Note: Readers of "astrological profiles" know that the use of astrological terms is laid on pretty thick but with tongue in cheek, firmly so, on the nervy assumption that the horoscope -- like the "haruspicate or scry," "sortilege, or tea leaves," playing cards, pentagrams, handwriting analysis, palm-reading, and the "preconscious terrors" of the dreaming mind in T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" -- may be a bust at prediction bur may turn out to be not only "usual pastimes and drugs" but the means of poetic exploration.
Born in Brooklyn Heights on July 16, 1907, Barbara Stanwyck was an atypical Cancer, with both her moon and her rising sign in Virgo. Gemini, the sign of the twins, rules her midheaven. A talented actress (Mercury in Leo), she was able to project a wide variety of women -- a paranoid hypochondriac, a confidence artist, a calculating femme fatale, an unflappable witness to a murder -- in modes tragic or comic.
According to Isaac Babylon in The Charts of the Stars, his classic study of six Hollywood starlets from the 1940s (Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Irene Dunne, Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford), Stanwyck's Virgoesque self-restraint combined with the gush of watery emotion that comes from having not only her sun but her Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune in Cancer. She was a good businesswoman (Mars in Capricorn) but prone to morbidity (Saturn in Pisces).
The actresses of the 1940s – we can add Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell to Babylon’s list -- belie the notion that women born before the age of female enlightenment lacked strong models who could either keep their families together despite the stresses of war or be psychiatrists, reporters, con artists; they could solve murders or commit them, could go crazy, could run a restaurant, pack a gun, slap her daughter, commit adultery, or risk her life as an American agent in South America during World War II.
Barbara Stanwyck came from a working class background. She went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. Thanks to shrewd investments (Mars in Capricorn) she grew rich. It figures that she never won an Oscar though she was nominated four times. Her real name was Ruby Stevens. She was hilarious in “The Lady Eve” and superb in “Golden Boy.” She helped William Holden get the title part and became Holden's lucky star. He was crazy about her as photos taken on the set of “Executive Suite” attest. In 1939 she married Robert Taylor. Whisperers said it was a sham designed to get gullible people to believe the two stars were heterosexual. Taylor was four years younger than Stanny. "The boy's got a lot to learn and I've got a lot to teach," she said. She kept the ranch and horses when they divorced in 1951. Robert Wagner said he had a four-year affair with her. Could be.
Stanwyck had a sharp tongue. She defined "egotism" as "usually just a case of mistaken nonentity." She had a proud notion of her true worth. "Put me in the last fifteen minutes of a picture and I don't care what happened before. I don't even care if I was IN the rest of the damned thing. I'll take it in those fifteen minutes." During the filming of Double Indemnity, the Billy Wilder masterpiece, she says that her co-star, Fred MacMurray, would look at the rushes every day. Babs would say, "How was I?" And Fred, perhaps in keeping with their dialogue in the movie, would reply, "I don't know about you, but I was wonderful!" Actors look only at themselves.
On the day we visited, Stanwyck, a self-described "tough old broad from Brooklyn," took one look at the script and started laughing. What's the matter? "Be a good lad and re-fill my glass. Scotch, rocks, no water. You know what my biggest problem is? My biggest problem is trying to figure out how to play my fortieth fallen female different from my thirty-ninth."
For writers travel happens often in both a real and literary space. I always try to track down poetry from wherever I'm going, and sometimes I read novels, essays, blogs. Of course there is always the sketchy narrative presented by Rough Guides which define so many trips from town to town, organized by region-- where to stay, how to order a beer, what history is most important, what to avoid, where to be sure to eat.
Sometimes I enjoy the travel guides, and other times I avoid them because I want to form my own opinions about new landscapes and looming cultures. I try not to fool myself into believing that reading the Rough Guides makes me somehow more authentic a traveler than someone who reads a Michelin guide. Guides are guides. As has been so famously said in other contexts, a map is never the territory.
I'm very interested in the territory and know when I have wandered into it. Sometimes it's an observed space, as it was watching the old man carry his ruck sack into the train station in the Alps; and other times it's a mundane scene as we witnessed when the Austrian daughter left her demented mother in the coach across from us and we watched the old woman go through her purse over and over for hours. She stayed put and before we crossed into Slovenia someone came on the train to get her.
Often I'll read books that don't have a direct connection to exactly where I'm going, but will give me some deep background and present perspectives I didn't expect. When I traveled in China I read a series of books about Americans teaching abroad. I also read an anthology of classic Chinese poetry in translation that had no bearing it seemed on today's Shanghai. When I traveled to Zimbabwe I read the story of a famous local Bishop of the Methodist church and his struggle to maintain a moderate position during the period of nationalism and revolt, but I also returned to a beloved collection of African praise poems.
This trip my parallel reading for southeast Europe was English writer Patrick Leigh Fermor's Between the Woods and Water, one of the books many say is among the best travel writing ever. The book is part of a series by the recently deceased Fermor (who died in 2011 in his 90s), a recreated account of his 1933 walk as a young man from Amsterdam to what he persisted in calling "Constantinople" (of course, now Istanbul). Fermor's book fit me nicely. He's a master at weaving personal narrative, thumbnail sketches of characters he meets along the way, and defining histories of "middle Europe" as he passes through-- Budapest, the Great Hungarian Plain, Transylvania, the Carpathian Uplands.
As we rode the train toward Zagreb, and then on to Split and the Adriatic, I read Fermor's lovely sentences and began to form some ideas about being European I'd never considered before. To live in Europe over time is to dwell between invasions. Fermor mostly follows the course of the Danube on his walk, and along the way recounts the waves of Greeks, Goths, Huns, Slavs, Romans, Germans sweeping back and forth across the plains and mountains of Eastern Europe and the Balkans through the centuries. With each wave, there follows pillage and plunder. Languages shift and even disappear. Churches are reduced to piles of stones and ashes, then rebuilt. Frontiers flux. Cultures change their orientation, east to west, west to east. Nobody ever forgets, and everyone waits for the next disaster, only seven years in the future after his 1933 walk. "Every part of Europe I had crossed so far was to be torn and shattered by war," he writes, knowing all the friends he'd met would soon enough be "vanished into sudden darkness."
As we entered Croatia I thought about the darkness that had raged through their country only two decades earlier. Would we see any signs of this, or would the waves of industrial tourism now beginning to sweep the Croatia have blotted the war all out?
"Travels like these are times of such well-being that spirits soar," Fermor wrote as he was exiting Transylvania, "and this, with the elation of being on the move again..." I felt the same way as the train inched down valley of the Sava toward the capital.
I was relieved when, as we approached Zagreb, Croatia looked calm and serene. There was a sense of the old way still hanging over the rail system, as we clanked along. We passed little villages with red tile roofs and isolated rail stations where station masters waited on the platforms for the train to pass. They all wore red hats.
We are rolling through the Slovinian alps and I'm listening to Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark on my iPod-- "I'm always running behind the times, just like this train..." and the 1970s lyrics are lining up perfectly with the way I'm feeling in the summer of 2014, writing in my old-time travel journal, reading poetry, talking on and off with my wife as the hours click past ("settle into the clickity-clack..."). I'm feeling quite old school, two weeks without email, looking out the wide window and occasionally taking pictures:
And other times just of how the light falls Or some strange track-side architecture Or red locomotives on another track headed the other way
Or an alpine valley so deep and beautiful I want crawl out the window
Sometimes I draw little pictures of things I see in the distance so I can remember-- churches with steeples the shape of onions, signs, the contrast between mountains and sky.
Other times I just keep notes, writing down lines of poems I'm reading from a book of poems by Tim Liburn and start thinking about one of his ideas: "homesteading in otherness." I'm trying this homesteading as I move through this landscape, using my journal as a way to settle for a moment on what passes, what shifts by in the window square. Tim Lilburn's all about attention and so in the margins of my journal I write down the name of every station we pass through and how many hours we've come since Frankfurt, and how many we still have to go before we get to Zagreb: Jesenice, Lesce-Bled, Krang, and Ljububljana: This is the beginning of two weeks of travel, and I plan to blog it when I return, so I'm taking good notes and thinking about it all as I go. The destination is Croatia and everyone is interested in why we're going there. Mostly it's because of the beauty and the surprise of new places. But I'll try to go deeper than that as we move along. It's also because I haven't ever been this deep into Europe and I want to see it to feel it. Tomorrow we'll be on a train again this time bound for Split on the Adriatic Sea. When we get there we'll be "scraping into town with the brakes complaining," just like Joni says. For now it's just Slovenian valleys after valleys opening up like doors. This one reminds me of Yosemite and I wonder what's over there beyond that anvil of a mountain. Maybe next time we'll get off here and go up there. Until then it's onward toward Croatia!
Now the grandsons have a job they can do.
Are they paint or shadow?
There is something of the swan about them.
Are there birds on the horizon?
Clouds of black rise from their shovels,
perhaps believers, or sandflies
or grains of sand. Clouds of
alphabet, impossibly sad faces and someone
struggling up out of them with a guitar.
Perhaps this is Christ himself.
There are black crowds and white crowds.
A man with his ear pressed to a cold mirror.
Are those squalls, or a cling
of tiny black mussels on rock
sharp little barnacles?
In the sky there are muscular men holding each other
or they are holding a baby
or they are holding each other as they would a baby.
They walk and wheel away.
New ones take their place, dust devils,
the earth is sand here.
An older couple like Roman numerals
in volkswagen green cardigans.
Spilled cream or cordial a day later.
This is the face of an old man held in his own hands.
The floor is so cold it could be old cocoa.
This is a naked man trying to squat
a naked man trying to get up from squatting.
This is people gathered, beast-like,
their bent heads have leaves for ears.
Born in 1968, Hinemoana Baker is a prodigiously gifted singer/songwriter/poet of Maori and European descent. Written in memory of a family member, ‘Burial’ draws its almost calligraphic imagery from Colin McCahon's littoral painting Walk (Series C) (1973)--a frieze-like evocation of Muriwai Beach, near Auckland. McCahon's painting, accompanied by some responses by other New Zealand poets, can be found here: http://arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/walk-with-me. The final line of Baker's poem alludes to the Maori tradition whereby the family of the deceased wear tightly woven wreaths of kawakawa leaves around their heads. She has made numerous recordings and written three collections of poetry, most recently waha / mouth (Victoria University Press, 2014)--further information go here. Her first collection, matuhi / needle (co-published in the United States by actor Viggo Mortensen’s Perceval Press in 2004) contains one of the most succinct sporting poems ever written in New Zealand:
he needs to let the game go
he needs to go back to Townsville
he needs to know we didn’t drive seven hours
to listen to him play his whistle.
This week we welcome back John Lane as our guest author. John is a professor of environmental studies and director of the Goodall Environmental Studies Center at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. His latest book of poems is ABANDONED QUARRY: NEW & SELECTED POEMS (Mercer University Press, 2011) which won the SIBA Poetry Prize (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance). In October New Native Press will publish his new collection THE OLD ROB POEMS. He is a frequent contributor to the BAP blog. www.kudzutelegraph.com
The most marvelous seduction poem in the English language combines the logical precision of the mathematician with the wit of a courtier and passion of a lusty lover. Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" has wowed a regiment of English majors, generations of suitors and their valentines since it was written 3 1/2 centuries ago. T.S. Eliot liked it so much that he raided it twice, lifting an image for "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and lampooning a couplet in "The Waste Land."
Marvell (1621-1678), one of the great mystery men of English letters, lived a shadowy life on the continent that led to speculation that he was a spy or double agent. An avid fencer, he impressed his friend John Milton with his command of foreign languages. For 20 years he served as a member of Parliament. His poems operate on "metaphysical" conceits, metaphors exquisitely spun out. Some of the poems achieve a maximum of intellectual complexity and ambiguity.
Cori A. Winrock’s first book, This Coalition of Bones, debuted from Kore Press in April. Her poems have appeared in (or are waiting in the wings of) Anti-, the Best New Poets anthology, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, From the Fishouse and elsewhere. She won the 2012 Summer Literary Seminars’ St. Petersburg Review Award and is a recipient of a Barbara Deming Individual Artist Grant. She just finished her third year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry at SUNY Geneseo. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and their daughter Sallie.
(Photo by Lindsay Crandall)
Your first book, This Coalition of Bones, was published this year by Kore Press. What can you tell us about this collection’s themes and goals?
The book is split into four different sections that use various types of portraiture to investigate the mutable records of memory, the body, the archive of domestic spaces/relationships, and the self. There’s a mixture of fragment and form in my exploration of the internal versus the external as well as embodied opposites: memory as a physical entity and anatomy as an emotion. The poems also focus on other kinds of transformation and transfiguration: iron-jaw artists, anatomical models, and magicians become part of the everyday while factories and suburban families are uncovered as curiosities. The manuscript was a finalist for a number of contests and Kore picked it up in its 2011 competition, so I have actually been in a liminal space waiting for the book to come out and simultaneously writing new poems. It’s thrilling to finally have it floating around in the universe! As I head off to give my first readings for the book I’m having a sort of reconnection-celebration with the pieces—which feels like enacting some of the memory elements that the book confronts.
Something that I find particularly interesting in your work is a mixture of images from the natural world with images from domestic spaces. Often, this creates a stunning surreal effect, as in “Hospital Bed in Early December Woods”. How do these two realms, which some people might think of as disparate, converge in your mind, and what is the relationship between them in your work?
I have been interested in exploring what constitutes the borders of the internal versus the external for a while. In part this stems from a background in neuropsych that propelled me in my first collection to consider the anatomy of memory and the body as merging with landscape and relationships and domestic spaces. I only recently realized just how much I am compelled to both microscope and amplify the domestic (or internal) through a framework of the natural world (the external) and vice versa.
The initial concern of my more recent poems, the political/gendered/mythological representations of marriage roles, was dislocated quite a bit by the unexpected death of my mom. As my grieving unfolded in language, a lot of my lines started slow-transforming into explorations of contemporary elegy. In particular this has taken the shape of a kind of postmodern pastoral elegy—not so much focused on the more traditional idyllic life of the natural world in connection to death but on placing the domestic space in a pastoral stetting in order to mourn a loss in a more public way: to expose the private sufferer, to make mourning accessible in a literal sense: a kind of bereavement you could physically happen upon.
What I found so astonishing about grieving such an up-close loss was how I could find myself, fully and unbidden, returned to the particular theater of trauma at any given moment. I have done a lot of traveling and stayed in some fantastical, inspiring, and scary-beautiful places, but I can’t think of anywhere that is more of an un-believable panorama than the Emergency Room/ICU: people are either revived or not. If I hear an ambulance, or see one driving on the highway, scenes from the hospital and all that anxiety seem to grow up around me in a tangible way. There’s a kind of post-traumatic stress to an unexpected and bodily death. I could be anywhere and feel I was in the somatic and emotional space all over again: in the woods I am also in the ER; in my car, I am also inside the back of the ambulance in front of me; in the grocery store I’m in the waiting room. This feeling of an intense and intimate scene emerging in and around me mimics what it is for me to enter a poemscape—walking into a space where language and lyric infrastructure materialize around me. In mixing the domestic and the natural I want to generate the sensation of finding oneself in two seemingly disparate places at once in real time, in the body of the speaker and in the body of the poem. There’s a kind of fairytale quality to trauma I’d like to capture—how it recurs and revolves and repeats with slight variation. The bone house, how it cathedrals in our grief and keeps it from rattling about at others. But I’d like those skeletons to be allowed out.
Sometimes poetic devices like surreal imagery and stacked metaphors allow for a certain degree of tonal distance, yet many of your poems use these devices while also employing first person pronouns and direct addresses to an intimate “you.” How do you think the confessional mode is complicated by lyricism, fragmentation, and surreal imagery? Is the distinction between a confessional or autobiographical “I” and a lyric “I” important for your work?
I’m intrigued by the act of trying out a craft technique that is historically associated with one outcome to see if I can create an altered outcome. I think a continuous alchemy of image can also be used as a way of creating emotional intimacy—of getting at the speaker’s internal state in a tangible/externalized way. As an image shifts and shifts again, it is possible to appreciate more and more of how a speaker identifies or reacts to the both the internal and the external landscape. In my first collection, this move aims to capture a self or a relationship at a particular transformative moment in memory or body—a kind of flashpoint. In my current poems I have been exploring how stacking metaphors and fragmentation can create a sense of intimacy truer to understanding a geometry of loss.
The elegies I’m writing are personal and connected to my own experience of anguish, but there needs to be something more at stake—my speakers still need to startle/surprise me (and the audience) with their decisions and actions. If I felt super wed to the autobiographical-confessional mode I would miss out on what it is to write into the unknown—to find myself wondering if my speaker can actually undress the body of a loved one who is not her lover. As a non-autobiographical self, the poem’s speaker is free to do what I, or others, may not or could not do. So I’d say the poems are pushing for a kind of hybrid confessional-lyric. I’m attracted to the illumination or exposure of the private sufferer without relying strictly on the factual. I crave something beyond an approached emotional proximity—I want the audience to be entangled, to be both the speaker and the body of the dead, the vessel toward which the speaker is grieving. Choosing a direct “you” also allows me to implicate the audience—to see themselves as the deceased, not just to relate to the living speaker: to blur the boundaries of who is the survived and who is the dead. I want the “you” I am addressing to be the person I am elegizing and also not—even though it means that I must over and over find her dead. There’s a sort of acceptance and denial in choosing this kind of address. To be surprised again that someone is gone.
I am also thinking of elegy in the traditional sense, as a song of lament—one that, as in ancient Greece, was antiphonal—could touch on the personal (via the lead singer) as well as on the communal response (via the chorus and the community itself). Often, when someone was asked to compose a song of lament, it would not be sung until the next death occurred—so the elegy read was actually meant for another. This forwarding of the personal appeals to me. I want to be able to play all the roles, I guess. And for the audience to as well.
Who are some of your literary influences, and what are you currently reading?
Part of my interest in dissecting the confessional and lyric “I” as well as using the continuously alchemized metaphor comes from being a Plath scholar. I taught a major authors course on her last year and spent a lot of time pressing against the view that Plath is confessional—I just don’t agree that she is in the classic sense. While her speakers at times seem intimately confessional I don’t think they represent a singular, or autobiographical-authorial self.
As I talked about a bit already, I think contemporary poetry has a real space for doing wild things with the form of the elegy. I’m currently compulsive-researching and absorbing anything I can connect to this exploration—from the more traditional Greek elegiac couplet to John Donne to Emily Dickinson to contemporary influences such as Aracelis Girmay, Tracy K. Smith, Anne Carson, Anna Journey, Corey Van Landingham, Rebecca Lindenberg, and Eleni Sikélianòs. I’m also reading mouthfuls of pastorals and postmodern pastorals—the contemporary apocalyptic landscape in these appeals to me, having grown up watching the aftermath of industrial railroad/canal towns in upstate New York as they went to seed: blocks of only bars and churches make for their own kind of sorrow.
My craft and elegy obsessions are currently crossing streams as a series of poems structured around Francesca Woodman’s photographs, specifically her notebook Some Disordered Interior Geometries. I see her take on the self-portrait as less about confessing something personal so much as using her body to stage something, allowing for an estrangement from her self. In her photographs she also uses a shared vocabulary of props that had already been cropping up in my poems—gloves and mirrors and various heirlooms—as amassed metaphors. Finding her work a few years ago felt like finding a visual version of the poems I wanted to be writing.
To be true to this hot second, here’s what is stacked on my office floor: the latest issue of Gulf Coast, Frances Justine Post’s Beast, Cole Swensen’s Gravesend, Bahnu Kapil’s Humanimal, Monica Youn’s Ignatz, Andrew Allport’s The Body | of Space | in the Shape of a Human, Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion, The Pocket Library: Poetry: Elegy and Hymns, M.H. Abrahams’ library copy of The Pastoral Elegy, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrl, Four Elemental Bodies by Claude Royet-Journoud, and The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons. Danielle Pafunda and Natalie Eilbert’s poems have been open in tabs on my computer for the last month.
The miracle of 3D printing has allowed us to replicate Van Gogh’s severed ear using DNA from his great-great grandson. The ear is now on display at the Centre For Art And Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, where patrons can ask it any question they like. What would you ask?
I’m curious what it might be like to be a one-way conduit between the living and the dead. But that feels too heavy. So instead:
If I cup your ear, like a shell, will you hear the ocean in my hands?
Finally, tell us something about this poem you’ve included below.
This poem was included alongside yours and the all-around fantastic poems in Best New Poets 2013. This piece is likely going to be the title poem for my current project. I stumbled across the word débridement a couple years ago and felt it captured a number of elements I was focusing on—to debride something means to remove damaged tissue or foreign objects from a wound, but it comes from the French unbridle and originally bride. As the poems I was writing began shifting more toward elegy the title seemed even more fitting. This piece is one of those rare ones that seemed to write itself, coming together in only a few drafts. It functions as a kind of craft-map for the obsessions I’m currently courting—the hybrid confessional-lyric, metaphor stacks, the domestic in the natural, and physically expansive lines; it also has direct links to the Francesca Woodman pieces and the use of the heirloom and props. Though the poem had already been published in Versal, I was terrified of sending it off to Best New Poets—I admire Brenda Shaughnessy something fierce and I didn’t want to face a rejection for a poem that felt so integral to my current poetic space. I got the email that the piece was chosen for the anthology the day I came home from the hospital with my first child—it felt like such a positive omen for the new poems.
When I find out I’m pregnant I bury my wedding dress
in the front yard—letting everyone in the neighborhood watch me
peel the blue satin over my head: my slipless figure & a shovel.
The school bus slowing its yellow dredge to witness the anxiety
of the uncovered. I dig a tunnel to my grandmother straight through
my mother—her old flowerbulbs empty rattles, their bodies now fists
in earth. I lick my ungloved hands & gather fragments of bone & leftover
teeth into my mouth. How else to feed the matryoshkaed body, its double
hummingbird hearts? Ashes. Ashes. In the tunnel I uncover a nightgown
I sloughed off as I lost my virginity to a song about elevens; crawl back into
its florals & incorporeal sense of expectation—the assistant’s glittering self
sawed open to applause. Down here my new cluster of cells can’t echo or mirror.
It lullabies me with replication. Tells me to revisit the rooms I flooded
just to peel off the wallpaper, to uproot the ugly azaleas from the family
before & before. When I arrive at my childhood I undress
the house like a wound.
--Cori A. Winrock, originally published in Versal, Issue 11 and reprinted in Best New Poets 2013
I watch a cat video and
Then Google a Japanese
Sex webcam but lest
I download a virus
I instead watch badgers
Cunningly escape their
Enclosure on Youtube.
On newyorker.com in vain
I search for a sentence from
An old John Updike story --
‘She saw that his death
Was not far off’ – and then
Watch Michael Jackson’s 1983
Moonwalk debut on Youtube.
I Google Diane Varsi
And on Wikipedia I read
How in high school she
Was branded an outcast
And was called an oddball
And on Youtube I watch
A clip of her in Peyton Place.
I briefly visit weather.com,
Watch another cat video,
Then on voyeurweb.com
I join the millions of viewers
Of the Freestyle Photo section
But decide that Voyeurweb is
Worse since the site was redone.
I Google Henry Howard
The Earl of Surrey, Pinky Lee,
Patsy Southgate, Selma Hyack,
Rabbi Louis Binstock, Earl Scheib,
And Maury Youmans, an obscure
Bears defensive end who played
College ball at Syracuse University.
Rudyard Kipling never Googled
Anything in his life but in 1897
He wrote our navies melt away.
Marry, ‘nuncle, the mind of man
Is what melts now! Cat videos,
Like the film Prehistoric Women
Of 1950 plus the 1967 remake
Are Googleable and viewable
On Youtube so can I Google
Laurette Luez and find out
Everything about her with
Photographs and even a pic
Of her grave? Let’s see. Yes!
It’s Throwback Thursday. For those of you who aren’t on social media, that means we all post Polaroids of ourselves in the ‘80s, or something like that. I wasn’t very interesting in the ’80s, since I mostly just ate fruit rollups and watched cartoons. So today I’m throwing way back to 2003, when I was a freshman in college—but also to the ‘60s.
News recently made the rounds that Anne Sexton won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry basically by default. According to David Trinidad, Chronicle of the Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry reveals that while she wasn’t at the top of any of the judges’ lists, she was the only one on whom they could all agree. Plath was also in the running, though she was dead by then. Of the comparison between the two, one of the judges, Phyllis McGinley, wrote “Both women are neurotics and their poetry is based on the fact.”
Confessional poetry gets a lot of flak for this very reason, and it’s often worse for female poets. It used to irk me that Plath and Sexton frequently got lumped together as “the suicide girls,” when they clearly had different styles and distinct voices. In the classroom, I saw their biographies too often overshadow their work. Why didn’t the same thing happen to John Berryman, who also committed suicide? Why didn’t W. D. Snodgrass’s Heart’s Needle get put down as simply neurosis in book form?
I was troubled mostly because I thought this biographical focus belittled these women’s work—and certainly biography can be used that way—but in truth, it was both Plath’s and Sexton’s reputations as suicide girls that initially appealed to me as a beginning poetry student. The first collection of poetry I bought was Plath’s Collected Poems. Sexton’s Selected was the second or third. Until I discovered them, I had some vague, unfortunate notion of poetry as a highfalutin genre of bald white men lecturing to me in rhymes about nature and the true meaning of life.
Whose life? Not mine, it seemed. I was a freshman in college, and I was in the middle of an emotional crisis (as most college freshman are). I felt like a failure for wanting to give up on my dream of becoming a painter. Everybody around me looked talented and happy. I was depressed, drinking a lot, and thinking about death often—not just practically, but also conceptually, which is important creative work. I didn’t want to be comforted (and when it comes to poetry, I still don’t). I wanted the dark, the dramatic, and the feminine.
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
(from Plath's "Tulips")
O little mother,
I am in my own mind.
I am locked in the wrong house.
(from Sexton's "For the Year of the Insane")
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
(from Sexton's "Her Kind")
When I read lines like these, I felt I had a stake in poetry. There was palpable frustration in these poems, and brashness channeled into imagery and music. Furthermore, these were women who had found success through their art not by ignoring their personal experiences, but by tapping into them. For me, that represented a new possibility for my own (troubled, female) voice.
I wanted the literary equivalent of PJ Harvey
I didn’t devote myself to Confessional poetry, but it was my entry point, and I think this is true for many young girls.That’s certainly not to say that one must be an angsty teen to appreciate Plath or Sexton, or that their work is immature, or that they should be grouped together as a matter of course. (Most poets would agree that Plath is a master of craft and language and should be studied as such.) I only mean to suggest that, while we shouldn’t always be reading poetry as memoir, thinking about poets’ biographies (including neuroses, suicides, etc.) is OK, and perhaps even beneficial for beginning poets—if it leads to further consideration of the work. Why avoid talking about these things (or anything) in art?
Furthermore, I think it would be a terrible thing to impress upon young poets the idea that any initial identification with a poet’s “neurosis” is amateurish or shallow. People identify with poets as people (rather than simply poets) for a number of reasons: race, class, gender, sexuality, culture, region. There’s nothing wrong with that, because of course, poets are people. Many students will get to know these poets’ work through stories of their lives (and yes, their deaths), and that's not always a bad thing.
For this reason, I also think it’s okay for beginning poetry students to write about their personal lives. Some instructors discourage this, but often there is rich material in students’ experiences that can be mined in a number of ways not limited to confessional poetry. (I understand the reluctance to read yet another cliché-laden breakup poem, but this is really a problem with form, not content). Remember what the second-wave taught us about the personal being political? Sexton’s Transformations poems blend childhood trauma (not limited to her own) with fairy tales to question cultural values and gender stereotypes. In “Lady Lazarus,” Plath uses the event of her suicide attempts to challenge readers’ notions of the confessional mode and provoke questions about the relationship of tragedy, poetry, gender, and exhibitionism. Using one’s personal experiences doesn’t preclude engagement with the world.
Tomorrow: My last post--an interview with poet Cori Winrock!
We need line 12 for our crowd-sourced sonnet!
'Tis a game anyone can play.
It elevates collaboration and chance to an esthetic dieal." -- Manny Kant
Here is where we are right now:
How like a prison is my cubicle,
And yet how far my mind can freely roam
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.
Say what must die inside that I may not
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon
Thence to the true hell: the heat of Tucson
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.
Freedom starts, or ends, with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope.
It's a game, a contest, a stunt, a cunning stunt, a lovely extroverted poetry pastime. Try it!
Kenneth Koch would have approved.
Today I’d like to focus on one of my favorite contemporary poets. Lo Kwa Mei-en is from Singapore and Ohio. She is the author of Yearling (Alice James Books, 2015), and her poems have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, and other journals. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about her work.
Your first book, Yearling, was recently selected as the winner of the Kundiman Prize, and will be published next year by Alice James Books. What can you tell us about this collection’s themes and goals?
Yearling is about adolescence and the transformative stuff that shapes it, so the book is obsessed with initiations, ordeals, and homecomings, or lacks thereof. The links between humanity and animality are a recurring theme, as is the question of how certain forces may grant or deny someone their personhood.
The greatest goal I have for Yearling is for it to sing, rather than to say.
Part of what I most admire about your work is what I see as a kind of maximalist sensibility when it comes to language--for example, the relentless texture and play in "Babel / Aubade". In a recent article for the Boston Review, Stephen Burt describes the "nearly Baroque" in contemporary poetry as “art that puts excess, invention, and ornament first.” Using this definition, do you see your own work as nearly Baroque (or dare I say, nearly nearly Baroque)?
Maximalism! I love it! Although the poems in Yearling owe a lot to those craft elements, I hesitate to just say “yes,” because unlike the poems explored in Burt’s essay, my poems are seriously untroubled by the question of whether poetry and/or beauty is useless for being devoid of utility (and therefore of societal worth.) Audre Lorde said that “poetry is not a luxury,” and I believe in that, for all of the reasons laid out in her essay of that same title.
That said, my most recent work (including the “Babel” series) might be flat out Baroque. Where the poets presented in “Nearly Baroque” make extravagant art “without adopting pre-modernist forms,” I am very much in love with inventions that are too old to have an author: heroic couplets, sestinas, abecedarians, and sonnet crowns have been on my mind. And while I also do not sound like Richard Wilbur, it is in part because I am still listening to Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Burt goes on to say that “these nearly Baroque poems bring to the surface questions about all elite or non-commercial or extravagant art.” How is this aesthetic related to the notion of accessibility in contemporary poetry? Do you think about accessibility in your own work?
“Nearly Baroque” raises the question of whether an extravagant poetics can be justified in a world ravaged by excess, and the idea of accessibility constantly asks if a poem’s beauty justifies its failure or refusal to result in a clear experience of the world for the reader. While “Nearly Baroque” takes ornamentation seriously as a craft element, both lines of inquiry suggest that beauty itself might be ornamental, extraneous to subject, substance, or even “truth.” This is a hugely important question for this era, and not just for poets.
I do think about accessibility—very much so—but not in terms of the binary of “Is it?/Is it not?” (The unspoken question that I think should come after that is “To whom is this supposedly accessible, and what assumptions am I making about their ability to access this poem?”) I am more interested in the huge range of experience that can be accessed or created with the craft and play of language, a range that I find to be greater than the perspective of any one poet or reader. I think this is because singing and saying offer up different thresholds and challenges and revelations to the reader.
In addition, issues of actual access, when held alongside how we talk about the aesthetics of (in)accessibility, change the conversation in difficult ways. I love Burt’s terms, because they suggest societal as well as poetic conflict. What is elite is by definition inaccessible, but what determines an elitist poetics? An anti-utilitarian aesthetic? What about a rhetoric that alienates people of color? How does VIDA’s work on gender and access to cultural capital change how we identify the root of literary elitism, or inaccessibility? If it’s a fondly-told joke that poets can’t make a living wage by publishing poetry, but we have developed a cultural economy in which we cite names of magazines and institutions in cover letters instead of our actual poems (can we imagine replacing the names of venues in which our poems have appeared or are forthcoming with the titles of our five strongest poems?), then by what definition of capital do we figure out whether a poet is commercial or not? I think it is because of the systemic concerns raised by Burt that we cannot determine accessibility on the basis of aesthetic sensibility alone.
Your poems also use persona and fairy tale & folklore motifs. What does your work gain from these added layers?
Received narratives and voices are, for me, as perversely, gorgeously full of potential as are received forms like the sonnet or sestina. They are ancient like a religious ritual is ancient. There are rules which the imagination must obey or break. We already know how the story ends (and why), so the myth of a poet’s originality is compromised from the get-go and the stakes are kind of insane, which is how I prefer to function if at all possible. Like a strong conceit, working in a fairy tale turns the creative work into a utopian act of commitment. I think that’s what any work gains from an acceptance of and attention to art that is so un-contemporary it does not even have an author. Go wild or go home.
Who are some of your literary influences, and what are you currently reading?
Some of my influences are Sylvia Plath, John Donne, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Terrance Hayes, and Emily Dickinson. As a pro-extravagancist, I could always give you more! I am reading Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire, Inger Christensen’s it, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy, Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, and Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion. I’ve been drawn to a lot of utopian or post-utopian works lately, with the exception of Charlaine Harris’s Living Dead in Dallas—I haven’t gotten to it yet and am not sure if Sookie Stackhouse is more of a dystopian or utopian figurehead.
The miracle of 3D printing has allowed us to replicate Van Gogh’s severed ear using DNA from his great-great grandson. The ear is now on display at the Centre For Art And Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, where patrons can ask it any question they like. What would you ask?
Where does it hurt?
Here's a poem from Lo Kwa Mei-en, first published in Crazyhorse.
Man O’ War
—November 1, 1947
Before a field locks its horizon in place. A martial
claw of cardinals freckles the sky half-red. Before
a sea change can bolt the chambers of your sixteen
-handed heart. The ghost of long grasses is hauling
behind it a blanket of perennial trophy. The meadow
ghost is so deep it turns itself out. Before the god
of the wild miles, of gorgeous and brutal unshod
grace can come for you, her flank as high as yours
and burning higher than the fires of photographic
light. Bulbs of velvet gold wink in the insect night
like meteors sailing, each mate a larval ocean
tossing beneath the constellation like your head
in a hold. The ghost of plateau says even the
chestnut blade of your face was, once, dirt of a star,
a bold specimen from a giant long gone. Before
the females feed knowing in the fields, unparallel
gods, early ghosts, slipping into dawn. You are old,
and slid into the stalls like a beloved bullet, and then
out. Out, out, a muddy track sparrow brightly
spat at you who will head stunning sons in what
nobody calls a circle. Nobody buys a singular loss
can saddle you to the knees. Before the god of war
you kneel in blown Kentucky blue, she a trigger, she
color of dove, of endless miles, her skull a moon
outstretched. Her nostrils at your neck bleed two hot
banners of breath. The grass sweats gold. Fences turn
to ghosts of mythic cost, padlocks for eyes. Before
your ghost can see right through them. A report of
wings leaps from the long sea of dawn and the god
-- Lo Kwa Mei-en
Yesterday I wrote about Rust Belt and ruin poetry mostly in terms of content and motifs, but today I’m thinking about form and style. What kinds of sounds and structures, for example, acknowledge and respond to post-industrial (or industrial) ruin?
The Hum of Jamaal May’s book (from yesterday's post) refers to a kind of music made by both man and machine, challenging the natural/manmade binary. In the post-industrial age, this binary is false, outdated, and irrelevant. Our food is engineered and chemically altered, our soil and water sources are laced with pipes, drills, wells, and fracking fluids (more hidden Gothic monsters). By the same token, however, our bodies are bolstered by titanium limbs and pacemakers, our pets are implanted with microchips, and we can replicate our cells in laboratories. For better and worse, we live in a hybrid world, and the natural is no longer strictly natural.
A post-pastoral poetics recognizes this. How is it reflected in form? Hybridity is one answer, but that can mean many things—blurred genre lines, multiple voices and modes of communication, aesthetic juxtapositions—which can look radically different.
In Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins (Norton, 2012), the post-apocalyptic world is rife with unsettling post-pastoral imagery:
His apiaries are empty except for dead queens, and he sits
on his quiet boxes humming as he licks honey from the bodies
of drones. He tells me he smelled my southern skin for miles,
says the graveyard is full of dead prophets.
. . .
When you ask about resurrection, he says, How can you doubt?
and shows you a deer licking salt from a lynched man’s palm.
(from "Our Bodies Break Light")
This last image can be read as hopeful, but it reveals (remember that an ‘apocalypse’ is an 'unveiling') a dark truth about the natural world: it thrives on death. In the literal sense, this is old news—animals kill and eat other animals, worms and vultures feed on corpses, decomposing organic matter nurtures soil and roots, etc. The newness of this image has more to do with its corruption of the Romantic notion of the pastoral as bucolic, nostalgic, a salve for urban industrial life. This is what Brimhall’s apocalypse (of war, of social or ecological collapse, etc.) reveals.
Joyelle McSweeney (who has written about the post-pastoral) incorporates post-pastoral ruin (of bodies) into her own apocalyptic vision. In her “King Prion” series from Percussion Grenade (Fence, 2012), mass production (of food) meets (meats) nature in the form of a prion, the type of fatally infectious protein that causes mad cow disease, a consequence of bad factory farming practices. The result is a musically frenzied voice that employs language as an infection, allowing each word’s sounds to spill into the next so that syntax and even meaning seem always in flux:
Crepe’d up a knife blade ladder on
Spectator shoes or gladiator sandals
Cut to the glut, Fata Androgyna,
To the fat of the matter.
The play of the form colonizes its content, mimicking the subject. The poem progresses lyrically more than logically. Likewise, linguistic mutations and lyric jump-cuts lead us through “What Work is by Philip Levine,” in which Levine’s old line of men waiting for work transforms into “a shipping line, corporate freight incarnate.”
And a vein is an artery of another color
but disguises itself when air touches it
like a server farm inside a shipping container
Knows no air
And ne’er shall be severed from its energy source
The laboring human body mutates into a server farm, veins and arteries into wires and data paths. The ‘ruin’ here looks shiny and modern, less like garbage—it is “the munificence/of a sucking century and its empty gold coat.”
I want to talk about this empty gold coat. We are surrounded by flashy products—disposable products so flashy that even our garbage glitters. In a poem that references Levine’s work, I can’t help but think about the irony in this fact, given the economic and ecological decay in which we live—due in part to the dysfunction of the post-industrial economic system, and in part to the product-obsessed culture born of that industrial economy in the first place. The gold coat is decadence in more than once sense.
It’s also an aesthetic. In his article on “the nearly baroque” in contemporary poetry, Stephen Burt describes an aesthetic “that puts excess, invention, and ornament first”—which, not so coincidentally, also seems likea great way to characterize consumer culture. All gold coat, no body—since the ‘natural’ human body seems almost obsolete. In the context of the poem, this image is post-pastoral, and in a way it is also baroque (perhaps more than nearly). If the (nearly or fully) baroque is concerned primarily with formal pyrotechnics, then it is a poetic manifestation of this age of artifice, overflow, and flashy junk. And if it is this excess that has created ecological, economic, and social ruin, then the baroque can be an aesthetic of ruin.
When I say ‘junk,’ it’s not an insult. I think there is room for quite a bit of variety in the category of the baroque, but McSweeney has made it clear that she wants to “go all the way”. Her voice is excessive, ecstatic, hyperactive, and in this way reflective of the things that fill her poems—infections, chemical irritants, consumer goods.
A baroque aesthetic can also say a lot about class—another connection to the post-industrial US economy, in which the middle class is forced by and large into the lower class. I use these terms in an economic sense, but there is, of course, another interpretation. As Johannes Göransson points out, the baroque is often thought of as tasteless (low-class).
Now, I’m not in the business of making manifestos, but an aesthetic that draws attention to formal excess in order to question the value of consumer culture, class distinctions, and cultural taste-making seems incredibly important and contemporary.
Tomorrow: an interview & poem from Lo Kwa Mei-en!
Ringo Starr—born Richard Starkey—celebrates his 74th birthday on July 7th. (Fellow Baby Boomers, don’t freak out…just lean over, put your heads between your knees…breathe deeply…) Everybody okay? Good.
Ringo replaced the famously fired Pete Best as the Beatles' drummer in 1962. One reason for the move was that the rest of the boys thought he was limited as a musician, but it’s also said his personality just didn’t fit with the others—not as “fun loving.” So Ringo got his shot.
Things can be tough at first for a young rock band. Gigs in skanky venues with dodgy sound systems. Crashing on friends' sofas. Riding around in a van that's on life support. Club owners who try to shortchange you. Belligerent drunk guys, pissed because their girlfriends are are making cow eyes at you. It’s you against the world, and you tend to stick together.
But once you succeed other agendas emerge, which is why so many bands implode when they hit the big time. If you want a long run at the top there’s a delicate ecology to maintain. For a while the Beatles pulled it off. They had two alpha dogs who worked well together and wrote most of their songs—John the politically and socially conscious one and Paul the tunesmith with the brilliant sense of melody. And George, the spiritual center of the band whose ego could handle John and Paul’s creative control and who made sure everybody played in tune.
Then there was Ringo. Some casual music fans never rated him very high as a musician because he wasn’t a “viruoso.” But he enjoys much respect among his peers; he was an absolute metronome—a fantastic timekeeper. And listen to any Beatles song while concentrating just on Ringo. I’ll bet my lunch money you won’t hear a single cut where you think, “That’s a cool song, but I wish there’d been a different drummer.” His drum parts were always just right.
And Ringo had the perfect personality for this particular band. They needed a joker. Or more accurately, a wise fool. If things started dragging in the studio during a long session, or John and Paul started getting on each other’s nerves he’s crack a joke to lighten the mood.
But not even Ringo could smooth over the tensions that flared once Yoko hit the scene. John committed an unforgivable sin recognizable to anyone who’s ever been in a band; he brought an outsider to recording sessions and let her make critical comments about the music. Although it's unfair to blame her for breaking up the band; she was just the catalyst. John's attention was already elsewhere. Ringo tried to play the peacemaker, but it was clearly time to move on.
Ringo had a great ride with his lads from Liverpool. He's comfortably settled in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's a mega-millionaire. He's on the road now with "Ringo Starr's All-Stars" because he enjoys it, not because he needs the cash.
Not bad for a kid who spent two years in a sanitarium with tuberculosis and was first exposed to music when the staff got him playing percussion in the hospital band to give him something to do...
Charles Coe is author of two books of poetry: “All Sins Forgiven: Poems for my Parents” and “Picnic on the Moon,” both published by Leapfrog Press. His poetry has appeared in a number of literary reviews and anthologies, including Poesis, The Mom Egg, Solstice Literary Review, and Urban Nature. He is the winner of a fellowship in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Charles’s poems have been set by a number of composers, including Beth Denisch, Julia Carey and Robert Moran. A short film based on his poem “Fortress” is currently in production by filmmaker Roberto Mighty. Charles is co-chair of the Boston Chapter of the National Writers Union, a labor union for freelance writers. He has been selected by the Associates of the Boston Public Library as a “Boston Literary Light for 2014.” His novella, "Spin Cycles," will be published in September by Gemma Media.
I’m from Ohio. If you’ve ever met anyone from Ohio, you may have noticed that they love to talk about Ohio—but not in the same way that New Yorkers love to talk about New York (You won’t find better Thai food anywhere else!). That is to say: a lot of Ohioans have complicated relationships with their home state, especially if they’re from a Rust Belt city.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what this region has to say for itself in contemporary poetry, and I’m clearly not the only one thinking about this. There has been a spate of new books about the Rust Belt in the last few years, and some interest in a new subgenre sometimes called Rust Belt Noir and/or Rust Belt Gothic (no vampires needed). While most of these books are novels or collections of short fiction, many poets have also been increasingly concerned with post-industrial ruin.
In Jamaal May’s collection, Hum (Alice James, 2013), post-industrial Detroit is more than a setting. The city merges with the book’s human subjects to become a character itself:
Look for me
in scattered windshield beneath and overpass,
on the sculpture of a man with metal skin grafts,
in patterns on mud-draggled wood, feathers
circling leaves in rainwater—look.
In the Gothic tradition, the haunted castle plays as important a role in the narrative as any of the characters. It houses the secrets and horrors that move the story forward, hiding and revealing them as needed. In May’s poems, Detroit is a Gothic space haunted by its own past, and a space in which the speaker ultimately discovers truths about himself. The act of searching and uncovering drives May’s collection forward. Take this passage from “Mechanophobia (Fear of Machines)”:
Come rummage through our guts
among fistfuls of wire, clutch,
pull until the LEDs go dark.
Our insides may be the jagged
gears of clocks you don’t realize
function until your blade gets stuck.
The current that sparks, scrambles up
fingertips, hurrying to your heart
will not come as a hot, ragged
light—you won’t notice when it arrives.
May’s imagery is almost frightening at times, but fear is also ever-present as a concept, lurking in this series of phobia poems (Athazagoraphobia, Aichmophobia, Mechanophobia, Macrophobia, etc.). The pulpy supernatural horrors of the Gothic tradition manifest here as real-life fears, and the mundane becomes magnified. In “Athazagoraphobia (Fear of Being Ignored),” typical anxieties of adolescence take on more weight given the setting—a city ignored, a bankrupt city, an elsewhere:
I used to bury plum pits between houses. Buried
bits of wires there too. Used to bury matches
but nothing ever burned and nothing ever thrived
so I set fire to a mattress, diassembled a stereo,
attacked flies with a water pistol, and drowned ants
What’s dead and gone never stays buried in this collection, as the motif of alternately burying and uncovering returns almost obsessively. There is something unsettling about this act, but it is what allows May's speaker to learn how to live in his particular –post (post-industry, post-adolescence, etc.). This digging isn't entirely negative, nor is it simply a balm.
photo via mrholle
Writing about the Rust Belt can be understood as a form of apocalyptic writing. (I know that for Youngstown, the sudden closing of steel mills on Black Monday was certainly an economic apocalypse.) The word ‘apocalypse’ shares roots with the Greek term apokaluptein, which indicates an uncovering or disclosure (think also of the word 'revelation,' as in the Book of Revelation). A new generation of writers in the US has set to work digging through the ruins of the industrial economy that was collapsing just as they were being born, and they are unearthing revelations of their own.
In “Greetings from 41°6′0″N 80°39′0″W,” poet Allison Davis (a fellow Youngstown native) writes of the difficult and painful digging involved in looking back and asking questions about a city’s decline:
Understand the city is steel,
both sides of it. There is no way
to make it talk, to avoid
the wreck, the tangle of shape
worked up into a point.
The paradox is that there is no satisfactory answer to be found in the wreck, yet there is no way to live in it without searching, digging, trying to uncover and recover the past. But what can be made from ruin? A post-industrial poetics (more tomorrow on what that can mean formally) offers the possibility of an answer to that question. Rust Belt and ruin poetry is a generational response to Philip Levine’s important poetry about the working class. In cities now devoid of the manufacturing jobs upon which they were built, the streets are still filled with the refuse of industry—not just byproducts, but the discarded, ruined products themselves—the broken windshields, wires, and LED lights of May’s poems. Digging, rummaging, scrapping, foraging, and uncovering are the new jobs of the working class. (I mean this both metaphorically and literally—think metal scrapping, thrifting, reselling.)
I think poets are putting this concept to work in poetry of place that represents not just the Rust Belt but a new, unfortunate era of US history. And I’m not talking about nostalgia. I mean a scrappy kind of poetry that represents the contemporary experience of trying to scrape together an existence in an economic and ecological apocalypse. But I also mean a poetry that defamiliarizes the sad Rust Belt narrative through strange new music and imagery.
Tomorrow: The Aesthetics of Ruin (Pt. 2): Post-pastoral.
after David Markson
Poet has been trying to eschew emotion.
Impartial directness, Poet wants.
I was born like this. I had no choice. I was born with the gift of the golden voice.
graveled Leonard Cohen one night at the Kimmel Center.
I’m crazy for love, but I’m not coming on.
You can’t really put it that way anymore.
Which is to say, Poet knows that sentimentality is out of season.
All men say ‘What’ to me,
wrote Emily Dickinson to Thomas Wentworth Higginson.
Poet has heard the joke becomes serious with space; to make sentiment felt, one should make it cold.
The bones of Amelia Earhart & Fred Noonan on Gardner Island.
The bones of a man & a woman.
The bones of a turtle beside a turtle shell.
Nearly everyone has four of them — broad flat muscles, known as obliques, that attach the ribcage and the pelvis on each side of the body and, until recently, have not really been part of the sports lexicon,
wrote sportswriter Michael R. Schmidt in The New York Times from April 11, 2011.
What are your “poetic tasks”?
Poet has been collecting fragments in a marble notebook.
Poet is interested in fact.
Madonna of the Rocks. The Kit Kat bar.The contact lens.
Sometimes Poet enjoys a good snow drifts metaphor, or an ashes metaphor, or an autumn leaves metaphor.
The dead metaphor.
…with the music chased all out of her soul…and the seven small demons all in again.
Some of her poems include the appearance of a black tuxedo kitten.
Cat and mouse, cat and mouse! But which is the cat and which is the mouse?
It seemed to her that there were certain places on the earth, which naturally brought forth happiness, as though it were a plant native to the soil, which could not thrive elsewhere.
How much beauty one can find, can't one?
wrote Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo.
Poet, at times, enjoys the intensely personal.
All that is personal soon rots.
Or the grand gesture.
On New Year's Eve in 1853 Benjamin Waterhouse hosted a china, silver, and candlelight dinner inside the iguanodon skeleton at Crystal Palace. The first course was mock turtle soup.
For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken. It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.
And when Amelia Earhart wrote: In those fast-moving days which have intervened, the whole width of the world has passed behind us – except this broad ocean. I shall be glad when we have the hazards of its navigation behind us.
Couldn’t those words be whispered to a lover?
Once Poet had a therapist to whom she did not unburden her soul.
But she unburdened a little.
I am not long-enduring; I am not cool and dispassionate. Out of pity to me and yourself, put your finger on my pulse, feel how it throbs, and – beware!
That must have been difficult, Dr. Lobianco said.
Provided the feelings are real…
Lately, Poet’s writing has been cool to the touch.
A poem that has abandoned the poet.
Poet has been repurposing what she likes.
Negligence is the mind in motion.
Objectively, Poet should be thinking of her future.
Poet knows she has a lot to live up to.
Pia Archangel a newscaster
Pia Cayetano a politician
Pia Christmas-Møller a politician
Pia Clemente, a film producer
Pia Conde, a journalist
Pia Cramling, a chess player
Pia Degermark, an actress
Pia Di Ciaula a film editor
Pia Douwes an actress
Pia Getty a socialite
Pia Gjellerup a politician
Pia Guanio a television presenter
Pia Guerra a comic book artist
Pia Gutjens a border collie breeder
Pia Hansen a shooter
Pia Haraldsen a tv personality
Pia Hontiveros a tv personality
Pia Johansson an actress
Pia Kjærsgaard a politician
Pia Lindström a television anchor
Pia Carmen Lionetti an archer
Pia Elda Locatelli a politician
Pia Maiocco a musician
Pia Miranda an actress
Pia Nielsen a badminton player
Pia Nilsson a golf player
Pia Nilsson a politician
Pia Reyes a model and actress
Pia Sundhage, a footballer
Pia Sundstedt a cyclist
PiaTajnikar an athlete
Pia Tassinari a singer
Pia Tikka a film director
Pia Tjelta an actress
Pia Toscano a singer
Pia Waugh a free software advocate
Pia Wunderlich a footballer
Pia Zadora an actress and singer
Pia Zebadiah a badminton player
Pia Zinck an athlete
Though sometimes your name sounds strange attached to another life.
And still another Pia wrote,
The angel dwells on the other side of subjectivity.
Poet wants to become untrapped.
To be a feather again instead of a plummet, to float and not to drag.
Or, maybe, Poet just wants to live unabashedly with abundance.
The Capuchini bone chapel.
Belief in irrelevance, perhaps, Poet lacks.
If the body in its failure remains
A nest, if the soul chooses to return
Poet has been watchful.
Poet has been too silent in booths and bars.
Messages in a bottle which might or might not get picked up,
Paul Celan said his poems were.
It is possible that Poet has been letting others speak for her.
I am a crowd, I am a lonely man, I am nothing.
A tree sprang up. O sheer transcendence!
Poet wants to be wild.
For the wildest imaginations have their speeds and obsessions.
How to abide.
The most natural thing in the world.
Everything in this room is edible.
“Thrall” borrows words and phrases from Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Michael R. Schmidt, George Eliot, Rope, Gustave Flaubert, Vincent Van Gogh, William Butler Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, Amelia Earhart, Charlotte Brontë, Berthe Morisot, John Irving, “Pia (given name)” entry on Wikipedia, Pia Tafdrup, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Michael Waters, Paul Celan, Rilke, and Roald Dahl.
That's the boy, she'll say,
that's the boy in you -
sitting on some bench, or beach
gazing into the same
maddening distance. It's
the boy in her, she says,
that likes the girl in you. Ah, to be
a person, that's hard
enough. Sleep now. Get some sleep,
that's the boy.
-- Andrew Johnston
'Juliet' is from Andrew Johnston's most recent book, Do You Read Me? (2013), a collaboration with typographer/artist Sarah Maxey. Comprising 26 poems with accompanying pictures, one for each of the alphabet call signs, the collection offers an inventive and sonorous ensemble of colour-bands, sound-waves, patterns of thought and voice. It also contains a memorable meditation on that dubious New Zealand invention from the 1980s, the bungee: 'It was on the bungee jump / I was introduced to / the art of oscillation / ... it was on the bungee jump / my smile became a frown.'
Born 1963, in Upper Hutt, New Zealand, Andrew Johnston has lived in France since 1997. He has published five collections of poetry and, in 2009, co-edited with Robyn Marsack Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poems (Carcanet/Victoria University Press). In 2004 he founded The Page, a site devoted to on-line literature, reviews and poetry, which he edited until 2009. (The site continues under the lively stewardship of John McAuliffe and others at the Centre for New Writing, Manchester University.) Johnston's double-sestina, 'The Sunflower', is deservedly considered one of the best New Zealand poems of recent years (it can be read in full here.
More poems, essays and other material: http://andrewjohnston.org/
At funerals you get a sense of 'team':
"He bore his burden well"--stifling a yawn;
"She wasn't someone you'd enjoy tea with,
exactly, but--"; "They kept on keeping on."
Each mask that hides a life receives tribute:
"He was adored by dogs"; "She set a tone";
"Behind her drinking lay a golden heart"--
old age become a village of its own.
I was too young; I couldn't comprehend
how deficits increase over the years--
I shunned their ledger-faces for my books,
determined not to end up in arrears.
What will they say of me? "His load was light."
"And for all that he didn't seem too bright."
-- James Cummins
DDB: Jaded Ibis Press is an imprint of the multimedia company, Jaded Ibis Productions. We publish and produce literature, art and music that are intellectually, culturally and environmentally sustainable. Our titles consist of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and hybrids. We’re best known for writing that reaches far beyond conventional literature.
Since January 2011 Jaded Ibis Productions and its imprint Jaded Ibis Press have gained national attention for our innovative business model and intrepid explorations into the newest literature and digital technologies. Jaded Ibis Press, its editors and authors have been the subject of feature articles, interviews and reviews in Forbes, Poets & Writers, The Brooklyn Rail, The Believer, Hyperallergic, Lambda Literary, American Book Review, and many other print and online publications. Our books have made a number of “Best” lists, including four list in O, the Oprah Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, and others.
Recently, we’ve added three new series:
SW: The poetry at Jaded Ibis Press attempts to combine disparate experimental urges and new literary models in ways that maintain connective tissue to the tradition of poetries predating our present moment. We like writing that strikes out onto new territory without losing sight of what produced it, and we even have a martial term for it: Reconnaissance Literature, or the literature of the forward guard. This guard scouts on its own but maintains communication and crucial interests with the rear guard, in mutual interest. And though we want our writing to be bold, dissonant at times, chaotically musical, to push back against its sole category as literature by illuminating it with fine art, music, technology, and though we need it to transcend normative, accepted modes of communication and art, we still like it to be lyrical at times, always intelligent, clear and beautiful, and not a muddied reworking of the experiments of the past. I am certain Debra Di Blasi covered the technical aspects of how the press is different—the collaborations with visual artists, the technological innovations—such as the fact that we produced one of the first novel apps ever made—but we are guided by a deeper principle. Such innovations are anchored in this belief in the present of literature as a bridge between the future and its glorious, albeit daring and experimental, pasts.
NA: Could you say a few words about your background as editors?
DDB: Sam and I are both educators and award-winning published writers, and thus approach acquisitions and editing from those idiosyncratic perspectives. Also, we’re not youngsters. Sam’s over 40 and I’m over 50, and we’ve been reading, writing and publishing our own work all of our adult lives. I emphasize our ages because it attests to the amount of literary knowledge we’ve acquired — and we don’t read pap. Also, the mind processes information over the course of time, analyzing and reassessing and comparing/contrasting a burgeoning accretion of information. Sam and I read outside of literature, too, which is why we’re also friends. I read heavily in the fields of physics, neurology, bio and computer technologies, primatology, and entymology. I also keep current and well informed on global politics and economics. And I travel. A lot. I now live in Hong Kong, and my husband and I still have an apartment in South Africa that we visit every year or so.
Specifically regarding editing:
I do hands-on editing of our books, sometimes giving “assignments” to an author so s/he will go back and more effectively rewrite parts of the manuscript. What’s very important is that I not futz with the writer’s idiosyncratic style, that whatever changes I make improve that style within its own parameters — not within mine.
I think the diversity of my background does exemplify how I came to run a multimedia publishing company and make certain aesthetic decisions: I set out to get a degree in journalism and did study for a while at University of Missouri-Columbia’s famous Journalism School. But I’d already been “tainted” by poetry, having taken every course possible with Larry Levis and Tom McAfee. Eventually I earned a BFA in painting—though Kansas City Art Institute allowed quite a lot of exploration in other disciplines like video, bookmaking, and writing. While there, I wrote art reviews for The New Art Examiner instead of turning in art history exams because my professor thought I was wasting my talent writing test essays.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.