Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Poet on the Poem: Alice Friman

It is my pleasure to feature Georgia poet Alice Friman in this installment of The Poet on the Poem.

Alice Friman’s sixth full-length collection is The View from Saturn from LSU Press.  Her previous collection is Vinculum, LSU, for which she won the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry. She is a recipient of a 2012 Pushcart Prize, is included in Best American Poetry 2009, and has been published in 14 countries. She lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is Poet-in-Residence at Georgia College. Her podcast series, Ask Alice, is sponsored by the Georgia College MFA program and can be seen on YouTube.

Today's poem comes from Friman's latest book, The View from Saturn.

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Coming Down

At high altitudes the heart rises
to throat level, clanging for service.
The body—#l customer—needs oxygen,
the red blood cells scurrying like beaten
serfs not delivering fast enough: supply
and demand, that old saw.
struggling to make love under six blankets,
my heart banging so hard it threatened
to knock me out of bed, and you
in socks, ski hat, and four sweaters, fighting
for breath? When relating our story, paring
it down for parties,
                            let's leave those parts
out. Say we went to South America
for pre-Columbian art and Machu Picchu.
Mention the giant condors, yes, but not how
they floated up from Colca Canyon
like human souls circling in great flakes
of praise
             nor how I cried, reaching to bridge
the unbridgeable gap. Say that one shivering
night we visited a thermal pool, but not
how slippery as twins tumbling in the womb,
we sloshed together under Andean stars.
Or how nose-bleeding or heart-pounding
and laboring for breath,
                                   always always
we reached for each other. Practice the lesson
of the body in distress: the heart knows
how much leeway it has before demanding
its due. Waiting in line for the Xerox calls for
giveaways of more supple truths: cartilage, Love,
not bone.

DL: What was the thinking behind your decision to use dropped lines? What do you think they contribute to the poem?

AF: The poem is in the form of a sort of letter—a mental letter to my husband. But, yes, a letter; therefore the paragraph form with what I think of as paragraph indentations rather than as dropped lines. I think that the paragraph form is useful when a stanza break seems like too much of a break and the alternative is no break at all. It's a sort of compromise, a middle ground, a little break.

When I write, I rarely think about how the poem presents itself on the page. The underlying emotional heart of a given piece usually chooses how it wants to come out. In a first draft, scribbled in ink, the line breaks and stanza breaks will often naturally assert themselves. And then later, after many drafts, I back up and take a look. In the case of this piece, the first two stanzas came out in six lines each. All right, I say, six-line stanzas is what you want? So be it.

DL: The poem includes several negatives: in stanza 3 “but not,” in stanza 4 “nor how” and another “but not,” and in the poem’s last line “not bone.” There’s also a contrast between what really happened and what the two lovers will say happened. And there’s a contrast between what the physical heart wants and what the romantic heart wants. Talk to us about the function and value of contrast in this poem.

AF: Yes, there's much contrast in the poem, and I'm pleased that you pointed it out. But use of contrast is only one part of a process of clarification and narrowing down that this poem employs. The poem begins with the general and little by little moves to the particular. In this case: bone. More important to that process of narrowing is that the piece is written in the negative. Writing in the negative is a technique I use often. What it does is clarify by paring down in steps: no it's not this, nor is it this, nor this, until you get to the point, the conclusion.

I hasten to say that I think if a poet chooses to employ the negative, it's not necessary to have thought about the end before sitting down to write the poem. That's an essay, not a poem. Robert Frost said that a poem is an ice cube melting on the stove. In other words, the poem should be a discovery for the writer in writing it as it is for the reader in absorbing it.

I think writing a poem utilizing a repetition of the negative serves as an example of the poet thinking on paper. And hopefully, the reader, in following the negative steps, becomes a companion to that thinking, thus leading him down, down to the point—in the case of this particular poem, to "cartilage, Love, / not bone." Notice, too, that the poem begins with the body and ends with the body, and so, in a sense, the poem is a circular descending spiral driven by all those negatives.

DL: The repetition of “always” in the final indented line strikes me as one of those little things that mean a lot. Is it strategic? Why repeat the word?

AF: Yes, it's strategic. I repeat the word for emphasis. After all, the poem is a love poem. Even under great physical duress (which we were in) and in the midst of incredible beauty that bordered on the mythic, making us feel small and insignificant, we clung to each other. Yes we did. That is the "bone" I'm referring to at the end, the basic bone of our marriage that isn't necessary to share with idle chat at the water cooler. There's an old Irving Berlin song called "Always" that my husband often sings to me in his sweet tenor voice, a song that always makes me cry. In it the word "always" is repeated and repeated. Perhaps I was channeling that.

DL: Your poem is rich with figurative language. For example, hyperbole occurs in stanza 2 where you have a “heart banging so hard it threatened to knock me out of bed” and in stanza 4 where the two lovers were “nose-bleeding or heart-pounding and laboring for breath.” Hyperbole often doesn’t work in serious poems, but it does in yours. Tell us how you made it work.

AF: My dictionary defines hyperbole as “an obvious and intentional exaggeration.” Let me assure you and anyone reading this that the language I use is neither exaggeration nor hyperbole. We were in the mountains of Peru. We were over 16,000 feet up. I did some research after I got home to understand just how high we were so as to explain the effect that that altitude had on us, especially me. Denver is called “the mile high city.” Its altitude is only 5,183 feet—one third as high as where we were. Sixteen thousand feet is higher than any mountain in the Alps. Twenty-six thousand feet is called “the death zone.” I can tell you honestly and plainly that I understand why. When I speak of “nose-bleeding” in the poem, I am recalling the fact that I ended up in the emergency room gushing from both nostrils. When I say “heart-pounding,” I can tell you that when the heart is laboring so hard, the rest of your body feels like an appendage to be knocked about. If you are lying down, the body twitches uncontrollably and jerks back and forth hard. I did indeed feel as if I were going to be knocked out of bed. 

DL: You also employ several similes. In stanza 1 we find “red blood cells scurrying like beaten serfs,” in stanza 3 condors “floated … like human souls,” and in stanza 4 we are told that the lovers were once “slippery as twins tumbling in the womb.” Are these similes to be taken as literally as your hyperboles? How did you arrive at these comparisons?

AF: When I wrote "the red blood cells scurrying like beaten serfs,” I was thinking that red blood cells carry oxygen. People who live in the higher elevations of the Andes have evolved larger red blood cells that are capable of delivering more oxygen. We, on the other hand, are at a disadvantage; the heart has to pump like crazy to drive the blood faster and faster. I imagined the red blood cells as serfs, bent under their load of oxygen, being whipped and driven.

One of the most magical places I've ever seen is Colca Canyon which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. You sit on the edge and watch the condors with wingspans of up to ten and a half feet float slowly up out of the canyon. Since they are so big, they have to wait until the sun warms the air enough so that they can rise on the thermals. They do not fly as we know it but float instead, being lifted up and then circling. They seemed weightless like great dark flakes. Before I left, I stood, tilted back my head, and raised my arms; one condor seemed to pause then circle above me like some sort of greeting, and I felt as if I were being blessed. The fact that most people were fussing with their cameras and two men standing next to me were discussing their golf game made me realize again how perhaps I don't belong in this world, which is why I listed this experience as one of the things not to be discussed in passing, in idle chat.

The "tumbling in the womb" refers to one very cold night high in the Andes when we visited a thermal pool. The water was hot as amniotic fluid, the earth's uterine water, and my beloved and I were playing in it. Were we not then children of the earth? twins in the belly of the mother? in the world's amniotic sack?

As for how I arrived at these similes, I just wrote what I saw and what it meant to me.

DL: It’s clear that your poem evolved out of a real experience. What made you sit down and convert the experience into a poem?

AF: Not all poems have a trigger—the thing that gets you started—but this one did, an interesting one. My husband and I had recently come back from Peru, so, of course, our stay there was in my mind and I had been writing about it. It was a late afternoon. I was driving on the outskirts of Columbus, Georgia, I imagine coming home from the Carson McCullers house where I used to go to hole up and write. I passed a street sign that said—or I thought it said—Cartilage Drive. That caught me up. Wow! Cartilage? And I realized that I had never seen that word in a poem. Okay, I said. I shall write a poem whose end will include the word cartilage.

Check out another poem from The View from SaturnHow It Is, featured at Poetry Daily.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

West Caldwell Poetry Festival

This is year 12 for the West Caldwell Poetry Festival. 
We have a great lineup of six poets and ten journals and editors. 
Please join us!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Joys of the Table: An Anthology of Culinary Verse

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Last week my contributor’s copy of Joys of the Table: An Anthology of Culinary Verse arrived in the mail. Edited by Sally Zakariya and published by Richer Resources Publications, the collection includes food-related poems by 75 poets, the majority women but not all women. Some of the women poets familiar to me are Lucille Lang Day, Carol Dorf, Erica Goss, Charlotte Mandel, Andrea Potos, Susan Rich, and Kim Roberts. The male poets include Lawrence Schimel, Nicholas Samaras, Michael H. Levin, and Conrad Geller. A full list of the contributors with bios may be found HERE.

The book is divided into six sections: Amuse Bouche, What We Eat, Food and Love, Geography of Food, Kitchen Memories, and Food and Mortality. I found many mouth-watering poems in this tasty collection. I also found some tempting recipes scattered among the poems.

My own contribution, “Linguini,” is included in the Food and Love section.

From the What We Eat section I especially liked this poem by Erica Goss:

Afternoon in the Shape of a Pear

One hundred pounds
on the kitchen counter,
shoulder- to-shoulder
like sweet, lumpy trolls.
I touch each one, feel
hidden seeds moving
and the hairy tickle
of the blossom-ends.
Something so bland
takes sharpness well:
bleu cheese,
the paring knife.
Perishable flesh
glowing like pearl
leaves sugary grains
under my fingernails.
In its lopsided heart
a lute-shaped crater
hides the worm
who, though blind
knows the importance
of being first.

             —Santa Clara Review, 2013

A favorite poem from the Food and Mortality section is this one by Susan Rich:

Food for Fallen Angels

          If food be the music of love, play on.—Twelfth Night, misremembered

If they can remember living at all, it is the food they miss:
a plate of goji berries, pickled ginger, gorgonzola prawns
dressed on a bed of miniature thyme, a spoon

glistening with pomegranate seeds, Russian black bread
lavished with July cherries so sweet, it was dangerous to revive;
to slide slowly above the lips, flick and swallow-almost, but not quite.

Perhaps more like this summer night: lobsters in the lemon grove
a picnicker's trick of moonlight and platters; the table dressed
in gold kissed glass, napkins spread smooth as dark chocolate.

If they sample a pastry-glazed Florentine, praline hearts—
heaven is lost. It's the cinnamon and salt our souls return for—
rocket on the tongue, the clove of garlic: fresh and flirtatious.

          —From The Alchemist's Kitchen, White Pine Press, 2010

The following recipe, contributed by Eric Forsbergh, sounds outstanding. I think I’d better try it soon.

Pavlovas with Berry Topping

4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar or strained lemon juice
1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Berry Topping
1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup each fresh raspberries and blueberries

Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons  sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 250 degrees. Line cookie sheets or jellyroll pans with parchment paper. Draw 3- to 3 1/2 -inch-diameter circles, well apart from each other, on the parchment paper and turn the paper over.

Combine egg whites, salt, and vinegar. Whip the whites until they hold firm peaks but are not stiff. Gradually add 3/4 cup of the sugar, then whip in the vanilla. Mix the last 1/4 cup sugar with the cornstarch and fold it in.

Spoon the meringue onto the parchment paper in the circles, spreading and smoothing to fill. Use a spoon to make an indentation in the center to hold the cream and fruit. Bake for one hour. Turn the oven off and leave them in the oven with the door open for another 30 minutes.

For the berry topping, stir the strawberries and the sugar in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. Just before serving, fold in the raspberries  and blueberries.

Whip cream, sugar, and vanilla until soft peaks form. To assemble, place each meringue on a dessert plate. Spoon whipped cream on each and add the berry topping, drizzling the berry juices over all.

This book would make a great gift for friends who love poetry and food. Don’t forget to be a friend to yourself. Bon appetit!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Featured Book: The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost, by Michael T. Young

The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost. Michael T. Young. Poets Wear Prada, 2014.

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Michael T. Young has published four collections of poetry, most recently, The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost. He’s the recipient of a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the 2014 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award for his collection, Living in the Counterpoint. He’s also received the Chaffin Poetry Award. His work has appeared in numerous journals including Fogged Clarity, The Louisville Review, The Potomac Review, and Rattle. He lives with his wife, children and cats in Jersey City, New Jersey.

. . . explores the difficulties and necessities of violating expectation, both one’s own and those of others. Through this necessary risk meaning and growth are found. Throughout the exploration, questions of memory and history, loss and identity are probed.

In The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost, poet Michael T. Young writes with a “dangerous brilliance.” Keening through histories, personal and collective, Young guides the reader to unimagined destinations. Rather than feeling lost, however, the reader arrives at termini of discovery, finding them to be inevitable, necessary, earned. Young enacts these journeys through cognitive leaps that defy reason and syntax, performed by his prodigious wizardry. And as the unknown becomes known, what is lost is regained, for these poems are redemptive. Each one is bathed in a luminosity of phrasing Wallace Stevens would have envied. Young writes, “[H]ear the voice in light / whose only utterance is melting snow.” Unlike snow, these poems will not disappear as long as important poetry continues to matter.  (Dean Kostos)

The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost

The secrets of a place are in its small streets,
its narrow passages, the alley in Venice
with cobblestones worn down and wet
by the humidity and dank progression of centuries,
the way we turned the same corner as others
in different years had turned into that dead-end
with its dark alcove, back doors and a wall
gaping with a niche containing a statue
of the Madonna and child, or in Florence
along a street where we pressed
into the painted brick to let a bus go by
while you pulled my backpack out of the way;
gnarled streets in Amsterdam, lower
Manhattan, passages like crooked fingers
pointing the way back to childhood,
when I liked to hide in closets, crouch
in a hamper full of clothing or make a tent
out of a bed sheet. Or the passes
and cul-de-sacs stumbled on in a beautiful
moment of being lost, the way we come
into life, without intention, snug in the primal dark.

More Poems:

The Adirondack Review

with audio

Click Here to Purchase

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Featured Book: I Carry My Mother, by Leslea Newman

I Carry My Mother. Leslie Newman. Headmistress Press, 2015.

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Lesléa Newman is the author of several poetry collections, including Nobody’s Mother, Signs of Love, and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (novel-in-verse) which received a Stonewall Honor from the American Library Association. Her literary awards include poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation; the Burning Bush Poetry Prize; and second place runner-up in the Solstice Literary Journal poetry competition. Her poetry has been published in Spoon River Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Evergreen Chronicles, and others. From 2008-2010 she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts.

. . . a book-length series of poems that explores a daughter’s journey through her mother’s illness and death and how she carries on without her. The book starts with diagnosis and ends with first yarzheit (death anniversary). The poems are written in accessible form that will resonate with all those who have lost a parent or dearly loved one.

After the introductory poem I thought, "Oh dear, I’m going to cry my way through the whole thing." And then, the exquisite first-rate poetry—using forms like triolet and rondeau—took me to a much deeper place than tears can possibly reveal. This is a very beautiful book.” (Judy Grahn)

Lost Art

The art of losing my mother is hard to master;
Like a little girl lost in the woods who can’t find her way,
I’m afraid I will never survive this disaster.

Of course, somewhere deep inside I knew I would outlast her,
Though I did all I could to keep that notion at bay.
The art of losing my mother is hard to master.

She might return. Who knows? I wouldn’t put it past her.
Denial is not a river in Egypt, they say,
But it is one way to get me through this disaster.

As days slip by, the distance between us grows vaster,
my fading memories add to my growing dismay.
The art of losing my mother is hard to master.

Surely God made a great mistake when he miscast her
as Dead Mother, a role she was never meant to play
in the movie of my life, now called “The Disaster.”

If time heals all wounds, can’t it do so any faster?
Though I never did believe in that tired cliché.
The art of losing my mother is too hard to master,
I cannot get a grip on this crippling disaster.

More Poems:

At Length Magazine

Lavender Review

Watch the Trailer

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Featured Book: Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, by Kerrin McCadden

Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes. Kerrin McCadden. New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2014.

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Kerrin McCadden is the author of Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, winner of the 2013 New Issues Poetry Prize, judged by David St. John. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and The Vermont Studio Center, she also received a Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award and support from The Vermont Arts Endowment Fund. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and Verse Daily, and in such journals as American Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, and Poet Lore. She holds an MFA from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She lives in Plainfield, Vermont and teaches English and Creative Writing at Montpelier High School.

Lyrical, honest, descriptive, Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes by Kerrin McCadden is a thoughtful meditation on wandering through a human landscape, one full of loss and desire. Often elegiac, this collection of poetry accepts the world before it, acknowledging the quotidian value of our lives while also seeing the beauty in it.  (Katie Rensch, NewPages review)

. . . one of the most compelling and powerful debut collections in recent American poetry. These exquisite meditations on the lived life are often nothing less than stunning, and are at times truly devastating. This gorgeous collection is both mature and tender in its reckonings of our shifting relationships with family and loved ones. Kerrin McCadden is especially accomplished in considering those who've engaged in constructions of daily happiness only to discover that what they'd begun in dream has ended in quiet wreckage. Poem by poem, we are consoled by the poet's remarkable reflective ease and her profound intimacy. The beauty of these poems is matched only by their sense of triumph in resilience, and its resulting peace. (David St. John)


At the four-way stop I wave you on,
a kindness. You wave no no, you go. I wave, go.
We keep on. You insist. Me: no you,
please. A bird shifts, a sigh. The penned
horse tosses, pacing. I mouth you go.
There is a fleck on your windshield. I notice your hands.
Rain falls. Your hands cup the wheel
at ten o’clock and two, then float
past my knee and only sometimes land.
One hundred times on my back, they tame me.
Cars line up. Birds lift. I nod my head into your chest.
There is a trail of clothing. I walk to the
plank door of your room. This takes hours
and hours. This is a small cottage and there is sand
on the floor and nothing on the walls, crows calling,
dishes in the sink. Days go by. We are still making
our way to the bed. This is an inventory:
black telephone, board games, frayed chairs,
coffee table spotted with the old moons of drinks,
curtains pulled back on tiny hooks, single pane glass
windows like the ones I used to sneak out of at night, lifting
them as slow as this stepping, and when you talk
into my neck the words settle in the hammock
of my collarbone, puddle there and spill,
slide over my breasts and I am slowly covered,
and rinsed. I do not close my eyes. Nothing hurts.
The dust rises in swirls. Dogs bark. You turn
your windshield wipers on intermittent.
Your car rolls into the space I have built between us.
I am up to my belly in a northern lake, cold. I am afraid now.
When I get home, everyone will see.

More Poems:

American Poetry Review

Click Here to Purchase This Book

Friday, April 24, 2015

Featured Book: Bird Watching at the End of the World, by Lisa Mangini

Bird Watching at the End of the World. Lisa Mangini. Cherry Grove, 2014.

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Lisa Mangini holds an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. She is the author of the poetry collection, Bird Watching at the End of the World, as well as the poetry chapbooks Slouching Towards Entropy (Finishing Line Press) and Immanuel Kant vs God (Red Bird Chapbooks), and a fiction chapbook, Perfect Objects in Motion (Red Bird Chapbooks), all released in 2014. She has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best New Poets, and won the 2011 Connecticut Poetry Prize. Her work has been featured in McSweeney's, Weave, Words Dance, Silver Birch Press, and elsewhere. She is the founding editor of Paper Nautilus, and teaches English composition and creative writing at handful of colleges in southern New England.

Bird Watching at the End of the World explores the consequences of living in a body, the psyches of philosophers, and the tenuous nature of human connection. Using a range of poetic styles from formal verse to sprawling prose, this collection returns again and again to the persistence of doubt—even toward those we love the most.

Fabulous in their diction, the poems of Lisa Mangini present a world of sadness and grace, particle and wave. Victims of the body, shadowed by the eighth Deadly Sin—not to be loved—these lovely vessels stuffed with philosophical gleanings and lyrical meditations make possible a future for poetry, and thus, for us.”(Alan Michael Parker)

Every Time We Go to Ikea

it’s raining.  It starts as a light spray
across the windshield, so slight the wipers squeal
against the glass. But there’s no fighting

against the allure of clean lines, the illusion
of better organization, despite that no
number of cubed shelves can tidy up a life.

And every time, there is a young woman
assessing the sturdiness of a crib, sometimes alone,
sometimes with a man or her mother beside her,

and I do my best not to meet your eyes.  Every time
we weave through the model kitchens, I make a bee line
to the sink — farm apron, stainless steel, undermount —

and press my palms against its cool basin; if it’s not
crowded, you’ll lean your hips along my back, rest
your chin on my shoulder, trying to see what it is

I’m seeing.  We’ll look for a chest of drawers
for your apartment, debating Malm versus Hopen,
birch finish or espresso, and I’ll scribble

their dimensions in inches with a tiny golf pencil.
We’ll emerge with a cardboard box on a dolly
to a downpour, and against your wishes, I’ll insist

on moving the car to the loading area myself. Every time,
I will lose a sandal while running in the slick lot
and have to turn back to retrieve it.  We’ll maneuver

the box in some impossible diagonal in the back seat
of the sedan, wipe the rain from our faces, prepare
ourselves to go home and build something.

Other Poems: 

Found Poetry Review

Lunch Ticket

Click Here to Purchase

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