Poetry: NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - PBS Podcast
A special NewsHour series that couples profiles of contempory poets with reports on news and trends in the world of poetry.
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Be like poet Bill Berkson and start kissing anyone you can find
Mon, Jan 12, 2015
Bill Berkson is a poet, critic and professor emeritus at San Francisco Art Institute. His previous collection, “Portrait and Dream,” won the Balcones Prize for Best Poetry Book of 2010. “Expect Delays” is his 18th book of poetry. Photo by Nathaniel Dorsky
A few years ago, poet Bill Berkson was at a friend‚Äôs dinner party where the conversation steered towards romantic movies. The poet began musing about the climactic kiss in Hollywood films and the concept of happily ever after. When he went home that night, he wrote his thoughts down in a poem called ‚ÄúReprise,‚ÄĚ which appears in his collection ‚ÄúExpect Delays,‚ÄĚ published in November.
‚ÄúJust as I‚Äôm happy to sit down and quote other people, you take your lines and poems wherever you can get them,‚ÄĚ Berkson told Art Beat.
Berkson‚Äôs poetry isn‚Äôt known for one particular style, and ‚ÄúExpect Delays‚ÄĚ captures that variety. He describes it as a ‚Äúsense of scatter.‚ÄĚ The collection showcases different approaches and writing styles, varying between abstract and concrete, related experiences and unrelated.
It‚Äôs his first book since his 2009 ‚ÄúPortrait and Dream,‚ÄĚ which collected 50 years of work. Through the process of editing that collection, Berkson pored over five decades of his poetry and began to see the full range of his writing. For the first time, he says he let himself take pleasure in it.
‚ÄúI used to worry about not having a signature style or central subject matter or a fixed character of poetry and at some point the worry ceased,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI gave myself permission to do what I‚Äôve been doing all along without worrying about it. In one way, I‚Äôm too old to worry — I‚Äôve been doing this for nearly 60 years — and so it‚Äôs really that I learned to enjoy that I could write pretty much anything that came my way, that I would be given to write or inclined to write.‚ÄĚ
Listen to Bill Berkson read “Reprise” from his new collection “Expect Delays.”
“Happily ever after”—you don’t know that feeling? After many difficulties
the two stars are kissing with their eyes closed, and the music swells.
The screen says THE END in big block letters. Happy ending: you’re
set for life. In the seats everyone is choked up, crying for the happiness
such prolonged kissing promises. Meanwhile, kissing itself is amazing.
I got completely lost in it. I went out and started kissing anyone I could find.
Who? I always had good taste in women.
For Paul & Isabelle, January 13, 2012
at Mary Valledor & Carlos Villa’s
‚ÄúExpect Delays‚ÄĚ is divided into four sections. One section includes acrostic poems Berkson wrote for friends’ birthdays and weddings, and for his wife on Valentine ‚Äôs Day. He debated whether to include this section in the book. ‚ÄúMost of them would come under the heading of light verse and very occasional and person-to-person,” he said. “In one way would they be taken seriously and, in another, they were too private, but then I thought, not at all‚Ä¶. It gives a wider sense of what I do as a poet.‚ÄĚ
Another section offers three ‚Äúarrangements‚ÄĚ that vary from prose to poetry to stray lines and aphorisms. Berkson wrote these starting in 2005 in one long document on the computer.
‚ÄúAs I was adding things to it, I began to see that some of these things are connected, but not necessarily one after the other in chronological order. Not like a diary, not like a journal or daybook, but I began collaging them, really.‚ÄĚ
Berkson thanks his ‚Äúgood editorial imagination‚ÄĚ for his ability to organize his work. It‚Äôs the same skill, he says, that helps him strengthen poems that give him trouble.
Berkson recalls another poet’s musing on the art form as a way “to keep the language from going insane.”
‚ÄúI think that is something very useful for poets to keep in mind these days,” he said. “There‚Äôs also that little insanity in poetry that does everybody some good.‚ÄĚ
“Reprise” from “Expect Delays” by Bill Berkson, courtesy of Coffee House Press.
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Poet Ellen Bass says ‚ÄėRelax‚Äô ‚ÄĒ you‚Äôll lose your keys, hair and memory but you can still savor sweet fruit
Mon, Jan 05, 2015
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the dryer.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter‚Äôs age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she‚Äôs a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you‚Äôll lose your keys,
your hair, and your memory. If your daughter
doesn‚Äôt plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you‚Äôll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there‚Äôs also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here‚Äôs the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you‚Äôll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles in a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You‚Äôll be lonely.
Oh, taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
“Like a Beggar” is the most recent poetry collection from Ellen Bass. Her previous books of poetry include “The Human Line” and “Mules of Love,” which won the Lambda Literacy Award. Bass also co-edited the feminist poetry anthology “No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women.” Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares and The Sun. She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman‚Äôs Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review‚Äôs Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, a Fellowship from the California Arts Council and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Bass has also written several works of nonfiction, including “Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth,” “I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse” and “The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.”
Photo by Irene Young
‚ÄúRelax‚ÄĚ from ‚ÄúLike a Beggar‚ÄĚ by Ellen Bass. Published in 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission Copper Canyon Press.
The post Poet Ellen Bass says ‚ÄėRelax‚Äô — you‚Äôll lose your keys, hair and memory but you can still savor sweet fruit appeared first on PBS NewsHour. Download File - 0.0 MB (Click to Play on Mobile Device) Listen To This Podcast (Streaming Audio)
Weekly Poem: Thomas Dooley dramatizes family pain passed through generations
Mon, Dec 29, 2014
In addition to writing his own poetry, Thomas Dooley is the artistic director of Emotive Fruition, a New York theater collective that brings new poetry to the stage through collaborations between actors and poets.
Thomas Dooley‚Äôs debut collection of poems, ‚ÄúTrespass,‚ÄĚ published in September, deals with the duality of vulnerability and forgiveness.
‚ÄúI think that sometimes going into a very vulnerable place, or a place where the unsayable is trying to be said, that is really what felt like an exciting moment of creation,‚ÄĚ Dooley told Art Beat. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs where I wanted my poems to live: in that space of possible danger, possible confusion.‚ÄĚ
Coming from a theater background, Dooley was intrigued by the drama of family. The story of ‚ÄúTrespass‚ÄĚ plays out in three acts. The first third sets the scene: the narrator‚Äôs father was abused by a priest as a child; then as a teenager, the father abuses his niece. The final act reckons with the repercussions of those moments in the family‚Äôs history.
Sandwiched within the broader family story is a narrative of the protagonist‚Äôs first love — specifically, the end of that love. Using that structure, Dooley presents multiple levels of separation: between the narrator and his lover, between personal narrative and family narrative and between reality and desire.
The poems in the collection draw on episodes from Dooley‚Äôs life, but he shies away from forming a definitive line between fiction and reality. While some experiences may be reflected in the poems, he is more interested in the nature of memory itself. The collection explores how different members of the family perceive their shared history through their own unique lenses, what he calls the ‚Äúpolyvocal quality of family.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI think memory is such an interesting part of this story,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúIt allows for this real/unreal, said/unsaid, seen/unseen quality of our lives.‚ÄĚ
Playing with those dichotomies, the poem ‚ÄúMaybe In An Atlas‚ÄĚ explores minute hypotheticals that could have prevented the father from being abused and becoming an abuser.
Listen to Thomas Dooley read “Maybe In An Atlas” from his debut collection “Trespass.”
Maybe In An Atlas
Maybe another New Jersey
somewhere. Linden wood
as cash cow. And a way out. If my father grew
taller that year, sudden. Reached
the high altar wicks, a Moses
in Egypt. Bigger than the priests. What if deus
ex machina. Or a catcher.
No rye. Rye watered
down. Rocks to mean rocks. Not
glacial. Not a cold hand
anywhere. A siren sounds
on skin. Maybe a pie
in the window. Adults made big gestures
with giant hands. He wasn‚Äôt soft.
Boney, but not folded
like egg whites, hankies.
In his yearbook: ‚ÄúAspiration: farmer.‚ÄĚ
Tall as corn, as noon sun. Only if he grew
taller, sudden, he wouldn‚Äôt be
lightweight linden, maybe a hundred
proof. She was proof. Girls
were softer. Maybe his hand
looked giant. And she lay down
softly. Like he was made to, maybe.
When the collection was selected as a winner in the 2013 National Poetry Series competition, ‚ÄúMaybe In An Atlas‚ÄĚ wasn‚Äôt in it. Dooley was suddenly struck by the missing voice of ‚Äúwhat if‚ÄĚ in his collection, and he wrote the poem to fill that void.
‚ÄúThe idea of ‚Äėmaybe‚Äô is very powerful to me,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚Äúbecause it‚Äôs full of doubt, it‚Äôs full of consequence. Maybe if the consequence, or maybe if the situation was different, the actual events would have changed.‚ÄĚ
To write the poems, Dooley allowed himself to be vulnerable to the different voices wanting to heard as part of the story.
In the case of the opening poem, ‚ÄúCherry Tree,‚ÄĚ that voice comes from the titular character, a tree. As the surrounding lawn is mowed, the tree becomes vulnerable and exposed, themes that continue to play out for the human characters across the collection.
Listen to Thomas Dooley read “Cherry Tree” from his debut collection “Trespass.”
mows tight squares
around her, she
rains pink on him
cracks inside the blades
she beats down
don‚Äôt leave me
From the book Trespass: Poems by Thomas Dooley. Copyright ¬© 2014 by Thomas Dooley. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Editor’s note: This article originally stated that the father in “Trespass” abuses his niece as an adult, not a teenager. It was updated on Dec. 30, 2014.
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Weekly Poem: Sarah Rose Nordgren finds inspiration in her fantastical childhood
Mon, Dec 22, 2014
Sarah Rose Nordgren has published poems in a variety of outlets, including Agni, Ploughshares, the Iowa Review, the Harvard Review, the Literary Review and the Best New Poets anthology. She received of the 2011-2012 Fine Arts Work Center Poetry Fellowship and the 2014 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.
When Sarah Rose Nordgren looks back at her childhood, she calls it ‚Äúdistinctive,‚ÄĚ filled with myth and fable.
‚ÄúI’ve always been interested in things like myth and fable because I’ve always been interested in childhood and I had a very distinctive childhood that was very full of those things,‚ÄĚ Nordgren told Art Beat. ‚ÄúVery full of fantasy worlds, very full of living in the woods with no supervision. I shouldn’t say no supervision, little supervision, less supervision than I think a lot of people have these days.‚ÄĚ
The poet grew up in North Carolina and the experience of what she describes as her fantastical childhood, and her interest in stories and dreams, permeates how she approaches her poetry. Nordgren, whose debut collection ‚ÄúBest Bones‚ÄĚ was published at the end of September, has often been talked about for her surrealistic storytelling style, but she doesn‚Äôt see it that way.
‚ÄúI’m not trying to write something fantastical, I‚Äôm not trying to write something surreal. I‚Äôm actually trying to get at something very, very real and very, very grounded in the world, and that is the best way that I know how to do that, sometimes through strangeness because of the intensity of the experience.‚ÄĚ
Through dramatic monologue and persona poetry, Nordgren contemplates identity, family and relationships. Sometimes that identity is being stripped away, like in her poem ‚ÄúSisters‚ÄĚ about sisters and the ‚Äúvery raw and almost violent teenage girl relationship,‚ÄĚ and in ‚Äú1917,‚ÄĚ where the narrator wants to travel back in time and take away her mother‚Äôs identity to save her from the pain she will experience in her life.
Other poems deal with the construction of relationships and the identity of an individual versus that of the group to which they belong. ‚ÄúBest Bones,‚ÄĚ the titular poem, explores this theme by examining an individual‚Äôs feeling of loneliness within a tight, loving family unit.
When you finally reach the penultimate poem of the book, ‚ÄúWhen You‚Äôre Dead,‚ÄĚ you start to redefine all these elements that the book has set out to understand.
‚ÄúIt attempts to dismantle the idea of identity and the idea of life after working through those issues through the entirety of the book,‚ÄĚ said Nordgren. ‚ÄúIt tries to take them back apart again and get back to something much more basic or more primal.‚ÄĚ
Listen to Sarah Rose Nordgren read “Sisters” from her debut collection, “Best Bones.”
the duckling in the shoebox dying fluttering fast
its leaves and twigs I am green
transparent sister told my sister her legs are not
gorgeous crawling to the bathroom
said you both like that anorexic look but not me
on TV a wrestling match the mean
woman in leather tore up the drawing from that retard
who loved her once I pissed my pants
laughed too hard sat in the driveway for an hour
on the bus the drunk girl cried
I’ve just been through hell I’m supposed to be
a bridesmaid where is my dress
I’ve lost the two people the African Grey in summer
flew up into the trees my father’s
shoulder where are the two people that I love?
Originally, the collection was titled ‚ÄúThe Only House in the Neighborhood,‚ÄĚ the title of another poem in the book. Over the years it took to put the book together, Nordgren began to think of it as a house.
‚Äú(The book) contains all these different voices of the mother, voices of a father, voices of children, voices of old men, voices of servants. They are speaking out of a desire for some kind of feeling of unification, that they all want to know who they are, but they all want to be whole people and that these roles are usefully defining, but they are also extremely limiting to the psyche,‚ÄĚ said Nordgren. ‚ÄúIt’s almost like they are calling out to each other over some great expanse even though they are sitting right next to each other at the dinner table.‚ÄĚ
That wholeness is what the book finally aims to achieve. The image of the house and the family, Nordgren seeks to have everyone be individual, functioning parts of a working whole.
‚ÄúThe house is like a bed that everybody gets tucked inside and put to sleep.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúSisters‚ÄĚ from ‚ÄúBest Bones,‚ÄĚ by Sarah Rose Nordgren, ¬© 2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
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Weekly Poem: Alison Powell reads ‚ÄėThe Fields‚Äô
Mon, Dec 15, 2014
Listen to Alison Powell read her poem ‚ÄúThe Fields‚ÄĚ from her new collection, ‚ÄúOn the Desire to Levitate.‚ÄĚ
A boy is raised up in the fields.
He knows his hard feet in the husks.
He knows his mother, her bottles and naps.
Knows his brother’s war dreams, is afraid
to sleep next to him. His father has a way
with the jitterbug and a whipping switch.
There are kindnesses: the giblet-
thick dressing of his grandmother,
the pictures of Venice in his schoolbook—
the gilded water. How the fathers
look in their Sunday best and the prayers,
like milk, around him.
One spring day the great god of his dreams
descends and, exploding, fills
the new tar streets with rainwater.
He inches out from under the table
where he has been reading for weeks;
he pushes out into the storm.
All around him are the old lives of leaves.
Oak tree sticks make lean-tos
without being asked, school is nowhere in sight.
Though there’s water-weight to his knees,
he pokes one toe into the gutter. Here
he knows there is desperation, devotion, hard
loss. He opens his arms to the yelping sky
and cries back Oh! Great harbor, I am
your tin ship! before his mother, weak
in her yellow slip, yanks him inside.
“On the Desire to Levitate,” published in March 2014, is Alison Powell‘s debut collection of poetry. Powell’s poetry has also appeared in Boston Review, Guernica, AGNI and Crazyhorse and in Best New Poets 2006 and The Hecht Prize Anthology, 2005-2009. Powell completed her doctorate in English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2014 and received her MFA in Poetry from Indiana University in 2005. She is an assistant professor of poetry at Oakland University in Michigan.
‚ÄúThe Fields‚ÄĚ was excerpted from the book ‚ÄúOn the Desire to Levitate‚ÄĚ by Alison Powell. Copyright ¬© 2014 by Alison Powell. Reprinted courtesy Ohio University Press.
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Weekly Poem: J. Allyn Rosser finds deeper meaning through humor
Mon, Dec 08, 2014
J. Allyn Rosser has published four books of poetry, including “Foiled Again,” “Bright Moves” and her most recent, “Mimi’s Trapeze.”
‚ÄúMimi‚Äôs Trapeze,‚ÄĚ a new book by J. Allyn Rosser, starts with a quote by Balzac in the original French. The poet translates it roughly as, ‚ÄúBeing human — what an appalling condition! in which every happy moment depends on an ignorance of some sort.‚ÄĚ Or in other words, ignorance is bliss.
‚ÄúThis is an awful thing to say and such a true thing to say,‚ÄĚ Rosser told Art Beat.
‚ÄúYou think about elation over getting a promotion, or winning an award, or someone you love tells you they love you back. Well, what if the promotion was some political fluke, the award had nothing to do with our deserving it because of skill or effort and that this person you love is secretly seeing or longing for someone else. These things happen every day and yet our happiness depends on them.‚ÄĚ
That perspective may be bleak, but Rosser hears humor in it, and that humor is essential to the way she tackles serious subjects.
‚ÄúHumor is my version of when Emily Dickinson said, ‚ÄėTell the truth, but tell it slant.’” Humor has a way of sidestepping reader resistance, she says.
It’s a tactic Rosser wants to employ, especially when she‚Äôs writing on a topic she‚Äôs obsessed with, like global warming.
In ‚ÄúChildren‚Äôs Children Speech,‚ÄĚ the poet had to find a way to speak about the subject without her readers ‚Äúputting their guards up,‚ÄĚ to approach the topic obliquely and “avoid that groan from the reader.”
Listen to J. Allyn Rosser read “Children’s Children Speech” from her new collection, “Mimi’s Trapeze.”
Children’s Children Speech
What would we want our luckless heirs to say,
Now that we too globally see it will end —
The bees, the buds, the mercurial sea, the air
All spoiled ‚ÄĒ that we made waste of miracles?
Now that we‚Äôre so globally sure it will end,
We should prepare a speech defending all
The spoils we‚Äôve made so much of. Miracles
Are merely things we think we don‚Äôt deserve.
We may as well prepare it now, the speech
That would explain the things we had to have
Were merely things we thought we would deserve
In a heaven we had stopped believing in.
That would explain some things. We had to have
Whatever made us feel above the land,
So that the heaven we‚Äôd stopped believing in
Could be had here, by plane or satellite.
We craved what made us feel above the land
Whose laws were fixed to leave us in the dirt.
What could be seen by plane or satellite
Was fast depleting: ice floe, forest, meadow,
Whose dirty laws were fixed, made by that god
Who‚Äôd also made our minds that made whatever
Fast depleted ice floe, forest, meadow.
Any speech we have a mind to write
Our mind‚Äôs made up to stand behind, whatever
We may do to bees, or seas, or air
Empowering speech. We have a mind to write
Our luckless heirs, but what‚Äôs the use? They‚Äôll call us
They. ‚ÄúThey did this. We‚Äôre weren‚Äôt even there.‚ÄĚ
Rosser moves between traditional form and free verse and in this poem, she was guided by the form of the pantoum, which uses the second and fourth line of a stanza for the first and third lines of the following stanza. ‚ÄúChildren‚Äôs Children Speech,‚ÄĚ however, doesn‚Äôt repeat full lines.
‚ÄúI cheat just enough so it doesn’t sound unnatural. Most forms do sound unnatural and I am one of those poets who wants the natural feeling of a poem,‚ÄĚ said Rosser. ‚ÄúI think it‚Äôs important to violate forms. When you give a poem a form, it’s a resistance against what you want to say and that’s helpful sometimes, but then you have to resist the form to make the form come back alive. Let the poem rebel, but then keep the form more or less intact.‚ÄĚ
While Rosser moves in and out of traditional form, she holds strong to absurdity — a kinship that she feels with one of her primary inspirations, Samuel Beckett.
‚ÄúHe gives you the most awful conditions, really tragic conditions, but he makes them funny, ultimately, because he gets through to the other side of it. Alternatively, he‚Äôll start funny and you’ll wind up realizing that this guy is saying something that is the most important thing for me to learn. This is wisdom, but it‚Äôs funny, funny as hell.”
Whether it‚Äôs a work by Samuel Beckett or the Balzac epitaph at the beginning of ‚ÄúMimi‚Äôs Trapeze,‚ÄĚ the poet is attracted to moving through all the cruelty and disappointment to find a ‚Äúprofound truth.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAny book of poetry that has no humor in it, I’m a little distrustful of it because that’s not the whole of it,‚ÄĚ said Rosser. ‚ÄúThe facts are what they are, but how the mind transforms them is our spiritual life and our sublimity and that’s what poetry tries to capture — our access to the sublime.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúChildren’s Children Speech‚ÄĚ from ‚ÄúMimi’s Trapeze,‚ÄĚ by J. Allyn Rosser, ¬© 2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Editor‚Äôs Note: This article was updated on Dec. 8 to clarify Rosser’s translation of her epigraph.
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Weekly Poem: Hoa Nguyen links globalization and goddesses
Tue, N 18,
ov 01:34:23 2014, +0000
Born in the Mekong Delta and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Hoa Nguyen is the author of three books of poetry, including “As Long As Trees Last,” “Hecate Lochia” and “Your Ancient See Through.”
The ancient Greek goddess Hecate was extremely powerful. So much so that Zeus, father of the gods, gave the goddess a special position, says poet Hoa Nguyen, referencing Hesiod‚Äôs epic poem “The Theogeny.”
‚ÄúHe honored her and ‚Äėallowed‚Äô her to have dominion over earth, sea, sky,‚ÄĚ Nguyen said in an interview with three Advanced Placement poetry students at Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts. back in January 2011.
But, Nguyen, whose newest book ‚ÄúRed Juice‚ÄĚ came out in September, says that Hecate later morphed from this prestigious, ‚Äúmysterious and very old goddess‚ÄĚ into something darker.
‚ÄúEven by Shakespeare‚Äôs time, she’s made into the crone, she’s evil,‚ÄĚ she told Art Beat.
It‚Äôs a fate that the poet doesn‚Äôt agree with, so in her book, Nguyen aims to ‚Äústeal (her) back from patriarchy, from being vilified.‚ÄĚ And Hecate isn‚Äôt the only one; others, like Mena, the Roman goddess of menstruation, make appearances.
‚ÄúThe book is very interested in re-positioning the feminine in its appropriate and proper place of power.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúRed Juice‚ÄĚ is really a re-issuing of her first two books, ‚ÄúYour Ancient See Through‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúHecate Lochia,‚ÄĚ combined with previously uncollected poems. All of the poems were composed before 2008, during a 10-year period in which Nguyen gave birth to her two sons. That experience plays heavily into themes in the book.
‚ÄúWhen you bring children into the world or you are around children, you realize ‚Äėoh,‚Äô now there‚Äôs a certain responsibility that one starts to feel,‚ÄĚ she said.
Many of the poems in ‚ÄúRed Juice‚ÄĚ deal with a concern for globalization and sustainability.
‚ÄúYou can see that progression in the book, that there is more and more urgency around the concern about financial collapse, concern about environmental collapse, concerns about disaster and surviving,‚ÄĚ said the poet.
Listen to Hoa Nguyen read “They Sell You What Disappears” from her collection “Red Juice.”
They Sell You What Disappears
They sell you what disappears it‚Äôs a vague ‚Äúthey‚ÄĚ
maybe capital T who are they and mostly
poorly paid in China
Why does this garlic come from China?
It‚Äôs vague to me shipping bulbous netted bulbs
Cargo doused with fungicide and growth inhibitor
What disappears is vague I can‚Äôt trade for much
I can cook teach you cooking ferment
bread or poetry I can sell my plasma
They are paid poorly in Florida
picking tomatoes for tacos
Some CEO is surely a demon
in this poem
Need capital to buy need to buy or else
you are always paying rent one month away
from ‚Äúthe street‚ÄĚ
3 neighbors asked for money this week
We are guilty
bringing in sacks of food bought on credit
Trademark this poem mark this poem with a scan code
on the front and digitally store it somewhere
not to be memorized ‚Äúby heart‚ÄĚ
For Nguyen, concepts of sustainability, globalism and womanhood are linked. She points to outsourcing, saying that when production is removed from the local community, that community is not as strong and self-reliant.
‚ÄúBut, if you have a resilient community, things reside right there. You are moving with the seasons and you are sharing resources in a way that makes sense. Here’s a river, let’s mill with water power from the grain that we grew over there and let’s collect pecans at this time. That to me is the old matrilineal.‚ÄĚ
“They Sell You What Disappears” from Red Juice: Poems 1998-2008. Copyright 2015 by Hoa Nguyen. Reprinted with permission of the author and Wave Books.
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Weekly Poem: David Roderick ponders the strangeness of the suburbs
Mon, Oct 27, 2014
A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and a recipient of the Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship, David Roderick has published two books of poetry. “Blue Colonial,” his debut collection,” won the APR Honickman Prize. Poems from his newest collection, “The Americans,” won Shenandoah’s James Boatwright III Prize and the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize.
David Roderick spent a year traveling abroad, in search of poetic inspiration. In Japan, he wrote prose poems, a form he hadn‚Äôt previously explored. In Ireland, he became ‚Äúenamored‚ÄĚ with composing ballads, and in Italy, he used art as inspiration for his verse.
The recipient of the 2007-2008 Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship wasn‚Äôt allowed to return stateside until the year was completed, stretching his comfort zone.
‚ÄúI was trying to live more at the ends of my nerves and trying to experience the sensations of different flavors and textures and rhythms of traffic and customs,‚ÄĚ Roderick told Art Beat.
His adventures ‚ÄĒ both geographical and compositional ‚ÄĒ laid the groundwork for his new collection, ‚ÄúThe Americans,‚ÄĚ even though much of his work from that time didn‚Äôt make it into the book.
It turned out that traveling around the world helped hone his perception of more familiar territory: the suburbs.
‚ÄúThey didn‚Äôt seem humdrum or dull any more, they seemed more strange, and even on the one hand, almost magical, because they are so calm and peaceful and beautiful and green,‚ÄĚ said Roderick. ‚ÄúAnd on the other hand, a little strangely dull or almost sleepy, like there wasn‚Äôt enough action, there wasn‚Äôt enough life for me.‚ÄĚ
Roderick grew up in the suburbs, but left for college and then moved to San Francisco. His later transition back to suburban life as an adult ‚Äúsparked memories of my own personal past, but it‚Äôs also stimulated new feelings about my sense of self, my sense of neighborhood and community, my sense of the country, too.‚ÄĚ
It also inspired his latest book, which meditates on some of those dichotomies: urban and suburban, being American but trying to view it from the outside.
The title comes from another famous creative journey that benefited from an outsider‚Äôs perspective. Swiss photographer Robert Frank traveled across the United States with his family for two years in the late 1950s. He distilled 28,000 photographs into an 83-image exhibition and subsequent book called ‚ÄúThe Americans.‚ÄĚ
Roderick features other outsiders who have tried to define American culture, like Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political scientist known for his text, ‚ÄúDemocracy in America.‚ÄĚ He also writes about significant, recent American events, like the 2008 and 2012 political campaigns, as well as national political gridlock. In particular, Roderick contemplates repercussions of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
‚ÄúProbably like a lot of us, I‚Äôm still sort of in a daze about the last 14 years and where that event has taken us‚Ä¶For me, a lot of what happens in this book comes out of 9/11 and certainly a poem like ‚ÄúBuild Your Dream Home Here‚ÄĚ is trying to speak to that historical moment and the aftermath in a fairly compressed amount of space.‚ÄĚ
Listen to David Roderick read “Build Your Dream Home Here” from his newest book, “The Americans.”
Build Your Dream Home Here
First the towers
fell, then the Dow. A few years later,
while she was still recovering
from the blind fumbling accounts
of people crushed to dust—
her nights chocked with emergencies,
smoke, the newsfeed, the taped
and sniffed envelopes, the falling—
that’s when they’d built the place,
a roomy number bricked back
from the corner. A bank offered
low interest, veterans no down.
In every closet they’d make love.
They’d space out bushes, lay toast
and coffee on the porch.
for a while, their screened-in story,
where a half-deflated soccer ball
wedged the door. Drunk on lilac,
they cheered whenever a bee seemed
to veer off course.
Now boxes packed
with their belongings cover the lawn.
She checks the buttons on her blouse
and worries about her husband’s
smoking. Will the lilacs survive?
Will their mild, wilting odor still lure
the bees? In some parts of the world,
the wood of the lilac is carved
into knife handles or flutes. Lńęlek
from the Arabic, meaning “slightly blue.”
The poem connects an idyllic vision of the American dream to a real global tragedy. He says when you are in the suburbs, ‚Äúit‚Äôs hard to feel connected to events that are happening halfway across the country or halfway across the world.‚ÄĚ But trying to feel connected while he was abroad gave him the distance to write new clarity.
‚ÄúGrowing up here inside of it, you tend to take it for granted and assume circumstances are similar elsewhere. So the travel is important to shake yourself out of that certainty, especially or an artist or a writer.‚ÄĚ
“Build Your Dream Home Here” from “The Americans,” by David Roderick, ¬© 2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
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Weekly Poem: Laura Kasischke points to the lingering past
Mon, Oct 20, 2014
Lingering connections and phantom remembrances are echoes within Laura Kasischke‚Äôs new collection, ‚ÄúThe Infinitesimals.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI take the material from memory and things that have been lost and people who are gone and the past, but I‚Äôm trying to give it life again,‚ÄĚ said Kasischke.
Kasischke bases many of her poems on real objects or experiences in her life, but says that writing is an outlet for her to untangle more elusive issues.
‚ÄúThe act of initially sitting down to write the poem is where I‚Äôm figuring out something about the world that isn‚Äôt tangible or rational or right in front of me.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI guess for me the origins of the poem [‚ÄúThe Common Cold‚ÄĚ] was pretty sensory, just this idea being biological and viral and physical and the experience of having a bit of a fever and being in a crowd,‚ÄĚ Said Kasischke. ‚ÄúIn that moment, I felt connected to motherhood and athleticism and being with other parents and this sense of time passing.‚ÄĚ
Listen to Laura Kasischke read “The Common Cold” from her new collection “The Infinitesimals.”
The Common Cold
To me she arrives this morning
dressed in some
man‚Äôs homely, soft, cast-off
lover‚Äôs shawl, and some
woman‚Äôs memory of a third-
who loved her students a little too much.
(Those warm hugs that went
on and on and on.)
She puts her hand to my head and says,
‚ÄúLaura, you should go back to bed.‚ÄĚ
But I have lunches to pack, socks
on the floor, while
the dust settles on
the I‚Äôve got to clean this pigsty up.
(Rain at a bus stop.
Laundry in a closet.)
And tonight, I‚Äôm
the Athletic Booster mother
whether I feel like it or not, weakly
taking your dollar
from inside my concession stand:
I offer you your caramel corn. ( Birdsong
in a terrarium. Some wavering distant
planet reflected in a puddle.)
And, as your dollar
passes between us, perhaps
you will recall
how, years ago, we
flirted over some impossible
Cub Scout project.
and saws, and seven
small boys tossing
at one another. And now
those sons, taller
and faster than we are, see
how they are poised on a line, ready
to run at the firing of a gun?
But here we are again, you and I, the
two of us tangled up
and biological: I‚Äôve
forgotten your name, and
you never knew mine, but
in the morning
my damp kisses all over your pillows,
my clammy flowers
blooming in you cellar,
my spring grass
dewed with mucus-
and you‚Äôll remember me
and how, tonight, wearing my
Go Dawgs T-shirt, I
stood at the center
of this sweet clinging heat
of a concession stand
with my flushed cheeks, and
how, before we touched, I
coughed into my hand.
here we are together
in bed all day again.
Her poem ‚ÄúThe Invisible Passenger‚ÄĚ came from an experience of boarding a plane. Looking for her place in row 12, she noticed there was no row 13 between her and row 14.
‚ÄúWas it bad luck and no one wanted to sit there? Or was it because those flying us through the air are superstitious themselves? There‚Äôs something so irrational about moving through this world and trying every day, whether by using our seat belts or not sitting in unlucky rows, to defy death again.‚ÄĚ
Listen to Laura Kasischke read “The Invisible Passenger” from her new collection “The Infinitesimals.”
The Invisible Passenger
Between row 12 and row 14, there
are, on this plane, no seats. This
engineering feat of
gravity and wings, which
flies on superstition, irrationality. The calm
has been printed on my ticket:
Doe and fawn
in a grove below us, her
soul crawling in an out of my clothes.
While, in a roofless theater, a magic act
is performed for children
by an invisible man.
Like the mess
of a cake that I once
baked for my father—
damp, awful, crumbling layers.
Soggy church bell on a plate.
And, my father‚Äôs dentures, lost
(all his teeth
as a young man
by a military dentist im-
patient to send him
on his way), and
my father‚Äôs smile anyway.
The poetry in ‚ÄúThe Infinitesimals‚ÄĚ invites the reader to look into their own past and think for a bit on what it is to experience loss.
‚ÄúI can‚Äôt see them, and they‚Äôre over, and people are gone, but they‚Äôre not zero, they‚Äôre too small to be measured or too lost and invisible to be found again, but they‚Äôre still there, because they were there.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe Common Cold‚ÄĚ and “The Invisible Passenger” from The Infinitesimals by Laura Kasischke. Published in 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission Copper Canyon Press.
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Weekly Poem: Saskia Hamilton wants you to ‚Äėdream over‚Äô her work
Mon, Oct 13, 2014
The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, Saskia Hamilton is author of three books of poetry. Photo by Meg Tyler
Movement and transition resonate in Saskia Hamilton‚Äôs collection ‚ÄúCorridor.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe spirit of the book is a lot about passing through or passing by different lives and landscapes … or in and out of moments,‚ÄĚ Hamilton told Art Beat.
One of Hamilton’s interpretations of movement is made through her translation of an Anglo-Saxon riddle — one that has never been solved.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs very hard to translate a riddle that you don’t really know what the answer is,‚ÄĚ said Hamilton. ‚ÄúTranslating something like that was a kind of passage — through an Anglo-Saxon world view that’s so different from our own.‚ÄĚ
Another connection to the meaning of ‚Äúcorridor‚ÄĚ is a symbol of death, ‚Äúlike the passage of one life to another.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúOn the Ground,‚ÄĚ a poem that Hamilton calls a pillar of the collection, was written in memoriam to a young member of her family that died.
‚ÄúIt was a terrible time, so it comes out of that experience.‚ÄĚ
Listen to Saskia Hamilton read ‚ÄúOn the Ground‚ÄĚ from her collection ‚ÄúCorridor.‚ÄĚ
On the Ground
i.m. Joshua Shackleton
When the collie saw the child
break from the crowd,
he gave chase, and since they both
they left this world.
We were then made of—
The train passed Poste 5, Paris,
late arrival, no luck, no
magnified in any glass.
is everywhere in language,‚ÄĚ
the speaker had said
in the huge hall where
I sat amongst coughers,
students, in the late
February of that year,
at the end of a sinuous
inquiry on sense and sound—
‚Äúand very close to the ground,‚ÄĚ he‚Äôs said.
Like mist risen
above the feet of animals
in a far field north of here.
Hamilton says that ‚ÄúOn the Ground‚ÄĚ is a mediation on falling silent, a theme that pops up in other poems in the book, like in ‚ÄúZwigen,‚ÄĚ an Old Dutch word that means ‚Äúfalling silent.‚ÄĚ
She says both poems are “interested in silence … what is the power of withheld speech,‚ÄĚ said Hamilton. ‚ÄúBoth are very different mediations on falling silent. ‚ÄėOn the Ground‚Äô is about the death of a child, so that‚Äôs a very severe and terrible silence.‚ÄĚ
Hamilton says she was influenced also by the storytelling style of another writer.
‚ÄúI also thought of Bob Dylan’s way of giving you little glimpses of lives in passing in songs, like in ‚ÄėBlood on the Tracks,‚Äô or ‚ÄėTangled Up in Blue,‚Äô or ‚ÄėSimple Twist of Fate,‚Äô ‚ÄėIdiot Wind,‚Äô any of those songs,‚ÄĚ said Hamilton.
‚ÄúOne of my favorites is an outtake from that session, ‘Biograph,’ called ‚ÄėOut to Me,‚Äô where you just get these little broken narratives. I think that there seem to me, after the fact when I was reading [my book] over, a similar kind of interest.‚ÄĚ
After a number of years spent writing many of the poems that make up the collection — which came out in May — she sat down with a pile of her work and a friend, who “helped me see patterns in it that I would never have been able to discern in advance, shall we say. I needed to bring them all together to see their– in a way, their dream life, the things they were preoccupied with that I didn’t know they were preoccupied with.‚ÄĚ
So how does Hamilton want people to experience the work in ‚ÄúCorridor?‚ÄĚ In much the same way as the themes she is drawing out: The reader “should just dream over the poems.‚ÄĚ
All poems copyright ¬© 2014 by Saskia Hamilton, from Corridor. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.
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Weekly Poem: Sam Taylor struggles to speak Chinese
Mon, Sep 29, 2014
The recipient of the 2014-2015 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, Sam Taylor has published two books of poetry, “Body of the World” and “Nude Descending an Empire,” which went on sale in August.
Poet Sam Taylor thinks we’ve taken our environment for granted for centuries and now we’re at a point of “crisis.” That is the driving theme in ‚ÄúNude Descending an Empire,‚ÄĚ his recent collection published in August, that he was inspired to write during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Those years marked, ‚Äúa time when we were initiating an insane war for deeply flawed and deceptive reasons, and also in a time when the urgency of our ecological situation was becoming quite clear and yet still being flouted and mocked,‚ÄĚ Taylor told Art Beat.
‚ÄúI wanted to develop a voice of a citizen poet that could speak poetically into our moment.‚ÄĚ
Taylor started to compose the book while living as a caretaker in a remote wilderness refuge. At the time, he lacked any access to electricity, the internet or a phone line. According to Taylor, being secluded in the wild helped reinforce his belief that our natural heritage needs to be protected. Those years helped inform the title of the collection.
‚ÄúThere was a nakedness to that experience, being immersed in the natural world and stripped of all the dubious meanings our civilization has created, and it allowed me to see the possibility of a whole other way of being and thinking.‚ÄĚ
Many of the poems in ‚ÄúNude Descending an Empire‚ÄĚ ask us to experience and contemplate the ‚Äúcrises‚ÄĚ of our time through the focusing lens of poetry, but the book also touches on themes of interconnected-humanity and misunderstandings.
In his poem, ‚ÄúThe Book of Poetry,‚ÄĚ Taylor recalls his experiences travelling with a friend through Southeast Asia and how something as subtle as a mispronunciation led to the great confusion of their hosts.
Listen to Sam Taylor read “The Book of Poetry” from his new collection, “Nude Descending an Empire.”
Note: this poem contains strong language.
The Book of Poetry (Wo Shi Shiren)
A friend, in Thailand, helping to build straw bale homes
was riding with four Buddhist monks on the back of a truck
piled high with musky bales. ‚ÄúI love water buffaloes,‚ÄĚ she burst out
in broken Thai. The monks laughed. I guess that is
a strange thing to say, she thought, but insisted.
‚ÄúNo, really, I really love them,‚ÄĚ trying to unfurl herself
clearly, practicing the Zen Garden of making conversation
with only a few words. ‚ÄúThey are so beautiful, so strong.
Don‚Äôt you love them?‚ÄĚ But the monks just kept laughing.
Every traveler in Southeast Asia has her own story
of tonal confusion: the same syllable spoken different ways
becomes four, six, seven words. In China, Ma
means mother, but also hemp, horse, scold‚ÄĒdepending if
it is flat, rising, dipping, or falling. Sometimes context helps,
as when ordering food: No one is likely to confuse
‚ÄúI want to eat‚ÄĚ with ‚ÄúI demand an ugly woman,‚ÄĚ
unless one is dining in a brothel, and even then ‚ÄúI want eggplant‚ÄĚ
though mistoned ‚Äúwhirlpool shake concubine twins‚ÄĚ
is likely to produce only strips of sauce-smeared nightshade.
Everyone in China wants to know what you do.
It‚Äôs not easy, even in English, for a poet to say that.
When they asked, I said first, ‚ÄúI write,‚ÄĚ wo xie,
or sometimes, after I had learned the word, ‚ÄúI am a poet.‚ÄĚ
Wo shi shi ren. Often, I was met by puzzlement,
strained foreheads, awkward laughter, Chinese people
glancing at each other for cues, uncertain how to react.
Not so different really from the response in America.
‚ÄúA poet‚ÄĚ I‚Äôd repeat. Wo shi shiren. Then,
‚ÄúI write poetry,‚ÄĚ trying to make the most
of my minuscule vocabulary. ‚ÄúI write books of poetry.‚ÄĚ
Wo shi shi ren: literally, I am a poetry person.
Wo means I; ren means person, or man.
Near the end of my travels, someone told me
shi‚ÄĒwhich is pronounced ‚Äúsure‚ÄĚ and means poetry
in the high flat tone, as well as the verb ‚Äúto be‚ÄĚ
in the falling tone‚ÄĒalso means shit
in yet another tone. So, all along I must have been saying
I am a shit man. I write shit. And repeating it.
A shit person. I write books of shit. Understand?
To be‚ÄĒpoetry‚ÄĒshit. Something fitting in how these words
were assigned the same syllable, the same address.
Later, looking the word up, I discovered for each tone, shi
was ten or twenty words, a whole apartment complex
sharing one mailbox. Corpse, loss, world, history, time, stone,
life, to begin, to be, to die, to fail, to be addicted to,
rough silk, persimmons, raincoats, swine, long-tailed marmot,
clear water‚ÄĒall crowded into the same syllable‚ÄĒsure,
sure, sure. It was also coincidentally the word for yes.
So, perhaps I had said something else entirely
I thought of all the combinations I might have said.
I am a shit person. I write life.
I am a death person. I write being. I shit history man.
I history being person. I write time. I write books of failure,
books of corpses, books of loss, books of yes.
I am a being person. I write to be.
I am addicted to being a man.
I write books of shit, books of clear water.
I am a poet.
It seemed all the world could, even should, have one word
for everything‚ÄĒtable scales, taxis, bicycles, stones, cities,
time and history and death and life. It was all shit.
It was all poetry. As for my friend, she found out later
water buffalo was a variation of the word for penis.
So, ‚ÄúI love penises‚ÄĚ she had confided to the Buddhist monks,
the truck jostling, the potholes throwing her knees
against theirs. ‚ÄúI really love penises,‚ÄĚ she had insisted,
looking into their celibate eyes. ‚ÄúPenises are
so beautiful, so strong. Don‚Äôt you love them?‚ÄĚ
Since the syllable for monk is also the syllable
of my name on fire in a world of loss, I will answer. Sure,
I love penises and water buffalo and the smell
of wet hay, and vaginas and saut√©ed eggplant and concubine twins,
and I want to tell the Buddhist monks, and the Chinese bureaucrats,
and the official from Homeland Security
who stopped me in customs to search my computer, and my mother
the Szechwan horse: I am a shit man writing books of stone
and the clear water has failed, but I am addicted
writing yes in a city of corpses and swine and persimmons,
here at the end of history, now at the beginning of time.
Taylor said his poems normally aren‚Äôt something he comes up with out of nowhere. Instead he pulls his ideas from raw ‚Äúsparks and rhythms‚ÄĚ he finds in his travels. The anecdotal ‚ÄúThe Book of Poetry‚ÄĚ typifies that sentiment.
‚ÄúThat piece was, I felt, almost given to me just by the things that happened, the coincidental meanings that I encountered or was told about. All the pieces were just there and it clearly was a poem, it just had to be mined, or harvested or built in some way.‚ÄĚ
The poem provides humor through the misunderstanding created by a slight shift in vowels, and that the word for poetry in Chinese so closely resembles the word for a bowel movement. Taylor says that as a writer, the quirks of a language and his own comical mispronunciation made it a piece he wanted to write even more.
‚ÄúIt does particularly relate to a love and fascination with language that most poets and readers probably share, but beyond that it‚Äôs a fascination with the particular set of meanings that happened to be in these words, of course one of them being poetry, in the sense that poetry not only overlaps with [expletive] but every word imaginable.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe Book of Poetry‚ÄĚ as it appears in ‚ÄúNude Descending an Empire‚ÄĚ required several drafts, after he left his notebook in a taxicab in China.
Taylor is in the final stages of his next work, which he says will be more experimental in form and style.
‚ÄúThe Book of Poetry” from ‚ÄúNude Descending an Empire,‚ÄĚ by Sam Taylor, ¬©2014. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.‚ÄĚ
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Weekly Poem: Carl Adamshick writes for the ‚Äėmysterious other‚Äô
Mon, Sep 22, 2014
The co-founder of Tavern Books, Carl Adamshick is the recipient of the 2010 Walt Whitman Award and Literary Art’s Oregon Literary Fellowship. Photo by Liz Mehl
Carl Adamshick has been writing poetry seriously for 20 years, and most of his poems have been short. That‚Äôs largely what you‚Äôll find if you pick up his first collection, ‚ÄúCurses and Wishes,‚ÄĚ which won the Walt Whitman Award in 2010.
As a challenge, the Oregon-based poet focused on composing longer pieces for his second book, ‚ÄúSaint Friend,‚ÄĚ which hit shelves this August.
‚ÄúI spent a lot of time writing and being very concerned with economy and what not to say and alluding to things. I learned that it‚Äôs okay just to write something and to say it flatly,‚ÄĚ Adamshick told Art Beat. ‚ÄúI found that, in a long poem, it’s open to that, it’s open to a more conversational tone that I learned to have faith in.‚ÄĚ
With that “conversational tone,” the poet was able to be upfront about what he wanted to convey.
‚ÄúWith the smaller, slighter poems, there’s more of a puzzle aspect… there’s a lot of word-play and there’s a lot of mystery involved. When you decide to say how it is, emotions are more on the sleeve, and things aren’t hidden. It‚Äôs really been fascinating to me to be open to that, to be open to the words spilling out instead of constructing them in some sort of way and moving them around and being really cautious and thoughtful about all the placement and the exact wording. It‚Äôs been a little looser and a little more exciting.‚ÄĚ
Twenty years ago, Adamshick’s friends were his primary audience, reading his compositions at a bar, critiquing each other‚Äôs work over a beer — sort of an informal Master of Fine Arts.
Listen to Carl Adamshick read “Everything that Happens Can Be Called Aging” from his new collection, “Saint Friend.”
Everything that Happens Can Be Called Aging
I have more love than ever.
Our kids have kids soon to have kids.
I need them. I need everyone
to come over to the house,
sleep on the floor, on the couches
in the front room. I need noise,
too many people in too small a place,
I need dancing, the spilling of drinks,
the loud pronouncements
over music, the verbal sparring,
the broken dishes, the wealth.
I need it all flying apart.
My friends to slam against me,
to home me, to say they love me.
I need mornings to ask for favors
and forgiveness. I need to give,
have all my emotions rattled,
my family to be greedy,
to keep coming, to keep asking
and taking. I need no resolution,
just the constant turmoil of living.
Give me the bottom of the river,
all the unadorned, unfinished,
unpraised moments, one good turn
on the luxuriant wheel.
Unlike many other contemporary American poets, Adamshick is not the product of an MFA program, a fact that many point out to identify him as a different kind of voice. But regardless of his educational decisions, he was intent on a creating a life filled with poetry.
‚ÄúI [was] left to my own devices and picking out my own books and reading my own things for my own purposes…I had a part-time job that I liked, and I had friends that liked poems, and I spent my free time just reading and writing,‚ÄĚ Adamshick said. ‚ÄúI was just living this so-called poetic lifestyle that I really enjoyed…but I think I‚Äôve just taken the long road.‚ÄĚ
The long road or not, the poet has found a way to send his poems out into the world, which he believes is imperative to the power of verse.
‚ÄúPoems are meant to be shared. I know that’s very general, but it’s also very true in a profound sense to me. I‚Äôm not writing poems for myself. I feel very strongly that a poem is finished when other people hear it or read it, and I keep that in mind when I‚Äôm writing.‚ÄĚ
Adamshick himself has been profoundly affected by the poetry that he has read and, now focusing on the unknown reader that might pick up his work, he hopes to be similarly influential.
‚ÄúI write for this mysterious other that is going to stumble upon a book, whether in a library or a bookstore or on a website somewhere. I really want some mysterious other that I don’t know, some stranger, to read it and see it as a real piece of art,‚ÄĚ Adamshick said. ‚ÄúReading poems has been very enriching and very life altering to me. I feel like whenever I write a poem I assume or I guess that somebody else is going to have that reaction.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúEverything that Happens Can Be Called Aging‚ÄĚ was excerpted from the book ‚ÄúSaint Friend‚ÄĚ by Carl Adamshick. Copyright ¬© 2014 by Carl Adamshick. Reprinted courtesy of McSweeney’s Poetry Series.
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Weekly Poem: Charlotte Boulay reads ‚ÄėOracular‚Äô
Mon, Sep 08, 2014
Listen to Charlotte Boulay read ‚ÄúOracular‚ÄĚ from her debut collection, “Foxes on the Trampoline.”
The road is too hot to move. I’m stuck in the median,
I slept too fast & then too slow.
Sufi says, I’m not only bones & bones—
who loves the saints in the streets? We don’t need
your love, only your briefest notice sustains us.
Dogs crouch in the ancient of their shade,
tooth-brushers spit into their crevices, piss in the gutters
Bedtime—stars like mustard seeds pop
through the smog. There’s a wail & an anguish of horns;
everlastingness reaches up & turns out the light—
Charlotte Boulay earned her MFA from the University of Michigan. She taught creative writing at the university for five years and won both the Meijer Award and an Academy of American Poets Award. Her poetry has appeared in many journals, including The New Yorker, Slate, the Boston Review and Crazyhorse. Boulay currently works as a grant writer at The Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband. “Foxes on the Trampoline” is her first book of poetry.
Photo by Roger Boulay
‚ÄúOracular‚ÄĚ was excerpted from the book ‚ÄúFoxes on the Trampoline‚ÄĚ by Charlotte Boulay. Copyright ¬© 2014 by Charlotte Boulay. Reprinted courtesy of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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Weekly Poem: Mark Ford reads ‚ÄėIn Loco Parentis‚Äô
Mon, Sep 01, 2014
Mark Ford reads “In Loco Parentis” from his collection “Selected Poems.”
In Loco Parentis
were some quite creepy men—one
used to lie down
on the dayroom floor, then get us all
to pile on top of him—and a basilisk-
eyed matron in a blue unifrom with a watch
beneath her right
collarbone. Thump thump
thump went her footsteps, making
the asbestos ceiling tiles shiver, and me
want to hide, or run like a rabbit
in a fire…
What we lost, we lost
forever. A minor
devil played at chess
with us, forcing
the pieces to levitate
and hover, flourishing swords, in midair. I’d grasp
them now, the orotund bishop, the stealthy
knight, the all-
but they dissolve
in my fingers, refuse
to return to the board, to their squares.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Mark Ford is the author of four collections of poetry, including “Soft Sift” and “Six Children.” “Selected Poems” is his most recent work. Ford is also the author of the biography “Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams,” and a translation of Roussel’s last poem, “Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique.” That translation was the runner up for a PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Ford has also written criticism. He published two collections, “A Driftwood Altar” and “Mr and Mrs Stevens and Other Essays” and has had his work published in journals such as the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. Ford earned his BA and Ph.D. from the University of Oxford and he received a Kennedy Scholarship from Harvard University. He currently teaches at University College, London.
Photo by Mark Hinkley courtesy Coffee House Press.
Excerpts from Selected Poems by Mark Ford courtesy of Coffee House Press.
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Weekly Poem: Ellen Bass wants you to eat that strawberry
Mon, Aug 25, 2014
“Like a Beggar” is the most recent book of poetry from Ellen Bass. Photo by Irene Young
In the first poem of her new collection, ‚ÄúLike a Beggar,‚ÄĚ Ellen Bass tries to accept what she has spent her whole life avoiding: misfortune.
From the ‚Äútrivial to the tragic,‚ÄĚ including scenes of melting ice cream in your car and your son hawking your refrigerator for drug money, Bass stops fighting what she calls the unavoidable.
‚ÄúThis is a kind of a watershed poem for me,‚ÄĚ Bass told Art Beat. ‚ÄúOf course you don‚Äôt surrender just once so the poem has become a kind of teaching poem for me. Even though I wrote it, it talks to me and reminds me what I have to keep doing over and over.‚ÄĚ
She closes the poem with a Buddhist story about a woman trapped on the side of a cliff. The woman arrived in that precarious position because she climbed down a vine to avoid a tiger that was chasing her, only to find another tiger below. To make matters worse, the woman looks up to find two mice gnawing at the vine that got her there.
The woman is stuck in a predicament, but she notices a wild strawberry growing near her. ‚ÄúShe looks up, down, at the mice./Then she eats the strawberry.‚ÄĚ
During the seven years that Bass worked on ‚ÄúLike a Beggar,‚ÄĚ she was going through a challenging time. As a narrative poet, her first inclination was to write the stories of her difficult experiences, but this time she couldn‚Äôt do that. The events concerned other people and she wasn‚Äôt able to write about them directly.
‚ÄúAt first that really threw me for a loop — what will I do? How will I be a poet?‚ÄĚ said Bass.
‚ÄúI soon realized that I had to take this as an aesthetic challenge and that it would be good for me, that it would push me to write in ways that weren’t as familiar to me, that it would push me into new poetic territory.‚ÄĚ
What Bass found surprised her. She ended up with a lot of odes and realized ‚Äúthe harder the times the more important to praise.‚ÄĚ That discovery can be seen in an epigraph from Rilke, which she uses to open the collection:
‚ÄúBut those dark, deadly, devastating ways,/how do you bear them, suffer them?/–I praise.‚ÄĚ
One such poem of praise is for repetition, a daily phenomenon that Bass sees as a privilege.
‚ÄúI don’t think I‚Äôm completely alone in loving repetition, but I‚Äôm certainly in the minority in our culture. There‚Äôs a great premium placed on new, adventure, variety, all of that and again, in my family I get teased a lot about my kind of mule-like inclination for repetition.‚ÄĚ
Listen to Ellen Bass read ‚ÄúOde to Repetition‚Äô‚ÄĚ from her new collection ‚ÄúLike a Beggar.‚ÄĚ
Ode to Repetition
I like to take the same walk
down the wide expanse of Woodrow to the ocean,
and most days I turn left toward the lighthouse.
The sea is always different. Some days dreamy,
waves hardly waves, just a broad undulation
in no hurry to arrive. Other days the surf‚Äôs drunk,
crashing into the cliffs like a car wreck.
And when I get home I like
the same dishes stacked in the same cupboards
and then unstacked and then stacked again.
And the rhododendron, spring after spring,
blossoming its pink ceremony.
I could dwell in the kingdom of Coltrane,
the friction of air through his horn,
as he forms each syllable of “Lush Life”
over and over until I die. Once I was afraid
of this, opening the curtains every morning,
only to close them again each night.
You could despair in the fixed town of your own life.
But when I wake up to pee, I‚Äôm grateful
the toilet‚Äôs in its usual place, the sink with its gift of water.
I look out at the street, the halos of lampposts
in the fog or the moon rinsing the parked cars.
When I get back in bed I find
the woman who‚Äôs been sleeping there
each night for thirty years. Only she‚Äôs not
the same, her body more naked
in its aging, its disorder. Though I still
come to her like a beggar. One morning
one of us will rise bewildered
without the other and open the curtains.
There will be the same shaggy redwood
in the neighbor‚Äôs yard and the faultless stars
going out one by one into the day.
The poem ends in a much darker space than where it starts, an evolution that Bass wasn‚Äôt expecting.
‚ÄúEven people who don‚Äôt like repetition, we all want the kind of repetition that allows the people that we love to stay in our lives and not die and we don’t want to die. We want to wake up every morning.‚ÄĚ said Bass. ‚ÄúI was validated in my love of repetition. You may think you don’t want repetition, but you really want it too because you don’t want to wake up and find your beloved one gone either.”
The title of the collection comes from one line towards the end of ‚ÄúOde to Repetition,‚ÄĚ where Bass references going to bed with her wife of thirty years, ‚Äúher body more naked/in its aging, its disorder. Though I still/come to her like a beggar.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWe are all in some way beggars in this lifetime. We are at the mercy of others and at the mercy of what will happen to us. Of course, we can chose how we respond to it, but we are always praying for something to happen or not happen in one way or another. We come with these empty bowls and there’s a great deal that is given to us … We are all vulnerable to whatever might befall us.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs those vulnerabilities that Bass focuses on in ‚ÄúRelax,‚ÄĚ that first poem about misfortune.
‚ÄúIn the poem, I was able to commit myself more to not trying to escape and instead trying to remember in any moment to eat that strawberry.‚ÄĚ
“Ode to Repetition” from ‚ÄúLike a Beggar‚ÄĚ by Ellen Bass. Published in 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission Copper Canyon Press.
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