One of the things that has always been a mystery to me, as an American and as a soccer player and fan, is why soccer has been so long to take hold in the USA. I grew up “on the pitch.” I began playing the sport as a small child and quickly learned to love the movement, grace, skill, and camaraderie the game requires of all its participants. Mexican journalist and Professor of Literature Juan Villoro, in his book God is Round:Tackling the Giants, Villains, Triumphs, and Scandals of the World’s Favorite Game, (Restless Books, 2015), summates this, and so much more, in a compilation of essays about soccer and what the game and its traditions represent in the South American culture.
For South American soccer fans, and for the fans of Juan Villoro, who is not just a writer but also perhaps the most prolific, well-known, and well-respected writer and analyst of the game in Mexico and beyond, God is Round might be merely a collection of his works that readers are happy to have, keep on a shelf. But, I think, for the US American picking up the book, God is Round becomes a road map of sorts, a guide that not only explains the what of the game in South America, but also the why, the how, the passion.
I happened to be reading the book (for the second time) during the COPA Americano. In reading the essays in tandem with the events of the tournament, I developed a much deeper understanding of not just the game, but the teams, players, and the whys of the events that unfolded on the pitch.
As Villoro insists, the soccer field is an allegory of space and time and each match becomes a reflection of what is happening in our society. In taking this view, we can then begin to see how not only soccer, but all sports, and indeed, all past times can become a real reflection of who and what we’re becoming and who and what we are—as individuals and as a group.
Villoro’s writings in God is Round are these short clips, almost flash non-fiction, or poetic descriptors, of usually a small moment in a game, or a play, or about a move, or a player who makes a signature move. In these moments, Villoro is a poet who translates the soccer moments into something altogether more. God is Round is a work in translation (taken from Spanish to English by Thomas Bunstead), it is a collected works, and Villoro does repeat certain ideas, events, and subjects from time to time, essay to essay. These lyrical essays are about so much more than the game of soccer. Villoro attempts to unveil the connective tissue that lies beneath every play on the field, every match result. He aspires, in his vignettes, to capture the very essence of what it is to be human on this planet. It’s a broad gesture, but oh, so very close to being accomplished here. Yet, as a whole, God is Round accomplishes something remarkable.
Reading God is Round now, as we head into the Olympics, and as soccer becomes a more present and pronounced sport on the US athletics scene, makes me wish I had not only read it sooner, but also paid more attention—to the game, to the language, the sport of it all.
God is Round is, at its very least, a rare collection of good essays about soccer and, at its very best, a guidebook to understanding the ups and downs, mastery and disaster, irony and splendor, of what we love, fight for, appreciate and claim in this game called life.
Maura Snell is a poet and soccer fan, and the Poetry Editor for The Tishman Review.
Stop copying me! is something we’ve all heard and most likely shouted at some point in our lives (insert image of grubby younger sibling here).
Copying someone has a largely negative connotation—implying that you, as the copier, are incapable of coming up with your own ideas, creating your own path, or worse, being your own person. Time and again those who copy others, especially in the arts, are considered posers, imposters, fakes. But we also know that copying can be a good thing, especially when we’re trying to learn something new.
Do it like this, and here, let me show you are intrinsic expressions in teaching. And See how she does that? Or have you tried it like this? are phrases long tossed around the art studio, the music studio, and the writing studio. Imitation and emulation are the ultimate copy jobs. They are fantastically important practices for artists, exercises that serve as necessary learning tools and a means by which the new pay homage to the experienced.
What stirs an artist to emulate could be anything. Last fall Galway Kinnel, one of the poets I have long admired, passed away. The very afternoon I learned of his death I penned a poem after him. Or, I should say, I penned a poem in the style he usually employed in writing his own works. In doing this, I felt connected to him and empowered through my grieving process to carry on what I believe as a writer he strove to do—as we all do. I helped to immortalize him in my own small way.
Poet Jia Oak Baker wrote “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies” after viewing a mixed media art piece of the same name created by Yayoi Kusama. Baker writes:
“I experienced Yayoi Kusama’s art installation at the Phoenix Art Museum for the first time almost four years ago. I had only heard about the ’firefly room‘ and didn’t know Kusama’s body of work. Since then I’ve come to learn of her influence in and contribution to the art world.
Jane Hirschfield wrote that, during writing, in the moment an idea arrives, the eyes of ordinary seeing close down and the poem rushes forward into the world on some mysterious inner impulsion that underlies seeing, underlies hearing, underlies words as they exist in ordinary usage.’ I think this describes something I felt that evening standing there in the mirrored room, but it wasn’t until after viewing other galleries, a late night dinner, and getting stuck in the rain hailing a cab next to a tattoo parlor, that I got a chance to sit down and write. By then, language seemed unlikely to capture what was viscerally and ephemerally felt. I did the best I could to write it down.
Since the poem is an ekphrastic piece, I wasn’t trying necessarily to emulate the exhibit—it was more an attempt to reproduce, in a poem, the emotions I felt.”
Being so obliterated by the art piece is what stirred Baker’s poem into being. Here it is:
You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies
had best not feel too much. The night train rushes
through the meadow, and its two-step rumbling reminds you
you are alone. When the room begins to spin, it forms
a union with the light. One unceasing streak turned circle.
And you, surrounded by mirrors, go vertigo
in the immense empty between one minute
and the next. Fireflies expand into stars. Who are we
to find in infinite spaces but ourselves? Call it an ostinato,
a vamp. The unchanging refrain of beginnings and endings,
starts and stops, resonates in time like steel on steel,
and we know it. Somewhere, deep in the tall grass,
my hands are still fastened to his holding fast.
And here is a photo of the art piece:
The response of the poet is as remarkable and stunning as the original art piece. Art feeds art, as it should. The need to bear witness and to connect is the driving force in the creation of both of these works. Baker’s poem not only further illuminates Kusama’s art, but invites us, the reader to engage more deeply with the work. Another thread is sewn.
Poet Cassie Pruyn’s “Girl Games” was written to emulate Derek Walcott’s “Summer Elegies” (from The Arkansas Testament, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988).
“I emulated a poem by Derek Walcott because I was required to by a professor, frankly. I had never read Walcott before, nor had I ever attempted to write a poem employing rhyme before. I resisted this exercise mightily, although I did admire “Summer Elegies” upon reading it. The imitation exercise had very specific requirements: 7-10 stanzas, 6-7 syllables per line, 3-4 similes, and “end-stopped stanza breaks,” which made it easier to funnel my frustration into a very particular set of constraints. Once my ear got a little practice the lines started coming easier and easier. By the end of this exercise, I realized rhyme would become a friend of mine.”
Here is Pruyn’s poem:
Girl Games Long Island, Maine
I cupped your toe in my palm.
I pressed against the throbbing.
We’d left home in high-noon sun,
beach-combed without stopping.
On rocky island fringes
beneath the wood and wrack
lie shell shards un-compacted
and shattered Rolling Rocks,
but still we practiced footwork
on boulders that ringed the beach.
On barnacles in tide-muck
it was you who bore the breach,
but it was me who bore the risk
like a jumper in the wake
of all our contact missed
of all our escapades.
Like that night we sipped the necks
of half your grandma’s booze,
quoted lines from Beatnik texts,
coquetted with the Muse,
or when we cradled trays
at that charity affair,
hid the glasses, cleared the plates,
got drunk beneath the stairs.
Like scrap sea glass un-battered
attempting to be smooth,
I told you when it mattered
in truth I wanted you.
It was our last Maine summer,
too short to play “girl games,”
but when next spring I found her
you turned absolute with rage.
Senior year you wrote a poem
on spotting me in a crowd.
Now it’s me who’s writing poems
and “years from now” is now.
Pruyn’s is a perfect example of how the practice of imitation helps stretch the poet as artist. As poets, we (hopefully) read as much as we attempt to write. But going one step further and emulating those that we admire as an exercise cannot only open doors, but can also blow the roof off and help us to explore the sky.
I love Pruyn’s answer to my question about revision:
“I believe I did revise this piece quite a bit after doing the initial exercise. I removed a stanza that had initially served as the final one because the penultimate worked better. Or I realized months later, for example, that in order to make a rhyme work I’d chosen some words that simply weren’t accurate—in the description of the beach in the second stanza for example. As in, it sounded nice but it wasn’t true. I made those kinds of revisions. A poem like this is hard to revise—because if you change one thing, chances are you’ll have to change the whole stanza. It’s so interlocking in that way. But still, revision is important and almost always necessary, so it’s a process of fine-tuning again and again and trying not to have the whole thing fall apart in the meantime. Revising this piece allowed me to take complete ownership of it, too—to move away from what might have felt, initially, like a simple exercise, and to make it a poem, my poem. But of course, a poem never belongs to its author: it belongs only to itself. So perhaps the act of revision, in this case, freed this poem to be its own poem-beast in the world!”
Imitation, in this case, was the first step in a true process of discovery. Pruyn had never before attempted to write in rhyme. But in this process she learned not only the mastery required but practiced enough in the revision process to understand and then engage in the mastering herself.
Emily Shearer’s poem “I Do Not Have A Horse” came from an entirely different place. Shearer talks about what drew her to the piece she imitated, Tomaž Šalamun’s “I Have A Horse”:
“I stumbled upon this particular poem having never before encountered Šalamun’s work. I was immediately intrigued by the voice. Additionally, I am taking Czech language lessons and recognized Czech-looking accent marks in the spelling of his name. I was very curious to find out if the poet was Czech, so I did a little research and discovered he was Slovenian and had been considered a leader of the avant-garde in Eastern Europe. Since I had recently moved to the Czech Republic and had (and still have) a lot to learn about Eastern European literature, poetry in particular, I thought that by crawling inside his words and trying them on for size, maybe I could wiggle under his skin and gain an understanding of his perspective.”
This poem is the result of Shearer’s research:
I Do Not Have a Horse
I do not have a horse. I am not afraid.
I do not have a record player, because my record player broke and all the music sounds
so much better the way I remember it before the needle gathered dust
I do not have a mother. I do not have her smell of Mary Kay emollience and spoonfuls
of vanilla ice cream dipped in Sanka.
I do not have a skateboard or a Trans Am or a license to drive a bus. I do not have
I do not have the conversions memorized.
I do not have a fish tank or a birdcage because fish tanks are too
and birdcages don’t.
I do not have the solitary key. There is no solitary key, though
there is only one door.
I do not have a Turkish visa, an imminent domain, a parallel bag of apples. I do not
have relativity. That is to say, whatever.
I do not have a cottage in the wood. I walk by this cottage I do not have on my way
home most afternoons. I do not have the slightest idea.
All my ideas, well, let’s just say I do not have a sponge absorbent enough.
I do not have a Christ child in my crèche. I do not have a half-empty bottle of French
perfume. I do not have a pair of roller skates.
Yet, still. My feet glide and the sidewalk slips beneath me like a ribbon. I do not have
time to fall.
In this case, Shearer’s process stems from a different place than that of Baker or Pruyn. Shearer chose this poem based upon her desire to better understand another culture, as well as her interest in the language itself. She was drawn to specifics:
“I especially love the line,
I have six really good poems. I hope I will write more of them.
Something about the rudimentary sentence structure and the exposed vulnerability made the speaker very likable to me. I wanted to know more about this guy, so the research I did led me to the discovery that this poet was from a new part of the world I was only just beginning to explore. Emulating the poem was my own form of linguistic and anthropological field work.”
Shearer’s precision and imagination create a poem that not only is reflective of Šalamun’s piece, but one that, like Baker and Pruyn, invites us into the speaker’s world as well. We’re not just taken to the same place again, but brought further in, or along, on a tremendous and completely different journey.
For artists the world over, and dare I say poets especially, emulation, reiteration, or imitation of those we admire is a connective tissue, medium, and fodder. It’s a necessary extension of the conversation in which art and artists ask for and need to know they’ve been experienced.
From one poet to another I beg of you, please don’t command, stop copying me.
Brenda Yates’s first collection of poetry and reflections, Bodily Knowledge, from Tebot Bach Literary Foundation (2015), is a rich and flowing walk through the many iterations of the poet’s life. Yates deftly connects the knowledge of the body and its travels with the knowledge of earth, world, humanity, and spirit in a manner that is both intense and sweet.
Yates grew up on military bases, a migrant child in a family with deep connection to country and home. This juxtaposition makes for an interesting presentation of the ideas of place, time, neighborhood, family, and belonging. It’s clear that with this perspective the poet has managed to define herself and her sense of belonging in a much broader and varied sense than in the more traditional manner. Her home is here, wherever that may be. Her family is us, all of us. Her body is deeply connected and rooted to the physical and spiritual of all she has seen and found, and she invites us to engage in the same way. The result is a profound collaboration between our idea of home and hers.
Sorrows and joys, truths and failings, beauty and grace—all collide. Yates’s presentation of idea and place is infused with her strong desire to connect to that physical space and its sanctity. Her piece “Chicago” is a near prayer. In it she turns the common city street, old building, and suburban backyard, into small cathedrals. She writes, “Let us mourn ourselves; celebrate ourselves; let us be horrified by ourselves & yes, glory in ourselves” and she invites us to become sacred with it all. She connects to each place with her own memories, and in doing so it all becomes personal and personified. Her humanness, and ours, has breathed life into those old buildings, those backyards.
The idea of safety is a constant undercurrent throughout the book. From the first piece to the last, Yates addresses safety—her idea of it, and then ours as well. “Bodily Knowledge,” the first poem in the collection begins, “This, too, will end badly; one of us will leave.” And although it is a stunning remembrance in flips and overlays of the times when the idea of earth and body collide, the ultimate impression is that of walking on a fine precipice in a beautiful place where you only hope your next step doesn’t leave you hanging.
Perhaps, for me, the moment in the collection when this all comes together is in the reflection, “On the Other Side of the World, My Sister Begins Radiation.” It’s as if each thread she introduced in previous entries are all brought together in a painful but beautiful telling of so much more than what the opening line connotes, “I don’t care if it’s just in case, I’m terrified.” And wouldn’t we all be? But this is how she engages and captures us. She slips from intense conversation into dreams—these wistful and wishful glimmerings of childhood, youth, places and spaces or the past, all encapsulated in the physicality of a plane, the familiarity of another relocation, the sense of journey, and the idea that despite her nontraditional childhood as military brat, she still felt safe, contained, guarded and guided.
It is only in the final lines that all this wistful, glimmering, safety is ruptured, with the memory of a near-drowning and the return to the intense reality of the present.
Brenda Yates’s bold and honest reflections and verse offer stunning and vast comprehensions of our connective tissue and what defines each of us in our present tense. Bodily Knowledge is a smart, sensuous, raw, and profound collection of works that pull us, rather than pushes us, into rethinking our definition of and connection to body, place, and home.
Maura Snell is both poetry editor and co-founder of The Tishman Review.
*To read more about Ms. Yates and her work, check out TTR 2.2, coming out on April 30, 2016.
As I read your work in consideration for The Tishman Review’s print issue, I’m hearing your poem being read by Major Jackson or Naomi Shihab Nye. Or sometimes, depending on my mood, Billy Collins. Recently a few of my grad school friends have popped up there too. I know it sounds strange. It is strange. But I still do it. That’s how I hear it, and I’m not sorry. Have you ever been to one of Naomi Shihab Nye’s readings? She’s powerful the way a summer wind is powerful—a force, but a pleasure to be among. As a listener I feel as if she knows every word she’s reading so intimately that she can’t help but bathe in it. It’s part of the magic of her readings. And if you’ve ever had the chance to be in the room when Major Jackson reads, you know what he can do with words. He plays a poem like a saxophone—employs his own embouchure, careful of timbre and vibrato.
As poetry editor here at TTR, I read at least three-dozen poems a day. I know that’s not much compared to other editors of bigger rags, but it’s still plenty. Early on as a poetry editor I realized that if I wasn’t careful and didn’t take the time to hear each piece as much as I held and read each piece, I could easily dismiss the work far too soon. I don’t know who you are when I read your poem. I don’t know if you’re young or old, where you come from or where you’re going. I don’t know if you’re a man or woman, or if you’ve been in war or at war, or have lived life as a hermit tucked in the mountains. I don’t know your publishing history or your education, if you’re married with ten children, or share your life with a small handful of people. I know nothing but the words you give me.
So I began to imagine the words sent to me were sent by the poets I admire most, and by the people with whom I have shared my great love of words. It’s like opening an email from a friend who’s saying, “Maura, you have to read this!” It’s made the journey of putting together an issue so much more.
I am aware that reading this little tidbit of how I digest your work might be a bit appalling to you. I mean, how do I know which voice to insert in the poem as I’m reading it? What if you are NOT a woman and I have Naomi Shihab Nye in my head that day? Or what if the poem is about witnessing a crime and here I’ve got Billy Colllins being ironic and insinuating in my ear? It’s not that simple. I often interchange voices, too. I read everything submitted at least twice, and while I don’t keep notes on whose voice I’m hearing with each reading, I like to think that the right voice inserts itself at the right time. For instance, I recently accepted a piece by the poet and educator Joey Kingsley for the April 2016 issue. A line from her poem “Mimicry” reads,
in the rippling face of the lake, I netted a dead bass,
one floating eye measuring the clouds like a sundial,
a catfish stuck halfway down its gullet, barbed as a rose,
its smile full of daggers.”
“Mimicry” is a startlingly rich piece, filled with cuts and grace and earth. When I hear Major Jackson reading it in my head, it’s quiet, nearly a prayer. But when I hear Naomi’s voice in my head, the poem shimmers like sunlight on water, its movement changing from grounded and dense to almost dreamlike.
Why am I telling you this? It’s such an odd practice, to intentionally hear voices in my head, but I think it’s important for you to know that MAJOR JACKSON is reading your work. NAOMI SHIHAB NYE is too. Recently, I started doing this with my own poems as well. As I write, and as I revise, I imagine one of my idols standing at a podium somewhere with a few hundred eager listeners gathered, reading the poem I have just written. It’s usually galling, like a good dousing of icy water, and makes me continue to work and revise. But sometimes, though rarely, it makes me giddy. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there, too. The moment when you know you’ve written something that’s really good. Your heart skips a beat and you’ve got that extra kick in your step just after you’re done.
This may or may not help you understand my process, but what I’m trying to say is that when I read your work, I am imagining that it is a great poem. A poem read to me by some pretty impressive writers. It helps me see your work as you see it, even though I know nothing about you. And it helps me to respect the work as it should be respected. Being an editor is hard, especially when it comes to selecting pieces for the magazine. I can’t accept and publish every piece sent in; there just isn’t enough room. But when I read a poem, I hold it up in what I think is the very best light. I am sure (and possibly not even in a parallel universe) that Major Jackson, Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye, and a handful of my grad school friends are imagining you reading their work, too.
We’re very excited to announce that the Emerging Voices Poetry Contest will now be The Tishman Review Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize!
I was a lucky child, with parents that were both college-educated and who shared a love for literature with each other and with us kids – I have seven siblings – and many of my childhood memories include my father’s idea of poetry recitation: spontaneous bursts of song with lyrics often “reworked” to fit the current situation, and even the random lines from Shakespeare appearing at the supper table or at homework time. My mother was the quieter of the pair, but she too would make references to poems, as well as music, and favorite novels. Before I headed back to school at age forty, my mother bequeathed me a tattered copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems, a small book that had spent many years becoming dog-eared in my mother’s company. Along with The Collected Stories of O-Henry, it is one of my most prized possessions.
This is one of the many reasons why I am so excited to be able to announce that our Emerging Voices Poetry Contest has received permission to now be The Tishman Review’s Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize.
If you have not yet expanded your poetry palate to include the lines of Millay, then I urge you to do so. For me, Millay’s poetry is all about the feminine, the youthful, liberation, revolt, and all the while being both sensitive and suggestive. Her poetry is filled with bittersweet love, sorrow, the inevitability of change, resignation, death, and ever-abiding nature. But she also is about passion, and following passion in our art.
I’d like to think that Barrett Warner and Edna St. Vincent Millay would be fast friends if they could share the same space-time continuum. Warner, as final judge for this contest, asks for “… surprises, but not ones which are completely unexpected. And to fall in love, especially the falling part. I want everything to move … the gun, the bullet, the target. I want locomotives that make more than one or two stops on the route. I want endings that spiral toward infinity. I want an elastic lyric and metaphor and some narrative thread to lessen the workload of the images.”
We at The Tishman Review are very excited to announce that Barrett Warner will be our guest judge in the first annual Emerging Voices Poetry Contest. Mr. Warner is an accomplished poet and writer and is an associate editor at Free State Review. His work has been featured in many journals including Entropy, Revolution John, Chiron, Berkeley Poetry Review, Four Chambers, Consequence, and Poetry Fix. Last year, his chapbook My Friend Ken Harvey won the Chris Toll Memorial Prize, his short story Dimension won the Salamander Fiction Prize, and his poem Tanya, Tanya, Tanya won the Cloudbank Poetry Prize. Recently, he also won the Tucson Festival of Books essay prize. Here is a brief interview with Himself:
MS: What will you be looking for in the poetry submitted to The Tishman Review for this contest?
BW: I like a road with bends and hills and dips, and I’d rather stay off the highway, but not be so off-road I need special tires. A few have assumed I have a fascination with bridges, but I’m more interested in the stream or river underneath the span.
I want surprises, but not ones which are completely unexpected. And to fall in love, especially the falling part. I want everything to move … the gun, the bullet, the target. I want locomotives that make more than one or two stops on the route. I want endings that spiral toward infinity. I want an elastic lyric and metaphor and some narrative thread to lessen the workload of the images.
MS: What is the most exciting poetry you’ve read recently and who are your favorite poets these days?
BW: The poetry that most excites is the poetry that leaves me wishing I were someone else, in a different time and place, a different color, gender, and religion, even a different animal. It’s poetry that not only takes me out of my routine, but slings a few arrows so that I’m in love with that new parallel—world or feeling or truth—I hadn’t known existed.
The new poems of Mike Young and Carrie Lorig made my bones jump. Mike writes very personal poems but leaves so many windows open for us to see and imagine and really share in the private moment of splendor. Carrie is just way so much smarter than I’ll ever be. Her poems have a quieting effect on me that opens me a little.
Hope Maxwell Snyder is someone who uses an amazing number of precise images to create subtle evolutions. And Alexis Fancher, her new L. A. Noir poems are so radiant with empathy. I admire these poets for their gifts and for how hard they work. I could never write in their styles. It would be like Bruce Springsteen forming a steel drum band. But man, I love the music.
MS: Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?
BW: I’m writing a review of Stanley Plumly’s, The Immortal Evening: A Legendary Dinner with Keats, Wordsworth, and Lamb. It’s one of those books that ate most of my January and February, and I’m trying hard not to finish the essay so I can keep enjoying the book.
My poetry manuscript, Why Is It So Hard to Kill You? is making the rounds, as is a small collection of essays titled Gambler’s Choice.
A new poem has been keeping me awake. It’s about the fire brigade, and the Charleston Highway, and coyotes, and being vegetarian. I’ve been vegetarian for eight days now.
MS: If there’s one thing you’d like to offer as advice for new and aspiring writers, maybe something you’ve had to learn the hard way, or wish you had figured out sooner, what would it be?
BW: Write with your voice, revise with your pen. Clarity is an act of decency and kindness, but poems can also be a little indecent and a little mean. Trauma is OK, but to me, the real story is not the fact a horse kicked your hand off your wrist—or whatever—the story is how it was sewn back on a little crooked and how you spent hours chasing a dime across the Detroit airport trying to pick up the coin with your bad hand.
To see more of Barrett Warner and his work, check out his website at:
Review of The Anonymous Chapbook Series from Twenty-Four Hours
by Maura Snell
The TFH ANONYMOUS CHAPBOOK PROJECT was part of an augmented-reality piece with Alaska-based artist Nathan Shafer for his project / installation, Wintermoot 2014–which was part of Fur Rendezvous, the largest winter festival in the state.
TFH is currently editing chapbooks 4 and 5, due out in early 2015.
There’s something cozily and evilly decadent about the idea of the anonymous chapbooks that are coming from Josh Medsker and his team at Twenty-Four Hours. Of course, I think I’m a bit partial to the whole concept of anonymity since we here at The Tishman Review choose to read all submissions blind. Anonymity lends so much to the work as we read the submissions. I like reading just the work, not considering an attached bio, a pedigree, a connection, so much so that I don’t think, as a publisher and editor, right now I would do it any other way. I also like what the anonymity represents, what it allows, and what it offers the work when it comes across my desk. Being written anonymously, a writer might and should feel more able to tell what it is that is really on her mind. Also, being anonymous, the writer does not have to worry about many of the traditional things we writers worry about when submitting–things like bio content, current professional roles and standings, previously published works, who we know, where we live, who we are. I know you might think I’m getting ahead of myself, but I think you’ll find it true. With my peers, I’ve often discussed the pros and cons of the anonymity we seek in the submissions process, and we often wonder how many Big Names are published in the Big Journals simply because they are a Big Name. I can think of one incident off the top of my head (writer and journal to remain unmentioned) where the writer wrote a piece that was in extremely poor taste, and my hunch is that the journal chose to publish the piece because, yes, it was topical, but it was also from this Big Writer, who might possibly be immune to the subsequent backlash because of the Big Name Writer’s Big Name. Needless to say, there was backlash, there was hub-bub, and in my opinion both the credibility of the writer and the journal did drop a notch. I have often wondered whether if the name had been detached from the piece would the piece have been published at all. Or, better yet, if the piece had been published anonymously, would it have gotten the backlash it did? Ah, the mysteries of life!
All that being said, TFHs Anonymous Chapbook Project is about the work, which is refreshing, inspiring, and, I think most importantly, it brings us back to the basics. The general thought behind the project is that no person is their actual self when everyone can see who they are. I know it’s confusing, but stay with me. The editors at TFH ask submitters to “be brave”, to “make us feel something” and if not, “it’s back to the drawing board, bub”. They also ask the submitters to trust them, the project, the work, to the extent no writers have been able to do up until now. I think the whole point of being a writer is not just to tell a good story or make the readers feel something, but more directly, to make the reader feel my something, to connect my singular, lonely, myopic existence with the existence of the whole entire world. It’s a big calling, and very hard to do. I think that in a strange and wild way the anonymity of this project allows that to happen.
The first Chapbook, Number 1, subtitled “You Are My Anti-Spam Hero,” leads with just the thought, a quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Critic As Artist: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” The chapbook is a conglomeration of the ridiculous: the spam emails, the syntax and subtitles and footnotes from every online diatribe/invitation/call of desperation we’ve all received in our inboxes innumerous times since the invention of email. SPAM. But what of it? As I read it, I get the odd sensation that I’m listening, actually listening, to those little voices that come through the static in my head when I get these emails. In this, they become guttural and human. All the crazy-weird thoughts I normally ignore and delete from my head as I hit the delete button on the screen when I open an email like this rush forth, and become part of Art. I think of real people behind these texts. I let my mind wander. Illicit, random noise becomes human, voice, face.
Chapbook Number 2, subtitled “The Use Of Travel,” in the same or similar light as the first chapbook, illuminates. In this case the anonymity allows the raw emotion flicking about on the pages to become the Art. Without a definitive author, the poems are allowed to breathe and to take up space. They almost become human themselves. These poems are beautiful in their simplicity, and go where such jottings rarely succeed; in their unknown-ness, they are the inevitable true vocal DNA of us: the collective and the singular. Anonymity heightens the tone in this chapbook and reading these poems in this capacity makes me want to pick my head up from my smartphone and look around me when I’m riding the train into Boston, or when I’m buried in my list as I dash around the food market, or most importantly, when I’m in the world and feel totally alone, they make me want to seek connection, hunt for that voice so prevalent on the page. It’s powerful stuff.
Chapbook Number 3, quite perfectly subtitled “The Time-Traveler’s Ass And Other Moderately Alaskan Situations,” is a blithe spirit when grouped with its predecessors, but it still holds true to the portents offered by the first two chapbooks. Anonymity again serves the book well. I had to look up about half of the words the writer uses because I wasn’t sure if they were real or just made up amalgamations of words that sounded accurate or cool. Each piece reads like a funky journal of some other-world-sci-fi-uber-traveler vastly different from ourselves, but in the most basic and obvious ways so very like us. The speaker could be me or you, just moved to Alaska. The sense of “time travel” is an odd but accurate way to depict relocating from one culture and climate to another. I remember feeling a bit like this when I went for a semester in Australia: so much was the same but so much was completely strange to me. I had to learn a new vocabulary, catch on to the cultural undertones, learn what it meant to “root for a team”. The weather was backwards, and, yes, I did check to see if the toilet flushed in the opposite direction.
In “The Time Traveler’s Ass And Other Moderately Alaskan Situations,” the “Ass” in question is definitely an Ass, as in naked butt, rather than the small donkey sub-species. Other things I can confirm after reading Chapbook Number 3 include: a Cheechacko is a person newly arrived in the mining districts of Alaska or northwestern Canada; emotion is actually a time-dimensional sensory experience, individual manifestations of which are called chronotes, which non-time travelers experience in myriad ways; ookle-rotch is a really disgusting kind of hair-like dairy product from the year 3189 AD that people would use to induce astro-bulimia; Hairy Man is the Arctic version of Sasquatch, and yes, there really are shoes called Xtra Tuffs and I want a pair.
Twenty-Four Hours has something going on here and it’s good. I am not saying that the poetry, muses, writings, etc., on each page are amazing pieces that should be declared the new foundation for all contemporary literature and art, but the manner in which these writers and editors are going about collecting, producing, and publishing this literature and art anonymously is something important. Read these chapbooks. Read them because they’re whimsical and fun. Read them because they will make you think. Read them because they will make you feel. Read them and you will understand what I’ve been trying to explain. It’s like playing that game: “Open your mouth and close your eyes, I’ll give you something to make you wise”–don’t look, just taste and see. And for God’s sake read them because, well, I said so.
I’m high and dry. I admit it. But admitting it is like admitting I have serious halitosis; I cringe at the thought and keep eating mints, or in this case, reading all I can get my hands on, in hopes of breaking through this period of creative drought. It doesn’t help that my favorite poets are dying, quite literally. Losing the likes of Galway Kinnell and Mark Strand feels so much more personal than I have a right to claim. While I did not know either man beyond the written word, I feel like I have lost mentors, favorite teachers, older brothers. I wrap myself in their words and cry. Why is the passing of these people so hard on my creative process?
Each loss drives me to reminisce. I think about how I felt each term heading to Bennington where I would meet up with my classmates, fall back into the cocoon, slip into the vortex, and the juices would just flow. I think about workshops, lectures, and meals afterwards when we would gather and talk well into the night about literature, the writing process, and all we loved so mutually, so thoroughly, and wonder how, how can I get that back? Or is it really about getting it back?
This fall I watched my youngest daughter play in about nine million soccer games, none of which her team won. Every game would end in a tragic loss or even more frustratingly–a tie. The girls would jog off the field after each match, shake hands with their opponents, and head back into practice with renewed vigor, always hoping that the next challenge would mean a win, or even, just once, a goal. More than anything I wanted to see them have the satisfaction of feeling accomplished, rather than defeated. I thought about all the seasons leading up to this one and how much of a force my daughter was as a striker. Her nickname was “Hat Trick” because she would score so many goals. But this season she seemed to have lost her drive, her instinct for the net, as much as her team lost their instinct for winning.
But then, is that what it’s all about? My daughter’s coach seems happy with the progress the team has made this season, rarely expressing concern for the score at the end of each contest. He is convinced that the team has developed appropriately for the spring ahead. He seems unafraid of what they will face as a team and ever-confident in my daughter and her skills as a goal-scorer.
Maybe that’s what I have to learn to see as a writer. Each season, am I developing too? Am I learning, seeking, reading, and writing? And even though I may not have too many points on the board in terms of well-written poems of late, am I still plodding ahead, practicing what it is I love most? It’s hard not to let the doldrums get me down, but I have to keep reminding myself that like the spring soccer season for my daughter, my own time of promise is just ahead. For now, I will curl into the lines of my favorite poets, dive headlong into the submissions sent to The Tishman Review each day, rejoice in the new gorgeous works my friends are publishing everywhere, and pen awkward stanzas that I hope will evolve into something more.
Be patient with me. I’ll be along soon. And please pass the mints!
On CRIMES AGAINST BIRDS (forthcoming, January 2015, Mainstreet Rag)
by Denton Loving
In this beautiful and raw debut collection, Denton Loving offers us poetry of the earth, of history, of the natural world’s rawness that both sears and warms as it flows. Loving’s own history and roots seem to have profoundly impacted his verse: he lives on a farm near the historic Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia come together. And, it seems that many things are coming together is this collection.
It’s difficult to be both solid and ephemeral, to find that balance between question and answer, and I would argue that too many new poets today are often afraid of the questions they want or need to put forth in their work, so they rarely do. But Loving manages to walk both deliberately and carefully through his lived or imagined mire with elegance and ease. He has mastered the art (and placement) of the question in his work.
The poems in Crimes Against Birds point at the close and often overlapping connection between the human and animal worlds, offering a reverence in the entwining and speaking to history with a fluid grace. In “Blessing of the Bees”, Loving writes, “May you like the buttercups that yellow/ the pasture, may you find happiness in these hills and woods./Let there always be a little sugar water to sustain.” The cadence of this mantra imparts the speaker’s desire: the flooding need to sustain, while the employment of straightforward lines convey the simplicity of the asking.
Perhaps the most riveting example of Loving’s ability to bring together two seemingly un-connectable worlds is in the piece “A Love Poem About an Exploding Cow”. If the title alone doesn’t draw your interest, I don’t know what will. The poem begins:
“In the middle of night I wake
to a dying cow, holy
even in its pain, as it stands
on a hillside of fescue,
split open from neck
She’s rotting from the inside
out. A terrible sight.
Only an animal has the dumb
courage to walk around
with its intestines hanging
ready to explode.”
Here, Loving is both farmer and poet. With a quickness and clarity he has drawn us in. In combining the title of the poem with the opening lines, and while we might be a bit appalled, we still connect this dark gruesomeness. We can’t help but want to understand what this love poem is. He continues:
“You and I see the gaping
wound. We smell the stench.
Neither of us knows
what to do. If we had a rifle
and were brave, we could
cleanly put all of us—you and me
and the cow—out of this misery.
But all we have is dynamite
and my dad’s old brown Thunderbird,
left also to rot, forgotten
in the cow field. We
wire the car into a bomb, argue
who will be the one
to turn the key.
Why does it never occur to us
to leave the dynamite and the cow,
to drive away? Because we need
exploding carnage to know the death
is done. After all, what’s love
but hearts and stomachs,
blood and guts?”
And there he gives. For me this poem is so very reminiscent of Galway Kinnell’s “The Bear” for the same reasons. It’s about the fear, the sudden brutality, the dark earthiness, and the forged connection that tethers all of these things and keeps us reading: the idea of love somewhere.
Crimes Against Birds is a gorgeous collection of both brutal and beautiful poetry. Loving is artful in his questions, altruistic in his leavings, and open and generous in his expression. He leaves us, quite perfectly, satisfied and starving for more.
He was a large man, lumbering and imperious, with a hawk-like nose and light blue eyes that darted here and there so often, that I do not recall ever looking him in the eye. Of course, me being a child, I never would have. He was my grandfather and of the era that children should be seen and not heard. When he came to visit he would announce his arrival with a whistle, a who-whooo, who-whooo, much like the call of a mourning dove, and would always come bearing gifts.
On this occasion the gift he carried was a book in honor of my ninth birthday. Like the man himself, it was a heavy tome, almost unmanageable for me with its weight, its onion skin paper, its fine print. In his barrelling voice my grandfather asked me if I had ever heard of O’Henry. I had not. He touched the side of his nose and told me I should then get acquainted. And, like it was a homework assignment given to me by a teacher I longed to impress, I took the book upstairs to my bedroom and read it cover to cover.
I think we as writers each have a moment like this when we knew we were destined for the world of words; some minute or second that, for each of us, is The Moment. I don’t know what it was about The Collected Stories of O’Henry that got me writing poetry, but I do remember the first feel of that book in my hands, the soft burgundy of the cover, the fear that I’d tear a page if I turned it too anxiously, too quickly, without reverence, as if the book would know.