Poet of the Week: Allyson Whipple

Allyson Whipple grew up in Ohio, earning her B.A. in English from Kenyon College, and her M.A. in English from Case Western Reserve University. She came to Austin in 2008, and has spent the past four years being inspired by the landscape. Her poems have most recently appeared in Southern Women's Review and TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, and is forthcoming in the 2013 Texas Poetry Calendar. Allyson also is the founder and primary author of, a blog she started to help promote local authors, publishers, and booksellers. You can read more about her work at

Questions for Allyson
1.            What inspires you as a poet?
Motion. While I identify myself as a poet of place, my work primarily involves moving through the settings of my work. In particular, I write a lot of poems about driving; few things get me thinking about poems like driving down a country highway on a beautiful day. Even if I'm not writing about travel, various locations around Texas make their way into my work. And my favorite poets all drive me to work harder: Paul Allen, Carrie Fountain, Barbara Hamby, Audre Lorde, Naomi Shihab Nye, Abe Louise Young, Mary Oliver, and Walt Whitman. 
2.            What advice do you have for other poets?
1) Write every day, but also know when you need some time off. The regular habit is very important, but it's also vital to know when you're burned out and need to direct your energies elsewhere. Don't beat yourself up if you need to take a break. You'll be better off for it.
2) You can fit poetry into your daily life. Even if you only get a 30-minute lunch break at your day job, that's enough to draft a short poem. You really will be surprised what you can fit even into fifteen minutes a day. 
 3) When revising, read your work aloud. That is the best advice a teacher has given me. Few people enjoy doing it, but it's essential. 
3.            What prompted you to start writing poetry?
 When I was twelve, I one day had the urge to write a poem, and the rest is history. No, I don't know where that urge came from. It just happened. Of course, that first poem wasn't any good, but it was the start of a very fruitful life.
4.            Where do you see yourself going in the future as a poet?
I'll probably be working on poems of place for a while yet, especially because I have two projects in place that revolve around that theme. But I've also begun to probe the fields of physics and mathematics for fresh inspiration. I'd also like to start branching out into more political poetry in the future. My goals are to write, revise, and publish as much as possible, and to always keep growing artistically.
5.            What are your favorite poetry journals?
I'm a devoted subscriber to The Kenyon Review. I also have an affinity for Front Porch, Bat City Review, and Gulf Coast. What I love more than journals, though, is investing in chapbooks. They're usually cheaper than books and journals, and it's a great way to get exposure to poets you might not otherwise encounter. I have found some amazing treasures by going to a bookstore and getting an assortment of chapbooks.
6.            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.
"Goldfinch" is a poem of ambivalence. Many of my poems are. This one is a love poem, but it's not. The emotions in it are not straightforward. Nature is not straightforward. That's a theme I love to explore in poetry: ambivalence, and the fact that emotions like love or anger get complicated, because a situation is so rarely black and white. 
"Traversing Houston by Bus" is dedicated to my dance partner, because without him, the poem wouldn't have been written. He found out about a west coast swing event happening in Houston in October of 2010, and encouraged me to join him. Part of the festivities involved getting on a party bus with a bunch of other dancers, and doing a west coast swing flash mob around town. You wouldn't know it from the poem, though. That weekend was more than just dancing, and that's where the poem comes in. That was the weekend when I really began to feel as though I belonged in Texas. I fit in here, to the point where a city I'd despised for two years (Houston) was starting to feel like home -- or, at the very least, the kind of place for which I could find a begrudging respect.  
"You Can See The Silence" is one of my favorite pieces of my career up to this point, and certainly my favorite of all my Texas poems. It came out of one of the exercises in Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry, written on a hot summer night when it was too stuffy to go outside, but being cooped up in the air conditioning had me restless. It was one of those rare poems that was close to finished on the first draft. The whole thing just coalesced.
Allyson Whipple Poetry


The female goldfinch
is dull, brown, paltry-colored, the
males are summer-yellow
and she resents the
built-in protection
nature has arranged without her
next to the other half
of her species
(They might all
look the same on the outside but
beneath their feathers
they are individually

Yes she
might need to blend in
but she would rather have had a
choice in her body,
who cares if she is
unfit, who cares if she
does not pass on her DNA?

This goldfinch does not
fly yet -
though she has
taken time to
develop wings,
build muscles,
grow feathers -
all she needs now is
confidence to
lift her in the air
but in her mind she
does not have the

Your goldfinch is
defective, she does not
nest, she builds in July
and by August
she destroys her work, 
starts anew
in a fit of boredom.

Just as she molts
twice a year, drops bland
feathers in clumps and patches,
she needs
to shed everything
she has done before -
needs the potential
of new beginnings.

Your goldfinch loves -
if birds can love -

Romantic, to
think that
birds might have
but especially passion for
their partners,
these mates with whom they
develop identical calls
(humans look alike as they
age together, but finches
develop one voice)

What do we know
about birds,

what do we know
about the couple next door?

Traversing Houston By Bus
 for John Burroughs

Squares are the only geometry
that make sense to me,
graph paper the only part of
math class I liked, wasting
time filling in the
spaces with pencil, going
darker and darker, making welts
on the other side of the page,
creating designs
rather than correct answers.
Maybe if I hadn't been so intent
on filling in the blanks, if I had paid attention
to circles and ovals,
to circumference,
I wouldn't get so
disoriented here, wouldn't be so dizzy.
Maybe if I had been receptive
to soft lines and curves
I wouldn't be dependent on right
angles for navigation.
Maybe I'd
be able to make sense of the pulse, the unstructured sky,
the arterial overpasses.
This city loops
around a spoke
of veined highways,
overlapping asphalt,
and a cracking concrete center which
I pass over, under, around, through
again and again
unable to find the heart.

You can see the silence

It's still too hot
for the neighbors
to walk their dogs.
It's just late enough
for the children
to have gone to bed.
And on Sunday
nobody becomes
a raucous
poolside drunk.
I can't take much more
than the air
conditioner hum.
I've been driven from
the bedroom of my
musician, who never
stops playing or
listening. Raw
notes emanate
all night long.
I'm tempted
to step outside.
But this is Texas
where the stars
won't cool you down.
This is Texas, where summer
heat makes gossip
rise like dough.
This is Texas
where neighbors read
your business
from your shadow.

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Rant by Helena Nelson

I found this poem reading the latest issue of The RialtoThe Rialto graciously contacted the author and both consented to allowing me to share Rant with you.  Seeing the professionalism of poetry in the U.K. makes me wish I lived there.

I hope you enjoy it as much as my husband and I did!


Down with poetry! It’s all over the place,
clogging up the drains, pretending
to be special. It’s printed on demand,
when there is no demand. Bookshops
don’t want it but still it gets printed. There are
poems in broadsheets and pamphlets
and hardbacks and paperbacks
and postcards and posters—
all of them rubbish! Bag it and bin it!
Who can understand it? Half of it
doesn’t make sense, the other half
doesn’t want to. Nobody knows how to read it. Oh
they pretend they do, but they haven’t a clue.
Apart from at funerals, what is the point of it?
It doesn’t even rhyme, or it rhymes,
which is worse. There are magazines
with pages full of nothing but poems.

And other magazines with pages of poems
and more pages of reviews of poems
and more pages of interviews with poets
and articles about poets and letters from poets
about poems and poets. They are all mad.
Delusion, delusion—
the confusion of profusion. Give me
a small piece of perfect prose
any day of the week. Down with
bluff and puff and blurb and bluster!
Down with accolades and encomiums!
Down with performance and festivals!
Down with clamour and slammers
and ‘Best Of ‘ anthologies! Down with ‘d├ębuts’
and prizes and longlists and shortlists!
Down with Winning Poems! Down with podcasts
and laurels and laureates and academies!
Down with young poets and old poets
and permanently middle-aged poets,
and poets who think their poems will sell!
Down with chopping sentences
into stanzas, especially couplets! Down with poets
who marry, or cohabit and breed—
down with their seed! Get them off the radio
and into a job. Down with payments for poets
to teach poets to write poetry! (Why
encourage them?) Down with poetry retreats
and poetry degrees and MAs and PhDs
and Writing CVs! Down with nominations!
Down with mentors and workshops

and bards and bulletin boards!
Down with networking, fretworking, please-be-my-pet working!
Down with i-Pads and i-Phones and Blackberries
and e-zines and webinars and Kindle!
Down with what they haven’t even thought of yet
but will be the Next New Thing! 
Down with book fairs and residencies!
Down with List Poems and Found Poems
and Prose Poems and Concrete Poems
and National Poetry Day! Down with line breaks
and Renga! Down with PoWriMo
and Haiku and Acrostics and poems with 14 lines
that say they are Sonnets! Down with the Muse!
Bring back twenty years between collections.
Bring back TB. And garrets. And bedlam. And capital
letters at the start of every line.
And meaningful punctuation. And flogging
for blogging. Bring back quill pens and blotting paper
and astronomically expensive ink. Bring back scansion
and writing half the time in Latin

on tombstones. Bring back dead poets.
Bring back parchment. Bring back embarrassment.
And, for persistent po-fenders and recidivists,
villanelle and sestina producers,
poetry promoters, poetry patrons, poetry peddlers,
poetry printers and poetry publishers—
bring back writer’s block!

Helena Nelson
Rant first appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of The Rialto, a wonderful poetry journal out of the U.K.

Helena Nelson runs HappenStance Press, which mainly (but not exclusively) publishes poetry pamphlets. She sometimes also writes poems. Her last collection was Plot and Counter-Plot, [] Shoestring Press, 2010.