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During 2016, we will shine the spotlight of our public esteem & rapt attention on two poets per month. This month’s first poet is Kenzie Allen. 

 

Fox Frazier-Foley: Talk to me about the core of your creative drive and the expression it finds through poetry. There are lots of ways to be creative in this world – what motivates you to write poems, specifically? Additionally, what motivates you to navigate the poebiz landscape?

Kenzie Allen: One of the things I love about poetry is that ideally it becomes a fractal. The smallest parts of it, sentence, line, word, can each be a poem. Like a good sketch, there’s space and negative space in the poem, what is depicted and what is inferred, and the drawing’s refinement upon initial impressions through revision. Poetry draws upon music, the visual, performance, and ultimately is a celebration of language. It’s also the creation of an archive, to me, a history of thought to draw upon and enter conversation with, a measurement of the time and environs, and a space of persuasion, as well, a declaration of existence and as such, also a political act.

I’m also driven by that expressiveness in terms of my culture, my tribe and larger Native community. I’m looking up to people like Roberta Hill, Ernestine Hayes, Mark Turcotte—people who have guided my steps and given me things to strive toward in language and spirit. And my other mentors along the way, Kerri Webster, Laura Kasischke, Khaled Mattawa, generous people who are also great literary citizens. I want to be around in that same fashion, and connect to my fellow generation of artists and the next. And I love being part of the publishing side, reading submissions and curating content, and connecting to new authors in the process.

 

FFF: What are your influences – creatively (esp in terms of other media/other art), personally, and socially/politically?

KA: I’m pretty obsessed with people. Human drive and desire, cultures and power shifts, the things we come up hard against or which propel us forward. When I draw, I draw portraits. When I shoot photographs, I center on people, or on the tiny details which reveal human presence, or on my own human gaze. I sing not simply out of a love of music but out of a love of expression—I want to feel things and I want to connect to others through that expressiveness. I think poetry can also represent a space of healing or processing as well.

I started out in anthropology, and the ethnographic mode is still something I gravitate toward in many aspects of my work. But it’s also a source of conflict (the history of Anthropology, indeed, most academia, is also a history of colonialist movement). But through that influence and lens I’m dealing with cultural conflict, colonialism and stereotype, experiences in forensic anthropology, and the estrangement of relocation.

And bars. I do write a number of poems about/in/all over bars.

 

FFF: Describe your aesthetic as a poet. What do you value? What do you try to do with/in your work? What, to you, makes cool art/literature? What’s most important for you in a poem, or in a book of poems – as author and as reader?

KA: Words fail us. They fail to adequately impart the nature of grief, the pinnacle of joy—we’re all trying to communicate all the time but so, so often, words fail. So it’s a process of trying to get it right, or closer, all the time.

I love landscapes. But mine don’t turn out in the same way as a landscape painting would, with the saltbrush bushes leaping off the page and setting the reader in their own starkly particular corner of a town or meadow they know by heart. So maybe mine are human landscapes, cultural geographies, or memory-pinpoints. What’s important to me is story. Voice. Insider and outsider language; the peculiarities of association and what the body can and cannot tell us about where it has been and what has haunted it.

What’s cool? That shiver of perfect imagery. What I crave—for my chest to cave in and my ribs to ache, and yes, to cry. To feel things. To flinch. Dorianne Laux once said writers are sometimes described by the bystander as “unflinching,” but that in reality it is the writer’s job to flinch, to be moved by the world one witnesses, to have an emotional response and write from that space, with that sense of urgency and vulnerability. I can’t think of anything better to aspire to.

 

FFF: Tell me, if you’re willing, about something – an experience, a piece of art, anything really – that has fundamentally moved and/or shaped you as a person. What was the experience? What was it like? How did it shape you as an artist/poet?

KA: I moved to my tribe’s reservation later in my life, and integration is a slow process. When I was 15 or so, I was given an Oneida name by the woman who developed a verbal dictionary for our language, Maria Hinton (whose name was Yake yale, meaning, “She remembers”). I refer to her sometimes as “Namegiver” in my work, for that is what she was to me.

She was one of the first people outside of my family who really embraced me, who cemented my identity, who wasn’t concerned about my quantum or my having grown up elsewhere. She knew who my family was, and she had given my mother her name (at the time, my mother’s name meant “She who travels”) and confirmed that we were Turtle Clan. I sat with her and we talked and talked, and I spent time with her each time I came to Oneida, even carrying an umbrella for her during one of our Pow Wows to shield her from the sun. I was still dying my hair red, I was still learning how to undo the pressures and confusion of my upbringing away from our community, but she put me in that place of honor beside her as we walked the long circle of Grand Entry.

I told her about my life, played flute and sang for her, and then she is to dream for three days, and the spirits will bring her the name in dreams. She had all the names and their associated clans written out on little index cards by hand in her shaking script, and they’re all different, because the names don’t go back to the spirits until they are no longer being used. One day while I was visiting the box of index cards fell over and I spent the afternoon alphabetizing them. She wrote out my name in this same fashion, Yakotl’ʌ:notati, which means, “There is music as she goes along.” It felt like coming home.

I’ve gone along quite far now, from Texas to Oregon to Michigan to Norway, and I carry that music with me. My grandmother was an opera singer, and my mother was She who travels. So I carry them with me, too. And of the three clans, the Wolf clan are the path finders, or law makers, or those who guide us in living our lives as the Creator intended. The Bear clan are the keepers of the medicine. And the Turtle clan are the keepers of knowledge, the earth protectors and the storytellers. So this has become a part of my legacy, to do what I do, to create and learn and teach.

 

FFF: Name a book or two that you think everyone should read, and tell us a little bit about what makes it/them so mind-blowingly awesome.

KA: I was only allowed to bring one book with me given everything else I had to pack on this latest trip to Norway. I brought Stephen Dunn’s newest, Lines of Defense. He’s just one of those poets I go back to when I need to feel some comfort.

 

FFF: Anything you want to talk about pertaining to your art/craft/literary or writing life that I didn’t ask?

KA:  :D Ahhhh!!

 

 

Kenzie Allen is a descendant of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, and she is a of Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sonora Review, The Iowa Review, Boston Review, Indiana Review, SOFTBLOW, and elsewhere, and she is the managing editor of the Anthropoid collective. Kenzie was born in West Texas and currently lives in Norway.

Fox Frazier-Foley is author of two prize-winning poetry collections, Exodus in X Minor (Sundress Publications, 2014) and The Hydromantic Histories (Bright Hill Press, 2015), and editor of two anthologies, Political Punch: The Politics of Identity (Sundress Publications, 2016) and Among Margins: An Anthology of Critical and Lyrical Writing on Aesthetics (Ricochet Editions, 2016). She is founding EIC of Agape Editions.

because i did not die

Because I Did Not Die

By Nicole Santalucia

ISBN: 978-1599540948

October 2015

Bordighera Press

Reviewed by Brian Fanelli

The Cannoli Machine at the Brooklyn Detention Center, the opening poem in Nicole Santalucia’s Because I Did Not Die, sets the themes—family, Italian American heritage, and addiction—that are a thread throughout the book. Santalucia’s latest work is bold in its subject matter, and shows a willingness to go into the cave and tackle past demons. The poems are unflinching in their handling of the personal, something fewer and fewer contemporary poets are doing in the decades following the height of the confessional movement that saw the ascension of Plath, Sexton, and Lowell.

Several of Santalucia’s poems deal with parents realizing that their children are addicts. The opening poem, for instance, finds the speaker’s dad in the Brooklyn Detention Center, trying to come to terms with the fact that his son is jailed. “This is the first time I saw my father afraid,” the speaker confesses. And yet, the only comfort he finds is the chance to stand in line at the cannoli machine with all of the other fathers. The Italian dessert, at least, is something familiar and comforting.

Throughout much of the book, the brother is a ghost, floating in and out of the family’s life, recalled through memories that the speaker has seen through glimpses. In the poem Golfing, for instance, the sport is used as a metaphor to refer to the brother. The speaker recounts running into the woods and imagining her brother’s ghost teeing off: “I never thought he’d be strong enough/to swing back at life.” The poem is also interesting because it shows the speaker adopting some masculine characteristics, perhaps learned from her brother and dad. The opening lines feature her swinging, grunting, and throwing the nine iron into the sand pit, traits usually associated with men. The slight gender-bending, which occurs in other poems, too, is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book.

The book also addresses a second or third generation Italian American’s attempts to better understand her heritage. Someday I Will Learn Italian recounts watching a grandparent learning over the stove, preparing pasta. There is a distancing between the grandparent and the children, and not only because of language barriers. Throughout the memory recounted in the first stanza, the children always face the grandparent’s back. After the poem digs into the speaker’s past, which includes stealing wine bottles at the grandparent’s funeral, the poem concludes by connecting the past with the present. The speaker sees aspects of the older generation in herself, including some typical Italian traits, such as talking with her hands.

Other poems shift between New York City and Binghamton, or Johnson City in upstate New York. The poems about those scrappy, often forgotten New York locations could be a snapshot of a lot of American rust belt towns, in that they capture the poverty and the sheer struggle to survive. The conclusion of the book’s final poem, Johnson City, reads:

There are blank toe tags and broken chairs

for sale on front lawns in this town.

This is Johnson City.

Old ladies sweep their porches

then the sidewalks

The K Mart has bedbugs

the people don’t know why they have syphilis

They wait for five o’clock in this town

they stand in traffic and wait for a miracle

Yet, this book has plenty of optimism, including stories of the speaker and her family surviving. Other poems celebrate gay marriage and the speaker’s relationship to her wife. Indeed, there are plenty of miracles in Because I Did Not Die, and Santalucia’s willingness to spill her guts should be commended.

__________________________________________________________________

fanelli

Brian Fanelli is the author of the chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing) and the full-length collection All That Remains (Unbound Content). His third book of poems, Waiting for the Dead to Speak, is forthcoming from NYQ Books. His poetry, essays, and book reviews have been published by The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, The Paterson Literary Review, Main Street Rag, Blue Collar Review, and other publications. He has an M.F.A. from Wilkes University and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. He teaches at Lackawanna College.

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Jessy Randall‘s poems, poetry comics, and other things have appeared in Boog City, McSweeney’s, Rattle, and West Wind. She is a librarian at Colorado College and her website is http://personalwebs.coloradocollege.edu/~jrandall/

Cahal Dallat


The Year of Not Dancing

Hours passed languid as the flap of a hawk’s wing
in a last July before the awkward initiations
of fifteen and lifts to far-afield jiving.

He’d work for an uncle, cutting hay, fixing
shingles with bradawls and hot, smoking pitch —
evenings, hung round with fairground hands

till the sideshows lit at eight. Then he’d sidestroke
from the main pier, alone, on a full tide as far
as the bobbing Perpetua, its line of cork floats

with dock and fairground small as a snow-bubble town,
bull-horns carrying Frank Ifield’s When the angels ask
me to recall out across a calm, irredentist blackness.

C.L. Dallat
…from The Year of Not Dancing (Blackstaff Press, 2009)

_______________________________________
C.L. Dallat, poet, musician & critic, (b. Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, Ireland) lives in London where he reviews literature & the arts for the TLS & Guardian, has been a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s weekly Saturday Review since 1998, & is regular house-musician (piano, bandoneon, mandolin etc) at Coffee-House Poetry’s events in London’s famous Troubadour folk’n’poetry’n’jazz cellar-club (www.coffeehousepoetry.org). He won the Strokestown International Poetry Competition, & his latest collection is The Year of Not Dancing (Blackstaff Press, 2009). www.cahaldallat.com

SusannahHartphoto

The journey

Travelling early, we set out while it’s still dark.
At this unblessed hour, we should be wary
of the threat of footpads and of cut-throats,
but we are blithe with optimism, our surprising
sovereigns stinging in our pockets. Our burdens
are as insubstantial as the moon and already
last night has dwindled to a twist of wrinkled
bedclothes. How did we wake so promptly without alarm?
What witchery set us bolt upright in our beds?
Perhaps as the dawn begins to damage
the dark, one of our number will venture:
“Where was it that we were heading? Who has the map?”
Day scarifies the sky, polluting our clarity of purpose.
We will not answer the rank-breaker. We tear off
hunks of bread with hungry teeth. The light comes up
like sadness. We do not want to recognise ourselves

___________________________________________
London-based poet Susannah Hart has attended Coffee-House Poetry’s Troubadour readings, classes & courses (www.coffeehousepoetry.org) for a number of years. Her work has been widely published in magazines, she was a prizewinner in the 2013 Poetry London competition, & she has had poems commended & shortlisted in several other competitions. Susannah works as a brand consultant & writer, & volunteers as a local school governor.

Dominic Bury

sea lore

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Poet Dominic Bury grew up in Bideford in Devon and now lives in London where he works as a copywriter & brand writer. In his spare time he manages front-of-house at Coffee-House Poetry nights at the famous Troubadour cellar-club in London’s Earls Court (www.coffeehousepoetry.org). Dom studied Creative Writing at Kingston University & his poems have been widely published in UK poetry journals including Poetry Wales, Ambit and Iota, and in Best British Poetry 2014 (Salt).

Mona Arshi

Insomniac
by Mona Arshi

Never marry an insomniac. You will have
________to mind yourself.
________________Have hem weights
________sewn into the lining of your garments,

cure your skin with almond oil until it’s bloated
________and the pores are brimming.
________________Purchase a large wooden-grained
________trunk and place it near your bed-it’s for

safekeepings. (Obscurely, somewhere deep inside you
________know all this).Very soon
________________you won’t be able to tell
________the days apart, you’ll develop a tic and it will

distill at the centre (within the hive of your other small
________anomalies).You’ll flail
________________in mild wind and when you speak
________minute silver-fish consort in the pit of your throat.

Exquisite wife to the shade: the exact point you place
________your finger-tip on winter mornings,
________________a raindrop will later stop and fret.
________It’s a wonder if you survive at all.

It will all end in the mouth; you’ll blink-
________he’ll stir. You’ll practice lying very very still-
________________peacock feathers
________(your talismans) will blink back in their jars.

…from Small Hands (Pavilion Press, 2014)

_________________________________
Mona Arshi has been a frequent audience-member & workshop-participant at London’s Troubadour poetry events (www.coffeehousepoetry.org). A prize winner in the 2013 Troubadour International Poetry Prize & joint winner of the Manchester Creative Writing poetry prize in 2014, her Forward-prize-winning debut collection Small Hands was published by Pavilion Poetry (Liverpool University Press). Mona lives in West London & worked as a human rights lawyer for a decade before studying Creative Writing at University of East Anglia. www.monaarshi.com

 

This Rain

brings with it the scent of rain-soaked lilac, lemon lily. Bruised

skirts of thunderclouds drop their wet hems over this prairie. It rains

and the ditches brim, rains

and the water rises like ire amongst the willows.

What we say and do not say. The heart

incandescent, riverine with distance.

 

***

 

lilt like this: sound

of droplets from leaves

aaaaaa

gift   gift         gift

 

 

(Shortlisted for the International Salt Prize for Best Individual Poem, 2012

Published in The Salt Book of New Writing 2013, UK.)

 

_______________________________________________________

Jenna Butler is the author of three books of poetry, Seldom Seen Road (NeWest Press, 2013), Wells (University of Alberta Press, 2012), and Aphelion (NeWest Press, 2010), in addition to a book of ecocritical essays, A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail. When she is not in the classroom as a professor of ecocriticism and creative writing at Red Deer College, she works as a beekeeper on her off-grid organic farm in northern Canada. Her new book of essays on women and beekeeping, Revery: A Year of Bees, is forthcoming.

RGEvans

PARADOX

The hand that draws the bowstring has faith

that the deer will die. The longbow bends,

the arrow points, the deer stands frozen

in the curious pose of prey before its doom.

But Zeno suggests that once the arrow flies,

it covers half the distance to the deer’s heart

first, then half the distance left and half again

and again and half again so the deer will live

and the arrow will never find its one true home.

 

A woman’s faith is different than a man’s.

She believes his strength is bowstring straight,

his heart like longbow yew, flexible but taut.

A man believes that he is not a beast–

until the string snaps, the tortured bow splinters

and his fist is arcing through the air

toward the faithful face of the woman who believes.

 

The hunter doesn’t love the prey.

He’s filed the razor edge of the arrowhead himself.

And even Zeno had to eat.  Is there faith enough

to believe in a universe where that fist still hangs

in the half-space in between, and now, a moment later,

half again?

(originally published by www.ithacalit.com)

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R.G. Evans is the author of Overtipping the Ferryman (2013 Aldrich Press Poetry Prize) and the forthcoming novella The Noise of Wings. www.rgevanswriter.com

JoannaLee
Driving

 
 
 

under drying skies, north,

passing fields

the summer has been too wet

to turn brown,

i wait for God

to appear, for poems to rise

like mists, for some sort

of ever

 

that doesn’t sting.

croon to me like a wild road,

sunlight spider-webbing

across a cracked windshield

across strange arms

across a morning we can all afford

to spend and live

and live.

________________________________________________________

Joanna Suzanne Lee earned her MD from the Medical College of Virginia in 2007 and a further MS in Applied Science from the College of William and Mary in 2010. Her ppoetry has been published in a number of online and print journals, including Caduceus, Contemporary American Voices, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her second full­-length book of poetry, the river and the dead, is forthcoming in 2015 from unboundCONTENT. She is currently serving her third year on the James River Writers Board of Directors, and, under the big bright umbrella of Richmond’s River City Poets, she makes possible a wide range of poetry happenings from Shockoe Slip to South of the James.

Diana6


Vital Desert Lesson Number One

Nothing can be more useful to a man than a determination not to be hurried. – Henry David Thoreau

 

Living on beans and bread

in an abandoned cabin no larger

than a tool shed, I’d be happy,

 

I once said. If I could just remain

immobile, silent. No place to go,

I’d read Dante’s Inferno and ponder

 

the nature of mass movements,

the building of Babel’s tower,

the steam locomotive.

 

Dawn and dusk I’d thank sun and moon

that I’d escaped the grinding bustle,

that nothing disturbed my dreams.

 

Oh, I know it all seems too idyllic,

but one vital lesson this desert’s teaching:

let nothing rush me—not the heat

 

I try to keep out of, not the man

behind me in the traffic jam

fidgeting with the folds of his gutra*

 

while he beeps and speeds past me

one nano second after the light changes.

Inshalla shall be my mantra,

 

the camel my choice over the Arabian horse—

let her carry me ever so slowly

over the course of the dunes as the wind

 

plays its favorite tunes on them.

I won’t be rushed into talking too much

or too soon, and when I do speak,

 

my words will flow slowly and sparingly,

like the wind whispering

to the date palm and sidra tree.

 

*white head covering worn by many Gulf Arab men.

_________________________________________________________

Diana Woodcock’s first full-length collection, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize. Her second, Under the Spell of a Persian Nightingale, is forthcoming from WordTech Communications. Chapbooks include Beggar in the EvergladesDesert Ecology: Lessons and VisionsTamed by the DesertIn the Shade of the Sidra TreeMandala, and Travels of a Gwai Lo.  Widely published in literary journals (including Best New Poets 2008), her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Award. Prior to teaching in Qatar (since 2004), she worked for nearly eight years in Tibet, Macau and on the Thai/Cambodian border.

 

John Hoppenthaler

Some Men 

 

Men who’ve kissed with passion the full lips

of women they didn’t love, men

 

who’ve grown too reticent for the confessional,

who’ve cleaned public restrooms,

 

wiped menstrual blood from their walls, who’ve written—

then scrubbed off—vile graffiti from the rusting doors

 

of shithouse stalls. Men who’ve grown

enormous with disregard, rolls of it bellying over

 

their wide belts. Men who’ve been barbers

of the dead and were happy for the work,

 

men who’ve become what they’ve microwaved,

who overvalue the quality of their erections

 

and fawn over them like the town’s new Wal-Mart.

Men who look awful in suits, who’ve been there

 

and back yet grew impatient, men who go to wakes

to keep up appearances, who’ve made a deal

 

with God but can’t remember the terms, men who are old

pros when it comes to hospitals and cracking

 

jokes at the nurses’ expense, men who’ll be at

your funeral, who’ll kiss your widow with passion

 

and keep everyone’s lips flapping. Men who’ll move

in and disinfect your bathroom, who’ll trim nose hair

 

at your sink, conjure mythic hard-ons they’ll purchase

at Wal-Mart. Men who’ll kiss your wife

 

damned hard on the mouth, take off her dress,

and have your Sunday suit altered and pressed.

 

 

From Domestic Garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015

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John Hoppenthaler’s books of poetry are Lives of Water (2003), Anticipate the Coming Reservoir (2008), and Domestic Garden (2015), all with Carnegie Mellon University Press. With Kazim Ali, he has co-edited a volume of essays and interviews on the poetry of Jean Valentine, This-World Company—Jean Valentine (U Michigan P, 2012).  For the cultural journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, he edits “A Poetry Congeries.  He is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at East Carolina University.

 

EmiMahmoud

The Bride

I met her on her wedding day
Walked up to her, and smiled,
No one ever talks to the bride
I thought it might be interesting to try something new,
Break tradition
Henna patterns wrapped around her wrists climbed up her arms
Spreading blossoms on tender flesh
Her lips were a wilted crimson
Tilted ever so slightly to the side,
A perfect almost smile
The first thing her mother taught her was to wipe the tears before the blood dries,
Shredded knees heal, but shame never fades away,
Don’t climb trees or ride bikes,
That’s how little girls lose their virginity
She sat on a porcelain throne beads and bows holding plastic flowers to the arm rests
“are you alright?” I asked
“I shouldn’t cry” she said, fingers catching tired tears
“it’s fine to cry, you’ll be happy later”
“I shouldn’t cry”
“how long have you known him”
“I don’t”
She was 17 years old, just graduated high school
Her parents sent her to college because and educated girl can earn a bigger dowry
But this mister didn’t mind a country girl
He grew up with her father
Didn’t need an intellectual, just someone who could feed the kids while he raised them
She was a mail-order bride and her father licked the stamp
I cried
How many weddings have I been to?
She just got off the plane twelve hours ago,
Barely left the airport and they already started dressing her
No time to take measurements so they pinned satin to her skin,
Tucked her in to the time tested wire frame
Our ancestors welded
If you put a girl in a steel corset you’ll never have to hear her scream
And she was gorgeous
You could put anyone in her dress and it wouldn’t make a difference
We were guests of the groom and this was his wedding
No one knew her name
She only spoke Arabic
No one knew her name
She danced until the tears came
The middle aged used-to-be brides
Explained it away
“she remembered her mother” they said
“brides always cry when they remember their mothers”
She’d have her fifth child by thirty
My parents protected me, from all the broken men
And their flesh-eating fingers
Said one day I’d find someone who could cook as well as my dad
And who was almost as smart as my mom,
Who’d hold me so close that I could breathe in his memories
when my parents about the bride and all we could do was hold her hand
It killed me.
Tonight he’ll crush the henna blossoms on her wrists
With the same hands the man next door threw at his wife last Thursday
The same fists that taught a daughter to keep her mouth shut
He’ll flatten the ridges of her spine
And she’ll hold her tongue
Bite the screams as they come
Wipe the tears before the blood dries
No one ever talks to the bride

_________________________________________________________

Originating from the war-town region of Darfur, Emi Mahmoud is currently a senior at Yale University. A Leonore Annenberg Scholar and Global Health Fellow, Emi studies Anthropology and Molecular Biology at Yale in the hopes of one day alleviating structural disparities on maternal and child health in disadvantaged communities the world over. Outside of academics, Emi is involved in the Yale Refugee Project, contributes to an international research initiative, and teaches spoken word poetry on campus and in various communities in order to equip youth with the power of voice. Having just returned from the National Poetry Slam, Emi will be competing at this year’s Individual World Poetry Slam in October. Dedicated to the growth and spirit of poetry, Emi has begun collaborating with various artists from Connecticut to her home in Philadelphia. Her aim is to use poetry and other mediums in order to explore the full extent of human expression.

 

emily vogel

 

First Words

By Emily Vogel

ISBN 978-1630450168

June 2015

NYQ Books

Review by Brian Fanelli

emily vogel

Though the northeastern winters serve as a background for several of the poems in Emily Vogel’s collection First Words, there‘s a tenderness and intimacy beneath the book’s howling winds and snowfall, a celebration of love between the narrative’s speaker, her husband, and their firstborn daughter. First Words, however, is not simply a collection of love poems or meditations on motherhood. There are larger themes at stake, including language, the metaphysical, and a country increasingly prone to violence and hyper-consumerism.

Frequently, there‘s interesting juxtapositions of images at work. In the poem “First Snow,” for instance, the winter setting is referred to as “a strange euthanasia of gray.” Certainly, the image evokes the loss of life winter causes, but it’s contrasted with the love between the speaker and her partner, who is referred to as “the essence of song/in a warm room.” The husband is something constant and reliable, a foundation, and as the poem says, they will always return to each other.

In another poem, “White Christmas,” the speaker drives home and throws herself into her husband’s arms. Again, the husband—and the sleeping infant in the next room—serve as something stable. All but the closing stanzas contains Christmas images, but the carolers have faces that “reflect dimensions of apprehensions,” and the speaker imagines that that they are pondering “guns/bank accounts, the magic of a blinking digit.” These images cause tension and reflect the capitalistic aspects of the holiday, but by the end of the poem, family is the anchor, something pure and true.

Other poems address larger cultural issues and undertones of violence. “Sequestering,” for instance, references zombies, claims of God as a hoax, and fears of getting shot in the supermarket. It‘s as though these references are threats to the safe domestic space, where the newborn daughter “gasps delightedly,” the husband laughs at old movies, and the snow, too, acts as a protective barrier.

In “Events,” Vogel again employs some apocalyptic imagery to address society’s larger ills. One section of the prose poems reads, “The war proliferated like neighborhoods/like families, like vacations in exotic places. A fire burnt/down the city.” The poem is one of the most biting, in that it also tackles indifference and hyper-consumerism with the concluding lines, “And then everyone involved got into their/warm cars and drove around, with no particular destination/in mind and thought a lot about what happened for a while.”

The end of the book circles back to family, with a poem dedicated to the author’s daughter. “Dear Clare” is a mix of memories of the daughter’s infant years and mediations on her future, and it includes the line, “I wonder if one day you will know/that poetry can often be as basic as a bank receipt.” On the one hand, Vogel has a knack for writing about the ordinary, about images of snowfall and her daughter laughing at images on TV. On the other hand, this collection constantly pushes deeper. Despite the violence that may exist in the world, Vogel illustrates how relationships and love stand as a stark contrast to those ills.

 

 

Seaglass Picnic, by Frances Driscoll

Pleasure Boat Studio, November 2015

Reviewed by Cheryl R. Hopson

distant-ocean-sea-yacht

The late black lesbian feminist poet Audre Lorde told us decades ago that silence would not protect us. But what happens when we speak those silences – personal, cultural, generational, familial? If Frances Driscoll’s poetry collection Seaglass Picnic is any indication, poetry is what happens.

Driscoll subtitles her collection with a splash of Post Traumatic Stress, suggesting something of the book’s themes–rape, PTSD, suicide, addiction, love, and renewal. And indeed, Seaglass Picnic has the beauty, vibrancy and whimsy of sea glass, as well as the unpredictability and destabilizing force of rape and PTSD. Driscoll opens the collection with a tribute poem to a lost love, Andy—one of five individuals to whom the collection is dedicated. The poet writes,

Roma historian Sarah Carmona says in Romani

when you want to tell someone you love him

you might say,

I eat your heart

Love,

I have eaten your heart,

And,

you,

my beloved,

have eaten mine.

Thus begins the reader’s journey. The poet tells us that, try as we might, there are things that happen to us that can never be forgotten or erased – terrible, torturous, violent things like rape or a beloved’s suicide.

It’s not a rape thing.

I have always loved amnesia.

In the poem He takes off his shirt, the speaker jettisons the imposed/customary silence of rape victims and PTSD sufferers:

I’m a rape victim and

I’m having a small. Little. Well kind of bad

re-occurrence

of post traumatic stress and …

There is no reason to be so afraid

when a man says on the telephone

I am taking off my shirt.

But

I’m as I said having this

little post traumatic stress thing going on

Though I was drawn to Seaglass Picnic, I found myself resisting reading the collection. I know firsthand the havoc and destruction rape and its fallout can bring. I am the sister of a survivor of rape, and I understand by way of my sister—and now, by way of the speakers of Driscoll’s poems—the tenacity and strength it takes to survive what ultimately amounts to the destruction of a person, body and soul. I found myself time and again returning to pieces such as to go properly into the past, a poem in which the poet writes,

Have yourself a little post

traumatic stress episode.

One that comes with flashbacks.

Lots of flashbacks.

And to poems like What Is/What If, part of a series that references the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In What Is/What If, Driscoll revises Law & Order’s subtitle, removing the “Special” and replacing it with “Torture.” Victims are not “special,” as the poet tells us. Rather, they’ve been made fragile and left broken by the experience of rape–as well as by their rapist’s inability or refusal to recognize their humanity, and call them by their names.

Too, in a collection that takes on so many serious, gut-wrenching topics, there is levity – and there were moments when I laughed out loud. Consider the poem The Object #2, in which the poet writes of “a very bright pink very large” penis that “once…followed alongside the car/flying with me / all the way home from school.”

I talk with Donald about it.

This is normal he says.

Jung had visions.

I don’t tell Donald,

do you really think anyone thinks

Jung was normal.

Though at times dark, despairing, and damn painful, Seaglass Picnic showcases the power of poetry to revive, relive, relieve, and break—once and for all—the silences that imprison us and prevent healing. I end my review of Seaglass Picnic as the poet began her collection: Frances Driscoll, poet, teacher, and beloved aunt to Ocean, I eat your heart.

———————————————–

hopson

Cheryl R. Hopson, PhD, is an assistant professor of African American Literature at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia. She has published essays on Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker, as well as on U.S. black feminist sisterhood. Her chapbook Black Notes was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.

 

 

 

Rachelle Linda Escamilla

 

Father took a hand saw to the rain
gutter, but doubted my garbage bin would
fill.

How do I explain that there is no     water?

 

The bin filled in five minutes and we bought three more
no fancy DIY spout nozzles, just hacked gutters, trash bins
and screen for the worms/leaves/debris

 

I’ve watched the fog, but it’s more than fog —

I’ve watched the ocean’s selfie, haha, an imprint of itself: imagine the Pacific
CRASHING against rock, the spray, the sonic boom of it all, now imagine that spray
collecting – grabbing on to each other and pulling the marine layer from just above our
heads and running, like bodies screaming for justice on the highway, for the mountains.

I’ve watched the fog crash over the Gabilan range, flooding the crevices of the chaparral,
giving the wiry blue oak a breather from the bleaching sun It looks like a tsunami he
said after he gasped at the sight from the west.

 

So the fog is water and it waters the grape vines
taste that smokey, cigar, leather jacket she said as she poured the Pinotyeah, that’s from last year’s fire.

 

it’s enough to make you sick with lust.

 

___________________________________________________________________

Rachelle Linda Escamilla is from San Benito County, California which is one mountain range in from the Monterey Bay. Her first book of poems, Imaginary Animal won the 2014 Willow Books Literature Prize in Poetry and has been nominated for a PEN Open Book Award. She is the co-founder of Mainland China’s first creative writing program, the founder of the Poets and Writers Coalition at San Jose State University, and the curator for the Epazote Reading Series. Contact Rachelle through her website: www.poetita.com.