POETRY HERE & NOW
new work from local writers
From Rochester Radar, June 16, 2017:
Noah Burton, a poet living in Madbury, NH, says that defending the relevance of poetry is like trying to justify dreaming while we sleep. “Our daily lives, regardless of whether we want them to or not, have music: whether it’s the conversation and cadences of others or the sounds of our work,” he explains. “Sometimes, when selling burritos at Dos Amigos in Dover, I hear it at the register: Alright your total is $5.93. / Now if you’ll just sign this for me. // Can I have some mild avocado? / Absolutely, here you go!”
Burton, whose work has appeared in the Pen America poetry series, Paperbag, Outlook Springs, Sundog Lit, and other publications, believes that poetry functions much like a film soundtrack in that it provides moment-to-moment focus, allowing us to center ourselves more vividly within our experience.
“Much like that moment when recognizing a rhyme in everyday speech, when I read a poem, I, despite all of society doing it’s thing, become singularly important,” he says. “I am reading a poem and I am allowing it to musically knock on the doors of my memory, joys, and fears. In a time when so much feels out of our power, when it feels like our nature has been hacked, poems can give us singular emotional strength.”
Burton’s fascination with the extraordinariness of the commonplace, and the complexity with which poetry allows us to process our everyday experiences, is evident in the following selection from his recent work.
I’m reviewing your footsteps
in the sand. Well, this is a good place
to start. A wave came and you took it.
A barge floated by and I watched.
The sailor spit into a mug a bone
of a sardine too calcified to chew.
My sore shoulders gave out and I dropped
the umbrella. It is raining now.
Your head is bobbing one way down
the coast—in a jeep toward starlight.
From Rochester Radar, May 19, 2017:
“My poems almost always grow from my deep attachment to the natural world around me,” says poet Marie Harris of Barrington. The featured poem is no exception, having been written on a late spring day while she was beginning to prepare her garden for planting. “The ‘story’ in the poem is just as it happened, and my impulse was to record it in all its quirky detail, hay and onions and creatures in all,” says Harris. “I know that many readers will have experienced a similar moment, and my task, as I see it, is to record it for them in a way that might cause them to reflect. As the French poet Paul Valéry wrote, ‘A work of art should always teach us that we have not seen what we’ve been looking at.’” Harris, who served as the New Hampshire Poet Laureate from 1999-2004, is the author of four books of poetry, the most recent of which is the prose poem memoir YOUR SUN, MANNY (2010, White Pine Press). She has also edited several poetry anthologies, including AN EAR TO THE GROUND (1989, University of Georgia), one of the first multicultural poetry anthologies in the United States.
While Harris wrote the following poem several years ago in response to a different political upheaval, she finds its message to be equally relevant today.
“What made this experience, and then the poem, special to me was the dawning realization that the series of events I had set in motion were altogether ordinary for me, but they must have been terrifying for the creatures I had inadvertently disturbed,” she says. “Snakes fled; spiders left their homes carrying their tiny families; ants scattered in confusion. How then could I not make the implicit comparison between my huge and clumsy interference and that of, for instance, a powerful and sometimes heedless nation? Without belaboring the point, I hope I have suggested another way ‘to see what we've been looking at’ and pause.”
SOMETIMES THE WIDER WORLD CAN ONLY BE APPREHENDED OBLIQUELY
Snakes are always all of a sudden, no matter where I
encounter them. These two were baking under sheet
of black plastic that covered the old bales of the mulch hay
I needed for the onion row. A garter (imagine it wound
in delicate rings around a stockinged thigh!) and another
I can't name (silver-white core emblazoned along its length
with brown ovals etched in delicate black). Exposed and surprised
by light, uncoiling, they tongue the bright air. Spiders hurry away
carrying bulging white sacs. Ants rearrange their ranks. There has been
a profound disturbance. My each movement occasions an intricate series
of counter movements. I couldn't have predicted, for instance,
the thousands of reactions to my shadow.
This poem was first printed in POETS AGAINST THE WAR, edited by Sam Hamill (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003).
From Rochester Radar, April 21, 2017:
For Sarah Terry, a freelance writer and game designer living in Dover, poetry has always been about finding the best way to turn thoughts and images into stories. “I think it’s one of the most empathic arts - you’re being invited into someone else’s brain and given a front row seat as they process their experiences in full, vivid detail,” she says. “It’s connecting and enriching and powerful - and sometimes it’s just hysterical and fun!”
Terry’s work has appeared in Strange Horizons, RHINO Poetry, Star*Line, and other publications. You can catch up with her latest news on Twitter @abendlied.
THE DREAM OF FLYING FISH
This morning, I am an observer named October, pale and wide-eyed, dying my lips blue
with the rain. The fish are swimming above the tank again. I am trying to feed them breakfast
but they’ve retreated into the cabinetry and now what is left to crawl out of the tank?
If only I had a laugh track, I thought, I would be so much braver. Instead, my hands grow
smaller every day. The ring I bought in Sweden from the old woman and her purple hair
slides around and makes me dizzy. I would like to go back again, to somewhere, and find
everyone has stayed put. But no. They are all like masterless fish, these people – they think
they leap so gracefully, cannot bear to remain. If only I were celestial, aerial – a Learjet
of cosmic awareness, yes, like a giant, like a saint. The world could slide through my arteries,
flapped and battered in my heart. I am only the sister of Desire. We would all be better off.
From Rochester Radar, April 7, 2017:
While Sue Zelie of Barrington has always meant to write a novel, she says that she constantly finds herself turning back to poetry because this form of composition forces her to slow down and savor life, examining her surroundings word by word. For Zelie, the right set of words is like a good pair of binoculars in the hands of a birdwatcher, deftly bringing its subject in and out of focus.
In “A Home in the Storm,” she balances a series of precise observations by shifting her gaze inward, layering the objective with the personal. She pins everything down with the weight of a familiar symbolic reference, but with a New England twist, giving a nod to the surest sign of spring in Rochester: The lilac.
A HOME IN THE STORM
Where do the birds go when it snows
I ask again.
While picturing them trussed up tight
In a family clot of feathers, deep in the thickets,
To their young,
I see one chickadee dive from the sky
And balance on a cradle of flimsy limbs
Eyeing the north, craning south,
Teeter-tottering from head to tail feathers now
In a tangle of lilac branches,
Until, arrested in an instant, seeming shocked
By the sudden sting of snow
Or maybe, like my cat, by the wind's bark,
He stiffens, shoots off, is flat gone.
I cannot tell why I love a storm.
I dream of a nest where all who are there, belong.
Where the happy ending is passed on from one to another
Where the bird the old man sends out from the ark
Flies back with an olive branch,
Or a lilac twig
In its beak
Reassuring the captives that things are looking up.
Poetry Here & Now is published bi-weekly in Rochester Radar, a special section of Fosters Daily Democrat that is direct mailed to households in Rochester, East Rochester, Farmington, and Gonic.
Poetry Here & Now features the work of poets with a connection to Strafford County. Poems are selected by Katie O'Connor, Poet Laureate of Rochester. Writers of all ages, from beginners to published poets, are invited to share their poetry.
To submit work, send an email containing the following information to
Click on the button above to access the digital archive of each column as it originally appeared in the Rochester Radar.