Thursday, January 31, 2013



In this space, there could be
any of infinity creatures,

including nothing, which
actually means oxygen,

dirt, pollen, light. Instead,
this pine, fuzzed green along

the bark, mossy as a sloth.
In every life, an exchange,

we get more of one thing
only for less of another,

slowness and focus here
in the forest, elsewhere,

fire and hunger. You were
one second old once, for

only one second, Happy
Moment You Were Born

each one is a step away
from the world-before-you

and toward the world-you-
helped-make. Happy birthday

to you
, the song rolls through
these pines like steady rain.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It’s Better Not to Think About It

It’s Better Not To Think About It

Every day we are in the breath
of the sun, plants reach up
to be one millimeter closer
to outer space. Light returns,
inalienably. We never ask
for it.


We know what will happen
to the sun when it grows up.
We know where this is

Monday, January 28, 2013

Prayer for Attentiveness

Prayer for Attentiveness

Eye and ear and brain aligned
as arrow-marked
childproof pill bottle lid and lip,
pushed in to pop
off. A life Zambonied, ice rink
sheen restored
to unseen familiarities: your
husband’s jaw,
the cat’s black jigsaw mask,
the rasp of your
car in the cold that you catch
through a rolled-
down window. The details of
a face, yawning,
the details and mechanics of
skin, relationship,
carpet, potato peeler whittling
down ground-
dwelling vegetables. The ordinary
ordained, not
a vanishing of garbage bags, but
the most garbage
baggiest garbage bags you have
ever laid eyes on.

Friday, January 25, 2013

On Creativity: Nick Courtright

A writer’s language and cadence can get stuck in your brain. It’s a pleasant thing, and admirable. Nick Courtright’s poems are definitely earworms (brainworms?). After hearing him read at Paging Columbus this past summer, I couldn’t get certain lines out of my head (the final line of “What I Have to Say to You” is a good example, even out of context: “day, night, awake, asleep, dead, alive, alive, alive, alive.”). The poems in his book, Punchline, are memorable and brave in that they explore Big Ideas (philosophy, science, God, the afterlife) in diction that is precise and vivid. But what makes me recommend this book so heartily is Courtright’s voice, which resonates with sincerity, humor, empathy, and curiosity.

(NOTE: After the interview below, read “Regret” and “What I Have to Say to You,” which appear with permission of the author. To purchase Punchline, click here.)  

Q: In so many of your poems in Punchline (such as “Regret”), you address a being/presence that cannot answer you. Your book is full of ghosts. Maybe this is what all poetry does--intimately addresses a reader who can’t talk back. I’m curious--do you envision a reader when you write? Who do you feel you are speaking to, and why? How does communication work in your poems?

A: This is a great and frustrating question, mostly because it makes me reflect on the fact that all writers are shouting “Hello!” into the void, and only sometimes does an echo return. We are forced by the nature of the medium—the phone call made to an answering machine who no one listens to, or, a bit better, listens to but does not return the call—to send out our ideas and hope someone hears, and I suppose the poems in which I address someone, whether it be a “you” or the “ghost” of the poem “Regret,” it is tacit recognition of this. Or maybe it’s a manifestation of the plight of all existential and philosophical inquiry, that wanting to know the truth even though nothing ever comes down to say what the meaning of life is, or where we are from, or what will happen to us in the end. That aloneness is always there in poetry, and in our lives, but it’s our job to be happy with it, because there is no other choice.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013



The starlings, unfolding and rippling,
a heavy quilt held by two people, one

on each end to shake the sand free.
Could our traffic look beautiful

from the height of flying birds,
a red flush of brake lights in rain.

A bird can’t be so desperate as we
are to let the obstinate land please

us. There is a place you return to,
hoping to be fed, a lake, a hill,

a split rock or shore. There is a
mountain to stare up at, made up

of each mountain you have seen,
each day you lived without rocks

hoisted up in the sky. The mountain
accumulates, borrows dirt and rock

and bird, borrows ocean and riverbed,
will borrow you if you keep looking.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Future

The Future

Box whose lid pops off
when you approach,
spitting gulps of silvery fog
into the air as it retreats.
You should not be here. You
should not see this.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Great Unstitching

The Great Unstitching

Every day we invent this age’s
place in spurts, pockets. This is our

city, the unsaid net that lets
humans and cars live together

peacefully, these are the buildings,
this is a park. Fewer people to

conceptualize the countryside,
they do more work. These fields

are here and alive. The chickens
will eat what we give them. Here

are the stars above our homes.
In the wild spots where few or

no people live, the places blow
about, blurred. The desert shifts

some of its cells. Water lifts a little,
sinks. No pine needles fall, then,

a pine needle falls, four more. Here
no one knows what truth is escaping.

The Great Unstitching has begun,
it is good, no one is here to scream.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

Currently reading and enjoying....

The Keep, by Jennifer Egan. One of the best books I have read in years. Somehow, the tone of the book is completely unselfconscious and natural. A completely immersive reading experience. After reading this, I was inspired to play with a syllabus for a new class...we’ll see if it ever flies. Highly recommended, friends...

I know I linked to this article in yesterday’s poem, but I keep returning to artist Rebecca Campbell’s piece “Art After Death” on Huffington Post (about the loss of a child, and art as grieving/healing). (Side note: I wrote this poem inspired by one of her images back in March of 2010.) Here’s one small gem from her piece:
"It's a simple act to look and paint. There is no cutting edge in sight. It's what flickers between the edges, burning and warming us both, that the practice has managed to gather."
This article, “Some Notes on Attunement,” by Zadie Smith in The New Yorker (sadly, this article can’t be read online), on her initial distrust and eventual love of Joni Mitchell. Full of beautiful bits like this:
 “This is the effect that listening to Joni Mitchell has on me these days: uncontrollable tears...It’s not a very civilized emotion. I can’t listen to Joni Mitchell in a room with other people, or on an iPod, walking the streets. Too risky. I can never guarantee that I’m going to be able to get through the song without being made transparent--to anybody and everything, to the whole world. A mortifying sense of porousness.”

This article, “The Poetics of Painting: Part Four” on Image Journal’s blog, by Daniel Siedell. Siedell discusses how painters find their voices by reinterpreting tradition (this view of inspiration/influence really resonates with me).

And you? What have you been reading this week? Hope you have an inspiring weekend!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

This Is What Every Heart Must Become

This Is What Every Heart Must Become

The vase that rattles when you lift it
because there is a broken piece of vase

The linked image was featured in this wonderful article by the artist, Rebecca Campbell, at Huffington Post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013



Waiter, I wanted to shovel
ice cubes onto my frozen yogurt,
but that tray in the topping bar
is full of water. I want some of
everything, the lava sprinkles,
the chocolate-covered worry dolls,
the crushed up suncatchers and
their suction cups. Can the spoon
be any smaller, please, I’d like
a baby spoon. Food-flavored
food, essence of cotton candy
whipped into ice cream, pink
grapefruit gelato, pill-bitter,
waiter, where’d you go. I’d
like a dish of banana split-
flavored ice cream, chocolate,
strawberries pre-blended before
I chew, I’d like my stomach
to be my mouth.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Message in a Landscape

Message in a Landscape

You are small,
your anguish is small,
even while you feel like an overturned oil tanker,
your darkness seeping into the ocean’s fields.

You are small,
these glaciers will outlast your love.

You are small,
but all things in you
and of you will disperse.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Once Removed

Once Removed

The pennants leading to this place
where I want you to join me

all say the same thing: Home
Away from Home Away from Home.

Even if you live in your first home
for all of your days, it would be

your first home once removed,
twice removed, as you, within your

home, changes, ages. The world is
your ocean, and each home

an iceberg. You can have it
if it’s visible, glistening above water.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

Currently reading and enjoying:

This amazing comic, “When your house is burning down, you should brush your teeth,” from The Oatmeal. It’s so funny and also touching. This piece has a beautiful mix of childlike silliness and vulnerability. I’ve reread it many times already this week.

“For Climbers, Risks Now Shift with Every Step,” by Kirk Johnson in The New York Times (I can’t stop writing about mountains). My obsession seems strange because I'm terrified of heights. It's not that I want to climb them....I just want to keep thinking about them.

This essay-in-fragments, “The Ghost’s Daughter,” by Rachel McKibbens on Her Kind. McKibben’s unravels and reravels (it should be a word) ideas of trauma, memory, and writing as a way to survive and heal. Over and over, she repeats, “I do not write because I have suffered. I write because I have survived.”

Stay Awake, a collection of stories from Dan Chaon. I’ve been looking forward to this one...

Another short and hauntingly lovely comic, The Great, from Alyssa Berg. I love her use of textures and sparseness.

What are you reading early in the new year, friends?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Beauty Secret

Beauty Secret

Woman is 53, looks 35.
What is her secret.

You’re in love with her.

What is her other secret.

You can’t ask her
because you don’t know
what you want to know.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mountain Climbing Highly Dangerous, Studies Show

Mountain Climbing Highly Dangerous, Studies Show

Each year, the mountain loses more
of itself, its footing. Ice fall and avalanche

in place of an unmoving surface. Inside,
stretched and shifting, a piano slipping

out of tune. Mountains of today are not
the mountains of your childhood. If Heidi

brought Klara up the mountain today,
would her healing have been so certain,

could the strong rock and new air fully
steady her. Do you know what the cookie

said to the doctor: Doc, I’m feeling a little
crumby. And then the doctor says, right,

that’s supposed to happen. Don’t worry,
cookie, you are falling apart, but so am I.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013



The potential for decay lives
only within life, so why not
play the host with the most
ghosts, little red blood cell
and skin cell Caspers rising
from you like feathery spores
off a dandelion. You were born
to be a haunted house, a stem,
a seed for family, order, class,
phylum, kingdom.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Observable Universe

Observable Universe

There is always more
than we can see.

Everything means
only the local everything,

cry the residents
of the Andromeda Galaxy.

Friday, January 4, 2013

On Creativity: Jason Bredle

Image courtesy of University of Akron Press.
In the poems in Jason Bredle’s Carnival, I hear strains of Louis CK, Christopher Pike (see “The Death March” below), Peewee Herman, Ryan Seacrest, and Bill Murray. I do mean that in a good, absurd, dizzying way.

Reading this book, I was struck by the unwavering voice that carried the poems. There is no other way these poems could be, I kept thinking. In their Wes Anderson-esque tone, Bredle’s poems do everything in their power to convince you that the scenes they are presenting are completely normal or random; it’s as if a local news anchor is calmly reporting on chaotic events (including werewolves, superheroes, amusements parks, snuggly cats, and raccoons). It’s not the narrator that’s unreliable in Bredle’s poems, but the weird world.

NOTE: After the interview below, be sure to read “The Promise,” and “The Death March,” which both appear with the permission of the author.

 Q: The poems in Carnival possess a fascinating tone--they are funny and absurd, but they are also tinged with darkness, sadness, or danger. I also noticed the impeccable timing in your poems. I'm curious to know--in your opinion, what is the relationship between humor and poetry? Is there any connection between poems and jokes? How do tone and voice work for you in your writing?

A: In my case, I fell in love with comedic writing at a young age, and it’s been central to my livelihood ever since, although my real life joke writing experience is limited to two sessions I took at Second City before deciding I was kind of being scammed and quitting. I’m probably more of a student of humor and popular culture than most poets, though. For me, central to writing both jokes and poetry is the idea of manipulating words to create some type of maximum effect. In humor, the effect is laughter, but in poetry, it can be anything, which is why I prefer poetry, although being humorous in a poem upsets the sanctimony of poetry for many readers in my experience, which is unfortunate. It’s somewhat of a curse in terms of trying to get published, too, even though I don’t consider myself funny, or my poems funny for that matter. I mean, there are aspects to what I write that I enjoy in that way, but what’s more important to me is that the reader experience some kind of effect that makes him or her feel something. Poetry allows me to manipulate sentences for maximum effect of whatever effect I want to create – laughter sometimes, but also serious considerations of the self, relationships with others, anxieties about life, confusion, and sometimes all at the same time. To achieve this, word choice, word order and word conservation are paramount to both humor and poetry. There was a recent profile of Jerry Seinfeld in The New York Times Magazine which offers a compelling argument for the similarities between the two. The success of a line can be dependent on one or two words, or the particular way a sentence is phrased, more so than the actual idea behind the joke. You can have a great idea, but if you don’t craft it properly, it’s going to fail, regardless if it’s a poem or a joke.
The Storialist. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.