Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Christmas would not be the same without remembering Charles Dickens and _A Christmas Carol_. I love the book with all its horror and rebirth, and I have two favorite film versions: the Alistair Sims treatment and the Muppets rendering. So, here are the last two paragraphs from ACC:

"Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)

Edna St. Vincent Millay, born in 1892, was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, in 1923, for her fourth book of poetry. Millay's command of the sonnet was distinctive as she shaped her sonnets with powerful lyrical music and personal voice.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)
Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

From _Collected Poems_ by Edna St. Vincent Millay, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers. Copyright © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Being a Writer: Part II

7. If you met a young or new writer, is there any advice you would give her?
First, I’d say, Write. No matter where or what. Letters, journals, email, chat rooms. And read everything you can get your hands on from poetry and novels to newspapers and magazines. Second, believe in yourself and what you have to say. Every voice is unique and worth hearing. Third, be careful with whom you share your work. Try to be sure of your reader’s reliability as a safe reader. There are too many critics jealous of creators and hence undermine their work. Fourth, when you find safe and close readers, listen to their response. As it is important for the writer to have a developed voice, it is equally important for her to be open to solid criticism.

8. Every job has its ups and downs, things that are the best and worst of doing that job. What is, for you personally, the very best thing about what you do? The very worst?
The best thing about writing poetry is writing poetry: the imaginative journey and play with language. Once I realized that not every poem has to be “the best,” I started to have fun. The worst thing about writing poetry? If one chooses to publish, rejections can devastate a poet. My rule of thumb is to keep a number of poems circulating to journals so that rejection becomes part of acceptance. A very sort of Zen approach.

9. Was there a moment in your life when you knew for certain this was exactly what you wanted to do? If so, was it some pivotal person or event that you can tell our readers about?
My desire to write poetry has wavered between devotion and abandonment. But, as I mentioned somewhere above, my eighth grade teacher first hooked me on poetry. In later years Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Allison compelled me to want to write.

10. How do you think your writing, in general, impacts on today’s woman? Or does it? What about tomorrow’s woman?
I am committed to writing from my body, telling the shifting truths about sexuality and abuse from a female perspective. I’ve written several poems about going through puberty, a topic often ignored in poetry. I’m enchanted by the poetic power of words like “labia” and ‘vagina” and think it’s important for them to be heard aloud in poetry’s hallowed and respected domain. At readings, women my age and younger say that it’s empowering to hear work that addresses the female body in joy and grief.

11. Do you believe being a woman affects how you write? Explain.
Definitely. You can tell from my role models and my concerns with the female body that my voice is shaped by being female.

12. Have there been women in your life who challenged or altered the way you view(ed) yourself? Your work? Your world?
Oh, yes. You know my literary models—Woolf and Allison. Women from very different times and locations who share a love for writing from the body and depicting the woman-centered life. Other influences include my best friend’s mother, who was an unconventional thinker in a small, rural Southern town in the sixties. She taught me that reading and tolerance were key to a fuller life. Another woman with a strong impact was a colleague who showed me that the love for women awakens us to our potential as thinkers, creators, spiritualists and professionals.

13. If there were no boundaries of time, money, distance or anything else and you could spend one hour with any woman at all, whom would you choose and why?
I would choose to spend the time with Dorothy Allison. In her essays, novels, and poetry, she reflects knowledge, wit, wisdom, and understanding for the human condition plus she’s from the rural South and knows the deep ambivalence of such tangled roots of love and violence.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Being a Writer: Part I

A women's magazine interviewed me almost eighteen months ago about being a writer. While the interview never was published, I think it offers insight into my love for words. I will publish it here in two parts.


1. Could you tell us a little about yourself and what you write.
Raised on Sand Mountain at the Appalachian end in North Alabama, I grew up with a love-hate relationship to the place especially during the sixties. Family and friendships were warm and turbulent, loving and violent. If you weren’t a white, Christian, conventional heterosexual, you were a misfit, what many Southern folks called “funny.” My desire was to escape my birthplace, though not the South particularly, as I moved from Alabama to Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina and back to Alabama. In 2002 I finally migrated west with a partner and two cats and returned to writing poetry in May 2003. Much of the poetry in my chapbook, _Southern Girl Gone Wrong_, emerges from my past, examining the contradictions of family and relationship and recalling the Gothic strain that runs through Southern writing from William Faulkner to Dorothy Allison.

2. How long have you been writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I remember first writing poetry in the eighth grade when Mrs. Smothers asked the class to write about a creepy experience. My poem talked about being caught outside in a lightening storm with nowhere to go. While she didn’t read it aloud as she did Mary’s, I was hooked and wrote poetry for about ten consecutive years sporadically.

3. Has what you write changed much since you first started? Tell us about some of the changes.
Oh, yes. Age and experience put me in a very different emotional and mental place for my poetry today. When much younger, I focused on angst, mostly mine, often in abstract language that I thought sounded impressive. While much of that anxiety still exists, I try to use concrete images and down-to-earth language to convey feelings. I’ve always loved how Marianne Moore describes poetry: “an imaginary garden full of real toads.”

4. When you were a very young girl, do you remember what you wanted to be? Would the woman she has become surprise that little girl? Why or why not?
Born in the fifties in a provincial area, my models were housewives defined by husbands. Early I rejected that role, knowing that I wanted to determine my identity on my own and thought I wanted to be a lawyer, working to rectify injustices. While in college, however, I determined that law wasn’t for me and veered toward writing. Maybe the poet/teacher I’ve become would surprise the girl with lawyerly hopes but not the girl who loved books and writing.

5. What is your educational background? Has your education had any impact on your writing, either positive or negative? Has it influenced what you write about? Has it made being published any easier?
With a Ph.D. in British and American literature from the University of South Carolina, I think it has had mixed effects with the balance being positive. I’ve read a wide range of good poetry and fiction that provides a deep sense of how words work and studied for a year under a wonderful teacher/poet, James Dickey. The negative effect is that, as a younger writer, I felt that if I couldn’t be great, I shouldn’t write. Consequently, I abandoned poetry for about twenty years and disavowed a significant part of who I am. When I returned to it in 2003, I felt as if I’d come home. Concerning the influence of my education on what I write, I think it has given me the confidence to feel comfortable with almost any topic or form I choose whether autobiography or politics, free verse or a pantoum. While I think that a Ph.D. has not made it easier to publish poetry, I do think that the academic habit of sending out articles for publication gave me a certain kind of work ethic that makes me more aggressive toward publication, researching journals and sending out work on a regular basis.

6. Have you always wanted to be a published author?
In my early twenties, I wasn’t as keen about being published as I currently am though now, as then, I mostly enjoy the process of writing poetry and where it goes imaginatively. For me the most pleasurable publication is sharing work with friends and in readings, and I’m pleased that I’ve had several readings since returning to poetry. But I’m also pleased to see my work in journals as one kind of professional validation.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


During the summer, I was gung-ho about my blog. I remember how excited I was to be linked at other blogs and still am. But September came and school started with classes to attend to. And I do love teaching. In the process, however, I've neglected Gravity and Light, stepping in now and then to post a poem and say I'm here. I have no holiday poem though I shall post a poem written about two years ago in honor of my father and recalls a time when my experience was still fairly unmarked by life's passing. So I dedicate "Blackbirds" to our memories.


Like a canopy of darkness
they shadow the ground for miles
on currents that lift them
back to their roosts.

Years later I ask my father
if he gathered us
to watch thousands
swoop down on trees
sit wing to wing
until morning branches cracked
under their weight.

At daybreak did they leave the oaks

He says we never saw them abandon the hollow
catch a new wind to an unharvested south

but often would pile into the car to see their return
black streaks on the upward drift
of a September afternoon.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Hello Again

After almost a month of hiding, I'm back! Here's a recent poem featured in _iris_ online.


Tired of midnight screams in drafty rooms
she imagines a jaunt down lover’s lane
like a walk on the moors
to distract her dampened spirits

if she can make it on
through questions
more questions than any governess agency
dares to ask.

She wants to speak the truth
though truth often brings her trouble.
So this time she’ll slip
into white lies.

Plain? Not Very
Exciting? Somewhat

Lying is fun.
She can turn herself into a babe
by clicking keys.

Who cares if Rochester waits for her
the other side of a burning house.

She’s sick of gloom
of being the model for every wallflower
in every century.

Longs to be a hot young star
even Barbie would emulate.

To shine in cyberspace.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Love Poem by Emily Dickinson

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!
Futile the winds         5
To a heart in port,—
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.
Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!         10
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Like A Rolling Stone

Dylan's lyrics live on and on. Wish we poets could write with his clarity!

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you'd better lift your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Monday, September 26, 2005


Mama says headstones quiet the spirit
give it place in a fickle world.

I don’t believe her so she drags
me to the cemetery and sobs
for my soul over her papa’s grave.

She tends to the sick and teaches
Sunday school until the doctor
finds a lump. Mama turns her face
from him in tears. "Why me Lord?"

I bury her close to her parents
near mimosa, shading marble
embossed with her likeness.

Years later I visit Emerson’s tomb
granite larger than a kitchen table.
Even this transcendentalist
stakes a claim to a piece of earth.

Chella Courington, from _Southern Girl Gone Wrong_, Foothills Publishing

Saturday, September 17, 2005

CD Wright

born and raised in arkansas and now teaching at brown university, cd wright's poetry rings with clarity and honesty.


Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth
are small and even. I don't get headaches.
Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench
where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace.
If this were Tennessee and across that river, Arkansas,
I'd meet you in West Memphis tonight. We could
have a big time. Danger, shoulder soft.
Do not lie or lean on me. I'm still trying to find a job
for which a simple machine isn't better suited.
I've seen people die of money. Look at Admiral Benbow. I wish
like certain fishes, we came equipped with light organs.
Which reminds me of a little known fact:
if we were going the speed of light, this dome
would be shrinking while we were gaining weight.
Isn't the road crooked and steep.
In this humidity, I make repairs by night. I'm not one
among millions who saw Monroe's face
in the moon. I go blank looking at that face.
If I could afford it I'd live in hotels. I won awards
in spelling and the Australian crawl. Long long ago.
Grandmother married a man named Ivan. The men called him
Eve. Stranger, to tell the truth, in dog years I am up there

Linked at The American Academy of Poets

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Annie finds a dead hawk, drops it in her backpack
knows the spirit is near since the body’s still warm

raises her arms like a winged warrior
ready to migrate with the untethered

and takes off to her house where
she preserves the bird’s remains

as carefully as any shaman.
Washes him bone by bone

chants how the spirit hovers seven days
till the body is set for the next journey

douses the quills in alcohol
stores his down in a cedar box.

Chella Courington _Southern Girl Gone Wrong_, Foothills Publishing, 2004.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Remembering 9/11

in honor of the lives saved and lost, of those who gave of themselves tirelessly, of the heartache and courage we endure,
here's a poem by deborah garrison that first appeared in _the new yorker_, 22 oct., 2001:

I Saw You Walking

I saw you walking through Newark Penn Station
in your shoes of white ash. At the corner
of my nervous glance your dazed passage
first forced me away, tracing the crescent
berth you'd give a drunk, a lurcher, nuzzling
all corners with ill will and his stench, but
not this one, not today; one shirt arm's sheared
clean from the shoulder, the whole bare limb
wet with muscle and shining dimly pink,
the other full-sheathed in cotton, Brooks Bros.
type, the cuff yet buttoned at the wrist, a
parody of careful dress, preparedness --
so you had not rolled up your sleeves yet this
morning when your suit jacket (here are
the pants, dark gray, with subtle stripe, as worn
by men like you on ordinary days)
and briefcase (you've none, reverse commuter
come from the pit with nothing to carry
but your life) were torn from you, as your life
was not. Your face itself seemed to be walking,
leading your body north, though the age
of the face, blank and ashen, passing forth
and away from me, was unclear, the sandy
crown of hair powdered white like your feet, but
underneath not yet gray -- forty-seven?
forty-eight? The age of someone's father --
and I trembled for your luck, for your broad,
dusted back, half shirted, walking away;
I should have dropped to my knees to thank God
you were alive, o my God, in whom I don't believe.

--Deborah Garrison.  The New Yorker, 22 October 2001.  Reprinted in 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11,edited by Ulrich Baer. New York University Press. 2002.

Friday, September 09, 2005

love nola like one of my own

having grown up in the south and later taught in montgomery, al, for almost 15 years, i spent a lot of time in new orleans. i remember my first plane trip was from new orleans to birmingham, after taking the train to tulane for the weekend. when my dad turned eighty, my bro and i asked how he wanted to celebrate: take a train to new orleans and do some fine eating. every spring, i travelled there for the tennessee williams festival and stayed in apartments across from le petit theatre near jackson square. i ventured there for the jazz festival, seeing baez and osburne and the indigo girls in one concert. and i travelled there many other times for the joy of being surrounded by sounds and music and landscape and architecture and people i love. in honor of that beloved city, here's a langston huges poem:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

From _The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes_, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Linked at The Academy of American Poets.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

honoring gulf coast evacuees: a poem by lucille clifton

the mississippi river empties into the gulf

and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
none of them emptying anything,
all of them carrying yesterday
forever on their white tipped backs,
all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
it is the great circulation
of the earth's body, like the blood
of the gods, this river in which the past
is always flowing. every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

lucille clifton
linked from Modern American Poetry:

Friday, September 02, 2005

overwhelming sadness in new orleans

living on the west coast and seeing at a distance what has happened to our beloved new orleans is heartbreaking! our deserted brothers and sisters need our financial and physical help now. once lives are saved and people rescued, then we can look to the source of the problem.

in honor of those in louisiana, alabama and mississippi and other deserted peoples:

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

From _The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes_, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Linked from The Academy of American Poets:

Monday, August 29, 2005

after the retreat

the writers' retreat at ghost ranch was wonderful! many talented women writers in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. and the desert is so dramatic with reds and browns and soft sun in the evening. a week of poetic bliss before the semester started today.

but i love the classroom and all my students. in the fall i teach an intro to poetry class that's a treat, and i can tell from the student discussion today of how poetry differs from prose that this class is going to be great.

if i had a school poem i'd post it. i don't, though i have a poem that mentions school.


Judith drives a Peugeot
into my life of cheap jobs.

She tenders marriage of possibility
speaks of Greece and romance
the Caribbean and love

offers to share her house
built practicing the law.

Her proposal answers years
of my living on the edge.

I put on a wife’s smock.
Judith would not see it the way a man does
in his own reflection.

She is not a renegade
would not break our vow
to shelter and warm each other.

Judith thumbs through cases of alimony
buries herself in briefs
hands me a list of honey-dos
before turning in.

She ransacks my closet
throws out clothes she doesn’t like
screams at me when I mention school.
I forget to pick up her laundry
she storms out and slams the door.

Like a nightingale who sings in darkness
I write till I’m weary
of a partner who fucks me blue.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


This poem appears last in my chapbook,_Southern Girl Gone Wrong_, published by Foothills Publishing last November. (See link to the right.) I think the poem appropriate to post today since I'm in Albuquerque and will go to A Room of Her Own Women Writers Retreat in Toas, NM, at Ghost Ranch on Monday, August 22. (See AROHO link to the right.) Next week I may not blog regularly since access to computers is limited.


Between El Paso and Phoenix dust devils swirl
to Beethoven’s Fifth while sun burns my eyes.
Living in this forsaken land is unimaginable
until I see shadows fall on desert hills
beneath a stretch of sky. And I think of Georgia O’Keeffe

traipsing across New Mexico with easel and water colors dislodging
dark days of New York her lover old enough to be her father
posing her day after day in his studio

infatuations in black and white portraitures of impeccable restraint.

The year I’m born Stieglitz dies. She escapes to open plains
and cloud vistas where nothing presses
no camera traps no skyscraper blocks.
She expands into space

the whiteness of bone on red hills.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

"Mothers for Peace"

Cindy Sheehan inspires mothers for peace as well as many thousands of other peace lovers. If you're interested in reading more about last night's vigils nation-wide, hit the True Majority Link to the right.

Virginia Woolf says in "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid": "Unless we can think peace into existence we—not this one body in this one bed but millions of bodies yet to be born—will lie in the same darkness and hear the same death rattle overhead."

A pacifist mother-poet and dear friend, Barbra Minar, helps us "think peace into existence."

Mothers for Peace

Listen to me, People of the Council
planning war
if you nursed a crying baby
holding his head in your palm
singing songs your mother sang to you
if you held out your arms
to keep his first steps safe
and cried for him
when he broke his arm
if you laughed with him
at monkeys in the zoo
and ran beside his bike
while he learned to ride
if you showed him
hawks nesting in the oak
and taught him to deeply love his brother
if you watched him grow
until he was a man
praying daily for his safety
then People of the Council
you would offer this child
a cup of water
not a bowl of blood.

barbra minar
august 2005

Monday, August 15, 2005

"Making Peace"

To read Denise Levertov is to salve the soul. She speaks from a place of deep caring and spirituality. Her poems weave the sacred and everyday into a pattern for hope. While she never calls herself a feminist, her work insists on the place of politics in personal life, and hence in poetry.

Political poems are so difficult to write. The poet wants to balance position and poetry as Levertov does. Her work embodies the dictum of William Carlos Williams: “No ideas but in things."

Making Peace
Denise Levertov
A voice from the dark called out,
"The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war."
But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can't be imagined before it is made,
can't be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses. . . .
A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light--facets
of the forming crystal.

copyright 1987, from _Breathing the Waters_ and _What Could It Be_, Levertov
copyright 1982 from _Candles in Babylon_, Levertov
NY: New Directions

Friday, August 12, 2005

"voices in wartime"

i just read lisa williams' poignant essay at book coolie. her comment about war and septimus smith reminded me of what a friend's son said:

"mom, you need to get a passport because if i'm injured, they'll send me to germany."
he's a recent enlistment,and she's a horrified anti-war mom.

she and i, along with several others, saw the documentray "voices in wartime" last month.

it’s a wonderful film that grew from sam hamill’s site, "poets against war." the film focuses on poetic response to conflict, largely the response of soldiers serving in action, and is grounded in a very humane point of view.

here’s the website where you can read about it:


why don't we, the wealthiest nation on earth, guarantee health and pharmaceutic care to our residents?

why do we spend young lives on "weapons of mass destruction"?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

_Letters to Virginia Woolf_

Mid July I spoke of Lisa Williams' _Letters to Virginia Woolf_ as a lyrical memoir that faces the complexity of adolescence, divorce, death, war and childbirth with heartfelt intelligence, reminding us that struggle and loss often lead to an appreciation of life’s wonder. Here is an excerpt from Williams' book:

Dear Virginia Woolf,

The fertility waiting room was packed with women who chewed gum, crossed and uncrossed legs, their faces covered by the pages of magazines. In that waiting room there was always an eerie silence, interrupted only by a nurse calling out a woman’s name. It was a silence bordered by the voices of the receptionists answering a constantly ringing phone. As women pushed and pulled the big black front door open and shut, the silence seemed to close up tightly too. In other moments it was as if the silence ascended to the ceiling, hovering invisibly over the heads of women, sitting and waiting.

“I went under the sea. I have been dead, and yet am not alive, but let me rest still” (MD 104). The words of the shell-shocked soldier came suddenly to me, soothing the emptiness of the moment.

This Friday, August 12, Book Coolie will publish a short essay by Willaims on how Woolf has influenced her. Looking ahead to Williams' essay, today Book Coolie has an excerpt from Mulk Raj Anand's _Conversations in Bloomsbury_.

Here's the link:

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Night I’m Sharon Olds

Promising gin, revelers entice me
to the writers’ conference party.
People glance at my blank badge.
Giddy from martinis, I channel
letters that curl and rise through my fingers
like cigarette smoke.
Tag this self Sharon Olds.

A man with receding hair thanks me
for naming his poetry
honorable mention.
His words mount and fall
like gasps of an asthmatic.
I want to press my lips against his lips.
Breathe him into first place
and cover his body with laurel.

I list toward the featured playwright
buoyed by his circle of novices
who swoon to every syllable uttered.
He stares at my loopy famous name.
Winds his hand over my shoulder.
"Where are you now?"
I mutter In the crook of your arm
and offer him a taste of juniper.

The above poem first appeared in _The Tusculum Review_ last spring.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


i'm touched. someone enjoyed my poem and let me know. feel as if i should thank her. here's a poem written for an old friend. c


"Breathe into your belly.
Let your mind follow your breath,"
she whispers,
pressing the balls of her hands into my shoulders
my body flattening into the table.

She holds the weight steady,
urging me to surrender myself to the touch.

"Breathe into your belly.
Let your mind follow your breath."

I remember my first love.
She too believed in the power of hands,
small hands that cupped my heels
in a pool of lavender oil.

Like a priestess, she knew how to anoint me,
how to caress each toe until it squirmed,
until the foot tingled.

She modeled self-restraint,
tasted the joy of giving joy,
anchoring her fingers on the top of my foot
so her thumbs stroked my sole,
deep and steady.

I wanted a lover with long, slim fingers on a wide palm.
Instead, they were stubby, creased,
raw from working in flowers.

"Breathe into your belly.
Let your mind follow your breath."

But she changes under touch,
her fingers imagined tapers lighting my way.
They move firmly, deliberately,
over my ankle, my calf until her fingertips press my thigh.

Her hands hold me gently, lovingly,
as she bends down washing me.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

my niece and I

usually, i post a poem or muse about what i'm reading, but today i'll start by talking about my niece. almost thirteen, a laptop fanatic like me and quite cute. we're in LA, checking out the local scene like the walk of fame and melrose. she took many close-ups of stars from britney spears to john travolta. now, given her verbal dexterity and agility on the internet, she may become a poet yet. the daughter of my brother for whom i wrote the poem below.

My Brother’s Language

I trap honeybees in a jar.
My brother reaches into the air

and catches them in his hand
opens his fingers as if unfolding a flower.

I wait for them to fly away
or sting him.

When hundreds swarm
our screen door,

he curves his arms around the nest
and carries those bees to clover.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Return

Seagulls line up on shore
attend the breaking waves
until I approach.

They take flight
one by one
glide over white caps
and settle again
when I’m gone.

How I longed to be a gull
to travel beyond
my father’s reach

as he tossed shoes and brooms
with the same intent he threw a football.

I feared his hand
more than the belt.

Even now
when someone near me
gestures suddenly
I jump
afraid of his blow

aching to fly away
until the coast clears
for me to return.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Mama bird dive-bombs me
pecks my scalp and teases my hair
as though to carry it off for nesting.

I knock her away.
She nips my hand enough to draw blood
enough to move me inside.

If someone threatens my baby
I too draw blood.

Tattooed my drunk ex
with a kitchen knife
for hitting my boy
one too many times.

Something cracked in me.
I heard branches snap in an ice storm
as I shoved that blade into his shoulder
dragged it down his back.

His scream white noise
white like the calloused knuckles
that pummeled me and my boy.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Pond Heron

The dead don’t write.
But my cousin’s letter
comes three days after he’s blown away
by some kid in his own platoon.

Maybe another Georgia boy
who’s never been so far from home
and is scared out of his mind

so scared he shoots at anything
that moves in the shadows.

The letter feels thin
light for my cousin’s voice.
He describes water lilies

sheer petals that rise
from muddy fields and spread
before the sun.

He speaks of a Chinese pond heron
that hovers on hinged legs

at the water’s edge.
Never mentions the horror

screams from seared bodies
stench of napalm and burning flesh.

I weep
clutch the letter for what
it can not give.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Literary Relationships

“When Raylene came to me, I let her touch my shoulder, let my head tilt to lean against her, trusting her arm and her love. I was who I was going to be, someone like her, like Mama, a Boatwright woman. I wrapped my fingers in Raylene's and watched the night close in around us.” Dorothy Allison, _Bastard out of Carolina_.

Born and raised on the southern tip of the Appalachians in North Alabama, in a place called Sand Mountain, I come from a family of storytellers. Not a weekend night would go by that Daddy didn’t tell me stories after supper. Sometimes about his winning a Ford Pickup in a game of poker or skinning rattlesnakes in Florala. His voice charmed me, lifting me above tomato plants and pecan trees.

Miss Davis, my sixth-grade English teacher, told stories like I heard at home, but she also carried me new places through books--the garden of Kubla Khan and other kingdoms by the sea. When she read “Annabel Lee,” I hung on every word. She sent writers home with me: Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Bronte and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The romance began.

In high school I read James Dickey, Flannery O'Connor, Harper Lee and Tennessee Williams--all Southern writers grappling with what it means to live and love in a region slit by bigotry. Then I discovered Dorothy Allison, specifically _Bastard Out of Carolina_, and felt she wrote just for me.

The novel's narrator, a twelve-year-old girl called Bone, led me to a familiar world of abuse, poverty, racism and sexism where families were warm and turbulent, loving and violent. Allison's language was tough, sparse and sensual. It mixed the languid rhythms of the South with raw emotion and physical violence and portrayed a lush world of betrayal and redemption. _Bastard_ gave body and voice to Southern outcasts-lesbians, working class, and incest survivors.

Allison provided hope as she offered a way to understand my own experience of growing up in Appalachia. She taught me how to write honestly and with affection about people and places that rip us apart. She taught me that writing is an act of courage and survival.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What makes poetry work?

Two points struck me: writing in concrete images and asking “what if.” This question leads us on an imaginative journey: What if Hamlet was a quarterback? What if Blanche Du Bois was a checkout girl? What if Elvis isn't dead and lives in Montana? I love to play in speculation. But it should be grounded, giving us concrete images and tangible objects to hold on to. One of my favorite comments about the nature of poetry comes from Marianne Moore: “Poetry is an imaginary garden with real toads in it.”

Monday, July 18, 2005

Another Lyrical Memoir

Poet Eleni Sikelianos has written a wonderful memoir entitled _The Book of Jon_. She weaves letters, memories, poems, journal entries and speculations into a loving portrait of a father she also indicts. Jon is a talented musician who drops out of high school and, for much of his life, is a drug addict. After three years of homelessness in Albuquerque, he died in 2001 from an overdose. Within Skikelianos' work, he emerges as a brilliant, albeit tragic, visionary.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Lyrical Memoirs

dear reader, if you haven't read nick flynn's _another bullshit night in suck city_, run to your nearest lending library or bookstore and seize a copy. a wonderful, lyrical memoir about an uncoventional reunion between father and son. flynn was a caseworker in a homeless shelter in boston when he was reunited with his homeless father who came to the shelter. a lyrical meditation full of heartache and hope.

another recent memoir of note is _letters to virginia woolf_ by lisa williams. like flynn, williams is a poet whose language is lyrical. williams faces the complexity of adolescence, divorce, childbirth, death and war with heartfelt intelligence, reminding us that struggle and loss often lead to an appreciation of life’s wonder. like woolf who grappled with “the angel in the house” almost a century ago, williams continues to wrestle with the luminous presence of the past as she peels back “layers of selves we outgrow but never discard.” _letters to virginia woolf_ guides us through this world of contradiction and offers hope for the dangerous time in which we live.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Jesus Loves Me

I fantasize about making love to Jesus
the one with golden locks, blue eyes,
so different from farm boys I know.

Jesus meets me in the barn.
The hay smells new, feels soft,
not straw that tears my skin, reeks of urine.

I am his first and he is mine,
unclothing each other just enough
to taste the sweetness of fruit
ready to shed its skin.

I take his hands, kiss each palm
press my lips to scars above his heart.
He strokes my hair, my shoulders,
whispers something I can’t understand.

I have no urge to scream.
He won’t shove me to the ground
turn me over like a yard animal
spit on me when done.

He holds me close
You know I love you
leads me to the back stall
lays a blanket just for us.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Just As I Am

Just As I Am

Brother Chitwood calls me to the altar
lays his hands on me.

“Just as I am
without one plea.”

Leans down
hand on my shoulder
as his lips brush my ear

Do you know Jesus pretty girl?

I am flushed by his glory.
Tony Price made me feel like that once
but Mama said no boys till I turn fifteen.

So we go to church to be saved
sit on hard pews and wait
till Brother Chitwood calls us down.

Mama loves Brother Chitwood
he washes away her sins every Sunday
every Wednesday, sometimes even on Saturday.

“But that thy blood
was shed for me.”

One night after prayer meeting
when mama has choir practice
he calls me to his office.

Are you saved pretty girl?

He pulls up a chair next to his
just for me.

Let’s bow our heads and pray together.

I close my eyes.
His honey words are smooth
steady like his caress of my thigh.

Jesus show us the way home.

He prays long, plies his hands like an artisan
tapered fingers spark my flesh.

“And that Thou bidst me
come to Thee.”

My ears ring loud and louder.
My head throbs
loins tingle.

“O Lamb of God
I come I come.”

My spirit escapes that sinful body
and Brother Chitwood
in a trail of blood.

*The hymn, “Just As I Am,” was published by Charlotte Elliott in1835.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Anna claire

Anna Claire

I adore Anna Claire.
She has soft brown hair, deeply violet eyes.
I ask Jesus to make mine just like hers.

We seal a pact in blood--
best friends forever--
prick our index fingers,
press them so tight
the tips turn white.

September we bury photos
taken in a booth where we played hooky.
We grin, hug, kiss, and wave.

We share Saturday night basement parties.
Mostly girls dance with girls
but some boys, like Billy Frank, break in.

Anna Claire calls him a clod with two left feet.
When he walks away to put on Johnny Mathis,
she grabs my hand, drags me to the side.
"Chances Are" is our song.

He calls Anna Claire a downright bitch,
sometimes to her face, more often to mine.
He usually sounds full of himself
like the time he asks me to the drive-in,
says I better go or he’ll nab a real girl.
Anna Claire laughs,
"ugly jackass."

He’s okay, not a dreamy Troy Donahue
but other girls want him.
I don’t turn him down.
Anna Claire flies into me,
says not to do anything I don’t want to.
You’re just a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

She’s right.
I want to dance, sing, talk away the days with her.
At fourteen I desert Anna Claire,
move to another world
where real girls do exactly as they want.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Dumping the Alias

Dear Reader,

It's time to dump the alias and write under my own illustrious name--Chella. Don't really understand the pseudonym either. Rhoda's the name of my youngest and plumpest cat: she of silken plumpitude. Rhoda is also a character in Woolf's _The Waves_ as well as Mary's best friend on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show." There are lots of reasons to choose to be a Rhoda but I've decided to do a Toto and pull away the curtain. Here's another poem from my chapbook.

Ciao, Chella

My Turn to Watch Granddaddy’s Body

He’d sit in a cane rocker on his dirt yard
shirt cuffs flapping yell to mama
girl bring me some tea.

Lucky for him she adored her daddy
otherwise that old goat
would’ve died a lot sooner.

A mining doctor he bled the sick
for money they never had called them
stupid animals.

When they couldn’t pay he bartered
for crops coal corn liquor
loved devil’s brew more than himself.

I thought some angry miner might
kill him with a bad batch instead
he died in his sleep at ninety.

I didn’t like him alive don’t care
what happens to him now but in respect
to all the dead I’ll stay my time.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

blog slacker

so typical...almost a week, and i haven't blogged. i've walked and read and written in other venues but haven't blogged. the week in poetry has been productive. i'm involved in an online, two-month workshop with jimmy bacca! he's great--gives fine critiques and inspiring assignments. all i want to do is hang out and write poetry. think i'll post another selection from my chapbook, _southern girl gone wrong_. enjoy the weekend. ciao, rhoda

Summer at Thirteen

Anna Claire and I never like tall grass
afraid we’ll step on a cottonmouth.
But water the color of indigo
waits for us the other side of danger.

We shed jeans, shirts, underwear,
mark our place at the edge,
hold hands like Ruth and Naomi,
wade into the deep.

With each step, water moves higher,
chills our new breasts.
I throw my arms around Anna Claire,
press against her for warmth.

She pushes away,
plunges deep beyond,
surfaces, arches,
plunges again,
swims under me,
cradles my back in her palms,
lifts me to the air
so I float on her fingertips.

Her hands move gently
touching my shoulder and thigh,
quickening my flesh.
I feel different, immortal.

She kisses my lips quickly,
uncloses my eyes with her tongue.

We don’t say a word
before we reach the point of mooring
before we venture back through tall grass.

copyright cc

Thursday, June 23, 2005

salvation on sand mountain

finished. covington's book traces the writer's journey though an infatuation with the snake handlers to a new awareness of who he is. descriptions of the handlers are disturbing, while covington's language often captues the ecstasy of religion.
also read a short story entitled "snake handler" by catherine ryan hyde. quite charming! don't want to give away story. ah,
i'll post a poem from my chapbook, _southern girl gone wrong_. enjoy! respectfully, rhoda

The Picnic

When the heat hits 90,
Mama calls for a picnic
and heads for Double Bridges.

We pitch a quilt.

She kicks off her sandals.
A ballerina in flight,
she talks of infinite beaux.

They called her a knockout,
prettiest girl in Nashville.

"So little four eyes, know
why I’m stuck with your dad?"

The ending never changes.
She got knocked up.
I’m proof.

I wish the water would flood,
suck her back into ooze,
make her scream for me.

Then I’d toss her sandals
off the bridge and watch them
float downriver.

copyright cc

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Snake Handlers in Alabama

reading _salvation on sand mountain_ by dennis covington (reading, mass: addison-wesley publishing, 1995). creative nonfiction. a sympathertic rendering of snake-handling congregants of "the church of jesus with signs following" and how the preacher was convicted of trying to murder his wife with snake bites. covington treats these handlers with respect and awe as their faith tells them to "take up serpents and drink deadly poisons." the church is located in scottsboro, al, site of the sensational trial of the scottsboro boys, charged with raping two white women. (the verdict was later overturned by the Supreme Court.)

Covington writes: "By the late summer I was feeling comfortable among the handlers. In fact, I was getting restless in my home church in Birmingham, where I'd occasionally want to put my hands up in the air. I didn't. But sometimes I'd tap my feet during the choir's anthem or mumble an amen or two. And I was pretty much obsessed with snake handling, though I had not, in fact, handled one myself" (81).

respectfully, rhoda

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Another Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

this place originally was a nineteenth-century spiritualist community set in the hills next to the pacific ocean. now a funky beach town with bougainvillea and morning glories, lemon trees, and breezy days. never gets hot except when desert winds blow on occasion. mornings smell of eucalyptus and evergreens, and evenings of the neighbor's barbeque. cats, rhoda and t wilson, thrive in the ocean air from behind porch screens. cayotes too hungry and near for the feline kids to rove. impishly, i once told my niece her grandmother's spirit returned in my white cat. over time i've wondered how much truth was in that comment. wise zen mistress says: breathe in the moment. respectfully, rhoda

Monday, June 20, 2005

creating a blog for the second time

i realize that blogging is self publishing. as a poet, any poems i publish here will have been published previously. so, today, i think i'll include "natalie," the favorite of she who would be listened to--my friendly blogger. rhoda


While Natalie Wood twirls in the Tennessee night
suspended above trucks
Billy pushes me down on the seat
fumbles with my bra.

He’s heavy and clumsy
wants me for his steady girl
leaves a hickey on my breast.

I know how to hide traces of sex
with powder and perfume
how to please penis and mama
at the same time

go through a string of Billies
settle out of state
for one of them.

Years later Natalie falls off a boat.

I dream I’m treading water when
she reaches for help.
Afraid of going under
I watch her drown.

copyright cc