3 Questions for Anne MacNaughton


The poetic line is built by the breath
where it comes in
and where it goes out.

My relationship is infatuation
a moony obsession
a writer’s crush on the muse.

Mind moves with the air
pacing in and out
with the heart’s valvey billow.

Image lifts itself from phosphenes
crawling up the wall of closed eyes.
Right now, from the breath.

Each flexion assumes the next
one pulling it along.
Until it doesn’t.

Whatever about poeting
is distasteful?
Only that I’m not

as good


The poem was written in response to Miriam’s Well’s “Three Questions” interview.


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?


Poets with a published book or chapbook (no self pub at the moment) who want to do an interview, drop a note to msagan10#5@aol.com.
To see more responses, click on Interviews.

Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: Some days are good days for a little Rilke

Some days are good days for a little Rilke …

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926), poet and visionary from Prague, became a crucial part of my life after I read his “Letters to a Young Poet,” at about the time I moved away from home in L.A. to Colorado, to study poetry. My husband, who I met that same year, had several of his books, including a well-worn yellow, green, and gold, “Selected” translated by Stephen Mitchell with an introduction by Robert Hass. The book, even more beat up, sits on the bed next to me now.

Its not just that Rilke is an amazing poet, that his language is beautiful and often startling – its also that what he pulls from the ether is profound – that it always seems to vibrate with energy. And that he isn’t afraid to talk about death. That to him death walks side-by-side, intertwined with life.

When my father-in-law died a few years ago, my husband was with him in Philadephia and I was some several thousand miles away house-sitting, alone, in Cardiff, Wales. I spent the day reading Rilke: The Duino Elegies, The Sonnets to Orpheus, Requiem, over and over, out loud until my throat ached. I sat in the Cardiff house’s kitchen, staring out the window at the gray skies, the wet chimney pots of the houses across the alley, the seagulls winging by. And at one point went out and stared for over an hour at the sunflower in a pot that had been planted by one of the young daughters of the house.


There is a small field of sunflowers outside my kitchen window now, where I live in Santa Fe. Life connects. Today I am wondering if that might be its most prevalent characteristic … that even when you least expect it, life connects.

Here is a bit of Rilke, then, for Monday …

From “The Sonnets to Orpheus” – II, 14

Look at the flowers, so faithful to what is earthly,
to whom we lend fate from the very border of fate.
And if they are sad about how they must wither and die,
perhaps it is our vocation to be their regret.

All Things want to fly. Only we are weighed down by desire,
caught in ourselves and enthralled with our heaviness.
Oh what consuming, negative teachers we are
or them, while eternal childhood fills them with grace.

If someone were to fall into intimate slumber, and slept
deeply with Things–: how easily he would come
to a different day, out of the mutual depth.

Or perhaps he would stay there; and they would blossom and praise
their newest convert, who now is like one of them,
all those silent companions in the wind of the meadows.

Sharon Doubiago on Charles Olson

Sharon Doubiago says: Charles Olson was definitely my Father poet.

I myself think that most poets have parents in poetry. Who are yours?


Here is a thoughtful–and useful–look at Olson’s poetics and influence by Doubiago. She writes:

In Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff, A Modern Correspondence, there is an early draft of Olson’s famous/infamous essay on his Projective Verse notions. He sends it to her. I’m startled to discover that one of my own fundamental discoveries is in this essay. It took me ten years from reading that essay to finding it myself, not realizing/remembering that it came from him. Though then, having not written a single poem, I would not have understood it. And maybe, as it felt, still feels, it was discovering a truth. The poet, Edward Hirsch, then of UC Berkeley, then of MIT, stated in an exchange with the Napa audience that finding the line breaks in writing a poem was utterly mysterious and impossible, to which I, from the audience, objected. Again, I didn’t understand that this was Olson, that part of the anger and reaction from the faculty, of which I was a part, stemmed from this ongoing argument. “If a contemporary poet leaves a space as long as the phrase before it, he [stet] means that space be held an equal length of time.” (p 165) When I discovered this fundamental law of poetry I became a real poet. In high school I had been taught, in reading a poem, to run over the line breaks. This for understanding, meaning. I came to know that this was a 19th century rule, aid in trying to read its excessive rhyming poetry. Finding/developing from this practice remains fundamental for me—to come to a stop at the end of the line. That’s where you end, where you get the rhythm.

Kathleen Spivack’s WITH ROBERT LOWELL AND HIS CIRCLE or Why I Left Boston–Part 2

With Robert Fitzgerald, I wrote a thesis on Theodore Roethke. Which one member of the Harvard anointed with a magna and one attempted to fail. A third reader was pulled out, passing me with a cum laude. At the time I was vaguely aware that the English department housed enemies, with opposite modes of thinking. I’d used Roethke’s own words and ideas about poetry to dissect his work–unwittingly falling into one camp. And thus attacked by the other.
The Boston confessional school, like the Harvard I attended, was marked by suicide, misogyny, alcohol, drug abuse, class stratification, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. This vocabulary is Spivak’s–and I am indebted to it. Spivack does more than admit this–she examines it in terms of both Lowell’s and her own life.
But at the age of twenty-one I had little grasp on this. After all, Boston was also politically radical and intellectually honed. It also seemed to rain or snow continuously, over low lying buildings, in a series of endlessly gray skies. My boots leaked. I coughed. It started to feel as nothing real was every going to happen to me again.
So I went to San Francisco and later Santa Fe, falling under the sway of the Beats in the person of Phil Whalen and ripples emanating from San Francisco Zen Center. The Beats were also misogynist, suicidal, alcoholic. San Francisco was also rainy and gray. But inside that fog was an endless supply of Chinese hot and sour soup, gamelons, performance art, and something that Boston never had–hipness.
I had come for a reason.
Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg appeared on the same stage and held the same anti-war politics. Spivack sees the similarities and well as differences in tow different American streams of poetry.
I am grateful she wrote this book. Do read it.

two deaths: charles bukowski and mr. rogers

I thought this was perfect for poetry month–

two deaths: charles bukowski and mr. rogers
by Carl Kavadlo

one died just
before he turned 74 and
the other passed at
the same age.
one left in 1994, the other in 2003.
nine years apart,
two great men leave us.
one a drunk, gambler,
womanizer; other
a teetotaler, preacher,
long monogamous.
that man had a tv show for children
showing only the most
wholesome and preciously
safe shows. the other wrote
endless poems of whores, horseplayers,
the jailed, the mad, the off-beat english
professors. also had a large following of youth
and the young at heart.
one swore, drank, womanized.
the other a complete man of the cloth.
both artists
and both true to themselves.
we forget that sometimes
in judging
people – we mortals
so fast to cast the first stone;
but god treated both the same,
leaning into the deeper than
surface self, into the center of
the heart,

where both were pure.

Did Anne Sexton Hate Me?

As an undergraduate, I went to many poetry readings. I learned how to listen, with a rapt (sincere or insincere) expression on my face. I learned to avoid drunken poets and would-be poets at receptions, and to not snicker when Beat street poets rose from the audience to spontaneously declaim about “the silver butterfly of life.”
I heard many famous poets read, but the big rock and roll event was Anne Sexton, at Harvard’s Saunders Theater, shortly before her death. She was dressed in a slinky black and white Mod outfit, sipping a highball. She looked–and felt–like one of those wicked queens in a Disney cartoon. The work was amazing, but somewhat lost on me, until years later. I was mesmerized by the feeling that she might crack. Right there. On stage.
Which she did not do. But instead received a standing ovation, like the prima donna she was. But I wasn’t standing up, nor was the friend I’d come with. Instead, two scruffy students, we sat, clapping, but seated.
Anne Sexton glared at us, and glared. Finally, intimidated, we stood up.
About a year later, she killed herself. One of her daughters was in my women’s history class and I was struck dumb by her look of pure suffering. I wish I’d been more of an adult then and known to have said something, anything, like “I’m sorry.” Instead, I sneaked a glance, and then looked away.

A Jewish Buddhist at Christ-in-the-Desert Monastery

I just saw the beautiful photography show at the History Museum in Santa Fe. Photographs of sacred places around the state ring the walls. Highlighted are Tony O’Brien’s photographs of Christ-in-the-Desert Monastery, which could only have been taken by a true insider–someone with enormous physical and imaginative access to the monastery. They’ve been gathered together into a new book.

I’m reblogging my essay on the same terrain:

The first time I was at Christ-in-the-Desert monastery it was winter, 1985, a wet and early Lent. I’d been told it was a good place to write, so Robert drove me in our ancient Dodge Aspen. The road was not frequently graded in those days, and the car sank in the caliche mud. We pried it out, using wooden boards lifted from an old corral, only to have the brakes fail.
We ditched the car and started to walk. It was dusk. We had no idea how far we were, but soon enough saw the church and its cross rising ahead. A very ancient feeling–coming out of wilderness to a monastery.
Indeed, there was hot soup and a general country interest in our car problems. As we were married, the monks gave us one cell with a narrow single bed to share. I had to talk the guest master into giving us a second cell. He looked perplexed that we didn’t want to share.
Snow cleared, tractors headed out, Robert cruised the car to Espanola. I stayed enclosed, with a woodstove and lantern. I knew nothing about this country, having come from San Francisco, and before that Boston, and New Jersey. There were a few guests, less than a dozen brothers. The heater in the church was broken. The greenhouse/cold porch off the old convento served for prayer and library.
Suddenly it was St. Patrick’s Day–whiskey, meat, laughter. Then I was supposed to leave. Huge storms swept in, covering the Chama River gorge. A hermit–brother Xaviar–and a woman anchorite would appear from time to time out of the snow.
I was very far away in time and space from what I knew…Why had I actually gone to Christ-in-the-Desert? To be sure, I was looking for something. I was thirty years old, and a failure as a Buddhist. I couldn’t sit still, that hallmark of Soto Zen. When I crossed my legs for zazen, I would shake violently. But my husband Robert wanted to be a Zen priest. We’d left a scandal ridden San Francisco Zen Center to come to New Mexico. Phil Whalen, beat poet and Zen monk, had simply banned me from the zendo.It was a negative introduction to a man I would come to adore. I was fifty before I realized what a great favor he had inadvertently done me.So there I was, unable to practice Zen and totally unacquainted with the Judaism of my birth. It would be years before I found a woman Hassidic teacher and studied Hebrew and Torah with her.
I was adrift. Monasticism was one of the virtues esteemed in my marriage–ridiculously contradictory as that now sounds. So I found myself in a monastery, a Catholic one to be sure, but this was a religion I was basically neutral towards. I liked reading the psalms, before I ever learned the Jewish practice of reciting them. I liked the two big dogs that followed the abbot everywhere.
Towards the spectacular red rock canyon that enclosed me in a larger version of a monk’s cell I felt an awe tinged with respect–a attitude that would serve me well as I came to know New Mexico. In the evening between Vespers and Compline, I walked the deeply rutted road south of the monastery as if walking home. But of course turned back after a few miles. I walked with a young woman about my age whose name I no longer remember. We used dead branches as walking sticks. Once on the road, we felt free to talk. She was trying to become a nun, but was stymied in some way. It was partly to do with her openness about her previous romantic history. In this, she reminded me of Thomas Merton.
I do wonder what became of her. She was more adventurous than I was, a solitary person. Sometimes we saw a coyote, but the packs kept their distance on the other side of the river.
What did I do all short winter’s day? I wrote the longest poem I had ever written, but I was also editing the complete poetry of Anna Ahkmatova, eventually published by Zephyr Press. I read Mary Stuart’s trilogy about Merlin as battered paperbacks left in the guest common room. And I worked the Ahkmatova–perfectly suited for the environment–full of candles, nuns, snow, suffering. I puzzled over the word “faience.” Convinced it was obscure, and lacking a dictionary, I had no idea what it was and circled it in red, only to fall prey to the translator’s wrath. It was a perfectly fine word for a pottery glaze. I just didn’t know it.The snow cleared. A guest with front wheel drive took me out. She was a professional woman from Albuquerque who drove with ferocious precision, looking coiffed and ironed even after a stay in mud season.
I went home.
I have returned to C-in-the-D three times since then for short stays. Now the Coleman lanterns are battery charged, the stoves gas. This summer’s day it is busy, with some visitors just stopping in for a few hours on that road I once found impassable. There are goldfinches, magpies, lizards, butterflies, and silence. It is still a place like no other, but it is not the place I first encountered. I cannot find that again, even as I cannot reclaim the thirty year old me.
So much has happened, and perhaps so little. I have been many remote places to write, But even today I am writing in a brocade notebook, just like the ones I used to buy in San Francisco Chinatown.
That first stay here did do one one thing–it turned me from a failed Buddhist into a New Mexican. It changed what I feared, what I admired. It did not give me what I was looking for, but it gave me a way to keep looking.

Devon Miller-Duggan on Catherine Carter and poetic friendship

The Wheel and Grace: Doing Unto Others

This needs a disclaimer: my friend Catherine Carter, whose splendid first book, The Memory of Gills, came out with LSU several years (second book due from them in ’12) recently wrote a stunningly generous piece on my book in her blog in Ploughsares. So I owe her. Nonetheless, we were both invited to blog (guest blog in my case) about the same time and, happily, seemed to have the same thought about being able to introduce new folks to a poet we admire, so I am going to go ahead and do the thing in spite of any appearance of the sort of tit-for-tat for which the poetry universe is so justly and unattractively famed.

20 years ago, when Catherine and I were in a workshop with W.D. Snodgrass, De would occasionally (twice—normally he was acute to a scary degree) get one of my poems spectacularly wrong. Both times, Catherine quietly and gracefully corrected him. I liked her before the class, but naturally, I decided I adored her in the course of that semester (I think I may have done the same thing for her the one time De hadn’t connected to what she was trying to do in a poem, but I probably did a less graceful job of it). Even if I didn’t love her, though, I’d love her poems. They are ferocious, brainy, cock-eyed, John-Donne-earthy, graceful, and alive with her entirely unsentimental love of the land and its creatures:

Evidence of Angels

Today I saw proof of souls.
I have evidence. I was out
teasing the buzzards—lying very still
to make them circle and look;
but they didn’t land, though I lay for hours,
though they took the dog’s mangled squirrel.
Scent, I thought; but I’ve seen them
stand waiting for quiet deaths;
or sight, but they find even the concealed.
So they must see souls going out on the wind—
squirrel-souls jerking their ethereal tails,
deer-souls bounding the fields of air.
They saw mine, still stuck
at the edge of the skin, bound
like a book. I’m sending word
to Rome, that I’ve seen
the wings of their dark robes mimic—
the resurrectors of the body,
real messengers of heaven,
swinging black and reeking from the sky,
watching the oily, hairy souls pull free.

May Swenson Eats Some Celery

As I get older, I think back on some amazing poets I had the honor to meet, and I realize that while I often loved these folks as people I was oddly oblivious to their fame and influence. For example, when I was twenty five and spending an autumn at MacDowell, I was there with May Swenson.
There was also a small group of young very avant-garde composers in residence. We had almost nightly soirees in the library–a writer would read, a visual artist would show slides, and a composer would play. The music was often minimalist, electronic, and a la John Cage.
May Swenson was then in middle age. Raised a Mormon, she was also one of the first lesbian poets in the United States who didn’t hide her identity. She reminded me of a nuthatch–tanned, small, she had a sturdy birdlike quality. And it turned out, a sense of humor. Because she was busy recording her own avant-garde composition. It was basically of May Swenson eating lunch. She’d intro the theme–chewing on celery–and then record it. She played the whole piece for me and the composers and we found it hysterically funny.
It was only until some other poets–more ambitious and savy than me–arrived and began to network her that I realized May was a prominent poet. I like her poetry then and I like it now. It can be surprisingly emotional violent, but it has integrity. However, what I really liked best was her.

The Woods at Night by May Swenson

The binocular owl,
fastened to a limb
like a lantern
all night long,

sees where all
the other birds sleep:
towhee under leaves,
titmouse deep

in a twighouse,
sapsucker gripped
to a knothole lip,
redwing in the reeds,

swallow in the willow,
flicker in the oak –
but cannot see poor

under the hill
in deadbrush nest,
who’s awake, too –
with stricken eye

flayed by the moon
her brindled breast
repeats, repeats, repeats its plea
for cruelty.

Thinking About: Theodore Rothke

Roethke is one of my favorite American poets. I actually wrote my undergraduate thesis at Harvard on him–only to have one of the readers flunk me. Why? Well, this professor was horrified that I had believed “what the poet said about himself” in letters and journals. Apparantly not a valid academic source.
My Papa’s Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.


Here is Roethke at his most musical–and using an indirect pre-confessional school kind of confession. We can see and understand what the child only senses. When I teach this in the classroom it sadly hits many nerves–the poet is not the only one with a drunken father.
Roethke was given to madness–probably a manic depression. He’d sit naked–huge mountain of a man that he was–look in a mirror in a darkened room, and write.