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POETRY SWAP MEET: Poetry we don't usually know about, or?

Jade-Pandora
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Danusha Laméris

THE LORD GOD BIRD

Sixty-two years since the last sighting,
ornithologists say they’ve spotted one
somewhere along the lip of the White River,
its pale beak, red crest, black and white featured tuxedo,
the last of the ivory-billed woodpeckers.
Could it be, they wonder
that the birds have gone deeper,
nested in the southern bottomland?
People kept killing them
to show in museums
nailing their bodies to planks.
Now the town is buzzing with tourists
armed with binoculars.
Isn’t this how it is? We want back
what we’ve taken, the way a child tries
to set the head back on a doll.
Jesus risen in white robes,
standing outside the door to his grave,
Houdini underwater, escaping the chained suitcase.
We want to know there is something
more powerful than destruction
so we destroy what we desire:
the lithe and fearsome tiger,
humans adorned in feathers and the skins of bison,
entire forests, quiet as cathedrals.
And then we want it back,
that thin strip of green, lush again,
the Lord God bird, as it was known
set back on its branch,
scaling bald patches into the rough bark.

______________________________

Danusha Laméris: I was introduced to the world of poets on Dover Beach in Barbados by her grandfather, writer Gordon Bell. I remember walking alongside him and his friends as they recited aloud, talked and laughed, their feet skimming the white sand. What other life?”

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Kenny Tanemura

BASHO’S HUT: A HAIBUN

I asked people at souvenir shops, bakeries, at Circle Ks for directions to Konpukuji Temple, but no one had heard of it, and they could only give me vague directions after I circled the temple on the map. I was surprised because the temple was in their neighborhood, and Japan’s greatest poet, Matsuo Basho, had lived there, and written one of his most famous haiku:

Even in Kyoto
hearing the cuckoo’s cry
I long for Kyoto


I decided to write my own haiku in response:

Dusk falling in Kyoto
I long for the freshness
of morning in Kyoto


By the time we’d reached Konpukuji Temple, we were soaked in sweat and rain and frustration. Finally, after we found ourselves passing the Kyoto University of Art & Design, a super-stylish campus—we were wandering uphill through residential neighborhoods. We usually don’t approach local Japanese who aren’t working in some capacity, but upon seeing a man walking in the rain with two small boys, I couldn’t help calling out “Sumimasen.” Luckily the man stopped and said that he would take us to the temple. Evidently one of the small boys was visiting from America and knew English. He wanted the boy to practice English with us, but like many Japanese children, he was too shy. The man asked the boy to ask us where we are from, but the boy shook his rain-soaked head and said no.

We walked up a flight of stone stairs in the middle of a residential neighborhood and found the temple we would never have found without the kind help of the stranger. An old man sat behind a counter, looking surprised to see us. It was raining out, and late for Kyoto, about 4 p.m. A lot of things close around 5 p.m. in Kyoto.

I was surprised to find out that Yosa Buson’s grave was also on the property. It seemed fitting that Buson, as Japan’s second greatest haiku poet, should have his grave in the yard of Basho’s house, since Basho is generally regarded as Japan’s greatest poet.

Sitting on the tatami in the hut where Basho lived and wrote haiku hundreds of years ago, I felt humbled. I couldn’t read anything in the little museum down the hill from the hut, no scrolls or signs, but it was magical nonetheless. I wanted to stay there for the rest of the evening and write haiku about the summer rain. Few things inspired me in Japan, not my visit to long-lost relatives in Taga, not my travels through Tokyo and Yokohama, but Basho’s old hut was inspiring for me. I dashed off seven haiku:

Footsteps
the sound of rain—
pages turning

Another visitor come
to visit Basho’s hut—
garden stillness

Basho your
neighbors don’t know you—
summer rain

Summer rain
falls into the well
Basho drank from

Kyoshi wrote poems
of the view from here—
today clouds, rain …

In Basho’s hut
don’t want to move
an inch

Stretch my aching
legs in Basho’s hut—
already at home!


I had visited the Keats Shelley House in Rome last summer, but my experience of wandering around the house where Keats spent his last days, while stunning, doesn’t compare to my experience of sitting in Basho’s thatched hut. His haiku made such a deep impression on me as a teenager when my parents took me to Tokyo’s Maruzen Bookstore and I bought a handful of translations of Basho’s poetry. I didn’t care about the trend of the moment that was being sported on the streets of the Ginza, I just cared about the essences that Basho captured so well. These days, I’ve gone far from my youthful idealization of essences and more toward the trivia of the moment. I want to return again to my deep, if lost, love for the core of things that Basho was always aiming for, both in his life and poetry.

Buson also influenced me greatly. In front of Buson’s grave, I put my hands together in the rain, closed my eyes and bowed. I remembered one of my favorite haiku by Buson:

I leave,
you stay—
two autumns


I used to wonder at the meaning of this poem. Were there two autumns because each individual had a different experience of autumn? Or was autumn doubly autumnal—solemn and lonely, because the other had gone? Of course autumn in Japan is famously beautiful, a time of leaves turning color. So was this poem then an ode to autumn’s beauty? Or is autumn personified here—the “you” is not a friend but autumn itself. When autumn leaves and turns to winter, Buson is left to grieve the loss of this beautiful season. But what about “two autumns?” Doesn’t that suggest that Buson himself is autumn? Is it possible for the autumn in autumn to leave and the autumn in Buson to stay autumnal despite autumn being over? He carries the season he loves within him. This doesn’t seem improbable for a Japanese poet who loved few things more than seasons and their various characteristics and changes. I left a poem for Buson:

Basho
Buson fixed up your hut
found in ruin

__________

Kenny Tanemura: “I became interested in Japanese poetry through J.D. Salinger’s stories. On a trip to Tokyo shortly after graduating from high-school, I visited the Maruzen bookstore in the Ginza and took home as many translations of Japanese poetry as were available, an armful.”

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. . .


Jade-Pandora
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David Wevill

The Elder Son

My family neither bored through rock
Nor begotten a fashion of vision, vision
Or prayer. They had long lives and good bread,
Rose quietly and closed all doors behind them;
Their advice to me, a son, was
Be truthful and take life as it comes.

In truth, they were small people,
But stiff-boned and handsome, purpose
And principles ready to wear; easy to despise.
Angevin by pride, they preserved
The cobbler’s apron as quaint; and taught respect
For oakum and soil-pared hands, as

Apparent strength. Ten weeks I recall
One summer, it took us to build a ply-
Board hut to house our boat from the snows:
My father’s hands, knuckled to the hammer
Slammed nails and caulked the windy cracks
Clumsily. An oaf, I stood by

And jeered and sang as the as the nails flew by
Or bent; his Caesar’s nose
Hooked to lip in fury and impatience,
Called me all the names I grew to deserve.
But I mocked then, not knowing his family’s way,
The hawk behind his eyes that could not master.

I know their patience now. The score
Of middlemen and tradesmen, the rusty knights
That blew from their towers and fell;
Murk and light of their lives. The new
Grass they settled to my own going
Is their grave and my sliding back to their age,

To a past strength; mountain and hill
Mowed with their crosses: a small people
In truth, though high-headed and right.
Now as I go back, and bore through stone
To sweat a thought or a prayer, they
May know me wrong and vain should my way fail.

_________________________________

David (Anthony) Wevill: (born March 15,1935 in Tokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan) is a Canadian poet and translator. He read History and English at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and became a noted member of an underground literary movement in London known as The Group. He became a dual citizen (American and Canadian) in 1994.

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Howard Price

CROW-MAGNON

Everybody’s dying this week,
and for no good reason, that is, no money in it,
and suddenly second opinions are like men wearing
tiaras and women at the gym 4 days a week building huge
arms so they can both look better in a dress. For sure,
third and fourth opinions at a minimum now, since it occurs
to us that the real money’s not in dying but living, and doing
whatever, to hide the forty years of duct tape that holds
us together, is not such an unreasonable ploy. The new plan is to
benefit the whole time we’re alive, make out like undertakers,
even as we prolong the agony of playing second banana
to our bodies, as if playing second fiddle is too respectable,
as if the timbered glow of maple, spruce and willow
played by horsehair on sheep guts, is. It’s impossible to stop
people from watching a crow and its chosen profession
of turning a wrapper over and over in the street for an hour
until it’s found whatever isn’t inside wasn’t worth the effort.
Crows live in neither one of two moments of contemplation.
The transparent thoughts of their starless lifetimes
have yet to cross the endless reach of their one contiguous mind,
and before we count every step we’ve never taken back to home,
they’ll pull each day from our thinning hair as needed,
while we watch amused, happy we’re not so stupid.
Very often one crow gets what another crow wants.
Same goes for people. God can’t tell us apart either.
Just watching the trick, the magic,
the reveal of how many ways the same thing
may be done to great or little effect, we, who are
so easily drawn to any mindless exhibition, end up
postponing strategies that could cure or move the world.
After a while, if we’ve lost our way and have deferred
the objective that we’d promised to commit to fully
for a crow’s age, and another crow’s age, and another
and another, we turn around and paste the blame
on the odd habits of a clever bird with fifty billion twins
that seems so happy unearthing a useless treasure
from a paper bag, and then shamefully admit
that watching its never-ending gig
is no less interesting to us, the very same,
who threw the bag on the street,
in the first place.
______________________________

Howard Price: “My wife of many years passed away and I began to write. And she will always be gone. And I will always be writing. Sometimes you go with a choice not made—one of those imperfections of life.”

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Claudia Cortese

SARAH’S MOTHER MAKES HER LONG DRESSES OF LACE

to hide the wooden brace, slight limp.
Darker than inside a locket, more pungent—
what wood wouldn’t love to live there,
thinks Frankie, the neighbor boy
who’s never said a word to her. He watches
Sarah flick her foot through sand, write tangerine
and starblade and dead girls glow prettiest.
She braids and unbraids her hair, sticks a stick
through a caterpillar—throws one green half
in the grass. Puts the other in her mouth.
Gimp-girl, they say, Limp-a-rella—the ugly Cinderella.
Because she smells of cinder & matchsticks,
wears homemade hand-me-downs—
a patchwork sweater, fox stole, ostrich
feathers in her hair. He sees her at her window,
thinks she studies raindrops on glass, how sad
and brief each life—dissolving
on the sill seconds after they bloom.

_________________________________

The daughter of Neapolitan immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio and lives in New Jersey.

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Diane Wakoski
(b: Aug 3. 1937, Whittier, California)


SAPPHO’S BRACELETS

So angry at the Corvette sun
and its draining over the Pacific surf,
the kelp bed hovering like frigate birds beyond
the rocks, no conqueror gazing over
the bronze shield of water,
and certainly the boy
driving a fast car with the windows rolled up:
so angry she couldn’t hear.

Yet California takes its price
and puts us all in slave bracelets.
A whole jangle of them, starfish hoops
of silver, cobalt, crimson
glissando-ing up and down the tidepool wrist
throwing dice or waving
good-bye.
You can forget sea roses

because she wasn’t angry about flowers,
and her flushed face that I saw
looking through my bracelets
was about foolhardy
expense, how he threw away his life
for a woman’s ankle,
her soft bare foot walking
his beach at dawn.

In fact, she didn’t even hear
the liquid tinkle of bracelets on my arm,
didn’t know that I touched something
I should never have; didn’t know
I would be driving away so fast on the Coast Highway
and then into canyons, and down into the heart
of America. For, none of us knows
what little image will

lure someone away from the ocean.
He never left, but she did
her face still flushed with the impossibility
of so many extravagances. Now the table
is set, though no one dines.
My bracelets writhe, crash down my wrist
to engulf my hand. Metal cool
as dawn. Even that much anger
can disappear.
But no one outlives
old age, or these images as sensuous as a bare foot on
sand, the rime of a previous surf line,
a feather,
a kelp pod,
someone who could be him but isn’t,
standing in the morning fog.
______________________________

Diane Wakoski: “My poems are my secret garden, where I can be a girl wandering in a Southern California orange grove, a sorceress sailing between islands with the Argonauts, or a woman in a ’70s bar, waiting for the Motorcycle Betrayer to put his hand on her shoulder. The garden is confined, but not limited. I never get tired of sitting in this garden, knowing that only those who have the key can unlock the gate and join me inside.”

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Ed Wickliffe

FOUND AMONG LETTERS TO HIS MISTRESS

Let us set forth upon our journey now,
let us depart with square-billowing sail.
Where west winds blow across the painted prow,
we seek the Indies of our love so frail.
Let us depart with square-billowing sail,
the compass of our quest to guide us ’round;
we seek the Indies of a love, so frail
as ever sailor sailed and one day found.
The compass of our quest shall guide us ’round
sweet curvature of sea before the mast,
our goal the lure that daring sailors found
with eager eyes from windy high crows-nest.
Sweet curvature of sea before the mast,
the quiet harbor, still, and far behind us,
our eager eyes from windy high crows-nest
watch fearsome waves gather to remind us.
The quiet harbor, still and far behind us,
we skip headlong the crest of scudding seas
where fearsome waves gather to remind us
of tattered sails, the risk of fragrant Indies.
We skip headlong the crest of scudding seas
where west winds blow across the painted prow,
our tattered sails, the price of fragrant Indies.
—Let us set forth upon this journey, now.

_________________________________

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Tony Brusate

BECOMING AN ISLAND

Whole days evaporate. Her body
turns to sand. She could be an island beach,
her bedsheets a briny foam upon her shores.
The men of the island stand waist deep casting
their hand-tied nets toward the surf. Women on shore
sort baskets for fish. Dark naked children scamper
through the breaking waves laughing and swinging sticks.
There is no too quiet house, no dog
coming upstairs to lick her face, to see she’s still alive.
And later, no children or husband returning
from school or work, puzzled
by this, her fourth whole day in bed.
Sadder and sadder. The grains shift within her.
Can’t her family understand if they try to lift her
she will pour through their hands?
The island men pull waterlogged ropes
dragging their nets through the surf. Again and again
they reel in only seaweed, they stir up only sand.
They stare at the empty nets. They speak
in a language she would not understand but for its sorrow:
What curse is this the Gods have wrought?
How will we survive such failing take?
Doleful, the women stack the empty baskets
and start up trails toward the dark jungle.
The children grow quiet and apprehensive.
She cannot help them nor help them understand.
Outside her shuttered window, the heavy world
remains, sunlight glistening on so many waves.
______________________________

Tony Brusate: “‘Becoming an Island’ started with the word briny, played during a game of Scrabble while attending the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Banner, Wyoming. Special thanks to Poets & Writers magazine and the Kentucky Arts Council for helping me get to Jentel and to the good folks out there who help make art happen.”

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Julie Price Pinkerton

ON THE PIER WHERE THE SIGN READS “NO INTENTIONAL SHARK CATCHING”

“Sharks 3 feet or under must be hand-lined and immediately released.
Sharks over 3 feet must immediately be released by cutting the line.”

No bullshit, you people.
Break the rules and get a fine of 500 bucks and 30 days in jail.

Here we are, all of us tourists, waiting for a table
at the pier restaurant, hanging around in lazy shorts
and sunburns and lumpy tote bags.
We can smell the end of our vacations in the briny air.
We dread going back to our boring lives of—

“They’ve got one!” someone shouts.
Two guys in their twenties are pulling it up
hand over hand, excitement pulsing from them
like mist from a Whole Foods vegetable sprayer.
Dozens of us go on red alert, rushing to the fray.
The little shark, a two-footer, whips its body—
a gray-white nothing-but-muscle missile—
back and forth with such formidable force

that the two captors strain all four biceps
to hold on hold on hold on jesus hold on
and try to work the awful hook from its mouth.
They jiggle it, twist it, tug it backward through
the wound they’ve caused. Pull pull pull pull.
They’re frantic but poised, like NICU docs
aching to get a preemie to breathe.

They hurry to their tackle box, flip it open,
grab some pliers, and sure enough,
we rubberneckers are right there with them,
moving from one side of the pier to the other
like Charlie Brown’s gang shuffling over
to decorate the dejected evergreen
with Snoopy’s store-bought sparkles.

We have become a conjoined blob, shapeless,
and also shameless, every last one of us.
I feel, all of a sudden, like an asshole.
I try to find a kindred spirit.
“Look at us,” I say. “We’re shark paparazzi.”
No one looks at me. No one laughs.
Gotta hold the cell phones steady
to capture this shark ourselves,
our own catch of the day.
It thwacks and snaps as though
the end of the entire angry galaxy
has been poured like gunpowder
into this enraged tube of fishbody.
It longs to unleash its sea-fury
on these two hook-wielding fuckers
and on all the paparazzi fuckers
who are saying things like
“Look at ’im fight!” and “Isn’t it weird
how it looks like he’s smiling?”

Yes. Smiling. Not the grimace of a child
pushed into a family’s holiday photo.
More like the grin of Beelzebub
or a parade queen runner-up,
picturing jolly retribution to come.

The hook will not budge.
The shark needs water.
They cut the line and toss it over
the side of the pier to the audience
below the surface: eels and horseshoe crabs,
miles of kelp, sand dollars piled up like poker chips.

The show is over. We’ll go eat dinner now,
scroll through our photos between bites
of today’s special, crab cakes, and maybe
order dessert before walking back to our
rented condo to pack our bags.
Tomorrow we’ll gas up the car
and head for home to face the smothering
list of things we came here to forget,
like the fact that we couldn’t really afford any
kind of vacation but our desperation won out.

I start to forgive the group of gawkers,
me included, for the bright burdens we carry
around our necks like neon pool noodles,
and for the great humiliating need
we sometimes have to see
a creature struggling
that isn’t us.
______________________________

Julie Price Pinkerton: “Traveling has always felt strange to me. When I was seven, my dad took our family on vacation to Washington, D.C., so we kids could learn more about the country he loved. He took us to meet our congressman, John Myers, and filled our week-long itinerary to the brim. Amid stunning monuments and museums, the thing I found most fascinating (aside from there being some new, otherworldly food in our hotel called honeydew) was that we encountered a taxi driver who smoked a cigar. I had never seen a cigar before. Five decades later, the small, unexpected parts of any trip are still like catnip to me. While at the beach last May with my husband, Scott, the shark scene in this poem unfolded in front of us. It’s a perfect example of what I’m drawn to most: numerous little chunks of strangeness pulling together like a pile of paper clips snapping onto a magnet. I could relate to every part of it. I was the crowd of nosy bystanders, the duo of fishermen, and the small creature minding its own business when it suddenly lands inside a snow globe of agony, looking for someone to rescue it.”

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Devi S. Laskar

THOUGH THE STARS WALK BACKWARD

after E.E. Cummings

People worry over it as if it were a heavy object,
Atlas carrying the world on his back, always
a black and white sketch of the yoked oxen
next to the definition in the illustrated dictionary—

Atlas carrying the world on his back, always
it is as big and small as you wish it to be,
next to the definition in the illustrated dictionary.
The roll of the years and the quick tick of the hours.

It is as big and small as you wish it to be:
a thin scratch where the skin is torn open,
the roll of the hours and the quick tick of the years
and at once a gash that scars, requiring stitches.

A thin scratch where the skin is torn open.
Carry it as if it were a dream, half-remembered,
and at once a gash that scars requiring stitches
silvery around the measures, sometimes sweet.

Carry it as if it were a dream, half-remembered,
carry it as if it were a song, auld lang syne
silvery around the measures, sometimes sweet—
your tongue tripping over the last line.

Carry it as if it were a song, auld lang syne,
carry it the way a tree would carry it,
your tongue tripping over the last line
all bark, all roots, all sticky gold sap.

Carry it the way a tree would carry it,
stooping to it but not breaking its boughs—
all bark, all roots, all sticky gold sap.
Carry it as if you had life expectancy

stooping to it but not breaking its boughs;
and freedom of an ocean breeze:
Carry it as if you had life expectancy
and a sunset to look forward to

and freedom of an ocean breeze.
A black and white sketch of the yoked oxen
and a sunset to look forward to.
People worship it as if it were a heavy object.

______________________________

Devi S. Laskar: “This is my response to a series of mass-killings, and the grief and the guilt for living while people so young were murdered.”

The author is a native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and holds an MFA from Columbia University.

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Donna Spector

JOHN BERRYMAN USED TO SWAY

or lean into a corner when he read Yeats
and Cummings. He still suffered
from malaria, he said,
but he could dissect our dreams
like a surgeon looking for the heart
of the matter, which was always sex. I was just
eighteen and easily offended. When he took me
to the Steppenwolf, our student bar,
I tried to argue lust into some other universe,
but I was pretty and silly in my fake
Oxford accent, and he said, Be quiet.
And, studying my poems as though they were
worth his attention, Remove all articles
and conjunctions.
I remember a line: where the fires fall.
Blue fires,
he said. You understand?
I didn’t, but I loved him, memorized haiku
in Japanese for him, Dante in Italian.
On New Year’s Eve I drank wine with him in his
tiny Berkeley apartment. He gave me
a handwritten Henry poem and asked me
for a dream. I can’t, I said, holding my inner
life away. All I need is one word,
he said. Just one word.

__________________________________

Donna Spector has an M.A. in English from U.C. Berkeley, and has taught writing at Rutgers Summer Arts Institute.

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Jonathan Greenhause

FIRE FLOWERS

In Japanese, the word for “office” is a character composing
two smaller characters meaning “enclosed space”
and “slumping corpse.”

Outside, a soft rain’s falling on what was once the corner deli
but is now an immense pile
of pipes and bricks, chips of cement, and crumpled menus.
I used to eat there with my wife, who’s no longer my wife but rather
someone’s girlfriend. We used to order a plate of cheese fries
and discuss the feasibility of being married,
not knowing we could have more efficiently spent that time
doing something else, like organizing an expedition to the Arctic
or handing out flyers to save the corner deli
from its eventual demolishment.

If I turn on the TV set, I’ll no doubt be reminded that today’s not Saturday
and tomorrow’s not Sunday, and whatever I decide to watch
will simply be a way not to think about what I’m not doing.
On these days between the days I’m actually living,
relatives occasionally call to assure themselves I’m still breathing,
telling me small details I could do without, while in their voices’ dark corners
I hear their latent, unfulfilled desires, and part of me
wishes to take their hands and guide them towards the unknown,
but just as I’m reaching out, grazing their invisible skin,
the connection’s cut, breaking them loose into their lonely longing.

On my coffee breaks, I muse on the metaphysical consequences
of a slumping corpse in an enclosed space,
and I think how our word for “fireworks” is practical, but in Japanese
it’s literally a “fire flower,” which I find to be inherently more poetic:
“If you look into the sky at this very moment
you may see flowers composed of fire,” and you may see stars
exhaling their last breaths onto a coal canvas,
momentarily warming the vast frozen space.
_________________________________

Jonathan Greenhause: “Flash cards can be an extremely inspiring tool for the writing of poetry, as evidenced by an innocent entry I saw on the rather mundane subject of offices. But poetry’s like that. The ordinary becomes something unexpected and unknowable, and then just as suddenly it spins back into the world in which we belong. Still, afterward nothing’s quite the same.”

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Rick Lupert

RULES FOR POETRY

Never use adjectives
unless you’re trying to describe something
and you don’t want to do it the hard way.

Never use the word “forever.”
It reminds people they’re going to die
and the last thing you need is people distracted
by their mortality during your poem.

Write what you know
unless you’re a fool, in which case
look to the internet, and write about something there.

Avoid vowels
and their angry sister
the letter Y.

Avoid cliché.
On the other hand …

Learn the difference between
epigraphs,
epigrams and
episiotomies.

Use as few words as possible.
In fact, hand out blank sheets of paper
and tell people it’s your finest work.

If you ever use the phrase “darkness in my soul”
be prepared for me to come to your house
and kill you.

If you’re going to write in form, do it right.
For example, as I understand it, a haiku
is eight hundred words written while
sitting on a cheesecake.

Line breaks are important,
but use them carefully. Once you’ve broken a line
its parents will never forgive you.

Finally, go to poetry workshops.
Sometimes they serve food and
you can’t write poetry if you’re dead
because you forgot to eat.
_____________________________

Rick Lupert: “Once I met Art Garfunkel. I handed him a small journal and told him it was a book of my thoughts. He wrote in it ‘Rick, I’m your next thought.’ Soon after I lost this journal. I continue to write thoughts, in the form of poems, in the event I might run into him again and bring closure to that embarrassing loss. I’ve since published twelve poetry collections. I also organize the Poetry Super Highway, an online resource and publication for poets. The mission of these projects is to expose as many people to as many other people’s poetry as possible. The secret mission is to prepare people, in case they run into Art Garfunkel.”

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