All posts by BLR Staff

Nancy Scott

Nancy Scott is the managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in New Jersey. She also is the author of five books of poetry. Her most recent book, On Location (March Street Press, 2011) is a collection of ekphrastic poems based on artwork, including her own collages. Her poems have appeared in many journals including: Poet Lore, Witness, The Ledge, Slant, Mudfish, Verse Wisconsin, Raven Chronicles, and The Copperfield Review. Find her website at www.nancyscott.net

 

The Outside Rear Steps

The iceman often came down the rear steps,
empty tongs slung over his shoulder,

while Mother, heavy with groceries,
and I pressed on the railing to let him pass.

Two flights to the top. Afraid if I got dizzy
or my shoes misbehaved, I could easily slip

between boards and crash, a wingless
sparrow, onto the garbage cans in the alley.

When I made it to the landing, nothing
to see but weeds and junked cars.

My two great-grandmas, black dress,
black shoes, and gray buns neatly pinned,

hugged us in Yiddish that floated
beyond me. The kitchen smelled of cabbage

and unopened windows. While Mother
restocked shelves, I escaped to the only

other room to explore. Two beds,
white spreads, and on the carved dresser,

a glass tray with powder puffs, a brush,
hairpins, a few coins. Faded photos. A letter.

Why did they live in this musty apartment
when we had a big house and a maid?

At the red oil-cloth table, I dunked hard
cookies in chilled milk, waited for Mother

to stop chatting, and fold next week’s list
into her purse. As each grandma kissed

my forehead, I felt on my arm, the hungry grip
of her hand, her thin bones wrapped in

speckled skin. For a moment we were bound
by the only familiar we would ever know.

Dale Ritterbusch

Dale Ritterbusch’s most recent contribution to the military-industrial-educational complex involves a tour of duty as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the United States Air Force Academy. Currently, he is performing a similar mission as Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He is the author of Far From the Temple of Heaven and Lessons Learned: Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath. 

 

Stump 

After months of complaint, I relent, take the axe from the garage and walk to the back yard, to the large stump of an elm felled several years before by the city because the tree was dying from the scourge of Dutch Elm disease, and the rule imposed by the city fathers forced the destruction of any tree so diagnosed even if it stood strong against the winds or offered a canopy of shade in summer. Yet now the stump is an eyesore, landscape bleak in its deceitful reminder, mushrooms growing defiantly from its damp decay, so I whack and whale at the strong remains, chips flying in every direction, make scant headway in its disappearance, sweat burning my eyes, heart beat racing with each strike, squirrels chattering overhead.  One more strike and the axe rebounds with a spark, a metallic burst as I hit a buried spike, axe twisted from my hand: shock rings burn along my arms, across my shoulders, down my spine, stinging like a baseball bat hitting a rock.  The axe blade glints ruin, a large chunk of metal dinged out of the blade, far beyond resharpening, and the spike glistens, a bite of metal singing in the afternoon sun, a reminder of what’s hidden, what waits, what sleeps in the heart among even the best intentions long after we’re supposed to be gone.

Jade Ramsey

Jade Ramsey holds an MFA from Bowling Green State and currently teaches English and Creative Writing at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. Many journals have published her work including: Gargoyle, REAL, Goblin Fruit, Old Red Kimono, I-70 Review, Stone Highway Review.

 

The Anger of Flowers

We bought fertilizer with little peach granules that resembled pustules before they bloom pink and white. We scrambled the dirt like eggs in the long pot on the windowsill and placed the seeds with the pimples and dark earth in the sun. But the window faced west and the fire tulips, poisoned with Botrytis blight, needed the early morning light. Instead they learned to lean on the lavender-mint sunset and the mango juice skies that darkened as thorns poked holes in the universe. And the tulips grew angry and didn’t know why we ignored them. The fine bristles thickened and burned on their stems, their necks, their heads and arms yearned for blood. And we didn’t know until the little, innocent one leaned out too far. The window was open and the air wafted so inviting. Her face wore no blemish and her hair felt like extra-virgin olive oil if it were braided in strands. But as she bent over the mouths of the flowers, they smelled her purity and thought she was a gift, an apology for our negligence. They accepted it and enjoyed her rivers and her meat and her thoughts and her voice and the day-break in her eyes. The dirt we’d planted was stained. And our little one’s cries were heard too late. The flowers forgave us for placing them in poverty. But we didn’t speak the tongue of tulips, and we misunderstood again. We threw them from the sill. And they fell from the window so many stories high, trusting now that we were doing what was best for them.

Lauren Plitkins

Lauren Plitkins received a BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of St. Thomas in 2010 and is currently an MFA candidate at Pacific Lutheran University. She lives in Seattle, WA where she writes and teaches. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in So to Speak, Meat for Tea, Blast Furnace, Wrist Magazine, Post Defiance, and Sundog Lit.

 

Rebeca 

Her hunger for earth, the cloc-cloc of her parents’ bones, the impatience of her blood … were relegated to the attic of her memory. -Garcia Marquez from 100 Years of Solitude

She stores her name in the kitchen,
on a shelf near the salt—
eats each letter with every meal.

In the morning she dresses
in crape and corduroy and wonders
if these clothes are the clothes of a woman

who can forget. She knows
hidden stairs, long string;
she hears the attic’s scent

as it snakes broad belly across floorboards.
She sleeps just after dawn
for thirty minutes, wearing history

down with suffering.
She had asked the years to pile on,
youth feeling too light,

and earth was obliging.
She’d need a casket to find silence,
but she searches in this stucco house

for peace, in the corners and closets,
behind the breathing windows
where she sits to synchronize her lungs

with the glass. She calls this life.
She rubs a yard of cloth
between two cold hands for friction,

rips out yesterday’s long row of stitches.
She is hiding her blood
that pulsed in rhythm to a man’s,

hiding hunger and bones
in a whitewashed house
that sighs graveyard winds all night.

Minh Pham

Minh Pham was born in Saigon, Vietnam and became a Riverside, California native at age eight. He received an MFA. from the University of California at Riverside. His poetry has been published in Kartika Review, Yes, Poetry, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and others. His nonfiction is forthcoming from The Rattling Wall.

 

Chasing a Boy

I had dreams of chasing a boy along the Mekong.

I followed him

through a doorway hidden behind my grandmother’s altar.

I was afraid of wandering too far away from my family,

but the boy’s smile called me to come.

 

His black bangs covered his eyes.

 

I chased him to a house,

took off my straw sandals,

and stepped inside.

Wooden crane statues and yellow lanterns lit with iridescent flies.

I looked back at the path toward my grandparents’ house.

The door swung close.
 

 

A Sister’s Love 

The wooden stairs
Cracked with my steps.
When I walked up
I felt the splinters.

“That bong lai cai does
Not belong in our house,”

My mother said to Uncle.
“You will not be like him.”

My stomach quieted down
All that was left

Pangs replaced
By memories of

Ground beef
And rice porridge

With the scent of blanched-
Diced green onions

That she made when
I was weak

And could not chew
Full jasmine grains.

Up more steps. Four women
Surrounded him in candlelight.

I could only hear my mother’s voice,
“Ong Troi will smite the whole family

Because of you.”
I saw him when I reached the top

Something was missing,
And could not return.

“You can’t love him.
That is not love,” she said,

Jabbing into my uncle,
Her fingers like gun motions firing.

My aunts stood behind her,
Their shadows

Coming down the staircase
Toward me.

Mary Meriam

Mary Meriam is author of three poetry chapbooks, editor of Lavender Review, and a mistress of Headmistress Press. Her poems, essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in Literary Imagination, The New York Times, Ms. Magazine, The Gay & Lesbian Review, American Arts Quarterly, Poetry Northeast, American Life in Poetry, and ten anthologies, including The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary American Jewish Poetry.

 

Singular Heart 

My heart hurts so. It slides like eels
in an aquarium.
Sucking its little cage, it feels
the slop of meriam

weighty and wildebeest, the squeeze
of skeleton and time.
It hums, a hive of bumblebees,
my honey, my sublime.

It aches for you. It is the road
y
ou rambled on. It pines
and croaks and taps a secret code
for you, these very lines.

EJ Koh

EJ KohEJ Koh is a poet and an author. Her work has been published in TriQuarterly, Southeast Review, La Petite Zine, The Journal, Columbia Review, KoreAm Journal, and elsewhere. She is a finalist for the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prize. Koh was named as number two in Flavorwire’s (2013) list of 23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry. Her first novel Red (Collective Presse, 2013), is available at www.RedtheNovel.com. Her blog is located at www.thisisEJKoh.com. 

 

 

Visiting My Estranged Mother at A-802 Adena Luce in Seoul, Korea

My new room had blushing walls and glow stars
stuck to the ceiling with wet rice.

She had put a pair of socks on the nightstand
so I would feel

I had been there yesterday and pitched them
to the floor. Cleaning, she would have

picked them up, flipped their ankles and left them
by my bed. I wouldn’t feel like a foreigner. My mother

wouldn’t worry. From the hall, behind the door,
I heard, Do you eat fish?

 

Division

1
My body is nobody.
My skull is nobody.
My eyes are nobody.

I wake nobody.
I sleep nobody.

Happy is nobody.
Suffer is nobody.

2
Little and nearsighted, one living thing.
Then the dead in caskets underground
Like gas pockets in rising dough.

3
Nobody looks for an incision at the mountaintop.
Nobody is a prophet here.
A dead whale floats, and gas-filled, explodes.
There is food now.
There is sleep.

4
Nobody is language.
Nobody is a pink lake.
Nobody is the sun.

5
Remember the human light is borrowed.
Flaming spectacles to wear on the face.
I am sorry to leave.
Even the youngest brain glows.

Nobody’s universe, I see you
suspended between lashes.

I love this terrible nobody of shadows.
The cold goes out, pronged and starskinned.

Marilyn Kallet

Marilyn Kallet is the author of  sixteen books, including The Love That Moves Me, poetry (2013), as well as translations of Benjamin Péret’s The Big Game (Le grand jeu), and Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems, all from Black Widow Press. She is the director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee where she holds the Nancy Moore Goslee Professorship in English. Each spring she teaches a poetry workshop for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, France. 

Kallet has won the Tennessee Arts Literary Fellowship in Poetry, and has served on the Tennessee Arts Commission Literary Advisory Panel. She was inducted into the East Tennessee Literary Hall of Fame in Poetry in 2005. She has performed her poems on campuses and in theatres across the United States, as well as in France and in Krakow and Warsaw, as a guest of the U.S. Embassy’s “America Presents” program. 

 

What Will Baby Eat?

Baby will eat pâté
fois gras

caviar
fat tears

Baby will eat
blues

Coltrane &
Madeleine

Peroux   duck
breast

duck mousse,
Baby will eat

rillette
whipped

cream
crême

brulée
this little piggy

dipped
in champagne

Baby will
nibble

you
down

to the
bone.

Robert Perry Ivey

Robert Perry Ivey, born in Forsyth, Georgia, grew up in Macon and is a visiting assistant professor at Gordon State College and was the Visiting McEver Chair of Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) from 2012-2013. Ivey earned an MA in English Literature from Georgia State University and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in Creative Writing. He is the author of the chapbook Southbound, and recipient of Academy of American Poetry’s John B. Santoianni Award. His work has appeared in The Country Mouse, Louisiana Review, Live Oak Review, At-Large Magazine, G.S.U. Review (now New South), TYCA Southeast, and Lumina. Thomas Lux stated this about Robert Ivey: “Ivey is the best young poet of (not just from) the South since the great Frank Stanford…Ivey’s long rolling lines are rich in detail: the whole range of what is human, and uniquely musical.”

 

Letter to Tally Bryant Ivey

Before you were born, I loved you;
before you were born, I killed you
like a mama dog bites in half puppy heads of imperfect pups.
I bought you Lovey the Lamb blankets, “Daddy makes me smile” bibs,
and Easter dresses with azalea colors.
Both sides of the family painted your room spring green
with angel cream trim, and I made a white hanging basket
that held an African violet beside the window. 

I tell myself that it was for medical reasons,
the Trisomy, the C.F., that I would not risk my wife’s life
for an imperfect baby, and all that is a truth. 

But I confess to you now
that I could have never fully afforded you,
loved you the way a born-sick baby needs.
Some animal part of me
bared its teeth,
detested, despised, and pitied you
back to the nothing.  

I took you somewhere good, to someone
who would end you humanely, decently, tenderly. 

And I confess this as well;
they asked us if we wanted to have a service
for your too little body. 

We said no,
let the doctors give you the mercy pyre
with all the rest of the throw aways,
and I am so sorry for that baby girl,
so sorry that you deserved what we couldn’t face.  

I planned to burn your sonogram pictures,
and spread the ashes in a clean river, to speak your name,
Tally Bryant Ivey, for the last time, but I couldn’t even walk onto that bridge.
My first, but not my firstborn;
this is the last time
that I will ever say your name.

Julie Brooks Barbour

Julie Brooks Barbour is the author of the chapbook, Come To Me and Drink (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Waccamaw, diode, Prime Number Magazine, StorySouth, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, The Rumpus, and on Verse Daily. She teaches at Lake Superior State University where she is co-editor of the journal, Border Crossing.

 

A Gamble                 

My grandfather had experience in one thing:
farming. What a gamble. How dependent upon rain
 
and sun and the change of seasons. How creative:
planting seeds in rows and hoping they’d grow,
 
putting faith in what he’d set down.
How unsteady, constantly at the mercy
 
of weather. My father went to college
so he wouldn’t have to worry about instability—
 
if it rains; if the sun shines. He didn’t want risk
but something certain and steady.
 
My father gave me certain and steady
and I wanted to experiment. He wanted me
 
to have a steady job and concentrated
our every conversation on my prospects.
 
I wanted to watch the sun come up and spread
its light on the dining room table.
 
I wanted to watch the day bloom
and petal into surprise.  

 

No Destination

While I was driving, the thoughts in my head wound around
each other, making noise like too many children in the back seat.
 
I forgot the rules and treated red lights like four-way stops.
Other drivers honked and shook their fists out of windows.
 
Worries tugged at me, wanting an unraveling. I pulled into
a parking lot full of gulls squawking and lifting into flight.
 
All the stores in the strip mall were dark, long out of business.
I stepped out and leaned against the car and watched the gulls
 
watching me as if I had anything to give them. They wanted
something small, a scrap of leftovers, and none of what
 
consumed me. This was not a real place to stop
but it was a place, full of nothing really,
 
which is what I wanted: a nothingness, birds flying,
bits of broken glass on asphalt, a tattered Going Out of Business
 
sign flapping outside a store window. A sky full of clouds
making shadows in the parking lot. Weightless wings.

Zara Raab, review of Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s My Funeral Gondola

My Funeral GondolaMy Funeral Gondola
By Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Mãnoa Books, El Leon Literary Arts

Honolulu, Berkeley, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-98339198-2
Paper, 57 pages. $18.00

 

 

 A Poet’s Gondola: Review by Zara Raab

For both the contemporary poet and Nobel Laureate Tomas Transtromer and the classical composer Franz Liszt, “Funeral Gondola” is a title alluding to Richard Wagner, whose body was ferried along the Venetian lagoon in 1885. Sze-Lorrain’s “Funeral Gondola,” she assures us, “has nothing to do // with Liszt /with Wagner / with Transtromer”, although the ghosts of these giants are bound to shadow the melodic lamentations of this poet, who is at home in several continents and cultures. Sze-Lorrain’s “Maestro” is not Wagner, but her ancient ancestor and countryman, the Chinese poet Li Po; his gondola takes the shape of a child’s paper boat she has made as a child in remembrance of him, a boat, that floats “away to the night sky where the painful moon hangs.” Sze-Lorrain’s gondola travels seas far from Venice, perhaps the Malacca Strait near the city-state of Singapore at the top of the Malay Peninsula, the country made up of dozens of islands where Sze-Lorrain was born. Her gondola, she tells us, “positions itself”

midway in a strait—so that shadows
in a trance

travel over it

Ghosts are bound to wander in and out of any book about funeral rites and death by a poet of Chinese ancestry. In Chinese culture, ghosts are supposed to take many forms depending on the manner of death; through them, some believe, a person may contact a dead ancestor. For Sze-Lorrain, any funeral ceremony must keep “the ghosts in mind”; they, who “sit like cats through the wake,” must be served cakes. Ghosts are good, too, for chasing away fears and can be invoked in thunderstorms to chase imaginary dogs on the rooftop, as they do in the poem “Lullaby.”

Ghosts are part of a rural folklore quite foreign to modern and post-modern urban consciousness. One interpretation of the poems is as the struggle of an evolved urban consciousness to deal with the superstition and folkloric values of remote agrarian ancestors. Sze-Lorrain certainly views her ghosts as altogether “odd spirits,” the title of the second section, which opens with a lovely evocation of a remote harbor at night under a deep, starry sky, a poem called “Orion” one of the brightest of evening constellations. Stars are connected to astrology and soothsaying, and so, addressing Orion, the poet, who as a small child dreamed of becoming an astronaut, writes,

Before death the seer showed me how
you eluded mystery

Shadows may be ghostly, too, and spiritual. China’s culture of ghosts spread, apparently, far beyond the mainland to the Southeast Asia. In the poem “Javanese Wayang,” puppets tell their story from behind a transparent screen, which casts them as shadows. The poet advises: “Watch the shadows, not/ the puppets.” In “Monuments Against Sundown,” she says, “A man doesn’t walk with his ghosts. He walks with his shadow, the man who says no,” the dark self.  Words, too, are shadowed by their origins and early meanings, the word “shadow,” itself originally meaning a darkness that provided shelter from light and heat.

In “Still in the Night Fields of Hokkaido” the poet goes with her camera at night to a field in the northern-most island of Japan, Hokkaido. Here a dreamy landscape, exquisitely described, becomes “an unwinged sea of lamps”—suggesting fireflies, although there is “inattentive rain,” so perhaps the lamps are the starlight filtering through the droplets of rain. Sze-Lorrain’s sensitivity to the natural, concrete world meets a more ancient, mythic understanding, for suddenly she hears the––crickets, triumphant, playful, and joyous in their song. In this night terrain, she tells us, “Crickets question// twice”––

They register an air
between real and improvised time.

Crickets––I can’t
finish my line. Nature suddenly
feels so foreign

Crickets are not only part of nature, they participate in an ancient symbolism. (Who can forget the role of the cricket in Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor?) One studies them as a naturalist, but this is not their whole story. Sze-Lorrain’s empirically minded, Western, questioning and questing self––represented here by her camera––breaks.  She begins another line about the crickets, but she is not able to finish it.

“After the Moon,” a short lyrical meditation on the world’s mirrors of oblivion and guests in their disguises, expresses Sze-Lorrain’s solitude, an unalterable condition of life that she accepts, moving forward without false constraints but with the curiosity of a scientist.

So many shadows,
so few ghosts––I am lonely
but curious
in this imperfect end.

“Sixteen Lines, Autumn 2010,” the prequel to the 35 poems of this book-length meditation on the ambiguities of life and death, present and past, begins simply, “In past autumns, I saw the world differently” and ends:

Look: a long sundown.

No more black and white.

The word “white” itself once referred to fresh snow or salt, anything full of brightness or light, and the Chinese often consider Caucasians (“whites”) as “ghosts.” Ghosts are neither quite dead nor quite alive, shadows, too, are ambiguous, neither white nor black. The past keeps reappearing in and shadowing the present, and the living sometimes seem to live on only in a dead past. In the dense and intriguing “Visitor,” she recounts how her Shanghai grandmother, when asked about her early life in Communist China, answers with a single word: “Hungry.”

Though born in Singapore to Chinese parents, Sze-Lorrain is very much a Parisian, educated and living in Paris and writing in a tradition that goes back to the French surrealists of the 19th century. The poet’s playful gesture of wearing a fake mole is very much in the urbane modernist tradition of the French surrealist Mallarme and Apollinaire. “Notes from My Funeral” is full of gallows humor. The poet, imagining her own death, lies “like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man” in a round coffin, “perfect fengshui”, “the sound of wild gods drumming” in her heart.

Eyes unshut. I wait
for the flowering of my last
wish, The honor of your presence
is requested at your own funeral
reception. RSVP.

Underlying many poems, however, is a sorrow and a preoccupation with the ghosts of the past, the suggestion of the death of a child, perhaps, or other recent losses. But when brought into the light (in “My Melancholy,” for example), the poet’s sorrows disappear, at least for a moment–– or perhaps more accurately, they are filed away in a private domain (as “official secrets”). Sze-Lorrain evokes and names her sorrows without being engulfed by them; instead, she attends, as a scientist or keen observer might, to the layers and perspectives that surround the merely personal. The poem’s windows are thrown open, the poet is porous. “My Nudity,” she writes, echoing T.S. Eliot,

delivers what is important
and unimportant
about my body, between action
and repose, a room
temperature. [9]

“Before this mirror,” she continues, “I am my painter,/ realizing that bareness/ opens/ and never shuts.” By the end of this collection, in “Return to Self,” the poet resumes mundane activities. A friend calls. She has news from her sister.  She is avowedly learning to live with her desires and grief.

Other poems here scramble the normal syntactical sequence of words or disrupt  linear temporality. Raw, spontaneous language, the site of meaning and intentionality, can create its own event, rather than referring to events outside itself. In  “When the Title Took Its Life,” the lines of the poem “wish to know how they left/ this pen// and why I imprison them”. “Erase me” they insist. These effects, forming a deconstructionist puzzle, may derive from Sze-Lorrain’s philosophy of “Linguistic conscience,” which she describes in an interview (in The Bitter Oleander, vol. 17, no. 2):

Words can’t just be concepts if they truly nourish a poetry that comes alive. They practically need to be sensibilities. This is why I try to nurture words whenever they come to me, even if they might seem “raw,” instead of looking for them and crafting them around specific images or contexts.

Elsewhere, though, she mocks lofty intellectual concerns. In “Digesting an Academic Symposium, Some Months Back,” she asks, “Is Foucault in season?” and captures the pretention of academic conferences where “the Nuremberg sausages” are a “cultural must-eat.”

With an eye for the absurd, Sze-Lorrain imagines a diva in the poem of that title pouring “cough syrup into her Chanel handbag,” and eating “her scores when she can’t recall/ her past triumphs […]” “Scarlet” is another nonlinear prose poems resisting coherence, yet breaking out in startling lyricism: “I’m not sure why orchids remind me of her,” the poet writes. “The way she served us tea, thin without sugar.”

“Now, Meditate” illustrates how Sze-Lorrain combines experimental elements with more formal characteristics. I’ll quote the poem in full:

Yes, the nostrils of silence.
A sea of visitors chained together.
More or less tempting
melancholia.
I no longer know my kind.
Light added to light, mountains feel near.
What is darkly denied us?
Let it go,
this chestful of sky.
My stomach turns from stone
to birds.
Pain washes one or two moons down my back.
I listen.
Bones are now moving alike (10)

As “stoma” is a mouth, and the stomach in some cultures is the seat of pride and anger, a place of temper and disposition, for the poet to say her stomach turns from stone to birds suggests rebirth through lyric song. At least this is one interpretation. “Pain,” of course, is related to penalty and punishment, to grief, expiation, and ransom, and in its earliest form was connected to “pining,” calling up for me an image of pine sap dripping down the poet’s back. In an open form, Se-Lorrain juxtaposes unlike items—the “nostrils of silence” and “chestful of sky,” but her narrative voice is stable, the narrative itself, coherent. Experimental as the poems are in this book––especially in contrast to her earlier book Water the Moon––Sze-Lorrain does not eschew closure. Indeed, with one or two exceptions, all the line breaks end with closure––occurring at full stops with a period, comma or question mark.

“Francois Dead” recounts, again in a clear narrative, the emptying of a house or an apartment after the death of a friend or someone close.

Without improvisation, we empty the drawers.
Papers slip. He pulls the shades, lifts
the mattress, dismantles
the Victorian bed. I wash the floor
with a rag on all fours.
After arranging those famous first-
editions, we stop and fold
silence into a cigarette.
He lights the lamp, we return to dust. [23]

Here is precise description of silence folded into a cigarette, a passage alluding to the occasion’s somberness without explicitly naming it. Many poems (“Javanese Wayang,” “Diva,” “Francois Dead”) in My Funeral Gondola, like those of Water the Moon, construct coherent narratives with a stable voice and closure, striving for clarity and precision.

Sze-Lorrain’s cultural references, not surprisingly for a poet of her heritage, are broad and deep, from Li Po to Ravel, Dickinson to Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky, the constellation Orion to the northern most island of Japan to the music of Java. In the long poem, “Not Thinking about the Past” one begins to sense how physical the act of writing is for Sze-Lorrain, who insists on putting the word on paper, however raw the word may be. This is perhaps one link she can find and hold to a Chinese heritage that requires worship of ancestors as a form of rootedness in the world—through the physical body, the material world. Yet as a post-modern urbanite, Sze-Lorrain has evolved a consciousness that leaves behind or at least sets aside—perhaps in the ‘official secrets” file––the ghosts and superstitions of rural folklore. The intermingling of levels of consciousness in her poems makes fascinating reading. During the most powerful of aesthetic experiences––say, for example listening to Tchaikovsky––suddenly, the poet tells us, “rain pours.” However fractured our experiences of past and present, the corporality of the world and her own body sustains her:

[…] my body
where darkness is a long
ebony lash

The body sustains the links among the disparate times and spaces of the individual’s experience, from the nine-year old on the stage at Singapore’s Victoria Concert Hall to the mature musician in Carnegie Hall or the contemplative poet at her writing desk, from the fencing arena in Edmonton, Canada (where the poet once competed) to the halls of Columbia University or the Sorbonne. This fund of experience yields some gorgeous lyrics.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Evoking the rainy darkness of the remote northern California coast, Zara Raab’s poems are collected in The Book of Gretel and Swimming the Eel. In September a third book, Fracas and Asylum continues her journey through inner and outer landscapes of storm, seclusion and reverie. A fourth book, finalist for the Dana Award and based on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, will appear in October. Raab’s poems, reviews, and essays appear in Evansville Review, River Styx, Crab Orchard Review, The Dark Horse, and Poet Lore. A contributing editor for Redwood Coast Review and Poetry Flash, she lives near the San Francisco Bay.

Gülten Akin

Gülten Akin was born in 1933. She is Turkey’s most distinguished female poet and stands at the forefront of poets for whom poetry is synonymous with social responsibility. In a wide-ranging survey participated in by Turkish writers and publishers in 2008, she was selected as “the greatest living Turkish poet.” She studied Law at Ankara University and worked as a barrister in various parts of Anatolia. Her poems have been translated into English, German, Flemish, Danish, Italian, Bulgarian, Arabic, Polish, Spanish and Hebrew, and used in academic studies. Her major poetry collections include Rüzgâr Saati / Hour of the Wind, Kestim Kara Saçlarimi / I Cut My Black Black Hair, Sigda / In the Shallows, Kirmizi Karanfil / Red Carnation, Maras ‘in ve Ökkes ’in Destani /Epic of Maras and Ökkes, Agitlar ve Türküler / Elegies and Folk Songs, Ilahiler / Hymns, Sevda Kalicidir / Love Endures, Sonra Iste Yaslandim / It Was Then That I Aged, Sessiz Arka Bahçeler / Silent Back Yards,  and Uzak Bir Kiyida / On a Distant Shore. She won the Turkish Language Association Poetry Award in 1961 and 1971 and the Sedat Simavi Literature Award in 1992.

Saliha Paker (co-translator) is a literary translator and Professor of Translation Studies who retired in 2008 from Bo?aziçi University, but still teaches a course there in the PhD Program. She founded the Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature in 2006 under the sponsorship of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Her translations include three novels by Latife Tekin, Berji Kristin Tales from the Garbage Hills (with Ruth Christie), Dear Shameless Death and Swords of Ice (with Mel Kenne), all published by Marion Boyars (1993, 2001, 2007), London/New York. She edited Ash Divan, Selected Poems of Enis Batur, brought out in 2006 by Talisman House, New Jersey, which will also be publishing What Have You Carried Over? Poems of 42 Days and Other Works of Gülten Akin, co-edited with Mel Kenne, in September 2013. 

Mel Kenne (co-translator) is a poet and translator who has lived in Istanbul since 1993. A founding member of the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, he has translated much Turkish poetry and prose into English. Saliha Paker and he edited What Have You Carried Over: Poems of 42 Days and Other Works by Gülten Akin, and translated many of the poems in the collection, which will be published by Talisman House Publishers in September 2013. He and Paker also co-translated the novels Dear Shameless Death (Sevgili Arsiz Ölüm) and Swords of Ice (Buzdan Kiliçlar), by Turkish author Latife Tekin, which were  published in 2000 and 2007 respectively by Marion Boyers Publishers. Six collections of his poetry have been published, most recently Take (Muse-Pie Press 2011), and a bilingual collection in English and Turkish, Galata’dan / The View from Galata (Yapi Kredi Publishers 2010), translated by Ipek Seyalioglu.

 

Spring

Oh, no one’s got the time
to stop’n give thought to fine things

With broad brush-strokes they move along
Sketching homes kids graves onto the world
Some are obviously lost when a rhyme starts up
With one look they shut it all out
And the rhyme enters the night, as fine things do

Some pus in your breasts, some fish, some tears
Sea sea sea you turn into a giant
Evenings your fog creeps up the river-mouths
Raids our hazel-nuts
What to do with their blackening buds
We beg our children: go hungry for a while
We beg the tycoons
Please, one less “Hotel,” one secret marriage less to sketch
Please one less bank, a plea
From us to you and from you to those abroad

We send our wives out to get a manicure, to say
—sir, if you please—
We send our children out to beg
We’re off on our way, our beds entrusted to God
Motorized gypsies of the summer

Oh, no one’s got the time
to stop’n give thought to fine things
To return to the stream where we first bathed, our fathers’ homes
Passion for the earth, for what it’s being here
We plug our ears: money money money
We pull out the plugs: fight fight squabble
Someone may inquire: quarrel but why
An ever-grinding axe for our neighbor, a fist for our wife
Why the quarrel—we have no idea.

Then in our small town, that prison
We place our eraser before our eyes
With a shove we widen our days
We make room to give thought to our wives
To think about the bloom of the violet passing without us

Even if no one’s got the time
To stop’n give thought to fine things
Even if the little schoolteachers
Multiply their holidays
And in the name of whatever we hold sacred
Weave blindfolds for our eyes
What’s stored up and sketched will in time
Break into blossom as spring flowers

From across the stream over yonder
Some will whistle, we’ll sound it back.

GultenAkinPoem3

Zara Raab, review of Christina Pugh’s Grains of the Voice

Grains of the Voice by Christina PughGrains of the Voice
Poems by Christina Pugh
Triquarterly Books
Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8101-5228, 75 pages, paper, $16.95 

 

 

Musical Harvest: Review by Zara Raab 

Christine Pugh’s poems remind us that, as Roland Barthes writes, “significance in literature is inexhaustible.” For though these “linguist silhouettes,” as Pugh calls them, are slender––rarely over a dozen lines––her meanings proliferate with each reading. Pugh is one of the poets in the present era who, coming of age amid the social protests and revolution of the 1960s, has turned from social and political protest, commentary, and satire––the staple of divisive, hugely entertaining late night comedy––toward interior, embodied discourse, leavened with rich seams of allusion to 60’s and 70’s rock and roll, washed clean of nostalgia, along with linguistic, semiotic, existentialist deposits, as well. Even Corot’s “grave boatmen,” May Ray’s surrealist art and metaphysical art `a la the Italian print maker Giorgio Morandi make an appearance in this book as illuminated with literary and cultural references as a medieval manuscript. Pugh’s lyrics seem to come from tongue or glottis, nose or teeth, not from the whisperings of her brain, breath or lung. (Barthes––whose ghost lives in the seams of this collection––calls the lung “a stupid organ [… that] swells but gets no erection.”)

Roland Barthes also supplies Pugh’s title. In his essay, “The Grain of the Voice,” Barthes asks, “How, then, does language manage when it has to interpret music?” Very badly, he says, at least in music criticism. He goes on to speculate somewhat incomprehensibly as far as I can see that if we “displace the fringe of contact between music and language,” we may find in vocal music a worthwhile encounter between language and music. Barthes calls this encounter—again, with mystery–– ”the grain of the voice when the latter is in a dual posture, a dual production—of language and of music.” For the first section of Pugh’s book, Barthes’ words provide the epigram, and early rock and roll tunes the many reference points.

Pugh’s “Persistent Tune” evokes the life style of generations of youths who, beginning with the Japanese Walk Man in the early 1980s, tuned in to popular music pretty much nonstop. Now it’s the iPod, and in her poem of that title, Pugh sees herself with “wires/ like a wingspan”—the ear buds of the iPod trailing to the hand or pocket with the ubiquitous device.  The poem “Persistent Tune” plays on the old radio hit  “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” It’s a song––as you’ll recall if you rode in automobiles with the radio on in the early 1970s–– about losing one’s way in the heady 1970’s cultural shifts, going back to San Jose “to find some peace of mind.” It is a requiem for all the lost souls who went to LA hoping to become stars: “weeks turn into years; how quick they pass/ and all the stars that never were/ are parking cars and pumping gas,” the pop song goes. “But who could get / a job pumping gas these days?” Pugh’s poem responds: “Nobody, /not least the stars that never were.”

Pugh’s “Water Music” evokes the old strobe lights of disco dancing in “a quilt of refractive light upon many square inches” of the body of the girl who “nearly / danced as a river.”

                    This is why we say Her
          name is Rio, and why I’m learning love requires
          a trawl-net, an act of free will. 

The connection between Rio and the lesson on love is not all that clear to me, but Pugh does manage to capture the way we tend to remember the old songs once heard over and over again on the radio as we circled the freeways in our youth––a snatch here, a title there. She is not above satire of these memories, as when she reminds us (in “Heideggerian”) to “listen carefully/ to all that surrounds us: the ravening glow / of the Elvis lamp, florid at the hairline, / lips and cheek; or James Brown’s miniature / bare chest rippling in the window of the Salvation Army.” (An Elvis lamp is for $150 on eBay.)

However deeply related song is to poem, only one of them is really profitable in the age of record and disc. Survival and economic viability, never explicit, are nonetheless persistent tunes in Grains of the Voice, for as she implies at the outset, in poems like the ones you are about to read, “there / is no real profit to be had; there’s / little use; there is no exchange /value.” (“Profit Margin”) The poet is improvident, to use another of Pugh’s titles, taken from a line in the poem “Women” by Louise Bogan (“They Are Improvident Instead”), and her trade impractical; like the rest of her tribe, she shops at the Salvation Army (“Unsung”).  Music, in contrast,  “enthralls the marketplace” (“Singer”). By interpolating a line from Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Pugh may be raising the question of relative value for poem and song: Shall she compare the poem to the popular song (that may rake in thousands of dollars)? When the poem—her poem–-is auctioned in the literary marketplace, she seems to ask, what price will the auctioneer offer?

 Whatever its purely economic value, song and poem are both linked to aliveness:  “[I]f you live in my ear / so I too might live again—“. In “Poem,” the poet loves the acoustic guitar, however “extinct” it may be in the popular culture; she chooses the “archaic percussion” of clapping, and “always I’ll choose this over all the ones and zeroes”—over money. She chooses making music, clapping (with her own body), or the simple body of the maple wood guitar—over “storyboard” (movie), and over “vocoder” (speech-analyzing synthesizer). In the past, body and its song, weren’t simply economic units; they had spiritual value. At the farthest reaches of American commerce and the speech it entails are the Latin chants of the nuns turning wheels of cheese in the caves of Auvergne in the poem “Inflection.” Language, like the tiniest of organisms, can be endangered; it can become “dead letters,” a Latin no longer spoken.

                   How can we call those words
                   human, when they’ve flown so far
                   from our commerce, our market place?                  

Yet cheese making is a business, and the white-haired girl at the bluegrass festival (in “I and Thou”) who “told us singing was like praying” may be “sublime sublime,” but she will afterward doubtless count the ticket receipts and pocket her share of the proceeds. No accident that the song Pugh chooses to recall from this festival is Metal Gear Solid’s “Heaven Divide”. In any contest between the ethereal and the physical, Pugh sides with the latter:

                    Fill your black hull with white
          moonlight, Stevens said; but Appleseed had fertilized
          the land with something more than light: with scattershot
          blossom and a fruit whose hardness ever will resist
          the tongue and teeth. (“John from Cincinnati”) 

Songs are layered in Pugh’s texts like traces of lemon in a cake or herbs in a dressing, subtle but palpable, as in the lines from “Poem”, referring to the Beatles (“Let It Be”) and (with “Trill it, then, and bury me”) to the heavy metal band Black Tide (“Bury Me”) or to Goldfinger (“Kill Me: Bury Me”). Earth, Wind & Fire makes its way into a poem (“Heideggerian”) on the essential nature of being. Poetic song, too, is here, from the layered voices of John Donne and Wallace Stevens to echoes of Yeats in “how could the voice come silent in such groomed/ space, plash and reverberant?” (“The Voice, Midsummer”). Linguistic jokes and conundrums also abide in poems like “I Am Are You” where the poet “would like to visit Iamareyou.org that haven / for the shut down of the shifter, that tenement / of pronouns in remission.” If John Ashbery mimics better than any living poet the way we tend as humans to remember and forget, Pugh mimes the verbal ways of that subset of humans whose talk is ruled by the frontal cortex—philosophers and linguists.

In the title poem, “The Grain in the Voice,” the narrator is asked why there were no protest songs for Iraq, and whether the poet remembers Ohio (perhaps a reference to the Ohio River Music Festival of 1975 where there would have been plenty of protest music).  The poet demurs. She doesn’t remember the specific political events evoking outrage or mourning, but she does recognize in the song and in the grain of the singer’s voice, the diction of outrage or sorrow. And she seems to be saying, “these are eloquent enough.”

Pugh’s poems manifest a synesthesia of sounds, colors, and emotions––the ways stimulation of one cognitive pathway in the brain leads involuntarily to stimulation of secondary sensory pathways, so (“Ut Pictura Poesis”) the visual sight of elephant seals on the sand is slicked away by distance until “you’ll see them / only in the sirens of their cries”, and in the title poem

                    My ear scribbles sorrow
          every time the stylus writes: a knife
          sheets sparks like a rash of birds
          ascending. Can you hear the
          singer murmur, what is the color? 

Not only does Pugh see color in the sound, see visions in the sparks or feel sorrow in the pen, she s also adept at “hearing voices with the voice”, another Roland Barthes concept the epigram for which precedes Pugh’s Section 2: “Interlude: Recto and Verso.” In loss and bereavement, Pugh hears the voices of the popular singers, the tunes her generation took in like the lullabies of a nursing child. Each poem in this section is followed by a short “Verso” poem of 3 or 5 or 10 lines. The first one, “Verso (Homunculus),” ends:

          Memo
          Harrow
         Valentine 

The preceding poem (the Recto) is called “Harrow” (torment, or heavy machinery with prongs dragged over plowed land), a description of a relationship, possibly, with the lover who writes his poems in sky-blue ink. If, as “Memo/ Harrow /Valentine” suggests, it IS a poem of troubled love, it is a muted expression, one where the loss of the beloved is met and experienced privately through dreams, not in society. The Verso member of another pair seems, in one reading, an acknowledgement of just how deeply matters of love (and art) can be traced back to one’s origins:

          let me gather it as mine
          let me take it in as mine
         the sequin shape of the Man Ray river [32]

Sequins appeared in the art of the modernist artist Man Ray; much as he wished to distance himself from his immigrant origins as the son of a tailor and a seamstress, sequins and other sewing objects found their way into his works, the “sequin shape” of his “river” perhaps inevitable. (The “Man Ray river also has echoes of Ray Charles’ song “Ol’ Man River”.) Nowhere is the interiority more evident than in “How My light Is Spent,” a title taken from Milton’s sonnet with the line “They also serve who only stand and wait,” quoted by Pugh. Grief is as perpetual and impossible to break as a diamond. Her griefs “burnish [her] with elegy.”  Life and death are entwined, just as the bodies of the dead in Guyana after the mass suicide of the People’s Temple members are entwined about each other, as the grape vines were entwined in their first home in Ukiah, California.

Pugh’s inward turning lyrics articulate a metaphor for fear or at least intimidation in the iron lung with its power to dampen human motility. In one interpretation, an iron lung represents a way of coping, of “mask[ing] a melancholy,” as her verso tells us, and of hiding, or finding self-protection. How do people manage to love each other, and how much of it is pure drama as “the mind […] holds the open/ shape of the proscenium”? (“Lilac Garden”)

One of the few poems to step out of its rich, multilayered, and elegant interiority––and speak more directly and movingly to readers––concerns America’s wars. “Ornature,” featured on Poetry Daily, is one. It reads in part:

          The beautiful girl says
          she’ll always be a soldier.
          She’d had a two percent chance
          of waking from the coma.
          Someone has to be that
          two percent, she says
          with a smile. Why not me?
          —And, sackcloth or silk,
          the husk did open. We decorate
          her friends at the end of May.

Another, “Civics II,” memorializes the human rights activist who set himself on fire in Chicago in 2006 to protest the Iraq war.  At the end of this poem, Pugh quotes from Malachi Pitscher’s biblical namesake (Malachi 1:9): “who is there among you that would shut the doors for naught?” The verse continues, although Pugh does not quote it, with: “Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.” Without engaging in act of direct protest, Christine Pugh manages with her ferocity to take a stance for the vitality pulsing from the guitars, drums, vocal chords and typewriters of musicians, singers and poets. In one sense, Pugh’s poems echo and evoke the classic songs of rock and roll, songs like the Styx’s “Come Sail Away with Me,” Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My,” or the Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By.” In another sense, the poems in Grains of the Voice have their own music, their rhythm tight, dense, multilayered. Not the lyrics of rock and roll, but the mesmerizing beat beneath it. 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Evoking the rainy darkness of the remote northern California coast, Zara Raab’s poems are collected in The Book of Gretel and Swimming the Eel, and soon in a third book, Fracas and Asylum, which continues her journey through inner and outer landscapes of storm, seclusion and reverie. A fourth book, finalist for the Dana Award and based on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, will appear later this year.

Melinda Palacio

Melinda Palacio is a poet, author, and speaker. She lives in Santa Barbara and New Orleans. Her poetry chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, won Kulupi Press’ Sense of Place 2009 award. She is the author of the novel, Ocotillo Dreams (ASU Bilingual Press 2011), for which she received the Mariposa Award for Best First Book at the 2012 ILBA and a 2012 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. Her first full-length poetry collection, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, (Tia Chucha Press 2012) was a finalist for the Milt Kessler Award, the Patterson Prize, and received First Prize in Poetry at the 2013 ILBA. Read more of Melinda’s work at www.melindapalacio.com.

  

When She Calls 

Death bright as lemon meringue pie quickly gone
into a happy belly is what I wish for you.
 
When 300 cherub angels come down with trumpets,
I say, bring it on. Let’s all march to that number,

hose down our bare feet and dance, no – dash towards the music.
Death holds its own special rhythm.  

Everyone will eventually take the plunge.
Leaves on a tree simply fall.  

They say this earth is wicked.
Death wants to know if you’ve had enough.  

Close the book, rise from your stinky arm chair.
You know how the story ends.  

Death is where the book continues, conjures
a new ending, a beginning where the words  

sound so pretty, you sigh just to hear yourself, again.
You might be tempted to rewrite your beginning and middle.
 
Learn how to use your nimble legs and new fertile body,
morph, migrate, and die.

 

When they first came

No poetry to preach at this sacred rock,
a pulpit to voice what frogs dare say.

Pay attention to this January day. White moon rises from Painted Cave.
Is moonlight always Easter rebirth?  

Past the line of mailboxes, dirt road straddles a stream,
curve right to the platform of Chumash land.  

When they first came, they landed on Santa Rosa Island.
All forgot about the cave drawings, until the people,  

call them Katey and Larry, moved off the grid,
built a houseboat from a van on a pond in Painted Cave.  

Katey sees a bunny holding an Easter egg on the mottled moon
against a burning background. No fires to deepen the pink, only sunset.  

Where is the door to this sweat lodge called paradise
and who will remember this land?
 

 

Wet Mask

A lake disguises itself as an ocean.

He wants to see loneliness in its far away horizon.
She wants to see through him, search her fortune
on the other side, Chicago. The lake is not an ocean.

But nature shifts and changes color everyday.
A body of water, a twig that moves, a chameleon.

We are all shape shifters, she whispers and
stares over the vastness of the false sea.

The most beautiful blue is where the water is warmest,
sunken treasure and the sea monster Nessie live there.

He betrays one more secret, until, like another lost
Christian out on his luck, he forces her to believe he
is the first man to own bottomless blue eyes. Yes,

she reminds him, the earth is round.

Julie Kane

Julie Kane’s two most recent poetry collections are Jazz Funeral (2009), the winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, and Rhythm & Booze (2003), a National Poetry Series winner and Poets’ Prize finalist. Her one-act opera Starship Paradise, with music by Dale Trumbore, was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia in the spring of 2013. The 2011-2013 Louisiana Poet Laureate, she teaches at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and on the faculty of the West Chester Poetry Conference.

 

Something like a Telephone

Just at the edge of falling into sleep,
into crocodile pools holding no less terror
than the waking witch who claimed to be her mother,
sometimes she would startle at the calling of her name.

And although the crude telephones she made with friends
out of nail-punched soup cans and candle-waxed string
never carried one word from a mouth to an ear,
somehow she knew the voice was calling through time.

Years later, washing up on the other shore of pain,
astonished at the fact of her improbable survival,
she would try to remember, as sleep overtook her,
to call down the channel that opened between worlds.

 

Runner

I thought if I got up and
ran around the subdivision

early enough, while the cats
were still sleeping under cars,

and the sky was amethyst,
I could run to the land of the living

with my keys in my hand like
a frozen torch. That summer,

the wind blew east to west
as I passed my house

of smoke and dust,
of spoken and written words.

Grace Marie Grafton

Grace Marie Grafton’s newest book, Whimsy, Reticence and Laud/unruly sonnets, came out Spring 2012 from Poetic Matrix Press (www.poeticmatrix.com). Her book of prose poems, Other Clues, 2010, was published by Latitude Press (rawartpress.com). A chapbook, Chrysanthemum Oratorio, 2010, is available from Dancing Girl Press. Her poetry has won first prize in the Soul Making contest (PEN women, San Francisco), in the annual Bellingham Review contest, and was twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Poems recently appear in Volt, Prism Review, Ambush Review, The Offending Adam, Theodate.   

 

Manifest

           plain, open clearly visible to the eye or
          obvious to the understanding           
          to reveal, show, exhibit, display, declare, discover

 
What could be more plain? We are a secretive species. Does that come from hunting? The best hunter gets the most meat? Or were there tribes where, no matter which one brought more, all was equally shared? Ah, anthropology, archeology. Long after the fact, we search and dig, want everything revealed, displayed. Fascination with museums. And then, there’s pornography. Why do we hide the genitals? Given our taste for secrets, it must be about power. Make a thing secret, concealed, and the one to whom it must be shown gets power and privilege. Trophy wife, arm candy, “I’m the one she takes her clothes off for.” Wouldn’t work if everyone went naked. Hidden treasure. The dragon guards the gold. The dragon who’s more than human, who has “powers,” who’s the warrior beast but also ethereal.  And long-lived. Damn! If only we could know what God knows. If only we could know God. Naked. Revealed.

 

Sequester

           to set off or apart, to separate, segregate
          to withdraw, to seclude
 

In the very center, the dark. “Rest here,” whispers the something-that-cares and you remember your request: to avoid the queer feeling in the gut, whirligig that threatens to hurl you off the edge. What to believe in when they say the world is round? The dark seems to hold no sharp angles, no gagging smells of motor oil or rotting flesh. No smell at all, nothing to see.  When you enter, what will you let fall away? Your quest for acceptance, your need to be a seer? The future, a dark you do not want to enter without overcoat, boots or parasol. A contrary dark. The whisperer says, “Don’t worry, it’s not the same, let’s stay here at the center and let the spokes radiate out, not close in.” That voice is useful, though some would say, “Beware, ere those who can’t hear dub you already over the edge.” Hold yourself by the arm, set down your wigs and make-up case, set down your diamond tiara (or your wish for one). Soon you’ll be able to see the stars.  And the world’s turning won’t nauseate you.

 

Entice

           to allure, to lead on by exciting hope of reward or pleasure
          to tempt
 

The tablecloth is orange. Some would say silk, some would say oilcloth, some would say it doesn’t matter. Beautiful. The sunset sky, sound of laughter. Just the right amount of alcohol in the drink. Lift, not fly. What is the music? It wouldn’t be Miles’ “Sketches of Spain” with its sorrow undertones, its images of walking slowly down stone steps. Alone. No, more Vivaldi or Ellington, red Italian poppies or tuxedo and smooth cravat. Still, maybe more innocence than Ellington. Not suave but not ingenue. A purposeful choice to eschew cynicism but still, awareness that this is incredibly lucky. War being always, as it were, just around the corner and the offered release in the mind, release from guilt’s clench, will be time-limited. But oh, what a gift, we’ll take it. Slipping off the formal shoes, we choose the Hungarian fiddle player, hot feeling floods our blood, we’re wearing just these thin wraps, we’re moving over damp, tamped ground and our bodies are our friends.

Jim Davis

Jim Davis is a graduate of Knox College and an MFA candidate at Northwestern University. Jim lives, writes, and paints in Chicago, where he reads for TriQuarterly and edits the North Chicago Review. His work has appeared in Seneca Review, Blue Mesa Review, Adroit Journal, Whitefish Review, The Café Review, and Contemporary American Voices, in addition to winning the Line Zero Poetry Contest, Eye on Life Poetry Prize, multiple Editor’s Choice awards, and a recent nomination for the Best of the Net Anthology. www.jimdavispoetry.com

 

Fair Season, 1993 

A feather and the smell of a baseball glove after my father pounded it with oil. 

An owl and the smell of funnel cake at the churchyard fair, canto carnascialesco
twisting through speakers as we passed. 

Thunderclap, the sour smell of dandelion stalks, how it differed from petals, which smelled like butter by association. 

Two freighters and the imprint of a fist, mine, after I pressed it in the dirt near second base. 

Steady traffic, smell of sand, sting of sand, and a slide that wiped away sand drawings in violent planes.
I remember my father in a suit and tie, and the smell of a salesman. 

Feral cat, the soft thud of a ball struck lamely from a tee, how the long rubber stalk warbled like a loose hose. 

City lights, center stage. 

City lamppost, hot silence, awful shining. 

I remember frenzied yelling. This is a good thing. 

They said not to ever mention sales. The industry is blinding, they’d say. 

They said wash sand and sour smells from your fingertips as white rice boiled on the stove. 

Someone outside themselves fumbled over rolling opportunity. 

I tagged the runner with an empty glove, ball clutched tight in the hand without, and he, quickly rounding third, waved home. 

Go home, they waved, with terrifying excitement – and, as outcomes tend to go, on the other end, a gut full of funnel cake and shame.

Lyle Daggett

Lyle Daggett is the author of seven books of poems, most recently All Through the Night: New and Selected Poems (Red Dragonfly Press, 2013). His poems, translations, essays and book reviews have appeared in Pemmican, Main Street Rag, Blue Collar Review, the anthology Eating the Pure Light: Homage to Thomas McGrath (The Backwaters Press), and other publications. He is also the author of the weblog A Burning Patience. Lyle has worked for a living mostly talking on the phone and typing on computers, and is a member of the Communications Workers of America labor union. He lives in Minneapolis. 

 

DaggetPoem1

 

 

DaggetPoem2

Karen Craigo

Karen Craigo teaches English to international students at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Her work has appeared in the journals Poetry, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, The MacGuffin, and others. Her chapbook, Stone for an Eye, is part of the Wick Poetry Series. She is a former fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and has received two awards in poetry and one in creative nonfiction from the Ohio Arts Council. She is the nonfiction editor of Mid-American Review, and she also serves as an associate editor of Drury’s national literary journal, Gingko Tree Review.

 

Neither Created Nor Destroyed

For Tommy and Patt

Say you were entrusted
with a jewel of great worth.
Say it blazed red in your hand.
Then, let’s say, you were asked
to put it up somewhere,
a high shelf, just beyond
your grasp. From that point
it’s a matter of faith. Sometimes
you sense it in the periphery:
just around the corner,
just up the stairs. You think
the whole house is aflame.
When you hold out your palm
others would tell you it is empty,
but something still burns there.
You see it. You see it.

 

Naming What Is

for Aimee and Dustin 

You picture them in the garden:
a nameless animal presses its face
against her hand, and she offers
a syllable or two. The man with her
agrees: dog, monkey, snake. It was all
so pure then—they were incorruptible,
and language moved between them
like a beast, sweet and lumbering.
You can see them: a man and a woman,
in a grove, all of the trees laden with fruit.
There is a pond there, and one bird, yet
to be christened, stretches to touch another’s
white neck. It takes two to make a language,
and the animals were just the beginning.
Did they label how the nighthawk veers
through the dusk, or that splash the man hears
when it’s too late to spot the lake trout
twisting in air? There is so much
waiting to be named—we are surrounded
by things anonymous and strange for their lack.
And even now two heads bend together
in whispered negotiation. Their very prayers
acknowledge the power in the name:
Berry. Woman. Swan. Man. Miracle.

Hasan Ali Toptas

Hasan Ali Toptas, a truck driver’s son, was born in Baklan, southwest Anatolia, in 1958. He received higher vocational training in the district town of Çal, and after completing his military service survived by doing odd jobs until he found a position at the Office of Inland Revenue. He worked in various small towns as a bailiff and treasurer, and finally as a tax officer in Sincan near Ankara. Despite his inability to in get published, Toptas managed to continue writing. Following the publication of a few short stories in journals and anthologies, he paid for the printing of his first volume of stories, Bir Gülüsün Kimligi (Identity of a smile) in 1987. He submitted his second novel, Gölgesizler (1995) to the Yunus Nadi Prize jury and won. After the book won the Orhan Kemal Prize, the most coveted literary prize in Turkey, it appeared in German. Toptas is frequently named as an equal to Orhan Pamuk. Among other works, he published a children’s book, Ben Bir Gürgen Daliyi (I am a hornbeam branch), in 1997, and his fifth novel Uykularin Dogusu (East of Dreams) was published in 2005. In 2006 his Yalnizliklar (Solitudes), poetic texts he constructed as a series of encyclopedia entries in 1990, was translated into Flemish and adapted for the stage. In 2005 Toptas, took early retirement and since then has dedicated himself full time to his writing. 

Mel Kenne (co-translator) is a poet and translator who has lived in Istanbul since 1993. A founding member of the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, he has translated much Turkish poetry and prose into English. Saliha Paker and he edited What Have You Carried Over: Poems of 42 Days and Other Works by Gülten Akin, and translated many of the poems in the collection, which will be published by Talisman House Publishers in September 2013. He and Paker also co-translated the novels Dear Shameless Death (Sevgili Arsiz Ölüm) and Swords of Ice (Buzdan Kiliçlar), by Turkish author Latife Tekin, which were  published in 2000 and 2007 respectively by Marion Boyers Publishers. Six collections of his poetry have been published, most recently Take (Muse-Pie Press 2011), and a bilingual collection in English and Turkish, Galata’dan / The View from Galata (Yapi Kredi Publishers 2010), translated by Ipek Seyalioglu.

Sehnaz Tahir-Gürçaglar (co-translator), the Coordinator the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, studied Translation Studies at Bogaziçi University in Istanbul and Media Studies at Oslo University in Norway. She holds a PhD in Translation Studies and teaches literary translation, translation theory, history, and criticism and interpreting at Bogaziçi University. She is the author of Kapilar (2005), a book exploring different approaches to translation history, The Politics and Poetics of Translation in Turkey, 1923-1960 (Rodopi, 2008) and Çevirinin ABC’si (Sel Yayincilik, 2011), an introduction to translation and translation studies in Turkish. She has been involved in the organization of CWTTL since its launch in 2006, and while the Workshop she translated works by Nurdan Gürbilek, Hasan Ali Toptas, Murat Gülsoy and Hatice Meryem. She has also published translations of works by Haydar Ergülen, Melih Cevdet Anday, Dervis Zaim and Hür Yumer.

 

from “Lonelinesses, #5”

I once thought of loneliness as my granma.
Legends, during those years, would begin as bandit songs.
No thyme-perfumed forests pealing out partridge melodies
resounded in my granma’s voice;
rather, if anything,
mountains;
smoky,
blood-soaked mountains
sentenced to be so by official decree.
Then, rising out of a dry cough
that crumbled like lor cheese
bandits would suddenly attack the village;
or from granma’s eyes,
that looked like a pair of olives,
would leap army deserters;
they’d vault over my head
and charge up the mountains,
pulling along their shadows like a great, bloody coat.
Next, the echoing of gunshots…
With a shift of her eyelids like two dusty bugs
crushed under the yoke of centuries,
my granma would say,
your mamma’s popping corn
but I never believed her,
for I could still see those gangs everywhere; I would witness them
and I was a child
who understood
that this seeing opened belief’s widest gate.
Even when my granma stopped storytelling and dozed off
the gangs didn’t pipe down;
the bullet-whine from mausers at Besparmak
never let up day or night,
smacking cradles with their evil-eye beads
that ricocheted off the blinders of oxen.
The villagers set aside their shovels, pickaxes
and sieves,
set aside tarhana soup and cayenne pepper
set aside the odor of ginger, their voices, their dreams,
set their courage aside and gazed up at the mountains
interminably.
The chimneys watched the mountains,
the doors, the tiny windows, the sheep
watched the purple mountains,
the goats watched the sky-blue mountains,
in other words nature felt curious about itself,
quite curious
and during those years
my eyes were composed of what they looked upon
my hands of whatever they touched.
Don’t ask me about my tongue,
it was made out of what I failed to say
and it lay in my mouth like a bloody book.
During those years
I didn’t even have my forests inside me
to hide my track,
I wasn’t yet even an island
in the sky
I wasn’t even a sky.
I had nothing but my grandma
(my dad would stay faithful to her in himself when he went away)
and it was as an island
that I knew my grandma,
then as a father;
as the windows heaved back my likeness,
as my looks, faced by those images
that thrived on my reflection, grew wrinkled,
and as I became short even as I grew tall,
I clung to her.
In the craggy lines of her face
I edged toward myself.
At times I was swept up in the brine of a flood,
other times I scaled sheer heights
in the belief that the nail scratch of a year (who knows which one?)
was the bed of riverand those slopes full of me.
And then, much later, the gory bodies of bandits
were hauled down the slopes
to land right in the midst of my dreams.
When I saw them I trembled (which is how I learned to tremble
even today when I shudder
a bandit drops in me).
Yes, I trembled
and wanted to grab the tired mauser on the floor
and take to the mountains.
But the guards twitched their great moustaches
(each one its own state, founded by the face)
and drove me off;
I began to flee, garbed in my fears, with no mauser,
I would dash off through the birds,
the scent of manure rushing through me,
I would cut under the wings of a chicken
scurry through the bottom of a sack of bulgur
or
slip through the way a sifter hangs from a nail
but
I’d not stop even once to look to turn and look back.
From the way I ran you could see the guards were hot on my trail;
I had to run and so I ran and ran,
until after a while all the running
made running feel like stopping.
At that point the only way I could find to run was to stop;
I stopped and a cliff got tangled up in my ankles.
To be got up in a cliff somehow is what loneliness means.

Zeynep Uzunbay

Zeynep Uzunbay was born in the Karaözü district of Kayseri in 1961. After primary and middle school, she graduated from the Vocational High School for Health and served as a nurse in Turhal and Tokat. In 1985, she graduated from the Faculty of Literature in Gazi University. Since 1995, she has published four collections of poetry: Sabahçi Su Kiyilari (Morning Water Shores) in 1999; Yasamask (Lifelove) in 1998; Kim’e (Who For) in 2003; and Yara Fali (Telling Wounds) in 2006. In 1998 and 2004, she received awards for her poetry, some of which has been translated into Italian and English. After teaching in several schools, she retired in 2006. Uzunbay presently lives in Izmir, where she continues to write her own poetry and articles on the poetry of others.

Arzu Eker Roditakis (co-translator) has a BA in Communication Studies from Istanbul University and an MA degree in Translation from Bo?aziçi University Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies, where she also began her doctoral studies and gave courses on translation theory, practice and criticism. Her MA thesis, Publishing Translations in the Social Sciences since the 1980s: An Alternative View of Culture Planning in Turkey was published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2010. She currently resides in Greece, where she is working at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki on her doctoral dissertation on the English translations of Orhan Pamuk’s fiction. Since 2006, she has been participating in the CWTTL, where she has collaborated in the translation of fiction and poetry into Greek and English. In collaboration with Saliha Paker, she produced a first-time English translation of a chapter from Cemil Meriç’s Bu Ülke, which was published in the Journal of Levantine Studies in 2011.

Elizabeth Pallitto (co-translator) has lived in New York, Boston, and Istanbul, where she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kadir Has University. She received a PhD in Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center of City University of New York and a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University. Dr. Pallitto teaches creative writing, rhetoric, and literature at CUNY. She has published translations from the Italian of poetry by Campanella, Velardinello, Fioravanti, and the Iraqi exile Thea Laitef. In 2007, she published Sweet Fire: Tullia d’Aragona’s Poetry of Dialogue and Selected Prose, the first English version of d’Aragona’s 1547 Rime. Her articles appear in Hybrido: Arte y Literatura, Comitatus, and Renaissance Quarterly; translations in Philosophical Forum and Forum Italicum; and original poetry in Litspeak, Fox Chase Review, and The North American Review. Her poetry collection “That Other Garden” was awarded First Place in the Academy of American Poets’ CWP competition. In 2004, she moved to Istanbul and began the journey that led to Cunda.

 

ZeynepUzunbay_poem

Güven Turan

Güven Turan was born in Gerze, Sinop, in 1943. He studied English and American Literature at Ankara University and holds an MA degree in American Literature. He worked as an instructor at the same university, wrote programs for the “Voice of Turkey,” which broadcasts for Turkish nationals living abroad, edited literary reviews, and, from 1976 to 1995, worked in advertising. His first poem was published in 1963, and since then he has published many poems, short stories, novels, art and literary critiques, and translations of English and American poets. To date he has produced nine books of poetry, three novels, three books of essays and criticism, and a book of short stories. A number of his poems and short stories have been translated into English and French. He has participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa; in the Cambridge seminars; and in the Voix de la Mediterranée, in Lodéve, France. He is now a consultant editor for Yapi Kredi Publications. 

Ruth Christie (translator) was born and educated in Scotland, taking a degree in English Language and Literature at the University of St Andrews. She taught English for two years in Turkey and later studied Turkish language and literature at London University. For many years she taught English literature to American undergraduates resident in London. With Saliha Paker she translated the Turkish novel Berji Kristin, Tales from the Garbage Hills, by Latife Tekin (Marion Boyars 1993) and in collaboration with Richard McKane a selection of the poems of Oktay Rifat (Rockingham Press 1993) and a major collection of Nâzim Hikmet’s poetry (Anvil Press 2002). In 2004 her translations from the Turkish of Bejan Matur’s In the Temple of a Patient God, was published by Arc Visible Poets. Recent translations, with Richard McKane, include Poems of Oktay Rifat (Anvil Press 2007) and The Shelter Stories, by Feyyaz Kayacan Fergar (Rockingham Press 2007). Her translation of Bejan Matur’s How Abraham Betrayed Me (Arc Visible Poets) was awarded the Poetry Book Society’s Recommendation for 2012. 

GüvenTuran_Poem

Haydar Ergülen

Haydar Ergülen was born in Eskisehir in 1956. He graduated from the Middle East Technical University (METU) Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Social Sciences. He has lectured on Publications, Advertisement and Turkish Poetry at Anadolu University and worked as a copy-writer and written columns for Radikal and Birgün newspapers. He currently writes a column for Varlik, the most renowned Turkish literary periodical. He was in the group that produced the literary magazines Üç Çiçek (1983) and Siir Ati (1986) in Istanbul. From 1979 onwards his works have been published in many literary periodicals such as Somut, Felsefe Dergisi, Türk Dili, Yusufçuk, Yarin, Gösteri, Yasakmeyve and Varlik. His first book of poems Karsiisini Bulamamis Sorular (Questions without Answers) was published in 1981. His other works include Sokak Prensesi (Princess of the Streets), published in 1990), Surat Siirleri (Poems on the Bridge to Heaven) in 1991, Eskiden Terzi (Former Tailor) in1995, Kabareden Emekli Bir Kizkardes (A Sister Retired from the Cabaret) in 1996, Kirk Siir ve Bir (Forty Poems and One) in 1997, Karton Valiz (Cardboard Suitcase) in 1999, Hafiz, in 1999, Ölüm Bir Skandal (Death is a Scandal) in 2000, Toplu Siirleri: Nar (Collected Poems, Vol. 1) in 2000, Toplu Siirleri: Hafiz ve Semender (Collected Poems Vol. 2) in 2002, Keder Gibi Ödünç (Borrowed Like Grief) in 2005, Yagmur Cemi (Rain Djem) in 2006, and Üzgün Kediler Gazeli (Ghazal of Sad Cats) in 2007), and Zarf (Envelope) in 2010. 

Arzu Eker Roditakis (co-translator) has a BA in Communication Studies from Istanbul University and an MA degree in Translation from Bogaziçi University Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies, where she also began her doctoral studies and gave courses on translation theory, practice and criticism. Her MA thesis, Publishing Translations in the Social Sciences since the 1980s: An Alternative View of Culture Planning in Turkey was published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2010. She currently resides in Greece, where she is working at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki on her doctoral dissertation on the English translations of Orhan Pamuk’s fiction. Since 2006, she has been participating in the CWTTL, where she has collaborated in the translation of fiction and poetry into Greek and English. In collaboration with Saliha Paker, she produced a first-time English translation of a chapter from Cemil Meriç’s Bu Ülke, which was published in the Journal of Levantine Studies in 2011. 

Elizabeth Pallitto (co-translator) has lived in New York, Boston, and Istanbul, where she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kadir Has University. She received a PhD in Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center of City University of New York and a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University. Dr. Pallitto teaches creative writing, rhetoric, and literature at CUNY. She has published translations from the Italian of poetry by Campanella, Velardinello, Fioravanti, and the Iraqi exile Thea Laitef. In 2007, she published Sweet Fire: Tullia d’Aragona’s Poetry of Dialogue and Selected Prose, the first English version of d’Aragona’s 1547 Rime. Her articles appear in Hybrido: Arte y Literatura, Comitatus, and Renaissance Quarterly; translations in Philosophical Forum and Forum Italicum; and original poetry in Litspeak, Fox Chase Review, and The North American Review. Her poetry collection “That Other Garden” was awarded First Place in the Academy of American Poets’ CWP competition. In 2004, she moved to Istanbul and began the journey that led to Cunda.

HaydarErgülenPoem1

Fiona Sze-Lorrain Interview by Zara Raab

Fiona Sze-Lorrain Interview
by Zara Raab  

Fiona Sze-Lorrain made her debut at nine as a zheng harpist in Singapore’s Victoria Concert Hall. She has since become an interdisciplinary artist working in poetry, music and theater, as well as a publisher, critic and curator of the avant-garde. My Funeral Gondola (Manoa Books/El Leon Literary Arts, 2013) is Sze-Lorrain’s second book of poetry. Presque invisible — the French translation of Mark Strand’s Almost Invisible — appeared in France last year. Her translations of contemporary Chinese poets —Bai Hua, Yu Xiang, Lan Lan and Zhang Zao — are or will be published by Zephyr Press. She lives in Paris, France.

 

Zara Raab: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your artistic life and the publication of your new book, My Funeral Gondola.  You were born in Singapore, you’ve lived in New York, and now France.  Our readers would be interested to know how you came to settle in France, and also why chose to write your poems in English.

 

Fiona Sze-Lorrain: I was born in Singapore and grew up in a hybrid of cultures.  I spent most of my young adulthood in Europe and the States.  For a brief stint, I stayed in Edmonton, Canada before moving to New York to pursue my studies at Columbia University and NYU.  I stayed on in Manhattan and worked for a while, mostly as a dramaturge in theaters.  I also gave harp concerts.  I am a Francophone, and my husband is French.  So I live in Paris. 

I didn’t choose to write poems in English — it wasn’t something I deliberated before committing.  I don’t know how else I can best express myself in terms of verses.  Truth is, neither English nor any other language is a comfort zone in its entirety for me.

 

Z Raab: You are a musician as well as poet, critic, essayist, and translator.  My Funeral Gondola is full of musical references, including a poem with a title from the French composer Ravel that recalls your learning to play an instrument as a young child.  How does your music nurture your writing?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: This is a tough question.  I struggle with it.  I’m sure there must be some informative overlap between music and writing when one practices either or both on a daily basis.  They claim my attention in different ways, and I like to keep them that way.  Sometimes, music does not necessarily have its “contents” when you work on it in relation to the moment — onstage, for example — for the experience needs to be honored first.  It also depends on the material.  I don’t mean to suggest that writing isn’t an experience; there’s something naked about yourself that you can hide more easily ­— if you want to — when it comes to writing.  Or so it seems to me. 

 

Z Raab: Do you mean the writer can hide behind his words more easily than he can disguise himself in a new wardrobe? Or more easily than a musician might mask herself with her music?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Yes… with Internet, it’s even trickier: the image — or the “illusion” — seems to have precedence over the real.  But it’s hard to generalize . . . . it depends.    

 

Z Raab: Are some of the poems as much musical compositions as they are verse constructs in language?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Hope so — though I understand that poems and musical compositions aren’t always lending authority to each other in ways we can control or define.  They are more organic than we imagine.  Mushrooms in omelets or omelets with mushrooms?

 

Z Raab: Some of your poems strike me as more invented than others — these poems use absurd and disparate imagery, rather surrealist — like the lines, “thoughts on the horizon that imitate / rainy sentences” (from “Sonata Amoroso”).  There’s a persona there, but — forgive the allusion — it’s shadowy, dispelled.  Other poems in this book—and many of the poems in your earlier book Water the Moon–– seem very close to the speaking poet in a more embodied way; poems like “Now, Meditate,” “Come Back,” or “Francois Dead” seem to have you more physically present at their center.  Is this your experience?  Can you avoid moving into the center of your own poems, or do you seek to remove yourself from them, or enter them only from a distance?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: I find distance refreshing, and do strive for distance as an older but more resistant way of seeing.  They regenerate lyric energy and re-enact conversations that speak to, instead of for, persona(e) and what was gone.  I don’t know if one can avoid moving into the center of the poems.  Neither do I know if one can remove oneself from them.  It seems to empower the poet more than the poems, doesn’t it?  My own experience has more to do with me feeling diminished while poems gradually come into their existence on a page.  At the beginning it felt foreign — like a hole, an emptiness inside, pregnant with a breath — but time helps: it relieves me of the anxiety, and re-arranges sensorial experience such as this.   

 

Z Raab: The process of writing the poem relieves the anxiety? Is the poem at times inspired by a peering into an abyss or by sensations of emptiness or the grief and mourning that follow loss?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: To some extent, writing the poem does relieve the anxiety of trying to get it “right” in the head.  Still, once the poem exists in a rough form on paper, other anxieties or concerns call for vigilance.  Sometimes it is just a ghost poem.

 

Z Raab:  You’re a polyglot, speaking, what, several languages or dialects?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: I am fluent in a few languages — largely for reasons of survival and the contexts of my upbringing — though I don’t feel comfortable “qualifying” myself as “polyglot.”  I don’t enjoy sharing the company of those who take pride in presenting themselves with an identity of being bilingual, trilingual, and so forth.  A wise friend warned me that those who think they know several languages could possibly end up having several egos.  The implicit point has something to do with language as an accomplice allowing us to perform a role, a self — or even a mask — instead of opening up possibilities that better our sense of being.  At the risk of simplifying, perhaps it’s the voice that counts more than the language.

 

Z Raab:  Do you write primarily in English or do you also publish in French and Chinese? How much translating to you do, and from what language to what language?  Do you dream in French, Chinese, English?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Yes, English.  I’ve published some critical prose and translations in French.  I translate from French to English (and vice versa), or from Chinese to English (but not vice versa). 

My dreams — or the ones I remember — seem silent.  They move in a rich palette of colors.  Probably more visual than oral.

 

Z Raab:  Acknowledging that in grieving, one mourns, as Gerard Manley Hopkins tells us, for oneself, the funeral gondola of your book is your own hearse — an idea you express with wonderful wit reminiscent of the gravediggers in Hamlet.  Would you say, though, that throughout the poems, the past keeps reappearing and inhabiting the present — that this is a central theme of the book?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Is it “past” or “memories”? 

While working on My Funeral Gondola, I recalled having realized how much more restorative the process could be when narrative challenges focused on details of memory rather than the categorical variable we’d label as the “past.”  Ultimately, there must be some sort of a continuity or outward momentum.  Guess this is where humor could come in.

 

Z Raab: In an earlier interview, you say that you don’t like to let words move around in your head, you prefer to put them down on paper.  Does this mean that you do not revise your writing?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: No.  I revise obsessively — not in my mind, on paper.  From time to time I wish I could exercise magic.  Poems come slow to me; I’ve to work and fail and fail and work in order to arrive at linguistic alertness.  This is why I want to put words down on paper instead of letting them float around as thoughts.  I relish Sir Francis Bacon’s idea that wonder is the seed of knowledge, but tend to stick to the physical act of writing.  The latter helps me to listen better.   

 

Z Raab: This sounds more like a mental health prescription than an ethical or aesthetic choice — the desire to avoid being obsessive in your thinking.  Can you elaborate a little on this idea?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Perhaps it’s more practical.  Or convenient.  All in all, it’s spontaneous.  I travel often for concerts.  I don’t typewrite straightaway on a computer, hence the need to record thoughts down.

 

Z Raab: As a final question: can you say something about what are you working on now?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: I’m growing orchids.  Lots of them.  I’m also reading Proust.

 

Z Raab: It’s such a pleasure for me to be able to speak with you even if it is electronically, Fiona Sze-Lorrain.  Many thanks! 

 

F SZE-LORRAIN:  Thank you, too.

Yiskah Rosenfeld

Yiskah Rosenfeld received an MFA in poetry from Mills College and an MA in jurisprudence and social policy from UC Berkeley. Poetry awards include the Reuben Rose Memorial Prize and the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize for poems on the Jewish experience; her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry appear in publications such as Lilith Magazine, The Bitter Oleander, The Seattle Review, Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism, Bridges, Kerem, and Maggid. Yiskah taught Jewish literature and writing at Temple University, and served as poet-in-residence at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute in Los Angeles and on the Arad Arts Project in Israel. Yiskah serves on the faculty at the Tauber Center for Jewish Studies in San Francisco and teaches workshops combining Jewish text, mysticism, and creative writing around the Bay Area and beyond.

 

Four Klippot

The way a snap and two chewed pistachios gave us these.
The way they resemble teeth, but husked and unmouthed.

The way I need five to make a flower but they come in pairs.
The way my son looks to me for instruction, to know why.

The way we hold them to our heads and call them ears.
The way we hold them over our eyes and call them eyes.

The random urge to paint pupils on them.
The soft fingertip rub of their backs.

The way they stay on the table for weeks, reconfiguring,
now in a row, now scattered, now stacked.

The way we are told to cast them off, our klippot,
but they are rain coats, they are wings,

they tell the story of the nut that was, they cradle
emptiness in their baskets as well as any mother.

Cinderella’s shoe, a cap for a mouse, castanets,
my son and I quiet in their presence; we know holiness.

The way I say shell as if it were fact.
The way he says it, like a ship at sea. 

*Klippot is the Hebrew word for shells or husks. It is also a Kabbalist term, denoting the places that block us from Divine light.

 

Naamah

Two by two the words step out
of your mouth’s arc
testing the dry invitation of air.
Your tongue sets out in search of peace
licks the tender under-salt of olives
returns a messenger, a god, a bird.

When home is a boat
to settle is to set sail
what feels like gentle rocking is a slow lilt
in some tidal direction
no matter how hard your palms press
no matter how still you become.

When home is a red cabin on a hill
its windows bowing in three directions
and the river stretched on her back below
like a lazy cat, you will unanchor
the glass sheeted with autumn rains
all your languages wiped clean.

One morning you will awaken,
alive, alive, go down to the river
rest your fertile body against
the one made of light—
male and female, sky and sea
Yahweh and Elohim, raven and dove—

two into one into two into one,
embraced, all, in the water’s soft lullabies
feathered into one heartbeat by your hands’
joyful swift-slapping on the drum
steady and quick like the old women fashioning bread
on the side of the road to Beersheba.

Did you think you would end where you started?
Did you think it was that kind of door?
Come through, come close, come home,
kiss that complexity back to its rooted whole.
O Righteous One,
then you, too, will walk with G-d.

 *Naamah, in Jewish lore, was the name of the wife of Noah.

 

How the Sun Makes Love to the Moon

Your fingers trail sleepy and long like saxophone notes.
Songs slip under my skin.

Nerves on the soft insides of my arms
wake up slow and innocent like children.

I dream in your bones, hear my body the way you do:
a rounded, silken hum in the dark.

Everything in the suitcase of your skin belongs to me.
The rest of you goes on traveling, missing us.

In your country, the moon called to you like a lover.
Here you sleep even when the moon is full.

That radiant fullness, that pale beauty—
you think you see it in me.

Nina Serrano

Nina Serrano is a poet, translator, and independent media producer. Her latest book, Heart’s Journey (2013), is available at estuarypress.com. In 2013, Nina translated Wild Animal by Peruvian poet, Adrian Arias. In 2012, she translated his science fiction work Beautiful Trash. Her earlier collected poems Heart Songs is available as well. Serrano is a KPFA-fm host/radio producer of La Raza Chronicles and Open Book. She has been the director of both Poetry in the Schools and Storytelling in the Schools programs. Follow her on her new website and blog: ninaserrano.com.

 

The Angel of Death

(For Daniel del Solar)*
 
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

The angel of death last night was with us
who sat vigil at Daniel’s house in his long hours
struggling to let go of life
Daniel-—so devoted
to sucking its sweetness from moments and seconds
Discovering people antiquities rocks shells papers
vistas sunsets blown-glass and art of every description
in his hour by hour adventures
I had played his poem on the air that afternoon
and a listener called saying
he had met that man reciting the poem
in front of a glassed display of Jadeite
at the Olmeca exhibit at the de Young Museum
and the man gave him his card which he lost
and now hearing the poem
and the voice he was sure it was Daniel
who had admired the stone out loud
and in response the caller
pulled one just like it from his pocket
and Daniel had marveled.
Now, the listener said, he was sitting in his garden
in the sunlight listening to the radio
working on such a piece of Jadeite
when he heard the poem he wanted
to give Daniel this work
I said sardonically (to hide my pain)
“Too late he is dying”
He said, “I can finish today. I will bring it.”
So even in Daniel’s dying
these adventurous encounters go on
The poem the stone carving and me
witness of this marvel of flesh and bone
that shrunken and bloated with fluid and bruised
with the battle scars of wrestling
with the angel of death
licking at his heels for these last six years
as he jumped on and off planes as fast
as his electronic cameras could click
and I would pick him up at the airport —
Now the eternal angel spreads those mighty wings
We the caring giving sisters can hear
the invisible swish of air in our vigil
The Hospice brings its death by morphine
but it is nothing compared to this greater force
“Do not go gentle into that good night…”
Daniel would quote and I would think
“Gentle. Gentle is the way to go. Why rage rage rage?”
Now I watch him weakened and sedated
and Yes!  He is raging raging raging
I and my vigilant loving sisters and his glorious mother
the queen of art will bathe him in light
to go gentle gentle gentle
onto the next journey

*This poem was written on January 6, 2012 as 3 Kings passed following a star in Oakland CA.
 

 

56th Birthday Insomnia

I’m awake can’t sleep
even though my eyes burn
against the pre-dawn electric light glare
My inner critic hurls accusations at me
running them across the inside of my head
in banner headlines
Why am I
croaking my way through life
Where is my song
praising the coming of dawn
Where is the purposeful girl I was
her promise of success and courage
her talents shining
like a polished shield
against the shadow of oblivion
and the shame of mediocrity
I face today
I cannot lie in the bed I’ve made
nor sleep to unravel the knots I’ve dreamed up
where only nightmares of failure reproach me
My pillow is a leaky balloon of unfulfilled hopes
and unspoken wishes
I’m awake although the moon disappeared
and the sun hasn’t dawned on me
There is silence
Only the light bulb
speaks to me of modern life
Night and it’s dark cave of fear
calls my disappointed heart to task
There is no rest
No bright morning carol or falling dew
to herald the end of this restlessness
as I endure the reproach
of the timekeeper
Grains of sand
sting my eyes
in the unforgiving night

Issue 2.3 August 2013 (Poetry)

Poetry Only & Turkish Poets Issue 

Guest Edited by Lenore Weiss

 

Click on the author’s name to read their work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read.

“Yeonkkoch series II” Art by Myong Stebbins.

 

Poetry:

Karen Craigo | Neither Created Nor Destroyed | Naming What Is
Lyle Daggett | The Greig Concerto | Apparition
Jim Davis | Fair Season, 1993
Grace Marie Grafton | Manifest | Sequestor | Entice
Julie Kane | Something Like A Telephone | Runner
Adrian C. Louis | Xmas At Wakpamni | Shadows | Gaudeamus Igitur 2.0
Florence Miller | Forebears
Garrett Murphy | Check, Please Don’t | The Adventure of Blackhoodlum, Chapter Umpteen or Whatever | 
Melinda Palacio | When She Calls | When They First Come | Wet Mask
Evelyn Posamentier | I Am Ferminita | I Am Nikki Don’t Tell
Yiskah Rosenfeld | Four Klippot | Naamah | How The Sun Makes Love To The Moon
Nina Serrano | The Angel Of Death | 56th Birthday Insomnia
Genaro Smith | View From The Veranda Grasping | Grasping | Propaganda | A Museum Of Trees
Elaine Starkman | At A Russian Circus, Sochi, On The Black Sea, 1990 | For Sarah Simmons 1921-2013 | Day Of Atonement for Leon
Gary Turchin | The Poet’s Laureate’s Bald Spot | The Thicket

"Making of Brothers (2010)" Art by Dmitry Borshch.
“Making of Brothers (2010)” Art by Dmitry Borshch. 

 

Translations:

Gülten Akin | Spring
**Saliha Paker
Haydar Ergülen | Lost Brother
**Arzu Eker Roditakis and Elizabeth Pallitto
Ana Minga | I Have Sought The Dead Among The Living
**Alexis Levitin
Murathan Mungan | In A Way
**Gökçenur C. and Mel Kenne
Hasan Ali Toptas | from Loneliness #5
**Mel Kenne and Sehnaz Tahir Gürcaglar
Guven Turan | San Gimignano
**Ruth Christie
Zeynep Uzunbay | Wet
**Arzu Eker Roditakis and Elizabeth Pallitto

Book Reviews:

Christina Pugh’s Grains of the Voice {Review by Zara Raab}
Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s My Funeral Gondola {Review by Zara Raab}
Fiona Sze-Lorrain Interview by Zara Raab

"Blue Window" Art by Ira Joel Haber.
“Blue Window” Art by Ira Joel Haber.

**Indicates translators

 

 

 

 

"Blue Fence" Art by Ira Joel Haber.
“Blue Fence” Art by Ira Joel Haber.
 

Peretz Markish

Translator’s Note on Peretz Markish’s Work:

Peretz Markish was a prominent Yiddish writer who was executed by Stalin on August 12, 1952, a date that has come to be known as “the night of the murdered poets.” His work is among the most acclaimed Yiddish poetry that has come out of Russia in the early to mid-twentieth century.  LW Markish’s greatest poetic accomplishment was his epic poem, Di Kupe (The Heap), which describes Jewish suffering through a metaphorical heap of corpses in a marketplace. This selection is an excerpt.

 

Rose Waldman (translator) is an MFA candidate and a writing instructor at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Pakn Treger, The MacGuffin, Ami Magazine, Meorot, and elsewhere. Her translation of a I. L. Peretz story from Yiddish is forthcoming from Back Pages Books.

 

The Heap (15)

Night unbuttons her black mouth
Its teeth dripping with stars
Board, lonely ones, and sail
The silver ship of the new moon

Who has no rest in his bed
Who has no cure in the night-hour
Board, naked ones, without coffins
The silver ship of the new moon

Like the ark on Ararat
The new moon sits on the heap
They sleep.  Only the crow does not rest
She busies herself in the rotting trash:

“Enter, residents of mourning
The skin of sunset lies slaughtered
We the crows don’t want to sail
The silver ship of the new moon

Pack the new moon with victuals
Lay a pair of carcasses onto it.”
And the silent crows wander like clouds
On the silver ship of the new moon.

Leib Kvitko

Translator’s Note on Leib Kvitko’s Work:

Leib Kvitko was a prominent Yiddish writer who was executed by Stalin on August 12, 1952, a date that has come to be known as “the night of the murdered poets.” His work is among the most acclaimed Yiddish poetry that has come out of Russia in the early to mid-twentieth century. 

 

Rose Waldman (translator) is an MFA candidate and a writing instructor at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Pakn Treger, The MacGuffin, Ami Magazine, Meorot, and elsewhere. Her translation of a Yiddish I. L. Peretz story is forthcoming from Back Pages Books.

 

A Silence  

When no one is in my room
I become sprightly
Smile to myself
And dance a silence with the stillness
We spin in secret, easy wildness
We spin – I and stillness 

She clings to me, blows into my ear
Intoxicates me with her grey appearance
I become a simpleton
I spin, effortless, my body spins itself
But soon in stillness’ corners
A whisper dissolves
It moves me
I recognize her, my stillness
We dance with easy wildness
In the dark air, like dark cloths
We dance, I and stillness
A deep light silence
 
It happens—
Sometimes I appear
And stillness refuses to recognize me
I seek my reflection in her eyes
I see: my temples burning
I turn back
She steals a glance
And pounds both me and the door
I startle
And bow to her
 
When I awake
The sky is already a black roof
I and stillness stand, embrace
Eyes moist, cheeks warm
Soon we sing a ballad
Of nights and rains
And dance a silence light and long