Which Makes A Better First Poem In A Book?

Which makes a better first poem in a book?

The Fool

the baby is naked
I’m clothed
she has the hose
and foolishly I shriek
“don’t get me wet!”
egging her on

her blond tousled hair
bangs in her eyes
she can say “ant” and “please”
but what is she really

so too the neighbor’s bees
cast runes in the book of the day
purple blossoms
I’ve cultivated for
pollinators all

in the ruined city
there is honey
beneath the masonry
(still standing in the desert)

how close, in autumn,
things are
to going
to seed.


Along the Chama

I greet everyone I meet
on the river path

the fisherman in his red shirt
his old wife with the little dog

“cute dog,” I say
waiting for her smile

out towards the Brazos cliffs
it’s raining

mist like a Chinese painting
and huge stone calving out of the mountain range

a partial but sincere rainbow
appearing and disappearing

and the “check tire pressure” light comes on
and we turn back

the air machine is on the blink
because “it was hit by lightning”

the convenience store clerk won’t make change
until I pull my grandmother-in-trouble face

really, the tires are fine, just a little low
not flat

it’s dark now, and I don’t know
which neon sign is prettier


The first was my initial choice. Then, at my editor’s suggestion, I randomized the manuscript (i.e. threw it up in the air and arranged it blindly). I do like what resulted.


3 Questions for Ace Boggess

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.?

I use the poetic line as a way of forcing my reader to pause and breathe. I try to end lines where I want the reader to take a short breath to process what’s come before, and the stanza break for a longer breath and time to focus. I think smaller lines with quick pauses for breath help build a cadence, while longer lines keep the reader focused. In the first case, rhythm is created by silences, whereas in the latter, the words themselves create a sort of melodic flow. At least, that’s how I use them. Also, the end of a line is great for subterfuge. There’s no literary trickery I enjoy more than ending a line on a thought, forcing a pause, then starting the next line with a word or phrase that contradicts or changes the meaning of the previous line’s end. 

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

The most direct correlation is that I have felt overwhelming social anxiety, along with other lesser, more general anxieties, all my life. Whatever twisted brain chemicals cause that–the frozen sensation around new people–is the same thing that led me to writing in the first place. The panic and fear kept me from speaking and meeting people, so I needed another outlet. That was writing for me. 
These days, reading my poetry aloud to an audience has the opposite effect. To share my words and hear the right responses of gasps or laughter at just the right moments, to know that what I intended was understood, allows me to burn off all that anxious energy, exhausting myself along the way. If I leave a reading completely spent, so tired I’m ready to collapse, I know I’ve connected. 

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Well, I’m sure you get this answer a lot, but the pay isn’t great. Other than that, my only gripe is with editors that hold a manuscript for a ridiculously long period of time and still respond with a form letter. I’m sorry, but if you’ve had my manuscript in limbo for a year, you owe me a few genuine words, even if it’s just to say, “Jesus Christ, I’m sorry, man!” 

BIO: Ace Boggess is author of six books of poetry, most recently Escape Envy (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2021). His poems have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, J Journal, Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry East, River Styx, and many other journals. An ex-con, he lives in Charleston, West Virginia, where he writes and tries to stay out of trouble.

On The Topic of Busy: Selfie by Peter Cherches

A man sits, at home, in pajama bottoms and a long-sleeve T-shirt, barefoot and unmasked, easy in his easy chair, reading a recent volume of Gilded-Age cultural history, a nostalgic return to a place he once inhabited for his scholarly research, a quarter of a century ago, a favorite genre of nonfiction ever since, “Bitches Brew” the soundtrack of the moment (he usually listens to instrumental music while reading, words get in the way), sipping Assam tea with milk (he had to give up coffee for reflux and found that drinking strong, malty tea in the English way was a substitute he could live with) from a Brooklyn Public Library mug, a gift from his last manager, sun shining through the windows, he’s awake and refreshed, having managed seven hours of shuteye, a good take for this chronic insomniac, occasionally setting the book down (actually, his Kindle), thinking back on all those years and all those jobs, the shitty ones and the relatively bearable ones, thinking: this is pretty much how I imagined retirement would be – the pandemic just a footnote to a moment like this.


Called “one of the innovators of the short short story” by Publishers Weekly, Peter Cherches is a writer, singer and lyricist. Over the past 40 years his writing, both fiction and nonfiction, has appeared in dozens of magazines, anthologies and websites. His first recording as a jazz vocalist, Mercerized! Songs of Johnny Mercer, was released in 2016. He is the author of three previous prose collections, including Lift Your Right Arm and Autobiography Without Words, both published by Pelekinesis. His new collection is Whistler’s Mother’s Son and other curiosities, also by Pelekinesis. Cherches is a native of Brooklyn, New York. 


Busy Busy Busy

Here is a Goldilock’s question–Are you too busy? Not busy enough? Just right? Asking for a blog post on post-vaccine life. If you’d like to explore what busy even means, send me your thoughts at msagan1035@aol.comMy own answer–my mind says not busy enough, my body says too busy, my self-awareness says I might not know balance if it bit me.

45th Reunion

45th college reunion. The fat red book appears in the mail. Like google, the reunion book gives access to former sweeties. I look them up, of course, but no one I so much as kissed has written in. They never do. Maybe they were somehow pre-selected by my libido to not to be interested in the alumni role? Maybe they were just a motley crew.

It’s a pretty straight arrow report. After all, I was Harvard class of 1976. Student radicalism was over. The majority were headed to law, medicine, banking, or academia. The arts were about worldly success.

Still, I’m busy reading about people I never knew or have forgotten. Some love their spouses, some are divorced, most seem to affectionately boast about their children. They have nice summer houses, play tennis, and many attempt to do some kind of conventional good in the world. Some are dead.

There are a few honest and compelling entries—written by women with some practice in self reflection. But these are rare.

One, very surprisingly, encourages us to come to Jesus. He wonders how anyone can survive who “believes” in nihilism. Obviously no philosophy major. I feel like sending him an email saying nihilism is more like a common cold—it afflicts from time to time—rather than a belief. But I have no idea who he is.

Harvard was my last obligation to my family of origin. I was expected to get in, I did, and I graduated in three years. I had a few exceptional professors. There were people I was very fond of at the time. I made a lifetime friend in a CR group. I liked Cambridge, with its funky restaurants and the river. I had a beautiful purple silk dress from the vintage clothing store, Oona’s, on Mass Ave. One the big regrets in my life was that I didn’t buy more there.

High school was more rigorous—Latin, French, trigonometry, AP classes, in a girls’ school I found stultifying. But in retrospect, Harvard was a lot more sexist. I can think of numerous incidents. But the worst was the anthropology professor who announced on the first day that the women students would all score about ten points lower than the men.

Was it worth it? Well, I got a degree that looks nice on my resume, and my father paid my tuition. Other than that, it was my last act of compliance with expectation. A year after graduation I was dying in the Beth Israel Hospital and when I didn’t die I was changed. It took me a few miserable and confused years, but I did began to seek my own path.

Old age and death are right around the corner for the class of ’76. Some seem bemused by it, some grief stricken, some in denial. But they are not my cohort, and never have been. I don’t look to them for wisdom, and yet I have enough sentiment to wish them well.

Monday: Haibun by Miriam Sagan

How is the day an abstraction?
It has color, feeling, mood.

of the embroidery—
my jumbled thoughts

I can’t create the moment, or even destroy it, like a toddler knocking over a stack of blocks.

the baby
grabs the smallest
matreshka doll

The Tower of Babel has made it difficult for us to understand each other. You are speaking you and I am speaking me.
I lie in the bath and you say: Who can we ask to find out which one of us is weirder?
“You are weirder,” I say, like I always do.
I place a line of dots on my watercolor paper, but they don’t seem to lead anywhere. Same for the black circles.

the ceiling fan
turns the pages of my book
how helpful!

A snail in my raised bed lettuce patch. My desire to crush it more violent than any feeling towards a person, even a tyrant.

by mistake, my brush
dipped in coffee, morning