Reading Through The Pile

Zone.3_.Fall_.2016_As summer turns the corner into August, I’m once again playing catch-up with piles of literary magazines I have been wanting to read. Sure, they’re a little out of date, but the poems and stories and essays and reviews within remain fresh and juicy and delicious. #ShelfLife

I just finished reading the Fall 2016 issue of Zone 3, and I just have to say their magazines are always so PRETTY. Really love their design choices all around. And Zone 3‘s not just a pretty face! I dog-eared quite a few page corners in this issue — some really memorable work, some of which I hope to share with my students this fall. 

Andrew Koch‘s poems, “Form a Line” and “Orchard,” are slow, longish poems whose pace and great detail I really enjoyed. These expansive, essayistic poems start small and really take me somewhere I didn’t necessarily expect to go — but, in both instances, the destinations seemed, in the end, not only satisfying but inevitable. Both poems got richer for me with each new reading; I love that!

Ellyn Lichvar’s “Flotsam” invokes the image and the tragedy of Aylan (Alan) Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who died by drowning; the photograph of his tiny body washed up on the beach is revisited here in brutal, spare detail. The poem imagines the life that led Alan, as well as many refugees, to such desperate and life-threatening measures: “Before the child washed // ashore, he mastered the art / of surrender. Hands held high / they pointed at him whatever // was on hand–camera, / gun–and no one said learn / to swim.”

Carrie Shipers’ “Love Poem to Daniel Bryan, Summer 2013″ illuminated both the speaker/”lover” and the “beloved” in ways I found surprisingly moving, given that Daniel Bryan is a professional wrestler on television, not an actual acquaintance (as far as I can tell) of the speaker. Shipers’ direct address seeks to point out similarities between her speaker and the wrestler: “I understand how even doing well can lead // to doubt: How many matches will it take / to prove your critics wrong, make you believe / that you belong? Daniel, like you // I’m either overlooked or under siege / by people with more power, insecure / but tougher than my enemies expect.” I found the repeated invocation of his full name to be so well-done, well-timed, in this poem. 

I reread “Limb” by Ellie Tipton several times, each time sinking a little more deeply into the poem’s affecting details, as well as the smart narrative arrangement of those details. The title and the work with that word “limb” is pretty devastating. As the poem progresses, the lines lengthen, and italicized fragments of language become a kind of archipelago of memory: Always the circle of strangers around you, and your family // strung together on an orange couch with a man called Chaplain, and / mother opened the ICU doors, asking the gentler one, who took her hands and said, / not yet and said thread. And hours later, clinging, we told God: fine.” The two final stanzas of the poem that come on the heels of this one feature much shorter lines, sentence fragments, glimmers, silences. The poem’s end just gutted me every time I read it. It’s a good reason to consider buying a copy of the issue.

I’m not sure what to say about David Huddle’s “Verbal Binary Presence in Early Childhood Development, that Infamously Difficult Poetic Form the Villanelle, and the Spiritual Quotidian.” It’s the winner of Zone 3’s 2016 nonfiction prize. It’s genre-bendy, wide-ranging, thought-provoking, darkly funny in places. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Also, if you are interested in the villanelle form, you must see this. 

Finally, I just wanted to say how pleased I was to see Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James, 2016) reviewed by Robert Campbell here. I’m a big fan of May’s work — like Campbell, I find reading May’s poems to be a “sublime pleasure.”

Thanks, Zone 3 editorial team, and thanks, Austin Peay State University Center for the Creative Arts, for supporting such beautiful and necessary work!



Recent Publications


The end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 have brought a few new poem publications I’m thrilled to share. Most recently, “Others Carried Milk” was included in the Sibling Rivalry Press collection, If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of An American Inauguration. The collection is amazing and inspiring, and was assembled by Bryan Borland and the fine crew at SRP nearly instantaneously. You can buy a copy for yourself and, if you’ve got some scratch to spare for a good cause, you can purchase additional copies that the press will distribute for free to communities who might otherwise not have access to the work. If you are not able to spare the $15 at this time, SRP has made a PDF version available (see instructions at purchase link above) for free.

If publication is any kind of evidence, 2016 was, for me, a year for poems written in traditional meter/form. Three of them (“Braid,” “At the Pool Hall,” and “Scansion”) were published in the Winter 2016 edition of Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose, and Art. A villanelle I wrote about Summer Lake at the Playa Artist Residency Program appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Measure, along with great poems by at least three other New Hampshire poets (Robert Crawford, Midge Goldberg, and Kyle Potvin).

I was also so honored to be included in new editor Karen Head’s first issue at the helm of Atlanta Review. My poems, “About Suffering” and “Lake Michigan Is So Clear Right Now is Shipwrecks are Visible from the Air” appear right after a great set of poems by my teacher from the long-ago, Ted Kooser.

2016 was a good year overall, publication-wise — poems also appeared in Rappahannock Review, Cutthroat, River Styx, Nimrod, Panoply, A Dozen Nothing, Bloom, and Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women. I’ve got a few poems set to be published in journals this year, but looking at my “work sent out” list, it’s a bit short just now. Time to send more poems out!



The Last Man on the Moon

On December 11, 1972, 42 years ago, Apollo 17 landed on the moon. It was the final Apollo mission. I have long been obsessed with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions; with the space race to the moon. So obsessed, that I have a whole series of poems on this subject. It’s a series I’m still working on. Here’s one, in honor of today’s anniversary:

Last Man

            for Eugene Cernan

The politics of timing are a boon
to famous men like Armstrong who got there first.
Who knows the name of the last man on the moon?

Remember winners, the heroes of high noon,
spotlit by lucky honor, fit to burst.
The politics of timing are a boon.

History might have whistled a different tune,
or things that went badly could have gone much worse.
Who knows? The name of the last man on the moon

doesn’t inspire the awe-bedazzled swoon
of Armstrong. Strong-arm. One step in the dust.
The politics of timing are a boon

to men like him. The stories that balloon
from chance to headlines shout about who’s first.
Who knows the name of the last man? On the moon,

the footprints of Apollo are marooned,
bequeathed to the calm regard of the universe.
The politics of timing are a boon.
Who knows the name of the last man on the moon?



Poker & Poetry

This weekend, I played in the 2011 Foxwoods Poker Classic Ladies’ No-Limit Hold ‘Em “Deep Stack” tournament. “Deep Stack” means they gave us a whole lot of chips, so play generally lasts longer. One of our dealers suggested that women tend to play a tighter game than men, and that that contributes to the length of women’s tournaments as well — not sure whether that’s true or not.  I played for about five and a half hours, and went out around 67/68/69th in a field that started with 206 players.  I was playing at a table with some serious, serious players and frankly still can’t believe I lasted as long as I did. I went out as the short (WAAAAY short) stack — threw all-in pre-flop with KJ of hearts. It wasn’t enough.

In January I held my own for a while in one of Foxwoods’ regular lower-stakes tournaments, another “deep stack” hold ’em with a “bounty” chip, which is lots of fun — you win a cash “bounty” for each person you put out of the tournament.  I managed to come away with three chips (my own and two others), so the $200 buy-in ended up costing me only $25. In a field of 134, I came in 25th (not close enough to be in the money, alas). More thrilling (I am such a dork) was splitting a pot with poker-playing actor James Woods. Anyhow, I feel like I’ve played well in my last two “big” tournaments, but I need more practice at aggressive betting in the later part of a tournament. I’m a decent conservative player, which takes me a good ways, but I don’t think I’ll ever get into the money without learning to shift into higher gear. The two friends I go to the casinos with are more consistently better players than I am — partly (I think) because they are better at math than I am, but also because they know how to bet more aggressively than I do. Thankfully, I’m having a good old time learning, and slowly (SLOWLY) improving my game.

So of course today I had to share my poker status on Facebook, and part of my status update was crammed with poker lingo: “Best hand: quad 8’s, but no one took my bait. Went all-in as short stack on K/J hearts pre-flop. Got called by A/K. She flopped the straight, so what ended up being 2 pairs (K/J) for me just wasn’t enough to double up.” And later, in response to some friends’ comments about the inscrutable poker jargon, I commented that my King-Jack suited was nicknamed “Kojak,” and that the King-Jack unsuited (“Jack-King-Off) is called the Bachelor Hand. Naughty.

I love the word play (visual word play, metaphors, puns, etc) involved in all the poker jargon — here’s a great list of all the fun names for various cards and hands. I’m drawn to it both because I love the particulars of subcultures, and (mostly) because I’m a word nerd and a poet.  A friend commented, after all my jargony updating and comments on Facebook, that I ought to write a poker poem.  And I may have to write a new one — I want to write an ode to the player (she was so clearly the Boss of Our Table) who slow-played her pocket queens so well it was like I’d been hypnotized. It was an honor to be so well-played. She was that good. But before I get to that poem, this one goes out to Bill — a poker poem I’ve already written — several years back.  It appears in my chapbook, Luck, whose title poem is actually set at a craps table. Anyhow, here it is, and I’d love to hear about more poker poems.


Luck can’t be worked; sometimes you just fall in:
you’ve got the pocket aces and the nerve
and so you push your stack of chips all-in.

One player calls; another rubs her chin
and folds. The big blind checks. You feel in love.
Luck can’t be worked. Sometimes you just fall in

with a crowd of cards too bad to call. In
this instance, though, your mother would approve,
and so you push your stack of chips all-in.

The flop’s an ace, a seven, and a ten.
Two drop their cards. One raises. Then a five.
Luck can’t be worked; sometimes you just fall in

at the right time or table, or crawl in
to the warmest bed to stroke the softest curves.
And so you push your stack of chips all-in.

You block out the casino’s garish din.
You ride the river’s solitary wave.
Luck can’t be worked; sometimes you just fall in,
and so you push your stack of chips all-in.