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Chris Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

To Hold the Body in My Hand

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

bodies everywhere exposed
to their own being.

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

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

Unnamed

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 
 
Love

A cardboard sign
climbing through
thunder-

clouds
on the bumper
of a flying

car
that reads
‘tag applied for.’
 
 
 
Manuscript

Slain
love

breathing
dragons.
 
 
 
Human Nature

How large
how well
a perfume

that smelled
like wind
would look

blowing through
the hair
of suffragettes

would sell
looms.
 
 
 
Reading

Biting in-
to a mirror

plated apple.
Finding out

the apple is
mirror all

the way to the core.
 
 
 
Little Children Riding Dogs

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

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

Five poems from Winter
 

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

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

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

in the orchard

*

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

**

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

***

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

****

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

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

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

Usual Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sub-Sexual Proctor

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

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

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

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

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

You’re in love. The problem is, you haven’t told the girl, and your brain and your heart have different ideas about how to proceed. Brain vs. heartis a dialog between the brain and the heart of one man as he attempts to “make the move.” Both indulgently prosaic and absurdly poetic, with plenty of in-jokes for computer nerds and literature nerds alike, this beautiful chapbook will make you laugh, cry, and/or hate the authors.

LO-RES Chap
MED-RES Chap
HI-RES Chap: Coming Soon
This book is also available in print here (at cost).

Though this digital chapbook is free, you may want to…

About the authors…

Christopher Robinson is a writer, teacher, and translator (And illustrator? This is his first stab at it) currently living in the wind. He earned his MA in poetry from Boston University and his MFA from Hunter College. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Alaska Quarterly Review, Night Train, Kenyon Review, Nimrod, Branch Magazine, Chiron Review, Umbrella Factory, McSweeney’s Online, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Sante Fe Art Institute, the Lanesboro Arts Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He has been a finalist for numerous prizes, including the Ruth Lilly Fellowship and the Yale Younger Poets Prize.

Joe Moon is your typical preterite (in Pynchon’s religious sense, not the grammatical one) immigrant combat veteran with a literature degree. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife Bev and works for AppFog. He writes about technology and other things on his blog and occasionally contributes to the Atlantic Monthly’s Technology Channel. He is otherwise occupied riding his bicycle and climbing rocks.

Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson discuss Weldon Kees’s poem “1926.”

Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson discuss Thomas Lux’s poem “Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy.”

Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson discuss Czeslaw Milosz’s poem “Late Ripeness.”

Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson discuss Czeslaw Milosz’s poems “On Prayer” and “And Yet the Books.”

Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson discuss Heather McHugh’s poem “I Knew I’d Sing.”

Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson briefly discuss baseball haiku.

Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson briefly discuss Terrence Hayes’s poem “Talk.”

Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson discuss William Matthews’s poem “Cheap Seats.”

Poetry Fix Episode 9: Seamus Heaney’s “Digging.”

Episode 8 of Poetry Fix now available.