Posts Tagged ‘BOA


On Keetje Kuipers’ All Its Charms

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.


Keetje Kuipers All Its CharmsAll Its Charms (BOA Editions, 2019) is Keetje Kuipers’ third full-length collection of poems. There is much to admire in this book, but what catches most of my attention are the steady, evolving tones paralleling a woman becoming a mother.

The book begins with poems of a speaker confronted with the morality of killing creatures. The opening poem, “Becoming,” recalls William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark,” where Stafford has to decide what to do with the dead pregnant doe with a living fawn inside her. Stafford “thought hard for all of us – my only swerving –, / then pushed her over the edge into the river.” Kuipers’ similar incident is “When I saw that early spring / meadowlark – one-winged, flapping into the road – / I pressed my heal to its chest, to the earth” (9). She, like Stafford, provides mercy. In the following poem, “Landscape with Sage and the Names of My Children,” she held a “dead / buck by his antlers and dragged him through the sage” (10). In the next poem, “The elk my father shot,” she witnesses her father’s respect for an elk he just shot with a bow and arrow, as he is “quiet / so as not to scare away the grazing // ghost he’s made” (11). The tone of these opening poems is one of conflicted compassion. A tone not dissimilar to Stafford’s thinking “hard for all of us.”

After these opening poems, the tone shifts to joy, reverence, and awe. What’s remarkable is how long Kuipers sustains the tone, which is for about half the book. And this tone is inspired by a pregnant mother awaiting her new life and trying to create the joyful atmosphere for her soon-to-arrive child. The tone affects the poems’ attitude and me, as I felt uplifted. In “Migration Instinct,” she compares her earlier life of a late-night partier and a careless spender who maxes out her credit card to her present life. The joyful tone asserts itself in the final lines (which is where it often happens), when she writes of her current situation:

     But I’ve got dishes to wash, tiny sock after sock
     to fold. Sadness is so much work. Angry takes too much 

     time. And there’s my own daughter, mouth to my breast
     as she winks in the lamplight, sucking it all right out me.   (23)

After reminiscing, she is faced with chores, but then is swept away in the adorable cuteness of baby socks, and pendulums back to her youthful, unfulfilling feelings, then swings back to a winking baby enabling her to experience a new type of love. She finds hope and awe, as if she has blossomed into a new and meaningful life.

This delightful tone continues into the second half of the book, too, but on occasion, it is interrupted by the worries a mother (I assume) tends to have. The tonal demarcation isn’t clear cut, but it starts somewhere around the poem “Outside the Refugium.” In this poem, Kuipers watches a magpie eat a dead sparrow and swallow its heart. Then the magpie speaks to her, “Yes, the world has always been this fragile” (37), before the worry of protecting and caring for a child sets in. In the following poem, “Picking Huckleberries as the World Ends,” she worries about how she’ll “shelter” her child. Following that in “Landscape with Children,” she thinks to herself about her child:

                                          Your absence
     is impossible, unimaginable. 

     You can’t ever be gone from me – a prayer
     I hold under my tongue like a dark pill 

     I’m afraid to swallow.   (39)

I start to see what I think is the evolution of a mother. A single mother who had a baby via sperm donation and who is alone in the world with her child amid real and imagined concerns that are presenting themselves to her. Bravely, she learns to negotiate those feelings with a joyful tone, again, such as at the end of “Collaborators”:

     we drive our big cars onto because now

     we can go anywhere, ferries that took
     the people from the clear shore of their lives

     to the internment camps on the mainland
     because nothing could be more dangerous

     than living among each other where voices
     unnetted and rising in complaint

     are a flock of birds that can make no better
     song than the one which we sing together.  (52)

She realizes no matter what happens, they will make it, they will survive, and they will make joyful music.

While the tones evolve and oscillate, as they probably should or the book would be too sugary, Kuipers sees the world like a sparrow, whose “head [is] turned to the side / so one black eye can search the stippled sky / in ecstasy,” even as it is being eaten alive by a magpie. She rises out of her past life of soured relationships and experiences, and she finds joy and compassion in her new life as a mother, and therein lies the beauty of the book and all its charms.//





Kuipers, Keetje. All Its Charms. BOA Editions, 2019.



Christopher Kennedy’s Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 10, which was published circa April 2007.


Christopher Kennedy's – Encouragement for a Man Falling to His DeathYou could read the poems in Christopher Kennedy’s Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death (BOA Editions) & hear irreverence, and I imagine if I received them individually at Redactions, I would. Or you could read the whole of Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death, and realize that you are just hearing a tone of irreverence that is covering up fear, aloneness (“the germ / of [. . .] loneliness”), and absence (“when every presence became his [his father’s] absence”).

Yes, the speaker’s father was lost, but how he was lost is a mystery between what happened, what happened to someone else, and the memory splicing the two together. In “To the Man who Played the Violin and Fell from a Plank into a Vat of Molten Steel,” we learn of a violinist who fell into a vat of molten steel, but before he fell, he gave the speaker’s father, who was a fiddle player, his violin. Later in the poem, when the speaker reflects on when he was young and missing his father, his mother would comfort him, and then we hear a different story. The way the story is told, perhaps the person who fell in the vat was the speaker’s father, and this is suggested by the the tone and language of speaking.

   And every time the mother would say,
   Your father worked with a man from Portugal
   who played the violin, and one day at work,
   he fell from a plank into a vat of molten steel.

The tone and what precedes and the subject of the sentence imply the father died, and because the way the mother speaks implies it may be the violinist who fell into the vat. There’s an ambiguity here. Perhaps, it was in a house fire where his father died, as is hinted at in “My Father in the Fifth dimension.” Nonetheless, the father died somehow. However the father died, he is dead. And once when the speaker was a child, he tried to mend his dead father’s pants, but as he tries in “My Father’s Work Clothes,” his “hands keep folding, mysteriously, into prayer.”

This is what the speaker has to deal with from that point on – how to deal with his father’s death. As he grew, he must have learned to hide his fear through biting humor and irreverence  Consider the prose-poem, “Broken Saints.” It’s the day of his father’s funeral, and he is waiting for his babysitter to arrive. While he waits, he “bit the heads off plastic statues,” and then “arranged the headless bodies like bowling pins and rolled the heads at them until all the bodies fell down.” When the female babysitter arrives, “she shook her head” at what he had done, then:

She sat me down on the floor, and we began matching heads to bodies, gluing them together. The key, I learned, was eyeing the uneven necklines to see where the curves would mesh. They were never exact; the heads bowed slightly at times in prayer. And no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t hide their shame.

Already, we can begin to see the complexities of irreverence and the confrontation of death. Kennedy, throughout, becomes “a man of conviction in an era of who gives / a fuck.”//




Kennedy, Christopher. Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2007.//


Li-Young Lee’s Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (2006)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 8/9, which was published circa April 2007.


Li-Young Lee's – Breaking the Alabaster Jar“Hey folks, there is a cosmic consciousness,” said Allen Ginsberg during a SUNY Brockport Writers Forum interview. I think he was right, and now I further agree after reading Li-Young Lee’s Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (BOA Editions), Ed. Earl G. Ingersoll.

Within the collected interviews, there are many recurring themes: Lee’s father, The Bible, alienation, being an Asian-American poet, & the interconnectedness of the universe – especially through its vibrations, as everything vibrates.

But first let me get to how I trust Lee. In the first interview from 1987 with William Heyen and Stan Rubin, Heyen and Rubin ask Lee some strong questions, which almost seem like an initiation ritual into entering the world of poets, which are questions that only one committed/seduced/given to poetry could answer. Lee answers, but he says something startling. His answer is unexpected to me. It’s an answer that only someone truthful could give. His answer, “I have, in fact, a handful of readers that I think about. . . . Oh, if so-and-so sees this, then they’ll really think I’m a poet. I always have this feeling I want to prove I’m a poet myself to a handful of people” (p 27). Do all us poets, especially young ones, have this secret urge within us? Lee also adds that he writes for soul-awaking, too, but it’s the first answer that sucks me into believing him.

The interviews that follow are all interesting. All have new angles (slants of light), even when he similarly responds to similar answers. And each interview, each question and answer, accrue and inform the following interviews. Each interview has Lee thinking more.

During Tod Marhsall’s interview, my way of thinking about poetry changed. Marshall asks Lee the right question with the right words, and Lee responds. Here’s how it goes:

Marshall: I feel those poems as moving vertically, down the page with a push. The movement in the memoir – we’re pushed along in a similar way, but the pace is much slower.

Lee: Even now, in the poems I’m writing, although they have longer line breaks, I can see now that the sentence is my concern. I like the idea that the line breaks make notation for the mind actually thinking. I like that. But it’s ultimately the sentence that I’m writing. Not the grammatical sentence, the measure.

[. . .]

Marshall: So you don’t see yourself as ultimately despairing that you can’t capture this litany.

Lee: [. . . ] I started to entertain some of the “stuff” that’s in the canon; I forgot for a little bit that that was the horizontal, the cultural, and that wasn’t the richest mode for me. If you look at the earliest poems in Rose, you’ll see the vertical assumption. The assumption that vertical reality was the primary reality and all of this was fading away, just “stuff” spinning off on that more important reality. The change was just in the realization. (p 138-39)

So what I realized after reading this and reading what had preceded is that the horizontal movement is when the poem talks to culture. (I had believed that poems intentionally talk to other poems & poets.) The vertical moment, however, talks to the self and the universe. This changed my thinking of writing. Instead of writing for other poets & poems, I should be writing for the depths of my self while simultaneously shooting up to speak to the universe. If you do that, do it well, do it with honesty, then you’ll catch the vibrations of the universe & your soul, and then necessarily/accidentally, the poems will have horizontal movement and talk to poems and poets naturally. To write is to write lines (“a literary activity”), which is vertically neglectful. But to write vertically (as if creating a conduit between you & the universe) – well, if you make the connection with the universe, then reverberations will happen, and it will vibrate up & down & horizontally.

As for Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee as a whole, the interviews inform through accretion and the thinking poet – though he thinks of himself as a body poet – but that’s another theme you should read about in these interviews.//




Lee, Li-Young. Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee. Ed. Earl G. Ingersoll. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2006.//


Presses with Open Readings for Full-Length Poetry Manuscripts

In the past, I have created such lists as all the Small, Independent, and University Press Poetry Book Publishers (which was up-to-date as of 3-6-10 with 687 presses) and all the Journals with “Review” in Their Title, Who Accept Poetry, and Who Have a Website (which was up-to-date as of 2-29-12 with 344 journals.) The first lists I made were Poetry Book Contests with Spring & Summer DeadlinesPoetry Book Contests with Fall & Winter Deadlines (scroll down), and Poetry Chapbook Contests (scroll down).

Now, it’s time to start a new list, and I’ll keep it here and I’ll update it as I can. Currently, these are the only ones I remember or that other kind people have reminded me of. The list will grow, and if you know of any open readings, please note them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. I’m trying to limit this list to free readings, but I’ve listed a few that charge a reading fee.

Press with Open Reading for Full-Length Poetry Manuscripts

All the Time Open Readings (last checked and updated 1-3-20.)

January Open Readings (Checked and updated 1-3-20.)
February Open Readings
March Open Readings
April Open Readings (last checked and updated 4-2-18)
May Open Readings
June Open Readings (last checked and updated 6-5-18)
July Open Readings (last checked and updated 7-4-19)
August Open Reading (last checked and updated 8-1-17)
September Open Readings (Last checked 9-1-17)
  • Arktoi Books (lesbian poets) (At the moment, Arktoi is not accepting submissions.)
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Cherry Castle Publishing (“Our submission period is currently closed.”)
  • Deerbrook Editions (“Suspended until further notice. . . . The normal reading period is August 1 to October 1.” Checked 1-3-20.)
  • FutureCycle Press (They read July through December. Checked 1-3-20.)
  • Harpoon Books (For 2019. $10.)
  • Kore Press (July 9 through October 31. “Open to any women, gender queer, and transgendered artist writing in the English language, whether living in the United States or abroad, and regardless of prior publication history.” Updated 1-3-20.)
  • McSweeney’s Books (“The McSweeney’s Poetry Series is taking a temporary hiatus from accepting submissions. We hope to open things up again before too long.” Checked 7-4-19. They might be permanently closed to submissions.)
  • Sidebrow Books (Through October 31, 2017. “In lieu of a reading fee, we are asking each of you to kindly support our press and authors by buying the book of your choice from our catalog in conjunction with this reading period.”)
  • Tarpaulin Sky Press (“Will we open for unsolicited submissions again, anytime soon? Most likely. But we’re not sure when.”)
  • University of Pittsburgh Press (Pitt Poetry Series. For poets who have previously published a poetry book.)
  • Willow Books (2017. $25.)
October Open Readings (Last updated 10-2-18)
  • Arktori Books (lesbian poets) (“At the moment, Arktoi is not accepting submissions. Check back for changes.”)
  • Apocalypse Party
  • boost house
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Black Ocean (“We are currently accepting submissions *for first poetry books* only from October 1 through October 31, 2017.”)
  • Carnegie Mellon University Press (Not open to previous Carnegie Mellon University Press Poets. $15 reading fee.)
  • co-im-press (“Likes works in translation that are strange, transgressive, visceral-mystical, or “unpublishable” through traditional means.”)
  • Counterpath (Begin with a query and a short sample.)
  • Deerbrook Editions (“Suspended until further notice. . . . The normal reading period is August 1 to October 1.” Checked 1-3-20.)
  • El Balazo Press
  • FutureCycle Press (They read July through December. Checked 1-3-20.)
  • Gold Wake Press (Open reading begins March 1. There is no specified end date. Next open reading begins October 1 with no specified end date. Checked 1-3-20.)
  • Harpoon Books (For 2019. $10.)
  • Inside the Castle
  • Kore Press (July 9 through October 31. “Open to any women, gender queer, and transgendered artist writing in the English language, whether living in the United States or abroad, and regardless of prior publication history.” Updated 1-3-20.)
  • McSweeney’s Books (“The McSweeney’s Poetry Series is taking a temporary hiatus from accepting submissions. We hope to open things up again before too long.” Checked 7-4-19. They might be permanently closed to submissions.))
  • Milkweed Editions (“Milkweed Editions does not anticipate holding open submissions periods in 2018.”)
  • Orison Books (Poetry in translation.)
  • Nine Arches Press (October 1-31, 2018.)
  • Sidebrow Books (“We are currently closed for book-length submissions.”)
  • Tavern Books: The Wrolstad Contemporary Series ($15 reading fee. “The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series is only open to female poets aged 40 years or younger. Entrants must be US citizens..”)
  • Unicorn Press (April 1 – June 30 and October 1-December 31.)
  • University of Pittsburgh Press (Pitt Poetry Series. For poets who have previously published a poetry book.)
November Open Readings (Last updated 11-14-18)
  • Arktori Books (Lesbian poets. At the moment, Arktoi is not accepting submissions. Check back for changes.”)
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Black Lawrence Press
  • FutureCycle Press (They read July through December. Checked 1-3-20.)
  • Harpoon Books (For 2019. $10.)
  • Mason Jar Press ($4 submission fee. Presently no calls.)
  • McSweeney’s Books (“The McSweeney’s Poetry Series is taking a temporary hiatus from accepting submissions. We hope to open things up again before too long.” Checked 7-4-19. They might be permanently closed to submissions.)
  • Tavern Books: The Wrolstad Contemporary Series ($15 reading fee. “The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series is only open to female poets aged 40 years or younger. Entrants must be US citizens.”)
  • Unicorn Press (April 1 – June 30 and October 1-December 31.)
  • WordTech Communications (Includes the following imprints Cherry Grove Collections, CW Books, David Robert Books, Turning Point, Word Press, and WordTech Editions.)
December Open Readings
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Brick Road Poetry Press (75-100 pages. December 1, 2019 – January 31, 2020.)
  • FutureCycle Press (They read July through December. Checked 1-3-20.)
  • Future Poem Books (December 1 through January 15.)
  • Green Lantern Press (December 1 through January 30.)
  • Harpoon Books (For 2019. $10.)
  • Mason Jar Press ($4 submission fee)
  • Tavern Books: The Wrolstad Contemporary Series ($25 reading fee. “The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series is only open to female poets aged 40 years or younger. Entrants must be US citizens.”)
  • Tinderbox Editions (December 1-7 fee-free open reading period. December 1 – January 30 $22 donation period.)
  • Unicorn Press (April 1 – June 30 and October 1-December 31.)
  • WordTech Communications (Includes the following imprints Cherry Grove Collections, CW Books, David Robert Books, Turning Point, Word Press, and WordTech Editions. Closes December 15.)


More to come. 
Ultimate update: 1-3-20:
  • Removed from All the Time Open Readings:
    • Alabaster Leaves Publishing.
    • A-Minor Press
    • boost house
    • Choose the Sword Press
    • Field Translation Series
    • Hiraeth Press
    • HVTN
    • Jellyfish Highway
    • Keyhole Press
    • Letter Machine Editions
    • Mid-List Press
    • Milk Press
    • Mongrel Empire Press
    • Oberon Press
    • Red Bridge Press
    • Shire Reckoning Publishing House
    • Skylight Press
    • Upper Rubber Boot Books
  • Removed Graywolf Press from January, May, and August.
  • Removed H_NGM_N BKS from December, January, February, and March.
  • Removed Steel Toe Books from January, February, and October.
  • Added to All the Time Open Readings:
    • Another New Calligraphy
    • Baobab Press
    • Open Letter
  • Added Green Lantern Press to December and January
  • Added Milk and Cake Press to January, February, March, and April
Penultimate update: 7-4-19:
  • Added
    • Lynx House Press to July.
    • Corrupt Press and Vegetarian Alcoholic Press to All the Time Open Readings.
    • Short flight/Long Drive Books to May, June, and July.
    • Harpoon Books to July through December (for 2019).
  • Removed Anchor and Plume Press, ELJ Publications, and Muriel Press from June and July.
  • Removed Four Chambers Press and Robocup Press from July.
Antepenultimate update: 4-29-30: Added Skull + Wind Press to Open All the Time Readings
Preantepenultimate update: 4-4-19: Added Pandhandler Books to February, March, and April.


142 presses that print paperback and/or hardcover poetry books.//

On Marjorie Perloff’s “Reinventing the Lyric”

Marjorie PerloffWhenever I see a new essay from Marjorie Perloff, I get so excited. I think the younger kids call this excitement getting “geeked out.” I geek out to Perloff.

I thoroughly enjoy Perloff’s observations on poetry. She’s so astute that I wonder if she’s a poet. I’ve never seen her poetry, but perhaps I haven’t looked in the right places. Her book The Dance of the Intellect was one of those great books of criticism that significantly affected me. It’s brilliant. Another book that significantly impacted me was a book of Algernon Charles Swinburne’s essays on poetry that I used to read a lot as an undergrad. I felt like stealing if from the SUNY Oneonta Milne Library since it became so important to me and since no one else had ever checked it out since the 1970s. I felt I could ethically and morally appropriate it from the library. Who would know? And who would give the book more love than me? Other important books of criticism to me are Ezra Pound’s The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (which I own), Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era (which I own), and Roy Harvey Pearce’s The Continuity of American Poetry (which I own), especially the stuff about T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams. Those books are huge in my literary growth, and Perloff’s books (which I own) are a big deal in my life. (And now it probably sounds like I’m going to undermine or attack her, but I’m not. If you’re expecting an attack, it won’t happen.)

Her newest essay, “Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric,” appears in the Boston Review. In this essay (which you should read else this essay might feel wobbly to you), it’s like Perloff is a curator or tour guide in The Contemporary American Museum (Lyric Branch). In this branch of the museum, she walks around and points out things and comments on them. She starts by pointing to the general gist of today’s poetry:

The poems you will read in American Poetry Review or similar publications will, with rare exceptions, exhibit the following characteristics: 1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called “the word as such”; 2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of “poeticity”); 3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain . . . .

The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American PoetryThat seems about right to me. Perloff then moves into Rita Dove‘s new anthology from Penguin Books: Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry. Now, we can all quibble with any anthology of poetry, as Jonas Mekas did: (You really should watch this. It’s delightful.) But in this case, Perloff makes valid and legitimate points:

[. . .] but what about the copyright issue Dove raises at the close of her introduction? Evidently, she wanted to include Allen Ginsberg (Howl gets a prominent mention) and Sylvia Plath, but the reproduction costs were prohibitive. [. . .] Clearly concerned about the omission of these important poets, Dove asks her readers to “cut me some slack” and reminds us that Ginsberg and Plath are readily available “in your local public library.”

[. . .]

But if the anthology is to have any sort of validity as a textbook or a selection for the general reader, this copyright caveat is unacceptable, and the fault is primarily the publisher’s. How could a leading publisher such as Penguin fail to get publication rights for materials so central to a book’s purpose? [. . .]

Indeed, what Penguin’s editorial team seems to be saying is that the value of Dove’s anthology’s depends [. . .] on the prestige of its editor.

That’s true, and it makes me feel really sad for Dove. She probably entered this whole arrangement with the idea that she would put together a significant anthology of poetry. She was going to be the poet, not critic, who was going to frame a whole century’s worth of poetry for later generations to read. This was going to be huge and important to her and us. But she was manipulated by the big bad publisher of profits. I mean, if the publisher was really concerned with creating an anthology, those little costs wouldn’t matter. Those costs can be recouped. But Penguin was going on the cheap and quick. And as a result, Dove’s reputation suffers and Penguin’s profits go up. (Bah. I don’t even like Penguin anyway. I don’t even like the cheap paper they use and the layout of their books is hasty and difficult on the eye. This anthology should have been left to a place like Copper Canyon, Graywolf, BOA, or someone with the love of poetry in them instead of profits. But I digress. I want to get some important items.)

What is the state of the lyric? I think it has almost vanished from the poetry scene, which is why there was the “What Happened to the Lyric” issue 12 of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, which quickly sold out but I’ve made it available online here: First, however, I think we need a definition of lyric poetry. A lot of people think a lyric poem is poem that is musical or sounds good. That is partially right, but it’s not a full definition. All poetry should be musical or sound good, which is something Perloff notes is often missing in today’s poetry. But a lyric poem is more. Before I get to my definition of it, let’s get to the definition of narrative poem and then the definitions of the three other types of poetry. A narrative poem is a poem that moves through time, and it usually moves in a linear, causal fashion. It progresses through time much like a typical story. A lyric poem, however, stands outside of time or is a moment in time. Meditative poetry is similar to lyric poetry, but the poem is inside the poet’s mind and can often be philosophical. And then there’s dramatic poetry, which is like a poetry play or play written as poetry, such as William Butler Yeats’ “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” or Robert Frost’s “The Witch of Coös.” With that in mind, what’s the most prevalent type of poetry in contemporary American poetry? That’s right – narrative poetry. When Perloff says, “the free-verse lyric paradigm (observation – triggering memory – insight) ubiquitous in the Dove anthology” (and elsewhere), I think she means “narrative” instead of “lyric.” If that’s the case, I completely agree with her, especially if she adds “first-person” before narrative. I’ve been noticing this for years. The implication of this is that we need something new. But what is the new thing we need?

Mary Ruelfe poem from _A Little White Shadow_ (Wave Books, 2006)One of Perloff’s suggestions is Erasure poetry. In Erasure poetry, you take a big chunk of text, such as a novel or long poem, and then begin erasing words from the text or using Wite Out to paint over words. The words that remain then make for a poem. But you can’t just use any text, as some poets do. No, you need a significant text, and then by erasing words, you find something like a secret meaning to the poem or text your are erasing from or “discover something like poetry hidden within [a] book.” John Cage did this with Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, but he added a twist. With the unerased words, he made an anagram: ALLEN GINSBERG. (See Perloff’s essay for the example.) As a result:

Without deploying a single word of his own, Cage subtly turns the language of Howl against itself so as to make a plea for restraint and quietude as alternatives to the violence at the heart of Ginsberg’s poem.

So the text you choose is important. Cage’s poem won’t make much sense or will lose most of its experience and meaning if you don’t know he is erasing from Howl. The same will hold true for Srikanth Reddy’s book Voyager, which is an erasure poem from Kurt Waldheim’s In the Eye of the StormVoyager, according to Perloff, is “one of the few really notable political poems of recent years.” However, its politics can only exist if you know the primary text or the author of the primary text. Who is Kurt Waldheim? If you know, awesome! I didn’t, so boo. Even Perloff had to point out who he was. Waldheim was:

Secretary-general of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981 and president of Austria from 1986 to 1992, Waldheim was exposed, in the mid-’80s, as having served in the Nazi Wehrmacht during World War II and quite possibly having committed major war crimes. The president, who had carefully covered his tracks for years, continued to claim he was innocent, and many of his fellow Austrians defended him, even when the evidence became overwhelming. His political and diplomatic success – he was allowed to finish out his term as president – has become a symbol for the hypocrisy and mendacity of the postwar era in an Austria that had strongly supported Hitler in the war years, before it received occupied-nation status in 1945. Avoiding the fate of its Iron Curtain neighbors Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Austria quickly became a prosperous nation.

If you don’t know this information, you lose out on the majority of the meanings and experiences of the poem or poems. This will be the effect of an Erasure poem. The text the poet erases from matters, but if the reader doesn’t know the text, then the resulting poem will fail. And knowing the original text really isn’t enough either. One will have to have read the original text “to get the poem” that arrived from erasing. Erasure poetry, then becomes not only elliptical but exclusive, just like it’s actions in making the poem. It excludes certain words to create a meaning, and it excludes readers not familiar with the original text. (This also assumes that you wouldn’t just erase from some random book or chunk of text, because then what would be the point? You might as well randomly pick words from a dictionary. The text that is being erased from matters.)

Additionally, Erasure poetry has the same feel as an acrostic poem that our Puritan ancestors wrote.

“The Puritan elegist might well believe that in a man’s name God had inserted evidence of his nature and his fate” (Pearce, 31).

As fun as an acrostic is to write, we know the above Purtian elegist’s belief is not true. The secret evidence of a person’s nature or fate can’t be extracted from the person’s name even if laid out as an acrostic. And as fun as it is to create an Erasure poem, as much fun as refrigerator poetry, this is no way to find a new meaning in a text or in an author. It’s just play. And there’s nothing wrong with play. And poetry should be play, but it should be a play that resonates. Play that resonates and impacts. Erasure poetry doesn’t resonate or impact, unless the reader is “in the know” of the primary text, and even then how much can it resonate or impact? So I don’t think this is the new direction lyric poetry should take.

But it’s this other idea of borrowing or appropriation that is intriguing. This is when the poet, such as Susan Howe in That This, “combines cited material with her own prose and verse.” (I think Cid Corman was the first, or one of the first, to do this.) I assume that somewhere in Howe’s book there is a “Works Cited” page that indicates where each cited text came from. If not, then she’s appropriating, which has ethical dilemmas . . . but maybe not. (That Swinburne book should be mine!) But for now let’s assume all the works Howe borrows from are cited. This borrowing of other texts seems like a terrific idea to me. I mean, who isn’t just an amalgam of every person they’ve met, every book they’ve read, every song they’ve heard, every movie or concert or play or football game they’ve seen, etc. For instance, I once read so much Emerson with so much intensity that I can no longer separate him from me. I often don’t know if the thoughts I have are mine or if they were originally his. We have become one. So why not use fragments from other texts we have read to help us better express what needs to be expressed? Especially if it follows the associative path of how the poet thinks, as did Howe when reflecting on her husband’s passing when she cites Sarah Edwards (Jonathan Edwards wife):

“O My Very Dear Child. What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.” On April 3, 1758, Sarah Edwards wrote this in a letter to her daughter Esther Edwards Burr when she heard of Jonathan’s sudden death in Princeton. For Sarah all works of God are a kind of language or voice to instruct us in things pertaining to calling and confusion. I love to read her husband’s analogies, metaphors, and similes.

What’s wrong with including this if it gets the poet closer to how he or she feels? The mind flows in its own thoughts and is invaded by the thoughts of others and others’ experiences. And if you are believer in Philip Whalen’s “Poetry is a graph of the mind moving,” as I am, then this borrowing seems an appropriate fit, a natural form of expression. Or does it? I’ll get back to this.

What if Howe didn’t cite where the borrowed text came from, which often seems to be the case, though not necessarily with Howe? I’m thinking of Flarf poetry and poets here, at least as I understand Flarf poetry. In this case, the poet appropriates the text and makes it his or hers. Those poets appropriate much in the manner that I wanted to appropriate that Swinburne book from SUNY Oneonta’s Milne Library. That book meant a lot to me, and it didn’t seem relevant to anyone else, at least since the 70s. So why shouldn’t I have it? It’s part of me. I should just steal it. Aha. “Appropriate” is just camouflage for “steal.” And it’s not good stealing like the stealing T. S. Eliot meant. It’s theft of words that aren’t yours, even if they appropriately express what you feel or want to say. But then, if it appropriately expresses what you feel and want to say, then are our your thoughts and feelings original? Original enough for a poem? A new poem? A new lyric poem?

This ties back to Howe borrowing from Sarah Edwards. Is Howe really expressing her grief by borrowing another person’s words? Isn’t the job of a poet to get closer to their own bone of experience? Or is Howe using other text as a trigger and much in the same manner that Perloff and I are bored of: “the free-verse lyric paradigm (observation—triggering memory—insight).” Howe’s observation is the painful passing of her husband, which triggers a memory of Sarah Edward’s words, which then leads to insight. Now, this doesn’t seem so bad does it? Especially if it helps the poet deal with and express his or her grief, which is really the important thing, at least and especially for Howe. The only difference with Howe’s presentation is the memory is of text instead of a physical experience.

So where are we now? What are the differences? What newness has the lyric poem experienced? How is using your own past experiences to lead to an insight better/different/less effective than borrowing from a text? How is bricolage different from the tapestry of your experiences? I don’t see the differences or how one method is more successful than the other.

Still it would be nice to find a new lyrical pattern to weave to help us get closer to the bone of experience we want to express. But I wonder what that pattern is. I’ve been searching now for at least five years. If anyone knows, please share.

Perloff, I’m so glad you wrote this essay. I hope these reinvention attempts continue. I hope every poet also continues to reinvent. Let’s make it new. Let’s get closer to the bone of experience.


Works Cited

Pearce, Roy Harvey. The Continuity of American Poety. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1987.

Perloff, Marjorie. “Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric.” Boston Review. Boston Review, May/June 2012. Web. 3 May 2012. <>.



Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mouth

Beautiful in the MouthA version of the following review will appear in the next issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

Often with a collection of poems these days, especially those that win a contest, the collection is filled with the best poems the author wrote in the last year or two or three or five. This is fine. But give me a themed book, oh, now there’s joy. Or give me Keetje Kuipers’ newest collection Beautiful in the Mouth (BOA, 2010), winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Poulin Prize. This book has three main self-contained themes, love, sex, and death, and they all intertwine.

That finally coming to love you
has been a hard-earned pleasure,
so that every time you enter me
I want to cry out, Bury me,
bury me. Put me in the ground.


Further, what this book does within its three intertwining themes is to create associations within itself.

Sure any collection of poems has associations, but they are just happenstance, an accident, which is fine if you can see the largeness of the author’s synchronicities. But usually what happens is similar to what I. A. Richards says in Science and Poetry, “over whole tracts of natural emotional response we are to-day like a bed of dahlias whose sticks have been removed,” where sticks are beliefs or connections to something other or that move “towards something other than ourselves” (“Driving Back into the City”), and without the sticks, they don’t extend. So the associations don’t attach to anything bigger. With Kuipers, however, these associations are immediate, mental, psychological, emotional, unique, and everyday for her and at the same time connecting to something larger – love:

you’ve become the man I build
every poem from

(“My First Love Returns from Iraq”)

Plus, her poems are dictated by the needs of her associations.

What am I talking about?

Let’s look at one example, “boats.” What are your associations? Okay. Now, let’s look at what Beautiful in the Mouth does.

I’m not asking for love anymore.
I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.

These are the last lines from “Fourth of July,” and after you read these lines, you feel she’s sick of love, or she doesn’t want to go on any more journeys of love. Something like the those two insights or both are the initial feelings. And there’s an association between love and sailboats, which is unique to her. But then you recall the first use of “boat” in the earlier poem, “Driving Back to the City”:

And our thighs rocking together like two moored boats in the night, all those tender lights held
tight in their hulls.

Now that’s sex. (A brief aside – there are a lot of sexy and erotic poems in this collection, and some are quite arousing.) Shortly after you finish the “Fourth of July,” the mind yokes together the two boat associations – boat, love, ooh, sex, yes. The associations that were unique to the poet are now becoming the readers.

In another sex poem that’s about love, “You Loved a Woman Once,” another “boat” appears, and it associates with tenderness. The boat associations are filling up with passengers of love, sex, and tenderness. She’s creating the boat’s associations through accretion. It’s not just the typical one-to-one association arising from a happenstance of synchronicity. The “boat” also incorporates despair:

                         academe gone down
like a fast ship on fire

(“Why I Live West of the Rockies”)

Then you encounter the sadness of the associative boat:

I think I’ve been sad for a long time now –
crying in my coffee near the Place des Vosges,
taking pictures of toy sailboats at the Jardin

(“Ne Me Quitte Pas”)

This boat is getting heavy with love, sex, tenderness, despair, and sadness. The boat appears to be love and everything that comes with it.

In fact, the further I get into the book, especially the last death-filled section, the more I hope for the boat to appear. The more I expect the boat to appear. The more I need the boat to appear. Finally, it does. After 13 pages without seeing the boat, when I need it most amid all the death, the boat appears twice in the penultimate poem, “What Afterlife.” In the first occurrence, it’s a metaphor for death and dying.

I think of my fifth summer
the day I lost one shoe
over the side of a sailboat,
it’s sinking away from me

into the untreadable dark.

When you get to the poem’s second occurrence of “sailboat,” you understand what she meant when she said, “I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.” So much of the book and its self-created, ever-expanding associations come to conclusion in “What Afterlife,” especially the last few stanzas.

Kuipers’ boat is loaded with the intertwining associations of love, sex, tenderness, despair, sadness, and death. After successive reads, you see, hear, and feel how they are all one. You get to ride on Kuipers’ boat and feel it rock and sway.

In fact, you could argue that the boat is the metaphor for Beautiful in the Mouth. In fact:

You said the boat was her shoulder in your mouth, even when
you couldn’t bear her epaulets of freckles, even when nothing
but a body would do and there was no body but her own.

(“You Loved a Woman Once”)

The more I read Beautiful in the Mouth the more I notice how complicated it is. It’s as complicated as it is to be alive and just as beautiful.

This is a good year for poetry, so far, and it’s building up to be like 2005, and Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mind is a reason why.//

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

The Cave

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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

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After Malagueña

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