To the Light Entering the Shack One December Evening


To the Light Entering the Shack One December Evening

No prayers exit here, nothing
limits you. I never knew
before.

The pear tree’s ghost shudders.

Water pools in the depression of its absence.

For years I have wandered from shadow to
source, longing. Now, at rest,
you come to me and fear
evaporates. I would like to count
the smallest distraction.
I would like to disturb.

You are the name
I whisper
to clouds.

Will you leave if I open the door?

A carnival germinates in my body.

You are not death, but its closest friend.

Darkness parts, folds around you.

I close my eyes and observe.

* * *

“To the Light Entering the Shack One December Evening” first appeared in Shantih in December 2016, and is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second available  through Finishing Line Press and Amazon.com.

Recording of “How to Write a Poem”

How to Write a Poem

Learn to curse in three languages. When midday
yawns stack high and your eyelids flutter, fire up

the chain saw; there’s always something to dismember.
Make it new. Fear no bridges. Accelerate through

curves, and look twice before leaping over fires,
much less into them. Read bones, read leaves, read

the dust on shelves and commit to memory a thousand
discarded lines. Next, torch them. Take more than you

need, buy books, scratch notes in the dirt and watch
them scatter down nameless alleys at the evening’s first

gusts. Gather words and courtesies. Guard them carefully.
Play with others, observe birds, insects and neighbors,

but covet your minutes alone and handle with bare hands
only those snakes you know. Mourn the kindling you create

and toast each new moon as if it might be the last one
to tug your personal tides. When driving, sing with the radio.

Always. Turn around instead of right. Deny ambition.
Remember the freckles on your first love’s left breast.

There are no one-way streets. Appreciate the fragrance
of fresh dog shit while scraping it from the boot’s sole.

Steal, don’t borrow. Murder your darlings and don’t get
caught. Know nothing, but know it well. Speak softly

and thank the grocery store clerk for wishing you
a nice day even if she didn’t mean it. Then mow the grass,

grill vegetables, eat, laugh, wash dishes, talk, bathe,
kiss loved ones, sleep, dream, wake. Do it all again.

“How to Write a Poem,” is included in Indra’s Net: An International Anthology of Poetry in Aid of The Book Bus, and has appeared on the blog as well.

All profits from this anthology published by Bennison Books will go to The Book Bus, a charity which aims to improve child literacy rates in Africa, Asia and South America by providing children with books and the inspiration to read them.

Available at Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

Q&A with Poet Stephanie L. Harper (Part 2)

I’m pleased to present part 2 of the Q&A with poet Stephanie L. Harper:

If you were a poetic form, which would you be?

I would be a poetic form that could seep down into darkness, molecule by molecule, through miles of porous rock, to return to the wellspring, then rise again to the surface, and wash over the grief-stricken with the all immensity of love and joy in my depths. I’m pretty sure that would make me an elegy.

What themes or traits will readers find in your work? What will they not find?

My work is chock full of mythological creatures, archetypal symbolism, and nature imagery (i.e., birds, seascapes, wolves, forests, volcanoes). It touches often on spirituality (and/or religiosity), sometimes alludes to current events (and associated dismay), and has an overall feminist and philosophical bent. My love for and awe of my children shows up a lot, too. Some of my poems address such uncomfortable subjects as child abuse and misogyny, but I try to avoid any superfluously vulgar or violent language. It occurs to me that I’ve tended to give the explicit erotic love bandwagon a wide berth, which I don’t anticipate will cease to be the case, but I suppose stranger things have happened…

List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.

Ocean Vuong, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/04/someday-ill-love-ocean-vuong

Melissa King Rogers, https://www.rattle.com/deus-ex-machina-by-melissa-king-rogers/

Emma Gonzalez, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/03/emma-gonzalez-is-responsible-for-the-loudest-silence-in-the-history-of-us-social-protest/

It bears mentioning that on another given day, I’d likely have chosen three different poets, but it’s also true that anyone I’d think to include would be someone whose work I return to again and again.

Animal: I think animals, in general, are admirable for being better and more pure in every moment than we humans ever will be in our best, most authentic moments, but sometimes an animal will stand out for me as being exceptional, even by animal standards. One example that comes to mind straightaway, is a she-leopard whose brutal and remarkable story I once followed in a nature documentary. It was years ago, when my kids were still quite young. In one of the episodes, the leopard returned to her den to find that her cub had been swallowed by a giant python. Desperate to retrieve her cub, whom she must have known was already dead, she relentlessly attacked the python, issuing blow after calculated blow clearly designed to maim and traumatize the snake without killing it, so that it would regurgitate the cub, which it eventually did. The mother leopard then performed a harrowingly elaborate mourning ritual, during which she paced and mewled and roared, and ultimately ingested her cub, presumably to protect its body from the elements, or, perhaps, to achieve a final moment of closeness. In any case, that ordeal was devastating, nausea-inducing, heart-rending, absolute perfection, like nothing else I’ve ever witnessed. I still can’t recall or write about it without tears welling up.

Go-To Beverage: This is where things get really interesting! Sorry, NOT. I drink a cup of coffee with a splash of almond milk pretty much every morning. Without it, not only is my ability to interface with the world on a conscious basis severely impaired, but my chances of experiencing a raging migraine by late afternoon are increased by a factor of ten. That is all.

And your creative process? Could you offer us a glimpse into how your poems develop from first glimmer to fully realized piece? Do you follow a regular writing routine? Do you listen to music while writing? Write in public or in solitude?

There’s a ubiquitous voice out there in literary world that would have us believe no one can be a serious writer without following a strict writing practice. As someone who doesn’t operate well with routines (which is far from saying that I’m not a creature of habit, but that’s a story for another day), that’s always been a sore subject for me, and so I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about what does or doesn’t constitute success as pertains to who I am and what I do. For one thing, I’m learning that my tendency to get obsessive over whether or not I’m performing to some prescribed standard of “real poet” (as opposed to “full-of-shit pretender,” that is), is a recipe for performance anxiety tenderloins braised in a tangy reduction of doom. I suppose it’s true that a heaping serving of doom has on occasion successfully fed a convincing performance, but it’s not a sustainable diet for me.

So, while I’ve never figured out a methodical way to conjure creative output in written form “on demand,” I’ve come to realize that this fact doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any less invested in the work. I’m finally understanding that everything I do in the course of living (i.e., being in the world each day, reading, sharing in the joys, frustrations, and griefs of my family and friends, everything that goes into raising and championing my kids, even menial chores and any and all associated avoidance tactics, and did I mention reading?) is oriented toward the work of poetry. Eventually, invariably, the imagery-laden phrase-fragments I find myself chanting in the shower, or in the car, will rise to a critical point of insistence that they be born, obliging me to do something about it—a something which tends to involve either a journal, a screen, or the back of a receipt. Then, once such a creative burst has resulted in a new, nebulous little life-form, said infant poem may demand extensive attention in the way of crafting, cross-referencing, cajoling, and other various cerebrations over the course of months, or sometimes even years. Occasionally, though, a poem will learn as a result of my ministrations to pull off a pretty persuasive full-realization act.

Please tell us how or why you turned to writing poetry?

 When I was a youngster, my teachers used to call me a “gifted” prose writer (go figure), and anyone who’s ever received a personal letter (whether in handwritten, or electronic form) from me would attest to my proclivity for words, and lots of them, but I’ve actually always preferred poetry as my vehicle for creative expression. I don’t believe I ever had a pivotal moment of “turning to” writing poetry, but rather, simply, that I am a Poet. It’s a fact about my life that it’s taken me the better part of my lifetime so far to figure out, but I’m learning that it’s more a matter of how I’m wired to relate to the world and others in it, than of my having chosen to practice one form of art over another.

I think of poetry as an attempt to account for and share the truth (in terms of emotional, experiential immediacy) as accurately and proximally as human language will allow, given that language can only at best be a pale stand-in for any actual thing we mean to express. Insofar as telepathy hasn’t yet evolved in humans to the extent that it could viably supersede our linguistic systems as the primary mode of communication, poetry strikes me as the closest we can get to understanding one another.

I am a Poet, not because I think there’s something special about me that I need to tell everyone, but because I’ve found nothing more fortifying and validating than those moments in which I’ve recognized myself in someone else. And so, what moves me to give something of myself to the world in the form of poetry, is not so much a hope of getting something in return, as it is of being a gift that’s received.

Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?

You might say that I’ve taken an anti-establishment approach to achieving Poethood, in that I never earned an MFA, or even studied in any writing program. But the truth of the matter is, my sans-MFA route was not for a lack of trying to pry my way into the establishment. When I was a senior at Grinnell College (IA), graduating with a double major in English and German, I applied to a boatload of graduate programs in creative writing. Several of my professors made a point of advising me against including any of my poetry in the writing samples I submitted with my applications, stating euphemistically that it “wasn’t ready.” The non-conformist in me did not heed, and did not prevail. A year later, stubbornly submitting more of my “poetry” with my applications to yet another batch of writing programs, resulted in more resounding rejections. I did, however, manage to find my way into one of the top Ph.D. programs in German literature in the country at the time, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where I studied and taught for four years while completing my MA, and two additional years of coursework toward my Ph.D. After the accrual of much debt, my life took an abrupt, yet immensely welcome turn toward marriage and motherhood. I’ve since made a show of pursuing other “respectable” career paths, including completing the prerequisite science courses for a nursing program I ended up not applying to, and a stint in theological seminary as a Master of Divinity candidate, during which time my son was diagnosed with autism, which suddenly made my true calling crystal clear… Societally-induced guilt over “wasting my education” be damned: I’ve spent twenty years so far as a Mother, doing exactly what I was meant to do—which, as it turns out, has amounted to a pretty stellar education in the poetic arts…

* * *

This concludes our Q&A, but while you’re awaiting your copy of This Being Done (the pre-publication sales period ends April 27), you might read Stephanie’s poem “How to Be a Malacologist” in Panoply, or visit her blog.

Q&A with Poet Stephanie L. Harper (Part 1)

I’m pleased to offer this Q&A with poet Stephanie L. Harper:

You have a chapbook, This Being Done, coming out soon. Can you tell us something about it? From where did the title come?

 Yes, I’m thrilled that this debut of my work in book form is making its way into the world. The title, This Being Done, is an excerpt from my poem, “An Elegy for Birds & Bees,” which, the more I think about it, the more I believe is the crux of the collection. The poem came to me when I was profoundly depressed and drifting—feeling as if my childbearing days being behind me was somehow synonymous with not having (and not deserving to have) an identity or purpose for my own sake. The poem’s opening lines, “over & over in habitual drone /i repeat a phrase in my mind that no one knows i say / because i have not told / i am saying i’m done,” are at once a funeral dirge, and a spiritual awakening; with the aggrieved instance of awareness that the “being done” is my effective death, comes the terrifying sense that “thisbeing done” could be the only segue through which I might return to some kind of viable life. What ensues is a deliberate and laborious taking up (again) of the direction I’ve always been going in, because the alternative to doing so is simply not tenable; and I’m grateful to say that it’s the way I’m headed still. So, what I hope the book as a whole will offer readers, is something to hold onto in the way of resonance, or solidarity, to bolster them for their respective journeys.

(Note from RO to blog readers: You must read these poems. If the book is not within your budget, ask your library to order it.)

Please tell us how or why you turned to writing poetry?

 When I was a youngster, my teachers used to call me a “gifted” prose writer (go figure), and anyone who’s ever received a personal letter (whether in handwritten, or electronic form) from me would attest to my proclivity for words, and lots of them, but I’ve actually always preferred poetry as my vehicle for creative expression. I don’t believe I ever had a pivotal moment of “turning to” writing poetry, but rather, simply, that I am a Poet. It’s a fact about my life that it’s taken me the better part of my lifetime so far to figure out, but I’m learning that it’s more a matter of how I’m wired to relate to the world and others in it, than of my having chosen to practice one form of art over another.

I think of poetry as an attempt to account for and share the truth (in terms of emotional, experiential immediacy) as accurately and proximally as human language will allow, given that language can only at best be a pale stand-in for any actual thing we mean to express. Insofar as telepathy hasn’t yet evolved in humans to the extent that it could viably supersede our linguistic systems as the primary mode of communication, poetry strikes me as the closest we can get to understanding one another.

I am a Poet, not because I think there’s something special about me that I need to tell everyone, but because I’ve found nothing more fortifying and validating than those moments in which I’ve recognized myself in someone else. And so, what moves me to give something of myself to the world in the form of poetry, is not so much a hope of getting something in return, as it is of being a gift that’s received.

Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?

You might say that I’ve taken an anti-establishment approach to achieving Poethood, in that I never earned an MFA, or even studied in any writing program. But the truth of the matter is, my sans-MFA route was not for a lack of trying to pry my way into the establishment. When I was a senior at Grinnell College (IA), graduating with a double major in English and German, I applied to a boatload of graduate programs in creative writing. Several of my professors made a point of advising me against including any of my poetry in the writing samples I submitted with my applications, stating euphemistically that it “wasn’t ready.” The non-conformist in me did not heed, and did not prevail. A year later, stubbornly submitting more of my “poetry” with my applications to yet another batch of writing programs, resulted in more resounding rejections. I did, however, manage to find my way into one of the top Ph.D. programs in German literature in the country at the time, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where I studied and taught for four years while completing my MA, and two additional years of coursework toward my Ph.D. After the accrual of much debt, my life took an abrupt, yet immensely welcome turn toward marriage and motherhood. I’ve since made a show of pursuing other “respectable” career paths, including completing the prerequisite science courses for a nursing program I ended up not applying to, and a stint in theological seminary as a Master of Divinity candidate, during which time my son was diagnosed with autism, which suddenly made my true calling crystal clear… Societally-induced guilt over “wasting my education” be damned: I’ve spent twenty years so far as a Mother, doing exactly what I was meant to do—which, as it turns out, has amounted to a pretty stellar education in the poetic arts…

Would you offer up some of your influences – poetic and otherwise? What draws you to that work?

Whenever someone asks me about my influences, everything I just knew perfectly in the second prior congeals into a blur of inaccessibility. It’s kind of like when something suddenly reminds of a film I saw decades ago, and I need to tell my husband immediately what it was called or who was in it, because it’s now the only thing that matters, which usually goes something like this:

Me: You know, the one about aristocrats in France in like the 18th century? And the bad playboy guy tricked the faithful married woman into falling in love with him, but then he accidentally fell in love with her, too, and he tried to set things right, but then she died of a broken heart? Oh yeah, and that actress was in another movie—something about witches, maybe—with the guy from that horror movie in the late 70s that was filmed in part at the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood… I’m sure the title has something French in it, but it was an American film. I think it came out in the late 80s or early 90s? Oh, yeah, and the Fatal Attraction lady played some kind of villain…

Husband (never surprised, always a bit concerned): Dangerous Liaisons?!!??

Well, now that my expertly executed stall tactic has bought me a semblance of clarity, I feel compelled, first off, to mention Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols and Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ (also a Jungian psychologist) amazing work on the female psyche, Women Who Run With the Wolves. Other “poetic and otherwise” influences that are making their way to the conscious fore, in no particular order, are Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies; Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk; Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer and Our Greatest Gift; Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series; Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia; Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet; John Keats’s everything; Paul Celan’s Death Fugue; Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time and Letter on Humanism; Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn; Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven; Elizabeth Barret Browning’s How Do I Love Thee…; and Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg.

I generally admire literature that is meticulously crafted, with strong musicality, exquisite observations about the human condition, and/or wry humor; but what the works that have had the deepest impact on me all have in common, is something I experience more viscerally, as a singular degree of earnestness, or a rarity of insight that can only be described as one thing: genius.

* * *

We’ll continue Part 2 of this Q&A in a few days, but in the meantime, you might read Stephanie’s poem “How to Take an Amazing Photo of a Solar Eclipse,” or listen to her read “Anatomy of a Fustercluck.”

John Ronan On Seamus Heaney’s “Digging”

 

A few days ago I read a glowing review of an Instagram poet, whose name I’ll not mention, which contrasted her writing to Seamus Heaney’s. In short, the reviewer complained that Heaney’s writing was too complicated, used too many words, and took too long to read. Yeah, I thought, but he never wasted one!

Needing an antidote to that vapid assessment, I found John Ronan’s essay on Heaney’s “Digging.” I feel much better now.

And here’s a recording of the poem.

The Resonance of No

dishes

 The Resonance of No

Yes, yes, we’ve heard. The dishwasher wastes less
and cleans better. But Kenk­ō believed in the beauty
of leisure, and how better to make nothing
while standing with hands in soapy water, thoughts
skipping from Miles Davis’s languid notes to the spider
ascending to safe shelter under the sill (after I blow
on her to amuse myself), washing my favorite knife
and wondering if I should hone it, not to mention
my skills on the six-string or the potato peeler.
And if I linger at the plates, even the chipped one,
admiring their gleam after hot water rinses away
the soap residue, who could question the quick gulp
of ale or the shuffle of an almost-but-not-quite
dance step-or-stumble while arranging them on the
ribbed rack, back-to-back, in time to Coltrane’s
solo. Then the forgotten food processor’s blade
bites my palm, and I remember that I’ve outgrown
the dark suit, the cut branches still need bundling
and none of the words I’ve conjured and shaped
over decades and miles will extend their comfort
when I stand at my father’s grave this week or next.

“The Resonance of No,” was published in December 2016 in Gravel, and is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second.

Daniel Schnee wrote about this poem here.

Music Credit: Cool Vibes Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Countdown, #2 “Review: Robert Okaji’s “From Every Moment a Second”

My last five posts of 2017 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.

FROM EVERY MOMENT A SECOND

Robert Okaji
Finishing Line Press
2017

★★★★★

From Every Moment A Second, the latest chapbook by American poet Robert Okaji, is yet another meticulously crafted collection of observations, private austerities and hesitancies spelt out in verse. A small collection of twenty poems, each feels “warm”, like a cozy winter Sunday on your living room couch – to paraphrase Junichiro Tanizaki – lost in contemplation of flavours to come.

What makes it a five star collection is each poem is clear in its vision, each unambiguously a part of the greater gist of the book. Each line shows where lesser works ‘tell’, and thus this collection feels like a series of tiny one act plays. Part of this is how each line and stanza feels like it has been put exactly in its proper place, that any further edits would remove a character or…

View original post1,121 more words

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It’s humbling yet fitting that the second most popular post on the blog in 2017 was actually a reblog from Daniel Schnee’s site.