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Rachel Eliza Griffiths

The Human Zoo

Soon I appear through the fog, my face presses against the cage. There is a scrim of dark edging the metal. You are there, pushing life toward my mouth with your fingers. Now I reach without biting. In the dark my own hands grasp how small & tame I am. You say, stay wild with your eyes & ideas. But imagine if my hand could not find your hand. Through the skin of what has survived. If I come up for air but then slip again beneath the current, remember how I glittered, with water pouring from every pore. You would walk down into our earth & watch me race behind the captive green glass. I leave you the gills of my faith, the jaw of my empathy. The flowers will remember my rain & my murmurs. How absurd I am. Even the thunderheads will remember a woman who shook with fire. You sink my net to the floor & work fast. It is how we must perform kindness. My flesh opens like a black claw. Why are you still not afraid of me? I want to see how close the sun will near the water. How the end will hold a woman’s wings above the flames.

______________________________________________________________

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and visual artist. She is the recipient of fellowships including the Cave Canem Foundation, Millay Colony, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her visual and literary work has appeared widely. Griffiths is the creator and director of P.O.P (Poets on Poetry), a video series of contemporary poets featured by the Academy of American Poets. Griffiths’ fourth collection of poetry, Lighting the Shadow, will be published by Four Way Books in 2015. Griffiths teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lighting the Shadow is now available: http://www.amazon.com/Lighting-Shadow-Rachel-ElizaGriffiths/dp/1935536575/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424987994&sr=8-1&keywords=lighting+the+shadow

terri witek

The Street Where I Lived
______________________(on one Facebook thread, I asked for a childhood address
______________________and a detail from that house. 24 hours later, I asked for an
______________________address where something bad had happened and one detail
______________________from that house)

I think it was on Reservoir Street
_____on 1234 Fremont Street
I think it was on Elemetra
_____on Huckleberry Road
named for Desert Avenue
named for Humble Avenue
named for Swallow Lane
_____for South Layton Boulevard
_____for the oil company
I think I lived on Park Avenue East then
_____on Primm Road then
_____on Lydale Place then
it was was Smith Drive then
where I lived__Denver Avenue
___________Buffalo Avenue
then orPrinceton Road
named for Paseo Primero
named for Menahan Street
_____for East River Road
I lived on East Fairfax then
_____on Northwest 60th Court then
or maybe it was Brookview Drive then
_____or Olympic Drive then
_____or Independence Avenue
where I livedPuritan Avenue
_____livedGreenbriar Avenue
_____livedSer Del Drive
where ISt John’s Avenue
_____ISwiss Hill Road
_____IRiver Avenue lived
on___17th Avenue South then
_____Offenburger Strasse 45 then
_____105th Place Northeast
whereIUniversity Avenue
_____-IRua Madalena
lived__Aleknagik Road
there_-Cain Road
there_-Bomar Avenue
there_-2234 Winnebago Trail
there on Elm Grove Road
_______Linda Lane
_______City Park Avenue
and__I think it was 3rd Street
instead of 4th__I’m sure
it wasn’t__5th or 2nd
where it all__ripped
__________climbed
__________sneaked
__________happened
behind the alley
behind the orchard
_____the playhouse
_____the orange tree
_____the splintery
_____the fire escape
_______balcony
__red porchwith raccoons
__________-with ice tea (hello)
__________-with brick light post leaping
__________-with low-hanging maple limb
our first and only dog
is buried there
where I livedwith red shag carpet
___________with windowsills 2 feet deep
_______________a swimming pool
_______________a big rock
_______________a ufo
_______________a wood-seated swing
my dad made
_______________mayonnaise on white bread
my dad made
and air conditioner
meantblue sky with clouds
meantbaked asbestos shingles
meant3windows too large for the rooms
_______2 windows too small
meant poster with presidents
only through Kennedy
only red bicycle
only the dock where
company coming
only the torn corner
_____of a screen
_____of a cherry tree
_____of a porchlight
_____of grandmother’s cello
and I think it was there
storm torqued black crack
mustard yellow crack
emphysema there
divorced there
shot in the driveway there
_____my one-block-white
_____one-block–black tile there
_____sky turned yellow-green there
where I came home from school
______________from the neighbor’s
(that was Bit’s mother)
______________from Chris and Mandy’s
via satellite phone
via clock radio
via Old Time Rock and Roll
there waiting for my dad
_____2windows too big
and I lived there
_____purple sheets
I lived there
_____school bus
I lived there
_____rushed the fence
_____whippoorwill
_____splintery
_____2 windows
_____my father’s swim trunks
tied to the railing

_______________________________________________________________

Terri Witek is the author of Exit Island (2012); The Shipwreck Dress (2008), a Florida Book Award winner; The Carnal World (2006), Fools and Crows (2003), Courting Couples (winner of the 2000 Center for Book Arts Contest), and Robert Lowell and LIFE STUDIES: Revising the Self (1993). A native of northern Ohio, she teaches English at Stetson University, where she holds the Sullivan Chair in Creative Writing. In 2000, she received the McInery Award for Teaching, and in 2008, she received the John Hague Teaching Award for outstanding teaching in the liberal arts and sciences. Throughout her career she has worked with visual artists, and the reverberations between mediums is explored in much of her work. Her collaborations with Brazilian new media artist Cyriaco Lopes have been featured in galleries or site-specific projects in New York City, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

 

Vasiliki Katsarou

PIER AT CANNES

seen at a film (fish)
marketacross the bay, a string of lights

never thought she’d find herself

in an Antonioni film

yet here she is and so is he—
mere witnesses to an abstraction

the dark sea and dark sky meet somewhere

_________________she thinks,
_____directing herself to find a gesture
as apt as this moment

he stares back
in irreflection

The sea and sky may kiss at the horizon
Why not we?

_____________She turns
a cartwheel instead
_____________to approach him
and yet remain distant

absurdity strikes
at the very heart

of the proposition

What a child, an American!

He is of course a French polygamist
with several children by several wives in farmhouses
scattered about the French countryside

so fated to act out

two wholly different scripts,

he says

_____________Un écrivain a dit…
_____________[A writer once said]

là où toutes les eaux se mèlent, là où il y a un delta—
[Where all the waters come together, at the mouth]

la merde l’a créé.
[shit created it.]

But what about beauty
she wonders too late
_____________doesn’t beauty equal love?

she wanders too late
the sky darkens further

_____________La bêtise
_____________[Nonsense]
is his reply
_____________
_____________
from the edge
of that shore
they part

_____________________________________________________________

Vasiliki Katsarou was born and raised in Massachusetts to Greek-born parents, and educated at Harvard College, the University of Paris I-Sorbonne, and Boston University. Her first collection, Memento Tsunami, was published in 2011 and one of its poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in Poetry Daily, wicked alice, Press 1, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Agave Magazine, and Regime Magazine (Australia). Her poems have also been featured in the anthologies Not Somewhere Else But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place; Rabbit Ears: TV Poems; and Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems, for which she also wrote the introduction. Vasiliki has worked in film and television production in France and Greece, and written and directed an award-winning 35mm short film, Fruitlands1843, about the Transcendentalist utopian community. She is the founder and director of the Panoply Books Reading Series in Lambertville, New Jersey.

Lynn_Levin

Faux King in the Parking Lot

 

It was in the parking lot
at the Samba Club
between sets at the Huxley wedding

and he was an Elvis impersonator.
We’d eyed each other during “Love Me Tender”
through his heavy lashes he nodded me over.

Ah, to be taken without being adored.
Though to be adored without being taken
is also a wonder.

Those silver studs on his white suit.
The Brylcreem (I didn’t know
they still made it)

left oil stains, dammit, on my nice
linen skirt. Techno boinked from a passing car
and we pumped to it.

He said his wife didn’t
understand him. “I never sleep with happily
married men,” I told him.

Curling his lip, the faux king shot
“Then you ought to sleep
with your husband.”

I should have slapped him.
But his thighs were hot
and the side of the car was cold.

 

From Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press, 2013)

______________________________________________________________

Lynn Levin is the author of Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press, 2013), a Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in poetry; as co-author, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press, 2013), a Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in education/academic books; and a translation from the Spanish, Birds on the Kiswar Tree (2Leaf Press, 2014), by Peruvian poet Odi Gonzales. A two-time Leeway grantee, Levin is also a Bucks County, Pa. poet laureate, and a 10-time Pushcart Prize nominee. She teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

Egan 1

Datura suaveolens

If there were flowers
on the moon they’d look like this,
droopy and luminous,
butter-colored, fading down
to white, I’m thinking,

swinging my bare feet,
sipping at some moon-hued wine
from the lunar landscape
of Sardegna, just as he
asks me if I know

they’re often called “moon-
flowers.” I did not know that,
but I’m not surprised that
he does, nor that he’s read my
poem-thoughts again.

I do know, though, that
this blowsy flower’s parts are
hallucinogenic
as all get out, something that
Rappaccini would

have been proud to bring
into existence were he
in that business rather
than that of breeding a toxic
daughter, beautiful

but unlovable.
And just then I remember
how we went for a walk
through the park behind Domus
Aurea one day

and I was angry
because he hadn’t listened
(or maybe hadn’t heard)
and we passed the Datura
in full moony bloom

and he pretended
that the blossom was an old-
fashioned telephone and
he was trying and trying
to reach me. I thought:

This is marriage, not
some lunatic delusion
of my or his making;
this is what you do,
and I
laughed, and we walked on.

Previously published in Southwest Review, and then appeared in Strange Botany/Botanica Arcana, Italic Pequod, 2014.

______________________________________________________________

Moira Egan’s poetry collections are Strange Botany/Botanica Arcana (Pequod, 2014); Hot Flash Sonnets (Passager Books, 2013); Spin (Entasis Press, 2010, for whom, with Clarinda Harriss, she also co-edited the anthology Hot Sonnets, 2011); La Seta della Cravatta/The Silk of the Tie (Edizioni l’Obliquo, 2009); Bar Napkin Sonnets (The Ledge, 2009); and Cleave (WWPH, 2004). Her work has won many awards and has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the U.S. and abroad, including Best American Poetry; The Book of Forms; Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics; and Kindled Terraces: American Poets in Greece. With her husband, Damiano Abeni, she has published more than a dozen volumes in translation in Italy, by authors such as Ashbery, Barth, Bender, Ferlinghetti, Hecht, Strand, and others. Their translations of Italian poems into English have been published in many U.S. journals, as well as in the FSG Book of 20th Century Italian Poetry and in Patrizia Cavalli’s My Poems Will Not Change the World (FSG). She holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Johns Hopkins University, and Columbia University, where James Merrill chose her graduate manuscript for the David Craig Austin Prize.


Egan has been a Mid Atlantic Arts Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; Writer in Residence at St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, Malta; a Writing Fellow at the Civitella Ranieri Center; a Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center; and, in 2015, with Damiano Abeni, will be the writer in residence at the James Merrill House. She lives in Rome, and teaches English and Creative Writing.

Allison Joseph


The Downside of Superpowers


Invisibility makes you aloof,

brute super strength makes you an easy mark

for anyone with trucks to haul, no spark

of gratitude from them. The truth?

Your gift is only special if there’s proof

and ordinary mortals want your work

to entertain them day and night, til dark,

your life a kind of superpower spoof


where all you do is turn them on with speed

or x-ray sight or teleported flesh,

the way you walk through walls or dash through time.

Does anybody care about your needs,

grant you vacation days, an empty beach?

No wonder apathy’s become your crime.

_________________________________________________________________________

Allison Joseph lives, writes and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where’s she’s part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University.  Her latest books are _My Father’s Kites_ (Steel Toe Press) and _Trace Particles_(Backbone Press).

Natasha close up Two Sylvias

 

above us clouds wet as ink p.1

above us clouds wet as ink p.2

 

a much anticipated night

 

 

 

Natasha close up Two Sylvias

Photo credit: Ronda Broatch

Bio: Natasha Kochicheril Moni is a writer and a naturopathic medical student. Her poetry, fiction, essays, and reviews have been published in journals including VerseFourteen Hills, Indiana Review, and DIAGRAM. Natasha’s first poetry collection,The Cardiologist’s Daughter, was released by Two Sylvias Press in late 2014. More of her work and musings may be found at www.natashamoni.com

tom blood

what we treat it as

 

a hill so big it switches color when clouds push

armadillo red ember echo picnic

I dodder and I stray in crayfish streams

a man carrying a dirigible defense

the one we hand around is full

final and stifling, like a love or re-entry

the glove of Earth and staying seasonly

horse albatross table cloth sky

glass home pinball machine

visitation inertia, bear pawing at trash

acclimating

puff of fog, flash, resembler’s ring

string overflow feather piano and penny

our horses wander and field

a man carrying dirigibles over,

a hero as much as Kenny Rogers cries

on an airplane, about the alone

I ride trolley, trains and sky ferry bus

on a hollow rocket, I head forward by propulsion

to hold you as a soft packed strawberry

our love left, like a napkin on catered table

an embrace drawing of a yet to be

we cannot live in a world that does not distinguish

between the deep sea and our dropping off

as feathers mast our rhino sails

the overture above, expanding

bats creak the sky hero of what we rise,

we exchange keys

a brown coat and polishing tongue

we cannot accustom to disillusionment

satellites find and then we are nebulous

material only in the neighborhood

exchanged glasses

 

It’s been along time

 we talked walking

you stayed peach and I parrot

there is no narrative to resolve

only what we make of trees

pursuing a squad car of questions with paper

pushing legs under clocks

photos that become indiscriminate in rain

we walked on both sides the river

what emerges is not clear

for a instance, the panther coats

illusion heart scenic mystery

crossed fence area before the Safeway moment

hand on a cold fish, mango in my pants

I doubt nothing more than my memory

this is not an Italo Calvino and Maya Angelou novel

wove in Mill City to hope

xerox hand will wave the wand

time, our arms

I am arranging the mane of a bus stop of rain

not a mystery of self escaping

as the world pretty much completes

stories on trains mirroring opposite location

rained on walk water

a sky missing no pieces

a rain maze, illusory and stable

the ghosts are heavy in spots

a forest is not only the trees seen

in a day with no home

a white dog loving its own for a night

_________________________________________

tom blood

Tom Blood is a poet in Portland.  He is the winner of the 2007 Oregon Book Award for poetry, and his work appears in rare realms.

carabella sands

carabella sands

And Now You Want Me One More Time

Your mother told me you were out with the stars. I tried to call but you left your phone on the counter. I went outside. The sun was up. I called your name to the sky. I couldn’t see anything but blue. I called out your name until it was dark. Above an audience of diamonds all laughed at me. They laughed until I lost my voice. Then they sent clouds to fill my cup with water.

I found a new boyfriend. He approached me while I watched birds pluck worms out of a rainy field. I asked him why the birds were able to find worms as soon as they landed. He said worms float on water. Then he kissed me. I felt like a worm.

The Open Eyed Dream Meets The Day Moon

There are people who look like my drawings because I drew them. They crawl out when I stare directly at the page but am thinking of something else. They introduce themselves as Ashley to my doorman when they leave. I’ve made a city of Ashleys. Everyone else has moved because the Ashleys took their jobs. I haven’t had to work in years. Instead I chase the dust from room to room. Sometimes an Ashley comes to help me. They call it praying.

She Read How When She Was Just A Girl

My grandmother wouldn’t let me do the dishes. She told me I would learn to orgasm through doing the dishes with my husband. I would put on the radio and every song would be about washing dishes while he dries with two different towels.

Perfect dishes. No specks. No watermarks.

She wouldn’t let me ride a bicycle either. They were too modern. I would break my leg open. Break my head. No boy would want me if I spilled my head. When skateboards fly, she’d say. Thank god it was 2015. I was upside down on my Hover Board. Look Grandma, I said, I can’t fall.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Carabella Sands has already bought her tombstone: http://carabellasands.tumblr.com/

bobby parker

bobby parker

Author photo courtesy of Matthew Wyndham

 

Jellyfish

There’s no doubt she thinks he’s lost at sea. A smudge of blood on her glasses.

She looks healthy. She wishes he looked healthy. Her weird stare drifts across his

sick face like the shadow of a murder weapon they called love. Her new boyfriend

is a taxi driver. He is a quiet man with at least one tooth missing, so obviously

he’s a paedophile. When their little girl says the new boyfriend’s name her father’s

fingertips go numb; he has visions of the taxi driver’s dismembered corpse

scattered on a cold beach full of baby jellyfish, broken phones, the nights he dies

without her. They share a joint in his parents’ garden, negotiating a future that bites

too hard. Her saliva moist on the filter, he takes the cigarette, inhales, wonders

if this is the last time her spit will touch his lips. The word divorce is sharp,

sound of sirens, fire alarms, flying saucers shining through a nightmare of winter

trees. He stares at her chest, the line of cleavage that may as well be a crack in his

bedroom wall, thinking maybe the sun will explode if he reaches out and touches it,that she might hold his haunted hand tight against her heart until it gets dark, and tell him their marriage was a message that failed to send, and tell him their

daughter is a dream, and tell him to go dig a hole far away from here, as their tears

scatter like silver shrapnel through his mother’s evil flowers and all the sorry

gardens beyond.

 

Odaxelagnia

She told him her new fella can do magic tricks inside her, then slammed a slimy

white rabbit onto the table, spilling cold tea into his crotch and putting him off his

spaghetti. He said, ‘My girlfriend has a tongue like a spinning clock, hurls me back

in time, when childhood sunsets were sugary ghosts and Grandma’s vegetable

soup. She told him her smile is so wide they had to rearrange the furniture because

the corners of her mouth scratched the new sofa and smashed the hallway mirror -

she used the shards to slash their wedding album and their daughter’s favourite

teddy bears. He told her his girlfriend is so good at head she sucks out his skeleton

and spits it onto the windy balcony where it dances the dance of life! She said, ‘Oh

yeah? My fella isn’t a drug addict… He can always get it up!’ He said ‘Oh yeah? My girl drinks a ton of wine, she’s crazy when she’s pissed, she bites my biceps so hard I growl joyful jungle music through my coke-damaged nose as my skin breaks like yesterday and all the days that came before! We use the blood to write shit about you on our parents’ bedroom walls. We use our cum to mask the stench of poems I never truly meant…’ Outside, two half-dead cats were fighting on the toxic lawn. They stopped to watch them awhile, tea-light candles reflecting off their broken fangs as she looked at her phone, and he looked at his phone, both of them pretending to read funny, sexy text messages, when in fact they didn’t have any funny, sexy text messages at all, only low batteries beeping in the absence of real grown-ups to guide them into paradise.

 

Thank You For Swallowing My Cum

I tell cats on the street, ‘Hey kitty, she swallowed my cum!’ I told the shy Indian

woman in the corner shop, ‘Do not be afraid, for she swallowed my cum!’ I even

told my mum but she burned her elbow on the frying pan, then showed me a pile

of depressing bank statements as my dad blew a perfect ring of smoke that broke

like the ghost of a cheap wedding band above the empty fruit bowl. Last week,

while pissing into the sea on a beautiful day in Wales, I cupped my hands around

my stoned smile and yelled, ‘Hey sunset, she swallowed my cum!’ but it shrugged

between misty hills as the tide rolled over my shoes, and my ex hates me. Or she

sometimes hates me. And she never swallowed my cum. What am I doing? Where

am I going? Are you okay? Can I get you anything? I won’t swallow your cum but I could make you a sandwich. I should probably send her a message, make sure it’s

cool to share this with my friends. I don’t want to make her feel awkward;

awkward that I saw myself clean in her company, my blood baptismal water;

awkward that I saw myself happily dying as her fingers scribbled sad stories onto

my pale chest; awkward that I tell cats and nervous Indian women and my stressed

parents and amazing, far out, gore-porn sunsets that Oh Wow! when she swallowedmy cum I forgot how dead I am, because when I’m living inside her mouth I don’t even need to breathe. My stupid life pops right out of my happy mouth, bouncing away like a scruffy old tennis ball under the wheels of the sky and all the things we thought we knew before we knew each other.

_______________________________________

Bobby Parker was born 1982 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, in the UK.  His publications include the critically acclaimed Ghost Town Music and its equally oddball sequel Comberton (Knives Forks & Spoons Press). His poems, stories, artwork and journalism appear randomly these days (since he is often on the road touring) in places such as The Quietus and other reputable—and not so reputable—print and online magazines. His full-length debut collection of poetry, BLUE MOVIE, is due for release in October from Nine Arches Press.

 

KirunKapurFinal

Just in time for November’s end, this week’s feature offers a heady mix of augury and inspiration. Here’s the stunning title poem from Kirun Kapur’s new book, a powerful first first collection that charts indelible histories.

 

Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist

I don’t know when I realized he had one eye that watched me, alive, the other free to read

the heavens. Could he see I grew where others couldn’t? Could he read my face, in its

lines all their faces—my aunt’s that morning, in the mirror beside mine, hissed, don’t

stare, don’t forget details, it’s your honor to look for all of us. Did he see I hated his eye,

sometimes, hated my honor: the hand always above me. Which eye reads that hand?

Which eye can judge its weight? I wanted to look away. Wanted to cry. His untethered

eye was milky as a teacup. Why have you come here, daughter? Couldn’t say, My father

made me. Couldn’t blame, You looked at Her hand, but you didn’t save Her from a firing

squad. I wouldn’t confess, I am afraid I’ll spend my life under a hand that I can’t stop or

hold. He never touched my palm, imbedded with pencil lead, or the moon under my

thumb, scarred while opening a can. He assured me I’d make a fine wife, a fine mother of

fine sons, prove to be a credit to my family, while his iris swiveled like a wobbly fan. I

made up my mind right then to open my hands—their forked wires, their lines of names

and places—take them.

 

First appeared in FIELD

__________________________________________________

Kirun Kapur grew up in Hawaii and has since lived and worked in North America and South Asia. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, FIELD, The Christian Science Monitor and many other journals and news outlets. She is the winner of the 2012 Arts & Letters/Rumi Prize for Poetry and the 2013 Antivenom prize for her first book, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist. She is co-director of the popular Boston-area arts program The Tannery Series and is poetry editor at The Drum. Find out more at www.kirunkapur.com.

Elizabeth Bishop

When I first read Bishop as a young poet, I was dazzled by her perfect syntax and rhythmic modulation, the nearly flawless detail of images. Rereading her as, I would like to think, a mature poet, I am struck by the power of her social conscience. Pity is the underlying feeling she conveys, compassion and a deep feeling for the injustice of privilege. Few of her poems overtly express outrage, but it is very much at the surface with a poem like Pink Dog. It is so clearly about how society at large treats its poor and homeless, wanting them to just dress up and play a part so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable by their presence. But in light of it, I reflected on other, earlier, Bishop poems and realize they do the same thing, such as House Guest. Here is a figure who is forced to live a life not of her own choosing. In that context, the poem concludes,

Can it be that we nourish
one of the Fates in our bosoms?
Clotho, sewing our lives
with a bony little foot
on a borrowed sewing machine,
and our fates will be like hers
and our hems crooked forever?

It recalls Kennedy’s assertion that “freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” It aligns with what happens in the poem “In the Waiting Room.” The speaker, about to turn seven, realizes her singular self, “you are an Elizabeth,” and this is coeval with realizing she belongs to humanity, “you are one of them.” But this gives rise to countless questions of identity—what does it mean? So the speaker asks,

What similarities—
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts—
held us all together
or made us all just one?

The poem returns, in the end, to its historical (and social) context: World War I.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

Again the poem is located in social issues, constructs. Where do our allegiances lie and why, the poem seems to ask. Or, more importantly, why decide to kill for country or cause when to be you or anyone, well, “nothing stranger/had ever happened, that nothing/stranger could ever happen.” All those running about killing and obsessing over borders and politics and power and land are like Bishop’s sandpiper, lost in the details of a world that is

minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focused; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!

Her poetry seems to say, take pity on us, on yourself. We are alone, even in the most crowded city. And for those with privilege, even more so, take pity. As the speaker in Manuelzinho says at the end, speaking to his land worker, whom he had looked down on,

You helpless, foolish man,
I love you all I can,
I think. Or do I?
I take off my hat, unpainted
and figurative, to you.
Again I promise to try.

Her poetry or its speakers do not even presume to know themselves fully. They have the humility of realizing that absolute self-knowledge is limited and to presume it is to fall into the same evil as those who presume to any kind of absolute knowledge. Every flawed one of us must humbly struggle to be a better person in whatever station we find ourselves.

adamsdarling

 

The Poem as Archive:
A Conversation Between Carrie Olivia Adams & Kristina Marie Darling

adamsdarling

__________________________________________________________________

Carrie Olivia Adams lives in Chicago, where she is a book publicist for the University of Chicago Press, the poetry editor for Black Ocean, and a biscuit maker and whiskey drinker. She is the author of Forty-One Jane Doe’s (book and companion DVD, Ahsahta 2013) and Intervening Absence (Ahsahta 2009) as well as the chapbooks Overture in the Key of F (above/ground press 2013) and A Useless Window (Black Ocean 2006).

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of nearly twenty books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Scorched Altar: Selected Poems and Stories 2007-2014 (BlazeVOX Books, forthcoming). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome.

Carrie Olivia Adams’ first book, Intervening Absence, played with ideas of form. Her second book, Forty-One Jane Doe’s, brought the ideas to praxis: she made films in the hopes of creating immersive companions to the cinematic language of the text.

Throughout, Adams’ work has drawn from the language of mathematics, architecture, medicine, and astrophysics in order to create a hybrid voice—one that troubles the line between observation, objective detail, and the intuition of inference. Her forthcoming book, Operating Theater, moves poems to the stage, creating a poem-cum-play in five acts. 

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Kristina Marie Darling:
I’ve always admired your work as a poet, particularly the ways your book projects engage archival material. Your most recent collection, Forty-One Jane Doe’s, draws from source material that ranges from the scientific to the sublime. As the book unfolds, treatises on mathematics, astronomical diagrams, and scientific discoveries inform the poems as much as the speakers’ emotional topographies. I’m fascinated by this tension between subjectivity and clinical language: rhetoric that strives for objectivity. Your work places seemingly impersonal discourses in conversation with emotion, affect, and sentiment. It’s often the archival material you’re working with that gives rise to this tension between registers, and between different types of language. With that in mind, I’d love to hear more about your process working with archival material. What role do non-poetic texts play in your creative process? What does this archival material, this presence of other voices and types of language, make possible within your work?

Carrie Olivia Adams:  I am one who has a whole list of things she would like to be other than a poet—detective, spy, physicist, astronomer, zoologist, forensic pathologist, diplomat. I have a whole list of things I wish I had studied: fewer books on books and more books on the making of the world around me. I am completely drawn to things I know very little about. Math feels almost exotic. And yet, equations, in their logic and language, are syntax, which is the most familiar. I love to diagram sentences. I’m also someone with a day job. I am not an academic or a professor, but working in university publishing allows me the chance to brush against ideas, to glean new knowledge in tiny pebbles that I stick in my pockets. Many years ago, when I was at the University of Chicago Press, my cubicle was near the offices of journals of astrophysics, and so when it was quiet I would read what I could, pocketing phrases and ideas.

And so began some of the earliest poems that attempted to incorporate disciplines that were not my own. I wanted very much to get out of my head, out of my very solipsistic skin. And I have often, for reasons both good and very bad, not frequently read a lot of contemporary poetry. Instead, I’ve sunk myself into the very opposite of what I do—indulging in thick, intricate novels and attempting to understand visual perspective through the diction of film angles. I have wanted to write poems that could have dialogues with ideas or modes of expression other than just other poems.

And I want to write poems to someone other than myself. I want poems to be a form of empathy. I don’t want my poems to recount my memories to myself in a dark room. I want them to be something other than me. Though they begin here, I want them to go out and inhabit other bodies and feel other lives. I want the reader to find them to be a companion. And like the best of friends, they listen. Incorporating archival material and found text allows me the best chance to listen—to not speak over, but to get inside and understand. This is perhaps part of the play between the subjective and the objective that you noticde in some of the poems, an intricacy that allows them to both report and question. I hope it’s a place where even things that sound like fact, still have a feeling.

One thing in particular, among many, that I think our work shares in common is an interest in the structures of how information is shared—how both an apprehension and a natural mistrust of the structures used to convey it. I’m thinking specifically of the deconstructive elements of Correspondence, which offer footnotes, appendices, an index, and a glossary as a substitute for a narrative. It opens, in fact, immediately with a subplot,without us ever knowing the plot. These trappings of formal structure like indexes and notes and glossaries are usually used with a voice of authority. But when used alone, that notion is completely undercut. I’m curious about what continues to draw you to these formal forms of organization and the ellipsis of text they imply.

Kristina Marie Darling: I’ve always been intrigued (and troubled) by the hierarchies that we tend to impose upon language. And I’ve always admired the way your work blurs not only textual boundaries, but also the barriers we create between artistic disciplines. I really enjoyed the companion DVD. of original films that accompanies Forty-One Jane Doe’s, and would love to hear more about how you envision the relationship between poetic language and the language of cinema. What does film make possible within your artistic practice?

Carrie Olivia Adams: I originally began to experiment with film during a time when I felt completely overwhelmed by language. I’ve never been an incredibly visual person; in fact, I often feel very spatially impaired. I’m tactile. I hardly ever drive a car because trying to move a body of matter outside myself through physical space is a challenge—how long am I, how wide am I, what space can I take up. In contrast, I love riding my bike because at any moment, I can always put my feet on the ground. Which is all to say that I cannot visualize anything or hold a picture in my mind. I think that I can only recall what specific places in my life look like when I am not in them, because of associations and stories I have made or told about the place. My visual memory is a narrative memory. For many years, I even dreamed mostly in words. Sometimes sentences would fall on me like thin sheets of cotton bunting (the dreams had a texture, if not an image). Last night, I was chasing around a name in my dream; I kept trying to solve it like a puzzle. In my sleep, I wasn’t inhabiting any particular place, but a word kept scratching at me like an intuitive question.

I turned to the camera as a substitute for my weak mind. Here was something that could be an extension of my eye and frame and hold a picture in a way my imagination never could. I started making films about a decade ago, before people were really talking about poem-films. An element was missing from my work, so I went on a quest for vision. Film aided me as a writer to return to and revisit a scene that I otherwise might have lost. New details, new angles, new shadows became apparent to me. My camera conjured what I could not alone.

At the same time, it created another layer of collaboration between me and the reader/viewer. I could offer a companion to the text—not a straightforward retelling or a parallel experience, but a dialogue with the poem. And through this my hope was that the poems would further open out and invite in the audience. I wanted to not only share a world, but to create something more it could envelop.

I think we both have an interest in the architecture of a project. Neither of us creates truly stand-alone poems that are single objects on a page, but we think more along the lines of the sequence and the series, the book as concept and as structure. I’d love to know how that interest in form developed for you, and how you approach and plan a given project. To what extent is the structure an organic outgrowth of the writing process or a formal, strategic foundation already set in place before most of the text has come together?

Kristina Marie Darling: That’s a great question. I think that the sequence, or the book-length poem, opens up a wide range of possibilities for the type of readerly engagement that you describe. When the reader is asked to forge connections between different elements of a book-length project (different literary forms perhaps, or even images and work in other mediums), the text becomes a collaboration between the poet and her audience, allowing them to participate in the process of creating meaning from the work.

For me, the book-length project represents not only a collaboration between the poet and a potential reader, but also, a dialogue between parts of the self or different parts of consciousness. What’s especially intriguing about poem-as-project is that it allows the writer to create juxtapositions (between different forms, voices, and mediums) that are often not possible within the space of a shorter, stand-alone piece. Each of these different modes of representing experience allows for a different way of thinking, a new way of perceiving and processing the world around me. The book-length project allows these various ways of thinking, and vastly different ways of being in the world, to illuminate and complicate one another.

Because the book-length project is a collaborative process, one that affords an opportunity for spontaneity and experimentation, I try not to plan the book beforehand. There are certainly poets who build their books around a given concept. But for me, this forecloses possibilities for dialogue to unfold, and to carry me places I wouldn’t expect it to. I try to allow myself to discover the structure of the project as I create it, to allow order and coherence to emerge from within the work itself.

I think that my investment in the poem-as-book-length-sequence is part of the reason I’m so drawn to your work. I appreciate the fact that your work juxtaposes artistic mediums, and also wildly different archival texts, allowing the extended sequence to become a space for dialogue. And the reader is invited into that conversation as well. The poet becomes, in many ways, a curator of voices and literary forms, the poem a conversation that crosses boundaries between forms, mediums, and individual pieces.

With that in mind, I’d love to hear more about how your role as an editor and curator informs your creative work. Black Ocean presents a unified catalogue of individual collections, but each voice, each text, adds something new to the existing conversation. To what extent is the process of editing a literary press, and building a concise, unified catalogue, similar to constructing a book-length project? How has your practice as an editor opened up new possibilities for your creative work?

Carrie Olivia Adams: That’s such an interesting question. I’ve never thought of Black Ocean’s list as being similar as a way of shaping a larger project, but I think you’ve hit upon something. It’s true that we have a very unified voice or aesthetic across the book list—all of the authors have distinct approaches, and yet there is something very recognizable that makes a book a “Black Ocean book.” And I’m really pleased we’ve been able to achieve that, especially given that the editorial process is extremely collaborative and democratic. Black Ocean publisher Janaka Stucky and I have always worked really closely together to choose books that thrive in the middle space where our fascinations and curiosities overlap. There are definitely poets that I would love to publish, whose work I greatly admire, that will probably never be a part of the Black Ocean catalog because their work falls too far on my side of the aesthetic spectrum. And the same, I’m sure, is true for Janaka. Together, we hope to find and publish poetry collections that excite us both and tap into our individual hopes for what poems can do. And it means that I often publish poets who are engaged in projects completely unlike my own, but that intrigue me because of their difference. The middle ground between us has become a very fertile place that has allowed us to cultivate the Black Ocean aesthetic while challenging our own.

Most of the books that we publish are very closely edited by me in dialogue with the author and Janaka. But I usually wade into the thick of it first, concerned as much with the minutiae as the overall structure. My hope is to get as close to the poems as possible—to understand what their underlying mode of narration, structure, communication, tone, form, etc. is and how to make that clear and consistent across the work. In many ways, the poems should subtly, intuitively guide the reader in how to read them. Each collection has an accent, a dialect, a syntax that is its own; and, my goal is to make this breadcrumb trail available to the reader.

This editorial sensibility is impossible to suppress when working on my poems—which is as helpful as it is detrimental at times. I am the worst at silencing myself. Which is why I often don’t write at all when I am in the midst of editing a work or reading our open submissions. I have to compartmentalize the lives if I am ever going to keep working on my poems, and the only way I’ve found to do that is with the distance of time. There are seasons of the year for writing and there are seasons for sitting quiet.

With Black Ocean, I just finished editing Feng Sun Chen’s second book, which is currently still in search of a final title. When I think of a work that’s a perfect example of something that’s so far away from my own, and that I find incredibly fascinating and invigorating as an author, it’s Feng’s. Her work is messy and visceral and loud and unashamed—as much as my own has the neat-as-a-pin precision of an old maid. But this is what makes her so interesting to edit—to let go and be absorbed into a little bit of chaos. Personally, I am working very slowly on a long project called Daughter of a Tree Farm, which began as an erasure of a memoir of Sofiya Tolstoy. Just like many of my previous sequences, the work blurs the lines between the borrowed text and my own words. It’s been on pause for a few months while I’ve been reading for Black Ocean, and I think that I cannot turn back to it entirely until I read the newly published The Kreutzer Sonata Variations, which translates (for the first time into English) Sofiya’s story that she wrote in response to the The Kreutzer Sonata. In it, she reverses the perspective and tells the story from the wife’s point of view. Exploring her mind and voice a little further seems like a necessary tool to the sympathy of the erasure.

 

Potts
Potts

From the recently published collection, Trickster (University of Iowa Press), Randall Potts offers some uncanny arithmetic.

Math

I put 0 and 0 together
And arrived at nothing.
Nothing was accomplished.
I had done it perfectly.
I made 0 disappear into 0.
I made sure nothing was left.
There was no doubt of it.Next, I made 2 into two.
It was easy: numbers are words.
I made sure nothing was left.
I made sure nothing was said.
I made sure nothing was written
It was getting complicated.My thumb was black with ink.
So, everything I touched became
itself plus me.
Every addition complicated it.
Every mark was a number.
Every number mocked.

I settled on the number one.
I refused all manner of addition.
I was careful to touch nothing.
That’s impossible,” someone said.
I knew someone was right.

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Randall Potts is the author of Trickster, published this fall by the University of Iowa Press, Kuhl House poetry series. His previous collection of poems, Collision Center was published by O Books in 1994. His chapbook, Recant: (A Revision) was published by Leave Books in 1994.

He attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and has taught creative writing at the graduate and undergraduate levels at the University of San Francisco and California College of the Arts. He lives in Berkeley, California.

For more information on Trickster, visit: http://www.uiowapress.org/books/2014-fall/trickster.htm.

Dubrow

 Photo credit: Cedric Terrell

 

Casualty Notification

            The Only News I know / Is Bulletins all Day / From Immortality.

            – Emily Dickinson

 

Switch channels, stop

the breaking news,

press mute to hush

the anchorman’s reviews

of war, his litany

of each device

and bomb gone off today.

Silence the price

of bread or medicare

or gasoline.

Make the black pinpoint

on the TV screen.

Unplug the blackbox

from the mouth of the wall.

Uncradle the phone so

nobody can call.

Let the venetian blinds

blind everyone

to what’s outside—the dead,

indifferent sun,

the car pulled up along

the curb, the vexed

men in uniforms

looking for next

of kin. They bring a check

to pay the cost

of grieving. Their dark sedan

puffs out exhaust.

And now, the only sound

a daybird singing,

the only bulletin

a doorbell ringing.

 

Previously appeared in West Branch (issue 74, Spring 2014)

 

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Jehanne Dubrow is the author of four poetry collections, including Red Army Red and Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2012 and 2010), and is the co-editor of The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems About Perfume (Literary House Press, 2014). In 2015, University of New Mexico Press will publish her fifth book, The Arranged Marriage. Her work has appeared in Southern Review, The New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. She is the Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and an Associate Professor of creative writing at Washington College, where she edits the national literary journal, Cherry Tree.

 

 

Kenny- Lightness-Back Flap-Photo

NOTE: Adele and I started this interview a while back and I never had the chance to post it. Some of the elements refer to her book What Matters as a recent publication.

MT: I first want to comment on what I see as the arc of this collection, What Matters. Memory, in this book, seems like a kind of sacrament: memorializing literally makes real by nature of the act. I’m thinking especially of the line “language…larger than / logic” (“The Sap Bush”). (I’ve chopped that line up, but it seemed so evocative to me that I couldn’t bypass it.) The first section fulfills and meditates on this traditional task of the poet. Then the second section puts that function into crisis—the poet dies (or rather confronts the possibility of her own death). The crisis is (I think), if the memorializer dies, how do those that the poet loves (including herself) continue to exist? This crisis gives birth to the third section, which affirms “We Don’t Forget,” but is admittedly much more subdued (chastened?) in its memorializing. Would you agree with this characterization?

AK: I love that poetry allows for different interpretations of meaning. Your “take” on What Matters is compelling (and I love where you’ve gone with it), but it’s rather different from my own. Memory as the “arc” (or perhaps “ark”) of it all wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Memory does play a role in the “story” (and, yes, the book does tell at least part of a story), but memory in the book’s context isn’t quite what “memorializing” suggests to me. I agree with you that remembering is one of the poet’s tasks. A contemporary poet (I think it was Gerald Stern) once said, “It’s the poet’s job to remember.” Getting back to “memorializing”—I’ve always thought that when we memorialize, we honor the dead (you, know, preserve their memory)—What Matters is a book about survival. Most importantly, it’s a book about the human spirit. It focuses on the fact that we’re all survivors of something: fear, grief, illness, the losses of loved ones. Individual details may be different, but we’re all survivors.

The poems in the first section look at the past and how, even if only peripherally, we are who we were. Those poems set up for section two, which deals with my own breast cancer experience—a confrontation with mortality during which I often “went” to the past, a safe place when nothing else in my life was safe, a place that reminded me what living was about and buttressed the contents of my survival toolbox. The poems in section two are about the conditions of survival—how we meet them and what they cost us. You’re spot on about the second section giving birth to the third, which looks at life as it is and the ways in which the human spirit remembers how to live. There was a definite before, during, and after sensibility when I arranged the poems. You mention  “We Don’t Forget,” did you notice that the last word in that poem (the last poem in the collection) is “rejoice?” That wasn’t by accident.

MT: It’s interesting that you use the word “survival” because that’s exactly what I had in mind when I was thinking about memorializing—only I was thinking about it in terms of helping others into the world, helping them survive their own passing. For me, one of the pleasures of this collection was that it evoked what poetry does so clearly—poetry remembers and, building on the word ‘rejoice,’ celebrates—so it’s really enriching for me as a reader (and poet) to see your own survival and the role these poems played in it. I did notice “rejoice,” but I hadn’t thought about it in the context of the whole book—joy and rejoicing as, in the end, “What matters” or what “We don’t forget” how to do. I see pretty clearly how remembering related to your “survival toolbox,” but can you elaborate more “rejoicing” and its role in your own survival story?

AK: Thanks for your kind words, Micah. It’s so important for poetry to leave enough gaps and silences for readers to fill in the blanks. I hoped that What Matters would offer a message of encouragement and hope while giving readers room to map out their own places in the poems.

No form of survival is ever a “sudden epiphany.” Survival is a slow process, a measured progression that requires nearly impossible determination (read “understatement” here). It’s definitely a spiritual journey—sounds kind of trite, but this trip we call life is about spirit.

For me, and I suspect for many, gratitude is a necessary part of the process. Of course, it’s hard to be grateful when you stand on the edge of crash and burn. One day you’re simply living your life and the next you’re faced with something you didn’t anticipate and aren’t sure you can deal with. It happens to all of us sooner or later, in one way or another. Surviving becomes part of the trek, but it’s a lonely walk no matter how much support you have. Faced with fear, grief, loss, or illness, where do you go? You either give into the darkness of it all, or you look for a way out. Acceptance is part of the way back up—a grace that can lead to gratitude. (Stay with me, I’m working toward rejoicing.) There’s so much for which to be grateful (one more hour, one more day). Learning how to be grateful is another instrument in the survival toolbox. If you can manage gratefulness, you can begin to move away from the damages of what you work to survive. It’s kind of like when the feeling of the subject matter becomes the poem. You remember how to live, you remember what happiness is, and that projects itself backward and forward. Slowly, you begin to rejoice in whatever happiness and love you can find. What do we live for? From the poem:

 

Grace is acceptance—

 

all of it, whatever is—as

in we live for this: love

and gratitude enough.

MT: This concept of gratitude is important to poems, I think. Who for you are some “poets of gratitude,” poets who embody or maybe model gratitude as a almost poetic mode?

AK: The poet who rushes immediately to mind is Gerald Stern. The first poem of his that I ever read (many years ago) was “Lucky Life.” In that first read, Jerry impressed me as a “grateful” poet, and I don’t think this theme in his work has changed over time. Mary Oliver, who celebrates the natural world with inherent gratitude is one of any number of poets who seem “gratefully typical.” I suspect that the poets who express gratitude most effectively are those who have defined it in themselves and incorporate it into their work as a way of acknowledging and affirming what they’ve been given. Inherent in their poems are generosity, appreciation, and compassion. Another “gratitude poem” that stands out for me is “Thanks” by W. S. Merwin.

MT: Forgive me for bringing in my own poems, but this discussion of gratitude makes me think of a line I’ve been working with in one of my own poems: I call gratitude a kind of vertigo: in part because it feels so depthless. Once you open yourself to it, in a way everything must become gratitude. I’m curious if you had the same experience with it? That somehow learning to be grateful is a kind of release, a radical openness?

AK: I’m so glad you brought your own poems into this “discussion.” I’ve just been listening to you on YouTube, and I’ve read several of your poems online. In your work, which I see as a kind of semi-surrealist/New York School hybrid, there’s a definite sense of gratitude—even your “riff, riff, riff” in the Melville poem, your priests “out in Manhattan,” and those pesky birds in your beard suggest something of gratefulness and praise; and there’s the point I want to make: gratefulness and praise, for me, are part of the same sensibility. It’s about always being open, always being in process—totally depthless, as you note. There’s a profoundly spiritual component when it comes to radical openness and the release it can bring—gratitude follows naturally. That said, I have to believe that emblematic gratitude in any poet’s work is a reflection of the poet’s truest, most generous self. Not all poets go there, and if you don’t feel it, you can’t write it. For me (and I suspect for others as well), craft half-fills the glass, gratitude raises the elixir to the top.

MT: I use the word ‘depthless’ because that is the thing about gratitude (and praise, as you have pointed out): there’s never too much. No matter how many times poets have praised the beauty of the beloved—whatever that might be—it never gets old. Even if poets are doing similar ‘moves’ when they praise. I think this is one of the great lessons of reading poetry from the past: things have changed little and praise never gets old. There is something profound in that recognition, I think—something about the nature of being is revealed there. One artist who really captures this for me is Brian Wilson—from the Beach Boys. When I listen to his album SMILE, it feels like he’s tapped into this endless well of creativity, of joy almost. I also feel the same thing when I listen to Handel or read writers like Horace and Auden. They all seem to go back to that same ontological source. As you pointed out, once you have tapped into this, craft almost seems to become a side issue. Or maybe it would be better to say that craft is transformed? Elevated? As you said, though, there is a radical openness. This is terrifying, isn’t it? You’ve also taught writing for many years, I believe. Obviously this openness isn’t something ‘transferred’ to a student, but in your experience as a teacher, is it something that can be elicited somehow?

AK: The “depthless” quality of the kind you mention is precisely what makes certain poems timeless (Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale,” Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud,” O’Hara’s “Autobiographica Literaria,” Kinnell’s “Crying”). There are legions of such poems (mega-known and not-so known). Just as the beauty of the beloved and the praise never get old, neither do the poems that celebrate such intense awarenesses; and, yes, I do believe that radical openness transforms and elevates craft. You mention music, and I agree that it’s hard to listen to some composers and not rise to the joy they’ve created (it’s impossible not to “smile” through Brian Wilson’s “Good Vibrations”). Gratitude and praise speak the language of joy, and I think if we read deeply enough, there’s either an inherent sense of gratitude/praise in most poems or a longing for it (which is one of the reasons I love reading about poets as much as I love their poems). BTW, did you know that the setting for Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” was a poem by Schiller?

Yes, I’ve taught for what seems like forever in schools and in private and agency-sponsored workshops, always with a nod to the “elevated mood” of what we call “great” poetry. I can’t say that I’ve ever consciously “lesson-planned” to elicit openness, and I’m not sure if it can be elicited when there isn’t a predisposition to it or a willingness to “go there.” Most importantly, the role of “teacher” is to inspire and encourage writers to try. What really resonates for me is your idea of poets working from the same ontological source. For me, this approaches the spiritual. In poetry’s great conversation with the spirit, there’s a profoundly “mystical” component (not to be mistaken for “religious”) that praises or gives thanks in one way or another. To not be open to that, to miss out on it—now, that would be truly terrifying.

MT: I remember the moment when I first felt like I tapped into that source: I spent much of high school trying to sound like TS Eliot. And I remember writing one night by myself in my room when suddenly I felt (felt!) a kind of hush fall around my room as I finished the lines of a poem. It was a kind of spark but also a satisfied emptiness—like I’d come to some kind of rest. That feeling alone was enough to keep me coming back to poetry for a good 4-5 years. These days I’ve realized that the more you chase it, the less you have its grace in that sense. Anyways, that was a key transition point for me as a writer—where I knew what I was doing had somehow transcended itself, my own (little) artistic Damascus. Did you have an experience like that? A moment when you unexpectedly “tapped in?”

AK: What a wonderful moment, and so interesting that you mention T. S. Eliot. My first experiences with poetry came early: when I was four, I was diagnosed with something called “polio fever” and spent most of that summer in bed. My mom, a great reader who appreciated all kinds of poetry, taught me to read and write using poems by Eugene Field and the Gospel of St. John. She wasn’t a trained teacher, so I have no idea how she managed it but, by the time I got to kindergarten, I was already writing little poems. It wasn’t until high school, however, that I discovered Eliot’s “Four Quartets” and fell in love with poetry that didn’t rhyme and used language in such amazing ways (what I thought of as “mature” poetry at that time). For me, the realization wasn’t that I’d tapped into the “source” but, rather, that I recognized it and wanted to be there. The “tapping in” is an ongoing part of the process. As you expressed it, the more you chase it, the more elusive it becomes. It is definitely both gift and grace when, in writing poetry, you find the “road called straight” and the scales fall from your eyes—that happens from time to time and makes the trek worth its price.

MT: It’s interesting to use the word ‘mature’ to describe writing. Now that you have quite a number of books under your belt, do you feel you can go back and see ways you have matured (or perhaps simply changed)? Were there things that you felt you had to write about that you no longer feel inclined to discuss? Sometimes now when I go back to certain poems of mine, I have a hard time remembering the person who wrote them. I don’t know whether to be sad about that or not.

AK: I make a point of not looking at the “old” books and chapbooks because every time I do I want to tweak and refine the poems in them. I’ve always focused on imagery and sound, but I’ve moved away from primarily narrative poems to, most recently, prose poems that look at the ways in which the spiritual self interacts with the outside world. Earlier on, there were stories that needed telling but, now, having been told, I don’t go back to them and consider them “turned corners” in my life.  As you noted, there are times when I barely remember the person who wrote those poems. Most of the time that’s a good thing.

MT: Which came first—the change in form (to prose) or the change in content (from narrative)? Or was it a kind of organic unity? I guess I’m trying to get at the sense of how an artist navigates a change in his or her art—how the artist senses it and knows to move with it.

AK: Making the leap from lined poems to prose poems was definitely organic, nothing I planned but had been leaning toward for some time. I didn’t consciously navigate a change in art direction, but after finishing What Matters, I went for a long time without writing anything. I’d begun to think that maybe I’d never write again when, finally, I wrote a prose poem. Completely unplanned. There wasn’t any sense of a shift, but I did move with the idea of something new.

When I started to write the prose poems, the process was the same as always. I don’t think about what I’m doing when I begin a poem and, most of the time, I have no idea where a poem might go (sometimes nowhere). Imagery and sound have always been in the same craft-arc for me, that hasn’t changed, but not having to think about line breaks was freeing. After years of writing narrative and lyrical poems, I welcomed something different that can be lyrical or narrative, both or neither. I’m especially drawn to the way prose poems contain complete sentences and intentional fragments, the way they speak the language of dreams, and how they give a nod to the surreal.

At this point, my poems (both lined and prose) have become deliberately shorter—I want them to be more focused and compressed, more seamless and sharper-edged. Now (and I don’t recall ever thinking about this in my earlier work), I want my poems to tell me something bout myself, something I haven’t learned yet, or something I’ve forgotten. I want them to startle and surprise me.

MT: The long poetic silence is terribly frightening for a writer, I think. I went through something similar after getting married and moving to Vancouver. Both my life and life environment changed radically. I also started teaching, which I found took up a lot of my creative energy. During that silence I tried to come to terms with the possibility of not writing again—a kind of dark night of the poetic soul, if you will. It was an almost spiritual confrontation—stripping away false conceptions of my poetic selfhood, what ‘kind’ of writer I was, what it means to love poetry and be ‘poetic.’ It changes your approach to writing. When the poetry did return, I found I was writing more consciously formal poems. I’m not sure why that was, but the structures gave me more confidence—especially since I felt ‘out of practice.’ I also felt, though, that there was a maturity I didn’t have before, that I had gone to a new depth. It’s interesting then that you describe your own shift after not writing as wanting poems that tell you something about yourself—they’re more searching, piercing, perhaps. Do you feel like you’ve stripped something away? Gotten to something more ‘essential?’

AK: “Spiritual confrontation” is a great term for the almost–panicky feeling of poetic silence and the challenge it presents. Like you, there was a time when I worked full-time and had concurrent part-time jobs, and all the commitments of daily life. There wasn’t a lot of time or energy for poetry. When I did have time, the muse was often absent, so I started to write nonfiction for journals related to teaching and for conservation and ecology magazines—something like you turning to formal poems except that what I wrote didn’t requite the intense concentration and need for long expanses of uninterrupted time that poetry requires (it’s easier for me to put a piece of nonfiction aside and come back to it later, than it is to “suspend” a poem). What I learned is that I can write poetry without needing prose, but I can’t write prose without needing poetry. There have been a few times when I seriously thought I’d just give it up, and did for brief periods, but I could never make it stick. Even when I’m not writing a poem (which is too often), I think about writing one.

As I’ve gotten older, my creative priorities have changed—the need for approval tossed out of the ring. I used to care tremendously about what people thought of my work. That’s changed. I’ve recognized writing poetry as the spiritual process it’s always been for me—what you call “poetic selfhood.” The need for approval has segued into a need for my poems to mean more than they say, for the poems to offer spaces and gaps for readers to fill in,  for whatever is personal in the language to speak and to be understood in more voices than my own. When I first started sending poems to journals, there was a lot of personal, narrative poetry in vogue, and I conformed to that. Now, it’s not about telling my story, it’s more about telling a story that will have meaning for others along with, and other than, me. Like all changes—essential, yes, fundamental and necessary.

MT: Sadly, I find myself dreaming about the time when I will really stop caring about what others think of my poetry. Can you tell me more about that freedom? Was there any way that you achieved it? Or did it just come with experience?

AK: Maybe a combination of age and experience? I’m not really sure. It was definitely sparked by many years of studying New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton in which Merton wrote “Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves.” He went on to write, “If you write for God you will reach many men [and women] and bring them joy. If you write for men [and women]—you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.”

MT: This reminds me of something Joe Weil once told me about medieval artists: when painting or decorating a cathedral, they saved their best (most holy?) work for corners nobody else would ever see. It also reminds me of the scholastic distinction between ‘making’ and ‘doing.’ Doing is the realm of “Prudence,” which, as Maritain says, “has for its matter the multitude of needs and circumstances and traffickings in which human anxiety flounders about.” This is the world of writing for others, a kind of constant reflexivity, this is Maria Gillan’s infamous “crow” that caws at poetic instinct. On the other hand, you have “making”—the true realm of art, concerned purely with the truth of the creation itself. Its mode is human, but, as Maritain again says “there is for Art but one law, the exigencies and the good of the work. Hence the tyrannical and absorbing power of Art, and also its astonishing power of soothing; it delivers one from the human; it establishes the artifex—artist or artisan—in a world apart, closed, limited, absolute, in which he puts the energy and intelligence of his manhood at the service of a thing which he makes. This is true of all art; the ennui of living and willing, ceases at the door of every workshop.” I think this is really why ancients spoke about art as a kind of possession (i.e., inspiration) because there is really a sense in which the artist is in the service of something other. Yet we still speak of an artistic identity. To what extent does an artist serve two masters?

AK: This all reminds me of the difference between process and product and how some artists live in service to the things they make. But … does the product serve as arbiter of the process quality? What is the ultimate good of the work? Which is the greater truth, the process of creating or the product created?

It’s the old dilemma of two masters. The scripture reference in your question is apt. Of course, St. Matthew is talking about serving God or money (mammon) in Matthew 6:24, but to take the quote further, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Nemo potest duobus dominis servire: aut enim unum odio habebit, et alterum diliget: aut unum sustinebit, et alterum contemnet.)The question is, “Which master does the individual artist serve, the creative process or the thing that he or she creates?” I suspect that some artists manage to do both, but there has to be a preference—spend time in the process of creation, or sit back and admire what you created (“the good of the work”)? I suppose it all comes down to individual responses to the creative experience, what the artist names as his or her priority and what he or she wants to possess more—the ability to create or the created thing. This all kind of begs the question of ego (and goodness knows we see enough of that in Poetryland). I can imagine the medieval artisans Joe told you about, how they created with the highest intention and made sure their work would only be seen by God—storing up their “treasures” for heaven.  I suspect that all artists are in the service of “something other,” how they define it (artistic identity) is entirely personal (unless, of course, it’s defined by the public, and that’s another (smelly) “kettle of fish”).

MT: I wonder if we might conclude our discussion by looking at two of your poems—one from an earlier era and one of your newer prose poems. Could you share one or  two poems and comment on how your evolving sense of poetics shaped the craft choices you made in those poems?

AK: Here are two poems, one written when I was 6 or 7 years old and the other from A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing At All (the prose poems collection, forthcoming in 2014 from Welcome Rain Publishers).

 

Today

 

Today I threw my poems away.

They didn’t say what poems should say.

Maybe someday I’ll write a book.

But Look! I reach my hand up to the sky

and touch the place where sparrows fly.

 

(1955)

 

_______________________

What Calls You

 

Back then I wasn’t sure what calling meant. I thought something mystical—God’s hand on my arm, a divine voice speaking my name. Instead, I discovered the colors of cyclamen, how even the meanest weeds burst into bloom.

 

It works like this—among the books and fires—grace comes disguised as the winter finch, its beak in the seed; the twilight opossum that feeds on scraps—her babies born beneath my neighbor’s shed. Every day, I learn what love is: the finches, the opossum, the child with Down Syndrome who asked, Can I hug you a hundred times?

 

Whatever idea I had of myself turns on this: what lives on breath is spirit. I discover the power of simple places—silence—the desire to become nothing.

 

(2013)

 

_____________________

 

Sheesh! Am I still writing the same poem? I wonder if, perhaps, a lot of us do that in one way or another?

 

Apart from recognizing a strong sense of the Divine and an incorporation of human nature into the natural world, I can’t say that I’ve ever consciously thought about an evolving sense of poetics or deliberate craft choices. Auden said that a poem should be more interesting than anything that might be said about it. I’ve never been big on analyzing anything. For me, poetry is best when it’s “discovered” rather than written. I admire certain poems for their technique, for their music, and for the brilliance of their language. But those qualities fall short if a poem doesn’t have a strong “spirit center.” By “spirit center” I mean what we discover about ourselves and about others when we read a poem. If a poem is cleverly constructed or contrived, if it does linguistic handsprings, and if its meaning becomes subordinate to form, it may attract attention (especially if that sort of thing happens to be trendy at the moment), but what a poem lets us see, what we find out about ourselves and others because of that poem, and the ways in which a poem tells us that we’re not alone—these are “what matters” to me.

 

Thanks so much for this interview, Micah, and my sincerest congrats on Whale of Desire—a must-read spiritual and artistic tour de force!