Which Poet, Which Beer (2)

pint

Tastes change. In my younger years I preferred sweeter brown ales, eschewed hoppier, bitter beverages, and seldom branched out. Nowadays, I lean heavily towards the bitter, and when the opportunity presents itself, feel compelled to sample the unknown. Thus when I spied Alaskan Brewing Company’s Alaskan Jalapeño Imperial IPA on tap, I had no choice but to order a pint. We may not normally place the words Alaska and jalapeño alongside each other, but if this Imperial IPA is any indication, perhaps we should. With an odor of hops and capsicum, it felt smooth on the tongue, a little malty, even earthy. Not  complex at the outset, but subtle, defying definition and developing over time, in the way a good poem develops. My only complaint would be the lack of heat. But hey, I’m from Texas, and we do jalapeños. This is a beer of multiple cultures, a blend of distinct identities. I think of Joan Naviyuk Kane, and her first book, The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, in which she writes in “Antistrophic”

Instead of out, I am in,
Trying at the old habit of imperfect definition
As well as the less familiar,
Between falling gold

Kane’s narrative, her mythology and landscape, are not mine, yet they invite me in and envelop my senses, allowing synthesis, acceptance, to occur.

But sometimes I crave the unadorned. The Lone Pint Brewery’s Yellowrose IPA, a single malt, single hop concoction, startled me. Surprisingly mellow in the mouth, it imparts grapefruit and perhaps pineapple with a hint of something I can’t readily identify. Strong yet delicate, infinitely interesting, Yellowrose is most definitely a celebration of simplicity and craft – a few ingredients combined to create magic. Which may also describe Christina Davis’s book An Ethic. Spare in nature, her work transcends the limits of language, the borders of the page. Her poems blossom anew with each reading, and the farther away I move from them, the more I long to return:

”All Those That Wander,” in its entirety:

After the ark survived the Flood,
it was taken apart
to be made into cages.

This is the nature of religion.

Of course my curiosity leads me down other paths, too. Infamous Brewing Company’s Sweep the Leg peanut butter stout pours with a small head, and tastes of rich malts and coffee, with a little cocoa and, of course, subtle peanut tones. An opaque, dark brown or black, with minimal carbonation, exuding stillness, it isn’t quite what I anticipated, with the peanut butter flavor a tad muted. But the mouthfeel is spot on, and the aftertaste lingers, leaving me requesting more of this unlikely combination, and reminding me of Charles Simic’s  Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, in which he imparts, through prose poems, the experience of viewing Cornell’s enigmatic art. Nothing is quite as you expect it should or could be, yet you go on, somehow understanding. He writes in “Secret Toy”:

In a secret room in a secret house his secret toy sits
listening to its own stillness.

Simic offers openings into Cornell’s art, explains the unexplainable without explanation. I stare into the pint of Sweep the Leg, and find my own stillness. I read Simic and find another. This is what I seek in poetry, what I want in good beer. I have found it.

blackbeer

“Which Poets, Which Beer (2)” last appeared here in July 2017. You will be relieved to hear that I am still conducting research in these matters.

Recording of Bottom, Falling

bird silhouette

Bottom, Falling

Through that window you see another bird
rising, unlabeled, unwanted, yet noticed.
A limb’s last leaf. The boy’s breath.
Like the morning after your father died,
when temperature didn’t register
and heat shallowed through the morning’s
end. Still you shivered. Glass. Wind.
Night’s body. How to calibrate nothing’s
grace? Take notes. Trace its echo. Try.

“Bottom Falling” was published in Into the Void in October 2016, and is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a SecondIt was written in response to a note my friend Michael sent me, and as he’s in town and we’re having lunch today, it seems a good time to repost this.

femas-mock-cover

Which Poet, Which Beer (3)

beer

Nebraska Brewing Company’s Melange a Trois, a strong Belgian-Style Blonde ale, aged for six months in French Oak Chardonnay barrels, carries a good bit of the wine, with citrus and a hint of vanilla. A little musty, with an excellent frothy head, which, I believe, could describe me most mornings. But I digress. Deceptively strong (11+ ABV) with a pleasant bitterness. I would pair this with a plate of cured meat and David Wevill’s Other Names for the Heart: New and Selected Poems 1964-1984.

He writes in “Grace”:

… Sometimes lately

a bird you can’t identify has flitted close
and sung from the branches of his hands.

He leaves us touching ourselves.

Over the past thirty years, much of Wevill’s writing has left me with unrequited questions, with an itch to branch out, to learn more, to delve deeper into what makes us human.

But there are those days when introspection flies out the back door into the overgrown backyard, and all you want to do is sit back, watch the football game, relax, be entertained, escape. On those days I’ll break out a few cans of Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap, a German-style pilsner, moderately malty, straw-colored, with citrusy hops evident. A clean, palate-cleansing drink, good with nachos or chips, or hell, even with a Greek salad (heavy on the feta and olives, please). And if you’re like me and can’t devote yourself fully to the game, multitask – dip into Jeff Schwaner’s Goat Lies Down on Broadway, and absorb “Goat Reads the Signs”:

The sun rises like music
every morning. Wind goes
around the world and comes
back in a week or two. Goat
waits on top of a hill, judging…

As do we. Don’t stop there. Continue. Turn off the tube – one team will win, the other will lose. But Goat never wins. Goat never loses. Goat befriends Jerry Falwell. Goat eats Jerry’s tie. Goat ingests Sartre. Goat dies. “Goat is never dead.” A lively read, to say the least.

And speaking of lively, Independence Brewery’s Lupulust is a traditional Belgian-style tripel with a touch of modern hoppiness. It pours with a big head and spicy, floral notes, with a dry finish, reminding me of Karen Craigo’s No More Milk, in which she speaks of life – ordinary life – which, in her hands, becomes like that floral scented, big, hoppy beer. In “Scat with Mourning Dove” the narrator wakes “to syncopated song” and marvels at the bird’s jazz refrains from her place in bed with “a body warm against mine,” celebrating

how God made us, made jazz,
made an instrument of a dove.

Sip this book. Share it with friends. Take it to bed with a glass of warm milk. Savor it.

no-more-milk

“Which Poet, Which Beer (3)” appeared here in September 2016.

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.”