This is Nin Andrews's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Nin Andrews's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Nin Andrews
Recent Activity
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
Last week I started a series called A Virtual AWP, featuring poets that I would have loved to have met or heard read or lecture, whose books I'd have bought and had signed, had I attended. I felt then as I guess many feel now, that a dark wave was rising up above the planet. But I don't want to talk about that . . . Instead I want to talk about poets like Elizabeth A. I. Powell whose book, Willy Loman's Reckless Daughter, was a New Yorker "Books We Love 2016" pick and whose new book, Atomizer, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University in the fall of 2020. I have already been reading poems from her new collection including this lyrical essay from Plume, and this poem from The Los Angeles Review: STALKING ME ONOMATOPOETICALLY “He closed my legs like a book,” Angela Carter I sought a restraining order against the sociopathic poem that kept pounding on the door of my mind at four a.m., rousing me with a slap on the face with its metaphysics of sick lust and panic. The order was dated March 1, 2016. A Thursday. Rainy. The sociopoem smelled of Paco Rabanne— A Cologne for Men— and was devilishly handsome, so elegant, so English-lyrically, well-anthologized, and attractive, seemed to have a form that suggested well-bred content, an understanding of stanzaic architecture, and deep image. Yet, this poem I loved had once tried to stab Dorothy Parker at a dinner party. He had claimed to have French kissed Helen Vender and Allen Ginsberg. How could I rationalize or reconcile my love for the poem? The poem tried to kill me, too, with the same red child’s scissors once, then another time it was tar and feather, because, the poem said, “I love you so much.” On therapeutic advice I sought the restraining order against the poem because it couldn’t contain itself, pushed me down with a conceit stronger than my fragile couplets, how it leaked anaphora like anti-freeze, bluish over the page and into my life uninvited, thinking it knew me better than I knew myself. The poem’s arguments were convincing, but it was all fanciful diversion. A lie. All through the day and all through the night: That poem. The poem telling me I looked fat in my Lord & Taylor dress. So, I bit the poem’s ear, again and again, until it bled a scary personification of ears. Stalking me onomatopoetically down the sidewalk to where I kept my secret sonnet turns inside. I just wanted to take a nap in Brooklyn, sleep inside my source material, that pale of settlement, the origin and end of everything in my family. So that the end of my suffering might bring an insight, but the poem turned my nap in Brooklyn into a series of disturbing and surreal faces that made me awaken into the possibility that I was the one who was so wrong, so ruined, damaged, unable to sing. Yet, sometimes, honestly, I... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you Sabra! Yes, these are such great poet/poems.
AWP has come and gone, and as you know, many poets and writers and books sellers and editors missed it, believing it best that they not travel or socialize or present their books or new poems during this time of the coronavirus. I wanted to do a post or two featuring a few of the poets and writers I would have liked to have seen, had I been there, had they been been there, had things been different. The first is the poet, Amy Woolard, whose much-awaited first book won the Alice James Award. Her poems are smart, sexy, dark, witty, and surprising. I think that if I had bought just one book at AWP, it would have been her collection, Neck of the Woods. Here's a poem by Woolard, first published in April 2018 by The New Yorker. Spoiler Was born a shamble. Was raised, as many, by a marrow & a follow. Made first fortune before first word. Had it made. Follow left The house each morning. Marrow worked to the bone. One Sinister, one borrow I loved more than my own stalled self; Early knew for certain one tomorrow I’d make a great ain’t. I Lived from we to we. Tried to save my crumpled singles. Put on A bold lip, pulled firm on my love like hinging down A set of attic stairs. What a racket. What a small cord Attaches us. My heart, still the spelling bee I throw each time On purpose: we had words, then slept like ice in the slit Of a tucked top sheet. After a spell, sure I slow-ached, sulked My way awake. Once upon a table: coffee with chicory & make- Shift bliss. My eyes, bigger than blue-plates—truth, it was almost Too much to swallow. Took it to go. Clocked myself out. A time Or two had my lights knocked out, my knee socks knocked off, But soft. But still—a ceiling fan, a sill, & a souse who hung On my every world. No two ways about it; I fell for us, hot & Mussed as all get out. Took my Eastern time across to the Pacific, Doubled down & doubled back. Put my face in the path Of another’s full-palmed slap—struck by how dumb I was Struck. Inked myself clear until I was sure as sure was Numb. Got my house in order but never quite could give up The drink, the way it confects me, the way I stay spoked With what wrecks me. Curled myself all the way inside The inside of our last joke, the punched line we lured The most, as thicket as our thievery, our ashed plot Unfallowing me like a neck’s own woods toward a choice Choke of light: I can’t imagine, I reckon I can only imagine. Next, I would not have missed Denise Duhamel's reading in which she was to read poems from her next book, forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press, including this one, originally published in The... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
A few summers ago I was in Maine, looking out from our house at a meadow full of bittersweet when I asked a poet-friend and gardener extraordinaire, “How do you get rid of bittersweet?” The bittersweet was everywhere, strangling ferns and bushes and covering parts of the meadow where blueberries once grew. “It’s best to ignore it,” she said. “Look past it at the sailboats gliding across the bay because you can’t get rid of bittersweet. It’s like a hydra. You cut off one head, and two grow back in its place.” She was right. The more I pulled out the bittersweet, the faster it grew back. Finally, in a moment of frustration, I hired a man with an excavator to dig up the patch of the meadow where the bittersweet had taken over. Gradually, the meadow grew back in to its natural and beautiful self. Now, when I look out at the meadow where the bittersweet once grew, I think of Maureen Seaton’s title poem, “Sweet World,” from her latest book published by CavanKerry Press, which I have retitled in my mind as “Bittersweet World.” Instead of invasive plants, Seaton writers about cancer with her characteristic wit and honesty and eloquence. When I read her work, I pray, “May the bittersweet leave her with only the sweetness that she is.” I am such a fan of her poetry. Sweet World I never had a nemesis before. I kinda like it. ~Felicity Smoak, The Flash Wonder what I'd be today if I was still married to my Wall Street husband besides married to a Wall Street husband and puking gin in a silk sheath at Delmonico's. I might be a blond size 4. I might be a secret Democrat or a weekend lesbian. This morning five planes flew over the yard in a V as I was about to dig into a pile of lavender pancakes al fresco. The V flew low and slow. It flew loud and ominous. It alarmed me, sounding a lot like the war movies of my fifties' childhood. My cranky Chihuahua was proverbially biting at flies and I was sitting there not thinking about hate. Recently, I experienced life with cancer. An intoxicating time, richly infused with the liquor of death, but good too because no one expected much of me and I was left to my own mind, which is what I'm missing most these days. Unless that's it over there, screeching on two wheels around the racetrack. Today I typed gnos instead of song and I wondered if it was some new app designed to mess with me. I've never thought to call the world sweet before. A nemesis can do that for you, make things taste different. Suddenly you're a hero/ine. All this devastation—and you're still standing in the middle of it. Seaton’s book, Sweet World, and my friend’s advice to look past the bittersweet and out at the ocean, and to focus on sailboats gliding by instead of invasive plants, reminds... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
How can I resist? It's a day for love, so I feel compelled to post just a few love poems here. First off, from one of my favorite poets, Shivani Mehta: The Butterflies You unzip my dress, a curve from the side of my left breast to the top of my hip. My body is a column of butterflies. One by one, roused by the light and cool air, they wake from sleep. One by one they open their wings, answering the instinct to be free. They scatter in all directions; I learn what it means to be in many places at once. -- from Shivani Mehta’s Useful Information for the Soon-to-be Beheaded, published by Press 53 Next, from Dante di Stefano. As a Parton fan, I love this poem. While Listening to Dolly Parton Sing “Lover’s Return,” I Imagine the Girl in You Talking to the Boy in Me The old gods gather in my chest and throb the miracles of flame and rusted fender, composing a ballad for blue flowers and grandmas toting shotguns up the hill. I arm my grievances with handwritten recollections of twirling skirts, moonlight, hot mouths coming together in the dark, the burning rafters of adolescence. Call my kiss a romp through threshing machine and clawhammer me up a sweet cudgel of melody as plain as a mattress filled with straw tick, where we can trundle on the big feelings of us joining as one against the hogtied malice of the world. --from Ill Angels by Dante di Stefano, published by Etruscan Press I am so looking forward to Nicole Santalucia's next book, due out this month. Here's a poem from that collection: Keystone Ode to My Wife after Reading Anne Bradstreet at a One Hundred and Three Year Old Farm House Between two clouds and two seedless grapes and two dandelions, there are days that fall. Between two horses or two farm dogs or two blackbirds, there is breath. Between two mice or two lightning bugs?or two blades of grass or two fallen crab apples, there is a silent place to love. Between two yellow wildflowers or two fox kits or two red oak leaves, there is energy that crashes. Between two frogs and two trees, there are two rain drops and two gusts of wind that blow through darkness, where two stars and two far away planets light up the sky. --from The Book of Dirt by Nicole Santalucia, published by NYQ Books Then I think A. R. Ammons, who makes me laugh. Their Sex Life One failure on Top of another Tryst I’m going to see you tonight: birds that know where to fly are loose under by ribs: your eyes fly here to my mind’s eye: I dwell on them; what if I’m frozen when I see you; what if I burn completely up: the birds may break out and go too soon; too bad if my self flies to you early, and I can’t follow. --from A. R. Ammons,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Last week, I interviewed Peter Johnson about his new anthology of prose poetry, A Cast-Iron Aeroplane That Can Really Fly, the title of which comes from Edson’s explanation of a prose poem: “A prose that is a cast-iron aeroplane that can actually fly, mainly because the pilot doesn't seem to care if it does or not." I began to think about the second half of the quote—the idea that the poem works because the writer lets go of it. I have such difficulty trusting in my prose poems as he suggests one should. I asked Peter if he had any other insights or quotes or ideas from or about the enigmatic godfather of prose poetry. Peter informed me that he was not only a good friend of Edson’s, he also has hundreds of letters from Edson. So I asked if he would be willing to talk about Edson and his letters here. Peter Johnson: I came to Edson’s work later than most prose poets. As I’ve said in numerous interviews, early on I was influenced more by Kafka, Novalis, and Theophrastus. But then some numbskull editor told me that one of my early prose poems was a “cheap imitation of Russell Edson.” Thinking I should at least know who influenced me, I checked out one of his books, and then we became friends after I started my journal. We are very different personalities but we ended up having a long correspondence over the years, and our wives even got along. We did a few events together, one being a week-long conference with you and Robert Bly, which was organized by Chard deNiord, and then Chard invited Edson and me to read at New England College’s MFA program, where we met a few prose-poem haters. He ended up writing me over 350 letters, some detailing everyday life but most being flat-out brilliant. When I asked him to do an interview, he balked, so I went through his early letters, created questions that fit his ideas, and then we went back and forth, creating a kind of long collaborative prose-poem interview, which you can find at Robert Bly once told me it was the best interview ever done with a contemporary poet. If that’s true, the brilliance comes all from Edson and certainly not from my questions. After Russell died, I met his brother-in-law at Russell’s house to discuss what to do with his estate. Frances, his wife, was there but was experiencing early signs of Alzheimer’s, so it was a bit trying and sad because she’s such a sweetheart. His study contained a wealth of knowledge about him: composition books from grammar school, early drawings, letters to famous poets, even a manuscript of verse poetry. It’s been astonishing to me that no poetry special collections have shown interest in purchasing this archive or my letters, and one guy who heads one of the most important contemporary poetry archives in the country didn’t even know who he was. Just unbelievable, though... Continue reading
Posted Feb 12, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks for your comments. Interesting about Forche. I have been to El Salvador several times--no memory of what kind of shopping bags were there, but it was such a heart-breakingly beautiful country--the people especially.
It’s February, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. I know the perfect gift for someone you love, especially someone you love to kiss: A Constellation of Kisses, edited by Diane Lockward and published by Terrapin Books. It’s a beautiful collection from start to finish. As Lee Upton writes in the foreword: <<< A kiss is never just a kiss—heat-seeking, information bearing, coded. In this inspired collection, poet and editor Diane Lockward has assembled over 100 poems about kisses written by many of our best contemporary poets. You'll find kisses longed for, kisses auditioned, kisses rehearsed. Ritualistic kissing. Delicious kissing. Kissing that comforts the grieving. Kissing that blesses a union . . . May there be no end to the most genuine kisses, the right kisses, the ones that are good and meant for us to savor. And while we're at it, let's wish for no end to poems about kissing. >>> I thought I’d ask Diane Lockward to say a few words about the anthology. What inspired you to put together an anthology of kisses? I don’t remember when the idea first hit me, but it churned in my brain for quite a while. Then I saw that the poet Brian Turner had just put out an anthology about kissing and my great idea hit the floor. I figured he’d just beat me to it, but ordered his book from the library. To my great delight, it turned out that his book is all prose. So my idea was resuscitated. I then put my plan together and put out the call for submissions. How long did it take to collect 100 great kiss poems? The call was open for six weeks. From the day it opened, I was bombarded with submissions. The idea seemed to be very appealing to lots of poets. After all, who isn’t interested in kissing? And there are so many different ways to approach the topic. I’ve done three anthologies; this one received by far the most submissions. Making selections was very difficult. I had to consider not only the quality of the poems but also the variety of approaches, tone, form, length. I had to say no to many worthy poems. And I am haunted by the fear that I said no to some poems I should have said yes to. But I did not want an enormous collection. So about 100 poems seemed a good limit. I’d love to have you post a few kiss poems below, and say a few words about them. Last Kiss First, in your seventies and alone, you read that those who count such things say an average person kisses for a total of two weeks in a lifetime. And you realize your two weeks was up some time ago. Suddenly there is kissing everywhere you look. And you learn that cows kiss and squirrels. Puffins, snails and meerkats! And you are overcome with sorrow and an overwhelming desire to kiss—to be kissed. And you learn that’s... Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
How did this anthology come about? I’m very proud of A Cast-iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on Their Prose Poetry. There are many excellent anthologies out there, but I think A Cast-iron Airplane is unique, and I was extremely happy that Marc Vincenz at MadHat Press had the vision to publish it. How did it come about? The seed was planted forty-three years ago, when I came across Alberta T. Turner’s Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process. At the time it was published people were speaking seriously about the writing process, even in freshmen composition courses. What made Turner’s anthology significant was that poets no longer feared that they might diminish their genius by describing how they wrote. Some of the poets in Turner’s anthology even reproduced various drafts of their poems with original cross-outs and annotations, so we could see how ideas and strategies for poems came about. Their commentaries affirmed my suspicion that there was no one way to write a poem. Turner’s questionnaire was very specific, so much so that some poets refused to participate. They thought her questions were uninspiring or too rigid. One poet, whom she did not name, in a fit of hysteria, likened the questionnaire to something out of 1984, which suggested how distasteful it was for some poets to discuss their process. After all, one way to crown yourself a genius is to suggest that your poems are tiny gifts delivered by the gods in the wee hours of the morning, bestowed upon only special people, of whom you are one. Alberta Turner was a friend of mine, and I think she would have been very happy to hear you talk about her book, especially about her questionnaire. She loved questionnaires. So it was her anthology that inspired you? I remember you talking about her when you were editing the journal. I was thinking about Turner’s book when in the last two volumes of The Prose Poem: An International Journal (digitized at, I asked a few selected poets to choose one of their prose poems and to write a commentary on it. Unlike Turner, I didn’t give much guidance. It would be nice, I said, to comment on it as a prose poem, but I didn’t want to restrict anyone. As it turned out, many of the poets chose to discuss the prose poem as a genre, anyway. A Cast-iron Airplane is an expansion of that project. I think it’s a useful book. For one thing, it’s a solid collection of prose poems written by some of the best American practitioners of the genre. It also provides a good way of looking at the prose poem as a legitimate genre by focusing on what the poets themselves have to say. Certainly, if poets call their poems prose poems and confess that they were self-consciously writing them as prose poems, thinking about a tradition that preceded them, then we should pay attention to that. If... Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
When I think of prose poets from this country, the two names that come to mind are Russell Edson and Peter Johnson. Neither you nor Edson ever write (or wrote) in verse, and both of you have (or had) a lot to say about the prose poem. I’d love to hear you talk about your own work today, and about the new anthology, A Cast-Iron Airplane That Can Actually Fly, tomorrow. How did you become a prose poet? I’m the least likely candidate to be a prose poet. I had four years of French, nine of Latin, and five of Classical Greek. My Masters thesis was an introduction to and translation of the Psychomachia, a thousand-line Latin poem written by Marcus Aurelius Prudentius. With that background, I probably should be writing sonnets. So why the prose poem? For one thing, I was a terrible verse poet, mostly because I couldn’t have cared less about line breaks. But, of course, my situation was more complicated than that. Perhaps the best, and most concise, way to explain why I became a prose poet is to look at one of my early poems, called “The Millennium.” The Millennium In the basement, in the playroom, Ken’s throwing darts at another Ken while the flies of fairy tales nod off on a concrete wall, on a red plunger by the sink, on a lonesome cue ball. Upstairs, a pair of twins dancing on a hardwood floor, pushing tiny Santas in miniature baby strollers. I need help to sit down. “Next you’ll be wanting a back rub,” my brother says, then leaps from a coffee table, toppling our Christmas tree. Not enough bulbs to poke holes through this night’s black logic. No one strong enough to turn The Great Telescope, still partially unwrapped. Four hours to midnight, my niece embracing her Sleepy-Time Barbie, eyelids set to close at the turn of the century. “The Millennium” is the last poem in Pretty Happy!, my first volume of prose poetry. It changed everything for me. I’m very fond of Pretty Happy!, but, looking back, I see how haunted some of the poems were by other texts, such as, Kafka’s parables; Novalis’s short prose; the character sketches of the ancient Greek writer Theophrastus (whom I had translated in graduate school); and even things as silly as the “Fractured Fairy Tales” episodes from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and sketches from my beloved old copies of Mad magazine. Those influences were present long before I came to the oneiric landscapes of Charles Simic, Russell Edson, and Max Jacob. That’s not to say I didn’t have a voice or subject matter. I’m a mix of high and low cultures. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood near the steel plants in Buffalo, New York, but I went to a Jesuit high school where, as I said, I studied classical languages and was immersed in the Western Canon. It’s not surprising that in one of my later prose poems I have Socrates... Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
NA: In this era of Trump and the Republican stranglehold on truth, I have been having a hard time writing, or even thinking about writing. I feel helpless when I read the news or talk to people who are so politically different from me. Yesterday, I was at the doctor’s office, listening to two elderly white men talk about how great Sean Hannity is, and how our country is, at last, in good hands. I could feel my blood pressure sky-rocketing. Afterwards, I sat at my desk, and instead of typing, I stared out the window, thinking of Roethke's lines, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see,/ I meet my shadow in the deepening shade . . .” I began to wonder, how are others coping? I thought I’d ask a few other poets, starting with Tim Seibles. NA: How are you coping in the Trump era? Are you writing? TS: During these times of Trump—times of idiocy, corruption and the resultant despair—I have found writing to be a place of energizing solace. Though it is an illusion (at least in part), when I’m working on a poem, I feel like I’m talking back to the horror and cultivating some form of resistance to the infection that this administration represents. Poetry, whether it be raging, broken-hearted, or ecstatic, is life affirming. It reminds those who are interested that others also suffer and yearn and see the trouble. In some ways—both obvious and not—poetry itself means that being alert emotionally and intellectually is worthwhile. In my darkest moments, I still believe that such engagement will help decide what kind of future will follow this insane period. NA: Please share a couple of poems on the topic. TS: KNOCK-KNOCK It’s quiet— like a fly in a frog’s mouth. Say something loud but secret like starlight banging on a bug’s back, something so true that just the suggestion un-hands the clocks— why pretend that I’m not what I am: a hard-on held by the head nun, that rogue fart in the flower shop, freak branch on the family tree, that mad song in a mum city—I am that misfit music, that two-headed Ken, that Whoopsupsidethehead, antsinyourpants whatcanIsay: I bum-rush the world, find another world inside: that last chance, the lost choir, that Ghost Dance come again— who says we can’t be free? NOT NEARLY ENOUGH #2 for Cesar Vallejo Yesterday, maybe—tomorrow perhaps, but today, no one is reading my poems, no one at all! It’s as if my whole life has been covered like a parrot’s cage, so everybody can get some sleep. I didn’t mean to shout, to blaspheme, to interrupt, curse, use slang, obsess? over women’s thighs. I did not mean to cause trouble did I? Maybe I did. Of course, I did— but for the best possible reasons: There’s no pretty way to fight ugliness. There’s not nearly enough love going around, nowhere near an adequate array of sexual collaborations: in fact, a wild lack of empathy and... Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
When I pulled a slim volume of poetry off the shelf and read the following description on the back, I knew I had to read it. “In Kim Dower’s fourth collection, Sunbathing on Tyrone Power’s Grave, death has never felt so alive!” How could I resist a death that feels alive? The first poem in the book that I flipped to was this: Completion We like to cross things off our lists. The wedding gift has been shipped. Groceries in the fridge. Book written. Dying is the last item to be checked off the list. I wish I could cross it off myself as I was in the act. I’d insert a pink ink cartridge in my special Pilot, draw a withering line through the word die (maybe a smiley face?) as my last breath left my lungs. Be there for me if and when, as I might need you to hand me my pen. Hand me my pen. The poem surprised me, in part because I, too, have been putting death on a checklist, along with eggs, toilet paper, coffee, gardening, and calling Nicole. (I need to call Nicole!) But I don’t mean death exactly, not as Dower does, but rather, thinking about death. Because I’m trying to be a better Buddhist, and thinking about death is an important part of Buddhist practice. There’s even an app for this called WeCroak, which I downloaded two days ago. Now WeCroak dings me 5 times a day and reminds me that I will die. And each time it dings, I think about Claire Bateman’s poem, “LXI,” from her miraculously beautiful book, The Locals, that begins: LXI In this realm, most of the citizens have become aficionados of their own death scenes, traveling repeatedly into the future to snap photographs from various angles, host parties, or engage in religious ceremonies, whether or not the dying version of any particular self is still a believer. But sometimes when I practice with WeCroak, I worry that I’m not doing it right. For Buddhists death is supposed to be an opportunity to transform from the proverbial caterpillar into a butterfly. So thinking about death should be a way of thinking about this transformation, just as Dower does in her lovely poem, “Confessions of a Butterfly.” Confessions of a Butterfly I stuffed myself with milkweed in my adorable larva stage making my wings large bright orange. I’m desperate for people to admire my delicate beauty and believe I bring them good luck. With my life span as short as a rose’s, I don’t waste my time fluttering through the fields mingling with the flowers. I plan to follow the heat, echo in its warmth, power straight into the sun, feel each ray slash my wings, burn them to powder, light up the world. After reading this poem, I tried and failed to imagine myself as a lowly being changing into a winged one, and then lighting up the world. I think I am lacking what Claire... Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2019 at The Best American Poetry