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Artist Statements

My students often ask me about the difference between writing songs and writing poems.  They’re insistent -- so insistent – that they’re the same art form, and I always have to work to get them to stop thinking that way.  They’re related art forms, surely, perhaps closer to each other than poetry to the novel or short story, but they’re not the same, just as working with paint and working with colored markers aren’t the same to visual artists. Sure, we use the term “lyrics” for both the...

Morrissey blog pic

My review of William H. Gass’s novel Middle C for NAR was a warm-up for a longer...

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I had been stuck down at the waterfront for days.  The weather turned cloudy early, and a thick fog rolled in from god-knows-where, prowling the lower half of the city, sitting in the trash-littered alley ways on thick...

I wrote the first draft of “The Baker’s Apprentice” when I was nineteen. I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever written, which was true, since I hadn’t written much that was any good at all. I’d been reading a lot of J.M. Coetzee and, in the first draft of “Apprentice,” aped his elegant, restrained style, shaped sentences that were beautiful in a way that resembled the beauty of the author I most admired. A half-conscious method. The task of revision, more than seven years of it,...

Cutting edge Nice clean lines displayed on this ditch in the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve.Sylvia Plath’s poem “Edge” is and should be notorious for its aesthetic theory: the poem states categorically that artistic perfection kills its...

“Washing Palms” came to me the way most poems do, from things I hear people say and from memory. In this case, the words I remembered were my father’s. Like many of my family members, my father’s language is so direct and harsh, not poetic, yet still at the same time, these caustic characteristics actually make his language very poetic. The vulgarity of measuring distance in dick lengths and the back-handed slap of “Wish in one hand, then shit in the other,...

Philip martin - newspaper man

I am mostly—most conventionally—a newspaper columnist and film critic. I have done this sort of...

After explaining there should be just enough tension between our thumbs to hold a piece of paper, the monk paused to ask if we would like to repeat any steps before we practiced zazen posture. Nervous student that I am, I wanted to review everything. What if I stepped into the zendo with my right foot? Worse yet, what if while sitting zazen I had to sneeze or an itch surfaced? I’d traveled to Tassajara, a Zen Buddhist Center, to say a personal goodbye to our California life before we moved...

The most alluring Show & Tell blends the gesture of metaphor and the explicitness of saying it outright.

Many poems, in my view, do the same.

To read a poem is to engage beguiling Show & Tell. One comes to appreciate what the poet cares enough to write about – and learns the voice of her wondering, worrying, singing, or dissembling about those matters. One is enthralled or one is bored. One brews another cup of coffee or one picks up the TV clicker and poof...

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