Kathleen Winter

April 30, 2020

I’ve always enjoyed the poetry of Kathleen Winter, author of three collections. You can get a taste of her tremendous wit and daring just by looking at the book titles: Nostalgia for the Criminal Past (Elixir Press, 2012); I will not kick my friends (Elixir Press, 2018) and, most recently Transformer (The Word Works, 2020). She’s always struck me as a poet who takes us to familiar places in ways we haven’t experienced before. There is passion in her work, yes; there is intelligence in her work, yes; there is humor and grief for sure, but there is also something I recognize as the Kathleen Winter edge, always.

“…Winter isn’t afraid to archly remind us that ‘gentle’ isn’t always gentle, but the means to break a horse.'” Rebecca Hazleton

Winter’s first collection, Nostalgia for the Criminal Past, won the Texas Institute of Letters Bob Bush Memorial Award and the Antivenom Poetry Prize. Her second collection, I will not kick my friends, won the Elixir Poetry Prize. She is also the recipient of the Poetry Society of America Award, The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award and the Ralph Johnston Fellowship at University of Texas’s Dobie Paisano Ranch.

Transformer is the perfect title for her latest collection. In turning the pages we witness transformation over and over again — whether it’s within the emotion-packed worlds of trauma and violence against women, or the incidents of Winter’s own life blended with historical figures like Henry VIII, or even the pace in which the poems travel through time and place. Some of the topics of the poems may seem difficult to read — during the time of this Covid pandemic we can’t help but be reminded of domestic violence waged against women in quarantine with their abusers — but the brilliant, truly powerful language Winter uses to shed the truest light on the darkest corners pulls us in and makes us grateful for having spent time there with her. The epigraph for the book is a quote by the magnificent poet Larry Levis, and it is perfect:

I am the nicest guy in the world,

closing his switchblade and whistling.

“This world is full of knives and slaps, slammed doors, and cruel words…It can seem there is no escape, but the poems in Transformer are spells to bind this violence. Winter binds it with her exquisite knots of interlocking rhyme and rhythm, binds it with her transfixing imagery…These are poems for a new wave of activism, one rooted in telling the truth, in demanding to be believed, in tearing down a silent wall of fear one line at a time.” — Kathleen Nuernberger


Like so many fine books of poetry being released during our current quarantine, Transformer may not be getting the attention it deserves. For more information, you can visit wordworksbooks.org. Please feel free to leave your comments on this WordTemple post or send me any questions. Here now are a few poems from Transformer.

Finally, the girls

just have to talk about their hearts.

My heart keeps me up all night;


I’m extremely adjacent to it.

My heart’s the warm helium core,


I’m a thin film of rubber

which keeps it from escaping into


rain that’s more fast footsteps than

hands, more rockslide is my heart


as it makes itself felt, a horse

in a restaurant corridor,


blocking the bathroom.

How many times did I


try to deport it with poisons —

liquid, pills, or granular —


but my heart is myriad nests

recurring like fire ants in the yard


or in seams between river rocks

that form the porch’s floor.


Louder than storm or dream

my heart accelerates


in the tail lights, mass of leather-legged

leather-jacketed long-haired


or hairless bikers — how many?

fifty sixty seventy? I pull


to the shoulder, it keeps streaming —

foreign & familiar, I can’t think


of anything else till it’s over.



Watery Lord

Circles & circles of sorrow

where I let myself go. Narcissus,

I says, you are one sensitive

creature. No one else

can see your wrinkles.

I squint, they magnify.

On the surface find reflections

of hieroglyphic branches,

dead of alder asking:

Can’t I ride the shaft of time,

not be caught in its cycles

like flotsam in a whirlpool,

sport of greater forces?

Flocked by famishing

attendants, cormorant seducers,

I opened a weather eye. Young,

I wrestled with my executioner.

Circles & circles, the mob

surged in to see. Young, I was

the Antichrist of Ingratitude.

Now try to stop my mouth

from saying Please

and Thank you to the air.



South Huntington Apartments

And you were breathless in the laundry room.

Hiding behind a closet door, ajar. Listening

for him to take the cellar stairs. Is it possible he was frightened

he might kill you? You could see his shoes through the strip

between hinges, high-tops that looked innocent even

when he kicked you. Rounded rubber

at the toes is stiff, can bruise a shin thigh

— hell, what’s not soft enough to blacken

when you’re twenty-four. Your ears, eyes

are accurate, are sharp and clear. You stare

at green laces wrapped over his ankles.

Horses drown in the molasses time

that floods a shadow-tinted room.

Until his fear spins him around

and up the cement stairs, a chemical wind

rising to find some spark to light it. Three flights up

he sprints but you just need to gain one floor to leave.

You just need one story

and it isn’t his.



Joseph Zaccardi

April 16, 2020

I’m pleased to introduce a few poems by Joseph Zaccardi today. The author of five collections of poetry, including his recently published The Weight of Bodily Touches (Kelsay Books), Zaccardi served as Marin County, CA’s poet laureate from 2013 to 2015. During his tenure he edited and published the anthology Changing Harm to Harmony: Bullies & Bystanders Project. In his thoughtful introduction to the anthology, he tells us that he learned the word harm comes from the Old English, meaning grief, sorrow and physical injury, while harmony, a much older word, comes from Latin, meaning a joining. “My goal then,” he writes” was to find a way to change what I believe is harmful to both perpetrator and victim; to bring about a harmonious interaction between two words whose meanings have no basis for comparison.” All proceeds from the sale of the book went to the Marin Poetry Center’s High School Poetry Program, bringing poetry to students and teachers, informing them of the consequences of bullying, and to the Spectrum LGBT Center, an organization that promotes acceptance, understanding and full inclusion for LGBT people. Why do I tell you about an anthology published several years ago? To give you just a small idea of the intelligence and compassion behind Zaccardi’s work, whether it be writing his own poems or calling for poetry by others for both meaning and transformation.

When asked what started his passion for poetry, Zaccardi says that poetry first came alive for him in the 6th grade when his teacher, Sister Francesca, gave him a small book of poems by WC. Williams; a gift, alas, that he has lost.

“At times a gut punch, at times a gentle stroke, The Weight of Bodily Touches is felt deeply from first to last. Here Joseph Zaccardi shares with us his remarkable views of the weight of the world on humans. Like the mother who ‘digs up her (stillborn) child’s scaffold of white bones,’ we may find ourselves returning repeatedly to certain poems because they have become part of our being and we cannot let them go.” — Matthew J. Spireng, author of What Focus Is and Out of Body.

Here now are just a few poems from The Weight of Bodily Touches.



Girl with Mandolin


Elaine touches the scar where the surgeon cut through her sternum runs her

finger over the raised red artistry that divided her body the way Picasso unbridled

paintings to graft an art closer to life and she explained how the medical team

pried open her chest how they used her radial arteries to make a bypass and

how the stitches on her arms left trace lines from elbow to wrist that are smooth

nearly opaque and she tells me about the store clerk who asked if she tried to kill

herself who did not know the ancients pecked into patina of stone and chiseled

with antlers their message why did he say such a thing she asks me and am I

upset that a scalpel could craft such brilliance and then she struck the fretted

fingerboard of her mandolin bringing the fullness of its sound to me from its

hollow wooden cage and we who were separate are brought together our rooms

and walls taken away.



To Feast on the Flesh of Decay


Suppose first light spikes between limbs of the black ash

into the dog kennel where hounds brace their paws

against chain links and their spittle turns to vapor

as the farmer brings them water and a kettle of scraps

then goes back to the main house to help his wife in labor

and suppose he genuflects and counts her rapid breaths

and feels the thrum of blood move through her body

his trousers’ knees and shirt sleeves wet as he waits

to catch the stillborn they’ve named Maia of the Angels

while outside a breeze rattles the wheat stalks and stirs

the chaff left on the field hayed days before it flowered

suppose this farmer returns to the barn for a shovel

to bury their child and in the rafters hears the rustle

of rats in the loft while his hounds bay to stalk a fox

while his wife Marta wraps their baby in white cloth

if you think everything disappears fully think again

suppose come late spring she digs up her child’s

scaffold of white bones and presses them to her breast

to suckle her loss and what if she eats the grave dust

under her own nails and what if he farmer does

what needs doing back in the hayloft

by pushing down a bale of fodder

for the milk cows.



The Sound the Tree Makes



The tree fell in the forest because of deep freeze the tree fell because it was

another day because of gravity the tree fell soundless onto shoulder-high snow

the tree fell because the wind swirled because of root rot termite buggery

because its torso was girded by bark beetles because the phloem and xylem

dried the tree fell because it was time for it to fall it fell and the sound echoed and

birds rose from their roosts the sound was train-like crushing thunderous the tree

fell in slow motion black and white silent the tree fell because a lumberjack yelled

timber because it was first growth old diseased the tree resting on the ground

was delimbed by chain saws was cut into logs by bucking the trunk from butt to

crown was dragged on a skid trail from forest to flatbed truck strapped down and

hauled to the mill the outer bark skinned denuded with grinding wheels the tree

was sized under a circular saw’s buzz was kiln dried planed trimmed smoothed

graded and banded the tree gave out a great scream when it was felled that

could be heard by other trees in the next county but in some counties could not

be heard at all.

Thomas Centolella

April 6, 2020

One of the many poets I had the privilege of hearing read at the WordTemple Poetry Series was San Francisco poet Thomas Centolella. I remember sitting in the front row thinking “He’s one of the magicians.” What did I mean by that? He wasn’t pulling a rabbit out of a hat or sawing a costume-clad woman in half, but as he read one poem after another I found myself asking How did he do that?

In Robert Bly’s Leaping Poetry, he says his idea of art “often has at its center a long floating leap, around which the work of art in ancient times used to gather itself like steel shavings around the magnet. But a work of art does not necessarily have at its center a single long floating leap. The work can have many leaps, perhaps shorter. The real joy of poetry is to experience this leaping inside a poem. A poet who is ‘leaping’ makes a jump from an object or idea soaked in unconscious substance to an object or idea soaked in conscious psychic substance. What is marvelous is to see this leaping return in poetry of this century…Thought of in terms of language…leaping is the ability to associate fast.”

So, yes, I think these leaps have something to do with the magic I find in Centolella’s work; that and a good dose of passion.

Thomas Centolella is the author of four books of poetry: Terra Firma (Copper Canyon Press), selected by Denise Levertov for the National Poetry Series and winner of the American Book Award; Lights & Mysteries (Copper Canyon Press), winner of the California Book Award from the Commonwealth Club; Views from along the Middle Way (Copper Canyon Press); and Almost Human (Tupelo Press), winner of the Dorset Prize, selected by Edward Hirsch.

Centolellla was given a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry in 1992 and a Lannan Residency in 2000. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, he has taught creative writing and literature for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here are a few poems by Thomas Centolella. Your comments, as always, will be appreciated.



I could have gone this evening to evensong.

Watched the light from a star on its way to dust

arrive at my cathedral’s nave, collaborate

with colored glass, and dazzle the congregation.

But it’s all paled for me, the luminous, the legendary

lives of saints (alleged to be as human as us

but impossibly strong). And my idea of exaltation?

A grunting old woman with grocery bags, her own joints

nearly leaden, trudging in from the street

not so much to be delivered from evil

as to get out of the cold and off her swollen feet.


I could have gone to evensong and joined the singers

from my choice seat near the sanctuary,

in that pew where another woman (exempt from pain

because much younger, one of fate’s loveliest chosen few)

let my long fingers stroke her long fingers,

and settled her fragrant head on my shoulder

in full view of the bishop — whose smile,

though benign as a saint’s, was a far cry

from laughter, as if we embodied the kingdom

and the power and the glory

he had always hungered after.


No surprise that I go to evensong anyway

when I close my eyes. I go out of spite, and irk the mild clergy

with my black leather jacket and the godless smirk

that says faith is for suckers — one of the Dark Prince’s

minions, now that I have fallen further

than I ever intended…But above a steady pilot light

fragrant herbs are steeping to balance my humors

(she used to joke I resembled a medieval saint),

and when did I ever feel completely at home

among the cynical one-note gloom-and-doomers?

And the voices I hear when I’m this alone


(somewhere between a locked ward

and a choir primed for heaven)

make their own kind of music

in their own sweet time,

and keep me even.



The Art of Preservation

Morning, the way mornings used to be

before those brilliant few days

when light would stir our sleeping bodies

like revelation. Early morning, the rooms

in half-tones, and I’m holding in my left hand

as if it were some kind of evidence

my own heart: encased in a pouch

of the latest plastic, murky in its own

dark blood: the art of preservation.

Those fine yellow words

from the manufacturer — are they instructions

or a warning? How calm I’ve become,

pale in the bathroom mirror, a casualty

that by all rights should not even be

breathing, much less on my feet.

On my left side there’s the slender bruise,

reddish purple, where my heart (to be replaced?

transplanted?) was deftly removed. Obviously

the operation is incomplete. What I need to do

is reinsert it — it’s getting late,

I’ve got to get to get to work. I keep thinking:

This is a dream, it ought to be easy,

it should slip right back in-between my ribs…

And wonder to behold, it does.

Then the alarm goes off: it’s morning

time again to go to work. I check my side

in the bathroom mirror: I’m fine,

more or less. Just a little scar

like expensive silk. Just a little tenderness.



“In the Evening We Shall be Examined on Love”

— St. John of the Cross

And it won’t be multiple choice,

though some of us would prefer it that way.

Neither will it be essay, which tempts us to run on

when we should be sticking to the point, if not together.

In the evening there shall be implications

our fear will change to complications. No cheating,

we’ll be told, and we’ll try to figure the cost of being true

to ourselves. In the evening when the sky has turned

that certain blue, blue of exam books, blue of no more

daily evasions, we shall climb the hill as the light empties

and park our tired bodies on a bench above the city

and try to fill in the blanks. And we won’t be tested

like defendants on trial, cross-examined

till one of us breaks down, guilty as charged. No,

in the evening, after the day has refused to testify,

we shall be examined on love like students

who don’t even recall signing up for the course

and now must take their orals, forced to speak for once

from the heart and not off the top of their heads.

And when the evening is over and it’s late,

the student body asleep, even the great teachers

retired for the night, we shall stay up

and run back over the questions, each in our own way:

what’s true, what’s false, what unknown quantity

will balance the equation, what it would mean years from now

to look back and know

we did not fail.

Olga Karman

March 27, 2020

Olga Karman was born in Havana, Cuba and lived there until she was twenty years and two months old. Her teenage years coincided with Fidel Castro’s armed struggle and eventual rise to power. “How exciting it was listening to Radio Rebelde every night over our short wave radio. I was in the crowd welcoming Fidel to Havana in 1959, but I was so emocionada when Fidel passed by on a tank that I forgot to pitch the flowers I had brought for el màximo lider.”

Karman left Cuba in 1960 and lived in North Stonington, an isolated part of Connecticut very distant from vibrant Havana, from her uncle’s farm where she’d gathered mangoes and guavas to feed the pigs. To save herself from the emptiness of North Stonington and the torment of a miserable marriage, she resumed her college education at nearby Connecticut College for Women. As a part-time commuter with a nine-month-old daughter, she was “an oddity” in 1963. When she graduated in 1966 with letters of acceptance from Princeton and Harvard, the news hit the local paper. “It made no sense to my neighbor Judy. ‘Funny,’ she said over the phone, ‘you don’t look that smart.'” Karman received her Ph.D. in 1976.

Karman moved to Buffalo from Boston in 1976 where her first poem was published in The Buffalo News. “Knowing it was coming, I jogged to the 7-11 in my pajamas very early that Sunday morning, grabbed the paper, opened it to the poetry page and proclaimed out loud to the 4 or 5 men who had dragged themselves there, although they were not completely sober yet: ‘My poem is here!’ I read it for them and, in return, they did not allow me to pay for the paper. They were my first and last paying public.”

Karman is the author of two chapbooks, a memoir, Scatter My Ashes Over Havana, and some short stories. “I give readings all over the place. My jig is almost up. My twin and I will turn 80 this September. Stay tuned for our fiesta con mùsica cubana in California.



A Cuban Spends an Evening with a Real American


The tall, thin man in the checkered wool shirt

is the son of a son of a Pilgrim

a Mayflower man.

Notice the tapered fingers.

His black-and-tan Setters run

in ferns and moss, laurel and fir.

Ideal Setters in an ideal

New Hampshire pine forest.


All is old in this Winnipeasaukee house.

Everyone is well-rooted in Tidewater past

and Connecticut rectories. The thin cups

are from the mission years in China.


The sun sets, evening opens.

We bring the basket

to the round oak table

and begin to match

our pick of mushrooms

to the glossy illustrations

in the Audubon Field Guide.

He names the Yellow Chanterelles,

The Old Man of the Woods,

the Yellow Amanita (“don’t touch that one!”)

— one mushroom per page, pristine, exotic.

I’m learning a new world and a new word.



After dinner, he shows me

family photos of refined ladies

and towering gentlemen, laughing girls

almost tipping an Indian canoe,

a small black dog from a vanished breed.


I can see my island far away,

flying trees, exposed roots

and fallen birds’ nests

in a September hurricane

that has left almost nothing standing.




Morning song

of mortar and pestle

on strong cumin seed

(I am bringing you lunch)

Sweet song of red currant,

cinnamon bark for fragrance

(Your dogs will run to my hands)

Aroma of turmeric from China or India

(Damp fieldstones the path)

Tomatoes: pulp, juice, and seeds

(From the porch the finches will sing)

The sharpness of scallions

(The house will be dark.

In the rooms,

the spirits of leaves

remembrance of rain.)

Smell, I will say, the cumin.

Let the grains slip through your hand,

prayer beads, bits of sand.

We will taste. We will quicken

the beams in your house.

The floorboards and sills

Will come level and plumb.





Starched white uniform

scented with violet water

hairnet in place

Bibì watches over us

from the wicker chair

she tucks in the sand

under the almond trees.


8 o´clock, the ocean pastel blue


Bobby and I press

our molds into the sand.

¨Look, Bibì,

Bobby made a starfish!”

and then Bobby pulls on her hem,


“Bibì, Olguita made an octopus, mirà!”


She buries her soles deeper

into the cool sand and sings us

a lullaby I will hum into old age


Tengo una muñeca vestida de azul

con zapatos blancos y medias de tul.


I have a doll all dressed in blue

with white shoes on and socks of tulle



Ulalume Gonzàlez de Leòn in Translation

March 19, 2020

“Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.”

Italo Calvino

The translation of poetry from one language to another is a daunting, some would say impossible, task. Some words in one language may not exist in another. How is meaning protected in such cases? Rhythm is crucial in many works of poetry — a changed rhythm can destroy intention. Given these challenges, among others, who in their right mind would set themselves to the hard work of translation? Fortunately for us, three individuals — Terry Ehret, John Johnson and Nancy J. Morales — have done just that and, as a result, introduce to us Plagios/Plagiarisms — Volume One (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2020), poems by Ulalume Gonzàlez de Leòn. Graced with an introduction by the great Octavio Paz (written in 1978), the collection wisely presents de Leòn’s poetry bilingually. Personally, I won’t buy a book of translated Spanish poems unless I can read, out loud, the original work first. In this way I can fully appreciate the sounds as they were meant to be heard. How more intimate with a poem can we be than when it is rolling around in our mouths?

Ulalume Gonzàlez de Leòn was born in 1928 in Uruguay; the daughter of two poets, Roberto Ibañez and Sarah de Ibañez. She studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Mexico. While living in Mexico in 1948, she became a naturalized Mexican citizen. She published essays, stories, poems, and worked with Mexican poet and Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz as an editor of two literary journals, Plural and Vuelta. She also translated the work of H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Hughes, Lewis Carroll and e.e. cummings.

In the 1970s in Latin America, Gonzàlez de Leòn was part of a generation of women writers challenging the traditional identities of women, marriage, and relationships. Her poetry earned earned her many awards, including the Xavier Villaurrutia Prize, the Flower of Laura Poetry Prize, and the Alfonso X. Prize. She died in 2009 of respiratory failure and complications of Alzheimer’s.

Why is the book titled Plagios/Plagiarisms? de Leòn says “Everything is creation: I choose to say even what has already been said, which is different now, transformed by that accumulation of convergent data at whose point of intersection I find myself. And everything is plagiarism. Everything has already been said.”

The collection, the first of three bilingual volumes, presents several short collections of her poems produced from 1968 to 1971, exploring the ephemeral nature of identity and its dependence on the ever-shifting ground of language and memory.

Here now, are a few poems from Plagios/Plagiarisms, presented first in Spanish and then in English. I invite your comments.


Carta de Una Suicida

Toda lo perdido

nuestro para siempre

a prueba de vida,

a prueba de muerte.


Hoy soñe que ayer

era diferente

y me despertè

para no perderte.


Hoy soñe que era

lo mismo mañana:

por tenerte siempre

me morì en la cama.



Suicide Note

All that’s lost

is ours forever,




Today I dreamed that yesterday

was different

and I woke up

so I wouldn’t lose you.


Today I dreamed it was

the same tomorrow:

to keep you always,

I died in bed.


Tiempo Largo


sin lunes a la vista


largo tiempo

Y el terror de tener que gastarlo

sin prisa que comerlo

sin hambre: terror de estar en blanco

en Babia prisionera

de un vuelo de mosca o de un cardillo

porque no tengo tiemp para inventar el mundo.


Slow Time

Like a Sunday

with no Monday in sight


slow time.


And the terror of having to spend it

without hurry to eat it

without hunger: the terror of drawing a blank

while daydreaming prisoner of the flight

of a fly or thistledown

because I don’t have time to invent the world.


Acto Amoroso

En las caricias lentas

a altas velocidades me inventas y te invento

Y en seguida perdemos nuestros cuerpos

con todo y fantasma


Love Scene

In slow caresses

at lightning speed you create me and I create you

And all at once we lose our bodies

ghost and all




Nancy J. Morales, a first-generation American of Puerto Rican parents, earned her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers College, a master’s in teaching English as a Second Language from Adelphi University, and a doctorate in education from Teacher’s College at Columbia University. She has taught at Dominican University College of Marin, Sonoma State University, and other schools. Currently she is a board member for the Northern California Chapter of the Fulbright Alumni Association and teaches Spanish to private clients.

John Johnson’s poetry has appeared in many print and online journals, including Boxcar; Poetry Review; Clade Sog; Triggerfish Critical Review; and Web Connections. He is a long-time student of the Spanish language and has studied letter-press printing with Iota Press of Sebastopol, producing chapbooks and bilingual broadsides.

Terry Ehret, one of the founders of Sixteen Rivers Press, has published four collections of poetry, most recently Night Sky Journey from Kelly’s Cove Press. Her literary awards include the National Poetry Series, the California Book Award, the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize, a nomination for the Northern California Book Reviewer’s Award, and five Pushcart Prize nominations. From 2004 — 2006, she served as the poet laureate of Sonoma County where she lives and teaches writing.

Patrick Cahill

March 11, 2020

Continuing with our mission of highlighting a few poets who have new books that were presented to a diminished audience at AWP this year due to the Coronavirus, we move on to San Francisco poet Patrick Cahill. To have Cahill’s poems available to us in his new collection The Machinery of Sleep is to remind us of the importance of small presses, in this case Sixteen Rivers, a shared-work, nonprofit poetry collective. And after witnessing Cahill work laboriously for years to publish poets as co-founder and editor of Ambush Review, a San Francisco-based literary and arts journal, it’s high time we get to celebrate his own powerful poems. I’ve admired his work for years, as I’m sure you will.

Cahill received his Ph.D. in History of Consciousness from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and wrote a study of Whitman and visual experience in nineteenth-century America. Portions of the work appearing in The Machinery of Sleep have appeared in The Daguerreian Annual and Left Curve. He lives in San Francisco where he volunteers with the San Francisco Recreation & Park in habitat restoration.

Following is the “blurb” I wrote for the back cover of his book:

“Enter Patrick Cahill’s The Machinery of Sleep and you enter a marvel of a world consumed by dreams, memories, deep observation, love, death, and more. With great artistry, sometimes sharp-edged, sometimes extraordinarily tender, Cahill brings us poems of astonishing range: wise and poignant, heartbreaking, life-affirming, and sometimes humorous. He is a master of marrying emotion with craft — not one word is wasted, not one more word is required. We read these words and travel far — from ‘Q’s world (MIA)’, based on ‘conversations…with an acquaintance who spends time in another world’ (‘Shawn occupies three bodies now’) to ‘The Poet Ponders His Lot’ (‘The mouse speaks English, but squeaks in French…a motor mouth to boot. But cute.’) to ‘She fled with the moment’ (‘even the arabesque of her wingless flight / the fragrant air / that circumscribed her memory / of water ice and snow / fled the universal dark / and nameless matter / of which she was herself / an infinitesimal dot’). The Machinery of Sleep is a collection that will hold you from the first line until the last, for there is so much richness here, so much brilliance end to end and back again.” — Katherine Hastings

Let’s move on now to a few elegiac poems from The Machinery of Sleep. Your comments are always welcome.



you a composition of desire even in the fog star

jasmine burdens the air, its fragrance a devious substitute

yes, even in the fog


take us to your Russia, Natalya your frozen sun blurring

its migrations of snow, those blue and senseless distances

Natalya take us from these disappearing surfaces


we’ve ground the lenses for clarity for poetry makes

nothing happen yet Spinoza inhaled the powdered glass

of his trade and died of it


have you ever pined for the perfect role rolled for the

perfect dream dreamed the perfect mountain where the pine its

garland weaves woven the perfect sacrificial mountain tree


the moving air moved through your reflection beyond the

window above the walk the living too moved through

you I looked right through them to traffic beyond


then one day you began you began to disappear

lingering there behind me your reflection gone and if

I turn around one day, you won’t be there


Brief Time

In one of her self-


Frida Kahlo translates

her shattered spine

into a fluted


of broken stone

ten years

before her death

ars longa

vita brevis

Seneca’s translation

of Hippocrates

but in the original

art is the art

of medicine

and life this brief

poor allotment

given those

who hope to master

a most difficult art


Gone Astray

That bird flying into the future left us behind

what hallucinations fill those trees

gone astray in thought

you wait for a voice under the oak

beyond your expectations

or trace of where you’ve been

talus stealing the mountain trail

clouds moving their shadows across the slopes

our first language knitted in place

or twined around a vision

we amateurs amator amare

lover to love


Note: In the poem “Gone,” above, the first quotation is from W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” the second from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To Jane: The Invitation.”


Four Poets for March beginning with Jane Hirshfield

March 4, 2020

As you all know by now, many of the poets and publishers who were scheduled to appear at the AWP conference in San Antonio this week have had to cancel due to concerns about the Coronavirus. It’s possible that by the time you read this post, the entire conference may be shut down. People who have cancelled their participation have done so unselfishly, not just worried about their own health but by the possibility of being vectors in the communities to which they will return. It is my hope that those of us who can will support poets and their publishers this month. So much hard work and expense has gone into the creation of many books that would have seen robust sales at the conference.

Today’s post will highlight the first of four poets with recent publications that I’ll be featuring over the next week or so: Jane Hirshfield. Future posts will include Patrick Cahill, Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon and Joseph Zaccardi.

Before moving on to Hirshfield’s work, however, I’d like to share one comment I received about the work of Buffalo poet Irene Sipos, WordTemple’s most recent highlight.

“Katherine, thanks for the introduction to Irene Sipos. Sometimes it amazes me to think how many fine, unrecognized poets and writers there are in the world. I especially enjoyed the imaginative quality of ‘Globe.’ One of those poems I wish I had written! ‘Election 2016’ was sobering and brought back some memories I’d rather forget, but that’s a sign of the effectiveness of the poem. I love the quoted sign from the Women’s March: ‘My arms are tired from holding this sign since the seventies.’ Isn’t that the truth! Thanks for your blog. It is so wonderful to hear your voice speaking about poetry (and I can hear it in my mind). It reminds me of the wonderful introductions you gave to poets who came to WordTemple.

— Jodi Hottel, Santa Rosa CA

Jane Hirshfield

I gave a heads up about a month ago that Jane Hirshfield has a new book coming out, her ninth, from Knopf. The book is Ledger and will be released on March 10. When I asked her to provide me with a personal statement about the collection, Hirshfield couldn’t help being her kind, generous self:

“I’ve so long admired the work Katherine Hastings does on behalf of poems and poets, from the time I was part of the launch reading of her WordTemple Poetry Series…in Sonoma County, until now: This new book, in turn, is trying to work on behalf of beings wordless, speechless…newts and old-growth cedars, spider monkeys and jumping spiders, rivers and marshes and mountains. They are of course also foundation stones, rafters, and windows of this temple we live in.” — Jane Hirshfield

Ledger has already been called “masterful” by Publisher’s Weekly and “clarion” by Booklist, in starred early reviews. The San Francisco Chronicle praises its ‘exploration of the capacity for life, its value and purpose.’ Knopf says this is a “book of personal, ecological and political reckoning…(it’s) center of gravity lies in poems that recount, and take account of, the crises of the biosphere and social justice. There are poems with other subjects as well — poems on wanting to be surprised, on reading a library book with previously turned-down pages, on the death of a friend of forty years. Hirshfield has come to stand among the ranks of our master poets. This new book, both tonic and essential, faces the challenges of the current world with acute tenderness and compassion, amid the abiding remembrance of shared fate.”

Here now are a few poems from Ledger by Jane Hirshfield. I welome your comments.

Let Them Not Say

Let them not say:   we did not see it.

We saw.


Let them not say:  we did not hear it.

We heard.


Let them not say:   they did not taste it.

We ate, we trembled.


Let them not say:   it was not spoken, not written.

We spoke,

we witnessed with voices and hands.


Let them not say:   they did nothing.

We did not-enough.


Let them say, as they must say something:


A kerosene beauty,

It burned.


Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,

read by its light, praised,

and it burned.


A Ream of Paper

I have a ream of paper,

a cartridge of ink,




a wool scarf for warmth.


Whatever handcuffs the soul,

I have brought here.


Whatever distances the heart,

I have brought here.


A deer rises onto her haunches

to reach for an apple,

though many fallen apples are on the ground.



It begins subtly:

the maple

withdraws an inch from the birch tree.


The porcupine

wants nothing to do with the skink.


Fish unschool,

sheep unflock to separately graze.


Clouds meanwhile

declare to the sky

they have nothing to do with the sky,

which is not visible as they are,


nor knows the trick of turning

into infant, tumbling pterodactyls.


The turtles and moonlight?

Their long arrangement is over.


As for the humans.

Let us not speak of the humans.

Let us speak of their language.


The first person singular

condemns the second person plural

for betrayals neither has words left to name.


The fed consider the hungry

and stay silent.

Irene Sipos

February 19, 2020

One of the first poets I heard read in Buffalo was Irene Sipos. She was celebrating the release of her collection Stones (NFB Publishing, 2018) at one of my favorite bookstores, Talking Leaves on Elmwood Avenue. Between the poems she was reading and the way she presented them, the experience was a full-on delight.

“If stanza means ‘room,’ then there is perhaps no better form for Irene Sipos’s intimacies than these rooms of her own making, these lines of verse that hold — that host — family and friends. The poem in her practice is a hospitable act, inviting to the table as equals the newborn and the departed, welcoming memories of one, and hopes for the others.” — Andrew Rippeon, Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature, Hamilton College.

As you shall see, however, Sipos reaches beyond her immediate family and friends to a world we all recognize, sometimes with joy, sometimes with its opposite. In talking about the collection, she says “These are mostly poems of quotidian events sometimes illuminated by a flash of sunlight or darkened by a passing cloud. Some are laments for a broken world or meditations on how we could do better. All are invitations to look and listen.”

Here are three poems from Stones.

Election 2016


Maples leaves flutter gold, pin oak leaves

shimmer red, sun shines brightly, Bekah exclaims

that the air has turned iridescent pink.


At the corner we greet our friend and her daughter,

walking on their way to vote at the Unitarian church.

They wear borrowed pantsuits too big, floppy, at first


we don’t get it, then we laugh.  We also voted with

confidence this morning for our first woman president.

We hug and wish each other well.  By nightfall our


optimism is slipping.  Through the evening we worry

more, we wait anxiously for the final count at 3 a.m.

Next morning we startle awake from the nightmare that has just begun.


I lit three candles

in glass jars inviting fire.

The past is never dead


said Faulkner, it’s not even past.

We carry the weight and we repeat

mistakes: as a poster held high at


the Women’s March on Washington

read My arms are tired from holding

this sign since the seventies.


Sea salt & ginger, frosted snow, balsam

& cedar, I like diversity even in candles

whose gentle glow brings a memory of the


small fireplace in our carriage house 1977

which was framed by a mysterious fresco.

Vines dripped from the ceiling, owls and snakes


peered out from brown entangled branches.

The artist, we were told, had studied in Florence.

No heat or electricity, the blaze from this fire


warmed us through the famous blizzard.  We

concocted cowboy chili on the hearth where

we later curled up in sleeping bags, dreaming


as wind howled and embers crackled, of the

progress we believed to be unfolding in our time,

finally, toward social equality and peaceful compassion.


Forty years ago, dear marchers, what did we know?



We bought a globe at a bookstore

but did not anticipate that on the ride

home, salt water oceans would slosh

against the car doors, or that the spin

of the earth’s axis would make us dizzy.


that we would have to open the windows to try

to catch our breath.  I was impressed by how you

kept on driving in spite of the weight of the

tectonic plates as we changed lanes, how you

held lightly to the steering wheel regardless of


the shifting migration of mantles and how calmly

you turned on a classical radio station to take

the edge off negotiating traffic while we were

experiencing the axial tilt of our oblate spheroid

and my excitement in holding the world on my lap.



I place a small

stone on my father’s

marker flat to the ground

to say, your memory lasts

solid and enduring.


I place a small

stone on my father’s

flat to the ground

to say, rest peacefully

no need to ache and wander.


I place a small

stone on my father’s

marker flat to the ground

to say, this pebble, your name,

is carried in God’s sling


as long ago the stones of shepherds

tallied with the numbers

of the flock for safe-keeping

across mountain tops. I catch

strains of an ancient song as


I place a small

stone on my father’s

marker flat to the ground, that says,

There are men with hearts of stone

and stones with hearts of men.


As always, I look forward to receiving your comments at kfhastings (at sign) mac (dot) com.

Devreaux Baker

February 7, 2020

It has been my pleasure since about 2007 to know Mendocino poet Devreaux Baker. She is the author of five full-length collections of poetry, including Hungry Ghosts; out of the bones of earth; Red Willow People; Beyond the Circumstance of Sight; and Light at the Edge. She also co-edited, with Sharon Doubiago and Susan Maeder, Wood, Water, Air and Fire, The Anthology of Mendocino Women Poets.

Baker is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the 2017 Joe Gouveia Outermost National Poetry Prize, the 2014 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Prize from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the 2012 Hawaii Council on Humanities International Poetry Prize, the 2011 PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Poetry Award, and the 2010 Women’s Global Leadership Poetry Prize. She is a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, the Hawthornden Castle and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. She lives on the magnificent Mendocino Coast in Northern California.

I hope you’ll treat yourself now to two poems by Devreaux, the first from out of the bones of earth (Wild Ocean Press, 2015); the second from her most recent collection, Hungry Ghosts (Wild Ocean Press, 2018). Please send any comments or questions you have about the work to me at kfhastings (at sign) mac (dot) com.


It began with a tin roof

sounds like silver sticks

falling from air

a dash of bird feet

despair or love at all the edges

It began with a car

gleaming bumpers

wind shield wipers forming a pattern

of lost and found

the truth of the seen versus

the unseen

It began with a picnic

wicker basket of fruit

grass still dazed from a sudden


It was spring

or was it fall

the brush of winter

woven into scarves

It arrived in the blue smell

at the base of clouds

became a dark thought

fell in torrents

released us from ourselves

It began with a mattress

on the cabin floor

the smell of wet pines

redwoods singing

in hidden groves

It came in a rush

unfolded wet knees

a vertebrae of desire

It began with your body

in the afternoon

the smell of rain

conjuring memories

silver sticks falling across

our shoulders

A dash of bird feet

on all the rooftops

of the world


My mother came for a visit

even though she died last spring.

She was standing by the foot of my bed

releasing vowels from the afterlife

smelling of moss and spring rain

on the tarmac.

Here we go again, old recipes and lectures,

I thought, stumbling out the door into the back yard

while the history of all forgotten things

was leaking out of her apron pockets

like the Andromeda strain or the Milky

Way filled with impossible features of dead stars.

All she really wanted was for me to follow

her lead in this shuffle-foot shim-sham, this

millennial foxtrot of flesh turning into

stardust, that long unwinding road

pale as beer made from wheat where

we all crowd into a room and wait for

the unmarked bus to transport us into the highlands

of the forever lands.  This is the way it feels

when she presses her hand against the small of my back.

The valley gorge that rests between my hips and heart

wakes up and smiles and even the smallest bones

like the swing when she says anything is possible

and I want to answer her but am lifted off my feet

shucking the chrysalis of my life, resurrecting the

boogie-woogie, dancing in the midnight arms

of her Stardust Lounge.

Responses to Charles Cote and Learning the Blog Biz

As I mentioned in my first entry last month, I’m new at blogging and will learn as I go. Hopefully, it won’t take too long before I can at least fake my way into something that looks like its supposed to look. “Just LOOK intelligent,” my mother told me as a child. I’ll try.

Responses to Charles Cote’s Poems

A few days ago, I posted three poems from I Play His Red Guitar by Rochester poet Charles Cote. If you read them and would like to send me a short response, please send it to kfhastings (at sign) mac (dot) com. Meanwhile, here are partial comments I received from two California poets, Gregory Randall and David Beckman. (Our cross-country conversations have begun!)

From Gregory Randall: I can see why you appreciate his work — it feels…graceful, felt, propulsive, no superfluous words and a rehabilitating of old forms to new needs. I’m eager to read more NY poets…It must take an incredibly evolved nature to turn the terrible and horrific into a poetry that can be shared and can endure (Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Hernandez…). And so, I re-read Charles Cote’s poems and realize how generous he must be to toil so hard on behalf of us, his readers, to turn his journey through loss into a journey we can all share.

From David Beckman: “I Curse You, Melanoma, Curse” is a controlled outburst of pain, driven by the courage to make of a poem a sieve through which pain is washed. For Cote, technique and vocabulary are in the service of life deeply lived and the white anger of its loss. “Tin Man Villanellle,” is a thrumming meditation on fear that both contains it and, if anything, deepens its hold…”Ultimately, these are poems that deliver what we yearn for: awe at the human spirit struggling under pressure and relief for its strength.

Other News

Congratulations, Gwynn O’Gara!

Sonoma County, California poet Gwynn O’Gara‘s new collection, Clio’s Daughter With Head on Fire has placed as a finalist in the Faulkner Society Poetry Collection contest and has won the Shirley Holden Helberg grant of $1,000 from the National League of American Pen Women, judged by Upstate New York poet Philip Memmer.

News from Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield tells me that her new book, Ledger, will be published by Penguin Random House with a publication date of March 10, 2020. Her first reading from the book will be held at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. More on this book soon.