Category Archives: Lyric Essentials

Lyric Essentials: Dorothy Chan reads Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to Sirin”

Dorothy Chan is editor of The Southeast Review and just released her book, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), so it was a stroke of luck that she found time to sit down and chat about poetry. We covered a lot of ground—ranging from the long-standing tradition of bird poems to the strength of women and even Ava Gardner.

 

 

Black: What made you select this poem?

Chan: I couldn’t help myself. A poem with the opening lines, “What woman doesn’t want to be a goddess with wings / to fly over the world of men with their erections / of stone and steel, to go to war like Athena, / or become Aphrodite who could crumple men / with her eyes” is such a winner. I don’t think any lines can top these opening lines. I’m absolutely enthralled, and I think a cardinal rule of poetry is to always have your reader’s attention. I remember Alberto Ríos once saying in his Deep Revision class, “The line I’m reading should be the best line of the poem.” Every line of the poem needs to be the best line of the poem. Always. That’s what Barbara Hamby does.

 

 

Black: What is your sense of this newest collection of Hamby’s? Not that you need to write a review, but overall. What do you love about it?

Chan: I love that Hamby’s Bird Odyssey is all woman. I also love that it’s about travel and flight—women are goddesses, so let’s put our wings to use, let’s go on a mission, and let’s conquer the world! Speaking of missions, another big standout of the collection is “Elvis and Tolstoy Save the World,” which I had the pleasure of hearing Barbara read at this past AWP Tampa. I love its bold, matter-of-fact nature: “and if one more supernatural thing happens, my brain / might explode” and “And I think, Groupie? Black Sabbath has groupies, but Tolstoy? / And if I were going to be a groupie, I’d be following Chekhov / around, because he’s my idea of a guy I’d like to spend time with.” I also remember immediately falling in love with “Athena Ode” when I saw it in The New Yorker. In this poem, Hamby’s speaker calls Athena a “divine mixologist,” which I think is perfect. I like to compare the art of poetry to the art of mixology. Great poems are like very complex cocktails, the kind you order at a swanky Las Vegas bar, the kind that is literally set to fire—the kind that comes in a sexy glass that leads to a memorable night—and then of course you order a couple more rounds.

I’d also like to add that I’m also extremely attached to Hamby’s On the Street of Divine Love, particularly the poem, “Ode to Wasting Time and Drawing Donatello’s David.”

Black: Is there a connection to your own work either in this collection of Hamby’s or in some other way that her body of work might be influential to you?

Chan: Barbara is my mentor, and her work means so much to me. Again, I love how her poems are all woman. I admire her use of what she calls “word tango.” This “word tango” is extremely influential to me, and it also lends itself to longer lines as well as thoughtful associative leaps and language. Barbara has taught me so much about voice, and I appreciate her directness in asking students how they each define their own poetic voice. I think it’s important for every poet to define their voice succinctly.

More specifically, I’m thinking about the voice in “Fried Chicken Boiled Peanut Blues.” First of all, I love how Barbara works with food in her poetry—I mean, don’t we all wish there were more poems about food? Who doesn’t love food? And in this poem, Barbara’s speaker presents one of the best meals at Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis. The speaker is yearning for “every boiled peanut stand on Highway 319,” but then she makes an association that turns the poem into one about her family, in particular, her mother. Hamby’s leaping is always seamless.

Black: I’m seeing a lot of birds in poems and other works lately, are you? And if yes, what do you make of that?

Chan: Yes, I think birds continue to be popular in poetry. When contemporary poets write about birds, they are clearly also paying homage to an unofficial poetic tradition. It’s amazing how Poets.org has a whole section dedicated to bird poems. Anyway, I love how Barbara tackles the “bird tradition” head-on with the title, Bird Odyssey, and then with the section titles: I. Six Blackbirds on the Highway to Moscow, II. Three Vultures on the Blacktop to Memphis, and III. A Chickadee at Troy. Like anything, if you’re going to do it, be direct. That’s another aspect I enjoy about Barbara’s work.

Black: I love this line about the “glorious vagina mind”—Did you feel that personally, too?

Chan: Ah!! Such a great line! It’s so clever, isn’t it? Yes, I do feel that personally, too. Again, I think the best poetry is direct and confrontational, and if women are living in this society that men so want to continuously dominate, then let’s fight back with the very thing that those harmful men desire and turn it into a weapon. Every part of a woman’s body and mind and spirit makes her powerful. Women are strong as hell. They give birth to everyone’s fantasies and nightmares. I mean, Barbara’s speaker also mentions Ava Gardner. Think about Gardner on screen. She was once known as “The World’s Most Beautiful Animal,” and no one commanded a room quite like her.

Black: Tell me a little about your new book.

Chan: Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018) is led by a series of female speakers, mostly independent, bold, Chinese American women who want to reverse the male gaze, bringing attention to the female gaze and what’s sexy to a woman. The collection is a lot of fun.

Sometimes I joke that my poems can be summed up to “food and sex,” but if you think about it, those are such big topics, and food is inherently linked to both family and culture, and the discussion of sex evolves into a discussion of “traditional” vs. “nontraditional” Asian and Asian American perspectives. For instance, in my poem, “Ode to All My Flings Who Have Hated Dim Sum,” originally published in Hobart, my Chinese American female speaker is fed up with white boys calling her an “adventurous eater as I spit / out the bones from my chicken’s feet bathing in porridge, / though my grandmother orders the same dish / every morning in Kowloon.” Here, food and sex become tied yet again. The speaker is tired of explaining dim sum dishes to her flings because this pattern leads to the reduction of her culture. And in the end, she outright states, “I’m not your Asian cupcake, / your Chinese wet dream in a slit red slip and pink kimono. / I’m not your stuffed panda that dances when you poke / my button.”

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Dorothy Chan is the author of Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018) and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, The Common, Diode, Quarterly West, Blackbird, and elsewhere. Chan is the editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com.

Barbara Hamby is the author of many works including her most recent poetry collection Bird Odyssey (Pitt Poetry Series, 2018). Hamby has been awarded a Guggenheim, an NEA grant, the Iowa short fiction prize, the Vassar-Miller Prize, and other notables. She is a Distinguished University Scholar at Florida State University.

The good stuff:

Hamby at the Poetry Foundation

Some of Hamby’s Poems

An Interview with Hamby

Chan at AAP

Chan at Queen Mob’s

Chan at Ghost Ocean

 

Anna Black received her MFA at Arizona State University and her BA at Western Washington University. She has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. Black has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

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Lyric Essentials: Andrea Scarpino Reads Adrienne Rich’s “What Kind of Times Are These” and “Five O’clock, January 2003”

Andrea Scarpino is the author of four books, the Poet Laureate of Michigan’s Upper Penninsula, is the co-founder of the Disability March, and more. Scarpino teaches at the University of Illinois Springfield, but despite what is almost certainly a packed schedule, she sat down with me to talk about Adrienne Rich and the ongoing need for these poems and this work.

Black: “What Kind of Times” is one I’ve reached for a few times in the last year. Most recently I read it again when Bears Ears and Grand Staircase were devoured. You too? What moves you to share these poems? Is it a love of them or their prescience or…?

Scarpino: I also return to Rich’s poems again and again! When I’m struggling in my writing, I read her poems to remind me to be brave. When I’m struggling with our political situation, I read her poems to remind me that resistance is possible and can take many forms. When I’m looking for new forms, I read her poems to study the ways in which she plays with form. Her career was so long and so varied that there really are poems in her canon for everyone! 

 

 

Black: Adrienne Rich might be considered “larger than life.” What is your sense of her life and career?

ScarpinoLarger than life definitely seems right, at least in some circles. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Cincinnati, she came to do a reading and some lectures, and I remember so vividly that the university booked her in one of the largest rooms on campus—this horrible concrete auditorium that sat like 700 people. The place was packed. Like, seriously packed! And when Rich was introduced and walked out onto the stage, she looked so small in such a huge space, but the entire audience stood up and applauded. She hadn’t spoken a word, and she received a standing ovation. And I burst into tears. It was the only time I have ever seen that reaction to a poet and the fact that she was also a feminist icon when I was really just learning about feminism was even more meaningful to me. Here was a woman telling the truth of her life, and being rewarded for doing so. It was incredibly powerful. 

I know Rich is derided in some circles—I had a graduate school professor who used to tell me my poetry was veering towards “the bad Adrienne Rich” which I always took as a compliment even though he intended it as a mean criticism—but I have always loved her courage, her sass, her wit, her clear-eyed look at the world around her. I hope people are still reading her in 100 years because she was really a game-changer for so many readers and writers and people interested in moving towards equality. 

Black: Has Rich influenced you and your work then? And, how?

Scarpino: Yes, absolutely! For one thing, she reminds me to tell my truth, to write bravely, to keep myself attuned to the world’s atrocities no matter how painful that can be. Especially as a middle-class white woman—white US culture definitely supports us in refusing to engage with the atrocities of the world. And especially as a white US poet. There have been these conversations for way too long in white US poetry about the division between the personal and the political where the personal is supported and uplifted and the political is derided and downplayed. If you’re interested in writing political poetry in the US, you have a harder road ahead of you in terms of publication and general acceptance by the “academy.” And Rich reminds me how limited those views are, that they are particularly white US American views and that most people in the world don’t share them. I find that incredibly empowering. 

Something I love about so many of her poems is that they follow Emily Dickinson’s dictum to “Tell all the truth but tell it slant—“ Take “Five O’Clock, January 2003.” That poem starts with soldiers “being hauled / into positions aimed at death” but immediately moves into a conversation about Ed Azevedo “half-awake in recovery / if he has his arm whole / and how much pain he must bear / under the drugs.” Rich never tells us who Azevedo is or why he is important to the speaker, and almost the entirety of the poem addresses his arm and what happened to him. A reader could forget entirely that the backdrop of the poem is war until we arrive at the end: “I didn’t say Your war is here.” That line always makes my stomach drop. It brings us so quickly back to war and the ways in which war creeps into our lives like an infection, a poison: it starts as a minor cut and ends with emergency surgery. 
 
And I love how Rich does this in so many of her poems: she tells us the truth, but from an angle, from a slant. She doesn’t explicitly say “war is a destructive poison” but we understand that from spending so much time with Azevedo’s arm. She does a similar thing in “What Kind of Times Are These” which ends, “because in times like these / to have you listen at all, it’s necessary / to talk about trees.” I hear Rich saying, look, I know you won’t listen when I talk about all that we’re disappearing, I know that’s uncomfortable to you, dear reader. So I’ll write about trees and hope that you understand I’m also writing about what’s missing from the trees. 

 

Black: Are there connections between these particular poems and your own work?

Scarpino: Definitely! I actually used that last quote as an epigraph to my book-length poem What the Willow Said As it Fell, which is a book about chronic pain and the medical establishment and the intersection of gender and medicine. And also, about willow trees and ash trees, both of which have traditionally been thought of as healing trees. Willow branches have a substance in them called salicin which is related to our modern day aspirin and which was used for thousands of years as a pain reliever—people in childbirth would chew on willow branches to help with the pain, for example. And in Norse culture, it was thought that if you passed a sick baby under the ash tree, the tree would heal the baby. And I loved the idea of using these two trees as foes, in a sense, to be able to focus some of the book on the trees instead of on unrelenting chronic pain. That is completely a strategy I learned from Rich! I basically took her advice literally—if I’m going to get a reader interested in reading about chronic pain for 70 pages, I better spend some time distracting them with trees. 

But more generally, Rich’s work has always reminded me that it is okay to write politically—in fact, it is necessary and important to write politically! So much of my formal education taught me to revere the personal without any acknowledgment that of course the personal is political and the political is personal. The two aren’t ever easily separated. If ICE is deporting your family, then the political is deeply personal. If the president is sending you to war, then the political is deeply personal. And Rich continues to remind me of that when I lose my way: tell your personal story with an attention to the political world in which you exist. It’s the only way. 

Black: What do you want readers to notice in particular in these poems?

Scarpino: I would love readers to notice their beauty, the beauty of Rich’s language, the beauty in a line. Even when writing about really hard subjects, Rich writes with an attention to image, to sound, to the movement of each line. They are works of intense beauty, and that is part of what draws me back to them again and again.

 

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Andrea Scarpino is the author of the poetry collections Once Upon Wing Lake (Four Chambers Press, 2017), What the Willow Said as it Fell (Red Hen Press, 2016) and Once, Then (Red Hen Press, 2014). She received a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and an MFA from The Ohio State University. She has published in numerous journals, is co-editor of Nine Mile Magazine, and served as Poet Laureate of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 2015-2017. Her upcoming edited anthology is Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice (MSU Press).

Adrienne Rich was an intellectual, poet, writer, and activist, whose career spanned countless works. Her writing and activism have influenced some of the greatest minds working in literature and activism today.

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The good stuff:

Adrienne Rich at the Poetry Foundation

“What Kind of Times Are These” at the Poetry Foundation

“Five O’clock, January 2003” at the Monthly Review

Adrienne Rich’s Obituary in the Times

Andrea Scarpino’s Website

What the Willow Said as it Fell, At Red Hen Press

An Interview with Andrea Scarpino at Wordgathering

The Disability March

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Anna Black received an MFA from Arizona State University and a BA from Western Washington University. She has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. Black has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

Felicia Zamora reads from House A by Jennifer S. Cheng

Felicia Zamora is the author of three books of poetry and two chapbooks, but more than that, she is an incredible supporter and champion of the works of other writers in a way that makes her an astonishing ally and a valued friend. On poetry she is well-read and searingly intelligent. So of course, I asked her to read for us here at LE and I was excited to see who she would choose to share.

Zamora chose Jennifer S. Cheng’s book House A (Omnidawn) and read three poems for us from this gorgeous book, evidencing her incredible generosity.

Black: What a great choice. What made you choose Jennifer S. Cheng to share with us?

Zamora: Cheng writes, “children experience memories as image and sound, which is to say they experience them as poetry.” Here is a book that builds poetry, history, memory, and home—inside each page, each utterance of longing.

House A is one of those books I ordered because I am a fan of Omnidawn Publishing and appreciate the new voices they bring to the conversation from new and emerging poets. Reading other women poets of color is important to my own writing as I am fueled by the experiences and worlds being created by these poets. These are necessary voices. Voices we all must hear. I was only a few poems into Cheng’s epistolary “Dear Mao” sequence and I was thinking, “Wow, I wish I had written this” which is my telltale sign that I love a book.

Cheng weaves intricate images that make a reader fall into these letters of searching. In “Letters to Mao” she writes, “Lost: the dark / spot inside my mother’s throat. Lost: house inside my seams.” Home is in the flesh. Home is in the history of family and culture. Home is in “the dark silhouette of my mother’s hair” and how her father taught her “to listen to the inside of a seashell.”

Black: Is the entire book in epistolary form?

Zamora: The book comprises of three sections with only the first section comprising of epistolary poems. In the middle and third sections, Cheng explores how one studies and organizes memory and place. She asks the reader to consider how one creates a home from scratch. She never loses sight of the act of building home in all its bodily and worldly means.

In the second section, “House A; Geometry B”, she writes:

“…the body of articulation occurs through

a house…

let us iterate it until it is its own

baseline. dislocation a house. longing as

location.”

This is transcendent work that Cheng accomplishes throughout these pages. She requires readers to rethink how we conceive of “home.” We enter into the journey of searching, not just by language, but by the universal language of mathematics, or ‘geometry’, and through the construction of voice and images, that keeps swimming back to how one makes sense of rootedness and a lack of rootedness.

Again in “House A; Geometry B” she writes:

“the body of a house:

sleeping fossil

geometric shell”

Black: Claudia Rankine said of the book, “Not since Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and Calvino’s invisible Cities have I encountered such attention to the construction of love and love’s capacity to transform unimagined locations.” And I’m intrigued by the locations she talks of. Can you speak a little bit to the idea of place in Cheng’s work?

Zamora: It is through loss that the voice finds home in the everyday moments, finds place as something she can stow away into memory and carry with her. These are hard and beautiful poems born of necessity. Poems of a life in question of place. How do place and life come together? How does place etch inside us, leaving its mark? Cheng demonstrates how a body in longing plucks what it must, creates out from love new definitions of place.

She writes:

“…home is a narrative we are both familiar/with…

So that ours was always a story of leaving and never an/

anchoring of place.”

As a reader, Cheng builds micro worlds in each poem in which readers are allowed to swim in and contemplate space and place. She creates a fluidity in both her ideas and her language. This book acts as history, like the water in our bodies, it stays with a person into memory.

In “Letters to Mao” she writes:

“Dear Mao,

I hope you understand that what I am doing is trying to give you a history

of water, which, like memory and sleep, is fluid and wafting in refracted

light. History as water, so that I am giving you something that spreads.”

In many ways, these prose blocks transport and mimic the theme of the book: how home becomes that which we carry inside. How, “Such residue, the way a ghost becomes a blueprint.” There are historical vestiges of place inside those who long.

“Dear Mao,

Phantom limb.

Cheng explores how displacement transforms a person, beyond a diasporic hunger of place, and the how the mind creates the necessary places for survival and love, in a world within us. However, even in the creation of, the voice is still haunted by history and absence; these ghosts in linger.

She says to Mao:

“…You were dust in my house. A

shadow underneath the floorboards.”

Black: What do you want to be certain a reader notices in this work?

Zamora: This is complex work: to unravel time and place in search of meaning in the journey of diasporic history, to speak of “the watery life of home” that goes beyond what Cheng says, “the ambiguity of homeland” that one does not possess in their own memory, for those memories belong to someone else. Connectivity to geography is that of spinning globes, tidewater, and ceramic horses.

She writes:

“…For homeland is something embalmed

in someone else’s memory, or it is a symbol, both close the heart

and a stranger you reach for in the middle of the night.”

Black: Do you see connections between either the poet and yourself or her work and your own?

Zamora: In House A, Cheng uses the form of prose poetry in the first section of the book to explore an intricate weaving of thoughts in compiled letters to Mao. The language in these poems combine narrative and lyric in electrifying and transformative ways, as well as the necessity of the experience being written for the reader to share. She writes, “If I could take a shadow and sew it to another until it formed a roof above my head.” This building of images, I mean, wow; this is world-building.

I’ve been drawn to the prose and prose-ish poem in my own poetry, because of the work the form requires of a writer: intimate attention to both the line and the sentence in simultaneity, and the poet must consider the role of each of these elements and how they function cohesively in the poem.

I also connect with Cheng’s work because she attends to the missing, the absent, the hole so authentically and with such necessity. She weaves the intricate fibers of language in these poems, and strums. My history was also shaped in absence and a different kind of displacement, so Cheng’s poems idea of home speaks to me and how home resides more inside my body than outside.

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Felicia Zamora’s books include Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame 2017), & in Open, Marvel (Parlor Press 2017), and Instrument of Gaps(Slope Editions 2018). She won the 2015Tomaž Šalamun Prize (Verse), authored two chapbooks, and was the 2017 Poet Laureate of Fort Collins, CO. Her poetry is found in Alaska Quarterly Review,Crazyhorse,Indiana Review, jubilat, Meridian, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Reviewand is the Education Programs Coordinator for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Jennifer S. Cheng received her BA from Brown University, MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, and MFA in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She is the author of MOON: Letters, Maps, Poems, selected by Bhanu Kapil as winner of the Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize (May 2018), HOUSE A, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, and Invocation: An Essay (New Michigan Press), a chapbook in which fragments of text, photographs, found images, and white space influence one another to create meaning. A U.S. Fulbright scholar, Kundiman fellow, and Bread Loaf work-study scholar, she is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Award, the Ann Fields Poetry Award, the Mid-American Review Fineline Prize, and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her poetry and lyric essays appear in Tin House, AGNI, Conjunctions, Black Warrior Review, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Volta, The Offing, Sonora Review, Seneca Review, Hong Kong 20/20 (a PEN HK anthology), and elsewhere. Having grown up in Texas, Hong Kong, and Connecticut, she currently lives in rapture of the coastal prairies of northern California. (Bio is from JSC’s website.)

Links to some good stuff:

Jennifer S. Cheng’s Website

Jennifer S. Cheng at Entropy Mag

From the Voice of a Lady in the Moon, a poem by JSC

Felicia Zamora’s Website

Zamora’s Poetry at Poetry Northwest

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

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Lyric Essentials: Patricia Colleen Murphy Reads Terrance Hayes’ “Fire” and “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals”

Trish Murphy’s book, Hemming Flames is a deft exploration of trauma and incredibly difficult topics with a rich topography of image and language. Pretty much, I consider her a true adept at wielding her words. And this is exactly what she had to say about why she admires Terrance Hayes as a poet as well as loving his work. We got to talk about the surprise of his lines, and the way his stance makes the poem completely trustworthy.

 

 

 

Black: What draws you to Terrence Hayes as a poet?

Murphy: Terrance is a brilliant, generous, and funny human being. I love how many times his poems surprise me with unique phrases, strong images, but also deeply personal touches. In a reading he gave here in Phoenix in 2016 he said something that really moved me. He said that when he writes poems he keeps, “one foot in reality and one foot in imagination.” That is the way I like to posture myself as a poet as well.

His poems are full of musicality, masculinity, sensuality, whimsy, insight, AND moments of profound tenderness. How does he do it? He is a poet I read and wonder, how does his mind work? A line like, “Has your memory ever been / an unfenced country?” or “I know decent lies in the word descent.” There are so many moments in his work that I am thankful for. I picture him sitting at a desk—do these lines fall from the sky? How does he access them!?

Black: What is it about these poems that draw you to them? Do you connect with them personally, professionally, both? And in what ways?

Murphy: I’ll start with “Fire.” Now let’s be honest. I love dropping what I call the “M” bomb. There is no word quite like “mother” to stir emotion in the reader. It’s a cheat word in some ways because it’s so heavily weighted. I write about the mother a lot.

But I love the way the mother appears in Terrance’s work. In “Fire,” she is part of the landscape, but she is also a mythic savior. The way he reaches the mother as a topic is subtle and quiet and natural.

I do connect with this poem personally and professionally. When I’m reading submissions for my magazine [Superstition Review], or even when I am teaching writing of late, I talk about the 3 C’s: content, craft, and composition. In this poem there is a mastery across the board—the poem paints an image of a dream scene that allows the poet to portray the mother as a mythical hero. The poem is full of sensory detail and image and metaphor. And the writing at the word level is stunning. I love the line, “There was the calm & discretion / of giving up.”

In “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals” we get even more evidence of craft—the language here takes on more sophistication and playfulness. I love the line “I will remember my / brief career as an infant.” I love how socially aware this poem is without being self-conscious or self-important. These poems are so deeply personal that the reader is drawn into the experience on an intimate level. In this particular poem, I am attracted to the use of repetition, the play with words, the imagery, the refrains. I have tried to write a poem like this.

 

 

Black: Do you see connections from “Fire” or “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals” with your own poetry? And if so, how so?

Murphy: I can only say that I wish I could write like this. Maybe I have succeeded a few times with a few lines here and there.

Black: What are your feelings about the use of the first person in a poem?

Murphy: I write mostly in first person, though I do have several epistolatory poems. When I talk to students about first person in poetry, I talk about the main problem as I see it: that overuse of the “I blank” construction becomes repetitive and it also can indicate a level of self-centeredness. So in revision (or in editing even), I also recommend a ctrl-F for “I.” A lot of times sentences can be reworded so that they are simply more interesting.

What I like about these two poems and the way they use first person is that I feel so connected with the speaker. I believe the I. I believe the poet.

Black: What else would you like to point out about these poems? The language, the use of imagery? I’m interested in knowing what else moves you about his craft? What do you want students to take note of?

Murphy: It strikes me that the poets I admire most are the ones who take the time to imagine through to image. Perhaps that’s why I feel that these poems are so generous and thoughtful. The poet works through concept, “For house pets being American / is a cinch.” But also through image, “what I have eaten of you tastes like mint and damp clay, tastes exactly like the soil / I ate in my grandmother’s yard as a boy.” I really appreciate work that feels intentional and genuine, and Terrence Hayes is a poet who delivers every time.

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Patricia Colleen Murphy founded Superstition Review at Arizona State University, where she teaches creative writing and magazine production. Her book Hemming Flames (Utah State University Press) won the 2016 May Swenson Poetry Award judged by Stephen Dunn, and the 2017 Milt Kessler Poetry Award. A chapter from her memoir in progress was published as a chapbook by New Orleans Review. Her writing has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, American Poetry Review, and most recently in Copper Nickel, Black Warrior Review, North American Review, Smartish Pace, Burnside Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, Hobart, decomP, Midway Journal, Armchair/Shotgun, and Natural Bridge. She lives in Phoenix, AZ.

Terrance Hayes is a MacArthur fellow, a National Book Award winner, and the author of six poetry collections including his newest, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assasin. Hayes has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, won the National Poetry Series in 2001, and has achieved many other landmark accolades. In 2017 he was made a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Links to some good stuff:

Terrance Hayes at the Poetry Foundation

Terrance Hayes’ Website

Terrance Hayes at the MacArthur Foundation

Trish at the Academy of American Poets

An Interview with Trish at Diode

 

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

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Lyric Essentials: Jillian Weise Reads Constance Merritt’s “Bitches on the Bright Side” and “A Study in Perspective”

The Amputee’s Guide to Sex is a book I have loved for a long time. My copy is bent and creased with love and teaching. So it was a natural thing that Weise would come to mind for this series since I pretty much always want to know what she thinks about poetry. Thankfully, she was generous and offered up not one but TWO poems by Constance Merritt, giving us a chance to talk about everything from form to how to be disabled inside a poem.

Black: Why did you choose these particular poems to share?

Weise: “Bitches on the Bright Side” has that fantastic, colloquial title. Then the poem celebrates things we don’t often celebrate, like when you call someone and they don’t answer. I chose “A Study in Perspective” because it taught me how to be disabled inside a poem without pandering and without apologizing.

 

Black: Can you tell readers something about Constance Merritt and the collection you chose, A Protocol for Touch, which is her first of four?

Weise: I’ve never met Merritt, but I will be on a panel with her at Split This Rock in DC. The panel is “Against Death What Other Stay Than Love”: Disabled Poets Read and we will read alongside the poets Sandra Beasley, Meg Day and Khadijah Queen. This is on April 21 at 9:00 a.m. Can you tell I’m excited? Merritt’s most recent book, Blind Girl Grunt: The Selected Blues Lyrics and Other Poems, was published last year by Headmistress Press.

Black: Can you talk about form a little bit? “Bitches on the Bright Side” is a villanelle. What is gained in this poem by writing in form?

Weise: I like villanelles but I’m a bigger fan of invectives and talk-backs. I think of Merritt’s poem as a talk-back to Dylan Thomas’ villanelle “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” What’s gained is we have a Blind poet responding to lines written by Thomas like “Blind eyes could blaze” and “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” For me, this marks a significant shift in poetry. Merritt’s poem applies pressure not just to Dylan’s use of blindness, but to all the poets who come after, and still today: nondisabled poets who plunder disability for a sweet little simile.

Black: Is there a permission to be less driven happening in “Bitches on the Bright Side”? That seems audacious in a world which makes so many of us feel like we have to perform better than others to be seen as equal. Can you speak to this a little bit? Is there a relationship between this audacious permission and disability?

Weise: Oh yes, that too. I love how the poem is the antithesis of an overcoming narrative. Permit me to imagine I’m writing to a nondisabled audience, here, and don’t need to explain why “overcoming narratives” dominate and distort our lives.

Black: In “Study in Perspective,” Merritt beautifully exposes power dynamics, “We get away with what we can” she writes, exploring who gets to remain clothed and who must be exposed; who is given a gaze and who is the subject of the gaze—and this makes me think about your writing. Writing about disability as you do deals with many of these same concepts. Do you see a connection to your own work in these areas?

Weise: The poem is so incredible. I love the way section II is only the word “Nothing.” I love the way the speaker considers “passing” and race and Blindness and class. I love the way history collapses into a couplet. And what is going on with this beloved? About that line—“We get away with what we can”—it feels so relevant to any number of situations. This might be too banal, but I think the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference continues to exclude openly-claiming disabled and D/deaf writers from the 42 keynotes because they can. I get the sense that there are only two ways for disabled writers to keynote: 1) first you have to win the MacArthur “Genius” Award or 2) be secret disabled and don’t let your writing show it. To quote Merritt: “From a distance the boundaries stay clear.”

From another angle, the notion of “get[ting] away” with something has been so important to my own poetics. I’m aware of questions like “Can the poet get away with it?” which I take to mean “Can they do it? Is it something that we poets do or condone?” I created the YouTube series Tips for Writers by Tipsy Tullivan to both get away from ableism and get away with it.

(Photo is an image of “Tipsy Tullivan” (a woman with a pink bow around her neck and long blond hair with bangs) smiling as if she were speaking, beside Vanessa Carlisle, a woman with mid-length blond hair, large sunglasses, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. The pair poses in front of the wall of a pink house.)

Black: Are there lines or ideas you’d like to call attention to or talk about? Which are the lines which speak to you most?

Weise: Those last lines in “A Study in Perspective” are devastating. It is as though there’s an elision of the beloved’s question (“Why?”). The answer closes the poem: “And not because, as I have said, / I loved you more, or am most good, / Just well-rehearsed as vulnerable.”

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Jillian Weise is a poet, performance artist and disability rights activist. She is the author The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (2007), The Colony (2010) and The Book of Goodbyes (2013), which won the Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Gardner Award from BOA Editions. Her work has appeared in A Public Space, The Huffington Post, The New York Times and other publications. Her heteronym, Tipsy Tullivan, hosts a show called “Tips for Writers” on YouTube. Weise is the recipient of residencies and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Fulbright Program, the Lannan Foundation, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is an Associate Professor at Clemson University. Her next book is forthcoming from BOA in Fall 2019.

Constance Merritt is an American poet from Pine Bluff Arkansas who has won the Vassar Miller prize and a finalist for the William Carlos Williams award. Merritt is the author of four collections of poetry: Blind Girl Grunt: The Selected Blues Lyrics and Other Poems (Headmistress Press, 2017), Two Rooms (LSU Press, 2009), Blessings and Inclemencies (LSU Press, 2007) and A Protocol for Touch (UNT Press, 2000).

Links to the good stuff:

“Bitches on the Bright Side” Text

“A Study in Perspective” Text

Constance Merritt at Poets and Writers

Constance Merritt’s Fools Gold at the Poetry Foundation

Jillian Weise at the Poetry Foundation

Jillian Weise’s Website

Weise’s Poem, “Some Rights”

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo Reads “Antígona González” by Sara Uribe

Anna: Can you tell me a little bit about Antígona González?

Xochitl: Antígona González is a book of poetry from Mexican poet Sara Uribe and translated by John Pluecher that uses the classic Greek tragedy, Antigone by Sophocles, as a container to speak about the disappeared of Mexico. In the classic, Antigone is a princess that breaks her uncle’s edict in order to bury her brother Polynices after he has been declared a traitor and his dead body abandoned in the desert. In Antígona González, “Polynices is identified with the marginalized and disappeared,” while Antígona represents the sisters searching for their disappeared brothers: “I didn’t want to be Antigone / but it happened to me.”

Anna: Why did you select this particular poem to share?

Xochitl: I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and the immigrant journey and the dangers of the border are topics I write about. I wanted to honor work being written from Mexico and to honor work being written in Spanish. I picked this particular poem because it’s the opening piece, and it really gives you a sense of the collection. Also, the instruction to “Count them all” is so powerful. The Mexican and the US governments want us to look the other way and let the disappeared disappear, but it’s our job to count dead, to honor the them, and to say their names.

Anna: This poem left me shredded. Can you expand a little on the circumstances around Uribe’s work?

Xochitl: The work is about the job of honoring the dead and disappeared. In Mexico, men and women disappear everyday. According to this New York Times article, “at least 1,400 bodies were dug up from mass graves across the country between 2009 and 2014. And those are just a fraction of the 176,000 murders that police have counted here over the last decade.” It’s an every day reality and horror for many people in Mexico and even for some here in the US. Uribe uses the classic Antigone to speak about those left behind, those charged with with job of having to figure out a way to honor their missing family members. Antigone is a very power piece of work because it’s about breaking the law of the land in order to honor a higher law, which I might say is in itself a feminist act, and the same is true in Antígona González. Over a hundred thousand dead bodies and the government refuses to take responsibility for them, refuses to even acknowledge them or their families, so what does a sister, a mother, or a daughter do?

Anna: Is there a connection between this poem or the body of Uribe’s work and your own?

Xochitl: My first book, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016) was partially inspired by two weeks I spent volunteering with the Tucson-based humanitarian organization No More Deaths, so there are poems speaking to the deaths that occur along the border, but I don’t live with that fear and horror every day. In fact, I had to drive over 500 miles to the Tucson sector of the US-Mexico border to see it first hand. And when my two weeks were done, I got back in my 2008 Toyota Matrix and drove back to LA and back to my normal, everyday safe life. I think Uribe’s work is so important because it speaks to the pain and fear people go through every day in Mexico. It speaks to the dead. It forces the reader to look at the dead.

Anna: If you could draw some skill or idea from this work into your own, what would it be?

Xochitl: The way she speaks directly to the reader is intense. The collection is about the pain of searching for someone who has ceased existing. In Spanish they are called desaparecido, the disappeared, but the English translation doesn’t really have the same weight. Here in the US, we don’t really know this phenomenon. Between the drug cartels, the government, and the desert, thousands of people are disappearing, and there are no answers. We can’t really know what that’s like, but she asks us to know. She asks us to help her hold that weight, that body. I would like to be able to speak to the reader with authenticity the way she does.

Anna: If a student were to read this poem and notice only one thing, what should that be?

Xochitl: The humanity. Look how she says, “count both innocent and guilty… Count them all… Name them all as to say: this body could be mine.” There is something in that. All the people involved are losing something. All of them are apart of this. I think she’s saying find the humanity. If it’s a student of poetry, I would encourage them to look at who their “enemy” is and try to find the humanity in them. I once took a poetry class with Juan Felipe Herrera, and he encouraged me and the other poets to do just this. Very few people are pure evil, and what is there to learn from pure evil anyway? Humanity is much more honest and interesting.

Anna: And finally, tell me more about your work? Where can I find it? And what is something you’d want me to see in your work?

Xochitl: My fist collection, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016) shares my witness of the US-Mexico border as a volunteer of No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes and how that reflects on families’ immigrant journeys from Mexico to California in the 40s and 50s and then how that reflects back on me as a single, educated woman living in Los Angeles today. What I want readers to see is the real tragedies happening on our own soil every day and to hopefully experience some empathy. At the core, we are all the same, and the most any of us want is a safe place to call home, and there is nothing bad in that.

Anna: Thank you so much for being a part of Lyric Essentials, Xochitl. This is powerful, incredible work, and I’m honored you drew our attention to it, here.
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Sara Uribe’s book, Antígona González
From the Interpreter over at Queen Mob’s
Sara Uribe at Poetry Foundation

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, a first-generation Chicana and the author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications, 2016). Bermejo is a Steinbeck Fellow, Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grantee. She’s received residencies from Hedgebrook, Ragdale, National Parks Arts Foundation and Poetry Foundation. Her work appears in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and American Poetry Review among others. A dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño, can be viewed at Latinopia. She is a cofounder of Women Who Submit and a member of Macondo Writers’ Workshop.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s Website
Bermejo at the Poetry Foundation
At Cultural Weekly
At Poets and Writers
Posada, Bermejo’s most recent book, now available at Sundress

Anna Lys Black serves as the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

Lyric Essentials: Sonya Huber Reads “Revenge” by Elisa Chavez

Anna: What are your feelings around this poem? What sparks for you?

Sonya: This poem both speaks to a certain moment in time, post 2016 election, but also to wider issues of resistance and identity. And I love its attitude and voice—a very subtle braiding of confidence, humor, and a kind of prophetic voice summoning the will to resist.

Anna: There is this moment in the seventh stanza where the speaker asks, “what are we but a fire?” And you can hear poets snapping agreement, assent, cohabitation in this phrase. And given what I know of your work and activism, I imagine you’re one of them. Can you speak to your own feelings about activism and poetry? Where do they intersect and where (if at all) do they dissect?

Sonya: I love the overlap between writing and activism in general, though when I was getting my MFA in 2000-2004, I was often ashamed about my activism in some weird way, as if I were leaving art behind when I was getting my hands dirty with real-world ideas. Even at the time that idea didn’t make sense, as I knew of so many political poets and writers, but I didn’t necessarily have the confidence to put my own political issues in my work without those issues coming off as partisan or didactic. I did it anyway, but with anxiety. I think these days that concern seems kind of quaint, as there are so so many political poets. And as poet Danez Smith has recently articulated, all poetry is political. I think where literary writing and poetry and activism diverge is that sometimes, one has to use language as a blunt instrument in activism, whereas in literary work, you’re always tending toward complexity. That said, even while those two aims are not the same, they are not diametrically opposed. They’re still kin. So I am of the school of thought that says that all art is political; sometimes a work’s politics is just more visible than others.

Anna: What is your impression of the reception of the poem?

Sonya: I found this poem after dozens of people forwarded and posted it on social media when it was published. It was covered on Quartz and on the Stranger among many other outlets and proclaimed a “rallying cry for the next four years.” I definitely agree. It seemed like such a fiery balm at the time I read it, and it remains that way.


Anna:
Can you offer some of your impressions of the poet and Chavez’s work overall?

Sonya: Chavez, as far as I can find her online, is a slam poet based in Seattle who has inspired huge devotion with a few poems in print, and I am waiting for more from her. I can’t wait to read a book of her work if one comes out.

Anna: Is there a connection from this poem to your own work? What are some of Chavez’s technical moves that you’d like to embrace or in which you see a connection to your own work?

Sonya: I’ve been obsessed with voice for a long time, because I struggled to find my own writing voice and my voice in activism; I struggled to find a strong stance from which to speak. Whenever I see this kind of powerful stance related to activism, the combination of beauty and toughness and humor and focus, I take notice, because I need this myself. So I hope I am doing this work with my own writing, using beautifully voiced works like this as a model. What I admire most is the modulation in voice. Yes, this is a rant of resistance, but it’s also theory and humor and a snapshot of real life and a reminder to stay human.

I love the mix of colloquialism and dense language, like this pair of lines: “because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming./
You just delayed our coronation.” That use of “real talk” runs up against “delayed our coronation,” offering a wide range of tongues that the author has in command. The “delayed our coronation” is a kind of regal pause, a celebration. I love the line about “folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them” because yes, that happens in activism, and so she’s stepping to the side of activism to laugh with it, and then she steps right back into the river: “but I won’t, because they’re my family.” She’s continually complicating and confounding, without making a big show of it; that folding of voices is in the DNA of the poem itself. The line “you brought your fists to a glitter fight”: gosh. If I could ever have a line like that. I love this so much, also because it’s so politically astute. In this poem’s “anxious America” is the analysis of all the different explanations for why Trump got elected. This complexity combined with confidence is my hope for my own essays and nonfiction.

Anna: When I asked you to do this, you mentioned that you’d have a hard time choosing. Which poems were some of the runners up?

Sonya: I love the poetry of Jack Gilbert, especially “Tear it Down.”

I love a lot of Wislawa Szymborska, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich. Also this one by Marge Piercy, “To Be Of Use.”

Anna: Thank you, Soya, for being our guest today. To our readers, know that I invited Sonya because I am in love with her work and I’ve included some links to her work below her bio for your perusal so that I might share some of why I am such a fan of hers.

Sonya: Thank you for allowing me to think about and refuel on poetry!!

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Elisa Chavez on tumblr

Sonya Huber is the author of five books of nonfiction, including the new collection of essays on chronic pain, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Other books include Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, Opa Nobody, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers, and The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, The New York Times, The Atlantic, O: The Oprah Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other outlets. She teaches at Fairfield University, where she directs the low-residency MFA program.

Sonya’s Website
Her Shadow Syllabus
Pain Woman Takes Your Keys
Dear Thrasher

Anna Lys Black serves as the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

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Lyric Essentials: Brian Oliu Reads “[asking]” by Barbara Jane Reyes

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Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Brian Oliu reads “[asking]” by Barbara Jane Reyes.

Brian, this is a damn beautiful poem you’ve read for us today. Before we get to “[asking]” could speak more generally about Reyes’s poetry and how you came to be familiar with her work?

Brian: Yes! So, I was a graduate student at Alabama when the University brought her in for a visiting writer’s series. My good friend Jeremy Hawkins was extremely excited about her coming to read & so he sent me a bunch of her work. I went to her reading & was really blown away by not only how phenomenal her work was, but how good of a reader she was. I think the thing that I enjoy most about her work is the earnestness of it all; how it is completely unapologetic in how it is crafted. It is something that I always try to strive for in my own writing—this notion of saying exactly what needs to be said without any reservation.


Chris:
What elements of “[asking]” make it essential to you as a writer? I’m moved by the imagery in the poem, particularly “…water and rock contain verse and metaphor, even wild grasses reply in rhyme” and the bit that follows, “moment of lucidity; summer lightning bugs, sun’s rays in a jelly jar.” Is it the imagery that does it, or is there another quality that resonates with you?

Brian: I would say the imagery too! I really love how Elizabeth Bishop talks about how poems should have more “things” in them & I totally agree—I think strong imagery is what brings energy to a piece. We can talk about our feelings & higher level concepts in a work, but all writing is a confession of some sort—therefore we have to find creative ways to put our emotions into a piece, & for me, it’s the concrete that helps me latch onto the more ephemeral beauty.

Chris: We’ve totally nerded out about Bishop on Lyric Essentials before—definitely one of my favorite poets. What imagery in “[asking]” brings energy to the poem for you? What are your favorite “things” in this poem?

Brian: “some mythic angel” just makes me want to fist pump in the air. “a cove to escape the flux” is a line I wish I wrote. I just keep finding my head bobbing along to it.

Chris: How have you used these ideas and concepts in your own writing? Are there particular things you like to write about and explore, or anything specific you’re writing about now?

Brian: I think a favorite trick that I love to use is negation—to define something by what it is not, & I love that is how the piece ends; there’s so much that the poem “is” that exists just beyond the constraints of what we have. I always like to imagine that each thing that I write is a sneak peek into what is actually going on—it is here, and then it is gone. I was a kid who constantly found myself not wanting stories or poems to end & imagining new endings or moments where I’d ask “where does everything go from here?” & I feel like this does this beautifully. I’ve been writing a lot about running as well as professional wrestling—both are two things that never truly end; there is always more to run in the same way there is always a new show & universe that needs to be explained.

Chris: Where can our readers get more of Reyes’s poetry? Any books or poems you can recommend?

Brian: Well, first & foremost, she has a KILLER blog (http://www.barbarajanereyes.com/blog/). To Love As Aswang is phenomenal. & as for individual pieces, [the siren’s story] hits all the fabulous notes for me.
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Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and four full-length collections, So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections, Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games, Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping (Cobalt Press, 2015), essays on NBA Jam, and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. Current projects include two books on professional wrestling, a memoir about translating his grandfather’s book on long distance running, and a nonfiction book about the history of the track jacket.

Chris Petruccelli is still in Northeast Tennessee, but planning–and hoping–to be in Kentucky over the summer. His Rowlet is now a Decidueye. He also has a Metang and a Salazzle. Things are lookin’ pretty good. Chris’s poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Still: The Journal, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and elsewhere. He is also the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press). He runs his first half marathon in two weeks.

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Lyric Essentials: Lindsay Tigue Reads “Water Sign” by Margaret Hasse

LindsayTigue

Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Lindsay Tigue reads “Water Sign” by Margaret Hasse.

This is a neat little poem you’ve shared with us today, Lindsay. When I looked up this poem for reference I found that it was published in a series of three poems about this Charlie character at Verse-Virtual. What can you tell us about these Charlie poems and Margaret Hasse’s work in general?

Lindsay: This is perhaps a bit of a digression, but I feel I need to explain my introduction to this poem. I first encountered Margaret Hasse and this poem in 2009. I heard her read it as part of a panel at AWP in Chicago. It was my first AWP and I was in the midst of my first failed attempt at applying to MFA programs (I didn’t get into a program until my second try a year later).  This poem meant a lot to me, partly for its insistence on this final image, for the way it re-sees a child’s mistake as abundance and beauty.

I was mostly writing fiction at the time, but Hasse’s use of this image reminded me of a prose ending I was working on. I had written poetry in the past and would end up returning to it during my MFA program a year later. I don’t really remember thinking of myself as a poet at this time at all. I don’t remember thinking of myself as a writer even; I was at AWP in a work capacity as an editorial assistant at a nonprofit publisher. I went up to Hasse in the bookfair after the panel to buy a book and my friend told her I was a poet and she wrote “To Lindsay, fellow poet” in my book. The timing of that simple message provided a buoying feeling of hope as, similarly, this poem does for me.

Margarat Hasse is a Minnesota-based poet and the author of five books of poetry. This poem comes from her book, Milk and Tides (Nodin Press, 2008), which includes several poems dealing with motherhood and adoption. The series of poems in Verse-Virtual were reprinted from the book and all feature the character of “Charlie,” the speaker’s son and speak to the experience of mothering a child at various stages.

Chris: By the end of this poem I feel like I’m reading something both cute and innocent, but also something dark and sinister. I can’t quite put my finger on it though—the final lines I feel like they take the slightest twist. What do you make of the ending of “Water Sign”?

Lindsay: I do see something complicating the celebration in this poem. There is a bit of violence in the suggestion of play between Charlie and his brother  “who spray tomatoes with the intensity / of fire fighters at a five alarm fire.” There is also the acknowledgement that Charlie’s enthusiasm is “inconvenient” and it is the narration that suggests the mother and brother have to check their reaction in order to admire Charlie’s unrestrained love of the water he pours through the floor. There is acknowledgement of intensity in this poem and also the nod to the self as source of some of the world’s forces.

Chris: You mentioned that “Water Sign” provides you with a feeling of hope. How do you see the poem achieve that emotion? Are there other elements of “Water Sign” make it essential to you as a writer?

Lindsay: For me, there is hope in this re-seeing the speaker undertakes. It suggests an enlarged empathy, an enlarged love for the world. For me, another essential element of this poem is the title, the way it points toward astrology lends a layer echoing differences in character or temperament. The way the meanings of the title expand out delicately was a strategy that was really useful for me when thinking about titles.

Chris: In addition to “Water Sign”, what other Margaret Hasse poems should our readers look for? What would be on your Hasse must-read list?

Lindsay: Other poems to check out include “After I Tell Four-Year-Old Charlie the Story of His Adoption, He Counters with His Own Version” and “What It Is Like for Me This Fall.”
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Lindsay Tigue is the author of System of Ghosts, which was the winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is a finalist for the Foreword INDIE Poetry Book of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Julie Suk Award. She writes poetry and fiction and her work appears in Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, Rattle, diode, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other journals. She was a Tennessee Williams scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a James Merrill fellow at the Vermont Studio Center, and a former graduate assistant at the Georgia Review. She is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University and is a current PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. She is originally from Michigan and now lives in Athens, Georgia.

Chris Petruccelli is sometimes a park ranger, sometimes a teacher, and takes what he can get the rest of the time—but he manages to stitch it all together. Chris is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press) and his poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Connotations Press, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: The Journal, and elsewhere. Chris recently started the Alola island challenge with his Rowlet. In his free time, Chris enjoys drinking whisky and smoking cigarettes with older women.

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Lyric Essentials: Nicole Rollender reads “A Summer Garden” by Louise Glück

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Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Nicole Rollender reads “A Summer Garden” by Louise Glück.

Nicole, there’s a lot to love in this poem. One of my favorite aspects of “A Summer Garden” is the play with time and space. I feel like Glück is a master at transporting the reader into specific psychological spaces and physical landscapes. What makes this poem stand out to you? Does “A Summer Garden” exemplify a specific quality of Glück’s work that you admire?

Nicole: For me, Louise Glück is kind of the über-narrator, and as you observed, a master at whisking the reader into suspended hyper-emotional spaces/physical spaces.

Back in 1975, Helen Vendler wrote a review in New Republic of Glück’s second book, The House on Marshland. This quote captures for me what’s so powerful about these complex narratives Glück has been composing for more than 40 years now: “Glück’s cryptic narratives invite our participation: we must … fill out the story, substitute ourselves for the fictive personages, invent a scenario from which the speaker can utter her lines, decode the import, ‘solve’ the allegory.”

What attracts me most to “A Summer Garden” is the narrator’s really overt attention to memory/nostalgia (which is a huge preoccupation in my own work), as in the first (“Indeed, dust covered everything: it seemed to me the persistent/ haze of nostalgia that protects all relics of childhood) and second parts (“the past is buried in the future”) – yet within this overtness and drama creates a sense of wistfulness/urgency/longing that doesn’t read as, “Oh, OK, we’ve heard this all before.” Also what Glück does well: She pulls us into familiar emotional landscapes (isolation from family, rejection from a lover, reckoning with our own mortality). I mean, she makes me care hard in this poem.

I get what’s happening here: You find a photo in a marked-up copy of Death in Venice of your mother who has since died, and you’re existing in this weird place of multiplicities, all different times, but against a summer garden. You’re going into the photo’s park/garden landscape and sitting with your mother; you’re remembering her alive then (maybe it was even before you were born); you’re remembering her right before she died, and in her moment of death. Yet, she’s really never totally alive and dead, since she exists within these multiple conscious spaces. And I think the idea, when we’re in certain places and moments of our lives, that we really feel like time and our lives are infinite – and then we look back at those times and remember.

One last thought: I’m obsessed with Czeslaw Milosz’s book Bells in Winter and the first poem, “Encounter,” where the narrator recalls with a certain wonder how he can recall a wagon ride during a winter dawn many years earlier with a friend, how they sighted a hare: Yet now, in the moment of recollection “Today neither of them is alive,/ Not the hare, nor the man …” It’s this particular gaze informed by the acute awareness’s of life’s temporality, which we all experience – it just depends to what hyper-aware degree. I’m just fascinated again and again by memory’s power to let us mingle again and again with the dead, but also how it teaches us how quickly our lives move away from the current moment.

Chris: The third section stands out to me in particular. It feels sparse, compared to the other sections, but also makes what feel like loud assertions—there’s the presence of the “immodest god” and at the end Glück invokes an ominous vibe with the mention of Pompeii. What do you think is being communicated with this sort of turn at this point in the poem?

Nicole: I remember back in grad school, one of my professors kept insisting that Pan was a real spirit that manifested most clearly at noon. I remember considering that as a possibility and the strange feelings it evoked in me. This third section echoes the moment I felt Pan’s presence: silent, no wind, very bright, behind me his shadow the only thing moving across the lawn. In this poem, the ominous sun/shadows and then super brightness it creates (“He must be very close/ the grass is shadowless”) communicate to me the relentlessness of how our lives move. Even as we stand young and lush under the noonday summer sun, Pan will exist as he is forever, as we are every moment passing away. Yet, as in Pompeii, where the ash shells of those humans’ final moments exist in a way, our tiny momentary triumph may be that we existed here – and that we realized our smallness, our transience, yet our place among the largeness of the universe and its change/immutability.

Chris: Is graduate school where you were first introduced to Glück’s work? And what was her influence like when you began reading her — was it immediate, or did it take time to get into Glück’s complex narratives?

Nicole: It’s funny: I can’t remember when Glück’s work came into my life. Does that mean I’ve never been without her? And her so many books? When I first awoke to poetry as a young teen, her books were among the first books I bought, along with those from Jon Anderson and Denise Levertov. I connected really quickly to Glück’s introspection/weaving narratives and an underlying melancholy or sort of understanding of mortality. Like, every minute you’re alive you’re also cognizant of death. I read Firstborn and The House on Marshland a lot, early on.

Chris: You mentioned Czeslaw Milosz earlier. Who else plays with memory/nostalgia in their writing that you admire? And, in addition to “A Summer Garden,” what are your must-read Glück poems?

Nicole: That’s such a good rabbit-hole of a question, since the use of memory and nostalgia is so important to me in poetry. But, here’s a short list of some poets and particular pieces that really resonate for me (of course, the list is always growing and shifting):

Ocean Vuong’s “I Remember Anyway” in Guernica

Kaveh Akbar’s “Unburnable Cold Flooding Our Lives” in TriQuarterly

Maggie Smith’s “Your Tongue” in Memorious

Ada Limon, “The Last Move” and “Relentless” from Bright Dead Things

Walt Whitman’s “Poem of Joys”

And same with Glück: I suppose it depends what day you asked me which poem of hers was essential to me. Today, it’s “For My Sister.” Before Glück was born, her sister died. She wrote in an essay, “Her death was not my experience, but her absence was. Her death let me be born.” People should read “For My Sister” in The American Poetry Review; these lines especially:
Now, if she had a voice,

the cries of hunger would be beginning.

I should go to her;

perhaps if I sang very softly,

her skin so white

her head covered with black feathers…
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Nicole Rollender is the author of the poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love (ELJ Editions, 2015), and the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press), and Bone of My Bone, a winning manuscript in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Memorious, Radar Poetry, PANK, Salt Hill Journal, Thrush Poetry Journal, Word Riot and West Branch, among others. She’s the recipient of a  2017 poetry fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, and poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Princemere Journal and Ruminate Magazine. She earned her MFA in poetry at the Pennsylvania State University. She’s the editor-in-chief of Wearables and executive director of branded content & professional development at the Advertising Specialty Institute. In 2016, she was named one of FOLIO’s Top Women in Media. Visit her online at www.nicolerollender.com.

Chris Petruccelli is doing his thing, he guesses. Some new poetry recently appeared in Crab Fat Magazine. You can find his work in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: The Journal, and elsewhere. Chris is still running and drinking whisky.

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