To see the announcement for my poetry book, Sparrow, selected by poet Dorianne Laux for the Kenneth and Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize at Writers & Books, go to

You can find a review by Kathleen Kirk at EIL:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another Farm Poem

Anyone who has ever visited my parents' farm has seen the gray buildings sitting beyond the small orchard. They were originally bunkhouses and could be put on the railroad tracks and moved from one logging camp to another. My grandfather bought them and moved them onto the farm, probably during the Great Depression, as I've been told he borrowed $600 at that time and set up a chickenhouse. When I was little, the buildings stood in a long row with a raised porch between them; the closest one to the house was a shop; the other was the chickenhouse. Years ago Dad pushed the chickenhouse sideways and turned it into an open shed. This picture is of the backside. Anyway, I mention these outbuildings in the following poem and can't imagine that anyone would understand their significance to me without some explanation.


I've written too many poems
that begin with pouring a cup of coffee.
But I pour a cup anyway
and carry it outside. I sit on the back deck
under my mother's kitchen window
contemplating the pear tree, the clothesline,
the fish pond. I sit staring at the gate
that opens to fields I know by heart.
I grew up here, and if a poet
can be a citizen of any country --
this is mine. I've read somewhere
that when you lose anything your heart
has to make room for it.
Emily Dickinson said this, too,
more or less: "The brain is wider
than the sky / for the brain the sky contains."
I think she meant "the mind" or maybe "the soul."
Maybe she meant "the heart." It seems
in any case that my father
has now moved into my heart
and while I sit here, drinking my coffee
and watching a breeze play in the orchard trees,
I imagine him setting up house there,
like Whosoever Will in the old Sunday School lesson.
Next to go will be this farm with its plum
and pear and apple trees, the unweeded flowerbeds,
the ancient boxcars -- once bunkhouses,
then shop and chickenhouse --
resting atilt on their foundations, abandoned.
My heart unfolds like the American flag
at Dad's graveside service. It shakes out
and folds in again, stars and stripes, night sky
and fog, all the trees of my childhood --
vine maple, cedar, holly, douglas fir.
I take it all in. I drain the last of my coffee
and sit holding the empty cup, holding
this empty feeling that must be vastness,
this sense of how big my heart will have to be.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Art of Writing

Here's a passage from The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters, which I've borrowed from one of my students.

A sentence may contradict what comes before
or trespass on what follows.
Sometimes the idea is good but words fail,
and fine words may make no sense.
In such cases it is wise to set the two apart
since they harm each other when put together.
It is delicate to judge which idea or word works better--
a difference finer than a wheat ear's hairs.
Weigh each word on a scale;
use a measuring cord to make your cuts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Soccer Mom Poem

Time for another poem? Here's one from my persona as soccer mom.

Soccer Afternoon

We walk onto the astroturf under a gray sky.
Another soccer season begins, gnats,
a light rain, children shouting.
If a soccer ball were a crystal ball
there's only one future it could reveal:
this game and next week's and the next,
an endless parade of pony-tails.
More bottles of water. More jerseys.
More white socks. But it's okay,
I'm happy with sameness. What else
would I be doing with the afternoon?
I would have all these girls young forever
prancing across the field, running to shelter
under my umbrella. We were made for this,
to cheer on our children, to applaud when the ball
slips into the net for our team. To shout
encouragement when it doesn't.
Some other poet said it better, but let no god
hear my grousing and think I mean it.
Let me stand here on the sidelines cheering
for as long as my girls need me.
Let them need me a long time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Keeping Busy

"’Keeping busy’ is the remedy for all the ills in America. It's also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed." –Joyce Carol Oates

Thin Places

This quote from Jeni Stepanek's book Messenger (the book is about her son Mattie) resonated with me. I've heard it said that Ireland is a "thin place" (I think I can credit John O'Donohue for that), and I've always thought that my family's farm is another.

"A preacher once described thin space to me as that place where your spirit and God are in closest contact. Generally, we're all aware we have a spirit, an essence, that's deep inside us. At your thin space, the veil separating your essence from your being becomes transparent enough that the spirit becomes undeniable. Instead of being a silent voice, your spirit more or less shows itself to you; you know it intimately rather than simply being aware of it." -Jeni Stepanek

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I read this today in Marianne Williamson's A Return to Love:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Empathy and Art

I found this quote, from sculptor John M. Soderberg, in Writing Begins with the Breath by Laraine Herring. It resonates with a number of conversations I have had in the past few days.

"One of the most crucial human qualities, I believe, is empathy. Given empathy, brutality becomes impossible. Empathy is at the heart of our humanity, and in fact is the heart of our humanity, for it reduces the barriers of race, religion, and creed to items of mild interest, while unlocking our true, inherent human dignity. The act of encapsulating empathy in some medium, be it dance, or music, painting or sculpture, simple stories or more complex forms, is my definition of art. The feeling and then the sharing of an emotion or idea--which is the essence of art--is what makes us human."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Guest Poet

Here's a link to another poem from Ted Kooser's site at


"Good writing takes place at intersections, at what you might call knots..." --Margaret Atwood