A weekly column featuring our favorite poems from recently published lit mags & a related prompt to inspire your writing.
This month I’ve selected 3 poems by women, all of them with both a hint of magic and a hint of darkness. I got into a mystical, spectral sort of mood with my reading in October for the Halloween season, and it seems I’m riding that wave well into November. This time around, I hope you read and enjoy poems by Caitlin Scarano, Sue William Silverman, and Breauna L. Roach, from two literary magazines who I often fall back on when I’m jonesing for lyricism with a surreal flair.
Pick 1: For the Occasion by Caitlin Scarano (Bellingham Review, Issue 72)
“I can’t name the master.
I cannot recognize
this room for a house.
Girls with chandelier
vacant faces. Is there a bone
that most resembles you?”
Caitlin Scarano published two poems in this issue from Bellingham Review, but I selected “For the Occasion” because it sits uncomfortably in its own imagery. This poem is an unsettling one – at one point the narrator even says, “You refuse to / imagine, so I will.” But within that discomfort is a challenge, the opportunity for a deeper, more visceral connection. This is a poem about grief which does not shy away from grief. It’s staccato lines are direct, and it sits in this surreal, macabre series of images which unsettle with intention, like a ghost story when you know the ghost is real.
Pick 2: If the Girl Receives a Caress From a Man Without Hands by Sue William Silverman (Bellingham Review, Issue 73)
“In air scented by olive trees,
the girl dreams of hands severed
by bayonets – the man entering
her chamber dripping blood –
a kind of tenderness
like cancer curling up
snug inside bones…”
This poem from Sue William Silverman, also published in November in Bellingham Review, has this gorey, cringe-inducing (in a good way) imagery that stuck with me long after I’d finished reading. It comes in a series of three poems, but there’s a magic in this poem in particular that reminds me Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s novel Madeleine is Sleeping, in which the grotesque nature of a wound becomes something to touch, to marvel over, to heal. Though a bloody poem, I left this piece feeling hopeful – it makes room for absence in a way that I found quite beautiful, and though dark in so many ways, the last stanza is a ray of light.
Pick 3: Life of a Black Woman as Furious Flower by Breauna L. Roach (Winter Tangerine, “Love Letters to Spooks”)
“This is a longtime Southern tradition. How do you know when’s the right time to beat the lemon tree? How often should you switch the okra? Many species can be induced to flower by responding to stress factors. They flower under long days of labor or in response to the onus of poor nutrition or low exposure to fortuity or blinding light past what can be healthily absorbed. The seeds germinate, but do the progeny of the strained plants develop normally?”
This beautiful essay poem by Breauna L. Roach was a slap in the face when I first read it. Here we are, talking about flowers, and then suddenly we are not talking about flowers anymore. This is a mournful, matter of fact poem about race and the history of slavery that sneaks up on you, lays itself down with the force of a well-researched allegory, snags you with it’s lyricism as it elucidates a difficult truth. This poem is beautiful and it is political. It has a unique, almost academic voice, which adds to the chill of the last few lines, when the reality of the poem hits you full on and you realize how relevant Roach’s words are to America’s current historical moment.
Recently, I’ve fallen in love with a sporadic email newsletter of short essay-poems by Rhiannon Admidas Conley called Smol Talks. Breauna L. Roach’s essay-poem reminded me of the power of transforming fact into metaphor, and vice versa, and so this month’s prompt is to write a short essay-poem of your own, using random tidbits of information from the world around you. I highly recommend exploring the depths of Wikipedia for your tidbits – you may be surprised what you can find on the most inconsequential of pages.