Michelle Bitting

Poet / Lecturer

"It’s enough to think of it now. Enough to toss it back, 

to let that ugly beauty go."

photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher

 
A Sampling of Online Poetry & Prose

POETRY

Poem Corner 

Morning, Highway 126

 

Farmers heft and truckers load crates of lemons onto flatbeds at first light.
The skillet trees stream past,
silhouettes of yellow fruit and shadowed green
like something aquatic. Here I go,
sucked under, again. I love what won’t belong to me
and so sit tight, fingering the wound,
the open sinew, sticky gem pot
in the lap of the matter.
At any moment, my heart a bowl of pabulum,
stirred or eaten. Flimsy houses whiz by
the flanks of my eyes, jimmied
plank to dust
by the cranks of decline.
I drive while reason takes a hike.
Let me spin, I say.
Let me crumble in your hands,
my raw materials, my soil
ganged up on. You
and your gorgeous worms
that won’t stop working on it.

 

~ published in The American Poetry Review

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BIG NEWS!

My fifth collection Nightmares & Miracles won the Two Sylvias Press Wilder Prize, and will be available in April of 2022!  I’m absolutely gobsmacked thrilled.

Folio of poems named finalist for the 
2021 Coniston Prize.

"Threnody" named Finalist for 2020 Edwin Markham Poetry Prize, Reed Magazine.

"Picking Berries, Bellevue, 1975" was shortlistsed
for the 2020 MONTREAL INTERNATIONAL POETRY PRIZE! 

BROKEN KINGDOM is the winner of the 2018 Catamaran Poetry Prize.  Michelle also won the 2018 Mark Fischer Poetry Prize and the 2018 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Poetry Prize.
 
“Michelle Bitting is an original, no one writes quite like she does with her lush, ruminative excursions into the female psyche, into myth and the bliss and fragility of domesticity, blithe forays into sex, gender, politics, religion and what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother, a teacher and a poet striding into the kingdom, breaking every window, blowing open every door.”     ~ Dorianne Laux

 

INTERVIEWS

BOOKS

Broken Kingdom

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Nightmares & Miracles

Broken Kingdom

The Couple Who

Fell to Earth

click on title for video trailer

Notes to the Beloved

Good Friday Kiss

 
 

Praise and Reviews
for
Nightmares & Miracles
(Winner of the 2020 Two Sylvias Press Wilder Series Poetry Book Prize)

A diverse selection of existential poems that chronicle ongoing emotional journeys.

One the main themes of this lush tapestry of poetic works is self-examination—peeling back layers of one’s experiences to understand one’s identity and what one can become through that understanding. To that end, the 50 poems in this collection, which won the 2020 Wilder Series Poetry Book Prize, often bare the souls of their speakers. In the powerhouse “Boxing Day,” for example, the speaker remembers finding her alcoholic brother dead in their parents’ house on the day after Christmas, and her regrets are brilliantly symbolized by an image of a “raggedy / home-sewn angel / atop her green and spiky / throne…watching the whole thing unravel.” In “Legacy,” the speaker, who’s now a parent herself, grapples with a painful memory of her mother: “I tried to peel my mother’s words from my head, remove them like tape from the backs of poems I’d pressed to office walls in need of clearing when I left. But another layer of beige paint—stripped.” Other poems in this book address such topics as the era of Donald Trump’s presidency (“Tender Cages”), a son’s post-top surgery (“Through a Window in Winter” and “As He Now Lets Fall”) and the Covid-19 pandemic (“Ghost Campus” and “Sissy Spacek Telekinesis Ain’t Got Nothin’ on a Pandemic,” the latter of which references the bloody 1976 horror film Carrie). 

One of the most noteworthy aspects of this collection, as a whole, is how the poems subtly blend together images and ideas to create a powerful, cumulative effect. In “Pasiphae,” for example, the title character contemplates having sex with the Cretan Bull and considers what offspring that union could produce: “What rough beast is born of our coupling / will suckle at my breast / swaddled in unraveled leagues / of my sea-like hair.” Much later in the collection, the Minotaur returns, as does the labyrinthine imagery, in the poem “Labyrinth,” which begins with “Here we are at the entrance again.” In “No One Told Me About the Death,” the speaker’s parents perch like birds on the couch on Christmas morning: “Mother fed us pie, father, seeds of grief. / Birds on a couch, a wire, they waited / To feel filled up / With more than pie and seeded grief. / We ate ourselves in silence.” That imagery of birds feeding their young is effectively revisited in “Stilled Life,” in which the speaker and her two brothers—both suicides—are likened to baby birds: “We learned to open wide and swallow it all—liquor, pills, the barrel of a gun, when it came to that.” As the collection goes on, these connections contribute to its three-dimensional, immersive quality, which readers may liken to experiencing a sprawling art exhibit. And, like the works of visual art in such exhibits, these poems, and their kaleidoscopic images, will resonate with readers for a long time after they’ve closed the book. 

A lyrical narrative tapestry that expresses a lifetime of love and lament.

In her latest collection, Michelle Bitting reminds us that from nightmares sometimes come miracles and from miracles a nightmare might lift its shadowy head. Here the Gods are as human as we are, and we, in turn, can sometimes be full of grace. Bitting is a citizen poet but with a seer’s eye. This new, dynamic, book of poems is more than a talisman we should carry with us—it's a guide that will lead us through the varied worlds we live in.

MATTHEW DICKMAN
Husbandry (forthcoming from W.W. Norton, 2022)

Michelle Bitting’s newest collection deftly suspends the reader on a knife’s edge of everydayness: nightmares on one side, miracles on the other. And even after you come through, Bitting’s haunting questions remain: “at what point am I anyone?”… “can’t you love yourselves?” leading the reader to wonder if and how they will answer.

LYNNE THOMPSON 
Los Angeles Poet Laureate, 2021-2022

Praise and Reviews
for
Broken Kingdom

“Michelle Bitting is an original, no one writes quite like she does with her lush, ruminative excursions into the female psyche, into myth and the bliss and fragility of domesticity, blithe forays into sex, gender, politics, religion and what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother, a teacher and a poet striding into the kingdom, breaking every window, blowing open every door.”

DORIANNE LAUX 

Author of THE BOOK OF MEN

“There is a sense in Michelle Bitting’s Broken Kingdom that the poet is announcing the advent of something both gorgeous and horrific. It’s very much a book for our time. Repeatedly, these poems astound me with the power of their pronouncements and with their new and voltaic use of language. Broken Kingdom restores my faith that life can be miraculous, even when—or especially when—it’s as mundane as a father and son unstopping a clogged bathroom sink.”

 ZACK ROGOW

Author of

TALKING WITH THE RADIO 

Bitting offers a poetry collection that combines environmental, religious, and familial themes. This lush new book of poems, which won the 2018 Catamaran Poetry Prize for West Coast poets, invites readers into a space that’s both contemplative and visceral. From the very first work, “An Hour North of Lee Vining, California,” about fishing in the Golden State, the author’s descriptions evoke vivid, lively settings. Religious imagery also abounds, from God’s rampant destruction in the book of Genesis to the stained glass, pews, and cup of Sunday services. Some of Bitting’s lines even read like prayers: “I remember what matters. / Please don’t ever remind me again.” Motherhood emerges as a theme in the latter sections, as when Bitting’s speaker expresses awe at her offspring in “Touched”: “I don’t know how / we got so lucky / to say we know you well when / clearly you are from somewhere else.” A father-son plumbing repair sparks equal amazement at how a fitful teenager became a man who’s patient enough to unclog a sink in “sometimes i want to look away.” In “Everything Crumbling Becoming Something New,” the narrator alternately grieves and celebrates her daughter’s declaration that she wants to be a boy: “woman   now man / all your multitudes   I’m learning to sing you,” the poet writes. Throughout, the metaphors are masterful and fully engage all the reader’s senses; water balloons are “watered organs that want to burst” (“What the Rain Made”), female genitalia is a “vinegar cave” (“The Slaying”), and coffee is “dark fluid sun” (“After”). Bitting is a seductive writer who eases readers into the darkest depths; she’s able to open a poem in the seemingly benign setting of a high school darkroom and end it with the untimely death of a brother in Yosemite.

 

Fans of Sharon Olds’, Margaret Atwood’s, and Louise Erdrich’s poetry will find much to admire in Bitting’s vulnerable, emotive free-verse style.

A glorious set that weaves together the ethereal, earthly, and mundane.

KIRKUS REVIEWS

 October 30th, 2018

Praise and Reviews

for

The Couple Who Fell to Earth

In a multi-directional “one shape” of voices, time, people, spaces Bitting takes us in and out of her all seeing third eye poetics. We go into an orb of family, love, then we swoop out into the delight of humanity. And, in a sense, these refractions are the “the self’s / shady daguerreotype coming to surface / through exposure to light.” In day-to-day terms we find enlightenment and paradox—“ of death and peppermint,” of “birth and strange beauty,” of “Elysium nothingness” and “mythmaking machinery.” I find Michelle’s cosmic mechanics fused with historical platforms akimbo and the “sheen” of personal meditations, a rare accomplishment.

 

A unique treasure of visions and voice.

JUAN FILIPE HERRERA 

Poet Laureate of the United States

If [...] Benoît Violier was a chef’s chef, readers might think of Bitting as a poet’s poet. While she displays her wares for all to see—and admire—there is a level of excellence in her verse that should provide numerous pleasures for the connoisseur. In her new collection, she is often in conversation with poets, including Dante Alighieri, Wendell Berry, James Merrill, and Frank O’Hara.

Near the heart of her book, the author gives readers in “When the Sky Makes a Certain Sign” one of those lines that might sneak into her obituary decades in the future: “Every poem’s a love poem.” And in every one of Bitting’s diamond-sharp verses, there is something to love. Readers should count themselves lucky if this sublime volume falls into their laps. 

With this poetry collection, the author firmly establishes herself as a powerful contemporary voice in American letters.

Michelle Bitting is a poet of the natural world but in a completely Transcendental sense. Like Emerson, her poems seem to claim that, even in the face of all kinds of traumatic loss, “beauty breaks in everywhere.” The Couple Who Fell to Earth holds things of the world up to the eye in an effort to glimpse heaven, or as Bitting herself says, “Accept me. I love the dawn. / The sun is a sea / I throw myself into…”
 

This book is all heart.

JERICHO BROWN

 Author of THE NEW TESTAMENT

KIRKUS REVIEWS

 May 2nd, 2016

BIO

A fourth generation Angeleno, Michelle grew up in Los Angeles near the ocean. She studied theatre, wrote poems, danced, played music as an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley and went on to study Meisner acting and perform as a modern dancer, including a two year workshop and filming stint with Twyla Tharp for the James L. Brooks movie, I'll Do Anything. Formerly a line cook, chef, outreach worker and pre-school assistant, in 2001, she returned to creative writing and since then has taught poetry in the U.C.L.A. Extension Writer’s Program, led master classes and lectures at universities, high schools, and literary centers across California and beyond, including dozens of hours at Twin Towers prison, DTLA, and for ten years was an active California Poet in the Schools, reaching over 500 student poets per year. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University, Oregon, an MA in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology, and a PhD in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Michelle is the Poet Laureate of Pacific Palisades and has won multiple grants from the Optimists Club and Poets & Writers Magazine for her teaching work in Los Angeles. A mother of two, she is married to the actor, Phil Abrams.

Michelle Bitting was short-listed for the 2020 Montreal International Poetry Prize, the 2021 Fish Poetry Contest judged by Billy Collins, and a finalist for the 2021 Coniston Prize. She won the 2018 Fischer Poetry Prize, Quarter After Eight’s 2018 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest, and a fourth collection of poetry, Broken Kingdom won the 2018 Catamaran Prize and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2018. In 2021, her manuscript Nightmares & Miracles won the Wilder Prize, a starred Kirkus Review, and is published by Two Sylvias Press in April, 2022. She has poems published in The American Poetry Review, Narrative, The Los Angeles Review, Rattle, Vinyl Poetry, The Paris-American, Love's Executive Order, The Raleigh Review, Plume, Tupelo Quarterly, and others. New poems are found in Air/Light, The Night Heron Barks, Sugar House Review, Limp Wrist, SWWIM, The Banyan Review, and Pine Hills Review. She was a finalist for the 2020 Reed Magazine Edwin Markham Prize, as well as the 2019 Sonora Review and New Millennium Flash Prose contests. Michelle is a Lecturer in Poetry and Creative Writing at Loyola Marymount University and Film Studies at U of Arizona Global.

 

MORE: Her third collection is The Couple Who Fell to Earth (C & R Press, 2016), named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2016. She also has poems published in The New York Times, Diode, Green Mountains Review, Harvard Review (“Renga for Obama”), AJP, Fjords, Crab Orchard Review, Crab Creek Review, Rise Up Review, Passages North, Prairie Schooner, Askew, and others. Poems have appeared on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily and in numerous anthologies including Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond. Myrrh, Mothwing, Smoke: Erotic Poems from Tupelo Press, Pratik--Los Angeles Poets, Interlitq: California Poetry, and Beat Not Beat Anthology (forthcoming 2022).  Her book Good Friday Kiss, chosen by Thomas Lux won the DeNovo First Book Award and Notes to the Beloved won the Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award, earned a starred review from Kirkus and was re-visioned by C & R Press in 2018. She has won awards from Glimmer Train and the Beyond Baroque Foundation and been a finalist for the Poet's & Writer's Magazine California Exchange, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Julia Peterkin, and Rita Dove poetry awards. Poems have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes (including Best of the Net 2017 from Thrush Poetry Journal, and 2021 from Limp Wrist and Radar Poetry) and The Pablo Neruda, American Literary Review and Tupelo Quarterly Poetry contests.


To anyone interested in donating to an outstanding humanitarian aid program, she suggests Lidè Haiti (started by good friends Holiday Reinhorn & Rainn Wilson) - the organization that believes in empowerment through the arts for women and girls.

 
 

UPCOMING EVENTS

THE LATEST NEWS!
Upcoming Readings
& Events
in
2022

April

Redondo Beach Library

9th

April

24th

Los Angeles Times Book Festival

 

University of Southern California

3551 Trousdale Parkway

Los Angeles, CA 90089

at 4:20pm on the Poetry Stage

July

30th

Book Launch for Nightmares & Miracles

readings along with Matthew Dickman &

Lynne Thompson (LA Poet Laureate)

Craft Contemporary Museum

5814 Wilshire Boulevard 

Los Angeles, CA 90036

at 6:00pm

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CONTACT

For booking inquiries, please see Have Book Will Travel.

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Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher

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