Poetry: Motherhood & Myth in THIS BEING DONE by Stephanie L. Harper

Read Lily Blackburn’s insightful review of Stephanie L. Harper’s This Being Done.

Lemonworld

This Being Done by Stephanie L. Harper

What happens when we read time into everything? History, mythology, the aging of the earth, all in the span of a glimpse, a moment? In This Being Done, time echoes ancient. Thematically, I wondered if ideas for many of these poems were inspired by “How to Take An Amazing Photo of A Solar Eclipse,” being a witness to growth as a parent whose child is diagnosed with autism: “Trust in his gift of seeing every moment in terms of geological time—/ of constantly holding the cycles of mountains/ rising up and eroding away in his mind’s eye… ” From elegy to epitaph, the threads that weave this book together are perspectives on motherhood and femininity seen through both a modern and mythologic lens; in place of sentiment or a conclusion we are given a raging dragon. Harper places the reader in a space…

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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)