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“Krysl’s poetry is funny, funky, tragic,
brave, lyrical, humane, political
and full of surprises… She is still writing
the liveliest sestinas in America.”
Alicia Ostriker
Carpe Diem

Three bees seize
this opportunity to
buzz me, but see:

now, instead of three,
there are many: lazy,
buzzing me and the blue

Felicias, all of us convened
to please the powers
that be, bees and me

in this blue haze of
daisies, lazily seeking
the slow leak of

summer’s sweetness. So
be it: these fuzzy
spinners of honey,

interested in me
only incidentally--
me, a soft, dazed,

lazy she, going
slowly, deliciously,
daisy and bee crazy.

Warscape With Lovers

Scent of plumeria, and the smell of burning.
Not one or the other, but both. Destruction, and the blossom.
Sweetheart, I'm afraid. That boy with the rifle breaks
the catechism in two. And in two. Let me
see us whole, beside the sea. My body
busy, paying attention to yours. Already

we rock each other with our voices. Already
we're braiding the invisible cord. That burning
hut on T.V. could be ours. My body
hers, child at dead breast. That blossom
of blood and bone could be your face. Let me
say truth: no place, no one, is safe. Breaking

of vows, we know, is a given. Sweetheart, you'll break
my heart. I've broken yours, but look: already
you love me again. Destruction and the blossom: let me
say it another way: that soldier, burning
to become fabulous, torches the thatch (see blossomy
flame) of the enemy's hospital: cut to my body,

clay taking shape in your hands. Body by body,
war piled on war: when will the heart break
all the way open? Thunder of mortar, blossom
in the gutter. The soldier firing the mortar already
dead. How we live: running from the burning
field, into each other's arms. Let me

lie along your side. Give me something to hold. Let me
ride those waves pouring from your fingers. The bodies
of the disappeared toll like bells. Our koan burns:
it cannot be solved. The whole and the broken,
dream and nightmare: your hand in my hair, already
familiar, could be the torturer's. Vase and its blossoms

camouflage for the bomb. You love where you can. Blossom:
a thing of promise. That's us. Now: let me
let this go. Our glass, half full--already
there's more--swells toward the rim. Ours the bodies
the death squads passed by. The refugees make a break
for the fence, running for their lives, crossing this burning,

broken, blossoming Century. They've already
paid our dues. Sweetheart, let me show you how.
Hand on the body's book: swear the burning vow.

Skipping the State

Know I did not speak ill of you
when you left me weeping and pregnant
in the suburbs, for that girl with spiked hair
and a tongue stud. I have not defaulted
on the mortgage, nor revealed to your enemies
your smoldering secret--how you liked it
when I pretended to have betrayed you with Robert
and you turned on the spit of minor league jealousy,
the kind with no penalty, since you knew I was
faking. Nor in regard to naughtier longings
did I turn loquacious, nor list for other women

your shortfalls. Grant me then the child support
payments, which, after all, result from your indulgence
and my gullibility, trusting that things you said
in privacy might be taken literally. Forgetting,
under the spell of your rhetoric, that declarations
men make while inside women
will be retroactively rescinded

on withdrawal. Though you, of all people, had the temerity
to question my fidelity, believe me the child
is ours. In honor then of our sonís innocence,
rise, please, to this fiduciary occasion.

Poetry writing exercises...

Writing, whether fiction, poetry, memoir or nonfiction, isn’t something we “do.” Writing is something that happens to us.

The word inspire comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning to breathe. The word means “to blow upon, to infuse by breathing, to inhale. So to be inspired is to be graced by inspiration. Where does inspiration come from? It comes from the windy, breathy air that surrounds us—and without which we could not live.

We don’t “do” writing. We are each a “place” on the earth where from time to time writing happens. How lucky to be chosen to be that place.


Poetry is all about repetition and variation—repetition and variation of sounds, repetition and variation of rhythms. You’d be surprised how often in ordinary conversation we speak an iambic pentameter line. When you order “a double burger and a side of fries” you’ve spoken an iambic pentameter line. “A glass of California chardonnay.”

The iambic pentameter line has been the most used rhythm in poetry for several centuries.  We like to hear that rhythm—it’s lulling, reassuring—and then, soon, we want to hear VARIATIONS on it because we also like being surprised by a change in rhythm. 

Here are two lines from “Vice”:

Confession: I’m an addict, hooked on sleep,
this sexy hunk all eager for my bed.

Exercises are play, so play!           


1. Write a sequence of words ONLY for their sound, don’t try to make sense. Start with two words that rhyme, for instance rag and bag. Now continue by free associating with the SOUND of rag and bag. Adage. (Here that aaaa sound?) Admire. Fire. (now go on, let one word lead to another. Sire. You, sire, desire her fire….you liar!

2. Write a “list” poem. This is the popular term for a litany.  Originally litany was considered a form of prayer, as the Old Testament’s Beatitudes in which the word blessed is repeated but each time is followed by something varied. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted, etc. Litany poems are incantatory and hypnotic. The listener gets hooked on the repeating word and is fascinated by what will follow in the varied part of the equation. The poem “Skin” which uses the word “because” as its repeating part is an example. Here are a few of its opening lines:

Because skin is the first organ
to form in the womb, and first things
are of first importance,

Because skin is the largest
organ, an adult’s skin
weighs six pounds and stretched out
covers eighteen square feet,

Because there is more of it to attend to
than anything else….

3. Write five lines that begin with the word Yes.

4. Write five lines that begin with No.

5. Write four lines in which the words at the end of the lines do not rhyme but some of the words within the lines DO rhyme.

6. Write free verse in which you experiment with assonance in which the vowel sounds within words sound the same but the ends of the words don’t rhyme (shale and shade).

7. Write free verse in which you experiment with consonance in which the vowel sounds within words don’t rhyme but the consonants at the ends of the words do (hill and hall).

8. Write two iambic pentameter lines. Then write a line in which that rhythm varies.

9. Write a sestina. For a model go to Kenneth Koch’s Wishes, Lies and Dreams in which there’s a sestina written by a fifth grade class called Hooray (p. 218) that will delight you, and teach you the form. Or check out SESTINA FOR BRIGHT CLOUD, SINGING (BUT NOT THE BLUES) in Swear the Burning Vow: Selected and New Poems.

Tips for Writers:

We write doggedly, obsessively, compulsively, and we do this because we have fallen in love with the sounds and rhythms of language. If you are going to write, you will already have fallen in love with that music. What you will do is continue in that love affair.

That said, it’s important to acknowledge that we are not the source of “our” writing. The living earth is the source of everything, including language. Read David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. We are merely a place in earth’s mesh, a place where words from time to time appear, and we pass those words we receive on, back into the world.

Feel grateful.

Express gratefulness to the live earth around you.

Give away as much money as you can afford as often
as you can.

Feed your local gods
every day.

Remember that we do nothing independently. Remember that we are
also responsible for our decisions.

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