Category Archives: Uncategorized

Project PoetSpeak on hiatus

The project will be on hiatus until this fall. In the meantime, please feel free to peruse the archives and send submissions to poetspeak.com@gmail.com.

Poet Speak: Interview with Lesléa Newman

Lesléa Newman is a veritable jack-of-all-trades when it comes to writing. She’s published poetry, children’s books, novels, young adult books, erotica and nonfiction. She served as the Poet Laureate of Northampton, Mass., from 2008-2010. Her impressive history and excerpts from her books are available at http://www.lesleanewman.com/ and http://www.lesleakids.com/.

She chatted over the phone with Project PoetSpeak Editor Tara Cavanaugh about her love of poetry, how to make it an accessible art form, and her mentor Allen Ginsberg.

TC: What does a Poet Laureate do? It kind of sounds like the best job ever.

LN: It really was the best job ever. Basically the job of a poet laureate is to bring poetry to the people, and bring the people to poetry. So however the poet laureate wants to do that is up to the poet laureate.

I edited a biweekly column in the local newspaper, which featured local poets. I had a reading series called Lunch with the Laureate. For National Poetry Month I blew up posters with poems on them and plastered them on storefronts on Main Street in Northampton. My big project was called 30 poems in 30 days, where I corralled 75 poets to write a poem a day during the month of November, and collect pledges per poem. We raised $13,000 and gave it to a literacy organization. Then we published an anthology of poems and had big celebratory readings.

Another project I did that I was particularly fond of was called Poetry to Wait By. I had a poetry book drive during the month of April, National Poetry Month, and distributed them in waiting rooms around the city, like in dentists’ offices and lawyers’ offices, places like that.

TC: It sounds like you worked hard to make poetry accessible for people.

LN: Poetry is my first love. It’s really my heart art form. I studied poetry with Allen Ginsberg and I’ve been writing poetry since I was about 8 years old. And there’s just something about poetry that kind of cuts through and gets right to the heart of the matter, right to the emotion. And people can really seem to respond to poetry, poetry can be very healing, very soothing during hard times – it can even be funny. It’s just something that belongs to the people. So many people get turned off of poetry, in school, when they have to read poetry and dissect it in a really dry way. So I really try to show that there is a poem for everyone. You just have to dig deep enough to find it.

TC: What about your poetry?

LN: My poetry, I make it a point for it to be as accessible as possible. I’m not of the ilk that the harder a poem is to understand, the higher esteem it’s held in. Which is not to say that it has to be simple, not complex. But I really do think that it has to be easily understood for me.

TC: A lot of people say that poetry suffers from being seriously unpopular. What do you say to that?

LN: Well, I think poetry is making a comeback. There’s a ton of slam poetry going around. There is also poetry on the page that I think people are turning to. Poetry can be a real solace. We live in hard times. And we live in very connected and technological times. And sometimes it’s all overwhelming. And to just sit in a quiet peaceful place with a poem can just be very soothing.

TC: So tell us about Allen Ginsberg, whom you call a mentor. What did he do for you as a writer?

LN: He took me very seriously as a poet. And that was the biggest gift that he gave to me. We would sit and discuss my poems. And we would sit and discuss his poems. He really treated me like an equal. He was just a phenomenal teacher and human being and he was very, very kind to me.

China by Harry Newman

seek wisdom the Sufi saying goes even as far as China
and I think of that because you’re on your way again
though they meant a China of the mind the farthest reaches

beyond maps unknowable where silence is the only language
or more the silence within silence so far from words sound
any sense of its opposite the great ocean of thought and breath

we carry within that carries us not the actual China
where you’re heading though that too exists beyond itself
seen only as reflections glimpses when the smog clears

I’ve been thinking lately about oceans their surfaces
changing so quickly never staying still how they remain
essentially unmappable except at coastlines the boundaries

defining what they are not yet even these keep shifting
eroding and building up how little they resemble lines
on the map when we see them only approximation

our feeble dreams of stasis but I’m thinking too
of the oceans around us daily the endless lap
of language of being in new countries like being

under the sea swells of sounds washing over and
around you only with time resolving into currents
waves wavelets crests words phrases sentences

we hold onto to keep from drowning piecing together
a lexicon of our own senses meanings repetitions
we hope will carry us these are maps of a kind

personal longitudes internal navigations changing
constantly all we have as we drift from border to border
dreaming of nearer Chinas always beyond our reach

Previously published in The New Guard

Architects of Air by Anne Coray


Here is the pitch and swirl of winter:
the raw north wind, the bloodless thorn.
Water in its wake churns to jagged slate,
snow keels upward from the mountains.

I’m staying in. No sense shouldering out
against this weather, when my cabin,
my quiet ship—built of two-by-sixes
and twelve-inch siding—grants me cover.

Best time to take custody of love,
having all I need, though never all
I want. Husband, give me your hand.
What we have left to build with

isn’t wood, but air—
this space resting between our fingers
like absent stone
of the ancient temples;

our fingers in column and frieze
as if holding the morning’s fervent storm
in pale illumination; half-gift,
this portico, this life

more beautiful for the surrounding ruin.

(From Violet Transparent, FutureCycle Press, 2010)

Poems for Grads

Ah, graduation. Do you feel the breeze? You know, the the gush that comes from the opening and closing of thousands of “Congrats, Grad!” cards with the sappy italicized script dripping all over words like accomplishment, achievement, future, road, and success.

Well, poetry lovers, there’s more out there than that “road less traveled” quote. There’s tons of poems out there for grads. And for a start, check out poetry.org‘s feature on great poems for those accomplished, achieving grads as they embark on the road of success to their bright futures.

Hourglass by Jesse Foss

The hourglass that orbits our divine intertwine

has flipped its axis and now the bits of sand

come crashing down single file as time flies by all the while

And in guile we age in this stage to our prime page

and watch it all fall apart.

What can we do what can we do

This is not in the manual nor

Do we have a hand to guide us.

Follow the grain

Join and distain

This is not a victory march

But the rain on a beautiful day

That brings us to our knees

With tears and pleads

The sand falls but follows us

Every gravitational pull of the way

Every last word they say

The time ticks

And the sand falls but the container is

All but invulnerable.

Shattering glass

And aged wood

Provide all the needs for

For an hourglass

This is.

Our hour at last

The True Lover by A.E. Housman

*Note from PoetSpeak: In addition to being a site for recordings of original poetry, we also like to post poetry of other authors as read by new voices today. Charles Manley gives a reading of A.E. Housman’s “The True Lover.” This is just another way PoetSpeak seeks to make poetry more alive. Enjoy.

The lad came to the door at night,
When lovers crown their vows,
And whistled soft and out of sight
In shadow of the boughs.

“I shall not vex you with my face
Henceforth, my love, for aye;
So take me in your arms a space
Before the cast is grey.

“When I from hence away am past
I shall not find a bride,
And you shall be the first and last
I ever lay beside.”

She heard and went and knew not why;
Her heart to his she laid;
Light was the air beneath the sky
But dark under the shade.

“Oh do you breathe, lad, that your breast
Seems not to rise and fall,
And here upon my bosom prest
There beats no heart at all?”

“Oh loud, my girl, it once would knock,
You should have felt it then;
But since for you I stopped the clock
It never goes again.”

“Oh lad, what is it, lad, that drips
Wet from your neck on mine?
What is it falling on my lips,
My lad, that tastes of brine?”

“Oh like enough ’tis blood, my dear,
For when the knife was slit,
The throat across from ear to ear
‘Twill bleed because of it.”

Under the stars the air was light
But dark below the boughs,
The still air of the speechless night,
When lovers crown their vows.