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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Verse Daily: Hear, Hear!

Ironically I didn't hear that Verse Daily republished "On Hearing of Your Hearing Loss" until today, though it happened on November 25, 2015. This poem originally appeared in Ninth Letter. Glad it's getting an online audience.

Report from the Rust Belt

Delighted that Mendeleev's Mandala is among Karen J. Weyant's favorite poetry books of 2015 (at her blog Fussings From A Rust Belt Writer). It's in good company, along with Maggie Smith's The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, Christine Klocek-Lim's Dark Matter, and Jenifer Browne Lawrence's Grayling, among others.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Altitude of Nashville

Somehow I missed the launch date of the most recent issue of The Nashville Review, which includes my poem 'Altitude.' This poem is from my manuscript WHITEOUT, now seeking a publisher.

Thanks to editor Mary Somerville and her staff for selecting my poem.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Jacar Press: Private Online Workshop

I just found this offer at Jacar Press for an online one-on-one workshop. I've copied and pasted details here. I think I may try this next time my work has reached a point that I need guidance.


Writing Workshops for 2015
Short Online Courses Designed for Your Needs
Fiction, Poetry, Non-Fiction
You may not have the time, interest, money, or need to enroll in a university writing class. But you may need something more in-depth than a community writing class or a one-time workshop. Need a flexible schedule? A class adaptable to your specific work? Your budget? The Jacar Press Short Online Courses give you the opportunity to work one-on-one with an experienced writer, teacher, and editor who can offer advice on how to move forward in a way that will give you the best chance at producing publishable writing.
Whether you’re working on a series of poems or short stories, trying to jump-start or revise a novel, or wading through a memoir, Jacar Press can co-design with you a 4-session online workshop that will suit your needs.  Often, direct meetings with your writing instructor can be included as part of the coursework.
How does this work? Contact us. Tell us what you’d like to work on. Send a sample, if you have one. We will match you with a writer best suited to address your needs, who will then contact you to set up a schedule. We have published a lot of experienced writer-teachers and are confident we can match you with someone who will help you.
It’s that simple.
All classes are 4 sessions long and cost $150.
Payment can be made by check or money order payable to Jacar Press.  Address and links on our Contact page.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Absurd

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems. ~Wisława Szymborska

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"Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one."  ~Voltaire


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Like most children he prefers sameness, routine, consistency. This, too, I understand. Repetition is the essence of meaning. Without it we are lost. But taken to its extreme, a love of system becomes absurd.  
 ~Siri Hustvedt, from "Franklin Pangborn: An Apologia," an essay in A Plea for Eros

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Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand—that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us. 
~Annie Dillard, in Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

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53
They have a proverb: Absurdity
is marvelous, but you get hungry an hour later.


I reply But that is what it is for.

~from James Richardson's The Encyclopedia of the Stones: a Pastoral      

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Mendeleev on Coal Hill

Dakota Garilli at Coal Hill Review (from Autumn House Press) reviewed Mendeleev's Mandala, saying, "By adopting the mandala as a guide, Goodfellow is able to show how each moment can be a microcosm of the entire human experience and, in turn, how the macrocosms of science, religion, language, and logic can be applied to each moment."

Later he writes this illuminating bit: "As in Dmitri Mendeleev’s version of the periodic table, what is most interesting about this collection is what isn’t present. Like Mendeleev, who noted the absence of certain elements in his table and attempted to predict ways of filling those gaps, Goodfellow often meditates on absence and emptiness in an attempt to reunify the self."

Read more here!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

3 Poems in DMQ Review

Thanks to DMQ Review's Sally Ashton for selecting three of my poems for the latest issue, along with artwork by Bea Garth, and poetry by Carol V. Davis, Todd Follett, and others. Please check it out.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Perpetuation of the Species: Poets Respond

Rattle has a weekly feature in which a poet writes about a current event. This week the Poets Respond poem is my brand spanking new poem about the refugee crisis.

It's nerve-wracking to write a poem on Friday and submit it 15 minutes before the midnight deadline, and then have it appear on Sunday. But I do hope you read the poem, and perhaps respond yourself to Poets Respond.

Thanks to Tim Green and Rattle for giving my newest poem a home. It's heart-breaking that the refugees aren't able to get a new home so readily.

Friday, November 20, 2015

New Review: Mendeleev's Mandala

"We know from the first few lines, from the poet’s first remarkable observations, that this is not your grandad’s book of verse." Wow! Thanks to Arthur McMaster at Poets' Quarterly for this beautiful and thoughtful review of Mendeleev's Mandala.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

IM on IMDb

This is kind of trippy--I just realized I'm on IMDb. For "Crows, Reckoning" a Motionpoem directed by Alex Hanson and Edward Chase Masterson (and thanks to Todd Boss). Check it out!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tuck Yourself In with Naugatuck River Review

It's getting cooler here, especially in the evenings, and it's nice to tuck yourself into bed in the evening with some reading. May I suggest the recent issue of Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry that includes in its latest issue work by me. I wish I knew who else's work was included, but my contributor copy hasn't arrived yet, so I don't know. But there have been sightings of the journal out in the wild, so any day now!

Thanks to editor Lori Desrosiers.


Monday, November 9, 2015

My Cruel Invention

My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry AnthologyMy Cruel Invention, a poetry anthology about inventors and inventions, is now available for pre-order at Meerkat Press. Edited by Bernadette Geyer, it includes work by Kristine Ong Muslim, Kelly Cherry, Janet McNally, Karen Skolfield, Marjorie Maddox, and me!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Riddle. Mystery. Enigma.

Australia's Radiotonic has just done a podcast on code-breaking, puzzle-making, metaphors, Ada Lovelace, the difference between poetry and coding. All the things I love! It's called Riddle. Mystery, Enigma. 


Love love love love love this. The best thing I've listened to in a long time!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mendeleev at the Strand!!!

Poet Sarah J. Sloat of the witty and charming blog The Rain in My Purse sighted Mendeleev's Mandala in the wild--at  New York's famed Strand Bookstore! And she tamed it and brought it home with her. A win on both accounts! Thanks, Sarah J. Sloat, for this picture taken before your daring take down of my book!

And here's where you can get Sarah J. Sloat's book Inksuite. I purchased my copy the timid way, via the internet, and you can too. Not everyone can be as daring as Sarah J. Sloat.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mendeleev's Cup Runneth Over

Two in one day! Another review of Mendeleev's Mandala, by Margaret Stawowy at Up the Staircase Quarterly

Stawowy writes, "Goodfellow presents poems of disquietude using language that is, in turn, commonplace and precise, often with startling implications. Unassuming and familiar, one senses integrity in her work that never draws attention to her apparent gifts."

I'm so happy and so lucky to have had so much support for Mendeleev's Mandala. Thank you, Margaret and all!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Poetry Matters: Mendeleev

The insatiably curious Nancy Chen Long has reviewed Mendeleev's Mandala for the blog Poetry Matters, and I have to say this: I have never had work reviewed this deeply, this exposingly (yes, spell check, I know that isn't at word), and it is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. If you want to know more about Mendeleev's Mandala and its construction than I ever meant anyone to realize, this is the review to read.

Also, check out Nancy's own poems, In fact, listen to Nancy read one, "but so beautiful, yes?" at Rhino.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Introducing Geosi Gyasi

I first cybermet bookblogger Geosi Gyasi when he interviewed me for his blog Geosi Reads: A World of Literary Pieces. When Geosi says 'world,' he means it. From his home in Ghana, Geosi has reached out to writers and poets from all over, interviewing an impressive array of international figures, including winners of the Commonwealth Prize, the Orange Prize, and the Caine Prize, among others. Geosi is a prolific interviewer, and it's only fair that I should turn the tables and interview him about his blog and about his own poetry.

photo credit: Kathy Knowles
JG: You are a prolific blogger and interviewer. How has interviewing well-known writers such as Kwame Dawes and Cecilia Woloch (and others) influenced your writing style and/or drive? Or, is it the emerging writers who inspire you more?

GG: I’ve been influenced in a number of ways. First, it is important to note that all interviews I have conducted in the past demanded serious research. Through the very act of researching the works of the interviewees, I happen to fall in love with some forms/styles of writing. I have been influenced by both established and emerging writers.

JG: You review novels in addition to poetry books, and interview fiction writers alongside poets, yet you identify as a poet yourself. How did you come to realize you are a poet rather than a fiction writer?

GG: At the beginning of my writing career, I wrote a number of short stories. After a clump of submissions and a hell of rejections, I lost interest in writing fiction. Then I started writing poetry. My first breakthrough came through poetry. So poetry became my first love just because of one acceptance from an editor. For now, I am comfortable being called a poet. Maybe, in future, when any of my short stories are accepted by editors/publishers, I shall have the gust to call myself a fiction writer.

JG: To anyone familiar with your blog Geosi Reads, Benjamin Kwakye is clearly a key influence in your writing and thinking. Tell us about how you have been influenced by his work, how he came to be so important to you.

GG: Benjamin Kwakye is one writer who has influenced me considerably. First meeting him through his book The Clothes of Nakedness gave me the permission to take literary studies seriously. To date, he remains one of the most important writers writing in English. His style of writing has a certain texture and feeling that makes you yearn for more from him. I think he deserves a wider readership.

JG: You are from Ghana, but have lived in South Africa. I read that it was literature that inspired this relocation. What opportunities were you seeking with this move, and did they come to fruition? Have you made any other such dramatic lifestyle decisions in order to stimulate your poetry? Would you recommend other emerging writers make such a drastic decision for the benefit of their art?

GG: Books have had far greater influence on me than any other thing I can think of. At the time when I was going to South Africa, I never told my mum the specific day on which I was going to leave the country. For friends who got the hint of my travel, I had to lie (my apologies) to them that I was going over to study for my master’s degree. The thing was that, I just couldn’t find a better way of telling my mum or friends that I was travelling because of a book I had read and enjoyed. The book I am talking about is J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace. If you live in this part of our world and embark on such an adventure, it is likely that people would think that you’re crazy!

What I would tell emerging writers is that, they don’t have to fear taking risks. A writer ought to learn to be adventurous in other to blossom. I went to South Africa without knowing anybody, yet, I survived by staying long hours in libraries, writing in parks and gardens, doing odd jobs and sleeping at “odd” places. In the end, my adventure paid off greatly because I have lots of experiences to share through writing. 

JG: At Visual Verse, you published a poem entitled “A Writer’s Block.”  Tell us about your experience with writer’s block, and more importantly, how you manage to overcome it. Do you have any advice for other poets?

GG: I was responding to a monthly prompt from Visual Verse Magazine where there was this photo with a donkey standing stiff beside an empty pool. But let’s face it, I’m almost certain, that every writer in one way or the other has experienced a writer’s block before. It’s quiet a disturbing moment when all materials necessary for you to write is available but you just can’t seem to think and write. The best remedy, in my opinion, to any writer who experiences writer’s block is to cease writing immediately and engage in any other activity other than writing. Once you return back, you’ll find something to write, at least, about the activity you engaged in.

JG: Many of your poems begin with memories of your childhood. At this point in your writing career, do you find yourself returning to any themes, including any found in your childhood? Do you have obsessions, either in subject or in form?

GG: It is only normal for me to write about my childhood experiences because I grew up under the care of my grandmother. I think that, in most cases, grandmothers tend to love children. My grandmother showed me the love and care I needed to grow as a child. But don’t ever forget that my work as a librarian has more to do with children than adults. So long as I continue to be surrounded by children, it is only fair that I chronicle their experiences into writing.

JG: What was the most exhilarating interview you’ve ever been fortunate to conduct? What made it such a thrilling experience for you?

GG: It would be hard to single out a particular interview as a personal favourite, however, I dare say my interview with the Nobel Prize Scientist and Writer, Roald Hoffmann is one of the most important interviews I’ve been fortunate to conduct. I liked that interview very well because his answers were vastly intelligent. It was so humbling, for instance, to read his response to my question about what he would like to be remembered for. His response was this: “For having done good science, and for trying, just trying, at all times to be a decent human being”.

JG: You have worked as a teacher, and now are a librarian. Books are central to your identity, so it’s only natural you should have become a writer. How does the internet culture affect how you interact with books, or even what you call literature? How do you see your future in literature, given the rapidly changing marketplace for books?

GG: The internet, in my opinion, is the most vibrant workplace in the world where many dreams can be fulfilled. The only thing the writer ought to do is to devote a certain amount of time to research. I wonder how much time it would have taken me to interview the over 300 writers I have interviewed in the past 5 years of blogging without the internet!

JG: How do you decide where to submit your poems (to which publications)? What are you looking for in an audience? Is there a geographical or thematic component to your choices, or are you concerned about the reach of the circulation, or other factors? Do you have any advice about submitting for new poets?

GG: I am not selective as to the publications I submit my poems. As a matter of fact, I submit my poems everywhere; from established to emerging magazines. I do not look for any specific thing from my audience except for them to read, enjoy or critic and make meaning out of my works. For advice about submitting, I encourage new poets to keep writing and submitting everywhere possible. If you’re rejected by a publisher, read through your work again, make the necessary changes and submit somewhere else. Never ever throw away your rejected works.
  
JG: One thing that you studiously do is review books. Given your special interest and widespread reading habits, what book or books that you’ve recently read would you recommend for serious readers?

GG: I would recommend the following books: Clinical Blues by Dami Ajayi, In the Kingdom of the Ditch by Todd Davis and Legacy of Phantoms by Benjamin Kwakye.


Thanks to Geosi for generously answering my questions. Please take time to check out his impressive archive of interviews at Geosi Reads: A World of Literary Pieces.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Give (#3)

After the Moon                                                      Marianne Boruch

eclipsed itself, the rumor or darkness
true, the whole radiant business
almost over, only a line,
an edge, like some
stray part of a machine
                                                          not one of us
can figure any more:
what it thrashed or cut, what it sewed
quietly together, what it scalded
or brought back from the dead. After this,
I came inside to sleep.      
                                            But it’s the moon still,
pale run of it shaping
the door closed against the half-lit hall.
The eye is its own
small flicker orbiting under the lid
a few hours.
                        Not so long,
bright rim,
giving up its genius
briefly, mountains under dark, craters
where someone, then no one
is walking.

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Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things. ~Henri Poincare
Poetry is the art of giving different names to the same thing. ~Anonymous

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Miss Congeniality                             Laura Kasischke


There's a name given
after your death
and a name you must answer to while you're alive.

Like flowers, my friends — nodding, nodding. My
enemies, like space, drifting
away. They

praised my face, my enunciation, and the power
I freely relinquished, and the fires
burning in the basements

of my churches,
and the pendulums swinging
above my towers.
And my

heart (which was a Boy Scout
lost for years in a forest). And my
soul (although the judges said
it weighed almost nothing
for goodness had devoured it).

They praised my feet, the shoes
on my feet, my feet
on the floor, the floor —
and then

the sense of despair
I evoked with my smile, the song

I sang. The speech
I gave
about peace, in praise of the war. O,
they could not grant me the title I wanted
so they gave me the title I bore,

and stubbornly refused
to believe I was dead
long after my bloody mattress

had washed up on the shore.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mathematics

"Art is fire plus algebra."  ~Jorge Luis Borges

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Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.  ~Poincare
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Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things. ~Henri Poincare

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Confessions of a Music Box                          Bruce Bond

No larger than a bird coffin,
the kind that opens its one wing
onto a sky it cannot take to,

save as the thin and silver trickle
of a tune, a feather fanning
the ghost goodbye, as if to say, yes,

it’s true, how the ancients saw it,
that music is the sound numbers
make on the verge of extinction

or sleep, whatever comes first,
that it sends its arrows through
the ear’s window, clean through and yet

attached, brightening the glass.
That’s why a monk I read loved
music, not merely for the holy

signatures, the geometry
of tones that are its body, but how
that body dies again and again,

how it slips its box like steam, like gold.
Ask any star in the Greek
toy chest of stars, any sphere,

and it returns you to an image
of this, to the singing of a thing
you wind, or someone winds, the grind

of a song it never tires of.
A lullaby. How like a box
to hoard its measure of nothing

we speak of until, that is, the box
of dark inside breaks, confessing
the way an old grief confesses

or some nocturnal heating vent
pouring air between its teeth.
But then... if you call this news,

it is never news enough.
Only paired phrases like a doll
house on fire, like the small

murmur of a child at her bed,
talking to a god she has only
heard of, a father locked up in

the rhymes of parables, of hymns:
and if I die before I wake.
Either way she dies, she wakes.
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The Prophecies of Mathematics                  Gary Fincke

Not even his wife wanted to listen
To Francis Galton explain that prayer made
No difference, that insurance companies
Knew the facts of longevity, and there
Was no adjustment for people who prayed
And the various buildings they lived in.
Not even, but he said it anyway—
The pious live no longer than the bad.
It's always this way with Jeremiahs.
In the prophecies of mathematics
Are equations for hours in the sun,
Alcohol in the blood, early marriage.
There, among the numbers, lies the total
Of the truth of ourselves, and I admit
I've counted the daily steps from my house
To my office through six possible routes;
I've counted the frequency of letters,
Rooting for underdogs like b and k
To outdo their predicted sums of use.


Trivial? Stupid? I estimated
The minutes, once, until the end of school,
Wrote seventy-five thousand, six hundred,
In my September notebook and followed
The lurch of each long minute on the clock
For three periods of world history,
Latin, and plane geometry until
I rejoined the classroom of common sense,
Abandoning the women who number
The knocks on a door to seven, the breaths
Before starting their cars to six, knowing
Nothing about the habits of Galton,
Who kept track of boredom by numbering
The small fidgets of a congregation,
Who counted the brush strokes as his portrait
Was painted, who evaluated place,
At last, by the beauty of its women,
Selecting London like a pageant judge,
Leaving it to us to tally the days
Till what's longed for mayor may not arrive,
Keeping calendars of Xs that end,
Each time, on the eve of possible joy
Like a merciless cliffhanger for faith.

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All one's inventions are true, you can be sure of that. Poetry is as exact a science as geometry.  ~Gustav Flaubert

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There is still a difference between something and nothing, but it is purely geometrical and there is nothing behind the geometry. 

****************

The Dome  by CHAD SWEENEY

When we were the poorest,
mom paid my weekly allowance
in birds. That one is yours, she whispered

so as not to disturb it.
If you clean the oven
I’ll give you that red one.

In a few months
I owned all the birds on the street,
blue jays, finches, a lame owl

cowled in the clock tower.
We had to walk farther each Saturday
to find a new fountain or thicket

so mother could pay me what she owed.
We stood on a bridge.
Our soldiers were marching away,

singing
and trying to sound brave.
Their numbers were staggering.

I invented a
mathematics
to understand them.
I subtracted them from summer

and it was winter. Most of our houses
were gone, and the birds too.
The university had been bombed

with my father inside, attending a reading
by some Polish poets.
The poems were so sturdy, he said,

they held up the dome of the ceiling.

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“I know that I have an instinct towards math and cleverness in structure that I work against, and so I try to make something … I make this whole structure which takes up a cork wall of index cards, and then I feel that is the architecture of the book, and what you do with architecture is that you cover it completely . . . And why I am driven to make something this complicated I don’t know. It’s just a pleasure for me always in all kinds of reading and fiction to know that there is some kind of clock ticking in the background. It could be rhetorical device, the way that language goes in the book. That there’s a pattern to it, because it’s nice to feel when you close the book that there’s a pattern to life.” 

~Andrew Sean Greer in an interview with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s Bookworm 

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37. Poetry is a mystic, sensuous mathematics of fire, smoke-stacks, waffles, pansies, people, and purple sunsets.
from DEFINITIONS OF POETRY by Carl Sandburg

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Give (#2)

"God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another." ~Shakespeare

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Giving up the ideal for the real is our only job. Recognizing the point where the creative urge is stilled is our basic moral dilemma. Surrendering at that point the symbolic aggregates of matter and self is morally the right thing to do. Morality is giving the crystallized images of captured energy flows back to the universe. Wanting to live forever is immoral, just as it is immoral to destroy energy still possessed by the desire to be, just as it is immoral to circumscribe the desire of another. That is why immortality (Dracula) is evil, Los Alamites are guilt-ridden, and Utah polygamists are bad. Morality is the secret knowledge of every organism of its exact relation to desire.  
~Andre Codrescu, The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape, p.190-1

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My Topiary Is a Hedge against Confusion                      Michele Glazer


You have to come at it from a distance,
to walk up close to it to see the animal
is only from a distance:
then to be charmed by it.
The closer you get the more abstract.
       The dog is named for the variegated privet.
Walk away & the wind shakes Spot & the little leaves flicker,
perhaps, as if in happiness,
or, the water off.
It is not giving up anything nor is it
literal to a fault.

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The work of the imagination / is to give itself away.   
~Erica Funkhouser, from  “The Marvels of Insect Life,” in Pursuit

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472. We invent a god to help us understand solitude. In time, we give him a wife, a son, pets, students. He seems kinder; we know him better. But then we need a new god. 
~from Vectors: Aphorisms & Ten-Second Essays by James Richardson

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God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asking nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.

Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all. God does, not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things—unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.

You do not have to sit outside in the dark .If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.

~Annie Dillard, in Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, p. 31

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Age of Vanya                                         Jeffrey Harrison

Three months after my brother's death,
I saw Uncle Vanya in New York.
Near the end of the play, Vanya says
he's forty-seven years old. I had forgotten that,
and the line caught me off-guard. Forty-seven
was my brother's age when he killed himself.
I wondered if there was something about being
forty-seven—the very beginning of growing old—
that makes a certain kind of person take
the measure of his life and find it wanting,
even unbearable. Did Andy feel that way?

A few years earlier, over Christmas, Andy and I
had watched Vanya on Forty-Second Street together.
We kept rewinding and replaying the scene
near the end of Act Three, fascinated
by Wally Shawn's performance of Vanya's tirade
and lamentation, which was terrifying
but somehow funny, mordant but pathetic.
I almost don't want to admit we were laughing,
yet I also hold our shared laughter dear.
Now I wonder how close Vanya was to suicide,
and when that possibility entered my brother's mind.

Approaching forty-seven myself now, I can say
it hasn't entered mine. And yet, some days
I have to remind myself my life isn't over,
that I am still, by some measure, young,
that I shouldn't give up and it isn't too late
to get something done. There could be decades ahead,
or at least the thirteen years that Vanya
gives himself. I tell myself it's just a phase,
as our elders used to say annoyingly
when we were teenagers. It's just the age of Vanya,
something to dread, something to get beyond.

************************

…that poets are those to whom the difficulty of writing gives ideas, not those from whom it takes them away.  
~Reginald Gibbons, On Rhyme, APR, Nov./Dec. 2006

************************

It is said that in marriage, the man and woman give each other “his or her nethermost beast” to hold. Each holds the leash for the “nethermost beast” of the other. It’s a wonderful phrase.
~Robert Bly, in “Iron John: A Book About Men,” p. 77

************************

Desert Ant                               Sawako Nakayasu


Says “and” with every step, so that it sounds like this: “and and and and and and and and  and and and and and,” and so on. By the time I make my way to the same desert, I have been collecting and carrying an accumulation of nouns over the past, oh I don’t know how many days, and so I insert them in between the steps of the ant. Cilantro, tennis, phone, hand. Needle, rock, hair. Mingus. Monk. Mouth. I have been ignoring the dirty looks the ant keeps giving me, but finally I cave in, which means I stop to listen carefully. I am informed that I have thrown off the rhythm of “and and and and and.” I am informed that this shall not continue. I am given several options. I choose Monk, so for a while we do “monk and monk and monk and monk and monk and monk and monk.” I thought we were doing okay, but before I know it the ant is out of sight, and then before I know it, the ant has made a decision, and then before I know it, the ant is in my mouth, and mouth, and mouth, and mouth, and mouth, and mouth , and mouth. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rolling With Nicole Rollender

The very talented poet Nicole Rollender interviewed me for her blog Carpe Noctem. Please check it out, along with her interviews of Jennifer McBain-Stephens , Raymond Gibson, and Ruth Foley. She's also got some wise words about rejection, so don't miss this chance to get to know her blog, and more importantly her poetry.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Art, Craft, and Kitsch

When on vacation earlier this summer, I borrowed from the library of the hotel where we were staying Denis Dutton's The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. It was fascinating reading, but unfortunately I didn't have a chance to finish reading it before we had to check out. I read the chapters that seemed as though they would have the most meaning for me (it was hard to select which those would be), and I jotted down the following quotes in my notebook (which could contain errors as I wrote them quickly and by hand). I will buy a copy and finish this book soon, but in the meantime:

"Craft, Collingwood agreed, is skilled work purposefully directed toward a final project or designed artifact; the craftsman knows in advance what the end product will look like. The craftsman’s foreknowledge is required by the very idea of craft. …..Art in this respect is an entirely different domain ….  in the sense of using skill to produce a preconceived result, creative artists strictly speaking never know what they are doing …. The arts, Collingwood argued, are always open to the unexpected ….He distinguishes the artistic expression of emotion from the more craftlike practice of emotional arousal. Arousal is manipulative, which is why we speak of a formulaic movie or novel designed to elicit a predetermined sadness as a ‘tearjerker.’ …The artist, on the other hand, probes the content of human emotional life with an eye toward articulating, or making clear, a unique emotion, an individual feeling."
     ~Denis Dutton The Art Instinct, p227-8


"The first tear is what we shed in the presence of a tragic, pitiful, or perhaps beautiful event. The second tear is shed in recognition of our own sensitive nature, our ability to feel such pity, to understand such pathos or beauty. A love of kitsch is therefore self-congratulatory....Kitsch shows you nothing genuinely new, changes nothing in your bright, shining soul; it congratulates you for being exactly the refined person you already are."
      ~Denis Dutton The Art Instinct, p241-2

Friday, September 18, 2015

Give (#1)


Ordering a man to write a poem is like commanding a pregnant woman to give birth to a red-headed child.  ~Carl Sandburg

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Amendment                                                            Christina Davis

The love of each of us
for some of us,
                        of some of us
for all of us—
                        and what would come if it were
                        welcome, if learning were
                        to prepare “a self with which to
welcome”
           the in-
admissible,        stranger
whose very being gives
evidence
of
a discrepancy. School of our just
beginning to think
about this,       I believe
the seats will be peopled.

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"To progress in life you must give up the things you do not like. Give up doing the things that you do not like to do. You must find the things that you do like. The things that are acceptable to your mind." ~Agnes Martin


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"A man will give up almost anything except his suffering." ~John Cleese


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"Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn't, do your work anyway. You can have fantasies about ...having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink. That is the grace I'm given. Because when one can control things, one is limited to one's own vision." ~Kiki Smith

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I ONLY DANCE FOR MY MOTHER                      Mathias Nelson

She gives me the wine
and I take the wine.
I mop her floors
and she walks on them
while they’re still wet
so I begin to dance
to warn her of how
easy one can slide.
She watches
grinning in her old green jacket
before going outside
to see the moon on the snow.
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“The city gives us a feeling of being at home. We must take the feeling of being at home into exile. We must be rooted in the absence of a place.” ~Simone Weil
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The word guru means ‘one who dispels the darkness,’ which is different from giving light. Giving light means giving someone something that they don’t already have. Gurus remove the layers of darkness and show you what’s already there. They peel away the self-hatred,the guild, the shame, the fear.  ~Krishna Das

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In the end it all comes down to this you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot -- thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.
~David Bayles & Ted Orland In Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Interview with Nicole Rollender

Today I'm thrilled to interview Nicole Rollender, a prolific and talented poet who has not one but two new chapbooks recently out, Bone of My Bone (Blood Pudding Press), and Absence of Stars (Dancing Girl Press). She also has a full-length book coming out by year end, Louder than Everything You Love (ELJ Publications), and another chapbook, Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press), forthcoming next year. Read about how she manages to be both so prolific and so otherwordly in writing her gorgeous work.



JG: You have two chapbooks coming out this summer, Bone of My Bone (Blood Pudding Press), 
and Absence of Stars (Dancing Girl Press). What are the themes of each, and is there overlap? How did you decide which poems belong in each collection, or were they separately conceived projects from the get-go?


NR: Each chapbook was actually rooted in the birth of each of my children – Absence of Stars primarily for my daughter and Bone of My Bone for my son – and they started with poems about each of those experiences, although poems about both children appear in each collection. However, the poems that grew around each of those experiences did evolve into different concerns, and different collections. Interestingly, some of the poems are quite old and some are quite young, but I put together the collections about six months apart. Absence of Stars contains 13 poems and is a more delicate collection, centered about what it means to be a first-time mother of a girl born with severe intrauterine growth restriction, and the guilt of the mother-body betraying the child. It’s also about memory, and how experiences become part of physical/spiritual selves and how in a sense we live those memories alongside our current lives (it’s also possible to live others’ memories). Bone of My Bone is grittier (there’s suicide, death, torture) – the narrator has a fraught pregnancy where three times it seems as though the child has died and then is born nine weeks premature. The poems are also concerned with discovering what is the divine and interrogating it about what our purpose is, and how we live as embodied spirits.

JG: There is a marked transposing of the spiritual and the physical in Bone of My Bone; the title of nearly every poem in the collection either names a body part/physical act or a religious term (i.e. bone and tongue / vespers and vigils). The first poem “Lauds” has these two striking lines: “I cry for you, God, who has no / hands or feet on earth anymore.” There are sinners and apocalypses next to metacarpals and phalanges. Are you addressing the duality of spirit and body, or using the tension/energy that comes from examining such a duality in your work? Or is something else going on here?

NR: Bone of My Bone evolved into an exercise of trying to understand how to live in this world, with the knowledge that there’s also this afterlife-world that co-exists with the plane we inhabit. I like what you said about the poems using the tension/energy that comes from examining such a duality, because when I write I feel that tension physically inside my body. I think, how do I harness this tension, how do I translate this struggle, this what feels like angst dancing a jig on my ribs, into visceral poems? I’m Catholic, so I was raised with the strong sense that we’re both spirit and body, and we co-exist with the afterlife that’s inhabited by spirits. And we deal with this, when someone dies, when we’re depressed and contemplate leaving our bodies, when we have a miscarriage. When I write, I feel this whole gathering of things around me, memories, objects, words, things that are beautiful, other things that are grotesque. It’s this chaos, all these voices, so the idea is how do I inhabit multiple places, the earth, the afterlife as this creature who has a dual form? I think most people struggle with what their life on earth means. In this chapbook, there’s a reflection of that real questioning, and how we’re never really sure of anything—our place on earth, salvation, the meaning of suffering. It’s an ongoing internal struggle.

JG: There is a lot of intergenerational interplay in both chapbooks—the speaker and her premature baby, the speaker’s dead mother and grandmother, the grandfather. There’s also a repeated concern about entering heaven. Is the reaching for connection throughout generations a kind of insurance against being forgotten, against not entering heaven? And does this extend to the two writers whose lines are listed in your notes as being used in some of your poems, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath? Are they part of the lineage invoked?
 
NR: Yes, what was interesting to me was that the deceased grandmother and premature children inserted themselves quite often into my poems – until they became familiar characters. Two things that I’ve often thought about as keeping someone alive and rooted to the earth are their bones and words, so the grandmother whose body created the narrator’s mother, and Woolf and Plath who left their words, are still here with us. There is definitely a fear of both being forgotten and not entering heaven that the narrator in these chapbooks concerns herself with – and that’s complicated by the fear of dying young and leaving her children. The idea of having a female lineage that goes back and forward is part of the way of having both a history to root oneself in and a way to live, perhaps forever, on both earth and in the afterlife. The dead grandmother often haunts my poems, seemingly as an archetype of this dead/but still living source of history, wisdom, comfort and also mischief.

JG: Resistance is a strong presence in these books. In the title poem “Absence of Stars” we read “As a means of resisting, I knead bread, close my eyes and wash my face with tumbling waters.” In “If Every Sorrow Was This One,” the speaker intones: “sun don’t go down / let’s not grow old, // bone is forever”. There is a lot of language about throwing things in Absence of Stars, including “people fling apples, / kites …”, “I fling apples into eternity, // homesick for flying.”, “I throw salt at night’s terrors,” “the sinner flings happiness into fire.” Please tell us about how resistance plays a role in both of these books, and if you can, say something about these impulses to throw. Do they have similar impetuses, or not?

NR: A woman in my family birthed her only child when she was 40, and because of complications, her doctor advised her not to have any more children. She told me how there was this tissue or membrane that descended from her vagina, and she had to push it back in – she did this in secret, in the bathroom or bedroom or wherever. She had a similar story about how when she started menstruating, she thought she was dying because her mother hadn’t told her what the bleeding meant. There are these moments where the body betrays us, and so then we start to resist what else is to come, further births, our own deaths. So the resisting, the guarding of our bodies, but then also the pushing out further, flinging salt to repel spirits, a woman throwing offerings up into eternity in the hopes there’s a place for her there. So yes, the resistance and throwing are both forms of self-preservation.

JG: Despite the resistance and tension in these books, and the straining against death, which “is everywhere”, the final poem of Absence of Stars ends with the hopeful lines “I will walk with you // to eternity, its immensity / of yes, of life after / all our meaningless gestures // that mourn.” Is this uptake in mood because the premature baby is strengthening? Is there another source of this hopefulness that the reader should recognize?

NR: There’s definitely a hopefulness attached to parenting (especially a first-time parent), that as tiny premature babies strengthen, grow, come home for the first time and then continue to grow that’s reflected in these poems. Even for someone who suffers from depression there are these moments of joy, small miracles, the idea that the future brings some kind of hope for a positive evolution. When writing these poems, I found moments of calm and happiness among the chaos, some sort of order that also must exist alongside the maelstrom. Parenting, in the same day, the same hour, even the same five minutes, brings intense highs and lows. We struggle to make meaning of the seemingly meaningless or repetitive tasks (changing diapers, sweeping another mess off the floor, writing just one line of poetry in a sitting), but the tasks add up into the passage of time, which yields a growing child, a poem, a book of poems, a child that your body formed and grew and now speaks and breathes in the world.

JG: You have had a very prolific past year or two (or three), with two chapbooks Absence of Stars (Dancing Girl Press) and Bone of My Bone (Blood Pudding Press) having come out this summer, and your first full-length Louder than Everything You Love (ELJ Publications) coming out at the end of the year, with another chapbook Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press) forthcoming in 2016. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such publication productivity from a single poet within such a short time frame. What has propelled you to publish so much at this time? Is it the subject matter that pushes you to be so prolific, or something else? Or, is this a backlog of work that just happens to be coming to publication fruition all at once?

NR: I read this interview recently with poet Cecilia Woloch where she said something to the effect that she had really been writing for decades and then all at once, it seemed like the poems came and assembled themselves into chapbooks and books. I published one of my first submitted poems in Alaska Quarterly Review in 2001 right after I finished graduate school, and then my first chapbook came out in 2007. And then I didn’t really publish anything until 2012. During that five years, I had my first child and I was writing, but not actively focused on getting the work out there. My daughter and son were born four years apart – I had difficult pregnancies with both; both were born early (my son nine weeks) and spent weeks in the NICU. Those experiences seemed to catalyze my writing, which contained love, grief, vulnerability and the desire to create art, since time had become so scarce and precious. So to answer your question, I’ve written many poems along the way, and it seemed that in 2014, after workshopping with other poets, the manuscripts started to assemble in front of me. I had years of writing and cultivating and honing, and then something shifted and I was able to put together collections. One other thing that I wanted to mention is that a poem, “Necessary Work,” that I wrote about my daughter’s time in the NICU, when I was just frantic with worry, won Ruminate Magazine’s Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize in 2012, and was selected by Li-Young Lee, a poet I admire so much. That was the moment, I think, that put me on the track to focusing on getting a second chapbook out.

JG: Is there any poem in your repertoire that you think hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved, or that you would like to highlight? If so, please tell us about why it is important to you.

NR: “Labor” is an important poem to Absence of Stars. This was the first poem I wrote about my son, and it took a long time to find a home before it appeared in Stirring.

Labor

Pears, immortal fruit, comfort me. How in Chinese, li is pear separating.
Corn husks, our bodies against.

Bees humming, my water broke nine weeks early, and the baby came.
For a woman

whose labor is long, for her exquisite ache, midwives spoon
sugar and aged

vinegar into her mouth, sweet brightening the sour. Or, they call out
to Margaret,

as if the saint of childbirth will place a hand on the locus of pain. Shhhh,
this is why

a baby is born now, to teach me about the forms resistance takes. Just as you,
stone, shone on the first

angel, a midwife strokes sard on thighs to make the baby come, so a child comes
forth a shining person.

Is there consolation in this suffering, as light falls between sycamore branches?
Does the flock

that leaves one drowned in the river ever forget its black wings and shimmering eye?
Things are always

happening in the forest, flashes of feather and fur. We fail into departure,
such graceless creatures

carrying broken teeth. Yet, a singing through fontanel.


JG: You work full-time and have two young children. Yet you are so prolific. Do you have any advice for working parents who aim to have creative lives? Does your professional life feed your poetry life, or deplete it?

N: I remember at a recent doctor’s visit, I complained that I was always so tired, and had been tired for the last year or so. And the doctor laughed and said that every patient of hers who is the parent of young children and works full time says the same thing. So this is just another rite of passage in raising children that the body and mind must endure and survive. Honestly, the best advice that I have for writing parents is to just make time to write: For months on end, I sat down to write after my children had gone to bed, and that’s where a lot of these poems were written, in that space before my sleep. So you have to commit to that, but also commit to your own sleep and self-care. My day job as a B2B magazine editor doesn’t have a direct effect on my creative work either way; however, I will say that because my day job is editing and writing, I’m more in that mode when I come home to do more editing and writing. Yes, so my most common answer when people ask, “How are you,” is “I’m good, but so tired.”

JG:  In addition to the impressive list of your own books, what else do you recommend readers read?

NR: I have a rotating stack of books that I keep near my laptop, so right now I have Ariel by Sylvia Plath, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers by Bhanu Kapil, Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds, Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being, Louise Gluck’s Faithful and Virtuous Night and the Women Write anthology, edited by Susan Cahill.

JG: What are you working on now? Or are you taking a much deserved break?

NR: No breaks for me yet. I’m working on the final editing and ordering of my first full-length collection, Louder Than Everything You Love. It’s amazing how bodily I feel this work, that I have such a strong stake in sending the best collection possible out into the world. The next step will be sending it to several poets who’ll write blurbs – that will be my first glimpse into how this collection will impact readers.

Social media links
Facebook author or book page(s): www.facebook.com/nicole.rollender
Writer website: www.nicolerollender.com

Bio

Nicole Rollender is editor of Stitches. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly ReviewBest New PoetsThe JournalRadar PoetrySalt Hill JournalTHRUSH Poetry JournalWest Branch, Word Riot and others. Her first full-length poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. She is the author of the chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She’s the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX JournalRuminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Find her online at nicolerollender.com.

Where to get the chapbooks

Title of chapbook: Bone of My Bone
Name of press: Blood Pudding Press
Year published: September 5, 2015
Ordering link  

Title of my chapbook: Absence of Stars
Name of press: dancing girl press & studio
Year published: 2015
Ordering link