3 New Poems in Delta Poetry Review

Delta Poetry Review

I’ve been excitedly waiting for the inaugural issue of Delta Poetry Review to be released, and the day is finally at hand. DPR is a new online journal edited by Dixon Hearne. They are most interested in poetry from and about the American delta region and the Deep South generally, but they’re open to all work written in English from anywhere.

Mr. Hearne and DPR were kind include to include three of my poems in this issue. “South Through Kentucky” describes driving through parts of the state where my dad grew up and where our family has extended roots. “We are Called to Invent Ourselves” was inspired from a walk in the woods near by house. And “2:00 a.m. at Three Crow Bar” is an homage to one of my best friends, set in a great Nashville bar that you should check out.

This first issue of DPR also includes work from Stephen Hundley, a poet whose work is popping up everywhere. I predict you’ll continue to see his writing a lot in the future. So get to know him now.

Delta Poetry Review is scheduled to publish their next issue in June. So now is a great time for writers to submit new work.

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2 New Poems in Connotation Press & One

It’s wonderful to have two new poems published this week.

“My Ghost” was published at Connotation Press. Poetry editor Julie Brooks Barbour said some really great things about the poem. I’m so grateful to Julie and all of the crew at Connotation.

It was fun, too, to be in the same issue as Rita Quillen. Be sure to check out Rita’s poems in the issue.

The following day, “Mystery of the Hereafter” was published in Issue 17 of One, the online journal from Jacar Press. I’m grateful to editor Richard Krawiec for including my work among that of many other fine poets.

“Mystery of the Hereafter” was written after visiting the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. and seeing The Adams Memorial, a sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (see the image below).

sculpture

I’ve heard a lot of nice comments from people since these poems have been released. Thanks to all of you who take the time to read these poems.

My 2018 Reading List

I love to read, but I struggle constantly with my own expectations of how and what to read and specifically with how much to read. The struggle comes to a head about this time of year when I look back and make some kind of judgment about how I spent my limited time and energy. For 2018, I ended up reading 52 books, obviously, an average of one per week, although it wasn’t paced out that way at all.

Dorie and Book Shelf
Seen here, my cat Dorie picks out her next book to read.

Does it matter? Does the number of books I’ve read make me a better person? Does it make me a better writer? There’s some science to back up both possibilities. But more importantly, I enjoy reading. I love a book that captures me with its language and its characters, and yeah, a great narrative helps too.

Two of the books I loved the most this past year are Jacob Shores-Arguello’s In the Absence of Clocks and John Brandon’s Further Joy. Neither writer was familiar to me when I came across their work in magazines. Arguello’s poetry was found in The New Yorker, and I found a short story by Brandon in Oxford American. Both journal pieces blew me away. I felt so lucky to discover that each had books that were as thoroughly good as their individual publications.

Here’s the list of all 52 books I read this year. I’d love to see what you read in 2018. And I’d love to year which books were your favorites and which ones will stick with you.

1. Russell Banks – A Permanent Member of the Family
2. Virgil – Eclogues
3. Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way
4. Laura Hunter – Beloved Mother
5. Elaine Fletcher Chapman – Hunger For Salt
6. Jacob Shores-Arguello – In the Absence of Clocks
7. Michael Dowdy – Urbilly
8. Eric Shonkwiler – Moon Up, Past Full
9. William Shakespeare – The Merchant of Venice
10. Marie Howe – What the Living Do
11. Robert Pinsky – At the Foundling Hospital (Feb)
12. William Shakespeare – As You Like It
13. Marie Howe – The Good Thief
14. Jacob Shores-Arguello – Paraiso
15. Madeline Ffitch – Valparaiso, Round the Horn
16. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge – Poemcrazy
17. Todd Boss – Tough Luck: Poems
18. Walt Whitman – Song of Myself (Mar)
19. Marc Harshman – Believe What You Can
20. Rita Quillen – The Mad Farmer’s Wife
21. Linda Parsons Marion – This Shaky Earth
22. Greg Wrenn – Centaur
23. John Brandon – Further Joy
24. John Lane – Anthropocene Blues
25. Larry Thacker – Drifting in Awe
26. Rachel Danielle Peterson – A Girl’s A Gun
27. Michael Knight – The Holiday Season
28. Jia Oak Baker – Well Enough to Travel
29. James M. Gifford – Jesse Stuart, Immortal Kentuckian
30. Manuel Gonzales – The Miniature Wife
31. Sharon Kay Penman – Falls the Shadow
32. Crystal Wilkinson – The Birds of Opulence
33. James Herriot – All Things Wise and Wonderful
34. Ottessa Moshfegh – My Year of Rest and Relaxation
35. Rowling, Tiffany & Thorne – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
36. William Glasser – Choice Theory
37. James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small
38. Sylvia Lynch – Jack Lord: An Acting Life
39. Kevin Fitton – Dropping Ballast (manuscript)
40. Jane Smiley – A Thousand Acres
41. Stephen Mitchell – Gilgamesh
42. C.D. Wright – One with Others
43. Kevin Canty – Into the Great Wide Open
44. George Eliot – Silas Marner
45. Michael Kardos – The Three-Day Affair
46. Christopher Smith – Salamanders of the Silk Road
47. Grant Faulkner, Lynn Mundell, Beret Olsen – Nothing Short of 100
48. Maureen Seaton – Fisher
49. Amy D. Clark – Success in Hill Country
50. Langston Hughes – Let America Be America Again and other poems
51. Cassie Pruyn – Lena
52. Kathryn Stripling Byer – Catching Light

New Poem at Heartwood Lit Mag

Thanks to Heartwood Literary Magazine for publishing my poem, Riding Lawn Mower, in Issue 5 of their journal, just released this week. Thanks especially to Editor Danielle Kelly. Heartwood is a beautiful literary journal published in association with the Low-Residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Please take a look at the poem on the Heartwood web pages, and check out some of the other great poems, stories and essays: http://www.heartwoodlitmag.com/riding-lawn-mower.

Riding Lawn Mower

After the first small-engine repairman
tells me five miles are too far for a house call
or a pick up, the second repairman tells me
I should disassemble the mower myself,
bring him the offending portion.

Lincoln said his father taught him to work
but never to like it.  My father taught me
to work on lawn mowers. Naturally,
I think about buying a new machine.

Instead, I crawl onto summer-warm grass
like my father taught me. I pull
S-pins and retaining springs, freeing
suspension arms and the anti-sway bar,
separating clutch rod from clutch lever.
I mechanic my way beyond my skill set
until the mulching deck falls limp.

A pneumatic drill unlocks frozen, broken
blades turned upside down. New ones
hex bolt on, naked edges glinting in the light.
I reverse engineer, reattach metal to metal,
secure it all with a taut pulley belt.

Such unbindings and rebindings are common.
This tractor and I will again tame briar hells
of blackberry, wild rose. We will battle stones
rising quietly in the pasture at night like ghosts.
There is no choice but to keep going,
to keep working until the final, unfixable end.

 

Love Letters to Ourselves

I’m so fortunate to have interesting friends who are always doing creative things. Case in point is my friend Megan Galbraith. Below, you’ll see a letter Megan wrote calling for people to write love letters to ourselves. Megan has written one to herself, and if you’re game, she’ll trade with you. I’m working on my own love letter to myself right now. It’s not an easy task, but I’m glad Megan asked me to try it. I hope you will too. Check out Megan’s directions below.

Love Letters to Ourselves Image_edited

Dear Lover,

Earlier this year, in the midst of personal despair, I came across a self-care tip that seemed simple enough: write a love letter to myself. I tried it. It knocked me on my ass.

As much as I poo-poo the self-care industrial complex, writing that letter did help. It also got me thinking hard about love, wanting more of it in my life, and about ways to collectively build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

So, as part of The Dollhouse, I’m launching a collaborative project called “Love Letters to Ourselves.”

I want to revive the art of letter writing, spread the love around, and understand how other people love themselves.

Will you write one? I want to see your beautiful soul.

Here’s what to do:
1. Write a love letter to yourself in any form
2. Include your name and return address
3. Put it in an envelope, lick a stamp and . . .
4. Mail your letter to:
Lisette Ophelia Von Elsevier (see what I did there?)
P.O. Box 483
Cambridge, NY 12816
5. When I receive it, I’ll mail you my love letter to myself.
6. Voila! Pen Pals.

Send me some love!

All my love,
Megan

Two New Poems

It’s strange how you can write and write, revise and revise, submit and submit, and you wait for long stretches of time for something you’ve written to be published. And then, sometimes, multiple good things happen all at once.

Saturday, I received my copy of the new print issue of Coe Review. I was pleased to find my poem, “Balefire,” on page one of the new issue.

Coe Review Cover

Balefire

The crimson king maple blows
in high winds, burns with October’s
beautiful death. Before my confused eyes,
leaves piled at the tree’s base form
wings, take flight and fall upwards.
A reversal of everything I know.
These small, light birds flash
grayish white undersides
before disappearing into
the crimson king’s flames.

Maybe they are
what field guides call
confusing fall warblers.
Maybe they are
some kind of finch,
but there are too many species
for my untrained eye.
Peterson’s doesn’t state
which birds have enough magic
to fly into fire.
Science is silent on why
some blazes appear as signal beacons
though they were built
as funeral pyres.

On Sunday, New Verse News published my poem, “The Water-Carrier’s Prayer,” which I like to think of as a love poem to US Congressman Devin Nunes. #resist

New Verse News is publishing some great progressive poetry, and I’m really proud to have this poem published with them. It was also a lot of fun to skewer the very less than honorable Devil Nunes.

The Water-Carrier’s Prayer

Devin Nunes, hallowed be your name.
Hallowed be your midnight runs,
your dark-of-night dashes. Your fake news
echoes from Pennsylvania Avenue
and Capitol Hill across Merika
(“I love the uneducated!”)
as it does in Mar-A-Lago…

(read the entire poem online at New Verse News: https://newversenews.blogspot.com/2018/03/the-water-carriers-prayer.html)

Michael Dowdy’s Urbilly

This week, I’ve been reading Michael Dowdy’s amazing debut collection, Urbilly, the winner of the 2017 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award.  This is a great collection of poems that all work together to voice something really meaningful that is in some ways about modern Appalachia and its people. But it’s also about a great deal more.

cvrurbilly_postcard

Through the pages, the idea of the “urbilly” becomes so vivid. I would attempt to explain, myself, what an urbilly is, but I think Dowdy does that best on his website:

“Urbilly?  Think antic field guide to parts (un)known & exploited. Mountain / megacity mashups, rural / urban hullabaloo, New River / Gowanus cocktails. Backwoods & Brooklyn. Mountaintop removal & Edison bulbs, landfill & farm-to-table, Muriel Rukeyser & Big Daddy Kane, James Still & girders of steel. Think Urbilly as the anti-Hillbilly Elegy.”

When I was an editor at drafthorse a few years ago, we had the pleasure to publish a few of Dowdy’s poems that are included in Urbilly. Click on “drafthorse” to read a group of the poems, but here’s one of my favorites.

The Out-Migrant’s Family Tree, as Seen through Binoculars

Smudged along the lower ridge
a copse of knobby hardwoods

withers in coils of cold wind.
Squint past the blind curve scribbled

in cut banks of brush, just there,
where fog-coated sycamores

unfurl scrolls of icy bark,
where taillights trickle beyond

Oblivion, Virginia,
where calm haunts the revenant.

Laurel hells strangle hearth and flue.
Even springs zigzag uphill.

No good here my wistful words.
Those provenance jackets veil

a sparrow chest and stuffed gut.
Here, where decades stretch threadbare,

my grave dark eyes, sockets deep
as karst caves, skitter and rest.

A tongue rhododendron tied
slips loose; restless legs snap to.

My sneakers swoosh in hoarfrost,
scything kin from the harvest

of time, stutterers who hauled
fieldstone, sunk wells, and raised beams

right about there. You have to
cock your head just so, just there,

where clouds lung the mountains’ ribs.
Where trunks bend and crack the last

inky leaves bear down, hold outs
against the thieving north winds.

 

 

 

 

Elaine Fletcher Chapman’s Hunger For Salt

hungerSalt

I’ve spent this week slowly reading Elaine Fletcher Chapman’s beautiful collection Hunger For Salt.  Elaine describes her own writing style as minimalist. She says she’s in love with the white space. I can’t argue with that.  Certainly, most of the poems are very short in length. I believe the shortest, a poem titled “Still Mourning” is a mere three lines.  But to describe Elaine’s writing or these poems as minimalist doesn’t paint a full picture because each poem is so realized.  Elaine’s choices are so precise and thoughtful, even short poems feel very full.  So many of these poems feel meditative, and that tone is strengthened by spiritual references.  Her poem, “Searching,” is one of my favorites in the collection, and in it, she tells us that she borrows phrases from the Buddhists.  Read the poem below:

Searching

Still trying to accept loss,
I borrow phrases from the Buddhists:
a bowl and a spoon, a single robe,
chop wood, carry water.
Name this one room studio
Holy place of contemplation.

Last week I stepped into the stone labyrinth
and immediately heard, go home.
For a week I asked, Where is home?
I open the door to hear the rain
and distant thunder. I pour
a cup of freshly brewed tea, add ice
and fresh lemon. I ask again,
Where is home?
I return to Basho,
and St. Teresa of Avila:
interior, interior.

Another of my favorite poems is “Anticipation of Blossoms.”  Instead of copying the poem’s text here, I’m going to attempt to embed a video of the poem that was created by the very talented Laura Lipson. (If the embed doesn’t work, please see the link to Elaine’s webpage below.)


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/211019399″>Poetry Video: Anticipation of Blossoms</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/elainefletcherchapman”>Elaine Fletcher Chapman</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Laura created 3 poetry videos from Elaine’s work, and they’re each beautiful.  They would also be very useful for teaching purposes. I hope you’ll take the time to visit Elaine’s website where you can view all of the poetry videos as well as a great trailer about the collection: http://elainefletcherchapman.com/poetryvideos.html.  I’m glad to have had this book to help me through this past winter week.

Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s No Way Out But Through

One of the great pleasures of my graduate studies was the opportunity to work with Lynne Sharon Schwartz. She was a tough reader and a firm critic—not ungenerous at all—but she was not the kind of person who suffered fools or foolish writing. She was one of the best mentors I could have asked for.

LSS and Denton

I learned a lot by working with Lynne Sharon Schwartz, but I have probably learned almost as much from reading her work. I read her novel, The Writing on the Wall, after my first semester with her. Later, I read her memoir, Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books. I loved it so much that I bought copies for many of my friends who were writers, knowing they too would see the beauty she describes in her life-long relationship with reading. It wasn’t until after I finished my graduate work that I also realized this excellent prose writer was also a skilled poet.

nowayoutbutthrough

I have loved everything by Lynne Sharon Schwartz that I’ve ever read, and her latest collection of poetry, No Way Out But Through, is no exception. So many of these poems are elegies—elegies for her parents, her sister, her youth, even for the Brooklyn where she grew up but that’s gone now, forever changed. Even in the poems examining death and the loss of her closest friends and family, there’s something beautiful, almost hopeful, in the way Schwartz shows how we remain connected to those who have passed. But among these poems of loss, there is also great humor. Schwartz has a brilliant eye for seeing what’s askew, and even when she’s deadpan in her delivery, the note is always just right.

Here is a poem from the collection, “Forgetting,” which originally appeared in Narrative. You can view the original publication here: http://www.narrativemagazine.com/issues/poems-week-2014-2015/poem-week/forgetting-lynne-sharon-schwartz.

Forgetting

Absence rarely makes the heart grow
fonder, or so my mother said, popping
a blackberry into her mouth—
we’d raided the patch at the far edge
of the woods. Absence, she said,
begets forgetting. And while you mightn’t
so swiftly forget a blackberry’s taste
or a thorn’s prick, or a cloud’s sheep shape
skimming low like a darning needle
over a lake, how fast the lineaments of face
or voice or touch vanish, like that!
She snapped her fingers,
bolted down the berry.

Rachel Hadas reviewed No Way Out But Through for the Los Angeles Review of Books, describing Schwartz’s poetry like this: “She’s an archivist of memories, a celebrant for the forgotten or nearly forgotten, who also writes eloquently of the undertow of oblivion. She’s an anthologist of anxiety dreams. Irritated by Cordelia and partial to the Fisherman’s Wife, she’s a contrarian reader. At all times, Schwartz’s poetic voice is piercingly honest. Her tough-minded intelligence leaves plenty of room for questions and regrets.” You can read the entire review here: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/times-technique-on-lynne-sharon-schwartzs-no-way-out-but-through/#.

As I mentioned, Schwartz has an excellent sense of humor. One of the many poems where that comes out is in this poem about sex.

What the Poets Never Write about Love

The actual words murmured: not
Ah, your silken thighs, your breasts
like tender hills, but, Shit,
my zipper’s stuck. My arm
is getting numb, please move. Wait,
I’ll do the sleeve, and no, it hooks
in front not back. Hold on a sec,
I have a hair in my mouth, and move your ass,
I can’t breathe this way. Remember,
I asked you once before to cut your fingernails?
Not to rush you or anything but
I can’t stay in this fucking position another minute.

This act they say displays our animal nature
yet we’re not, after all, like animals in love,
who finish, pant, grunt, saunter off.
They do not lie together after, or kiss,
laughing at their words of love, awkward
intimacies of bodies getting in their own way
on the tumbling, humbling path to bliss.

The voice of each poem is so strong, and Schwartz’s characteristic wit constantly shines through. I look forward to coming back to these poems again and again. I’ve enjoyed them as a reader. I’m learning from them as a writer. And I’m excited to think about Schwartz will write next.

My 2017 Reading List

Some year, I’m going to read 100 books within a space of 12 months.  It wasn’t 2017 though.  My list for this past year is so short, I’m almost ashamed to show it.  But here it is anyway.  Several of these books were read in manuscript form and aren’t available on the market yet.  Look for them in 2018.

I’ve talked a lot about how problematic I find J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.  And I never skip a chance to say again what a bad book it is. Beyond that, I recommend so many of the beautiful books on this list for various reasons.

I suppose the book I’m most proud of reading this year is Cormac McCarthy’s The Orchard Keeper.  I started this book about 15 years ago–maybe longer.  I suppose I wasn’t read y for McCarthy.  And though I’ve read several of his other novels in the past decade, The Orchard Keeper sat on the shelf, never finished.  Going back to it this year, I found it to be a really beautiful book, and I was glad I had kept it around all those years.

I’d love to hear what your favorite books were from 2017, or the one you’re most proud of reading. Let’s all read more this new year.

Here’s my full list:

1. Jim Wayne Miller – The Mountains Have Come Closer
2. J.D. Vance – Hillbilly Elegy
3. Alison Stine – Ohio Violence
4. Lincoln Michel – Upright Beasts
5. Ron Houchin – The Man Who Saws Us in Half
6. Iris Tillman Hill – All This Happened Long Ago – It Happens Now
7. Blas Falconer – A Question of Gravity and Light
8. Claudia Emerson – The Late Wife
9. Charles River Editors – The Library of Alexandria and the Lighthouse of Alexandria
10. Gerry Wilson – Crosscurrents and Other Stories
11-18. 8 manuscripts for a poetry contest
19. Mark Wunderlich – The Earth Avails
20. Timothy Liu – Don’t Go Back to Sleep
21. Anais Duplan – Take This Stallion
22. Peter LaBerge – Makeshift Cathedral
23. Jeanne Bryner – Both Shoes Off
24. Keith Lesmeister – We Could Have Been Happy Here
25. James Arthur – Charms Against Lightning
26. Ocean Vuong – Night Sky with Exit Wounds
27. Sean Frederick Forbes – Providencia
28. Clifford Garstang – Everywhere Stories Volume 2
29. Jenson Beach – Swallowed By the Cold
30. Adam Clay – Stranger
31. Joanne Nelson – If Not For the Mess
32. Katlin Brock – The Dead Always Stay OR Between the Wounds
33. Wes Sims – Taste of Change
34. Mark Powell – Small Treasons
35. Carol Grametbauer – Homeplace
36. Cormac McCarthy – The Orchard Keeper
37. Richard Hugo – The Triggering Town
38. Donald Morrill – Beaut
39. Lynne Sharon Schwartz – No Way Out But Through