My Poetry Practice

I began writing poetry when I was in the seventh grade -- encouraged by an extraordinary educator named Sally Jordan. I had always loved poetry. My father read poetry to me as a child, and when I was old enough, he paid me to memorize it -- a buck a poem. He started me out with Shakespeare. Because, well, why not?

Mrs. Jordan picked up his baton (but without the remuneration). In junior high, we read Shakespeare, Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth and Longfellow -- and memorized them all. With my head so filled with verse, I began writing sonnets and epic poems by the time I was twelve. Writing poetry always brought me joy. I never stopped . . . until I hit thirty.

I stopped a little while after I moved back to Los Angeles to be with my dying father. I stopped because I got suckered in by the star culture of Hollywood that I had fled when I was sixteen. I got suckered in by what the poet Amy Gerstler calls "the next contagious tune". I got suckered in by all those voices that said, "Who do you think you are writing poetry?" Fact is, I got more than suckered in. I got sucker punched. . .and I stopped writing something that brought me so much joy. . .It took Ireland to get me started again.

I ADORE Ireland -- and in November 2015, I was invited to come speak at the Irish Film Institute by two strangers who became instant friends. Spending three amazing days with Mike and Ree Callan talking about poetry kickstarted my habit. I wrote my first poem in almost a quarter century on the plane ride from Dublin back to London. On that same trip, I visited my friend Sarah Douglas in Stratford-on-Avon. She shared a book I had given her when I was 27, in which I had written out some of my favorite poems . . . including two of my own. Since I had destroyed all of my poems, I was happy to find them again -- and happier still to find that they weren't too bad.

Six months later, a little miracle happened. In a box that I was sorting, I found a folder with most of the poems that I thought had been destroyed decades ago. I've begun reading through them and reworking them -- and as I do, I will post them. . . along with the new poems I am writing.

I am so grateful to be reunited with my poetry practice. Turns out, the places where joy resides always have been, and always will be, inside us. Even if we try to burn them down and brick them over. This time, I won't shut myself up. . .

I hope there will be something for others in these poems. But even if there is not, there was something for me in the writing of them. To speak my truth to myself, so that I can encourage everyone else to do the same.

Thank you for your loving support on this journey back to the joy that has been in me all along!


This is the poem that reignited my poetry practice. Written in November 2015 on a place from Dublin to Ireland, this poem captures a very poignant moment in my heart -- and the hope for new beginnings in my heart:


On my last morning in Malahide
the mists came in
tempting me
with a familiar
I did not feel.

Nameless ghosts
in a song
a scent
a gesture
a beach
painted with
the pentimento
of my past.

On my last morning in Malahide
the estuary still cradled
the red sailboat
that had carried my heart
in with the tide.

I turned away.
to a home
no longer mine.

On my last morning in Malahide
grey goodbyes
the siren song of the sea
the familiar throatcatch
of leaving
by the lure
of what lies
the next

—is it here?
I will take my seat
in the orchestra
that awaits
the instrument
on which
only I
can play
the note
to complete the movement
in the symphony
I have listened
my whole life
to hear.
— November 2015, for Mike & Ree Callan with love and gratitude

I wrote this poem sometime in my late twenties. I was obsessed with the saxophone, and even took some lessons after a friend gave me her old alto sax. I loved listening to the blues, still do. To tell you the truth, I cannot remember now whether I heard someone say something like this and came home and turned it into a poem or whether -- and this feels truer to me -- this was how I felt about the blues and the real musicians who played it. Either way, this poem is written as if spoken by a blues player -- I picture him just laying down his saxophone in a hot smoky nightclub and going outside to cool off. . .getting into a conversation with a total stranger (was it me?) and saying this:

THE LOWDOWN (from a guy who knows)

I don’t have no problems
with bullshit in the world.
You got your liars,
your cheats,
your basic Class A assholes.
What can you do?
But when someone bullshits
when they play the blues,
man, they just crossed the line.
See, the blues,
the blues is a sacred thing.
It’s like God to some folks —
it’s their religion.
Playing the blues is like
cutting a hole in your chest
and letting everyone look in.
You bullshit and it’s like lying to your priest.
It’s lying to your people.
Shit, it’s lying to your heart.
You can’t never trust nobody
who bullshits with the blues.
— written c. 1988