The lovely Animal Heart Press has nominated my poem “Not All Forests Are Alike” for Best of the Net!! Thrilled and honored to be selected. Thanks to Editors Elizabeth Horan and Amanda McLeod and the whole editorial team!!
In honor of the first landing and walking of a human on the moon on July 16, 1969, with the Apollo 11 space program, here’s my poem “Moon Landing”:
Past the craters’ cutthroat edges, a calculus
of wings unfurls. Our minds tighten ship
through gutwrench math toward the plain of shadows,
our words mere nuts and bolts. No miracles
until the deed is done. Split-second jams
conveyed in jargon to the gods of Houston,
with us, with us — an aura of omniscience
far from where they smoke and stare at screens.
Roger—can you see us? Roger—tell us
where the metal butterfly’s approach
will touch the myth, the mirror, violate
the mover of the tides we left behind.
In blackdrop space, the blue/white marbled globe
beams a bright pang on this gray-scale world
so desolate no ghosts or fossils haunt
the place we plunge toward. Trajectories
morph, equations go awry. The roughed-up
desert seas, gaps of annihilation
we grip in practiced hands and potent codes.
Against the graves and gravity, we scan
for flatness down breathless degrees, deploy
a subtle physics, gear, grace of God,
touchdown. We’re in black and white. Alive.
The gods unclench their fists and spit their gum—
our footfalls sink into the regolith
that yields our perfect prints in perfect gray.
Marie Ponsot, who died on July 5, 2019, at the age of 98, left a legacy of elegantly crafted, deeply meaningful and yet entirely unique poetry in five collections, winning the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Robert Frost Medal, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for Lifetime Achievement, among others. From the Washington Post article regarding her death,
Reflecting on Ms. Ponsot’s work, the poet and critic Susan Stewart once wrote: “What she has written of her relation to the night sky — ‘it becomes the infinite / air of imagination that stirs immense / among losses and leaves me less desolate’ — could be claimed by her readers as a description of her own work…
Married to the painter Claude Ponsot, she wrote her first poetry collection dedicated to him, and titled it True Minds, taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. They had seven children, and when they divorced in 1970, she published her second book of poetry entitled Admit Impediment, also taken from the same sonnet: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ admit impediments.” This is the sort of imaginative wordplay one can find in her work, not without its subtle humor either.
She retreated from publishing for about 25 years, although she continuously wrote poetry. She said it just “didn’t occur” to her to publish. There’s also an element of deep humility in her life and voice, which also rings confidently and with both gusto and acumen.
This poem I found particularly gorgeous:
This Bridge, Like Poetry, Is Vertigo
In a time of dearth bring forth number, weight, & measure.– William Blake
Describing the wind that drives it, cloud
rides between earth and space. Cloud
shields earth from sun-scorch. Cloud
bursts to cure earth’s thirst. Cloud
–airy, wet, photogenic–
is a bridge or go-between;
it does as it is done by.
It condenses. It evaporates.
It draws seas up, rains down.
I do love the drift of clouds.
Cloud-love is irresistible,
Deep above the linear city this morning
the cloud’s soft bulk is almost unmoving.
The winds it rides are thin;
it makes them visible.
As sun hits it or if sun
quits us it’s blown away
or rains itself or snows itself away.
It is indefinite:
This dawns on me: no cloud is measurable.
Make mine cloud.
Make mind cloud.
The clarity of cloud is in its edgelessness,
its each instant of edge involving
in formal invention, always
at liberty, at it, incessantly altering.
A lucky watcher will catch it
as it makes big moves:
up the line of sight it lifts
until it conjugates or
its unidentical being intact
though it admits flyers.
It lets in wings. It lets them go.
It lets them.
It embraces mountains & spires built
to be steadfast; as it goes on
it lets go of them.
It is not willing.
It is not unwilling.
Late at night when my outdoors is
indoors, I picture clouds again:
Come to mind, cloud.
Come to cloud, mind.
(Note the wordplay here, evident throughout her poetry.)
Writing poems by hand and putting down ideas on scraps of paper or napkins between changing diapers and all the labor-intensive work that goes with raising children, she is a very sympathetic character, a teacher, translator, essayist and critic. Her poetry shows formal dexterity, imagination, and a delightful spirit.
Here is a beautiful sample of her more formal poetry and her depth of understanding:
What women wander?
Not many. All. A few.
Most would, now & then,
& no wonder.
Some, and I’m one,
Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother
Bought from every peddler
Less for the ribbons and lace
Than for their scent
Of sleep where you will,
Walk out when you want, choose
Your bread and your company.
She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”
She looked fragile but had
High blood, runner’s ankles,
Could endure, endure.
She loved her rooted garden, her
Grand children, her once
Wild once young man.
As best they can.
The lovely publisher and online venue Animal Heart Press is featuring my poetry and photography on on their site starting today, June 10, for one week!!! Today’s featured poem is “In the Interim.” Check the site daily for more poetry, photography, poetry readings from my new book To Love the River, an interview, and for a finale, a short film!! Huge thanks to Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Horan, Assistant Editor Amanda McLeod, and the whole AP team. A dream to work with!!!
Updates: Friday, June 14, I read selections from my book, To Love the River!
Thursday, June 13 (as well as Tuesday June 11), poetry and photography posted.
Wednesday, June 12, interview with Amanda posted. Please check it out!
When it comes to form, nobody does it like Terence Hayes: he understands the larger view of form as a Force that can drive a point right into your heart. In this New Yorker article, author Dan Chiasson says that the sonnet, a form Hayes calls “part music box, part meat grinder,” became the poet’s vehicle of choice for his recent book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin , because for him,
the sonnet offered an alternative unit of measurement, at once ancient, its basic features unchanged for centuries, and urgent, its fourteen lines passing at a brutal clip.
In the book, the American sonnet both contains and assaults his assassins: “I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.” The form itself being the brainchild of “the L.A. poet Wanda Coleman, who died in 2013 and who coined the term ‘American sonnet.‘” Who considered the term as referring to a more “improvised” sonnet that used jazz techniques and musical patterns.
The language is powerful and immediate, exuding worlds and threats. This is what sets Hayes apart: the combination of power, poetic skill (unique use of craft), unrelenting content, and an intensity of heart that drives all this into a tour de force of words closing in on flesh.
All cancers kill me, car crashes, cavemen, chakras,
Crackers, discord, dissonance, doves, Elvis,
Ghosts, the grim reaper herself, a heart attack
While making love, hangmen, Hillbillies exist,
Lilies, Martha Stewarts, Mayflower maniacs,
Money grubbers, Gwen Brooks’ “The Mother,”
(My mother’s bipolar as bacon), pancakes kill me,
Phonies, dead roaches, big roaches & smaller
Roaches, the sheepish, snakes, all seven seas,
Snow avalanches, swansongs, sciatica, Killer
Wasps, yee-haws, you, now & then, disease.
A list that also serves as ammunition, a kind of automatic fire that thrills with its sheer brilliance and expanse of imagination. And also with its truth, how he disgorges the racist and white supremacist attitudes made flesh in the form of Donald Trump and his followers. To which this collection is addressed, among other things.
“This word can be the difference between knowing / And thinking. It’s the name people of color call / Themselves on weekends & the name colorful / People call their enemies & friends.”
These poems all happen in the mind, which has been portioned into zones called “I” and “you.” Both assume countless different roles, but what remains constant is their reliance upon each other and their tendency to flip positions. This makes the work morally ambiguous in ways some readers will resist: I suspect that not everybody will recognize “blackness” as any part, even a rejected part, of Trump, a man whose loathing of black people seems unabashed.
Yes, “Hayes isn’t describing canonical melancholy, the pined-for vision of mortality that poets sometimes indulge in. He fears a more immediate kind of danger, which can’t be aestheticized or glorified in verse. “You are beautiful because of your sadness,” Hayes admits. And yet: “You would be more beautiful without your fear.”
In the form he invented:
The Golden Shovel
Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry has published my poem “Angels” in their 2019 issue (in print only). It’s a gorgeous issue with much fine poetry including some of the best poets writing today, as well as thoughtful reviews and interviews. The cover by the painter Rick Mullin is also amazing. Huge thanks to editor extraordinaire Mary Ann B. Miller, for including my poem among the many exceptional poets, and for including a wider range of spiritual writing, Catholic and non-Catholic (such as myself). You can order a copy here. The issue is well worth it!
My poem “Song of the Bats” is in the Dark Marrow Survivor Issue (March – still catching up), which is in PDF form here. Look for the title listed in the issue. If you enjoy poetry from the dark side, you will definitely love this publication.
Here we are approaching the middle of National Poetry Month and so I’ve decided to break my recent silent streak, starting with a few publication notes, finding timespace thereafter to focus on a selection of the many amazing poets who inspired me.
In publishing notes, my ghazal “The Body’s Hospitality” was published in the February edition of South Florida Poetry Journal, known to fans as SoFloPoJo. Just scroll down to my name; and I’m delighted to have been included among such fine poets as Dorianne Laux and Maura Stanton.
My sonnet “The Departure” was also published on the Better than Starbucks website as well as in the anthology/ print version of the issue, which covers the entire site including many different sections of poetry, as well as reviews, nonfiction and fiction.
My poem “Survival of the Fittest” has been published in the latest issue of Third Wednesday, a fine print publication. An honor to be among such luminaries as Ted Kooser and Susan Rich, and many more fine poets. Their website is here.
The formal poetry website The Chained Muse has published my ghazal “The Triumph of Roses” (reprint) on Christmas Day, a gift and also an auspicious shot of luck for 2019. This link will bring you the Roses Ghazal and also give you my ghazal “In Egypt” with a wonderful and appropriate photo, published there last October. This is an up-and-coming venue for formal poetry. Please check it out!!