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Interview with Luanne Castle, Author of Doll God

Although today is technically the end of National Poetry Month, my poetry reviews for #NPM15 will continue into May because I read way more books than I thought for the month, thanks to the Dewey 24-hour read-a-thon!

To wrap up this year’s National Poetry Month tour, I’ve got a great interview with Luanne Castle, author of Doll God (my review).

“This emotional collection will take a toll on its readers, but the journey will leave them changed in terms of perspective and renewed in that they will want to live more fully and enjoy each moment in the moment.” — Savvy Verse & Wit

Please give her a warm welcome.

1.  Re-examining our childhood and our pasts is something that echoes throughout your collection, Doll God, and there is a deep sense of anxiety and loss tied to those reflections.  When did you first start examining your own childhood and past and how does anxiety and loss tie into that self-examination?

My childhood has always loomed over me, both for its anxieties and its imaginative qualities.  I also write and have published prose based on my childhood experiences. When I was a little girl my father built a bomb shelter in our basement. We were in the middle of the Cold War, and there was fear and tension in our lives because we thought “The Bomb” could drop at any moment.  So childhood has always crept into my poetry, although I didn’t start to examine it with purpose until about 6 or 7 years ago, which is when I began to spend more time writing.

2.  Dolls are prevalent throughout the collection.  Do you think dolls still play a pivotal role in young girl’s lives? And how do you think their role has changes with the evolution of technology?

Dolls are still important to society–and to many young girls. When I was a kid not all girls preferred dolls to other toys, and that is still true. Even I had as much fun with my cement mixer and “army men” as I did with my dolls at certain periods in my life. Actually, army men are really dolls, now that I think about it! But dolls have stayed close to the essence of my childhood. Boys also were given dolls when I was a kid. We were probably the first generation where boys like my brother were given G.I. Joe dolls. My brother had Chatty Cathy’s baby brother with a sweater and cap knitted by my grandmother. Since then, so many different dolls and doll-like figurines have been created for both boys and girls.

Technology has slightly altered the doll-scape in two ways. We have many “throwaway dolls.” By that I mean that the discretionary income and low-cost overseas production has created an abundance of dolls found on the shelves of Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys R Us. Dolls are often $5-10 birthday presents for girls. Too many Barbies? Lose one at the grocery store, pull off the head of another. For many fortunate children, there will always be another Barbie. The other way technology has affected the doll industry is that dolls are produced to capitalize on the popularity of movies, television shows, and computer games. While this trend started 100 years ago, it has grown as technology has grown. Now a huge portion of dolls at the major store chains are related to these technologies.

3.  How much of your poetry is autobiographical?  How far does it stray from your own life?  In other words, where is the line between fact and fiction?

Sometimes a poem starts out autobiographical and strays into the fictional without me even realizing it. Other times a poem might begin as fiction, but by the time it’s completed, it has incorporated a lot of elements from my own life experiences.  A reader would be hard pressed to find the “line” between the two in my work. And I think that is as it should be–to read poetry as confessional is dangerous and limits the reader, the poem, and the poet.

4.  Do you still collect dolls?  How many are or were in your collection?

I didn’t begin an actual doll collection until my daughter grew out of her dolls. When she was no longer interested in them, I became fascinated and still have all of hers. As a child I had baby dolls, but that was because once I was given a doll I didn’t lose it or abuse it, so over time I had a fair number. But never a collection. We didn’t have the money for that. I didn’t  even own a real Barbie. My Barbie was a Miss Suzette by Uneeda. But I did have a Ken doll and a beautiful toddler-sized walking doll who may or may not have ended up in Doll God. My husband and I love antiquing and in the past ten years I’ve accumulated quite a few dolls. I have a decent collection of Asian dolls, including Japanese hakatas. I also collect Magic Attic Club, Madame Alexander, cowboy and cowgirl, Red Riding Hood, literary, and Broadway musicals.

5.  Writing is a solitary endeavor for many authors.  How do you maintain contact with the outside, and how does that differ from the experience of reading your work aloud for an audience?

I maintain contact by connecting with my writing peeps, both in person and through email and phone calls. Then blogging and social media are other ways I feel a part of the outside world. These are important for social reasons, but also for educational purposes. I learn a lot from my fellow writers.

I am not fond of being in large groups of people, but I do enjoy the act of reading my poetry, which is a performative experience. I recently was interviewed on a morning television show and was asked to read one of my poems. That was fun. I have also been known to read to rescue kitties at the shelter once a week. In the past I’ve read my poetry at various events, but since Doll God was published, I haven’t been able to read publicly. I hope to change that in the near future.

6.  Doll God is your first collection.  How long have you been writing poetry, and how long did it take you to create your first collection?  Are you planning a second?

I first wrote poetry when I was in about 5th grade. My first poem rhymed and was about an old woman in a rocking chair. Chair is a good rhyming word.  I took up writing poetry again in high school and wrote very melancholy poems. I turned in a poem for an English class assignment and received a B+ on it–my lowest English grade. That’s when I decided that teachers shouldn’t really be putting letter grades on students’ creative writing attempts. I have a whole philosophy about the teaching of poetry.

When I started college I was encouraged to look ahead to getting a job, so I set poetry aside until my husband and I adopted our first child from Korea. I wrote a poem about picking him up at the airport and the floodgates opened. Soon after, I applied to the MFA in creative writing program at our local university and began studying writing in earnest.

My current project involves “genealogy poems” based on research I’ve done on female ancestors. I’d like to create a chapbook from these poems.

Thank you so much for hosting me, Serena. I loved that Doll God could be part of your book tour.  These questions were great fun and really made me think in ways I haven’t before.

Remember the Sun: Poems of Nature and Inspiration by Melanie Simms

Source: The poet
Ebook, 35 pgs
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Remember the Sun: Poems of Nature and Inspiration by Melanie Simms, published by Sunbury Press, features poems and Lawrence Von Knorr’s photographs of Sunbury, Pa., and other local areas in the region.  In many cases, the photographs give additional life to the poems in Simms’s volume, but in others it is unclear how the poems and the photos connect.  Despite that, the photos are gorgeous, particularly the local shops and the pictures of the Susquehanna River.  Simms’s poems are chock full of imagery from ghosts harkening back to the past journey of Edison to the shadow puppets on the walls, but her verse examines not only the natural world, but the relationships between mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, and lovers.

From "Mother's Ashes" (pg. 7)

I love Emilio
for driving the long way
He doesn't have to do this.
"She's your mother," he says.
"We have to honor her spirit."
(I'd kept her ashes for years
in the cupboard in the kitchen).
I don't want to let go.  I wanted to
wake up each morning, knowing
some part of her remained.

Don’t we all want to keep a piece of our loved ones close, and we often very rarely realize how selfish that is. Is it better to honor their wishes or to keep them close? We all struggle with this dilemma at one point or another. Simms’s verse is historical and modern, and it is emotional and contemplative. There is something for every reader in this collection. Her collection also contains quite a few poems in which journeys are made — journeys to bury the dead, journeys away from and returning to loved ones, and journeys of emotion. When readers talk of place as a character in novels, there are moments like that in this collection as well, like in “Beauty and Magic at Barone,” about the Barone Beauty Academy in Sunbury.

From "The Suitcase" (pg. 3)

I watch you leave, but as the evening falls I imagine you
back in your chair.
I imagine that you have only stepped out for an evening walk.
How has it come to this?
All our dreams
packed away into one little suitcase
and carried off so easily?

Remember the Sun: Poems of Nature and Inspiration by Melanie Simms is a satisfying collection of poems and photographs that breathe life into the activities of a small town.  These people are no different than those that live in big cities; they still have dreams and big loves, and devastating losses.

 

About the Poet:

Melanie served as the Perry County Poet Laureate from 2005-2006 and has published in over 180 newspapers, magazines, and poetry journals; her poems have been featured on state and local television shows and over fifty poetry radio programs. She has been a featured artist at various Pennsylvania colleges, high schools, and landmarks including but not limited to National Poetry Month at the Degenstein Community Library with presentations by State Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver and Sunbury mayor David Persing.  Her awards include a Sophie Award, Finalist in the Richard Savage Poetry Award (Bloomsburg University), Perry County Poet Laureate (2005-2006), a Vermont Writers Studio Award, a Pushcart Prize Nomination, Marquis Who’s Who of The World, Cambridge Who’s Who of Women in Publication, Poet of the Week (Poetry Superhighway), and an Evvy Award nomination for Waking the Muse (best self-published book in the poetry category).

She is a President and Founder of the Association of Pennsylvania Poet’s Laureate (founded 2006) and a member of the World Poetry Society and The Daughters of the American Revolution.  To learn more, visit her Website.

 

 

 

 

National Poetry Month Fun…AND…

Unfortunately, I haven’t written any more haiku since last week. I still plan to have 30 haiku by the end of the month, so I will hope to write some this weekend and all next week.

However, I thought today would be a good day to recap some of my favorite poetry books from this month, as well as some of the fantastic poetry posts I’ve seen this month.

I’ve been poking around the Internet this month, and I came across some great posts from participants in this year’s blog tour and on Twitter.  I thought this would be a great time to share them.

  1. Jeannine Hall Gailey recently interviewed Director of Sales and Marketing for Tupelo Press Marie Gauthier, who also is a poet and author of Hunger All Inside, about PR and poetry.  While there are a number of PR companies out there for fiction and nonfiction writers and many publishing houses have marketing campaigns in place, poets tend to be on their own in the abyss of the Internet and marketing their own books.  It’s one of the reasons I started Poetic Book Tours — I wanted to fill a niche for these poets.
  2. Jill at Rhapsody In Books is one of my favorite participants in the blog tour every year because she always has some great posts about song lyrics and poetry.
  3. Becca at I’m Lost in Books had a very insightful and personal story about poetry’s role in her life, and it was so moving, I had to highlight it here.
  4. Parrish Lantern had a fantastic post on Haiku this month, which I hope you will all read.
  5. I’ve participated in the Split This Rock! Festival a few times, and I was thrilled to read about Sarah Browning’s journey that landed her in the role of Executive Director; it’s an inspiring story about the power of the written word.

Here are my favorite poetry books from this month:

  1. Vessel by Parneshia Jones because I’m still thinking about identity and how we identify ourselves — our name, our family, our memories — and yet those things are as fleeting as the breeze in the grand scheme of things. The takeaway for me in this collection is that we should strive to make our mark by helping and affecting others lives in positive ways, weaving a larger “human quilt.”
  2. The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey because I’ve been fascinated with nuclear research for a long time, since I first studied WWII in high school. It’s awe inspiring how much the human mind can create and destroy all at once, developing something that can provide energy but that can also destroy us all at once and even gradually. There is so much in this collection to think about and reflect upon.
  3. Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust is a great collection of sonnets that outlines a pilgrim’s journey through the modern world, not unlike the journey Dante takes in the Divine Comedy.  While these poems are a classic form, these are so fresh that they are as unforgettable as the classic poets crafted.
  4. Banned for Life by Arlene Ang is another stunning collection of poems from a poet I found by accident long ago.  It is by turns morbid and dark, but there also is a beauty in death that she highlights with deft strokes.  Moments of comfort and moments of despair are treated in equal measure, just to remind us that we control how fulfilling those lives can be.

What do you notice about this list?  They are all women and they are all strong women talking about tough issues!  Have you read any great collections this month or even just come across some great poems?  I’d love to hear about them.

Free Air: Poems by Joe Wenke

Source: Meryl L. Moss Media Relations
Paperback, 80 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Free Air: Poems by Joe Wenke is a satirical collection of poems that deftly plays with rhythm and rhyme.  These poems appear at first glance to be off-the-cuff statements and observations, but that’s if they are taken too seriously.  Take the “Lament of an Old Man” who is saddened by the passing of time and facing his own mortality where the narrator jokes about how he is just getting the hang of life and it is about to end.  There’s a self-deprecating humor at play here, but aren’t these many of the same observations we make as we age?

Readers will enjoy these playful pieces in which the narrator is tricked by his own brain in “I Think Without Thinking.”  Wenke is almost whimsical in his choice of words, ensuring that they rhyme or provide the necessary sing-song nature of these poems.  However, there are some beautiful poems as well that are less about being humorous, though they still may contain humor.  One of my favorites, “Star Stuff,” begins with a quote from Carl Sagan and how we are made of star stuff because our DNA is made of nitrogen, iron, calcium, and other elements found in collapsing stars.

From "Star Stuff" (pg. 33)

1

Billions of years ago,
millions of light years away,
we made a pact inside a star
to meet again.
Was it that distant memory,
a sweet explosion of wills,
that brightened your face
as you turned
to meet me again?

2

I've waited for you, my love,
in all the familiar, desolate places,
in train stations, bus stations, airports
and apartments.
I've waited for your return
from New York City, Hartford, Boston
and Rome.
I've waited across the vacuum of space,
across the emptiness of our former lives,
across distances beyond all
but our imaginations.

Free Air: Poems by Joe Wenke is a fine collection to pass a warm, spring day reading in the sun.  Stopping to chuckle at the lines or to reflect on the deeper meaning.  But there is much more beneath the surface of these lines, as Wenke seeks to raise awareness about how “free” we really are and how finite the time we have is.

About the Poet:

Joe Wenke is a writer, LGBTQ activist and the founder and publisher of Trans Über, a publishing company with a focus on promoting LGBTQ rights, free thought and equality for all people. Wenke received a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in English from Penn State and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Connecticut.

 

 

 

 

 

Banned for Life by Arlene Ang

Source: the poet
Paperback, 81 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Banned for Life by Arlene Ang is a collection of poems in which all is not as it seems.  She is an inventor of transforming verse in which death takes on a new life and ghosts are the living.  The collection begins with a quote from Anatole France that sets the tone: “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”  Whether we are looking at the crime scene and all the parts except for the dead girl at the center or considering the mass extinction of pigeons in Venice, Ang has caused us to pause and rethink our perceptions.

Death is a clear preoccupation in these poems, as the narrator examines what it means to be a dead woman floating down the river in “The Model Particular.”  She examines how that minutiae serves as a sign to a larger picture, like the bracelets that become scars on the girl floating in the river, revealing more about her past and how she may have ended up there.  “When a red shoe finds/the silt, it may take up to thirty years/before it reaches the ocean.//The girl is wearing bracelets/of scars. She is purpling under both eyes./She is all poise and dead leaves.”  (pg. 15)

Her poems speak to not only the temporary nature of life in the body, but also the temporary nature of the impressions we make while we live and interact in society.  Ang juxtaposes the beautiful and the horrifying, challenging her readers to see the gruesome allure of death, murder, and more.  In “Field Trip,” “The man under the bus was previously dead.  … The smell of rot became his speech and, towards the end, we were all talking about it … There was oil all over him and oil all over the dead man in the manner of really good excuses to start a war.”  Stories within stories unfold in these poems as the characters tell lies to themselves, to the narrator, and the reader.  It is up to the reader to uncover the truth.

From “Process of Forgetting” (pg. 19)

That’s how we knew mortality is all
about forgetting.  Even as we observed each other,
the holes were already in place: the skull is structured
around them, the senses merely tenants
who might suddenly choose to go for a swim
in something as absurd as ballet shoes and plastic gloves.

Banned for Life by Arlene Ang is filled with the beautiful moments of sitting by a dying mother in her last days to offer comfort in any way the narrator can (“To Sweat”), which are then juxtaposed with the deaths of women and men who may or may not have had the same comfort (“Pictures”).  Stunning in many ways, readers will want to read every last poem to reach “Rediscovering Paris Through Female Body Parts,” which is by turns exquisitely sensual and unsettling.

***Another contender for the best of 2015 list***

About the Poet:

Arlene Ang is the author of “The Desecration of Doves” (2005), “Secret Love Poems” (Rubicon Press, 2007), and a collaborative book with Valerie Fox, “Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon” (Texture Press, 2008). Her third full-length collection, “Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu” was published by Cinnamon Press in 2010. Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Caketrain, Diagram, Poetry Ireland, Poet Lore, Rattle, Salt Hill as well as the Best of the Web anthologies 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books). She lives in Spinea, Italy, where she serves as staff editor for The Pedestal Magazine and Press 1.

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Inspiration for Moonchild Dreams by Nadia Gerassimenko

Today, we have a guest post from Nadia Gerassimenko about what inspired her to write the poems in Moonchild Dreams.

About the collection:

“Let us immerse into five imaginary and yet quite believable and relatable mythologies narrated by very mesmerizing Muses. The first to get you plunging are vocal melodies about strength, wonderment, and hope. The second is a struggle between love and its mirrored-self – an inevitable discovery of what true love is and how imitation fails to grasp its pure essence. The third are tales chanted forlornly by Sirens about love and loss and the unattainable, all lost in the abysmal sea. The fourth, less melancholy but profound nonetheless, are words of wisdom to live by from our Mother Nature. And lastly, you come to meet the Moonchild…a part of her inner world and dreams she dared to share.”

Please give her a warm welcome.

Moonchild Dreams compiles some of my best poems from the period when I was an inexperienced fourteen year old girl either seeing everything as la vie en rose or as monochrome melancholy to the period when I matured into a young woman of twenty-five who hopefully, gained some invaluable insight and wisdom. But I still managed to hold onto my symbolic shades of pink. So naturally, there was not one particular muse that inspired me, but several distinct ones that managed to amalgamate together creating one harmonious fusion of poesy.

At fourteen, when I first started writing poetry, Spring was my initial muse. There is no other season that I love so much than spring when I see trees blooming in sweet-scented flowers; when grass is tall and green adorned with golden dandelions; when critters come out and play from dusk until dawn. The feeling of spring is rejuvenating, and you feel like you are in love with and see love in everything and everyone.  I always feel peak experiences of hope, joy, passion, and love during springtime. And so a few of my poems made it in Moonchild Dreams that speak of being hopeful and spreading hope; idealizing love and putting the adored ones on a pedestal; and being strong and unbreakable no matter what.

When I was in my late teens and started dating seriously, Love was an imperative inspiration for me to let out my fiery feelings of passion, love, sensuality, as well as anger, sorrow, and frustration. Love was only easy during the honeymoon phase and when it got tough and complicated is when I needed to let my feelings out the most. So that I wouldn’t internalize my feelings and let them burn me wholly. No matter how painful my experiences with love were sometimes, they taught me great lessons that I eventually learned and were a catalyst for my self-growth. One of the chapters in my chapbook is dedicated to love and its false reflection. That chapter begins with seeing love as pristine and perfect, continues with the realization that it can really jerk you around, and ends with a real understanding of what true love is; it is a committed and compassionate walk of forever togetherness as cheesy as it may sound. When I was able to finally acknowledge that is when I was finally blessed with my partner in life.

Nowadays, it’s Words that inspire me to write poems. My body is completely relaxed at moments of inspiration. I go into a state of complete openness in my heart, mind, and soul. I start pondering on my life from past to present to future from an objective point of view. Or I could be thinking on a grander scale or on a small yet meaningful subject. I let words come into me. Those words start shaping an idea, then a concept. And then I write. Either on impulse or I think things through a bit more without ever closing myself, so that inspiration keeps flowing in my veins. Spiritual teachers is a good example of such a poem that was born from just words floating in my head. And some life experience as well.

Sometimes, Prayers help me. Not only to bring me some kind of spiritual quietude, but also a revelation that could assist me in accomplishing something. As I was about to finalize Moonchild Dreams, all I needed was one last poem as the perfect climax of the book that would summarize me as a person and as a poetess, because the last chapter is about the author. I was mulling over an idea that failed to be born. And so the night before, I asked for God to grant me a muse to help me write my last poem. He was compassionate in my request. Moonchild Dreams was born. The same title as the poetry collection.

Inspiration comes in different manners and embodiments. Through meditation or thoughtful thinking.  Through life events or dreams. Through movies or music. Through a mythological muse or a real-life person. The key is to always keep an open heart for the flow to pour in.

Thank you so much for sharing this with my readers, Nadia.

Haiku Friday #3

I’ve decided to write at least 30 haiku for National Poetry Month 2015.

I’ve been writing them if not daily, but in groups of three or more.  If you missed my first three haiku from this month, feel free to check them out.

For those of you who are wondering about haiku — beyond the 5-7-5 syllable count — please visit Parrish Lantern‘s post on the form.

Here’s Haiku Friday #1 and Haiku Friday #2.

If you’ve written or read any great poems this month, please feel free to share them in the comments.

Here are some of my most recent haiku pieces:

Long wait burns my legs
paused still, my video life
a curb of carbon.

Pushed aside, now.
Doors begin to close, sandwich —
I am the cheese.

Hyper-linked pic
shared widely out in space
echo, social media

Siren call, watch out
louder, softer, run away
toddle forward, fall

Cragged tripod feet
grown long, thick, gnarled
clutching tar and wire

Interview with Jeannine Hall Gailey, author of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter

2015PoetryMonthIn conjunction with Poetic Book Tours and the 2015 National Poetry Month Blog Tour, Jeannine Hall Gailey agreed to be interviewed about her poetry, including her new collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter.

I’ve read her poetry for several years, and I just cannot get enough.  I hope that you’ll not only check out her interview below, but also her April book tour.

A few of your collections — Becoming the Villainess and Unexplained Fevers — have reinvented and breathed new life into beloved heroines, myths, and fairy tales.  How do these stories inspire you to create the vivid and unusual narratives in your poems?  Which are some of your favorites?

At the time I was writing Becoming the Villainess, I was particularly interested in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the story of Procne and Philomel, and more unusual fairy tales, such as the story of the French fairy Melusine, which I fell in love with after researching it after reading A.S. Byatt’s Possession, and the story of “the coat of thousand furs,” or Allerleirauh. I was not interested in the Disney versions of the fairy tales, as I knew even as a kid how much they differed from their Grimms’ origins, but I did enjoy sort of tweaking the clichés of those films.

Then of course I got really interested in Japanese folk tales a few years ago, when I was writing She Returns to the Floating World, and researched and found as many of them translated into English as I could. I loved the ones that focused on older sisters rescuing younger brothers, which is quite a common trope in Japanese folk tales, and of course the tales of transformations of women into foxes, cranes, peonies, etc. There are so many interesting tales out there. I also love Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” – it’s a fascinating, complicated, and unexpectedly feminist piece of work. I love re-working those characters.

Unexplained Fevers actually centers on the fairy tale characters I neglected in my first book, because I felt that they were too passive. But after reading the Snow White/Rose Red references in Haruki Murakami’s After Dark and the Rapunzel narratives in Osamu Dazai’s Blue Bamboo, I started thinking about how I could re-write characters like Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Snow White – and that’s how I started writing that book.

robotIn your new collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, your subject matter is a little more concrete, including but not limited to the history of nuclear development, family, and nature. How did this collection come to be and did you find the process easier or more difficult compared to previous collections?

I think a seed for this collection was planted when I was working with Dorianne Laux at the Pacific University MFA program some years ago, and she encouraged me to write more about my own life. I considered my life too boring to write about. And Ilya Kaminsky, I remember, told me after reading my first couple of books that “now is the time for you to create your own fairy tale.” I held on to both of those things, but it took me a while to figure out how to incorporate my own experience into poetry.

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter was born in the series of “elemental” poems in the book—poems like “Cesium Burns Blue,” “Radon Daughters,” and “Elemental,” —and then I started thinking about ways to create a character that was like me but was not—and I came up with the Robot Scientist’s Daughter character. Those are more fantasy and sci-fi-based poems, and therefore more familiar to me and fun to write. The straight-up history/autobiography poems were probably the hardest to write—Oak Ridge’s history is fascinating—even the Wikipedia entry can sound like a weird prose poem—but making that history sound poetic was something I struggled with. I did include a series of poems about my childhood that were not as fun to write, but I wanted something that would give the reader sort of a child’s-eye view of the beautiful, mysterious nature of growing up on a farm in Tennessee, not just the “atomic history down the street” part.

Nuclear research, energy, and bombs are dangerous but yet humanity continues to engage in these activities despite the lasting risks. In “They Do Not Need Rescue”, the poem discusses the silence surrounding the consequences of these activities — that the people living nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory signed away their family’s lives for a meager paycheck and a house — and it raises questions about why they would remain silent even years later and not speak out. Is it a question of fear vs. bravery, or something more?

I can’t really speak for the people who made those decisions, which are individual to each of them. But I do know that the contracts for people that work/worked at ORNL – a huge source of lucrative jobs in a region that even now doesn’t have a ton of great jobs – were pretty prohibitive and threatening, and people in that area signed a contract and stuck with that agreement. If they don’t feel comfortable speaking out today, it’s probably because of the wording of the contracts they signed. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that the people of Oak Ridge are victims – they certainly don’t think of themselves that way – and there’s a culture in Eastern Tennessee of individualism, hard work, patriotism, and a tendency towards the taciturn rather than the loquacious.

Also, the dangers of radiation were not really well known early on in the work of ORNL – as reading some of the memoir of one of Oak Ridge’s early “Safety Physicists”, The Angry Genie, would indicate. In the beginning, they were focused on winning World War II, getting the bomb before the Nazis, and not as worried about pollution and those kinds of “down the road” problems. There was a little bit about how they taped uranium to the wrists of some of the nurses there, to see the effect; I mean, they were very naive back then. The Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, for instance, indicate that even today, how little prepared most companies and countries are for the kinds of problems that can happen with nuclear disaster, how little they understand the magnitude of something like nuclear pollution, how it stays around for multiple human lifetimes. It’s something to keep in mind as our nuclear power plants age here in the United States.

JeannineHighResHeadshotmediumWriting is a solitary endeavor for many authors. How do you maintain contact with the outside, and how does that differ from the experience of reading your work aloud for an audience?

I’ve belonged to a writing group for thirteen years, and that really helps. Also, Seattle and the surrounding cities have great writing communities. I volunteered with several terrific local journals for many years, which is also a great way to stay connected with the writing community—currently I’m on the Board at Crab Creek Review. Writing itself is work that must be done alone, but sharing it, getting it published, dealing with rejection, applying for grants or residencies—all those parts of the writing life really benefit from the help/encouragement of other writers. I also enjoying teaching, editing manuscripts, and a new venture—helping poets with PR for their books! I absolutely root for every single student and editing client to succeed!

I also think social media – Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, what have you – can really help you feel connected to the larger writing world in a way that just wasn’t possible when I was a younger writer. A lot of people hate them, but I absolutely think they are a gift (even if I haven’t exactly figured out how to be the greatest Twitter-er or anything yet.) You can see when different magazines have a call for submissions, or congratulate a friend on good publishing news, or follow writers you admire. I mean, you can’t spend all day on that stuff, but it’s great on a rainy Sunday to go to the Twitter #poetparty, for instance, and say hi to some writing friends and feel encouraged.

What poets you’ve read are making a difference with their poetry, either trying to influence societal, environmental, or political change? What other poets should we be reading?

For the first question: There are really so many! I think probably Carolyn Forché, Alicia Ostriker, Margaret Atwood, Pattiann Rogers, Sandra Alcosser, and llya Kaminsky have all been particularly influential in terms of the way they write their activism. But I am so excited about reading the younger generation’s take (do I sound super-old there? But it’s true!) on issues like racism, feminism, the environment, immigration—I feel that younger writers right now are unafraid of taking on big ambitious subjects than my generation was/is. Another few poets that I think tackle difficult and thought-provoking political subject matter with imagination and empathy: Jericho Brown, Eduardo C. Corral, Saeed Jones.

For the second question: There are so many good poets here in the Northwest that I think don’t get enough attention – in particular, I’d like to champion the first books by poets Annette Spaulding-Convy and Natasha K. Moni, which are both exceptional. And we have a wonderful group of female poets up here, people like Kelli Russell Agodon, Kathleen Flenniken, Kelly Davio, Elizabeth Austen, Martha Silano, Jenifer Lawrence, Marjorie Manwaring. They’re not just great poets, they’re great people who put time and energy into their poetry community. I love the work that my friends at local press Two Sylvias Press are putting out, too – definitely worth taking a look at. I discover great poets out here all the time, people I’ve never met that I’ll happen to hear at a reading. I try to highlight books I love in my reviews for places like The Rumpus, too. Reviewing is still something I try to do on a regular basis, especially for books that might otherwise get overlooked. Anything to bring more love to poetry!

Thanks, Jeannine, for sharing your thoughts with us and your poet recommendations.

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote

Source: NetGalley & Grayson Books
eBook, 82 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems from a retired U.S. Navy physician, who also is the director of the Warrior Poetry Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  Beneath the carnage depicted in many of these poems, there is a compassionate undercurrent.  Some of these poems are about the battle scars — physical and emotional — that shape today’s warriors, but they also are about sacrifice, discipline, and human comfort spawned from work on the hospital ship Comfort and the care of sick and wounded Americans.

From “Mountain Burial”

knowing we can’t retrieve
this well that’s now gone dry.
She lives in a field of green
whose thousand blades wave free,
scattered from us by war,
the ender of destinies.

From “Uncle Jim”

They say everything’s been written; it hasn’t.
Darkness and light are vast, and poets have barely begun.
Even when it hides, the hand knows when it’s writing a final death.

Foote’s narrator is a compassionate medic, but he is well aware of the carnage of war, facing it daily in surgeries and helping soldiers come to terms with the losses they have suffered. There is compassion for the soldiers as well as for the enemies, particularly those also marred by war. These poems are less trying to make sense of war, but geared toward demonstrating compassion and understanding. They pay homage to the dead, a way to honor their collective and individual sacrifices. Foote also includes some great notes about the different terms used, including Fedayeen, which refers to a generic fighter, and Mujahadeen, which refers to someone fighting for a religious cause. There also are great tidbits about events that occurred during the war that many may not know, including villagers who tossed unwanted children — particularly those with cognitive disabilities — onto Medevacs to get rid of them (“The War Child”).

Wife on the ICU

I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird
the monitor shows a thin green line
I walk at night and watch at dawn
not knowing the end of the road I’m on
down which, possessed by a voice unheard
I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird.

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems that is less focused on battles and who the enemy is and more on the compassion necessary to treat those men, women, and children who are scared by war — whether they are soldiers, bystanders, or the enemy. Some poems are better paced than others, but there are some gems that will have readers looking at war with a new perspective.

About the Author:

Frederick Foote is a poet and physician who lives in Bethesda, MD, USA. His work has appeared in Commonweal, JAMA, The Progressive, and many other journals. Click the tabs for a sample of these poems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is a stunning collection that explores the vessels we are given to travel through the world in in a literal and figurative sense.  We are born and given a name, but what do those names come to mean to us and how is that different from the meaning of the name to our parents?  Jones explores the meaning of her own name in “Definition,” after the poetic narrator introduces the girl she believes herself to be at the beginning.  She effectively juxtaposes this carefree and fun-loving girl with the expectations of the name she is given.

From “Girl” (pg 3-4)

daydreaming, pretend out loud
Girl.

Singing off-key, flowing T-shirt hair,
microphone brush and missing front teeth.

From “Definition” (pg.7)

Parnassus …
2. (Literature/Poetry)
a. the world of poetry
b. a center of poetic or other creative activity

Parneshia …
I. 1980–daughter of high school sweethearts (prom queen and football captain).
2. (Woman/Poet)
a. rooted in her Midwest, in her poetry
b. growing up in Mama’s kitchen and stacks of dusty books
3. (Woman/Poet) twenty years later, the Poet searches the
definition of her name … who knew

While she is young, the narrator is content to just be, but as she grows older, she seeks a part of herself that she was unaware of, only to be surprised by how connected she already was.  And as the collection continues through its stages, so too does the evolution of the narrator from a child seeking a fair trade with her friend to switch names because her friend’s name is shorter, until she realizes that names often reflect who we are on the inside.  In this tale of growing up, the narrator becomes a young woman who fondly remembers those who helped her grow, like her grandmother who “lifts the quilt/sewn fifty years ago by her mother, signaling me to join her.”  And that girl slid “into the pocket of the quilt,/letting my grandmother’s hands/cradle me back to child,” ultimately “creating a human quilt.” (page 14-5)  These are the memories she can hold onto when the reality of life hits her hard, and she begins to realize that love and other things are not as they are in the movies.

Jones includes poems that explore what happens when we come of age, but also what we remember about our pasts and how important it is to keep the patchwork of our own family histories intact, just like those in a quilt.  While the larger world remembers the bigger stories of poets pushing the envelope and Blacks who became president, we have to be the ones to record our own histories and remember that we, as vessels, carry all of those stories inside of us and that they are part of who we were, are, and will be.  Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is beautiful, nostalgic, questioning, and lyrical.  Like in “Legend of the Buffalo Poets,” “There is a rumble in his roaming./ Part bison, part thunder,/ he is a stampede of words,/ raising mountains from rooted earth.//” and we should “Love our delirious souls/running wild in this concrete jungle.”  (Litany: Chicago Summers, pg. 60-1)

One of the best poetry collections I’ve read in 2015.

About the Poet:

After studying creative writing at Chicago State University, earning an MFA from Spalding University, and studying publishing at Yale University, Parneshia Jones has been honored with the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Margaret Walker Short Story Award, and the Aquarius Press Legacy Award. Her work has also been anthologized in She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, edited by Nikky Finney. A member of the Affrilachian Poets, she serves on the board of Cave Canem and Global Writes. She currently holds positions as Sales and Subsidiary Rights Manager and Poetry Editor at Northwestern University Press. Parneshia Jones lives in Chicago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: On Writing Sonnets by Rebecca Foust

Rebecca Foust‘s collection of sonnets, Paradise Drive, is very reminiscent of the journey taken by Dante in The Divine Comedy, but her pilgrim is taking a modern journey in a world that is focused on money and the superficial and she is in search of something more.

Paradise Drive won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and as of this date, has attained #1bestseller status at Amazon. About it, Molly Peacock says “Foust drives her Keatsian sensibility straight into the 21st century of terrorism and autism, divorce and yoga, soldiers and syringes, booze and valet parking, determined to prove that truth makes beauty,” and Thomas Lux says “There is great music in these poems, and sonnet after sonnet is masterful. Not since Berryman’s Henry have I been so engaged by a persona.”  Today, Foust has agreed to share with us her experience writing sonnets, one of the more traditional poetic forms and one that many find difficult to write.

Please give her a warm welcome.

I’ve loved sonnets since I was young, appreciating the compression and tension in poems of that form by Shakespeare, Herbert, Donne, Hopkins, Yeats, Milton, Rilke, and Frost. If that seems like a whole lot of dead-white-guy-poets, it’s because that’s what I was exposed to during my high school and college years, so thank God for the erosion of barriers to entry now shaping a new canon, and for organizations like VIDA that continue to keep those doors open.

Later, of course, I found a broader base of sonneteers, delighted to discover poets like Kim Addonizio, Robin Becker, Kim Bridgford, Elizabeth Bishop, Eavan Boland, Anne Bradford, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jehanne Dubrow, Rhina Espaillat, Anna Evans, Annie Finch, R.S. Gwynn, Marilyn Hacker, Robert Hayden, Julie Kane, Claude McKay, Mary Meriam, Molly Peacock, Sylvia Plath, Christina Rossetti, Edna St. Vincent Millay, A.E. Stallings, Ellen Bryant Voigt, and too many others to name here.

When I found myself, after a 30-year hiatus in my writing, in grad school pursuing an MFA, it was to those early sonnets I first returned, amazed that what had moved a moody, restless teenager in the 1970’s could still move a restless, moody woman in her fifties, several decades of marriage, children, and law practice later. As my syllabus expanded, I was amazed by something else: the sheer persistence of the form. Just about every poet I read, it seemed, had at least tried his or her hand at writing sonnets, and I was surprised to learn that edgy modernists and postmodernists like Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings and John Ashbery had written at least a few. And, that contemporary poets like Tony Barnstone, Willis Barnstone, Mark Jarmon, Major Jackson, Troy Jollimore, and Julie Kane were still winning national awards with entire books of sonnets. I was also surprised to see sonnets popping up with regularity in contemporary journals and books, this in a time when “form” was coming to be viewed, first with suspicion and then as a thing to be avoided at all costs.

What accounts for the lasting fascination with a form invented as a sort of parlor game in a Sicilian court eight centuries ago, and why is it relevant now? I took the modern sonnet as the topic for the graduate class I had to teach in my last residency at Warren Wilson and then read sonnet after sonnet, in anthologies and anywhere else I could find them.

I quickly realized that one secret to the longevity of the form is the freedom with which its practitioners have felt to depart from it, so much so that the variations have, over time, become recognized as their own forms. Thus we have Petrarchan sonnets, Elizabethan (Shakespearian) sonnets, Miltonic sonnets, sonnets with more than 14 lines (caudal sonnets, arguably the poems in George Meredith’s Modern Love and John Berryman’s Dream Songs), sonnets with fewer than 14 lines (curtal sonnets like Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty”), and even wholly unrhymed and unmetered 14-liners some call “American Sonnets.” One can detect the shadow of the form in the work of poets as experimental as Brenda Hillman (see, e.g. her poem “Trance”).

What makes a sonnet a sonnet? What are the traditional indicia of the form, and just how many of them can be jettisoned before the thing loses its identity? That inquiry became the subject of my graduate class. In the end, I concluded that sonnet structure is more internal than external, kind of like those tremendous load forces working in opposition that keep a skyscraper standing or an airplane aloft. I hoped to inspire in my students my awe for the infinite elasticity of this deceptively “fixed” form, how you can infuse it with your own voice and subjects to, in the words of Monica Van Duyn, “make it your own.”

I tried to make it my own in my fifth book, Paradise Drive, which consists wholly of sonnets linked in a narrative and featuring a protagonist named Pilgrim on a journey, actual and metaphoric, from despair in rust-belt Pennsylvania to despair in the glittering, affluent suburbs of Marin County, California. I like to say that Pilgrim is six parts me and four parts wholly-made-up, and that the book is populated with composites of people I’ve met in my own life while living the life described by Pilgrim’s journey.

While writing the poems for Paradise Drive I was thinking about the idea that poetry should be for all people, not just academics or other poets, and that what occupies people universally is story, especially story rooted in structure. In my book, the scaffolding is provided by the sonnet form. Its core poems came in one great insomniac rush in 2008 when, just after having read James Cummins’ darkly funny book of narratively-linked sestinas, The Whole Truth, I wrote about 40 sonnets without stopping. They were terrible, of course, and the few that made it into Paradise Drive had to be revised maybe a hundred or more times.

But Cummins showed me a way to weave comedy and tragedy into the language of contemporary vernacular and pop culture, and in this, he seemed to me a modern Shakespeare. “It can be alive” is what I kept thinking. Poetry can be alive.” Another triggering factor was the recent series of suicides of three women in Marin County, all housewives and mothers like me. What was going on, I wondered, in this place—Marin County—that I and most people thought of as “Paradise?” Over the next few years the poems continued to pour out, always in sonnet form, and eventually aligned themselves along the arc that is Paradise Drive. I hope that readers of all kinds—from people like my mother who never went to college but loved poetry to people who have devoted their lives and educations to its study—will find points of entry and enjoy the book.

About the Poet:

Rebecca Foust’s other books include All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song (Many Mountains Moving Book Prize), God, Seed (2010 Foreword Book of the Year Award and Massachusetts Book Award finalist), and two chapbooks that won the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize in 2007 and 2008. The 2014 Dartmouth Poet in Residence, Foust is the recipient of fellowships from The Frost Place and the MacDowell Arts Colony. Her essay, “Venn Diagram” won the 2014 Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Award and was published in The Malahat Review.

You can order Paradise Drive at Press53.

Haiku Friday! #2

I’ve decided to write at least 30 haiku for National Poetry Month 2015.

I’ve been writing them if not daily, but in groups of three or more.  If you missed my first three haiku from this month, feel free to check them out.

For those of you who are wondering about haiku — beyond the 5-7-5 syllable count — please visit Parrish Lantern‘s post on the form.

If you’ve written or read any great poems this month, please feel free to share them in the comments.

Here are some of my most recent haiku pieces:

Feet tap concrete beat
platform dance, boogie ants
wait, pause, pulse nearby

My voice carries out
across the tunnel, aloud
silent in dark stillness.

Boxed cereal line
array of colors, contents
wait for cockroaches.

HOV fast lane
two or more, comfy seats
inflated, plastic girl