Saturday, October 9, 2021

Prompt #373 – Autumn


Many (many) years ago, when I was in 7th grade, we had two periods of English every day. One was for all the technical aspects of grammar, and the other was for literature. Diagramming sentences was a little too much like math for me, and all the rules of where to place commas escaped me (I simply put them wherever there was a natural pause). Of course, I loved the literature classes best.


Our literature teacher was a young woman named Dorothy Muccilli (1932-2018). Miss Muccilli introduced us to all kinds of written art, but she had a special love for poetry, and she encouraged us to write poems as class assignments. She was the only teacher who actually told me she thought I had a gift for writing poetry. Needless to say, I adored her and her class. 

That October (I was 11 years old at the time and would turn 12 in November), Miss Muccilli read a poem to us by a poet named Bliss Carmen. The poem was titled "A Vagabond Song." I remember how the words of that poem touched me and how my response to it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. I could visualize the images but, even more importantly, I "felt" the poem in some deep place that I now call "spirit." 

Something special happened with Miss Muccilli's reading of Bliss Carmen's poem that resulted in the moment I consciously realized how much I love poetry, that poetry would always be part of my life, and that I always wanted to write poems. Yes, definitely a conscious realization, although I wouldn't have called it that back then. Why that poem, why then? Who knows, but it brought about a revelation for me that has impacted my life ever since.  


I memorized "A Vagabond Song" when I was in 7th grade and, believe it or not, I can still recite it from memory today (60+ years later).


A Vagabond Song

        By Bliss Carmen

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.



The Prompt


 The prompt I offer you is to simply write a poem about October (or autumn in general).




1. Jot down some ideas about this time of year. 


2. Make an image "bank" from which you can draw when writing your poem.


3. Evoke a feeling through the details you include.


4. Put yourself into the poem; write in the first person and consider writing in the present tense to create a sense of immediacy. Also consider not including anyone but yourself in the poem—focus on your reflections and what the season means to you.

5. Watch out for "ing" endings that your poems can live without. Avoid the passive voice.

6. Be judicious in your use of adjectives. Remember that too many can spoil an otherwise good poem. 


7. Edit carefully. It might be a good idea to write what feels like your final draft and then let it "sit" for a day or two before you come back to it. 


8. Enjoy the writing!

I send you, dear blog readers, my very best wishes 

for a healthy, safe, and beautiful autumn season!






Saturday, September 25, 2021

On Being a Poet from Guest Blogger Michael T. Young

I’m happy to once again welcome Michael T. Young to the blog. Mike is an amazing poet who calls me his “poetry mom.” I’m proud to call him my “poetry son.”

Mike’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water (check out the amazing cover image), published by Terrapin Books (, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. His previous collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award. His poetry has been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac. It has also appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Banyan Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Rattle, Talking River Review, Tiferet, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.


Michael's Website:


To Order Michael's Books:



From Michael T. Young


Rilke, in response to a young poet who sought his advice, wrote, “ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must,’ then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

On the one hand, it’s commendable that Rilke advises the young poet not to seek validation for his art in its publication but in his urge to create. This rings true and is something we could all stand to remember as we pursue publication in the most prestigious journals or long for the big prizes. On the other hand, the singlemindedness of that closing declaration about building one’s whole life around writing, is more like a call to a religious passion and conjures images of monasteries and stained glass rather than someone at a desk striking out a bad line. This perspective goes back at least to the Romantics who deified the imagination. But it’s false and isolating.

Treating the desire to write poetry as a kind of monastic calling implies that if I’m not willing to sacrifice everyone and everything to my writing, then I’m not a poet. To that, I say, “h----s---.” I’m a poet because I write poems, because I like writing poems, I like laboring over the right word, the right rhythm, the image development, and every other nuance of language and poetic transition and metamorphosis. But I don’t have to turn my back on my wife to do that. I don’t have to ignore my children or friends to do that. I don’t have to quit my job and live under a bridge.

Poetry is not an all or nothing proposition; life as a poet is not an either/or ultimatum. To make life as a poet a devotion exclusive of all other things in life except perhaps as fodder for new work is to isolate the poet as a freakish creature from the rest of the world. It is to make of the poet a parasite that merely uses and consumes all around them in the production of their art, rather than seeing it as it is: one element in a full life. It is to turn the poet into a monster and provide a justification to replace the conscience they have sacrificed to the god of their imagination. But this doesn’t have to be. A poet is one who writes poems and likes the labor of writing poems. Plain and simple. This doesn’t require a monkish devotion that excludes all other aspects of life or a sacrifice of them. That is a lie the world tries to sell. As the poet Charles Martin put it in his poem, “A Walk in the Hills above the Artists’ House”:

“But if our writing matters, what 

Makes it matter matters more

Than it does.”




Thank you so much, Michael!




Saturday, September 4, 2021

Myth and Allegory in Contemporary Poetry, Guest Blogger Robin Rosen Chang

I'm so happy to share with you a special guest blog written by Robin Rosen Chang, author of The Curator's Notes (Terrapin Books, 2021). Her poems appear in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Journal, Diode, The Cortland Review, Poet Lore, Cream City Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, North American Review, Paterson Literary Review, Stillwater Review, and other literary journals and anthologies. She was the recipient of the Oregon Poetry Association's Fall 2018 Poets' Choice Award and an honorable mention for Spoon River Poetry Review's 2019 Editors' Prize. An earlier version of her book was a finalist for Warren Wilson's 2018 Levis Alumni Award for a manuscript in progress. She has an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She teaches college-level ESL and tutors. She can be found online at  


Myth and Allegory in Contemporary Poetry

A few years ago, I surprised myself by writing a poem about Eve. I was perplexed. What was I, a relatively non-religious person, doing with Eve in my poetry? Before I had an answer, I had penned poems about Adam, the snake, the apple, and the fig leaf. Why and how had these allegorical figures crept into my poetry?

Myth and allegory have appeared in poetry for thousands of years, and they continue to be prominent in contemporary poetry. But what is it, we might wonder, that makes them still resonate? Why do such old stories continue to be told? Examining some relatively recent poems that employ myth and allegory can shed some light on these questions.

In his essay “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” T.S. Eliot stated that myth reflects “the continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity.” In other words, myth helps unveil echoes of the distant past that are evident in the present. We can, in fact, see this in many contemporary poems. For example, Robert Haas’s “Heroic Simile,” from his book Praise, begins with a speaker thinking about the felling of one of Kurosawa’s Samurai swordsmen and Ajax before the speaker conjures two woodsmen cutting up an enormous tree. The woodsmen want to cart off the logs, but they are predestined to fail since the speaker acknowledges that he has “imagined no pack animal/or primitive wagon.” The woodsmen work tirelessly, but their efforts indeed are ineffective. Haas amplifies the notion of failure manifold by relating it to the heroic yet ultimately doomed Ajax and Samurai. By showing the downfall of these emblematic heroes, Haas is able to take the sting of futility and misfortune from the level of his woodsmen and speaker and make it an almost inevitable human condition. That is, through the lens of myth, the poem is about more than the shortcomings of the woodsmen and the speaker. Defeat is rendered as a universal and inevitable experience. Myth is also connecting the present with antiquity.

Since myths and allegories are so well known, they also provide an immediate literary framework for writers. This is evident in Lucille Clifton’s “lot’s wife 1988” from Blessing the Boats. In this poem, Clifton presents readers with a speaker who initially sees her childhood homes as a metaphor for being rooted in the world. Those houses, however, eventually turn into vacant lots. In the poem’s final stanza, Clifton turns to allegory, forging a connection with Lot’s wife. The speaker says, “I look back like lot’s wife/wedded to her weeds and turn to something/surer than salt and write this, yes,/I promise, yes we will.” By connecting the narrative to the story of Lot’s wife, Clifton adds additional weight and significance to the dramatic situation. The poem moves from being about the speaker as an individual, family member, or community member to the speaker as part of a long history of women who have looked squarely in the face of adversity and moved forward. Moreover, using allegory, Clifton can show that she is not only referring to a current problem but one that has endured through the ages. Again, we see that “continuous parallel’ between then and now that Eliot wrote about.

Myth is also employed as a literary substructure in Ada Limón’s “The Other Wish,” from Bright Dead Things, yet in this poem, it is used as a point of departure and resistance. Limón pushes back against the myth of Icarus. She uses a female speaker who ponders Icarus’ sanity. Contrasting herself with Icarus, the speaker says that if she had had his feather and wax wings, she’d have chosen “the moon, always the sister moon.//Cold, comely queen of the sky” instead of the sun. The glowing sister moon is deemed more desirable than the scorching male sun, and the speaker is more ambitious than Icarus. She would be ready “to fall from the terrifying height/of her, the dust of my years crazy and flashing//lit up by the victory of my disastrous flight.” She is not afraid to shoot for the moon and fall rather than foolishly flying too close to the sun, and she equates the attempted journey with success. By placing Icarus in a contemporary context, Limon wrestles the story from the masculine domain and, in the process, makes a feminist statement.

Myth and allegory are also means for tackling difficult subjects. Nina Kossman, author of Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths, says that myths and allegories are sometimes used as masks and personas. They offer an extra layer of separation to the speaker and the poet, and ideas that are expressed can be attributed to someone else. (Although we are taught that a poem’s speaker is not the same person as the poet, it is often erroneously assumed to be.) Additionally, a mask can also increase narrative distance to better enable the poet to address certain topics. Take Marie Howe’s most recent book, Magdalene, which is written entirely in the voice of a modern Magdalene. In her poem “Before the Beginning,” the persona asks if she were ever a virgin as well as other questions that suggest a profound violation. Sexual abuse is an extremely challenging topic. Using a mask to explore this issue not only affords a measure of distance and safety, but the persona of Magdalene also adds substantial emotional gravity to the poem. After all, if Magdalene could have been a victim, so could anyone. In A Poet’s Glossary, Edward Hirsch explains that “the hero of an allegory is also a cipher or a designated figure for the reader, since it’s understood that the action takes place in the mental landscape of the audience.” The protagonist can be viewed as an archetype. Magdalene can be any woman. In this way, the use of allegory also helps reflect those continuities between the past and the present.

I’ve presented only a handful of examples, but myth and allegory thrive in contemporary poetry. Their presence has many different effects, including extending poems’ reach, making them universal and immense. They also can also bring inherited beliefs and conditions forward to reveal how little some things have changed or be a vehicle for delving into difficult subject matters.

Having considered a few of the many ways in which myth and allegory can magnify a poem’s scope and implications, try your hand at using it in your own work. Below are two prompts. Write a poem to either, or both, of them. Good luck!

  1. Write a poem using a mythological or allegorical figure to help you shed light on a contemporary issue or condition. Feel free to affirm or reject the myth. You may choose to draw from your own life or make it entirely fictional.

  1. Write a poem using a mythological or allegorical figure as a mask to help you write about something you may have otherwise found too difficult to address.


Clifton, Lucille. Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. BOA Editions. 2000.

Eliot, T. S. “Ulysses, Order, and Myth.”  University of Virginia. 8 Aug. 2017,  Originally published in The Dial, Nov. 1923.

Hass, Robert. Praise. Ecco, 1979.

Hirsch, Edward. A Poet’s Glossary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Howe, Marie. Magdalene. W. W. Norton, 2017.

Kossman, Nina. Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths. Oxford University               Press, 2001.

Limón, Ava. Bright Dead Things. Milkweed Editions, 2015. 


I’m very grateful to Adele for inviting me to contribute to her blog, The Music in It

Thank you, Adele! 



Thank you so much, Robin! 

Dear Blog readers, I hope you'll order a copy of Robin's new book! 

It's a superb collection of beautifully written poems from Terrapin Books, presented in Terrapin's elegant signature style.

You won't be disappointed!


Purchase Link for Book:

It’s also available on Amazon.



Saturday, August 28, 2021

Prompt #372 – The Cherita

As summer stretches on, and the heat continues where I live, it's nice to have an easy prompt to relax with and to write from. Accordingly, I've culled some info from the Net about a form of poetry called the Cherita. Here's hoping you'll find it an enjoyable "summer form."

The "Cherita" is a creation of ai li, the founding editor of "still: home for short verse," and now its independent e-zine offshoot "dew-on-line." 

Cherita [pronounced CHAIR-rita] is the Malay word for story or tale. A Cherita consists of a single stanza verse, followed by a two-line verse, and then finishing with a three-line verse. It can be written solo or with up to three partners. The Cherita tells a story. More can be found about the cherita's origin, on the still website at still: home for short verse Here you will find examples of ai li's cherita, and others, by looking under the section "linked forms" and under that for "Cherita."

Cherita forms its own plural just ad “haiku” and “tanka” do.

For additional info on this form, please visit

Believing that the reading of the form surpasses any effort to explain it, here are a few examples by some of the Cherita's first and finest practitioners. 


Two Cherita by Larry Kimmel

his clothes to charity

unpacking the suitcases
of the vacation no longer awaited

the Valentine meant
for today


after seeing you off

taking the path along
the canal

a rustle of

Copyright © Larry Kimmel 2007


Two cherita by ai li


drifting paper boat

the rain
on banana leaves

by an open window


Copyright © ai li 2002-2007


Two Cherita by Sheila Windsor


the agoraphobic's room

along the windowsill
porcelain dolls

perfectly aligned
and smiling
at any passer-by



Two Cherita by Ed Markowski

wildflowers unfolding

in a field between two
sagging barns

she reassures me
"it's so much better
than a room at the Drake."

Benny's Diner

"the blue plate special, meatloaf
mashed, a wedge of cream pie

off at ten,"
the waitress winks

Copyright © ed markowski 2007


1. Have fun writing a cherita or two. It’s that simple! Read some cherita, get an idea of the form, and then try writing some. Enjoy!



Saturday, August 14, 2021

Prompt #371 – Condense, Condense, Condense


Here we are in the "dog days" of summer, and where I live, we're just beginning to move toward a respite from extremely humid, 95º+ days. I find myself looking forward to autumn! In weather like this it's hard to concentrate on writing, and perhaps even harder to work on refining poems already written. This prompt will revisit one from the first year of the blog that I hope will be helpful to you, whatever weather you may be experiencing.

In poetry, condensing and compression are about making poems more compact and less wordy. They are skills that enable poets to use the fewest possible words and to extend beyond literal understanding into nuances and associations that offer deeper meanings. In poetry, less really is more. As Dylan Thomas wrote, "The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps ... so that something not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in." Those holes and gaps can't happen in an overwritten poem.


In the earlier prompt I mentioned an interesting article that presents a view toward boosting awareness of condensing in our poems. From the article (


"Allen Ginsberg was a full believer in condense, condense, condense – which is a Pound dictum..." 


The article continues (and this is what caught my attention), "Check Allen's poetry for articles (remember "a," "an," "the"?) and you'll see where he starts – these bitty words all but disappear in his work, which not only condenses but gives a rushing sense of immediacy to his work." The article goes on to discuss Ginsberg's reaction to haiku, a genre that I credit with teaching me much about condensing and compression. Ginsberg's answer to haiku first appeared in his book Cosmopolitan Greetings in the form he called "American Sentences." According to Ginsberg, an American Sentence is simply one sentence that contains seventeen syllables (the writing of which is a great way to focus on condensing and compression). 


So here goes – our prompt this week is to create American Sentences in the manner of Allen Ginsberg, and then to look at our already-written poems with an eye toward condensing and compressing them. 

Before you begin, be sure to read some American Sentences online and become familiar with how they work.


1. Pick 3-5 topics (anything that catches your fancy).

2. Write an American Sentence on each topic you chose (have fun with this and be aware of how you condense  and compress).

3. After you've written a few American Sentences, take a look at some of your already-written poems. Think about how you might condense and compress to improve them.

4. Are there unnecessary prepositions that you can lose?

5. Are there articles (a, an, the) that you don't need?

6. Are there conjunctions (and, but, although, when, while, yet, because, for, until, etc.) that your poems can live without?

7. Do you include more details than necessary? Do you "tell" with words rather than "show" with effective imagery? The best [poems show without overt telling.

8. How can you condense and compress to create greater immediacy, energy, and power?

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Prompt #370 – Choice or Chance


In looking back at some of the prompts from years ago, I came across this one (based on a Robert Frost poem) that I thought might be interesting to revisit during these hot July days. We've all made decisions in our lives that we either bless or regret. Frosts's "The Road Not Taken" is about the process and the repercussions of making choices. I’ve always loved this poem for its symbolisms, accessibility, and universal appeal. This one of the best known and most often quoted of Frost’s poems. There is, of course, much more to this poem than a surface understanding reveals.

For this week’s prompt, “The Road Not Taken” will be our inspiration poem. Before beginning, please give it a read.  
As you read, note that one of the poem’s fascinations is its archetypal dilemma. Be sure to note that it is later in his life that the narrator looks back, reflects upon the meaning of choice and chance, and marks this decision as a defining moment in his life.


Frost’s poem is about actual and figurative roads, and the fork in the path is an extended metaphor for making choices.

1. Write a poem about a metaphorical road that you didn’t take. Not the choice you made, but the one you didn’t. “Forks in the road” and “roads” seemed clichéd today, so be sure to create other symbolisms and metaphors for making choices that are fresh and new.

2. Write a poem about a “road not taken” in your life? Have you ever had to make a decision and then wondered much later how making the other choice might have impacted your life? Do you have any regrets?

3. Some analyses claim that Frost’s poem is about lost opportunities. Write a poem about a lost opportunity in your life?

4. Write a poem about the complexities of choice making. How do you feel about choice and chance?

5. Write a poem about a time that you had no choice.

Other Examples: 


Choices” by Tess Gallagher

The Decision” by Jane Hirschfield

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Guest Blogger Yvonne Zipter "Healing the World, One Poem at a Time"

For this post, I'm very happy to introduce you to poet Yvonne Zipter. I first encountered Yvonne's poetry when I saw the cover of her book Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound and knew that I had to read the poems inside. Her publisher, Diane Lockward of Terrapin Books (, kindly sent me a review copy, and I was immediately struck by Yvonne's skill and spirit. Here's a brief except from the review I wrote (Tiferet, Autumn/Winter 2020): 
“It isn’t often that a book cover is so visually stunning that a potential reader is immediately captivated. Sometimes, however, a book’s contents don’t measure up to the cover. In this case, Yvonne Zipter’s poems do not disappoint! Her work is extraordinarily rich in metaphor and meaning and skillfully crafted in language that is both compressed and compelling. The poems in this collection come to bear on love, loss, and grief—things the poet has been forced to learn about herself, things we are all, ultimately, required to learn.”  
Yvonne is the author of the poetry collections Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound (, The Patience of Metal (a Lambda Literary Award Finalist), and Like Some Bookie God. Her poems have appeared in numerous periodicals over the years, and her published poems are currently being sold individually in Chicago in two vending machines to raise money for the nonprofit arts organization Arts Alive Chicago. She is also the author of the nonfiction books Diamonds Are a Dyke’s Best Friend and Ransacking the Closet and the Russian historical novel Infraction. She appears in and provided some narration for the documentary A Secret Love about All-American Girl Professional Baseball Player Terry Donahue and her long-time partner Pat Henschel. Retired from the University of Chicago Press in 2018, where she was a manuscript editor, she lives in Chicago with her wife and their former racing greyhound.  
Healing the World, One Poem at a Time 
I have long suspected that poetry is healing. As long ago as forty years, after my mother died at age forty-one when I was twenty-four, I started processing my grief through poetry. A lot of it wasn’t good poetry, but even those lousy poems gave me some place to put my pain and figure out how to move on. It was also a way of keeping my mother alive for myself in some small way—our happy moments together as well as the tough ones, when she got sick—and a way of sharing with others what a wonderful woman she was. But mostly, especially in the beginning, it was a way for me to find comfort in the face of unthinkable loss. To put it another way, writing poetry can create a sense of control or order over what otherwise seems like chaos. 
It’s not only writing poetry, however, that can be healing for the psyche, but reading it can be as well. Anecdotally, I once had a young college student write to me that a poem of mine about incest helped him realize he was not alone in that experience. Therapists Phyllis Klein and Perie Longo echo this experience, saying, “When we read a poem that speaks to our experience, there is a shift, a click within. Someone has understood our darkness by naming their own. We feel less alone.”  
The National Association of Poetry Therapy actually publishes an entire periodical devoted to research on the use of language arts in a therapeutic capacity: the Journal of Poetry Therapy. At the association’s website, there is a short history of poetry therapy, in which the unnamed author points out that it was not uncommon for witch doctors and shamans to chant poetry during religious rites intended to promote well-being. But my favorite bit of the history given there—or should I say bite?—is that, “in ancient Egypt, words were written on papyrus and then dissolved into a solution so that the words could be physically ingested by the patient and take effect as quickly as possible.” To the best of my knowledge, no one has physically ingested one of my poems!  
Poetry isn’t just helpful in dealing with psychological trauma. It can also help with physical pain. Psychiatrist and poet Robert Carroll writes about research that has shown that expressive writing can result in a reduction of symptom complaints by patients and can decrease physiological stress. Physician and poet Rafael Campo says that one of the ways that poetry can heal “is through the rhythms in poetry. There’s actually some science to back this up. Much like meditation, when we hear rhythmic language, when we read poetry aloud, our breathing and our heart rates synchronize. So just as meditation might be beneficial for certain health conditions, the same can be said of poetry.” 
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, writing or reading poems is far from being a cure-all. Obviously, writing a poem is not going to fix a blocked artery or get rid of a malignancy. But even with psychological issues, poetry writing can only do so much if those issues of very deep (think: Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton). Nevertheless, poetry can be very helpful in a variety of ways, as indicated above.  
Poetry also makes for better doctors—which can make for better medical outcomes. McMaster University, some years ago, created a literary companion for pediatric residents there. In the introduction to the list of recommended readings for doctors, they say that “exposure to creative works allows for development of skills essential for the practice of medicine, especially empathy.” (As an aside, I’m proud to say that the list—which is divided into different areas of medicine—includes a poem of mine: “Osteosarcoma: A Love Poem.”)
Rafael Campo concurs that poetry can make for better doctors, saying: “I don’t think of poetry as an irrelevant diversion. I think it’s central to how we can best treat our patients. How we can heal. We doctors, who deal with life and death every day, who look into the eyes of people who are in pain, who are dying, or who are giving birth and having one of the most joyous experiences of their lives, need the humanities to help us make meaning of those experiences for ourselves, and for our patients. That to me is what being a healer truly is.” Campo so strongly believes in the healing power of poetry that he edits the “Poetry and Medicine” section of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  
Books on the subject of poetry and both physical and psychological healing abound, with literally thousands of books on the subject listed at Amazon, including collections of poems that address varying medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and breast cancer, as well as other stressful occurrences. One such collection, for example, Poetic Medicine in the Time of Pandemic: A Collection of Poems from around the World, sought to gather poems from various countries in “an international effort to unite humanity in a fight against Covid-19.”  
The pandemic has without a doubt been a traumatic health crisis for many worldwide, inflicting both physical harm and psychological pain. But what has had me thinking lately about poetry and how it can heal has been my own personal journey during the latter half of 2020. Smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, I ended up developing a partially collapsed lung from pneumonia and being diagnosed, as well, with early-stage ovarian cancer. Through two hospital stays over twelve days and through most of my time during chemotherapy treatments, my wife was not allowed to visit because of Covid precautions, making a scary series of events even more difficult.  
Certainly, the kindness and competence of my many doctors and nurses eased some of my anxiety. But I feel confident saying that I was able to deal with all that I had to go through because I was writing poetry through much of it. I also strongly suspect that I had an easier time with chemo than many people do because I could pour my fears, my confusions, and my small moments of victory into poems. And the poems, in turn, let me share with friends and family what my experience was like, and in a more profound way than I could have if I’d only provided them with the facts. From the procedure to implant a port in my chest (for the delivery of the chemo into my veins) to the procedure to remove it, months later, I documented nearly everything—including probably far too many poems in which I fixated on losing my hair and getting it back!  
While some of the poems were written directly on the heels of whatever they addressed, letting me poetically vent about the good and the bad of it all, others have needed months to take shape, the PTSD of some things requiring time on my part to process them. For instance, surgery for the cancer took place in August of last year, but there were no poems specifically on that topic until I wrote “Valedictory for My Womb” in December. And the pain of two or more blood draws every day for my eight-day hospital stay in July for the collapsed lung wasn’t documented until I wrote “Night Nurse” in April of this year. The point is, even when it takes months or years to be able to write a poem confronting an event, the work they do in terms of bringing some closure is no less powerful.  
As social worker Phyllis Klein says, “Because a poem has a border, a frame, or structure, as opposed to prose, the form itself is a safety net. Strong emotions will not run off the page.” This holds true for the poet no matter her skill level, as well as for those who read the poems, looking for comfort, for understanding, for shared experience.


Robert Carroll, “Finding the Words to Say It: The Healing Power of Poetry,” Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2, no. 2 (June 2005): 161-72,

Harvard Medical School Community, “Imagination and Healing,” March 27, 2019,

Phyllis Klein and Perie Longo, “The Therapeutic Benefit of Poetry,” nd,

McMaster Paediatric Residency Literary Companion,” nd,

History of NAPT,” nd,



To order a copy of Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound