Today's poetry for today's world

Diane Lockward


Diane Lockward is the author of Temptation by Water (2010), 

What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve's Red Dress.  Her poems have appeared in a number of anthologies, including Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac.  She is the recipient of a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and has received awards from North American Review, Louisiana Literature, the Newburyport Art Association, and the St. Louis Poetry Center.  She works as a poet-in-the-schools for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.





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How Is a Shell Like Regret?


—Colette Inez


For years you believe the ocean’s inside the shell,

swear you hear the water’s swoosh and moan,

as if the shell remembers,

until some scientific killjoy explains

the ear’s construction, how enclosure and compression

create an echo chamber within your head.

The sound you hear—pulsation of your blood, he says.

Years later that too is proven wrong.  Not water, not blood,

but ambient noise, wavelengths, a mix of frequencies,

exciting the conch’s resonant air.


The first shell floats in a salty pool at your feet,

squirmy sea snail long gone, house vacated.

Small fish squiggle in and out.

Every wish you ever wished upon a star,

every miracle you prayed hard for,

every time you went down on your knees and begged God,

every dream that didn’t come true,

each huckster, pettifogger, every trickster

and flimflam artist who ever sucked you in.

All illusion of ocean.


Inside that shell, the sound of regret, relentless as any ocean.

It pounds the shore, rises and falls, surges and pulls,

turns over, slides back out again, and keeps on coming.

Heart-shaped, the conch rests in your hand,

hard to fingernail’s tap and touch,

shatters if dropped.

Pink at the lip, pearlescent, like skin burned and scarred.


You gather one, another and another, collect them

on windowsills until the house is full.

Sometimes at night you hear a chorus of them singing

through the hard shell of your grief, singing its own song,

so bitter and so sweet.




—from Temptation by Water (Wind Publications, 2010)

first published in Valparaiso Poetry Review











It was always linguini between us.

Linguini with white sauce, or

red sauce, sauce with basil snatched

from the garden, oregano rubbed between

our palms, a single bay leaf adrift amidst

plum tomatoes.  Linguini with meatballs,

sausage, a side of brascioli.  Like lovers

trying positions, we enjoyed it every way

we could—artichokes, mushrooms, little

neck clams, mussels, and calamari—linguini

twining and braiding us each to each.

Linguini knew of the kisses, the smooches,

the molti baci.  It was never spaghetti

between us, not cappellini, nor farfalle,

vermicelle, pappardelle, fettucini, perciatelli,

or even tagliarini.  Linguini we stabbed, pitched,

and twirled on forks, spun round and round

on silver spoons.  Long, smooth, and always

al dente.  In dark trattorias, we broke crusty panera,

toasted each other—La dolce vita!—and sipped

Amarone, wrapped ourselves in linguini,

briskly boiled, lightly oiled, salted, and lavished

with sauce.  Bellissimo, paradisio, belle gente!

Linguini witnessed our slurping, pulling, and

sucking, our unraveling and raveling, chins

glistening, napkins tucked like bibs in collars,

linguini stuck to lips, hips, and bellies, cheeks

flecked with formaggio—parmesan, romano,

and shaved pecorino—strands of linguini flung

around our necks like two fine silk scarves.




—from What Feeds Us (Wind Publications, 2006)

first published in Poet Lore







My Husband Discovers Poetry




Because my husband would not read my poems,

I wrote one about how I did not love him.

In lines of strict iambic pentameter,

I detailed his coldness, his lack of humor.

It felt good to do this.


Stanza by stanza, I grew bolder and bolder.

Towards the end, struck by inspiration,

I wrote about my old boyfriend,

a boy I had not loved enough to marry

but who could make me laugh and laugh.

I wrote about a night years after we parted

when my husband’s coldness drove me from the house

and back to my old boyfriend.

I even included the name of a seedy motel

well-known for hosting quickies.

I have a talent for verisimilitude.


In sensuous images, I described

how my boyfriend and I stripped off our clothes,

got into bed, and kissed and kissed,

then spent half the night telling jokes,

many of them about my husband.

I left the ending deliberately ambiguous,

then hid the poem away

in an old trunk in the basement.


You know how this story ends,

how my husband one day loses something,

goes into the basement,

and rummages through the old trunk,

how he uncovers the hidden poem

and sits down to read it.


But do you hear the strange sounds

that floated up the stairs that day,

the sounds of an animal, its paw caught

in one of those traps with teeth of steel?

Do you see the wounded creature

at the bottom of the stairs,

his shoulders hunched over and shaking,

fist in his mouth and choking back sobs?

It was my husband paying tribute to my art.




—from Eve’s Red Dress (Wind Publications, 2003)

first published in Beloit Poetry Journal




Writer’s Tip: Have patience and persistence.  Respect your tears; they are often where the poems reside.  Learn the craft.  Be willing to serve an apprenticeship. Read the masters to learn where you came from.  Read contemporary poetry to learn what’s being done today.  Buy books by other poets; that’s one way we support each other.  Mark up the books and learn from them.  When you ask for a critique, be sure you are not just looking for compliments; otherwise, you won’t grow as a poet.



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