Vary the Line

Poetry Collective

there’s so much going on…


I won’t fit it all into this post, but here’s some of it:

Mary’s in the thick of a move, publishing articles about tessellations and other niftiness, and receiving great reviews for The Scientific Method.

Joanne’s giving away copies of 140 and Counting over at Goodreads, and coordinated Couplets: A Multi-Author Poetry Blog Tour, which included posts by her, Mary, and me, and a horde of other writers with lots to say (and show) about poetry.

Joanne also runs Upper Rubber Boot Books, which published my new chapbook, Measured Extravagance, earlier this spring:

Measured Extravagance

It’s available in a bunch of electronic formats at a bunch of vendors in a bunch of countries, listed here. The link will also take you to excerpts from some of the immensely flattering press it’s been receiving.

(Not to worry about getting my head through doors, though — nothing, but nothing can puncture one’s ego faster than the newest draft refusing to gel… *wry smile*)

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Science, Sonnets, and Speculation


npl reading

Please join award-winning writers Mary Alexandra Agner (The Scientific Method; The Doors of the Body), Joanne Merriam (A Multitude of Daggers; The Glaze from Breaking), and Peg Duthie (Measured Extravagance) for Science, Sonnets, and Speculation. Ranging from tales of goddesses, immigrants, physicists, and werepenguins to Shakespeare-laced hallucinations, the poems you will hear at this gathering include pieces praised for their ferocious lyricism, eloquent explications, and compassionate heresies.

The event will be in the library’s West Reading Room. We look forward to seeing you!

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Adrienne Rich’s “The Explorers”


I found this in Rich’s second book, The Diamond Cutters, but there isn’t a citation noting whether it was published prior to this book.

Why should you read this? Because it’s a science fiction poem and rather excellent, only the latter of which you might have expected from Adrienne Rich but you will not be disappointed.

The Explorers

Beside the Mare Crisium, that sea
Where water never was, sit down with me,
And let us talk of Earth, where long ago
We drank the air and saw the rivers flow
Like comets through the green estates of man,
And fruit the colour of Aldebaran
Weighted the curving boughs. The route of stars
Was our diversion, and the fate of Mars
Our grave concern; we stared through night
On these uncolonized demesnes of light.
We read of stars escaping Newton’s chain
Till only autographs of fire remain;
We aimed our mortal searchlights into space
As if in hopes to find a mortal face.

O little Earth, our village, where the day
Seemed all too brief, and starlight would not stay,
We were provincials on the grand express
That whirled us into dark and loneliness.
We thought to bring you wonder with a tale
Huger than those that turned our fathers pale.
Here in this lunar night we watch alone
Longer than ever men have watched for dawn.
Beyond this meteor-bitten plain we see
More starry systems than you dream to be,
And while their clockwork blazes overhead,
We speak the names we learned as we were bred,
We tell of places seen each day from birth—
Obscure and local, patois of the Earth!
O race of farmers, plowing year by year
The same few fields, I sometimes seem to hear
The far-off echo of a cattle-bell
Against the cratered cliff of Arzachel,
And weep to think no sound can ever come
Across that outer desert, from my home.

posted by Mary under Poetry | 1 Comment »

from Jane Hirshfield’s “The Poet”


Let her have time, and silence,
enough paper to make mistakes and go on.

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“a few old socks and love letters”



Today’s subject line comes from the last paragraph of George Whitman’s obituary in the New York Times:

Mr. Whitman had variously called himself a communist, a utopian and a humanist. But he may have also been a romantic himself, at least concerning his life’s work. “I may disappear leaving behind me no worldly possessions — just a few old socks and love letters,” he wrote in his last years. Paraphrasing a line from Yeats, he added, “and my little Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.”

That’s a Whitman manifesto at the top of this entry. This is my partner in front of Shakespeare & Company, browsing through a book on the Japanese economy:


This is what the rest of the front patio looks like on a chilly November night:


Lori-Lyn asks (in her “Loving 2011″ series), What books made an impression on you this year? One of them was Mademoiselle London Hearts Paris (Sometimes), which I picked up on impulse inside S&Co. I especially like the poem that starts out with her throwing rocks at Hemingway’s geraniums.

I deliberately searched for was Yves Bonnefoy’s translations of Yeats’s poems (which I eventually picked up at the Gallimard shop, along with Fuzier and Denis’s translations of Donne into French). The thing is, I knew about their existence because I’d come across part of Bonnefoy’s rendition of The Circus Animals’ Desertion back in college:

J’ai cherché un thème et ce fut en vain,
Je l’ai cherché cinq à six semaines.
Peut-être qu’à la fin, vieux comme je suis,
Je dois me contenter de mon coeur. Et pourtant,
L’hiver comme l’été jusqu’à ce grand âge,
Ce qu’elle a paradé, ma ménagerie …

Les images sont souveraines de par leur forme achevée
Et celles-ci grandirent dans la pureté de l’esprit.
Mais de quoi naissaient-elles? Du dépotoir
Où va ce que l’on jette et le balayage des rues.
Vielles marmites, vielles bouteilles, boîte cassée,
Vieux fer, view os et nippes, et à la cassée
Cette souillon qui délire. Mon échelle est tombée,
Et je dois mourir là, au pied des échelles,
Dans le bazar de défroques du coeur.

But the last words for tonight should be Monsieur Whitman’s, non? [click the images to enlarge]



posted by Peg under Poetry, in memoriam, recs | No Comments »

“Tomas, get to work”


Susan Scheid, within a post on Tranströmer’s hadynpockets:

In 1990, Tranströmer suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body and affected his speech. In 2007, The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry awarded Tranströmer its second Lifetime Recognition Award. Robert Hass, in his tribute to Tranströmer at the event, related that “when he had the stroke, his wife Monika . . . who is a nurse, drove into Stockholm and bought, because Tomas loved playing the piano, the entire Western literature for piano for the left hand, I’m told, and brought it back and said, ‘Tomas, get to work.’”


posted by Peg under Process | No Comments »

from this morning’s New York Times


Violence Suffocated a Father’s Poetry, but Not His Voice

The two passages that leapt out at me:

[After reading a poem about his murdered son,] Mr. Sicilia, one of the country’s most acclaimed poets, told those who had gathered that they had just heard the last poem he would ever write.

“Poetry doesn’t exist in me anymore,” he explained later in an interview.

He said he did not belong to any of the major political parties — “I am an anarchist, in the good sense of the word” — but had participated in demonstrations before, mostly for causes dear to the left. Until a few weeks ago, he did not even have a cellphone, but one now trilled incessantly as he made plans for the next step, including a caravan to Ciudad Juárez, the border city that is Mexico’s most violent, next month.

He admitted to being anguished that he had never received this kind of notice for his works.

the tree that bears the fruit / is not the one that was planted


Today’s conundrum subject line comes from W. S. Merwin’s “Place,” which I saw this morning both in an e-mail from Poetry Daily and in the April issue of Oprah’s magazine. (Yeah, still making my way through it.)

Also in O: an interview with Maya Angelou.

Q: How do you write?

MA: I keep a hotel room in my town, although I have a large house. And I go there at about 5:30 in the morning, and I start working. And I don’t allow anybody to come in that room. I work on yellow pads and with ballpoint pens. I keep a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry. I stay there until midday.


I keep meaning to mention that Mary and I have a collaboration up at Blue Print Review. This delights me.

Also, I will be reading with Jane Ormerod and Ice Gayle Johnson at Nashville’s Global Education Center on Friday, May 13, at 7:30 pm. Admission is $8. Jane and Ice Gayle are co-editors of an Uphook Press anthology that will include one of my poems.


Some of the poems on the tabs I’ve had open:

Life is a long song

The glory of words

New fruit

a blade into his heart

posted by Peg under Process, recs | No Comments »

more on Orr


In the April 10 issue of the New York Times Book Review, Yeshiva University professor Gilian Steinberg takes David Orr to task for his gibe at Mary Oliver (mentioned in my previous post): “It’s fine for Orr to rank Yeats well above Oliver, a hierarchy with which I agree, but to do so in the context of asking for increased poetry readership is contradictory.

As Orr undoubtedly knows, poetry can be intimidating even to smart and devoted readers of prose. But readers cannot be encouraged to read poetry well if their choices and tastes are treated patronizingly.”

In the same issue, David Kirby reviews Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry. It didn’t persuade me to seek out the book, but I was entertained by this parenthetical claim:

“Almost all poets, including myself, lean left,” Orr says. “There are maybe five conservative American poets, not one of whom can safely show his face at a writing conference for fear of being angrily doused with herbal tea.”

I also enjoyed Kirby’s rueful recollection of encountering readers of his poem “Broken Promises”:

Recently, I spoke with a group of high school teachers who wanted to discuss my famous poem — rather, to tell me what it meant. “It’s about your own poems!” said one teacher, and another shouted, “I think it’s about your children!” They seemed a little crestfallen when I said, no, the poem is about the promises we break, as the ­title and, as far as that goes, the poem itself says.

The teachers thought that my poem said one thing but meant another, and that it’s the reader’s job to figure out what the poet is really saying. No wonder poetry doesn’t have a bigger audience. All that code cracking. Who has the time?

I confess I have a fresh appreciation for Kirby’s attitude after sitting through Frank Bidart’s reading at Vanderbilt last week with Joanne. There were a couple of gems in the lot, and the Q&A was engaging, and Bidart is a good performer of his work — but, truth be told, I was bored by most of it, and I found myself muttering “oh, please” at the third iteration of one of his pet abstractions, and well, just not my cuppa. I didn’t feel stupid; I felt like there wasn’t enough there there for me to clothe an emperor. Judging from the lines at the book table during the reception, though, others clearly got more out of the experience. Chacun a son gout…

The other thing Kirby’s anecdote reminds me of? William Matthews’s A Poetry Reading at West Point.

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*dusts off notebook, starts jotting…*


Note 1: This teacher’s description of Keesha’s House (novel for teens composed of sestinas and sonnets) is intriguing; adding it to my library list.

Note 2: I haven’t gotten past the masthead page in the April 2011 print issue of O Magazine, but I was tickled to see various staff members’ names linked to their answers to “Who Is Your Favorite Poet?” Quite a range (and, if I’m not mistaken, all 20th-21st century folk except for Kabir) — in addition to Milosz, Neruda, Angelou, Hughes, and other perennials, there’s also mention of Harryette Mullen and Matthea Harvey.

Note 3: I don’t agree with the thrust of David Orr’s critique of the issue in the March 27 New York Times Book Review, but one of his complaints — “roughly a fifth of the coverage is devoted to Mary Oliver, about whose poetry one can only say that no animals appear to have been harmed in the making of it” — made me laugh. (For the record, I personally like Oliver’s work — and the guest editor of the issue was Maria Shriver, who listed Oliver as her favorite poet. But I know of at least one other member of the collective who will concur with Orr, and God knows I’m guilty myself often enough of wanting something to be what I want rather than what it is… *wry smile*)

posted by Peg under poetry in fiction | No Comments »
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