John Ronan On Seamus Heaney’s “Digging”


A few days ago I read a glowing review of an Instagram poet, whose name I’ll not mention, which contrasted her writing to Seamus Heaney’s. In short, the reviewer complained that Heaney’s writing was too complicated, used too many words, and took too long to read. Yeah, I thought, but he never wasted one!

Needing an antidote to that vapid assessment, I found John Ronan’s essay on Heaney’s “Digging.” I feel much better now.

And here’s a recording of the poem.

Dobie’s Desk

Dobie’s Desk

Sitting at this desk, I wonder
whose words will emerge

from the stained wood,
its whorls and cracked surface

detailing a specific language
of the inert and precious.

Earlier I rapped the cistern
to verify water level,

and a week ago startled
a cottonmouth sunning its lengthy

self at the crossing. The door
just blew open, perhaps,

or a ghost wished to offer its
voice, neither malice

nor approval imbedded
in the gesture. History

shadows me despite my best
efforts. I walk, drink water,

write, think of friends left
behind or gone ahead,

reading between the grains
and dark spaces, looking for rain

in the blue, for light and benediction
and the secret poetry of furniture.

Which Poet, Which Beer (4)

I come here to sit quietly, emerging from my shack, if only briefly, to eavesdrop and observe, to sip beer and participate in the world of commerce. Ah, yes. The grocery store. If only all of them housed craft-beer bars. I place cilantro and shallots in my basket, add arugula, asparagus and a lime, and wander over to the fish case where two small fillets of Chilean sea bass, the commercial name for Patagonian toothfish, catch my eye.

Finally at the bar, I order Lone Pint Brewery’s Zeno’s Pale Ale, and overhear a disquisition on hydration and landscaping, and a conversation on war and snipers and gratitude. The ale arrives with a light, lacey head, exudes a bready malt profile upfront, and a pine-citrus punch at the back. I can’t quite uncover the truth of the flavor, but enjoy the search, and amidst the swirling combination of voices and beer I somehow think of Veronica Golos’ “Snow in April,” a ghazal in her stunning book Vocabulary of Silence.

“Has my flock of flowers died? An ambush, a bullet-shot
of cold. Undone beneath the snow, what’s truth, in April?”

What is the sniper’s truth? What gratitude might we find within April’s layers? I have no answers, only more questions, and with more questions comes thirst.

My second beer is a curious blend of old and new – a Belgian-style quadrupel that, don’t laugh, smells a bit like a cola, but in a good way. Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles is dark brown, let’s call it mahogany, with a fruity but mellow flavor and a toasty malt finish. And well balanced – with an alcohol content of 9%, it’s strong, but not too strong. Historical undercurrents flow through this brew, yet it also brings with it an appreciation of the new and popular, which leads to thoughts of one of my favorite poets, Frank Bidart, whose work often refers to and resonates with historical figures (in the book at hand, Watching the Spring Festival, Tu Fu and Catullus come to mind), and his poem “Sanjaya at 17,” referencing an American Idol contestant:

“There is a creature, among all others, one,
within whose voice there is a secret voice
which once heard
unlocks the door that unlocks the mountain.”

Today the mountain does not swing open for me. Perhaps a second Trois Pistoles might have done the trick, but instead, knowing I have to prepare dinner, starting with a compound butter of shallot, cilantro, garlic and lime zest, I request a mere taste of Founder’s Breakfast Stout, because, well, the idea of stout for breakfast has a certain appeal, though in my case would not be practical, as it would likely put me to sleep. And yes, it contains both chocolate and coffee (Sumatra and Kona), tastes a bit smoky, is smooth and luxurious in the mouth, and makes me long for a lonely, cold winter’s night in a far-off country, a fire crackling with just a hint of madness, and the full moon leering down at all of us, but particularly the dead genius that was Thomas James, whose poem “Wild Cherries,” from his one and only book Letters to a Stranger, ends:

I watch you eat, tasting yourself perhaps,
Some bitterness that is a part of you,
And I accept it gratefully. When you smile,
I see you dying in that single instant.
Walking back home, into ourselves, we enter
A far-off country neither of us wanted.”

Oh, those things we want and don’t want. To feel. To write. To cook, to sing. To share. To love. To be alone. To be numb. To do nothing. To do everything…

On Context, Otherness and the Role of Poetry (an Interview from 2013)

For those of you who might care, I’m featured in an interview in Middle Gray.


Originally posted in December 2013. Circumstances have changed a bit – I have more time to write these days, but somehow manage to constantly run behind…

Sunday Compulsion: Luanne Castle (Why I Write)

Welcome to “Sunday Compulsion,” in which creatives answer one question: Why do I create? Here’s poet Luanne Castle:

When I pondered why I write, my mind flipped the question to why I don’t write during so many fallow periods. There have been so many reasons over the years: school, work, social life, teaching, raising kids.

It’s not that I haven’t had plenty of active writing periods. I wrote poetry as a kid and, later, as a teen. I attended grad school for an MFA in poetry and fiction.  When casual poetry workshops formed online, I joined them. When schools offered more formal online workshops, I attended some of those, too.

But I would write with passion for weeks or months or even years—and each writing period would be followed by a period where I wrote little, if anything. I didn’t have writer’s block. I don’t even know what that is. I’ve just lived my life and waited for writing to demand my time again.

Even now, I am always finding something that keeps me from writing. I spend time on my elderly mother’s needs. I foster (and adopt, too—it’s called foster failure in the shelter biz) homeless cats and volunteer at the local shelter. My husband and I travel for work and we travel for pleasure.

So the question that might help me answer Bob’s initial one is what brings me back to writing? It must be the pressure of not writing. The idea bin in my head and the idea list hidden under my daily to-do list both spill over. I realize I can no longer sort through my thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings begin to merge, to blend together. I get cranky. Really cranky.

And then I start to write again. At first it’s a little bit like throwing crap on the wall, but then my mind develops some clarity. I feel more in the moment and can process my emotions as separate events from my thoughts. I become less cranky, even a bit amiable, and when I’m tired, I turn off the computer screen and have a glass of wine, happy to put away a draft of a poem for tomorrow.

* * *

Listen to Luanne read “When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother,” a poem from her recent publication, Kin Types.

Read the poem here: When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother

* * *

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle’s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Kin Types, a chapbook of poetry and flash nonfiction, was published July 2017 by Finishing Line Press. Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.

Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English.

An avid blogger, Luanne can be found at She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.

Find Luanne at these sites:

Luanne Castle
Writer Site
The Family Kalamazoo

Watch the trailer for Kin Types.

Kin Types is available here:
Barnes and Noble
Finishing Line Press

Doll God may be found here:



Poet’s Pantry


In my sliver of the world, poetry and cooking share many qualities. When I step into the kitchen, I often have only a vaporous notion of what’s for dinner. A hankering for roasted poblano peppers, the need to use a protein languishing in the refrigerator, the memory of an herbal breeze wafting down a terraced hill near Lago d’Averno, Hell’s entrance, according to Virgil, or even a single intriguing word, may spark what comes next. But the success of what follows depends upon the ingredients at hand, on how we’ve stocked the pantry. Good products beget better results. Let’s take my desire for roasted poblanos. What to do with them? Poking around, I uncover an opened package of goat cheese, a bit of grated grana padano and some creme fraiche, and I immediately think pasta! Looking further I spot arugula, a lemon, a handful of pecans, some cherry tomatoes. Dinner: Pappardelle with a roasted poblano and goat cheese sauce, garnished with toasted pecans, served with an arugula and cherry tomato salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Simple, when you’ve stocked a solid base of quality components.

My writing employs a similar process. Anything – a vague sense of uneasiness, a particular word, the sunlight slanting through the unfortunate dove’s imprint on my window, articles or books I’ve read or perused on a myriad of subjects – may launch a poem. But what truly makes the poem, what bolsters, fills and completes, what ignites and catapults it arcing into the firmament are, of course, the pantry’s ingredients.

Everyone’s needs differ, and I wouldn’t presume to inflict my peculiar sensibilities on anyone, but if you cracked open my burgeoning poetry pantry’s door, you’d certainly unearth dictionaries and a thesaurus, fallen stars, books on etymology and language, curiosity, a guitar or mandolin, at least one window (sometimes partially open), conversations floating in the ether, various empty frames, wind, dog biscuits and dirty socks, a walking stick, sunlight and shadows, more books on such subjects as ancient navigation, the history of numbers, the periodic table, alchemy and olives. You might also spy reams of paper, unspoken words, coffee cups, a scorpion or two, scrawled notes on index cards, wandering musical notes, a pipe wrench, wood ear mushrooms and salvaged fragments of writing, failed ideas moldering in clumps on the floor, a few craft beers and empty wine bottles, a chain saw, and most important of all, a bucketful of patience.

(I cannot over-emphasize the bucket’s contents…)

This is just to say (no, I didn’t eat the plums) that the best equipped poets stock their pantries with the world and all its questions, with logic, with faith, persistence, emotion, science, art, romance and yes, patience. Line your kit with every tool you can grasp or imagine. Keep adding to it. Read deeply. Listen. Breathe. Listen again. Converse. Look outward. Further, past the trees, around the bend and beyond the horizon’s curve, where the unknown lurks. Look again. Don’t stop. Continue.

And if after all this you’re wondering what basks in my kitchen pantry:


This last appeared here in October 2015.