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Sommer Browning’s new collection of poems is Backup Singers from Birds, LLC. She runs the Bad Shadow Affair, a monthly reading series, and is a member of the poets theater group GASP. She draws comics, writes jokes, and works as a librarian in Denver

more ninis                  moon hat
           moonball                   heavy

a child says

more milk                   more ninis     
                        happy                         no more

says before spelling
says before order, while kneeling
says out of a volcano

Says her blanket, her E.

Says eeeeeee
as she struggles with a box
wrestles the stepstool to the sink.

bulbbulb                    mama            
            Noah                           heart                   beepbeep

I think about language I drown
until dinner.

I see a friend’s child, the same age, utter the same words. And I am afraid
that I am afraid we are too much the same.  

guitar                          moon             
            up up                          go go go                      loud

She says it like this: one two one one one one.
That way we counted.

She says they all are red.
We said red
or blue or red.

bye bye                      more              
            more milk                 that that that

For some, she’s normal
like a poem
titled with a date.

But—lemme say it like the ancients—
she’s not not normal.
 

Says: she’s my first real owl

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Monica Mody is the author of Kala Pani (1913 Press) and two chapbooks of cross-genre experiments. Her poems have appeared in &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry, Boston Review, Eleven Eleven, The Volta, Dusie, and MiPOesias, among other places. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame and is currently in a doctoral program in East-West Psychology. 

Living with Language

Let’s say nature is sentient & alive, & that everything in nature is also sentient & alive.

Stone River Genome Abrasion

Flight path L&fill Stigmata OS

Laughter Erhu Dreams Fibula 

Sun Lozenge Radiation Terror

Animists would also say:

Let’s say all parts of the natural world are interrelated—that we are kindred.

Language, then?

Is language alive & sentient?

Is language kin to us?

& what does that imply for us, poets: hosts of language, co-creators of language, primal lovers of language/ lovers of primal language?

& what can living, primal language bring forth? Must we be accountable for—or to—it/them? Do we have a responsibility to bring it/them forth? Do certain realities need us to be the intermediaries that bring them forth? Does something or someone wait for us to be in relationship—in right relationship?

& what do these bring up in us: “accountability,”  “responsibility,” “need”? “Right relationship”?

This provocation itself—is this the experiment we are waiting for?—the cutting edge, knife’s edge?

Of form of genre.

Of performance of media.

Of language.

Of borders of temporality.

Of regeneration of worlds.

Of resilience of vulnerability.

Of resistance.

Resistance/ what remains standing is the sensing that poetry is illimitable. The space of the impossible humming with possibility. Indescribable beauty & sorrow, horror shimmering in its depths. Indescribable horror, beauty shimmering in its depths. Strength, knowing, putrefaction of the human body, & the non-human finding us always in its uncanny ways. To be accountable could not after all mean the kind of moral weakness that cannot take the shot colors of reality & imagination & everything that crosses between there & here—

It must be willing to host ambiguity, uncertainty, heat of fires at the core of earth, weariness before we reach the fire, freezing of waters before they are thawed, songs of moonjaw & droppings of human waste left behind on the moon after human visitations, toxic or composting—

It must have the stamina to compost the enormous fear & hatred & gullibility that make up the human experience—

(into love)—

To fill our mouths with blood/water sucking it from wounds of the earth/soul although our cheeks, distended, may turn grotesque—precisely so that we may hold the dual nature of our human/non-human selves & the multiple networks of reality—

networked realities—

In love & in kinship—to be bound by “obligations of responsibility, solidarity, and care”—

locally & translocally.

"Everything come up out of ground—language, people, emu, kangaroo, grass. That’s law." –Hobbles Danyari

“If writing cannot & writing must change things, I thought to myself, logically of course, writing will change things magically.” – Kathy Acker

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Gale Marie Thompson is the author of Soldier On (Tupelo Press, 2014) and two chapbooks, Expeditions to the Polar Seas (Sixth Finch) and If You’re a Bear, I’m a Bear. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Souvenir, Columbia Poetry Review, Better, They Will Sew the Blue Sail, Volt, Best New Poets 2012, Guernica, and others. She edits Jellyfish Magazine and writes, teaches, and lives in Athens, GA. 

National Poetry Month EssayletStevie Nicks, Serial Poems, Voyager, and the Arecibo Message

Out of the almost impossible range of choices, I think the thing I love most about Stevie Nicks is that she just can’t finish a damn song.

While this isn’t one hundred percent true, certain songs like “Sara,” “Angel,” and “Storms” seem to carry on and on far past when the typical “song” might have finished, reaching farther and farther out into the recording space. Past the easy ending, out comes something else; then we’re allowed to sit with it; then here comes another phrasal unit, all relatively disconnected from previous lyrics, but seem to envelop image after image into what’s already been presented in the “main” song. A pinwheel of a song, given that we have enough air to keep it going, until finally she fades out (Lindsey’s doing, I’m sure). I love that. It’s walking through the snow, slowly, only enough to keep from freezing to death. It’s refusing to let us (or Lindsey) off the hook. I think of these endings as why I am so fixated on longer, serial poem types, particularly those in the female voice, and really, why I write poems at all.

 “Storms,” for example: already haunting and hollow and a kind of clawing out, the satisfying ending would be:

so I try to say goodbye, my friend

I’d like to leave you with something warm

but never have I been a blue calm sea

I have always been a storm

Instead, we reach this ending and we stall, hesitate, hover over this moment for a second—(Susan Howe, in My Emily Dickinson: “HESITATE from the Latin, meaning to stick. Stammer.”)—then she moves on. We receive a string of phrasal fractures, beginning with “We were frail,” then moving on to unit after unit (“I should have known from the first,” “I’d be the broken hearted,” “I’ve loved you from the start,” “Save us,” “And not all the prayers in the world / could save us”), all about 15 seconds apart from each other. We become stuck, then we break free, only to become stuck, calling out, again.

I am thinking of the Arecibo Message, broadcasted from Puerto Rico in 1974 toward globular star cluster M13. It contains codified information about us for extraterrestrial species to receive, and a reply will come, at the very earliest, in 25,000 years. When we learned that Voyager 1 had left the heliopause and truly entered interstellar space, Golden Records—with a calling out from 1970s Earth—intact, I thought to myself: “and the starling flew for days.” That’s a line from “Sara.” What am I doing but a continual calling out, and then a wait, a calling out, and then a wait. When we shine a beam of light out into absolute darkness, the only way we’ll be able to see it is if something with visible mass interrupts it. Rain, dust, the ground, another person. Who I am only exists in my points of contact, in what is reflected back.

Taking into account any live version of one of these songs, and you’ve got a performance time that rivals a Phish jam session or Metallica drum solo. “Sara” in particular, on recent tours, includes a Buckingham/Nicks slow dance interlude and a microphone switch in which Lindsey sneaks up behind Stevie and smells her hair. But that’s another story. 

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Rusty Morrison’s –Beyond the Chainlink- (Ahsahta) was published in January 2014. Her book -After Urgency- won Tupelo’s Dorset Prize. -Book of the Given–is available from Noemi Press. -the true keeps calm biding its story- won Ahsahta’s Sawtooth Prize, Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, Northern California Book Award, and DiCastagnola Award from Poetry Society of America. –Whethering-won the Colorado Prize for Poetry. She has received the Bogin, Hemley, Winner, and DiCastagnola Awards from PSA. Her poems and/or essays have appeared in A Public Space, American Poetry Review, Aufgabe, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Lana Turner, Pleiades, Poem-A-Day from the Academy of American Poets, The Volta’s Trash Issue, and elsewhere. Her poems were anthologized in Beauty is a Verb, the Norton Postmodern American Poetry 2 nd Edition, The Arcadia Project: Postmodern Pastoral, and elsewhere. She is co-publisher of Omnidawn.

A Coalesce of Displacements; A Coalesc-ary

I’m thinking about “image” again; but I don’t want this thinking to be “again,” I want to wet its surfaces and then stretch it. But I want more than porous, I want poltergeists, or maybe poltergeists of intuition, who will shift around unexpectedly inside the meaning I had for image.

I’m flying from San Francisco to Cincinnati, and on the plane I’m reading in the current Denver Quarterly a thoughtful interview with Kate Greenstreet conducted by Adam Clay. It ends with Kate G saying: “Without books and music I never would have survived my adolescence. Seriously. Strangers saved my life. I can’t repay those artists. But is it too much to hope that we might be able to give to someone what has been given to us?”

I know this question intimately. I want to believe a poem of mine might give to a reader, in the ways that the poems I read gave and gave to me. I want to pay it forward. But there’s also selfishness in this. I’m struggling to keep saving myself, too. I haven’t stayed saved.

I’m thinking about how to recognize the alteration in my awareness that saves me, that comes to me in some poems I write, and from some poems as I read them—a marvelous disruptivity that rewrites me, at least for a time, and I widen.

Image is, and isn’t, the word that will let me frame this event, as it occurs in poems.  I want it to have a good name, so that I can say hello to it when I’m reading poems by others and I recognize it. And so that I can call to it, as I’m writing my own poems, talk to it…

Still on the plane, still reading that issue of DQ, I see that there’s also a review of Kate G’s YOUNG TAMBLIN by Sarah Boyer. It begins with a poem quoted from the book: “Woke up screaming? Woke me up screaming. / I have a translation for you./ A dark corner lit.”

These few short sentences shift radically their ideational registers. They make a quick-moving energy that hastens a little shockwave in my imagination which won’t coalesce as something seeable and certain, yet does coalesce as a kind of pure movement that I’d not allowed myself. It’s a movement that I can see I, too, might wield—I could move through experience that fast. It ends with “A dark corner lit”—but it is the lit-ness of it that I’m thinking about, not what might get seen in the light, not what got “cornered.” It’s the sense of being “lit” by this language and feeling not only struck with light, but maybe a little tipsy from imbibing the “screaming,” and then the acceptance of it, and then the offer of a “translation” which nearly suggests that the scream is already moving on into something else, somewhere else, and needn’t stay “corner”-ed by mind’s any single sighting it.

As I read the lines, I recognize what happens inside me—but so quickly, it’s hard to parse, to qualify. I don’t know that the paragraph above does it justice. But it’s happening—I feel seen by the language, and when I see through it, I’m seeing wider, I’m feeling saved.

I know it’s not formally accurate to call these three lines an image, but I sense them as a whole event in the poem for me, the energy of it as a constellating arc. “Image” is the word I have for a multi-sensory experience constellating in language something that I haven’t understood before. So, “image,” I say to it, “hello!” But I want to give it a more personal name, too, so I’ll try calling it a coalesce of displacements. Or, a de-coalesce. Or maybe a coalesc-ary (which harbors “sc-ary” in it; and “scary” and seems right!). So I’ll try that. For now.

I’m remembering that in the preface to Michel Foucault’s THE ORDER OF THINGS, he discusses the power that a fantastical taxonomy by Jorge Luis Borge had upon him. Borge includes in his list of supposedly kindred examples a range that defies logic as Foucault understands it. This heterodoxy allows Foucault to consider the narrow interstitial space between the each thing. This space holds the items beside each other equally, in extraordinary unity, and also divides them, allowing their divergent separateness to act upon him, and upon all of us, Borge’s readers. Foucault’s discussion travels a very different arc than mine, but his thinking helps me consider not only the language in a ‘coalesc-ary’, but also the importance of the narrow space between each phrase. In that interstitial space, between phrases, is the pure energy, moving unseen, that has the power to hold separate enormous distance, and yet allow a reader to cross it.

I do not think of my work, my writing poems, as an attempt to harness that energy. But by recognizing it in other writer’s poems, and in my own, I can call to it more intuitively, more often, and listen to its power as it appears to me. And, in my own life, I can consider how becoming aware of that hidden energy—the energy that both holds enormous difference and yet allows me to cross it—is what saves me.

/////

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Rebecca Lindenberg wrote Love, an Index (McSweeney’s 2012) and The Logan Notebooks (Center for Literary Publishing, 2014).  She’s the recipient of an Amy Lowell Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Grant, and several Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes, and residencies from the MacDowell Arts Colony and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.  She holds a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah, and currently lives in Berlin, Germany.

Some Notes on the Conversation Poem

I’m pretty grateful to the people who make them that there are lots of different poetries in our time – formal or conceptual or documentary, a wild kind of lyric, minimalism,  contemplative verse, prose poetry, or the poem I see a lot of in submissions – long, un-stanzaed narrative verse, flush left and frequently with a capital letter at the start of each line.  Happily, all of these exist, and many more varieties of text experiment, sounding the possibilities of the page.  I can get excited by all of this.  But there are things I find myself returning and returning to, and one of them is what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called (and now I’m running with it, like scissors) the “Conversation Poem.”

He used it as part of the title for “The Nightingale” but that has come to be grouped as such with similar poems (“Frost at Midnight,” “This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison,” “To William Wordsworth,” and more).  Critic George Harper described what they have in common, claiming all are “made with fine particularities to certain places,” “occasioned by definite events,” and above all noting that “even when they are soliloquies, the sociable man who wrote them could not even think without supposing a listener.”  The places are ordinary – a sitting-room, a back-garden; the events are personal, a winter night, a minor accident with some boiled milk that prevented him from taking one of his famous walks, a talk with a friend.  And they are probably the purest expression of Wordsworth’s Romantic notion that poetry should be written in “the real language of men.”  Their tone is intimate, the language (while exceptionally thoughtful and original) is unpretentious.  They seem, as poems, to belong to one of the most exquisite uses of poetry: To relieve loneliness.

Coleridge’s eponymous pieces form just one example, of course, in a long and storied tradition of what could all be called “Conversation Poems,” from Catullus (probably before) to the great Frank O’Hara (and beyond).  In his splendid lyric manifesto, “Personism,” O’Hara writes:

“Personism has nothing to do with philosophy, it’s all art. It does not have to do with personality or intimacy, far from it! But to give you a vague idea, one of its minimal aspects is to address itself to one person (other than the poet himself), thus evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life-giving vulgarity…It was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages.”

Conversation poems aren’t light verse, though (as with Catullus, or our own contemporary Joe Wenderoth) they can be terrifically bawdy.  They aren’t confessional, though (as with the Frank O’Hara of, say, “Having a Coke With You” or “The Day Lady Died”) they can feel deeply familiar.  If they can, at times, seem naive or under-wrought, it is a deliberate aspect of their tender invitation.  What they are not, which makes them special, is defensive.

Now, I myself got a lot out of poetry workshops, but I was frequently lucky in who was in charge of those workshops, and above all, who else was in them.  Rather than someone asking, “Well, does the poem really earn this line?” or “What’s at stake here?”  I got asked stuff like, “Rebecca, why did God create the universe?”  Which, really, is a bigger question for a poet to contend with, and bigger questions usually give way to more interesting poems.  But I’ve noticed that one consequence of bringing work to be scrutinized, vetted, critiqued, analyzed, or possibly even dissed by a group of one’s peers (and even competitors) mediated by an admired elder, well.  It doesn’t always create a fertile environment for joy. 

And I think Conversation Poems, even when they’re bawdy or cheeky or quietly contemplative or struck through with pain or incandescent with grief, they’re kind of joyful.  Because conversation is, in itself, kind of joyful.  It’s a transit between two human imaginations, showing us ourselves in others and others in ourselves.  I have always been pretty firmly of the opinion that compassion is creativity’s finest enterprise.  I think that’s an aspect of the Conversation Poem I most cherish – the permission to partake of someone else’s questions. 

I guess you could say Conversation Poems are a species of the lyric, though I know that is a troublesome little word.  But I’m after this theory that what we mean by “lyric” nowadays has less to do with poetry’s attachment to music, or even its charged defiance of epic values, and more to do with a certain kind of logic – one that moves not by the narrative force of then-now, nor the analytical force of if-then, nor the argumentative force of then-this, but by a kind of hopscotch across associations.  Maybe Pound’s “logopoeia” is what I’m reaching for here, “the dance of the intellect among words.”  But what Conversation Poems bring to this movement, which I think is why they feel kind of joyful, is a splendid measure of velocity.  All poems have to move; some move sort of laboriously, which is sometimes okay but sometimes, you know, laborious.  (Perhaps a consequence of being weighed down with too much polish, or too heavily armored against critique.)  Conversation poems, which are directed right at their interlocutor, like a blown kiss or like a right hook or like a pie in the face, kind of sail.  And I like to sail.

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Michelle Taransky is the author of Sorry Was In The Woods (Omnidawn, 2013) and Barn Burned, Then (Omnidawn 2009). Taransky lives in Philadelphia where she is a member of the Critical Writing faculty at University of Pennsylvania and Reviews Editor for Jacket2.

Today:

Today we are going to talk about the homework and the reading.

We are going to then talk about the collaborative exercise we will do in class and how this exercise will build on the knowledge you have begun to generate in your synthesis assignments. 

I am passing out a document which collects your propositions.

We will be reading and testing each other’s justificatory propositions today. 

As part of the writing in the disciplines program, of which this seminar is a part, you will become an apprentice scholar in our field of poetics.  You will come to know how and why writing is not within any one discipline, but every discipline. For those reasons, this course will demonstrate how to join a discourse community, and to be able to talk about this with other discourse communities. I am going to push you to see that the ways we talk about writing do not have to remain separate, but can join. 

Some of you may be asking, why are we using these terms and not others?

You may be wondering, how do these seemingly disparate disciplines talk to each other? How is knowledge production similar across academic disciplines?

As many academics know, there is always an adaptation/translation/transference possible between terms.  This classification across our Writing courses gives our class and our department a common vocabulary and set of concerns with which to talk about your work, for you to talk about your work. 

As you have no doubt begun to realize, many (if not all) rhetorical strategies are situational. This is why we are going to show you how to analyze and imagine the situation as a part of the writing process  In thinking directly and explicitly about your audience and your goals we will begin to understand how writing is not algorithmic, but instead, a set of choices and decisions made in response to a rhetorical situation.

We will observe rhetorical strategies in use. We will break down our readings (and eventually, your writing) into elements of reasoning.  We will look closely at the building and architecture of a scholarly research text. We will ask how paragraphs are built, where reasons fall, the kinds of evidence used in the field, look for strategies which build unity and coherence, think about arrangement.

In these ways, we will be able to see these examples as possible models, and begin to think of critical writing and its processes as not dissimilar from the processes or procedures of creative writers, and the way they talk about their work. 

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Natalie Shapero is the author of No Object (Saturnalia, 2013), and her poems have appeared recently in Pinwheel, Poetry, Typo, and elsewhere. She writes and teaches at Kenyon College, where she is a Kenyon Review Fellow.

UNPUBLISHED

As someone always on the lookout for inventive insults, I was heartened to hear poet William Fuller, at a recent reading, refer to his “witch-fighting ancestors” in colonial Massachusetts. I am excited to meet the next person I dislike, needing as I do now an opportunity to call someone a red-baitin’, peace-hatin’, witch-fightin’ son of a bitch.

But “witch-fighting” actually only ranks second in my current list of top taunts; number one on the list these days is the simple, elegant “unpublished.” Personally, I do not find this to actually be any kind of appreciable insult, but the Beat poet Harold Norse might beg to differ. I’ve been reading recently about how, after a biography of Williams S. Burroughs depicted Norse as a man who “thought of himself as ‘dark-horse Norse,’ ignored and unpublished,” Norse sued the book’s author and publisher for defamation. Norse’s position was that the biographer shouldn’t be allowed to suggest that he was unpublished, when in fact he was published. The biographer, who won this particular battle, countered that it wasn’t that Norse was actually invisible in the literary world—it was just that he thought of himself that way, as evidenced by his embittered personal letters. That’s the thing about being your own worst critic—at the end of the day, you don’t get to complain about the reviews.

But Norse really did write some sweet and forceful poetry, dark-horse or otherwise. So, for this April, while everyone else is reading yet another new Burroughs biography (and, yes, I admit that multiple biographies are indeed probably in order for anyone who kills his wife during a botched game of William Tell), maybe you’ll take a look at the (actually, yes, published) works of Harold Norse—score one for the ignored.

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Emily Wolahan’s first collection of poetry, HINGE, is forthcoming in June 2014 from the National Poetry Review Press.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Omniverse, Boston Review, DIAGRAM, and National Poetry Review, among others. She co-edits JERRY Magazine and lives in San Francisco.

 

I am mostly completely confused by poetry––the world it inhabits, how much of it there is, the people who write it, where they get their ideas, how they find the time, how many teaching jobs there are in the world, how many solutions to pay rent, how a lifetime can be filled with poetry when it seems each day merely has it dribbled in.

But poetry finds me and keeps nagging me and never seems to let me go.

I didn’t always know it was poetry. I travelled extensively as a kid and each ancient bridge I stood on, each Great Wall or rice field or sand dune I saw, I refused to record with a camera. (In truth, I’d lost my Kodak Ektralite at the Trevi Fountain.) I said stubbornly, I’ll record it with my mind. I’ll just remember until it feels unnatural to take a photo of a castle, but good to physically remember the smoothed indent of stone steps ascending to a turret.

That was the beginning of poetry for me. Memories that nag and crumble and are remade. They’re saying: You have all this information! Why can’t you understand it! So each poem is an attempt to understand, at least a little tiny bit, through remaking. I cannot just come out and say it. I don’t have a mind that can accurately record an experience, muse on it, and share a cunning conclusion. It makes more sense to say: Maelstrom with a notch, the cauldron of morning, the azury center of time. Hopeless.

My poems come from wanting to communicate, then maniacally refusing to do so straight forwardly. Outside of poetry, I become leaden, plodding, hitting every dull point three times and waiting to make sure it took. In a poem, I feel there’s hope in committing fewer words but more space. Communication only happens sideways. The reader/listener/viewer needs to have done some thinking herself for any newly acquired knowledge to matter.

Recently, I picked up The Gorgeous Nothings, an art book/facsimile of Emily Dickinson’s late writings she composed on repurposed pieces of paper. I often think of Dickinson, her daily life, the place of poetry in it, her scraps of paper, her carefully sliced, re-used envelopes, the universe she could capture in just a few words and I find that strangeness has nothing to do with her nor with inventive poetry. Rather, a particular determination. A certain slant of vision that it would seem unnatural to waver from.

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Carolina Ebeid is a fellow at the Stadler Center for Poetry where she helps edit West Branch. She is also a poetry editor for the online journal Better: Culture & Lit.  Her work appears in journals such as The Kenyon Review, Crazyhorse, Memorious, Colorado Review, and others. She holds an MFA from the Michener Centers for Writers, and has been awarded prizes and fellowships from the McNair Scholars Program, CantoMundo, and the Academy of American Poets. In the fall, she will be starting a doctorate at the University of Denver’s creative writing program. 

 

Allow the Poem to Make its Small Revolution: Three Glances

 

Velvet Fragment

The Velvet Fragment is a framed swatch of textile from the late 15th Century Ottoman Empire. I’ve seen it on permanent display at The Cloisters museum. It’s made of silk and metallic thread. Standing in front of the twenty-seven inch by twenty-five inch fragment, you might have to strain to imagine that this piece was once luxurious, part of a richly textured curtain or wall hanging. There’s something metaphysical about it. When you are in the proximity of centuries-old objects, especially quotidian ones, like an inkwell or a bread pan, there is a presence you might glimpse in them, a sense of correspondence with the selfsame dead that once handled them in the everyday contexts of their kitchens. How odd to see these objects now in the untouchable context of a museum. What’s more, it’s this precise estranging––a soup ladle behind glass––that makes a poem. Poetry takes the familiar object and makes something unfamiliar, or vice-versa.

That fragment of a curtain––or could it have been a robe?––invites you to read it as you would an open book. It is a remnant that has survived the years, discovered and preserved. The weavers’ work is not the kind of material that often endures without the curatorial hand. Silk threads deteriorate as all organic matter does. The Velvet Fragment is indeed a text; text shares its etymological root with textile (L. texere, to weave). The poem moves down the page as the lines move across it. And the fraying edges of the fragment’s weft and the warp might announce a history of its own unraveling, or of how it was made.

 

Free Verse

The Cloisters museum––the building itself––is a structure made of disassembled French medieval abbeys. They were shipped over to New York City in the 1930’s, and reconstructed on site. Maybe there’s a familiar and Postmodern poetics in this. I set out to write a poem; I am in a sense culling words and forms from other environments, and making a new structure on the site-specific location of the page. What was once a religious space of separation, becomes a secular one where persons (like me, like you) can meet. Still, when I walk through its vaulted rooms, there is the undeniable eerie chill drafting through me, as though I were trespassing through a sepulcher. As though the new place were the room’s very afterlife. And this makes me think of translation. Those bricks were “translated” across the Atlantic and given another life, an afterlife, in a vernacular I can read and understand.

 

If the History of the Sun is a History of Sight

I would like to hold a modicum of superstitious belief in the power of words. Much as the words that articulate ancient spells would be charged with a magical potential, so too would the words in a poem carry incantatory possibilities.  At least something becomes disturbed. The etymological histories of words are contained within them, often buried in obsolescence. I draw upon the word “buried” because it seems there is an archaeological element involved in writing a poem, akin to digging, excavation, the delicate brushing-back of loose sediment to expose something to the air once more.

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Kathleen Ossip is the author of The Cold War, which was one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2011; The Search Engine, which was selected by Derek Walcott for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize; and Cinephrastics, a chapbook of movie poems. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Poetry, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Washington Post, The Believer, A Public Space, and Poetry Review (London). She teaches at The New School in New York and online for The Poetry School of London. She has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

People-ism

The individual self, the I, the speakery-poet, &c.

My task today is to consider how poets can be people.

Marianne Moore said “The passion for setting people right is in itself an afflictive disease,” but she presumed and so will I.

I submit that we write our poems for people to read. I propose that we speak to them as they need to be spoken to.

To speak as they need to be spoken to doesn’t mean to speak words, phrases and sentences that confirms what people already feel, with the purpose of making them believe they are deep (“I think in poetry!”). Far from it!

To speak as they would like to be spoken to means that the words, phrases and sentences you write empathize with the people who you hope will be reading them. And enlarge them (the people).

To do this it is likely that you will have to enlarge yourself.

People may not know how they want and need to be spoken to. But poets have to love people enough to know this for them.

You may say: B-but this famous poet was an asshole…that famous poet was an asshole. This may be true.

We are on this Earth just the once, as far as we can tell, for 100 years tops.

No one can avoid being an asshole during those 100 years, one way or another – a power-hungry influence-snob dweeb; a thin-skinned hermit-twerp; a smiling manic empty-sex-crazed vicious-cycle zero; a commercialist display-rack; a donate-to-fix-the-mouths-of-third-world-kids-but-fry-your-colleagues uber-winner; a woman-who-slices-men, a man-who-rips-women. Every system is designed to form people into assholes.

I am all in favor of smashing systems. But 100 years is not really that long in system-time.

Isn’t it good that we have our poems where we can act out our non-asshole individual selves?

There may or may not be a distinction between the speaker and the poet, but there most definitely should not be a chasm between poet and people.

All us helpless assholes are in need of your poems!

Like Frank O’Hara, I can’t conclude my manifesto without the word love.

I submit that loving people is the only purpose poets and poems can possibly have. That love can make poems comforting, fun, illuminating. Our poems can act toward people as a mother to a child.

“My aesthetic, love it or leave!” It’s not likely that the only people capable of writing good poems are you and your friends, is it? Be generous with your attention and your praise, be wide in your loving ambitions toward your readers. It will make you a better (more open – have some negative capability, poets!) poet and person.

In the process, we poets become people, a golden transformation.