Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

One of the Family
Frederick Cotman 

This week, instead of memorizing a poem for the Mnemosyne Weekly, I'll be spending time with family. But I'd still like to share a poem with you. No matter what your faith or what you're celebrating, this poem, "Grace," highlights mealtime as a way of honoring both the past and the present, both those with whom we are sitting and those who are no longer here. Such a lovely, universal message--

The poet, Jake Adam York, just passed away on the 16th of this month. May he rest in peace.

By Jake Adam York

Because my grandmother made me
the breakfast her mother made her,
when I crack the eggs, pat the butter
on the toast, and remember the bacon
to cast iron, to fork, to plate, to tongue,
my great grandmother moves my hands
to whisk, to spatula, to biscuit ring,
and I move her hands too, making
her mess, so the syllable of batter
I’ll find tomorrow beneath the fridge
and the strew of salt and oil are all
memorials, like the pan-fried chicken
that whistles in the grease in the voice
of my best friend’s grandmother
like a midnight mockingbird,
and the smoke from the grill
is the smell of my father coming home
from the furnace and the tang
of vinegar and char is the smell
of Birmingham, the smell
of coming home, of history, redolent
as the salt of black-and-white film
when I unwrap the sandwich
from the wax-paper the wax-paper
crackling like the cold grass
along the Selma to Montgomery road,
like the foil that held
Medgar’s last meal, a square of tin
that is just the ghost of that barbecue
I can imagine to my tongue
when I stand at the pit with my brother
and think of all the hands and mouths
and breaths of air that sharpened
this flavor and handed it down to us,
I feel all those hands inside
my hands when it’s time to spread
the table linen or lift a coffin rail
and when the smoke billows from the pit
I think of my uncle, I think of my uncle
rising, not falling, when I raise
the buttermilk and the cornmeal to the light
before giving them to the skillet
and sometimes I say the recipe
to the air and sometimes I say his name
or her name or her name
and sometimes I just set the table
because meals are memorials
that teach us how to move,
history moves in us as we raise
our voices and then our glasses
to pour a little out for those
who poured out everything for us,
we pour ourselves for them,
so they can eat again.

For more information about the poem:

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Forty-One (Zagajewski)

I'd like to dedicate this week's Mnemosyne Weekly to the victims and survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and their families and friends. The poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” written by one of my grad school professors, Adam Zagajewski, ran on the final page of The New Yorker's 9/11 issue. Though it was written a year and a half before the attacks, it became the most well-known poem cited in relation to the tragedy. Now that we are once again blindsided by the agonizing symptoms of a mutilated world, I think again of this poem.

According to The Daily Beast, "'Try to Praise the Mutilated World' recalls a trip Zagajewski took with his father through Ukrainian villages in Poland forcibly abandoned in the population transfers of the post-Yalta years." No stranger to tragedy himself, Zagajewski was just an infant when his family was deported from their home, thus beginning a state of exile that would become a motif in both his life and his poetry. Bless him for transforming his experience into art.

As I memorize this poem this week, I'll be thinking of the community of Newtown, Connecticut, and sending prayers for healing.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World
By Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Forty (Dickinson)

This Thursday, 12/13/12, I'll join twenty other fabulous poets to read at the Annual Gathering of the Poets Emily Dickinson Birthday Bash. The reading, which is hosted by Dave Parsons and the Montgomery County Literary Arts Council, will take place at at 7 PM at The Corner Pub in Conroe, TX. We'll each read one poem of Emily's and one of our own. I've selected the lovely little poem, "How happy is the little Stone" for both the birthday reading and this week's Mnemosyne Weekly. My favorite thing about memorizing Emily Dickinson poems is having her unusual syntax, slant rhymes, and coupling of the concrete and abstract bouncing around in my head. I hope you enjoy this one too--

How happy is the little Stone
Emily Dickinson

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,
And doesn't care about Careers
And Exigencies never fears --
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on,
And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity --

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Nine (Amichai)

San Carlos Wildflowers
John Fowler

This week I've fallen in love with a new (to me) poet, Yehuda Amichai, whose selected poems I picked up at Half Price Books a few weeks ago and have been devouring since. Amichai writes in Hebrew and has been translated into more than forty languages. The poems in The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai (the collection I've been reading) were translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell.

According to another well-known translator, Robert Alter, "Yehuda Amichai, it has been remarked with some justice, is the most widely translated Hebrew poet since King David.” And I have to say, I can see why. The poems are stunning. Both universal and deeply personal, they deal with the most important aspects of humanity through compelling, brilliant metaphors and images.

Before you read the poem I've selected for this week's Mnemosyne, here are a few lines that really struck me from other poems: "God's hand is in the world / like my mother's hand in the guts of the slaughtered chicken / on Sabbath eve" (From "God's Hand in the World," translated by Stephen Mitchell). And from another poem ("Yehuda Ha-Levi"), also translated by Stephen Mitchell: "But in the white fist of his brain / he holds the black seeds of his happy childhood. / When he reaches the belovèd, bone-dry land-- / he will sow."

Yehuda Amichai
Photo by Layle Silbert

By Yehuda Amichai
Translated By Chana Bloch

Not the peace of a cease-fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)

Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Eight (Adair)

Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble
A star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud

This week's poem, "Riding a Koan," by Virginia Hamilton Adair, moves me for so many reasons. I love the way it sustains the extended metaphor through flights of fancy and torrents of weather and words, connecting the poet and the koan more and more concretely to the elements until the boundaries break down and the koan itself disappears.

In the end, she is alone, and there is work to be done. Regular life. The literal. What a journey she takes us on in so few words.

Adair's personal and professional life are an inspiration. She published poems in magazines in her twenties (1930's and 40's), and unhappy with the publishing world, discontinued publishing for fifty years. She did not publish again until the 1990's, and her first book came out when she was eighty-three years old and blind. She'd been writing the whole time. In fact, she'd been writing since she was two years old, but the thing is that she wrote for herself and for her own sensibility.

Adair's husband committed suicide in 1968, and many of her poems deal with that loss and loneliness in a powerful, understated way that I admire, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly, as we see at the end of this poem.

And finally, I'd like to mention how well her poem fits with this blog's background image and theme of unbridling the muse, or in this case, the koan.

Virginia Hamilton Adair

Riding a Koan
By Virginia Hamilton Adair

My koan waits
unsaddled, unbridled
tied to nothing.

I mount and ride
out of the map
into a tangle of stars.

Currents of grass
move through me,
and the scented rain.

I peer through snow
dust, fire, tornadoes,
into the vulture's eye.

Suns stampede
cantering through me
in my thicket of bones.

My koan whisks away
flies and words
finally, itself.

The earth opens
like a beak
through which I sing.

Alone on the prairie now
sod to cut
a well to dig.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Seven (Reznikoff)

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth 
by Jennie A. Brownscombe

This week for Mnemosyne I've selected, "Te Deum," a simple little poem of praise in honor of Thanksgiving. The poet, Charles Reznikoff  lived from 1894 - 1976 and was an objectivist, which means he was part of a group of second-generation Modernists whose tenets were to treat the poem as an object, and to emphasize the poet's clear view of the world, intelligence, and sincerity.

In case you're not familiar with the term "Te Deum," it's an early Christian hymn of praise. The title is taken from the opening Latin words, "Te Deum laudamus," or "Thee, O God, we praise."

I'm attracted to this poem because of the humility and gratitude of the speaker and because it's a perfect poem for reciting at the table.

I hope some of you choose to memorize it with me this week, and I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Charles Reznikoff
photo by Abraham Ravett

Te Deum 
by Charles Reznikoff

Not because of victories
I sing, 
having none, 
but for the common sunshine, 
the breeze, 
the largess of the spring. 

Not for victory 
but for the day's work done 
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais 
but at the common table.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Slight Break in Mnemosyne

Friends--For personal reasons, I'm taking a week off from posting Mnemosyne. I'll be back to it next week with a clearer head and a great poem for you. Thanks :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Six (MacLeish)

A Black Bird With Snow Covered Red Hills

Well, we've all got our ideas about what a poem should be--at least in my fantasy world, where everyone cares about poetry enough to debate the topic. In this week's selection, "Ars Poetica" by Archibald MacLeish,we have a poem about what a poem should be. And though I'm not in full agreement, I do admire what MacLeish says, and, even more, I love the way he says it--the images and metaphors, the sections, the clean lines and flighty couplets--all inspire a sense of quiet beauty. And, I'm sure you can tell by the O'Keeffe pairing what one of my favorite couplets is: "A poem should be wordless /As the flight of birds."

It will be rather a long poem to memorize, but it will be worth it. Enjoy!

Archibald MacLeish

Ars Poetica
By Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Five (Millay)

Oil on Canvas, 1877

This week's poem, "First Fig," by the ever clever Edna St. Vincent Millay, is quite different from the other short poems I've memorized in that the others have had a zen sort of quiet, and a modest, internal spaciousness, whereas Millay's feels packed to bursting with wit. You may have noticed that my aesthetic leans in two very distinct lyrical directions--the short, quiet meditation that I just mentioned, and the dense, image-rich metaphorical poem. Millay's, obviously, is neither. Nor do I currently subscribe to the sentiment in Millay's poem. But with each posting I make, I learn. And there are a couple of things I want to learn from Millay this week--the brevity of cleverness built into the very sounds of words, and such perfect marriage between content and form--

Edna St. Vincent Millay 
photo by Arnold Genthe

First Fig
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Four (Rengetsu)

Image by 松岡明芳

I found this week's poem in a beautiful little book called Lotus Moon: The Poetry of the Buddhist Nun Rengetsu, translated by the Eastern philosophy professor, John Stevens. The poet, Ōtagaki Rengetsu lived from 1791 – 1875 and was known not only for her poetry, but also for excelling at pottery, painting, calligraphy, dance, sewing, and martial arts. How lovely it is to imagine her seduced from the convent walls and out onto the lawn by by a simple, unknowing maple leaf--all that blazing color in such bright contrast to her black robes. Though she was accomplished in many fields, and no doubt a sophisticated intellect, in this poem she is as lovely, simple, and innocent as a deer drawn to a berry bush.

As a Nun Gazing at the Deep Colors of Autumn
by Ōtagaki Rengetsu
Translated by John Stevens

Clad in Black Robes
I should have no attractions to
The shapes and scents of this world
But how can I keep my vows
Gazing at today's crimson maple leaves?

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Three (Nye)


I'm always a fan of that which praises something humble--in this case, the onion of Renoir's still and of Naomi Shihab Nye's beautiful poem, "The Traveling Onion." Leave it to a poet to look at a passage in a cookbook, and from it, create something so full of depth and beauty--so simultaneously simple and complex. The onion, the stew, the efforts in the kitchen--these may all be transient--but the poem is forever.

The Traveling Onion
Naomi Shihab Nye

“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship — why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.” — Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,

Friday, October 12, 2012

Great Minds One (Jeffreys on Bradbury): Something Wicked (and Wondrous) This Way Comes

Dust-jacket art by Gray Foy from the first edition 
Simon & Schuster, 1962

Today I’d like to introduce you to “Great Minds,” a new blog post series on Bareback Alchemy. At inspired, irregular intervals, I’ll share guest posts in which writers, artists, and intellectuals make tributes to others who have influenced their work. Of course, the title is a play on the phrase, “Great minds think alike,” but I’m looking to bring you heart, soul, and inspiration too.

I’m honored now to present the first post, an homage by R Jeffreys for Ray Bradbury. Enjoy!

Something Wicked (and Wondrous) This Way Comes
by R Jeffreys

When Melissa Studdard first graciously asked to me to write this guest post, of course I was thrilled. However, when the topic of who has most influenced me as a writer sunk in, I hesitated with the thought that this would be a difficult piece to compose. There are so many writers who have had a profound impact on my own written works.

Being that I am a purveyor of both poetry and prose, one could well assume that I would gravitate to like-minded writers. It is true that in general those who have excelled in both poetry and prose have most influenced my work. Many of the Transcendentalist period writers fall under this category for me. Exemplary and double-duty writers like E. A. Poe (who referred to Transcendentalists as those “Frogpondians”), Henry D. Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson are obviously at the top of my list.

Subsequently, once having made this most difficult of decisions, I realized it was a more contemporary writer/poet who inspired me above all others. It was then that I told Melissa, “There is one outstanding writer who has most influenced my own writing, and that is Ray Bradbury.”  

A number of years ago, the very first essay I wrote on my blog was a homage to Bradbury. I added an accompanying video of a 2001 keynote address titled "Telling the Truth" where Ray shared stories about his life and his love of writing at The Sixth Annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea. I was profoundly affected by his lecture. Over the years I have listened to and read many other remarkable talks on writing by Ray Bradbury. Each time his words have resonated deeply in me, and then set firmly into my writer’s marrow.

Ironically, soon after my conversation with Melissa, the world lost the great Ray Bradbury, about whom Aldous Huxley once remarked, upon reading his prose, “You, sir, are a poet!”

Bradbury is one of the most endearing and influential writers of our times. His phenomenal collection of essays, with connecting passages, Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You is a must read for anyone truly committed to effective creative writing. Bradbury’s seminal works have reached every corner of the globe. They have been adapted for film (he wrote the screenplay for John Houston’s classic film, Moby Dick); further widened our perspective on the inherent evil of censorship (Fahrenheit 451); and led us onto other worlds (The Martian Chronicles). There are many more exceptional novels by him, such as The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes that have left an indelible mark on the world.

Bradbury’s characters are so deftly written, it is as if we have always known them, intimately. His writing flows as smoothly as a gentle rain off a copper cupola. The list of wordsmiths who have also so effectively accomplished this literary feat to me would include iconic word weavers Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Harper Lee and Edgar Allen Poe. What excellent company Ray Bradbury now joins in legend and literature!

I once had the honor of having a letter I wrote handed to Ray Bradbury, via a mutual friend, during Ray’s 90th birthday celebration at his home in Cheviot Hills, California. I could not force myself to add my return address to that letter, but was told that Ray had read it and then asked that his appreciation for my congratulatory words be conveyed to me.

Needless to say, I will never forget that day. Nor will I ever forget Ray Bradbury, our preeminent writer and poet—the man who I feel I know, intimately, through his characters—the writer who I have had the absolute pleasure to read and from whom I honed my own writing craft.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Two (Sōin)

Martin Johnson Heade
Blue Morpho Butterfly

This week's selection is a haiku from the collection Japanese Haiku by Peter Beilenson. The poem is by Nishiyama Sōin, a Japanese poet of the early Tokugawa period. Sōin lived between 1605 and 1682 and was a samurai retainer before he began to pursue poetry. As with much Asian poetry, so much is said in the silences, and we are shown how easily, simply, and gracefully on can exhibit brilliance.  

                                                                 Life? Butterfly
                                                                 On a swaying grass
                                                                 That's all ...
                                                                 But exquisite!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-One (Cisneros)

Painting: The Clown and the Tightrope Walker by Herbert Schondelmaier
Little Clown, My Heart

Tonight Sandra Cisneros is reading in Houston, and though I intended to go, it turns out I cannot make it after all. So here's my consolation to myself: I get to memorize "Little Clown, My Heart." I only discovered and read this poem a week ago, and I fell instantly in love with its rollicking stunts and jumps--with the humor, the sorrow, and the joy--the amazing imagery and energy--the eyes-closed leaps of creativity. I would have loved it no matter what, but I loved it even more due to the fact that it came to me in a serendipitous way: Just two days before I found Cisneros' book, I'd written a poem about death in which the predominant metaphors and images were circus and carnival related. So, as soon as I saw this poem, I knew I was meant to buy the book and share the poem here. I hope some of you will join me in memorizing this one. 

The Ever Beautiful Cisneros

Little Clown, My Heart

Little clown, my heart,
Spangled again and lopsided,
Handstands and Peking pirouettes,
Back flips snapping open like
A carpenter's hinged ruler,

Little gimp-footed hurray,
Paper parasol of pleasures,
Fleshy undertongue of sorrows,
Sweet potato plant of my addictions,

Acapulco cliff-diver corazón,
Fine as an obsidian dagger,
Alley-oop and here we go
Into the froth, my life,
Into the flames!

"Little Clown, My Heart" is the first 
poem in the collection Loose Woman.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty (Strand)

Keeping Things Whole 

"Keeping Things Whole," is one of Mark Strand's most frequently anthologized poems, and it's easy to see why. In so few words, he accomplishes not only his own fascinating meditation on self, emptiness, identity, and more; in koan-like fashion, he also invites readers to their own meditations on these subjects. The speaker may embrace change and continue moving to keep things whole, but we are left feeling that, however clever, this is not the entire answer. The emptiness that has become the speaker's identity moves forward in space and time, impacting, always, the next field and leaving behind it not only a return to wholeness but a trail of questions too. 

Photo of Mark Strand by Lilo Raymond

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

From Sleeping with One Eye Open, Also found in Selected Poems

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Nine (Stevens)

"Gray Room"

Sometimes a poem builds in perfect and unanticipated ways towards the last line. The journey is beautiful, though seemingly not extraordinary, and then BAM--we're hit with that line--the one that makes our bodies shudder and our minds and hearts split open. "Gray Room" had that sort of impact on me. I was lured in by the lovely description--which is polite, composed, and refined--but it felt pleasant and nothing more--until I got to the end. The last line, which is so vital and alive, hit me with all the more force due to the contrast in tone to all of the lines preceding it. I went from being a tourist looking out the window at a mountain to realizing I was in my native land, right at the lip of the volcano.

Gray Room

Although you sit in a room that is gray,
Except for the silver
Of the straw-paper,
And pick
At your pale white gown;
Or lift one of the green beads
Of your necklace,
To let it fall;
Or gaze at your green fan
Printed with the red branches of a red willow;
Or, with one finger,
Move the leaf in the bowl--
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia
Beside you...
What is all this?
I know how furiously your heart is beating.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Eight (Rabia)

Rabia, depicted in an Islamic miniature
Image is in public domain (expired copyright)
Poem translated by Charles Upton from Persian

This week I'm still thinking about stars, but we've stepped back a few centuries to 717–801 C.E. to read the work of the female Muslim saint and Sufi mystic, Rabia. Rabia is often considered the most important of Sufi mystics and is credited with having introduced the concept of Divine Love, or loving God for God's own sake, rather than out of fear. I love the raw simplicity of this poem, which so perfectly exemplifies Rabia's life choice to remain in contemplative solitude instead of marrying. Enjoy!

O my Lord, the stars glitter 

O my Lord,
the stars glitter
and the eyes of men are closed.
Kings have locked their doors
and each lover is alone with his love.

Here, I am alone with you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Six Weeks to Yehidah Wins Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and Other News

I'm thrilled to announce that Six Weeks to Yehidah has another accolade in its bag: a Summer 2012 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award. That others are finding value in my work and recognizing me with these honors humbles me more than I can say. As I wrote SWTY, I was so involved in the all-consuming process of creation that I never thought about what might happen once the book came out. Every day now is a surprise and a delight as I watch the book gradually making its way into the world, one reader, one award, one library at a time.

As well, I'd like to announce that Donna Baier Stein and I were interviewed this past Thursday, by R Jeffreys, of The Write Step, on Tiferet Talk. The subject of the talk was the forthcoming Tiferet Talk book, a collection of interviews to be released in Winter 2012. I'll be certain to let you know more about this project as I learn more myself. In the meantime, I hope you'll listen to the interview. R Jeffreys was an amazing host--fun, charismatic, warm--and Donna Baier Stein was her ever gracious, always lovely self, sharing the mission of Tiferet and explaining her founding vision.

In publication news, my poem, "For Baudelaire," just came out in the Fox Chase Review, an invitation only journal, and another poem, "Creation Myth," was just released in the Summer 2012 issue of the Manor House Quarterly. The issue, entitled "She," is a vital exploration of our understanding of the feminine. I'm honored to be included in both journals.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tiferet Talk Interview with Donna Baier Stein and Yours Truly

Please join us tomorrow night at 7 PM EST for a Tiferet Talk interview with Donna Baier Stein and Yours Truly, guest hosted by R Jeffreys Author, of The Write Step. We’ll be talking about the forthcoming Tiferet Talk book, scheduled for release in winter 2012. The book includes interviews with such incredible guests as Julia Cameron, Robert Pinsky, Floyd Skloot, and more. As well, Donna will talk about her founding vision and Tiferet’s beautiful global mission.

Donna Baier Stein is the publisher of Tiferet and an accomplished, award-winning author in her own right. She received the PEN/New England Discovery Award for her novel and her story collection was a Finalist in the Iowa Fiction Awards. . She's been a John Hopkins Univ. Writing Seminars Fellow, a Bread Loaf Scholar, a New Jersey Council on the Arts grant recipient, a Founding Editor of Bellevue Literary Review and a Scholar at this year's Summer Literary Seminars in Lithuania. Her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, Washingtonian, and many other journals and anthologies. And in her other life, she's written copy for Smithsonian, World Wildlife Fund, Time magazine, and many other marketing clients.

R Jeffreys is a published poet, essayist; playwright; Editor-in-Chief; editorial consultant; featured blogger and book editor; and host of the popular radio show, "The Write Step with R Jeffreys." His “WriteStep” blog was chosen by as one of the top ten blogs for writing advice. He is also a web Shorty Award nominee and has written for the theater and many well-known stand-up comedians, life coaches, media publications, and web sites. As well, Jeff is the Program Organizer and host of the Boston chapter of the international event 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Currently, he’s editing Stories from a Holiday Heart, an anthology scheduled for release in November 2012.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Seven (Sexton)

The Starry Night 
painting by Vincent Van Gogh
poem by Anne Sexton 

Planning my December ekphrastic poetry course for The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative has got me thinking about ekphrasis, and though I may not use this particular pairing for the workshop, Sexton is one of my favorite poets, and Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, so, needless to say, this poem thrills and delights me, despite the grim subject matter! In fact, as you will see below, Sexton herself expresses a great deal of zest and ecstatic feeling--again, despite (or maybe because of) the grim subject matter. 

I'm sure everyone already knows who Van Gogh is, and I hope everyone knows who Sexton is, but if you are not familiar with her, she was one of the confessional poets of the 1950's and 1960's era of American poetry. I've always admired her unique voice, her incredible gift with imagery, and her capacity to lay herself bare on the page.

So here's one masterpiece inspired by another:

The Starry Night

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars. –Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Six (Wilbur)

Richard Wilbur
From Things of This World

I've long admired Richard Wilbur's beautiful poetry, which is playful, formal, and perfectly polished. This poem, which I pulled from New and Collected Poems, but which originally appeared in Things of This World, is a little more whimsical than the typical Wilbur poem, so if you aren't familiar with his work, I urge you to take a look at one of his books to bask in his incredible range. Almost two years ago, David Orr of The New York Times Book Review stated, "At 89, Richard Wilbur still cuts a straight path through the shifting landscape of American poetry." How true this is!

And for your enjoyment, here is a link to Wilbur reading "Apology":

Have a great week!


A word sticks in the wind's throat;
A wind-launch drifts in the swells of rye;
Sometimes, in broad silence, 
The hanging apples distil their darkness.

You, in a green dress, calling, and with brown hair, 
Who come by the field-path now, whose name I say
Softly, forgive me love if also I call you
Wind's word, apple-heart, haven of grasses.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Five (Rukeyser)

Muriel Rukeyser
"The Sixth Night: Waking"
From Out of Silence

Sometimes it only takes a few words to make a stunning poem that shoots into the heart of truth. These poems seem to roll into the waking world as if from a dream--effortless and surreal. Bless Muriel Rukeyser for this one!

If you're not familiar with Rukeyser's work, she was an extraordinary poet and human being. She was also a reporter and political activist, and she's known for her poems about feminist issues, social justice, and equality. 

In an interview with the Paris Review, former US Poet Laureate William Meredith said, "She was a very amazing human being and any traces of honesty in my life come from having seen how beautifully honest she was in administering her life and her poetry without any separation—you couldn't get a knife between the two things with her."

This poem, though short, so perfectly exemplifies the central role that poetry played in Rukeyser's life and what her poetry meant to other people. I hope you will join me in memorizing it this week!

The Sixth Night: Waking

That first Green night of their dreaming, asleep beneath the
God said, "Let meanings move," and there was poetry.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Six Weeks to Yehidah Back to School Tour

My darling Annalise and her two furry, bleating pals are touring like rock stars to ring in the new school year. Here are the first three reviews. Many thanks to the reviewers, especially, Amanda, who read Six Weeks to Yehidah twice to write hers. And thanks to the amazing Sage, who put it all together with such finesse!  :)

And here is the rest of the tour schedule:

August 18th @A Dream Within A Dream
August 20th @Breath of Life
August 21st @The JuGgLiNg Mama
August 22nd @my name is: Sage
August 23rd @Geo Librarian
August 24th @Crunchy Farm Baby
August 25th @The Reading Pile
August 26th @Broad-Minded Books
August 27th @Nomi's Paranormal Palace
August 28th @Beneath the Moon and Stars
August 29th @Little Hyuts
August 30th @Simply Shan
August 31st @The Things You Can Read
September 1st @Hidden Adventures of a Teenage Reader
September 3rd @Just Me, Myself and I
September 4th @Magical Manuscripts
September 5th @Choice Reads
September 6th @Appraising Pages
September 7th @Book Fidelity
September 8th @Miles to Go Book Reviews
September 10th @My Life. One Story At A Time.
September 11th @For The Love of Film And Novels
September 12th @Turning The Pages

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Four (Jeffers)

"Praise Life"

First, just let me say that, without question, there should be more postage stamps of poets. I'm sure all of you reading this entry would agree--and you might even tell me that there should be more magazine layouts, billboards, coffee cups, and t-shirts too. I wholeheartedly concur. But more importantly, we should be reading poems and carrying them with us in our hearts and minds. 

This week, I'll be carrying "Praise Life," by Robinson Jeffers, with me wherever I go.  "Praise Life" strikes me because it reminds me that anguish and despair are a very true and intrinsic part of this glorious thing we call life. Every time I think I'm so happy that I can never feel low again, some deep sorrow drops into my life to remind me that I am not immune--that, really, every moment carries the twin seeds of suffering and joy. Yet, like Jeffers, I choose to make the brave decision to praise life anyway and to remember, even when I'm happy, that suffering exists and needs our care and compassion.

Praise Life

This country least, but every inhabited country
Is clotted with human anguish.
Remember that at your feasts.

And this is no new thing but from time out of mind,
No transient thing, but exactly
Conterminous with human life.

Praise life, it deserves praise, but the praise of life
That forgets the pain is a pebble
Rattled in a dry gourd.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Three (Berry)

"The Peace of Wild Things"
Photo Credit: Dan Carraco

I believe in serendipity, destiny, and what is meant to be. Not too long ago my friend Paula Todd King suggested this poem for The Mnemosyne Weekly, and then, last week, for Tiferet Talk, I interviewed Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, who told me that it's one of her favorite poems. Next, my boyfriend walked up to me with a printed out copy of the poem to suggest that I use it for Mnemosyne. At that point, I was already sold, but to top it all off, my Facebook friend, Corey Mesler, posted a list on my wall yesterday of people who share my August 5th birthday, and Wendell Berry was on it! So, here it is, the much beloved, highly recommended "The Peace of Wild Things." The poem comes from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Two (Divakaruni)

"The World Tree"

Just a couple of hours ago, I had the most exhilarating conversation with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni for Tiferet Talk. If you were not able to listen live, I urge you to listen to the archive as soon as possible. She said the most beautiful things about the importance of telling stories and building communities. As well, in honor of her recent novel, One Amazing Thing, she shared with us a truly amazing story from her own life. What a gift this interview was!

Needless to say, I've chosen one of Divakaruni's poems to memorize this week. It comes from the collection Leaving Yuba City, which was published in 1997 and encompasses a variety of topics. Here's a blurb from Booklist: “Everything Divakaruni touches with her exquisitely sensitive writer’s mind—whether it’s a memory, or a scene between wife and husband—turns to gold. She demonstrated her mastery of the short story in Arranged Marriages, and of the novel in The Mistress of Spices , and now shows her mastery of poetry in this bittersweet volume, her third collection. Each of her lyrical and haunting poems opens slowly, like a flower, then rapidly picks up speed and intensity until it glows like a meteor as it plunges into the deepest recesses of the heart. Divakaruni begins with devastatingly eloquent evocations of a sorrowful childhood in Darjeeling, then moves on to imaginative and compelling poems inspired by the photographs of Raghubir Singh, paintings by Francesco Clemente, and films by Indian directors, including Satyajit Ray and Mira Nair. In the final section, she dramatizes the circumscribed lives of persecuted Punjab farmers who immigrated early in this century to Yuba City, California. Strongly narrative, shimmeringly detailed, and emotionally acute, Divakaruni’s poetry embraces pain and beauty in its affirmation of grace."

I hope you enjoy the poem and the interview as much as I did!

The World Tree

The tree grows out of my navel. Black
as snakeskin, it slithers upward, away
from my voice. Spreads
across the entire morning, its leaf-tongues
drinking the light. It bores its roots
into my belly till I can no longer tell them
from my dry, gnarled veins. And when it is sure
I will never forget the pain
of its birthing, it parts its branches

so I can see, far
in that ocean of green,
a figure, tiny and perfect, pale
as ivory, leaning
on his elbow. He looks down and I know
that mouth, those eyes. Mine.
I raise my arm. I am calling
loud as I can. He gazes
into the distance, the bright, rippling
air. It is clear
he sees, hears nothing. I continue
to call. The tree grows and grows
into the world between us.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-One (Lorca)

Federico García Lorca
Translated by W. S. Merwin

Here's a gorgeous little poem by Federico García Lorca. What hunger for life he conveys, even in death! And so much is said with just a few simple images. It's like the first and last stanzas are the balcony doors swung open, and the stanzas between them are a glimpse into an exotic, yet familiar, realm. I can see the gauzy curtains blowing in the wind, the corpse listening from the bed. 

If you are new to Lorca, his full name is Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca, and he was a Spanish poet and playwright and part of a group of avante-garde artists known as Generación del 27, which included Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel and other notables. Lorca lived from 1898 - 1936. 

If you're new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne Post to find out what this project is all about.



Si muero,
dejad el balcón abierto.

El niño come naranjas.
(Desde mi balcón lo veo).

El segador siega el trigo.
(Desde mi balcón lo siento.)

¡Si muero,
dejad el balcón abierto!


If I die, 
leave the balcony open.

The little boy is eating oranges.
(From my balcony I can see him.)

The reaper is harvesting the wheat.
(From my balcony I can hear him.)

If I die,
leave the balcony open.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I'll Stand by You Write Step Interview


I'm delighted to announce that I've been invited to join R. Jeffreys of The Write Step radio show to co-host an interview with Founder and Director of Global Medical Relief Fund for children,outstanding humanitarian and now author, Elissa Montanti.  Montanti will be joined by multi-published writer and Psychology Today columnist Jennifer Haupt, who worked in collaboration with Montanti in writing I'll Stand by You (to be released August 2, 2012) about Montanti ’s personal experiences in aiding children who are missing or have lost the use of limbs or eyes, who have been severely burned, or have been injured through war, natural disaster or illness throughout the world.

Montanti, who People Magazine dubbed as "the saint of Staten Island," is changing the world one child at a time. Fourteen years ago, she was a lab technician in Staten Island. She had, in the span of only a few years, lost her beloved mother, grandmother, and high school sweetheart. Hoping to find a way past her own troubles and the depression and panic attacks that quietly crippled her, she decided to raise money for school supplies for the children of war-torn Bosnia. But at a meeting with the UN ambassador she learned that those children didn’t need pencils. He showed her a photo of a boy who had lost both arms and one leg to a land mine; these children needed a lot more.

She went to Bosnia, brought the boy and his mother back to Staten Island, and arranged for free prosthetics and medical care. The Global Medical Relief Fund was born.

She founded the non-profit, non-partisan Global Medical Relief Fund. A 501c3 organization, GMRF is supported entirely by private donations and grants. Since 1997, GMRF has brought more than 150 children to the U.S, from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia for treatment, surgery and prosthetic limb and eye fittings. The countries include Bosnia, China, El Salvador, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Mexico, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan, the Congo, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Libya .The injured children come from countries or regions that can offer only minimal medical care, poorly fitted prostheses, or none at all.

Elissa Montanti and her story of unconditional love and charity to grievously injured children throughout the world has been widely featured in every media outlet. She has also received numerous awards and honorariums for her outstanding humanitarian work.

For more information, and for a list of Montanti's awards and media credits, please see The Write Step show page, which is the post from which much of this copy was borrowed.

The Show
airs 07/25/2012 at 6:30 pm EST/5:30 pm CST/3:30 pm PST at: