I Will Never Be Caught Up With All This Reading!

Summer is about to turn the corner into August, and I find myself simultaneously working on the stuff I need to finish before the semester starts and continuing to cram as much bonus reading into my days as possible. As in years past, the reading pile is tall and varied, and even includes issues of literary journals I subscribe to, but don’t always keep up with during the school year. Once again, I find myself catching up on Crab Orchard Review (V. 20. No. 2: “20 Years: Writing About 1995-2015”) and finding some real gems I want to make sure my vast and curious readership is aware of.

The lead-off short story, “A Recipe for Mice,” by Amy Knox Brown is so sad and tender and weird and a little creepy! It’s the story of one man grieving the loss of his wife using some uncommon “recipes.” His grief, as well as his anger and frustration with some new neighbors, takes several unusual shapes as the story progresses. I think I might need to share this with my Creative Writing students this fall.

You know, it really is a pleasure to find new stuff to share with students as examples, pieces to get them thinking about the possibilities of imaginative writing. Another from this issue is “Ten Long Weeks at Sea” by Susanna Childress. I love how this poem takes two very different subjects or ideas and weaves them together such that each of the two gets stronger and more interesting. I’ll let you know that one of the subjects of this poem is the giant squid. The other? Go see for yourselves.

Jim Daniels‘ “Filling Out the Health Questionnaire” reminds me to urge students of the pleasures of “found” poetry in all its shapes — the pleasure being multi-faceted — finding, (re)arranging, (re)shaping, (re)combining. This poem is also a great example of finding the profound in the mundane, which has always been, for me, a poetic motivation. The last lines are just terrific: “There is a history of death in my family / that I believe I have inherited.”

I write this from Washington State, visiting my mother on the Kitsap Peninsula, right up the Hood Canal from the Bangor Submarine Base where my dad was stationed for three years when I was a kid. Being here in this house, and going through a lot of my dad’s Navy memorabilia (he just passed away last year and was in the Navy for 30 years; his own father was in for 20), has me perhaps especially primed to love Jehanne Dubrow’s poems, “[To A Navy Wife, in Maryland]” and “Reunion Porn.” The creepy voyeurism of “Reunion Porn,” accompanied by “the itch / of empathy” is very affecting.

I am a sucker for persona poems, and it’s an assignment I almost always give in poetry workshops I teach, so of course I enjoyed Tom C. Hunley’s “Officer Down,” in the voice of the Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum. It turns out to be quite a tender poem, about the Chief’s love for his son, the goofy Ralph Wiggum.

Finally, I loved J.D. Smith’s “Zombie Requiem,” which I will share with my students as an example of one way to write a successful political poem. The poem’s argument here is sneaky — and I guess its moves, although free-verse, are almost sonnet-like in the unfolding of its argument and its turn at the end.

Crab Orchard Review has always been one of my favorite literary journals — I always find memorable work between its covers, they pay writers, and their editors are first-rate literary-community citizens. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating and supporting their important work.



Southern Heritage, 7/9/16

Each confederate flag I see today,
driving northward, home to New England
across four states, flooring it
for the Mason-Dixon line,
each confederate flag license plate frame,
each confederate flag decal, each actual
confederate flag of cloth, each one leaps at me
with unimaginably sharper intensity
with its super-heartfelt and helpful
and ingeniously well-timed lessons
of southern heritage.

One painted trailer states it clearly,
in case we were confused:
“It’s about southern heritage,
not about racism,” in a slick chancery script
beneath the professionally done paint job
of the flat, pole-less, non-waving confederate flag.

I’m sure we’re all grateful, all of us
streaming up these interstates today,
for the continuing pointing-out
of our willful misreading,
our misunderstanding, our crazy feelings,
our intolerance and ignorance
of the multiple, completely apolitical,
utterly nonviolent, rosy-cheeked
and fun-loving facets of southern heritage.

But you know. I know. It’s not about
southern heritage. Right now,
on the rural New Hampshire route
I drive to work daily, one hangs
on the side of a barn,
waiting to welcome me home.

Ars Poetica, July 2016

I aim my fat white faraway face
at the screen, scroll

the hash-tagged news,
and find the usual—

another black man murdered
in my name and I spray

my atomized outrage
against the churning feed

that brings and brings the news
re-plays and re-brings it,

a robotic bringing, a ringing
in the ears that won’t stop

until it becomes its own madhouse song
and I learn all the words

a ringing, a singing, a singeing
that never quite lets up

though I shake my head hard
against the worm of it

but maybe I should just relax
and let it burrow all the way inside.

This world has mostly been mine
to backtalk, to agree with, and though

my particular queer, ovaried & obese body
is noncompliant,

it has also not yet been singled out
for execution by the state

and the poems this world has given me
to write have been plenty

but my syntax, my image, my poetry
isn’t working, my keyboard’s flipped

into a desiccated husk of language,
my metaphors are revealed

as the complicit weaklings
they have always been

in the face of
in the woeful shadow of

another black man executed
in my name.

I need to change my name.
I need to dry my tepid, bulletproof tears.

Here’s what the world of screens
offers this awful morning:

another black man executed
in my name and I want to respond

with a poem, but o, son of Paterson,
I think you got it wrong, got it backwards:

it is too easy
to get poems from the news

and men die miserably every day
are gunned down mercilessly
in front of their children

in spite

of what is found there.


July 4, 2016

Of course, it’s not the Fourth of July on Jupiter.
That pulverizing radiation, those seething clouds
recognize no such pipsqueak Julian calendar;
the swirling giant flies no flag but a red hurricane
that would devour multiple Earths at its endless barbecue
if such meager snacks could satisfy it.

Flung five years ago from Florida,
Juno’s honing in on arrival, approaching Jupiter
like a bullet shot from the tight curve
of Earth’s gravity-assist. Her unfurled wings
drink from the sun and keep all her machines of science
well-fed and spitting back data.

Five days ago all her hatches battened down,
all her ingenious machines stilled, shut off
to make ready for the J.O.I.:
Jupiter Orbit Insertion.
But just before they closed her camera’s eye,
she photographed the neighborhood she was bound for:
half-lit Jupiter himself, flanked by the four pearls
of his posse, the Galilean moons.

Yesterday, she passed Callisto,
then Ganymede last night, and just now
put Europa in her powered-down rearview mirror.
Later this afternoon, Io, and then, tonight:

from 365 million miles away, we’ll watch and wait
for her engines to fire up and throw on the brakes,
settle her down into an orbit, set to thread a needle
of killing radiation – all the works swaddled
in titanium against photonic shrapnel,

and all the scientists back home,
explaining to the rest of us how things ought to go,
some of them having worked this set of problems happily
for a dogged decade or more, all of them
bracing for Jupiter Orbit Insertion,
filled with visions of planned-for catastrophe,
the hundred other things that could go wrong,
but also – you can see it on their faces – with wild hope
and the hundred things they can’t yet imagine
they’ll discover – the un-nameable unknown
so close now, and the craft so close to J.O.I. –
say it with me – say “joy.”

Building Up to Emerging: Tips for Applying to Fellowships, Residencies and Workshops

Some great, specific advice here on applying to residency programs and other opportunities.

Women Who Submit

by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

The first time I applied for a fellowship was in spring 2009. I was about to finish grad school, and I sent out a slew of applications like I was applying for a PhD. I figured it was the next logical step as I readied myself to move beyond my MFA program, and I had the mentors close by to help. I gathered transcripts and letters of recommendation, curated samples of work and wrote project proposals. I remember one mentor agreed to write a letter with what I perceived as little enthusiasm. When all the rejections came in that summer, I read the bios of those who won and took notice of all their previous awards and accolades. I thought back to that mentor and considered her lackluster support the response of someone who understood the literary world better than I did at that time.

See what…

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