The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: G.L. Morrison’s “Chiaroscuro Kisses”

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Relentless Blue

I look for you in this poem with both hands
every word like the fingers of a blind sculptor
searching for your familiar face in the sightless clay.

If I were a painter, what I want to say
to you would be a shade of blue that couldn’t be bought
only blended by loving curiosity and relentless patience
blue as sun rising on the ocean after a storm

blue as dawn, obsidian about to shatter
in a wet cacophony of color.
Azure love. Sapphire uncertainty.
Hungers marbled turquoise and lapis lazuli.

If I were a sailor, this poem would be
a hundred days at sea.
Lips cracked with salt and silence.

Above me, in the wet, endless sky clouds row by
with a cargohold of storms and birds for barnacles.
Gulls shriek like lonely women.
Every star is an omen, I navigate by touch.

Below me, in the wet and endless sea
is everything I dare imagine, everything
that will ever and will never be
wide and spiny as puffer fish.

Infinitely blue and filled with stones, fish, and sunken
treasure; skeletons of clouds, birds, and stars;
sharks, mermaids, and the myriad of scuttling mysteries.
This poem is adrift in tomorrow’s current
somewhere off the coast of yesterday.

Your hand on this page is bone china,
the pottery buried with Pharaohs, Klimt’s
yellow kiss, swollen-mouthed as O’Keefe flowers.
Your hand on this page is the woman who waits
in a cottage overlooking the sea
where every hundred-day journey hopes to end.


This selection comes from G.L. Morrison’s collection Chiaroscuro Kisses, available from Headmistress Press. Purchase your copy here!

Born in Utah in 1966, G.L. Morrison was wet-nursed by Poetry whose savage, urgent milk has sustained her all these years. An oracle of knives and wings; an acolyte of reckless gods; channeled by a disabled poet in the Northwest: she is an intersectional feminist who moonlights as a sporadic blogger/writing teacher/freelancer, Oregon Chair of the Communist Party USA, and overzealous grandmother. Over the last 30 years, she has feathered her nest with the contributor copies of hundreds of magazines, a dozen anthologies, and a fistful of writing awards. She has been noted in Ms. and twice interviewed in Mother Jones. Her nonfiction writing stands at the crossroads of racial/economic justice, LGBT issues, and body-politics/fat-activism. Regie Cabico pronounced Chiaroscuro Kisses (Headmistress Press, 2013) “one of the most inspiring collections of poetry I’ve seen in the last decade.”

Mari Hailu is a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University where she simultaneously received a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. As a Managing Editor of The Wardrobe, a blog series affiliated with Sundress Publications, she finds fellow poets to read and learn from. She hopes to have the opportunity to share her writing with the world very soon.

An Interview: Sarah Ann Winn’s “Portage”

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In her chapbook Portage, Winn captures the elusive balance of grounding a poem in the concrete world, and creating a lyrical universe for the reader, which is rare and beautiful. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the collection and what inspired certain pieces.

Hailu: Why the recurring theme of apples? It reminded me first of the Adam and Eve reference, but as I kept reading I also connected to an “All American” reference. Was this done on purpose?

Winn: I’m from Ohio, and apples seemed almost a member of my family. There were two apple trees at the house where I grew up, which was a portion of the land where my grandma grew up: a Baldwin apple tree, and a Red Delicious, both left over from the days when a portion of the land was a fruit orchard. Grandma likes to bake, so if I had to name the one flavor of my childhood, it’d be apples, followed closely by home grown tomatoes. We had apple sauce, or apple pie, or apple dumplings or apple cake with many, many meals. When the canned jars of apple butter and apple sauce weren’t present, grandma would buy apples, and we’d snack on apples filled with peanut butter. It was the living embodiment of the apple a day adage.

Hailu: “Earthenware” is one of my favorites, and I can’t stop thinking about it. One line that keeps replaying in my mind is “the button that escapes to the vent.” For me, that was the line that pulled all of the emotions happening in the poem together. What made you use that specific image?

Winn: So many of the lines you ask about are very specific and concrete things which relate to my childhood – the button in my mind is from my grandmother’s button box. One of my favorite activities as a little girl was playing with my grandma’s button box, which she’d collected through her life. When anyone’d lose a button, she would be able to find a match in that box. The button in the poem relates to the things which are lost and never recovered, but which can be replaced. I wanted it to be a hopeful image, because that poem has so much to do with repair, and restoration.

portageHailu: In your piece “Nocturne” there was a phrase that stuck out to me. There is all this loving, bonding imagery, then the speaker says “She calls me mother,” and that threw me off. There is a level of detachment there that makes the piece intriguing–why did you choose that wording?

Winn: When I wrote “Nocturne,” I was specifically thinking about the people who mother us, who are not our mothers. Who could mother the moon? In this poem, I try, with limited success.

Hailu: One of the aspects of your writing that haunts me is that I cannot tell when the speaker is in reality, and when the speaker is in their imagination. I think the best example of this is in your piece “Conventry.” I could spend hours reading this and trying to understand it. What was the first thought that blossomed this piece? Was this written over a long period of time, and is it a “jigsaw” in itself?

Winn: Coventry is the name of the town where I grew up, a community surrounding the Portage lakes. Many of the things which happened in this poem are taken directly from actual images in my childhood. The owls, for instance, were placed in the upper window of a former hotel. The number would change from week to week (one, three, two, none, two facing away, one facing in, one out, and so on) and I always wondered why, until there was an article in the local paper about a drug bust there, and the owls vanished. The only things which aren’t literal in this poem are the horse’s eyes, which were, in reality, pine board knots at eye level in my bedroom. For me, those ephemeral images, right on the edge of imagination, rooted in reality, were important landmarks in my childhood.

You can read Portage for free here!


Sarah Ann Winn lives in Fairfax Virginia. Her poems have appeared or will appear in Bayou Magazine, [d]ecember, Massachusetts Review, Quarterly West, and RHINO among others. Her chapbook, Portage, is available from Sundress Publications. Her life as a poet-free-range-librarian-workshop-leader is a hybrid work in progress. Visit her at bluebirdwords.com or follow her @blueaisling on Twitter.

Mari Hailu is a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Creative Writing. She enjoys writing of all kinds, but poetry is her true love. She lives and works in Dallas, and plans to pursue her MFA in poetry in the near future. Her hobbies include running, and playing upright bass with various groups of musicians in the Dallas area.

Project Bookshelf: Mari Hailu

Mari's Bookshelf

What’s On Mari Hailu’s Bookshelf?

  • Greek Mythology: This is a large category, I know. Right now, I am working on Ovid’s Metomorphoses, and The Aeneid is next on my list.
  • Poetry Collections: I like to really get in the head of a poet, so I prefer small collections rather than anthologies. My favorites right now include I hope it’s not over and good-by by Everette Maddox, Seam by Tarfia Faizullah, and Wolf Face by Matt Hart. A few poets who have influenced me greatly and are not on that list are Rumi (especially “Music Master”), W.H. Auden (especially “As I Walked Out One Evening”) and Frank O’Hara (especially “Why I Am Not A Painter”). Auden’s poem is one that I read in high school, and is largely responsible for my decision to study poetry in college. I will never get over the line, “The glacier knocked in the cupboard.”
  • For my story fix, right now I am reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. It is not on my bookshelf because I keep it in my car to try and read snippets during my breaks at work. I am also reading a collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri entitled Unaccustomed Earth.
  • This list could go on forever, to which I am sure you can relate, but I will stop there!
  • *The picture is of my favorite bookshelf. I made it the summer I moved into this apartment.

Mari Hailu is a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Creative Writing. She enjoys writing of all kinds, but poetry is her true love. She lives and works in Dallas, and plans to pursue her MFA in poetry in the near future. Her hobbies include running, and playing upright bass with various groups of musicians in the Dallas area.