Editor’s Lament

I gathered my thoughts in lieu
of other sustenance. They were
like craneflies to a phoebe:
mostly legs & wings.
I kept pausing to clear my throat.
I had no company but the stick
the stock the stack of unlovely poems.
And I who had been
such an awkward ugly kid,
I who knew nothing about the fine
points of grammar or literary theory,
marked them up with
a cheap ballpoint pen
and emailed rejection notes
to each of their hopeful authors:
Didn’t make it we’re sorry
best of luck in placing them

I chewed as carefully as I could,
but one or two nevertheless
did not go gently. Ten hours later
there’s still a feeble fluttering
in the pit of my stomach.

Reading the Field Guide

1. Rusty Blackbird
Euphagus carolinus

Rusty only in the fall;
usually suggests a short-tailed Grackle.
Male, spring: A robin-sized blackbird
with a pale yellow eye.
Note, a loud chack.
“Song,” a split creak like a rusty hinge.
River groves, wooded swamps, muskeg.

2. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Muscivora forvicata

A beautiful bird; pale pearly gray,
with an extremely long scissor-like tail,
usually folded.
Sides and wing linings salmon-pink.
The young bird with a short tail
may suggest Western Kingbird.
Voice: A harsh keck or kew;
a repeated ka-leep;
also shrill kingbirdlike
bickerings and stutterings.
Habitat: Semi-open country,
ranches, farms,

3. Sanderling
Calidris alba

A plump active sandpiper of the outer beaches,
where it chases the retreating waves
like a clockwork toy.
Summer plumage: Bright rusty
about the head, back, and breast.
Winter plumage: The palest sandpiper;
snowy white below, pale gray above
with black shoulders.

4. Black Skimmer
Rhynchops niger

Black above and white below; more slender than a gull,
with extremely long wings.
The bright red bill (tipped with black) is long
and flat vertically; the lower mandible juts
a third beyond the upper.
This coastal species skims low,
dipping its knifelike mandible in the water.
Voice: Soft, short, barking noises.
Also kaup, kaup.

5. Whip-poor-will
Caprimulgus vociferus

A voice in the night woods.
When flushed by day, the bird flits away
on rounded wings like a large brown moth.
Male shows large white tail patches;
in female these are buffish.
Voice: At night, a rolling,
tiresomely repeated whip’ poor-weel’,
or purple-rib, etc.;
accent on first and last syllables.

6. Black Rail
Laterallus jamaicensis

A tiny blackish rail with a small black bill;
about the size of a bobtailed young sparrow.
Nape deep chestnut.
Very difficult to glimpse, but may be flushed
by dragging a rope over the marsh.


Found poetry from Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 4th edition. Some text and italics have been omitted, but nothing has been added.

Field guides are reference books, written to be skimmed. Since the books must be portable, the prose is economical in the extreme. But forced concision can lead to inadvertent poetry, as I think these examples show. (This is another post that began on the Found Poetry forum at Read Write Poem.)


On a moonless night in August, under the gourd-rattle din of katydids, the forest floor is dotted with blue-green lights, dim as glow-in-the-dark toys an hour after lights-out: foxfire. I grope toward one at my feet, trace the shape of the log, then break off a glowing nubbin. It’s soft & flexible, & illuminates only the thinnest circle of the hand in which it rests. I slip it into a pants pocket, thinking I’ll show the others, but when I get back, somehow I can’t bring myself to mention it. It doesn’t seem right to parade such a recondite thing as if it were a trophy. A day later, it sits hard and shriveled like a dead ear atop my computer monitor.

I dream I’m sick
& wake to find myself well.
The tree full of birds.


From the first fist into
the risen mass, the dough
is a-hiss. To live is
to master a liturgy
of winds — even yeast
knows this. Gas
whispers out through
a thousand pinholes as
I fold & press, fold
& press that limit-
less quilt.


Written for the RWP vowel prompt. Other responses may be found here.

Where I’ve been

If you’ve been wondering about my relative absence the past few days, I’ve working on a longish article on blog design for my new monthly column “O Tech!” at Read Write Poem: How to Reach the Masses. It’s geared toward poetry bloggers, but should contain some useful tips for anyone with a blog or website. As I say at the end of the piece, I’m still very much a learner when it comes to the web. But I do enjoy it, and I like sharing what little knowledge I’ve acquired over the years.

I’ve also been a little preoccupied with Via Negativa’s little-sister blog The Morning Porch, which I’ve moved off Tumblr and onto a WordPress installation with the aid of a handy export tool I found online. I may or may not stick with the current design; most of my attention so far has been on getting a couple of plugins to work with untitled posts. Fun!

Crow Hunting

Crows by nimrodcooper
Photo by nimrodcooper (click through to read the fascinating, eerie story behind the picture)

Found poem consisting of excerpts from an article in the Pennsylvania
Game News, June 2009, by James J. Corsetti Jr.

Hunting crows is somewhat of a relic from the past.
Old-times would cruise around the backroads
With a rifle behind the seat
And take out any crows they came across.
Folks would use the .22 Hornet, .220 Swift, .22-250,
And many others to take crows at 100 to 300 yards
Taking a target smaller than your fist.

I don’t know of anyone these days who uses
A rifle for crows.
Crow hunting here is a shotgun game.
Crows can be quite fast
And can spin on a dime in the air
And put themselves out of range in a hurry.
Use either a modified or full choke.

These birds rarely come in real close like doves or ducks,
So you need to reach out and touch them.
One time they kept flying back and forth
Over my stand despite being shot at,
They kept coming back.
I use dead crows as decoys, which works well.
I place the dead crows in trees or in the open.

I have done well with my mouth crow calls,
And no calls sound the same.
I can react to their calling
And be as aggressive as possible
Or a little coy.
It is one of the few animals
You can hunt on Sundays.

No one I know has ever eaten them.
I have used their feathers for fly tying,
I have used them for my trapline.
I breast them out like I do my doves
And use them for bait.
This winter, when you’re sitting next to the fireplace,
Bored out of your mind, think of crows.

Assembled for the Found Poetry group forum at Read Write Poem. I believe this creative re-purposing qualifies as Fair Use under U.S. copyright law. The photo is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

One Number

What do the numbers 4 or 7
feel like to a bird
with four or seven notes
in its invariable song?

being able to count
without knowing anything
of those empty placeholders
the numbers.

Imagine going
only by your pulse
& a feeling of completion
when the 4 or the 7
have been sung.

Imagine being able
to know
one number

with the body,
never with the mind.

A door opening
only to the right key.

The right forest
complete with mate
& nest & young
waiting beyond.

Bizarre Pizarnik flick and other poetic diversions

From time to time, I motivate myself to do a translation of a Spanish-language video poem for Moving Poems. This morning’s effort was for an adaptation of a couple of pieces by Alejandra Pizarnik done in the style of a classic black-and-white horror film. Check it out.


My Identi.ca collaborator Patricia F. Anderson and I continue to work at our chain poem derived from news stories. I think it’s near completion.


The new Read Write Poem social network is really taking off, with 267 members, 6000-10,000 page views a day, and lively conversations proliferating in the groups and forums. I administer groups for Micropoetry, Video Poetry, and Politics and poetry, which is probably about all I can handle right now. Fortunately, lots of other people have been stepping forward, and the site now has 44 groups to choose from — everything from American Expatriates to New Formalism to LOLcat Poetry.

I’ve been a little surprised to find myself so active there; up until now, I’ve actively avoided involvement in discussions about writing and literature, which so easily become contentious. But so far, at least, the dominant tone at Read Write Poem has been enthusiasm rather than snark. And in another test of the expanded site’s success, the responses to the first weekly poetry prompt since the changeover have included a number of pretty impressive poems. I may never become a regular writer to prompts myself, but it’s great to see so many talented writers coming together across boundaries of distance, background, level of expertise, and stylistic approach. If you were thinking of applying for an MFA program somewhere, I’d advise you to save your money and join Read Write Poem instead.


Luna moth on a black walnut tree

Hours old,
the luna moth’s wings still look
as if they don’t fit.


Full moon.
The starving kitten
cries for milk.


At school,
the squire’s moon-faced daughter
was one of many Emilys.


Forty years on,
I remember that new-book smell:
You Will Go To The Moon.


Entering a patch of moonlight
in the forest,
my sudden boots.



To hold the attention of a Sunday school class, my brother said, he once had to eat a piece of chalk. He never said what the lesson was about, just that the chalk was tasteless and thoroughly indigestible.


Watching a video of Borges giving a talk, I’m struck by the way he keeps smiling at something three feet above the heads of his audience. And how, seeing his smiles come and go, they smile too, pleased by their proximity to such a famous solitude which they are sure must be filled with light.


I’ve kept all the glass ashtrays from when I used to smoke, lovely as the stained glass of a church in which I can no longer kneel.