Where we look

April 3, 2022

tidepool with mussels and crab shell

This is a guest post by Kathryn Smith

I grew up close to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, an arm of ocean that divides Washington from British Columbia. Some would say I grew up near the ocean, and I sometimes say that, too, but when I visit the Pacific coast, I am reminded of how different the two are. I am so much smaller at the actual ocean, the expanse of it, no land between water and horizon, the other shore like an act of faith.

Now I live inland, and I go to the ocean for the roar in my ears. To feel my skin plump with sea air. To feel small against its vastness.

I also go to look at tidepools. This has been a fascination of mine since childhood, and my enthusiasm for them has only grown. These pools teem with strange life — and by strange, I mean unlike me. Exoskeletal creatures and creatures with no skeletons at all. I watch barnacles extend their feathery limbs into the water and retract them again. I watch anemone tentacles sway with the tidal pulse. I look for flashes of movement — hermit crabs, small fishes. I look for less-common creatures — sea stars, urchins — those exposed only when the tide is at its lowest.

And then I look up. Wave upon wave upon wave. The ocean is constantly in motion. The ocean’s state of rest is motion. Water upon water, its unfathomable fathoms extending beyond my field of vision, and therefore, to my limited human brain, forever. I turn around, and the beach reaches back toward unscalable cliffs. I feel the vastness of this place in its enormity.* And in the tidepools, the vastness of the microscopic.

Poetry is like this. A space where the infinite and the infinitesimal co-exist. The universal jammed right up against the particular, and me somewhere in between. I extend my small appendages into the salt of it, sometimes feeling a little lost, grasping at the invisible, but knowing at some point I’ll latch onto something that sustains me.

*Yes, enormity. I know it’s not the same as enormousness, but there’s something sinister in the sense of scale here, something threatening to me in my small and small-minded humanness.

. . . . .

Kathryn Smith is the author of the poetry collections Self-Portrait with Cephalopod (Milkweed Editions, 2021), winner of the 2019 Jake Adam York Prize, and Book of Exodus (Scablands Books, 2017), as well as the chapbook Chosen Companions of the Goblin, winner of the 2018 Open Country Press Chapbook Contest. Her poems and visual poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Gettysburg Review, Copper Nickel, Ninth Letter, DIAGRAM, Willow Springs, Fugue, Brink, and elsewhere. She lives in Spokane. Find her online at kathrynsmithpoetry.com.

Author photo by Dean Davis.

light it up

January 18, 2022

If the season’s gloom seems to have gotten the better of you, perhaps a little infusion of Language is a Virus is just what the doctor ordered. A rollicking collection of games, gizmos, generators, prompts, exercises, tips, experiments, quotes, manifestos, and how-to articles, Language is a Virus is free, fun, and sure to shake things up a bit. Not all of your efforts will necessarily be worthy of submission, but you never know what might spark inspiration or put a glimmer in your gloom.

on poetry

December 16, 2021

“If writing poetry is just an extreme act of paying attention, so is looking at art. But I’m never coming up with anything in a vacuum. Everything I am making is a response to some kind of stimulus, and so I’m always looking to find — the word is inspiration but I think for me, it’s stimulation. If something stimulates something then it triggers a memory or an image or a thought or an emotion, and I follow it that way but I always need something to activate that for me, and I think music does that, too.”

Safia Elhillo
(b. December 16, 1990)

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photo by Caits Meissner, earrings by Jellyfish Treasury
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on poetry

October 15, 2021

“For me, it’s less a matter of inspiration and more a matter of process. I carry a little notebook in my pocket and throughout the day I overhear things, remember things or think of things and jot down notes and then every morning before it gets light, I have an appointment with myself and take out my notebook and pick something that caught my attention and find out what it wants to be.”
Kim Stafford
(b. October 15, 1949)

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photo by Brooke Herbert
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on poetry

July 25, 2021

“Look under the bed for poetry.”
Ruth Krauss
(July 25, 1901 – July 10, 1993)

a month of inspiration

January 2, 2021

Here is The Guardian’s 31-day literary diet for January, a day-by-day offering of poetry, film, stories, drama, etc., to guide you through the month.

a month of poetry prompts

November 12, 2020

If your poetry writing is feeling a little same-old, same-old, throw open the window onto a month of poetry prompts with the Two Sylvias Press Advent Calendar. All new prompts for 2020 will offer plenty of inspiration and remain available online through January 2021. Learn more about the Advent Calendar (for yourself or as a gift) and other treats available from Two Sylvias Press.

on poetry

October 31, 2020

“At first, when an idea, a poem, or the desire to write takes hold of you, work is a pleasure, a delight, and your enthusiasm knows no bounds. But later on you work with difficulty, doggedly, desperately. For once you have committed yourself to a particular work, inspiration changes its form and becomes an obsession, like a love-affair… which haunts you night and day! Once at grips with a work, we must master it completely before we can recover our idleness.”
Natalie Clifford Barney
(October 31, 1876 – February 2, 1972)

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on poetry

August 19, 2020


“A poem that inspires others to write poems, a poem that gives rise to hundreds, even thousands of other poems is a poor second to a poem, or any work of art, that inspires even one person to change his or her life to turn toward greater meaning, or the quest for greater meaning.”
Li-Young Lee
(b. August 19, 1957)

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quote

on poetry

December 22, 2019

“Some days I can’t get an idea, and I think, ‘Man, I’m just washed up,’ but it’s just a mood.”
Jean-Michel Basquiat
(December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988)

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