Live Bait, Coke, and Date Pinwheel Cookies

These are date pinwheel cookies. I loved these as a child. Passionately loved them, for 3 key reasons:

1. Look how pretty!


2. Delicious!


3. My mom would make up several rolls at a time and keep them in the second refrigerator on the backporch. The one where we stored all the coke (such as coca cola or a Dr. Pepper coke or an orange coke or a grape coke) and a drawer of earthworms for live bait. Once she had cut a few slices off to bake, I could sneak in and take little slivers without being scolded or shamed for loving them while being “husky.” Because of course it must have been my stubbornness that led me to sneak food and not the fact that I was being pushed to diet WHILE living on massive doses of steroids for my asthma.

But the cookies are really good. You should try some, and that means making them yourself, cause the dry crumbly version some diners sell are nothing like the soft fresh originals!

Date Pinwheel Cookies

To make the filling, combine and cook over low heat for 10 minutes:
2 1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
2 cups white sugar (white sugar, white flour, white people. It’s where I grew up.)
1 cup water

Then add 1 cup chopped nuts (we always had hickory nuts, but those are damn hard to find in markets. Try pecans, I guess). Let this mixture cool to room temp.

To make the dough, cream together:
1 cup shortening (lard is best, crisco will do)
2 cups brown sugar

Beat in:
3 eggs
4 cups white flour
dash of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

Chill the dough for a couple of hours. Then divide it into 2 even parts. Roll each section out as a rectangle. This will involve adding plenty of extra white flour under the dough, cause it begins to get sticky as soon as it warms up. Thin, but not too thin, maybe a 1/2 or a bit less. Spread cooled filling across the rectangle, then roll it up, beginning with the long side.

Pat into shape. Wrap in waxed paper and place on a cookie sheet. When both rolls are done, place them in the fridge and chill. They can stay in the fridge for up to a week, so you can slice off only as many cookies as you want at a time and serve them warm.

Cook at 375 (or maybe less, our old oven didn’t always heat consistently) for 10-12 minutes.

Or just slice some and eat them raw. The shortening/sugar combo feels so good in the mouth, substantial and a little crunchy and all that fat soothing any rough edges of your cells.

These little crunchy perfections are NOT real date pinwheel cookies.

These ARE real date pinwheel cookies


to take responsibility for a state of affairs

from lesbian-feminist philosopher Joyce Trebilcot’schapbook 1983 chapbook “Taking Responsibility for Sexuality”

Notice first that to take responsibility for a state of affairs is not to claim responsibility for having caused it. So, for example, if I take responsibility for cleaning up the kitchen I am not thereby admitting to any role in creating the mess; the state of the kitchen may be the consequence of actions quite independent of me.

Similarly, in taking responsibility for her sexuality, a woman is not thereby claiming responsibility for what her sexuality has been, but only for what it is now and in the future.


Joyce Trebilcot

The world is ma…


The world is magnificent, because we will make it that way with our brilliance.

Carol Burbank

from my beloved friend, who, when she receives despairing phone calls, listens and then responds with quotes like this utterly unselfconsciously. And when you hear her voice say it, you know it must be true. Or at least one possible truth.

The most diffi…


The most difficult of all things, the only difficult thing perhaps, is to enfranchise oneself and – even harder – to live in freedom.

Anyone who is in the least free is the enemy of the mob, to be systematically persecuted, tracked down wherever she takes refuge.

I am becoming more and more irritated against this life and the people who refuse to allow any exception to exist and who accept their own slavery and try to impose it on others.

Isabelle Eberhardt, 1902

Isabelle Eberhardt (17 February 1877 – 21 October 1904) was an explorer and writer who lived and travelled extensively in North Africa. For her time she was a liberated individual who rejected conventional European morality in favour of her own path and that of Islam. She died in a flash flood in the desert at the age of 27.

Revisiting Classic Poems and Rediscovering How Good They Are – 13 Blackbirds

yes, I read it in college, and was told how good it was, but at that age and level of experience I wasn’t remotely ready to love this poem. Now, though–just taste these lines:

– The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds
– With barbaric glass
– An indecipherable cause
– lucid, inescapable rhythms
– Even the bawds of euphony

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens


Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.


I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.


A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.


I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.


Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?


I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.


At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.


He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.


The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

On loathing “The Giving Tree”: a literary historical footnote

from an interview with editor Phyllis J. Fogelman with Leonard S. Marcus, published in Horn Book in March/April 1999

LSM: One of the books you worked on at Harper was Shel Siverstein’s The Giving Tree (1964). Tell me about that experience.

PJF: Shel had originally submitted drawings for the book in the “scratchy” style of his very popular Playboy cartoons. When I suggested that he might want to redo the art, he said very firmly, “No. That’s how I see the book and that’s how it should stay.” Then, about a month later, he called me up and said, “Phyl, I have a question to ask you. If someone sees something one way originally and then later on sees it quite differently, do you think that that person should stick with the original version or do it the way he’s thinking of now?” Naturally I said, “The way he’s thinking of it now. That brings it right up to date!” And so he redid the artwork in the more pared-down and much sweeter style that everyone now knows, and it was just right for the book.

I must add that ever since then I have had qualms about my part in the publication of The Giving Tree, which conveys a message with which I don’t agree. I think it is basically a book about a sadomasochistic relationship and that it elevates masochism to the level of a good. Of course, millions of readers have apparently felt otherwise.

Found poem: CHARLESTON, W.Va. 1/20/2014

Found Poem: CHARLESTON, W.Va. 1/20/2014
from an article in the Charleston Gazette

“It’s your decision:” the water is safe as long as it

“If you do not feel comfortable

lack of much data
hard to be sure

Tomblin said he did not know

Tomblin said, “I’m not aware that we did.”

The exception: an advisory flushing
guidance pregnant women drink

A prepared statement: this was the first time that West Virginia American
      had heard about the recommendation
A prepared statement: recommendation would not have changed the company

Tomblin said he did not know

Recommendation: “be under the health protective threshold for an indefinite amount of time”

officials have provided few details
whether only or also

10 parts per billion vs.
1 part per billion

Advisory warning pregnant women to drink

The governor said, “I’m not a scientist”

Tomblin said his administration would be looking at all possible
responses, including possibly

Tomblin said, “It’s a very complex issue. I’m not a scientist.”

“All of this stuff is coming out,” Tomblin said.

Tomblin said, “Right now there are recommendations.”

Tomblin blaming the flu or anxiety

Professor: “I also believe several statements are confusing the concept.”

Are there known risks associated with this chemical mixing with household cleaners?
There are no known risks

Tomblin said he did not know

Tomblin said, “I’m not aware”

Tomblin said, “I’m not a scientist”

Traumatic Emplacement

A great post by Emily Johnston, Sr. Editorial Assistant at Spoon River Poetry Review, on how she’s teaching students studying gender violence to move beyond reading the stats to understanding how the violence and resistance to it lives in our bodies. She’s using an anthology with some of my work in it, Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. Really great ideas for teaching about trauma!

Traumatic Emplacement: Poetry Emplaces Violence

The Art of Craft Series Spring 2014

The Art of Craft Spring 2014: A series of craft talks and workshops

The Art of Craft:
A series of craft talks and workshops for poets, poetry fans, and writing teachers
Mentor: Elliott batTzedek, MFA
Location: Big Blue Marble Bookstore

Dates and Topics:
Thursday Jan. 30th 7-9 pm Thinking Like a Poet I
Thursday Feb. 6th 7-9 pm Thinking Like a Poet II
Thursday Feb. 13th 7-9 pm A Density of Sound
Thursday Feb. 20th 7-9 pm Spines and Joints
Thursday Feb. 27th 7-9 pm Forms are a Poet’s Best Friend
Thursday March 6th 7-9 pm Measuring Meter
Thursday March 13th 7-9 pm Walking the Line
Thursday March 20th 7-9 pm Case Study: The Persona Poem

Welcome to the Art of Craft, an ongoing series of craft lessons and workshops by Big Blue Marble Writer-in-Residence Elliott batTzedek. Each week we’ll take on a different element of the poet’s craft through learning, discussion, and hands-on work with poems by many of the best contemporary poets.

The Art of Craft is for poets, for poetry fans who want to learn more about the art, and for writing teachers who want to bring new tools to their students. An ongoing writers’ workshop will also be available for poets who want to apply these elements to expand and deepen their own work. More information about each topic is below.

Cost: The craft sessions are $40 each, $75 for any two, $130 for any four, or $250 for the series of eight. Philadelphia public-school teachers (or staff who work with kids) may enroll for $15 each or $120 for the whole series. Discounts are also available if you bring a friend; please email me for more information.

Pre-registration and a deposit are required. Please email Elliott at or register online at: Art of Craft Series Registration The fee includes all handouts and materials.

A writers’ workshop is also available, meeting weekly for 8 sessions from January through March of 2014. The cost is $200 for one poet or $300 for 2 (that is, bring a friend and you each save $50!). Workshops will include reviews of craft elements, writing exercises, and discussions of our poems. Register online at: Art of Craft Writers’ Workshop

About the Topics:

Thinking Like a Poet I—Rather than asking, What does a poem mean? this series asks How does a poem mean?, a question we’ll answer through studying aspects of the poet’s craft. In the first section we’ll be exploring:
Formal/Big Strategies
Music and Clatter
Words, Diction, un-Microwaveable Language

Thinking Like a Poet II—We continue exploring how poems work, focusing on:
Time and Space

A Density of Sound—How does the poem sing? What is the chatter, the clatter, the smooth move, the structure, the improv? How do poets use sound to structure the poem and to convey its emotion, context, meaning, and urgency?

Spines and Joints—What is the central axis of your poem? Where does it bend, rotate, flex? How and when do other voices/views come into the poem?

Forms are a Poet’s Best Friend—While free-verse has been the dominant form of U.S. poetry in English since the mid-20th century, poetic forms have never disappeared as useful poetic tools. Poets use, stretch, modify and bend forms, and even the most free of verses can be built on the echo of very traditional forms.

Measuring Meter—The inherent meters of English live in everything we write. We’ll study how meter control the pace and meaning of poems, and how to use meter as a tool for revising.

Walking the Line—Never again worry about where to put in line breaks—because lines don’t break. Lines end, when their work in the poem is complete. Break the myth of the break, and free your lines to be the great engines of your writing.

Case Study: The Personal Poem—Persona poems, or poems that speak in a first person voice that is clearly not the voice of the poet, have been adapted to many interesting uses in the past decades. We’ll look at some of the most original and most startling voices, while considering structural issues such as how poets enter and leave the persona poem.