Among contemporary poets, I appreciate those who are willing to be vulnerable with the spiritual power of their poetry, who are clearly writing in the service of a larger goal.       Annie Finch

Phone cord, zip-line, hairlines, nylon, flip-flops fly off, mannequins, your tits — and these are from poems in two well-respected poetry journals. My eyes glaze over after the first sips of cleverness. When there is substance, I need to say the words out loud to get the music, rather than the smart style: “pork-pie hat,” “scatter-shot,” “fleshy wrecking ball.” I can’t live inside this writing — even for a short time. Not one of the poems that used these words give me that moment of an exhaled “…oh!” like this does:

 The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers…
                                    (Saint Francis and the Sow, Galway Kinnell)

Although this was written over 30 years ago, before the speed and short attention span of the Age of the Internet, it is timeless and open to the reader’s reflection. With his recent death, we have lost a poet who will be well-remembered. <>

 From another poet writing today:

 …You built a tower to god out of bricks and mud      
when you should have built it with breath
Wings will not carry you skyward
Your own body is the only mosque you need
The tongue in your mouth the only rock
From which you could launch yourself into heaven
                                    (Promisekeeper, Kazim Ali)

Kazim is a widely published contemporary American poet and associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College. I appreciate his beautiful, musical writing. <>

…May language’s language, the silence that lies
under each word, move you over and over,
turning you, wondering, back to surprise.
                        (Blessing on the Poets, Annie Finch)

 Annie has had a strong influence on my work lately. I have been in dialog with her as  I dig deeper into form in poetry. As I write poems that call up the life-rhythms of 7th century Arabia, I am pulled toward metrics. Drumming reinforces rhythmic language. Poets like Annie Finch, A.E. Stallings, and Marilyn Hacker are my green oasis in formal writing, as they have made metrical poetry not only “new,” and brilliantly hidden in its craft, but as bright and alive as sunrise in desert sand dunes.

 More from Annie: When I experience good free verse I feel as if I am a spirit larger than the poem, contemplating it; when I experience good formal verse, I feel that I am a body smaller than the poem, inhabiting it. It’s more of a rhapsodic, physical experience. I am really enjoying reveling in the complex and variegated landscape of the physical aspects of poetry these days. And in general, more and more, I consider poetic form as a powerful spiritual tool; to write in a truly difficult form provides a priceless education in humility, patience, flexibility, self-discipline, faith, and non-attachment! 1

T&M4 This from an interview with Marilyn: I like the tension that comes from the diction of ordinary speech playing against a form. When there is an internal or external form to be worked with and worked against, unexpected and illuminating things can happen in the piece of writing.2

Sometimes I feel isolated as I practice accented and unaccented syllabics, like piano scales, focused that fluency will appear. But then last spring I won honorable mention in a literary competition in the sonnet category. A journal or two is taking my formal poems. This one was in the Women and Food issue of Adana. [It is re-edited here.] The pattern is in eleven beats: Long short, long short short, long short, long short, long short = /u /uu /u /u /u (Hendecasyllabics). No substitutions.

Fibs of vision, no food— no water. Children
cried, while little ones nursed, not even drinking.
Blurred it, blotted it out— reflection, logic.
Nothing worked, due to raw-edged hunger, famine…
…Daylight rubbed all those onion eyes for water.
Twilight pushed on a shovel, served the resting place.
            (Planned Famine, Mecca around the year 617 )

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Annie and Kazim at Moe's Bookstore

Annie and Kazim at Moe’s Bookstore

For more on Formal Poetry see A Poet’s Ear: A Handbook of Meter and Form, Annie Finch U. of Michigan, 2013.

  1.  southeastreview.org/interview-annie-finch/ (also the first quote)
  2.  Interview Marilyn Hacker— Interview with Karla Hammond Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 5, #3, Autumn 1980.