Dee Cohen on Poetry

May 2022
Jeff Daverman

Prescott spoken-word artist Jeff Daverman has a mission. “Our work in this life is to contribute to the collective conscience by doing the individual internal work it takes to gain wisdom and grow in mindfulness.” As both artist and activist, he strives to share his message with others. “When the internal work is the focus, the individual grows wiser, and thus the collective grows wiser.”

In addition to poetry, Jeff is a visual and graphic artist. He finds that different media present unique challenges, but also have much in common. “In all my creative endeavors I seek to convey an authentic expression, as closely aligned to truth and the nature of reality as I can.” Poetry challenges him to approach art from innovative perspectives. “Poetry gives me a way to stretch my creativity and apply entirely different processes. Using language, cadence, rhythm, rhyme and metaphors to paint a lyrical picture is a great complement to my visual art.”

Spoken-word poetry has its roots in oral traditions. It also requires the performer to have a good memory. “Mastering a poem well enough to recite it on stage pushes my comfort zone and helps me redefine what I am capable of creatively. Using succinct language to express ideas that have depth is a beautiful challenge.” Jeff feels honored to join other artists who express themselves through spoken-word poetry. “I love the courageous souls who step into the arena to dare greatly and become vulnerable in hopes of sparking connection.”

Political and social justice struggles are often themes in Jeff’s poetry. “The work of being an activist and the work of being an artist help me plug into a cause greater than myself, and present opportunities to put my beliefs into action alongside kindred spirits in a like-minded community.”

Recently Jeff performed the following poem, “From the Front Lines of the Nonviolent Revolution,” at the Prescott Courthouse in front of an appreciative crowd. Unlike other poems he’s written, this poem came easily. “It just flowed out of me, as though the universe was giving me this message to present to the world. I had tapped into a creative expression that instantly became alive in me.” He is pleased that the poem has received such positive acclaim. “This poem represents who I am and what I believe about as well as any single work of art I’ve ever created, so collaborating with the universe on such a high frequency alone feels mighty successful. The fact that it has struck an emotional chord with some of the folks who have heard me recite it is a pretty sweet bonus.”

When discussing the poem, he says, “This poem is a reminder that the struggle always begins within the heart of each individual working to better themselves and the world around them.” For Jeff, change starts from within, then grows to connect with the larger community. “Acting from a foundation based in love and applying a consciousness that considers the wellbeing of others and the planet we share is how we best contribute to the true revolution; the evolution of consciousness.”

From the Front Lines of the Nonviolent Revolution

(a reminder)

In every moment, GRATITUDE

Forget the farce and platitudes

Align instead your attitude

To all vibrations positive

Rejecting fear, and pledge to live

A life whose wealth is what you give,

A heart whose health… imperative

May wisdom guide the narrative

Through all this present lucid dreaming

The universe not so gently screaming,

“Appreciation, Consideration, Empathy and Compassion

These are the things you do not have to ration!”

Transcendent egos called to action

The law of love is gaining traction

Heed the call, oh Mortal Conduit!

Feel the flow and know to roll with it

Feed the soul, let go the bullshit

Cut those ties and recognize the lies

The illusion of separateness

Is but a disguise

When you see through

that what’s true has been defaced

Negativity displaced, the need for violence erased

And when there is space to ponder grace

Yourself reflected in another one’s face…

Yourself reflected in another one’s face

The place to embrace simultaneously

To agree to see common humanity

To share the same air and dare to be

Inspired by the mystery

Beyond him or her or them or me

In order to be free we already hold the key

Applying awareness on the conscious frontier

With a deep understanding that love is greater than fear

Empowering voices and subsequent choices

This guidance is strident and abundantly clear!

With no reservations, this revelation’s

A distinguished creation of reciprocation

Shout it out, I’ll say it to every nation,

“Your behavior is your best illustration.”

By being the light in the night of unknowing

With hope as the scope of consciousness glowing

Harvesting love from the seeds that we sow,

Nonviolent Revolution continues to grow

Nonviolent Revolution continues to grow

Nonviolent Revolution continues to grow!

This poem is dedicated to Nonviolent Revolutionaries past and present.

April 2022
Susan Vespoli

When Arizona resident Susan Vespoli discovered poetry in a community-college classroom, she never looked back. Her long marriage had just ended, her children were grown, and she was ready for a change. She sold her Montessori School business, bought a cabin in the forest of Prescott, and “ran away to poetry school.” Susan is “a devout believer in the power of writing to heal, transform, illuminate.” Through many life challenges she’s used poetry to understand and grow from her experiences. Poetry is a way for her to “access truth, speak truth, get it out of my body. I like the condensed form, getting rid of extraneous words, boiling it down to the nugget of truth.”

Poems come to Susan in several ways. She writes her “morning pages” every day, and participates in writing groups and writing circles where new material is worked on. “After I let it all hang out in my notebook, no editing or judgment, I feel lighter, and can just let it go and move about my day or gather insight and clarity.” Poets get together in her writing groups to give feedback and support. Her writing circles are based on a technique called Wild Writing, which she practices and teaches through workshops. Participants write nonstop for 15 minutes, which helps push them past their inner critics into a more creative mentality. The writing technique “allows me to get out of my swirling head and drop into the stillness except for the pen I keep moving as fast as I can.” At other times, she uses poetry specifically to work through problems. “I will write poems to figure something out, or make peace with a confusing event or situation. After writing a poem, I so very often have an aha! moment, and find peace and clarity.”

Since graduating with her MFA in poetry Susan has taught at several schools, including Prescott College and Phoenix College. She works now at Writers.com, which offers online writing classes. She’s published many poems, essays, and two chapbooks. She’s recently published the poetry collection Blame It on the Serpent.

The month’s poem, “Food Bank,” explores a topic close to Susan’s heart: drug addiction in her family. She writes, “My son had found his own sort of recovery by volunteering in this food bank. I am more of a nature-and-writing-as-spirituality person, yet I saw how his work in this church’s food bank was transforming him.” In the poem, the listing of actions and items take on an exalted status, beautifully mirroring the religious fervor of the son. “I believe everyone has their own path to light,” Susan adds, “and in this place, he had found his.” Sadly, her son, Adam Vespoli, passed away unexpectedly on March 12, 2022. For Susan, writing poetry and sharing it with others is her path to light.

To find out more about Susan: susanvespoli.com.
Susan will be reading at Peregrine Book Company in April: peregrinebookcompany.com/event

Food Bank

After a summer of living in his car,

after the DUI, the stint in Tent City,

decades of denial, fits of angry texts,

shakes and sweats over a barbecue grill,

a broken window. After near-death drug

deals, lying passed out in a fellow junkie’s house,

his sister sobbing into her phone, me behind

a bathroom door in another state trying to calm her.

After years of 12-step meetings (mine), tying my life

to mantras like let go or be dragged, letting grief

be a marinade to soften me a la some paraphrased Rumi poem.

After praying to my dead friend Jamelle, asking her to look

for him, look after him, wherever he was. After searching

strangers’ faces for his for over a year, he resurfaces,

altered. After he found in a black sack in his dad’s garage,

the book, Message to a Troubled World, written by my great

grandmother, channeled through an Ouija board in the 1940s.

After he could quote passages from the book like scripture.

After the methadone clinic. After looking for a church.

After handing water bottles to those holding cardboard signs

at street corners. After scavenging backpacks from bulk trash,

gifting them to those he met along the canals, those who carried

their belongings in plastic bags, he now stands in a place where

he tells me he’s never been this happy, serving others, the answer,

a place where he finally feels he fits — in a room stacked with milk

crates and boxes with graphics of bananas, metal shelves piled high

with iceberg, red bell peppers, striped melons, cukes and squash,

row upon row of Kashi, Kraft mac and cheese, Campbell’s cans, jars

of Skippy and grape jam, the crew of volunteers clad in khaki pants

and Pure Heart t-shirts, their arms and legs in wheel-like motion, food to box,

box to the next arms in a line that forms outside the door. My son grinning,

his open hand sweeping the room, pointing to produce, day-old pastries, dairy,

meat, eggs in the walk-in fridge, beams of Tuesday sunlight scattering through

the glass, falling on all in the scene, his face and eyes wide, effervescent, lit.

March 2022
Jesse Sensibar

Jesse Sensibar

“Hard times, hard writing, and whole hell of a lot to be thankful for.”

Dee Cohen on Poetry


Arizona poet Jesse Sensibar is at home on the road. He lives in both Flagstaff and Tucson, but travels frequently through the deserts, forests, and changing landscapes of the Southwest. “The places I call home are very important to me, but at the same time I always need to get out and get away.” Through his work as a tow-truck driver, he’s documented his journeys, taking photos and writing poems and essays that capture forgotten towns and people. His poetic work is gritty and direct, with an ability to highlight and heighten everyday struggles. For Jesse, poetry can “boil something much larger down to its essence, its few most important ideas, images, actions, or events.” Pulling from a lifetime of experiences “in tattoo shops, pizza parlors, corner bars, speed shops, and motorcycle clubhouses,” Jesse creates poems that reflect hard-won gains and heartbreaking setbacks.


Jesse has written two books: a collection of essays, My Disappearing West, and a memoir, Blood in the Asphalt: Prayers from the Highway. He is involved in many aspects of the writing community, including as a visiting author at ASU and former executive director of the Northern AZ Book Festival. His work has appeared in over 40 publications, and he performs in many venues throughout the state. He switches from essays to poems to flash-fiction to photos, depending on what he wants to express. “I choose the medium that works best to tell the story I am trying to tell. That’s primarily what I am, a storyteller.”


Jesse says he often visits and revisits repeating themes in his work. “I chew on them like a small dog with a large bone.” These recurring ideas include “documenting the passing of a rapidly disappearing American West and pondering the fleeting nature of memory, sin, spirituality and forgiveness.” Jesse relates that he can both “simultaneously hide in a poem and use it to reveal all sorts of secrets, feelings, etc., that might otherwise be difficult to give voice to. It’s also a great way to depart from the truth of an event without ever actually being a liar.”


Besides his familiar themes, Jesse’s work is influenced by other factors: “Personal experience, of course, but also things and people I hear and read, the work I do, and the landscapes I inhabit all influence my work. I’m never writing in a voice that’s not my own.” His honest voice leads him to create poems that demand to be expressed: “I write about whatever it is that’s stuck in my head that needs to come out. I write the poems of the life I’ve lived so they can’t help but come across as honest, or as honest as my experience allows them to be.”


It’s important to him to communicate with his readers. “I want you to feel what I feel. I want to impart to you some of the hard lessons I’ve learned.” Included in Jesse’s hard lessons are memories of years spent caught in the outlaw drug culture as a drug abuser. Nowadays, Jesse considers himself lucky. “I’ve lived a long life, much longer than I deserve given the things I’ve done. These are my bonus years. I count every day above ground as a good day.”


The following pieces are from a collection of six linked poems called Fire in the Bottom of the World that was published as a microzine by Rinky-Dink Press. “This collection has throughlines of family, fire and the Inland Empire of California, a place that reflects for me in my rear-view mirror my own damaged soul.” Reading Jesse’s poetry means traveling alongside him as he reveals a weathered world of damaged souls, fading highways, roadside memorials and beautiful sunrises.


For more visit jessesensibar.com.

Hear Jesse read these poems at youtu.be/CLNiTDrjEdo.


Light Changes Everything

If it’s a car bomb

or a sunrise


A stripper strobe

or a Polaroid flash bulb


A partial eclipse

or lung burning smoke


If it’s a forest fire

or a sunset


Light changes everything


The Last Will

I’ll leave all my pain to

twenty-three Saints and the Virgin.


I’ll leave the road to

my ghost in a butterfly-hood Kenworth.


I’ll leave my treasure to

my lovers and children.


I’ll leave my guns

on the ground where they fall.


Return From Kandahar

Every photo needs

a bit of sky


Especially the one of me

outside The Torches Motel


At dusk or sunrise

I don’t remember which


Whisky bottle in one hand

your waist in the other


Where I finally broke

Here in the bottom of the world


February 2022
Austin Davis

Mesa poet Austin Davis is a poet and activist, currently studying creative writing at ASU. He runs an outreach program called AZ Hugs For the Houseless through the organization Arizona Jews for Justice. His writing covers many political and social issues, ranging from gun violence to homelessness to equal rights.

Austin Davis

For Austin, poetry is a way to “connect with people. I want to help people feel less alone. We’re all moving through this life together, and being a human can be hard.” Through his poetry, he hopes to “show people new perspectives, inspire progressive change, and help the world heal, even in a very small way.”

Austin was drawn to poetry early on. “In sixth grade I discovered some contemporary poets, and I fell in love with how much emotion and feeling could be conveyed in such little words.” His connection with poetry never dimmed. “Poetry has always felt like magic to me.” Creating poems brings him great satisfaction and joy. “A poem makes me feel like a kid. And that’s pretty damn nice. It’s like being understood and seen and hugged and human and together across time and space all at once.”

In his work with vulnerable populations, Austin’s organization provides essential supplies and services. Through these interactions he’s “learned a lot about the fragility of life, the complete and terrifying randomness of existence, but also about how important it is for the people around us to know we love them, for us to be there for one another.”

Besides political and social themes, Austin makes room for other varied topics. “Sometimes it’s depression or intrusive thoughts. Sometimes it's my favorite SpongeBob episode. Sometimes it’s wanting to claw out my brains with the miniature rake from a Zen garden.” Poems appear out of “quick bursts of energy. I feel a certain image or a line in my bones, and I need more than anything to get up and write it down.” And he seems to be able to create anywhere: “I write in the streets, in my van, on my front doorstep, in a McDonald’s parking lot, or wherever inspiration hits me.”

Austin enjoys sharing his work with others, on the page and in person. “Performing makes everything I feel sad or stressed about melt away. My aim is to try to give audiences the kind of performance they’ll think about later when they’re falling asleep, when you think about whatever as made you feel something throughout the day. That’s the dream.”

Austin’s written two books of poetry, The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore and Celestial Night Light. The following poem is from his upcoming book Lotus & The Apocalypse. Lotus is a continuing character in the book. “Lotus is all the bad thoughts you shove inside the back closet in the empty room in the darkest part of your brain.” In the poem “Lotus & Fear” Austin manages to juggle both desperation and hopefulness, recognizing darkness and depression, yet finding solace in connection with others.

Throughout his poetry, Austin returns to what inspires him most, both personally and in working with vulnerable populations. “Love is what helps us survive those nights when your head is stuck in the storm clouds and you’re choking on darkness. At the end of the day, love is all that really matters.”

To find out more about Austin, visit msha.ke/austindavis.

LOTUS & FEAR


there’s a yellow balloon, the color of autumn after snow,

bouncing around my chest


i often mistake its rhythm for my heartbeat,

so trust me,

i know i can’t be trusted


let’s play a party game

where we have to take turns telling each other

about all of our fears and mistakes

and take a shot each time we wish we had a time machine


we’ll be blackout drunk before the guests start ringing our doorbell


last night i broke into my old elementary school

and left a coffee mug full of wet dirt and seeds in the janitor’s closet

to see if it’s possible for a flower to grow tall and bright

under the glow of a lightbulb on a string


i’ve always thought of happiness as being tangible

the most brilliant mango hanging from the highest branch


but if we can’t even find the forest how are we supposed to climb the tree?


each day numbs me into dismissiveness

until my lips are purple from wine


and i’m sitting on the patio

watching the rain darken the red brick tiles around my feet


fill my lungs with hot breath

and we'll blow out the candles together


sing that familiar tune

learn how to pop without a sound

January 2022
Jefferson Carter

Good poems sneak up on you. You move down the page expecting, well, the expected, and suddenly there’s a twist or a surprise, or the double meaning of a word transforms humor into heartbreak. Tucson poet Jefferson Carter is always on the lookout for original ways of interpreting the world. “It’s the unpredictable phrase, the words and thoughts that come out of nowhere, that I esteem. My job is to be receptive to them.”

Jefferson calls himself “an opportunist, not a poet with a plan.” His subject matter includes anything that “catches my fancy. I write about an engaging image, a political or environmental issue, a bit of zoology, an overheard conversation, and, of course, love.” He’s published eleven collections of poems with striking titles such as Birkenstock Blues and Diphtheria Festival. Throughout his work he rethinks everyday experiences, turning menial tasks like cleaning the litter box or eating last night’s leftovers or unfriending people on Facebook into meaningful moments. His distinctive voice is both matter-of-fact and ironically humorous.

Even as a child, Jefferson was strongly moved by poetry. “I remember in the fifth grade reading Keats’ ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ and being blown away. I wanted to do that! I knew I’d write poetry someday, but I put if off because I was afraid I’d be no good.” His early influences were Jonathan Swift and John Donne. “Swift still influences me, though I must be careful to temper my satirical tendencies.” While studying for his PhD in English Literature at the University of Arizona he received an assignment to write 50 heroic couplets. “I had fun writing the piece, and became confident enough to write a few poems of my own. I submitted one to a journal in Houston. It was accepted, and, voila! A ‘career’ was launched!” Since then his work has appeared in many journals, and he has performed in venues across Arizona and beyond. He also taught at Pima Community College for 30 years, 18 as Writing Department chair.

There are many reasons Jefferson is drawn to poetry. “I love the expressive possibilities in line breaks, the challenge of heightening the conversational, colloquial diction I favor.” For him, writing prose is a chore. “As department chair I dreaded composing memos, even short ones. I wrote a 300-page dissertation for my PhD. That may have scotched forever my interest in writing prose.” He’s selective about what he likes in the work of others. “Most of the poetry published today is competent; I’m tired of competent poetry.” But he lists Rae Armantrout, Dean Young, Marvin Bell, Tony Hoagland and Mary Ruefle as recent strong influences. “I love good poetry, work that, as the sainted Emily once said, blows the top of my head off!”

Since retiring Jefferson has concentrated on writing and performing. He’s also dedicated time and energy to Tucson’s Sky Island Alliance, an environmental organization. He approaches poems about environmental and political situations in his usual straightforward manner. “Starting, I’m never sure what I want to communicate. I try never to predetermine a piece’s ‘meaning’ or direction. So many poems published currently are socially engaged, about justice and injustice. I have trouble with such poems, too often experiencing them as self-pitying or preaching to the choir. I do admire serious poems, but not solemn ones.”

Jefferson feels that his style is evolving. “I’ve always allowed myself to write about whatever catches my attention, but lately I’m conflicted. I feel I’m in a rut. I don’t want to write any more poems about cats or domestic life. These seem to be my most successful works, or at least the ones editors accept and audience members applaud. Sometimes I sound more like a sit-down comedian than a poet.”

About the following poem, Jefferson explains, “In a reading, I’ll introduce ‘Life Partner’ by dedicating it to all couples in the audience whose relationship has lasted more than six months. So I’m apparently communicating my respect for the difficulty of staying coupled.” The poem presents a jaded romanticism, as if the speaker would like to joke around but unintentionally reveals the pain hidden within this relationship. And, watch out, that last line really sneaks up on you.

Life Partner

For convenience, I & my life partner

(the woman formerly known as my wife)

have numbered our arguments. Number 3,

you’re so negative. Number 8, you’re

naive. Number 11, another beer already?

Number 13, you don’t listen to me.

But I do. I just don’t agree. Now

my life partner’s on the couch, watching

Live P.D. She’s pleased with the police,

so kind to the miscreants & trailer trash

they apprehend. Of course, they’re

kind! They’re on camera! Without

looking at me, she holds up three fingers.

My life partner wants to make a deal:

she’ll stop storing our broken pepper mill

upright in the spice rack, pepper everywhere

like coarse soot. She’ll store the mill

on its side if I stop switching off the light

over the dining room table whenever

she’s in another room. Why? Why

does she need that light on all day?

She raises both fists & opens each one

twice. Number 20, you don’t love me.

You can find Jefferson Carter’s work at jeffersoncarterverse.com.

[caption]

Jefferson Carter, photo by Bill Moeller

December 2021
Michaela Carter

"What happens on the page, happens to the poet."

For Prescott writer Michaela Carter, “writing a poem is an act of creation and evolution, which reaches beyond the words themselves. ”While writing she is consciously aware of the symbiotic relationship between poet and poem: “how you translate a feeling, or an impulse into language and listen to it at the same time, and how the language leads you toward a deeper way of seeing yourself or others or the world beyond.”

Many of her poems originate from sensory responses to her environment. “My greatest influence is my somatic experience as a human animal on this breathing, animate, teeming-with-life planet. Writing a poem can be such a visceral, lush experience — the language becomes almost tactile.” Her themes frequently revolve around female growth and metamorphosis, often through reimagining folklore from a feminist perspective. “I’m deeply fascinated by the ways in which women evolve, how we can become more than we were, more even than we thought we could be. ”At times these recurring themes hit very close to home. “When I was pregnant, I lived by the Pacific Ocean and I wrote all about the ocean and growing a child and birth — it all merged together, both for me personally and in my poems.”

Michaela was always drawn to poetry. “Before I could write, my mother jotted down my rhymes. In that way she validated the act. I wrote for myself during my first years of college, and then I took classes in modern poets and poetry writing. I was assigned metrical, fixed-form poems…. The formal restrictions made the poems feel like puzzles. I was grateful for the chance to learn the craft.” From there, she continued to study writing in graduate school.

In addition to her acclaimed poetry, Michaela is a painter and novelist, recently publishing the novel Leonorain the Morning Light, an historical fiction about surrealist artist Leonora Carrington. Michaela usually writes poems when she is between novels. “Novel stake me such a long time to write, and I tend to focus on them myopically.”

She has lived in Prescott for almost 20 years, choosing the small town because it felt like a good place to raise her two children. She’s taught writing at both Prescott and Yavapai colleges, although she is teaching less lately. “I spend my time buying new books for Peregrine Book Company, which I helped to found, and writing novels.”

In this poem Michaela touches on her themes of metamorphosis andre-envisioned folklore, creating “a kind of fairytale magic and a sense of defiance: a young mother enters a jungle, which transforms her into a creature with wings and a tail. She is free to become her fully wild, creaturely self.”

For Michaela, poems are “born from a place of listening. I’m a firm believer that poems come through more than from a poet.” Much like the surrealists she admires, Michaela’s poems spring from the subconscious mind. “The language itself tends to lead me toward meaning.” She trusts that the words will reveal their intention, noting, “the poem is always smarter than I am.”

Moreat MichaelaCarter.com.

The Call

There’s a pond in the mud
and the moon shines in it.
Not on it, as if the pond were no more

than a mirror, but in it, the moon
a heart inside its dark body,
illuminating the pond from within.

My husband goes there
in the heat of the day to fish, but I
goat night, through the valley of the language
of children, a little jungle of mangrove

whose roots are serpents,
whose trunks grow eyes & mouths.
Sometimes, I stay among them.

I crouch in a shadow
and listen to their pale-green
songs & the taste of salt &magic

sticks to my skin &hair for days
though no one notices.
Other times, when the moon is full,

I move quick as a river through that jungle.
My wings &tail sprig
through my nightgown &bloom,

snapping twigs & leaves,
and I flap & coast & enter
another kind of music,

the pulse of light through silt
and silence bleating &repeating.
Mudsucks at my fingers & toes

when I lower my face to the pond
and open my eyes inside it &look.
The moon has its terms.

Understand, some night soon, I will not resist.
I will drink &lose discretion.
The slender weeds curl &uncurl;

milky, burning tongues, their dance is torture.
The fish circle & spiral downwards

to where the moon must feed
the roots of the weeds. Soon I will be certain.
How long could any woman only watch?

November 2021
Janet A. Hopkins

For part-time Prescott resident Janet A. Hopkins, writing poetry “allows me to put words to my emotions. It paints a picture that weaves together feelings and visions.” She’s been drawn to creative writing since childhood. “I was a voracious reader, usually five to seven books a week, and I kept a diary from the age of 14. The process came naturally to me.” She wrote occasionally through high school and college, but put writing aside for most of her career. “I picked it up again after retiring and joining a small writing group in Prescott in the early 1990s.”

Janet A. Hopkins

Janet has written many nonfiction historical articles and spent a number of years as editor-in-chief of In Recovery Magazine. She recently began hosting a genealogy column in the Humboldt Historian. With two friends Janet established AZ Wordsmiths, a popular open mic for local writers that met monthly at the Elks Theatre. Although the pandemic forced the venue to close, they are hoping to restart the series next year. For the last two years, she’s also been working on a mystery series. “Learning a new genre has been challenging, but I love the imaginary world my mind has created.”

The natural world is a constant theme in Janet’s poetry. “I explore the interface of my emotions with the world around me. I love being outside and naturally feel the rhythm of poetry there.” Janet’s early years in Prescott on a ranch are also reflected in her poems. “I became a cowgirl of sorts. I had my own little ranch in Chino Valley with dogs, chickens, ducks, sheep and a few horses. It was a grand adventure!”

For Janet, lines of poetry can appear at any time or place. “They just pop into my head. Sometimes they start with an observation, other times they arrive whole-cloth. Sometimes I record them on my phone because I’m outside somewhere. I was once on a break from a poetry class at Yavapai College when an entire poem presented itself. I ran back to class and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it.”

Janet and her husband David winter in Florida. The rest of the time is spent in Prescott. Since retirement she writes quite a bit. “I have the luxury of writing all day, all the time,” but she concentrates on writing for the love of it. “I’ve never been one for wanting to make myself a professional writer. I don’t want the joy of it to be ruined by that pressure. I really just want to write, even if I’m the only one who enjoys it.”

About the featured poem she says, “I have walked the Skull Valley powerline road many times since moving to Prescott. This particular walk was just before leaving for Florida. David and I sat on a rock, remembering different parts of our lives as our dogs lay on the ground beside us. We both had a sense of melancholy. I wrote the poem when I got home.”

We climbed to a ridge and sat at the edge of nowhere. What a lovely way to capture the vastness of the vista in front of her! The poem immerses the reader in an early-winter scene and recollections of days past.

You can contact Janet at janet@fireskye.net.

Skull Valley

That winter-edged morning,

we walked the power line

to Moosley Spring.

Coatso n, then off, as we

warmed to the steep ascent.

Lines buzzed overhead.

The humming wires tuned memories

of other coffee-heated,

glove-warmed, frigid mornings

on this rock-ribbed trace.

We climbed to a ridge and sat

at the edge of nowhere,

high above the autumn-painted

vale, waiting as our dog and

the wilderness settled at our feet.

We spoke quietly of the people

we had known. The managers

of a ranch over there — the owners

of a house shimmering on a distant

mountain slope across the valley.

As the crumbling granite outcrop

cooled our backs, three black does

wandered in upwind. Suddenly,

heads up and tails flicking, they

melted into the chaparral.

Overhead, a contrail cut

the cold-frosted sky

with a silver blade,

Spilling frozen,

breathless air upon the earth.

We heard the bawling

of a distant calf and stood,

startled by the creature’s misery.

We turned, too chilled to stay,

and walked in silence to the car.

October 2021
Carol Levin

Prescott resident Carol Levin’s meditative poems find the calm center in the midst of turmoil.

Carol Levin

“Times of solitude and being near nature have always offered me an increased sense of  insight and understanding,” she says. Her later experiences in the practice and instruction of Tai chi, an internal Chinese martial art, have also helped her develop a greater awareness of the relationship between interior thoughts and exterior expression. “My work is influenced by my connection to what I feel and have gained from acquired knowledge. I worked on a feature story about T’ai chi ch'üan. After interviewing instructors of longstanding and research from The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, I felt a greater cognitive sense in my own practice with awareness of its history and origin.”

Her poems usually progress from “scattered words with meaning that eventually come into format. It’s a right-brain process which filters through a left-brain outlet.” Carol has published fiction and works mostly in nonfiction now, but she finds that “poetry allows for a deeper expression. I get into a muse, usually gazing out my window to Granite Mountain, and words just come through. At midmorning light, perched on my recliner, is my best writing time. Longhand helps begin the flow. It’s more like a channeling.”

Her themes are varied. “I’m drawn toward expressing inspirationally, with multiple themes, including the natural world. Inspirational themes can offer motivation and/or healing.” The poetic forms she chooses are also diverse, to suit her mood and intent. “The formats I work in vary from free verse (rhyming and non-rhyming), to tanka and haiku. I like the simplicity and concise manner which haiku presents.”

Over her thirty-year career Carol (aka CL Lynne) has published many feature articles on health and wellness, nature, and the arts. She also teaches and consults on writing for diverse groups, from elementary-school to postgraduate levels. She’s facilitated many writing workshops, including at the Prescott Public Library since2011. Her experiences in teaching and workshopping have had a profound influence on her own writing and her outlook on the world.

Carol has been fascinated with poetry since her teenage years. “In high school we studied Longfellow, and ‘Evangeline’ grabbed me with murmuring pines and the hemlock, bearded with moss, and in garments green. Wow, I thought, can trees really murmur and moss look like beards?” She found Robert Frost’s lines memorable and inspiring: “The Road Not Taken,’ written in iambic tetrameter, spoke to me. His lines I shall be telling this with a sigh and I took the one less traveled by tells the message that whichever path one takes in life, therein lies the question of ‘what if’ re: an alternative route.” It’s easy to draw parallels between Frost’s reflective questions and the thoughtfulness of Carol’s work.

Carol’s search for expression is often articulated poetically. “I find fulfillment in knowing that I said what I needed to from within, in poetry.” In the following poem, Carol visits one of her familiar themes, self-understanding through peaceful reflection. “I came to a place of connecting with a universal life force during a transformative time in my life, and was led toward expressing the element of faith. This message felt soul-originated.” Much like meditation, Carol’s poem engages our full attention, creating a space that allows the reader to be singularly focused. Her carefully chosen words encourage us to deliberately slow down and concentrate on her simple yet profound message.

For more information on Carol Levin (poet and, as CL Lynne, photographer)visit carollynnelevin.com.

Spirit Speaks by CL Lynne

When Spirit speaks
It’s Truth at Work
Through head and heart
through every quirk

When Spirit speaks
I look around
I touch the earth
heed every sound

When Spirit speaks
it’s time to cease
break momentum
take on Peace

A time to silence
vacate at will
open portals
Now be still

A time to feel
Respond in Light
Stay there through all
Embrace, keep sight

When Spirit speaks
through all the glisten,
Follow Truth
Be Quiet — Listen

September 2021
Remembering Mary Carvell Bragg

I suppose I should be grieving —

perhaps I am. 

Mary Carvell Bragg

Recently friends and family of Prescott Valley poet Mary Carvell Bragg, who passed away on July 27 at the age of 90, gathered at the Highlands Center for Natural History to pay tribute to her long and generous life. Mary was a fixture in the local poetry community,  co-founder of the Poets Open Circle and a founding member of the MAD(McCormick Arts District) Women Poets in 2003, which is dedicated to preserving the oral tradition in poetry. The group has performed for many audiences over the years. Mary’s influence and inspiration as a writer, critic and friend is captured in the words of her friends and fellow poets.

Cynthia Loucks: “I first met Mary in a workshop, where I was immediately impressed with the elegant and grounded quality of her poetry. Her style is clear and not ornate, and at first glance her poems seem simple, but it turns out, deceptively so. Mary mastered the art of spare — not a word or phrase that wasn't needed. This style adds to the power of her poems, which relay poignant narratives from her life experience. When not telling a story, Mary's poems tend toward the lyrical and spiritual, where not unlike a poet she much admired, Rumi, she expresses a powerful message with few words. More than once I heard Mary say, ‘poetry is my life, ’and she made good on that, not only in her own substantial body of work, but in her tireless shepherding of other poets. Through the Poets Co-op she brought guidance to many poets over the years, myself included. From Mary I learned to cultivate the art of critiquing a poem in a gentle manner that never usurped the poet's ownership of her poem while offering invaluable insight about how it was written. I know I am among many when I say that Mary Bragg made me a better poet.”

Connie Johnson: “When I joined the Poets Co-op, I quickly understood Mary’s depth of poetic knowledge. Mary could point out a misplaced word, a line too long or a verb tense that weakened the work. She believed in word conservation and taught me to cull the fluff while inspecting the purpose and strength of each stanza. Mary was a master of prose, interspersing characters whom you felt you had known for years. Mary was an accomplished poet and sensitive friend.”

Sharon Seymour: “Am I ready to write about Mary? Eyes fill as the pen journeys across this page. Scenes unfold. Sitting at her dining table over cold cups of tea, two hours into another exploration on inner life. What a gift to this lonely wanderer. To be met with open arms, to be held unconditionally in that fierce, kind gaze. Another gift.”

Marilyn Bowden: “When I first came across Mary Bragg during a poetry reading at the library, I knew nothing about her or the MAD Women Poets. I tend to be a loner, not a joiner, but hearing these women read, I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to be a part of. I didn’t know Mary for long. Her health was already declining when I met her. But the few workshops I did spend under her tutelage were exhilarating as well as instructive. Mary wrote poems that sang with the joy of being alive. Her voice was no longer strong but it imbued her poems with a quiet authority. I remember the focus she brought to each poem presented, and how insightful her comments were. I miss her.”

Donna Meyer: “Like Mary’s poem ‘Ships Passing in the Night,’ from the moment I met her, she wasn’t a stranger. Her interactions genuinely made me feel as if my poetry were the most important thing to her at that moment.

In a soft and gentle tone, she would suggest trying the poem in present tense or perhaps more active verbs would do instead of so many gerunds. Her suggestions opened my eyes, and her poems opened my heart. The wisdom of her poetry rang through phrases that used few words, but said much.”

I Should Be Grieving

by Mary Bragg

I should be grieving

but when I looked out this morning

the trees were doing their wind-dance

and when I drove to McDonald’s

for a sausage egg mcmuffin

the ravens gathered in their brilliant blackness

looking for handouts as usual

but their cry had lost its knife-edged urgency

the scraggly flowers below the call box

flashed neon magenta and purple

and in a split second between smiles

the woman at the window

laid bare the harshness of her life

I remember reading in Castaneda

when Don Juan took an incorrigible boy

to view a child’s body at the morgue

the boy straightened right up

Maybe that’s what happened to me

when I saw death up close

Now I can’t suppress the joy

of being alive on this planet

a part of the tree-dance

the loveliness and suffering

the passion and loss

I suppose I should be grieving —

perhaps I am.

August 2021
Amy M. Hale

Every August Prescott hosts the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, where cowboy poets and musicians entertain packed audiences. A star of the gathering is poet Amy M. Hale, who cowboys for Spider Ranch, a local 50,000-acre cattle operation.

Amy doesn’t have to go far to find inspiration. The natural world and hard work are her biggest motivators. “The very best writing comes from a life well lived, from passionate reflection of that life. And a life well lived very often involves meaningful work, work that is hard and has value, that contributes to the greater community.”

Although she is primarily a novelist and essayist, sometimes poetry “chooses” her. “Poetry is an extract, a concentration on the page, of life and observations. When I put my pen to the page, I am just writing, not writing a poem or an essay or a story. If it distills down to the essence, it is a poem.”

Amy stumbled on her success as a cowboy poet. In 2011, at a gathering with her now-husband, musician Gail Steiger, the organizers discovered her essays and signed her up on the performance schedule. Taken aback, Amy asked Gail what she should do. He answered, “If I were you, I’d get busy and write some poems!” For Amy “It was a huge gift to discover that distillation process.”

Many of Amy’s poems focus on our interconnectedness with nature. “We are not apart from, but spring from the Mother. Separateness is what causes harm. By the recognition that I am one of those wild things, that you are one of those wild things, we can have a clearer lens into our roles and our impact.”

Amy works as hard on her writing as she does on cowboying, finding time every day to create. “No matter where I wake up …, in cow camp, on a sandbar in the bottom of these canyons when I am backpacking, in a hotel room, at home …, I write, … and once in a while a dollop of magic falls from my pen.” From there, she “pares something down to its bones, tearing out any superfluous ideas by the roots.” Cowboy poetry comes from a long oral tradition, and she often “ends up with a poem that I can further hone by performing it aloud over and over until it has power.”

Amy’s poems contain many of the usual touchstones of cowboy poetry: horses, cattle, ranches, etc., but she also unearths powerful instances of deep connection.

Amy’s poetry is plain-spoken, her words uncovering profound significance through simple experiences and observations. In describing her poem “Sir Bull,” Amy says, “It was a dawn tailgate communion, a gift from the universe.”Yes, a simple encounter that encourages the reader to think about our deep connection to the “wild things” that surround us.

Sir Bull

by Amy M. Hale

Thin and old, ears edged with gray —
He sticks his head around the tailgate as I put coffee on the camp stove, 5am.
An old shipper bull, volunteered into camp last night,
Singing an ancient ballad in a forgotten key.
He wears a year brand; we’ve done the math,
Bought fromWebs when he was two, so that makes him fifteen now.
Whipped out by the young bucks,
He’s been living solitary off in some lonely canyon —
Drawn now to the sounds of social,
Babies bawling over the roar of branding pot,
Shippers protesting,
Perhaps even the distant memory of hay thrown out
Into dusty pens.
He hung around overnight.
Perhaps he finds me odd, this woman frying Spam and eggs,
Smelling of burnt hair and horse sweat, black coffee and sleep,
The blood of his great-grandsons splattered on my shirt,
This woman, feral around the edges,
For whom luxury is ice in her evening drink,
The promise of a shower three days from now.
Whatever this old bull thinks,
Or what I think,
Life moves on from our dawn tailgate communion.
Someday I’ll ride home …
Someday he’ll get on the truck …
Unless he disappears again,
Singing his rusty old song.


Amy M. Hale is author of Rightful Place, Winter of Beauty, The Story is the Thing, Ordinary
Skin, and Livestock Man. You can find her work at amymhale. com. Photo by Gail Steiger.

The 2021 Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering happens August 12-14 at the Prescott Rodeo
Grounds. For tickets visit azcowboypoets. org or call 928-776-2000 for information.

July 2021
Jim Natal
Jim Natal

For former Prescott resident Jim Natal, good poetry emerges from a kind of cognitive flexibility. “Poets see the world in a different, more closely observed, way. They make leaps and links between sometimes disparate things and cause them to seamlessly blend.” Uncovering these connections requires a good deal of attention. “I’m influenced by what I see around me … as well as my inner voice. Sometimes it only takes a snippet of overheard conversation or a stunning image to get me off the diving board.”

Jim’s poetic themes are varied, but many are grounded in the natural world. “I live near the beach in Los Angeles, so there’s quite a bit of ocean imagery. For many years I taught an outdoor writing workshop in Joshua Tree National Park, so the desert landscape appears frequently, like a mirage. I have a whole chapbook coming out featuring poems with ravens and crows.”

Jim lived for four years in Prescott, where he taught writing at both Yavapai College and Prescott College. During that time, he helped found The Literary Southwest reading series, which brings noted writers and poets to Yavapai College. Although he left Prescott in 2011, he still directs and hosts the series, so his influence in the local arts community endures. In addition to publishing several collections of poems, garnering much praise and many awards, he runs a small press with his wife, graphic designer and book artist Tania Baban.

Ultimately Jim writes poetry as a means of self-actualization. “I think we all crave personal expression — to make sense of our lives, to be understood and have our personal journeys mean something. My way of achieving that came in the guise of poetry.” It is equally important to him that he connects with his audience. “I want to make bridges between my experiences and those of my readers. If my work can help someone see the world in a new way — or put words to a fleeting feeling — then I’ve succeeded.”

Jim finds that poems often communicate what form they choose to take. “I rarely get a poem ‘right’ the first time. Usually, I get the words down and then go back and put in the images and music. In the process of doing that I let the poem tell me its shape, if I need to explore deeper or if I need to cut or condense. And sometimes I have to wait until I become the poet who can write the poem I want to write.”

Jim’s most recent books have concentrated on haibun, a contemporary interpretation of a classic Asian form that combines crafted prose and haiku. “In order for a haibun to work well, there has to be a dialog between the prose section and the commentary haiku. The images and implications of the haiku have to reverberate back up through the prose portion and make the reader see the haibun as a whole in surprising, resonant ways.”

Besides incorporating natural themes, Jim finds that haibun are well suited to current events and social commentary. “They come right out of the headlines and news reports and, thanks to the magic of the form, allow me to express my opinions in a poetic way.” The following striking pieces reveal the poet’s gift for that cognitive flexibility, his skill at juxtaposing dissimilar forms while also combining them to create innovative pieces of art.

Jim Natal is the author of two collections of poems in contemporary haibun form, 52 Views: The Haibun Variations and Spare Room, as well as three previous lyric collections: Memory and Rain, Talking Back to the Rocks and In the BeeTrees. His work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. A former NFL creative executive and multi-year Pushcart Prize nominee, he is the founding director of The Literary Southwest literary series at Yavapai College and co-founder of indie publishing house Conflux Press (contact: jimnatal.com).

For more on the Literary Southwest Reading Series: yc.edu/literarysw

We’ve been given a date

We’ve been given a date for the Afghan pull-out. As if the patient tide won’t roll back in the second the final NATO transport is airborne. My money’s on the fundamentalists of any stripe — skullcaps and keffiyehs, black frock coats, spotless dishdashas — all so afraid of pleasure boats cruising the birth canal. The new dark ages are upon us, gaining momentum like a ranting midnight freight, its one eye tightly closed. And the rustlings in dawn branches? Only crows. Vultures and crows.

Dormant in the snow

yuccas await their moment

ruthless in their faith

My student writes

My student writes about his last day in Iraq, the one that ends with his getting blown up by an IED. I try to separate form from content the way the insurgent separated my student from much of his blood and nearly his life. His essay needs a lot of work —  spelling, punctuation, flow. Point and support, point and support, I drone to the class. No argument without example. No blast without detonation.

The rules of grammar

dispassionate as a bomb

each wire connected

From 52 Views: The Haibun Variations (Tebot Bach 2013, 2019)

June 2021
Joy Young

Sometimes poems are opportunities — to change minds, open hearts, or rethink our assumptions about each other.

Photos by Bri Noonan

Phoenix poet Joy Young hopes to “spark compassion/empathy/understanding through narratives that resonate across our many differences.” Joy’s performance work as a spoken-word artist and storyteller “focuses on transgressing borders, both real and imagined, and entering social justice topics through poetic personal narratives.”

Joy believes that “poetry/story holds transformative power to heal ourselves and the world around us,” and provides lectures, workshops, and curriculum development designed to help usee storytelling to expand our understanding of social justice and embrace marginalized voices.

As part of the LGBTQ+ community, Joy says, “My queerness really guided me toward investing in working toward equity and inclusion, and understanding that all forms of oppression are tied together and harmful to all of us. Much of my work in writing, teaching, and organizing is approached through a queer politics or, as I prefer to explain it, a politics of kindness in which we deconstruct hierarchical thinking and the ways these things are embedded into institutions and processes, and try to make more space for more people’s voices.”

Joy’s poetic topics are plentiful. “I write a lot about unlearning what I grew up with. I write about family, love (in its many permutations), identity, home, how great my dog is, and just all sorts of things. Sometimes I am writing to my younger queer self, who was desperate to see myself somewhere or imagine a future worth growing into.”As a spoken-word artist, Joy concentrates on connecting with the audience. “I want my poems to serve as a doorway to conversation, … to speak across differences and highlight emotional truths.”

Although Joy’s poems are political at heart, they have a light, conversational tone that contains small personal observations. “I love poetics based in the concrete reality of our lives, that serve a purpose beyond the aesthetic.” Joy looks for “moments of authenticity,” everyday experiences that pull back to reveal a bigger picture. Joy writes about “concepts like family, home, identity, and challenging many things we believe are static.”The poems deftly move from the personal to the political, taking these ideas and generalizing their meaning to the larger world.

The following poems are part of a collaboration with Joy’s partner, photographer Bri Noonan, which they describe as “a photographic, literary collaboration between two queer humans who love storytelling and wearing sweatpants.” These touching poems focus on issues of identity, love, family, and yes, dogs too.

What if we could change our identity as easily as we change our hair? What if things that didn’t exist suddenly come into being? These poems make the leap from personal to political in a lovely way as the poet reminds us to “call everything temporary and every moment beautiful.” You can find Joy’s work at joyyoung.org.

Photos by Bri Noonan

A poem in which the word hair is replaced with identity

after NicoWilkinson

Bri’s sisters come over to change their identities.
They bleach all the way down to the root of identity.
Strip away, drain themselves
of what perception
crowned them;
Switch between ways of being
in the world
as gentle hands comb
through identity,
open identity boxes
and apply excitedly what suits them today,
call everything temporary,
and every moment beautiful.

Photo by Bri Noonan

Our dog loves bubbles
more than food
and it is wholesome as fuck,
this queer thing about her:
how her eyes light up,
how she leaps,
how she pursues her joy
and I think how about a year ago
she did not exist
and I think about how three years ago
neither did the concept of home
or family or something both
queer and wholesome
and I am grateful for puppies
and bubbles and love
and the way the world can give
birth to things we never expected.

May 2021
Megan Merchant

For Prescott resident Megan Merchant, the world is filled with poetic possibilities.

Megan Merchant, photo by Dee Cohen

“Most poems begin with an external spark,” she says. “An overheard line, a sound, an image that tugs at something internally that wants to take form.” Her poems often arise from everyday life: “Even the most mundane experience has something to offer.” Her work touches on many subjects and themes, from birds nesting on her property to the challenges of motherhood and the heartache of grief. All are “threads that make up my life and become part of the fabric of the poem, whether I am consciously paying attention or not.”

She doesn’t always have time to pay attention. As the mother of two boys, one with special needs, she often mentally creates poems as she goes about her day, postponing their final formation until she sits down and writes. Even though poems are simmering right below the surface, she can be surprised at what develops. “I think of my mind like a junk drawer of random images, sounds, facts, etc., one I pull from when writing. In this way, it becomes a game to try and figure out how things relate, or are interconnected.” As the writing of a poem unfolds, she discovers “a dialogue between where I am in the world and what I am in the world. The external sparks help me to understand my internal world.”

As a writer and reader, poetry resonates deeply with Megan. “Poetry helps me to understand what it means to be human, to develop a greater sense of empathy and connection to other people through shared experiences.” She also loves being floored by a poem; “that little sucked-in breath of awe that happens when a poet writes something beautiful, true, or profound.”

“I wrote ‘Every day I draw a different bird’ at the beginning of lockdown, and was really feeling stuck, so I started drawing for the first time in my adult life. I wrote ‘Forget-Me-Nots’ when I was helping to care for my mother, who had a misdiagnosed brain tumor and had lost a lot of her memories and sight. At that time, writing is what helped me to be present navigating her heartbreaking decline and loss.”

These poems are examples of Megan’s gift for beautifully unsettling language. Her unique descriptions push the reader off balance in ways that reveal unexpected layers of meaning. Don’t be surprised if you react with “that little sucked-in breath of awe.”

Every day I draw a different bird,

a heron — lanky, keen on watching, from a far-bank.
The crow not swept behind, whispers things I was
always meant to recall, but have shed — how to make
a slip knot from a bra strap, how to uncork a bottle
with a stone, gut a fish with an ink stain. The ravens —
bend light. Bats tendril the load-bearing walls of my
chest. They are pockets secreted in night. Hummingbirds
teach me F-minor. Then F-minor breaks me apart.
And maybe the bird is the ache is the joint, and maybe
it swallows the room with flight even when it looks,
from the window, most like a cage. Or, maybe I am
meant to sustain by envy — the slurry of gnats that
funnel from an empty can, the sweet licked all-clean.

“Every day I draw a different bird,” 2020 Michelle Boisseau Poetry Prize Winner, Bear Review

Megan Merchant lives in the tall pines of Prescott with her husband and two children. She is the author of three full-length poetry collections from Glass Lyre Press: Gravel Ghosts (2016),The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award Winner, 2017) and Grief Flowers (2018), four chapbooks, and a children’s book, These Words I Shaped for Y ou. Her latest book, Before the Fevered Snow, was released in April 2020. She won the 2016-2017 COG Literary Award, judged by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 2018 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, second place in the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and most recently the Inaugural Michelle Boisseau Prize. She is an editor at Pirene’s Fountain and The Comstock Review. You can find her work at meganmerchant.wix.com/poet.

Forget-Me-Nots

Today, my mother forgot the word for bathroom
while she was in one. She said, Dry room, no — wet room, no —
tell me, then what are the others called? I’d like to walk them.

At one point, someone taught me a word I’ve forgotten.
A room I was already inside. A marriage. A country. A war.

A man’s fingers cuffed around my wrist. Someone promised —
it is common, when learning another language, to lose

pieces of your mother tongue. Where the bar lights are also
a call to prayer, and the flowers aching the field are no less

yellow, the spider’s bite still poisoned, when I cannot
say their name. My mother will soon lose

my own and even though I understand the way of things,
I will hear the horses, in mourning, nip

at the electric fence, and I will not have the word for shock.

“Forget-Me-Nots” received an Honorable Mention in the Peseroff Prize Poetry Contest and was published in Before the Fever Snow.