Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wedding Bells!

I did the wedding thing 22 years ago and at my wedding were my dear college buddy, Arthur Cohen, and his partner Daryl Otte. So you can say it has been a long time coming but a wonderful day when Arthur and Daryl were married in New York City on July 24, 2011, the day same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

It was, as they wrote, a day fraught with potential disaster, "700+ Type-A gay couples with some serious pent-up nuptials-demand, 100 degree heat, a NYC bureaucracy that is being made by the mayor to work on a Sunday in the summer, and whatever the lovers-of-personal-freedom-but-haters-of this-particular-expression-of-personal freedom, have in store." Nonetheless, they hopped a shuttle from their vacation spot in Cape Cod and got hitched, well, without a hitch.

I was honored to honor their not-so-subtle request for a wedding poem. As one of the long-time married, I was moved by the thought of affirming, or re-affirming, long-time love.

Mazel tov, my friends.

Time and Tide

- for Arthur and Daryl
July 24, 2011

Gulls sweep the sky,
points of white unified in magnetic motion,
the way water glances, falls,
becomes waves.

Before they charted the tides,
the ocean knew -- already wedded
to the lip of sand, the way we were drawn to
the spark and shimmer,
pull and release.

We know --
still we want to name this,
chart the change and constancy of days and years,
stand and say we will, we still will,
we always will,
and kiss.

(c) Beth Feldman Brandt, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Walkin' the High Wire

Just back from two weeks of 24/7 poetry writing at Ragdale in Chicago. New projects, new poems, exhibition plans, more news to come. But for now...

Some of you know me as a poet. Some of you know me as the Executive Director of the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation that supports arts and culture in Philadelphia. A few of you even know me as both.

Well, this morning at the annual conference of Delaware Valley Grantmakers (along with Philadelphia's nonprofit partners) I came out as a poet, big time, when I had the privilege of kicking off the conference with a poem. They asked me and three other poets to respond to the conference theme, "Holding Together in High Wire Times." So of course, me being me, I started with some research on the definition of 'balance' which included "an object that is stationary."

I started thinking about whether, in the nonprofit world, the philanthropic world, or even our own lives, is that something we want to aspire to? Or do we just keep walking the high wire?


Find it the young men, their low-slung jeans
and unstrung shoes, shuttling down the handrails.

Above, the El expresses itself down Broad Street,
expresses us up to to the high floor hustle

where the window washer, swaying on his twin pivots
takes a swipe at clarity.

On 5th Street, she lifts the steel window shade,
sweeps the daybreak, dust swirling to the Centro rhythm

as the 47 spins its wheels through the Market,
awnings unfurled in the commotion of commerce.

No point of stillness in this city circus --

rapid transit of mass and weight and gravity
the push and pull that deflects our progress

diverts us with forces that are not enough
and too much, and we feel

too much and not enough, but stay anyway,
step out each day into air,

risk the fall, are carried away
ride this turbulent City.

(c) Beth Feldman Brandt 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Construction! New Website!

I admit there has not been too much poetry writing going on lately but I am jazzed to announce the completed construction of my new website: .

Blogs are great and cheap and easy but not so good at showing multiple things at one time or keeping really important projects (like the Sage book) up front without posting them over and over.

The new site, designed by Liz Bradfield and Pelagic Design (poet, naturalist and stellar web designer), lets you see a bunch of poems and projects. You can even listen to recordings of two of my poems that have been set to music. (By the way, Pelagic has some artist friendly design rates -- get in touch with them for that new website or design project you have been putting off.)

The blog will keep on keepin' on every month or so but is now redesigned and accessed through the website. Check it out, click around, browse through some new poems, and let me know what still might need some tweaking.

Also happy to report that I will be heading back to Ragdale for another writing residency in late October to start a new project. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Earthquakes and Hurricanes

News for those of you who've been following the Sage saga! I just got an amazing mock-up of the book from my creative partner, Claire Owen, and now we switch to printing/publication mode. And look forward to an exhibition at the Chicago Botanic Garden in May 2012 of Sage and other related work. Put it on your calendar all of you in the Windy City.

Speaking of which, it has been a crazy week here in Philadelphia. First, a hail storm. Next day, a simultaneous flash of lighting and thunder that shakes the house...and there goes the electricity. I guess you heard about the rare phenom of an earthquake that became a Philly bonding experience up and down Broad Street as people relayed updates from their iPhones so we all knew we weren't crazy or suffering from collective vertigo. Now we wait for the rare Northeast hurricane.

I am not one for omens or cosmic messages but jeez...what's next... a plague of locusts? Clearly, someone is doing a meteorological mash-up and leaving us all stunned.

In the weather vein (small pun there, very small), I have been playing around with new poems now that Sage is in Claire's capable hands. A.V. Christie, my poetry mentor and provocateur (provocateuse?), challenged me to write a ten-line poem that was all one sentence. Well, I doubled that and considered the ways in which nature (and the rest of us) struggle, day-to-day to be our best selves...with varying degrees of success.

Flood Stage

When the Mississippi crests far above the flood stage,
it eventually floods itself back into its tributaries
and becomes one itself -- a tributary I mean -- no longer
the thing flowed into but the opposite of that,
so there must be a moment or more likely
an hour or possible a whole day, when waves meet
themselves returning from where they have just
been and, if they were us, they might recognize the curve
of a bank or a low branch and be surprised to find
that they have not made any
progress at all, despite

the swift churn of their efforts that, actually
are effortless since this is what a river is
meant to do -- flow I mean -- except now
in the extreme, which is when we show
what we really were all along and maybe
we are not all singsong majesty but something
else entirely that we can mostly contain and even,
most days, make some good out of, which surely
outweighs the days when the currents
overwhelm us.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Visual Poetry for Sale!

I am so proud to announce that the broadside of "Sage" is now available for sale through Turtle Island Press. You can see a larger version of the print on their site by clicking on the image to the left.

The broadside, an 11"x 14" limited edition digitally printed with letter press type, is the first fruit of my creative collaboration with artist Claire Owen.

Two summers ago, I was in a writing workshop and met Claire, a book artist whose work I had admired. Being a poet has made me bolder than I used to be, so after the class was over, I emailed Claire and went out to her studio which is a mini-museum of paintings, hand-bound books, and natural artifacts tucked into a Victorian home in Mt Airy.

This chance meeting has turned into full-grown collaboration. We are hard at work on our artist book combining my poems and Claire's images, including this poem and 20 others. In the meantime, Claire has created a subtle interpretation of Sage in this elegant print.

The print is in a signed and numbered edition of 30 of which about 20 are still for sale. Prints are $75 and can be purchased by emailing me here. Purchase can include hand delivery by the poet if you live in Philly!

Considering I usually spend my creative time alone with a blank notebook, collaboration is totally energizing!

Take a look and post up your comments below to let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

As Mother's Day winds down, I thought of a poem I wrote (another in the "Darwin" series) that was based on a photograph of my great-grandmother and great-aunts taken in Russia sometime before the turn of the last century.

A few years ago, my sisters, our daughters, and nieces had gathered for my mother's birthday and I had written this as a birthday gift for my mother. Although I didn't know it then, it was also the last time I saw my dad before he passed away.

With love and appreciation for all of the women in my life, mothers and others.

Long-lost characters

In the heirloom photo, three women pose,
sepia and close-mouthed, enduring
bad teeth or a grim Kiev winter.
The matriarch, whose name no one remembers,
wears a white knotted head scarf
and clenches her right hand in her lap.
Rose, slim-waisted and straight-backed,
challenges the camera.
Her sister, Miriam, in high-collared black,
looks aside.
They all have our eyes.

What would they make of us,
their great-greats and their greats,
with our bared bellies and loose-limbed androgyny,
our husbands and wives who came here
from not here and found us to love,
our bilingual babies,
our speed-read Seders and Easter baskets
and Christmas trees in the living room.

We are the ones who return to the house
our father built, amazing him each time
with all the women he has spawned.
In the backyard, we snap ourselves,
bountiful and large, our heads
blond and dark and grey,
leaning together, laughing at Zoey
swatting her mother’s dangly earring,
smiling our wide white American smiles
at our great-greats and their greats,
posing for the story they will make of us.

(c) Beth Feldman Brandt, 12/7/2007

Want to get in touch? Email me here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Maybe Spring

Exciting news on the collaboration front. The broadside print of Sage with artist Claire Owen is being proofed as we speak. We should have it in hand in a month or so, and it will be for sale on Claire's website, Turtle Island Press.

But in the meantime, something old/new...

While poking around my parent's bookshelves a few years back, I came across a copy of Darwin's On the Origin of Species that had belonged to my grandmother. On the flyleaf was written her maiden name, Sadie Kesselman, 1919. Each page had a heading that extracted some important phrase from the chapter.

I wrote a series of poems with titles drawn from these page headings -- things like "The Importance of Barriers" or "Long-Lost Characters." This was my first foray into a body of work that shared a theme, a process which has proven to be a consistent way of working for me.

Recently I was looking over some of these poems and found this one from 2006. After a roller coaster week of snow, 80 degree weather, and violent thunderstorms, this one seemed fit for the season.

I also send it out to my daughter, born on the Ides of March, a young teenager when I wrote this, now turned 20.

"Effects of Climate"

The pendulum sun swings further
each day, gives way to gravity
and lands back home by dinnertime.

Spring wears me out.

All that potential requiring constant vigilance.
As if it's my job, my responsibility
to see each leaf, each blade of grass,
safely to the solstice.

March takes and gives -- the way
nursing a baby leaves you sated
and drowsy and ravenously hungry
all at once.

We are guardians lulled by new warmth,
caught unprepared when the sun burns
with hot June adolescence.

What did we know of this --
late snows, growling thunder, false spring.
How could we have known all it takes
to grow a canopy of green?

(c) Beth Feldman Brandt 2006

Want to be in touch? Email me here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Anyone who has watched "Antiques Roadshow" knows that it is not really the object that has value but its provenance. Value depends on where that object came from, who owned it, or its presence at some notable event in history, all carefully documented.

I am telling you this for a reason.

For those of you who are following the progress of "Sage", my collaborative book of poetry with artist Claire Owen, you know that this work is based on John Gerard's "The Herbal, or General History of Plants", 1633 edition. I was reading through the many introductory sections which give credit to generous donors (yes, that was the same in 1633) and include a section that describes the update of the 1633 edition by Thomas Johnson of the original 1597 Gerard text.

While slogging through the Olde English typeface and 's's that are written as 'f's, I realized that Johnson was accusing Gerard of stealing most of the work in this book from an earlier Herbal. I checked with my favorite Chicago librarian Ed Valauskas, who confirmed that, while taking past work from another scientist and building on it was an accepted practice, doing it without giving proper credit was pretty much plagiarism even back then.

So had I based my whole book on a stolen text? And more importantly, did it matter?

This poem won't be in the book but considers the question of provenance and how much we care about what was, rather than what is.


No clear lines
of history or family,
of sale or charity,
or theft.

There are gaps
in ownership, questions
of judgement, disputes
over value.

What you see,
spot-lit and sacred,
may not be
what it claims
to have been,
but only
what it is.

No reason
to hold dear
except the depth
of blue, the flow
of line, the balance
in this moment,
in the next.

(c) Beth Feldman Brandt 2010

Want to be in touch? Email me here.