Susan Landgraf, Crossings

TRIPLE NO. 17: “Crossings,” Susan Landgraf. Ravenna Press, 2022, pp. 49-82, $12.95, paper,

Ah, the Triples! This is an amazing series from our local Ravenna Press, and well worth your time. Triple No. 17 offers not only a chapbook by Susan Landgraf, but also Philip Quinn’s “Home Movies (from The Afterlife),” and Suzanne Bottelli’s “American Grubble.”

“Crossings” (with a subtitle: “Past to Present to Future and Between”) includes 22 poems, divided into 3 short sections. There are multiple threads, but a dominant one is wings. From the first poem, “Crowkeeper,” to the last, wings and winged creatures are both literal and symbolic. Birds cut the air with slick wings, painters molt like birds, a newborn gets his wings “stuck // like the moth / in a jar” (“Crossing Over”), an old woman’s head bobs like a pigeon’s, feathers poke out of pockets and men yearn to turn into birds: “he raised his arms again and again / and the sky turned a rainbow / of green, black-tipped, blue and white” (“Birdman”). Even Pegasus makes an appearance.

In “Fear of Birds,” which is ostensibly about carpentry, a bird’s mouth fits along the rafters, “joints flush, compounds smoothed / and feathered,” and in the closing lines the carpenter’s daughter becomes “the sound of birds /their cacophonous scattering.”

Besides wings, we get beetles and silvered fishes, footprints in concrete, sand-scrubbed sheets. Landgraf invites us to notice all of it, color, texture, sound.

But, about those wings. This poem, all one sexy sentence, evokes flight:


Loving him was like dancing on a drum,
grapes ripe near to bursting, fields turned
burgundy, scarlet, golden loving him
like dancing on a drum, she said, his fingers
circling her skin, tracing her curves until
her heart was a bird flying out of her body
like dancing on a drum, she said, in a metal-
roofed room with a tuba and bass, Satchmo
on his sax and Vaughn in her summertime
and loving him was dancing out of their skins
and back, a week’s worth of Saturday nights
in a slow opening of loving him in a cave
of firecrackers, stars falling out of the sky,
a full moon, its white, white eye pressed
to the frosted window and loving him
was dancing on a drum, she said, so when
he left, she didn’t know how to walk.

—Susan Landgraf

Only one line, “her heart was a bird flying out of her body,” comes right out and shouts “flying,” but it seems (to me) a precis of the whole poem and the poem’s subject.

I attended Landgraf’s recent reading at Soul Food Café in Redmond, and was able to spend some time talking with her about her poems, and her 2019 writing exercise book, The Inspired Poet (Two Sylvias Press). You can learn more about her at the Triples page (such a wonderful series) at, and at The Academy of American Poets,


THE ART OF REVISING POETRY: 21 U.S. POETS ON THEIR DRAFTS, CRAFT, AND PROCESS, edited by Charles Finn and Kim Stafford. Bloomsbury Academic, 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK, 2023, 156 pages, $20.96, paper,

For this week, a departure from the usual one-poet book. I came across The Art of Revising Poetry last year while in Livingston, Montana, where I bought On a Benediction of Wind: Poems and Photographs from the American West—poems by Charles Finn, photography by Barbara Michelman (I will have a post on this book next week).

When I looked up Finn to learn more about him, I discovered that he and Kim Stafford—a poet well known to me—had collaborated on an anthology of poems and essays about revision, not yet released. I put it on my wish list, and in December I found it at my library. (I’m going to have to buy my own copy.)

The opening essay is worth the price of admission, and includes a list of 12 suggestions for revision. The first:

  1. How could the poem’s title be more intriguing, prophetic, indelible? It’s been said the title of the poem holds about 20 percent of the poem’s overall effect. How can a poet tinker until the title alone compels? (p. 3)

The 21 poets include Finn and Stafford, also Abayomi Animashaun, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Hirshfield, Joe Wilkins, Shin Yu Pai, CMarie Fuhrman, Prageeta Sharma, Frank X Walker, Beth Piatote, Sean Prentiss, Shann Ray, Philip Metres, Rose McLarney, Yona Harvey, Paulann Petersen, Todd Davis, Tami Haaland, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Terry Tempest Williams.

(I had planned to offer a sampling of names, then I just kept going.) The list includes poets known to me and unknown. The approaches to revision are as diverse as the poets. They echo one another, of course—they’re writing about the same topic, after all—but each poet adds something unexpected. Not one disappoints.

As I read, I kept writing out passages in my notebook. “My revision process is, overall, one of inquiry,” Rose McLarney writes in “Identifying Gems” (p. 57). In “Finding the Language, Finding  Story” (a gorgeous essay that is also about raising a child), Joe Wilkins shares a strategy I honestly had never thought of:  “I usually write in couplets (you can’t hide anything in couplets, all that white space forces you to interrogate every word)” (p. 18).

In “Emptying the Zendo,” Shin Yu Pai admits that she doesn’t revise very much, then elaborates:

Revision, for me, is like polishing a gem to bring out its beauty. However, this working and reworking of the stone also changes its rawest qualities and alters its energy. The place where I decide to put down the pen and stop fussing with the poem is not the place another poet, teacher, or scholar might choose to end. Ultimately, we find our own relationship to our voice and our objects through reading, practice, and deep listening. In this way, we are our own teachers. —Shin Yu Pai

This might be good advice for life, as well as for writing. We find our own relationship through using our own voice, but also reading, practice, and deep listening.

For each poet, we encounter first a photo of an early draft, usually hand-written, then a typed “first” draft, next the final version, and finally a short essay about the revision. Here is Animashaun’s final draft:


When the last immigrants
Walked out the gates

Fireworks lit up the sky
Horns and sirens blared

From every window
Flags draped

The country at last
Was itself again.

At the park, townsfolk
Celebrated new liberation day—

They cheered as foreign clothes
Were burned in piles

Danced when ethnic foods
Were flushed down sewers

And monuments to migrants
Were lassoed and pulled down

Including statues
Of the town’s founders—

Immigrants some say
From the horn of Africa—

Whose clay heads now dangle
From a rope in the heart of town.

—Abayomi Animashaun

In his essay, “Discipline and Unknowing,” Animashaun writes about the journey he took with this particular poem, and about what happens with every poem:

I never know where the writing will lead, but I accept the gift of each word, of each phrase, with the faith that each will yield in its own time as long as I continue to listen and remain steadfast . —Abayomi Animashaun

(To learn more about Animashaun and his books, visit his website:

I find myself wishing I were teaching a class where I could assign this book and discuss it. I’ll shut up now and let you find your own copy. The publisher is currently offering it at a discount:



PLAYLIST FOR THE APOCALYPSE, Rita Dove. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 5th Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10110, 2021, 114 pages, $15.95, paper,

What a pleasure to read this book of poems by the inimitable Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize winning poet, former U. S. Poet Laureate, editor (in 2011) of the Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, etc., etc. I knew, before reading a single poem, that, 1) I would be confronted by challenging content; and 2) I was in capable hands.

I was not disappointed.

The poems are divided into six sections, each section addressing a facet of history, whether national, international, or personal. “After Egypt” takes up the long history of emigration, displacement, and ghettoization. The section, “A Standing Witness,” emerged when she was tasked to collaborate on “a song cycle, bearing witness to the last fifty-odd years.” It begins with an epigraph:

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.

—James Baldwin

All the better—Dove might be arguing here—that we face this history and do not flinch away from it. So, a poem about the girls murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (“Youth Sunday”); a poem titled for Trayvon Martin, “Trayvon, Redux”; a poem about Mohammed Ali (“our homegrown warrior, America’s / toffee-tone Titan; how dare he swagger / in the name of peace?”). A whole section of poems titled “The Angry Odes.”

As for the personal history, in the final section, “Little Book of Woe,” the poems tackle a difficult personal diagnosis. In “Borderline Mambo,” the lines are both dark and playful, with a powerfully effective anaphora in “as if” (and, later in the poem, riffs on that phrase): “As if you could get the last sip of champagne / out of the bottom of the fluted glass. / As if we weren’t all dying, as if we all weren’t / going to die some time, as if we knew for certain / when, or how.”

Opening that section, a long poem, “Soup,” which I’d love to include in its entirety:

When the doctor said I’ve got good news and bad news,
I thought of soup—how long it had been
since I had had the homemade kind,
the real deal where you soak the beans overnight…

A tour-de-force sentence that rolls on for 29 lines!

I could choose so many poems, and would love to send the whole book to you (the epigraphs!), but I’m led to show you that playful, word-drunk side, and so, this one, from the section titled, “The Angry Odes”:

Ode to My Right Knee

Oh, obstreperous one, ornery outside of ordinary
protocols; paramilitary probie par

excellence: Every evidence
you yield yells.

No noise
too tough to tackle, tears

springing such sudden salt
when walking wrenches:

Haranguer, hag, hanger-on—how
much more maddening

insidious imperfection?
Membranes matter-of-factly

corroding, crazed cartilage calmly chipping
away as another arduous ambulation

begins, bone bruising bone.
Leather Lothario, lone laboring

gladiator grappling, groveling
for favor; fairweather forecaster, fickle friend,

jive jiggy joint:
Kindly keep kicking.

—Rita Dove

And if you didn’t notice the alliterative words in each line, go back now and read it again.

I first fell in love with Rita Dove’s Motherlove (1995). If you want to learn more about her, start with her pages (and numerous poems) at Poetry Foundation:

At you will find a list of Dove’s many accomplishments, including the 2024 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature.

Just a Note

I’ve had several emails in response to recent blog posts, and I want to highlight these two:


First, this shout-out from J. I. Kleinberg’s Chocolate Is a Verb:

And DO notice the nudge toward Judy’s reading at Pelican Bay Books in Anacortes on Feb. 24, with none other than the fabulous Claudia Castro Luna.










And an email from the Jackstraw Cultural Center, regarding this podcast — part interview, part poetry reading, of my dear friend Carla Shafer: