Friday, August 18, 2017

I Wish I'd Written This

Clair de Lune

—for Alan Gould, who knows the sea

When she wakes,

she wakes in the salt of breakers,
in mist that occludes and reveals night's lustre:
the great nocturnal winds
on which arctic terns bear themselves
and are reflected, silver needles

on a black glass sea.

Through shallows where gulls careen away
and rocks are seen only where the surf retreats,
she is carried out like an embryo,
into the amniotic ocean, thundering to itself
all through the humid night.

And she who swims out will not return.
Another will emerge in her place,
shaking off water.

She won't remember walking towards the sea's green wall,

her unbuckled sandals left on the dunes,
or how she grew lonely among the screens,

liquid crystal inhabitants of a country
where nothing breathes.

Once, in Sunday school, they told her
God made angels from eternity itself,
that they exist not in time, but of time,
trapped in the spaces between the temporal

and the Absolute.

Lost astronauts, unaware of the interstellar cold
in which they hang, their feathers rippled by solar winds,
a psalm heard only by their own kind:

Wandering stars, for whom it is reserved ...

They detach from kelp's shadow, waiting
for the hand of the wave to pass
and in its crash, uncoil.

She sees them levitating on the crests—
a brilliance, immense and old,
leaning out into the prow of night,
spray ionising in their hair,
and the light from shoreside tourist hotels,
razoring through their arms.

They collect in eddies,
where cobalt lies close to the horizon,
light paths
indistinguishable from the trace of time-lapsed stars—
light that has trekked billions of years,
across nebulae and novas, bears rimmed with frost
and the chairs of Cassiopeia.

She floats with her back to the shore

and knows herself
as a time-binding animal.
The fusion of past-stars and future-sea
takes place now in a simple flick of her iris.

— Judith Crispin
from The Myrrh-Bearers
(Glebe, NSW, Puncher & Wattmann, 2015)

Judith Crispin is an Australian poet who was utterly unknown to me until I came across this book in the local library the other day – although it turns out we have many friends in common. 

I was delighted to find her on facebook and receive permission to use the poem. She also sent me two photos to choose from; I chose this one, by Greer Versteeg, because its mysterious, half-seen quality seems to suit the poem.

This poem, spanning two pages, is by no means the longest in the book. It's refreshing to come across long poems which hold the attention by their arresting language and unusual ideas. The language is beautiful and the ideas are intriguing.

The back cover blurb tells us:

The Myrrh-Bearers is a book of love poems, describing real events and real people as the poet has experienced them. The worlds evoked in these poems are suffused with faerie tales, myth and philosophy. The genesis of this collection lies in a diverse engagement with different poetries ...

and goes on to detail those poetic influences, a long list of Europeans and Australians (Alan Gould, to whom this poem is dedicated, is another Australian poet) as well as her musical influences, in relation to 'the presence of music as a subject'. 

In fact she is a musician. We are told:

Judith Crispin is a conservatorium-trained composer, photographer and poet. After escaping academia she lived for several years in Paris and Berlin on various fellowships before returning to Australia where she established exhibitions and poetry seasons at Manning Clark House in Canberra. Currently she is an honorary fellow of the Australian Catholic University and on the advisory board of the International Poetry Studies Institute at The University of Canberra.

Altogether a most distinguished and multi-talented person!

The bio she supplied at my request focuses on the writing, and goes into more detail about her life:

Judith Crispin is a poet and photographer. Her works are variously performed, recorded, published and exhibited in Australia and Europe. Judith’s first book of poetry, The Myrrh-Bearers, was published in 2015 by Puncher and Wattman. Her newest book, ‘The Lumen Seed,’ photographs, poems and commentaries, was published by Daylight Books in January 2017. Judith spends part of each year living and working with Warlpiri people in the Tanami desert, where she photographs elders and writes poetry inspired by their efforts to "grow her up".

Judith lives in the bush outside Canberra with her family, a huge mob of eastern grey kangaroos, two cats, a labrador and an abandoned dingo puppy that she rescued outside an Aboriginal community in the Tanami. Currently Judith is working on a third book of poems – an enigmatic and somewhat pointless examination of the nature of Being, set under desert stars ... with cameo appearances by dogs, snakes and talking trees. 

The new book sounds wonderful to me, and so does her second one, which I have yet to catch up with.

I found her poetry in The Myrrh-Bearers fascinating, and I love this one in particular because I too am well acquainted with the sea, and don't like to be too far away from it for long, having grown up on an island and lived near coastlines most of my life. (I am not a strong swimmer, but I do like to throw myself in the water in summer, love walking on the beach – and beach-combing – at any time of year, and have done a lot of messing about in boats.)

Also I love the way she goes from the swimmer to the speculation about the angels, then the visions of them, and back to the swimmer again.

It's probably not intended (if it was, I believe she would leave more clues) but I also think of the legends of Silkies (or Selkies) when I read that the swimmer won't return but another take her place. I think she means an internal transformation — but the poems are so full of myth and magic that it's easy to start including such elements for oneself.

She is on Amazon, where both The Myrrh-Bearers and The Lumen Seed are listed. She has also written on music.

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.


Please note:

Jeltje Fanoy, whose writing I shared with you recently in Thought Provokers, was unable to register to leave her own comments on the post. She wants you to know that she very much appreciates all the comments that Poets United members made.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Flood

File:Ma Yuan - Water Album - The Waving Surface of the Autumn Flood.jpg
The Waving Surface of the Autumn FloodMa Yuan - Water Album - circa 1160

“I wish I hadn't cried so much!" said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. "I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears!” 
― Lewis Carroll

“Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, 
which is one of the oldest subjects of art.” 
― Susan Sontag

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” 
― Fred Rogers

Monsoon in India 2017
Monsoon in India 2017
(So many have lost everything and died in floods, I found it hard to choose a picture.)

Midweek Motif ~ Flood

Flood in metaphor is often a positive, delightful gift and surprise; whereas flood in reality is often devastating, especially when disaster preparation is missing.  When the idea of flooding enters poets' hearts, when we are flooded with it, we are prepared with the tools of capture and taming even if we are overwhelmed.  So where to begin today? With an actual flood and its stories?  Or with the concept overpowering the will?  You decide.

Your challenge:  
Write a new poem with a flood motif 
and post it below.

by Billy Collins

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE.)

by Robert Frost
Blood has been harder to dam back than water.
Just when we think we have it impounded safe 
Behind new barrier walls (and let it chafe!),
It breaks away in some new kind of slaughter.
We choose to say it is let loose by the devil;
But power of blood itself releases blood.
It goes by might of being such a flood
Held high at so unnatural a level.
It will have outlet, brave and not so brave.
weapons of war and implements of peace
Are but the points at which it finds release.
And now it is once more the tidal wave
That when it has swept by leaves summits stained.
Oh, blood will out. It cannot be contained.

The canyon walls close in again,
slant light a silver glare in brown water.
The water is only knee deep, but when the boy reaches the
purple dark, silvered by the smash of brute water—
water will tear at his chest and arms.
The walls of the canyon are brilliant in late light.
They would have glared red and gold for his drowned camera:
splashed blood to his left, to his right a wall of sun laddered
   with boulders.
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE.)

A Story of Holland
 . . . . 
But where was the child delaying? 
      On the homeward way was he, 
And across the dike while the sun was up 
      An hour above the sea. 
He was stopping now to gather flowers, 
      Now listening to the sound, 
As the angry waters dashed themselves 
      Against their narrow bound. 
“Ah! well for us,” said Peter, 
      “That the gates are good and strong, 
And my father tends them carefully, 
      Or they would not hold you long! 
You ’re a wicked sea,” said Peter; 
      “I know why you fret and chafe; 
You would like to spoil our lands and homes; 
      But our sluices keep you safe!” 

But hark! Through the noise of waters 
      Comes a low, clear, trickling sound; 
And the child’s face pales with terror, 
      And his blossoms drop to the ground. 
He is up the bank in a moment, 
      And, stealing through the sand, 
He sees a stream not yet so large 
      As his slender, childish hand. 
’T is a leak in the dike! He is but a boy, 
      Unused to fearful scenes; 
But, young as he is, he has learned to know 
      The dreadful thing that means. 
A leak in the dike! The stoutest heart 
      Grows faint that cry to hear, 
And the bravest man in all the land 
      Turns white with mortal fear. 
For he knows the smallest leak may grow 
      To a flood in a single night; 
And he knows the strength of the cruel sea 
      When loosed in its angry might. 
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE.)


Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and 
visit others in the spirit of the community—

Next week Sumana's Midweek Motif will be "Nature: Her Words."

Monday, August 14, 2017


My friends, we have something very special for you today. Recently, our staff member Susan Chast was fortunate to attend a one week poetry workshop with none other than Marge Piercy. I asked Susan if she would share the experience with us, so we could share in it vicariously. Make yourselves a cup of tea and settle in. This is going to be a very interesting read. 

Sherry: Susan, you are so lucky to have attended a workshop with the noted author Marge Piercy recently. I read Marge in the 70’s.  She was one of the women writers I turned to, seeking a map out of disillusionment and into strength and joy. I am looking forward to hearing about this workshop in detail. Will you walk us through your arrival?

Marge Piercy, 1974.
(Waring Abbot / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Susan: Yes, I was fortunate to be part of the workshop.   I love Marge Piercy and her writing.  I first became acquainted with her work in the 1970s.  My first read was Small Changes, a novel about women struggling to be independent, a gift from a friend when I separated from my husband.  It led me to seek out the women’s movement. Woman on the Edge of Time got me reading sci fi as a first love, including her He, She and It.  Her historical fiction is the best I’ve ever read.  Take Vida and City of Darkness, City of Light, for example.  And memoir?  I took two workshops with her on the genre and own both Sleeping with Cats and the how-to So You Want to Write (non-fiction).  I have 6 of her 15 poetry collections, the earliest 1973 and the latest 2015.  One of my favorite poems by her is “To be of Use.”  She’s influenced both my writing and my independent spirit.  Here’s a link to her bio and poems at The Poetry Foundation.

Marge Piercy, 2017, at this summer’s poetry reading
The Wellfleet Public Library, Cape Cod, MA, USA  June 2017

This quote always comes to mind when I think about studying with Marge Piercy:
"Come to the edge," he said.  "We can't, we're afraid!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.  "We can't, We will fall!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.  And so they came.
And he pushed them.   And they flew.

Sherry: I love that quote, and will enjoy hearing how it applies to this workshop. It must be much like jumping in at the deep end. Smiles. I envy you the memoir workshop especially.  I adored “Sleeping With Cats”. I must read it again.
Susan: I studied memoir writing with Marge at Omega Institute while I was still teaching.  When I retired in 2012 and started writing poetry seriously, I tried to get into her small summer poetry workshop.  It took me 4 years to get in.  Last year I was on the waiting list which gave me time to prepay everything—the week with Marge Piercy, the house I rented with another participant, and my budget for seafood dinners.  I knew that fried clams was the first stop and the ocean shore the second.  I picked up my housemate, Kellyann Conway, on the way, meeting her for the first time at a restaurant enroute.  She had the same priorities.  We arrived two days early with time to eat and walk together as well as to write and meditate in solitude.  The weather was beautiful, and I was ecstatic.  Kellyann is a sound therapist, and she had brought her tuning forks!  She worked a little on my hands and my back.  Lucky me.

Oceanside Wellfleet


View  across Wellfleet Bay,  a great walk around

Sherry: What a gorgeous setting! And what a cute little cottage.  What was the first gathering like?
Susan:  First thing Monday morning, we gathered around a conference table in a room at the senior community center.  After a 4-minute introductory pair-and share, we plunged into the topics of imagery and metaphor.  We read poems aloud that Marge had brought as examples, and went home with an assignment to write an extended metaphor poem.  Here is mine:


Crying for hours with no
hope of rescue created
the river I needed
to swim out to sea.
Who knew what blessings
your absence would bring?
Now that I have descended cliffs,
leapt into currents, breasted waves
and tasted the sea, your little
rope swing and your caution
have no more appeal for me.

Sherry: What did the moment feel like right after you read your poem? Did you have butterflies?  
Susan: You know I love reading aloud, so no butterflies--except a little at the poetry reading, as I chose to read 2 poems from my book  that Marge had not seen. My classmates called me a rebel. But on the last day, I gave Marge a signed copy of my book. In a book she signed for me a week later (we did this through the mail), she wrote that she enjoyed my book and I should keep writing.  That made me happy.
Sherry: What a wonderfully validating inscription. How wonderful!
Susan: So yes, on the second day we handed out our homework poem and critiqued them all, handing written comments back to each other. In this first homework assignment I came to admire the other poet participants’ poetry and insights. I incorporated many of their notes and revised.  The middle lines take away the wonder of the narrative voice.  Suggested word changes (italicized) strengthen the poem, I believe, and increase its humor.


Crying for hours with no hope of release
created the river I needed
to swim out to sea.
Now that I have ascended cliffs, leapt into currents,
breasted waves and tasted the sea,
your little puddle and your rope swing
no longer appeal to me.

Neat, huh?!  One person suggested I change the title to “absence,” but I left it unchanged.

Sherry: I’m glad you left the title as it was, for that is the essence of the poem. The suggestions do make for a concise, very effective poem. But I loved the first one, too.

Susan: Even if you would have made different choices, I had invaluable practice in seeing more clearly with each aspect of Marge's workshop. And this was the pattern of each of the 5 days.  We met from 9 to noon to read and critique poems, gain insight on the next topic Marge highlighted, and have a homework assignment.  I saved a pile of poetry Marge used to illustrate imagery, sound, line length, provocative titles, poetic patterns and line breaks.  This was the meat in the workshop “sandwich.”  I loved the examples and Marge’s delight in the poems and poets she brought together.  She had known many of the poets, and told us about the backgrounds of several poems.   So the class was both review of what I knew and a challenge to advance to another level of craft in achieving my intended effect. She treated us like the poets we are.  I never felt talked down to. 

Sherry: This is all fascinating. I am attending vicariously, through your description. Tell us more.

Susan:  And then there is "the bread" to the sandwich, the major reason I wanted to attend this week: Marge had read 15 of our poems pre-workshop, and had prepared comments she shared with each of us in individual afternoon sessions.  My conference took place on the first afternoon.  

Sherry: How did you feel? Were you nervous?  What a valuable experience it must have been, a private conference with such a noted writer.

Susan:   More eager than nervous. I admire Marge's poetry, and wanted her critique. I gave her 15 poems I was not quite happy with but couldn't figure out why.  I wasn't trying to "please the teacher."  I’m glad I volunteered to be one of the first, though, because I did get more vulnerable than I expected and it gave me time to ask questions.  Some of her critique was relatively easy--to go for detail and juicy images, to sermonize less--and she showed me where and how.  Brilliant.  For example, in "Small Change," my poem raising questions from the Women's Post-Inauguration March, Marge pointed to 5 lines that could be cut or condensed to make it stronger.  "The poem is all here, but wordy," she said.  She suggested I look at every phrase and ask why I need it and what it does for the poem. Here and in other poems, Marge reminded me of the importance of asking “why.”  She asked why constantly--why this word, this title, this image, this line break.  I had neglected the lesson I used so well in staging drama--why costumes? why a set?  why move?  why anything?  As a stage director, I followed director Peter Brook as he explained it in The Empty Space.  Everything is purposeful in art. Even if we discover it by accident, the decision to keep, alter or discard it is purposeful.  

Sherry: I love that question “why?” That is a very useful tip.
Susan:  Yes.  But some of the critique was harder because it involved how I articulate my faith experience. 

The gazebo where Marge held our individual meetings.

Much of my poetry depends on inner life that I don’t always clarify for the reader, especially concepts connected with Quaker ministry and testimonies that are obscure to most people.  For example:

Step Three: Rest

A friend reminds us, as always, that we
know how to ease the load, to smooth the road.
We can decide to trust a greater Truth.

I can’t retain this in my head without
an act of will.  Remember this address,
my Mom would say.   It’s where we live.  It’s home.

And I rehearsed and I hung an ID
on my lanyard.  Like this landscape, like this
rock we can see and hold, God’s reminders.

Mercy, my friends, is there if we want it.
Mercy and gratitude to give and take
Rehearse it.  Carry prayers in pockets.

Sherry: How I love “Carry prayers in pockets”!
Susan:  Me, too. And the poem is part of a series that links the AA's 12 Steps with Quaker ways of thinking.  Step 3 is  
"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over  to the care of God as we understood Him."
 But I didn't include that, not even as an epigraph under the title. I had capitalized truth as a stand-in for God and as an illusion to the Biblical passage from which Quakers take our name: to be Friends of Truth.  I could make this clearer and illustrate it with a clearer parable than the name tag. Without some knowledge, the capitalization seems Victorian and the concept obscure. "Mercy" is also an obscure concept in this context.   Marge wanted me to make her care more about the content without resorting to sermonizing, and I see her point.  Now I will have to choose for each of this type of poem how much to alter. And I want to be certain that the poems do what I want them to do. Those that are closest to recording a Still Small Voice, I may not alter at all even if they require a Specialized Audience.  Others I intend to revise with more images and less emoting.  What I mean—and something I definitely experienced most emphatically in Marge’s workshop--is that I want to arouse the emotion in my reader—not convince them that I myself have been moved.  
Sherry: Ah, that is a very key distinction, and a good piece of wisdom to take away and share with us. Worth the price of admission, I dare say. Did you come away with any other realizations?
Susan: I hadn’t realized until this workshop how much I rely on concepts, skimming the top of my experience. And I often sermonize to readers who are already among the converted, especially in political poems.  (I'd give you another example, but this is already too long.) Also, LOL, I never even made choices about capital letters! I asked you to capitalize "still small voice" and "specialized audience" above--and truly, it does make them appear old fashioned, doesn't it?  And for what purpose?  Why?  For some readers that certainly could be off putting, whereas details and images and metaphor root the best pieces.   I was able to discuss this with Marge in depth during our conference.  

And I will revise "Step Three: Rest." I want to make a clear distinction between the past and the present in my line breaks, and I want to point up the parallel between rehearsing the address and rehearsing turning to God.  That prayer in the pocket, then, could be nothing else but the reminder to turn to God.

Sherry: Wow, you really did get to the meat and potatoes of it, Susan. You came away with so much. 
Susan: Marge found parts of almost every poem that worked, and she found 2 of my 15 to be “complete”--I love her use of that word.  Her comments on the following poem are “This poem completely works. Excellent.  Character created, rich with specifics. A fine piece of work.”
Sherry: I would say that about all of your poems. Let’s take a look!

In the Voting Booth

Harried and hot, she finally entered
the voting booth and quickly pressed levers
for her choices.  She paused before the last
lever that entered her free vote.  How long

she had waited to arrive!  Not just lines
today, but photo ID and proof of
residence, citizenship test and Eng-
lish classes after years of exile and

insecurity.  She placed one tired hand
on the cold machine’s grey edge and she sighed,
inhaled and sighed again, a moment’s peace
and pride energizing her to move when

a voice penetrated her private space,
“Any problems, Ma’am?” spoken kindly
but urgently outside the closed curtains.
“No,” she replied.  She pushed the last lever

registering her vote and opening
the curtains simultaneously.  She
noticed the levers now in their upright
positions, turned tall and made her exit.

Sherry: It is interesting to read this poem, knowing what Marge Piercy said about it. I do get a complete sense of the person, the setting, her feelings, and especially her weariness. Wonderful, Susan!
Susan:  Thank you.  So there you have it: The meat and the bread to put it on, along with all the seasonings!   By the end of the week, I no longer felt vulnerable, but energetic, courageous and grateful.  

Sherry, answering your questions has also helped.  I’ve written fewer poems in the last few weeks, but I like what I’ve written.
Sherry: I'm glad. I especially like your feeling "courageous" as the workshop progressed. I’m glad you are integrating what you learned, and are kind enough to share it with us. It sounds like a transformative and highly motivating  experience, and one that will give you solid ground on which to build your poems in months and years to come.
Susan: On top of all this, Marge urged us to explore the Cape, she insisted it was part of the workshop.  She planned three early evenings: a beach bonfire Wednesday, a public library poetry reading Thursday, and a dinner party at the home to end the week. Yum.
Marge and her husband Woody (Ira Wood) farm their land—that’s how big their garden seems.  I think they delight in community gatherings. The reading was crowded with friends and so was the party. Friendly personable smiles, great conversation.  And the class of 12 she pulled together made the time very special indeed.   

Our Bonfire (Photo by S.E. Venart)

Sherry: What a spectacular setting! It would add much to the workshop, for sure. I love the gazebo, where you met with Marge. I could sit there by the hour. What a heavenly setting! Marge has created a charmed world for herself (and wrote a lot of books to have it!) How lovely that she welcomes other writers to enjoy it. 

Susan: It's amazing. And you can imagine how hard it is to really be a working poet. Her books wouldn't possibly support her without constant talks, readings, editing, publishing others and staying productive.  She bought her land before Wellfleet was upscale and groomed, and she has become an essential member of her community there.

Sherry: She created a wonderful life. As the workshop continued, did you find yourself looking at your work differently? Did your process change?

Susan:  Yes and yes.  I have new eyes for some of it and remain true to the urgency I experienced for some of it.  I’m reading through it all again--I wrote over 1500 poems in 5+ years--and finding much I like as well as much to improve.  I'm ready to put another book together.  

Remember when I left I said that I would agree to an interview if I still felt I was a poet when I returned.  Well, I do.  I gained confidence this summer.  The workshop was worth it--the money, the risk, the time.  Marge Piercy delivered.

Sherry: Indeed, she did. It is always good to stretch ourselves and grow as poets. Bravo for meeting the challenge.  I knew, since you were such a fine poet going into the workshop, that you would emerge just as fine. So I was certain we would be having this chat.

Susan:  You were certain?  I wasn't!  But I'm grateful to be here and hope I haven't been boring.

Sherry: Boring? You? Impossible!  Thank you for allowing us to enjoy your adventure vicariously, through your experiences and photos. You went to the edge, Marge pushed you, and you flew! Bravo! 

For any of you who might be fortunate enough to attend one of the workshops, application directions are on her website at

Well, my friends? I told you this would be interesting! We do hope you enjoyed it. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!