This blog ended…but a new one rose in its place

Hey folks–

If you found me here, thanks! But I’m now blogging elsewhere. It’s called Apple, Word, Kiss and it’s a bit broader in scope. I hope you’ll check it out!

March 15, 2013. Uncategorized. No Comments.

Student poems inspired by Catherine Pierce’s Famous Last Words

My students in an intermediate college poetry workshop this fall 2012 semester read and discussed the poet Catherine Pierce‘s book Famous Last Words. Their take-home “exam” on the book was to write either an imitation of one of the poems or a cento using lines from the book. I’m inviting them to all post their poems here in the “comments” section, specifically so I can show Catherine just how terrifically her brilliant poems worked to help draw some amazing work from these talented students. Enjoy the comments–and read the book!

November 28, 2012. Uncategorized. 14 Comments.

some notes on line breaks and punctuation

So this is a little mini-lecture I wrote up and posted for my students. Perhaps it will be of interest to other poets who are thinking about/teaching lineation. I present these ideas with a lot of certainty, but I do recognize that the conversation is varied and complex, so feel free to chime in!

  1. Even if you choose to omit punctuation, a line will still either be enjambed or end-stopped based on where the punctuation should go. So if a period would be correctly placed at the end of a line, that line is still end-stopped whether or not you decide to include punctuation in the poem. One drawback to omitting punctuation is that it can be unclear where sentences begin and end, so enjambment can be tricky. This is especially true if your grammar isn’t clear.
  2. With poems, punctuation is almost always all or nothing—that is, you use it correctly throughout or you omit it entirely. There are very few times you can justify using it sporadically (unless you are e.e. cummings). If you want to omit punctuation but keep a line that would require a comma or period mid-line, try white space:  “I wanted to live       No one else did anything”
  3. Line breaks serve several purposes in a poem. One is pacing—how fast or slow we read the poem. Generally, shorter lines read faster than long lines, and enjambed lines read faster than end-stopped lines. Additional purposes are 1) to emphasize the last word in a line or the first word in a line (the place of greatest emphasis is the last word; the secondary emphasis in a line is on the first word); 2) to create deliberate if momentary ambiguity by breaking a line so that, when read separately from the lines before and after it, the line has its own, slightly different meaning from what it has in the sentence it’s part of (for example:  “He ran/into the dark. He would never see/what his running meant.” In this example, that line “into the dark. He would never see” leaves readers thinking that he can’t see the dark itself, or that perhaps he will never see again, or perhaps that he isn’t going to see the obstacle he’ll run into. Note that in the sample line above, if there were a line break after “did” [“I wanted to live      No one else did/anything”] it would create a momentary understanding that no one else wanted to live. Basically this makes it so you get more than one meaning for the same words—more bang for your buck, to use a cliché.)
  4. You can enjamb between stanzas if you like, as well as between lines.
  5. Don’t forget that you are allowed to end and begin a sentence mid-line.
  6. Part of what gives poetry its energy is the tension between the line and the sentence. If you cannot write a sentence, you cannot write a line. Grammar can be twisted and flouted in poetry—but only if it’s clear that you’re doing so for a reason, that it’s not just a mistake or laziness.
  7. Lines that end with a period, semi-colon, dash or comma are end-stopped. A truly enjambed line is broken not just in the middle of a sentence, but in the middle of a grammatical unit (as opposed to at the end of a phrase, which is often a place where a comma is optional).
  8. Make sure you use these terms correctly: line break, enjambed line, end-stopped line, enjambment, lineation.

September 18, 2012. Uncategorized. 2 Comments.

so many great writing related things going on

I have been flooding my Facebook, Twitter and (even) Google+ pages with cool poetry and writing related links lately, so I thought I might collect them here.

Read these poems by Hugh Behm-Steinberg and Marie-Elizabeth Mali.

Check out this advice from Yusef Komunyakaa.

Pre-order this AMAZING book by Dinty Moore, which makes me happy and will make you happy.

Check out this review of Megan Gannon’s chapbook of poems The Witch’s Index (edited by yours truly, which can be ordered at Sweet Publications).

And don’t forget to like the following on Facebook:  Sweet: A Literary Confection, Castaway Fan Page, and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy.

Oh, and watch my video of me reading a poem with photos of central Illinois.


March 22, 2012. Uncategorized. No Comments.

some great poems, including video poems

I came across several really interesting links to wonderful poems–including some set to cool videos–today, so I figured I’d share them all here. And encourage everyone to make videos to go along with your poems!

First, an astonishing poem about a lynching, that gives rise to new insights about the human condition–and does it beautifully. Ansel Elkins, “Reverse: A Lynching”


Next an amazing video poem by Motionpoems. Todd Boss, “The God of Our Farm Had Blades”


And another video poem by Motionpoems, this one funnier but still with that awesome kick at the end. Erin Belieu, “When at a Certain Party in NYC”


March 18, 2012. Uncategorized. No Comments.

Oliver de la Paz, Furious Lullaby

I just got back from the AWP conference in Chicago. It was the biggest ever, with 10,000 writers converging on a couple of hotels and (of course) several bars in downtown Chicago. I’m still processing my various responses to it, but I wanted to say something about just one of the books I picked up there, Furious Lullaby by Oliver de la Paz. I actually own this book already–or think I do–but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet (sorry, Oliver!). I happened to be at the right place and the right time to get the author to sign it for the graduate student who was dog-sitting for us during the conference, also a poet. It’s the perfect gift, and Oliver kindly even mentioned my dogs in his inscription. This being a gift, I had to keep it safe, and so it ended up in my carry-on luggage. I opened it up on the plane and began to read.

Normally I try to wait until I’m finished with a book before writing about it, but I’m not confident I’ll be able to recapture the joy I felt as I was first reading this once I’ve been home for a while. How utterly lucky I felt, to come from a place filled with the love of writing and writers, where I had the great fortune to spend time with friends who make me feel whole in this world, and then to find that feeling extended and amplified by the insight of another poet on the page. Some quotes that made me swoon from this book:

“…the instinct to love/is the exact memory of flight for mourning doves.” (from “Aubade with Doves, a Television, and Fire“)

“I was trying to remember a word/standing for light and rhyming//with innocent sex.” (from “The Devil’s Book”)

“My imaginings sometimes take me/away from you.” (from “Aubade with a Book and the Rattle from a String of Pearls“)

“Not memory,/though horses live in both worlds and forgive us…then the clop of hoof on grass as if to say here is heaven./Thus the horses forgive, though they look above.” (from “Aubade with Constellations, Some Horses, and Snow”)

“There are ruins we witness/within the moment of the world’s first awakening/and the birds love you within that moment. They want/to eat the air and the stars they’ve hungered for, little razors.” (from “Aubade with Bread for the Sparrows”)


So for me, this is what AWP is about. All kinds of other things, too. But really, this.

Writers, keep writing. And I wish you all joy in your reading.

March 4, 2012. Uncategorized. No Comments.

on not being able to explain why we love a poem

Check out this post by the Indiana Review.

I’d expand this observation into advice for writers: sometimes it’s ok not to know exactly where your poem is going, to let language and image take you to some place surprising. We write to discover, not merely to record.

February 17, 2012. Uncategorized. No Comments.

USF’s Blank Pages Creative Writing Symposium was a great success!

In case you missed it, we had all kinds of literary events on February 9 and 10 at USF. Talented writers read, talked about issues in writing, debated, and generally showed off their smarts. Here’s a video of the final reader of the symposium, Tim Seibles, reading the wonderful poem “First Kiss.”

February 16, 2012. Uncategorized. No Comments.

upcoming Tampa area literary events

Blank Pages, the USF creative writing symposium, February 9 & 10, 2012, with readings by Ira Sukrungruang, Katherine Riegel, Lola Haskins, Tim Seibles and more. Panels throughout both days, too!

Life Out Loud, a Tampa area reading series featuring true stories. Submission date February 10; reading is March 10.

January 31, 2012. Uncategorized. No Comments.

Beginning poets and intermediate poets: a meditation

First of all, I’m updating this blog because a beautiful poet, Angela Brommel, remembered that I sometimes post here and shared this with others. In honor of people actually reading my musings, here’s one I’ve been thinking of lately.


I’m lucky enough to teach both the beginning level poetry workshop here at USF and the intermediate level. One issue I notice coming up in the intermediate workshop is the question of what’s at stake in a poem. I end up asking the student poets why this poem matters? Why was it urgent for the student to write? As an old colleague of mine used to write on composition papers, “So what?”

But that issue comes up much less frequently in the beginning level. And I’m thinking it’s just part of the process. Beginning poets come in to class thinking of poetry as an outpouring of emotion. We spend much of our time then showing them that a poem is a crafted thing. They are introduced to techniques and to the very idea that choosing one word over another might have a different effect on the reader.

Intermediate poets come in to class thinking of the poem as a crafted thing–that’s what they learned in their beginning classes, after all. And then we need to remind them that poetry is also an outpouring of emotion. You should be writing the poems in your intermediate class for the same reasons you wrote them in the beginning class: because you had something to work out on the page, to ponder, to turn in your hands and examine, to try to understand.

This isn’t an either/or issue. This is a matter of knowing that poetry is many things. It is a body that we stitch together, a body that requires a heart to make it move.

January 25, 2012. Uncategorized. No Comments.

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