Posts Tagged ‘poetry community’

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.

microreview & interview: Rochelle Hurt’s In Which I Play the Runaway

Monday, March 6th, 2017

by José Angel Araguz

RUNAWAYIn “The Miami River Floods,” from Rochelle Hurt’s collection In Which I Play the Runaway (Barrow Street Press), the speaker addresses her father while watching footage of the Miami River flooding and speculates on the following:

how many babies will be born tonight in heroic backseat
deliveries as cars float down the freeway? They will carry

those stories all their lives like everyone else—
not from memory, but narrative inheritance. How dutifully

we gulp down circumstance as fate

This idea of narrative inheritance lies at the heart of this collection whose poems challenge accepted narratives about womanhood, fairy tales, movies, and family, always with an eye toward questioning the reflex to “gulp down circumstance as fate.”

Throughout the collection, Hurt displays a deft ability to create images that allow narrative to be carried, developed, and understood on an intellectual and emotional level simultaneously. In the poem “Self-portrait in Needmore, Indiana,” for example, the reader is presented with the following:

As expected, after the wedding, the house
became a cough we lived in, trembling
in the throat of that asthmatic spring.

These three lines set a narrative, then quickly compound it. Within the logic of these lines there are implications of weakness and affliction. A ceremony of union changes the world around the poem’s characters, so that it can only be understood in terms of an afflicted body. This metaphor places the emotional charge of the poem within the body, while the imagery unfolds in a way that mirrors the sudden and unwieldy transitions of real life. This poem continues in terms of the body:

The streets stacked and curved like fingers
on a grease-knuckled hand gripping
the waist of our Midwestern dream.

The narrative of affliction continues here with the additional pressure of possessive relationships added. As the self is caught in the body, the speaker of this self-portrait (one of a series in the collection) is caught behind the narrative inheritance of marriage. The poem’s conclusion makes clear what the stakes are of being caught:

I could have died etching my name
into the glass eye of my cage—a bay
window painted with lace. The skyline
in its expanse was a farce played out each night.

Sometimes my reflection was the star
of the show. Sometimes it was the child
clapping from her seat, so looking out
and looking in became the same thing.
Sometimes it just rained for weeks.

After the description of the bay window as a “glass eye,” the poem develops the metaphor of hindered sight by presenting several shifting images. The speaker’s listing of reflections of self then of the child evokes the potential loss of self of parenting. This loss is further emphasized in the last line, where the speaker sees only rain, implying a complete loss of being able to see themselves or anyone.

While the above poem and others present a poetic sensibility capable of speaking in terms of the body, the “runaway” of the collection’s title is also present throughout offering its own language. The runaway theme runs counter to the body-centered theme and creates a push/pull effect. In “Poem in Which I Play the Runaway,” these two themes interact:

It could open with a party, strewn
with girls like tinsel, girls looking
for a house to stuff themselves in [. . .]

Or a chase scene: some ranch house
with walls thin as a mother’s dress,
long emptied of men and closing on me.

I never wanted a home in him,
but the sex was like licking sheets
of corrugated iron, my torn maw
breathing in the corrosion

Here, the speaker works out two variations on house narratives, the speaker’s voice charged with swagger and conviction as they reimagine via metaphor. The third stanza shows this reimagining impulse suddenly grounded. After the statement of not wanting “a home in him,” a statement still working on the intellectual/imaginative level, the speaker describes how “the sex was like licking sheets / of corrugated iron,” a description which brings the poem back into the body. This synesthesia mirrors the argument between the imagination and the body engaged with in this poem. The runaway theme here is embodied in the speaker’s attempts to escape narrative while acknowledging their ties to it.

It is in this tension between escape and acknowledgment where the collection’s most compelling takes on narrative inheritance occur. Over time, this tension becomes imbued with empathy, as in “Some Oz,” where the speaker meditates on how their father learned from his father how to leave as if looking for the Oz of the title:

Some Oz where the clock of your life could unwind.
But you’ve returned to us now, your hands

full of years like salvage. And how could you
have known what you’d wake to—a home

inescapable, you wearing your father’s face [. . .]

you search for a word like an opening

into some storm strong enough to take us both
to a place where your daughters can forgive you.

The runaway theme here becomes a running toward. The narrative inheritance of fathers and daughters is suspended in a way that honors the complexity of the relationship while continuing to question it. While the runaway theme implies motion, the body implies stillness; the interplay of these two themes makes for poetry capable of reimagining the world while facing it.

interview

JAA: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

RH: One thing poetry can do very well is destabilize language—or use language to destabilize ideas. My favorite kind of poetry, no matter the school or style, is poetry that uses linguistic slippage and play to challenge concepts we might otherwise consider stable. A primary theme in my collection is the instability of self-image, given the precarious relationship between self, story, and place. The book is structured around a series of poems that use intriguing town names—Last Chance, Hurt, Honesty, etc.—to tease out narrative, metaphor, and persona. Many of the poems are narrative, but still rely on lyricism as an engine for moving between the town name and the self that is painted in the poem. Many of the poems also mix autobiographical confession with tale-telling and hyperbole as a means of further dislocating the self. We do get lost, I think, in the shifting narratives about where we come from, who our families are, who we could have been/are/could still be. I know I do—and I look to poetry not as a means of affirmation or comfort, but as a way of continuing to question those narratives.

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

RH: Writing the individual poems was less challenging than organizing them into a book. As you can imagine, it’s somewhat difficult to structure a collection with an arc of some sort when you’re specifically trying to mess around with narrative. At first I tried to mush everything together into one clean story over three long sections, but that traditional structure just wasn’t working. I knew that if a reader approached the collection expecting a singular speaker with one coherent story to tell, that reader would be confused and disappointed. After reorganizing the collection close to twenty-five times, I decided to make six short sections guided by experiences and ideas. The speaker, in all her plural forms, moves through different places and contexts patched together from family history, memory, and fabricated stories. Emotional states and revelations are mapped onto place, and the book moves forward through this map. The arc wound up leading to a place of honesty for this speaker, as she begins to more directly confront her own tendencies toward exaggeration and fatalism. She winds up, after all, in Honesty, Ohio.

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In Which I Play the Runaway is available for purchase from Barrow Street Press.

To find out more about Rochelle Hurt’s work, check out her site.