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Robert Rothman

Into the exquisite. Into the x-quiz
of what is it. No defining. The design

too deep for divining. All is a vertiginous
falling. Cliff diving. Love leaping. In-to-

me-seeing. Wet as water, unruly
like wind, uncontrollable: lightning striking

and the struck. Dazed, daffy, and delirious
into the next. How now how to know how

to find again and again. Before the end
which is now and now if it isn’t found

somehow. You can’t be a seer unless you are
seared: burnt on the outside; rare within. Who would

have thunk that you need to fall kerplunk into
the liquid all. Basho’s frog. Ribbit. Ribbit.


Mon, Mar 2, 2020, 1:21 PM


Dear Robert,

Thank you so much for your submission! We are delighted to inform you that "Into the Exquisite," has been accepted for publication in Issue #8.

The next order of business is soliciting the “Process Materials” that will accompany your published submission. These materials can take any form: a writer’s log, a journal entry, a poem, an annotated bibliography, a doodle, a photograph, a recording, even a conversation with the editors (or any combination of these, and more). We encourage you to read through past issues to get a sense of what other authors have submitted.

Anna from Headway

Mon, Mar 9, 2020, 7:33 PM


Hi Anna,


Thanks for selecting "Into the Exquisite" for publication.

Hope your readers enjoy the trip.


Why don't you send me any questions you have about my process or the poem and I will respond.


Spring has sprung where I live: cherry and plum blossoms, dogwood, grass, poppies; great but we need the rain; hope your day is going well. Everything is in the moment. Just got back from a month in India and Maldives. Incredible. I had the same response to India as I had several years ago in Bali—really high spiritual energy.



Fri, Mar 13, 2020, 5:25 PM


Hi Robert!

This is Hannah, jumping in for Anna. Apologies for the delay; we just wrapped up our semi-annual writing contest and are a bit behind on emails! We would love to do a Q&A by email about "Into the Exquisite."

I'll start with the thing that immediately jumped out to all of us: the poetic diction. There are so many interesting types of rhymes, almost word-association games, going on in the poem. (I especially love the first stanza, and "How now how to know how.")

I would love to hear more about how this poem came to life, especially since the other poems you submitted don't play with words in quite the same way. Did you know when you started that you wanted to play with rhyme? Did you always know where you wanted the poem to end, or were you more driven by finding interesting interplay between words? 

Looking forward to hearing more. Stay well!

Hannah from Headway

Fri, Mar 13, 2020, 6:45 PM

Hi Hannah,


So appropriate for this poem that your message begins: "Hannah jumping in for Anna." The rhyme, the jumping—the magical game of words.


For me, poems begin in curiosity and end in delight or you have a dead animal. Also, like life a poem must be unpredictable or I get bored. Like reading a book or seeing a movie and you know where it is going to go. Not for me, ma'am—I like my poems untamed and with a will of their own.


I never know where a poem is going to go and if I do I end it; usually don't know how it begins. For this poem, it was the word "exquisite." Many layers: all the vowels; the interesting "q"; the word formal but intimate; its connection to beauty that makes any poet tremble a la Rilke; the touching on the spiritual (etymology is "to seek out"). And of course hiding in plain sight: query, right in the heart of the word.


"Into the Exquisite" as a phrase came because I wanted to dive in. I have always lived by the ocean and grew up as a body surfer and swimmer, so for me the physical movement of it was natural and close to my history and bodily experience. Once in, I noticed a second way of seeing the word: "x-quiz of what is it." No school exam, more laughing Zen master poking you at dokusan.


This led to the first rhyme series of divining, diving, falling, and continues. "Ing" has a mesmerizing ring and also brings up for me aum, the sonatic power of words. I wasn't in control here and the poem began to write itself.


The alliterations of "dazed, daffy and delirious" came with their comedic and goofy side, and I went with it.


The "how now how to know how" was like a puzzle box, a koan, a tongue teaser, a near chiasmus. It slowed me down and brought me to the query of finding "again and again." (The "in" with the "g" in the first part of the word and carrying the "in" from find. By the way, all this was done subconsciously, not me trying to determine how many angels can fit on the head of a needle.)


Then the repeat of "now and now" and played into "somehow." I have come to find that play is high work, such as used in the Hindu world lila (divine play). There is something enlivening; a part of one's being is released. I am reminded of James Joyce supposedly laughing uproariously as he read back to himself at night his latest chapter of Ulysses.


Then the seer and seared. Got to live but keep the sap flowing.


And finally the big fun of "thunk" and "kerplunk" and back to my love of water and there he was: Basho's frog right in front of me and he jumped (like you did to initiate this interview) into the poem.


How good to end the poem with ribbit ribbit. That is, a word that is just sound and so rich in association for we humans on the bank of the pond. Again, not me in charge. I did want to find a nice pond after the poem was done, and jump in.


Best regards,



Tue, Sep 8, 2020, 8:43 PM

Dear Robert,


I hope this email finds you well, all things considered! Our apologies for the radio silence—we went on a short hiatus this summer as Headway moved to the back burner due to the pandemic. So sorry for leaving you in limbo.


We are once again working on Issue 8, where "Into the Exquisite" is slated to run. Still, recognizing that we have held onto this piece for quite some time without much communication, we would absolutely understand if you would like to withdraw the poem. If you are still interested in publishing this piece with Headway, I would love to continue the conversation.


I'm drawn to the concepts and principles from spiritual traditions that you've used to describe your work: the spiritual inquiry of the word "exquisite," the Zen master, the divine play, the aum. And of course Basho and his haiku, which often meditate on small scenes from nature. It is almost meditative the way that you are able to repeat and reiterate words and phrases to draw something deeper out of them. Does that ring true at all? 

Let me know your thoughts and thanks for your understanding,


Hannah from Headway

Wed, Sep 9, 2020, 12:34 PM

Dear Hannah,


First, I want to tell you that Headway's interest in the process as well as the product is refreshing and very inviting. In my experience it separates you from the mass of literary journals that don't stop to smell the fragrance of what they pluck from the submissions. 


I understand how the pandemic can interfere with publishing, and as long as you are going to publish Issue 8 in the near future count me in.


As to the poem itself, when I reread it I remember that longing/feeling when I wrote it, and I have certain poetic longings that repeat, such as hunger for the lean, the magic of words, and in this poem a certain playfulness that relates to lila from the Sanskrit for "divine play." I find that when I am serious I am actually sobered up to dull; and when I am intoxicated with curiosity, wonder and joy I am lighter; and I believe, more in touch to the greater reality.


All my very best,



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