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Latest Blogs

Illustration by Matt Manley
Happiness is a changing thing. One of the first statements on happiness I remember as a child came from watching reruns of the TV show Taxi. At one point, the Danny DeVito character, a cantankerous individual, surprises a love interest with the line: "Happiness is hard to come by in this life, and you have given me more than my share." Eight-...
What does one say when a poet dies? Do we mourn the loss of their brilliant mind? Do we say they live on in their work? Over the summer, the North American Review lost one of its most prolific contributors: Philip Dacey. He died on July 7th at the age of 77 after a fight with leukemia. Philip Dacey wrote thirteen books of poetry with a...
Odd coinage, “blog.” Because of the consonants, maybe, connotatively echoing blah, blob, bog, fog—all blah and meh and open, lax slack sound, texturally yielding and passive, amorphously maybe moist (a word frequently topping lists of most-disliked words), slogging through a bog.  Then there’s trog as in -lodyte. Old media “cavemen” were...
Another Writing Lesson
Early in the second summer I worked at Mt. Hope, we buried a woman on a Saturday.  Monday morning first thing, a taxicab entered the main gate and proceeded to West Memorial, an older section fringed in sycamore and pines.  A short, heavyset man in flip-flops, shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt paid the driver and found a bench close to Saturday’s...
Illustration by Kali Gregan
When the staff of the North American Review sent an email asking me to compose a contributor’s blog post, I thought: What could I possibly say about a poem from eight years ago? I wrote “The Shelf Life of Robot Food” when I was working as a barista in what was then one of a handful of coffee shops in Birmingham, Alabama. After work, my...
Illustration by Jessica Mercado
                       The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?                                                                  Answer.                        That you are here—that life exists, and identity;                       That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse...
VIOLIN I am like the violin no one plays. In the attic the wood grain’s varnish and veneer lie with the other mistakes: the batik banner, the beetle-eaten head of the mounted deer, the stained cashmere sweater, and the odd love letter not set on fire. Once you cradled the hourglass figure, tucked-in your chin and fingered the strings and...
Gas Station Pulp
  Grant Tracey was interviewed by Ted Morrissey, editor of Twelve Winters Press. This blog was originally posted in 12 Winters Blog on August 18, 2016. When I started Twelve Winters Press in 2012, I modeled it, spiritually at least, after Hogarth Press, the legendary press operated by Leonard and Virginia Woolf (founded in 1917). Hogarth...
    A red car points west. Darkness, plush pine trees and a lemon slice of moon backlight it. A gas pump nudges the car’s rear bumper. But it isn’t just any car. This car resembles a 1949 Mercury right out of the animated imaginations of the Fleischer brothers, the same kind of car (albeit a convertible) Batman drove in the second serial...
I started writing poems the first time I read contemporary poetry, in seventh grade. That is when I remember thrilling to Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. Not Shakespeare or Tennyson or Poe with their antique diction and fair ladies—rather, a woman who spoke to me and who made me want to talk back. The germ of my new book, Windows and Doors: A Poet...
SPIRIT MOUND   Begin with the naming of things. “Prairie,” from French via the Vulgar Latin prataria and further back to the Latin pratum, meaning “meadow.” And the mound itself, called by geologists a roche mountonếe— a bedrock knob shaped but not leveled by the last Pleistocene glacier.   But long before these names, known to the Omaha, Oto...
On April 1, 2009—while driving to teach—I heard an NPR story about thousands of children stolen, just after birth, during Franco’s dictatorship. This was no April Fool’s joke. I listened to this broadcast and others that emerged over time. It was incredibly systematic: Parents were told their infant had died, the newborn was then sold to a...
One question I ask other writers is what sounds stimulate their writing––silence, electronica, mud pools, rain showers, foreign film soundtracks, a woman in the next room boiling water. This is because I have a particular kind of synesthesia, known as chromesthesia, in which many pieces of music I hear are twinned with distinct visual...
WAKE: WORLD, ARRIVED Reality, divided into light and matter. A moment travels from the universe’s birth. A massless noun converts into light, then reverses. This, the moment when the universe begins to shine. Mother’s voice whispering by the crib, brushing with my first series of particulars. A probability turns true, tips and flashes slicing...
Si le feu était à la maison, que sauveriez vous? --Je sauverais le feu. – Jean Cocteau Somehow the conversation comes around to fire. Our coresident Kevin McIlvoy, a novelist and editor, has posted this quote on his website. ‘If your house was burning and you could only save one thing, what would it be?’ ‘I would save the fire.’ -Jean...
I used to think that my task as a writer was to form a piece. To shape it. To give it any meaning and chance for beauty it might have by allowing paragraphs and a story arc to determine its direction. But I was wrong.  It was exactly the opposite. A piece of writing, in fact, often forms us. Our work shapes us, not the other way around. We...
Long ago, I became a collector of words and visual images, especially black-and-white photographs.  I keep my journal with me at all times to record beautiful imagery, arresting details, and anything that makes me question life in a way that demands a story. Below are selected steps from a prewriting journal exercise I designed to begin an...
The poem “Outside Yet Another Window” was written at the beginning of 1984 when I worked for the BBC Monitoring Service in Reading as a Russian monitor listening in to Soviet radio broadcasts. I’d left the Soviet Union in 1971 at the age of twenty one; my monitoring work brought back many memories, images and words from my childhood and youth...
I get most of my ideas when traveling, in a car, on foot, on a plane, no matter. On the interstate one day, I was passed by a Doritos 18-wheeler. I liked the graphics. Then a truck pulling a trailer piled high with milk crates. Soon after at a rest stop I noticed a young man playing guitar at a picnic table in the shade. These images struck...
Refugee
A pun, nearly everyone agrees, is a play on words.  Apart from the fact that the phrase “a play on words” is a good working definition of the art of poetry, this definition conceals more than reveals the functions and achievements of the pun.  In fact, defining a pun that way is like defining a dictionary as an alphabetized and annotated word...
I wrote my first book manuscript, Return of the Lost Son, in nine years over a fifteen-year period. It’s a memoir of my father’s life told through an ensemble of characters. I began writing the book in Mexico City in 2000. I was 28 years old, living in Mexico for a stay of six months, with my wife, Jennifer Jolly, an art historian. We had...
Today, e. e. cummings told me to “let go of your anxieties and take more risks in your creativity and artistic expression.” Of course, e. e. cummings didn’t walk into my writing studio to tell me this, but I had drawn my morning tarot card from The Poet Tarot: A Deck of Creative Exploration. I have always loved to roam through cemeteries,...
I remember when Allen Ginsberg sold his old letters and notes and drafts to a library archive for a million dollars, or something like that. A lot of people complained that he had “sold out.” Many of my older literary pals sold their materials for big bucks as well: Norman Mailer, James Michener, Joseph Campbell, and John Updike. I assume...
Coincidentally, this invitation to submit to NAR’s blog comes shortly after I shared “Class Trip” (the poem they generously published back in 2011) at a local reading, so I was already thinking about the poem, and the mindset I was in when I wrote it—even though I have significantly more white hair now than I did back then. Poetry sometimes...
I often tell my poetry students that all poems are elegies, in the sense that even the most celebratory ode or heartfelt epithalamium has within its lines traces of that darker brush. We cling tighter to any moment of joy or celebration because we know it’s fleeting. The loved one is made all the more precious by the knowledge that he or she...

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