Posted in Uncategorized

Call and Response # 24: Poem by Anita Skeen and Image by Guillermo Delgado

The latest in the collaboration between Center for Poetry Director Anita Skeen and RCAH Professor Guillermo Delgado!

The Secret Lives of Things


Even in death my family is divided,

the Skeens planted at Goshen Church,

the Prudens already risen to the mountaintop

at Spring Hill Cemetery.  Only the smell

of fresh cut grass unites the two, the wind

in my hair as I carry marigolds to stones.

Looking away from my Grandmother Skeen,

I take in the land I might have owned

had I been a boy, had there been

no flu epidemic in 1918.  I am lucky

to have my father, born after the passing

of his father. Nor did he get the farm,

sold so their mother could move

five kids to the city and find work.

From my Grandmother Pruden’s stone,

I look down on that city, the interchanges

of three highways looping together,

easy conversation of hickory and oak

drowned out by arguments of cars.

There used to be just the Kanawha

going wherever rivers go, and…

View original post 201 more words

Posted in poem of the week, Uncategorized

Poem of the Week: “Ein Leben” by Dan Pagis, translated from Hebrew by Stephen Mitchell

In the month of her death, she is standing by the windowframe,
a young woman with a stylish, permanent wave.
She seems to be in a contemplative mood
as she stands there looking out the window.

Through the glass an afternoon cloud of 1934
looks in at her, blurred, slightly out of focus,
but her faithful servant. On the outside
I’m the one looking at her, four years old almost,

holding back my ball, quietly
going out of the photo and growing old,
growing old carefully, quietly,
so as not to frighten her.

(via poetryinternationalweb)

Posted in news, Uncategorized, visiting writers, workshops

Local writer nominated for literary prize

By Kelsey Block

A retired local art teacher was recently nominated for an international literary prize. Dorothy Brooks, longtime Poetry Center participant, has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her piece that appeared in Hippocampus Magazine.


Brooks said she started writing in 1967 during a stay in Austria. She said she was studying music in Vienna when her husband fell ill and that writing helped her cope with the emotional pressure.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was just alone in the room we had rented and I just picked up a pen and it was automatic writing,” Brooks said. “The pen just started going so I just followed it. What else was there to do?”

Brooks’ work, “Laughing in Navajo: My Journey to the Rez,” chronicles her time on a Navajo Reservation in northwest New Mexico. Brooks moved out west in the 1980s to teach on the reservation.

“I have a strong social conscience and I believe in acting on it rather than saying it,” Brooks said when asked why she decided to uproot her life in the Midwest and move across the country.

Brooks acknowledged that there were rough days in her career as an educator, both on the reservation and in the Midwest, but noted that a genuine love of learning and people with people who like to learn kept her happy.

“It’s why I keep going back after I retire,” the 74-year-old said.

Brooks said she sees parallels between teaching and writing.

“You’re harnessing an idea or a concept and you explore it in depth. For both, it’s a means of processing life,” Brooks said. “There’s the potential for unexpected turns … and therein lies a challenge if you let it go. [Writing] gave me the confidence to fly.”

When she first heard she had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Brooks said she was totally surprised.

“Usually, I’m pushing as hard as I can to get what I want, but in this case it just floated down. I open my email every morning, and it was just sitting there,” she said. “For all those mountains of reject letters, there’s a blue moon surprise like that. I go nuts. I have to move; I can’t sit still. I run around my house, and if it’s summer time, I outside and run around – who cares what the neighbors think? It’s kind of a writer’s high.”

Brooks said the decision to write about her time on the reservation was a tough one.

“I was convinced I shouldn’t say a word about it to anyone,” Brooks said. “I knew that many anthropologists had done a beautiful job respecting cultures but I also knew that many white folks had a bad rep for coming in and trying to “save” cultures. I didn’t want to be another one of those people.”

Brooks said she didn’t feel comfortable writing about life on the reservation until after she had come to a Poetry Center event and talked with a visiting writer (Rick Mulkey) who reminded her of her right to write about her own opinions and reactions.

Brooks is currently looking for a publisher for the nonfiction book she wrote about her family history.

Posted in community outreach, Uncategorized

Random Acts of Kindness

Feb. 20th, 2013

Last week at the RCAH, we collected anonymous notes on kindness in the spirit of Kate McGormley’s blog “Kindness Matters.” We put a decorated box in the main office with an invitation to leave a note for Random Acts of Kindness and Valentine’s week with the following prompts: “I’m thankful for…” “Love is…” and “Kindness is…” These are some of the 40 notes we received:

IMG_1198 IMG_1240
“I’m thankful for all the wonderful friends I’ve made who’ve helped freshman year seem a little less scary.”

“Love is…letting a bug go outside…Bugs are friends.”

“I’m thankful for how loving Kate is. She left a random pinecone on her desk since I first met her and it only left her office when she did.”

“Love is everlasting. It keeps you safe and warm in times of darkness. Let your heart be open to the comfort it can bring.”

“Kindness is being held when you feel like you’re falling to pieces.”

“Love is…forgiving someone even when you don’t want to.”

“I have been immersed into the universe by my 3 yr. old’s interest in the solar system. We have looked at every planet and by far, although Saturn is nice, and Uranus is spectacular, the Earth is by far, by far, the most majestic. By far…I am thankful for that perspective given to me by a three year old.”

“I think Love is special to me.”

“I’m thankful for unanticipated acts of thoughtfulness that sometimes come from unexpected places.”

“Love is…doing everything and more for people you care about.”

“Love is something that you don’t look for, it finds you.”

“Love is patient & kind & everything 1 Corinthians 13 says. It is also putting others before yourself because you want to.”

“I’m thankful for my home.”

“I’m thankful for my best friend and partner.”

“Love is bettering yourself for others.”

“I’m thankful for generous faculty, especially with snacks!”

“Love is…putting someone else’s needs before yours.  –Olaf from Frozen.”

“I’m thankful for…friends and family that help others in need.”

“Love is…understanding each other.”

“The best act of kindness is to love yourself & others as well.”

“Love is walking and talking together – Al Green ‘Love and Happiness.’”

“I’m thankful for my family and for my RCAH family!”

“Kindness is not seeking attention.”

“Love is finding a home just by being in the presence of someone else.”

“Kindness is appreciating everyone and everything.”

“Love is…putting someone else’s needs above your own.”

“I’m thankful for my incredible teachers and new friends.”

“Love is all you need.”

“I’m thankful for God and all the positive people in my life. I’m thankful to be alive…Go green!”

“There is nothing like real love – Shirley Temple.”

“Kindness is opening the door for random strangers, saying thank you or constantly smiling – spreading joy.”

“Love is everlasting. Kindness is an action that can change the world for the best. I’m thankful for being a human and being in a community.”

“Love is a shared conversation over a meal, no matter if it’s a picnic, dinner out, or lunch in the Gallery.”

“I’m thankful for my educational opportunities. Love is hot and delicious pizza! Kindness is listening to your friends.”

“Love is a warm hug on a cold day.”

“I am thankful that the RCAH had Kate McGormley when we opened our doors in 2007 and that we got to keep her as long as we did.”

“I am thankful for the existence of the RCAH and my fantastic colleagues and students.”

“I am thankful for the moments I experienced with the wonderful people in my life. People come and go out of my life for many reasons but stay or go I am thankful they came.”

“Kindness is…being quick to listen, slow to talk, and slow to anger.”

“Love is when you feel safe, you feel warm, and you feel special, when you know that you are where you belong.”

“Love is beautiful!”

“I’m thankful for my parents.”


Posted in poem of the week, Uncategorized

Poem of the Week: “The Escape” by James Laughlin

The world is too much with us
let’s float away from it   I

don’t mean death (which may
be an illusion) but an écarte-

ment (a separation) a ver-
fremdung (an estrangement)

we shall agree to withdraw
not into the great nothing-

ness as a Buddhist might do
but into each other (your

being would set my limits &
mine yours) can we try to be-

come invisible except to our-
selves and learn a language

that only we need understand?

Posted in news, Uncategorized, visiting writers, workshops

Valentine’s Murder Ballads

In light of our Valentine’s Murder Ballad workshop this past Monday, here are three songs written by our poets-turned-musicians!

“Oh, Matthew, Please” (to the tune of Matty Groves)
by Taylor Carver, Linnea Jimison, and Anita Skeen

One fair autumn morn as the sun beat down
I walked the dusty road to the far side of town.
I headed to the tavern to have myself a drink
And the whiskey cleared the thoughts that I dreaded not to think.

There she was a-standing in her dress of ocean blue.
I saw her in his arms and suddenly I knew –
Her eyes of emerald met me, as cold as any gem.
Malice got the best of me, I hurled myself at him.

We tumbled and we stumbled, we rumbled and we brawled.
I heard the bottles smash and then I heard her call,
“Oh, Matthew, please!  Oh, Matthew, please, don’t do this horrid deed!”
I felt the mirror shatter and the dark enfolded me.

Some say it was an accident, some say I took his life.
Some say the bard could not exist without the sheriff’s wife.
And though I’m in some distant land the posse’s at my back —
I’ve told my tale so many times – Is it fiction?  Is it fact?

Where’s the green-eyed woman whose eyes I once beheld?
Has she risen up to Heaven or does she rot in Hell?
As for me, the legends say I live with no regret.
Now autumn turns to winter but I haven’t found her yet.

“The Old Man in the Snow” (original song)
by Dorothy Brooks

The old man fell and stumbled
face down in the snow
Didn’t know what got him
he’ll never ever know

Long ago in the north woods
His rough hands worked the soil
Tried hard to feed his family
with his daily toil

His son’s new wife begrudged him
thought him sick and frail
Didn’t want to bother
to care for his travails

One day when he stopped by her house she
fixed him soup and bread
when the cook stove fire went out, he fetched
kindlin’ wood  instead

a blizzard was a’blowin’ and
as he staggered back, he
thought, “My heart is givin’ out!” and
dropped there in his tracks

Hadn’t seen her earlier, slip
somethin’ in his tea
thought it was just sugar
sweet as sweet could be.

One Gamblin’ Man (to the tune of Matty Groves)
by Fran Lewis

Johnny bludgeoned mom and dad,
And then he stabbed them both,
He swung at them with bat and sword
Until his wrath was done, done
Until his wrath was done.

The debts he racked up gamblin’
In high stakes poker games
Left our Johnny worse than broke
And desperate for a stake, stake
And desperate for a stake.

Johnny’s wife and baby son
All lived in a real nice house.
This paid for by Daddy’s loan,
But Mom, she disapproved, proved,
But Mom, she disapproved.

She said, “No! You’re gamblin’ son.
You know this path is wrong,
No good can come from such a life
It leads to a real bad end, end,
It leads to a real bad end.”

Now their Johnny, deep in debt,
No longer could he pay,
Brought his greed an’ a baseball bat
To invade his parents home, home,
Invade his parents home.

And Johnny’d plotted long and hard
To fake his alibi
Even shut down his cell-phone
So’s not to leave a trail, trail,
So’s not to leave a trail.

The cops worked out his devious plan
Right down to the bloody shoes
whose prints he used to trick them—
To prove that he was true, true,
To prove that he was true.

Johnny ran ten thousand miles
To put them off the scent,
But couldn’t hide his gamblin’ life
From others in the game, game,
From others in the game.

Our Johnny turned to Craigslist,
Sought female company,
The cops tracked his ads online,
As evidence mounted up, up,
Evidence mounted up.

Wife and Sister feared his wrath
Would turn on them one day.
When he drew near they ran and hid
So’s just to stay alive, live,
So’s just to stay alive.

The cops, they made their own plans
To catch him and convict.
And so his wife did aid them,
Record his calls, for trial, trial,
Record his calls, for trial.

In time, all saw him cuffed and dragged
Away to prison’s arms,
He’ll molder there for years and years
Until his death-day comes, comes,
Until his death-day comes.

Posted in news, Uncategorized, visiting writers, workshops

Valentine’s Murder Ballad Workshop

Valentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad Workshop
Valentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad Workshop
Valentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad Workshop
Valentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad WorkshopValentine's Murder Ballad Workshop

This past Monday, RCAH alums Emily Nott and Linnea Jimison, both of the Lansing-based band The Bard Owls, led a workshop on the evolution of the murder ballad and helped participants create their own gruesome ballad, just in time for Valentine’s Day! It was the first musical workshop through the Center for Poetry, and we can’t wait to do it again! You can also read about the workshop in the State News.

Posted in poem of the week, Uncategorized

Poem of the Week: “Continuum: A Love Poem” by Maxine Kumin

going for grapes with
ladder and pail in
the first slashing rain
of September    rain
steeping the dust
in a joyous squelch   the sky
standing up like steam
from a kettle of grapes
at the boil    wild fox grapes
wickedly high    tangled in must
of cobweb and bug spit
going for grapes    year
after year    we two with
ladder and pail stained
with the rain of grapes
our private language

Posted in news, Uncategorized, visiting writers, workshops

An Afternoon with Diane Wakoski: Part 2 of 2

By Kelsey Block

*Please note that the following quotation also appeared in “An Afternoon with Diane Wakoski: Part 1

“Poetry is for those moments when something moves you because of its beauty, pure beauty, for anything that engages you to look at it and experience its transformative power,” the 76-year-old poet said. “Beauty transforms you.”

But not all find Wakoski’s poetry to be a thing of beauty. Peter Schjeldahl wrote in a 1970s review that Wakoski’s “pervasive unpleasantness makes her popularity surprising. One can only conclude that a number of people are angry enough at life to enjoy the sentimental and desolating resentment with which she writes about it.” Schjeldahl’s somewhat mixed review also notes that Wakoski’s poems are “professionally supple and clear.”

Wakoski said she is not surprised that some people consider her work difficult.

“I do write about difficult things, but I am looking for a little jewel, for the starkness of something and its passionate simplicity,” she said. “I want to talk about beauty, but I don’t want it to be prettified … I guess that person mean that somehow reading my poetry meant they had to wade through some muck or get their hands dirty.”

Wakoski also referred to another one of her works, “Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch,” in the discussion about “unpleasantness.”

“I’ve always been an angry poet, but that’s one of the things art has to contend with,” she said. “It wants to enter your life, but people are reluctant to let things in that are going to disrupt your life.”

Wakoski granted that she is not an “easy poet.”

“I guess what I want a Diane Wakoski poem to be is a room with all these treasures that you want to enter and just look at them for a while,” she said.

Indeed, Wakoski certainly has her supporters. Maryfrances Wagner, a poet and editor of The I-70 Review, wrote a glowing review of Bay of Angels that appeared last month. Wagner writes:

“The poems tell stories, even a story within a story, and yet the whole book is a big story of a full life she has lived. It’s hard sometimes to know which details are imaginary and which are real, which characters represent real people or are made up personae because they all blend together so well.”

Additionally, at her reading on Wednesday night, Wakoski was introduced by four former students.

The retired Michigan State University professor said that teaching others about poetry helped her to learn what a wonderful process revision is. Before she started teaching, Wakoski said she never revised her poems.

“It was something I didn’t know until I started teaching. I had to figure out how to talk about peoples’ poems,” Wakoski said, adding that she didn’t teach poetry – she professed it.

“I like students, don’t get me wrong, but to me it doesn’t matter what students get out of it. I am professing it and I’m doing it in every possible way I can think of that will get these great ideas of the past out, and if you’re struggling, I’ll think of even more ways to do it,” Wakoski said. “But the bottom line is, that it is what it is, and if you can’t get anything out of it, you shouldn’t study with me … It seems like if you coddle people, you don’t help them be strong. I know that there are students who say I’m unpleasant because I didn’t do whatever it is they wanted me to do. On the other hand, that’s never bothered me, because all I care about is the good students and being true to literature; if there’s one place you can find truth, it ought to be poetry.”

Despite her distinguished career, there is one thing the 76-year-old poet has not yet accomplished: to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

“As long as I keep publishing poetry there’s still a chance,” she said. “Now, I realize it doesn’t make everyone in the world suddenly love you. I think when I was young I thought it meant something, that the world recognized how good you were, and it’s always been my goal, growing up poor and having only one thing – my brain – to make the world recognize that I was worth something. I don’t believe it anymore, but I still want to win it.”