DESIRE’S AUTHORITY, J. I. Kleinberg, from Triple No. 23. Ravenna Press, Edmonds, Washington, 2023, pp. 61-80, paper, $12.95.

Last Saturday, I slipped away from the Chuckanut Writers Conference to attend a reading, at Dakota Art in downtown Bellingham, featuring Anita K. Boyle, Sheila Sondik, and J. I. Kleinberg. Yes, the conference was wonderful, with a plethora of good stuff on offer, but the trifecta of these voices, plus their art, was too great a temptation. I’m so glad I was able to be there.

Kleinberg read from several books, including her Dickinson inspired chapbook of collage poems, Desire’s Authority, published last year by Ravenna Press. I’ve been on a book-buying binge (a binge that seriously has to stop) but this book I already had in my possession. So, once I was home, I went through my TBR pile of poetry books and found it.

Take all the serendipity of how I stumbled into this happy accident, and times it by three, and you have Triple No. 23 (also featuring chapbooks by Michelle Eames and Heikki Huotari).

Kleinberg’s collage poems, alone, are all about serendipity, juxtaposition, and happy accidents.  She creates them by cutting apart words found in magazines—if it sounds a bit like ransom demands, you’re not wrong. Not demanding in the sense of difficulty, but definitely willing to hold your attention hostage. In the author’s note Kleinberg reveals how she came up with her collage series (which is extensive, and not only this set of poems):

Through the accident of magazine page design, unrelated words fell into proximity to cast unintended meaning across the boundaries of sentence, paragraph, and column break. Leaving behind the words’ original sense and syntax, I collected these contiguous fragments of text, each roughly the equivalent of a poetic line. Arrayed on my worktable, they began to talk with one another and assume a new shape of visual poems. —J. I. Kleinberg (p. 89)

Gaps, fragments, the hop from one word or phrase to the next like hopping stone to stone across a creek, the occasional precarious drop—these found poems are a visual and poetic delight. I can’t decide on a water metaphor or fire to best describe them. Either way, I love these poems in part for how they invite a reader’s imagination into their creation. If there’s sometimes a little groping to find a shutter or door to throw open, a match to light, the illumination comes.

You can learn more about Kleinberg’s collage poems—and see examples—at her blog, Chocolate Is a Verb. She is also the curator of The Poetry Department, which delivers one poetry event, quotation, or other enticing poetry-related discovery every day.


borrowed from Judy’s blog, a photo from the exhibit, “Ink, Paper, Scissors: nature speaks in three voices”

Anita K. Boyle

Anita K. Boyle is an artist and poet, the author of several books of poetry, including the one in my hands this morning: Why Horses (MoonPath Press 2020).

If you don’t already know Anita through her Egress Studio, “where inspiration becomes tangible,” you should hop over to the website immediately. (Tours of the actual studio are available.) Definitely browse her books page, but also the blog which at present features the reproduction of a cookbook used by homesteaders on the Olympic Peninsula. The photos on this website, book covers, descriptions of ponds and handmade papers are well worth a long visit.

Briefly, Why Horses is Anita’s second MoonPath Press book, after What the Alder Told Me (2011). Earlier books are Bamboo Equals Loon, Sanctuary Poems, and The Drenched. She has also written several collaborative poetry chapbooks with her partner, James Bertolino.

I asked Anita if she could share her process in assembling a poetry book. Specifically, I asked if she imagines the book’s theme or title and writes into that, or do the poems come first?

The easy answer is the poems come first. Often a poem is written as a one-off, and isn’t directed by any other poem. But just as often, I write poems that refer to themes, or are addressing content from other poems.

When I gather the poems together, it’s like weaving, sometimes as a story progression or a collection of similar themes. Arranging a book works best if the poems have a theme of some sort that runs through them, even loosely. I mention weaving because the texture and color of the poems matter, too, and I think that may be why my latest book became longer than planned. A few of those poems were written many years ago and ended up sitting next to a much newer one. Locating similarity through contrast creates a kind of music, and can potentially end up as a really good book. The transition from writing a poem to the poem being part of a greater whole is intriguing. One poem here instead of there can change a whole book sometimes.

As a publisher, I enjoy a book manuscript with surprising twists in it, one with poems I can see as I read them, and one whose poems support a trajectory from the opening poem to the final stanza of the last poem. The arrangement counts on those. Currently, I’m not doing any publishing in the foreseeable future, and when/if I do that again, it may be in a different form than I was doing before.

Because I’m in the middle of pulling together my own poetry manuscript (and helping with a couple others), I also asked her how she knows when a book is “done.”

As an artist and a poet, I am absolutely positive that no piece of art anywhere is ever “done.” But we all ask that question. I would guess that even Michelangelo may have walked past his famous sculpture David, and thought about making a little change here and there. But you do reach a point of satisfaction that becomes the finishing point. Is it easier to know when a book is not done than when it is?  Maybe that’s a good test. As a publisher, I’d suggest that a poet should put together a manuscript until they think they have it right. And then ask another poet, that he or she respects, to read the entire manuscript. Any comments made by that other person are worthwhile considering, whether notes on typos, comments on order, or practically anything. See what happens when you follow the direction of others, but don’t necessarily accept them as final. Sometimes, a minuscule revision can greatly enhance an area that once stuck out enough to be commented on.

I knew a little about Anita’s writing group, and asked her to tell me more:

It’s a privilege to be part of my writing group of five: James Bertolino, Judy Kleinberg, Jeanne Yeasting, Jennifer Bullis, and myself. We’ve met for well over ten years, and must have written far more than a hundred poems in that time. I also am part of an art group of thirteen women, where we share our projects, plans for the future, techniques, and other information. One of the best ways to refine your art as it nears “completion” is to hear what other people have to say about it, which makes a writers (or art) group crucial to the creative process. Whether a poem or a painting, sometimes, the intent of the artwork may seem completely lost on others. Of course, complete clarity isn’t always necessary in a work. But often there’s a little detail, a word or a line break, a comma, that can be adjusted to make all the difference, or a rearrangement, or a division, or some other suggestion from the group that will truly improve the poem. This can be cathartic!

I condensed a bit from Anita’s generous response, but wanted to draw out and emphasize one line that especially spoke to me:

One thing to remember about poetry (and all art) is that readers are experiencing the words we translate from our own imaginations, and to hear their immediate and thoughtful responses is no small gift.

Why Horses, itself, is “no small gift,” but a bounty of poems. Many of them are about nature—ponds and owls, mosquitos and horses (of course)—and also about Anita’s childhood, “hard, dark pews,” sunburns and fifth grade teachers. In a short poem, “Arguing with Rumi,” she writes: “The soul is a heavy river, / a wide and muddy river”–and concludes her argument: “But the soul working,  / and working, / with elation and deep sorrow, / becoming its own truth.” This is a book filled with such truths.

Here’s one poem, just to whet your appetite:

There Are Horses in Heaven

This is a secret you mustn’t repeat:
There are horses in heaven.

They have been there always.
Even while here, they are aware of there.

Have you noticed how the horse
sleeps upright and ready, and seems

to be elsewhere? There are horses
in heaven who feast upon the golden sheaves.

They come to earth on the darkest nights:
The flapping of wings hushed like the owls’.

They stay with us, as though held in a palm:
think of a roughened hand curled around the reins.

They sometimes grant us wishes. They
relieve us of labor and sorrow. The horse

was in heaven before Adam met Eve.
When these firsts were evicted from the garden,

a horse took them to another.
The horse lives in heaven

wherever she goes. This is
confidential and true.

—Anita K. Boyle

Sheila Sondik

FISHING A FAMILIAR POND: FOUND POEMS FROM THE YEARLING, Sheila Sondik. Egress Studio Press, 5581 Noon Road, Bellingham, WA 98225, 34 pages, $12, paper,

What a treat to spend the afternoon with this book. It made me want to read The Yearling again, and it’s a work of art itself–the book, designed by Anita K. Boyle of Egress Studio Press–as well as the poems, which are stunning and spare. This project reminded me of Joanna Thomas‘s work, and made me see new possibilities for playing (in the best sense of the word–like musicians play) with words in my own poetry.

In the Afterword, Sondik describes her process:

My method of composition was very much like that of Tristan Tzara, who wrote his recipe for Dadaist poems in 1920. I literally deconstructed The Yearling. I cut up photocopies of book pages into short phrases , put these strips of words in envelopes, and drew them out of the envelopes at random. I moved the strips around the tabletop until each poem revealed itself.

Some of the poems, like “Penny Baxter,” are closely related to the content of The Yearling, but most of evolved according to their own internal logic. All the words in the poems are contained in the novel.

Again, if I were teaching language arts, I think I’d want to get my students to try this with a book they are reading. It’s truly a different way of seeing the choices made by the original author.

Meanwhile, here’s one poem from this lovely book:

A breeze in canopied limbs

When he awakened in the branch bed,
instead of falling over the edge, he sank.

He thought he might still be dreaming.

A shaft of sunlight, warm and thin
like a raccoon, had been that way.

Wild-cherry grew halfway up the bank.
He swung himself over the fence.

His eyelids fluttered with the starry dripping
of the flutter-mill, the thirsty birds of motion.

The bubbling spring would rise forever.

James Bertolino

RAVENOUS BLISS: NEW & SELECTED LOVE POEMS, James Bertolino. MoonPath Press, PO Box 1808, Kingston, WA 98346, 2014, 140 pages, $18 paper,

What a lovely way to spend my afternoon! In this new & selected potpourri of love poems from the inestimable northwest treasure, James Bertolino, you encounter images that make you want to pour a glass of red and call your beloved inside. In “Origami Prayer,” for instance: “The whisper / of the delicate paper / folds her fingers // springs her East / to a bird // the wings of which / trip bright / gardens / in my heart.” In these poems, limbs become bowls of fruit and relationships move forward “over the frets / of a guitar.” You never know what’s going to happen, and then it does.

With cover art by Bertolino’s wife, Anita K. Boyle (also a fine poet), Ravenous Bliss is a book to own, and makes a swell Valentine’s Day gift.

Like Quartz

If I said I love her the way
I love rutilated quartz,
would she understand?

My love for lizards
and my love for her are not
the same, but what I feel

for nested fledglings, and
the brown and yellow salamander
with its wide grin, is mixed

with my love. The blue
wildflowers high in the dry
California hills remind me

that she is gentle, yet hardy.
Could she believe me if I claimed
my love is the lightning of

the aquatic garter snake
when it moves its single dorsal stripe
across a pond? I think of power

rising through her
from the earth to touch me,
and shriek with joy

like the Steller’s Jay.