Tupelo Press 30/30 Project (August 2015): Why I’m Writing 30 Poems in 30 Days, or, Poetry Needs You!

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Tupelo Press 30/30 Project (August 2015): Why I’m Writing 30 Poems in 30 Days, or, Poetry Needs You!

Dear Friends,

Tupelo Press, one of our very best independent presses, could use our help. Like many nonprofits, Tupelo depends upon donations to augment their programs, which vary from a Teen Writing Center to publishing literary works of emerging and established writers. To this end they’ve instituted innovative fundraising approaches to achieve their goals, including the 30/30 Project, one of their most exhilarating and interactive efforts – every month, approximately eight poets pledge to write 30 poems in 30 days, and raise funds by soliciting donations from sponsors (as many nonprofits do via sponsored walks, runs or rides). In August I am one of the participating poets.

I invite you to join me in this project and help out by reading, commenting, heckling, encouraging, insulting, cajoling, praising and yes, if circumstances allow, sponsoring me and donating funds (to Tupelo Press, not me). This might not be of much interest if the poems were simply going to languish in a file somewhere, but such is not the case. They will be posted online daily, warts and all, for the world to peruse. That’s right – you’ll see our daily work, unpolished and raw, finished or not, and if you listen closely you may hear a whimper or two oozing out from Austin.

Why am I doing this? I love poetry and admire small presses. Independent literary publishers produce 98% of the poetry published each year, and Tupelo Press is one of my favorite presses. If I, poet, reader and book buyer, don’t support their work, who will?

Previous participants have sweetened the pot by offering interesting incentives such as baked goods for certain levels of donations. Since I don’t bake in the August heat here in Texas, I’m offering other enticements (although you may consider a few of them half-baked). And of course the donations are tax deductible (at least to those who must pay U.S. taxes). Please consider donating any amount, but I’m offering these incentives at the specified donation levels:

Name That Poem! For a $10 donation in my honor, you can provide a title, and I’ll write the poem during the marathon. Be imaginative. Make the title as long or as interesting as you wish – consider this a dare! But this incentive is of course limited to only thirty titles, and reduces by one every day of the marathon, so reserve your slot soon!

$25 donation will get you a signed copy of my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform. 10592324_10153113120915120_689180005_n

For $35, I’ll produce and send you, in September, a unique, signed, mini-chapbook consisting of any six poems (your choice) I’ve posted on my blog.

For $50, I’ll provide one of my limited edition (only 50 copies were printed), letter press mini-broadsides of “Jingting Shan Hill.” It’s a beautiful piece designed and printed by Emily Hancock of St Brigid Press.

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If none of these incentives appeals to you, but you’d still like to help, I’m open to suggestions, particularly for larger donations. But no, I won’t streak a convent for a mere $100. Been there, done that (hey, I was once young, dumb, thin and fast).

If you choose to sponsor me, please visit the 30/30 blog at: https://www.tupelopress.org/donate.php. Scroll down to “Is this donation in honor of a 30/30 poet?” and select my name, “Robert Okaji,” from the pull down so that Tupelo knows to credit the donation to me. And please inform me of your donation and provide your contact info via email at robertokaji at yahoo dot com or through Facebook so that I may acknowledge and send your premium.

If you’ve seen through this blog or other outlets enough of my writing to last your remaining days, you might consider a $129 subscription to Tupelo’s regular subscription series, which garners you ten books from one of the country’s top literary presses! If you choose this option, please specify “in honor of” and insert my name, “Robert Okaji” to show your support for my efforts. Click here to subscribe: https://www.tupelopress.org/books_subscribe.php.

For more information on the 30/30 Project, and to read the daily poems, see: https://tupelopress.wordpress.com/3030-project/ I plan on posting updates two to three times a week, but we’ll see what happens. Things are going to be hectic. No matter what, I look forward to reading your comments. Thanks very much!

Still Hands (Cento)

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Still Hands (Cento)

I let it burn, rooted as it is. Now
nothing else keeps my eyes

in the cloud – get close to a star,
and there you are, in the sun.

What about all the little stones,
sitting alone in the moonlight?

Silence complicates despair.
I have believed so long in the magic

of names and poems,
and I know that you would take

the still hands to dryness and
loose rocks, where the light

re-immerses itself. It’s not the story
I want. We cannot live on that.

Credits:
Sharon Wevill, Julia de Burgos, Francis Ponge, Mary Oliver,
Alberto de Lacerda, Robert Hass, HD, Jacques Dupin, Francesca Abbate, George Oppen.

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Threes

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Threes

Difficulties arrive in waves,
lending weight to the theory of threes,

the plunging fund, a failed engagement, the self’s
doubt, all combined to inflict the particular

misery of the ongoing, the continued, inelegant fate
that declares us human. Look,

she says, the hummingbird flits from leaf to
flower, its wings beating 58 times a second,

a fact not to be trifled with, for what may we duplicate,
contemplate, even, at that pace?

Say the hedge gets clipped, the ring whirs off the finger
and back to the jeweler, and all you know for certain

is that you don’t know. There is no why, no how. No
way. Or life’s reel unwinds and plays only in

reverse. Where do you stop and splice it, forming new,
uncharted worries? And what about that damned

bird, buzzing around your head in territorial fury? Yes,
yes, I know. These things are not my concern. Not really.

But they arrive in unending repetition, one after
the other, in clumps of three – lovely, lonely,

triple-threaded lines of vicissitude lapping at our ankles,
saying nothing, saying everything, saying it used to be so easy.

Originally published in Eclectica in July 2014.

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I Have Misplaced Entire Languages

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I Have Misplaced Entire Languages

Neither this tongue nor that still dwells in my house.
The hole of remembrance constricts, leaving behind only debris.

As a child I mixed three languages in family discourse.

Now only one is comprehensible, and I abuse it daily.

The woman in the blue dress stands alone on the pier, weeping.
A pidgin is a simplified language developed between groups with no

common tongue. Sounds form easily, but meanings struggle.

My father is shipped to Korea without warning.

Some words insert epenthetic consonants to separate vowels. Years
later we arrive in Italy and my mother starts receding.

A fourth language emerges.

This morning I asked, “Ame?” “Yes,” she said, “but just drizzling.”

Some families share no common language and must forge without.
We have used pain, pane and pan without reference to etymology.

Having abandoned the familiar, she chose another, never accepting the loss.

These forms we can’t articulate, these memories we have not traced.

This originally appeared in April 2014 as part of Boston Review‘s National Poetry Month Celebration.

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Talking with a Poet: Part 3, on Brigit’s Flame

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Talking with a Poet: Part 3, on Brigit’s Flame

Wherein you’ll find a review of my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform, and an invitation to comment, ask questions or share insights on poetry.

https://brigitsflame.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/talking-with-a-poet-part-three/

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Ossuary / Arco Felice / 1974

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Ossuary / Arco Felice / 1974

Sometimes the bone man clattered by, his horse-drawn wagon heaped high with the stripped remains of dismembered corpses, a cloud of flies in his wake. I would watch him from my perch on the hillside above the street, contemplating the wondrous creatures that could arise if only one possessed the imagination and ability to assemble and reflesh the various rib cages and skulls, the scraped and articulate bones and fragments stacked on the wooden bed. I never considered a destination, never thought to follow, but instead wandered elsewhere, down to the waterfront, or along Via Domitiana to Lago d’Averno, Hell’s entrance, not far, they said, from the River Styx.

Odd, I think, that I never once contemplated the various paths taken to bring that wagon before my eyes, to that very intersection, on those particular days. Nor did I wonder that it was drawn by muscle and sinew rather than engine, that its wares, while tarnished with dried blood, seemed curiously bereft of flesh and stench, and that its passage seemed unnoticed. Perhaps it was merely a parenthetical statement in the day’s phrasing, and I lacked the proper context with which to read it. Perhaps. But even at fifteen I knew that such sights were not long for my world.

Now, from this Texas hill, I listen to distant gunfire and wonder which bones will come my way, which offerings will appear at the roadside, what the dogs will bring. I have fifty-four years and much patience. The breezeway is lined with antlers. I wait, no destination in mind.

This prose piece was one of my first posts, and as very few have seen it, I thought I’d release it again.

Antica