Sunday, December 28, 2008

Looking for a New Year resolution? Try Jezebel's List

Jezebel's blog, which is more like an ongoing twitter pump of fascinating news items, starred an ace with this list, compiled by readers in reaction to a men's magazine list of the top 75 books every guy must read (and almost all written by white males of course). The list is based on readers of the website, and with only a few respectable exceptions the authors are all female, and (thank you) not all white. How many from this list have you already read? Finishing the list should keep you busy for 2009.

And, uh, would anyone like to send Jezebel some suggestions for poetry?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nothing Smaller Than Your Elbow

Nothing Smaller Than Your Elbow, from local Bluestem Press, presents poetry by Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly, Marlene Miller, Niki Nymark and Marilyn Probe. It is available locally at Left Bank Books, 314.367.6731.

The volume is nicely printed, with cover art based on a photograph by Cissie Lacks.

I have worked with all four of these writers in various poetry workshops, and have published Niki Nymark (A Stranger Here Myself), so come to this new collection as something less than a stranger. Nymark and Probe have both published in numerous anthologies and are always welcome presences in any work of poetry. Kelly and Miller have been harder to find in print and this excellent anthology corrects the deficit.

Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly's best poems have a quality of spareness to them. My favorite here, "Continental Divide," is set against a western landscape and a psychological background equally dry, sharply dileneated, and breathtaking. The poem won a prize in the St. Louis Poetry Center's James H. Nash Contest earlier, and I've been waiting to see it achieve a permanent place in print since then.

Marlene Miller's work is well known in St. Louis but is not well-printed. She's one of those rare poets who prefers, simply, to write. So far that's meant the publishing end doesn't always happen. Let's hope this volume stays in print a long time, then.

Although many of Miller's poems are delightfully airy and beautiful, or sly and humorous, I'll quote here from a very somber one about two young girls who were murdered and thrown from a bridge, one of them never found. This elegy is a beautiful gift to them...

from Mississippi Passing

When the dead pass through locks
no one knows.
No one touches their lips with a lily
or wipes night from their eyes
                with a soft handkerchief. . . .

Niki Nymark has included old and new favorites here. One of the favorites, When the Old Folks Make Love, includes this:

When the old folks make love,
they frame each other's faces
with their hands
like a favorite photograph.
They touch each other's lips and cheeks,
melt together, not
with the raging, aching burst of summer,
but with a deep, slow sob
like the sound of a temple bell
coming up from Atlantis.

Top that if you can. Well, you can't. So buy the book, read the entire poem, and you'll be a happier person.

The anthology ends with selections from Marilyn Probe. She ends her set, and the book, with a poem that says what it says perfectly, in carefully crafted art, and needs no other comment.

Holding the Lion Within

            Lambs that learn to walk in snow
                        -Phillip Larkin

Dodging dizziness as winter closes,
I am as vulnerable as a lamb
that learns to walk in snow.

The lion within must pause as I do
to see a cardinal blend into a bough
Only flickers of crimson peek through,

the way my red-hot tempo needs to ease
to discern a distant sparrow in the slant light
of faint fog, steady in a tight wire freeze.

Unlike aging that does not stop or slow,
the lion in me is tamed by the lamb
that stumbles, as I stand, walking as if in snow.

Landing on both feet: Stacey Lynn Brown

I have watched from afar (well, not too far -- Brown lives and works about 5 miles from Cherry Pie Press) the unfolding of Stacey Lynn Brown's battle with small press publisher Cider Review Press after author and publisher moved to polar positions over differences regarding the production of the book. You can easily come up to speed by checking out Brown's blog (check the linked entry, and read backwards through the end of August 2007) and the counter opinion posted, surprisingly, on Poets and Writers (soon to be renamed Publishers and Publishers).

The story has a happy ending, of sorts -- Brown's book is being published by another press, and Cider Review has spiffed up their Terms and Conditions to clarify what authors may and may not talk about. (Huh?)

The real happy ending, though, is that Stacey Lynn Brown's evolving blog is a pleasure of clear writing and interesting opinions, and in addition to waiting for her book of poetry to hit the stands, I'm hoping and waiting for a collection of essays. Her blog, Ten Fingers Typing, moves to my "Blogs to watch" list (see right panel).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weaving the Light, by Mary Ruth Donnelly

Mary Ruth Donnelly's new chapbook is looking for readers! Weaving the Light is a pleasure to read, and to re-read.

Donnelly's poetry is informed by both the organic world and the composition / recomposition of art within that world. Many of her poems are a simple walk through a natural setting that opens a reflection on so much more. Others are responses to artistic pieces and tell their own complex and inviting stories. Some are explorations of deep griefs faced, explored and fully encountered, often through nature or art or simply the experience of moving down a road, through the city.

A poem from her Tea Journals series uses a decaying city and a journey, the physical world and the small but brilliant comfort of taste, to locate a purpose for moving forward:

Rooibos Tropica

St. Mary of Victories

Wet, heavy clouds
crowd the ramp to the bridge.
Rain has washed away the morning's snow.
Concrete arches, rust stained,
hoist a precarious railroad bridge
over the river, the bottoms,
and the highway I drive on.
The old Powell Building,
its huge windows shattered,
its red bricks graffitied,
abuts the bridge's entry ramp.
The tower of an old church
anchors a neighborhood
that must have been there
before the highway, warehouses
and empty factories.

As I speed toward this growing dark,
a hint of rose at the back
of my mouth
surprises me,
blue mallow petals and lemon:

a pool of yellow light
a small room in a walkup
a kettle on the stove, a day too short
for the work it held,
some warmth, some sleep.

The poems, in the end, speak for themselves. Here's another one:
Something fine

about the morning,
the mild wind,
Queen Anne’s Lace drift in the meadow
below the wooden porch
and beyond the cropped yard and garden.
Across the draw, the pasture’s
gray waiting, damp, quiet,
turns gold suddenly,
not at all startled
by the sun as it rises
above the oaks.

Weaving the Light (ISBN 978-0-9748468-6-6) is $10. Email Cherry Pie or call or stop by Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, St. Louis, MO 63108 (ph 314.367.6731).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rankovic's essay on Don Finkel

Catherine Rankovic, local essayist extraordinaire, has posted an interview she did with Don Finkel years ago. It is more than worth checking out -- go here to read it:

The essay is a tribute to Don, now one of St. Louis's lost treasures, and also an insightful and humbling portrayal of the arc of one great poet's career as the poetry publishing industry collapsed in the 1980s and left so many poets stranded, fading into "out of print" and with no publishing outlets available. Finkel's attitude toward life, his way of keeping focus on writing and on what mattered (the relationships around him), and his eternal good humor all provide good sustenance for any writer.

Rankovic has written a number of essays based on interviews with poets. It is a true pleasure to have this one posted online. She is precise, aware of the vast local and industrial background against which her subject matter is poised, and her eye for her subject matter is more accurate, and tender, than any camera.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rotogravure - Nanora Sweet reviewed

Nan Sweet's Rotogravure has been reviewed by Stephen C. Behrendt in the Winter 2008 issue of Prairie Schooner. Behrendt generously lets the poems do most of the talking, observing that Sweet's chapbook is "big with histories and memories." He quotes from one of my own favorites, "Council Grove," and says ". . .what fascinates Sweet [is] that barely definable 'power' that infuses and moves the world, carrying with it the sheer animal force of history that inhabits all places, all things."

The recent issue of Prairie Schooner is available locally at Left Bank Books (where you can also pick up a copy of Nan Sweet's Rotogravure!), or order from the Prairie Schooner website.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

St. Louis classic poets - Finkel, Urdang, and Clewell

The local Riverfront Times features a timeless gem - David Clewell reciting his poem remembering Don Finkel and Constance Urdang. Listen here: Clewell, as always, is a long muscle of language to listen to, here flexing into the infinity of friendship.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Are We Feeling Better Yet?

Colleen McKee, author of poetry chapbook My Hot Little Tomato, has co-edited an anthology of essays on the health care industry. Not poetry, but in its own way more essential. Are We Feeling Better Yet?: Women Speak About Health Care in America, an anthology of 21 essays, is currently available only through the publisher, Penultimate Press ( Paperback, 215 pp., $19.95).

Along with Colleen McKee, St. Louisan Amanda Steibel co-edited the anthology. Local contributors include: Janet Edwards, Denise Bogard, Cathy Luh, M.D., Catherine Rankovic, Corrine McAfee. The foreword is by Jenni Prokopi, founder and editor of

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lyrics in song, lyric in verse

Song and poem use many of the same levers to open up the reader's senses.

"Much of what makes great lyrics great is the choice of words," says Kevin Seal, hosting the "Word Choice in Lyrics" episode of website's "Pandora Video Series: Music 101" series.

This mp3 podcast conversation includes standard poetic devices, and wanders beautifully through (for example) the timeless effect of Anglo-Saxon words, such as ghost, contrasted with words whose roots might be more rationally understood from Greek or Latin (e.g. apparition).

Listen here:

Pandora's Music 101 series has many other podcasts that will beautifully instruct you, and evoke things and structures poetic. Try, for example, the one on music intervals.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Stranger Here Myself - reviewed in St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Niki Nymark's chapbook garnered a review by Robert Boyd in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Boyd is familiar with Nymark's work, and in this review of "interesting and expert work by poets who matter" he notes she is "in command of her medium in A Stranger Here Myself." Read the review here:

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Domesticated Writer

David Gessner's piece in The New York Times on his decision to take a job teaching writing is food for thought. He provides a guided tour of the last hundred and fifty or so years of possible means of self-support for writers, and shows how the job of teaching writing evolved from being seen as a sinecure to finally being a real job.

This topic is always interesting to me, as I have made a number of decisions keeping me away from a career in the academic world. Sometimes I regret that choice; most times I don't. Others exist there happily, and balance their creative writing with the teaching of it, apparently without terminal conflict. I would rather make a living in a world that is separate from the world where I write. Either way, it's a divided life of sorts--just a slightly different flavor of division.

Gessner talks about the need to have some kind of a job, despite the price you pay for that divided life.

It’s not just a question of success or even genius, but temperament and discipline. Young writers think all they need is time, but give them that time and watch them implode. After all, there’s something basically insane about sitting at a desk and talking to yourself all day, and there’s a reason that writers are second only to medical students in instances of hypochondria. In isolation, our minds turn on us pretty quickly.

Yes, sad but true. Every writer's fantasy about winning the lotto and plunging 100% into creativity without the ballast and worry of bills and obligations isn't all it's cracked up to be.

That said, now I'll go back to my world of cubicles, computers, co-workers who ride motorcycles for fun instead of read books for fun. After all, there are bills to pay....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Poetry or Eggplant?

Sometimes a poetry session unearths the unexpected. Last week a small working group I've been involved with--we call ourselves "Six on Saturday" because that is how many of us there are and that is generally when we meet--wandered into the garden of one member. Keith and his wife Danica have engineered a lovely garden of heirloom vegetables. We saw dark chocolate colored tomatoes, and I fell in love with this eggplant. At least as good as a poem. Maybe better.

The eggplant also doubled as an instrument of the imagination, and posed as some kind of a plump sea creature with an elephantine trunk...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Pleasures of Editing

Making jelly. That's the only thing I can think of that has all the pleasures of editing. You watch the fruit ripen, pick it, select the jars, the pots, the old and secret recipe to use. You sterilize everything -- patience, patience, and great care with the details. In cooking, it helps to measure exactly but the final decisions are based on your senses -- you have to know exactly how the jelly looks when it gets to the 'jelling point' and the sparkle of the smooth rolling surface of it is almost hypnotic. You learn from the successes, and you learn from the failures.

And when you're done you sit there and admire it, and know you didn't really do a damn thing but know what to pick and what to leave out, and how to package it. Everything else is up to the fruit -- if it's excellent fruit and exactly ripe, the jelly is wonderful.

Elderberry is the best, because it's dark and rich, a bit like grape but not as brassy. People try it and say, "Wow! What is this?" It tastes familiar but just a little interesting and strange. The mystery stays with you.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Needed in Late Summer: Hymn to Life

The Poetry Foundation has posted the entirety of James Schuyler's overly lush and essential poem (is my favoritism showing?), Hymn to Life, which includes everything, even the kitchen sink. Schuyler zips from high to low and back again in a way that ties all the unreconciliable bits of life together in a big bouquet.

. . . And just before the snap of temper one had sensed so

Strongly the pleasure of watching a game well played: the cue ball

Carom and the struck ball pocketed. Skill. And still the untutored

Rain comes down. Open the laundry door. Press your face into the

Wet April chill: a life mask. Attune yourself to what is happening

Now, the little wet things, like washing up the lunch dishes. Bubbles

Rise, rinse and it is done. Let the dishes air dry, the way

You let your hair after a shampoo. . . .

Life at its best and worst simultaneously, ripe and irresistable and startlingly real, always startlingly new. Read it here:

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Stranger Here Myself - more kudos!

Niki Nymark's A Stranger Here Myself has received a strong review from the Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Robert Cohn. The reviewer notes - "With bold brush strokes, sharply visible lines and vivid colors, Nymark is a modernist poet of the first rank, and her collection, A Stranger Here Myself, should have a place on the shelf of any serious reader of excellent poetry."

Read it here:

Monday, September 01, 2008

Alternate ways to publish a chapbook

If you want to publish your book, stay in control of the whole process, and (something I can't do for you, given Amazon's expensive on-boarding) get listed on Amazon and get carried by Ingram, self-publishing through an outlet such as is an alternative. See the details and costs for that, plus a few other alternate approaches, laid out in Reb Livingston's blog -- The blog doesn't seem to index individual entries, so start looking at the entries dated August 29 and keep going.

There are + and - to any publishing approach, and I think she lays them out well for the one.

Part of the question to answer when you decide to publish a chapbook (and that's after the question, WHY do I want to publish a chapbook, really?) is, What community does this make me part of? There are reasons to align with a contest whose end-result might be a chapbook, or with a small press with a small distribution, or to produce your own hand-made book (see the DIY blogging world), or to self-publish through a commercial outlet such as You get a different main course, vegetable, and dessert with each of these options.

And of course, like all hungry poets, we all hope for more than one supper. . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Poem about Peonies

One of my personal favorite poems over the last few months comes from Keith Byler, who is part of a writing group I've been with for several months now. This poem won a place on a St. Louis bus, along with one of mine, in the Arts in Transit contest here this spring, so if you're lucky enough to be from St. Louis you may have seen it during your morning ride. For the rest of you, here it is:

Dog Days

Flat blue-pale parchment sky
hangs blank

save for still life blazing sun.

Peonies weep in their beds
shoulders sagging,

heads bent into leafy hands.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lorna Dee Cervantes - where the poet dwells

"That's where the poet dwells: in conditions and relations." So says Lorna Dee Cervantes in an interview from 2003. She's talking about the real human element, underneath the niceties your mother taught you, and underneath the highly encoded language of blues and folk music that contains -- once you unlock the history and language -- more than you think you can bear.

If you want to cut through the abstractions and little prides of your life (all our lives), through the often-academic priorities that poetry sometimes gets too lost in, and get right down to the bone, go read the interview. Count on spending quite a bit of time with it, as Lorna Dee Cervantes speaks from the heart, direct, with both feet firmly planted on the ground and with her arms embracing all of humanity and naming it her own, even after calling out its horrid contradictions and meanness and stupidity. She finds, in the end, the true meaning of being a poet, in some advice from mentor Hayden White: Follow your obsession. And she does that, digging into the history of songs by Memphis Minnie. Follow that trail back to me, since the songs uncover history of the 1917 riots in East St. Louis (a stone's throw from Cherry Pie Press, and with no small influence on current life in St. Louis). It is all personal, it is all in the relations between us, and the conditions we experience and must write from.

Where does the trail find you?

This is from the Michigan Quarterly Review, and is an interview with Alex Stein:;cc=mqr;sid=e05280ee21429c514e8a7b2be607a265;q1=Cervantes;rgn=main;view=text;idno=act2080.0042.406

And for some poetry, here is her expansive blog:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"The Language of the Heart" - a poetry contest

Calling all St. Louis area poets! Gitana Productions is sponsoring a poetry contest for poems that touch on the teachings of Rumi. The contest is based on the premise that art can heal ethnic and racial divisions (and St. Louis, like most places, has its share of those). Feed your optimism and hop on board for this!

There are cash prizes as high as $300, and poets will read their winning poems at an event at the Regional Arts Commission on October 18.

Contest information, plus stories about the fascinating work of Gitana Productions, can be found here: The contest deadline is October 10, so you still have time!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

To poets interested in publishing a chapbook --

Publishing a chapbook is very different from publishing poems in journals. With journals and magazines, the publication has a ready-made audience and your poem is introduced to that audience. With a chapbook, there is no audience but the one you already have in hand and the one you are willing to expand through your own efforts. Cherry Pie will do its best to help – send out review copies, send out announcements, place the book at the best independent bookstore in St. Louis (Left Bank Books). Ideally, your chapbook will benefit from prior and future Cherry Pie publications, sharing those existing audiences, and expanding that audience for other Cherry Pie authors. However, with chapbook marketing you – the author – are the bottom line.

Here are some questions to help you determine if you are ready to publish and support marketing of your chapbook. Don’t let the questions overwhelm you but do allow them to push you. The marketing of a chapbook has much more to do with author effort than it does with the quality of the poems. (There you have it, the dark but true underbelly of chapbook publishing.)

If you don’t already have an established audience or faithful reading friends, a chapbook gives you a good chance to build that, if you are willing. If you are not willing, then the chapbook will sit on a shelf and be read by very very few people. It will not be worth your effort, or mine.

If you are merely looking for the satisfaction of seeing a small collection of your poems nicely printed, please go ahead and do that yourself. If you think having a small press name on the book adds some mysterious air of legitimacy, then make one up. (I’m not being sarcastic – I applaud this approach. It will encourage you to regard your work more seriously, and that’s a good thing.) Your local copy shop or a good desktop printer can accomplish this cheaply and you will be in total control of the effort. Consider giving out copies free to all your friends. Consider giving it to strangers. You will gradually build an audience, and you will have a small collection of poems to be very proud of.

You don’t need me for that.

On the other hand . . . If you have read some of the poems from Cherry Pie authors, and you want to be associated in the reading public’s mind with those authors, and you feel your own work is equal to or better than their work, and you feel you have something to say or show about U.S. poetry that is bone and root part of the Midwest experience – its rivers, its cities, its world-blend of cultures and histories, its plains and its Ozark mountains that are more ancient and more worn and therefore smaller than the Rockies – then let’s talk.

The following questionnaire is intended to help you think through the reasons for and implications of publishing a chapbook. The answers you come up with are not for me, but for you. They will help you figure out if this is really what you want to pursue. And they will help you ensure your work, if it published as a chapbook, does get read.


Title of chapbook: _________________________________________

What response does the title elicit? Would it make a reader want to pick up your chapbook and open it? Is the title about tangible things (objects, senses) or is it about an idea (to be pondered)? Is the title simple and memorable, or would an interested reader need to write it down to remember it? Have you checked Books In Print or Google for books or songs or anything with a similar title? Did that search turn up anything you don’t want to be associated with?

About you and the background you can bring to the effort of marketing your chapbook --

URL of any blog or website you might use for publicity:

Present occupation (your day-job):

Previous jobs:

Educational background (traditional or nontraditional):

Principal cities and states in which you have lived and in which you still find memories and personal relationships:

About your poetry and your work within the world of poetry --


Please list other books you have written, including publisher, year of publication, and type of book (i.e., poetry - specify book or chapbook, or fiction, how-to, essays, children’s book, biography, etc.). Include any anthologies your work was included in. Do any of these books share a potential audience with your poetry chapbook?

If you listed any books in the item above, describe what marketing was done by the publisher and by yourself. Tell if the book was adopted by a book club, reading circle, academic class, workshop.

Have you ever edited a publication? Have you ever served as a reader or on the board of a literary publication? (Literary journal, anthology, etc.)

Have you done community service work related to poetry? Poets in the schools, poetry workshop organizing, any volunteer or officer or board role in an organization supporting poetry, etc.

What local poetry groups do you participate in, and what is your role in each?

What local poets have you openly supported – by attending readings, buying their books, asking a local library branch to order their books, writing reviews for them or recommending their work to others?

List any reviews of your work, with place of publication, reviewer’s name:

List any poetry book or chapbook reviews you have written, with name/author of work reviewed, place and date of publication (web or print):

Publications (specify web or print) where your individual poems have previously appeared:

Poetry readings you have participated in within the last 3 years (place, date, solo or group reading):

Poetry readings you have helped organize within the last 10 years:

Honors, citations or prizes you have received related to poetry:

Why did you decide to collect your poems in this chapbook instead of printing individual poems in a wide array of web or print journals? Or instead of putting together a full-length poetry book? Or instead of making a website or blog where you could post all your poems?

What is the theme of your chapbook or your mechanism for ordering the poems?

Are there groups, other than other poets, to which your book would have particular appeal?

How is your chapbook unique?

With which published poets do you feel your work has resonance? (A different way to state this is, If you like to read poet X then you will also probably like to read my work.)

As a poet, what are your strengths?

Does your chapbook have something in common with other Cherry Pie chapbooks? Does it solidify or does it extend (no wrong answers here, folks) the kind of poetry Cherry Pie has published?

Have you investigated other chapbook publishers (how many?), or self-publishing?

About your ability and willingness to market your work --
Are there any well-known people (locally) who should see an advance copy of your manuscript for purposes of giving a pre-publication promotional quote? If so, list their names, their contact information, and describe their relationship to you and/or the book. Indicate whether you think it would be more effective for Cherry Pie or for you personally to contact each one.

Please list any local or specialized media that should receive review copies of your finished chapbook. Indicate if you have a professional relationship, or previous reviews, with a reviewer or editor at the publication.

Please write a brief biographical sketch appropriate for the general news media and to be used on press releases.

Do you regularly attend any major conventions or conferences related to poetry, writing, academic studies, or any subject area related to your chapbook?

Have you read any of the previous chapbooks from Cherry Pie Press? What could you offer in terms of publicity for your own chapbook that would help get previous Cherry Pie chapbooks into the hands of new readers? What might you expect other Cherry Pie authors to do for you?

What do you expect your publisher to do in publicizing your chapbook?

Thank you!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Stranger Here Myself - kudos received

This praise just in to Niki Nymark on the release of her chapbook, newly available now through Left Bank Books:

Jerry and I celebrated a warm (as in not hot) Saturday afternoon by trekking to the Central West End. I had Barry [of Left Bank Books] dig A Stranger Here Myself out of his office so I could buy it. Then, as we waited on a shady sidewalk for our turn on Duff's patio, I read your poems out loud to Jer. What nice moments you provided!...

Huzzah to you, and to your publisher. I am also Greatly Impressed that the suitably flattering back cover blurbs are by Richard Newman and Steven Schreiner. Whoo hoo.

A gorgeous book in every aspect.

gaye gambell-peterson

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New chapbook: A Stranger Here Myself by Niki Nymark

Cherry Pie is pleased to announce a new chapbook by Niki Nymark! A Stranger Here Myself is funny, tragic, warm and wise. Steven Schreiner (University of Missouri-St. Louis MFA program, and Natural Bridge) says it best:

"Niki Nymark's beautiful poems revel in the relationship between hardship and humor. Whatever this poet learned in childhood from the quiet sorrow and disappointment of parents, she turns into joy and wisdom through her skill. These poems are defiantly youthful, passionately observant, and tender as a bruise."

Read some sample poems:

In Praise of Prose

Forsake poetry.
Prose is better—
more dependable,
less dangerous,
like that nice boy
your parents hoped
you’d marry.

Poetry is the one
you’d climb
out the window
to meet at midnight.

For Moishe

What have we found,
seventh decade love,
on the phone at night
telling jokes so old
no one else would laugh,
the Laurel and Hardy of ecstasy.
I slip on a banana peel;
you catch me in your arms.

I Regret Nothing

Turn and it’s gone,
the anatomy of youth
with all its succulence
and warmth.
Agreed, it took an eon
to make all the blunders
that etch my face.
Je regrette rien, rien.
Gravity tugs at
my attention,
hangs on my crumpled chin,
frightens me at night
from the mirror.
The brown spots
on my hands
are shaped
like little broken hearts.

A Stranger Here Myself (ISBN 978-0-9748468-7-3) is $10, is now available. Email Cherry Pie ( or call Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, St. Louis, MO 63108 (ph 314.367.6731). (Left Bank will have the chapbook in stock soon -- ask them to hold a copy for you if it's not on the shelf yet.)

Life and Death and Poetry - Julie R. Enszer

As part of the upcoming web-based WOM-PO poetry festival, Julie Enszer has contributed an article on women poets that should be required reading. It is incisive and expansive (as Julie usually is) and thought-provoking. She writes of poets who have committed suicide and our need to see the cultural conditions surrounding them, and understand them as a way to see our own future as "one that is released from these oppressive narratives. Our future is--and must be--one where we are the recorders, not the suicides. Our future is--and must be--where we bear witness to death and to life so that we can all live inspired, not shackled, by the poetic muse."

Enough said. Go read it.

Kay Ryan, new poet laureate

Surely you've heard by now that it's time for a change of hands at the post of Poet Laureate. Kay Ryan is the new one -- the Washington Post has an article and video of her reading a wonderful poem (although beware that the video quickly spins on to the next one on file so you might suddenly be listening to John McCain!)

The Post article describes Ryan's long path to seeing herself as a writer, the longer path to getting anything published, anything recognized, and the support from her partner of 30 years, Carol Adair, and how that solid support helped organize a private campaign to keep sending out poetry submissions through the usual swamp of rejection letters. That long swamp is where most of us begin to limp, to say it might not matter, and turn inward or away. Luckily, Ryan kept going. The last few years have been a long-awaited carnival of recognition -- I saw her work first when it became a regular feature of Poetry magazine -- but that's just the last few steps on this long path. Her story is an inspiration for poets still in the swamp of despair. Take heart!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Small publishers and the chapbook marketplace

Looking for a small press? Here's one more place to browse if you're trying to find one that fits your aesthetic (and might be interested in your poems):

Books and chapbooks are listed for about a year after being received. Links are provided to books available through Amazon (so only those from the larger presses, since Amazon has locked out the small low-budget presses that can't afford to pay the fees and 40% cut to Amazon).

You'll see this year's Cherry Pie chaps listed on, but without, of course, the Amazon links.

Oh Canada

A few weeks ago I mentioned the fun you can have entering poetry contests that force you to write quickly. The one I'd entered was from a Canadian journal, Contemporary Verse 2, and supplied a list of challenging words to use in a poem written under a 48-hour deadline. The words ranged from "buckle" to "thorax" (no, I'm not kidding -- oh those Canadians). I had been reading a biography of Walt Whitman, and although he is an un-Canadian theme he was thoroughly ensconced in my mind at that point, so the poem ended up being about Whitman. Well, results are in and my Whitman poem placed on the "longlist" of 17 runners-up. I'm delighted! It was thoroughly fun.
See the poem here:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Assembling the Poems - The Map Yeats Left Us

As I'm going through the process of reading poems for the next chapbook and making suggestions about how to order the poems -- oh, there are so many ways to do it -- I found a captivating presentation by the National Library of Ireland on exactly this topic. William Butler Yeats' volume The Tower is traced from original poem drafts through publishing in periodicals through publishing in separate volumes, culminating in the collection called The Tower.

To find this "map" go to the National Library of Ireland website, and in the Yeats exhibit look for the "Interactives" link at the bottom of the main page, and follow it to Poetry in Process: Building the Tower. You'll get a map of the poems, and you can trace each one through drafts and publications. Look especially for the poems that display a little reel-shaped icon -- these take you to a "tutorial" which is an extended walk through the drafts of the poem, showing how Yeats revised, in many cases going back to his original word or stanza pattern after many revisions. Such tutorials are included for Leda and the Swan, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, and Sailing to Byzantium.

The other parts of the exhibit are interactive and allow you to tour all the rooms and display cases of the exhibit, with detailed information for each piece you click on. It is beautifully done, a wonder to behold for anyone interested in Yeats. This is a far cry from women poets in the U.S. midwest, to be sure, but I found it a trip worth the taking.

The exhibit:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, Gloria Gordon!

Gloria Gordon, treasured member of Loosely Identified writing group (and many other writing, social and political groups) is celebrating a well-earned birthday, and in honor of that I'm posting one of her poems that appeared in the group's anthology, Breathing Out: Poems by Loosely Identified.

Ode to the Refrigerator
(after Neruda's Odes to Common Things)

How noisy you are!
I forgive you because you are old
with surgical scars
yet still keep working in summer heat.

Your faithful heart beats
even when no one is here
putting carrots in, taking tomatoes out;
more vigorous this summer than last!

You are a miracle from Pre-Plastic History--
metal drawers open and close with authority;
the solid clink of your glass shelves.
What persistence!

Thank you Gloria Gordon, for a terrific poem, and all your terrific years.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Urge to Believe - noted by Left Bank Books

Left Bank Books has picked The Urge to Believe is Stronger than Belief Itself as a 'recommended pick' in its July newsletter. A short review by Left Bank staff member Erin Quick:

St. Louis poet Erin M. Bertram's latest chapbook, The Urge to Believe is Stronger than Belief Itself, is a collection of prose poems grounded in the experience of dealing with cancer--namely breast cancer, though it largely goes unnamed in the book. With a daughter's kind, eager eye, she looks at what safety can be found in a name, gleaned from the seeming order of definition (whether from a dictionary or medical pamphlet) even when faced with the treachery of meaning. From the opening lines of Rilke to the book's final words, the solid actuality of language belies our frankly human experience of loss and its echo, pain. In such a world, where we are always reaching, even our mother's breasts bear the fragility of existence. In such a world, "any change is worth noting."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Poetry to Read on Summer Vacation

Some poetry miscellany to uncover interesting new reads:

Maxine Kumin - Christian Science Monitor has a wonderful audio slideshow of Kumin reading from her newest book set against pictures from her farm. Note that the farm is named "Pobiz."

Wikipedia list of poets -- slanted for lots of reasons, but still an interesting place to browse, discover new poets, follow links. The list is alphabetical, but alternate links at the bottom of the page allow you to organize them by many interesting categories.

A blog that provides birthdays of poets. You can find poets that share your birthday, or you can follow throughout the year and learn a new poet or two every day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review: Legacy, by Jane Levin

I recently received a slender, elegantly printed book of poems in the mail from Jane Levin, former St. Louis resident now in Minneapolis. She had found this blog, and sent off the poems. I recognized her name from past involvement in the women's movement here in the 1980s, but we had never met. This encounter through the blogosphere, with a slim volume of poetry as the conduit, is the sort of lucky and random connection computers allow.

Legacy is Jane Levin's first book, and is from Moonflower Press (price $8, inquiries to moonflowerpress at gmail dot com). It is slim--20 poems, and most of them are the way Emily Dickinson's poems are brief. Spare, finely edged, and the resonance afterwards is huge. Here is the opener:


her life

is an

tiny islands of dependency
alluring from oooooo afar
up close
a relationship
of sand

she leaves at
oooooooooooo high tide

oooooooooooo floats

Some of the poems are about the author's fight with ovarian cancer; some are deeply sensual lesbian love poems, or poems about the harder societal aspects living a lesbian life; some are about Jewish culture; some are funny. One of my favorites, perhaps because of the title that splices one type of gambling (emotional) into another (financial, as in the commodities market) and layers it into a new understanding of risk, is this:


Clumps of wavy brown hair cover my pillow
like November leaves.
She leans close,
scoops a curly nest into her cupped palm,
wraps it in tissue paper, whispers
just in case.

Tears trickle down my chest,
flat as Nebraska.
She licks the moist prairie,
files its taste under "beloved."

Understated and overpowering -- rare in a first book, where the usual tendency is to over-write.

Lines here will draw you in, and the small poems will enlarge you. They invite close attention, and give it back.


In the interest of conservation
recycle a poem

to kindle
reuse each word
every line

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Urge To Believe

The latest release of the Midwest Women Poets Series from Cherry Pie Press is an extended piece by Erin M. Bertram.

The Urge To Believe Is Stronger Than Belief Itself is a meditation on connections and cleavings. Its backdrop is a story about how breast cancer recreates the ties between mother and daughter. Seen through the lens of language, relationship is stronger than illness. Bertram’s poetry is a quiet crescendo of love and attentiveness that connects and redefines whatever it touches.

“But are you not, as you said, your body. Is it not, in its own quiet heft, 2 percent your agile frame. I’ve done the math, twice. One night, on a dare, I tugged one of mine from its cup, placed it on the postal scale on my desk. It rested there awkwardly, weighed 2.5 lbs. Once I woke clutching them both, groping for a loophole, a patch of dry skin, guilty of having & holding what you no longer possess.”
Erin M. Bertram's The Urge To Believe Is Stronger Than Belief Itself (ISBN 978-0-9748468-8-0) is available locally in St. Louis at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, St. Louis, MO 63108 (ph 314.367.6731), or from the publisher

Click here to view a downloadable flyer/order form for The Urge To Believe Is Stronger Than Belief Itself.

Erin M. Bertram is a fellow and instructor at Washington University in St. Louis, where she studies Women & Gender Studies and poetry. She is the author of three other chapbooks: Alluvium (dancing girl press, 2007); Body of Water (Thorngate Road, 2007) which won the Frank O'Hara Award; and Here, Hunger (NeO Pepper Press, 2007) with Sarah Lilius; and the micro-chapbook Wise Raven (Big Game Books, 2008). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barn Owl Review; Bloom; CutBank; Forklift, Ohio; Knockout; So to Speak; and others. She edits Shadowbox Press.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A mother of us all - Joan Lipkin

This Mother's Day, I'm thanking Joan Lipkin for all the mothering she's done over the years. She is the quintessential example of how to use art to change the world and to improve the lives of individuals. She's recently written an article on her own Mother's Day mode of honoring her mother's contributions to the world and to the development of her own mettle, and describes it here:

Joan is an essential part of St. Louis and its art, St. Louis and its heart. She has brought theatre and audiences together in unexpected, challenging ways, working with high school students, people with disabilities, all the while up-ending and challenging the audiences thoughts on democracy, disability, gender roles, and the power of art. Last year she won The Ethical Society's St. Louis Humanist of the Year award (

You can read more about her on the web site of her theater creation, That Uppity Theatre Company, Thank you Joan, for all that you've brought to so many of us.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Poem Bakeoff Winners!

Thanks to all who sent in a poem for the Cherry Pie Poem Bakeoff. Competition was hot, plentiful, and -- I'm glad to report -- yummy. I had planned on picking a single entry, but there were three competing for that spot, even after multiple read-throughs. So the results include a first-place winner, and also a second-prize and third-prize winner. I'll also mention some choice lines from other poems.

The first-prize winner will receive free copies of all three Cherry Pie chapbooks to be published in 2008. Since second and third prizes are now included (it's just so hard to say "no" when the poems are good!), those winners can each select one free chapbook from the 2008 selections.

The three Cherry Pie chapbooks for 2008 are:
The Urge To Believe Is Stronger Than Belief Itself, by Erin M. Bertram (May 2008)
A Stranger Here Myself, by Niki Nymark (late summer 2008)
Weaving the Light, by Mary Ruth Donnelly (fall 2008)

Here are the winning poems.

First Prize goes to an untitled cinquaine (loosely) from Dianne Ladendecker. I was charmed and astonished each time I read this economical little wonder.

The brine
Then there's the knife
It's out of proportion
I hear eerie sounds of half-life

Second Prize goes to Gaye Gambell-Peterson for a pantoum about a middle-aged mermaid. I was intrigued by the well-used effect of the pantoum's interlocking structure, and completely sold on the "C-sharp half-life, caught in the half-light" which mingles echoes of music, radiation/decay/science, time, and water so beautifully.

Mermaid’s Pantoum

I am unrepentant mermaid, middle aged.
Flesh and scales still in seemly proportion,
though wrinkled by brine and tattered by time.
Still adored, a diva of fathomed opera.

Flesh and scales still in seemly proportion,
a siren, chanteuse, my voice a knife-edge
shrill, adorned. A fathomed opera’s diva
in a C-sharp half-life, caught in the half-light.

A siren, chanteuse, my voice a knife-edge
cutting through tides. Me, under the weather,
caught in sea’s half-light with only a half-life,
still luring men with plaintive arias.

Cutting through tides, me, under the weather
though wrinkled by brine and tattered by time,
still luring men with plaintive arias.
A middle-aged mermaid, unrepentant am I.

And Third Prize goes to Elizabeth M. Johnson, who gains an extra point for incorporating the full title of a Cherry Pie chapbook (Kiss Me Cold). Some of the required five words in this poem were used in variant forms (e.g. disproportionate instead of proportion) and although I've seen many contests be strict on that count, I'm constitutionally unable to be strict and so will allow it. The poem's worth it.

Ending It

Last summer, in the months without an “R,”
we ate oysters, the jagged edges of
the shells were sharp against our tongues, the brine
cool in our throats, delicious as the crisp

sea salt against our skin, the beach bonfire,
the Great Bear asterism far above,
an operatic swell in the timeline
of us, peace tenuous but in our grasp.

But now the months have “Rs.” Also, “-embers.”
You lumber toward me, and I try to move
away; your heavy body next to mine
seems wildly disproportionate. You clasp

me, kiss me, cold, your lips a slick steel knife
at my throat. No half measures, just half life.

Congratulations on the great poems! The other entries were wonderful, and I hope everyone had fun with the contest.

Notable lines or moments from other entries, that I just couldn't resist:

From Bobbi Lurie, a prose poem that started off: "brine she says is nothing but the half-life of the pickle. . . "

And from Gail Eisenhart, a sinister love poem that included: "this tryst / has the half-life of house-fly."

To wrap up, an unexpected "non-winner" that simply must be mentioned for its refusal to follow any rules, and for the delightful poem that resulted. This is from Katherine Mitchell, who attempted a poem using the five required words but ended up with a poem that used a form of one of the words, did not use the other four at all, and is titled as a haiku but is, in fact, not a haiku. So here is a poem of . . . great resistance? Katherine sent it in as a non-entry, and I reproduce it here as such. Not a prize-winner, but in many ways a winner!

Summer Haiku

paddle boats float
on two tanks
painted copper lake

paddlers wear pajamas
hold champagne flutes
small rising circles
happy tongues

water smoothed
butter knives in cake frosting

orange bursts
over the horizon
sending heat
inside our paper lantern faces

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Poem Bakeoff - Get those last-minute entries in!

Poems have been rolling in, embracing a banquet of forms. Sonnets, pantoums, free verse, we got 'em! You have until midnight tomorrow to send in your entry if you've been dallying.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Big Diesel Chapbook

What better place to publish a poem than a vehicle that moves constantly through the city with an all-day captive audience? The Poetry in Motion project this year has selected 15 poems -- one of my lucky poems among those -- to appear on local buses. Think of it as a big diesel chapbook.

See the poem posters here -- scroll through all the selections by clicking on the arrow at the lower right corner of the displayed poem.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Contest update -- Poem Bakeoff, a report from the kitchen

Thank you, ambitious souls who have already submitted entries! There's still plenty of time left for those of you still crafting your poems. And for those of you who've grumbled about the difficulty of combining opera, proportion and brine (those seem to generate the most angst) in a single poem, I refer you to Contemporary Verse's contest, which runs only 48 hours and this year presented a list of 10 words, one of which was . . . thorax.

Yes, thorax. You can be grateful that contest is already over -- you're too late now to sweat over that one.

So, no whining. Get back to the kitchen, bake me a poem.

(Full disclosure -- I did enter their contest, thorax and all, but the subject of my poem was Whitman, and the magazine is Canadian, so I'll guess my chances are .... zip?)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What's it like to publish your first book?

Browse these interviews of poets publishing a first book. Interviews are from Kate Greenstreet's blog, Every Other Day.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Contest -- Cherry Pie Poem BakeOff Contest

To celebrate Poetry Month and the three chapbooks forthcoming from Cherry Pie in 2008, we're announcing the first annual Cherry Pie Press Poem BakeOff Contest.

1st Prize: Free copies of each of the three chapbooks to be published in 2008 (by Erin M. Bertram, Niki Nymark, and Mary Ruth Donnelly). Even better, the winner's poem will be published here on the Cherry Pie Press blog.

Rules: Contest is open now through the end of April 2008. To enter, write an original poem in any style or format using all five of the words listed below (one word selected from each of the published Cherry Pie chapbooks). You can see this contest will increase in difficulty each year as the list of publications grows, so enter now while it's still easy!!!

Words to use: brine, half-life, knife, proportion, opera

brine is from Colleen McKee's My Hot Little Tomato.
half-life is from Helen Eisen's The Permeability of Memory.
knife is from Donna Biffar's Kiss Me Cold.
proportion is from Nan Sweet's Rotogravure.
opera is from Martha Ficklen's The Palm Leaf Fan.

Submission of entries: Send your poem in an email by midnight April 30, 2008 to Please put "Poem BakeOff" in the subject line, and include your name with the entry. Submission of a poem for the contest implies permission to publish the winning poem on the Cherry Pie Press blog.

Eligibility and Judging: Poets previously published by Cherry Pie, or scheduled for publication in 2008, are not eligible to enter. Judging, due to the perennially low budget here, will be done solely by the Editor (me).

Review -- In Mi'kmaq Country

In Mi'kmaq Country: Selected Poems & Stories is a new book by Alice M. Azure. I was delighted to be gifted a review copy from Alice, who is a solid and enlightening presence in two of the local writing groups I participate in.

Alice Azure's poems have previously appeared in publications such as Shenandoah, The Cream City Review, and Eating Fire, Tasting Blood: An Anthology of the American Indian Holocaust. I'm excited to see her work now collected in her own book.

I'll excerpt two poems that I think convey the flavor and some of the range in her book.

Northwoods Haiku

Spring was cold that year,
the trillium wouldn't open.
Then you came to me.

Gisoolg a verb, an action. When we say "Gisoolg," it means that you have been created, and you are being created. Stephen Augustine, Mi'kmaq Elder

a voice
pulses above
above in the stars
they pulse
like the voice
early early
this winter day
listen listen
Paradise pulses
Paradise participates
at times
times like this
with thee
thee listen
Paradise participates
for thee
listen listen listen
thee listen
with thee

The book is beautifully produced by Albatross Press, with a striking woodcut by the author as the cover image. It is available locally from Left Bank Books, which is always glad to handle mail orders, and is also available from the author (

Friday, March 21, 2008

Colleen McKee -- news and publications

News about Colleen McKee (author of My Hot Little Tomato) --

Are We Feeling Better Yet?, an anthology of personal narratives about women and U.S. health care, co-edited by Colleen McKee and Amanda Crowell Stiebel, will be published by Penultimate Press in October 2008.

Colleen McKee also recently won a Poetry in Motion Award from Metro St. Louis. She will receive a $50 mystery gift certificate, a subscription to Poetry, and her poem "Dream of the Enchanted Supermarket" will appear on local trains and buses. Additionally, she won Third Prize (and a certain sum of money) in the Wednesday Club's Annual Poetry Contest for her poem "Terminals and Gates." Another recent prize was First Place in the River Styx Nanofiction Contest for her story "Piss and Vinegar, or, The Decision," which garnered no publication or money, just glory and a six-pack of Schlafly Ale.

Her poem "Grand Station" will appear in qarrtsiluni's "Nature in the Cracks" issue in March or April.

Local poet Jane Ellen Ibur honored by 2008 Visionary Award

Grand Center, St. Louis’ premier Arts and Entertainment District, announced the honorees of the Sixth Annual Visionary Awards, which recognizes women for their contributions to the St. Louis arts and culture community.

Jane Ellen Ibur, poet, writer, and teacher was chosen as Outstanding Arts Educator.

Grand Center created the Visionary Awards to highlight the wide-ranging work of women artists and arts leaders in the community. The Visionary Awards will take place on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Ave in Grand Center.

For other honorees visit

Niki Nymark poem to appear in Lilith Magazine

Niki Nymark, with a chapbook forthcoming later this year from Cherry Pie Press, has received a letter from Marge Piercy that her poem, "Chava," is accepted for publication in Lilith Magazine.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Women Writers for Women's History Month

Slate magazine has put up a wonderful photo essay on women writers, including Maya Angelou who hails from these parts. See how many you recognize without looking at the captions....

Friday, February 22, 2008

Timing is everything

In Jane Hamilton's novel, A Map of the World, the narrator begins by weaving a context of past, present, family, inner predilections, habits, and setting the stage for a tragedy that starts the book off on its amazing and haunting journey. By page 21 you are as close to the narrator as her own skin, and the tragedy has occurred, and her husband tries to shake her out of shock by saying: "Tell me, Alice. Say something." That simple phrase made me tingle and stop -- and then I realized that until that point, I knew the names of every other character, and the speaker had repeated those names many times, creating a web of family and history and familiarity, and yet I hadn't known the speaker's name. Alice. It lands there gently, unexpectedly, almost unnoticeable except for the little tingle it leaves, and it enters at just the right moment, as Alice steps into a landscape where she will lose and try to find herself. Identity there will be tenuous but critical.

Alice. Thunk.

Here is the red wheelbarrow (WC Williams) that so much depends upon, common and utilitarian and quotidian, arriving just when it should. Small but essential. Timing, in novels as in poetry, is everything.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Nan Sweet - Poetry Reading and a Retrospective

Nan Sweet, author of Cherry Pie's second chapbook Rotogravure, will read her poems along with other faculty members to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the MFA program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis this Saturday, February 16, at 7 p.m. at the Touhill Center at UMSL. Click here for information and directions.

The MFA program at UMSL has been growing in numbers and in poetic heft, and Nan has played a supporting role in that growth, encouraging students and connections, teaching poetry classes, and last year serving as Guest Editor for an issue of the program's literary journal Natural Bridge, #16. Most recently, Nan is serving as Chair of the English Department.

The anniversary and reading provide an occasion to reflect on Nan's chapbook, which quickly outsold its first run of 100 copies and has now nearly sold out of the second run of an additional 50 copies -- no small potatoes for a poetry chapbook.

Over the last few months, I've found many of Nan Sweet's poems and images running through my head for an unexpected reason. I've spent most mornings lately in a tall building overlooking the St. Louis city's north side, the setting for some of Nan's poems. My company (not Cherry Pie! -- but my day job) is undergoing a merger/acquisition, and during long morning meetings to hash out how the merging companies will combine their computer systems I've sat in a low-lit conference room facing the landscapes of old St. Louis, with Nan's lines about the city's history running through my head and her understated but incisive awareness of economic factors feeling all too relevant. Depending on weather, the landscape is gray or brightly illuminated in whites and ethereal yellows, and I see echoes of a line from the title poem in Nan's collection:
"We drive off into a morning / already yellow, mordant, we say, corrosive enough / to fix the dye into cloth, or etch the news onto metal." From the eighth floor my unimpeded view is frighteningly vast, summoning all the awe that history and generations--and poetry--can inspire.

Nan's poems in Rotogravure span the mosaics hand-laid at the old St. Louis Cathedral, to the buildings where the local newspaper produced Sunday supplements using rotogravure printing methods, to the campsite where William Clark made his headquarters before this city took its present form. History becomes personal as she visits these places, calling up their stories and connecting us to them with finely and subtly crafted verses that demand to be read, and re-read. She brings to her poetry the same care, precision, and generosity of spirit that I have seen her extend to students, to the interpretation of poetry and its ability to pull in the good and the bad and the enternal, and to the art of teaching itself. There's an acceptance--more than that, an embrace--of the "heartland both tainted and providential" as she points out in her preface to the poems.

In the opening poem, "The Jazz Flute Plays," set in the city's north side--the portion of the city my eighth-floor view affords--she establishes the importance of rhythm. Art and music play a sustaining role in history, it seems: "it is rhythm alone that is knowledge."

Her aesthetic is tied to the details of daily life and the details of the mind, woven together--Hegel, hotcakes, toy volcanos, corroded pennies, history, the shifts of power, and coffee table books--with today projected onto the grand theatre of the past:

...The only stars we know
are old ones, only our knowledge is new,
And perception is an arrangement of
The present...
from "Allegheny"

I'll end by simply quoting in full one of the poems that keeps pulling me back, again and again. It is about the city's main public park, Forest Park, and its history.

Scattered Lagoons
. . . not yet a breach, but an expansion. . .

The past recedes, and in proportion
to the increasing distance, affiliation
grows and the form of knowledge changes.
Along a boulevard, small-cobbled in mountain
gravel, everything darkens to a dream. Then,
streetlights come on, their soft whites

an ornamental haze. Moisture rises,
and the smell of green. At twilight
there are no other cars. This is The Park,
the only one this city loves. These are the
late nineteen-forties, and there are terraces,
fountains, falls. No one is running

steadily at the perimeter. Families
practice fishing, noondays, along
the scattered lagoons that are remnants
of the River of the Fathers. On the hill
the Museum is full of iron and bronze, bodies
gleaming with blacks and greens. In a fountain,

pennies corrode. Something like gravity
pulls down the good appearances of thought,
and good moves into distortion with evil.
Somewhere under the park, the River
springs with the seasons. Giant fairgrounds
have melted into the ground. Downtown

the highway moves in its limestone pit
going west. This highway has always been.
It will divide tree from tree in the Forest.
In the dream, the park is quiet. The people
listen with no radios. Even the twilight
opera drifts away. The homes to the south

are cemented to the avenues. To the north
the balustrades are crumbling. The River
of the Fathers surfaces in railyards and then
borders the city with the white stones of its walls.
This knowledge begins with a dream. Even time
is controverted when art is the only power.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

2008 Chapbooks - coming up!

I am delighted to announce three new chapbooks will be appearing this year from Cherry Pie Press. We haven't firmed up the schedule yet but here are the authors, in probable order of appearance.

Erin M. Bertram is a fellow and instructor at Washington University in St. Louis, where she also plays the accordion, and edits shadowbox press. She is the author of four chapbooks: Alluvium (dancing girl press, 2007); Body Of Water (Thorngate Road, 2007) which won the 2007 Frank O'Hara Award; Here, Hunger (NeO Pepper Press, 2007) with Sarah Lilius; and micro-chapbook Wise Raven (Big Game Books, 2008). New work is forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio; Knockout, and So to Speak.

Here is an excerpt from Erin's forthcoming Cherry Pie chapbook, The Urge To Believe is Stronger Than Belief Itself. The poem is an extended and compressed meditation. It takes the form of closely linked sections of prose poem, poetry, etymology and science as it explores the hard and soft edges, the interior and exterior of relationships among mother and daughter and breast cancer.

Last night I dreamt a bat, sonorous & without charge. Her toes were to be
trusted, a row of tiny nails, the way a nail, driven into a wall, can hold many
times its own weight. She hung herself by a high branch of a conifer with the
others, her leathern wings folded just so across her matted chest.

Niki Nymark is a writer and cafe poet with a unique sense of humor. She says she often writes very personal love poetry, to the embarrasment of her grandchildren. She has been published in several anthologies and been awarded poetry prizes by some of the usual organizations, as well as some unusual ones (and so far she hasn't elaborated on what those might be!).

Here's an excerpt from Niki's poem "Saving Daylight"--

....he runs his hand
along my side,
rubs my shoulder blade
as if it were a seashell he just found,
trying to tease out the shape.

I'm sure her grandchildren are squirming, but the rest of us can enjoy the poem mightily.

And Mary Ruth Donnelly follows, indirectly, the adventurous footsteps of her mother, who skipped school to see Cab Calloway. Mary Ruth has hiked the cliffs above Chaco Canyon and retraced the Missouri River segment of Lewis and Clark’s journey, by car and partially by canoe. Her poems move out and move around – on the rivers and roads of the Midwest and the West – the woods, mountain, badlands, gardens, and cities. In her work, you'll see a search for permanence, for bedrock among the shifting post-modern mindscape and the accidents of life. You'll also see a wide variety of poetry forms, and a quietly strong and sustained voice that will draw you back, again and again.

In her “Coming Back to Mountains” she declares it's

not yet time to forget the mountains
the way they handle space
and nurture aspen
for a while
then break above them,
anthracite peaks piled on each other,
the solace of their jagged silhouette.

She's a surprising poet with a surprising range. Perhaps picking up on that heritage of slipping away to see Cab Calloway, she appreciates the art of dance in all its complicated geometries. From “Tango Pantoum”--

Your eyes are lined in red; my head turned right and down.
Tangueros keep their bodies straight as knives.
The street is dark, a dim bulb lights the narrow stairs.
The floor we rush along is smooth as Gardel’s lament.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Keep your poems safe: Part 2

I've improved my backup and cleanup strategy a little, and greatly simplified it (again!).

Earlier I'd crowed about the security scan at, and I'm still crowing but they've added a significant upgrade, and still (for now at least) it's free. Secunia offers Secunia PSI, which you can download and run from your computer (instead of just from their website). Secunia PSI adds some significant handy stuff -- you can configure it easily to run at startup or whenever you want, and after the initial download and first-time scan it performs seamlessly, quietly, and does so without hogging the system. It displays links for updating software, clear indications of whether the software you have is dangerously outdated or is merely obsolete, and allows you to say "ignore" if you know it's obsolete but want to keep it anyway. It provides links to the vendor website for software that is obsolete, so you can look for replacement software.

What does this have to do with poetry? Ah, not much. But if you're reading this blog, you are probably writing and storing poems on your computer, so you'd best keep that system in good shape. Secunia PSI is a first-rate way to do that. If you let programs such as Java (which you probably have, even if you aren't aware of it) or Adobe get outdated, you've left the barn door open and nasty little viruses may come creeping in to do unspeakable things to your computer. Secunia PSI requires one download, and from there you can let it do its thing, and it will politely and unobstrusively inform you when any program has been updated, or has gone obsolete and needs a spruce-up.

That leaves....backups! I still use and highly recommend it, for quick file backups and for file sharing. I have also started using MozyHome ( which, like Secunia, requires a free download, one initial setup and run, and then purrs like a kitten in the background to keep your system forever backed up. MozyHome requires patience the very first time you run it -- you tell it what you want backed up, and it does your complete backup, telling you how much of the available free online space you are using. My backup took about 12 hours, and included quite a lot of documents and spreadsheets and photos. After that first run, I've set MozyHome to run backups every week, quietly in the background, and it does so obligingly and quietly and very quickly, since it picks up only files that have changed since the last backup. It also will let you restore individual folders or files quite easily. It's a dream. It is, in fact, much easier to use than

So, for 0 dollars -- zip! nada! -- I have two reliable backups, with one of them covering all documents on my computer and regularly backing up any changes. And for the same great price I have a scan, thorough and now ongoing, to make sure my virus-prone applications don't get outdated and vulnerable. Secunia PSI and MozyHome are both easy to download, easy to configure for when you want them to run, and after the initial setup are reliable, pain-free, and best of breed. Even the technologically faint of heart can use them without breaking a sweat.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day Job

Some poets have one; some don't -- the "day job." Recently, a long and interesting discussion on the WOM-PO newsgroup list centered on how writers who have a "day job" (a non-poetic, non-academic job in the business world) balance work and art. I wonder.

I do feel like an oddity when the topic comes up. I've always had a day job, and all along have made the conscious choice to not use art to feed spirit and pocketbook at the same time. I am amazed by folk who are able to make a living from their skill with words -- generally indirectly by being a teacher of literature or writing -- and can still summon up the magic of creation when it's time to write. They have my admiration and respect. They are probably less schizophrenic than I am.

Keeping spirit and pocketbook separate does present problems, even though it's the only form of balance I feel capable of. At work, poetry is nearly always there, but unvoiced. It's a ray of light glazing the edge of the windowsill in the copy room. It's a story a coworker tells, some dialect or tone in it that surfaces as a song. I pocket the moment, write it down later. It is an exercise in finding the extraordinary within the ordinary.

It frees me up to keep career-related ambition, fear of poverty, and drudgery out of the poetry sandbox. Of course, the downside is that it's more difficult to be connected to the world of writing, and to keep poetry a priority when things get hectic or when work imposes pressures and deadlines.

Of the five authors published in the Cherry Pie series so far, two work in an academic literary setting, one in an academic nonliterary setting, one is a retired elementary teacher, and one is raising a child and working part-time in a medical office. Three of them have worked (unpaid of course) as editors of either poetry or fiction publications. My own jobs have included medical copyediting and computers (programming, now quality assurance).

Poetry comes in so many guises. It has no uniform.