In Praise of Philip Levine

I am so excited to have just received my copy of Philip Levine’s posthumous collection,                                                 The Last Shift.

I am savoring reading his words, which have always affected me so deeply.

His very first poem in the collection, “Inheritance,” moves me to tears, especially the last few lines.   The poem is about a watch and other items Levine, as a child, coveted of his grandpa’s. He used to sneak into his grandpa’s room and look at the objects.

Here’s how the poem ends:


…I could call them

“Infinite riches in a little room”

or go cosmic and regard them

as fragments of a great mystery

instead of what they are,

amulets against nothing.

phil l

I met and spoke with Philip Levine only once, but the memory of his humbleness and humanity will stay with my whole life.

I wrote an elegy for him the year he died (2015), but never presented it anywhere.  My verse adopts Levine’s practice of the 9-syllable line (mostly), a syllable off from what the ear is used to with the more common English 10-syllable line, giving the overall composition an uneasy bearing or forward momentum.


A Simple Truth    

in memoriam for a great poet


I imagine Philip Levine time-

shifting in Trafalmadorian

fashion to 1936 where

he is an angel-on-the-shoulder

weeping as Lorca is tortured, then

murdered; to Fresno State his first year

teaching where on a lunch break he sits

with a student reciting Roethke;

to one April in Detroit, the mud

Biblical, men milling, cued up

for news of work that never arrives;

back to the mills, haunted as the men’s

eyes who labored there, understanding

one human being is everyone.


And how many more lives than the six

million hearts stopped by Hitler does he

daily visit with his words?  Grass, boats,

dust, wind, the darkening skies, two sons,

a brother, the loves declared, unnamed

desires that were answered not by

their aims, but by the simple truths, small

red potatoes, melting butter, salt.


The book is open to the first page

yesterday. Tomorrow is always

the fourteenth of February.  And

today it is 1941

five minutes to 8AM, sweet Phil,

Billy Pilgrim, this day never ends.


Yes, oh yes, it is enough to say

what you can, the gift of transcribing

ordinary suffering into

extraordinary joy, your name

hangs in the brilliant morning air, a

feather, eyelid of a magpie, closed.

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I have been practicing my art. Badly.

Reading science texts and taking notes. Working from the notes to make poems.

But the poems are not coming. Nothing is happening.

This has been a fallow week for my poetry project.


The consolation is that my soul is growing anyway. Because I am practicing, even if not succeeding.

And I did write and submit three ekphrastic poems, so that counts for something, right?

Here’s to keeping up the practice regardless of results.


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Reading for Delight

Here’s the thing. I’ve come clean previously on this blog about my depression since the 2016 election and the state of our country and the world. I’ve recently managed to pull myself out of the dark depths, but it takes every ounce of practice and resolve to stay afloat. Self care is hard, especially when we need to be putting positive energy out into the world.

One thing that really helps me is reading for delight. Books that transport me to another world–a world in which the awful things that happen are resolved, and justice prevails. It may be fantasy, but it does give me hope.

Two books which I read recently that have been pure delight, are The Plot is Murder by V. M. Burns and Ghosts in Glass Houses by Kay Charles. Both are cozy mysteries, and in cozies, the world is better at the completion of the story than at its beginning. If only real life was like that!

plot is murder

So much to love about the first book in Burns’ Mystery Bookshop Series. First, is that the lead character  Samantha is a bookstore owner! What writer doesn’t fantasize about that? Second, is that she’s also a writer, writing her own mystery. So there are two mysteries happening concurrently in the book. But what really makes this book special are the senior citizen cast of characters that help Samantha investigate the mystery. They are quirky and fun and lively and radiate joy. I want to be any of them as I head toward Medicare age. Frankly, they not only make me smile, but give me hope for my future.

ghost in glass

Kay Charles’ book is all about voice. The main character Marti is snarky as all get out. She’s sarcastic and funny as she deals with her quite dysfunctional family, some of which are dead and appear to her as ghosts. Haunt and harass her is more like it. The story is all about redemption of one’s sense of self and that too is empowering. This is also a first in a series, and I look forward to the protagonist becoming more and more comfortable in her ghost-seeing skin as the series continues.

Literary fiction that explores the depths of human suffering is a necessary art that informs and inspires. And the beauty of the language can bring delight. But right now, I need more humorous delight in my life. And I am very grateful to authors like V. M. Burns and Kay Charles who brighten my spirits. That is a necessary art as well.


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Poetry Check-In

So I’ve been doing this research thing for my next poetry collection.

Finally managed to finish reading the first book on my list.

It was a slog…

but I did get some great quotes for epigraphs

and as poem-starters.




Promised myself at least 3 drafts of poems a week.

Well, now I have 9 poem drafts from this book.

Will any of them grow up to be real poems?

That remains to be seen.

Stay tuned.




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A pre-Valentines Day Poem

with thanks to Deborah Woodard for this link – Nigel the bird




Yet, never, in extremity

(thinking of poor Nigel, the loneliest gannet, for DW)


To lure the lovely
gannet birds to nest
on desolate Mana Island,
some inventive scientists
created a whole colony
of concrete gannets,
happy, bright, inanimate.

Nigel, the only one
of his kind to be swayed
by the statue deception,
stayed his entire life
beside one particular decoy,
constant, loyal, enamored.

He groomed her cold
rigid feathers, feathered
her a fine nest.
Year, after futile year,
Nigel perched near
his lifeless love.

And when new gannets
finally arrived on the island
females, alive,
and ready to mate,
Nigel, paid no attention.
He died all alone
alongside his adored decoy.

Is love an illusion
or what we choose
to make of it,
when the beloved
has nothing to give
and the lover,

What would Nigel advise
the rest of us do when our
passions go unreciprocated?
Truly, I believe he would
quote that Dickinson poem,
you know the one,
with feathers and hope.

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Out into the world…

progress report


Met my submission goal for the month of February.


Here’s what I sent out into the world:

1 personal essay

1 short story

5 poems to a contest

7 poems to several venues

1 application for a writing class


I’ve seen other writers set a goal of 100 rejections per year. I’m going to aim for 180.


That means I have to submit at least 15 individual things a month.


If I get rejected every time, I will easily slide into my goal.


But what if someone says yes?


Well then, good problem to have. I’ll just need to keep writing and keep submitting new work.


Either way, rejection goal, here I come!

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Poetry Publication Goals — First, some good news

First the good news–my first poetry acceptance of 2018 to a very small local journal called North Coast Squid. The poem was one I have been working on a very long time and felt very attached to. I’m so glad to have it find a home with a local print journal. I’ve only lived in Oregon a little over a year, but I’ve felt the literary community was closed off to me. Now, it feels like one door has opened. Perhaps more will follow.

Squid-5-Cover (1)
I’d like to submit more poems this year than I did in 2017. My depression and angst over the state of our nation got the best of me last year. Not only didn’t I write much, I also didn’t send much out.

I do have a backlog of poems I’d like to get into circulation. Some are speculative, some political, some more autobiographical. I’m planning on having one day each month where I focus on getting poems out.

Wish me luck!

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In Research Mode

I’m in the research phase of writing poems for my next poetry collection.

My last 2 collections were written after a long sojourn into research:

Red Riding Hood’s Real Life



Four Quarters: an homage to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets


Right now, I am reading and taking notes, but not writing any poems. At least not yet.

Maybe that’s because the current book is kind of boring. I am still going to plod through it. Hope the next one will be better.

I don’t write all my poems this way. It’s only when I am working with a theme, especially one way above my head, that I do this.

This collection has a science theme.

Until I write a whole group of acceptable poems, I am going to be slapping myself on the forehead, saying, “Why do I torture myself this way?”

Maybe I like the challenge. And I do enjoy learning more about topics that interest me.

But sometimes the research phase is overwhelming.



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2018 Poetry Goals

It’s been a long while since I kicked myself in the bum and said “Get to work.”

But I’m ready.

ECRGHN poetry word in mixed vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

My 2018 poetry goal is to complete drafts of at least 3 poems a week.

Not 3 masterpieces. Just 3 drafts.

I’m giving myself permission to write crap if crap is all that comes out.

But if I allow myself to get out of the way and just write, the truth is, there is usually something salvageable there.

One way to get out of my own way and give myself permission to write is to do writing exercises.

Writing exercises have a wonderful way of short circuiting my critical voice, and taking me from “planning mode” into just writing in the moment.

Here’s to all of us writing more and more freely in 2018!

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