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Something SpecialMere Being

When the blurbs on the back of the book are by three former poets laureate, you know you’re in for something special. And Mere Being , by Barry D. Amis, is special indeed. Barry, long active in the Poetry Society of Virginia, brings a musician’s ear as well as an academic’s knowledge to his poems, which have fascinated and delighted me for years in the monthly poetry salon Barry chairs. And I’m not alone. Here’s what reviewers say:

  • “In poems well-honed and riveting, Barry Amis bears witness to the world’s struggles and enigmas.”--Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

  • “There is uncommon linguistic agility in Barry Amis’ work that brings words like ‘cradle’ and ‘cactus’ into insightful proximity …”--Sofia Starnes

  •  “One could do worse than trip in the tradition of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Charles Wright.”--Ron Wright

Barry’s nimble, sometimes almost puckish, way with words sets his work apart: “lovely of impossible architecture” he writes of Petra, the ancient Jordanian city carved into red rock. “Sailing between poetry and despair / the convocation of hazard chastens,” he begins his poem “Lost Horizon,” one of my favorites. Later in the piece he confesses “I tend toward improbable in the absence / of divine,” setting the reader up for the poem’s one-line concluding stanza: “We won’t be saved.”

Here is another from Mere Being :

Pensées
By Barry Amis

These are the hours
and we are the vessels.
Clothe me in the full
trappings of Paradiso
or comfort me in
measureless dark
places. Each day’s
suffering craves a
Beatrice. Each night’s
gathering offers milk
and pudding. Waiting
is irrational. Athens
and Jerusalem debate,
heaven and hell am I.
The last dwelling
place summons,
humility and love
are the threshold.
About us these bones
strip, innocence lost.
The terra mater
of canceled days
terrifies.

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WhitmaniaPoets to Come

In his brief “Poets to Come,” which Mark Francis called “a simple eloquent clarion call to arms for poets and artists,” Walt Whitman urged “a new brood” of “orators, singers, musicians” to look to the future, not the past, to look at possibilities, not problems. And this year, in honor of the bicentennial of Whitman’s birth, poets and poetry groups across the nation have been celebrating this great American voice. Among the celebrations: Poets to Come, a 495-page anthology published by Local Gems Poetry Press. Here’s my contribution to the volume:

Reading Walt Whitman at McDonald’s
By Sally Zakariya

McDonald’s afternoon … unexpected jazz
 … low sun slicing in on French fries
blooded with ketchup … two graying men
with coffee … young man by the window …
trio of teenage boys posing and preening …

Whitman wrote of these men, or men like them
in Memoranda During the War, wrote
of bringing pencils and paper and consolation
to the wounded of both sides, walking among
regiments of iron cots, a shaggy buffalo
of a man, a man of generous heart

All Nature so calm in itself … he wrote … yet
there the battle raging … Is this indeed
humanity—these butchers’ shambles?


Reading, I imagine the war-torn grief
buried beneath Walt’s bare ellipses

Closing my eyes, I am with him in a field
hospital here in Virginia … closing my eyes
I see a soldier so young he has hardly lived
at all lying limp on a stretcher, a farm boy
muddied with the red earth he once plowed
the earth where the bullet felled him
the earth he will lie in tomorrow and forever

I imagine we hold his hand … we wash his brow
we help wind bandages around him … the whitest
cloth … the tightest weave … folded thick against
the blood … folded thick to hold life in

The weak sun breaks through the smoke of war
trails pale fingers of light across his ravaged face

A wing of shadow passes and his eyelids flutter
and when he cries Mother we say
          She is here … she is coming

Walt Whitman SpeaksAnd because you can never have too much Whitman, let me recommend a new book: Walt Whitman Speaks. Subtitled “His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America,” this inspiring collection is drawn from the nine volumes of commentary faithfully recorded in the last years of the poet’s life by his young friend Horace Traubel and selected for the Library of America by Brenda Wineapple. Not a book to read through start to finish, this volume is best dipped into from time to time to see what insights you’ll find. Quotes to remember: “The best writing has no lace on its sleeves.” “If America is not for freedom I do not see what it is for.”

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A Poet’s PoetHoly Door in the Ground

His first two books of poems were published in the 1960s by Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books. At around the same time, he created and directed a puppet theater called the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company. And after he became a Sufi Muslim in 1970, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore published an astonishing 40 more poetry books. Now this fine and luminous poet, this sweet spirit is no longer with us. After his death from cancer in 2016, his family has gathered his last poems in Holy Door in the Ground. Here is one from a series:

Aphorisms to Death, 1
by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

We must be patient with every
incapacity

for they are the machinery of Allah
taking us to a quietude

where yellow pastures slope down
to a cobalt sea

and sunlight glistens on the sliding
backs of its

slippery currents

Raised Episcopalian and married to a Muslim, I come to Abdal-Hayy’s work at a slight, but only a slight, remove. It doesn’t matter whether you say Allah, Jehovah, or Yahweh, God is God, and devotion to the Almighty is the heart of Abdal-Hayy’s writing. Not long after his death, my husband’s students gathered to read some of his poems, and I contributed one of my own:

To the Poet Who Is Not Here
for Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, 1940-2016

You are not here but you are not gone.
We read from your poems tonight in a room
of offerings, of seekers.

Light falls from the crystal chandelier
like beads of dew nurturing dry soil.
Your words lift winged from the page,
birds to the heavens.

You who have always had one foot
in the other world, we rejoice at your joy,
O singer of saints.

We linger on your lines, gather the gifts
of your wisdom, share in our mind’s eye,
if only for a moment, your sight
of the Beloved.

“For me the province of poetry is a private ecstasy made public,” Abdal-Hayy said, “and the social role of the poet is to display moments of shared universal epiphanies capable of healing our sense of mortal estrangement--from ourselves, from each other, from our source, from our destiny, from The Divine.”

We miss Abdal-Hayy, but he has left a treasure of writings to remember him by.

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Revision Revisited

The Poetry Society of America postcard on my bulletin board says, “Revise, revise”--words writers live by. The way we generally approach revision is to cut, cut, cut. But poet Diane Lockward suggests another approach.

“Too often we start revising and hacking away at the poem before it’s even fully written,” she writes in Some Revision Ideas for Poetry Month. “We quit before we’ve given the poem life, before we’ve discovered its full potential, before we’ve found its real material.”

Instead, Lockward says, consider expanding rather than cutting your poem. For example, take 10 words from a poem you admire and try to fit them into your poem. “Make them make sense within the context of your poem, adjusting your context as needed,” she says. “Or let the words introduce an element of the strange, a touch of the surreal.”

Lockward cites a number of other ways to approach expansion, such as inserting negative statements, adding color and metaphor, putting something in “that seemingly doesn’t belong,” or personifying an inanimate object.

It’s worth trying.

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The Magician’s WifeThe Magician’s Wife

Journalist, artist, student of spirituality--Charan Sue Wollard, like Walt Whitman, contains multitudes. In her new book, The Magician's Wife, the poems flow from whatever her eye falls on: a bicycle tour, a peach on the windowsill, a legless beggar in India, a beetle, a child who will not speak. The book is new off the press from Richer Resources Publications, which also published Wollard’s In My Other Life (and which sponsors But Does It Rhyme). Wollard, former poet laureate of Livermore, California, has a rare gift for telling stories with power and insight. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., unfolds from the perspective of a 17-year-old tending counter in a drugstore. A gas pipe explosion is recounted in what remains: a bowl of carrots, a broken clock, an unread newspaper. In other poems she captures the extraordinary behind the ordinary, the “small kindnesses … that separate any of us / from inconsequence,” the poet struck silent by the “loud clap of nothing / the thunderous void.” Perhaps Wollard’s “theory of everything” best describes her approach to her work: “eyes open / to every / impossibility.”

drowning
By Charan Sue Wollard

he wades into the water
despite warnings of danger
one instant raising his Nikon to capture
terrible roils charging the shore
perhaps to cast light
on how one thing leads
to another and another
without pause
a wave catches him by the ankle
drags him under its blue tide

a day before further
down the shoreline
at the South Tower
of the Golden Gate Bridge
a boy on a field trip glimpsed surfers
in the waves below
climbed the high rafters
took a reckless ecstatic leap

in the end--
if there is an end--
the man dies the boy emerges
dripping triumphant from the Bay

if I could ask them
one question
it would not be why
(I like anyone cannot fathom my own death)
if I could ask them one question
it would be what
what did you find
what did you find
in that dark cold deep

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Dancing AngelsWatching Angels Dance by Candlelight

My prolific friend Eric Johnson has come out with his fourth book of poems: Watching Angels Dance by Candlelight. To read these poems “is to waltz, tango, and two-step to the insights of a master poet,” says Loose Moose Publishing, and I couldn’t agree more. “Johnson brings the life experiences of Saigon, Berlin, and Indianapolis into his word craft. The world is his oyster and the streets are his theater.” One striking poem from the book is the response of Johnson, himself a Viet Nam veteran, to the memorial to that war in Washington, D.C.

'V'
By Richard Eric Johnson

Black rock shining
Fifty thousand and more names--
Monument or tombstone?

Frederick Hart’s soldiers
Stare and survey the V:
V for Viet Nam
Victory
Valor
Vengeance
Verisimilitude
Verification?

Why not ‘E’ for eternity.
Or an amazing maze of marble
With no way out?

A journey over there
For a pilgrimage here.

Names and memories
Etched black rock shining
Of their dreams.
We remain
Dreams of ourselves.

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The People PoemsUnknowable Mysteries of Other People

My good friend poet and children’s book author Jacqueline Jules and I meet every month to read and critique each other’s recent work. “Oh, another of your people poems,” Jackie would say as I handed over a few more poems about, well, people … some of whom I knew in childhood, some relatives and acquaintances, and some I had simply observed. (After all, in the old days before we were more carefully correct with language, British poet Alexander Pope famously said, “The proper study of mankind is man.”) I decided to gather some of my “people poems” together as a chapbook and shop the manuscript around. The result, The Unknowable Mystery of Other People, was a finalist in the 2018 Poetry Box. chapbook contest and is available until February 20 at a pre-release discount price of $10. Here’s one of the poems:

Requiem for a Nobody
By Sally Zakariya

Unknown, unsung, no obituary
to spell out the bare facts of his life,
just one of the many to perish alone
on the street, hand still outstretched
for help that would not come.

     Lord have mercy on his soul,
&nb     his nameless soul.


Death knew his name, called him by it,d
where he slipped by mostly unseen, /> wrapped in a tattered gray blanket.

Death found him where he waited,
cheeks fallen in, eyes dimmed,
invisible to people bustling by.

Once someone tied his shoes, held
his hand, kissed his baby cheek,
but there will be no Pieta for him.

   
 Lord have mercy on our souls,
     our oblivious souls.

Did I say discount? Did I say February 20? Here’s where to order: The Unknowable Mystery of Other People. Thanks for the idea, Jackie – and thanks, Poetry Box.  

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Words to Write By

“Sometimes the poems come so fast that certain words are actually placeholders for the real words that are supposed to be there,” said poet Li-Young Lee, “and the work is to go back and figure out which words are the placeholders and which words are destined.” In other words, as the postcards that come every year from the Poetry Society of America say, “Revise, revise.”

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The Fine Art of Blurbing

A poetry blog with the delightful name Blogalicious recently addressed the fraught business of writing blurbs that will, the idea goes, encourage people to buy and read a book. Written by poet and publisher Diane Lockward, the post points some stern fingers at bad blurbs – those that say too little, those that make wild claims, those that are little more than quotes from the book. “I like blurbs that tell me something specific about the collection, something that will let me know if it’s for me or not,” writes Lockward in The Blurbification of Poetry Books. “I intensely dislike generic blurbs that could have been pasted onto the back of any number of books and give no evidence that the blurber even read the book being blurbed.” Reading her post reminded me how much we poets support each other – and depend on each other. I’m enormously grateful for the good people who have written blurbs for my chapbooks and am ready to return the favor.

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Fish and ApplesLove Poems

It’s snowing as I write this, tiny flakes that mean business. I like watching snow but not being out in it, and my mind turns to other seasons. Summer canoeing on Pleasant Pond at my aunt’s old cabin in Maine. Fall in the backyard of my childhood, picking up apples and tossing them for our dog Dusty to fetch.

Maine brings me to a poem by my friend Eric Forsbergh, author of Imagine Morning and a frequent contributor here. Eric, by the way, is no rank amateur: Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, former poet laureate of Virginia, has called his poems “insightful, lyrical, and compassionate.” He’s writing mostly about DNA these days. (I sense another book of poems on the way.) Meanwhile, he’s made a few tweaks to a poem that first appeared in Imagine Morning and sent it here:

Of a Fish Laid Onto a Dock
By Eric Forsbergh

Disproportionate, the glass eyes
are fixed.
And what if
they could follow you
as you prepare to lift
the solemn texture of the flesh?

It flips against the boards,
rapid slapping dying down.
Nothing bleeds,
not slender articulations
of white bone lips
torn
to free the barb.
Gills in garnet fronds fan out
flexing open shut open shut:
the act of drowning.
Until you cup your hand prayer-like
behind its slippery head,
touch with your thin-honed knife
and push.Love Poems

And then there are apples … This morning I peeled and chunked a big batch of Fugis to make applesauce like my mother used to. As usual, I ended up with a pile of stems, which I swept into the trash. But I haven’t always done that, thinking how they reminded me of runes. The resulting poem appeared in the Fall 2018 edition of The Federal Poet, a publication of The Federal Poets. First convened in 1944, it’s the oldest continuously active poetry group on the Washington D.C. area.

Apple Augury

        “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
         -- Carl Sagan

Between the birds and worms back then,
we lost half the apples from our backyard
trees and rushed to gather the ripe ones
that survived.

We loved the trees, their branches spread
like open arms, their sweet and heavy fruit,
their sturdy trunks two stalwart sentinels
on the lawn.

We loved the applesauce and apple
goody Mother made each year, loved
helping her put up stewed apples
for the wintertime,

rows of jars lined up next to tomatoes
and corn and watermelon pickle on the
curved shelves beneath the cellar stairs --
homey cornucopia.

A is for apple, the alpha fruit, the first
one babies name. Apple primeval,
fruit of the tree. How many seeds, how
many sins.

Peeling apples for a pie these days, I scatter
the stems and look for answers in the runes,
a kind of apple augury, like casting the bones
to see what’s coming next.

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A Loss

Prominent Israeli writer, novelist, journalist, and intellectual Amos Oz died in late December. Even reading him in translation, you sense the spare beauty and tension in his words. The January 14 issue of The New Yorker includes a moving Oz story from 1963, “All Rivers.” The careful, almost clumsy, way the narrator tells his story, forever worrying about what came first, shows Oz at his most empathetic yet controlled. Read it. But what I will remember most about Oz is what he is said to have replied when asked why he wrote about sad people. “Happy people,” he said,” tell their own stories.”

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Mature LoveLove Poems

In the sweet heat of romance, young lovers may not realize how greatly their feelings for each other can endure and grow over time. But looking back on 40-some years of marriage, I know the love I feel for my husband now is not the same love I felt when we first married. It’s stronger, deeper, different … more mature. My Poetry Society of Virginia friend Pia Taavila-Borsheim comes to the idea of mature love from a different angle. After many years as a widow and single mother, Pia celebrates a late marriage in her new chapbook Love Poems, a clear-eyed, sensual homage to, yes, mature love. I recommend all the poems in this wise collection, but I especially like the many in which Pia turns her eye upward to the skies and the birds that fly in them. Here’s one of those poems:

Two Birds
By Pia Taavila-Borsheim

Across our northern skies, two birds
charge and wheel, the smaller sleek
in hot pursuit. Perhaps the larger

skulked to raid the newborn nest.
Perhaps a tuft of food its beaked
desire lured. Whatever the cause

of this flight's rage, they grapple, peck,
fall and swoop. The chaser nips
the other's tail, ignores the odds,

defying physics, brave in sheer
revenge, aloft. I watch them wing
throughout the morn, then turn to walk

long-rutted fields. Briars, hawthorn
rise to snag. Their gnarled beauty
hosts a single feather, black.

But perhaps my favorite poem in Pia’s collection is “Love Poem for Aging Couples,” which ends with these gently elegiac words: “You raise your hands to stroke / my head and start to sing: a paean, a lullaby, a dirge.”

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Telling the Truth

Epigrams succeed where epics fail, says a Persian proverb, and Egyptian-American poet and essayist Yahia Lababidi began taking those words to heart as a young boy. Before the days of Twitter and memes, Lababidi began distilling what he calls his soul’s dialogue with itself into aphorisms, pithy statements of principle or even truth. In Where Epics Fail., Lababidi’s second book of aphorisms, truths abound:

We cannot know ourselves without knowing the natural world.

You can’t bury pain and not expect it to grow roots.

They are not virtues if we are overly aware of them.

Our vices make a hell of solitude, our virtues a heaven.

Rebellion is adolescent; acceptance is maturity.

I’ve selected these aphorisms at random from the book’s 800 or so. In fact, that seems to me the best way to approach this collection, rather like the classical practice of sortes Virgilianae, or divining the future by opening one of Virgil’s works at random and interpreting the passage you find. Take, for example, the first aphorism in the book:

A poem arrives like a hand in the dark.

What poet has not felt that touch, has not yearned to feel it again?Where Epics Fail Or turn to page 204 and consider the first two aphorisms:

Maturity is to care more for a precious few things, and much less about much else.

Maturing is sweetening.

I’d like to think that Lababidi, like Pia Taavila-Borsheim, was contemplating mature love. But clearly the meaning goes further. As he has written elsewhere, “Aphorisms are headlines, yes, but they are also the entire stories, inviting readers of sensitivity and conscience to breathe life into them, by living at a higher level of consciousness.”

Can a few well-chosen words salve the wounds of our increasingly divided world? I’d like to think that, too. Lababidi’s words are a kind of peace offering, reminding us, as one reviewer said, of the strength and purpose of silence.

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MurmuringMurmuration

On my bucket list, if I had one, would definitely be watching a murmuration of starlings. That’s what it’s called when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky. Seeing a murmuration in person would be amazing, but meanwhile I’ve watched videos on YouTube, including one that’s especially mesmerizing.. And (you knew this was coming), I’ve written about the phenomenon, too. Here’s my poem, which appears in the current issue (volume 31) of riverSedge:

Murmuration of Starlings
By Sally Zakariya

Dancing in the eastern sky
a bird cloud pulses out
draws in, widening
and turning all together--
a swirl of starlings,
wings in synchrony,
each bird imperceptibly
invisibly, communing
with the birds nearby,
balancing uncertainty
and consensus

A rule of seven, science
says, and more a matter
of physics than biology--
each small group poised
on the edge of transformation,
like crystals forming, liquids
turning into gas, metals
becoming magnetized.

But what a wonder, this
murmuration--a ribbon
of flight unfurled against
the sky, eddy and churn
of a thousand wings
thrumming with life.

Many thanks to Dover’s clip-art book “Bewick’s Animal Woodcuts” for that handsome starling up there. And thanks as well to the lovely folks at the Creative Writing Program.at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which publishes riverSedge.

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At the Traffic Light

“Thanks for reading my poem,” the email began, but thanks really are due to Michigan poet Claire Weiner. “I’m a clinical social worker and mindfulness teacher when I’m not writing poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction,” she went on to say. You can see that thoughtful background in the little drama playing out at the traffic light in the poem she sent us:

A Cold Tuesday in Mid-March
By Claire Weiner

Today holds no mercy for her--
the woman with the bad dye job
who struggles across Carpenter Road
with a shopping cart of groceries in plastic bags.

She’s come from the discount food market
or maybe from CVS, using coupons
to buy groceries--cans of soup, crackers,
a small jar of peanut butter, an iridescent orange
rectangle of cheese, along with her cigarettes.

The cart isn’t supposed to leave
the parking lot, but she’d be doomed without it
As it is, she has barely enough time
to cross with the green light, the March wind blows
against her, her sweatshirt insufficient for the feeble sun
and occasional snowflake.

I wait at the light in my late model car with heated seats,
full of nonessential purchases from Target and wonder
what would happen if I offered her a ride.
But what would she do with the cart?
When the light changes, I step on the gas.

Weiner’s work has appeared in Tuck Magazine, After Hours, Burningwood Literary Journal, Muddy River Poetry Review, and other publications. We’re glad to be added to the list.

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Unknowable MysteryPersonal Astronomy

While my new chapbook Personal Astronomy was still at the printer, I got the exciting news that another chapbook manuscript, “The Unknowable Mystery of Other People,” was accepted for publication by The Poetry Box. A finalist in that publisher’s 2018 chapbook competition, this collection is all about various people … friends, family, strangers, and in between. It won’t be published until sometime this winter, but meanwhile, here’s one of the poems:

Hospital Lobby

I’ve been to all of them, he says,
rocking back and forth, arms
wrapped around himself, every
shelter in the city, naming
them one by one, intoning
like a Biblical prophet
in a B movie. All of them.

Everyone looks away,
away from this embarrassment
in frayed sweatpants and bedroom
slippers. Every single shelter,
rocking harder and deeper
like water coming to a boil.
All I want is money for the bus,
money and something to eat.

It takes a hospital official, brisk
in suit and badge, to lead him
away, promising a hot cafeteria
meal. Everyone is pleased.
Smiles of satisfaction. Problem
solved. Embarrassment gone.
I can’t make it on my own out
on the street, he says, but
now no one is listening.

Soon to be a motion picture? Well, no, but ordering info, etc., to come. While you’re waiting, you can still get a copy of Personal Astronomy.

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Ordinary/Extraordinary

I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the books about poetry that I might have read as an MFA student. I never was one, though, which explains why, in my 70s, I finally picked up A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry, by Gregory Orr, who is called by the Poetry Foundation “the master of the short, personal lyric.” The book is an absorbing guide to writing and reading poetry, from the interplay of order and disorder in a poem to the wonderful ways poets use rhythm, sound, and imagination to bring their works alive.

One section that struck me particularly was a passage on, of all things, syntax. Citing the “dislocations and deeper entanglements of the American poet Hart Crane,” Orr quotes a difficult passage of Crane’s “Voyages” and calls it “an extremely expressive use of syntax, one that mocks the skeletal parsing of sentence with an image of fleshly, ecstatic flowing.

I couldn’t really follow the Crane passage, I confess, so I felt better when I read on. ”I would add, just to be clear about this,” Orr writes, that I’m not really able to make any ordinary sense out of these lines, even though I think they’re rather amazing.”

Exactly. I have a friend who writes poems that are striking for their sounds and images, but I can’t always make “ordinary sense” out of them. Even so, I think they’re extraordinary.

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Between Storms

Randall Jarrell once described a poet as someone who “manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times.” Most of us who try to be poets check the weather reports regularly, hoping for inspirational lightning. Things can sometimes be pretty uninspiring between storms, though, and that’s where I find myself right now. In a lull.

Yes, my chapbook Personal Astronomy is imminent (yay), and yes, I have another one coming this winter (more on that later). But now, in that aforementioned lull, I’d like to feature work by a couple of other, more inspired, poets.

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Open DoorsLiving with the Doors Wide Open

One such poet is my friend Rebecca Leet, whose new book, Living with the Doors Wide Open, is now available on Amazon. In this collection, Rebecca brings her journalist’s skills of observation and her experience of a life well lived to a collection of engaging and accessible poetry. Her poems touch the universal behind the everyday, the sometimes difficult truth behind fallen leaves, a remembered piano composition, the burial of a beloved dog. Rebecca’s tone ranges from the bemused to the elegiac: “Time has tattooed itself / across my flesh,” she writes in one poem; in another, she hopes to “yield” one day with the grace of a falling leaf. “Stay facing the sun that warms you,” she whispers to a rose that, like many of us, is “a few petals toward autumn.”

Mothering Backwards
By Rebecca King Leet

I’m sorry, she says, what
are your daughters’ names?
Those, twenty-five and twenty-six,
for whom she’d drawn down
Social Security each month

to ensure they’d go to college. And
whose University of Virginia sweatshirt
and William and Mary tee she’d worn
proudly. She’d sit stone still, listening
to each story Caitlin and Kristin shared.

I don’t remember – what
are your daughters’ names –
asks the woman who was my mother
of the woman who is her mother now

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‘The Body that Smiles’

“I heard the owls tonight,” my friend Janet Dinsmore emailed me recently. Janet, who has attended a series of poetry classes with me, told me she has been looking for her voice in poetry for many years. She was standing outside her cottage near the Chesapeake Bay one evening when she heard the owls.

Gift
By Janet Dinsmore

Owls are communing
in the soft dark
wooh wooh, a soprano
then an alto                and another

I smile on the gravel road

actually I am inside the body that smiles,
the body smiling with my face
mouth curved happy up
unbidden, unintended…

          the independent inner one
          on its private
          unpredictable
          purer path

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Trifecta

Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. It’s hard to keep submitting work for publication when everything comes back “thanks but no thanks.” And then suddenly comes acceptance of not one but three poems at the same time! In the same journal! Thank you, thank you Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. for publishing “Artic Fever,” “Still With Us,” and “Bathtub Buddha” in your May issue. It’s enough to make me keep on writing, keep on submitting.

Bathtub Buddha
By Sally Zakariya

Watching the water swirl down
     the drain
I think of Australia –
does it really circle the other way
in the southern hemisphere
left hand one way, right hand
the other?

Do the gyres cancel each other out
when they collide at the equator
clogging the drain
     bathwater rising
a flood of soap and bubbles
bathing the earth?

No it can’t be – the world
is too steeped in dirt and grime
to be cleansed so easily.
Even the rain that showers down
     from Heaven
can’t wash the stains clean

without help from our tears.

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Speaking of submission …

What was good advice in 2014 is still good advice today. Cruising through calls for submission recently, I happened on a piece by poet Katie Manning , who, when she’s not writing herself is teaching others to write at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. Manning’s good advice is straightforwardly titled How to Submit Poems for Publication.

In sections called 1) find literary journals, 2) follow directions, 3) cover letters matter [sort of], 4) keep good records, and 5) keep submitting, Manning gives a quick course in the art of getting your poems out there and in print or online.

“If you’re not one of those rare, lucky poets who have poems accepted on the first try, don’t worry,” she writes. “Most of us took a long time to get a first poem published, and sometimes even well-published poets have dry spells. Submitting poetry can be discouraging, but keep doing it.” Words to live by. After all, as Manning observes, it’s a numbers game. The more you submit, the more likely you’ll get one of those good-news acceptance emails.

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There’s still time

If you’ve been meaning to order my forthcoming chapbook Personal Astronomy but haven’t gotten around to it, never fear. The chapbook is slated for publication in mid-August, and there’s still time to reserve your copy. The poems “express a stargazer’s wonderment, doubt and acceptance of the extraordinary grounded in an ordinary life,” says one reviewer. Another calls the collection “a poetic journey into the microcosm of love and relationship juxtaposed against the backdrop of the universe in poems that are as lucid and ordered as the constellations they invoke.” Buy a copy and the stars will shine on you.

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Coming Soon(ish)

My forthcoming chapbook “Personal Astronomy” is now available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. I’d like to think people will enjoy the poems inside, and I’m hoping they’ll like the cover illustration as well. It’s a detail from a star chart by Johann Elert Bode (1747-1826) showing the constellation Andromeda. (That’s her, reclining among the stars.) When I first mentioned "Personal Astronomy". here a couple of months ago, I included a poem that will be in the chapbook, “Constellations.” Poet Dianne Silvestri responded with a poem of her own. (Dianne, by the way, wrote the charming “Summer Treasure” in Joys of the Table..) “Since you invited correspondence,” she wrote me, “I am drawn to send you a poem of mine I recently resurrected which I thought of as I read your ‘Constellations.’”

August Midnight
By Dianne Silvestri

The ranger locked the gate
at sundown, our group inside
to camp at Bluffton Game Preserve.

We unrolled sleeping bags
like planks to bridge the road,
lay wide-eyed to observe

unobstructed midnight sky
of August set to astound us
with one shooting star after another,

all sites on the map overhead
firing meteors in rapid succession.
No one died while asleep

in the middle of that asphalt.
When we awoke the next morning,
in fact, we were all more alive. 

Dianne Silvestri, author of the chapbook Necessary Sentiments, has poems published in Zingara Poetry Review, Poetry South, The Main Street Rag, The Examined Life Journal, The Worcester Review, The Healing Muse, Inscape, THEMA, American Journal of Nursing, and elsewhere. A past Pushcart nominee, she is copyeditor of the journal Dermatitis and leads the Morse Poetry Group in Massachusetts.

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Ten Words

Dianne writes that she “resurrected” her poem, which got me thinking of all the old, dead lines I’ve buried in the depths of my computer. Once, for a while, two friends and I played a poetry game involving ten words. We’d take turns each month choosing words at random from whatever book or magazine lay nearby and then we’d each come up with a poem that included at least seven of the words in some form or other. Here’s one I wrote more than a decade ago, drawing from the following words: lantern, drag, dimension, scowl, thaw, reserve, inquiry, docent, copper, and capillary.

Insomnia, 4 AM

The end of the world comes when you’re awake
the dark clamor, the rush of wings,
the taste of copper in your throat,
the jagged wire of dread dragged
through your veins and capillaries.

You don’t get to sleep through this.
The moon may hang a jaunty lantern
outside your window, but you see the scowl
on its face, you grasp the sheer dimension
of the final freeze.

No welcome thaw to come. No cozy sleep.
Not even dreams of sleep.
When the end of the world comes
you will still be awake.

We didn’t come up with great stuff, but it was interesting to see what different directions the same batch of words inspired us to take. Try it and you’ll see.

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From the Recipe Box

A recipe box is a little history not just of dishes you love but also of the people who taught you how to make them. Take dessert: Even though I try to stay away from cakes and pies these days, that wasn’t always the case. Flipping through the recipes in my box brings family members and old friends sweetly to mind. My thanks to the Mississippi University for Women for including this poem in the Fall 2017 issue of Ponder Review:

Their Desserts
By Sally Zakariya

Robin, who couldn’t hide her innocence, maker of poppy
seed cake, unhappy in love, leaning toward the nunnery
last I heard

Jeanne of the freckles and flaming orange hair, never quite
one of our group and remembered mostly for her
carrot cake

Willie, practical Midwesterner who did it all a year ahead
and better, who served flaky almond pastry from her
Dutch forebears

friends and family all filed together in the old recipe box
under Cakes and Cookies along with others -- Mother’s
there of course

no baker, still we relished her peach skillet pie and apple
goodie, sweet memories neatly recorded in her own left-
leaning hand

Nancy, too, big sister who settled into a domesticity I envied
but failed to emulate (I never make her pecan pie but savor
the recipe)

and you, Aunt Betty, your spice cake topped with tangy lemon
sauce deserves a poem of its own, warm and pungent, starting
with the same

simple stuff as all the rest -- flour, butter, sugar, eggs
-- but how various the cooks, how various their desserts

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Man Overboard

I’m always delighted to see new work by poets I know, even if I only know them through publishing. Case in point: Michael H. Levin, whose delicious poem “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (after the movie by the same name) appeared in Joys of the Table. Levin’s new collection, Man Overboard, is now available for preorder from Finishing Line Press.

“Michael Levin’s poems are a captivating collection of dramatic slices of life netted over the course of decades,” writes one critic, and another adds, “Levin’s poetry circumnavigates the globe like a time-traveling Indiana Jones and sticks a shiny fork deep into earth’s volcanic heart.”

The title poem, which first appeared in Poetica Magazine, tells a tragic story with Levin’s characteristic economy and Imagination

Man Overboard
(C.G.R., d. 2004)

By Michael H. Levin

Dark head bobbing in a chevron wake
disconnected as the space surged
you slipped through the O
of our grasp.

Cool as Wisconsin, you forgot
safe dreams are toxic, that fear is how we fly --
stood off, maneuvering. We scan your log now
seeking its theme.

Cold virtues are an ancient curse --
they reek of Artemis and Mimë.
To wall one’s heart with denial, is to
starve the self away.

Our saving grace is to open
like glories; for openness is all
the earth we have, we dots on the
sliding gray plates

of a following sea.

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Bon Appetit

Don’t forget to “Like” our Joys of the Table Facebook page. And check back often! We’re adding poems and recipes from time to time and would love to hear from you.

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What Are You Writing?

Why should we get all the bylines? Submit your latest poem—just one for now—and we’ll publish the poems we like best in an upcoming blog post. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but please let us know if the poem is accepted or published elsewhere. Send your poem, plus a few lines about yourself, in the body of an e-mail message to:
poetryeditor@RicherResourcesPublications.com

 

You Are Here

Welcome to But Does it Rhyme?
We're a small, but hopefully growing, band of poets who like to talk about our craft and share what we've written. We'll highlight favorite poets, review new books, and explore the process of writing poetry from inspiration to conclusion. (We might venture into essays and short fiction, too.) We hope you'll like our blog — and contribute your own thought and poems.

Sally Zakariya, Poetry Editor
Richer Resources Publications

Charan Sue Wollard (LivermoreLit)
Kevin Taylor (Poet-ch'i)
Sherry Weaver Smith (SherrysKnowledgeQuest)

books
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