Writing in community takes many shapes in Maine. “Whitman on the Walls” was a recent event in Portland in which seven different films featuring people reading Walt Whitman poems were shown along with original poems written by a variety of local poets.That project is moving on to other cities with new poets writing in response.There will be another gathering of poets and artists responding to climate change and the amazing pink sculptures by artist Pamela Moulton.Those are just two examples of the ways writers and other artists are relating to community in Maine. Most importantly, there is Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance (MWPA), which sponsors workshops, retreats, and other ways of creating support and community among writers. The MWPA weekly newsletter, The Peavey, is full of information on gatherings and events.

But the four poems published together here come from a different kind of community. On Thursday nights, a group of poets gather and give each other prompts and then write together. It is a curious experiencean art form that seems to require solitude and long quiet hours suddenly becomes communal, off-the-cuff, trusting the levity and levitation of the group to surprise new work, to jiggle language loose. There’s an easy acceptance that all are drafts and even when they seem murky and mired, gems may appear, a little flint may keep burning. Among several others in the group these four responded to my request for work (thank you, thank you!) and each sent in three or four wonderful poems that have been started in one of those gatherings. I loved them all, but picked these particular ones for the kind of shared theme flickering through them. They may well have been written on different occasions, though I suspect two might have come from the same prompt. They all think about language in one way or another. Zanne Langlois and Maureen Thorson both write about those words that got away—not in some ethereal fog but let out of our mouths a little recklessly and with regret. Dawn Potter writes about that experience of thinking in retrospect of what we might have said—something more profound and imaginative than most of us can manage in the moment. Marita O’Neill writes of living in a different country that requires constant translation, and how that experience becomes a metaphor for the difficulty of translating experience into understanding.

—Betsy Sholl, Maine Arts Journal Poetry Editor


Slip of the Tongue


My mouth is a tragic flaw—

it is full of small apologies.

My tongue runs back and forth

along the back of my teeth,

a dog looking for an opening

in a fence so it can escape

and bolt into traffic. Outside

the kitchen window is a wall

of fog so dense it could hold

a school of fish aloft. I want

to slip out the door and into

its folds, my unwise sentences

smothered in wet velvet,

swallowed by a damp abyss,

extinguished like a match

dropped in a puddle. I want

to spool my sentences back

into the unsaid, wind the reel

and tug them from the ears

they’ve landed in, but alas

they are barbed and sunk fast

in all the wrong memories.


Suzanne Langlois


Sholl Birtwistle 4 copy

Thomas Birtwistle, Untitled, Peaks Island 2021, inkjet print, 20 x 20 in.


A Late Pardon


All the words you’ve ever said are connected.

They unspool from your throat, thick

as a hawser, fine as spider silk, dear

as a gold chain, cheap as kitchen twine,

all linked in an unending, single line

that is always growing.

Somewhere miles from you now

is your first “ma-ma” or “da-da.”

Everything you said in love,

everything you cried in pain,

every cliché and every phrase

as sharp as the tin star

that tops a Christmas tree

is formed into that ribbon.

Now imagine you could crank

the handle backwards, ravel

your words up behind the plush

of your thick-piled tongue

until you reached what

should have never left you,

repack the belly whose bile

first unleashed those words

like a carpet with a corpse in it,

like a parchment unrolled

to show the signature

that seals the warrant—

a sentence that cannot be commuted

because, like a body,

it’s already been carried out.

Maureen Thorson (first published in Bennington Review 7, 2021)


Sholl Birtwistle 1 copy

Thomas Birtwistle, Untitled, Peaks Island 2022, inkjet print, 20 x 24 in.


What I Should Have Said to the Person Who Asked Me Why the Fields Are Littered with Old Cars


Rotten apple in the tire treads & the bees sucking their homesick sweetness from bruise & bang, O autumn, season of mellow breathlessness, when the firewood isn’t split yet & the shed roof won’t stand another winter’s weight of snow & I am rushing from orchard to kitchen, dishpans heaped with fruit too soft to bite, though why am I always so desperate to save every single one, as if it would be a crime to let rot have her way, a crime to bless the hornets & the blowflies, to let the wheelbarrow rest in the way it’s always dreamed of, future of slow rust in the dooryard, contemplations of wind, of raccoons, of the woman who wanders out into the unmown grass, cigarette pinched between slender fingers, nightgown stained with coffee, for she too will be honored to rust in this yard, where the mice scurry under the collapsing shed, where evening shivers & hugs a new moon to its sagging breast

Dawn Potter


Sholl Birtwistle 2 copy

Thomas Birtwistle, Untitled, Peaks Island 2022, inkjet print, 20 x 24 in.




When we moved to Istanbul,

green parrots prattled

in fig trees; steep hills plunged

into the roil and twine

of Bosporus currents

where towns called Kuruçeşme,

Ortaköy, and Bebek teetered.


Emerald tails, yellow beaks,

they spoke of half-lives lived

in ancient lands more foreign

than this in a language

I couldn’t translate

and flashed through skies

like falling stars: green, green

gleaming against wide blue.


I didn’t know then

we were burning

down to our marriage’s

half-life, didn’t know

how quickly

our own flash and dive

was fading

into a gloaming

turned night.


While Ramadan moons

curled like ear-lobes

listening in the blue black sky,

each morning

a drummer beat and called

at 4 am the faithful to wake,

yelling as if the world were ending:

rise, eat, be full before the fast,

before long days of want.


We fell into sleep

while the parrots fussed

and prattled their

untranslatable dreams

and the drum beat

and thrummed

and the man called

and called,


Wake! Wake!


—Marita O’Neill


Suzanne Langlois’s collection Bright Glint Gone won the 2019 Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance chapbook award.

Maureen Thorson’s most recent book is Share the Wealth, Veliz Books, 2022.

Dawn Potter’s most recent book is Accidental Hymn, Deerbrook Editions, 2022.

Marita O’Neill’s chapbook Dragon Love was a finalist in the 2022 Poets Corner Chapbook Competition.


The four photographs are part of a larger series Thomas Birtwistle is doing on Peaks Island and the old battery that is located there: “Part of what interests me there is the way that meanings and associations are mutable over time. The battery that once housed massive armaments is now a haven for graffiti artists and the sea that once concealed German submarines can now be a benign foreground for a sunrise. Other signs, written and otherwise, seem ambiguous even in the current moment. It is this sense of the flux of meaning that I thought might well accompany the four poems.”


Image at top: Thomas Birtwistle, Untitled, Peaks Island 2021, inkjet print, 20 x 20 in.