Todd Boss

If you’ve never seen animated poetry, I am delighted to be the first to introduce you. There is something so perfectly gelled in the combination of short film and poetry; I’ve never seen one that I don’t like. But I have a particular fondness for the poems of Todd Boss, and so here is one of his lovely pieces put into pictures by Emma Burghardt and lulled to music by Debra Barsha.

Also, you should check out Motion Poems, because they are responsible for a great deal of this artwork. That organization connects film makers with poets and adds a little magic.

Anne Sexton

So I’m cheating a little today, picking one of the classics instead of scouring the world for a new and brilliant artist with a still-beating heart. But I love Anne Sexton and I love her fairy tale poems the most. I love how Sexton shifts from insidious innuendo to face-smacking sarcasm in one turn of phrase, how she turns all the old stories on their heads. It’s long, but you should read it anyway. If you begin, you will almost certainly finish.


A woman
who loves a woman
is forever young.
The mentor
and the student
feed off each other.
Many a girl
had an old aunt
who locked her in the study
to keep the boys away.
They would play rummy
or lie on the couch
and touch and touch.
Old breast against young breast…
Let your dress fall down your shoulder,
come touch a copy of you
for I am at the mercy of rain,
for I have left the three Christs of Ypsilanti
for I have left the long naps of Ann Arbor
and the church spires have turned to stumps.
The sea bangs into my cloister
for the politicians are dying,
and dying so hold me, my young dear,
hold me…
The yellow rose will turn to cinder
and New York City will fall in
before we are done so hold me,
my young dear, hold me.
Put your pale arms around my neck.
Let me hold your heart like a flower
lest it bloom and collapse.
Give me your skin
as sheer as a cobweb,
let me open it up
and listen in and scoop out the dark.
Give me your nether lips
all puffy with their art
and I will give you angel fire in return.
We are two clouds
glistening in the bottle glass.
We are two birds
washing in the same mirror.
We were fair game
but we have kept out of the cesspool.
We are strong.
We are the good ones.
Do not discover us
for we lie together all in green
like pond weeds.
Hold me, my young dear, hold me.
They touch their delicate watches
one at a time.
They dance to the lute
two at a time.
They are as tender as bog moss.
They play mother-me-do
all day.
A woman
who loves a woman
is forever young.
Once there was a witch’s garden
more beautiful than Eve’s
with carrots growing like little fish,
with many tomatoes rich as frogs,
onions as ingrown as hearts,
the squash singing like a dolphin
and one patch given over wholly to magic –
rampion, a kind of salad root
a kind of harebell more potent than penicillin,
growing leaf by leaf, skin by skin.
as rapt and as fluid as Isadoran Duncan.
However the witch’s garden was kept locked
and each day a woman who was with child
looked upon the rampion wildly,
fancying that she would die
if she could not have it.
Her husband feared for her welfare
and thus climbed into the garden
to fetch the life-giving tubers.
Ah ha, cried the witch,
whose proper name was Mother Gothel,
you are a thief and now you will die.
However they made a trade,
typical enough in those times.
He promised his child to Mother Gothel
so of course when it was born
she took the child away with her.
She gave the child the name Rapunzel,
another name for the life-giving rampion.
Because Rapunzel was a beautiful girl
Mother Gothel treasured her beyond all things.
As she grew older Mother Gothel thought:
None but I will ever see her or touch her.
She locked her in a tow without a door
or a staircase. It had only a high window.
When the witch wanted to enter she cried’
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.
Rapunzel’s hair fell to the ground like a rainbow.
It was as strong as a dandelion
and as strong as a dog leash.
Hand over hand she shinnied up
the hair like a sailor
and there in the stone-cold room,
as cold as a museum,
Mother Gothel cried:
Hold me, my young dear, hold me,
and thus they played mother-me-do.
Years later a prince came by
and heard Rapunzel singing her loneliness.
That song pierced his heart like a valentine
but he could find no way to get to her.
Like a chameleon he hid himself among the trees
and watched the witch ascend the swinging hair.
The next day he himself called out:
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,
and thus they met and he declared his love.
What is this beast, she thought,
with muscles on his arms
like a bag of snakes?
What is this moss on his legs?
What prickly plant grows on his cheeks?
What is this voice as deep as a dog?
Yet he dazzled her with his answers.
Yet he dazzled her with his dancing stick.
They lay together upon the yellowy threads,
swimming through them
like minnows through kelp
and they sang out benedictions like the Pope.
Each day he brought her a skein of silk
to fashion a ladder so they could both escape.
But Mother Gothel discovered the plot
and cut off Rapunzel’s hair to her ears
and took her into the forest to repent.
When the prince came the witch fastened
the hair to a hook and let it down.
When he saw Rapunzel had been banished
he flung himself out of the tower, a side of beef.
He was blinded by thorns that prickled him like tacks.
As blind as Oedipus he wandered for years
until he heard a song that pierced his heart
like that long-ago valentine.
As he kissed Rapunzel her tears fell on his eyes
and in the manner of such cure-alls
his sight was suddenly restored.
They lived happily as you might expect
proving that mother-me-do
can be outgrown,
just as the fish on Friday,
just as a tricycle.
The world, some say,
is made up of couples.
A rose must have a stem.
As for Mother Gothel,
her heart shrank to the size of a pin,
never again to say: Hold me, my young dear,
hold me,
and only as she dreamed of the yellow hair
did moonlight sift into her mouth.

Mama is…

It’s been a long time since I posted any of my own work here, and since I’m feeling super lazy today, it’s the perfect time. I’ve written many, many poems about motherhood, but it’s a tough needle to thread. There are so many opposing forces: cynicism and hope, exhaustion and joy, and the ever present precipice of cheesiness. But this is one of my favorites, I hope you enjoy it too.

Mama is in the kitchen
slicing two pounds of grapes in half
on a lazy Sunday afternoon

Mama is weeding the side yard
As the moon rises high
with a sleeping baby on her back

Mama is in the nursery
rocking a sighing sick baby
in the small hours of night

Mama is cradling a cold cup of coffee
scouring the internet for ten minutes of adult thoughts
before nap time draws to a close

Mama is tapping her foot
under a cafe sidewalk table
trying to listen to a saddened friend
and calculate the hours she’s been gone

Mama is playing London bridge with her feet
laughing at toddler squeals
wrist deep in dishwater
apologizing to the bank man
she’s got on speaker phone

Mama is staying up late to fold laundry
sneaking under soft baby snores
to deliver clean clothes to squeaky drawers

Mama is speaking prayers
over a silky, wiggling head
dodging yogurt slimed hands
Asking for peace
and also that this wiggling head will know
that with every move and sleepless night
with multitasking tired fingers
with long slow breaths amid shrill screams
with a heart wrung out and ever full
Mama is blessing her

Artist Profile: Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre

As much fun as it is to hear me talk about the art that I love, I thought I’d give some of the artists a chance to speak about their own work. I’ll be doing these profiles, you know, occasionally, most likely whenever I have one to post.

Guante is an amazing spoken word artist and rapper. Since he is a local (to me) artist, I’ve been lucky enough to know him a little and greatly honored to have shared a stage with him. He and the St. Paul spoken word team (I’m sure they have an official name) won the National Poetry Slam competition, twice. Guante is also one of the only poets I know who makes his living on poetry, and he gives all his talent and knowledge away by teaching tons of classes and coaching youth slam teams. If you visit the homepage of this website, you will find a review of my novel that Guante was kind enough to write for me. Here is some about his artwork in his own words.

What do you love about your medium?

With spoken-word, there are no rules. You can say whatever you want in whatever way you want to say it. So it really lends itself to the type of work that I want to do, work that examines the intersection of art, media, rhetoric and education. Sometimes, the most powerful spoken-word piece ISN’T the “best” poem. Sometimes it’s more of a PSA, or an audio op-ed, or (ideally) a compelling mashup of all of these different forms. As spoken-word artists, we get to learn from everyone, but we’re not beholden to any particular style or school of thought. That’s tremendously liberating.

Describe a piece of art that you find superficial or boring.

As a rapper, I’m particularly hard on other rappers; it just comes with the territory. And the thing is, most other rappers are good. If you follow hip hop, there’s a lot of good stuff happening right now. I think the problem is a lack of ambition; there’s a ton of “B+ music” out there. And a B+ is good, it’s enjoyable, it’s well-crafted, but it’s not stunningly original or revelatory or transformative, and that’s what I look for in music. So no matter how good it is, I just can’t get excited about another song about what it’s like to be a rapper, or another song about having a fun party, or another song that just kind of vaguely talks about everything that’s wrong with the world. I want creativity, specificity, focus. It’s important to point out that this is my personal preference; I don’t think there’s anything “bad” about music that isn’t explosively original. I just don’t get excited about it.

Spoken-word isn’t much different– it’s easy to get up on stage and rant and rave about things; but what separates the special work from the rest of the pack is how it moves beyond the surface-level analysis– maybe it examines your own complicity with a given problem, or explores a grey area, or allows us to see something we think we understand in a new way.

When did you first call yourself an artist, and why?

I’m really not sure. My journey has been very gradual and organic. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the term. I think sometimes the word “artist” is put on a pedestal, like artists are magic elves or something. I think we’re all artists, whether it’s our career, our hobby, or something we want to do but don’t have time for. I hesitate to think of it as a specific identity, because there are so many different ways to create art and live artistically. I think you can be a mother who makes art, or a politician who makes art, or an activist who makes art. I’m just a weirdo who happens to make art.

Describe an artist and/or piece of work that you find consistently inspiring.

I’m really lucky in that some of my favorite artists in the world live in the same community as me. I bring Ed Bok Lee‘s book “Whorled” with me to almost every show I play, and sometimes read from it. Same with Bao Phi’s “Song I Sing.” Both poets are very good at doing what I want to do– creating work that is immediately powerful and actually says something explicitly political without sacrificing the craft of it. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I’m grateful to have role models like them so close.

What is your unique purpose for creating work?

I’m a pragmatist, and I see art much less as an expression of my infinite soul than as just another way to talk to people, an avenue for communication. I’m a communicator. I want to talk about things like privilege, and language, and activism, but talk about them in ways that are difficult to forget. So sometimes that’s a poem, sometimes it’s a rap song, sometimes it’s an op-ed. I think art is another form of independent media, and independent media is an integral part of the movement we’re all trying to build. So that’s why I do it.

How Good You Are

A poem in honor of the third time in my life when my jaw has gotten sore from too much smiling.  The only times I can remember feeling this way before were the day I was healed from a chronic pain that lasted six years, and my wedding day.  Pearl, my lovely baby, reminds me daily how God stupefies my expectations of what he’s willing to do.


Once again you’ve overwhelmed me

with just how good you are.

Once again you’ve given me

a light that defies concealment

a joy as bright and powerful

as obvious as any hurt

I might write or weep about.

Months and years stretch out in doubt

so unaware your wave of joy

is about to crash upon me.

While I hold out my little clay cup

and beg for just another sip-full

“Would that be so very hard?”

You smile and prepare an ocean

that embraces my horizon.

Once again you’ve given me

a joy that widens my perception

of how loyal your love is

how sincere your promise is

how good you really are.


I will stand in the center of your love
In the eye of your storm
Your power
Your movement
Your destruction
Your creation
rushing all around me
blinding every other view

I will stand in your center
in the quiet peace of you
wrapped in the swirling chaos of you
You are my sole perspective
Seeing only your gaze
down the howling valley of your storm

I will stand so I am in you
surrounded by you
covered by you
supported by you
Gazed on by you

I will stand in the eye of your storm
because I am the apple of your eye
I am made to live
In the center of your love

Dedicated to Voices Merging

You are
bleeding scarlet red
an undulating flame
the beat in your veins
loyalty in your skin

You are
drumming for the world
spitting at the sun
grinding down the mountains
making love to this microphone

You are
shimmering gorgeous
melting salty sweet

You are
bleeding scarlet red
for that is your voice
the razor point of your story

I am
hardly pink
faint vanilla
hint of cinnamon

I am
in love.

For the Riverview

I am new here

And you don’t know me

I could be self-important



But I am new here

and so I am unknown.

You are folk artists

Aging beautifully

Carrying your twangs and wandering rhymes in your pockets

tucked in jackets

stuffed with memories

“Remember when we were here?

We loved these mornings

and we wrote this song”

You have clung to your principles

eating your organic chocolate

wearing your second-hand clothes

devoted to your instruments

The calluses on your fingertips speak for you.

I am new here

but I know I don’t belong

My work is blank of memory

My poems babbling infants in this quiet room

My principles are still untested

Laptop keys leave no mark on my skin

but I’ll stand up nonetheless

I am here now

And among your other virtues

I believe you will be kind.

World Reflection

The world ripples and shivers
The world is liquid smooth
The world doubles back
It rises and falls
and I am only now seeing
that this is not the world at all
my sight so shallow and limitless
until now has failed to warn me
that my world is mere reflection
upon a silken sea
these colors steeped in blackness
are not reality
these waves and ripples
aren’t how the world should be
and yet
can I bear to lift my head
raise these half-blind eyes
attempt to absorb true substance
in place of reflective fantasy.

That Snickering Second Draft

So the real reason behind all my procrastination this week (aside from planning the best birthday party EVER), is that I’m at the beginning of a second draft. I really, really hate starting second drafts. Once I get going, I usually enjoy them. It’s fun to think of myself as an artist, shading here, coloring there, adding and subtracting and shifting things until they’re just right. But it is a pain in the butt to get started on a second draft.

I get worried that I’m going to break whatever I did right in the first draft, and I have this needling suspicion that nothing was right in the first draft. But mostly, the second draft is supposed to be better. On a first draft I can get myself started by telling myself that it doesn’t matter, I’ll fix it later. Now I’m supposed to be fixing it. But I don’t magically become a better writer because I’m writing a second draft.

I remembered that I was having a very similar experience almost exactly one year ago. At that time I was participating in poem-a-day for the month of October, and I wrote a little piece on this very odd sensation, which I will share. Just ’cause.

A second draft laughs
Gone is the warm comfort
The reassurance that all writers
Write shitty first drafts
Now the words should breathe
Should live
Take their first tottering steps
Toward immortality.