All That’s Left

Sometimes, I have poems, and sometimes I don’t. This week, I didn’t. I sat at the desk trying to make something, and nothing happened. Then, I started wondering why I was trying. Why write? Why does it seem to be such an important thing to do? By coincidence, I came across the following quote by Alexandra Fuller and thought, yes: that’s why.

“What is important is the story. Because when we are all dust and teeth and kicked-up bits of skin – when we’re dancing with our own skeletons – our words might be all that’s left of us.”

Here is an article by Fuller about life for modern-day Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation.


Middlemarch, Anyone?

With the arrival of Sally and Jamie, we are now a quartet. This is great; quartets can do wonderful things. [Also available here, Elaine.]

I was thinking that we’d begin Poet’s Companionbased prompts next week, so, if you’re inclined, read the introduction and the first chapter, called “Writing and Knowing” by then.

As you know, art is a dynamic process, and I don’t know how religiously we’ll follow the text. I also imagine I’ll alter the prompts some, but we’ll see. The truth is, you don’t really need to read the book. You can simply follow the prompts and keep going as we’ve been doing.

Finally, after looking at these beautiful covers, I have a hankering to read Middlemarch.

Does that sound like fun to anyone?

Homage to Notebookism: Blank Page

One of my favorite old blogs, Notebookism, used to host a “blank page” every Wednesday. Sadly, that site seems to have expired, but, thankfully, good ideas live on. So, let’s have one here today. As Notebookism founder Armand Frasco used to say:

Every Wednesday at [TPC] we open a “Blank Page” – your chance to ask, answer and discuss anything [poetry]-related. Keep it nice, keep it relevant.

(If you think having a weekly “blank page” is a good idea, please do let me know.)

Completing the Move

Sally: I like this song… not sure how to write to it…

J: Does it conjure any images? A solitary walk through winter woods? A teapot attended by one lonely cup?

Sally: I think I hate nature walks almost as much as I hate tea. Am I just a barbarian? This music is beautiful but it makes me feel like I have to salt it… maybe even MSG… be afraid, J… (P.S. That wasn’t my poem- just sharing the process…)

J: You hate nature walks and tea? Dear Lady, is there no fine thing for which you harbor an affinity? Moonlight? Cool breezes? The scent of jasmine in the night air as you sway in the porch swing at Uncle Percy’s lake house? My word, are you in fact, at this very hour, preparing to steal Christmas?

The assigned composition is by Philip Glass, whose music is, in his own words, built around “repetitive structures.” I find this to be mesmerizing and happily intoxicating. Many, however, feel as though it could benefit from the “salt” of variation. Few would go so far as to suggest MSG.

Sally: I do love a jasmine-scented cool breeze- especially on sticky summer nights… and I liked the song- and I enjoyed its repetition… what I meant about the salting… I tend to approach writing in general and poetry specifically on the offensive… picking things apart- writing about what makes me uncomfortable- itchy- angry- so to write about something that is- well- rather pretty- like the people with the bony shoulders- is difficult. This is certainly a result of some sort of sour (rotten?) grapes situation I should resolve in therapy… anyway… this is a challenge- and I think it may call for a Doritos or ramen noodle approach…Like salting the earth… or a poor slug…

My poetry awakening happened as a result of The Poet’s Companion. There are two poems in there by Jack Gilbert (Michiko Dead and Finding Something) that showed me how directly poetry can communicate. I didn’t know it was capable of that. It’s like when I first had my wife’s Brussels sprouts. I always thought I hated Brussels sprouts, but when I tasted hers (sautéed in bacon fat), it was a revelation.

I know what you mean about “sprawling” and “swimming” in a novel. That is wonderful. Poetry doesn’t offer that. But it offers something else. When it works, it’s like a quick dagger-strike of insight to the brainstem. That moment when your tongue connects with dark chocolate.

Who can resist that?

Blog-Virgin… be gentle

I can’t decide if I actually love long books (Moby Dick, Brothers Karamozov… something else I’d like to brag about having read…) or if I just like to brag about having read them. Probably the former… probably the reason I struggle with poetry.

If a novel can sprawl I have plenty of time to swim around… find my way… If / when I pick up a book of verse I quickly find myself on overload- like a blaring radio and TV and toast burning and a fan blowing on my face all at once.

I can’t remember the last novel I finished- that wasn’t YA lit- (City of Ember series probably last YA romp…) I started reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog (which reads like I imagine our blog reading- dueling narrators- only we won’t use as many GRE vocab words…) Anyway- I have Midnight’s Children on a bookshelf waiting for me… so many beautiful texts waiting for me… college was a whirlwind of reading frantically to cram as much as possible into my wee brain- but at least I was forced to read…

Originally posted by Sally.


I have a length problem. No, it’s not that. It is, rather, an explanation for why I’ve never read Infinite Jest.

David Foster Wallace was, by all accounts, a genius. And Infinite Jestis, many agree, a masterpiece. But, it is a long masterpiece. It is, in fact, a long masterpiece with footnotes.

It’s not that I never read long books. Of course, I do. Generally, though, that’s not my favorite type of reading. I favor the brief. Perhaps I’m lazy. Perhaps I haven’t been reading the right books. Perhaps, as a Gen Xer, I have the limited attention span that is the supposed symptom of life in today’s commercial-saturated America. (I doubt that though. I‘ve spent afternoons watching the play of light on water, the billow of clouds.) Whatever the reason, I’m not compelled to readInfinite Jest.

David Foster Wallace the person, however, I do find compelling. He said some quite profound things. There is, of course, This Is Water, which, frankly, I don’t entirely understand, but which I take to be a call to compassion through empathy – a wise, if (one should hope) obvious, sentiment. (And even if it is obvious, he certainly said it in a beautiful, non-obvious way.)

And then there are the notes that he wrote to himself and others. On a draft page for The Pale King, for example, he wrote this encouraging gem: “Need not be stingy about time – not everything has to be perfect to justify the time/pain spent. First Things First. Easy Does It – But Do It.”

And this: “Not every line must sing.” (Thank god!)

And then, today, I read this: “Lots of us don’t publish – it doesn’t mean we’re wasting our time.”

This is good news. It’s news that I suspect you already knew, but still, it’s reassuring to hear it from a luminary, don’t you think? Writing is its own justification.

So, even if this doesn’t turn out to be a success in the internet traffic sense. Even if we don’t end up co-hosting NPR’s The Splendid Sonnet on Sunday mornings, that’s okay – it doesn’t mean we’re wasting our time.

Happy Friday.



I thought it might be fun to work on honing some of the craft and process of poetry (and also to provide some motivation) by blogging my way through a poetry guide with a partner.

My idea is called: The Poet Companions (A Companion to “The Poet’s Companion”). It’s sort of a “Julie and Julia” concept, except with more introspection and fewer tomatoes.