Monday 31 March 2008


In the U.S., National Poetry Month is in April, and for some years now a number of poets have been writing a poem a day during the month to celebrate, hence the title of this post, National Poetry Writing Month or NaPoWriMo. Such sprees of writing have been very good for me in the past, so I've written to a number of poets I know, colleagues, former students, current students, etc., to ask who'd like to join me. The following have committed thus far, and I hope will drop in here from time to time to talk about the experience.

1. Cat Conway, London
2. Anna Robinson, London
3. Simon Reynolds, Bath
4. Catherine Hales, Berlin
5. Jenny Martin, Bath
6. Lynette Rees, Bradford on Avon
7. Barbara Marsh, London
8. Jude Rosen, London
9. Mo Gallacio, London
10. Annie McGann, Bristol
11. Lotte North, Bath
12. John Muckle, London
13. Rachel Lehrman, London
14. Matt Bryden, Bradford on Avon
15. Liz Skrbkova, Ireland
16. Jane Holland, Warwickshire
17. John Wheway, Bath
18. Rhona McAdam, Victoria, Canada
19. Julie-Ann Rowell, Totnes
20. Helen Pizzey, Freshford
21. Arleen Pare, Victoria, Canada
22. Abraham Anthony
23. Steve Smart, Melbourne
24. Ellie Evans, Llangatock, Wales
25. Barbara Pelman, Victoria, Canada
26. David Bryant, Bath
27. Kristina Close, Woking
28. Yvonne Blomer, Victoria, Canada
29. Claire Crowther, Kingston
30. Andrew Bailey, Chichester
31. Leslie Smith, Bath
32. Rebecca Preston, Devizes
33. Dikra Ridha, Bath
34. Rob A. Mackenzie, Edinburgh
35. Valeria Melchioretto, London
36. Paul Feldwick, Bath
37. Alex JasiƄski, Prague
38. Harry Man, London
39. Ben Wilkinson, Sheffield
40. Cynthia Kerkham, Victoria, Canada

Sunday 30 March 2008

Ashbery and the lyric

In his thoughtful review of Ashbery's A Worldly Country and Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems in the current issue of TLS, Stephen Burt writes, "Against a confessional model, in which we feel closer to a poet the more he reveals of his biography, Ashbery suggests that we see further into his soul the less we know about the person outside the poems: lyric poetry, of the kind that he writes, works not by telling us all about poets' documentable, material lives, but by revealing only the inner man."

This statement speaks equally for my own approach to lyric for the last eight or nine years. While I've occasionally written and published more patently biographical poems, my interest in writing them has been to understand something larger about the personal relationships presented rather than documenting or investigating the self. As it was well put by a poet from my London workshop, looking at a poem I'd written about what meals are like at the family home, the perspective was interestingly "anthropological," and that is generally my attitude toward the poems that go into the manuscript The Weather in Normal (such as "The Diagnosis" and "His Pantoum" from TLS last year).

But the bulk of my writing focuses on developing a lyric that uses metaphor, figurative narratives, etc. to investigate the interiority, the consciousness that accompanies certain events. Personal narrative that presents some insight as the ultimate gain of the experience/poem often limits the extent of the reader's participation by its biographical particulars, whereas I think a figurative narrative or structure more easily allows the reader to inhabit/extrapolate the experience of the poem to him/herself. It also facilitates a more nuanced understanding of what that experience may mean or represent. Or so I believe.

Friday 28 March 2008

I'm 39?

On the one hand, it seems impossible that I am 39. On the other, when I think back over all I've done and experienced, it makes sense. I wouldn't have minded staying at 38, but no such chance in this world.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Saturday 22 March 2008

Uncollected Poems: 1993

Resuming my series of older poems I still like that won't make it into a book--

Sacred Ground

It was an afternoon in the week before Easter.
The nuns at St. Clare Elementary had released
us to our families in the name of the resurrection.
That was when everything came down:
a barn and two houses were leveled at the edge of town
while surrounding winds took trees,

cars, a stray dog, and a wandering girl as temporary hostages.
When they were returned to earth ,
they were changed--
they kept some of the twisting air inside of them
as if it were part of the ransom.

These were the trees that trembled
when there was no breeze,
their leaves swaying like slowly waving hands.
The cars had a whistle inside them
that no mechanic could explain.

The dog was a midnight dervish,
his mouth would not foam nor his eyes glaze,
but some nights when the prairie was still
but for the distant murmur of truck or train,
he would idle down the center line of Hovey Avenue
to writhe and undulate
to a sensual, frenzied music
we could not hear.

The girl floated down our street, a yellow leaf
suspended in the air, descending or ascending
but never quite touching the ground.
She rounded the corner of our lot
and thus had to have passed our shed
with its backplot of the burials of family pets.
She passed the makeshift graves,

and so our burial ground was consecrated by her passing,
our half-angel, half-girl,
the wind fluttering in her chest
with the singing deep in the earth
of what has lived and died,
or aloft, the spirits yet to descend,
hovering in the living air.

written 2 April 1993
published in Zone 3

Thursday 20 March 2008

One Story

I love the short story, and I've recently come upon a magazine that delivers excellent work in the genre, One Story. Each issue is a single story of 3,000-8,000 words, and a new issue comes out every three weeks. I've only read two issues/stories, and both were excellent: Nicole Kelby's "Jubilation, Florida" and Amelia Kahaney's "Fire Season." Also to the editors' credit is that they never use the same author's work twice. I'm tempted to subscribe to it from my parents' address. Check out the website for excerpts, interviews with authors, etc.

Saturday 15 March 2008


Someone has composed a Wikipedia entry for me and was just in touch to see if I wanted to add anything. Any ideas?

Tuesday 11 March 2008

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut

Every so often, in spite of my knowledge of the books on my shelves that I haven't read, I let my eyes skim over the spines in the Dorothy House charity shop in Bradford on Avon's Shambles. Lately, I've been wanting to read more fiction, and two days ago I pulled off my shelves The Good Doctor, which I bought last summer, I think, at Dorothy House.

It's a short novel, a mere 215 pages, and the eloquence of the writing has me past the halfway point already, though I have only let myself read it when I can't get anything else done (i.e. on the bus, just before bed). Only by looking up reviews online did I learn it was longlisted for the Booker in 2003; if you click on the title for this post, it'll take you to the review at The Guardian. Though The Good Doctor is anything but a "happy book," I'll be sorry when I finish it.

Sunday 9 March 2008

My youngest niece

Joslynn Bella Casperson, seven months old
(click on the picture for a larger one,
that shows even better how cute she is)

Friday 7 March 2008

Mary Jo Bang's Elegy Wins National Book Critics Circle Prize for Poetry

I'm delighted that this wonderful book has won. I recently submitted my review of it to TLS and expect it to appear shortly.

"Accounts" and other prose poems

Some weeks ago Ian Seed asked me to submit some work for his magazine Shadowtrain, and the selected prose poems are now online in issue 22.