"This work is unlike any other, in its range of rich, conjuring imagery and its dexterity, its smart voice. Carroll-Hackett doesn’t spare us—but doesn’t save us—she draws a blueprint of power and class with her unflinching pivot: matter-of-fact and tender." —Jan Beatty

Archive for April, 2015

Looking For My Parents (or What To Do About the Washington Post’s Claim That Poetry Is Dead?)

One of my earliest memories is of my mama mopping, in that little single-wide trailer that was my childhood home in North Carolina. The trailer had no carpet, just that late 60’s speckled vinyl flooring, and she mopped every inch of it, keeping it spotless down to each corner, as they say, “clean enough to eat off of.”:-) What’s striking about these recollections, though, is not the mopping itself, although that little tiny woman cleaned those floors with a ferocity that still cracks me up. What I love the most about these mopping-memories is the poetry she recited as she mopped.


Thin curtains lifted by a stray breeze through the rolled out windows, lemon-colored sunshine floating with dust striping a ladder of light across the battered couch and damp linoleum floors, my mama’s pretty little doll-sized bare feet, and that mop. In the sharpest memory, she’s reciting Rudyard Kipling at the top of her lungs 🙂 the British turn of word melding perfectly with her lilting Appalachian accent, the cadence of her recitation keeping perfect time with the swish-swish-swoop of that raggedy string mop:

And it was Din! Din! Din!

You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,

By the livin’ Gawd that made you,

You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

gunga din

Poe’s Annabelle Lee, Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, Whitcomb Riley’s The Raggedy Man, Longfellow’s Paul Revere, Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis, Edgar Guest”s Home:

 Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute; 

Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ living in it.

Edgar Guest showed up, too, when I doubted myself, was afraid to do something, try something new:

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,

There are thousands to prophesy failure,

There are thousands to point out to you one by one,

The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,

Just take off your coat and go to it;

Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing

That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.


My daddy, too, reciting Shakespeare and Yeats, the hazel wood and stolen child, and always—always—he and Mama both returning to Whitman, Mama reciting whole long sections from Song of Myself–Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul—Daddy delivering O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells! in his persistent Brooklyn accent. I still have the beaten thin first copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass they gave me as a gift when I was barely ten.

whitman leaves of grass my book

Why does this matter to the book tour I’m building? Because more memories than I can tell you about my parents have them surrounded by books, and neither of my parents were academics. In fact, until I was sixteen, neither of my parents were college educated. Dad had started in seminary in New York, but left without finishing to marry my mama. Mama went to community college to finally get her nursing degree when I was fourteen, proudly finishing her associate’s as a registered nurse when I was sixteen. These two people, far from those insulated academic halls, could, at any given second, recite from memory more poetry, more passages from all the great books, than nearly all of the literati—academics or writers—I’ve met in the more than twenty years I’ve spent in the university community.

I had the privilege for more than a few years to chair the Dos Passos Prize for Literature at the university where I work, an award I’m fond of as its purpose is to recognize under-appreciated writers, particularly those at mid-career. The last time I stood on the stage to open the prize ceremony, I was ecstatic to be introducing the novelist Robert Bausch, one of my favorite writers and people. Bobby is heartbreakingly talented, relentlessly forthright, both in his art and in person, and brilliant—in the same ways my parents were brilliant. I remember wishing time and again that my mama especially could have met Bobby. She would have loved his work, if not his politics 😉 but man, would they have had a blast matching minds and wits!

That night, I looked out over the crowd in the auditorium on Longwood’s campus, seats filled with students, some of them willingly, others there for the promise of extra-credit from their teachers, faculty, present and retired, and a handful of local people who support our small campus events. I studied that crowd, glanced over at where Bobby sat waiting for his introduction, and suddenly, I thought:

Where were my parents?

Not literally. Both my parents had walked on by the night this event took place, but I wondered where the people like my parents were, why they weren’t there with us. My parents couldn’t be the only ones, people who weren’t academics who loved good literature, who loved poetry, right? In fact, I know they weren’t—and aren’t. I have friends, people both older and younger than me, who are not academics, without college degrees, all who read voraciously, who read everything from the canon to comic books, who can hold forth the same way my parents did, reciting and commenting on everything they’ve read with perspective and insight equal to any PhD, and from whom I learn from in every conversation. 

**The young man who works as a highway surveyor, with his dreadlocks and rugged work boots, who grows his own food determined to move toward self-sufficiency, plays guitar to his beloved dog, and can sit with you by a fire he’s built for conversations on everything from conservation theory to recited verses from the I Ching to statistics and details recalled from stacks and stacks of books on Appalachian history.

**The communications engineer whose work specializes in systems associated with nuclear power plants, an absolutely brilliant autodidact, self-taught in more areas than I could even list here, who draws up effortlessly snippets from Thoreau or Dawkins or Ovid or a whole Shakespearean sonnet delivered in his deep Carolina drawl.

**The soldier who has seen and survived four deployments, two to Iraq, two to Afghanistan, who has read literally hundreds of titles across genres since he began his career in the Army almost two decades ago at eighteen.

**The postmaster in the tiny tiny post office where I live, who has not only read as much as my parents, but who—I swear—seems to have read everything ever listed in the NYT and who also reads all of the critical reviews of the novels he loves as well. I make notes while we talk through the window, taking his reading suggestions tucked into my pocket when I leave.

**The woman who works at the gas station where I stop, who always asks what I’m reading as she rings up my purchases, and pulls out a piece of blank receipt paper so she can jot down titles I suggest, especially poetry, so she can take it when she goes once a week to our small local library. She smiles, sighs wistfully, and says. “I love poetry.”

An article in The Washington Post the other day announced yet again that poetry was dead, this time complete with the bar graphs and charts that I guess are supposed to make it inarguable. Yes, I’m another voice that, if I looked around at my own immediate world, would want to disagree. My day to day life is filled with poets, and writers, and readers, and I see events and initiatives and young slam poets and performance artists and other people doing amazing things like the Miami Poetry Festival to fill the world with beautiful words all the time. But….

but I can’t discount the article as much as I might want to, no matter how it hurts my poet’s heart. I can’t disagree because I’m still looking out at those audiences, in bookstores and university auditoriums, and not finding my parents, or my non-academic friends.

My dear-beautiful-sister-in-the-word, the crazy-talented poet Amy Tudor, in a conversation we had about the academic hostage-taking of poetry, astutely called it “the Echo Chamber Effect,” saying, “Being only able to publish in (and write for) academia is doing a lot of damage. People already think poetry’s elitist and “gated,” and that’s not helping.”

So, I guess I’m asking—Did the audience leave poetry? Or did we leave them?

Did we leave our audience—locking ourselves and the art away inside that academic Echo Chamber, away from the very people who taught their children to value it, to love it, like my parents?

And what can we do about it? As a teacher of young writers, in that very same insulated academic arena, this bothers me on more levels than anything having to do with my own work. When that twenty-year old poet flops in the chair in my office, excited to talk about revision of his latest work, more excited to begin planning for grad school applications, what do I tell him about the future of this art we both love so much? I know one teacher who openly discourages students from pursuing graduate work for a number of reasons; by his own admission, though, his main reason is the horrible employment market for academics. I understand that he’s trying to, as he puts it, be realistic with them, but isn’t he just furthering the insulation by assuming the only future is academic?

How do I respond to the parade of students I engage with daily who soooo love the literature, and who soooo want to write? I’ve always been what some would call brutally honest with my students—about revision, about the difficult odds of getting published, about the changing nature of publishing, dashing those romanticized notions they have of the glamorous writer’s life they imagine. They call it my Random-House-Is-Not-Looking-For-You speech. But do I tell them, as my colleague does, to give it up?

The word I’ve found myself using more and more often over the last ten years has been: Adapt.

plan b

More and more of the readership is to be found online, no matter how much we love the smell of a newly printed page. More and more it’s on us to go chase that readership down. More and more we have to imagine and create our own opportunities. More and more it’s on us, as artists, to quit, as another astute friend said to me in a conversation about all of this, “quit taking comfort in our martyrdom,” and take responsibility for our own creative lives, not just the making, not just the writing, but the getting-out-there-and-selling part too. Adapt or die—isn’t that the old adage?

This house-concert book tour is, for right now anyway, my attempt to practice what I preach.

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done

But he with a chuckle replied

That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one

Wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.~Edgar Guest

Or maybe I’m just hitting the road with this box of books, because I really miss my literature-loving parents. Yeah, maybe that’s it too.


Links to cool people mentioned here ❤

The inimitable Robert Bausch! Check out his latest book: Far As the Eye Can See!   http://www.robertbausch.org/

Some of Any Tudor’s amazing work: http://www.connotationpress.com/a-poetry-congeries-with-john-hoppenthaler/2011/april-2011/812-amy-tudor-poetry

Miami Poetry Festival: “To have great poets, there must be great audiences too.”~Walt Whitman http://www.omiami.org/festival


Next up: Do we dare….talk about value? 

Literary House Concert: What Is It and How to Start (or Getting Intimate Like Gertrude Stein)

Happy Weekend, y’all!

I’ve been working this week on getting promotional materials together for this THE HEARD EVERYTHING INTERSTELLAR BOOK TOUR! Thanks to my computer-whiz son, a talented artist and photographer and all-around-awesome-grown-kid, J Hackett, this happened!


thanks and love for the poster design and execution to my talented talented son J Hackett ❤

So it’s feeling real now, y’all–this poetry house concert tour. And I’m getting into the logistics of all this fun. So what’s a house concert anyway? And where did all this start?

A traditional house concert is a musical concert or performance art presented in someone’s home or apartment or a nearby small private space such as a rec room, barn, lawn, or back yard. The feel-good adjective most often heard to describe a house concert experience is intimate.

I like that word 🙂 Makes me shiver a little 🙂

While this is all exciting and new to me as a poet, house performances actually have been around a long time, across all of the arts. People have pulled a chair or some grass or shook out a blanket for centuries, to be entertained by the traveling bard in ancient Ireland, or to listen to the 16th century music performed in a chamber in a nobleman’s home (thus chamber music), on into the 19th and 20th century when the Vanderbilts and the Carnegies had their fancy friends in to hear noted artists on those thunderously grand old pipe organs.


These get-togethers weren’t confined to the wealthy. While the examples associated with the upper classes are the ones recorded in the history books, I’m sure enough to argue that the earliest performances of this kind took place much much earlier, folks gathered around fires, on porches, on break from working in the fields, where music and poetry and storytelling all gave not only comfort and entertainment, but became the beautiful and artful records of the rich lives of people who seldom make it into those same history texts. Folk music, country music, and blues music in the United States all have long histories of this kind of performance, prior to the rise of availability of recorded music.

History is filled with examples of people gathering in private homes and backyards to enjoy music and recitations, to support artists of all kinds.

House concerts have made a major resurgence in the 20th and 21st centuries, with all genres getting in on the fun. According to Wikipedia, DJ Kool Herc is credited with helping to start hip hop and rap music at a house concert at an apartment building in the South Bronx. North American punk music came to life in basements, and I’m old enough to remember and too old to tell you how many garage bands I personally sat on concrete to listen to in my own rock’n’roll coming of age in the 70s and 80s. I’ve heard some of the best music ever sitting in a lawn chair, eating potluck mac’n’cheese, and drinking from a plastic cup, having made my donation, happily grateful for the music and the company.


House Concert with the fabulous Daniel Bailey Summer 2012 🙂 See the link to Daniel’s website below!


But historically, this wasn’t limited to music.

Time travel again back to 16th century Italy where the tradition of the salone or salon began and flourished well into the 17th and 18th centuries throughout Europe. Again, according to Wikipedia, a salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation about literature, philosophy, politics, and the arts.

These gatherings often deliberately followed Horace’s definition of the aims of—guess what? You got it!–Poetry! 🙂

Horace said the aim of Poetry was “either to please or to educate” (“aut delectare aut prodesse est”). From Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia who transformed her court into the most influential cultural center of Germany in the 1700s, getting the conversation on for the likes of Goethe and Christoph Martin Wieland, poet and translator of William Shakespeare to the famed French patronesses of all the arts, literary salons go way back. 

Gertrude Stein, Fanny Butcher (publisher of the Chicago Tribune ), Alice Roullier (art dealer), Alice Toklas and writer Thorton Wilder. In front, Bobsy (photographer's wife) and Richard Drummond Bokum, sales executive. Photo: Charles B. Goodspeed

Gertrude Stein, Fanny Butcher (publisher of the Chicago Tribune ), Alice Roullier (art dealer), Alice Toklas and writer Thorton Wilder. In front, Bobsy (photographer’s wife) and Richard Drummond Bokum, sales executive. Photo: Charles B. Goodspeed

Jump forward through time and the literary salon rocked on, with Mark Twain and the Bohemians of San Francisco, to Gertrude Stein’s famous Saturday gatherings in Paris, to the legendary parties of Gerald and Sara Murphy—Wait, who?

Gerald and Sara Murphy toast each other at Swan Cover, their home in East Hampton, ca. 1963 (Photographer unknown)

Gerald and Sara Murphy toast each other at Swan Cover, their home in East Hampton, ca. 1963 (Photographer unknown)

Gerald and Sara Murphy aren’t as well-remembered as their famous group of friends, but without the Murphys’ support, financial and emotional, in 1920s Paris, the greats like Ernest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, and other shining stars of the Lost Generation may not have even made the art we’re lucky enough to still have today.

Because—and yes, I know I said this last time 🙂 — the real stars of the house concert model are the hosts, people willing to open that garden gate, invite friends, and show generous public support for the arts.

Who are these wonderfully crazy art-loving people? I call them friends 🙂 Like the generous and fabulous Murphys, Frank and MeLaina Ramos are the hosts for the inaugural Interstellar event. Aren’t they beautiful? The critic in the back is Lorenzo, and his born-to-be-famous sisters Madison and LeiLani were no doubt out ruling the world 🙂 


I asked my friends if they’d be willing to host a poetry house concert to promote my new book, and they said Yes, ’cause they’re beautiful and generous like that. They were as as excited about the idea as I was! And the cool thing that’s happened since I first asked is that the events are taking on the personalities of the beautiful people hosting them, as diverse and interesting as they are themselves. That’s been some of the most fun for me! We coordinated calendars, chose dates. I suggested the potluck, hoping to create the least work, cost, or inconvenience for these kind people as I could. Then I drafted the basic invitation, sending it to my hosts to change as needed to fit their event.

We kept it simple 🙂 It looks like this:


Sample Invitation

The Heard Everything Interstellar Book Release Tour!

Dear friends, family and arts-loving neighbors –

You’re invited to a brand new kind of house concert—A Poetry Party!

Yep, poetry.

Join us for good food, good drink, good company, and a poetry reading!

in our home

with Poet Mary Carroll-Hackett

to celebrate the release of her brand new collection of prose poems

The Night I Heard Everything, from FutureCycle Press


with an optional potluck dinner starting at 6 pm.

If you are coming to the dinner, please bring a dish, dessert or drink to share.


What else: The suggested donation (we’re all pitching in to pay the artist!) is $15. Each guest receives a personally inscribed copy of the poet’s book.

We hope you can join us.


How many people you invite will be determined by the space, so build an invitation list with your hosts. And don’t limit your invitations to literary types. I’m not a musician, but I love and support musicians. And I love the idea of sharing poetry with people who might not seek it out, and learning from those same people. I mean…that’s where poems come from, right–all kinds of people living all kinds of lives out in the world? Uncle Walt and Auntie Gertrude threw those doors open for all types, and our recent tendency to forget that may very well be one of the biggest obstacles leading to all those Poetry is dead conversations, which, by the way, in my opinion, is hogwash. It ain’t dead a bit. But it could be argued that its disappearance into the academy has been something like a much-too-long-drug-induced coma. 

Time to wake it up? Whatcha think?

Mmmhmmm, poets 🙂 I can hear those gears turning even from here 🙂 Would my friends–? Who could I ask–? I wonder if they might–?

Do it! Ask! That box of beautiful books that you worked on so hard and for so long sitting there on your floor isn’t going to magically jump up and take themselves into the world 🙂 But your loving friends just might help you make it happen.

‘Cause yeahhh, one thing I have happily learned over the years–artists hang out with the coolest people 🙂 Like you.

Later and love from here, you rocking creative types,




Links for the cool people mentioned here 🙂

J Hackett’s Fabulous Photography: https://www.flickr.com/photos/completedrivel/

Daniel Bailey’s Awesome Music http://www.danielbaileymusic.com/

MeLaina Ramos, brilliant young poet, bloggin at PostPartum Poet: https://postpartumpoet.wordpress.com/

Frank Ramos Landscaping/Lawncare Business, one Fabulous Daddy keepin it all together:



Next up: About that Donation—You want me to pay for what????!!!


A Poet’s Gotta Do What a Poet’s Gotta Do (Or What Would Walt Whitman Do?)

The answer to my Oh-what-to-blog-what-to-blog anxiety arrived today.

Our usual UPS man backed into our gravel drive as he always does, coming to the little stone house in the trees in Virginia, setting my dogs off into an excited  leap-and-bark-fest, which he ignored, as he always does, and smiled as he handed over a large box to me on our stoop, hurrying away to finish his route. I didn’t even wait to get the shipping box inside. I had grabbed a pair of scissors when I heard the rumble of the big truck outside, and as he left, I knelt right on my stoop and cut the box open, too excited to wait! My new book of prose poems, The Night I Heard Everything, from the tremendously talented editor Diane Kistner and amazing other good folks at FutureCycle Press, had arrived.  The sun hit the photo of the galaxy being born on the cover, and I literally cried with joy at seeing it.


The road back to poetry ran long for me, the forever scribbling middle school girl in Catholic school plaid learning iambic pentameter during sixth grade recess from one magically dedicated teacher disappeared into the should-be’s and not-that’s of life in my non-writing twenties, dropping out of college to get married and divorced, and married again, and having babies, and working on factory floors and in offices, because–poetry couldn’t really be your job. 

I couldn’t actually be a poet…right? But here, fresh from the big brown truck, a collection of poetry, mine.

Now—what to do with them? The world’s not banging down the doors for poets these days, and on so many levels (ohhh the academic gods are gonna strike me down!) the way poetry has become so insulated (held hostage?) by academe over the years really bothers me.

I learned to love poetry from my parents, neither of whom held a four year degree. My mama recited everyone from Wordsworth to Kipling to Poe while she mopped our trailer floors, and my daddy recited Yeats, that fearless Aengus and the hazel wood as easily as he called us to supper. The poet who first brought me to my knees, Walt Whitman, self-published Leaves of Grass and spent his time in the world, teaching in a one-room school house, working as a journalist, as a paymaster, volunteering in war hospitals, and working for the Indian Bureau. Reading Whitman even as a sixth grader I understood how in the world, how in love with the world out there he was.  I always imagined him in those hospitals, or at the docks, or strolling through a street fair, memorizing all those beautiful faces he creates such a miraculous litany of in “Song of Myself.”

So, as this new book made its way into being, I thought What would Walt Whitman do? 


We don’t have a ton of street fairs these days, and I live in the trees in small-town Virginia, far from the old heralded bastions of literary society. In fact, my town doesn’t even have a bookstore other than the one connected to the university. Not a lot of traditional literati in these parts.

But you know what we do have?


House concerts.

I adore them. I go any chance I get, even driving the couple of hours back home to North Carolina, for the chance to ante up my $15 to sit in someone’s temporarily transformed living room or backyard, in support of a concert by some  fabulous indie musician I might never have had the chance to hear otherwise. I love it! I get to feed my live music addiction AND support another artist in the process.

What’s not to love?

And…um, why aren’t writers doing the same thing?

So…Modeling on the genius and proactivity of all those indie musicians I love so much, and THANKS (no words for the gratitude) to some amazingly generous hosts, I’ve built a book tour for this new book on the model of the house concert,  with readings scheduled so far in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Georgia.


Interstellar because my hosts, the generous loving folks, (many of them artists themselves–writers, musicians, visual artists–but not all), who are opening their hearts and homes not only to me, but to a new path for poetry, are the REAL STARS.

Gonna put that box of poetry and my little red car on the road this summer, out there, and blog the adventure.

And I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

Love from here 🙂 ❤


Let's get Interstellar, y'all! <3

Let’s get Interstellar, y’all! ❤


Next up: So how does this whole house concert thing work anyway?

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