Author Archive

Concretizing the enemy

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  Words have always coveted pictures for how immediately they can stir us. I think of the photograph of the South Vietnamese child who’d been sprayed by napalm. No word alive can match it. It was the photo on the cover of every magazine in 1972, which “probably did

Tension mounting

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We spend our lives avoiding conflict, and then we reach academia. On the playground we’re told to make peace, but in the classroom we’re praised for our thesis statement that makes an “argument,” that introduces “tension,” that “complicates” a previous notion. Conflict becomes, all of a sudden, the engine

Lying as survival: the literary pep talk

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Has a young child ever asked you to watch him run? Are you ready? he asks, and then the same intense eyes that one tries to remember a dream with. Then his arms start pumping at a speed that must seem lightning-fast to his own mind but really looks

Letter to myself: On fatherhood and poems

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A published letter is a strange act. It’s like a whisper made into a loudspeaker. It’s a secret note the town’s tacked onto the city hall bulletin board after the carrier pigeon nosedived into the public square. It’s intimacy externalized. Some letters seem to speak to no one at

Tyrants big and little

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How would an onlooker have described the scene at the 2nd hole of the golf course I played on during the summer after high school? The tee overlooked the pin far below, nearly a vertical drop, and way in the left-hand distance were mountains that looked serrated down the

Sincerely Yours

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Because I’d just read “The Bridge,” which I only half-understood, rendering it sacrosanct to my wide-eyed freshman mind, I’d taken Hart Crane at his word when he wrote in an essay that “Sincerity is essential to all real poetry.” Rilke said it earlier in his own letter-turned-rule-book for all young

Why the Exquisite Corpse works

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  The first time I took part in an Exquisite Corpse, I was an undergrad in Lisa Russ Spaar’s workshop at UVA. I like to imagine she performed the exercise with her mentor, and he with his, and on and on in a long lineage of collaboration and gifting

Writing my way in, or, Writing my way out

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Somewhere deep in the “remotest mansions of the blood,” where Lorca said the duende lives, I think I still have the capacity for a good cry. At some point in my life I lost this. Or it was wrested from me. Either way it’s now as foreign a tongue

Try to Become Him

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One thing I’ve learned teaching in the Cornell Prison Education Program is that a person in prison, more often than not, is someone whose whole life has felt like a long imprisonment. People don’t become prisoners at random. First came the violences of neglect or poverty. Or the glimpses of

Naming as Paying Attention

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Names can be hard for the tongue to wrap its head around. I say this with the conviction of my full being as a male, a poet, a twin, and a slight stutterer. (Of course I stutter. My brother and I lived our early lives assuming that the world,