All posts tagged: Poetry Feature

April 2017 Poetry Feature

At The Common, we’re celebrating Poetry Month with new work by five of our contributors.


Fayum Portrait [Deal]

I’ve sent a map on wax paper–
                    What he loves arrayed as clumsy petals.
                            If it arrives,
someone will ink it in his back,
                                   so it will go with him
like a paw stuffed in a casing,
boardwalk mojo to ward off the hail of RPG, AK,

        FOB after FOB, Amputee Ward, TBI, Arlington.

Quasi-offering­ part-collateral, part-sympathetic,
        as when he dabbed his thumb in red paint

                    brushed it under his eye, then mine, a contagion

to assuage what’s left,
        as if one’s suffering staves another’s,
                    as if the animal might want it back.

        The deal– if he makes it, I’ll lie down on the table.

Flower, flag, fist­– he’ll draw whatever he wants
        over my chest. If not, I’ll etch it in my face.

                    One day, our skins will say
what we wanted from each other.

        Once a body owns a thing it offers it back.


Fayum Portrait [Martins]

Sometimes standing beside him,
        I hear the wind whistling through

                my brother, and martins drinking
        through their porous wings.

I mean, seems to, or I hear
                that way, and forget he was nursed

                                by centaurs, almost drowned
in armor by the god-hand. But if I place

a light against him, evidence­–
                tight hollow lines. In theory,

        they run unto physics. In a backyard,
                it hurts where light writes itself,

where hurt coils like a river slacking into time,
        where I make the river a field

                                and let the field go.

James Hoch is the author of A Parade of Hands and Miscreants.  He is Professor of Creative Writing at Ramapo College of NJ and Guest Faculty at Sarah Lawrence, and lives in the Hudson Valley.



Things I Will Never Say to Mr. DJ

You ask me, How young do you think is too young for me to date?

and I feel Oba’s machete slicing her flesh, see
amaryllis bloom pink, shield the place where her ear used to be.

I want you
to not be stupid

to hear my voice and see
a pashmina scarf dyed in Oshun’s irises to

look at me and feel
goats singing soft gold songs to

touch me and hear
ashes exfoliating your skin

to smell the chasm between us and taste
dancers whirling to drums inside calabashes
carried from Yorubaland to Trinidad.

I want you
to remember the lovely couple we made,
man and woman stopped by strangers on the street—
(ain’t black love beautiful?)
admirers we never corrected—then touch
the tips of your picket fence dreams and smell
curried mango bowing at my altar on a Thursday.

Mariam Williams is a Kentucky writer living in Philadelphia and pursuing an MFA in creative writing and a certificate in public history from Rutgers University-Camden. Her poetry has been published in The Feminist Wire, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Bozalta. Mariam currently is working on a chapbook that retells stories of silenced and condemned women of the Bible and on a memoir that explores intersections of faith, family, and feminism in her life. 



Two Women

I’ve watched the past
chew through her dreams.

The way a glass falls onto stone.
The way blood soaks cotton.

Thunder shook us –
we had to build in the dark flashes.
I could feel her heart beat in my fingers.
Shower of red leaves in the wind.

She held on to me
when they put the needle through her lip.

The triumph of knotweed and yarrow –
we took hold.

Margins rubbed away.
Her secrets crawled

under the house like an animal.
Inside – no tool bench,

no Craftsmen,
no master, no den,

no dresses in the closet
no crib in the attic.
Only our hands.
Only our mouths.

Alison Prine’s collection of poems, Steel, won the Cider Press Review Book Award and was released in 2016. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, FIELD, Hunger Mountain, and Prairie Schooner among others. She lives in Burlington, Vermont where she works as a psychotherapist.



Domestic Nocturne

Tomorrow I fly east; my wife flies west.
Divided aims, a shared bed.  A shared
darkness, wakeful with the prospect
of traveling.  I hold a glass of wine
to settle me, as she lies beside me,
so quiet I can hear her silence
as the attempt to fall asleep, to loosen
tensions our daughter tightly wound,
whose bedtime stories’ last “The End”
falls like a final curtain, a tragic period
to the breathless run-on sentence of her day.

I study the nightfall in our room;
how darkness opens as my eyes adjust,
till it seems the room itself has tasted
what light there is, and savors it—
though it’s me who eagerly takes it in:
the fog of painted wall, mass of bed
and bureau, dark starfish of ceiling fan.
Soft yellow auras, behind windowshade
and door, seem to frame the darkness—
like gold frames that Whistler made
(the painter I’m leaving home
to study), to frame his studies
of the coming on of night.

I want to write this down, this poise,
this moment hung between two days,
this quiet quickening; but switching on the light
would spoil it, and roil my wife awake.
When it became too dark to paint
the London riverscape, Whistler learned
to memorize the scene, committing to his mind
the river’s glow against the shapes of shadows
on the far bank, the pinprick gold of gaslights.

He could dedicate his memory
to his art.  And yet found so forgettable
his own children—infants bundled
to orphanage, his grown son barely
acknowledged.  And how far, tomorrow,
my wife will travel to receive
an embryo—all we could do to conceive—
a composition of cells that carries within
a possible child.  And again, the familiar pull
between the work I love (this expectant week
of haunting galleries), and love for my family.

But really, what choice?  I love
both ways; so what if either
makes me long for the other?  For now,
let me commit to memory
the gloom and glimmer of this room.
In my hand, the glass of wine collects
an ember of light I barely see, as I barely hear
her breath, now a rhythm of rest.
Tomorrow, we travel.  Tonight,
I’m more like my daughter, riding on
my waking, thrilled by this three-day-old, cheap,
bottom-of-the-bottle wine, as Art and Life—
the long and the short of it—bicker like Gods
above the mythic vessel of my bed.


Place Names of the South Plains

They named the towns for what they saw,
which wasn’t much: Plains,
Shallowater, Brownfield
Sometimes they found a wrinkle
of irony, a little grin
against grimness: Earth, Muleshoe,
. Land so flat
the highest point might be hats
of a settler or two,
like Floydada, Idalou

If they were to return today,
those founders, what would they find
to name? Maybe they would see
Shutdown, Allgone, or Onepump;
or the metroplex of Moved:
North Moved, South Moved, West Moved
and then the remarkable
Stillgoing, and Holdover.

And because it’s hard to imagine
a place without imagining yourself
in it, I wonder, if they saw my car
parked, looking like the bubble
in some vast spirit level,
and me, squinting across a dun expanse
that seems to serve no human aim
but to anchor a round horizon,
and if they asked me its name,
would I tell them, Revery, or Lost?

William Wenthe’s fourth book of poems, God’s Foolishness, was published by LSU Press in April 2016.  He has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission on the Arts, and two Pushcart Prizes. He teaches at Texas Tech University.



Lines Written at Tyrone Guthrie

Two hours rambling over gorse-studded pasture. I’m hoarse
from shouting yellow yellower than the sun and more vanilla
than aether! Even the swans honk their approval of my out-
and-about and general brightening of the disposition. In this
country where every second shadow’s attached to a sinner,
they drink to excess but follow the hedgerows and stumble home
for dinner. Agnostic as I am, I haven’t talked to god
along a nature trail, nor met a god I ever liked that wasn’t
in a lotus posture: not Buddha – for I’m fond of women
and prefer Guanyin meditating amidst the marsh marigolds
or Mary, cross-legged, sniffing roses in a topiary manger,
or someone out of time like Gaia-Tellus who I believe
as I believe the Earth is round and spinning on a phallus.
I’m lost. We’re lost. God cast us out when Modernists
miscast him or wished him dead. And he’s been dead
ever since, or turned his back on us, a black monolith
in space the greatest telescope can’t penetrate. We’ve lost
the light from that old signal that goes back before the Big
Bang. That’s why our postmodernists obsessively observe
the sky for signs of icy H2O in distant universes and track back
now almost to the blast of the first Big Whimper, perhaps
just a temper-tantrum God’d thrown from another unbelieving
swarm of stars and planets, our parallel, our oldest lesson before
our sun was warm. Hell, what can I know beyond the mute
swan’s honk who, if his name were true, would be original
as silence, or sin, or sun, though I’m told there’s a hiss and hum
from the gases. We’re perfect asses here on earth. What’s it worth
to know that gods are gone, ghosts are phony, the fore-known
and the after-known are ignorant of us and us of them? It’s worth
my life, I guess, my sixty years vexed by the cradle that rocked me
from my first foundations, to my earnest vernal search, to my selva
oscura in the dark woods of middle life, to this very moment
growing always closer to the age of god who is ageless, unless
I clap my hands and scare off the swans and sing for all I’m worth,
though it be nothing, a yellow stain and sting along the hedgerow home.

Neil Shepard’s sixth and seventh books of poetry were both published in 2015: Hominid Up (Salmon Poetry, Ireland) and a full collection of poems and photographs, Vermont Exit Ramps II, (Green Writers Press, Vermont). His poems appear online at Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Poem-A-Day (from the Academy of American Poets), as well as in several hundred literary magazines. He taught for many years in the BFA writing program at Johnson State College in Vermont and edited the literary magazine Green Mountains Review for a quarter-century. These days, he teaches poetry workshops at Poets House in Manhattan.


Sarah WhelanApril 2017 Poetry Feature

March 2017 Poetry Feature

At The Common we’re welcoming spring with new poetry by our contributors. (Be sure to listen to the audio link to Megan Fernandes’ “White People Always Want to Tell Me…,” read by the author.)

Sarah WhelanMarch 2017 Poetry Feature

February 2017 Poetry Feature

Please welcome back TC contributors Elizabeth Hazen, Jonathan Moody, Daniel Tobin, and Honor Moore (whose poem “Song,” published in the first issue of The Common, was reprinted in Best American Poetry 2012). We’re also delighted to welcome Gerard Coletta, who is making his first appearance in The Common.

Julia PikeFebruary 2017 Poetry Feature

January 2017 Poetry Feature


Please welcome Holly Burdorff, John Davis Jr., Nicholas Friedman, and Matt Salyer—four poets who are new to our pages, and welcome back TC contributor Tina Cane, the new Poet Laureate of Rhode Island.

Julia PikeJanuary 2017 Poetry Feature

December 2016 Poetry Feature

New poems from our contributors: please welcome newcomers to The Common, Mik Awake and Elizabeth Scanlon, and welcome back L. S. Klatt and Ben Mazer.

Julia PikeDecember 2016 Poetry Feature

October 2016 Poetry Feature

This month, we are featuring a collaboration between poet Tina Cane and visual artist Esther Solondz, in response to Elena Ferrante’s fiction. Their work in full will be featured in the book, Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante from Skillman Avenue Press in November.


Letter for Elena Ferrante: Cosa Nostra 







Our thing is the story     a 23-day affair     or an affair at 23

summer on an island     or lust in a closet     everything entirely

made up     from two halves of not enough     the geometry of love

makes a tenuous equation     any way you write it     I will read it

as confidant and friend     for what is friendship     if not a story

we agree to share     what is family     country or faith

when the truth is unfair     we can tell it slant     call it our thing


Letter for Elena Ferrante: Flirt 







Not on Twitter     not my lover     not named or made famous for nothing

but for words you won’t claim     same as my origins     traced to a single kiss

with which you lead me through      a series of rooms     murky in Neapolitan light

like water where lust     like drowning is a baptism     and flesh rubbed raw

from factory work     is how meat flirts with death     and the floor’s

all wet     with a red     we  conspire to call velvet

Forever yours,


Letter for Elena Ferrante: Falcons

As the dream expands     as only a dream can     spontaneous and unaccountable

we could covet the neighbor     or kill the dog     break dishes in our minds

either way     we are flying     for a craft wants nothing     but to work

released from speech     complete to unfurl its days     in transition

and silence     as a falcon would     gliding majestically

just out of frame     beheld     but not beholden



Letter for Elena Ferrante: Frenemy 

Instruct me on the workings of love     dear friend     for all its brilliant parroting

the ode is a one-way street     and I am not one      to suffer unanswered letters

with grace     or the textbook text reply of yep     with no flicker of rage

to write is to want     and I have     shed the old haunts with some regret

my people my neighbors     the cities and streets that raised me     pushed me

to write words     to sew them into my skirt     as a talisman for clarity

it’s a fictional need      but I have grappled like you     for my tools

true and good     as a cobbler’s daughter hammering in the dark



Tina Cane and Esther Solondz, Poems and Images

Esther Solondz and I have been sharing space for nearly a decade.
We’ve had countless conversations over the years about everything
from winter’s unrelenting snow to the state of the world, the state
of our children, my pregnancies, her hamstrings, my aching shoulder.
Sometimes we have to shout over the sound of the shower.
Sometimes we speak with haste as she heads to her art studio in Pawtucket
or I rush off to teach in Central Falls.  Invariably, we are in a state of undress
with our hair wet. Always, we are in the locker room at the East Side Y.

Last winter, Esther and I finally took our conversation outside.
Or rather, it took us, for we had discovered a shared love of the Italian writer
Elena Ferrante. Once we started talking, we didn’t want to stop. Standing
by our parked cars, holding our pool bags, our noses faintly marked by goggles,
we spoke of the Neapolitan novels, Ferrante’s women and the visceral response
they evoked in us. I mentioned that, having finished reading Ferrante’s entire oeuvre,
I had begun writing epistolary poems for her as a means to fill the void.

The way I remember it, we were talking fast. But that might have just been me,
for Esther has a composed, deliberate quality about her that I have noticed,
even as she swims laps in the pool. To consider Esther’s portraits, rendered in rust,
is to witness this quality expressed through process—a process in which she “draws”
faces with iron filings and steel wool, covers the image with gauze, water and salt
and then leaves it to be released by time and exposure to the elements.

A kind of rustic fine art photography, it involves a rough chemistry that yields
compelling and ephemeral results. The faces she creates transfix, are gentle and
diaphanous yet direct—almost ferocious—in their gaze. They captivate me the way
Ferrante’s women enthrall and take hold of me. With their dissolving borders and slant
complexity, these could be the faces of those Neapolitan women, of any woman, really.
In creating a book where our work can share space, (Esther and) I hope to move the
conversation outside of  the place we usually find ourselves—from the pool to the
parking lot to the page and beyond.
                                                                                                            Tina Cane


Tina Cane was the 2016 recipient for the Fellowship Merit Award in Poetry from theRhode Island State Council on the Arts. 

Esther Solondz is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.


Julia PikeOctober 2016 Poetry Feature

July 2016 Poetry Feature

Please join us as we welcome newcomers to our pages, Cassie Pruyn and Henk Rossouw, and welcome back contributor Kevin O’Connor.

Julia PikeJuly 2016 Poetry Feature