Friday, January 22, 2021

self-taught poetry survey

Happy New Year all over again, am I right? I'm pretty sure none of us is able to release ourselves fully into the glorious dawning of a new America, knowing as we do that all THAT really is Who We Are--but at least maybe it won't be quite so draining every day.  Maybe we can relax a little.

But how about that Amanda Gorman, friends?! The future looks bright.

In my off-hours, I've been looking selfishly towards a time when I will not be a full-time classroom teacher and can become a full-time poet-teacher-writer.  To this end I hired a local poet to coach me in the ways of adult poetry publishing--journals, chapbooks, full-length collections--and how to start submitting in earnest  Her name is Sarah Ann Winn and we get along very well, not least because she spent 15 years as an elementary school librarian. I HAVE LEARNED SO MUCH.

One thing I have learned is that the 12 years' worth of original poetry published here for you, friends, is unfortunately not available to submit.  Most adult journals consider work posted on a blog as "previously published" and will not accept it for publication.  So I have to start keeping my InstadraftTM poems to myself until I know what they are, which represents a pretty radical change to the way I blog.

So I have an idea, which I will approach in rather a different way than the younger me, which is to say, "Let's see how this goes."  I (like you?) have shelves full of adult poetry books that have never received my full attention.  Each Friday I'll pull one down and find a poem that I like and post it here.  If I can, I'll find a poem for young readers that goes with it in some way, and add that. Welcome to my Self-Taught Poetry Survey: the STPS.

Let's see what Mark McMorris has for us in his book ENTREPOT (Coffee House Press, 2010). [Disambiguation: not the Canadian professional snowboarder.]  From the ToC I choose one that might have bearing on our current moment...and I am right.

Auditions for Utopia--for Donald | Mark McMorris

Say then that there is a room with large windows.

Sunlight filters in from the sky’s reservoir. 

One wall holds a scene of naked olive bodies

and giant ferns, bodies like ferns and ferns

with the aplomb of the forest, and I am indoors.

Not that they vanish but that the mind which drew

inward to disclose the forms of one happiness 

found what it did not gestate--on the island 

whistle and seaside refrain, blades of sunlight 

peeling automata from the senses--and chose

to be its province with its own star-apple trees. 

The mind is an emperor. Or the mind is subject 

to decree from obscure parliaments of language.

And if the latter, the leafy bodies motionless 

in the heat intimate a turn from ordinary sickness 

draft a pledge to labor to liberate the faculty 

from grammars beholden to icy winds and freezing 

waterways winding down to the naval port.

Antidote to tyranny and serfdom, beauty is a face 

alive with secrets but no designs on the soul.

The other wall of the sun-dazzled room shows 

the polis in smoky industrial affray, the emblems 

of feudal lord and banker and sea captain 

in stately parade underneath the parchment heaven. 

Stevedores load gigantic ship holds with cotton.

A locomotive circles the stockyards like a cheetah.

Somewhere else, counter-posed to labial orchids, 

the estates of sugar and coffee transact menace.

Unless the muralist desire the comity of slave 

and feudal lord, or captain and bulky stevedore 

the earlier scene must altogether disappear 

to become the prehistory of advertising perfume: 

langorous beaches kissed by a glittering sun 

where industrialists repose in the elbow of a cove.

The mind is bottomless. The mind is a membrane 

of nothing where beam of light falls toward

a gravity well, curving into the fall, a fragment 

of expanding cracks in a stable law ante bellum 

center-most oleander and the shade it gives.

Only images to keep a body quiet. Little wishes.


Phew...the density, the vocabulary, the transportation.  We have been sold a bill of goods, people, and it is time to open the box, take out all the bubble wrap and packing peanuts and see what's really inside.

As it happens this poem reminds me of one for young readers which is quite familiar. 😊

by me, from SQUEEZE: Poems from a Juicy Universe (WordSong, 2005)

I don't have time this morning to pull a Pádraig Ó Tuama on these poems, but I do wonder from what place inside that box I wrote "Throwing the Roads."

Our host this Poetry Friday is my neighbor and friend Laura Shovan, who, as I hoped, is properly shining the spotlight on that Amanda Gorman.  Let's spend more attention on the battered and less on the beautiful now, okay?


  1. Heidi, I'm so happy you're making this a priority in your life, and you bring so much complexity to the page I can see your work thriving in the adult market... go YOU, battered and beautiful! xo

  2. I love that you're working on your poetry again!

  3. Oh, but I love Throwing the Roads so much more...perhaps I'm biased. Those moments of letting the roads fall where they may and then discover them with the view of a little one fresh in discovery of ways of transportation. You've given me a pang for that old rug that finally gave up the ghost in our kitchen after many, many, many hours of play. Way to go, Heidi. Inspiring still.

  4. From reading both poems, Heidi, I imagine that adults as well as children need to set some order in their lives, but have the power to choose the order or not feels like a question all of us are asking lately. Best wishes, Heidi, in your new poetic life. You've already begun some of the journey and that sounds wonderful.

  5. I'm delighted you've found a way to continue with this blog while beginning a self-fulfilling journey in a new direction. The "published" thing is a huge stumbling block, isn't it? I admire your work so much and can't wait to see what you do here and out there. Go, Heidi!

  6. Thanks for sharing your STPS with us, Heidi! I'm buckling up for the learning adventure...I've already enjoyed the first leg immensely because you've shared "Throwing the Roads". :)

  7. "We've thrown the roads, and so we make the rules." I love your bravery and perseverance to throwing the roads, making your own rules. This blog is a safe place to be, and I am happy you are not leaving it or us. You are just changing the direction. You have the bravery to Be It, so go on, my friend, and Do It. We've got your back.

  8. "The mind is an emperor" and "we make the rules" -- I have to admit, I prefer the play of children imagining they can change the world in big ways. Looking forward to more of this project, Heidi!

  9. "What happens next? I think you have answered that, Heidi. Your STPS program is launched and your priority in place. Best of luck with your venture. As a deep thinker and reflective poet, you are on your way.

  10. Well hello to you, my twinsie friend! We do seem to be standing at a similar crossroads, looking at what *could* be in our sometime-controlling, sometimes-wait-and-see ways. I'm so happy to hear you are taking proactive, yet mindful steps, Heidi. I expect great things from you. You've also, BTW, inspired me to take SQUEEZE off my shelf and read it again in its entirety. :)

  11. When you are serious about getting your work published, you have to consider your blog differently, what to post. I also have lots of poetry books unexplored on my shelves and your plan to take them down and explore those poets inspires me. No time to waste! :) I have a sense that you could do whatever you aim to do as a poet. Go for it !

  12. Very cool plan, Heidi! ♥️ Maybe we could have a birthday poet Skype and you could tell us more.
    (Perhaps you might want to self-publish some of the 12 years of blog poetry? I know you are working towards something else, but wouldn't it be fun to see your favorites together as well?)

  13. I can't wait to learn alongside you!
    (And YES to more birthday Poet Skypes/Zooms!)

  14. Yea, you! I can't wait to learn what you share in your STPS. These two poems are fabulous! Good luck with the next steps in your poetic journey.

  15. I love poems that i have to read several times. The poem itself is bottomless.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!