Nancy Kulh and Joel Bettridge Poems







We are both interested in all kinds of poetic exchange—as editors, participants in organizing reading series, educators, and, of course, as writers. And because we are also old friends and frequent readers of one another’s work in various stages of development and undress, this exchange intrigued us as a way to formalize the conversation we have had for years, with its sharing of poems-in-progress, ideas, questions. Rather than stick to the formal character of one another’s poem, then, we decided to try and get at the spirit of our on-going conversation about poetry and writing, which has been engaging, thought-provoking, and surprising. We did so by giving our own poems over to be stretched and folded into something new. The pleasure of this project has been, in part, to write against, into, and around one another’s work, which we both take as a different way to attend thoughtfully to one another’s poems. In our own poetics, reading is always a kind of response, but this project provided an opportunity to enact that truth inside one of the significant literary friendships that compose our immediate poetic community.


Joel Bettridge

Nancy Kuhl






1. Bettridge to Kuhl


Thoughts of the Quantum Mechanic by Joel Bettridge


Lord make me a wave

Make me a line, a shape, a surface that bends in one direction and then another

Lord, a series of ripples

Make me frequent curves

An oscillation that travels from one to a different point with no permanent

displacement of the medium—Lord

A transfer of energy

A sudden occurrence repeated endlessly, Lord make me a particle

                                                                         Make me a very small piece

                                                                         A minute body

                                                                         Lord, smaller than any main component

                                                                         Make me any basic unit of matter

                                                                         Make me a finite mass of negligible size




Photography and the Problem of Time by Nancy Kuhl


Flash, a displacement

a momentary change

in every seam, series

of ripples, a wave.

And the lens all

focus and grip.

The medium is light,

the question: how

it bends, and the trick

of it, how it caught me,

caught us—we lean

together into the center.

Paper relic: I recognize

my same face and

his, nearly familiar.

Time’s frequent

curves never ceasing,

another transfer

of energy: memory

slips has slipped. And

now I am red-eyed,

unwavering;  I am

—still or only—

(o lord make me)

small enough

to fit the frame.





2. Kuhl to Bettridge



Astrology by Nancy Kuhl


Eventually evening

and a window


becomes an inky puzzle:

cloud-fingers cross


black blue sky dark

rising and the bright


shifting map. Visible

already and unreadable.


Stars move away, drift

or slide, abandon


my celestial houses.

Whatever planets rule


my fortune leave me

bankrupt, ruthless, ready.





Astrology by Joel Bettridge


At last, my celestial house, houses—


cells twitch, connect muscle to bone,

the internal barrier between


your breathing apparatus and the other

inside machinery, thin,


the fluid between your joints;

drift or slide or abandon, turn away,


the stars don’t care about you,


a contraction of the heart, an exploration


out to another planet,

the sea, the land, our maps, visible


already and unreadable,


terra firma, dermis and epidermis,

puzzle enough


—their motions only ruthless like a slowly hardening artery is





Nancy Kuhl’s first full-length collection of poems, The Wife of the Left Hand, was published in 2007 by Shearsman Books. She is co-editor of Phylum Press, a small poetry publisher. She is Associate Curator of the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.


Joel Bettridge is an Assistant Professor in the University Studies program at Portland State University. His first book of poems is That Abrupt Here (The Cultural Society Press, 2007).



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