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Poems of the Week

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).

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.
skywardKazim Ali, whose “Prayer”, “The Fortieth Day” and “Open House” from his Sky Ward (Wesleyan University 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 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?

Kazim Ali: “Prayer” was in a sequence of poems that dreamed of Icarus falling from the sky. He did not regret disobeying his father. He knew it was the only way to live. What could the world be for but to be lived in, what could the body, even queer, even disobedient, be for other than to live?

Each time I publish a book of poetry (there are only three so far, four if you count Bright Felon which I suppose you could, if you insist) a long time after I try to encapsulate the full book in a single poem. There is a poem called “The Far Mosque” in my book THE FORTIETH DAY. The poem “The Fortieth Day” is in my book SKY WARD. There is a poem called “Sky Ward” in my new manuscript in progress. And so I feel myself forward and try not to forget my catechism.

In “Open House,” the roof of the house opened to the sky, the sun, the stars, the empty space. Ovid had it right: sometimes bodies turn into other bodies. What do you do but wonder.

 

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

Kazim Ali: I have no voice, only the conditions of my life. Not just the immediately present ones but all the past conditions that constructed and developed them. But ultimately I am no person, no body, only a thought, or a thought of a thought. How is voice to have any agency? Voice is sound in shape. Change the sound, change the shape. Who is I? No body.

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?

Kazim Ali: I like that you chose brief poems. I am trying to write long poems now. But time is brief, breath is brief, the body is brief. God and planet are brief. Stone some sing sounds who survives sages and ages but for me I’ll not believe it same for leaves same for sun and swarm, who comes together? Naught. Not the night sky that the cosmonauts sail. Not Kazim. Not the same. Kazim not, Kazim knot, not what called to me, naut what I was named.

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.

Kazim Ali: The old school has to be comprised first of Lalla, the 14th Century Kashmiri wandering poet and saint. She whispered and she wondered in oral couplets. Because they were written down across centuries they disjoin, not in theme but in language– old Kashmiri lies alongside language from four centuries after. Then you know the truth in not the words but the shape of breath to which they are sung. Second I choose Emily Dickinson, weird Emily, bright one, not the one you know who has been selected. The Soul selects her Own society.

And for contemporary poets, I’ve too often told about who I love and who loves me. So I’ll say two poets I have read in the last year for the first time whose work pleases me in its craft and alarms me in its subject so that I should be frightened and pleased. They are Zubair Ahmed and Kiki Petrosino.

 

Prayer

Denuded and abandoned I recite
but what do I want

To rise again from the ocean
or be buried alive in the surge and sleep

To be a fearsome range in a single body
or to wind my unity down into depth

Missing in action, ghost-like
bobbing in the distance

Singing psalms to terrify myself
into deciding:

So long liberation

My time in the world was
only a gesture

My body a lonely
stranger

an ache
I never knew


The Fortieth Day

Seeing your way clear
of endless storm

A raft carries you across
the unstruck sound

You leave off the body
no one’s playing

Every one looking for some thing
newer than death


Open House

Lost in the summer afternoon
The house’s upper floors disappear

What is it for me to be
At the beginning of a new life

When I knew nothing
Of the old

____________________________________________
Kazim Ali is a poet, essayist, fiction writer and translator. His books include several volumes of poetry, including Sky Ward(Wesleyan University Press, 2013),The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award, The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008), and the cross-genre text Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). He has also published a translation of Water’s Footfall by Sohrab Sepehri (Omnidawn Press, 2011), and (with Libby Murphy) L’amour by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter Books, 2013). His novels include Quinn’s Passage (blazeVox books), named one of “The Best Books of 2005″ by Chronogram magazine and The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009), and his books of essays include Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence (University of Michigan Press, 2010),Fasting for Ramadan (Tupelo Press, 2011). In addition to co-editing Jean Valentine: This-World Company (University of Michigan Press, 2012), he is a contributing editor for AWP Writers Chronicle and associate editor of the literary magazine FIELD and founding editor of the small press Nightboat Books. He is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College. (kazimali.com)

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.

Unknown-2Megan Burns, whose “River Song” and “Profit/Margin” from her Sound and Basin (Lavender Ink, 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?

Megan Burns: The poems in this section of the book Sound and Basin called “Gulf” are all from a project I did from March 2011-August 2011, in which I wrote every day about the river and the waters surrounding Louisiana. I wrote about 300 hand written pages of text in those months and particularly wanted to document the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. The poems in this section including “Profit/Margin” and “River Song” deal directly with the BP disaster and its lingering effects on the people of the coastal area as well as the environmental factors as a result of the damage. All of the poems in this section about the Gulf and the damage done to our waters as a result of oil drilling and pollution build upon the work I did in my first book concerning disasters. Both books are concerned with how we respond and bear witness to these atrocities in our lives. In comparison to Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans that I address in my first collection, Memorial and Sight Lines, I feel in this book that the disaster of destroying our water is an even more urgent and unfortunately more pervasive form of disaster that threatens the extinction of life on this planet.

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

Megan Burns: I think there is a distinct voice of showing up and being aware throughout these poems in this project because I did show up every day and meditate and think on the aspects of water in our lives and specifically in the region that I live in and how it shapes the people of Louisiana. The voice then is aware of a constellation of events in each poem and how all is interconnected.  There is a awareness to the very specific motion of how the oil spill “disaster” seeps into not only the water permanently changing that environment, but also metaphorically into our world order with the ability to permanently alter our relationship to the world in which we live.

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?

Megan Burns: I think these poems like the poem in my first book attempt to speak from a place of bearing witness to these disasters and being able to give a name to what is occurring, to be able to capture what is happening and to contemplate the effects of these events. I think again the specifics of our personal disasters mirror our interconnectedness to the world around us; it is in facing and recognizing our place in these events that we learn about ourselves but also learn that we are made up of a network that is so interconnected that we cannot simply live in ignorance of this fact. I hope that the language I use jars people, makes them stop and think about the impact that we have in the world. I think language can do that; it can enter our brains and fire certain neurons that set in motion a desire for change, and it is that desire that can have the most fruitful impact on our world.

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.

Megan Burns: Contemporary poets I often return to and have for years would include Alice Notley and Anne Carson; I think because both tend to tell stories and to include a wide range of allusions and history connecting the dots of how language and poetry is always about this creative force that builds and builds outward. I think they also rely a lot on rhythm to carry their lines and that is something that happens for me as well when writing. Older influences would have to be H.D. and Mina Loy, both poets who really broke with tradition and tried to push what language could do for them. I think they both had a particular vision for how they wanted to express themselves and they altered what they knew and what they were seeing happening in poetry in order to really get at what they needed to say. I think of both Loy and H.D. as poets who wrote for themselves first and foremost, and I feel I am the same way. I have a tendency to do these projects and these experiments mostly because I want to see if I can and the result of it being successful or publishable is less important to me than where I end up in the work and what I learned as a result of doing it.

River Song

a “catch” of time

out of fishing in a bayou of human cares

marrow steeped in fallen soldiers/ toxic waters

how you can never go home

a bit of killing off/ doing that already

in the listings of animals to be protected

humans turn up : the great uncounted

I’m eating solutions for you

I basket the pieces

I strophe/ antistrophe/tear down the walls of your trilogy
sweet adherent____this wheel of war____turning

towards ________the hostage embrace, thunder my waters

our net-work: made to keep us occupied

clustered as stars in a limited heaven

the bee’s dance is not for us

at which point the sky, its vast fingerwork

rivers in its own conversation, a measure of meander

and dip where once I walked these waters

where once and now the cement flows

hell, too, crosses a river to collect its dead
Profit/Margin

one year out__________to begin more drilling

one way of drawing an owl is all feathers

face hidden [mouth sealed up]

permanent solutions____nesting ground

the river bends not once but twice

and there is more than one body

by now hidden

we move delicately from one sphere of tragedy to another

oil to hurricane season: water to water

fishing boats empty along the docks

the casinos never close

panda bears eat all day for nutrients

we feed and call it necessity

to put food on the table/ a job for a father/ to provide now

and save for the later/ a child’s way/ entering the day


___________________________________________________
Megan Burns is the publisher at Trembling Pillow Press and edits the poetry magazine, Solid Quarter (solidquarter.blogspot.com). She has been most recently published in Jacket Magazine, Callaloo, New Laurel Review, Trickhouse, and the Big Bridge New Orleans Anthology. Her poetry and prose reviews have been published in Tarpaulin Sky, Gently Read Lit, Entrepot, and Rain Taxi. Her book Memorial + Sight Lines was published in 2008 by Lavender Ink. Recent chapbooks include: irrational knowledge (Fell Swoop, 2012), and a city/ bottle boned (Dancing Girl Press, 2012). She lives in New Orleans where she has helped run the weekly 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series, (www.17poets.com).

 

L’Olive: sonnet 28

My tongue cannot resist disclosing all
I feel for you, when from you I’m away,
but suddenly, feeling you nearby, it says
nothing—-left dumbstruck and deaf, words stall.

Thus hope makes guarantees while duping me:
I am less there, the more I’m in your presence.
What eludes me pleases me immensely:
I desire that which I refuse to keep.

I am joyful by night and sad all day,
having in sleep what, waking, will not stay:
my good’s a falsehood, my evil ever true.

I brood for one who’s faultless, best commended.
Therefore, Love, if there’s charity in you,
make my life brief, or night make never-ending.

L’Olive: sonnet 28

Ce, que je sen’, la langue ne refuse
_____Vous decouvrir, quand suis de vous absent,
_____Mais tout soudain que pres de moy vous sent,
_____Elle devient & muette, & confuse.
Ainsi, l’espoir me promect, & m’abuse,
_____Moins pres je suis quand plus je suis present.
_____Ce qui me nuist, c’est ce, qui m’est plaisent,
_____Je quier’ cela, que trouver je recuse.
Joyeux la nuit, le jour triste je suis.
_____J’ay en dormant ce, qu’en veillant poursuis,
_____Mon bien est faulx, mon mal est veritable.
D’une me plain’, & deffault n’est en elle,
_____Fay’ doncq’Amour, pour m’etre charitable,
_____Breve ma vie, ou ma nuit eternelle.

______________________________________________________
Joachim du Bellay was a French poet, critic, and a member of the Pléiade.

Translation by Brett Foster.

End of Lifed

The angels, those constant followers, stay dumb to metaphors, deafer to jokes. Outside firm circles, however, the idea of decay as a transitional state meets with uncommon success. Props and shout-outs to the flesh, the flesh, and the flesh for keeping caps on myth-proliferation, though experts trouble to isolate origins, what wags what. Planets, Virgins, Eternal Recurrence: done it, done it, doing it. And The Bosom of Abraham: don’t get me started. The same assholes who bully us here will bully us there, in much tighter quarters, and management will, predictably, console us with loopholes and pleas for patience. Maybe some species of bliss—let’s hope we can dream—can be found in that queer and crowded place, but where neither release nor hygiene nor the world wide web are guaranteed, there can be no rest. As we speak, exegetes elsewhere defend that extratextual innovation but number-one-requested feature, a front-gate greeting with St. Peter (tunnel of light, no charge) within minutes of the last onset’s end. I am like you: just give me my goddam wings.

_______________________________________________
John Estes directs the Creative Writing Program at Malone University in Canton, Ohio. He is the author of Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011) and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve (Poetry Society of America, 2009), which won a National Chapbook Fellowship.

This poem originally appeared in Ginosko #13

.

Late in the forest I did Cupid see
_____Cold, wet, and crying, he had lost his way,
_____And being blind was farther like to stray:
_____Which sight a kind compassion bred in me,

I kindly took and dried him, while that he,
_____Poor child, complained he starved was with stay,
_____And pined for want of his accustomed prey,
_____For none in that wild place his host would be,

I glad was of his finding, thinking sure
_____This service should my freedom still procure
_____And in my arms I took him then unharmed

Carrying him unto a myrtle bower
_____But in the way he made me feel, his power,
_____Burning my heart who had him kindly warmed.

______________________________________________
Lady Mary Wroth was an English poet of the Renaissance. She wrote The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania, the first extant prose romance by an English woman, and Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, the first known sonnet sequence by an English woman.

on falling in love

I love how you burst through the door
and look around. I love how bad you are
at hiding the fact that you’re trying to find me—
and how trapped I feel when you’re nearby.

I love how when you see me your mouth
falls open, how another mouth extends
from within the first mouth, both mouths
drooling, like you want to bite my head off,

literally crush me in an extended hug,
take me back to your nest and secure me
in jelly-like tentacles. It turns out you do.
These are just some of the things I love about you,

Alien. I’m not even sure of your gender,
but in the heat of the moment, does it matter?

______________________________________________
Aaron Belz is the author of two books of poetry, The Bird-Hoverer and Lovely, Raspberry. A third collection, Glitter Bomb, is forthcoming in 2014. Belz lives in North Carolina and also writes sweet essays and reviews sometimes.

Prologue

I’m in the middle of rehearsals for a new theatre piece for which I’ve written both the script and music. For me, rehearsals have always been a time of exciting discovery and profound disappointment. This time is no different. No matter how I try to impart the music in my head, be it written on the page or modeled in my voice or on the piano, I’ve got to accept all that’s inevitably lost in the process—all that won’t make it from my imagination and into the ensemble’s performance.

Publishing a poem is similarly fraught, isn’t it? Poets have intentions as they write. And I’ve got to believe that even the most hermetic or self-assured poet, alike, wants to communicate something specific, has intentions, whatever they might be. Readers will likely recognize some of those intentions but it’s unlikely that those intentions will bear upon the reader in the same way. A poem I intend as a meditation on an age-old civil war might have in it something to suggest to a reader that the poem is primarily about the imperfections of love. Works of art and literature are vessels people fill with their own concerns.

This October, I’ve offered up four poems. And I asked that the poets read them (or have them read) on video. I hope you’ll double your pleasure interacting with their work by listening to the poems being read aloud in a voice other than the one in your head. Quite frankly, the commingling is sure to be exciting and, if not disappointing, a disruption. But I have no idea if the disruption began when the poet started writing the poem or when you encountered it.

Tiny Fires

1
2
3
4
5


____________________________________________
Aimee Suzara 
is a Filipino-American poet, playwright, and educator based in Oakland, CA. Suzara’s mission is to create, and help others create, art that builds community, fosters healing, and provokes important questions through spoken word, theater and movement. Her debut full-length poetry book, SOUVENIR, is forthcoming in 2014.  Suzara’s poems have been published in two chapbooks, including one nominated for the California Book Award; and journals and anthologies such as Kartika Review, Lantern Review, and Walang Hiya (Without Shame)literature taking risks towards liberatory practice (Arkipelago Books 2009).  She has been invited as a featured poet and arts educator at schools, universities and arts venues nationally, including Mt. Holyoke College, Portland State University, Stanford University, and UC Santa Cruz. Her first play, Pagbabalik (Return) was twice the recipient of the Zellerbach Arts Fund and was featured at several Bay Area festivals. Her current play in progress, A History of the Body, has been awarded the East Bay Community Fund Matching Commission, the Oakland Cultural Funding Program grant, National Endowment for the Arts grant, and Zellerbach Arts Fund.  She recently collaborated as a writer and performer with Amara Tabor-Smith’s Deep Waters Dance Theater for the Creative Work Fund recipient Our Daily Bread and was a member of Kreatibo, a queer Pin@y arts collective, whose 2004 play was selected for Curve Magazine’s Best Lesbian Theater Award. Suzara has a Mills College M.F.A. and teaches Creative Writing and English at Bay Area colleges, currently, she is a lecturer at Cal State University Monterey in the Creative Writing and Social Action Program. Suzara has been a Hedgebrook Resident Artist, an Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts Playwriting Program, and has been a part of PlayGround at Berkeley Repertory Theater’s Writer’s Pool for the 2012-2013 and current season.  www.aimeesuzara.net

Introduction for October: Being Unreal

I don’t know about you, but my right-now life is laden with reality: bills, the 9-to-5 (necessary to pay said bills), the leaden thing that weighs on everyone at said 9-to-5 (making them mean and me mean), family, the failures of family, a slowing metabolism and no will or energy to exercise. It’s a maddeningly endless personal abyss. And the language that surrounds me every day–mostly sad, simple transactional language–fails.

Yet the poems I’m sharing this darkening October month come from writers who somehow manage to slip out of the trance that keeps us subservient to reality, tethered to the mundane. When they lapse into consciousness, they are possessed as Nietzsche was when he wrote “No artist tolerates reality.” Those who are awake, if only momentarily, are the artists. And by artists, I mean these writers who feel and tinker until they’ve given form to something that exists within the bandwidth of reality but resists humdrum conventionality. Of course, it’s akin to the famed tell it slant. But more than that, they’re telling it like it ain’t, not keeping it real.

Untitled

Once
I wanted to place 100 music boxes in a large circle
in a darkened room

wind them all up
place a tea light in front of each box
light the wicks in succession.

I wanted to open each box
piecemeal
in a careful journey round the circle.

And I wanted to invite my boyfriend to dance
a slow dance
with me inside this flickering ring
until the harsh cacophony dwindled
to a solitary song.

Once
in a parking lot in Tennessee
I looked into the sky and saw two bright white haloes
around the moon

one within the other
one brighter than the other
both destined for disappearance behind approaching clouds.

The spectacle was so large
wispy and perfect
like an animator’s cursive flourish in an old Disney film
that I laughed involuntarily
out loud.

Once
I watched a sick cat die in my parents’ garage.

I’d loved it for all of its life.

I watched its belly rise and fall
its fevered head slant to the floor
and its poor eyes
in tight loops of vertigo
surrender and shut over the course of an afternoon.

I understood in an instant that this
is death
for all things.

Before the plug was pulled
my grandfather’s chest rose
and fell
in exactly the same way
in the two weeks following his stroke.

It was like watching someone sleep
desperately.

Once
is enough for anybody.

Body heat
mumbled nightmares
lullabies
and bones that hollow out and break like promises.

Today
I wished that I had a child.

Children are for people who want an audience for their autobiography
but lack the patience to write the book.

__________________________________________
Joseph Whitt
is an artist, writer and independent curator living and working in New York City. His work has been presented at MOMA PS1, Eyebeam, PPOW Gallery, Deitch Projects, CRG Gallery and Envoy Enterprises, and has been reviewed in The New York Times, Flash Art, and Sculpture. His writings have appeared in Art Papers, ArtUS, Useless Magazine and K48. His second chapbook, Defriendings, will be released by T.M.I. Ltd., a Brooklyn-based micropress, at the end of this month.

R. Stevie Moore is a singer, songwriter, and musician currently based in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to having numerous albums released on established labels around the world, Moore has self-released over 400 cassette and CD-R albums since 1968, as well as dozens of home videos. His eclectic work incorporates a variety of artistic styles; and he is regularly cited (by publications such as Rolling Stone, BOMB, Wire, and The New York Times, just to name a few) as a seminal influence in today’s independent music scene.

Introduction for October: Being Unreal

I don’t know about you, but my right-now life is laden with reality: bills, the 9-to-5 (necessary to pay said bills), the leaden thing that weighs on everyone at said 9-to-5 (making them mean and me mean), family, the failures of family, a slowing metabolism and no will or energy to exercise. It’s a maddeningly endless personal abyss. And the language that surrounds me every day–mostly sad, simple transactional language–fails.

Yet the poems I’m sharing this darkening October month come from writers who somehow manage to slip out of the trance that keeps us subservient to reality, tethered to the mundane. When they lapse into consciousness, they are possessed as Nietzsche was when he wrote “No artist tolerates reality.” Those who are awake, if only momentarily, are the artists. And by artists, I mean these writers who feel and tinker until they’ve given form to something that exists within the bandwidth of reality but resists humdrum conventionality. Of course, it’s akin to the famed tell it slant. But more than that, they’re telling it like it ain’t, not keeping it real.

EASTER 2009
— Sri Lanka

The seas are full. The bones of men
crowd out the bones of fish, and quiet skulls
fall, like dice, before the gathering tide.

Here is the history book of beaches,
the slow parchment unrolling at our feet:
the scattered palm leaves, the empty shell,
the branch, lashed by a dutiful sea.

“Easter” was published in Karavan: Litterar Tidskrift pa Resa Mellan Kulturer (the Literary Journal of Cultural Intersections)
____________________________________________________________
Born in Sri Lanka and raised both there and in England, Pireeni Sundaralingam is co-editor of Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry (U. Arkansas Press, 2010), which , in 2011, won both the national book award from PEN Oakland in 2011 and the N.California Book Award. Her own poetry has been published in journals such as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and The Progressive and anthologies by W.W.Norton, Prentice Hall, & Macmillan, and has been translated into several languages, including Gaelic, Swedish, Vietnamese and Tamil.

In addition to her work as a writer, Sundaralingam has also held research posts as a cognitive scientist at MIT and Oxford University, and national fellowships in both poetry and cognitive, as well as, most recently, a fellowship in interdisciplinary thinking at the Institute for Spatial Experiments, in Berlin. She is currently writing a book on Creativity, Poetry, and The Brain.

Introduction for October: Being Unreal

I don’t know about you, but my right-now life is laden with reality: bills, the 9-to-5 (necessary to pay said bills), the leaden thing that weighs on everyone at said 9-to-5 (making them mean and me mean), family, the failures of family, a slowing metabolism and no will or energy to exercise. It’s a maddeningly endless personal abyss. And the language that surrounds me every day–mostly sad, simple transactional language–fails.

Yet the poems I’m sharing this darkening October month come from writers who somehow manage to slip out of the trance that keeps us subservient to reality, tethered to the mundane. When they lapse into consciousness, they are possessed as Nietzsche was when he wrote “No artist tolerates reality.” Those who are awake, if only momentarily, are the artists. And by artists, I mean these writers who feel and tinker until they’ve given form to something that exists within the bandwidth of reality but resists humdrum conventionality. Of course, it’s akin to the famed tell it slant. But more than that, they’re telling it like it ain’t, not keeping it real.

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This poem appeared previously in the chapbook, in the way of harbors (Dancing Girl Press, 2013).

_________________________________
Alexandra Mattraw’s third chapbook, in the way of harbors, is now available at Dancing Girl Press.  Her first two chapbooks were published through Achiote Press and Beard of Bees.  Her poems and reviews have also appeared in journals including VOLT, Cultural Society, Verse, Word For/Word, Seneca Review, Realpoetik, Denver Quarterly, alice blue, Lost Roads Press, and American Letters & Commentary. Alexandra’s first full manuscript has been selected as a finalist by Nightboat Books and 1913 Press, and her second, Inside the Mind’s Hotel, was recently chosen as a finalist for the Colorado Review Prize.  A former Vermont Studio Center resident, she curates a writing, reading, and art series called Lone Glen in Oakland, California. If you are interested in learning more about Alexandra’s projects, please visit http://alexandramattraw.wordpress.com.

How to Write a Poem

The day hath too much red in it—
death licking her chops over the salty carcasses
of abandoned ideas. But this week, I fell in love.
It came over the hill hungry & surprising.
And I will take the mysteriousness out
of my best poem to appease apple pickers,
students, mothers and all of Ohio.

Finally, the poem is what you want it to be:
a rose of splendor; a lover in an abandoned room
marking time with a lover’s laughter.

__________________________________________________
Mike Hackney is the author of five books, a grant recipient from the Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Arts Commission, and founder of the Almeda Street Poetry Group.

Light Pollution, Match.com Potlatch

No man is an island. Some men are on islands.
Some men are on two.
Odysseus flicked his phone awake
began to type:
“Penelope, my darling, I —”
Calypso came into the room.
Phone disappears into pocket, on silent.

Whisper I to you:
“Come on the drift of the moon. The light flies
from our windows and our streets to space
It hits tiny bits of dust, bounces back aground,
hits your eyes; hits my eyes.”
Or eyes stare at the dull impeded glow of the skies.

Penelope marries a suitor. Odysseus moves in with Calypso.
Nausicaa sits on the beach; the stars they are shining
she thinks and looks up and counts them. Twenty-eight.
Twenty-eight points of light, she thinks, how’s that for a metaphor?
It’s her twenty eighth birthday, and Odysseus has messaged her.
A million pixels of light in her eyes, a picture of a tripod he drew:
“When you dressed me and when I sang to you.”

Say you to me:
“Clutch to the bits of the truth. I fly
slowly now, you know, it seems. My voice
carried over the waters, hits your ears.”
My ears strain to hear your voice, my house hums.

No island is an island anymore.
When Alcinous finally dies, his house is filled with the hum
of the fruits of his works. Faces line the benches,
Flowers line the walls, the alcoves spill out irises,
The tripods are full of stew. Odysseus brushes Alcmene’s ear with his mouth,
After kissing her cheek, “your beauty still the sweetest fruit of all.”

I loved you when the sky still held only gods;
you are divine too, you know,
And when I was young I remember lying awake
in the desert
well past midnight, millions of stars, clouds of them,
uncountable light. All the gods up there then still are,
I presume,
Unless they’ve been released by light pollution,
Carried down on the light we reflect on ourselves.
When I slept, I dreamed your profile.

________________________________________
Ammon is a philosopher and writer who dreams of being a full-time roustabout. He lives in Toledo, lured by glossy pamphlets sent by the University of Toledo promising him a view of the Ottawa River in exchange for the occasional seminar on phenomenology, aesthetics or ethics. In his academic writing, he explores the intersections between philosophy and literature. In his creative writing, he explores the boundaries of good taste.

Horsetails

The cirrus above were horsetails
running from the smoke stacks
as we latched flaps and buckled coats,
holding out for incredible
thunderings, standing long as the
mud of the dirty Susquehanna
where girls lose virginity to four wheel drives
and lift kits. We go on working
despite our Sunday ghosts and rotisserie
traditions. Here mothers use food stamps
for cigarettes and children learn to
talk to rabbits or fall asleep to infomercials.
Parades drum on to resemble community but the trailer
parks know better, sharing lovers and thirty
packs, having yard sales for angry fixes
while school boys are mauled in saw mills
and two keg bars.

______________________________________________
Zach Fishel‘s second chapbook, Thorn Bushes and Fishhooks, will appear from NightBallet Press this fall. His poetry has twice been nominated for the Pushcart, and at present he teaches environmentalism in New England.

Picture 905

Photo by Carolyn Baskis

No Use Crying

I don’t know who decided that idiom.
You wanna cry, cry.
What, are we all so wealthy
that we can afford to pour milk
over granite tabletops and not think
about the cost of such behaviors?
Do we own and operate dairy farms?
No, we don’t – not most of us. Sucks.
So go ahead, let fall your tears
(or an apropos typo: let fall your fears)
and cry, weep, howl, shriek, rage
until you are at last sponge-ready
and eager to clean and begin anew.
But you know what else you could do?
Go get some juice. Spill that, too,
in arcing droplets that ape the sun.
Add an asparagus spear, a broccoli floret,
a Brussels sprout; arrange accordingly.
Look at this interesting composition you made!
All textured and nuanced – and to think
that it started from a mild milk tragedy.
And here you assumed that the spill was a mistake.
Honey, there are no mistakes.

__________________________________________
Josh Lefkowitz is a graduate from the University of Michigan, where he received the Hopwood Award for Poetry. His poems and essays have been published in Court Green (forthcoming), Conduit, The Rumpus, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Freerange Nonfiction, Ohio Edit, and Open Letters Monthly, among others. He has performed two autobiographical solo pieces—HELP WANTED: A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century and NOW WHAT?—in theaters and spaces across the country. Additionally, Josh has recorded humorous essays for NPR’s All Things Considered and for BBC’s Americana. He received a Young Artist grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and an Associate Artist appointment from the Atlantic Center for the Arts. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, and most recently was the 2013 winner of the Wergle Flomp humor poetry contest, sponsored by Winning Writers.

WHEN AT A CERTAIN PARTY IN NYC

Wherever you’re from sucks,
and wherever you grew up sucks,
and everyone here lives in a converted
chocolate factory or deconsecrated church
without an ugly lamp or souvenir coffee cup
in sight, but only carefully edited objets like
the Lacanian soap dispenser in the kitchen
that looks like an industrial age dildo, and
when you rifle through the bathroom
looking for a spare tampon, you discover
that even their toothpaste is somehow more
desirable than yours. And later you go
with a world famous critic to eat a plate
of sushi prepared by a world famous chef from
Sweden and the roll is conceived to look like
“a strand of pearls around a white throat,” and is
so confusingly beautiful that it makes itself
impossible to eat. And your friend back home—-
who says the pioneers who first settled
the great asphalt parking lot of our
middle were not in fact heroic but really
the chubby ones who lacked the imagination
to go all the way to California—it could be that
she’s on to something. Because, admit it,
when you look at the people on these streets,
the razor-blade women with their strategic bones
and the men wearing Amish pants with
interesting zippers, it’s pretty clear that you
will never cut it anywhere that constitutes
a where, that even ordering a pint of tuna salad in
a deli is an illustrative exercise in self-doubt.
So when you see the dogs on the high-rise elevators
practically tweaking, panting all the way down
from the 19th floor to the 1st, dying to get on
with their long planned business of snuffling
trash or peeing on something to which all day
they’ve been looking forward, what you want is
to be on the fastest Conestoga home, where the other
losers live and where the tasteless azaleas are,
as we speak, halfheartedly exploding.

WHEN AT A CERTAIN PARTY IN NYC a poem by Erin Belieu from Motionpoems on Vimeo. Video courtesy of Motion Poems.

This poem first appeared in 32 Poems and was reprinted in Best American Poetry 2011. Poem copyright 2011 Erin Belieu, all rights reserved, used by permission of the author.

___________________________________________
ERIN BELIEU IS THE AUTHOR OF 4 POETRY COLLECTIONS ALL FROM COPPER CANYON PRESS, INCLUDING HER FORTHCOMING SLANT SIX, DUE IN SEPTEMBER 2014. BELIEU TEACHES AT FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY, THE LESLEY UNIVERSITY LOW RES MFA PROGRAM AND IS THE CO-FOUNDING CO DIRECTER OF VIDA WOMEN IN LITERARY ARTS.