About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well (https://miriamswell.wordpress.com). The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

Interview with William Brown

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

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

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

When I first started publishing in the early 1980s, I was not too conscious of the importance of poetic lines. But that began to change as I continued. I like to mix end-stops with enjambments. Enjambments create a question that the following line answers, thus creating tension in the reading of the poem. However, too many enjambments often can confuse the reader. I also like to match lengths of lines as much as possible for the visual shape on the page. I find this important to most publishers. Lately, I count the lines when I have a good flowing draft and divide them into stanzas that slow down the poem and aid the reading. I’m very fond of step-down stanza’s in short poems, which I might have gotten from Mary Oliver.


Second Story Windows

Why so many upstairs windows
Stained with fingers…

and that morning a block off Central,
in the second story of the Robertson Hotel,

one window collaged with fingers,
a face, ghost white,

brown eyes cataract blue,
staring out the window with her hands.



I write most poems with a pen, the dance of hand and fingers instead of keys on a computer. I try to hear it as I write, but in a kind of unplanned way that is difficult to explain.

Perhaps Robert Frost said it best about the body:

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.


When I first started writing for publication, I took rejection very personal. This feeling, however deep, I learned was foolish, even selfish. I don’t remember the western poet who said that beginning poets should read twenty poems for every one they write. Read, Read, Read.

And please read “A Way of Writing” by William Stafford. It starts:

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is
someone who has
found a process that will bring about new things he would not have
thought of if he had not
started to say them… (it goes on for four pages and can easily be googled).


Bill Brown is the author of eleven poetry collections and a writing textbook. The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts awarded him The Distinguished Teacher in the Arts. He has been a Scholar in Poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, a Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a two-time recipient of Fellowships in poetry from the Tennessee Arts Commission. Brown has published hundreds of poems and articles in college journals, magazines and anthologies. The Tennessee Writers Alliance named Brown the 2011 Writer of the Year. His new and selected collection, The Cairns, is just out from 3: A Taos Press in Denver. He lives with his wife, Suzanne, and a tribe of cats in the hills north of Nashville.

No People Without Dogs

Thanks to the Mohave Review for publishing five, count ’em, poems.
Here is one. It was inspired by a great course I took this summer with our state archeologist, Dr. Eric Blinman. And the dogs of Brown Caste Ranch.

there are no people
without dogs

the obsidian projectile
has a tail
like a comet

to the bone
the americas

no self—without what?
the ribcage
of the mother?
or maybe
we simply emerged
out of the subway
on the streets of Manhattan

no cities
without grain
and no granaries
without the cats
of Anatolia
who make themselves
at home

it’s quiet here
in the RV
in the basin land
the view
of three mountain ranges

when I step out
the black dogs greet me
with as much joy
as if I’d been gone’

Intimate Truths By Karla Linn Merrifield

Intimate Truths

By Karla Linn Merrifield

Seek “deepest truths” and “truthiness.” Be emotionally/psychologically “genuine.” Strive for a “synthesis between the accurate and the felt.” Follow Keats’s “objective correlative” prescription. Yes! Agreed! All valid touchpoints for approaching the art of haiku.

But, I’d like to add a few words to Miriam’s Well’s continuing haiku discussion in light of my John Sloan haiga, which readers first heard about four months ago (https://miriamswell.wordpress.com/2018/08/02/some-fascinating-new-work-from-karla-linn-merrifield-haiga/).

For this redux, I’m taking Keats’s objective correlative a step further.  Perhaps more so than other poetry forms, the haiku demands that the poet enter into an intimate relationship between herself and the few tightly wrought words that arise from the objective correlative.  The constraints of the form with its required compression of thought make for a profound intimacy that compels haiku poets toward genuine feeling. 

And the stakes are even higher, I think, when a haiku enters the realm of haiga, that is, when a haiku is coupled with art. As with any ekphrastic poem, the poet is engaged with the objective correlative that arises from the artwork itself. You move in close, come face to face, look the art in the eye, and the intimate relationship begins. You start scribbling.

That’s been my experience these past several months. Now, with ninety-seven Sloan haiga toward a book tentatively titled This Magnificent Flirtation, I find I frequently speak in seventeen syllables, whether in quotidian conversation or in text messages! Seems I’ve internalized my close relationship with Sloan’s artworks through repeated distillation of communication and hypersensitive focus.

However, when realizing my haiga within each nude, I must follow Sloan’s lead to weave the words into the image—even as I summon haiku master Matsuo Bashō’s wisdom. It is claimed that the great haiku master advised, “learn the rules and then break them.” I do so, adding titles to these haiga, breaking the 5/7/5 line formula (which is rather an arbitrary prescription in English for a form whose original language does not congress in syllables). So, because Sloan’s art dictates to me how my syllables will fall upon, around, over his strokes, the intimacy deepens between objective correlative/image and haiga text.

SHN #87- Blonde Nude / Empath, Startled

Truth is intimate.
Objective correlative?
Poet serves her Muse.


Credit: John Sloan, “Blonde Nude,” 1917, Hamlin Collection, Bowdoin College (in public domain)

Bio: Karla Linn Merrifield has 13 books to her credit, the newest of which is Psyche’s Scroll, a book-length poem, from The Poetry Box Select. Forthcoming in 2019 is her full-length book, Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North, from Cirque Press. Visit her blog, Vagabond Poet Redux, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com. Google her name to learn more; Tweet @LinnMerrifiel; https://www.facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield.

Strong/Not Strong by Devon Miller-Dggan

Editor’s note: Miriam’s Well is delighted to have Devon Miller-Duggan feeling like blogging again, and as always sharing her insights into life and the self.

Strong/Not Strong

As a lot of you know, life managed to out-do even my tendency to high drama last summer: diagnosed with breast cancer on 6 August, mother died as I held her on 7 August. You know that phrase “you couldn’t make that s**t up”? Of course we can—we make wildly connected and coincidental stuff up all the time—we call it “fiction,” not because it’s untrue (good fiction is always True, I think, at least as I type this), but because we just haven’t seen that particular string of events and people knotted together before.

The cancer thing was/is weird. I got off “lightly” (can you call it that when you end up missing a pretty serious body part?), which translates to no chemo and no radiation. And so far, my body doesn’t seem to be minding the estrogen suppressants. So I didn’t experience the normative social construction of bald-and-barfing. Which I neither say, nor take, lightly, but it is disconcerting for women whose cancer doesn’t require chemo—you somehow feel like you don’t deserve to say you’ve had cancer, even as you’re so grateful for missing that part that you can’t measure it.

So I’m most of the way through the treating-and-reconstructing parts (2-3 minor-ish procedures left to go for cosmetic stuff). And that was a storm that ate months—which is the norm. Now there’s the business (funny word choice there) of grief. I’d have sworn to you that I’d already been grieving for my mother for the past 10 years as, while living with us, she slid further and further into herself with dementia. I’d have sworn that I’d experience nothing but relief and a kind of inchoate sadness. I was sure I had a handle on that stuff. I knew I had come to love her in a very different and much less affectionate sense than 10 years ago—that it felt like she was sucking the life out of me in order to hang around for reasons no-one understood. Some of that is true. Her death (2nd stroke in 2 months, after surviving MS for 50 years) was a relief. I think dealing with both the cancer and the mother might have killed me, actually, physically, emotionally—all sorts of REALLY. So I get to live, apparently.

I have been privileged/gifted/blessed/all-3 with a support system that can only be a gift from God. You don’t “earn” this sort of love, you can’t. And I’m not sure it’s love if it has to be earned, anyway. I’ve had superb care, great insurance, a chair who gave me the semester off, and 2 therapists (soon, I hope, to be 3, since the other 2 agree that that weird timing constitutes “trauma” and finding a non-military PTSD person would be a good idea)—I have, and have had, EVERYTHING anyone could ask for in this kind of situation. This includes people who out of love and for want of language to cover the sheer weirdness of the last several months, remind me of how strong I am and how much faith they have in my ability to get through all this. Which has led me to think about how we construct the idea of “strength,” in at least my particular demographic. Strong is not the same as Stoic. I know I’m strong. I even believe it on days when “strength” seems to consist of huddling under a comforter with a not-very-challenging book. I’m strong as hell. If you factor in my human support system, I probably look invulnerable.

But (and here comes the not-a-surprise part), Christmas (always a huge deal in my family, as well as in my theology) is upon us and there is no amount of support or strength that makes pain not be pain. And right now, even as I’ve finished putting up decorations (I have grandchildren to think about, and they’ve been through all this crap, too), am finishing up shopping, working on last minute gifts I’m making, I’m in so much pain and so soul-weary I have no way to truly see it. Grief, in my experience, is different every time it comes to you, though anguish is consistent. People (other than my family and therapists—oh, and the grief group I’ve joined) keep telling me they have faith in me and saying other encouraging things. I don’t want them to stop—they need to be allowed to express care and concern and faith in any way they can. But what I’ve found out is that, even as surrounded by a great cloud of caring and generosity as I am, I am utterly f**king alone. This may be the place where being an (for all intents and purposes) only child is a weakness. And strength and support no doubt matter. But things can matter terribly without having the power to change immediate experience. Later, in the months to come, all this beautiful support will have helped me do whatever “healing” turns out to be for me. It will have been critical. But right now, I am walled off in a place where my body has been hurt terribly and my mother is dead, and I am more alone than I ever knew it was possible to be. I will be fine. I AM fine. I am feeling what I should feel. There’s nothing out of order. Except everything.

Despite What Social Media May Tell You, You Are Not About To Make A Horrible Faux Pas And Ruin Your Life Forever

What if you make a mistake, a big mistake? About parenting, religion, art, politics? What if you are inadvertently rude or just plain wrong? Politically incorrect? Socially inept? Your condolence call, your comment, your thoughts and prayers, your actions, your casserole–wrong wrong wrong. Are you about to become a friendless pariah? No.
Full disclosure: I like advice. I like giving it and I like getting it. My Eno card for the day was “Take Advice.” I felt all warm and happy. But whose advice?
My social media seems to be full of advice, but not particularly nuanced or personal. I’m plagued by the belief that there is perfect information out there–that experts know SOMETHING and I should too. But, I’m starting to have to admit, this may be fruitless.
Social media seems to include social control. Shaming. Conforming. It’s no different than a little village, a stetl. Exile means death–at least death of the social self. I hope some anthropologists are studying this.
So–here’s my advice. It is very unlikely that there is only one way to do something, whether it is clean a sink or be a friend. You are better off doing things your way than some abstract way. I’m responding to an article where the author berated herself for, gasp, sharing her own experience during a condolence call. It didn’t work well, and the author swore off narcissistic self-disclosure forever–encouraging readers to do the same. However, when I was a bereaved young widow I loved other peoples’ confessions and experiences. So sorry, one size does not fit all.
We are going to make social mistakes. My biggest–at a party many decades ago I asked an acquaintance about their family, as a form of small talk. “They are all dead,” was the response. Well, I wanted the earth to swallow me. But did I swear off inquiry or small talk? No, I did not. I eventually realized, too, that that person’s response was not the most gracious, as it punished the ignorance of a well meaning stranger.
Social media can function as a village in a negative way. It can try to enforce norms–maybe norms you never signed up for. To engage with others is to take a chance, to suffer at times, but I hope, worth it in the long run. Otherwise, contemporary life is no different than The Pale my grandparents ran from.

Letter From Nepal by Michael G. Smith

Currently I am in Kathmandu, Nepal doing volunteer work at an orphanage and a school. I do this work every year or two. To escape the city grime and dust, I recently took a bus to the lakeside city Pokhara for several days. Pokhara is the gateway to the famous Annupurna Circuit trek. While there, I returned to Tashiling Tibetan Refugee Settlement, one of three in the area. Three years ago I bought a beaded bracelet from one the settlement’s vendors, Yangchen Dolma, and wanted to visit her shop again. Greeting me warmly when I walked in, she saw that my bracelet was frayed and offered to re-string it. He son, Tenzin Kelsang, helped her. As we chatted, I enjoyed the cup of black tea and a piece of Tibetan bread they gave me. I bought several more bracelets. A repeat customer, bartering was unnecessary. When I left Yangchen’s shop, I stopped at three more vendors, all of whom we anxious to barter and sell me something. Of course, I paid more than was necessary, but that was fine with me. Part of the joy of visiting places like Tashiling, is knowing we can contribute in small ways. On my way back to the local city bus I stopped at the Potala Restaurant, and sat outside under tarps. As all Buddhists know, the Potola was the Dalai Lama’s residence in Tibet. A small notice on the wall said the restaurant would be closed on Wednesday for the Dalai Lama’s birthday. This Wednesday? Every Wednesday? I didn’t ask, and instead savored a lunch of noodle and vegetable soup, called thukpa in Tibetan, and two cups of traditional Nepali milk tea – black tea, spices and milk.

resettlement camp

restoring my frayed bracelet

winter sun warm