To the Light Entering the Shack One December Evening


To the Light Entering the Shack One December Evening

No prayers exit here, nothing
limits you. I never knew
before.

The pear tree’s ghost shudders.

Water pools in the depression of its absence.

For years I have wandered from shadow to
source, longing. Now, at rest,
you come to me and fear
evaporates. I would like to count
the smallest distraction.
I would like to disturb.

You are the name
I whisper
to clouds.

Will you leave if I open the door?

A carnival germinates in my body.

You are not death, but its closest friend.

Darkness parts, folds around you.

I close my eyes and observe.

* * *

“To the Light Entering the Shack One December Evening” first appeared in Shantih in December 2016, and is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second available  through Finishing Line Press and Amazon.com.

And Sometimes You Say No

And Sometimes You Say No

Perhaps I’m getting cantankerous in my dotage, unwilling to admit that I can’t expect good things to continue coming my way, and should consider settling for what’s offered. After all, the age reel isn’t rewinding, and my inbox is not exactly buzzing with publication offers. There are more funerals than weddings in my future. I limp. Each day is indeed a blessing but my remaining minutes do not feel unconstrained. Far from it.

A few months ago I received an acceptance email from a chapbook publisher affiliated with a literary journal that had published one of my poems. The chapbook is strong, I think, and I felt good about the acceptance, until I read the one-sided contract. You can guess which side received the greater benefit. I emailed a reply asking for clarifications, and received one back the next day. To sum it up: the publisher would deign to publish me, but I’d bear responsibility for all promotion beyond their announcements on social media. Furthermore, their standard policy was to provide no review copies, and I would have to meet their minimum pre-publication sales order in order to be published. I could deal with these annoyances if there were hope of some payment, but in this case payment would be limited to 12% of the initial print run, which would likely run from 40 to 100 copies. So let’s say I was one of the fortunates who merited a 100-copy printing (which, to be frank, is on the low end). My total payment would consist of twelve copies, out of which I would need to provide any copies sent to reviewers, leaving me with oh, let’s say nine or ten to sell at readings. Chances are after a couple of readings, I’d have no chapbooks remaining, and would need to purchase additional copies from the publisher if I wanted to sell more. But under their terms, I’d receive only a 30% discount. Bear in mind that bookstores generally require a 40% discount to sell a book – they have to make something on the transaction. The publisher’s price was $14, so each consignment sale through a bookstore would net a loss of $1.40 per book. Uh, no. I may be a poet, but I can add and subtract, and I will not a) pay a publisher to publish my work, b) lose money merely to see my words in print, or c) work for free (I’m willing to do my part, but the publisher must also function as more than just a printer).

What to do? Stay on the same track? Submitting to publishers, and then on the rare occasion a manuscript is accepted, peruse the publisher’s terms and sign only if they’re agreeable? Self-publish? I haven’t wanted to take on the headaches of self-publishing, but am leaning in that direction more and more. I have two chapbooks scheduled for release during the next year, and am grateful to the publishers for offering good terms to their writers. But after these are in print, what course should I take?

The Mathematics of Dying

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The Mathematics of Dying

Always the sense of negation, of winnowing those bits you once were.

The male grackle struts and displays his tail feathers.

Everything slanting towards null, even the treetops.

The female’s smaller body lacks blue overtones.

A misread signal, the unheeded warning, ignored pain.

Counting beaks, adding wings, subtracting heartbeats.

The image I possess magnifies with age, observing protocol.

An annoyance or plague, their song grows harsher with time.

Your eleven shadows still point to the noontime sun.

* * *

“The Mathematics of Dying” is included in my mini-digital-chapbook, Interval’s Nightpublished in December 2016 and made available via free download by Platypus Press in their 2412 series.

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Year’s End

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Year’s End

If I lose myself in breathing,
will the air forgive my forgetfulness?

This oak, too, will stand long after
the last train exits the tunnel.

I worry that my friend may never
clamber past his lowest ambition.

Different and unabated, our words
now stumble over themselves.

Every night forms a morning somewhere:
each year, combined in our shared darkness.

* * *

“Year’s End” is included in my micro-chapbook Only This, available via free download from Origami Poems Project. Many thanks to editor Jan Keough for taking the mini-chap and offering this opportunity to so many.

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Window Open, Closed

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Window Open, Closed

We enter daylight in the shape
of praise, little words

billowing through wire mesh. Across
the highway a busboy questions time

and the concept of never, while
someone plucks leaves from the bay

tree and plans her day. Roger Bacon
longed to manipulate the inner essence

of inanimate objects, to harness their force,
and a lonely man swallows prescription drugs

deliberately, releasing their attributes over time.
My eyes redden from juniper pollen as the moon

spins invisibly above our roofs, tugging at the
clouds. I once traced in a building of music

the organ’s sound to the woman I longed
to attract. Now, the window prevents the passage

of solids, but waves penetrate. I spread my fingers
across the glass, but feel no vibrations. Distant

sirens announce a procession of cause and intent,
of carelessness and indecision. Somewhere a voice rises.

* * *

This originally appeared during Bonnie McClellan’s 2015 International Poetry Month celebration, and is included in The Circumference of Other, my offering in the Silver Birch Press chapbook collection, IDES, available on Amazon. A recording of the poem may be found on Bonnie’s site.

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Calm

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Calm (after H.D.)

I flow over the ground,
healing its hidden scar–
the scar is black,
the bedrock risen,
not one stone is misplaced.

I relieve the ground’s
burden with white froth,
I fill and comply—
I have thrown a pebble
into the night,
it returns to me,
settles and rises,
a white dove.

* * *

“Calm” is included in my micro-chapbook Only This, which is available via free download from Origami Poems Project. It made its first appearance here on the blog in March 2015, and was written as an exercise, using a poem, “Storm,” by H.D. as the launching point. I’ve tried to emulate her diction and rhythm, with mixed success. Still, it’s fun to try these on occasion.

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Q&A with Poet Lynne Burnett, Part 2

Part 2 of the Q&A with poet Lynne Burnett:

Would you offer up some of your influences – poetic and otherwise. What draws you to that work? 

Well, I’d have to start with the Romantic Poets (Shelley, Keats, Blake) and William Wordsworth, whose lines “To me, the meanest flower that blows/Can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears” are engraved in my mind. Then there’s Walt Whitman (the music of his lines!), Emily Dickinson (nutshells bursting with meaning), Rilke (“Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape”…), Rumi (words that dance with beauty, love and ecstasy) and a host of others. More currently, Jane Hirshfield for her image windows and language depth, Billy Collins for his ease of expression and accessibility, George Bilgere for his wry humour, Stephen Dunn for the contemplative mind journeys he takes me on, Tony Hoagland for his wit and great intellect in both poems and essays, Mary Oliver for her simple praise of the natural world, David Whyte for poems that immerse me in the soul’s callings. There are many more – I’m a wide reader and everything I read exerts its influence – but these are the ones that immediately come to mind. I am drawn to work that praises both the extraordinary and ordinary aspects of a life, to the grounded ecstatics, to poems so deep they are bottomless – that reward over and over and feed a hungry mind, questing heart. I’m also drawn to haiku for its succinctness.

And to art, especially paintings: I’ve written a sequence of 17 poems based on one artist’s “Time” sequence of 17 abstract paintings, which resulted in the two of us finally meeting face to face and me being able to see those paintings firsthand. I guess that makes me an ekphrastic poet!

 

What themes or traits will readers find in your work? What will they not find?

Because of the brevity of life, it’s precious to me. So, the themes of time and death and why are we here, what does it all mean. Readers will find praise, love, ecstasy, humour, irony, an articulation of ideas and ponderings, joy and innate spirituality in my work. I’ll work a theme from every angle over the course of many poems – which I hope I’ve done successfully with this chapbook. You’re unlikely to find swearing or really long poems (yet) or long wordy narratives. I like compression. I try to present different facets of a subject in a poem rather than take a specific stand for or against something. Although I initially worked toward a resolution in my poems, now you’ll find less of that, more of a door for the reader to go through and take what s/he will. Animals and nature abound in my writing. The “aum” of life too. 

And your creative process? Could you offer us a glimpse into how your poems develop from first glimmer to fully realized piece? Do you follow a regular writing routine? Do you listen to music while writing? Write in public or in solitude?

I have so many folders jammed with notes on odd pieces of paper, and little memo pads in every bathroom of the house! Any phrase that comes to mind or overheard and of interest, any incident read or seen that grabs me or gives me pause or makes me think – all get jotted down for later development. An observed image can tunnel through me to unexpected places. Occasionally I’ll use a random group of words and this will result in some of my best poems. Most of the time I start with a memory or something seen or read that I want to make sense of or settle emotionally. I sit at my desk some portion of every day (and thankfully have a large den with a door) but the real writing happens either first thing (before checking emails etc.) or mid-late afternoon. I LOVE this time of day, after I’ve meditated, and can write freshly or look with more objective eyes at something already begun. When I begin a poem, it lives with me – usually for days and weeks – until it amasses enough energy and coherence to be considered a poem and at that point I’ll type it on the computer, print it and then also put a handwritten copy into a binder. Every poem I’ve ever written, and every revision, they’re all dated, signed and noted in these binders. Anyway, this fledgling poem that finally got printed will have had a rocky start and almost always reach a point where it’s not working, I can’t find a satisfactory end or smooth transition between stanzas or the tone or point of view aren’t right and I get stuck – for days. It’s a part of my process I’m familiar and increasingly comfortable with. I’ll go for a walk or iron and the physical motion does some magic. As uncomfortable as this part is, it ALWAYS resolves itself if I just surrender to what wants to be said, not what I think wants to be said. Often I’ll end up with an opposite point of view as a result. The completion of the poem after this tipping point happens quickly: I get an image of sewing, a tactile sensation of words being stitched together, that is strong and stretchy and hole-proof. This doesn’t mean my opinion of the poem doesn’t change over ensuing days/months/years – it certainly does and most of my poems are revised. However, the core energy of the poem – hopefully – stays intact (I believe poems are energetic structures). I’ve learned to always sleep on my “latest, greatest” drafts (what was I thinking?) which turn out to be in the new day’s light – if not “it” then a necessary step to get there. On occasion I’ve written to music (always instrumental) and found it quite freeing! Usually though I work in quiet solitude. Now that I have a much larger den with a fabulous sound system I think I’ll experiment more with that.

List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.

Only three!!! This moment it’s Stephen Dunn, Jane Hirshfield and Dorianne Laux. Ask me again and my answer might be different (isn’t it wonderful to have a Poet Bank to draw from?). An admirable animal would be my totem, the black panther: about ten years ago I dreamed one picked me up in its mouth and half-carried half-dragged me to a path I was supposed to be on, before letting me go, mission accomplished. Shortly after, I was in Mexico and a beach vendor walked by, hawking, among other stone sculptures, a foot long black panther. Yes! Of course I ran after him and this big boy has stalked a corner of my desk ever since. If it’s first thing in the morning, my go-to beverage is a strong cup of coffee but later in the day some coconut water does the trick! 

Thanks, Lynne!

See Part 1 here.

Visit Lynne’s blog to read a sample of her poetry, after which you’ll likely feel an irresistible urge to purchase Irresistible, now available through Amazon.com and Finishing Line Press