Read a NEW poem here every day in April!

Posted On April 2nd, 2014

(Poem 21 of 30)

The Secret Sisterhood of the Sneezy Feeling

for Rachel

When my father gave me the talk about sex
I was six, and we sat before the embers of a fire
from the night before, a party I don’t remember.

He spoke best when he had something to do
besides speaking, let love happen while we work—
morning, men, and the tools of the fire.

Everything I learned about sex and love and making
babies, I learned while conjuring a steady flame
from the ashes of last night’s laughter and song.

I love him for calling orgasm “the sneezy feeling,”
as much for its accuracy as for its understanding.
But then he exhaled a heavy sadness, and said

As wonderful as it is, the sneezy feeling—and it truly is—
there are some women who love it so much that they—

and that’s where our talk about sex ended!

Either because we were interrupted, or else
he thought his son too young for the truth
about some women, the ones who love orgasm so much

that they . . . I don’t know! Wear certain kinds of hats!?
Or smile in a special way? Like they have a song on their lips?
Or maybe a secret kind of fire in their eyes?

To this day I have no idea. And I blame my father
for my ignorance. As well for the tears of every woman
I have ever loved insufficiently. My father never

finished telling me about what you crave,
about your Secret Sisterhood of the Sneezy Feeling
and the things desire has driven you to do.

My father and his son, spellbound by the fire
before them, the fire we built together,
the one I see even now in your eyes.

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.

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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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.

Sometimes I pretend to be my voicemail

Posted On January 10th, 2014

Let’s say a friend of mine calls me and I know what they want to talk about. Or maybe it’s someone I’ve never met, but I recognize the number because I left them a message and asked for this call back. If I’m feeling frisky, I answer the phone with my calmest, most professional-sounding voiceover voice and say, “Hi. You’ve reached Taylor Mali. I cannot come to the phone right now UNLESS you happen to be [insert uniquely identifying characteristics of the caller's job, physical appearance, or reputation here] in which case I am already on the phone and waiting for you to speak.”

Then comes the laughter. Or a long pause. Then “Hello?” Eventually, they always say the same thing: “You sounded just like a voicemail message.” That’s usually where it ends because we have things to discuss, but I always want to question them further and ask why that’s so surprising? It’s just my voice. I’ll bet you could sound just like your outgoing voicemail message, too.

I think it’s a variation of The Curse of Knowledge, that curious phenomenon that makes it virtually impossible to remember what it was like NOT knowing something after you actually DO know it. People don’t have the—what is it? confidence? presence of mind? chutzpah?—to realize that they can bluff their way through this. They think, “It’s obvious to ME that I’m playing a part. Surely it must be equally as obvious to EVERYONE else that I’m playing a part!” But it’s not. Anyone can do it if they know that anyone can do it.

I stay awake at night sometimes wondering what else in life is like that.

When someone says, “With all due respect . . .” Watch out!

Posted On January 10th, 2014

Because what invariably follows is a vindictive comment of such vituperation and recalcitrance that it obviously was never intended to carry with it ANY of the respect your interlocutor claims you are due.

Teaching Teens in New Smyrna Beach, FL

Posted On July 24th, 2013

I’m in the throes of a residency called YOUR WORD at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL. It’s especially for teenage writers, and I am considered one of the “Master Artists,” a title I cannot actually say with a straight face. It’s a self-selected group for the most part; the director says there may sometimes be a few kids who get sent here because their parents think it “would be good for them,” but if that’s true this year then I don’t have them in my class. I have nine students, mostly girls. In fact, there are only two boys out of the 24 students total.

Today, I had the kids studying Creative Non-Fiction instead of my regular poetry kids, whom I see more than anyone else. It was a more laid back class. All girls. We talked about poetry, I played some examples, and I gave them a homework assignment for when I see them next week. But I also made them write a quick in-class exercise based on a poem called “My Elementary School Confessions” by my best friend Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. It’s a wonderful icebreaker because you learn all these terrible things about everyone else, and it makes you feel less terrible about the horrible things you carry with you.

Most memorable line of the morning? “In fourth grade, Carla Jenkins and I stayed inside during recess once because there were too many bugs outside. The door to the boys’ bathroom was open for some reason, and we saw Jonathan Lane with his pants down. His penis was tiny, and we laughed into his terror-stricken eyes. For the rest of the year, we made fun of him, holding up our fingers like this.” The girl who wrote it was ashamed that she had a) been so cruel b) remembered it so vividly, and c) wrote it down and shared it, but the rest of the class told her it was excellent.