The Heart Room, now available!

The Heart Room by Libby Kurz


As a surgical nurse, Libby Kurz has held human hearts in her hands. If a more suitable job for a poet could be invented, I couldn’t imagine it. The human heart— the want-muscle, the first knot of desire, the very source book— Kurz writes, “it’s like listening/ to music in your hand.” And it’s not just the music, it’s the silence. It’s placing a cold heart into the warm body and waiting for a body to restart, it’s “the way light would hit a thing/ and leave darkness on the other side.” Kurz muses not only on the heart separated from the body, but also on the heart in its proper room—the common blockages in marriage and family, the adrenaline rush of love, the small awakenings and skipped beats in the rhythms of adult life. Who do you trust to hold your heart? By the end of this collection, I feel perfectly comfortable with my heart in this talented new poet’s hands. –Frank Montesonti, author of Arts Grant (2017 Midwest Chapbook Award, GreenTower Press) and Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope (2011 Barrow Street Poetry Prize, Barrow Street)

“Pliable cores of muscle and spark”—who would know the human engine better than the gifted nurse and poet who penned those words? In The Heart Room, Libby Kurz gives us an intimate body of words that probes the depths of suffering—physical and relational–with raw beauty and wisdom. “Compressions” is astonishing. –Suzanne Underwood Rhodes, author of Hungry Foxes (Aldrich Press) and A Welcome Shore (Canon Press)

Never with clinical detachment but instead through the empathetic scope of poetry, Libby Kurz carefully examines the moments that give proof of the human “instinct/ …to survive.” After witnessing so many of the assaults of illness and aging on the body, after natural calamities, through the daily regimens of scrabbling for love and subsistence, the poet asks– How does one hold a heart? “…[L]ike cupping a bird/ in your hands” before “its wings/ spread widely/ into the open sky,/ pumping the air/ like blood.” In the end, she manages to declare, “The human heart/ is the poem.” –Luisa A. Igloria, author of The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis (Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal) and Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (2014 May Swenson Prize, Utah State University Press)

**book cover designed by Aaron McCall

**photograph by Bree Card Photography

Getting Warmer, but Still a Chill

Today is good Friday. I’m off work and my kids are home from school. We’ve had a lazy morning and I’ve been slowly chipping away at my to-do list. My children are binging on television.

I was going to go on run but couldn’t find my fleece. There’s still a little chill in the air, and by the time I found a sweatshirt, it started raining quite hard. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to sit back down on my couch. Now I’m here, writing this post, looking out my window.

The tree on our front lawn has yielded angelic blossoms. I try to find words to describe the scene, but language and photographs fall short. I can hear jet noise of Navy fighters flying in the distance, the birds chirping, the rain still falling. As if overnight, spring is here.

Spring always seems to creep up slowly, and once it arrives, I’m amazed we made it through winter. It’s like the arrival of spring allows me to reflect and take stock of what happened in the darkness.

I’m going through a strange time in my faith, which feels more pronounced today, on Good Friday, knowing I won’t be attending a church service today or on Easter. What had been our church for five years has grown into a mega-church and the services feel overstimulating and so distant from the intimate space they once were.

I wonder if worship can be as simple as sitting on a couch, daydreaming and looking out the window, wondering about God, and trying to put the complexity of human emotion and existence into the medium of language. After all, it’s my favorite thing to do! It’s what I keep coming back to, the place where I feel God’s presence most closely.

Good Friday is a day of grief but also a day of feeling the discomfort of polarizing emotions. We dread the death and believe in the resurrection. We lose religion and gain faith. The air is warmer with still a slight chill. The tension makes us crazy but it’s also the energy that drives any good story forward. It’s the fabric of our humanity. It seems like this is what Jesus’s life is all about…entering our world…helping us to embrace it as well…leading us back to God in the midst of it.

So, this weekend I’m taking stock. Not from a church pew, not in a fancy easter outfit, not by eating Cadbury eggs. I have done and bought nothing to prepare for Easter, but I’m looking at this tree outside my window and I’m bearing witness to the realization that it didn’t do anything either, yet somehow, after a winter of bare and brittle limbs it has these indescribable blossoms that are blessing the sky before they blow away in the wind again.

I’ll close with a poem I wrote about the month of March, a month of tension and in-between spaces. The poem first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Relief Journal.


The morning the distant

of a leaf blower
jolts me

from a resigned winter

How dare he! I curse
my neighbor

and his revving motor,

the flower beds of last year’s

The sun, too, is on the run,

the final curve of its orbit,
rising earlier,

staying out later. But wait–the sun
doesn’t move–

it hangs unwavering in the black
blanket of space!

We are the sphere in constant

caught in our constant craving
for light.

Do you feel it? The vacillation
of the earth,

always spinning yet never

like a revolving door
with no exit,

like a man fleeing the stories
of his past

only to relive them again
and again.

Poetry Around Town

I’m a little late to the game, but April was National Poetry Month, which opened some wonderful opportunities to share my passion for poetry. I was honored to receive awards from The Poetry Society of Virginia and attend a reading in Williamsburg for the prize winners. There were so many inspiring voices there!

If you’d like to watch the reading of my poem “How To Handle a Heart” you can find it here at Virginia Poetry Online.

The event was emceed by my friend and poetry mentor, the brilliant Suzanne Rhodes!

Last month, I was also was invited back to my children’s school to talk about poetry with some fourth graders! I find that they are more intimidating to teach than adults, but they were good sports and natural poets.

I forced them to compose a list of images to use in future poems and they pleasantly surprised me with their attention to all the senses! Children have a natural knack for tuning into the world in fresh and unfiltered ways. I was sweating by the end of my time with them–they kept me on my toes for sure.

April was a full and wild month–any time I’m given an extra reason to share my love of poems, I’m a happy woman. I find it funny that poetry needs a month of its own. It seems that only things at the brink of extinction are given their own day or week or month…to try and force recognition or reawaken the public’s interest. I’m not sure that it works, but it’s a great gesture!

I’ve been reading Christian Wiman’s fantastic book of essays called Becoming A Poet: Ambition and Survival. In his essay “Poetry in a Visual Culture” he writes:

“But the greatest power of poetry for this particular country, at this particular moment in history, may be simply this act of preserving some aspect of truly individual consciousness in a culture bent on obliterating it. That is to say, poetry’s deepest value for our lives may consist precisely in how unlike life it is, at least unlike this welter of images and uniformity and busyness that we are now calling life.”

He ends the essay with the beautiful reflection that “in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”

As May opens its bright doors and vivid colors to us, I find myself seeking more pockets to “live” a poem…inhabiting all aspects of my life authentically and intentionally. It is a work in progress, and I find that the daily practice of poetry continues to call me deeper into this journey.

If you are interested in digging into this journey for yourself…and if you live in the Hampton Roads area…I’m teaching a course this summer called “The Practice of Poetry” at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk. You can register here. There are 5 seats left! The course will be offered on Saturday afternoons starting mid July.

I will leave you with a poem by William Stafford. Poetry is a practice which ushers us deeper into the human condition, a condition which holds the paradoxical truths that “straying feet find the great dance”… and “stumbling always leads home”…

The Significant and the Superficial

As a nurse, so much of my job deals with the physical matter of life—vital signs, lab results, radiology reports—tangible phenomena I can observe with my own senses and measure in quantifiable outcomes. But what of the deeper things that we can’t assess or treat—the deeper emotional and spiritual aspects of human existence?”

Today I’m writing a guest post for The American Journal of Nursing. You can click here to read more.


Sunday Quotation: Art as Suffering and Peace

“Art is like Christianity in this way: at its greatest, it can give you access to the deepest suffering you imagine–not necessarily dramatic suffering, not necessarily physical suffering, but the suffering that is in your nature, the suffering of which you must be conscious to fulfill your nature–and at the same time provide a peace that is equal to that suffering. The peace is not in place of the horror; the sorrow does not go away. But there is a moment of counterbalance between them that is both absolute tension and absolute stillness. The tension is time. The stillness is eternity. With art, this peace is passing and always inadequate. But there are times when the very splendid insufficiency of art…can point a person toward the peace that passeth understanding…” –Christian Wiman, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet


Sunday Quotation: Pay Attention

“Literature, painting, music–the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things…

And when Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is the love God and to love our neighbor, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for Him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.”

Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary

The Landscape

I wandered out to the beach yesterday after getting groceries. I sat on the sea wall. The day was warm and calm. I could see a massive cargo ship in the distance and schools of dolphins popping up from the smooth surface. A few surfers were out in their wetsuits, along with a few desperate sunbathers. The moment was slow, like the clouds and the air, a bit stagnant, a bit warm, a bit cold.

As I drove home to get my kids off the bus, I felt a bit annoyed, looking at the lawns in our neighborhood. The splotchy grass, the weeds taking over, some trees bloomed, some still looking dead. It’s the dullness of winter mixed with the rapid multiplication of summer. We are in the in-between. Welcome to March.

This is why I have long struggled with spring. It can feel like purgatory. But perhaps my own cracks of annoyance are some sort of invitation?

I recently finished up teaching a poetry workshop. We talked a lot about tone, which is what a poem is saying between the lines. It reveals the attitude of the writer towards the subject and towards the self. Tone is most pronounced when something is at stake, when something is at odds. It’s most noticeable when it’s at an angle. My tone towards spring is one of annoyance. I feel the rest vs. activity, the death vs. birth, the cold vs. warmth, the safety vs. danger. I want to be outside but outside makes me sick (allergies)! Can we please be either/or?

But this isn’t life. Life is the tension, the in-between, whether it’s the weather or marriage or work or something else. Maybe spring is a lesson in making peace with that tension. I’ve been ruminating on Stephen Dunn’s collected poems. His poem “The Landscape” is exactly what I’m talking about. And the ocean: a shark for every pearl.

Coming to peace with the tension in our lives makes us feel more whole. When I find myself wishing something was more of this or more of that, I loose touch with what IS, and what IS–that’s where the power is–that’s where the poetry is. The sharks and the pearls. Give me all of it. Give me the cracks. I will break them open and fill them back in.

We should have known nothing’s safe.
That love is an ocean too.
That locks break if touched

just right. And so we live now
with doors open, the heart
learning about the fullness and ache

that comes from letting in.

–Stephen Dunn