Books for Poets | Mailing List | Copyrights | About Us



June 2010

I attended a workshop recently with Mark Doty and he was having the group compare William Blake's poem "Ah, Sun-Flower" and the contemporary answer to it by Alan Shapiro (see our blog for more). I like that idea of answering a poem and also the opposing view redefining the naming of something.

I was reading Laura Shovan's poem "Tomorrow Is Going To Be Normal" (from Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stonex) and thought about how that poem has both that answering and opposition at its center.

The boy in that poem finds relief in the day being "normal" and predictable, while the mother says she waits for the "remarkable to land on my shoulder or call me on the phone."

Two different philosophies. And the remarkable moment for the mother is that she and her son could be so different.

For this month's prompt, start with the meaning of a word. It might be a thing (sunflower) or idea (normal). In the poem, present two opposing ways of defining or describing the thing. You might have two voices, as Shovan does, or have the conflict be internal with one voice.

There's more on this prompt and other topics poetic on the Poets Online blog.


Yetta welcomes me to her class.
Around the room before-and-after photos
garden books, stacks of old 'Garden Wise' to give away.
She tells stories of rescuing roots from roadsides
extols the benefits of manure
the nutrition of seaweed.
She is a woodstove ablaze with garden
enthusiasm. I am warmed by her fire
recall my old yard’s displays of spring
lungwort, astilbe, pinks, daylilies, hydrangea.
There is room in my new garden for pansies.
She sends me home with oregano.
I will buy chives, parsley, basil and mint
make a little herb plot right on my south deck
maybe plant tomatoes too!

I stare at my garden every breakfast
the roses need a trellis
but in this yard that is not really mine
what if it accidentally leaned
on the common-property fence?
The herbs on the deck would probably stain
the flooring. It’s all for the best
I tell myself. In a few weeks I’d likely forget
to water and they’d dry up anyway
I am far from Yetta’s heat and moving
farther every day, find in myself
no more fuel to sustain this former passion.
Her little oregano still sits alone
in its pot on the shady back deck.

Violet Nesdoly


This is a poem about seeing it both ways,
about an idealist running for a bus and a
realist driving that bus and seeing a hopeful
expectant runner waving high and meaningfully
with his briefcase flopping against his thigh
and his excellent tie flapping in his face
as he sprints toward the slowly departing bus,
the bus which is departing, which is to say
moving away from the curb, so you see it isn’t
stopped. If it were stopped it would be another
poem altogether, but this poem is about a man
who believes in communication and is running
and waving a hand at a moving bus and another
man who believes this man has missed this bus
and is driving this bus and sees this man trying
to stop a bus with a wave of his hand and a
briefcase full of papers—briefs or notes for a
class at Harvard perhaps—and he chooses not
to stop the bus but rather to drive right past
this idealist from Harvard who has missed the bus
and thinks he can reverse it or revise this with his
hand, as though it were words, as though it weren’t
what actually happens, but he can’t, no, not this.

Paul Hostovsky


In the other books, Dorothy moved herself and her family to Oz.
No one reads the other books, but are you surprised?
Who would stay in Kansas after Oz?
So, I'm sitting here at my desk, apparently pissing off the Muses,
and reading an old issue of National Geographic magazine.
In Swahili, safari simply means "journey."
It's not about hunting at all.
Lions on the prowl. Elephants roaming open plains.

Plain. Plain landscape out my window.
Not bad or good. Perhaps, simple. Maybe boring.
On my walk this morning, I took another path in the woods
and came upon a wall.
A wall in the woods. Not a ruined home, but a wall.
Not the edge of a field. Just a wall.
I need a God of the Gaps to fill in what is missing.
I turned from the wall to where there's no place like.
The return trip is a day's journey.
I will set out at first light, when God sleeps.

Charles Michaels

for Elihu Burritt, the Learned Blacksmith

Elihu, I’ve spent three years with you –
waded through your eight tomes of florid prose
and tried to make it poetry. I’ve watched you,
a century and a half before, at the smithy, hammering
to the beat of Greek declensions. You’ve teased me
into dalliance with Sanskrit and Old Icelandic.
I’ve seen you forever penniless, and listened to your
earnest speeches for Peace. I’ve book-walked Britain
End to End with you, cliffed-out above the Tweed;
picked a pocketful of seashells after 700 miles
of walking – there was nothing else show for it,
except a barren shore. I followed you to Land’s End,
Tintagel’s granite greaves eroding. What’s our goal?

I say, it’s time to wind things up, shut you up
at last, in a book between bound covers.
You’d say, we’ve only just begun. Our work
is Peace. The world is still at War.
When you reached Land’s End,
you kept on walking. There’s always something
more to see and learn, you’d say; another
text in need of parsing. Just one more poem
for me to write, and then the next.

Taylor Graham


There are some days
that make me want to pull myself out by the roots,
shake the dust,
and find a new place to plant myself.

Until now,
I’ve counted it as weakness.

Plants do not grow strong
when they are constantly starting over
in new environments,
do not grow hardy
when torn from their homes
and thrust into another.

Maybe I’ve just been using the wrong metaphor.

Have you seen the hermit crab
make its home wherever there is something hard,
hollow, and sheltering?
Have you seen it shrouded
in usurped shells
and stolen identities?

Do not be surprised
when I leave this land
in search of a home that fits better,
that I can carry like it is not a burden.

Do not be surprised
when home is not the place I was born
or the place that still feeds me.

Home is where we find ourselves whole.

It is usurped shells
and dead strangers
carried light like blessings
on backs.

Hannah Cushing


Still I wonder of this quiet
this motionless moment followed
by another until I could
scream out in anticipation of silence
knowing the sudden lack of it approaches.

Still the leaves don't rustle
in the moonlight as the dew
settles a soft blanket of wet
one droplet dangling on a leaf tip
detained to drop any time now.

Still the stillness lingers
if just in my memory
as alarm clocks and engines
announce the morning, the daylight
while I remain, still wondering.

James M. Thompson


It's the smell as I slice the pineapple.
It's the words pine and apple
and that it smells like neither
but I like all three aromas.
And everything tastes better
when eaten with someone you love.

You like salt on the sweet watermelon.
You say it is the act of making love.
Afterwards, you want to go out
to the all night diner and order anything
that is greasy on the grill.

We both lose track of time, so
I fall back asleep as the sun rises
and you flirt with the waitress who comes
on for the morning shift at six o'clock.
I wake up at noon, my head aching and the smell
of pineapple makes me feel sick to my stomach.

Pamela Milne