Birthday Post – July 30, 2014

Today is my birthday, and I must say it has been a good year as far as getting my poetry published.  My newest chapbook, Worn Cities, attracted eighty pre-orders, enough for the publishers, Finishing Line Press, to proceed with a press run of 250 copies!  I am grateful to all my supporters who ordered copies, which will be shipped September 6th, 2014.

My poems have appeared in Cream City Review, About Place Journal,  and Yellow Medicine Review.   Of particular pleasure for me has been the release of Dawnland Voices (University of Nebraska Press), edited by Siobhan Senier.  It is an anthology of indigenous writing from New England tribal authors, including Mi’kmaw, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Abenaki, Nipmuc, Wampanoag, Mohegan, Narragansett and Schaghticoke people. Each of the tribal sections contains an introduction  by a tribal community editor that assisted Siobhan in collecting and choosing the pieces showcased.


Many of the authors I know personally or through correspondence.  Some I have showcased  on this site – Mihku Paul, Carol Bachofner, Cheryl Savageau and Siobhan Senier, the indefatigable editor!  In the Mi’kmaw section, I found myself loving Elsie Charles Basque’s story, “From Here to There,” where she recounts traveling alone with children from Saunierville, Nova Scotia to Willimantic, Connecticut, a place where my own mother had lived awhile.  There’s an excerpt of the late Lorne Simon’s wonderful novel, Stones and Switches.   James Sakej Youngblood, Jaime Battiste (father and son) outlined the basis of our Mi’kmaw treaties –underscored by an excellent essay by Grand Chief Donald Marshall Sr.,  Grand Captain Alexander Denny, and Putus (wisdom) Simon Marshall.

My entries included three poems – “Repatriation Soliloquy,” “Mi’kmaq Haiku,” and “Someday I Will Dance,” a personal favorite. Poems of the beloved poet, Rita Joe, are included and of course, Daniel Paul, our reknown activist, has an included section from his hard-hitting book, We Were Not the Savages.  As Joe Bruchac says, “…this is a brilliantly edited anthology.

If you want to order Dawnland Voices online, check out this link to learn more.

Even Dawnland Voices could not trump the best news of this birthday year: I found out the name of my biological fourth great grandmother–the one of whom I wrote in my May 7, 2013 post, listed below in the archives of this website.  Her name was (is) Marie LeBlanc Mius.  She had twin daughters, Marguerite and Madeleine Magdalene, born Mius – but taken in by another family, the Babin’s.  Marguerite became my third great grandmother.  There’s a story behind this “adoption,” believe me – but it’s for another time.  A cousin whom I found through autosomal DNA testing, Edward Cyr, helped me find her. I will never forget the enormous burden of obsession that rolled off my shoulders when Ed said, “You’ve found Her! You’ve found your grandmother.”  Not many people can boast of two family trees – double sets of relatives on down to the pre-colonial period of Nova Scotia.  I am thankful. In a future post, I will share a poem I wrote for Grandmother Marie.

Review: A Poet for Our Planet

A Turnpike Utopia: Poems to Resist Environmental Destruction for Profit and War
by Sam Friedman.
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War,
46 pages, Available from the author at
Written as a fundraiser. Price: whatever you can afford
(at least $3 to cover costs).

BACK IN THE 1950s as a high school student, I had to read Edwin Markham’s “The Man with the Hoe.” What happened was exactly like Emily Dickinson described: the top of my head blew off!

Later, when a professor asked how I came to be involved with fair housing issues, American Indian activism, feminism and so forth, I gave him a copy of “The Man with the Hoe.” I distinctly remember that he did not lose the top of his head, not even when reading

Time’s tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Judges of the world,
A protest that is also prophecy.

I often wonder how, in those innocent high school years of mine, such a political poem could have “changed the chemistry of my soul” to use Denise Levertov’s phrase from The Poet in the World.

I lived in an environment where there were no newspapers, no television and an extraordinary amount of religious fundamentalism.

Whatever mysterious communication took place between me and Markham’s poem that day was an important first step that helped set the direction of my life towards social justice. Throughout my professional life as planner and now as a working poet, I have always been drawn to the poetry of protest, especially when I have had the privilege of knowing their authors.

Sam Friedman and I came to know each other through our friendship with Hunter Gray, who moderates several private, online social action groups, and who has written articles for this magazine.

A few years ago, I volunteered to review Sam’s draft manuscript of some new poems and began to pay closer attention whenever he posted poetry online during our various discussions. He is a man intimately grounded in the urban world and its issues of AIDS, workers’ rights, racism, the mistreatment of immigrants, and so forth.

In “Pledge of a ‘Good American,’” he is not afraid to goad the reader into taking more responsibility than “…pledg[ing] to do nothing but vote. I particularly liked “After, On the Way to Thereafter,” where he uses his poet’s good craft to describe how he builds his global city:

…I may write a paper on AIDS,
or hug and console
a stranger or friend.
My evening, perhaps, put our heads in the oven
as we clean a community stove,
or I may weave a poem, or rest overlong,
or whatever seems needed and fun
as we build our embraceable
new global city
from the petals and rootings of dreams.

Picture Poetry

The poems I love best in this chapbook are seven ekphrastic poems, or picto-poems. Another practitioner of this form is the Anishinaabe poet, Dr. Kimberly Blaeser, professor in the English Department of the University of Wisconsin.

Sam’s short poem “Tuna” best illustrates the blending of words and image. The poet asks, “…do they turn bellies up / as they float into extinction / dreaming of sushi bars without sushi / of weeping humans / without their dead to eat?” Just below the two stanzas of the poem is a graphic photograph of a dead tuna. I wish the image could have been in color, as dreadful as that would be!

The title poem, “A Turnpike Utopia,” is either a little playful or tongue in cheek. It took me awhile to chuckle! But that photograph of hundreds of ducks clogging an intersection was too good to be true. Read this poem aloud! Savor these lines:

…they quack forth their horror
at ponds full of benzene,
they weep for their rivers
all covered with scum.


The geese seize the White House
as ducks fill the Senate:

…Their guano makes fertile
the halls and the rostra,
replacing the bullshit
where money once reigned.

My favorite of Sam’s eckphrastic poems came to be “Second Negation: Notes on the Day after the Revolution.” “What the hell do we do next?’’ the poet continually asks, in the face of a photograph looking like it came from Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring uprisings. “How will we live our meanings…? / How do we unleash the sleeping poetry?  the smothered power to create / that waits like crabgrass / in the brains and hands of everyone…?”  And towards the end, the poet — honest yet hopeful, has the courage to say,

I ponder the epic mistakes our revolutionary
is undoubtedly making
even as I rove, wander and scribble
through the rubble, the wonders, and the
shoving salvation
as crabgrass pushes aside the arid asphalt
of Madison Avenue
to seek its sun.

In the introduction, Paul Sauers rightfully praises Sam’s ability to “connect the dots between Wall Street, dying fish… [and] grotesquely profitable fossil fuel energy companies…” I would add to this praise that it is Sam’s strong vision that shines through our nights, as in “August Outage”:

In my five hours wandering without electrons
on the midtown streets of Manhattan,
in the ghetto core of Plainfield, NJ,
and throughout the long bus-sit between,
I hear no hostility,
share confusion, water, and thoughts
with many strangers,
make many friends

of the moment
of this moment when solidarity flowers,
this moment nested between years
of shoving, pressure,


Copyright by Alice M. Azure.  November/December 2013, Against The Current #167

August’s Garden

Wild Trumpet Vine
Wild Trumpet Vine

Here it is August, and the garden is still a source of delight.  With all the rain and cooler temperatures, the trumpet vines have never looked lovlier.  We have worked for seven years on those orange-red beauties, training the baby tendrils up the six by six posts of the pergola (arbor) my son Michael built for me in the summer of 2006.  Then, my sister Cindy and her husband, Pete gifted me with four pots of baby vines from their home in Woodstock, Connecticut.  Now, all summer the vines have burst into such wildness and beauty, giving us comfort and shade in the heat of summer and endless nectar to the humming birds zooming through and around the arbor. 

Right now—the Japanese anemones and naked ladies are blooming together.  I love the dignity the anemones give to the naked ladies, bereft of foliage.  The two sets of blossoms give a delicate airiness to the section of the garden they inhabit.  Next to bloom will be the mums and lavender hostas.

I love how Stanley Kunitz compares the cultivation of a garden to the composition of a poem:

In a poem…when there is a word or line that calls attention to itself and not to the flow of meaning, this can be deadly.  The poem has its own laws about what it can contain and what it needs to exclude. You have to trust the poem.  The garden, too, will tell you,     usually rather quickly, if you’ve planted something in the wrong place.

So, as much as I love my lilies of the valley, I have to prune vigorously or they will take over all the space in my small garden!


SOS – My Poetry Group

A Mighty Fine Poetry Group

I want to introduce you to my wonderful poetry group — SOS or, Six on Saturday.  For nearly seven years we have been meeting monthly to feed each other with food, drink and inspiration.  I think we have reached a point of trust where there’s very little we wouldn’t say or write.  Sometimes we seem to know each other better than we know ourselves!  For instance, I remember protesting that I didn’t consider myself a Native American poet exclusively–something like that, whereupon all five of Bunchies (as I sometimes call them) raised their eyebrows and uttered a collective “Huh?” From left to right, here we are:

Alice Azure‘s writing have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, the most recent being Yellow Medicine Review, Studies in American Indian Literatures and The Florida Review.  In 2011 she launched two books, a memoir, Along Came a Spider (Bowman Press) and a book of poetry, Games of Transformation (Albatross Press), the latter selected as the poetry book of the year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers.

gaye gambell-peterson is a degreed visual artist and self-taught poet–stays busy doing both.  Recent kudos: First place in 2012 St. Louis Poetry Center’s Nash Contest; art and poetry published online by qarrtsiluni (Fragments). Two chapbooks feature her poetry & collages: pale leaf floating (Cherry Pie Press) and MYnd mAP (Agog Press).  Art featured twice on covers of Natural Bridge and elsewhere; poems in anthologies Breathing Out and Flood Stage, and elsewhere. She belongs to Loosely Identified (a women’s poetry collective), St. Louis Poetry Center (formerly a board member), St. Louis Writers Guild, and SOS (her favorite).

Katherine Mitchell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri St. Louis.  She has taught the Alexander Technique professionally for over twenty years.  Katherine has a background in dance and teaches Argentine Tango at Washington University.

Keith Byler is a physician with ten years in the trenches of the emergency room and is now in private practice.  His poems have appeared in Emergency: True Stories from the Nation’s E. R.’s, Hurricane Blues, Margie: The American Journal of Poetry, Untamed Ink, Thema, Flood Stage and others. He is also a winner of the Metro Arts in Transit 2008 Poetry in Motion contest.  Keith has been active in the St. Louis Poetry Center and is a past board president for the organization.  He and his wife Danica (a marriage counselor) live on a small farm outside of Edwardsville.

Rebecca Ellis lives in southern Illinois, on the eastern bluffs of the Mississippi, just high enough above the floodplain.  Her poems can be found in Prairie Schooner, Natural Bridge,, Bad Shoe and Crab Creek Review.  She edited Cherry Pie Press, publishing nine poetry chapbooks by Midwestern woman poets.  She now finds an artful home with two writing groups–Loosely Identified, and Six on Saturday.

Gail Eisenhart‘s poems can be seen in California Quarterly, Assisi, The Centrifugal Eye, The Quotable and qarrtsluni. Her chapbook Dip in the Road was runner up in the 2012 Mary
Ballard Chapbook contest sponsored by Casey Shay Press.  A retired Executive Assistant, she works part time at the Belleville (IL) Public Library.