Best of the Net 2017 Poetry Nominees

It is our immense pleasure to nominate the following pieces and writers for their work to be included in the Best of the Net Anthology, a project of Sundress Publications.

PARTRIDGE BOSWELL, nominated for his poem “Flying home after the protest” TTR 3.1

Partridge Boswell Mt Battie DSC_0586Recipient of this year’s Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize for his poem “Flying home after the protest,” Partridge Boswell is the author of Some Far Country, winner of the Grolier Poetry Prize. His poems have recently surfaced in The Gettysburg Review, SalmagundiThe American Poetry ReviewGreen Mountains ReviewHayden’s Ferry Review, and Forklift, Ohio. Co-founder of Bookstock literary festival and the poetry/music group Los Lorcas, he teaches at Burlington Writers Workshop and lives with his family in Vermont.

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LISA MECHAM, nominated for her poem “Trespassing”  TTR 2.3

Lisa Mecham writes a little bit of everything and her work has appeared in Amazon’s Day OneCatapult, and The Collapsar, among other publications. She has served as an editor, advisory board member, and reader for various literary magazines, and as a social worker, she writes grants for social justice oriented non-profits.

A Midwesterner at heart, Lisa lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters where she’s finishing a book about mental illness in the suburbs; think: “The Shining” meets “Revolutionary Road.”

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ALYSSE McCANNA, nominated for her poem “It’s Not Like the Movies” TTR 3.1

alysseAlysse Kathleen McCanna is currently pursuing her PhD in English at Oklahoma State University. She is the Associate Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine and received her MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College in 2015. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from poets.org, Lunch Ticket, Barrow Street, Boulevard, and other journals.

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KYLE ADAMSON, nominated for his poem “Retrograde” TTR 3.2

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Kyle Adamson has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and a BFA from Hamline University. He is the winner of the AWP Intro to Journals Award in poetry, a Pushcart nominee, and a finalist in the Consequence Poetry Prize. His work can be found in the Water~Stone Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, the Beloit Poetry Journal, and others. He served in the Marine Corps infantry and deployed twice to Iraq. Kyle lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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ADRIAN POTTER, nominated for his poem “RX for the Blues” TTR 3.1

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Adrian S. Potter writes poetry and short fiction. He is the author of the fiction chapbook Survival Notes (Červená Barva Press, 2008) and winner of the 2010 Southern Illinois Writers Guild Poetry Contest. Some publication credits include North American Review, Jet Fuel Review, Obsidian, and Kansas City Voices. He blogs, sometimes, at http://adrianspotter.com/.

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Adrian S. Potter | Writer Website

KIM NORIEGA, nominated for her poem,Postcard to My Younger Self Beneath the Apple Trees” TTR 3.1

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Kim Noriega is the author of Name Me published by Fortunate Daughter Press. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including: American Life in PoetryParis-Atlantic, and Split Lip.  She was a finalist for the 2016 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize, and a semi-finalist for the 2016 James Baker-Hall Memorial Prize in Poetry. Kim grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and still loves apple-blossom showers in spring and Vera’s Bakery at the famous West Side Market for Hungarian nut roll at Christmas. She lives in San Diego where she heads San Diego Public Library’s family literacy program.

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Poem of the Day for National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month!

Tune in here everyday for the Poem of the Day from TTR, featuring works from some of our greatest contributor-poets.

Sunday April 30, 2017: FLYING HOME AFTER THE PROTEST by Partridge Boswell, TTR 3.1

Saturday, April 29, 2017: POSTCARD TO MY YOUNGER SELF BENEATH THE APPLE TREES by Kim Noriega, TTR 3.1

Friday, April 28, 2017: IT’S NOT LIKE THE MOVIES by Alysse McCanna TTR 3.1

Thursday, April 27, 2017: POETS WITHOUT WATCHES by V. Hansmann, TTR 3.1 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017: BORDER PUMPKINS by Kaitlin LaMoine Martin, TTR 2.4

Tuesday, April 25, 2017: BOOT CAMP by Ron Riekke, TTR 2.4

Monday, April 24, 2017: THE MAN IN BLUE ORDERS GUINNESS AND A PLAIN FILLET by Chloe Stricklin, TTR 2.4

Sunday, April 23, 2017: TRESPASSING by Lisa Mecham, TTR 2.3

Saturday, April 22, 2017: PRISON JANITORIAL by Tyler Erlendson, TTR 2.3

Friday, April 21, 2017: RUMBLE by Ed Doerr, TTR 2.3

Thursday, April 20, 2017: LARCHWOOD, IOWA by Dylan Debelis: TTR 2.3

Wednesday, April 19, 2017: A LESSON IN ANEMOLOGY by Tonya Sauer, TTR 2.2

Tuesday, April 18, 2017: POSTLUDE by Adrian Potter, TTR 2.2

Monday, April 17, 2017: MOORE STREET, DUBLIN, 2006 by Jean Kim TTR 2.2

Sunday, April 16, 2017: FIELD by Elijah Burrell, TTR 21.

Saturday, April 15, 2017: DRINKING WITH SPIDERS by Jim Gustafson, TTR 2.1

Friday, April 14, 2017: NOT THE WAR by Jessica Wallace: TTR 2.1

Thursday, April 13, 2017: GREEN ROOM by Willa Carroll, TTR 2.1

Wednesday, April 12, 2017: FALLING, FALLING by Frank Modica, TTR 1.4

Tuesday, April 11, 2017: COMING APART IN PUERTO VALLARTA by Elizabeth Gibson, TTR 1.4

Monday, April 10, 2017: MOHAWK VALLEY by Bethany Bowman, TTR 1.4

Sunday April 9, 2017: HORSE LUBBER by Carrie Naughton, TTR 1.4

Saturday, April 8, 2017: INTERIOR WITH SNOW by Shevaun Brannigan, TTR 1.3

Friday, April 7, 2017: CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA by Nicole Santalucia, TTR 1.3

Thursday, April 6, 2017: BOAT PRAYER by Karla Van Vliet, TTR 1.3

Wednesday, April 5, 2017: LEAVING FORT CARSON by Larry Narron, TTR 1.3

Tuesday, April 4, 2017: CONVERSATION ON THE BALCONY by Tom Holmes,  TTR 1.2

Monday, April 3, 2017: I SLIPPED THROUGH A SHADOW by Alisha Erin Hillam, TTR 1.2

Sunday, April 2, 2017: TO FLOAT by J. Adam Collins, TTR 1.2

Saturday April 1, 2017: GROOM by Ace Boggess, TTR 1.2

2016 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize Winners and Finalists

CONGRATULATIONS to OUR WINNERS!

We’re thrilled to announce the following poems and poets as winners and finalists in our

2016 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize:

First Prize

wins $500 cash prize, publication in TTR 3.1, and major bragging rights

Flying home after the protest

by Partridge Boswell

Second Prize

wins $100 cash prize, publication in TTR 3.1, and major bragging rights

Sovereignty

by John Sibley Williams

 

Honorable Mention

wins $50 cash prize, publication in TTR 3.1, and major bragging rights

The Grind

by Melissa King Rogers

Finalists

receive publication in TTR 3.1 and bragging rights

Yearnings by Valerie Bacharach

It’s Not Like the Movies by Alysse Kathleen McCanna

If My Body Were a Country Meadow Edged by a Shadowed Wood by Karla Van Vliet

Postcard to My Younger Self Beneath the Apple Tree by Kim Noriega

Poets without Watches by V. Hansmann

Riding with Anne Sexton by Jen Rouse

RX for the Blues by Adrian S. Potter

A Stockyard Liturgy by D.G. Geis

Fannie by Marri Champié

Peripeteia by Stephen Linsteadt

Calling off the Wedding by Samuel Piccone

All of these poems, and so much more, can be found in the January 2017 issue of The Tishman Review, which is available to read online.

Ebook version and print version available for purchase as well.

All My Rowdy Friends: A review of Whitaker by Watterson

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by Cassandra Watterson

PunksWritePoems Press out of Chesterfield, VA, is one of the many print on demand independent presses that challenge the (bigger) small presses for talent and audience. Social media outlets boast active poetry communities that rival the small press and academic scene that has dominated American poetry for decades. While academics might scoff at Tumblr poets who have thousands of readers and sell hundreds of print on demand books, it’s hard to ignore that a social media account on Wattpad might net a young writer hundreds more readers than a publication in a regional small press magazine.

If Stephen Scott Whitaker’s All My Rowdy Friends, $12, from PunksWritePoems Press is any indication of what the independent press is bringing to the table, then small and big presses should take note. Whitaker’s collection tackles addiction and transformation head on, whether personal or second hand. Friends’ realistic and unsettling poems seek to marry the dark and the light, the art of alchemy, and goes for the jugular without flinching.

Friends’ cover features a coiling snake skeleton against an Infinite Jest sky-blue that catches the eye. The snake turns out to be a central motif to the re-imagined Tiresias tales Whitaker conducts throughout Friends’ movements. Here’s how the old myth goes: once a young man saw two snakes mating and he took a stick and knocked them apart. They turned out to be Hera’s favorite pets and she punished him, Tiresias, by turning him into a woman which he remained for seven years. Whitaker takes this ancient gender bending tale and drags it through the gutter, pun intended. Whitaker examines gender dysphoria from a variety of angles using the lens of the old myth. We see a young boy cross dressing in his mother’s clothes, we see a confident woman eager to give into desire, we see a loving parent showing shame at her self-abuse, a drag queen on a bender, etc. Tiresias, Whitaker reminds, becomes so attuned to the Gods because she can see both sides of the human perspective, and even bore two children. Tiresias, the first transgendered person in literature, is brought back to life with punk rock verve.

What’s fantastic about All My Rowdy Friends is how the tension and static between male and female ripples out of the Tiresias stories and is magnified throughout the book. The transformation process, that transition, is the most important part of a story whether the subject is an addict, a transgendered woman, or a pop culture icon. (Batman recast as a sadist in leather is both hilarious, dangerous, and creepy. And also dead on.)

Stylistically Whitaker gives us tight controlled lines, long and short breaths, and wears his influences on his sleeve; the book is footnoted, almost a modernist throwback to encouraging a side conversation with the asides. Occasionally Whitaker employs long breathy lines that recall classical compositions, notes that trill and repeat. “Winter Fever” and “Surrender” are the best examples where Whitaker delivers knotty lyricism. But Whitaker also excels at shorter lines, the clipped brilliance of “Incantation” and “How to Find the Edge of the Atlantic” put sound and breath up front and center.

Whitaker also uses theatrical tropes, not only masks, but even semi stage directions in “Fever Dialogue” a hallucinatory poem that is staged, and choreographed, and that echoes the book’s main themes, addiction, illness, and desires of the flesh (i.e. “Water, the first mother of us all.”)

Like Ocean Vuong (See Watterson’s review in TTR Craft Talk), Whitaker’s poems are not some trumped up moment of clarity about the emotional impact of hanging pictures on a Saturday afternoon, or mowing the lawn and discovering the natural world has crept into your yard. No, like Vuong, Whitaker offers up poems where life is in danger. Both Vuong, and Whitaker create a slippery middle ground where gender, death and life, and survival are recast as poetry with classical bones. Vuong’s poems feature a war torn landscape, while Whitaker gives us the rural south, at war with opiates, alcohol, and poverty.

Whitaker gives us several characters to follow. We have Tiresias, who shows up throughout, and Christy, according to the notes, a composite character. The main character of the “Christy” poems is hanging on by a thread. Her mother’s “disappointed mouth cocked at <her> like a gun. Later, abandoned, addicted, and writing to her sponsor from jail, she still manages to find peace in the simplest pleasures: fields, pastures, a lone radio. All My Rowdy Friends delivers on the grit, and showcases Whitaker’s softer side. It’s both refreshingly challenging at the same time that it is accessible.

PunksWritePoems, Whitaker, and the pod-casting duo, the Alpine Strangers, collaborated to bring us a set list of many of the poems as interpreted by Alpine Strangers, which are Nate McFadden and Cody Grimm. These stories, told with ambient sounds, or even punked out in a snarling snaking song called “Two Snakes Fucking,” are a fantastic companion piece to the book.

It makes me wonder why don’t more publishers do this? You can listen to them here: https://soundcloud.com/alpine-strangers/sets/all-my-rowdy-friends

Brooke's Wedding cropCassandra Watterson lives north of Philadelphia, and makes a living as a freelance writer and a part-time teacher of English literature. She was educated at Towson University and the University of Scranton.

Read Cassandra’s Review of Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, an author with large publishing house Copper Canyon Press, here and now.

Ocean Vuong is hot property!

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by Cassandra Watterson

Ocean Vuong is hot property. The young poet’s newest book, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, $16, Copper Canyon Press, is one of those volumes of poetry young hipsters at the coffee bar are likely to describe as an “instant classic” or “genius.” It did win the Whiting Award, after all, and is a mythic, ecstatic collection of poems about love, family, and the impact of history. Copper Canyon ordered a second printing of this book in April, when his readings at AWP, and trending sales during National Poetry Month colluded to raise Vuong’s temperature to hot, hot, hot.

Night Sky With Exit Wounds is fantastic. Big and grand and pretty. This isn’t precious poetry, or poetry that is concerned with capturing the epiphany of the suburbs. No, Vuong fuses sex, gender, myth, and family history into a brilliant, sad, and sometimes-lonely collection of poetry.

Part of the fun of Night Sky With Exit Wounds is Vuong’s use of classic mythology to subvert his own narratives. Telemachus, Eurydice, Odysseus, and the Trojan horse, among others, find new life in Vuong’s poems. And what’s so refreshing is that Vuong’s visions of these classic tropes are sensual and slippery. It’s not only the psycho-sexual internal drama of Telemachus going through his Oedipal urges, but also an expression of our strange bodies, how they are joyful, and also confounding. This motif, the backbone of Vuong’s book, infuses his familial mythic lyrics with an inviting lushness. We identify with the boy in these poems, one who carries the weight of his father as if his father was a king, a war hero, something bigger and brighter and more dangerous than a suburban father, can of beer at his side, mowing the lawn. The classical imagery echoes the shadows of the Viet Nam war that Vuong’s generation inherited.

Vuong, who is gay, and an immigrant, establishes his role as outsider from the beginning. The opening poem, “Threshold” finds a speaker who describes spying on his father through a keyhole, saying “In the body, where everything has a price,/I was a beggar.” The tension in “Threshold” and the use of modifiers “the man,” and “that morning,” give us a sense that the boy has a history of being a peeping tom of sorts, and has been drawn to such furtive behavior. The peeping becomes a moment of discovery. The boy’s caught by dear old dad who would “listen for my clutched breath/behind the door.” His father, like a gateway, his singing deep and strong enough to ‘“fill <him> to the core/like a skeleton,” suggests what a terrible power fatherhood is.

Vuong’s vision in Wounds shows us that because we were all children once, every act towards us from our parents, from the worst to the greatest, becomes the mythologized ways we experience love. This is not to say that Vuong is psychoanalysis in metaphor, but rather that his poems about family and particularly his father ripple outward, psychologically. It’s hard not to think of Vuong’s father as being some fearful presence, an image often coupled with an AK-47, or blood, or a bullet wound. The very language the poet uses is as loaded as Sylvia Plath’s Nazi imagery in “Daddy.” Whether it’s “here is your father inside/your lungs” in “Deto(nation)” or “the way I seal my father’s lips/with my own, “ or even fatherly love projected outward as “another man leaving/into my throat” in “Devotion.” Vuong sets the reader off down this sometimes elusive, and elegiac path from the get go.

One of the more powerful poems in the collection is “Aubade with Burning City,” which strips Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” into lines that are cut between the narrative of the fall of Saigon. It captures the surrealism of that Christmas song playing as magnolia blossoms fall and also the way people fall, cut down as they try to flee. Vuong uses striking imagery, the surprising contrast of the music and the death, all without preaching. Like the best of the political poets, Vuong shows, and lets the images do all the telling.

Stylistically, Vuong shows off his chops, playing with lines, form, and even the absence of lines in the “Seventh Circle of Earth,” a poem composed entirely of footnotes. The narrative is placed at the bottom of the page, while the footnotes hang like ashes in the air. Though Vuong channels elegy, many of the poems, and many of the lines are ecstatic frenzied exhalations. Not only is there the Whitmanesque impulse for long breathy notes, there is also the Dickinsonian control and flute like trills.

Rimbaud’s mischievousness sneaks into Vuong’s narratives. Vuong’s lush syllable play is erotic, and many of his poems are sensually charged; his images are rooted in the body. Even when not sexual, the language is classically erotic, a fascination with the physical body, and its relation to the spirit. Vuong’s poems inhabit the body, our desires. Many of the poems rely on the old French tradition of likening sex and death, le petit mal, and also express that to be queer is to fight a war for what you love.

Poetry is part preening, part magic, a glamor of words and theatrics, and Vuong does not disappoint. Night Sky With Exit Wounds flies; its wings make broad shadows across the landscape.

American poetry is infused with young vibrant talent thanks to the writing workshops that have become ubiquitous across college campuses. Regardless of how one feels about writing boot camps, the capitalist higher education salon culture creates readers, audiences, consumers of its own interests. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you, it shows that American poetry is in resurgence. Making a comeback. Of course it never really left. Vuong isn’t the only young bright star ascending, and if you are a fan of poetry, it’s a great time to be a reader.

Keep an eye out for Cassandra’s Review of Stephen Scott Whitaker’s All My Rowdy Friends, from small publisher PunksWritePoems!

Cassandra Watterson lives north of Philadelphia, and makes a living as a freelance writer and as a part-time teacher of English literature.

She was educated at Towson University and the University of Scranton.

 

The Beauty of Curved Space

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By Maria Elena B. Mahler

The Beauty of Curved Space
48 Poems / 83 pages
Glass Lyre Press
http://glasslyrepress.com/

Stephen Linsteadt is a painter and a poet whose work is inspired by the archetypal feminine in both her physical form and her numinous overtones.

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The Beauty of Curved Space, a collection of his poems, traces the curves, the joys, and challenges of painting along the inner landscapes of his struggles, dreams, and aspirations: a long and pleasant journey, a safari of untamed expectations.

Stephen’s muse is the voice of the archetypal feminine. Like Sophia, she calls from behind the veil of our everydayness, beckoning mankind to a path of self-discovery. She is always present in his studio and in his verse as he struggles to find himself below the surface of his intuitive pigment and his cerebral nature: Each line a new revelation/a mystic curve or splash.

 

Lines have a life,
a beginning and an end. They have joys and sorrows
in between. Like the line that contours a woman’s hip,
it tells us it is hip by its proportion and context.

The line speaks through its undulations of her many lovers,
her aspirations, disappointments, and regrets.

I am uniquely qualified to speak about Stephen’s work and his search for the feminine. I am his wife. I am his model, his muse, and the occasional interrupting voice in his studio. I am a witness to his search for wholeness. I am a witness of his realization that he could never have attained inner peace without embracing the feminine. My husband gives me hope that humanity will once again embrace, reconnect with, and honor the feminine that is necessary to our survival as a species. This ‘returning to the feminine’ is pervasive in Stephen’s painting and poetry.

I am not the only female to make this observation. Poet and editor Lois P. Jones, in her essay about Stephen’s painting in the anthology, Woman in Metaphor, says of Stephen’s work: “Woman symbolizes man’s continued magnetic pull toward creation on this earth and his struggle, perhaps, between free will and the tug of attraction. Here, beauty is not the permanent home of perfection but holds the power to turn the hunter inward.”

You press my cheek against your breast
where I lay and wait for the cunning huntress
to turn me inwards upon myself.

Jones further explains, “Linsteadt’s focus speaks to the larger alchemic metaphor of woman as an archetype of our ancestral experiences and the collective female psyche.” Stephen’s view is that our life’s experiences, disappointments, and difficulties are the alchemical and tempering fires that transmute and guide us to higher possibilities.

Poet Laureate of Ventura County Mary Kay Rummel says, “Linsteadt’s words describing painting also describe his poems. Tangible, painterly landscapes become journeys of the mind, moving from, to and towards mystery, haunted by the woman, human and divine, who slips out of paintings and into poems of the body and of the soul. This gifted poet’s voice is lyrical, both visionary and grounded, often dryly aphoristic.”

Poet Kate Kingston says, “Merging the artistic line with the poetic line, Linstead’s poems honor the female form while creating an awareness, a sixth sense, that resonates beyond the physical body. His voice takes us into the beauty of the line’s curve, its thickness and thinness, its sorrow and joy, its expectation and addiction.”

Stephen is a constant student of the cosmos, which can be felt in all of his pursuits often scattered about our home where we live under the baking sky of the Sonora Desert. The desert is Stephen’s landscape upon which he sheds his prejudices and from which his canvas takes him on mystery tours with the ‘unknown woman’ and her elusive world just beyond his grasp.

My soul is busy transferring material of the outside world
into the interior—

I can’t tell if I’m in the interior
floating on the essence of my life’s experiences
or drifting on what’s left over.

Other poems take us to umbral landscapes, like Van Gogh’s Saint-Rémy de Provence. A place where madness is the language: only warm iris blossoms understand.

the backdrop to “Starry Night”
painted close to where green bathed
the artist’s vision in a yellow
tainted room.

The scent of Languedoc
still warm about your neck.

Thunder uncoils over the night.

Rain on my umbrella
drops of deep mystery.

We once spent a few days in Saint-Rémy, where we fell madly in love with the scent of lavender, the persistent mist, and the olive groves Van Gogh painted. We walked on the pebbled paths around the asylum to the garden with the irises, the ones we imagined Van Gogh had contemplated from his bedroom window on the second floor. Like Van Gogh, Stephen’s poetry searches for an ungraspable light: Their light whispers/and won’t hold still. And: Admittedly Van Gogh never captured light/moving through cypress/But I can always count on the wind to blow.

As Stephen’s wife, I can attest to his dauntless pursuit of the feminine goddess and all the mysteries she holds.

***

Maria-Elena-MahlerMaria Elena B. Mahler is the author of the forthcoming bilingual collection of poetry Sweeping Fossils (Glass Lyre Press). Her poetry has been published in English and Spanish in Badlands, Saint Julian Press, Under the Radar (UK), Fredericksburg Literary Review, Fire Tetrahedron, and others. Her poetry has also been included in the anthologies Beyond the Lyric Moment (Tebot Bach 2014) and Poeming Pigeons (The Poetry Box 2015). She was a finalist in the 2011 San Francisco-based Primer Concurso de Poesía Latinoamericana en Español. In 2016, she was also a finalist in the annual competition by Bordersenses. Her poetry was selected for four Spanish anthologies published by El Centro de Estudios Poéticos in Madrid, Spain. Maria Elena has two fiction short stories published in Conclave (Balkan Press 2016) and Red Earth Review (2016). She was the editor of the poetry anthology Woman in Metaphor (NHH Press 2013). Maria Elena was raised in the South of Chile. After graduating with a degree in Communications, she lived and worked in Mexico and Canada, and currently resides in the Sonoran Desert of Southern California.

 

Barrett Warner on Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s “There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air”

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by Barrett Warner

One way to examine ancient Greek myth assumes that Mount Olympus represents consciousness. If so, then it is a consciousness preoccupied with its extremities—underworlds and heavens, and distant geographies. And to reach them one doesn’t need a shrink; one needs a boat and an enigmatic guide. One needs a ghost in a machine of air.

Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s new volume of poetry is an important evolutionary step in this way of thinking about place and traveling in one spot. In her poems, time is a layered outcrop and discovery occurs when the layers edge over and under themselves. Space and time, consciousness and desire, and apple groves add rich dimensions. Leaving only one question, she writes, in “The Llano de Santa Rosa Rancho, 1843,” How will we emerge from the story we have fallen into?

Dunkle is an intimate poet. There’s a Ghost in This Machine of Air begins with a letter to the originating place, “Dear Sebastopol,” a small town in Sonoma County, California, once a plum and apple growing region. The poet signals us about the moving shapes of time: “Hard not to get dizzy, here, under tides of scent— / how they grade and terrace the air.” Her description of the land—“salt thick tang of wet earth fat with limestone / against sweet rot of wind falls”—is not a glance out some train window from someone in a hurry to be somewhere else.

Nature is Dunkle’s great love and she knows its body well. She isn’t trying to colonize its spirit but to divine her own. The poem concludes:

Once, your accepted story swallowed me under its bell glass sky.

Now, I wake slowly. Learn to waver

in the air above what history we’ve learned, sense what’s pushing up underneath.

The poet admits to once believing in Sebastopol’s creation myth (trains and groves painted in a mural on the post office wall), and perhaps to some bell jar myth of herself, but this is a poem asking for truer consciousness, the waking slowly to sense the layers. “Here,” she seems to be saying as these poems continue, “let me show you, not with stories, but with narrative meditations.” In “A Language Is a Map of Our Failures” the chief failure is the way our literal minds use language to forget associative experiences. When we lose our empathy for the world which preceded ours, we lose the land “covered in thick redwoods; / their dizzying tops spindled the wool of low fog…Close enough to the sea to dream of salt and the muscular bodies of fish.” Even the first ship—a word that doesn’t exist to the native peoples—is described as a hollow whale.

Yes, there is a dizziness to reading these poems, and some of that has to do with Dunkle’s use of many points of view: the shore, someone on shore approaching a ship, someone on a ship approaching shore, someone centuries before who developed the Gravenstein apple, the point of view of seeds stowed in passenger trunks, and too, a kind of voice-over narration that pops up to re-orient us: “In the 1850s, those who didn’t find gold farmed.” While a number of her poems read like dramatic monologues, they are not written in service to character, but to place. In this, her poems lean towards ekphrastic poetry, wherein the work of art being touched upon is Earth itself.

In “Planting Gold Ridge mid 1800s,” the sensuous Dunkle fitfully describes slash and burn destruction to prepare the fields, and the joy that comes from it: “Hint of pink buds like perfect tongues. / Then, hillside igniting into confetti of delicate pink blossoms.” The hills just beyond where “seas try to reclaim the land,” speak to the undulations in time where water and air and land are one indistinguishable element:

I must watch the hills roll out toward

somewhere else where the fog rests. I must

site a single tree rising on the hill’s

sloped, broad back, and know it as a sign.

The mythic symmetry of competing natural elements bends a kind of internal logic. “The Washoe House” is a “House made of dawn, house made of thunderous hearts; / bricked in; gone cement silent; mouths full of dust; / walls still whirring, still breathing like hummingbird wings.” The saloon straddles a creek and its walls harbor the many ghosts of intimacies paid for with “a small pinch of gold dust.” The women’s “breath fogging the glass between truth and what we chose to tell.”

The clarity of everyday truth and the obscurity of fog are prolific tropes for Dunkle, especially in an era of exploitation. In “There Lies the Thing I Most Desire,” a dramatic monologue of a Japanese American man who loses his harvest when he’s removed to an internment camp, Dunkle observes:

trust is difficult to plow here—

…There is no way to dig it out like the oaks

we cleared from our field before we planted.

There is only the stiff wind,

the press of powdery stars into our longest night.

Taking from the land, we rob from ourselves because we are the land, we are the sea, and we are the air. We are the fog we are trying to see through in the same way that a basket woven from sedge stalks is a prayer for the roots of the sedge.

In some ways, There Is a Ghost in This Machine of Air feels like a “project.” I intend this, by no means, as a slight, since some of the most remarkable works result from a brief, passionate exploration (such as Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us). Dunkle can be forgiven if she crosses the line at times between focus (which draws the reader into the art) and tunnel vision (which can make her subject feel claustrophobic). And, too, she’s written a few of these poems in clusters that both bring out her best work and muddy it with arrangements in series. Maybe for this reason her poems that mark transitions—where matters leave one dizzy with heart song—were some of my favorite selections.

“Moon over Laguna de Santa Rosa” begins the book’s second section, Laguna de Santa Rosa, a river that “flows both ways carrying history heavy on its back” and offers these deft ending lines:

Today, the moon hangs low in the sky.

Not full, just a thin crescent illuminating a single path back,

past the remaining oaks, past forgetting.

Dunkle is skilled at ending without closing a poem so that every last line or stanza can also be the beginning of a new poem, a new way “in” to Sebastopol where every new and old wound “at its center, is a mouth.” A mouth meant for singing and language and kissing to wake us slowly to the Other—the Sebastopol—within us. She writes in “Finding Lake Ballard”:

When they ask you who ruined this place

answer with a tongue made of peach peels

and a mouth full of sewage. Your eyes backlit

with dynamite and the smooth shine of dirt.

Barrett Warner is a lecturer; book reviewer; essayist; unique, witty, and masterful poet; and co-editor of the Free State Review, a literary journal. His poetry collection Why is It So Hard to Kill You?, Somondoco Presswas published in 2016. In addition to The Tishman Review, his recent work can be found in these publications: Coda Quarterly, Adroit Journal, Consequence Magazine, Chiron Review, Entropy Magazine, and Cultural Weekly.

Ending Anxiety

Man and Tree

 

 

by Erin Lillo

Not knowing what I wanted to read, I recently grazed my bookshelves. This indecision—wanting to read, not knowing what to read; needing to write, not knowing what to write—is often a part of my writing process, especially when I approach the end of a project. Although the end may not be the right nominative for this moment as I’m likely to return to the same poems, scenes, stories, chapters again and again with a kind of restless tinkering that makes me wonder if I missed my calling as a watch maker or nervous mechanic. Early in my writing life, this ending anxiety unnerved me, but as I approach the final draft of my poetry thesis, I find myself resigned. The manuscript is done enough to fulfill degree requirements, but the manuscript isn’t complete. Anxiety marches on.

My grazing led me to Stephen Dunn’s essay collection, Walking Light, and in this spirit, I read Dunn’s essays in no particular order, beginning with “The Good and Not So Good.” I’m fascinated by these kinds of essays. The good poem versus the bad poem—is it like the Supreme Court’s definition of obscene: you know it when you see it? Is it quantifiable, like that bit of dialogue from Dead Poet’s Society, where the imminent Dr. Pritchard’s essay teaches prep school boys how to chart a poem’s greatness on a graph?

My instinct is to say not definable, not quantifiable and to embrace the playfulness in Dunn’s essay. Yet in my more cynical moments I wonder if this tendency derives from my ambivalence toward my almost (but not really) finished aforementioned work.

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite lines from “The Good and Not So Good:”

The good poem is implicitly philosophical. The not so good poem, conversely,
may exquisitely describe a tree or loneliness, but if the description does not
suggest an attitude toward nature, or human nature, we are left with a kind of
dentist office art—devoted to decoration and the status quo.

The connection between sanitary art and the status quo reminds me of product jingles; think of all those poets and musicians colluding to sell us heartburn medication and upscale tequila. I’d much rather challenge the insanity of our contemporary moment, to witness the reality of voice and power. Dunn implies the good poem must reveal a complicated attitude toward its subject matter—not bitterness, but not indifference either. This attitude must also reveal the place where the poet’s voice and wounds rest edge-to-edge; otherwise, the poem tidies up reality to the point of sanitation or empty prettiness, which is a lie.

Here’s another excerpt and observation:

Not only must poets turn away from tired or dead language, they must be wary of
their best ideas and all the language that was available to them before the poem
began. That is, all the language that hasn’t been found by the language in the
poem. And then even that new language should be doubted and resisted.
Resistance leads to discovery. No, no, no, no, and then yes. The good poem offers
us a compelling, vibrant replacement for what, in our complacency, we allowed
ourselves to believe we knew and felt.

I discovered Fahrenheit 451 when I was a freshman in high school and ever since I’ve been drawn to literature that exposes how so many of our thoughts, emotions, and actions derive from untested belief. We can believe we’re happy, living lives we chose for ourselves, until someone asks, “Are you happy?” Test the belief, like Bradbury’s Guy Montag, and you never know what devastation you might find. With Dunn’s definition, however, this devastation becomes a source of creativity—resistance leading to discovery, a series of no’s followed by yes. A compelling, vibrant truth replaces a complacent lie when a poem is a good poem. Therefore, beware the pre-packaged and beribboned ending—too tidy, too complacent. And one of my most persistent writing habits.

Here’s one final example from Dunn:

The morality of the poet is to keep his/her tools sharp, always to be ready for the
convergence of deep concern with subject matter. In this sense, craft and care for
the integrity of language are the only things that separate the poet from the
obvious moralist.

The not so good moral poem often works against some abuse or injustice and in
its zeal gives content more attention than composition. This is the gift that
falls apart, the one years later you can’t seem to find when the giver comes to
visit.

I read this, thinking “Of course, language first.” On the one hand, the precision of language, its rhythms and sounds; on the other, language and its slippery, emotive fogginess—a poet’s toolbox must be versatile, indeed.

For me, a new and somewhat begrudged tool has to be patience. Part of writing the good poem is knowing when and how to return to the work with language best suited to converge deep disquiet with subject matter. It’s a psychic energy as much as anything else, I suspect, but I’m not sure how to recognize the symptoms of “obvious moralist” in my work.

Does developing this sensibility come through the submission-rejection-revision cycle of publication (also closely linked to patience)? When the poem (or story or essay) finds an editorial home, perhaps that’s a signal of completeness. Rejection is a signal of incompleteness, of the necessity for more work and more time. But if this is the case, why do I suspect a great deal of obvious moralizing receives acceptance notices?

Maybe the integrity of the poem is something you hear rather than see (this reminds me of a line from To Kill a Mockingbird, something about how recognizing truth in a witness’s testimony is more about listening than anything else). Could it be that the only ears tuned to hear the poem for what it really is belong to the writer? But then what’s the point of sending the piece into the world, if the music is for myself alone? Dunn’s essay left me with more questions than answers.

Regardless, this reminder about a poet’s integrity living in the individual words and the choices those words represent, all these unanswered questions, nourish me. I return to my tinkering, less anxious, more curious about what the next word might bring. For the moment, I forget about finishing the project. When there’s so much potential for discovery, why worry about the end?

In addition to writing, teaching, studying, and parenting, Erin Lillo reads too much and listens to music too loudly. She also has an ongoing competition with her husband to see who can work the most lines from The Big Lebowski into everyday conversation. Currently, she’s losing. Her short fiction has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review.

On God is Round, Metaphors, and Soccer

nami-1430508One 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.

Intention and Resistance in Writing

Kinetic - 1113x524

 

by J.L. Cooper

A friend recently asked me if I consider myself a psychologist who writes, or a writer who thinks like a psychologist. I told him to knock it off, that it’s much more confusing, not either/or, just a matter of finding my way. But the small moment generated a large curiosity about the fate of intention in writing, whether it’s critical or even useful to stay loyal to the original idea for a story, the urge to tell it, knowing it’s going to be caressed and transformed, even shredded by internal forces, some of them hidden.

It begs the question: what opposes the freedom to let a story or a poem run away with itself?

The usual fear-based suspects appear: doubts over whether the writing is any good, fear of irrelevance, fear of exposing more than we’ve thought through, negative experiences in the past. In writing, we resist being pulled away from the path we know, even though we’re well aware of the need to surrender to exploration. Otherwise, we won’t be very engaged, and will forget the magic of writing means you can try anything that comes to mind, pay off some debt owed to an impulse, bargain with death, speculate, find a torn piece of cloth in a treasure chest that was looted, and make the cloth the greater treasure.

In writing, as in daily life, we venture in and out of quasi-dissociated states constantly, in mini-daydreams, private thoughts, and reveries. Why would our characters not be allowed to do the same, to roam the twilight greys of the mind?

I believe a first draft should be a beautiful unapologetic mess: a mess of intentions and discoveries. This is exactly where it gets interesting. The forces that reside in a character can also be represented in surprising places, like a setting, an object that keeps appearing, or a fantasy told by a lesser character.

Subjectivity is so intensely personal, so reticent to being reduced, so amazing and maddening, resistant to linear thought, it’s no wonder that much of our personal realities resides in sensations, not words. There’s a daunting sense of presence in the urge to write. This, I argue, is the bread that sustains literary characters and their interactions, and links the lines of a poem, much like other tensions we cannot name, but are in us nonetheless.

My hope is to write from this region.

I recently read, Writers [on Writing]: Collected Essays from the New York Times in which Joyce Carol Oates comments: “To write is to invade another’s space, if only to memorialize it.” And, “Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it. The more original and unsettling their art, the more devastating the punishment.”

The courage theme is always present. There’s more.

Too much resistance to spontaneity can flatten a story, diluting its flavor. I can say as a psychologist that everyone has a unique way of feeling stuck in his or her own subjectivity. One problem I have is thinking too hard about what I want a story to be. It reduces me to metaphors about cooking, more spice here, less salt there, and I’ve accepted I’m a lousy cook.

Poet Mark Doty, in The Art of Description: Word into World, discusses timelessness, linking it to lyric qualities. “In this lyric time, we cease to be aware of forward movement; lyric is concerned neither with the impingement of the past nor with anticipation of events to come.” I think he’s inviting us to write beyond the known intention, to free the mind from all the willful clamoring.

It is not the way I’m used to thinking about lyricism.

He goes on: “Such a state of mind is ‘lyric’ not because it is musical (though the representation of these states of mind usually is) but because we are seized by a moment that suddenly seems edgeless, unbounded.”

No matter how much I want to write about a past moment, the parallels to the present moment make appearances. The old conundrums come to visit. Everyone has tensions that have been internalized. In writing, we are supported by the internalized influence of friends, past triumphs, people who love and encourage us. But we are not completely free from the influence of the bullies in our lives, the cynics and abusers. The art of writing, in my opinion, is to express the tensions, not to be constrained to resolve them.

My own response is to make room for mental associations and images to visit freely in my writing, like I’ve given them a VIP pass to enter the page. It gets a little wild, as these can come from a narrative voice, a character, or projection into an object I’m describing. I sometimes delegate an inanimate object to be the container for something a character cannot see or know. This was my solution to the overflowing grief of my protagonist in “Path of the Ground Birds,” where the glow of a refrigerator light took over some of the narration when the character was too numb to speak.

The momentary loss of the external narrative is the most astonishing gift, perhaps in therapy as well as writing. It’s the moment when a client says something completely unexpected after talking about, say, persistent headaches, he says something like, “I never told my brother I loved him,” while looking at an vase in a bookshelf. It’s true we’ve lost one thread, but picked up another that’s far more important. This is what I strive to do in writing, to make room for what emerges.

Other masters I admire, such as Alice Munroe, Donna Tartt, Adam Johnson, Charles Baxter, to name just a few, seem to delve easily into the intimate worlds of characters and describe their attachments from within.

I may be in contradiction to writers advising that to be successful, a story needs constant twists of plot, a satisfying arc, an earthquake of a beginning, a clarifying ending, etc. I’m more inclined to settle in, appreciating a mix of tones. It’s why I never tire reading passages of Henry James and Virginia Woolf. Maybe it comes to an acceptance of one’s mix, not a problem to be solved, since intentions are mixed as well.

For example, I was raised by a father who recited Rudyard Kipling and William Butler Yeats, and ballads by the dozens. He’d be transported by rhymes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. When I think of his influence, I’m inclined to write a sentence like this: “There was dread in his voice when he said to his friends that he went for a loaf of bread.” There I am, summoning the rhythms from childhood listening.

My mother was reserved, careful, and kept her worries to herself. She rarely spoke in the first person. My parents departed long ago, but I can summon her influence too. I think of her way of saying things, and add my own spin. Now I’ll write it like this: “When he left, a loaf of bread was on his mind, sliced this time, though it was not his custom.” This way keeps my curiosity going.

I don’t think resistance as a concept is simply a barrier to creativity, since it’s just as linked to identity as the way a person walks: haltingly, or leaning slightly forward. It’s folly to think that the absence of resistance opens the door to genius. We can try to use the tension rather than be neutralized by it.

To write is to live in wonder.

James Cooper2(1)J.L Cooper is a writer, clinical psychologist in Sacramento, California, and winner of the Tupelo Quarterly prose open prize, TQ9, judged by Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson. (Read his winning piece, “Path of the Ground Birds,” here.) Additional awards include: First Place in Short Short Fiction in New Millennium Writings, 2013, and Second Place in Essay in Literal Latte, 2014. His short stories and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in The Manhattan Review, Hippocampus, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Structo, Paper Swans Press (UK), Gold Man Review, KY Story, Folia Literary Magazine, The Sun (Reader’s Write), and in other journals and anthologies. A full-length collection of poetry is forthcoming from WordTech. For more information, go to: jlcooper.net