Big Poetry Giveaway 2014!

big poetry giveaway 2014

This year I’m joining the Big Poetry Giveaway organized by Kelli Russell Agodon over at Book of Kells Poetry Giveaway 2014. What a marvelous idea she had five years ago to spread the poetry love around! I’m giving away 3 books. To enter to win, post a comment saying which book/books you’d love to receive, and at the end of National Poetry Month I’ll choose a winner for each book by some manner of random drawing.

My 3 books, beloved for different reasons, are:


A Wreath for Emmett Till, an astounding cycle of poems by Marilyn Nelson. In a royal crown of sonnets, she reflects on the life and death of Emmett Till, the difficulty of finding language for this kind of grief, and the on going nature of violence and remembrance. Because this was released as a Young Adult book, waaaaaaayyy too many poets I love don’t know the work.


Legs Tipped with Small Claws, a 2012 chapbook from Joan Larkin in which insects and jazz and brittle sharp writing combine to be a huge delight in a small book. Joan gave me an autographed copy, so I’m passing on one I bought.

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Another amazing little book that few folks seem to know, a 1954 book Langston Hughes wrote for children about the nature of rhythm in the world. I've found it so invaluable that I buy used copies whenever I come across them. To you, Dear Poetry Lover, I'm willing to pass along one of these!

Again, to enter, post a comment saying which book/books you'd like to be in the running for. Easy!

Amazon in the land of oranges—Joan Larkin

Some Unsaid Things
Joan Larkin, Amazon Poetry, 1975

I was not going to say
how you lay with me

nor where your hands went
& left their light impressions

nor whose face was white
as a splash of moonlight

nor who spilled the wine
nor whose blood stained the sheet

nor which one of us wept
to set the dark bed rocking

nor what you took me for
nor what I took you for

nor how your fingertips
in me were roots

light roots torn leaves put down—
nor what you tore from me

nor what confusion came
of our twin names

nor will I say whose body
opened, sucked, whispered

like the ocean, unbalancing
what had seemed a safe position

Amazon Poetry in a land of oranges

I’ve been re-reading the anthology Amazon Poetry, edited by Joan Larkin and Elly Bulkin and published in 1975 by Out and Out Books. It is the first-ever openly lesbian poetry collection. Wow. First ever. For everyone who’s come out post-Ellen, stop to consider this—a time when there was no such thing as a collection of writing by out lesbian poets.

Reading it again, at the end of my third MFA semester when Joan Larkin has been my mentor, is fascinating. When I first found it, probably sometime in the mid-1980’s and probably on Mari’s bookshelf, I didn’t fully get what it meant for these women to be willing to be published in a lesbian anthology, because the writers I knew I already knew as lesbian writers. But for established poets, already grasping legitimacy by muscled fingers in a world where poetry journals had unofficial but strict quotas for how many women they’d publish, this was huge. One of the poets who agreed to be in this anthology, May Swenson, declined to be in Larkin and Bulkin’s next book, Lesbian Poetry, because the title seemed to confine these writers to a label. Which is a complicated issue, of course. What makes a poet a “lesbian poet”? What makes a poem a “lesbian poem”?

The answers to those were easy when I was just coming out. Lesbian poets were poets who lived, wrote, published, breathed, and slept in The Lesbian Community. Lesbian poems were poems about those experiences. Simple, right? So those are the poems I remember from Amazon Poetry, probably skipping the ones that didn’t seem to be “about lesbians.” Ah, youth. Or maybe just arrogance of a kind. Or maybe I was just so hungry for talk about lesbians that I wasn’t then ready to hear talk by lesbians.

Coming back to the book, I’m reading it for the damn fine poetry that it contains—which was exactly the point of the editors to start with. Not to make a ghetto for identity, but to show the range and depth of lesbian experience as captured by a few lesbian writers. In the 80’s, I read as lesbian who also wrote some poetry. Now I’m reading as a lesbian poet. Or maybe a poet lesbian. Definitely reading as a poet. Who is definitely a lesbian. How those identity boundaries are more porous all the time.

I’m going to be posting some of the poems from the anthology that are now my favorites, on this nearly 25th anniversary return to roots built before I came out (I was 11 in 1975, fyi). But let’s start with this one, which I loved then, was delighted to rediscover, and still love, from Elsa Gidlow, born in 1893 and happy, in 1975, to be an out 82 year old lesbian writer:

You say I am mysterious.
Let me explain myself:
In a land of oranges
I am faithful to apples

Ars Poetica, Drew, 2nd Residency

Ira Sadoff on Dickinson—the powers of complex metaphors connected by association, the wilderness of her imagination

Anne Marie Macari speaking about Theodore Roethke—when I feel a poem in my mouth, in my body, I am rich in physicality

Jean Valentine quoting Berryman’s advice to a young poet—“If you have to be sure, don’t write.”

Ira Sadoff in a lecture on structure:
-Poetry is associative, the place where improvisation and form intercept.
-Poetry has everything that makes for a good crash and burn love affair.
-Consciousness engenders passion and a penchant for justice.
-Imagine if we could make every moment matter, if we refined and honed the art of paying attention
-An embodied consciousness is the religion of poetry
-poems should always move toward intensification
-the key to revision is to ask of the poem “what’s the obsession? what’s the inquiry?”

Gerald Stern describing Alicia Ostriker—she shows her loyalty by not forgetting and by insisting, which are the same thing

Anne Marie Macari
-When we get to our real poems—after a long apprenticeship—the poems only we can write write us
-We are what we write, we are our language
-metaphor is not just a poetic device, it is the ultimate pattern of thought, the source of all new insight
-Never to get lost is never to live. To be always sure of where you are is very dangerous for a poet
-I’m not interested in transcendence
-We are being distracted by distraction from distraction
-We must live as if language were matter and mattered

James Haba:
-Poetry has become something to read or hear, but before print, poetry was something you could be. Imagine poetry before irony, which has contaminated our understanding, replacing feeling with gloss and substance with reflectivity. Poetry was shared, communal, never alone or solitary.
-the effect poetry is to shatter your fundamental assumptions
-of the final line of “Prufrock” –drowning is terrifying, but then everything is terrifying

Richard Hugo – you’ve written every poem you’ve loved

Gerald Stern of Jean Valentine’s poetry—in her work, I and thou are in a lifelong conversation

Peter Cole—aesthetics is to art what ornithology is to birds

from my notes from Joan Larkin—a poem’s meaning is the combine harvesting 10,000 hours of labor (did she say that, or did I invent it in response to something she said?)

Joan Larkin on Hopkins—there is a kind of joy in the recognition that we are not alone in our despair, in the glory of the music. Anyone who can count syllables, make rhymes, is no longer in the grip of despair

Dmitri Shostakovich—Art destroys silence

Lynn Emanuel:
-A book of poems is not a plate of hors d’oeuvres
-we must avoid the fetish of the perfect poem
-when we are reading a book of poems, what makes us turn the page?

on bees

I keep finding wonderful poems about bees and honey, or snippets of poem, or little pieces of text or lyric or thought. Why is it that poets like to write about bees? The sweet and the sting? The hive mind? The thrushing, droning hum of their buzzing?

Here’s the first of many posts to come. If you have favorite bee bits, please share!

from “Song” by Joan Larkin in My Body: New and Selected Poems:

You crashing the keys with
huge paws, pulling wild honey
from a broken hive.
Roaring your song at me
so you don’t have to sing alone.