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Write-up: FREE POEM Days

September 14, 2010

FREE POEMS ON DEMAND was a success at the Decatur Book Festival.  We collectively wrote more than 100 poems over two days on topics as diverse as: “neon broken arm”, “cannibalism”, “how to tell your grandmother you’re pregnant”, and “wow!”


Participants included: me, Jeff Dahlgren, Zac Denton, John Selvidge, Mary Richardson, Michele Rozga, Allison & Ping Pong, and a random stranger who wanted to try her hand at it (she wrote a good poem about “corners”).

I got out there around 3PM and wrote nonstop until 8PM.  Various people joined me in the task throughout the day.  I found these sales slips at Wal-mart that let you write things on the top sheet and it will transfer to the carbon copy on the bottom.  We used these sometimes to get an instant copy of the poems we wrote for people.  The pad had 50 sheets, but we ran out of sheets about half-way through.


Some people asked for silly topics like Hippopotamus.  But some people, you can really tell they needed a poem to get through whatever they were going through.  You got to learn a lot about people sometimes, like the woman who asked for a poem about “the end of an affair”.  Or the older man who asked very genuinely for a poem about “hope”.

Those vague words are the hardest to write, (we got “hope”, “true love”, “life”, “determination”, “perseverance”).  There’s an impulse to undercut the subject with cleverness, but if the person looks like they really meant it, then you don’t want to do that.  You want to write a genuine sincere poem about hope.  Now, all you ironic poets out there can smirk all you want, but that is fucking hard.

Overall, though, writing instant poems is fun and easy.  It’s much easier than writing a real poem simply because nobody expects a good poem to be written in 5 minutes.  So if you write a bad poem, that’s par for the course.  If you write a mediocre poem, that’s considered wonderful, fantastic!  This way of thinking about it really freed me up to write whatever crap came into my head.

I got so many encouraging responses.  One woman even said she will frame it on the wall, and some just said thanks over and over again.  One boy said “thanks, i really like it”  then later “It’s really a good poem”.  He was so sweet.

Some people had special requirements for their poem.  Like this following one, in which I was instructed to include the words turquoise, sun, detritus, monkey, fresh-cocoonut, chanting, hand-spun, and moon:

Turquoise and blue, natural colors
filling up the stream.  Nearby
detritus ends up in Detroit
where the monkeys wear suits,
teleconferencing.  But here, only
the din of traffic reaches me
as I crack fresh coconuts,
drinking its contents, its
flesh regards me, chanting.
The clouds look hand-spun,
custom made for the moon.

Many people asked for personalized poems, dedicated to someone.  Like this one for Elsa, who just turned 2½:

Ode to Elsa and fingers
and O’s where Elsa steps
and sunshine swings Elsa’s mom
to Elmo here and Elsa there
does hops with Elsa’s hair
here there and everywhere Elsa.

And this one for Grant who his father claims never listens to anyone.  His father gave me a $10 tip for this poem!

A book of poems
for Grant who doesn’t listen.
Nobody listens, though, right?
Grant is listening now
just because.  He likes
to talk the big talk.
Talking is when words
come out of your mouth.
Grant is a big boy
so big words come out of
his big mouth.  Everything
is quiet now.  Silent night.
Perfect opportunity.

It is hard to resist the urge to revise these now.  A tweak here or there could make it so much less cringe-worthy, but then again I have to remember it is not about the poems, but the process.

I thought writing poems for 5 hours straight would exhaust me but it just kind of put me in this weird state of mind.  At the end of the first day, I was a little bit ecstatic.  The second day was less busy, but my mind was also less fresh.

There were many people who wanted to know who we were.  “Are you poets?”.  A lot of interest in Eyedrum was generated from these encounters as well.  I thought above all that it was really good for cloistered experimental poets to do this as a way to get out of our own headspace a little.  We complain that nobody reads our poems, but I’ve been surprised by the amount of receptiveness that most people have shown.

There was also someone who asked, unbelievingly, “do you use some kind of template, or formula”.  No, we don’t.  That would defeat the whole purpose.  If the purpose was to always safely hand the audience a pretty good poem, then that would be a good strategy.  But the purpose was to challenge ourselves to go outside of our comfort zones, to risk writing that bad poem, writing 50 bad poems.  No, we didn’t have a formula or a strategy, and that can be why it’s such an awful project or an awesome project, depending on which end of the lens you’re looking through

We’re thinking about doing it again sometime soon.  We need to find a place with a lot of foot traffic in Atlanta, maybe L5P or East Atlanta Village… or Piedmont Park.  It would be nice to get a totally different crowd, to see how different the experience is.

Much thanks to Eyedrum Lit Committee for being open to this idea, and to Bill and Amy and the Seen Gallery for opening up their space for us.


Surprise + Traffic Jam

January 4, 2010


My Newest Book

December 29, 2009



It was most important that no-one had to take responsibility.  That these words were not chosen by any individual, that they just happened to be a certain way, just like a certain mountain range happened to be shaped like a horse or a human head, that they were only the chance fabric of the corporation was tantamount.  These words were just any words.  Everyone’s shoulders were squarely untainted.  Furthermore, no new decisions had to be made.  That all decisions were inherent in the mantra, the creation of the corporation already guaranteed the right answer to every situation.  That, now, it was only a matter of careful interpretation.


Some Answers Questioned

September 26, 2009

This was a freewrite I did a while ago, as-is… i.e. unedited. I re-read it recently and it still interests me. I was just asking questions and coming up with answers on the fly. Not knowing who the characters were beforehand made this a very fun exercise.

q: when were you born?
a: In 1967 I was already a 5 year old girl. My mother picked me up after school, she would wear a light blue scarf around her head, that is how I spotted her immediately. Back then the roads didn’t yet have names and all you could do was count the trees before the next block.
q: did you like doing that?
a: a little. It wasn’t a matter of liking it. Time made me more aware of my surroundings.
q: what do you mean?
a: I should say that I was incredibly precocious. Because of that, I felt like I only had a few more weeks to live. I felt old.
q: do you still feel old?
a: no
q: go on
a: I don’t. I feel out of time. But back then, back then we would go to the green grocers after school. The man who sold us large stalks of celery was called Mr. Lobsterlove.
q: you remember his name?
a: oh yeah. I loved Mr. Lobsterlove. He had this train collection, model trains mind you. Some nights I would go over to his house, he lived just next door, and mother would sometimes tell me to deliver some money for previous purchases.
q: it was a credit system?
a: well yeah. We didn’t always carry around the heavy coins. Anyway, I remember his door was unfinished wood, this was the second floor right above his business. I’d knock and he’d open and inside was a city made of traintracks. The trains would go in and out of the bookcases, through the vents, come back out the other side and into the bathroom. Mr. Lobsterlove always had classical music playing in the background. Usually Bach. Sometimes Mozart. At first he would talk to me, try to ask me questions. Then he would say “you’re pretty smart for a little girl” and soon he would be lost in his music, moving his hands like that of a conductor, his eyes closed.
q: tell me about your mother
a: my mother was severe. She was nice too, but she had a very specific set of beliefs.
q: like what?
a: well… she kept to herself, a very quiet woman, but she wasn’t shy. I don’t know why she kept to herself. Somehow she always knew what was happening, she’d tell me who Mrs. Greenberg was having an affair with. I don’t know how she knew this. Also, she liked to play mindgames with me, but for no particular reason.
q: mind games?
a: like, she’d say “I’m going out to get some milk” and then she wouldn’t. She would act like she never said anything. I never figured that out.
q: what did you do after school?
a: We would have the window open all the time, and underneath our apartment was a cafe. I would sit in my bedroom and listen to all the conversations people had. Sometimes I would write them down, if they were interesting enough, but most times they weren’t very interesting. People falling in love and out of love, that kind of stuff is so boring to me even then.
q: you’re not interested in love?
a: I wouldn’t say I’m not intersted in it. It’s interesting, yes, it is. It’s interesting the way organized religion is interesting, it’s just a thing. You know? Like, it’s interesting in an anthropologic way. It’s interesting in that it helps you understand people. But it’s not very useful.
q: useful?
a: hmm.. maybe that doesn’t make sense. I guess it is useful, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Anyway, once you decide on it, that’s that.
q: what else did you like to do?
a: I went up to the roof sometimes, after dinner. Mother wouldn’t let me, but sometimes when she was on the phone
q: with whom?
a: my father. My father was overseas. I think I’ve seen him twice in my life. Not a very interesting man.
q: you mean you aren’t interested IN him…
a: yeah, that too. No, that’s not entirely true. I WAS interested, but I figured him out in the first half hour.
q: what did you figure out?
a: well, a lot of things. He was a hopeless romantic.
q: why was he overseas?
a: I’m getting to that. My father was a very skinny man. He was tender, I’ll give him that. Not one to raise his voice ever. He was also completely loyal. He’s from the small island of Tuvalo where they make fishing nets. His whole family did I mean. Anyway, I don’t know why he ever left, but after he got married, his mother got really sick. He couldn’t stand not being by her side.
q: what did you do up on the roof?
a: I cataloged.
q: Cataloged?
a: yes. I was making lists. It is easier to make a list comprehensive when you’re up high. You can see more things. You FELT more comprehensive because of what you could see. All the buildings were the same height back then, or similiar heights, and you could see for miles, all the different roofs with vines growing and the stuff people stored up there, boxes, bicycles, bird cages.
q: what did you wish to accomplish with your lists?
a: I don’t understand that question.
q: what was the purpose of those lists.
a: there is no purpose. To make a list is to make a statement. A statement with no purpose, other than that of existence.
q: what were they lists of?
a: everything inside my hometown. A list of all the widows. A list of shops that sold fishing line. A list of dates that were considered auspicious for marriages and childbirths. The locals were very superstitious.
q: were you?
a: never.
q: did you have a favorite number?
a: well, yes. But that’s not a superstition.
q: what was your favorite number?
a: one.


The Strawberry

November 19, 2007

after Francis Ponge, master poet of things

A morning fruit, the strawberry is adorned by dew. Like shy red bells with a down-turned tip, they shiver as you reach for one in your clumsy way. But deception. The two halves of the strawberry, so much like the unknowing heart, though it would be immodest for me to say so, is not a smooth object. In fact, it is covered with poppy seeds, almost imperceptible to the eye. Yet the tongue approves, for it is also not a homogeneous mass, but a sensitive beast fit through a tight hairnet, it senses the individual points, the crosshairs of taste and texture. The surface of a strawberry, likewise, has a map wrapped around it with longitudes and latitudes, points evenly spaced apart where they meet. These are like the far away figures dotting the country landscape. Who are they anyway, approaching now in pilgrim clothes?

(initially published in The Grove Review)


Stiff armed boy, your hollow
body goes a long ways
over the surface of the lake,
bass over bass.
I am open in your presence,
then I am closed. Two reeds
of the same speech middling.
A vibration means a yes,
then silence, no. Clouds
scroll by. The water
returns my advances,
souvenir for souvenir. Boy,
if you love me
squeeze my hand. Move your eyes
something if indeed
I am here, deaf and filled
with water. I am yours, open
and so close.

* title taken from a line in Arcadia, a play by Tom Stoppard

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Questions about Beetles

November 9, 2007

1. Are these even beetles? Why do they come out before it starts to rain? Do they live underground? Do they live in the trunks before trees? Do they have their own water supply or is that why they come out? What do they slave for with?

2. Do they have social patterns? Do they nest in the season? Why does it sound like that and then stops? What it like, a wind up toy or something? Is this even how one works?

3. How does one work? What do you drink of them? Do they only good for show or else wedged between the stones, an inkling of an apparition? Do they have eyes? What are their eyes? How come the skin-layer so winged?

4. Where are the aperture of the neck? The color of a beetle, is that fixed? What are the qualities of its light? Can somebody kill my beetle? Please? What is a beetle good for? What do we see in the lily-white? What should we call this one? Is a mating partner forever? Is nightwork long and tedious, without one click of light to calm the soul? Are these beige beetles? Why not? What is a little one called opposedly?

5. Does famine affect it? Does sitting do anything?

6. Is this a group or just one beetle? How can you tell? What is the sign for? In addition to any breakable parts, are there any other things? How does a beetle smell? How does a beetle feel? But how does a beetle feel when you do that? Are beetles in eternity?

7. Are beetles, after such bad weather, in seasonal display across the washway any blacker? How is my fingernail. What do you mean, “beetle”?

8. Does the desert they is friendly at? Careful the frontal lobes. What does a limb count say? What use, afterall, a beetle? Does a beetle have a body? Does a beetle have a physical location? Even so, is this also not a beetle?


April 5, 2007

a lone cricket
by the rush

of tall trucks

in the long dead



September 13, 2006

Used to be

see to it
I felt–

able it
to seem–