“It is Elizabeth Bishop’s Fish” by Colleen Michaels

It is Elizabeth Bishop’s Fish

who instructs me to gut

the image of long-line fishing

I had wanted so badly to drop

into a poem about my mother

- not a tremendous poem at all -

but I wanted to pull taut this

line between mother and child

tie us on “one long elegant line,”

I wrote. That was the victory.

But the poem hadn’t struggled at all -

An easy catch on the Bering Sea

tangled in miles of violent lines.

“Cut it loose,” Bishop

whispers from her boat.

This greedy connotation

of hook and drag.

The slitting of a leatherback’s

throat is in that line.

And what of the albatrosses

who dive down famished?

All that neck pain and cursing

now caught in the net.

Mothers and daughters are all

capable of cutting so badly.

Anyone can hack at something.

But to cut clean, to fillet

the fine-boned, or better,

to catch and release, demands

clear accuracy.

“Let it catch the light

before it goes down, this first poem.”

If you must make a fish into a mother,

listen to her shallow breath in your labor.

Cast further, for the venerable and battered

breath, her youth of polio and iron lung cages.

Find a use for those mentioned

flies, the greenheads,

who would bombard

you both in pregnancy.

Articulate iridescence.

Long-line fishing – skill less of course,

not even fishing, -swindles

sharks for their teeth.

They drop to the floor,

eaten alive by lesser prey.

“Your mother has bite.

How dare you not stare?”

The fishing champion tsks from her craft.

Note the arc above

your mother’s dead-eye stare,

her bleached centipede scar,

a sunning, still predator

on her bad leg.

Give her a rainbow in the gasoline.

The strain of straps on the pink

two piece, edges ruffled like a carnation,

the one she wore

swimming on Cape Cod

when first pregnant with you.

Colleen Michaels

Colleen Michaels

Colleen Michaels is always busy. She will be in charge of poetry on the trollies at this year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival in May. She will not only be recruiting poets, she will be reading her own work. Her poems and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies including The Paterson Literary Review, Blue Collar Review, The Mom Egg, Paper Nautilus, Stoneboat, Up the Staircase Quarterly,  Constellations, and Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Love and Lesbian Marriage. Her poetry has been commissioned as an installation at Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts. She was a finalist for the Split This Rock Poetry Competition and the recipient of an honorable mention in the 2011 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize.

Interview with Erica Funkhouser

Erica Funkhouser

Erica Funkhouser

This interview with Erica Funkhouser is the third in a series with the featured poets for the 2013 Massachusetts Poetry Festival (May 3 – 5 in Salem).  Each interview is accompanied by a poem, featured in the left column under “Poem of the Moment.” Erica’s poem is Impossible.

Schedule for Festival 2013 Is Now Available

Festival logo 2013The Massachusetts Poetry Festival 2013 is now open for your registration.

And we are offering more events than ever before for the May 3 through 5 Festival in Salem. We are starting activities earlier–at 1:15 on Friday–and running them later–until 4:45 on Sunday afternoon. Altogether we have around 200 poets reading and over 100 workshops, panels, and performances to choose from. [Read more...]

South of Boston Poetry Trail: April

 A report from Jack Scully:


Boston National Poetry Month Festival at BPL, April 5-7

booksAre you going to be at the marathon? Not the marathon that starts in Hopkinton, but the poetry marathon that runs April 5 to 7 at the Boston Public Library?

[Read more...]

Perugia Press Poet Wins the Gift of Freedom Award

Diane GilliamPhoto by Deborah Boardman

Diane Gilliam
Photo by Deborah Boardman

Diane Gilliam, whose second book, Kettle Bottom, was published by Massachusetts’s Perugia Press, has won the Gift of Freedom Award from A Room of Her Own Foundation. The $50,000  award is the largest of its kind for women writers.

[Read more...]

Alice Kociemba Reflects on Past and Present Common Threads Programs

Thanks to Alice Kociemba, a devoted contributor to the success of Common Threads, for this reflection on past and coming discussion groups.

Alice Kociemba

Alice Kociemba

In the first two years of the Common Threads Reading Project, I led or participated in six community groups.  Some were “drop-in” groups at local libraries as their National Poetry Month Celebrations, some were groups that had met over a number of years to read published poems and/or to critique poems of its members.  What  always surprises me is that complete strangers in the “drop-in” groups were just as open and authentic as the ongoing groups’ discussions. [Read more...]


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