poetry in the news

5 posts

My Poem in the Sunday Paper (Or: “Extra, Extra, Read All About It!”)

Although poetry is a familiar sight in small literary and university-based journals, it is increasingly rare to find it in larger, more mainstream magazines and newspapers. Meaning? When you do see poems in such widely-distributed periodicals, you cheer its editors and their priorities, which include getting more eyes on more poetry!

Perhaps the most famous example comes each Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, which features a regular column dedicated to poetry. 

Another, just up the coast a few miles, comes from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald’s Sunday paper, the Maine Sunday Telegram, where the poet Megan Grumbling edits and introduces the “Deep Water” poetry column each week. In the June 13, 2021, paper, she writes a gracious introduction to my poem, “Core Body Temperature,” which will appear in my third poetry collection, Reincarnation & Other Stimulants, due out in a matter of weeks.

Like many of my poems, the idea stems from a few simple words — in this case, a man who once knelt in a Maine lake, water neck-high, on a scorching hot day and told us he wasn’t coming out until he “lowered his core body temperature.” I’d never heard of such a thing, but both the words and the example surely impressed me, leading to this poem.


“The Familiar Dust of Summer”


Today’s New York Times contains an article titled “The Poems That Poets Turn to in a Time of Strife.” It includes the recommendations of poets who seek comfort, escape, or fiery calls to action in this amazing spring of righteous upheaval.

Last in the list is my good friend (I met him in Salem, and if you ask him about me, he’ll say, “Who?”) Ocean Vuong’s recommendation. It’s Rose: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Researching Lee, an American poet born to Chinese parents in Jakarta, Indonesia, brought me to a poem that could have come out of Georgia or most any state where peach trees take root (includes New England, my stomping grounds).

Take a look at Lee’s “From Blossoms” and see if you’re like me, someone who plans to seek out his book for further readings.


From Blossoms
Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.


Rather uncanny, how we move from wonderful description of the humble peach to joy. It makes joy, an otherwise wisely-avoided and totally unwieldy topic in poetry, approachable and, contrasted with death, most beautiful indeed, especially seen through the metaphor of blossoms — like lots of things in life, “sweet impossible blossoms.”

One Virus-Related Shortage That Has Been Restocked


The New York Times reports that, weeks ago, some self-styled American “entrepreneurs,” in a practice called “retail arbitrage,” drove around the country buying up all the hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes they could find because they realized there would soon be high demand for these products due to the impending coronavirus outbreak.

What were these clever dealers planning? Why, to sell these goods on Amazon, Ebay, and other platforms, of course, often at jacked-up prices meant to gouge consumers who were willing to pay the price.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Crazy Claus, and he just came down the chimney. Ask anyone who has been to a grocery store in recent days. You go to buy not only hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, but toilet paper, water, flour, sugar, vitamins, cold medicine, rubbing alcohol, thermometers, peanut butter, liquor (!), etc., and all you find are shiny shelves.

Was it just last month that we were all joyful and that our lives seemed so normal? Yet here we are—in another place entirely—trying to find our ways again, yearning to summit our challenges, looking high and low for guidance from our lost sherpas of happiness.

Which reminds me. My editor informed me that there has been some “retail arbitrage” going on with poetry books—another high-demand item when people are in their cabins practicing antisocial distancing. “Lots of poetry titles,” she said, “not least of which is your last, Lost Sherpa of Happiness.”

Seems it went out of stock at Amazon when no one was looking. Seems some independent sellers were offering it at marked-up prices (sans Purell).

Scoundrels were barnstorming the brick and mortars, too, raiding Barnes & Nobles and independent bookstores. Savvy sorts realizing in advance that home-bound folks, hiding from the virus, would be seeking its happy succor in nostalgic fits of literary desire.

Well, good news at last. Working in concert with my publisher, we have ordered another printing run and won ironclad assurances from the Amazons-that-be that this collection of poems will not be sold above its retail price, despite the run on supplies, despite any laws of supply and demand, and despite the conspicuous lack of a surprise inside (I may be many things, but Cracker Jack isn’t one of them).

That’s right. No one but no one will be gouged on my watch. And the supply should hold through the rest of March at the very least (he says with fingers crossed).

So, please. If you are still suffering from the sting of other shortages and are feeling a bit blue, know that I have stayed one step ahead of the buyers, gougers, and retail arbitragers for you.

No sell-outs! No virtual shiny shelves! Just poetry books aplenty, free from panic and where you most need them, one click east of cart.

Thank you, and God bless America.


Riddle Me This


Good news: Poetry continues to work its way back into everyday media. Or every weekend media, anyway, as evidenced by the New York Times Magazine, a Sunday insert that includes a poem selected by Rita Dove each week.

Yesterday, the magazine included an Elizabeth Spires poem. I’m going to hold back on the title to see if you can guess what it’s about. Game? Good. Here we go:


A shirt I was born in.
I wear it. Or it wears me.
White, of course.

A loose fit.
Growing as I grow
but slowly going dull.

It must be washed
once, twice, three times,
then hung to dry.

There, can you see it?
Hanging high
on the hill.

Waving its arms
in the wind. Beckoning.
Sun shining through.


I don’t know about you, but as I read it yesterday, I thought it sounded like a poem for children. One of those puzzle poems. One of those here-are-the-clues, now-see-if-you-can-guess-what-I-am deals. Sold at Personifications R Us. Aisle 6. Bottom shelf (where wee ones can see riddles rolling among the dust bunnies). Where teachers buy poems without titles and put students on the hunt.

If you haven’t guessed already, it’s about your immortal (thinking the best here) soul and carries the title “Picture of a Soul.”

Nice, but nicer still is the quote Dove alludes to in the short introduction. It’s a Wallace Stevens bit I’d never heard before: “the poet is the priest of the invisible.”

I wonder if someone has stolen that for a book title yet. Or is it too cheeky? Priest of the Invisible: Poems. I’ll check with Dewey, then Decimal, and get back to  you.

Until then, Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!

Garrison Keillor Redux


Good news for the poetry world: Garrison Keillor is back with his daily dose of The Writer’s Almanac, which you can subscribe to for a poem a day in your inbox, just like the good old days.

As you’ll recall, last year Minnesota Public Radio decided to toss baby, bathwater, and everything when they not only shut down Mr. Keillor, but unplugged a vast trove of poems from over the years.

This collection included not only the likes of Yeats, Dickinson, and Frost, but (move over and make a little room, please) someone who looked suspiciously like me.

As this was akin to taking sledgehammers to the statue of David or burning the library at Alexandria, there was much hue and, as required by law, cry.

But now Garrison Keillor has made amends for MPR’s missteps by setting up his own shop in St. Paul.

A new beginning. A new infusion for poets and poetry, contemporary and classic. A new reason to celebrate.