riverbabble's summer soltice issue now online

Below is a flier announcing riverbabble 15. I have a short fiction piece included. It’s a few days after the solstice, but the evening light is still with us, a nice time to read. Here’s a direct link to my piece, ‘Dusk.’

Celebrate the summer solstice

and start your summer reading with


Bloomsday issue

is now online at




Margot Comstock, Sara McAulay, Bev Vines-Haines, Patsy Covington, Kyle Hemmings, Rick Spuler, Thomas Kearnes, Andrew M. Lopas, Ward Jones, Marjorie Carlson Davis


Rafael Jesús González, Francine Witte, Anthony Adrian Pino, Julene Tripp Weaver, Charles Clifford Brooks III, Luigi Monteferrante, Jason Price Everett, Paul Lobo Portugés, J. Bradley


Doug Mathewson, Christine Swint, Andrew M. Lopas


Christopher Novak

Visit us here:


Popular British Ballads

As part of the MFA program I’m starting, I need to read and ‘explicate’ many poems. Although I have three years to complete the readings, I’m beginning now because I’m a nerdy book worm, un ratón de biblioteca, as they say in Spanish.

To make the project more interesting, I thought I’d share some of my observations of the poems I read. Let me make one disclaimer: I’ve never been a scholarly sort of person, and even though I’ve been a teacher and a student all my life, I’m more apt to share my gut reactions rather than a true literary analysis. Unless a professor requires it, I doubt I’ll read what real literary critics have to say about the poems. Hope that’s OK with everyone.

Popular British Ballads begin my list. Reading these ballads is like getting a glimpse into long ago daily life in the British Isles. The first one I read is titled Lord Randal. It’s Scottish, from the 1500s, passed down to us by Francis James Childs, who compiled and edited The English and Scottish Ballads, 1892-1898. You can read every single one of them right here.

The end words of each stanza are the same: son, man, soon, down, and in fact each line ends with the same phrase or question, because it’s a song.

A young man named Lord Randal is asking his mother to make his bed because he is sick at heart and he soon will die, both from heartache and from poisoning.

The mother goes on to ask him what he’s going to leave behind to all his loved ones. At first those stanzas made the mother appear to me like a mercenary sort of mom, the kind who ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’ (Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic). I thought, is she kidding? The kid is dying and she’s already divvying up the loot?

But more than likely death was more a part of everyday life then, and practical matters like wills were discussed openly. The talk of leaving behind worldly possessions also adds to the pathos of the story, that such a handsome young man, and wealthy too, is dying.

Of course he says the girl who has double crossed him will only get ‘hell and fire.’

In addition to this version I found on Youtube, there are also Appalachian singers who’ve recorded many of these ballads, as the songs were passed down to them by their ancestors.

Here’s a version I found on Youtube by poet and painter Michael Foster:


And here’s the ballad:

Lord Randal

“O where ha you been, Lord Randal, my son?
And where ha you been, my handsome young man?”
“I ha been at the greenwood; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie down.”

“An wha met ye there, Lord Randal, my son?
And wha met ye there, my handsome young man?”
“O I met wi my true-love; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down.”

“And what did she give you, Lord Randal, My son?
And wha did she give you, my handsome young man?”
“Eels fried in a pan; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fein wad lie down.”

“And what gat your leavins, Lord Randal my son?
And wha gat your leavins, my handsome young man?”
“My hawks and my hounds; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fein wad lie down.”

“And what becam of them, Lord Randal, my son?
And what becam of them, my handsome young man?
“They stretched their legs out and died; mother mak my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down.”

“O I fear you are poisoned, Lord Randal, my son!
I fear you are poisoned, my handsome young man!”
“O yes, I am poisoned; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and fain wad lie down.”

“What d’ye leave to your mother, Lord Randal, my son?
What d’ye leave to your mother, my handsome young man?”
“Four and twenty milk kye; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down.”

“What d’ye leave to your sister, Lord Randal, my son?
What d’ye leave to your sister, my handsome young man?”
“My gold and my silver; mother mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, an I fain wad lie down.”

“What d’ye leave to your brother, Lord Randal, my son?
What d’ye leave to your brother, my handsome young man?”
“My houses and my lands; mother, mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down.”

“What d’ye leave to your true-love, Lord Randal, my son?
What d’ye leave to your true-love, my handsome young man?”
“I leave her hell and fire; mother mak my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down.”

Walt Whitman and Burst!

On Saturday evening my husband and I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in Midtown, drank a few beers and ate crispy tofu (that was me, he had calamari), and then went on to a reading of Song of Myself by Walt Whitman. I’m so grateful my husband came along with me, because he rarely attends poetry-related events. He had a good time, in spite of missing the basketball playoffs.

Poet and novelist Collin Kelley, the third reader of the evening, timed us – it took two hours and 45 minutes to read the entire 52 sections. And honestly, I didn’t notice time passing at all. It was breathtaking to listen to all the different interpretations of Whitman’s words. We were a wide sweep of humanity, reflecting the broad scope of the poem. Some of the readers were professional actors or spoken-word performers, such as Alice Lovelace and Theresa Davis. Professor and poet Karen Head was there, poet and artist Cleo Creech, Amy Pence, Tania Rochelle, and many others. It was quite an honor and a true pleasure to be included.

Poet Rupert Fike was the organizer and host of the reading, a charming prince of a man. He wore a black beret and a black shirt trimmed with a rust-colored Native American pattern, looking very much the poet that he is. The walls were lined with the stunning black and white photos now featured at Composition Gallery. I’m going to return to the gallery another time when the room isn’t so full to get a better look at the works.


I’m standing in front, wearing cerise slacks. Karen Head is next to me, in a robin’s egg blue blouse. Cleo Creech is kneeling next to Alice Lovelace, who is wearing a green dress, Amy Pence is to Cleo’s left, and Collin is wearing a black T-shirt, standing behind Cleo. Rupert Fike is in the very back, his face hidden. You can just spot the tip of his beret. Robert Wood, whose poems have been in the first two issue of ouroboros and are forthcoming in the third, is in the back too. He has white hair and a white beard, looking like Whitman himself.


I just received word that three of my poems are now online at Burst! Here’s a direct link to the poems, which are titled Degrees of Separation, Dr. Marano’s Therapy, and Sacred Fig Rites. Thanks to editor Lisa Nickerson for publishing my work.

Here’s a list of the other poets who are included in this issue, issue 5:

David Garrett-Arnold, John Gray, BC Jewett, Michael Brownstein, Stuart Payne ,Joseph Trombatore, Rob Gannon, Jeremi Handrinos, David Robertson, Catherine Zickgraf, RC Miller.

Video poems have a new gallery on the web

Thanks to poet, essayist, and photographer Dave Bonta, (Via Negativa) there is now a growing collection of spoken and animated poetry on his new site, Moving Poems. Some of the videos are interpretations of poets reading their work, as in Sylvia Plath’s reading of her poem Daddy.

Other videos are the poet’s visual representations of their own work, as in Ren Powell’s Miss Dix Opens a School for the Indigent, a beautiful poem read by the poet, illustrated with stunning animation and photography. (I’d really like to know how she made this one! Care to reveal your secrets, Ren?)

As the founding editor and managing editor of the literary magazine Qarrtsiluni, Dave Bonta has already been collecting and publishing original video. And on his own blog, Via Negativa, he has posted his original video poems, which are delightful. The one I’ve embedded here from Vimeo is one of my favorites, and I think it belongs on Moving Poems, whose tag line is an on-going compendium of the best video poetry from around the web’


The Good Question from Dave Bonta on Vimeo.

The list of video poems on Moving Poems will provide you with hours of entertainment and inspiration. I’ve only looked at four or five of the videos so far, but plan to view them all as we enter the summer months.

A review of Clare Jay's Breathing in Colour

Breathing in Colour Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clare Jay’s Breathing in Colour ( Piatkus, Little, Brown Book Group, March 2009) weaves together threads from many disparate areas of life – dreams, travels, the creative mind, family dynamics, memory, and relationships between men and women. The story, which takes place in the UK and India, blends the characters’ dreams into the narrative with seamless artistry, no easy task (which I know from my own experience of including dream imagery in my writing).

Throughout the course of the novel the reader learns about synaesthesia, a condition in which a person perceives sounds or smells as colors, or numbers and certain letters of the alphabet as colors. Both the mother and the daughter in the novel are synaesthetes, and Clare Jay does a superb job describing how the two characters view the world. Jay is not a synaesthete herself, yet she illustrates their world with vivid accuracy, allowing the reader to glimpse what it might be like to have such ultra heightened senses.

I met Clare Jay two years ago at a conference for the International Association for the Study of Dreams, where she told me about the novel she was then writing, her lucid dreams (knowing one is dreaming while in the dream state), and her technique for inducing the writer’s trance, which involves yogic relaxation (she is also a yoga instructor) and the recall of dream imagery. I still remember the character I came up with after attending one of Clare Jay’s workshops involving dreams and creative writing. It was a panther woman who sat at the end of my bed. In fact, I’ve written a poem about the panther woman – she holds a special place in my pantheon of fictional characters.

The characters in Breathing in Colour, both the dream man and the ones who walk the earth, are alive with color, smells, texture, and nuance. They are more than three dimensional because of Jay’s bright, sensitive use of language. It’s like going on a magic carpet ride.

Be sure to visit Clare Jay’s beautiful website and blog, where she has information about her next book, Dreamrunner.

View all my reviews.

A mock sestina for Poem

Jill and Carolee have a fun poetry site aptly called Poem, where they post a poem for participants to read, enjoy, study, and maybe use as a springboard for writing. The first for this season is Denise Duhamel’s mock sestina, Delta Flight 659: to Sean Penn.

My imitation is about a local celebrity, a gorilla named Willie B, who was kept indoors for 27 years, until they renovated the Atlanta Zoo. It’s so sad to see animals kept locked up.

I see this piece as more of an exercise than a poem, and a hard exercise at that. In Denise Duhamel’s piece, she plays on Sean Penn’s name, ending each line with a different word that includes the syllable pen. I’m very impressed with her results now that I’ve tried it myself.

Glass Houses

In Atlanta there lived a gorilla named Willie B
who died in 2000, the year before
911. He was forty, I remember,
because I was too, just beginning
a new millennium as Willie B’s heartbeats
were fading, six years after his baby

Kudzoo was born. The last time we saw Willie B
he squatted between
boulders on a hillside, behind
thick glass walls, maybe
listening to human kids bellowing
Willie B! Willie B! Bees

and flies drew invisible lines beneath
tree limbs where he lounged on a bed
of grass, near females nursing babies.
His eyes were as dark as tea. Crabby
kids pressed their hands on the glass, beseeching
Willie B to pound his chest like a typical beast,

as if he were King Kong, bedazzled
by a lovely blonde. But he was no sucker for bedlam,
he was the prince of his tribe, a beatific
icon who didn’t seem to notice the bedraggled
trees in the pretend forest, or the Frisbees
flying through the sky beyond

the walls of his outdoor bedroom.
His keepers had made him live behind
bars for twenty-seven years, in a room befitting
an ax murderer or an embezzler.
Now he was as free as the Bengal
tiger in the zooscape nearby.

He had a full belly and his days were benign,
a becoming epitaph for human beings
too, we who bate bears and belabor the point that we’re human.

Donate some lines of poetry to a good cause

Calling all generous poets! We’re doing a collaborative prompt at Read Write Poem this week, and we’re asking people to donate two lines of poetry for others to use as a springboard to write a poem.

The instructions are to use the donated lines as the refrain of a bop, whose form I wrote about a few days ago. So check out the prompt, donate two lines, and grab two for yourselves. It’s nice to share the inspiration.

Qarrtsiluni mutates the signature

If you haven’t been reading Qarrtsiluni’s latest edition, Mutating the Signature, you’re missing out on a revolution sweeping poetry on the web. Editors Dana Guthrie Martin and Nathan Moore have assembled an inspired group of poems, songs, visual art, video, and recordings, all created in collaboration. Each piece has multiple authors, and comes with process notes that reveal the inner workings of multiple minds.

Guthrie Martin is also the founding member of The Poetry Collaborative, where several poets, including Moore, work together to write, often revising in plain view. They’ve even been known to write their poems on places like twitter and facebook.

Dave Bonta, managing editor and co-founder of Qarrtsiluni, is a pioneer in sharing creative writing on the web. His journal is one of the few that publishes author recordings of most of the poems and short stories on the site. It comes as no surprise that he would be one of the first editors to publish an entire edition devoted entirely to collaborative works.

At the Source

marea roja by ladyorlando

At the Source

On the shady side of Horn Mountain,
round the first bend of Bonaparte Creek,
a bearded trout tells fairy tales to a cluster
of wavery eggs, his voice of water
on pebbles lulls the brood in their gravel bed.

As angry Bass flicks his tail upstream,
the eggs quiver in their sacs,
but Bearded Trout’s eye looms larger
than the moon – “stay mum,” he bubbles,
“or Bass will purse his lips, suck you in,”

“and you will be like the Sleeping Faerie
entangled in strands of Spanish moss,
dragged through currents, over slimy rocks
from foothills to the sea, never to breath
clay-tinged waters again.”

The glistening eggs quiet in the cold
currents, listening to Bearded Trout
speak of their hatching day, small
fry loose on eddies, drinking air,
aware of shadows near dappled stones.


This poem is a result of thinking about the above painting, some words describing the landscape of the foothills where I live, and Michelle McGrane’s contribution to the collaborative link at Read Write Poem, Diving into the Wreck, by Adrienne Rich. Thanks for an interesting collaboration, Nathan.

I think this is a children’s poem, but I’m not sure. Would the part about thinking eggs be too scary or obscure for children? Or the Angry Bass?