Read a NEW poem here every day in April!

Posted On April 2nd, 2014

(Poem 12 of 30)

Brooklyn in the House

Brooklyn is not,
as I thought it once must be,
filled with people lamenting
the fact they don’t live in Manhattan,
bully of the five boroughs.
We—and I count myself among you
now—would rather be nowhere
but heaven—if you believe in heaven,
which I do, except a heaven like here,
fresh cut flowers on the table
brought home this morning
from the corner bodega.

(Poem 11 of 30)

Step Out From Behind the Camera

Born at the dawn of color
photography, albums of my childhood
are a mix of black and white
and sun-faded pictures in sizes
not rarely seen, with scalloped edges.

And there even flicker frames
of shaky movies starring me
blinking, oblivious, entire fist
in my mouth, or crying because
I am the center of attention

but not in anyone’s arms,
which begs the difference
between who a photo’s of
and who it’s for. Recalling
love not a two-way street,

turn the camera on yourself.
Or turn it over to a friend, and say,
Please take this of my love and me.
You are the story, not only the teller.
You are the one they want to see.

               for Ellen

(Poem 10 of 30)

Today’s prompt was to write a poem about the future. I chose to write a Möebius poem, which I would have printed on a Möebius strip and handed to you if I could. But since I can’t, I made a Vine video that you can see here.

The Bells of Newtown: A Sonnet for Nancy Lanza

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, churches in Newtown
commemorated the victims by ringing their bells twenty-seven times,
until the governor of Connecticut asked them to stop after twenty-six.

At Sandy Hook in Newtown in the middle of December
a troubled boy named Adam looked up in the sky,
stole his mother’s Bushmaster rifle, then—no one knows quite why—
he murdered twenty of God’s smallest creatures,
twenty kids at Sandy Hook and six of their teachers.
The final gunshot wound, self-inflicted to the head,
brought the total at the school that day to 27 dead.
But here’s what we all choose not to remember:
Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, also died that day,
shot four times by Adam while in her bed she lay.

The bells of Newtown churches no longer ring for you.
Nor for you do any mourners cry.
It may not be fair, Nancy, but fair or not it’s true:
You’re no longer thought a victim, though you were the first to die.

(Poem 8 of 30)

Traffic Signal at the Corner of Midnight and Jet Lag

Even with the shade down in our room after midnight
I can tell when the traffic light on the corner is turning
from green to yellow to red, not because the color
comes into the room where I cannot sleep, but rather
I can sense the change. And I feel the signal is for me,
that I would know the meaning of each light if I could only sleep.

(Poem 6 of 30)

Twin Cribs & Old Baby Toys 

My father was a hider of keys
in the places where they would be needed,
never to arrive at, say, a gate
in the middle of the woods
to discover he had forgotten
the key; better if you must
dust the snow
off a nearby rock wall
in search of a certain stone
with the key gleaming under it
like a secret coin; better
even to turn your back
to the locked gate and look
for the knot in the nearby tree—
and you shall know it by its mouth,
which is open like in forest song!
My father was a hider of keys,
as am I now he is gone.

So when in the old storage stable
I found our family’s stall door locked—
we had gone in search of twin cribs
and old baby toys—I was not surprised
at all to feel on the dark side
of the farthest rafter of the roof,
the one almost out of reach, to feel—
but not to see—under my fingertips
the key.

(poem 5 of 30)

Drowning in Love (4/3/2014)
 
I wanted to tell you of my great love
but you were far from here,
so I wrote a note and stuck it in a bottle
and chucked it off the pier

into the sea, but it didn’t float.
It shattered on a rock instead,
a beautiful bobbing, swimming rock
which disappeared in a pool of red.

My love, wherever you are—be it too far
for my arms to reach, or somewhere
closer like this abandoned towel and sunhat
someone left on the beach—

know my love for you is deep; I could not
love you any more.
You are my rock, my beautiful rock,
resting on the ocean floor.

Road Trip to Love (April 2, 2014)

How much longer until we get there?
Pull over. I have to pee again.
I swear we’ve passed this field before.
A road trip is like a marriage!

Pull over. I have to pee again.
I think there’s something wrong with you.
A marriage is like a road trip!
You should see a doctor about that,

I think there’s something wrong with you.
Can we please stop talking about this?
You should see a doctor about that.
Well maybe you should go into counseling.

Can we please stop talking about this?
I don’t think so. This is our life together.
Maybe we should go into counseling
Are we going to be able to make this work?

I don’t think so. This is our life together.
I swear we’ve passed this field before.
Are we going to be able to make this work?
How much longer until we get there?

I cannot begin to tell you (4/1/2014)
 
is what people always say
before they begin to tell you
anyway, the same way they

might say I could write a book
about my childhood and how
my parents did their best
 
to love each other, then me
when they could not. It’s true.
I could write a book, they say,

but then never do.

A poem I wrote yesterday while writing together with a friend

Posted On March 25th, 2014

During the month of April, I’ll be posting a poem here (if I can) every day. But here’s one I wrote yesterday while sitting with the amazing Karen Grace trading writing prompts:

 

Snakes, the Dark, and Heights

I completely understand the human fear of heights
for I have looked over the edge of hotel balconies,
overlooks, and roadside precipices and fallen
half in love with falling, or at least jumping, feared
I might be halfway down before I fully understood
what I had done; the revulsion of the vision
at the bottom kept me here.

And also can I understand the snakes,
though it not be fair, perhaps, to condemn the species
based on the poison of a few, even if nature
doesn’t make mistakes; the hatred she put inside
us there must be part of how we’ve lasted so long.

But fear of darkness I don’t understand,
which even now I say the words out loud
is not exactly right, but rather how it is
we cannot find some place within ourselves
to overcome such fear, turn it maybe even into
a minor strain of love as I have done with silence,
which once I was afraid to wrap myself into
but now seek almost daily like a prayer.

Nightly comes the dark, and whosoever needs it
takes it in despite its many hands.

Join me in NYC on the THIRD Wednesday of this month!

Posted On March 25th, 2014

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Page Meets Stage is a reading series I run which brings together two poets—one ostensibly repping the “page,” the other ostensibly repping a more performative style—to read/perform back and forth, poem for poem, continuing the conversation of where poetry exists. Some of the most prominent poets in the United States both in the “academy” and in spoken word circles (Gerald Stern, Mark Doty, Carol Muske-Dukes, Valzhyna Mort, Paul Muldoon, Thomas Lux, Roger Bonair-Agard, Patricia Smith, Rives, Lynne Procope, to name just a few) have been involved.

Check out YouTube to see some of the more memorable moments in the series (search for “Page Meets Stage”), or go to www.PageMeetsStage.com for the complete schedule.
Tickets are $12 ($6 students) and are sometimes available in advance online.

All shows take place at The DL Lounge on the Lower East Side (95 Delancey Street at the SW corner of Ludlow).

Greetings from Beijing, specifically . . .

Posted On March 10th, 2014

. . . the exact same hotel where all the families of the passengers on Malaysian Flight 370 are being put up, which means that the lobby is filled with reporters and TV news crews hoping to get interviews with desperate people in tears. Today I started teaching at the American International School of Beijing, and I’m jet lagged beyond belief. Combine that with the dystopian haze that hangs in the air daily in Beijing, and I feel strangely dislocated. I would have tweeted this or posted it to Facebook, but of course both of those sites are blocked here.

AWP 2014 ends with a bang!

Posted On March 2nd, 2014

And that bang was Page Meets Stage with Rachel McKibbens (pictured), Tara Hardy, Jamaal May, and Nick Flynn! I changed up the format this year and made it more of a free-flowing round robin, which shifted the emphasis from poets to poems. But still, no poet ever did more than one poem in a row so the show hurtled forward.

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Piedmont, CA—An Evening with Taylor Mali: In Praise of Teachers

Posted On February 19th, 2014

On Tuesday, February 25, from 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm in the Alan Harvey Theater at Piedmont High School, the Education Speaker Series will host New York City performance poet and former teacher Taylor Mali, author of What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World and a four-time National Poetry Slam champion. He is one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement and one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series “Def Poetry Jam.” His one-man show Teacher! Teacher! won the jury prize for best solo performance at the 2001 Comedy Arts Festival. Mali is a vocal advocate of teachers and the nobility of teaching, and has performed and lectured all over the world. You may purchase an advance ticket for $10 plus a $2 online processing fee here: http://tinyurl.com/http-taylormali-com

Tickets may be available at the door depending on availability. If you miss this reading, Taylor Mali will be the featured poet the following evening at the Berkeley Poetry Slam.

 

 

New shirt from my Valentine!

Posted On February 18th, 2014

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I’m posting this from my phone, so I’m not sure how well it will work, but I’m wearing a new shirt for the first time, which is one of my favorite pleasures!

What I learned this morning teaching in Bucharest, Romania

Posted On February 4th, 2014

I’m still overseas, so don’t buy anything from my website and expect to get it in a hurry, because I’m still fulfilling orders myself Anyone want a part-time job?). Just finished teaching a couple days at an international school in Bucharest where the mascot is a Vampire; they gave me a shirt. And this morning, instead of doing what I have usually done, which is talk a little about poetry, freeing your mind, syntax, and being creative in general before moving on to more specific writing prompts, I decided to jump into the writing exercises almost immediately. I asked the students (10th graders from all over the world, sophisticated, but still sheltered, albeit in a more worldly shelter) what the danger is when a teenager aims at writing something beautiful? They answered–correctly, in my experience–that cliché, angst, and melodrama are the common risks when a teen aims for something beautiful. I asked how many MIGHT have mentioned “the golden sun” if I asked them to write a beautiful sentence? Many played along and raised their hands sheepishly. By the end of the period, “golden sun” had become a code word for not working hard enough to create original beauty!

But there was a more important lesson I learned that had to do with WHAT TO TEACH WHEN YOU TEACH A POETRY WORKSHOP. I should have realized this years ago, but the more ADVANCED YOU ARE (the more you already consider yourself a poet) the more interested you will be in different techniques for HOW to write what you feel. Obviously, that’s my first instinct, too. That’s what excites me. “Let’s talk about how SYNTAX can influence CONNOTATION!” But what if it’s not a class that the students signed up for willingly? What if I’m the visiting writer from New York City and I have THE ENTIRE 10th GRADE whether they like it or not? What is the kid in the front row does NOT consider himself a poet at all? In fact, he considers himself little more than . . . a basketball player . . . with a little sister? That kid will benefit much more from a discussion of WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT than how to write about it. Why has it taken so long for me to understand this and EMBRACE it? All those years when I told students, “I’m not really here to tell you WHAT to write about,” I should have told them that I was too lazy to meet them where they were, and I needed them to somehow, magically, to get to where I was. Sorry about that.

I’ll be in Germany for a while teaching . . .

Posted On January 27th, 2014

. . . so if you order anything from my store, don’t bother paying extra for PRIORITY shipping, because it will be mid February before it gets mailed.

Meet me in New York City on Wednesday, 2/19/2014, at 8 pm

Posted On January 27th, 2014

I’m looking forward to the first pairing of the year for Page Meets Stage on the third Wednesday of February. The poets taking part are Tracy K. Smith and Thuli Zuma so this month we really ARE “where the Pulitzer Prize meets the Poetry Slam!”

I’m leaving for Germany today (Monday, January 27, 2014), and I return only a few days before the show so I’m turning over the hosting duties to Associate Curator John Paul Davis. Nevertheless, come join me for this electric pairing!