Best of Austin Poetry Reading

I will be reading at the Best of Austin Poetry 2010-2011 anthology release tomorrow at Bookwoman. We start at 3:00. Come hear some of Austin's best poets! I am honored to be included.


More on Exclamation Points, Emotion and Power in Poetry

If you read my last post, you know that I asked if you could use exclamation points in poetry. Today, I read a poem by the well respected poet, Dean Young, that had an exclamation point! There is emotion and power out there.

Does this mean all the rules exist to be broken?

Read Dean Young's poem, Crash Test Dummies of an Imperfect God, here:

Have you ever used exclamation points in your poetry?
Whst do you think of Young's use of an exclamation in this poem?


Do You Write Poetry by the Heart or by Formula?

Do You Write Poetry by the Heart or by Formula?

As poets we find so many ways to lock horns.  Many poetry editors seem to abhor emotion in contemporary poetry.  Yet, some of the best poets in history were powerfully emotional.  How can anyone read Rumi or Pablo Neruda without seeing emotion rising from the page like steam?

The current Writer’s Chronicle has an article that discusses emotion and power in poetry, specifically looking at B.H. Fairchild and Dorianne Laux.  The article states that the word “powerful’ is not applied to poetry as much as it used to be and goes on to explain that English scholarship has given the word “power”a bad name.  Recently a friend posted an article on Facebook that states that we are all assigned five exclamation points at birth and that is all.  The implication being that exclamation points are too expressive for serious writing.

Lawyers Rarely Use Emoticons in Professional Writing

In a prior life I was a hard charging lawyer writing tons of briefs and opinions.  For those of you old enough to remember ice skating when there was the freestyle competition and the compulsory competition, I always claimed that legal writing is like the compulsory ice skating program.  In the compulsory competition every skater had to do the same elements in the same order and the judges graded each camelback or spin.  The judges knew if a skater left something out and penalized them.
Legal writing is like that.  There are few opportunities to be creative, despite what people think about lawyers.  There are even fewer opportunities to emote in legal writing.  I can’t even imagine how a judge would respond to a brief with exclamation points, though I think they might be good in law!

I never saw an opposing lawyer use emotion in a brief despite the obvious temptation to do so. One of the things I’ve always admired about law is the civility lawyers use, even in disagreements.  Almost without fail, all lawyers across America are taught to state the law, the facts, the analysis and that is all.  We were never told that we cannot dot our I’s with a heart or use an exclamation point, but we know that it is frowned upon. 

No Matter How Tempted They Are

To be honest, being somewhat of a rebel, I was tempted to break all the rules and be the one non-conforming lawyer in all of America that dotted her I’s with a heart.  I was tempted once in writing a response to an opposing brief to use exclamation points to talk about the word pubic used at least forty times in a 30 page brief every time the attorney intended to say public.  It was the one bright spot of lurid mistakes in the otherwise dry and boring world of legal briefs.  It took all of my self-restraint to hold back the exclamation points in my shock and disdain for a lawyer who would refer to my client, a public utility, as a pubic utility.

Are Poetry and Legal Writing the Same?

After a lifetime of restraint, part of what poetry offered  me was the opportunity to take off the restrictive girdle that confined every emotion I had sitting before clients who confounded me or other lawyers who enraged me. I thought I had earned the right to let it all hang out. 

More importantly, I started writing poetry non-stop after the death of my husband at the age of 41 in a freak accident fourteen years ago.  Yes, it was therapy poetry and it was emotional.  When I look back on those years of poetry, I can see that a lot of it is bad, really bad.  I can also see that some of those early pieces are still beautiful, passionate and spot on regardless of what the literary world thinks.

I understand that we all need to evolve from the fifth grade type writing that included I’s dotted with hearts to something more meaningful and mature.  It makes sense to tone down a lot of our emotions, but sometimes it seems like we have engineered the soul out of poetry.  So much poetry today is lacking in feeling, emotion or any sort of something to hold on to and take with you into your tortured and tragic life.

Sometimes it seems like the desire to scrub a poem of emotion is almost as contrived as using end rhymes that don’t really work.  Shouldn’t poetry be more organic than recipe or formula?  Should we strive to leave our emotion on the altar of hidden metaphors and complexity?  Should clever, overtly intelligent poets be prized higher than emotionally deep and real poets?

Are we Afraid to Show Our Real Emotions or See Them in Others?
The author of the article in The Writer’s Chronicle mentioned above stated that in his years of psychotherapy with artists, he found that to make powerful art, an artist much sincerely want to make it.  He continues,

If, like some contemporary poets, you distrust strong emotions, or for any number of reasons are not interested in writing poems that elicit them, you probably won’t…Another much admired virtue, at least in educated circles, is to be nonjudgmental…But any strong emotion required strong judgment. It’s hard to write powerfully, seated on the fence.

Do you think we should only write poetry that is cold and lacks passion?  Is the current habit of writing antiseptic poetry a result of an obsession with rules and standards at the expense of art? Or, is it necessary to curb the poets who do not edit and want to let everything hang out?

Emotional Can be Bad, But Emotional Can be Really Good

I have always loved original local music as opposed to top forty, especially living in Austin.  I love the flaws of the original lyrics and voices.  I also prefer flawed diamonds to flawless cubic zirconias. To me, that is what makes many Austin artists real.  I will admit there are a lot of really bad original songwriters and singers too.  I tend to like poetry real too.  I would rather read an imperfect emotionally deep poem than a poem that doesn’t engage me, other than to leave me with the smell of antiseptic in my head.

Do you write emotionally?
Do you prefer to wring the emotion out of your poem before you share it with anyone?
Who are your favorite poets?
Do they write with emotional power?
I’d love to see your ideas here.

I have one poem out of thousands that has an exclamation point.  Nothing else would do when the old women in the poem yells and cusses at her husband.  Can “Damn it, Stanley, that hurts!” be considered high art? Do you think it will ever have a chance?



All the poems you guys have posted under Your Poetry are missing.  I wrote to Blogger and haven't heard back if this is a problem with them.  Has anyone out there had any similar experience with their blog?  Would a hacker just take one page and why?

It is Thursday, October 20th...still no word from Blogger.  Grrrr!


Houston Poetry Fest 2011

Had a wonderful time over the weekend at the Houston Poetry Fest 2011 listening to some great poetry. It was a pleasure to meet so many talented poets. Over 800 poets submitted work to this year's competition.  Nineteen were chosen as Juried Poets.  Below are the pictures of the seven that read Saturday night and two Featured Poets. 

One poet, Charles Stone has been profiled on Poet on Poetry.  You may read his interview under Prior Poet's of the Week.  Maybe we can get some of these guys to do an interview as well.

One poet is chosen from the juried poets to return next year as a Featured Poet.  Congratulations to Cindy Huyser who will be returning next year as a Featured Poet!

Thank you to the Department of English and the Cultural Enrichment Center of the University of Houston-Downtown and the Houston Poetry Fest for sponsoring this event, as well as the volunteers, judges, steering committee, host committee, and all those who played a part.

Take a look at some great poets!

W. Joe Hoppe

Carol Louise Munn

Lyman Grant

Jill Haugen-Featured Poet

 Erica Lehrer-Featured Poet (r) and Christine (l)

 Charles A. Stone

 Sylvia Riojas Vaughn

 Cindy Huyser-Next year's Featured Poet

Sheree Rabe


October 7-8, 2011 
— Saturday, October 8 —
Willow Street Pump Station, 811 North San Jacinto
Traditional Open Reading 1 to 4:30 pm
Friday, October 7-
7:30 p.m. Willow Street Pump Station, 811 North San Jacinto
— Opening Session of Houston Poetry Fest 2011 —
Welcome to UHD
Opening Remarks
Guest Poet
Juried Poets

Featured Poet
Juried Poets

Robert Clark, Event Chair
David Ray Vance
Priscilla Frake
Tracy L. Lyall
Terry Jude Miller
Jerry Hamby
Laura Peña
John Milkereit
Vanessa Zimmer-Falls
— Saturday, October 8 —
7:30 p.m.
Featured Poet
Juried Poets

Featured Poet
Juried Poets
Jill Haugen
Sylvia Riojas Vaughn
Charles A. Stone
Sheree L. Rabe
Carol Louise Munn
Erica Lehrer
W. Joe Hoppe
Lyman Grant
Cindy Huyser
— Sunday, October 9 —
2:00 p.m.
Guest Poet
Juried Poets


Featured Poet
Juried Poets
Ysabel de la Rosa
Adamarie Fuller
Maria Illich
Lillian Susan Thomas
Bradley Earle Hoge

Christopher Carmona
Angélique Jamail
Garrett Middaugh


Hummingbird Feeder

Hummingbird Feeder

Across the crowded campfire
in a dark cove on Lake Travis
under a rugged cowboy hat
his tan, worn face etched                                                          
character around his
sky blue eyes.
He had a hobo heart.
I was drawn to him like a
Hummingbird to sugar water.
He spoke with an accent
and he sang from his soul
as free and natural
as a colt runs through the meadow
on a cold misty morning.
I felt my heart vibrating
and my pulse beating faster
just listening to his voice
and watching his practiced hands
strum that old guitar.
He sang old hillbilly songs
making them sound
as smooth and polished as river stones.
Hovering as long as I could,
I stayed longer than I should have
unable to tear myself away,
wishing I could
climb inside his old red guitar
and stay there awhile.

First Place Austin Poetry Society
Published in Best Austin Poetry 2010-1011


POET ON POETRY: Little House in the Big Thicket

POET ON POETRY: Little House in the Big Thicket: Little House in the Big Thicket A yellow light glowed from the window framed in lace curtains, as smoke snaked from the chimney to the ta...

Little House in the Big Thicket

Little House in the Big Thicket

A yellow light glowed from the window framed in lace
curtains, as smoke snaked from the chimney to the tall pines
surrounding the little house in the thicket. There was only a
quilting frame, two wooden chairs and a Bible in the living
room where Ms. Dickens and Ms. Danell spent their days.

The two old women discussed their husbands, their
children, the weather and the crops, while creating
quilts with hundreds of teeny tiny stiches, piece by piece.
They stitched year in and year out, through wars, thirteen
presidents and women achieving the right to vote.

Quilts from scraps of red and yellow flowers formed
the base, while triangles of small floral prints and solid
colors created the triangle within squares pattern.
Scraps from dresses, shirts, coats and pants made
for husbands and children to wear long ago.

A labor of love, made with gnarled hands that kneaded
dough, rocked babies to sleep and stirred soup pots.
Quilts that now grace the beds and walls of relatives,
who never saw the little house in the Big Thicket, or
the women, who now live only in each teeny tiny stitch.

Placed as  Juried Poet in the Houston Poetry Festival 2011
To be published in Houston Poetry Festival anthology

You are reading Poet on Poetry at
Twitter: @poetonpoetry


Wouldn't It Be Nice? A Poet's Wishlist

I was just thinking about the things that would help poets who want to publish.  Let's start a list.  Please include your requests below.  I know there are some influential people out there who could help cater services to poets.  I'll start with my first request.

1. A listing of journals that print poetry with some guidance as to the type of poetry they print including a few poems. 

Journals tell us to read a few copies before we submit, but it is impossible to read every journal and you can waste a great of deal of money buying journals that are not right for your work. It is such a hit and miss for new poets. You see editors complain that they receive too many submissions that do not fit their journal.  It seems like it would be a win-win for everyone if more of this information was available to poets.  Journals would have the fabulous luxury of receiving more of the best poems for their publication and poets would save scarce money and time. 

I know there are services that will place your poems and Poet's Market gives a little of this information, but it would be nice to get a more detailed guide.

What do you wish for? Maybe, there are some people reading who can grant our wishes!

Do you wish there were more poem starters available in publications for poets?

Would you like to see more ranking and reviews on writing workshops and retreats?

Would like an calendar posted that lists contest deadlines and poetry fesitvals?

What are your greatest poetic wishes?

Bippy Boppity Boo! My the world of poetry shine on you!


The End of the Road

Austin Poetry Society Annual Contest
The Tick-Tock Award                                                                     

End of the Road

When I was young, I raced
past roadside parks and exits on the freeway
to my destination, or to nowhere at all.
Life seemed to go on forever,
like the empty roads.

Somewhere along the way,
sometime past fifty,
I ran out of rest stops,
roadside parks,
and chances.

There were no road signs,
no blinking red or yellow lights,
no warnings to get off before it’s too late.
I’m coming to the only exit left-a dead end.
Rushing and dreaming my life away to get to this?

I am what I vowed never to be-old.
So old I don’t know my own reflection.
Old enough to know what I’ll miss.
Only a long lonesome stretch of desert left to travel.
I can see the cliff ahead.

There is nothing I can do to avoid it,

Published in Best Austin Poetry 2010-2011


The Things She Carried

I've followed the fires in Austin and Bastrop closely on Twitter watching the emergencies as they unfolded. Trying to help, I retweeted every plea and watched miraculously as almost all pleas were answered.  Offers of trailers, pastures and vet help rolled in. People offered feed and bandages. The government focused on getting the people out, while the people focused on saving animals. The first two days of the fire, there was almost zero coverage of any of this. I presume because it happened over a holiday and local news stations were understaffed.  Twitter was the only source of information.

We are in Day 6 of the Bastrop fire.  Now, there are offers from the Texas State Bar for legal help, photographers to help with lost treasured photos, free clean up supplies by Home Depot, low cost or free housing by the Realtor organization in Austin. Offers of still more pastures for horses or cattle and fund raisers by musicians continue to come in.  Church groups went house to house in the Stiener Ranch fire after the people were let back in with offers to take out the rotten food and give them bags of groceries.  (Even those homes not destroyed were without power for a couple of days and in the Texas heat most had rotten food when they returned.)

All of this human trauma had me thinking about one of my favorite books, "The Things They Carried." This thought led me to write the following poem.  I dedicate this to all of the fire victims in Texas.  Life dealt you a rough hand. 

The Things She Carried

The picture of your mother who died years ago
not yet scanned into your computer,
of course, your kitty, Lulu
and your puppy, Maxine.
That drawing by your now grown kid
as a 3rd grader framed in the hall,
the necklace your great grandmother left you,
the love letters from your husband during the war
who died last year.

You probably want some of your makeup and toiletries,
it could be a long night and a fortnight of days.
No time to grab clothes with the fire breathing on you now.
Got to go!
Got to run, run now!
It’s moving so fast.

You tell everyone it was only stuff,
you got your precious pets
no loved ones left at home anymore.
Stuff can be replaced, you say,
as the pictures from your life flash before your mind
and flare up in the house you left behind.
You know you will be okay, at least everyone tells you that you will.
But all you can see are the flames and the smoke billowing into your mind.
You can’t even remember all that you’ve lost.
Oh, you just remembered your teacup collection you’ve saved since you were 17.          

You have your mind
you still have that sense of humor, tinged with tears now
you have your hope, your dreams, your future.
Where do you start to put your life back together at 79?
It occurs to you that you should have grabbed
that pack of playing cards
so you could deal yourself a new hand.

Thank you for reading Poet on Poetry. 
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On Twitter at @poetonpoetry.


Changes Coming to Poet on Poetry as Budding Poet With a Demanding Muse Surrenders

Poet on Poetry Muse

I'm in Austin. We have been ringed by fires in and around the city for 2 days.  The good news is my house has been safe even though I back up to 700 acres of greenbelt and given our drought conditions, it is a little scary.  The bad news is I have severe allergies and asthma that had been dormant.  The air quality has affected me. Breathing is much more difficult.  A welcome problem compared to those who have lost lives, pets, and homes. 

Austin Skyline in foreground, Bastrop fire in background

My heart is heavy for the people in Bastrop and Austin, as well as all over Texas.  3.5 million acres have burned since December.  I hope you will all keep my city and state in your thoughts and prayers.  We really need rain and love.

Now on to the changes coming to Poet on Poetry. Between Google+, Twitter, email, Facebook, Poet on Poetry's Facebook page and the blog, Empire Avenue,  viewing other blogs, reading poetry journals and poetry books,  I have little time left for my job and writing.  

With my computers in the shop for over a week and then a short little vacation after that, I've had some time to think.  My thinking led me to restructure Poet on Poetry. My computers are still not acting normally.  Of course, the main one and most expensive one is 5 days out of warranty! How do the virus and Gremlin Gods know that?

The meltdown of my operating systems means that I lost all of my email files, which is where all of my Poet of the Week materials were. My Click-Free says it backs up email, but evidently it doesn't back up my email files.  So, if you sent me POW materials over the last month and I have not profiled you, please resubmit.

Keeping up with the logistics of the Poet of the Week and the duties of the blog have been taking more and more time.  With my job, trying to find time to write poetry and occasionally actually read poetry, and look for a new home, I am losing my focus with too much time on the blog.

I have been hesitant to cut back because you guys seem to enjoy the blog so much and I do too! But, the bottom line is I am a poet and writer, who is not finding time to write poems or anything else. 

The changes will not be drastic:

You can still submit your poems in Your Poetry! 
I will still highlight poets I come across, just not weekly! (I love discovering and highlighting poets!)
Contests and Calls for Submission can still be entered under that tab.
I will still put up my poems under that tab.
There will still be blog posts, just not weekly.

I need to dial it back to let the blog fit around my writing, instead of the other way around.  The blog experts out there say that all of this will hurt the success of the blog.  They also say that you should read other blogs, comment and do lots of tweeting.  All of which take more time. 

I am a budding poet, who found wonderful success with a poetry blog.  I am so grateful for that.  But the time to write has to exist or the budding poet becomes a dried up twig.  I hope you will still want to read poetry and see poets.  Help me keep this baby humming by submitting and commenting.  I'll always try to respond.

You guys have been amazing and I adore you!  Keep an eye out for posts on a more random basis to fit with a poet's random and demanding muse.  Now that I have bowed to her tantrums to give her more time, hopefully she will help me write the best poem that has ever been written.

Are you guys having as much trouble balancing all of the Social Media, blogs, work, life and writing? 

Share your coping tips, let's help each other!

Is your muse as temperamental as mine?
I compare her to a cat who will leave home if you don't give her enough attention. 
Here kitty, kitty, kitty...
Here kitty, kitty, kitty...



Poet of the Week: Rupert Fike

Rupert Fike’s collection, Lotus Buffet, will be published this fall by Brick Road Poetry Press.  Nominated for a Pushcart prize in fiction and poetry, his work has appeared in Rosebud, The Georgetown Review, Natural Bridge, The Atlanta Review, The Cortland Review, storySouth, and others. He has a poem inscribed in a downtown Atlanta plaza, and his non-fiction work, Voices from The Farm, accounts of life on a spiritual community in the 1970s, is now available in paperback. 

Rupert comes to us as a recommendation from former Poet of the Week Collin Kelley.  Be sure to send me information on anyone you think should be Poet of the Week.

 Poet on Poetry's Questions for Rupert Fike

1.               What inspires you as a poet?

I like being a reporter – I came out of Journalism school. Or maybe it goes back to kindergarten – Show and Tell. Eavesdropping can jump-start a poem. Plus I love biographies of writers, artists, their starts and stops, and of course the gossip. I just finished the new E. M. Forster bio, A Great Unrecorded History, - did not want it to end. Not that I go sifting for “material” – I just read and occasionally a factoid will percolate back up months later.

2.                What advice do you have for other poets?
Wow, tough question. I’m in awe of many poets and would never begin to even think about offering advice. We all have such diverse stories and ways of telling them – and that’s just the narrative poets! But when I go into schools I try to advise students to please remember the reader – that’s job one. Mark Jarman says, “The story is communal.” So I’m often telling writing classes to show the reader your cards, don’t withhold, allow the reader to be a full participant in the poem. Resist the urge to have an A-ha! revelation.

3.             3.                  What prompted you to start writing poetry?

I attended a few Sewanee Writers Conferences in the early 90s when I was devoted to fiction, Ray Carver in particular whose shadow seemed to blot out the sun. But it was the poets, Kumin, Hudgins, Hecht, Justice, Wolcott, Hadas, etc. etc. and their students (“We fight,”) they got my attention – the intensity, history, lit wars, schools. Plus Peter Davidson was there, and he had just written his exceptional account of the Boston poets in the 50s, That Fading Smile. I mean I kept sending out stories, but I started working more and more on poems, almost as a tribute, holding up my end of the dinner conversation. And I got to go back to Carver, the poet.

4.               4.               Where do you see yourself going in the future as a poet?

I’m working on a book of poems that’s actually unified – mostly first person accounts of life on The Farm, an over-the-top spiritual community (aka hippie commune) where I lived for nine or so years in the 70s.  I’m trying to use form (sonnets) as a means of addressing a famously unformal subject. 

         5.            What are your favorite poetry journals?

Cortland Review has great work and hi-res vids of stuff like Phil Levine walking you through his and Whitman’s Brooklyn, smiling at a line of people waiting for so-so pizza. And Poetry, storySouth, Earthshine, Rattle, Ouroborus Review, FutureCycle, New South, Bellingham Review, Atlanta Review, Stymie, Blue Fifth Review (full disclosure – half of those mags have rejected my work). 

  1. Can you tell us a little about the poems your chose to present today?  What inspired them maybe, or anything else you’d like to say about them.

Feedback came from a story that, after I repeated it to someone else, became indelible. I find that’s the thing with memory –telling a story just once will cement it. Then there was the thought of all those different artists in the 1940s creating an awareness at the same time without knowing each other.
The Cambridge poem tries to make fun of itself to escape being just a Cambridge poem. Why do we ever believe anything we’re told? And is such cynicism a strength? Forster has a Howard’s End character say, “I’d rather be fooled than be suspicious.” The Kinnell poem it references is sublime.

Rupert Fike's Poetry

As arguments at Shane’s Hideaway go,
this one was civil, the after-work crowd
debating which guitarist had first formed
an actual note from feedback, raw sound -
who had done it, tamed what’s infinite,
the Jeff Beck champions up by the taps
taking on two Dick Dale dudes by the limes,
until barmaid Missy from Sussex,
she of the half-shaved head and tongue stud,
declared us all, proper wankers, for not knowing
it was George Harrison, his lead-in buzz-whine
to I Feel Fine (an F#, she said) in 1965.

We were all pretty much afraid of Missy
so we pointed for another round
and kept it to ourselves that, wait, no,
it must have been Les Paul who more or less
invented the electric guitar.
Surely Les, early on, down in his basement,
was twisting knobs, messing around as usual,
the volume a bit cranked, the amp too close,
and here it came, Pluto’s underworld wail,
sine waves chasing their electron tails,
Les taking two quick steps back – there!
a sonic G, unmistakably a note,
all while Fermi pulled graphite rods from a core,
while Pollock dripped in two dimensions
this new world in a grain of sand, silicone,
what could be baked, sliced so thin, charged . . .
Les unaware, smiling at what he’d wrought,
Mary Ford yelling down the stairs again,
“Honey, please! You know that scares the cats." 

          You Probably Had to be There
                            - after Kinnell’s The Apple Tree
My Cambridge walking-tour stories fall flat
because I lack our guide’s posh accent,
her vowels so trilling, so rounded
you want to have upper-class sex with them,
enunciation as a force of persuasion . . .
especially for hopeless Americans
whose push-pull with the koan of nobility
mirrors the plight of UFO nerds at night -
they yearn for the ship yet fear the probe.

It’s the Newton legend that really flops,
how the gnarled apple tree by the old gate
descends directly, seed-to-tree-to-seed-to-tree
from the one that . . . well, you know . . .
For friends to accept this from my flat voice
would be to deny what we so treasure -
skepticism, the only thing holding us back
each time a Carnie yells, “Step right up!”

So no sale on the tree even though its apples
have obeyed a now-out-of-fashion law
(okay, light bends, but things still fall!).
They lie bruised, rotting, on their way to wine,
feeding Kinnell’s worms who emerge, behold:

                 creation unopposed,
                 the world made entirely of lovers . . .

Now there’s the target audience for yarns -
the smitten who stroll, bike, punt on the Cam.
Even when fed stretchers, obvious whoppers,
the lovers guild has standards, by-laws.
Their duty is to nod, to question not. 

Feedback originally appeared in
Earthshine and You Probably Had to Be There was first in FutureCycle. Both poems are in Lotus Buffet.

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Georgetown, Texas Poetry Festival

The Georgetown Poetry Festival - NEW Reply with Quote » Reply
10:30 -10:45 BREAK
12:15-2:00 PM LUNCH
4:00 -6:30 DINNER BREAK
10:00-12:00 OPEN MIKE
12:1 LUNCH
I'll be reading at the Enigmatist reading on the first night!