Thursday, December 15, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood Walked on While the Wolf Ran Ahead

A few weeks back I found some language arts cards at Four-Sided, a framing and ephemera shop on my street. I don't know if they are actual pages from a book, or cards that came in a lesson planning kit, but I wish I could have all of the ones around the story of Little Red Riding Hood.  (I bought three, and thankfully they are double-sided.)

Here is Exercise 2, in it's entirety:

Exercise 2.
Draw, cut out, or build with sticks:

1. A pair of shoes.
2. A shoe under a bed.
3. A doll with closed eyes.
4. A man's foot.
5. A horse's foot.

And here's another section of one card.  Eyes on your own work.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Poetry Prompt from the Good People

The Good People of Right Hand Pointing, that is.

Here's the deal: (and I quote) 

"Issue 48 will be a special issue, due in March 2012.  We’ll start reading for it now.  In addition to our usual flavor of short fiction, all the poems accepted for that issue will be short narrative poems.  Our usual length guidelines apply.  (75 words or less but up to 100 words if it’s 16 lines or fewer.  16 lines or fewer, but up to 20 lines if the poem is 75 words or less.)  By narrative poems, we mean poems with at least one character and a plot.  It's a challenge, getting a story told in a short poem, but it can be done!" 

And then they deliver up an Alice Walker poem as proof.  It's recommended that you submit your poem in the next two weeks to have a chance of being in this issue.  So ready, set, write.  (Or scramble through your archives and see what might fit.)  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In the General Excitement, Gratitude, and Pride Department

Things have been very busy here at Lives of The Spiders.  Three of the prose poems from my Artistic Statement series just went live at kill author. Three spider poems, two of recent vintage and one (An Unknown Species) that was written in the late 1990s were just published by THIS magazine. And the fine folks at THIS saw fit to nominate that poem for a Pushcart Prize.  I have always been both proud and baffled by that poem--it came out of nowhere and was not similar to anything I'd written before. I think it was one of the first things I wrote where I used something, a quote in this case, as a diving board, to jump into the not known, as close to the unconscious as I can get, and just write what wanted to be written.

I'd like to thank the Academy.  And the editors.  And also Bill Yarrow, who met me at a reading and suggested I send some poems to THIS. Excuse me, I'm off to make some metaphors or hammer some bricks or drink some champagne or something.

Keep an eye on this space. In late December or early January I'll be announcing an exciting new phase of Lives of the Spiders.  More webs!  Different weavings!  And an invitation to join in some writing mischief.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Artistic Statement # 20

Artistic Statement # 20

Based on your elderly neighbors’ recipe, I have created a new form of meatloaf, where an excess of ketchup is a glimpse into a life. Spatial relationships between breadcrumbs and eggs become an indication of tension or emotion. The psychological state of this particular kitchen is emphasized and described through the interaction of salt and pepper. I think we’re going to need to scub this rust off the cast iron skillet to get things started. Rust or dried blood, only grandma knows the truth.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Night Arrives So Soon These Days

I just got back from The Chicago Book Expo, a gathering of independent Chicago-area presses held in the building in Uptown that once was a Border Bookstore, an irony not lost on the many participants.  (So few items now in that space would have been carried by the big box bookstore.) I wish I'd planned and plotted better to take advantage of all the opportunities: workshops and readings and panels, but I just walked in off the street.  After running into some people I knew, I did a bit of the walk around and look at tables and talk to people thing. I was able to feel chipper and conversational about twice before my usual shyness took over, but at least I bought a sturdy handful of books and journals, my own small economic stimulus package for small press publishing.  Once I had decided I could not make small talk with another person, because let's face it, I'd done it four or five times in the space of a half hour period and was really at my limit, plus I was getting sweaty from social anxiety and too much clothing on in the warmish space, I exited into the dim November afternoon, thinking that I should use the artistic vibe I'd been breathing and sit and write something. The closest coffee shop was a Starbucks, and the nearest independent coffee shop was full-up, so I walked home, for a much more wallet-friendly cup of tea.  Kate Bush's new album playing on the internets courtesy of NPR, and the biography of Van Gogh I am reading calling me to sit on the couch and spend some more time in that life of sorrow and delusion and brilliance.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Three Recommendations

1. The collection The Last Skin, by Barbara Ras.  A bookseller friend at Women and Children First Bookstore steered me toward Ras's collection Bite Every Sorrow, and I found this one in a used bookstore in Wicker Park.  Whether speaking of grief, or describing a foreign landscape, Ras is always surprising, vivid, inventive. In her longer, roiling poems she channels Whitman, or at least bows to his influence and sings along with his hymns to the vastness and variety of the world.  Here's the end of the poem "Sitka Cemetery"

     The shadows of eagles made imperfect crosses on the ground,
     and I confess I've crossed myself enough to last a lifetime.

     If I had a pencil, I would have broken it
     in two and left one half on the grave of a mother, the other,
     on the grave of a child.

2. The City, Our City, by Wayne Miller.

Miller manages to make his City any city, your city, a city both contemporary and eternal.  The City, loud, bawdy, bold, commercial, impersonal, intimate---it's all here, in many forms.  I wish I had written this book.

From "The Beautiful City (In 32 Strokes)"

     (4) Shadows of winter
     branches stamped through the blinds,

     (5) and then the last remaining leaf begins to ring.


3. Every time I read an edition of The Best American Poetry I look and see the age of the poets.  They all used to be so old.  And I thought I had time to be on those pages, someday.  Now many of the poets are so young, and while I am nearly fifty I do not feel old, not in my stupidly boyish and impressionable heart, at any rate.  I still hope to be in these pages one day, even if I don't care nearly as much one way or the other, and the envy is mostly overruled by enjoyment and admiration. To quote Jennifer Grotz in "Poppies,"

     But now it is still light and the blackbirds are singing
     as if their voices are the only scissors left in this world.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Let’s Hope Every Bluegill in Lake St. Clair is Sated

Mayfly Postcard

The mayflies of your youth have not flown away, they cling dumbly
to screen doors, or dangle like suicides from stray lengths of spiderweb,
a thousand thousand bodies, turning into mummies
on the sidewalk in the sun, their wings
under the tread
of your sneakers,

the mayflies of your youth were also known as fishflies,
let’s hope every bluegill in Lake St. Clair is sated, let’s assume
the fishflies have their use, of course they have
their purpose:
to mate and so continue
the dynasty
of mayflies and also

to bring back to you the mayflies of your youth,
how they basked on the garage door, or gathered
like sports fans
around the porch light, you threw them into spider nets
under the porch, because you loved to see
a spider
struggle and delight

in such a bounty.  The fishflies,
of course, live an entire life
in one day.
They are completely
without stomachs
or the curse
of hungry

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Today I Have Registered on the Retina of a Street Cabbie’s Horse

Windy City Queer, an anthology edited by Kathie Bergquist, has just been published by University of Wisconsin Press.  I enjoyed the release party at Women and Children First books store very much.  I was delighted to read with other contributors to the book, including Sharon Bridgforth, Gregg Shaprio, Achy Obejas, and Goldie Goldbloom.  If I had to pick a favorite among the readings, (all fine writers and readers) I'd say that Goldie's was it--she is shy, I think, but her slight nervousness fit so well with the tone of the story she read.  If you get a chance, read her novel The Paperbark Shoe. Set in Australia in WW II, the odd, hapless, and wonderful characters reminded me of the work of Carson McCullers as well as earlier John Irving.  I am eager to read (or hear) more of her work.

I read my poem from the anthology.  In support of all the work that went into the anthology, I'd ask for you to buy it, or check it out of your library--I like my piece in it just fine, but there's much to enjoy and ponder in the book in addition to my short poem. You can read the other one I performed the night of the release party after the jump.  It's a bit of a crowd-pleaser, but I like the "I-do-this, I do-that Frank O'Hara quality of it, and feel happy that the first draft's dashed off feel (I did write it there in the park) remains after its many revisions.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sure, Most of the Time

One more quote from Mr. Roger Rosenblatt, because it is the kind of October day when one thousand possibilities extend their wings, and the monarch butterflies flitting over Clark Street are trying to find one another:

" There's only one point to writing. It allows you to do impossible things. Sure. most of the time it's chimney sweeping or dung removal. Or plastering. A lot of the time writing is plastering or caulking or pointing up the bricks. But every so often there is a moment in the dead of the morning when everything is as still as starlight and something invades your room, like a bird has flown throw the window, and you are filled with as much joy as panic. And then you think: I can do anything."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Fan of Nouns

Check out Roger Rosenblatt's heartrending and beautiful memoir Making Toast.  

But what I want to quote is a snippet from his upcoming new book (January 2012) Kayak Morning:

"I am a fan of nouns. I tell my writing students that if they need three modifiers to describe something, they've probably chosen the wrong something. The noun carries its own weight, and the right one will not be made prettier or tastier or more important by anything that decorates it. It has all it needs. It contains what Emerson called 'the speaking language of things.' The noun. The heron. The tide. The creek. The kayak."

What nouns have delighted you recently?  For myself I say hawk, ash, half-moon, cloud. Sparrow, river, hand, ring. Fall, hound, walk, leash. Eavesdropper, porch light, goldfinch, magician.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Two trees committing random beauty on a sidestreet.

I went downtown today to see the current exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.  I always like going there because it's free and because it's small--I can take in the entire exhibit without any museum fatigue.

After I was done there, I decided to walk home, a distance of maybe seven or eight miles.  I actually did not make it all the way on foot.  I twisted my ankle on Michigan Avenue with a wrong step off a curb, and decided somewhere around Fullerton Street and the lake to head inland and give myself over to the Clark Street bus. Herewith a few photos from my journey:

The Chicago Marathon runners were still in evidence downtown, which made the city tired and slender and beautifully fit. The afternoon was golden, leaves like confetti shift and dance on the streets.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


October the month of my birth and October that blue sky with the heron crossing it, blue walking stick winging against a blue sky and me underneath in the light--trees verging on golden. The night smells of campfires and a half-moon, the morning is scented with dead leaves, a spice. October, the trees are trying on party gowns; want it or no we betroth ourselves to winter.  Look at the white flashing: the undersides of a dozen pigeon's wings. Look at the goldenrod come into its glory on the embankments of commuter trains. Let us all praise famous but unnamed rivers. Let us celebrate chrysanthemums as blue as night. Let's give our checkered wool caps to the wind.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Write a poem called "Walla Walla, Washington"

Or Climax, Michigan.  Or Burnt Ridge, Idaho.  Hooker, OK. Embarrass, MN. The fine folks at Right Hand Pointing have put out a call for poems that use city names as their titles.  This comes after their successful two-part issue made up of poems with titles that are also the names of states. I think I'll try to take this as an assignment.  Maybe using my hometown, Mt. Clemens, Michigan. See what y'all can do with this.

Here are 15 unfortunate city names, for your potential amusement.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Later Cornell

Look up at the sun risen golden over
greystone two-flats; rest your eyes

on two windows at the corner of Clark
and Berwyn, each with one word

in white letters in the middle of the glass:
"Ballroom" and "Tango." When the world

is dimmed by nostalgia and longing,
there you will find me, said Joseph Cornell.

When you feel the smooth clasp
of an impossible obsession--ballerina,

opera star, lanky boy in tattered blue jeans
who rides your morning train, there,

says Mr. Cornell, I will be, with a scrap
of velvet, a newspaper clipping

from before the war, a cardboard cutout
of green parakeet.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Someone Must've Told the Cicadas

There's a full moon tonight, and as I was walking home from seeing the movie Contagion (where you get to see Gwyneth Paltrow's skull cut open in a quite disturbing autopsy scene) the cicadas on the streets on Lincoln Square were going insane with buzzing electric song; someone must have mentioned snow to them, or at least told them about the concept of falling leaves. The swifts, meanwhile, were snacking on gnats above a local garage, and dragonflies were quite pleased with themselves in the air over Leland Avenue.

I was quite pleased with the moon, although I had nothing to do with its waxing.  Polishing the moon, that would be a job. Another thing that pleased me today was standing at a street corner and suddenly thinking of barbershops and childhood memories of haircuts.  I glanced around and realized that 20 feet away stood my local barber, and the smell of talcum powder emanating from him had induced these sense-memories. The third pleasure of the day?  An arugula and nectarine salad with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Grab-Bag

The online journal Right Hand Pointing has a fine double-issue up, wherein every poem is titled with the name of an American State.  Go USA!  And go on with your bad selves reading these cool works.

There's a writing contest associated with The new "One Book, One Chicago" pick.  It's judged by Stuart Dybek.  Not a big prize monetarily, but a lot of glory. I think I am going to enter it as an assignment to myself to write a new short-short.  You should too!

I am very much infatuated with two poets recently features at Escape Into Life: Charles Rafferty and Jeannine Hall Gailey.  As always with this gem of an online magazine, the accompanying artwork is strange and lovely and evocative.  And I wish I did not know this, but the site just started a store devoted to the artwork shown on its pages. 

Faithful readers (the entire trio of you) may remember how I raved about the new Tim Dlugos collection,  A Fast Life, edited by David Trinidad.  Here's some more insightful commentary about Dlugos' work.  Here are two more of Tim's poems.

Speaking of Mr. Trinidad, here's a place where you can read his poem "The Late Show" and either listen to or read the text of a conversation he had with Robert Politio.

Finally, I know I am so late to the party on this one, but I have to say that I am bowled over by the inventiveness, the beauty, and the pleasure-in-language zing that is all between the covers of Jennifer Karmin's aaaaaaaaaaalice.  My favorite sections are the ones that riff off of text found in Beginning Japanese Part 2.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lives of the Flowers, Part Two

He thought of the bees and what makes them pleased with themselves and their work.  He thought of brides, why dress in white?

He thought cornflower, chickory? Blue blossoms in the grass, the opposite of alas.

He thought that under such a tree, in the deep summer on a late afternoon, even 
the wicked 
bird could find rest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lives of the Flowers

He thought he might decide to become lost in the raiment of flowers.

He thought, if I were a flower intent on viewing the field I too would have such a trusting face.

He thought what then shall we accomplish in the castle of starlings?

He thought, why not stand in the lookout tower, and look out over the lake for evidence.  Of a crime, of a god, of the conflagration of gulls, those flicks of gray smudge and white fire. Or why climb.  Why not rest here in the afternoon of crickets and shadow.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Post About a Ghost

I just read this post by Sarah Sloat.  Her new chapbook is out from Dancing Girl Press.  I just ordered my copy, you should get one for yourself, as I don't share well. Her post referenced the blog Via Negativa, where I became enamored of the ghost poems published there.  Here's a ghost poem of mine.  I just read it the other night at a reading in a de-sanctified church, with a pale Jesus stretching his arms out behind me on the wall.


In the concert hall in Evanston I met my dead sister,
I could sense
her bulk when I closed my eyes; she was silent
and invisible,
two years gone, shot in the head with a stolen
gun, killed
by her own determined hand, and in the dark theater
I reached over
and briefly touched that hand, now made of air, held
her cold hand, while on stage
Greg Laswell sang his songs, which repeat
and repeat
that all of us are broken.

Do our sad dead return? Sister oh my sister I want
to believe
but I do not believe—I listened
to the music,
I’d downed three glasses of mediocre
red wine
and fancied I sensed you, a presence. But
I write this
in daylight, away from music, away from booze and all its
suggestions; I’m riding
the train, dust swirls across an asphalt lot, dust,
some dry leaves, Kathleen

are you with me today? There’s a seat free
next to me
on my commute, oh dear dead and intangible sister,
in this moment
could I reach out and hold your lost hand? Might I myself
live beyond
the imperfections and needs of the body? But here’s
what I know:
I spoke
to kindly men in blue suits, I initialed the forms,
every portion
of the ruin of you given over
to the crematorium’s

Some say this world will end in fire.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reminded of the many poems about spiders I have written

A Spider Turned Herself Into a Mother

From the kitchen
     came the sound
of a knife

            being sharpened

Monday, August 1, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

One Can Always Fall in Love Online

With poems, at least.  And falling in love with a poem or a poet online is safer than, say, falling in love with a profile on a dating website, or a grainy video of a stranger. Herewith some poems I have come across online that made my heart leap in my chest like a fish being chased by a larger fish.

First up, Heather Abner, in the journal Shot Glass.  Note to self: send some short poems there soon. Note to others: do likewise.

Next I turn my attentions to the realm of Ocean Voung's blog.  This young man is an extremely talented poet.  You can read some of his work here.  But he also, on his blog, posts poems that have had a profound influence on his spirit and his writing.  All of his choices thus far have been stellar, but this is the one I personally have found the most memorable.

I think my friend Richard Fox is brilliant.

"The sky holds the rain
like a sigh in a bag."

(See?  I think I might give up a tooth to have written those lines. But if I followed that logic and Richard with any frequency, I'd be a toothless man.)

Here are some recent poems of Richard's, featured in Escape Into Life.

While I was forced offline by the lack of home internet service, I read A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos.  I need to write more about Tim's work--I call him "Tim" like he's a friend, but he died at the age of 40 of AIDS, and I never met him.  Nonetheless, much like my first experience reading Frank O'Hara, I felt, reading Tim's work, like I had discovered a new friend, complicated, funny, arch, dry, broken and broken-hearted as well as golden with light...ah--I am nattering on. Just read his masterpiece, here, and you will want to read the complete big, generous volume and get to know him too.

One can always fall in love with a voice on the page.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just Don't Mention the Moon

Got reconnected to home internet service, hopefully for a good long time this time.  I hope to back to regular blog posts now, as I have a backlog of books to discuss.  But tonight it is too darn hot, and I will just catch up a tad on things by saying thanks to Claudia Lamar at Phantom Kangaroo, where I have a poem in the current issue.

In other news, did I ever mention that #11 of my Artistic Statement series appeared in Ramshackle Review?  Got word recently that another two will be in an upcoming issue of Sentence.  (Numbers 12 and 18, for those of you keeping track at home.)

I am back to working on my Edith Wharton Sentences Project on the morning commute.  Here is one:

Don’t Mention the Moon

The ink-stained desk at which all his poems had been written resented poetry, it disliked ink, and had no use for wineglass rings on the wood, or the caustic splashes of whiskey.  But it was a desk, and so had little to say about poetry or anything else, and lived its wooden life in the hope that someone other than a poet, a premier, for example, or a CEO, would one day sit down and sign a check, or initial an order to invade a country, anything but the love-sick mutterings or impotent phrasings the desk had perforce grown so resigned to house. “Just don’t mention the moon today,” thought the desk. “For once don’t sit here and write about the moon.”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

And It All Worked Out So Well

A while back I was contacted by a gent named Joe Robinson, who is doing a project connecting musicians to writers for collaborative work.  Songs, in this case. Joe asked me to send him some poems.  He ended up putting one to music, and I am delighted with the results.  Big shout out to Logan Square Literary Review, where Joe first saw my work.  (But by the way, I never got a contributor copy--hey Logan Square Lit folks, do you still have one you could send me?) And I had always thought of the poem Joe chose to work on as a song.  It was inspired by the wordsmith songcraft genius of Peter Mulvey. You can listen to Joe's work, along with other collaborations he has arranged, right here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Seven Notes on "Your Father on the Train of Ghosts"

Your Father on the Train of Ghosts is book of poems written in collaboration by G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher.  I kept thinking I was going to write a wonderful and insightful essay about this book, as I have been reading and re-reading it for the past month or more.  But time flies by, and other brillances attract my attention.  So I figure I'd better just do this in the form of notes before I never write anything about it at all.

1. At 221 pages of poetry, this is a bigger volume than most.  The size is both impressive (Look how much these two poets have created together) and, since it runs counter to expectations re: the length of most contemporary volumes, a tad daunting. (Jesus, that's a lot of poetry to get through.)  While no poems come to mind that I'd want to see cut, the sheer volume makes it more difficult for me as a reader to have a favorite, or favorites.  Maybe that's the point of including so many poems in one book. It says, "I will not be anthologized. These poems are a chain and every link is important." Or maybe, "Roam at will. Stop here at this poem, or don't. There are a lot of rooms in this house, and you don't need to sit down in all of them."

2. Here are echoes of voices I heard while reading these poems. Charles Simic.  Mark Strand, particularly his earlier work. Frank O'Hara, if his "I do this, I do that" poems described vivid dreams, instead of the activities of an afternoon. John Ashbery blurbs the book, but the individual poems, for me, jump around far less than the typical Ashbery poem, which often wants to contain the entirety of everything ever thought or said in it. More modest than Ashbery poems?  Or maybe just boxed in a bit more.

3. It struck me reading these poems that the kind of surrealism I appreciate in them is an American surrealism.  The French surrealists, at first, were struggling to bring the dark unconscious into the light, and it was an undertaking drawing on Freud. All those secrets, and forbidden desires, and animal unknowns: a surrealism  meant to give a voice and shape to the subconscious.  I think surrealism is more often used these days to explain or to depict a known but hard-to-grasp emotional reality. Another way of saying this: these poems are not going to discomfort the reader.

4. I think that in collaborative projects there is often a self-congradulatory tone, or a hyper-preciousness that appears on the page--look at us, look at our cleverness, look at this process and how arty we are being by engaging in it.  This tone is NOT at all present in YFOTTOG. You can't "see" the poems being written in front of you.  If the writers are teasing and delighting one another with in-jokes, if they are delighting in their own creation, they are keeping this to themselves.  The voice in these poems is remarkably singular, and even. I don't think anyone would have known if these were collaborations if the authors had not told us. As a writer, I am very curious about Mr. Waldrep and Gallaher worked together.  As a reader, I think the poems speak for themselves.

5. Students of poetry, behold the importance of a good first line!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Recently, on the World Wide Web

It was a good week for me, on the internet, at least. 

At Pages to Pixels, Christian Harder posted a short interview with me about my work and the creative process. I am very happy he asked for the interview, and delighted with how it all turned out.

At Escape Into Life, Kathleen Kirk posted a feature with me, and paired the poems with wonderful collages from artist Carly Bartel.  I am in love with the collages.  I may propose to one soon, if I can find the right ring. 

In other exciting news, I found out that peregrine falcons are nesting on the back side of the Uptown Theater near my house.  You can hear the babies crying out to be fed from a block away. Ok, so the falcon discovery did not happen online. But you can see excellent photos of the birds here.

(An award-winning photo by Jerry Goldner.  The link above will show you more of his work profiling these magnificent birds.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Every Lonesome Hotel

I went to the MCA yesterday, having no idea that one of my favorite artists of all time, Joseph Cornell, had a show devoted to his work and his influence on modern and contemporary art.  In some ways the biggest show there right now, featuring contemporary artist Mark Bradford, could be seen as an extension of the Cornell exhibit--Bradford also works in found material, and the careful creation of art as object.  His large-scale Mithra, created in new Orleans, could be a Cornell box on a much larger scale.

From Joseph Cornell we learn about buildings, repetition, ballerinas, and the moon.  We learn about birds that are captured and birds that break free, and the mysterious nude woman behind the blue pillar. In Cornell's boxes it's always either midnight, or dusk, and someone is looking over your shoulder. The curators mentioned maps, and cages, but no one remarked on how Cornell often called his creations hotels, the oasis you check into, the room which becomes the room outside of daily life, the room outside of time.

In the park across the street: red-winged blackbirds, pigeons, and grackles. That and the raggedy man who mutters to the birds. In the building behind me (I write this on the steps of the MCA) torn scraps of paper, trash made beautiful, made meaning-full, as squares and rectangles of light. Mark Bradford making paintings without paint.

Cornell made collaged movies, too. You can see two of them at the exhibit. Repetition is a form of prayer. Again and again the young child bobbing for apples, the trapeze artists, the dancing.

A bird is a form of repetition, one pigeon so much like another, and again. You might come to love and to love and love this dark world, and every lonesome hotel, and every swan who becomes a ballerina in it.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I hate my internet service being out at home.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Smells of the City

It occurred to me as I walked toward the lake yesterday that the sense of smell needs to enter into my poems more.  Here in the city, in the near-summer: lilacs, honey locust, newly cut lawns. (An entire thesis might be created on the evocations of a newly-mown lawn in June--childhood, fatherhood, chores and green stains) Damp maple seeds on the sidewalk, most of them rotting. Puddles with worms and puddles with motor oil. A whiff of sewer, a blast of perfume from a woman a quarter block ahead. And when I reach the lake itself, the smell of fish and iron. Is there a contemporary poet who delves into scent? An ode to odor?

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Fourteen Most Frequently Asked Questions About Spiders

What is the jeweled spider?

What large spider has three yellow stripes?

Are grass spiders bad?  Do spiders come from grass?

How do you say “spider’s web” if you want to say it in French?

Why do you open my mouth while I am sleeping?

How tall is the biggest spider in the world?

What do you call two spiders who just got married?

Do spiders spin an endless silk?

How long does a scorpion live with its parents?

What does it mean when you dream about spiders?

Are all the giant spiders in Canada now?

Where is the little white moustache spider found?

Do wolf spiders keep their eggs in the sun?

What should I do about this spider in my house?

Note: this is a poem collaged from a much, much longer list of questions internet searchers asked about spiders, and related topics.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Here Is Clean

We've had straightforward poetry, some visual art in the mix, and now Richard Fox presents his adopted poem in a sound format.  It's got a beat, you can dance to it.   And if you like it, you can download the thing for free, because Richard is a giver, and because Lives of the Spiders shies away from commerce.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Covered in Gestures Like Tattoos

Meet Heather Abner. Or rather, meet an abandoned poem that she took in and fostered and disciplined and altered to suit her will. You can find out more about Heather and find links to more of her work on her blog.  Many thanks to Heather for being part of the Abandon A Poem/Adopt A Poem Project. Stay tuned for more contributions.  It's not too late to adopt a poem yourself.  Just email me at  If you pass out rigorous examination, you will be sent a poem.  Actually, it will appear on your doorstep in a basket, whimpering like an unhappy mouse.  Your job will be to make that rodent smile.

The Experience You Have When You Don’t Get What You Want

What do you want? she says.
What do you want?
It comes back at her.
The problem is
he never wanted anything from her:
            no word
            or kiss
            not even a gesture.

She was all gesture—
covered in them like tattoos.
As though they could say what she couldn’t--
what she wanted.

She tells you she gave up on romance
and she means it.
She bought a dog, instead.

And when you wind up getting
what you want,

the dog is what she wanted.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A third offering from Jen Besemer

As she contributes to the Abandon/Adopt A Poem Project.  Where are the rest of y'all?  Send your adoptees in, after you have made them all pretty and mostly behaving.  Thanks, Jen!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The First Returns from the Adopt/Abandon a Poem Project

The Swifty McSwift Award for quickest return for the Abandon/Adopt a Poem Project goes to the ever-amazing Jen Besemer, writer and visual artist, who used the poor waif-poem she took in to aid in the creation of three visual poems.  I'll dole out one per day, as I like to keep you on the edge of your desk chair in anticipation for as long as I can.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On the Reading Shelf

I have been delving into Jenifer Karmin's amazing aaaaaaaaaaalice.   And Michael Dickman's Flies. Just got Your Father on The Train of Ghosts and am looking forward to reading more from it. Which reminds me that I want to re-read G.C. Waldrep's Archicembalo. And I think I am ready to tackle Anne Carson's Nox.  More about these in the future. In other news, the tulips on the back porch have opened today, and despite the plastic tag that promised white flowers, they are red as a cape worn by a little girl on a path in the woods.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Another Five Word Challenge

Another one, using the required words: windowpane, destination, seeker, circle, reading.  I've been writing these on the train during my morning commute.

Who knows the intended destination
of the housefly born
or reborn
in the warming northwoods cabin,
pinballing against the windowpane, above
a circle of dry predecessors, a fly
on the floorboards.
Is it reading the frost
still melting on the glass? Poor
of neverwhen, June day,

Five Word Challenges

Somehow on this here internet-thingy I came across a blog devoted to a bowl of random words. You are given five words, they come from slips of paper placed inside a quite pleasant ceramic bowl and pulled forth at random.  The challenge is to then write a poem using all five words.  (In the same order as they've been pulled from the bowl?--not clear on this part.) I like this more than many other write-a-poem prompts lurking here and there these days.

The words in this case: hide, forgive, grasshopper, slip, smoke.

Forgive me,
I told the grasshopper,
who had been an old man,
but I feel I must hide here
with you in the grass, as I
have been an old man,
once upon a time, my strong teeth
and stained with smoke.

If, as I believe, the end times
are near, let's slip
quietly into the hemlock forest.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Call for Submissions from Right Hand Pointing

The fine folks at Right Hand Pointing have sent out a call for a special issue.  They publish much shorter poems than I generally write, but I have taken it as a challenge in the past, and appeared in the magazine's illustrious pages.  Give them a try; here's the call:

Call for Submissions, Issue 42 of Right Hand Pointing,(October 2011)

For this themed issue, we are looking for poems and very short fiction meeting the requirements of our regular issues, plus the addition requirement that each piece has as its title the name of one of the United States of America.    “Alabama,”    “Indiana,” “New York,” or any of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, maybe even American Territories.  The title must be the names of one of these places, with no additional words in the title.    We won't expect to end up with a poem for every state. We also aren't opposed to having more than one poem representing the same state. If we have enough state-titled poems for a full issue, that's what we'll do.  If not, this will be a special section of the issue.

That's it.  As always, our guidelines are at

Quick reminder about length guidelines: Poems:    No more than 20 lines, prefer 16 lines and under.  No more than 100 words, 75 words or fewer preferable.  Fiction:  <500 words.

Deadline:  September 1, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"One Collaborates With the World"

I have been thinking a lot about collaboration, because my friend Richard Fox is working with another poet on poems right now.  And because I have been asked to work with a songwriter and make one or more of my poems into songs. (With music and everything.) And because of my "Abandon a Poem/Adopt a Poem Project."  And because of loneliness, and who wants to be a solitary singer, and is it still a barbaric yawp in the woods if no one hears it.  I just read this on John Gallaher's blog:

"Poems, in reality, come from everywhere the poet can find them: memory, environment, gum wrappers. It’s all reaching out into the context to add something new. The poet just tunes in to whatever works. It’s been my general feeling all my writing life that all writing is collaborative. One collaborates with the world. Working on this book has made it literal. It’s given the world an email address, so to speak."

The book he's speaking about is his collaboration with  G.C. Waldrep, Your Father on the Train of Ghosts.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Finally Back to Blogging

Yikes.  This virus thang has been a pain and a half.  And the darn laptop is still running all creaky and hesitantly, as if it were afraid of falling and breaking a hip. But at least I have a working computer again.

While I had the enforced blog (and indeed, internet entire vacation) I read a book I had been wanting to get my hands on for years, The Salt Ecstasies, by James L. White.  I'd read many essays and articles referencing White's only volume of poetry, but had never been able to get my hands on a copy.  This year, however, Graywolf Press re-issued the book, with a fascinating introduction by Mark Doty, and some extra material not found in the original printing, including two poems Doty discovered in White's papers at L.A.'s One Archive, a collection of papers of gay and lesbian artists.

White's book is a gospel of loneliness, and desire.  It feels very contemporary, though published originally in the early 1980s. That he published only this slim volume in his lifetime is sad; that it is again widely available is a gift.

"When you return to something you love,
It's already broken beyond repair.
You wear it broken."

 --the last stanza of "Lying in Sadness."

In other news, I am reading with several other poets this Friday, April 8 at 7 PM at The Center on Halsted as part of National Poetry Month celebrations. The full details here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yikes, a virus!

Hey, if you are patiently waiting for your poem to arrive from the Adopt a Poem/Abandon a Poem Project, I beg you to be even more patient.  My home computer has a virus, and until I get that all taken care of, I can't be sending out emails to everyone with their new poems to take in and nuture.  So hang on until later in the week!

Monday, March 14, 2011

"I Turn Old Lovers Into Sea Monsters"

"Writing a poem is like transcending space and time, especially if it's based on something true. And they're all sort of true. I turn old lovers in to sea monsters and haunted European forests. It feels like rewriting history the way it happened in some parallel universe. I should have known from the beginning things were going to go wrong"-- Claudia  Lamar, in her introduction to Phantom Kangaroo Number Four.  (I have one of my 13 sentence poems up in issue number five.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Frankensteined Sentences

I spent a big chunk of today reworking my "13 sentences" manuscript: 64 poems each comprised of 13 sentences, many of those sentences collaged from art magazines and also my own notebooks. Often the sentences are Frankensteined together from various texts, one sentence created from three or four sources.  Then the individual sentences are grouped together and chat awkwardly, like guests at a party.  What I hope is that sometimes, like a party, the mood and flow and vibe come together, and all at once something memorable happens. One section of the manuscript is poems made of sentences that I wrote while watching (often very bad) movies.  I might call this part "The Netflix Notebooks."  Here's one. Most of these sentences were written while watching the movie Away From Her, starring Julie Christie. Like most of the 13 sentence poems, sentences from elsewhere in the manuscript intrude and make themselves known:

The Shadow Horses Will Gallop Away

All the homely and usual tasks, like washing up after dinner, these are things we want to do with a companion.

We could ski across the frozen lake, and lie on our backs in the snow as the moon is rising.

I do not wish to be lonesome and alone, but I go out by myself into this varied blue evening.

Would we miss the horses as they gallop away?

The icy stream approves of the bridge.

To have a bad memory is a tender and lucky thing.

Old hurts fade, a bruise will yellow away from the dark.

In the madhouse it’s always winter, winter light always and tarnished silver afternoons.

Remember a night they were twined in yours: my fingers little monks cloistered in your hands?

Home becomes voices in a cabin in the woods.

Insecurities continued, but we left them on the otherwise deserted top floor.

Now, as much as ever, it’s important to ask yourself, “what is forgiveness?”

Our exhibition also suggested the importance of starlings.

I lost the sense of what yellow means, but found it again in a flower.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I’ve been plagued by gravity and thoughts of being a planet.

Several items to report on the web publication front.  I have been working on a series of prose poems called "Artistic Statements." They are 33 prose pieces derived and in part collaged from artistic statements from painters in New American Paintings No. 69.  One just appeared in Ramshackle Review. Another can be found at The Prose-Poem Project.  I hope to find homes for some of the sibling prose pieces--a lot of them are out in the submission stacks right now.

I also have a poem out in this month's issue of Bluestem Quarterly.  You can even listen to me read it to you, should you so wish.

I am finishing reading two books, mostly reading them on the train. The Cloud Corporation by Timothy Donnelly is the more dense and complicated of the two, and I take my time with each poem.  I'm almost done with Ron Padgett's latest collection, How Long.  These poems are deceptively simple. Some, like the poems paying homage to his grandkid, are warm and plain, no horns or whistles.  Others display a wit not unlike Kenneth Koch's. I hope it's not damning with faint praise to say these poems are likable. Like having a funny and not pretentious guest visiting the living room of your mind, and not overstaying his welcome.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Something about green torn silk"

Just finished reading and re-reading the new book by Joseph Lease, Testify.  I had been capitvated last year by Broken World, his collection that came out in 2007, and this new book, is thankfully as complex, as beautifully fragmented and musical as the previous volume.  The loops of repetition, a line or phrase or cluster of words repeated, here and there, not randomly but artfully, are always surprising. Here's a section of "Send My Roots Rain."

                (eyes shift

like promises, hair wet, apples and linen, just for today)--a
thunderstorm opens--birches in rain, are we breaking,
decorum slits my mouth, he finds a way to lie-lightning
and flat farms confuse me like wine--wine spills--thief,
thief of souls, thief, thief of light, fine, depression it is,
roast beef, Creature Features and Cheetos, Space Food
Sticks, thin birdsong, you your twin--"there was enough--
there was enough alone in you" your eyes like rain eyes like
rain smile like rain something about green torn silk:

I get excited by the charged immediacy of Lease's language. Riding the train, I look up from one of his poems, I open my notebook and my pen jumps and starts, hiccups, and sings.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Some treasures found whilst strolling around the Internets

I spent much of the day tromping around online with no purpose.  Sort of like watching tv but changing the channel a lot.  But I did find some good things.

Like this story, "Wolves." 

And the work of this young poet, Ocean Voung.  (I am going to order his new book tonight. Even though he has a cool name like Ocean, and I do not.)  Here is one of his poems.

And an interview with Brent Goodman. I followed the interview link to his blog and plan on jumping from there to examples of his published work online.

Facebook also kept me up-to-date on what my friend Kathie is cooking for dinner: "peppery linguine with shrimp, arugula, diced tomatoes, and shaved parmesan."  She tends to post these items on Facebook, and she's probably the best cook I know.  I resist posting my own such foodie reports, like, "Robert is preparing chips on the verge of too stale with the last few scrapings of salsa from the jar and thinking he should have gotten out to the grocery store today."  Because that would be sad.

Here's the title poem of Brent Goodman's debut collection.  I am going to take a walk outside in the fresh real world now.