Thursday, June 29, 2006


Coming Home to the Flood

Arrived home from the Eastern Shore Monday night to 4 inches of water in my basement. Since our basement "never floods," we had left all kinds of things stacked on the floor, including boxes of books and letters and papers from my childhood and youth. Arg! I spent yesterday going through it all and found that much, thankfully, could be salvaged. But what a nightmare. Go see the Al Gore movie? I'm living it, baby...

I looked for a flood poem to post here, but ran out of time. Check out a whole section of poems on the weather at the Poetry Foundation here. Or send me a good Force of Nature poem and I'll post it.

Back to the drink!

Monday, June 26, 2006


Eastern Shore = Harriet Tubman

I'm on the Eastern Shore of MD for two days, having dropped my son Ben at sleep-away camp yesterday (his first time! for two weeks! he's only 8! we're all terrified and excited and freaked... plus, it's going to rain the whole first week - the poor baby.)

Staying at some friends' place in Fishing Creek, I discover we are only miles from Harriet Tubman's birthplace. I went for a drive this afternoon, despite the rain. (My English Auntie would say, "We'll pack our Macintoshes and have our tea in the car, if need be." What's a little rain to a sturdy English Auntie, after all?) First, I took the driving tour through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, all marsh and ospreys and redwinged blackbirds, egrets and snowy egrets. Then I drove to the Harriet Tubman birthplace, which turns out to be a marker by the side of the road, planted among the soybeans, in the flat earth.

I kept thinking of Tubman in the night; her own escape and then her many trips back to liberate others: wading through the swamps, the mosquitos, the lumbering great blue herons taking off ahead of her, the mosquitos, the bald eagles and the groundhogs and the mosquitos. What makes a fierce determination like hers? She felt fear, of course, because there is no human without fear. But what is the origin of the determination to persist, despite the fear. She had no children of her own -- was that part of it, that she felt she had nothing to lose? I don't know, but I am fascinated by her ferocity. Is it personality, the way we pop out of the womb?

I wrote a poem last year about history in Washington, DC -- Tubman and Whitman and Lincoln and my neighborhood of Petworth -- which won the People Before Profits Poetry Prize. You can read it here. More on determination and Tubman soon -- this is one of my obsessions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Poetry Events and Rumsfeld

Dan Vera has a very nice report from Sunday Kind of Love's Gay Pride reading last Sunday, including a photo. A terrific line-up. Because the theme was queer love, we were treated to a variety of wedding and anti-wedding poems, including the marvelous "Uncivil" by Venus Thrash (I'll ask her permission to post the poem, which she sent me several months ago), as well as out-and-out love poems (as it were), and anti-love poems. Barbara Orton's tight, dark visions were a sometimes-disturbing treat. Read some in an on-line chapbook by The Literary Review here.

Friday night several poets from the Wartime Issue of Beltway, which I had the honor of guest editing, read at the Takoma Park Community Center, at the opening of the display, Faces of War, created by Youth Objectors United to End War, a group of committed young people who had come from California to exhibit their work. (Special thanks to Jose Dominguez, who set it up. Read more about them here:

The display consists of hundreds of dog tags hanging from a large metal frame. On each dog tag is a photo of an American servicemember killed in the war in Iraq. Some of the soldiers are in uniform. Other photos are from high school graduations or proms. All I could think was how young they looked, how they were almost all just babies, just some mama's baby. And for what? asked Fred Joiner, as we looked together. For what?

Get on over to the TP Community Center to have a look, if you get a chance. If you need a reminder of the personal cost of this insanity.

Which brings us to Rumsfeld -- on page A15 of yesterday's Washington Post, on the Federal Page, which is usually reserved for news of interest to federal employees (changes in pension funds, etc.), we read how Rumsfeld thinks of himself as the War Guy, not the Procurement Guy. So, the Air Force "nearly squandered $30 billion leasing several hundred new tanker aircraft that its own experts had decided were not needed." Rummy doesn't remember whether he authorized the deal or not. $30 billion. Read the article yourself here, then send me your ideas for how we might spend that money instead. (Really, the article was precipitated by a report questioning $850 billion in procurement -- that's buying weapons systems -- that was essentially wasted. OK, $850 billion. Is that where all the money to drive up housing costs in DC is coming from, the Pentagon?? Who else could afford these house prices!?)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


High Art

Last night I watched Lisa Cholodenko's High Art on DVD (on my laptop while the rest of my family watched the Nationals get creamed by the Red Sox on the TV in the basement.) Gorgeously photographed (appropriately, for a film about photography) in rich, hazy, drug-induced hues. Ally Sheedy is a revelation -- sad, sexy, tightly wound. Patricia Clarkson is also marvelous -- sad and funny sometimes, too, vamping and swooning. The central character Syd (Radha Mitchell), an earnest intern at a photography magazine, I found a little too earnest and her boring boyfriend unrealistically dull. (Who wouldn't prefer the drugged-out hipsters in the apartment above? The plot point that brings Syd upstairs is a dripping ceiling... leaky hedonism, get it?)

Still, I prefer High Art to Cholodenko's more recent Laurel Canyon, despite the presence of the always-fab Frances McDormand in the latter film. The characters are more interesting and visually, it's much more striking. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


What Poetry Can Do

On the Academy of American Poets' website, students reply to poems they read during April this year. Here's one I particularly liked.

On "To You" by Langston Hughes

Reading "To You" by Langston Hughes made me think. Our world really is a problem world and we do nothing about it. I wish I could "sit and read, sit and dream or learn" about how to help this problem world. It makes me angry to think that people who don’t read poems like this think this world isn’t a problem world. So they do nothing to help this world. My teacher says, "Even holding the door for someone changes the world." Langston Hughes once said, "All you who are dreamers too, help me make our world anew."

Kayla Pinkney
Mrs. Gates’s & Ms. Bell’s 5th Grade Class
H.B. Lawrence
Holyoke, MA

Here's the Hughes poem:

To You

To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now---
Our problem world---
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered, free--- help me!
All you who are dreamers too,
Help me to make
Our world anew.
I reach out my dreams to you.

Read more responses:


When It Rains, It Pours

Three poetry events with poets associated with DC Poets Against the War in the next four days. Hope you can come out to one of them - or, what the heck, all three! (Note that Barbara Orton has joined the roster for Sunday Kind of Love and Fred Joiner has joined Friday's YOUTEW reading.)


Sol & Soul's 3rd Thursday at Starbucks, Chinatown
Join Sarah Browning, Regie Cabico, Yael Flusberg and Divided City for a free poetry happy hour, Starbucks (7th & H Streets, across from the Gallery Place Metro), Thursday, June 15th @ 6:30 pm

Sarah Browning is a widely published poet and coeditor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology and coordinator of the group of the same name.

Regie Cabico, your evening's host and Sol & Soul’s Artistic Director, is a poet, playwright and educator, the founding member of the Asian Arts Collective, and the an Artist in Residence at New York’s University Tisch School of the Arts.

Yael Flusberg is a writer, yoga teacher, and nonprofit coach/consultant. She is a co-founder of Sol & Soul and lives in the Ella Jo Baker Intentional Community Coop for Activists.
Divided City is Sol & Soul’s quarterly literary and visual arts magazine. Divided City’s poetry, photography and artwork form an inter-generational community-focused conversation between socially conscious individuals.

For more information:, 202/745-2630,


Friday, June 16
6:00 pm
DC Poets Against the War and Beltway Poetry Quarterly present a poetry reading, featuring Esther Iverem, Sarah Browning, Fred Joiner, Adam Chiles, and Suzanna Banwell.
Presented in conjunction with the exhibit "The Faces of War: A Peace Memorial" by the members of Youth Objectors United to End War.
Free. Takoma Park Community Center Gallery, 7500 Maple Ave., Takoma Park, MD. (301) 439-7574.

An art exhibit created by a group of artist-peacemakers between the ages of 15 and 22 entitled Faces of War: A Peace Memorial will open on Friday, June 16th at 6 pm at the Takoma Park Community Center Gallery located at 7500 Maple Avenue. The youth will be on hand at the exhibit opening as well as poets from DC Poets Against the War and the Beltway Poetry Quarterly. For more information call: 301-439-7574 or email

The creators of the memorial are from Central California and call themselves Young Objectors United To End War (YOUTEW). The Faces of War: A Peace Memorial was first displayed in San Luis Obispo's Mission Plaza on the 4th of July, 04. The piece is a large grid wire instillation, hung with handmade 'dog tags' holding the faces of US soldiers who have died in the present war in Iraq. The youth spent more than 300 hours working on the project.


Sunday, June 18, 2006, 4 PM
Sunday Kind of Love: Poetry & Pride
A reading to celebrate Gay Pride Month, featuring poets Barbara Orton, Venus Thrash, Dan Vera, and Tim'm West. Presented by Kathi Wolfe.

Followed by an open mic: readings by LGBT poets will be encouraged.

Sunday Kind of Love is a Busboys & Poetry Event, third Sunday of every month. Hosted by Sarah Browning, Coordinator of D.C. Poets Against the War. Busboys & Poets, 14th & V, NW, Washington, DC. U Street/Cardozo on the Green line. For more information:, 202-387-POET or, 202-577-6596.

The Poets:

Barbara Orton's poems appear in two anthologies, The New Young American Poets and New Voices, and are forthcoming in a third, Under the Rock Umbrella. Her work also appears in a Web chapbook published by The Literary Review and in journals including Ploughshares, 32 Poems, and The Innisfree Poetry Journal.

Venus Thrash received a BA in Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing from American University. She received the Myra Sklarew Award in Fiction. She is a Cave Canem, Lannan, and Soul Mountain Fellow. Her short story “Cast Away Stones” is to be published in the forthcoming anthology Enhanced Gravity. Her poetry has appeared in Gargoyle and Catalyst, and in the recently released poetry anthology Gathering Ground. She is currently at work on a short story collection, The Soul of a Man, and a novel, Hole.

Dan Vera was born in South Texas and lived in Colorado, Washington State and Chicago before moving to the District of Columbia. The Tejano Cubano Radical Faerie poet is Managing Editor and Designer of White Crane (, founder of Brookland Area Writers & Artists (, (, and a member of the Triangle Artists Group. His poetry has been featured in Beltway, Shaping Sanctuary: Proclaiming God's Grace in an Inclusive Church, DC Poets Against The War: An Anthology, the Washington Spark, Red Wheelbarrow, and Raddish.

Tim'm T. West is an author/publisher, poet, emcee, and activist who in 1999 co-founded Deep Dickollective, the black queer rap outfit known for their lyrical middle fingers to Hip Hop enthusiasts who would prefer to pretend that there are no queers in the cipher. In 2003 he released a critically acclaimed poetic memoir Red Dirt Revival, in 2005 a chapbook BARE, and is preparing for the forthcoming Red Dirt Publishing release of Flirting. Musically, he released his solo debut, Songs from Red Dirt on Cellular Records, and as he transitions from D.C. to Chicago (his new home), the release of Blakkboy Blue(s) its highly anticipated follow up. Tim'm currently teaches English at Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy here in the District of Columbia.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Speaking of Poetry - Stanley Kunitz

When the poet Stanley Kunitz died at 100 last month, Michael Gushue sent me a brief essay Kunitz had written, "Speaking of Poetry," which, in my crazy life, I only just read this morning. A passage:

"In an age defined by its modes of production, where everybody tends to be a specialist of sorts, the artist ideally is that rarity, a whole person making a whole thing. Poetry, it cannot be denied, requires a mastery of craft, but it is more than a playground for technicians. The craft that I admire most manifests itself not as an aggregate of linguistic or prosodic skills, but as a form of spiritual testimony, the sign of the inviolable self consolidated against the enemies within and without that would corrupt or destroy human pride and dignity. It disturbs me that twentieth century American poets seem largely reconciled to being relegated to the classroom-practically the only habitat in which most of us are conditioned to feel secure. It would be healthier if we could locate ourselves in the thick of life, at every intersection where values and meanings cross, caught in the dangerous traffic between self and universe."

Poetry = the sign of the inviolable self consolidated against the enemies within and without that would corrupt or destroy human pride and dignity. I love that.

Or, as Adrienne Rich is quoted as saying in Points of Departure: International Writers on Writing and Politics:

"This is the work I see for us now: to insist in our art on the depth and complexity of our lives, to keep on creating the account of our lives, in poems and stories and scripts and essays and memoirs that are as rich and strange as we are ourselves. Never to bend toward or consent to be rewarded for trivializing ourselves, our people, or each other." [Italics added.]


Monday, June 12, 2006


Movin' with Nancy

Props to Fred Joiner, who sent me David Trinidad's Nancy Sinatra pantoum, which I've pasted below. I love how Trinidad uses the pantoum form (lines 2 & 4 become lines 1 & 3 in the next stanza), the way music cycles and especially how pop music relies on the repeated chorus, the catchy melody. The poem also evokes the role that popular music plays in our growing up, repeated over and over on the radio, the soundtrack looping through adolescence.

Send me more music poems - or thoughts on music in poetry. I'll keep the thread going.

Movin' with Nancy

It is almost time to grow up
I eat my TV dinner and watch
Nancy Sinatra in 1966
All boots and blonde hair

I eat my TV dinner and watch
The daughter of Frank Sinatra
All boots and blonde hair
She appears on "The Ed Sullivan Show"

The daughter of Frank Sinatra
She sings "These Boots are Made for Walkin'"
She appears on "The Ed Sullivan Show"
The song becomes a number one hit

She sings "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"
She sings "Somethin' Stupid" with her father
The song becomes a number one hit
She marries and divorces singer/actor Tommy Sands

She sings "Somethin' Stupid" with her father
She sings "The Last of the Secret Agents"
She marries and divorces singer/actor Tommy Sands
She sings "How Does That Grab You, Darlin'?"

She sings "The Last of the Secret Agents"
She sings "Lightning's Girl" and "Friday's Child"
She sings "How Does That Grab You, Darlin'?"
She sings "Love Eyes" and "Sugar Town"

She sings "Lightning's Girl" and "Friday's Child"
She puts herself in the hands of writer/producer Lee Hazelwood
She sings "Love Eyes" and "Sugar Town"
She co-stars with Elvis Presley in Speedway

She puts herself in the hands of writer/producer Lee Hazelwood
Three gold records later
She co-stars with Elvis Presley in Speedway
She rides on Peter Fonda's motorcycle

Three gold records later
She has developed an identity of her own
She rides on Peter Fonda's motorcycle
The wild angels roar into town

She has developed an identity of her own
Nancy Sinatra in 1966
The wild angels roar into town
It's almost time to grow up.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Poems about music

Last night at my fabulous poetry group, two members brought wonderful poems about music (Derrick Weston Brown about The Young Lions and Teri Cross Davis about Prince), prompting us all to remark how hard it is to write about music. I thought of David Trinidad's Nancy Sinatra pantoum and wanted to post it here, but can't find it on the web. No time to type it up today - I'll try to over the weekend. But if you send me your favorite poems about music (or direct me to a URL) I'll get them up here next week.

All praises to one of DC Poets Against the War's summer interns, Shevaun Brannigan, who came over yesterday and helped me organize and file -- I can see my desk!!

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Fierce and Beautiful, the Human Body

I've been reading Vivid Companion by Irene McKinney, a former poet laureate of West Virginia who deserves to be better known. The poems are fierce and unforgiving. I love their anger, their ambivalence toward the body, even in their deep sensuality. Here's a poem about breasts that gives us the tomboy's anger, shame, and resistance without apology:

Covering Up

When I saw that I would have breasts
and that they wanted me to cover them up,
I took my shirt off and tied it around my waist
and stomped out into the yard.

I was so furious that no one stopped me;
not my mother, who thought I was acting crazy,
not my father, out working in the hayfield,
not my brother, who thought it was a game,

Not my sister, who thought I was acting-out,
who thought I was crazy. I was crazy.
For three days I stalked around and stomped,
refusing the wear a shirt. They all said

"Cover up" and to cover up made me feel weak.
I wasn't weak: I was damned if I'd pretend,
I was damned. They were two badges on my chest,
each of them saying "This is me."

First the nipples plumped up and turned
from pale pink to dusky rose.
They were two eyes seeing things
my other eyes couldn't see.

Then they rounded out, and ached.
They wondered what was going on,
getting ready for the long story;
nursing mouths, kisses, suckles.

Later, I would stand in the bathroom
with my arms raised painfully
while my husband wrapped a wet towel
tightly around them to bring down the swelling

of too much milk. Later, I would stand
at the lingerie counter and choose a black
lace bra. Later, I would change back
to white cotton. Later, I would burn them.

But that week when I was eleven
I wanted it to be solved. I wanted it to be over.
I took a hoe from the shed and stood bare breasted
outside and beat the hoe to splinters

on the trunk of the maple. I knew it wasn't over
but I was exhausted. I would have to enjoy
not covering up in secret. That's when
I began to speak in my head as the naked one,

And the other went clothed into the world.

Read more poems from Vivid Companion (I especially love "At 24") here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Cheryl Savageau

On hearing from a poet friend that she's not familiar with the work of the wonderful poet Cheryl Savageau, I thought I'd post one of Savageau's poems here. It's from Dirt Road Home, published by the incomparable Curbstone Press.

Looking for Indians

My head filled with tv images
of cowboys, warbonnets and renegades,
I ask my father
what kind of Indian are we, anyway.
I want to hear Cheyenne, Apache, Sioux
words I know from television
but he says instead
Abenaki. I think he says Abernathy
like the man in the comic strip
and I know that's not Indian.

I follow behind him
in the garden
trying to step in his exact footprints,
stretching my stride to his.
His back is brown in the sun
and sweaty. My skin is brown
too, today, deep in midsummer,
but never as brown as his.

I follow behind him like this
from May to September
dropping seeds in the ground,
watering the tender shoots
tasting the first tomatoes,
plunging my arm, as he does,
deep into the mounded earth
beneath the purple-flowered plants
to feel for potatoes
big enough to eat.

I sit inside the bean teepee
and pick the smallest ones
to munch on. He tests
the corn for ripeness
with a fingernail, its dried silk
the color of my mother's hair.
We watch the winter squash grow hips.
This is what we do together
in summer, besides the fishing
that fills our plates unfailingly
when money is short.

One night
my father brings in a book.
See, he says, Abenaki,
and shows me the map
here and here and here
he says, all this
is Abenaki country.
I remember asking him
what did they do
these grandparents
and my disappointment
when he said no buffalo
roamed the thick new england forest
they hunted deer in winter
sometimes moose, but mostly
they were farmers
and fishermen.

I didn't want to talk about it.
Each night my father
came home from the factory
to plant and gather,
to cast the line out
over the dark evening pond,
with me, walking behind him,
looking for Indians.

Read other poems here.


On not writing

I saw Ethelbert Miller yesterday and he asked me if I am writing, by which he means writing poetry. Which I am not. Just now. But I told him that the first week of July I'm headed off on a writing retreat to The Porches in central Virginia, so I'm storing it all up for then. Can't wait! Check out photos of the place here. Apparently it looks out over the James River and is close to hiking trails, etc. Mostly, though, it's quiet. I'll probably take a Blog Break that week and try to sink in. I'm not very good at that, but at least once a year I have to give it a try. How I admire the contemplatives of this life.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Water, Water, Water

Yesterday, my husband and I had a surprise few hours to ourselves in the afternoon and went to see Deepa Mehta's latest movie, Water, at Dupont Circle. The reviews have all been right - it is an extraordinary film. It is stunningly beautiful, from the very first shot of a marsh filled with water plants (lotuses, perhaps? If so, there is resonance there, later in the film.) You know instantly that you're in the hands of a master of visual storytelling. Set in the 1930s, the film tells the story of the arrival of an 8-year-old widow at a widows' ashram in a holy city on the banks of the Ganges River. As in the other two films in Mehta's trilogy, Fire and Earth (rent them today!), the female characters are at the center. Water tells their stories, the awakenings, transformations, and tragedies. The women are magnificent - the characters nuanced, the actors spectacular.

My only tiny disappointment was the central male character, Narayan, who seemed a little too saintly. I gather the actor, John Abraham, is a big Bollywood star; maybe he's too iconic to mess with. Still, I wondered, is any man this perfect?

I had been feeling a tad depressed and almost talked Tom into some Hollywood escapism. But the options -- Mission Impossible 17,000? The DaVinci Code? -- were so abysmal, Tom convinced me we should have a good movie-going experience, not a crummy one. And thank you, Tom! A crucial reminder that good art - art that makes you think, that may even make demands on you - is restorative, not draining. And art that finds beauty and celebrates beauty, even in the face of corruption and suffering, is what gives meaning to my life. Please spread the word: Water is a film to see not because one should, but because of the great sensual pleasures it provides. Bodily sustenance.

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