Make Way

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Make Way

By Damian Koshnick


We are surprised when the coyote

swiftly limps down a city street,

only to settle into the open cooler of a coffee shop

beside cans of soda and bottled water to

cool off and ice an injured leg.


Cities are an odd nature the coyote must feel,

a dangerous nature which grumbles in unlikely ways,

and swarms and honks, with staring, upright animals

that yell between very tall, oddly placed hills.


Or, we are amazed by the leggy-moose that lifts itself up

out of the river’s original thoroughfare that winds through town.

This kind of event makes us think we should call someone,

that surely there is a department for other animals that

places moose back where they ought to be.


Or there is that moment when we might see a mother duck,

who leads her procession of small ducklings through a crosswalk.

That awakens a deep instinct in us; it may even change the course of our day.

We might follow them for blocks, between houses, and we might even stop traffic,

to see that others make way for these creatures,

like visiting dignitaries that we live near, but know so little about.



David Stacey first introduced me to the teaching and learning concept of “textual interventions” in 2002. While taking a course titled, “Rhetorical Approaches to Writing” Dr. Stacey described Rob Pope’s work. Years later, I discovered Stacey’s (1995) review of the primary book through which Pope described the approach. See Stacey’s book review of Textual Intervention: Critical and Creative Strategies for Literacy Studies at JAC Online (archives):

Put as simply as possible, a textual intervention requires that a reader change some portion of the original text and then determine the implications of that change.

For years, while teaching first year composition courses (that emphasized writing instruction through the study of literature and poetry), the “poetic intervention” assignment was always one of the most exciting units to teach. In most ways, I think it represented a chance for students to feel a bit rebellious. As most of us probably have experienced ourselves, the reverence and priorities that many teachers demand when assigning literature and poetry often obscures students’ own access to the texts. Interventions, however, offer a small, but meaningful opportunity for students to change that. When assigned, an intervention allows a student to invent a unique relationship to a text. At first they find it confusing, then liberating, and before you know it, they are explaining not just the changes they made to a given text, but how those changes differ from the author’s original work.

There is often a real excitement in the room when you tell students to weigh in to the margins of a revered text, or poem. But, this post is not about the method, or specific teaching strategies, etc. It isn’t a reinterpretation based on Rob Pope’s work, or a conceptual analysis of the practice; instead, I am sharing here one of the more successful examples that I created to introduce the practice and prepare students to conduct their own. Enjoy.


General Script:

Let’s read a poem together. At the end of it, I will introduce you to an exercise that you will eventually do on your own. But before we get there, let’s read a poem that combines mystery and love with reading and writing.

This is a poem, titled “Marginalia” by the contemporary poet Billy Collins.


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have manage to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

~Poet Laureate, Billy Collins


General Script: Before we talk about this poem, take a moment (5 minutes) to look at the poem again and write down some of your reactions to it.


General Script:

Ok, now: What are your reactions to this poem?


Did you expect that ending?



General Script: Now, instead of just admiring the poem, what if you jumped into the text and changed it somehow? What would you change?


But what if they did meet? (the one “whom I would never meet . . .”).


What if the book wasn’t ‘Catcher in the Rye’ but ‘_____’ instead?


What if the end-note hadn’t been “Pardon the egg salad stains” but a different sandwich?




General Script: Let’s look at an example. What if the final line of the poem:

Original:           “Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

Was actually this instead?

Intervention:     “Watch out for the chocolate smear, but I dig this cat.”


General Script: Take a moment (the next 5 to 10 minutes) and write down your immediate reactions to this change.

What kind of things did you jot down just now?



  • Immediately it is obvious, this change isn’t nearly as good as the original; however, this simple change to the text made me, for a brief moment, consider more just what I liked about the author’s original, “Pardon the egg salad . . .”. From this brief ‘re-considering’ I realized that we are not entirely sure what the girl is asking us to pardon her for, the egg salad stain, or the fact that she has fallen in love with Holden Caulfield, or perhaps both. In fact, by making it less than certain, she is incidentally suggesting that, “Hey, it is just an egg salad stain. And it is just a little bit of love. You can forgive me for this right?”
  • Love, in this manner, is partially equated with an egg salad stain. She is inadvertently saying that they are similar – pardon the egg salad, pardon the love. Implicitly then, love takes on aspects of an egg salad stain. Love, like an egg salad stain, is a bit messy. It is yummy.
  • And further, I would argue that it is legitimate to go a bit further, that egg salad is usually something that people eat during the summer time. And so, according to this assumption, we can assume the time of year. We can assume it is hot out. And because of this assumption, we can virtually imagine this young ‘beautiful’ woman bounding out of the library, back into the hot-summer world . . . full of this new found ‘Catcher in the Rye’ love-inspiration, ready to do something daring, brave, bold, adventuresome.
  • And speaking of Holden Caulfield, what if she had said, “Pardon the egg salad stain, but I am in love with Holden Caulfield.” No, no this is not nearly as romantic. It is her state of being-in-love that is important. It is the simple fact that she feels love that appeals, I believe, to the narrator’s sensibilities and hence eventually my own (the reader). For if she is just-in-love, the possibility exists that she could eventually love others, like “you”. But if she is specific, if she says Holden Caulfield – is it possible to feel jealous?, considering it is someone that the author has never met?
  • What if it was chocolate smear instead of egg salad stain? Well, chocolate doesn’t have the summer feel to it. It isn’t as fresh, or healthy. It is more something someone would eat because they are gluttonous. They are indulging. Chocolate leads, in this manner, to a whole different feeling about this person. And we do not get the same sense of a specific time of year that the egg salad implies.

“She was a sad girl, I could tell.” Again, different poem, right? Now, practice this with a poem of your choice.

Thought, Desire, and the Movement of Other Things -A Poem by Damian C. Koshnick

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Thought, Desire, and the Movement of Other Things

By Damian C. Koshnick

The peach is not in the bowl
it used to be, with the grapes;
instead, it sits now at the very edge of the kitchen’s round, wood table
by the green, empty wine bottle
where I put it yesterday.

The crease that peaches tend to have
is the critical balancing point
that prevents it from falling to the floor.
Even now, as a full breeze is blowing through the window above the sink,
the peach stays put.
Activity though, abounds around it.

I brew coffee. I chew my thumbnail.
Sitting beside it, I scratch my forehead recalling bits of a dream.
I am out of milk and sugar. A voice from the living room says,
“James Brown is dead.”

I listen to the mailman, with his afternoon envelopes
walking hastily across the porch, as the neighbor dog carries on
her tireless conversations about other moving things.

I want the peach to fall off of the table without intervening,
proof of forward motion, the push of time in the universe,
but I want to eat it too.

The breeze blows once slightly. It blows again more heavily.
A bee flies, he is stuck between two panes of glass;
the phone rings, a solitary ant jitters and shuffles across
the yellowing, broken linoleum.

The peach stays put, still life;
until, although irritated, I hastily put it to my mouth
and eat it up.

Suzie and Crusoe -A Poem by Damian C. Koshnick

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Suzie and Crusoe 

By Damian C. Koshnick

“as if I had seen an apparition; I listened, I looked round me, I could hear nothing, nor see anything; I went up to a rising ground to look farther, I went up the shore and down the shore, but it was all one . . .” 

from Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel Defoe

She is reading from a lamp, the extension cord
a coiled snake
across the porch.

Through the window
her mother sees her Suzie,
on a green bean bag covered
like a sage
in the orange, knitted, living room blanket.

Beyond the margins
of each page,
beyond the margins of her small lamplight,
the evening storm clouds are darkening.

As she turns the pages the porch moans
her mother calls out “dinner Suzie,”
but she is enthralled,
Crusoe is busy fashioning instruments before her eyes:

a crude knife,
an upturned limb becomes, suddenly,
a doorknob for his shack amidst trees;
he is walking long, desolate beaches at dusk, wrestling tides
while considering the curious eyeballs of a fish.

This whole man’s life
is a drama in her very palms.

Her father greets her as he arrives from work, from the rain.
She nods, turns the page;
the ocean and possibilities
are singing loudly in her ears.

At Such an Angle -A Poem by Damian C. Koshnick

Author holds rights to all content on this website. Author must give explicit written permission for reproduction/use of any content, whole or part, found on this site. Author can be contacted at:


At Such an Angle

By Damian C. Koshnick

This poem was written [Thursday, May 13, 2009] in response to the Jesusita Fire
which nearly burned downtown Santa Barbara to the ground.

 The nature of things change

and what is amazing

is not the change

but that we can forget this,

that more often than not

we do, for a time.


But a man clearing brush

in the hills above our city

will hit a rock at such an angle

on a Tuesday afternoon under sun

with a weed wacker

the brush he had meant to clear

will instead take to fire, slowly

listlessly at first

and then explode after he has gone back

downhill, satisfied with an afternoon of work

to eat.


Houses burn, tens of thousands of people

go elsewhere, worried suddenly by the awe

that possibly even a city is not permanent,

that it may not in fact last the week.


The man is wanted for questioning by police.

Because when cities burn, questions must be asked.

But there are no answers to these questions,

at least not ones that a man can answer,

even if you could find the right one;


who is eating cereal at this moment

in his pajamas, listening to the radio

given to him by his dear mother

who recently passed.



Comments? Feedback?


Damian C. Koshnick

Flagstaff, Arizona / (701) 306-8602

The Sleeping Reader -A Poem by Damian C. Koshnick

Author holds rights to all content on this website. Author must give explicit written permission for reproduction/use of any content, whole or part, found on this site. Author can be contacted at:


The Sleeping Reader

By Damian C. Koshnick 


A small mess of books on consciousness,

piled next to the sleeping reader

took to life.


A book about emotions cried silently.

As the tears streamed down his seams,

a treatise on reason, adjusted his newly formed spectacles

and set to inquiring into the events 

that led to this presence of sadness.


A concise guide to the field of developmental psychology pooh-ed,

wailed momentarily, and then promptly discovered his ego,

it was, afterall, a concise guide.


A book on the psychology of faith crawled clumsily

toward the warmth of the reader, on the nearby mattress,

sneezing from the dust that covered 

the unswept wood slats of the darkened apartment.


The book on recovering self-esteem

felt that others were indeed

judging him by his cover, old and tattered.

He held the humble dream close, wanting dearly,

to become a book on tape.


And the book on Freud, because there always is one,

stroked his goatee, leaned back and observed the rampant naivete present

in the hapless gaggle of books milling about before him.

He took appointments throughout the night.


Like a kindly uncle, he told them about their births,

how their innards had been edited and bound,

the details of oppressed sexuality inherent in such an upbringing.


As the sun rose, burning off the fate-filled darkness,

each of them blushed with newly minted illumination and fear

at the thought of the reader waking again, 

rising from the mattress to peel them open,

to hold them along the spine, 

and touch them page by naked page.


Comments? Feedback?


Damian C. Koshnick

Flagstaff, Arizona / (701) 306-8602

Poetry Submission: Rejected by The New Yorker [Nov. 1st, 2010]