Winter solstice resolutions


Resolved: to forego a proper solstice sunrise photo and substitute instead a photo of favorite birch trees. They are as beautiful as any old sun, and throw off their glow all year round. What’s not in the picture is the dog, who is a boat in my gaze’s current, floating directly in line with wherever I point the camera. Sometimes I can fool him by focusing on something to my left or right, then swinging quickly back to the original object of my lens’ desire. In this photo, he’s just to the left, and I cropped him out. Not because he’s not beautiful, but because he isn’t a birch tree.

Resolved: to forego a proper solstice poem and substitute instead a poem by Wallace Stevens:

Valley Candle

My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
Until the wind blew.
Then beams of the huge night
Converged upon its image,
Until the wind blew.

I love this poem because it has so many possible interpretations, a mood ring of a poem that means what I want it to mean on any given reading. Today his valley is my valley. Today, this house is the candle. The solstice is the huge night, and the promise of the sun’s return is the beams. The wind, of course, is the wind. The dog is standing next to me, staring at the cat on his bed, willing the cat to move or me to move the cat. And all I do is try to point out the second, empty dog bed, a mere three feet further from me than the first. For the dog, perhaps I am the candle, and the dog bed is the immense valley, and the cat is the wind.

Resolved: to forego a proper solstice song and substitute one I didn’t know existed until about four hours ago, because it mentions cold, and because Joan Shelley writes songs I can listen to endlessly. Shelley is from Kentucky so maybe her thermometer is different from mine, but either way this song feels suited to the day, while I’m writing by the fire and the sun has slipped behind the hill and the snow is brittle and shiny with ice.

Fire warms and fire burns
Now I’ve learned
The cost of the cold.

When I started writing this, I felt so full of resolve, but now I feel tired, worn small and smooth by the endless rush of the day and the hurry to make hay while the sun glides just inches above the horizon. I pine for long summer days, but there’s an unrecognizable part of me that relishes these early, switched off evenings, when so little is expected.

Tomorrow we gain less than a tenth of a second of daylight. We won’t feel it much, but our bones will somehow know it, our hearts will somehow sing it, and our hands will set to their work. There’s so much to do, and so much light to gather in.

p.s. Forget my resolve, I need to share this solstice poem by Liz Lochead with you, because, well, you’ll see.

356 : 366

Shackleton Found

Poet at work

By December 1911, the South pole was just another notch on Roald Amundsen’s belt. Robert F. Scott, as we know, reached that awful place a month later, and then perished on the return.

If you were a south polar explorer in 1914, all the good stuff had been claimed already. But Ernest Shackleton couldn’t bear to stay home, so he came up with a bold idea and he gave it a grand name: The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. His aim, in short, was to be the first human to walk across the Antarctic continent.

Shackleton, no stranger to Antarctic expeditions (having been part of Scott’s 1901-1904 Discovery expedition, and claimed the Farthest South prize in 1909) was full of grand plans and schemes and the story of his expedition is riveting, replete with danger, disaster, impossible odds, extreme bravery, and all you’d expect of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. His ship, the Endurance, was beset and then crushed in the pack ice off the coast of Antarctica and there he was with the rest of his crew, the sled dogs, three lifeboats, and anything else they could drag from the doomed ship before it sunk below the ice.

Stranded on the ice with no one who would even notice they were missing for at least a year.

Dark odds.

But there’s a difference in this story: he came out of it alive, and so did every single member of the expedition. This was no small feat in a place that has no respect for human life, where even today, in the age of synthetic fabrics, specialized diets for athletes, and satellite phones, brave explorers perish just miles from safety.

So here I am, armchair polar explorer who detests the cold and is so low on the bravery scale that I’ve repeatedly refused to walk across the frozen Connecticut River in deep mid-winter even though M really really really wants to.

Here I am, 100 years from the end of that story, exploring the only way I know how: by rereading the words of the true explorers and charting my own kind of expedition across the ice.

Beginning April 11, each day for 30 days, I’m writing a found poem from Shackleton’s book South, beginning from the port of London and stopping at each significant milestone along his journey, to the final rescue. I’ll be posting the poems along the way.

Will I make it to my goal? I have a lot of granola, chocolate, good tea, highlighters, pens, pencils, and a faithful dog. What could go wrong?

Now, hand me that harness and hook me up to the sledge of words. Onward!

A call across the world


In memoriam Francis Ledwidge
Killed in France 31 July 1917

The bronze soldier hitches a bronze cape
That crumples stiffly in imagined wind
No matter how the real winds buff and sweep
His sudden hunkering run, forever craned

Over Flanders. Helmet and haversack,
The gun’s firm slope from butt to bayonet,
The loyal, fallen names on the embossed plaque —
It all meant little to the worried pet

I was in nineteen forty-six or seven,
Gripping my Aunt Mary by the hand
Along the Portstewart prom, then round the crescent
To thread the Castle Walk out to the strand.

The pilot from Coleraine sailed to the coal-boat.
Courting couples rose out of the scooped dunes.
A farmer stripped to his studs and shiny waistcoat
Rolled the trousers down on his timid shins.

At night when coloured bulbs strung out the sea-front
Country voices rose from a cliff-top shelter
With news of a great litter – “We’ll pet the runt!” –
And barbed wire that had torn a friesian’s elder.

Francis Ledwidge, you courted at the seaside
Beyond Drogheda one Sunday afternoon.
Literary, sweet-talking, countrified,
You pedalled out the leafy road from Slane.

Where you belonged, among the dolorous
And lovely: the May altar of wild flowers,
Easter water sprinkled in outhouses,
Mass-rocks and hill-top raths and raftered byres.

I think of you in your Tommy’s uniform,
A haunted Catholic face, pallid and brave,
Ghosting the trenches with a bloom of hawthorn
Or silence cored from a Boyne passage-grave.

It’s summer, nineteen-fifteen. I see the girl
My aunt was then, herding on the long acre.
Behind a low bush in the Dardanelles
You suck stones to make your dry mouth water.

It’s nineteen-seventeen. She still herds cows,
But a big strafe puts the candles out in Ypres:
‘My soul is by the Boyne, cutting new meadows…
My country wears her confirmation dress.’

‘To be called a British soldier while my country
Has no place among nations…’ You were rent
By shrapnel six weeks later. ‘I am sorry
That party politics should divide our tents.’

In you, our dead enigma, all the strains
Criss-cross in useless equilibrium
And as the wind tunes through this vigilant bronze
I hear again the sure confusing drum

You followed from Boyne water to the Balkans
But miss the twilit note your flute should sound.
You were not keyed or pitched like these true-blue ones
Though all of you consort now underground.

–Seamus Heaney, from Field Work: Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979.

Francis Ledwidge was an Irish poet. He enlisted in October 1914 in the 5th battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele in July 1917. He wrote three volumes of poetry during his years at war. Some poems were about the fighting, but many were about the birds, the moon, and thoughts of home.


A BURST of sudden wings at dawn,
Faint voices in a dreamy noon,
Evenings of mist and murmurings,
And nights with rainbows of the moon.

And through these things a wood-way dim,
And waters dim, and slow sheep seen
On uphill paths that wind away
Through summer sounds and harvest green.

This is a song a robin sang
This morning on a broken tree,
It was about the little fields
That call across the world to me.

Belgium, July, 1917.



This past week I was acting tour guide for a new found poetry group called Found Poetry Frontiers, a spin-off group from the PoMoSco project devised by fellow Found Poet (and Vermonter) Susan Powers Bourne.

Each week, the designated guide explores his or her local area and then creates found poems about it to share with the group. Meanwhile, other participating poets can share poems they create about the same area.

This week, I wrote seven poems about Thetford, Vermont, ranging in topics from its history to its topography to its politics to its poets. You can see the ones I wrote here. You can see the full Thetford collection here (including those of other participating poets).

While I enjoyed the process of mining my town and its history for found poetry, I think I enjoyed reading what others created even more, seeing my “hometown” through others’ eyes. Here’s one of my favorites.

On Monday, we’re headed to Mumbai, India. Are you interesting in joining as poet, reader, or both? You can read the details here.

What’s next?


I have so many things to tell you.

April was a frenzy of activity. It was wonderful but it moved so quickly I’d no time to pin it down here in words. I’ll try to make up for that in May, but right now, I just want to crow for a moment… I completed the PoMoSco challenge!

I wrote and posted a new found poem every day through the month of April.

I did it! And I even wrote some poems I really like.


Okay, crowing over. There’s so much more to be done: spring flowers to coax, poems to write, goats and bees to tend, cats to outwit, dogs to run, musicals to attend, tomatoes to turn into jam.

Let’s get a move on, shall we?


For those who missed it, I posted a link to a poem each day in April that somehow related to the PoMoSco badge of the day. You can see the full list of those poems/links here.

The PoMoSco poems (nearly 4000!) are available to read through the end of May 2015. So if you have a spare moment, stop by the site and just pick one at random to read. There are some really terrific poems here — many you’d never guess are from found material.

The poem I linked to for the final badge (Order’s Up) is one I just love. If you know me even a little bit, you’ll understand why. I’m posting it here in case you missed it:

Paris – Forfar

From the window of the Hardie-Condie Café, I see the ghost of a rich
friend of my grandmother drive down Forfar’s Main Street in a Rolls-
Royce I was sick in as a child. Behind me the watercolours of stick girls
walking through trees are misted blobs percolating in coffee steam.
Mother comes in like Scott of the Antarctic carrying tents of shopping.
The garçon brings a cappucino and croissants on which she wields her
knife with the off-frantic precision of violins in Hitchock’s shower scene.
Soon I will tell her. Show her dust in the sugar spoon. Her knife gouges
craters in the dough like an ice-axe and she tells the story on nineteen
Siberian ponies she queued behind in the supermarket. Of Captain
Oates who boxed her fallen ‘Ariel’. The chocolate from the cappucino
has gone all over her saucer. There is a scene and silence. Now tell her.
Tell her above the coffee table which scrapes with the masked voice of a
pier seeming to let in some waters, returning others to the sea, diverting
the pack-ice which skirts around its legs. Tell her a fact about you she
knows but does not know and which you will tell her except that the
surviving ponies are killed and the food depot named Desolation Camp
made from their carcasses keeps getting in the way. From this table we
will write postcards, make wireless contact with home and I will tell her
of King Edward VII Land, of how I have been with Dr Wilson and then
alone, so alone, in day-blizzards just eleven miles short of the Pole and
ask her to follow me. I am afraid she has been there already. She smiles
like the Great Beardmore Glacier and goes out into the street with stick
girls to the thirty-four sledgedogs and the motor-sledges. You are too
late. Amundsen is in Forfar. She has an appointment. Behind me I can
sense the canvases, the dried grasses pressed into their grain like eczema
on an open palm. Later I will discover her diary and what I told her.

–David Kinloch, from Paris – Forfar (Polygon, 1994)


Update: May 10, 2015. The PoMoSco Scoutmasters posted badge rankings today. The total possible points awarded were 600. Look how many of us completed all the badges!



If you talk about it long enough you’ll finally write it

PoMoSco-Website-Badge-2As much jabbering as I do here about myself, there are probably still one or two things you don’t know about me.

Here’s one: when I was little I was a Brownie, and then I “flew up” to become a Junior Girl Scout, and then, after the novelty of wearing my uniform and sash with badges to school once a week on meeting days wore off, I gave all that up. I’m not really a joiner.

When I first became a Brownie, the thing that interested me most about the whole affair was the manual. It was a square, orange-colored, soft-covered reference book that contained all you needed to know about being a good Brownie: the uniform details, how to wear the sash, the story of how the Brownies came to be, a comprehensive list of all the badges you could earn, the pledges you would recite, the behavior expected of you at meetings and in your community, the songs you would need to memorize, the suggested games and activities for Brownie meetings.

As I remember it, near the back of the book (but it could have been anywhere), there were sketches of Girl Scouts in their uniforms. The dimple-faced Brownie in her brown outfit, the Junior in her green. As you progressed through the evolution from Brownie to Senior, the uniforms (always a dress or a skirt, mind you, back in those days) got more elegant to my mind. The older girls wore cute berets worn slightly askew…. and white gloves. I gave serious consideration to whether I could tough it out long enough to get to white glove stage. Then I thought better of it and went back to my blue jeans and model horses.

I spent a lot of time in that book. More time, in fact, than I spent at meetings or activities. I didn’t much enjoy the activities, but, even back then, grade 2 or 3, I really dug a reference book.

Some things never change.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, today starts National Poetry Month and though I agree with Mary Ruefle that November could use more poetic attention, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t cram the year with a much poetry as possible, so why not celebrate poetry in April? This year, as in past years, I’ll mark the occasion by adding a new poem to this post every day for the month.

On top of that, I’m going back to scouting. Poetry scouting, that is. I’ll be participating in the Found Poetry Review’s  PoMoSco project, where I and 212 other poetry scouts (representing 43 states and 12 countries) will be creating and posting a new found poem every day for the month of April.

Each day there’s a new type of found poetry to compose, a new badge to earn. Through March, I’ve been preparing by gathering source texts and writing some first drafts, but today is when it all becomes real.

Enough talk; it’s time to write.


Details for Paterson

I just saw two boys.
One of them gets paid for distributing circulars
and he throws it down the sewer.

I said, Are you a Boy Scout?
He said, no.
The other one was.
I have implicit faith in
the Boy Scouts

If you talk about it
long enough
you’ll finally write it—
If you get by the stage
when nothing
can make you write—
If you don’t die first

I keep those bests that love
has given me
Nothing of them escapes—
I have proved it
proven once more in your eyes

Go marry! your son will have
blue eyes and still
there’ll be no answer
you have not found a cure
No more have I for that enormous
wedged flower, my mind
miraculously upon
the dead stick of night

–William Carlos Williams, From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Copyright © 1988 by Christopher MacGowan

That’s a bonus poem for you.

From now on, I’ll be adding a link each day to a poem that somehow relates to the day’s PoMoSco badge category (in parentheses). I hope you’ll also visit us over on the PoMoSco site to see our poems there. (If you want to see the poems I’m writing, you can get there by using this direct link.)

April 1 (Pick and Mix) ~ Pick ‘n’ Mix , by Holly Magill
April 2 (Shake it Up) ~ Back Yard, by Carl Sandburg
April 3 (White Out) ~ Departure and Departure and…, by George Bruce
April 4 (On Demand) ~ The Grind, by Ange Mlinko
April 5 (All Ears) ~ LXI, by César Vallejo
April 6 (First in Line) ~ Louisiana Line, by Betty Adcock
April 7 (Roll the Dice) ~ Here, by Arthur Sze
April 8 (Redacted) ~ a little bit of poetry, by tychogirl
April 9 (X:Y) ~ X Minus X, by Kenneth Fearing
April 10 (Interloper) ~ The Interloper, by Thomas Hardy
April 11 (Haiku Anew) ~ Not That It’s Loneliness, by Chloe Moorish
April 12 (Chance Walk) ~ A Late Walk, by Robert Frost
April 13 (Picture It) ~ Picture of Little Letters, by John Koethe
April 14 (Survey Says) ~ Phone Survey, by Carole Langille
April 15 (As Advertised) ~ The Letter, by Dana Gioia
April 16 (Blender) ~ Miniature Delights, by Anne Ryland
April 17 (Spelling B) ~ I Wave Good-bye When Butter Flies, by Jack Prelutsky
April 18 (Open Book) ~ Granted, by Maxine Chernoff
April 19 (Quiet on Set) ~ Passing Through, by D.A. Powell
April 20 (Off the Shelf) ~ Canada, by Billy Collins
April 21 (Interrogator) ~ The Wrong Question, by Anne Swannell
April 22 (Dialed In) ~ The Farm on the Great Plains, by William E. Stafford
April 23 (Click Trick) ~ The South Transept Window, St. Lucia at Lowhampton, by Martin Monahan
April 24 (Best Laid Plan) ~ To a Mouse, by Robert Burns
April 25 (Crowdsource) ~ Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd, by Walt Whitman
April 26 (Pinch an Inch) ~ The Sciences Sing a Lullabye, by Albert Goldbarth
April 27 (Spaced Out) ~ Theories of Time and Space, by Natasha Trethewey
April 28 (Cut it Out) ~ Cut Out For It, by Kay Ryan
April 29 (Substitute Texter) ~ The Steam Engine, by Elizabeth Wills
April 30 (Order’s Up) ~ Paris – Forfar, by David Kinloch

The moon’s watching

Winter Trees

Earlier this evening I spied on the moon through the branches of the huge Maple tree in our yard. Now, when I’m here at my desk, wondering what on earth to write about, the moon is spying on me (M told me so just a minute ago).

What can I possibly write that the moon hasn’t already read?

What can I do but describe the cold blue-black night, the dying glow of the fires, the dogs lying like moored boats in a moonlit harbor, another load of dirty dishes piled in the sink, the stereo playing some piece of music I feel I know but can’t name, the moon sailing her orbit while we sail ours, the end of the day.

Same old story, says the moon in a comforting way. Time to turn out the lights, pull the night up to your chin, feel quiet and planted, like a Maple tree on a November night.

Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

–William Carlos Williams

Winter comes to November



First dusting

Worth it

Falling Leaves and Early Snow

In the years to come they will say,
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.

In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.

–Kenneth Rexroth, from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1940

How about November?

End of October

“How about November?” asks poet Mary Ruefle (in her lecture “On Secrets”) when, every April, she’s asked to contribute to a poetry reading in recognition of National Poetry Month.

April’s been crowned the month of poetry, but what does April need with poems? April is her own poem, all hopeful, beckoning and unfurling.


Poetry in April feels almost superfluous, a bit embarrassing, a gilded excess.

Poetry, Mary Ruefle says in that same lecture, is “clearly rooted in obscurity, in secretiveness, in incantation, in spells that must at once invoke and protect, tell the secret and keep it.”

What she and we know is the wonderful trick about a poem (and a November): while its secrets and spells seem hidden at first, they are unlockable, releasable.

Sit with a thick poem. Sit with a dark November day.

Say the poem out loud. Say the day out loud.

Notice its rhythms. Its shades of ochre. The times the sun rises and sets. The length of its lines. The bright green fur of moss along the ridge of a rain soaked log. The crunch of tires on gravel. The one bird on the one branch. The half rhymes in the alternating lines.

Isn’t there as much poetry in November’s dying hay field as in April’s burbling brooks?


Thomas Hardy knew it as well as anyone. Life is hard, literature is bleak, and there’s a poem in that.

“A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment. Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath for its floor.”

We know it in our bones. And here we are, listening for what poems November will tell us. And the ones we’ll tell it.