Archive for June, 2011


On Joanne Diaz’s The Lessons

A version of this may appear in an upcoming issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

What immediately turned me on to Joanne Diaz‘s The Lessons (Silverfish Review Press, 2011) was when I read the opening poem “Granada” on Verse Daily on June 3. I fell in love with the poem. I tweeted and made a Facebook post that read something like, “This #poem explodes at the end. What a terrific poem” Here it is:


   To be so far from oxtail stew, sardines
   in garlic sauce, blood oranges in pails
   along the avenida, midday heat
   wetting necks and wrists; to be so stuck
   in stone-thick ice and clouds and recall
   the pomegranate we shared, its hardened peel,
   the translucent membrane gently parting
   seed from luscious crimson seed, albedo
   soft beneath bald rind, acid juice
   running down our fingers, knuckles, palms,
   the mild chap of our lips from mist and flesh;
   so far away from that, and still
   the tangy thought of pomegranates
   crowning coats-of-arms and fortress gates
   like beating hearts prepared to detonate
   their countless seeds across Granada,
   ancient town of strangled rivers
   and nameless bones in every desert hill...
   In Spain, said Lorca, the dead are more alive
   than any other place on earth. Imagine, then,
   the excavation of his unmarked grave
   like the quick pull on a grenade's pin,
   and the sound that secrets make
   as they return from that other world
   of teeth and blood and fire.

Joanne Diaz – The LessonsThe poems in The Lessons are juicy. I love the way the poems feel in my mouth. I enjoy all the details in the poems. Who says you can’t write poems with details anymore? Well, you can, and Diaz shows us how.

But there’s more than detail to these poems. There is wonderful leaping and yoking together of different images and events. For instance, the poem “Violin” is a poem about the life of a violin from when it was both “horse and tree” to the sounds it makes and how it “almost pulls itself / apart, longing for what it was”. The poem does this for nine unrhymed couplets. The poem could end after the ninth couplet, and it would be a fine poem, but then there’s the leap the poem makes from the ninth couplet to the tenth. The leap does what good poems often do – it uses the particular to illuminate something in humanity. Here are the last two couplets to show what you I mean:

   [. . . ] A violin almost pulls itself
   apart, longing for what it was, not unlike

   my father as he stood by the open mailbox
   reading my brother's first letter home.

And there’s a whole other story in that last couplet. Where is his son? At war? In the Peace Corps? Working abroad as a doctor in some small underprivileged village somewhere? And then the mind after the poem is done is trying to build more of a story into that last couplet. But the important thing is the violin and father relationship. The yoking of the two. The use of the violin to understand the father. The violin helps us understand what it’s like for the father to get that first letter. And this feeling is communicated well and well before it’s understood.

There’s something else going on in that leap, too. The poem leaps from being lyrical to being narrative. (By narrative I mean a poem that moves through time and that has causality. By lyrical I mean a poem that exists without time or is a vertical moment in time or is a deliberate focus on an item or a thing. W. C. Williams and George Oppen are often lyrical.)

This jump from lyrical to narrative in a poem happens a number of times in The Lessons. For instance, “Love Poem”:

   Love Poem

   I was the warmth that lifted
   from your pilled sheets, the glow
   of Sebastian in the picture book
   of saints, the moon gliding
   through the window beside your bed.

   I was the clock in your kitchen
   waiting to catch you in my gears.
   In the TV, I was the blue tube
   that saw your sadness run as silt
   down a mountain. I was the rush
   in the vein of every oak leaf
   that crowded your window.

   I was the drift of you before your edges
   twisted into a man. The swing
   of your loose pant cuff. The joint
   in the threshold; the rusted cart
   behind the house. You sensed

   a visitor, but how can I say
   that I was the one who curled
   the wallpaper and held the model
   airplane in its place? That it was I
   late at night, running in the current
   of your clock radio, searching
   the seashell of your ear?

In this poem, you see all these vertical moments in time – “I was . . .” . In the the last stanza, we get a bit of narrative:

   [. . .] That it was I
   late at night, running in the current
   of your clock radio, searching
   the seashell of your ear?

The leaps are my favorite occasions in The Lessons. I’m not sure if I’ve encountered that type of leaping before or at least noticed it before, but this time I did. I really enjoy its effects.

The Lessons is Joanne Diaz’s first book. It won the 2009 Gerald Cable Book Award. As a I said, The Lessons is juicy with details – like a good Spanish Tempranillo. It’s juicy in every lyric, narrative, and lyric-leaping-to-narrative poem. In fact, this would be a good book to use in a creative writing poetry workshop, you know, to show and teach students how to use details and how effective details are in creating emotions and engagement and in stimulating the imagination.

Often during The Lessons I feel like Ms. Griffin in Diaz’s poem “The Griffin.” When Ms. Griffin reads George Herbert’s poem “The Collar,” “she nearly left the prison of her body.” I don’t think I left the prison of my body, but I certainly forgot it existed. And that’s a lesson – good poetry is a momentary stay against confusion, and there are many momentary stays in Joanne Diaz’s first collection of poems, The Lessons.





I wish to thank Silverfish Review Press for providing such a detailed and narrative filled colophon about the Jenson typeface. I wish more publishers would do this.//


in pursuit of the juiciest wine: day ninety-five (Codice 2007 vs Codice 2008: The Battle of the Tempranillos)

I’ve been wanting to do this match-up for weeks, and, now, tonight is the night of:

Codice 2007 vs Codice 2008

The Battle of the Tempranillos

I first found the Codice Viño de la Tierra de Castilla 2008 at Hannaford Farms in Rutland, VT. I opened a bottle one night at my girlfriend’s father’s and stepmother’s house. Everyone enjoyed the wine. Even those who rarely drink wine wanted more. That was a good night of wine drinking.

I then became curious as to what was in the wine. The bottle only says “Red Table Wine,” so I assumed that meant a blend. I did some research to find out it is 100% Tempranillo. No wonder I liked it so much.

Later I found out there was a 2007 that had received some good reviews. However, not much has been said of the 2008, so I’ll be one of the first.

And now it’s time to let the battle begin.

Codice 2007 vs Codice 2008

All right guys. Clink glasses and come out drinking.

They both come out fighting and showing their colors, which are very similar – dark cherry, but the 2007 is darker. The 2007 is about 98% opaque while the 2008 is about 93% opaque. And, yes, the opaqueness is accurately measured with the best equipment we have here at the The Line Break – my eyes.

The first round is a draw 10-10, though if pushed it would give it to the 2008. A Tempranillo shouldn’t be this dark, at least I don’t think so.

Round Two: The Nose

Round Nose

It’s time for the noses. The 2007 is dark and with odors of some place deep in a forest where it’s moist and muddy. I also get subtle hints of dark cherries, raisins, and vanilla. The girlfriend picks up chocolate and hints of raisins. The 2008 smells like a lighter version of the 2007, but instead, it’s a cedar forest. There is also more sweetness and fruitiness and definitely more plums. The girlfriend gets lots of alcohol on the nose along with some blackberries.

Ding ding.

The girlfriend scores the second round 7-6 in favor of 2007. I score it 8-7 in favor of the 2008.

This round is also a draw.

Round Three. The Tasting.

Round Drink

The 2007 is dry in the mouth. Dry and grainy. It tastes dark like dark cherries along a dusty dirt road. I also get some spiciness. The finish is also quite dry. Dry and chalky. The girlfriend gets a savory, weird flavor like the spicy batter on battered shrimp. She also picks up a hint of shrimp. She thinks the finish is bland with some tartness.

The 2008 is lighter and livelier. It has more fruit and is a bit more juicy. It finishes with alcohol, but not in a hot way. There are more cherries in this one. It’s also thinner on the finish than the 2007. My girlfriend got nothing. It is sour with no distinct flavors. It is kind of watery. She picks up no finish.

Ding ding.

The girlfriend scores it 7-4 in favor of the 2007. I score it 8-7 in favor of the 2007

Ding ding ding. And that’s the end of the battle. Who wins?

The girlfriend scores it 7-6 in favor of the 2007.

I score it 8-7 in favor of the 2008.

If I were to give them typical point totals, I’d give them both an 87.

The weird thing is that the 2008 was tremendous before, but now it kinda disappoints. I have noticed inconsistencies in the 2008. That is, I just purchased a case, and some of the bottles taste like what I just described, but some are much better.

In any event, the 2007 and 2008 are not at all similar, but they both rank equally as well. Both cost $10. You can definitely find better for $10. However, when the 2008 is on, it’s on!//


in pursuit of the juiciest wine: day ninety-four (Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label Pinot Noir 2009)

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label Pinot Noir 2009It’s been a while since I did a tasting because I’ve been busy, and I still am. So tonight’s tasting will be quick.

Tonight’s wine is Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Silver Label Pinot Noir 2009. (That’s a long name.) A friend recommended this to me at Mahan’s.

The nose is musky and peppery. There’s also a vanilla, currant jam smell to it. It smells juicy, which is what I want.

It’s thick on the tongue. It feels like a Salvador Dali painting on my tongue.

Salvador Dali Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Metamorphosis of Narcissus. (Click it to see it big.)

I pick up currants and cherries and some herbs.

On the finish, it’s slightly tart with a hint of pepper.

Despite the fact this Pinot is 50% opaque and a Pinot, it’s pretty heavy. It’s quite odd. I don’t mind, but I don’t expect it.

I like this. It’s one of the better California Pinot Noirs I have had. I still prefer my Oregon Pinots, though.

I’ll give it a B+.//


Michael Meyerhofer’s Pure Elysium: Behind the Scenes

Lately, I’ve been working with Palettes & Quills in running their chapbook contest and putting together the winning chapbook – Michael Meyerhofer‘s Pure Elysium. I had so much fun doing the layout and the cover. My favorite part was . . . . Wait. Guess. . . . It was adding the colophon. I’ve always wanted to do that, and so I did.

Here’s what the colophon says:

Stencil Standard Bold, the typface appearing on the front cover, was designed in June 1937 by Robert Hunter Middleton for Ludlow Typography (a hot metal typesetting system used in letterpress printing) and one month later by Gerry Powell for the American Type Founders, which was the major type foundry in America from 1892 to the 1940s while maintaining influence into the 1960s.

Cardo is the typeface used for the text pages and the back cover. This typeface is David J. Perry’s version of a typeface cut for the Renaissance printer Aldus Manutius and first used to print Pietro Bembo’s book De Aetna. This typeface has been revived in modern times under several names, such as Bembo, Aetna, and Aldine 401.

Plus, I think I made a cool cover. The artwork is “The People Make Love” by Peter Davis. I actually  had to do some work on the cover art. The image I received was something closer to a square, but not really a square. The left, top, and bottom were mostly square, but the right side wasn’t at all. I actually had to do some Photoshop painting and cloning to the bottom right to make it square. And then I wondered what to do with a square image. I didn’t want it front and center. I wanted to do something better. Eventually, I elongated the whole image to what is here and the rest fell into place. Actually, there were quite a bunch of different color combinations. The yellow was originally red, like it is under the vase. Actually, the first cover looked like this:

Pure Elysium first cover

I think I did some cool things on the text pages, too. To find out what those things are, order a copy here.

Oh, and Michael was really cool to work with and he gave us a clean copy of his terrific manuscript. There were only two edits in the whole thing. And one was a good edit because I corrected a noun agreement and made the sounds in the correction pick up a number of more harmonies. It’s tight.

It’s a solid book of poems.

But enough about me. To the book!


The 2010 winner of the Palettes & Quills Second Biennial Poetry Chapbook Competition is:

Michael Meyerhofer’s Pure Elysium

Pure Elysium cover

It was selected as the winner by Dorianne Laux in December 2010. And now it has been released into the world.

It’s available at Amazon by clicking here, and it’s available for sale at Palettes & Quills by clicking here (just scroll down and click the Add to Cart button).

Here’s what they are saying about the book:

Michael Meyerhoffer’s Pure Elysium is a paradise, a sweet ride through imagination’s wide, un-mown fields. These compact and wildly various poems – funny, serious, personal, global – continually surprise and delight.     – Dorianne Laux

If this collection is Pure Elysium, then I never want to be impure again. Give me flappers with a flat tire, make my wallet turn up under a bed skirt, and let me listen to, “the sound of two hands clapping / in the vacuum between stars.” Michael Meyerhofer is the master of the twist, the patron saint of lines embodying equal parts comedy and poignancy. This collection is nothing like the knights who “woke in such a fuss / that they dressed themselves backwards,” and readers will want to wear the opposite of chainmail when reading these poems. In short, Meyerhofer has done it again. We’re lightning-struck, and it is the best kind of blessing.     – Mary Biddinger

Michael Meyerhofer’s poems reside mainly in narrative. But even though they typically begin and operate in story, they often end with an interesting lyric curl, and it is these endings that make me want to go back and reconsider their lineages. Pure Elysium’s final poem – a lyric, interestingly, which holds much to admire – declares that “we all carry the gene for greatness.” There may indeed be some of that destiny inviting us to peek at its evolution here.     – C. J. Sage


About Palettes and Quills:

Founded in 2002 by Donna Marbach, Palettes & Quills is devoted to the celebration and expansion of the literary and visual arts and offers both commissioned and consulting services. Palettes & Quills works to support beginning and emerging writers and artists to expand their knowledge, improve their skills, and connect to other resources in the community. Further, Palettes & Quills seeks to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of these arts through education, advocacy, hands-on assistance, and by functioning as a literary press. For more about Palettes & Quills, visit their website:

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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June 2011


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