I Keep Them With Me

A day for poetry. I spent the morning rereading a series of ekphrastic poems that I wrote more or less daily between early August and late October, responding each time to a daily painting by an artist based in Colorado. I had not looked at my little poems since then, so it was exciting to realize that I’d accumulated a small body of work. Among those 58 poems I’m committed to 45 of them, which means I’ll keep looking at them and writing, and because I work this way, I’m already imagining a small collection. Why not?

This month I’m teaching an abbreviated version of my manuscript course called ‘A Body of Work,’ and the conversations in that workshop have me thinking about how to find a shape and “order the storm”. How do I draw out the emotion in this work that is mostly about natural landscapes? How do I vary the textures enough to maintain interest and carry a reader from beginning to end? (I love this part. I want to drop everything and abandon all duties to work on this today.)

Later, I came across the following poem, sent a while back by a former student as she prepared for a solo writing retreat.

My Species

by Jane Hirschfield

a small purple artichoke
in its own bittered
and darkening
grows tender,
grows tender and sweet
patience, I think,
my species
keep testing the spiny leaves
the spiny heart

Source: Poetry (January 2015).


My student concluded her note with the following: “I keep these little poems among my photos on my phone and visit them whenever I need.”

I too keep poems close to me. Here’s one from a forthcoming collection of “lost poems” by Pablo Neruda. It’s in the latest catalogue from Copper Canyon Press, which I’ll read cover-to-cover when I’m done working today.


No day is so busy that we can’t steal a look at a poem, and in so doing, restore our attention for what a poem notices, remembers, and attends.

This is a kind of patience and practice that our kind must learn, and in doing so, pass beyond the spines and bitter exterior leaves, to the heart.

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