Monday, January 29, 2024

National Book Critics Circle Announces Poetry Finalists

The award for best book of poetry published in 2023 will be selected from this short list, March, 2024 in NYC:

Saskia HamiltonAll Souls (Graywolf Press)

Kim HyesoonPhantom Pain Wings, translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions)

Romeo OriogunThe Gathering of Bastards (University of Nebraska Press)

Robyn SchiffInformation Desk (Penguin Books)

Charif ShanahanTrace Evidence (Tin House)

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Examining Life: Denise Low Interviews Robert Stewart

Higher: PoemsPoetry Press of Press Americana, 2023 Prize Americana, $15.00

I have known Bob Stewart as a friend and extraordinary editor for years. I admire his precision and store of knowledge about poetics, apparent in his editorial expertise during his tenure with New Letters and in his new book, Higher: Poems, winner of Prize Americana, which has precision in its execution and heart in its content. Stewart balances between narrative and song as he creates ballads about moments of heroism in everyday life. These are nourishing, sustaining poems, like this:

Stopping in the Road for a Turtle by Robert Stewart

Don’t hiss at me. Andre Dubus

rescued that brother and sister

on a highway in Haverville, so let me

here on 55th Street in Crestwood,

6:20 a.m., stop and help you over

to the shrubs.

                        Box turtles I had

as a kid seemed mostly interior,

but you—neck out, jaw wrenching

like an opera singer’s—have less


                        than serpent;

how heroic of us both, then,

with the pace of such progress,

to trust the car-full universe, when all

Andre Dubus meant to do was act

according to his nature, tough guy.

                        It crippled him

on that road, father of many

characters, and each always seemed

stranded outside a bar, or even home,

listening to some grieving soprano

on the radio. Sing, then turtle, hiss

                        your given voice.   (89)

 Denise Low: First, congratulations on winning the Prize Americana for this new book! In its offerings, I notice some folder poems as well as recent. How did you put this collection together?

Robert Stewart: The poems in Higher tend toward a public voice, I believe. I have been concerned lately with the presence in my writing of generativity, as Erik Erikson termed concern for future generations. That is my hope for the book, in any case. Some of what seem to be older poems in Higher might have just been percolating in my brain for years upon years and could be fairly recent. Others are older but did not fit previous books. Before my previous book Working Class (2018), I had not had a full-length book of poems for 30 years, even though I published essays and poems in journals. I can still hear my friend and mentor David Ray say, “These things [poems and stories] don’t go out of date.”  I subscribe to that principle.

My process is simply to keep writing and trust the process. “The good stuff and the bad stuff,” Marvin Bell has said, “are all part of the stuff.”  I looked at what I thought was the good stuff and began to think I had a book on my hands; so, as one does with poems, I tried to conceive of an order for them. That process is mysterious, even spooky to me; but once I got the first two or three lined up, I was on my way.

Denise Low: Titles of your other books of poetry are also simple, such as Working Class (Stephen Austin, 2017) and Plumbers (BkMk, 1988, 2nd edition 2017). What significance do you intend with the title? And I find a pun, “hire,” for Higher, which ties in with the previous two titles.

Robert Stewart: I confessed recently (joked) to an audience that I didn’t realize I’d have to spell the book title Higher every time I spoke in public. I have tried to keep titles fairly clean in general, and a little slant. Many poetry book titles seem to me kind of pretentious. I won’t quote them here, but poetry book titles sometimes make me think of an essay by Robert Hass, where he was being self-critical of an image he’d created; he imagined what the master Basho would say of him: “Hass, you have a weakness for trying to say something unusual.” 

When the book came out, the poet Albert Goldbarth wrote to welcome me into the club of one-word book titles—with his Selfish and others—but, as you note, I already had another book with a one-word title, Plumbers. The manuscript of that book originally was called What It Takes to Be a Plumber. The editor and poet Dan Jaffe talked me out of it, saying it was too wordy. I told a group of friends at a party hosted by Gloria Vando and Bill Hickok that I could not come up with a less wordy title for that book; then David Ray spoke up and said, “Why don’t you just call it Plumbers?”  Perfect. I learned that simplicity can be illusive.

I chose Higher as a title because I was struck by the concept of aspiration, and, indeed, the book includes a fair number of calls to elevation—which does not mean to avert our eyes from reality; it means the opposite. My practice to seek some ascendant chord is really a structural necessity, I think. A good poem won’t strike just one note. It offers the reader contrast, tension, and fuller experience. I’m not saying that my poems do all that, but that’s the hope.

 Denise Low: You reference Christian spiritual practice directly and indirectly in these poems—brave in a time when religious affiliation is not usually addressed in contemporary poetry, which is mostly secular. I’m thinking of “Dog in Church,” “Piranha, Christmas Day,” “Late for Mass,” and the opening poem of the book, “In the Back Pews on Easter at St. Ann’s in Prairie Village, & Simultaneously St. Elizabeth’s in Waldo, St. Frances & Doubtless Our Lady of Sorrows, Midtown.” This last, which begins, “Babies being carried out to howl / in the lobby…,” reminds me of my childhood stints in pews of the Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas. Babies were always squalling in the vestibule as a background accompaniment to the choir and sermon, and I wondered what that signified. Anyway, what choices are you making when you include this aspect of your life?

Robert Stewart: I once felt sheepish about using religious references in my poems, partly because I don’t see myself as devout or clear-headed. However, I try to live in wonder. The Catholic tradition has been integral to my life, and I am, therefore, both respectful of that tradition and angry toward it when the Church fails. In one poem, for example, I expect the priest “to apologize to us all.”  In the poem you mention about babies in church, I try to turn what had been an annoyance—babies screaming during Mass—into what I think is something playful and sacred. These things exist, and I am sustained by some truly great writers who write about religious practice, such as Brian Doyle, Mary Gordon, Sharon Olds, Marilynne Robinson, Marie Ponsot. I am just now reading essays by Czeslaw Milosz, as he examines his own life as a Catholic. I am not alone. The key word there is to “examine.”  I tend to eschew ideologies, but many of my “higher” values have been shaped by a religious education.

 Denise Low: I appreciate the authenticity of your writing and its integrity, seen in a poem like “My Father’s Haunt,” where you go into your father’s old bar in St. Louis. The familiar repartee with “men in overalls” shows your comfort with working class background. My own father wore overalls to work on the railroad, so this struck a note. Thank you for your honesty. How has this background affected your writing?

Robert Stewart: My grandfather was a plumber. My father was a plumber and later an executive in the plumbers and pipefitters union. One of my brothers and a nephew still work with the tools. I worked, as well, as a ditch digger and in the sewers of St. Louis, so I do feel at home with those working people. Moreover, what they do is profoundly honorable, in my view. When my first book, Plumber, came out, I left a stack of about ten with my father, who lived across state from me in St. Louis. The next time I visited, he said to bring more copies. “What are you doing with them?” I asked. He was taking them to the union hall and selling them. I have to say, I felt incredibly moved by that. One never gets over certain early experiences. Just this September 2023, I published an essay called “The Hole” in Italian Americana (I am the grandson of Sicilian Immigrants), which is about my work in manholes, excavations, ditches, and other forms of going down into the earth, its dangers and culture.            You asked earlier about titles, and I will add the two-word title of my 2018 book of poems, Working Class. That kind of generality normally would put me off; but I had played around with other titles, all fancy poetic images, cute, clever, and I decided, no; I want to just say something direct in the title and let the poems complicate the matter. That’s also what I hope for Higher.

 Denise Low: Anything else you would like to add?

Robert Stewart: A young woman student once asked Maxine Kumin how Kumin could tell if a student had potential to succeed as a poet. What do you look for? the student asked. Kumin answered, without hesitation, “Does she or he like to to play with words," Kumin answered, without hesitation. I happened to be present for the exchange, and I never forgot it. I included a coda to Higher, which is a quote from William Blake, “Energy is eternal delight.”  One of my criteria to measure how a poem would hold up includes how the language kind of dances, despite the seriousness of the content.

Denise Low: Bob, thank you for affirming here and in your new book how Socrates’ statement is true eternally: The unexamined life is not worth living.

 Robert Stewart is the former editor of New Letters magazine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he was also editor of New Letters on the Air, a nationally syndicated literary radio program, and BkMk Press. At UMKC he taught poetry writing, magazine writing, and magazine editing. His books of essays include Outside Language (finalist for a PEN America award) and The Narrow Gate: Writing, Art & Values.   He has won a National Magazine Award for Editorial Achievement in the Essay category, from the American Society of Magazine Editors. His books include  Plumbers (poems, BkMk Press), and others. Poems have appeared in Denver Quarterly, The Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Mangrove, Stand, Notre Dame Review, The Literary Review and other magazines. Anthology editorships include Spud Songs: An Anthology of Potato Poems (with Gloria Vando, benefit for hunger relief), and Decade: Modern American Poets (with Trish Reeves) and Voices From the Interior. He also is co-editor of the collection New American Essays (with Conger Beasley Jr., New Letters/BkMk Press)

Interview and reading from New Letters On the Air, audio.

Three poems from Higher published in The Montreal Review

BOOK DESCRIPTION OF HIGHER: POEMS: “The poems in Higher are at once direct and resonant, celebratory of the natural world and of spiritual aspirations. Rising from a working-class, blue-collar sensibility, these pieces range from a short work about using a sledgehammer on a street crew to a multi-part longer work about animals in changing nature. These lyric poems include subtle metrics and enough narrative to drive events, often with elegiac references to a military vet friend, a brother, a Sicilian grandmother, and literary heroes. Their focus ultimately returns to hope and care for children, often with no small amount of humor. This collection – from the winner of a National Magazine Award and Prize Americana – attests to our ability to pay attention, to detail what we see and what we hear, and, as such, aspire to joy.”

Monday, July 3, 2023

Michael Harty Publishes TWENTY STORIES: POEMS about a Tall Texas Building and More!

Michael Harty
is a successful Kansas City area poet with roots in Lubbock, Texas. His new Twenty Stories: Poems centers on the tallest building in Lubbock, twenty-stories high. The pun on stories as heights and as narratives works well in the collection. I also grew up in a town with one tall building, a singular vertical in a flat grasslands town. In Emporia, Kansas, it was the Broadview Tower. In William Stafford’s Kansas, it was the building where the “elevator man” Gideon worked. Because of the large scale, there is a cinematic quality that reminds me of Muriel Rukeyser’s work. The visual point of view shifts around as well as the narration, the social contexts, and the natural environment. The poems are well written, accessible yet complicated by undercurrents, irony, and recurring themes.

Denise Low: First, congratulations on this original, provocative book! What is your background as a poet? I know  you win sonnet contests and publish regularly. What has been your way into this practice?

Mike Harty:
  I always had writerly ambitions, but I gave up my undergraduate English major when I started thinking seriously about how I was going to earn a living. Psychology was a good choice for me, but I did continue to dabble in more creative writing alongside my clinical practice and some writing for professional journals. A turning point came when I wrote a memorial poem for my mother-in-law, a dear person; people were touched by that poem and encouraged me to do more. That encouragement helped me to get past my reluctance to “come out” as a poet, and I started to write more consistently, attend workshops and classes, and submit to journals. (As you know, classes I took with you were an important part of the process.) It’s true that the sonnet form has an appeal for me, and that sonnet competitions are a place where I’ve had some success. I like the challenge of combining expressiveness with concision, which all poetry requires but which in a sonnet needs to be contained within a (more or less) fixed structure. The poems in Twenty Stories, though, are very different from that, with what seems to me a more rambling, narrative quality.

Denise Low: When I read Twenty Stories, I think of William Stafford’s “Serving with Gideon,” the poem where the “elevator man" must drink from a paper cup and where “old boys who ran the town” were generous to their own kind. He miniaturizes the small-town culture with a few images, and you miniaturize the scale of Lubbock, Texas by taking readers to a twenty-story-high view of the town. Was Stafford ever an influence on you? Who are some other influences?

Mike Harty: Stafford is one of the poets I most admire, for what seems to me his marvelously inventive language that still remains grounded in real life. I will insert here a sonnet I wrote about him.

On Reading William Stafford’s Collection by Michael Harty

The cover opens like a neighbor’s door;

you welcome me, and speak to me in tones

both generous and kind. A voice like home,

yet wise, prophetic almost; you abhor

pretension, yet you touch the very core

of human secrets, poem after poem.

You write of small-town parks, of nights alone,

walks by the river; boots your father wore,

farm animals and trees – a vision wide

as prairie, yet returning in the end

to ordinary life, the shifting tides

that hold and toss us all. The words you’ve penned

are like a voice from someone at my side:

“See, this is how things are. Join me, my friend.”


It’s hard to identify specific influences beyond just mentioning poets I’ve admired at different times: Frost, W.S. Merwin, Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Manning, plenty of others. I think also growing up in the presence of the King James Bible has had a lasting influence, via the majesty of its language and its connection with the most important questions. And rock-and-roll is in there too, the sense of liberation through sound and rhythm.

Denise Low:  Wonderful poem—you capture his tone and settings so well, and your simple and effective, “…yet returning in the end / to ordinary life, the shifting tides / that hold and toss us all.” Exactly. In your poems, I love the narratives you create in your poems, yet they are still lyrical. In your opinion, why are these poems and not short stories or flash fiction?

Mike Harty: I’m glad you find the poems lyrical, as I usually feel I work to make them that way; my revising process often seems to move from something more prosy and expository to (hopefully) something more evocative and layered. I’m not at all sure of the dividing line between, say, prose poem and flash fiction: I think of the poem more in terms of the illumination of a brief moment and the fiction as having more of a timeline and a story arc, but I also think that doesn’t really hold, even in my own poems. Maybe the reliance on images versus description is another point of difference, but again far from absolute. Probably the truth is that the substance of many poems would be suitable as well for a short (even long) fiction; I think in this book that’s true of the poems about the shoeshine man and the bootlegger, for example.

Denise Low: Boundaries of genres are shifting, indeed, and I think you clarify the difference between prose poems and flash fiction well. Story is implicit in any poem, more submerged in the 21st century maybe than any other time in history. You work as a psychoanalyst, where you must hear many stories. Who are your influences in that field? Jung? And how has that work fed your creative writings?

Mike Harty: I recently looked through my accumulated poems with the question in mind of which ones visibly drew on my psychoanalytic work. I found surprisingly few. Occasionally there was a character, or a situation drawn from that experience, but I came away thinking the main influence was something less obvious but more pervasive, more in the nature of a habit of mind or an outlook on life. It has to do with recognizing complexity (especially in people’s motives), resisting quick answers, being willing to face unpleasant truths without giving in to pessimism, finding beauty without denying ugliness. Those are the aspirations, anyhow. As a psychoanalyst I’ve never been much of a Jungian, as I tend to shy away from approaches that seem overly mystical. I have, however, moved away from the more strictly Freudian orientation of my early career into what would be called a more “object-relational” approach. Probably the theorist I’ve found most influential is Donald Winnicott, a British analyst who started out as a pediatrician and had a lot of fruitful ideas about mothers and babies.

Denise Low: What are you working on next? What are some upcoming publications? Where can readers find your videos or audio readings online?

Mike Harty: I do have another chapbook coming out any time now (from Finishing Line

Press); its title is “Real Country”, and the poems deal with the world of a farm kid, which I both was and wasn’t. (My family lived on a small farm, and I went to a country school, but my father’s work as well as our church affiliation were in town.) Aside from that, there are a couple of projects that are in some stage of development. One is a modified crown of sonnets (nine

poems rather than the standard seven) portraying a baseball team (a poem for each position). I don’t know where I’ll go with that one. The other “project” is less organized, and I come back to it intermittently; it consists of poems that imagine the later life of characters in old rock-and-roll songs (“Maybelline”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Slow Walkin’ Jones”). Generally, though, I’ve found it tougher to write lately, I think mainly because political/societal issues, as well as the pandemic, have claimed so much attention. Many thanks for this opportunity. I’m not at all good at having an on-line presence, but I’m glad to hear from any readers who don’t want to deal with Amazon. They can email me at mharty2[at]

Twenty Stories: Poems by Michael Harty. $17.00. Twenty Stories – Kelsay Books 978-1639803095

Michael Harty is a Kansas City poet now, but his Texas boyhood is a continuing influence in his work. A second influence is his long career as a practicing psychoanalyst, which fosters an appreciation for the conflicts, struggles, and complexities of human life. His poems often have appeared in the Texas Poetry Calendar, as well as in other periodicals including New Letters, The Lyric, Measure, I-70 Review, Coal City Review, and others. Among his honors and recognitions are several Pushcart nominations as well as awards in a number of sonnet competitions – the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, the Nebraska Shakespeare sonnet competition, the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award contest – and in the New Letters Poetry Contest and the Rattle Magazine Ekphrastic Challenge. His first chapbook, The Statue Game, appeared in 2015; both Twenty Stories and Real Country are appearing in 2023. More about Michael Harty: Interview, Johnson County Library Meet the Author: Michael Harty | Johnson County Library ( . Mike Harty poem, 2016 in Denise Low Postings Denise Low Postings: Michael Harty, poet, reads April 17 from THE STATUE GAME

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Zoom Replay: San Francisco's Bird & Beckett! Denise Low, Art Beck, Art Goodtimes--June 8, 2023

Here is the link for the replay on the Bird & Beckett YouTube channel.

June 8, 2023- 7 pm,                              Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate emerita, has won a Red Mountain Press award, NEH grants, and other recognition for her writings and research. She was president of the Associated Writing Programs board and is a founding board member of Indigenous Nations Poets. Her memoir The Turtle's Beating Heart: One Family's Story of Lenape Survival is from the University of Nebraska Press. She has articles and reviews in Unpapered: Native Writers on Identity; PostIndian Aesthetics; and Marsh Hawk Press’s Chapter One series. She has a close relationship to jackalopes and sighted Bigfoot with her husband.

 Art Beck’s Opera Omnia Luxorius, a Duet for Sitar and Trombone  won the 2013 Northern California Book Award for poetry in translation. His Mea Roma, a “meditative sampling” of Martial epigrams was a runner up in the American Literary Translators Association 2018 Cliff Becker Book Prize. His Etudes, a Rilke Recital was a finalist in the 2021 NCBA. He will be reading from his 2022 volume, Angel Rain, Poems 1977-2020.

 Art Goodtimes retired in 2016 after five terms as Colorado’s only Green Party county commissioner. He co-directs the Telluride Institute’s Talking Gourds poetry project, is poetry editor for Fungi Magazine , and co-hosts the Sage Green Journal online anthology. He founded the Institute’s Prospect Basin Fen Project and its Ute Reconciliation and Indigenous Peoples Day projects and remains on their advisory boards. His poetry books include As If the World Really Mattered (La Alameda Press) and Looking South to Lone Cone (Western Eye Press). He was co-editor of the anthology MycoEpithalamia: Mushroom Wedding Poems (Fungi Press). Art’s latest book is Dancing on Edge: The McRedeye Poems (Lithic Press, Fruita, CO, 2019). A widower and a grandpa, Art lives alone on Wrights Mesa near Norwood. His oldest daughter Iris Willow and his granddaughter

 BIRD & BECKETT EVENTS ( Bird & Beckett 653 Chenery Street San Francisco's Glen Park neighborhood. 415-586-3733

Friday, March 24, 2023

Cynthia Cruz wins the 2023 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry

NBCC Poetry Prize winner Cynthia Cruz writes poetry and essays. Her poem “The Undersong” (2016) states an aspect of her poetics as it begins, 

“But whose voice will enter/ and what will I do/ with that brutal but beautiful music.” It continues,

In the city, from my hotel window

I can see the elements and trace.

Structures constructed to protect the mind

and the gorgeous culture of the body.

In the park nearby, at dusk.

With plastic transistor radio

and magnetic apparatus,

so small they fit into the palm

of my hand.

The first-person narrator grieves—for what is not clear, beyond a generalized ennui within urban disconnections. The “hotel window” viewpoint is one of a homeless person, even if the perch in a hotel is temporary. The music, like poetry itself, strives to “protect the mind” as it appeals to the corporeal senses. All of the moment is a self-contained vignette, fitting “into the palm/ of my hand.” Yet it also opens out into a shared condition, an “Undersong” that most may not hear as its sadness plays below conscious awareness. This concise lyric has its own music as it creates unexpected pangs in the listener/reader--myself.

Cruz grew up in Northern California, a major influence, she explains in an interview with Paul Rowe: “I grew up in a small town in rural Northern California—there were hawks, rabbits, snakes. We had animals and acres and I spent most of my girlhood outdoors chasing these creatures. In the long driveway were cars and the carcasses of cars, engines and pieces. So, there’s that—that landscape shaped me, made me who I am.” In her interview with she continues to explain her early experiences as invisible to those middle class readers without a similar background (of poverty, working class culture) but omnipresent, as “an interior or a flight to an externalized interior: someplace away from the slick and sleek exteriors of the Neoliberal city and suburbs and all that these places require” (interview with Paul Rowe, Minor Literature[s]). 

Denise Low, 2023

Cynthia Cruz won the 2023 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry with Hotel Oblivion (Four Way Books, 2022). She is the author of four other collections of poetry, including three with Four Way Books: How the End Begins (2016),  Wunderkammer (2014), The Glimmering Room;  and Ruin (Alice James, 2006). She has published poems in numerous literary journals and magazines, including the New YorkerKenyon Review, the Paris ReviewBOMB, and the Boston Review. She is the editor of an anthology of Latina poetry, Other Musics: New Latina Poetry (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019). She also publishes essays: Disquieting: Essays on Silence, critical essays exploring silence as a form of resistance (Book*hug, 2019) and The Melancholia of Class (Repeater Books, 2021). Cruz has received fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony as well as a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. Cruz grew up in Northern California, where she earned her BA at Mills College. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in writing and an MFA in Art Criticism & Writing from the School of Visual Arts. Cruz is currently pursuing a PhD in German Studies at Rutgers University. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Four Way Books: Four Way Books » Cynthia Cruz Author Page

Poem Hunter: Cynthia Cruz Poems - Poems by Cynthia Cruz (

Poetry Foundation bio, poems, prose: Cynthia Cruz | Poetry Foundation

Video reading of “Silence”: Cynthia Cruz reads “Silencer” - Ours Poetica | Poetry Foundation

Academy of American Poets: About Cynthia Cruz | Academy of American Poets

Friday, February 24, 2023

William J. Harris, an Ad Astra poet, is featured in Poetry (Feb. 2023)

A poem from this blog, published May 21, 2010, is among poems by friend, scholar, and poet Billy Joe Harris in a portfolio of lyrics in the Feb. issue of Poetry. I have always had the highest regard for Billy as a poet and as a person. Some of his generosity of character shines through in the Poetry interview that accompanies the portfolio. He was an essential member of the Poetini group that met regularly with Ken Irby, Judith Roitman, Stan Lombardo, Susan Harris, Joe Harrington, Jonathan Mayhew, Beth Reiber, Barnie Warf. Below is a reprint of that May 21 post, also available in the print anthology I published with the Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies, To the Stars: Kansas Poets of the Ad Astra Poetry Project.   (Another poem, "Practical Concerns" by William J. Harris is also on this blog, Nov. 13, 2010). Denise Low, Feb. 24, 2023.

Billy Joe Harris, University of Kansas professor emeritus, spent a sabbatical year studying poets and painters, including artist Giorgio Morandi. He admires Morandi for “muted colors and radically reduced subject matter.” He employs this approach to his own verse. His work suggests narratives, but in such concise form that cultural referents may be minimal. In the poem “Sympathetic Magpies,” the Chinese origin of the legend is secondary to the universal concept of bridges. Further, the stanzas’ own parallel lines suggest intervals of bridge girders. Love creates a bridge between mortal and immortal beings, and the interplay between heaven and earth are universal. The memorable magic here is the bridge made of magpies. The poem has parable-like directness, with love that can defy the decrees of heaven. Like bridges, romance between a young weaver and herder can be set in most times and places. The Milky Way itself is another kind of bridge. Then Harris shifts to present time, inviting readers to also become part of legends through the poem. With a few simple images—lovers, Heaven, and bridges—the poet creates a story, briefly outlined yet complete like a Morandi painting. Harris said of the painter: “His quiet visual drama tells you that you need no more than these few objects to tell the human story.” This also applies to “Sympathetic Magpies.”

There is an old Chinese legend
About a weaving girl and a cowherd
Falling in love and being punished
By Heaven because she was celestial
And he was a mere mortal

Heaven only allowed them to meet
Once a year
On the seventh day
Of the seventh month

The magpies were so sympathetic
Each year
On that day
They made themselves
Into a bridge
Stretching across the Milky Way
So the lovers could kiss

Poems are sympathetic magpies
Bridges between lovers
Bridges between selves
Bridges between worlds

Education: Harris received a BA in English (Central State University 1968), MA in Creative Writing (Stanford 1971), and PhD in English and American Literature (Stanford 1974).

Career: William J. Harris is an emeritus professor of American literature, African American literature, creative writing, and jazz studies. He taught at the University of Kansas, Pennsylvania State University, and Cornell University, among other universities. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. This poet and critic’s books include: Hey Fella Would You Mind Holding This Piano a Moment (Ithaca House 1974), In My Own Dark Way (Ithaca House 1977) and Personal Questions (Leconte Publishers, Rome, 2010). He has published in over fifty anthologies. He is the author of the critical work The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka (University of Missouri Press 1985) and editor of The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1991, second edition, 2000).

Friday, December 30, 2022

Tom Weso Paintings and Denise Low Poems: A Dialogue

Thanks to folks associated with Numero Cinq! This is from 2014, and it brings back fond memories. The poems ended up in Melange Block, Red Mountain Press. Click link for full chapbook.


A family burns chairs, clothes, and axes
but nothing stops the silent killer.
Neighbors find them frozen in bed.

Another year trees explode.
Crows fall from trees.
Lakota winter counts show a black-ink crow.
Ben Kindle writes, “K’agi’ o’ta c’uwi’tat’api.”
Crows, they freeze to death.

This enemy seeps through sills and door jambs.
Chimney flues fill with its wrath.

North is its direction.
Nothing stops it from reaching
through flesh to the center of bone.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Denise Low reviews a first book by Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez

A Light To Do Shellwork By, by Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez. (Scarlet Tanager Press. $18.00. ISBN

9781734531350 2022). This California Indigenous author, of Islander and Coastal Chumash people and an enrolled O’odham member, publishes her first full-length collection of poetry. This elder’s book is an important link among generations. The poems celebrate and renew family spiritual practices, as in the poem “The Fox Paw and Coyote Blessing.” It describes the narrator’s conversation with her departed grandmother:

. . . The morning of my Giveaway

at the Sunrise Ceremony

sprinkling tobacco to the east

of the ceremonial ring

I prayed to my Papago Pima gramma

who died a few years back but is

alive somewhere . . . .   (p. 35).

The narrator knows the grandmother is “alive somewhere,” and the poem adds another dimension to that reality. Another intergenerational work is “The Red Shawl,” a dramatic poem that works well on the page. Valoyce-Sanchez has faith the readers will receive her words as living testaments. Her generosity of spirit pervades the poems.

I am honored to have been asked to write the foreword to this important book, which includes these comments about the title: “Especially moving in A Light to Do Shellwork By are the poems about the narrator’s father, in his nineties, as he finds his way through blindness and memories. Respect for this man’s life embodies the respect for all the cultural traditions. His [Chumash] people have survived over five-hundred years of contact with settlers from the west and the east. Prayers, songs, dances, and poems are among the techniques of survival, for a people and for the individuals. Gratitude to Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez for this magnificent gift” (ix-xi). A stanza from the title poem “A Light To Do Shellwork By,” tells about the day the poet’s father died, :

The ocean sang in my father’s hands

abalone pendants shimmered rainbows

from the ears of pretty girls

and shellwork dotted driftwood carvings

            cowrie shells, cone shells, volute shells

            red, black, white, blue, brown, green shells

the life they once held


old stories etched on

the lifeline of my father’s palm . . . .  (p. 61)

The verse includes culturally based topics as well as recent political issues, such as tribal terminations by the federal government. California Indigenous peoples suffered some of the worst persecutions and violence from settlers. A Light To Do Shellwork By is a healing work that looks forward without forgetting the past.

Biography: GEORGIANA VALOYCE-SANCHEZ, author of A Light To Do Shellwork By: Poems (Scarlet Tanager Books, 2022), is a descendant of Islander and Coastal Chumash Peoples from her father’s lineage, and O’odham (Akimel and Tohono) from her mother’s lineage. She is currently an enrolled member of The Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation and chair of the Chumash Women’s Elders Council for the Wishtoyo Foundation. She taught many different classes for the American Indian Studies Program at California State University, Long Beach, including two classes she designed: “World Genocides: An American Indian Perspective,” with graduate student Anna Nazarian-Peters, and “Conduits of California Indian Cultures: Art, Music, Dance and Storytelling.” She retired from CSULB in 2014, after twenty-seven years. She was a board member for many years at the California Indian Storytelling Association, and she continues to be an advocate for California Indian languages and sacred sites. Her poem “I Saw My Father Today” is on display at the Embarcadero Muni/BART station as one of twelve poems cast in bronze and placed prominently in San Francisco. 

Praise for A Light To Do Shellwork By

 "This long-awaited book of poetry by Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez is a beautiful masterwork on how to take care of the light of knowledge given to her by family, by the lands and the waters. Each poem is as delicate and precise as a carved shell. Each shell-poem reminds us of the original purpose of poetry, to function as blessing songs, as memory holders, or observations for what is humbly important but might go unseen unless given a place to live in a poem. These poems will take you to the ocean’s edge and allow you to listen deeply to the blue deep. They will take you to the desert and sing into you the shimmer of rain feeding the generous expanse of sunlight. With this collection of poetry, you will make it home."

— Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek Nation), 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate


“An illustration of intimate family history that’s a testament to the continuity of Indigenous life and poetics in California.” Kirkus Review

Monday, November 14, 2022

Meadowlark Books Publishes Denise Low's Book of Essays Jigsaw Puzzling

JIGSAW PUZZLING: ESSAYS IN A TIME OF PESTILENCE by Denise Low, Meadowlark Press. Games/Essay/Memoir

The 15 essays in this book explore the pop culture of jigsaw puzzlers while reflecting on art, geography, history, and more. Denise Low considers mosaics, reassembled pottery shards, play as rehearsal for life, and more. She quotes other literary jigsaw authors like Susan Sontag, Gaston Bachelard, Margaret Drabble and poets James Merrill and Dick Allen. “I never underestimate the power of a single puzzle piece. It fits within a whole, like each moment of my unfolding life story.” —Denise Low

Online discount 20% off. Click on this link:  PAYPAL LINK Also available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and the publisher’s page Meadowlark Books. Paperback, retail $20. 122 pages, ISBN 978-1956578263, 6.2 ounces, 5.98 x 0.28 x 9.02 inches.

PRAISE FOR Jigsaw Puzzling

What is a sane, reasonable response to an insane, unreasonable Pandemic? Unlike some of us who lurched into bread baking, home renovation, or exploring the life of the hermit, Denise Low instead challenged a world of logic and symmetry by setting out to master the domain of the jigsaw puzzle. This is a realm of surety: logic within defined boundaries. Solving a puzzle demands concentration and leads to a higher contemplation of morality and ethics, as well. Denise Low has brilliantly accomplished this unfolding of the simple into the multifarious with insight and charm. —Sandy McIntosh, author of Plan B: A Poet’s Survivors Manual

Obsessions never fail to get my attention, especially when they concern things I completely overlook. Jigsaw Puzzling is a dive down unsuspected rabbit holes of jigsaw culture and plague history, lessons in art, geography, and much more. If you know Denise Low’s books–I do, I’ve read them all–you know her as a sharp, droll observer of the natural world, including the world of human nature. Her quiet, poetic voice leads a reader into hidden rooms filled with surprises, striking notes that resonate deeply with the world we live in. A wonderful read with or without a pandemic! –Jim Gilkeson, author of Three Lost Worlds: A Memoir.