Editor's Note Section
Spring/Summer Issue 2023 Volume 3 Issue 2
Poetry can sometimes seem rather a "closet art" in the U.S. When we mention poetry to people their eyes glaze over and they all but leap backwards, arms raised in self-defense. Inevitably they explain they've never understood poetry—it's "too deep." And with a few exceptions (Longfellow's "Paul Revere’s Ride”, Coleridge's "Kubla Khan", Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”), that was my response as well in my younger years. Right up until the day I started writing it. Which led to reading it. Which led to deep epiphany: poets have a particular super-power—they provide entrée to previously unconsidered understandings. This is because good poems by their inherent nature transform the intimate so that it's universal, and the reader can arrive at the writer's innermost person.
Joy Harjo articulates this in Catching the Light, her book of meditations: I was coming to learn that words were ladders, with each rung leading between the darkest of hours to sunlight, from confusion to accomplishment, or in the opposite direction. James Arthur shares with us in "The Disconnected Man": I want more. Am I a man on a column // going crazy or blind? The phone rings. / No caller, only dial tone—
And Diana Goetsch gives us something to think about in "The Irish Goodbye": No drama, as I hung up, just discovery, / the loss of a friend not such a loss, just a new // arrangement of sentiment. Shara McCallum as well, in "Voyage":
Above and below us
lay two firmaments, and we,
marooned by history, by memory,
became the between.
And this striking quotation from Joan Larkin's "Goodbye": You are saying good-bye to your last / drink. There is no lover / like her.
The art of poetry can serve as powerful guide in our ongoing meanderings across that universal question: what is the meaning of my life?
—Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll
What I'm Reading: Bone Circle by Susan Roney O’Brien; I Will Pass Even to Acheron by Amanda Newell; Hook by H.A. Maxson
൪uartet has gone to three issues a year beginning with the January 2023 issue.
Please see the revised submission periods on the Submissions page.
Planting this Tree
Tree of Myth
(written at 26)
Sunday, Margaret brought me a sapling pomegranate in an old tin. Already, the roots were working their stubborn needlepoint through the metal bottom, while up through rusted seams, three slim stems stretched until, waist-high they bent, waif-like as willow. This tree aches with thwarted desire. If the apple’s Eve, pomegranate’s Persephone. Its leaves lisp, and its flesh seems so dented by myth
that touching it, I almost hear a sigh. Once, on a hill I saw such a tree, entirely encircled by a rainbow. And now, I plant this tree in a rented yard, to watch it for a few brief years unfurl its mighty fruits, or not, longing not to long more.
Tree of Memory
(written at 62)
I’m eating fruit from trees I can see in my past: mango and avocado, companions in the courtyard at Meru School; orange trees dotting ridges west of Seville with their za’atar of love; the baby pomegranate I planted on an island, reaching up; coffee in neat lines along misted hills; the apples of our upstate childhoods, in such abundance by the lake; and yes, these pear trees, planted in our adopted states by our spouses for the love of us, dear sisters! Our orchards flourish with the years.
On my return to writing, I find myself in such a vibrant and adventurous writers’ world. I think this is a fine time to be a writer, and technology has improved my lot, even if I must come to terms with the emergence of AI poets. I’ve Zoomed into poetry workshops across the country, and traveled to workshops abroad. Each community offers unique qualities; for example, Write About Now (WAN) in Houston brings together many young and highly accomplished writers of color. The group is inspiring and welcoming, even to this poet from a different demographic. Through Denver-based Lighthouse, I learned the Pomodoro Technique, and I continue to write simultaneously with Denver writers three days per week. I don’t feel alone. I’ve been able to grow my knowledge of poetry as well through podcasts such as New Yorker Poetry, and Poetry Off the Shelf among others, in addition to taking open courses such as ModPo at University of Pennsylvania. Many of these opportunities are free. Poetry books are easy to obtain online, e-books or hard copies. Submitting is also much easier than in the past when I would wait by the mailbox. Even the physical process of writing is more convenient; here at my laptop, I no longer need to white out, type over. If I require a synonym, seek
a rhyme, or wish to verify information, all are at my fingertips. There is less guessing, but hopefully
no less room for imagination. Foremost, I’ve entered such a supportive network largely of women writers. This beautiful world of learning, possibilities and exploration I am part of now makes me wish for more time, a wish that is of course one of the wellsprings of poetry.
The poets read to us
war & the Catholic mass
war & tea
war & laundry
war & the pen writing the poet
as war writes the tumble
& the picture frame
war writes the kettle & the bell
war is a plover on the shore
war is forgetful, turns to the next sparkly
War makes me hungry
war makes me weak-kneed with swoon
war is whiskey in my glass
& the ice to cool it
war warms itself inside me
all my organs are war
my creaky knees are war
my menopause & its own forgetfulness
We thought we were living
we thought we were living
we thought we were war
we were war
we dreamed war
we became war
we swing for the fences
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine was looming, in February of 2022, I was fortunate to be introduced to a number of Ukrainian poets. I count myself among the provincial Americans who mostly read U.S. poets – we are so varied and numerous and astonishing, I can’t keep up. Let alone with the rest of the world. (I’m not proud of this; just remarking on it.) But war snaps one to attention. Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky published a translation of Lyudmyla Khersonska’s “See the Tail That Wags the Dog” in The Nation. Its lines haunted me and were the original inspiration for
my poem, “Ukraine,” published here: “Look, the shovel is making a hole in the grave digger! / Brushes paint artists into the walls!” Surrealism as a response to horror. A new collection of Khersonska’s, Today is a Different War, translated by Olga Livshin, Andrew Janco, Maya Chhabra, and Lev
Fridman, will be released by Arrowsmith Press May 1, 2023. Highly recommended!
THE HOME HOSPICE NURSE
Before the hospice nurse arrived
to lay her hands on Mom
and pronounce her at peace,
Mom lay folded like an embryo,
hands clutched to her chest.
Eyes glazed. A black universe
spilling from her gaping mouth.
I escaped to the toilet
until murmurs and feet
trembled the foyer.
And through the cracked door
to the death room,
Mom’s body, straight as a coffin,
mouth closed, eyes closed.
Ivory cheeks calm, kissable.
Years later, I get the call about Dad.
Go through my morning stretches slowly.
So the hospice nurse can arrive before me
to undo the shape
of his letting go—
As with many people, I started writing poetry as a child, but stopped after college when I couldn’t reconcile it with the demands of the paycheck world. Decades of silence followed—except for a telltale feeling of panic when, at the start of my education at Columbia University Graduate School
of Journalism, a professor welcoming my class said, “Anyone who wants to sit under a tree and write poetry should leave now, and give their place to someone else.” In retrospect, the panic was my muse waking for a moment, urging me to give up my seat and sit under the ridiculed tree.
When I finally stopped working for a living, I ran into the arms of my muse aided by the Writing Institute of Sarah Lawrence College: non-degree workshops offered to any adult who registers.
Today, I love poetry by Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Stanley Kunitz, Ilya Kaminsky, John Murillo, Natalie Diaz, and many others. I recognize my love when I read their work and feel, as Emily Dickinson once wrote, “as if the top of my head were taken off.”
In my body of poems so far, I see psychoanalysis (my father was a psychoanalyst), depression and anxiety (both my own and inherited), joy, humor, occasional anger, current events (I worked in journalism for many years), and many dance references (I was an ardent amateur ballet dancer and professional dance critic during my teens and early 20s).
As for my process: I know a poem is gestating when something I see or feel or read or think keeps recurring, nagging, stimulating me. I then feel compelled to write my truths. I hope readers can
either resonate with my truths or enjoy their peculiarity.
Gaunt, you furrow your brow, deflect
affection. Still I’m here – regretting
long absence – guilt being pabulum
I was raised on. Damn it, Jane, we’re family-close.
Of my mother’s friends, you’re the last alive,
my visit an offering you can’t rebuff,
our conversation one-way until
you thank me for coming, a social grace
pulled from an old suitcase.
At 104 you shrink to skeleton,
veins exposed like rivulets
a prickly-pear cactus
on the windowsill, shriveled
a Scripps’ College Bulletin, limp with fury
at the father who pulled you out after your freshman year
your pearl choker
Talbots’ latest catalog
old map of Paris
Philadelphia Orchestra stub, grubby
birthday card hand made for mom
Le Mutt, stuffed
We lay down old dogs, don’t we?
Johnny Walker Black winks from the corner. For you,
scotch is medicine – straight up, four ounces a day.
You’ve made peace with your mother
and helped me do the same. Now
I take your place as elder.
I didn’t come for you, Jane. I came for me.
I wrote “The Visit” to a prompt on imagery from Diane Lockward’s latest, The Strategic Poet:
Honing the Craft. Sure, I had thought about W.C. Williams’ famous line, “no ideas but in things”
but I never before gave images their own breathing room, finding a strong tool to define a friend. In an essay on Williams (online) in Triggerfish Critical Review, Ed Wickliffe summarizes: “Treat the
thing directly. Make a concrete image with everyday language, rather than a vague, lengthy notion of it.” Yes. Strong images. Tangible, like a Talbot’s catalog, or perhaps a spate of dialog. Images led me
to the last line of this poem: two strong statements, but more accurately a set-up that opens an ongoing dialectic between obligation, motivation and reward, and by extension, between you and
Mary Alice Dixon
The Sorrow of Onion Skins
Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned.
I stole a loaf of bread, a cup of wine,
and a priest.
This I find after my mother died.
Her words in curvy cursive
on a holy card tucked between pages
of Burnt Offerings: A Cookbook
by the Ladies of Mount Moriah.
I also find letters. His.
He wrote to her on onion skin paper
in short sentences sprinkled with
something like Morse code dots
and dashes, a private language
only they knew.
This Father was not the man I called
Dad. This one was a Jesuit. A chaplain
in the good war. The war against Hitler.
Killed in Normandy, said the obituary.
Before she died my mother told me
a holy ghost spoke to her in flashes
of light, in songs of dots and dashes.
She was not well.
Tonight I place Burnt Offerings
by a lit candle in my kitchen.
I peel onions, unwrapping flesh
from skin, trying to understand
why peeling onions makes me cry.
“Every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome,” writes Adrienne Rich. When I first read
those words I heard lightning.
Adrienne Rich, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Bishop. These are the mothers to whom I turn for the strength to break a silence. I turn, also, to the memory of my own mother, whose name I bear.
My mother, born in the hollers of West Virginia in 1921, wrote poetry. She wrote in the margins of
her stenographer’s fine-lined notebooks. Showed her poems to no one. Throughout the Great Depression and WWII, she, like many women, did a job called “taking dictation.” The dictators were men.
My mother’s job supported my grandmother, a blind seamstress, and my grandfather, an
unemployed newspaper man. My mother worked long days and slept short nights, dreaming silent poems.
I inherited her dreams.
Born with synesthesia, I see letters in color and hear music in sunrise. I dream in painted words. Words that beg to be spoken, like remembered kisses that beg to be tasted again.
Beside my desk I keep love letters sent to my mother from a man I never knew. He died in WWII.
Beside my bed I keep an open notebook and a pen. In the dark I sometimes take dictation from my dreams. Those broken silences are my poems.
—Mary Alice Dixon
In early summer
my friend as a favor to us both pulled up
the garlic mustard spreading
like jellyfish tide in the garden.
She was mourning.
Her partner, my friend, had suddenly died,
and this was a gift I could give her,
the way mustard roots release from the earth.
This year in a few spots
laid bare by her work, burdock
appears, choking out better things.
It will spread if unchecked, gain deeper hold.
We’ll need knives
and spades, sweat and a gardener’s rage
to dig it up. This is the way we carry
grief—in seasons, always a new and deeper ache.
I wrote quite a lot as a young woman, in college. I was enthralled by Sharon Olds, Philip Levine, Frank O’Hara, Galway Kinnell. I gave readings and published in campus magazines, and felt poetry
in my bones. But then I graduated, and life tumbled over me, and bit by bit I let grad school and marriage and kids and career take poetry away from me.
In 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Late at night, I would lie awake with mortality and Ativan, and it finally occurred to me that it would help to be writing poems. And so I began again, after 30 years, at the age of 49.
It feels quite different now. I’m both more and less confident in my writerly abilities–but I also care much much less about what anyone thinks. I read differently now, too: I’m less daunted by poets, more inclined to see what legerdemain I can learn from them. I’ve been reading a lot of Ellen Bass, lately, and Ada Limón, and Chen Chen. I’m inspired by the beauty these poets find in the everyday voice. And I’ve been delighted that my poems found an audience almost immediately: I’ve published in many print and online magazines, I’ve published two chapbooks, and I have a full-length manuscript getting nibbles from presses. I like life post-50.
Quail in Fog
Pairing off these past two weeks,
they scutter through the fields outside the barn,
topknots bobbing against the horizon.
Often I’ve sat in the warm wood chairs
and watched them, listened to their whistling
Chi-ca-go, Chi-ca-go. Today it’s silent.
Fog has rolled up from the Pacific.
How could they not be cold, feathers draggled,
as they shelter beneath wet grasses?
They huddle, peer out, wait for the sun
to come again. Think of their kindle
and whirr. Of their hearts, fiery berries.
The title of my new book, Paradise Is Jagged, pretty well expresses my sense of life and my sense of poetry. The suffering of the world seems overwhelming, and I have less and less hope that we
humans will turn back from destroying the planet. So in our lives and creative practices we must
look for a way forward, in terms of meaningful action. Love is still love and beauty is still beauty,
and poetry can speak of it all.
Poem for Joey who Doesn’t Know he Became a Bird
The cardinal’s word is
is old mirrors, is
But his dress
is flame, is
I was so in love with Joey Iacobucci.
When I slept with him,
I couldn’t sleep.
I kissed his hair.
His mouth was wide and curved
like an archer’s bow.
It didn’t matter
what he said.
I just wanted to look at his mouth.
More than once
I pushed his car
from a Boston snowbank
that one winter
when he was mine.
More than once
on his dark hair.
How I got from a cardinal to a lover named Joey I can’t remember, but I love this kind of turn.
When it happens, the writer must trust that it works, and yet how do you know? In this instance, there was a sense of delight that Joey and the cardinal met. There was a feeling that this leap from
one form of beauty and enchantment to another was intuitively right.
I’m a poet living in Connecticut, close to my childhood home. I’ve written poetry since I was in
grade school. I started off imitating the Romantic poets with metered rhyming verse, but when I found the grittiness of Carl Sandburg and the spareness of the old Chinese poets, I began to decide how I wanted to sound.
These days my poetry icons are Mary Oliver, Gerald Stern, Marie Howe, Tony Hoagland. Marie Howe’s book, What the Living Do, is my lifeline back to this world. These poems about her brother
who died of AIDS helped me write about my brother and his illness, probably the most emotionally intense and satisfying work I’ve done.
I write about everyday encounters with animals and people, my family, childhood, lovers, rock stars, rivers. I have one child, a daughter, born when I was 40. She’s the great joy of my life but so far she
has shown up only briefly in my poems. I can’t seem to get enough distance from the tenderness I
feel about being her mother.
I like the camaraderie of poetry workshops. Mostly I find writing to be lonely and hard. Once I quit for five years but I never stopped finding poetry all around me. Words and phrases would come into my head until I gave in and started putting them on paper again.
At Christmas, I was trying to tell my kids
how lately I seem to be two people, one
living inside the other. I said I felt
detached from my former self, but still
present, watching. It was a little much,
and silence hovered over the wooden table.
Fog, the obvious metaphor, helped
dawn come gently to the windows
as I tried to write it down later, here.
Night had slipped away, its own thief.
Morning was the way forward.
The two worlds shifted, night into day
or day into night, however you see it.
I remembered the festive tablecloth.
I almost felt it under my fingertips.
My children taught me how to make my face
turn on my phone, since my fingerprints
are fading, but in the morning, after hours
of mutual sleep, I must still enter
the code, still prove an identity
to a machine with a camera
that can’t quite see me.
You see the ongoing conundrum.
The slippage, logical and lateral,
actual and metaphorical…
foggy, in a not quite solid world.
Not all of my poems are autobiographical, but “Slippage” is, coming from the recent experience of visiting my grown children for Christmas, both now living in Portland, Oregon. The fog is
Portland’s fog as well as the ongoing metaphorical fog of the poem. I do feel like two people these days, one held in suspension, watching with a kind of amazement as the other keeps getting the necessary things done. Those things include helping my parents make end-of-life choices and move from the family home into a retirement community. We are all simultaneously grieving and living in joy and relief after time apart in the pandemic. My father has the brain fog of long Covid, and my mother has Alzheimer’s. They, too, are doubled people. Sometimes I barely recognize myself; how
can the phone recognize me? Poetry has always seemed to me the way to express the inexpressible,
and that becomes explicit in this poem, a grappling with inexplicable shiftings in reality. But reality isn’t hard or fixed, anyway, is it? It is molecules in motion, atoms whirling with their even tinier components, not to mention memory and its unreliability.
I grew up on poetry, my mother reading it to us at bedtime. I read it now slowly and steadily, for comfort and wisdom, or all at once, greedily, in great gulps in August for the Seeley Challenge. I
read it professionally, as an editor and reviewer, and unprofessionally, as a wild lover. I write it in
my head, while walking or swimming, and in various notebooks near at hand, or on grocery lists or envelopes or scraps, like Emily Dickinson. Poetry is still my way to say what can and can’t be said.
The Sightings of Birds
My child is the boy in the green
hat with stegosaurus plates felting
down his back.
As I watch him drag his sled up the hill,
I can’t feel my feet. It doesn’t matter.
He is the boy with the grin
showing off all his teeth.
my child becomes a doctor,
a psychiatrist. Sometimes
when he recognizes the absence
of light in someone’s eyes
he remembers how he almost
gave up but stopped himself.
How he wanted to live.
Let’s say my child marries a lovely
woman who cooks dumplings light
as pillows. They have two children
whom I tuck into my wings,
nuzzle my face into wisps
of their hair. Their perfume
of earth and air follows me
Tonight, my child perches
on the edge of my bed.
I can feel his weight
sinking into the mattress,
his breath in the air.
He tells me that the hawk
I see on October evenings is him
I wrote poetry as a graduate student in literature and always thought of myself as a writer. But I didn’t return to writing seriously for almost 40 years when I was winding down a career as an editor in educational publishing. I read Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, so many amazing women that inspired me to sign up for some workshops and go back to writing. Several years after that, I began writing
about the death of my son, a subject too painful to tackle yet impossible not to. Over the past months, I’ve written several poems about him—how hard it is to drive past his favorite places, how I imagine chatting with him over a glass of gin, how he once guided me down a ski slope when I was paralyzed with fear, how angry I was with him for leaving us. This poem was in the back of my mind for a long time, and writing and revising it has given me a sense of closure, a feeling that I’ve written
a poem about him that feels right. In some mysterious way, it has also helped liberate me to write about other parts of my life. I’m currently working on a chapbook about my parents.
Five times around the golf course, fresh cedar trail soft as tears, and the rufous-sided towhees rummaging for leaves make a sound more mammal than bird. Five times and then I go deeper
into the unmanicured woods, pass a lone man with a dog, and though I don’t know where they lead,
I descend graffitied steps to a narrow creekside trail. The shush of water washes away the traffic
from above and a whippet appears on the little ivy-skirted path, and we talk in hushed tones before an older woman follows, head down. She jumps when she sees me, then smiles in relief. You’re a
black shadow, she says, and it’s true, I’m decked out in dark shorts and fleece. Every time we head
into the woods we throw dice, hoping we come up with woman / woman. I’m so tired of this game. The man I passed had a small poodle—a good sign, I tell myself. I tell myself lots of things. When my husband texts me his usual Good day? what can I say except Great? I’ve gone five times around the
golf course, where a robin quarreled with a squirrel and people laughed as they tapped tiny balls
into holes in the earth.
I write with a motto in mind, one I adopted when I decided to take my writing career more
seriously, decades ago: “There is room for everyone.” When I facilitate writing classes, I share this maxim on the first day. It’s my way of welcoming all voices and outlooks—a generosity I did not receive in the first University creative writing classes I took at nineteen, where an all-male trio of embittered instructors offered only assurances that most of us would fail. I also try to live with this motto as my guiding principle, and as a woman, claim the space that is mine to claim. This poem addresses the challenge that this can pose.
Alongside poetry, I also write and publish fiction and personal essays, and my work is fueled by oddities in human behaviour as well as the splendour and ruin of the wider world. My poetry tends
to be personal and true; my first collection, The Rules of the Kingdom (MQUP 2017), mines my own history and the roles I’ve played. I’m continuing this process in my work-in-progress, which seeks to identify place as a defining factor and influence on my outlook and artistic practice. I grew up in a village of 800 people (Lanark ON, Canada), and perhaps my motto of “there is room for everyone” resonates because I come from such a small community. I currently reside on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, where I’ve taken up a daily visual art practice as a form of meditative play.
Amy Ralston Seife
I’m taking an earthworm appreciation class
where we learn all about those little bastards,
their gizzards, crops, and castings, how they
churn and nourish the soil. We’re each given
a tray of dirt, urged to probe with our fingers,
make our own discoveries — if we dare.
My mother loved, when she chose to love, her
garden: the melon that burst from her compost heap,
the pumpkin vine that twirled its way out
of a mound of coffee grounds, the creatures
that seethed beneath the surface. Come here,
she demanded, but I balked. I never trusted her
sudden changes of weather. Now, when the sun
threatens to bake those naked strings of life,
I whisper them back to their moist homes
with the stems of tender leaves. On other days,
when rain has flushed them out into the open,
I trample their pink bodies with booted feet.
The idea for “Continuing Education” came from a line that occurred to me almost fifteen years ago when I was exclusively a writer of fiction. The poem has undergone more revisions than anything
else I’ve written: each time I returned to it, I discovered something new about myself and my relationship with my mother, who was alive at the time of the first draft but has since died. There
are some lines that were non-negotiable (not surprisingly, the one that sparked the idea for the
poem no longer appears), some metaphors that seemed painful but accurate, and some details that were autobiographical, but the ending always felt disappointing and contrived. It was only once I came to terms with ambivalence that the poem could assume its final shape. Learning to think like a poet has enabled me — as a writer and as a woman — to become more comfortable about living
with questions rather than pressing for answers.
—Amy Ralston Seife
The Old Wolf
Wolf Conservation Center
When he drinks,
he ignores the frog
in the pond.
He lets the catbird
land on a stump
nearby and hop up
and down, rustling in leaves,
dark tail flirting
his lunge and snap—
that fast, yes,
but now he prefers
to rest, drowsing
listening to ravens
through the afternoon.
It’s summer. He’s cached
a deer foreleg,
and at dusk
he paws it up
and stretches out,
He could shear
the long bone
with a single bite
and grind it to dust,
but he wants it
to last. He knows
that life is hard
but it is also good.
Even the gristle.
A friend once explained the difference between herself and her husband as “We think there’s a
church of art and a church of nature, and I need to spend more time in the church of art, and he
needs to spend more time in the church of nature.” Like them, sometimes I need to spend time in
the church of art (drawing, painting, writing poems), and sometimes I need to spend time in the church of nature (camping, hiking, meditating). And sometimes I am able to be in both simultaneously, painting en plein air or making notes for a poem in the woods or at the Wolf Conservation Center. I hope the paintings and poems that begin outdoors in some sense transport viewers and readers into that place and time—as they do me, when I look at the finished works later. Yet, even for me, the place one goes is never quite the place one was; artwork is ritual and altar, not experience.
Wordsworth famously said that poetry begins with “emotion recollected in tranquility,” which I
take to mean in a peaceful place that allows for intense concentration and focus, not as a statement that the process of writing is tranquil. So it’s not surprising that the poets I return to—Mary Oliver, Ellen Bass—have spoken about the challenges of honing language into a state of apparent simplicity
as well as about their experiences in the church of nature. For them, too, writing seems to be both sacral and hard work. But sometimes there are gifts! Poems that come into one’s mind needing only
a little shaping and trimming. Moments like seeing an ambassador wolf whom one has known for years dig up a cached bone and settle down, a little stiffly, to chewing on it.
Grandpa suggests the old magnolia—
I am 13 and lean back against its bark, rough
scales pushing through my pink shell. My pants
are purple, my boots are pure white.
He proposes propping one foot against the trunk.
Leg muscles strain for balance, hippie hair loose, catching
in my dangling earrings, cheap alloys mixing
with my hormones. My arms made of swallow’s wings,
my dance classes echo in leather as my propped foot
holds a hard point. I hate standing here, soul claimed
in the old box camera and unwelcome gaze.
I love the musicality of language, especially woven through narrative. Every poem for me begins as a lyric impulse and a desire to share a story. This very morning, I saw three Canada geese standing on
a roof! Waddling sentries, quite stately— and loud.
I have a deep appreciation for sound. As a non-musician, I use words to make up for that lack of training. I think sound carries the emotive self into a field of understanding that circumvents the intellect. I am hooked on sonics! I love alliteration, assonance and consonance.
Even though I mostly write in free verse, the form of black notes on white space is very important to me. How is tension created by word choice and placement? The visual component is part of how
the poem is experienced—the line crossing the page is breathed by the body/mind.
This poem is part of a larger collection of memory poems that reference the body and the feminine experience through time. A fragmented memoir.
A favorite poem is “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” by current Poet Laureate, Ada Limón. I adore
the line, “I like the lady horses best.” And it reminds me, I like the lady poets best! Let us “swagger,” lady poets, with our “great hearts.” Poets such as Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo and Muriel Rukeyser have all influenced me with their attentive witness. Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses” breaks me apart. Its incantatory language is so beautiful. Sharon Olds’ fierce voice and profound intimacy unlocked the little box in which I nestled my voice. Rukeyser reminds me “the universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
What are the stories? Tell me a story. Let me tell you a story.
I too want to stand in a meadow
with echoes of “Downhearted” by Ada Limón
I read how other people have already
poured the mercury of their hearts into their hands
rolling it around to see it gather
I’ve spent so much time in my house
I’ve forgotten you can go anywhere without invitation
I’ve spent so much time in my house I will need to divorce
my spot at the dining room table if I want to be
I have a guitar with three strings
that has forgotten how to hold a tune
I have a paper bag full of little books
that look like they’ve been rescued from a fire
and as I was leaving the gym I glimpsed on a television screen
a close-up of a red and orange macaroni dish
being stirred and I thought:
everywhere people are being taught
things I already know
and I remember a village with slender trees
in the timid colours of dust
and I remember being bone-shaken
and six horses died in a tractor trailer fire
but that was in somebody else’s poem
and I too want those horses back
and I too want to stand in a meadow where they’re still running
because someone decided at the last minute
to leave them where they were
I recently realised I never stopped writing poetry. Even during the years when my mind was
wrapped in political analysis, I still aimed to pay homage to the rhythms and lilts of the
conversations that undergirded it. The intricacy of the networks I was studying. The flavour and hue of the landscapes that towered over us as we travelled in swaying cars on bumpy roads.
At some point I needed more spaciousness and started writing fiction, which grew into a novel.
Then, when the sprawling draft needed so much revising that it became heavy too, I turned to
poetry. Now I divide my days between the three, trying to keep them from fighting each other,
trying to weave them together so they become part of the same cloth.
Many of the poets I'm reading are hybrid like me – writing in the space between genres and cultures, moving between worlds. Recently I’ve loved Customs by Solmaz Sharif and I’m grateful for how she reminded me of the joy and puzzle of transcribing Farsi poems and transposing them into my own words: Hafez, Mowlana, Khayyam, but most of all Forough Farrokhzad, the famous modernist
Iranian poet who died too young, just blocks away from where I lived in Tehran when 9/11
I’ve been reading Peter Dale Scott, a poet, researcher and former diplomat, like me. I’ve been fascinated by his book-length poem Coming to Jakarta, how it blends research, mémoire and
analysis into poetry. Wondering what a similar exercise would look like for our own time, my own life.
—Martine van Bijlert
The Magnetism of Bodies in the Night
My body disbelieves the mildness of the night, persisting in the memory of winters when water froze in the bowl left on the floor for our pets.
My toes, tunneling blind through the burrows of blankets, seek the warmth of your feet, feet large as a small terrier shoveling for voles.
We begin the night curled toward each other, as if to speak all the words unsaid in the busy day, as if finally ready to tell things long-kept
In the sepulchers of our muffled hearts. And though no one ever really knows anyone, sometimes we plumb the other’s deep-harbored secrets
With synchronicity of alto saxophone and bass, wailing and throbbing, rhythm and melody, joys and pains layered upon layer for eons.
As you begin to drift into sleep, the oncoming train of your snore shakes the bed, slashes my drowsing web. A light push on your chest rolls your bones and the
Sound of your snoring—Doppler Effected— slows into a bar of metered clicking breath. I turn towards the comma of the cat touching my ribs and rest
My back against the shape of yours, a kite to sail me into the moonlit sky and sleep, which will fly too short a time before we wake to hungry cats and dog.
These days I am reading a potpourri of poets from different periods with vastly different styles. The one collection I am currently reading is Dorianne Laux’s Only As The Day Is Long, from which I recently shared “Pearl,” a poem about Janis Joplin, with my 11th grade home-school student. I’m reading poets whose passion and love for nature display equal intensities. I’ve always loved Gerard Manley Hopkins, not for the religious aspects of his poetry, but for his lush, almost over-the-top language. Despite some archaic elements, “Binsey Poplars” is a perfect example of his ecstatic,
musical writing with sentiments as contemporary as the ethos of the modern environmental movement. I am reduced to the same grief Hopkins experienced when I witness vast areas of clearcutting in my beloved Ozark forests. Although Hopkins and Laux couldn’t be more different as people, their fervors and richness of language have so much in common.
As a small landowner-gardener and environmentalist, I have always loved Wendell Berry’s poetry
and want to teach some of it to my student. And then there is Gary Snyder, whose poetry combines
a realistic toughness with his love and awe for the natural world. That is something I aspire to in my own nature writing, especially since my husband and I have a (mostly) healthy co-dependency as we live our lives on the land with a logical division of labor. I’ve recently discovered the work of Pascale Petit, whose poetry combines elements of all the above poets in her own wildly passionate style. I’ve also been rereading a lot of Emily Dickinson. What keeps me writing are the obvious motivators: giving voice to the images, sounds and meaning in my head and sharing with other poets and
All Editor's Choice poems from Summer Issue 2022 through Fall Issue 2023 will automatically be entered in our single-poem contest. Winner to be announced in Winter Issue 2024.
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• As soon as I read the line, “I bring you with me wherever I go,” I felt a strong connection to this poem. There are certain people who have an impact in our lives, that we carry forever.
—Gail Braune Comorat
Ronda Piszk Broatch
HOME FROM THE MOUNTAINS I UNPACK
All day I think I must call you.
I bring you with me wherever I go,
carry your gift of second-hand-
smoke-damaged lungs as I traverse
gain over rocky steps, scree and talus,
gnarled roots of sub-alpine fir.
It’s been four years,
nine months, one week,
and five days since your death.
It’s a month and a half until November,
when the veil is thinnest, and still
you ghost me with uncertainties.
On the second day in the mountains
I imagine bringing you, your broken body,
here, on the ridge, wind wrapping itself
around what dares live amongst rocks,
backlit alpine huckleberry leaves
the kind of red I can’t explain,
except that it guts me, speaks
a language I forgot in some other life.
how you sat in your wheelchair
in the sun, gazing out
at the Olympic Mountain array.
You were with me,
and you were in that place
in between this life and the next,
something almost like happiness, pure, rare,
like a warm breeze on your face.
Now I climb the steepest parts
of Grand Pass trail, practicing rest steps,
to take photographs, pausing
for my pulse and respiration to slow.
I will do this, I tell myself,
until I can no longer climb,
no longer carry the weight—everything,
and only what I need, on my back.
The loss of a parent is difficult at best. My mother’s body was a mess of failing organs, unchecked diabetes, a history of physical ailments, and the anger and depression that go along with it all. Yet,
she had a certain determination that carried her through the death of my father to leukemia six years prior. She made it her duty to sit with friends and family members who were sick and dying, daily navigating hospital hallways on her crutch, her face screwed up in pain, until one by one they slipped away, reducing her world to family she had little contact with, and two friends who were more mobile. In the process, she’d left the care of her own body to me, her only child.
Alone now, Mom needed me. Because I was raised in my grandparent’s household, my relationship to my mother was relegated to weekends, and the phone call I would make during the week. Our new, constant contact was jarring for me, something I had to get used to. We went for long drives. After Dad died, I took her to Hurricane Ridge where she sat in the sun, soaking it up, taking in the mountain view. Up here, oddly peaceful, she smiled. Years later we revisited that place, and a few months after that, she was gone.
The process of revision is a kind of loss. The poem, in its original form, might contain details of pain that seemed important to note at first writing, but over time must be let go, to allow the poem to breathe, in a purer, simpler form. That was the case here, too. I excised parts that said too much. It is
a process I practice daily. One day, I hope to get it right.
—Ronda Piszk Broatch
• I'm drawn into the poem's story as if it were my own: each of us, even when bedecked with
"blossomy patterns," has been wounded by time and life—"but not shattered": the poem's ultimate
offering is one of hope.
—Wendy Elizabeth Ingersoll
This fall I fell. Not the nonchalant drift
of a leaf aware of its own splendor.
No, this was a graceless tumble
on a messy hillside. They tell me
the crack will mend if the hand keeps still.
Have I become fragile like the tea cups
my mother collected? She often told us
they were made from bone china.
Did she know why it was prized?
Its delicate translucence a byproduct
of bovine skeletons crushed to powder.
When guests visited, my mother invited them
to pick a cup. While they studied
the blossomy patterns, she shared
familiar stories about how and when
and why each cup joined the collection.
Every now and then, a cup would crack
and she would mend it with special glue.
If she held it just so, with patient pressure,
the fracture would be camouflaged enough
to make the collection seem intact.
When someone chose an invalid, my mother
would confess. “That one has a crack.”
Depending on the day, she might repeat
the story of the wounded cup.
Did the cup ache where it was cracked?
Did it hold its breath, knowing how
everything can change in an instant?
After my mother died, the cups dispersed.
One sits in front of me now, cracked
but not shattered. My damaged hand
reaches for it as if to say, we understand
each other. The world is never safe. If you listen
to my story, I will listen to yours.
I wrote professionally for almost fifty years—lots of articles and essays for publications ranging from the New York Times and Working Mother magazine to Reader’s Digest and FamilyPC. I also
published books including The Heirloom Gardener, one of the first books about heirloom
vegetables, and Cooperative Wisdom, a book that takes a unique approach to conflict
resolution. During those years, poetry bubbled up every now and then, mostly during times of crisis. The work always felt necessary, therapeutic and deeply private. It didn’t occur to me to publish.
During the pandemic, I had the good fortunate to be invited into two virtual writing groups. Something about being online, in the company of more experienced, highly supportive poets, made
it possible for me to ponder, discuss and eventually share my own poems.
Like many women in my demographic, I’m in the process of life review. As I shed responsibilities, possessions and even relationships, I use poetry to reflect on my feelings and fasten down my memories. I often start with a very simple image and then fool with words until they arrange themselves into something that feels inevitable. This poem sparked when I saw the X-ray of a
hairline fracture in a bone in my right—my writing!—hand. It instantly reminded me of the almost invisible cracks in the china cups my mother mended because she couldn’t bear to let them go. My mother’s habit of saving what mattered to her is part of what prompted my pivot to poetry. After
she died, I found a file folder bulging with poems I’d written when I was very young. Those early efforts were meant to be shared—they were often embedded in illustrated cards for birthdays and other holidays. Making this poem public completes a circle. Thanks, Mom.
• Like a hammer, the repetition in Judy Kaber’s poem drives home the pain of loss, but at the end there is relief. We learn something from loss. We are offered the possibility of a new, but different, beginning.
This Is the Last Backyard
after Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s “This is the Last Hotel”
This is the last backyard where I hug you.
This is the last backyard with a cold fire pit
that carries the smell of overdone steaks.
This is the last backyard where I river my arms
around you, breathe in your parchment skin, touch
your thinning hair, feel the loss of curls.
This is the last backyard with steps to a doublewide.
This is the last backyard where the grass is chopped with holes.
This is the last backyard where the driveway in the front,
riddled with pebbles, looks
like a dead end with get-away cars ready.
This is the last backyard where I lasso regret,
try to pull it in close and hold it to my cheek.
This is the last backyard where I notice berries uneaten, fat and sleek.
I was first exposed to Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poetry at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in
Salem where she was a featured poet. I fell in love with her wonderful blend of everyday details and strong emotion, her facile use of language, and her range of topics. I have all of her books and return repeatedly to my favorite poems.
This poem is modeled very closely on her poem, “This is the Last Hotel,” which speaks of a lost love. My own poem addresses a slightly different kind of loss. Last year I went with my son to see his
father, my ex-husband, who I had not seen in fifteen years and then only briefly. He was very ill with leukemia and died two weeks after our visit with him. It surprised me that I was so affected by his death. I wrote many poems about my visit with him, all of them echoing with loss. I realize what I mourned was the loss of all those years we were close, all the experiences we shared.
I am currently the Poet Laureate of Belfast, Maine, and author of three chapbooks, most recently A Pandemic Alphabet. My poems have appeared in journals such as Poet Lore, december, Hunger
Mountain, Spillway, and others. I won the 2021 Maine Poetry Contest and was a finalist for a 2022
Maine Literary Award.
• "In The Way" celebrates for me our escape from pandemic fear into life—its abundant surprise breathing
into us its poetry.
—Jane C. Miller
In the Way
The sky clouded over
The day we rode the bike path at Bryce.
I was ahead, setting the pace, past the bristlecone pines—
On my right, a doe from nowhere
Bounded across my line, ran beside my bicycle.
Her fawn on the left—now a trio, racing.
To get across the road, to the woods.
I was chosen. In the way.
We flew & I—feet pedaling, & a thought, almost
Don’t stop. Moving, hold
Then, my sisters & almost-thoughts disappeared,
Each in different directions.
It was seconds, the other cyclists said.
Oh, but for me, time’s slow
Motion. My breathing, my—
I slipped into the gap
Where air is thin & thick at once
A wilderness of feeling, of precision:
We were alone.
I held my line & flew.
I believe that poetry is language distilled to its essence, the right words in the right order to express
a condition of experience and feeling that we all share as sentient beings. As a bilingual Greek-American writer, I pay particular attention to the etymology of words and how to use that
knowledge to develop layers of meaning in my work. Words matter, words have resonances:
simplicity, economy, and elegance.
My poem “In the Way” describes an other-worldly experience riding my bicycle in Utah. In this
poem, my aim was to let the words fly the way I did on my bike, with a doe and her fawn on either side of me; to give the poem a particular way of breathing, the way I was breathing during the experience.
൪uartet Interview: Sylvia Byrne Pollack
Sylvia Byrne Pollack was raised in a music-loving family in Batavia, NY. In the wake of Sputnik, she chose to study science. She earned a B.A. in Zoology from Syracuse University, a Ph.D in Developmental Biology from the University of Pennsylvania and a M.A. in psychology from Antioch University-Seattle. She is Research Professor Emeritus after a long career in cancer research at the University of Washington. Following a trip to Antarctica in 2007, Sylvia began to focus on poetry. Her poems appear in Floating Bridge Review, Crab Creek Review, Clover, and Antiphon among other print and online journals. She is a two-time Pushcart nominee, won the 2013 Mason's Road Winter Literary Award, was a 2019 Jack Straw Writer and completed a residency at the Mineral School in 2021. She lives in Seattle with her wife Molly McGee.
൪: You published Risking It at age 80. Did you ever think you’d publish a poetry collection when you first began writing poems?
SP: The desire was always there from college days on but as we all know, if wishes were horses…. During the years I was focused on my family and my career in cancer research, I journaled and dabbled in poetry. Later I started taking poetry workshops at University of Washington where I was on the faculty in the Medical School. After I retired early at age 60 following a bout with cancer, I made a commitment to write, always hoping that maybe, one day, I would have a book.
൪: Was it hard to find a publisher?
SP: I used sources like Poets & Writers to find contests. I wrote seven chapbooks and entered them in various contests. Several of these chapbook manuscripts were finalists or got honorable mention. That feedback plus encouragement from my poetry mentors convinced me to try a full-length manuscript. I sent it to some contests and although I didn’t win at Red Mountain Press, I got lucky with the wonderful editor Susan Gardner who believed in the book. She called and said they wanted to publish Risking It.
൪: What writers or works have influenced the way you write?
SP: The first poet I saw give a reading was Robert Frost when I was in high school. Then at Syracuse University where I majored in zoology, I hung out with English majors. In one course Robert Lowell was the visiting professor. These two very different Roberts defined my sense of what was poetry then. Later, as I began to write more, I was influenced by reading May Sarton, Kay Ryan, Louise Glück, Elizabeth Bishop. I’m part of a poetry book club that meets monthly. We usually pick contemporary poets but occasionally read and discuss a poet from the past. Whoever I’ve just read influences me to one degree or another.
൪: After a long career in cancer research, what drew you to poetry? How does your science background mingle with your poetry?
SP: In my early years, I was immersed in music and if it weren’t for Sputnik, I probably would have stayed in music. Music and poetry are both woven from sounds, silence, emotions, scene-setting and resolution. Focusing on poetry in my later years was a kind of homecoming. My decades in science had taught me to observe, pay attention, describe things economically, and imagine (a.k.a. hypothesize!). Writing and submitting research papers and grant applications taught me to work to deadline and to realize that acceptance is not a foregone conclusion. I often say that the rejections in my science career toughened me up for rejections in the poetry world.
൪: Do you show your work in progress with anyone?
SP: My wife, Molly McGee, poet/playwright/librettist/short story and novella author, is my first reader. Then things may go to my critique group which meets monthly, my college roommate, or other friends. My critique group (and the book club) make up my homemade MFA program.
൪: How do you approach craft? Do you use prompts?
SP: I was not formally trained in poetry so my craft has been shaped over time by reading, watching how experienced poets write and critique poems, taking classes at Hugo House here in Seattle, talking about poetry, and experimenting.
Until recently I would have said I don’t use prompts. My process has been to notice something – a thought, a bird, an emotion, whatever I’m aware of that provokes me to want to say something. I have several journals that I write in, as the muse moves me. When I take my daily walk, if something “provokes” me, I dictate into my iPhone. I dump that into my laptop and work on it. But lately I have stopped resisting prompts! I am finding they can be useful and they can be a lot of fun. But my default approach is more organic. It springs from somewhere in me.
൪: What is your ideal workspace?
SP: My ideal would be a small waterfront cabin with big windows, a very long table and ample book shelves. However, the reality is my study, its book shelves and file cabinets, boxes of projects, and a table. Fortunately, it has south facing windows where I can watch the Seattle weather.
൪: Do you attend retreats or workshops? Have they helped you in your writing?
SP: I have gone on “do it yourself, one-woman retreats” around Puget Sound. I had the marvelous experience of being at The Mineral School for two weeks of concentrated writing bliss in 2019. I have attended Poets on the Coast multiple times since its beginning in 2010. Each of these fed my writing, however POTC has been a multi-course banquet, with healthy helpings of craft, inspiration, guidance, and poetry in community.
൪: In Risking It, you mention music in quite a few poems. Do you listen to music when writing?
SP: Great question! I don’t know why I only rarely do! Perhaps it is because as a hard-of-hearing person, music can be distracting and I’m trying to hear what my inner voice is saying. I’m going to try writing with music!
൪: You have several “personalities” (a rock named Gregory, Black Dog, the deaf woman) in your collection. How do they enhance or empower your writing?
SP: Personae are freeing. They let me move inside some other consciousness and write from there. They allow me to pretend, carry a notion to the nth degree. The Deaf Woman grew out of reading Marvin Bell’s Dead Man poems. I borrowed some of Bell’s approach but ultimately did not stick precisely to his format. The Black Dog has been hounding writers since Samuel Johnson (and undoubtedly earlier). Having a creature or object embody an emotional state is also freeing.
൪: Tell us about Letitia. How and when did she come into being? I recently saw another “Letitia” poem in a journal. Will she continue to reappear?
SP: I wanted to write about Bipolar II disease but wasn’t brave enough to write in the first person. So, I created the persona Letitia. As I began to write the poems, I realized I wanted the latitude to write about things that I only imagined. Letitia springs from my experience but is not autobiographical.
Letitia will get her own book (working title Letitia but I’m sure we’ll come up with something "sexier"), which also will be published by Red Mountain Press. I am still adding poems to the manuscript.
൪: What does poetry bring to your life? Why should we all be reading more poetry?
SP: I read poetry every day – it is an anchor of sanity in the midst of an increasingly insane world. I think everyone should read poetry for the same reason I think we all should walk outdoors every day. It keeps us connected to our humanity and our planet. It’s too easy to forget both of those things, whether insulated by obscene wealth or crippled by poverty and illness. Poetry can make us laugh, cry, sigh. It’s good medicine for anxious minds.
The poem that declines to be written
because it is self-conscious, shy, cryptic
or shallow, is a poem that must nevertheless
be treated with respect – like a wild goshawk.
Don’t try to take off its hood too soon.
Let it rest in the dark as the two of you get to
know each other. Your voice is important.
When the day comes to let it fly, watch where
it soars. If it disappears into the forest, you must
let it go. But, if it flies back to you, feed it.
"Ars Poetica" is from Sylvia's book, Risking It, and is reprinted with permission.
Risking It (2021) was published by Red Mountain Press and is available from several online sources.
ISBN-10: 1952204097 ISBN-13: 978-1952204098
൪uartet wishes to thank Sylvia for her time and generosity in granting this interview, conducted via email by ൪uartet editor Gail Braune Comorat.
No Small Gift
Four Way Books
Jennifer Franklin fills No Small Gift with the voiceless and gives them song. In a world where “every human contains the capacity / to inflict cruelty,” (“The Philosopher Did Not Say”), she proves “art keeps us from dying / of the truth” (“The Goldfinch”). Through a palimpsest of voices past and present, she leads us beyond betrayal to transformation that is both personal and timeless.
In “(Not) A Love Story,” Franklin introduces herself and her daughter who we later learn has autism and epilepsy, the narcissistic husband who abandons them, her own throat and tongue cancer a doctor fails to diagnose.
Post-surgery, Franklin lets a mute “Philomela at the Loom” reflect on her husband: “He thought when he took my tongue, / he could keep me from telling.” But tell she does with hindsight’s honesty. Realizing in “Eurydice’s Revelation,” that he only “sang / for himself,” she calls his lack of repentance, “no small gift,” since it gives her the freedom to move on without absolving him (“Philomela Considers Forgiveness”).
Her self-assessment is equally unsparing. In “Hubris,” she recalls what became of her great expectations for her daughter when she tells her:
your legacy mirrors
that of obsolete
palaces, every lit
window, wide open
to the Grand Canal. All
the exquisite rooms, empty.
Experience tests that assumption. In “While Waiting, Godot Interrupts,” the author listens to silence, and interrogates behaviorists who claim her daughter is not in pain when she cries:
a habit to pass time like hamsters
running a wheel or shopping for clothes
we don’t need. We go on, alone, together—
our arms intertwined—nothing if not love.
Through art, Franklin shows us what it is to parent a child with a disability, her daughter, ever-present even when absent. In “Tronie, Portrait of a Young Woman,” “She taunts / visitors the way my daughter does.” Compensation comes in small moments, the “Gift” of compassion by another child who uplifts her own to unrestrained laughter.
Franklin places her struggles within the context of other, modern realities: the blissfully unaware “New Parents Over a Stroller”; the dead child washed ashore in “Refugee, Beach”; 700 children, deemed defective, killed in “Burial of the Brains, Vienna, 2002”; a death camp memento of a mother and daughter in “One Photograph.”
Those grim exhumations yield in “Amor Fati” to an appreciation for life and what her challenges have given her. She understands the stance of “The Goldfinch”: “chained to your perch forever— unflinching, / looking out with courage.” It enables her to stand up to betrayal and loss, to move beyond them, to call her scars beautiful, and to remind us in “Lavinia, Afterward,” that “every song of grief is still song.”
From these propulsive and charged poems that animate what the poet can and cannot change, Franklin offers “In This Version Of The Story,” a parting declaration of freedom from cruelty, and love as the best revenge against those forced to witness what they fail to destroy or understand.
—Jane C. Miller