Posts Tagged 'Sarah Busse'

Somewhere Piano

Somewhere Piano
Sarah Busse
Mayapple Press 2012

Reviewed by Bob Wake

Begin with the beckoning title of Wisconsin poet Sarah Busse’s Somewhere Piano. Within its pages, we find the eponymous poem doubling down and rechristened as “Somewhere Piano, Again.” It’s a poem about getting things right, not just on piano or paper, but in our heads:

These are the rehearsal rooms of the brain,
strangely echoed, some, and others
strangely dead. Wander once more
the narrow, ill-lit halls.

There’s no poetic triumphalism here. “Somewhere Piano, Again” suggests a painfully stalled dark night of the soul, a writer’s prayer for illumination:

Rehearsing and rehearsing
on the instrument of haunt, reversing again,
and overheard through walls, muffled,
a someone else, anonymous, not quite

in tune, remembered ever, trying
and trying (how much we want)
to get that passage right.

Busse is a rare species of writer: a secular poet of the sacred. She has found a language to illustrate the all-too-brief moments of revelation that sneak into our days, the instances of what theologian Jean-Luc Marion has called “saturated phenomena,” when we’re astonished by unbidden hints of connectedness. Busse’s poem “Flicker,” for instance, begins:

This morning a flock of flickers—flash of red,
flash of yellow at my feet—rose and flew
past the blue turkey-foot, the prairie dropseed.
The grasses nodded their purple heads, bronzed,
lazy in their affirmation … until the wind blew.

Although the moment evaporates in a September breeze, the poet’s own “feathered heart,” in the second stanza, has been altered by the experience: a quickened recognition of “how the honey locust / shivers down its gold and gilds my driveway …” By the third and final stanza, following the trail from prairie to driveway, the poet arrives home with a renewed reverence that continues to draw its airborne imagery from the bird flock seen that morning: “My children toss leaves up to see them / leap and fall and leap again, laugh and beg for more.”

SomwherePianoBusse’s poems have the curious feature—not uncommon in religious poetry from Donne to Dickinson—of never quite being about what they presume to be about. Her work directs our gaze or our contemplation to something beyond the poem’s focus. She’ll grant you a stable ground outside your kitchen window, but then she’ll pull you seductively toward something chaotic and profound, undefined but ecstatically present at any given moment if we choose to engage it, take it on. Here, embedded within a poem framed around her eight-year-old son’s whimsical improvisations on the family piano (“To Robert Cabaste Wind on His Birthday”), a kind of cosmic disturbance invades the morning:

He is playing imagined music for
imagined listeners of imagined radio, the lit
windows of morning kitchens dot the hills
of the Driftless. The music launches,
and a coffee cup suspends, dishes
go unwashed, an argument hangs midair.
Eyes go vacant at the curious passages …

In the final stanza, mirroring her son’s improvised melodies, the poet/mother is inspired to improvise her own morning prayer or hymn, a suburban matins:

Blessings on the marriages of the morning,
blessings on the scrambled kids about to board buses,
the dogwalkers and garbage trucks and gardeners
who will let the music drift over and off
and get on with their variegated days …

Sarah Busse

Busse in the last few years has gained recognition as a tireless proselytizer for poetry, especially in her roles shared with fellow Wisconsin poet Wendy Vardaman, as co-editor of Verse Wisconsin and Cowfeather Press. Verse Wisconsin found its voice—or, to be accurate, voices plural, as in “multitude”—when in the thick of the winter 2011 labor protests in Madison, the magazine’s Facebook page became a living anthology of poets old, new and spontaneously birthed, reacting in real time to a historic political crisis. In January, 2012, Mayor Paul Soglin appointed Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman to a four-year term as Madison’s Poets Laureate.

While two chapbooks preceded it—Quiver (Red Dragonfly Press 2009) and Given These Magics (Finishing Line Press 2010)—this is Busse’s first full-length collection. The real success of Somewhere Piano’s diverse and rich selection of 47 poems can be measured by the fact that Busse’s chilling 2012 Pushcart Prize-winning poem, “Silhouettes,” an account of a home-invasion and sexual assault, is but one example of the high level of artistry on display throughout Somewhere Piano.

[A version of this review will appear in a forthcoming issue of Wisconsin People and Ideas.]

Happy 50th Rosebud!

Rod Clark stopped by this morning with the much anticipated fiftieth issue of Rosebud magazine. Congratulations are in order. Certainly to Mr. Clark and his tireless editorial helmsmanship. To graphic designer Parnell Nelson. To associate publisher John Smelcer. To founder and editor emeritus John Lehman. And to the general excellence—past and present—of the magazine’s contributors and its masthead personalities who have kept Rosebud running and the quality unwavering since the inaugural winter 1993/94 issue. The 50th brings back the artist showcased in the first issue: the wildly original and often disturbing Wisconsin illustrator Dierdre Luzwick. There’s a wealth of new fiction, essays, and poetry. Known names like Ray Bradbury, Elie Wiesel, and Ursula Le Guin combine with new voices. Wonderful, too, to see contemporary Wisconsin poetry represented by work from Sarah Busse, Michael Kriesel, and Wendy Vardaman.

Dead on arrival

Today’s mail brought copies of the Elkhorn, Wisconsin Popcorn Press anthology, The Hungry Dead, edited by Popcorn’s founder, Lester Smith. The delightfully disgusting cover was designed by Smith’s daughter, Katheryn. The collection is cool from several perspectives (aside from the fact that my poem “The Last Supper” is included). First, Lester solicited submissions during October via social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as a sharp website, and then announced the chosen selections on Halloween with a mockup of the book ready for printing. Planning, executing, and printing a book this quickly is a crazy challenge, but the proof is in the blood pudding, as they say. The Hungry Dead is a classy production: sixty-five works of poetry and fiction from eighteen authors, including several well-versed Wisconsinites familiar to us such as John Lehman, Sarah Busse, Michael Kriesel, and Dead editor Lester Smith. The Hungry Dead is available from Popcorn Press and Amazon (you can peek at the contents with Amazon’s Look Inside the Book feature).

Verse Wisconsin Reading at Avol’s Bookstore

Verse Wisconsin co-editors Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman joined six other poets—Karl Elder, Fabu, Susan Firer, Max Garland, Derrick Harriell, and John Koethe—for a stellar Book Festival reading at Avol’s Bookstore in downtown Madison on Thursday, September 30th. Below is a video of the closing poem of the evening, a new work, John Koethe’s elegiac meditation on the 1960s, “ROTC Kills.” Wendy Vardaman’s interview with Koethe in the latest issue of Verse Wisconsin can be found online at the VW website.

Verse Wisconsin Publishers Lunch

A terrific Saturday afternoon of good food and literary talk with small press publishers at Edenfred arts residency in Madison. The event was sponsored by Verse Wisconsin, a newly launched poetry magazine edited by Wendy Vardaman and Sarah Busse. The magazine is a reboot and redesign of Linda Aschbrenner’s much-admired Free Verse, which flourished for over ten years until Linda decided to pass the torch last year.

Wendy Vardaman and Sarah Busse were kind enough to spend a few minutes talking with Coffee Spew at Edenfred about their co-editorship of Verse Wisconsin:

Thanks is due Edenfred executive director David Wells for preparing a startlingly upscale gourmet lunch. See below for photos of the attendees:

Left to right: Jerry and Paula Anderson (Echoes), B.J. Best (Arbor Vitae), Sarah Busse (Verse Wisconsin), Rod Clark (Rosebud), John Lehman (The Village Poet).

Left to right: Linda Lenzke (Our Lives), Jeri McCormick (Fireweed Press), Ralph Murre (Little Eagle Press), Charles Nevsimal (Centennial Press), Erik Richardson (Signs and Wonders).

Left to right: Wendy Vardaman (Verse Wisconsin), Lester Smith (Popcorn Press), Shoshauna Shy (Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf), F.J. Bergmann (Mobius), Jason A. Smith (Wisconsin People & Ideas).

Verse Wisconsin

Here’s the press release about Verse Wisconsin, now accepting submissions (some of co-editor Sarah Busse’s own poetry appears in CBR:16):


The new poetry magazine, Verse Wisconsin, has gone online as of September 1, 2009. Featuring information for poets across the state and beyond, the website ushers in the next phase of Verse Wisconsin’s project, and offers a place for poets across the state to post their local events and learn of others.

Co-editors Wendy Vardaman and Sarah Busse welcome everyone on board. “We know our links page isn’t nearly complete. Far from it! But we also wanted poets to feel free to share information with each other, rather than for us to pose as the experts,” explains Busse.

The magazine will publish poetry and prose about poetry and is currently accepting submissions. “We’re hoping to reach a broad cross-section of poets in the state, and beyond,” says Busse. “Our predecessor, Linda Aschbrenner, published a variety of styles and voices in Free Verse. In moving the magazine to Madison, and updating it, we’re hoping to continue her tradition and expand upon it.”

The editors are accepting poetry submissions from poets now, with the intention of publishing a first issue, online and in print, in January 2010. The online and print versions will offer different, but complementary, material.

Learn more at


Published from 1998-2009 as Free Verse, Verse Wisconsin publishes poetry and serves the community of poets in Wisconsin and beyond.  In fulfilling our mission we:
• showcase the excellence and diversity of poetry rooted in or related to Wisconsin
• connect Wisconsin’s poets to each other and to the larger literary world
• foster critical conversations about poetry
• build and invigorate the audience for poetry


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