Silence and Self-Reliance

This poem by Marianne Moore (1935) resonates with me about the kind of perspective required to be a disciplined writer:

Silence (1935) Marianne Moore

My father used to say,

“Superior people never make long visits,

have to be shown Longfellow’s grave

or glass flowers at Harvard.

Self-reliant like a cat–

that takes its prey to privacy,

the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth–

they sometimes enjoy solitude,

and can be robbed of speech

by speech which has delighted them.

The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;

not in silence, but restraint.”

Nor was he insincere in saying, “Make my house your inn.”

Inns are not residencies.

The superior writer does not rely on other people’s praise to fuel her writing practice.  The superior writer does not sit back and wait for something fascinating to write about next.  The superior writer goes after life instead of waiting for life to happen–alert, fascinated, ready to take notes and transform experiences into words.  The superior writer understands how to enjoy and experience life without sucking the life out of everything and everybody else.  The superior writer appreciates it when good things come along, but does not sit around waiting for good things to come along. The superior writer knows how to keep going when good things don’t come along.

Meet Nick Sturm (and his book of poetry)

Nick is my colleague down here in Tallahassee but I think of him as a Midwestern poet, specifically an Ohio poet because he’s from Akron.  He makes Akron seem cool, like the Black Keys make Akron seem cool. The first time I hung out with him, he came and joined a bunch of poets on my porch, brought a bottle of excellent whiskey, and wrote a bunch of poems with the group on the backs of pizza boxes.  I still have those pizza boxes.  They are, as Nick would say, “Rad”. He’s not just cool though, he’s impressive.  Every time I turn around, Nick’s doing something awesome related to poetry, or he’s got a new poem appearing somewhere awesome.   Like when I went to his Facebook wall to catch up on where he’s at on his current book tour, I saw that many of his friends were re-posting this new poem of his, which was recently published on the PEN American Center’s website.  I would say that Nick is just having a really good summer but believe me, he’s like this all year long.

H_NGM_N recently published his first book of poetry:

Like Nick himself, his book is doing things. Lots of things. He’s got several poems called “What a Tremendous Time We’re Having,” spliced between other poems, my favorite of which have titles that start with “Basic Guide…”  He’s got a Basic Guide to History that would make Woody Guthrie and Emma Goldman blush.  He’s got a Basic Guide to Friendship, which made enchiladas sound delicious and necessary. He’s got a Basic Guide to Success, Basic Guide to Growing Up, and a Basic Guide to Emergency that had one of my favorite lines in the whole book:

Every moment is an emergency and every emergency is an array of juxtaposition and grace.”

His book is anything but basic.  It’s an unbasic guide to a whole bunch of truths, and many of these truths had me laughing in public.  In some ways, reading Nick’s poems reminded me of last Thanksgiving, when I spent the afternoon in my apartment with my brother listening to all the Mitch Hedberg Youtube had to offer.  Like this line of Nick’s:

I wash my laundry in blue sauce.

and this line, which comes from the same “What a Tremendous Time We’re Having!” poem:

Sunflowers have the hospital surrounded

Like Mitch Hedberg, Nick’s poems are full of moments that make me stop and say, “Huh.I never saw it like that…” Moments that, I would say, indicate that I’m reading great poetry.  Some of these moments are sad, or nostalgic, or humble:

I feel like an air conditioner emitting/a kind of stupid music for you all but all I want/is not to be invisible.”

In the end, his repeated title proves true. We’re having a tremendous time and we don’t want it to end. Knowing Nick, there are plenty of tremendous poems coming soon.

You can buy his book here.

You can also watch H_NGM_N’s promotional video for his book:

Meet Khary Jackson (and his book of poetry)

One of my intentions for creating this website was to have a space for promoting my friends’ work.  I have a lot of friends with new books, or with books coming out soon, so I’m here to get that ball rolling with one of my oldest and favorite friends, Khary Jackson.

Khary and I both attended the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts (he graduated a year before me), and he was always a little weird and a lot talented. Usually those qualities come hand in hand (for example, Khary Jackson). One of my favorite memories of him is when I came into our drama teacher’s office and he was standing in front of the television, conducting all of the symphonies along with Tom Hulce in the film version of Amadeus.   Khary and I both majored in theater/drama and we competed together on our school’s state champion forensics team.  We competed in a dead people competition.  Not really.  Forensics, in that context, means speech and drama.  Khary was one of the most stand out, uninhibited performers on the team, so it’s no surprise that he continues to write and perform his poetry in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he now lives.  Few things make me happier than talking to him on the phone, not only because he has a marvelous speaking voice, but because when I’m listening closely, I can catch snippets of the Minnesota accent he’s picked up over the last decade.  It’s adorable, though adorable is not a word I’d use to describe his work.  His words are imaginative, memorable, and usually pretty heart-wrenching but also pretty funny at times.  His poems, like his performances, are uninhibited.  There is no fear or hesitancy in Khary’s work, which makes it a blast to read.

This week I finally got around to ordering and reading his first poetry collection, Any Psalm You Want, which came out last spring from Write Bloody Poetry.  The book is as marvelous as its title. It’s also got a great cover:

There’s a lot of themes going on in this book: music, Detroit, the African American experience, grieving and suffering, living life to its full capacity.  Of course, if you know me at all, it was the Detroit aspect of this book that captured my interest the most. In a poem called “Frida in Detroit,” he details the miscarriage she had at a hospital named after Henry Ford:

Frida./This is my city before Motown. It is a body/that walks with no rhythm in its limp./There is no music here but what you scrape from the concrete,/what you break from your back in the liver of a factory.

Many of the music poems are conversations:  George Gershwin tells Janis Joplin what he thinks of her version of “Summertime.”  Leadbelly makes sure Kurt Cobain knows what he’s really singing about. In another poem, Khary ponders June’s reaction to Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt.  You know, things you wish you’d thought about before and are grateful to be able to think about from this point on.

Reading Khary’s poems excites me because he presents poetry as a medium of infinite possibilities*, especially when it comes to subject matter.   Aaliyah Haughton’s brother apparently re-dubbed some of her lines in her last film shortly after she died in a plane crash.  Khary hears about this and says, “Really? I have to write a poem about that.”

You can order his book here.

*This phrase is an inside joke that I’d be happy to explain in person because it’s pretty hilarious.


TODAY’S PROMPT: take an old poem, without a copyright, and put a tune to it.

Rhyming is so out of poetry-style these days that if you can find a poem that rhymes, you’re likely to be safe.  But just in case the song you half-create today is amazing enough to hit the airwaves and/or you just want to be careful, here is a website of poems in the public domain.  It’s not hugely expansive, but it’ll get you started.  Also, the site has nine Oscar Wilde poems on it. I didn’t even know he wrote poems. Doh.

Give it a shot!

SONG OF THE DAY: Richard Cory

Paul Simon is a poetry buff, if you haven’t noticed.  He’s one of the most poetic lyricists we’ve got.  This song, from his Garfunkel days, springs out of a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson by the same title. Read the poem and you can see that S&G took a lot of liberty, i.e. rewrote and updated it.  You can do this, too! You can do anything and everything you want to interpret and own the poem you’re working with.


Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.