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stri·gose  (ˈstrīˌgōs),  adj.  [Mod. L. strigosus  <  L.  striga,  a furrow],  1.  in botany, having stiff hairs or bristles, as some leaves.  2.  in zoology, having fine, close-set grooves or streaks. 3. finely grooved or furrowed.



This woman makes nests.
She said: Imagine an impossible book and body as they realize themselves.
She said: my mouth: a living altar space, a living nest.
This woman makes nests out of earth and fills them with words.
She said: I am interested in the muscle memory of the book, the logic stored beneath the sentence.
This woman makes nests that are no longer a part of the book but inseparable from the book.
She said: vessels, chambers, a gathering of something.
She said: Please climb with me into under the sentence.


This woman weaves threads.
She said: I’m working with time, with the moment, with breath, with song, with the thread.
This woman weaves threads through people.
She said: There were no people—everyone was inside. So I was weaving saguaros and lizards.
This woman weaves threads through people and earth and the spaces she moves within.
She said: What is aggressive about a thread lying on the floor?
This woman weaves threads of storysong, songstory into now.
She said: A song a woman sings from hurt is called a pulling…How can I respond except crying in a tone no one cares for?


This woman arranged a courtship.
She said: P and S are pushing at the edge of their relationship.
This woman arranged a courtship, one between the page and the screen.
She said: They share text’s fleshy network.
This woman arranged a courtship, affirming each party in what they had to offer.
She said: Pale, pole, pawl have the same root as page.
This woman arranged a courtship: one of the pair she held up to be seen, the other she sent spinning in motion.


This woman layered a landscape.
She said: So we are all caught hanging: the rope inside us, the tree inside us.
This woman layered a landscape of word and image.
She said: The hearts of my brothers are broken.
This woman layered a landscape in black and white and then blue and green and red.
She said: And you are not the guy but you fit the description. And there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.
This woman layered a landscape, opaque and reflecting.
She said: It was a place to begin to look at what is seen and at perception. It’s deeper than the image and yet it is the image.


These women ask the body.
She said: If a woman in a forest recalls a woman in bed.
These women ask the body to remember, to recall, to reiterate.
She said: If a woman in bed recalls a woman driving.
These women ask the body and the body answers in a curved spine, in sitting upright, in staring out, in.
Shes said:
Are you cooking?
Are you driving?
Are you in the car?
Are you on the phone?
On where writing begins, she said: The jaw. There’s a kind of will in the jaw: it has to do with desire, maybe it has to do with speech and a desire to say something.
She said: It begins in the space in the spine, reflexive knowledge.


Author Note: I wrote this reflection over the course of attending the Poetry Off The Page Symposium at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. The women, in order of appearance, are: Danielle Vogel, Cecilia Vicuña, Amaranth Borsuk, Claudia Rankine, Julie Carr & K.J. Holmes.


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April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate, the dictionary project is hosting its first na·po·mo! Each Tuesday and Friday during the month of April, we will feature poems inspired by dictionary project words authored by visiting poets. Stay tuned!


And to whet your appetite, I leave you with “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich:


First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

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Billie Holiday, using her voice

on·o·mat·o·poe·ia (ä-nə-ˌmä-tə-ˈpē-ə, -ˌma-) [Late Latin, from Greek onomatopoia, from onomat-, onoma name + poiein to make]  n. 1 : the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss) 2: the use of words whose sound suggests the sense

A poet friend of mine said recently that he writes by sound. He hears the sound a poem in his head before he knows the actual words and content. He can hear the rhythm, the progression, the qualities of consonants and vowels.

It makes sense to me because his poetry has a real resonance on several levels. It is about the actual words, but it is also about their arrangement and about the ways they clash and clang up against one other. Or the way they rush together like running water, the way they cull and stand, like a still pool.

This week in my creative writing class, we have been talking about voice. Some students expressed frustration at the chapter in our book that discussed voice, because, they said, it was too abstract. It felt as if the book’s authors were speaking in generalizations: you know it when you know it, you have to experiment but you have to work to find what feels true to you. I can see how these proclamations can feel frustrating as they do not provide a road map to finding your voice. Then again, while not the most practical information, at least it is information that is true. I think of how often over the course of my life, I have been given instructions as guidance to things that really are uninstructionable. Yes, I said uninstructionable. The truth is, in art, in life, in our physical bodies, we have to find our own voice.

About a year and a half into my MFA program and into writing my first book-length manuscript, language began to break down for me. I was writing narratives and somehow these narratives were not sufficient to do what I wanted to do, to explore the territory I was navigating. One day, in the midst of a good deal of psychic anxiety over how the hell this thing was going to come together, I sat down to write about the landscape of Louisiana. I began to type descriptors—colors and geographic features and events—the words that made me think readily and instantly of the place. The words just rushed out, but they were story in the way I had been telling stories, they were words connected to, reacting to other words. In ten minutes, I wrote and finished and what came out was a prose poem about Louisiana. In the words and the space between them, I was finally able to articulate the struggle I have with this complicated place that is so incredibly powerful and beautiful and also full of tremendous sorrow. Opening myself up to the option of focusing on this lyrical relationship of words allowed me to perceive what I had already written in new, exciting ways, and this process resulted in the creation of many more lyrical pieces that securely anchor the pages in between chapters. These pieces also help to explore ideas and emotions that cannot be experienced using a straightforward narrative. Without paying attention to my intuition, these pieces would have never emerged. These poetic sections also helped me to revision the rest of my manuscript in a way that allowed me to open up room and keep writing.

I guess this is one of the keys to voice: being able to see outside the parameters of what one has done with language before. To use your voice, on some level, is to follow your intuition and instincts and allow the necessary sounds to surface.

I think this is always the greatest challenge as a writer: to not merely get the story down but to reveal the story using the right words for a given narrative or piece of information. This is why we agonize. This is also why, when we get it right, the words resonate in our bodies and in our mouths. We know we have said something true.

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