#BigPoetryGiveaway Recipients

Thanks to all who participated in April’s #BigPoetryGiveaway, a chain reaction initiated by Kelli Russell Agodon.

I wish I could afford to send books to everyone who commented. All the entries went into a soup bowl, and my husband drew out two names for each book—one winner, and one backup, in case the winner didn’t respond.

2014-05-12 19.33.39

(Okay, so I’m kind of lousy at holding the camera still, and the reflection on his glasses makes him look a little psycho (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but really, he’s a nice guy. Someone you can trust to make a fair selection.)

Brian Wong won my chapbook, Wild Thing in Our Known World.

Diane Kendig won Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume. I’ll be sending copies to each of these winners.

If you’re intrigued, both books can be found on Amazon, or can be ordered from your friendly local independent bookstore.

Cover    plume


Thanks for coming by, and thanks to Kelli for the idea. Cheers to poetry!

Mixing Memory with Desire

Sure it’s National Poetry Month—and also, in some estimations, the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land. I was born in this month, and my first child was due on my birthday. Aries carrying Aries. What could be more energetic, more hopeful, more determined, more willful than that?

Destiny shifted. My son was born late—I’ve always thought this was because my body understood this was the best way to keep him alive. He died of a heart defect three days later. His placenta is buried under the tree we’d bought to celebrate his birth, a lilac.

He’d be 25 today. In the early years I often looked at my second son and imagined my two boys together, playing, bickering, teasing. I’d look for clues as to who Jake might have become by watching my surviving son.

Destiny shifted. My second son grew into a life that was different from what I imagined. My marriage ended, which wasn’t what I imagined when I envisioned parenting either son.

Jake most likely would not have remained the person I intuitively understood him to be, either.

Children turn into someone else. Some aspects of their personalities are still recognizable, but new elements come in, seemingly out of nowhere. They drop characteristics that you once thought were at their core.

When an article about Jacob’s life and death appeared in a November 1989 edition of the Boulder Camera Sunday Magazine, I received a lot of letters from older people who had lost children and had been afraid to mention it. Some of these children, like my son, were babies. I reconnected with two women from my hometown who had lost infants several years before my son died. One older woman from Boulder wrote of how she had never named her daughter, and had in fact given her second daughter the name she’d planned for her first. When she read my essay, she had just come back from a tree-planting ceremony in which she had finally given her first little girl her own name. We wrote back and forth for several years; she always remembered Jacob’s birthday.

A friend of my ex-husband’s parents wrote to me a lot also. Her son had died in a car wreck in his 30s, and in the WASPy New England environment where she

lived, she often felt she wasn’t allowed to mention his name. She was one of my most important support people, for she spoke the truth to me. It’s a lie that time heals, she said. And all our children are our children, whether they die young or as adults. Each of your cells has something—something important in knowing who it is in you and how it should function—taken out of it.

She sent me this poem, which she had copied out of The New Yorker and kept. I received it about a year after Jake died and pasted it into a 1990 journal.

After enough time goes by, whether your child is dead or alive, you feel nostalgic for the child you dreamed of. You realize that dream may be all you can know. You are mourning a shadow.


Elegy for a Child’s Shadow

Perhaps the moment included a bench, a tree with a bicycle

leaning against it, and a shadow.

From the position of the shadow, the mother

might know whether something

was entering or was just leaving. And whether,

if it was leaving, it would be back.


                                    If she had to describe

the shadow, she would say it is shaped like a sundial

in a park where all afternoon children have been playing.

Or she would say it is like a pool

where golden fish swim.

When the sun is at a certain angle,

she can hear the water inside the water,

and what she thinks of is a life

dissolving slowly

like a wafer in the mouth of a child.


                                        Sometimes death is humble,

merely a space,

tempting a child to fill it with itself.

As the grass, so plush and blue,

tempts the mother. Lying there, she hears

the sound of rain exciting the leaves

to stillness, and later,

much later, she feels the dark,

gliding gently as an eraser over her life.


                                             —Susan Mitchell


(This poem appears in The Water Inside the Water, by Susan Mitchell. Used by permission.)

April is National Poetry Month! #BigPoetryGiveaway

Image In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m following Kelli Russell Agodon’s lead in offering two free poetry books to someone who comments on this post (and is not a spammer). I’ll ship the books to you at my expense. All you have to do is comment. I’ll put your name in a hat at the end of April, and if you win I’ll post your name on my comment thread. (You might want to set to “follow comments” for this post.) At that point you can use the contact form to send me your address and off we go. I promise to choose names at random.

The deal is, poets usually offer one of their own books, and one book by someone else. Though if you are not a poet you are welcome to use your own blog to participate (the only rule is that you link back to Kelli’s blog), and offer two books of your choosing. So, on offer: One copy of my chapbook, Wild Thing in Our Known World: Image Excerpt:

In winter, Navarre comes over the fence,

Longboned and lean, low, too young for skulking,

They neutered him but still he leads the pack,

This wolf in dog’s clothing.

(From “Navarre,” first published in RHINO)

You can also browse previous posts right here on this blog for sample content of this chapbook or for other examples of my work.


Also, one copy of Kathleen Flenniken’s astonishing collection, Plume, which I mentioned in my Standout Reads 2012 post: Image Here’s a link to a sample poem, “Radiation!” I loved this book for its quiet, image-based protest, based on the author’s experience as both a member of a community organized around working at the Hanford nuclear power plant, and as a scientist later employed at that plant.


These books are offered as an effort to promote poets and poetry–I hope you’ll participate. Again, the books come to you free, with no shipping costs. What can it hurt?

If you’d like to give away a couple of books on your blog, check out the instructions on Kelli’s blog. Please be sure to link back to Kelli’s blog, and if you heard about the giveaway here first, please also link to this post as well.

Again, to enter, just leave a comment on this blog post.

Thanks and happy poetry month!


(Top photo credit: Kelli Russell Agodon)


Standout Reads 2013

This has been quite the year for literary releases, and I didn’t get to many books I’d hoped to read, let alone some of those that have been sitting on shelves, calling and calling, for ages. 2014 promises the same, though I think I will focus more on my “backstock.” So, as usual, this annotated list represents the most memorable of what I happened to read in 2013, but these books might not have been released in the last year.

No particular order.


  • Billy Lynn’s Long Half-time Walk, Ben Fountain. There were a fewBilly Lynn issues with Billy Lynn’s Walk, but as the year rolled on, I found my mind going back to it again and again. As a meditation on the relationship between America’s culture and America’s wars, this is the best I’ve seen.
  • Surveyor, G.W. Hawkes. I would love for the universe to explain how I missed this book when it came out in the Surveyor90s. Luckily I stumbled upon it in a used bookstore and from now on it will be the book-gift I give. Two bachelor friends, Korean War vets, heterosexual but who have lived together long enough to function as a married couple, face profound changes in their relationship and way of life. Wonderfully complicated by the mysterious landscape of the New Mexican desert, and the artistic and fairly crazy (but few) people who live there with them.
  • Pacazo, Roy Kesey. This guy Kesey is one of the more exciting writersPacazo I’ve found in a long time. Pacazo is set in Peru; the narrator is an American student of the Spanish Conquest, who has been long delayed in that country by his marriage to a Peruvian woman. His wife has been abducted and murdered. His mind, broken by grief and rage, holds, seemingly, all of known Peruvian and a lot of American history simultaneously, and the way that Kesey represents this on the page is something to behold. I bought the book for my ereader and then again for my shelf in hardback. It’s just something to hold onto.
  • The Virgins, Pamela Erens. Clean and complex. Tempting to compare toVirgins some kind of alcohol, but I’m not sure which, especially as you’re not in a stupor when it’s over, but stimulated. Anyway, Erens takes some risk in the way she structures this story, which is to say that she’ll make you think. She’ll also make you remember.
  • Dear Life, Alice Munro. Can’t have a list without Alice. Never disappoints.
  • Half as Happy, Gregory Spatz. I rarely include non-Alice Munro story collections in this list, because it’s hard to love all the stories in a collection. However, the stories here—and that was most of them—that I did love? I LOVED. I read this early in the year and still the characters and their situations are vivid to me. How are we happy, how do we know when we are and when we aren’t, and what should we settle for—these are some of the concerns of this book.
  • The News from Spain, Joan Wickersham. Another collection of stories, in this case thematically linked. Each story is given the same title, but that’s not what links them—some have said they are stories about betrayal and adultery, but I would disagree: these are tales of fidelity.

dear life    HalfAsHappy      Spain

  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, Adelle Waldman. I wasn’t going to read this. It sounded like one of those chick lit books that were trying not to be chick lit. However, it was well worth my time. Was it Freud who said “What do men want?” If you’re a woman who’s ever dated a guy and wondered what the fuck goes on in that head, or if you’re a single guy who has ever wondered what the fuck goes on in your head, here you go.
  • The City & the City, China Mieville. I like this far better than the otheCityr Mieville books I’ve read. Noir and twisty, lots of allegory, much to think about in terms of how we deny the realities in front of our faces, right in our neighborhoods, how we cage our histories, our hatreds, our loves.
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner. Always meant to read this; now I have. The care and delicacy with which Stegner builds his worlds are always such a delight. What is it to live a life well?Person Be
  • How Should a Person Be? Sheila Heti. Praise God and Mary! A real novel of ideas, just like we used to have, populated by fucked-up artists. Just the kind of thing real novels used to be about.
  • The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud. The question Messud raised in the now-famous interview about whether literary characters need to be likable is worth pondering, as it seems there is an awful lot of whining these days from readers about how they “didn’t like the characters.” Howwoman upstairsever, this novel raises more questions than that. What does it take to make art? Must artists be ruthless to succeed? What should we expect of our friends? What kinds of things are fair trades in friendships, and are all relationships transactional? What are our obligations to our parents—not just in terms of caretaking but in terms of living the lives they were unable to live? In many ways, this book too addresses the question of how a person should be.
  • The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante. An Italian mother faces divorce and kind of goes nuts. Also, The Lost Daughter, Elena Ferrante. An Italian mother faces the empty nest and kind of goes nuts. I’ll be reading more of this woman.


  • Benediction, Kent Haruf. Every time I drive through the Pawnbenedictionee National Grasslands area of Colorado, which I bet is more often than a lot of people have driven through it, I get this sense of a novel stirring and pecking inside. To which I say, STOP THAT! I don’t have time for you. Luckily Haruf has it covered. It’s always a pleasure to return to Ault, CO, and live in Haruf’s version of it.
  • The Human Stain, Philip Roth. Aside from the first 20 pages or so, which were belabored and sometimes even clumsy, this book is a perfect work of art.


  • Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, Timothy Egan. Wonderful insightcurtis into what it’s like to have an artistic mission that’s both temporally urgent and hard to find financial and cultural support for. Also a great explication of what Curtis did to make a record of Native American culture as it was rapidly changing under white attack and later under unrelenting pressure from our dominant culture. His photographs were nearly lost. He also gathered the first non-white accounts of the Custer battle.
  • Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, David Lipsky. Part of what is sure to become a growing body of work around Wallace’s life and works. This is not  biograpLipskyhy—it’s more like primary material. Lipsky was sent to interview Wallace for Rolling Stone. These are (mostly, one assumes—the recorder was shut off sometimes at Wallace’s request, and I suppose Lipsky may have chosen to delete other sections) the raw tapes. I enjoyed the fly-on-the wall vantage, though there is a patina of sadness, given what the reader knows, and Wallace and Lipsky do not know, about what would come in later years.
  • The Psychopath Inside, James Fallon. Quite a slog, because of the author’s admittedly rotten personality, which gleams at you on every page. Recommended not so much for the insights on psychopathy (though the part about how to avoid psychopaths is good advice), as for his articulate explanations of how mental illnesses operate vis a vis brain development, what drugs work and why they work, the role of genetics in all this, and the role of epigenetics. Feel free to skim the rest. And don’t give this guy money; get it from the library.

bad mother

  • Bad Mother, Ayelet Waldman. Some of these essays were less successful than others, but I suspect how well they speak to you will depend on your own parenting and spousing experiences and philosophies. They will challenge or affirm them, and either reading experience is worthwhile.


  • Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds. Know anyone who’s ever gone throuStag's Leapgh a major breakup or a divorce? Great gift.
  • Hafiz, The Mystic Poets, tr. Gertrude Bell. An important influence for Robert Bly’s work, Hafiz’s ecstatic Sufi poetry offers a counterpoint to the view of Islam we in the West have unfortunately been tending toward. “Wine-drunk, love-drunk, we inherit paradise,/His mercy is for sinners.” I know: wine is supposed to be a symbol for “the drunken bliss of love”—ie, God’s grace. Hafiz drinks in this grace quite a lot, it seems.
  • Complete Poems, E. E. Cummings. I can see I knew very little oficarus E. E. Cummings.
  • Club Icarus, Matt W. Miller. Poems about how hard it is to stay cool with being inside skin.

Bonus: Literary Magazines

Because it rarely publishes or reviews women compared with the frequency with which it does the same for men, I took (at least) a year off from subscribing to The New Yorker and rambled about among less well-known journals. Here’s what popped.

  • Fiction: The Santa Monica Review. Usually I hand on or recycle literary journals when I’m done with them, even the big ones like Tin House. I’ll be finding room, God knows how, on my shelves for SMR, I have a feeling, because I’ll want to return to some of the stories in these pages.
  • Poetry: Cave Wall. In truth, I’ve been subscribing almost since the beginning, so it’s been a pleasure to see Rhett Iseman Trull evolve as an editor.
  • Personal essay and commentary: Still looking, though I did enjoy a lot of the work in n+1.

He That Presents Himself

Your dogs every one of them

wonderful, the best, but this the one

who loved me.

Cinnamon chow chow,

one of those things: in for bunny food,

out with a puppy.

He’d been five months in a cage;

he ducked, staggered beneath

the sky, tumbled on stairs.

One month later, little furball, he purged

a bear from our yard.

Two years on, that dog

would tree a lion for me.

First night in my house,

he laid himself across my bedroom

threshold. I looked it up.

Chows are bred for this.

Guardians of temples, palaces,

they close apertures against

the seen and the unseen.

It was what I needed at that time,

right after my divorce,

bears thick as thieves in the yard,

my halls infested with demons.


Stephen (right), Dec 16, 1999-Dec 2, 2013. Thank you for your service.

An Out-of-Season Christmas Piece

Hummingbirds shouldn’t be in Colorado in the winter, but I suppose they’re somewhere at Christmastime. This poem has always felt like Christmas to me, maybe because I always place a feathered bird ornament at the top of our tree.

“Perch,” is collected in the chapbook Wild Thing in Our Known World, available on Amazon, or directly from Finishing Line Press. Who doesn’t want poetry for Christmas?




These hummingbirds:

buzzing like wasps

while I’m trying to read.

That rufous bullying

at the feeder. As if I need

a mafia gig on the patio.

But today a tiny green bird

paused atop the tall blue spruce.

Such a small bird, so high up.

What could it see?



(Photo Credit: Roger Adams)

Happy holidays!

Chapbook Is Finally, Really Here…

…and available both from Amazon and directly from the publisher. If you’re on Goodreads, feel free to connect with the resources there as well. Samples of my poetry can be found by scrolling through this blog, or by clicking the Poetry tab above and following the links to literary journals where I’ve been published.

I hope you enjoy this short collection of work.