Poetry & Transcendence

Writing Prompt

If you need a writing prompt, write a poem that starts with the line: “Regret nothing…” like this “Antilamentation” by poet Dorianne Laux:

By Dorianne Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

Antilamentation, Writer’s Almanac

Dorianne Laux’s poem was posted on a bulletin board in Rhineback, NY (see photo above). She said the following about this: “[Poet] Marie Howe, while waiting for her Avocado Supreme sandwich at the Health Food Store in Rhinebeck, noticed, as she says, ‘amid the missing cats and apartments for sale,’ a copy of my poem tacked to the bulletin board. Isn’t this where we want most to be published? Thank you to Marie for taking a moment to snap a photo!”


Poetry Reading Paradiso

Rustin Larson’s Encouragement




Illustration by Rustin Larson, drawn during last year’s performance

Publishing Pointers & Iowa Poetry Association Contest

67th Annual Contest

John Preston, Iowa landscape painter

General Rules For All Divisions
Information also on IPA site:
IPA (Iowa Poetry Association) website

Contests are open to all persons with Iowa residence. (See College exception) No entry fee. No membership or book purchase requirement.
Poems must be original and unpublished (including on-line and self publication). If copying a significant portion of another’s work is detected, entries will be immediately disqualified.
Poems must have a title, with the exception of haiku.
Poems must be submitted by their author, except for student poems, which may be submitted by teacher or parent.
Any subject or form, except categories where special requirements apply. Vulgarity or pornography is NOT accepted; e-mail submissions not accepted.
Up to 5 poems may be submitted by one author. 20-line limit for each poem does not count title nor spaces between stanzas. (See Adult rules about Humorous Verse.)
Each poem (even haiku) should be on a separate full-size (8 1/2×11″) sheet of paper, preferably typed or computer printed, with name and complete mailing address in upper right corner.
Mail after January 1, 2013 to editor for your division. Postmark deadline: February 29, 2013. Mail all entries together in one envelope. (Business-size, #10 preferred) Do NOT send registered mail, please.
Winners and others to be published in Lyrical Iowa 2013 will be notified by mail in mid-summer, or as soon as all judging is completed.
No one will receive more than one award. No more than one poem will be printed per author. IPA has first publication rights; all other rights automatically revert to each author AFTER our publication in October.
Poems may not be withdrawn after submission.

It is not necessary to specify category. Most appropriate category should be obvious within the poem. Include a self-addressed #10 envelope with sufficient postage for winners list and return of unused poems. On a separate note, please indicate if you are a first-time entrant in an Iowa Poetry Association contest.

Each of the following categories are judged independently by different judges. Honorable mentions are awarded as merited.
GENERAL: Any subject in good taste, any form. $60.00, $35.00, $20.00.
NATIONAL/WORLD EVENTS: Should focus on an event, not a general situation. $25.00, $15.00, $10.00.
HAIKU: A configuration of 5/7/5 syllables does NOT make it haiku without other haiku characteristics. $25.00, $15.00, $10.00.
SONNETS: Shakespearean (English), Petrarchan (Italian), or other traditional sonnet forms. $30.00, $20.00, $10.00.
POEMS FOR CHILDREN: Poems written by adults in style and content appropriate for reading by or to children. $20.00, $12.00, $8.00.
HUMOROUS VERSE: In addition to other entries, adult contestants may submit a reasonable number of humorous verses. These must be rhymed and metered and have an eight-line limit. $20.00, $12.00, $8.00.
Some additional awards may be given.

Send ADULT entries only to:
Lucille Morgan Wilson
2325 61st Street
Des Moines, IA 50322

John Preston, Iowa landscape painter

All general rules apply.
Prizes: $25.00, $15.00, $10.00. Honorable mentions as merited.

Students whose homes are in Iowa but are studying outside the state are eligible to enter, as well as out-of-state students attending Iowa schools. (Graduate students should enter the adult division.) Give name and location of your school; include both your school and home mailing addresses, since results of the contest may not be determined until June.
Please include a #10 self-addressed envelope with sufficient postage for winners list and return of unused poems.

Send COLLEGE entries to:
Rustin Larson
105 North D
Fairfield, IA 52556

NFSPS College/University Level $500 Awards

To access VERY specific rules and application form for this national contest, go to nfsps.com/scholarship(http://www.nfsps.com/scholarship.htm) or send SASE to Lucille Morgan Wilson (address under Adult Division) with request for the “national college” rules.

John Preston, Iowa landscape painter


Valuable information on publishing poetry is found on the website of Poets & Writers magazine: Poets & Writers Publishing Poetry.

Poet’s Market is the best resource to find out more about the various magazines where you can submit your work. It lists names of editors, submission guidelines, plus information re. what the magazines are looking for, whether they take unsolicited materials or not, and what they pay, etc. Here is the website to the publication. The MUM library has a current edition available in the reference section, which you can access. Here a link to browse: Poet’s Market 2012.

If you submit your poetry to magazines in hard copy (on paper via regular mail), include the following:

  • Up to five poems (preferably not super long ones, as most magazines prefer to publish shorter poems)
  • A cover letter in which you outline a) your relationship to the publication; b) the suitability of your work for the publication; c) the names of the poems you are submitting; d) something about yourself (educational background, previous publications, etc. Keep this short if there isn’t much to say). The cover letter should be shorter than a page and should be formatted professionally. It is customary to add the date on the top right, your name and address in the header, and the name/address of the editor/publication above the letter. Here samples from Writer’s Digest: Poetry Submission Cover Letters.
  • Your poems (all with your name and contact information in the header).
  • A SASE or self-addressed stamped envelope, which makes it easy for editors to respond (business size).

John Preston, Iowa Landscape painter

A few more things to keep in mind:

  • Always look up guidelines on a magazine’s or contest’s website or in Poet’s Market ahead of time. It’s professional to follow guidelines for submission to the letter!
  • Unless guidelines instruct otherwise (for example in the case of contests), put your name and contact information on the top right side of each page.
  • Be sure to correctly spell the name of the poetry editor of the magazine you are submitting to. If you submit via mail, check that the address listed in Poet’s Market is still accurate.
  • It’s best to browse a publication ahead of time so you know for sure whether it is a good match for your work. You can browse a vast array of literary and other magazines in Prairie Lights Bookstore or in the public library in Iowa City in the downtown pedestrian mall. Consider this research for publication. It pays off, because key to publishing success is locating a suitable niche for your work. Knowing the magazine also gives you a chance to say something personal to the editor in your cover letter.
  • Single-space your poems, and type them in .12 font, nothing smaller or larger. Use a basic font such as Times New Roman. Arial or Verdana, not something fancy. Flush left unless your poems particularly require another form. Use one inch margins.
  • Proofread your poems meticulously. Submit your work without typos, grammatical or spelling errors. Don’t add handwritten corrections!
  • Don’t staple your poems and cover letter together. Just put the pages together in an envelope. At most use a paper clip, which can easily be removed.
  • If the poems you submit are longer than one page, add in the header on the second page: a) the title of the poem; b) “page 2”; and c) the words “new stanza” or “no new stanza,” so the reader knows whether there is a stanza break in your poem between pages 1 and 2 or not. If your poem is titled “Walking the Dog on a Snowy Night,” for example, you’d put at the top of page 2 (usually in the header on the right hand side of the page in a smaller font): “Walking the Dog,” page 2, no new stanza. You can abbreviate the title at the top of page 2 if it is long.
  • Never submit poetry via email unless a magazine specifically asks you to do so.
  • If you submit your poetry online (via a website link, where you can upload your poetry and cover letter), follow website instructions. The procedures are different for each magazine. More and more magazines prefer online submissions, so check very carefully and use the submission method a magazine specifies it prefers.
  • It’s best to indicate in your cover letter if any of your poems are simultaneously submitted elsewhere. You can put: “My poem “…”  is a simultaneous submission. I will notify you immediately if it is accepted elsewhere.”
  • More info. and sample cover letter can be found at: Formatting Your Poetry Submission.

Good luck and let me know if you need assistance!

John Preston, Iowa landscape painter

If you have a book-length manuscript ready of minimally 50 or so pages, know that there are 7 days left on the extended deadline for the 2012 Orphic Prize Poetry Book Prize. The postmark deadline for entries to the 2012 Orphic Prize for Poetry is October 1, 2012. To enter, submit 48-80 paginated pages of poetry, table of contents, acknowledgments, bio, email address for results (No SASE; manuscripts will be recycled), and a $25.00 (online) $27.00 (postal) non-refundable fee for each manuscript entered. The winner is awarded $1000 and publication, plus 20 author copies. All entries will be considered for publication. All styles are welcome.

The Orphic Prize for Poetry entries may be sent, following the guidelines above, to:
Dream Horse Press
P. O. Box 2080
Aptos, California 95001-2080

Make checks payable to: Dream Horse Press
Or, you can submit your manuscript in email, save on postage, paper, and envelopes by paying online at dreamhorsepress.com

Live from Prairie Lights, Iowa City

Praire Lights Bookstore • 15 South Dubuque St. • Iowa City, IA 52240 • 319-337-2681 • 800-295-BOOK • Open 9:00 a.m. daily

“Live from Prairie Lights,” held at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, is an internationally known readings series, which features some of the best up-and-coming and well-established authors & poets from all over the globe. Presented before a live audience and streamed over the world wide web, this long running series brings the spoken word from the bookstore to the masses.Most readings begin @ 7:00 p.m. Arrive early to assure yourself a seat. Link to the upcoming readings:
Live at Prairie Lights upcoming readings

The University of Iowa is home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, one of the most highly regarded graduate Creative Writing programs in the country. As a result, many distinguished as well as up-and-coming authors and poets come to Iowa City to give readings, usually at Prairie Lights downtown or at the Shambaugh Auditorium on campus. The Virtual Writing University Archive, featuring hundreds of audio and video recordings of emerging and renowned writers from around the world, documents the history of writing at The University of Iowa and its surrounding community. The collection is continuously updated with recordings from local readings. The project, founded by Jim Elmborg of the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS), is a collaborative effort between SLIS and the Virtual Writing University.

Writing University Virtual Writing Library ARCHIVE:
Writing University Archive

The Writing University live streams many of our readings here.

The Live from Prairie Lights audio archive is available here.

Iowa City PATV has a video archive of readings located here.

Ars Poetica


The Ars Poeticais the a poem about the art of writing a poem–since only the language of poetry itself is subtle enough to touch upon the unspeakable creative process of writing.

“Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.”–Paul Engle

Ars Poetica
by Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit

As old medallions to the thumb

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown –

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind –

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

A poem should be equal to:
Not true

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea –

A poem should not mean
But be

Infant Joy Blake

Introduction to Poetry
By Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


And one by former student Leah Waller:

Where Is My Poem: Ars Poetica

Where is my poem?
I must have been too needy for him.
I demanded that we spend every evening together,
so one day he said that he was going out
for a pack of smokes
and never came back.

I saw him in a dance club months later
flirting with other poets
and he looked so good-
lines cut in a sharp buzz,
his images even more direct and clear.
A cigar stuck in his mouth
like a fork in a pie
as he cleanly told me
he was done.

I stood on the other side of the glass
watching him dance with the other poets.
He saw me and, feeling guilty,
put on his black fedora
and came out into the street light.
He said, “What do you want?
Can’t you see I’m busy?”
I said, “I came for my passion,
hand it over, and we’ll be done here.”
He placed it in my hands
wrapped in a small couplet.
But no sooner had he touched me
than he wanted more.
He held me in iambic pentameter,
tangled my hair into simile and metaphor.
He kissed me uncontrollably.
Wet lips pulsing stanza after stanza,
he filled my page.
Then he pulled away,
went back inside to dance with the other poets.
leaving me
with only
a page of words.
–published in Under the Cedar Tree (First World Publishing)

The Gift
by Chard deNiord

In memory of Ruth Stone (June 8th, 1915-November 19th, 2011)

“All I did was write them down
wherever I was at the time, hanging
laundry, baking bread, driving to Illinois.
My name was attached to them
on the page but not in my head
because the bird I listened to outside
my window said I couldn’t complain
about the blank in place of my name
if I wished to hold both ends of the wire
like a wire and continue to sing instead
of complain. It was my plight, my thorn,
my gift-the one word in three I was
permitted to call it by the Muse who took
mercy on me as long as I didn’t explain.”

Poem a Day

The Dodge Poetry Festival

We have now watched 2 video recordings of the Dodge Poetry Festival’s “Festival of Life” series with Bill Moyers. Here more information for those of you who asked:

The Dodge Poetry Festival is widely acknowledged as the largest poetry event in North America, representing the most eminent poets from the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These four-day celebrations of poetry have been called “poetry heaven” by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, “a new Woodstock” by the Christian Science Monitor, and simply “Wordstock” by The New York Times.

The Festival, held in even-numbered years since 1986, has drawn a combined audience of approximately 140,000 attendees from 42 states, including 17,000 high school teachers and 42,000 high school students who attended without charge and traveled from as far away as Florida, Maine, Minnesota and California. On each of these four Fall days, ten or more separate stages offer events simultaneously for audiences of 100 to 2,000 people. Originally held in Waterloo Village, the Festival found a new home in Newark’s Downtown Arts District in 2010.

The poets who have appeared at the Dodge Festival are a veritable who’s-who of American and international poets.
From: Dodge Poetry Program

October 11th -14th, 2012
Dodge Poetry Festival
Dodge Festival program

Some of the poets invited to read and present this year are:
Kurtis Lamkin, Dorianne Laux, Taylor Mali, Eavan Boland, Terrance Hayes, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Sharon Dolin, Thomas Lux, Idra Novey, Eduardo C. Corral, Juan Felipe Herrera, Jane Hirshfield, Fanny Howe, Gregory Orr, Gregory Pardlo, Dan Bellm, Nikky Finney, Amiri Baraka, and C. K. Williams.

Video Archive of the Dodge Poetry Festival Readings:
Dodge Festival ARCHIVE (video links)
Complete list of videos:
Videos Complete Archive
You can find a link here to the Dodge Readings on Youtube.

Cut and Shuffle Exercise

Sometimes it can be useful to open a poem up in a way that is unexpected. For this purpose, try Rustin Larson’s version of the Cut and Shuffle Exercise that he was taught by Jack Meyers. You take two poems you have already written, perhaps two poems that you are a bit stuck with, that feel stale or lackluster. Then you piece the two together into a third, new poem, juxtaposing divergent images in unexpected ways, which will force you to make intuitive, leaping connections that deeply access your subconscious. Even if you won’t end up with a better poem, you will definitely see both of your poems differently.

A student of Jack Meyers, Jeannine Atkins, describes a version of this exercise as follows: “Perhaps my favorite exercise was one inspired by on in The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, a book they recommended. Jack Myers explains how to compose a “cut-and-shuffle poem” by writing one quiet scene, then one active. Then he alternates lines from one scene to the next into a stanza. He continues with variations, but the one Patricia adapted was writing for ten minutes on something that brought her great happiness, then spent equal time, another ten minutes, writing while tapping into anger and fear. She cut phrases from each, then interspersed them.”
Jeannine Atkins Cut and Shuffle Exercise/Jack Myers

This is how Rustin Larson’s Cut and Shuffle Exercise works: “In this cut-and-shuffle, I took two unrelated poem drafts and collaged the lines (starting at the beginning of each draft), more or less alternately. The first draft deals with walking with my daughters in an exposed fossil bed near Iowa City. The Second draft deals with awkwardly helping my father into a wheelchair. The combination of the two drafts seems to deepen the lyrical, associative, and imagistic depth. A well chosen tile (and more edits) would help guide the topic and meaning of the poem, which now seems to be dominated by the relationship of the son and the father, and their mortality.”

Afternoon in the spillway
Walking. Over them, upon them,
feeling the texture of a shell,
coral, fish bone, fin.

The seas became shallow, dried
layer upon layer,
ocean sediment, millions
of years, turned to stone.

We’ve seen the imprint
of a leaf in mud, a shoe print,
a hand. We’ve seen bones
in a forest slowly covered by leaf rot,

and then soil. Pulled
into pressure and heat
and compacting stone:
mountains someday, ledges.

In an empty lot
six boys play.
One punts it.

For a moment
the ball floats
in endless blue.

I can’t believe
how light he is.
88 pounds.

I slide my hands
under his arms,
lift him out,

lift him to my chest,
guide him awkwardly,
the bag of his catheter

hooked in my pocket,
help him
into the wheelchair.

THREE: POEM SYNTHESIS DRAFT (final poem below)
Afternoon in the spillway walking. In an empty lot, six
boys play. Over them, upon them,
feeling the texture of a shell, coral, fish bone, fin. One
punts it. For a moment the ball floats
in endless blue. The seas became shallow, dried
layer upon layer, ocean sediment, millions
of years, turned to stone. I can’t believe how light he
is. 88 pounds. We’ve seen the imprint of a leaf in
mud, a shoe print, a hand. I slide my hands under his
arms, lift him out. We’ve seen bones in a forest slowly
covered by leaf rot, and then soil. I lift him to my
chest, guide him awkwardly, the bag of his catheter
hooked in my pocket. Pulled into pressure and heat
and compacting stone: I help him into the wheelchair;
mountains someday, ledges.

Afternoon in the spillway, walking. In an empty
lot nearby, six boys play. Over them, upon them,
feeling the texture of a shell, coral, fish bone, fin.
One punts it. For a moment the ball floats
in endless blue. The seas became shallow, dried
layer upon layer, ocean sediment, millions
of years, turned to stone. I can’t believe how light
my father is. 88 pounds. We’ve seen the imprint of a leaf
in mud, a shoe print, a hand. I slide my hands under
his arms, lift him out. We’ve seen bones in a forest
slowly covered by leaf rot, and then soil. I lift him
to my chest, guide him awkwardly, the bag
of his catheter hooked in my pocket. Pulled
into pressure and heat and compacting stone:
I help him into the wheelchair; mountains someday, ledges.

Line Breaks

A line break in poetry is the termination of the line of a poem, and the beginning of a new line. Line breaks may occur mid-clause without ending the sentence, creating enjambment, a term that literally means ‘to straddle’, or they can occur at the end of a sentence, in which case the line is end-stopped. Enjambment speeds up the pace of the poem, creating a flowing or even a rushed feeling (think of Emily Dickinson), whereas end-stopped lines emphasize the silence of the caesura (pause, literally “cut”) of the break, which slows the poem down.

Caesuras can come at the end of a line but also in the middle of one. The caesura gives only a slight pause with punctuation marks such as comma, semi-colon, colon or dash, but it gives a more lingering pause with a full-stop when a period ends a sentence at the end of a line. Line breaks can be employed in lieu of punctuation, substituting for punctuation marks. They can occur in the middle of lines as in “Sheep Fair Day” by Kerry Hardie, where the poet gives pause so both the reader and God, who is directly addressed in the poem, can feel the texture of the sheep wool first before the speaker in the poem asks for a response. In that case, the white space introduced by the skip in line adds a “gap” that allows the reader’s imagination to leap in and feel what the poet has described in simple silence.

Line breaks may also serve to signal a change of movement or to suppress (de-emphasize) or highlight (emphasize) certain internal features of a poem, such as a (internal) rhyme, slant rhyme, or other sound devices. The words at the end of a poetic line receive extra emphasis simply due to the fact that the eye lingers on them a bit longer before dropping down to the next line while reading. Poets usually choose strong and interesting words to end lines on, not insignificant ones such as articles or prepositions. Verbs make excellent end words because their action propels forward into the white space before hitting the next line. When you read the last words of each line in a poem, you often get a feel for the entire poem.

Breaking lines in the middle of a phrase or idea, before the idea or phrase is fully complete, can create interesting tension or surprise. It can even bring out double meaning. This haiku by Moritake demonstrates the power of line breaks:

The falling flower
I saw drift back to the branch
was a butterfly

You see the blossom (flower) fall, then you see it drift back to the branch, and for a second your mind fills with surprise: how can that be? Then the last line turns your mind with another surprise, yet at the same time you discover the answer to the riddle: it wasn’t a blossom, it was a butterfly. In this same way modern and contemporary poetry uses line breaks to create dynamic tension, surprise the reader, or break expectation. See the ending of “The Blessing” by James Wright in the first chapter of Frances Mayes’ The Discovery of Poetry.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, lineation is “an arrangement of lines.” Coulson and Temes (2002) elaborate on this definition: “[T]here is an interplay between the grammar of the line, the breath of the line, and the way lines are broken out in the poem–this is called lineation.”

Exercise 1:
Write a poem about America in the long lines of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and the Song of Songs and Ginsberg’s Howl. Use parallelism as a grammatical structure. Just freewrite and see what comes out. After you are done, take a section of this freewrite and revise it into a small, compact poem more in the style of Emily Dickinson, breathless and brief, edited meticulously, and with short lines and stanzas. What do you notice when you are done? Which poem do you like better and why?

Exercise 2:

  • Bring 2 copies of one of your poems to class.
  • One copy you will edit yourself by cutting up the lines with scissors. Consider: What happens if you end a line on a different word? If you introduce more white spaces or gaps? If you make the lines shorter/longer? If you prune the words? If you regroup the poem? If you change the stanza breaks?
  • The second copy you will give to a classmate to edit for you. It’s much easier to see possibility in someone else’s poem since you are less close to it. Sometimes a classmate can give you wonderful ideas for a whole new vision of your work.

“Constantly Risking Absurdity” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

4 Poems by Dorianne Laux for Nikki

Dorianne Laux

Biography and more poems available on Poets.org:
Dorianne Laux

Juneau Spring
From album “Poet” by Sherry Thrasher

In Alaska I slept in a bed on stilts, one arm
pressed against the ice feathered window,
the heat on high, sweat darkening the collar
of my cotton thermals. I worked hard to buy that bed,
walked towards it when the men in the booths
were finished crushing hundred dollar bills
into my hand, pitchers of beer balanced on my shoulder
set down like pots of gold. My shift ended at 5 a.m.:
station tables wiped clean, salt and peppers
replenished, ketchups married. I walked the dirt road
in my stained apron and snow boots, wool scarf,
second-hand gloves, steam rising
off the backs of horses wading chest deep in fog.
I walked home slow under Orion, his starry belt
hung heavy beneath the cold carved moon.
My room was still, quiet, squares of starlight
set down like blank pages on the yellow quilt.
I left the heat on because I could afford it, the house
hot as a sauna, and shed my sweater, my skirt,
toed off my boots, slung my damp socks
over the oil heater’s coils. I don’t know now
why I ever left. I slept like the dead
while outside my window the sun rose
low over the glacier, and the glacier did its best
to hold on, though one morning I woke to hear it
giving up, sloughing off a chunk of antediluvian ice
that sounded like the door to heaven opening
on a badly hung hinge. Those undefined days
I stared into the blue scar where the ice
had been, so clear and crystalline it hurt. I slept
in my small room and all night—or what passed for night
that far north – the geography of the world
outside my window was breaking, changing shape.
And I woke to it and looked at it and didn’t speak.

On the Back Porch
Writer’s Almanac, Feb. 8, 2009

The cat calls for her dinner.
On the porch I bend and pour
brown soy stars into her bowl,
stroke her dark fur.
It’s not quite night.
Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent
moon, a pink rag of cloud.
Inside my house are those who love me.
My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
And there’s a man who will lift my hair
in his hands, brush it
until it throws sparks.
Everything is just as I’ve left it.
Dinner simmers on the stove.
Glass bowls wait to be filled
with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
on the cutting board.
I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.
“On the Back Porch” by Dorianne Laux, from Awake.

published in APR, Sept/Oct ’05

I’d forgotten how fast it happens, the blush of fear
and the feeling of helpless infantile stupidity, stooped
over the sink, warm water gushing into a soapy bowl,
my stuck fingers plunged in, knuckles bumping the glass
like a stillborn pig in formaldehyde, my aging eyes
straining to read the warning label in minus two type,
lifting the dripping deformed thing up every few seconds
to stare, unbelieving, at the seamless joining, the skin
truly bonded as they say happens immediately, thinking:
Truth in labeling, thinking: This is how I began inside
my mother’s belly, before I divided toe from toe, bloomed
into separation like a peach-colored rose, my eyes going slick
and opening, my mouth releasing itself from itself to make
lips, legs one thick fin of trashing flesh wanting to be two,
unlocking from ankles to knees, cells releasing between
my thighs, not stopping there but wanting more double-ness,
up to the crotch and into the crotch, needing the split
to go deeper, carve a core, a pit, a two-sided womb, with
or without me my body would perform this sideshow
trick and then like a crack in a sidewalk
stop. And I’d carry that want for the rest of my life,
eyes peeled open, mouth agape, the world
piled around me with its visible seams: cheap curtains,
cupboard doors, cut bread on a plate, my husband
appearing in the kitchen on his two strong legs
to see what’s wrong, lifting my hand by the wrist.
And I want to kiss him, to climb him,
to stuff him inside me and fill that space, poised
on the brink of opening opening opening
as my wrinkled fingers, pale and slippery,
remember themselves, and part.

Family Stories
reprinted from Smoke, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,
how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine
it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,
and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed
the people in his stories really loved one another,
even when they yelled and shoved their feet
through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle
of cheap champagne, christening the wall,
rungs exploding from their holes.
I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury
of the passionate. He said it was a curse
being born Italian and Catholic and when he
looked from that window what he saw was the moment
rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous
three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship
down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk
deep in the icing, a few still burning.

Kerry Hardie “Sheep Fair Day”

From The Missouri Review:
The Missouri Review, Kerry Hardie, “Sheep Fair Day”

Kerry Hardie, “Sheep Fair Day”

The poem continues:
and God felt how it is when I stand too long,
how the sickness rises, how the muscles burn.

Later, at the back end of the afternoon,
I went down to swim in the green slide of river,
I worked my way under the bridge, against the current,
then I showed how it is to turn onto your back
with above you and a long way up, two gossiping pigeons,
and a clump of valerian, holding itself to the sky.
I remarked on the stone arch as I drifted through it,
how it dapples with sunlight from the water,
how the bridge hunkers down, crouching low in its tracks,
and roars when a lorry goes over.
And later again, much later, in the kitchen,
very tired now at day’s ending, and empty,
I showed God how it feels to let the light coil of yourself
dissolve and grow age-old, nameless–
only a woman sweeping a floor, darkness growing.
–Kerry Hardie “Sheep Fair Day,” The Missouri Review

Kerry Hardie reading “Sheep Fair Day,” podcast, The Missouri Review:
Kerry Hardie reading “Sheep Fair Day” podcast

More on Kerry Hardie:
Poetry International

Writing Prompt:
Write your own poem to or about God, using an unexpected, surprising angle. It can work well to first do a freewrite about your childhood concept of God (what did you think God was like or looked like and could do?), in contrast to the idea of God you were raised with and/or your concept of God now. What would you like to say to God, ask of God, or what would you want God to understand about being human?