Friday, March 31, 2006


Today I drove with my kids a total of 3 hours to spend the day at the zoo in Asheboro. Usually, I leave zoos feeling rather sorry for the animals, but these guys seemed pretty happy (although still not free). The habitats at this zoo are spacious and simulate their natural homes. Notice the word "simulate." At the Patas Monkey Island exhibit, when the monkeys ran you could hear that the rocks were really made of metal. The elephant exhibit is being enlarged and is already an impressively huge African plain area. The only problem with all this spaciousness was the amount of walking involved - picture me huffing a double stroller uphill. My son's favorite animals were probably the gorillas who were so close - one napping the other playing peek-a-boo with a blanket. My daughter enjoyed the red wolf and kept saying, "She's so beautiful." I loved the elephants.

Red Elephants

I've never seen captive elephants like that:
running, rolling, making actual elephant noises
over the great, green plain below the viewing balcony
unaware of the viewers and yellow machines
reshaping their habitat in some way
with gashes of red dirt the three elephants wallow in
until dusted the color of unearthed land.

Thursday, March 30, 2006



Maybe it's because I am a woman, but I've noticed that most poetry manifestos are written and bandied about by men. Maybe it's because I am a mom, but manifestos seem akin to my three-year-old's rants, and my six-year-olds nonsensical arguments behind why she will not eat what is on her plate. Maybe it is because I have a life, but manifestos seem to be a waste of time.

So here I am, writing a non-manifesto. This could also be seen as a waste of time. But my children are watching TV, the laundry is going, I'm on Spring Break from teaching, and the coffee is still hot (ok, so I don't really have much of a life). But I feel compelled to follow through on a thought: this bothersome idea that something detrimental is being done to poetry today when lines are drawn and schools (I picture little plastic armies) are formed.

I have much more to learn about poetry. While I do, isn't it okay to enjoy the architectural non-commitment of LangPo, then follow up with some Quietude? Remember, I'm a mom, quiet is far from a bad word. Can't I experience a poem just for its sounds and images, and then turn to a narrative poem for a good story with closure?

I realize that it is important to understand the poets and even schools that came before, so you can explore those influences and find your place within (or without). But why limit yourself to one school, one type of poetry? Why draw boundaries with little plastic army men?

Coffee's cold now, gotta go.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I haven't written much mommy-related poetry lately. But I've found that part of being a good mom, or at least a sane one, is taking the time to do your own thing, like attending the poetry reading last week at Meredith College. Ted Kooser, US poet laureate, and Kay Byer, NC poet laureate were worth the trip to Raleigh. The readings were great, but I was also interested in the poetry "scene." The politics. I realized that I may get an MFA and hope to publish more, but the scene is a bit yucky and sad.

The readings themselves were amazing. And if you think about the concept, really think about it, how cool is it that people packed a chapel to hear two people's words? Byer's poems are totally diffferent in the air than on the page, and Kooser is a true storyteller. I learned just from paying attention to pacing, line breaks, humor, presence. Here's a poem I wrote right after:

Delights in the Shadow

J.B. Rowell

Old poet crosses one leg in front
of the other, leans on podium, lets
his voice pebble the stage:
echo around audience.

He explains: his poetry is observation
of single moments expanded and ladened
with metaphor. He takes himself out
of the picture, unless, of course,
when writing about his own love
of women's love, his lapping of
feeblest of fame.

Eyes behind glasses focus far away
on well-worn yarn from one
appearance to the next, across land
in chapels like this, auditoriums, homes.
This is what he's paid for:
this stretching of the wool,
slight variations of texture
and color of his tweed coat.

No applause, each closure of
commonplace epiphany
followed by a collective moan
of surprise and quiet satisfaction.
He's got us. We shuffle before
next entrancement.

Afterward, someone will probably ask:
how he started writing poetry,
how he gets his ideas, how he knows
when a poem is done.
So he's ready with humor:
small, skinny kid tries to get the girls,
and sagacity: ideas are in attention
and the inevitable: a poem is never
complete, it's abandoned.

He removes glasses, wipes slowly
with a cloth, or maybe
that was in his poem. Either way,
it was for the effect of slowing
down time, tightening frame:
and it worked.

Check out Poetry Hut today to find out why Kooser recently said, "I was never much of a student, and now I'm a doctor."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Ways to Catch Light
J.B. Rowell

in long curls of translucent
green piping that crash
again and again
into quivering foam

netted in scalloped edges
before receding under
dappled surface
stretched over depth

silk gown liquefaction
movement and blinding
glare through sliding glass
door in early morning

when leaded hotel curtains
are pulled aside with wands

Monday, March 27, 2006


I'd Have So Much To Ask
J.B. Rowell

for Mabel Gertrude Sherlock

Great Aunt Mabel's
martini shaker
shaken to celebrate
making it through week
that beats hell out of
and into
silver shaker
with pedestal stand,
handle, and screw
top spout

I wish I could join her
for one now
in her condo with frothy
green decorating,
wigs on styrofoam
heads, jars of homemade
chocolate syrup with lumps,
stories of training
young, male
then being passed up,
small Mary Tyler Moore
kitchen and a view
of white sails still
on Lake Michigan

we'd sit blinking
as sun sets full
into picture windows
evening radio low
steamy novel waiting
frosty shaker

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Micheal saw the movie V for Vendetta last night and has some initial thoughts at his blog, in which he also refers to another movie Fahrenheit 451. You can get a thorough description of Fahrenheit 451 the book/movie HERE. The part of Fahrenheit 451 that really struck me is that since the society bans books, a few rebels commit entire novels to memory. I keep trying to figure out which book I would memorize - such a daunting task!

So I'd love to hear . . .

Which book would you memorize?


When writers' block strikes - just say no and write. About anything. I have been feeling uninspired, but realized if you pay close enough attention, you'll find something to get the keyboard clicking again. In my case, my children's obsession with souvenir penny presses got me thinking, then writing. It ain't great, but at least I wrote something new!

Greatest Show

J.B. Rowell

don't even mind the smell:
something dirty
& elemental.
watch the copper-esque
zinc, flatten around
turn of silver barrel
curve behind glass

thought it was a waste
to pay 2 quarters
and 1 penny
to get that same penny
back branded,
heated thin

to watch machinery,
is to believe, to
put the squeeze
with gears set
for standing spectacle
come see
almost worthless
money become souvenir

Monday, March 13, 2006


Suburban Spring
J.B. Rowell

Iris bulbs wait in a bag by the door.
Bathrooms clean, hands
smell like clean.

Roses bushes unfurl purple leaves
from point of swollen red buds
thanks to pruning mid-winter,

now March, spring will be here
officially next Tuesday, but how else
can you describe the weather

all weekend? Windows open, tufty
lawn mowed, clover and patches
of green pungency press to screen

with smell of gas. Brother and
sister busy themselves: hands
in dirt, add water, sell pies,

shake nest loose from tree
lone egg stomped, cup of life
torn back to twigs, it was old

she explains later, it had cobwebs
(feathers), the mommy left it
so it was okay, right?

Next time leave it, death
is to be left untouched. It's spring,
leave it in sphere of white blossoms
that soften winter bones.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Today I read two of my poems and a few poems by my third graders as a part of our UU church's service with the theme of Seizing Joy. Here are the poems by my students:


So much depends
a black and white
curled up with
the sun
breathing slow
and soft

The Clear Creek

So much depends
a clear crystal
rushing around the
beside the green


Black is a sleek black witch's cat
Black is what you see with yout eyes closed
Black is tyhe coals you see after a fire
Black is the jealousy that grows inside you
Black is the color that spills out in a gush of anger
Black is an ink spill that you can't clean up
Black is the hole you feel with your toungue after you lose a tooth
Black is meanness
But also the calm flow of the world
Black is the cool night sky

The Pond

The calming pond,
soothes me as I watch.
The ducks floating
softly across.
Creeping up to
the sides,
leaving feathers
in their place.


heading towards the sky
it's like
a destiny
to get up to space

a destiny
that will never be truth
but still they try
they try
but some day they might succeed
but some day they might succeed

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Is it just me, or is it reassuring to think that the rich and famous deal with potty training and other parenting issues, just like regular moms do? Sure, they probably have hired help, but still... nice to think that they are inspired by (and despair over!) the same mundane moments we non-red carpet folks experience. Check out this poem by Denise Wadsworth Trimm, former chair of the creative writing department for the Alabama School of Fine Arts who now finds herself the mother of a two-year-old who inspires her daily.

Working Mother

Madonna is recreating herself again,
potty dancing and working out
a pooping schedule and wishing
for predictable peeing.

Banging her head against
the wall was inspired not by the Kabala,
but from hours leaning
over her daughter waiting, waiting, waiting,
for hot tinkle to hit plastic and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming,
of diaper-free days.

- Denise Trimm

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


From Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1923, Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," was published in the New Republic magazine. It was Frost's favorite of his own poems, and he called it, "My best bid for remembrance."

Though it's a poem about winter, Frost wrote the first draft on a warm morning in the middle of June. The night before he had stayed up working at his kitchen table on a long, difficult poem called "New Hampshire" (1923). He finally finished it, and then looked up and saw that it was morning. He'd never worked all night on a poem before. Feeling relieved at the work he'd finished, he went outside and watched the sunrise.

But while he was outside, he suddenly got an idea for a new poem. So he rushed back inside his house and wrote "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" in just a few minutes. He said he wrote most of the poem almost without lifting his pen off the page.

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

* * *

I find this amazing. The most remembered poem by Frost just popped out. While many people probably have never read the poem he toiled over all night. Also, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is always cited in poetry how-to books as an example of technical achievement, suggesting that Frost purposefully assembled the poem with specific meter and sounds.

Now that I think about it, the poems I write that people seem to connect with usually slip out and need little revision. While the ones I labor over can make the reader go - huh? So the lesson from Frost may be to just go with the flow, and make sure you have paper and pencil around because you never know when and where that inspiration will hit.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Poem by Kelly Madigan Erlandson from Born in the House of Love (Main-Traveled Roads). Originally published in Barrow Street.

After the Test Said Yes

Stopped at the crossroad on 14th street, ice clean
as an apple slice under my wheels, I am waiting
for my turn and I don't know yet about looking back
which is why I cannot describe the color or make of what hit me,
moving too fast to brake on the black, and my blue Volkswagen
shoots out into oncoming lanes and once there begins to spin—
and that is where time slows, like they always say,
forming an opening in the day that was already thick with news.

The man comes to the car window,
wants to know if I'm okay, and I tell him I'm pregnant,
that I just found out this morning, and he looks like he will faint,
and I open the door and step out into the street,

and this, I believe, is the story of conception; how my daughter
used momentum and ice and velocity and impact
to pierce the atmosphere and enter the world.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Life has been caught up in that harried coming and going: work, home, work, home, here, there. This poem written when Liam was a baby captures the general feeling - we are stunned from the busyness.

Two Beams of Fragile Light
J.B. Rowell

One says there are no monsters
under her bed
because there is no room
too many books.
She wants to stay at school
when I pick her up.

The other lunges
to latch on
when I hold him again
mouthing for comfort
after the substitute he is given
warmed in a crock-pot.

I say there are no monsters
but how can I keep holding
back invisible crowding?

We drive home stunned
to books under beds and
desperate feedings.
While another day dims
their fragile bodies are lifted
out of the bathtub.