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Poems of the Week

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Bliss

April loves a challenge, choosing to split
the slab of winter-hardened earth with the
silk tongue of a crocus. She casts the stiffened
brooks as her fandango dancers. At first

they crack and groan, call her the cruelest of
taskmasters but April persists, persuades:
the streams ripple, sequined and agile. For
April even forgotten roadsides can

ruffle out in a froth of forsythia,
waving brash wands of membranous stars
that glitter like eternity, then float to
the ground, a wasted galaxy melting

into the land while this uterine
muscle of a month bears down, rousting
the fetuses each from their dark havens,
thrusting them naked and mewling into

the hungry light. The least of April’s exploits
is lulling us: we are so eager to
ignore the hollow echo of the daffodils’
blare and the lithe red tulips’ throats of snow.

 

Bliss is included in Appetite for the Divine (2006) and first appeared in Natural Bridge.

_________________________________________

 

Christine Gelineau is the author of Appetite for the Divine and Remorseless Loyalty, both from Ashland Poetry Press, and co-editor with Jack B. Bedell of the anthology French Connections: A Gathering of Franco-American Poets.  Widely published in journals and anthologies, Gelineau is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.  She teaches at Binghamton University and in the low-residency MFA at Wilkes University.  She’ll be spending this April anticipating a new foal from Anastasia, the mare she was photographed with here. 

 

 

Le_Reading_at_LPR_Event

Prayer for Topaz, 1942

Dear God,

Mom said you are busy and don’t have time to listen to a little 8-year-old Negro girl from North Carolina and her foolishness, like praying for a box of candy. That would be selfish. But if it’s really important she said, then I should take it to you in prayer like the preacher says on Sundays.

I’m not asking for anything for me. But I’ve been hearing the kids at school talking about some place out west called Topaz. At first I thought they were talking about a spot to get rings and flashy jewelry, but Margaret’s big brother, Ed, who’s in 5th grade, says it’s something like a jail where they put Japanese people. I didn’t believe him because he’s always trying to scare us girls. So I asked my dad, and he said it’s true. The government put them there so that the country would be safe. I know that some Japanese airplane men did some bad things in Hawaii back before Christmas, but the people they put away aren’t from over there. They’re Americans and some have been here since before I was born. Some of them are just tiny little girls like me.

I know, God, I’m young, but I really don’t understand how the government thinks that a little Japanese girl could hurt this big country. Anyway God, I’m praying for you to take care of those little Japanese girls and boys. I hope they have some toys to play with and maybe some candy. I hope they get to go home soon.

And God, while you are doing that, could you also watch over me and my family and all of us at school. I worry that we might be next.

 

_________________________________________

Le Hinton is the author of five poetry collections including, most recently, The Language of Moisture and Light (Iris G. Press, 2014). His work can (or will) be found in journals such as Little Patuxent Review and the Baltimore Review, anthologies such as The Best American Poetry 2014 and outside Clipper Magazine Stadium, incorporated into Derek Parker’s sculpture Common Thread in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

 

 

Ned at Atomic Books Aug '13

First Thaw

This morning was the first time: all the snow
that buried us receding, still in drifts
piled high, crusted with ice and yet receding,
slowly drawing back—abandoned cars
revealed, crushed grass, the shattered road ice-slicked,
salt-splashed, slush running downstream, breaking up
over the drains, dissolving….All this time
I thought the whole world lost, but now the light
glances off roofs still cracking with the weight—
a little less, today. The second time
is now: when I can bear to look around
once more and watch this world emerge—old world
from which so much is missing still, new world
in which so much will, one day soon, appear.

______________________________________________

Ned Balbo’s The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (Story Line Press) was awarded the 2012 Poets’ Prize and the 2010 Donald Justice Prize. His two previous books are Lives of the Sleepers (Ernest Sandeen Prize and ForeWord Book of the Year Gold Medal) and Galileo’s Banquet (Towson University Prize). He was co-winner of the 2013 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. His commentary on the poetic turns in Andrew Hudgins’ “Mary Magdalene’s Left Foot” appears at Voltage Poetry.

First Thaw” appeared previously in Lives of the Sleepers (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).

 

 

 

Loren Kleinman HeadShot

At Fifteen

I measured time in cigarettes.
Underneath the underpass
I popped reds
and dropped blues
next to sucked off Popsicle sticks.
I straddled the concrete curb
and anointed the night with love.
I was alive—
snorting coke in abandoned homes
where pigeon shit painted the floor white.
I ripped off loose wood and climbed
to the top of the roof.
I wanted to feel the air
against my cheeks and fuck.
I wanted to break in half.
Fold like heaven and hell.
I was at war with myself.
At fifteen, I hummed paradise,
became those streets that tied
into other streets,
became my own country.
How I talked.
I could’ve been anyone.
I was incurable.

_______________________________________
Loren Kleinman‘s poetry has appeared in journals such as Nimrod, Wilderness House Literary Review, Paterson Literary Review, Narrative Northeast and New Jersey Poets. Her interviews appeared in IndieReader, USA Today and The Huffington Post. She is the author of Flamenco Sketches and Indie Authors Naked, which was an Amazon Top 100 bestseller in Journalism in the UK and USA. Her second poetry collection The Dark Cage Between My Ribs releases March 2014 (Winter Goose Publishing). She is currently working on a literary romance novel, This Way to Forever. She also runs an author interview series on The Huffington Post Books community blogs vertical. Loren’s website is: lorenkleinman.com. She can also be found twittering @LorenKleinman.

 

 

 

tony sunroom

There’ll Be Heartache

He pulled onto the shoulder,
air breaks huffing, stopped and rolled
the window down—outside the air was dry
but cold, early-autumn evening closing in,

and I was eighty miles outside El Paso
with a pack across my back
heading west, because a friend
had died and nothing seemed to fit,
the days and nights too long, or short,
or just too damned complete—

and as the trucker sniffed the wind
as if the smell were new to him,
and flicked a Camel to the ground
and waved me in, I thought I saw a flicker
of a smile beneath the shadow of his cap,

and so I climbed into the cab, slung
the pack into the sleeper in the back
then settled in while on the radio
a tune by Johnny Cash was blasting,
“just around the corner there’ll be heartache.”

And as he pulled the rig back on the highway
he turned to me and said, “Where you headed, son?”
just like that, as if it were a script,
but it wasn’t, and I knew he meant it
as he asked again, “Where’re you headed? You okay?”

and so I told him that my friend had been the smartest
gal I knew, and how there wasn’t anything
you could do to make her angry
or act rude, and how it didn’t seem so right
that someone good like her could die so young
when other’s meanness seemed to keep them going
right on through—

and then we drove along in silence
for another mile or two before Chuck Berry’s
famous tune chugged its steady rhythm on the radio:
Long distance information give me Memphis Tennessee
help me find the party that tried to get in touch with me,

and the trucker asked if I liked the song,
which I did, then he said, “It’s the ending
makes it great”—and sure enough,
it’s true: I catch the strange twist
of misdirection, the snappy, upbeat popping rhythm;

the speaker begging, pleading
for just a bit of mercy: Help me information
get in touch with my Marie, she’s the only one
who’d call me here from Memphis, Tennessee;

the seductive, needy intonation that points us, wrongly,
to lost sweethearts and lovers—only makes the truth
more real, and sad: that sweet Marie’s his little
girl from whom he’s been pulled apart,
because her Mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis, Tennessee—

and yet I couldn’t help but smile and tap
my toe to the upbeat rhythm of six-year-old Marie
with hurry home drops on her cheek
wavin’ him goodbye, just like the last time
that I’d seen my friend as I was backing down the drive
and headed South, and how that weekend

we had talked and written down the little
we knew then, and later, back at home, she’d sent
the poems for me to read and I had saved
them all till I got the call and had pulled
them all together, laid them side by side by side,

and knew I’d seen the better part of life
with her there on that night. Then the driver tapped
another Camel from the pack, smiled, leaned back
and shifted as we trucked on down
the highway, miles ticking by outside.

_________________________________
Tony Morris
‘s most recent book is Greatest Hits (Puddinghouse Press, 2012). Other books include Back to Cain (The Olive Press, 2006), and Fugue’s End (Birch Brook Press, 2004). His work has been published in Spoon River Review, Hawai’i Review, River Styx, Meridian, The Sewanee Theological Review, South Dakota Review, Connecticut Review, Mississippi Review, Green Mountains Review, and others. He is the managing editor of Southern Poetry Review, and director of the Ossabaw Island Writers’ Retreat.

Innocence

In the middle of summer, when it’s too hot for cargo shorts and the air is heavy to breathe, I let my mouth slide open into a slippery smirk, as I watch Michael Ritter, the boy you loved in 5th grade, on the local news.

“Dear Michael, I really, really like you…” your 5th grade love letter began. Against my warnings, you stuffed the tightly folded letter, a rainbow scrawl, colored pencil on notebook paper, into his cubby.

He fell to his knees laughing. His friends snickered at you: Dear Michael, I really, really like you… They whispered when you walked by.  You cried yourself to sleep at night, a salty puddle of pre-adolescent pain staining your Barbie doll pillow case.

It’s not until I see him on the news, until I want to tell you how much you didn’t miss out on, how lucky you are that he never loved you. It’s not until then that I start to miss you.

It’s almost been a year since last summer when your mother drove you off an Arizona overpass. Your car tumbled onto the shiny alloy of train tracks pulled tight against dirt and gravel like braces. You were dead before a train slammed into your car twisting metal and bones.

I like to imagine you asleep in the passenger seat.  The overpass a cliff, the desert orange rock of a winding road.  Maybe your mom falls asleep at the wheel; she’s been driving for too long. Maybe she swerves to miss an animal, a rock. Maybe she cuts a turn to sharply and loses control.

I like to imagine it innocent. That it’s nobody’s fault.

The car falls down the cliff breaking through a mile of air, but it only takes a second to slam into the ground, not long enough for you to wake up. Not long enough for you to know what happens next.

_______________________________
Yinka Rose Reed-Nolan is currently a PhD student at Binghamton University. She earned her BA in Liberal Arts from Goddard College and MFA in creative writing from California State University Fresno. She has worked as an Editorial Assistant for The Normal School: A Literary Magazine and The Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. Her work has been featured in The Hoot and Hare Review, The Dying Goose, Niche, and Bloom. When she’s not writing she enjoys baseball, road trips and team trivia.

Leatherbar in Louisville (owed)

The city hums traffic through lights, blinking
eyes right before sleep, a flatline pattern,
automated efficiency designed
to pull cars through midnight into dawn.
I fall inside, privy to dulled movement,
beer foaming to a quiet stasis, smoke
veiling the bartender and patrons.
Smells of gin, sweat, amyl, tool and product
of lifestyle manufacture, the market
for primacy, the dank and dark of cave
signifying spaces where men belong
to men, belie the confidence of pose,
migraine smiles suggesting satisfaction.

Don, the shirtless bartender, jovial
and smirking at me, dangerously out
of place, nudges me with jokes and beer
into talking, a thaw that draws other
moths to the light of the HD big screen
porno flashing raw tension behind my stool.
Maladroit, I can’t navigate a way
between communion and commodity,
a simple new guy that laughs politely,
declines shots, thank you, declines dance, thank you,
out of place in the sanguine atmosphere
of easy sex in public, among friends.
They offer me beer, friendship, a blowjob.

In this space constructed by and for men to pose, to pretend like
the word faggot doesn’t exist, a highly studied safe zone,
rules sit simple: pleasure transcends the body’s
politics and the cattle grind of out there. To cum is to arrive.

___________________________________________
Airek Beauchamp is attending Binghamton University where he is working on his PhD in English, studying writing pedagogy and sound. He is a Binghamton resident, although he really hates winter.

To My Brother

This is when ponies
were dark violet and a
sack of carrots was all we needed
to survive in the golden desert.
Brother and sister: what a fearless
team to behold.
We’d set toward the sun
as it dropped in the West,
and knew we’d reach Oklahoma
by dawn.
Your too­small blue cowboy boots made you limp
but you didn’t complain.
While my roomy red ones heroically dug craters
with my pointed plastic heels.
The spurs we never owned
flashed and made metal chinks
as we strode across the sands.
I wiped my brow with a gloved hand,
while silently you mimicked me.
 
Plastic muskets on our backs,
we always knew when danger would arrive,
and when it did we fought like ninjas
twisting and kicking the threatening dust.
The cowboys of our backyard,
we kept the neighborhood secure,
even though we were no more than 7 and 9.
I always gave myself more credit,
it made sense. I was older.
You’d go first into the darkness,
and I’d bask in the glory of cowardice.
I’ll always wish I didn’t sacrifice you
so many times during play.
That made it too easy when I started playing
real life. I would apologize, but it is horrific
how much child is extracted from me each year.

_____________________________________
KM Armstrong has a Master’s degree in English from Binghamton University, where she studied creative non­fiction and theory. She lives in Binghamton and works in law enforcement.

Special Education

every morning the machine hands us a hiccuped torch.
recycled failures of the week, the year, the decade before.
cc’d emails collect a swollen desk. an asbestos-lined ceiling
fan stains a memory of the time when a senator, a congresswoman,
and a community member vowed to fight this Brooklyn machine
with the rigor of a Long Island PTA mother. but I am on the front-lines.
every morning i look for answers in their epic eye gazing, repetitive self-injuries,
and empty vocalizations.

____________________________________
Jessica Abel is a Speech Therapist based in Brooklyn, NY. She earned her B.S. in English Literature from S.U.N.Y Binghamton and M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from New York Medical College. She is currently pursuing her M.S. in School Leadership. She is a lover of adolescent literature and music (think Judy Blume and Lorde).

Ariana Nadia Nash is a poet of the body, like Neruda, like Whitman, but her poems do not move with Neruda’s desire-driven caprice, nor do they swell with Whitman’s electric and expansive equation of body and soul. Rather, they proceed with the structured precision of a surgeon (the title of her prize-winning collection is revealing in this regard: Instructions for Preparing Your Skin).

The first poem below, “To Hold the Body in My Hand,” begins with: “I peel back my skin and scoop.” From there it carefully probes down the page in measured lines that one can’t help but read softly and slowly–an effect of the low enjambment and elaborative syntax (Scoop what? “The origins out of my self.” Like what? “Like embryonic papaya seeds.” From where? “From the center of the fruit”).

The relationship with the body in this poem is recursive and seemingly paradoxical: one can both be and have a body, and for a body to fulfill its purpose, it must be exposed, it must rot. I am reminded of a stanza from Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth.”

Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewel,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.

Nash’s poem “Unnamed” takes the idea of holding the body to a more literal level: holding a child, which is both a piece of and a continuation of one’s own body. Again the paradox: the releasing of this body (bluntly, infanticide) is not something that can be released. Again, the recursive turn. In these poems, Nash invites us to feed upon our own bodies, to savor our rotting, and in so doing, to glimpse our own “progenitive seed.”

To Hold the Body in My Hand

I peel back my skin and scoop
the origins out of myself
like embryonic papaya seeds
from the center of the fruit.
No different than
the condensation of sky
into rain, the moss-crept
stone house, the compost—

bodies everywhere exposed
to their own being.

The same rainbow-grey
of fish-scales, the shriveled
density of cloves—I am inside
out and desiccating, everywhere
expanding with scent.

This the carious flesh, I say,
this the progenitive seed.

Unnamed

I should have used
a burlap sack and weighed it down
with rocks but her skin was so soft
and the cloth harsh
and bristly Wrinkled mouths whispered
while I was swelling
that I should burn her (if she was
a her) as a sacrifice
but I didn’t
want her in flecks of ash
and wisps Now I almost wish I had
left her swaddled by the road But
no one else would take her and
as I stirred soup and let it steam
I would have heard her cry as she slowly
starved to death
and that would have reminded me
if she died
this way I saved her
from nothing She would call
my blood to my skin across the distance
bruising me rotten What I’ve done
instead though was too cruel to me
It comes to me this night again—
holding her under clear water
holding her until
her limbs shuddered and fell limp
and I smiled so the last
sight she ever saw
was her mother’s face sweetly
waving through the water

________________________________________________________
Ariana Nadia Nash is the winner of the 2011 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry for her collection Instructions for Preparing Your Skin (Anhinga Press, 2012). She is also the author of the chapbook Our Blood Is Singing (Damask Press, 2011). She is a recipient of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize and a MacDowell Colony residency. Her work has been published in Rock & Sling, Poet Lore, Cimarron Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and The Southeast Review, among other journals.

I first encountered Mark Leidner’s poems on Apostrophe Cast in 2007. Those early poems struck me for how they treated absurd corners of cultural ephemera with the utmost seriousness, and in a vernacular language that seamlessly ascended to momentary heights of poetic beauty. And Leidner read them in an incredibly patient and affectless voice. The overall effect: hilarity and existential wonder.

 

Those poems matured into the material in Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me, often becoming more expansive. The first four poems below feel like an evolution in the opposite direction: Leidner distilled. So much complexity is achieved in the interplay of title and poem, where every word counts.

 

The last poem, “Little Children Riding Dogs,” calls back most to the early work in the wonderful flatness of lines like “also I had this idea” and in its insistence on proceeding with the syntactic “and then” drive of a child’s narrative. The poem is exactly as long as it needs to be (a simple compliment, but, I think, hard to achieve for many poets). Its scope and pacing are designed to give breathing room for its content, for Leidner is a poet who can’t help but linger on beauty, and he finds it in the most prosaic phrasings, the simplest ideas. And of course, by the end of the poem, the lingering itself becomes something beautiful to admire. The thought that we thought that thought to begin with. I recommend reading these poems to yourself in a slow, methodical fashion, 3 or 4 times. Don’t be surprised if they take residence in your skull.

 
 
Love

A cardboard sign
climbing through
thunder-

clouds
on the bumper
of a flying

car
that reads
‘tag applied for.’
 
 
 
Manuscript

Slain
love

breathing
dragons.
 
 
 
Human Nature

How large
how well
a perfume

that smelled
like wind
would look

blowing through
the hair
of suffragettes

would sell
looms.
 
 
 
Reading

Biting in-
to a mirror

plated apple.
Finding out

the apple is
mirror all

the way to the core.
 
 
 
Little Children Riding Dogs

I love the idea of children riding dogs so much
to think of how they’d dress them
I want to be a kid again
and ride my dog to elementary school Bucko!
Charley! Rex! Socrates!
and dismount at the school
and send the dog home
also I had this idea
if all the children rode their dogs to school
when they got there at dawn they’d tell their dogs sit
and the dogs would just sit there
all day in the sun
with the shadow of the flagpole like a clock
while inside the children learn
until the bell rings and they burst out of the school
and mount their dogs and ride them home
and some of them get home at dusk
that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever thought.
 
 
________________________________
Mark Leidner is the author of Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me (Factory Hollow Press, 2011) and The Angel in the Dream of Our Hangover (Sator Press, 2011). @markleidner

I have always admired how Jay Thompson’s poems approach meaning by backing away from it, inhabiting that paradox of quantum observation, that one’s gaze affects reality. In this excerpt from Winter, it is not the superfice, but the essence that is mutable: “day to day only essences change”. A counter-intuitive statement, which perhaps makes more sense if one conflates appearance with essence in an act of reduction, a refusal of the platonic, an offering of respect for each individual thing. Jay Thompson’s metaphysics is not that of Robert Hass, where “each particular erases / the luminous clarity of a general idea,” where the presence of something unique is a “tragic falling off from a first world / of undivided light.” In Thompson’s conception, there are as many essences as there are things and so the act of observation takes on a kind of sacred eros: “how long / since looking on a thing felt / like a perfection of desire”. Thompson refuses to master the things he observes, to subjugate them to meaning. And yet, we are met with phrases like “unborn factory pigs,” “the sunset’s medical bankruptcy,” and “paper blood,” which complicate these poems. They are half-seen intrusions from a world of political and social consciousness, but they do not impose meaning on the observational subjects of his poems. Rather, they reveal that even a choice as small as the poet’s when he chooses what to observe, be it his toddler or the tree out his window, has grand implications for our fraught lives.

Five poems from Winter
 

unborn factory pigs
queue at the gates of life
a thin moon sees
my toddler talk to his sister
the spider
my bitter and shiftless spirit came
before the bad world
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
another November I still
haven’t learned the tree out
my window’s name
its achey
paint-well yellow how long
since looking on a thing felt
like a perfection of desire
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
day to day only essences change
this is the same homey tone of skin
same plain-blown blossoms
I’ve been living
where voluptuous weeds
bloom to swallow the money
and stunt the white-collar skill set
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Mark I’m not coming downstairs
but I love you and agree to
debase myself and my sense of time
the billboard deadheads its basil brother
the sunset’s medical bankruptcy
forgets my conscientious
spending of paper blood
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
he asks who killed me but I stay silent
my child’s child’s child
alert in the mulberry and shelves of coral
frightens me
his small laughter makes me sick
you’re waiting for me to make this a story about mastery and meaning
but I won’t
 
 

______________________
Jay Thompson
teaches poetry to women incarcerated at King County Jail, co-edits the journal Thermos, and plays guitar in Princess Seismograph. He keeps a blog at downdeepdowndeep.wordpress.com.

From Chris: Mark Conway’s poems refuse to sit still, even when, or perhaps especially when talking about stillness. The double colons and forward slashes that punctuate these lines seem to me to operate like the stutter or dip of a manual transmission shifting into higher gear, propelling the poem forward. The poem below is about memory (and a particular memory) and how it remains kinetic within its stasis “in the time of the mind,” which shares the mutability of dreams, where rain becomes silk and silk, skin, where the brain is a “pulsing / pink worm that pulls in / all it sees.” In some sense, this poem is playing on loop, and I think you might do well to read it that way.

in the orchard

*

in the time of the mind
memories fall
like regimes ::
lamplights glance off the streets of the lost districts / varnished
by epochs of rain
remember it all / so / vivid
and dim
remember _____the night
when rain turned
to silk and the silk changed to skin
in the shank of the orchard
just the width
of a soul?
rumors of futures were blown down
like clouds dripping
from trees;
we stayed and lived –
for a while –
still as a house

**

or start instead –
later / after
the fall – the snow studded
with starlings and half-
rotted fruit –
the slick floor of the orchard seethed
with fog wrung
from the snow:
the child was there / the one
to unfold – inside
the red raincoat –
with two telling buttons left open…
we know she’ll appear /
stunned / when the apples turn green
when the snows turn to mist
arrayed in the white
flesh of the meat / riveted in
by black polished seeds –
ultra-trees of trees reduced
to the size of a fist:
orchard come down

***

remember with skin – with the back
of your hand greasy
as sin_____ remember
the snow: the blank
and the roar
the field erased by looking
too deep
remember_____with the hole
in your head / stuffed
with whipped cream and wood /
home to the brain – the pulsing
pink worm that pulls in
all it sees and excretes
what it dreams : : remember
your skin when it took in the breath
of the tree / wheezing
in spring / exhaling white petals
and the boys at the quarry
who tore the girl’s
clothes as she swam / who tore
the girl’s eyes as she gurgled
and choked
remember her eyes
looking at you

****

forget the girl
at the slag-hole /
the girl made of stone and black waves –
look instead at the child
through the holes
in your face / lie through
your eyes down into
her head
say it’s not you
who needs
to take it all back
it’s not you who pulled
the girl down
as she strangled and
churned / say
what you say: it’s never
been you

_________________________________________
Mark Conway is currently completing a third book of poems with the working title in the infinite head of wheat. Other poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Slate, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review Online, Iowa Review, Boston Review and Bomb.

From Chris: Richard Armstrong’s poems attempt to say smart things in dumb ways, to slip under the intellectual scrutiny practiced poetry readers bring to bear on unfamiliar work. I am continually surprised by how he is able to create an emotive impact through sloganeering, through the melding of bro-speak, blue-collar imagery, street slang, and archaic capital-R Romantic posturing. Next level shit.

Usual Resistance

Business was business and required
only what was required of us.

The tongue found the groove
and we found the joys of immobility

wearing on us like a condom on a flaccid cock.
Still, carefree was the way to be

then, amongst the birch-trees and the lunch-trucks.
We moved our product. We towed the hotlines…

Buffoons with experience assailed us
with application forms and drug-urine.

We did what we could to keep doing what we could.
Like that day

in ’98, when the leader of the local 149
pulled the fence back

and all we did was stare
through that man-sized gash in the chain-link.

Sub-Sexual Proctor

I imagine Full Beauty to be the most sudden
of all stops—
the whole world’s movements gathered

into an impossible solidity:
the perfect stillness of total kinesis.

To put sex into a poem is to take a bold but calculated risk.
Like emailing naked photos of yourself to everyone on your contact list.

But to put love into this world is not a risk;
rather it’s a something, like something something…

_______________________________
Richard C. Armstrong III lives in Seattle where he earned his B.A. in Literature from the University of Washington. He works as a home designer and is the culture editor at hirschworth.com. His poems have appeared in such publications as the Cortland Review, and Mare Nostrum.

A Note from Jorge: I did not want to make any personal assessments regarding these poets, their poetry or why they were chosen by me. But if you need me to, I will keep it extremely simple. These are four American poets of various ages and backgrounds who published a volume of poems in 2013 whose books, out of much else I also read in 2013, I either enjoyed or found much in to ponder about. I did not choose to publish them here to advance aesthetics and/or processes, but to look and listen back at a few voices that added to America’s and the world’s orchestration of poetic music and images in the about-to-be past year. I will let each poet and his/her words speak or sing for them.
Tables_by_Alfred_Corn_coverAlfred Corn, whose “La Luz Azul”/”The Blue Light” and “St. Anthony in the Desert” from his Tables (Press 53, 2013) are highlighted this week, reflects briefly on these poems, the process that led to their creation as well as a few poets who inform his life and/or craft.

Q: 1) Can you briefly describe how you came to these poems; or how they came to you; or how you came to each other?

Alfred Corn: About a decade ago I was staying in the Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende. It was mid-month in August.  I had come down with something and was staying indoors, in bed with a fever.  Walls were painted white.  There seemed, though, to be a sort of blue illumination that gathered in the corners of the room.  Feverish hallucination?  August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, who is associated with the color blue, the color also of the sky.  I had been impressed during my several visits to Mexico by the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who seemed to command more reverence from the people than Christ himself.  In my illness I wanted to be taken into that blue light, to be healed by it.  Those times when you are seriously ill, the thought occurs to you that you might not get well, indeed, you might die. And there is a certain kind of silence that, once heard, never becomes inaudible again. Determined to put all these sensations and feelings in words, I also decided to write the poem in Spanish.  I’d studied the language and had some practice speaking it during visits to Spain and Mexico.  Also, I’d read the major poets in Spanish and knew that hispanic meter counts syllables not accents.  I settled on nine syllables per line, even though that is not a common meter in Spanish poetry.  “La Luz azul” is the result. Though of course hispanophone friends corrected small errors.  I’d first wanted the title to be “Luz azul,” which is a palindrome, but my friends said that it didn’t sound quite right without the definite article. They were also a little doubtful about the word “asunto,” which means “subject,” “undertaking,” “matter to be taken up.”  But I left it as is because its etymological connection with the word “asunción,” “assumption,” and the poem says it was the Feast of the Assumption.  Having arrived at my Spanish text, I then set myself he task of translating it into English.  That was difficult, despite the fact that I was the author. I couldn’t bring across everything that is in the original. But I feel the result is close enough to give a general idea of the poem.

As for “Anthony in the Desert,” it was written about a decade ago when I was teaching in Oklahoma.  Familiar surroundings and friends were far away.  I had been reading a book titled The Desert Fathers, about the early hermits and monk of Egypt, and I recalled Flaubert’s play titled La Tentation de St. Antoine (“the temptation of St. Anthony”). Suddenly the idea of writing about a desert hermit became appealing, partly because you could try to describe some of the apparitions (or “temptations”) he was exposed to.  Once my early drafts began moving in the direction of the sonnet, I decided to avoid perfect rhyme and instead rhyme voiced consonants with their unvoiced counterparts.  The sound “d” is a voiced consonant, as “t” is the unvoiced equivalent. The same for “v” and “f”, and for “z” ad “s”.  I’m not aware that anyone has ever taken this approach to rhyming, and of course poets like to develop new techniques and practices.

Q: 2) Please comment upon voice and the necessity for that/of that voice in your poems highlighted here.

Alfred Corn: I’ve never been certain what the distinction between “voice” (in literary terms) and “style” is.  In our time I suppose the word “voice” is used for style, possibly because it sounds less literary.  The kind of style I try for is one not too far removed from the spoken language.  I admire Milton and Hopkins, but I wouldn’t myself try to write in a special, anti-conversational mode like theirs.

Q: 3) How do these poems reveal in microcosm what you and your poetry are up to in macrocosm? If they sound or draw out a story, if they sing of vision/visions, yours, what impression/s do you hope they make in that endeavor?

Alfred Corn: I’m not sure. Many of my poems are meditative, and certainly “La Luz Azul” is.  “Anthony in the Desert” has a minimal narrative, but is essentially meditative as well. Most of my poems present a dilemma (“un asunto”?) of one sort or another and then seek some sort of resolution for it, if only acceptance. Possibly these two do that. I hope I’m answering your question.

Q: 4) Recommend two age-old poets/writers and two contemporary poets/writers you feel are vital in your own life and work. Briefly state why.

Alfred Corn: Among the classic poets, I would mention Dante and Shakespeare.  Dante for his “architectural” skills in building an epic, and for the sense he gives that life choices have an importance that extends beyond the individual’s death. With Shakespeare, the first thing I note is that his people are plausibly individualized, not at all stock characters.  And then the way they have of speaking sublime poetry, if only in short bursts.  He is able to convey considerable knowledge of what the world is like and how people are likely to feel and behave. Many of his lines have become proverbs, quoted by people who never read him.  That in itself is a kind of poetic immortality. As for contemporary poets, there are too many to name. I think we live in a very rich time for poetry, when all sorts of approaches are being tried.  It is a rich compost out of which much that is enduring is sure to arise.

 

La Luz Azul*

San Miguel de Allende
Dia de la Asuncion

Mediodía. Ligeros velos
Transparentes del ancho cielo….

En la estancia una sombra amorfa,
Blanda, no acabada de anunciar
Ese alto silencio que jamás
Ha de callar:

_________Tan comprensiva
Como dulce, recíbeme, luz
azul, que colmas los rincones….

¿Pues, inmóvil? No, mejor fuera
Salir en busca del asunto,
La palabra del mortal piedad
Caída como una flor ardiente
Entre las piedras de la calle.

 

The Blue Light*

San Miguel de Allende
Feast of the Assumption

Twelve noon. The open sky’s transparent
Weightless veils.

In the room, a mild, amorphous
Gloom wouldn’t give up announcing
That exalted silence that will never
Again hold its peace.

_________________As comprehensive
As you are gentle, gather me in, blue
Light, you, filling up the corners….

Immobilized, then? No, better to go out
In search of assumed subject—
The word, embodied, compassionate,
Fallen like a flame-red flower
Among the street’s rough cobblestones.

*Written in Spanish by the author (previous poem) and translated into English by him as well.

 

St. Anthony in the Desert

To be filled with that hallowed emptiness
The hermit sojourns in a desert cave.
Fasting and prayer will make seclusion safe,
His daily bread, each word the Spirit says.

Chimera stirs and rears her dripping head;
A slack-skinned reptile puffs and makes a face;
Vile, harrowing nightmares shimmer through long days;
The sun beats a brass gong and will not set.

Faint shadow on cave walls, you foretell grief
Or joy, not known till whose the profile is:
Love itself may corrupt and then deceive
Its object, hiding venom in a kiss.
Anthony kneels, embraces his fierce lot,
And hears: Be still, and know that I am God.

________________________________________________
Alfred Corn has published eight previous books of poems, the most recent titled Contradictions. He has also published a novel, titled Part of His Story; two collections of essays; and The Poem’s Heartbeat, a study of prosody. Fellowships for his poetry include the Guggenheim, the NEA, an Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and one from the Academy of American Poets. Poetry magazine awarded him the Levinson, Blumenthal, and Dillon prizes. He has taught writing at Yale, Columbia, Oklahoma State University, and UCLA. Since 2005, he has spent part of every year in the U.K., and Pentameters Theatre in London staged his play Lowell’s Bedlam in the spring of 2011. In 2012, he was a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, preparing a translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies. His first ebook, Transatlantic Bridge: A Concise Guide to the Differences between British and American English, was published in 2012. Unions, a new volume of poems, is forthcoming in March of 2014. When in the U.S., he lives in Hopkinton, Rhode Island (alfredcorn.org).

 

A Note from Jorge: I did not want to make any personal assessments regarding these poets, their poetry or why they were chosen by me. But if you need me to, I will keep it extremely simple. These are four American poets of various ages and backgrounds who published a volume of poems in 2013 whose books, out of much else I also read in 2013, I either enjoyed or found much in to ponder about. I did not choose to publish them here to advance aesthetics and/or processes, but to look and listen back at a few voices that added to America’s and the world’s orchestration of poetic music and images in the about-to-be past year. I will let each poet and his/her words speak or sing for them.
REPORTS COVER FINAL (1)Kathryn Levy, whose “Wedding” and “Becoming Angels” from her Reports (New Rivers Press, 2013) are highlighted this week, reflects briefly on these poems, the process that led to their creation as well as a few poets who inform her life and/or craft.

Q: 1) Can you briefly describe how you came to these poems; or how they came to you; or how you came to each other?

Kathryn Levy: I begin most of my poems with one or two given phrases and then, in Roethke’s phrase, “learn by going where I have to go.” The first drafts of poems often come quickly, but I tend to revise for a long time, sometimes for years. In the process of revision, I try not to betray the first impulse and the discoveries made through the poem—which is easier said than done!

As for the circumstances leading to these two poems, it’s simpler to describe the evolution of “Wedding” since the composition of that poem surrounded the preparations for my actual wedding. I never thought of myself as someone who would get married and I always had ambivalent feelings about marriage. Yet when the man who became my husband asked me to marry him, I immediately said yes. However, as I was swept up in wedding preparations, I kept wondering: Who am I exactly? What is this about?  It caused me to contemplate these unions, and our celebrations of them, more deeply than I had before. The poem answers some of my questions about the ritual of marriage and points the way to others. Like most of the work I care about, it surprised me. In particular, the phrase “this is for life” took on a powerful resonance in the course of writing the poem.

The origin of “Becoming Angels” is less clear, except that the poem deals with subjects which obsess me—death, isolation, those 3 AM moments, the “dark night of the soul,” when, however secure we feel during the day, the illusion of security and certainty is ripped away. For me, the image in the poem that is most vivid is the children in the snow flapping their arms “becoming angels,” an emblem of what might be happening to us throughout our lives. As for self-pity, the use of that derisive term amuses me, and in revising the poem, I was interested in playing with the unacknowledged value of self-pity.

Q: 2) Please comment upon voice and the necessity for that/of that voice in your poems highlighted here.

Kathryn Levy: That often vaguely defined and elusive term “voice” is a critical element in poetry—it’s one of primary things that animates and defines a poem. I think the voice in these poems is a particularly intimate one, even as it speaks of “we,” and in the case of “Becoming Angels,” to a “you.” Perhaps it’s a voice spoken in secret to an imagined other—perhaps all my poems are that. It’s urgent, born of a desperate need to escape isolation and to answer questions about survival, and it is skeptical, even of the answers it tentatively offers. 

Q: 3) How do these poems reveal in microcosm what you and your poetry are up to in macrocosm? If they sound or draw out a story, if they sing of vision/visions, yours, what impression/s do you hope they make in that endeavor?

Kathryn Levy: You could see these poems, as people do much of my work, as dark and death obsessed. But to be obsessed with death is to be obsessed with life—to question what we are living for, and how to make sense of the constructs we create to live and keep sane. And then, how to explode those constructs—to ask new questions.

Both of these poems also play with punctuation—there is unconventional punctuation, or none at all, in the majority of the poems in Reports. While finishing my previous book, Losing the Moon, I became interested in the ambiguity of this approach, in particular the unexpected connections it creates—the way it allows a phrase to pull simultaneously in two different directions. And I think, partly thanks to unconventional punctuation, these poems have a propulsive, edgy rhythm, with some bite to the lines.

As for the impression the work might make, I don’t think very much about that. If the poems are alive, searching for something vital, and if the language and the vision of the world are renewed for me in the process of writing, I hope they will be alive for the reader. There are plenty of poems that don’t meet that standard and I keep those in the drawer. The ones I send out to the world involve moments of discovery or at least real questioning. 

Q: 4) Recommend two age-old poets/writers and two contemporary poets/writers you feel are vital in your own life and work. Briefly state why.

Kathryn Levy: This is a difficult question, because I read and love so much poetry. In responding to these sorts of questions, I think we tend to refer to poets who are foremost in our minds at the moment—there isn’t an overarching answer. Or if there were one for me, it would be Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare. But aside from Shakespeare, whose plays haunt me, I’ll play the game and pick four poets from my long list.

Dickinson and Frost always stay with me—I rarely go through a day without thinking about or reciting one of their poems to myself. I agree with Wallace Stevens’ notion that that “all poetry is experimental poetry,” but some people engage in more dangerous experiments than others. Certainly Dickinson seems to write from the very edge of being. I often think of the line from one of her letters to T.W. Higginson: “You think my gait ‘spasmodic,’—I am in danger—Sir—.” I love her peculiar “gait,” her deeply charged language, and her profound understanding of the constant experiment of being a human being. She demonstrates how vital it is to “play for mortal stakes.”

That last phrase is from Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” Although Frost is on the surface a more conventional poet, he is also playing in very dangerous territory. He explored some of the most complex and disturbing elements of our experience, and through his fluency in poetic form and ability to draw on a wide range of voices, he delved deeply into what can and can’t be said. For me, it’s hard to imagine any poet interested in the human predicament and in the way we use language, “the American idiom,” not drawing strength from these two poets.

Two contemporary poets who have been important to me for many years—Michael Burkard and Robert Pinsky—are seemingly quite dissimilar, and have very different sensibilities, but both have a great lyric gift and a kaleidoscopic vision. However, they both push against the music of their poetry—it is restless, never completely comfortable work.  In their different ways they demonstrate how to keep exploring, searching for those rare moments of truth, the moments when intensely alive language embodies the complexity of our being. And I don’t think either of those poets can be easily categorized, which is certainly what I hope for myself.

Wedding

We sang songs
and danced in circles
and dropped
sticks in the dust

sticks that formed
strange new patterns
we stood
over the patterns
the ground

slipping beneath us
like watching your wake
as the boat presses

into the wind the sails
swell the hand grasps
the powerful tiller—this

could lead us to death—
risking so much
we had to dress
in the palest colors
and place

flowers on our heads
flowers on the tables

flowers flowers
obscuring the stakes
that hold up the house

the minister placed
hands upon hands: This
is for life

—as everything
always was—
and some days you see that

and stop

Becoming Angels

I have felt it too—the blinding
self-pity in the dark
and longed to hold on
to any treasure longed to clutch
my husband’s arm
to scream to the neighbors
What are you feeling?
let’s make a fire and burn
all the fences
let’s sit in a ring feeling the flames
singe our faces—all
made out of flesh all falling
out of our flesh
becoming angels we did it as children
lying in the snow
flapping our wings as the cold crept
toward our bodies—have you
felt it too? I know you have I know you
have fallen awake the darkness crashing
into your face seeing
all at once—no one can help you
no god no lover
not one of the others lying
incredibly close—and they all
pity themselves
so much—as well they should
someone has to

____________________________________________
Kathryn Levy is the author of the poetry collections, Losing the Moon (Canio’s Editions) and Reports (New Rivers Press), as well as The Nutcracker Teacher Resource Guide (New York City Ballet Education Department), a guide to poetry instruction. Her work has appeared in various journals including SlateCimarron ReviewProvincetown ArtsThe Seattle ReviewThe Southampton ReviewDahse MagazineManhattan Poetry ReviewBlink, and Lo Straniero, among others, as well as the anthologies The Light of City and SeaWe Begin Here:Poems for Palestine and Lebanon, and Adventures in the Spirit. In the spring of 2013, a musical setting of her poetry, Only Air, was premiered by the Illinois State University Orchestra.

Levy has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize and received numerous writing fellowships, including awards from Yaddo, the Blue Mountain Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, and Cummington Community of the Arts. Her many readings include appearances at the Harvard Club of Boston, KGB, Middlebury College, and The Bowery Poetry Club. She was founding director of The Poetry Exchange and the New York City Ballet Poetry Project, two poetry-in-the-schools organizations. She has taught poetry to public school students throughout New York and conducted courses in literature, film, theater, and arts education for numerous schools and cultural institutions. She divides her time between Sag Harbor and New York City (www.kathryn-levy.com).