It’s Like Competing With Liza Minnelli in “Cabaret”

I am sorrowful.

I was looking through the thesaurus to find out exactly what it was I was feeling: it wasn’t sad, it wasn’t chagrined or disappointed.  It was sorrowful.


A month or so ago I found the Walt Whitman Poetry contest, which definitely sounded like it was up my alley.  I do love Whitman’s poetry, and it was great to have a goal (and a deadline) to work towards.  It is certainly forcing me to write constantly, which is…hard, but good.  My poetry has matured significantly just in the very short time I have been working on it (is this poetic hubris, I wonder?).

The judge of the Walt Whitman Poetry contest is Tracy K. Smith.  And, naturally, the best way to understand the poet is to understand the poetry.  So I bought her book:  Life on Mars

Born in Massachusetts, Tracy K. Smith earned her BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University.Tracy-K-Smith-448From 1997 to 1999 she held a Stegner fellowship at Stanford University. Smith is the author of three books of poetry: The Body’s Question(2003), which won the Cave Canem prize for the best first book by an African-American poet; Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essense Literary Award; and Life on Mars (2011), which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In 2014 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship.

Smith teaches creative writing at Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn.




Every day, since I first received her book, Life on Mars, I have carried it with me.  It has been thrown into my backpack (carefully), I have studied it while the kids were in their Martial Arts’ class, I take it to my nightstand before I sleep…this book has been attached to my hip for a month.

I have studied her words, her phrases, tried to understand what she was saying and how she was saying it.  I have eat, slept and breathed Life on Mars.  I am enamored with the words.  I feel a personal connection with the poetry.  I am in love with this book.


What is love?  According to TED speaker, Brad Troeger, “Love is potentially the most intense thing that has been thought of for all of history.”  And that’s true.  Love has been dissected, resected, bisected and had autopsies performed on it in order to figure out what it is.

Good love is a vulnerable relationship between people.  I am vulnerable with Ben because I trust him with my love.  I love my children with a vulnerable, motherly love that manifests itself in our relationship.  Love is a very delicate and well balanced thing: it takes two sides to make a relationship, and a relationship can form love.

When a poet puts their words onto paper, they begin the relationship with the reader.  The reader, then, will read it and either respond to the poem with understanding, or not respond to the poet and walk away.  A truly good relationship will form lasting bonds that will stay the course of a lifetime: those are the poems you remember years after you read them because they touched something inside you.  And you fell in love with the poem.

I have fallen in love with the poetry in Life on Mars.  I have invested a part of me into studying Smith’s works in very sincere ways.  Her poetry is beyond ethereal, and she speaks in broad strokes, as well as finishing lines, and now that I cannot submit my work into the Walt Whitman  poetry contest…I am feeling grief because I am not able to send my poetry to Tracy K. Smith.


Today I found out I can’t actually submit my work to the contest, because it is for “first book” submissions:  and I already have a poetry book with an ISBN #.




This is so disappointing.  Sorrowfully disappointing.











Entertainment Weekly


Emma Stone is going to play Sally Bowles in ‘Cabaret’ on Broadway.

This is insane.


Liza Minnelli killed it with her performance in Cabaret.  I am not even a “musical” person, but her performances were some of the most amazing numbers I have ever seen.  Maybe the most amazing numbers, because I can’t think of any that outshine her.


Emma Stone has devoted her entire life to her singing and acting, and now she is playing Sally Bowles in Cabaret.  This is so outstandingly exciting for her, I am thrilled!!

It gives me hope for myself.  Some day, after I have put in more hours and more sleepless nights fretting over allusions and phrasings…some day maybe I can follow in Tracy K. Smith’s footsteps.  Maybe one day my poetry will inspire people to fall in love with poetry.

Love is definitely worth writing for.


Thank You, Tracy K. Smith.



After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being—a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure
That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?
Would I put on my coat and return to the kitchen where my
Mother and father sit waiting, dinner keeping warm on the stove?
Bowie will never die. Nothing will come for him in his sleep
Or charging through his veins. And he’ll never grow old,
Just like the woman you lost, who will always be dark-haired
And flush-faced, running toward an electronic screen
That clocks the minutes, the miles left to go. Just like the life
In which I’m forever a child looking out my window at the night sky
Thinking one day I’ll touch the world with bare hands
Even if it burns.

I Have Printed Out 9 Poems

Oh no, not another poetry post!

My darlings, you just have to let the poetry flow through you.tumblr_m543mb59NN1rqrz8n


BTW, did you know Benedict has a movie coming out about Allan Turing?  Ben showed me the trailer last night.  It is so completely unfair.  Benedict.  Playing the man who invented computers.

It comes out on November 21st.  You better believe I’m going.  I have a thing for geeks.

Okay, so poetry.

I have been reading Tracy K. Smith’s book “Life on Mars,” as well as continuing to take the “Art of Poetry” class by Robert Pinsky, and doing a little writing to get the gears going.

It’s tough.

For two reasons: 1) It is tough reading Pulitzer Prize winning poetry and the poetry from a Poet Laurette, and thinking, “oh yes, I can do this.” 2) My inner critic is at full tilt.

What I decided I had to do was go through the notebook I have been writing in, and actually print out the poems I think are pretty good.  So, I have 9 poems total that I think are pretty okay.

I’m sharing one I wrote years ago, and then sharing one I wrote recently to show you the progress and changes in direction I’m making.  Because it’s interesting!

1)  Written in 2004

My Pot

The angel said to the women:

Do not be afraid, for

I know you are looking for Jesus.

Like shovels of soil thrown into my pot,

my troubles have overwhelmed me,

and I cannot see.

My courage leaves me, and I hold

still in the soil.

I am  depleted and tender,

but though I face fear in my

sodden solitude,

I put my bulb of trust in the Lord.

I am hurt, and He thinks of me.

I reach my eager, green fingers

through the dirt, and I search;

I hear,

the noise of the world, and the

noisome tales on the air.

I see

secular stories of my world,

of His world.

I seek

books searching for meaning

where I do find volumes of drivel.

Through all the mud and muck

I climb through

sifting and sorting, on

my search for truth:

on the air, in the world, through absurdity –

and when my green leaves

burst through the potted soil,

and grab the Lord’s warm rays –

I raise my white lily head

and proudly reclaim the pot as

my own, sifted in righteousness.

I heard him say when I was below:

Do not be afraid,

I know you are looking for Jesus.

I was looking,

and my rapturous spirit has arisen with Him

on this Easter day.


2)  Written the other day


The Buffalo In The Room

Sometime, in between, the beats of torn petals

we meet in the parlor, sharing

a mint mocha called a Snuggler

and scrape the soft, slightly melty chocolate chips

out of the nook at the bottom of the tall

glass, garage sale, cafe` cup.

Somewhere in between little chuckles and

bullish smiles, quickly hidden by a napkin,

we stare at our fingers.

Sequentially, beating the dance of our parents

on the timeworn wooden table, shuffling silverware

shoulder shaking the hustle to the rhythm of our screed.

A lifesize buffalo head looms over our table

as our spirit animal.  He remembers the days

of indulgent opportunity, the long days on the long American veldt

spent in slow ambulate with his tribe.

Minding the calves and entertaining the satisfied ladies.

With a glassy stare he could almost see the valley

filled with long shadows, thrown in billows over the tributary

leading to the Missouri River,

whose waters dried up after Jesse James was shot in 1882.


Sea Weed

I watched it rip itself from the bottom and float to the surface one marine-foggy day. The amber bulbs floated as buoys for the stalk and leaves that followed the ascent. It was a longish piece from the fringe of the bed of kelp, and it seemed to writhe and struggle against the waves until it could snap its base and untangle itself from the roots which had affixed it to the clump of mud that had been loitering next to an old watch and a bottle of something empty; but the label had come off, and I do not know what substance had lingered within until it had inebriated its posses- sor enough to let it escape beneath the waves, as well.

I let some breath release from my lungs and I followed the piece of kelp, a little sorry for
having to breathe at all, and leaving the reticent peace. My yellow and green fins stirred up some sand on the way up, raising some detached seagrass so a few got tangled on my legs and came along for a free ride. When I got to the surface my mask was a little foggy anyway, so I was able to take it off and spit in it again to keep the mist from collecting. There was a little more foam floating around me than when I first went down, and I figured it was due to the winds picking up and churning the waters a little bit more. I looked back to the shore looking for beach flags to see if I was right: which I was. The lifeguards’ pole had a hysterical fabric orange cone attached to the top, as if struggling to break free and warn us all of what it sees looming on the horizon,
that only it can see from that vantage point.

The kelp I had followed was floating next to me, some of it draping down the wave it trembled on. It had trapped some of the mocha foam in circulets of stem it had looped in the water, creat- ing little hills of salty fluff. I didn’t feel like I was moving, except for the motion of the ocean breathing, raising and lowering me in a gentle lull; yet, when I looked back to see if the orange cone had finally gotten its wish, I saw the towel I had laid down on a mound of sand was much smaller than a few minutes previous. I kissed an amber bulb and wished the kelp the best of fates as it drifted away from us, and decided my own fate would not fare as well if I drifted towards the horizon, so I paddled my fins and headed back to the shore. There was still a few long,
dark green strands of seagrass wrapped around me for good luck. I let them come along: who was I to interrupt the destiny of seagrass?

The wind had indeed picked up and it roared in my cold ears. In my trek back, I could only rel- ish with the memory of watching that piece of kelp furiously snap itself and drift away, by itself. It didn’t mind the hills of foam that it collected, nor the slight wilting some of its leaves suc- cumbed to by surfacing.

I swam on my back and watched it float in the direction of the sun.

Trying To Learn How To Decorate Your Home For Fall

As I type this, I am also listening to Robert Pinsky reading a sonnet written by Michaelangelo about the pleasure of complaining, while he was painting the Sistine Chapel.  It is so lovely, I could listen to this all day.

I’m prepping for Pinsky’s edX class that starts today.

In conjunction with Boston University and edX, Robert Pinsky is teaching a free, eight-week online poetry course which begins on September 30th (you can register here).

I am geeking out on wild levels.  Robert Pinsky.  ROBERT. PINKSY. Holy cow…

Robert Pinsky is one of America’s foremost poet-critics. Often called the last of the “civic” or public poets, Pinsky’s criticism and verse reflect his concern for a contemporary poetic diction that nonetheless speaks of a wider experience. Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a meaningful and integral part of American life. “I think poetry is a vital part of our intelligence, our ability to learn, our ability to remember, the relationship between our bodies and minds,” he told the Christian Science Monitor. “Poetry’s highest purpose is to provide a unique sensation of coordination between the intelligence, emotions and the body. It’s one of the most fundamental pleasures a person can experience.” (poetry foundation)

I graduated high school in 1996, and I started reading Pinsky’s work right about then.  The only bookstore we had back then was a Crown Bookstore next to a ROSS.  It had pretty typical books with a huge mystery section and a fantasy section with 3 books.  The poetry section had a shelf of sonnets, which just goes to show how educated people allowed themselves to be about poetry movements: what is there besides Shakespeare?  But I knew there was more to poetry than the sonnets we had to read in English class, so I searched and searched, and finally found some modern poetry.

I just want to point out, also, that when I graduated high school I had fully intended to become a marine biologist.  I spent all my time scouring the shelves of SanFrancisco for poetry books, and yet I thought I was a scientist.  My goodness….

I remember finding Robert Pinsky’s poems, and being mesmerized by his words.  He is a man among poets.  I enjoy his words in the same way that I fell in love with Robert Frost’s words: they take you somewhere very real. Somewhere you swear you have been before.  When we visited Frost’s farm last year, I knew the entire place like the back of my hand.  I recognized the path next to the little stone wall that he would walk up and down.  I recognized the window on the second floor, out of which he would watch his wife walk across the little hill on their land while she was grieving the death of their son.  His poems took me to where he lived, and when I visited the farm, it was like visiting a very good friend whom you never want to leave.

Pinsky has a grasp of language that is unparalleled.


Dire one and desired one,
Savior, sentencer–

In an old allegory you would carry
A chained alphabet of tokens:

Ankh Badge Cross.
Engraved figure guarding a hallowed intaglio,
Jasper kinema of legendary Mind,
Naked omphalos pierced
By quills of rhyme or sense, torah-like: unborn
Vein of will, xenophile
Yearning out of Zero.

Untrusting I court you. Wavering
I seek your face, I read
That Crusoe’s knife
Reeked of you, that to defile you
The soldier makes the rabbi spit on the torah.
“I’ll drown my book” says Shakespeare.

Drowned walker, revenant.
After my mother fell on her head, she became
More than ever your sworn enemy. She spoke
Sometimes like a poet or critic of forty years later.
Or she spoke of the world as Thersites spoke of the heroes,
“I think they have swallowed one another. I
Would laugh at that miracle.”

You also in the laughter, warrior angel:
Your helmet the zodiac, rocket-plumed
Your spear the beggar’s finger pointing to the mouth
Your heel planted on the serpent Formulation
Your face a vapor, the wreath of cigarette smoke crowning
Bogart as he winces through it.

You not in the words, not even
Between the words, but a torsion,
A cleavage, a stirring.

You stirring even in the arctic ice,
Even at the dark ocean floor, even
In the cellular flesh of a stone.
Gas. Gossamer. My poker friends
Question your presence
In a poem by me, passing the magazine
One to another.

Not the stone and not the words, you
Like a veil over Arthur’s headstone,
The passage from Proverbs he chose
While he was too ill to teach
And still well enough to read, I was
Beside the master craftsman
Delighting him day after day, ever
At play in his presence–you

A soothing veil of distraction playing over
Dying Arthur playing in the hospital,
Thumbing the Bible, fuzzy from medication,
Ever courting your presence,
And you the prognosis,
You in the cough.

Gesturer, when is your spur, your cloud?
You in the airport rituals of greeting and parting.
Indicter, who is your claimant?
Bell at the gate. Spiderweb iron bridge.
Cloak, video, aroma, rue, what is your
Elected silence, where was your seed?

What is Imagination
But your lost child born to give birth to you?

Dire one. Desired one.
Savior, sentencer–

Or presence ever at play:
Let those scorn you who never
Starved in your dearth. If I
Dare to disparage
Your harp of shadows I taste
Wormwood and motor oil, I pour
Ashes on my head. You are the wound. You
Be the medicine.

…and my very core shudders at the thought of being able to audit one of his classes.  I am ridiculously excited.

But it is also Fall, and I would like to decorate my house for the kids.  Yesterday I bought a tea towel for the stove that had apples on it.  That was pretty major for me, and Nova mentioned how pretty the towel was.  Here are some Pinterest ideas I also found…because I have no idea what I am doing in regards to decorating a house.  No idea.


Screenshot 2014-09-30 08.50.26







Screenshot 2014-09-30 08.52.45Screenshot 2014-09-30 08.54.13

















Eh, you get the idea.  The rest of the ideas are here.Screenshot 2014-09-30 08.57.07











Found Interview with Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is completely shaking the foundations of my hubris.

I thought I was a good poet.  I think most poets are of this notion of themselves, or we wouldn’t write.  But her book, “Life On Mars” is driving me crazy, it is so great. Not good.  Great.

The words. They scansion. The images. The flow. Everything. It is almost painfully amazing.


I found an interview with Mrs. Smith, and I have loved reading it many times…I had to share.  It was too good to keep this to myself.



Interview with Tracy K. Smith – “Poets are Lucky”

Posted byMichael Klein

“I met Tracy K. Smith a couple of weeks before she won the Pulitzer Prize for her terrific and completely ravishing new book, Life on Mars.  We were at a book party for Stephen Motika and his lovely new book, Western Practice – a loft somewhere downtown, in the rain, owned by people I didn’t know.  Tracy came over to tell me what a great speaking voice I had (aside from being raspy and constantly compared to Harvey Fierstein and Wolfman Jack, it is also pretty loud) which is not always the best opening line – except that in Tracy’s case, the speaking voice at large was a subject quickly abandoned for the more important subjects of writing, teaching and other poets we both know and love.

Life on Mars is a book about a world real and a world imagined and, at times, a kind of world ecstatically hoped for.  And so, my questions for Tracy really had to do with how she managed to take on those worlds in such a simple and intimate way and how, in the end, such a balancing act is a vocation the poet is – when the wind is right – uniquely qualified for.

Michael Klein:  Firstly, Mazel Tov! on your fantastic Pulitzer news.  I e-mailed you the other day about this panel that Jan Clausen is proposing for the AWP Conference next year, which I think is terrific and immediately made me think of you and your wonderful Life on Mars – the book, that is.  Jan’s panel is called “Late Word: Imagination on the Brink” which is about how the collective consciousness has been trying to define itself since the 1950’s – the nuclear imagination, let’s call it – as something that either lets the world go, or holds the world, i.e., prevents it from blowing up.  You wrote me back to say that you were thinking a lot about these kinds of things and wondering how your poems might begin to address them.  And I think Life on Mars is actually the start of that thinking.  Can you tell me more about you approach the subject of – let’s call it,life here – on the brink, on earth?

Tracy K. Smith:  Well, I think that believing in language – in the ability of words to bring even an imagined reality into being – is a big part of what it means to write poetry.  If something like an idea or a belief is capable of being imagined or even described, then the possibility that it will be acted upon becomes much more likely.  I think that many of my poems are attempts to take myself up on that premise, to step into conversation with voices and events that require me to decide something:  what do I believe is right?   What is the more subtle or subjective view of this situation?  What must I challenge myself to understand?  And what, if spoken, will require me to hold myself to a better standard of being or believing?  In terms of wanting to hold the world or letting it go, I personally am earnest enough to want to hold it. And I think most people who aren’t radical fundamentalists of one variety or another feel the same way.  I’d even wager that the radicals believe they are trying to save the world for something.

MK:  Of course, what I love about Life On Mars is how otherworldly it is and yet how direct it is, too, about life on earth.  You make the universe as intimate as love for a father.  Everyday life, common knowledge, aside for a moment, where do you think your attraction come from to those things we can’t see, something like God, and the imaginary life?

TKS:  I wrote the bulk of the book in the wake of my father’s death, and while I was pregnant with my daughter.  So those unknowns felt very present and very urgent for me.  I needed to figure out where I believed my father had gone and what he had become a part of, and so approaching the page really became a matter of attempting to describe or create a version of that world that would allow me to move through my private grief to something else.  But even beyond my own private experience, I think it’s quite natural to use versions of what we know or have experienced as the framework for imagining what we cannot know, and what we have not yet experienced.  That’s why metaphor exists.

MK:  The book also is full of sweeping gestures but it’s also smaller, meditative.  And it feels metaphysical as well.  You can write a poem like “Life on Mars” and then something pared down like “The Good Life”.  Is there such a thing as something too big to write about?  Too small?

TKS:  Well, I obviously don’t think so!  I hope that in both cases, concrete particulars save the poem from feeling too abstract and too inconsequential.  My belief is that they create the sense of a real space or a real encounter to be entered into and felt.  And I think that the desire for feeling is a large part of what attracts many of us to poems.

MK:  The tone of the book is so sweet – and I don’t mean that in a syrupy or condescending way at all – but I was struck by how instead of dread about thecontemporary human condition, you seem to have a shining hopefulness about it all.  It made me think that writing – even if the going is dark – is actually a joyful act for you.  Is it?

TKS:  I don’t know how hopeful I feel in real life.  And I think that some of the poems linger in a dark or unresolved place.  “Ransom” is an example of a brief poem that doesn’t try to fix anything, and that registers dissatisfaction with the kind of pat solution that has been posited for a complex problem like that of piracy.  And “Life on Mars” doesn’t really emerge into the light, though perhaps it implies that there is agency at the root of conflict, and therefore the possibility for something better to characterize the ways we as humans relate to one another.  But I will agree that there is also a sense of compassion that the book is trying to envision.  It was very important for me to step outside of my own sense of right and wrong in the poem “They May Love All that He Has Chosen and Hate All that He Has Rejected” and test out a perspective that felt more distant and comprehending, characterized by the kind of understanding I imagine the dead come into.  It was a very uncomfortable thing to do, but I felt that the poem required it, and I think it taught me something about how I as a citizen might attempt to look at the world.  Joy is a part of my process.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that poetry, as a practice, necessitates a sense of joy.  It’s exhilarating to come into contact with the things we write into being.  And a real sense of play and abandon – even when we are relying on hard-won technique, and even when the aim is deadly serious.  How often do we get the excuse to stop, think, and then stop thinking altogether and try to listen to what sits behind our outside of our thoughts?  Poets are lucky.

Image from here.”