Dee Cohen on Poetry

June 2024
Karen Rigby
Just past the frame

In her latest book, Fabulosa, Gilbert-based poet Karen Rigby strikes a pose between beauty and danger. The collection contains poems that are lush, filled with noir images that reminisce about a stylish cinematic past.

This is Karen’s second book of poetry. She has also published Chinoiserie, which won the 2011 Sawtooth Poetry Prize. She is the recipient a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship and an artist-opportunity grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She has published poems in renowned journals and anthologies, and shared her work in many prominent venues.

Karen has long been captivated by poetry and poets. “I admire poets with verbal dexterity, movement, boldness, an instinct for sound and image, a heart, and a signature that is theirs. But there are many approaches to poetry, many styles and voices, so what I most admire is poetry that shows me something fresh. Or that takes inspiring risks. Or moves me.”

Karen includes a series of poems in her book that are known as ars poetica. Translated from Latin this means ‘the art of poetry,’ referring to poems that are about poetry. The first Ars Poetica was written in 19BCE by the Roman poet Horace, offering advice and guidelines on the craft of writing. This type of poem allows writers to examine their relationships with their poems and with themselves as poets. “Fabulosa explores the arts in their varied forms, from paintings to figure skating, but it’s also about writing itself and about how experiences are remade through that writing.”

Karen grew up in Panama. Her poems are infused with memories of her past, even if the location is subtly placed. “At first glance, my upbringing overseas has little to do with my writing. I’m not often writing about Panama as a topic or locale. But because writing involves memory, and comes out of an embodied, real life, there will always be traces. It is entirely plausible that I could only have come to write the poems that I write because I have had my specific set of experiences, and therefore have a particular way of thinking, absorbing, and understanding.”

Karen’s poems reveal hidden depths. “I’d like my poems to say more than they seem to say. If I write only about a bird of paradise, for instance, but fail to mention that it grew in a country of violence, then I will have only given you an ideal, ornamental flower. If I write about Dior’s Bar suit as an iconic fashion, but never imbue it with eeriness — and it can be eerie in museum photographs, between the blank mannequin that wears it, and the styling and lighting that surrounds it — then I’d be missing a layer. I will have observed only a little. It also invites asking what is just past the frame.” And many of her poems challenge her as a writer to explore new terrain. “A poem is both a tightrope I’ve already walked on (I know what I’m doing) and a new risk (I have no idea what I’m doing) every time. That tension interests me.”

Stepping into the poem at right is like opening a mystery novel or watching a femme fatale enter the scene. The poem combines an ars poetica with vintage images that recall a glamorous era of perilous moments. “Beauty and danger go hand-in-hand when I write poems, because poems are made out of, and reflect, the materials and history of this world. Life contains brokenness, and yet the arc must move toward restoration.”

For Karen poetry has the ability to instill language with meaning and the sustaining possibility of connecting with readers. “I’m fascinated by the idea that what I write may be read by someone else, in the solitude of a room, and I might not ever know anything about that. What if that encounter between writer and reader were to alter a soul, in however small a way? That in itself is haunting, and reason enough for me to keep trying.”

More at karenrigby.com.

Why My Poems Arrive Wearing Black Gloves

like twin gauntlets set on the margin: enter the female

assassin. The screwball debutante. Noir & glitz

mixed in one bad throwback to an age when dahlias

bowled anyone who breathed them. My poems arrive

wearing satin or suede to haunt you when they leave

no trace. I’ve watched a man pull off his gloves

with his teeth. The trick to undoing the wolf

behind the saint is to make a slo-mo invitation

of it. Because there’s never a plot unless one of us

goes missing, that’s me at the aerodrome

& you boarding a custard plane. Now fly

a desultory wind before you vanish. That’s

the tension we need. I love an overblown image:

a drawer full of hands wave in a solemn motorcade.

My gloves pantomime moods so thick

you could ladle gravy. About my first book

a critic wrote I’m a little bored with the aesthetic.

If that isn’t damning, what is? My poems wear black

to turn the dials & bag the ice. In the director’s cut

I’m driving the hairpin curve when the camera

rolls back to show you, looking louche, but alive.

You were always in on it. A poem is a diamond heist.

Tell the critic no one watches a woman enter a room

to look at her hands just like no one’s reading

this poem to picture my life. But a black glove.

Peeled down the avenue of my arm, what wouldn’t you do?

© Karen Rigby; from Fabulosa (JackLeg Press, 2024), first published in The Spectacle.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

May 2024
Johnny Cordova
If you meet the Buddha ….

Poet Johnny Cordova begins his day on Triveni Ashram north of Chino Valley with formal meditation practice. “Meditation itself is an opportunity to tap into an interior space that exists prior to the thinking mind. I believe that’s where poetry comes from. The more time I can spend there, the better my writing tends to be.”

He has lived at the sanctuary since 2021, after spending ten years teaching hot yoga and English in southeast Asia. He often finds that poems come on his walks from his cottage to the hall to meditate. “Something about the early morning seems to unlock words for me. On a 2014 trip through India I wrote 24 poems in 24 days. Most of those poems were started during early-morning walks in search of coffee or chai. I’d get the first few lines down and work the rest out in my notebook over the course of that day.”

For Johnny, meditation and poetry share a common source. “Poetry and meditation practice have had a symbiotic relationship throughout history, something that is most evident in the Zen tradition. Ryokan was a Japanese Zen master who renounced the political structures of monastic life to live as a mendicant hermit. He was a great meditator, but is remembered for his poetry. I’ve long looked to him as a role model.”

Johnny appreciates poetry’s ability to express the inexpressible. “It is the best way I know to capture (or point toward) the inexplicable, the mystical, the intangible aspects of human experience.” He is also drawn to its brevity. “As a writer, I can get in and get out. As a reader, I can get in, get out.”

With his wife, poet Dominique Ahkong, Johnny publishes Shō Poetry Journal, which has evolved over the years. “Shō started out as a small-press print journal in 2002, featuring work by turn-of-the-century street poets. With the present incarnation we aim to be more eclectic. Poetry is undergoing a renaissance of multiculturalism. We seek to publish as diverse a representation of contemporary voices as we can, in that regard.” He finds that the poems submitted have a positive influence on his own writing. “So far we’ve been thrilled with the quality and variety of submissions we’ve received. The sheer variety of styles that I’m being exposed to has had an expansive effect on my own style. It’s deepened my appreciation for types of poetry that I might not have been otherwise drawn to.”

Johnny’s poems are concise yet powerful, capturing the essence of circumstances in carefully crafted language. “I want to write poems that feel spontaneous and at the same time demonstrate economy and precise use of language. I want my poems to feel honest, above all.” He avoids using poetry to lecture or instruct the reader. “I think that’s a trap that a lot of poets with spiritual practices fall into. I want to convey something about my view and experience of the world, as well as my inner life, without agenda. I think poetry should be free of agenda.”

In “Foot Massage,” he says, “Bangkok is a sprawling, dense, frenetic city with a noir quality that I find irresistible. I wanted to capture the constant buzz of traffic, the oppressive heat, the ferocity of tropical downpours, and juxtapose those things with the sanctuary that a Thai foot massage can provide. For me, this poem is something of a microcosm of the greater experience of living in Thailand. One feels a thread to an ancient Buddhist culture very much alive within an urban, Blade Runner-esque landscape.”

“If You Meet the Buddha at the Flea Market” presents an insider’s understanding of Buddhism. “Ninth-century Chinese Buddhist master Linji Yixuan famously said to his disciples, If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. It’s a koan that speaks to the need toz break free of spiritual materialism, to break identification with all obstacles on the path, including the teacher and the teaching itself. The title alludes to that saying, and the poem itself enacts a symbolic killing of the Buddha. It’s meant as a bit of humor for those in the know.”

Johnny believes that living on the ashram enriches his life as writer. “For years I’ve been drawn to a retreat lifestyle. It’s very quiet here. I find the silence and the solitude essential to the creative process.”

More at shopoetryjournal.com and johnnycordova.com

If You Meet the Buddha at the Flea Market

Wandering on a Sunday afternoon

through the Berkeley Flea Market

I find a perfect wax replica

of a Buddha

with a candle wick

running up and out of

the top of his head.

He’s about a foot high

and turquoise blue,

a strange color, I think,

for a Buddha,

and I haggle over the price

with an old Chinese man,

settle on two bucks,

and take him home.

I find a stool and position it

in the center of the room,

put the Buddha on a plate,

the plate on the stool,

turn out the lights,

strike a match,

watch the Buddha

burn down

into nothingness.

Published in Chiron Review

Foot Massage

Some things are constant.

The oppressiveness of heat,

the darkening of light,

the low humming roar of late-afternoon traffic

in Bangkok.

You hear it through the glass,

like waves pressing into your mind,

as you drift in and out of consciousness.

A girl with thick eyebrows and very gentle hands

caresses your calf muscle,

slides down around the heel of your foot

in long, firm strokes.

Each time you open your eyes, she smiles.

Her beauty is giving in a world that takes.

It begins to rain, suddenly,

a hammering, blanket rain,

the sound of it drowning all other sounds beneath it.

Someone opens the door and it crashes in.

The door closes and the room again becomes a womb.

Published in San Pedro River Review

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

April 2024
Mary Heyborne

For Sedona artist and writer Mary Heyborne, poetry is personal: “I write to communicate with myself.” She finds that writing out her thoughts and feelings helps her work through problems and appreciate experiences. “When I have something extraordinary going on in my life that stirs up my emotions, in either a positive or negative way, I instinctively want to analyze it and put it into words, as if I’m either solving a problem or celebrating a happening.”

Mary has published five books of poetry: Who'll Pick the Morning Rose?, Ephemerons, Words and Other Lovers, Connections, and Addendum. She is also an award-winning potter and, about 15 years ago, added ‘playwright’ to her resume, creating ten-minute plays staged in Sedona, Mesa, and Scottsdale.

Mary can trace the start of her writing back to early childhood, when every card she gave her mother included an original poem (her mother saved them all). She took college poetry classes, but didn't begin seriously writing for years. She saw strong writing in others before she wrote in earnest herself. “I think I have always appreciated really good writing — writing that utilizes a generous vocabulary and does it effortlessly. I am a slow reader, I like to taste every word. I have particularly always appreciated good poetry, and poetry in different styles.” She enjoys reading a wide range of poets, from the English Romantics, especially John Donne, to Sylvia Plath, TS Eliot, the Beats, and poetic songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson.

Like poetry, her love of clay started early. She began studying ceramics decades ago, taking workshops and master classes with world-famous potters. She’s exhibited and received awards in many juried shows, including several first-place awards in the Sedona Arts Center’s annual members show. Pottery draws from a deep well of creativity for her. “All of my senses respond to the lifelike qualities of clay, and are driven to explore its multidimensional possibilities. I’m excited by the opportunities for expression in form, texture, color and even sound. I hear songs in the clay when I work, and strive for a harmony of art and utility in the finished product.”

Mary has lived in many places in the US and Canada with her husband while raising their three sons. In 1984 she and her husband retired to Sedona, which they chose for its beauty and cultural/artistic community. Mary began showing her pottery at various galleries. “I soon realized I was spending too much time on my ceramics, at the expense of my writing, and cut back until I was only showing at Sedona Arts Center and had gained the balance between clay and words that felt right to me.” In 2006 she founded Poets Corner at the Sedona Arts Center, which featured readers from all over Arizona.

Mary’s themes are extensive, including poems about nature, art, love, life, friends, family and more. She is usually unaware of her focus until she sits down to write. “As soon as I put my lined yellow notepad on my lap and pick up my writing pen, the ideas flow.” She often turns to poetry to clarify her thoughts and emotions. “There have been many times in my life when I wanted to share something very personal with someone and could not do it until I put it in a poem.”

Although she enjoys expressing herself through both pottery and poetry, Mary feels that these expressions originate from diverse sources. “Words and clay seem to come from different parts of my being. While they are both creative outlets, it seems like I’m digging deeply inside me for words to express myself when I write. When I work on the wheel with clay, I’m releasing my control to a great degree and sharing the lead with another entity. I think my pottery influences my poetry more than the other way around.” Her poem “Potter and Pot” elaborates on the mutual relationship between her poetic words and the voices of her clay constructions. Although she derives great pleasure from pottery, she admits, “Don’t tell the clay this, but much as I enjoy our trysts, words are my first love.”

sedonaartscenter.org/people/mary-heyborne

Potter and Pot

The living clay

Breathes strongly in my hands

In rhythm with my body as I wedge.

The clay exhales

Neath the heel of my palm

And breathes in as the spiral is raised.

I learned as a child

The seduction of clay —

It oozed through my naked toes

When in sensual abandon

I danced in the rain

Yielding to the wet earth’s embrace.

Now I round the living earth

And listen as I thump

To voices deep in the clay —

To murmurs and music

Heard centuries ago

By the potters of Omar’s day.

Then I move the rounded form

To our tryst on the wheel

Where, as partners impelled to create,

We surrender ourselves

To centrifugal force —

Each seeking that centered state.

A crescendo is stoked

In the heart of the clay

In our foreplay of whisper and touch

And erupts when the center

Is entered and drawn

Out and up in a joyous thrust.

Ah! I am not Keats

Nor you a Grecian urn,

But your beauty and truth must live on.

Child of the earth,

Born of my touch,

Taste the fire — feel eternity’s bond!

Your import to history

Will ever be hailed

While none shall remember my name,

And after I’m covered

With flesh of your flesh

You’ll tempt others to dance in the rain.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

March 2024
Judi Brannan Armbruster
Open to the moment

Prescott poet Judi Brannan Armbruster creates poem/photo combinations known as haiga, a Japanese form that pairs poetry, usually haiku, with artwork. The visual and written portions are meant to complement one another and highlight their interconnectedness. Although many people associate haiku with the standard three-line, 5-7-5 syllable count, it actually encompasses any short poem that focuses on vivid or juxtaposing images, usually of the natural world, and moments of illumination.

Originally haiga were handwritten poems on brushed ink drawings, but the form has evolved over time. Today haiga incorporate many media, including watercolor, collage, calligraphy and photographs. The poem can be handwritten or computer-generated, depending on the artist's vision.

Judi has always been drawn to poetry. “It’s a format that fits my thoughts — concentrated in minimal words or a fleeting look at nature.” Although she writes longer poems, her discovery of Japanese short forms transformed her writing. Through online workshops and reading, Judi studied modern American haiku and credits the teachings of haiku poet Jane Reichhold with expanding her understanding of the form. By delving more deeply into haiku, she learned about haiga and found the right vehicle for her creativity.

At that time Judi was living in Northern California on the Klamath River, an area she considers her ancestral homeland. She is a direct descendant of the Karuk people on her father’s side. Reconnecting with her heritage and taking photos in the wooded landscape opened her eyes to the creation of many poem/photo pairings. “I found my poetic voice there in the canyon and in the beauty of the forest.” Eventually she published a book of free verse called 60, described as “an explanation of the author’s native roots and the first 60 years of her life, written in her rediscovered poetic voice.” Over the years she has also published in various journals and anthologies, including Yellow Medicine Review, Stellar Showcase Journal, Thresholds, Autumn Leaves, Poetry Quarterly, and others.

Judi feels that the creation of haiga taps into meditative contemplation. “Being a mindful person, I look for images to put to my haiga. It seems as though I am thinking in haiku.” Poems come to her in various ways. “Sometimes the words come first and at other times the photos. When reading, I may see a word I want to use or a phrase I can parse into an expression. It is often about how it made me feel in the moment.”

Although Judi has been writing for many years, she’s had no formal training. Her early efforts were not encouraged as she struggled through a difficult childhood and marriage. Returning to college at age 30 as a single mom, she began writing again. Great sources of support for her journey were online poetry forums. After encouragement to keep writing, publish and tackle big topics, Judi now states, “Poets often take the pulse of current affairs and speak out strongly against bigotry and injustice.”

The natural world and its abuse at the hands of humans are recurring themes in this poet’s work. “Nature is my inspiration, especially for photos. Because haiku is often about sights, seasons, sounds and even smells, it is a rich palette for my mind and heart. Walking, driving, or even just sitting on my porch is often how I see the images I want to shoot.” She is continually surprised by the world around her. “Moments exist when the subtle beauty of our landscape takes my breath away.”

Having lived in Arizona on and off for years, Judi moved to Prescott about seven years ago. A retired nurse, she spends her time reading, writing and gardening. She devoted an entire year making daily haiku that evolved into haiga. “That writing became my morning mediation.” Currently she is putting together a chapbook of those poems.

Our local scenery provides many opportunities for new poems. “This morning I was out at first light, before the sun had broken through last night’s rain clouds. I looked up and saw three does on my lot. One had stopped and was nose-to-nose with my cat — I certainly wished that I had my camera! But the sight will probably make a poem or haiku. These little gifts from nature are precious moments for me.”

When discussing her poems, Judi reflects, “I hope they give you pleasure or even an aha moment, and that you’re encouraged to try this for yourself. For me, poetry is a form of meditation — to open myself to that moment, and be that moment.”

You can find Judi's work on amazon.com, and contact her at judiprescott17@gmail.com.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

February 2024
Dylan Webster
On the verge

Phoenix poet Dylan Webster is fascinated with liminality, the feeling of being between stages or places, on the threshold of transitioning. “There’s something about that expectation, the imagination involved. I think of it as an empty space that we fill with our lively imagination. It’s in that imagining that we find our life.” His poetry often visits and investigates these transitory pauses: the moments between sleep and waking, dark and light, the space between questions and answers.

Dylan has published one book of poetry, Dislocation. He is currently working on second book of poems, The Half-Life of the Living, and a novel, “a dark thriller with a setting very much based on Prescott.” His poetry and fiction have been published in many journals. He runs two poetry open mics in the Valley, at Grounded 32 and Bookmans Mesa. Born and raised in Phoenix, he’s delighted to be involved in the literary arts there, and has found a strong community in which to share his work and connect with other writers.

Dylan’s love of language and reading began early. “I grew up with books being a welcome refuge. In them, I found open-mindedness and exploration, my own haven. My grandparents always encouraged that in me, and often bought me all the books that I wanted to read.” He was home-schooled through high school and self-taught thereafter, discovering many classic, modern, postmodern and experimental poets who have influenced his work.

Dylan has always been drawn to poetry as a way of expressing himself on deeper, more fundamental levels. “Poetry has a heavy emphasis on language and imagery to convey a message. Instead of laying out a logical argument, you can paint a scene that says multiple things at once, and kind of speaks on a different frequency. There is an ancient songlike nature to poetry. I think it taps into an older part of our collective unconscious.”

The cognizance of liminality extends to Dylan’s further themes, which include religion, spirituality, self-awareness and other transcendent concepts. “Liminality feeds much of my poetry. It intersects with ideas of the sacred and the soul. Like starting on earth and seeking heaven. All that space in between, on the ascent, that’s where I want to pause and look around. I want to capture that.”

Dylan tries to get out of his own way when a poem comes to him. “I often have these disparate lines just floating around. I usually begin writing and let the words come out as they will, trying not to do anything to hinder them. I may throw a phrase on my phone if it’s rattling and I don’t want to lose it. I tend to write best at night, far past when I should have fallen asleep.” Poetry helps him think through subjects and issues in creative ways. “Anything that I cannot easily resolve in my mind tends to be worked out through poetry. I try to walk down a path in my mind and document what I see there.”

Dylan lives with his wife, an artist and writer, and their young son. They are often the subjects of his poems. He is constantly thinking about and writing poetry. “Poetry has an inherent ambiguity and mystery that always brings me back.” And he doesn’t mind being in a liminal state, feeling in-between in his life and his work, on the verge of discovery: “This path, right now: this is the magical place.”

You can contact Dylan at william22webster@gmail.com; for more: amazon.com/Dislocated-Dylan-Webster/dp/0578390795

Anatomical

Heavy air settles low,

moisture thickening the surrounding space,

much like how I search for God.

The anticipation tantalizes me,

stiffening the hairs on my arm

like the herald breath of lightning —

and they tell me it’s like the wind,

that I can see the effects

but will never grasp the mover —

and that’s why the trees bend,

without knees they yet bow down in awe,

and perhaps fear; that old grandfather.

Awe like the onset of floods;

the swirling of clouds like angels’ playthings,

enveloping the modern world in fear,

while quenching cracked desert skin.

I may never find that divine face,

yet I am still graced by awe & fear; nature’s body.

Codes and Standards

Winter cool chills the slump blocks that shape

our rectangular house,

as the breathing of mother and child

warm the interior and meet in the hall.

I lie awake at the cusp of night and morning,

a new ritual I’ve taken to –

rejuvenation in place of intoxication.

I’ve judged sleeplessness preferable

to perpetuation of inherited vice.

One of the things I’ve learned

in this mindful sobriety,

is just how thin these old windows are.

The cold has coasted over the blocks

and seeps in through the fifty-two year old seams.

The sound of tires on the freeway half a mile away

whisper through the vents like past owners’ mutterings.

I want to be annoyed by my cheap windows,

the lack of funds to remedy said cheap windows;

and when I cast my sidelong glance,

breathing threats and murder at the windows,

I hear the exhalations of mother and child,

sleeping soundly in the small, mid century slump block home.

I’m grateful for lucidity,

for my windows’ lack of structural integrity;

the odd ways a house respires.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

January 2024
Dan Seaman
Riding the deadman’s pocket

Longtime Prescott resident Dan Seaman’s poetry has been called “romantic realism.” His poems primarily deal with love and loss, but also contain strong references to experiences of the working class. “I have always lived my life as simply as I could and with a yearning for the common person’s struggle, world vision and sensibility because, in my view, it is the most grounded and real.” 

Many of his employment experiences have involved manual labor, where he developed understanding and compassion for the daily lives and struggles of working people. “My skills, training and aptitude have given me a respectful point of view of the working man, having been one so often.”

Dan has lived in Prescott since 1970, “when the town was only accessible from two-lane roads, there were only three TV channels, and the radio stations went off the air at 10pm.” He’s had a long association with local poetry venues, beginning with hosting open mics at the Full Moon Café in 1997. From there he founded Prescott Area Poets Association (PAPA), also known as Poetry As Performance Art, where he hosted readings for the following ten years. These events took place in many locations downtown, finally ending up at the MAD Linguist in the old McCormick Arts District.

During that time Prescott became known for its vibrant poetry scene, turning out strong poets, hosting performers from many cities, and holding the first regular poetry slams in Northern Arizona. In 2001 Dan and other organizers established a statewide slam-poetry competition at Arcosanti that ran for seven years. The Prescott team won the inaugural 2001 Arcosanti Slab City Poetry Slam, competing against nationally ranked teams. “I tend to immerse myself in projects, and PAPA. was one of the best things in my life. I lived and breathed poetry and public performance for ten years.”

Since that time, Dan’s become involved in fire-dance performance and production, staging shows on the streets of Prescott and other venues.

While Dan is a natural performer, his first experience with reading poems in public was overwhelming and helped shape his attitude toward readings. “I forgot to exhale completely, my hands were shaking holding the papers, and my knees felt like they were going to give out at any moment — and I had been a radio host, public speaker, event planner and sat on many committees before that open-mic moment. From that I knew it was important to alleviate some of that anxiety for others. I tried my best to create a performer-friendly venue where first-timers or veteran readers would feel relaxed.”

For Dan, poetry originates in life experience. “All my poems are reality-based dives into momentary epiphany. The things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and loved (and hated) are the very core of my poetry.” Some poems come quickly to him, others take much longer. “I’ve written poems two minutes after an experience, or I can be (subconsciously) stewing over something for years. Then I’ll see, or hear, or smell something, and the opening line will force itself out of me like a repeating lyric.” Breakthroughs are often unexpected. “I’m not looking for them, they just happen. I call it 'riding the deadman’s pocket’ in reference to the many thousands of hours I’ve traveled on motorcycles, where there are things that come at you unexpectedly from your peripheral vision.”

From there, Dan uncovers the poem's direction. “I follow the voices in my head. Most of my poems have developed as snippets of larger stories that reflect my world view of life: a thing, in a thing, wrapped in some other thing, and all the layers of wrapping contain relevance to each other. That is what lends gravitas to the phrasing, the words chosen, the rhythm set in the line choice, and the eventual overall imagery.”

Ultimately poetry has both a personal and universal purpose for Dan. “I want to say I get catharsis from writing, but I don’t. If I get anything out of it, I get clarity. I desire to give a sounding voice for others who may be experiencing something similar to what I’ve written, letting them know we are all in this and most of us don’t have it figured out either. So relax, breathe and learn.”

More info: youtube.com/@danseaman2257/playlists

Callus

I have — in my past and on my palms — the callus

of many hours, splayed and cracked skin

Hours toiled in effort straining to gain the grip

to last another minute ... another hour

Stiffened digits wrapped in eternal grasp

of handles on picks, shovels, hammers, saws

Steam boiling up from under a hardhat on a cold

winter’s day, or in the bowels of the earth

Endless tasks satisfied only in their completion

nullified by repetition, glad to be over, glad to begin

Sweat-stained muscles aching in their rest

sweat-stained vision, the best way to know the world

We have all done our time, paid our dues

in gritted teeth and clenched jaw

Commitment

Persistence

We have all callused our hands

and some, our souls, the better for it

Look at a man’s hands and a woman’s

see how they are held, not what they hold

Some, from the joy of it wrap that eternal grasp

on a handle of steel or ash

Others — from the lack of chance — are welded to

a forever of callus upon callus

and die cradled in the grave’s shovel

Look not at the surface, spy not the callus …

it may be gone ... it may never have been

Experience is carried in the eyes, on the shoulders

and the way a hand is held

The grip and callus of a smooth hand may be

as strong as a leathered palm, or stronger

from having broken the chains

that held it still

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

December 2023
Brooke Sahni
Between two worlds

For Prescott writer Brooke Sahni, poems are a way to reconcile conflicting thoughts and emotions. Many of her poems are presented as internal monologues wherein she attempts to work out problems. “I believe that all creative writing sets out to answer a question. But really, it is more of an exploration of a question, because good writing never offers neat conclusions. I tend to exaggerate this searching impulse by explicitly pointing to an uncertainty the speaker is grappling with.”

Brooke has published two books of poetry, Divining and Before I Had the Word. She also writes short fiction and has just completed a novel. She finds that poetry and prose have much in common. “The motifs I’m most interested in come through in my poetry and my fiction, so I see my stories, poems, and my novel as one body of work with a lot of crossover.” She also admires fiction-writers whose prose has a poetic leaning. “I’ve always been drawn to lyrical fiction writers like Lauren Groff, Toni Morrison, Anthony Doerr, so writing fiction doesn’t feel totally separate from writing poetry.”

When creating poems, Brooke hopes that her readers identify with her words while also experiencing them on a more profound level. “I want my poems to feel both accessible and intricate. In other words, I want to welcome all audiences into my work, but I also want my writing to promote deeper thought.” While the intensity of poetry’s conciseness can be challenging, the payoff is rewarding. “You can distill the heart of a novel into a single poem.”

A recurring theme in Brooke’s writing is her mixed cultural heritage: she is both Sikh and Jewish. The metaphorical aspects of poetry helped her come to terms with her diverse identities. “For example, I loved the poetic idea of the missing 'o' in the Jewish spelling of God, or, G-d (ed: used to avoid writing the name in full). Or when I looked up Sikh and saw that it means learner, it perfectly corresponded to poems where the speaker is searching, seeking, learning how to be.”

Brooke often concentrates on writing interrelated poems for her collections. “I’ve found that writing linked poetry has been extremely generative. I typically do a lot of brainstorming, or ‘pre-production’ work, before I begin a collection. I ask myself what interests me and write it down. From there I make a kind of messy brain map that has the larger idea on the top with other ideas and associations that branch from that.” Although she does not have a daily writing practice, writing is ever-present in her mind. “I think about writing every day — the call to write is something I feel almost always.”

Brooke first arrived in Prescott from Ohio as a student studying creative writing at Prescott College. Ten years later she has returned to teach at Yavapai College. “Moving back to Prescott feels like a sweet and inevitable homecoming. Not only do I love its natural spaces, but this is the place I developed as a writer.” She is currently working on a series of poems exploring her life in Arizona. “My chapbook begins as a kind of origin story, the origin of the speaker’s life in the desert. At first, I missed the green of my native Ohio hardwoods, I missed water. But eventually I fell in love with the desert.”

Her poem “Letter for Ponderosa” describes her hesitant steps toward appreciating the landscape’s nuanced beauty. “This poem is meant to be an ode, a love letter to place, to the places that are part of us. It is also a love letter to things that are taken for granted because they are common, like the pine tree.” She again strives to reconcile her mixed emotions, searching for answers through the poem’s inquiries. “I write from a place of longing, and longing inherently is unresolved searching.”

More at brookesahni.com.

Letter for Ponderosa

For a long time, I didn’t know to love you, I believed your green was lesser in needle form.

I missed the sensuous fanning of leaves, I missed the word, deciduous, I craved

canopy, leaves made of velvet or vellum, I wanted branches bent over,

heavy with blossom.

Just the other day, I read about you, most ancient tree. About Dionysus who adorned

the top of his staff with a pine cone, with its myriad of seeds. About Cybele who turned

Attis into a pine tree, where violets grew from drops of blood. About the tree

in Nevada with 4,800 growth rings. You, the oldest living plant on earth.

You, who has inspired artists with the depth of your metaphor—

how even in the depths of winter, your green persists.

And it’s true, I still grow tired of the familiar, I still take for granted unearned abundance,

the way sometimes I have to leave my beloved for the sweetness of returning, the way

I left this desert for the missing. But I’m back now. Yesterday, I gathered your

needles and steeped them in hot water. Yes, I’m back in this place I love.

You, my desert, my land of the pine and more pine, I’m here again,

learning to praise what persists. I drink you.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

October 2023
Mark Dailey

frosty morning

the goat’s first squirt

pings the milk pail

For Prescott poet Mark Dailey, haiku have the ability to elevate everyday experiences into art. “Haiku are short, concise poems that capture a moment of immediate perception. They are a way to notice what you might not have otherwise noticed, reminding ourselves that life is full of wonderful little moments.”

Haiku is a type of Japanese poetry that has three lines, traditionally divided into five, seven and five syllables. But most English-language haiku poets no longer employ strict syllable counts, instead concentrating on the form’s conciseness to capture the essence of an idea or image.

late summer

the egg-gathering basket

filled with tomatoes

Haiku are usually composed of two parts; the first line is a fragment and the following lines are one phrase. Many poets will describe the setting in the first line, then the subject and action in the following lines.

winter ridgeline

a long drawn-out conversation

with wind

Some poets move the fragment to the third line, finishing the poem.

what birds

sang in its branches

stacked firewood

The relationship between the two parts is open-ended, permitting the reader to perceive meanings on an intuitive level. “The most compelling poetry tells us only a part of the story, while our mind leaps to the possibilities of filling in the canvas, thus prompting a vivid imagination in the reader. The best haiku, for instance, tell us half a story. The door is left open.”

Although Mark has written poetry all his life, his introduction to haiku came in middle age. “My son gave me The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa as a Christmas present just as I was departing on a college-class trip to Nepal. I stuck it in my backpack and hiked around Nepal reading it, and started writing haiku. I’ve been smitten by the immediacy of the form ever since.” Over the years his work has been published in many journals and anthologies, including Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Acorn, The Heron's Nest, tinywords, and A Hundred Gourds.

winter thaw

a prayer flag

of laundry

For Mark, poetry has an idiosyncratic way of affecting readers. “The power and joy of poetry lies in its capacity for surprise. Most things in life demand a plan and a destination; poetry does not. In the midst of life’s predictable rhythms and duties, poetry is like a little opportunity to run off and join the circus! Using the imagination and language as its only tools, it allows adventure and surprise to pop into everyday life.”

the galaxy turns

every quarter-billion years

letting the cat in

In terms of finding sources for his poems, Mark shares, “The inspiration for haiku typically comes quickly, but that doesn’t guarantee a good poem. Many aren’t very compelling. Some benefit from ongoing revision. A few are born just right.” He views poems as distinct creations, but recognizes that they are also connected and influenced by our physical and emotional environments. “Like everything else in life, poetry is relational. We swim in a sea of language, and share our everyday lives with other humans, as well as deer, ravens, javelinas, mountains and stars. A poem doesn’t come from ourselves so much as ourselves-in-relation-to-the-world-around-us.” At times his humorous social commentary sneaks in.

border wall

a saguaro raises

the middle finger

Mark appreciates that poetry’s underlying music contributes to its enjoyment and meaning. “Poetry also interests me for its musicality, its syntactical-spinal rhythm as it slithers through our imagination, utilizing the evolutionary roots of language. Sound and rhythm matter, but by themselves they can’t drive the poem. It must also resonate with meaning or emotion.”

dinner simmers

we pass around

new pronouns

Mark currently works as an anthropologist, teaching in the Environmental Studies Program at Prescott College. His continued interest in Chinese culture and language allows him to read poetry in both Chinese and in translation. He enjoys reading many forms of poetry. “Some of my favorite English-language poets are Gary Snyder, Emily Dickinson and William Blake. My favorite classical Chinese poets are Du Fu (712-770), Tao Yuanming (365-427), and Han Shan, aka Cold Mountain (700s).”

Ultimately Mark finds that haiku fulfills his need to create and connect with others. “In poetry, I hope to channel a voice, in crafted language, that has the capacity to surprise me and to have at least some others share the experience. Poetry lives at the confluence of imagination, voice, craft, and communication.”

reaching for the sun

I pull down

a pear

All haiku by Mark Dailey. Contact him at mark.dailey@prescott.edu.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

October 2023
Bonnie Wehle
Behind the mask

Tucson poet Bonnie Wehle creates ‘persona’ poems, taking on the voices and characteristics of women from history. Her fascination with this style of poetry started after a trip to Mexico, when she began a long poem about artist Frida Kahlo. “That prompted me to seek out more information about her. I loved doing that so much I started researching other women. Art and art history are other areas of interest for me, so I was especially drawn to women artists.”

Bonnie Wehle

Bonnie also writes lyrical, narrative, and confessional poetry, but what she calls “imaginary poetry” is where the persona poems flourish. “In all my writing, I hope to be surprised or find some new truth. My favorite thing is when the poem (or the muse) takes over and delivers an unexpected revelation. It’s magical when that happens.”

Her book A Certain Ache: Poems in Women’s Voices is a collection of persona poems in which she explores the passions and struggles of historical women from a feminist perspective. “I loved researching the women, trying to get into their heads and write in their voices. It was both challenging and exciting. These poems allowed me to express and examine my thoughts on women and their treatment throughout history — a subject I can’t let go of.” ‘Persona’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘mask.’ The poet is both inhabiting a character and revealing her own inner thoughts. “Persona poems are not just in the voice of the person being written about; the poet’s voice inevitably comes through as well.”

For Bonnie, poetry has a unique way of communicating ideas and feelings. “There is opportunity for telling a story obliquely, using metaphor, for instance, and the conciseness eliminates additional words or explanations that prose may require of the subject.” During her revision process, she concentrates on the craft of each poem. "I look carefully at word choice and the music the words create when strung together. I feel that while craft comes after content, being aware of it and using it can take the content to another level. In poetry, there’s always more to learn."

Bonnie’s involvement in poetry did not begin till she retired. “I was late coming to poetry, and probably largely because my college experience with it was so intimidating I was sure, for most of my life, that I would never understand it!” She discovered the work of Marie Howe, Gregory Orr and Ada Limón, whose poems are accessible yet moving. She studied with Laure-Anne Bosselaar, has taken many workshops, attended poetry festivals, and now participates in local critique groups, all of which have helped her grow as a writer.

In addition to poetry, Bonnie is an accomplished ceramic artist. “Pottery and poetry are both creative outlets for me, but from different sources — expressing what’s inside either with the body or with the mind.” But they have certain challenges in common as well. “Sitting in front of a blank page is much the same as holding an amorphous lump of clay in my hand. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to make until I begin to shape it, and sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to say until I begin to write it.”

Bonnie’s interest in poetry extends to her volunteer work as a docent at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson, where she facilitates monthly poetry discussions on well known poets. “I research and compile packets of their poems, which we then read and discuss together. The hope is that we all learn about poets and poetry together from each other.”

“To My Great-Granddaughters” is a persona poem in the voice of Eve, who cleverly expresses her thoughts and opinions about her biblical experiences. Bonnie shares that “The Pretender” helps explain her underlying attraction to writing persona poems. Her hope is that her poetry will touch others and open them to new insights and realizations. “When the reader gets to the end of one of my poems, I want them to say whoa. Then I know I’ve reached them in a significant way, given them a perspective they didn’t have before.”

For more info visit bonniewehle.com.

The Pretender

When he said, So, tell me about yourself,

I turned to make sure my shadow

was still attached, flat, colorless, vaguely

body shaped. Like a paper doll.

My skin seems to stretch more tidily

around the bones of others than it does my own.

My thoughts cradle better in someone else’s brain,

spring more easily from someone else’s mouth.

I prefer to write in someone else’s voice.

You may hear me from the next room

reciting lines assigned to the dead or distant,

searching for myself on random gravestones,

in portraits painted with raucous colors

I recognize from somewhere.

Through a crack in my wall

You can watch me cut dolls from cardboard,

Shut them in a drawer,

And double lock the door behind me.

To My Great-Granddaughters

I want to write to you of summer peaches

plums fresh off the branch

their lusciousness in my mouth.

Instead, I gnaw

on fruit from an apple tree in a garden

someone else once wrote about

trying to persuade me it was my own fault

the pestilence, pain, fighting, smiting.

The shame.

Trying to tell me how perfect it all was

the purring panthers, curly-coated ungulates

winged things of all sizes

and every sort of blooming vine,

until an asp slithered down and seduced me with lies.

Until angels, with clumsy wings, convinced me

I could fly, then let me fall,

and failed to tell me there were still snakes in the trees,

their tongues flicking with deceit.

And there they remain, my darlings.

Don’t be fooled,

you will find only their sloughed skin by the roadside.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

September 2023
Truth B. Told
"Forget poetry, I write lifelines."

The dynamic live performances of Phoenix spoken-word artist Truth B. Told have captivated, educated, and enlightened audiences worldwide. He’s opened for acts including Floetry, Mint Condition and Musiq Soulchild, and made many appearances on VH1 and MTV. He’s received National Poetry Awards and performed everywhere from schools to sports arenas. He’s completed a book, Words I Remember, and a hip-hop/jazz-infused spoken-word album, Oxymoronicotineverland. And he’s just getting started.

For Truth, words are sacred, allowing him to share his vision with others and elevate their consciousness regarding the need for social change. “I believe artists have a responsibility to speak on important topics, whether it be political or personal. For the last seven years the overwhelming majority of my work has been tied to social-justice issues, given the importance and volatility of the times we are living in.” He finds many parallels between writing and preaching, as illustrated in his spoken-word poem “My Testimony.”

But I thank God that I’m a poet

See, I stay devoted

Spoken word for me is more than Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights,

poetry slams and open mics

I don't play poet

‘cause this gift ain’t a game God gave me

He made me design each rhyme as if each line is trying to find salvation

Born Christopher Owens, Truth’s love of poetry began early. By the sixth grade he was writing poems with social-justice content, including one called “More Than a River.” “It discussed racism and its effects on the city through redlining, environmental racism, etc. Looking back, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I became a writer and spoken-word artist.” He continues to find much inspiration in the world around him. “Life! Personal experiences and observations, the experiences of others, the highs, the lows, the pain, the joy, every color of emotion and experience gives me an opportunity to express myself and share stories through this medium.”

Guys, this ain’t poetry

These are testimonies

And every cat you hear speaking ain’t nothin’ more than a deacon

And we didn’t come here for some game or some show

And this stopped being a poem about a minute ago

His performances are energizing and inspirational, an open communication between poet and listener. “I believe performing gives the audience an opportunity to connect, engage and move on an emotional level that isn’t provided with poetry on the page. You get to feel the poem on a human/spiritual level.”

This ain’t a poem

These are God’s teachings reaching my thinking

Leaking through my inkpen onstage speaking in hopes that I reach them

Truth finds spoken word to be more expansive than other forms of poetry. “The structures and restraints that exist in certain styles of poetry don’t exist in spoken word, which gives me the ability to not only incorporate different writing skills, but provides a freedom to engage and connect with audiences on an intimate level that welcomes and encourages dialogue.”

So how can I reach you from a pulpit if you think I’m full of it

That’s why that young kid who feels his life ain’t worth living

Feels his spirits lifted from the lyrics I give him

Ain't that deliverance?

His influences are varied and extensive, including many poets and musicians. “Too many to name, but hip-hop and jazz have heavy and noticeable influences on my work. Original influences include Gil Scott-Heron, Nikki Giovanni, The Last Poets, The Notorious B.I.G., and Jay-Z; modern influences include Taalam Acey, Georgia ME, Black Ice, and countless others.”

I’m a poet

And I know it don’t make me better, poets never ever claim to be

Never said we were better persons,

just try to make you better persons through our Verses

And this ain’t me versus churches, I just know what my purpose is

Truth loves performing and connecting with audiences, inspiring them to confront social inequities and work toward change. He encourages others to “Do what’s right because it’s right, not for the likes.” Ultimately, he can’t picture himself doing anything else. “To be honest? It’s one of the few careers where I can speak freely about my experiences and personal history through the lens of a Black man and not have to worry about being fired.”

So it's safe to say I write the hell out of a poem

Exorcising demons just by speaking

Truth refers to himself as a writer, spoken-word artist, teaching artist, and entrepreneur. For the last five years he has devoted time and energy to working with Culture PHX, a community-focused company dedicated to preserving and promoting Black cultural arts throughout Phoenix. “A long-term focus of mine has always been to create lasting and impactful avenues to empower creatives, entrepreneurs, and small-business owners in the Black community.” Besides his work with Culture PHX he continues to write and maintain a busy performance and speaking schedule, remaining attuned to original ideas for poems. “I’m usually drawn to write about whatever is on my heart or mind, especially in relation to social issues. Emotion and inspiration are always the two main catalysts for my work.”

The doors of my verses are open, let the church say Amen

The doors of my verses are open, let the church say Amen

More at truthbtold.net.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

August 2023
Kenneth White
Gift-wrapped in metaphorical beauty
Kenneth White

Prescott poet Kenneth White refers to himself as “old-school.” “Rhyme and meter are the threads that hold the fabric of my poems together.” In traditional verse, rhyme scheme and meter lend a musical structure to a poem, making it memorable for recitation, and often adding a lovely echo to a poem. Kenneth feels his appreciation of traditional poetry started in his teen years, “influenced by listening to song lyrics and from reading the poems of others who used that style.” His inspirations include classic poets like “Poe, Dickenson, and of course the Bard, as well as Kipling, Blake, Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay.” During those early years he was also struggling with personal challenges that led him to writing. “My family had just imploded. Divorce, relocation and displacement landed me in the care of an aunt and uncle. Most likely it was my isolation from my family, coupled with my sensitive nature, an interest in folk music and a growing familiarity with the work of other poets, that began my writing.”

Kenneth also writes short stories and memoir. “My stories run the gamut, from sci-fi to quixotic romance, fairy tales to ghost stories. Many are fictional tales laced with historical accuracy, and some based on true-life experiences.” He was also a musician for decades, playing guitar, piano and assorted stringed instruments, and writing music and lyrics for hundreds of songs.

Ten years ago, shortly after moving to Prescott, Kenneth was involved in a mountain-bike accident that left him with a permanent spinal-cord injury. He spent six months in hospitals, rehab facilities and nursing homes. He did not write at all during his initial recuperation, but over the years he turned to poetry again, finding that poems fulfill “the creative need to express, as well as the urgency of my heart and mind to empty its contents into the sea that is my soul.”

Kenneth’s poetry covers a wide range of topics and themes. “Sometimes it is beauty or the dark side of human nature. Sometimes it is injustice, spiritual or secular. It may be a memory of lost love. Themes of religious, spiritual, metaphysical/magical references permeate my work.” He appreciates the depth and nuance that poetry communicates to readers. “Poetry can convey feelings, thoughts and ideas, and gently weaponize them with wisdom and beauty in a single sentence or with just a few words.”

In discussing “The Purloined Poem,” Kenneth says, “I have an affinity with Poe’s style. I suppose it is simply a bow to his work, the imagery notwithstanding, his use of old English (though an American) has always played a part in my homages to other writers, like Shakespeare, Burns and Kipling. The image of any of these writers, perhaps sobered by the conditions of their lives, or insanely intoxicated because of them, bent over parchment, recording by candlelight the utmost depths of their souls, is a far cry from the computer-driven efforts of a modern creator of the art.” “Where the Martian Rose Blooms” reflects Kenneth’s “lifelong fascination with the stars/universe and wondering What if?

Kenneth describes his poems as “gift-wrapped in metaphorical beauty.” Ultimately he strives to create carefully worded poems that have an emotional effect on his readers. “I want to pour the best wine I can make into the finest-crafted cups and let others drink as they wish.”

The Purloined Poem

I will touch my quill to page tonight

And fashion poems by candlelight

As a demon, from the shadows, watches grimly

I will write of the sea and of Annabelle Lee

And of the raven that sleeps deep within me

He dreams of nightshade and the pendulum blade

And of Baltimore solemnly weeping

Now every night the demon is there

Suspended in the chambered air

With every fear I'd ever felt wrapped round it like a shawl

From its gaping mouth I heard

The screeching of a wounded bird

As the face of Poe on the mirrored wall

Danced like Prospero at the ‘ball’

Upon my door the incessant knocking

As though the ghost of fate was stalking

Like the clock of doom

That ticks away until the moment of our death

The demon now my soul possessing

Enslaved and kept it from confessing

My love for the lost Lenore unto my dying breath

So this my final purloined poem

Will burn upon the alter stone

Where Amontillado and Fortunato

Drank deep that which the demon poured

This toast to Edgar Allen's soul

In a cup too small for the wine it holds

Like the mask the ‘Red Death’ wore

Shall be lifted nevermore

Where the Martian Rose Blooms

Have you received my reply yet?

My dearest friend from beyond the bright moon

I grow ever old and at times may forget

How distant the fields where the Martian rose blooms

The message you sent in childhood’s short day

By the light of an ancient star burning

Filled me with hope that there might be a way

To fulfill the dream of my childhood returning

But I’ve yet to find, though try as I might

A map, a ship or the funds to purchase

At ticket to witness the Martian night

And finally reveal to my soul its true purpose

So until I learn to live without air

Or travel without this flesh from the womb

I must be content to but dream I am there

At play in the fields where the Martian rose blooms

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

July 2023
Shelley Lowell
Gifts from the Universe

For Prescott poet and painter Shelley Lowell, art comes through a process of channeling. She creates paintings with accompanying poems that she attributes to spiritual messages. “The Universe has been giving me the images for the paintings and then the poems.” She has created over 50 painting/poem combinations in this series, many of which can be found on her website. The surreal landscapes, devoid of people, have a haunting beauty. Natural objects address the reader directly. “Trees and nature speak their minds about how they are treated by humans. They share their hopes, dreams, fears, desires, and premonitions about the human condition and precarious situation facing our planet’s survival.”

Shelley has a long history as an artist and poet. Originally from the Bronx in New York, she earned a BFA in advertising design and visual communication from Pratt Institute. “This was the perfect choice for me. I learned how to communicate through pictures and words.” She has won many awards for her commercial and fine art, and has had numerous poems published in journals and online.

In the 1970s she was part of the feminist-art movement, her work appearing in shows alongside noted feminist artists including Judy Chicago. She ran a successful graphic-design studio/ad agency while working on her art and poetry.

She always felt that she was receiving spiritual, metaphysical or psychological messages that found their way into her work, but at times these communications were not as strong. After she opened an art gallery in Asheville NC, she became part of the metaphysical and spiritual community there. “My voice came back to me. I began painting what appeared as abstract paintings, but they were spiritual messages. This work evolved over the years to become my work today.” Although her artistic life has been diverse and incorporated many styles and locations, she believes all her experiences were meant to be. “In retrospect, there were no accidents, as there are no accidents for anyone on their creative journey. My early works were the seeds for my current work in that both have been channeled and both have messages for humanity.”

When discussing her artistic process, Shelley shares, “The paintings come through me as tiny sketches. Then I draw them bigger, and develop them on the canvas. Each painting has a poem, which is its story. While painting I hear words that give me an idea of what the painting is about. When the painting is complete, I meditate on the image. I write down words that come through me. I edit and tweak the words until I feel they work as a poetic statement. My paintings, with their poems, are messages from earth to humanity.”

Shelley describes her paintings/poems as wake-up calls. “There is an apocalyptic thread through my work. We humans need to feel the pain that nature feels in order for humankind to change their attitude and support nature. Mother Nature is our partner. We are not separate from nature or earth. Humans are not superior to nature. We must care for nature, love and respect our habitat. We are nothing if we do not have a planet. This work is about nature, but it is also about humans and human nature.”

After living in many places in the east, Shelley relocated with her cats and dog to Prescott Valley last year. Her home is filled with her art, finished and unfinished. “Since my life revolves around creating, my home becomes my studio.” As a living she paints commissioned portraits of animals and people, and continues to produce graphic-design projects. She has enjoyed connecting with the varied artistic community in Prescott, showing her work in local galleries, and participating in poetry readings. She’s given workshops through Central Arizona Writers and the Center for Spiritual Living. She feels Prescott was the right decision, artistically and personally. “There are the mountains, the change of scenery from valleys to dense forests, Prescott's charming downtown, the wide expanse of sky, the sunlight and the rocks. There is a lot here to inspire me. The artist community is friendly and welcoming. I am so glad to be here.”

Shelley envisions seeing her collection of poems/paintings in a permanent exhibit, surrounded by nature, where others can experience it and share their own work. “I feel that I have been given this work because there is a great urgency for it to be shared in order to help raise humanity’s consciousness, to treat earth and all animals with love and respect. This is so important for the future of our existence.”

More at shelleylowell.com and greatpetpaintings.com

Silent Witness

Still I am confused,

bewildered, perplexed.

How could a species so intelligent

do that to their own?

I’ve seen this happen

time and again.

Each time I wept.

Not for food.

These upright beings.

But for power, control, greed.

I’ve seen this happen

time and again.

Each time I wept.

It will happen no more.

They are gone.

I’ve seen this happen

time and again.

Each time I wept.

The forests. The animals.

All gone.

I’ve seen this happen

time and again.

Each time I wept.

I am the last tree standing.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

June 2023
Gene Twaronite
The puzzle of poetry

Tucson poet Gene Twaronite is always thinking about poetry. “Since a poem can come from anywhere, I’m ever alert to whatever prompts life sends me. It could be a painful memory, an intense feeling about a political event, a reaction to a piece of artwork or music, a quote from a book, or the soft tickety sound a candy wrapper makes as it blows down the street.”

He's been writing and publishing for over 50 years, starting out with stories in Highlights for Children and creating essays and columns for local newspapers (including 5enses years ago). Poetry, though, wasn’t on his radar until much later. “The few poems I read in high school and college seemed written in such esoteric language, as if meant only for some ivory-tower priesthood of readers and critics.” But that changed when he began reading modern and contemporary poets like Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Kay Ryan, Elizabeth Bishop, and others. These poets opened up a creative door for him. “They have each influenced me differently: by the way they use humor, rhyme, or sound; how they address the times they live in; the various forms they employ, and the ways they tell the stories of their lives.” The examples of other poets have allowed him to try different styles and forms.

“There are so many ways to write poetry, and these poets taught me to not be afraid to experiment with forms, even the most challenging. I don’t think you can write good poetry without reading a wide variety of poems — poems that not only inspire you, but even ones that you can’t understand or don’t like.”

Over the last 20 years Gene has published several books of fiction and four books of poetry. “I’m drawn by poetry’s need for conciseness, using as few words as I can to convey an emotion or story. For me, writing a poem is like a puzzle I must solve that takes over my brain in a delightful way.” He loves the unexpected direction that poems can travel. “Sometimes a line will just pop into my head and I won’t rest until I see where it wishes to take me. I’m often surprised by where I end up, which is a good thing, for if I don’t surprise myself, I’ll never surprise my readers.”

Before his retirement Gene taught firewise landscaping and was a horticultural specialist with the ASU Arboretum. His continuing interest in nature appears in many of his poems. “I’m constantly alert to what I observe, be it on a desert, a mountain hike, or a walk downtown. While some of my poems celebrate the wonders found in nature, others deal with how I feel about the wholesale destruction of our precious planet due to our greed and willful ignorance.” The following poems from his latest collection, Shopping Cart Dreams, balance reflections on nature with social commentary. “Poets have a responsibility to address the times they live in.”

Sharing poems through readings and publishing is an important component of writing for Gene. “I feel strongly that poetry is meant to be shared, like music or any other kind of art.” He maintains a website devoted to his poetry, does many public readings, and creates videos of his poems on YouTube and Instagram. Recently, he was chosen to be a writer-in-residence for the Pima County Libraries. “I would like to reach as many people as I can with my poetry while I’m still here, and to write at least one poem that will live on after my subscription runs out.”

Gene is continually involved in the process of creating and publishing poetry. “I keep a file of ideas and first lines, and try to always have at least one poem under production, either writing the first draft or further revising and making last tweaks. It’s an intensely emotional experience. I get totally wrapped up in the act of creation. I feel like I’m giving birth to something that’s never existed before. When a literary journal or magazine decides to publish my poem, I feel that it’s finally found a good home.”

Flowering Means Nothing

the horticulturist replied as

I pointed to the flowers

atop a crested

saguaro cactus

I had tried to save,

its life now oozing away

from necrosis within.

But tell that to a bee

who greets each flower

she meets as if

it were the first

or Mexican bats

who migrate

a thousand miles

to lap the sweet nectar

from agave

and saguaro blossoms

or the young woman

whose first flowing blood

marks the opening

of her new life

or the young country

where democracy

once bloomed.

First published in Tipton Poetry Journal.

Surprises

The soft fresh tips

of an ocotillo

have not yet learned

how to be fierce

like the barbed hooks

of a cholla that

cling to your flesh

with singular desire.

The black coachwhip

slashes across the trail

like an underground

crack opening

beneath your feet.

The delphinium

blossoms against

the granite

stab your eyes

with hyper blue

needles.

The agave spine

pierces your skin

and burns as if

dipped in acid.

The mottled patches

of light and shadow

beneath the mesquite

suddenly become

a watching rattlesnake

tasting the wind

as you walk past it,

savoring all that

can hurt you in this

fierce bright land

where there’s

nothing to fear

but the failure

to see the pain

of all things.

First published in Sky Island Journal.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

May 2023
Michael Buckius
Through the lens of anti-nostalgia

Phoenix poet and filmmaker Michael Buckius finds absurdity and humor in most subjects. While he writes about serious issues, including “childhood trauma, toxic masculinity, the failures of our parents, coming of age, addiction and recovery,” he presents them with a comic touch that often takes readers by surprise. “All these could be very heavy subjects, and I want them to still carry weight, but I try to write about them with an absurd and comic sensibility. Sometimes it’s okay to laugh at serious/depressing topics.”

Michael also writes nonfiction, occasional flash fiction, and creates films. He finds that poems work well merged with other media. “I can include a poem in a work of fiction, blend poetry into nonfiction, perform poetry for an audience, or turn it into a film. Poetry makes the most sense in my head visually versus other forms of writing. Little scenes, vignettes, or powerful narratives filled with imagery translate well into the way I think about things, the way I express myself.”

Michael currently teaches screenwriting and creative writing at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and Pima Community College. He’s had many poems published and is a prolific independent filmmaker. He recently published a poetry/nonfiction collection titled Mustache in Plain Sight. He is also a featured reader at many local venues. Sharing his work with an audience is an enjoyable challenge. “I want my audience to think and I want them to laugh. I spend equal time on funnier work and serious stuff, and I think it’s important to talk openly about issues like mental health, trauma and addiction.”

Michael cites many sources of inspiration for his poetry. “I belong to a writing group where I have to write something every day, so a lot of what I write is just based on things that happened that day. Occasionally I’ll see patterns, both in my actions and the world around me, so I’ll write about that. Sometimes I’ll overhear someone say something that makes me laugh and that will turn into a poem. And sometimes I sit down with intention. But it always starts with just one line or word or idea.”

He remains impressed and influenced by many poets, including “Chelsey Minnis, Ben Lerner, Arthur Sze, Richard Brautigan, Natalie Diaz and Charles Bukowski,” but feels his personal style has developed and evolved over time to where he has uncovered his own voice. “Knowing who I am as a person, what I want, what gives me joy and the type of writing I want to do has certainly changed my writing style. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more self-aware, but also weirder and more absurd.” He finds that living in Arizona has been personally and professionally gratifying. “All my publications, my film work, my MFA, teaching at the college level, happened during my time in Arizona. This is a very special place to me. It is my home.”

Michael offers these insights into the following poems. “Much of what I write I filter through the lens of anti-nostalgia. To live in nostalgia is to rob yourself of whatever life could be in this moment. I like to poke fun at it, to neutralize it with humor and absurdity.” The poems walk a line between comedy and despair, understanding and alienation. As Michael says, “Ultimately, I just want to create subversive work that has a heart.”

To find out more about Michael, visit mikebuckius.com.

Dadbox

Cremation is what took my dad

after alcohol did a little bit of stuff to him

His ashes went into a plastic bag

and were handed off like a pound of potatoes

They didn’t go in a beer can

or wine jug

or a glass crescent

from a broken bottle

They went into a bag designed to hold

several gallons of tomato sauce

His mom decided he should then go in a box

an antique box that was older than her

a wooden box, coated in cobalt blue

decorated with dull crimson flowers

a box that cracks with age

a box that could sit on a mantle with antiquity

When I suffer I think of him

When I see a mustache I think of him

When I have ideas that go nowhere I think of him

When I smell cheap cologne, or moth balls, I think of him

When I get angry, I am him

I don’t know where the dad box is now

and I’m afraid to ask around

I know that he finally quit drinking

but so many questions about dad

remain mysteries

Trout

It’s not ok to ask my dad questions

One of his teeth fell out and

I try to see what’s behind it

He opens his mouth to swear and a shot

Of whisky falls out and spills onto my knee but I’m driving and it keeps me alert

He replaces his tooth with a cigarette and he starts to tell me about his perfect day

having pockets stuffed with fresh trout and a good woman to prove himself to

I nod and dab the whiskey on my jeans with a lost sock

He yells watch the road! But I’ve given up on that

I glide through stop sign after stop sign after stop sign

I want to ask him about his tooth

He’s still handsome and he knows it

I buried it, he says

The tooth?

No, he says, the trout.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

April 2023
KaDawna Gasson
“I write like I breathe; it’s a way of life.”

When KaDawna Gasson emerged from a coma after months of hovering between life and death, she returned to writing. “It was my first form of communication, the first way I could talk to the world again.” What had begun as a cold or flu quickly escalated into Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and sepsis, life-threatening to both KaDawna and her unborn child. Her recuperation was long and painful, and she believes that expressing herself with words helped her maintain strength and continue healing. Her book The Void Between aided in her comprehension of her trauma. “Change and healing are not easy, clean, or linear. Writing was a way to process these difficult experiences and memories, breaking them apart and exploring them in the safe space of my words on paper.”

KaDawna Gasson

While her book alternates between poetry and prose, KaDawna finds that poetry is often her entry point to deeper subjects. “I started my book by just writing a poem that detailed the rough outline of everything that happened during those trying months. Then I took the poem and started to write on things that I could talk about, and slowly came around to the harder topics of that experience.”

KaDawna has a long history of writing, starting in childhood. She is neurodivergent, which is associated with very young language decoding. “Writing was my safety and my escape.” In high school, she was introduced to contemporary poetry and loved the “idea that I could take anything and make it a poem.” She has continued to write throughout her life. “I write like I breathe; it’s a way of life. I can write anywhere, any time. If I can find paper, or at least a pen, I can write.”

KaDawna enjoys challenging herself through poetry. “I like writing in different states of mind and in different places. You can capture things that you might not if you had only one special place or one feeling or one time of day that you write.” Her topics are varied. “I love writing about motherhood and watching my children grow, especially now that they are not tiny and cute. I write about end of life, depression, boredom, heartbreak and healing, things that can cause raw emotions.”

Poems often start as journal entries. “Things I can’t seem to get out of my head get processed that way.” Her themes evolve along with her life. “What’s going on in my life is processed through paper, so everything is constantly shifting. My writing ages and changes with me. You are either changing or dying.” She finds that poetry has the ability to communicate in an original way. “Poetry makes the simple beautiful and complex. It also makes the complex simple and easy to understand.”

KaDawna lives in Prescott and works as a dog groomer. She has always been drawn to animals, having had a goat farm in Colorado before relocating to this area, which was part of her continued healing. “I was handed a clean slate, and wanted to make a new life with it.” She participates in local open mics and appreciates hearing the poetry of others. “I learn so much. Different styles and techniques, different points of view, what makes them happy, scared, things they are going through, and worried about, and how they process it.” She is currently working on book of short stories and poems titled Neuro Diverge Agent.

In discussing the poem “The Doe and the Car,” KaDawna says that she was inspired by an accident where she and a partner hit a deer. This led to realizations of how differently they handled the event and how different they were from each other. “Invisible” employs repeated lines, emphasizing the struggle to communicate. “It reminded me of being in a coma, and how I was still there, still fighting, still very aware, and feeling like no one could see my consciousness. The hardest fight I had was at no more than a whisper, and done alone.”

Ultimately, poetry is a means by which KaDawna can share her unique take on life with others. “I have lived a very interesting life, and I have a different viewpoint than others by being a neurodivergent. Poetry is my creative outlet, and my dusty fingerprint on this earth.”

To contact KaDawna: 200fngoats@gmail.com

Invisible


My fingers cling to glass like rain in limbo.

I am the silence.

You don’t know I’m there until you listen.

Stuck between echoes.

I am the silence.

Crawling up and through the cracks.

Stuck between echoes.

The creatures stir.

I am crawling up and through the cracks.

I can see reality unravel.

The creature is stirring,

juxtaposed truth and lies.

I can see reality unravel.

Tediously rising from the dead,

juxtaposed truth and lies,

is the breath I thought I had lost.

I am tediously rising from the dead.

Feeling cinches my fingertips.

The breath I thought I had lost

takes hold as I grasp onto anything that will hold me.

The Doe and the Car


The car: a cold moving

Machine powering the world

Mindlessly pulling forward.

The Doe: free from the

restraints of the world

Aimlessly wandering in the

beauty of the Earth.

I see you as you see me.

Our kiss is the collision.

Steel and heart,

Fur and glass,

Bone and speed.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

March 2023
Mike Casetta
Finding the saving grace

When poet Mike Casetta was discharged from the Air Force in 1970, his life was in pieces. He’d had difficult experiences in the service, many friends didn’t come home from Vietnam, and his dreams of becoming an RN fell by the wayside. “I was far from being mentally and/or emotionally healthy.”

Mike Casetta

He was living in Tucson at the time, and a friend introduced him to the work of poet James Tate. “I found joy and wonder in his unique voice that turned the classics on their ears for me.” For Mike, the poetry of Tate and other Iowa writers of the time was a door to self-expression and “a way back into society.” He found inspiration and acknowledgment in their writing styles and subjects. “Free form/surrealism/absurdity/magical thinking, always presented in simple language, were all there for me to immerse myself. I felt soul-nourished by poetry.”

Mike began studying poetry at Pima Community College in Tucson, where he credits exceptional writing teachers and artist friends with encouraging his writing and finding his voice and style. “Basically I am a surrealist at heart, and I am often prompted to begin a poem by something I find absurd. I have attempted to explore my childhood, military experiences, relationships, recovery issues and spirituality through poetry.” One teacher had a small press that published Mike’s book of poems, The Certainty of Looking Elsewhere. The title poem won an honorable mention in a contest judged by poet Mary Oliver in 1995.

Mike can trace his interest in poetry back to high school. His childhood wasn’t easy, in an alcoholic home and even experiencing suicidal ideation as a teen. He could barely finish his homework assignments and almost didn’t graduate. His senior English teacher caught him passing a comical poem to a friend. “I felt inspired to write it after watching Tommy Smothers recite a poem on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. I loved his humor.” The teacher asked him to read the poem to the class. They loved it. “He said if I wrote and read a poem to the class every week, he would excuse me from doing my homework.” In his yearbook Mike listed English Teacher as his career choice. He also had a poem published in the yearbook. Worried that his fellow students would find it too emotional, he used a nom de plume. “Jebediah Yssup’s only published poem!”

Mike worked for years as a stonemason and landscaper while writing and publishing poems with small presses. Through this time he acknowledges that his drinking was problematic. He got sober  in 1993, but feels he wasn’t “clearheaded enough for at least three years before a semblance of an authentic voice surfaced.” Being sober helped his writing by “finding balance in my voice and consistency in my focus.” He returned to school majoring in social work, and became an addictions therapist. Over the years he’s worked at rehab centers and VA hospitals, and says working with others in recovery has deepened and expanded his writing. “My ability to appreciate wild, crazy and painful stories from people trying to recover helped me to put more life into the words of my own struggles.”

In writing and in life, Mike is on a personal spiritual quest. He recalls a pilgrimage to India a few years after getting sober. “I was in a small village not far from railroad tracks when it rained and I smelled the creosote used to preserve railroad ties, which wafted me back to the Sonoran Desert, where Tucson is located, where I called home. I then began to realize the journey to ‘self ’ is wherever I am.” He feels that his poem “Raphael” focuses on this familiar theme. “I have a deep spiritual longing, but an incapacity in this life for enlightenment.”

Currently Mike is retired, living in Prescott Valley. He belongs to a few online poetry forums. “I find reading others’ work and posting mine for review is a creative outlet that keeps me inspired and writing now almost daily.” Sometimes he shares his work in public, though he doesn’t feel he’s a good reader of his own work. “I would love it if Christopher Walken read my poetry for me.”

Mike is grateful for “the saving grace of writing poetry. By finding my voice through writing and sharing poetry, I’ve found the joys of expression and self-exploration, and the sense of humor needed to put things in their crazy perspective. I believe this has ultimately saved me from some very dark places.”

To contact Mike: fierceforce@gmail.com

Raphael

the Archangel

with the power to heal,

hovers over the roof

of my house.

He’s been up there

since you left.

I went to a Catholic school.

I tell myself

my guardian angel

was happy to be reassigned.

Raphael keeps my house

safe inside,

me & the dog tame,

neither of us going feral.

My dog lies

like a pile of clothes

on the rug in front

of the hearth

where you & I cast

our shadows & glistened;

where later, alone,

I felt laid bare to the heavens,

roofless,

looking into the void,

but much less so now,

Raphael perched

on the chimney,

the sparks like stars.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

February 2023
Debra Owen
Stitch by Stitch and Word by Word

Prescott artist and poet Debra Owen considers ‘art’ to be a verb meaning “to focus or compel.” She believes that “successful work has a tension urging resolution of intellect, voice, and emotion.” She creates in many media, allowing each project to unfold in its own distinctive way. “I find all artmaking to be endlessly compelling and a satisfying challenge. In every piece, I find insights and the exhilaration of highs and lows. The media, the process, the layering, clarity, and spontaneous energy are a unique parallel to human complexity and life’s experience.”

Debra Owen

Debra became interested in writing poetry while in high school. “As a teenager I wrote as a coping mechanism for instability. There was something soothing about loosely stringing words together.” She continued to express herself in words over the years, finding solace in the free-form nature of poetry. “Poetry doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t ask for proper punctuation, a beginning, middle or end. It’s a living thing. It’s honest with us. It only asks for honesty in return.”

Debra starts each day ready to create. “I have a routine of journaling each morning: three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing, one page of affirmations, a haiku, and a quick sketch. I think they both settle my mind and jump-start my creativity.” An important aspect of her artmaking is the abilityto remain receptive to the direction a piece  takes her. “I’m focused on exploring a subject, shape, palette, character, story or gesture. With little preliminary planning, my approach is to develop a composition with story and feeling.”

Debra goes through periods where she focuses primarily on poetry as an artistic expression. “I have creative cycles: visual, poetry, stitching. I just follow my muse. Different media reflect my journey and its lessons and visions. They are all tools and platforms of my creative voice in all its forms. Writing poetry is another act of affirming my journey.”

Debra spent her career working as a fashion designer, and she’s been an arts advocate for many years. “I’ve founded, directed, and facilitated many creative adventures: executive director of a community art center, wearable-art designer, community organizer, e-magazine publisher, writer, promoter and speaker.” She moved to the Prescott area in 2010 primarily for its vibrant arts community. In 2021 she established Prescott Arts Journey (PAJ), “an inclusive umbrella of support for the whole arts community, its many voices, and resources.” The organization promotes local artists and connects them with resources through a community website, classes, programs, services, scholarships and events.

PAJ launched several artistic events last year, including My Life Story, Poetry Live!, Sketchers, and Café Chat. It also sponsored a poetry contest, attracting submissions from many local residents. Debra found the caliber and depth of the poetry gratifying. “The contest revealed the heart and soul of our poetry community. It affirmed my own experience of poetry being a door to the soul.”

Debra’s life has taken another turn recently. She will soon be leaving Prescott and moving to Maine. PAJ is now in the capable hands of Breeanya Hinkel, owner and publisher of Prescott Woman magazine. “I loved hosting programs that celebrated and connected the creative community, “says Debra, “I’m proud of PAJ and its mission. Breeanya will do wonderful things with it.”

“A River Runs Through It” (detail)

Discussing the connection between her fabric collage “A River Runs Through It” and her poem “The Thread,” she says, “Stitching and writing poetry are the same process in that they’re fluid. There’s a vision, a feeling, a goal. Each has needs to be filled.” Debra’s art strives toward the same end no matter what medium she employs. “All my work is about life experiences, lessons, realizations and questions. I am attempting to express a story, a reason, a feeling, an emotion.”

In this respect, visual art and poetry have much in common. “Same process, just different tools. They both require the willingness to let go of your own needs and follow their voices. In the end, it’s always a mirror. I peel away the layers of a story into the essence of a mood, character or gesture to reveal a fleeting impression that mirrors the soul.”

To contact Debra: dovehollowarts@gmail.com

The Thread

Follow the threads

Of the butterfly wings

on the sounds

(the colors) entwined

To a particular hue.

Travel the ins and outs,

The stitches,

The shapes.

Thread the needles.

Paint the movement.

Piece and separate.

Cotton held

Tightly,

Hands that shake.

New sounds.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

January 2023
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Giving voice to the land

Alison Hawthorne Deming creates poems that explore the natural world and enlighten readers as to the dangers of global warming and other environmental threats. Her work can be described as ecopoetry, characterized as poems with a strong ecological emphasis. “I’m interested in how poetry can bring emotion, reflection and even ethical regard into the science of climate change. As a poet, I want to have science’s back when it comes to understanding and caring for our gorgeous and beleaguered planet.” Her many books of poetry, essays, and nonfiction cover many interrelated aspects of our relationship with the natural world, from scientific to cultural to political.

Alison’s love of nature started early and  later developed into writing about environmental issues through poetry. “I grew up in rural Connecticut and spent summers in the Canadian Maritimes, so I’ve always been close to nature and astonished at the diminishment of nature by human hands. Poetry has been a way to try to reestablish an intimacy with the natural world and to understand myself as a creature of nature, as a way to heal the wounded relationship between people and nature.” When she moved to Tucson in 1990 to become director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, she confronted markedly different landscapes and the cultural implications of political policies in the area. “I’ve come to love the Sonoran Desert and all the tough critters that survive its intensity. I’ve also come to understand how the desert can be weaponized to serve an inhumane political agenda.”

At UA Alison founded the Field Studies in Writing Program, which brings grad students to the borderlands to write about both social justice and environmental issues. “I’ve led my students to write about the region through this cultural lens as well as through natural history. I love teaching and working with emerging writers honing their skills. They continue to astonish me with their brilliance and bravery. This has been among the most gratifying outcomes of my thirty years of teaching.”

Although Alison also publishes memoir, essays and other writings, she has a special connection to communicating through poetry. “I love the compression and music and intensity of poetry and how it gives form to complex emotions.” Her poems often begin as quick notes, “usually images, language, something that catches up my brain. I make a rough draft, sometimes doing research to make sure I have details right — how does a bird’s wing work? what’s the name of the mountain? what history or science can help me understand what I am seeing?” She also works with scientists to expand her knowledge. “One of my favorite things is to be out in nature with field biologists and learn from them and try to turn their scientific talk into some kind of a song.” Making the leap from idea to finished poem takes time and patience. “I work through many, many drafts, trying to see what the poem wants to be. Intuition is the guide. You cut, revise, cut, revise, add new lines, cut them, revise, until the sense that the poem realizes itself makes you jump up from the chair in joy.”

For Alison poetry is a way to “create something beautiful as counterweight to the moral ugliness that is gaining traction all around us.” She has just completed a new book of poems, The Excavations. She continues to write daily, staying receptive to new ideas and poetic images as they appear. When discussing the creation of the adjacent poem “National Forest,” Alison says, “I came to Sedona for a weekend of hiking, and every single trail was closed due to wildfires. It was a shock and disappointment for me. But I wanted to give voice to the land and what it might experience, to get past my human-centric view and see how language might bridge the human with the land in a way that expressed an ethic of care.”

For more info about Alison, visit alisonhawthornedeming.com.

National Forest

Bell Rock. Courthouse Rock. Devil’s Bridge.

Time has made the land forms

and they grow more beautiful with age.

Names come from the human world,

possession bleeding into perception.

What if the land had its own language?

No alphabet but steady drone

of grasslands, groan of mountains,

drought-fire’s scream — a drawn-out cry,

hiss of rain, simmer of seeds

stirring restless in the soil

pure presence and process

breaking into the place

made new by cataclysm.

That’s the planet speaking

and she cares about the fissures

in the dry river bed, about the lack

of ripe cherries in Washington

and blue crabs in Maryland,

savannah lions down by half.

She cares about the sunrise, dandelions,

and PCBs. She embraces whatever

we give her — blood, bone, rust

become her. She invented us

to do the work the word “care” implies,

invented us to invent words,

the thicket of endless possibilities

so death does not get the last word,

so groan and hiss could be accompanied

by our chatter, dirge, thesis, and psalm.

(First published in About Place Journal)

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

December 2022
Linda LaVere
Truth through images

For Tucson poet Linda LaVere, a love of writing began early. “In second grade, I would sit and imagine being the bird or squirrel in the tree and looking through the eyes of other beings. I would focus on stars until the light seemed to suck me inside of them. That’s when I began to write about the things I saw and how they felt; a sort of spiritual awakening.” Books became her constant companions. “I built a very strong inner world and read a great deal. I climbed into books and the other worlds they represented. I think poets feel different somehow and have a lot of curiosity about why things are the way they are.”

In college at San Diego State she continued writing, studying with poet Glover Davis, who encouraged the technique of Show, Don’t Tell. “That fit in great with my desire to be aware and present to all that is sensory in my own poetry.” Then the 1960s brought her to UC Berkeley, where she immersed herself in the counterculture, which included hearing Alan Ginsberg perform HOWL. She was drawn to the Imagist work of poet Denise Levertov. Imagism is characterized by a clarity of expression through precise images. “Denise had a profound influence on me due to her imagery that appealed to my natural direction.”

Linda wrote and published poems in journals and served as poetry editor for a small publication called Eye Prayers. She has written two books of poems: Bridge of Bones and Shadowlands.

Linda finds inspiration everywhere she turns. “I love magic, and I see it all around me in nature. The things that people seem to take for granted astound me. Thematically I tend toward many kinds of loss and grief, of beauty and the saving grace of nature.” She also finds poetic inspiration from a lifelong love of music. She sings Celtic folk songs and show tunes, and performs in choirs. “Many songs are simply the poetry of different times put to music. Knowing actual music very much drives the ear, often unconsciously, for poets who have internalized its significance.”

Poems do not come quickly for her, needing to percolate in her mind while they work themselves out. “My poems often come from experiences that have recycled in my subconscious. I cannot sit down and punch up meaningful poems on Monday morning. My best take reflection, and even dreams.” When she finds the poem's truth, she's satisfied, at least for a while. “A good poem is like something that slips into a certain groove of your heart and brain and you hear a kind of click as it settles into a hungry spot. You feel full for a moment, and don’t have to do anything else for hours and hours except share it with another poet. Then, you have to do it again.”

In recent years Linda has become an active member of the Arizona State Poetry Society, Tucson Chapter. The society has events for writers, publishes a poetry journal, and sponsors readings. Linda enjoys meeting with other members to share and critique work. She has also given readings online during the pandemic, and taught a poetry-techniques class at a local library.

Of course there is her writing, her search for personal truth. “I am fulfilled by a poem when I can find the right word and unpredictable images that resonate with the truth of what I see. I always try to tell the truth.”

Linda shares these lovely insights in the poem below, “Going Home to Mt. Lemmon.” “I was working as a teacher there, at 8,500 feet in a one-room schoolhouse. My husband and I were the first allowed up the road after a storm. The clouds had broken apart, revealing a huge full moon. There was no longer a visible road, and we had to trust that it even existed. I wanted to share that hour drive up the mountain and the overwhelming beauty of what I encountered. The images are inspired by Earth’s profound beauty and the feelings I held priceless as her witness.” Remaining true to her Imagist influence, she adds, “As always, it is the imagery that carries the story.”

To contact Linda: myriad79@icloud.com

Going Home to Mt. Lemmon

Our truck is the first

to climb the mountain

late that winter night.

The road has long

been swallowed

and we must travel blind:

no familiar landmarks

warn of precipice or define

the long way home.

We roll on the pale

skin of the mountain

feeling our way on

her unmarked face.

Stick figures of trees

stand hunched and frozen:

grandfather hawks

wooly-feathered with snow,

ice draping their wings

with beards of glass.

The wheels shush

the powder as they turn,

the beams of moonlight

so intense, we shut

the headlights down.

The call of trees is curled

like breath in hollow tubes

of wind, then set free as ghosts

from broken shells

to ride upon the air.

There is nothing more to want.

The windshield whitening,

the tailpipe puffing,

the heater trying to keep

our feet and noses warm,

are the ordinary things we use

to see the miracles done.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

November 2022
June Powers
Poetry: Hold on and don’t let go.

For Phoenix poet June Powers, writing poetry is about remaining receptive. “In a poem, your innermost thoughts can wander the page, can teach, can draw images with words. I see poetry as a very strong connecting force between what we see, what we think is expected of us, and what we really feel.”

June believes it is essential to follow what a poem is trying to communicate. “The most important thing for me is to let the words come through without force. Then go back and adjust, revise, tweak, to make sure the words hang together and make sense. The poem will tell you if it is finished or needs more. It took a while to learn this. I used to pick a subject and go after it. Now, I still pick a subject or phrase to start, and then wait for the words to come.”

June experiments with varied poetic techniques and styles. “Writing becomes an exercise in stretching — stretching in different directions, stretching to limits I didn't know existed.” She often writes narrative poems, which integrate elements of storytelling. She also writes dialog poems that incorporate contrasting voices. She credits the work of other writers with influencing and expanding her work. “I make a point of reading short stories and poetry from all over the world. This assists me with a global perspective, cultural information, and new writing styles.” Her favorite poets include Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Victoria Chang, Billy Collins, Camille T. Dungy and Joy Harjo. “These are poets who give us a new way to view the world, who help move us toward constructive anger, who give us laughter and peaceful tears in the same breath and the time to unravel them. Gorgeous writing by other poets and authors continually lifts me.”

Besides exploring diverse methods, June has wide-ranging inspirations. “I am greatly influenced by art and the beauty of ordinary things. Photography, film, dance, and a beautiful day all help me construct a poem. I am drawn to the intersection of what we do to the environment, what we do socially, and mental-emotional health. I write about relationships from all angles, and I enjoy presenting global perspectives to bring us closer.”

June’s written three chapbooks: CHILD/poems of consciousness, SOUTH/poems of passing through, and HEART/poems of love. She approached each book with a distinct topic in mind: CHILD covers issues of social awareness; SOUTH concentrates on history and family; HEART celebrates romance and love. She found that the books overlapped and influenced one another. “This was an exploration, a series of paths to follow, and the words and emotions they brought were in charge of the process.”

Ultimately for June, poems are means of finding common ground with others. “I want to accomplish connection. I want to share possibility. I want a shakeup, an unexpected moment where the reader or audience says or feels, “Aah, yes, that’s it!” Poetry is about bringing images and emotions to life, be it love, anger, history, abuse or a long walk in a gentle breeze. They all have a place in the narrative, waiting to be shared.”

In discussing the following poem, June describes “a loving point of view and a feeling of lightness that goes beyond sharing, into the realm of becoming.” She captures a beautiful moment where people in love “become part of one another.”

She encourages readers to “consider a poem as you would a walk in a beautiful garden or the new section of a city that will soon become your favorite. Let the poems embrace and capture you. Hold on and don’t let go.”

To contact June: PowersJune8@gmail.com.

A Part of You

If I stand next to you

will I become as beautiful as a summer storm

that can’t determine the color it should be the

force, it should have or not have and so continues

for days

at a back-and-forth pace

until the sun taps in as reminder to stop now

just stop. It’s enough to see clearly the pink haze,

the horizon in between the buildings — skyscrapers

and houses holding the laundry trying to dry

for the umpteenth

time we forgot — we forgot to take it in and so left it

waving the same

way I see your hand when you reluctantly board the train.

I cry for not seeing you.

I am not going to see you for days which will seem

like “neverness” that long

until I can stand next to you

and breathe again the freshness of your smile again

and grow more beautiful again —

as a part of you.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

October 2022
Kathleen O'Halleran
Coming home to poetry…

For Kathleen O’Halleran, Prescott is where she is meant to be. “I tell people that it was in Prescott that for the first time in my life I felt at home in my own skin, both figuratively and literally.” Although she has twice moved and returned to the area since arriving in 1988, “it was as though I’d always needed to be here.” And like Prescott, poetry is another place Kathleen is meant to be. “Through it all, poetry has been a lasting thread—a constant. I think that’s because it balances me. It provides a vessel for me to process and grow from my life experiences.”

Kathleen has an impressive resume that includes a long career of professional writing in both journalism and the academic world. She has worked as a reporter, newspaper editor, news director, and college instructor, plus lent her expertise to think tanks and forums on complex topics including social justice issues, violence and conflict, climate change impact, and environmental sustainability. She finds that the best way to work through these weighty topics is to return to her roots in poetry. “People might never know that these are the specific things I am trying to process, but that isn’t necessary. The reader will find poems that cover the fallout from what we each experience in our lives that creates anxiety, fear, sadness and heartache, a need for simplicity, for love and compassion, or for connection with what brings us comfort or peacefulness.”

Through poetry, Kathleen tries to make sense of life. “I am most interested in writing poetry that helps to sort out the human experience. A poem often creates the opportunity for processing, healing, illumination, and growth.” She views poetry as a means of discovery, an uncovering of truths, even if these revelations are difficult or upsetting.  “Poetry is so necessary to me, in the most personal of ways. It is the hard things about and within life that I tend to gravitate toward, and that inspire or compel me to write. It might be in matters of our personal lives or in terms of the large, profound human experiences we go through.” Ultimately, poetry is a path to self-understanding and acceptance. “Poetry is my sanctuary. It’s where I hope to become a better being.”

In her work, Kathleen attempts to match a poem’s technique with its message.  “I strive to create sensory and rhythmic aesthetics in each poem that best connect with the mood, theme, pace, and progression of the poem. My goal is that the combination of these features is in such close union that they cannot possibly be extricated from one another, without loss of effect or meaning.”

And although poetry can appear to be a solitary endeavor, Kathleen finds “an intimacy between writer and reader. Each poem invites us to an experience with the author: a shared truth, a shared sense of comfort, or of sorrow, of acceptance or resistance, of awareness, or of the mysteries that continue to confound us. There is a sense that this moment of self-growth is shared; that a person is not alone in their searching, or in feeling this way.”

The following poems demonstrate Kathleen’s gift for approaching topics “subtly and symbolically, gently tugging at an idea and/or feeling,” rather than openly confronting it. “We are so overwhelmed at all we're going through collectively with the pandemic, political strife, fear, trauma and prolonged isolation that I try to come at a topic from the side, so that we process it as we are able.”

Kathleen’s life has evolved over her years in Prescott. She fondly recalls the early days of living in town. “Raising my two children here, where I felt they were safe, where we could enjoy the small-town atmosphere and activities on the square, the climate, and the surrounding natural beauty. I don’t think I could’ve asked for more. As a single mom, it was tough financially. I had lucrative offers in journalism elsewhere, but I wanted to raise my son and daughter here. They grew up with a strong sense of identity, a love for the environment, and long-lasting friendships.”

Now, years later, she lives with her daughter and grandchildren. Recently, they’ve all moved to a farm outside Prescott. “The views, with the foothills and mountains as a backdrop to the broad five-acre spread of open land out here and the big sky sunrises, sunsets, and starry evenings, are both peaceful, and spectacular. It’s so inspirational—especially for writing poetry—and for spending more quality time together as a family.”

Ultimately both Prescott and poetry are where Kathleen feels she is most fulfilled. “I am where I want to be, close to nature, close to family, with time and inspiration to enjoy the many facets of my life and, of course, to write.”

To contact Kathleen: ohalleran55@gmail.com

Missives from Nature

  1. The owl hoots,
    owning the night,
    again,
    as I tug at my robe—
    not keen to let go
    the day.
    We meet
    in the witching hour
    that asks
    nothing
    of time or of us
    or of
    the way
    to tomorrow.

  1. Each Spring
    brings
    without fail—
    a lone, lost
    bee
    to me, to
    tickle my
    skin—
    having lingered
    without fail,
    a bit too
    long
    in the warmth
    and anonymity
    of
    the hive.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

September 2022
Rosemarie Dombrowski
Healing through the art of poetry

For Phoenix poet Rosemarie Dombrowski, poetry is therapeutic. “I use poetry as a portal for processing my trauma, distilling stories into their essential details, and healing.” She is a single parent and primary caregiver to her adult son who has nonverbal autism and other disabilities. She teaches courses on women’s literature, medical poetry, and editing at ASU Downtown Phoenix. As a literary advocate she’s launched many community-based projects, and in 2017 was selected as the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix. She created a nonprofit called Revisionary Arts in 2020 that provides therapeutic poetry workshops for vulnerable populations.

Rosemary Dombrowski

Rosemarie feels that these workshops help participants understand and express their emotions and experiences. “Poetry can facilitate the processing of trauma, grief, illness, stress, etc., which can lead to individual and collective healing.” The workshop leaders share poems that inspire participants to open up in their own writing. “I like to say that we use the art of divination to select the right poems for the population we’re working with, poems in which they’ll recognize themselves, maybe find a community of sufferers. Poems that encourage/incite them to reflect on their past and present, their mental, spiritual, and physical realities. The poem does the work, and it’s a wondrous thing to witness.”

From there attendees craft their own poems. “The page doesn’t judge. It’ll never be shocked by a confession or disclosure. And once we’ve articulated our suffering outside of our heads, we have the ability to reread it from a new perspective, reflect on it, analyze it, (truly) see it. Purging even a thin layer of trauma gets us a little closer to the source. This is really the essence of poetry therapy: the poem is both a container for our suffering as well as a portal to a deeper understanding.”

Compared to other genres, Rosemarie finds that poetry has a unique ability to get to the heart of the matter. “It’s always about the brilliance in the brevity. The depths that a poem can explore in 20 lines. Like any form of writing, poetry is a means of articulating our experiences, but unlike other genres, poetry requires us to focus on the most critical elements of our story. You can’t grapple with a memoir or a novel or even a short story in the space of a 60-minute class/workshop/session, but you can cover the landscape of a poem, even connect it meaningfully to your life, even begin more deeply exploring some aspect of your life.”

Rosemarie’s experiences as Poet Laureate of Phoenix were both challenging and rewarding. “I thought I was already pretty invested/embedded in the community, hosting a lot of public events, but the requests for me to speak (and read) really ratcheted up quickly! Some of the most nerve-wracking ones — which were also some of the greatest honors — were the poems I was asked to write and perform for civic and political events. It was a pressurized whirlwind and something I wasn’t exactly prepared for, but it certainly catapulted poetry into visible spaces in the community, and it made many new things possible for me, so I have nothing but gratitude (and a lot of gray hairs)!”

Besides her workshops and teaching, Rosemarie is the faculty editor of Grey Matter, the school’s medical poetry journal, and Write On Downtown, an arts and culture journal. She’s published three collections of poems and is founding editor of rinky dink press, which publishes micro-poetry. The following poems reflect Rosemarie’s talent for uncovering and articulating the core of traumatic experiences.

Lately Rosemarie has been working as a poetry and yoga therapist at the Maricopa Reentry Center, a facility for formerly incarcerated men who are dealing with addiction. “It’s been the greatest gift and biggest challenge of my life thus far.” She continues to find fulfillment in sharing her work and guiding others to do the same. “I’m most comfortable in medical spaces, writing medical/disability poetry, plumbing my own trauma, or working with vulnerable populations. That’s who I am as a human, so it makes sense that that’s who I’d be as a poet.”

From Unfit Mother

Birthday

The windows are portals

into another world.

The ice blankets the freeway

like the layers of bloody linens

they strip from my bed.

The bathroom light

is a beacon for a ship

that can’t make it to harbor.

They bring me bacon

that I refuse to eat.

I realize there’s nothing here

to recognize—not the face

wrapped in pinstripes,

not even the one in the mirror.

Their eyes look like antiseptic.

Their voices sound like

my swollen womb,

the taste of rot

and no toothpaste.

I am a stuck pig,

a bleeding bitch,

an unfit mother already.

Day Three

The wheelchair in the bathroom

is like the feeling you get

when you’re clinging to the precipice.

Once, the Grand Canyon

almost swallowed me whole.

They say that the hole in his heart

is the size of a dime.

The surgeon is speaking in hands —

no contact … no running … no longdistance

anything for life.

I wonder who I will become

without my legs.

Today, I am the beeping monitor,

the churning machine

that’s attached to my breasts.

I see the face of sin in NICU window.

I pray to the saint of perpetual lactation,

the wide-eyed mother of despair.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

August 2022
Cynthia Loucks
Poetry: When nothing else will quite do

Prescott resident Cynthia Loucks is a great appreciator of poetry. “I love to study poetry, and I love the craft.” She admires the “economy of poetry, the ability to say more with fewer words,” which makes it uniquely challenging. “It is about cutting out what is unnecessary, but without losing the music and beauty. That process of thinking about every word, what to add and what to take away, is one of the things I truly enjoy about writing. I want to write poems that are well crafted and succeed in communicating something that moves me. I especially like when I can make someone laugh at the same time.”

Cynthia Loucks

She is surrounded by inspiration for her poems. “I am continually engaged with the natural world and with my own inner process. I write poems on a wide array of subjects, from personal and interpersonal to global, nature to science, politics to spiritual, and sometimes much of that mixed together.” And she is often moved by reading the work of other poets, which she sometimes does aloud. “There is a great sensuality in the way some poems enter my ears as sound, and thrill my tongue as I pronounce the words. Combining that with content that means something to me is a fullness beyond what either captures alone.”

Cynthia feels poetry in one form or another has been a constant thread in her life. She can trace its roots back to her childhood, when her mother recited poems to her. As a young adult she was captivated by the rock poets of the 1960s and ‘70s. Later, as a practitioner of Buddhist Vipassana meditation, she studied the poetry of Rumi and other sacred poets. Many contemporary poets influence her work, especially Mary Oliver and Billy Collins. To improve her skills, she has taken poetry classes at Yavapai College and joined local critique groups. “I feel that studying poetry enables me to gradually learn to craft poems more effectively and more beautifully. It is, after all, about beauty, isn’t it?” She was also a member of the MAD Women Poets, where she publicly performed many of her poems. “We had great audiences, and it was a wonderful experience to be able to share my poems.”

She feels that poetry is a means for sharing insight. “As someone with a lifelong habit of exploring my own psyche and that of others, I find perceptions are often most effectively expressed poetically.” She trained as a therapist and worked for years as a bereavement coordinator for a local hospice. She found that poetry “could be effective in making an emotional connection for people experiencing grief, expressing something they may not be able to find words for. In the most difficult times for people, a poem can express what is needed.”

For Cynthia, “poems are a way of saying things when nothing else will quite do. I encounter things that astonish me all the time, everywhere — in nature, in my reading, on the news. While what astonishes and amazes invokes wonder, I also often encounter horrifying things. The sorrow is as great as the wonder. These are not things that necessarily need to be analyzed or even described, as one would with prose. They want to be sung! So what enters me via my senses and amazes me comes out as poetry.”

Cynthia’s lived in Prescott for 20 years. In her leisure time, she enjoys “hiking and playing with my dog, along with writing poetry, drawing and painting, just being here on my little piece of Earth.” When it comes to writing she is able to create “pretty much anywhere, anytime. When I find the words jamming up in my mind, I try to quickly find some way to write them down before they slip away.” After the initial burst of inspiration “comes the work — the work I absolutely love — of shaping, refining, revising. Writing a poem can be like sculpting — start out with a block of words, and removing everything that isn’t the poem.”

About the following poem, Cynthia says, “As someone who follows the news and chooses to witness what is happening in this world, my gratitude for living some place as peaceful and safe as Prescott is considerable and genuine. But at this point in time, I believe we all need to do a whole lot more than be grateful. If anything, that could be a path of complacency.” Cynthia captures the simple beauty of a summer morning coupled with the knowledge that it could easily be taken away.

Morning in Prescott

rosy brush stroke across the sky

the color of healthy cheeks

the color of dawn signaling

we’ve made it through another night

not such a tenuous prospect

in this small city in the mountains

if the minions of the latest unholy war

ever decided to savage it out here

— no, I’m not going there

it is enough to be grateful

that the sounds of this city waking up

don’t include rumbling tanks or mortar fire

strolling in cool morning air is especially sweet

knowing the temperature

slogging a load of humidity

will march into the nineties by afternoon

coyotes singing along

with the inevitable early morning siren

will soon be sleeping off the night

and the cottontail who can’t decide

whether to hop away or pretend to be a rock

will likely live another day

this is just the beginning of what I’m grateful for

but it’s a good place to start

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

July 2022
Michael McLaughlin
Making peace with perplexity

For Prescott writer and teacher Michael McLaughlin, “the function of an artist is to bear witness to truth.” Poetry is “personal, but it only works if it’s also universal. I want to find the essence of something, its emotional truth. Such is where the real poetry lies.”

Michael McLaughlin, photo by Ben Lawless

Michael worked for many years as an artist in residence with incarcerated youth and adults. “Teaching poetry, screenplay and fiction writing in prisons, juvenile detention centers and mental-health facilities has been one of the highlights of my life. I wanted to creatively help people who seemingly needed help the most. It was an enormous privilege to be working with them.” There too his emphasis was on enabling students to find personal truths they could share with others. “It’s not easy to craft an honest poem, to get up and read it in front of a group of strangers. What resulted was a sort of fearlessness that I learned to draw from and embolden people with.”

In his own poetry Michael draws from a range of inspiration: “the conflicts and incongruities I encounter, the incredible amount of injustice in the world, the nature of all creatures, including human, and, as I grow older, the repositories of wisdom in the world’s religions.” He also credits diverse poets and authors as having profound influence on his work: “Keats, Vallejo, Sexton, Whitman, Lorca, Plath, Bishop, the novelist Celine, to name a few.”

For Michael, poems are “usually spun out of a catchphrase or an experience or a journal entry.” While he enjoys the practice of writing — “It’s great fun tinkering away in one’s little word factory” — he acknowledges that poems can often take their own surprising paths. He describes himself as “just a victim of enthusiasms, always caught between seeing where poems will take me and reining them in. I’m both standing my ground and surrendering to experience.” When a poem works, it’s almost a transcendent experience for him. “Every once in a while you’re gifted into a kind of understanding. And if you’re open to the call, you may be able to articulate it. Beyond meditation and therapy, poetry is the only real-life way I know of making peace with perplexity.”

Michael and his wife moved to Prescott in 2019. He currently teaches English and creative writing at Yavapai College, including a Poetry Writing Workshop coming in August. He’s written two novels, Western People Show Their Faces and Gang of One, and three books of poetry, Ped Xing, The Upholstery of Heaven and Countless Cinemas. His accomplishments include being named Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo County, California, and hosting a long-running poetry and performance series in Santa Maria, California. Pre-pandemic Michael also did poetry readings all over the country. “I love reading out loud, the sound, sense and suggestion of poetry — it’s both a thrill and a surprise when you can pull a poem off and move people a bit.”

The poems here demonstrate Michael’s keen ability to tackle complex themes through subtle imagery. Isolation, loneliness, fleeting moments of both clarity and loss populate his thoughtful lines, culminating in realizations that enlighten. Michael says, “In awe as I am of the different eastern and western wisdom traditions, all the mind-bending platitudes and maxims, what always strikes hardest and truest is poetry.”

To find out more about Michael, visit mycalmac.us/poet.

Countless Cinemas

with thanks to Donald S Lopez Jr.

the yogacara speak

of a form of consciousness 

where all the seeds 

of past deeds

are deposited.

one by one these seeds

come to fruition

simultaneously 

creating a person 

and a private world.

a universe of closet sized cinemas

each occupied by a single person

eternally viewing a different film. 

everything is of the nature of consciousness

the product of one's own projections.

ignorance and suffering 

believe the yogacara

result from feeling 

the movie to be real.

Summer Eve South of Stockton

the yogacara speak

of a form of consciousness 

where all the seeds 

of past deeds

are deposited.

one by one these seeds

come to fruition

simultaneously 

creating a person 

and a private world.

a universe of closet sized cinemas

each occupied by a single person

eternally viewing a different film. 

everything is of the nature of consciousness

the product of one's own projections.

ignorance and suffering 

believe the yogacara

result from feeling 

the movie to be real.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Summer Eve South of Stockton

One hundred well-behaved right lane trucks.
Fast Lane I-5. 80 mile per hour
twilight toasting the minds of bugs.
Phone pole hawk. Beak tucked.
Crop duster Christmas time green. Envying
the guy whose first kiss must
have just taken hold in rich rye
of such an instant just passed.

Ah, the heat of it! We’re no more than bread!

Back seat my son, you’d think
Asleep on
the upholstery of heaven.

For an instant so righteous
I’m entrusted with so much.

Night’s just a nestMy job’s just to driveFor an instant so righteous.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

June 2022
Katie King

During quarantine a Flagstaff business called A Dog’s Walk Bakery sustained customers by selling baked bread from a filing cabinet. For poet Katie King, the trips to the bakery were a “needed sanity walk with a destination … something to help balance our freshly unbalanced lives.” The menu changed constantly; there was no predicting what breads would appear or whether they were destined to be “one-time wonders.” The experience inspired Katie to write poems using bread as a metaphor for the challenges and unexpected comforts of this difficult time. Ultimately she published Bread Poems, which she describes as “21 strangely vulnerable pieces about my early quarantine, in bread.”

While she is also a songwriter, actor and photographer, poetry was the natural creative choice for Bread Poems. “I wanted to write simply about something simple, during really complicated times that were also very simple, in a sense. Poetry was the obvious answer. The bakery’s menu itself sounded poetic to me.”

Katie believes art is an avenue for communicating inner emotions, even painful ones. “I write what hurts so that I can understand the weather of things like love, loss, and confusion. It feels like being a nerve-historian the more I do it, like mapping out the sense of things.” She gives credit to her mother for inspiring her poetic honesty. “The ghost of my literature-loving mother haunts me. I was always encouraged to feel anything at all, and I never chose to numb out.” When a poem works, she knows it: “For a moment I feel like I’m at the right temperature in the gut.” It’s important to her to convey that truthfulness to readers. “I want people to feel like someone is being honest with them.”

Even though she tackles painful topics, her ironic sense of humor also shines through the work. “I love writing about men and bread, two things I love but do not understand, and two things that aren’t exactly good for me.”

Katie has written for as long as she can remember. “I guess you could say my first word was a poem. Juice. I was thirsty, and I’ve been extremely dehydrated ever since. All my writings ask for water in one way or another. They are prayers to quench me.” Still, she resists a poem’s pull till she has no choice. “A poem is like a bored child who just needs to be held. With the bread poems, I felt like I was making a recipe book in reverse. As if, in reading just the poems, the bread could be replicated by any baker, without a traditional recipe.”

Katie has lived in Flagstaff since 1996 and is currently a grad student. After ten years unattached, she and her son moved in with her boyfriend and his two children right before the pandemic began. “We crash-created an instant family during an historic time when so many were alone. I wanted to capture that strangeness and the celebration of something nice within such sad times. I hoped the bread would tell the story.”

Katie is grateful to A Dog’s Walk Bakery for providing comfort to her blended family during the pandemic, and for its generosity in the community: 18% of profits go to the Flagstaff Family Food Bank. She also believes that publishing these poems has allowed her to be a voice in her hometown. “The culinary and literary communities can be somewhat intimidating. I wanted to challenge those realities by making something very accessible. I like non-stuffy vibes. Poetry is for everyone — everyone to read, and everyone to write.”

Katie beautifully captures both humor and tenderness in the following poems, expanding on the simple metaphor to share her thoughts on love, loss, motherhood, and finding solace and community even during isolation from her neighbors.

Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Banana Scone

It’s a light love

Not like the way you love a dog because you can’t

hear their judgments of you as a person

Not a one-sided love

But a love that says, Hey, I’m here if you need me

A shoulder stroke

You look nice in that dress

I brought you tea

I was expecting a tough chewy scone

One you had to work for

Not sure if I’ll ever be one for light love

I like to rip you apart

Be ripped apart

Leave the guts of you in my teeth

Still taste you tomorrow

Remember how hard it was to get rid of you

Fight through the different textures

You’ll remember my bite

But this was a good scone after a fight

When you just need some air.

White Corn Green Chile3 (Stomping Grounds)

Because my mother served food to me for 28 years.

We made bread together with a bread machine

in the ‘90s. You and bread Katie, she would say. Look

Robert, she would say in a shrill but sweet voice —

she dug her hand inside again and only ate the

dough. Inside I sense a scant sense of some of my

own identity. The girl raised by the woman with the

father from South Carolina. The daughter of one

who moved to the west for Montessori jobs and

rocky mountain men. The one who loved bread till

childbirth changed what I could and couldn’t eat.

I breathe it in like the night my mother died and

I slept in her sheets and smelled everything she had

ever sacrificed for me — but sweetly so.

Sometimes I wonder

Is the white corn green chile a bread or a blanket

laying over me on the noticing of a calm-weathered

day.

Katie will be featured at Peregrine Book Company this month: https://www.peregrinebookcompany.com/event

Bread Poems is available at Bright Side and Bookmans in Flagstaff, and Peregrine Book Company in Prescott.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

May 2022
Jeff Daverman
“Poetry: A powerful medium for connection.”

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
“Writing is a practice. It’s a chiropractic adjustment. A cheap therapist. A lifesaver.”

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.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

March 2022
Jesse Sensibar
“Hard times, hard writing, and whole hell of a lot to be thankful for.”

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


Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

February 2022
Austin Davis
Reaching out to the community through words and actions

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

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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?

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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)

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com

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.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. deecohen.com