Tag Archives: read. write. poem.

with thanks to barbie, ken & g.i. joe…


for helping me get a jump-start on NaPoWriMo!


National Poetry Month is just a few days away, and that’s when the madness begins.  NaPoWriMo.  A poem-a-day for 30 days.  If you haven’t taken the pledge at Read Write Poem yet, now’s the time.  You know you want to!  And once you start writing a poem every day, it will turn into an addiction.  You will HAVE to write. Every day.  Or you’ll burst.  Trust me.  It happens just like that.


In that spirit, Carolee and I have been talking about starting a little early getting our poem on.  And since we’re the mini-challenge divas, well, you know we have to do it.  This is my pre-NaPo poem #1.  I’m sure my partner-in-crime will have one up on her poetry blog soon.  Like today.  Right? 


What the Dolls Do While We Sleep


From somewhere near a pulsing
point of darkness (far from her heart)

Barbie reveals that most of her life
(the part we can not see

beneath skin stiff as bone)
has been lived behind the bushes.

Not a door, or a curtain, or even behind
Ken’s broad shoulders. You see, don’t you,

how letting truth slip from the split
of hard plastic lips is an act of bravery—

truth like a tree fallen over a chasm
your character drawn by the way you cross

balancing step by step on slick bark (courting danger)
or dodging below, stepping lightly over simple stones.

Minus the tree, the wide cavern (gaping hole) in her path
Barbie makes her first decision, slipping

out the window, snagging rubbery toes on the sill
landing hard on adventure’s packed dirt.

The bush is a cliché, rain soaked leaves
a moist haven glistening in the moon’s light

(all good love affairs begin with a cliché and hard rain).
This is where G.I. Joe waits, camouflage pants unbuttoned

gun hidden in a bunch of roots reaching up like hands.
Here in the bushes, Barbie lives another life.

Her dream house is a cardboard box
(so much easier to clean)

her lover, the hero whose shaved head
fits so much better on her belly than Ken’s sculpted crown.

In the music video version, our brave soldier gets carried away
rips Barbie’s left leg from its perfect socket.

No matter how they are molded at the factory
these are breakable times.

Returns are not easy to make
without a receipt, and even then

chances are slim the new doll you carry home
won’t believe the old ones really talk when you leave the room.


Urban Legend


Eggshells patter on the window
yolk nails itself to the skillet
begs for your forgiveness.

This is the hour of your decay
slick yellow sunshine like a miscarriage
crowning a morning already hot

with what might have been
were it not for last night’s hacksaw moon
the man with the chipped nails

and whiskey tongue. He always finds you
when you run. Take off your shoes
leap with frog-grace, nails not making a sound

on the cracked sidewalk. That path is its
own cement, parading past clapboard and gardens
tripping all the girls trying to find the keys to home.

Was it you who muttered in a frosted panic
spit slipping from your young tongue (no whiskey
for you) This is all fiction. My house is made of candy.

There is a pair of red stockings in the footlocker
at the back of the garage. If you knew how to drive
you could pull the car out, slip your legs into the fire.



This poem was written using the wordle prompt at Read Write Poem this week.  It was one of those poems that practically wrote itself.

Patchwork Poem #3 ala Anne Sexton


In This Fashion I Have Become a Tree


I said, “The devil is down that festering hole.”
Fifty-two reds and blacks and only myself to blame.
Fire woman, you of the ancient flame, you
as old as a dog, as quiet as a skeleton,
Mother of fire, let me stand at your devouring gate.


Angel of clean sheets, do you know bedbugs?
Let me pick those sweet kisses. Thief that I was
I have become a vase you can pick up or drop at will.
Once I was a couple. I was my own king and queen
of wire. Your voice is out there. Your voice is strange,
stay near. But give me the totem. Give me the shut eye,


that hole where the fire woman is tied to her chair.
Take me back to that red mouth, that July 21st place.
Let me pick those sweet kisses. Thief that I was
my blood buzzes like a hornet’s nest. I sit in a kitchen chair—
a little solo act—that lady with the brain that broke.


Inanimate at last. What unusual luck! My body–
gull that grows out of my back in the dreams I prefer.



Probably my least favorite of my three Anne Sexton centos.  Has to be the mood I am in.  Though it could be my method.  This time I used one poem, “Angels of the Love Affair,” which is broken into 6 sections.  Instead of choosing lines, writing them on a separate piece of paper, then constructing the poem, I typed lines directly onto the computer, composing as I went.  This method didn’t give me as much time to sit with the lines or play with them.  Still…I blame it on the mood.

Patchwork Poem #2 ala Anne Sexton


You Are the Answer


Listen! Listen!
We are not lovers.
We are like pigeons
after the small death.
They have teeth and knees
because they share the same dirt.
…………..Even their song is not a sure thing
……………….it is a kind of breathing—
…………………….we gasp in unison beside our window pane.


Listen! Listen!
The girl full of talk of coffins and keyholes
with her large gun-metal blue eyes
with the thin vein at the bend of her neck
………………then your hand in her hand
………………………with an old red hook in her mouth.


We are not lovers.
Now there is green rain for everyone,
their red claws wound like bracelets,
…………tired of my mouth and my breasts,
………………..each one like a poem obeying itself.


Listen! Listen!
The king has brought me into his chamber.
I’ve been opened and undressed.
Then the chains were fastened around me
……………..(even their song is not a sure thing).
After the small death
……………..it is a kind of breathing.



I chose these three Sexton poems: “Man and Wife”; “Love Song”; and “Consorting With Angels”, because they seemed to speak from the same place of melancholy and longing.  I tried to find pieces that resonated with a similar tone/voice.  They are all from her collection, Live or Die.   After choosing them, I discovered an author’s note which confirmed that I was on the right track.


Sexton wrote, “To begin with, I have placed these poems (1962-1966) in the order in which they were written with all due apologies for the fact that they read like a fever chart for a bad case of melancholy.  But I thought the order of their creation might be of interest to some readers, and, as Andre Gide wrote in his journal, “Despite every resolution of optimism, melancholy occasionally wins out: man has decidedly botched up the planet.””

Patchwork Poem #1 ala Anne Sexton


Since You Ask, Most Days I Can Not Remember

I was wrapped in black
my hair rising like smoke from the car window
and I beat down the psalms
………………….(notice how he has numbered the blue veins)
and I undid the buttons
………………….(like carpenters they want to know which tools)
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.

And then you called me princess.


Climb her like a monument, step after step
…………………..(he is bulding a city, a city of flesh)
then the almost unnameable lust returns
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss.


This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.


And then you crowned me–
fireworks in the dull middle of February–
face flushed with a song and their little sleep,
and as real as a cast-iron pot–
the bones, the confusions.

You undid me and then
I stood up in my gold skin.

…………………..((From the glory of boards he has built me up).
As for me, I am a watercolor,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.


So this is a patchwork poem for the “Fall in Love With a Poet” mini-challenge at Read Write Poem.  The lines are taken from four Anne Sexton poems: Mr. MineUsWanting to Die; and For My Lover, Returning to His Wife.

There is a theme here in these poems, as well as in the lines I have chosen.  I just need to figure out what it is, spend some more time with Anne…

an interview with pamela johnson parker



Welcome to the latest stop on Read Write Poem’s Virtual Book Tour!  To read more reviews, check out the tour schedule at Read Write Poem! 


Selected as the first place winner of qarrtsiluni‘s 2009 poetry chapbook contest, Pamela Johnson Parker’s A Walk Through the Memory Palace is a gorgeous little treasure–a glossy chapbook with ten poems that sing as if they are 100.   Praising the collection, judge Dinty Moore said, “Whether writing about rich gardens, sagging breasts, or the ink of a tattoo, this poet sees through the obvious to something radiant on the other side, painting a startling portrait of an intimate world. Not a wasted word here: the nouns are like gemstones.”


As a poet working on my own first collection, I am always curious about the process.  How do you choose the poems?  How do you put them in any kind of order?  Pamela Johnson Parker was kind enough to indulge my curiosity and allow me to interview her about the manuscript process, the final product and what it’s like to hold your first collection in your hands. 


For more information on the collection, or to order one for yourself, you can visit the A Walk Through the Memory Palace website.  If you’d like to hear more from Pamela, you can visit her blog: Pamela’s Musings





on the manuscript process

Can you talk about your process of compiling the manuscript? For instance, the collection is comprised of 10 poems. When you sat down to put your manuscript together, how many poems did you start with? How did you whittle it down?

I wanted the poems to move imagistically rather than chronologically. I write rather long poems and I knew that more than 10 poems would be over the limit page-wise.

I wanted the poems to move from an awareness of lust/ache that is a presence to an awareness of loss/ache that is an absence. I wanted a poem that basically worked through one scene to set the stage for the book. I wanted a poem that distanced its subjects through captions and had several memory palaces to end the book. I also wanted to go from the sensibility of being young and unaware to being all too aware of what it meant to lose what’s beloved.

I laid out all the poems that comprise my full length manuscript and pulled out about 25. I scrambled them around until I ended up with 10, which seemed like a good number. I knew what I wanted, but not exactly how to line them up. (I didn’t have my guardian angel, MFA mentor, Brian Barker, to help. He was a great help to me in organizing the first book-length manuscript).

I wanted the poems to resonate but not be too matchy-matchy. I made a list of images–here’s flowers, here’s a pathway, here’s a garden, here’s a fish, here’s water–and then tried to make something organic out of these disparate pieces. I thought of it as planning a garden. The poem about last year’s journals, this year’s yard is pretty much a poetics statement for me.

Did you look at any particular collections for inspiration when you were putting yours together?

I read many collections to think about narrative arc. Two collections that were especially helpful to me in understanding how books might be organized are Animal Gospels by Brian Barker, and The Determined Days by Philip Stephens. These are my MFA mentors, and their books are gorgeously organized. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse in order to think about non-narrative movement.

A Walk Through the Memory Palace is such an evocative title, the Memory Palace such an intriguing destination. Where did the title come from?

If I’m going to be honest, which I try to be, I have to say that that came from a serial killer, specifically, Hannibal Lecter. In the prequel Hannibal, I re-encountered the memory palace, a concept that I hadn’t heard of since Psychology and Philosophy classes in college. How do we remember what we remember? How do we stand to remember what hurts? What do we do with those memories?

On your blog, Pamela’s Musings, RWPer Carolee Sherwood asked you about your selection of the book’s first and last poems. Your answer was fascinating. Can you, perhaps, speak again on that subject, specifically on the “charm bracelet structure” of compiling a manuscript versus the “gardening and pruning approach”?

For A Walk Through the Memory Palace, I wanted to move forward and backward, across and down, meander. For the next chapbook, Other Four-Letter Words, in which the poems are all love poems, I wanted to chime and circle. I think the first chapbook seems more organic and the second more traditionally musical—the difference between a private little jig and a quadrille, maybe.

Tell us about working with qarrtsiluni. Was there much editing to be done after your manuscript was chosen as the winner of their 2009 poetry chapbook contest?

Beth and Dave are the greatest, most tireless advocates of poetry and this chapbook. I am so pleased that they worked so hard on this project. I suggested the cover art, and after that I didn’t have anything to do except read the perfect galleys and admire the finished product. The website was their idea too! I really respect the work that they do with qarrtsiluni and they gave this same commitment to the chapbook, as well. I feel like it is our book, not my book.

The hardest part of the whole process was reading the poems. I don’t have a good reading voice, so I worked really hard on this. My husband Harvey was the other reader, and he’s wonderful. Matt Markgraf was our sound man, and he made the recordings painless and professional.

on the final product

What did you do when you held the final copy in your hands for the very first time?

I cried the second I saw the package on the porch. I was shaking so hard that my husband had to open the box and hand me a book. I am not a sentimental person, but it was truly like holding a baby—shivery and strange and familiar all at once.

If you had to write a blurb for the back of your book, what would you write?

“Pamela Johnson Parker has had the best teachers: Daniel Anderson, Philip Stephens, and Brian Barker. She can never thank them enough.”

The painting on the cover, “Cupid Complaining to Venus,” by Carrie Ann Baade, is gorgeous. How was the cover art chosen? In your mind, how does the painting speak to the content?

I saw Carrie Ann Baade’s wonderful art online and knew that I wanted it for a cover if I ever had a book. I cut a deal with her for a project that fell through. By the time that this chapbook was ready, the image I originally fell in love with was taken. Carrie had new images up on her website that were garden based in theme and graciously allowed us to choose. Beth and Dave helped narrow the images down to two. The one that we chose, “Cupid Complaining to Venus,” reminded me of “any multiplicity of stings” that’s in the “Tattoos” poem. It goes well with the garden poems, and the idea that there is sweetness in sorrow (tears of honey) is really appealing to me.

on the poems

In a recent RWP interview, Nathan Moore asked what line of your own poetry you love the most and you responded, “I’m really fond of my titles. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard” is currently my pet.” Is that still your favorite? If so, what is your 2nd favorite?

I am working really hard in fits and starts on “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard.” It’s still my favorite. My second favorite? Probably “78 RPM.” I really love antiques and those old records are so evocative. That’s a time that’s past, another sort of memory palace, music cut into grooves.

What is your favorite poem in the collection? What makes it your favorite? Can you talk about its genesis? What inspired it? How many revisions did it go through before it made it into the collection?

My favorite poem in the collection is probably the first one, “78 RPM.” It was inspired by purchase of antique wicker porch furniture. I sat on the loveseat, and it bit me! I thought I’d been stung by a wasp. I think there were 15 or 20 drafts of that poem over two years.

Are there any poems not in the collection that you wish had been included? Will they make it into a second collection? Are you working on a second collection? Full-length or chapbook?

I am really pleased with this chapbook the way it is. I’m going to have a second collection published in 2010, Other Four-Letter Words. I have a full-length MS out to publishers, but it’s boomeranging back to me with some regularity. Right now, I’m working on a book-length poem, as well as drafting out other poems. My process is very weird. I always have three projects at once.

last words

What poets/collections are you currently reading? Who is on your to-read list?

I am currently reading The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, as well as Nicky Beer’s collection, The Diminishing House. What fine poems Nicky Beer writes—she and Stevens are in fabulous conversation in my mind.

I have a long to-read list: Eavan Boland’s newest collection and Charles Martin’s translation of Ovid are at the top of the stack.

Two collections I read recently have stayed with me: Displacement by Leslie Harrison and Please by Jericho Brown.

Do you have any advice/tips/tricks for poets who are putting together a first collection?

Trust your ear. Read your poems aloud. Have a second reader and really listen. What do you hear that links up sonically? What images seem true to you? Where does a poem need tweaking? Where do you surprise yourself?