Met a poetry fan at last night’s reading in Candia, at the Smyth Public Library. I’ll be taking a wee break from readings from the book, but I will be part of a panel early next month at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, reading from and discussing Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. It’s a great-looking festival — maybe I’ll see you there!
I’m very much looking forward to this April reading!
Please join us Thursday, April 5, 2018, at 7:00 pm, when poets Liz Ahl and Charlie Rossiter will read for the Collected Poets Series. Mocha Maya’s Coffee House, 47 Bridge St, Shelburne Falls, MA. ($2-5 suggested donation)
Liz Ahl is the author of Beating the Bounds (Hobblebush Books, 2017), Home Economics (Seven Kitchens Press, 2016), Talking About the Weather (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012), Luck (Pecan Grove Press, 2010), and A Thirst That’s Partly Mine (winner of the 2008 Slapering Hol Press chapbook contest). Luck received the “Reader’s Choice in Poetry” award at the 2011 New Hampshire Literary Awards. Her poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Sinister Wisdom, Atlanta Review, The Lavender Review, Able Muse, Nimrod, and The Good Men Project, among others. Her work has also been included in several anthologies, including This Assignment is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching (Sibling…
View original post 539 more words
According to Defense One, the U.S. air force “is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991.” Although the alert order has NOT yet been given, preparations are underway “in anticipation that it might come,” according to a report.
I wrote this poem years ago when the B-52s were over Afghanistan (as they have been again in 2017) — but I offer it today as I once again see that iconic (and frightful) shape on my screen. Imagine seeing it in the sky over your home.
As it happens, I was also, as a cold war teenager, a huge fan of the band, The B-52’s. I’ll never forget hearing Quiche Lorraine for the first time. I treasured each of those albums. I loved their sound, their look, their snark and sass and odd, bubbly optimism. I still do.
This is how my memory, and much of my poetry, works — a mix of tones — the bomber and the band, the beauty and the anguish. I see the plane, and so many memories — mostly not about planes — surface from the murky depths. This poem is about warfare, but also about a band I loved, about adolescence, mine and maybe yours, too.
A Navy brat and vinyl geek, I smugly broke
the codes of INXS, XTC, Run DMC, U2,
as swiftly as I untangled all the military acronyms—
CO, OPM, CincPacFleet, SNAFU, OpSec—that spelled out
a whole corner of my world. Why did it take me longer
to translate “B-52,” via an obscure fifties slang incarnation
(a southern lady’s big beehive hairdo)
back into its original language, from the band to the bombers’
gray bulk so utterly un-evoked by Fred Schneider’s
Technicolor spasms? Maybe because Fred was more aptly
a boltbucket Soviet MiG, an experimental rocket ship,
a stunt-flyer-slash-cropduster-slash-crooner. Or was he
Slim Pickens, straddling the nuke, yee-hawing?
In poster-papered bedrooms across the globe, I fixated
on Fred’s beatnik vaudeville, was pulse-thrilled
by the jangly, knockabout guitar, homegrown sound effects,
the amped-up pout of Kate and Cindy’s backup routines,
the dangerous shimmy of their leads. “Rock Lobster”
was the staple of school dances where girls
like Nancy Foster with her punked up blonde spikes
writhed on the floor in the center of the gym. I watched
from the fringes of vague circles, with girls like me,
girls who only punked up our hair in private, quietly
collecting vinyl, amassing libraries of intellectual and musical
superiority. What currency did I imagine for myself
as I gently dropped the needle on the disk’s black
edge? I did wear a black trench coat, hand-me-down
from dad, decorated with a hesitation of safety pins.
It was how we communicated for several years, via surplus,
him accidentally fashionable, passing along an old pea coat
or duffel, gifts of shifting and unexpected value.
Years later, I wandered through the SAC museum
where they’ve got a B-52 corralled among the others
in the gargantuan hangar — I stroked their flanks
in awe, weirdly nostalgic for the cold war,
the constantly patrolled skies, the stark, theoretical
shadow of mutually assured destruction.
The cool gray skins of the grounded planes
made me sweet on what I used to know: as a kid,
living on the hill above the naval air station, I learned
to identify planes by their bellies and wingspans against the sky,
or sometimes by the sounds they made as they tore
or lumbered through, unseen, above the clouds:
the stout triangle of the F-14, the slender dart of the F-16;
the pregnant, rumbling silhouette of the C-141.
Why do I need to know the names of everything?
These days, it’s birds I’m tracking—squinting
and listening, with a soft spot for troublemakers and villains:
the jays and woodpeckers, the soft brown cowbirds
with their song the sound of falling water. I learn them
with books and photos, a little Latin on the tongue.
Tonight, from Afghanistan, scratchy eyewitness radio reports
the telltale signature, back after a lengthy, peaceful absence:
four impossibly distant, wispy contrails,
claw mark of the B-52 bomber whispered against the blue,
belly full of apocalypse, miles above what I imagine
are brutally beautiful mountains.
As if they were fading tracks in week-old snowfall,
I follow these faint lines into odd confluences
of history and memory—blurrings of music
and machinery, of adolescence’s cold war standoffs,
the names and acronyms we make and say.
The war reporter’s voice is vintage crackle as he describes
what he sees. I remember the silhouettes of planes,
the scream of them against the atmosphere,
the writhing bodies of kids at school dances;
I remember both the old and more recent perils
of kids in black trench coats; I remember
the hiss of the needle against vinyl, one breath
before the music that saved me began.
As many of you know, Beating the Bounds, my new collection of poems, was published this September in the Granite State Poetry Series of Hobblebush Books. I’m so happy with the way it turned out, and so grateful to folks who helped make it happen.
If you’d like to get a sense of what the book is about, check out Matthew Cheney’s thoughtful notice.
If you are local, the Plymouth State University Follett Campus Bookstore has copies of the book for sale. If you’d like to order online, you can order a copy directly from the press via Paypal.
You can also order a copy from the WONDERFUL folks at Small Press Distributors — they also have my first chapbook for sale there, if you’re interested. (The book is also available at That Other Place That’s Taking Over The World, if you must.)
I had a really fun book launch/reading/sale/signing/celebration (in spite of/because of the flooding!) at the Pease Public Library in Plymouth, New Hampshire, on October 30. If you couldn’t make it, please check out the “Upcoming Readings” section of this blog — many more readings ahead!
I wrote this poem as a college student, 25 years ago, after buying my first antique typewriter, pretty much as described above in that entirely too wordy poem. It was the summer before my senior year, and I was attending the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, and really trying on what it might mean to Be A Poet. It was fitting, I guess, that my first Underwood and I found one another during a day trip during the Seminar. It made me feel Very Much Especially Poetic.
The summer after I graduated, before I headed off to grad school, my dad took temporary custody of the typewriter, and gave it a thorough tune-up and cleaning. He was a model ship-builder and engineer, and all-around handy guy, so this was right up his alley. And because he also had an artistic spirit, he returned the typewriter to me with a poem of his own, though he swore its true author was the machine itself — you’ll see why. I have a scan of the original, but I’m having trouble making it post-able in all its typewritten glory. So, here it is, just typed in by me on this dumb laptop keyboard:
by John Ahl
Ahah! So there you are!
The one. Come closer!
Look at me now!
Black lacquer gleaming.
Keys ungummed; oiled.
New, untraveled ribbon.
like some mechanical Lazarus
from that Pennsylvania barn-crypt where
interred in cow dung motes
Until you bought me
Did you remember me from the time before?
There were so many times, before.
Did I know you before?
Which one are you?
The whiskey-flushed night reporter
who, with shaky, tobacco stained fingers
hunt-and-pecked page seven unread
Broadway gossip of the 20’s?
manicured secretary who
typed lawyers’ briefs
served lawyers’ coffee
avoided lawyers’ hands
until she was committed?
Are you the fiction writer
whose nail-bit, cold fingers sought, but
never quite found the answer?
The indifferent Corporal
who typed letters of bereavement
for the Captain’s signature
advising parents of their sons’ untimely but
gallant death in Bataan?
Perhaps you are the clerk, who
with greasy hands
typed up orders for Buick parts.
Or the hands poised, mind paralyzed high school junior
seeking inspiration from 45 RPM rock and roll
for a 1000 word, typed, double-spaced
carbon paper triplicate essay
on Henry James Jr’s Portrait of a Lady.
None of those, you say?
Then come closer.
Put your fingers on my
Tell me who you are.
I love my dad’s personification of the typewriter as possessor of the spirits of its previous users. I think he glimpsed the human spirit inside the machine, evidenced by the slight wear and tear. I think that for him, working on it was a way to connect with those ghosts. I love seeing his imagination at work in those lines, which he presented me sort of shyly, rolled right into the Underwood, as if it had typed itself.
In the years since, I’ve amassed and parted with many typewriters. Someone even left one on my doorstep once, a sturdy little orphan. At one point, I had about twenty of them, but I think I’m at a modest dozen or so now. I can’t remember the last time I drafted a poem on one of them. My dad passed away in 2015, not yet having completed his latest ship model, a scratch-built Constitution. Typing that poem into this post is a chance to hear his voice again, to remember his delight at the Underwood I left in his care for him to bring back to lustrous, solid (if not mint) condition.
I think I’m drawn to manual typewriters for the energies they carry, those that my dad sensed and translated into his poem. They are machines, yes, but machines powered by human touch and muscle, churning out human language, and, now, in the age of iPads and texts made of light, I find comforting music in their clatter, and a sturdy anchor in their physical heft, their dark, shining presence.
As summer turns the corner into August, I’m once again playing catch-up with piles of literary magazines I have been wanting to read. Sure, they’re a little out of date, but the poems and stories and essays and reviews within remain fresh and juicy and delicious. #ShelfLife
I just finished reading the Fall 2016 issue of Zone 3, and I just have to say their magazines are always so PRETTY. Really love their design choices all around. And Zone 3‘s not just a pretty face! I dog-eared quite a few page corners in this issue — some really memorable work, some of which I hope to share with my students this fall.
Andrew Koch‘s poems, “Form a Line” and “Orchard,” are slow, longish poems whose pace and great detail I really enjoyed. These expansive, essayistic poems start small and really take me somewhere I didn’t necessarily expect to go — but, in both instances, the destinations seemed, in the end, not only satisfying but inevitable. Both poems got richer for me with each new reading; I love that!
Ellyn Lichvar’s “Flotsam” invokes the image and the tragedy of Aylan (Alan) Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who died by drowning; the photograph of his tiny body washed up on the beach is revisited here in brutal, spare detail. The poem imagines the life that led Alan, as well as many refugees, to such desperate and life-threatening measures: “Before the child washed // ashore, he mastered the art / of surrender. Hands held high / they pointed at him whatever // was on hand–camera, / gun–and no one said learn / to swim.”
Carrie Shipers’ “Love Poem to Daniel Bryan, Summer 2013″ illuminated both the speaker/”lover” and the “beloved” in ways I found surprisingly moving, given that Daniel Bryan is a professional wrestler on television, not an actual acquaintance (as far as I can tell) of the speaker. Shipers’ direct address seeks to point out similarities between her speaker and the wrestler: “I understand how even doing well can lead // to doubt: How many matches will it take / to prove your critics wrong, make you believe / that you belong? Daniel, like you // I’m either overlooked or under siege / by people with more power, insecure / but tougher than my enemies expect.” I found the repeated invocation of his full name to be so well-done, well-timed, in this poem.
I reread “Limb” by Ellie Tipton several times, each time sinking a little more deeply into the poem’s affecting details, as well as the smart narrative arrangement of those details. The title and the work with that word “limb” is pretty devastating. As the poem progresses, the lines lengthen, and italicized fragments of language become a kind of archipelago of memory: “Always the circle of strangers around you, and your family // strung together on an orange couch with a man called Chaplain, and / mother opened the ICU doors, asking the gentler one, who took her hands and said, / not yet and said thread. And hours later, clinging, we told God: fine.” The two final stanzas of the poem that come on the heels of this one feature much shorter lines, sentence fragments, glimmers, silences. The poem’s end just gutted me every time I read it. It’s a good reason to consider buying a copy of the issue.
I’m not sure what to say about David Huddle’s “Verbal Binary Presence in Early Childhood Development, that Infamously Difficult Poetic Form the Villanelle, and the Spiritual Quotidian.” It’s the winner of Zone 3’s 2016 nonfiction prize. It’s genre-bendy, wide-ranging, thought-provoking, darkly funny in places. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Also, if you are interested in the villanelle form, you must see this.
Finally, I just wanted to say how pleased I was to see Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James, 2016) reviewed by Robert Campbell here. I’m a big fan of May’s work — like Campbell, I find reading May’s poems to be a “sublime pleasure.”
Thanks, Zone 3 editorial team, and thanks, Austin Peay State University Center for the Creative Arts, for supporting such beautiful and necessary work!