If I could ask for a gift, it would be to sing. As a result, I try to bring out the music in my poems through the sounds of the words, the placement of the lines, linebreaks, and punctuation. The forms emerge out of a process of copying lines over and over (in longhand) in an attempt to see which words are worth keeping. With shorter poems, I re-write the lines from memory to sift out the nonessential. The material for the poems comes from my notetaking, which includes dreams, experiences, quotations from my reading, overheard conversations, descriptions of places I’ve traveled, etc. These notes accumulate and then from time to time I sit down and re-read them and pull out images and ideas and lines that obsess me.


Two Poems


desire (comma) leviathan





(and when does she sing)

(sing to herself)

(as her mother, in the morning)


forgetful of error
I tender
an offering of salt


ungainly affection,
knotted with sweetness—
cord or corridor?


desire, a scarlet coat;
water glass held to the skin
for coolness


I can’t unsay—
the night is chalked with questions
and I am wakeful


(back to top)

desire (comma) leviathan




the whale, white as candleflame, crosses the ocean
as easily as a woman crosses a room





love those who leave you and return





returning home,
she notices the tree beside her house

this, she decides, is loyalty


what is there to say except


a tree, rooted and solitary



she takes a ruler and erases it

using, as measurement, the phases of the moon





having asked the only thing that matters

in a postscript


not mine


contingent ardor, the sky splits with color

what is place? anything breakable


tell it in the third person layered over the first





ravenous eye, a white camera
succession of color, burning


kindling the senses trues the blade


mistaking I for I and you for someone else
the history of two voices












last night the moon -- no, the sun --

glory and liquid

absence, the hollowed out


rainwater urgent for the sea


not mine, but my portion


two fortunes, cracked open, identical

speaker, layer the third over the first

kindle the senses, true the blade


as genesis, an asterisk in a french novel

fidelous in it capriciousness



my portion


strangers touch after laughter



(back to top)

BIO: Denise Liddell Lawson has been a member of Kelsey St. Press since 1990 and currently oversees design and production of selected titles. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and an MA in Teaching English from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. She teaches in the ESL programs at UC Berkeley Extension and Sonoma State University. Her poetry has been published in small press publications and two chapbooks: Where You Form the Letter L (SFSU) and Even the Smallest Act (Em Press).

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