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Mailbox Monday #303

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  I Am the Beggar of the World, translated by Eliza Griswold, photos by Seamus Murphy from SantaThing at LibraryThing.

Afghans revere poetry, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet—a landay, an ancient oral and anonymous form created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than 20 million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. War, separation, homeland, love—these are the subjects of landays, which are brutal and spare, can be remixed like rap, and are powerful in that they make no attempts to be literary. From Facebook to drone strikes to the songs of the ancient caravans that first brought these poems to Afghanistan thousands of years ago, landays reflect contemporary Pashtun life and the impact of three decades of war. With the U.S. withdrawal in 2014 looming, these are the voices of protest most at risk of being lost when the Americans leave.

2.  The Passage by Justin Cronin from SantaThing at LibraryThing.

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy–abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl—and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

3.  Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley from SantaThing at LibraryThing.

Senior year is over, and Lucy has the perfect way to celebrate: tonight, she’s going to find Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. He’s out there somewhere—spraying color, spraying birds and blue sky on the night—and Lucy knows a guy who paints like Shadow is someone she could fall for. Really fall for. Instead, Lucy’s stuck at a party with Ed, the guy she’s managed to avoid since the most awkward date of her life. But when Ed tells her he knows where to find Shadow, they’re suddenly on an all-night search around the city. And what Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

4.  Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets by Erica Goss from SantaThing at LibraryThing.

Vibrant Words is a book of poetry writing prompts intended to spark creativity, banish writer’s block, and inspire new ideas. You’ll find out why you need core strength to write well, that poetry waits in parking lots, and what you can do with just one word.The ideas in this book are tried and true. Like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike, but all are equally valuable. May this book open your writing to new possibilities.

5.  Mister H by Daniel Nesquens, illustrated by Luciano Lozano for review from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

When young Rosana visits the zoo and hears a strange voice speak to her, she is shocked to discover that the voice belongs to a hippopotamus! The hippo, who insists on being called Mister H, politely asks her to release him from his habitat. Once free, Mister H begins to explore the world around him. But how will people react when they see a hippo roaming the streets? And will Mister H be able to find his true home?This funny, one-of-a-kind illustrated novel will keep even the most reluctant readers entertained.

6. The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller from Audible for review.

A working father whose life no longer feels like his own discovers the transforming powers of great (and downright terrible) literature in this laugh-out-loud memoir.

Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read, when he hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the 6.44 to London. And so, with the turn of a page, began a year of reading that was to transform Andy’s life completely.

What did you receive?

Guest Review: Canyon in the Body by Lan Lan, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Erica Goss is a talented poet, whose Wild Place poetry collection I loved (my review) and who was the Poet Laureate for Los Gatos 2013-14, has offered up her talents today as a reviewer.  She also has a new book, Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets, that was published in March this year.

Her video poems, 12 Moons, also have appeared at Atticus Review:

Today, she’ll be reviewing Canyon in the Body by Lan Lan, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain (Zephyr Press, 2014, USA).  “Lan Lan is considered one of today’s most influential Chinese lyrical poets. Her work has been translated into 10 languages. She is much-awarded in China, and appears often at international poetry festivals. Canyon in the Body is her first book to appear in English,” says Goss.

Without further ado, please give her a warm welcome:

In her speech at the 2013 National Book Awards ceremony, Mary Szybist stated “There’s plenty that poetry cannot do, but the miracle, of course, is how much it can do, how much it does do. So often I think I know myself, only to discover in a poem a difference, an otherness that resonates, where I find myself, as Wallace Stevens once put it, ‘more truly and more strange.’” The poems in Canyon in the Body create an environment where we also find ourselves “more truly and more strange,” an experience that only a certain type of poetry delivers.

Lan Lan accomplishes this as much by what she leaves out as by what she includes. Her poems invite the reader into a series of microscopic moments, honed and spare, yet resonant with layers of meaning. Her diction seems direct, even simple, but simmering in that simple language is a spirit of rebellion, even violence.

Consider “Dream, Dream:”

My loosened hand holds you tight
The door is shut for you to pass.

You’ve already found 
silence in my body.

I fear…in our gaze
to contort   and shrink

The speaker’s “loosened hand” holds tight, while a closed door invites passage. She successfully captures the transition between dream and consciousness, intertwining opposing ideas instead of contrasting them. She uses this technique often and with skill throughout the book.

In “Startle,” the direct language of the poem plays against its cryptic sentences:

Startle

You’re asleep
dreaming      running
Stars in the sky as the tides rise

Everything as one thing
You’re dreaming      running
Perhaps it’s real
I watch your eyelashes tremble

Your hand tells me what I’m becoming:
               woman.
Neither a flower
nor an anonymous poem
--is this also real?
When you help a woman deliver herself
I’ve no idea
she was never born
waiting so long for your password in this night—

The poem gives off a kind of heat, a compression of logic that makes leaping the only choice. It exudes a fierce delicacy, like a cactus flower or a rose among thorns. Her poems about the natural world create mysterious landscapes that feel quickly glimpsed, as if from a moving vehicle, as in these lines from “Will There Be a Tree:”

What enters this instant includes
eyes more than eyes
mountain chains more than mountain chains
a scar on a tree trunk
omens from sparks remaining on a page
a man rolling an iron hoop from his childhood
		running through this night

The reader enters the instant in the poem, the flash of power from the mountain juxtaposed with the vulnerability of the scarred tree trunk, ending with a human being engaged in memory or dream. The repetition of “eyes” and “mountain chains” intensifies the affect.

Lan Lan’s poems are not what they seem at first, and resist attempts to explain or paraphrase. They are pared down to a separation of essentials, with the reader needing to make leaps of understanding or meaning within the poem’s structure. There are chasms between these lines, deep spaces of potential. Fiona Sze-Lorrain, the collection’s translator, leaves those chasms intact, moving with deft confidence from line to line and poem to poem. She is our able guide in the strange, intriguing world of these poems.

In these lines from “Wild Sunflower,” a flower is a metaphor for passing time:

Old past veiled in sorrow, for whom
have I died once more?

Untrue wild sunflower. Untrue
singing.
A lethal thorn of autumn wind pricks my chest.

When I finished the book, I felt like I had a splinter lodged in my finger, the tip of which I could feel every time I touched something. Lan Lan’s poems are sharp and tough, and they take up residence in the reader’s mind for a long time. They open a world of “otherness,” to quote from Mary Szybist. As Lan Lan writes in “One Thing,” “I thank the darkness for listening.”

Thanks, Erica, for sharing your thoughts on this collection. I wonder too about these poems and that otherness; it is as if Lan Lan is asking readers to jump — jump into that otherness!

Guest Post: A Driven Poet by Erica Goss

Erica Goss is the Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA, and the host of Word to Word, a show about poetry. She is the author of Wild Place (Finishing Line Press 2012) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (PushPen Press 2014). Her poems, reviews, and articles appear widely, both on-line and in print. She won the 2011 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Contest and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010 and 2013. Please visit her at Website.

We’ve been following her 12 Moons project with Atticus Books for some time and we’ve seen Snow Moon, Wolf Moon, Worm Moon, and Planters Moon.  Check out all 12 Moons.

Today’s she’s here to talk about her latest poetry project, Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets. Please give her a warm welcome.

When my book, Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets came out in late March, I decided that in order to promote it, I would attend events within a two-hour drive of my home in Los Gatos, California. I’ve already put plenty of miles on my Honda Fit, traveling to book-signings and poetry readings all over the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve driven two hundred miles in one day to read for twenty minutes, but that’s not even close to California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera. He once drove from Fresno to San Jose, a round trip of three hundred miles, to read two poems at a book release party.

In spite of my general annoyance at the amount of time I must drive, I get some of my best ideas while driving. This is not always a good thing. Once on a drive between San Jose and Sacramento (about one hundred and twenty miles) an entire poem came to me, fully formed. Not in a place where I could pull over and write, I chanted the poem to myself over and over for the next half-hour while trying to concentrate on driving the speed limit. I even imagined what I would tell the officer, should I get pulled over: “I’ll show you my driver’s license as soon as I write this poem down.”

More often, as I enter my long-distance driving trance, bits of conversation, things I’ve read, and phrases from songs I’m listening to on the radio come and go in my thoughts. Part of my brain has to stay alert to drive safely, but the other part can roam, examining signs and counting the number of red cars vs. blue cars. I like finishing the terse sentences I read on highway signs: “Expect delays” becomes “Yes, I always expect delays” and “Gas Food Lodging” is kind of hilarious on its own. “Bump” is one of my favorite signs; our roads are plenty bumpy, but it takes a really spectacular bump to warrant a sign.

Traffic often grinds to a halt (like the sign says, “expect delays.”) I’ll pull out my Moleskine notebook and make a few notes: “sleep bone,” “I carry a purse and talk to strangers,” “recipe for lasagna,” “if marriage was a cookbook,” and “crows are so American” are all from recent traffic stops.

Since the release of Vibrant Words, I’ve driven from the Pacific Ocean to the Central Valley, and I’m just starting out. I hope to bring my book to places farther and farther from home, but if it gets too far, I think I’ll fly. Plus, I need new tires.

Erica is truly a driven poet. Thanks so much for sharing your travels and your inspiration with us.

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12 Moons Video Project Is Live at Atticus Review

With the new year comes the monthly unveiling of the 12 Moons by Erica Goss, Kathy McTavish, Nic S., and Swoon at Atticus Review.

Beginning last year, Erica was kind enough to share some insight into the project, and now that it’s here and live with the first installment, I wanted to provide a central list of links for our previous guest posts and interviews below:

With that recap, I’d like to turn everyone’s attention to January’s post at Atticus Review.  Do spread the word, make comments, and wait anxiously for February’s installment…

I know I am.

Guest Post: Visions of the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project. Check out the first guest post, her Writing Down the Moon guest post, her Voice of the Moon guest post, and the Music of the Moon guest post.

Please gave Erica a warm welcome.

complex flavors:
bark mulch, oyster shell,
lime, charcoal,
stone releasing
the sun’s warmth
at night.

        from “Strawberry Moon” by Erica Goss

As I wrote in the first blog post for 12 Moons, the video artist Swoon envisioned this project, put the artistic team together, and created the twelve videos using my poems, Nic S.’s voice, and Kathy McTavish’s music. Swoon is a video-quilter, turning poetry, voice, music and images into haunting and beautiful experiences. From the tentative beginnings of this project, which began with two poems I sent him in a “what do you think” email, he imagined a series of twelve videos based on those and ten more poems, each one titled after a traditional name for the full moon.

Swoon’s video poems have been described as dream-like, full of flickering images, color, and sound. They don’t tell stories chronologically; like dreams, they deliver an experience that’s difficult to describe. As Swoon himself says, “Videos should not just show what’s going on in the poem – as in, the poem mentions a leaf falling and sure enough, you see a leaf falling. I want something that takes more imagination.” (You can read an interview with Swoon in my column at Connotation Press.

I asked Swoon about his inspiration for what became 12 Moons.

“You sent me those two poems, ‘Strawberry Moon’ and ‘Snow Moon,’ and mentioned it was going to be a series. I had just done Circle and was looking for another bigger project. I immediately saw a ‘calendar of video poems.’”

Each of the videos is both separate and linked. How did you find the common thread that connects them?

“For me the common thread is your voice in those poems. So when you read them or hear them read out loud by Nic, they all connect by the choice of words, their rhythm…all different but all from the same source. When you watch and listen to the videos, that connection is made stronger because of Kathy’s sounds. I also made visual links between them, small blips from one video appear in the next one.”

12 Moons is a linked work, like your film Circle. Do you anticipate making longer films in the future?

“I would love to. I have this idea for a more ‘regular’ short film, with a regular storyline and characters, but with all of the dialog coming from poetry. It’s going to take time and money to make that, and as we speak, I don’t have enough of both to do so now.”

Can you describe why certain poems attract you as a filmmaker?

“No. I just follow my gut. It can be the poem as a whole, a certain phrase, a word, the rhythm and music of the poem … the title even. When I read (or rather listen, because I prefer to hear poetry) and I get images, it takes me places. It’s a good poem for me. The overall ‘music of the poem’ must appeal. It’s hard to put a finger on – it’s a gut feeling.”

When I watch your videos, I often feel that you make the unseen visible. Is that a deliberate decision you make?

“Yes and no. I look for underlying thoughts in a poem (very often my own thoughts, I guess – my projections) and try to give the video visual hints of that. Not even visualize those thoughts literally, but more of a hint, an atmosphere. I try and combine that with the actual lines or words of the poem.”

Your work respects the poetry. It never uses a poem as a vehicle for visual expression. How do you achieve the balance of image, sound and word?

“Trial and error. I begin, create, mix and hope for the best. Sometimes it works, very often it doesn’t and I try again. But even when it doesn’t, it might still be a good video for another reason, or for something else. It’s like a John Cage quote I recently read: ‘Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.’ I think I like to work by those lines.”

Here is the trailer for 12 Moons:

12 Moons (teaser) from Marc Neys (aka Swoon) on Vimeo.

12 Moons is an artwork combining poetry, voice, music and video. Twelve poems written by Erica Goss form the narrative. The poems move through a year of full moons, reflecting the hidden influence of the moon on one person’s life. Kathy McTavish’s original music adds complexity to Nic S.’s intense and compelling narration, framed by Swoon’s precise editing of sound and image, which creates a miniature universe for each poem within the context of the project.

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

How excited are you to get your hands on this project?

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Guest Post: Music of the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project.  Check out the first guest post, her second guest post, and her third guest post.

Please gave Erica a warm welcome.

In the city I love, I stand
next to strangers who talk
of Mumbai or Beijing
while we wait for fish tacos,
reading enigmas in spray-paint,
solemn obedient children
gathered beneath the fall moon,
resplendent with energy
filched from the sun.

             from “Trapper’s Moon” by Erica Goss

As a child I practiced Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on my family’s battered Wurlitzer. The music seemed to start and end at the same place, reflecting the waxing and waning of the moon. I can still hear my piano teacher reminding me to “slow down, don’t rush the music,” and the tones I coaxed from that old piano.

I recently learned that Beethoven did not name his piece “Moonlight Sonata.” That name came from German music critic (and poet) Ludwig Rellstab, who compared the first movement of “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor” to the moonlight reflected on the water of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Regardless, the name stuck, and certainly influenced my experience of the music.

Cellist, composer and multi media artist Kathy McTavish makes soundscapes that evoke moonlight on water. In 12 Moons, many of the poems incorporate the idea that the moon influences our lives in unseen ways, tugging at us with gravity and forcing us into cycles like ocean tides. Kathy’s music explores that mysterious, liminal place. In her artist’s statement, she writes “My cross-sensory, blurred vision of the world impacts my visual language. I am inspired by emergent, organic forms, beat poets and abstract expressionist art.” Kathy’s soundscapes anchor the mood of 12 Moons, linking image and voice.

I asked Kathy about how she creates soundscapes, and what she thinks makes a good video poem.

“I try to work with poetry in a way that’s somewhat ambiguous. In poetry there’s a sense of the submerged, of hidden things. I want to preserve that strangeness with my soundscapes. You have to be a good listener to capture those qualities, and remember that the poem is a separate thing, apart from even the poet. I feel that video poems work best when they are non-literal, and non-illustrative, since the poet lives in a visual world already. I like images that have a fleeting quality, like seeing people on a train for just a split second.

In an effective video poem, the viewer can’t really follow one element more than any other. There are three things going on: the poem, the sound and the images. Your attention shifts between them, and that gives you a floaty feeling. My favorites have a looseness to them. The images are part of the soundscape, because images are already coming from the poem.”

What’s your process for working with Swoon (Swoon is the video artist for 12 Moons)?

“I started by releasing sound fabrics and textures to Swoon. I wanted a certain quality, almost an iciness to the sound. Swoon took my sounds and morphed them further. I created sound samples, weaving in certain sounds I liked because they were edgy and strange. The last three (Moon) poems I did all of the sound for, keeping it minimal. I looked into the poems, trying to find where they unwound. I have always trusted Swoon’s vision as an artist, so when he asks me to participate in a video poetry project, I’m happy to do it. I know I’ll get to read really good poems – never any bad ones! Our collaborations work and I always learn something.”

How does it feel to play the cello?

“It’s been said that the cello expresses the grief of the world. It’s close to the human voice in pitch and register. You have to be loose to play the cello. You have to let go. The cello rests against the breastbone, and there’s a physical connection between you and the instrument. I was classically trained, but now I do abstract soundscapes, more of a sound art thing, and video installations. In an installation, a space can become like a book. I compose from the cello, and when I play, I visualize. Synesthetic fusions happen for me.”

Do you have anything else to share about this project?

“I love that it’s mapped into a life – a year. Like the moon, it’s luminous and textured. There is an awareness of cycles, of the moon’s influence on our human cycles, and of death.”

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

The last post about the process of making 12 Moons appears next month. Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

I loved that Kathy wants to bring life to the hidden elements in the poems through her soundscapes. 

What are your thoughts so far on this project coming to us in January?

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Guest Post: Voice of the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project.  Check out the first guest post and her second guest post.

Please give Erica a warm welcome:

The desire that woke you
full and constant,
flickers like antennae.

            from “Corn Moon” by Erica Goss

If the moon had a voice, what would it sound like? As “12 Moons” took shape, I began to hear a narrator in my head, a speaker with distinct qualities. The voice of the moon, I decided, must be a woman’s, full of emotional depth and mystery. I was delighted when Nic S. agreed to be the narrator of “12 Moons.”

I was already familiar with Nic’s work as a narrator, poet and video artist (read my interview with Nic at Connotation Press. Nic’s talents extend into alternative and creative paths to increasing the audience for poetry, which include the nanopress. (The nanopress delivers poetry to readers, listeners and viewers via a variety of media: website, PDF download, e-book, print version and CD. Read the details here.)

The choice of a narrator for a recorded poem is vitally important. Recordings of poetry often disappoint; they serve as documentation of a reader’s voice, perhaps, but don’t do much for the poem. This is sadly true of many recordings of poets reading their own work. I never considered using my own voice for this project, although I’ve made recordings before, nor did I contemplate using multiple voices. I wanted one distinct narrator to form a consistent link between all twelve poems. Nic is that link: her interpretation of each poem creates an individual experience while enabling the connection to the next poem.

I wrote most of the poems in “12 Moons” in either the first or second person. This facilitates intimacy between the narrator and the listener, perhaps even a brief relationship that exists within the context of the project. With that expectation, the vocal qualities of the narrator had to be those of someone whose voice is subtle, distinctive, and able to impart the overtones of a story told in poetry.

I asked Nic how it felt to be the reader of these poems. What was it like to interpret these words?

“Creating a recording of someone else’s work is always exploration, always adventure. I feel it as a beautiful way of both honoring and connecting with others. For me, voice is more than just a transmittal mechanism, more than just simple emission. As I always say, it’s an instrument of active investigation, and brings me information to process in the same way my eyes and ears and nose do. So that engaging only visually and intellectually with someone’s poems on the page is a qualitatively different (and poorer) experience for me than engaging with the same poems through the voicing, recording and editing process.

I will usually make two or three recordings of the same poem, then listen to them in sequence. As this process unfolds, it is often accompanied by little bursts of new understanding, new illuminations and new insights. It’s rare that I will use any single version for the final product – usually there is splicing between the versions, as I gain a better understanding of what the poem is saying to me. With Erica’s poem series, each poem was for me a little universe, a short trip into Erica’s mind, and the series itself was a larger universe, a longer trip, made up of her themes, her images, her metaphors and her word choices. I enjoyed Erica’s rather spare and unadorned diction and loved the imaginative way it engaged with the exotic moon theme in this series.”

As the reader of many poems that other people have written, is there a technique to making the words your own? Are there poems you haven’t wanted to read, or felt uncomfortable with? Why?

“Yes, in the past there were poems I felt I could not read. But a big part of that was an early conviction I had that the poem-on-the-page (the visual artifact) was necessarily tightly and irrevocably married to the poem-as-voice (the aural artifact). Here is a dialogue I had in 2010 with poet David Tomaloff, which convinced me that insisting on such tight linkage impoverished the poem’s potential, and that in fact each type of artefact (visual and aural) has a legitimate stand-alone artistic existence. Now, as long as the basic tradecraft in a poem is good, I am not sure I would say there are any poems I would not read. Any poem represents a dimension of human experience and, as such, no poem can at root be really alien to any of us.”

When did you realize that your voice was something special, a gift perhaps?

“I don’t know just when I realized that I had this ability to enter into poems using my voice and to reproduce them in ways that many poets have appreciated, but it was fairly recently – in the last five years or so. I have been both humbled by and grateful for the gift. I think as a community we fail to pay attention to the art of reading poetry for an audience (see discussion at this post and see Voice Alpha) and for the most part, when we do read for an audience, we unfortunately focus on reading our own poems.

I believe we are the worst readers of our poems, because we bring our entire universe into the reading of the poem and can therefore convey little new to ourselves or others in our reading. The revelations tend to come when you hear others reading your work, when you hear what they have made of your universe. I think the most frequent comment I heard when I was reading at Whale Sound was to the effect that the reading showed them aspects of and connections within the poem of which they had been unaware. It gives me great happiness to contribute in this small way to the poetry community.”

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

More about the process of making 12 Moons in the next post. Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

I really enjoyed what Nic had to say about the universes that came alive for her when reading Goss’ poems.  I also love what she says about poets being the worst readers of their own poems. 

What are your thoughts so far on this project coming to us in January?

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Guest Post: Writing Down the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project.  Check out the first guest post.

Please give Erica a warm welcome:

I didn’t ask why my country was
moonstruck, deep in the month of July
when I was nine years old. I didn’t
care about the stiff unflapping flag
and even less about steps, leaps or
mankind.
        from “Buck Moon” by Erica Goss

Writing the twelve poems that form the text for 12 Moons, an art project combining words, voice, music, and video, was one of the few times that I have consciously set out to write a series of poems based on a theme. Like any project, I began with a burst of energy and enthusiasm, but found that I needed to work hard to keep the momentum going.

The project involved writing a poem for each full moon, using the traditional names of the moons as titles. I avoided using obvious moon references, and especially any moon clichés. I cast back in my memory for events that had happened during a particular month to use as a place to start, but only a few clear recollections appeared. Mostly I wrote about the feeling of that month, and about how people respond to the seasons, whether or not they are aware of the moon’s influence over their moods.

I had one really good historical event to use: Apollo 11. When I was nine years old, the first man set foot on the moon exactly one week after my youngest brother was born. I blended these events into the poem, “Buck Moon.” I used the voice of myself at nine, unimpressed with the moon landing, having just had my world rocked with the arrival of a new sibling.

Many of the poems, if not most, are located in the culture, people and landscape of California, where I have lived my entire life. As James D. Houston said in an interview for The Bloomsbury Review, “California is endlessly compelling to contemplate and write about. I didn’t choose to grow up here, but by lucky chance – the lucky choice my parents made – it happens to be my habitat. And in my own life I’ve found that a sense of place, that kind of grounding is really essential.” In a place as large and disparate as California, we obey the laws of nature, whether in LA’s Skid Row, or the low round hills of Sonoma County, or while Christmas shopping at a mall in San Jose.

I found that writing the moon poems was not a linear process. I didn’t move sequentially throughout the year, starting with January; instead, certain events associated themselves with certain months, and the poems unfolded from those points. The first moon poem was “Snow Moon,” the full moon of February, then “Strawberry Moon” (June) and “Hunter’s Moon” (October). The rest of the poems appeared the same way: haphazard inspirations over the next five months. I finished the last one on August 30th.

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

More about the process of making 12 Moons in the next post. Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

Are you as excited about this project as I am?

Guest Post: 12 Moons, a Video Poetry Project Coming in 2014 by Erica Goss

You may remember Erica Goss and her glorious collection Wild Place, which I reviewed here on the blog last year. Her verse was as untamed as the nature inside the poems and her words made the “beauty beneath the scars” tangible.

Collaborative projects require a great deal of patience with time lines and creative sensibilities, and when the project requires not only a poet, but also a video artist and musician, the potential for something groundbreaking can increase exponentially, and the challenges can be large, but overcome.  When Goss told me about her latest collaborative project, I was thrilled to offer her some space to share it.

 

When I was born

they gave me a name

that itched like a rash

and demanded ritual objects.

-from “Flower Moon” by Erica Goss

One day last winter, my son mentioned in passing that each recurring full moon has a traditional name; i.e., the full moon of January is called “Wolf Moon,” and the full moon of December is the “Cold Moon.” The names of the moons vary only slightly from culture to culture, proving that regardless of where humans live or what they believe, they share an understanding that the moon influences not only the seasons and climate of Earth, but also the imaginations of its people.

This knowledge inspired me, and I wrote “Snow Moon” and “Strawberry Moon” within a few days of each other. I sent those poems to Swoon (Marc Neys), a groundbreaking video and sound artist whose work in video poetry is exceptional, with the hope that he would find them worthy subjects for his art.

Swoon suggested that I write twelve poems based on the traditional names for each month’s full moon, and that he create a video for each one. He also suggested that we include the vocal talents of Nic S., and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish, both artists that he’s worked with before and whose work I admired.

The result is 12 Moons, an artwork combining poetry, voice, music and video. Kathy McTavish’s original music adds complexity to Nic’s intense and compelling narration, framed by Swoon’s precise editing of sound and image, which creates a miniature universe for each poem within the context of the project.

Beginning in January of 2014, we will release one video per month for viewing on the Internet. A DVD and chapbook will be available in via print-on-demand, and for distribution at poetry festivals around the world.

Check back here for more updates on the project, i.e., where you can view the videos, how to order the DVD and chapbook, and more about the making of 12 Moons.

Swoon’s website: http://www.swoon-bildos.be/

Nic’s website: http://verylikeawhale.wordpress.com/

Kathy McTavish’s website: http://www.cellodreams.com/

Erica Goss’s website: www.ericagoss.com

Erica Goss’s column on video poetry: http://www.connotationpress.com/video-poetry

I know that I’m anxiously awaiting the results of this project. 

What do you think about collaborative projects between visual, textual, and musical artists?

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Guest Review: Every Seed of the Pomegranate by David Sullivan

Erica Goss is a talented poet, whose Wild Place poetry collection I loved (my review) and who is the current Poet Laureate for Los Gatos 2013-14, has offered up her talents today as a reviewer, while I’m attending a wonderful writer’s conference in Boston.

Today, she’ll be reviewing Every Seed of the Pomegranate by David Sullivan (Tebot Bach, San Diego, CA, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-893670-86-0, 118 pages).  Without further ado, please give her a warm welcome:

On September 11, 2001, I woke to the news that New York City had been attacked. From almost three thousand miles away in California, the events I watched on TV, in spite of their horror, didn’t seem real to me. They were happening in some faraway place.

That evening, I discovered that Mark Bingham was on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Mark was the son of my neighbor, Alice Hoagland. The attack was no longer “over there.” It had arrived in my back yard.

David Sullivan’s latest collection of poems, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, brings the war in Iraq up close and personal in the same way. I had to close my eyes often, after reading lines such as “Pleasure and sorrow / are bound together – wheat sheaves / awaiting threshing” (Night Visions 1) or “No tears mark these days. / After Saddam’s soldiers left / she burned the bedsheets” (Kurdish House on Fire).

One of this collection’s many strengths is how the poems use the smallest details to authenticate frequent shifts in point of view. From the poem “Swirling Sand,” the voice of a soldier:

This sand infiltrates
every goddamn thing I wear.
Send lotion, pronto.

And the voice of a grieving father:

Allah knows my heart,
my son.  I do not want to
hear your voice on earth,

only in heaven,
perched by Allah’s ear, singing
inside a green bird.

War is a strange blend of the unthinkable and the practical. They both inform “Swirling Sand,” from graves that “look like / hastily plowed fields” to

Outgoing letters
catch helicopter downwash,
bust the ropes that hold 

them and cascade out
over the ocean.  Flurry
of never-heard birds.

The poem ends with this chilling image: “The eyeless sockets / fill with swirling sand,” describing the “black ash that was once a man.” From the irritation of sand on skin to the ghostly after-image of a dead man, these images crash into the reader’s mind with a precise, yet jumbled logic. War often appears this way to the powerless, to civilians, and anyone outside of the decision-making process, which is to say most of us.

Astute readers have probably noticed that these poems are in haiku stanzas. In his preface to the book, Sullivan writes that all of the poems “came in the same linked haiku form.” The choice of haiku, although not intuitive at first, works unexpectedly well with the topic of war. It imposes a structure on inconceivable violence and tragedy, containing them in manageable, bite-sized sections. Each stanza, controlled within haiku’s syllabic restraints, functions almost as a separate poem; the white space between the stanzas gives the reader a place to breathe before moving on. Using the haiku form “cut(s) down the poem to its sinewy essence,” to quote Denise Levertov from Light Up the Cave. That essence is vital to the voices represented in the book, giving each one a distinct diction and vocabulary.

Angels are among those many voices. They provide commentary, speaking in detached and eerie tones. From “Angel Jibril (Gabriel), The Messenger:”

Get out of the way,
I could have said, but you had
to believe someone
would be forgiven

and

you go out soothed
by the songs you’ve heard birds sing
and come back sobbing.

Sullivan’s skill as a poet is evident as he moves from the impartial voice of an angel to the voice in “Staff Sergeant Alex Lemons, From His Wheelchair:”

My dreams grow heavy
with daily fuck-ups.  I trudge
back up garage ramps

having forgotten
where I parked and what the damn
Impala looks like.

Again, the details make the poem real and vital: “I tried recovery, / but I’m not into talking / ‘bout what they can’t feel.” Most of us will never understand Alex Lemons’s suffering (in the notes to the poem, Sullivan writes that since returning to the US, Lemons has had fourteen operations on his damaged feet, which were “shredded due to an accident in Najaf”), nor the physical and emotional damage such an event has left him. Through the deep compassion of these poems, however, we have a place to enter.

“The Black Camel” evokes three distinct interpretations of the same event. Sullivan’s notes on the poem help explain the various sources for the story, but they are not necessary to fully enjoy it. The voices of an American soldier, an Iraqi Republican guard, and his heartbroken father, grow more anguished as the poem unfolds: “The IED hit / while I held his cigarette. / Where’s God, Tiffany?” and “Swore I saw my son, / but when they showed me, I cried / for a stranger boy.” Only the voice of Malak, the angel, stays consistent: “No one has been here / before you, no one will come / after you’re gone” and “Don’t cling to one form; / water continues to flow / after the pot breaks.”

These poems do not judge, nor are they therapy. They do not offer explanations. At the end of the book, I still didn’t know why men start wars, but I understood a more disturbing truth: that the capacities for violence and compassion live within every person, and quite often, comfortably side-by-side. As the Reverend Marilyn Sewell once wrote, “Most evil is done in the name of some greater good.” The poems in Every Seed of the Pomegranate recognize this paradox. They remind us that even though what happened in Iraq might seem far away, it’s as close as our backyard. We ignore it at our peril.

Every Seed of the Pomegranate by David Sullivan sounds like a collection that would have a deep emotional impact on the reader, particularly those who know soldiers — are related to them or friends with them — or who are even soldiers. Were these poems cathartic for the writer as they might be for a soldier? I’d like to think they would be, and Goss makes an excellent point about the capacity for violence and compassion living within every person and the paradox that it presents.

Poetry for Your 2012 Holiday Shopping List

Savvy Holidays!

I’m sure all of you have either completed or have nearly completed your holiday shopping, but I wanted to recommend a couple of poetry books for the readers on your lists.  These books are accessible and could widen the scope of reading of your loved ones and maybe even yourself.

Wild Place by Erica Goss is a stunning chapbook collection that visually renders the wildness within ourselves through a series of images stick with you long after you read the verse.  One look at that cover can tell you the kind of raw power Goss uses in her poetry to explore how humanity can impair nature, but she also talks a little bit about history, particularly in her poems about Berlin, and the hardships of emigrating to another country.  In my review, I said, “Wild and untamed, the verse sings the beauty in the blame as humanity encroaches on nature, sometimes leading to its destruction and at other times unveiling the beauty beneath the scars.”

 

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz examines the often ignored struggles of Native Americans in the modern world, particularly as they try to integrate into mainstream society.  The kids who are around white students in school are looking to be like their peers, while at home, their parents trying to hold onto their cultural traditions.  Diaz has a frankness in her verse as she not only tackles drug addiction, but also Native American myths and ancestry.  While these poems are steeped in culture, there also is a universality to the lines that make them accessible to people of all cultures.  I consider Diaz’s book “a glimmering debut collection that hums in the back of the mind and generates an emotional aftermath that will leave readers speechless.”

Of the two Natasha Trethewey books I’ve read this year (though one was a reread), this is the one that has impressed me the most and has caused me to reassess some things.  Thrall is an even more mature combination of the personal and historical than Native Guard is.  While her earlier collection examines the struggles of a mixed race child, the latest collection builds upon those insights to create a wider historical record of mixed race children and how they are viewed by their parents and history.  My review indicated, “While her reading can enthrall you and bring you near tears, her careful word selection in each poem will ensure that you reflect on the meaning of each line in each verse before you even think about the overarching themes of separation and connection as well as their juxtaposition.”

I hope that you’ll consider these collections as you do your holiday shopping and have a great holiday, everyone.

Some Winners and Graham Parke Announcement

Winner Melissa of Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf

Winners Ti of Book Chatter and Anita Yancey

Winner Anna of Diary of an Eccentric

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now an announcement from Graham Parke:

“I’m very polite by nature, even the voices in my head let each other finish their sentences.” Graham Parke, Unspent Time

I’d originally planned to have a monkey draw two random numbers out of a hat (then use the inverse hexadecimal value – because you cannot trust monkeys, not at the prices I’m willing to pay) but apparently there are laws against monkey labor. There are permits involved. It’s a whole thing. So instead I asked a friend to think of two random numbers while dressed in a monkey suit, without telling him what the numbers were for. This seemed sufficiently random to me, although it later occurred to me how worrying it was that my friend would actually do this without ever asking why. There might be a thinly veiled cry for help in there somewhere…

Kindle Fire Winner:Cecilia HuddlestonKindle Touch Winner:
Kathy Habel 

 

 

A big thank you to all the bloggers and readers who supported the Unspent Time launch event (especially those who bought multiple versions of the weird little novels that wrecked a thousand reasonably useful minds.)

Anyway, here’s the results, thank you all for joining in, winners will be contacted and forced to accept prizes, let me know if you ever come across bits in the novels you like, stay healthy and sane,

Graham Parke

“We played for about half an hour before I realized we were actually playing two different games. What I’d thought of as ludo was actually a game called gin rummy, and what Warren was playing seemed to be a mixture of craps and table tennis. Once we started playing by one consistent set of rules, though, the fun was really over.” Graham Parke, No Hope for Gomez!