Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Whose Cries Are Not Music," A Review and Interview with Linda Benninghoff

“Whose Cries Are Not Music”
by Linda Benninghoff
, Trade Paper, 6X9 . Lummox Press (PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733-5301)
pages; ISBN: 978-1-929878-95-6 Publishing Date: Feb. 2011 TO ORDER: SEE VERY END OF THIS ARTICLE

In Linda Benninghgoff’s first major collection, “Whose Cries Are Not Music,” we find a collection of poems cohesively assembled from experience, spanning time and mortality as if a wide bridge of song. I found myself reading each section and not wanting to stop, to be led into her rooms of picturesque silence, cries of warning and fear, and finally, to be unhinged by poetry that relates on many levels.

If I had to typify these poems, I’d say they try to elevate the mystery of our finitude through shared events in both nature and human experience, a kind of confrontation that only poetry does best, and well-aided by her unadorned speech which carries enough heat to power through this tough territory. There is little doubt Benninghoff’s poems aim to bring the abstract into focus, as though a human eye were trying to understand what only a bird can see.

In the book’s opening section there are poems about her mother, going for chemo, deer, rest vs. unrest, rain , sickness, the sea, and so on. And throughout these early poems, we find a palpable sorrow that comes from the speaker’s awareness of mortality. This is culminated in the poem ‘Do The Dead?” which is really a cleverly-constructed series of open-ended questions. “Do the dead stop and rest, or do they continue?” the speaker asks, as figuratively posed as it is honest and blunt. And I find this to be a general theme in the book, one that seems to progress throughout the book: from sorrow and pain through acceptance, and then finally hope. This is typified in the spare poem, “Rain” which begins:

Count rain on my fingers?
It is too fine,
like each column of pain-

and ends with a superb image of a swan on a lake, coming up after a dunk, ‘her neck arched/orange bill shining,’ as if to say, how effortless and beautiful is this overcoming.

Benninghoff draws on a rich, yet otherwise ‘ordinary’ vocabulary in her descriptions (read this as compliment!). She doesn’t overwrite, and she doesn’t over-describe. Yet she places the reader in the midst of a scene and then allows the logistics and parameters of the images to speak further into her developing themes of sorrow and isolation. There is considerable coverage in this collection given to past episodes, impressions and life-stories which are no doubt told in autobiographical form. Nowhere is this more evident than in the poems devoted to her father, and one entitled “Evening With My Father" especially impressed me with its dichotomy presented: the quest for love and belonging, alongside the stark reality of separation. The poem begins:

Last Tuesday I played tennis with him.
We slapped balls easily.
His voice sounded friendly,
As if we had done more
than face each other
strangers across newspapers...

Here is a familiar theme which Benninghoff develops not as an argument for advancing communication or sensitivity-training, but as a catalyst for yearning and remembrance. Thus, the ambiguity of the situation is supplanted by the stark images contrasting through time, and the poem succeeds in providing an underpinning for love and regard in the midst of bewilderment, typified in this taught stanza:

We were not quite friends that night,
but I thought of the blue room,
where I was six or seven
and my father told me stories
of salmon caught in California rivers
and bear fur left on trees...

For Benninghoff, loss is seen as something not to be ignored. Not stoicism, but an opportunity to observe and remember. To take in what has transpired for what it is, and to take on the difficult task of sorting out the collateral damage.

But alongside grappling with conflict comes insight and understanding, a finer focus which these poems seem to provide. In the title-poem, “Whose Cries Are Not Music,” we find the speaker giving ear to the sounds of geese,

the cry of wild birds
who can make only one sound
and put into that sound
wing-beat, empty marshes
clouds and their quest
for home.

But the poem develops and slightly turns, as the speaker remarks on these evocative sounds which remind her of a child who has no words, just an inconsolable cry, ‘as if everything must begin in pain.” And the poem then becomes confessional in an unpretentious way, and we are led into a solemn recognition of the value of pain, insofar as it can enlighten:

I can spend my whole life
healing it,
but find in the end
that love itself contains pain
though I do not give up feeling it…

The poems in this collection, though varied and presenting a wide spectrum of impressions and images, nevertheless point the reader toward a common theme. Thus Benninghoff, in a book which contains some poems written many years ago and herewith reworked, makes her case for the solemnity of life, the value in living well and the beauty, if not triumph, of dying well.

From “In Dying” referring to the ‘piebald hills’ where only birds sing praise, we find this made plain:

“Don’t I always turn back
To you when I am ill
Or alone,
Like a dancer remembering
The dance?
The Husk comes away from the seeed.
Don’t we in dying
Reveal who we are.

Linda Benninghoff’’s “Whose Cries Are Not Music” is not only a collection of poems that will offer comfort to the bereaved and a connection to anyone who has suffered through a great loss, but perhaps also raise up the spirit of the most inured amongst us to look beyond darkness into flickering light.


1. What do you like to do when you’re not writing poems? What interests you? What delights you?

I live in back of a state park and I like walking through there, noticing the wildlife, the chipmunks, rabbits, deer and birds. I like to feed the birds in winter, and learned the names for the different birds that came to the feeder: the junco, the tufted titmouse, the chickadee, the cardinal, the jay. We also have hummingbirds. I love rabbits, and when they start coming to my yard in spring, I feel in the presence of something wonderful, something spiritual.

I walk, I swim. I used to go windsurfing before I had a hernia operation and I used to go sailing. Being part of the ocean is important for me. Currently I live near the Long Island Sound. When I lived in Baltimore I sought out the Chesapeake to go swimming in. I delight in nature. I like to do nature photography, though I haven’t gotten that many great photos. I have photos of deer and photos of a chipmunk—but the chipmunk is too small to see.

2. When did you start writing poetry? When did you feel it was something you wanted to do seriously, and what went into that equation?

I started writing poetry at about age 17 or 18 when I was introduced to free verse. At this time I took a course with Jean Valentine, who introduced me to Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, and poets in the anthology The Voice That Is Great Within Us. I had written rhyme before but now began writing free verse prolifically. I didn’t try to get published. I was really interested in writing fiction. I spent many years writing novels and short stories. I didn’t feel they were good enough to publish. I didn’t get good feedback on the fiction from teachers and professors and friends, as I did on the poetry. I began publishing some poetry and fiction in a small magazine in Philadelphia when I was close to 40 years old. Then I began attending the Long Island Poetry Collective and sending my poems out.

The feedback I was getting on my poetry turned me around—it was so much better than what I got on my fiction. I sent to The Missouri Review and the online editor there told me they were talking of nothing but my poetry. I didn’t have a problem publishing poetry, not like with the fiction. It was then, with the encouragement of some friends, that I went into poetry seriously, although I’d been writing it most of my life.

3. What kind of poetry do you read? Which poets set you on fire?

My favorite poet is Theodore Roethke, a teacher introduced me to him when I was 14. At that age I was too young to appreciate him, but when I grew older I appreciated the language, the imagination and feeling. My favorite poem was “The Lost Son.” I also, for a period, read Emily Dickinson regularly every night. I review contemporary poets and have come across some I really love: Penelope Schott, whose skill with language is amazing. I also love Julie L. Moore, for her appreciation of nature and her insight into the human spirit. I also like Karynna McGlynn—I think I spelled her name properly. Her language is something I strive to reach but can’t.

4. How do you write a poem?

I write my poetry mostly haphazardly. I will sit down and begin to write without knowing what I am going to write about. A word or a phrase comes into my mind. Often the words are about the reverence I have for nature. Sometimes they are about my close friend Mary. I don’t know really know where I’m going with the poems, but, almost magically, they come out well. Sometimes my family and the people closest to me don’t understand them, but sometimes they do. The hardest ones get published, despite my family’s criticisms. I want to emphasize that this not a deliberate, planned, conscious method of creation. It is totally unconscious.

5. What do you want your poetry to accomplish?

I didn't plan to accomplish anything with my book; I was just
writing poetry to express my feelings. Maybe I wanted to immortalize
some moments, some places in nature and some people. I think I wanted to provide some understanding of what it is to feel lonely or to suffer a loss. Poets have done this before. Thomas Hardy did it, in a great way. Yet every poet is different. Hardy is melancholy. I am not--nor self-pitying. In the last section of the book I look at death as a sort of crossing over. This is the "dream" we are living, and death is the "dream" to come.

6. Tell us a little about the effort that went into this book? How long did it take to put the manuscript together? What were areas of difficulty for you in the process? Areas of fulfillment?

My initial manuscript was not clear and got rejected. A poet I knew read the manuscript and pointed out the sections of the manuscript that were not clear and suggested adding poems and changing section headings. Now it is so clear that even a person who does not read a lot of poetry can understand it. I think making it clear so even the average reader could understand it was the most fulfilling part of the venture for me.

7. This is a collection of poems full of feeling, and many of the poems riff off of elements of the senses and derivative impulses from nature, perceptions of cold, the sea, the snow, birds, and of course, death. Tell us a little about what you’re trying to do here, how allusion to the physical points toward and elicits feelings of pain, loss, loneliness, suffering.

I have always felt my thoughts echoed in nature, when I am walking or sitting by a window looking at the trees and the yard. I think this is a notion common to Romantic poetry—the idea that nature reflects our feelings—but I, a modern poet, have carried it on. The poem “Canada Geese” has been characterized by some of my friends as a poem about depression. Other of my poems about the physical world offer hope: “Whose Cries Are Not Music” offers hope. Many of my early poems were very hopeful, but as I grew older the poems began to voice loss. The physical world is still there accompanying, beside me. Rabbits seem to be emissaries from a better world, bearing good tidings. The deer bring beauty, but as I grow older and begin to write about them, it is endangered beauty.

8. The book opens with a magnificent poem entitled, “Snowy Winter,” where the speaker talks with an unidentified person wherein a confidence and trust has obviously been sewn. The poem deals with the longing for underpinnings, rest, and I suppose, a way to identify with one’s own struggles as well as enter in to the difficulties of those we love. In the poem we find the following lovely closing stanza:

The creamy snow extends even to the water,
Where there are wrinkles and marks
-frozen over
from Lloyd to Cold Spring Harbor.
The curving gulls
keep saying the words you spoke,
yet there is no food for them here.
They rest in the empty air
hungry like me,
as I search
for the prints of winter birds.

What interests me in this poem is the playing out of personal pathos in the context of a dialog, or at least, the poem deliberately wants to include the un-named party as a participant or witness in the speaker’s travail. Please tell us what you mean by, ‘The curving gulls keep saying the words you spoke, yet there is no food for them here.” Do the ‘words’ refer back to an early statement in the poem about ‘worrying about the future,’ and how much of the poem and the book turns on this notion of trying to sort out and prepare for what is to come?

Yes, the words about my friend taking care of me, both in a physical and emotional sense, that gave me such a sense of security so that I didn’t have to worry about the future, are spoken by the curving gulls when I am separated from her. I keep trying to return to that moment of trust, but life has carried us away from each other. It is portrayed in the poem as neither of our fault, just something that happened. The gulls are hungry for food, I am hungry for the closeness I had with that person, my friend. This is a poem about loss and also loneliness. I think I made the speaker’s loneliness palpable with the snow that extends even to the water—the coldness of nature in this case, which reflects the speaker’s own inner emptiness. And the gulls rest in “empty air.”

9. Are you working on another collection of poems? Do you have a theme for your next manuscript?

I started working on a chapbook with poems that I did from Molly Fisk’s poem a day class. A lot of these are poems about the seasons, winter going into spring, and spring actually happening. People have told me the new poems are lighter, and I think they end with more hope than Whose Cries Are Not Music. That is one of the reasons that I want to put them out, because they provide some hope that answers some of the questions raised by the longer book. They do not go into as much depth, however, and are mainly nature poems.

10. If you could give any advice to young, aspiring poets, what would it be?

Write for yourself and read. A lot of my friends who want to write don’t read, and that is the most important thing. If you don’t like the poetry you are reading, find poems that help you find yourself. If you write to express your feelings: that’s okay, that’s like me; if you write to paint a situation, an injustice, or a history, that’s okay too. Write as often as you can and don’t lose the habit. Write a lot before you try to publish.


Just click on this direct link to her order page at Lummox Press:


Monday, November 16, 2009

Pris Campbell's New Book, Sea Trails


This is the latest installment in the "Poet Series," a Thirteen Blackbirds feature which presents contemporary poets, their work and impact on the poetry scene. To view all articles in the "Poet Series," just click on the button in the right column at Thirteen Blackbirds.

Pris Campbell’s new book, Sea Trails, is a visual and evocative account of a four-month adventure down the Atlantic coast in a sailboat retelling in poetry what prose could never accomplish. Published by Lummox Press in 2009 (100pp, perfect bound, glossy color covers), the book counterpoints original sea-logs with verse constructed years later. “This wasn’t a traditional poetry book,” Pris confesses, as she recounts pulling together log notes 30 years after the fact. In the foreword, she recalls the ambivalence and irony of taking to sea with a man referred to as R, in the throes of a failing relationship. The poems found in Sea Trails are every bit a part of this tenuous sway in and out of hope and sorrow as they are a sweeping canvass of sea life and adventure. In “Small Craft Advisories,” a poem that describes the peril of an impending storm, it’s not hard to see this push-pull, especially in the closing two lines: “Our boat peels back her hull, reveals inner scars./ My heart laid open, she already knows mine.”

Sea Trails succeeds in giving the author a rare view of two worlds, coincident, colliding and told through one voice. You get the feeling you’re on the boat in rough waters, or lazily creeping into a harbor at dawn. But you also find commonality in shared experience, the nadir of triumph alongside the growing sense of something coming to an end. It’s this thread of sadness mixed into the experience of being at sea that gives the poems life as well as originality. Nowhere is this more clear than in the tiny poem “Crabbing,” which so aptly portrays in sparse verse and metaphor the dysfunctional relationship of the two mariners:


He still catches me
With the same old line,
The worn bait.
Just as I see light,
He nets me again.

Is Sea Trails to be thought of as a catharsis? Perhaps. There is a dominant theme here of lost love, and the author readily admits to the reader that she wasn’t entirely ‘out of love” at the time of setting sail. Yet, a closer reading of the poems provides ample evidence of personal triumph and overcoming. In “Sea Speak,” we have a poem that openly confesses what the author has learned from the sea: "how to lay down a trot line", "haul hungry crabs"; "that fish gasp" and "sea grass cries," and that "heaven is right here in these blue waters." More importantly, to give credence to her soul’s most important unction, she has learned, “how love of the sea can rush right through you with the wind, until your heart is translucent with joy as intense as pain."

42 poems, log entries, sea notes, technical descriptions, Sea Trails has much to offer, not only for the ruddy sea-farer, but also for landlubbers and poetry neophytes. What is compelling in these poems is the consistency of voice, the sensual and calming verse with easily identifiable themes, descriptive accounts laid down alongside deep-seated emotional stress and an almost real-time resolution poetically shaping in front of the viewer. The net result is something quite beautiful and alluring.


Have you’ve seen a recent upswing in your inspiration to write poetry or would you say that your interest in writing has sustained over many years?

I can’t say I’ve felt a recent upswing. If I were to make a painting of my creative swings, it would be a landscape filled with hills, valleys, mountain peaks, gorges, and deserts mixed in-between. Sometimes I feel as if I’ll never write again. Nothing comes, then suddenly a faucet opens. Images appear. A sentence runs through my mind and I know a poem is trying to be born. I love it when that happens.

Who are your favorite classic poets? Favorite modern poets?

I think I’ll always love Alfred Noyles. I memorized The Highwayman when I was 14 so I could recite it to myself anytime I wanted. Carl Sandburg is another. His language moves me deeply. From "The Backyard"…

Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night.

What a beautiful image. Almost haiku in nature. Others are William Carlos Williams, Frank O’Hara, Pablo Neruda, T.S. Elliot. I could go on. Modern poets? Harder since the list is even longer, but I love Sharon Olds, Anne Sexton, Lucile Clifton, Li Young-Lee, Rebecca McClanahan, Maya Angelou, so many of the underground poets. I like honesty tied in with a big dollop of outrageousness in the poets alive today. I like daring poets. Courageous poets. Gentle poets, too. If I start naming contemporary poets I know personally and love, I’m bound to leave someone out.

Who or what inspires you to write your poetry?

The best answer is that I honestly don’t know. Sometimes a chance comment. Other times the fragment of a dream or perhaps a memory. Something that happens during the day. I don’t consciously say ‘Now I’m going to write a poem about that’. The birthing of a poem usually surprises me, so ultimately speaking, from my psychologist’s shoes, I would say that something below my level of conscious awareness begins communicating with me and I take it down. I’m sure you’ve heard novelists comment about their characters taking on a life of their own. It’s much like that with my poems. I try not to control the poem too much in that early stage. Later comes the time for pruning out the excess, rewording to say better what I want to say, working with meter and other poetic devices that may enhance it.

What helps you write poetry?

Patience and courage. My fear of what people would think hampered me in my earlier writing, especially with some of my more sexual poems. When I could let go of that, my poems improved. The patience comes in waiting out the ‘desert’ parts of the landscape and not trying to force a poem for the sake of writing one.

What is your ‘goal’ or aim in your writing?

Ultimately it’s to write my truth. I also like it when my poems resonate with others, when a person can say that he or she can relate or can see something through different eyes because of my poems. One of the most rewarding kinds of feedback I’ve gotten from Sea Trails is when non-poets write to tell me they loved it. Of course I like for my poet peers to like my writing, too, but it’s wonderful to be part of bringing an interest in poetry back to a more general reading population.


Pris Campbell’s first full-length book of poetry, Sea Trails, was published in the fall of 2009 by Lummox Press. Abrasions, a chapbook, was published by Rank Stranger Press now has a limited number of copies left. A chapbook with Tammy Trendle, Interchangeable Goddesses was published by Rose of Sharon, a press run by S.A. Griffin, editorr of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, and David Smith. Pris’ latest chapbook, Hesitant Commitments, was released fall of 2008 by Lummox Press in its prestigious Little Red Book series. Pris has many poems appearing excellent poetry journals such as: Chiron Review, Main Street Rag, The Cliffs: Soundings (print), Boxcar Poetry Review, Empowerment4Women, In The Fray, Blackmail Press, Peshekee River Poetry, Limestone Circle (print), Poems Niederngasse, Erosha, The Smoking Poet, Remark Journal,The Wild Goose Poetry Review, Main Street Rag (print), Thunder Sandwich, The Dead Mule: An Anthology of Southern Literature, Rusty Truck, Short Stuff, International War Vets Poetry Yearly Anthologies (print), Small Potatoes, MiPo Quarterly, MiPo Weekly, OCHO (print) Dakota House, Verse Libre, Tears in the Fence (a U.K. print journal), The Oregon Review, MindFire, Passage Through August, Simply Haiku, Haigaonline. Moonset (print), Sketchbook , Ink, Sweat, and Tears and several other journals. Her poem in the spring 2007 issue of Boxcar won the Peer Award for the issue and has been nominated as one of three by that journal for a 'Best of the Internet' Anthology. A nice surprise at the end of 2008 was a Pushcart Prize Nomination.


To order Sea Trails, click here: Lummox Press
To view Pris’ popular blog, click here: PoetInspire
Link to Pris reading from Sea Trails click here: Sea Trails Reading (video)


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Grace Cavalieri


What I Won
by Grace Cavalieri

The sack dress was in style then
with a single strand of pearls.
The sack dress was designed to see
the body move lightly beneath.
That's why I wore it to my first poetry
contest in Philly,
leaving my four-month old at home.
Of course my husband had to
drive, as nervous as I was
so he waited in the car all
day while I sat in the big room, first time out
since I found my mother
dead and then had a baby two weeks later.
My husband stayed all day in that
car in the snow. I won first prize about
wanting my mother but
it was said much better than this,
as you can imagine, to win first.
It even began with notes upon a phantom
lute, although The Poet
said what do we know of lutes now?
But what did he know of
walking into her bedroom and finding
her a pale shade of lilac.
That just goes to prove I guess I was talking
about the wrong thing in the poem,
and The Poet was surely on to something.
I have to say I looked wonderful,
gaunt with grief and colitis, 1956,
hurrying across the street
where my husband was waiting to take me home,
the first wrong victory in my hand.

by Edward Nudelman

“What I Won,” a poem by Grace Cavilieri, takes us through experience’s strongest gift, memory, to illustrate how something sought (such as a poetry prize) can fade and lessen in importance in the face of sweeping grief or hardship. Grace provides us with a very specific account traveling with her husband to a poetry contest, with fear and trembling, allowing the seamless movement of the poem to inform us, and herself, of what really matters and what is supremely valued.

The title of the poem, as well as the first few lines, draw attention to perhaps a physical object or prize that might be won. The speaker is dressing for an important event and is taking matters very seriously (‘sack dress in style’, ‘pearls’, ‘designed to see the body move lightly beneath’). Her anxiety over having to go to Philly (we are not told from which city of origin, but the assumption is that it was a fairly long trip) is couched in ambivalent terms. We’re told her husband had to drive (‘as nervous as I was’), but we’re not told if her fears were directly related to having to read, or something quite different, such as an emotional issue or even a physical impairment.

Nearly midway through the poem, however, we learn the crux of the speaker’s difficulty in which she exclaims: “first time out since I found my mother dead and then had a baby two weeks later.’ We find several lines addressing her husband’s loyalty and the speaker’s obvious regard for his willingness to come alongside her in her travail. The speaker will return to this important aspect of support and care later in the poem.

The poem seems to turn, midway, on the phrase, “I won first prize about wanting my mother…” said abruptly and perhaps sarcastically, with the qualifier, “but it was said much better than this… to win first.” Here the speaker is organizing thought around the ambivalence of winning something obviously of importance (poets live for this), while at the same time having to deal with a devastating loss. The close proximity of her mother’s death, the birth of her child, and the poetry contest all mix in to add dynamic suspense to this poem.

The second half of the poem deals with a fictitious poet, referred to as simply, The Poet, and interestingly given a male gender (perhaps to distinguish from a metaphor of the speaker interacting with a mirror poet, or self, though this could still be true). The speaker uses this device as a sounding board to discuss with us the poem which she presented at the contest, which began "with notes upon a phantom lute." While this appears to be a reference to her mother’s death, it could also stand alone as a metaphor for the evanescence and changeability of joy or peace (the lute being a reference to that which could supply either). The speaker goes on to tell us that The Poet asked, "what do we know of lutes now?” What can good things do for the grief-stricken? How can nice words, sleep-aids, poetry awards assuage the pain of loss? In addition, one could ask, how can poetry itself help? The Poet wasn’t there, and so he can’t identify with what happened (the speaker implies, 'But what did he know of walking into her bedroom and finding her a pale shade of lilac’).

The conversation heightens near the end as the speaker goes back and forth rehearsing her arguments before the anonymous Poet. In a moment of either self-effacing doubt or monumental clarity, the speaker throws up her hands, saying: "That just goes to prove I guess I was talking about the wrong thing in the poem, and The Poet was surely on to something.”

The ending, comprising an extremely personal and vulnerable introspection, provides the reader with what they need to take this poem into their world of experience. We find a tired, worn-out, ill person, ‘gaunt with grief and colitis,’ ‘hurrying’ back to her husband who will take her home and continue to love her, even if at that moment she holds in her hand the very emblem of the conflict and dissonance expressed in the poem: ‘the first wrong victory.”

“What I won” is a strikingly intimate poem that lets the reader experience along side the speaker revealing aspects of her emotional life, if only from a snapshot event on one day in Philly, in 1956. It is a poem of love and constancy as much as it is self-discovery. We are privy to the evolution of understanding in the speaker’s heart. What becomes of value necessarily diminishes that which never had value. But much remains. Throughout the poem the speaker is careful to remind us that her husband not only accompanied her, but brought her, waited for her, and finally took her home. The speaker doesn’t ask for sympathy in the loss of her mother, presented as fact. The poem could have gone down that road and reproduced a thousand similar themes. Not that the crystallization of what really matters is not vividly presented here. But the power and excellence in this poem lies in the understated values of love and companionship portrayed, hard commodities to find in this world; but once found, sufficient to assuage the worst of grief.

Brief Bio of Grace Cavalieri
Grace Cavalieri is the author of several books of poetry and 21 produced plays; she founded and still produces/hosts public radio’s “The Poet and the Poem,” now in its 32nd year, now from the Library of Congress. Her new book is Anna Nicole: Poems (Goss183:: Casa Menendez, 2008.) She is book review editor for The Montserrat Review and a poetry columnist for MiPOradio. Her play in progress, on Anna Nicole, is “Beverly Hills, Texas.”


Diego Quiros


Horse Feather

This is a horse feather,
white, the calm of clouds.
I saw it fall from the sky
a slow dart from antiquity
swirling its habitual pattern.

Its vane gentle across my lips
its sturdy rachis could pen
a poem or two about
the process of kissing or
stammering ecstasies.

I wondered if the mythical animal
would part the evening sky
with its pale steady silence
turn its crimson eyes in my direction
and rapture me on moon-hooves

over the matrix of skyscrapers
wearing nothing but its ribcage
between my legs.
Nothing is impossible.
I once loved like that.

-by Diego Quiros

In Horse Feather, a mythical horse, undoubtedly Pegasus, is conjured into awareness by a musing speaker who imagines seeing one of its feathers (white, the calm of clouds) fall from the sky. The anatomy of the feather is presented with respect to the speaker’s romantic love (could pen a poem or two about the process of kissing or stammering ecstasies). In S3, the speaker delineates the power and majesty and passion of such a mythical creature that could ‘part the evening sky with its pale steady eye’ (and rapture me on moon-hooves). In the final strophe, the speaker imagines riding the horse over skyscrapers with nothing but ‘its ribcage between my legs,” and suggests that such an adventure is within the realm of possibility. In the last line the speaker divulges his hidden sentiments, revealing he once loved in the same fashion.

Horse Feather, by Diego Quiros, is a striking poem about the possibilities and limitless boundaries of love. It is a poem that begs for several readings, as it presents insights in several diverging directions. On the one hand, the poem can be read as a fantasy narrative, where the speaker muses on the passionate image of riding Pegasus over skyscrapers. Another view of the poem reveals a more subtle, perhaps melancholy desire to rise above the limits of human love and experience an altogether unbound (unearthly) love as characterized by riding this mythical creature.

The poem consists of four strophes, each with five lines. The rhythm begins fairly uniform, nearly tetrameter in the first two strophes, then half-way through, defaults to a more drawn out beat, both in sound and length of line. This shift at S3 coincides with a tone shift where the speaker becomes more open, his feelings more vulnerable.

“This is a horse feather, white, the calm of clouds,” opens the poem with a striking visual picture. It is falling from the sky, this tranquil ‘slow dart from antiquity.” Up front, the speaker wants us to know that he is really talking about Pegasus, that winged horse, sired by Poseidon, an emblem of power and grace. The name, Pegasus derives from "spring or well." Whenever the horse strikes a hoof to earth, a beautiful spring bursts forth. The metaphor aptly sets up the reader for S2 which dissects the feather into its component parts and relates them to sensual aspects of love: the vane (soft, wispy) ‘gentle across my lips; and the rachis (the part used in ink pens) ‘sturdy,’ ‘could pen a poem or two about the process of kissing,” etc.

But it is in S3 where we begin to see the inner unction of the speaker with respect to love. As well, the poetics and imagery spring more freely from the idea of the mythical animal as having superhuman abilities, both in power and beauty (part the evening sky with its pale steady silence) and in its natural proclivity to rapture (on moon-hooves across skyscrapers).

In S5 we find the culmination of such an adventure, as the speaker alludes to the naked power (ribcage) churning between his legs, a very striking and erotic metaphor which is effortlessly merged into one image. Finally, and importantly, the speaker exhales and draws back from the vision declaring, ‘nothing is impossible.” If he has loved, and loved well in the bounds of his humanity (I once loved like that), why not in the boundless sky? Why not like Pegasus, riding unbound through the heavens?

The power of this poem lies in its central proposition that love is without limits. What makes it click is that the speaker doesn’t dwell on a litany of past experience. What adds to its cohesiveness and beauty is the speaker’s confidence. The poetic, yet blunt tone. It is sufficient to merely say, “I once loved like that,” and the honesty and forcefulness of such a declaration drives the poem home like a dagger.

Diego Quiros is a poet, artist, and Electrical Engineer living with his family in South Florida. He was born in 1962 in Havana, Cuba, lived in Spain for several years, and traveled to the United States by himself at age ten.

His poetry, has been published in several issues of Ocho, Mipoesias, and Verse Libre Quarterly. Diego also co-hosted the MipoRadio show “Deconstructions”. Diego’s first collection of poems “Alchetry” (click here); a study on the four elements of writing and their relation to the four basic elements; was recently published by Goss 183 (formerly Menendez Publishing) and it is available at Books and Books and Amazon.

He credits all his work to conversations with a Muse he describes as “a woman with long dark green hair, green eyes, and light green skin”. He claims she walks around his home in South Florida and drops subtle whispers here and there while he writes.

Aaron Belz



If I’m in such good company, please
explain why I have to keep looking
over my shoulder to see who’s not there:

ghost of the staircase, living
room phantasm—whispered jokes,
unheard and ungotten—or maybe not.

I call them the comedians of chance,
and I have discovered that they’re
completely cornball. Canned.

They’ve written routines
in sharpie on their luminous
hands and keep looking down

to see what comes next. My father
used to laud people who know
“what goes where,” but I swear,

I don’t anymore—it’s all up in the air,
half-visible pins twirling end over
end, and I, their ghastly juggler.

Whispered Jokes gets your attention in the title and alerts the reader to look for what might be forthcoming: perhaps jokes whispered to self, some kind of cryptic messaging. The opening strophe gives what could pass for a joke: “If I’m in such good company, please/ explain why I have to keep looking/ over my shoulder to see who’s not there.” And who’s ‘not there’ is, namely, a “ghost”, or a “phantasm.” In short, “whispered ghosts,” perhaps unheard or whose punch lines are “ungotten.” The speaker calls the joke-tellers “comedians of chance,” and tells us that they’re “completely cornball.” Further attention is given to how and where they’re written, such as “in sharpie,” and “on their luminous hands.” The processes involved are alluded to as “routines.” There is a tone and content shift in S5 where the speaker speaks of his father who “used to laud people who know ‘what goes where,’” and uses the construct to insert an unsettling sense of ambivalence in personal experience: "I swear,/ I don’t anymore-it’s all up in the air.” The poem ends in a characterization of the problem and consequences of not knowing or understanding something key and fundamental in the evocative image of pins which are “half-visible,” and “twirling end over end,” with the speaker as the “ghastly juggler.

This poem, with its seemingly off-handed and light tone, has much to offer in speaking to the fundamental nature of how we learn, how we know, and how we accommodate to things we feel we can’t understand. The poem’s rolls out freely with easy words and syntax. Nothing complex here. And yet, there is a kind of deceptive foil here for an underlying deeper consideration of identity and self-appraisal. Additionally, the formal presentation, though not rhymed (except for 'swear/air' near the end) is nonetheless nicely put together in neat, free-flowing tercets, further directing the reader into the poetics of the speaker.

Some key questions are raised at the beginning of this poem. What is the nature of these “whispered jokes,” who are the people that are saying them… and to whom are they being said? As well, the poem seems to be addressing the issue of how we process what we’ve learned, what we make of past failures, for example. And how do we make order out of what often appears to be a disordered, random world.

We can see by the speaker’s opening interrogative, that there’s some degree of equivocation in his voice. This is not a prescriptive essay or a document on how to solve the world’s problems. It is the speaker sort of talking out loud, remembering his own ghosts and phantasms walking around his house (perhaps as a child), jokes uttered and not heard, or not understood. But the jokes aren't one-liners. These are innuendos, rationale, ways of thinking to ward off other ways of thinking.

The dissonance increases in S3 where the speaker, who has his own expression for these jokesters, “comedians of chance,” makes a decided tone-shift away from self-examination and toward mild invective. Here we find that the speaker has a distaste for the joke-tellers who tell 'corny' jokes; but worse, actually write them down (in indelible ink) and then refer to them as needed. This is perhaps the moment at which the poem turns from inward to outward commentary. The speaker seems to be making an ethical statement regarding meaning. Is it enough to rely on past performance, old jokes or riddles which cannot suffice, in unwrapping the serious issues of life? Indeed, they often return (as ghosts) to haunt, rather than providing any sort of apologetic for living. The speaker references his own father, and relates his (the speaker's) obvious disdain for that kind of philosophy which is blithely self-confident (“people who know what goes where.)” It leaves one wondering what the subtext is here. As with many poets, a father (or mother) theme will pop in and out of poems freely, and the poem gives room and desire to hear more on this subject. Still, it amps up the immediacy of feeling. There is a bewilderment in the voice here, that it should be so easy for these kind of people to be cavalier in their movement through life, that they would have nothing better to do than rehearse old jokes.

This is a direct poem. It tweaks the reader to ask their own questions and assumptions about what makes them sure. Not that we should be fettered with doubt. But the poem speaks to a kind of unguarded optimism that doesn’t examine deeply into meaning. And what is left? “Half-visible pins twirling end over end, and I, their ghastly juggler.” Here we find the result of such thinking: enervating, dangerous, a vacuous pursuit.


Aaron Belz writes poetry in Los Angeles. He has a Ph.D. in American Literature from Saint Louis University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from NYU. His first book of poetry,The Bird Hoverer, was published by Buffalo: BlazeVOX Books, in 2007. Aaron’s second book of poems, Direction, is forthcoming from Persea. Some of his poems, essays, biographical history and much more- may be found at these websites (just click):
belz blog
belz poetry on wordpress


Amy George

Resurrection, by Amy George

I don’t remember
when you grew wings…
when they flared out
from your back
above the stab wounds
now only scars.
I just remember your eyes,
how they glowed with
Easter morning,
lightning striking
the same place twice,
though years had fallen
in between.
There was beauty
and trembling
past the bruises,
cynical voices
shattered by an empty tomb.
I remembered the basement,
his hands on your small body.
And I wept to see you
lift up the little girl
you held inside,
her tears now only a memory.

Not even the world,
with all its gravity,
could hold you.

Comments, by Edward Nudelman
This taut little narrative poem by Amy George, with its interesting second person point of view, is strongly personal and experiential; so much so, it nearly defaults into first person. That is to say, while the reader can identify with the ‘you’ in the poem as being a very close family member (or a close friend) of the speaker, the frame of reference can easily devolve into the "I/me", where the voice is seen as referring to self. As such, the poem lends itself to heightened immediacy and a certain tension that would not have otherwise materialized in the first person. Second person POV is difficult to pull off. Often the poem sounds didactic or even maudlin. This is not the case with Resurrection.

This is a poem that speaks to how we heal; how scars are removed. There is a transcendency in tone that is not specifically identified. Details are not given, or belabored, thus heightening the reader’s notion of what’s going on. It makes you want to rush on to the ending (a good thing!) We understand in the very first verses that wings ‘flared out’ where there were once stab wounds, a very elegant and visual framing, setting the tone of the poem which is reserved and restrained. As if to say, these things happened, and this is the way they affected you. And that’s that.

So what is happening in the poem? The allusions to sexual abuse ocurr near the end of the poem, “his hands on your small body,” and ties in the earlier reference of stab wounds. “There was beauty and trembling past the bruises,” adds focus to the central theme of the poem, which is overcoming calamity, moving through un-navigable waters. But not just surviving. Coming through with grace, beauty.

There is, alongside this profile of coping, a second theme of resurrection, made central by the title, and also bolstered in the placement of the event on Easter, or at least describing it in the context of Easter ('I just remember your eyes,how they glowed with Easter morning'). The poem heightens and perhaps shifts in tone in, “Lightning striking the same place twice, though years had fallen in between,” an interesting juxtaposition of the terror of the event, and perhaps the path to liberation as seen through the resurrection: of moving from death to life. Further, there is this reference to a tomb, another Christian metaphor, but not necessarily restricted to that meaning. Hence, we can see how the speaker sees her subject moving beyond the tomb, a darkness and repository for death, as the little girl that was “held inside,” somehow finds a way past her tears. This is finally brought home in a powerful way in the closing strophe:

Not even the world,
with all its gravity,
could hold you

Not scars, but wings. Not death, but resurrection. Not trapped in the world, but freedom for flight. What I like about the poem is its closeness. I couldn’t help reading it as a biographical catharsis. Or better, a biographical record. The speaker seems to be telling us that there is a path beyond the dead-end scars of sexual abuse. For her, that crystallization commands the strength and power of the poem. It is a poem for those who struggle. A poem that identifies extreme exposure and need, and offers hope.

Brief bio, in Amy’s own words:
Amy L. George holds an MFA in Creative Writing from National University. Her poetry has been published in various journals including Poesia, The Orange Room Review, The GNU and Word Catalyst Magazine and is forthcoming in Pennsylvania English. She is the general editor of Bird's Eye reView and also on the editorial staff for The GNU, the student literary journal of National University. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two psychotic cats.


Didi Menendez


His Left Eye

He keeps his wife
tucked inside his left eye.
I see her wearing red.

Birds fall on his lap
and he places them inside a box.
He shuts and locks them one by one.
Their fluttering wings are never silent.
They are chirps of locusts in a hot
August evening silenced only by a poem.

He keeps his wife
safe tucked inside his left eye
and not the right.

His wife cares enough about her hair
to part it with a comb.
Her eyes are brown.
She wears green most of the time.
Sometimes she wears plaid.

He says his mother wore peonies scarves.
So did mine. They may have met once at
Sears and Roebuck looking through the
same yards of material on sale
searching for another scarf, another
flower pattern for a blouse.
Stopped at the hosiery department
and fingered the lingerie before
taking my sister and me by the hand
back to her sewing machine
and the little house we rented
on Wilshire Boulevard.

My mother wore her hair long,
light brown wavy long.
When she’d bend down to give me a kiss,
I’d see my father reflected in her right eye.
I’d draw his profile with my school pencils.

I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye.
I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.

His silence neither denies
nor accepts her there.
His eyes are blue.
I painted them green
and the reflection
is a white box full of feathers.

His Left Eye, a poem by Didi Menendez, is a visually inward look into experience that extrapolates in many directions, but finds its most expressive definition in a moving frame of contemplation, as if the poet were describing extemporaneously her painting into life. In her own words:

“This poem was inspired by a painting I did of Bob Hicok. When you are painting a portrait you get really close to everything on the landscape of the face. In the reflection of his left eye I saw something reflected in red. I imagined it was someone he loved and possibly where he kept love.”

-from American Poet Portraits, by Didi Menendez

A fascinating quality of this poem lies in its fluidity, a shifting perspective which begins with a detailed description of an unnamed man who “keeps his wife tucked inside his left eye,” and moves into aspects of the individual’s wife and then mother. The poem seamlessly transitions into the speaker’s own impressions with a striking image, “He says his mother wore peonies scarves. So did mine,” along with the unlikely notion that their mothers may have met at Sears Roebuck. This all to drive home the abstraction of what lies in the left eye (as opposed to the right?), and the speaker’s ensuing commentary on her own experience, involving both her own mother and father. The poem culminates with the declaration, “I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye,” pulling the reader back into the framework of the speaker’s identification. What she paints is what she sees in the left eye, how it reflects, what it means.

This is a poem that reads well. You can read it out loud and just enjoy the flow and the tempo changes. The tone is upbeat. Though touching on significant personal reflections connoting regret, or at least a sense of loss, the poem doesn’t give a hint of sentimentality or self-absorption. The effectiveness of the poem is in its detached view. What does the artist see in the eye? She sees his wife, wearing red. She sees a box where he places birds that have fallen in his lap. This conveys sensitivity and affection, but also gives room to wonder. Why are the birds trapped in his eye? “He shuts and locks them one by one.” It’s as if the speaker is reading into her own perception; and, in fact, the unfolding of the poem bears this out, as we are directed away from the individual being painted and into the private thoughts of the painter.

The anaphora in the poem, “He keeps his wife safely tucked inside his left eye,” not only reinforces the notion of security, but also provides a convenient transition as the speaker draws a focus inside the eye. We see his wife who “cares enough about her hair to cut it with a comb.” And more, her eyes are brown, she wears green. This is a painter speaking through her poem, finding a commonality and impact in shared memory (their mothers wore peony scarves), walking through Sears and Roebuck together, stopping at the hosiery department, taking her and her sister back to their house on Wilshire Blvd.

These wonderful, surrealistic and meandering images are falling out of Bob Hicok’s eyes. The reader is pulled into the matrix, without questioning association or needing to have the dots connected. It all works so well within the central metaphor of the poem, which allows us to see anything that the painter paints or wishes to convey in her painting (how like writing poetry).

My Left Eye is a poem about a painter, processing her right brain in a non-linear fashion. Here are impressions, weaving thoughts, interconnected links from childhood. Is it a poem about a woman’s need for masculine love? One could make that argument if too much credence were given to the following couplet, placed delicately before the closing section:

I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye.
I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.

There’s been an exploding revelation made here, but then the speaker reverts almost simultaneously back to the painting. “I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.” Are we being given the shake? Why does the speaker reinforce and reaffirm that she saw his wife in his left eye (wearing red) at the end of the poem, and further inform us that she painted the eyes green, even though they were blue? And the reflection was a white box full of feathers? Perhaps simply because that's the way she saw it. For the painter, as perhaps for the poet, seeing is one thing; understanding, quite another prospect, and putting the two together, the whole of art.


When asked to provide a short bio, Didi provided:

Bio: Didi Menendez is a Cuban-blooded American artist and poet. The best place to find her is on

So I googled Didi and here's a sneak preview:

Didi Menendez (b1960) is a Cuban-blooded American artist and author. She is the founding editor and publisher of MiPOesias, Oranges & Sardines, OCHO and several full-length books by Grace Cavalieri, Diego Quiros, Ron Androla, Emma Trelles, John Korn and others. You may find her at Facebook, Myspace, Goodreads, and other places on the Wide Wild World of the Internet. Her latest book of poems "When I Said Goodbye" was published in March 2008 by Geoffrey Gatza of BLAZEVOX.

EDN, 09/22/08