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Rochelle Hurt
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Cori A. Winrock is another new poet whose work I've been seeing (and loving) everywhere. She agreed to answer some questions and share a poem below. Cori A. Winrock’s first book, This Coalition of Bones, debuted from Kore Press in April. Her poems have appeared in (or are waiting in the wings of) Anti-, the Best New Poets anthology, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, From the Fishouse and elsewhere. She won the 2012 Summer Literary Seminars’ St. Petersburg Review Award and is a recipient of a Barbara Deming Individual Artist Grant. She just finished her third year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry at SUNY Geneseo. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and their daughter Sallie. (Photo by Lindsay Crandall) Your first book, This Coalition of Bones, was published this year by Kore Press. What can you tell us about this collection’s themes and goals? The book is split into four different sections that use various types of portraiture to investigate the mutable records of memory, the body, the archive of domestic spaces/relationships, and the self. There’s a mixture of fragment and form in my exploration of the internal versus the external as well as embodied opposites: memory as a physical entity and anatomy as an emotion. The poems also focus on other kinds of transformation and transfiguration: iron-jaw artists, anatomical models, and magicians become part of the everyday while factories and suburban families are uncovered as curiosities. The manuscript was a finalist for a number of contests and Kore picked it up in its 2011 competition, so I have actually been in a liminal space waiting for the book to come out and simultaneously writing new poems. It’s thrilling to finally have it floating around in the universe! As I head off to give my first readings for the book I’m having a sort of reconnection-celebration with the pieces—which feels like enacting some of the memory elements that the book confronts. Something that I find particularly interesting in your work is a mixture of images from the natural world with images from domestic spaces. Often, this creates a stunning surreal effect, as in “Hospital Bed in Early December Woods”. How do these two realms, which some people might think of as disparate, converge in your mind, and what is the relationship between them in your work? I have been interested in exploring what constitutes the borders of the internal versus the external for a while. In part this stems from a background in neuropsych that propelled me in my first collection to consider the anatomy of memory and the body as merging with landscape and relationships and domestic spaces. I only recently realized just how much I am compelled to both microscope and amplify the domestic (or internal) through a framework of the natural world (the external) and vice versa. The initial concern of my more recent poems, the political/gendered/mythological representations of marriage roles, was dislocated quite a bit by the unexpected death of my... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
It’s Throwback Thursday. For those of you who aren’t on social media, that means we all post Polaroids of ourselves in the ‘80s, or something like that. I wasn’t very interesting in the ’80s, since I mostly just ate fruit rollups and watched cartoons. So today I’m throwing way back to 2003, when I was a freshman in college—but also to the ‘60s. News recently made the rounds that Anne Sexton won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry basically by default. According to David Trinidad, Chronicle of the Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry reveals that while she wasn’t at the top of any of the judges’ lists, she was the only one on whom they could all agree. Plath was also in the running, though she was dead by then. Of the comparison between the two, one of the judges, Phyllis McGinley, wrote “Both women are neurotics and their poetry is based on the fact.” Confessional poetry gets a lot of flak for this very reason, and it’s often worse for female poets. It used to irk me that Plath and Sexton frequently got lumped together as “the suicide girls,” when they clearly had different styles and distinct voices. In the classroom, I saw their biographies too often overshadow their work. Why didn’t the same thing happen to John Berryman, who also committed suicide? Why didn’t W. D. Snodgrass’s Heart’s Needle get put down as simply neurosis in book form? I was troubled mostly because I thought this biographical focus belittled these women’s work—and certainly biography can be used that way—but in truth, it was both Plath’s and Sexton’s reputations as suicide girls that initially appealed to me as a beginning poetry student. The first collection of poetry I bought was Plath’s Collected Poems. Sexton’s Selected was the second or third. Until I discovered them, I had some vague, unfortunate notion of poetry as a highfalutin genre of bald white men lecturing to me in rhymes about nature and the true meaning of life. Whose life? Not mine, it seemed. I was a freshman in college, and I was in the middle of an emotional crisis (as most college freshman are). I felt like a failure for wanting to give up on my dream of becoming a painter. Everybody around me looked talented and happy. I was depressed, drinking a lot, and thinking about death often—not just practically, but also conceptually, which is important creative work. I didn’t want to be comforted (and when it comes to poetry, I still don’t). I wanted the dark, the dramatic, and the feminine. The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby. (from Plath's "Tulips") O little mother, I am in my own mind. I am locked in the wrong house. (from Sexton's "For the Year of the Insane") I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at... Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Today I’d like to focus on one of my favorite contemporary poets. Lo Kwa Mei-en is from Singapore and Ohio. She is the author of Yearling (Alice James Books, 2015), and her poems have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, and other journals. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about her work. Your first book, Yearling, was recently selected as the winner of the Kundiman Prize, and will be published next year by Alice James Books. What can you tell us about this collection’s themes and goals? Yearling is about adolescence and the transformative stuff that shapes it, so the book is obsessed with initiations, ordeals, and homecomings, or lacks thereof. The links between humanity and animality are a recurring theme, as is the question of how certain forces may grant or deny someone their personhood. The greatest goal I have for Yearling is for it to sing, rather than to say. Part of what I most admire about your work is what I see as a kind of maximalist sensibility when it comes to language--for example, the relentless texture and play in "Babel / Aubade". In a recent article for the Boston Review, Stephen Burt describes the "nearly Baroque" in contemporary poetry as “art that puts excess, invention, and ornament first.” Using this definition, do you see your own work as nearly Baroque (or dare I say, nearly nearly Baroque)? Maximalism! I love it! Although the poems in Yearling owe a lot to those craft elements, I hesitate to just say “yes,” because unlike the poems explored in Burt’s essay, my poems are seriously untroubled by the question of whether poetry and/or beauty is useless for being devoid of utility (and therefore of societal worth.) Audre Lorde said that “poetry is not a luxury,” and I believe in that, for all of the reasons laid out in her essay of that same title. That said, my most recent work (including the “Babel” series) might be flat out Baroque. Where the poets presented in “Nearly Baroque” make extravagant art “without adopting pre-modernist forms,” I am very much in love with inventions that are too old to have an author: heroic couplets, sestinas, abecedarians, and sonnet crowns have been on my mind. And while I also do not sound like Richard Wilbur, it is in part because I am still listening to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Burt goes on to say that “these nearly Baroque poems bring to the surface questions about all elite or non-commercial or extravagant art.” How is this aesthetic related to the notion of accessibility in contemporary poetry? Do you think about accessibility in your own work? “Nearly Baroque” raises the question of whether an extravagant poetics can be justified in a world ravaged by excess, and the idea of accessibility constantly asks if a poem’s beauty justifies its failure or refusal to result in a clear experience of the world for the reader. While “Nearly Baroque” takes ornamentation seriously... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Yesterday I wrote about Rust Belt and ruin poetry mostly in terms of content and motifs, but today I’m thinking about form and style. What kinds of sounds and structures, for example, acknowledge and respond to post-industrial (or industrial) ruin? The Hum of Jamaal May’s book (from yesterday's post) refers to a kind of music made by both man and machine, challenging the natural/manmade binary. In the post-industrial age, this binary is false, outdated, and irrelevant. Our food is engineered and chemically altered, our soil and water sources are laced with pipes, drills, wells, and fracking fluids (more hidden Gothic monsters). By the same token, however, our bodies are bolstered by titanium limbs and pacemakers, our pets are implanted with microchips, and we can replicate our cells in laboratories. For better and worse, we live in a hybrid world, and the natural is no longer strictly natural. A post-pastoral poetics recognizes this. How is it reflected in form? Hybridity is one answer, but that can mean many things—blurred genre lines, multiple voices and modes of communication, aesthetic juxtapositions—which can look radically different. In Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins (Norton, 2012), the post-apocalyptic world is rife with unsettling post-pastoral imagery: His apiaries are empty except for dead queens, and he sits on his quiet boxes humming as he licks honey from the bodies of drones. He tells me he smelled my southern skin for miles, says the graveyard is full of dead prophets. . . . When you ask about resurrection, he says, How can you doubt? and shows you a deer licking salt from a lynched man’s palm. (from "Our Bodies Break Light") This last image can be read as hopeful, but it reveals (remember that an ‘apocalypse’ is an 'unveiling') a dark truth about the natural world: it thrives on death. In the literal sense, this is old news—animals kill and eat other animals, worms and vultures feed on corpses, decomposing organic matter nurtures soil and roots, etc. The newness of this image has more to do with its corruption of the Romantic notion of the pastoral as bucolic, nostalgic, a salve for urban industrial life. This is what Brimhall’s apocalypse (of war, of social or ecological collapse, etc.) reveals. photo: Thomas Hawk Joyelle McSweeney (who has written about the post-pastoral) incorporates post-pastoral ruin (of bodies) into her own apocalyptic vision. In her “King Prion” series from Percussion Grenade (Fence, 2012), mass production (of food) meets (meats) nature in the form of a prion, the type of fatally infectious protein that causes mad cow disease, a consequence of bad factory farming practices. The result is a musically frenzied voice that employs language as an infection, allowing each word’s sounds to spill into the next so that syntax and even meaning seem always in flux: Crepe’d up a knife blade ladder on Spectator shoes or gladiator sandals Cut to the glut, Fata Androgyna, To the fat of the matter. The play of the form colonizes its content, mimicking... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
I’m from Ohio. If you’ve ever met anyone from Ohio, you may have noticed that they love to talk about Ohio—but not in the same way that New Yorkers love to talk about New York (You won’t find better Thai food anywhere else!). That is to say: a lot of Ohioans have complicated relationships with their home state, especially if they’re from a Rust Belt city. Youngstown, Ohio (my hometown) Lately, I’ve been thinking about what this region has to say for itself in contemporary poetry, and I’m clearly not the only one thinking about this. There has been a spate of new books about the Rust Belt in the last few years, and some interest in a new subgenre sometimes called Rust Belt Noir and/or Rust Belt Gothic (no vampires needed). While most of these books are novels or collections of short fiction, many poets have also been increasingly concerned with post-industrial ruin. In Jamaal May’s collection, Hum (Alice James, 2013), post-industrial Detroit is more than a setting. The city merges with the book’s human subjects to become a character itself: Look for me in scattered windshield beneath and overpass, on the sculpture of a man with metal skin grafts, in patterns on mud-draggled wood, feathers circling leaves in rainwater—look. In the Gothic tradition, the haunted castle plays as important a role in the narrative as any of the characters. It houses the secrets and horrors that move the story forward, hiding and revealing them as needed. In May’s poems, Detroit is a Gothic space haunted by its own past, and a space in which the speaker ultimately discovers truths about himself. The act of searching and uncovering drives May’s collection forward. Take this passage from “Mechanophobia (Fear of Machines)”: Come rummage through our guts among fistfuls of wire, clutch, pull until the LEDs go dark. Our insides may be the jagged gears of clocks you don’t realize function until your blade gets stuck. The current that sparks, scrambles up fingertips, hurrying to your heart will not come as a hot, ragged light—you won’t notice when it arrives. May’s imagery is almost frightening at times, but fear is also ever-present as a concept, lurking in this series of phobia poems (Athazagoraphobia, Aichmophobia, Mechanophobia, Macrophobia, etc.). The pulpy supernatural horrors of the Gothic tradition manifest here as real-life fears, and the mundane becomes magnified. In “Athazagoraphobia (Fear of Being Ignored),” typical anxieties of adolescence take on more weight given the setting—a city ignored, a bankrupt city, an elsewhere: I used to bury plum pits between houses. Buried bits of wires there too. Used to bury matches but nothing ever burned and nothing ever thrived so I set fire to a mattress, diassembled a stereo, attacked flies with a water pistol, and drowned ants in perfume. What’s dead and gone never stays buried in this collection, as the motif of alternately burying and uncovering returns almost obsessively. There is something unsettling about this act, but it is what allows May's speaker... Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Jul 3, 2014