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Latest Blog Posts

Latest Blog Posts

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...
I consider myself an activist as well as a poet, and have long debated whether the twain need meet. I believe in poetry’s power to move people and that we are all products of our time, so even a small detail in a poem might hint at a problem of the day. For example, say lovers are strolling along a riverbank at night, and some of the...
My poem “The Cheshire Cat Effect” reflects my interest in the intersection of quantum mathematics and poetry. This is an interdisciplinary field that’s really got me excited these days because I feel like there’s a lot of productive thinking to be done about the relationship of the arts and the sciences. And also our culture, whether it’s...
American Eye: What Makes Bernie Run? by Stephen Minot was featured in issue 274.4. In the December 1989 issue of North American Review, Stephen Minot began his profile of Bernie Sanders with the following: “The political career of Bernard Sanders is a succession of impossible events. How does an outspoken socialist from Brooklyn become mayor...
Shoe
A few years ago, a writer named Matthew Batt (check out his great book Sugarhouse) visited my school in Florida to read. As part of the gig, he talked to my creative nonfiction class and opened with the question: What pair of shoes do you remember best?  Students I had been trying to coax out of their shells all semester long finally emerged...
Childhood dream
MOST ACCIDENTS OCCUR AT HOME   Nobody tells you this: Every day is a creation story.   You’ll make a dome of light over waste and welter some of the time, then wake one night   on your side of the bed and remember: There weren’t many happy endings.   First the ripe fruit. Then the way he turned from her, said it was her idea.  ...
Illustration by Matt Manley
Ideas for a project beyond survival A friend says my picture looks like I am throwing a dazzling parade of ideas. I don’t have any ideas for a project beyond survival. This is from a project I am calling Survival. What am I currently working on? I am currently working on not getting sick/fired/overdrafted/divorced. I am currently working on...
I do not mean to come off as overly idealistic. I can't feed, clothe, and provide compasses to all of the lost, broke, talented, and up-and-coming writers out there anymore than I can sustain myself. What I can do, however, is talk about submitting to literary journals from an empathetic standpoint, if only because for the last nine months I...
Chinese Wedding
“Chinese Bride, 1999” was inspired by a story Xiaolong (“Little Dragon”), one of my Chinese students, told me about his sister during the fall semester of 1998 when I taught English at Nanjing University, Nanjing, China.  Many in my class of about twenty-five students already had American names and Xiaolong’s was Kevin.  He loved to sign...
Radar When the bats tore from our attic through the dilute dusk, we on the lawn watched them satisfy their summons, the adults explaining natural radar, a human deafness we would grow to accept. They rode like the sheets on our pulleyed laundry line, parallel to the meadow, lofted by a ditch of wind or my expectation they drop down to us....
When I first began my thumbnail sketches for the cover illustration, it was snowing. Outside my studio window, the Connecticut landscape was getting a small covering of our usual winter guest. Snow transforms: it hides all the cracks and divots, and just for a moment you might think the world is smooth and reflective. Cold marble to the touch...
When I received the invitation to post on the blog (my first), I’m ashamed to say that my initial reaction was one of horror. I quickly came to see that that reaction had something to do with why I write poetry. For me, poems are like little postcards thrust anonymously through the mail slots of people’s hearts. A little like valentines from...
Making "Territory"
There’s an entry in my diary from August 2014. I remember writing it. I was propped up on the bed of an old caravan I’d rented and which sat smack bang in the middle of a wildlife park in the Northern Territory, Australia, where I was researching for a novel about animals. The wildlife park housed thousands of captive native animals—...
Plane
Some poems percolate for decades, waiting to be born. My friend and baritone sax player Rick Countryman tells a story about working in a band that played behind an Elvis impersonator. When I heard this story, Rick and I were sharing a tumbledown house in Seattle that had no heat. In the winter, I’d open the stove and stand in front of it for...

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