Georgetown Poetry Festival 2012-Nathan Brown Workshop

Georgetown Poetry Festival 2012

Georgetown Poetry Festival


Pebble Parable

Pebble Parable

I used to skip pebbles across
the surface of a trout filled brook,
watch them glide to the bottom
and glisten in the sun.
Growing older, I plummeted through
layers of pressure to the murky depths
of the sea hunting for buried treasure.
It took a lifetime and near death to
finally realize the futility of my search.

We cannot know why some float
and glisten while others plummet into
an abyss never to see the sun again,
or why one seed lands in a fertile field
and another in a sea of concrete.
I used to think I could do anything,
the master of my destiny,
until I realized that free will doesn’t
mean I can command rain from the sky
or stop the howling wind.
We have no more control than the rocks.

Even if we find the treasure we seek,
it will almost always be too heavy to lift,
impossibly located under a cliff
covered over with sea grass, algae,
and fossilized barnacles
protected by great white sharks.
Our only choice, whether we use
our free will to shine.

First appeared in The Enigmatist, Volume 7

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I also have another blog with poetry, 100 Million Girls,


Twitter Etiquette for Poets

Twitter Etiquette for Poets

1.      Twitter is about reciprocity-that means you give before you get.
Don’t let the first thing from you to someone else be “Follow my blog,
Like my website, Review my book.” Give to others, retweet their tweets,  #FF them,
read their blogs and recommend them.  Get to know them before you ask them to give you something.

2.      Twitter is about establishing relationships for the long term, not just to get a like on my page. Take the time to talk to people you meet on Twitter. Follow their lives, their development as a poet or writer.  Establish connections with them about their work.

3.      Don’t tweet out poems line by line filling the Twitter stream.  There are many blogs that will gladly post your work and promote it with you.  Poet on Poetry has a tab called Your Poetry and you may post whatever you like there in the Comments and we will promote it with you.  If you are going to push you own poem, include a link to the entire poem.

4.      Write for a couple of years, at least, before you start putting it out there.  Get in a workshop and hone your poems.  Proofread and edit them carefully.  A lot of poems I see floating around Twitter are not ready for prime time. There are online workshops you can attend.

5.      Follow other poetry blogs and follow their Twitter accounts to see how they engage or promote. 

6.      Build networks of people by promoting their work, retweet their tweets, send out recommendations for people to read what they’ve posted.  The more you do that, the more likely you are to be noticed.

7.      Keep it clean.

8.      Use targeted following so you are more likely to have followers who are interested in what you are tweeting.

9.      Put up great content on your blog or in your tweet and people will come to you; you won’t have to seek them out.

10.  Make Twitter a daily thing.  Read a few tweets, send a few out and get to know others.

What suggestions do you guys have to add to this?
 Or, do you disagree with something on this list?

TWITTER: @poetonpoetry

I also have another blog:
and have a book coming out called #100MillionGirls.


Her Closet is Color Coded

I don't often put up my own poetry, but here is one for you.

Her Closet is Color Coded
She is a dependable, caring,
salt of the earth, Safe Block mother.
Her closet is color coded.
She recycles her cans, doesn’t drink much.
Her bills are paid on time.
She flosses, doesn’t miss her physical,
she’s never late for work,
takes her vitamins religiously,
always votes, never litters.
She’s raised a child, rising every day
no matter how tired.
She’s attended a million meetings,
washed a trillion dishes, and
washed more dirty socks than
she can count with a calculator.

But, she’s missed so much, doing so little.
Dotting every “i”, walking on a tightrope,
She forgot to have fun, to live, to party.
She always thought she could make up
for lost time, but she didn’t know that she’d
be too old to care, too tired to try, burnt out.

She doesn’t like getting drunk,
it interferes with her medications.
She can’t wear killer heels, they hurt her feet.
Sexy outfits don’t come in her size now.
She’d have an affair, but she’s too tired.
She’d tell more people to go to hell,
but she needs their help.
She tried wearing lots of red hats.
It didn’t really do anything for her,
except make her head itch.
There’s not that much
she’d still like to do except live, 
but she doesn’t know how.

First appeared in Lucidity Poetry Journal, Summer 2012.

TWITTER: @poetonpoetry

I also have another blog:
and have a book coming out called #100MillionGirls.


Interview with Dos Gatos Press

          1.  Tell us a little about Dos Gatos Press.

Dos Gatos Press is located in central Austin, within a couple of miles of both downtown and the University of Texas.  David and I began the press in 2004 with the intent of focusing on poetry, specifically poetry of Texas and the Southwest.  From the start, we planned on this being a small press--or in industry terms, a micropress, since we publish only 1-3 titles a year.  Our main publication is the annual Texas Poetry Calendar, but we have also published a collection of poems by Texas Poet Laureate Karla K. Morton (Redefining Beauty), an anthology of Texas poetry (Big Land, Big Sky, Big Hair), and a collection of poetry writing exercises (Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry), our first foray outside Texas.  More titles are in the works.

2.      Can you explain your roles at Dos Gatos?

Initially, David and I shared many of the duties at Dos Gatos, but after a couple of years, we found that we could be more efficient by dividing up our roles.  David, as Managing Editor, handles most of the production and distribution of our titles, as well as the bookkeeping (sales, invoices, etc.).  That means that David formats our titles with InDesign and prepares them for printing.  He also serves as the contact for our many retail outlets, and distributors.  He also handles our website.  There are a lot of "behind the scenes" tasks that David takes charge of (and I'm ever so thankful that I do not have to work with numbers).
I serve as the Chief Editor for the press.  Among my duties are editing, proofreading, keeping up correspondence with our contributors (including our newsletter), and seeking out new projects, such as Wingbeats (for many years, I also did our website).  I do a lot of the "outreach" for Dos Gatos, including contacting media outlets about our titles, organizing and hosting our numerous public readings and events, and answering questions like these for blogs.  Of course, I also assist David with layout, mailings, etc.--never a shortage of things to do!
Five years ago, Cindy Huyser came on board as a co-editor of the Texas Poetry Calendar, and next year she will take over as chief editor of the calendar, at which time some of my duties might change a bit.  I've got several new projects that I'll be working on, but I'd rather not discuss them just yet.  Laurie Ann Guerrero, of San Antonio, will join Cindy as a co-editor of the 2014 Texas Poetry Calendar.  We are expanding both in number and in geography!

Scott Wiggerman and David Meischen

3.   How did you get into publishing?

We got into publishing quite by accident.  Lianne Mercer, a poet in Fredericksburg, had been editing and publishing the Texas Poetry Calendar since its inception in 1999; but after after seven years was ready to devote more time to her own writing.  However, she did not want to see the Texas Poetry Calendar end its run.  That's when she contacted me to see if I would be interested in taking over its publication.  I already knew it would be more work than I could handle, so I asked my partner if he would consider joining me in the venture.  He said yes, and we drove out to Fredericksbrug to talk over the transition from Flying Cow Publications to Dos Gatos Press, with a year to plan the transition.  Before we knew what we were doing, we had produced the 2006 Texas Poetry Calendar--and now we've just published our eighth one, so the calendar's been going for fifteen years!
One decision we made when we decided to get into this business was to seek 501(c)3 status to run Dos Gatos Press as a non-profit organization.  While the early years were lean, we've managed to be in the black every one of our years in business.  As authors, we also wanted to run the press the way we would like to be treated, and we continue to run it this way.

  4.   What is the best thing about publishing poetry?

By far the best thing about publishing poetry is the praise and thanks we get from our community of readers for the work we're doing.  People who don't ordinarily read poetry often read the Texas Poetry Calendar.  The poets also appreciate having a quality outlet for their work, and we, in turn, appreciate being able to promote their work--and discover new voices.  Our mission statement is "to make poetry more widely available to the reading public and to support writers of poetry"--and by most all accounts, we have succeeded.

5.   What is the most difficult thing about publishing poetry?

That said, the nature of this business is that there are always going to be poets whose work you turn down, many of whom are friends and acquaintances, which is why we use a blind submission process.  We really don't want to know whose poems we're reading when we're making decisions; and, I'm glad to say, most poets would rather have a poem accepted because of its quality than because of the reputation of its author.  Still, it hurts to have to reject poems, including some excellent poems that don't fit into the limited space we have to print poems.
The other difficult thing about publishing poetry is that it's not a profitable business; the profit margin is extremely small for most books, and places that require discounts of 65% or more make breaking even almost impossible (can we say, Barnes & Noble?).  Of course, many places will not carry poetry at all, even a calendar that contains poetry.  David could probably list a hundred different stores that have said no to carrying our books.  We've learned to stick with the retailers that work with us, and rely on the goodwill of our poets, another good reason for treating them right.

             6.   What inspires the two of you in poetry?

       I'll answer for myself.  What inspires me is language itself--the sound of words, the syntax of lines, the beauty of language.  When I read a book of poetry, I constantly find myself underlining similes that startle, lines that say so much in so few words, words which flow so well off the tongue--things I wish I had written myself!  On days when I think that it's impossible to write anything that hasn't been written before, I read a new poem that takes my breath away with its originality and craft!  And I'm all the more inspired by poets who are able to use language to such effect in form poetry.

              7.   What advice do you have for poets submitting their work to publishers?

       First of all, become familiar with what a publisher publishes, which is easy enough these days since most publishers have a webpage that includes sample poems (ours is .  And then send poems that are appropriate.  Second, read and follow the guidelines!  If a publisher says "no more than three poems," don't send five or ten.  If a publisher states that poems should be no longer than what will fit on an ordinary page, don't send a 2-3 page poem.  If a publisher asks that you not include any identifying information--like a name--on your work, then don't include it.  I could go on.  Third, proofread what you send (or get someone else to do it); if you want an editor to care about your work, you need to make it appear that you care about it.  Finally, if you're doing all these things, don't give up if at first you don't succeed.  Every poet receives rejections, and if you are convinced that what you are submitting is your best work, then perservere.  I'm not ashamed to say that some of my own poems have gone through two dozen rejections before being accepted for publication.

                8.   I know that you publish several books, but can you tell us a little about Wingbeats?

       Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry was developed as an answer to what I perceived as a need.  One of my favorite books of poetry exercises is The Practice of Poetry, edited by Chase Twichell and Robin Behn, and I had waited for almost twenty years for another book like it to appear on the market.  None did.  At this point, I began to think that perhaps I might be able to create such a book myself--and David gave me the okay to make it a Dos Gatos Press project, our first that would be beyond the scope of Texas and the Southwest.  In other words, it was a big step for us!  I made a list of poets--academic and non-academic--who I wanted to contact about contributing an exercise and got to work.  I was delighted with the responses and the willingness of poets to work with a small press that most had never heard of--and for no money (only one well-known poet brought up payment, and she's not in Wingbeats).  I sent out a loose set of guidelines for how we wanted the exercises to look (but no requirements on content), and as they started to come, it became apparent that the exercises were all over the map.  Despite the wonderful array of voices and writing styles, we wanted the book to have an internal consistency, and that came in the form of editing and formatting, at which time David agreed that he would co-edit Wingbeats; it was clearly too much for one person to handle, and being able to edit back and forth with him made a huge difference in the "step-by-step" format the exercises developed.  We also had a lot of back and forth with the poets themselves, asking for additional information or for sample poems based on the exercises.  Samples are a big thing, something that sets Wingbeats apart from The Practice of Poetry.  We were adamant that each exercise would include at least one sample poem so that readers working their way through an exercise would be able to compare their own output with a sample; if the poet couldn't supply one--and most could--we asked poet friends to try the exercise and used their poems as samples.  In the end, we think our attention to detail paid off, and the poets who contributed exercises seemed very happy with the changes we made to what they sent us and the book as a whole.  When they received proofs--after David worked his technical magic in InDesign--poets could see for themselves that their trust in us was not misguided.  (I might add that much of that technical magic later came back to haunt David as he had to strip out much of the formatting for our ebook version--but he persisted and it's now available: .)

       Organizing the exercises into a book was a challenge because until we received them, we had no idea what kind of exercises they would be or where they might fit.  I really appreciate poets like Laurie Kutchins who actually asked me which kind of exercise we could use (revision!) to fill in any gaps.  One of the reasons we include an "Alternate Table of Contents" in addition to a "Table of Contents" is because we had such a hard time categorizing the exercises into just seven sections!  Overall, the poets were amazingly supportive throughout the project, constantly making us feel we were on the right track.

                  9.   How did you come up with the name for the book?

       The book went through many, many titles (most of which I've forgotten, but there's a list somewhere) before we settled on Wingbeats, which I like because of its connotations--the wing which suggests a lifting of writing flying off the page and the beats which suggests the musicality of birds and poems.  This was the first title that we came up with that we both loved, and it also lent itself well to a cover image, which our wonderful graphic designer Kristee Humphrey brought to life.  By the way, there's even a poem in Wingbeats that uses the term "wingbeat"--Jessamyn Smyth's "Cove."  Clearly the title was meant to be!

         10.  You have provided a poetry exercise from Wingbeats, would you like to talk a little about that?

"Line Dancing" is a quick and open-ended little exercise, good for any day of the year. It starts with a line of poetry written by someone else--a line that grabs your attention and won't let go. Who doesn't have dozens (hundreds) of those at hand? It's a perfect exercise for a day when you don't want to feel restricted by rules. All you need is an arresting line of poetry you didn't write yourself. And then you dance with it, turn yourself loose, let yourself go, follow your own little dance of words. Each dance starts with a new and different line. Each dance will take new and surprising turns. No matter how often you do the exercise, no poem will seem like a lifeless repeat of one you've done before.

Writing Exercise From Wingbeats: Exercise and Practice in Poetry

Dos Gatos provided the following exercise from the book.  I hope you will try it and leave your comments below.  We would love to hear about your experience.
Line Dancing

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Ten Ways I Find Inspiration

Ten Ways I Find Inspiration

1.     A tune rolling around in my head that repeats for a good portion of the day might inspire me to write a poem.  It will be like a two line chorus.  Finally, I’ll wake up and realize that the words are a part of a poem and sit down to write.

2.    Other times, I am surfing along and I hit a story or a picture that inspires me and the words just start to flow. As most of you probably know I ran across a photo of a baby in a gutter in China that inspired me to write and the poems came non-stop.  I now have a book being edited called 100 Million Girls, about the extermination of little girls, who are killed after birth because their parents do not want them. 
(See for more information.) 

I read story after story related to this issue and wrote poems from several different angles.  I wrote about how we in the west minimize women and how that is not so far away from the extermination of women in much of Asia, Latin America and few other places in the world.  Just today, I found another website that is having some success in fighting gendercide in China and I was inspired to write a poem about one of their success stories.

3.     I also might pick up a book like Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry (Dos Gatos Press: 2012) and pick a title that interests me. Or, I might look for poetry prompts online.
An example of a poetry prompt I saw the other day in Poets and Writer’s:

Write a poem that begins with a description of a photograph you have in your possession. Delve into the memories evoked by the photograph, or reveal what personal significance the photograph has for you. For inspiration, read Natasha Trethewey's "History Lesson."

4.     Another way I might find a poem is just talking to someone.  I was talking to a Hispanic waitress while having lunch the other day and she told me a quaint phrase her mother used to say in Spanish and it stuck with me.  I came home and wrote a poem using the phrase.

5.     Once I overheard a lady talking about an incident from her childhood in Mexico City that I thought   would make a great poem. I haven’t written that one yet, but it is filed away in my head.

6.      I have written poems about dreams, conversations, trips, and personal experiences.

7.      I was inspired to write a response to the poem that women love by Maya Angelo that swims around the internet, “Phenomenal Woman.”  I wrote “Okay Man” which has not seen near the viral reaction that Maya Angelo’s poem did.

8.      I also write about issues within my family when I am upset, including deaths and illness.

9.      Of course I can be inspired by weather or nature.

10.   I recently took an online class in Visual Poetry so I am looking for poems in paintings and things     lately.

Where do you find your sources of inspiration?

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Waking the World

Waking the World

What do you hear under the noise that bombards you every day? How can we balance staying informed and involved in the world with our need for beauty, love, joy and quiet?  In America, we’ve become good at tuning out anything that isn’t positive, beautiful or happy probably due to the constant bombardment of negativity from our 24/7 news sources.  I would guess that in one hour we can now hear as much horrific news as most people used to hear in a year, or maybe a lifetime.

Tuning Out

The temptation is to shut everything out.  “I just can’t hear one more cannibalistic or horrific death story.” Some celebrity gurus tell us that we won’t miss anything, if war breaks out someone will tell us.  That sounds good and healthy on the surface. There are so many causes and people hurting, it is tempting to tune all of them out. We can’t help everyone.

My fear is that we have become addicted to the feel good puppy picture type posts and news in our world, shutting out the hard stuff, or we’ve become callous and immune to suffering seeing so much every day on the news. 

The Federalist Papers

If you have ever read The Federalist Papers, you know that they were a collection of papers circulated among the people arguing for different sides of political issues.  They were well written, well-reasoned and long. I have always been impressed with how much patience our forefathers had to read something so deep and detailed compared to our snappy sixty second news bites.

Despite all of our news sources, I think we are less informed on most issues than our forefathers were, at least those who could read. They didn’t face a flood of information and political stories that amount to chatter and unimportant temporal things or find every issue treated like a big deal.  So, instead of trying to ferret through the chatter, we are tuning out. In tuning out, we are less informed on the things that matter and tend to know a lot about things that don’t matter. 

We know all about “Dancing With the Stars” or “American Idol,” who won the ball game, and we know who George Clooney is, but we really don’t know what Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Blackwell did for the country. Instead of helping us be more informed the incessant demands for our attention blind us to things we need to know.

The Other Holocaust

Recently, I took up a cause for a very important issue that has absolutely no press in America and no celebrity endorsements-the extermination of baby girls AFTER birth around the world resulting in a shortage of marriage-age women in both India and China. The subject matter is gruesome, maybe more gruesome than anything this world has ever seen according to UNICEF.  There is a mountain of baby girl corpses equal to those that died in the Holocaust every few years.

Everyone knows about Darfur and Syria, which is horrible, but the numbers of baby girls killed in the last twenty years dwarfs the deaths in these conflicts, indeed ALL conflicts combined in all of history. Why are you not hearing about this on the news, like you are Darfur and Syria?  Why is it that when women and girls are killed there is no coverage even when the numbers are radically changing our world?

The Blackout

I decided to put up a blog and write a poetry book about this issue never thinking it would be political. I thought we could all agree that killing baby girls AFTER birth is not okay. Instead, I have been attacked on some poetry boards by mostly women, but some men too.

Part of what led me down this road of activism was a picture I found on the internet from a June 2001 Maire Claire article showing a baby girl beaten, naked and dying in a gutter in Hunan Province while a distinguished gentlemen strolled by without a care. The article said this was not uncommon. Finally, one woman stopped to check on the baby who was still alive.  She called EMS. They told her baby girls were not a priority, they would be there when they could.  In the meantime, an older man wrapped the baby in newspaper and put her in the trash.  When EMS arrived, they were not concerned with who killed the baby, they had the lady who reported the incident arrested.

Given some of the responses I have had even in this country, I am shocked to report that there are many people who want to silence me and who want to shoot the messenger.  Is this why you are not hearing about the issue in America? I have been told that there are people in some of these countries who would kill me for speaking up about the issue. The fact that I am being attacked shows just how far women and girls have not come in the world and how far we still have to go.

Some Things are Too Important to Ignore

Have we as a country become so concerned with our own search for happiness that we cannot care when a Holocaust far larger than anything Hitler did is going on this very minute all over the world?  Can we not insist on human rights improvement for baby girls before we grant aid?  Can we not stand up as a people and voice our disapproval?  Two of the greatest offenders are India and China and they are up and coming powers of the world.  Is it not time that we hold them to a world standard of human rights? The world was fixated over one male Chinese dissident, while millions of baby girls are murdered.

I understand the need to limit our exposure to the gruesome and sad, but 100 million girls are being brutally killed while we sip our margaritas and play video games.  All that is needed to begin to shift this tide is to shine a light on it, get Americans talking about it, force our government to put a spotlight on it, get our news to cover the story. China and India are even getting concerned about the lack of women for their single men. They are taking some steps to correct sex selected abortion, but much more needs to be done about the killing of newborn and toddler girls.

Sometimes the big issues seem too big for us to think about.  We wonder what can we do, so why hear these horrific things? Let me assure you that we can make a difference on this one, if enough people stand with me to push back those that would silence me. Don’t let the cacophony of chatter cover over the cries of 100 million baby girls. I hear them in my sleep.  Help me help them.

You can help merely by tweeting about this, posting it on Facebook, talking about it to your friends.  Follow the blog, 100 Million Girls, and Like the Facebook page, to stay up to date and informed.  I have put up tons of resources on the blog and post information almost daily on the Facebook page.

If we don’t stand up for baby girls and their mothers, who will?  They can’t do it themselves. Can we get one person to stand up for every girl killed?  Be the voice of one baby girl who has been brutally silenced and get two friends to be the voices of two more girls until we have at least 100 million voices speaking for them. If 100 million girls can be killed, surely 100 million people can speak up! If one person will speak up for every baby killed, we will make a difference that matters in this world and that, my friends, is something worth knowing and worth doing.

I am speaking for Neha Afreen, a three month old Indian girl tortured and killed by her father this year for several weeks because he did not want a girl. You can read a poem about his police report under My Poetry on 100 Million Girls.  Who will you speak for? There are more than 100 million girls to choose from.


Poet of the Week-Maitreyabandhu

Poet of the Week-Maitreyabandhu 

Maitreyabandhu has won the Keats-Shelley Prize, The Basil Bunting Award, the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, and Ledbury Festival Competition which was judged by Billy Collins. His pamphlet, The Bond won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition (2010) and has been shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award (2011); Vita Brevis won the iOTA Shots Award and will be published in June 2012. Maitreyabandhu has written articles for Poetry Review, Agenda and Magma; and his poems have been accepted in many UK publications, including The Guardian, The Spectator, Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, Agenda, Iota, Magma, The Rialto, and Stand. Maitreyabandhu has been a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order for 22 years. He is the author of two books on Buddhism, and lives and works at the London Buddhist Centre, UK.

Poet on Poetry’s Questions for Maitreyabandhu

Where were you born?

I was born in a small town in Warwickshire, called Henley-in-Arden. It's just down the road from Shakespeare's birthplace, Statford-upon-Avon. My parents owned a small, and at the time, not very successful coach hire and taxi business. So my early years were spent in a house crowded with coach drivers and mechanics (our kitchen was their work mess) not to mention my three brothers, my sister, two alsatians, a cat, a few rabbits, a gerbil and a tank of tropical fish.  

What inspires you as a poet?

WH Auden said “The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of ourselves and the world around us”. In this sense Buddhism and poetry overlap. My poetry comes out of my Buddhist practice – I’ve been a Buddhist now for 25 years and ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order for 22 years.

Sometimes Buddhism directly inspires my poems, but more often they arise out of my Buddhist practice, especially my practice of mindfulness and meditation. Most of my poems are written on retreat. I write about my childhood quite a lot (despite my intention not to!) and I often write about nature. I trained as a painter (I went to the same art school as Damien Hirst) so I sometimes write about art. I’d like to write urban poems (I’ve lived in London for over 25 years) but I rarely manage it.

I think of poetry as a certain mood that occasionally arises, especially on retreat. In that mood, I feel calmer, more open, and more directly in touch with the natural world. When I am in that ‘mood’ everything seems to be a poem, or has the potential to partake in poetry.

 What advice do you have for other poets?

Oh dear, I don’t know…observe a lot, work hard at re-drafting, read a lot of both great poetry and contemporary poetry, be receptive to those with more experience than yourself. I’ve been very lucky to be mentored by the Mimi Khalvati – a wonderful poet – so if you can get a mentor all the better. But don’t expect to be inspired. Mostly writing is just hard work. I’d also urge people to meditate and cultivate mindfulness. Imagination – genuine imagination rather than fantasy – grows out of a vivid engagement with direct experience, and with a developed capacity for concentration and emotional engagement. You need to train your mind if you want to be a poet. 

What prompted you to start writing poetry?

I’ve written poetry all my life, although I never took it very seriously. I didn’t even type my poems up. When I got involved in the Triratna Buddhist Order, I started writing poems on retreat. But it wasn’t till my sabbatical in 2005 that I started writing seriously. Looking back it was reading poems that eventually got me to write them. I’d been reading poems intensively since I was ordained. I started with Shelley and then went on to Keats and Dante, Coleridge and Auden. I read and re-read them. I memorized Ode to the West Wind and the first 108 lines or so of Hyperion. I read biographies and Helen Vendler. Eventually I felt I wanted to participate in poetry – not just read it. I was lucky enough to get some encouragement and I won some prizes, so all that inspired me to keep writing. Of course my own writing has led me to discover wonderful poets such as Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop; it also got me to read much more contemporary poetry. 

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

Well, I want to write better poems. I still feel I have a lot to learn and in many ways writing has got harder. I’d like to use rhyme more for instance. Really it all comes down to writing better stuff. You read someone like Heaney or Bishop or Larkin and, well, you wish you could do that, you wish you could write half-way as good as them! Really you write poems because you love poems, because they’ve opened up life to you.

I want to do all that while resisting the urge to get overly involved in the ‘poetry world’ – with publications and networking and so forth. I have to make sure most of my energy goes into practicing and communicating Buddhism directly, especially through teaching. I need to be a Buddhist Poet not a Poet who happens to be a Buddhist. But of course I’d like lots of people to read my poems and hopefully be moved by them. I’m not writing for myself. So I’d like to publish a few collections.

How do you balance the rather competitive side of publishing poetry and competitions with your practice as a monk? 

They don’t go together: spiritual life and worldly life (success and so forth) are mutually incompatible. One of the worse things about writing is that it has re-awoken my ambition, and there is always something point-missing and ugly about ambition. I am a very ambitious person and I can sense there is something compensatory about that. I try to guard against my ambition by making sure I give my time primarily to Buddhism – to teaching and going on retreat and so forth; trying to help others a little. I don’t seem to be able not to be ambitious, I can’t get rid of it, but I can make sure I don’t focus on it at the expense of my spiritual life.

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. 

 This was written on an intensive meditation retreat. I was sitting outside listening to a thrush singing after my morning meditation. Firstly, it’s about the importance of simple, innocent pleasures. But then it’s also an argument for the kind of poetry I write – poems set in the natural world, etc. It also expresses my rejection of ‘miserablism’, where the darker side of life is assumed to be in some sense more real. But really it comes out of that ‘mood’ I talked about earlier – as I hope all my poems do.

Umbrian Summer was likewise written on retreat (though, as with all my poems, I have to do an awful lot of re-drafting outside of the retreat). It’s a more directly Buddhist poem about change and impermanence, about how even in the midst of summer you can feel a touch of autumn, a whiff of death. I also hope it communicates something of the state of mind that meditation evokes – emotionally integrated, aware, vividly alive to the meaning of things.

Retrospect is the concluding poem in a sequence of 21 poems I’ve been writing for 6 years now. It’s a blank verse sonnet and reflects my growing interest in form – iambic pentameter in particular. The sequence is about a boy I had a relationship with from the ages of 8 to 16. He died in a motorbike accident. I found that he kept on appearing in my poems without me intending to write about him, so eventually it was obvious I was writing a sequence.

 Maitreyabandhu’s Poetry 


There’s no law against my listening
to this thrush behind the barn,
the song so loud it echoes like a bell,
then it’s further off beyond the lawn.
Whatever else there is, there’s this as well.

There’s no law against this singing –
nesting I suppose – up in the silver birch,
even though we build a common hell,
have done, and will make it worse.
Whatever else there is, there’s this as well.

First published in Poetry Review and  in Maitreyabandhu's pamphlet The Bond - Smith/Doorstop Books

Umbrian Summer

Even though the wind
was warm and we slept
with the window open,

next day
there were beech leaves
on the swimming pool –

chrome yellow
on a zone of blue,
like something Japanese.

The sun
had seemed to shine
through lemonade –

it lingered
on the other hill and made
the shadows gentler.

Flagstones kept their heat
but evening shook
the dying leaves.

Night fell slowly
on the drive.
The full moon drifted

high above a ridge,
in a shawl of cloud –

she seemed so
pale and cold,
pronouncing Om and Autumn.

First published in Poetry Review  and will be in Maitreyabandhu's forthcoming pamphlet Vita Brevis - Templar Poetry 


In my story, you walked to school that day,
left the moped in the garage with your
gauntlets on the seat, caught up with me,
suggested we should meet back at your house,
your brother still at work. I tell myself
we carry on from there, off and on
until I move away. Now you’re twenty-five
and have learnt the art of smiling. We talk
about that time you waited in the bath
next to your parents’ kitchen after school.
But the story won’t make sense, the facts
you left too small to be given consequence.
I can’t put explanations in your mouth.
You just stand there in the kitchen doorway,
pencil-slim and pale and carrying a helmet.

First published in The North and in Maitreyabandhu's pamphlet The Bond - Smith/Doorstop Books

Interview with me about Mairtreyabandhu's poetry

Interview in The Guardian about Maitreyabandhu winning the Keats-Shelley

Prize Reading ‘Visitation’ at the London Buddhist centre

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"Doing Something With My Poetry

“Doing Something With My Poetry”

I just celebrated the year anniversary of finally "doing something" with my poetry. Actually, it was more like February or March, but I didn't want to write in the "heat" of that poetry moment, so I let a little time pass. 

So, I am not sure whether to hug or kick my husband for urging me to "do something" with my poetry. I was a better poet last year, at least I thought I was. I was my own best critic, loving everything I wrote. I made myself cry, laugh and dream when I read my own poems. I could be anything in my own mind watching my poems float above my head like beautiful pastel colored balloons. Now, dead balloons lay all around my feet, pierced by rejections and very few float around my head anymore.

John Quixote

Still, gentle John says, "Hang in there! You are good, better than most anybody I've read!" It makes me think of the scene in Don Quixote. Remember, he was a crazy old man slaying dragons when everyone else could see they were actually windmills? They tried to convince him that he was crazy. He also thought the local harlot was Dulicnea, a princess. She and the men of the bar scoffed at him. He sang a song to her called “The Impossible Dream,” telling her, The world will be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star!

I am No One, I am Nothing at all, I am Only a Poet!

Don Quixote found her, Sophia Loren, after being raped by the men in the village. She sang a stunning song,

Take the glass from your eyes and see me as I really am! You have shown me the sky, but what good is the sky for a creature who'll never do better than crawl? Of all the cruel bastards who badgered and battered me, you are the cruelest of all! 

Can't you see what your gentle insanities do to me? Rob me of anger and give me despair! Blows and abuse I can take and give back again. Tenderness I cannot bear...I am no one, I am nothing, I'm only a whore."

He yelled back, "You are a lady! You are Dulcinea!

(You can watch that song on this YouTube video: )

Finally, they take Don Quixote to the Wall of Mirrors to show him what a fool he was. They wanted him to see reality and see things as they were. When he finally saw their truths, he became old and ill. On his deathbed, the town harlot (his Dulcinea) came to him. He didn't remember who she was. She begged him to see her once again. He could not.

The Impossible Dream

I identify with this scene. Journals and contests badger and batter me, then toss me aside like, well the poetry whore that I am. I give it to anyone for free, for a copy of a book or one little compliment.

Then, there is John (rhymes with Don) telling me I am not a whore, showing me the sky, calling me a great poet.  I've learned to take the abuse and give it back, (Damn journals! Fools that they are!) but his gentle insanities are the cruelest of all.

Still I am what I am and I can’t stop chasing that impossible dream and Don (I mean John) helps me chase those windmills and slay those dragons, telling me the whole time someday the world will see, “You are a poet!  An amazing poet and one day the world will be better for this!”

So, I keep writing and with the last ounce of courage I have, I keep submitting hanging on to that dream. I just hope John never sees any other “truth.”

Watch a clip from the movie and hear “The Impossible Dream” here:

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Poets, Unsung Heroes of Art

Poets, Unsung Heroes of Art

Who is more neglected as an artist than the poet?

When I graduated from law school my dad asked me why I chose the one profession people hated more than his.  He was a used car dealer. Dad died a few years ago, but I have to wonder what he would say now that I am a poet, a lowly lonely poet, loved by no one.

Singers and songwriters, at least in Austin, can get gigs and put out a tip jar making tax-free real money.  If they can’t get a gig, they can stand on a street corner, at the subway, on the sidewalk and play for tips. On top of that, they have rabid fans who will buy them beers, supply them with perks and tell them they are awesome. Some, like Cowboy Johnson above, get the chance to play Willie Nelson's picnic before thousands of adoring fans.

Authors can get large advances for books not even written. They can even get money to travel the world doing “research” for their books (Eat, Pray, Love).They can go on lucrative book tours and sell books from the back of packed bookstore readings.

Visual artists can sell their works for astronomical sums. They can hang their art in restaurants, have a gallery showing, or at least place their works in galleries for purchase.

The poet, the lowly poet, is not popular at a late night bar pontificating for tips. Restaurants recoil from us. Advances for poetry books are rare and small. I’ve never heard of travel money to research a poetry book. Yes, poets can go on book tours and do readings to mostly groups of 10 and sell a few books.  They are no poetry galleries, or poems hanging from the walls of restaurants. And no matter what a poet does, nobody ever uses the word, “Awesome" or "Encore, Encore!" We are lucky to get twenty people at a reading in the corner of a book store.

I dream of a world where poetry is prized, hung in galleries and available for purchase at astronomical sums. A world where crowds clamor for seats at a reading and slip poets beers or at least Slurpees, and finally people would give us standing ovations and call us, “Awesome!”

But for now, I’ll return to my solitary world, writing without a beer or a Slurpee.

What frustrations do you have with poetry? 
Do you agree that the world doesn't value us as much as it should?
What is your greatest moment as a poet?
I would love to hear what you think below.

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Twenty-One Things I've Learned as a Poet

Twenty-One Things I Have Learned This Past Year

1.   Nobody know what "making it" as a poet means, at least while they are alive.
2.   Even if you "make it," there really is no there there.
3.   Nobody, and I mean nobody, makes money at poetry, except for Billy Collins.
4.   Everybody and their dog has a blog and writes poetry.
5.   I don't agree with the elitists that it is all about form.
6.   I don't agree with the masses that it is all about emotion.
7.   I don't agree with the abstractionists, that is all about deeper meaning.
8.   I don't agree that accessible has to mean boring, but much of it is.
9.  That there are fads in poetry, the current one is free verse, sparse, form obsessed and obtuse.
10. Poetry accolades are quickly washed away in the flood of rejections.
11. “Success" is almost always accompanied by news of rejection, as if they do it on purpose.
12. "Nobody reads poetry," except when it is free on my blog!
13. No matter what you write someone will disagree with how you wrote it, or what you wrote.
14. Workshops and classes really do help.
15. You look amateurish when you try to sound like any of the old greats.
16. You look elitist when you try to sound hip, with-it, modern or cool.
17. You shouldn't write to a fad.  Write what you love!
18. Poets are like farmers, planting seeds, watering the land, waiting patiently for spring to come.
19. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks, poets gotta write.
20. The term "making it" is irrelevant in poetry, like the terms "making a living," "getting rich,"
and "I spent the day shopping at Neimans."
21. Poets are all descended from Don Quixote, reaching for an impossible dream.

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