Wednesday, December 19, 2012


You don’t need the Sugar Plum Fairy or even visions of sugar plums in your head to delight in listening to the splendid sounds of poetry.  There are many websites that offer audio recordings, podcasts and videos of a variety of poets and poetry readings. 

This holiday season (and all through the year) sit back, relax by the glow of the computer screen and treat yourself to the voice, rhythms and words of a poet you admire (or one who’s new to you).

Here are a few sites to visit:

The Poetry Foundation has a wide variety of both audio and video offerings.


The Library of Congress has both their Poet Vision series

and “The Poet and the Poem” radio program webcasts

Moving Poetry is “a compendium of video poetry from around the web with a new video every weekday.”

Lunch Poems is a very fine poetry series at the University of California – Berkeley under the direction of UC Berkeley professor and former Poet Laureate Robert Hass.  The series is broadcast on UCTV.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012



I’m delighted to announce the publication of my new book of poems, The ABCs of Memory.

Click here to see book at

Click here to see book on publisher's site.

Unlike the way I organized each of the previous collections (around a narrative, told mainly through persona poems), in this new volume, I wanted to apply a wholly different structure (a simple, and familiar, framework used to catalogue various pleasures, ordeals and mixed blessings of American life).  

The ABCs of Memory contains two sections of poems titled alphabetically.  The first set of poems, called “An Alphabet From An Ample Nation,” probes the American psyche by examining such icons as Mr. Potato Head, Elvis, a Playboy centerfold, Mary Worth and Wonder Bread.  This grouping includes a prize-winning parody of Ginsberg’s “Howl”.  The second section, “An Alphabet of Modest Means,” explores little life moments of ordinary people and it’s the aggregate of these experiences that throws light on facets of American identity.

 Let me show you a poem from each section.  
First, from “An Alphabet From An Ample Nation”:


What you do remember of the rapid years,
when you spent your days learning how
to hokey pokey and to read simple stories
about Dick and Jane and their dog Spot,

was how in the evening after dinner
your mother grabbed the familiar white bag
with red, yellow and blue balloons and 
pulled out two slices of simple Wonder Bread.

She placed one round portion of baloney 
between the pieces of white bread before 
she sliced the sandwich.  Always vertically
and never cutting off the crust.

On winter mornings when you could see
the wispy body of your breath as you rushed out
holding your metal Howdy Doody lunch box,
always anxious about being late,

you were confident you carried the bread
Buffalo Bob said builds strong bodies eight ways
more crucial, you thought, than the handful
of carrot sticks or a snack box of raisins.

You can’t recall exactly when things changed.
Certainly it was after Clarabell finally spoke,
lips quivering as he whispered, Goodbye, kids,
and there was no more Buffalo Bob and Howdy.

Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Roy Rogers were gone.
Annette and the other Mouseketeers no longer
sang and danced in Roll Call each afternoon.
One day it was all different.

The earth mothers moved into kitchens
in cities and suburbs.  Their sleek hands
kneaded bread dough, punching out air.
The aroma of baking bread was everywhere.

Soon alfalfa sprouts appeared
with hummus on whole wheat
or spreadable Neufchatel with sunflower
seeds or bananas on multigrain bread.

Overnight metal lunch boxes with the faces 
of our favorite TV characters on the front
disappeared, gone with Wonder Bread,
while mothers mouthed Just as well.  Good riddance!

In its own way, whiter than God intended,
even enriched with minerals and vitamins,
bread became somehow tarnished and not good
enough for us who no longer trusted in wonders.

     from The ABCs of Memory, 2012, Lenny Lianne

                And from the second section:


The pyracantha bush taps fingers 
against the window in a code
he doesn’t bother to comprehend.
Down the street one car horn
blasts twice in reprimand. 
Even the wind hurls its own slurs.

More and more, every noise annoys him,
especially his wife cracking an ice tray
over the spine of the sink, a cipher
that splits the air like an angry bird.
Up early, she is alone in the kitchen
making the same flavor Kool-aid
she’s made every day but puts
no smile on the pitcher anymore.

In the beginning he trusted familiar 
things he’d known all his life --
squirrels at the bird feeder,
husk of snake’s skin in the attic,
red and white soup cans on the far side
of the pantry -- all the household
gods of modest means.

But over the years he’s learned 
he travels, locked in place.
As the moon pales and plunges,
he is a bird bashing its head
against the empty picture window
while the waking world wishes him
nothing but trouble.

     from The ABCs of Memory, 2012, Lenny Lianne

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I’m thrilled to feature poet Linda Ann Strang.

Linda lives in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where she’s been a university lecturer and academic writing consultant.  She writes poems and short stories, many published internationally.  In 2007, the editors of Poetry Kanto nominated her poems (“The Feathered Saxophonist” and “Where They Say: Don’t Touch”) for a Pushcart Prize.  Linda, together with artist Stephanie Liebetrau, curated an ekphrastic exhibition called “Transfiguration” in 2010.

[Read about ekphrastic poetry on the 7-11-12, 7-25-12 and 8-8-12     posts on this blog.]

Linda Ann Strang’s poetry book carries an intriguing and playful title: Wedding Underwear for Mermaids.  When asked to talk about her title, Linda answered “You’d have to be a woman wearing a sequined g-string to understand.” [Now this is an I-wish-I’d-said-that moment!]

Critic Grady Harp, an Amazon Hall of Fame and Top 50 Reviewer, calls Wedding Underwear for Mermaids “as rich a collection of meaningful and dazzling poetry as has been placed before the public in a long time.”  Alan Botsford, editor of Poetry Kanto, in his review in Carillon, explains: “Cinematic in quality, if not in form, her poems jump-cut from scene to scene, with cultural allusions layering elliptical narrative arcs through multicultural distances and multi-ethnic relations, sometimes at warp speed.  High-voltage sensuality is delivered via visual collage in an everyday performance not only where Africa and the West meet, but also where colors and textures rich and sensuous translate into a cohesive choice of words, born out of the poet’s command of the senses.”

Wedding Underwear for Mermaids is available in print and Kindle versions.

Click here to see Linda's book (paperback edition) on Amazon.

Click here for the Kindle edition on Amazon.

Click here to go to Honest Publishing for Linda's book.

I’m pleased to present to our readers two of Linda Ann Strang’s poems, both with African themes.

The Snapdragon Peace Accord

South Africa, 1974

The lemon trees have bumpy leaves.
My grandmother brushes

unbaked scones with milk,
her hands all flour and age spots.

Sweet peas scale the chicken wire.
Grandmother Ivy bottles ginger beer

and draws a hand across her forehead.
Sharpeville revs its cutting engine.

There are violets around the birdbath.
Ivy, Edwardian, unties the knot

only of her homemade apron.
Cancer is the upstart in her uterus.

We are little girls.  We sing “Ring O’ Rosies,”
fall down in the garden laughing.

Later we push immature fingers
into the mouths of snapdragons,

who say aah without breathing fire.
Our stethoscopes are anemones.

Each mind a handful of sand,
let us go at the funeral.

Skinning our knees, dresses riding up,
we climb the wooden fence –

it has compound fractures
and it pickets the end of the world.

[Note: "Sharpeville revs its cutting engines": Sharpeville refers to the 1960 massacre of black South Africans peacefully protesting state-imposed passbooks and, in this poem, is a symbol of political conflict in South Africa.  In 1974, that political conflict revved up again, when the government declared that it would implement the instruction of Afrikaans in black schools -- which eventually resulted in the riots and bloodshed in Soweto in 1976.]

(a shorter version was published in So To Speak, summer, 2011)

Here is Linda Ann Strang’s villanelle:

Song of the Émigré

We want to eat but there’s blood in the bread.
The rioting crowd finds a fence to trample.
The phoenix is anemic; the rivers are red.

Fashion dictates: dress yourself in lead.
Crows bestow unction in the pale temple.
We want to eat but there’s blood in the bread.

Lights fall.  Andromeda burns a hole in our bed.
A jazz song lacerates the night like bramble.
The Phoenix is anemic; the rivers are red.

Sirens are the food with which terror is fed:
our thoughts in a knot that we can’t untangle.
We want to eat but there’s blood in the bread.

A man with a knife finds a woman to wed,
her broderie body a pattern of shrapnel.
The phoenix is anemic; the rivers are red.

There’s a curse on our country where every tread
takes you closer to death – that stale angel.
We want to eat but there’s blood in the bread.
The phoenix is anemic; the rivers are red. 

[Note: The word “broderie” refers to broderie anglaise, a form of needlework on fabric which features embroidery, cutwork and needle lace and is characterized by round and oval holes, or eyelets, grouped in a pattern.  In the poem, it is used to indicate the “body” is full of holes.]

Recently, Linda was the coordinator of Women’ Scream International Poetry Festival 2012 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  Women’ Scream is an international coalition founded in 2009 in the Dominican Republic.  Its mission is to honor women poets, and artists, and to create a conscious outcry against violence toward women, through art and poetry during the whole month of March.  This year 90 scheduled events in 30 countries (on five continents) were part of Women’ Scream 2012.

Linda explains, in a piece she wrote for So to Speak online, why this is important to her:
“I live in a country where, as a woman, you have to be crazy to be a feminist and crazy not to be one.  Feminism is frowned upon by many people, including females, so admitting to being a feminist draws a lot of hostility and ridicule, as I know from experience.  That’s why it’s crazy to be a feminist in South Africa.

This is why it’s crazy not to be one: South Africa has been called ‘the rape capital of the world’ (its main competitor for this ‘honour’ being the Democratic Republic of Congo).  It’s been said that a South African woman has a better chance of being raped than she has of completing secondary school; and this isn’t just some arbitrary information for me.  I’ve witnessed the suffering of my neighbours and friends.  One acquaintance was raped and strangled.  Another was raped and stabbed in the throat –  but she survived.  Yes, South African society is characterized by crime and violence.  But the women here identify vigorously with their aggressors – and, quite frankly, I do too most of the time.  So feminism for me is not so much about theories as it is about surviving another day and holding onto a bit of self-respect.”

One book review said, “One would think that with experiences such as these Strang would offer poetry that is heavily accented with loathing, but in reality the opposite occur.”

To read this review and 2 poems, click here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012




When I was in South Africa in May, the Cape Town newspaper printed a brief review of Gail Dendy’s new book, Closer Than That (Johannesburg: Dye Hard Press).  Not only did the review declare, “Here is a poet who seems to not take herself that seriously, but who takes her craft very seriously indeed” but also identified Gail Dendy as a “master…of poems that tip the reader deliciously off balance with their startling, almost tangible, plays with images.”  I was intrigued.

Online I learned that Gail Dendy has published 7 collections of poetry.  She’s been short-listed for the EU/Sol Plaatje Poetry Prize 2011 and 2012 as well as the Thomas Pringle Award for Prose (Category: Short Story), 2010.

In a 2011 interview in litnet, Gail Dendy explained, “For me, writing is about being alive and open to the world and so I love the way in which poetry, in its relatively short-form format, is uniquely suited to exploring, distilling and crystallizing our life experience.”

Throughout the 1980s and early 90s Gail pioneered Contemporary Dance in South Africa and was nominated for the inaugural AA Vita Award for Best Performer.  Responding to how her dance experience has influenced her writing, she’s said, in the same interview in litnet, “Where my dance crosses over into my poetry is in that heightened sense of movement and musicality – that is, the rhythms and cadences of the language, the way that syllables, sentences and stanzas move and swirl and almost bump up against one another like boats bobbing on water.”

Gail Dendy’s poems, delicate observations about the human condition, are noted for their musicality that make them a delight to read.  Here she offers our readers her poem, “Anatomy” (short-listed for the EU/Sol Plaatje Poetry Prize):  


Between my shoulder blades
the slim rope of my spine
curves downwards
towards my hips.

If I lie with you
on your wide bed,
my spine
will be regarded
as smiling,

smiling when I am asleep,
and pursed-lipped
when I am awake,

and it is a birch tree 
in the bare winter,
and a sapling
in the blue summer,

and it is the compass needle
of my days
and the bell-rope
of my nights,

and before I was born
it resembled a musical clef,
and afterwards
it will lie in the earth
as a broken string 
of pearls,

and they say
pearls are for tears,
but if I were you,

and you my beloved,
I should not weep
for my spine,

for it is safe
between the arrowheads
of my shoulder blades,
pointing towards
the country
of my hips.
— Gail Dendy

Gail has another wonderful poem, “I Want,” which is reprinted here from Scrutiny 2” Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa (vol. 13, Issue 2, 2008)


I want a poem that curls like a child
and falls asleep in my arms.  I want
a poem that breathes in and out at all the right
moments.  I want to pet it and cuddle it

and place it in a small, hand-made cradle
and sing to it when the sun can no longer
be seen.  I want the stars to pinpoint it
and the sun and the moon to shine on it.

Only, I don’t want the wind to come up
and blow all the bits of it away.  Rather, I want
the poem to become a woman, to smoothe out her dress
and step, like Marilyn, across the subway grate.
                                       — Gail Dendy

Gail’s worked as a university academic, copywriter and radio news writer.  Currently, she is the Information Specialist for an international corporate-law firm.  Gail is passionate about environmental- and animal-rights issues.  She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, together with her husband, pets, a law library and a huge collection of Rock ‘n Roll.

Click here for the Dye Hard Press interview with Gail Dendy

Click here for email address to Dye Hard Press for details about obtaining Gail's new book

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Halloween is my favorite holiday as it’s full of fancy and fantastical costumes (even for adults), treats and scary stuff. 

In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain was observed on October 31, the end of summer.  This date was also the eve of the new year in bother Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times and was the occasion for one of the ancient fire festivals when huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits.  The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds.  It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature.  Also, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health and death.

As a Halloween treat, I have two poems for you.


At night the dead come down to the river to drink.
They unburden themselves of their fears,
their worries for us.  They take out the old photographs.
They pat the lines in our hands and tell our futures,
which are cracked and yellow.
Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.
They tell each other stories.
They make so much noise
they wake us
as they did when we were children and they stayed up
drinking all night in the kitchen.
— Susan Mitchell


Death does not speak
to me with meaty breath
although ancient hamburgers
dance through my veins and
the leering buffalo skull
on the wall above my couch
dribbles drool onto my heart.

At fifty, I have learned to see
the Grim Reaper in all his disguises.
I can see him in a can of Budweiser.
I can see him in a shaker of salt.
Tonight, death speaks through spuds.
On my kitchen counter a ten-pound
bag of potatoes is rabid with tendrils.
They smell like a coven of wings.
I’m afraid to go near them.  They’ve
already strangled one of my cats.
Hey, these spuds are not vegetarians.
These are bad-ass rez potatoes.
They’ll sucker punch you
and kick you in the nuts
when you’re not looking.
If they’re not death
I don’t know what is.
— Adrian Louis


Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Fifty years ago, in October 1962, Sylvia Plath wrote well over half the poems which she’d gather into the manuscript of her second volume of poetry, Ariel and Other Poems (which would be found in a black spring binder in her London flat after her suicide three months later).

In that October, Sylvia and her two children were at Court Green, the thatched-roof house, which she and her husband had bought the previous year, in the Devon farming community of North Tawton.  By Autumn 1962, the couple’s marriage was over: he’d deserted her for another woman.  He returned to Court Green on the fourth of October to pack up his belongings (clothes, books and papers) and didn’t depart until the eleventh.

The day after her husband left with his things – to return to London and his lover (which in effect signified the end of her marriage to Ted Hughes), Sylvia Plath sat at the desk in her study and wrote her most famous poem, “Daddy.”

She’d already started to address the subject of her father, when in the week of October 3 to 10, she’d written five bee poems.  (Her father, Otto Plath, had been a renowned entomologist whose study, Bumblebees and Their Ways, had received worldwide acclaim.  He died in November, 1940, a little more than a week after Sylvia turned 8.)  Although, on October 11, before she drove Ted to the train station, she’d written “The Applicant” –  a savagely witty poem in the form of a monologue spoken by a marriage broker to a man applying for a new wife – Sylvia came back to, and reexamined, the lingering topic of her father – this time with intense fury, giving voice to years of accumulated grief.

In “Daddy,” the poem’s narrator speaks to her dead father while directing her rage, at being abandoned and betrayed, squarely at him.  The poet attempts (perhaps for her readers) to mitigate the ferocity of her bitter anger by using cadences akin to the singsong tones of nursery rhymes but, over time, these rhythms march down the poem to echo her accusations.

Though she first had considered her father godlike, in the poem, he quickly turns into a full-fledged Nazi.  By tapping into the most powerful horror of her era, the poet-narrator uses “Nazi” as a potent, and shocking, poetic conceit which turns her torment into qualities attributed to its object, her father.

Further in the poem, the narrator again acknowledges her father’s death (“I was ten when they buried you” – though, in reality Sylvia was eight).  She then says that her suicide attempt, when she was twenty, was intended as a way to “get back, back, back to you.”  [One could argue that the line reads as if she wants to get back (at her father for his death – when he abandoned her); to go back (to when he’d been alive); and to get back to (to her father in death).]

Continuing the poem’s timeline of significant events she connects with her father’s death, and with her failed attempts to rejoin him, the poet links her choice of the man she marries to her lost father:
            And then I knew what to do.
            I made a model of you,…
            And I said I do, I do.

As a double of her father, the husband becomes her tormentor:

            The vampire who said he was you
            And drank my blood for a year,
            Seven years, if you want to know.

[and the reader might infer here that the husband, exactly as the father did, betrays and abandons her.]

Finally, thoroughly fed up, the poet-narrator disposes of her father, his memory and its accompanying pain (and his stand-in, her husband): “If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two” and, in the last line, proclaims, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


MAD GIRL’S LOVE SONG  by Sylvia Plath

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

This Spring a friend of mine asked if I’d write comments on her blog about this early poem of Plath’s, as my friend Oriana knows I admire the musicality in most of Plath’s poems.

Instead of printing the poem from the blog, I went to The Collected Poems (compiled and edited by the late Plath’s husband, poet Ted Hughes, 1981) but could find it neither in the fifty pre-1956 poems Hughes titled “Juvenilia” (I prefer to use “early poems”) nor in the “complete list of poems composed before 1956.”  Odd.

After a little research, I learned that after The Collected Poems came out in England and America (Both editions were the same.), critics praised Plath’s work but many had questions about Hughes’ construction of the book.  In particular, The New York Times Book Review called attention to significant errors in the editing, most notably missing poems, including “Mad Girl’s Love Song” which had been published in Mademoiselle magazine in 1953.

The mystery slightly solved (no word why it was absent), I found a copy online and looked at the poem.

“Mad Girl’s Love Song” is a villanelle.  A perfect villanelle.  The structure is flawless but the musicality is not as strong (though some alliteration and a modest amount of assonance are present) as in other Plath poems.

But “Mad Girl’s Love Song” is an intriguing poem which can be read on many levels.  The themes of love, betrayal and loss (themes which recur and plagued her in her later life and writing) are present here.  What remains a question for interpretation is who, or what, the you is in Plath’s poem.

Knowing the poem was written in Plath’s college years, a reader might assume, after a first reading, that the poem is about a young woman’s desire for a lover, one who ignites her passion.  By the end of the poem, he abandons her.  But the words of the poem carry too much import to be simply that.

Or perhaps the you is a demon-lover: “I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed…”  The mention of God, hell, “seraphim and Satan’s men” and the connection of these to when she shuts her eyes and reality disappears could tie this to a demon-lover, except that God, etc., also disappear.  [I interpret the line “God topples from the sky, hell fires fade” as the concepts of the righteous/the good being rewarded and the bad punished also have disappeared.]  I’m not convinced about the demon-lover.

Another interpretation is the you  is Plath’s dead father (the subject of many of her later poems).  Robert Sully in his excellent online essay, “Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and the Work of Mourning” writes

The death of her father when she was eight years old seems to have left her with a deep psychic wound, a wound that manifested itself in both a profound sorrow and a deep resentment, as if her father had abandoned and betrayed her.

Sully makes a skillful argument for his theory about this poem.

In much of Plath’s early and pre-Ariel poetry, she employs a double voice, at once being straightforwardly subjective (in which her situations may be what they seem) but at the same time inferring, while hiding, a deeper self.  For me, there are two pieces of this deeper self which I believe can be the you of the poem.

While at college, Plath began in earnest to define herself as a writer and to want this literary life to be a career.  During her junior year at Smith College, she applied for a guest-editorship at Mademoiselle for the coming summer, a laborious, several-step contest which required the writing of a criticism and overview of an issue of the magazine before the first culling of applicants and several writing assignments before the final cut for twenty guest-editorship slots.  At the same time, several of Plath’s poems were published in Seventeen and Harper’s purchased three poems (two of them villanelles).  At the end of April, 1953, Sylvia Plath received word that she’d won a guest-editorship at Mademoiselle to live in New York City and work at the magazine for the month of June.

But the social conventions of the 1950s preached repressive constraints.  Young women could have either marriage and a family or a career but not both.  In a telling passage from Plath’s The Bell Jar (the novel, about this time in her life, which she finished writing in 1961), her college-aged heroine explains:

I also remember Buddy Willard saying in a sinister, knowing way that after I had children I would feel differently, I wouldn’t want to write poems any more.  So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterwards you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state.

Plath, like many young women in the ‘50s, saw marriage and family as irreconcilable with a career.

I believe this conflict between her desire for a literary career and the rigid gender roles of the times is a central issue of her poetry.  Also one might argue, given Plath’s self-identification as a writer and her highly professional attitude toward magazine publication during this period, that in “Mad Girl’s Love Song” what she dreams about, and for what she has an intense passion, is for her literary vocation (part of her deep self) but often during her junior year, she describes herself as “stupid” or a failure (especially when magazines reject her work) as if her literary skills have abandoned her or were imaginary in the first place.  This desertion is so shattering that it topples God and deadens the world around her.

That Plath saw herself as a failure, as inadequate, leads into the second piece of her deeper, often hidden, self: Plath as the mad girl herself.  As her junior year progressed, with its difficult course load, her application for a guest-editorship and the submissions of her stories and poems for possible publication, Plath descended into one of her worst depressions yet.  She wrote that she wanted to kill herself, felt she was drowning and sensed in her head a “numb, paralyzing cavern…a mimicking nothingness.”  This is the mad girl who says/writes that when [she] shuts [her] eyes…all the world drops dead…” and with it her perception of herself: “I think I made you up inside my head” where there is, according to her letters, solely a “paralyzing cavern [and]…nothingness.”

Sylvia Plath wrote “Mad Girl’s Love Song” sometime before her guest-editorship at Mademoiselle.  It was published in the magazine’s August issue, the same August as her breakdown and suicide attempt in 1953.
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