Ars Poetica 101 by Karen McCarthy Woolf

Written in response to our exchange with John about the poem that has been a friend to him: ‘Ars Poetica #100 - I Believe' by Elizabeth Alexander

Karen McCarthy Woolf (from net).jpg

Poetry (and now my voice is rising)// is not all love, love, love/ and I’m sorry the dog died. //Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)/ is the human voice,// and are we not of interest to each other?


Ars Poetica 101
Golden Shovel after Elizabeth Alexander



John says, lays claims on the heart (and

also the head), that now

he reads it with more personal attention;  my

feeling is the voice

as a conduit for love is

necessary as blood, (is diligent as sap rising)


                        Poetry is

how we come to accept what we’re not

---is all sticky-green-tender and choral, all

we, you or I have, love

being so seemingly---    love

being the verb we must wait for in a subordinate clause, love

as a synonym for silly and


O, how I wish I wasn’t sorry

for not replying to your letter with the

pressed snowdrop, that arrived, faithful as a dog

who returns, doggedly, to the spot where his master died.



is testy as friendship (here

I confess I

tend to hear

you as a muffled version of myself

and if not wise, I’m loudest)


Poetry is

what the sea sings to the

last insatiable human

who thinks he’s the only one with a voice


to flood the dark with music and

dance or wonder who we are

and why we’re here or how we

became I, so exclusively, ---not

that the long-lashed ox knows any more of

cathedral spires, her interest

is in trees and grass, she doesn’t care to

reach beyond low-hanging fruit. Why, when each

exquisite blade tastes just like the other?

Karen McCarthy Woolf