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The Other

Kate Rosenberg-Minbiole

THE FOURTH WAVE KISSING PARTY

Let’s not invite the whole class; let’s pretend that we are the bosses of the fourth wave. [The Fourth
Wave, JoyceAnn McManus would say. In all caps, she would say] and when she is done being the
boss of the way words will appear, we’ll kick JoyceAnn out of the waves. When we play pretend,
we’ve got on cowboy hats and eucalyptus panties—refreshing!—and go off into the sunset every
evening and to the disco every night. [That would be cow
girl hat or cowwoman hat JoyceAnn
McManus would say and bucking broncos and steers and the dull-eyed cows she would say not
noticing that
girl and woman have been left behind for altogether new pronouns JoyceAnn McManus
wrings and wrings and wrings her hands] and we wouldn’t have time for those words we’d opt out
of consensus we’d just leave her behind so much on speed we’d be. May peace be with the slow-
worded. Yippee Ki Yay the way we are and will be, we bosses of the fourth wave; we labia-ed Bruce
Willises, we ecstatic and drugged and discoed and rocked hard; were we each to pull a book from the
shelves loosening a new cluster is The Way We Were. Is the way these waves go which is all we agree
that we’ll ever agree? JoyceAnn? From behind the shelves whose open backs are portals. Petals we’d
say we’d say slippery sounds all day because we could say them without gagging on them the oysters
sliding perfectly the way they do in dreams the way they do when the party makes our waves
temporal. When we find ourselves sliding backward past the first wave where our loves light slender
torches and we dress in full skirts go braless kiss in corners kiss again in corners where all there is is
kissing and our mouths are too busy to say JoyceAnn McManus shut your mouth all you have is
words and we are kiss

_________________________________________________________________

Kate Rosenberg-Minbiole is a feminist housewife cowgirl movie star who is also a lecturer in the Program for Writing and Rhetoric at Penn State University. She has her Ph.D. from the University of Utah, her MFA from the University of Arizona and has published here and there, but not yet everywhere. Kate’s got a husband and a daughter and if she had a dog, she’d call him Yadi.

Mondrian-red-tree

The Nest
By Carl Dennis

The omens of fall are out again.
We sit in the park with our feet bedded in leaves.
The wind widens,
The sun grows small,
Warnings that friends should band together
For joint defenses before the end.
Now it seems foolish for anyone
To grow cold alone.

You want me to turn and notice you
But I look inside.
There I can see bare branches
With a single bird
Peering out at the litter of fall.
He has built his nest too high in the tree
Or too small.

This poem, like all Dennis poems, has a simple surface but a lurking depth. Its title, right off, tells us there is a bird involved, or at least the evidence of a bird. Birds in poetic tradition are often identified with poets because they both sing. Keats’s nightingale, Hardy and Frost’s thrushes are all simultaneously birds and bards that tell us more about the human world than the natural one. In this case, it is significant that we are given the evidence of a bird since poets too leave evidence of themselves: all those leaves in all those books. And haven’t we all seen abandoned nests in the bare winter trees? One can’t help wondering of both birds and poets, what will survive.

The opening line, “The omens of fall are out again,” seems simple enough. However it would be thoughtless to gloss over the word “omens.” Omens don’t merely indicate an apparent reality but portend an invisible future; they prophesy—something good or bad—to come. Of course, that which is coming is winter: this stripping of summer regalia down to bare bark and branches foretells the desolations of a starker season. And since trees have little use for omens it presages something of our own end. So with this portentous sense we move on to the next line where

We sit in the park with our feet bedded in leaves.

Though a little peculiar, it is possible to picture people at a park bench with their feet in small piles of leaves. It is, more likely, a hint toward a deeper identification that will reveal itself slowly. For now, let’s think about the great bird poems in this tradition like Ode to a Nightingale, The Darkling Thrush, and Come In. They all take place in or near the woods. But Dennis is a suburban poet of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We don’t frequently live near dark woods anymore. Instead, we go to the park. And that is where we are. What is more peculiar about this poem is that the speaker isn’t alone. It’s “we” who sit in the park. It is another break with tradition. Perhaps Dennis is simply honest enough to allow someone else in on this moment, admitting, as we sometimes aren’t willing to, that we would rather not face the dark autumn and winter days alone. But more telling is that nightingales and thrushes are solitary birds, as are poets, at least when they’re composing. But on the larger stage, poets sing in the context of culture, hoping to be heard by others. This break with tradition is a comment on that desire, a desire that the second stanza, and ultimately the whole poem, says more about.

Before moving on, let’s consider the word “bedded” in this line. It stands out because it’s not the obvious word choice. “Buried” is likely what any of us would have chosen in describing this moment to someone. Since the poems of this tradition are all about death in some way, “buried” would have been a heavy-handed word. Besides, death is strewn all around in the discarded leaves. This freed Dennis to choose the more interesting word “bedded.” Its horticultural significance is “to plant in or as in a bed.” This suggests that his feet are planted in the leaves, rooted, we might say, like trees. It hints that the speaker and his companion, indeed, are trees. Although maybe this is a stretch. Perhaps it’s best to see if that emerges again later.

The wind widens,
The sun grows small
Warnings that friends should band together
For joint defenses before the end.
Now it seems foolish for anyone
To grow cold alone.

Added to the omens of leaves are now the widening wind and the shrinking sun. These warnings suggest we should “band together,” gather with our friends so we don’t “grow cold alone.” That last phrase can’t help but call to mind the body of the recently deceased growing cold. Also, embedded in the word “cold” is “old.” That’s what the speaker is getting at, is possibly a little too fearful to simply say. But we all feel it: “no one wants to grow old and die alone.” Then there is that word “now,” which introduces it. It echoes strangely, weighs in the mind and kicks up in its dust Keats’s line when he finally declares, “Now more than ever seems it rich to die.” Both lines are contemplating death or at least the imminence of death. But Keats, in isolation, listening to the nightingale, in the wake of his brother Tom’s death only a few months prior, longs to escape the world of suffering. Dennis’ speaker, on the other hand, is contemplating the autumn leaves and reflects on his own aging condition as a corollary, an old poet in the wake of what he has done with his life. His speaker is less oppressed but is, ultimately, no less doubtful of his condition. At least, that is the case by the end.

You want me to turn and notice you
But I look inside.

This is the pivotal moment in the poem. We’ve just left off considering that it’s “foolish for anyone/To grow cold alone.” The companion’s desire is now to be noticed, which implied the companion’s noticing the speaker. Perhaps his companion is another poet, maybe a younger poet wanting the attention of an elder. But the speaker is only human and turns “inside.” The period following “inside” pivots the entire work into the speaker’s psyche. Why the speaker turns inward, from his companion, after not wanting to be alone seems less a consequence of self-importance and more a natural turn, a result of the speaker’s aging, and dreading what his future might be. The omens of that future are all around, as the opening told us. The leaves about him are as much evidence of his age as of his accomplishment. One is tempted to think of him as Yeats’s old man who is “a tattered coat upon a stick,” which is also very subtly a tree image. In old age it’s natural to take account of life and one’s achievements. So the speaker turns inward and what does he find there?

There I can see bare branches
With a single bird
Peering out at the litter of fall.

This is a description not of the outer landscape but the inner landscape. The speaker is now explicitly comparing himself to a tree with bare branches and a single bird in its nest. In the course of his life he has stopped and wondered “what have I done?” And there is the “litter of fall,” the remains of all his summer efforts. The final two lines come in this context:

He has built his nest too high in the tree
Or too small.

The bird-poet has failed in some way. The poet has either aimed too high, beyond his powers, or forced great work into a vehicle it couldn’t bear. It is peculiar that Dennis’ bird never sings or we should say, is never heard. It’s another break with tradition. Where all other solitary poets hear their birds singing, Dennis simply observes him sitting silently in his nest, “peering out at the litter of fall.” It’s as if the bird is the soul of the tree and all the scattered leaves are the text of his poetic undertaking. It’s a poet at the end of his effort looking over his work and dreading that what he has accomplished will not survive.

But this poem is not just in the tradition of bird poems. It is, really, a hybrid of the bird poems in poetic tradition and the tree poems in poetic tradition, those such as Frost’s “Tree at My Window,” Hopkins “Spring & Fall,” or Edward Thomas’s “The Green Roads.” In fact, “The Green Roads” is very much a precursor to Dennis’ poem. The symbolism of both bird and tree are balanced equally in the thematic development. And both are dark in their conclusions. The oak at the center of Thomas’ poem is dead and “saw the ages pass in the forest.” Near the end he declares, “all things forget the forest/Excepting perhaps me.” That is, the poet remembers and as children of Mnemosyne that is, of course, their job: to remember. In Thomas’ poem, goose feathers strewn the ground, taking the place of Dennis’ leaves. In this way, Dennis more thoroughly integrates the imagery and themes. Then the way Dennis’ poem aligns the psyche of the poet with that of the tree also harkens back also to Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, which is not a tree poem but is another poem in which the poet compares himself to a tree. It’s enlightening to see what Shelley says:

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
. . . What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

. . . Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
. . .My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Shelley goes on to transform the West Wind from the opening “breath of Autumn’s being” into a “trumpet of prophesy” of the coming spring. But where Shelley insists on an optimistic close, Dennis shows the inevitable loneliness and danger in poetic aspirations. The bird has spent himself and he sits in the bare tree in a nest that is too high or too small. But now that the bird-poet has cast his efforts into the world, to the wind, he can do nothing more. This is the end of the line, what he has done with his life cannot be undone or redone. Whether his accomplishments will resonate in history is beyond his power to control or influence. He can only continue to sit, “peering out at the litter of fall.”

Poems in this tradition are typically dark and melancholy. Dennis’ poem keeps with this tradition. Hardy’s poem hints at a failure beyond individual death, toward a failure of the poetic tradition itself. Keats’s ode splits the psyche of the speaker from the bird in a way that suggests the hope to escape suffering is only a dream. Dennis’ speaker too has little or no hope, for there is no way of knowing that our words will survive us, even if we are a great poet. Shakespeare assumed immortality in writing as long as there were people to read and said, “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,/So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” Dennis can’t make such an assumption. It is not modesty as much as a modern condition. In our age, we are all too aware that we are ever on the brink of annihilation. And even without that, we are a scientific age with a perspective on time that stretches so far in both directions, for the most part, it doesn’t include us. We know there are billions of years ahead of us into which our small world will drift and disintegrate. But in the poem, in its small world, even if we pull back into the shorter arc of our own culture and history, think of all those dead leaves again and the double-entendre they are: both the poet’s life-long efforts and the efforts of other aspiring poets. It is a landscape cluttered with hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of voices shouting for attention.

In a bookstore with a well-read friend, I pointed out a collection of poetry by Juan Ramón Jiménez. He didn’t know who it was. Jimenez won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1956. In the vast litter of leaves, of books and even great voices, who is to say even another great one will be noticed or remembered? And in the vast cosmic time, our little planet will be like a decaying leaf when our own sun swells to a red giant and engulfs it. Dennis’ poem doesn’t question the success of the poetic endeavor, the simple writing and publishing, but rather it questions its endurance, whether it will be heard in time regardless of its current success. In the tradition of this kind of poem, the speaker is always someone who is hearing and listening to the song, hearing the poet-bird speak. Dennis’ poem doubts the inherent assumption that the poet’s voice will rise from the scattered remains and be heard. It is a poem foreboding an eternal silence. For where the poet’s voice goes unheard, there is no one to lift us out of the gaping mouth of oblivion.

image

After a week-and-a-day hiatus, it delights me to return to TheThe Infoxicated Corner to share more aesthetically innovative sugar plums with y’all.

This week’s work is almost Shainbergian in how all of it expresses/discusses the beauty and attraction of private, interior spaces — the erotic appeal, if you will, of personal detail. (n.b., Infoxicated readers: if you don’t already know Steven Shainberg, check out Secretary and Fur as examples of his amazing ability to create physical, visually-oriented spaces that feel, when you enter or view them on film, like learning a secret.) What is revealed, however, doesn’t function a cheap thrill, but rather as a comforting, sustaining experience that reminds us the importance of actual contact, of being invited in. (So frequently mired as we are among the many unwelcoming surfaces of this world, no?)

Lorien Bales’s breathtaking beaded heart is not only impressive in the obvious amount of labor and time it took to create, but because,in its overall effect, each bead reads like a secret, or a memory, or an impulse. It’s as though, when we look at it, we are endowed with the ability to look at the physical shape of a human heart while simultaneously seeing all the tiny, individual fragments of experience that psychically compose it.

KT Billey takes us through Jessica Piazza’s book Interrobang, a book of sonnets that explores various forms of pathological fear and love — the idiosyncratic, often truly strange details of extreme, and extremely internal, human reaction — rendered in the compulsive order of fourteen-lined, rhyming iambic pentameter. Piazza’s craft and Billey’s cerebral mode of discussion, anchor us through the bizarrely attractive chaos of, well, diagnosably insane emotions & tendencies.

And the stunningly gorgeous poet Saba Razvi gives us three poems. Difficult themes of attraction, revelation, and accessibility prevail in “On the metropole walkside, he watched in the dimming light,” in which a voyeur watches an unknown woman roll down her stockings, apparently without her knowledge. We, too, of course, watch her through the lens of the poem, becoming complicit in an act that most of us would likely not condone. And yet, while watching this woman undress is hypnotically rendered by Razvi’s use of sound and repetition, the allure of such witness seems to come less from a sexual thrill and more from the intimacy of detail: the rhythms of her small, repetitious motions, the “spill” of light in the room around her. And despite (or perhaps because of) the sacred nature of exposure in Razvi’s writing, the reader must also encounter & acknowledge what price is exacted as a result of too much exposure — of too much or too frequently allowing outside forces in. As the speaker tells us in “Gingerbread Girl,” her identity has been permanently altered by the “luminescence” of her “unraveling unreveling”; she cannot find her “lost way,” cannot return to “anything like home.”

And this conclusion, though unsettling, feels inevitable: how many more-interesting journeys begin.

Beatitudes,
F3

image

On the metropole walkside, he watched in the dimming light.

She stood in the window-
frame rolling
down her stockings
She stood
rolling down her stockings
She stood in the the window-frame
her foot on the ledge of windowsill
raised and rolling down
her stockings
pale against the pale light
pale rolling down her stockings
She stood
In the window-frame she
stood
one arm stretched, tall,
high above her head
She stood rolling down her stockings in
the window-frame
one arm hooked around
one arm stretched, tall, above
high above her head
and pale rolling down
her stockings
constellations spread along her
thighs
spilling down her navel
down her thighs
rolling down
her stockings
breasts in the pale light
one arm stretched,
taught along her taut along her belly
A spill of light
She stood in the window-frame
nude but for her
rolling down her stockings.

 

Longing Along the Long Winter’s Eve

Open your windows and open your doors and open your
arms and open her arms into your arms and open your legs
and open your mouth and open your sex and open your
arms and open your legs and open your eyes to this
blanketing dark-ness. Open your arms to the mask over your
face. Open your own patchwork colored lens, logic left
better in sleep and lucid dreams and. Open your hands and
open your mind and your head and open your touch and
your self, opening like this, oh, like this, like a petal, like a
lotus, like a dew-drenched rose, like a thistle spilling nectar
from the misty close of the open of the open of the lock of
the lows. Open your windows and open your doors. In the
open feel the open of the pages, yes the pages and the, oh,
your pages open open like the petals left in honey and in
dreaming and in lights like the others, like the shimmer of
the stone-circled lights on the marshes and moors and the
open doors and open yours…

 

Gingerbread Girl

She could cut seams down her skin, thin
as red wires they might sting. Peeling
one and then another down, bright petals
drooping
to blanche the bones. Later,
stitch the edges up again, rag doll hems.
This crosshatched cicatrix a reminder
of unraveling, unreveling,
of luminescence
on a rocky moonless terrain, where
unshining pebbles cannot lead back again
to the lost way, anything like home.

 

 

Saba Razvi’s collection of poems Of the Divining and the Dead is available through Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Offending Adam, Arsenic Lobster, The 13th Warrior Review, 10×3 Plus and others, as well as in anthologies such as Voices of Resistance, The Loudest Voice, and The Liddell Book of Poetry. She has given readings in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Omaha, Honolulu, Glasgow & Stirling in Scotland, Lismore & Dublin in Ireland, Dallas, and in Austin, TX at The Fun Party Reading Series. She holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Texas, and she is currently teaching writing and literature at the University of Houston in Victoria, TX.

 

Allen Grossman_2

Allen Grossman_2Allen Grossman died in June this year and it returned me to his poetry. He is the kind of poet our time needs but rarely acknowledges. Grossman received a 2009 Bollingen Prize, one of those high honors that only other poets know about. He didn’t receive the more obvious Pulitzer or National Book Award. But, then again, prophets and prophet-poets don’t open their mouths to receive accolades.

When I first read “The Ether Dome and Other Poems” I found that I couldn’t read him silently and truly hear his voice. I had to read him out loud to taste the textures of his words on my tongue. Because I do much of my reading in public while in transit, I often looked like a madman walking down the street, talking, gesturing and laughing to myself. But allowing myself the freedom to do this in spite of the public display, helped me to see what a remarkable poet he is, one with a voice that needs to be heard in more ways than one. He is a late 20th century child of both Blake and Stevens, but not a child in the sense of merely inheriting traits or styles, but an active creator or, in his own words, “the self-determined maker.” With epigrammatic lines like “Eternity and Time/Grieve incessantly in one another’s arms” he echoes but comments on Blake’s “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.” Or his recurring use of the realm of the unborn recalls Blake’s vale of Har from the Book of Thel but goes on to make further comments for our own time. He engages those paradoxes that strike at unapparent truth as when he says, “Distance and intimacy grow together” or “In the/ Book at hand is a book beyond all hands.” Then he will also comment on and extend Stevens as when he says, “sex and imagination are one” or when he says, “the whole/Body is an Orphic explanation by a most eloquent spirit/Failing to be clear.” To be sure, there is also humor in this, a playfulness that is the mark of a truly great mind. For only the truly great mind is great enough to remain playful even when serious.

Unlike Steven and more like Blake, one sees in Grossman a man of vision: a prophet. Stevens was a deep man of intellect and imagination, but not a man of spirit—or should I say, of faith? For Stevens to say, “God and the imagination are one” was to echo Protagoras in saying, “man is the measure of all things.” While for Blake to say, “imagination is Holy Spirit,” was actually to assert the indwelling reality of the divine. Stevens is at the end of the long line of Romantic thinking, but in him there is no faith as there is in Blake. What we have in Grossman is a poet who embraces the polarities of that arc from Blake to Stevens, uniting them in a poetic dialogue that reasserts the status of the poet as prophet.

Subsuming the disillusionments in Stevens into a larger spiritual commentary on our time, Grossman reconnects with the dialectic vision we find in Blake. At the same time, he confronts the darker realities of the modern world, assuming the infinite cycles and entropies we take for granted, as in his poem “The Guardian,” where he says,

. . . after a long time, all this will stop, flow
Back into the universe, cease form, cease
To be metal, become another thing,
Become nothing.

It is the colder reality of the flux of a universe too large for us to know. We will be absorbed back into it and this is part of the whole. There is something of the idea of Indra in this, the small god who oversees the current universe, but who himself is merely one in a number of Indras from countless universes as each world is born and dies in the sleep of Vishnu. Grossman’s poems are always peeling back more and more layers of appearance to disclose deeper or more distant realities. Some of those realities are so distant and so deep they no longer include the human. Yet, it is always in the context that we are a part of this, this is the whole spiritual context of our singular existence at this moment. Because of that, it is surprisingly comforting. A rare quality to find in a modern poet and one profoundly needed.

skirts and slack di piero

skirts and slack di piero

tretheway domestic work-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This essay will be posted in three sections. Part 2 will post on Thursday, October 16th and part 3 on Thursday October 23.

     Place plays a substantial role in establishing environment. Place can be used as a metaphor to define abstractions, as a backdrop that can help set tone or even as a character which can enhance movement and increase tension. Utilizing a sense of place can be an important factor in building depth in a poem and can be a significant tool for the development of characters.

     In the collection Skirts and Slacks, W.S. Di Piero uses place as a character as opposed to a backdrop to hang his characters upon. The characters do not merely exist where they live, place is used to give the reader additional bits of information that play out like vignettes around them. And although at times Di Piero’s characters seem to exist in spite of where they live, many times there is a subtle redefining of the habits of these characters through place.

     For instance, in the opening poem “Cheap Gold Flats” the title alone gives the reader some sense of style for this neighborhood. And even though the poem begins in a neighborhood bar, the image of those “cheap gold flats” seems to hang in the air waiting for recognition. This is a two-part poem, “Part 1.” Philly Babylon” opens with the bartender and whether or not the reader has ever been in one of these neighborhood bars doesn’t matter, Di Piero very effectively sets tone and place by appealing to the senses:

“The bartender tossing cans, carton to cooler,
hand to hand, with silky, mortal ease,
while the 4 p.m. beer and shot standees
study the voiceless TV above our heads.
The worst and longest storm on record.
Iceworks canal the pavements, power lines down,
Cars pillowed helpless in the snow.
Bus fumes vulcanize the twilight’s
911 sirens” (3)

     The reader can almost hear the clink of aluminum as the bartender tosses the cans, see them gliding as if he or she has watched the bartender perform this trick many times. The standees at the bar watch the voiceless TV as if this is a sacred place, which sets up the bar as if it were a sanctuary. We learn there is a storm. The wording here is particular “longest storm on record” not the worst, or the most snowfall, not even the greatest amount of damage, just simply the “longest.” Power lines are down, cars are “pillowed” which brings the drifts of snowed-in cars into a soft focus of airy snowdrifts with powdery white snow piled upon cars, angelic if form. The terms used to describe the storm and the setting does a lot to increase the feeling of seclusion in this opening section even though there is a group here there is little interaction among the characters.

“enter HAZEL, touching my elbow at the bar.

My Staticky Daily News breaks into the draft.

‘What’s my horoscope say today, honey?’

Dear Hazel, dear Pisces, don’t be hurt

Leave me alone a while, my mother’s dying,

I’ve been beside her bed for several days” (3)

     This intimate moment in which Hazel speaks to him and touches his elbow creates an interesting transition by breaking the silence with speech and continues with an unexpected insertion of the horoscope. This is such a great sarcastic break not only of the silence in the bar but lets the reader into the state of mind of the narrator. The reader finds out that his mother is dying without leaning on sentimentality. This line also reveals something more about the narrator himself. Di Piero pulls from the anger and hopelessness someone would feel about the eminent death of a mother: the seeking of isolation, the anger, the want to crawl into some sort of escape. The storm, the icy pavement and power outages now become a metaphor for not only the death of his mother, but the narrators state of mind as well. The chill he is feeling and the silence of the people standing in the bar watching the voiceless TV seem more significant now that we know he is in the midst of this crisis. This setting of the bar becomes a silent refuge for him until the solitude is broken by this sympathetic “touching” of his elbow. He no longer can escape the emotions that he is holding in and they begin to come out on the page.

“and when she looks above her head, she groans

to see whatever it is she sees, so here,

take my paper, go home, forgive me.”

     This passage does a few things. The mother looking up at some voiceless, soundless image harkens back to the men standing at the bar staring at the TV set. The “go home, forgive me” holds a double meaning. On one hand he could be talking to Hazel, on the other he could also be talking to his mother. The progression of place (the bar), the setting, (silent people standing around, frozen from the storm) and the actual emotional event the narrator is experiencing (his mother dying) all interconnect and foreshadow. Place becomes a character as important as the narrator, the other occupants of the bar, Hazel and his dying mother.

     In “Oregon Avenue on a Good Day” Di Piero also uses the senses to set place but in this poem he relies on taste and smell to set up this memory in which place becomes a concrete character.

“Some nights I dream the taste

of pitch and bus fumes and leaf meal

from my old exacting street.

This time home, I’m walking to find

I don’t know what. Something always

offers itself while I’m not watching.”

And then onto:

“enameled aluminum siding, brick,

spangled stonework, fake fieldstone

and clapboard, leftover santa lights,

casements trimmed in yellow fiberglass

our common dream of the all

and the only this, that’s exactly

what I can’t find.”

And finally:

“husband and wife inside, plus kids, suppertime,

pine paneling where scratchy exterior light

rises sweetly above a TV voice.”

     Place is as much a memory as a search for something the narrator cannot find or cannot regain. I find it interesting that in this poem the TV has a voice. The scene of the family having dinner has sound and a connection, unlike ‘Cheap Gold Flats” where the TV is voiceless. I like the idea of “a scratchy exterior light” The use of “scratchy” to describe the light shifts the feeling of this section into a completely different texture. This ‘scratchy” light from the exterior seems to be an intrusion into a memory diluted by time that threatens to “shed light” on this illusive thing he believes he has lost; the thing he longs for that may only exist in memory and not in the true reality.

     The poem “Hermes: Port Authority: His Song.” begins with the use of specific regional speech. The opening line is a type of hustler street-speak. Using a regionalism like this to open a poem is another way to set up place. The reader understands that this is happening in a city bus terminal and the character takes on a distinctiveness based on the idea of setting him in a city environment.

“Hey, mister, find a bus for you?

I burn my tracks, I stink.

I lay down in the dust.

And then:

“A dollar’s good. A quarter, too.

Any bus will do.

Wee got them all. There’s Teaneck,

The Oranges and Hackensack.

Atlantic City too.”

“”I’ll sell you pussy, nookie,

what you will. I’ll soap

your goodies in the men’s room sink.

O play me how you will.

Sleep tight. God speed your bus.

A dollar, quarter, dime will do.”

     This modern day Hermes is a very different messenger of the gods. This is the voice of no place. This is the voice of invisible existence and of things unseen. People ignore these unwanted, grittier people within all cities. This may be why the cities are named instead of described; this creates a namelessness that is created by treating places as well as people in this way. As if this new voice of Hermes is a universal telling of how all things have become: nameless, faceless, and disregarded. This is the voice of the hopeless and lost.

     Di Piero’s use of place as a character in Skirts and Slacks acts as another dimension for the characters and narrators to inhabit. Place not only begins to embody the character’s development but helps the reader to identify with even the most complex characters by giving the reader a solid anchor. But foremost in creating this place are the language choices that Di Piero embodies in these poems. This sense of collision that surrounds his characters is not limited to place alone.

     In “Pocketbooks and Sauerkraut” an essay from City Dog, Di Piero states that: “What my culture did give me was a sense…of language as the embodiment of contingency … but language … was swampy, crazily shadowed, and veined with unintelligible matter.” (43). Di Piero has created place in these poems from this “swampy, crazily shadowed and veined” language, and as a result, place becomes not only a naturally occurring extension of character but a solidly formed presence which acts as a character in itself to enhance and support the actions of the narrator and other characters in his poems.

     Natasha Tretheway’s domestic work, on the other hand, uses place in a very different way. Place in Tretheway’s poems is internalized by her characters. It is a sense that is carried within their movements. By using place as an internalized characteristic, she is able to create a persona that is expressed through the characters sense of their place in the world. In the opening poem of the collection, “Gesture of a Woman-in-Process” even the things around these women are part of them:

“Around them, their dailiness:

clotheslines sagged with linens,

a patch of greens and yams,

buckets of peas for shelling.”

“Even now, her hands circling,

the white blur of her apron

still in motion.” (3)

     The women are consumed as a part of the things that make up this place. “Their dailiness”; “the white blur of her apron”; the “buckets of peas for shelling.” All of these things speak to their work. There is little shared that is personal about these women. The chores they perform, the place that they perform it in and how they go about their day is interwoven into who they are. This truly epitomizes the idea of “I am what I do.”

     In “Domestic Work, 1937” The woman in the poem varies her movements and her temperament depending on place. Although she is doing the same work, her demeanor changes according to where she is:

“All week she’s cleaned

someone else’s house,

stared down her own face

in the shine of copper-

bottomed pots, polished

wood, toilets she’d pull

the lid to.”

But when she is at home doing the same work:

“a record spinning

on the console, the whole house

dancing. She raises the shades,

washes the room in light.”

“She beats time on the rugs,

blows dust from the broom

like dandelion spores, each one

a wish for something better.” (13)

     It becomes very clear that place is internalized into her actions. Her demeanor, her lightness is apparent in her own home, so different from her demeanor in the house of her employer. There is a joy apparent in the duties performed at home that are not present when she performs these things in the house of her employer.

In “Three Photographs” Thretheway uses place as a subjective part of her characters.

In “1. Daybook April 1901” she uses the narrative voice of the photographer who begins:

‘What luck to find them here!”

     This line turns them into objects within the photograph. Who they are does not matter. They are used merely as reference points to complete the photograph:

“two negro men, clothes like church,

collecting flowers in a wood.”

‘a blessing though their faces

hold little emotion. And yet,

they make such good subjects.

Always easy to pose.”

Even when she speaks of framing, it is still focused on the men in the photograph:

“how well this arbor frames

my shot—an intimate setting,

the bough nestling us

like brothers, How fortunate still

to have found them here

instead of farther along

by that old cemetery,” (6)

     They are not positioned within the things in the photograph; the things in the photograph are positioned around them. It’s as if as objects they hold more significance for the photographer. Flowers in a field would be incidental in a shot of an elaborate vista point so it seems that the men in this photograph are only necessary in order to capture the true nature of the “bough” or the “old cemetery.”

In “2. Cabbage Vendor” the focus is once again how this narrator does his/her work:

“When I’m in my garden

tearing these cabbages

from earth, hearing them scream

at the break, my fingers

brown as dirt—that’s natural.”

The narrator labels this work as being natural. Later, when the narrator speaks of the photograph it becomes the unnatural thing:

“But he will keep my picture,

unnatural like hoodoo love.

I could work a root of my own,

Turn that thing around

And make him see himself

Like he be seeing me—

Distant and small—forever.” (7)

     The idea that working the ground, pulling the vegetables is more the natural thing than her reflection in a picture is interesting in this passage. It brings again to mind the adage “I am what I do” which carries into the third and final portion of the poem: “3. Wash Women.” The narrator in this poem is looking at the picture. There is a different sense here as if the narrator’s connection stems from something other than familiarity. There is a communal sense of history and an understanding of that history that shifts between the narrator and the subjects in the photograph.

“The eyes of eight women

I don’t know

Stare out from this photograph

Saying remember.”

    The description of the work is supposed. This is a much more somber poem than previous poems in this collection. This poem gives the reader a more intensely disconnected feel. The women simply stare. The narrator supposes the lightness and joy in the chores but the faces of the women seem to tell another story.

“I picture wash day:”

“I hear laughter,

three sisters speaking

of penny drinks, streetcars,

the movie house. A woman

like my grandmother rubs linens

against the washboard ribs,

hymns grow in her throat.” (8)

     The narrator is giving us an imagined idea of these women working. It repeats the image of joyful work that we have seen in other poems in the collection until the poem comes to the final stanza:

“But in this photograph,

women do not smile,

their lips a steady line

connecting each quiet face.’ (9)

     This is the first hint that this is not happy work. This is the first time the sense of these women is different from the outer expression they portray. They are “a steady line connecting each quiet face” which tells the reader that this internalized place is dark, prison-like and inescapable.

     I find it significant that Thretheway uses place in this way. Many of the portraits in this collection are displaced persons. Slaves that do not belong to the homes they inhabit or the jobs they are perform. They seem to carry a sense of belonging only to themselves because of this displacement. They have been forced to fade into the background to survive and so in a sense they have become part of the place they inhabit. This is more of a social commentary than it first appears. In some ways, this idea of belonging to self and contented abiding within seems a very zen-like thing. But when the reality of slavery is considered this becomes a much different perspective. The fact that the people in the pictures are regarded as owned objects is significant. When viewed this way, the expressions on the faces in this picture become a reminder not merely of displacement, but of ownership. Slaves were often listed on manifests along with other “owned” objects: houses, furniture, china, bales of hay, acres of land and heads of cattle. Family members “willed” slaves to other family members at death and often used slaves to settle debts and disputes among landowners, trading them as if they were mere objects. So in effect, the only place for these women to have any power or strength is to revert to something internal that cannot be taken away from them.

     The differences in the way Di Piero and Tretheway use place enhances the characters and the settings in each of their collections. Di Piero’s poems are city poems. They have a beat and a strut, which narrates a type of separation from place so that it becomes something that enhances the poems as a separate character. Tretheway‘s characters don’t belong to the places they inhabit, so they carry these places inside themselves whereas Di Piero’s characters, imprisoned by their own actions, emotions and choices, pull out of the scenery around them like a 3-D image.

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Note: The Hesperides are divine nymphs in Greek myth who tend a blissful garden in some idyllic corner of the Western world, and are associated with the golden light of sunset.

 

 

 

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Patty Hyland is a freelance illustrator in the NYC metropolitan area. She is currently working on her first webcomic, Tri-UMPH!, a humorous seafaring adventure epic. You may find more of her work on her Facebook and Tumblr pages.

Jen Ashburn

Jen Ashburn

The Flight Home                                                                  En Route to Louisville

Remember the laundry that hangs on bamboo fences, on the edges of corrugated tin, on the rafters next to fishing nets that clump together and billow like 18th-century petticoats. Remember the blue jeans, the yellow t-shirts, the thick-hooded sweatshirts. Remember the slender brown legs that slide into the jeans, the fat lips of the toddler who sat on your lap, the hands of the man who, while working his day job as a security guard in front of an ATM, tied the knots that made the nets. Remember the brown waters of the Mekong, the Nam Khong, the Nam Song, the heavy rains in the afternoon, the early morning mist. Remember the clear rising song of a gibbon family at dawn. Remember the Chinese rock music. The gristle and fat in the meat. Even remember the mosquitos and salmonella. Remember how to say, “Do you speak English?” in five languages. And thank you. And please. Let me remember even when I’m hunched with work, when I’m old and crumpled with life. This life. Thank you. Please.

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Jen Ashburn recently completed her MFA at Chatham University in poetry and creative nonfiction. She has work published or forthcoming in Grey Sparrow, Pretty Owl Poetry, Anak Sastra, The Poet’s Billow, Puff Puff Prose & Poetry Vol. II and the anthology Make Mine Words (Trinity University Press). She lives in Pittsburgh.

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In 2011, Binghamton, a small industrial town in upstate New York (formerly where IBM was headquartered), was hit by a flood that ravaged the quasi-rural area. Among the casualties of the flood were MacArthur Elementary School and MacArthur Park. These photographs were taken for archival purposes by N. Henry, a social scientist and cartographer at Binghamton University. The tops of a children’s swing set and jungle gym and the rooftops of the elementary school are visible; the reflections of sky and treetops visible in the flood waters give an odd, uncanny sense of brightness, of natural calm and beauty even in a disaster that fiscally devastated most of the quasi-rural area. For me, they cross the blurry boundary between archive and art / journalism and something more transformative. If humans are the part of nature that goes against nature’s grain, it might also be said that nature is an aspect of humanity and human existence with which we cannot ultimately argue. I see that in these photos.

 

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Photo Credits: N. Henry, 2011.

kristina marie darling

Requited: Poetry as a Truth-Telling Mechanism

The effectiveness of Kristina Marie Darling’s book Requited lies in its ability to remind readers that it is human nature to crave to be what we are not. To crave what we don’t have. Darling treats poetry as a truth-telling mechanism. This is a book that is aware of itself, its truths, and how it wants to tell them. The self-referential nature of this text urges the truth to make itself known. It enables the use of poetry as a truth-telling device, and reminds the reader of fundamental truths.

The book is the chronicle of a couple’s relationship, and their eventual parting. We begin the story in a garden, which might be a nod toward to the Garden of Eden, and what it symbolizes for us: a clean slate; new beginnings; fresh starts. Gardens and forests are so richly associated in Western literature with emotional truths, and the unfettered psyche. This trope was a clever one to utilize for the story of a romantic relationship because this draw that humans have toward the new, the fresh, the undiscovered, is what makes new relationships so intoxicating, but it is also what makes the end of relationships so difficult, because in breaking up with someone we acknowledge that a part of our innocence has been irrevocably lost.

The couple’s travels through these landscapes seems to mirror the shifting of their own minds and bodies. I was especially moved by the image of the deer that the couple encounters at the beginning of the book:

“Near the road, an injured deer has been left to die. Its dark brown eyes seem to wonder why we’ve left the roses behind.”

Like the Garden of Eden, deer also have connections with innocence and purity, but the image of the deer accomplishes things that the garden does not. The deer is a much more starting and emotionally relevant image because the deer is a living, breathing entity in a way that the garden is not. The deer looking at the couple so plaintively— essentially asking them why they are leaving the garden—enforces the emotional magnitude of the situation: the couple’s separation, and the resulting loss of their innocence and purity.

The passage about the girl’s lips turning blue is similarly jarring and powerful:

“How many dead flowers would it take to cover a field. You’re beginning to miss the girls in another city, their parade of torn dresses. A disheveled skirt retains an odd charm. In shop windows, mannequins still cling to bouquets. Their starched petals. My cold blue lips.”

The girl here is becoming a part of the landscape she is moving away from. This might be an allusion to the feeling that we are leaving a part of ourselves behind when we leave a relationship, and our desire to hold on to what we are losing. When we enter into relationships with people our identities shift, merge, and blur with the identity of the other person.

The emotional center of the book—the passage which I think anchors the entire text is found a bit later in the book:

“While I sleep, you’re documenting failure. An experience gives rise to ‘narrative.’ A heroine counting ‘unfaithful stars.’ Why can so many things be mistaken for metaphor. Above us, the room is heaving its small oceans. Somehow you imagine an elegant universe.”

The self-referential quality in this book manifests through the litany of literary devices and tropes the narrator mentions here– the poem is reminding us that we are reading a poem, by talking about various aspects of poetry. Reading this, we see that poetry serves as a way to document and memorialize failure. Maybe metaphor is a way for us to make ourselves into something we are not.

The erasure that closes the book—which is, essentially, the first section of the book with sections expertly whited out—seems essential to the narrative of the couple. It allows the book to come full circle, and is a way for the couple to dialog with one another—maybe in real time, or in each individual mind. Or maybe the epilogue is a reimagining of the past. A way to re-do what we have done, to right wrongs, to reevaluate and revisit or lives. Darling’s work reminds us that poetry gives us permission to do this—reinvent our lives.

Press: BlazeVOX, 2014
Page length: 41 pages
Price: $12.00

 

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Lisa M. Cole is the author of the poetry collections Heart Full of Tinders and Dreams of the Living, and is a contributor to Wood Becomes Bone: A Mental Health Awareness Series, all three titles forthcoming from ELJ publications. Lisa has also written six chapbooks, most recently Negotiating with Objects (Sundress Publications) and The Bodyscape and Living in a Lonely House (Dancing Girl Press). She was a recipient of the Lois Nelson Award in Creative Non-Fiction in 2005 and a runner-up in SLAB’s Elizabeth R. Curry poetry contest earlier this year. Lisa teaches writing workshops in Tucson Arizona’s prisons as well as in various places within Tucson’s vibrant literary communities, including the University of Arizona Poetry Center and Casa Libre En La Solona. You can read her book reviews at http://moonglows-reviews.blogspot.com/. Find her on Facebook in both personal and professional capacities at https://www.facebook.com/lisa.cole.poet and https://www.facebook.com/lisa.marie.cole

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On September 5, 2014, NPR ran an essay by critic Juan Vidal titled, “Where Have All the Poets Gone?” which questioned whether American poets still produce political work, and suggested that “literary [political] provocation in America is . . . at a low.” Because I find this assessment of contemporary American letters to be very incomplete, I wanted to take the opportunity to create a dialogue on the subject by curating a series of compelling political poems from contemporary American poets. I christened this series “Political Punch” as an affectionate reflection on the cocktail of poets who decided to honor me with their participation in my little Infoxicated Corner; it was intended to celebrate the glorious mix of poetics, voices, and life experiences all being shaken and stirred into a sense of community and conversation, being distilled into burning gulps of experience for the reader. Leaving aside all the boozed-up metaphors, it was also intended to celebrate my experience of American letters, in all their willingness and ability to pack a political punch.

These two poems by the lovely Native American poet Susan Deercloud, who is eloquent and funny even in her sorrow and her rage, speak for themselves, in a cultural climate where we have a national football team called the Redskins, educators routinely disparage the tradition of oral literacy as ineffectual, and American twentysomethings of Western European ethnic descent think nothing of wearing feathered headdresses to concerts as a fashion statement.

 

Shoot

High noon at the community college. As usual,
the Dean was starring in her cowgirl-and-Injun movie,
a WASP looming seven feet tall, big-boned L.A. import –
what upper middle class white feminists aspired to
in Gloria Steinem 1970’s. She had heard rumors
about a poet hired to teach comp-lit for a semester,
complaints that this Mohawk played poetry on CDs
in the writers’ voices. The Dean swaggered into
the classroom, boomed she had come to observe.
The Indian, short, quiet, shocked, peered up
at the Dean encased in black suede cowgirl skirt,
fringed vest, boots shooting out spurs. She jangled
from turquoise and silver, bragged to the poet wearing
beads strung softly by her own hands on lonely nights –
“From Sedona, jewelry made by Native Americans,”
as if the savage needed to know she paid big bucks
for rings and necklaces made by Navahos. The Dean
spread cannon-thick legs at the front of the room,
made conspicuous notes. The students looked unhappy,
the poet went through the ridiculous motions. She was
back there – the little girl schoolmarms ordered to walk
“single file” in Catskill hometown. She was the teen
graded low for saying U.S. heroes were villains because
they massacred Indians. She was the sister already hip
about sisterhood, the real one of her blood sister, mother,
grandmother, aunts, great aunts, Indian girlfriends. The Dean
bullied, “I know your people believe in oral tradition
but you exist in our system now. No playing poetry on CDs.
Students have to read that stuff on the page. They forget
what they hear in ten seconds.” The Mohawk poet recalled
a male cousin laughing, “You mean it was our ancestors
who put that bug up their ass?” when she spoke about
Iroquois influence on white feminists. Yes, Haudenosaunee
felt sad for female settlers, the way their husbands legally
could beat them into obedience. Yes, they got their equality,
and some grew crueler than their men. They, too, could shoot
down Native women they secretly hated for their heart songs.
Poet with hair color of stars listened to Dean “Has It Made”
reeking of dead cow, her dominatrix words unlike poets’ voices
soaring from CD sacred circles. “Ooooo,” the Dean caressed
the Mohawk’s coat. “Polar bear? I simply must pet it.”
Showdown at The Not OK Corral. Damned if she’d let
that cowgirl get an Oscar. Damned if she’d stop spinning poetry
in her own movie where the beautiful Indians always win.

 

 

Kick

(“My grandmother still uses the term White Man.”
- Embarrassed statement by a young “mixed blood” Cherokee man)

May, Chenango State Park … she driving
sidewinder road to Lily Lake, small second lake
few people visited. New York sun flashed
past unfurling leaves, ghost danced across car hood.
At first the lump on asphalt seemed a ghost
of some darker kind, powerful enough to make her
brake. Then she saw what it was, leapt out
to nudge Turtle with one foot. It snapped towards
her, rocked rough penile head back and forth.
She laughed at its ferocity, picked up fallen branch
to poke it to safety. Cadillac squealed up behind
her old Indian car. Man, grey hair bristling
close to skull, strode over to her. He wore golfer’s cap,
white shoes, stared with pink face at her dilemma.
“I’ll get that damned thing off the road,” he kicked
Turtle in its map of shell, kicked harder, knocking
it upside down so flame of orange underside blazed up.
“Stop,” she choked, but he only kicked more when
Turtle bounced back on clawed feet, lunging, snapping.
How dare a mere beast snap at a man owning
a gold chromed Cadillac? He kicked it tumbling down
wooded bank. “There!” Pale eyes ran over her
long flowered skirt, breeze-tangled hair, bra-less breasts.
She gazed away, trying to see if Turtle landed upright.
This intruder playing uninvited “hero” would never know
her people called America Turtle Island. He would scorn
her love of Turtle, her delight in its sacred rage like that
of Indian warriors who defended women like her against
conquerors like him. Turtle rustled through old leaves.
“Thank you,” she breathed, nearly prayed, in soft voice.
“You’re welcome,” the golfer swaggered loudly
to his hard-on of a Cadillac, sped off. She stood
in the exhaust. “Stupid White Man,” she snapped.
It was only then she cried.

 

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Susan Deer Cloud is a mixed-lineage mountain Indian from the Catskill Mountains. An alumna of Binghamton University (B.A. & M.A.) and Goddard College (MFA), she is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, two New York State Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowships, an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant and a Chenango County Council for the Arts Individual Artist Grant. Published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, her most recent books are Hunger Moon, Fox Mountain, Braiding Starlight, Car Stealer and The Last Ceremony. Deer Cloud is the editor of ongoing Native anthology I Was Indian (Before Being Indian Was Cool) and the Re-Matriation Chapbook Series of Indigenous Poetry (FootHills Publishing).

 

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TLTR:
The Importance of Short Literature in the Age of TMI

The phrase “Too Long To Read” is apparently Too Long To Say—TLTR is an acronym for articles, essays, and whatever else we scroll past on our phones. Whether you use this (increasingly common) phrase or wish it were a “LOTR” typo, the fact remains: things are getting shorter. Texts, articles, attention spans—and as the distance between two points virtually shrinks, constant innovations allow us to communicate more with less. Condensed meaning, one of poetry’s proudest features, has taken on new forms more rapidly than ever before. Short: An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, edited by Alan Ziegler, reminds us that this work was happening long before ‘lol’—and extending far beyond the realm of the poem.

Some people read horoscopes daily. Others, a Bible verse. Fortune cookies, proverbs, the bathroom collection of Calvin and Hobbes—everyone appreciates brevity. Short gives us nuggets of short ‘information’ in the guise of great literature. Without overly lending itself to debating literary labels, the validity of different forms, or the need for genre categories, the book is a veritable treasure chest—a collection of writing so varied, it boggles the mind to think of the time, space, and circumstance these pieces traversed to unite in this gift of a collection.

The main draw of this volume is its promise of variety, and it delivers aesthetically diverse pieces of exceptional quality representing four admittedly nebulous categories, as hinted in the subtitle: prose poems, short-short stories, brief essays, and ‘others’ or ‘fragments.’ In a useful, candid introduction, Ziegler welcomes the reader into the discussion at hand, admitting “the concept of genre is slippery, shape-shifting, and sometimes nonexistent…what’s an editor to do about pieces of short prose left uncategorized by their authors or given names like “anecdote” or “picture”…The answer in Short is to put them all together.”
After giving readers a sense of the history and range of these shorts, Ziegler gives us the barest definitions of the four sub-groups: “A prose poem is a piece without line breaks that the author calls a poem…A short-short story must be short and contain a narrative element…Brief essays…offer the reader an explicit promise of truth—however the author defines it…and ‘Fragment’ is used…for a complete piece with a fragmentary quality “like a chef ’s amuse bouche—which is not scooped out of a pot.” Ziegler goes on to note that the subtitle for this book could consist of a half-page list of short form nomenclature—a prose poem or brief essay unto itself.

After the introduction, Short sets aside the issue of categorization. The texts are presented not in formal groupings, but chronologically by author birth. This helps to brings them, and the book as a whole, out of the ordered realm of anthology and into the world of art, as the emphasis lands on the phenomenon of creation rather than category—celebrating invention, not ideology. Rather than chose the pieces that are easiest to put under particular subheadings, Ziegler gives us examples and counter-examples, leaving us to wander around and make up our own minds rather than leading us down the garden path. This is intentional, as the introduction notes that “One advantage of not designating a genre—or of using a nondescript term like paragraph, piece, or text—is that readers cannot respond that they like the work but it is just not a poem/story/essay….Each piece makes a prima facie case for itself, with no room for rebuttal based merely on formal expectations.” The point is inclusion, not despite uncertainty, but of it, and the possibility it represents. The only line in the sand seems to have been practicality—for reasons of space, Short is limited to pieces from Western literature with fewer than 1250 words. The way this arrangement encourages readers to take a text on its own terms is perhaps the greatest achievement of this anthology.

It’s a mixed and surprising bag—stories, sketches, and experiments that explore history, politics, emotions. Reading several pieces in one sitting can be quite the ride: narrative, allegory, address, and confession are among the myriad devices used by the authors to raise questions that range across the existential, the rhetorical, and the deeply personal. Paul Valery’s “Last Visit to Mallarmé” combines literary history with (quelle surprise) lovely prose. Luisa Valenzuela’s work appearing between Charles Simic and Margaret Atwood draws out the dark humor they share—all the more interesting for their disparate origins. It feels appropriate the Paul Celan’s stunning relationship to language coexist with that of Walter Benjamin, who has contributed so much to literature and translation theory. August Wilhelm Schlegel’s fragments arrive about one hundred years (and a few pages) after François de la Rochefoucauld’s, with a zing that harkens back to kindred minds, while asserting itself with lines like “Notes to a poem are like anatomical lectures on a piece of roast beef.”

Ziegler writes his own shorts and has taught short form courses for years in Columbia University’s School of the Arts, and his experience manifests in a comfort with ambiguity that is passed on to the reader. Whether the writers are adhering to, disregarding, or undermining genre ‘rules,’ this expertly curated collection enhances and challenges our understanding of literature by virtue of what is juxtaposed within its pages.

The collection raises as many questions as it answers—probably more. What are these short forms, and what do they have to tell us? How do they challenge our notions of value and purpose? Ziegler discusses modern platforms like Twitter, but many of these concerns are hardly new. What is the difference between process and product, if notebook jottings are presented as Fragments? Does it change things if the author never presented those words as ‘work’? The only response is to read on, and perhaps enjoy the way the theoretical gears take a backseat to the work itself. Marcel Schwob “Cyril Tourneur: Tragic Poet” and Macedonio Fernández “A Novel for Readers with Nerves of Steel” are examples of the way these texts are, to take another phrase from Ziegler’s introduction, ‘literary tricksters.’ An Anne Carson “Short Talk” appears, drawing the connection between speech and written anecdotes. Anne DeWitt’s “Influence” was a response to Esquire’s call for stories that could fit on a napkin, demonstrating how our quotidian realities inform current art.

Readers will likely be familiar with some of the texts included, or their respective authors. Baudelaire’s “Get Drunk”—so often quoted—is here, in its three-paragraph entirety. Max Jacob’s “The Beggar Woman of Naples” is heartbreaking, especially on the heels of Jacob’s “Fake News! New Graves!” Oscar Wilde’s “The Artist” is an arresting instance of gravity not always associated with the notorious wit. Other heavyweights are present—Stein, Borges, Davis, to name a few—but the best part of this book, aside from the fact that it all happens in one place, is the inevitable discovery of great writers. Though a fan of Edward Thomas, I hadn’t read “One Sail at Sea,” until Short. Dawn Lundy Martin’s quicksilver voice contributes “If there is a prayer…” and “Lazarus,” Liliana Blum’s first work to be translated into English, is here, raising its hand. I enjoyed Lord Dunsany’s “The Demagogue and the Demi-Monde,” and then learned he was an influence cited by H.P. Lovecraft, Tolkien, Borges and Neil Gaiman. Many anthologies focus on a single genre or form of short (prose poem, flash fiction, etc), but here we have access to a fuller spread—the etc. Additionally, Ziegler shines several ‘Spotlights’ in the author bio section, elaborating on several authors’ work and context. These add fascinating social, political, and personal dimensions to the reading experience, especially through periods before the internet was able to facilitate dispersion of art across oceans and borders. Factual snippets about the criss-crossing of literature over the world are like candy to the literary-minded—for example, we may learn that Baudelaire read Bertrand and Poe in Paris; Peter Altenberg read Baudelaire in Vienna; Franz Kafka read Altenberg in Prague—and the rest is history. More ‘Spotlights’ would be wonderful, though it’s surely a challenge to include as much as possible without things getting unwieldy.

The selection gets heavily American as the timeline pushes farther into the twentieth century (due partly to the proliferation of these forms in the U.S and possibly to the simple fact that this book was produced in America). Ziegler notes that there are reams of good shorts being produced elsewhere, particularly Latin America. As a whole though, the texts do span continents, and their collective presentation in English is eloquent testament to the magic of translation—and an argument for language learning. The chronological structure reminds us about the evolution of literary approaches and styles, tracing lines that help us develop a richer web of understanding. Short is also a fantastic kickstart for writers, creators, and teachers—interesting language and unexpected turns are antidotes to all kinds of creative blocks, as well as marvelous examples for the classroom. Similar volumes representing other areas of the world would be a welcome companion. In the meantime, we’ve got a lot to dive into.

Press: Persea Books, 2014
Page length: 354
Price: $16.95

 

 

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K.T. Billey moved from rural Alberta, Canada, to study poetry at Columbia University, where she is now a Teaching Fellow. Poems have appeared in CutBank, The New Orleans Review, Phantom Limb, Ghost Proposal, Prick of the Spindle, the sensation feelings journal, and H.O.W. Journal. Translations have appeared in Palabras Errantes. She is proud to be a Girls Write Now mentor.

CAConrad glasses

On September 5, 2014, NPR ran an essay by critic Juan Vidal titled, “Where Have All the Poets Gone?” which suggested that American poets no longer write political work. Because I find this assessment of contemporary American letters to be very incomplete, I wanted to take the opportunity to create a dialogue on the subject by curating a series of compelling political poems from contemporary American poets. I christened this series “Political Punch” as an affectionate reflection on the cocktail of poets who decided to honor me with their participation in my little Infoxicated Corner; it was intended to celebrate the glorious mix of poetics, voices, and life experiences all being shaken and stirred into a sense of community and conversation, being distilled into burning gulps of experience for the reader. Leaving aside all the boozed-up metaphors, it was also intended to celebrate my experience of American letters, in all their willingness and ability to pack a political punch. I’m very grateful and excited to begin by sharing this poem from the inimitable CA Conrad.

 

act like polka dot on
minnie mouse’s skirt

i am not a
family friendly
faggot i tell
your children
about war
about their tedious future careers
all the taxes bankrolling a
racist tyrannical military
i’m the faggot at
dinner asking to
be alone
with the
children
tell them their
future happiness
depends entirely
on how well they
cultivate rebellion against
any structure which
does not hold their
autonomy and
creative intelligence as a priority
CHILDREN your bliss is at stake
CHILDREN listen carefully for the
lies your parents tell you
CHILDREN prepare for joy in ways
none of them will ever imagine
prepare to live with no regrets

image

CAConrad’s PACE The Nation Project is touring the U.S. to ask poets how to repair our war-obsessed nation. He is the author of seven books including ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness (Wave Books, 2014), A BEAUTIFUL MARSUPIAL AFTERNOON (Wave Books, 2012) and The Book of Frank (Wave Books, 2010). A 2014 Lannan Fellow, a 2013 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2011 Pew Fellow, he also conducts workshops on (Soma)tic poetry and Ecopoetics.

diamond years

 

FOR LACK OF DIAMOND YEARS

BY CAROLINE BEASLEY-BAKER

ISBN 978-1938349096

NOVEMBER 2013

PELEKINESIS 

diamond years

As a literary person who became an art critic, the nexus of visual art and poetry has always been of interest to me. I have known Caroline Beasley-Baker as a painter; now I know her also as a poet. 

In Beasley-Baker’s visual art—in all of its diverse forms—I always saw a perceptually acute link between the visual and myth. In his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Ernst Cassirer describes how visual feints and impressions, physiognomies (seeing faces in things), fears, animation of the inanimate, and conceptual reversals begin; how nervous ticks comprise the human fight-flight physiology.  He describes how epiphanies were experienced and then clarified over time  as the presence of a god (or “temporary gods”) emerged, places subsequently becoming sacred as shrines.

In secular life, such huhs? are often the result of mishearing something, of making a sudden new connection between two odd things, or having a little insightful eureka. Recent neuroscience has found support for Cassirer’s linking of  sight and myth to the study of how humans figure out the world; to how–from purkinjee trees inside the eye to how we see during reverie to how early dysmetropsic misunderstanding of the world is processed through the eyes of a child–forms the basis of all later perception of the world.

In one statement about her poetry, Beasley-Baker said that in her youth she saw the world as a whole laid out below her, that when when she blinked she thought the world changed. These are classic ur-dysmetropsic events, which, if held onto and cultivated, lead to a distinctly personal culture and mythology which seeks to give voice to that seen reality. A poet like Pound, so responsive to Japanese calligraphy, to the haiku, and to other short forms of poetry, sought out poetry to put a visual sensation into something other than conventional words. He sought to give voice to the passing visual sensation of the world in the form of a kind of nervous gestalt beneath or before words. This line of poetry is grounded in sensation. As a result, it paradoxically, harbors an alexithymic suspicion that once you put a label on something you have gone too far and crushed the moment in its delicate passing (as so much lyrical and more confessional poetry, in my view, does). Indeed, much of such poetry has been written precisely in response to visual moments or visual art with the express purpose of not using denotative or even connotative words…but some other kind of word. 

Beasley-Baker was the only artist I knew who dealt with both the macro and micro dimensions of mythic perception (or, as Cassirer called it, “mythic thought”). Later, the titles of her works of art developed into little poems, and she began to put captions or titles into her meanders of lines too, right there in the painting. Her current poetry digs even deeper; it strikes me as what art historians are now calling sfogo (Italian for “steam”)… the little musings to oneself that accompany the making of a work of art; a kind of nonstop texting-below-texting that the mind in metacognitive itch continues on with as it will. Not the lecturey talkback run-on that keeps one from getting to sleep, but the dream-phrasings that incant over walks in the cold or in the dark—or being in the flow of making art. Beasley-Baker seeks to capture these odd, errant “what-made-me-think-of-that?” thoughts at a very micro level. I have called this voice of nature “nomos”, and find that it often takes form in visual art in words that rise out of the very surfaces of the facture of painting or as broken fragments of words: fractured, surgically transposing adjective, adverb, verb, noun moments into other figures of speech; making use of punctuation as if in a musical score, thus leaving behind a finely etched and lean transcript of a visual-mental response, given overvoice or underbreathvoice by the mind. A mental world of phenomenological ghosts (Husserl’s term) and a world made of metaphor, this is not a nexus that positivist categorical American art and American poetry have had much time for. But in John Donne, in Emily Dickinson, in folk song, and in the late work of the Beatles, even, the hesitant, immediately retracting, spelling it out, taking it all back (it all adding up, after such an emotional outburst, to precisely nothing) has sometimes taken shape.

You can see this worked out perfectly in Beasley-Baker’s For Lack of Diamond Years poems. When she puts a slash in, she is pulling up short, telling herself, maybe, to stop; when she hyphens words into supercompounds, that’s an emotional compression, a sudden transposition, a freezing, a making noun of verb, adjectives into an entity. Then an image will come and immediately bump up against another, then something else will block it, or counter it: all of this mental byplay between talking to oneself and telling oneself to stop doing that, to be silent, is there. Beasley-Baker, as a painter, knows that the best moments are the most fleeting and mythic; in her poetry, she seeks to enlist words against themselves to capture moments prior to words, so fleeting as to almost be an enunciated form of silence. Consider her description of a clock stopping after her father dies: “I found meaning and comfort in that ceasing moment, in that…..what? the breath between living and my imagining”.  There it is, right there. The title of her poems refers to “diamond” years, a reference to age, but also to precision, facets, carats, if you will. Her visual art has always had, in addition to larger scale meanders, and an overall almost maximalist quality, countless dispersals of micro moments too, many of them faceted by gems or things that shine or sparkle. It’s really very rare  for a visual artist to so completely translate or, more precisely, transcribe her visual sense into words. For this reason, for me, Beasley-Baker’s poems are a significant achievement.

 

BEND TO IT
BY KEVIN SIMMONDS
SALMON POETRY
2014
ISBN 978-1908836793

cover_bend

When the young Miyamoto Usagi (from the pages of the Stan Sakai comic Usagi Yojimbo) won his first tournament, his reward was a pair of swords. The katana was named “Yagi no Eda” (or ‘Willow Branch’); and the short sword was name Aoyagi, or Young Willow. His future lord and master Mifune explained that the willow bends so as not to break, and that strength isn’t just power but, perhaps more importantly, adaptation.

This comic book was essentially my main role, from days at Alta Vista elementary to my present as a semi-professional thirty-something. Pliability over strength and sacrifice are things I learned from Usagi, and thought about way too much as a teenager. I still ponder them almost daily, and clearly so does Kevin Simmonds, as evidenced by his new book Bend to It.

The cover depicts a tree under the kind of weight one might encounter in a hurricane, which Simmonds’s New Orleans is all too familiar with. But he’s no stranger to Japan either, as he splits his time between there and America. This collection of poems is sectioned off by kanji numbers, and often references Simmonds’s faraway home. Between Louisiana and Nippon, the author is drawing from a wide swatch of culture and voice, including but not limited to music and growing up gay.

Not that such things are totally disparate, but between the various subjects, epigrams, shifting title conventions and poetic structures, and sections, this book does begin to bend under a certain weight. Throughout it though, Simmonds balances it all with grace.

Off the bat he gives us wild, there:

wreckage is the lasting thing

||:  so mean its music:|| 

 

whatever vows you’ve made

cello them

 

sink your vowel

into them

An undulating sense of music is well-wrought through the lines in this opening piece, which Simmonds continues to use to great effect throughout the book. His strength lies in communicating the effects of music without getting bogged down in the particulars of it, in utility in the right symbols and references without overuse.

Immediately after this he moves on with longer, more narratively rooted poems, and throughout shuffles through these modes regularly. One doesn’t get the chance to become bored with any style, but neither are they afforded a longer meditation. The poems are for themselves, and as soon as you settle into a section it’s over.

Later we find Exegesis:

There was nothing trivial about the

Thai masseuse who slid his vertical

along my vertical, the power

outage, or those extra minutes

without charge. I cannot say he

wasn’t God. What I felt then, what

I feel with a man’s body on mine, is

holy, holy the way I imagine it is

right & without damage, worth

thanks & remembrance &

justification for.

A more personal, sensual poem, still jetsetting and musical. In the book things are forced into a justified column, giving rigid rules to a subject matter better interpreted loosely and interpersonally.  The alignment of verticals references the narrator’s desire to align with the world at large: spiritual synchronization. But at the same time it’s a self-justification. It is what it is, knowing right but excusing that correct feeling as well. Though all contact is a form of damage, anything else is a wistful request.

The negotiation between contact and damage, yearning for what you love but in so yearning causing harm, threads throughout the book. Maybe it’s more a matter of time than interaction. Bend to It, a little wildly at points, swings to and fro as if buffeted by a hurricane. But Simmonds certainly does not break, and gives us a book of perseverance; and in that survival, between moments of confusion or abuse or damage, an exploration of the joy found in small moments of peace.

Today I am going to speak on a panel in front of graduate students discussing publication. I was surprised when I was asked, but found out I was third or fourth choice (I suspected that) when other professors turned it down. I will go inspite of the fact that, at the moment, I can’t speak above a whisper (should be OK with a mic) and even though most of those students are immured in careerism. I will go because they are immured in careerism, and do not care for anything except how and where to publish. Well, they do, but you’d never know it. Everything they want me to tell them is already available in dozens of books on how and where. There’s even a spot on line that gives all the ratios of publications , breaks it all down,and analyzes in almost sabermetric like detail. I will be facing Ivan Ilyich everywhere–no Tolstoys. Now when one has lived to the ripe old age of 55, one should expect Ivan Ilyich everywhere–the professional, the careerist, the one who plans his future to the last detail. Unlike Tolstoy’s Ilyich, most Ivans never get a mysterious but fatal disease. They don’t have conversion experiences. They die as neatly and as normally as they have lived–as Rilke put it–in 800 beds. They fill our best magazines and our best presses, and they don’t care if no one one cares as long as the few right people care, and sometimes any faculty news list sounds like Diane Chambers, the pedantic bartender from the old show Cheers, attempting to do an intellectual’s version of rap boasting: and I am in this top magazines, and I just did this and I just did that. And (Sprewell wheels, Sprewell wheels, Sprewell wheels!) I hate it. If I hate it, then it must be inside me. We only hate that which is inside us and we disown it at our peril. Tolstoy and the aristocracy hated the vulgar ambitions of the middle class because the Nobility was fading and part of them secretly wanted to hold on to the arts, and work in some capacity, and part of them was loathe to admit their art and culture had been built on the shit and sweat of serfs. They saw themselves as one with the land and one with their serfs, and the last thing the rising middle class wanted to be was poor and “one” with the serfs. The middle class sees clearly. They know what being one with the serfs really is. So it goes.

Hate does not come from God; it comes from some part of us that secretly shares in the crime by which we are outraged. No moralist is from God. Moralists are from 2-year-olds outraged that “Tommy did that!” When the middle class hates the poor it is because part of them is still back there and terrified of making a return visit. I do not hate the poor because I was raised to believe a life of art and the mind is available to all. I still believe that: I am thick headed. Success in the arts however is largely based on some talent for being a careerist–a subtle one, even an overt and obvious one. This is not the arts; it’s the art biz. part of me is a snob, too regal to embrace careerism and professionalism. This is wrong of me.If I would be fair, then I must admit that my parents raised me to think poetry was a given, painting, and dance, and music were a given. They belonged to me as well any other congressman or cuff, and they had nothing to do with wanting to be successful. I suffered from the delusion that I was already successful. Wasn’t I loafing on a sofa with tears streaming down my face because I had heard Elgar’s cello concerto for the first time? Wasn’t that the best sort of success–the success of transport? Didn’t I contain such depths, such sensitivity, such grace? Art and success were not even linked in my mind, and having a “career” in the arts seemed so distant from being an artist that I hardly connected them. You could work in a grocery store all your life and play Casale’s Cello Suites, couldn’t you. Why not?

I was not a utilitarian. Art was beyond both failure and success. So, I saw it in a very Russian way I suppose. Even though I am a factory worker, the son of a factory worker, there is a great deal of hothouse flower in me. My mother and father let me be languid in the parlor, listening to Chopin Nocturnes played by Dinu Lipatti while the dust motes settled on all their glass swans and beat up furniture. A part of me was an aesthete. It is the aesthete in me that hates publication and literary business talks. They are vulgar. They are of the factory–filled with purposeful, pragmatic people who maybe are more determined than talented. The fact that the determined beat out the talented appalls me. I forget that professionalism and careerism is also a talent: the talent for doing everything the right way. It is not Proust hanging out in a parlor. It is Zadie Smith going to Harvard and then hanging out in a parlor where she may not have been welcomed sixty years ago. I forget that shrewdness and stealth are virtues. I am limited as all people are by my particular brand of snobbery.

I didn’t go to Harvard. I did however, hang out in parlor with people who went to Harvard,sand, since I was no threat to them, we had a jolly time. The grad students were right to ask me only as a last ditch alternative. I’m a mess when it comes to being a careerist.They are professionals and their professors are professionals. I am a professional only in so far as I know a lot about poetry–its technical aspects, its history. I also know music, and painting. If I had been a woman inthe 19th century, I would have made some rich man a good wife. I’m a generalist. When it comes to publications, I fell into that, and , I am woefully ignorant. I believe most poems and stories are published because they fit a niche or fulfill the requirements of a code language for what is, at the moment, considered “quality work.” This code is hardly ever accurate as per art. It is highly accurate as per prevailing tastes.. Publication is an accurate measure of a standard mold set–not art. Factor X–that which makes living art–is the rare accidental catch in the net of publication. Oh see that glistening fish? It has beautiful scales and great fighting ability. We caught that without intending to. (no one admits that). Art is an accident that happens when one is allowed to loaf at ease and read Keats, and write many bad poems–without pressure. How can I tell the grad students that? They have to publish And for whom? Increasingly, programs are becoming 20 adjuncts and a celebrity hire. Increasingly, all the top magazines run contests, and winning a contest becomes everything. The parlor has become a factory. Tolstoy would be appalled. AWP would make him puke. It makes me puke, but I went this year. I was terrible at it, and didn’t schmooze. I may be known for my mouth but I am actually shy and terrible at chitchat. This is one thing I know: while you can’t ignore the business, but you die if you forget the parlor. Unfortunately, I think most people want to be comfortably dead instead of uncomfortably alive. Even I am attracted to it.. The parlor is not the given. You can’t take grad school or time spent with fellow artists for granted. How much time do you spend with friends talking about books or painting or music when you don’t have to? It’s an important question. Constructive sloth is vital. Everyone I know who is truly successful , including former students, knew how to waste time. How do you waste your time? When you aren’t being busy, or purposeful or submitting work, what do you do? It may seem like a stupid question, but I know what I do: I write a poem or play the piano, or listen to someone play, I read poems. I write essays on Facebook that will never be read by a larger audience. I do a lot of things for nothing. What do you do for nothing?That is a question for the soul. I am worried about a country in which no one does anything for nothing (instead they do it for slave wages and call it a career) I am worried for a country where a Reggie who loves free jazz just for the hell of it is no longer possible. He was our true and intelligent audience, but we ignored him. He didn’t count. How do you know at age 20 or 30 or 40 who doesn’t count? Who taught you such stupidity?You write only for other writers?. I am worried about a country in which everyone is a careerist. I am concerned about what I see as a sort of professional version of sociopathy. But I am also a working stiff, and I understand you need a job. Art is tied to economics like everything else. To actually starve is stupid, but to believe too much in being successful is also stupid. Believe in meaningful work and look for it–both from yourself and from others, and be willing to be shocked when it comes from an unlikely place.

Other than that, remember you are going to die, no matter how many awards you win, and you will spend large parts of your life forgetting that. Careerism is only evil if it makes you forget first and last things, for art comes from the contemplation of first and last things–lasting art. Not that a careerist believes in lasting art. A careerist believes in the moment and in a future he or she can control. He or she believes in craft talks and seminars. I am still in the parlor on the verge of tears because I am hearing Schubert’s Lieder. It is hard to hear Schubert when you are bragging about your latest publication. This is not because I am a better person. It is because I am wilfully ignorant and stupid.It is because I was raised to constructive sloth, and vital undirected transports of the spirit. I am porbably bi-polar.My parents were probably bi-polar. I probably have a brain that sees significance in the weirdest places. I also spent 21 years in a factory. I know what a factory is. A university is often a factory. Publication is often a factory. No one wants that–not even the careerists, but shit happens. I am reaching an age where I want to return to the parlor. My students are too young to stay there. They think there are better places to be (and they are probably right), or they want to be in more exclusive parlors watching famous people chew overpriced food… When you are old, you will long to have a decent conversation with someone–something beyond the business. Only those who know how to waste time will waste time on you. At least I hope so. I don’t like to go to author’s dinners because the conversation is always tepid and boring. That’s how professionals talk. They keep the good stuff for the books.

I am dying for a good conversation and I won’t get one here. In the information age, talk is cheap unless its info. I am not an A student type. No one ever clapped because I jumped through a hoop. No one ever fed me a fish. “Weil, you dumb ass, I told you to sharpen all the drills to a 135.” I have lived there all my life and still do. A day after my surgery, no one at the university asked me how I was doing. They asked if I’d finished judging the fiction contest no one else wanted to judge. It hurt, but so fucking what? Suck it up and get back to your machine.