For Florenz: “Venison” by Karen Chase

Working with Florenz on both Kazimierz Square and BEAR was always rich and fun and always  straightforward.  We had a tradition that she would always sign her emails and I would always address emails to her with a funny version of her name: Fiori, Firenza, Firenze, Fiorentina, F, Flora, Florentian, Florenzina, Flor —  you get the idea.  What a wonderful human being.

-Karen Chase



from Kazimierz Square

Paul set the bags down, told how they had split
the deer apart, the ease of peeling it
simpler than skinning a fruit, how the buck
lay on the worktable, how they sawed
an anklebone off, the smell not rank.
The sun slipped into night.

Where are you I wondered as I grubbed
through cupboards for noodles at least.
Then came venison new with blood,
stray hair from the animal’s fur.
Excited, we cooked the meat.

Later, I dreamt against your human chest,
you cloaked me in your large arms, then
went for me the way you squander food sometimes.
By then, I was eating limbs in my sleep, somewhere
in the snow alone, survivor of a downed plane,
picking at the freshly dead. Whistles
of a far off flute — legs, gristle, juice.
I cracked an elbow against a rock, awoke.
Throughout the night, we consumed and consumed.

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For Florenz from Joan Cusack Handler

Dear CKP Friends-

Today, October 18, is a sad day for all of us here at CKP –it marks the first anniversary of the death of Florenz Eisman, CKP’s Managing Editor and my partner in founding this press back in 1999, and we wanted to do something special to mark that occasion and celebrate her. We brainstormed events–short readings and stories from this year’s books along with multicolored balloons, funny stories, lots of laughter and delectable eats—just what she’d have ordered if she were still leading this parade. It would be a happy affair. Maybe we’d call it “In Living Color: A Tribute to Florenz Eisman” or “Florenz’ Red Lipstick: A Tribute” (her signature), and devote October on this blog to poems that remind us—all of us in the CKP community, and that includes all of you, our readers—of our lovely, smart, courageous, funny treasure Florenz.

But as delicious as such a tribute sounded it would not include the hundreds of people who live beyond our reach. We wanted you with us, so we decided on a more fitting tribute on our blog and newsletter which reach all of you.

Florenz took enormous pleasure from her work on our books. She was the managing editor of every CKP book published between its inception in 2000 and 2013—that’s 70 books!! Such an amazing statistic called for a special tribute which would feature poems from several of the books that she edited along the way. So…starting today and continuing through the 31st or well into November, we will showcase poems in Florenz’ honor. Each writer represented chose a poem of their own—from the book that Florenz worked on—and sent it to us, in many cases with a personal note to or about Florenz. We will publish one of these poems each day on our blog. We hope you will join us in this special tribute.

A special thank you to the poets who sent tributes. Your books were all so important to Florenz. She loved poetry; she loved CavanKerry, and she loved your poems.

I was always aware of how important Florenz was in my life and the life of CKP and that of our books, but it wasn’t until several years into the life of the press that I realized how important she was to the writers themselves. The first time Teresa Carson, CKP Associate Publisher, and I went to the AWP conference together, we met many CKP poets for the first time. We had been working together on their books for several years and had spoken to them on the phone, but we had met very few in person because our writers come from across the US. On that first day, as Teresa and I struggled to stabilize a poster showcasing many of these same writers, and for the next four days, as we met and talked with visitors to our booth, we were virtually deluged with writers asking if either of us we were Florenz. The drop in tone as we answered, “no, I’m Joan” or “no, I’m Teresa,” was not lost on us. Florenz was the CKP person that these writers felt connected to. She bore their “child” from acceptance through to publication. She listened and assuaged the anxiety of each of them as they went through the process of delivering their ‘child’. She was the midwife. They wanted to meet and to thank her.

When we got home, we told her about her celebrity status and teased her that she was the heroine and we were ‘chopped liver.’

But Florenz’ imprint on CKP and the world of readers and writers, we feel, also calls for a more permanent tribute to accompany this banquet of poems. Since we are located in NJ and are supported by the NJ Council on the Arts, CKP traditionally says “thank you” by publishing one book by a New Jersey writer every 12 to 18 months. From this moment on, we will name this book for Florenz and establish the Florenz Eisman Memorial NJ Collection, the first of which will appear in the fall, 2016-spring, 2017 season. As always, it will be selected from open submissions. An avid reader of all literature, a gifted writer herself, and the godmother of all 70 CavanKerry books, Florenz’ imprint will last as long as CKP does. We can think of no better way to honor our beloved friend.


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From Randy Smit, for ADA Awareness Month

Several years ago I received an email from Randy Smit. I had no idea who this Randy Smit was. He asked if I had any time to come by and talk about poetry and help him learn to write poems. I thought this would be a one time visit. I arrived and realized that while I’d never met Randy, I’d passed him many times while walking our dog down the paths of Sanctuary Woods. Randy was the guy in the wheelchair sitting beside a caregiver watching the creek pass. “I recognize you,” I said immediately. “Yeah, it’s likely the funky glasses,” he replied. How many times has he offered that gentle quip, putting at ease all of us taken off guard by meeting one who can only speak, move a finger to operate the chair, let his head fall back in a welcoming laugh? That first meeting evolved into several years of hanging out talking poetry, theology, philosophy, and what we have learned from one another. Sympathy from me has transformed itself into friendship, abiding respect, and a way into worlds I had no idea existed. “When I’m sad,” I said one day, “I can go outside and work in the garden, walk the dog, take a bike ride, get out of my head. You can’t leave the world of the mind.” “I’m glad you understand that, Jack. But also know that I can go into worlds most would never feel at home in.” Randy and I have not moved beyond the worlds of the disabled and the “abled.” We have merged, made our own way in our own world, a profoundly real world. We are grateful.
I know that you will have a valuable experience with what Randy writes here.
-Jack Ridl


Greetings my friends.  My name is Randy Smit.  I am a writer and I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy.  It is a progressive disease that causes spinal scoliosis and muscle degeneration.  I am 46 years old and have been learning how to relate to myself and to the world for as long as I can remember.  What follows is a glimpse of where I’m at and what I try to do to live into the fullness of life as best I can with a little help from my friends.  If it takes you anywhere, please let me know and I’ll try to meet you there (electronically) so we can chat.  Enjoy!


There is
always somewhere
to go.

It can take so little to open things up.  The difference between soaring and sitting stuck is so slight.  But if I let go of the branch, if I reach for the notebook and jot down those few words, that scrap of phrase, if I can just start writing, I can be found, in an instant, in flight.  Generally I’m too afraid to risk the adventure, to face the possibility that my words and voicing may not change my reality.  In fact, they may even make things worse should they shed light on what I’d rather deny or overcome (but can’t.)  For most of us, pretending is what gets us through.  Maybe writing is about choosing how to pretend, when and how, and for what purpose.

Why do I write?  So I can stand up and walk across the room to quietly and confidently embrace that beautiful man in the mirror.  I like to see his wheelchair empty.  Poetry is a way through my challenges, a pathway into the deep forest of love, beauty, goodness and every other mysterious thing that is impossible to talk about.  Whenever I awake as a poet I am found somewhere, often a place I didn’t expect.  Jack Ridl is correct “Art is a place.”  As we became friends two years ago, he gave me these words and I thought “Yes, let’s do that… let’s go places.”

Wanting to travel, then, I start to see the importance of intentional imagining.  It’s difficult to explain.  But, if you have ever thought of the world or outer space or the human race, you also have unknowingly leaned heavily into the creative work of your imagination.  Built into our very fabric is an elaborate capacity for integration and story making.  Some fixed setting for the story of my life is always humming, by grace, behind the scenes.  For me, to write is to turn within toward that beautiful “imager, creator” and to let it take me somewhere.  I give myself to myself in writing; though severely disabled physically, I get up and walk again and again.  I explore a vast inner world.  I tend to my horses and campfires, I tenderly bathe my wife, I get up first and bring her coffee.


I have a tribe inside and out and we never create alone.  We are many and we are one.  I write for me and my friends, all the people I love (and long to meet.)  Yes, I start with myself, I think we all do.  But then I am dying to show another artist friend, someone I trust, someone also who chooses to dream out loud, who trusts life and trains all of their voices.

I do poetry as an effort to respond to what is happening around me.  But more so, I allow it to be a regimen that places me in rich dialogue with myself, my many responders to experiences both bland and blazing, encounters with euphoria or dysphoria, moments of serendipity or catastrophe and everything in between.  My many voices sound a lot like me and they sound so much like the friends I’ve known and walk with still.  So inside there is only me of course, but also my grandfather and my brothers and my seminary professors and my old bus driver and — oh yes of course!  my rock stars, writers and poets, my inimitable muses.

When I spend time with friends like Jack Ridl, I can remember who I am.  Close friends who are co-creators offer us a companionship unlike any other.  They know how daunting the open page can be, they know also the unspeakable bliss, the flight of soul that is possible and how often it takes so little to open things up.  For me, this kind of tribal awareness probably began with telling jokes at school and the playful one-upsmanship of third-grade boys sparring to see which one could make the other spew Pepsi out their nose.  Since that time I’ve been given some great friends, many of whom are creative and whose disciplined sight helps support my own efforts at perceiving.  When I am able to notice synchronicity threading together otherwise random circumstances, when a door is opened, even just a crack, and renewing light enters, when I know there is a new story that must be told, a stalwart memory to be given shape, I know that friends who get it will be there with me throughout the entire process.  If we know our beloved are waiting to hear from us, how on earth could we ever keep silent?

Randy Smit is founder and director of Compassionate Connection, an organization offering pathways of practice to creative renewal.  He and his wife live in Holland, Michigan where he continues to explore poetry, essays and short fiction as a freelance writer.
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The Mad Hatter of Poetry by Donald Platt

This summer, the New York Times Book Review ran an article titled “Does Poetry Matter?”  In it, David Orr stated that “poetry is the weak sister of its sibling arts.”  The article led to a variety of online responses from writers to the Academy of American Poets.
CKP is joining the conversation and asking writers, friends, and other community partners to explain “Why Poetry Matters.”  Here is our first entry.

The Mad Hatter of Poetry

Poetry is a broad-brimmed straw sunhat that you put on in mid-July 
        to weed the garden, pulling up crabgrass, thistles, pigweed, 
        curly dock, and shaking the dirt from their roots.  The 
        hat’s wide weave casts diamonds of light on your face.

It is the black stocking cap that some cancer patients wear both 
        winter and summer throughout chemo treatments and under 
        which their new hair grows slowly back.  

It is Charlie Chaplin’s derby that rarely sits on his head, but more 
        usually twirls around on the iron tip of his cane.

It is a white suede cowboy hat with silver circles sewn into its 
        broad leather band, under which a fat man sweats and dozes 
        through the long afternoon while his radio keeps playing 
        zydeco interrupted by frantic news bulletins on the hour.

It is a track cycling racer’s aerodynamic helmet, like a pileated 
        woodpecker’s swept-back pompadour, that cuts through the 
        wind at 50 mph on the velodrome’s banked turns.

It is Hermes’ golden cap with wings.

It is the carved wooden headpiece in the shape of a six-foot-long 
        crocodile, worn by the Niger River Delta people, with a bird 
        perched on its back, which eats the crocodile’s insect 
        parasites, and a round dish on the crocodile’s snout to hold 
        ritual offerings: fresh fruit, dried fish, sticks of 

It is a baseball cap with a blue bill and the logo FUCK WORK, I’D 

It is Josephine Baker’s blue, sequined skullcap with a fan of wild 
        turkey and pheasant feathers.


As with hats, so with poetry.

We wear hats in all seasons.  

Hats can be practical or fanciful.  

There are hard hats and felt hats.

They suit our moods.

There is the jaunty insouciance of a newsboy’s 
       red-and-white-checkered cap.

But does the hat make the man?  Or the woman?

Some hats are historical.  

What is Lincoln without his stovepipe hat?  

Bareheaded, he is no less Lincoln.

But who would he be if he had never worn his trademark hat with the 
        black silk mourning band in memory of his son Willie, who 
        died from fever in 1862?

Would Mary Todd have married him without his hat?

I’ve heard of big hats that are amorous accoutrements, behind which 
        surreptitious lovers kiss.

Poetry, then, as necessary and unnecessary as any hat.

The saints in Renaissance paintings wear haloes like hats, tippy 
        gold-plated pie tins they must balance on their heads.

But there is the problem of Napoleon’s bicorne hat with its red and 
        gold cockade, the one he wore at Waterloo.

Would history have been different if he had worn different headgear?

I actually think it might have been.

Does anyone wear a busby in Bisbee, Arizona?

Why not?

It might be too hot.

What hats did Pol Pot favor?


Poetry is the mad hatter’s millinery store.  Or haberdashery.  Come 
        in.  See the million and one hats.  Try one on.  See if it 


Poetry is our younger daughter’s conical, fuchsia, seventh birthday 
        hat scrawled with hieroglyphs in gold glitter, the rubber 
        band cutting into the soft flesh of her chin as she blows a 
        noisemaker to hear its kazoo-like shriek and see its long, 
        purple, paper, lizard tongue unfurl and then snap back 
        without catching anything.


Poetry neither matters nor doesn’t matter.

It is life’s invisible value-added tax.

It will certainly not earn anyone much money.

Where are poetry’s plutocrats?

An art that exists outside of, and beyond, most economies, why did 
        Wallace Stevens claim in his posthumously published “Adagia” 
        that “poetry is money”?

Mere wishful thinking from a poet who, as vice-president of the 
        Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, was already a 
        wealthy man?

Or did he mean to suggest, however elliptically, that poetry has a 
        value that transcends the world’s currencies and stock 

Steal this poem.  No one will prosecute you.  I promise.

Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, The Red 
        Vineyard (now in the Pushkin Museum), for 400 francs a few 
        months before his death.

Some say that Van Gogh painted his first Starry Night—a view of a 
        bend in the Rhône River with huge, lantern-like stars and 
        the lights of Arles reflected in its dark waters—at night 
        on the river bank with many candles fastened to his straw 
        hat so that he could see the easel.

How long did he work on that canvas?

If the candles had melted down, his straw hat would have caught fire.

Though the story is probably apocryphal and hopelessly romantic, 
        the poet is still a penniless man or woman painting the 
        reflection of stars in a muddy river by the light of a 
        burning hat.


Lyric poetry is the intimate art.

The hat should fit the owner’s head exactly.

The hat’s inner band absorbs your sweat, gets stained with salt, 
        dirt, the natural oils from your hair, and sloughed-off skin 

You grow into a hat.

So too does the reader approach the poem and make it her own on 
        repeated rereadings.  Her head shapes it.

We put the poem on, look in the mirror, turn this way and that, 
        slanting the brim down or up to see how it becomes us.

We strut.

Or does the hat wear us?

We exist to show off the hat.

That hat, rainbow-striped court jester’s cap with bells, is gaudy 
       proof positive of existence.


In her poem “Exchanging Hats,” Elizabeth Bishop drolly 
       asks, “Are there any / stars inside your black fedora?”

She provides no answer.

The poem’s job is to provide no answers.

28 million light years from Earth, the Sombrero Galaxy keeps 
       spinning in the constellation Virgo.

It is classified as “an unbarred spiral galaxy.”

At its center, a supermassive black hole around which a dust lane 
        makes the shape of a giant elliptical sombrero.

It is thought to be the brightest galaxy within a 10-megaparsec 
        radius of the Milky Way.

Like some poems, it is a universe unto itself.  There are 
        mysteries that will never emerge from its supermassive 
        black hole.

We walk its dust lane with our fancy hats on.

The law of hats: one wears a hat, then takes it off.

I wear a favorite poem for a while, then take it off, place it 
        quietly on a park bench so that someone else may claim it, 
        pick it up, turn its brim around and around in both hands 
	before putting it on.

Poetry is more than coquetry.

Poems are plasma and platelets, are meant to be donated.

Think of the universe as a mad hatter who wears poetry—superfluous 
        and necessary—like the shining Sombrero Galaxy that our 
        best words are.

A poem’s words are meant to travel light years.

						Donald Platt

DSC_7566Donald Platt’s fifth book, Tornadoesque, is scheduled for publication in 2016 through CavanKerry Press’s Notable Voices series. His other books include Dirt Angels (New Issues Press, 2009), My Father Says Grace (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), Cloud Atlas (Purdue University Press, 2002), and Fresh Peaches, Fireworks, & Guns (Purdue University Press, 1994). He is the recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and three Pushcart Prizes. His poems have appeared in The New Republic, Nation, American Poetry Review, Paris Review, Poetry, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Southwest Review, Southern Review, and other journals, as well as in The Best American Poetry 2000 and 2006. He teaches in the MFA Program at Purdue University.

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ADA Awareness Month: “Why Do We Fear the Blind?” from NYT

“Even the most brilliant sighted person can be dumb about the obvious.”

Read the full article at The New York Times

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CavanKerry Press remembers Carolyn Kizer

In her introduction to Carolyn Kizer: Perspectives in Her Life and Work (CavanKerry Press 2001), Maxine Kumn wrote:

Carolyn Kizer was a feminist before the word came into vogue. Her famous poem “Pro Femina” legitimized a new generation of women writers’ attention to the undisclosed facts of their lives…

Read “Pro Femina” at the Poetry Foundation’s website



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Nin Andrews Interviews Teresa Carson


This is such a carefully constructed book (My Crooked House) about the anatomy of a house and a psyche, and the healing of both. I’d love to hear you talk about how the idea for the book came to you.

Well, the poems started coming before the architectural structure of the book announced itself. For a few years I’d been thinking, writing, and talking in therapy about the many aspects of my homesickness. For the first forty years of my life I didn’t feel at home in my body or in my mind or in my writing or in my job or in my family or with friends or in my first marriage or in any place where I lived. This unease with every aspect of my self and my life left me feeling “broken in some fundamental way.” I projected this psychological state on my actual house—e.g. letting the house fall into disrepair and feeling unable to do anything about it. What I’m trying to emphasize here is: my house wasn’t just a metaphor for me, it was me. The root of the symptoms of homesickness was my homesickness for my core self.

At the same time, I was also thinking a lot about “the stories we tell” and how we tell them. Why do people repeat the same stories about their lives? Why do we choose to tell this story and not that one? What were the stories I told, time and again, about myself? Why did I keep circling around the same stories? Somehow those stories seemed part of my basic structure—the walls and floors of me. What did those stories mean? What would happen if I walked around in them? What would happen if I played with using aspects of my brokenness in the forms of the poems—e.g. the lists and the excessive numbering of things that come out of my obsessive compulsive nature? Then, at some point, a line was crossed and the construction of the poems turned into the construction of a book. I knew the poems were beginning to fit together but wanted an objective opinion so I worked with Dael Orlandersmith, a playwright and solo performance artist, for a few sessions. She helped draw the plans for the book. The book was built the way a house is built but from words/poems/stories not from wood/plaster/nails.

I am so in love with your voice in these poems. You are so honest. In your poem, “How It Happened, Part 4,” you talk about how you signed up for a poetry workshop, and the teacher pushed you to “hide less, go further, get out of your head.” You followed that advice brilliantly. Who is this workshop leader? (I think I want to sign up.) At what point did you decide to be a poet?

There were a lot of obstacles for me to overcome before I could declare myself a poet. I come from a family/class/geographic/social/occupational background where the announcement “I’m a poet” would be greeted with “Who the hell do you think you are?” and I bought into that accusation for many, many years. So even though I knew quite early—around the age of ten—that the land of metaphor was where I felt at home, I ran from being a poet in the same way in which Jonah ran from his fate. But, as Jonah couldn’t escape his fate, I couldn’t escape mine. I took a workshop here and there and, though teachers praised my “surfaces,” nothing felt “right” until I had the good fortune to sign up for a workshop with Joan Cusack Handler. It was years before she started CavanKerry Press. In the beginning I believed she hated my poems because every week she’d compliment my craft but add, “hide less, go further, get out of your head.” At the time I didn’t realize she was giving me an incredible gift—the gift of writing my poems, not anyone else’s.

Your poems are so sad, so funny, and so very true. And you surprise me again and again, as in the poem, “About Time through Time, Part 7,” when you talk about wanting to show your therapist what a good client you are.   I can relate! But I never would have called myself on it. And the poem about folding fitted sheets. But really, how does anyone fold fitted sheets? Maybe you can post that poem here?

Isn’t it funny how sometimes what feels like one’s private shameful flaw turns out to be quite common and far from shameful? Whenever I read this poem at a reading both women and men come up to tell me that they also cannot fold fitted sheets! Take that Martha Stewart!

Fitted Sheets

At the age of fifty-six, I don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet. Even worse, I feel folding fitted sheets into small neat rectangles that fit on shelves in an orderly fashion is beyond my abilities. I am not kidding. Every week when the sheets come out of the dryer I start folding with optimism—this time I will surely figure it out—and end with rumpled messes, which spill onto the floor when anyone opens the closet door. Every week my belief becomes stronger: I am broken in some fundamental way and thus incapable of learning how to fold a fitted sheet. I trust my ability to understand complex scientific theories such as dark matter or to fix an outage affecting telephone lines or to travel alone in a foreign country but not my competency with easily-mastered-by-everyone-else-in-the-universe tasks such as applying makeup, buying shoes, blow-drying my hair, managing money, cooking simple meals, housekeeping, or tending a flower garden. It has been this way my whole life. I get by because you can get by with wrinkled sheets in disorderly closets by pretending you’re above worrying about such nonsense but, truth be told, week after week I’m in the basement trying to figure it out.

My Crooked HouseNA
You write about panic attacks and accidents, almost as if there is a meta-Teresa who watches you go through them. And with absolute clarity. I know it’s a lame question, but I have to ask: How do you do that?

I’m not sure how I do it. From a very young age, one of my primary survival techniques was to watch closely every one in the room because the slightest change could signal great danger. And in order to avoid setting off any one else, I had to watch myself. So I became quite skilled in a mind-trick called “splitting”; one side acts, the other watches. In the panic attack and accident poems I wanted to recreate this experience for the reader.

I think my favorite poems in the book are your poems about Jack Wiler. I love that method you use of reversing time, writing from two days before an event up to two minutes before the event. It’s so effective. I was wondering if you could say a few words about Jack, and maybe post a poem about him.

Two summers ago, at Frost Place, I heard Luray Gross, a NJ poet, read a poem that used the reversal of time. as its overarching structure. When I was struggling to find a way to write about Jack’s death, I remembered her poem and adapted the method to my purposes. (By the way: Thank you Luray!)

As a person and as a poet Jack was a force of nature. His poems grab you by the lapels from the first syllable then take you from Toledo to Tampa to Walla Walla before he lets go after the final period. His advice, in regards to writing poetry and to living life, centered on “pay attention.” Jack haunts My Crooked House. I hope that I did him proud.


     for Jack Wiler

Three days before, we give a reading at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction. As always you blow off the roof with your performance. You also do a great job reading the Talker role in one of my sideshow poems. The audience loves you. Afterwards our host takes us to dinner at a fancy place, not a chain or a dive. She tells us to order whatever we want from the menu and whatever we want from the bar. We drink glass after glass of a good merlot; eat scallops and filet mignon; laugh at everyone’s stories about the poetry world. At one point you, a satisfied calm on your face, turn to me and say, “This is the first time I really feel like I’m being treated with respect as a poet.”

Two days before, we eat breakfast at the Polka Dot Diner and you ask if I really told you that We Monsters wasn’t the right title for your next collection or if you dreamed the conversation. When I answer that you dreamed it, you tell me that you’re thinking of changing the title but don’t know to what. We drive from Vermont to New Jersey in a terrible storm. You’re in the back seat. You complain about a chill. At various times during the trip I hear mumbling and turn to see if you’re talking to John or me. I’m a little worried because you seem to be pleading in a childlike way with an invisible person. When we drop you off, I give you a hug and say, “I love reading with you.” You agree.

Thirty hours before, I send that new poem for your comment but you don’t answer.

Fifteen minutes before, I’m walking towards the car because John and I are going to Tuesday night yoga when he comes out of the garage, his eyes full of shock, and says, “Johanna just called. Jack’s gone.” Gone where? Oh no, did they have another big fight and Jack walked out? Gone where? And John looks at me and keeps saying, “He’s gone.”

One minute before, I’m walking down the hallway to your bedroom and telling the cops standing outside the door that we’re close friends and I haven’t yet stepped into the room, haven’t yet seen your body, covered with a sheet, on the floor, haven’t yet seen your face.

And then there’s only before.

I imagine, while reading these poems, that they flowed out of you as naturally as water from a faucet. Is that true? What is the biggest challenge for you as a writer?

Oh god, no. I negotiated at length with each and every poem—e.g. What form do you want to be? What metrical pattern? What word here? What word there? What is your story and how should I tell it? (To tell the truth, sometimes it was more of a battle than a negotiation.)

My biggest challenge? Did you ever make popcorn in a hot air popper? First the heat rises but no kernels pop then there’s a stray pop here and there then, all of a sudden, the finale to a Fourth of July fireworks explodes in the popper then silence. My biggest challenge is to avoid panicking during the “no kernels pop” and “silence” times.

How does a poem begin for you? What is your writing process like?

A subject catches my attention. A second subject catches my attention. A third. A fourth. Etcetera. The connections between the subjects are a mystery to me at this stage. I throw myself into an intense research period during which I circle and circle those subjects. This is my lost in the dark woods stage. A line, or a few lines, of a poem pop into my head. (See my answer to the previous question for the whole kernel popping metaphor.) Bit by bit, the poems lead me out of the dark woods and into the landscape of the project. From that moment until the project ends, I’m moving in that landscape day and night.

Who are your primary literary influences?

Shakespeare, Keats, Melville, and Emerson. In the past few years I’ve become obsessed with epics so Homer, Virgil and Dante have played a larger part in my poetry life.

I’d love to close with a poem of your choice.

Thank you, Nin for your thoughtful and attentive questions.

Since My Crooked House is essentially a long love poem to my husband John, I choose:

What I Was Waiting For

John says, before he falls asleep each night,
without a hint of dark, “I love you, Tree.”
Some nights, awake enough, I add my part,
“And I love you, the sun, the moon, the stars.”
Yet even when I’m too far gone to speak,
to hear, and words get missed, his love, his love, abides.

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For ADA Awareness Month

I grew up in a time not only when the needs of individuals with disabilities were not taken into consideration by cultural organizations but also when the individuals with disabilities themselves were not taken into consideration by the public. Heck, few, if any, organizations at that time even had ramps for alternate access to their buildings.

When we encountered individuals with disabilities, we either treated them as if they didn’t exist or we stared at them. Worse, calling persons with disabilities ugly slang names was considered appropriate and even funny. In fact, calling persons without disabilities by those same names was also considered funny. I feel such shame at the memory of my complicity in those activities. Thanks to the efforts of disability rights activists those days have gone. Now the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability. But the ADA doesn’t change our personal behaviors.

So, how can we learn to “interact more effectively” with individuals with disabilities? One way to start is by downloading the Tips on Interacting with People with Disabilities booklet, which is available from the United Spinal Association at, because it’s a comprehensive and easily understandable guide.

-Teresa Carson, Associate Publisher

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News and Events: Week of October 13th


Howard Levy, NYU Bookstore
Wednesday, October 15th at 6:00pm
Howard will be part of the Four Way and Friends reading
Visit NYU Bookstore for more info

Baron Wormser, Longfellow Books (1 Monument Square, Portland, ME)
Thursday, October 16th at 7:00pm
Reading from Best American Essays 2014 and Teach Us That Peace
Visit Longfellow Books for more info

Joseph O. Legaspi (763 Broad Street, 7th floor, Newark, NJ)
Friday, October 17th at 7:00pm
Sanctuary/Open Doors Festival Reading with Timothy Liu
Visit Sanctuary for more info

 Joseph O. Legaspi, Busboys and Poets (2021 14th St. NW, Washington, DC)
Sunday, October 19th at 5:00pm
Sunday Kind of Love Series with Jennifer Chang and Matthew Olzmann
Visit Busboys and Poets for more info


January Gill O’Neil was a guest blogger from October 6-October 10 on America’s Best Poetry blog

Baron Wormer’s essay, Legend: Willem de Kooning from Grist,
is featured in Best American Essays 2014

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Talking the Talk by Holly Smith

New Jersey Poetry Out Loud turns 10 this year! During the 2014-15 school year CavanKerry will celebrate this significant anniversary by inviting New Jersey teachers and students to write about their NJPOL experiences.
This is the 2nd piece by Holly Smith, a Language Arts teacher and departmental coordinator at Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School in Jersey City, NJ.  She was the first recipient, in 2013, of the CavanKerry Press scholarship to the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching because her student, Cameron Clarke, was the state runner-up that year.
Photo credit: James Kegley

Photo credit: James Kegley

As a teacher of writing and literature, I never ask students to do what I cannot do myself. I, as much as humanly possible, write to their essay prompts and play guinea pig for my own methodologies.

As my students are memorizing a piece for our in-class recitation for Poetry Out Loud, I also memorize a piece. I only perform it if they wish me to, and in the order they ask me to.

In class, my students (some who had taken a Shakespeare class or who had done Koranic recitation) weighed in on collective wisdom on how to memorize. Really memorize. Not the photographic-memory-wing-and-a-prayer-night-before stuff they had been trying to shill in their lit classes for years.

Here is our list. The all caps emphasis mine.

How to memorize:

  • Re-write the text (by hand) to match the line breaks as you will recite, not as written on the page. Use punctuation as a guide to help your pacing, etc.
  • Never practice sitting down. Try to practice in the manner in which you will be reciting (standing, moving, etc)
  • Memorize one part before moving on to the next one. Build the memorization line by line. Then stanza by stanza.
  • Get as many inputs as possible. Record yourself reciting and listen to it. Recite it to yourself during your daily life (getting dressed in morning, walking to school, etc). Even once you are “off book”, read the text as you recite, etc. Idly recopy the poem at various points in your day.
  • Practice by reciting it to friends.
  • When you actually memorize something, you remember it for life. LAST MINUTE DOES NOT WORK. YOU ARE FOOLING NO ONE.
  • And no boo-hooing, poetry recitation was a very common school assignment for CENTURIES.

I do not have the time to agonize over a selection. I know I will force myself to pick a longer piece, and a pre-20th Century work, for now.  But other than that, I give myself five minutes, tops, to pick a piece.

Last year, having just come back from a summer vacation spent visiting Haworth and the very moors where the Bronte sisters wrote, I choose an Emily Bronte piece was a way to hold on to that connection I felt with her.

With the Bronte poem, I spent my morning commutes living with it, building my memorization line by line, stanza by stanza. And I had to find my own way into the poem, trying not to have the literature teacher crutch of explication. I tried to link the voice with something in my own life, much as my students would be doing. In my own coming to terms with the poem, I turned my address towards someone who the demands of work and life forces me to grudgingly turn away from. My muscle memory of those weeks is of walking down a hill past a Colonial Era cemetery at day break, thinking and speaking:  “Why did the morning rise to break/So great, so pure a spell?” The anger and anguish of being ripped from a world of dreams became mine.

This year, I just picked a letter. “T” and came up with “Thoughtless Cruelty”. The imagery reminded me of “The Fly” by William Blake, so my immediate instinct was “Ah ha! Paired poems for my Romanticism unit!” I choose you, Charles Lamb.

But that was my teacher brain speaking.

So, as the Dodge Poetry approach teaches us, back to Beginner’s Mind. I read the poem to myself a few times, immediately letting go of line breaks and trying to find the conversation in the poem. And the surprise to me in the poem is that it is a teacher-like voice speaking.

I shall embrace the object lesson of the fly handed to me by the poem. And await for the surprises bringing the poem in the world brings to me.

This is what I will actually use to memorize the poem:

There Robert

You have killed that fly
And should you thousand ages try the life you’ve taken
To supply, you could not do it

You surely must have been devoid of though and sense
To have destroyed a thing which no way you annoyed

 You’ll one day rue it

Twas but a fly perhaps you’ll say
That’s born in April dies in May

That does but just learn to display his wings one minute
And in the next is vanished quite

A bird devours it in his flight
Or come a cold blast in the night, there’s no breath in it

 The bird but seeks his proper food

And providence whose power endued that fly with life
When it thinks it good may justly take it

But you have no excuses for’t

A life by nature made so short less reason is that you for sport
Should shorter make it

A fly

A little thing you rate

But Robert
Do not estimate a creature’s pain by small or great

The greatest being can have but fibres
And flesh

And these the smallest ones possess

Although their frame and structure less

Escape our seeing

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