Rest in Peace Adrienne Rich: Fellow Poet, Feminist, Queer Woman, Trail-Blazer

Last week, I was about to board a plan to San Francisco when I saw Adrienne Rich’s obituary on the front page of the New York Times.

It’s hard to describe Adrienne Rich’s impact on my life with grace and brevity. That’s because my relationship to her work mirrors my relationship to the literary establishment as a whole. I first heard of her when I was a junior in high school, young poet full of promise and bereft of friends after the class of 1989 graduated and scattered off to college. A precocious freshman named Deborah, with reddish hair and presumptuous mannerisms, was shocked to learn I hadn’t already read and loved her work. What Deborah didn’t know (and neither did I) was that I’d been raised on the literary canon, comprised then as it is now almost exclusively of men. Five years later I wrote my senior thesis at Vassar on her work and the arc of her life. Seventeen years later, Margalit Fox‘s obituary said it better than I ever could.

Continue reading “Rest in Peace Adrienne Rich: Fellow Poet, Feminist, Queer Woman, Trail-Blazer”

Katie Peterson, Sore Throat, Inspiration, the Cycle of Percussion

The Boston Review has been sending me messages on Facebook every day for National Poetry Month (or NaPoWriMo, as the more intarweb-geek among us have been calling it). My initial reaction was just “too much poetry.” It felt like work, especially since I have a very complicated relationship with writers’ community in general. I’ve also been known to focus on the negative instead of the positive. And there was a song about that.

So I was reminded that reading other poets — and looking at art in general — can instigate a cycle of percussion that John Updike once described in a story we read when I was studying 11th grade English with Mr. McWilliams. Updike’s story went something like this: the pianist hits the key, which causes the hammer to hit the string, which sends out a sound wave that travels through the air to hit the eardrum of a listener, which causes a whirl of percussion in the listener’s brain, resulting in the pen hitting the paper, perhaps resulting in a poem or a story that inspires a musician to write down some music, which a pianist then plays…

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I do find the work of others inspiring, in spite of myriad disappointments and roiling resentments. I forget, sometimes, that I could be one of those poets with the long list of publications after their name, if I just did the work–the very very hard work–of putting pen to paper, and revising, and editing, and researching publications, and sending out submissions, and exposing oneself to criticism and rejection but also to acclaim and acceptance.

Katie Peterson says something similar, slightly macabre, about percussion, and memory, and reminders, and tangents, and hopelessness, and returns:

Sick in bed with a sore throat
I can’t get out of my mind
the image of the cat
harpsichord from the 18th century‚
soothing a prince with laughter.

Full poem here:

Horoscoped: poetry from statisticians

I don’t check my RSS feed as much as I used to. You could either blame my job, for giving me more to do, or possibly Hulu and Netflix, for giving me more passive entertainment options. Personally, I blame either G.W. Bush or global warming.

Seriously, though, I came across a wonderful post on Information is Beautiful about horoscopes and word analysis (apparently the latest fad among statisticians — and you know those crazy fad-conscious statisticians).

You could just take a look at it yourself and draw your own conclusions from the data. Or, you could keep reading this post for another 60 seconds and learn that it reminded me of something Douglas Adams said in one of his later novels. I can never remember if it was The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul or Mostly Harmless or one of the other ones, so I haven’t been able to look it up. I’ll paraphrase it, though, like so:

You take something as inherently chaotic and unpredictable as human nature. You apply an arbitrary set of rules to it. Et voila, your rules work.

Most of the scientists I’ve met don’t like data that can’t be hammered down to at least two significant digits, which means that they read their horoscopes only furtively. I find all that crystal woo-woo stuff great fun and enjoy learning the arbitrary rules of divination systems with the same glee that I enjoy learning the arbitrary rules of grammar, social mores, and fashion.

What I found particularly stunning — poetic, even — was the meta-horoscope those crazy statisticians over at Information is Beautiful were able to create from their analysis. And I now present to you, the poem the statisticians wrote.*

Ready? Sure?
Whatever the situation or secret moment, enjoy everything a lot.
Feel able to absolutely care. Expect nothing else. Keep making love.
Family and friends matter. The world is life, fun, and energy.
Maybe hard. Or easy. Taking exactly enough is best.
Help and talk to others. Change your mind
and a better mood comes along…

From “Horoscoped: Do horoscopes really all just say the same thing? We scraped & analysed 22,000 to see.” at

*I edited it slightly because I can’t stand center-justified poetry and feel really strongly about the serial comma.

Eternity – by William Blake

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

– William Blake

Blake was an early Romantic poet. Studying him at Vassar had a tremendous impact on me, although I’m sure Professor Beth Darlington had a lot to do with that as well. There’s an excellent biography of him at He was quite a radical for his days — among other things, he taught his wife to read and write and had her work side by side with him in his engraving shop. (Of course, he also used to wake her up in the middle of the night to sit with him when he wrote, so I doubt I would have found him an ideal mate). He created and perfected a style of printing that allowed him to reproduce the delicate watercolors he used to illuminate his own poetry. Vassar’s special collections contains one of the original editions printed using this method. I don’t believe it survived him.

Tricycle’s Daily Dharma quoted this poem recently. It’s an excellent illustration of the Buddhist principle of nonattachment and also a reminder that spiritual principles repeat themselves over and over again across cultures, races, and places.

Marguerite Guzman Bouvard — Night Strides Across Borders

Excerpted from After Maillol


Night strides across borders.
Hush, she commands the barking dogs,
the searchlights, the buckling barbed
wire fences. She cradles
the earth in her gleaming limbs
until the only sounds are those of mingled
breaths, the quick intake of the child’s,
the drawn out sobs of the aged
and the ill. Beneath her steady wings
soldiers dream of tilling fields,
prison doors slide open.

— Marguerite Guzman Bouvard
The Unpredictability of Light
Word Press. 2009: Cincinnati, OH.

Recipe for Drizzling – Poem by Katrina Kostro

Recipe for Drizzling

Pick three dying daisies whose petals are still attached
Detach the petals and lay them
   on an olive green clay plate
Sprinkle powdered sugar over the daisy petals
   and tell them just because they have exceeded
   their time of living, they are not powerless
The poem is to lift up their self-esteem
Play old Bruce Springsteen; make it loud enough for them to hear
    so it’s not as if he has died as well, but
    don’t blast it, because the dead daisy petals are delicate
Have a cry
Collect your tears in a tall dark blue glass
Stop crying now
Sing along to a couple of Bruce lines, so the petals
    know you’re listening too
Get an eye dropper
Dip it into the dark sea in the blue glass
Fill up the dropper
And drip a few tear-drops over the petals
    so it’s as if they have been drizzled on
Turn off Bruce
The daisies will be angry
Tell them to treat others as they are treated
And it will start to drizzle outside

– Katrina Kostro
From Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po LISTSERV
Richards, Starace, Wheeler, eds.

More about the WOM-PO LISTSERV:

Then — Poem by Lesley Wheeler


If my son is a lantern spilling light and warmth
throug the rose panes of his skin

if combustion is a chemical reaction involving oxygen
and if its byproducts are heat and carbon dioxide

if we also exhale heat and carbon dioxide
if we are fire, converting the molecules around us

if the flames banked all day leap in me at night
and if I am too tired to rise and write

if I carry the spark in me, conserving it,
but its bright engine keeps changing the fuel of my life

into ashes, ashes–if the first conflagration is over
and the long deep burn is underway

if I feed with my breath, if I burn hotter,
if I smother it, if I keep changing air into spirit

— Lesley Wheeler
from Heathen

Note: Interview with the poet coming soon.

Five Things to Be Grateful for Today

  1. Got to see Marge Piercy read in person at the Longfellow House yesterday. I told her that The Moon is Always Female is still my favorite book of hers, and she recommended What Are Big Girls Made Of?. She also knew how to spell my name correctly. And she signed my copy of one of her latest volumes of poetry.
  2. The sun is shining and the relative humidity is low. I’m going outside for a walk while I still can.
  3. Got a call from one of my business owners at 9:30 AM. I had a mouth full of yogurt when she called, but at least I was on my way into the office, which is more than can be said for more days than I’d care to admit in the last year or so. After 7 hours working on something I expected to be able to fix in about 30 minutes, I’ve got the changes ready for release.
  4. Today is the 20th anniversary of the ADA. Thanks, the the first George Bush for signing that. And thanks, Bill Clinton, for signing the FMLA. Without those two pieces of legislation — and an employer big enough and honorable enough to care about adhering to employment law — I’d probably be out of a job right now.
  5. There was a big rally on the Common today to celebrate. I was hoping to go, but I have surgery scheduled on Friday. I’m grateful for the health insurance that makes the procedure possible, and all the love and support I’ve gotten from friends and family around this and the other health issues that have been KICKING MY ASS in the past couple of years.
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