a wave.

she just kept talking,
drowning me in sound -
a wall of noise -
a battering ram
against my thoughts
in this previously
quiet moment

non-stop talking
as if desperate
to fill the spaces
with something,
anything but
silence, talking
in circles, the same
introductions, the same
invocations unchanging
rhythm of the same phrases
lurching back and forth.

the talking continues
even now at home
as she kneels
to say her prayers
unwilling to receive
the peace, nothing
in her mouth
but her own

The Student by Billy Collins - NPM27

My poetry instruction book,
which I bought at an outdoor stall along the river,

contains many rules
about what to avoid and what to follow.

More than two people in a poem
is a crowd, is one.

Mention what clothes you are wearing
as you compose, is another.

Avoid the word vortex
the word velvety and the word cicada.

When at a loss for an ending,
have some brown hens standing in the rain.

Never admit that you revise.
And--always keep your poem in one season.

I try to be mindful,
but in these last days of summer

whenever I look up from my page
and see a burn-mark of yellow leaves,

I think of the icy winds
that will soon be knifing through my jacket.

Collins, Billy "The Student" The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems. New York: Random House, 2005. 51.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

NaPoWriMo - day twenty six


let’s say the body is a window. not like. is.

let’s open it up. carefully. find the pockets.

where disease sits and waits. where possibility lies slumbering.

the body is an amazing thing. relentless.

discover the life in it. every cell determined.

let’s agree that you are not your body.

look. we just might see eternity through it.

take my hand. now say it like you believe it.

Abstract by Sam Hamill - NPM26


It was a dream and you were walking through a field of hosannas
and the immense sea rocked with the blue voices of the dead
when you stretched out supine to dream lotus dreams which I
could not read.

A cathedral of sky arched overhead. I wanted to know
whether your eyes were closed, I wanted your dream of song or prayer,
o I wanted, and the sun grew brighter and the breeze fairer
that immaculate day

unfolding like a poem, like a song I half-remember and ask,
Did we sing it once a long time ago, did we sing it together,
was it our hymnal, our beautiful tragic chorus, our anthem,
the day like a new white canvas.

and here I add marine blue, and there cobalt blue, and a cloud in amber,
and the light is transparent yellow, and the brush makes a sound
like wind over sand, but there are no whitecaps, no sailboats,
only canvas and paint and the body's dance.

No kite. No gull. No things. Everything goes.
No dream, no dreamer. No certainty, no doubt.
Only the infinitely blossoming hosannas of the emptiness within,
echoing the emptiness without.

Hamill, Sam. "Abstract". The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review. Berg, Stephen, David Bonanno and Arthur Vogelsang, Eds. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. 236-7.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

NaPoWriMo - day twenty five


i heard you say
be more concrete
so i interpret it as density.
i pile up my ideas,
big as buckets,
and fill them with words
fluid to the touch,
the mind dipping in
and grasping at water
until the hands grow tired
of fishing
and you draw nearer
to the edge,
arms extended,
which can’t get you deep enough.
so then the first tentative steps
until you are immersed,
acclimating to this cold verse,
wondering which direction
you should face or where
this stream flows
until you either find purchase
or the courage to float,
be carried away,
or submerge.
look for pockets of air -
a space to insert your own voice
where it is
enfolded, and embraced,
and held under
the weight of the river,
the wet tradition of words,
the way language waters
the ground,
the way it grounds
your feet as you enter the story.

A Dubious Night by Richard Wilbur - NPM25

A Dubious Night

A bell dipthonging in an atmosphere
Of shying night air summons some to prayer
Down in the town, two deep lone miles from here,

Yet wallows faint or sudden everywhere,
In every ear, as if the twist wind wrung
Some ten years' tangled echoes from the air.

What kyries it says are mauled among
The queer elisions of the mist and murk,
Of lights and shapes; the senses were unstrung,

Except that one's star's synechdochic smirk
Burns steadily to me, that nothing's odd
And firm as ever is the masterwork.

I weary of the confidence of God.

Wilbur, Richard. "A Dubious Night" Upholding the Mystery: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 326.

Friday, April 24, 2015

NaPoWriMo - day twenty four

a nature poem

this was supposed to be
a nature poem

i had good intentions
of celebrating this earth

having lived in the mountains
majestic off the back porch

i wanted to rejoice in its fecundity
its embarrassment of riches

glacial pool, cavern, fold and thrust,

black-footed ferret, swift fox, grizzly bear,

greater sage-grouse, whooping crane,
mountain plover

boreal felt lichen, prairie fringed orchid,
townsendia daisy

instead, i think of stewardship
of how much we lose

even when we discover
new species, or entire ecosystems

i think of the northern white rhino
surrounded by men with guns

saddened, even shamed
the recognition of failure

the question of why
we didn’t stand guard earlier

Seven Paintings by Breughel by Anne Simpson - NPM24

The Triumph of Death

These watches. Ticking, still. Each hour is cold:
the rims surround quick voices. Shut in rooms.
Gone. Tick. The towers. Tock. Of fire. A fold
in air. We're smoke, drifting. A painted doom
where cities burn and ships go down. Death's
dark sky--a grainy docudrama. Time
swings bones on circus wheels. Listen: wind's breath,
a shriek. Theatrum Mundi. In their prime,
the living. Leapt. That buckling of the knees.
Then gunshots: plastic bags on fences. Snapping.
Or loose. Thank you--shop--at. The lovers see
nothing. He plays a lute. She sings. Clapping--
machines sift through debris for the remains.
A sales receipt, a shoe. The silvery rain.

Landscape with the Parable of the Sower

A sales receipt, a shoe. The silvery rain
has many hands. A stream--Fresh Kills--elides
with river. Think and slow. A landfill plain:
a ghost in biohazard gear. Gulls ride
the thermals, circling high as barges come,
a linking chain. Blue metropolis, far-
off glints of light. The cranes all lift and hum,
making hills of metal, bone. Crushed cars.
So garbage rises: this stench is monument.
Yet Brueghel's farmer takes the seeds, flings wide
his arm. A miracle: small event. We meant
to go, but every boat was laden. Tides
pulled home, pulled here, then left us for the birds.
We take the shape of soil, abandon words.

The Tower of Babel I

We take the shape of soil, abandon words.
The world will change without us. Did we glean
a little shine? Perhaps. These wheeling birds
drift down to earth. Crying. The air, unseen,
seeks entry without keys. All locked, shut down.
A spackled light gets through. We merely craved
a taste. Hello, my name is _______. A crown,
a king. One makes the other into slave.
Behind is Babel's core. Red as a heart
opened for bypass. Laid bare. Wind, idling.
It's quiet. Still. The horses, loaded carts,
are stuck. The ships, the docks. Thin bridles
of cloud. All stopped. Each thing unclocked, undone.
A man who kneels to plead his case. Warm sun.

The Tower of Babel II

That man who knelt to plead his case, that sun:
they're gone. In time, air hardens, growing dark.
The wars go on; beyond the TV, guns
talk to themselves. One, two. They whisper, bark.
Erotica. And Babel: height's desire
is weary of itself, but there's no end
to greed. A cruise, a condo. Guests for hire.
On the rug: a shirt, a shoe. Whatever bends
one body to another. We've forgotten.
Those painted clouds are knives. Slipped in walls
between the ribs. This plot device: rotten--
the thing exploded from within. Small
papers, white flakes. Last wish. Someone's cellphone.
("Are you still there? Are you?") A voice falls. Stone.

The Slaughter of the Innocents

"Are you still there? Are you?" A voice falls. Stone,
unbearable stone. It grinds. It tastes of grief.
Don't watch. Go blind. Oh Lord, those moans
will haunt us. This one. That one there. Brief
lives. Snow. And here, between the black trees, blood.
A leaping dog. A bird. Everywhere we turn
there's whiteness in the air. And memory, a flood
of killings no kindness can assuage. Urns
half-full of ashes: nothing that we knew
of those we loved. So young. Such shining hair,
those gleams recalled. A silence follows through
the rooms of when and how. Now, up the stairs
a rescuer is climbing. But he's too late.
And look what happened. This. Short straw of late.

Hunters in the Snow

Who knows what happened? A short straw of fate,
all that. Years ago. But now we've changed;
those terrors tucked back in the heart. "Just great,
that weekend special: everything arranged."
We return; the house looks strange. Each thing
deceives. The counters, the cutlery. Believe
the chairs; they guard the table in a ring.
The hunters come. They're trudging, slow. Reprieve
makes curving flight, a song in evening's sky:
pale green at dusk. Some children skate; they laugh.
And history has no place. Easy to lie
on queen-sized beds, dream a little dream. Half-
heard, the phantoms speak: No, you weren't there--
We turn; we sleep. But once there was a prayer.

Christ and the Adulteress

We turn; we sleep. But once there was a prayer,
a way to finger mystery. It floats,
one plastic bag, freed from the fence, that snare
with loops of wire. We translate into motes,
a glimmer in a shaft of sun. One glide,
we're gone. A painted scene: against this plea
is set a stone. An end. Each thing is tried.
A man makes notes in sand. The wind goes free.
One gust: his words are ghosts. The dust, absolved,
has vanished too. First kiss, last glance. Tick. Tock.
All goes to ground. We kneel down and dissolve.
Turn in. Turn out of time. Where nothing's clocked.
A touch: so light. Love's breath. Things we can't hold:
these watches. Ticking. Still. Each hour is cold.

Simpson, Anne. "Seven Paintings by Brueghel" Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets. Queyras, Sina, ed. New York: Persea Books, 2005. 201-7.