The Homeless Poem Project (No. 02): Jean Voneman Mikhail

Coal Stove

You were the girl they wanted to send away.
Hot path under your feet, balancing your vessel
awkwardly on your head, zigzagging away from home.

But you stayed. You were the girl carrying water,
dousing the blue flames of your eyes
because fire, you decided, wasn’t the right element.

You were the girl they wanted to leave.
Their hints were subtle. Drafts kept the doors ajar,
cracks formed at the window. When a dagger of glass

broke off and fell one story, it didn’t shatter.
A wedge propped the window open all day
where the curtains sucked for air yet grew paler.

When everything invited you to leave, you crouched
down. You were the arch of the door, guard
to the fire, feeding it with each wooden step

she would pace. Her hums around the dinner table
reminded you of songs she used to sing before
you were born. You can go no further than her songs,

even though she doesn’t want you. You give the fire
your fodder, and listen to its own songs of forgiveness.

Of “Coal Stove,” Jean Voneman Mikhail says,

This poem began as a story my dad told me about a coal stove in his house, and a story about a girl who was not really wanted by her mother. I think I placed the two ideas side by side because of the idea of the hearth, of home, and the conflict experienced by those children far from home either as a place, or as an idea that brings them peace and comfort.

More About the Poet:

Jean Voneman Mikhail is from Avon Lake, OH. She has lived in Athens, OH, however, since 1982. She has a BA and an MA in Creative Writing at Ohio University, and a Masters in Library Science from Kent State. She has published in the Worthington Press, Riverwind and Fifth Wednesday Journal. She lives with her husband and three children and too many cats and dogs in Athens.

Photo (see above): Jean Voneman Mikhail’s writing space

 

 

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Backcountry, by Sarah Marcus

Sarah Marcus. Backcountry. Georgetown, KY: Finishing Line Press, 2013. 29 pages. $14, paper.

Sarah Marcus’ first chapbook, Backcountry, is a lovely and frightening narrative strung together by a series of vignettes. Evocative and lyrical, these poems tell the story of addiction in many forms: addiction to narcotics, to other people, and to a wilderness full of fire and animals both dead and feral.

In the title poem, the speaker portrays a couple at odds over the man’s desire to strike out into the wild on his own. The woman works hard to convince him to stay:

You need a permit, she says. He nods, considers the map and two
weeks without poker. Bear country, where packs of wolves

follow their weakening prey. It is important to make noise
on the trail, avoid carcasses, stream crossings

are always deeper than they seem, faster, rougher.
Throw me in, she says, and leave me there. You know I want

to be there with you more than anything in the world, he tells her,
it’s just not possible. Animals die in geyser basins in the winter,

she tells him, their carcasses eaten by grizzlies emerging from
winter dens—killed by the heat they thought would save them.

In tackling the issue of addiction, the speaker makes frequent reference to drug abuse. In “Recovery,” for example, we learn, “Meth free for nine years now, she looks at herself // mirrored minus eight. All she’s ever wanted / was for someone to be angry for her.” In “Register,” the speaker tells us, “Him banging intravenous / injections, she wants to know what happens // when there are no registers left. She wonders how / he could stick the needles into his hands, arms, legs.” In the poem, “Abscess,” we see the couple in a room at the Hilton. “In the morning she carefully fingers his track marks— / once abscessed, still dark and delicate.” In this way, the speaker deftly weaves us through a perilous terrain of addiction, love, and recovery.

One fascinating aspect of this book is the perspective of the speaker, which switches near the end. The majority of the poems are in the third person, but the final five are in the first, which is jarring in the best sense of the word. For most of the chapbook, the speaker is detached, is the person telling the story, not a person in the story. With the introduction of the first person, the reader feels suddenly face-to-face with the speaker, drawn into an unexpected intimacy.

When this occurs, the slight shift in tone is notable. “She’s grown quiet when making love,” the speaker reports in “When you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart.” “She’s always out riding // and never at home. She’s annoyed they’ve hiked all these / miles to have the same conversation they’ve had at their kitchen // table hundreds of times before.” By the time we reach the final poem, which I include here in its entirety, we are confronted by the speaker’s beautiful and sad vulnerability.

But Mostly They Were Bears

We linger near the mouths of caves,
track footprints till dusk descends—
people have followed these trails
for thousands of years and from you
all I want is a few words.

I am rock sheltered
between you
and the carvings
that read me to sleep
and I dream of
following the bears
across continents—

the way we’ve lived
together pretending
as if the land bridge isn’t long gone.

A skinned bear
looks like a human corpse.
I am as much bear
as you are.

If we don’t make it down
I want to make sure
our bones are interred together
in the same grave.

I want you to tell them
I was a bear and I am
laid with bears.
And you were the one,
strapped with meat,
so pregnant you crawled back.

In Backcountry, Sarah Marcus knits together brief scenes from a troubled relationship and creates a narrative that is as harrowing – and as heartbreaking – as it is unforgettable. She depicts this relationship very much as she depicts the natural world: in all its terrifying violence. In doing so, she reminds us that love is a place to which we often wish to escape, but when dark and tumultuous, it’s a place from which we may never crawl back.

More about this poet:

Sarah Marcus is the author of BACKCOUNTRY (2013, Finishing Line Press) and Every Bird, To You (2013, Crisis Chronicles Press). Her other work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, CALYX Journal, Spork, Nashville Review, Slipstream, Luna Luna, and Bodega, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and a spirited Count Coordinator for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH. Find her at sarahannmarcus.com.

Note on Formatting: In the poem “Backcountry,” included in full at the beginning of this review, the lines run a bit long. In a few instances, a single word ends up alone on a line. This is not the intention of the poet.

The Homeless Poem Project (No. 01): Sheila Black

Crawl In

I feel as if I have been waiting to write
this poem a long time—

I practiced rituals of forgiveness, scattering
sage on the threshold or

peeling the wax leavings off the red candle.
None of it quite did

away with the needle that stabbed through
at odd moments of the day.

I found myself saying junior high things
like “I thought we were best friends.”

What is it to do harm? In some sense the
results were dramatic for me—

I left and/or lost a home, a knowing of my place
and what the objects around me

might mean. Morning: a slight shiver as
rain streaks across the windshield and the

person before me in the take-out coffee
drive-through suffers some kind of fit of road

rage, begins pounding her horn for no
reason I can see. I don’t utter your name.

Along the river here, swollen with autumn storm,
a willow grows half in, half out of the

water, a leafing so intense when I duck under
through the long twiggy curtains of branches

I feel quite erased. There is that scene in
the story—we both knew it by heart almost—

where the witch opens the oven and asks
the girl to crawl in. She doesn’t, but we all sense

that moment of hesitation, the green thrust of
a trust that should be able to remain unbroken.

I don’t call you “witch,” though sometimes other
things equally unkind. But mostly I puzzle as over

a photo in a locket, that picture in my mind.
We are at a table over our poems, we pass the

papers back and forth, scrawling messages of
encouragement. Ice thins the windows and the

trees—we do not notice them—slowly turn
blue with it, blue and terribly silent.

Of “Crawl In,” Sheila Black says,

This is a poem I sent out for at least six months with no luck; it was always the odd one of the batch–the one that wasn’t chosen.

I think I know why, but I like this poem a lot.  It is about a difficult subject. A few years ago I had a very close friendship end very badly and really without much warning—at least on my end. There is a history of women writers trying to write about fraught female friendships–I think of novelists like Margaret Atwood or Hilary Mantel, who have both tackled this topic, female envy, female power, what women don’t know how to say to each other or admit feeling towards each other–the difficulty of sisterhood, the notion of betrayal.

The relationship story was long and dense and in some ways mortifyingly so–and I knew I had to write the poem in a way that didn’t get bogged down in the narrative; where I didn’t whine or moan (which I felt like doing) to the point that the reader lost interest.  I wanted it also to be a little bit an elegy or a poem that gave me a space for forgiving, but also one that recognized just how terrible the end of the friendship felt.

I think when painful things happen to you, especially things you feel in some way victimized by–that is often the hardest subject matter to write about in a way that is remotely credible–you feel so invested, you tend to lose any sense of perspective, the proportion necessary to make the poem move outside you.  I was pleased when I stumbled upon the image of the witch and the oven from Hansel and Gretel–that is such a moving moment, because the children– Gretel in this case, hesitates because she is so used to wanting to please the adults–everything she knows about being a good and helpful child. That’s what makes the moment where she hesitates so terrible—we all feel the betrayal that is about to happen.  I knew then I wanted that to be the heart of the poem–the way we conspire in those moments and also the ways in which we resist and why.

More About the Poet

Sheila Black is the author of House of Bone, Love/Iraq (CW Press), and Wen Kroy (Dream Horse Press). She is a co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, named a 2012 Notable Book for Adults by the American Library Association. A 2012 Witter Bynner Fellow, selected by Philiip Levine, she lives in San Antonio, Texas where she directs Gemini Ink, a literary arts center.

Photo (see above): Sheila Black’s writing space 

maybesopoetry & The Homeless Poem Project: Call for Submissions

In my recent interview with Julie Platt, she discusses a poem she had trouble placing in a literary journal. She liked this poem, believed in it, and the poem eventually found a home, but not without a lot of perseverance on her part. I’ve been in this situation before, and my very unscientific polling of other writers suggests that this is fairly common. We have a poem we love, and we know it deserves to be published yet it lingers on – and on and on – in our file of unaccepted work.

My intention with The Homeless Poem Project is to publish on maybesopoetry those interesting and quirky poems you can’t seem to place with a literary journal; those poems currently without a home that deserve to be read and appreciated. So find that one poem that’s been kicking around in your submissions folder and send it my way.

Guidelines:

  1. Please email one poem (and only one!) to cveladota@yahoo.com. Put “The Homeless Poem Project” in the subject heading.
  2. This poem should be one you’ve tried to publish without success for at least six months. Obviously, I will take your word for it.
  3. I will not accept previously published poems. Because that would kind of defeat the purpose, right?
  4. I will allow simultaneous submissions, but please let me know immediately if your homeless poem finds a home.
  5. Please send your poem as a Word document (no longer than three pages, please).
  6. Include a brief bio and a brief reflection on the poem (what inspired you to write it, your intentions for the piece, or a little about the poem’s history).
  7. If accepted, I will also ask you to provide an image, preferably of your writing space or your writing tools (not a book cover, or a picture of yourself). Whatever image you provide, it should represent you in some unique way, and it will be assumed that I have permission to include it on my blog.

Important:

Please be patient with response times. My work on maybesopoetry is a labor of love. I teach full time at a community college, and during the academic year I’m very busy, so if I don’t respond to your submission immediately, please wait at least a month before you inquire. I’ll do my best to respond quickly.

My publishing schedule could be erratic. My intention is to publish one poem at a time. This could mean a poem a day, but it could also mean a poem a week, or every other day, depending on how busy I am with work and on how many submissions I receive/accept.

I regret that I am unable to compensate you for your work. As a poet, I am aware of the time and energy required to write, and I do believe you deserve to be paid, but as I’m on my own in this endeavor, I can’t afford payment at this time. I understand and respect anyone who chooses not to submit because of this limitation.

I will continue to review books by and promote the work of women writers. Reviews will appear less frequently during the academic year; however, if you have a new book or chapbook published (or forthcoming), please contact me at cveladota@yahoo.com, and I will consider reviewing it on maybesopoetry.

 

Weird Beauty: An Interview with Julie Platt

Julie Platt received a doctorate in rhetoric and composition studies from Michigan State University, where she completed a dissertation studying the ways literary poets use digital technologies. She has master’s degrees in poetry writing from Bowling Green State University and Ohio University. Her creative work has most recently appeared in Barn Owl Review, Birdfeast, Moon City Review, and Weave. She is currently Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Center for Writing and Communication at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Full disclosure: Julie Platt and I attended Ohio University together and we’ve remained in touch over the years. It’s been a long time since we had the opportunity to chat about our creative lives, so I was thrilled when she agreed to this interview.

We began our email exchange on July 27th and concluded on August 9th with an IM chat. Because our lives are busy, we weren’t able to maintain our discussion on a daily basis, but we still managed to cover a lot of territory. This interview was a wonderful experience for me, and I’m grateful to Julie for her generous and thoughtful responses.

Christina Veladota: Hi Julie! Thanks for agreeing to this email interview. Let’s get started!

I read your chapbook, In the Kingdom of My Familiar, and it’s really terrific. Please reflect on your experiences writing this book. Which poets (if any) influenced your work? Why a chapbook and not a full-length collection?

Julie Platt: I wrote most of the poems that appear in the chapbook while I was doing my MFA at Bowling Green State University. One of our optional assignments for a course we were taking was preparing a chapbook to submit to the Wick (http://www2.kent.edu/wick/competitions/chapbook.cfm). While I didn’t win, it was a valuable experience for me because I had to think deeply about arrangement, coherence, the overall aesthetic effect, et cetera. These are things that you don’t really have a lot of time to consider in workshop, where you’re usually only talking about specific poems.

I chose to go with a chapbook first because, frankly, I didn’t feel that I had produced enough strong poems to fill a full-length book. When reading full-collections, I don’t always have the experience of feeling totally awed by every single poem. However, when I do, I tend to return to that collection over and over again because it seems like it reveals something new each time. Some of the collections that do that for me are Karen Volkman’s Nomina, and my teacher Larissa Sporluk’s collection Isolato. Even though my MFA thesis had quite a few poems in it, a lot of them didn’t seem good enough to make a full-length book that would have that same effect on a reader—that it would be equally strong poem after poem and invite more and more readings. 

This is not to say my chapbook is on the same level as the collections written by the women I just mentioned. I just felt that I needed to sort of announce my arrival as a poet after earning my MFA. Since I went into a different discipline after completing my MFA, generating poems became secondary to other ways of looking at writing. This was not a bad thing at all; I think studying rhetoric and composition has given me an incredibly valuable and unique vantage point for examining what it means to be an American poet in the 21st century. I even took up some of the issues of publication and authorship with my chapbook in my doctoral dissertation. So, I’m still sort of in a moment where I need to establish myself in composition before I can focus on writing poetry again; I’m not sure what things will look like when I get there. I want to publish a full-length collection, as it has been my dream to do so since I was a teenager. However, I think I need to do some serious thinking about what I want that collection to be like. Because creative writing isn’t my primary discipline anymore, I have that luxury.

CV: I remember a time when a chapbook wasn’t considered a “real” publication, but the tide is definitely turning. I’ve read some wonderful chapbooks (yours among them) by very talented poets and view them on par with the poets you mention above.

Tell me a little about yourself as a writer. When did you start writing poems? What attracted you to poetry?

JP: When did I start writing poems…

I think I wrote my first poem when I was in the fourth grade. It was a rhymed, humorous poem about raking leaves and getting annoyed with the rake catching in the grass. My teacher read it out loud to the class and seemed to really enjoy it. It hit me that I was capable of making things that people found interesting and enjoyable, and of course I loved the feeling of pride that came with that kind of recognition. From then on, I tried to be a serious poet, or at least as serious as one can be at the age of 10.

As to why I chose poetry, I think it had something to do with the fact that I’ve always loved music. I had a Fisher-Price record player and a tape recorder, and I listened to both kids’ music and the pop music of that era (I was born in 1980). I loved to sing along, and I discovered I had a really good memory for song lyrics. I can still remember the words to kiddie songs I listened to when I was 7 or 8 years old, and even today if I listen to a song a few times I will memorize the lyrics without even trying. As I grew older I realized that I just preferred to listen to music rather than watch lots of movies or television. I guess in some ways I have a short attention span, but I can concentrate intently on small, dense things, and I’ll work on them until they’re perfect. Most of my poems are 30 lines or less, I’d say, and I rarely write a poem that’s longer than one 8.5″ x 11” page. Brevity and pith are what I am highly trained for. It’s no surprise that I’m active on Facebook and Twitter—this kind of “burst communication” feels very natural to me.

CV: You say you’re good at memorizing song lyrics. Do you like to memorize famous poems, too? If so, which ones do you know by heart?

JP: I wish I could say I had a lot of poems memorized! In truth, I’ve only ever committed myself to memorizing poems for assignments and such. During my MFA, I memorized Yeats’ “The Second Coming” and recited it in class. I’ve always loved the drama of that poem.

During my MFA, I was the program assistant so I got to spend a lot of time with visiting writers. Lola Haskins made a great impression on me because of how seriously she took performance. One thing she did was memorize all of her poems and recite them, somewhat dramatically, instead of standing at a podium to read. It definitely made some people uncomfortable; there were a lot of nervous giggles. I think that’s a shame, and it attests to how far poetry has moved away from performance. I was taught from an early age that reading was a skill, and that I needed to practice giving actual voice to my poems. It’s one of the reasons that I’m interested in delivery as a rhetorical canon. Memory is one of those canons as well, and I think it would do us all good to go back to them.

CV: What about process? I’m always fascinated to learn how other writers, artists, and actors approach their craft. How would you describe your writing process?

JP: Me too! I’m crazy interested in the material conditions of process—how poets create their physical workshop spaces and how they use technology in those spaces. I think my process is probably really typical of a writer of my age, and by that I mean it’s partially mediated by computers. I was always fascinated by computers, but my family didn’t own one until I was 16, and it wasn’t until I got my own computer in college that I started using it to write poems. 

Today, I like to start with a pen and pad of paper, preferably a lined steno book. I usually begin with an image that has struck me, or a line or phrase that I like, and I use that as a kind of seed for where the poem goes. I’ll generate words for a little while, scratching out what I don’t like, until I sense that I need to work on the poem’s visual form to see what it wants to do. At that point, I go to my laptop, open a Word document, and start typing. I can’t skip this step; I really need to see the lines laid out on the screen or I don’t know what the poem is doing. I’ll continue drafting there until I finish, or, more frequently, until I’m stuck or too mentally tired to continue. I put the poem away for a while then, and usually wait at least 12 hours before going back to it. Once I get a draft I’m more or less satisfied with, I like to share it with another poet and see what he/she thinks. I also like to share the poem with my fiancé, who isn’t a poet. I think both perspectives are really valuable. After I get their feedback, I go back and wrestle with the poem some more until I feel that kind of mental “click” that tells me it’s finished. 

I care about audience, but I also try really hard to trust my own intuition about a poem. I had this poem called “Zombie Hustle” that nobody seemed to connect with, and that kept getting rejected from journals. However, I still believed in that poem and I chose to keep sending it out. I think it’s a good poem, and believe me, I know when one of my poems sucks. Not everything finds its audience immediately. That’s kind of why I keep writing. I’m a weird person who’s attracted to weird kinds of beauty. My greatest hope is not to be a super-famous poet who never has to pay for a drink at the AWP hotel bar. Instead, I hope that someday the weird things I put into the world make someone—someone who felt really alone and alienated because of their attraction to weird beauty—feel less alone and alienated.

CV: If I ever make it to the AWP Conference again, I promise to buy you a drink! Seriously, though, yours is a modest but admirable ambition. I love this concept of being attracted to “weird beauty,” especially as it pertains to poetry. Poetry is weird – in the best sense of the word. I think of the beautiful weirdness of your poetry. In the poem, “My Familiar,” you begin, “I have a heart that shoos me through the hours.” So lovely. I know I like a poem when I have to stop reading for a minute to take it in. Now I’m dying to read “Zombie Hustle.” What a great title. Did it ever find a home?

JG: Poetry is definitely weird! That was one of the things I remember tackling in my critical introduction to my MA thesis; I read the critical essay “Strangeness” by Lyn Hejinian (it’s in The Language of Inquiry) and tried to extend one of its arguments. One of my MA professors (I think you can guess who) always described my poetry as “really weird” and thus difficult for him to approach. For much of my adolescence I was dismissed as “the weird kid,” so I decided to claim weirdness or strangeness in my poetry as part of my identity. I remember that I later told one of my poetry students not to be afraid of her own weirdness, and that to do the weird thing was to do the brave thing. I always think of the “weird sisters” in Macbeth; of course, in that play, the word “weird” meant both strangeness and fate or personal destiny. I think it’s still very difficult for women to shoulder that mantle of weirdness, strangeness, otherness. We’re all already so alienated, by virtue of being women in a world where maleness is the normal or default state of being. But in that weirdness is our connection to our true selves. By being weird (or wyrd) we become who we really are.

Sorry to wax philosophical for a minute. 🙂

“Zombie Hustle” did find a home—it was in Moon City Review’s 2012 special volume on contemporary children’s literature, and paired with art by Pierre Vu Hin. It’s a beautiful, lavishly illustrated volume that everyone should check out. I’m biased, of course, but seriously, it’s great.

CV: Let your freak flag fly, as they say? I adhere to that philosophy, too. In poetry, and in life in general, it’s exhausting to try to be someone you’re not.

[At this point, Julie and I conclude our email exchange and turn to IM.]

CV: Okay, Julie! I’m going to ask you a series of questions. Please respond to them as quickly as possible. No need to provide a rationale for your answers, though it’s possible I’ll ask a follow-up later. These are similar to James Lipton’s questions at the end of each episode of Inside the Actors Studio. Ready?

JP: Cool. I will do my best Will Ferrell impression.

CV: Awesome! What does your writing/work space look like right now? Cluttered? Organized?

JP: I no longer work at a desk when I’m at home, so my workspace is me stretched out on my loveseat, with books sitting on the cushions to my left, and my laptop on top of a pillow on my lap.

CV: Do you alphabetize the books in your personal library, or organize them in any specific way?

JP: I don’t alphabetize them, but I do group them together by subject and type. I have an overflowing bookshelf of poetry (single-author and anthologies), and bookshelves dedicated to general rhetorical and comp theory, digital rhetoric, writing center theory, methodology, and creative writing studies. I also have a few canvas bins in my living room with more general interest books piled in them. I can see Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States sticking out of one of them now.

CV: What is your favorite (or least favorite) poetic cliché?

JP: Ha! Good one. I have a love/hate relationship with the “poem about writing poetry/being a poet” cliché. Some people try so hard to be ironic and funny in those kinds of poems that they end up kind of tripping on their own ridiculousness and looking just as doofy as they tried not to be.

CV: Name a poet (living or dead) with whom you’d like to share a banana split.

JP: None, because I don’t really like banana splits, but I’d share a caramel sundae with Karen Volkman.

CV: Name a poet (living or dead) with whom you’d like to go on a road trip.

JP: Elizabeth Bishop! Imagine the book you could write after that trip. Her stories would be incredible, and she’d show me amazing things I wouldn’t see otherwise.

CV: That would be my answer, too! Name a poet (living or dead) with whom you’d like to go dancing.

JP: Does Patti Smith count? I’d love to dance at CBGB with Patti in 1976.

CV: Yes! That counts!!

If you were a poetic form what would you be?

JP: Oooh I love this question. I’d love to be a sestina but I think I’m actually a haibun. It’s a short Japanese form that combines a prose section and a haiku.

CV: What book are you currently reading? This doesn’t have to be a book of poetry.

JP: I usually have a bunch of books going at once. Right now I’m reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and a couple of books on writing program and writing center assessment. I’m looking forward to Kristin Kaschock’s The Dottery and the paperback version of the history of 4AD records.

CV: What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self about the life of a poet?

JP: I would tell her that it’s a constant battle against self-doubt; that the self-doubt doesn’t go away when you grow up and even get a respectable number of published poems under your belt. I don’t have a full-length collection yet, but if I did I strongly doubt its existence would take away my insecurity. It’s okay to have that. You just work through it or around it.

CV: Final question. How would your 10-year-old self respond?

JP: My ten-year-old self would look at her feet, shyly say, “okay,” and excuse herself to play some Dragon Warrior III in the basement. And I’d let her. That kid is going to be fine.

 

Two Poems by Julie Platt

My Familiar

I have a heart that shoos me through the hours.

I have a father and a mother. I chew

heavy, seedless bread; I chop my dogwood tree.

I wait for winter, when the voices of my friends

are distinct in the articulate cold.

I am not a machine, though it is true

I have been augmented. In place of my legs,

the jaunty bones of a child

mistaken by his father for a stag. My windpipe

is the birth canal of a girl who went missing

in the Tennessee woods. Are you grateful for your life

in spite of what rots off of this world and dies

writing in the snow?

 

Do not be afraid,

I am only a woman.

 

The Beautiful Cookbook

It’s an ideal remedy for a tongue like that,

all grayish and American. It makes you dream:

a wide bowl of tiny fish gleam bright as braids.

Tomatoes ripen like girls’ cheeks

and the whole country arranges on one boat—

turmeric, holy basil, thick scarlet pastes

more worshipful than incense. Colors separate

and personify. The coriander is a skirt maker,

cardamom a tobacconist, palm and mangoes

embrace in bundles, and zucchini and okra

queue up neat as matchsticks. Piles of matchsticks

for a fire they’ll set on the river at night. They’ll spill

hats into the dirt. Screams slide up

the pines as they tear each other open.

 

Scroll to the bottom of the page for a link to Julie Platt’s chapbook In the Kingdom of My Familiar, which was published this year by Hyacinth Girl Press. It’s a steal at six bucks.

One Never Eats Four, by Samantha Duncan

Samantha Duncan. One Never Eats Four. Washingtonville, NY: ELJ Publications, 2014. 40 pages. $14.99, paper.

In the chapbook, One Never Eats Four, Samantha Duncan speaks with a raw intimacy that demands our attention. Though much of her focus is on relationships, these are not typical love poems. “I loved / every moment, every second- / hand smoke you gave // me,” she says in “Memoir,” and we know there’s nothing conventional about this book. At once coy and honest, mysterious and blunt, these poems ring with a dazzling truth, which becomes more apparent with each reading.

Duncan creates tension between the appearance of spontaneity and the discipline obvious in her tight line breaks and well-crafted stanzas. The title poem begins,

How would I discover – in play all along,

an additional functioning part, an erect,

homogeneous switch under my chaptered eyelid?

 

Would I weave a sweater for my mouth?

Gigabytes of inaugural speech pulses with

red foreheads and quarters govern from

 

hallway closets, overstuffed pies heat

the groundswell for level tangerine alarm,

under staircases ignorant of their use.

Duncan’s language is often startling, and each line delivers an unexpected jolt of discovery. We feel the push and pull of chaos and control, but the poet’s attention to her craft is always apparent.

Though Duncan is masterful at the unpredictable metaphorical leap, many of her poems display remarkable restraint. One such poem is “Camera,” which I include here in its entirety:

I think of being a wet stone

you’ll step on

for the last time,

 

it fills me with a

cloud wet I find

on internet forums

for lonely pets.

 

I typed

“womb”

into a search engine once.

I typed “accident.”

 

I mounted a seesaw and typed

“step on a wet stone.”

I clicked “images.”

As with most of us, not all of Duncan’s relationships are with people. In her final poem, “Era,” she speaks of the ocean, which she describes as both a sister and a siren. “She sang / when I didn’t know what / side of the window I was on. // At night when I visited, we sat closer than lovers, as / the wind cooked us.” Duncan continues, “Her salt whispered / through my ducts / not to leave yet.” The ocean shares a tender confidence with the speaker, and we too feel the lure of this bond.

In her essay, “Madness, Rack, and Honey” (published in the book by the same title), Mary Ruefle says, “Metaphor doesn’t actually exist, insofar as it doesn’t reside in nature, but it exists insofar as it spontaneously arises in the human mind as a perpetual event.” This describes well Samantha Duncan’s use of metaphor. Each poem is a small, spontaneous event, and when we reach the final word in this lovely chapbook, we do not wish to leave yet.

More About this Author:

Samantha Duncan is the author of the chapbook, Moon Law (Wild Age Press, 2012), and she serves as Associate Editor for ELJ Publications. She lives in Houston, blogs occasionally at planesflyinglowoverhead.blogspot.com, and can be found @SamSpitsHotFire.

In Brief: Poetic Postcards

I’d been on the lookout for something different to showcase on maybesopoetry, and Laura E. Davis’ work with postcards is exactly what I was hoping to find. Davis is a poet (and, apparently, an artist), who creates unique postcards using decoupage. I was lucky enough to score one, and of course, it was exciting to receive actual hold-in-your-hands mail that wasn’t a bill from American Electric Power, or a coupon for Little Caesar’s Pizza.

Davis’ postcard is a work of art: a lovely, writing-inspired collage on one side (see image), and on the other side, a handwritten, original poem. No two postcards are alike.

Of her inspiration for creating these postcards, Davis says,

I’ve been going through a very fragmented period with my writing. I write a lot of drafts that don’t go anywhere. Lots of erasures, blackouts, cutups and found poems. Sometimes just word lists. I got the idea to use the postcards as motivation to write. I need to be creative on pretty much a daily basis, and when I’m feeling stuck with words, I create with my hands through crafts. The process of collecting images, paper scraps, and objects for the postcard collages, and then actually creating them is very meditative and calming. Once I have a solid stack of new postcards, then I set a goal of writing poems for the cards so I can mail them to people. Sometimes I repeat poems, but I try to write a different draft on each postcard. I don’t let myself make any new cards until I send out at least a few finished postcards. I love to get real mail. Who doesn’t?

Upon Davis’ request, I will not include the actual poem (it’s still in draft form), but it’s quite evocative, and the entire effect of the postcard makes the experience of sharing poetry a personal and intimate one.

More about the poet:

Laura E. Davis is the author of Braiding the Storm (Finishing Line, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Toad, So to Speak, Stirring, Corium, Muzzle Magazine, and others. The founding editor of Weave Magazine. Laura teaches for Poetry Inside Out, a K-12 bilingual poetry program in San Francisco.

The Aphasia Poems, by Donora Hillard

Donora Hillard. The Aphasia Poems. San Francisco: Solar Luxuriance, 2014. 16 pages. $5, pamphlet.

Confession: upon first seeing the chapbook, The Aphasia Poems, I was skeptical. The volume is tiny even by chapbook standards. Its size is deceptive, however, because the project itself is quite ambitious. In this series of poems, each untitled, Donora Hillard resists grounding us in a specific place and time. She defies our expectations of poetry by privileging words as words and eschewing the use of imagery and its metaphorical strategies. These appear to be Found poems, “adapted with permission from my work as a mentor to those with linguistic disabilities” as Hillard tells us in the “Afterword.” She continues,

I find the connections between fragmentation induced by poetics and the fragmentation in modern life to be striking; I know I am not unique. The parameters of language ignore anyone unable to communicate through traditional means, and those considered “normal” also write/speak/scream along a vast continuum. In employing the rhetorical theorist Thomas Rickert’s concept of a postpedagogy, something is always out of place, sticking out, slipping, in error. Therefore, let us listen more carefully. We are all in this house, and we are all in pain.

Hillard’s choices for this book—deciding which snippets of speech to include, how to break the lines, whether or not to use punctuation—are where the artist in her comes through in this collection. Through this small work, Hillard reveals her empathy and her intellect, and gives voice to those who struggle to communicate.

At times, Hillard’s work resembles L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry with its jumbled word order and lines that defy interpretation in the traditional sense. She wants us to experience this confusion to evoke how it feels to talk with these speakers, but she also hopes to enact on the page their own confusion. For example,

I there is a do you know there is a up

around in the there is a it’s a long I know

he didn’t know what I could do

The speaker here acknowledges that “he” underestimated her abilities. We don’t need to know more about this situation; the strong, clear statement at the end surprises us, and we know the speaker has succeeded in her attempt to convey something important.

Throughout the book, Hillard avoids the use of end punctuation and capitalizes only the pronoun I. This strategy is effective as it calls more attention to the fragmentary nature of aphasia. As Heather McHugh states in “Broken English,” an essay on fragments, “All poetry is fragment: it is shaped by its breakages, at every turn.” Though this is a statement about all poetry, it applies quite well to Hillard’s work in this chapbook. Hillard is aware of what is unsaid—or, rather, what cannot be said—and the poems’ breakages allow the reader to feel this as a loss. The frustration of the speaker is particularly clear in the following poem:

this you should see what

tell me what you see

I’ll say it is this way but not quickly, that’ll kill

 

not ever heaven could be and not

it begins not for me

 

there won’t be one that is

I’ve got to use you because

I’m trying to tell you something

Most of us take for granted our ability to string words together into a comprehensible sentence and to make our desires, needs, and thoughts known to others. Those of us who write poetry are free to fragment our language in the service of our art, but we don’t often consider what it would mean to lose this language, to be left with only the fragments and never the fully expressed ideas.

Donora Hillard helps us to empathize with those people who are affected by profound linguistic challenges. Though the instinct of other poets would be to speak about or for these individuals, Hillard allows them to speak for themselves. The voices in The Aphasia Poems do not demand our sympathy, however; they merely ask that we listen.

More about this author:

In addition to The Aphasia Poems, Donora Hillard is the author of Covenant (Gold Wake Press, 2012) and other collections of poetry and hybrid text. Her work appears in Hint Fiction (W.W. Norton & Company), Monkeybicycle, Pedagogy, Women in Clothes (Penguin), and elsewhere. The projects she has been involved in have been featured by CNN, Lybba, MSNBC, and the Poetry Foundation. She teaches medical humanities in Ohio, where she lives with her fiancé.

The Insomniac’s Weather Report, by Jessica Goodfellow

Jessica Goodfellow. The Insomniac’s Weather Report. Tokyo, Japan: Isobar Press, 2014. 108 pages. $15, paper.

Jessica Goodfellow is obsessed. Her obsessions include water, the weather, insomnia, as well as questions philosophical, mathematical, and celestial. She keeps lists. She jots down ideas and crosses them out. She riddles the page with her wordplay. She marries and remarries. She is somewhat enigmatic, but always charming. In The Insomniac’s Weather Report, her second collection of poems, many different voices emerge, interweave, creating for us a linguistic chorus that is uniquely Goodfellow. Originally published by Three Candles Press, an outfit that folded soon after printing about a hundred copies, Isobar Press took it on and brought it back to life for those of us lucky enough to read this gorgeous collection.

Goodfellow’s performance on the page is nuanced; experimental without seeming like a gimmick. In some of the poems from the final section, titled “Alphabet Fugue,” she crosses out key words and phrases, enacting the drafting process, the discarding and transformation of ideas and metaphors. Language is as much about what we don’t say as what we do say, but in many of Goodfellow’s poems, such as “Map: Glass:” what is not said is said:

A map of wind is usually called glass.

Subtract motion from wind, and oh! what’s left

is window, map of subtracting self from motion gravity

particulars.

 

An absence of glass is usually called shadow.

You’d thought it was the opposite lack of light, but no,

it’s liquid dissolve of motion – you, trapped between god.

 

A map of self is usually called whisper weapon window.

Fusion of sand, lime, ash; sacred translucent barricade

against elements, motion. As if the self were other than.

 

A map of self is usually a window of god gravity smoke.

Childhood home burning, panes bursting outward.

Homeless, mapless, sparks rising like little yellow birds.

These poems, of course, are not drafts. In drafts we wish to kill the unwanted phrase, but Goodfellow wants us to see what was there before, to show us the metaphors that cohabitate in the same sentence, the same line, and therefore, also cohabitate in our minds, giving them yet another kind of marriage outside the poem.

What Heather McHugh says of Emily Dickinson’s use of dashes seems apropos here: “Whatever was cast is recast in the heat of the reader’s presence, and the poem which was a motion in the author is a motion again in the reader.” Goodfellow’s work suggests an affinity for Dickinson. Dickinson’s poetic dashes unite her ideas, connect them, and in a way, Goodfellow’s act of striking through her own words creates a similar effect. We could easily skip past the “missing” words and still be dazzled by her language. We are uniquely implicated in the building of these poems inside our own minds, laying down multiple images and metaphors like so much brick and mortar.

Early in the book, Goodfellow limbers up with some linguistic acrobatics reminiscent of Wallace Stevens. “How to Describe the Desert Without Saying Water” is a good example. I won’t include this poem in its entirety here, but what follows are the first and final stanzas:

Wanted: bauble of milky mouth.

Fat knee of shameless need, kneading.

Wanted: fontanel ticking, a fist

of collateral tightening. Frightening

whorl of faintest resemblance – thin

as glaze, angle, or desire.

* * *

And now. My moon blooms amphibian.

Glory, my taproot has plummeted.

My matrix is configured. Hosanna.

Madonna figure, de riqueur,

who once beleaguered be.

Full regalia my penetralia is.

The final lines bring to mind Stevens’ “Let be be the finale of seem” (from “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”) and “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (from “The Snow Man”). Goodfellow’s wordplay illuminates her intelligence and her devotion to the transformative nature of language.

There is a strong sense of play throughout this book. My favorite to read aloud is “Chance of Precipitation,” because of its descriptive list, its tongue-twister-ish charm:

Rain’s tonal ticker tape

tarmac tarantella

rooftop timpani

water glitterati

articulate in triplicate.

 

River, all glissando

glossolalia

liquid limerick

we tessellated

littoral lateral lullaby.

 

Ocean’s hush-hush hoodoo

whispering womb

chez chartreuse chanteuse

fugue soothed in blue

a wish awash in white noise.

 

The insomniac longs to transliterate

rain into human alphabet –

French, maybe. A lullaby, a chanson,

a hymn. A baptism of sleep

as unstable as water.

Say that ten times fast, the poet seems to say. I dare you.

In fact, Jessica Goodfellow dares us in many ways throughout this poetry collection. She challenges us to see the world through the prism of her syntax and her linguistic play. She wants us to understand the metaphorical connections among such concepts as weather, water, marriage, identity, and philosophy – all of which crop up and intermingle again and again throughout these poems. Wallace Stevens, in “Three Academic Pieces,” discusses the metaphor as a way for poets (and therefore the readers of poetry) to discover resemblances between things. These resemblances in poetry are what give us pleasure, because when we recognize them, we also recognize ourselves. Goodfellow’s powerful use of metaphor prods us toward a new vision of our world and of our own humanity.

[Blogger’s Note: The formatting of “Map: Glass:” is a bit off. The final word in the first stanza (particulars) should be alone on the line, but should have been indented to the end of the previous line. This blogger struggled with the formatting. Apologies to Ms. Goodfellow.]

More about this author (from The Insomniac’s Weather Report):

Jessica Goodfellow is the author of the chapbook A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (Concrete Wolf, 2006). Her poems have been featured in the anthology Best New Poets 2006, and on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. She was a recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal, and has been honored with essay and short fiction awards from the Emrys Foundation. After receiving a master’s degree from Caltech, she has worked as a financial analyst, a math teacher, an ESL teacher, and a scientific and medical editor. Raised in the greater Philadelphia area, she lives in Japan with her husband and sons.

 

Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets, by Erica Goss

Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets, by Erica Goss. San Jose: Pushpen Press, 2014. 192 pages. $12, paper.

In her introduction to Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets, Erica Goss says, “Poems can and should be actively sought, captured, and written down.” This piece of advice resonates throughout this book of poetry prompts and reminds us that writing is not always about waiting for the muse to strike. We often must seek out inspiration from new sources, experiment with form and language, and allow our imagination to follow many different paths. There’s no “one way” to write a good poem and Goss proves this point repeatedly throughout her book.

My assumption when I first began to read was that Goss’s target audience is the novice poet – someone perhaps younger who fears he or she has nothing to write about yet, or not enough life experience from which to draw – but Goss wishes to inspire a wide range of poets. Though she does offer suggestions for simple, 50-word poems, she also proposes more ambitious projects, such as a long series of poems. The prompt “Journal Lines” reminds us of the importance of keeping and going back to our personal journals for inspiration, and “How to Pirate a Treasure Chest” (contributed by Ellaraine Lockie) permits us to “steal” interesting words and phrases from our favorite (or not-so-favorite) works of literature. Though this book is ideal for a newer writer (and, in fact, would be a great text to use in a creative writing class), poets at any stage of their career will appreciate these tips and prompts.

If you’re looking for step-by-step exercises, or strict guidance, you won’t find much of it in this book. One of its greatest strengths is that the prompts are (as the title promises) truly ideas and inspirations; they are open-ended, allowing the reader to make his or her own choices without mandating a prescribed method. The message throughout the book is clear: poetry writing should be a playful and fun experience.

The Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, Erica Goss wrote most of the prompts and poetry samples herself, but she also includes a few ideas and poems from other poets, who add to the overall tone and energy of the book. Though this book is accessible to a wide audience, Goss’s approach does not “dumb down” the writing process. Her intellect and creativity shine through. “Some poems do arrive, almost complete, seemingly out of thin air,” she tells us in her introduction. “However, as most writers inevitably learn, waiting for inspiration is really just waiting.” Erica Goss urges her readers to stop waiting and start writing.

More about this author:

Erica Goss is the Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA, and the host of Word to Word, a show about poetry. She is the author of Wild Place (Finishing Line Press 2012) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (PushPen Press 2014). Her poems, reviews and articles appear widely, both on-line and in print. She writes The Third Form, a column about video poetry, for Connotation Press.