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"I’d like to see my poems up on people’s refrigerators."

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day; a day to share poems with strangers and friends. Last year, we asked poets near and far where they were planning to put poetry. Here are just a few of their responses. 

I had first thought to suggest poetry in all sorts of waiting rooms—the DMV and doctors’ offices came to mind—but then I could too easily picture the anxiety of waiting canceling out all the wonders of losing oneself in a poem. A better idea would be to have a poem, ideally recited and read, shown at the movie theater an lieu of all the pre-preview ads. There audiences sitting in the dark, in soft seats, with minds waiting to be moved and entertained, might truly receive a poem and be changed. —Sally Keith, author of The Fact of the Matter 

There isn’t any place we shouldn’t put poetry—including putting it away for a while. That’s a perfectly honorable thing to do with poetry! We can leave it out on the counter for our beloved, like bowl of yellow pears. Or we can fold it up into a tiny square and bury it in our sock drawer, like our most dangerous secret. Either way, it will lie there patiently and wait to be discovered. Yesterday, I walked out the door at work to grab some lunch, and this sign on the sidewalk stopped me dead in my tracks. Poetry! Namaste! —Dobby Gibson, author of It Becomes You 

As a poet and potter—with interests in classical antiquity, paleontology, and similar old stuff—I’m fascinated by fragments of manuscript— burned at the edges, floating here and there—by scraps of Sappho, by scraps of grocery lists, fossils, potsherds, runestones.  I’ve experimented for quite awhile with inscribing on my pottery, usually very banal journal entries and little gnomic verses.  I’m interested in how a scrap of crockery suggests a whole culture, how a fossil embeds the memory of life form.  I can’t stay away from wet concrete. I love the mystery of sending and receiving messages among present and past and future. Most of what I create I give away to the Goodwill, and it sometimes passes me again on some stream of detritus.  I like the idea of accidental survival, which is how most pottery and lots of manuscripts end up in museums. —Mary Rose O’Reilley, author of Earth, Mercy 

I plan to put poetry amidst the metal and stone monstrosities, and the glass and boulders small and large, and the wild rushes of wormwood everywhere, and along the shore of the Mississippi River, in Northeast Minneapolis, down beyond the deadend of 13th Avenue and 2nd Street, where we’ve seen muskrats and houseboat ambassadors, and the remains of cookfires and stormdrift and deer and crows and kids, and have banged drums and passed between us a peaceful vapor, and where we built a fire, and performed the Death of Poetry. —Sarah Fox, author of The First Flag

I’d like to see my poems up on people’s refrigerators. —Tim Nolan, author of And Then

I would plan to put poetry in the place of every ad on the Internet and on billboards and in bathrooms and on the sides of buses and on television and before movies in the movie theater and at the doctor’s office and at signs at the mall and in fortune cookies and when you log into your computer instead of a password you would have to write a new poem and instead of leaving a message the system would read you a poem and instead of news about bombs and guns and money there would be poems. Instead of bills you would get different kinds of poems, a poem about electricity, a poem about natural gas, a poem about water. When you cleaned your house, you might vacuum up a bunch of letters and the machine would make a poem. In the refrigerator, instead of aging lettuce, you’d get a poem. Maybe a little wilted, a little tired, but with some life left in it. Inside your wallet, instead of plastic and bills and receipts—poems. Instead of eviction notices—poems. Instead of prison sentences, poems. Instead of a line of cocaine, poems. Instead of giving grades to students—poems. Instead of standardized tests—poems. Poems instead of nuclear weapons. Poems instead of knives. Poems instead of rape. Poems instead of pollution. Poems instead of trafficking children. Poems instead of prostitution. Poems everywhere taking up the space of things we do and make to violate and dishonor and destroy ourselves, our home, and everything that shares the earth with us. —Sun Yung Shin, author of Rough, and Savage

In my mouth. —Peter Campion, author of El Dorado

This is actually a rebus puzzle. The Letters of James Agee to Father Flye coming soon. 

Common Good T’s

Common Good Books is pleased to announce the first in a series of limited run t-shirts. Not available wherever books are sold. 

New Spring Poetry: Part 2

A deeply incomplete review of this spring’s best new poetry

Rimbaud famously claimed a poet makes him or herself a visionary through “a long, boundless and systemized disorganization of all the senses.” In order for a reader to find any familiarity or comfort in a poem by Rimbaud, and thus pleasure, a reader is forced to abandon the frames of reference they carry into reading any of his work. Giving into an experience of this type—in the best of his poems—through the dramatic fury of his language, ones’ insides are ridded of the accumulating toxicity of too much sense, meaning and neatness. It’s the best feeling in the world. 

Though not attempting to stake a claim as lofty as visionary, Sara Nicholson’s debut book of poems, The Living Method (The Song Cave, 2014) nonetheless attempts to unshackle one’s reality in an ambitiously meaningful way. This book is plain weird, but to leave it there would reduce her work to a novelty. Take for instance the following excerpt from “Everests,” in which it’s tough not to nod along, only to find ourselves afterwards mystified. 

If in the dark we propose the fiction

That winter is obstructed by chords

Death will float in our memories

Like a rafter of gold. Little fruits

To be wasted in the hypothetical forest.

For a mountain we might move outward,

But for love of the resemblances

We will remain part of this town, of that town

Obsession with language fills these pages in a way that mirrors Rimbaud, poems that convince you that, in Nicholson’s words, “representation / estranges us from the modern world”; a seemingly backwards notion, but believable as long as one is willing to enter into the marvelous drama of the poet’s verse.

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How to Write a Love Poem: Stephen Burt


Eleven Questions And Something Like Ten Suggestions

If you take care of the poetry, will the love take care of itself?

Does it matter what kind of love you mean, or what kind of love you want?

What’s the difference—in terms of literary portrayals; in terms of how they are realized in language—between erotic love, on the one hand, and all the other kinds of things we are used to designating as love, on the other?

What—if anything—do you want to encode, so that the poem contains something that only your lover, or your beloved, will understand?

“Does the imagination dwell the most/ Upon a woman won or a woman lost?” (W. B. Yeats) “What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?” (John Keats)

Can a love poem get outside—all the way outside—the ways of thinking in which the beloved is pursued, and “won” or “lost,” like a deer in a hunt or a prize on a game show?

Is love a third thing, something that belongs to neither of you, something that exists between you and gets addressed the way that a story or an orange or an idea can get addressed? Or are you writing to, for, and about, a person?

Are you writing a poem for yourself, or for a particular person you can name (see Frank O’Hara, “Personism”), or for a set of real people, or for everyone, or for no one, or for strangers?

Are you writing a poem as a gift, or as a plea, or as a means of reconciliation, or as a kind of announcement, a cry of happiness (as in O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with You”)?

Do you want other people to see themselves in your poem, or it is just about your beloved and you? (Or do you have more than one beloved?)

Can you write a poem for a beloved without deciding, and without ever knowing, how you would answer any of those questions, so that the only good answer turns out to be the completion of the poem?

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How to Write a Love Poem: Wayne Miller

Richard Hugo says in The Triggering Town, “Use ‘love' only as a transitive verb for at least fifteen years." I’d add: for love poetry the heart is an organ that pumps blood, period. Despite all our medieval romanticizing of the heart as the seat of romantic emotion, it has no actual relation to love—which is the infinitely complex product of some combination of chemicals and the brain/mind. 

Which is to say that the best love poems—to my way of thinking, anyway—tend to resist, at least in part, being love poems. I think of Marvin Bell’s “To Dorothy,” which begins:

You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.

Or Rilke’s “Love Song,” where falling in love renders the soul suddenly clumsy, because the soul in love seems to get in the way of everything: 

How can I keep my soul in me, so that
it doesn’t touch your soul? How can I raise
it high enough, past you, to other things?

Since love—especially if it’s requited—often fills us with a kind of temporary emotional sureness, expressing a permanent or totalizing feeling of certainty is an easy mistake a writer can make in a love poem. Rilke’s “Love Song” presents the lovers as two strings on a violin being played at the same time. Rather than end there, though, Rilke turns to the larger, persistent, unanswerable questions—the sort of questions love has no answers for:

Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?

He ends by simply expressing the wonderful and mysterious presence of love as it exists inside the larger context of those metaphysical unanswerables:

Oh sweetest song. (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

Rilke seems to be saying that love doesn’t erase our vast uncertainties about life, and it’s important to remember that. Still, love fills us and the world around us when it’s here. This thinking—to my mind—is complex and honest about limits, which is what a good and truthful love poem requires.

Wayne Miller is the author of The City, Our City and The Book of Props, both published by Milkweed Editions. He is also the translator of I Don’t Believe in Ghosts, a collection by Albanian poet Moikom Zeqo, and the editor, with Kevin Prufer, of New European Poets. Miller currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and teaches at the University of Central Missouri, where he co-edits Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. Visit his website at

The Week in Books We’ve Heard Of


Goodnight! are we excited Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams debuted at #11 on the New York Times trade paperback nonfiction bestseller list! To give you some idea of what that means, a book called Heaven is for Real is on that same list. 

Lydia Davis’ highly anticipated, fifth collection of short stories, Can’t and Won’t, is out. In a recent profile in The New Yorker, Davis quotes from a “popular writer’s” work:

“‘A paper bag stuffed with empty wine bottles.’ I thought about that,” remarks Davis. “You’d think he could get away with it, but he can’t, because ‘stuffed’ is a verb that comes from material. It’s soft, so it’s a problem to stuff it with something hard.”

In other words, Davis is a poet. Her stories could conceivably be called prose poems, if prose poems sold better. Davis’ work reminds me of the poems of Russell Edson, but a little less surreal, whatever that means. Hey, and until it starts to sell better, all poetry is on sale through April 30th. That’s a picture of our poetry section in the lower, left hand corner, before it went on sale.

Speaking of poetry, on Friday night Ron Padgett, a member of the Second Generation New York School Poets, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his Collected Poems, published by Coffee House Press! I’m always tempted to say “Our own Coffee House Press,” but isn’t the point that books don’t belong to anyone? I met a painter once who told me he couldn’t be less interested in keeping his own work once it was finished. But is art ever finished? I’m just kidding. About the italics, I mean. Congratulations to Ron Padgett and our own Coffee House Press!

Speaking of Friday night, it was standing room only for poets Sara Henning, Matt Mauch, Gretchen Marquette and Kyle Adamson. Click here for a list of our upcoming events. Click here for a recipe for Espresso, Almond and Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Pudding Cups. Yummo. 

T-shirts for sale! Afternoon Printing and Common Good Books have teamed up to bring you the first in a series of limited run t-shirts. For now all I’ll say is that one says “Tomes Not Drones” and makes a great gift for moms. 

NYRB Poets has published the Love Sonnets and Elegies of Louise Labé, a poet of the French Renaissance who published her complete works by the age of 30 “and then disappeared from history.” Susan Stewart, Rosanna Warren and Rainer Maria Rilke have all chimed in on Labé’s “startling poems,” but perhaps her highest praise comes from The Polar Bear, a character in Samuel Beckett’s Dream of Fair to Middling Women: “A great poet, perhaps one of the greatest of all time.” Good enough for us. 

How to Write a Love Poem: Jim Moore

Euan Kerr/MPR

Valentine’s Day sucks for a lot of people: they either aren’t in love and wish they were or are getting over a romance gone bad or are in the throes of falling in love which carries with it intense bewilderment and a lot of outright fear. My favorite love poems are the ones where it’s quite clear that the poet writing the poem has been through his or her own difficulties with love. Knowing what a broken heart feels like seems a good prerequisite for writing a great love poem. I also think that love poems written from longing, desire, and uncertainty have an edge over the more self-satisfied variety that are congratulating themselves on how lucky they (and their beloved) are.

Jim Moore is the author of Invisible Strings, Lightning at Dinner and, forthcoming in 2014, Underground: New and Selected poems, all published by Graywolf Press. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, the Nation, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, the Threepenny Review, the Pushcart Prize Anthology and elsewhere. Moore is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota and at The Colorado College in Colorado Springs, as well as online through the University of Minnesota Split Rock Arts Program. He is married to the photographer JoAnn Verburg. They live in Saint Paul, Minnesota and Spoleto, Italy. 

Thirty Two Magazine

As the magazine buyer, I’m all sorts of pumped about the lovely media that is floating around in our magazine section. Magazines are evolving and unique and, most importantly, physical. I respect what a huge undertaking making a magazine is, and I want to highlight some of my favorite ones for you, our blog-reading customer. Here’s what I can’t shut up about this month: thirty two magazinethe distinctly Minnesotan publication that aims to shine a light on places and things we might otherwise overlook.

WHAT TO EXPECT: thirty two is clean and easy on the eyes. It is a beautifully laid out magazine full of crisp photography. It is the perfect magazine to read on a Sunday morning: calming, engaging and full of things you don’t necessarily need to know but want to know. You can expect one of the most excellent interviews I’ve personally read in a long time between Katharina Eggers, thirty two's founder, and Bartholomew Ryan, assistant curator at The Walker Art Center. There is also a smile-inducing excerpt from Minneapolis legend Andy Sturdevant's new book Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow, winners from a Revolver short story contest, a review of the infamous (and awesome) Low performance at Rock the Garden, and an essay on the legendary apple-breeding at the University of Minnesota. You guys, there’s even an entire, extremely enlightening spread on “the life and death of malls” in Minnesota. 

WHY IT’S UNIQUE: It is an artful and thoughtful love letter to the Twin Cities. thirty two highlights the special little things that make this such a cool place to live. 

WHO SHOULD READ IT: Midwesterners, or those unaccustomed to the wonders of the Midwest.

WHET YOUR APPETITE:  One of my favorite parts of the magazine is entitled “the art of hoarding” and tells the story of a South Minneapolis couple that “scouts estate sales in hopes of adding to their collection of the beautiful, the bizarre, and the unexpected.” The spread drew me in with the drippingly rich photography and kept me entertained with the enticing interview with the couple that wraps up with:

"Kate needs her home to have soul, and everything fro the Communist propaganda to the chickens contribute. ‘I feel like you can come into our house and get a little bit of an idea of who we are and how we think about things by the stuff that we surround ourselves with,’ she says. In a kitchen cupboard, their first egg sits next to a skull, possibly raccoon. Life and death, side by side, illustrating the cyclical nature of Kate and Bob’s home. ‘Even though we go to estate sales and I keep thinking, ‘Yep, this is pretty much what our place is going to look like when we’re dead,’ it doesn’t deter me.’" 

By Sarah