This summer two wrens built a nest in a bright orange begonia that I hung out on my front porch. I spend a lot of time out on my porch during the summer months, especially in the morning. I like to go out first thing, with my cup of coffee and my laptop and write or grade or watch my neighborhood wake up.

I have a great fondness for birds. Anyone who knows me, knows this love to be deep and true. I write about birds. I collect feathers. I own clothing printed with birds/feathers. I grew up with my grandmother and grandfather pulling me towards windows or sliding glass doors, whispering blue jay, cardinal, sparrow & chickadee. Winters my mother trudged through deep drifts of lake effect snow and filled her feeders with black oil sunflower seeds. She’d come inside, cheeks red from cold and exertion, and immediately curse the fox squirrels who hung precariously from her window feeds, gorging themselves on seeds that speckled the snow below.

This week, as always, The Academy of American Poets shared a bunch of wonderful poems as part of their poem-a-day project.  Among this recent batch, “Fledgling” by Traci Brimhall:

…You take down the hanging basket
and show it to our son—a nest, secret as a heart,
throbbing between flowers. Look, but don’t touch, 
you instruct our son who has already begun
to reach for the black globes of a new bird’s eyes,
wanting to touch the world.

Read the rest of “Fledgling” here.

This reminded me of my own poem, also titled “Fledgling,” that I wrote the summer my son was born. I drafted the poem while sitting on my couch in my living room, staring out the large window that looks out onto my front porch. I spent much of the first weeks of my son’s life sitting on the couch, holding this tiny baby (who came three weeks early), wrapped in a fuzzy blanket against the chill of the air conditioning. I knew it was white hot summer outside my window, but I couldn’t feel the warmth. One day, while the baby dozed, I caught a tumble of brown feathers our of the corner of my eye: a baby wren. I watched him teeter on the ledge of my porch, eating worms his mother swooped into his gaping throat. He sat on that ledge for quite awhile before he finally gathered the courage to follow his mother, half falling, half flying out of sight. I sat staring for a few minutes after he’d gone and then I shifted my sleeping baby, picked up a pen and my journal and started to write.

New Madrid Summer 2016

That poem is the only poem I wrote that first summer as a mother. It came quickly and underwent minimal revision before I sent if off into the world. I remember when I got the acceptance from New Madrid I was so happy because, for me, it proved that yes, I could do this. I could keep my poetry and be a mother. Intellectually, I’d known this to be possible, but when you’re in the weeds of no sleep and bottles and crying and diapers and formula, it’s hard to be rational. It’s hard not to be one raw, gaping wound.

It hardly seems possible that it was two years ago (my son turned two this past May) that I sat on my couch, exhausted and freezing, watching a fledgling waiting for his mother to show him how to  fly.


Missing in Medea: Looking for Glauce

So my sister and I are writing together this summer. We’ve written on and off prompt and shared some drafts and it’s been pretty great. Sometime last week, she sent a text reading:

You are a private investigator. You’ve been following a c heating husband for a month. Write a report to your client-an emotionally unstable wife-telling her what you did and what you learned. 

I would like to take this opportunity to say that when I skip off a prompt, I skip hard, which is what happened here, but I ended up drafting a poem anyway, so win!

I started thinking about cheating spouses and then I started thinking about famous couples in literature and my mind landed on Medea. This isn’t as random as it may sound. I teach a section of World Lit every other semester, so this past spring I was deep in this very play for a few weeks. I like Medea for a lot of reasons, but what it really comes down to is that I find the portrayal of women to be both fascinating and terrifying.

It would be fair at this point to make the assumption that maybe I drafted a poem about Medea, but that’s not what ended up happening, because as it turns out, there’s another woman I find even more interesting.

Glauce, Princess of Corinth, who is to marry Jason, turned out to be the subject of my poem. This woman, who dies at the hand Medea, for doing nothing other than what she is told, has no lines in the entire play. As a result, she is not listed in the list of characters nor is she really acknowledged in way other than from the words that come out of other character’s mouths. Incidentally, most of the characters who speak of her specifically, are male.

Whenever I teach this play, there’s always heated discussion about Medea as victim or perpetrator and my students always have interesting things to say about her, but no one ever speaks of the princess. It’s as if she is nothing more than a plot device

This is all to say, I started thinking about how Glauce may have felt upon seeing Jason and Medea and their boys arrive in Corinth. What would she know of Jason? Of Medea? Would she be afraid? Would she trust her father? Would she resent him? Would she admire Medea? Would Medea disgust her? Would Jason?

As a final note, after reading the play again, I surfed around online and was able to find several, beautiful, haunting depictions of Medea in classic art, but none, not a one of Glauce. Voiceless and faceless, this young woman who died wearing a dress made of gold.



Writing in a Roofless Church

This is how my husband explained my trip to New Harmony, IN to his sister: “Yeah, she’s going to this place in the southern part of the state where there was this religious cult…”

Rest assured, friends, I’m back and I did not join a cult. I did spend a week in the small town of New Harmony sleeping in a bunk bed, wandering around in the rain and writing. I did a lot of writing. This opportunity to stage my own mini-retreat came in the guise of chaperoning a group of twenty some honors students for their “domestic travel study,” a requirement for their degree.

New Harmony is a fascinating place, and while I’m not going to get into the history here in this post, because it is long and convoluted and really odd, you should totally spend some time there if you ever get the chance. The way I explained it to my parents was, the Harmonists started off in Pennsylvania waiting for Jesus. He didn’t show up, so they moved to Indiana. He didn’t show up there either, so they went back to Pennsylvania, at which point they all died out because they believed in celibacy. The result is this beautiful, bucolic, kinda creepy little town in southern Indiana that was restored starting in the 1970s. Obviously there’s more to it, but you get the idea.

On Wednesday morning I took my students to a series of spots around town and we read some poetry: “Sleeping in the Forest,” by Mary Oliver, “Water Picture,” by May Swenson & “Bringing Things Back from the Woods” by David Shumate (to name a few). One of the places we visited was called the Roofless Church, and when I scouted locations for possible poetry drafting, this place seemed perfect.

The church is essentially a large, open area courtyard and it is roofless because the benefactor, Jane Blaffer Owen and the architect, Phillip Johnson, decided that “only one roof—the sky—can encompass all worshipping humanity.” The space is primarily dominated by a dome that “was built in the form of an inverted rosebud, tying it to the New Harmony Community of Equals, whose symbol was the rose.”

The students and I talked craft for about fifteen minutes and then I sent them off on their own for about twenty minutes to see what they could come up with on their own. It’s important to stress we were just free writing, so I encouraged them to write about whatever they wanted as long as it had something to do with our surroundings. We repeated this process at two other locations and then shared some of what we wrote.

I was so taken by the roofless church that I went back the following morning and wrote for two hours. By the end of my time, I had the sketch of a poem and by the time we left New Harmony on Friday afternoon, I had a full draft. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but I’m a notoriously slow writer, so the speed at which this poem came to me made me happy. I worked on the piece a bit more this afternoon and I’m really liking it so far.

The moral of the story? Apparently traveling to once strange, utopian communities can be be good for the creative mind. Of course, it could be the simpler idea that a change in scene and some time to think is usually a good thing.






Poetry Summer Reading List Book #2: Confluence

Book: Confluence 

Poet: Sandra Marchetti

Publisher/Date: Sundress Publications, 2015

Why I bought the book: I became familiar with Sandy’s work through a FB group I’m part of and then was lucky enough to meet her at AWP. I attended the panel she was a member of and then was able to meet her face to face while she was signing books at the book fair. Sandy is a lovely person and an intelligent, talented poet. She also has a beautiful voice. If you get a chance to hear her read her work, you should definitely check it out.

What I admire about this collection: For me, reading Confluence, feels like slipping into a beautiful, loved piece of clothing. These poems are carefully crafted artifacts that examine memory, emotion and experience through a unique lens but at the same time there is something wonderfully familiar about the way that the poems come together. The pbookoems that take on domestic tasks like washing the dishes or eating lunch or walking through a room are some of my favorites in the collection because while they are interesting and lyrical and new in language and line, they are also subjects that I relate to and write about. In other words, reading this book was like finding my tribe. It’s similar to how I felt when I read Elizabeth Bishop for the first time. Incidentally, the epigraph for Confluence is from Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses.”

I also love the recurring imagery & themes of birds, water, light and skin; love, identity, landscape and memory.

Favorite lines: “We rub eyes until/we’ve made owls/of each other:/under the lurching/fur of eyebrows,/of blue and green/of our slight glows,/flicks out and open” (20).  “Curved like nautilus shells,/milk-white with golden ribbing,/our spines slope to the sink;/we bow over the warmed water” (51).

Favorite poems: “Blue-Black,” “Skyward,” “Music,” “Hollow,” “Saints,” “Pilgrims,” “Fissures” & “Walk Through.”

Links: When I read the epigraph for Confluence, I was a reminded of a line from another Bishop poem, “Sandpiper” that I used as an epigraph for my poem “Snail Shell.” The line reads “The world is a mist. And then the world is/ minute and vast and clear.” The poems in Confluence bring a clarity to the subjects they examine. They allow the reader to fully immerse themselves in the experience, so you finish the poem feeling like you’ve unearthed a treasure that you can slip in your pocket and carry with you.

Previous: Octopus Game by Nicky Beer

Next: Streaming by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

Poetry Summer Reading List Book #1: The Octopus Game

Book: The Octopus Game

Poet: Nicky Beer

Publisher/Date: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

Why I bought the book: I met Nicky Beer while I was working on my MFA at Murray State University. In fact, if I remember correctly, I think she shared a poem or two from this manuscript during one of the residencies I attended toward the end of my degree. Nicky is brilliant and kind and she was also at AWP this year, so I got to see her again, which was delightful.

What I admire about this collection: There is so much to admire in Octopus Game, but I think what I like best about all of these poems is they way Nicky uses language to craft thick, layered images that feel like paintings. When I read these poems I feel like I’m reading art. The poems are ornate, weighty and beautiful. I’m not ashamed to say that I had to look up many words while reading these poems. Just a sample: polygot, mesalliance, chromaphores, epicenes, penury, labella, petioles, diastoles, cicatrix & guywires. So I should also thank Nicky for inadvertently making me smarter. I also appreciate that while Nicky’s poetry is meticulously executed and extremely intelligent, it is also accessible and humorous. It may seem somewhaunnamedt limited, but when I read poetry collections I often wonder if there are poems I could share with my students and these are poems they would love to read.

Favorite lines: “Today, love will be like starlight:/when it arrives, whatever it comes from will have already collapsed,” “Black Hole Itinerary” & “A poem like being born/behind a dead bird’s heart,/eating your way into the light,” Oblation.”

I could just list the entire book, but that’s silly, so just take my word for it and buy it so you can immerse yourself in all the gorgeousness.

Favorite poems: ” Octopus Vulgaris,” “Boys in Dresses,”Pescados De Pesadillas,”Nature Film, Directed by Martin Scorsese,” & “Harvard Med Field Trip.”

Again, I loved the whole book. See above.

Links: When I read Octopus Game I was reminded of the poem “Cephalata” by Anna George Meeks in her chapbook Engraved. I’m also a big fan of nature documentaries. I have been since I was five years old sitting on my grandfather’s lap and watching Nature on PBS. Recently, I’ve revisited two of my favorite nature documentary series Life & Planet Earth, and while reading Octopus Game I was reminded of this clip:

As a new mother, I’d also mention watching this clip while feeding a screaming newborn gives it a whole new meaning.

Next: Confluence by Sandra Marchetti