Ilya Kaminsky & Katie Farris at The Red Wheelbarrow Poets

Terrific reading last Wednesday, featuring the powerhouse poetic couple Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris, at the Felician University Little Theater!! Many thanks to our features for sharing their moving poems, to all who read in the open mic and to our wonderful audience. Poetry lives in Rutherford, NJ! The good doctor would be so proud.

Click here to see the YouTube video.

Our next reading is on May 3, featuring David Messineo. Hope to see you there.

And remember to send in your writing for RWB 16!
Submission deadline for essays: May 1, 2023. Click this Submittable link to submit. Submission deadline for poems: July 4, 2023. Click this Submittable link to submit.

Save the date! The Red Wheelbarrow Readings Featuring Ilya Kaminsky & Katie Farris on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, 7 PM

Join us on April 5, 2023, at 7 p.m. at The Felician University Little Theater, 230 Montross Avenue, Rutherford, NJ 07070, for a fantastic poetry reading featuring Ilya Kaminsky & Katie Farris, plus the best open mic in New York and New Jersey!

Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odesa, Ukraine. He is the author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press), which was The New York Times’ Notable Book for 2019 and was a National Book Award finalist, and Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press), and is the co-editor and co-translator of many other books, including Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins). His work received The Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Katie Farris’s most recent book, Standing in the Forest of Being Alive, from Alice James Books (US) and Liverpool University Press (UK), was listed as Publisher’s Weekly’s Top 10 Poetry Books for 2023. She’s also the author of the hybrid-form text boysgirls (Marick Press, 2011; Tupelo Press 2019), and the co-translator of many works, including A Country in Which Everyone’s Name is Fear, which was one of World Literature Today’s Notable Books of 2022. She’s a Pushcart Prize winner.

At the event, the featured poets will bring their books to sell. We’ll also have copies of our Red Wheelbarrow #15 for sale. Or, if you prefer to order online, you can do so here.

The RWB Poets welcome you! Drop by to listen to our features, read in the open mic, and qualify to submit to our annual journal. See you all in person on April 5 at 7 p.m!

RWB16 Call for Submissions!

The Red Wheelbarrow (Volume 16) is open for submissions of poetry and essays from poets who have read their poetry as a featured poet or at the open mic at the monthly Red Wheelbarrow Poets reading series from July 7, 2022, through July 6, 2023. You are also invited to submit if you participated in any of the Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Workshops during the same period.

Please indicate in your cover letter when you’ve read with us or that you’ve attended the workshop to qualify. Simultaneous submissions are OK, but please notify us immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere.

When you submit, please complete the online form for one paragraph of relevant biographical information.

  1. Limit your bio paragraph to approximately 120 words.
  2. In the bio refer to yourself in the third person using your preferred pronoun (he, she, they).

We plan to publish and release Volume 16 in the fall of 2023.


Submission Guidelines for Essays
Please submit 1 (one) essay in a single Word document. The only acceptable file formats are .doc or .docx. No pdf or other file types will be accepted.

Format for the Submission Document

  1. Submit one Word document containing 1 (one) essay. Topics may include but not limited to: William Carlos Williams, New Jersey or Rutherford history, art, or poetry scenes, book reviews, writing craft. We’re pretty flexible.
  2. Maximum length: 2,500 words.
  3. Use Garamond, Times, or Times New Roman 12-point font.
  4. Do NOT use headers, footers, or automatic page numbering in the document.
  5. Do NOT use the footnote feature in Microsoft Word! If you want footnotes, do it manually.
  6. Your name should appear above the essay. Do NOT use All caps.
  7. If your submission relies on a special layout, please be aware of the print area this edition can allow: page printable area width is 4 3/4 inch by 6 3/4 inch length.

Submission deadline for essays: May 1, 2023. Click this Submittable link to submit.

Submission Guidelines for Poems
Please submit 5 (five) poems in a single Word document. The only acceptable file formats are .doc or .docx. No pdf or other file types will be accepted.

Format for the Submission Document

  1. Submit one Word document containing 5 (five) poems.
  2. Use Garamond, Times, or Times New Roman 12-point font.
  3. Do NOT use headers, footers, or automatic page numbering in the document.
  4. Do NOT use the footnote feature in Microsoft Word! If you want footnotes, do it manually.
  5. Your name should appear above the first poem. Do NOT use All caps.
  6. Each poem must have a page break at the end. Your poems should each start on a new page of the document.
  7. If your submission relies on a special layout, please be aware of the print area this edition can allow: page printable area width is 4 3/4 inch by 6 3/4 inch length.

Submission deadline for poems: July 4, 2023. Click this Submittable link to submit.

Nominations for the 2022 Pushcart Prize

This year marks another premiere for The Red Wheelbarrow! We are excited to announce our 2022 nominees for The Pushcart Prize:

Jim Klein for “Nail Clipping”

Janet Kolstein for “Google Earth: Alexandria”

Michael Mandzik for “Regent’s Park”

Zorida Mohammed for “Fearful of Blood He Selects Me”

Barbara O’Dair for “Am I Right, Or Am I Just Gorgeous”

Bridget Sprouls for “How We Think Is a Body”

Congratulations to these poets and their terrific poems! All of them are available in The Red Wheelbarrow #15, a great gift for the poetry lovers on your list.

The Next Generation of Poets

Our Red Wheelbarrow #15 is still making waves, and we’re still in a celebratory mood! It’s because this book, besides being the biggest one ever (100 poets published!), is a really special issue that includes a section of Rutherford High School poets. We were so excited to publish these young authors and hear their poems at the launch! Click here to read more about the 19 high school students and their Creative Writing teacher, Melissa Dougard.

You can also see some great moments captured by photographer Bill Shaw at the launch.

And, if you don’t have The Red Wheelbarrow #15 yet, or you know of someone who would like a copy, you can order it here.

Here’s to another 15 years of carrying on Dr. Williams poetic legacy, and thanks again for being a part of our community! Happy writing, happy reading, and happy fall.

The Red Wheelbarrow #15 Launch Photos

Here are the photos from our launch of The Red Wheelbarrow last week, celebrating our 15-year anniversary. Thank you so much Bill Shaw for capturing these great moments! And many thanks again to all who attended. Order the book at this link:

Field Notes, Week of 06-28-22

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of June 28, 2022

Just a word before I get to the workshop, about Howard Nemerov, former poet laureate of the United States (1988), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his collected poems in 1978, a Guggenheim fellowship, the Bollengen Prize, and the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry.  How did we ever forget this guy? And speaking of forgetting, I got my copy of Nemerov’s New and Selected Poems (1960!) when I was invited to raid the library of one of our great (and not frequently enough remembered) New Jersey poets, Madeleine Tiger, when she moved out of her house in Bloomfield, and it, the book, has sat on my bookshelf unread for a dozen or more years since then until alphabetical swelling required a shift of volumes and Nemerov fell onto the floor. I love the guy!  Not just for his mid-century swag, but for the steady formalness of his mind and his willingness to announce a theme and go for it. The poem, “Runes” in this volume, is a fifteen-part poem in which each part has fifteen lines—and Nemerov tells you in line one of part one (no less exactly than Milton announces his purpose in line one of Paradise Lost), exactly what he’s going for: “This is about the stillness in moving things.” And from there, he’s off, talking about “winter seeds, where time to come has tensed/ Itself,” and Ulysses, and sunflowers, and how winter makes water a captive “in the snowflake’s prison”—on and on with an unapologetic embodiment of ideas past and present in things, things, things.  Of course, you can’t read that first line without hearing an echo of Eliot’s “still point in the moving world”—all of the Midcenturies had to be aware of Mr. Big, but Nemerov had his own point to make and his own, to me, accessible way of making it. I literally had to stop reading for the day when I read part X of the poem, which, if you’ll indulge it, I’ll quote in full. It embodies the idea of thaw, since one of the themes of the larger poem is seasonal change and begins with a direct address to “white water”:


White water, white water, feather of a form

Between the stones, is the race run to stay

Or pass away?  Your utterance is riddled,

Rainbowed and clear and cold, tasting of stone,

White water, at the breaking of the ice,

When the high places render up the new

Children of water and their tumbling light

Laughter runs down the hills, and the small fist

Of the seed unclenches in the day’s dazzle,

How happiness is helpless before your fall,

White water, and history is no more than

The shadows thrown by clouds on mountainsides,

A distant chill, when all is brought to pass

By rain and birth and rising of the dead.

I particularly love “history is no more than/ The shadows thrown by clouds on mountainsides.” So limpid for an image about clouds, so cloudless, so uncomplicated and complex, and such a lesson to learn in times when the shadows seem to hide the mountainsides. This is great stuff; And there was more great stuff at our workshop on Tuesday, including, but not limited to…

Claudia Serea’s poem, “Claudia, listen,” starts in the title with the speaker’s mother’s voice asking the speaker to listen to the sound of a nightingale (introduced by its Romanian name, “privighetoarea”). It’s a brilliant move starting that way because ultimately the poem is about hearing the mother’s voice as much as (or even more than) it is about the nightingale’s song. Interesting, though, the thing that reminds the speaker of her mother’s direction to “listen” is not a nightingale at all, but a branch of a bush “tugging on [her] sleeve”.  The nightingale is gone, and, as Don suggested, the memory of the mother has become the nightingale, as in the myth of Philomel.    

Don Kreiger brought a political poem called “Juneteenth at Carter-Howell-Strong Park”  that was preceded by an italicized explanation that the Juneteenth holiday is a remembrance “of the past and ongoing disgrace that is America.” Having announced its perspective so confrontationally, the poem proper is freighted with its politics as it describes a visit to the eponymous park in Frenchtown neighborhood of Tallahassee, Florida, and that politics is made personal because the speaker tells us he grew up in Tallahassee but never visited Frenchtown as a kid.  Yet, here he is, visiting as a adult who can spend $20 for a hat and $20 more for “a case of coke and a lemon” and then, with or without his burden of soda pop, “[take] a turn round the pond/ shirtless in that Tallahassee sun.” What he finds, perhaps predictably, is a town looking pretty shabby, with “rusty metal roofs,” “an overgrown lot,/ a pickup on flat tires, the driver’s door/ lying on the engine.” The park itself is a more welcoming place, filled with birds on or around a lake, and men on the benches around the lake, men who wave hello to the speaker, and even offer him a beer. So, is this visit to Frenchtown a form of ceremonial penance for a white person performed on the occasion of Juneteenth? If so, how interesting that the poem reenacts the segregation of his youth; his is a visit without any human interactions; though he buys a hat and a case of coke, he speaks to no one. He never even returned the wave to the men on the benches, or responded in any way whatsoever to the man who offered him a beer. This hopeless isolation and separation are reinforced in the last line of the poem, where the speaker cannot even understand the offer of a beer unless it is repeated. The bleakness of this vision of race in America is as unremitting and grim as Clarence Thomas’s.

Frank’s multiverse/poem, “I grew up with my mom’s meatloaf” brings together a vision of fetal development in which ontogeny recapitulates both philogeny and forest life; it is enacted in a natural landscape (a forest) and lives as both a political act (there are different Parties) and a personal narrative (chronic pain). In somewhat the same fashion as Don Kreiger’s “Juneteenth”, Frank’s poem announces its political stakes at the start.  Don’s came as a sort of pre-poem “argument” about a “depraved” America, while Frank’s comes as a footnote to the title, a footnote that quotes in disbelieving wonder from Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and leaving decisions concerning the legality of abortion to the individual States. Frank’s footnote is a straight quote from the opinion of the court, but the fact that it comes as a note to the title “I grew up with my mom’s meatloaf” carries the emotional weight of living in a moment when everything Americans have come to rely on for the last 50 years has been overturned, and in that sense, it’s quite brilliant. The poem never mentions Frank’s mom or meatloaf again, but the point is made, with the added implication that meatloaf is a crazy stand-in or avatar for the bloody, dangerous butchery of illegal abortion to come. The cadence at the end, “Our government has failed” fell too heavy handedly for most of the group, but the density and complexity of Frank’s achievement is pretty awesome.

Tom Benediktsson’s “Grannie’s Revenge” is a free-verse (free-range) narrative about an absurd dinner party with Grannie as the host who has spiked the professor’s food with knock-out drops (a “mickey finn”). The professor, possibly Grannie’s kid, is accompanied by the professor’s graduate assistant dressed up as a chicken.

Some of the finer points of ethics discussed at the dinner and in the poem were out of my ken, but I know a free-for-all when I see one, and this one was entertaining.

Kellie Nicholiades brought “Blood for Gas” , a narrative (narratives are a big big deal in poetry today) which someone in the group described as an ‘essay on giving blood,’ an it certainly was an eye-opening experience that most people have never had, so the information was welcome, but as usual, with Kellie, the joie de vivre is in the voice, the sure-footedness that comes from having one’s facts straight, and the eye to know what we need to know if we want to know about humanity. Check it out.

Brendan McEntee brought “The Tyranny of Aceticism” a poem that spoke about stripping all of the life’s indulgences away through the metaphor of a house that is disassembled to leave an empty pit where the foundation was, and a person employed to take on the sins of others standing where a birdbath should be. This be some cold shit.

Shane Wagner’s “Your Touch” was a beautiful poem about needing and accepting help from an intimate. Set in couplets (like so many of our poems tonight), the poem begins, “When I was spiraling/ I was afraid to ask for help.”  What I love love loved about the poem was that it doesn’t really try to explain what “spiraling” is except to say that it involves the inner rehearsal of the past that accompanies sleeplessness. And to this, the intimate brings an intimacy of legs and arms and bellies that “holds” the speaker “in place,” and help him to “slow.” The bare bones of the situation are so elegantly handled. The ending, when the intimate falls asleep, and the spiraling continues is only a little wry.  The surcease was crucial and welcome.

Howard Prosnitz is back with another Fishman poem. The last one was about camp life in Nazi Germany; this one, in seven rhymed couplets, in the 3rd person, is called “Fishman in Love” and is ostensibly or nominally, about love, however Fishman’s love is not very emotional; it has a bandy-legged, arms-length satirical, even snide, talking out of the side of your mouth feel, right from the start: “Late in the afternoon/ Fishman visits the moon./ Not alone in the dust/ A girlfish answers his lust.” Tom found its energy attractive.  I was left wondering what was at stake for the speaker. The poem reminded me of a misogynistic remark my father made about boy/girl relationships when I was a teen: “Platonic? Yeah, “play” for me; “tonic” for her.” I still cringe when I remember it.

Tracy Tong’s “Revlon Toast of New York (325) Never Discontinued” was an ode to a shade of lipstick full of love, nostalgia and great lipstick names: Burnt Toast, Strawberry Jam, August Romance, Love Potion and Cherry Bomb.  Cheers!

Nick’s poem “Sestina reworked Prompt1” was no sestina, but a powerful free verse anti lynching poem, in which the soul of a lynched person is sent back to live its life and “tell the world that you still had work to do” and that “we” the managers of the afterlife “reject their offering.” The ending is bold and emotional:  “Go home and live oh mighty soul/ Go the Fuck home and live!”

Carole Stone brought a light narrative verse arranged in tercets in the voice of a grandmother attending a granddaughter’s piano recital and going out with the family for Chinese food afterwards. It turns out the kids can use chopsticks but grandma can’t, so she goes for the fork. Though we love specific details, they need to advance the poem to earn their place, and for me, granular details like the name of the restaurant, San Tung Restaurant, and the name of the opera from which aria the granddaughter played, had come, “Die Meistersinger,” seemed to add unnecessary weight without enlivening the anecdote.

Come back next Tuesday, and we’ll do it all over, and don’t forget to come to the LIVE RWB reading on 6/7 at the Little Theatre at Felician University in Rutherford at 7 pm. It’s gonna be great! 

—Arthur Russell

Field Notes, Week of 06-14-22

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of June 14, 2022

The workshop is here so a poet can present a poem to their peers and get to hear what those peers think (1) what the poem wants to be, (2) how the poem goes about becoming what it wants to be and (3) how the poem is doing on that journey. There’s praise for what’s made an impression and “shakes” (or suggestions) for things that may not be working. 

In this conception, the poet doesn’t participate during the discussion. They’re Tom Sawyer at their own funeral, but at the end we open the discussion to questions from the poet, such as “I was trying to imitate Robert Frost’s The Road Less Travelled; did that come across?” Or, “What did you mean when you said my reference to the War of 1812 ‘took you out of’ the poem?” Or, “I’m a little concerned that the poem is too personal, to self involved; did anyone feel that way? Or, “What about the title? No one said anything about the title.  Does the title work?”

We don’t encourage the poet’s advocacy on behalf of the poem or explanation from the poet because those things don’t benefit the poet; sometimes when the poet talks about the backdrop to the poem, or the circumstances it was meant to address, we just say: “oh, that would be good, put it in the poem” because the poem is the poet’s ambassador to the world, and the poet doesn’t generally get to accompany the poem out into the world providing an introduction or post script (although it was pretty common in Milton’s time to have an “argument” before the poem, and I’ve always been charmed by fiction with ‘in which’ headings as in “Chapter 17, in which Tom eats a snake.”

We had a searingly good workshop on Tuesday, charred on the outside, rare on the inside. 

Brendan McEntee brought “At Sunken Meadow.” Poems that start with a place name are great because they give the reader a little ground to stand on, but they still don’t limit what the poem can do.  They suggest an openness to what the poet noticed, and Brendan’s poem was like that, about the speaker standing on the beach throwing rocks, noticing a gull, noticing the clouds, noticing two boys walking by “carrying a bucket awkwardly between them” and picking up a fragment of their conversation, which may or may not be significant before “the rest of their conversation is lost to the waves.”  Brendan does that very well.

Don Zirilli’s poem was “Fool Me Twice” and it was a difficult formal poem, a sestina, which uses the last word in each line of six, six line stanzas where the last word appears in a different prescribed sequence. The seventh and final 3-line stanza features all six of the end words in medial and line end positions for a saturated burst of whatever the poet was getting at (think last minute of a fireworks display). The form is immensely difficult, primarily because of the challenge of making the repetitions interesting, but also because Don has chosen to present his sestina in the form of iambic pentameter. Don’s poem’s six end words were “twice” “oath” “know” “time” “fool” and “heart.” What struck me about the poem was how the first stanza has an almost metaphor free-statement of the poem’s theme – how we humans fool ourselves, particularly when it comes to marriage, when it comes to knowing ourselves or others. As the poem moves on, it becomes more allusive and more reliant on metaphor, personification of the elements, and becomes less plain spoken.  This can be delightful, but it can also make the poem more elusive.

Howard Prosnitz’s “THE L-SHAPED ROOM” presents as a first person narration, with the eponymous L-shaped room as its topic. But this L-shaped room is a metaphor for the difficulties quotidian and existential of fitting into and being comfortable with living.

Susanna Lee’s “Steel Rains” comes hard after the tragedies of war, first anchored in references to the Ukraine war, and then in relation to gun violence in the US. The poem has a strong iambic bounce, some strong iambic pentameters (e.g. “Upon the baby’s cheek, the mother’s tears,” and “they’d bring to murder him, his kith and kin”) but varies line lengths and moves away from meter entirely with lines like “lips and kisses” or “Never surrender!”  Another noticeable feature of the poem is its irregular use of rhyme, such as “Courage, bravery, all that’s good./ A fighter earns the right to fatherhood.” We talked about how the poem creates expectations with regard to matters like meter and rhyme, and how the savvy reader will notice changes and expect them to be significant. 

My poem “There Are People Who Lack Decent Housing” joined Don’s and Susanna’s this week as poems that used iambic pentameter; mine was a blank verse (non-rhyming iambic pentameter lines) essay on the persistence of class divisions and the limitations of empathy when the world is seen from a partially self-aware position of privilege. 

Tom Benediktsson’s poem “Who You Talkin’ to In There” starts out as a kind of philosophical or possibly epistemological discussion about sources of authority in “our tradition,” a discussion among the speaker, and “Daniel” “Mark” and “Janelle” who may be in a class in which the speaker is the teacher or may not.  Midway through the poem, the discussion becomes a groan-worthy tale about how someone named Harvey boiled a chicken down to its bones which he then reassembled to a chicken skeleton with wire for a science project in the eighth grade.  It was grotesque and funny, but what interested me was (1) how it raised the question of poetic authority: “In our tradition the inner voice is god.” This is a direct invocation of the Romantic norm which replaced the Enlightenment norm of verifiable fact with allegiance to subjectivity.  That’s the artistic world we live in to this day, where identity is a font of authority.  In a way, this was the same subject I tackled in “There Are People Who Lack Decent Housing” which follows this declarative by immediately declining to be a member of the group: “I am not one of them.”  Maybe this is a new “old farts poetics.”

Claudia Serea’s “Veined hands reach into my dream” is a poem that uses the eponymous hands in the eponymous dream to draw together elements of the speaker’s life, attachment to their parents, their overseas past, their gardening present and a sense of  the nearness of death.

John J. Trause’s “Lemon Yellow Limoncello” was a concrete sonnet based on a 14-times repeated four beat iambic line with an internal half rhyme between “lemon yellow” and “limoncello” made concrete or “chromatic” by having all of the lines highlighted in computer yellow. The last line breaks down visually to what might be the stem of an upside down (i.e. empty?) Limoncello bottle or an emblem for fractured sense, or possibly, a visible musical symbol for retard or slowing down, to bring an end to the chant that has gone on for the thirteen previous lines.  Brilliant stuff.

Jen Poteet’s “Church Street” is an ode to the speaker’s mother, a regular fixture on a particular street in Montclair, a woman who knew everyone (and their dog) and was known by everyone (and their dog, for whom she carried treats in her “enormous purse.” 

I have to apologize to Carole Stone. She sent her poem “Au Clair de Lune” by email, and we discussed it, but I can’t find it on my computer, so please forgive me.

Thanks again to everyone: we had more poems than we could get to, and we’ll keep chugging along next week. See you then.

—Arthur Russell

Field Notes, Week of 06-07-22

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of June 7, 2022

We had a chockablock workshop on Tuesday, 10 poems in two hours and great conversations. The workshop works best when we spend a lot of our time digging into what the poem “WANTS” to do and “HOW” the poem goes about its work, WHETHER and HOW it is succeeding and failing with considerations of the syntax, metrical features, allusions, rhyme or no rhyme, how metaphors are employed, and only secondarily considering editorial changes to the poem.  Why?  Well too many reasons. When we edit before we know what the poem WANTS, we are more likely to be making the poem into one that “WE” would have written rather than attending to what the POET has written. Also, though we/you/I may take for granted that we know what the poem is doing, and how it is doing it, we really get to talk about POETRY when we talk about what we see going on structurally and sharing that becomes and broadens our understanding of what poems do, where editing elides that process. And on Tuesday, it was all going pretty well! 

Jen Poteet’s poem, “What Comes Back” starts out as an innocuous list poem of things that repeat on you, like boomerangs and black eyed susans  (though she leaves out salami). But about halfway through, it reveals a curious residue of the speaker’s mother, the smell of perfume that resides, abides, and persists in certain inherited linen shirts.  There’s a lot of heat in that recognition, and maybe the poem was always headed towards this particular call-back; at least it felt that way to one or two of the members of the venire.  It’s a curious dilemma: lists have a way of leading to tangents and those tangents can lead to the truest of surprises, but, as Frost said, “no surprise for the poet, no surprise for the reader.” A preordained conclusion can deprive what comes before it of its honest significance.  We want to know more about those linen shirts, more about the mourning molecules of sandalwood and oolong migrating from the interstices of the linen’s warp and weft, into the tuneful nostrils of the lyric speaker!

Claudia Serea’s “When she’s off to college” starts out as an amorous take on the empty nest syndrome: “When she’s off to college … the way you lean against the sink … and we can watch the dusk fall,” but then it gets slightly tangled in a metaphor (who hasn’t had that happen?) of a certain pink and peach light turning on and off as a lighthouse signal. The point seems elusive, but it may be about the couple finding their way back to the source of their love (now that the beloved brat is gone). Anyway, with CS, we’re almost certainly going to see this again, because she takes NOTES! 

, “Love Poem Re Teachers (Part I)” is a first step in a blank verse essay about the way loving teachers is central to character formation. Frank (the intellectual) loved the subject, and the way it divides different kinds of love. He said it was “unassailable” referring to the concrete memories associated with teacher love.  Janet liked the references to “mimeographed” pages and “embossed” birth notices. Jen liked Mrs. Rice’s “iron grip and angry nose.”  Speaking of noses Carole sniffed a bit when she asked if this was anything more than “Sentimental Education,” to which Frank replied that the “material is so sticky” and Brendan thought that “the desire to please and being allowed by teachers to please them was love. My main question for the group was whether this poem could tolerate being extended, and Brenden was quick to say: “bring yourself into the poem more” and it can work.

Frank’s six-pager called “The Clover” ends with “and now you know a little about me,” which felt like a real New York School of poetry ending, though also a bit of a ribbon around a bouquet of diverse flowers, worries about the speaker’s daughter’s mental/emotional health, the comforts of marriage, intergenerational personality formation at the hands of parents, and suburban life; in other words, Frank’s usual jams, but here presented in six separate poems not obviously connected and set in different dictional registers. For instance, the first line of the first poem, “There seems to be less connectivity between the amygdala and the frontal cortex” used medical diction that appeared emotionally distanced to me, though Don found it direct and emotional. There’s a fundamental feature of Frank’s work that I call the Roger Sessions attitude.  Sessions was a modern classical music composer. In an interview I heard long ago, when asked about the inaccessibility of some of his music, he said (and I’m super paraphrasing). I am here. I am accessible. The listener needs to come to me and will be richly rewarded, but I will not come to them. One thing I felt as a subtle but purposeful part of this poem was the title, “The Clover” a reference to the ribbits who jump over the clover outside the speaker’s house, “playing, but also maybe horny,” and is also a reference to “being in clover” or having it good. I think the poem could rely on that title even more.

Don Zirilli’s “Weeding” is a free verse in two balanced stanzas of ten lines each, and it examines the whole notion of ‘weeds’ and our human relation to them, which is why I loved the first line: “I call them weeds. I don’t know what they are.” And these weeds become a powerful agent/metaphor for our human relationship to our companions on this here earth. “Popping them out saddens/ and satisfies me,” he says near the end of Stanza One. Stanza Two continues in much the same way, but connects weeding to the speaker’s personal life “my world/ with work and worry, bouts of attention…” and the wonderment as to whether “what I do is any use.” Carole saw the imagery of the second stanza as turning to a very dark place, employing words like “chaos” and “trail of destruction” but I never saw the turn that way. Rather it seemed an event tempered look at the margins of quotidian suburban life.

Ana Doina’s poem “What was his name?”—a retelling of an oral history story told in sporadic blank verse—about a war, perhaps WWI and “a sailor gone overboard”. The group found the narration lively, aided by the distillation of blank verse. I’d love to see it all rendered as blank verse.

Howard Prosnitz brought a poem called “Three Songs From a Play” which, as Frank pointed out, appearing outside ot the context of their “play,” were difficult to contextualize. 

Brendan McEntee’s “Building 93”, is a touristy kind of poem about a very untouristy place, an abandoned mental institution. The title starkly refers to a building at one such place, and the poem seems knowledgeable about the “great patient release” that took place when New York’s mental institutions were more or less emptied out, leading, far down the line, some would argue, to the homeless population of people in need of some support our city faces now. The poem relies on physical description to underline concepts of abandonment and lack of care.

But by far the most intriguing line is the one that connects back to Brendan’s comment about my Teacher poem. The line says “Like love, the vandals and the weather/ left disfigurement in their wake.”  That line brings the speaker into the poem in an ambiguous but intriguing way, mirroring the comment Brendan made about “Teachers.”

Carole’s “Chamber Music Concert” describes the view of the eponymous musical event from outside a church, and suggests a connection to the music heard while looking in through the window, akin to “a second language” and ends with the vision of the violin’s bow coming down “without pity.” The group appreciated the evocation of “grey-haired women, streaked blondes,/ in long tunics and loose pants” and the “director, slim as a pencil / in her long red evening dress”, but puzzled over this poem, the possible significance of the Schubert Quintet to which it refers, the meaning of “second language” and the  pitiless descent of the bow. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this one again, too!

The invitations to submit to RWB 15 went out yesterday. Find it and do it. We can’t wait to read your stuff.

—Arthur Russell

Field Notes, Week of 05-24-22

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of May 24, 2022

What a great workshop. 10 poems in two hours. The only thing missing from the Zoom-iverse—and sometimes you really miss it—is going out for drinks after the intense conversations, and the sudden aloneness when the meeting ends, and you don’t even get to walk out into the Rutherfordian night and walk one another to one another’s cars.  Yet, we persist.

Yana Kane’s “Hive Hymn” about bees, is a concrete poem; it’s shape on the page was intended to echo the subject matter of the poem, in this case, beehives.  Though none of us saw the hives in these word mounds (or Aztec pyramids), Don saw the shape as a callback to George Herbert, the 17th Century English metaphysical poet’s “Easter Wings”,  I was reminded of some of Dylan Thomas’s “Vision and Prayer.”  But the poem is more than a concrete poem; it’s a poem in praise of the “hive mind” as well as the “honey and wax” that they produce.  The sense that emerges is that the bees have got it right, and we would do well to notice the magic of their lives.  With bee populations all over the world under threat of collapse from environmental degradation and climate change, the poem also serves a political purpose, a purpose that is somewhat obscured by the prayer in the final lines: “May our roses merit visitations by the winged messengers,/ May our strawberry blossoms find favor in their faceted eyes.”.  Actually there was never any doubt that the roses and strawberries were worthy.  The problem, once again, is with the humans.

Howard Prosnitz brought “WASP,” a poem that starts with an epigraph quotation from Milton’s Paradise Lost about the exile from Eden, and more specifically, Satan’s exile from Heaven, which preceded it. Howard finds an objective correlative for Milton’s “new created world” in the fate of a wasp trapped between a window screen and window. The poem is arranged in one word lines, and the slender verticality of it appears to be a concrete representation of the narrow strait in which the wasp finds itself. There’s also a lovely pair of near homonyms—“screen” sounds like “scream” and “pane” sounds like “pain”—that really deepen the connection between the wasp and Satan—and so interesting too to hear waspishness and Satan conflated that way. 

Carole Stone (WHO WILL BE THE FEATURED READER AT THE RED WHEELBARROW READING FOR JUNE 1, THIS WEDNESDAY, SO COME – WE’RE GOING BACK TO ZOOM THIS MONTH BUT HOPE TO BE BACK IN THE LITTLE THEATRE AT FELICIAN UNIVERSITY IN JULY) brought a rewrite of a poem called “No Happy Ruins” in which she imagines the pain and suffering of the people trapped in the war in Ukraine.  The poem is in four parts, which come at the war from several angles – the present suffering in Ukraine, the recognition that our lives are not nearly as burdened, a longer view where the long-term cost of the war is contemplated, and a final surprising section that presents the sun as a “Pallbearer, immune to grief.” and, a few lines later, as the bringer of cherry blossoms. Finally, the poem ends on two domestic images, one of NYC seen from the heights of Eagle Rock, and one of daylight falling on the speaker’s arm:

                         The look

of the distant city

seen from Eagle Rock. 

The daylight

pulsing down my arm.

I wonder if these pure images are a distillation of the fluctuating emotions of the poem or an escape from them?

Janet Kolstein’s poem, “We Who Breathe” (not in the package) is about a funeral, or as Don said “it examines the experience of being at a funeral.”  It talks a little about the setting, notices the “rabbi’s cadenced voice”, “the widow’s muffled sobs”  and joins in the metaphysical appreciation of the mystery of death from a not-too-involved point of view.  What I loved about the poem was how easily and comfortably it inhabited the role of relative: “At the gravesite,/ green, with late-spring chirping,/ we took the spade/ and sprinkled mica-flecked earth/ on the lowered casket: your spirit?” The way the metaphysical question lives in the same sentence as the burial, separated only by a semi-colon is emblematic of the way this poem lives, moves, sits and carries on.  In fact, the last line –“The line of cars removes again” is a reference to the way that funerals proceed, with the mourners driving from the chapel to the gravesite and then onward to the shiva.  In other words, life goes on.

David Briggs brought a poem called “Resonance.”  It’s a lyric poem that takes place in a supermarket in which the items for sale and the sounds of the place make the sense, act on the speaker.  There’s a role reversal: “The smell of Columbian roast/ percolates my mask”.  There’s absurdism: “The price of honeycrisps/ seeps under my eyelids.”  There’s animism: the voice of a “big talker” placing bets on a football game “unnerves the beef jerky.” Throughout, the rhetoric of the poem provides the emotional spine: “Doesn’t anyone want to finger the dimples / of Ritz crackers?” has a surefooted sense of loss.  And an alphabet soup can is a surrogate for a time when writing came more easily.  Finally, the speaker tries to reassert hope: “I’ll try to take up the task again,” he says.  “I’ll try to whisper fizz into the sodacans, so you can/ hear my sigh each time you crack one open.”   Great work, David!

Susanna Lee’s poem, “Where I’m From, Politically” tells a family story about an ancestor who acted nobly and humanely to an enemy soldier during WWI (at least the trenches make you think so). Everyone loved the title, which I recognized as a prompt from the Brevitas group, and one that had been fructifying for me too.  Frank noted that the poem had a longish setup, getting the genealogy right.  But even with the orientation set, the story of the ancestor’s decency (comforting the enemy soldier and setting his leg with a rifle for a splint) lacked a real connection to the occasion of its telling.

Don Zirilli’s “Grace, Faith” had a far flung lyricism that required the group to propose theories that would explain it all.  Grace is a state of being that comes from down from god, while faith is a human attribute that travels in the opposite direction.  I personally opted for Grace as the prayer at the start of a meal and saw the contents of the poem as conversations during dinner.  But I really loved the first stanza for its swift acceleration from what appears to be current events — “Dad tells me Notre Dame/ is on file” – directly to a son’s deep knowledge of his father — “his wry smile/ gone forever.”  And just as Janet’s poem was about the experience of being at a funeral, Don’s was about the experience of being at dinner.  His speaker hears, and reports, and waits for his head to be still, and when “Dinner ends” he hasn’t “asked a single question.”   I get the grace; and in a different, patient way, I also get the faith.

Then there was Brendan McEntees poem “Never Save the Drowning Man” which was about the experience of learning to disengage. It posits two test cases for leaving not-so-well-enough alone: the drowning man who returns to the ocean and the burning woman who likes to burn. The central syllogism of the poem conveys the futility of intervention:  “And by save I mean “try to” save./ And by “try to” I mean fail.” Brendan’s poem, like Carole Stone’s end with two sentences that either distill or abandon the project:

Now I watch the horizon – his hand disappears.

Now I watch her embers swirl to the sky.

Raymond Turco’s poem, “I Met a Man Today” engages self-consciously in the oldest story-telling strategy, the one we see in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, where the wedding guest meets the ancient mariner and forwards his strange tale to us; or the one we see it in Shelley’s Ozymandias (“I met a traveler from an antique land”), where the traveler tells of a ruined colossal statue in the desert; the strategy of putting the wondrous tale into the mouth of another:  

I met a man today

who told me

he never learned to be alone…

And what’s the effect of this act of deferral? This act of hearsay?  This act of ‘story laundering?’  — On one level it enhances the credibility of the speaker.  He’s not saying, as in Shelly, that there was a ruined statue of a great king in a desert; he’s only saying he heard of such a thing; he’s only vouching for the truth of the report, not the truth of the underlying tale; and yet this distancing gesture frees the listener to enjoy the story as story, pushes it into the realm of myth or fable, makes an emblem of it.  In Raymond’s poem, the story of that the poet brings to our attention is not a story of a monstrous run of bad luck (Ancient Mariner) or the monkey Time makes of men (Ozymandias), but the simple emotional handicap of never having learned to be alone.  That structural incongruity (big frame/little truth) is reinforced (or strategically undermined) with a set of paradoxes or oxymorons: (1) the “man” who never learned to be alone was “an only child who slept/ in his brother’s bed;” (2) his suffering took place in “vociferous silence”; and (3) he played a game of “see-saw for one.” – And these oxymorons become the “wonders” that the poet/speaker presents through the tale of the man he met. This strategy of successive oxymorons is used to comic effect in Tyler Rager’s  “Two Dead Boys”  (“One bright day in the middle of the night/ Two dead boys got up to fight. Back to back they faced each other,/ Drew their swords and shot each other.”) But Raymond is using this strategy to convey the sorrow, frustration and dread that attend a self-involved existence. The combination of these two strategies (hearsay report and oxymorons) makes me wonder if the “man” that the poet “met” is really a surrogate for speaker, as in all of those “I’m asking for a friend” stories. 

I love all of these poems, and I loved the conversation they prompted. Enjoy the last week or so without mosquitoes!

—Arthur Russell

%d bloggers like this: