Bookbinding Bender


“We might not be a good match if I write you a poem and you think we’re getting married.”

Wearing all the brassiness and bravado I could muster, I retorted, “Well, what if I write you a poem?”

Thus began the early workings of a relationship in motion. On our first date, out came a beloved spine of Blake poems. We canoodled over Rilke and Jaroslav Seifert.

Our love of words in collusion, our growing love of each other only increased that sharedness of mine ours.

It might go without saying my first gift to Beck at the outset of dating was a journal: the way he took care of his books told me a lot about how he takes care of his women.

To this day, his eyes light up at the sight of fresh journals with the grand possibilities of worlds yet unexplored. My Beck is conquistador and matador of words, spearing them into submission.

For our wedding, it had been my intention to make him a journal from scratch. I headed to my favorite paper store and conspired with my favorite seller of papered goods. I fingered Japanese papers gilt and expensive. Surveying bumpy textures from bright graphics, Sunday afternoons became my delicious secret. Alone to my schemes, I paired papers with book cloth looking for that supreme combination that would spell Beck. After signing up for a class on bookbinding, I felt set.

As life sometimes goes, the wedding had other plans and I put my project on hold. The holidays marched on, class and materials all but forgotten until one day they weren’t.

I met up with my favorite papered products seller to learn book binding 101 at a local arts community space. Over the course of an hour and a half one Saturday night, we cut and folded, affixed adhesive and pressed down the paper and book cloth.



His journal finished, I felt the giddiness of Fred Astaire tapping his heels with satisfaction and glee. Here, this delicious secret gestated until Valentine’s was nigh.

Beck’s eyes drank in the bright blood red book cloth, the black and white geometric tiles. Could he hear the castanets clicking in the distance? The surge of energy as the bulls entered the arena?


I felt drunk with the joy that comes from having an idea and seeing it through to completion. My hands felt invincible and strong. Something about taking the sum of parts and making a whole energizes and replenishes some carnal desire to create.

The next weekend, I had my work cut out. Sure, I’d made this journal under the trusty eye of my favorite seller of papered goods, but could I do it alone? Like a child left alone to her own devices, I pulled out the scissors and made my phone into a ruler. I traced and measured believing myself to be on my way to bookbinding greatness. Scraps of yellow book cloth dissuaded that same impetuous tenacity of response my Beck saw in our first communication. Somehow I’d mixed up a few steps along the way. This project would need to wait until my frame of mind had settled down. My utter excitement at beginner’s luck had gotten the best of me. For the moment…

This Sunday, I’d felt a bit forlorn. Conversations with friends and a movie under my belt, the evening unfolded ahead of me, full of promise and perfect for a project.

I’d drawn and dated the pages for my 2011 daybook… a perfect cap to the evening.




Watch out world. I’m on a bookbinding bender.


Persimmons by Li-Young Lee

A few weeks ago, I met some new friends in a coffeehouse in the South Bay. Cheryl and Beth were people whose acquaintance I’d made at a recent conference and we’d made a point to get together for a holiday catch-up. (Beth brought homemade rugelach; Cheryl treated to tea and tiny cupcakes.

Somehow we began talking about persimmons and it reminded me of one of my favorite Li-Young Lee poems.

I happened upon Lee during grad school. His name popped up on a required reading list. When I mentioned his first book “Rose” to other students as one of my 35 books to read for the semester, it elicited the same reaction:

“You’re going to love it.”

Lee’s grappling with the relationship between parent and child and religion and culture in “Rose” really pulled me in. Culture has oft been an area of study and examination during the course of my studies. I am humbled and energized by the overlaps and acute differences of one person from another in differing cultures. The tenets of relationship can be fluid as freshly made caramel or solid like granite.

This smacks of the human story.

Two humans seemingly with so much in common and so much that is dissimilar: I wonder about miscommunication. War. The things we hold onto when the going’s no longer good.

I based my thesis,  “Melting Pot Poetics: an Expansion of American Poetics through a Multicultural Lens” in part on my growing fascination with Lee. You can find it published in Web Del Sol.

The idea of the third culture kid is something I’ve been grappling with since childhood. These would be the kids growing up in a land that is different from the birthplace of their parents. While their parents may speak their native language fluently, sometimes a third culture kid only knows bits and pieces. Perhaps they are fluent too, but their fluency extends beyond their parents’ language. I have often thought these kids are going to be the bridge-builders for peace in our topsy-turvy world. They will be the ones to negotiate harmony and look for commonality when the outward surface would point only to hostility and difference. They have walked the tightrope between “not being fully X” and yet “not being fully whatever culture they are raised in”. They have an amazing knack at fitting into different worlds because they are not fully planted in one.

That need and that urge to blend in wherever they are might be more common than not. In some cultures, it’s easier to do this.  watch patiently, waiting for the moment to act. Perhaps this is a culture where yes is a head bob side-to-side: yes is malleable. But what if it involves harder things: a language the tongue doesn’t roll around easily- the listening becomes longer. Silence more pronounced.

Then there’s what is unsaid in the silences. What must be inferred.

So without overly explaining this poem’s brilliance, I read Lee’s “Persimmons” again, tonight aware of the silence and the voice that echoes off of the walls of said silence.

I listen. I wait patiently for a moment to act.

by Li-Young Lee

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets:  chiu chiu. Dew:    I’ve forgotten.
Naked: I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo: you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
fright was what I felt when I was fighting.

Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.

He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.

Art Conversations on Art

Word as Art- R.H. Quaytman

Modern art. Canvas of miniscule stripes atop larger canvas of miniscule stripes. Just another painting hanging at the MOMA. Or is it? Upon closer inspection…

A poem that Borges would like! The artist, R.H. Quaytman we discover has coyly engaged verse from Jack Spicer into his paintings.

CONVERSATIONS ON ART- Word as Art- R.H. Quaytman

It starts, “The poem begins to mirror itself/”
And we as spectators see this to be true in the manner in which the poem is conveyed.

We stand there, drinking in the words, literally reading between the lines because isn’t that what we love about poetry? And we discover the poet singling himself out and wishing to be changed, but recognizing the fallacy of such a desire. And we are suddenly stopped in our tracks with the gravity of his words “Things desert him.  I thought of you / as a butterfly tonight with clipped wings.” In one instant, we feel his abject loneliness. In one instant, his beloved close by but wishing to alight upon the air away from him. It is no accident that he too craves wings and avian form.

The lines become a cage we are peeking into. You never know when you’ll be arrested by word as art.


Giving Thanks & an Elegy by Yehuda Amichai

Many people give up on poetry.

They think it does not have anything to say to them after high school English class. Perhaps, they think, it is for a certain social tier or for people who have time. I’m not sure of the why, but one of the when’s of their return to poetry can often involve death. People hobble their way back to poetry when a loss has occurred. Maybe it’s to find that one poem to be read at the Memorial service that will speak a syllable of the shock and awe and numbness in which they have found themselves of late.

There are several forms of poems that evoke loss through content and style. Style-wise, it’s something that fascinates me- it’s the show without needing to tell. Then there’s the lovely elegy. An elegy is defined as “a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead.” Mary Jo Bang writes a strong poem to convince the reader of “The Role of Elegy.”

Thanksgiving approaches stealthily this year. There is so much to be thankful for. I tell myself that when I’m feeling it down to the marrow of my bones. I tell myself that when I’m hunkering down in solitude, alone with my thoughts in a room full of people, a dissonant note.

I went to a class two Sundays ago at church on spiritual perspectives of depression. For weeks, I’d seen the blurb out of the corner of my eye and toyed around with the possibility of attending. Maybe I’d learn something. But maybe I’d moved on and didn’t need to go to a class like that. After all, my Jewish grief support group is buoy and rope for all of us involved. Maybe depression was a phase of grief I had graduated from entirely. I had begun feeling invigorated and alive after the wedding, excited about the future and more excited about the present. But then it hit me again.


His laugh, that trill his voice took when he called my name in a sing-song tone. The koala face he would make when he held his breath, puffed his cheeks, pulled on his ears and kind of went cross-eyed. The sage words. The secure steel of his arms wrapped around me. Nothing to replace that…

And the thing is you can try but nothing will replace them. After someone you love dies, you get to live through many firsts without them. Nothing diminishes that ache of loss, though I hear love, time and in my case, God sure make it better. In that class on depression, the speaker a Dr. Sullender, charged that often people encountering depression find themselves uplifted by gratitude. It’s an interesting idea and makes sense really. Thinking of the things you are thankful for, said another way, “what you have” turns your back on (what you don’t have) the things bogging you down.

He countered the idea of depression as being particularly special by citing numerous people who were depressed for a stint of time caused by loss, not just those instances where depression requires medicinal assistance. Did you know it’s the second most cited mental affliction in the United States today, second to addiction? Did you know three Saturdays ago was National Survivors of Suicide day? Grief tends to find a friend in depression, at least for a time.

Last year I didn’t go home for the holiday. Maybe I did the year before that, memory is time’s fool. I found myself visiting Beck’s parent’s house for the first time. I found myself ensconced in the guest room for a pocket of time describing the kind of Thanksgiving we were about to embark on to my dad. I found myself saying I love you right before hitting the end button on the call.

You can never say I love you enough.

I remember making a salad one year for Thanksgiving, trying to share a bit of that part of me so enthralled by taste and flavor with him. He had tried the pomegranate seeds floating between leaves of arugula and liked it. The “rabbit food” he usually abhorred, had this time tasted delightful…

I received word that my Dad’s half-brother Oom Kees passed away a week ago today. Upon reading those words in my email inbox, I promptly sought to bury my head in the sand and be an ostrich for a day. The news made me increasingly tired but found me up late that night with insomnia. It may seem odd, but I processed this information through a lens of how my Dad might. I knew he would be deeply saddened. It really made the pang of wanting to talk with him sharp. That desire to talk doesn’t go away. Instead, often what you get is a gnawing sense of something not quite right with the world anymore. Even in the best and most dizzyingly high moments, you can’t quite put your finger on what might be casting a pallor making the great good. And then it hits you anew.

Sometimes you want to hear that things are going to be okay, even though you now know they don’t go back to the way they looked beforehand, which doesn’t mean they can’t be good. They just won’t be the same and frankly neither will you. I would charge you to be gentle and kind and patient with yourself as you sort out what you are all about after a major death. Take it as my from me to you.

Taking the idea brought on by Dr. Sullender, I’ve crafted my thankfulness list. What would yours include?

To be thankful in the loss and thankful for the living before it and that which comes after.

To be thankful for an engagement and thankful for the wedding nine months hence.

To be thankful of embracing old family and thankful to say ours not yours or mine.

To be thankful for the strangers cum friends, friends cum family, thankful for arms, sound, silence.

To be thankful for the time given and thankful to ungrip when the going needs to be let.

To be thankful for a mom, a dad, cousins, aunts, thankful for love spoken in three languages.

There is so much to be thankful for.

I picked up my dog-eared tome of Yehuda Amichai given to me by one of my poetry mentors. My dad would have liked the earthiness, the lust for life of this Israeli poet. Maybe he would have seen the magical realism of the one culture speaking and informing the other. The us instead of the them. I miss my Dad this Thanksgiving but I will choose to give thanks for his rich life and that I got to share part of it.

So here’s a poem from Amichai with a bit of an elegiac timbre to it, in honor of my Dad. In it, Amichai’s resolution to the loss of the beloved is personal and direct. It is a one-sided conversation of letting go and remembrance entertwined.

In the Middle of This Century

Yehuda Amichai
Translated, Stephen Mitchell

In the middle of this century we turned to each other
with half face and full eyes
like an ancient Egyptian painting
and for a short time.

I stroked your hair in a direction opposite to your journey,
we called out to each other
As people call out the names of the cities they don’t stop in
along the road.

Beautiful is the world that wakes up early for evil,
beautiful is the world that falls asleep to sin and mercy,
in the profanity of our being together, you and I.
Beautiful is the world.

The earth drinks people and their loves
like wine, in order to forget. It won’t be able to.
And like the contours of the Judean mountains,
we also won’t find a resting-place.

In the middle of this century we turned to each other.
I saw your body, casting the shadow, waiting for me.
The leather straps of a long journey
had long since been tightened crisscross on my chest.
I spoke in praise of your mortal loins,

you spoke in praise of my transient face,
I stroked your hair in the direction of your journey,
I touched the tidings of your last day,
I touched your hand that has never slept,
I touched your mouth that now, perhaps, will sing.

Desert dust covered the table
we hadn’t eaten from.
But with my finger I wrote in it the letters of your name.

Art Conversations on Art

Word as Art

In college, I discovered that many things in life are free. Then again came the reality that a whole heck of a lot of things aren’t. Sometime during my sophomore year, I stumbled upon a delicious secret. It kept my weekend evenings regularly packed. It kept me well versed and amused at the theater. I volunteered as an usher. By signing up in advance, taking tickets and pointing paid ticketholders to their seats, I received free entry. As the lights would go down, I would find a nook at the back of the auditorium to watch the play or musical performance. Many good nights were spent in the three theaters on campus.

One evening in particular, I remember ushering with a girl we’ll call Jessica. We’re going to call her Jessica because I don’t actually remember her name. Anyways, she was studying dance at the art school on campus and in between spurts of tearing ticket stubs, we began talking philosophically about what art is. A seemingly innocuous question, ” what are you majoring in?” had taken an unexpected turn. I replied I was studying journalism and poetry. She practically snorted as she quickly responded, “that’s not art.”

For 10 minutes we discussed the fine points of writing as an art form.  Her comment had jostled me to the core. I remember it gestating in my head, distracting me during the performance. Many years later it sits there on the shelf of memories. What could have been one artist talking to another about how their art forms might inform one another ended up being a conundrum of she said, she said. Even after cited attempts of Shakespeare, Woodward and Bernstein, she was unmoved.

Right now we live in interesting times.

The visual form holds our attention so completely that many Americans don’t read. Why read a book when you can see the movie? I have enjoyed my chats with film protagonists and buffs including Sandra and Xavier. I see the visual form as visual storytelling and when done well, what’s not to love. An image can transfix the viewer with such powerful appeal. It tells the viewer what to see when. Some directors show such skill with this medium that you can’t help but be wooed and thusly changed after encountering their work. I love that.

Then again, I live in a city well known for its books and authors. I remember once hearing a statistic that San Franciscans pay per capita more on booze and books than anywhere else in the country. Many people here tout themselves writers “with a book inside, waiting to get out.” And if this is the case, who will read those books?

Cue blogging. Sometimes people stumble upon a person’s blog and find themselves inexorably drawn into the story being told, whether it’s food recipes with photographs that make readers want to lick the screen or whatever appeals to their personal tastes and whims. We live in an age where newspapers are increasingly going from print to online and where books can be printed by the author for a price without having to shop them around to mainstream publishers as the only avenue.

Interesting times indeed.

Several years ago, I developed a fun ritual with my then-roommate Mindy of Tuesday nights as poetry night. See, I knew if she got a taste of it, she might be interested in bigger bites. It didn’t hurt that I scratched her back as we read Billy Corgan, Coleridge and Strand. Night after night, I could count on the television being on, but Tuesday nights, we set aside time for reading poetry aloud. She still mentions how much she loved poetry night.

The need for people to tell their stories is intrinsic and really one of the primary reasons I pursued journalism in the first place. We want details, an insider’s perspective, the close-up shot. If a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps that says more about the quality of the words used. I for one, am a fan of film, but as with that conversation with Jessica so many years ago, am interested in how film can inspire or inform writing. I love the idea of conversation between art forms. And I believe in the power of the word.

Food Poetry Poetry

Syrup, after Waffle: a conversation in poetry

after Waffle

glass bottle amber sunlit  liquid.
tip the bottle, drip, drip, sizzle:
waffle and sticky sweetness.
blade of knife to square, tenderly
it gives to the blade, its gentle steam.


annelies zijderveld © 11/16/10



I can taste you in my mouth
Your tenderness
Your gentle steam
Dripping with sweetness
Your feed my hunger
And satisfy my crunchy dreams


Seletta M Raven (C) 10/17/10


Sonnet 116

Melt. Swoon. I must say my way into this sonnet was via the mouth of Willoughby and Marianne teasing the words out of each other’s mouths and thus feeling a sense of inevitability, one evening in college. I found myself smitten with the buffoon we find Willoughby to become later on in Sense and Sensibility when he rebuffs his true love *we think*, Marianne, to retain his wealth and thus glory.

One of my poetry mentors a few years ago assigned a proper reading of the Norton Anthology as part of the 35 or so books to be devoured in a semester. I stumbled onto Sonnet 116 again and this time, the enticement could not be pinned on Willoughby, this time I found myself smitten by the words.

The sonnet speaks of love in flowery terms as “the star to every wandering bark” but also is dramatic and denotes the kaboom experience of love through soundwork. In it you get the soft m’s, b’s and s’s contrasted with the hard “c” – you get the soft and the hard playing together, paving a road of what love might look like. The sonnet admits two sentence breaks mid-stanza, which if read as part of their line read differently than part of their sentences. They are “admit impediments” and “Oh no!” – an interesting turn given that the former dovetails on the idea of not admitting impediments and the latter defines what love is and is not. Read as part of the line, the impression is different. A line that is particularly compelling to me includes three repetitions that serve as mirrors of love looking at itself, seeing what it is and is not: “Love is not love // which alters when it alteration finds, // or bends with the remover to remove.” I appreciate that in this instance the repeated words play noun on one point and verb on the other- each is subject and action. Love is all about action and the subject doted upon.

When Beck and I talked through what readings we would incorporate into the wedding ceremony, there was no doubt that we needed a poem or two. Initially, we toyed with a pair of Rilke poems about a panther and a gazelle, but decided people might not get the reference, given that one of them is a poignant look at a caged cat. Nope. When I read him Sonnet 116, we agreed it just fit and had the right panache for a wedding joining our two lives. Who wouldn’t want a poem with “tempests”, “the edge of doom” and a “bending sickle” watching over a man and a woman joining their lives together? Okay, maybe many people would shy away, but I guess that’s where my wordsmith husband and I diverge from the pack.

Michael, up to bat

We also needed the right someone to nail the “fix-ed” meter, to appreciate the sobriety of the words and bear them upon their tongue, weighing them out, measuring them for gold or fool’s gold. My cousin Michael gave a beautiful reading, choking up midway through. And the thing is poetry sometimes catches you by surprise. You think you know it and then realize it reveals another side of itself to you if you’re paying attention, like a woman in a trenchcoat, unknotting the belt to show off her little black dress underneath. If you stick with poetry, it rewards you with more of itself and who doesn’t like that?


Sonnet 116
by Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh no! It is an ever fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


Poetry Tales from the MFA

Let’s get social

Who doesn’t like a good story and when I mean a story, I mean a person. You’ve heard “don’t judge a book by its cover” and while the genesis of this phrase may have started with a book, let’s just say more often than not it’s intended for people.

Journalism, waitressing, coffee barista, even librarian- the only similarity shared in these hats of the past was people. My blood starts flowing faster it seems, heart speeds up when I think about an opportunity to connect. I’ve been thinking a lot about words like “connection” and “community” lately. Where I think they may boil down for me is delight and opportunity of the online meeting the necessity of the offline. Perhaps the point is that one begets the other or at the very least informs the other.

Poetry can be like that too. A person writes a poem. The poem meanders into the hands of another person, who then ascribes their own ideas and value onto the poem. And the poem outlasts both of them, possibly touching countless other hands or nudging into other ears and eyes.

Narrative poetry // photographic poetry- it all belongs to the people.


On feathered things

Some big changes are afoot. One such change is no longer being employed at the company that almost captured a decade of my life. It’s good to calibrate and sometimes re-calibrate along the journey. I remember graduating from school and thinking I would be overseas in six months. Eight years later, this is not where I would have expected myself, let alone, expected myself to be happy.

Have you ever been prone to give up? Equal parts dreamer and realist, depending on the moment and the day, I walk that tightrope of belief and disbelief. Lately, or more specifically 2008 on, I have encountered many people around me giving up. Hands in the air. Stamped resumes filling in-boxes. The recession has definitely played a part in that buzz kill. Complacency founded in fear cripples more than it builds up. And so, hope can either be the bird that chirps the unknown mystery inside of you aloud or the feathered thing flying into the room that must be shot.

Enter Emily Dickinson’s poem “254”. In it, she introduces “hope” as the “thing with feathers”. I can almost hear each of the stanzas as music: 1: major keys, bright, sunny // 2: minor keys introduced, an extended sweep across a soprano violin contrasts the crash and boom of deep piano keys // 3: violin pizzicato to the finality of chords held on a half note.

I wonder that hope is not something easily held onto. It’s much easier to let go of it because sometimes its surface is chilled and other times hot sand. How does hope play out in today’s world as a gritty counterpart to its childish reputation? Hope costs and the cost of hope deferred, as a proverb has said, “makes the heart sick.” This begs the question, “is hope worth it?” As life is meant to be lived in full hue, hope is the necessary void sometimes lacking from our lives. It gives the outline to the right now by separating it from what could be. Hope requires tenacity and a firmness of spirit which belies the lightness of the word itself.

Moving into a new position and a new year of life, I’m choosing a new lease on life: one imbued with hope.

Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops- at all-

And sweetest- in the Gale- is heard-
And sore must be the storm-
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm-

I’ve heard it in the chillest land-
And on the strangest Sea-
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb- of Me.


Larissa Szporluk’s “Deliverer”

“Dark Sky Question” as a title of a collection of poems sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? I found the poems inside equally compelling by what they tell and what they leave out. What would be the single question you might ask to a dark sky? What would its’ response be? Szporluk’s poems have an air of mystery in them. The one that caught and held my attention in my reading is “Deliverer” which I am happy to re-post below. If you like what you read, check out DSQ. Enjoy.

by Larissa Szporluk

No one can spin forever.
It will all slow down.
The poles will grow sore on the world,
the valve in the heart
will retard, slow down, slow down,
to a speed we can’t see,
can’t feel, slow as a cloud
carting snow through atomic darkness,
to her son, when the magnet
is low, when the blood,
can’t see, can’t feel, how slow…
as the whale pulling out of the sea
can’t see the no-sea,
can’t feel the tide bring it back,
breaking her agony over the beach,
who she was, who she loved,
who God opened up, how still and how slow,
belly no longer with Jonah.


Consider This: Poetics

Continuous Cities 4
By Italo Calvino

You reproach me because each of my stories takes you right into
the heart of a city without telling you of the space that stretches
between one city and the other, whether it is covered by seas, or
fields of rye, larch forests, swamps. I will answer you with a story.
In the streets of Cecilia, an illustrious city, I met once a goatherd,
driving a tinkling flock along the walls.
“Man blessed by heaven,” he asked me, stopping, “can you tell
me the name of the city in which we are?”
“May the gods accompany you!” I cried. “How can you fail to
recognize the illustrious city of Cecilia?”
“Bear with me,” that man answered. “I am a wandering herds-
man. Sometimes my goats and I have to pass through cities; but we
are unable to distinguish them. Ask me the names of the grazing
lands, I know them all: the Meadow between the Cliffs, the Green
Slope, the Shadowed Grass. Cities have no name for me: they are
places without leaves, separating one pasture from another, and
where the goats are frightened at street corners and scatter. The dog
and I run to keep the flock together.”
“I am the opposite of you,” I said. “I recognize only cities and
cannot distinguish what is outside them. In uninhabited places each
stone and each clump of grass mingles, in my eyes, with every other
stone and clump.”
Many years have gone by since then; I have known many more
cities and I have crossed continents. One day I was walking among
rows of identical houses; I was lost. I asked a passerby: “May the
immortals protect you, can you tell me where we are?
“In Cecilia, worse luck!” he answered. “We have been wandering
through its streets, my goats and I, for an age, and we cannot find
our way out…”
I recognized him, despite his long white beard; it was the same
herdsman of long before. He was followed by a few, mangy goats,
which did not even stink, they were so reduced to skin-and-bones.
They cropped wastepaper in the rubbish bins.
“That cannot be!” I shouted. “I, too, entered a city, I cannot re-
member when, and since then I have gone on, deeper and deeper
into its streets. But how have I managed to arrive where you say,
when I was in another city, far far away from Cecilia, and I have
not yet left it?”
“The places have mingled,” the goatherd said. “Cecilia is every-
where. Here, once upon a time, there must have been the Meadow
of the Low Sage. My goats recognize the grass on the traffic island.”

Journeys Tales from the MFA

A prophetic voice on Memorial Day


I was walking back to my car with Sharona to fetch my hoodie since the sunshine finally was obscured by the clouds and forthcoming wind. Elijah waved from across the street as he opened his trunk, grabbing a blanket. I mentioned how today I tackled this paper on form poetry that beat me down. Attempting to get it done, I actually prayed for illumination before beginning said behemoth.

All day long and at various moments in this school program, I have had moments of wondering when the con will be up, when my fine and astute mentor will advise me to go back to my day job and relinquish this other calling that gnaws sometimes at the most inappropriate times. Poetry is like a beast- once it is released, it cannot be caged. Once it is growling from hunger, it must be satiated. Form poetry and especially the classics embody the mechanicals of the craft and God knows I have never been good in math.

So this morning I walked/jogged for a bit and then sat down before my computer screen, blank and waiting with cursor blinking at me expectantly. I played my round or two of Tetris to gather my thoughts and listened to Marga Darshan. All this accumulated in John Donne’s desperation sinking in and the brilliance through which such desperation is penned in iambic pentameter and heroic couplets. Ack. Do I possess this gift in earnest? Because lately even thesis statements feel like a struggle. Writing papers has never been a problem for me before. It’s kind of like being a singer and losing your voice…

Trunk gaping open, Elijah listened and then instead of laughing it off spoke out, “It’s because this is what you were made to do. Don’t think it’s going to be easy. The enemy will want to hold you back. You will have to work hard for this, but it’s worth it because this is what you were made to do.”

Without knowing the depth of the self-doubt that plagued me earlier today, he spoke these words over me as a banishment of the fear and doubt, his voice clarified and even. I felt a surge of new strength and courage to approach my readings anew this week. Even so, Wordsworth, Keats and Yeats wait smiling for they have their own stories to tell.

Illuminate mine eyes Lord, that I may hear and see, taste and know what truths these poems of yore beckon to tell.