Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Piecemeal by Sarah Rice

These things I must steel myself against
Old men packing books into boxes
The empty seat between people at the movies
The smell of armpits on cardigans
Ironing on the dining table with a towel underneath
Friends who no longer talk to each other
Bejewelled butterflies or fairies
And cards with ‘reach for the stars’
Square brittle toe nails
And plastic bags filled with plastic bags
A choc chip muffin to celebrate something
And unplanted punnets with the white roots
straggling from beneath the blue plastic
Board games with missing pieces
And everything with pieces missing
And everything that is in pieces
And everything that is missing.

Posted with the permission of Sarah Rice.  First published in Metabolism, Australian Poetry Limited Members' Anthology.

Sarah Rice
Editor: P.S. Cottier

I love this poem: the way it lists multifarious things that set the teeth on edge, yet also the way that the last three lines recast these sundry offences into a picture of everything that is missing.  A completed jigsaw of missing pieces?  Every one of the senses is touched upon in this short work.

Dr Sarah Rice is one of the most intellectually energetic people I have met. Stand by her and the ideas swarm out like bees, but multi-coloured bees without stings.

I have had the pleasure of participating in two workshops run by Sarah, here in Canberra.  One was on ecopoetry, and one on ekphrasis, and both times she has presented more material than I have been able to assimilate on the spot, but which I have mulled over for some time afterwards.

Sarah's way into poetry was largely through the visual arts, and she remains vitally interested in the spaces between one art form and another.  She is an art-theory lecturer, visual artist and writer.  She was an award winner in the 2011 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize, commended in the 2011 CJ Dennis Literary Awards and highly commended in the Michael Thwaites Poetry Award.

Her poetry is published in Island, Southerly, Blackmail Press, ACTWrite, fourW twenty-two annual anthology, as well as in the Australian Poetry Members’ Anthology.  Her collaborative work with ceramicist Patsy Hely 'On the Mountain' (poetry on hand-painted porcelain vessels) was exhibited at Craft ACT in 2011.  Her limited-edition art-book of poetry Those Who Travel (prints by Patsy Payne, Ampersand Duck, 2010) is currently on display in the NGA, and her work is included in the current exhibition 'Hand Set - Letterpress poetry broadsides from Ampersand Duck' at the ADFA Academic Library gallery.

Two photographs here capture something of the scope of Sarah's work: one of the collaborative ceramic project mentioned above, and one from Those Who Travel. Thanks to Sarah Rice for letting me reproduce her poem, and for these images of her other projects.  Now I'm just off to ADFA to check out the poetry broadsides!

When you've gobbled up Piecemeal, do check out the poems in the sidebar where 30 Tuesday Poets post poems they've written or admire. It's well worth it. 

This week's Editor P.S. Cottier aka Penelope Susan Cottier is an Australian poet and short story writer who lives in Canberra. Published in anthologies internationally, she has two collections of poetry and one of short stories to her name -- the most recent being The Cancellation of Clouds. She is also a keen blogger and Tuesday Poet, and has worked as a lawyer, university tutor, union organiser and a tea lady. Her next book, one third of Triptych Poets Three, is launched next month.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hotel Emergencies by Bill Manhire

Hotel Emergencies

Thanks to The Poetry Archive for the recording.

Editor: Mary McCallum

The fire alarm sound: is given as a howling sound do not use the lifts ....

Thus the poem by Bill Manhire begins. And what a howl it is - the reading, one of the best I've ever heard: the way it builds and builds, the word 'sound' repeating and repeating like a siren - and with it all the other 'alarms' sounding from the intimate to the global. When I heard Bill read it the first time here in Wellington, I had goosebumps on my skin and a sense of anxiety that didn't shift for a while afterwards.

Every time since, I feel that way when I hear it. If you haven't already done so, hit play. Every time since, I feel that way when I hear it. If you haven't already done so, hit play.  The full text of the poem is available to read on The Poetry Archive site too.

There are more recorded poems by Bill at The Poetry Archive and a CD to buy.  Hotel Emergencies can be found in Lifted (VUP 2005, Carcanet 2007) - one of my favourite collections in the world.

Bill Manhire lives in Wellington, New Zealand. A much-awarded, much-loved poet and poetry Professor - despite people not always 'getting' his post-modern, enigmatic take on poetry - Bill was our first Te Mata Poet Laureate in 1997/8 and won the 2007 Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement. Until next January, he is the director of the International Institute Modern Letters, where I did my MA, and also has a position there as a 'Personal Chair'.

Bill's poem Nuptials  was posted by me on Tuesday Poem two years ago with a commentary that explored his self-confessed 'lyrical foliage', and here's a poem I wrote about Bill based on a talk he gave to my MA class once about how he went about writing poetry.

Bill's  NZ Book Council bio says: Manhire has a postmodern, or perhaps simply an alert poet’s, consciousness of the strangeness of language, the apparent arbitrariness with which meanings accrue to signs. 

Which is where Hotel Emergencies began. In Copenhagen, in a hotel, a sign....

Now take a look in the sidebar for a host of Tuesday Poets with a host of poems they've written or chosen to share this week. Especially exciting: the poetry train in Australia which sets off on September 7 from Canberra to Sydney with poets all aboard, and a poem from the new collection by Hue & Cry's (and Tuesday Poem's)  Sarah Jane Barnett. 

This week's editor Mary McCallum is co-curator of Tuesday Poem with Claire Beynon. She's a Wellington poet and novelist and creative writing tutor at Massey University, as well as a book reviewer and bookseller. She blogs at O Audacious Book. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

For Patrick Rosal Who Wore A Dress & Said, by Aracelis Girmay

A dude rocks a slick green dress once, for kicks,
& the whole gender paradigm has to shift? Come on.
Haven’t you seen the women glide down streets
with frocks so wide you envied them their summer
shimmy, the loose-loose dazzle of their dresses
above knees? Not just the knees. But the dresses
above the knees. Haven’t you wanted to stand at the mirror
as the sister you never had, so bad, you could almost feel
the bird of her voice start to rise inside your own throat? Nightingale.
Listen. Once, in June, the dress was green,
& I flew into it from the diving board of my sex
& I didn’t care that the trees were watching. & I didn’t care
who saw. In fact, I ran out the door, into the magenta hall
of the Campus Inn hotel where I was visiting, & a poet,
& I laughed & laughed & laughed. I didn’t care
that the rooms were full. I didn’t care
that people might hear. In fact, I wanted them
to catch me in the lit Technicolor of my glee & mistake me for
a flashlight. Or a discotheque. For a bald & handsome lola
parading my two strong legs through the hall, out
onto the street, singing to strangers
something lovely about the breeze, have
mercy. I wore a dress & it made me nice, yes. Once,
I was a man who stood inside of a dress
& loved it with my whole brain. My body did not change
from its line, before or after. My name did not change, but
I moved into that green, & it was easy – to swing
the regions of my body with new grace
as the street sang up to me from below, Go on,
& my hairs stood up like switchgrass
atop the gold fields of my skin, bless
this holy, holy chance to move
above the ground
like this.

Published with permission of the author.
Editor: Janis Freegard

Aracelis Girmay
It was an almost impossible choice, picking a poem from Aracelis Girmay’s excellent collection, Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions, Ltd.).  Finally I chose the poem for Patrick Rosal (himself an American poet) because of the story it told: I could see him parading through the hotel; I could feel him “moving into that green”, moving in a new way.  I love the exuberance, the celebration of this poem.  I love the language and imagery the poet uses (“the loose-loose dazzle of their dresses”, "the bird of her voice").  I love the idea of loving something with your whole brain.

Many of the poems in Kingdom Animalia celebrate life and being.  Others commemorate the dead (such as the sad and startling Praise Song for the Donkey, about two girls and a donkey killed in Gaza whihc ends "praise the small/ black luggage of the donkey's eye/ in a field, flung far/ filling the ants & birds/ with what/ it saw.").  Family is an important theme and animals - snails, snakes, ants, parrots - make their way through the pages.  There is also a poem about the ampersand and one about the "r" in Aracelis ("making my name/ a small boat/ that leaves the port/ of old San Juan/ or Ponce/ with my grandfather Miguel").  It’s a collection that’s full of surprises, innovation, craft and beautiful music. I "met" Aracelis online last year, after we'd both published poetry with similar titles on opposite sides of the planet.  I'm so pleased to have found her work.  You can read a review of Kingdom Animalia here.

Bio: Aracelis Girmay is the author of the poetry collections Teeth & Kingdom Animalia for which she was awarded the GLCA New Writers Award & the Isabella Poetry Award respectively. She teaches at Hampshire College & Drew University (low-residency MFA). Among the writers she is reading now are Clarice Lispector, Shane McCrae, & Fanny Howe.

This week's editor is Janis Freegard.  She is is the author of Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press) and co-editor of AUP New Poets 3.  She also writes fiction and is a past winner of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award and runner-up in the recent National Flash Fiction Competition.  She blogs at janisfreegard.com .

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What We Call Frog Hunting by Jane Springer

This is the last 2 a.m. song fit for poling a johnboat through the swamp
so we may glide, quiet enough, to catch frogs with our hands.

It’s the year Robertlee can’t afford a suit to take me to prom.

Our flashlights tell the difference between alligators & sunken logs
adrift in the dark.

This year Emmyjean’s daddy shows us how he guts a deer.

As for the girls, we’d rather be kissing. We’ve practiced our kissing
on each other—shy as spotted fawns.

We know the boys sometimes meet for a circlejerk in an empty barn.

This is the canvas bag we keep frogs in, once they are caught. It
will hold thirteen by dawn.

It’s the year we learn to sew a pleat & stew a coon in Home Ec.
T.J. Corbett has such long arms—the boat don’t tip when he leans out
over the rim.

This year, we can’t all read well enough to fill in class ring forms.

We’ve never been so aware of skin—the full bag is an organ beating 
on the floor of the boat.
                                        We barely contain our joy.

This is the year the principal measures the acre between our knees
& the hems of our skirts.

We dock the boat & break the backs of frogs against a stone.

We know they are dead when their tongues unfurl. This is the last
newborn light licked between cypress trunks.

Lunch ladies from here serve fried okra & jambalaya.

The round spot behind each animal eye is an ear—here we circle
the head’s globe with a single knifeslice.

Though all year we’ve swerved to miss guineas by the schoolyard.

We push our thumbs under the edge of skin at the throat to loosen
slick bodies from the green.

This is the year: the dark, the boat, the sunken suits & watery forms,

the catch & kiss, damp canvas, split rib, dawn & entrails in the grass—
we cut the feet last—in the pleated heat—

        then wipe our blades across our thighs & call this happiness.

                                                                   Editor: Eileen Moeller

Jane Springer’s new book, Murder Ballads is masterful in its depiction of the sensuality and brutality of the American South. Springer’s long lines, and vivid images of place, place her work in the Southern Gothic tradition, alongside that of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. These are poems that face the darkness that abounds in everyday life, they express a love of the colloquial, and they give us glimpses of humor and irony.

Murder Ballads is deeply original, and full of old rituals, of the rural as it mixes with a more contemporary sense of liberation: trailers, and deep freeze units sitting out on porches,  fields fill with rusty farm equipment, while Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing plays on the radio, and teenagers give each other “necklaces of hickeys”.

Titles like “Looks Like The Hound Who Caught the Car”, and “You Can’t Tell Nobody Nothing That Ain’t Never Been Nowhere” bring us into a different time and place, an older sensibility that Springer, as "other", uses to make meaning on her own terms. Lines like “that’s all chigger, / no shade”, or “crazy as a shithouse rat” are pure delight.  But Springer's work is also intensely lyrical, as in “I’ve heard a river waltz through laced hands of the levee toward a grand new / partnering of earth & water –“

In the title poem, “Leave It Lay Where Jesus Flung It”, a mastodon skeleton is being unearthed from the swamp, and like an archaeologist, Springer has been digging into the past, to unearth lost times, lost innocence, lost loves, lost selves, a dangerous, possibly calamitous task. Though she wants to tell them to “Leave her bones”, the final turn in the poem comes to the acceptance that “Each misstep unearths / a miracle”. In the end, the mastodon finds her music, and the book leaves us feeling optimistic that harvesting the past, with all its painful missteps, remaking it from the safe distance of a new time and place, may bring a few miracles into the light. And like the women in the murder ballads, that have lived on beyond them, the stories in these poems will be remembered, the lives they depict affirmed.

There are some longer poems in this collection that achieve the level of myth, coming from a larger impulse, more akin to the epic. In fact, Murder Ballads, read as a whole, became, for me, a post-modern version of The Odyssey. It takes us on a perilous journey home, a woman's journey, one filled with monsters, shape shifters, scenes of mythic proportion, and epiphanic transformations for better or worse.

The poet/reader is both Odysseus, bravely facing being wounded at every turn, and Penelope weaving a tapestry of her memories, and then unraveling it to dispel their power over her. In the final poem, “Small Cosmos”, the heart is open. Springer writes: “Love, / come as a cloud & I will stay in the country below you. If you are, by night, / a fire, I will follow your fragrance of ashes into the wilderness. / I will eat your cornbread, pomegranate & fig. I will put away my ghosts & move / into whatever stone house you provide –" It’s a wonderful book, a beautiful book, and fierce.

When you've enjoyed Frog, make your way into the other Tuesday Poet poems in the sidebar. 

Jane Springer’s two books are Dear Blackbird, (Agha Shahid Ali prize, University of Utah Press, 2007) and Murder Ballad (Beatrice Hawley award, Alice James Books, 2012). Her other awards include the Robert Penn Warren Prize for Poetry, an NEA fellowship and a Whiting Award. She currently teaches creative writing at Hamilton College, in upstate, New York where she lives with her husband, son and their two dogs, Woofus and Maple.

 Eileen Moeller lives and writes in Philadelphia PA. Most of her poems can be found in Ars Medica,  The Paterson Literary Review, Paterson: A Poet's City, Umbrella, Melusine, Women,Period, Poems of Awakening, and on the CD Snow White Turns Sixty by composer Dale Trumbore.