Collected Poets Series, NPM Ed.

The Collected Poets Series is honored to host four superb poets to celebrate National Poetry Month.


On Sunday, March 29th, at 7:30 pm, a National Poetry Month Primer with prizewinning poets Martha Collins, author of five collections of poetry including Blue Front, and Lynne Thompson, author of the poetry collection Beg No Pardon, will read from their work.

And then on Thursday, April 2nd, at 7:30 pm, poets Anne Marie Macari, author of She Heads Into Wilderness, and Carey Salerno, author of Shelter, will also read.

Martha Collins is the author of the book-length poem Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006), which won an Anisfield-Wolf Award and an Ohioana Award, and was chosen as one of “25 Books to Remember from 2006” by the New York Public Library. Other awards include fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, as well as three Pushcart Prizes, the Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize, and a Lannan Foundation residency fellowship. Founder of the Creative Writing Program at UMass-Boston and Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College until 2007, Collins is currently editor-at-large for FIELD magazine and one of the editors of the Oberlin College Press. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lynne Thompson is the author of Beg No Pardon, which won the Perugia Press Book Award in 2007 and the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) New Writers Award in 2008. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her works have been published in numerous literary journals including Indiana Review, PMS, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, Poetry International, and Calyx, which selected her as a finalist for the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize (2007). An attorney by training, Thompson lives in Los Angeles, California and is the Director of Employee & Labor Relations at UCLA.

Anne Marie Macari won the APR/Honickman first book prize in 2000 for Ivory Cradle, chosen by Robert Creeley. In 2005 her second book, Gloryland, was published by Alice James Books. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, such as TriQuarterly, Field, The Iowa Review, and The American Poetry Review. In 2005 she won the James Dickey Prize for Poetry from Five Points magazine. Macari has served as core faculty and Interim Program Director of the New England College Low-Residency Program in Poetry. She lives in the Delaware River town of Lambertville, NJ, with her sons and her companion, Gerald Stern.

Carey Salerno is the Acting Director of Alice James Books, a nonprofit cooperative poetry press affiliated with the BFA in creative writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington. Born in Kalamazoo, Carey grew up near Lake Michigan. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University in English and a MFA in Poetry from New England College. Her poems have appeared in Natural Bridge, The Dirty Napkin, and Rattle. Salerno’s first book, Shelter, won the 2007 Kinereth Gensler Award. She lives in western Maine with her husband and dog.

For more information along with selections of the poets’ work, please visit the Collected Poets Series website.

Nat’l Poetry Month Books.

Ann & Michael over at the Books on the Nightstand blog have a special podcast up in honor of National Poetry Month.  The big feature is an interview with poet/bookseller Michael Schiavo.  But toward the end I have contributed a recommendation for Catherine Bowman’s The Plath Cabinet.  Give a listen if you  have time.  Thank you to Ann & Michael for asking me to participate, I enjoyed it.  And, if you listen very hard during my bit, you can hear Vincent in the background, calling to me.

And then, once you’ve listened, let me offer these additional recommendations for the poetry-phobes, because I think Michael’s are a tad daunting for the uninitiated.  These anthologies from the University of Iowa Press are not only inviting, but fun & accessible, even to the most skittish would-be poetry reader:


As I mentally gird up for NaPoWriMo, I’ve been resisting poem prompts: gathering them, the idea of using them. But if I’m being realistic, I’m going to run out of ideas awfully fast in the course of writing a poem a day — I’ll need some help.

I don’t know why I’m reluctant to use prompts. My very first poem was an in-class assignment in 10th grade. And my teacher called me the Emily Dickinson of the class. The poem was rubbish, of course, but I like to think that he was complimenting me on my seriousness of intent.

That was the catalyst, what launched me from a reader to a writer. Without Mr. Miele, I would never have attempted it, thought it presumptuous of me to even dream of it. Little does he know what he unleashed!

I began submitting poems when I was 19. It seems shocking now. Need I even bother telling you that my very first rejection was from the New Yorker? Callow youth, yes, but I also wanted my very first to be a memorable one.

Then, my first acceptance came 5 years later. Looking back now, that poem is rubbish, too, but better than the earlier rubbish, rubbish for different reasons. I see growth. And I still have great affection for that poem, not only because it was my first published poem, but because of the nature of the poem itself — a passionate response to a passionate work of art.

So, in a departure from the norm here, and in the spirit of preparation for a month of shitty rough drafts (thank you, Anne Lamott), I’m going to share with you that first published poem of mine. I don’t plan to ever reprint it anywhere, ever, or even revise it. It stands as is, a small flawed monument to my young ambition, killed by its sincerity and immaturity, among other things. I’m okay with that…more or less.  You have to start somewhere.

To Emily

How moors I have never seen
call to me now, purple heather cruelly
lashed by bitter moaning winds
and the explosions of a darkened sky.
The storm, its force and passion,
is welcome.
The lightning, the tumult, the thundering air,
all are Heathcliff
all are Cathy.
Wet drops cool my skin, feverish
with the devouring wildness I have pulsed

within for days, seconds, centuries
intertwined, welded together
by impossible fire in a heartbeat.

Are we all, in our deepest being,
capable of such apocalyptic, beautiful love,
absolute oneness?
As we wrench from our mothers,
bloody ourselves in the effort to be,
are we delivered of the potential
to dwell in flame?
We would perish in the attempt.
But when I feel the howling
wind quicken in my veins,
I can’t help but long to exist
in all I’ve never known outside
the living pages of a book.

When I sleep, the land surrounds me,
the endless moors you wanted to escape,
and I fly up and over the cascading hills,
wildflowers undulating like whitecaps in the sea,
and only stop once reaching a chained garden gate,
and climbing over it, rush towards the shuttered
house beyond, the shuttered house that seems
to recoil from my gaze.
My arms flail at a window closed to me,
despair screaming, “Let me in!
I’ve come home!”
Black eyes stare through the glass,
and I see, as I must,
he does not know me.

But even though my entrance is
forever barred, not just forbidden,
but an impossible fire,
I would rather stand staring
into the blackness on the other side,
evidence of my futile will,
wildflowers grazing at my legs,
vengeful air pummeling my intrusion,
than ever leave.
Let its force suffocate me,
burn me to equal blackness–
I know I have no right–
but I would never leave.

(published in The Iconoclast, issue 42 — Thank you!)

Countdown to NaPoWriMo.

March is now more than halfway through — NaPoWriMo will be here in a mere 13 days! I’m a little light-headed just thinking about it.

Last year, with one child & a full-time job, I managed 12 days / 12 poems before I petered out. Of those 12 poems, 11 were keepers (and 10 will appear in my first chapbook, Hunger All Inside, which has been accepted by Finishing Line Press and will be out this fall — I’ll post more information as it becomes available). To my mind, that’s a pretty successful ratio.

This year, no job, but the family has grown by one, and he’s little, needy, & unpredictable. Plus Vincent is home with me full-time. So I’ve been trying to formulate a game plan to help me commit to another go at NaPoWriMo. Because there’s something about joining with an entire community of poets to write a poem a day, all these poets who have lives just as full, getting those drafts done, every day, that’s tremendously energizing, and also makes the prospect less daunting.

One thing that would help would be for me to rethink my concept of a draft. As I’ve mentioned, my rough drafts aren’t all that rough — I revise line by line, incorporating those revisions while I write, so by the time I finish a first draft, it could be considered more like a 10th or 20th draft! And it’s not a speedy process, which makes coming up with a draft a day a big challenge.

But on a purely practical level, getting Vincent back into daycare for a few hours a couple days a week would be a positive thing for both of us — he really misses his friends. So that is the #1 destination of my Dorothy Prize money! I figure that paying for Vincent to be taken care of so that I can have time to write should be a big enough inducement to using that time well, because I’ve never had that opportunity before. NaPoWriMo? Bring it on!

On Titling a Poem.

There was a discussion recently on the Wom-Po listserv about titling a poem, the different rationales and uses for a title. In the course of the discussion, someone recommended the book, The Title to the Poem, by Anne Ferry. Having a bit of book money again thanks to the Dorothy Prize (not that the check has come yet, but I’m not especially patient when it comes to books I want*), I went ahead & bought myself a copy. On the very first page of the introduction I learned something:

The expectation of wording in the space above a poem is largely a development of printing. In the earliest European manuscripts, where poems were copied onto scrolls, longer ones were identified by some sort of name or label, usually given after the poem as a practical signal to the reader that the scroll had been unwound as far as the end of the poem. If any wording appeared before the poem, it most often consisted of incipit, “here beginneth,” followed by the opening phrase. The habit of identifying the work at its close was carried over, when it was no longer a physical necessity, to manuscripts in page form, and then even to some early printed books (often made to resemble manuscripts as closely as possible). At the same time titles, even for shorter poems, began to be placed more regularly above the text, although not with reliable consistency (except in some volumes prepared with special attention) until late in the seventeenth century. This shift in typography was at once cause and effect of profound changes in cultural attitudes toward the making and corresponding changes in the responses of readers to them.

What originated out of practicality is now what I consider an invaluable tool for the poet.

A title can set the tone, set the scene, add layers of meaning. A title can indicate that a poem is one of a series, like Carol Frost’s Apiary poems, which enriches the poem by association. Even a title that’s the first line of a poem, like the one by Helen Farish below, has a use, changes the flow, the intonation I use reading the poem aloud.

I think an untitled poem is a lost opportunity, and in fact, if I’m having difficulty titling a poem, it usually means for me that the poem requires more revision. It’s not about the poet’s intention, because I think intention is a provisional thing that shifts during the writing, but an understanding of where the poem has ended up. If you don’t have that, then the poem’s incomplete.

*It came, it came, hooray!!

From Helen Farish’s collection, Intimates (Jonathan Cape, 2005):

Let Me Tell You

about the emptinesses,
life punctuated
so rarely by an event:

that until you stop
looking through them,
even what you have

will fall away
like the sound a crow makes,
pure winter.

–Helen Farish

Only open arms will do.

I love my husband. Let me state that right off. But he’s frighteningly up to date when it comes to tragic stories, and has this habit of broadcasting horrifying news bits that he’s read online. For instance, shortly after Vincent fell out the window last summer, he told me about a 9 month old in Boston or thereabouts who fell out a window and died. This I did not need.

And recently there was the story of the mom who let go of her son’s hand for a second in the store in order to pay, and when she turned around he was gone. Turned out that he’d run down the street, gotten on the subway, and ridden it for 2 miles before someone noticed the oddity of a little guy (2/3 yrs old) riding the subway solo. Thankfully this story had a happy ending.

But this is just the sort of thing Vincent would do. Despite his scary experience with the window, he continues to be fearless. I have, however, discovered something very interesting: if he’s walking further ahead of me than I like, and I kneel down and hold out my hands while calling for him to look at me, Vincent will run right back to give me a hug and a kiss. It never fails. I find it endlessly fascinating, endlessly comforting that the one gesture that will keep my son safely by me is a display of love.

The Haircut

When the boy’s head is heavy with his own secret
cap of hair, his mother calls him to her,
asking him to tell her about his day.
When last she called him from the depths
of the wood and combed with slender fingers
the golden current of his hair, the white
of his hidden brow, like a headstone,
had made her almost cry.
After she cut his hair, his head was quick
as a deer turning in a field to face new danger.
By the light raining down in a field in August’s waste,
by the antique vase about to be knocked over
by his child’s elbow, by her own perfume
lasting in the room after they leave,
can she explain her pity for him,
his forehead full of blond mysteries?

Carol Frost, from her collection, The Fearful Child (Ithaca House, 1983).

Short newsy post ending with a Spontaneous Vision of Cuteness.

  • The CPS reading last night with Nikky Finney, Tara Betts, and the ladies of the Holyoke Care Center was phenomenal!  The energy & passion in that room was just amazing, and, as Tara & Nikky both noted, it was like a continuum, the poetry torch passed down from Nikky to Tara to the talented teen mothers, and then back up again.  A night to remember.
  • I did manage to finish my poem, but contrary to everything I said, it required a LOT of revision.  It’s now 19 lines, versus the 18 lines I left off with, with only a few lines resembling the earlier version.  Moral:  sometimes I am full of crap.
  • Did you know that the reason a baby’s breath is so very sweet is a baby has no teeth?  Bacteria causes odor, teeth harbor bacteria, hence, no teeth, no bad breath.

As promised: a Spontaneous Vision of Cuteness.
As promised: a Spontaneous Vision of Cuteness: Vincent & Aidan.

Collected Poets Series, March Ed.

This Thursday, March 5, 2009, at 7:30 p.m, the Collected Poets Series is sponsoring a benefit for the Holyoke Care Center’s Teen Mother Education and Support Program.
Nikky Finney

The teenagers will be reading their poetry with the poet activist Nikky Finney and the talented performance poet advocate from NYC, Tara Betts.

Nikky Finney was born in Conway, South Carolina, the daughter of a civil rights attorney and an elementary school teacher. Finney received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Talladega College in Alabama. While in graduate school, at Atlanta University, she dedicated herself to the crafting of her first body of original narrative work.

In 1985, Finney published her first book of poems, On Wings Made Of Gauze. In 1995, Finney published Rice, a collection of stories, poems, and photographs. Rice won the PEN American Open Book Award in 1999. Finney’s 1998 volume of short stories, Heartwood, was written to assist adult literacy students across the country. Her latest poetry collection, The World Is Round, was published in 2003, and won the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry. She is editor of the anthology, The Ringing Ear, a rich contemporary collection of 100 poetic Black voices published by the University of Georgia Press in 2007.

Tara Betts is a lecturer in creative writing at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. She is a writer/educator/performer who appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and in the SouthWest V-Day production of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” at Chicago’s DuSable Museum. She also appeared in the Black Family Channel series “SPOKEN” with Jessica Care Moore-Poole.

She won the Guild Complex’s Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award. Betts published her first chapbook Can I Hang? and the chapbook SWITCH. She represented Chicago twice at the National Poetry Slam. She has performed in Cuba, London, New York, the West Coast and throughout the Midwest. She has shared the stage with Patricia Smith, Rosellen Brown, Afaa Michael Weaver, Kwame Dawes, Luis Rodriguez, MC Lyte and Grammy-winner Jill Scott. Betts co-hosted and organized the women’s performance space/open mic series Women OutLoud, which was recently revived by Insight Arts.

For more information about this month’s poets, of which there is much much more, or to read selections of their work, please visit the Collected Poets Series website