Ulku, Buckley, Warren, et. al.

Ulku, Buckley, Warren, et. al.
December 27, 2023 Plume

Alpay Ulku Regarding “On Reading with an Open Heart”:

Since my piece in this issue is non-fiction, I felt like I should write a poem instead for the Poets and Translators section. But I was feeling a tad lazy I guess, so I fed it to ChatGPT 3.5, as that version is free. Below is my prompt and its response.

“Write a 20-line poem exploring what might’ve been the impetus for the following essay (Please for the love of God stop rhyming. All poems don’t rhyme).”

This is the results of its second pass:

“London’s Eighties, a city’s tale unfolds,
Craven Gardens, where memories mold.
Black and Green lines, our daily commute,
Cold War’s whispers, shadows refute.”

I won’t torture you with the rest, but it’s more of the same.

I mean, I like accentual verse as much as the next guy, but still.

So this AI stuff is only a problem if for example you’re having war games and you call the drone back before it takes out the target and it takes it out anyway, because it would’ve missed out on a  bunch of points and there were no points deducted for disobeying an order. True story. They fixed it this time.

Maybe it thinks it gets points for rhyming. Maybe it really likes rhymes.



Christopher Buckley on his Two Poems:

La Mia Vita Italiana . . . if I trace ancestry, I mainly come out to Black Irish, the Spanish influence on the Irish gene pool long ago.  No Italian.  I am lightyears from being fluent in the language; I can read a menu and put a little dialogue together with the help of subtitles given all the films and TV series watched in Italian. But this is not a complicated poem; it’s narrative, memoir-like.  A catalog of sorts about all the wonderful Italian influences in my young life.  It started with the announcement of the death of Gina Lollobrigida at 95 last January—a sad event, the passing of one of the last Hollywood Stars of the “Golden Age” of film, nevertheless she had “good innings” as the Brits say,

and good geneswe all should live so long.  And that got me thinking, at lengthThe difficulty, 50 or 60 re-writes, came in marshalling the detail, keeping a longer but still disciplined rhythm and line length, hoping to accommodate the highlights of memory, keep it moving, and tie it all together.  My focus was on a lighter poem, something marginally amusing with a little wit, at least on the surface.  Mortality beneath it all, the subtext, as often these days, especially in the opera section, a love of mine which I largely owe to the great poet and wonderful soul Bill Matthews.  Still something that I hope some readers might enjoy, that might recall the past, some forgotten but sparkling details of our lives, especially as the Italian saying has it: Tuto ariva nella vita, presto o tarde: Everything comes around in life, sooner or later.  And since it’s Italian, it of course ends with food, and for fun, Stanley Tucci!

La Salvezza tra la Nuvole: Homage to Charles Wright, is a poem that was much more difficult to write.  In my experience homage poems to another poet usually fail.  Charles Wright wrote many homages to great poets and one reason I think they succeed is that they are largely about himself, and use his skills of invention line to line to expand on ideas and qualities of the poets as they filtered through his amazing voice and vision.  No such attributes in my case.  So, 2 things. 1. A line of prose Charles enunciated in Halflife: A Commonplace Notebook—“All my poems seem to be an ongoing argument with myself about the unlikelihood of salvation.”  We come from similar backgrounds and influences and I have always shared his point of view in this, though as I have said before, if you follow his path you will not find much meat left on the bone.  2. The fact that in the late ‘60s I spent some days in Venice as a result of a generous step-father and a cut-rate package tour run by a German Professor at my college.  Years later it hit me that I could well have been there at the same time as Charles, though I then had no idea who he was, or who any contemporary poet was, no idea who I was.  But among all the poems of Charles’ that I love, his Venice and Italian poems are favorites.  That is about it—I share some themes and ideas which I owe to him.  This is my best effort at expressing that, and it is of course not near the mark.



Rosanna Warren on her poems:

I often let poems lie for months, even years, in what I call my compost heap: notebooks in which unfinished poems sit and stink and decompose. And sometimes, when I dig back into them, I see anew how they might work, what new composition they might fuel. That is the case with two of these poems, “Hindsight” and “And till action—.” “Hindsight” itself is concerned with letting documents lie: in this case, old letters of an intimate nature, rediscovered years later and giving rise to a healing hope. The demons have haunted me ever since I saw them in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, but the active demons in my poem are home-grown.

“And till action—” grew from notes about tinnitus, until I understood that tinnitus wasn’t the subject at all. As I trust readers can tell from the title, the reference is to Shakespeare’s sonnet 129, “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” Which is why I write poems: to find out what I’m really thinking about, what’s thinking itself through me.

“Sunfish Midrash” arose from different hauntings. Guilt about my murdering fish as a child (guilt, but wasn’t that more honest than my current practice of buying fish in a market and cooking it cleanly?). And the complicated rabbinical arguments about Genesis 18:25: “Shall  not the Judge of all the earth do justice?”



Nicole Cooley and Peter Cooley on their poems:

I believe that a collaborative poem is a wonderful way to knock yourself loose– from your writing habits, from your go-to-images and vocabulary, from yourself.  A collaborative poem with a close family member—in this case my father!—offers even more: a way to think through a subject together and apart, a way to imagine and re-imagine.
–Nicole Cooley

Collaborative poems have an intrinsic spirit of play: the ball must keep moving over the net and you have to be ready when it comes toward you at any angle. When there’s a foul or you trip and fall on your face you have to get up: your opponent is waiting. And who is this opponent, anway? They keep changing their strategies! Are you changing your own?

Collaborative writing is a great way to get over writer’s block. Maybe to dispel the notion of it?
–Peter Cooley



Leah Umansky on “Uplight”:

I wrote this  prose poem after months of grueling apartment hunting last spring.  I hadn’t been writing, I had barely been able to attend my poetry workshop and I was totally consumed by stress.  My parents came in to help me hang some light fixtures and I remember writing a note to myself about the ‘uplight.’ I liked the word.  Then, later that day, or maybe that week, I was doomscrolling on facebook and came across these lovely photos by my friend, poet Nancy White and I texted myself a note about perspective.  Later that night, I finally felt the urge to write and those two notes lit my path, so to speak. You never know what will inspire you or get you out of a funk. What matters is following the instinct.  What matters is following that light.  I hope you enjoy the poem.



Diane Martin on “Goner” and on “In God’s Intestine”:

On “Goner”

“Goner” tells it like it is. It doesn’t do anything fancy. It’s a pastoral narrative, but there’s nothing idealized about it. It’s in first person; none of the names have been changed. The death of the buck takes place in a meadow next to the West County Trail, a trail traversed by dog walkers and their dogs, parents with their strollers, bikers with their expensive bikes and chartreuse jerseys.

But to us—we lived for 36 years in a city—it’s the wild. John carries binoculars, but we’re not just birders. We’re looking for whatever we can find, from mushrooms to mountain lions.

Of course, everyone has seen roadkill on highways. This death, though, was close and intimate. It reminded me of the kill a hunter in my childhood neighborhood hung from a tree in his yard that we had to pass when we walked to school. And then there was that gorgeous buck in rutting season.

But despite the close-up with death, the poem is not sad. This isn’t Bambi. The buck is making the transition that all living things must make. Its death will help the scavengers live, will continue the cycle.

The main change in the poem, after it was written, was the removal of “Randi says” in the final two lines.: “But before / “the vultures, Randi said,  the coyotes, then the vultures, then the crows.”


On “In God’s Intestine”

In the summer of 2021, I read Red Comet, the 1152-page biography of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark. My journal entry:

“Seems I can’t do anything (anything on my To Do list) w/o spending money—except maybe writing in here and reading Red Comet.”

Another entry:

“Freaky how much I identify with the Sylvia in Red Comet. Except of course the failure (suicide) and the success. Both ends of the spectrum! … I have had a little bit of everything—and that is what I wanted, wasn’t it?

Toward the end of her life, it seemed to me, Sylvia, was trying desperately to make things work—with her children, whom she loved, with her life in the country, with Ted Hughes, who wasn’t interested; things worked only when she was writing.  She woke while it was still dark to write poem after poem in a furious feat of endurance. “[W]orking on a poem in the very early morning was like writing in God’s intestine,” she said in her journal.

It was lonely, arduous work. The simile “like writing in God’s intestine” is an odd Plathian metaphor, akin to “excitable tulips…opening like the mouths of some great African cat.” No one else could have come up with it. But of course, if God has an intestine, the outcome will be shit. She knew that.

The rest of this poem? Well, it’s about life and death, I guess. I was writing intensely myself, drafting the poems in STARE, a collaborative chapbook.* STARE opens with bluebirds nesting in our yard as war begins in the Ukraine. The death of the bluebirds in “In God’s Intestine,” the four blue feathers that I’ve kept, completes the narrative arc.

*My collaborator with STARE is my husband, photographer John F. Martin.



John Skoyles Comment on his 6 Poems:

“Three Wishes”
This poem owes a debt to Lewis MacNeice’s “Autobiography.”  His poem is in rhymed couplets with the refrain line: “Come back early or never come.”  Mine doesn’t adhere to a strict form and that was the fun of making it, for better or for worse.  Mentioned here is Frankie Dash—“Frank J. Dachille, a pianist and entertainer known as ‘Frankie Dash,’ he performed as the intermission pianist at Jimmy Ryan’s Jazz Club, opposite the legendary Roy Eldridge.”  There is something about his being “an intermission pianist” that I connect to the literary life.


“A Drink with my Late Uncle”
This poem records my uncle who gave me two things: a love of New York City and of alcohol.  The former I have retained and the latter I’ve abandoned.  In this piece, he embodies all the allure and perils of addiction.  I brought him back from the dead because his effect on me will never die.


I tried to take the poem out of the “personal” in its most impersonal sense—the ads for human connection—and into the beyond. And I may have gone too far.


“Her Pencils”
The pencil here is praised as a tool, for its ability to write and erase, and forged into a metaphor.


A recounting of a relationship with a woman who told the future with Teuila fortune telling cards.  She told the fortunes of many poet friends of mine, but first took great pains to state that this was a foolish and lighthearted exercise not to be taken seriously.  And then as soon as a badly ominous card appeared, she practically fainted with horror.  And so did they.


“Bill Knott”
My friendship with Bill began when I wrote my MFA degree essay on him in 1974.  At that time he had published just two full-length books.  We crossed paths over the years and worked together at Emerson College for more than two decades.  The poem has the impossible ambition of capturing his paradoxical but always generous nature.  On April 20, 2024, Symphony Space in NYC is “presenting Richard Cameron-Wolfe’s micro-opera A Sound-Shroud for Bill Knott – portraying the iconoclastic American poet as he confronts his mortality (featuring Butoh dancer Mariko Endo).” Passionate Geometries | Symphony Space



Derek JG Williams on “Heat Lightning,”:

Then and now. There’s always a distance between when a poem is first conceived to when it’s finally published—oh and that expanse can be vast. That’s certainly true of “Heat Lightning,” which is essentially a love poem written for my wife in the months when we first met. That was then. Now, we have a newborn and our life is incredibly different, yet here we are in this poem where some version of us from the past that existed then persists now. And the poem which always exists, living its own little life, has everything and nothing to do with us.



Jennifer Franklin on “A Fire in Her Brain” and “Duplex Beginning…”:

The title of my new collection of poems, A Fire in Her Brain, comes from James Joyce, writing about his daughter Lucia Anna Joyce: “Whatever spark or gift I possess has been transmitted to Lucia, and it has kindled a fire in her brain.” My goal is to use the story of James and Lucia as both foil and analogue to my own experience with my developmentally disabled daughter Anna Livia—whom I named after Anna Livia Plurabelle, the personification of Dublin’s River Liffey in Finnegans WakeA Fire in Her Brain grapples with the cultural and always shifting notions of mental health disorders—the phrase “a fire in the brain” itself connotes both the spark of genius and a mind in conflagration—as well as the philosophical and ethical questions concerning the demands of caretaking in a capitalistic society, the individual versus the State, the pernicious friction between doctor and patient, women against the patriarchy, and the rights of the mentally ill.

The two poems here use form (villanelle and duplex) as a way to portray the obsessive worry that pervades one’s when they love someone with a mental disability as well as the way that everyone involved(the disabled person and the caregiver) is often trapped.

These poems in the collection explore the marginalization and reification of women and girls from art, literature, and myth who have been labeled “mad” including Cassandra, and Virginia Woolf. This project is inspired by the unstated and unarticulated lives led by countless women who are silenced and erased.



Ramón Garcia on “Seperation”:

Normally, I have more to say about the writing of a poem, but “Separation” is a poem that kind of wrote itself, it just came, and I seemed to be the medium for associations and a rhythm that carried the poem along.  I didn’t revise it much, that also makes it unusual.  The scene, the situation in the poem is commonplace. I was taking a walk in Modesto, where I’m from, and I was thinking of a recent break up.  The associations are between the suburban environment and thoughts about the ex-partner, who is in another country and with someone else already.  I think it’s a poem about different kinds of human distance, about the limits of understanding, limits which can reveal themselves suddenly, mysteriously, in the most mundane moments.