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THE END

MICHAEL BAZZETT

In the beginning, God wanted


to be a comedian. What’s made
in my image, but has no soul?
he’d ask, and just stare at you,
exchanging the idea of a punch
line for something like endless
exhalation. He would raise
one eyebrow and ash his cigar.
No laughter. Part of the issue
was the slight skew in the angels’
sense of humor. Sometimes
dozens would sit and watch
the obstinate waves batter
a glacier for weeks, only laughing
when it calved and a shattered
hunk of dirty ice lunged free
into the frigid Antarctic sea.
Then they’d bray like donkeys.
God took notes and tried using
a similar structure: the slow
build that feels like boredom.
Maybe good timing is tough
when you’re eternal. Jokes,
like most folks, have no idea
what they mean until the end.

Michael Bazzett’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Sun, 32 Poems, Copper
Nickel, and The Iowa Review. He is the author of three poetry collections—You Must
Remember This (winner of the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry), Our Lands Are
Not So Diferent (Horsethief, 2017), and The Interrogation (Milkweed, 2017)—as
well as a forthcoming verse translation of the Mayan creation epic, The Popol Vuh (Milk-
weed). The recipient of a 2017 NEA Fellowship in Poetry, he lives in Minneapolis with his
wife and two children.

44 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


AMERICAN “Because past the angel at the gate,
oh can turn like that, go under, straight

POETRY REVIEW
into poetry. Here’s the god’s honest: a
moment of calm recently came to me,
so close to sleep it was sleep. In my
dream I saw a girl whose dark t-shirt
read: All is Failure. Except ‘failure’ was
misspelled—part of the dream too—either
‘far-lure’ or ‘fear-lure.’ The words still
blur. But thank you, whatever sent that.”

(BORUCH, cont’d. p. 21)

JULY/AUGUST 2018 VOL. 47/NO. 4 $5 US/$6 CA

KHADIJAH QUEEN
(PRAIRIE ERASURE & OTHER POEMS)

SHARON OLDS
THE ENCHANTMENT
& OTHER POEMS

KIMIKO HAHN
REGENERATION
& SHE SELLS SEASHELLS

PLUS NEW POEMS BY


JUSTIN BOENING
LYNN MELNICK
FRANK SHERLOCK
MAGGIE SMITH

APRWEB.ORG PHOTO: MICHAEL TEAK


/ HONICKMAN FIRST BOOK PRIZE

t An award of $3,000
t Publication of a volume of poetry
with an introduction by Sharon Olds

Distribution by Copper Canyon Press through Consortium


Open to all U.S. poets
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Judge: Sharon Olds


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CATHERINE BARNETT 6 Central Park & Other Poems
JOANNE DIAZ 8 Paper Crowns & Other Poems
Editor
Elizabeth Scanlon MAI DER VANG 10 Refugee, Walking Is the Most
Business Manager Human of All & Other Poems
Mike Dufy JENNIFER L. KNOX 11 Iowa Bird of Mouth: Keeping a
Editorial Assistant 12-Month Crowdsourced Poetry
Leyna Bohning Project in the Air
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Dennis J. Brennan, Esq.
Said to Me Over and Over Again
Contributing Editors & Other Poems
Christopher Buckley, Deborah Burnham,
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Leonard Gontarek, Everett Hoagland, MARIANNE BORUCH 21 Oh No
Teresa Leo, Kate Northrop, Marjorie Perlof,
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Founder SHARON OLDS 26 The Enchantment & Other Poems


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Vol. 47, No. 4. Copyright © 2018 by World Poetry, Inc.
All rights, including translation into other languages, are MICHAEL BAZZETT 44 The End
reserved by the publishers in the United States, Great Britain,
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Canyon Press through Consortium.

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 3
NINE POEMS
KHADIJAH QUEEN

Prairie Erasure beauty we don’t want


to waste & the world says it
I wants, but trashes, sees as glut,

Blazes travel the state roads. Entire fields ingrained in us—fires usable in a finite manner We like
a house, a forest, essential in land and soil—set a purpose. talk of human forevers as holes in us
unfilled, we’re raggedy apartments
II Who to blame
At growing season, leave dead matter above deluxe in schism—runaways & orchids
ground. Future burners—side ditches. Dead matter, new plants— tattooed on wrists or thighs As dull men scof
shells that need breaking. Never leave them. we still say keep fighting,
& love me again— don’t the pines die, too
III & exactly with our names
This time we see plumes rising. Grasslands herds, hunted,
go hide in falsified ash. Drip torch upwind— Apace
machinery itself. The guardians of us decide when to intervene.
I fell in love with honesty & twilight beacon
took rhythm apart
Anodyne / Plea
Room for nothing else
Who objected when the truth disappeared or when the truth battered but reveille & learned aloneness
us & we pretended fear fell from the ripped pillow of our sky instead of
rising from the one clear place of us. Where were you when madmen told forgetting how art folds us
us to die & blasted us into nothing. Were you downtown, a figure cluster forward in time / however student & used
watching yourselves stagnate in skyscraper shade or neon glower. Did music to mark shifts like
you hop a bus & clutch a cold center rail, your palm sweat making you everyone else in the iced streets
slip as if at sea. Were you at sea in memory, your of-shift body afloat in
dissemblance, in the act of defending any era as a safe one. You could’ve I almost slipped so many times, failing
scrapped what you knew near plaza fountains, ultra-anonymous. Instead in every archaic sense / my lace
an arrowhead sharpens blood under flesh. You claim millennia led to the shirt intact / I talk a lot
arrowhead led to the obelisks led to whatever weaponized emblem severs about lace no one sees
the least connection, but we only ask that you not kill us
I wear what fits me in my mind
of winter & the Stevens mood
Reclusionary
cannot quite hold me
Stranger, no one good enough
likes the way I armor up, but the stone
forest alive with spires & strata Retreat
says come on over to my place If I had the bones for this, I could cheat
à la Pendergrass & check this LCD TV the finish. Melodramatically,
Let’s watch animal gods trembling as I peel tangerines
probe the floodplains, in a state, catering to doubt.
red in beak & claw—How else A lifetime thinking I know who I
can I live alone am here—I avoided erasure, I fought—
having read ol’ Herm through 1857
Can I collect my fragments,
Knowing what’s corroded fragile now in the outright
its way into the heart itself, the entrance gentleness of your questions?
full of swifts & Archimedes counting
principles of loss—we can get joy No such burst
at gold anklets & clock subterranean of agreement, no lush
pursuits of cave-evolved fish on Nat Geo turbulence to estrange us, no

opposition to map onto


The world says not to expect the joke. Observe a whole person
making choices at each point
the world
of refusal, edges hazed against
But do it anyway— be made, all clarity—uncut nails catching
out of love— taken, bestowed, lived unfortunate silk in a chase to loosen—
through, by means of, without

4 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


From Personae

MONOLOGUE FOR IA MONOLOGUE FOR IX

Setting: Black box. Red chair upstage left. Flowers on a table, dead or alive. Setting: Nowhere
Strange light. Background chorus: At least four people singing/saying “Oh my time” in tones
of lamentation, slow contemplation, wistful meditation, and/or hymnal. IX enters
IA: (improvised stage direction, different for each performance)
wearing layers and layers of colorful skirts, with a black shift underneath.
In an excess of self-concern, I get lost on the route home. In my
IX: The place I borrowed didn’t do me any good. I had to pay, in tears—
imagination, I live in a safer lacuna & have a habit of wondering how has
side efects of sleeping of lack. All said before, but listen. Everything’s
it, my imagining, manifested so expensively. How has it cut me. (Actor
in media res & I consent to what I don’t know how to heal yet. Undo
improvises physical motion for several minutes)
misunderstanding, make an agreement with quiet, wrestle of rebellions—
(silence, a walk downstage if needed, right or left; a seat if desired)
(begins spinning in a circle, tossing off layers with exuberance until fatigued)
It feels strange to smile in a fascist era—grief dammed up like certain
It’s already too late. You’re in the middle of something, then I can—
floods. I had one in winter, a flood. My eyes burned in the snow.
(mumbles to self, then whispers)

MONOLOGUE FOR IM —imagine life without the paranoia of truly hunted mothers. A mother’s
body as a door of no return, as a galaxy pointing toward grit & I want to
Setting: Plainly seen psychological systems
find out who can feel
IM: (no direction) the possible in their bodies & break toward it
Hello, disarray. Soft hip abridged, subaltern superstructure.

Under certain circumstances, I sit in the drawing Khadijah Queen is the author of five books, most recently I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men
like a sir, as cold as refusal, wingless. & What I Had On (YesYes Books, 2017). Earlier poetry collections include Conduit (Akashic/
Black Goat, 2008), Black Peculiar (Noemi Press, 2011) and Fearful Beloved (Argos Books,
I have a merchant discipline. Light with stealth, in my anti-prime. 2015).
Implicit: private rages to thwart

most paramount wants. Sultanic—

(Stomps and jumps up and down, ad infinitum)

-
ABC
congratulates
JOHN YAU
The Jackson Poetry Prize,
winner of the
established in 2006
with a gift from the Liana 2018 JACKSON POETRY PRIZE
Foundation, is sponsored
by Poets & Writers, Inc.
and named for the
The $60,000 award honors an American poet of
John and Susan Jackson
exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition.
family.
The judges for the 2018 prize were
Learn more at pw.org Laura Kasischke, Robin Coste Lewis, and Arthur Sze.

JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 5


THREE POEMS
CATHERINE BARNETT

Central Park the world with just our two bodies,


which were to be both string and bob.
I’d like to buy one when I die,
In the woods behind school, he climbed into a tree
one of the benches not yet spoken for,
and lowered himself down,
not yet tagged with a small stainless plaque
holding a branch.
and someone else’s name.
I reached up to his thin ankles
If they’re all gone, please
help me carry a replica and lifted my bare feet of the ground.
Someone must have been there to try to make us swing,
to the boat pond so I can sit
and watch the model boats get nowhere record the harmonic oscillations,
beautifully, rented by the fixed hours and take the polaroids,
I’m grateful not to be out of yet. still stapled to this yellowed lab report.
Another flicker of love, It’s haunting to discover it now, to see in the photos
an updated Triple-A membership, how we hung there smiling, white,
and a handful of Pilot G-Tec-C4 blue-black pens, safe and dumb.
what else do I need? How little history we knew.
Universe, If only all feet could come back
watch over us. to stand on the ground,
Boat, my poor faraway father says, not get buried under it,
as if my mother has never seen one.
left to hang above, left outside
Boat, he says, and we say, Yes, in the told and untold,
aren’t they beautiful.
Come winter, in the toll of hot municipal suns.
We didn’t understand much of anything
the boathouse here is locked up,
the pond drained, but completed the assignment,
except one year it wasn’t typed up the results, passed physics,

and my son and I convinced ourselves went to college and typed and typed
his new Golden Bright and never took another science class,
could sail across. we were humanities majors.
Merry Christmas, no one said Sometimes when I’m not typing now
as I pulled the black plastic liner bags I run lines with an actor friend
from the empty trash cans and can’t get them out of my head.
and stepped into them, Another heavenly day,
one for each leg, says Winnie as the curtain rises.
and waded into the addled water
She’s buried to her waist in earth
to salvage the present. and for a while you think it can’t get any worse.
I think that moment is something to remember,
or something to remember me by, The humanities.
What are they, really?
brief, vivid, addled, foolhardy—
even the revenants watching from the line of benches Don’t let me sleep on.
said so:
thus have been our travels. In the Studio at End of Day
Oblivion, they said, From my mother I’ve inherited dark eyes
there’s no unenduring it. and the desire to spend hours alone in a room
making things that might matter to no one.
The Humanities She paints canvas after canvas, so many

A classmate and I chose pendulums, she doesn’t know what to do with them all.
what happens when a pendulum Would you like one? Please,
come down to her studio,
hangs from a pendulum?
she’s giving them away now, as I write,
How does gravity work then?
as I watch her and write and revise draft after draft
We were studying invisible forces
while not twenty feet from me she’s spilling her paints
and left the classroom, heading into

6 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


on the floor. She has more courage than I,
painting’s not like writing, you can’t get back

to earlier versions. Failure is hot right now,


said one of the children of her children,
and I think my mother was consoled.
I was, and then we were in it,

celebrating my mother and my father, both.


She made us laugh as she looked around the table
at the mutable world, her vast progeny—
so many of us she doesn’t know what to do

with us all, and two already lost—


then raised a glass to my father
and their ninety years together.
Who’s counting? Time passes

while my mother stands before the painting


as if it were a mirror
and paints the woman’s face purple,
tilts the woman’s head, blurs her outline.

She paints with whatever’s at hand.


Chopsticks. Fingers. Elbow.
If she had a gun she’d use that.
My father built the storage racks

but there’s no more room.


Try to hurry, try to get here fast,
before she leaves. Last night
she went home early,

and I was by myself in her studio,


which is like a womb. Everything
pulses. I turned the lights out
at the circuit breaker, as she taught me.

When they go of they make a kind of bang,


a shudder through the walls.
Tonight let’s leave my mother
working here, she says she’s not finished yet,

but take a painting on your way out


—tomorrow there will be another.
Read this draft, tomorrow there will be another.
Kiss her face.

Tomorrow there will be another.

Catherine Barnett is the author of three poetry collections, Human Hours, Into Perfect Spheres
Such Holes Are Pierced and The Game of Boxes, winner of the James Laughlin Award of
the Academy of American Poets

JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 7


THREE POEMS
JOANNE DIAZ

Paper Crowns The doctor enters the room and we ofer awkward greetings
and compliment his shiny shoes. He looks and says, Yes.
—After the New York Times newsfeed from the week of
May 6–11, 2018 They’re called Excaliburs, then dims the lights for the examination.
Hard to imagine why a shoe company would choose such a name
This week in which faculty members at the University of Florida
shove black graduates ofstage for dancing in honor for a product when there are so many other magical swords
in the world, like this: the Philips Vaginal Transducer, a marvel
of what is regularly denied them; in which Nordstrom Rack
apologizes to black teenagers falsely accused of shoplifting; of technology made even more marvelous in the hands
of the doctor, especially when he ofers it to Jay and says,
in which a woman says she saw burglars break and enter
into a home when in fact they were black Airbnb guests; would you like to help with the exam? His ofer politely declined,
the doctor inserts the wand. We watch the monitor for a jerk
in which two Native American brothers are pulled
from a campus tour after nervous parents call police; or bounce of a fetus, and there he is, glowing and throbbing,
still a dream of cells assembling into organ systems. The doctor
in which two black men settle with Starbucks and the city
of Philadelphia over the absurdity of their unnecessary arrest; searches for what technology knows to find thus far:
the too-small knob at the neck, the irregularities in the spine,
in which two black women are told to golf faster
and then the club calls the police; in this week, yes, any chromosomal evidence still coiled in the fish-body. Later,
he will send the blood sample to the lab in search
the white mother at a kindergarten celebration
might think that certain gestures will be seen of the only other chromosomal abnormalities that can
be seen like faraway islands on a medieval map
as kindnesses, especially here, in flyover country,
this place of no consequence, surely forgettable, that are out there somewhere, surrounded by dragons.
The etymon is chromos, which sounds like a god
every lonely day an erasure, yes, especially
on this special day with homemade muins, but comes from the Greek for two colors—the brilliant flare
in every one of its metallic compounds—and soma,
paper flowers, paper crowns decorated by the children,
a coronation as we walk through the door; yes, body, the metals, the colors, the coiling, the spindling. Minutes
of silence, and then the doctor says, Everything is fine. Look
certainly it has to be kindness for the white mother
to see the black child, the beautiful long braids, how happy he is, and just like that, the doctor is King Arthur,
gifted with the power of prophecy, and the work
the shine of the girl’s hair at her temples,
the rainbow barrettes and the vibrant ribbons of measuring happiness begins. Maybe, from this first dance
in fluid, the fire will crackle, but not in the ways we hope it will.
fastened neatly at the ends, and want to touch the hair.
Surely she imagines that it is right, an honor, to take The thirst for drink might vanish, but the worry might burrow
in the deepest grooves of the brain. There might be no vestige
one braid in each hand and not ask, but declare,
I just have to feel your hair. I do not look, of the cruelty, but apathy could float like an oil spill
on the water’s surface. Happiness, doctor? Unlikely. But whatever
only imagine what I am not seeing: one long braid
in each hand, the woman pulling down slowly, the result, one thing is certain: the colors of our son’s chroma
will be imprisoned by the soma, always electric, always ready to burn.
the lingering of her hands, her open gaze, this white
wanting, which is ofered as an act of beholding

but is all blindness and much worse, and the black mother,
Luxury
what does she do then, seated only two feet away —After Elizabeth Bishop’s “Questions of Travel”

and at a child’s table, what is there to do but look up As I wait in the lobby of the Manila Rales Hotel,
to admire these paper crowns that the children have made my body relaxes into the ambient chord progressions

for each of us, queens for the day, plastic gems pasted that the pianist plays on the shiny grand piano. My eyes
onto each horn meant to resemble the rays of the sun. turn into half-moons at the sight of the broad, radiant chandeliers

that hover above each cluster of just-plush-enough upholstery


Excalibur and perfectly proportioned carpets. The Rales is a laughable

In the oice of the genetics specialist, I climb on to the table name, at least to my ear. The word’s sound brings me back
and recite the wish from the Metta Bhavana. May I be well; to pancake dinners in the basement of the church, dusty stubs

may I be happy; may I be free from suffering. May you of tickets that I bought for door prizes never won, fundraisers
be well; may you be happy; may you be free from suffering. for the local Girl Scout troop. But The Rales Hotel is the epitome

8 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


of luxury and postcolonial refinement, a tribute to the Englishman It’s pornographic, this gauzy gaze at others who are lit
who established Singapore for the British East India Company. like furniture for the pleasure of white travel. You might think
Complimentary tea or water while you wait? Shall I escort you that I am only seeing this in an ad at a hotel, but no.
to the restroom? I find a chair in the corner, in front Just this afternoon, when I walked past the tennis courts
of a television that loops what appears to be a feature film of our apartment complex, I saw two white people
but is actually an ad for Rales hotels. First, the pristine playing tennis, and whenever one of the men needed a drink,
white columns of what might be an old plantation, then he’d gesture to his Filipina servant. In one hand, she held
a middle-aged white man glances meaningfully a bottle of filtered water; in the other, the man’s small poodle.
at the ruins of Angkor Wat. We’re in Cambodia, the film says, On a pillow. Truly, it is as if the Renaissance
we’re enchanted, it’s marvelous—it’s Asia for God’s sake!— never stopped glowing. How many times did painters
and it’s there for the white man to discover it as if for the first time from that time focus the luminosity on the king or duke
with his tiny scarf wrapped around his neck and his soulful, or prince, while in the background or to the side
searching eyes that stare almost indecently at the temple the dark-skinned servant stands next to the horse
in the day’s last golden light, his look beholding something or the throne, barely visible save for a single pearl earring
so new and rare that it is as if he is being born, right there that leaps from the canvas in its glow, the servant
as I am watching. In a state that approximates the divine, as accessory, as background dark to the king’s light,
he closes his hands in prayer in front of a girl as an object of contrast to be moved around in the painting,
who cannot be more than four years old. She holds or the Rales video, or, in this case, the poem.
incense for his experience, and then is animated
by the ceremonial dancers who decorate the scene, just like
Joanne Diaz is the author of two poetry collections, The Lessons and My Favorite Tyrants, and
the tiki torches that flicker against their dark skin co-editor, with Ian Morris, of The Little Magazine in Contemporary America.
in the crepuscular glow. This five-minute film is nothing

if not meaningful glances and a continual return to the white man


using his fountain pen to reflect on his thoughts—writing

is leisure, fountain pens and leather-bound notebooks


and wooden desks are luxury, and so is the ambience

of afternoon light, first against the pages of Maugham’s


HARVARD REVIEW
Penguin edition of The Moon and Sixpence, which no one
Fiction Essays Poems Book Reviews Art
has read since 1945, held with such delicacy and earnestness New Translations Conversations with Writers
in the hands of a blonde woman leaning against a tree

with no one else around for miles; and then more golden light
on a yacht’s long prow, two white lovers leaning against

the edge, not young, exactly, some experience there,


some world-knowing wisdom, no need for map or Dramamine

or the bags that ordinary people haul against traic on roads


with no sidewalks, no gutters, no drains, no toilet paper.

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JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 9


THREE POEMS
MAI DER VANG

Refugee, Walking Is the Most Armless nation, hoarding amputated limbs? Maybe
The babbling entered in reverse,
Human of All A camouflaged back
So long to the papaya kingdoms Turned to you, the deletion of your death
Of olden mothers, As more than collateral,
The shepherdess igniting Erasure of these toxins
Peels of bergamot. To prevent spilling of the globe’s intestines.
Grief of chalk Did you locate your way
Scribbles the form of an To the hills of lineage
Archangel. Without a guidesong to keep pace, without
Consider a pillow of mortars, A ground to sleep you?
How the rubble of hair How many decades

Weighs dense together Before you landed at the heirloom elders, jacketed
With the pedestrian heft Inside flames of beige?
Did you tell them of the
Of never coming back.
Western rains, a speckled land that slipped into
Home is a sleeping whale. A canal and then
Consider an armor Broke into downpour?
Of feathers, not to bufer the body from shelling, Let them know. Let the ancient ones keen their oath
But to be hoisted Lyrics. Let them scrape each leaf,
As a skyless meteor fleeing for Each spoiled bark,

An elsewhere chance Pieces of corroded lint, every spell of hemorrhaging.


to land. Let them one day utter
The narrative uncloaked.
You will come back
To rescue your footsteps.

Towels spread on a road


Notations to the Knower
As if forming: timeline Only you know how much
of cotton against my vellum endures.

A pillared topography. You are the scrivener


of my broken
But this, the clap of hands in crisis
traveler
Shoveling out evacuees.
In this season
Empty your opera
without centennial,
In the howling of the sea.
where sky monuments
cut
The Shaman Asks About Yellow Rain open
Did the airplane knife the sky? Or did it arrive, bodies,
Still and unruled
sing an autopsy
As a mass grave?
of armaments born
Did it drone a foreign talk, tune of a soggy
into nature’s crooked lab.
Friendship, or maybe
It was lit from Only you can write
my postscript
An acquainted hum? Did you look up to earth’s
Tinted azure for one in your
Terrific minute? midwinter leaf.

What of the power, as if sand had been thrown


In your face, as if innards
Had been scheming Mai Der Vang is the author of Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Walt
Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, longlisted for the 2017 National Book
To leave you. How long before your flesh slipped of? Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The recipient of a
Lannan Literary Fellowship, she served as a Visiting Writer at the School of the Art Institute of
Did you hear distant Chicago. Her writing has appeared in Poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review, Guernica, the
Men chatter of their New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere.

10 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


IOWA BIRD OF MOUTH
Keeping a 12-month crowdsourced poetry project in the air

JENNIFER L. KNOX

I HATE CROWDS FAMILY DAY


I’m an introvert. Most poets are. I’m terrible at I moved to Central Iowa in 2013 after falling in
chit-chat and networking. In group work situ- love with a man from a tiny town. I started teach-
ations, my ideas are usually too far out, so I’ve ing again, which I’d given up in New York,
learned to keep my mouth shut. The only “team” where adjunct pay wouldn’t even cover my rent. I
sport I ever played in high school was swim- missed my New York friends, but I loved my man,
ming. Are you technically part of “a team” if you Collin, my dog, and the house, under which no
can’t make eye contact or talk because your head’s hollering neighbors lurked.
underwater? One of the first things I noticed about the Cen-
My aversion to groups may be why I deeply tral Iowa culture was an ainity for wild birds.
distrusted the premise of crowdsourcing—espe- Why, my normally super-stoic in-laws got down-
cially creative crowdsourcing, like people writing right giddy recalling encounters with crows, gold-
a poem together. How does it cohere? Isn’t a poem finches, and redwing blackbirds.
about capturing one person’s point of view? Who A manicurist confided that whenever she saw
has the ultimate authority to edit it? Is it “mean” a cardinal, she knew it was her deceased grand-
to delete terrible lines, as poets do to their own mother. “She’s just checking on me.”
work every day? How about terrible lines written A colleague complained that her backyard had
by a four-year-old, which is why they’re terrible? been overrun by birdwatchers seeking a rare tan-
Bottom line: why bother? Aren’t there enough ager. “They’re trampling my pampas grass!” she
fabulous poems in the world, waiting to be read? griped. “That’d be me,” muttered an ashamed col-
Why add to the noise? league in the corner. “They’re very rare,” he said
But crowdsourcing grew on me slowly, until and slunk out the door.
it took over an entire year of my life. Iowa Bird Iowa filmmaker Colleen Krantz told me, “I
of Mouth (IBOM) was an online crowdsourced grew up on a cattle farm in western Iowa. There
poetry project that ran from September 2016 to was absolutely nothing to look at and nothing to
August 2017. With support from the Iowa Arts hear. But birds were a treat for the eyes and the
Council and the National Endowment for the ears. Birds were the bling on our farm.”
Arts over 750 people around the world contrib- The Iowan wild bird love was everywhere. I
uted to the project—from Girl Scouts to Guggen- shared my observations with New York friends.
heim fellows. “Yeah, I love to look at birds in Central Park,
The seed for the project was planted in 2012. too. Maria, remember that one bird?”
I lived in a tiny, mouse-infested Brooklyn apart- “What bird?” Maria asked.
ment. I was single, and lonely, and my downstairs They didn’t get it, and I didn’t either entirely
neighbors hollered at me like a pack of soccer until one frigid winter day, when Collin and I
hooligans whenever I walked across the floor. One were driving around the lake. He loves long drives
night, I met with an old friend travel ling through when the permafrosted farm roads glow and sun
NYC for work who was very successful doing dogs hang in the sky like spaceships. After cresting
something which involved math. She looked ter- a hill into glaring sun, he stomped on the brake American robin (illustration by Polyphony Bruna; photo by
rific, and had two lovely grown daughters back and skidded sideways to a stop. In front of us were Norbert Sarsfield)
home in California, where she lived in a big house three bald eagles, two deer carcasses, and lots and
near the beach. lots of blood.
So imagine my surprise when she said, “I’d do We stared silently until he said, “Look behind with power and the indiference of a thing like a
anything to have what you have.” us.” Two more eagles, about 300 feet away. mountain or a meteor shower. More like falling in
“You want to be taller?” I asked, having no “They’re the babies,” he gestured low to the awe than in love.
idea what she was talking about, but knowing I three in front of our car. As I was telling an old friend from Muscatine,
was a full head taller than her. “How do you know?” All I could see was that Iowa, about the Iowa wild bird love phenome-
“No, your poetry and your creativity,” she said. they were covered in blood, their beaks were non, his cell phone rang. His ringtone was the
“I’d love to have those in my life.” comically yellow, and they were absolutely gigan- meadowlark call. We smiled, but didn’t feel the
My old friend was not prone to exaggeration. tic. I couldn’t imagine their huge bodies lifting need to put our feelings into words, because we
I was—big time—but I’m a poet. I didn’t know into the air. were in Iowa. We saw the feathers floating on the
how to respond, but I’d heard this before. “How “The feathers on their heads.” updraft. This was real.
can I be more creative?” was a question I always The three had ropey head feathers, like rag
brushed of in post-reading Q & As. I had no idea mops. The pair behind us: smooth and white. The THE PROJECT
why I’ve always been a “creative person,” eschew- kids resumed their gory, awkward disassembly—
ing criticism and even welcoming the (often pub- flinging tendons and gulping down ribbons of fat After a poetry reading in Des Moines, I met two
lic) failure of writing and publishing poems. while making goofy bawk bawk bawk sounds. fabulous visual artists who encouraged me to apply
But I do know that writing immeasurably “Those two are teaching the kids how to eat,” for an Iowa Arts Council fellowship.
enriches my life. What would I do without he explained, and as if it heard us, one of the par- “But I’ve never won a fellowship or grant or
poetry? How would I live without access to art’s ents spreads its wings as if to say: “Yes, we are.” award or prize in my life,” I blurted out, because
spiritual dimension? I wanted my friend to have Collin knew this because Central Iowans know I’m an over-sharer.
what I have. Heck, I even want total strangers to stuf about birds. “You’d be perfect for it,” they assured me.
have it. “So it’s like Family Day?” The application emphasized that the artist’s
So I started thinking about ways to bring art “Better than a trip to Disneyland, if you’re an work should connect to people. I felt an epiph-
and creativity to people who felt left of the gift eagle.” any burbling. “Iowans are deeply connected to
list—that they were somehow not entitled to the This is where I fell in love with wild birds. Not wild birds,” I thought, “I could write poems about
very things that made my life lively. in a romantic way. More like how one falls in love wild Iowa birds! No . . . that’s too clichéd. And

JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 11


how would those poems connect to Iowans in a In July, I received the email announcing that birds, but I didn’t technically know anything
unique way? You can’t force people to read poetry. I was a 2016 Iowa Arts Council Fellow. My goal about them. Where do they go in winter, for
Wait . . . I could force people to read poetry about was to launch the site by September, so I hit the example? I had no idea. I’d planned to spotlight
birds! No one’s ever done that!” ground running. a diferent bird each month to match the actual
As I was working out the details, I began to birds’ numbers in the environment, but all I knew
notice excellent examples of crowdsourced poetry FLEDGE was January = eagles, because that’s when Collin
everywhere. In David Lehman’s long-running and I had seen them on the road. I briefly consid-
“Next Line, Please” project at American Scholar, Building an interactive website was so hard! Espe- ered Wikipedia-ing my way through it but visual-
participants send in dazzling poems, often with cially because I had no idea what I was doing. So ized sacks of Audubon Society hate mail.
imposed formal restraints, based on his bril- I posted an SOS on Facebook. “Can anyone help Here’s a sentence I’ve never said: I needed an
liant prompts: poems triggered by the name of a me with a little website work? Should take about ornithologist.
chess opening, poems utilizing lines from Hamlet, a week.” At the local farmers’ market, I watched a
poems inspired by Napoleon’s infamous letter to Vaughan Fielder, owner of the Field Oice Lit- woman and a man pull a little boy around in a
Josephine: “Home in three days. Don’t bathe.” erary Agency in Lexington, Kentucky, a literary wagon. The man’s brown baseball cap said, “Iowa
Kwame Dawes launched an inaugural crowd- speaking agency for poets, messaged me: “I can Young Birders.” “I like your hat,” I said. We
sourced poem for WNYC’s The Takeaway with do it!” I emailed her my site map ideas, lists, and chatted. He was Tyler Harms, President of Iowa
these powerful words: “Say ‘nation.’ In the wake drawings, and then I waited. Vaughan’s extremely Young Birders, a local non-profit organization
of quarrels, say ‘hope.’” Hundreds of respon- thorough, so I knew she was carefully reading the that encourages young Iowans ages 8–18 to study
dents sent in their suggestions for lines through materials I sent, which is exactly what I was afraid and enjoy birds and birding. Kismet! I told him
social media to write “A People’s Poem for the of. I wanted someone impulsive who bit of more about IBOM and he agreed to choose the spot-
Inauguration.” than they could chew. Like me. light birds. Just like that! Afterwards, he confessed
Then I found “La Familia,” Juan Felipe Her- When Vaughan replied at the end of the day, I that it was the toughest professional call in his
rera’s epic crowdsourced poem on the Library knew: life—a real Sophie’s Choice.
of Congress’ website. Anyone, anywhere could
• She’d make the site (!). September: American goldfinch
contribute up to 400 words per day. Even when
• I’d write the text, create the graphics, and han- October: ring-necked pheasant
the words clashed—and they often did—all the
dle PR. November: American crow
voices seemed to be part of one song. Contribu-
• She’d read everything I sent and knew I was December: eastern screech-owl
tors’ names were listed on a diferent page to give
clueless. January: bald eagle
the authors anonymity and reinforce the con-
• The site would take one month, not one week, to February: northern cardinal
cept of the crowd as author. Unlike other projects
complete. March: red-winged blackbird
I’d seen, “La Familia” appeared to be unedited,
but I liked the resulting roughness. It resembled a “What if someone writes a bunch of dirty April: trumpeter swan
flock of birds in flight—dividing and converging, words?” I asked Vaughan because most people I May: American robin
squawking and bawking. had told about the project—especially administra- June: eastern bluebird
Suddenly, it fell into place. My project descrip- tive types—had asked me questions like that. July: eastern meadowlark
tion was surprisingly easy to write because I actu- “What if someone uses profanity?” “What if August: great blue heron
ally understood what I was saying. someone writes something disgusting?” “What if As September drew near, I emailed press
someone writes too much? You have to be able to releases to K–12 school districts, newspapers, TV
I will build and curate an online crowdsourced poem hon-
control it!” stations, outdoor journalists, art and conserva-
oring twelve wild Iowa birds, structurally based on “La
Fear of poetry trolls made IBOM seem scarier tion organizations, writing programs, ornithology
Familia.” The goal will be to increase our sense of collective
than a personal ad on Craigslist. departments, bookstores, writing groups, birding
connection to the environment through creative convergence.
Vaughan said, “I can put a high profanity filter groups, Audubon Magazine, every single person at
Beyond personal connections, birds occupy a unique space
on the submission window . . . then, maybe, just the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all my fabu-
in our collective consciousness—living in every community,
ask them not to use profanity?” lous poet friends who were besieged for free work
grabbing our eyes and ears.
And that’s what we did: “Please avoid using every single day (forgive me). Then I waited.
Finally, I needed a catchy name, so I crowd- profanity as we hope this site will be used by
sourced my friends. Barbara suggested, “Bird of all ages.”
Mouth,” then “Iowa Bird of Mouth.” Crowd- Vaughan and I worked (and worked and WHERE DID MY LINE
sourcing was already paying of. worked), but one loose end remained. I loved BREAKS GO?
The first verse in “Poem for the Goldfinch” was
posted on September 1.
A goldfinch buzzed by us on our bikes,
dipping and lifting and hanging strong
in the air like a note from a trombone.
This must mean the end of summer.

Then . . . nothing for a few days. I watched people


glaze over at my pitch: “I just launched a crowd-
sourced poetry website honoring twelve Iowa
birds.” People couldn’t picture what IBOM was,
but it “seemed” boring.
It occurred to me that a launch party might
demystify the submission process. Even though
they, too, weren’t sure what IBOM was, the Ames
Public Library stepped up and donated their audi-
torium for the event. The librarian even brought
seed cookies and other bird- oriented snacks. Local
poets Heather Derr-Smith, Meg Johnson, Claire
Kruesel, and Molly McDonald read bird poems to
warm up the crowd of 80+ attendees—everyone
from artsy types with pink hair to seniors and lit-
tle kids.
Tyler took the mic and spoke eloquently on
wild birds and the environment. During the
Q & A, Richard, a Whitmanesque local celebrity
who wears skirts but would prefer to be naked,
asked Tyler why an aggressive band of crows once

12 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


Some of my neighbors say they’d never
take Illinois money, but how would they know?
Some spotlight birds were far more popular than
others; as Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa says,
“They can’t all be winners.” The ring-necked
pheasant was introduced to Iowa around 1900
during a windstorm that blew over pens of cap-
tive game birds. I suggested to Tyler that we
include a game bird to encourage all those poet/
hunters out there to submit. Turns out, the Venn
diagram intersection of hunters and poets is
mighty slim, folks. While none of the October
poems read as pro-hunting, many were definitely
anti-hunter.
Bird Song
Ring-necked, I ring with color
above and below my priestless collar,
green head, masked for your red death.
Don’t shoot, go home, cook up your meth.
Kill yourself, leave my wild speckled body alone;
Iowa, O Iowa, my accidental home.
Poisoned streams, rivers, lakes, ferti-laced fields,
Thanks, wind, for blowing me free, unconcealed.
In the beginning, I spent from 5 to 10 hours
Ring-necked pheasant (illustration by Polyphony Bruna) a week on increasing submissions to the project.
To me, the most surprising response was from
poets.
drove him out of a California campground. “I did Followed by unsentimental ones that challenged “You should submit a verse to IBOM. This
nothing to them!” Richard lamented. the notion of what a poem was. month’s bird is the ring-necked pheasant.”
“Well, birds have their own personalities, just “Oh, I don’t have any poems about those,”
like people,” Tyler explained, which satisfied Nancy texted me a few months ago, on a late spring morn-
ing, “I’ve got something for you.” When I arrived at her the poet thinks, “but I have a poem about a dead
Richard, and us all. albatross.”
This is the poem we wrote together that night. house for coffee, she handed me a small bundle wrapped in
paper towels. “It hit the sun room window this morning. “Oh—how sad! Uh, dead albatrosses aren’t
People shouted out lines while I typed them into on the spotlight bird list, but if you ever get
the submission field on the site, which was pro- I heard the thud and found it on the deck. I thought you
might like it.” I thanked her and when I got home, unsure inspired . . .”
jected onto the screen in the library auditorium. It was an early “Aha” moment: poets I knew
When I read it now, I can hear the diferent voices about what to do with the small, still body, I zipped it into
a sandwich baggie and put it in the freezer. I’m not a taxi- who wrote books were busy writing poetry about
vying for dominance, but in the end, they unite in subjects they chose to write about. Wading into
soft surprise. dermist myself. Though I felt bad about it, I finally threw
it away last week. I needed the space for my leftover roasted the creative river of humanity was not necessar-
I have never seen a goldfinch. That’s sad but true. He’s chicken. ily motivating to them. Perhaps “the creative river
never seen a purple cow. But I have seen goldfinches of humanity” reminded them of the public pool
though. Several in fact. In flight in feather. I would like to And fabulous feminist ones. they swam in as children—and the horrible case of
be as naked as a bird. Who doesn’t have something with plantar warts that ensued.
The golden girl broods over all these flings of joy I reminded myself that IBOM was not for
the word “naked” in it? I asked our mayor to let me speak
In nests we never see, on eggs unrobinly drab! poets—it was for people who yearned to write a
at the end of the meeting. I was sitting in the back and tried
Painters and states claim the noisy garish male poem. So instead of shaking the poet tree branches
to take off my clothes. They put me in the Story County
But the leaps of joy, darts to the sky— again, I set up a Facebook group and a Twitter
Jail. Were there any birds in there? I’m somewhat of a nud-
knows no sex but yes yes yes! account, and connected to every bird, conserva-
ist. Coneflower seeds are a delicious treat for the goldfinch.
Goldfinches are a lovely yellow. They are. Perfect. I don’t The poets began emailing me: “Where did my tion, and nature group I could find.
understand why I’ve been all over the world and never seen line breaks go?” Oh no. I hadn’t considered how Tyler and I began appearing on the “Local
them. Come to my backyard. Plant coneflowers. When I the HTML format and the skinny column width Talk” show at Ames’ KHOI. He was the brain
was a child I thought goldfinches were escaped canaries, like would chew up the breaks. on birds, dishing out the science facts. Did you
canaries were born indoors. To escape. When they sing, “How do I make a title?” Aw, crud. I hadn’t know the ring-necked pheasant is a member of
they’re outdoors. thought about that either. Hard returns were pro- the grouse family? I was the bird brain, reading
pelling first lines away from their titles. beautiful, strange, funny, mysterious poems that
After the last line was spoken, I felt the crowd strangers posted on the site, like this one, recalling
understand that the poem was finished. We’d I asked Vaughan if the formatting issues could
be fixed. “Not without redesigning the whole Pope’s “Windsor Forest.”
come full circle. It was a magic moment. “That
sounds like a wrap,” I said. The crowd nodded and site.” We added some instructional text on how to From “Poem for the Ring-necked Pheasant”
laughed. “What just happened?” someone asked. make titles and key commands, which I suspected
no one would read. I worried that, when poets See! from the brake the whirring pheasant springs,
The next day, more poems appeared on the site. And mounts exulting on triumphant wings:
Funny ones. The asterisks represent where a new saw their submissions mangled by HTML, they’d
never post again. Perhaps I was right. Short is his joy; he feels the fiery wound,
writer enters. Flutters in blood, and panting beats the ground.
99 problems and a finch ain’t one. Ah! what avail his glossy, varying dyes,
DEAD ALBATROSSES His purple crest, and scarlet-circled eyes,
*
The vivid green his shining plumes un-fold,
When it sings, it sings something. From “Poem for the Ring-necked Pheasant” His painted wings, and breast that flames with gold?
When it flies, it flies somewhere.
The reporter stands in the hurricane chamber.
When it coaches youth volleyball
“This is . . . a category three,” he wheezes,
it focus on defense. “That’s how to CROW-D KILLER
skin pulling from his face.
win championships,” it whistles.
I am in Iowa where there are no hurricanes, Nothing can kill interest in a crowdsourced
* but where a windstorm brought us poetry project like the 2016 presidential elec-
Rob Lowe fells goldfinch the Ring-necked Pheasant. tion. People could barely lift their heads of the
in charity golf tourney I’m waiting for a windfall of money; couch. Poetry wasn’t making anyone’s to-do list.
quits the game for good I don’t care where it blows in from. We were all going to die. At least with its omi-

JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 13


nous associations, the American crow reflected a tunic confessed, “When you said we were It struck me as remarkably empathetic to care for a
glooming, looming sense of doom. Some used the going to write a verse together, I was like, ‘Yeah, species so indiferent to us.
site to vent their angst. right . . .’” she rolled her eyes, “. . . but we did it!” My friend’s uncle raises falcons. He told me
Another woman said, “Even Paul spoke up!” about the leash around the bird’s ankle, and the
From “Poem for the American Crow” referring to the wispy man in the far corner who windowless box in which the falcon sleeps with
Swan-lake white, Cardinal red, Blue- had suddenly shouted, “Their circling masses a leather hood over its eyes as he drives it out to
Jay blue: the demagogue crushes hover from above!” causing the Osceoleans around hunt for rabbits, ducks, and anything else it can
of birds; oh, you’re sick of it— him to leap about a foot in the air. carry in its talons.
Tunic whispered, “Paul never says anything.” “Do your falcons . . . like you?” I asked.
red and blue like the flashing hands
“Well, he nailed it today,” I shrugged. “No,” he laughed and shook his head.
of sirens. Your apologists jumped
“He sure did,” they nodded.
all over explaining your croaky finesse—
The crow was one of the most popular birds in IS THIS GOING TO BE ON THE TEST?
and I read about it, how you’re clever: the project. I know this because I could sneak in
how you drop shiny turds through the site’s backdoor and count the submis- Another surprising response was from schools and
in the path of bulldozers; the running- sions. People began including their names within teachers. They didn’t engage with IBOM like I
their verses as a work-around to the anonymity of thought they would. Here’s an exception, writ-
over exposes their silver ten by a group of junior high school students in
the submission window. I liked it. It meant they
linings—but honestly, Crow Ouzin kie, Alaska.
felt that the site belonged to them, too, which it
I don’t think it’ll be
did. It also gave me a chance to connect with peo- From “Poem for the American Eagle”
enough. Evil doesn’t dress itself ple using the site—like Steve Rose.
Dumb bird, sitting on a wire,
up in black; I trust
Three Crows my dad saw one get shocked.
you now more than ever.
Three crows flew herd on a broad-tailed hawk Favorite bird, wings spread,
east of Albert Lea, black beaks talking trash my papa likes them too.
I WAS LIKE, “YEAH, RIGHT” You say Eagle, I say no. No eagles.
then driven into the hawk’s grey back.
The Iowa Arts Council organized several fellow I don’t know. They’re birds.
One flies point while the other two harass from They make a nest in my yard.
project presentations across the state. In Osceola,
the wings. You’ve seen this in Korea, three MIG’s Every spring they have babies
members of the Clarke County Arts Council pre-
shooting down our bomber; or coyotes on a sick cow. and you can hear them screeching.
sented their work first: a carver who turned to
woodworking after he was injured at his con- Two hours later across the Iowa border, I like the way they sound.
struction job; an abstract painter and retired high a new pecking order: two red-winged blackbirds, We see eagles everywhere.
school art teacher; a stained glass window maker clever as card players, harassing a passing crow. They are like flies around here.
in his 90s! A presenter in her 80s said, though she Less than 5% of IBOM submission were from
The crow’s wings, lumbering like sails on a dingy,
hadn’t painted in years, she still considered her- schools. I thought it would be such a “no-brainer”
drag against the current, while the blackbird
self a painter. Everyone said how much art had for teachers, I wrote a lesson plan and posted it
sharks slice the breeze into splinters.
enriched their lives. on the site. Collin, a former junior high school
Then it was my turn, and together we wrote The crow tries a barrel roll to the blackbirds’ delight. teacher, agreed. “It’s a great way to kill an hour.
this. Tufts of coal feathers flutter from his belly. A lone I’d be hitting that thing once a week.”
cedar offers comfort and into its arms the crow falls. I sent emails to K–12 school administrators and
Do I hear a “hello” or a warning? The caw pierces the
cold night air. His dark beady eyes pierce through the day. Black feathers, onyx beak and talons sheathed in royal green. teachers as well as university programs. I peeked
These are some of the smartest animals on the planet. This crow: terrorist, target, stowaway, scavenger, to see if the recipients had opened my emails, and
Their circling masses hover from above. Screeching shrews. and for a moment, on that rough branch, King. they did—every month—throughout the entire
Chatty Cathys. A battle-scarred beak, says the den- project. They were interested, so why didn’t
by Steve Rose
tist. Toothless. A feeling of peace when I see them hover- they bite?
ing above. “Is it an eagle?” I ask hopefully. “Aw, no.” In March, rangers at the local conservation
RAPTOR PEOPLE
Oh, to fly effortlessly above the earth, says the pilot. Dark area asked me to operate a poetry station for hun-
reflections of their cousins, the blue jays. Good thieves. A volunteer at the Iowa Raptor Center outside dreds of field-tripping K–3rd grade students. What
Black magic. West Nile, says the pharmacist. Third time’s Iowa City sent in this crystalline haiku. I observed on that sunny hill with my easel, giant
a charm. Roadkill feast. Black phoenix. A black shining pad of paper, and sack of multicolored markers—
Haiku for the Iowa Screech Owl as well as in the auditorium with my laptop, when
monarch surveying his kingdom.
Small rapture in the fracture rain waylaid our outdoor sessions—gave me valu-
Afterwards, the attendees marveled at their accom- That blessed Burr oak Ents and Baxoje. able insight as to why teachers were not using
plishment. A woman in a rhinestone-bedazzled The prairie ghosts honor you. IBOM in their classrooms.

POETRY WORKSHOP FACULTY:


15TH ANNUAL
PALM BEACH
POETRY FESTIVAL
January 21–26, 2019
Delray Beach, Florida

•ELLEN BASS •LAURE-ANNE BOSSELAAR


Six days of readings, lectures, •STUART DISCHELL •ARACELIS GIRMAY
craft talks, and poetry workshops. •CAMPBELL MCGRATH •MATTHEW OLZMANN
An extraordinary opportunity to focus •GREGORY PARDLO •ELEANOR WILNER
on your work with eight of America’s
most celebrated poets. SPECIAL GUEST: SHARON OLDS
AND

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14 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


They thought it was totally stupid. At least song. While both bird people and poetry people call, a thing of beauty, Dizzy
that’s what their folded arms, cocked heads, sneer- contributed, I’ll say the love of birds drove more Gillespie at the mouthpiece,
ing lips suggested. Yet another “Aha” moment: no people to the site. Several renowned poets pitched its beauty, obvious—a graceful
aspect of collective poetry writing prepares stu- in, but the majority of the contributors would be long neck, shadowed eyes,
dents for standardized tests: not the writing, not considered “amateurs”—which was precisely the a sleek, snow-white coat
an increased sense of connection to birds or the intended result. worthy muse of ballets and fairytales.
environment, not collaboration, not shouting out The real surprise was the poems themselves. Like all the pretty birds—peacocks,
answers. So why would a teacher engage? My crowdsource-doubting brain would never flamingoes, snowy egrets, roseate
I was like a babysitter, and a goofy one at that. have dreamed up the inspired beauty gifted by spoonbills, great herons—
I’m a terrible typist, and whenever I hit the wrong (mostly) complete strangers. Even though I know the trumpeter swan was once
key on the big PC the nature center had lent me it happened, I still find it stunning that people hunted for its plumage to adorn,
(which was often—I’m a Mac gal), the students from all over the world (1) discovered the project, to decorate women’s hats and quills.
corrected me, loudly—“Wrong letter!” or “No and (2) wrote wonderful poems about crows, east- Shot in springtime, rookeries robbed.
comma!” This was what was important to them. ern screech owls, and robins that danced with the In the Everglades, nesting birds
The older the students were, the louder they words of hundreds of other people. Every morn- were hunted almost to extinction.
shouted, i.e. the more unsettled they were by the ing, I awoke to find new surprises, like someone It’s easy for humans to mythologize,
presence of errors. The whole exercise raised their had planted flowers around my house in the mid- to control what they cannot ever
collective blood pressure. dle of the night. fully understand. Take women. Take Eve.
Of course, the teachers were unsettled, too, as Once endangered, today the birds
they no doubt considered students’ errors reflec- One Letter, One Word are thriving. Once adorned, now adored—
tions of their own teaching skills. I was posting It’s spring, and the peacocks one letter makes all the difference.
online (where everyone could see it) a collabor- are in heat, again. by Catherine Esposito Prescott
atively written poem, over which the instructors The male chases peahens
had no editorial control, written on a subject with as quickly as he can dragging *
which the students had no expertise. This sce- his fan of fanciful feathers Goodbye
nario was a nightmare for teachers. Why invite with eyes of gold, blue and green. (Postcard from an Eastern Meadowlark)
the scrutiny? He screams, he rages down the street you find my beak too sharp
I also learned that if there’s anything else to after the peahens who seek my song too sad and slow
do—like make a pine cone bird feeder, or go on refuge in my neighbor’s lawn you keep your acres neat
a nature walk, or touch an eagle’s feathers, or pet and, sometimes, our doorway. those grasses have to go
Tootsie, an elderly blind falcon, or wash your For as loud as its call can be, they love me in Brazil
hands in the restroom for 10 minutes—people will for as singular and solitary, they covet yellow so
pick that over writing a poem. For IBOM’s most it’s surprising this bird isn’t named along the verge there’s grass
successful crowdsourcing sessions, the audience for its high-pitched honk, its moo, they let the edges grow
had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. its mewl like a ball deflating,
*
At the 2017 Iowa Youth Writing Project con- like an old car horn. Some birds
ference in Iowa City, the middle school students are named for their symphonic From “Poem for the Northern Cardinal”
spotted the typos, but they didn’t obsess. In fact, parts. Take the trumpeter swan, I’m talking about you, Northern Cardinal.
they went with it and made poetry out of the mis- its sound is a muted trumpet You’ve got this striking vest
takes. But these students and their teachers already
loved creative writing, poetry, and—it turned
out—YouTube videos of trumpeter swans stealing
graham crackers from toddlers.

My Way or the Highway


Big, strong, loud!
One who is not outspoken.
You see its white feathers just like a cloud.
If you see my big white feathers, get outta my way!
You better listen to what I say.
If you make me mad, get away.
I know it’s repetitive, but I blow my own horn.
I’m the only one in my band.
I am literally called the trumpeter swan.
My trumpet doesn’t need a mute.
I use my neck to call you, “Pay attention!” with.
I know it’s crazy, but trust me, it’s not a myth.
If you see me, I’m not someone you wanna mess with.
My horns sounds in its own riff.
I’M THE MOST MAJESTIC!!
Forget red and black. Black and white are my colors.
I am an anarchist swan. No queen owns me.
When I honk, I make the other side panicky.
I am beautiful my own way, no matter what other people say.
I am the trumpeter swan so get outta my way!
If you don’t, I’ll make you pay, because at the end of the day,
it’s my way, or the highway.
by the Swans of Anarchy

CAN I WRITE IT?


At six months in, IBOM was breathing on its
own—beyond my social media posts and email
pleas. Like-minded local media and non-profit
organizations were essential in spreading the
word. Visual artists sent photographs, paintings,
and drawings. A local band even wrote a theme

JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 15


mine who was using a red-winged blackbird as a
metaphor for her jerkface ex-boyfriend.
Work-wise, IBOM was a part-time job. Why
did I keep doing it? Obviously, I fell in love—with
everything I learned about birds (which was a lot,
though I still don’t know where they go in win-
ter) and with all the people who interacted with
the poems. Cheerleaders were everywhere. Some
preferred to watch it evolve from the sidelines, but
that, I learned, didn’t diminish their pleasure. Peo-
ple I didn’t even know would ask me, “How’s the
IBOM thing going? I heard about it on the radio.
Very cool.” When we open a window, we can
never be sure of who will fly through. Or where
they will land.

Note: The text, art, and website code of IBOM (http://


www.iowabirdofmouth.com/) are open source and avail-
able for use in noncommercial projects.

Jennifer L. Knox’s nonfiction writing has appeared in The New


York Times, “Press Play,” “The Best American Poetry Blog,”
The Mycophile, and “The Inquisitive Eater.” She is the
author of four books of poems. Her work has appeared four times
in the Best American Poetry series as well as in The New
York Times, The New Yorker, and The American Poetry
Review. She teaches poetry writing and communications at Iowa
State University and is currently at work on a culinary memoir.

Northern cardinal (illustration by Polyphony Bruna)


TE ACHER S
Are you looking for a lively, challenging, and
of red and, as far as I know, whatever “Of course!” I said, handing it to her. She entertaining supplement for your reading list?
else you’ve got, that vest is the best. stretched as high as she could on her tiptoes in Adopt APR for your class!
Who’s got the best vest? You do! front of the easel and wrote this. We offer half-price copies and subscriptions
Who looks like a red pupil in the white for classroom use.
Bluebirds are
eye of winter? You do! Who questions
beautiful teach a Inquire:
the world with feathers? Who could sit
bluebird how Classroom Adoption
on my head like a flaming fist?
to teach a little The American Poetry Review
by the Cedar Rapids math and a The University of the Arts
Facebook Writers little science 320 S. Broad Street, Hamilton #313
Philadelphia, PA 19102-4901
* It wasn’t the last lesson, but it was a doozy. How T: 215-717-6803
Wild Blue Heron selfish I’d been for ten months: the sole enjoyer F: 215-717-6805
of the tactile pleasure of writing—of drawing big E: dufym@aprweb.org
Skinny old man in a shaggy cape blue Bs, round as a bluebird’s loop-de-loop.
unhinged his bobbly elbows, She handed me the marker, then the cap.
wobbled up on knobby knees “Nice job!” I said.
and blew his blue underneath “I know,” she said, then proudly read her poem
as we passed his marsh stump aloud, several times, touching each line she’d
on I-80. “Get a load of this!” written—in touch with creativity, her words, and
he trumpeted. We said: “A heron! birds.
But what’s in his mouth . . . ?” My old friend never submitted a verse to
A squirrel’s tail twirled IBOM—I think she’s mad at me for something
like a sputtering propeller. liberalish I said on Facebook. It’s OK. I’ll take the
Tinkertoy spine winds up to spear fish at its feet heat. Only one profane word ever made it into a
He bends with grace and ease of a yogi. . . . poem—it was written by a diferent dear friend of
Just two lines like kneeless legs
Legless knees, fish-head punctuation.
Or is that a pelican? New from New Issues Poetry & Prose
Drop it my way.
Those “Aha” moments continued until the end,
when I was still learning new ways to connect
people to poetry. In June, I visited Goldie’s Kids
Club, an after-school summer program directed
by the Iowa Historical Society, to crowdsource
some eastern bluebird poems.
“Do you want to tell me a poem about a blue-
bird?” I asked a tired little girl with lots of curly
hair, slumped over in a chair.
She suddenly perked up. “Can I write it?”
“Oh . . . sure,” I said, surprised, and handed her
a brown marker. This was the first time anyone
had asked to write their own verse on the easel.
“I want the blue one,” she said, pointing to the ÜÜÜ°˜i܈ÃÃÕiëÀiÃðVœ“ÊUʘi܇ˆÃÃÕiÃJܓˆV…°i`ÕÊ
marker in my other hand.

16 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


FOUR POEMS
DARA WIER

I Feel Sorry for You Someone Said I say, Stop, please, don’t say you feel sorry for me.

to Me Over and Over Again: I’m trying to avoid something, something along the lines of I would
Prefer that you possibly, you maybe of all people, you, I would prefer
A Story in the Form of a Dialogue,
Not feeling sorry for me.
A Dialogue in the Shape of a Poem
I don’t want to say, look, I don’t want your sorrow, you can keep it,
If you keep saying to someone you feel sorry for them Keep it for yourself for when you need it
what are you doing to them?
And leave me be, if someone needs to feel sorry for me it will be me.
What are you trying to do to them? What do you think you are doing?
And you say Look, it’s important for me to say I feel sorry for you.
And if someone says, no, there’s no need to feel sorry for me. I need to feel sorry for you because
Someone says, no, don’t say you feel sorry for me
In that way I feel superior to you
And then you say it again, this time, fiercely as if it’s without compassion,
And if I can feel superior to you, I can feel better about myself & all else,
without the original compassion you thought you were attempting to
portray but had not done a very good job portraying it. Maybe including you.

Or maybe it wasn’t compassion and that’s why it failed. It’s that simple, as simple as that. Is this so hard to understand?

But your right to say about and to someone whatever it is you like— Is that so complicated, and what, what about that is so complicated?
What is it then, when then it’s transformed into another kind of thing. What is wrong with you?

Maybe a weapon (a good old fashioned weapon of words, a weapon of mind I can say I care about you. I can say my feeling sorry for you is a kind
destruction), of caring.

I feel sorry for you. ( I can say I must have empathy if I feel sorry for you.
You might as well have said, Look, what is wrong with you, can’t you And I say, no, don’t, there’s no need to feel sorry for me.
hear me And you say, but I do, I feel sorry for you.
Saying I feel sorry for you?) ( What are you doing? And why is it impossible to get past this impasse?
Which could mean hey, you, I’m saying to you there’s something about you Do you want me to turn to look at myself through
I choose Your eyes, to turn to look at myself with what, the pity you propose?
To feel sorry for, who do you think you are
Would you like me to feel sorry for myself?
To tell me not to feel sorry for you?) ( Would that improve the situation for you?
On top of everything else, are you deaf? can you understand English?). Do you pity those you say you’re so sorry for?
What are you doing, are you doing something hurtful, harmful, damaging?
And what is the worth of your pity?
And when once more I say, No, there’s no reason to feel sorry for me. Your pity you put on me for the sake of your pity’s worth?
And you say it again, as if I didn’t understand it the other times, How much can I count on your pity for?
But I feel sorry for you. If I took it and let it rest on me.
What is it your insistence fails to take into consideration? If I agreed for you to pity me.

And when I say, No, don’t feel sorry for me. If I agreed for you to feel sorry for me.
And you say, I do, I do feel sorry for you. You’re sorry for me? Sorry for me.
Are you saying I don’t understand how I should be grateful to have For me you’re sorry.
someone like you I’m beginning to feel as if you feel as if for me
saying to me you feel sorry for me? To be makes you sorry
I feel sorry that you live the life you’re living.
And for that maybe you might wish I were to remain to be pitied
I feel sorry that the life you’re living is not my life. (
For eternity.
Look at me, I have a good looking lover, I say I do, I’m at the top of my
game, I say I Would it be a better way were we to feel sorry for one another?
am) (look at me, I’ve got a job, I’ve got so much going for me, I do, can’t Would you be okay if I say I feel sorry for you?
you see that?) Can I say how sorry I feel for you whenever you cross my mind?
And you say it again, oh, and again, I feel sorry for you. Can my face go awry and my eyes conflate and my head go slack

And I say, no, there’s nothing to feel sorry for me about. While I say to you I feel sorry for you all time?
Stop saying so, please, just stop saying that,

JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 17


And when I do that does our mutually inclusive sorry for if it does come when it does come
Unite us or divide us? into our lives

Does it become a competition to see which one of us feels sorry better? we may feel as if
we’ve been taken prisoner,
Sorry more.
Sorry stronger, truer, sorrier? or as if
we are a city of goodness and gold
Sorry in a way more profound?
and it has, without pity,
And to be to be felt sorry for?
stormed our gates
What is that, to regret one’s life?
and it has captured us,
To regret I’m living?
torn us from our families,
To help me see I am to be pitied, to have been found to be good
taken away
For nothing
everything that matters most to us
As far as you’re concerned. As far as you’re concerned
taken away our will
I’m what? Something to fear? in order to replace it with its own
As if your fear takes hold when it no longer has me to feel sorry for.
it acts as if it is in fact
As far as your fear is concerned what it feels for me needs to be to remain a matter of life or death
on hold.
it may be a love
So that if you feel sorry for me and pity for me and there is no fear that is universal & conceptual

What I am can be of use to you. and therefore of little use


at least
To be good for nothing is that for me to be better than for you to feel
sorry for. for the most pressing
human needs and desires
To be good for nothing better than for your pity to have a place to land.
The sorry you say is a big bucket of water you throw on me and then because as the absence of meaning matters
as it is perhaps at the very center
I shake of what you’ve done to me as if I were a big dog shaking of water
in motion of the few things that matter
Slow enough to look as if each drop were all of a sudden no slowly each as we live
drop is its own
to say what life is
its own planet its own orbit and its own light. and to what end do we endure it

which is also to say


Violets, Doves, Girls, Bees a mystery beyond understanding
and Hyacinths though beyond understanding
does not mean
if an absence of meaning,
I wonder, not without meaning
it is beyond understanding
is only a matter, a moment
of always and of never and we have no concern to be concerned
we’ll misunderstand
that it is also an
aftermath an after in the aftermath we can reason about that
with a later reason
we throw words around
as if

they are indestructible


I Hadn’t Known Who I Am
as if their perpetual for I Don’t Know How Long
existence we can take That’s the thing about advice
for granted
Somebody has got to give it to you
and in one sense we can
I am always wondering what it is you mean
since love lives alone
When you say you’re busy
the life it has is
so much its own Now, you’re replenishing your stash
it is rare My love shows up at a phantom flea market
when it attaches
“to replenish his stash”
itself to any of us
He’s buying pictures of himself
the way an escaped or orphaned shadow
He buys a rusty tin box to stash his stash
attaches itself to us
its measure can’t be taken He lets me know to not let on who he is

18 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


I am lying down on my silky bed

He leans over to kiss my leg

Later he signs those pictures of himself

With someone else’s name

Melodious Tolling Goes on


in That Awful Pandemonium
What else besides

Is there other than eternity and all else

And boys and girls and others

Who mark it with their lives

As blue as it is most curious

How us and all other animals

Share our eyes and ears and more &

other sensory gadgets we adore

depending whether it’s midnight or morning

Or a day with no name

We let ourselves in for

Me, I, some other, as long as alive

I shudder with its awful power

Over me and every other I’ve loved

Beyond sense & oh, and more for those

Who lend me this, let me take sorrow’s arrow

beyond repair for company & awe

Without end to sustain me a split-second more

With you on the horizon somewhere


APR ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Where you always are  @TheAmericanPoetryReview
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Dara Wier’s newest book is In the Still of the Night. She teaches at the University of Massa-
chusetts Amherst.
 @american_poetry_review

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JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 19


TWO POEMS
ALEXANDRINE VO

Surrogate Forgetting
Drenched in the dampness from its mother, In late summer, by the cat’s-whisker flowers
its feathers were flat before softening. that languidly unfurl,
It slipped through a fissure when heat astounds the body with serrations that singe,
where the hens had slept. We could hear its peeps a drinking gourd lifts itself and water spools ravenously down.
from where it had fallen. Alone
it stood, trembling before rejection. Fall comes. Monsoons set in.
Father gave it to me as a new pet and I welcomed it We study by candlelight, eat salted fish heads from cracked bowls,
into the private quiet of my days. longing for the copper trays of worship, a morsel more than this,
I cradled it in my arms, breathing dirt-scent, in my head that is filled with rain.
smoothing spindrifts of plume. I was there once. And I am walking the length of my mind,
I gave it a name. Watched it grow. accounting. But who is there to inform me
Watched it peck rice out of my palm of synaptic false connections,
with that animal-knowing and of the certainty of my psyche’s doomed neglects?
that consumed without injury.
It would come running when I called to it, teaching me
love with inhuman allegiance. Alexandrine Vo’s poems have been published in England, Ireland, France, and the U.S., appear-
ing in Salamander, Poetry Ireland Review, Popshot Magazine, Painted Bride Quar-
Young friend, the wind conveys, even the best of our loves die. terly, Bellevue Literary Review, CALYX, The Bitter Oleander, and Fjords Review,
Opening my ears to the dark, among others.
now I listen for soft-pronged footfalls
on gravel. Call out to sounds of crackling twigs.

20 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


OH NO
She disappeared in the 70s and shuttered herself
apart from family and neighbors for years before
her death in 2014; it’s a private, largely disturbing
story. But the work! Chosen by Philip Larkin—no
MARIANNE BORUCH stranger to darkness himself—for his 1973 Oxford
Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse, her “Story
of a Hotel Room” begins
Thinking we were safe—insanity!
Because past the angel at the gate, oh can turn like But she hadn’t finished. Not yet. Something We went in to make love. All the same
that, go under, straight into poetry. close to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ecstatic dark Idiots to trust the little hotel bedroom. . . .
Here’s the god’s honest: a moment of calm must have kept it going, a deep-ocean despair. More to this, of course. The dark, the “gloom” as
recently came to me, so close to sleep it was sleep. One follows back a keening, history’s first lament “we set about acquiring one another / Urgently!
In my dream I saw a girl whose dark t-shirt read: even before there was history. If only the poppies’ But on a temporary basis / Only as guests—just
All is Failure. Except “failure” was misspelled— “liqueurs” might “seep to me . . . / dulling and guests of one another’s senses” on this “bed of
part of the dream too—either “far-lure” or stilling,” she adds, their dangerous non-color a cold, electric linen.”
“fear-lure.” The words still blur. But thank you, pure oblivion. Her actual ending incantation that Is there a happy ending? “To make love as
whatever sent that. those liqueurs “seep to me”—I almost hear it as well as that is ruinous” is what the poet tells us
Because now I accept far or fear as the real F “come to me”—is weirdly barbed and endearing. and “someone should have warned us,” she says,
words, both part of lure and—most of all—that Hypnotic. Hallucinatory. because
F as failure, as in all is failure, a triumph. I hands- Few poets nearing the edge of melodrama
down love that, everything made of failure, trig- resist this efectively the empty pleasure of its self- . . . without permanent intentions
gered first by failure, seen in its light, built—at indulgent warmth. So austere of Plath, and deeply
You have absolutely no protection
least poetry often is—by one first failed turn strange, to use the part and not the whole, her
—If the act is clean, authentic, sumptuous,
of phrase after another, stanza and more stan- vision made neutral by that, thus universal via
The concurring deep love of the heart
zas in a standing pool of white space until a seri- seemingly simple decisions, the choice of an article
Follows the naked work, profoundly moved by it.
ous full draft lies there flat. Failure as blank check for instance—“the skin of a mouth,” or “a mouth
and ice floe into inner space. Is this what it is to just bloodied” and not—god forbid the posses- Threat lies here, in wait, as if she could hear
see clearly? sive—“my mouth.” Certainly the word “marry” and see some huge meteorite speeding toward
brings up a chilling biographical reference even as Earth. As with Plath, this poet’s questions and
- it avoids a slide into self-pity, just barely. No poet exclamations keep the voice human and grounded
was more of a genius with metaphor, such pitch- in a lyric progression of place, evening, an inti-
When Sylvia Plath wrote her poem “Poppies in perfect leap and transformation. macy, a not-quite regret. And there’s her brilliant
July” in the brilliant frightening throes of her last “I had a terror—since September,” Dickinson redefinition, sex as “the naked work” or a mat-
year on the planet, it underwent surgery, a savag- wrote a century earlier, “—I could tell to none— ter of “acquiring one another / Urgently! But on
ing. An early stab at it meant four couplets, even- and so I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying a temporary basis / Only as guests. . . .” Never-
tually the completed draft morphing to seven with Ground—” theless one can be “profoundly moved by it.” Her
an ending one-liner for good measure, perhaps subtle mix of decorum and nerve and abandon: no
really managed in a single day, July 20th, 1962. So -
wonder Larkin chose Tonks’ poem—Phillip Lar-
the date on the published version we know sug- To go through the eye of a needle, to sew from kin of “They fuck you up, your mum and dad /
gests—and legend fixes to a stillness. each end a coherent misery and revelation: others They don’t mean to / but they do. . . .” Berryman,
Here are the stats. What she kept of that poem have done such a thing. And some, like Plath, back at that National Book Award ceremony,
from the start: the couplet business, two questions, abruptly and brutally stopped doing, not only added this insistence to his brief remarks: “It is no
four complete lines, present tense, first person, a poetry but their lives with it. Yet surely those few good looking for models. We want anti-models.”
steady direct address to the poppies, the hesitant, went as long as they did because that doing kept Which is to say, unlike engenders like, some discon-
darkly wondering “if ” though it multiplied later. them here. Until it didn’t. nect deep enough to connect, regardless of risk.
What did not stay: an early draft’s stalling ellip- Ask John Berryman who jumped to his end, Again and again, past the angel at that gate,
sis mid-poem that wings pointedly of into outer but before? It was no no no, hell no which really it’s back to the mythic garden in spite of its dan-
or inner space, and her laser focus on the pop- meant yes. “I set up The Dream Songs as hostile gers, a first forbidden bite, what for years I’ve
pies only, the wish to hit and run (just 8 lines), her to every visible tendency in American and Eng- called “bummer lit,” what we must half-love, the
leaving it right there. lish poetry—in as far as the English have any complexity, the pull toward something truly bad
But the poppies—didn’t they always seem pre- poetry nowadays.” His words—as he accepted the has happened, is happening, will happen. Therefore
dictable little creatures, at first diminutive, sweet National Book Award in 1969. “Long poems need we write, therefore literature present and to come.
even, to be directly addressed as such? In sub- gall,” he added, “the outrageous, the intolerable— In this we resemble our lost betters—Dickinson,
sequent drafts they become “flames” that keep and they need it again and again. The prospect of Keats, Milton, and back to the first cave dweller
“flickering” and later—abruptly—“Little bloody ignominious failure must haunt them continually.” sick at heart over the loss of the one bloodthirsty
skirts!” she in fact exclaims, marking this as a gen- Just so, wild beloved lines of Berryman in those vandal buddy who was bearable, even treasured,
uine discovery, beyond observation. It’s a shock, Dream Songs keep coming back. and so belted out the first elegy. Oh no. The ache
however whimsical this surreal metaphor might for a tangled gleaming thread. Add to the great
seem for a second. Then more—“a mouth just Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns, subjects of poetry (time, death, knowledge, love)
bloodied.” Her zoom-lens focus on the body is, a human hopelessness, worlds at a loss, and our
well, creepy because to circle the mouth is an we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy perennial individual fuck-ups. And right from the
absence, a longing too raw to witness. start the seductive failure of poetry, its slim-and-
I do a little downhome research and turn on (repeatedly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no none chance to solve anything at all.
my stove’s front burner and stare, its flame truly an Because like scientists, poets learn to follow this
alien element. Plath was right, a most crazy flick- Inner Resources.’ I conclude now, I have no by heart: whatever does not compute. Small eventu-
ering, “wrinkly and clear red.” Welcoming? Mur- inner resources, because I am heavy bored. ally gets big, and big small enough for the page.
derous? In the final version—the one printed in Peoples bore me. And always there’s the charm bracelet of only trou-
Ariel—she hits bottom to thrill and refire: not just literature bores me, especially great literature. . . . ble is interesting that Janet Burroway famously
“little flames” anymore but “little hell flames,” she forged for us, speaking of fiction, but it’s poetry’s
calls them. Her meticulous build of poem: min- Etc, etc. Gall, yes. “Outrageous,” sure. Smart,
wily, sad/comic—but “intolerable”? too. Failure, reasonably enough, never fails. Fail-
iature time machine of throb and survival. A ure we do naturally, and do and redo and is done
slow panic that—springs! It does spring. Inward. As for British poetry, in spite of Berryman’s
blithe dismissal, there’s recently rediscovered (and to us. We’re experts at it.
Toward the end, two ifs (if only!) emerge. Those
passionate exclamations make the heart-stopping republished by Bloodaxe) Rosemary Tonks who -
6th couplet. walked away too, though not as suddenly as Plath
or Berryman. Tonks, growing silent, frail, nearly Which is why I’ve become Coleridge’s obsessive
If I could bleed, or sleep!— blind, hearing voices of Satan, then—but only wedding guest, telling and retelling how I stopped
If my mouth could marry a hurt like that! through birdsong, she claimed—God himself. by my public library to send a quick email. Two

JULY/ AUGUS T 2018 21


terminals down a dapper-looking young man
kept talking (through Skype, I suppose) to—
was it really the Pentagon? He said his full name,
politely asked that it be repeated before distinctly
reporting what he called sexual abuse via radia-
tion aimed from afar at his “private parts.” Would
those at the Pentagon find the culprit immediately?
He’d be grateful, he said. Where are you call-
ing from?—I imagined a voice at the other end
careful, long-sufering, asking this a second time.
Because he first gave stark “coordinates” via lat-
itude and longitude. Then again his request that
his words be repeated as if this were a sea-going
vessel far from shore, contact uncertain, possibly
shattered by wind and rain, all adrift in a random
earnest wash and moan. At my screen, my doing
e-whatever vanished. The truth is: all stopped in
me as I faked otherwise.
Poetry, or—what isn’t like this? The scary at-
odds just under the surface. Always a glimpse of
that.
I had no right to listen. My glued-to-it-anyway
set me up as an intimate of long standing, aware of
him, worried for him. And for those dealing with
his desperation in the badly paid, phone-answer-
ing lowest ranks of the Pentagon, feeling for them
too. How often are we stricken by how close
our own madness lies, our fears so easily ampli-
fied, gone surreal, overwhelming, toxic? Those
ten minutes abruptly ofered up a skewed looming
world. I kept at it: analogy, analogy, fortune, fate,
this guy, my own life, any of us, all of us.
Consider the many things (X times Z equals
thousands) with this same dire soundtrack, oh
no oh no oh no: a certain election and its appall-
-
ing aftermath that stalks us daily; what the doctor
might tell you by way of a strip of reckless lines
from the heart that reads like bad atonal music;
poem after poem aching to come through us; a
phone ringing and ringing and no, you don’t pick
it up.
In that library, its widening orbit of origin and
concern inevitable, I froze in my seat: aren’t we all
the saddest, richest most many-layered failed crea-
tures possible? My own Venn diagram of sanity
just barely crossing and containing my derailment,
I looked on, pretending to take in stride whatever
comes. No way around it, I was—am—a citizen of
this peculiar human race.
And poetry—everything to do with that.

Marianne Boruch is the author of numerous collections of poetry,


including Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing (2016);
Cadaver, Speak (2014); The Book of Hours (2011), which
won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Grace, Fallen from
(2008); and Poems: New & Selected (2004).

T HE F ACULTY
Johannes Göransson
Joyelle McSweeney
Orlando Menes
Valerie Sayers
Roy Scranton

Notre Dame MFA Steve Tomasula


Azareen Van der
Vliet Oloomi
in creative writing R ECENT V ISITING
A UTHORS
• Full fellowship & tution Margaret Atwood
scholarship for every student Kate Bernheimer
Teju Cole
• Home to Notre Dame Review Lydia Davis
and Action Books Junot Díaz
Ross Gay
• Sparks Prize and Summer Michael Martone
Internships in NYC Alice Notley
Claudia Rankine
• Aesthetically diverse, George Saunders
internationally oriented Solmaz Sharif
Lynne Tillman
Creative Writing Program Natasha Trethewey
www.creativewriting.nd.edu
574.631.7526 Lidia Yuknavitch
creativewriting@nd.edu

22 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


THE SEA
A BATTERED
DREAM
FRANK SHERLOCK

Sky meets everything makes horizon liable these shoes aren’t conducive to lightness

for flight then plummets of grace Surrounded by people feeling nah There are those who were thrown of

there’s chatter I can’t make out half-listening to boats out there others sealed under the ground

the dead The voices are calling & it’s rare when They are not the deaths that do haunting

I am even half-ready Rain bangs I’ve named love the way I would

against forest to get attention back Let’s not a housebroke pet so it would only answer to me I knew

ask about presence & breathe absence in deep better but in the end it was me who gave up

There are no trees where we live but & simply obeyed the commands That happened

today we’re somewhere else Amphibians talk So not the type to care about idealized pasts but

syllable by syllable in the pitch of dark The sounds fuck what if some woman was the father of your country What if

w/ the inner ear until composed into someone else was the mother of mine What if

communiqués for worse or for better Wherever we didn’t need this at all & it was always just there It was

we are let’s find a coastline to skirt alone Some things Thankfully the crash of horrors

need to be said along a fluid border is interspersed w/ extended downtime

I stood still so long to protect Once it cracked sweet by our friend who wished a sports riot

existing ground but now the distance travelled would turn into general strike That didn’t happen

from your voice to mine is Back to the bells you like the way it

a space that cannot be ordered Not like it’s smooth makes me smile when you scream Out Demons Out

Me not interpreting your oppressor at the on-ramp for a bridge to an island

language in the way that you can’t process mine Tripped up w/ Now it is time for a swim Reptiles in water don’t struggle to

straight ahead statements betrayed by get each other Leatherbacks touch Loggerheads

loaded syntax there are so few clean springs meet in the sea Wherever we are

left when the best ideas have run dark red w/ slaughter will remain unnamed by refusing attempts to own

Heavy sure but forgetting to lift Crushes comrades gossip confidants float on

is a recipe for ghosts where the sky starts All we can really say is something like toward

There are already too many to talk to It’s hard

not to step on shadows from birds up there & Frank Sherlock is the author of Space Between These Lines Not Dedicated (Ixnay Press,
2014), The City Real & Imagined (w/ CA Conrad), Over Here (2009), and Ready-to-Eat
now I find I drink so much Individual (w/ Brett Evans, 2008).

since amethyst is gone So much loss but I like the way

you smile when you catch me ringing death knells

It took another city’s festival to make me at home enough to show

heartbreak Of course it is a place that isn’t a stranger to storms


(
This rising sign spells danger in glue & glitter Chart’s

been sent & god is it messy togetherness brief the forgetting

takes so long Let us keep going even if

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 23
TWO POEMS
KIMIKO HAHN

She Sells Seashells a cousin asked, “What does that mean


to find someone dead? Lackluster? Uncaring?
considering the life of Mary Anning Without a mirror for the little girl?”
If only I believed in charms
especially in regard to the dragonfly ***
Bleeding-tooth and pelican foot,
and dragonfly nymph possessed by stone: Venus comb murex, keyhole limpet—
to make ends meet, Richard Anning
climbed a local clif with tools I can imagine shells petrified into curios
to pry out spirals—snake stones— and wish I’d dug out an Ammon’s horn.
But a hobby for one, for the Annings
he’d sell to neighbors convinced bought bread, maybe mutton, maybe
of their healing powers. The Dissenters’ Theological Magazine.

*** ***
Daughter Mary was named Mr. Anning fell from a clif
after her departed sister and sufered till he died. Mary’s dog
who’d tossed sawdust on the kitchen hearth,
inspiring flames to her bib perished just feet from where she stood.
and burning her to bits. Me, I wouldn’t want to puzzle over
I was instructed to so fear a match the swirling coast that cost so much.
when the lesson came to strike one The Annings didn’t possess any such choice.

I twisted, shrieked, and wept. ***


Mary’s a very clever funny Creature
*** said Dr. Featherstonhaugh as he purchased
The verteberries, sea lilies, scuttle and the spine of a sea-beast she’d found. My aunt
thunderstones had lodged in strata for millennia told me that shells can be alive.
above the English Channel. Above Some are left-handed, some right. Most
my father’s rowboat have a door and a foot and that is very funny.
the sky relieved its torment
but for twenty years I knew no reason. ***
King Frederick visited the seaside shop
*** to purchase an ichthyosaur—
As the high-tide withdraws the crocodile with flippers, the undulating fish lizard—
a shell burrows down with its foot
and should that muck harden, was it Joseph’s skull? Mary’s torso?
the razor, say, may petrify: or was it complete?
Strange how the body is so
such demise is a little girl’s good luck. undependable except at the last moment.

*** ***
When lightning struck a sheltering elm Some shells have eyes. All have mouth and anus
babysitter and toddler were pronounced dead employed to move along. I’ve watched
until a congregant advised Mary’s parents a sand-dollar drag its pattern in the silt
to set her limp body in a tub of warm water. that made it simply found. Mary
Once my little one spiked and seized chiseled out history—fossils
till plunged in a cool bath what seemed forever. that gave a woman no purchase even in times of a Queen.

*** ***
Miss-she-sells-seashells-on-the-seashore Some shells leap out of water!
found a flying-dragon Some leap of a boat’s deck
in the Lyme Regis clif near her home.
back into a more kindred habitat!
I found an egg dyed yellow and purple. Mary bought her own house
I found my mother’d died. so she could properly dust and polish
the so-called curiosities that evolved into
*** patriarchal—I mean paleontological import.
I found a piece of matzo beneath a tablecloth.
And I found my mother dead to which

24 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


***
Not so odd that a soft fleshy creature
Regeneration
builds a stony home— Scientists dote on planaria,
smooth, ribbed, warty, or spiny— the champion of regeneration,
fi nding that one three-hundredths
from a fold excreting particles of lime.
of this worm can reproduce the whole.
More strange is a creature of flesh
But, a confounded researcher,
who can’t protect herself thus
to determine how a worm
regardless of cranium or cul-de-sac residence. knows whether to make head or tail
based on a wound’s location,
*** cut as many as six side incisions
Some baby shells swim about, that then grew six heads
others dig into mud flats on the one poor creature. This
or latch onto random stone and stem. makes me unhappy
When my own babies settled into silt although I’m not a particular
fan of planaria. I mean, I agree
I had to rake them out
if a six-headed one can
as my mother did, with indulgences. advance knowledge
of, say, self-renewal—
*** swell. Still, I’m not sure
Although the spiny, warty men what’s so mysterious about
visited her seaside home, severing a tail end and
bartered then took credit for her bones seeing the stump regrow said tail.
Of course it does.
when all was done and said again
Amputate my anguish and
Mary Anning made a name for herself,
the same site regenerates:
even more stellar than a tongue-twister.
Mother was killed, yes.

***
After the Alexander sank not far ofshore Kimiko Hahn is the author of ten books of poetry, including The Artist’s Daughter (2002),
Mary discovered a beautiful corpse on the beach, The Narrow Road to the Interior (2006), Toxic Flora (2010), and Brain Fever (2014).
pulled seaweed from her hair,
then covered her with flowers at St. Michael’s
every day until her name was known. Me,
I’ve not discovered a corpse
known or anonymous anywhere.

***
envoy
Tyree Daye
she-sells-seashells-on-the-seashore
bartered the so-called curios
River Hymns
some have eyes
most have a door and a foot River Hymns by Tyree
some baby shells swim about Daye, winner of the 2017
below the coastal clif near her home APR/Honickman First
near bleeding-tooth and pelican foot
Book Prize, is available
and their healing powers but
in APR’s online store at
no one wants to puzzle over www.aprweb.org and at
an overhanging house or stony abode or
a charming other outlets. River Hymns
tongue-twister was chosen by guest judge
without a mirror for the little girl
Gabrielle Calvocoressi.

Tyree Daye is from Youngsville, North


Carolina. His poems have been published in
Prairie Schooner, Nashville Review, Four Way
Review and Ploughshares. He was awarded the
Amy Clampitt Residency for 2018 and The
Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award in the
Fall 2015 issue. He is a Cave Canem fellow.

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 25
SIX POEMS
SHARON OLDS

The Enchantment what I heard, I turned my green back


on my knowing, I labored with him for days,
When I said, to my mother, What was a good weeks, months, a year, we made
thing about me as a child?, my mother’s not war, not love, but temporary
face seemed to unfurl from the center, powerful sweet sorrow.
hibiscus in fast motion, the anthers
and flounces springing out with joy. Oh you were
enchanting, she breathed. What do you mean—
An Hour
crazy? No sense of reality? Once a year, in the park, for an hour,
No-no, she laughed, with many little notes— we met, and to see his face again—
half a scale, plus grace notes—I don’t the skin like a ceremonial sand garden,
know how to say it, you were just . . . known grains and new grains
enchanting. Possessed?, I asked. Brain-damaged? raked, known and new lines
No, she smiled. There was something about you— of thin and coarse tines, the rubble of
the way you looked at things. I thought I got it: time stopped down—was to feel like a desert
that stunned look on my face, in photos, dweller, in the desert, at night, looking up,
that dumbstruck look, gaze of someone seeing the tiny pocks of impact,
who doesn’t understand anything. the gravel and shrivel of the surface of the moon,
But a week later, I thought it had been and feeling at exile home. We would chat.
a look of wonder, it was bemused pleasure. I would waver on easier—It’s easier,
And days later, I see it—that light this time, to see you. But it was—the space
on my mother’s face—she loved me. And today between us got a little firmer and firmer,
I hear her, she did not say enchanted. its air thicker, a barrier between us
The woman in whose thrall I was like a mesh of spore in a petri dish; and as we
was in my thrall. I came into being walked to where we would part, it was between us
within her silks and masses, and after we are like a low wall, which moved with us,
gone would she caper here, my first accompanying us. He said, sounding
love, would she do me the honor of continued ensorcelling? surprised, that I looked good, and I said
that the part of me
that does not know
The New Knowing where he went, is always relieved to see him—
What we had done, my ex and I, there he is! Alive! And then,
for decades in our bed, didn’t feel like something we would get to where we would part, and there’d be a
we did, but something passing into us, hug, like a child embracing a tree, and then
through us—taking the shape of space one went one way, one another,
and time. And it seemed to be all one motion, one in sheer relief, one
from before the beginning to after the end in grieving relief.
of it, we stepped into the stream of it—
we eased in between the double jumpropes,
and helix-jumped, for unseeing joy,
When My Fear That I Won’t
and in service of what joy is in service of, When my fear that I won’t
the brute continuance. I can’t slough of the fat
remember what it was like, after that I slabbed on, with my heavy boyfriend,
he left, the coarse fur of the floor evaporates, I recall my body
against my cheek. And when, a year from 16 to 64,
later, I fell in love, in crush, limbs shaped and lean as kitchen
in paradise squeeze—I felt dumbstruck with amateur utensil handles—spatula;
luck. And yet, when I heard the new voice, slotted scoop with six entries;
in the bed, I knew. When I heard the caressive long-tailed spoon to sup with the devil—
words, I knew—the generic names of and when I moved around, the lengthy
afection used, the bee’s word, oak and cherry wands would make their
the sugar’s word, I knew his terms music like the drawer with the eggbeaters and the whisks in it.
of fondness were impersonal, To think, with the extra of, I am going to be
a traveller’s names for whatever town delicate again, sklendr in an elder’s
he is passing through—once again, way, angled, planed—a thrill
I had stepped into a stream, this time thrills through me,
alone, into the river of a man’s life, remembering those almost fifty
the waters where I’m called out of my name. years of love’s making, without an
I heard it the first night, I knew ounce of fat between muscle and bone,

26 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


having the pounce factor of a panther, in women, the ass. And I’d seen the beauty
an once, of my father’s face, in make-up, when he’d cross-
carrying the treasures of the breasts, the magi dressed, the breasts especially fully expressed,
punchbowls of the ass, the trove of the mound in every Hallowed Eve. And I thought
front, down there, which, in my dreams, Gardner might mean that the best writers
as a child, was pale green, and translucent, and luminous. want to fuck, or be fucked, in the ass, and I worried about that.
The ass . . . When my kids had been two, or three, they would
watch their poop circle, and spiral
Let the Night down, and they would wave goodbye.
Four in the morning. Let the night And now that my apartment has a narrow-exit toilet,
creatures walk—snow-footed ferret; I may stand and watch the drama, the level
bobcat; shrew; mountain lion; of the pool sinking, the toilet paper
lynx; paw, claw, skin— pulling apart into transparent wings in that pre-
and let my mother walk, with them, Stygian greenish element, then
let her, come back, in, again, drawn into the tunnel down 17 stories to the
for an hour. An hour is a long time. pipes under the streets where men stand up
Let her come back in for fifteen with alligators, and keep political
minutes. A lot can happen in fifteen prisoners, to rend information
minutes. Let my mother come back out of them. If my mom had not beat me while I
for a silent run-through of Onward Christian clenched my butt as if to keep her out,
Soldiers, like the song in the back of her mind I might have liked the asshole more, I might
she seemed to have been beating her daughter to. want to kiss it! I have been away
And she enters, out the side of the coastal from sex so long I don’t remember much—
mountain onto the bare porch, she is surely two people could kiss each other’s
five or so ass at the same time. The great
inches tall, bouquet of the body, its floral parts,
and comes in with a hand resting, on either alveolar plate to anuz, A
side, on the shoulder of a long-haired rat. O to Z, conception to death, begin to make
approach, feral queen, my thick glass a ring a rosy, pocket full a
door is locked, I can see you through it, posy, around me, until I all fall
greenish, pretty as a shepherdess, down—nectar, nectar; ashes, ashes.
a rat-herdess—don’t mind
that rushing above you, it’s just the great-horned
owl. And now there’s some shimmer before first Sharon Olds teaches in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at NYU. Her next book is
called Arias.
light, some shed petals of the day
to come. So if you’ve had enough,
for now, of lording it over creation,
may I suggest you go back where you came from—
back through the mattery door of lordation
and longing. For the dawn is at hand, the dawn is at Heather Tone
arm’s length. When my mom was in
a stroke trance, years before
she died, and did not know me, her mien was
Likenesses
cold, indiferent—profile
of the lingcod’s sister the electric eel.
Likenesses by Heather
But when she was on her death bed,
her face, in coma, glowed, its skin Tone, winner of the 2016
shone with joy—it was the elements, APR/Honickman First
receiving themselves back again from her
borrowing, earth’s darling, Book Prize, is available
fire’s young, air’s child—the in APR’s online store at
little legions went from her then, on their
quiet nocturnal feet, breath after www.aprweb.org and at
breath, foxtail plume from her soprano other outlets. Likenesses
mouth, opossum breath, ringtail
was chosen by guest
mouth, pocket gopher breath,
until her whole creaturehood judge Nick Flynn.
had been returned to its originals, and I
saw her there, mortal as they come.
Heather Tone is the author of a chapbook,
Gestures (The Catenary Press). Her poetry has
Anal Aria
appeared in The Boston Review, The Colorado Review,
When John Gardner said, to a crowd
of writers, “All writers are anal,”
Fence, and other journals. A graduate of the Iowa
I had never heard the word anal. Writers’ Workshop, she currently lives in Florida.
And I’d just heard there were women who preferred
to be “fucked in the ass,” and men who preferred,

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 27
BERNARD / 1 Become a Friend
Dear Reader,
LEAH UMANSKY We are grateful for the support that you, a Friend of APR,
have shown the magazine. We hope you will join us again
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but the unraveling of the world is in the injustice of might and the muse of with six outstanding issues representing the work of 120 writ-
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* Reece, and many others. We published the 20th volume in
the APR/Honickman First Book series: River Hymns by Tyree
Bernard believes he is doing the right thing. He protects and he loves, but his Daye, selected by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and we awarded
is a story of lost innocence, of planting and carving, of garnishing, and of the the 8th Annual Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize to Ruth
imprisoning of a frayed tapestry. Lies and conceits. Madievsky.
We believe that our mission to reach a worldwide audience
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28 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


READING EKSTASIS
codified in violence? How do you articulate pain
and experience, when language’s very existence
depends on the structures of power, where that
language serves to isolate and divide us—where “I
Tracking contradictions, sustaining incongruences cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s lan-
guage” (Adrienne Rich)? How can you bridge

GALE MARIE THOMPSON public and private pain when bodily experience,
pained experience, not only resists language but
refuses to be named?
This is not enough. Further, I want to ask: how
can we make visible the silences? Or absences:
When I say ex-stasis, ekstasis, exstasy, ekstasy, ecstasy: I am a thinker in dialogue; I still find it hard since “silence can be a plan / rigorously exe-
I don’t mean pleasure, bliss, passion, a blind to write to a paper that can’t answer back, ask me cuted [. . .] has a history a form,” and we should
union with an otherworldly entity wherein I learn questions, make myself think harder, push far- “not confuse it / with any kind of absence”(Rich)?
some Truth. I don’t mean a total engrossment with ther, to say the thing. If I am alone, it is all too easy How does a poet mark and articulate diferences,
an object, or that I am beside myself: enraptured, to ignore what I think before it’s even thought, yes, but also: how do we make visible the same-
mesmerized until I can’t speak. I don’t mean Saint to detach into silence. I am thinking of a profes- nesses? How do we communicate so that one line
Teresa; I don’t want her deep, white folds. But I sor who warned against students’ (over)use of the doesn’t hide another line, one memory or death or
am reckoning and re-reckoning with what I don’t I in our poems, thought it excessive, something to absence or experience doesn’t hide another? How
know, with what I can’t know. I am attempting grow out of. I understood it as a direct assessment can a poet “break through this film of the abstract /with-
alchemy, transference, to sublimate beyond a bor- of how self-involved, how self-interested I was. out wounding myself or you” (Rich)?
der of self—to be here and there at the same time. The last thing I wanted was for my poems to be a
-
In a sense, that is otherworldly. litany of whines.
I had grown up believing that the last thing I In Adrienne Rich’s “Hubble Photographs:
- should be caught doing is thinking my experi- After Sappho,” moments of ekstasis are celestial,
Ecstasy comes from the Greek word ἔκστασις— ences or ideas warranted “telling” about them. out-of-time:
ekstasis—formed of the prefix ek (outside or be- Every I written beyond this point has been push-
It should be the most desired sight of all
yond) and stasis (“standing,” “position,” sometimes ing against, or conceding to, this moment. What
the person with whom you hope to live and die
“static”). ἐκστα (eksta-) is the stem of the word happens when a poet forces away an action,
ἐξιστάναι, which means “to put out of place.” when there is self-consciousness without the self- walking into a room, turning to look at you, sight for sight
Classical concepts of ekstasis were along the lines of consciousness? Every poem loses, every poem a Should be yet I say there is something
“madness” or “bewilderment,” and in late Greek stutter.
more desirable: the ex-stasis of galaxies
the definition of “withdrawal of the soul from the
body, mystic or prophetic trance” was added on. - so out from us there’s no vocabulary
The original lyric poems of Ancient Greece There is a consequential and valuable diference but mathematics and optics
historically involved ecstasy; the poems were between the I of the poem and the I of a real per- equations letting sight pierce through time (1–8)
accompanied by music, and performed by a poet son behind it, the real person with the real body
whose voice comes partly from himself, partly who is either writing or reading the poem. There She yokes together what is intimately up close
from a muse outside of himself. Even further, we is more to it than just saying the empty words I or with what is infinitely far away—the cosmic and
have the ancient ecstatic rituals from the mysti- body. I want those two Is together. I want them to the infinitesimal. The positionality of desire is
cal cult of Dionysus—a cult of female power, of rescue each other. juxtaposed with this sustained communication
wine, and of liberation. At the heart of this rit- I also want to mind that “No ‘we’ should be between the universal and self. Neither party is
ual is the trance—an encounter with otherness. In taken for granted when it comes to other people’s violated in this encounter; neither party is really
this encounter, the self is displaced so that it occu- pain” (Sontag). I want to mind that we is not the subject nor object. The “impersonae” do not
pies two spaces, simultaneously. As Anne Carson plural of I: look back, and the “we” can either “look at them
explains in an interview, or don’t.”
Did anyone ever know who we were Gaston Bachelard describes “Intimate Immen-
One thing I do understand about the Greeks is that they, if we means more than a handful? sity” as how the imagining, remembering con-
too, understood otherness and valued it. That is what the (Adrienne Rich, “Contradictions”) sciousness intimately, and internally, comprehends
god Dionysus is as a principle—the principle of being up a “world that bears the mark of infinity.” The
At the same time, the dialectics of inside and out-
against something so other that it bounces you out of your- image being described (galaxies) has nothing to do
side in our language have everything to do with
self to a place where, nonetheless, you are still in yourself; with physical description or geographical infor-
hierarchical, hegemonic meaning-making—iden-
there’s a connection to yourself as another [emphasis mation—in fact, they are described as being “so
tification depends on it; alienation depends on it.
mine]. It’s what they call ecstasy. out from us” that it cannot be described. “In
We have self and other, subject and object, inte-
Ekstasis is not antistasis, the opposite posi- rior and exterior, conscious and unconscious. Gas- other words,” as Bachelard says, “since immense
tion. Ekstasis is not even on the spectrum of posi- ton Bachelard illustrates this as the “dialectic of is not an object, a phenomenology of immense
tion. It is outside position. It is the process of being division,” through which language has developed would refer us directly to our imagining con-
abstracted, channeled out. A stand-of. A radical its own open and closed dialectics. Diference and sciousness. In analyzing images of immensity, we
discontinuity. Standing outside of the body, look- power have` been enlaced in our language, serving should realize within ourselves the pure being
ing back from a vantage point exterior to it. Folk to isolate us all and silence the marginalized. of pure imagination.” Even before we can imag-
tales tell of bodies staying put while the rest go on This is an essay, then, about the gesture of ine something empirically, our imagination com-
a journey of ekstasis, giving us a sense of some- ekstasis as a vital touching. This is an essay about the prehends immensity, which therefore must come
thing akin to: Astral Projection? Bilocation? Autoscopic transformation inherent in the touching, its poten- from within. The image “accumulates its infinity
hallucination? tiality. This is an essay of ekstasis as an opening up within its own boundaries.” Interestingly, Bache-
One foot in the door, one foot out. to the world, as opposed to shutting it of. I don’t lard seems to describe all daydreaming as ekstasis:
want to be interested so much in an “ecstatic sub- “[daydreaming] always starts the same way, that
- ject,” although what I have to say is about the is, it flees the object nearby and right away it is far
I want for distraction, always. I cannot sit still. I subject. My aim isn’t necessarily a call—for an of, elsewhere in the space of elsewhere” (183–184).
do countless things in order to not find myself sit- ecstatic form, or an ecstatic subject; rather, I want “When this elsewhere is in natural surroundings,
ting still: working innumerable, often mindless, to read the experience of ekstasis as an experience that is, when it is not lodged in the houses of the
paid and unpaid jobs; I “stick things out” far past of potential, as an experiment. I want to work past, it is immense” (184). In other words, in order
when I should, use the doggedness, the diiculty, toward a form that can be transformative, that is, to be thrown out of oneself, one must be thrown
to make up for failures—to avoid risk, liabil- to transmute the form in its untransformability. in oneself.
ity, accountability. When traveling with friends, I This is an essay of tracking self and other, of -
have to be reminded to do things like drink water, sustaining, holding on to what we track without
go to the bathroom, sit down to rest, eat lunch. I being tempted to define or consume: how can a Only in the reality of writing can we permit such
often have to ask those close to me what my pref- poet bridge the reality of the self with social, pub- intensities of contradiction to exist: being here
erences are. Knowing what I want is impossible. lic reality, when the tracking itself is a violence, is and there at once, allowing a subject or object to

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 29
be intimately near, yet at the same time far away. mysticism, in all three experiences of mystical We may think of dancers, moving in and out of
This is what a metaphor is—it holds a contradic- ecstasy, the “inside” and “outside” of the self col- synchronicity—pleasure arrives as they careen
tion in its hands, perpetually implying both dis- lapse—can be both at once—so that the “decre- out, arriving again as they wind back toward the
tance and proximity: Anne Carson describes it ated” subject is all exteriority and can participate center, and then again as they fall back out. The
as “a shift of distance from far to near [. . .] [the most immediately with the world and with God: searched-for note is both “lost” and “last,” and so
reader] sees their incongruence, then sees also a “higher no one can go, deeper no one can go, the gestures are in pursuit but display a “dream of
new congruence, meanwhile continuing to rec- more naked no human can be,” Porete muses. The distance,” and therefore a persistent defining and
ognize the previous incongruence through the exposure allows the Self to observe itself outside redefining.
new congruence.” This sustained diference is of normal realms of subjectivity, to see itself as In order to “tell God,” the writer must open
what we know of the “Image” as well—or at least Other. Yet, the real struggle comes when our mys- herself to the telling, let its gravel scrape her. As
its definition vis-à-vis Imagism: “an intellectual tics want to “tell,” or write about this experience. Carson puts it:
and emotional complex in an instant of time [. . .] When the soul is displaced and leaves the Self—
Decreation is an undoing of the creature in us—that crea-
sense of freedom from time limits and space lim- according to the mystics—it is transmuted, and
ture enclosed in self and defined by self. But to undo self
its.” A poem can be an event in itself that links has no contact with language. “In other words,”
one must move through self, to the very inside of its defini-
between self and Other. Carson explains, “such a soul passes beyond the
tion. We have nowhere else to start. This is the parchment
Ekstasis can ofer this sustained diference. place where she can tell what she knows. To tell is
on which God writes his lessons, as Marguerite Porete says.
In “Decreation: How Women Like Sappho, a function of self.”
Marguerite Porete, and Simone Weil Tell God,” The underlying question in Carson’s explora- Ekstasis: to be pummeled, abstracted by the
Anne Carson describes how, rather than a blind tion, then, becomes what it means to be a writer unknown. To come back from ekstasis is to be
trance, the writings of three female mystics— who wishes to decenter or displace herself from unable to speak about it: “So out from us there’s
the poet Sappho, Marguerite Porete, a medieval her work, and yet who is also (and necessarily) a no vocabulary.” The relations are quick and radi-
Christian mystic, and 20th-century French mys- Self. Because “to be a writer,” she says, cal. The translation fails immediately.
tic Simone Weil—present the process of eksta- But the Self becomes patterned by the world.
sis as more of a self-unfolding, or a self-exposure is to construct a big, loud, shiny center of self from which By exiting, the Self becomes scratched, marked,
to the world. Weil calls this experience of cross- the writing is given voice and any claim to be intent on incised. Grooved. It looks back at itself in scrutiny.
ing the boundaries of the self—of moving the annihilating this self while still continuing to write and give But in order to do so, it must understand the sur-
Self aside in order to let God in—“decreation,” voice to writing must involve the writer in some important face edges of the self.
or “an undoing of the creature in us.” All three acts of subterfuge or contradiction. That patterning is then transformed into an
women describe this experience of the self moving The three mystics approach this contradiction instrument of telling.
beyond its container—the boundary which sepa- by constructing “a kind of dream of distance in The patterning is the instrument.
rates the self from the rest of the world, and makes which the self is displaced from the center of the Carson’s argument is, of course, more often
the very “self ” itself—as a love triangle of jeal- work and the teller disappears into the telling” (ital- applied to meditations on translation, when the
ousy and desire. Sappho’s ecstatic experience in ics mine). This kind of paradox, a quick wrinkle writer is literally trying to “displace” the self, so
Fragment 31 (“He seems to be equal to gods that of disbelief, is allowed in writing—“A writer may that the “teller disappears into the telling.” Yet, I
man”) occurs during a moment of jealous desire tell what is near and far at once.” Porete’s ecstasy, also see reflections of this love/desire triangle con-
for a woman (the “you”) speaking with an anony- for example, eliminates any concept of distance structed in Adrienne Rich’s discussion of the rela-
mous man. During this moment, Sappho’s physical between Self and Other, Self and God: “His Far- tion of the I in her poems. For Rich, the I is in
senses break down (“in eyes no sight and drum- ness is the more Near,” Porete imagines, this con- dialogue both with the self and with the you, plac-
ming / fills ears,” yet she is still able to observe tradiction of location leading her to her own ing the self in continuity with the real world. In
herself from the outside, her Being (according to epithet for God: le Loingprés (in the Old French), “Blood, Bread, and Poetry” she describes the pro-
Carson) “on a brightly lit stage.” “[G]reener than or “the FarNear.” cess as “a kind of action, probing, burning, strip-
grass / I am and dead—or almost / I seem to me,” Carson concludes her essay by reading a ping, placing itself in dialogue with others out
Sappho writes. In this event, Sappho has not left prayer by Sappho invoking God to arrive; Car- beyond the individual self.” I can’t help but imag-
the world, does not clear this stage—instead, we son describes how the distance alluded to in this ine this as an ekstasis of practical poetics. Perhaps,
see her standing outside her own body, recogniz- kind of invocation is “decreated” as opposed to then, we can have a Self in the continual process
ing herself as what is represented there—“I seem destroyed. Sappho “will have to invoke a God of becoming.
to me,” she says. Sappho the subject, Sappho the who arrives bringing her own absence with
object. As Carson notes, she “leaves it unclear [. . .] -
her—a God whose Farness is the more Near. It is
just how many people she imagines herself to be.” an impossible motion possible only in writing.” Adrienne Rich’s “Planetarium” (1971) envisions
The focus on jealousy in these experiences of There is no journey here—the boundaries are an earlier “ex-stasis” of galaxies which allows the
ecstasy, for Carson, emphasizes the splitting of the undone, and desire is eternally poised. The most speaker moments of deep connection with the
Self in order to expose the Self to its own scrutiny; moving explanation of this sustained contradiction lived experiences of others, corresponding with a
it allows a forceful, transformational dialectics of of desire is Weil’s explanation that “Man’s great recognition and material embodiment of the self ’s
“here” and “not-here.” “It is a dance with a dia- aliction [. . .] is that looking and eating are two own subjectivity. The poem is dedicated to Caro-
lectical nature,” she says: diferent operations. Eternal beatitude is a state line Herschel (1750–1848), “astronomer, sister of
For the jealous lover must balance two contradictory realities where to look is to eat.” Weil creates an imaginary William [William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus];
within her heart: on the one hand, that of herself at the cen- dream of distance where the desire for consump- and others,” and begins with a woman, assumed
tre of her universe and in command of her own will, offer- tion and the consumption can exist at the same to be Herschel, observing and measuring the cos-
ing love to her beloved; on the other, that of herself off the time—where its Farness is more Near. Ever-pres- mos. The woman then moves from her position
center of the universe and in despite of her own will, watch- ent, ever-fulfilling potential. Nathaniel Mackey, by way of these instruments, “levitating into the
ing her beloved love someone else. Naked collision of these in the preface to his Splay Anthem, calls up the night sky / riding the polished lenses” up to “Gal-
two realities brings the lover to a sort of breakdown—as we image of H.D.’s geese in Trilogy—“who still (they axies of women, there / doing penance for impet-
saw in Sappho’s poem—whose effect is to expose her very say) hover / over the lost island, Atlantis / seeking uousness.” Herschel’s vision enacts an encounter
Being to its own scrutiny and to dislodge it from the center what we once knew”—in order to illustrate the with the galaxies:
of itself. (“Decreation” 193) sustained, liminal force of his own serial form:
An eye,
For Weil, for example, this triangle included her- Provisional, ongoing, the serial poem moves forward and
‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’
self, God, and all of creation, in which she was a backward both, repeatedly “back / at / some beginning,”
from the mad webs of Uranusborg
third wheel (which explains Weil’s wishes to dis- repeatedly circling or cycling back, doing so with such ada-
appear: “If only I knew how to disappear there mance as to call forward and back into question and suggest encountering the NOVA
would be a perfect union of love between God an eccentric step to the side—as though, driven to distrac- every impulse of light exploding
and the earth I tread, the sea I hear”). Marguerite tion by short-circuiting options, it can only be itself beside
from the core
Porete’s “erotic triangle consist[s] of God, Mar- itself. [. . .] H.D.’s crazed geese, circling above the spot that
as life flies out of us
guerite, and Marguerite” in which ecstasy is an was once Atlantis or the Hesperides or the Islands of the
“annihilation” of the soul, leaving an “aperture” Blest, come to mind, as do John Coltrane’s wheeling, spi- As the eye confronts the “NOVA,” the entity
to be filled with God. raling runs as if around or in pursuit of some lost or last erupts with light, sending it out in all directions,
As opposed to what we might imagine of a note, lost or last amenity: a tangential, verging movement while simultaneously “life flies out of ” the “us.”
more “negative,” interior, or “blind” traditional out (outlantish). (xi–xii) The self leaves the confines of the body as a col-

30 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


lective of “us” (at this point transcending Her- her “I” by the end of the poem: “I am bombarded that which refuses to be named. At its center is the
schel, the galaxies, and the speaker). The seeing yet I stand,” she declares. The final stanza exudes story of Nelson’s relationship with gender-fluid
and the collapse of individuality occur simultane- urgency; the longer lines remain closer together, artist Harry Dodge and the complexities of their
ously, giving way to transformation: still avoiding punctuation. The form becomes foray into queer family-making. Nelson explores
the telling: the speaker becomes the instrument the restrictive ways we have approached expe-
What we see, we see
of seeing/changing herself, to be the instrument riences of desire, motherhood, partnership, and
and seeing is changing
to experience the lives of others, to shape and be family, and how we can allow for broader defini-
the light that shrivels a mountain shaped by the signals coming at her (previously tions, make space for fluctuation and fluidity. At
and leaves a man alive called “patterning,” for lack of a better word). The the same time, the transformation of something
regular intervals of a pulsar in outer space become fluid and alive into something abstracted is dan-
Heartbeat of the pulsar
her heartbeat (dare we call this the “FarNear”?). gerous. At one point, Nelson discusses the kind
heart sweating through my body
The self undergoes “a battery of signals” from the of “sloppy praise” that might come from getting
The radio impulse universe—marked by the outside, but not extin- “too juiced up about a concept like plurality or
pouring in from Taurus guished. The “translation” from the pulsations multiplicity and start complimenting everything
won’t ever be “perfect”—they are “untranslat- as such.” This sloppiness is a kind of silence—
I am bombarded yet I stand
able” by nature. It is enough just to be the instru- the other side of silence—of abstraction, allowing
I have been standing all my life in the
ment. She is no longer “a woman in the shape of similar experiences to eclipse the other. To com-
direct path of a battery of signals
a monster / a monster in the shape of a woman”; bat this tendency, Nelson explains to the reader
the most accurately transmitted most
she is “an instrument in the shape / of a woman.” that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick thought a lot about
untranslatable language in the universe
The power from the nova is the same as inside of
I am a galactic cloud so deep so invo- that which is more than one, and more than two, but less
the “us,” and the “I,” and the “I” then becomes a
luted that a light wave could take 15 than infinity. That finitude is important. It makes possible
transmitter of this power.
years to travel through me And has the great mantra, the great invitation, of Sedgwick’s work,
taken I am an instrument in the shape - which is to “pluralize and specify.” (Barthes: “One must
of a woman trying to translate pulsations pluralize, refine, continuously.”) This is an activity that
What it comes down to is this: ekstasis is a pro-
into images for the relief of the body demands an attentiveness—a relentlessness, even—whose
found touching.
and the reconstruction of the mind. very rigor tips it into ardor.
Not a shying away from the self, but allowing
The speaker’s relationship to the language of the self to become patterned by others. These are relentless, liminal gestures of dis-
the self changes after this moment of ekstasis. The Where the Farness is the more Near. placement (and desire); we must make the outward
ecstatic movement isn’t simply communing with gestures to understand the experiences of others,
a divine spirit—the speaker here is crossing his- - but the moment that we begin to abstract, make
torical thresholds, spatial, temporal thresholds, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015) is primar- a definition, the moment we grasp for redemp-
and by doing so, becomes fully integrated with ily concerned with trying to articulate and “track” tive closure, we’ve stepped far, far away from it.

The Editors of The American Poetry Review


and The Honickman Foundation
are happy to announce
2018
the winner of the APR/HONICKMAN
First Book Prize
Jacob Saenz
Throwing the Crown
The APR/Honickman First Book Prize is an award of $3,000
and publication of a volume of poetry. Jacob Saenz’s Throwing
the Crown, with an introduction by Gregory Pardlo, will be
published in September 2018, with distribution by Copper
Canyon Press through Consortium.

The prize is made possible by the partnership between The


Safa Yalaz

Honickman Foundation and The American Poetry Review.

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 31
This perpetual accumulating and sieving give us more in the materiality of their lives and their love. What is written, drawn, made present, pat-
the same “sustained incongruence,” or “dream of subject position. Grounding politics in the mate- terned, is constructed from our moving toward.
distance,” that Carson’s mystics were able to con- rial can bring us back to more personal account- Ekstasis is an incessant calibration, a dance of
struct in order to indicate the “FarNear”ness of ability and responsibility. Similarly, in Of Woman becoming and becoming and becoming.
God. As she says, “a writer may tell what is near Born, Rich calls for women to reinvigorate lan- Ekstasis is also an act of displacement and desire,
and far at once.” At the same time, however, guage with the physicalities of writing, with the an act that dances away from any attempts at clo-
Maggie Nelson reminds us that “that finitude materials, in order to experience (and continue sure. To encounter otherness in this way is to be
is important” in order to resist the other side of to redefine) their relations to others. In “Perme- unable to “tell” the experience through any sort
silence. In other words, as Rich explains regarding able Membrane,” a later essay, she writes: “Poetic of language. Our poets recognize this “untranslat-
her “split” pronoun use, we can write “not as an imagination or intuition is never merely unto ability” of the information received, but share the
opportunity for literary voyeurism but as a drama itself, free-floating, or self-enclosed. It’s radi- intensity, that “dream of distance”—they know
we ourselves are engaged in.” cal, meaning root-tangled in the grit of human we can only gesture toward this revelation. This
The later, serial poems of Adrienne Rich often arrangements and relationships: How we are with dream of distance is an experience of sustained
take on this kind of drama as a way to “plural- each other.” In this way, as we continue to “plu- potential, a continued encounter that continues to
ize and specify,” articulating a network of relations ralize and specify” our relationship(s) in the world, encounter. This dream of distance is, of course,
to the experiences of others. The form of these we create a “network of intersecting identities only a dream—a wrinkle of disbelief writers are
poems tends to permit a kind of ekstasis by focus- ‘experienced simultaneously’”—a field of potenti- able to keep folded for just a little while. But if
ing on the boundaries, limits, and margins of each ality when we “watch the edges that blur.” we were to grasp for redemptive closure it would
link in the sequence as the speaker moves from be stepping further away from the truth, from
subjective experience out to the cosmos, then to - touching something profound. Ekstasis, anything
another body—from inner, private pain out to a I want to imagine a series of vectors, each vector but nothing, is nothing but gesture. But being-
more general public pain. Allowing the poem’s self resisting its own archival, pointing toward its own with is touching, touching is seeing, and seeing
(and form) to split from its very plane in this par- unarchivability; I want to imagine a series where is changing. Perhaps ekstasis isn’t losing your self,
ticular way works to pluralize and specify, to call each section acts out its own ekstasis on the page, but rather the release of your self ’s power to define
attention to the limits of our experience, which each transposed to a distinctly diferent plane. you. Identity is a field, a grid—fluid and circum-
serves to strengthen our connections. Fragments, not of a bigger whole, but of them- stantial, and we must define and redefine (plural-
If the function of our meaning-making relies selves, with no outer or inner limits; they don’t ize and specify, continuously) as a practice—of
on this patriarchal, hegemonic structure of inside/ accumulate, they don’t add. They are One and ardor, of devotion.
outside, then what this form attempts to do is One and One and One. Here I am reminded of
not necessarily cross boundaries, but “decreate” Bhanu Kapil’s ruminations of hybridity in Ban en
them—allow the self to be “both near and far at Banlieue: “One thing next to another doesn’t mean Gale Marie Thompson is the author of Soldier On (Tupelo
once.” Rich shows this awareness best in her series they touch,” she writes (13). And later: Press, 2015) and two chapbooks. She has received fellowships
“Contradiction: Tracking Poems” (from Your from the Vermont Studio Center and Kimmel Harding Nel-
Native Land, Your Life, 1986). We live “in a world, “An organism that shares a membrane with other organisms son Center for the Arts. She is the founding editor of Jellyfish
in which pain is meant to be gagged / uncured is a false indicator of hybrid forms,” I wrote afterwards, Magazine.
un-grieved over,” and the question becomes how laboriously, so as not to forget, in the lobby, waiting for my
ride. You can be a hybrid and not share a body with any- Works Cited
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from my breastbone through my left shoulder down
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I am typing this instead of writing by hand poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/
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blooms and rushes with pain
There is no poem if there is no one to read it— 1979–1985. New York: Norton, 1986.
Rich details the significations with precision, if nothing echoes back. A poem is a vector, a call- ———. “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children.”
and by doing so bangs together both the I of the ing out, “is not about; it is out of and to” (Rich). Collected Early Poems 1950–1970. New York: Norton,
poem as well as that of the writer: “I am typing Paul Celan said that poems were no diferent than 1993, pp. 363–366.
———. “Cartographies of Silence.” Later Poems: Selected
this instead of writing by hand.” I am in pain, which handshakes—a ritual of ofering, asserting pres- and New 1971–2012. New York: Norton, 2013, pp.
is material, she says, and therefore my writing, my com- ence. The gesture, charged with the intensity of: 40–44.
munication with you, comes to you this way; writing is a I am right here. Are you right there? Adrienne Rich ———. “Contradictions: Tracking Poems.” Later Poems:
physical labor involving real, material instruments included lines from H.D.’s Trilogy (The Flowering of Selected and New 1971–2012. New York: Norton, 2013,
which must be handled by a real, material body. the Rod) as the epigraph for The Dream of a Com- pp. 164–179.
———. “Hubble Photographs: After Sappho.” Later
Much of Rich’s prose, including “Notes mon Language: Poems: Selected and New 1971–2012. New York: Nor-
Toward a Politics of Location” (1984) and Of ton, 2013, pp. 426–427.
I go where I love and where I am loved,
Woman Born (1976), is similarly devoted to resist- ———. “Permeable Membrane.” A Human Eye: Essays on
into the snow; Art in Society, 1997–2008. New York: Norton, 2009,
ing the silence of abstraction and committing to
I go to the things I love pp. 96–99.
an embodied experience. In “Notes Toward a Pol-
with no thought of duty or pity ———. “Planetarium.” Collected Early Poems 1950–1970.
itics of Location” she calls for women to resist New York: Norton, 1993, pp. 361–362.
theoretical abstraction (perhaps she would call it The lines of a poem are the lines in the snow our Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York:
sloppy?) and urges her readers to locate themselves footsteps make as we walk toward the things we Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

32 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


FOUR POEMS
MAGGIE SMITH

Junk Trees, lost its passage. And now?


Everything you own
the Bradford Pears, green-and-white globes of my girlhood
is new & the stinking hill
whose smell I’ve tried to name for years, settling on piss,
on the outskirts of town,
but walking by a row of them on my way to the grade school,
vented so it won’t blow, is full
I thought baking soda. Junk trees, those spring debutantes
of clothes & shoes & VCRs
stinking in their crinoline, begin snowing when the snow
& toasters, so many toasters:
is almost gone—only three more days of cold white once
avocado, harvest gold, ecru,
the forsythia opens its yellow stars, sign of not-quite.
black, stainless. One is mine.
False spring, too, is junk, not science. It serves us right
Turn it upside-down
for asking trees to tell us the time. Junk trees, why?
for burnt crumbs, even some
Because they’re frail? Because they’ll grow anywhere
from the twentieth century,
but not for long? Whatever we call them—bedwetters,
which until now I’d imagined
crooked drunks sick on themselves, even semen trees—
not broken & buried
they lined the aisles of my growing up, a row on either side
somewhere beneath us,
of our street, and threw their rotten white confetti,
but behind us, intact.
smelling of home. And when one failed to thrive,
the city came, dug it up, and planted in its place another.
The Village Dogs
Ohio Cento I have heard of places where
dogs leave their homes one by one
The sun comes up, and soon in the morning and meet up in the streets.
the you-know-what will hit the you-know-what. They lie together in the park, freckled
But this is what it means to have our life.
bellies warming in the sun, then leave
We need a break from this ruined country. for the butcher’s, for alley-scraps
Sometimes it feels like it has just begun and it’s over. of ham, chorizo, a bit of blood
sausage they needn’t even beg for.
What we know of ourselves
gets compressed, layered. Remembering The butcher carves with village dogs
is an anniversary; every minute, a commemoration in mind. They come daily for the salt
of cured meats. I wonder if they lap
of being, or thinking—or its opposite,
the savory sea air, too, the way
a strip of negatives.
the silver-bearded black Lab
Some days, I don’t even know how to be.
of my childhood licked the halo
I sink my feet past time in the Olentangy
of cigarette smoke from around
as if loneliness didn’t make us
my mother, as if to help us see her.
in some absurd blessing. —If there even is an us.
I have heard of places where
When are we most ourselves, and when the least?
dogs roam free—no dogcatchers,
Is it too late except to say too late and hear no meddling neighbors. I hesitate
the whole world take a rain check? to call their ritual togetherness family,
I worry it is.
but what is family? At sundown
the dogs come home one by one.
Planned Obsolescence Inside, they click across the tiles.
No one even needs to call them.
It used to be you’d buy a toaster
& if it broke, the fix-it man

would open it & redden Maggie Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017);
The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (2015); and Lamp of the Body (Red Hen
the coils for you. It used to be Press, 2005).
you’d darn a sock, wearing it
inside-out like a puppet

to close the hole, feeding


the needle through until light

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 33
FIVE POEMS
JUSTIN BOENING

What You Call a Thing tender fuck-scenes for you. I don’t like that.
You’re hurting me. Don’t stop. After all,
Without the advent who’s coming to worship me now
of Stockholm Syndrome, that all my worshipers have been institutionalized?
how could I have By which I mean, Go ahead. When I spy on me,
learned to love myself I find nothing worth noting. Yes, the roof leaks
from all the right spots. The wind, which was once
so much? I’m asking God
so popular with our parents, continues
and New York, can anyone
in the cul-de-sac to steal, to steal, to steal.
help me? (An all-but-audible
I get over it. I ignore it. Like anything else,
“or else.”) The captain’s chair: it replaces what I say with what I do. And then
it’s beginning to smell its song seems more real than its music.
a little too much like me. Again. And its episode seems more genuine
But there must be more than its season. Like the other day, a clear day,
I spotted my mother in our old front yard,
punishing consequences
slapping sprigs of lavender from my mouth.
imaginable, right? I noticed,
I keep telling myself life gets better
for example, you know
once it’s started.
the one, a boy prying his way
through the trash piles along the river,
looking a lot like the last time
Paradise When Almost Everyone
I saw you, but blind Lived in Paradise
instead of dead. (I dug Paradise never had enough chairs
my own grave; I used it and remained resistant
for someone else). And there it is: to installing traic lights at even
the most dangerous intersections
When all you know is the woods,
in Paradise. All about Paradise
every controlled burn is a forest fire.
there were women dressed up
Or it matters what you call a thing.
to look like our mothers, women
But not for very long.
who had spent their entire lives
on the streets of Paradise, never returning
Care Package to their families or friends, always
reminding us, without ever saying
I dredge my name out of the sand. What of it.
a word, who we could be in Paradise.
I jam my hands into my pockets.
For many years, Paradise was a set
When they catch me pacing in the waves,
for a TV game show called Paradise,
the mothers clutch their little ones close,
where contestants would be left alone
shield their eyes from whatever comes next.
in a white halogen-lit room
There are rules. I don’t touch myself
and told to wait for their cue
in public, not in private either. I wear many
before they walked onto the set
heavy layers—wool coats atop coats atop shirts.
of Paradise. Of course, many
I know the drill. I know what’s good for me.
of the most skilled contestants
At the theater, I sit in a seat
ignored their cue.
a few seats away from me, for my safety.
Inside every house in Paradise
You want me to have hope—I have hope,
was another, smaller house,
I just call it something else—a house, a hound,
one with fewer windows,
a payment plan. Doctors comb my skin
that felt more inviting
for cancer, they make numerous copies
than the houses we lived in in Paradise.
of my many IDs. They force me to recite
In Paradise, people talked about the war
the pledge of allegiance in cursive, en plein air.
as if it could end any day in Paradise.
Incroyable! It’s easy. I do it every day.
In Paradise, we were the most beautiful
I don’t ask who sent me this package. I accept it
people on the planet—we were alone.
so long as it’s free. When you say you need
And once, under a hunter’s moon,
a signature, I use the name of someone minor
that cast Paradise in a burnt
from the news. I mourn the death of what wilts
auburn glow, the municipal lake
in my refrigerator. I’m the dog that predicts
went white, like the milk we all loved
when the earthquake is coming. For your
to chug in the all-night diners in Paradise,
enjoyment, I would translate my suicide notes
and several older residents walked into it,
from cuneiform to emoticon, highlight the many

34 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


carrying one or two of their most “Son?” I said, tickling Monkey’s belly,
cherished bobbles from home— rubbing my nose against his.
a cob pipe, a hand-thrown mug, “I don’t have a son,” I said, hoping
a few bamboo spoons. no one heard me, hoping
And though it didn’t happen all at once, you’d feed him while I was away.
we came to learn, as the last of them
submerged, out of view, what we’d gotten
so right with our time in Paradise
The Box
and grew weak with the knowledge Once, long ago,
we’d die from it. though it could have been
yesterday, I spotted a box
bobbing (it was swaying)
Monkey in a nearby inlet. I threw a line
We were on one of our journeys. into the waters and fished it out
We were somewhere. with a green green net.
The air was chiming five; the market Even sodden, wilting, it rattled
was sealing down when I shook it. It seemed
its spices, rolling up its rugs. important that it be opened,
We were looking to buy which is to say I couldn’t open it;
something that was alive, it unfolded as if by itself.
something that had a beginning. I wanted to hold it
by my side, between my feet,
We wandered hungry into the old
in the middle of the boat
bazaar, past the honey, cumin,
(the boat was rocking),
mastic gum, seed. We inspected
but dropped it out of fear.
each stall until we stopped.
I was afraid to peer
“What about a monkey?” I said,
inside, and yet I peered
pointing at a face pressed
inside. And in it, at the bottom
between two bars.
of it—I don’t remember
“What about a monkey?”
what was in it, but remember
you said, sliding some dried fruit
it smelled of piss, fermented sugar,
below his nose.
and that the wind, when it swept
We were finished into it, whined and pulled
making excuses for ourselves. like an animal insane at the end
We bought the animal with what little of his chain, which is to say
we had left, haggled deep that what was in it now
into the night, for the entertainment of it. seems beside the point,
We took him in our hands, and our hands but that it was there
felt lighter with him in them, or allowed itself
wrapped him in a wool scarf, to be seen, or that it wasn’t
wondered how much warmth for me but was mine,
he’d allow us to give him. I leveled him however briefly. I’d give it
with our eyes; you licked your hand to anyone who lives
and untangled his tonsured head. to fight for the living.
The monkey laughed, began to coo. But who can be sure who
We knew he needed a name, the living are anymore.
so we named him after the country
we’d never visit, after the forest
we’d never see again, after our most Justin Boening is the author of Not on the Last Day, but on the Very Last, a winner of the
2015 National Poetry Series, as well as Self-Portrait as Missing Person, which was awarded a
admirable achievements, the mistakes Poetry Society of America National Chapbook Fellowship. He is the cofounding editor of Horse-
he reminded us of, we called him Monkey, thief Books.
he didn’t answer at first.

“You’ll own this monkey


the rest of your life,” the merchant
promised us as he tied a twine bow Moving? Miss an issue?
around Monkey’s scrawny neck.
“A monkey lives longer
Please let us know.
than even our top scholars know.” Write ✦ Phone ✦ Fax ✦ Email
A fly landed on my forehead. Mike Duffy
I tried to look into Monkey’s eyes The American Poetry Review
but could only look through them. The University of the Arts
“We look so much alike,” I said, 320 S. Broad Street, Hamilton #313
“Is that normal?” Philadelphia, PA 19102-4901
“No more alike than is usual TEL: 215-717-6803 FAX: 215-717-6805
for a father and son,” EMAIL: duffym@aprweb.org
the merchant replied.

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 35
THREE POEMS
LYNN MELNICK

Too Jewish / shtetl kitsch but marriage outside the faith is a line
he will not cross. So fuck of with your agency,
Yes, I believe in generational trauma plus daughters!
that mix of pride and fear that 40+ years in patriarchy
What’s a put-upon milkman supposed to do
didn’t fix. I have a hard time saying no
but bring that fiddler to America
because you all are going to take it anyway to keep the girls in line and the tsar away.
but I didn’t come to monologue that. Synopsis:
Cue the orchestra. Cue the aging sound system.
I am worried all the time because of the tsar.
Holler “tradition” at me one more time,
Synopsis: I want to talk about my childhood I dare you. Holler “tradition” at me one more time
love of Fiddler on the Roof. Sounds crazy, no?
and my rage will swallow all of America
But I didn’t come here to choreograph how once
and every last actor hamming up my damage
I was so lost I couldn’t leave the apartment to prove some folksy point about conformity
and there was food trash on the floor
while the remains of us happen
and mice were enjoying the bufet
between blessing and bruising
and I wanted to die but didn’t have the energy. as we swallow pills
Think about how our whole cast of characters
to make the inveterate fear dissolve, deliver
would have thrived with some Zoloft to swallow.
salvation to the craggy split
I pray to those pills most days; I’m gravely devout. of the vinyl reminder. Revival:
I’ve got a shawl around my head
I am not trying to make a larger point
made of chemistry and pluck. Act 1:
as I have been too busy
The Constable has sympathy for the Jews, sure, trying to keep panic down
but is powerless to prevent the violence.
and men out of range of this
Who wants front row seats?
umpteenth curtain call to triumphantly bang out
Don’t you love that part where Tevye gets hammered what that point might be.
and trades his daughter to a butcher?
The Russian dancing is great. L’chaim!
American Value Inn
I know every word of every song.
This route has tolls, predicts a sign
I listened to that boxed set of albums
on I-80. I tell him dirty stories
so many times the needle skipped
and almost run us of the road.
at the wedding ballad but it didn’t matter
We pull into a rest stop to take care of him.
because eventually I snapped
It is never enough.
both records in two. Sunrise, sunset.
We pull into a diner parking lot and he wants more.
Love, is what I’m saying. Obsession.
I have to be invisible, inconspicuous
Ok, well, like with everything,
soft suction out of nowhere.
I was in it for the sex.
Years later he’ll track me down
Musical number: superstition turns me way on
to New York City using sorcery and wit
but mostly I wanted to run away
and he’ll storm into the oice
with the Marxist supporting character
where I’ll answer phones all day
because, like for all of us cozy
with my flawed mouth. I digress.
American Jews, changing the world
When we get to a motel
makes me wet. But I have to tell you,
he goes to piss while I take of everything
I don’t think I’ve ever had a Jewish cock
and lie face up across the bed
in my pussy unless you count the guy
even though history tells me what the spread
whose wrong parent was Jewish.
will feel like against my skin.
This is extraordinary math.
I stare at the wood paneling glued unevenly,
All those women deciding their own fate
at the peek of of-white wall underneath
despite the master of the house making side deals
which forms shapes I turn
with Cossacks and yentas? The lights dim.
into visions, like clouds, like prophecy.
Quiet, please, in the back, we’ve arrived at
He appears
Act 2: Tevye reaches deep into his soul,
around the corner, rote for a moment.

36 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


He is often cruel. He is often tender.
He flies at me because he is a bat after dark
with his fangs and we are so far

from lights that I forget myself


how precarious my durability.
He lifts me on top of him and I am at it again.

I cum. A lot. I digress.


My body knows what it’s doing
but will never accept why.

The Only Jew at the


Mock Jewish Wedding
My friend’s missing father came from Mexico
but her mom wouldn’t admit it. Sometimes she insisted Greece
sometimes Italy. Eventually we found proof in a Ziploc of documents.

We also found a stash of pills and money.


We took our giddy selves to the McDonald’s on Wilshire near Fairfax
and I ordered the first traif I ever ate. It felt less momentous

than I had expected. At the mock Jewish weddings they serve pig.
It’s hard to tell if it’s meant to taunt or just that in Radzanow
there are animals one expects to consume.

My maternal ancestors told people they were from Vienna


but they were not. They were from peasant Poland.
The dictionary defines shtetl with “(formerly)” but we’ve never

left. I once broke into a ballroom at the Plaza


and all I could think to do was put my boots up on a settee.
Most fetish bores me but I suppose it’s a comfort

to burlesque the joy of what you murdered.


Who are we trying to trick here? I mean this to be answered.
How are we diferent? This too. There is so much bacon in the world.

We came to this country to pioneer having it all! And then


we romanticized those who had nothing. In Ukraine,
where Melnicks originate, figurines of Jews are sold as good luck charms.

I’m hanging on inside my own pocket. I dare you to watch me


parade my costume here. I am not dust underneath. If there is no Torah
in the synagogue, I am still proof it is a building.

Lynn Melnick is the author of the poetry collections Landscape with Sex and Violence (2017)
and If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), both with YesYes Books, and the co-editor of Please
Excuse This Poem: 100 Poets for the Next Generation (Viking, 2015).

LE T T ERS TO TH E EDITOR

APR welcomes comments, criticism, and dialogue in response


to work in the magazine. Authors of poems, essays, and other
work will be given an oppor tunity to respond to letters sched-
uled for publication.

Letters should be sent to: Letters to the Editor, The American


Poetry Review, The University of the Arts, Hamilton #313,
320 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102-4901.

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 37
TWO POEMS
DITTA BARON HOEBER

reading
I

reading what I write aloud is like speaking to you.


words sung into the air. me. wrapped in the listening silence.

II

it helps that winter is over

III

at this distance I can see that you were as bound by your own periphery as I.

caught inside that skin which is history unable to tear through lest you would bleed. empty out. lose
all shape all structure.

lose yourself.

there are moments, of course, but not for you and me.

IV

you fade. taking yourself out of the action. I see you quietly slip around the corner
into your own life even if with a little sadness

the ice cream truck plays its tune over and over and I can’t think. I miss you unbearably. I miss myself
unbearably.

but I will be able to work myself right again. surely.

VI

perhaps if I make a painting of you


touch you with each mark of the brush
it will be enough

Three Deaths
THIRD
black suits white shirts

men carry my heavy uncle


in his expensive box

my last uncle

and laughter
in his honor

SECOND
I kiss his forehead
his forehead like my father’s forehead that I kissed
warm
it greets my lips

FIRST
she
squeezed my hand hard held it whispered
come back very soon

Artist and poet Ditta Baron Hoeber has had solo exhibitions at The Print Center, Philadelphia;
the Philadelphia Art Alliance; the Abington Arts Center; and the University of Houston Clear Lake.

38 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


GRANDEUR OF THE
poetic experience. Nor is it convincing as a politi-
cal one.
I suspect audiences will have no trouble relat-
ing to Lee’s poems as a respite from the vernacular

UNIMPORTANT
of the poetry of violence. What I find is that Lee
is at his most convincing when he unravels the
voluptuousness of experience so that he’s left with
pure physical sensation. In those poems, as when
Books DAVID BIESPIEL he writes of grief and his mother, the body is more
than a symbol of all that is mystical and eternal—
Both of us will have to wait
until we’re each alone to weep.
The reasons a contemporary American poet might I’m listening, I answer
The mysterious gives way, boundlessness is bor-
consider writing political poetry these days are too and kiss her chin.
dered by the perimeters of human need, and the
many to name. I would include the government’s
Obviously, you’re not, she says. tears are going to have to fall as tears, at least.
attempt to silence dissent in the media, in the Jus-
The suggestive is just that, so long as it remains
tice Department, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, I kiss her nose and both of her eyes.
uninsistent. It’s the poem not the premise that
even members of Congress; to attack the research I can do more than one thing at a time,
counts, so that the voyage of experience remains
and consensus of scientists and science; to dismiss I tell her. Trust me.
manipulation of our democracy as “nonsensical”; mysterious.
I kiss her cheeks.
to question the integrity of judges and elected oi-
cials; to attempt to take away health care from All of us experience the history and the soul TARFIA FAIZULLAH, REGISTERS OF
millions of Americans, especially the vulnerable, and the physical aches and pleasures of the body ILLUMINATED VILLAGES, GRAYWOLF
poor, women, children, and the elderly; as well palpably. Lee is interested in that, but he also is
as to alienate, discriminate against, and deport interested in showing the body as the stuf of illu- Tarfia Faizullah’s Registers of Illuminated Villages is
immigrants, while banning Muslims from coming sion, suggesting the journey into our daily, sensual a book about reversals. Reluctant, asperous, har-
to this country. immersions holds the key to a great many spiritual rowing reversals. It is also, as the title suggests,
American poets might address festering issues clarities. Perhaps that’s why Lee’s poems feel like about validation, about the stubborn holler—Walt
that predate the current political situation, writing they keep coming to a never-ending longing— Whitman’s word is yawp—against prejudice and
toward issues like economic dislocation for work- massacre. Whether set in Northern Iraq, Bangla-
Watching my quarry tumble down the sky, desh, California, West Texas, or elsewhere, the
ing-age, non-college-educated people, a min- I began to long
imum wage that hasn’t kept up with inflation, poems enshrine outrage, and they loop in voices
to be born, to become of those whose lives are impeded by violence. Fai-
too-easy access to guns, the growth of mass incar- one of the heirs to the sorrows
ceration and along with that the old heritage of zullah is a poet of historical imagination who
of hunger, the rites of slaughter, is, if not disquieted, alarmed by the forces of an
slavery, segregation, and the continuing reality of and the several names of desire and death.
widespread racism. immoral contemporary world.
“It is exhilarating to be alive in a time of awak- . . . the more I yearned In Faizullah’s hands the world is divided
ening consciousness; it can also be confusing, dis- for a new reckoning of fire and clay, between the righteous and the wicked, and they
orienting, and painful,” Adrienne Rich once a new ratio of body and song, are coiled together by destiny and horror with a
wrote. I’ve been thinking about that sentiment just proportions of world and cry. knot that causes raw wounds—
lately, and it’s led me to give a lot of thought to a I know
Although writing like this—so abstract about
quieter path for poets. I believe a greater threat to his hand
existence’s existences, you might say—can blow
autocratic regimes is the writer who focuses on the is not pressed
one’s mind, the book also has a way of becoming
inner life. Why? Because, as Václav Havel reminds anymore against
predictable. You come to anticipate that, in Lee’s
us, authoritarians know that a citizen who thinks
poems, experience leads to sorrow or to desire. my breastplate
for themselves is the greatest threat to their hold
A turn of the head is a rite of passage. A name is trying to pull me open
on power. Perhaps now is the time for poets to
a reminder of birth or death. A tree is a ghost, a when I curl into
seek simple, private, intimate discoveries, to focus
sign, a secret. This strikes me as knowledgeable, a swan.
on the viscera of the human condition. Perhaps
perhaps a ruse, but also tenderly optimistic. Who
now is the time to tend to what is dynamic within You’ll thank me
doesn’t need that?
the human spirit so that a new day of healing can later, he’d smile.
Lee’s poetry is the farthest thing I can think
begin. Perhaps now is the time to be a poet of
of from avant-garde. Therefore it’s always won- What you notice first of all are the ways a swamp
human emotions, a subject relevant to seven bil-
derfully out of fashion. The poems emerge with of violence inhabits all the people in these poems.
lion human beings on the planet.
their simplicity and complexity intact. In a word, Or is indiferent to them. Something elemental is
And so the question is, does the world need
they are heartfelt, without condescension. It’s the meant to be ofered at least, and you see it in lines
more books of poems about the impressionis-
triumph of sincerity over authenticity. Even the like these—
tic fires of love? If you read what’s in high fashion
inclusion of an ecumenical God suggests the poet
in American poetry today—poetry as a frontline i swear, not all of us die at war
is a raconteur of astonishment—
defense against racial and political aggression—the or in accidents
answer might be no. And yet. Exhausted,
God slips me unfinished And here—
under God’s pillow. Forget the shaking and raving man
LI-YOUNG LEE, THE UNDRESSING,
NORTON I steep as long as God sleeps. I still see, for years now. Forget his voice
And Time is a black butterfly, pinned burning past me. Bitch, I need you,
Li-Young Lee’s poems have always had the laid-
back pace of the sensualist, if not the novelist. His bitch, I need, I need, he moans,
while someone searches for its name in a book.
new book, The Undressing, tells an important story and I know it’s not me he wants, but
about human nature. The closer he looks at the It may be an imprecise thing to say, but I come the night is a varnished peeling wall
human body and the human psyche, the warmer away from reading lines like these thinking that
against which I, too, want again to be
the world becomes. For a sensualist like Lee, the Lee’s elegance transports us into the aspirations of
roughly pressed.
flesh and blood of the body are an enigma. Con- yearning. Saturates us with it. And perhaps some
spicuous and unseeable, the body bales and readers will find this absorption of his to be child- These passages are gaming for psychological
befogs, rattles and embarrasses—all in (mostly) like, unworldly, arguing that everybody knows nuance, even as they animate a sprawling atten-
plain sight. Such as in the opening lines of the that it’s the role of the poet in these times to fight, tiveness to authenticity.
book, in the title poem— to write something like, What do we want? / The book ping-pongs between poems of com-
Political Poetry! / When do we want it? / Now! munal tragedy and moral gravity, on the one
Listen, But a poem that’s only a partisan argument— hand, and poems, on the other hand, mostly in the
she says. worse a slogan, worse yet, propaganda—is not a second half of the book, of unremarkable nostalgia

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 39
structured like voice-overs. The former manages Or something literarily supernatural, like the fol- have you notice this book’s overviews and fore-
outrage with confusion; the latter sags with cer- lowing lines as mission statement for the book— grounds in the rich landscapes of the lyric and
tainty. Forget the latter. There’s much to admire the elegy that predominate, populated by swifts,
Nothing is an accident in love or literature.
in the first half of the book that reveals the insid- cats, rain, moths, ash, weeds, beetles, fawn, wind-
I came to the library for The Aspern Papers.
ious faces of bigotry, starvation, and violence: the mills, bee pollen, a pair of doves, and so on. But
Not on the shelf. Not to be deterred,
“begging body” or the taunting holler, “Go back to those romantic imprints are put in heroic contrast
I read ‘Waiting for the Barbarians.’ It appears
your own country!” Faizullah’s subject is the poison to new, contemporary spatial dimensions: engine
in retrospect that this was actually the apter
of colonial culture, a history of plunder, and the velocity, suicide bombers, Twitter, Facebook, pro-
choice . . .
heritage of human dignity in the face of assault. pane tanks, Ken dolls, CRV, OMG, DraughtGard,
The failures of the dominant culture are miti- I found myself wondering if these allusions Roundup, Agrigold, Archer Daniels Midland,
gated by were akin to faded photographs, or like specters genetic modifications. Holding it together are
from a well-stocked bookshelf, or like recently lis- Baker’s passionate testimonials and ambition for
the silken emancipation
tened-to Spotify playlists. Such poetic clippings moral transparency. The conditions for his poems
of a handkerchief
emerge as if filtered through binocular vision, are not entirely identical, but they do loop around
from the mystery of your grandfather’s
revealing a rich Western Civ preoccupation. I kept each other. Sometimes they are in response to a
pocket, the handful wondering, what’s behind the mood music? What predisposition, like a figure of speech, and the
of invisible everything— I experienced is that Mlinko’s M.O. is something result might be a series of odes. Other times they
you tell your love it is okay to feel much more than finding literature imagined into are constructed out of the nature of things, such as
life. What’s behind it, I’ve decided, is a haunting, heavy shadows or floods, windows or bells, anni-
This insistence on behaving like a human being—
like in a fable, where “everything is broken by the versaries, even heaven—
like a mother so world-weary she “was used
tides.” It’s poetry as vigil. Something, or someone,
to drinking smoke”—is the kind of image that the cicadas keep up their own dry rain,
has gone away. You feel it in poem after poem. Or
stays with you. Sizzling danger is brought up by passing on high from limb to limb.
might go away soon enough. And the loss is with-
decency and by ordinary tenderness that exposes a I don’t know what has shocked me more,
stood by connecting what’s at hand:
condition in which cruelty is routine and injustice that you are gone, that I am still here,
seems inexorable. Haze that there is music after the end.
mère or fille; people-pleaser, cocktease,
That’s the kind of passage that fastens itself to
she-bear, in niqab, in getup, in stays;
ANGE MLINKO, the splendor of the familiar order of the lyric—
DISTANT MANDATE, FSG having taken Saint Paul’s advice to seize start with a stimulus, add emotional complexity
the gold ring: Who groks to the paradox? giving rise to metaphor, resolve the metaphor. It’s
Ange Mlinko is a poet clearly fluent in literary
Though one would sooner burn than freeze . . . harder than it looks. It’s what Baker hails as—
conventions. If you’re wondering, I mean that as
praise. Her restraint is laudable. Many poets of In the end the feverishness breaks in favor of for- Immensity of song—to be so small
Mlinko’s generation aspire to a fresh appliqué of mal restoration, an appetite for coherence over that throat—
indirect speech, a smash-up informed by the In- rapture, like the geometry of an invisible order. that singer wren on a red
ternet and pop music with the politics of Jill Stein. I bring it up because, in contrast to the Fai- tree—
It’s hard for us, knowing as we do of the extraor- zullah book, which devotes so much energy to amid the wicks of wet fruit
dinary versatility of American poetry over the human conflicts, Mlinko’s interests—even when
Above all, there’s something gleeful in the way
last twenty-five years, to appreciate enthusiasm the iconography becomes stif—are in not distin-
he defends the lyric. Its limitations aren’t seen as
for a poetic method so immemorial as rhyme guishing the diference between the present and
vacancies, but filaments to inhabit like a bright
and meter. the past, the real and the imagined. If you’ve ever
surface of containment—
“Join us as several guest poets read from
and display their latest or landmark e-
It’s hard for us, knowing as we do of the extraordinary versatility of erasures” Which means: take Dickinson, rub
American poetry over the last twenty-five years, to appreciate enthusiasm some letters out, you can be famous, too.
Because I could not stop for Death—make that
for a poetic method so immemorial as rhyme and meter.
Be a cold sop. I stood at—. You get the
picture. Sappho: without time’s injury.
It’s fair to say, I think, that Baker’s undisguised
Mlinko’s latest book, Distant Mandate, tran- read a novel and come to think, “Hey, those char-
argument is for the sincerity of writing, and it’s
scends those functional elements. Her subject is acters are alive, same as you and me,” you know
something that a poet—in the glowing light of
the hide-and-seek of life and art. Schooled in what she’s after. Time, in these poems—time,
the imagination, of “time’s injury”—fashions and
myth, tormented perhaps, Mlinko writes as if lit- experience, anecdote, the literary-layered word-
sculpts, chisels and trims, so that everything not
erary allusions could never mysteriously vanish puzzle—is ofered as a consecration. Life may be
foregrounded shrinks away. It’s not the authentic
from her imagination. Instead, they are enlisted to bric-a-brac, but literature is exalting.
that’s supreme. It’s the artifice. Put another way,
investigate everyday experience, including some-
his structural arrangements and correlated fig-
thing genteel like a weekend getaway. Here you
DAVID BAKER, ures organize his thinking. Poems flatten then rise
find, from Padre Island to Cyprus: roadsides, sub-
SCAVENGER LOOP, NORTON up to meet other poems so that in the end experi-
urban enclaves, garden nooks, oil patches, beach
ence is—
towns, headlands, tulip fields, listening posts, One of David Baker’s central images in Scavenger
shuttered villas, the Acropolis, train station stop- Loop is the poetic equivalent of a manifest for con- like a bruise smeared through the wet few uppermost leaves.
overs, and old Confederate stomping grounds temporary life lived among everyday things— Not yet light so much as less dark.
(this last locale rendered through a sequence of
—broken shutters, musty box This is poetry of textures and stitches, made to
villanelles). Each item is connected by a mind
springs, two ancient-at- cinch the inefable lowdown of the natural world
sparkling in the literary past—
eight-years-old laser printers shivering before us. The world may be warped. Its
We could eat grapes half the morning like Goethe and all manner of lawnmowers, power tools, hand halftones may be creased. But it is not formless.
hunkered against an obelisk, Nor will it resist a poet’s momentary buing.
waiting on the proper angle for the seas tools, shredded planters, to name only a bit
to see the Sistine sun-kissed of the stuff
crammed in my barn DAVID ST. JOHN,
Too, a mild grievousness permeates this book, THE LAST TROUBADOUR:
as if Mlinko’s interests in poetry were to ren- We experience such castofs not just as formal, NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, ECCO
ovate what’s decrepit about life with stunning neo-pastoral utensils and gizmos but as testimony
embroidery— of an American style: headlong, spectral, common- One thinks of David St. John, whose The Last
place, even imbued with the grandeur of the unim- Troubadour: New and Selected Poems was published
Like Benedict and Beatrice, I thought— portant. The spirit is dolorous, though not fraught. last year, as quintessentially a confessionalist. Yet
as we went around the garden Scavenger Loop is an achievement of arti- his poems are tied, like a ribbon, to an expression-
trying, with words, a precarious knot fice mixed with candor. A shorthand take would ism most confessionalists avoid.

40 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


By expressionism I mean a yearning for a higher plain of existence. Life is beauty and life is hell—the locus of confessionalism. People merge
Think, mystical. Think, escape from experience. To St. John, poetry is together, lovers, friends, strangers. And then the distances between them
meant to transcend immediate, raw, vulgar, political experience. Not that grow. In order to write about it, St. John has developed a repertory of tac-
he trucks in fairy tale, but the mood he has held to since 1976 when he tics to interpret love: something happened, and then something happened
published his first book, Hush, is a deeply felt route out of the grotesque underneath that too. No longer imprisoned by time, freed inside the lyric,
into the splendid— one surpasses the other.
St. John’s sense of being in pursuit of, I guess I’d call it, psychic relo-
As I bend
cation is consistent throughout his career. Meridians are approached and
Close above the iris, I see the train crossed. Songs are sung without forgiveness received. Patience shifts from
hard to noble. A slow dance becomes a lost reflection. These transcendent
Drive deep into the damp heart of its stem, & the gravel
experiences are pleated, explicit, butting against the edges of perception—
Of the garden path
The nothing you know is as immaculate a knowing
Cracks under my feet as I walk this long corridor
as any moment going from a distance into dawn
Of elms, arched
St. John’s determination for religious gesture, even if it sometimes
In these lines from the elegy “Iris,” published when St. John was in his includes adoring his subjects, also includes a logic that favors pathos and
late twenties, one already sees a main trait of his mature poems press- submission. It comes from the traditional, outstretched figure of the poet
ing through: the sense of an intertwined humanity that, while broken, or as troubadour, though in St. John’s rendering he’s not so much the French
whacked out of proportion, is always jostling back toward repair— minstrel composing poems of courtly love as he is a balladeer in a black
Didn’t you notice leather jacket with one hand on the bottle and the other inside a stanza. In
That when you fell to your knees I too a phrase, a man of sorrows, well-mannered, dense with feeling, habitually
Fell & kissed this scarlet earth hallucinatory. This stance carries St. John’s poems beyond moralizing closer
to the territory of invocation—
Blackened by the lyre of your wings
Tell me. What is the “beautiful,” what is the “lost,” & what lives still just
St. John aims to be an imaginary realist. His poems crystallize in the face at the edge of the sound of the trees? It could be the syllables of habit;
of two primary erotic subjects: ecstasy and memory. He is not the first poet it could be a single phrase of gratitude . . . or an unbroken prayer. Tell me.
to discover how the nearness, or the imminence, of death can absolve the What will stay, & what will hold its grace & last ease?
imagination—
I suppose one could read these lines as slouching toward nostalgia. But they
And how could I not trust the advice also enlist his fears, and they seek out and sometimes find meaning for per-
Of a woman who, with the ball of her exquisite thumb, sonal history on the other side. The word that comes to mind finally is
Carefully flared rouge along the white cheekbones poise, that place in lyric poetry between splendor and fright.
Of the most beautiful women in the world?
Last night, as we lay in the dark,
The windows of her bedroom open to the cypress, David Biespiel’s most recent book is the memoir The Education of a Young Poet. His sixth
To the stars, to the wind knocking at those stiff book of poems, Republic Café, will be published in 2019.
Umbrella pines along her garden’s edge,
I noticed as she turned slowly in the moonlight Books Reviewed
A small tattoo just above her hip bone— Baker, David, Scavenger Loop. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2016. 112 pages,
paper, $16.00. ISBN 978-0-393-35347-1. http://books.wwnorton.com/books/
It was a dove in flight or an angel with its Scavenger-Loop/
Head tucked beneath its wing, Faizullah, Tarfia, Registers of Illuminated Villages. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2018. 112
pages, paper, $16.00. ISBN 978-1-55597-800-6. https://graywolfpress.org/books/
I couldn’t tell in the shadows . . . registers-illuminated-villages
Lee, Li-Young, The Undressing. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2018. 96 pages,
Or, if not absolve it, then empower it, liberate it, relieve it— cloth, $25.95. ISBN 978-0-393-06543-5. http://books.wwnorton.com/books/
The-Undressing
I know my place & I know my business & I know those
Mlinko, Ange, Distant Mandate. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. 112
Melodies melodies & the music of my own mind pages, cloth, $23.00. ISBN 978-0-37424-821-5. https://us.macmillan.com/
books/9780374248215
As I say, he is not the first to discover how the imminence of death can St. John, David, The Last Troubadour: New and Selected Poems. New York: Ecco, 2017.
free the imagination, but he is candid about it. From the fires of love and 192 pages, cloth, $25.99. ISBN 978-0-062-64093-2. https://www.harpercollins.
the insistent past come confessions of beautiful secrets lodged, or uttered, com/9780062640932/the-last-troubadour/
between terrors—
When I came to your hotel room
You were sitting in a hard chair Index of Advertisers Page
Just by the window
Carnegie Mellon University Press 7
Half-slumped & distracted
Diode Editions 12
Looking out at the persistent rain Finishing Line Press 9
Then silently back at me Harvard Review 9
Hollyridge Press 20
Your ghost your own ghost
Horsethief Books 22
Had already come
New Issues Poetry & Prose 16
What you might see here is how St. John goes beyond emptied, burned-out Pacific University 15
emotions so that he can realize what can and can’t stand anymore, but needs Painted Bride Quarterly 7
to be lifted and taken home. It’s as if from the copious ashes of expression- Palm Beach Poetry Festival 14
ism comes something unassuageable. Something like realism? No. Some- Poets & Writers 5
thing like life. The poems in this collection (of poems published over four Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation 7
decades) invent life as poetic sentience, is what I mean. Anecdote precipi- Steve Rafalsky 22
tates the lyric. You see a similar predisposition in Li-Young Lee and David Tom O. Jones 37
Baker’s books. Namely, the lyric stands against unmediated thought or University of Notre Dame 22
blurted-out thought. It stands up for the vividly intimate, as St. John does at The University of the Arts 43
the beginning of an elegy for his friend, the poet Larry Levis— The Unsung Masters Series 19
Warren Wilson College 19
The one who should write my elegy is dead Woven Tale Press 16
When we made that bet he said most likely APR: Friends of APR 28
I’d be the loser writing his elegy instead APR Subscriptions 37
APR/Honickman First Book Prize 2, 25, 27, 31
Nothing is as beautiful as nothing he once said

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 41
TWO POEMS
LEILA CHATTI

Tumor

Haemorrhoissa
Did she, like me, lose years of nights,
up at an ungodly hour, washing the sheets? She must have been

very tired. She must have been ashamed, waking again


to a stain in the bed, still warm like a lover just risen, dayspring

seeping over the weedy yard outside. She likely had once
a husband, but not long, not after. Because no one touched her

she must have touched herself, she must have known a woman could
die from living untouched and preferred to be satisfied. Her red hands

turning slowly and brightly like fish under a faucet


in the back of the quiet, lonesome house. Sometimes, I’m sure, she thought

her life was all right. She ate, when available, the foods
she liked best, and moved her chair while reading

to the sunniest spot. She presumably prayed for some time, then decided to move on
to more fruitful endeavors, like grooming her eyebrows, or organizing the kitchen drawer,

always a mess. I’m sure she enjoyed a good joke. Occasionally had trouble
with self-esteem, generosity. She was the kind to need and need, like me,

endlessly. So when one day that god walked by, all boyish good-
looks and not looking her way, she didn’t, for a moment, hesitate, she did

what I couldn’t do—a miracle within reach, she took it.

Leila Chatti is the author of the chapbooks Ebb (New-Generation African Poets) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017
Editors’ Selection from Bull City Press.

42 THE A MERIC AN P OE TRY RE VIE W


The University of the Arts
in Philadelphia—home to
The American Poetry Review—
ofers a BFA in Creative Writing
program, providing an unmatched
opportunity to focus on the craft
of writing in an inspiring
and unique artistic environment.

At UArts, young writers of poetry and short fiction


collaborate with musicians and illustrators, filmmakers
and graphic designers, sculptors and actors, in the
heart of one of America’s most culturally vibrant cities.
The University of the Arts has a formal ailiation
with The American Poetry Review, which is housed at
UArts. Our Creative Writing faculty includes working
novelists, short story writers and poets. For more
information, please call (215) 717–6049.

uarts.edu

JULY/AUGUS T 2018 43

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