Liz Ahl Poetry

Catching Up On Reading

Away for writing retreat at Seal Rock, Oregon, I’m working to catch up on a stack of literary journals that I subscribe to. Reading new work puts me in the writing place, for sure. Today I dug into Crab Orchard Review’s Winter/Spring 2013 (Vol. 18, No. 1 — which I don’t understand how I missed, since I already read/enjoyed Vol. 18, No. 2, but, whatever).

CoRCOVERCOR is one of my favorite journals because of the variety of work and the fact that I always find stuff I like by writers I haven’t heard of before. In this issue, as always, there was much to enjoy, but I’d like to call out a few SUPER SPECIAL favorites. Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s “Lovers in the Age of Airmail,” which I thought made really smart use of couplets and concluded with a bang-on image — “rivulets of water gliding / off the blades of a swimmer’s shoulders / when he steps from the sea.” Al Maginnes’ “Elegy for a Name” was a gorgeous and fitting tribute to the late poet Jake Adam York and his important work about the history and memory of the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Ashley Anna McHugh’s facility with the sonnet — especially with full and slant end rhymes — had me rereading “Memento” and “Omen” several times. Aisha Sharif’s writing about the hijab in “The Fitting Room” and “To the White Boy Who Pulled Off My Hijab in 7th Grade Gym” was so memorable — both her poems begin in anecdote but end in a more expansive place, definitely in conversation with the world as well as with the self. Finally, Ocean Vuong’s “Daily Bread,” which interrogated itself and its reader and was well-fueled by sound & senses.

Of the writers above, Vuong and Maginnes were the only ones whose work I had read previously. I am so happy to have some new writers to read and I look forward to reading more from them. Thanks, Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble, and all the folks at Crab Orchard Review, for delivering me regular doses of great reading. If you’d like to check out any of the work I mention above, the issue is available online HERE. If you like what you see, consider a subscription!


Scratching, Eating, Sleeping

What is it that feels so good about having written a poem? How to describe that satisfaction, even when the poem itself is just a draft, still needs some obvious work? I brainstorm metaphors to try to pin it down — scratching an itch, eating a good meal, getting a good night’s sleep. It’s like scratching an itch because, after having written, I’ve attended to something that was nagging at me, something that wanted my attention. I have soothed and quieted the nagging thing. It’s like eating a good meal because there was something empty that got filled, but not just with junk. With something delicious. It’s like getting a good night’s sleep because there’s a clarity at the end of it, a sense of being ready for the (rest of the) day, a pair of clear eyes. A vigor. I’ll bet I could come up with another three metaphors, and another, and another. I’ll bet if I really kept track of it, I’d find that the nature of the satisfaction of completing a poem varied from poem to poem, or maybe across the “lifespan” of my poet-life. The “goodness” of poem-writing is dazzling in its variety. Writing a poem is like pruning the lilac. Like taking out all the trash, every scrap of it, even from the basement. Like making love. Like getting drunk. Like getting sober. Writing a poem feels so good.

Where were you when I lost my memory?

In today’s Christian Science Monitor, a headline asks, “Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Why your memory might be wrong.” The story that follows pairs pretty nicely with a poem I wrote, gosh, at least ten years ago. I’m no cognitive neuroscientist, but I, too, wondered about the link between emotion/stress and memory. Scientists, do the research; poets, write the poems. Everybody’s got their angle.

Here’s me reading the poem.

The first bit is an epigraph from Eduardo Galeano.

And here’s a PDF of the poem, because I can’t figure out how to paste it into a blog post without it looking all wack.

Defining Moment

Liz’s List for AWP 2014: Seattle

IMG_0318 The first writers’ conference I ever attended was in Seattle, in March, 1979. I was almost ten years old. It was the Seattle Pacific University Young Author’s Conference. A highlight of the event (okay, the only thing I actually remember about the event) was the fact that copies of our works, which had earned us a place at this prestigious gathering of our elementary school peers, would be held in the University Library so that future readers could benefit from our genius and artistry.


Flash forward, thirty-five years. I will be attending another writers’ conference in Seattle. Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program in writing is a “Major Sponsor” of this conference, which is a bit bigger than the now-defunct Young Author’s Conference. I did not have to submit work in order to attend, but I will be on a panel about chapbooks with other writers from Slapering Hol press, who published my first chapbook.

I speak, of course, of the 2014 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, which is nearly upon us. From February 26 to March 2, upwards of ten thousand writers will descend upon Seattle. I am one such writer, and I’ve been attending this conference since 1993 as a graduate student. I’m excited to see the conference travel to Seattle — my family lives in the area, my brother in Seattle and my folks out on the Hood Canal.


As it has been in recent years, the schedule is packed to the rafters with not only the traditional conference fare of panels and readings and book signings and caucuses, but also with, oh, I don’t know, a jillion and a half “off-site events” (mostly readings) in Seattle bars, restaurants, and bookstores. For three full (9AM until bedtime) days, the Washington State Convention Center and Sheraton and, well a great chunk of the city, will be teeming with the AWPers (rhymes with soulful barbaric YAWPers?).

And let me not forget (how could I??) the book fair — tables and booths occupied by literary journals, zines, small presses, gigantic presses, in-between presses, literary centers, etc. On Saturday, the book fair is free and open to the public, and I recommend checking it out. Many publishers offer great discounts on Saturday because they don’t want to have to ship all their wares home. Even when the book fair was shoehorned into unsuitably small or weirdly-arranged spaces, I have always found much to love in all those pages and all those page-passionate folks at those tables. Each year I subscribe to a different and/or new-to-me literary journal. I figure, I can’t subscribe to them ALL, but I can support the cause by treating myself each year in this way. For me the book fair is the consistently best part of the conference — well, okay, second-best, after the fact that so many writer-friends I love and admire attend and it’s the one yearly chance I get to see most of them.

Even with all the action and activity of the conference itself, many attendees want to get out, get away, see the city — some are foodies looking to experience the local cuisine; others want to check out the museums, or just find a good bar that’s not crammed full of (shudder) other poets. In this spirit then, I offer a few personal recommendations of things to taste or see or do while in the Emerald City. Seattle is rich with great food and drink and culture and sights, so I did NOT even try to make this list comprehensive or exhaustive. This is just my personal, VERY pared down “must-hit” list. If you’re Yelping, I’ve got a few reviews up of other Seattle places.

THE PHO – Green Leaf


Seattle is home to the International District (“The I.D.”), which is almost the only place I ever eat when visiting. There are great eats of all stripes all over town, but maybe because I live in rural northern New England, all I want to do when I’m in Seattle is chow down on cuisines from Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan, etc. If you only have the time or inclination to sample one bowl of Pho while visiting, I must, with religious zeal, recommend Green Leaf (either location — the newer one is more convenient to the conference location, but not in the I.D.!). Rare beef and brisket pho. Their fresh rolls are also pretty spectacular, but the broth in that pho is revelatory. Like I said, religious zeal.

THE BEER – Sound Brewery

I didn’t understand beer until Sound Brewery. Made in the little town of Poulsbo, right near where my parents live, these beers are just brilliant. The Monk’s Indiscretion and the Dubbel Entendre, both Belgians, are a couple of my faves. On their list of Seattle establishments that (sometimes – call ahead if you care) carry their brews, I’d recommend Brouwer’s, which is kind of out of the way, but you’ll never want to leave, or the Pine Box, just up in Capitol Hill, which used to be a funeral home. Brouwer’s, though, definitely has something for every drinker. So I guess this will be as close as I get to a bar recommendation as well. There are just too dang many.

THE BREAKFAST – Skillet Diner


Like me, I imagine you aren’t inclined to expect that Seattle is going to offer something awesome in the area of biscuits and gravy. Seafood, sure! Real deal Vietnamese in the I.D.? Check. Coffee, coffee, coffee? Check check check. While the biscuits and gravy at Skillet weren’t exactly the type you’d get in, say, central Virginia, they were SPECTACULAR. The sage sausage gravy was a holy thing. The “big boy” biscuit was immense & delicious, but not too too heavy. Next time I’m there, I want to try one of the daily “scrambles.” Or the cornmeal & pork belly (!) waffles (!!).


I am sooooo gay for paper. Letterpress-anything, screened posters, handmade papers, embossing, stationery, calling cards, etc. So the first time I entered Paper Hammer, I had seizures of joy. It’s dangerously close to the Sheraton & Convention Center as well.

THE BOOKSTORE(S) – Open Books and Left Bank Books

Really? Bookfair not enough? Here I have to break my “one recommendation per category ONLY” rule. You understand. There are two things I cannot visit Seattle without doing. One is slurping up a bowl of Green Leaf Pho. The other is making a visit to Open Books, a beautiful, friendly, luscious poetry-only bookstore. JanMisc2009 001The challenge for conference-goers is that it’s about 5 miles from the Convention Center, but to make it worth your while, Open Books will be offering a 15% discount on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the conference to anybody with an AWP Conference badge. They will also have slightly longer hours those days – 11:00 to 7:00 – and will be open that Sunday as well, as it’s the first Sunday of the month, from 12:00-4:00 if you’re still around. They also offer FREE USPS Media Mail shipping for purchases of $25 and up.

LEFTBANKCloser to the conference, I also absolutely adore Left Bank Books. They “specialize in anti-authoritarian, anarchist, independent, radical and small-press titles.” I can easily lose two hours just browsing there, and I always find treasures. I love their selection of ‘zines and pamphlets, as well as the postcards, stickers, and buttons. This place is one of a kind, and right up at the entrance to Pike Place Market. Thursday, March 27th, fellow NH poet Jennifer Militello will be giving a reading with Carrie Etter, Elena Karina Byrne, and Allison Benis White at Left Bank starting at 7:00. Several other off-site events will also be happening at Left Bank Books – you can see the calendar HERE.

THE CAR – Aces for Hire Town Car Service

This recommendation comes from my brother, who has HAD it with the taxi service in Seattle. He recommends that, rather than chancing it with Seattle’s touch-and-go cab situation, you call Aces Town Car, which (according to my brother) charges about a buck more per mile than taxis, but which also has a consistent record of, like, showing up and taking you where you want in a reasonable time. They are gushed about on Yelp and lauded by locals and visitors alike.

THE CLEAR-YOUR-HEAD WALK – Olympic Sculpture Park


Well, we will be visiting during the late-ish winter, so chances are that this won’t be the best walking weather. Or it could be gorgeous. If you need to get out and away and about, I’d suggest heading down to the Seattle Art Museum’s sculpture park. It’s pretty big, at a great location, with big-ass art (the Serra is my favorite) and great views (on a nice day) of the water and, across the Sound, the Olympic Peninsula — serious mountains.

THE BOAT – The Bainbridge Island Ferry


So, I’m really only recommending this if you’ve got a chunk of time on a clear/decent day. If it’s crappy, it’s not really worth it unless you just really REALLY love big ferry boats. The ferries are a key component in the Seattle-area transit system. Lots of people ride them every day, like taking the bus or the subway. I’m suggesting that you take a trip on the ferry just to catch the views and get out on the water. Pay to get on, ride it over and just enjoy the mountains, the cityscape, the salt air. The ride each way is approximately 35 minutes. You can get right back on (passenger fare isn’t charged coming back to Seattle), or stroll into Winslow where there are a few cute shops and things. But to me, this recommendation is mostly about the journey, not the destination. $7.85 fare for adults; $3.90 for seniors and youth.

THE SOURCE – The Stranger

For much, MUCH more information about eats, drinks, events, arts and culture in Seattle, check out The Stranger.

Even though it won’t be possible for you to admire my literary juvenilia in person at the Seattle Pacific University library archives, I hope these few recommendations are of use if you find yourself stymied by the overabundance of things you could do while visiting the Emerald City. Besides attend the AWP Conference, I mean.


Poems newly published

Hi all! I’m pleased to share this link to the latest issue of Blast Furnace, where I’ve got two poems this month.



I will still be making poems for you / out of silence . . .

I had a moving and humbling experience this afternoon. I was visiting poet William Matchett, who is a friend of my parents. Like them, he lives on the Hood Canal, in Kitsap County Washington. (He and my father would both want you to know that the Hood Canal is actually a fjord. Consider yourselves edified.) Bill turned ninety this year, and his fourth book, Airplants: Selected Poems, is due out shortly from Antrim House Books. He wrote me a couple of very thoughtful notes (like, actual typed-on-a-typewriter letters-in-the-mail) after reading Luck and A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, and I brought him a copy of Talking About The Weather. Hoping for another letter!

During our visit, Bill brought out a beautiful old leather-bound book, which his mother had given him when he was a student. She had proposed that he fill the blank pages (such luxe paper!) with his own poems. Instead, Bill has, across the span of seventy years or so, invited other poets to hand-write one of their own poems in the book. What a nice idea! And Bill was inviting me to copy one of my poems into the book. I even had my favorite fountain pen (with the brown ink) with me. (“Peepers,” from A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, was the one he requested, and of course I obliged.)

Before he set me copying down my poem at the dining table, Bill opened the book to show me some of what had been written there before.  Some names I didn’t recognize. Others…

Robert Frost’s “Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be The Same,” in the author’s own hand. Howard Nemerov. Carolyn Kizer. Jack Gilbert. Heather McHugh. W.S. Merwin, William Stafford.

Gwendolyn Brooks’ “looking” from “Gay Chaps at the Bar.” GWENDOLYN BROOKS, people. The first poetry reading I ever went to (I was 12 or 13 years old) was Gwendolyn Brooks and she blew my universe. She is in my holy canon to this day.

Bill Matchett was on the faculty at the University of Washington for about fifty years. He helped coordinate the annual “Roethke Readings,” which brought well-known poets to campus, which accounted for some, but not all of these poems. Some of the poets had done their copy-work while visiting Bill and his wife Judy at this very house, perched above the fjord, a house named Nellita for the town that used to be here long ago. Others wrote out their poems in Seattle, a few elsewhere. I used my brown fountain-pen ink and my tidy penmanship and copied down my poem. It felt strange and wonderful for my penmanship to be inside a book with the penmanship of all of these poets. It will feel strange and wonderful for a very long time, I think. And I’m just so touched at Bill’s invitation, just a thing he does when a poet visits him, I guess, but with such resonance for me. I felt warmth and connection and, sure, a little fan-girl giddy. I felt like a part of poetry in a very physical, leather-bound way.

John Crowe Ransom. Adrienne Rich! James Wright. Seamus Heaney’s perfect “Mother of the Groom.” Roethke’s “The Waking” taking up a whole page. Richard Wilbur. Galway Kinnell. Stanley Kunitz. A poem from each. Some of the pages had sketches, watercolors, illustrations. One of the illustrations, early on in the book, Bill pointed out, was by a young “Ted” Gorey. Yeah, him. (They met at Harvard where Gorey was roommates with Frank O’Hara!)   


Elizabeth Bishop. She wrote out part of “Sandpiper.” I stared at her handwriting for a long time. I tried to imagine her hand, her pen moving.



And when I turned the page to the gorgeous scrawl of “Then,” by Muriel Rukeyser, I wasn’t ready for it. I audibly gasped. I got inaudibly teary. I was supposed to finish copying my poem, but I kept going back to read hers. Here it is:


When I am dead, even then,
I will still love you, I will wait in these poems.
When I am dead, even then
I am still listening to you.
I will be still making poems for you
out of silence;
silence will be falling into that silence,
it is building music.

At Bill and Judy’s house in the woods next to the fjord where there used to be a town called Nellita, these words came up at me from that page, from Muriel, right up at me, and all of them were true.

April: Full of Poetry (and not as cruel as February if you ask me)

The snow is actually melting, for real, and making some spectacular mud on our road. But if the weather holds, looks like we might be good and pretty dried out by week’s end. We’re ready up here in Northern New England, I can tell you.

And I decree that I have gathered enough announcements to warrant a catch-all blog post. Sorry it’s been kind of sparse. Things will pick up come summer, I swear.npm2013_poster_540

So. In addition to allegedly being the “cruellest” month, April is National Poetry Month! And it’s jam-packed with Poetry Goodness.

I’ll kick off here by sharing that the Issue #6 of Sliver of Stone is up, and I’m honored to have a poem included. They’ve got a great format — very readable — and some tasty work. Pretty sexy poem by Ira Sukrungruang. I’m rubbing shoulders this month with Denise Duhamel and John McNally and Laura Madeline Wiseman and even Kevin McLellan, who I had the pleasure of finally meeting at this year’s AWP Conference in Boston.

I’m looking forward to a couple of readings as well — the Plymouth State University Eagle Pond reading series will be presenting Dick Allen (with an introductory reading by PSU student poet Kim Chandler) this Thursday, April 4, and Jorie Graham (with an introductory reading by PSU student poet Tyler Carignan) on Tuesday, April 30. Both readings are in the Smith Recital Hall at the Silver Center for the Arts at 7:00 P.M., and are FREE and open to the public.

I will also be doing a couple of readings this month — one on April 9 (also at Smith Recital Hall, part of Women of Words’ annual reading) on the theme of the “road trip.” Then, on Monday, April 29, I’m so pleased to be reading with my colleague, fiction writer Njelle Hamilton, at 7:00PM, in Frost Commons, on the Plymouth State campus.

The Next Big Thing

Hi all — I got tagged online recently by the literary self-interview, called “The Next Big Thing.” Poet Jeff Oaks tagged me. The purpose is to prompt writers to generate some interest in their recent or forthcoming work. I will tag other writers, via Facebook, to keep the viral thing going. In the mean time, I hope the following self-interview about my next book amuses you.

What is the working title of the book?

Don’t Ask Her About The Grapefruit

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Years ago, at brunch with Diana and Dodi, I was blinded by a squirt of especially tart grapefruit juice. Diana’s grapefruit. I actually had to go to the doctor, and of course we were on the yacht at the time, and it became this whole big THING. Anyhow, it became our little joke — about the stories that get told and retold — until Diana and Dodi were killed, after which I have neither touched nor eaten nor caused to be touched, served, or eaten, any kind of grapefruit. In spite of that, I have found the grapefruit a bottomless metaphor for my life story, and given that I will be departing shortly for starrier shores, I thought I ought to put it all down to paper. For posterity.

What genre does your book fall under?

Pop-up closet-drama memoir.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Playing me, Bruce Willis. Playing Diana, oh, unthinkable! Ok, ok, how about….. Heather what’s her name from Boogie Nights? And as for Dodi, I’m sure Antonio Banderas could make that happen. I think he’d be good, actually. I think it would also be a kick if Kim Kardashian and the Empress played one another.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Globalista bon vivant chews through trust fund via jetsetting and meets All The People before leaving this shattered plane for another.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Isabella insists that I was writing this book in utero. I don’t remember, but am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, since she was right about Facebook, those shovels, and nearly all of 2004. My MFA cohort (the program has disavowed any connection with me, so I will not bother mentioning it by name) saw half a dozen drafts and revisions of chapters over two years. The tenor of their written feedback suggested a certain level of jealousy, but I powered through.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My life, my muse, my impeding departure…What can I say? I guess, after all these years, I am ready to tell you about the grapefruit.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

A final pronouncement regarding Empress Babish’s gender fluidity. All but one of the ingredients you need to make Kim Kardashian’s Fresca Sangria. 100% correct usage of both the apostrophe and the semicolon. Heads of State Gone Wild.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

B’rachel Star is my agent, and she is cooking up a promising looking deal with Ultima Obscura Press. Fingers crossed!

OVS, AWP, and other arrangements of letters

February marks the publication of the latest edition of OVS Magazine, in which I am the “Featured Poet,” with a handful of poems, a brief interview, and even a photograph. I’m so glad to be included among such a great variety of writers and visual artists. You can support all of us by purchasing a copy HERE.  Photo on 2-22-13 at 12.03 PM

In a couple of weeks, the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference will hit Boston, as will I. I will be working at the Paris Press table for a few hours on Friday — Paris Press is hosting two fabulous events featuring such writers as Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell. And I will be participating in two off-site readings on Thursday afternoon and evening — the Queertopia reading at Club Cafe, and the OVS reading in The Loft at Berklee College of Music, 3rd floor of 921 Boylston Street, at 9PM. Also, I will be at the Slapering Hol Press table (T9) from 1:30-2:30 on Thursday — if you don’t have a copy of A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, come get one, and I’ll sign it for you! If you already have a copy, come on by anyhow to say hey. Hope to see you there!


Poems or Poem-like Things


The glorious Grolier’s Poetry Bookshop shall inspire me…

I am thinking about my writing today. No particular New Year’s Resolutions (I am not a fan), but some general resolve, buttressed by the support of a couple of good friends who are also poets AND who know the kinds of shots in the arms to give me.

I have not been writing much poetry at all these last months. This is sort of par for the course, given how much of that energy is devoted (rightly so!) to the students in my creative writing courses. I have mostly made my peace with getting the significant writing and editing done during summer. But I also feel so much better when I am writing at least a little bit.

I had a good run of 750 words, but am not yet ready to climb back on. I don’t need to write that many words every day. I need to make a poem (or poem-like thing) every day. It is already 3:45PM, and I have written neither a poem nor a poem-like thing yet today, but I guess now I have to, otherwise the three people who read this blog will give me what for.

Perhaps / if i break / this post / into / lines?

What keeps you going, poets? Any new tips or tricks other than the tested and true “sit your lazy ass down and write?”

I am pleased that this year will bring some new publications — I’ve got a couple of poems coming out in Measure, one in String Poet, and several in the forthcoming OVS. I will also have two poems in This Assignment is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching, which you can pre-order HERE!


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