St. Valentine’s Day

What else can I say? It’s been a long, cold winter.

St. Valentine’s Day, 2015
– or, Eighteen Below and Falling

So cold for so long,
the air itself is brittle—
if you walk out the door,
you risk cracking it,
causing it to sprinkle
in tinkling shards at your feet.
The wind is busy, buffing
the world, you’d think,
to a high-gloss sheen at least.
But no, the interminable sky-wall
has a thick matte finish.
Nothing shiny or spectacular
hangs in the air. The weatherman
confirms it, announcing,
“Filtered sunlight prevails.”
Even Eros has donned
parka and mukluks.

Civilizations Converge in Modern Poetry

Eros in parka and mukluks.

Eros in parka and mukluks.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):
Mukluks and other Arctic Clothing
Sorry, but this sums up the coming couple of weeks. Not bad if you live west of the great plains.


Let the Boys Eat First

I’ve been thinking about women lately. In particular I’ve been thinking about the young women kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram who are still missing, sold off and given away to men and living, if they are living, under the worst conditions imaginable. And I’m thinking about the Republican women in the House of Representatives who the other day voted together on the abortion bill to send their male counterparts a clear message. One group with absolutely no power and control. Another with much power and control – still not as much as their male counterparts due to numbers, but enough to make a real difference in the lives of millions of women. (If in fact that’s what this is about…). If you look at the sex ratio of men to women across the world, it looks at first glance that there are many more women. But in looking further at the breakdown of the age groups, you see a very different picture. See for yourself by clicking the titles in the Related Links section below.

“Let the Boys Eat First”

My mother’s question
today is “How are Tam’s
sons?” My sister prompts,
“She has no sons.
Only daughters.”
“No sons?” A pause
as she tries to first
believe then comprehend,
but shadows consume her.
Most days she’s in the past
with her four brothers,
or her four boys.
How could a home
exist with only daughters?
Who would eat first,
who last?

Poet Highlight: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, 1651 – 1695

You may not know the poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. I didn’t. When I went looking for a woman to highlight in this section, I was thinking of Muriel Rukeyser, Alice Walker, Maxine Kumin, or someone newer to the scene such as Camille Rankine or Ana Bozicevic. Then I came across this badass nun who lived in Mexico in the 1600’s and her poetry including the poem, “You Foolish Men.” She is sometimes referred to as The Tenth Muse. Which way to the nearest convent?

Juana Ines was born about 1651 as the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish man and her Creole mother. The guy split shortly after her birth. Fortunately for Juana, her mother’s father owned an estate outside of Mexico City and they went to live with him. At the hacienda, she learned to read by sneaking books from her grandfather’s library into the chapel on the property to peruse on her own in privacy. She could read (and write, some sources say) at age 3 and by her early teens had mastered Greek and was teaching Latin to younger children before moving on to learn the Aztec language Nahuatl.

When her grandfather died, she was sent to live with an aunt in Mexico City. She knew the score there and asked permission of her family to disguise herself as a man so that she could continue her education. Permission denied, she went underground to continue her studies, doing so in private. Soon she became a lady in waiting in the colonel viceroy’s court and was put under the tutelage of Vicereine Leonor Carreto, who was one of the viceroys’ wives. Ole Leonor must have done a pretty good job. When Juana was 17, the viceroy called in a panel of experts – theologians, jurists, philosophers, and poets – to ask her questions and pose problems to her that she had to answer without preparation. She astounded everyone. Later, her scientific interest and knowledge led to discussions with Isaac Newton. Or maybe we should say that Newton had the privilege of having discussions with her.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Photo from

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Click here for photo credit.

Juana was a looker, too, and turned down several marriage proposals. In 1669 she entered the convent “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study.” Fortunately, the viceroy who had tested her in front of the panel and his tutor wife became her patrons and helped her amass a large collection of books (about 4000) at the convent where she spent her time reading and writing.

Juana died of the plague, which she had contracted after helping fellow sisters with the disease at the convent. Her writings, library, and musical and scientific instruments were confiscated by the church who didn’t look very favorably on her work. According to one source, her writings were saved by the vicereine. Fortunately, Vicereine Leonor Carreto must have been some kind of woman herself.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):
Sex Ratio for World Population (2011)
Sex Ratio Under 15
Sex Ratio for 15 – 64 years
Sex Ratio for 65 and older

End of Year Visit

While visiting relatives a couple of weeks ago, a young woman – a relative’s relative’s girlfriend – said, “It just started happening” as an explanation for a phone’s sudden malfunction. I thought this was a great phrase and that it would be a great lead in to a poem. Unfortunately, I think the young woman thought I was making fun of her when I commented on how great the comment was. Or maybe she didn’t understand how I could get excited over such a banal statement. I guess in retrospect, it was a little odd to get excited over it and forgive her for acting creeped out by me and avoiding me the rest of the afternoon.

As with so many of my poems, the development of “End of Year Visit” came in three stages. The first inkling of it began after the line was given to me by the young woman mentioned above. Then, a Thanksgiving eve snowstorm came up the coast and spread inland reaching us here in Vermont. And lastly, I’ve been enjoying some weaving over the past couple of days, thanks to this quiet Thanksgiving long weekend.

End of Year Visit

It just started happening—
a few small flakes meandered by the window
floated down to the stiff grass still packed
with greenness, where each crystal stuck,
one upon another upon another upon another.
In the kitchen, I took a pie from the oven,
turned to the sink under the window to see
it just start happening—
the snow amassing now like traffic
near rush hour, not quite rush hour,
but like those folks who get an early start,
so many of them they almost cause
a pre-rush hour rush hour.

I went upstairs to make up the beds,
pausing in one of the now-vacant rooms,
sheets smelling of spring heaped in my arms,
and watched through a second story window
any last hint of sun fade to gray
and the entire front meadow slowly disappear
under marching snow, the mountain
that usually anchors earth to sky,
already erased. It just started happening—
the advance of a great white wall
built from billions of individual swirling bits
like holiday shoppers whipped into a frenzied
search for unnecessary things by some imaginary cause.

I dropped the sheets in a lump on the third
bed, and while descending the stairs, caught
my reflection in the mirror, a gilded square
hung among the many framed images
on the wall. Two seconds to see the shape
of my face was still mostly in tact, but the wrinkles
were beginning their work. It just started
happening—in the landing window, snow
now hung in clumps on the screen outside the glass.
Back in the kitchen, I turned a flame high under the kettle.
Against the couch leaned a small loom,
shaped like a window, and I picked it up,
settled down and began to weave.

Found Poems

In a found poem, the poet reuses text – sometimes small snippets and sometimes large excerpts – that has appeared elsewhere. “Elsewhere” may be in other poems, on walls as graffiti, in a bit of conversation, or any other place in the world. When I heard the young woman say, “It just started happening,” I knew I would use it in a poem. In fact, I thought at the time and still do, that this could be the start of dozens of poems, all very different from one another in content and style. It’s a great writing prompt.

You can find a definition of a found poem in The Book of Forms by Lewis Turco, that whacky poet who at a lecture that I attended at Stonecoast, called Walt Whitman a sissy (whatever, Turco. Have you never read any of Whitman’s 43 poems about the Civil War and when he traveled to Washington to nurse the wounded, such as “Come Up from the Fields Father,” or “A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim”? Here is a link to An Introduction to Walt Whitman’s Civil War Years). Still, Turco knows his forms and here is his definition:

“A Found Poem is poetry discovered in a place where one would never expect it to be…” (p. 187).

Ok, so it’s brief. But Turco does pack in a lot of information in his 312 page book all about different poetry forms. Turco does go on to give us a couple of examples of found poetry, but I like the one that I found on the Academy of American Poets website,, better. It is by Charles Reznikoff who created some of his poetry from law reports (and who has a pretty interesting background, a mon avis). Here’s an excerpt from one:

Amelia was just fourteen and out of the orphan asylum; at her
first job–in the bindery, and yes sir, yes ma’am, oh, so
anxious to please.
She stood at the table, her blond hair hanging about her
shoulders, “knocking up” for Mary and Sadie, the stichers
(“knocking up” is counting books and stacking them in piles to
be taken away).

A common way of “finding” a poem is by selecting words from a larger and non-poetic text. The words can be chosen randomly for a surprise effect. Or, sometimes words just seem to jump out from a text and they seem to select you instead. There are thousands of examples of found poetry on Pinterest, many quite moving and exquisite. In the above poem, “End of Year Visit,” instead of using a found printed text, I used a found phrase someone said as a trigger to write my poem, but it also became one of the themes to the poem and highlights how so many things just seem to happen to us without any effort (or due to no effort) on our part before we realize the years have slipped away.

Many well-known poets, such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams wrote poetry that was composed with found text. Even Homer and Virgil incorporated found text into their works creating a particular type of found poem, the cento, which uses lines of poetry from other poets. The cento is a type of collage poem, and a true cento is made up entirely of lines from other poems. I’ve written one that is 10 pages long and hope to have published soon. More about that on another post.

If you think you are not a poet, try writing a found poem. By paying closer attention to particular words and phrases around you, whether they lie on the page or travel through the air, I am sure you will be surprised at the hidden messages surrounding you and the revelations you will discover.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):
Norns – the weavers of fate in Norse mythology