Online Poetry Discussion Today 3 to 8

If you’re looking for the online poetry discussion of four Alaska poets, moderated by Sandra Kleven, you’ve come to the right place! The discussion starts at 3:00, and will take place via the comments function. The poems and biographical information about the poets can be found here.

To leave a comment, click on the “# comments” at the bottom of this post. You can use a Google account, which automatically posts your user picture, or you can choose the third option, where you simply type in your name (any name) — and note, you do not need to type in a URL. The anonymous option works, too. Comments will be moderated by Sandra and Andromeda. If things get squirrelly, and you need any minor technical assistance, feel free to email

146 thoughts on “Online Poetry Discussion Today 3 to 8”

  1. Good Afternoon, Just a note to say that the poets will be with us for a few hours at the start. I've asked them to speak up when they arrive and to post a note about the current direction of their work, about upcoming publications and, perhaps, advice to a "young" poet — using the term to indicate beginning rather than just literal youth. See you later!

  2. Thank you, Sandra, and thanks to the poets for offering to stop by (a wonderful treat) and for giving us permission to put their poems online.

  3. I just had a panic that I attribute to a poetic mind that it was earlier here in Seattle and not later…than Alaska. My panic lasted several minutes as an alternate reality grew and in that world I was a half hour late…and likely to have spoiled everything. My heart is still pounding. Which reality is real? Who can know? How will they know? Tell me that it isn't now, yet, in Alaska. Tell me that now will come to Alaska, later. I just hate the metaphysical. It's so unwieldly. See you at 3 pm — 4 pm in Seattle. (Right?)

  4. Sandy – Bless your passionate poetic heart. You are in the correct time space continuum and your time difference is correct.
    4 pm in Seattle is 3pm in Alaska.

  5. I'm online now, Sandy. Just wanted to let you know I'm "in" here. Looking forward to this discussion very much. Thank you for hosting it. And to 49 Writers.


  6. As now comes to Alaska, I find it strange and strangely exciting to be sitting in my mother's home moderating this webcast. Strange, that I sat approximately here as I muddled my way through high school in the 1960's. Strangely exciting to use this historical base to bringing the work of four wonderful poets to another part of the wider world. Someone I know in Toronto just emailed me with a comment about Anne's gorilla poem… All four poets have fame well beyond Alaska but an online venue like this gives an intimate link with new readers. I'll now post a few shorter posts to introduce poets, the web page and all. Chime in anytime. The poets will drop by. I have asked them to speak on arrival. Readers can ask questions… poets can hold forth as it suits them. A good time will be had.

  7. Thanks, Anne. I have had the pleasure of knowing and reading Anne's work for several years. She sometimes sort of jokes about the death and misery in her poems. Her blurbers call it "not pretty" but beautiful, none the less. Can you log in about your current work… and your perspective?

  8. While Anne composes, I'll make some
    generic comments about the web page — if you click my name when I post, you'll go to the page Alaska Poets in Winter. Here are two poems by each of the four. Also, links to their personal websites. If you click on the book covers, you'll be taken to a page where you can purchase a copy of the poet's collections.

  9. Hmm. My current work. This poacher poem is the newest of the poems, though several others are also "cooking" in my brain.

    I am working on a third collection called The Empress of Longing and struggling my way S-L-O-W-L-Y through the chapters of a memoir about growing up Southern among Southern Baptists.

    As for my perspective, I don't really feel terribly concerned about the "misery" in the poems I write. It's there in human experience – that suffering, that misery, and that glory – and that has been my observation as a nurse, as a writer, and as a woman. I still am a little in love with the world, despite how dire the poetry comes out.

  10. Hello from Toronto, well Oshawa, exactly. I've read all of the poems that were posted on Sandy's site and I stand in awe. It must be the air, there. – Ken

  11. Hi Liz, I was about to call you a Naturalist… but this might not be the right designation. I have noticed the link to science in your poetry, and love the insights you've shown — as in the two poems we've posted. Would you like to comment about the place of the natural world in your work? Or take it away to what you want to talk about.

  12. Sure, Sandy —

    I do work as a naturalist — which I love. Most of that work is done on boats and eddies around the marine environment. Biology and natural history have always fascinated me…. and then I ended up living with a biologist, so it's become part of my daily conversation, too. Part of my interest is just the wonder/weirdness of our planet. Part is my deep and terrified concern over the way we're failing it. Plus, you can't deny that there's great sound in science…the vocabulary alone!

  13. Annie C, just a question: was there a kernel of truth in the story about the mother chimp giving up her baby to the poacher? I mean, did something like this actually happen?

  14. Anne Caston is a detailed and meticulous writer. The poems we posted are small narratives that tell a rich story with tremendous economy of space. Not a word wasted. And an Oh, my God… reaction, each time. Ken (of Oshawa) praised the Gorilla poem… it struck me, too. OMG.

  15. I was wondering if the poets might address the idea of being "Alaskan" poets, even though some might not live here anymore. I am thinking of the good points (lots of interesting stuff to write about) and the bad points (isolation, a certain stigma associated with "raven" or "spruce" poems…) Thanks!

  16. Hello Ken, It's a mixture of an old story I heard once from a friend who came back from the Peace Corps and a vivid dream I had. The "kernel of truth" is that the poacher did end up taking care of an infant chimp whose mother he killed and that put him off poaching. All the details in this particular poetic rendering of the tale, however, are from the dream I had about him, like the chimp mother's sudden realization that she would die, and her grabbing his thumb and handing over her baby to him.

    Do you think the "facts" of that event make the poem more or less compelling? I'm curious about that. Anne

  17. What struck me in Liz Bradfield's poem "Eskimo Whizzamajig" was the multiple meanings to be perceived in language…the extra inferences given when a word is "trivialized" — though I don't fault that scientist at all — even the Eskimo's have a word that sounds like "imgwajik" for thingamajig…and would use it for an unknown… and I get the way he overlooked the importance of the cultural relic. It's not that.. it's my awe in how much is communicated in a verbal gesture.

  18. Ahh…. and is that "scientist" or just the too-common superior presumption of outsiders coming in and observing… no matter their title?

  19. Anne, Sandy will tell you that I'm a very literal person and I like to dig for facts. But I am also curious about the process of creating a poem, (even moreso than the relevance of fact to the appreciation it). I love that you took in a fact and dreamed a poem.

  20. Liz, can you tell us more about your work? Your publications and Broadsided… maybe in a couple different posts so you don't have to compose a whole essay…

  21. I love the idea of Bradfield's poetry being engaged with the wonder/weirdness of the planet. So often "nature writing" gets this rarified feeling to it, and grounding ourselves in the bizarre ways of the actual world is an amazing antidote. I love this about Annie Dillard's work too.

    And, it's funny what JustKen said about the air up here, in light of recent news about Fairbanks–the pollution has been so bad from the cold inversion/freezing smog that it's been a certifiable health hazard for most of the month! That's "the real Alaska" for you!

  22. Hi Erin,

    You asked about being an "Alaskan" poet. That's so tricky, being thought of as a serious part of any geographical location. And yet my taproot runs deep in Alaska. I'm not sure I'm an Alaskan poet any more than I am a Southern poet. But both seem to call forth something in me. Most days, I feel a bit like an exile or a refugee who has taken refuge in some places that were hospitable – like Alaska. Does that make sense? More to the point, does it answer your question? Anne

  23. If Mike B is there, I wanted to say that I felt very vividly your experience in the wolf poem. I think it came from the repetition of the wolf's "trots, turns and stares". Bravo!

  24. Anne Caston is a faculty member at UAA's low residency creative writing program… as is Derick Burleson who will show up in a few minutes. They live far apart, now, Derick in Fairbanks and Anne in Pennsylvania. Liz Bradfield is a past graduate. Not to suggest that this program has cornered the market on Alaska poets — Michal Burwell, poet and editor of Cirque is neither CWLA faculty nor student. I don't think.

  25. well, we know a bit about the environment in Alaska, but we have our preconceptions too. Maybe Alaska is to Canada as Canada is to the continental U.S.

  26. For my part, it's hard to have left Alaska. I still feel very connected to the state, and I still work in Southeast Alaska every summer as a naturalist. But it's not quite the same, is i?

    I think this is part of a question we all wrestle with as writers, though: what places ground and inform us? And what aspects of those places? Friends? Landscape? Wildlife? History? Or the life of the mind?

  27. And speaking of Cirque, Mike, that was a fabulous first publication of your new literary magazine! It was so good to see some poems by favorite people I know and by some I hadn't "read" before.

    Mike, does your work as an editor help you as a writer?


  28. I wanted to say general things about the poems and because of this considered and disgarded many, many attributes. The survivors are poems with a sense of place, poems that elicit emotion, sort of subtle… the reader should pay attention to the action… as with the wolves, the gorilla, and in Derick's warm (or devious) invitation to the nice place where it is "never night." And in Liz's poem about the visionary and his theory of oceans — crackling.

  29. My work as an editor seems to take all the energy I have after my day job and working on my anthropology degree. But it's so much fun. The conversation that develops with the other writers. I'd never quite felt this sort of exhiliration before…

  30. I like what Mike says about being an Alaskan poet — and here in the midst of my ninth winter, I feel much the same way. Every time I go Outside, I feel very out of place and time, out of touch with the cycles that govern the day to day here in Two Rivers.

  31. Hi Liz,

    I can second what you say about still feeling connected to the state even though I return each summer too (and occasionally in the dead of winter, to visit my daughter and grand-daughters).

    Muskoxen sealed my pact with Alaska (UAF) initially, and I still return there to see them every so often, but now that place tugs and tugs at me when I'm so far away. I love Pennsylvania and this small-town life I can live here, close to family again, but I still feel like my heart is divided…and by "heart," I mean the heart a little to the right of my actual heart.

    How about you? Do you feel as if you can write your way home when you feel most separated from it? Anne

  32. Hi Sandy,
    It's Vivian from Puerto Rico. It's almost 9 pm here. I love the poem Eskimo whizzamajig by Elizabeth Bradfield.

  33. What I tell beginning writers is that they are really being subversive because I don't believe that popular culture has much use for poetry. I am amazed that in our culture all these young folks show up in my poetry class to write poems…And it is always a delight.

  34. Derick, Hope you will comment on your publications. I also asked if you would be prepared to post the Mirabelle poem — you know the one… I love her voice in the poem and recognize the child's transparent strategy as she,sort of puts words in the parent's mouth…I laughed. I thought, too, that "Never Night" starts with that innocent voice… almost the same child…you'd like it. You will like it. For me, given my Alaska adventure, it carries an undertone where one might hear — as I titled a certain piece "beware of open water…" Beware. Beware. But that's just me. Love the switch, too, to the moon looking over the shoulder to see which dead poet is moving you tonight.

  35. Vivian — thank you! I've been working on a lot of poems that engage with the life of Donald B. MacMillan. He grew up where I'm living now (Cape Cod) and spent his life going between here and the Arctic — Baffin Island, Greenland, Labrador, etc.

    It's funny about place: I often find that I write poems when I'm away from a place, rather than when I'm right in it. Being away allows for time to edit my emotions a bit — the big things rise to the surface, or the perplexing things, or the infuriating things.

    There's a writer, David Gessner, who talks about being a "polygamist of place." There is more than one place that resonates for him, that feels like a touchstone. I can identify.

    I think that dance between writing from experience, memory, imagination is what all poets do. I definitely see it in the work of Anne, Derek, and Mike. Learning the particular dance of each poet– how those things work together–is a joy for me as a reader.

  36. I'd like to say that this conversation between writers, that happens when we read each others work, read it out loud at readings, and do things like this discussion–it is an important dialogue. It works against the isloation and the monologue…

  37. I think Derick and Vivian are probably the two "poles" in this discussion: one at the far north and the other at the far south. That's impressive.

    Mike, do you really think that the popular culture doesn't have much use for poetry? Historically, poetry has found its way to young people through the schools – probably in a similar way as it does today – and later, sometimes years later, it kept them company in the trenches of war and the funerals of parents or friends, and the weddings they were part of, and all the other ordinary occasions of their lives, there to illuminate for them the significance of that moment, bringing comfort or camaraderie in the toughest times they'd live through – or not.

    Sometimes, as teachers, we have to wait for the significance to hit the students who've studied in our classrooms. Eventually, we are not their greatest teachers. Life and literature are. We're just the ones pointing the way.

    Maybe I'm overly-optimistic though. Anne

  38. Thanks for asking for that poem, Sandy, and I'll post it here in a bit. In the Mirabel poems, and in Never Night, I really was striving to capture the poetics of the childlike — an open eyed POV, seeing everything as if for the first time. At the same time, childhood is not nearly as innocent as the popular imagination would like to make it. Children encounter death, in one way or another, pretty early on. And so that tone of warning you speak of.

  39. Children play for keeps, and poets should, too, I think. The poets here today certainly do: Liz's serious play with language and the names of things — with the idea of exploration; Anne's devastating portrait of the boy in the restaurant; Mike's poetic encounter with the wolf — there are things in the world that want to eat us!

  40. Subversive as a writing activity. I agree tho Anne that people really need poetry for those extremities of life; weddings, funerals, the words that at those times become so durable. I wrote a poem for my aunt's funeral on Cape Cod last May that I really like…Hmmm

  41. That is so true, Derick! I forget that sometimes. That's the "beware" underbelly of Alaska, I suppose!

  42. Concerning POV, I just finished reading Derick's book Ejo and was blown away by the POV in the last two poems, the voice of the friend from Rawanda. I had to remind myself that Derick, the Derick that I know, is the author. I think he does the same thing with the voice his Mirabel poems. I'd like to be that good of a writer….ok I'll admit he's my mentor this semester. But I love the Ejo collection.

  43. I see your point, Mike; I think I misread what you were trying to say in your earlier post.

    Hey, are you going to post that poem you wrote for your aunt's funeral?

  44. I'd like to say that I kinda use Alaska as a touchstone for my interior junk. I mean Granite Creek is a poem about my divorce but it took that intersection of me, Granite Creek and the interior distress for me to make a poem…

  45. Signing off now, but one small thought before I go: I think "whizzamajig" is a beautiful term of baffled personal delight that connects me to the poor person trying to make sense of the alien thing before him. Cf what a modern curator might say: "artifact of unknown provenance" or some-such.

    Kudos also to the unknown poetic mind behind the Captchas that we must type in to post comments. I am indeed suplit.

  46. OK Anne Here's my Aunt's poem:


    Traveler, your spirit finds so many destinations.
    And your path, what do we know of it?

    How it began, where it ends?
    While you were here, we knew the fellowship

    of traveling with you: the need to find the world
    together: paths crossing, running together, diverging.

    And you, traveler, although gone, go on in us,
    fixing our paths by what you knew:

    your touch, we feel in the grass at our feet,
    your breath, we breathe in the pines,

    clutched in winds above us,
    your words, we hear in night breezes,

    tumbling waves.
    It’s your dream we embrace each day

    in the gilded light over Vineyard Sound.
    Traveler, you are gone.

    Traveler you are here:
    in the grass, in the waves, in the light,

    in the crush of each foot in the sand.
    Traveler, you are here.

  47. Maybe that should be a challenge for us all! Remember and write down our little code words… I'm feeling quite moryper myself, Ken.

  48. Anne wrote a poem about what I might call the subversive personal… the way a poet can deal with something, someone… do you remember, Anne? I believe it ended up in our classroom publication — our little book. Had a line like the poet will dedicate the poem to you… use your name… It was funny. Tongue in cheek and I, absolutely, related. It is short, if you could guote it.

  49. Mike… what a beautiful poem. Did you read it for the funeral? Have you written for public sharing like that before?

    I was recently asked by a friend to write a poem for her husband's memorial service, and I must admit that I've been terrified.

  50. Thanks Ken! And thanks Vivian! I do like the dramatic monologue quite a bit and find that putting on a mask can free the poet to say what they really want to, but can't as an "I."

    Liz, does your work with particular explorers work that way for you?

  51. Thank you for posting that poem, Mike.

    Do you want to talk a little bit about those geographical "details" that ground the poem that is dealing with the "abstract" of the traveler?

  52. The mask IS such a relief — although I also find myself struggling with the balance of giving them their own voices and using them to shade their comments in my own light.

    The persona can be so freeing, and there's danger in that. Derick, I think what I love about the persona poems of yours that I've read is that they feel very much an embodiment– not just an easy adoption of syntax to speak for yourself in disguise. I love and admire that.

  53. That's a lovely poem, Mike, and one that really resonates with me right now, having lost my mother this fall.

  54. Here's the Mirabel poem Sandy remembers:

    v. Big Plan

    Let’s do it. I’s ready. Let’s go downstairs.
    I’s hungry. Can we cook up some eggs and catsup?
    That’s what I want. Can I have some butter?
    Can we feed the fish? Let’s go give
    the chickens a snack and look for eggs.
    That sounds like a good idea. Can we kill a chicken?
    I’s hungry. What’d you do? Is it dead? Look at it bleed!
    Can I pluck it? Do chicken’s insides have names?
    Do we have insides like chickens?
    Can you take my insides out so I can see?
    I like breast the best. Can we cook it up?
    I’s hungry. Let’s start the fire. Chicken’s good.
    You want to draw with me? That would be a good idea.
    Want to build a train? Whoa! Look at it go!
    Let’s go upstairs and read a book.
    Then we can read another one book.
    Then we can close our eyes and go to sleep.
    That would be a good idea.

  55. Oh, how funny that you remembered that little poem, Sandy. It was just a tongue-in-cheek kind of moment. Here it is:


    Writers cannot keep them.
    Tell a writer something, he'll spin
    a story and in the tale:
    a vaguely-familiar character, someone
    with a hat like yours, your limp,
    your penchant for infidelity.

    And a poet will do
    worse, much worse:
    she'll dedicate the poem to you –
    call you by your maiden name,
    place your initials prominently beneath
    the title, italicized,
    an epigraph that makes everything
    perfectly clear.

  56. Liz, yes there was lot of terror to doing this to make a loving summmation that works as a poem. And Anne, my aunt's house is is Woods Hole and looks straight east toward Martha's Vinyard. There are these meditative pines around the house and the sand and sea grass is her beach…where she still may walk

  57. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Hello everyone,
    This is phenomenal! I look forward to joining the conversation but please bear with me — I just signed on and I need to read all these awesome comments before I can even think about adding a question or further comment! But know that I'm out here, enjoying the conversation…

  58. I wanted to comment on Anne's discussion about the 'facts' in a poem, if knowing the truth about a poem takes away from the poem or adds to it. I definitely think that knowing ADDS to the poem. That's why I go to poetry readings when I can. I want to know a bit more about the poem and why it was written, what inspired the poem/poet etc…even if I find out that the poem came from a dream.

  59. Hi everyone. I'm a poet living in Boulder,CO and I was wondering if you could address the choice of point of view when developing a poem. The selections for today's discussion include 1st, 3rd and even 2nd person. When using 1st person, there's the voice of the narrator versus the voice of the writer. They aren't necessarily the same. Liz, is this the personae that you're referring to? Thanks so much for sharing your amazing poems and insight. –Wendy

  60. I gathered it was somewhere near there, Mike: those little details are so good at "fixing" what might otherwise be too abstract to really edge the reader closer to the speaker's immeasurable loss which is hovering inside the poem. I admire how you do that so well.

    Thank you for sharing that.

    Was it more or less difficult to read the poem among others who actually knew your aunt?

  61. I gathered it was somewhere near there, Mike: those little details are so good at "fixing" what might otherwise be too abstract to really edge the reader closer to the speaker's immeasurable loss which is hovering inside the poem. I admire how you do that so well.

    Thank you for sharing that.

    Was it more or less difficult to read the poem among others who actually knew your aunt?

  62. Wendy,

    Yes – all those voices! And which ones are the ones we, as readers, resonate with? Which ones are the ones we listen to and know that we're supposed to be taking with a grain of salt?

    I think that the power of voice in poetry can be overlooked. Even in relating our own experiences, we can step back and look at them with distance or lean in and whisper.

    I think of the huge epic voice of Walcott's "Omeros," or the personal voice of Sharon Olds. I think what I love in poems is finding a voice that somehow reveals layers within itself. I just finished Carl Phillips new book of poems, "Speak Low," and it blew my mind. The syntax of the poems is really dense — and that becomes an inner voice. You get the sense that you're experiencing a mind's workings.

  63. I knew it would be a hard read so I practiced it a few times. I am still amazed by the added and sometimes immense power of reading a poem out loud.

  64. Hello, Wendy,

    That's a great question. I especially worked, in the poems "Deer Season" and "The Charge" to take the "omniscient" point of view. I'm working hard against my almost-natural proclivity to choose first-person and to make some commentary on the narrative (pseudo-narrative) embedded in the poem.

    I found it was easier to accomplish the omniscient perspective/voice in "Deer Season" because I also was using present tense in that one. Using past tense in the poacher poem meant I had to work harder and it feels less "colloquial" because of what happened in the voice.

    It's always a tough choice, for me anyway. What about you all, Mike and Derick and Liz?

  65. Point of view to me may be 90 percent of the poetic process. I find I read poems to see how other poets find ways to access new occasions for poems–a new stance toward things. A good poem is one that opens a new door into a landscape where I can write a poem that I have needed to write for years but didn't know how. This same epiphany happens at readings…

  66. Hi Wendy, and thanks for joining us. I chose the second person for Never Night because I meant it as a real invitation to "you." But the second person is also flexible, and the "you" can also stand in for "I" — a POV mutability that I like, but try not to use too often. . .

  67. Hi Wendy,

    I'm a student in UAA's MFA and I'm learning to rework my poems from different POV. Sometimes if the poem is on difficult subject I choose something other than first persons. Also, I've had the discussion with Sandy, our moderator, many times, about how the "I" in the poem isn't necessarily the poet. Many people are shocked to find that out about poetry.

  68. Hi Vivian,

    I'm a big fan of ejo too – what a stunning first book, isn't it? Do you find that it's a good model for you? I recall that you were writing persona poems early on, out of your personal heritage. Are you still doing that?


  69. Vivian, Yes I am reminded of Sharon Olds' contention that once it's inside a poem it's not her it's fictive, it's the conceit a persona…eventhough all her stuff is astounding in its personal revelation

  70. It was Anne Caston who helped me grasp that the "I" of a poem was not always the poet. That's why we sometimes take care to say "the poem's speaker." Some poems are clearly in persona. Such as when the speaker is identified as living in 1624. But, at times, I like knowing that I am hearing the poet, that the voice is not mocking, or insincere, but that of one trying to make something of the flotsom. Thanks for posting the additional poems, Anne, Derick, Michael. Enriching. (falnzoo)

  71. Anne, I'm now writing about my life growing up in Wrangell and my multi-cultural family and sometimes I channel my relatives and speak in their persona. But after reading Derick's book this week, I'm really going to try harder with that technique. I scrapped my other manuscript idea where most of the poems were in another voice/perspective. Those poems are set aside for another day/year.

  72. Many thanks to the poets and hosts. I’ve combined notes to all the poets and included some excerpts of your poems. Thanks to all of you for the richness of your work.

    To Anne Caston re:
    The Charge
    This piece rocked me in my mind. Did that really happen, my mind asked as a matter of course, to which I immediately replied to myself, two things: not relevant, and then I laughed because a writer once said that if a story makes you ask, did it happen?, the writer did something right.

    But here is what “The Charge” illustrated for me: a maxim from a Joni Cole book;
    “If you don’t tell them with love, they will never understand what you are trying to tell them.”
    Here this chimpanzee mother has a split second of such profound importance. From instinct or a lightning fast mind that knows the hierarchy of facts, she acts from love because the child is more important than revenge. When she circles that man’s hand – she crossed so many divides in a split second. And that man learned something he never would have learned otherwise. This poem is mind blowing. Here is that fictional story that is as real as the nose on my face. I commend you.

    To Derick Burleson re:
    Never Night
    These following excerpts from Never Night are the elements I love in my wild home. The innocent sleep is something I get only in the woods here. I have never slept better (with a stack of books by the side of the bed in the light of the moon). I am actually away from home now and your words bring me back there…thank you.

    … when sleep
    finally comes, is innocent,
    spring wind through a window
    left open now that spring
    is passing fast and summer
    won’t stay here long …

    You’d like that too, when
    endless night falls and the moon
    comes up, reads your book over
    your shoulder, learns which dead
    poet moves you tonight,

    To Mike Burwell re:
    Granite Creek

    The element of the physical divide is the relief I always feel when flying back to my home; the mountain peak that signals home is close, the waterway that divides town and wild…My favorite feeling in the world (well, one anyway) is when that floatplane touches down on the other side of the divide and I’m finally home to the raw spacious quiet. Bliss.

    … The creek’s my divide
    between town and the wild, where wild

    takes over: raw, spacious, quiet.

    To Elizabeth Bradfield re:
    Polar Explorer Capt. John Cleves Symmes (1820)
    I felt like Symmes himself as I read, the POV was so compelling. Love the “not seeing through but melting into it”. It was wonderful to witness this mind at work, a heart at work, a wondering and then best of all Symmes acted on it and went to find his explanations.

    … Symmes keeps pressing
    his human face against the frozen wall of what

    is known, not seeing through but melting into it
    his own features, his own strange form. He wanted

    explanations for the plenty at the poles:

    Thank you, all. Lovely way to spend this afternoon!

  73. I'm going to have to sign off now everyone. We're having a storm here in Puerto Rico and the power just fluctuated. I'm shutting down my computer. It's 10 pm anyway. Goodnight and may the muse be with you all. Happy Writing!

  74. Happy writing, Vivian! And Anon… thanks for such a close and careful read.

    I myself am turning into a pumpkin and must sign off. Loved being here in such great company.

    Sandy, thanks again for putting this together!

  75. Vivian, that's a great project.

    Liz, you mentioned something earlier about struggling to create speakers who can inhabit "their own voices" and, at other times you wrestle with using them "to shade their comments" in your own light.

    Can you talk about how you manage that dilemma? Anne

  76. Bye Vivian, Bye Liz! Lovely to "see" you both here, and look forward to really seeing you in the not so distant future!

    And, thanks, Anonymous, for your careful attention to the poems — the best thanks a poet can get, an alert reader!

  77. Dear Poets & others, thanks for this fine talk, but I am going to have to log off. If I can, I will try and get back on before 8.

    Thank you Sandy for the inspiration to get all of us together.

    Maybe we should do this every Thursday?


  78. Good night, Vivian, and batten down the shutter! My regards to Howie too.

    Anonymous, thank you for your insights and your kind words about "The Charge." Your insights about crossing that great divide between the mother and the man are everything I'd hoped for in a reading, and they show great insight about what is possible between two very opposing forces. Thank you so much.

  79. I once cast (switched, actually) my own story onto a "she" because I didn't want to paint myself with the poem's story. This has been fine and I'd do it again. One's adult children can be as inhibiting as one's parents were years, ago. I am beyond their stern eye in most of my work… just a few fine details in poems they would never let my grandchildren read. All that passes away in 100 years, so I do try to fight it off. See you later, Vivian.

  80. Hi Sandy,

    Yes, I did the same thing in the second section of Judah's Lion (The Story I Sometimes Tell Myself) – all those poems using second-person in the titles which then flipped into 3rd-person singular in the poems themselves. I don't think anyone was fooled by that strategy – and I didn't even intend that they be fooled into thinking I was writing about anyone but myself. My own thinking was that, in looking back at myself as a younger woman, it was like telling someone else's story after so long a time. I made a "character" of myself, using my own voice and experiences as the substance/landscape of the poems.

    It was a difficult thing for me, a bit like juggling must be.

    Anyone else out there ever try writing about oneself in third person?

  81. Thanks, Liz. Michael, hope you come back for the close.
    While you are still here, could you post some about the book length "global warming" poem? And I guess I could mention that the laundry room scene is in a very adult voice. But there is far more to it, than that. I remember when you were awake in the night writing because the words called. Not exactly what you said but maybe you could comment on the whole process that occurs when the words begin to push a piece.

  82. Anne, yes, I use that 3rd person to retrieve the younger self — and to gain distance at the same time. I did that in both "Harvest" and "American Boys" in my last book.

    Sandy: The project you're talking about is called Melt — a book length poem I'm currently working on, hoping it's going to become my third book. It's part elegy and part ode — both mourning and celebration, an exploration of the effects of climate change we're already feeling and seeing here in the far north. At the same time, it's an erotic poem charting the course of a relationship, finding glory in union and mourning the loss of the beloved. The project definitely took control of things as I went along, keeping me up late at night, not letting me rest, the first time I'd written near the white-hot center that way, and a powerful experience.

  83. Has the poem come to a close, Derick? Did you find that it stayed near perfect as it came? Not just lines but the narrative arc?

    Anne, while you are with us — knowing that it's much later in the east… have you ever been involved in a long poem as Derick describes? If so, where did you go with it?

  84. My friends and fellow writers, it's getting late here and I've stayed long past the time I'd intended to log off because the conversation was so lively. I am fading fast though so I must bid you all adieu.

    Thanks again for hosting this, Sandy, and Andromeda and Deb. It was wonderful to hear voices from afar.

    Sweet dreams,

  85. Goodnight, Anne. Lovely to hear your voice, and can't wait to see you this summer, if not before.

    Sandy: The poem came really fast for me — more than 60 pages in just a couple of months — and that was it, and I fell over, exhausted. I've been tweaking it ever since, both the lines and the narrative arc, but so far, it's resisted any really significant revision, and I still like it quite a bit, especially when I read it aloud. The way it was written, the process, gave it a driving rhythm, too.

  86. Oops, Sandy, I hadn't yet gotten your posting when I signed off. I haven't yet attempted a longer, more "epic" poem. . .though I think both books of poetry I've published so far do have that over-arching narrative arc – as well as the music – of epic poems. I am always writing into a place that feels almost too close, too tender for e to feel really comfortable with it. I figure that if I want the reader to experience the full impact of the book (or the poem) I have to be willing to experience it too.

    I was just writing to Scott Banks, telling him that, while I was touched by the story of the poacher when I heard of it, that when I woke from the dream and that final image of the mother lying down on the mossy forest floor and dying after having charged her enemy with caring for her infant, I woke weeping. It really did me in. I try to get as close to that white-hot center of the event/moment as I can when I write and revise. . .even when it makes me look bad or tough or weak.

    Does that answer your question?

  87. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    As I read, the comments kept coming — hard to catch up! And now I've missed some of the poets. But still: where do I start with what I've enjoyed reading here?

    I was glad to read about POV. Being a non-poet, I hadn't thought about that much before while reading poetry (though I think about it obsessively while writing fiction). Duh– of course. Now I'll notice that from the beginning! (And this raises related questions about the power of present vs past tenses, for example.)

    I found it interesting what Liz said about writing about Alaska from a place anywhere from here. (And I enjoyed that phrase, "polygamy of place.") I've experienced the same. Isn't it strange that some of us write best about where we are, and some need to get away to see and remember (or select) more clearly?

    For Liz, but for all of you (Sandra and other visitor/poets, too) I wonder about that moment when you know a poem should be a poem, instead of, say, a short story, novel, or play. I thought of it with Liz's work because the historical/scientific facts that inspired would be the same kind of thing that would prime me to write a novel. And yet I've also had the feeling (less frequently), when a fact or idea or image first glimmers, that perhaps it should be a poem, not something else. Any multi-genre poets want to comment on that?

    I have so many other comments and questions (and simple appreciation for) the poems of Anne, Derick, Mike, and Liz, but I'm aware of the space constraints!

  88. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    What I love about poetry, as a reader, is that it refreshes my eye for detail — among other things. Poets: what is the single most helpful thing you do to keep noticing the world afresh, especially if you've written about the same place (or things, or people, or themes) before?

  89. Excellent, Anne. I can feel it. Same, Derick. Thinking back, too, on Liz's remark about the mix of memory, imagination and, what was it? Genius? Might have been reality. These elements begin to make a fine brew.

    I noticed, reading back. that most embraced the state of Alaska. Not only the poets but others who were not in Alaska still wanted to embrace that particular place. This is interesting for a few reasons… I'll post this short note and then back another about it.

  90. Hi Andromeda! Thanks for hosting us, and thanks for joining in. I mostly write poetry, and I've noticed the more I write and read, the more I experience the world in terms of the poem. And that's what helps me see even the quotidian as new, gleaming, bursting from the borders of itself. I love the expansiveness of prose, too, and think writing it and reading it, one begins to experience the world in terms of the stories it has to tell, the characters, the details. But something about the compression of poetry, the way the line breaks before it gets to the other side of the page, usually, really makes me focus on the image, the evocation of the thing itself. Or at least an attempt to do so.

  91. Hi Andromeda,

    I learned anything I learned about POV from attending the fiction talks and seminars in graduate school, not from the poetry sessions. Fiction writers have fresh ways of thinking and talking about those choices that open the perspective for poets.

    I think nonfiction writers can only mess with POV just so far, but poets and fiction writers have unimpeded freedom to do whatever seems best for the tale or the event they're writing.

    I did – no, DO – wrestle with tenses more than even POV. I mean, present tense can put the reader inside the events in a visceral way and give the tale a sense of immediacy but it's difficult then for the speaker to have any insights. With past tense, those insights – and regrets – are possible but they can seem predetermined or seem as if they were discovered before the tale/poem was ever written down: they were what the writer/poet was writing towards all along.

    How does the fiction writer/novelist work against those problems?

    (I cannot log out while there is still such a good conversation going on – but you'll all have to forgive how my typing gets worse as I get more tired.) Anne

  92. I'll get back to Alaska, the concept, but first want to respond to Andromeda's comments about tense.

    There is an inhibiting rule in prose that a piece should be in one tense or another. Or, perhaps, that present should be a reference to the time at writing. Instead, I have found (and been corrected for doing it)that I set things up in the past and, once done, I move into present to tell a vivid story. I did a little research on this… found among other things that it's a cultural trait (Norwegian) though I imagine that oral story tellers do it. I've decided to fight for the right to use this approach. Just today, I noticed in a Roethke poem "The Meadow Mouse" First verse is past tense… then in begins with a "Now…" and, then, the final verse is a new "now," one of the next morning. I think strict tense adherence is a rule that just doesn't work in the natural telling of a narrative. And I think we are able innately to follow these shifts unless we are too bound by belief in the rule.

  93. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Anne — ditto about the typing. I wince to see my goofs but there just isn't time to avoid typos! (Please, poets, stay just a few minutes longer! This is awesome!)

    Anne, what you said about tense (positives and negatives) PRECISELY applies to fiction — including the novel I am revising currently. I chose present tense deliberately but am now feeling the constraint of not having that layer of wisdom, that richness that comes from looking back, that comes from writing past tense. (In past tense 1st person, you get two narrators, I guess you could say –one speaking about the person he/she thought he was as the action unfolded, and the one who later knows more or remembers differently.) A simplification, but this is a blog! As a fiction writer, I develop the voice first, simutaneous with making POV/tense decisions, get into character and go — but then may have to revise considerably later after I see the full costs of my first-hunch decisions.

    If you poets are still there: I'm also curious how your work has changed (big question, I know) and what direction you feel you're heading now.

  94. As someone who writes prose (both fiction and NF) and also poems (mostly to open up my own work, not for publication,) I find POV to be a key in all three. Trying to write poems actually really helps me clarify stance and tense and speaker issues in prose–there is so much less room to get away with slop in the tight constraints of poetry, and it teaches me how to really nail the craft elements. Is the narrative stance clear, consistent? Does time make sense? Is space clearly defined? Practicing this in poems, where I can more clearly see if I'm failing, helps me hone the skills for prose, where it can seem more muddled.

    Speaking of muddled! Whew.
    Thanks so much for putting this together. So much lively talk!

  95. Interesting point, Sandy. It brings another poem/song/psalm to mind: The 23rd Psalm which begins with the songwriter talking ABOUT the Lord ("The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me. . .") but, by the end, is addressing that Entity directly: "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. . .").

    Perhaps this happens more often in songs and stories aurally because it is still easy to follow. When such a thing comes to the workshop, however, there are furrowed brows and recommendations all around for revision. ha!

  96. About Alaska and being considered an Alaska writer or poet. I've read some about prose writers of various types worrying about being considered "regional" as if that limits their potential for publication… that the story does not have wide appeal, the the publisher doesn't want to take a chance on an Alaska story or an Alaskan writer. I notice that the poets did not take this up in the same way. I think it's partly due to the fact that the path to publication is different. None of the poets — in state or out — reacted to the idea that connection to the state could be detrimental. With prose the term "regional" is a kind of put down… something that might imply that the writer is something less than world class… Now, poetry books are rarely big sellers and the world of the poet is smaller. I just switched to the genre a few years ago though I've been writing poems for a long time… but now I get a feel for a genre where people begin to know each other and each other's work. A smaller world and one where — seems to me — the individual is more the focus. The respect from the other genres has surprised me… casual reference to poetry being at the top of the heap of what's considered literature. So, the poets, posting here, embraced Alaska, saw it as meaningful, were sad to be away, though also glad to write about Alaska from a distance. This is a better feeling than the one that comes with a sense of being marginalized for being from Alaska.

  97. My work is headed in precisely the ways we're talking about here — an intense consideration of person and tense, an awareness of that that becomes a part of the poem itself. In Melt, for example, I try on many of the possibilities — 1st, 2nd, 3rd person, past, present future tense. This is what helped generate the long poem, and what I hope keeps it fresh and forever shifting.

  98. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Sandra, I just read your 'tense' comment after I posted (computer is slow tonight) and those are good thoughts! And if we're going to get really complicated, there are other cultural and political implications of tense — or at least I think there are. Some cultures view time differently. An awareness of the past also has political (and other) consequences. The novel I'm writing features a German protagonist remembering to scenes just pre-World War II — there are reasons for him to stay in the present tense. These things can also be used to effect. I wonder what other poets/poems play with this. Do our Alaska native poets (I don't think we have any present online at the moment but perhaps we do, or perhaps some readers will know) write about chronology (e.g. shifts or fluidity of time) or tense differently?

  99. Andromeda, yes, I understand what you mean. Have you ever entertained the notion of a novel where you write your way (or your character's way) back and forth in time? It seems to me that would be a simpler shift in prose than in poetry. After all, we do that in film ad nauseum, right, and the watcher rarely gets lost. (A recent movie set in Britain, about a writer, did this and really took big risks – which paid off handsomely and kept the watcher alert.)

  100. Yes, sometimes there are also psychological reasons to use first tense suddenly, having it erupt from the character who is speaking, as in Bruce Weigl's fine poem, "Song of Napalm," where the current time is framed in past tense, but references to the war (by the speaker) are all in present tense – thus indicating, I suspect, how that veteran speaker lives most fully and immediately in the images of the VietNam War while the current time seems the dream.

  101. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Derick, Anne, Anonymous, Sandra, everyone — great thoughts! I'm absorbing all this and loving it.

  102. Ernestine Hayes is a Tlingit, and though not a poet per se, she is a very lyrical writer and her NF is loose and intuitive. Her amazing memoir "Blonde Indian" uses tense in such an interesting manner–she shifts in and out of three different stances in the book, often weaving them together in a way that would be picked at by a more literal editor. But, the overall impact of the book is so strong because of this choice. I've heard her speak about her book's voice/stance/tense and what it has to do with Nativeness–definitely a connection, it seems. I wouldn't want to say this is necessarily the case for all Native writers though. I really recommend that book for readers in any genre. Gutsy and beautiful.

  103. Andromeda,

    Our good friend and writing colleague, fiction writer Jo-Ann Mapson, insists that if someone can write a poem,then that person can write a novel because they have parallel structures and gestures. As someone who is struggling with memoir and who has only several times attempted fiction, this seems unfathomable to me.

    What do you think about that?

  104. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Anne, I'll have to check out Song of Napalm. That's exactly what I meant — for example, using present tense to highlight the time in which the narrator is most fully engaged (or stuck, in a state of denial or trauma), while oddly enough, this may flip the "present" into an alienated kind of past tense.

  105. And Derick, you've been working in prose too lately. Do you find it a companionable art to your poetry – or is it more demanding of you?

  106. Just to add something else, lately, with input from Derick, I've looked at early drafts with an intent to up the antee with every word. This is "fine" work in specific words and phrases, where I seek elements of sculpture – i.e. to leap toward a "crazy" metaphor and then to ask how it might serve or if it serves. I almost birth these replacement lines, sputtering… then I look the thing over to see if its worthy of life. The hardest part of doing this is in allowing myself to let loose, to kick it up a notch… to find what's in there == spitting up a Rohrshack that doesn't fit the poem… change the poem to fit the thing! I don't often change the poem but the work on the level of word… the jigsaw puzzle of it… looking for sound, cadence, meaning. Fun, certainly. I have a gladness when my mind amazes me. This is closer work than the inspiration for the poem, the form of the poem, or the arc… though all are affected. I have especially done this in my last two poems, written here at mother's with some influence of Roethke. He has let a bit of natural imagery into them.

  107. Anonymous: I couldn't agree with you more about Ernestine's book. It is a tour de force for all the reasons you mention, one of the best (and most poetic) memoirs I've read.

    Anne: I'm not sure I believe Jo-Ann either! Maybe it's adult onset ADD, but I can't seem to sit still long enough for the prose — and it seems so far to the right margin! But, yes, I do find the poetry and prose (and lately, painting) speaking back and forth to one another, informing. Can't wait to read your memoir! Especially since, as you know, we share the background that's your subject. You've said "struggling" a couple of times now. What are some the the challenges the project's presenting you with?

  108. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Comment re: Ernestine Hayes & Blonde Indian. Great! I look forward to reading it. I knew someone smart here would have a recommendation.

    Anne: Re Jo-Ann's comment. I think cross-genre experimentation is healthy but I don't know that I agree that someone who can write in one area will excel equally in another. But I'm sure the attempt improves one's own writing skills! I think there is an architecture of the novel that is challenging, and a level of detail and perfection and selectivity in poetry that I imagine is equally challenging, in a different way. (But hey, that's just me. And when I try to write memoir, at this point in my life, I feel too close to the material to report as honestly as I feel I can report in fiction, or to stay focused on form/language. The content starts to take over, which I don't necessarily appreciate. Even in my fiction, I try to write away from my experience — at least in terms of surface details — rather than toward it.)

  109. I think, too, that the get home free card comes when one is launched into imagination. As with these poems written from the white hot center. Confidence grows from these things… when they arrive in their rightness. When one discovers that they CAN launch themselves into the imaginative domain where things cook… I first articulated this when describing what happened after hearing Olena Kilitiak Davis read back in 2003. I bought both of her collections and the process continued. I could read her and be launched into my own material… where the constraints (rules about poetry) come later and many of these problems are solved in advance because this part of the mind knows how to pull a thing together. Anne — if you are still here — this also happened when we walked around the museum as part of a class and then wrote. The visual… in this case. With Olena, the visual in the poems and the boundaries crossed like they were not there. My little story in Cirque…"Jaden is Calling" it was written as it arrived, it meanders. It commits violations. I never had anyone check the grammer… but, that style of engagement, it seems to connect… to bring in the reader. There is a place where perfect isn't perfect – but annoying. And as you have mentioned before a poem should, perhaps, remain rough in places.

  110. Hi Derick,

    Well, I find that the voice in my head doesn't always "jive" with the way I write. My inner syntax is more Biblical, more fluid, more convoluted, filled with the mannerisms and euphemisms of formal Southern speech than my written syntax is. Getting those two in the same room is a bit like inviting the Hatfields and the McCoys to sit down and have a nice meal together.

    Another problem is that I keep falling into some of the compression and music that my poetry normally uses. I keep saying to myself, "Expansion, Anne; not compression." And my prose keeps going deaf to that mandate, keeps trying to slither into its tight girdle of words and music rather than relaxing into baggy drawers. Know what I mean?

    The bigger problem, though, can't be fixed by close and patient revision: it's the old "and why am I saying this and for what purpose" problem I always wrestle with as a writer. I mean, how do I risk being unloyal or untrue to the very ones and things I have loved without having that "balance" of it being for some good?

    How about you? Do you have those moments too?


  111. Sandy, I'm glad to hear about the fine focusing you're doing in your poems now. For me, that's when the poem really begins to happen, when my imagination leaps up and surprises me in the consideration of the miniscule.

  112. Echoing Andromeda's wow, signing in late – an amazing conversation, not to mention a 49 Writers comment extravaganza. Reading through all – they were too good to skim – I was struck by so many intriguing thoughts and ideas. Andromeda and I came in late from a planning session for our workshop on voice, and in the serendipitous way of the world, several comments added to my thinking on voice, including Wendy's response to the question by Liz, Mike's comment about the perspective gained from reading out loud, and Annie's connections between tense and point of view. In our workshop planning, we thought mostly about prose, and the notion of persona – also applicable in prose – rather eluded us. Revision to follow. I like the comment about poetry as a means of opening up. I love to write poetry but don't aspire to publish in the genre, so it becomes something of a playground for me, where I can experiment and follow my instincts the way I'd like to in fiction. I wonder if poets find that works in reverse, journaling in prose, for instance, as a preliminary opening to a poem, or whether prose is some how inherently less liberating.

  113. Anne,

    Yes, in my work on the prose (I hesitate at this point to even call it "memoir") I have trouble breaking out of compression and music, and, unfortunately, I think that means I'm not telling the story clearly enough for a reader to follow. I also feel like Andromeda in that maybe I haven't traveled enough space and distance to write the book. Not yet, anyhow.

    Still, I think that inner voice of the Baptist Preacher can be a useful tool to have been burdened with! Sometimes I stand up from the computer and wave my arms just to help it along a bit! 🙂

  114. Hello, Andromeda,

    To be completely fair to Jo-Ann, she wasn't talking about "excelling" at the other genre; she was just saying it could be done, written, and that there are some parallel structures and motives between the two. Her own poems are testimony that a novelist can write good poetry – and I think I recall her saying that she studied poetry first, then shifted into the novel – or that she did a creative thesis in both genres simultaneously. Her poems are beautiful.

    Maybe we can convince her to do a mini-talk or lesson on those different genres and how they are more similar than they are different. Let's pick her brain and learn how she does it so well! Good idea.

  115. I am not sure if things are quieting down but, in this last hour, I'd like to mention my movie. I laugh when I say that but shouldn't. It will end up a true homage to Theodore Roethke. On the Alaska Poets in Winter web page (navigation bar) there is a link to "Where is Ted Roethke?" On Sunday, we film an actor making his way to the Blue Moon — a Roethke look-alike — to be the spirit in a sense. More on the web page. Scenes from the tavern. Earlier interviews. It's just a short — 6 to 15 minutes. But an intriguing process.

    Also, note to Derick. Maybe. We'll see how it goes with the wild leaping moments. Sometimes genius is just so much gibberish… and sometimes not.

  116. Welcome, Deb! Glad you could join in too! And how funny is that serendipity that found all of us talking about voice and considering how POV and tenses determine the direction that voice might be taking. What fine fun the universe is having at our expense tonight!

    And how delightful to hear someone state, in writing, that poetry is "something of a playground" for her. I love that "play" and have built a life (and something of a vocation) around it. Back to the sandbox for all of us!

    Derick, I got a chuckle out of the image of you standing up in front of your computer screen and waving your arms about like a tent revival preacher. That's a good one. (I would know the moment, too, had I seen it, having frequented a number of those preachers when I was growing up.)

    I also know what you mean when you say you think you may not be telling the story clearly enough for the reader to follow. I consider that a problem too. . .but using the simple syntax through a book of prose – or even in a longer chapter – begins to feel a bit like the speech of a lobotomized person! You know what I mean? – subject, predicate, direct object. Over and over again. I'm really working to let the length of the sentence and its syntax mirror something like dramatic movement does in a play. . .also psychologically-driven syntax. (By that I mean that, as the knife-wielding fiend approaches you, you don't use long, eloquent/elegant syntax; that's when you shout quickly, "Help!" or "No!" or some profanity under the duress of the moment. . .so the sentence moves more quickly to align itself with the psychology of the moment.

    Just a few small troubles I find in writing prose. I'm certain more will rear their ugly little heads in the year to come. HA!

  117. Love this blog tonight. When Anne mentioned Bruce Wiegl’s Song of Napalm, I went and read it. The poem does its work.
    This sense of altered reality and time tenses you all are exploring , I see Bruce has written about so exactly; a visceral reality. I almost called it a state of mind. And I think that is the doorway into this time bending. In Bruce and other's like him, and many whom I know and love, this is not an abstract memory experience with pangs of regret. This is knowing that it is 2010 but viscerally being in your body and mind as if 35 years ago was today.
    Then I saw Patience Mason mentioned on Bruce’s page. I know the writings of Patience. I have profound respect for her. If the subject of Bruce’s poem is personal to you or someone you know or love, Patience Mason is someone you would be heartened and helped to read.

    I love how so many writers, so varied, are woven throughout tonight’s discussion.
    Thanks for providing connections.

  118. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    My laptop is practically smoking (I'm at a cafe) and refusing to upload all these comments, so I'll ask my last question and "take the answer off the air" as phone-in callers often say (meaning I'll read more when I get home). Thanks again everyone — we broke our record for # of comments in an online discussion at 49, I believe!

    My question, fuelled by my afternoon spent with Deb discussing voice is: will the poets comment on "voice" — how they feel they developed theirs; the use of purposeful mimicry or homage/ acceptance of influence/ anxiety or rejection of influence; the personal or cultural factors behind their voices (Anne mentioned southern speech and Derick mentioned Baptist preachers), the difficulty of recognizing and teaching voice. All insights appreciated…

  119. . . .and speaking of syntactical struggles, I wrote "having frequented a more than a few of those preachers" in the last comment I wrote. Seriously, I am getting all swoony-headed with exhaustion, NOT inhabiting Baptist preachers like some kind of little demon. I mean to say I'd frequented their revivals. Sheesh. How embarrassing.

  120. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Anne's "speech of a lobotomized person" — yes, that is how it often feels for this plot-bound prose writer, at least! Are you sure you want to step on our side of the genre line? (I think we might do better stepping over to yours.)

    Keep waving those arms Derick!

    Sandra: I'm astonished you tackled this poetry-moderation event at the same time you're immersed in your short film. Inspiring.

    Jo-Ann: If you ever read this, please, yes, talk to us about poetry/fiction overlap. A wonderful topic.

    And to Anonymous: you inspired me. I'm looking up that Napalm poem asap (on a better computer than this one). Isn't the internet great?

  121. I like all the genre-leaping talk here, and the idea of asking Jo-Ann to elaborate. Maybe she'd do a guest post for us?

  122. I had my first chance to check in about 15 minutes ago, and have read through the conversation. Wow! It's just so great to hear all your voices and follow the threads of discussion. I particularly loved the threads about the role of place (and "polygamy of place") and the voices of personas. Thanks, Sandy, for your excellent choice of poets and poems and your moderating, and thanks to all for participating. I feel honored to know all of the featured poets and I love being able to focus in on portions of your work and to hear from you in this way.

  123. Voice is a tricky one, Andromeda, especially in terms of trying to teach it. Two comments that I've heard that I think are helpful: I heard Mark Doty say once that the trick of becoming a memorable writer is the art of "sounding exactly like yourself," so precisely that you cannot be mistake for another. Elizabeth Bishop labored hard over her poems to achieve this effect. And she did it! And the second from Philip Levine: He said that many writers come to MFA programs "to find their voices." That's backwards, he said. "You have a voice. You were born with it. You speak with it every day. What you're really trying to find is your subject." By this, I took it to mean that subject you absolutely had to write about — what it was that makes you "you."

  124. Wow! I am back and it took me awhile to catch up–if that's possible. Some echoes from me on themes you have run with since I left:

    1. Refresh my eye for detail. Other poets of my lineage & get out on the land!

    2. When I "I" myself to death (see Olena Kalytiak Davis for a tour d'force attack on this sentiment) I start writing Epistolary/letter poems to all those people to whom I never but still need to write. Also, I wrote and published a single short story in my life and it worked because it was in 3rd person. 3rd person gave me the distance I needed to make it work.

    3. Polygamy of Place. I found for years that my time in Arizona created the perfect lense for Alaska poems. And now I discover I have a whole book of Arizona poems that might be salvageable by using my Alaska lens.

    4. I am a poet because I experience things as images and tropes. For me it's genetic.

    5. Ernestine Hayes. She is a poet. Read her two poems in the 1st issue of Cirque.

    What else did I miss?

  125. There will be many good answers to the voice question in part because "voice" means different things… in the beginning, it seems to mean "finding your own unique voice." Later, it means other things. As with one long well accepted poem I wrote in persona. Once the idea of personae arrives, then, there are voices one might create. It's exciting. Derick's poem in Mirabelle's voice. Usually, this isn't the conversation about voice that prose writers have. For poets its another arena of play… of work.

    All of this brings us near to the end of this extravaganza. It's been a lot of fun… a bit mind blowing, with the posts from Canada, Puerto Rico, Colorado, AZ, and Alaska! With me, moderating, moderately, in Seattle, in the home of my mother. Thanks for inviting me. I am glad it turned out. I will keep the Alaska Poets in Winter page up for the duration. Thanks to the poets and all others who participated. So nice, to hear your clear voices.

  126. Thanks for eveyone's brilliance and Sandy's moderation. Great cross-pollinization of genres.

  127. Glad to read so many comments about the influence of place and voice. I find this subject fascinating because I have lived in so many places – Georgia, Oregon, California, upstate NY, NYC, Iowa, and now Alaska. I find that the poems that I write about each place are indeed infused with very different language – whether that stems from the inherent images of a place, or from the actual "voice" of the place and its people.

    So, I wonder as well, if the place influences our voice, or if particular people are drawn to a place because it embodies their "original" voice. Hmmmm…

  128. Erin, I think we are all searching for that "place" where we can speak the best in our writing. Literal Place/Geography has got to have something to do with this. It's that Gary Snyder notion about to know what you drink you need to know your watershed….

  129. Good night, Andromeda. Thanks for adding to the discussion tonight. Your comments were insightful and encouraging.

    I'll try to be coherent enough to answer your question about voice before I fall over here – or embarrass myself by writing something equally disturbing as my last goof.

    I actually do have a particular moment when my voice rushed forward. It happened in graduate school at Warren Wilson College. I was working, that semester with the poet Marie Howe and we were meeting to set up our semester study plan together. I'd brought her some poems, as she'd asked and read them to her.

    Then she asked me to look out the window of that borrowed office and then tell her – in a spoken poem – something about what I was seeing. Beyond the building, in a small meadow, was an old gray stone outbuilding. I immediately remembered something that had happened years earlier, when my former husband and I were renting a farmhouse. There was a small sheep barn – more a shelter for them from the bad weather – and one of the ewes had gone into labor but was having a hard time of the delivery. My husband was away on an errand in town so it was just me and my son in that barn with the we and I realized her situation was dire.

    My confession that afternoon was that, seeing that both the ewe AND her (breech) lamb would be lost if the labor and hemorrhaging went on much longer, I did what I knew to do: with my young son looking on, watching me intently, I broke her pelvis open with such force that her lamb sprang, bloody, into my arms. (The wording was almost exactly that.)

    Marie looked at me when I came to a stop and asked me if I liked my voice. I said, quickly, that I hated my voice. She was genuinely shocked by that answer and then said something profound. She asked me how I could hate the "instrument" of my through that which my poems arrived.

    I went back to the dorm and thought about it late into the night. When I met with her the next day, I said that I didn't hate my voice – all dipthongs and Southern tinklings – but what I hated was how, upon hearing me speak, people so often "saw" (and began to treat) me as something else: just another sweet-but-slightly-dull-witted Southern woman. The truth was that I didn't mind my voice at all – liked it even – but I didn't want to be judged in advance by the Southern disposition of it, even though it was my "mother-tongue," even though it was how all my dearest relatives and my small children spoke. Talk about self-despising!

    It was a wake-up call for me. I stopped fussing with trying to conform to tight little lines and I stopped dropping all my articles and building in the final lyric "punch" in those short little lyric poems, and I gave myself over wholly to my own speech, my distinctive "voice" and my penchant for story-telling (narrative) which had gone underground just about the time I'd started entering the wider world.

    Thank goodness for people with sense like Marie Howe. And if you don't know her work yet, you ought to check it out, especially her book, What The Living Do, and The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. That is a poet with voice!

    I hope this long-winded tale will come somewhere into the ballpark of the question you asked us to all address.

    Thanks again, Andromeda.

  130. Good night all. A pleasure to hear from you and to read again the poems of some of my favorite poets in Alaska.

    All best,

    Oh, and hello to Nancy (and hello again to Mike Nancy, maybe you will join us and give us your insights into memoir too as it relates to voice and POV and verb tenses.

    Thanks again, Sandy and 49 Writers.

  131. Huge thanks to Andromeda and Deb for hosting this wonderful discussion, and to Sandy for all her tremendous work in putting it all together, and for driving the boat. Thanks oh my fellow poets, and to all the writers who dropped by tonight. It's been a great afternoon into evening, and I have a lot to think about in the days and weeks and years to come. Signing off from the Interior — Derick

  132. Glory Hallelujah, it's been a damn fine conversation tonight. I'm learning by osmosis, I'm sure.
    Blessings to every one.

  133. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Back online just long enough to say that Anne's story of the spoken poem and the bloody lamb moved me immensely. That's the best personal story about discovering and accepting voice that I've ever read.

    Thanks also for Derick's comment about voice and MFA programs, and Mike's watershed quote — all illuminating!

    It was Sandy's idea to invite the poets themselves, and to Sandy I say, once again, you have demonstrated a great use of this blog and I hope we do something like this again (with multiple guest writers responding — perhaps a cross-genre assortment?) in 2010.

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