When I meditate, I focus on my breath.

All living beings have some sort of breath,

some in and out, some give and take.

Even amoeba are permeable,

they participate in an exchange

of gases and molecules.


All living things are composed of cells.

Plant cells are more prism than prison,

taking in light and converting it to energy.


Plant cells have walls, but cell-to-cell talk

still takes place. Even epidermal cells,

protecting the leaf surface, allow light in.


When we build walls, there are always

openings, small channels that connect

one side to the other. When there is a blockage

in the human heart or the lungs, it often leads to death.

How do we open these passages, return to



We can often get inspiration from other writers, even sometimes by borrowing lines or phrases from others. There is actually a form of poem called a cento which is made up entirely of lines by other poets, it is a patchwork of sorts. Check out Simone Muench’s Wolf Cento for example. If you like, you can try creating a cento on your own, but today in workshop, I want you to merely borrow a title of a poem- take it from the title of another book or poem, and without consulting the original text, write your own version. If you choose, after you’ve written the poem, you can rename it to something more original, or leave it the way it is.

denise_in_collegeSo I was searching for the perfect poem to share with my mom for Mother’s Day, and I came across a poem of Dean Young’s. It’s a wonderful little poem with some time travel in it. Then, of course, my mother reminds me of the BEST MOTHER POEM EVER! It’s called The Lanyard, by Billy Collins, enjoy! Also, check out this beautiful picture of my mom in her prime. I’m really very lucky to have such a wonderful mother. 

JacobVictorineSo tonight I attended a Jersey City Slam competition- I participated in a workshop led by Jacob Victorine (pictured) and I even got the chance to judge the semi-finals (along with a couple other judges)! I was a little nervous to judge, honestly, being more of a “page poet,” but I went with my gut, and was pleased to see Erin Anastasia win. I like her spunk. Full disclosure: I met Erin a few days ago and will be working on a creative project with her (stay tuned!), but I don’t think that interfered with my judging- I hadn’t seen her perform before.

Jacob Victorine and Will Gibson were the featured poets. I enjoyed speaking to Jacob a bit before the event and thought he ran the workshop well, using an excerpt from the Triggering Town. My favorite poem out of the ones he read was It’s Like There’s Ash Everywhere. It reminded me of the 9/11 aftermath when I was in college. My own experience was a bit more remote than the speaker of the poem, having attended The College of NJ at the time, but I do remember going into Manhattan less than a month after the disaster and visiting the Islamic Wing of the Met. The air still smelled like burning rubber, but the mosaics were beautiful. It was a strange, sad experience, to live through 9/11 while dating a Muslim and studying Islamic Art and Literature… Jacob’s poetry took me back to that time, but with wonder and reverence. My favorite line was “some kids saw the planes / and bodies / and think they’re still falling.”

WillGibsonWill Gibson’s (pictured) poetry was powerful, too, and as I’m looking through his collection Harvest the Dirt, I’m struck by a poem about NYC entitled I Couldn’t Make It There: “New York felt like / Atlantis before the / water came.” Haunting.

Perhaps it’s a little odd that here I am in New Jersey, connecting with these poems about NYC, but I did live there for 9 years. I’m happy to call Jersey City home now, though. Oh, and another great place to get poetry from both sides of the Hudson is the Cross Poetry Review reading! They have an event coming up on May 8th at Porta– check it out!

FullSizeRenderThere is an architectural theory called prospect refuge: Humans need a space with both a view and shelter. Elaine’s work, her third full-length collection of poetry, offers both to the reader– vision and comfort. One of my favorite poems from the collection is the poem Evidence, in which she invokes Philip Levine’s classic What Work Is, painting a picture of her mother and the hard housework she performed during the day, and contrasting that work with an artist showcasing a strange, artificial seeming work of art. I had a similar experience growing up, when I realized “what work is” while interning at a pharmaceutical company with my father. I also take comfort from the poem in knowing I am not alone in wondering where the “work” is in certain pieces.

viewElaine is a great mentor with whom I have had the pleasure to work the past few years, and last night was one of the rewards of working with her, being invited to her book launch at Book Culture, an indie bookstore on the Upper West Side, and the after party. Look at the view we had (see the skyline)!

I was introduced to Elaine Sexton a few years ago, by David Groff, who taught a Poets House workshop on spiritual poetry. When I told him I couldn’t get enough of the workshop, elaineandme he referred me to Elaine. It was gratifying to hear him introduce Elaine at this poetry reading, and to catch up with him, learning about what he has been writing.

How do you know when you’ve found the right teacher to push you along with your writing? I think the right teacher offers you a balance of encouragement and critique. The teacher should be willing to share her own struggles with the art, and also should be attentive enough to start noticing patterns and habits in your own work. The teacher should offer opportunities for artistic growth, through prompts, and through networking. Like the theory, a teacher should offer both prospect and refuge: a vision of where you are going with your art, and a shelter to protect you and house your work when you are resting. Thank you Elaine!

NJThis week (Sat Apr 16) during the Jersey City Writers poetry workshop, we will be trying out two prompts. The first is to write a poem using some geographical terms in new ways. For inspiration, read Zachary Schomburg’s THE THINGS THAT SURROUND US. You can also check out Wikipedia for a glossary of geography terms.

The second prompt is to write about a blessing or sacred text (perhaps scripture, perhaps scientific document), but focus on your reaction to the text. How does it make you (or the speaker) feel? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive reaction. For inspiration, read Tony Hoagland’s Bible Study.