February: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca FeaturedAs an avid reader of literary magazines, I am embarrassed to say that I just learned about Five Dials a few weeks ago. Perhaps it’s one of those subtle, colonial snubs that folks in the U.S. don’t talk much about this phenomenal British mag, but I realized nearly as soon as I stumbled upon it that I was dealing with a very prestigious magazine, and that somehow it had escaped my attention for all these years. As a kind of apology for being such a dope, I subscribed to the magazine, as if that would serve as suitable penance for this gaping hole in my lit mag knowledge. Regardless: mea culpa.

What struck me most about Five Dials was its focus on translation – something that is  lacking in U.S. based lit mags. Both of the poems I selected for this column were translations – from Greek and German, respectively; perhaps because Five Dials is an imprint of Penguin, there’s an ease of access to original publication rights. The magazine covers everything from lists to “reportage” to poetry and fiction, and leaves a pleasant amount of space for “experiments.” It was almost as fun to explore the site as it was to read the work, which is always an added bonus.

Though there’s no shortage of interesting work in this magazine, I narrowed it down to two poems. The first, “Variations on Anne” from Greek translator and poet Eftychia Panayiotou, discusses the experience of translating Anne Carson into Greek as a series of “ifs;”

“If you must choose, you will choose to be a woman.
If he must choose, he will choose to be a man (though not a husband).
If you are a woman (then surely he’ll never see you as wife).
If he can choose, he will surely choose mistress (but where then is the wife?).
If dialogue demands roles, then you are the killer, I am the victim.
If he has given the key to the wrong woman.
If he says something witty, such as ‘Desire doubled is love and love doubled is madness.’
If she replies even more brilliantly: ‘Madness doubled is marriage.’”

I loved that this piece is a hybrid – part essay, part poem, all doubling back and turning around. It depicts in its writing the complicated nature of translation, and the simultaneous distance and connection the translator feels to the author. It’s both a process piece and a poem, simple and yet complicated. I love its twists and turns.

The second poem is by German author Marion Poschmann, a piece called “Self-Portrait as a White Lady.” It was the pacing and the lyricism of this poem that struck me. Poschmann writes:

“I shone

an igloo lit from within, in the spray zone
of star clusters, the cold extracts
of former community centres,

streets soused in alcohol, slow, gentle:
I made halls,
phantasms of origin”

This poem flows and flows and never stops until it’s last, breathless ending. The translation is intricate and beautiful, and I read the poem over and over, trying to navigate the rapid-firing of disparate images. It was a lovely, intriguing piece.

 

Prompt:

Write a poem where each line begins with the same conjunction, as in “Variations on Anne.” For inspiration, reference this list. Try to be comfortable with the incompleteness of each line.

Advertisements

January: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca Featured

For the new year, I’ve decided to change my focus for this column. I’ve decided to narrow my scope, and delve more deeply into one literary magazine each month; I want to explore the content that these magazines publish, but even more than that I want to talk about what they stand for, their mission, and the contributions they are making as a whole to the world of poetry publishing. Lit mags – and the often unpaid, hardworking editorial staff that keep them running – play a huge role in determining the future of contemporary poetry, and are the loud voices that help keep poetry alive and relevant in America and beyond. I want to pay homage to that effort, in this small way, and to help connect our readership with the vast network of literary magazines around the world.

This month, I’m featuring Duende, the literary magazine run by Goddard College’s BFA program. I love lit mags that are run by undergraduate students because the staff is always changing, which allows the magazine to change and make itself new with each turnover of the academic year. The magazine is named after Fredrico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of the Duende – in the essay Lorca argues not for a poetry of angels or muses, but for one that comes from the soles of the feet, from the earth, from mortality and survival and the looming figure of death. The editorial staff describe their preferences in beautiful abstraction: “Duende tastes good on the tongue and caresses the ear. Duende seeks authenticity & soulfulness, earthiness & expressiveness, a chill up the spine. It encompasses darkness and intensity; elicits sorrow and joy; wrests a response from the body.” Duende promises earthy, real, expressive writing and that is precisely what the magazine provides, with both novice and experienced contributors and a submission policy that encourages those often ignored by “literary gatekeepers;” the “true beauty and diversity of the U.S. literary ecosystem … from writers and artists who are queer, of color, differently abled, immigrant, working class, youth, elder…” to put their work up for the editor’s consideration.

Without further ado, two poems from Duende, and a prompt inspired by the magazine’s namesake:

Four Poems from CA Conrad

Veteran experimental poet C.A. Conrad hit me over the head again with his sharp, evocative lines in these poems from his collection Width of a Witch. You can see what I mean most clearly in Pluto.4, which I’ve transcribed below (pardon the poor formatting here — see the poem as Conrad meant it on Duende‘s site):

we win from time to time
abandoned above adaptable positions of the losing
we risk everything in thinking we can navigate maverick of the green carry a
bottle of wine into the
pumpkin patch looking
for a new way to
angle the old songs
sell me a ticket to
your dance please
believe in the strength of
poetry a little stone in the moth
helps balance her on my breath

Two Poems from Caitlin Cundiff

Caitlin Cundiff’s first poem, “A Private Viewing,” struck me from the first stanza. She writes about her grandmother’s body beautifully, with a kind of authenticity and imagination that reads like a daydream, but the kind that bowls you over, that doesn’t pass easily from the brain. The first stanza is below; I hope it leads you, as it did me, into the rest of this beautiful poem.

I.

The flowerbeds by the front door were Ima’s only children.
She crushed up her bones with a mortar and pestle
to put in the soil as if she expected her kneecaps
to bloom again.

 

Prompt

Write a poem from the soles of your feet. Write from the center of the earth. In short, write a duende poem. Lorca talks about tango and bull-fighting in his essay about this form of poetics – what is your bullfight? Your tango? Write about a moment charged with energy, fear, lust, the raw feeling of being alive. Then, if you are feeling inspired, try to write the same poem again from Lorca’s other modalities – the muse and the angel.

November: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca FeaturedA 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.

Prompt:

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.

October: Poetry Picks & Prompts

A weekly column featuring our favorite poems from recently published lit mags & a related prompt to inspire your writing.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been reading nearly as many poems lately as I did earlier this year – instead I’ve been waist deep in young adult novels. They’ve started to take over my life. Because of that, the three poems I’ve selected this month come to you a bit late – most of them have release dates from early this year.

In the U.S. we have a saying to help us remember how to change our clocks for daylight savings time: “spring forward, fall back.” In the spirit of the long, dark days of late autumn, this month I’ll fall back on some belated but still beautiful poems by Adriana Cloud, Cameron Quan Louie, and Miranda Tsang, all of which contain both a hint of summer blooms and a taste of the cold to come.

Pick 1: Instructions for Opening a Door by Adriana Cloud (Noble Gas Quarterly, Issue 202.2)

“To open a door, you must want to leave.
A here, a there. You must want.
Stuff pink hyacinths in the dictionary
between “lie” and “lightning,”
the wet stem of spring curling the pages
until it is not a flower
but just the word for it.”

Noble Gas published three of Adriana Cloud’s poems in this issue, all of them instructions which ease their way into philosophical meditations. My favorite of the three was the poem above, Instructions for Opening a Door, because of the evocative imagery, and because in this poem Cloud is at her most honest and her most vulnerable. This poem is both  invitation and apprehension, the way a door is both of those things. It dares the reader to step inside.

Pick 2: The injured Harry Houdini… by Cameron Quan Louie (Santa Ana River Review, Spring 2016)

“Still, what a shame to drown

in a window. Everything is dangerous:

water makes ice; ice is a window; the window

is a home for looking.”

In this poem, Cameron Quan Louie does something which I love – he gives history a voice. This poem is in Houdini’s voice, and it has the sing-song tone of a performer on stage coupled with a deeper, more intuitive reflection that make this poem one that comes from Houdini, rather than one for him. I love the way this poem buckles in the middle, like the performer doubled over after he’s been hit in the stomach, and the beginning of the last stanza, which reminds the reader to feel the poem while it uncovers something human about a figure so famous he’s nearly godlike in cultural memory: “the trick is that there is no trick.”

Pick 3: Types of Roses by Miranda Tsang (Lumen Mag, Issue 3)

“Why Do Grown-Ups Sometimes Cry When They’re Happy?
Sweet rhodomel, sweet tender baby. Your body barely formed. Your rose-flavored
cheeks. Gather your hips into your own fat hands and you will weep, too, know
it’s not joy, but the surprise of a mountain”

I enjoyed all of Miranda Tsang’s poems in this issue of Lumen, a lovely magazine which focuses on women and nonbinary poets, but I thought Types of Roses was the most unique and the most evocative. In this piece, Tsang asks a series of questions and answers them with images of roses. I loved both the intentional selection of images here and the feeling of coincidence – it is almost as if the answers here are fortunes, riddles that have to be solved to reveal a resolution. Tsang hits hard with her last stanza, which is so simple and so human that I feel the rose’s thorns catching at the skin in my throat as I read it.

Prompt:

This month’s prompt is inspired by Miranda Tsang’s piece. Write a cento in which you ask a handful of questions, and then answer with quotes from another article, essay, or piece of literature. Any  source is suitable; maybe your answers will come only from noir films, or billboards. Choose the quotes intentionally or pick at random – the fate of the poem is up to you.

September: Poetry Picks and Prompts

“Poetry Picks and Prompts” is a monthly column featuring our poetry editor’s favorite poems from recently published lit mags & a related prompt to inspire your writing.

The inspiration for this monthly column comes primarily from Queen of Cups magazine, a brand new literary magazine that sends issues via Tinyletter email subscription once a week on Wednesdays. I fell in love with Queen of Cups’ weekly writing prompt, which relates directly to the poems featured in each issue, and I wanted to replicate that while promoting some of our favorite literary journals and the wonderful work they publish.

For our first column, we are featuring work by Emily Connelly and Dennis James Sweeney, published in the most recent issue of Wildness, and Willy Palomo, published recently in an all-star issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal. I hope you enjoy these tasty morsels of writing – they certainly deserve to be savored.

Pick 1: Subtropical Port Cities by Emily Connelly (Wildness, Issue 4: Cadence)

“My mother only smooths my hair
when she is upset with me.
Which is to say: we want to make things pretty
before we give up on them.”

This poem by Emily Connelly is sparse, but in its brevity there is an incredible depth of feeling. This poem discusses wilting in a way that relates the narrator to landscaping – something tamed, shaped, made beautiful in a way that diminishes its strength. Though so little is said, the poem delves gently, guardedly into the relationship between a mother and daughter. It is painful and beautiful and perfectly concise, and I admire Connelly as much for her restraint as her vulnerability.

Pick 2: In the Antarctic Circle by Dennis James Sweeney (Wildness, Issue 4: Cadence)

“Hank shrieks and kicks at me. I know what his body is saying: There are more empty spaces than there are ways to fill. But that’s an inborn fault. I don’t stop.”

This poem is the second in a two poem series, both of which are titled by lines of latitude and longitude. In both poems, Sweeney uses Antarctica to write about emptiness and fullness, and our often fruitless search for hidden truths. I loved his second piece, “65°16′S 103°6′E,” in particular because it is the only poem I’ve ever read that takes tickling seriously. Sweeney managed to transform pesky, prodding fingers into vessels seeking the unknown, which I am so awestruck by that I can’t say anything else about it other than please, read this poem.

Pick 3: Goldfish by Willy Palomo (Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Vol. 3 Iss. 2)

“If Goldfish could tell time, he could be mistaken for a pocket watch. His tail ticks back and forth like a clock. Goldfish says focus on his golden comet tail. Bruises float like fish on the ocean of my chest. He opens the cave of my mouth to kiss its small pink fish. I cough him out, spitting fishwater. This is normal, he tells me. I am learning how to swim.”

Willy Palomo is a performance poet, and you can tell by the evocative way he repeats and builds upon the imagery in this poem. Like a lot of performance poetry, the metaphors build on one another until they break open at the very end, and you discover the intention of the piece. With Palomo, though, it is not so easy – I was drawn in to this poem, and I read it over and over again to parse out its meaning, but at the end all I had were a handful of feelings: fear of failure, vulnerability, nostalgia, rebirth. This is a poem that I will return to, if only to uncover a new layer of metaphor that further complicates my investigation into the meaning behind the words.


Prompt

Our first prompt is inspired by Dennis James Sweeney’s poems on the Antarctic Circle. For this week, write about a place you’ve never been. Try to avoid mere description – instead, focus on the feelings the place evokes, the people who are there or not there, or your thoughts in this place. Let your writing speak through and into this new and unfamiliar landscape.