School Rules, Lupe Mendez


Lupe Mendez, the current Texas Poet Laureate, is also an educator and activist in Houston. His poem "Rules at the Juan Marcos Huelga School (Even the Unspoken Ones)," online at the Poetry Foundation, is my pick for today. An excerpt:

[Shout on paper, write boldly,
in a book, in the middle of an open
field, in the street, in the classroom,
make sure your voice shrills.

I'm grateful to the VS podcast for introducing me to Mendez and many other poets. Just like prior hosts Franny Choi and Danez Smith, the new duo, Ajanaé Dawkins and Brittany Rogers, are super fun to listen to, and their episodes always send me straight to library and bookstore websites looking for the work that was mentioned.


The Poetry Friday roundup is at Reading to the Core. Next week it's right here, at Chicken Spaghetti.

Photo: Roll-gate mural in the Mission District, San Francisco. Susan Thomsen, 2021.

Portraits of Harriet Tubman, in art and words


Above is "I Go to Prepare a Place for You" (2021), Bisa Butler's quilted portrait of Harriet Tubman, at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C. Last weekend I saw it in person, and it's stunning.

From the artist's website: "Using vibrant colors, Butler transforms photographs that capture the souls, personalities, and humanity of Black men, women, and children into vibrant textile quilts that offer an in-depth, alternative portrayal of the Black experience while uplifting and celebrating the American popular art of quilting."

A new exhibit, "Bisa Butler: The World Is Yours," is up at the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in New York through June 30th. I hope to go soon.

I chose Sonia Sanchez's series "Haiku and Tanka for Harriet Tubman" for a fitting accompaniment to this portrait. Here is an excerpt:

Picture her saying:
You have within you the strength,
the patience, and the passion
to reach for the stars,
to change the world    ...    

The Poetry Friday roundup for May 26th takes place at Patricia Franz's blog, Reverie.

Photo by ST.

Bilingual Cento, Gracias a Gabriela Mistral


Centón: Mi antorcha vieja

El mundo fue más hermoso
Este verde campo tuyo
Esta verdad con frescura de flor
Siempre dulce el viento
La rosa colorada 
y el pez de luces
color de sol y de azafranes
No es un cuento, es verdad
El mundo fue más hermoso.


Cento: My Old Torch

The world was more beautiful
This green countryside of yours
This truth of a flower in bloom
The wind always sweet
The red rose
And the glittering fish
The color of sunlight and saffron
It’s not a story, it’s the truth
The world was more beautiful.

—Translated from the Spanish by Susan Thomsen

Source: Various poems in Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral: A Bilingual Edition Translated and Edited by Doris Dana, Johns Hopkins Press, 1971. I used my own translation for the English version here, not the one from the book.

Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. She was the first Latin American author to do so. The name Gabriela Mistral was the pseudonym used by Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, a Chilean diplomat, poet, and educator. I was working on another project and came across the book referenced above again, and decided to use it to create a cento, or in Spanish, un centón. Each verse and the title are from Selected Poems, though I did tweak a couple of the lines for better continuity.

Photo by Susan Thomsen of the NYC public-art installation "Flowers of Turtle Island" (2021) by fiber artist Naomi Lawrence.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Robyn Hood Black's Life on the Deckle Edge.

April 28th Haiku Report


Streamside echoes of
waterthrush singing spring notes,
seeking company


One of our earliest avian migrants in the spring is the Louisiana waterthrush, and like a Carolina wren, it's a tiny bird with a big voice. Seeing one last week inspired this haiku. I have written a haiku almost every day in April, and while I don't have a perfect record, I'm glad that I've continued through the month. Word choice, syllable count, and reining in silliness have all been challenges that I've enjoyed wrestling with.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at the blog There Is No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town.

Image credit: Louis Agassiz Fuertes (artist), Frank M. Chapman (author)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Erasure Poem: We Will Flee

Robber JPEG poem

We Will Flee

The riotous crew shivered,
took an ax and a light.
One called out, “Run away,
Step over the sleepers
Without mishap.”
The peas and lentils
Shot up in the moonlight.

—Susan Thomsen


This poem comes from a challenge by Jone Rush MacCulloch to use a classic text and create a new poem from it. I opened an old copy of Grimms' Fairy Tales to a random page, and it turned out to be the disturbing "Robber Bridegroom." I xed out the more grisly references, and like how the weird ending popped up.

You'll find the Poetry Friday roundup and Classic Found Poem Palooza at Jone's blog on April 14th.


Source text: Grimms' Fairy Tales, by the Brothers Grimm. Translated from the German by Mrs. E.V. Lucas, Lucy Crane, and Marian Edwards. Illustrated by Fritz Kredel. Grosset & Dunlap, 1945.

Pooch Haiku


Remarkable breed

the Short-haired Barka, he is
no Miss'ippi stray


My husband and I talk to and about our dog a lot, so it's only appropriate that the pooch is my muse this week. During National Poetry Month, I'm going for a haiku a day, but I'm sure not publishing them all. I've kept up with quantity so far, but quality remains an issue.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Margaret Simon's Reflections on the Teche on April 7th.



The following is an excerpt from "Every Poem Is a List Poem," by James Davis, which I really liked in a recent issue of the Nashville Review.

[...]Every poem
is about life, especially the ones about death, and life
is a list of lists: A and D, bucket and shit,
top tens and next-ins, and the list
goes on [...]


To read the rest, click here.


As a big fan of lists, list poems, lists of lists, listings, list-making utensils, etc., I chose this poem to highlight today. Mary Lee Hahn hosts the Poetry Friday roundup at the very fab A(nother) Year of Reading on March 31st. We're on the verge of National Poetry Month, and while I feel great enthusiasm about it this year, I have nothing planned so far. I better start making a list.

Street Guide


A Guide to Composing Street Poems

Street poems are what I call the found-language poems I've put together from lines I've overheard. They come from not only the street but also restaurants, museums, theaters, subways, etc. Examples are "Fix This One Thing,""A Day Like Any Other," and "Now or Later" (PDF; in the journal Streetcake). I overheard my lines in New York, but anywhere is good.

In cities we are used to blocking out what is not necessary for us to know getting from Point A to Point B, but unblocking is the first step to listening for lines.

Material must come from people you don’t know. You may use questions strangers ask you directly and things they say to you. Those are fine.

You can’t make up any sentences, but you can break them up and add conjunctions if you like. It’s permissible to remove uhs, likes, ums, sos, etc. 

Walk slowly and stop often. Take the train and the bus. Eat by yourself. Drink coffee alone. Linger by the information booth. The people nearby are your collaborators.

Take care with names. Your goal is a poem, not libel.

Honor your collaborators. Remember what Grace Paley said, something along the lines of, “Every character deserves the open destiny of life.”

Keep an ear out for loud, one-sided cell-phone conversations. 

If you hear something that makes you think, “I want to hear the rest of that story,” that kind of line is gold.

The more languages you know, the better. Include non-English verses in a regular font, not italics.

Announcements, transit and otherwise, are always welcome. You will hear a lot of announcements. 

Cursing is okay but only in moderation. Same with snooty remarks.

Fill up a big cache of lines before you start putting together the poem. That way, they’ll rumble around in your head for a while and make connections on their own.

Finally, make up your own rules, of course!


The Poetry Friday roundup is at author Laura Purdie Salas's blog on March 17th.

Photo by ST. That sculpture is Jim Rennert's "Listen" (2018). Sixth Avenue and 55th Street, NYC.

This Must Be March

what makes march         special
who makes march          madness
what makes a march      a march                                                                     
who owns march
what month is march     for
is it march                        today


I made this poem using autofill suggestions on a Google search, then added some tabs. You can read it several ways, although the formatting may be off if you're reading on a phone.

On Friday, March 10, Heidi Mordhorst has the Poetry Friday roundup at her blog My Juicy Little Universe.

Photo by ST: Detail from Yayoi Kusama's mosaic mural “A Message of Love, Directly from My Heart unto the Universe” (2022), at Grand Central Terminal, NYC.

The TBR Stack


I'm so looking forward to jumping into this TBR stack from the library, but first have to finish Mary Gabriel's Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art. It's long, fascinating, and completely absorbing. I'm almost done.

The stack:

Milkweed Smithereens, by Bernadettte Mayer. At Chicago Review of Books, Mandana Chaffa writes, "I cannot overstate how much Bernadette Mayer’s work, and the poetic ethos and play she championed, means to me and to the poetry community at large. She celebrated the ordinary as extraordinary, equal parts funny and revolutionary[...]"

We Are Mermaids, by Stephanie Burt. I'm a big Stephanie Burt fan; an academic who writes in an accessible way, she's so dang smart, and her interests and subjects are wide-ranging. (Readers looking to learn more about contemporary poetry can start with Burt's The Poem Is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them.) We Are Mermaids is a collection of poems; I heard about it on Han VanderHart's Of Poetry podcast, and knew I wanted to read it.

Space Struck, by Paige Lewis. I've read it before and look forward to reading it again. "Over and over again, the characters in Space Struck seek the natural world but encounter institutions, which in the collection (and, one gets the uncanny sense, in our actual lives) are rapidly becoming one of the last ways to experience nature," says Emily DeMaioNewton at Ploughshares.

Soul Culture: Black Poets, Books, and Questions That Grew Me Up, by Remica Bingham-Risher.  I heard the author on the VS podcast, made a note of the book (a collection of essays and poems), and happily bumped into it at the library. Bingham-Risher, "mines the experiences of Black writers in this jovial mix of memoir, essay, and homage to her literary 'guiding voices,'" according to Publishers Weekly.

Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres, by Amy VanDerwater. The author (and Poetry Friday regular) mentioned this book just last week on her blog, and the library had it! I know it will help with ideas for reading and talking to my first and second grade friends about poetry. (I'm a volunteer reader in a several public-school classrooms.)


The Poetry Friday roundup is at Tabatha Yeatts' blog today.

Publication News: "Called Home"


I'm happy to report on Poetry Friday that a poem of mine, "Called Home," has been published at Unlost Journal's Issue #30: The Motivation of Winter. Link here.  I won't say too much before you read it, but this one borrows language from Southern obituaries.

It's my second publication at Unlost; the first was "You Keep Me Waiting in a Truck" in Issue #28.


The roundup of Poetry Friday posts is at Molly Hogan's blog, Nix the Comfort Zone, on February 17th.