Just grand

For my last National Poetry Month blog post, I respond to Grand Canyon, a mini-chapbook by Pennsylvania & Baltimore, MD poet Barbara DeCesare who, I confess, was a fellow student of mine when we were in grad school; and therefore I am tremendously biased about her work. But while bias enters into response to some degree, this post responds to the book, not to the poet. Well, okay–bit of both.

What’s different about this chapbook is 1) it is a long poem in 13 sections and 2) it is not available; I have a ‘self-published’ version personally photocopied and inscribed by the author. Therefore, I am reading what most of my readers do not have a chance to read. It’s kind of like finding a personal letter in a long-unopened drawer, and similar to the small chapbooks and photocopied zines of the late 1970s and 1980s. It is not easy to find those anymore, either.

barbara decesare poetry

DeCesare’s chapbook fits right in with my 1980s zines.


Grand Canyon is a long poem structured as a series of shorter poems and came to me with the following back story:

“A friend visited the Grand Canyon recently with his wife and two preteen daughters.

He told me about how terrified he was that someone was going to fall from the narrow path that descends in. Not just one of his kids, but anyone. It was more than he could bear.

So he left the trail and went back up alone. He didn’t want his fear to hold his family back.

It made me think about parenthood, empathy, fear, and love in my own life. About the balance between care and detachment, and the weird places where they overlap, like my friend’s experience.”


“He didn’t want his fear to hold his family back.” –This introduction felt oddly profound. I sat and thought about it for a long time before I turned to the first page of the poem itself.

Of which the first line goes: “An echo reminds you of your place in the world.”

Canyons, heights, fears. Echoes. Yes–as a person, especially as a person who has raised other people–I have felt those resonating. Often. The poem-pieces here are brief, poignant. They find me wrestling with my own worries, in my own life, which is not the poet’s life, nor her friend’s.

…I wonder/how long a mother can hold her child/before she needs that other hand on the railing.

The long poem, comprised of moments: short poems that feel so true I have to stop between each one, catch my breath, steady myself.


Thank you, my friend, for writing this poem for your friend–for your children–for yourself. For me.

(Someone ought to publish this poem/book.)





Another Reading reading

On All Saints’ Day, November 1st, I’ll be reading poetry in Reading Pennsylvania–again! And this time, I’ll be accompanied by my fellow Goddard alumna, the dynamic and talented Barbara DeCesare, author of Jigsaw Eyesore and Silent Type.

Reading, PA is home to GoggleWorks, a former goggle-making factory that now serves as studio, theater, and gallery space for Berks County area artists and craftspeople of all kinds. Small, struggling cities like Reading are turning to the arts as a means to fill abandoned factory space and create an economic and cultural reason to keep downtown areas alive. Sometimes these efforts succeed, sometimes they don’t. GoggleWorks opened in its current incarnation in 2005. So far, that’s a 7-year run, supported through grants and donations and rent. I am optimistic about GoggleWorks and about other such endeavors, including Bethlehem PA’s Banana Factory, which is a little closer to my neighborhood. I strongly believe the arts belong in our neighborhoods, in our school curricula, and in our lives.

I’m thrilled, therefore, to be reading from my book, Water-Rites, at 6 pm November 1st at GoggleWorks’ Cucina Cafe.

And I’m thrilled to be reading with Barbara, whose work is funny, poignant, imaginative, fierce, and charming by turns.

November 1st is the Day of the Dead in Mexico, a good day for elegies and to celebrate the lives of those we’ve loved and lost. I will be thinking of David Dunn, among other dear ones. And in honor of All Saints’ Day, I may also read a poem or two about saints; recently, I’ve composed a few imaginary lives of saints poems.

I have no idea what Barbara DeCesare has up her sleeve for this event, but it is certain to be delightful. If you are in the region, stop by at 6 pm. I believe an open mic follows the reading.

water-rites by Ann E Michael

York (not New York)

I gave a reading Sunday in York, Pennsylvania, one of many small Keystone State cities that hasn’t quite overcome the series of economic and social body-slams it’s experienced in the last several decades. Reading, Pa, which I wrote about in September, made news as “poorest” city; York has to contend with a recent moniker of “murder capitol” of the state. I know a bit about the depressing state of small, dying cities–I live near Allentown, PA and grew up near Camden, NJ. Just to name two…

But back to York.

YorkArts hosts a reading series twice monthly on Sundays at 3 pm. The gallery has a small footprint but big heart, and there was a pleasant crowd of attentive listeners and open-mic participants who respected the time limits and chose good work to share. Many thanks to Jeff, who keeps the space going (and creates art in several forms) and to Barbara DeCesare, a poet and friend who is eight-ways-of-awesome, and this is an understatement. See her website: Barbara DeCesare.

I’m still mulling over my multiple responses to yesterday’s event: depressing town, gorgeous autumn day, connections with old friends and newer friends, thoughts about the poems I heard and the poems I read and the artwork I saw, the daydreaming I did on the long trip there (94 miles) and back, the music I listened to. The apple Carol gave me. The homeless-looking man dragging his cart along Philadelphia Street.

Places like York and Reading and Allentown need the arts desperately, though most of the citizens, business-people, and politicians don’t realize it.

YorkArts on Beaver Street manages to make of itself a beacon for the arts in York. The gallery shows are genuinely fine, and the place sponsors poetry readings. Send them money! Or support a similar organization wherever you’re located. Especially if you’re located in or near a small city that’s fallen on hard times.

That’s my stumping-for-the-arts for this month. Back to poetry, gardens, or philosophy soon.