Whom do we love, indeed? The answer can say a lot about us. Who are the singers, players, artists we love? Why do we love them?

PhillyCAM, the Philadelphia Community Access Media channel (Comcast 66/966HD and Verizon 29/30), has a great monthly show titled Who Do You Love? coproduced with the Moonstone Arts Center (Larry Robin's soulchild, and a great source of fine poetry, prose, and feeling in this town). Every month, folks get together to discuss a writer they especially love, read that writer's work, and read some of their own.

For the November show, I had the pleasure of joining three other poets. They included Lynn Levin, a faculty member at Drexel University and a mighty wonderful poet (see her wonderful book Miss Plastique).

Lynn Levin. Courtesy of the artist.

Also with us was Joanne Leva, another fine poet and a big force for poetry in our area, especially with the Montgomery County Poet Laureate program.

Joanne Leva. Courtesy of the artist. 

Our host was poet, humanist, and executive Elijah Pringle III:

Who Do You Love?: Anne Sexton on PhillyCAM featured (left to right:) Joanne Leva, John Timpane, Lynn Levin, and Elijah Pringle III.

We discussed our shared passion, the poetry of Anne Sexton (1928-1974). Here is the show:

Sexton was a "confessional" poet, a tragic woman, and an original voice, anticipating the feminist poetry of the next decade. She has had a big impact on many poets today, including all three of us. In homage, Lynn read her poem "You All Know the Story of the Other Woman," a short, potent, and frightening tour de force. Joanne read an excerpt from "Red Riding Hood," a truly sweeping rethinking of the children's tale. I read, as one might expect, "The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator," which, as in Sexton's best work, selects an unexpected or shocking topic and makes it her own – in traditional ballad meter!

We also were invited to read our own work, encouraged to choose poems we thought might have traces of Sexton. Whether they really do or not, I really liked my fellow poets' work. Lynn favored us with "Insomniac Romance." It begins with the lacerating line, "We hate to hate each other but we do," setting the tone for a sober and unsettling look at the conflicts within devotion.

Joanne read her wonderful "Food and Fare," which, among many other things, peels the onion of the entanglements of motherhood and a woman's struggle to define herself and live her own life:

Food and Fare

So fuck you
if you think
I am not
fair, when I
steal bread from
my young child,

when I ravage
her things for
food and fuel.
I suckled her
with my breast.
I bathed her

in my blood
and fed her
with illusions of
love
and she grew
from my body.

She ate my
food and there
are marks to
prove it, along
my breasts and
over my belly.

The ravages of
my past. Pillages
of love and
mate. So fuck
you, if you
think I am

not fair to
pillage her room,
ransack her things,
and dig for
my fuel, dig
dig for food.

I need gas.
I need bread.
And I need to be fed.
My daughter has
enough for love.

Nostalgia suckles me
as I root
her
room. I am
surrounded by books
we have read,

dolls and puzzles,
pieces that mark
me among this
mess. My childhood
calls. I sit
on a wasteland,

sift trains of
consciousness until I
can walk away
to feed myself
on the bread
of existence alone.

Me, I read "Not Enough Salt/Too Salty," which I always say is about cooking, but many of my friends suspect is also about many other things that may not be altogether innocent:

Not Enough Salt/Too Salty

I never have guests for dinner.
They always insist on tasting.
There goes spoon to lips.
Suck, smack:
No matter how careful I've been
It's Not Enough Salt/Too Salty.

And when we sit down to the table
They turn to sampling me,
And I bury my meat in curry,
Make sure that it's covered
Or else the taste might come through.

You lose more than gain in cooking.
It's a lifetime hunt for an eggshell,
Steak on the floor, flour on the shoes,
Burnt finger, watched pot, clock and clock,
The knife of desire, the thumb of impatience,
The salt-shaker doffs its fatal cap
And your perfect dish is ruined.

Someday I'll turn wine into water
And have the guts to be plain,
Stop laboring over the pepper mill,
Grinding and sneezing and weeping
At the dust sizzling in my eyes.
Then, guests, we can clear our palates
And get a good taste of one another.

I allowed as how that might have a little Anne in it. But then, I figured, as many poets do, that everyone you read leaves a trace. I'd be honored to think Anne left a trace in my work.