another attempt at making a list poem come to life

I’ve been working on various incarnations of this list poem for three years. The idea was good, but it’s been flat and flat and too long and even more too long. Then today, catching up on the activities of the amazing Israeli group Zochrot/Remembering I found a question that made me try again to breathe life as a poem into the spark of “something must be said.”

How Do We Say Nakba in Hebrew?
title of a Zochrot study guide

what we then said:

Israelite invaders
Assyrian invaders
Babylonian invaders
Persian invaders
Greek invaders
Roman invaders
Arab invaders
Christian invaders
Ottoman invaders
British invaders
Jewish invaders


what we now say:

what we must say:
Israeli Jew
Jewish Palestinian
Christian Arab
Israeli Christian
Palestinian Christian
Israeli Druze
Israeli Muslim
Palestinian Israeli
Palestinian Arab
Israeli Arab
Israeli Palestinian
Arab Druze
Palestinian Muslim
Jewish Arab
Muslim Arab
Arab Jew
Israeli Palestinian
Palestinian Jew

what we will say:
an olive tree
a lemon tree
from the river to the sea


Poetry Wednesday – a new form!

From a writer I met at dinner on Monday night, a form I’ve never seen. She calls it a “haiku chase”—a series of interlocked haiku, with the third line one becoming the first line of the next and the last line of the very last one repeating the very first first line. It’s like a very focused combination of a pantoum and triolet. (On the video I describe it as “like a villanelle.” It was late, it had been a rough night, and who doesn’t confuse one structured form with another from time to time?).

So, for your enjoyment, “Haiku Chase V—Hope” by Maria Barnet:

Me and Martha

I began the Martha Courtot section of This Frenzy accidentally—there was a poem of hers that I loved, “Lesbian Bears,” and hadn’t been able to find for years and years. When her family and friends issued her collected poems after her death I finally had the poem again so posted it. There was nothing about Martha on the web, so other people looking for her began to find me, including Martha’s sister and her daughters.

Then other women who had Martha poems that were precious to them began to contact me, with stories such as “We used a poem by Martha at our commitment ceremony 25 years ago and I can’t find it now—could you find it and post it?” And so a Martha Courtot online community began to form here.

More on that in a bit—but first this amazingness:

I’ve been buying copies of Judy Grahn’s The Work of the Common Woman for years now. Until last year her poems had been out of print and unavailable, so I regularly scoured used book sites and ordered copies, most of which I’ve given away. The last copy I bought this way sat on my shelf for a year or so before I opened it one day. There. at the top of the title page, was written “Courtot.” Could it really be a copy Martha had owned? It seemed unlikely, so I dreamed about it but set it aside. Then I “met” Martha’s daughter Thea via the blog, so I scanned in the page and sent it to her.

Then I waited. Only a few days, really (much less time than the 7 months or so that passed between my idea and my walking the book to the second floor of my own house to scan it in!). But now I was Actively Waiting. As in Judy Grahn’s advice “Love comes to those who wait actively / with their windows open.”

Yesterday I heard back from Thea. “Yes,” she said, “that seems to be my mom’s signature, and she signed EVERY book.”

Wow. Just wow. I have Martha Courtot’s Judy Grahn.

Now, back to the collecting Martha’s work. Julie Enszer, over at Lesbian Poetry Archive has asked me to work on a page about Martha and her work. Martha’s daughter is sending copies of her poetry chapbooks which Julie will scan to make beautiful online editions. I’ll work on an introduction talking about what Martha’s work meant when she was writing and why her words still matter to women, to lesbians, and also to the broader world of American poetry.

I’m not sure yet what exactly I’ll write for that, but I definitely want other “Martha and Me” stories – how have these poems affected you, how have they lived along with you?

I’ll see where that goes, and post more as I get into the work.

Signature on title page

Announcing – Poetry Wednesdays!

Because I love my friend Michelle’s feature “Poetry Mondays,” in which she reads aloud a poem she loves, I’m announcing Poetry Wednesdays, starting with this piece by Mary Oliver.

Enjoy! And if you should be moved to start a Poetry Tuesday (or Folksong Tuesday or Great Choral piece Tuesday), let me know and I’ll post your videos too!

Novels vs. Poems

more from Sarah Maquire’s essay “‘Singing About the Dark Times’: Poetry and Conflict”, this time on the difference between the novel and poetry:

But it is only in the past three hundred years, initially in Europe and then later in its colonies, that prose, specifically in the form of the novel, has taken over from poetry as the dominant language-based art form – though we should bear in mind that, for most of the habitable world, poetry continues to retain its primary status.

The ‘rise of the novel’, as the literary critic, Ian Watt, called his ground-breaking book of that name, is congruent with the rise of capitalism, with the development of individualism, personal life, privacy, the Protestant notion of conscience – all the things that we now think make us who we are. It is the novel’s job to articulate and instruct us in those values. It is through novels that we learn how to be ourselves, how to find our place in the infinite complexities of the world around us.

One of the reasons, I think, that poetry provokes such anxiety in contemporary western society is that it resists fulfilling that role of instruction upon which the edifice of the novel rests. As Plato recognised, real poetry unsettles us, it stirs our emotions. Adrienne Rich once called poetry ‘a wick of desire’: ‘It reminds you’ she said, ‘where and when and how you are living and might live'[34]. And in all this, it is something about the form of poetry that is so provocative.

“that shock of recognition” – more on poetry as liturgy

Saturday was the 5th anniversary of Fringes, the feminist havurah I co-lead. We use contemporary poetry as the words we pray, which works so beautifully. I’ve learned a lot about how to choose poems that work as liturgy, such as using poems with more direct syntax, or ones that more visual imagery and less literary references.

Last week, as I was creating the liturgy for our service, I read an amazing essay by Sarah Maguire, mainly about translating, called “‘Singing About the Dark Times’: Poetry and Conflict.” In addition to the astounding (and true) observation that “translating poetry is the opposite of war,” she had some clearly described insights into how poetry works in general, which helped me understand more about how and why poetry functions as liturgy for my group. Two sections on this, from the end of her essay:

A poem needs to be taken up and examined very carefully, many times, from a variety of perspectives. Its foregrounding of its music, its strange, self-conscious devices — like rhyme, rhythm and complex verse forms – draw attention to itself, separate it from quotidian language. As Plato said, reduce a poem to plain prose and it’s gone. Paraphrase its metaphors, sum up its ‘content’, and the magic vanishes as swiftly as a magician whose hat is missing its rabbit. Metaphor – which, as you know, in Greek means ‘to transfer, to carry, to bear’ – is the defining methodology of poetry. Using metaphor, the poet can bring together elements which, in ordinary life, are kept apart, juxtaposing incidents and details from radically different discourses and facets of life, ignoring the logic of metonymical progression, of one damned thing after another, which is the logic of separation.

The key to powerful lyric poetry, of course, is its intimacy: the way it allows us to apprehend and experience the most elusive, the most ephemeral of subjective experiences. That shock of recognition when something we know about, intimately, but have never been able to name, suddenly appears before us in charged and potent language. A good poem draws us back, again and again, in an attempt to tease out its power, to discover how something made only of words can exist, simultaneously, on so many planes at once. Can make connections between things hitherto we thought had lived in disparate realms.

Translating from a Language You Don’t Know

A wonderful interview with sister-poet Rebecca Howell about her translation “Hagar Before the Occupation / Hagar After the Occupation”, by Amal al-Jubouri, posted originally at Arabic Literature (In English):
Translating From a Language You Don’t Know