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Nin Andrews
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Last week I received an email from Poets & Writers with the title 950 Literary Magazines to Submit Your Work to Now. "950?" I asked Maggie, my cynical poet-friend. "Who reads all those journals?" She shrugged, "No one. And who cares?" I've been thinking about that ever since, asking myself, "Do I care?" Isn't publishing a way of being read, of feeling heard? "Why do you want to be heard?" Maggie asked. She reminded me of a reading we participated in at a bar in Ohio with two accomplished poets and a young man who had just published his first chapbook. We readers were 50% of the audience. When the chapbook-author read, he climbed onto the table and shouted at the top of his lungs. In between poems, be belted out random lyrics from a Kenny Rogers song. He explained later that he just wanted to be heard, that Kenny was his muse. "Who doesn't love Kenny?" he asked. But I digress . . . Back to the question, Who reads all those journals? I assume David Lehman and his guest editors have to plow through a lot of them as they edit the annual Best American Poetry. (Thank you, David, and all your guests!) I regularly read about 10 of the 950, which sounds like a pitifully small number, but Maggie assures me it's huge. I just finished the Poet Laureate edition of Green Mountains Review, which I loved, in part because I am curious about the poets laureate, those poetry ambassadors from different states. And I am grateful to them for promoting our cause, especially Maryland's poet laureate and Buddhist Badass, Grace Cavalieri, who also hosts the Library of Congress program, The Poet and the Poem. In this issue of Green Mountain Review, featuring 10 poets laureate, I particularly enjoyed the poet of Nebraska, Matt Mason's poem, "On Kansas 156," in which he alluded to Kenny Rogers. (And really, who doesn't love Kenny?) On Kansas 156 All the radio has to say is eighties rock and Kenny Rogers. You get behind a horse trailer and stay there because you can't see around it and, oh man, the radio seek stops on "Right down the Line," Gerry Rafferty making love sound uncrappy whether you're ten with a fresh copy of City To City in your hands or forty-five with your two daughters bored in the backseat; you feel helpless as the station starts to slip into static, last lines of the song in and out, oil pumps and grain towers, cassettes you forgot how they broke after too many plays, unspooling deep inside your bones. Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Maybe it's just my age, maybe it's the era we're living in, but these last few years have been tough, and I'm not even thinking of covid or politics--I'm not even going to mention them. (Okay, I just did.) But suffice it to say, I've had a hard time keeping my nose above water. I haven't kept up with poetry. But lately I've been wading back into reading and writing. There is so much I've missed. I just wanted to mention a few things here. Like Tim Seibles amazing collection, Voodoo Libretto: New and Selected Poems. And Terrance Hayes' stunning review published in The Yale Review in which Hayes analyzes Seibles' poetry as if it were a "bookbioboardgame." If you haven't read either of these, you must! Like Chard deNiord's last interview with Charles Simic, published in The Paris Review, which includes this delightful exchange: INTERVIEWER You’ve written so many memorable poems about poetry and about writing poetry, one of which includes this definition—“Poetry is always the cat concert under the window of the room in which the official version of reality is being written.” How exactly would you describe the cat concert? SIMIC Look at it this way: I have a cat that’s twenty-five years old. She’s a black cat. She complains. She comes in and she says to me, You’re still here? Poetry really is a comic scene where you, whoever you are, pretend to be in control, but really the speaker is at the mercy of things that are completely out of his hands. But he pretends that he is in control. We’re schmucks. Like Cassandra Atherton's review in Plume of Peter Johnson's latest collection, While the Undertaker Sleeps: Collected and New Prose Poems, which is not only a review but also an illuminating essay on Peter Johnson's poetry as well as his contribution to the prose poem. The review begins: Self-confessed “wise guy of the prose poem” and also its unofficial laureate, Peter Johnson is one of America’s foremost practitioners and critics of prose poetry. The publication of his While the Undertaker Sleeps: Collected and New Prose Poems provides an important opportunity to reflect on the reputation of a master of the form, who, according to poet and critic Chard deNiord, “almost singlehandedly revived the currency of the prose poem during the nineties and early oughts.” Indeed, Johnson has been a major force in the development of the American prose poem for more than three decades and has contributed significantly to its prominence on the world stage. Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
I heard on NPR this morning that it’s Boy George's birthday today, which made me think of one of my favorite poems by Amy Gerstler from her collection, The True Bride, published in 1986. I can still remember reading this poem at the New Dominion bookshop in Charlottesville, Virginia, ages ago. I burst out laughing, and the owner of the shop came over and read the poem aloud. A few shoppers came over and listened. Afterwards, we all clapped. Dear Boy George Only three things on earth seem useful or soothing to me. One: wearing stolen shoes. Two: photos of exquisitely dressed redheads. Three: your voice on the radio. Those songs fall smack-dab into my range! Not to embarrass you with my raw American awe, or let you think I’m the kinda girl who bends over for any guy who plucks his eyebrows and can make tight braids – but you’re the plump bisexual cherub of the eighties: clusters of Rubens’ painted angels, plus a dollop of the Pillsbury dough boy, all rolled into one! We could go skating, or just lie around my house eating pineapple. I could pierce your ears: I know how to freeze the lobes with ice so it doesn’t hurt. When I misunderstand your lyrics, they get even better. I thought the line I’M YOUR LOVER, NOT YOUR RIVAL, was I’M ANOTHER, NOTHE BIBLE, or PRIME YOUR MOTHER, NOT A LIBEL, or UNDERCOVER BOUGHT ARRIVAL. Great, huh? See, we’re of like minds. I almost died when I read in the Times how you saved that girl from drowning . . . dived down and pulled the blub- bering sissy up. I’d give anything to be the limp, dripping form you stumbled from the lake with, wrapped over your pale, motherly arms, in a grateful faint, as your mascara ran and ran. Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading a delightful collection of micro-fictions/prose poems: The House of Grana Padano by Meg Pokrass and Jeff Friedman. I have to confess that I was hesitant to open the book because I rarely enjoy reading collaborations. In my opinion they often read as inside jokes or private dialogs between two writers in which one riffs on the style and quirks of the other. But The House of Grana Padano proved to be an exception. It reads as if Meg and Jeff are one writer. Somehow, they composed seamlessly together. I wondered as I read it: are their sensibilities, artistry, and voices that similar? I thought I’d ask them about the process that brought this book into being. NA: How did the book come about? JF: Meg and I came together initially at a YouTube reading for Lit Youngstown. We were both fans of each other’s writing but had never met in person. We had exchanged some emails before the reading, but then after the event, we began meeting every Tuesday on Zoom. The darkness and loneliness of the pandemic created a real need in both of us to reach out, and our Zoom sessions were so energetic and lively. The book idea emerged spontaneously from these sessions. Meg brought it up, but I jumped on it. We had already been doing prompts together, and then almost spontaneously and unconsciously, we stepped into a story and began riffing off each other as we had done in our conversations. From there, we came up with various methods and approaches for working on pieces. At some point, we realized we were on our way to a book with six or seven different thematic threads. NA: What are the best and/or the hardest aspects of composing with another prose poet or writer of micro fiction? MP: Our book emerged out of playfulness and the need for something joyful. Things seemed to come easily. It was as if Jeff, and I had known each other all our lives, and the more we talked, the more we had in common. We trusted each other almost immediately and while writing, we always said “yes” to whatever creative ideas or images emerged in the initial writing phase. We would just keep writing, building on what each of us wrote, trying to see where our poems or micros might go. Our two voices never merged, but instead created a dynamic tension in the pieces. We revised every piece together. The hardest part might have been cutting pieces we really loved from the book, because they just didn’t fit. There are still one or two pieces we wish we hadn’t had to cut. Working with each other has been inspiring for our individual work as well. We were two strangers at the beginning, and now we’re brother and sister. NA: I’d love it if you each picked a prose poem and commented on its evolution. JF: The Salesman Gets a Suit My father walks... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
AR: How did you become a poet? What is your process? DD: First, of course, I was named after a poet. The Commedia played an important role in my family history. My great grandfather brought a copy of it with him when he came to America from Sicily. Poetry was a constant, if muted, presence throughout my childhood. My grandmother loved Frost and Sandberg and Millay. I she would occasionally recite the poems she’d memorized in grade school (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Fog,” “First Fig”). My father, who was a postal worker, loved Emily Dickinson, so her books were always around, and I read her at an early age. We also had The Iliad, The Odyssey, Don Quixote (I remember reading the poems in the preface to the novel at an early age), The Aeneid, El Cid. My mother, who was a stay-at-home mom and then a secretary when I was growing up, was a great reader too. Both of my parents were extremely religious Roman Catholics (my mother converted from Southern Baptist to Catholic), so there was the poetry of the Bible as well, especially The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Book of Proverbs, The Song of Songs. I’ve always loved reading, and from grade school on I kept a journal. When I was eighteen, I read Allen Ginsberg, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Gerard Manley Hopkins for the first time. That trio of poets made me want to write poetry. I continued to write because I fell so in love with poetry in all its varied forms, and writing it helped me (continues to help me) to be a better reader of it. My writing life will always be subordinate to my reading life. My process varies from poem to poem, but for the most part now, I come up with an idea, a phrase, a title for a poem and when I have time, I sit down and write a draft. For most poems, a draft will take about two hours to write and I’m reading aloud and revising as I write. Sometimes, I might begin a poem during my lunch break (I work as a high school English teacher) and then finish it after the last bell rings and before I pick up my daughter from daycare. Then, I might go back to it after the children are asleep or in the morning before work. Usually, I take a poem as far as I can within a few days, reading it aloud and revising it as necessary. Then, I set it aside, and either send it out to magazines or just let it breathe in a word document (I mostly write on the computer). Sometimes, there might be minor revisions from that point until it is published in a book. And even after that, there are lingering questions. For example, in the poem that starts this interview, I’m not happy with the rhythm of the line: “my dear little one. Teach me what... Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
NA: You said in the first part of this interview series that you collaborate with your wife on community poetry projects through the Tioga Arts Council in upstate New York, which she runs. And that you two have curated ekphrastic and reverse ekphrastic exhibits. I’d love to see a sample of what that exhibit looks like? DD: In our most recent exhibit, which was funded by a grant from the Poetry Foundation, we gave poems to local artists and had the artists paint, sculpt, or collage a response to the poetry. The poets featured were you, David Lehman, Richard Blanco, Eloisa Amezcua, Christine Kitano, Nicole Santalucia, H.L. Hix, William Heyen, María Isabel Álvarez, Faisal Mohyuddin, Christian Teresi, Leah Umansky, Nicole Santalucia, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Joe Weil, and a few others. My wife also made broadsides of the poem and artwork. We had local elementary school children respond to lines from the poems, as well, and we hung their crayoned responses in the children’s gallery, which is attached to the main gallery at Tioga Arts Council. Posted on the right is Richard Blanco’s “Cloud Anthem” from his most recent collection. The collage/painting was done by the artist, Andrea Kelleher. NA: You collaborate with other poets, recently with Nicole Santalucia on a collection of Ashbery poems. And I heard that this book, Generations, inspired you to write a long poem in response to William Heyen. I wondered if you could talk a little about those projects and/or poems? DD: Nicole and I have been collaborating on our Ashbery book for over two years now; the book is a series of epistolary prose poems addressed to John Ashbery. The poems began as letters to each other mediated by the figure of John Ashbery. I’m not sure what the final shape of this project will be, but I’ve enjoyed working on it with Nicole, who is such a dear friend and such a wonderful poet. I feel that I’m always learning from her, and she’s so funny, in her work and in real life. I’m so lucky to have her as a friend (and her wife Deanna Dorangrichia, who is an amazing artist). These friendships were given to me by poetry. I also wrote a long poem titled MIDWHISTLE, written in stepped septasyllabic cinquains and addressed to Bill Heyen and to my son, Dante Jr., who was unborn when I wrote it. I think it’s safe to say this is the first long poem written simultaneously to an octogenarian and to a fetus. I’ve always wanted to write a long poem. As an undergraduate I read and admired A.R. Ammons’s Garbage and Tape for the Turn of the Year, Williams’s Paterson, and Galway Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares. I’ve tried on many occasions to write my way into a book-length poem, but I could never find a way. Then, I read David Lehman’s Playlist (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) and reading that book started me thinking of the long poem again. Reading Bill Heyen’s... Continue reading
Posted May 8, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
NA: Your recent book, Lullaby with Incendiary Device, is part of a triptych, or one of three books under one cover. How do you like being published alongside Harvey Hix and William Heyen? DD: I love it. Etruscan Press does such high-quality publishing work. Their books are beautifully made and thoughtfully chosen. The support of Phil Brady and Bob Mooney has meant more to me than I can properly articulate. The dedicated staff at the press are paragons of professionalism, especially Pamela Turchin and Bill Schneider, who organize and run much of the daily operations. It’s an honor to have my book joined to the books of Harvey Hix and William Heyen. I hope that more publishers follow this tripartite publishing model. Heyen and Hix are poets I deeply admire, both for their bodies of work and for how they have constructed their lives in poetry. Both men embody a poetic stance I aspire to emulate: engaged, attentive, protean, ambitious, empathetic, and endlessly curious. Harvey’s book How It Is that We continues his interrogation and deconstruction of the sonnet form, while nimbly moving among the detritus of 21st century discourses, texts, and personae. Reading it is like looking at starlight through a field of orbiting wreckage. I feel adrift and then suddenly I’m jolted into a new way of seeing. Bill Heyen’s The Nazi Patrol continues his project of bearing witness to the Shoah through the poison orchards of the present. Here, he employs his single-line couplets to great effect. There’s something so compulsively readable in this collection, a raw velocity that feels like a kind of falling. Harvey and Bill have written enough for five or six lifetimes between the two of them. The amazing thing to me about the prodigious output of both men is the exceedingly high quality of the work. If you are reading this conversation and you haven’t read Hix, I’d suggest my favorite books by him: Rain Inscription (Etuscan Press, 2017) and Perfect Hell (Gibbs Smith, 1996). I’d also suggest his remarkable translation of the Gospels and Christian apocrypha, The Gospel according to H.L. Hix (Broadstone Books, 2020). I’d recommend Heyen’s Shoah Train (Etruscan Press, 2003) and The Cabin: Journal 1968-1984 (H_NGM_N BKS, 2012). Heyen’s journals are an incredible document. I think Phil Brady described them as the work of a 20th century Samuel Pepys. In one entry, Heyen will be having a martini with Anne Sexton. In the next, he’ll be wondering if the garbagemen took his golfclubs. He chronicles all the important events of his family life, and of his life in poetry, against the backdrop of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the moon landing, the Vietnam War, and on and on. AR: I recently listened to your conversation with Dr. Philip Brady about the collaborative project Sign and Breath. You read an incredible poem, “My Favorite Things,” which you had just written the day before. It made me curious to know where you find your inspiration? Do you strike... Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
NA: Your latest book, Lullaby with Incendiary Device, is part of a mini-anthology, featuring three books under one cover, called Generations, and published by Etruscan Press. I thought we should start with the title poem, which I love. DD: Thank you Nin and Amanda. I’m grateful to be able to have this conversation with you both. Generations also features The Nazi Patrol by William Heyen and How It Is that We by H.L. Hix. Here’s my title poem, which is the last poem in Lullaby with Incendiary Device: Lullaby with Incendiary Device, Breached Hull, & Oil Slick Before you were born, I dreamed you into each cadence I would ever hear. You board a paper boat and cross the sea. One note of bluebird’s orison endures. I love you so much the schooners inside my heart keep crashing into each other and capsizing, but, at least, they aren’t all sunk yet, and no sailors have drowned so far. What I mean by this is simple: stay close always. Teach me to crayon fire. Better yet, teach me the crazy hairstyles of fire burning on the water’s surface, my dear little one. Teach me what the fire looks like from the underside of a wave. AR: Many poems in Lullaby with Incendiary Device are about your children. Did becoming a parent change your poetry? If so, how? DD: I have a four-year-old daughter (Luciana, who we call “Chi Chi”) and a seven-month-old son (Dante Jr.). Lullaby was written in the first two years of my daughter’s life. It’s really her book. Becoming a father changed me and changed my life in innumerable subtle and immense ways; inevitably, then, parenthood changed my poetry. Parenthood, like poetry, reorients, intensifies, and recalibrates one’s attention. Parenthood turns you toward another, in much the same way that poetry does, or ideally, should. For me, poetry has always involved an interiority turned to face the world, an act of opening up, which involves a shedding of ego (breaking the mind forged manacles of Blake’s Urizen, echoing E.M. Forster’s injunction: “Only Connect”). Poetry and parenthood both involve what Seamus Heaney called a kind of “earned communion.” Both involve attention directed outward. There’s the shared duende of poetry and parenthood too: the knowledge of our own mortality in every diaper change and volta and skinned knee and spondee and snuggle and heroic couplet rocking you from blue hour to blue hour. On a more practical level, parenthood changed the way my life was organized. My life now revolves around the schedules, needs, and wants of our little ones. I’ve had to dial back some of the poetry-related things I love doing like writing book reviews, but I still find time to read and to write and to engage with other poets living and dead. My daughter and I have begun writing poetry together and my wife and I read the children poetry in addition to books like The Runaway Bunny and The Giving Tree and Dragons Love Tacos. My... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
It’s Easter Sunday, and I'm remembering how my father used to equate religion and superstition. He practiced both, just in case. He made me practice them, too, insisting that I go to church, understand the basic tenets of the faith, pray on my knees before bed, and also, that I never pass the salt shaker hand-to-hand, and if I spilled salt, I tossed it right hand over left shoulder. I was instructed to hold my breath when we drove into a tunnel or under a bridge or past a graveyard. I still find myself touching wood, crossing my fingers, my toes, myself, and I can still hear my father’s voice advising me on how each superstition is best performed. Maybe it’s no surprise then that I was completely taken with Elizabeth A. I. Powell’s series of prose poems that were published in the recent issue of the Seneca Review titled Rituals and Spells so Nothing Heinous Happens. There was quite a buzz about one that also appeared in Pleiades and Poetry Daily. I decided to ask Elizabeth to say a few words about these poems and to let me post a poem from the series. Elizabeth A.I. Powell: These poems use the ritual and spell-like qualities of poetry to try and discern and examine the liminal space between rituals and spells on the one hand and madness on the other. Rituals live in our mythologies and religions, but when a ritual goes off kilter it turns on a person. I’ve tried to reflect on the space where that yin and yang meet, the between thing between the two. Samuel Coleridge famously said poems are the best words in the best order, which is similar in definition of what a spell is, giving letters in the right order, or a state of enchantment enacted by words. Spells are more like content in poetry, and rituals are more like poetic form in that they observe a set of forms to enact a kind of worship. Indeed, many of us have written ourselves out of the mental abyss through poems. Where ritual becomes pathological or a mental illness is interesting because on the one hand you can pray and it's lovely, but when it is obsessive, compulsive, and superstitious it begins to be a most egregious interrogation. Touch Wood
 Everyone agrees since I’m the prettiest, I’m the stupidest. Our grandfather sips scotch, loosens his tie we picked out for him to wear to MC our Miss America Pageant. This year’s real pick for Miss America was from Wisconsin: in ten years she’ll host the 700 club that fuels the Moral Majority that will upset me. You don’t even know where Wisconsin is, my sister says. I will remember this moment forever, and when I’m nineteen, I’ll go to the University of Wisconsin, where I will be incredibly miserable just to prove that I know where Wisconsin is. I’m touching wood, wearing an evening dress. In reality, we are all wearing our grandmother’s silk... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
NA: As an Etruscan poet, I have been asked many times: What are the markings of an Etruscan poet? Do you think I should submit to Etruscan? How should I answer? In other words, people want to know what Philip Brady looks for in a manuscript. I'm grateful for and humbled by the number and quality of the manuscripts I see. While I may not be able to publish them, I still profit from having a birds-eye view of the literary landscape. I've learned a lot from the experience. I've learned for instance, that I don't belong to a school. I respond to neo-formalist and post-structuralist poetry, non-narrative and plot-driven prose. Something indefinable in the diction, syntax, voice, structure, authority or tone of a work gets my attention. The response is visceral. I'm drawn in, and soon I've shifted from the posture of editor, pencil twitching in the corner of my mouth, to reader, delighting in the next surprise. You can feel it in the first lines or sentences. It's a pulse, an electric charge—an awareness of form and dimension, perhaps; an awareness of play. No matter how serious and dark the subject matter, certain works emit light: "gaiety" in the old sense of the word. As Yeats has it, "All things fall and are built again/ And those that build them again are gay." We want to provide a platform for that kind of writing across traditional genres, writing with heart and seasoning. We feature work which emerges out of a sense that genre isn’t bound by a set of conventions but is instead a manifestation of a human impulse. There is an impulse to sing, an impulse to regale, an impulse to explain. Yes, genre solidifies into tradition. But the best work—the most new and most ancient—still thrums with that primal impulse. "Form in dread of power," as Emerson puts it. We look for work that carries the tradition but emerges from the source. So, as the conductor says tapping his baton, "More brilliance, please." AR: What is your favorite part of the editing process? Making the phone call to tell a new author we’ve accepted their manuscript. AR: And the best part of being an editor? I just got off the phone with Laurie Jean, author of Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul, and Laurie told me she had accepted a position as Dean of Studies at Susquehanna University. Her book (along with her experience, charisma, and leadership) was part of what made that possible. I want to receive more phone calls like that. AR: What are the most inspiring, interesting, or remarkable situations you've experienced since starting Etruscan? When Bob Mooney and I conceived Etruscan, we thought we would begin with a small book of poems and grow as we learned. Then 9/11 happened. Bill Heyen, eminent poet and towering anthologist, proposed a book called “September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond.” He wanted to capture America’s first reaction to the tragedy. But Etruscan didn’t, so to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
Philip Brady is a poet, professor, and editor whom I've had the good fortune to know in all three of these capacities, and he is someone I always learn from, whether by reading his works or by listening to him talk. In the last two years, while dealing with a very ill son, spending weeks in hospitals, I found myself falling out of love with poetry. But there were a few important exceptions. Philip Brady is one of them--his work is both personal and mysterious, lyrical and beautiful crafted. And his poems speak to me. So, when I began chatting and emailing with the poet and Etruscan intern, Amanda Rabaduex, and discovered we share an admiration for Dr. Brady's work and a curiosity about his practice and process, I decided to put together this two-part interview. Carmel by Philip Brady Why do we turn away from the eternal? Robinson Jeffers asked. The Pacific surf, crashing against the inscape of his skull, washed off brine and starfish, and left, turn from the eternal. Frail vowels spiral into the cerulean sky so vast it seems almost believable there is no other we. No turning away. I am in thrall to the inhuman voice chanting the mantra beyond silence: turn eternal. Drown your secret loss. Let every moment achieve utterance. Even the stones of Tor House mark the seconds between the rasping slant rhymes of the ocean. AR: Why poetry? We could talk about the only art that has no native means of apprehension (reading is breathless; listening cannot scan). We could talk about the yaw between lines inviting the unutterable. We could cite political and cultural revolution or say that poetry is the only art where what’s inside gets said, unmediated. We could talk about transgressing against capitalist values: so much genius and effort lavished on artifacts which have so little commerce. But I want to share something H.L Hix has written—not about what poetry expresses but how it emerges from a source which warms and illumines. To live by poetry. Which of course I want to read in more than one sense; live robustly and fully by means of poetry; order one’s life according to values derived from poetry; live in proximity to poetry. AR: Is there a form you feel most comfortable writing? Do you like to experiment? Writing is not, for me, a comfortable activity. It’s based on a paradox. A. Writing is hard. B. It’s supposed to look easy. As Yeats says, “A line will take us hours maybe / But if it does not seem a moment’s thought / Our stitching and unstitching have been nought.” For this paradoxical state of affairs (A & B) I blame Homer. Before he started to “articulate sweet sounds together” on the page, bards rocked and chanted, feeding the voice, and the voice fed the utterance. Or that’s the way I dream it. But I write crouched over a screen with my eyes watering and sudden beeps from Facebook and my... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
NA: Why prose poetry? CA: I love prose poetry’s compression and the allied sense of breathlessness it so often conveys. Where lineated poems tease the right margin, the prose poem embraces it. I also adore prose poetry’s celebration of the quotidian—those daily engagements at the heart of so much experience. It’s a form of poetry that always looks so approachable, largely because it’s composed of sentences and paragraphs, and it is able to exploit the illusion that that a reader may be about to encounter prose fiction or nonfiction rather than a piece of writing focused on the figurative possibilities of language. I like to think that once you have started reading a prose poem, you are compelled to finish it because you are inside a block of text that just keeps going—until the final full stop. It’s hard to resist the beguilements of a rectangular block of poetic text that floats beautifully in the space of the page or on the screen. NA: You co-authored Prose Poetry: An Introduction. In writing it, did you come away with a new appreciation for the form? Were there any surprises? CA: Prose poetry always surprises me. Its protean nature is the reason I never tire of it. Co-writing Prose Poetry: An Introduction was such a joy because I lived in a prose poetry world for three years—and in that world, almost all I did was think, write, eat, and breathe prose poetry. I have a wonderful collection of contemporary prose poetry, too. I especially enjoy some contemporary prose poetry that plays with a kind of ghosting of lineation. Some prose poets use slashes or spaces between words or phrases in the prose poem, and others use different forms of punctuation—such writing can be extraordinarily suggestive and playful. NA: You are also working on an anthology of Australian prose poets. Is there a difference between American and Australian prose poetry? CA: American prose poetry is part of a longer tradition than Australian prose poetry, which has only begun to flourish in the last three decades or so. Where American prose poetry has a wonderful relationship with neo-surrealism, Australian prose poetry is often connected to its colonial history and to re-imaginings of the suburban. However, the American and Australian traditions are often connected via their humor, which is often dark and uncanny, invoking aspects of the enigmatic or mysterious. NA: How about between male and female prose poetry? Do you think women are doing anything unique with the form? CA: Both women and men are writing powerful prose poetry in the twenty-first century. Women are at the forefront of some of the current developments and innovations in the form. For example, I’ve always adored Holly Iglesias’s book, Boxing Inside the Box: Women’s Prose Poetry, which asks pertinent questions about the prose poetry form and its traditions. In the various prose poetry projects in which I’ve been involved, I have always given priority to exploring the way women are able to politicize the rectangular prose... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
I have a particular weakness for what I call gossip poems--poems that make me feel as if I’m eavesdropping on a juicy conversation. They remind me of my father, a talented gossip, though he preferred to call himself a raconteur. He gave me lessons in storytelling when I was a girl, asking how my school day was in the evenings. If I said it was fine, that everyone was nice, he would sigh, “If you have something ‘nice’ or ‘fine’ to say, please don’t bore me.” He wasn’t asking me to say mean things. He wanted to know what I was secretly mulling in my mind. And to shorten the distance between what I said and what I thought. Dustin Brookshire, whose second chapbook, Love Most Of You Too is due out from Harbor Editions today, is a master at the gossip poem. The man, I think, really could write soap operas. Witty, smart, entertaining, he knows exactly how our thoughts twist and turn between reality and fantasy, and on and off-topic, as well as in and out of the present moment. His poems create a sense of intimacy and personal drama in a blink. Reading his poem, “I Should Write Soap Operas,” I feel as if he’s confiding in me, only me, that I am his new best friend. How can I resist? How can I not laugh out loud? I especially love his ending, “I’m only saying/ it’s OK not to accept what’s in front of you at face value.” I Should Write Soap Operas My neighbor, well technically she isn’t my neighbor since she lives on the other side of the building, two floors below, appeared with a baby a few weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to tell Paul about the baby but the daily hum drum of life — work, rest, write — has blocked my thoughts, but today, we were walking Daisy and turned a corner and there she was — baby strapped to chest with its legs swinging. I think it might be a boy, but I’m not sure. All the other times I’ve seen it, it has been covered in a red blanket, which is no help since red is like yellow when babies are concerned. Anyway, I’m losing track of my point. I think the baby is stolen. Paul tells me she is probably babysitting. I say, She probably stole it. Then add, But not from another country, as if this legitimizes my comment. Paul rolls his eyes and tells me she can steal the baby in one of my poems, but this is not why I am writing this poem. I’ll admit I’m the kind of guy who enjoys a giggle when I hear of someone objecting at a wedding. I’ll admit I’ve watched Soap Operas since I was eight and rooted for the villain most of the time. I adored Vivian and Sami on Days of Our Lives. My mother threatened to quit taping episodes when I would cheer for... Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
I met Elizabeth A. I. Powell years ago when we were both students in the MFA program at Vermont College. A young mother with three small children and another one in her future, she was studying fiction back then. I lost touch with her until years later when I saw she had won the 2015 Robert Dana-Anhinga prize for her fabulous collection, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter or Living Truthfully under Imaginary Circumstances. I thought, Wait. Is that the same Liz? I was reminded of Nickole Brown, another Vermont college graduate, who studied fiction and who also became a prize-winning poet. NA: How/why did you transition from fiction to poetry? Can you say a few words about your evolution as a writer? EP: My evolution as a writer follows the trajectory of my evolution as a woman. I had to learn to listen to my own voice, not the voice and criticisms of others, and it took a long time deciphering what was valid criticism and what was someone holding forth opinions in the moment. I had to learn to trust myself. I gave up on my first love, poetry, in my senior year when told it wasn’t very good at all by my classic nemesis---my stepmonster-- when I returned from the Bennington College July program. So, I changed to fiction. When we were in grad school I had a prof there say,” Oh no, not another damn women’s story!” It was a lyric essay, really, about childbirth. From then on I tried to turn every story into some other kind of form. Writing fiction in third person was too much like moving heavy furniture around a room. There was no discussion of hybridity, especially at VC. Here’s the deal, I had to make it matter only for myself. I was buying whatever anyone wanted to sell me. Then one day I realized the truth in the Dylan song, “Everything passes, everything changes, just do what you think you should do.” NA: You are a master of the lyric essay as well. I love the poem (or is it an essay?), “Summer Undid Me: Guerlain Imperiale (Bedroom), 1853.” EP: Oh, Nin, thank you! It is a kind of detoxification from too much summer sun, reading books about Napoleon and Baudelaire, spritzing too much Guerlain, and a narcissist lover gaslighting me into another dimension! It is an argument about how we use our senses and how easily we can be fooled by history, marketing, artifice. Ultimately, it’s how can we tell the dancer from the dance. It’s creative inquiry, which belongs to essay and poetry and becoming. It is a kind of poetic journalism, which is to say, a sister to documentary poetics. NA: I am a fan of all your books, but I especially love Atomizer. I admire its humor, intensity, and lush sensuality. I'd love to hear you talk about the experience of writing this collection. Maybe say a few words about the difference between writing the personal and the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Preface If anyone reads this book, they will think they know what kind of person I am. They will, I am certain, imagine me as someone else, someone I can never be—simply because I have written this book of orgasms, and this book will do that to them, and to me. It will make me appear to be the kind of person who is in the position to write about orgasms, who knows all about orgasms: their songs and dances and secret languages. They might go so far as to compare me to Noah Webster, claiming that just as he compiled an entire opus of words, carefully defining and distinguishing each one’s particular origin, pronunciation, spelling, and proper usage, so I have collected an opus of orgasms. And I will have to admit, with surprise, that even if I don’t imagine myself to be that sort of person, even if I don’t consider myself an author anymore, much less an author of an opus of orgasms, even if I no longer converse with orgasms in my daily life, the orgasms continue to seek me out, as orgasms will, as if they need my blessing, as if I and only I can hear their pleas, their wishes, their last breaths. >>>> When asked to describe her writing life, Nin Andrews once wrote: "I have always felt a little apologetic about my poetry. Because I am not sure that I am the person who writes it. Rather, some other mystery woman sits in front of my computer, typing happily away. This other is bold and loud, and my father, who met her on occasion, described her as unbecoming, uncouth, and socially unacceptable. When she was a girl, he threatened to wash her mouth out with soap and water, as was done in those days. Ivory soap—it made her vomit. But all the soap in the world could not clean or shut her up. It is she who gives voice to orgasms (or is it vice versa?), and who has not a worry in the world about what others think. Me, an inhibited wisp of woman, I can only watch her and sigh." Ed. note: Nin Andrews's book "The Last Orgasm" (2020) is available from Etruscan Press. The "orgasms" collected here are in the manner of such writers as James Tate, Lydia Davis, Vallejo, Lorca, Henri Michaux, Frank O'Hara, Kafka, and Rilke. Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
<< I am so excited to be reading with David Lehman and Denise Duhamel tonight for the KGB series, I can barely breathe. I am thinking of this as my ten minutes in the presence of fame—as well as in the presence of two of my all-time favorite poets. I can’t wait to hear Denise read from her new collection, Second Story, which includes a long poem in the form of Terza rima about her terrifying experience with hurricane Irma, as well as her equally terrifying poems about the last few years, under the influence of Donald Trump. And I am so excited to hear from David Lehman whom I expect to surprise us by reading from his forthcoming collection, The Morning Line, due out in the fall of 2021 from the University of Pittsburgh Press. I owe so much to both of these poets. David was my first real poetry professor. I would never have pursued poetry if it were not for him. And it was Denise who taught me how to read an orgasm poem aloud. -- Nin Andrews >> The reading starts at 7 pm. Meeting ID: 865 6152 2512 Passcode: 799004 << I'm grateful to David Lehman for giving me the chance to say a few words about his April 12 KGB Bar reading with Nin Andrews and Denise Duhamel, because it was David who introduced me to their work. Back when the reading series was new, in the late 1990s, with Star Black and David in charge, he gave me a copy of "The Book of Orgasms" by Nin Andrews, and I was blown away by the sheer happy lusty sexiness of the concept and the individual poems illustrating the poet's orgasmic "quest," which is a never-ending one inasmuch as the "last" in any series is the first in a new series. I also recall a night at the bar when, drinking Tanqueray martinis, Lehman insisted that feminism and fun were not incompatible, and won the bet with Duhamel's Barbie poems in her book "Kinky." As for Lehman himself, will he read daily poems, poems "in the manner of" his favorite dead poets, or a Baudelaire translation? What this virtuoso trio has in common is authenticity, humor, wit, daring, and sensibility, which is just about everything. >> -- Fred Chervil Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
I had all these great ideas for a blog post last night as I was drifting off to sleep, feeling thrilled to have just received my second vaccine, and dreaming of life after Covid—dinners out, coffee shops, friends. But this morning, when I woke, I felt done in. Overnight, my brain seems to have turned into Jello. I’m not sure if there’s a coherent thought in there, thanks to Moderna. Usually when I lack inspiration or brain power of my own, I pick up a poetry book at random, and it helps get the juices flowing. Or at least, I have an enjoyable moment with someone else’s poetry. But today, those poetry books are staying on the shelf. No way can I focus on poetry. Instead, I’m reaching for my guilty pleasure—self-help books. Because there isn’t a subject I don’t need a how-to book for. Or a book for dummies. Whenever I walk into a bookstore, I am amazed to find a whole shelf of books, written just for me. So far, I have read Walking for Dummies--I mean how does anyone put one foot in front of the other? Daily Sex for Dummies. Daily, seriously? Tying Shoes for Dummies—it’s true, I don’t even tie my shoes correctly. And The Dummies’ Guide to Love and Happiness. What can I say? I love instruction manuals, precisely because I can never follow directions. I remember, many years ago, in a college poetry class, one student said, “Nin never does the assignment. She just goes off into her our own world.” “Yep,” the teacher said. “But at least she has another world to go to.” I am not sure if that’s a good thing. But I try to do what I am told. Well, more or less. I also love instruction manual-poems like Ashbery’s “The Instruction Manual,” and Rebecca Morgan Frank’s “How to Make Your Own Automaton,” which she reads in this video below. And then offers advice on how to write your own how-to poem. Frank is brilliant. And she gives great advice. Now, if only I can follow it. Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
It’s April, the cruelest month, and here in Virginia the rain has been falling so steadily, I am worried it will never dry out again. I feel soaked to the bone. Brain-foggy, too. Socked in. But, in spite of that, I’ve signed up for one of those write-a-poem-a-day groups. Now, I know a lot of you BAP readers are naturals at writing daily poems. Maybe you follow William Stafford’s advice of lowering your standards, and just keep writing no matter what. Or you’re a regular Emily Dickinson or Frank O'Hara--scribbling brilliant lines every other second. Or you’re like David Lehman who wrote a poem a day for two years (gulp) and then published his lovely book, The Daily Mirror. Me? I don’t write a poem in a day, or even in a week. Ever. But, I have decided to give it a try. After all, it's what poets do in April, right? And I want to say, I'll be relying on all those poets who so graciously offered up video prompts for Lit Youngstown's Lit by the Imagination project, poets like Denise Duhamel, Stephanie Strickland, Peter Johnson, Jeff Friedman, Dante Di Stefano, and others. So many others. Every day there’s a new poet and a new prompt here. I want to post a few examples here, just to give a taste of what's ahead. Like this one by Nicole Santalucia: And this one by Lauren K. Alleyne: And this one by Leona Sevick: Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Many years ago, my shy teenage son came home from high school and said he had almost spoken in class that day. “But the words got stuck right here," he said gesturing at the base of his throat. “Maybe tomorrow, they will actually come out of my mouth.” I thought of him a lot over the last year when I developed a serious writer’s block. I had ideas, the desire to write, even the urgency, but the words would not come. I kept thinking, Maybe tomorrow I will be able to write again. But there was a little space in my office where ideas fluttered around like uncaged birds and never landed. Even when I did put something down on paper, there was a distance between what I meant and what I said. I thought of William Stafford’s advice to lower your standards in order to keep writing. But how low? And how does one deal with the feeling that the muse is simply absent? Day after day I would wake up hopeful, only to find she was still on vacation. Maybe she moved to another town, or a beach resort—she knows how much I hate those brightly lit vacation spots with tourists and palm trees and so much sun, my skin fries, and my soul, too. But it’s not just she who left me. My dreams were missing, too. Even my daydreams. It was as if my mind were a blank page, or maybe a whole book of blank pages. I blamed my writer’s block on the news, the weather the pandemic, a family crisis, loneliness, old age, even my pajamas. Yes, my pajamas. Because my entire wardrobe for the last year could pass for pajamas. There’s no reason to worry about appearances during a pandemic, of course. But every poem I wrote (if I could call it a poem) seemed to be wearing pajamas too, or joggers with elastic waist bands—nothing I'd want to present to the world. I have tried so many things to overcome my writer’s block. First I listened to hours of poetry podcasts by the amazing poets, Pádraig Ó Tuama and Tracy K Smith. Although I love the podcasts, they didn’t make me want to go to my study and compose my own work. They did make me wonder if I’d ever be able to write a poem as beautiful as the ones they featured. Next, I watched poetry reading after poetry reading on ZOOM. I paid attention to some of them. I love the convenience of listening to a performance in the comfort of my home. But I am not the best audience when I am too relaxed. My mind wanders. I begin to wonder, “Is this poetry reading ever going to end?” Or, “What is that thing on the wall behind the poet’s head?” Or, “I wonder what that paint color is — Farrow & Ball Blue Ground? Benjamin Moore Aegean Teal?” But there were notable exceptions—poets I wish I could listen... Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
I love to lick English the way I licked the hard round licorice sticks the Belgian nuns gave me for six good conduct points on Sundays after mass. Love it when ‘plethora’, ‘indolence’, ‘damask’, or my new word: ‘lasciviousness,’ stain my tongue, thicken my saliva, sweet as those sticks — black and slick with every lick it took to make daggers out of them: sticky spikes I brandished straight up to the ebony crucifix in the dorm, with the pride of a child more often punished than praised. ‘Amuck,’ ‘awkward,’ or ‘knuckles,’ have jaw- breaker flavors; there’s honey in ‘hunter’s moon,’ hot pepper in ‘hunk,’ and ‘mellifluous’ has aromas of almonds and milk. Those tastes of recompense still bitter-sweet today as I roll, bend and shape English in my mouth, repeating its syllables like acts of contrition, then sticking out my new tongue — flavored and sharp — to the ambiguities of meaning. I love this poem, which Laure-Anne Bosselair so graciously agreed to record for Lit Youngstown’s forthcoming series of poetry videos. I love the idea of tasting the words, relishing them, not as Mark Strand does in his famous poem, “Eating Poetry,” when ink runs from the corners of his mouth, but as a savorer of flavors and textures and sounds. I especially love how she closes the poem with an image of herself sticking out her tongue as a Catholic receiving the sacrament in order to take in “the ambiguities of meaning.” Listening to her read in her beautiful Belgian accent, I am reminded of my childhood friend’s Belgian mother who used to call me mon petit chou. When she said chou, her lips pursed as if in a kiss, I felt so loved. I was certain mon petit chou meant something sweet like my little treasure. Or poppet. Years later, when I was a French student, I discovered she had been calling me her little cauliflower. Apparently, it’s a French term of endearment. I assume it’s the sound of the word, chou, that makes it so. Or perhaps there is a reference or meaning that I am missing. But then again, maybe the French appreciate cauliflower a lot more than I do. As Bosselaar puts it, when learning a language, one must stick out one’s tongue “to the ambiguities of meaning.” Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
In the fall of 2019, I was at a The Lit Youngstown Literary Conference in Youngstown, Ohio (amazing how long ago that seems now) when I heard Philip Metres read his poem, “One Tree” from his wonderful new book, Shrapnel Maps. And like many poems that are also parables, the poem stuck with me. And stuck with me. And stuck with me. When I first heard it, I thought I knew exactly what it meant. I could see it unfolding in my mind. After all, it seems like a simple story, and a true one. I know the neighborhood where the poet lives, and his wife, Amy Breau, a fabulous poet in her own right. I smiled, picturing her, rushing outside with her hair on fire, screaming, “NO!” as the man began chainsawing a limb from her sacred tree, while Philip, the consummate peacemaker, stayed inside, wishing he could hide. But in the end, when the chainsaw was lowered into the tree, I thought, Phil! You let them cut her tree? Because “someone must give”? I was particularly irked by his apologies to the neighbor, his repeated claim, “it’s not me,” when it was, too, him. After all, “we” said no in the third sentence, not she. What a coward! I thought. The poem triggered memories of my own family where my mother fought and lost many local, environmental battles. This was back in the 60’s when sexism was even more alive and well than it is today, and my father was so horrified by her activism, he asked that the local newspaper use her maiden name when they wrote about her. He didn’t want the businessmen in town to know that she was his wife. I sometimes wondered—if he had stood by her side, would she have been more successful? After all, people listened to men back then. Not to women. As I was driving home to Virginia after the conference, a line kept repeating in my head: “Always the same story: two people, one tree, not enough land or light or love.” I began contemplating the poem as a parable of the one tree—or the sacred tree of life. What will or won’t we do to defend it? I loved how he compared the tree to the baby brought to Solomon. It makes a lovely environmental parable. Or so I thought. But then, this winter Philip Metres sent me a video of another tree poem, "Olive Tree" for a project called Lit by the Imaginationthat I am working on for LitYoungstown (we are asking poets to read a poem and offer a prompt based on the poem. These short videos will be posted in April on the LitYoungstown Facebook page). I thought of the olive tree, and the term—offering an olive branch. And of the closing words in the poem, “first brambles, then olives.” Written at his brother-in-law’s home in Palestine, the poem reminded me of Metres’ faith, hope for, and interest in peace and conflict resolution, especially... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
A few weeks ago, I was part of a Hamilton-Kirkland College alumnae poetry reading, and after the reading a woman asked a simple question: “How do you write a poem?” I didn’t have an answer so I suggested a few books by poets like John Hollander, Mary Oliver, and Billy Collins. The woman said she had read books like that, but they didn’t help. She wanted something else, like a genuine operating manual—a step by step explanation. I, too, love instruction manuals, especially those manuals on how to perform magic: write a poem or know God or make love, if only love were something that could be made. Manuals offer such promise. Yes, you, too, can enter the bee-loud glade and the Promised Land and have an orgasm. I love the idea that my mind could be programmed like a computer to spit out poems on demand—poems with just the right number of lines, syllables, metaphors, meanings, similes, images . . . And with no clichés, no matter how much I love those Tom, Dick and Harry’s with their lovely wives, as fresh as daisies. I can set them in any novel or town in America, and they will have sex twice a week, always before ten at night, never at the eleventh hour, and it will not take long,time being of the essence. I love sex manuals, too: those books that suggest our bodies are like cars. If only we could learn to drive them properly, bliss would be a simple matter of inserting a key, mastering the steering wheel, signaling our next moves, knowing the difference between the brakes and the gas pedal, and of course, following the speed limit. A depressive person by nature, I am also a fan of how-to books on God, faith, happiness, the soul, books that suggest a divine presence is always here. I just need to find it, or wake up to it, or turn off my doubting brain. That even now, my soul is like a bird in a cage. If I could sit still long enough and listen closely, it might rest on my open palm and sing me a song. God, poetry, sex, they offer brief moments of bliss, glimpses of the ineffable, and occasional insights into that which does not translate easily into daily experience, or loses its magic when explained. In college, I took classes in religion, philosophy and poetry, and I studied sex in my spare time—my first roommate and I staying up late, pondering the pages of The Joy of Sex. As a freshman, I auditioned my way into an advanced poetry writing class by composing the single decent poem I wrote in my college years. The poem, an ode to cottage cheese, came to me in a flash as a vision nestled on a crisp bed of iceberg lettuce. Does cottage cheese nestle? I don’t know, but the professor kept admiring that poem. He said all my other poems paled by comparison. This was... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
I’ve been daydreaming about the magic wand I kept under my bed as a child. If my sister or I were sick, I waved it in the air. “Go away sickness. Now!” I would lie back in bed, imagining the gods were listening. I can hear my father’s voice advising me, “Don’t worry. This too shall pass.” He’d hand me a pill—aspirin or penicillin and sometimes Sominex so he could get some rest. For himself he kept a cabinet full of Demerol. My son has been seriously ill this summer. And a friend has become mentally ill, so ill she believes she can never leave her apartment again. When I talk to her, I think of that Henri Michaux poem, “Teaching a Statue to Walk.” It’s as impossible to get her to open her door as it is to teach a statue to dance. But people tell me my friend makes sense in this time of Covid. A lot of crazy things seem to make sense now. After reading the news, I sometimes wonder if the entire nation has become mentally and physically ill. Before this year I didn’t realize the fragility of our minds and bodies. And our democracy. How quickly health can decline! I keep waving my imaginary wand, wishing we could all attain some level of normalcy. But what does that mean? I don’t want to ask for grandiose or political answers here, though they might be merited. As a writer, I define normalcy simply as the ability to write in a coffee shop, meet friends for a drink, go to a non-virtual reading where I can peruse books at my leisure, have them signed, and hear the audience laugh and applaud. I wouldn’t mind attending a writers’ conference again, just to feel some sense of literary excitement and camaraderie. It’s lonely—this life of writing at home, far from my poet and writer friends, and it’s scary and heartbreaking to think about all that has happened this year, not to mention what might lie ahead. But then I reason: at least we have our virtual community. Our virtual readings and perhaps our virtual conferences. I was hesitant to fill out the AWP form and to answer that question: Should the conference be virtual in 2021? The obvious answer is yes. Why risk our health? The obvious question is how? And what would that look like? Will people attend? Books sell? What about all those panels, readings, tables of the latest poetry collections, and random conversations with other writers? What about the dinners and long walks in distant cities? Is there a virtual replacement? What does a virtual conference look like? I don’t know the answers, but I thought I might try one out. I’ve been eyeing a few virtual conferences including Lit Youngstown’s small and intimate Fall Literary Conference, Poets on the Coast, led by the fabulous poets, Kelly Russell Agadon, Susan Rich, and Laura Da’, The San Miguel Writer’s Conference, and The Brooklyn Book Festival. Maybe... Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
It’s another day and soon it will be another month in this miserable COVID summer. The sunlight is streaming through my window, and outside, the goldfinches are swooping through the meadow that is so thick with black-eyed susans, it looks like an Impressionist painting. In the distance, I can see the cows in the pasture, calves running behind them, a newborn trying to stand up on wobbly legs. Most years I’d feel a sense of joy at all this pastoral beauty. But this year, I wake each day to a strange ache in my heart, almost as if I have lost a loved one. I try to write but usually find myself just staring at the page. Maybe poetry is the loved one I have lost, I think. A friend tells me I am suffering from the COVID blues. She says lots of folks are, including herself. She’s been riding her motorcycle after dark to escape the loneliness. “You need something powerful between your legs,” she jokes. Like me, she says writing poetry usually gives her a thrill, a sense of romance and escape from the humdrum of daily life. I am reminded of the Bruce Bond’s first paragraph of the preface for the most recent PLUME anthology, Plume 8: “All good poems are love poems. They have something to lose. No less so in the aftermath of loss, or the thick of peril, in the crisis of the here and now that summons language as public and private, all at once. Relational, historical, psychological, poems recover, in light and in spite of human difficulty, a sense of their vocation. They ask us, as they ask themselves, why now. Why a poem. And more challenging still, why beauty.” Bond goes on to talk about the many beautiful poems in the anthology, and he’s right. Plume Poetry 8 is a stunning collection, featuring many of my favorite poets including Lynn Emanuel, Major Jackson, Albert Rios, Lisa Russ Spaar, Jeffrey Friedman, and Elizabeth A.I. Powell. Reading it does alleviate some of the misery of this peculiar time. While it would be impossible to pick just one poem to admire, there is a poem by Cynthia Cruz that synchronizes with my current mood: The Music Constellations of evening, Sweet, the smell of fire and filth of pines. Racing through the woods on silver shining motorcycle. What is the sound of driving back through black magnetic fields of night. Play the record back. Unpack the accident down to its haunting. Its smaller rooms, its trash and crackle. This morning the good voice spoke to me. A ghost entering the body. Then the sound of a violin playing. What I was is gone. Now just the din of smaller sounds of wayward and crawl. And then, there is this oddly timely poem by Stephanie Burt, with an epigraph in ancient Greek (which I can’t type out on my ancient IBM Thinkpad, alas). Reading the poem I am reminded of the Molly Arden, whose work and... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
1 April, Domodossola First to go were the gatherings. With the gatherings, gone was the sound of the gatherings—the voices, the music, the cars, the vespas, mostly the voices. Once in a while, a sudden band of teenagers rounding a corner or tucked between buildings, laughing, breaking the law by gathering. Then spring came in out of the stopped-dead Carnival—birds, flowers, trees in bloom, everything budding, and then even the teenagers vanished. In came the changing of the guard of sounds. Bells got louder. Birds got louder. The electric saw across town of a man cutting wood got louder. Shutters going up in the morning, down in the evening, deafening. Silence got louder, so much louder that it covered the streets and windows and faces behind the masks of the few people allowed to go out and got into the skin and blood and started to take hope away because here, now, silence is synonymous with death. It isn’t beautiful or zen or musical. It is the song of the virus, of the Carnival it took over, of the virtues and vices of the human race it is eating as it slides across towns and regions and borders and oceans, hunting down people of all ages and shapes, growing stronger and longer as it gathers into itself not our bodies or money or talents or dreams, just our breath. Larissa Szporluk's sixth book of poetry, VIRGINALS, will be published by Burnside Review Press in fall 2020. She teaches at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2020 at The Best American Poetry