Over the past few days I’ve been studying César Vallejo’s poem “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca” (“White Stone on a Black Stone” in the Poetry magazine translation by Rebecca Seiferle), in which he famously “remembers” his own death, and turns back con todo mi camino, a verme solo — “with all of my road, to see myself alone.” Perhaps conditioned by this, I’m struck by how many poets this week have been writing about facing fears.
Owls wake me in winter. Thin talons worry into my scalp. Time immemorial, time that passes. My days are dark with black ash and bone, the rot settling into sickly flowers. Sometimes, I dream of nectar, sometimes, of blood.
Lakshmi, This Winter Heart: response to a question from another Tumblr user
In 2014 I embarked on an anonymous adventure, publishing some poetry chapbooks with my super small press Twenty-Four Hours. We did 4 books between then and now, each free of identity-confirming information such as author names, biographies, photos, or anything else that would give away the gender, race, or age of the poet. The reasons were multi-fold. It would take away the puffery of an author bio and force the reader (and the writer) to consider the poems themselves, not the previous accomplishments of the writer. It would also take away any preconceived notions of what a particular work a writer of a certain gender, a certain race, or a certain age is “supposed” to produce. These were a smashing success and the philosophical ideas behind them resonated with many people.
So around this time in 2016, a few weeks shy of Christmas, I decided to make the next logical step and use myself as a test subject. I was going to publish all of my work anonymously.
Josh Medsker (guest blogger for Trish Hopkinson), My year of living anonymously
Usually winter is a productive creative time for me- the weather is not tempting me outdoors, and the long drag of school days without breaks usually leaves me very eager to think about other things at home. Any other things. But not this winter.
After the poetry writing I did in January at the conference I attended, every bit of writing I’ve done since has been non-poetry related – this blog, reviews of other poets, proposals and lessons for work, etc. The poems are dormant.
I am hopeful that they are dormant in the same way the iris bulbs in front of my house are dormant – sleeping safe beneath the soil of everyday “stuff” but ready and able to push through and bloom when the weather dictates. But there is a nagging fear that, this time, the poems are dormant the way a volcano can be dormant – seething beneath the surface for years and years and years, roiling and alive but never surfacing. And this is a little scary.
Donna Vorreyer, Fear of Hibernation
I had a dream a few nights ago in which I was touring a new university opened by Donald Trump. I do not know why, in my dream, I was touring a university owned by Donald Trump, but apparently, I was considering signing up for classes there. The building was being touted as “new”, but it was shoddily built and some of the larger rooms were still under construction. I wandered into the staff kitchen to chat with some fellow prospective students and I kept saying, “But what’s the curriculum? I haven’t seen a curriculum.” Suddenly, busted-elevator-style, the entire kitchen sank with a stomach-lurching thud and crash-landed in the basement, right next to the university swimming pool. Shell-shocked, I wandered out into the pool area. Trump came ambling up to greet me, and I explained to him that his school seemed to have some infrastructure problems, as the kitchen just fell through the floor and missed landing in the swimming pool by mere feet. Trump seemed totally unfazed by this news.
Kristen McHenry, Dystopian Round-Up
This still from Werner Herzog’s ‘Encounters at the end of the world’ has been called ‘one of the great existential moments of modern cinema’. It’s one that has me in tears. For some reason this one penguin has left the tribe (according to wikipedia , a group of penguins on land is called a waddle. Other collective nouns for penguins include: rookery, colony, and huddle. None of them seem to credit their air of social purpose. I’ll stay with tribe). The others are purposefully plodding seaward, towards food and salvation. This one is equally purposefully heading inland to a certain death. The camera pulls back, and goes on pulling back until the penguin is microscopic in an infinity of white. Herzog’s voice-over speculates that the only reason for this behaviour is that the penguin has become insane. It’s heartbreaking.
I should say that I’ve spent the last couple of days in bed, feeling physically done in. A bit like the early symptoms of flu, without the coughing and sneezing. Just very tired and achey. So this post post might be more incoherent than usual. Still. Press on. Basically I’ve been thinking about how to introduce today’s guest poet, who happens to write short poems…not necessarily lyric, but short. I’m very conscious that I don’t do short, and admire poets who do, mainly because I think it takes more confidence and craft and discipline than I have. I suspect I’m afraid of white space, because, essentially, it leaves no hiding place. Every word is exposed, and has to justify itself.
John Foggin, No hiding place…. and a Polished gem: Matthew Stewart
I face a slice of pink sky and await
words, dormant bulbs interred in dirt. Your absence
invades my slumber, I will die of it. The rawness
is too much.
Risa Denenberg, Nostalgia is an illness you might die of
I keep trying to write about my impending book publication, about the process of writing, about poetry. But all I can think about are the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I spent twelve years in a high school classroom – one as a full-time substitute teacher, eleven as an English teacher.
I’ve taught every kind of student: eager, disinterested, poor, rich, parents overly involved, parents totally absent, some good at school, others disheartened by it. I’ve taught students as articulate as those who are speaking out now about gun reform. I’ve taught students who I know were capable of killing seventeen of their peers.
Every time I sit down to write about writing, I come up dry, because it doesn’t seem important in the face of dead children. Then I remember Alex Schachter reading his son Max’s poem. A poem that Max wrote two weeks before he was gunned down in his high school. I think of how people turn to poetry in times of love, in times of sorrow.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, What can a poem do?
I find the main themes I return to are mental health and legacy. My first two chapbook manuscripts dissect my mental health diagnosis and my relationship with others with mental health challenges. Because mental health does affect every aspect of life, it’s important to me to speak about it and work against the stigma surrounding it. I feel the need to be very vocal about it because of the silence and stigma still surrounding mental disorders in Latinx communities, particularly the one I grew up in. I feel I wasted a lot of time feeling like something was wrong with me, and I find it important to write to let others like me know they’re not alone. Legacy is also interesting to me to explore, particularly definitions from others and from oneself. I feel most satisfied writing about the complexity of my heritage and am currently working on a few projects questioning my relationship to the colonizer/colonized sides of my family tree. I think a lot about when to use language, and when to use stillness, so I often edit and edit until the rhythm of a poem is evident on page. Some images I return to frequently are surrealism and dreams, and water and all of the implications they can have.
Marisa Adame, interviewed by Shannon Steimel
I do write about the things that frighten me in life and the world, but I think I am also fascinated by my fear, by my inner demons, by the notion of fear itself. Some of these fears, like sexual or domestic violence are easy to understand as frightening, but I have other responses to things that only take on significance because my psyche associates them with other things. Engaging with fear tends to expand one’s personal resilience and strength, and I think that has great value. The ghost story reminds us to stay strong against thoughts of what we will one day be erased from life and memory. The creature story reminds us that what makes us different isn’t always cause for exile from polite society. And, enduring the trust terrifying world of nightmares tells us that we are stronger than we think, that we have the power to survive the torments our demons serve us whenever they can.
I feel myself, as a person, haunted by the darkness in the world, but in my work I can choose to wear it or face it, and I have the choice of how. Beyond contending with the bigger issues of monstrosity and complexity, I think that some of us just really love dancing in the dark. My poems definitely come from a desire to explore the complexities of the human psyche, the ineffable void inside us all, the flip side of the incessant, banal need to demonstrate happiness in our worlds. Something in that darkness speaks through sharp teeth, reminding us of what is really human, what is authentic.
Saba Syed Razvi, interviewed by Andrea Blythe
Her arm, absent from sleep,
has great adventures. And then she wakes and shifts her weight,
only to discover something cold and clammy in the sheets beside her,
a lump of flesh she cannot call her own. Her other arm,
the one remaining in her bed, loyal until the end,
investigates by lifting the offending, foreign object
and then, in shock, dropping it.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, “We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger” (accompanying an interview by Shannon Steimel)
If you’ve always relied on your brain, rather than your body, for a sense of self-worth and self-respect, and it lets you down, it’s disheartening. It’s frustrating. But one neurologist who specializes in recovering from different types of brain injury (including MS lesions) told me that we don’t really know what the brain can do when challenged, how plastic our memory and abilities. As a writer I’ve tried to continue to write through all the health challenges I’ve had, even when my fingers could barely type. The piece I wrote about the consequences of being raped when I was six (and pondering the long-term consequences for so may girls who have had these things happen to them) was written a few months ago when I was still practicing my motor skills and swallowing, and I hope it will be helpful to someone. Talking about rape isn’t super fun or upbeat, but until we start protecting people and standing up against a culture of “boys will be boys” and “it’s okay for girls to suffer in silence” and “well, it happens to everyone” I’m afraid that little girls will be in the same danger I was in in 1979. As I talked about in my last post, it’s important not to get so fatigued mentally, spiritually, physically that we stop fighting for what is right. I am trying.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A piece on rape culture on The Rumpus, outrage fatigue, a renovation and accessibility, and what to do when your brain lets you down
Look, I can’t adequately explain to you what it is to feel terror at frost heaves in the road you’re shuffling, or of curbs, or of a span of loose pebbles, never mind a hill or stairs: what it is to know that uneven ground is impossible, that even that flat-ish forest path is off limits to you, creature of wilds, because one exposed root can end you if you fall: I can’t adequately explain months and months of severed paraspinals screaming and conscious mind explaining to nerves and muscles how to lift, and move, and set down each foot (and please oh please body do it for me without impact that blows the world apart in blinding, nauseous pain that makes me want to die). I can only tell you this: today the water was so still and calm after days of furious winds and violent waves, salt-spray crusting everything in a moment. I can only show you what I saw: this Atlantic, these creatures, this vast sky, this small, irrelevant body in the midst of it so completely sure-footed and strong on loose sand and weathered steps, having forgotten again to take even ibuprofen, still and calm with oceanic joy, moving like it didn’t mean everything.
JJS, February 22, 2018: pause for gratitude
I needed to write the poems I have written. I will continue to write poems about the loss I feel each time a person is gunned down in mass shootings in this country. But I can no longer only do that. I will stand behind the youth of America who have raised their voices and said You are either with us or against us, because I believe being silent is a form of complicity. I will be in attendance on March 24th in the March for Our Lives. I have already made a donation for this event at March for Our Lives/Go Fund Me. I have begun reading about how our elected officials vote on gun laws. This is just my beginning.
As a poet, I will continue to process my grief through writing, but with an understanding that my writing is not enough. I understand we can never eliminate violence—as the arc of history has proven—but we can do more, we can promise to do our best to keep our children as safe as we possibly can, and I will work towards that end until my poem Math That Doesn’t Add Up ends differently, with a line that in the very least suggests— And all our promises of safekeeping are NOT lies.
Carey Taylor, May You Find A Way
I spent part of the afternoon fiddling with a sea level rise map, in part because I knew we were meeting our friends for dinner, but mostly because I fell down that internet rabbit hole when I found a news article that says that new research, released last week, says that Miami will experience 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050–not quite far enough away for comfort, since water is rising faster with every report. At one point, the date for 2 feet of sea level rise was 2100.
I think our plan will still work: to fix the house, enjoy the house for 5-10 years, and then sell. We may stay in the area and rent, if my job (the only full-time job between the 2 of us) still exists.
I find it interesting to watch the nation argue about guns, while all the while the sea eyes our shores with growing hunger and impatience. But I also understand the way that a violent event can transform both individuals and communities. I will go with my church tomorrow to a prayer vigil because I’m always going to be available to pray for peace. That might work. I’m not sure that our prayers can change the processes governed by physics or chemistry that we’ve already set into motion.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Prayer Vigils, Planetary Warming, and Other Ethical Dilemmas
tired of being split open
and not knowing how to sew
Kevin J. O’Conner, Undarned (a poem)