Currently Reading: Rose Alcalá's MyOTHER TONGUE

I am especially digging the prose poems in Rose Alcalá‘s MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem, 2017). They are haunting and illuminating, and leave my mind hanging in multiple imagined places. Which is always something to admire in a poem: its ability to shift me elsewhere.


She tosses a bolt of fabric into the air. Hill country, prairie, a horse trots there. I say three yards,
and her eyes say more: What you need is guidance, a hand that can zip scissor through cloth.
You need a picture of what you’ve lost. To double the width against the window for the gathering.
Consider where you sit in the morning (transparency’s appealing, except it blinds us before day’s
begun). How I long to captain that table, to repeat in a beautiful accent a customer’s request. My
mother cut threads from buttons with her teeth, inquiring with a finger in the band if it dug into
the waist. Or kneeled against her client and pulled a hem down to a calf to cool a husband’s collar.
I can see this in my sleep, among notions. My bed was inches from the sewing machine, a dress on
the chair weeping its luminescent frays. Sleep was the sound of insinuation, a zigzag to keep holes
receptive. Or awakened by a backstitch balling under the foot. A needle cracking? Blood on a white
suit? When my baby’s asleep I write to no one and cannot expect a response. The fit’s poor, always.
No one wears it out the door. But fashions continue to fly out of magazines like girls out of windows.
Sure, they are my sisters. Their machines, my own. The office from which I wave to them in their
descent has uneven curtains, made with my own pink and fragile hands.

Currently Reading: Lauren Russell

I've recently been enjoying the fabulous Lauren Russell's What's Hanging on the Hush. My favorite thing about Lauren's poetry is her keen attention to musicality, a word sound skill at which not every poet is so deft. Consider the following example:

Throat to Ink, Ink to Fin

When I was ten,
my class went whale
watching off the California Coast.
I remember that time as worried
and tall, salt wind halo of frizz
gangly tip toe tripping
toward the rail, alone,
under my breath singing
"Shenandoah." I imagined
a soundtrack to my life, railed
in vibrato strain of bent-back
wind. The hiccup hack, leaning in.

My student writes an essay
about " the loneliest whale" that sings
at a pitch no other whale can hear. (Pitched
into the waves, an ocean tent, bent.)
"But how do you know it's the loneliest?" I insist.

When I was nine, calluses
on my palms from monkey bars,
I sang No man can a hinder me
barring no note swung
vibrato lunge. But the end
of last summer hung
on a mockingbird song:
And the mockingbird
can sing like the crying
of a dove
, the note bent
around a long vowel
strain, and notes
stuck to a mirror, and ink
tripped in the glass, fluke
and flippers rising back.


And my favorite poem in the collection:

On Loneliness

I am lonely because I could not learn to be a body.
I was born upside down and could never balance on one foot.
I am lonely because there were too many cherry popsicles.
I was holding out for mango, and thus I missed the lesson on sucking up.
I was there for the lesson on ventriloquism: Be careful
when you transfer your voice to another. She might sell it on eBay.
He might dump it in the compost bin. You might be like the Little Mermaid,
lost outside your element, unable to speak to the Handsome Prince.
That is how I feel at parties, but I never had a singing lobster to help me adjust.
I am lonely because I shy away from lobsters.
I saw them crammed together in the supermarket tank, desperate with their pincers bound.
I was fourteen when I became a vegetarian. I was nine when I stopped watching TV.
I am lonely because I do not have a television.
When everyone talks about the latest reality show star, I say, "Who's that?"
and feel bored and superior. I was fifteen when I read Lolita in the bath--
an advantage of contact lenses, to be able to read in a room full of steam.
I am lonely because I stopped wearing contacts.
Some mornings someone steps onto the fire escape and empties a bucket
or bowl or bedpan or bamboo pot. I am always half asleep, and myopic
without my glasses I cannot tell if the dumper is a man, woman, child, or angel.
I am lonely because I never go to the window to find out.

Timothy Daniel Welch's Odd Bloom Seen from Space

Timothy Daniel Welch's prize-winning Odd Bloom Seen from Space is now available!

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say:
“On what do we prop our lives and/ what if it can’t hold,” asks Welch in his tender, mysterious debut, a winner of the 2016 Iowa Poetry Prize. The props in question may be myth and memory, the book’s base elements, which Welch uses to tell new stories about intimacy and identity. Masculinity is a particular site of revision: the book begins with the loss of virginity rendered in Herculean terms—as a labor, even a slaughter, rather than a feat of bravura. Welch’s poems are about “skinny boys/ without a sense of butchery”—those for whom “honesty is a kind of/ solitude.” Such distance leaves his characters at the fringes of history, struggling to understand their place in it: “I don’t know/ how to collect each new// perspective,” Welch writes in the title poem, which opens with an astronaut’s description of the 9/11 attacks. But this remove also bestows vision, one that often makes the mundane life events the book recounts wonderfully unfamiliar. Welch sees snowballs as “brief comets/ smoldering// at my feet” and hears “Owls and their Michael Jackson/ hooting in the trees.” His work is at once cubist and confessional, aching and wry. Welch’s point-of-view, however eccentric, is an altogether welcome one.



Currently Reading: Nate Marshall's Wild Hundreds

I'm honored to be reading with Nate Marshall in Tallahassee tomorrow night! Check out his excellent book: Wild Hundreds, which includes the poem below.





out south

And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
— Robert Frost, "Out, Out"


in Chicago kids are beaten. they crack
open; they're pavement. they don't fight, they die.
bodies bruised blue with wood. cameras catch
us killing, capture danger to broadcast

on Broadways. we Roseland stars made players
for the press. apes caged from first grade until.
shake us. we make terrible tambourines.
packed into class, kids passed like kidney stones.

each street day is unanswered prayer for peace,
news gushes from Mom's mouth like schoolboy blood.
Ragtown crime don't stop, only waves—hello.
crime waves break no surface on news—goodbye.

every kid that's killed is one less free lunch,
a fiscal coup. welcome to where we from.


Currently Reading: Juliana Spahr's That Winter the Wolf Came

THIS is why I love Juliana Spahr:

"It might be that there is nothing to epiphany if it does not hint at the moment of sweaty relation larger than the intimate. For what is epiphanic song if it doesn’t spill out and over the many that are pulled from intimacies by oil’s circulations? The truckers, the sailors and deckhands, the assembly line workers, those who maintain the pipelines, those who drive support in the caravans that escort the tankers, the fertilizers, the thousands of interlocking plastic parts, the workers who move two hundred miles and live in a dorm near a factory, alone, those on the ships who spend fifty weeks circulating with the oil unable to talk to each other because of no shared language and so are left only with two weeks in each year where they can experience tongue in meaningful conversation. A life that is only circulations."    (from “Transitory, Momentary”)


Spahr’s poetry exposes those moments of “sweaty relation” we may not be aware of, or even those we are aware of, but may never think to think about. As in Spahr’s previous collections, the poems in That Winter the Wolf Came chart the entangled relationships and interconnections among and between all: including birds, oil, corporate greed, food, bays, oceans, our bodies, and other nonhuman living and nonliving entities.

from “Tradition”:

Later I pass the breast cup to not really me,
a breast cup filled with sound insulation panels and imitation wood
            with a little nectar and sweetness. 
And not really me drinks it and then complains a little,

rebuking me, for my cakes of nuts and raisins
are cakes of extraction of crude petroleum and natural gas,

for my apples are filled with televisions and windshield wiper blades.


© Juliana Spahr, That Winter the Wolf Came, Commune Editions, 2015

Currently Reading: Brandi George's Gog

With lyrical intensity, Brandi George invites the reader into a Midwestern countryside filled with violence and possession, weakness and strength, a world reminiscent of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina. And just like Allison’s protagonist, the first-person speaker of Gog is boiling inside as she becomes a fury that refuses self-pity: 

from “The Shadow of My Black Dress”:

  I’ll travel back in time, Mother,
         hold your hand when
                  the giant lobster hovers
          over your bed, clicking its pincers.
  But I’m not sorry. I wore your wedding dress
to a séance, which was not really
            speaking with the dead, but dancing
 on your antique table. I haven’t slept since you
          called an exorcist for me. Just
   so you know: if that man you brought
                   home from the bar takes
off his hat, I’ll load my rifle. And Angel
        of Death: blow me.         


from “Why the Working Class Won’t Save Us”:

… Bitch, ice queen, feminazi. Every woman
in my family has been raped. My belated protection:
petrifaction, the tree’s innermost ring drained
of sap, black lipstick and necklace-dagger…

© Brandi George, Gog, Black Lawrence Press, 2015