Category Archives: Poetry

That’s Me In The Corner

That’s me in the spotlight small print.
I’ll be reading.
If you’re in the neighborhood, please come by to hold my hand listen. I’ll appreciate it. And I hear there will be wine. Lots of wine.

Peninsula Literary Series Presents
A Reading

Friday, January 27, 2012 — 7:00 p.m.
At Gallery House, 320 South California Avenue, Palo Alto
@ Birch Street, through Printer’s Inc. Cafe

Featuring: Brittany Perham, Casey FitzSimons,
and guest artist Wendy Fitzgerald

And presenting guest readers:
Teri Carter, Virginia Bellis, Jessica Hahn, and Richard Lawson

Authors will have books for sale at the reading. Donations of $5-10 gratefully accepted.


About Featured Authors Casey FitzSimons and Brittany Perham 

Casey FitzSimons’ poetry appears in print and online in The Newport Review, Hobo Camp Review, EarthSpeak, The Prose-Poem Project, flashquake, Leveler, and others. She has been a finalist in the River Styx and Writecorner Press poetry competitions. She has collected her works annually in chapbooks, most recently No Longer Any Need (2011) and Altering the Lay of Land (2010). Casey taught art in San Francisco for many years, publishing her studio drawing book, Serious Drawing, with Prentice Hall, and reviewing many exhibitions for Artweek. She has a master’s degree in Fine Arts from San Jose State University.

Brittany Perham is the author of “The Curiosities” (Parlor Press 2012). Her recent work may be found in Southern Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, Lo-Ball, Linebreak, and elsewhere. She is a Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford University, where she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow from 2009-2011. She is a founding member of the word/music project Nonstop Beautiful Ladies and she lives in San Francisco.

Have Title, Will Travel

Over the many lifetimes years I’ve been writing this book, it took ignoring it almost completely for the title to show up.  It felt a bit like walking in on a surprise party.  First, shock and disbelief.  Then letting loose enough to get in there and have some fun with it.

I’ve been working in my head, in my Moleskin notebook, and on the computer screen ever since.  Finding the title has helped me find my way.

This does not, however, mean I’m ready to reveal it.  Sorry folks.  I’ve learned too many times that, once I give up these kinds of prized details, said details slip off into an alien atmosphere and the faith is forever lost.  You’ll just have to trust me on this one.  For now.

I will say I found it in a poem.  Which reminds me that so many of my favorite books got their titles from the world of verse.  Here are just a few …


Wallace Stegner’s CROSSING TO SAFETY (from these lines by Robert Frost)

   I could give all to Time except — except

   What I myself have held.  But why declare

   The things forbidden that while the Customs slept

   I have crossed to Safety with?  For I am There

   And what I would not part with I have kept.


William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY  (from Shakespeare’s MACBETH)

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,

    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

    To the last syllable of recorded time,

    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

    And then is heard no more: it is a tale

    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

    Signifying nothing.


Cormac McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN  (from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium”)

   That is no country for old men. The young

   In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

   – Those dying generations – at their song,

   The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

   Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

   Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

   Caught in that sensual music all neglect

   Monuments of unageing intellect.

Read Like A Man

One of the best opening sequences I’ve ever read is in Denis Johnson’s TREE OF SMOKE.  The first few pages are a jolt into the quiet realities of war, as 18 yr old Seaman Apprentice William Houston Jr. stalks alone through a jungle in Vietnam.  Three years after first reading this, my heart still aches — and I mean literally here — just to think about it.  (If you never saw the NYT review, read it here.  I’ve rarely seen such worthy praise.)

That said, I never got going when I tried to read this 600 pager.  (I’ll spare you my list of lame excuses.)  Now Johnson has a new book out, a 128 page novella called TRAIN DREAMS, and all I can think about is going back and reading TREE OF SMOKE.  Yesterday I saw the review of TRAIN DREAMS in The New Yorker and it brought to mind all the reasons I picked up Johnson’s big Vietnam epic in the first place.  “Johnson’s fiction has always turned on questions of vision. His characters are often weirdly privileged noticers, for whom reality will confess slightly esoteric pigments and details.”  Weirdly privileged noticers.  And “realism in Johnson’s fiction often seems, like the Savoy Hotel, to be about to dribble away into a dream, and what brings it back from the looking-glass world is the exactitude of Johnson’s language.” 

I met Denis a couple of years ago when he visited my grad program (here’s a fun article about him).  He gave a big reading and then sat around the conference room table the next day and, for lack of a better phrase, shot the shit with about 10 of us.  I remember I asked him a couple of questions and, though I don’t recall his answers, I can still see him looking me right in the eye, answering seriously and at length and with appropriate flippancy.  Definitely a shy guy, but comfortable in, and even caustic about, his writing; a guy who seems not to care what anyone else wants from him; an artist who’s not all that comfortable talking about his “art.”  I left there wanting to read everything he’d ever written.  He’s one of those writers I think of when people ask, “should I go to an MFA program?”  Reading Denis Johnson is some damned good schooling.

I don’t know if I’m in the mood for another 600 pager just now, having recently finished Barbara Kingsolver’s THE LACUNA, but the arrival of Johnson’s latest serves as one of those kicks in the ass I often need.  First, I’m getting my hands on a copy of TRAIN DREAMS.  I can squeeze in 128 pages, right?  And second, I was looking at my shelf of “to read” books and most of them are by women.  Not to cause a feminist uproar here, but come on … maybe that’s one reason I’m a little bored with my reading list lately.  I need to hear a different voice.

What are your favorite “man” books?

In Robin’s Egg Blue

The Carter Library Poetry Shelf

I received a prize from Lizi in today’s mail — a poetry collection by Caroline Kennedy titled SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY.  Check out the photo to your left: there it is at the end, in robin’s egg blue, alongside Lizi’s sweet note, ready to take it’s place on my poetry shelf.  But not until I’ve had a chance to read through it.  I have a feeling this prize will be on my bedside table (and on the dry corner of the bathtub) for the next couple of weeks.

I also wanted to share this link from Lyra.  It’s a short interview (just a few questions) with Meghan O’Rourke about her book THE LONG GOODBYE, which I just ordered thanks to Lyra‘s reminder.  Ever since I read an excerpt in The New Yorker — it’s a mother/daughter story — I’ve been wanting to read the whole book, but even more than that I want to study how she’s structured the narrative, to pick apart how she moves back and forth in time, to get a feel for the ebb and flow, etc….

Speaking of mothers and daughters, my daughter called me last night on her way to the east coast on business.  My little blondie, all grown up and traveling (alone!) for work.  This is still hard to get used to.  After we hung up, she texted me saying This is kind of a neat perspective, with this quote from Margaret Atwood’s THE BLIND ASSASSIN:  “What fabrications they are, mothers.  Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams.  We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves — our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies.” 

All grown up, way out of the nest (said this proud mama).

Fair and Square

Yesterday afternoon I got my ass kicked on the tennis court.  Competition junkie that I am, I’d been looking forward to playing my first official match of the season — until I stepped through the chain-link fence and got a look at my opponent.  She was a big and tall, Hercules of a woman; intimidating as all hell, with textbook serves and forehands and backhands, the kind you learn when you grow up on a tennis court.  Looking across the net at Hercules, before we played even one point, I wanted just 2 things:  not to embarrass myself and good line calls.  Good tennis and no cheating.  I hoped for a fair and square, fun game.

The whole lying/cheating-thing is getting to me lately.  This week it was Greg Mortenson pinching pennies out of school children to fund his book tours and private jet travel, and having his charity buy his books (for giveaways) so he could make his royalties.  Earlier this month it was the Barry Bonds steroids trial here in California, where Barry basically got off the hook (being pinned with only one of the many charges against him).  I watch professional tennis matches where the players are coached from the stands (aka cheating) without penalty.  During this year’s NCAA March Madness, I was appalled to learn that college players often receive “backpacks full of cash.”

I guess it’s everywhere.  Or I’m naive.  Or both.

Rudyard Kipling

There’s a Rudyard Kipling poem I learned back in college.  My Father’s Chair starts like this:

There are four good legs to my Father’s Chair –

Priests and People and Lords and Crown.

I sits on all of ’em fair and square,

And that is the reason it don’t break down.

So yes, yesterday I lost my match because Hercules was scary tough and she brought her A-game.  But I hung in there with her to the end.  I just kept battling.  She squeaked past me in the first set, 6-4.  I fought hard and scrambled and scrapped my way to win the second set, 7-5.  After more than 2 hours on the court, we were dead even, and it all came down to a 10 point tiebreaker to decide our match.  Outside the chain-link, I could see and hear my teammates cheering me on.  “Come on!” they yelled.  “You can do it!”  I wanted to win for them and for me.

Of course it didn’t go my way.  Hercules beat me in the tiebreak, fair and square, 10-8.  The cheering stopped.  Game, set, match.  It pained me to shake hands at the net, to look that woman in the eye and say, “Good game.  Thanks for playing.”  I’d worked so hard, and I’d lost by 2 lousy points.

In today’s light, it occurs to me that there were a number of times over that 2+ hours where I could have called Hercules’s balls out when I wasn’t quite sure.  Some people play that way:  it’s close, it’s out.  Heck, I might have stolen a game or two.  The balls landed so close to that line.  So, so close.  If I had cheated, even a little, I might have won.  And who would ever know?

There’s that Kipling poem again:  I sits on all of ’em fair and square, and that is the reason it don’t break down.

And there’s the rub.  I love games because there are rules.  I’m a competition junkie, sure, and I love to win as much as anybody.  But I’m also a rules junkie.  I hate to see someone cheated.  You play by the rules, you win or you lose, and that’s that.  I don’t get how the rules breakers, the cheaters, don’t break down.  How do you lie in your memoir, take that bag of cash, say the in-ball was out, without falling off the chair.

Who would ever know?  I would.

Face Down in a Memory

This is for Erika and reading Roseanne Cash’s memoir, and for all of our e-talk this week about memory, aging, aches, and poetry.  Who else but a poet could write “face down in a memory but feeling alright”?

Here’s the NYT review of her memoir.



You act like you were just born tonight
Face down in a memory but feeling all right
So who does your past belong to today?
Baby, you don’t say nothing when you’re feeling this way

The girls in the bars thinking, “who is this guy?”
But they don’t think nothing when they’re telling you lies
You look so careless when they’re shooting that bull
Don’t you know heartaches are heroes when their pockets are full

Tell me you’re trying to cure a seven-year ache
See what else your old heart can take
The boys say, “when is he gonna give us some room”
The girls say, “god I hope he comes back soon”

Everybody’s talking but you don’t hear a thing
You’re still uptown on your downhill swing
Boulevard’s empty, why don’t you come around?
Baby, what is so great about sleeping downtown?

Splitting your dice to be someone you’re not
You say you’re looking for something you might’ve forgot
Don’t bother calling to say you’re leaving alone
‘Cause there’s a fool on every corner when you’re trying to get home

Just tell ’em you’re trying to cure a seven-year ache
See what else your old heart can take
The boys say, “when is he gonna give us some room”
The girls say, “god I hope he comes back soon”

Tell me you’re trying to cure a seven-year ache
See what else your old heart can take
The boys say, “when is he gonna give us some room”
The girls say, “god I hope he comes back soon”

Lyrics found at:

Oh Pale and Brittle Pencils

Some days, some weeks, you just need the poets.

Maybe it feels that way because it’s Spring and spring cleaning is calling — for our closets and our minds — but it sure feels like a pushing through some barrier.  Maybe I’m being too literal here, but so what.  My pencil does feel brittle.  The ebb and flow, with a little too much ebb.

So today.  Today, I thought I’d share one of my favorite Robinson Jeffers poems.  Five years ago I’d never even heard of him.  But ever since I set foot inside his Tor House and Hawk Tower, he’s been right there.

Love The Wild Swan

“I hate my verses, every line, every word.

Oh pale and brittle pencils ever to try

One grass-blade’s curve, or the throat of one bird

That clings to twig, ruffled against white sky.

Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch

One color, one glinting

Hash, of the splendor of things.

Unlucky hunter, Oh bullets of wax,

The lion beauty, the wild-swan wings, the storm of the wings.”

–This wild swan of a world is no hunter’s game.

Better bullets than yours would miss the white breast

Better mirrors than yours would crack in the flame.

Does it matter whether you hate your . . . self?

At least Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can

Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.