Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Driving,” by Jenny Linn Loveland

Acting director Laurie Hollinger on her choice for this week’s poem: “In observance of Veterans Day, I sought out poems by those who served. Here is a poem by Jenny Linn Loveland. Born in Tokyo, Japan, and raised in an Air Force family, Loveland grew up in Fairfield, CA near Travis Air Force Base. Commissioned at UC-Berkeley (1975), she was among the first women allowed to enter ROTC, and she is a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel and a Gulf War Veteran. Having raised two children, she lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she teaches, paints, ​ writes, and conducts writing seminars for veterans affiliated with The Armed Services Arts Partnership and Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Medical Center. She belongs to The Poetry Society of Virginia, The Hampton Roads Veterans Writers Group, and writers’ groups in Richmond. She is working on a collection of poems and short stories about family, service, recovery, and joy.”


for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan

whenever I see a yard
not fenced in, freshly trimmed, I notice the fire-red
hydrant, talons out stretched   all directions

flashing flags

whenever I hear sprinklers
tick and pulse, the stop-start whir of scythes
bicycling against tall grass   mowed

that thrum

I taste lush green shadows the hoses
left, breathe the newly sliced grass, filaments
rising, the dandelion manes shorn, and the summer’s flotsam
malingering behind the wheel

I succumb

to scalding air-soaked deserts, molten
carpets of tar and dark odors where F-16’s
metal blades blasting night, shift orange
flicking Bedouin shadows,

all mirage

whenever I see a yard unfenced,
I clench, keep to the wheel and drive
through worry, past
the tread marks, past
grit and sweat, past
the neighbors sipping beer.

First published in The Art of War, the War on the Rocks’ online defense journal, December 18, 2015, then in A Common Bond: A Veterans Chapbook, 2016.

Retrieved from

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Backfires” by Fleda Brown

Join us Wednesday, November 6 as Fleda Brown closes out our Fall Writing Series.


The woods are on fire.

The woods are seething and blistering.

Matisse, stuck in his wheelchair, is scissoring shapes,

directing his assistant to pin them to a board.

Beethoven is solving musical problems inside the soundless

chamber of his head. Elizabeth Bishop is sitting in the waiting room

studying naked women with her poised intellect. She cries out.

Oh no. It’s not her, but from the other room.

The wildfire of her heart is about to cross the gap cut by the firemen.

A small backfire has been set near the bigger one to use up

the oxygen that fuels it. You have to know where

the bigger one is headed. You do not know where

the bigger one is headed, so it is always the backfires.

Even the water in the hoses can catch fire.

The fire is not really in the water, but the water gets drunk up.

If you were on fire I would roll you in a blanket as I have been told.

There is a cardinal out there against the snow! Such a cliché,

but a dramatic example of the tiny backfire that keeps us

from burning alive.

From The Woods Are On Fire: New and Selected Poems Copyright © 2017 by Fleda Brown.

Posted in Review

Defining Commonality: A Handmade Dictionary

A review by RCAH Center for Poetry founding director Anita Skeen

Earlier this October, Founding Director of the RCAH Center for Poetry, Anita Skeen, traveled to Oklahoma City to visit friend and poet Jane Taylor, who recently had a collaborative art exhibit with visual artist Jane Wheeler. Below is her experience with this exhibit, Defining Commonality: A Handmade Dictionary.

On Thursday evening, October 10, 2019, as I was on my way to teach in the annual Fall Writing Festival at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM, I stopped in Oklahoma City to visit with poet Jane Taylor, a longtime friend and fellow Ghost Ranch teacher, and to attend the opening reception for a project she had been working on for some time with visual artist Jane Wheeler. Jane 2 Jane, these two women called their work together. This project grew out of their desire to explore their separate art forms and to see what they might discover hidden around them in their neighborhoods. Jane Taylor explains: “The seeds and source material for this collaboration could have been any authentic neighborhood through which we drive, and perhaps, fail to look deeply. We chose to focus on the streets that make up Commonwealth Urban Farm because of its diversity, farm aesthetic, and food-sustaining routines, plus the swarm of love in yards and alley ways.” The project came to be called Defining Commonality: a Handmade Dictionary.

The opening, with a wonderful reception that included wine, varieties of fruits and pastries, and the actual art works themselves, was held at Full Circle Books, a labyrinth of an independent bookstore in Oklahoma City known for hosting readings and exhibits. When Jane (T.) said to me early in the evening, “I hope someone besides you and my family comes,” I laughed for two reasons, the first being that all of us who are artists and poets are always fearful that we will be the only ones at our reading or exhibition, and secondly because Jane and Jane are widely known throughout the Oklahoma City area for their remarkable creative talents and commitment to what Jane (T.) calls, “our communal eco-heart.” Jane (T.) and I arrived early at the bookstore to be sure that things would be ready to go at 7:30 when the exhibit opened.

Here I should stop and say what the exhibit consisted of, which were Jane (T.)’s poems and Jane (W.)’s photographs. Jane (W.) wrote in her photographer’s statement, “When photographing, I strive to slow down and notice, being open and receptive without bias. What appears may be order in an unordered place. It may be seemingly incongruent bits which together yield unexpected delights. It may be well-worn beauty. It isn’t, however, the eye-popping images which are traditionally defined as beautiful.”

I know that Jane and Jane pondered the many ways this exhibit could be mounted. Should they hang the photos and poems together, side by side, on a wall? Should the photographs be framed? What about the poetry? Should the works be placed on a table? Should they all be collected in a book? If so, what size?

What we found as we wandered through the exhibit and pondered the works was a true collaboration.  Jane (T.) had, over a period of time, collected old hardbound dictionaries and removed their innards, cutting out all the pages and leaving only boards and spine. When Jane (T.), a former reference librarian, gave her opening remarks at the gathering, she said that, as she held the box cutter in her hand and disemboweled the books, she was sure she would end up in Library Jail somewhere. Then, as you will see from the photos here, she placed the poem on the left-hand side of the book and the photo on the right side. Thus, you saw a book and an artwork at the same time. I purchased one of these creations. The cover stated it was An American Heritage dic-tion-ary of THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, black with gold lettering, and when opened, this poem faced you on the left hand side:

The Farm

From Middle English:  to fix, be firm

Let them know us by our structures

Mounds, rakes, bales, chips, pruning.

Driving by, may they look with fertile mind.

Frame us close or wide.

Hum along to our hoop music.

Hear us fiddle in the February wind.

On the right side of the page was a photograph of the hoop house at Commonwealth Farms, a grey winter sky spilling out overhead, the hoop house almost translucent in the winter light, a look through the open doorway into lettuce or some other bright green crop, tree trunks and sticks, and plywood and metal strewn around outside.  It was, as Jane (W.) wrote, “well-worn beauty.” Poem and photo were mounted in the boards with transparent photo corners, the kind that those of you my age will remember from the family albums we stored in or drawers or closets.  The poem and photo rose when the binding was opened, came off the page, unhindered by trappings.

Photo by Jane Wheeler

Exhibited throughout the bookstore were fifteen of these artistic collaborations.  Six were sold that first night, and all the chairs that had been set up were filled, with folks left standing by the strawberries and cantaloupe sampling them as Jane and Jane each spoke a few words about their collaboration before we, the audience, were free to wander to the fireplace mantel, library table, or wherever the dictionaries had been placed.  Jane (T.) read two poems and had two friends each read one of the poems. I wanted more. More poems. I wanted to hear all of the poems, and in Jane’s voice, before I wandered through the collection to see photo and poem.  Because the exhibit was crowded with people (yes, Jane, others besides your family did come!) it was hard to spend much time with each individual art work.  But after the talk and reception were over, chairs were folded, and leftover delicacies divided up and sent home, the dictionaries remained in place for patrons of Full Circle to view for a while in the future.

As a writer who values and actively tries to collaborate, I was so impressed with what Jane and Jane had done. I would encourage all of you who read this, regardless of your art form, to think of collaborating with another artist on a project. “The idea of collaborating with a poet had been simmering in my mind,” wrote Jane Wheeler, “before Jane Taylor and I started talking about the idea….  As I began to explore with the camera and the collaboration with Jane, I found that she saw things in the images that I didn’t see. And through her poetry she defined the melding of our media and highlighted how the minutia of a place is part of the bond we have with nature.” Finally, in the conclusion to her artist’s statement, Jane Taylor offered us this: “The life cycles on which we depend were always at the heart of my poems.  For that life-affirming energy, and the music/light of Jane’s photos, I am grateful and happy to offer this work.”

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black (Reflections of an African-American Mother)” by Margaret Burroughs

Center for Poetry intern, Jayla Harris-Hardy chose this week’s poem. Here’s what she had to say: “This obviously isn’t a very upbeat poem, but I think it’s necessary right now considering the current racial climate of the university. Official emails have been sent out to the students about “possible” incidents of racial bias, some specifically targeted towards black students. As a black person with a decent amount of common sense and an understanding of some people’s worst prejudices, I saw these incidents as threats against the safety of many of the people of color at the university. These incidents don’t seem to be taken as seriously by those in charge, which of course angered a lot of already angry students. I think the student body, and more specifically, the students of color need to stand unified in these and future events in order to hold each other up and keep everyone afloat in dangerous tides. It’s difficult being a person of color, and I think our readers can see a glimpse of that in the poem, and how it’s also still something to celebrate.”

What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black (Reflections of an African-American Mother)


What shall I tell my children who are black

Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin

What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb,

Of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn

They are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black.

Villains are black with black hearts.

A black cow gives no milk. A black hen lays no eggs.

Bad news comes bordered in black, black is evil

And evil is black and devils’ food is black…

Stanza break

What shall I tell my dear ones raised in a white world

A place where white has been made to represent

All that is good and pure and fine and decent.

Where clouds are white, and dolls, and heaven

Surely is a white, white place with angels

Robed in white, and cotton candy and ice cream

and milk and ruffled Sunday dresses

And dream houses and long sleek cadillacs

And angel’s food is white…all, all…white.

stanza break

What can I say therefore, when my child

Comes home in tears because a playmate

Has called him black, big lipped, flatnosed

and nappy headed? What will he think

When I dry his tears and whisper, “Yes, that’s true.

But no less beautiful and dear.”

How shall I lift up his head, get him to square

His shoulders, look his adversaries in the eye,

Confident of the knowledge of his worth,

Serene under his sable skin and proud of his own beauty?

stanza break

What can I do to give him strength

That he may come through life’s adversities

As a whole human being unwarped and human in a world

Of biased laws and inhuman practices, that he might

Survive. And survive he must! For who knows?

Perhaps this black child here bears the genius

To discover the cure for…Cancer

Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe.

So, he must survive for the good of all humanity.

He must and will survive.

I have drunk deeply of late from the foundation

Of my black culture, sat at the knee and learned

From Mother Africa, discovered the truth of my heritage,

The truth, so often obscured and omitted.

And I find I have much to say to my black children.

stanza break

I will lift up their heads in proud blackness

With the story of their fathers and their fathers

Fathers. And I shall take them into a way back time

of Kings and Queens who ruled the Nile,

And measured the stars and discovered the

Laws of mathematics. Upon whose backs have been built

The wealth of continents. I will tell him

This and more. And his heritage shall be his weapon

And his armor; will make him strong enough to win

Any battle he may face. And since this story is

Often obscured, I must sacrifice to find it

For my children, even as I sacrificed to feed,

Clothe and shelter them. So this I will do for them

If I love them. None will do it for me.

I must find the truth of heritage for myself

And pass it on to them. In years to come I believe

Because I have armed them with the truth, my children

And my children’s children will venerate me.

For it is the truth that will make us free!

Margaret Burroughs, “What Shall I Tell My Children Who are Black” from What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?.  Copyright © 1968, 1992 by Margaret Burroughs.  Reprinted by permission of the Margaret Burroughs Estate. 

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Song of the Witches: ‘Double, double toil and trouble’ by William Shakespeare

Center for Poetry intern Charlotte Krause chose this week’s poem. Here’s what she had to say: “I chose this poem because I think it is a super fun and iconic poem for fall and especially Halloween. Shakespeare plays a huge part in how we think about witches today, and I think that this specific poem from Macbeth is just so fun. It’s full of spooky imagery that’s perfect for the season.”

Song of the Witches: “Double, double toil and trouble”

from Macbeth

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the caldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

stanza break

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.

Macbeth: IV.i 10-19; 35-38

Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Willingly,” by Tess Gallagher

Center for Poetry intern, Kaylee McCarthy, chose this week’s poem. Here’s what she had to say about it: “Tess Gallagher’s voice is luminous as she explores agency and choice. Through lush imagery and ambiguous perspective, she conveys the surreal quality of being in stasis in a changing world. ‘Willingly’ shifts effortlessly between dreaming and waking, painting a scene of light and rebirth.”

Join us this Wednesday, October 16, as Tess Gallagher and Alice Derry open our Fall Writing Series.


When I get up he has been long at work,
his brush limber against the house.
Seeing him on his ladder under the eaves,
I look back on myself asleep in the dream
I could not carry awake. Sleep
inside a house that is being painted,
whole lifetimes now only the familiar cast
of morning light over the prayer plant.
This “not remembering” is something new
of where you have been.

What was settled or unsettled in sleep
stays there. But your house
under this steady arm is leaving itself
and you see this gradual surface of
new light covering your sleep
has the greater power.
You think now you felt brush strokes or
the space between them, a motion
bearing down on you—accumulation
of stars, each night of them
arranging over the roofs of entire cities.

His careful strokes whiten the web,
the swirl of woodgrain blotted
out like a breath stopped
at the heart. Nothing has changed
you say, faithlessly. But something has
cleansed you past recognition. When
you stand near his ladder looking up
he does not acknowledge you,
and as from daylight in a dream you see
your house has passed from you
into the blessed hands of others.

This is ownership, you think, arriving
in the heady afterlife of paint smell.
A deep opening goes on in you.
Some paint has dropped onto your shoulder
as though light concealed an unsuspected
weight. You think it has fallen through
you. You think you have agreed to this,
what has been done with your life, willingly.

“Willingly” from Amplitude: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1987 by Tess Gallagher. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Like Vine Maple Red in the Fir,” by Alice Derry

Join us Wednesday, Oct. 16 as Alice Derry and Tess Gallagher open our Fall Writing Series.

Like Vine Maple Red in the Fir

The season turns.

The trees wound the streets.

We too want to be touched.

We press a scab

to feel the pain. Or tongue

that place in the mind

which yields a death.

Last week, your grandfather. The old coot,

95 and every relative furious and mute

by the time he was sixty.

So you don’t cry. It’s a big relief,

but we move about all week

wondering if eating is really appropriate.

His death is like vine maple red in the fir

on a hillside. Like meeting a deer in dark trees.

Not scary. Just a chill down the spine,

and the exhale is easy.

The lung cancer death of our friend’s father isn’t.

But we envy her trembling openness.

Every day the dark comes earlier. Their grip

loosened by frost, the leaves hold

a fevered light in their consumption.

Illuminated texts. Their authors were after

the burning bush—the voice

insistent, compelling.

© Alice Derry, 1986. Content downloaded from, 10/4/19; Published in Ploughshares, Vol. 12, No. 4 (1986), pp. 200-201

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “WHEN I SAY THAT WE ARE ALL TEEN GIRLS” by Olivia Gatwood

Center for Poetry intern, Jillian Bowe, chose this week’s poem. Here’s what she had to say about it: “Olivia Gatwood is an unapologetic force bringing light to all the glory and frustration of being a girl. Her re-contextualization of the words “teen girl” in this piece, paired with her grace in captivating a stage, serves as a fresh reminder to those who minimize the validity of these girls and their lives that we are all, in some way, more “teen girl” than we think.”

View a live performance of this poem here.


by Olivia Gatwood

what I mean is that when my grandmother

called to ask why I didn’t respond to her letter,

all I heard was, Why didn’t you

text me back? Why don’t you love me?

And how can I talk about my grandmother

without also mentioning that if everyone

is a teen girl, then so are the birds, their soaring

cliques, their squawking throats,

and the sea, of course, the sea,

its moody push and pull, the way we drill

into it, fill it with our trash, take and take

and take from it and still it holds us

each time we walk into it.

What is more teen girl than not being

loved but wanting it so badly

that you accept the smallest crumbs and call

yourself full; what is more teen girl than

my father’s favorite wrench, its eternal loyalty

and willingness to loosen the most stubborn of bolts;

what is more teen girl than my mother’s chewed

nail beds, than the whine of the floorboards in her


What is more teen girl than my dog, Jack,

whose bark is shrill and unnecessary,

who has never once stopped a burglar

or heeled on command but sometimes

when I laugh, his tail wags

so hard it thumps against the wall, sometimes

it sounds like a heartbeat, sometimes I yell at him

for talking too much, for his messy room,

sometimes I put him in pink, striped polos

and I think he feels pretty,

I think he likes to feel pretty,

I think Jack is a teen girl.

and the mountains, oh, the mountains,

what teen girls they are, those colossal show-offs,

and the moon, glittering and distant

and dictating all of our emotions.

My lover’s tender but heavy breath while she sleeps

is a teen girl, how it holds me and keeps

me awake all at once, how I sometimes wish

to silence it, until she turns her body and

the room goes quiet and suddenly I want it back.

Imagine the teen girls gone from our world,

and how quickly we would beg for their return,

how grateful would we be then for their loud


and ability to make a crop top out of anything.

Even the men who laugh their condescending laughs

when a teen girl faints at the sight of her

favorite pop star, even those men are teen girls,

the way they want so badly to be so big

and important and worshipped by someone.

Pluto, the teen girl, and her rejection

from the popular universe,

and my father, a teen girl, who insists he doesn’t

believe in horoscopes but wants me to tell

him about the best traits of a Scorpio,

I tell him, We are all just teen girls,

and my father, having raised me, recounts the time he

found the box of love notes and condom wrappers I

hid in my closet, all of the bloody sheets, the missing


the radio blaring over my pitchy sobs,

the time I was certain I would die of heartbreak

and in a moment was in love with a small, new boy,

and of course there are the teen girls,

the real teen girls, huddled on the subway

after school, limbs draped over each other’s shoulders

bones knocking, an awkward wind chime

and all of the commuters, who plug in their


to mute the giggle, silence the gaggle and squeak,

not knowing where they learned to do this,

to roll their eyes and turn up the music,

not knowing where they learned this palpable rage,

not knowing the teen girls are our most distinguished

professors, who teach us to bury the burst

until we close our bedroom doors,

and then cry with blood in the neck,

foot through the door, face in the pillow,

the teen girls who teach us to scream.

from New American Best Friend

Copyright © 2018 Button Poetry

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Equinox,” by Elizabeth Alexander


Now is the time of year when bees are wild 
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped 
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants 
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors. 
I have found their dried husks in my clothes. 

They are dervishes because they are dying, 
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze 
a drop of venom or of honey. 
After the stroke we thought would be her last 
my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped 

a nurse across the face. Then she stood up, 
walked outside, and lay down in the snow. 
Two years later there is no other way 
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light 
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.

~Elizabeth Alexander

From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010. Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Retrieved 9/23/19 from

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “Awaken,” by Naima Penniman, of Climbing PoeTree

Join us this week as Climbing PoeTree opens the RCAH Wednesday Night Live series, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the RCAH Theater, Snyder Hall, 362 Bogue Street, East Lansing.

View a live performance of this poem here.


By Naima Penniman (of Climbing PoeTree)

We are in the wake
of a great shifting


you better free your mind
before they illegalize thought

there’s a war going on

the first casualty was truth
and it’s inside you

the universe is counting on our belief
that faith is more powerful than fear
and in that the shifting moment
we’ll all remember why we’re here

in a world where you’re assassinated for having a dream
and the rich spend 9 billion a year to control our ideas
and visions are televised so things aren’t what they seem

we gotta believe
in a world where
there’s room enough for everyone
to breathe

cause reality is made up of
7 billion thoughts
who made up their minds
of what’s real and what’s not

so I stopped believing
in false idols of war
greed and hate
is not worth my faith

my mind’s dedicated
to justice
my soul is devoted
to love

and love is God
and God is truth
and truth is you
and you are me
and I am everything
and everything is nothing
and nothing is the birthplace of creation
and transformation is possible
and you are proof

we were born right now
for a reason
we can be whatever
we give ourselves the power to be

and right now we need
day dreamers
gate keepers
bridge builders
soul speakers
web weavers
light bearers
food growers
wound healers
trail blazers
truth sayers
life lovers
peace makers

give what you most deeply desire
to give
every moment you are choosing to live
or you are waiting

why would a flower hesitate to open?
now is the only moment
rain drop let go
become the ocean

possibility is as wide
as the space
we create
to hold it