Posts Tagged ‘creative writing’

microreview & interview: Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape With Headless Mama

Monday, April 17th, 2017

by Jose Angel Araguz

In “Rummage,” midway through CR contributor Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape with Headless Mama (Pleiades Press), the reader is presented a scene of a yard sale; the opening image of a wedding dress as “a white tumble / alongside registry gifts rattling our tarpaulined front porch” sets the tone. As the speaker details the scene, we learn:

You’ve lost your job as I’ve lost

my faith, selling all our things:
our marriage, our love, the birth

certificates of our imagined ones. How much?
is the only question I can answer.

The connotations of a yard sale, of putting personal belongings for sale on display where one lives, are amplified by the speaker’s monologue, establishing this public act as one born out of loss and need. This layering of meaning via a distinct sensibility for image, voice, and rhetoric presents what is at stake in a clear and compelling manner. When the reader gets to “the only question” the speaker can answer, that question “How much?” is given an emotional torque that evokes how everyday public conversation is often edged with the personal.

Throughout the collection’s poems that engage with narratives of motherhood, family, adoption, love, and culture, Givhan works out various answers to this question of “How much?” which reaches after the cost of things. The poem “Prayer for the Child I Keep Losing,” delves into how much it costs to lose a child:

She’s curling at the edges—
she’s steam from smokestacks unused for ages
yet curing each winter
& finding breath
miraculous against the cold.

Here, the imagery shifts from “steam from smokestacks unused for ages” to the steam of human breath. This transformation implies a restlessness, a further “losing” of the child played out in lyric observation. Yet, holding is also implied; as the poem develops its images that pass into each other, each line holds a sense of loss and presence. That the poem is titled a prayer brings us back to the public/personal dynamic; this personal expression of loss is made in a public space, the poem. What is present, then, in the poem is the tension that makes lyric poetry compelling. The question of how much is answered by the poem’s closing lines:

She’s a light I cannot see
at the edges of every rising, &, oh, every falling thing.

This final image drives home the situation of the speaker, one of finding reminders of the loss and reasons to pray all around her, and, thus, always having to interpret the personal through public, exterior means. This motion at the end of “rising” and “falling” leaves the speaker back at restlessness, but a restlessness sought after and explored.

This impulse for seeking and exploring finds expression in both lyric and formal innovation: “Chicken-Hearted” subverts the sestina, and “A Crown for Headless Mama in Her 14×14 Music Box” presents a crown of sonnets. This latter sequence allows for the full range of the collection’s narratives to meet, the speaker going through many roles as mother, daughter, wife, woman, artist, and poet-storyteller. From this multiplicity, a current of possibility arises; through juxtaposition and voice, the reader is swept up into the worlds of the book. In the second sonnet of this crown, the following dream is evoked:

In a museum, once, we were trapped like frost
on the windowsill when they dimmed the lights
& the monkey-woven Kahlos began
scuttling from their walls toward my babies &
me, demanding I choose. The chirping
smoke alarm woke me, no longer able
to dream us back together. Still the art
kept repeating we’re alive, we’re alive.

This repeated phrase runs counter to the question of how much things cost, making it clear that it isn’t the cost, ultimately, that matters, but that one is alive and able to ask the question and that the presence of art will answer it.

interview

JAA: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

JG: Poetry is tough, it spits pulp, it is cactus spines, it carries water in its belly. Slices of Landscape with Headless Mama were written through a mental breakdown when I feared seriously for my life and my children’s lives. I pulled trauma from the breaking points & stoppered the cracks with flowers, with chicle on the roadside, with inky love. Poetry does that for me, the hard & gorgeous, harrowing & mending poems I read of others & the poems the Muse brings me.

The challenge is how to dwell in darkness searching for light without succumbing to either. Finding unstable truths & rendering them on the page without flattening them. Keeping their luminescence & their shadow stains. It’s easy to say this thing is done. My heart is glad. I will rejoice. Sometimes it’s even easy to mean it.

When the pain returns—cyclical as genetics—what then?

I pulled poems from earlier drafts of the collection & rewrote what clung like berries to a windstormed tree, a hundred times, no exaggeration. I sang these songs until I knew them by heart & then I changed my heart. I laid them on the ground & watched them root themselves to the floor or each other & then I pulled them like weeds & sheared their flowerfisted heads. I was relentless. Because poems are tough. They make me tough. & I tried hard only to take into myself & by myself I mean Headless Mama that which made me stronger.

In my MFA program I heard all kinds of voices. Most of them I had to silence. Most of all I had to watch the paintings swirl. Most of all I had to turn up the music & dance. & there were some voices that danced inside me & those I cultivated, for those I rejoiced. If this sounds strange it is but poetry is strange. & again & again & again have faith.

Poetry is faith. This book is my first as my first child as any first heartswell & reminds me of what is possible.

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Landsape With Headless Mama is available for purchase from Pleiades Press.

To find out more about Jennifer Givhan’s work, check out her site. We look forward to featuring two of her poems in our upcoming issue, due out in mid-June.

Poets of Instagram part 3

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

by José Angel Araguz 

For this third and final interview featuring #poetsofinstagram, John Carroll of @makeblackoutpoetry shares with us a few poems as well as insights into the craft and style of his poetry on Instagram. I was drawn to the work of @makeblackoutpoetry for its clear focus on hope. Each of the examples displays a keen eye for words that fit a poetic sensibility wanting to connect with the reader. Like koans, the lyricism of these poems is geared toward inviting a shift in the reader’s train of thought. This hope-oriented approach mirrors the community @makeblackoutpoetry has cultivated. His account features the work of others as well as his own. All this work on and off the page establishes @makeblackoutpoetry as a champion of this poetic form, able to live up to the title of his first blackout poetry book, Hidden Messages of Hope.

José: Can you tell us a little bit about your introduction to poetry and the journey to where you are today?

John: For the last fourteen years, I’ve experimented with all genres of writing. I found a solid niche in journalism and flash fiction before I started making blackout poetry. Discovering blackout poetry was actually an accident.

I came across some of Austin Kleon’s work online through one of my favorite blogs. Since I had been in a writing funk I decided to give it a try and became addicted immediately. That was over six years ago.

José: When did you get started with your Instagram account?

John: I started the Make Blackout Poetry Instagram account four years ago this month. After releasing a chapbook back in early 2013 I was looking for a new writing project that I could eventually publish. At that point I had been making blackout poetry off and on for two years and decided to give it my full attention.

José: Who or what influences you?

John: Charles Bukowski and EE Cummings were early poetry influences for me. My influences since starting Make Blackout Poetry include Marianne Williamson, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Neville Goddard. They’re all pretty obscure writers that focus on spirituality from a different perspective.

The concepts they teach fill my mind with deeper meanings of everyday life that inspire me to find the hidden messages of hope that I share daily on social media.

José: In three words, how would you describe your poetry?

John: 1. Inspirational, 2. Challenging, 3. Spiritual

José: What ideas of craft do you find yourself working with, both in terms of linguistic expression and visual presentation?

John: All of my poetry is made on “found” book pages that I usually purchase at secondhand bookstores or have been given to me with the purpose of making blackout poetry. I typically use spiritual books because the words are meaningful to me. Life, Hope, Love, etc.

When creating the visual elements of my pieces, I’ve used anything from Sharpie markers to oil paint. I primarily use acrylic paint and enjoy watercolor.

José: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing for Instagram? What do you find most positive about it?

John: When I first started Make Blackout Poetry I posted a poem every day for a year. Now it’s only every other day since I share the work of other blackout poets that submit their work to be shared. Creating four to seven pieces a week can be a bit challenging, but I love what I do and I’m dedicated to keeping the account active for years to come.

As an artist and a writer, using social media to share your work is amazing because you receive instant feedback. The most positive part of that is hearing how my art helped someone either with a hard day or by giving them a different perspective to view their life from.

José: What advice do you have for anyone interested in writing poetry (for Instagram or in general)?

John: Write honestly and do it every day. People are drawn to sincerity and want to be able to connect to your words. Don’t rob them of that just because you’re self-conscious. We all struggle with insecurity, but being courageous has its rewards.

José: What are you future plans in terms of writing projects?

John: I’m currently working on a revised version of my first blackout poetry book, called Hidden Messages of Hope. It’s going to be re-released by a poetry press in London this summer. I’m also currently writing a series of plays with my writing partner, Laura Relyea, that will debut in Atlanta later this year.

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Follow the @makeblackoutpoetry account on Instagram and keep up to date with John Carroll’s work on his site.

Also, check out José’s current Instagram poetry project, @poetryamano, which currently features erasures/blackout poems.

Be sure to check out the part 1 and part 2 of this series.

Poets of Instagram part 2

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

by José Angel Araguz

For this second interview featuring #poetsofinstagram, @colette.lh shares with us a few poems as well as insights into craft and style of her poetry on Instagram. I was drawn to the work of @colette.lh for its combination of compelling visuals and linguistic insights. As can be seen in the examples below, each poem’s visual component interacts and adds to the text: hope rises like waves; something seen as “over” lies in pieces; and doubt surrounds in stark depths. The lyricism of @colette.lh’s work lies in its visceral connection with the elements of poetry: words, emotion, and impression.

José: Can you tell us a little bit about your introduction to poetry and the journey to where you are today?

colette.lh: I suppose I was destined to be a writer. I was named for the French author Colette and my parents were both English majors in college. I am an English teacher, myself, and have always appreciated poetry and art. It wasn’t until October of last year, though, that I picked up the pen. I began writing blackout poetry while recovery from major surgery for endometriosis. I also discovered I couldn’t have children without the help of modern medicine. Poetry became my coping mechanism. I wanted to try to understand my own feelings by searching for the words on a page. It was sort of an exercise in uncovering emotions that I couldn’t fully articulate.

José: When did you get started with your Instagram account?

colette.lh: I started my IG account a few weeks into my recovery in October of 2016. I wanted to give back in a way. I’d spent countless hours reading brutally honest blogs written by men and women coping with infertility, and their stories saved me many times. I thought that if I shared the poems I’d written, it might help other wanna-be-parents. Most of my poems are cryptic enough, though, that my hope is everyone can relate to at least a handful of them.

José: Who or what influences you?

colette.lh: Well, infertility. That was certainly the catalyst for this poetry journey, but I’ve realized it goes far beyond that. My poetry is influenced by the love and admiration I have for my husband. One of my favorite (early) blackout poems reads, “I’ve got you. That’s a family.” I still very much feel that way. Other blackout poets and artists on IG inspire and influence my work as well–a few are even my students! I’ve shared some of my blackout books with them; they get inspired and share with me. It’s cyclical. It’s lovely.

José: In three words, how would you describe your poetry?

colette.lh: Trying to heal.

José: What ideas of craft do you find yourself working with, both in terms of linguistic expression and visual presentation?

colette.lh: I would describe myself as a minimalist. I aim to write short, powerful poems that reveal some sort of truth about whatever it is I’m dealing with at that moment. My mood guides the words I find on the page, and the poem that emerges guides the artwork that I pair with it. I try to maintain a distinct style although I do have a variety of visual presentations (now that I’m scanning through all of my poems). I love lines, shapes, waves, flowers. I just enjoy trying something a little different for each poem.

José: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing for Instagram? What do you find most positive about it?

colette.lh: The most challenging aspect of writing for Instagram is seeing my work reposted without acknowledgement of any kind. Maybe that’s the English teacher in me, but it feels like plagiarism, and I’m not a big fan of that. I’m not looking for praise or accolades; just a tag would be nice. There are so many positives though! I have “met” some amazing poets through this platform and found a tremendous amount of support and encouragement within the IG community in general. Having an “audience” to hold me accountable has been great too. I’m not sure I’d still be writing daily otherwise.

José: What advice do you have for anyone interested in writing poetry (for Instagram or in general)?

colette.lh: Start writing today. Now. Write a little everyday. Make poetry that means something to you. Share it with the world if you want, but write it for yourself. Enjoy it; learn from it. I would also encourage novice writers to read. Follow other poets, and study their craft. Read, write, repeat. I think it’s that simple.

José: What are you future plans in terms of writing projects?

colette.lh: I plan to continue writing blackout poetry to document my infertility journey, and I’d ultimately love to compile the poems into a book. Know any publishers looking for visual/blackout poetry? (Haha) In the meantime, I’ve submitted a few of my pieces to literary journals just to get a feeling for whether or not there’s any interest in my kind of poetry. Beechwood Review has accepted a handful of my blackout poems that will be appearing in Issue 3 later this year. The other submissions are still pending. Regardless of what happens, I’m happy to have found solace in poetry and the IG community, and I thank you for taking an interest in my work.

Follow to @colette.lh keep to up to date with her work.

Check out José’s current Instagram poetry project, @poetryamano which currently features erasures/blackout poems.

Check out the other interview in this series.

What’s Poetry Got to Do With It?: Introversion/Extraversion

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

musings by José Angel Araguz

Episode 7: Introversion/Extraversion

In this episode I explore ways that the terms introversion and extraversion can be used as a lens with which to read poems.

The Introvert/Extravert Lens

The terms introversion and extraversion were first significantly put into use by Carl Jung and later popularized by personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type indicator. From there, popular culture has redefined the terms over time. In general, an introvert is someone who is more reserved and leans toward solitary behavior, while an extravert is seen as someone who is outgoing, talkative, and energetic. As with any set of categories, the terms are not strict; rather, it is best to consider them as making up two sides of a spectrum on which everyone exists leaning one way or another to varying degrees.

One of the things that helped clear this up for me was seeing how the terms played out in regards to recharging one’s energy. If at the end of the week, you look forward to going out and socializing, and actually come back from said outing recharged, you might be an extravert. Conversely, if you go out on the same outing and come back exhausted, no more recharged than when you started, you might be an introvert. Seeing my introverted tendencies as me meeting my needs (and not necessarily my being antisocial) did worlds for my understanding of myself as an introvert. It also helped me empathize with my more extraverted friends and see them as meeting their own needs as well.

For further clarification (and fun!), Buzzfeed has several quizzes and lists that can help you find out if you are more introverted or extroverted.

Inner & Outer Worlds

To return to Jung, his original concept of the terms had him regarding people as either focused on their inner worlds and thoughts (introverts) at the expense of losing touch with their surroundings, or focused on the external world and being active in it (extraverts) at the expense of losing touch with themselves.

One poet whose work reflects the complexity of the introvert-extravert/inner-outer world spectrum is Emily Dickinson. Due to having lived a life of isolation, Dickinson is often written off as an introvert. Lines like the following would in fact help make the case:

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The draw of these lines is how they take concrete things (brain, sky) and push them for the abstract meanings they imply. While on the surface the poem appears to be making a case for mind over matter, so to speak, a deeper reading shows something more akin to mind within matter. In one stanza, Dickinson does the poetic equivalent of pulling apart two strong magnets to show what lives between them.

In another poem, Dickinson does a reversal of these moves:

A sepal, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer’s morn—
A flask of Dew—A Bee or two—
A Breeze—a caper in the trees—
And I’m a Rose!

Here, the poem travels from the abstract act of naming physical things to the speaker announcing/becoming a rose. A sign of the transformation begins early in the second line in the form of sound, specifically the “z” sound (summer’s, breeze, trees, rose). As the poem develops, this sound travels parallel to the transformation implied in the words, and becomes its own physical presence, especially if read aloud.

In these two poems, one can see how the inner and outer world engage and impel one another, never cancelling each other out. In a similar way, one’s introversion never cancels out extraverted tendencies and needs.

Final Thoughts

Usually my introverted tendencies would have me continue with examples, ruminating over other poems and unpacking what I find there. I am going to push myself to look outward, however, and invite readers to share their thoughts in the comments regarding introversion and extraversion. I also encourage you to, in your writing, push past whatever type you see yourself leaning towards. If you write mainly about inner impressions, take a walk or describe the physical world around you. If you write mainly about the physical world, start with rhetoric or abstract thought. In either case, you might find yourself reflecting your true nature in a new and surprising way.

Submission Period Closing Soon!!! Special Call for Nonfiction

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Just a quick reminder that our Submission Period will close on March 15th (at 11:59pm, EST – to be technical).

Due to trends discussed recently by our esteemed Senior Associate Editor Matt O’Keefe, we especially welcome literary nonfiction submissions. So if you’ve got a lyric essay, travel narrative about your last trip to Mongolia, flash-style memoir, personal essay told via bullet points, or nonfiction hybrid form, send it our way; we’d love to see it!

Poets and fiction writers, we’d love to see your work too–just don’t miss the deadline . . .

Find your way to your Submission Manager here.

 

Interviews: Poets of Instagram part 1

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

by José Angel Araguz

Over the next few weeks, I plan to share interviews with #poetsofinstagram, that is, poets who have chosen the social media site Instagram as the forum to share their work. Interviews range from poets who work with erasure/blackout poetry and found poems, to poets who combine their own artwork with their text. These interviews will focus on the writing itself as well as the sense of community to be found among poets on social media.

nomadic 3For this first interview, @nomadic_words shares with us a few poems as well as insights into craft and style of her poetry on Instagram. I was drawn to the work of nomadic_words for its lyrical play. Each poem works on the level of its own inner logic, building with the same engines as aphorisms and proverbs. Beyond wordplay, these lyrics seek to establish a sense of emotion in a brief space.

José: Can you tell us a little bit about your introduction to poetry and the journey to where you are today?

nomadic_words: My introduction to poetry was, unsurprisingly, in the classroom. I enjoyed my creative writing English lessons more than others as it was an hour every other week I could sit and express myself more at school. I wrote my first real poem for a national poetry competition that was being advertised around school with the theme of journeys. It wasn’t really something I took seriously, but thought I’d try it and that afternoon sat on my aunt’s doorsteps writing out a poem inspired by Joseph Turner’s “Steam-boat off a Harbour’s mouth.” I didn’t win, but I put a lot of where I am now down to that day where I thought I’d try my hand at something new. My poetry has undergone a fair transformation since then, but if I’m publishing a poetry book this year I know exactly how it started and for that I’m grateful.

José: When did you get started with your Instagram account?

nomadic_words: I actually only started it in September! I’ve been accumulating poems properly over the past two years, writing pieces—or sometimes pieces of pieces—and only really started venturing onto social media with it around a year ago. Whatever your creative passion, it’s nerve-racking to go public, so I would occasionally drop poems on my personal Instagram as a way of dipping my toe into the water. After a few months I felt it was time to give my work more identity and made nomadic_words and now here we are.

José: Who or what influences you?

nomadic_words: My journey through life influences me and I find I’m writing the most when things aren’t so easy; when life makes you rethink the assumptions and ideas you have about people, yourself, love, and the world. It’s kind of a strange comfort, finding something good in the bad and it’s my way of documenting my thoughts and feelings as and when they come. Reflecting on these experiences is what makes you grow, I just do it through writing and it really makes it worthwhile when someone you’ve never met before reads it and identifies with the feeling.

José: In three words, how would you describe your poetry?

nomadic_words: Quiet. Personal. Me.

José: What ideas of craft do you find yourself working with, both in terms of linguistic expression and visual presentation?

nomadic_words: I tend to keep my vocabulary and structure fairly simple; these are my thoughts and most of the time I jot them down in the notes on my phone before the phrase fails me. From there, if necessary, I can flesh it out into its final form. If I have to keep coming back to a poem I usually abandon it because I think it speaks for something about the power of the message. I like to use a lot of enjambment as this can be used to create a play on words or change the path of the poem. Sometimes we rush through things and end up missing the detail between the lines and I love subtleties, it’s fairly metaphorical of life, I feel.

José: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing for Instagram? What do you find most positive about it?

nomadic_words: The uncertainty of not knowing whether what you’re about to post is going to be understood or received by people was the biggest for me, but I think as a result of this there’s definitely a tendency across Instagram writing to write what you think people want to read or feel, but most of the time I find it’s glaringly obvious when the poem has been put together for a general audience looking to identify with any quote. There is a lot being said about a little and sometimes nothing at all, which is a real shame to see. However, Instagram is great for bringing poets together, just check out one of the many hashtags such as #poetsofinstagram and you have a whole feed of people putting out their work which is lovely. From there, people who would’ve never discovered your work sometimes stumble across poems which put into words everything they wish they could say or reflections they didn’t even realize were worthy of recognition. You sometimes get messages from people on the other side of the world telling you your work made them feel some type of way and there are really no words to describe that feeling, it’s ineffable.

José: What advice do you have for anyone interested in writing poetry (for Instagram or in general)?

nomadic_words: This is your work, a product of everything that has made you you, so take pride in it, take your time, be honest with yourself, and never, ever, adulterate your voice because you don’t think it’s powerful enough to be heard by someone else out there. Somebody else speaks your language and they may need to hear what you have to say. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read as much poetry as I would’ve liked to, but inspiration comes from everywhere—my first poem was inspired by a painting, my second, a dream, my third, a daydream . . . you get the picture. Find what inspires you and be open-minded to what that may be; you might just tap into something totally new. Finally, I cannot stress the importance of making sure you write down anything that crosses your mind and makes you wonder; I’ve sometimes found odd phrases and sentences I’ve jotted down complement each other perfectly. So don’t be afraid to be messy behind the scenes!

José: What are you future plans in terms of writing projects?

nomadic_words: I’m very excited to be publishing my debut book this year! It’s at the editing stage and it feels right to do it now. It’s a big milestone for me and something I want to share with the world as other peoples’ work has inspired and helped me through tougher times. Stay tuned!

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Follow @nomadic_words to keep to up to date with her work.

Also, be sure to check out José’s current Instagram poetry project, @poetryamano, which focuses on handwritten poems.

What We’re Reading: Paul Auster’s Brief Encounters

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

brief encounters coverSuzie Vander Vorste: Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction is my current reading companion, and it’s a great one—full of brilliant short creative-nonfiction essays. It’s easy to flip this book open and land on a piece that enlarges one’s understanding of the art of story-telling, the act of self-reflection, and of the different perspectives on what it means to be human. One essay in particular, “Winter Journal: The First Three Pages,” reminds us how something elemental to the human condition can surge through a piece of writing, compelling us to think about what it’s like to live our lives in our bodies.

As you read about Paul Auster’s childhood sensations of cold air felt through a window frame, the tenderness in which he describes the scene may draw you back to the day when, at age six, you tried to sweep up snow with a broom while helping your mother clear the driveway. It may take you back to pulling icy clumps off your mittens while playing outside, or walking to school with numb toes inside heavy winter boots.

Although his essay in some ways evokes a painful desire to turn back the clock, Auster’s work also considers the inevitability of aging, recognizing both that our time does run out, and that a person only has one body to live in. In “Winter Journal,” Auster tells his body’s story, presenting a fragmented narrative that reflects how life itself is a series of sensations and that emphasizes the ways our sense of self is bound to the physical as much as it is to memory. For Auster, the bodily pleasures and pains of life, past and present, are bound together from the beginning. His ability to convey this interplay over the course of a person’s life is remarkable.

snow-thawing-nature-forestAuster reminds us that there are moments we each experience that are unique to our bodies and our selves, moments that allow the reader to disentangle what it means to have lived one’s own life compared to the lives of others.

Although “Winter Journal: The First Three Pages” is brief, Auster digs deep into the sensations of living in his body to reconcile who he is at the age he is—and all while his title quietly insists there is still more life, and writing, to be had.