Poetry Blog

Picture and a Poem

Today, as I framed the five watercolor  illustrations I painted for a December show at RiverRead, a local bookstore,  it dawned on me that I never posted the last painting in the collection.

This watercolor caribou is from a photo I took at Chena Hot Springs, A.K. earlier this year. He was such a sad, shy fellow that he turned his face from me every time I tried to take his photograph. He was being kept in a spot that seemed hidden, out of the way. Maybe he didn’t get along well with the other deer, or maybe it was because he wasn’t as attractive to look at with clumps of hair remaining from the last molt. His eye just seemed to look right through me.

Like the other illustration from this collection that I posted previously, there is an Emily Dickinson poem penned around the image. She never titled her poems, so we start reading them with no introduction.

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself—
Finite infinity.

I think the “polar privacy” fits this caribou. And the poem carries a mood that seems to fit my “Oceanic” theme.

I’ll post a picture of the installed pieces after they are hung tomorrow. I’ll also post the write-up that was written for RiverRead’s newsletter.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think.

Best – Anni




I must have been feeling a little acrimonious when I penned this one.  I’m still trying to decide whether To Verse, Or Free Verse. I think there can be a time and place for both. This poem, however, is just plain, frustrated, silliness.

I’ve been told that rhyming sonnets are about innocence and memory. I’ve  been told that verse,  after the infamous Gertrude Stein, should be left for nursery rhymes. It is true that Mother Goose nursery rhymes are quite easy to remember; they are so sing-song. And a nursery song can lull you to sleep with it’s repetitive comforts. A poem in verse can, also, become a meditation. It doesn’t hurt to be in a meditative state from time to time.

Pulitzer Prize (2011) winning poet Kay Ryan says of form, It’s like “wearing the wrong clothes.”  If not meter, Ryan  does use a lot of rhyming in her poems to give them a pleasing rhythm. Not end rhymes like in the sonnet  I penned below, but very creative rhyming within her lines and throughout her poems in places you’d least expect. And she uses very uncanny rhymes at times, too. If you’ve never read Kay Ryan’s poetry you might enjoy checking out this talk recorded last year at Hugo House titled “Word Works: Kay Ryan on Rhyme.” I really enjoyed listening to Kay; she is very humorous  – a great personality. The interview at the end of her talk is very enlightening.

I Don’t Think So
by Anni Johnson

To sing a sonnet song an easy task?
Our speech, I’m told, is natural to its ways.
If this is so, me thinks I’d rather bask
in book than work in alphabet for days.

While counting feet – da DUM – da DUM – is NOT
for the passionless at heart, a poem by Keats
will tease the mind to try untie the lot.
A successful sound will be found in beats:

A line of five in ten. And then you start
again – a one, and two, and three, and four,
and five. O dear! I fear you’ll think me smart
if I my teacher please with rhymes and more.

What thinks you, mentor? Pray, do tell. Did I
a sonnet bake? Or a poem to make you sigh?

Poem: Why Can’t I Let You Go?

Why Can’t I Let You Go?
by Anni Johnson

Buckled in, sitting with the voice of reason,
silence stifles course sounds on the asphalt –
last year’s ways and means; us just being.

The corner is the limit; a place on the edge
where hushed regimes of disavowal break.

And suddenly, darling said, Did you see that? Driving,
he looked away… while I, lost in the blur,
betrayed by loco-motion,
barely caught the boy in hoodie.

Anyone would ask the same today, as if an auspicious child,
clad in red, flying a dime store kit, might be an extinct animal
out there in silver bromide landscape: a  Minor White
Two Barns and Shadow: a cloddy, forgotten, Appalachian farm.

Was it the March wind rattling windows that woke him to such dreams?

Blazing freedom tenaciously, I joined the boy in image:
alone, so sad, tiny hands letting out the line of a fighter
in gusty winds. Dreamy valor at play.

Blissful Union electrifying world with co-created flight:
aerial ballet – he, his kite, and aberrant thoughts in gleaner’s field.

How did he, so small, untether self from hovering nanny-state?
Last Child? An action-gift? Small wonder, knocking
at heaven’s door? High aspiration – an elevated mind vision?

Game brain in uncanny valley of imperfect play serves
where mothers once raged… and motioned toward the door.
Freedom vector conveys the Victor; a residual image thrown off.

Were you real in Green Time?
Or just an odd man out?
Or maybe a gypsy scale
calling me
to paint my own name
in color-morph form?

Thanks for visiting! As always, leave me a comment; let me know what you think.

Image: https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/kite-flying-day/

Cartography of Cold

***Warning! Chapbook review ahead***

This post is just to say that I’ve been waiting a very long time for my copy of Joseph Massey’s chapbook, “Illocality,” to arrive.  Amazon = slow-boat. But finally! it arrived two days ago. I thought I’d save reading it for the next run of gray days, but that didn’t happen. I picked the book up this morning, a warm sunny morning for a New York October, and I didn’t put it down.  I devoured a third of the 111 pages, I wanted to save some for later, but I can tell you right now ITS DELICIOUS. And some of the poems are funny in a peculiar way. (Perhaps best described as the clichéd “wry” sense of humor.) For example, here’s a few lines from a poem titled “Route 31”:

Yellow centerline
split with roadkill.

First day of summer – I’ve got my omen –

And maybe it was an omen, because Massey moved from California to the east coast the year we had one of the worst winters in decades: below zero temps for days on end, and no sun for 50 + days at time. (2013-14) Winters like that are hard on everybody, but the nice thing about poets is that they write about it.  And write about it Massey did, with the precision of a Buddhist monk.

“Illocality” starts with a poem titled “Parse” to prepare us for how we should treat the poems ahead. From there, all of Massey’s lines lay like bite size riddles on the page: petit fours at a funeral gathering?

Here’s another taste from “Third Floor”:

Birdsong next door
slipknots construction noise.

The day has its ballast.

But don’t shy away from the “riddles,” he doesn’t make you think too hard – that one is do-able, right? Massey seems to have a tight grip on how far he can push his metaphors. However, there are some poems that appear to parse the “meta- poetic.” “Meta-poetic” meaning poems about poems, or poems about writing poems. For example, in the last stanza of “Third Floor”-

watching the lines
that cross, that stain
and form a field
from the field
I forgot, winter forgot.

The “lines” might be the lines of the poem. And the “field” – paper?

“Polar Low,” which is toward the back of the book, is the poem I am treasuring most, today. This is a poem of terse, Zen like, couplets that pack a punch – think lake effect snow. I’m certain that’s what he’s describing, but you’ll have to get the book to read it for yourself. I like that the yellow trailer  in this poem makes me think childhood words of wisdom: don’t eat the yellow snow. LOL Anywho…

Massey’s poems are deep dives into place like none other. Nothing happens. Nothing moves. We only hear, and see, and think about things both visible and invisible. I had many aha moments while reading: I could see with my mind’s eye the images he’s painted .

If you’re into philosophy and place, I’m sure Joseph Massey’s chapbook is for you. But don’t just take my word, here’s what The New York Times had to say. As for me, More please!

Here’s Joe reading an untitled poem from “Illocality”: (More on Pennsounds)

Into The Mystic

I love that song! I should have named this fourth piece in my Alaska series Into The Mystic. Maybe I’ll dream Van Morrison tonight. But the title for this piece comes from another famous poet, Emily Dickinson – The Warf Is Still. It works, but, darn it, it should have been Into The Mystic.

Here’s a link to Van’s song. If you don’t know it, I think you’ll want to.

And here’s the lyrics:

Into The Mystic

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun

Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

And when that foghorn blows
I will be coming home

And when the foghorn blows
I want to hear it I don’t have to fear it

and I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And magnificently we will flow into the mystic

When that fog horn blows
You know I will be coming home

And when that fog horn whistle blows
I got to hear it I don’t have to fear it

and I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And together we will flow into the mystic

Come on, girl
Too late to stop now

Written by Van Morrison • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Music In Poetry

I don’t know a thing about music, not really. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I was the kid the first grade music teacher gave the tambourine to and sat in the far corner. LOL. Maybe that was ADD, but back in the 70’s they didn’t know about that.  Her lack of patience is painful to think about to this day. This might be the reason I cringe when music is talked about in relation to poetry.

It was difficult to get HTML to display House Of Eternity correctly, so what you see isn’t exactly what was intended. It is hoped the “music” comes across though, regardless of the spacing between what is being thought of as string notes on a cello – pluck    boing.  With less spacing could it be the “notes” are “heard” faster than the “notes” with more spacing? I hope it makes the poem a little dramatic, and even more non-sensical – maybe non-Suessical, but Dr. Suess rhymed more.

I still love Dr. Suess. My favorite book is “Oh The Thinks You Can Think.” I read it to my boys all the time when they were little. Sometimes I think I need to buy them a copy, now, to remind them “if only they try.”

Gertrude Stein must have been on my mind ,too, when this piece was written. She was all about how things sound rather than mean.

In a video, poet  Robert Hass said two lines in a poem are “being” lines, or lines that are grounding: in the body. And he said said 3 or more lines in a stanza are becoming lines: lines that are of the mind. I like that idea: a mixed number of lines per stanza in a poem must make it both being and becoming – like music, it is moving. So the other lines have one foot in the grave? 😦 They certainly aren’t American Sentences. LOL.

Thanks for reading! I’m always learning. A lot was certainly learned while writing this post.


House of Eternity
by Anni Johnson

The day starts with a bang.          pluck   boing   smack
Depression-era Lap-Landers lick
consciousness from cold toes.     pluck        boing       smack

I want to work, but it’s too hard to concentrate,
too painful to try.

pluck boing boing smack

I’m condemned to a life of books
whispering, This is what life’s about – laughing the way they do.

pluck       pluck

I lapse between two worlds
with a jerk. By my side
sits redemption on one hand,
and justification on the other –
no praise in sight.

Trying to purge,
trying to purge,
trying to heal open wounds,       pluck       boing
but lingering pus filled thoughts…   linger.

pluck   boing   boing   smack

She flashed in and flashed out of the blue.
A distance forever farther away,
never to be seen again.

I dream,
I dream,
I dream you into existence: pluck   boing   smack
a wily smile,
a devil’s quivering lips,
eyes that pierce my soul.   pluck       boing

You alone know Me – whoever that is…       smack!

Image credit: http://www.whatsupmag.com/events/96141/an-evening-of-renewal-a-celebration-of-poetry-and-music

Scrying Ghosts

What is your definition of poetry? The definition of poetry is up in the air for me. I can’t decide if I want to define poetry in a way that  includes verse, free verse, or prose poems – to rhyme or not to rhyme. If you’re in the same poetry boat as I am you might want to give the free Coursera online course, ModPo, a try. A new session begins September 10th. This will be my third year exploring all that ModPo offers from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson to modern day experimental poetry. There are no tests, and you can watch videos discussions any time you want. Once you’re signed up for ModPo,  you’ll always have access to the vast amount of information.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think.


Scrying Ghosts
by Anni Johnson

Ranunculus asiaticus, I found you
at the Frog Pond (not so small,
but largely filled with natural delights).

I spied your effervescent pinkness
in front of the cornbox: clever sandbox
that Mother wanted to play in, but I said, No!

I adored your sweetness – spring fever –
while Ma admired the bananas – crazy, $1 a bunch.
You could almost give them away at that price.

I liked your name. Wordsworth liked
your buttercup form so much
he had it carved in stone.

You reminded me of Shandy –
Tristram, not the drink, but the one
who, as a homunculus, was quite auspicious.

Now homunculus, there’s a thing:
little man at its root grows in darkness – arcane vessel –
like a soul imprisoned in the body.

But you’re Latin ranunculus, not like the little frogs
she once scared us with – they’re not so cute.
Funny you should enter my darkness

to dream forth light from delicate, crepe paper –
thin petals, looking like an origami masterwork
holding salvation.

The Most Eminent Of Idiots

“Anyone who reads at all diversely during these bizarre 1920s cannot escape the conclusion that a number of crazy men and women are writing stuff which remarkably passes for important composition among certain persons who should know better. Stuart P. Sherman, however, refused to be numbered among those who stand in awe and admiration of one of the most eminent of the idiots, Gertrude Stein. He reviews her Geography and Plays in the August 11 issue of the Literary Review of the New York Evening Post and arrives at the conviction that it is a marvellous and painstaking achievement in setting down approximately 80,000 words which mean nothing at all.” ~James Thurber

I don’t think the roaring 20’s has much on 21st century “Trumpism.”  What could get more bizarre than right here, right now?  I keep waiting for Trump to spout, “Is you is, or is you ain’t, my constituency?”

This poem, written several months back in an attempt to mimic Gertrude Stein, has been sufficiently rejected by every journal I thought might publish it. I feel it deserves at least a handful of public readings. After all, it does speak of ecopoetics and climate change. LOL

Can poetry keep up with the absurdity in American politics? Should poems have plots? How much mystery can you tolerate in a poem before you stop reading? Keats called the ability to live with unknowing “negative capability.” Rebecca Solnit talks eloquently about being able to sustain unknowing in her book of lyrical essays “Field Guide To Getting Lost,” 2005. Solnit is one of my all time favorite contemporary writers.

Thank you for visiting! Comments are always welcome.


Sor Juana’s Hummingbird  by Anni Johnson 

 They are mowing. He is mowing. She is mowing. Together they mow. Mowing they do together.

Often they mow. Often they mow together. Mowing often together they mow. They mow often together. Often together he and she mow endlessly.

Endlessly mowing oil. Oil. Oil endlessly mowing. Mowing oil. Mowing grass with oil. Oil.

Grass. Mowing. Mowing endlessly never knowing. Never knowing they are mowing. Never knowing they are mowing grass. Never knowing grass. Never knowing food. Never knowing grass food. Never knowing. Never knowing in the grass is food. Food in the grass. Grass food in the grass. Fast grass. Fast grass food they never know they mow. They never know they mow fast grass food. Food for him. Food for her. Food is in the fast grass. Food they need.

Food they need. They need food. They need fast food fast. In fast grass grows fast food for them. Fast food for them that travel far. Far from fast food. Far from fast food they search fast for fast food. They search for fast food. Fast food Sor Juana  once fed them fast.

Sor Juana once fed them sweet fast food. Sweet food. Sweet fast food. Nectar from gods she sweetly fed them. She sweetly fed them fast. She fed them fast food fast.

Frieda should have painted them. She should have painted them fast. Fast she should have painted them before they fled that land. Before he and she fled that land. Before they fled sweet fast food Frieda should have painted them. Before they fled toward oil mowing fast grass.

In spring they fled before she painted them. In the spring they fled to unknowing mowing fast food. They mow fast food. They travel far. Those that travel far sweetly need fast food they mow. Unknowingly they mow fast food.  They mow frequently fast. They mow fast frequently. Unknowing.

Who Am I?


In those quiet places sandwiched in daily chaos, who hasn’t asked their self “Who Am I?” I think most people busy their days trying hard not to think existential questions – unless you’re David Hood – but sooner or later…

I came across the poem “Who Am I,” penned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, during one of my daily internet haunts. Bonhoeffer was a Polish theologian and anti-Nazi dissident: ever seen the movie “Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace”? (It’s a good watch.) Two weeks before the end of WWII, Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging at Flossenburg Concentration Camp for plotting against Hitler – awful!  My husband is a big war history buff so I had seen the movie, but I had no idea Bonhoeffer was also a poet. I have read several of his poems online ; they’re all heavy existential hitters – with a Christian twist. But according to WIKI, Bonhoeffer saw the potential for a world that would be “Spiritual” rather than Christian, and I like that.

I am sharing Bonhoeffer’s poetry today hoping it will help us lift that slice of bread to look beneath the baloney.

Who Am I?
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
My throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely question of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine.”

*Featured photo: Sculpture by Edith Breckwoldt, The Ordeal.