You’ve surely seen all the fanfare on TNB lately about The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books, June 2012), a collection of essays, stories and some poetry on the topic of beauty. Thanks to the tireless efforts of editor Elizabeth Collins the book has emerged as a very beautiful physical object full of diverse, witty, engaging pieces. There has already been a fair bit written about the essays in this volume, but given my whole-hearted insistence that poetry is the queen of all forms of writing, I decided a look at Erato’s hand on the book is in order.

We’re proud to announce the publication of The Beautiful Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Collins, now available in trade paperback from TNB Books, the official imprint of The Nervous Breakdown.

The Beautiful Anthology can be purchased at Amazon.  To order your copy, please click right here.  (Note:  in the coming days, TBA will be available via other retailers like Powell’s and BN.com.  Ebook editions are also forthcoming.)

It’s spring, and all of you sexy people out there know just what I mean when I say, mmm-mm. It’s time for the return of the sexy.

The sun is bouncing brightly off that freshly waxed chest in front of you where its owner is parked enjoying a delicious shot of wheatgrass. He’s working on his computer like he’s got a novel brewing. Or maybe he’s a writer for GQ. He’s just made eye contact with you as if to say candidly, “I see you watching me being sexy over here. I, too, acknowledge your sexy.”

Oh, yeah.

That’s right. It’s been a long, cold run up here in the mountains, and I am happy to report that spring is finally in the air. The birds are birding, the chipmunks are chipmunking; and the bees…are beeing sexy. Yesterday, I was at a giant garage sale for my kid’s school. Helping out because volunteering is sexy. I didn’t end up doing much, but I did walk away with a great deal on a purple and black corset, which just goes to show, economy is sexy, too.

A lot has happened this last year. Grandpa got married. He’s 90 and she’s 96, but neither of them are a day over sexy. Together they witnessed the rise and fall of the USSR, the coming of age of Barbie, and the invention of the chocolate chip cookie. Had a preacher man say some words over them without actually signing a marriage license so they could be sexy together without getting their families all riled up over mingling their bank accounts. Last I heard, they had moved back to their single rooms over at the independent living center. A little space is sexy, too—oh yeah.

It’s spring and it’s time to be sexy. Two weeks ago, Slade Ham, Megan DiLullo, Uche Ogbuji, Richard Cox and Sam Demaris came up to our house. It had snowed 8 inches of fresh powder, so it wasn’t very sexy. Even so, we laughed, told stories, ate donuts and drank a lot of very sexy whiskey. At one in the morning, we broke out the kickboxing gear and sparred in the living room. I got the wind just about knocked out of me by a well-placed punch to the side by Slade. Brought me to my knees it was so sexy. Even Scott just shook his head from behind the video camera and didn’t rush to my defense. Megan put on some headgear like she was going to jump in but was eventually pulled back to the sofa by a 90 proof magnet. Uche broke out into some def poetry while Sam called us a bunch of high schoolers. Richard played Tiffany. There is nothing sexy about Tiffany. Donuts are sexy, though. Especially if you’re a dude made out of fried bread. Oh, yeah.

But Spring is in the air now, and all of those kinks have been smoothed over. No excuse to not be sexy. Even Simon Smithson and Zara Potts and the rest of you living down under don’t have to stop being sexy even though it’s well into autumn now for you. Autumn is a sexy word for fall. You’re down there and we’re up here and we’re passing like two sexy ships in the night. Passing the baton of sexy.

Don’t worry, though. We’ll have enough sexy in the northern hemisphere to carry you over. Nathaniel Missildine in France. David S. Wills in China. Steve Sparshott and James Irwin in England. Irene Zion over in Belgium(?) and Judy Prince somewhere in between. We’re creating a mesh network of sexy and beaming it south. Down below the earth’s belt. Now that’s sexy.

That’s right, Spring is in the air and it’s time to be sexy so slip out of those shoes and curl your toes deep into some warm sand somewhere. Wear something that ends in an ‘ini’. Order something cold that comes in a pineapple or coconut shell because drinks that come in their own skin are sexy. You know it. But it’s spring, so don’t worry too much about having to try. In spring, just about everything is sexy. In spring, even Tiffany is sexy.

So, keep on keepin’ on, wheatgrass boy. You’ve got a spot of green in the corner of your mouth there.

There you go.

Oh, yeah.

Just a quick note to say that two esteemed members of the TNB community are today wed: Judy Prince, styled ‘Squirrul’ by her new husband, and ‘Rodent,’ as you know him from his spare,but elegant and erudite participation on the comment boards.  The wedding took place today, 26 November 2010 at 1:30pm local time, at ‘The Lady of North’, St.Cuthbert’s Church in Darlington, UK.

There I was in Islington, England, in 2004 BR (Before Rodent), my first time in the UK.

I had chosen Islington on the whim of it being Tony Blair’s as well as Sir Walter Ralegh’s sometimes home. My trip’s purpose was to visit sites I was writing about for a play about Shakespeare the woman.

After a brief night’s hotel sleep in Islington, I was down in the lobby awaiting a rental car to drive from London up north to Salisbury where I’d arranged a three-week stay in a B&B. The 2 ½-hour drive ended up taking 5 ½ hours—-and I was WAY alert the entire time.

The rental car deliverer handed me the key to a 5-speed Vauxhall, showed me where to put the key in the ignition and said: “You’re driving to Salisbury . . . and you’ve never driven on the left side of the road . . . seated on the right side of the car?” Exit a head-shaking rental guy.

Since the taxicabs behind me had begun blinking their headlights and honking, I did a quick seatbelt buckling, found the windshield wipers switch (it was raining, of course), headlights switch, heater switch, clutch, brake and gas pedals—-but not the gear shift lever. AH . . . on my left, of course! So I shifted up and left as the diagram showed for first gear, goosed the gas, and the car died (I later found out I’d shifted into third gear).

More big black taxicabs entered the little roundabout and piled up behind me. To get out to the street, the only way was to squeeze to the left. So I did, fully expecting a collision and arrest. Then I remembered The Rule: ALWAYS DRIVE ON THE LEFT.

Now I was at a traffic light with no car to follow and imitate. And I’d been told to turn right. Rolling down my window, I said to the poor man about to walk in front of me: “When the light turns green, can I turn right?” (I had too much pride to add: “Even though all the cars in those lanes are FACING ME!!?” He looked at the signs and said, “Yes, there are no signs prohibiting a right turn,” and walked past me as the light turned green. All I wanted was my mommy. Despite being dead, she encouraged me to proceed . . . perhaps so that I could more quickly join her.

The only way to avoid all those cars facing me on the right was to go beyond them nearly onto the pavement across the street—-which I did. I then was in the far left lane and at another light . . . again with no one to follow.

The car died again as I started up in third gear. Cars passed me (on the right) in frustration. A white van got ahead of me, and I followed its every move through central London (and several red lights) to Lewisham, where I lost it.

I’d gotten used to the strange first gear, but then became aware that I’d gone through Lewisham twice, so I stopped at a 7-11 kind of place for directions. A couple of men stood at a tall table drinking coffee.

“Does either of you gentlemen know how I can get to Salisbury?” I said.

“SAWLSBREE?” said the neatly dressed older man.

“No, Salisbury . . . spelled S A L I S B U R Y.”

“Right, Sawlsbree. I used to live there, but couldn’t tell you how to get there.”

“No problem,” said a much younger, work-uniformed man. “First take EYE TOY—-”

I had expected motorway letters and numbers, not body parts. So I pointed to my eye, and said, “EYE?”

He said, “No, no: EYE, EYE!”

“You mean “H”?” I asked.

“No, EYE!” he said.

“The first letter of the alphabet,” interrupted the other man.

“Oh! . . . ‘A’!!” I said.

“Yes, EYE TOY to M25 . . .” and the young man wrote very good directions on the back of my business card.

Then I asked where the loo was and thanked them.

On the way out I remembered not being able to get the car into reverse, so I stopped another man waiting to buy a bottle of soda.

He met me at my car and watched my futile efforts to shift up and to the left. We traded places, he fiddled around, then said, “Pull the shifter’s collar down, then do as you did.” Sure enough, it worked.

I then followed folks leaving the place (at the left exit) and aimed for EYE TOY.

I got lost several times and asked for directions, but at last, at nightfall and in vigorous rain, I was on the M1 motorway from London to Salisbury.

I hugged the left lane with huge lorries, and prayed, as cars speeded past in the right lanes. Lorries passed other lorries (on the right of course) and I continued to pray. At one point I thought my panic would overcome me, but I couldn’t imagine negotiating a stop on the side of the motorway. Then I noticed right in front of me a lorry with “NORFOLK” printed on the back. I knew it was Norfolk, England, but took it as a sign of hope representing my home in Norfolk, VA.

Nothing could break my optimism after that. I arrived safely at the B&B several hours later and had a marvelous three weeks in England.

I also racked up £200 in parking fines.

Stephen Moss, one of eleven candidates for Professor Of Poetry at Oxford University, has given TNB the following interview, just two days before voting begins on 21 May.

Moss is the Guardian‘s candidate for the P O P, and he’s a regular writer there.  A year ago, he explained to Guardian readers why he is standing for the Oxford poetry job, and in the article you can read or hear him read some of his poems:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/05/oxford-poetry-job-ruth-padel

Voting for the P O P closes 18 June.  The winner will assume duties in the autumn, primarily of delivering 15 lectures at Oxford University.

Last year, Derek Walcott, the front-runner, bowed out because the campaign had turned ugly. Ruth Padel won the election, but resigned after a few days, having admitted to alerting newspaper journalists about Walcott’s possible sexual misconduct with students.

The election campaign’s turmoil resulted in two new election procedures:  electronic voting, and voting for a month rather than a day. Previously, voters (only Oxford graduates who attended graduation) had to be present at Oxford to vote, and they had to wear their Oxford gowns.

Stephen Moss answers my questions in the following email interview:

1) Are you running for the position so that people will call you POP?


Yes, I have to admit the title does appeal. Even poets have ego.


2) What kinds of arguments are you having with the other candidates?

So far, all very good-humoured. Only slight disagreement was with Roger Lewis. I asked him to spread sexual innuendos about me to generate some publicity, but to my surprise he said no.

3) You’ve said that you will give the POP stipend to “needy poets and writers, and to good literary causes” as well as establish a yearly two-week poetry festival in Oxford (not Oxfam) and buy anyone who votes for you a drink. How will they prove that they’ve voted for you—–or is that a minor issue?

I will of course trust them. I’m assuming my vote will be so small, the round will not be too expensive.

4) When you deliver your 15 lectures (not all on the same day, we hope), will you be accompanying yourself on the lyre?

No, I will employ the London Philharmonic.

5) Will you need an assistant POP?

No, I want it to be completely dictatorial.


6) Would you recommend the meals at any of the colleges at Oxford U?

I was at Balliol in the mid-1970s and the foods was fine: spag bol for about 31p, I seem to recall, and nice desserts for 12p. I got very fat, and still am a bit on the puddingy side.

7) Which of the other candidates has the most attractive haircut?

An important question. I have not looked closely, but like the severity of Geoffrey Hill’s style.

8) Which previous POP most intrigues you?

I like Auden’s lines – the lines on his face, I mean. His poetry I can take or leave.

9) Are you wearing a sandwich board?

Not at the moment. Conventional jeans and short-sleeved summer shirt.

10) Would you live in/at Oxford or commute?

I would have a suite at the Randolph. I will be in Oxford on 3 June for an event at the Phoenix Picture House featuring other candidates (starts 8pm) and will be checking in then, fully expecting to be in residence for five years. Thank you so much for your interest and support.

Yours in poetry, SM


By Judy Prince


When dear Rodent said, “I fancy a crumpet,” I realized for the first time that I had fallen in love with A Foreign Person.

How could I tell this darling brilliant man, this magnet of my heart, that he sounded like Mary Poppins?

Instead, I asked, “What’s a crumpet?” Thus ensued five minutes of UK/USA comparisons of biscuits, cookies, pancakes, flapjacks, bread, toast and crackers. I concluded: “OK, a crumpet is an English muffin.”

Then Rodent said, “I’m feeling peckish,” and I maidenly blushed—until I found out that “peckish” means hungry (something to do with chickens?).

Rodent not only talks funny about food, he eats funny, too. On our first date I didn’t notice how oddly he ate because after he’d taken several bites and stopped to talk, I said, “Are you going to finish your spaghetti?” and commandeered his plate.

Many meals later, though, I could see that Rodent handles his cutlery like a pro—-a really strange pro. Three times a day, he performs food surgery at the dining table, and I get to watch, fascinated.

Rodent’s a cutlery wizard. He never puts down his knife and fork, never shifts them from hand to hand. He slices sausages, broccoli and potatoes into tidy bits and knifely smooshes them onto his fork in layered packets. The more food groups on the plate, the more layered the packets.

“Does everybody in the UK eat like this?” I asked.

“I suppose so. What other way is there?”

Clearly, he hadn’t been watching me, bowl in hand, spooning up my meal like one big stew.

Which brings us to the Spoon Conspiracy and the Eyes Down Conspiracy.

There’s a kind of cutlery conspiracy going on in the UK, but like other grand old conspiracies, the perps’ progeny have forgotten why they’re conspiring. Actually, it’s more of a discrimination than a conspiracy. People in the UK have an unconscious hatred—or fear—of spoons. And, being UKers, they don’t talk about it (thus, the Eyes Down Conspiracy).

My first night out with dear Rodent’s grownup kids, we dined at a terrific Thai restaurant. It became evident that spoons were outcasts or outlaws in the hierarchy of eating implements. They were brought only with some of the “puds” (i.e., puddings, meaning desserts).

Before we ate, and seeing no spoon at my plate, I raised my hand to signal the server. Instantly, Rodent and his children cast their eyes down, not really focusing on anything in particular. They were apparently occupied with some thought or feeling.

The server, smiling, came quickly, and Rodent and his children looked up courteously. I asked the server for a spoon, at which everybody looked down again until she returned with one.

I said to the server, “This is a tablespoon. Could you please bring me a teaspoon—a smaller spoon?” All eyes went down again until she returned with a smaller spoon and took away the tablespoon.

“What’s up with this no-spoon thing?” I asked Rodent.

“We don’t need them—-except sometimes for puds.”

“But how do you scoop up food juices and gravies and such?”

“It just isn’t a problem,” he said.

When I pushed the topic further, he said, “Hmmmm…..I guess sometimes we use bits of bread to soak them up.” And that was that.

The meal had been fabulous, but I couldn’t finish mine, so I stuck my hand up for the server. All eyes cast down until she appeared. I said, “Could you please bring me a doggie bag?” All eyes down.

I had to explain to the confused server what a doggie bag was (apparently UK restaurants don’t do doggie bags), and several minutes later she brought a brown bag and a plastic bag. My loading the food into the brown bag caused considerable anguish for Rodent and his kids whose eyes had to be down for the entire uncomfortable procedure. With no eye contact going on, I found it impossible to talk until after I’d loaded the doggie bag.

The next time we had a night out with Rodent’s kids I considered taking a spoon, but refrained. This time we were at a huge, busy Chinese restaurant. It proved the best possible place for an extraordinary Eyes Down event.

Once fitted out with two spoons next to my chopsticks, I tucked into the chicken-cashew entrée—-and came up with a spoonful containing a little blue square ceramic tile.

“Good God! Look at this! I could’ve broken a tooth on it!” I passed my spoon to Rodent who inspected it with shock and horror and passed it along to his kids.

My hand shot up for the server. All eyes cast down. I felt betrayed. Wouldn’t any of the family come to my defense? Did I have to handle this all alone? Would any of them ever look up so I could see their expressions? Why wouldn’t anyone look at anyone? And why didn’t anybody talk?

The server appeared and I showed her the ceramic tile on my spoon. I had to repeat that it might have chipped my tooth or even caused me to choke to death. She excused herself and said she’d be right back.

She returned with the manager who solicitously listened to me and gave considerable thought to the situation. At last he pronounced: “We are so sorry for what happened. We don’t know how it happened, and it never has happened before. Of course, you’ll not be charged for your meal, and we will bring you another entrée of your choice.”

Everybody at the table was happy now. We talked about my “free” meal and how delicious their entrees were, and I was delighted with my replacement dish, an abundant helping of crispy duckling which I couldn’t finish.

I signaled for the server. Eyes Down.

She came (Eyes Up), and I said, “Could you bring me a doggie bag?”

In Chicago, back in 1998 BR (Before Rodent), I needed a little hole filled in my lower front tooth. My dentist had retired, so I finger-walked through the local phonebook for another one. Parkside Dental Group on 57th Street sounded just fine. I got an appointment with Dr Yank, as I will call him.

Dr Yank was a happy, chatty guy, and needed only to make a plaster cast of the tooth. While he prepped the plaster and tooth, he asked, “What do you do for a living?”

I began to respond, but he continued, “I love to interpret dreams. How about you? Do you interpret dreams?”

I began to respond, but he continued, “Last night I had an incredible 3-D Cinerama dream . . .” and he described what seemed like an MGM musical peopled with cows—grazing cows, talking cows, singing cows, dancing cows, lots of cows—and his ex-wife. “Now, just what do you think those symbols meant?” asked Dr Y.

I declined to comment on the obvious, but he didn’t seem to notice. Then he said, “All set now. You just relax for a couple minutes while the plaster hardens, and I’ll be right back, OK?” He disappeared, probably to whiff some painkiller, I decided.

Years passed while I memorized the wallpaper.

I glanced at my watch and noted that Dr Yank had been gone for ten minutes. My jaw ached from the awkward cast.

I yelled: “WHEH ISH EH EH-ISH??!!”

Dr Y popped right into the room, happier than ever, grabbed the cast’s edge, pulled . . . and it didn’t budge.

Time was not our friend, and we both knew that my tooth and the cast might never be separated. Grabbing again and again with no result, Dr Y reached for what I’d call Really Big dental pliers, and clamped them to the cast.

For a heart-churning second or two, I thought he might plant his foot on my chest for better leverage, but he just—with every muscle, sinew and nerve—YANKED, and, despite my best efforts, my head rapidly followed his direction.

I felt a TREMENDOUS suction, heard a “POP”, and expected to see him holding my tooth nicely embedded in plaster, looking like the ashtray my son had made in kindergarten. But, no, Dr Yank was holding the cast, and I still had my tooth.

When I’d amply rinsed my mouth with water, and my shaky fingers had somewhat calmed, I said the first words Dr Yank had ever heard me say (articulately, at least): “I don’t think we want anybody to know about this, do we? You surely realize that you’ll never see me again—nor my money to pay for this little visit.”

Dr Yank seemed overcome with exhaustion, and, uncharacteristically, said nothing.

When I called Parkside Dental Group a month later about the bill I’d never pay, they told me that Dr Y was “no longer with us”, which I took to mean that he had found, or been forced to find, greener pastures, or that he had died.

Consider this amazing fact: Cookbooks and diet books are equally popular.  It’s like some kind of compulsive reading-guilt:  “Make the perfect carrot cake!” and then “Watch inches vanish while you read the tabloids!”  I guess it’s inevitable that reading cookbooks leads to reading diet books.  Makes perfect sense, actually.

I’m convinced, as well, that there’s a causal connection between Do It Yourselfing and divorce.  If you and your partner start upgrading your kitchen or bathroom, you’ll find yourselves washing dishes in the bathtub and peeing into ziploc bags, at which point you realise that major house projects are as nurturing of your relationship as “open” marriages and regularly flossing together.

Similarly, I think that supermarket shopping screws up our love lives.  It’s a more potent weapon of love destruction than the silent and stubborn debate about which one of you will install a new roll of toilet paper on the springy thingy or whether a man remembers to put down the toilet seat so his wife doesn’t crack her coccyx when she sits.

I’ll go so far as to say that supermarket shopping destroys our sex hormones.  It may have something to do with the automatic doors.  I mean, if automatic doors are so harmless and wonderful, why don’t we have them installed in our homes?  Is it because the dog would be freaked or the cat would perversely walk by the door every two minutes?  Well, yeah, but…I think it’s also because the electric chicanery in automatic doors frays the nuclei of our estrogen and testosterone cells.  Folks get edgy and irritable, especially since they’ve already swallowed their anger in the supermarket parking lot while furiously wanting to flip the bird at someone taking 12 minutes to maneuver out of a parking space or somebody coming the wrong way and swinging neatly into the place they’d been signaling to get into.

The fact is, people get all weird at the supermarket, and it starts in the parking lot.  Gossip has it that a secret supermarket CEOs club has committed to regularly shrinking the size of each parking space.  CEOs got the idea for this while seated on airplanes in Business Class and glancing back at squished passengers in Coach writhing under their seatbelts, their knees crushed to their chests.

Here’s a scary thought: Now that airlines don’t provide meals except to Business Class folk, what will this mean, equivalently, for your average supermarket shopper when the CEOs advance their aims?  One hates to imagine.  Maybe there’ll be a Business Class section in each supermarket.  It would definitely have no queue, just a spritely “helper” to roll your Business Class cart to a mini-spa and enter your grocery items while another “helper” administers a pedicure and provides aromatherapy. The rest of the shoppers will be herded into pens like sheep, shorn of their valuables and clothing, then chucked out and tossed down a conveyor belt with their grocery bags hung around their necks.  They’ll be able to buy back their clothing the following week at a “VINTAGE CLOTHING–HALF OFF” sale.

Early in your supermarket-shopping experience you’ll find that a leisurely stroll down the aisles will have you swerving to avoid temporary cardboard displays seeking to attract your attention.  Like we need more attention-attracting.  Just let me hang on to my grocery list and cart and roll up and down old familiar aisles of old familiar items hoping nobody stops in front of me–ever!

There’s another truth that pains me to say, but it needs saying.

Here it is.  You see, dear Rodent is actually a menace–but only at the supermarket, and mostly with “trolleys”, as they call shopping carts in England.  One can only marvel that this sweet, ever-patient, ever-generous paragon of all virtue has developed a blind spot for everything about trolleys.  To put it more precisely, Rodent has a blind spot for everyone and everything EXCEPT HIS trolley.

I found it my civic duty to stay close to him, starting at the early stage of trolley selection, gently policing him as he plowed through the aisles causing folk to leap out of the way in horror, grab their little kids and Englishly pretend not to notice the Trolley Beast in their midst.

Eventually I insisted on pushing the trolley myself while Rodent ran around the aisles gathering and clutching tomatoes, shortbread, oatcakes and tinned tuna.  He was not a happy camper, though, as he tried to find me, a leisurely shopper, and the trolley.  I tended to drift over to the lingerie, socks, and “$1 for everything” displays, despite promising to meet him at the “Wet Fish” counter.

At last we could see that for me supermarket shopping was a kind of “night out”, whereas for Rodent it was an hour-long descent into Hades, after which he’d have to smoke his pipe for 80 seconds rather than 20, then he could face unloading groceries from the boot and carrying them into the house–after which, running on raw nerves, he’d help me put things into the fridge, freezer and pantry, and then he’d flee upstairs with a carrier bag of sour cream ‘n onion crisps, Fry’s Orange Cream bars, brownies, and new packets of pipe tobacco.

Supermarket managers in England have analysed the personal chaos and tragedy that grocery-shopping has caused, and they’ve cleverly started home deliveries that are quick, efficient, cheap, and as effective at saving marriages as babysitters and massage (exempting cases of folks who’ve massaged the babysitter).

Finally, dear Rodent and I decided to get groceries delivered, thus eliminating weekly Supermarket Hell.

Then we found out when we got to the USA three months ago that supermarkets here, as I’d thought, don’t deliver.  They refer you to Meals on Wheels, a service for which we’re not qualified…yet.

So for three months now Rodent and I have been shopping at the supermarket again.  I think he’s happily adjusting to the experience because they bag your groceries–a service not offered in England, and one which he found distressing, especially the torture of trying to open those white plastic bags.  I told him to just spit on his finger and rub the top of the bag.  No luck.  Turns out he’d been trying to open the bottom of the bag.

The real reason Rodent has relaxed about shopping, though, is that now I just drop him off at the door, turn a blind eye to his wild trolleying, and am amazed at how soon he’s back in the car, all the goodies tucked neatly into the trunk.

It’s a trifle worrying that I don’t recognise most of the items he has bought, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and happy hormones.

Briefly, how would you characterise yourself?


Could you expand that a bit?

Intransigent, bloody-minded, immovable—

Any positive spin to it?

—unswayable, willful, unmanageably selfish—

Let’s try another tack.  Could you list other qualities that characterise you?

I’d rather not just now.

Have it your way, then.


Interview ended.

Wait—I want to talk about how stubbornness is a trait of poems.

Be my guest.

You’ve got an attitude now.

What else could you possibly expect?

Here it is, then:   Each poem’s like a little stubborn person.

[5-second pause]

Would you like to expand that thought?

Why don’t you expand it?

Because it’s your interview, darling.

I hardly think your thoughts would be hugely different from mine.

Look, why don’t you just take over the interview?  You’re not the least bit serious.

Quite the contrary.  I’m into seriousness and plan to stay there for an hour or so.

Well, I  don’t plan to stay here for an hour or so!  Quite frankly, we’ve gotten off to a bad start, not to mention your rudeness.  Quite off-putting, that.

Each poem is a little willful being.  Like a person, a poem is conceived as a bristly, bursting whole.  It wants flesh and daylight.  The poem may not be understood or welcomed by the poet.  Nevertheless, poet and poem find themselves searching one another…..immersing themselves in themselves…..plotting, bucking, wiggling, debating.

I don’t quite get this.

I mean—like us—poem and poet feel that they are two beings, but in their best wrestling times they work together as one.  They adjust to being one, midwifing the poem, getting it to breathe on its own.  The poet has lost an ego in those glorious moments.

Why do you write poems?

Among other reasons, to winningly distill wisdom.

Is poetry your first writing love?

It may be becoming that, though I love the publicness, the sociableness, of plays, and I yearn to write wise plays.

You’ve previously said that you came to writing poems in order to write better plays.

Yes.  And it has been thrilling as well as sometimes frustrating.  Fortunately for me, research for a play set in Elizabethan England has freed me somewhat from the constraints of present-day word use.  That is, several Elizabethan poets and playwrights stretched and flexed the use of words.  They imagined words playing wildly with one another in order to fix a point in hearers’ heads.  An example from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Act V, scene ii:


Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I’ th’ posture of a whore.

From Merchant of Venice, Act V, scene i, Lorenzo to Jessica:

Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

Other writers or poems that have thrilled you?

Oh yes.  Michael Alexander translating Beowulf [Alexander’s The First Poems in English, Penguin Classics, 2008].  Here, lines 208-217, page 77, of Beowulf:

The prince had already picked his men
from the folk’s flower, the fiercest among them
that might be found.  With fourteen men,
sought sound-wood: sea-wise Beowulf
led them right down to the land’s edge.

Time running on, she rode the waves now
hard in by headland.  Harnessed warriors
stepped on her stem; setting tide churned
sea with sand, soldiers carried
bright mail-coats to the mast’s foot,
war-gear well wrought; willingly they shoved her out,
thorough-braced craft, on the craved voyage.

Other poems, poets?

Definitely.  Yeats.  For the lift, passion, lilt, music and messages.

And Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill—leaping with joy and sharp regret, looking back and into his life.  Excerpts from Fern Hill:

And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away
. . .

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder
. . .

I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
. . .

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days  . . .
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Beautiful!  Thank you very much, indeed.

No, thank you!

Old English makar word-hoards
hear blowing branches
a catch in the swan’s neck
a top cloud throwing down wisdom
to weathered men, sharp-eyed
for nature’s needs, political turns

all must know the old
the ships and oars and leaving—
wife on the rock who turns sharp, dry-eyed
pulls carrots and fear from the earth

none can be blind to heroes’ sacrifices
or unborn babies die and die
until they come to term
through a knowing womb

how to give, how to hear, how to see
how to tell the trestles of listening folk
who plow and dig, who turn the earth back
to a new seed


(MAKARSMAKERS OF POETRY, published in Poems2, Phantom Rooster Press, 2009.)

To buy Judy Prince’s Poems2, please email Robin Hamilton, publisher of Phantom Rooster Press.

In photo of Judy Prince, the “Sunset I,” oil painting is by Patti Meyers, at London Square Gallery, Norfolk, VA.

on a castle-cliff
St. Kilda’s sharp drop to the sea
I am wrapped in my wings
watching men climb, gather our eggs,
400 soon-birds in every basket

before this, ruled and ruling,
I led men from mountaintops
to sail above floods and floating roofs

I used my mother’s telescope
father’s resignation
Hitler’s ignorant cave of choices
for my rocket-bombs

I wanted space

now I fold the sun underwing
spin clouds and valleys
but am earthed in the commonest aim
to evade the fowler who reaches for me
my body for winter food
bones for tools

we test ourselves on sliding rock
at the edge, at the top
for we must live and breed
let go and walk space

we are all St. Kildans today
a timeless cosmos
the experiment’s first stage
without explosives or fuel
—gliders, silent

© by Judy Prince.  Poem was originally published in Poems 2 (Phantom Rooster Press, 2009)