The Invented Meal: Sloppy Macs by Jennifer Jackson Berry

The Sundress Cookbook series brings you meals made by our writers and the stories behind them. In this installment, we have sloppy macs with Jennifer Jackson Berry.

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I always hated this Jackson family meal when my Mom would make it when I was growing up. She continued her mother-in-law’s Depression-era mentality of stretching the sauce to cover 2+ lbs. of pasta, but this needs to be saucy. My revised recipe calls for 1 lb. of pasta to serve 3-4 people, but most days, my husband and I make it with only 2/3 – 3/4 lb. and devour all of it between the two of us. My “to taste” for the listed spices is heavy. I shake them over the pan right from the bottles, but I think it would probably be a good palmful of all three. Yes, even the red pepper flakes; we like this spicy!

 

 

Sloppy Macs

Ingredients:

1 lb. of bacon, chopped into bite-size pieces

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

Oregano and onion powder to taste

Red pepper flakes (optional, but highly recommended)

1 lb. elbow macaroni

Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

Directions:Sloppy Macs

Sauté bacon pieces until crispy in large pan. Add crushed tomatoes without draining any of the rendered bacon fat. Stir until fat is incorporated. Add oregano, onion powder, and red pepper flakes. While the sauce simmers, cook the elbow macaroni according to the box directions. Drain macaroni, then stir it into the sauce. Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

 

The Invented Meal

Praise the invented meal, the pound of bacon

scissored into bite-size chunks and dropped

into the deep pan. Praise the meal invented

to stretch meat and the ignorance of generations past

as the grease won’t be skimmed off, but stirred in.

Praise the feel of a wooden spoon in fist

as the fat shrinks to crumbles,

as the can of crushed tomatoes is dumped in,

onion powder and oregano added. Praise

the red pepper flakes, heat that sticks like a slap

and steam that rises—elbow mac drained into a colander.

Praise anything that rises, even cholesterol,

because watching what falls is for every other day.

Not days with sauce this red, with bowls this empty.

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Jennifer Jackson Berry is the author of The Feeder (YesYes Books, 2016). Her most recent chapbook Bloodfish was published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2019 as part of their Keystone Chapbook Series. Her other chapbooks include When I Was a Girl (Sundress Publications) and Nothing But Candy (Liquid Paper Press). She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Rediscovered Meal: Milk Gravy by Jennifer Jackson Berry

The Sundress Cookbook series brings you meals made by our writers and the stories behind them. In this installment, we have milk gravy with Jennifer Jackson Berry.

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Pork chops and hominy was another standard weeknight meal in the Jackson household. Sometimes we’d also have milk gravy if the chops had enough fat to flavor it. There would be a loaf of white bread on the table those nights. Milk gravy poured over a slice placed beside a chop and a scoop of hominy. Although I often make pork chops and hominy, I hadn’t had milk gravy in years and years when I decided to make it for myself for the first time. I’ve learned it takes patience to make the roux and slowly add the milk to get the right consistency. It also takes 125 grinds of my particular pepper mill to get it peppery enough. Most recently, I made this with ground breakfast sausage and served it over biscuits. So good.

Milk Gravy

Ingredients:

Pork of choice

5 T. butter

5 T. flour

2 ½ c. whole milk

Freshly ground pepper

Directions:Milk Gravy

Brown/cook through your pork product of choice in a large pan. Remove meat, but leave any drippings. Add the butter to the pan; melt it over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to make a blond roux. Slowly add the milk in ½ cup increments, stirring each time until completely incorporated. Add the pepper to taste. If using sausage, add it back to the pan.

 

 

 

 

The Rediscovered Meal

Praise the rediscovered meal, first known

when thick-cut pork chops lined with shiny

white fat were easier to find. Praise

the brown bits left even from thinner chops,

that butter can be a substitute, pat after pat,

with tablespoons of flour. Praise whole milk,

the whisk and the pepper mill, the tasting spoon

coated and licked clean, the pepper mill again,

the pepper mill again. Praise a husband

willing to stand at the stove while you make this

for the first time yourself, while the milk gravy

turns its subtle brown, while you taste,

closing your eyes. Forgive his pouring of the gravy

over everything—the pork, the hominy—

when all this gravy needs is white bread,

a fork turned sideways, soft bites. Want this meal.

Want slice after slice. Forgive the forgetting

of the whisk and the pepper. Want the gravy,

its lonely milk.

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Jennifer Jackson Berry is the author of The Feeder (YesYes Books, 2016). Her most recent chapbook Bloodfish was published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2019 as part of their Keystone Chapbook Series. Her other chapbooks include When I Was a Girl (Sundress Publications) and Nothing But Candy (Liquid Paper Press). She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

2019 Poetry Broadside Contest Winner Announced

Sundress Publications is thrilled to announce the results of the 2019 Poetry Broadside Contest. The winner’s poem will be letterpress-printed and made available for purchase in our online store. Orders for our broadsides will be open later this spring.

Picture1This year’s winner is Lisa Kwong for the poem “Searching for Wonton Soup.”

Born and raised in Radford, Virginia, Lisa Kwong identifies as an AppalAsian, an Asian from Appalachia. She is a distinguished creative writing alumna of Appalachian State University and holds an MFA in poetry from Indiana University (IU). Her poems and creative nonfiction are forthcoming or have appeared in Best New Poets 2014, A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, the minnesota review, Banango Street, Still: The Journal, Naugatuck River Review, Appalachian Heritage, Pluck!, The Sleuth, and other publications. Her honors include poetry scholarships and fellowships from Indiana University, The Frost Place, and Sundress Academy for the Arts, where she was the 2017 Appalachian Writer-in-Residence.

Finalists:
“The Inception of Bees,” Trista Edwards
“Columbia Gorge,” Brenda Yates
“Violence of Lush,” Elisabeth von Uhl
“Self-Portrait as Etola,” Itiola Jones
“Aubade Without Ice,” Amelia Gorman
“We Will Take Life After Death,” Ashley Inguanta
“A God Lives in the Amygdala,” Jennifer Martelli

Semifinalists:
“Self-Portrait with Sun God and Charred Bodies,” Jessica Lynn Suchon
“How I Knew She Was Mine Before She Was Born,” Katy Ellis
“This is the Beginning,” Rachel Cloud Adams
“To the Drone All Objects Are Beautiful,” Amy Miller
“Second Story,” Halee Kirkwood

 

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A 501(c)3 non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.

 

Email: erin@sundresspublications.com                                    Twitter: @SundressPub
Website: sundresspublications.com                                         Facebook: SundressPublications

Lyric Essentials: Kierstin Bridger Reads Three Poems by Lynn Emanuel

Kiersten BridgerKierstin Bridger came to Lyric Essentials to discuss the work of Lynn Emanuel and really delivered. Here, we see deeply into Emanuel’s work as Bridger highlights her own discovery of Emanuel and the resulting love-affair with her poems. From Emanuel’s uniquely Western aesthetic to Bridger’s dawning understanding of persona, Bridger invites a deep-read and then goes further with an exemplary set of discussion points. And in there too, a 2018 Pandora as Bridger offers “permission to go astray.”

Black: Why did you select Lynn Emanuel? In our earlier emails, you spoke about her inventiveness and her language. Can you elaborate on these, too

Bridger: Lynn Emanuel is magic. She is all mood and slunk. The sound of her “k” is a clunk, a pistol set on a hardwood table. There is something decidedly western about her, an aesthetic she has been known to say evolved from noir, a “light and grime.”

She grew up in the city of my birth, Denver, Colorado which definitely has a grit and blue sky sensibility. Her poems elicit a racy and wry wit that jump starts my imagination, “I am so tired,” she writes in The Dig, “I could lie down among these trees. . . / and let the earth take one slow liberty / After another.” Oh God, don’t these lines just exude a perfectly sex-ragged cool with a subversively American tang?! When I grow up I want to be her.

I first discovered Lynn Emanuel in grad school. I remember reading Hotel Fiesta and The Dig, feeling so aligned with her character but not knowing it was a character. Meaning, I knew poets sometimes employed the use of a poetic mask i.e. “the speaker” but I also knew the persona of “speaker” was usually only inches from the author, an autobiographic self if you will.

I remember I flew through my copy of The Dig like it was some kind of hybrid, a memoir/thriller only to realize that the story was not her story. Lynn Emanuel did not grow up in Ely, Nevada. This was not a memoir disguised as a chapbook, this was invention! It was like a big flash of lightning struck. The thought occurred to me that she was giving me permission. I too could write, not just frame my own narrative with artful cuts and lens changes. She is like the Cindy Sherman of poets. In various collections, she embodies the reader, other humans, versions of herself and even dogs—“The Mongrelogues.”  I love these lines from “Homage to Sharon Stone” from her 1999 collection Then Suddenly:

I have always wanted to be a car, even
though most of the time I have to be
the “I,” or the woman hanging wash;
I am a woman, one minute, then I am a man,
I am a carnival of Lynn Emanuels:
Lynn in the red dress; Lynn sulking
behind the big nose of my erection;
then I am the train pulling into the station
when what I would really love to be is
Gertrude Stein spying on Sharon Stone
at six in the morning. 

In “Persona” she enters a dead man, makes the embodiment “meta”, then follows up by showing us how she enters “the other.” All the while she balances this without ever forgetting a poem’s musicality, the necessity of sensory details, and her fresh, vibrant language—“I throbbed in the big fog of his shirt.”   

But it is her humor, her ability to render a poem, to make it turn the corners of a reader’s mouth in a smile while simultaneously leveling something devastating about death, about liminality or about the cycle of abuse.

She uses her mastery of the language in deft, subtle strokes. There is an intimacy with the reader, like she’s taking us behind the curtain to whisper secrets, secrets of craft, of language of humanity but then we close the book and realize she isn’t really there when only seconds ago she made us skip past time and space—I know I sound crazy, but her poems mesmerize me. She casts a very real spell.  I have the distinct feeling she is listening hard to voices that are inaudible to the rest of us mortals. She is a conduit and a witness, and yet … and yet there is a master at work who diligently pushes and crafts her poems into multifaceted gems.

I was especially fascinated with the method she used for her latest book. The Nerve of it, New and Selected Poems. Shunning conventional chronology, she recast the poems and arranged them next to each other in harmony, she allowed one poem to “talk” to the next one. I admire her willingness to see the poems as finished works, objects so removed from her own life, or her publishing timeline that they could be arranged as a painter hangs work in a gallery, related by theme or image. I love how she can let go like that, let the poetic order reassemble into new meaning.

Kierstin Bridger Reads “The Book’s Speech”

Black: I think at one point when trying to decide, you said, “Pivot, Pivot, Pivot!” Tell us about your selection process? Why did you select these three poems?

Bridger: I think I was referring to my “monkey mind” jumping with possible poets to record and talk about. My brain is restless and it can hardly settle on any sort of favorite. Reading one poet leaps to another, one poem to another. Initially, I was worried that if I chose a friend or a former teacher, inevitably someone would feel left out. So I decided to trace all my favorites back to a source, not origin (as in lineage) but a creative source.

When I finally chose Lynn Emanuel I had a hard time choosing poems—I re-read dozens of them. I became transfixed again. She has a long piece called “The Politics of Narrative: Why I Am A Poet,” oh! I love it so. It’s long and funny and prose-like just as it’s dissing the prose form. The inherent irony and fun she must have had making it has made me a devoted reader forever.


Kierstin Bridger Reads “Flying Trout While Drunk”

Black: Let’s talk about Flying Trout while Drunk. What’s your take on this poem? What would you teach about this poem?

Bridger: The possibilities are endless! The swagger and tone of the piece stop my heart.  

Here are a few starting points for lessons:

1. Character and Persona (If we read this poem as autobiography the poet would be four years old in 1953 so it must be said that this experience has been rendered with another lens, perhaps a compression or amalgamation that do not make it less “factual” ie. less accurate but, instead, more real and true in a deeper sense—(those buttons falling, can’t you just hear and see them? “buttons ticking like seeds spit on a plate.”)

2. Mood (noir sensibility. “Dark slung across the porch”)

3. Efficiency and spare, and precise language

4. Muscular verbs

5. Ridiculously fresh metaphor and simile—“a man of lechery so solid you could build a table on it” or “the trout with a belly white as my wrist”

6. The camera lens approach i.e. going long and tight in focus

7. Sensory details for beginners as well as practiced poets, (the bacon and the trout!)

8. How to approach mystery, i.e. how to intrigue reader without baffling the reader: We think we know where we are in this poem even though time telescopes and turns mobius because of her startling first line. She puts us smack dab in the middle of the scene. That her mother’s knees glowed in the green light was a memory imparted to the daughter as opposed to direct knowledge—so already the poem’s veracity is purposely off kilter. To ground us, the speaker puts herself in, gives us her first-hand account … suddenly we are dragged into the drama just as the child is drug into a drama which will become her own, a history that repeats, “When I drink I am too much like her.”

9. How to juggle time and space in ways fiction can’t do as well or efficiently.

10. The space a poet gives the reader to bring in our own understanding and experience, the essential work a reader must do to connect. In the last third of the poem, we are asked to find meaning, to fill in the blanks. For example, when I was in high school my drama teacher asked us to pantomime sneaking into the house while drunk. Many people overdid it, big pratfalls, and belches, loud steps, and exaggerated movements but the performance she liked best was the sneaky but slightly sloppy precision of the actor who tiptoed in. That last bit:

I have loved you all my life

she told him and it was true

in the same way that all her life

she drank, dedicated to the act itself,   

she stood at this stove

and with the care of the very drunk   

handed him the plate.

When I read those lines I am in that class, I am also in my house at seventeen sneaking in, at the same time I am imagining this mother intoxicated not just momentarily but chronically, thereby rendering her decisions clouded by the disease. I think of the people I have known like that, the trout from the first part of the poem, the smell, my own Colorado childhood … it’s incantatory, positively spellbinding.


Kierstin Bridger Reads “Persona”

Black: Do these connect to your own work in some way? And if so, how?

Bridger: My contemporary work often has a dark tone, especially when I write about growing up in the rural west.  My poems yearn to be as spare and rich as Emanuel’s but I’m still working!

I’ve had fairly good luck with persona poems. My book, Demimonde, has lead me on many fine adventures since its publication. It has won a few awards and I have been able to reassemble my turn-of-the-century research of contraceptives, suicide, yellow journalism and medicinals into a few historical lectures and tours. The book concerns 19th-century prostitutes in small western mining towns. In researching it, I turned into a history nerd overnight.

When I began the book, I was in the midst of completing my thesis manuscript.  I was overwhelmed by talking about myself so much in both my critical essay and in organizing poems that were incredibly personal. I needed a break. 

A project about women who really did not have a voice, women who became, over the course of history, caricatures rather than characters became a bit of a side hustle for me.  I was grateful for the permission my Pacific advisor Sandra Alcosser gave me. She encouraged me to dive in deep to the humanity and lives of these women. Sometimes we all need a strong dose of encouragement and permission to go astray.

The smaller project had no expectations or personal weight. It seemed to have a life of its own. Doing the research lead me to poets like Natasha Trethewey, and her book Belloq’s Ophelia. Though I deeply admired the way she wrote about prostitutes in Storyville, I knew my take on persona poems would have to look completely different—no letters for one thing.

I wanted to conjure women who were, by and large, illiterate. I began like most writers, writing about them using a narrator’s voice but the poems didn’t have a pulse until I changed perspective. I had to use persona in a first-person voice to make them come alive. I had to listen hard for their voice in the aspen and in the cool rivers near my home. It was a time of deep imagining but also a kind of enchantment. It revived me and turned into a book I love. My publisher, Lithic Press, did a gorgeous job with the presentation. We layered the poems with vellum printed antique photographs.

Black: What are you working on now?

Bridger: I’m excited about reinventing a project I’ve been working on for a while, a historical project that may turn into collaboration. I enjoy working with people. I recently completed a back and forth piece with Irish Poet Clodagh Beresford about a Colorado/Ireland donor eye transplant. We traded stanzas in a see-saw fashion. It was incredible. We did a Skype reading of it not too long ago—she was in Ireland while I was in my car in a parking lot outside of a hospital. Isn’t technology grand?

I’m always working on at least ten different projects at a time. I’m re-designing a house we want to buy, organizing the poets for our reading series, planning a trip, but in terms of my writing life? I feel I am finally at a place I can encounter my biography and push harder on what I once saw as periphery.

Perhaps I used to think “going deeper” meant getting more confessional, more in touch with how I felt as a child or a teen, exploring my culpability, or my adult perspective thrust upon a long ago occurrence, but recently I have discovered I need to ask more questions.

When I was sixteen, I was involved in a fatal car accident. It surfaces in my writing because, thirty years later, I still grapple with it, the survivor’s guilt, the loss of life and innocence, but in the wake of the “me too” movement, I’ve begun to question the circumstances of the life of the girl who died that night.

I want to get beyond my personal stake in the narrative and ask bigger questions. Why was she so estranged from her family? What were the circumstances around the intimate, on-and-off relationship she had with our much older boss? Why did we not question it at the time?

Sometimes I think I have a memoir in me and sometimes I can’t imagine the amount of plot and storyline that would require. Though I flirt and publish short-memoir and flash fiction, I can easily lose hours in a poem with 37 lines.

I ask myself, how would I possibly manage chapter after chapter of a full-blown memoir? Mary Karr did it, Patti Smith did it, Nick Flynnthe list goes on and on I say. In some ways, my full collection All Ember (Urban Farmhouse Press) was a memoir.  But if I’ve learned nothing else from Lynn Emanuel, it is that time and practice reframe events with new understanding as well as new levels of artistic design.

Here in Telluride, literary burlesque has been a big annual event for the past 5 years at the Telluride Literary Festival. Every year I swear I’ll never do it again because of the time involved and the difficulty of shepherding extremely busy, really talented women together to rehearse. Every year it’s a different theme. Last year, it was my turn to direct a huge performance we called “Uncorseted.” We made unsung heroines of the world war era come alive. Our point of entry was “where did the suffragettes go? We became Margaret Sanger, Anna Akhmatova, Margaret (Molly) Brown, Inez Milholland Boissevain, Mata Hari, and Marie Marvingt. It was incredible. I may or may not have some ideas brewing about 2019! Wink.

Something brand new: I’ve taught in workshop settings, guest lectured and stoked the fires of a small literary community but I have never taught a full course at the University level. In January, I will begin teaching online poetry at Adams State University. Preparing curriculum, researching poems and poets is a rabbit hole I thoroughly enjoy exploring, even if I get lost sometimes. In fact, as I answer these questions, I am at the same time researching the perfect political poem to read at a talk I’m giving with our Colorado State Laureate, Joseph Hutchison.

I have noticed I rarely tread the same stone twice—endless combinations thrill me. My daughter came home recently and asked us to guess how many combinations existed in her upcoming class trip matrix. She said there were three trip options and twenty-three kids. Each trip needed at least seven kids. This kind of story problem usually gives me a headache and I tap out immediately but what I loved was the idea of calculations which could endeavor to account for all the possibilities, called combinatorics.

I think the continued conversation with my students and peers will open up paths I’ve never tread before. I rarely cook the same meal twice. I know I will never teach a class the same way twice, either. Reinventing the wheel is where it’s at. I’m eager to begin something new.

______________________________________________________________________

Lynn Emanuel has twice received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Emanuel also won the 1992 National Poetry Series for her book, The Dig. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Best American Poetry, Oxford American Poetry, and many more. Emanuel teaches at the University of Pittsburgh where she directs the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers’ Series which she also founded. Emanuel is the author of five books.

 

The good stuff:

Lynn Emanuel at the Poetry Foundation
Lynn Emanuel’s The Dig in Publisher’s Weekly
Lynn Emanuel’s The Nerve of It at Project MUSE
Lynn Emanuel at Ploughshares
Kierstin Bridger at Colorado Poet’s Center
Kierstin Bridger at Fruita Pulp
Kierstin Bridger’s Demimonde at Lithic Press

 

Kierstin Bridger is a Colorado writer. She is the author of two books: All Ember (Urban Farmhouse Press) and Demimonde (Lithic Press) which won the Women Writing The West’s 2017 WILLA Award for poetry. She is a winner of the Mark Fischer Poetry Prize, the 2015 ACC Writer’s Studio award, a silver Charter Oak Best Historical Award, and an Anne LaBastille Poetry Residency. Bridger was also short-listed for the Manchester Poetry Competition in the UK. She is editor of Ridgway Alley Poems, co-director of Open Bard Poetry Series, co-creator of the Podcast, Poetry Voice with Kierstin Bridger and Uche Ogbuji and director of the 2018 literary Burlesque at The Telluride Literary Festival. She earned her MFA at Pacific University.

______________________________________________________________________

 

Anna Black received her MFA at Arizona State University and her BA at Western Washington University. She has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. Black has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

Lyric Essentials: Alexandra Lytton Regalado Reads Aracelis Girmay

Alexandra Lytton Regalado, the author of Matria (Black Lawrence Press, 2017) read three poems by Aracelis Girmay and I was stunned. Then we got to sit down and chat and she spoke about grief, distance, transitions, her personal mantra, and the word she writes on herself.

Black: What made you choose the work of Aracelis Girmay?

Regalado: Reading Aracelis is like wading into dark water. I’m drawn to the mystery and restraint of her work. She keeps you at arm’s length and I appreciate that control. When I discover a song I like, I ration it out because I don’t want to fully grasp the pattern of the melody, don’t want to decipher the lyrics. It’s like hands are covering your eyes and you’re prying open the fingers and looking through the cracks. Aracelis’ poems deal with mis-seeing, or seeing partially. Declarative statements evolve in increments and that creates a sense of estrangement. She uses these slight shifts of perspective—tiny kaleidoscopic degrees, fly-vision—that relay a steady and relentless sense of seeing.

Her poems are wound tight—there is as much communicated in the blank spaces as in the words themselves. Aracelis says, “Strangeness is what troubles or opens us into discovery” and I’m trying to cultivate that strangeness in my perception. When things become everyday we take them for granted, we are buffered and numbed, and I’m trying to tap into that acute and raw sense of first experiences that makes everything boom, wow, and ah!

Aracelis presents this revelation so clearly in her poem “Second Estrangement” in two metaphors: a child lost in a crowd accidentally reaching for the hand of a stranger and a bird flying into a plate of glass. Aracelis says she carries around a quote from Brenda Shaughnessy’s poem “Headlong”: “Be strange to yourself, / in your love, your grief.” This has been a hard year for me and I’m trying to channel into that wonder.

 

 

Black: And why these particular poems?

Regalado: I have a difficult time with transitions and this year has been wave after wave. I’ve been reading a lot of elegies and thinking about different ways of dealing with grief—whether we receive it with openness or resistance—in particular, I’m interested in what happens if we chose distance over vulnerability.

It says a lot about you—how you respond to pain—your threshold, and if you prefer to go through it alone or if you seek the comfort of others. Most of the time I choose the solo/distance combo—and I have a high pain threshold—and I usually get by with “Shake it off, Roll with it, Deal with it later” mantras, but sometimes I freak myself out and think: I’m going to pay for this compartmentalization, this postponement of feelings. More and more I feel I need to scare myself into my skin and say, “Hey, this is happening now,” and turn my attention to the present moment.

The clock is ticking really fucking loud. I’m hitting my mid-forties so there are those middle of the night living-in-a-very-human-skin realizations, and both of my parents are having serious health issues, and my husband and I are in the woods with our three kids now entering adolescence. So, I have a stack of poetry books on my beside table and they are my routine, in-lieu-of-morning-prayer readings. Aracelis’ poems resonate with me, and these, in addition to my old favorites: Rilke, Woolf, and Tom Andrew’s The Hemophiliac’s Motorcycle, are what’s keeping me grounded.

 

 

Black: “Elegy” asks us to consider our own mortality in a way which is both prescient and immediate. This again echoes throughout “Luam and the Flies”—the sense of mortality. Can you speak to this as you see (or don’t see) it in Girmay’s work?

Regalado: In “Elegy” Aracelis riffs on the idea of touching, what we hold on to, and carry into our every day. How can we be like the tree that grows and makes itself “useful to the nest” and shades “the heads of something beautiful” regardless of the ongoing cycle of births and deaths? “Nothing else matters,” she is urgent in her instructions: “Listen to me. I am telling you / a true thing.”

The “kingdom of touching” includes all that is disappearing, our human selves and the things of this world. What floors me is Aracelis’ confidence—she’s totally comfortable in that unknowing, that constant flux, and there’s never a need to over-explain. It’s something I have to learn; I have to fight the urge to leave things resolved.

“Luam and the Flies” is about deliberately residing in that uncertainty—really digging your feet into the realization that we are not “moored to place”. That’s another thing that I really connect with: Aracelis’ work is deeply rooted in her Afro-Latina identity, relating customs, tradition, and history in a way that is intrinsic and understood. Her poems don’t say: Look at me, so ethnic & distinct! they say: Here I am, human & ready to connect. It’s that searching voice that invites us: “Daily I am looking for signs / of what has lived & what is lost.”

I’ve become obsessed with ampersands after reading her work. Also, her enjambed line breaks and her use of commas as stanza dividers, those yokes and tethers, those snapping points and lists that guide us to how we will one day become a “city of eggs”, a “harvest” a “&”, a “port / or harbor”. She taps into our sense of mortality so quietly and subtly like those “serious games” we play with ourselves, creating gods to negotiate with, our perspectives shuttering between “You. Not you.” Her poems offer that nudge and with such a slight touch.

 

 

Black: Does this work connect to your own in some way?

Regalado: When I wrote the poems included in Matria (Black Lawrence Press, 2017) my gaze was oriented outward and because I was writing in El Salvador (the murder capital of the world) mortality is front and center.

There is a saying, “Aqui no se vive, se sobrevive” and I wanted to understand what it meant to live, or in the case of many women, to survive in El Salvador. In my poem “La Sandía” I describe how I used to think of myself as just “human” but when I was giving birth to my first child it was as if a machete split me in half and I was sent “searing into my gender.” I never intended to write about women’s issues or social justice poems but it felt impossible to write about me, me, me when there was so much going on around me. Aracelis’ work points to the direction my new work is taking. My gaze is turning inward—I can’t seem to find enough time to be alone.

The new poems I’m writing are very personal and I need to gain a little more distance, grow a thicker skin before I send them out into the world.

Black: What are you working on now?

Regalado: In the air I’ve got lots of spinning plates: I’m writing essays, short stories, an ekphrastic poetry collaboration with Emma Trelles; I’m co-editing a soon-to-be-launched Salvadoran/Salvadoran-American online literary magazine; I’m translating and editing bilingual collections forthcoming from Kalina press (the small publishing company I co-direct in El Salvador), it’s the third year I’m co-organizing an annual book fair in El Salvador, and developing art programs with the Museum of Art of El Salvador (MARTE) to promote contemporary Salvadoran artists.

That’s just my working life; it’s a constant juggle: mom of three, wife, daughter, sister. Just listing all that makes my shoulders ache. So, what am I really working on right now? Learning to let go! I would never get a tattoo—I have enough scars from a car accident when I was 21—but if I were to get one now it is the word Relinquenda. Latin for “relinquish”, it’s a word my mother introduced to me, and it seems what I need now is a constant reminder to let go. So, Relinquenda is not a tattoo, but a word I constantly write on my palm, my wrist, my fingers. It’s also the working title of my new poetry manuscript.

 

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Aracelis Girmay is the author of four books including the most recent, The Black Maria (BOA Editions, 2016). She was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2011 for her collection, Kingdom Animalia and in 2015 received the Whiting Award for poetry. Girmay received her MFA from NYU.

Alexandra Lytton Regalado’s poetry collection, Matria, is the winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award (Black Lawrence Press, 2017). Her poems, stories, and non-fiction have appeared in NarrativeGulf CoastThe Notre Dame Review, and Creative Nonfiction among others and her work has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2018, Misrepresented People (NYQ Books, 2018), The Wandering Song (Tia Chucha Press, 2017), and others. Co-founder of Kalina press, Alexandra is author, editor, and/or translator of more than ten Central American-themed books including Puntos de fuga / Vanishing Points: Contemporary Salvadoran Prose (2017). She is the winner of the 2015 Coniston Poetry Prize and she was the recipient of the third Letras Latinas / PINTURA PALABRA DC Ekphrastic residencies. Her ongoing photo-essay project about El Salvador, through_the_bulletproof_glass, is on Instagram. For more info visit: http://www.alexandralyttonregalado.com

Links to the good stuff:

Aracelis Girmay at the Poetry Foundation

Girmay’s Website

Selected Girmay Poems at PBS

Regalado’s Website

Regalado’s Matria at Black Lawrence Press

Regalado’s poem, La Mano at Poets.org

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Anna Black received her MFA at Arizona State University and her BA at Western Washington University. She has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. Black has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

Lyric Essentials: Julie Marie Wade Reads Two Poems by Maureen Seaton

Julie Marie Wade is the author of ten collections of poetry and prose and a longtime reader of Maureen Seaton. When we sat down to talk about Seaton’s work, Wade had deeply valuable insight which took us down roads from the epiphanous to the Blunderbuss. Wade looks deep into the heart of Seaton’s work and evidences the grace and good humor with which she connects. This interview is as much a tribute to Seaton by Wade as it is an instructional for anyone who hasn’t yet considered the importance of Seaton’s wide-ranging body of works. This interview made me wish I were one of Wade’s students.

Black: What made you choose the work of Maureen Seaton?

Wade: I think there are poets each of us have needed for many years before we find them, and when their poems appear before us at last, the experience is almost mystical—a feeling of having known someone before you knew them, of being deeply affirmed by the epiphany of their presence in the world. Maureen Seaton is just such a mystical, epiphanous, much-needed poet for me.

I went to high school and college in the 1990s, at a time when Maureen was coming out as queer and coming into her own as a poet who worked as diligently in form (sonnets, villanelles, et al.) as she did in the most envelope-pushing, experimental spaces. She was taking risks, in her life and in her art, that I didn’t yet realize a person, let alone a woman-person, could take.

Somehow I did not encounter Maureen’s writing until after I had already taken the greatest plunge of my own life, though—not going through with my marriage to a man at the end of my first year of graduate school and continuing my journey through life with my true love, a woman named Angie, to whom I am now happily married.

Not long after that plunge, in 2003 or 2004, I read a poem by Denise Duhamel called “When I Was a Lesbian,” which I found stunning and thrilling, a poem which opened doors for me to imagine my own life as formerly (for all intents and purposes) heterosexual. I took that poem as an invitation to begin exploring more consciously the first twenty-two years of my life “when I was straight.” But what I didn’t realize until I delved deeper into the collaborative poetry written by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton (Exquisite Politics indeed!) was that Denise’s poem was written as a response to Maureen’s own “When I Was Straight,” which belongs to an ever-growing series of other poems—“When I Was Avant-garde,” “When I Was a Jersey Girl,” “When I Was Bi(nary),” etc.—that opened onto the vast landscape of Maureen’s work in conditional, circumstantial, and subjunctive spaces.

Years later, I had the privilege of meeting and coming to know both of these poets, long-time friends and collaborators, in real life, and I was audacious enough to ask them to bless my own book-length project, a collection of poems called When I Was Straight. Not only did they bless it—they blurbed it, collaboratively!

 

Black: Why these particular poems of Seaton’s?

Wade: I have never read a Maureen Seaton poem where I didn’t have the sensation, at one point and usually at many points, of hearing a gong reverberate inside my head. When I read Maureen’s “When I Was Straight,” the gong struck loudest at this moment: “there is no lover like a panicked lover.” It was one of those moments—the best moments for readers of poetry, I think, or readers of any literature—where I sketched in my notebook, How did she know?!?! There was a cosmos in that line, one I recognized in my own life but had never even attempted to name, let alone in such a concise and elegant (and witty—I love the omnipresence of Maureen’s sense of humor across her canon) way.

So I knew I wanted to record this poem because it was the first, though by no means the last, of Maureen’s poems to seize me in that visceral and oracular kind of way. Then, I started looking at other aspects of the poem, particularly the diction and the juxtapositions. Who describes heteronormativity as “that Old Boyfriend Theory of Headache and Blunderbuss”? Who uses the word “blunderbuss”? I started noticing the little sparks coming off of pairings like “linearity and menthol” (an abstraction paired with a potent concrete), “pretense and fellatio” (there again), and chewy Anglo-Saxon words and phrases like “crowded with cleavage,” “fickle,” and “winged clavicle.” Which is to say I fell in love with this poem on all levels: conceptually, sonically, stylistically. It’s also meta, as the poem performs its own “trapeze art and graceful aerobics.” The poem is that art, those aerobics.

For the second poem, I ran into the challenging fact of the enormous range and depth of Maureen’s body of work to date. With so many gongs striking inside my head, so much marginalia scribbled on every page, I decided to choose a poem that moves in diametrically different ways than “When I Was Straight.” That poem is pulled taut like a tightrope in its shape on the page—all those lovely tercets upon which the speaker-as-tightrope-walker is performing her remarkable feats, turning somersaults and riding unicycles and juggling torches. I wanted to showcase something different. There were so many poems I considered— “What She Thought,” “Impatiences,” “The Nomenclature of Wind,” “He Crossed the Hallway with a Soul in His Hand,” and “Red” standout among them—but in the end I chose “The Realm of the Wide” as exemplar of Maureen’s wide-realm poetics. Instead of a tightrope, this poem is the circus tent, a canopy she opens over the whole world of her knowing and longing and wondering. If this poem were a horoscope, it would describe something essential about every Zodiac sign.

 

Black: “The Realm of the Wide” is particularly unique in its scope. This is a winding long-poem with a lot of great turns. What about it do you want to call particular attention to?

Wade: Through all my years as a student, there was an incongruity—really a snobbishness—that I never understood in the realm of literary theory. We learned there was a school of criticism called reader response, but then we learned, both explicitly and in a variety of subtle ways, that this school didn’t “count” as a real school. We could deconstruct and post-structuralize. We could go through mimetic doors and intertextual doors and feminist doors in our examination of texts, but we couldn’t go through that primary door of our own personal experience of intellectual-emotional-visceral engagement. As a teacher of creative writing, I know I don’t stand a chance of encouraging my students to “write as readers”—to cultivate an awareness of their audience—without acknowledging and anticipating a reader’s response to their work. And if we are writers, we were readers first and also readers in a state of essential perpetuity, let’s hope! So how can I ask my students not to cross the threshold of reader response, which I value not only as a doorway to meaningful analysis but also as a doorway to meaningful emulation?

Which is to say: “The Realm of the Wide” speaks to me directly as a poet with similar intellectual and emotional investments to Maureen Seaton. It also speaks to me as a poet who is always studying the possibilities of poetic form and the elasticity of poetry as a genre. It speaks to me as a teacher of poetry for similar reasons—the thrilling range of invitations and permissions the text offers to fellow and future writers. This poem further addresses me as a person with multi-genre and hybrid-text infatuations and commitments. I wonder whether poem is really only one name this text might answer to. Is it a micro-lyric-essay, too? A micro-lyric-segmented-braided essay? Some or all of the above?

This imperative alone: “Feel yourself mingle with the word you love beside you.” That’s what poets do, and lyric essayists, too. The words are alive. They can lose cells and run temperatures.

I’m also obsessed with finding new ways to talk about the moon, something that crystallized for me when I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s extraordinary memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. She invites readers to tell her something she hasn’t heard before about that much-romanticized heavenly body. Maureen does it here, seamlessly: “this moon has got me up the way someone comes in and drags you out of bed to play cards or eat mayonnaise on toast at 3 AM…” Yes! That way. That moon. Exactly.

There are bullet points in this poem, denoting the list from “baby pigs” to “a shaman in a wheelchair.” The blanks that follow the chorus of adjectives “Sorrowful,” “Joyful,” and “Glorious” are actual blanks, not the word “blank,” which changes the experience of reading the poem on the page versus listening to the poem read aloud. These visual poetics in Maureen’s work instantly transform the ranch house poem into a multi-floored mansion: rooms on top of rooms, a ceiling that is also a floor, etc.

And then the two quotes juxtaposed at the end, the high-art intellectual sound of Magritte’s statement about “symbolic meanings” and the profound yet directly accessible statement about vanilla attributed simply to “Nick,” the famous artist in conversation with the Everyman or Anyman. This is Maureen’s hierarchy-neutralizing power as a poet. She validates so many ways of knowing simultaneously. She rejects high horses. Her work is full of dark horses and wild horses. Her work epitomizes for me what Magritte means by “the inherent mystery” that many people sense in an image but are also frightened by because it can’t be easily named and thereby tamed. I find that inherent mystery everywhere in Maureen’s work, so I’m just holding up this poem as a representative example. When she says, “It mattered, but only slightly,” she is making a spectrum out of a taken-for-granted binary. If we are used to thinking of things mattering or things not mattering, as many of us are, then here come those surprising hoofbeats of “slight mattering,” the invitation to a thought experiment of mattering on a sliding scale.

Maureen’s is a luminous, curious, capacious, unrelenting mind. I would follow her anywhere because she has never used her intellect as a weapon or crafted her rigorous, expansive poems with only an elite readership in mind. On the contrary, I find Maureen Seaton to be one of Poetryland’s most generous guides. If she takes her readers into a swamp, she supplies the waders. She also grows and tends the orchids we are destined to find there.

Black: Does this work connect to your own in some way?

Wade: Perhaps more than any other poet, Maureen has taught me that you can write as and from all your varied versions of self, including the most seemingly contradictory. Many poets become known for writing a certain way, a certain kind of “signature style,” a recognizable shape to the content and/or appearance of their poems—but not Maureen. I think her poems are deeply fluid, within and across every book project and sometimes even within a single poem. These poems are queer in the truest and deepest sense of the word—spectral, rhizomatic, protean, “all-of-the-above” poems. And this fact alone has given me tremendous permissions in my own approach to writing. I’m not trying to make my work into something that stays put after it’s placed on the page. I want to make work that feels like a living organism, the way Maureen’s poems do. Instead of the poem (or lyric essay, or hybrid form) as art object, I want to learn how to make the most porous and anti-static kinds of creations. If the poem is likened to a painting on the wall—vivid and imagistic—let it also be a painting where the eyes move, where the frame slants, where it is never the same painting twice that the viewer looks upon.

I often talk to my students about entering their own writing “through the smallest door,” and sometimes the smallest door is a single word. I like to get as close as I can to individual words, and Maureen’s poems bless and press that enterprise further. One whole stanza from “The Realm of the Wide” consists of: “The word: Outlandish.” And what a word! I love the invitation to stare at the word, to see the “out” and the “land” and the “dish” in it just by lingering in that long pause. I’ve never asked Maureen if she is synesthetic, but her poems are, and as a synesthete who experiences the world of language in vivid colors, Maureen’s poetry amplifies my synesthetic experience of the world as well, adds another tier/floor/skylight. “You could jump the fire and ride to where the words are backdrafting,” she writes. How visceral and invigorating and absolutely true!

Finally, I think it’s Maureen’s own biomythography she’s drafting and revising and reimagining across these pages. (I hope Audre Lorde wouldn’t mind my invoking her term here, as I know Maureen and I both deeply admire and write as grateful readers of Lorde.) Maureen’s poems resist stasis because she has resisted stasis—staying put in any one role, category, or geographical location. Maureen is candid about falling into and out of love, marriage, divorce, sexual awakenings, motherhood, faith, doubt, and always, the complexities, dare I say “the inherent mysteries,” of gender, desire, and the body. There is much in her life’s reckoning and recurring themes that overlap with my own. In another salient capsule of experience that seems to denote the way she was raised, Maureen writes, “Everything/ should be Disney or saintly.” That was my first imperative, too. With every poem and hybrid form, Maureen is teaching me how to write my way beyond those initial strictures of conventional beauty, contrived happiness, and religious dogma.

Black: What are you working on now?

Wade: On the prose front, I’m writing essays for a collection called “The Regulars,” which is another slant on my own bildungsroman. At a certain point in time, I realized that I have stories I tell and stories I write, and it occurred to me that some of the stories I tell—which are often the most absurd glimpses of my childhood, darkly humorous but also intimidatingly sad—might have another kind of life on the page. The title is a reference, in the most literal sense, to being regular customers at the Old Spaghetti Factory every Sunday, my parents and I, but also to the relentless quest for normalcy—or at least to be perceived as normal and consequently likable, admirable, and good—that governed my upbringing. (“Everything/ should be Disney or saintly” indeed!) Angie, my spouse, suggested the title, which I love, and so I’ve been writing my way into some of my own personal oral tradition, the stories I have only shared with close friends who say, “Tell us about the time you had to …” or “What was it your parents did when …”

On the poetry front, I’m writing a lot of secular psalms for a sequence that I think will belong, eventually, to a collection called Quick Change Artist. That project might also subsume some or all of the poems from When I Was Straight, which illustrates the before-and-after experiences of someone, essentially the same someone, who was first perceived as heterosexual and trying very hard to tow many tacit heterosexual lines, and then who, in the second half of the project, reckons with all the new ways people respond to her as an out lesbian, a woman marked by sexual difference.

There’s also a hybrid-form memoir about food that I’ve been toying with for years called The Western Family. (I grew up on the West Coast, and the brand of most of the food products we ate in our home was “Western Family.” Food as source of pleasure, shame, ritual, family connectedness and family discord, and food as marker of a particular zeitgeist is something I intend to explore.) And eventually, I plan to write a collection of poems that mirrors the question-and-answer clues on Jeopardy!, the game show that seems to have played ceaselessly at the dinner table throughout my youth and is now playing throughout my adulthood, recording daily on our DVR, in fact!

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Maureen Seaton received her MFA at Vermont College and is the author of nine poetry collections and a memoir, Sex Talks to Girls among many other projects. Her work has notably appeared in Best Small Fictions and Best American Poetry among many other places. Seaton has received multiple awards and recognitions for her work. Among them, several Lambda awards, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Iowa Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection, Fisher was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2018. Seaton is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Miami, Florida.

Julie Marie Wade is the author of ten collections of poetry and prose, including Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures, Small Fires: Essays, Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems, When I Was Straight, Catechism: A Love Story, SIX, Same-Sexy Marriage: A Novella in Poems, and the forthcoming The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose, co-authored with Denise Duhamel. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Florida International University in Miami.

Links to the good stuff:

Seaton at Black Lawrence Press

Seaton’s Newest Collection, Fisher

The Rumpus Interviews Maureen Seaton

Seaton at Lambda Literary

Julie Marie Wade’s Website

Julie Marie Wade at The Academy of American Poets

Julie Marie Wade at Tupelo Quarterly

Wade’s When I was Straight

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Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. She received her MFA at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter, edited by poet Andrea Gibson and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, SWWIM, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

Lyric Essentials: Emma Trelles Reads Three Poems by Ada Limón

Poet Emma Trelles, author of Tropicalia (Notre Dame, 2011), came to chat about the extraordinary work of Ada Limón. We talked about horses, chaos, and the importance of Latinx poetry.

Black: Limón’s work impacts a lot of people and as a result, she enjoys well-earned success. What is in her work that you are particularly drawn to?

Trelles: There’s so much I admire about her work. She is a master of cadence in that she knows precisely where to expand and contract her lines to create a voice that reads to me instead of the other way around. I think it might be easy to miss this aspect of craft in her poems because the sound of them is deeply engaging, like having a conversation with a confidante. But it takes a lot of effort to create that ease and she renders this armature invisible. I’m also drawn to how her poems are both joyous and melancholy at once as if she is celebrating the experience of life instead of simply its victories. “In the Country of Resurrection” comes to mind; she begins with the mercy killing of a possum on a dark road and ends with a gush of morning light in the kitchen. In seven couplets, a shape that echoes this duality, she moves us through despair, and in the final two she speaks to the decisiveness, the choice, it takes to move forward. Her poems are survivors, and the ability to endure inspires me as an artist and a human every time I’m bludgeoned with another slab of bad news. We must continue.

 

Black: Horses are a recurring theme throughout the book, and we see it again here in “Downhearted.” This theme really hit home for many readers. Do you connect with it, also? And if so, why? Where does it take you?

Trelles: That’s interesting—I hadn’t thought about horses as a theme but more of how they fit into the prominence of the natural world in these poems. A terrible accident kills six horses in the first line of “Downhearted,” and this tragedy sets off a meditation about how we manage or manufacture sorrow even as we long for “the blood to return…the thrill and wind of the ride.” From beginning to end, this book houses creatures, landscapes, flora, the pleasures and failures of the body—they all are themselves, of course, but they also serve as fleshy signposts that point her, and us, toward ourselves and something bigger than ourselves. Namely, how we try and find meaning in chaos and how that process sustains us.

Black: Limón moves into prose poems off and on throughout the collection and we see it here in “The Quiet Machine.” What do you see as the purpose for this movement? How does this play with the other forms in the collection?

Trelles: I’ve thought a lot about how “The Quiet Machine” feels like an ars poetica to me and, now, looking at the other prose poems, I’m starting to suspect they all address writing in a way, or at least the feeling of making, and how that arrives through whir or stillness or somewhere in between. To me these poems serve as a deep pause; they slow down the hearty gallop of the book (which is astonishing for a collection of poems!) in a way that amplifies intimacy. Some of these poems felt like reading the pages of a secret notebook … 

Black: Do these connect in some way to or intersect with your own work?

Trelles: Oh yeah; my own writing also teems with trees and birds, sky and water. I’ve always been a great watcher of the natural world and my first book, Tropicalia, explores how the subtropics intersect with the built environments of South Florida and what it means to live in the midst of that thicket of concrete and lushness. I also connect to Ada Limón’s work because we are both Latinx writers who do not necessarily address our heritage in the ways that have come to be expected of us, such as through the lenses of ancestry or immigration, for example. I love reading those poems and greatly value the work of poets who write within this framework.

Perhaps now more than ever, Latinx poems are crucial to humanizing a population who is currently being criminalized in our country for no other reason than where we come from. With 57 million of us in the US, I’d also like to think there are lots of different ways to live and write as a Latinx poet, and these poems are important too because they show how we are not a monolith; our experiences are nuanced and singular and so is our creative work.

 

Black: Will you tell us about your work both completed and any current projects you’re working on?

Trelles: Well, it’s been a while since Tropicalia, won the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and was put out by the good folks at the University of Notre Dame Press. Since then, I moved to California and now program the Mission Poetry Series here in Santa Barbara. I’ve worked on a number of projects with Letras Latinas, most recently as an editor for its contribution to the Poetry Coalition, a national coalition of more than 20 organizations that promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities. I’ve been writing and publishing poems and hope to finish a working draft of my next manuscript by the end of this summer. There—’ve said it in print and now I’m beholden! I’ve also been collaborating with Alexandra Lytton Regalado on a series of poems inspired in part by the work and lives of women artists. In fact, I owe her an envoi and that’s the very next thing I’ll write.

Black: Thank you, Emma, for sitting down with me. And I’ll be hoping for that next collection, I can’t believe you committed to that in writing!

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Ada Limón is the author of five books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, and one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by The New York Times. Her other books include Lucky WreckThis Big Fake World, and Sharks in the Rivers. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency M.F.A program, and the 24Pearl Street online program for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She also works as a freelance writer in Lexington, Kentucky. Her new collection, The Carrying, will be released by Milkweed Editions in August of 2018. (Bio is from the author’s website.)

Emma Trelles is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and the author of Tropicalia (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, a finalist for Foreword/Indies poetry book of the year, and a recommended read by The Rumpus. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry, Best of the Net, Verse DailyPolitical Punch: Contemporary Poems on the Politics of Identity and others.  Recent poems appear in The Miami RailZócalo Public Square,and SWWIM.  A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, she lives with her husband in California, where she teaches at Santa Barbara City College and programs the Mission Poetry Series.

Links to the good stuff:

Limón’s Website

Limón at Compose Journal

Bright Dead Things at Milkweed

Limón at The Poetry Foundation

Trelles on SWWIM

Trelles at Zócalo

Trelles at Best American Poetry

Trelles’ Tropicalia at NDP

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Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, SWWIM, and New Mobility among others. She was awarded her MFA at Arizona State University and has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

Felicia Zamora reads from House A by Jennifer S. Cheng

Felicia Zamora is the author of three books of poetry and two chapbooks, but more than that, she is an incredible supporter and champion of the works of other writers in a way that makes her an astonishing ally and a valued friend. On poetry she is well-read and searingly intelligent. So of course, I asked her to read for us here at LE and I was excited to see who she would choose to share.

Zamora chose Jennifer S. Cheng’s book House A (Omnidawn) and read three poems for us from this gorgeous book, evidencing her incredible generosity.

Black: What a great choice. What made you choose Jennifer S. Cheng to share with us?

Zamora: Cheng writes, “children experience memories as image and sound, which is to say they experience them as poetry.” Here is a book that builds poetry, history, memory, and home—inside each page, each utterance of longing.

House A is one of those books I ordered because I am a fan of Omnidawn Publishing and appreciate the new voices they bring to the conversation from new and emerging poets. Reading other women poets of color is important to my own writing as I am fueled by the experiences and worlds being created by these poets. These are necessary voices. Voices we all must hear. I was only a few poems into Cheng’s epistolary “Dear Mao” sequence and I was thinking, “Wow, I wish I had written this” which is my telltale sign that I love a book.

Cheng weaves intricate images that make a reader fall into these letters of searching. In “Letters to Mao” she writes, “Lost: the dark / spot inside my mother’s throat. Lost: house inside my seams.” Home is in the flesh. Home is in the history of family and culture. Home is in “the dark silhouette of my mother’s hair” and how her father taught her “to listen to the inside of a seashell.”

Black: Is the entire book in epistolary form?

Zamora: The book comprises of three sections with only the first section comprising of epistolary poems. In the middle and third sections, Cheng explores how one studies and organizes memory and place. She asks the reader to consider how one creates a home from scratch. She never loses sight of the act of building home in all its bodily and worldly means.

In the second section, “House A; Geometry B”, she writes:

“…the body of articulation occurs through

a house…

let us iterate it until it is its own

baseline. dislocation a house. longing as

location.”

This is transcendent work that Cheng accomplishes throughout these pages. She requires readers to rethink how we conceive of “home.” We enter into the journey of searching, not just by language, but by the universal language of mathematics, or ‘geometry’, and through the construction of voice and images, that keeps swimming back to how one makes sense of rootedness and a lack of rootedness.

Again in “House A; Geometry B” she writes:

“the body of a house:

sleeping fossil

geometric shell”

Black: Claudia Rankine said of the book, “Not since Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and Calvino’s invisible Cities have I encountered such attention to the construction of love and love’s capacity to transform unimagined locations.” And I’m intrigued by the locations she talks of. Can you speak a little bit to the idea of place in Cheng’s work?

Zamora: It is through loss that the voice finds home in the everyday moments, finds place as something she can stow away into memory and carry with her. These are hard and beautiful poems born of necessity. Poems of a life in question of place. How do place and life come together? How does place etch inside us, leaving its mark? Cheng demonstrates how a body in longing plucks what it must, creates out from love new definitions of place.

She writes:

“…home is a narrative we are both familiar/with…

So that ours was always a story of leaving and never an/

anchoring of place.”

As a reader, Cheng builds micro worlds in each poem in which readers are allowed to swim in and contemplate space and place. She creates a fluidity in both her ideas and her language. This book acts as history, like the water in our bodies, it stays with a person into memory.

In “Letters to Mao” she writes:

“Dear Mao,

I hope you understand that what I am doing is trying to give you a history

of water, which, like memory and sleep, is fluid and wafting in refracted

light. History as water, so that I am giving you something that spreads.”

In many ways, these prose blocks transport and mimic the theme of the book: how home becomes that which we carry inside. How, “Such residue, the way a ghost becomes a blueprint.” There are historical vestiges of place inside those who long.

“Dear Mao,

Phantom limb.

Cheng explores how displacement transforms a person, beyond a diasporic hunger of place, and the how the mind creates the necessary places for survival and love, in a world within us. However, even in the creation of, the voice is still haunted by history and absence; these ghosts in linger.

She says to Mao:

“…You were dust in my house. A

shadow underneath the floorboards.”

Black: What do you want to be certain a reader notices in this work?

Zamora: This is complex work: to unravel time and place in search of meaning in the journey of diasporic history, to speak of “the watery life of home” that goes beyond what Cheng says, “the ambiguity of homeland” that one does not possess in their own memory, for those memories belong to someone else. Connectivity to geography is that of spinning globes, tidewater, and ceramic horses.

She writes:

“…For homeland is something embalmed

in someone else’s memory, or it is a symbol, both close the heart

and a stranger you reach for in the middle of the night.”

Black: Do you see connections between either the poet and yourself or her work and your own?

Zamora: In House A, Cheng uses the form of prose poetry in the first section of the book to explore an intricate weaving of thoughts in compiled letters to Mao. The language in these poems combine narrative and lyric in electrifying and transformative ways, as well as the necessity of the experience being written for the reader to share. She writes, “If I could take a shadow and sew it to another until it formed a roof above my head.” This building of images, I mean, wow; this is world-building.

I’ve been drawn to the prose and prose-ish poem in my own poetry, because of the work the form requires of a writer: intimate attention to both the line and the sentence in simultaneity, and the poet must consider the role of each of these elements and how they function cohesively in the poem.

I also connect with Cheng’s work because she attends to the missing, the absent, the hole so authentically and with such necessity. She weaves the intricate fibers of language in these poems, and strums. My history was also shaped in absence and a different kind of displacement, so Cheng’s poems idea of home speaks to me and how home resides more inside my body than outside.

______________________________________

Felicia Zamora’s books include Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame 2017), & in Open, Marvel (Parlor Press 2017), and Instrument of Gaps(Slope Editions 2018). She won the 2015Tomaž Šalamun Prize (Verse), authored two chapbooks, and was the 2017 Poet Laureate of Fort Collins, CO. Her poetry is found in Alaska Quarterly Review,Crazyhorse,Indiana Review, jubilat, Meridian, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Reviewand is the Education Programs Coordinator for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Jennifer S. Cheng received her BA from Brown University, MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, and MFA in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She is the author of MOON: Letters, Maps, Poems, selected by Bhanu Kapil as winner of the Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize (May 2018), HOUSE A, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, and Invocation: An Essay (New Michigan Press), a chapbook in which fragments of text, photographs, found images, and white space influence one another to create meaning. A U.S. Fulbright scholar, Kundiman fellow, and Bread Loaf work-study scholar, she is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Award, the Ann Fields Poetry Award, the Mid-American Review Fineline Prize, and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her poetry and lyric essays appear in Tin House, AGNI, Conjunctions, Black Warrior Review, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Volta, The Offing, Sonora Review, Seneca Review, Hong Kong 20/20 (a PEN HK anthology), and elsewhere. Having grown up in Texas, Hong Kong, and Connecticut, she currently lives in rapture of the coastal prairies of northern California. (Bio is from JSC’s website.)

Links to some good stuff:

Jennifer S. Cheng’s Website

Jennifer S. Cheng at Entropy Mag

From the Voice of a Lady in the Moon, a poem by JSC

Felicia Zamora’s Website

Zamora’s Poetry at Poetry Northwest

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

Lyric Essentials: Patricia Colleen Murphy Reads Terrance Hayes’ “Fire” and “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals”

Trish Murphy’s book, Hemming Flames is a deft exploration of trauma and incredibly difficult topics with a rich topography of image and language. Pretty much, I consider her a true adept at wielding her words. And this is exactly what she had to say about why she admires Terrance Hayes as a poet as well as loving his work. We got to talk about the surprise of his lines, and the way his stance makes the poem completely trustworthy.

 

 

 

Black: What draws you to Terrence Hayes as a poet?

Murphy: Terrance is a brilliant, generous, and funny human being. I love how many times his poems surprise me with unique phrases, strong images, but also deeply personal touches. In a reading he gave here in Phoenix in 2016 he said something that really moved me. He said that when he writes poems he keeps, “one foot in reality and one foot in imagination.” That is the way I like to posture myself as a poet as well.

His poems are full of musicality, masculinity, sensuality, whimsy, insight, AND moments of profound tenderness. How does he do it? He is a poet I read and wonder, how does his mind work? A line like, “Has your memory ever been / an unfenced country?” or “I know decent lies in the word descent.” There are so many moments in his work that I am thankful for. I picture him sitting at a desk—do these lines fall from the sky? How does he access them!?

Black: What is it about these poems that draw you to them? Do you connect with them personally, professionally, both? And in what ways?

Murphy: I’ll start with “Fire.” Now let’s be honest. I love dropping what I call the “M” bomb. There is no word quite like “mother” to stir emotion in the reader. It’s a cheat word in some ways because it’s so heavily weighted. I write about the mother a lot.

But I love the way the mother appears in Terrance’s work. In “Fire,” she is part of the landscape, but she is also a mythic savior. The way he reaches the mother as a topic is subtle and quiet and natural.

I do connect with this poem personally and professionally. When I’m reading submissions for my magazine [Superstition Review], or even when I am teaching writing of late, I talk about the 3 C’s: content, craft, and composition. In this poem there is a mastery across the board—the poem paints an image of a dream scene that allows the poet to portray the mother as a mythical hero. The poem is full of sensory detail and image and metaphor. And the writing at the word level is stunning. I love the line, “There was the calm & discretion / of giving up.”

In “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals” we get even more evidence of craft—the language here takes on more sophistication and playfulness. I love the line “I will remember my / brief career as an infant.” I love how socially aware this poem is without being self-conscious or self-important. These poems are so deeply personal that the reader is drawn into the experience on an intimate level. In this particular poem, I am attracted to the use of repetition, the play with words, the imagery, the refrains. I have tried to write a poem like this.

 

 

Black: Do you see connections from “Fire” or “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals” with your own poetry? And if so, how so?

Murphy: I can only say that I wish I could write like this. Maybe I have succeeded a few times with a few lines here and there.

Black: What are your feelings about the use of the first person in a poem?

Murphy: I write mostly in first person, though I do have several epistolatory poems. When I talk to students about first person in poetry, I talk about the main problem as I see it: that overuse of the “I blank” construction becomes repetitive and it also can indicate a level of self-centeredness. So in revision (or in editing even), I also recommend a ctrl-F for “I.” A lot of times sentences can be reworded so that they are simply more interesting.

What I like about these two poems and the way they use first person is that I feel so connected with the speaker. I believe the I. I believe the poet.

Black: What else would you like to point out about these poems? The language, the use of imagery? I’m interested in knowing what else moves you about his craft? What do you want students to take note of?

Murphy: It strikes me that the poets I admire most are the ones who take the time to imagine through to image. Perhaps that’s why I feel that these poems are so generous and thoughtful. The poet works through concept, “For house pets being American / is a cinch.” But also through image, “what I have eaten of you tastes like mint and damp clay, tastes exactly like the soil / I ate in my grandmother’s yard as a boy.” I really appreciate work that feels intentional and genuine, and Terrence Hayes is a poet who delivers every time.

__________________________________________

Patricia Colleen Murphy founded Superstition Review at Arizona State University, where she teaches creative writing and magazine production. Her book Hemming Flames (Utah State University Press) won the 2016 May Swenson Poetry Award judged by Stephen Dunn, and the 2017 Milt Kessler Poetry Award. A chapter from her memoir in progress was published as a chapbook by New Orleans Review. Her writing has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, American Poetry Review, and most recently in Copper Nickel, Black Warrior Review, North American Review, Smartish Pace, Burnside Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, Hobart, decomP, Midway Journal, Armchair/Shotgun, and Natural Bridge. She lives in Phoenix, AZ.

Terrance Hayes is a MacArthur fellow, a National Book Award winner, and the author of six poetry collections including his newest, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assasin. Hayes has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, won the National Poetry Series in 2001, and has achieved many other landmark accolades. In 2017 he was made a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Links to some good stuff:

Terrance Hayes at the Poetry Foundation

Terrance Hayes’ Website

Terrance Hayes at the MacArthur Foundation

Trish at the Academy of American Poets

An Interview with Trish at Diode

 

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

An Interview with Sundress Author, Jill Khoury

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Jill Khoury is the author of Suites for the Modern Dancer, which was released this month from Sundress Publications.

Sundress: What is it about the body and disability that inspires your poetry?

Jill Khoury: From a young age my body was an object of the normalization efforts of others. At the same time, it was made clear that the body was a private thing. So I was told to be like the other kids, and be quiet while I was at it, and I internalized that message for a long time. So I do it because I was told not to. Nor are notions of normalization and privacy something that our society has moved beyond, so I guess I also write about these things because I want other people to tell their stories of difference and tell it loud.

Sundress: Did you ever read a work about either that really spoke to you? Anything you recommend?

Jill Khoury: So many! Here’s a brief list of books of poetry and memoir that have inspired me to think/re-think how I write about the body, in chronological order of when I discovered them:

    • Anne Sexton- Collected Works
    • Sharon Olds- Satan Says
    • Toi Derricotte- Captivity, also Tender
    • Stephen Kuusisto- Planet of the Blind, also Only Bread, Only Light
    • Georgina Kleege- Sight Unseen
    • Paul Guest- The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World
    • Tom Andrews- The Hemophiliac’s Motorcycle
    • Jim Ferris- The Hospital Poems
    • Ed. Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, Michael Northen, – Beauty Is A Verb: The New Poetics of Disability
    • Danielle Pafunda- The Dead Girls Speak in Unison 

Sundress: Your description of blindness throughout is very real. What’s your secret? How were you able to convey the experience of being blind in so few words?

Jill Khoury: My secret would be that I’m blind! Actually I’ve been trying to write elegantly about blindness for a long time, since college really, and I failed at it for many years. The (blind) memoirist and poet Stephen Kuusisto shaped a lot of my ability to write successfully about my own personal version of blindness. He taught creative nonfiction at Ohio State when I was pursuing my MFA there, and took several classes with him.

It turned out that I had to write about blindness in essay form first, before the poetry would come anywhere near to being how I wanted it. Although I don’t care for writing in prose too much, I needed a boundless space (which is usually what I don’t like about writing in prose) to give me enough room to explore the relationship with my blindness without the pressure to distill it into a poem. I really like the lyric essay. Steve introduced me to that form. It was just what I needed.

Sundress: In this book you write several poems about characters who are children or young adults. Do you think children have a special awareness of the body and the stigmas attached that older adults may miss?

Jill Khoury: Like I mentioned, I was taught in early childhood to not like my body and its differences. I spent most of my time after age 18 unlearning those things. I do think children are aware of their bodies with an innocence and a freedom that is so easily quashed by adults. The stigmas are learned very early, and internalized by all bodies. To say that I found the received stigmas about my body inhibiting would be an understatement.

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Sundress: Have you ever written a poem that you felt you just couldn’t get right? What’s your revision process like?

Jill Khoury: The title poem of the book, “Suites for the Modern Dancer,” was started in, I think, 2004. I wrote the final draft of it about two months before Suites-the-book was published. An earlier version of the poem appeared my 2009 chapbook, Borrowed Bodies, but it still was not complete, not nuanced enough to accurately convey the complex fluidity between blindness and seeing, and the consequences of, as mentioned in the previous question, received stigmas about the body.

My revision process is different depending on the poem. “Suites” was sparked by reading A. R. Ammons’ essay “A Poem Is A Walk,” in which he said:

“The motion may be lumbering, clipped, wavering, tripping, mechanical, dance-like, awkward, staggering, slow, etc. But the motion occurs only in the body of the walker or in the body of the words. . . . It can’t be translated into another body. There is only one way to know it and that is to enter into it.”

All my life I had struggled with walking. I went to a school for kids with cerebral palsy when I was very young to improve on some coordination issues that I was born with. As far as I know, I don’t have CP, but I do have issues with balance and motor control that seem similar to people with mild versions of CP.

I lived in one of those small towns where you go to elementary and middle school with the same kids that you graduate high school with. I would say I did not have a “normal” looking gait until I was somewhere in the elementary school years. That, along with my low vision, was grand fodder for childhood cruelty, and somewhat, for cruelty from teachers who really wanted to normalize me. Again, received stigmas.

It may have been the case that the professor who assigned the Ammons essay, also gave us an assignment to think or write about poetry and walking—I can’t remember now. But I thought a lot about the history of my walking and of my newly acquired walk, the one with the white cane I had recently learned how to use in order to forge across the wide midwestern streets of Columbus, Ohio. The cane gave me much better balance and bodily confidence, but I also felt like that girl who was learning how to walk being pointed at by all the mean kids, only everyone was grown.

Sundress: What’s interesting about these poems is that some have a more traditional format and structure while others don’t. Do you ever find yourself leaning toward one or the other or does it always depend on the poem?

Jill Khoury: The poem determines itself. They each emerge organically. I wish I had a more adroit answer for this question, but it really is based on an intuitive feeling of sound and breath and the emotional timbre of the subject matter.

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Sundress: What progress do you think still needs to be made for disability representation in poetry and literature?

Jill Khoury: A lot of progress still needs to be made. Last year I heard an editor of a young, vibrant press that publishes “edgy” work and has been inclusive of other work based in identity, a place that I might submit my work to otherwise, say “I hate hospital poems [or poems that dwell on the body and its illness] because they are such a downer.” I was stunned. It was a comment you might expect to hear from a traditional “old guard” sort of press that had very particular ideas about what poems should and shouldn’t be about, but that wasn’t this.

With that in mind:

  • More journals and presses should be open to examinations of disability and the body as another facet of identity, much like has (recently) been given to examinations of the complexities of gender and race, for example.
  • Space should be given to works that focus on intersections between facets of identity, such as race, sexuality, and disability.
  • The personal narrative should be emphasized–meaning: more space for disabled voices writing about disability and much less space being granted to disability used as a prop, trope, or conflict to give more “depth” to a nondisabled person’s narrative fiction.

 

Purchase your own copy of Suites for the Modern Dancer in the Sundress Store!


Jill Khoury is interested in the intersection of poetry, visual art, representations of gender, and disability. She is a Western Pennsylvania Writing Project fellow and has taught writing and literature in high school, university, and enrichment environments. She holds an MFA from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Arsenic Lobster, Copper Nickel, Inter|rupture, and Portland Review. She has also been anthologized in Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, Pudding House Press released her chapbook, Borrowed Bodies, in 2009. Her debut full-length collection, Suites for the Modern Dancer was released by Sundress Publications this month.