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Month: March 2013

KabbaLoom: Reading Lisa Fishman

 

Flower Cart Upon first impression, Lisa Fishman’s Flower Cart may appear to be somewhat inaccessible and scattered, due to its intellectual leaps, orientation-variations (horizontal and vertical) and multimedia-feel insertions.

However, through further exploration, the collection is, both, extremely intuitive and strategic. Fishman displays a clear understanding and mastery of language and syntax through her use of repetition and the evolution of words (including references to the OED); and her intuition then appears in the intellectual leaps made and in the transformation of repeated phrases. My favorite culmination of these assets is Fishman’s poem, “KabbaLoom,” which originally appeared as a chapbook by Wyrd Press in 2007. In this reader’s opinion, the poem is meant to be read aloud—slowly. The beginning—and majority—of the poem functions through the “evolution” of various words, such as in the opening line: “Material mater matrix womb (check oed)” (63). This particular moment in the poem suggests not only references to the OED but also a word’s potential evolution purely through the changing or omission of a letter, or an adjustment in pronunciation (which is a move Fishman makes more frequently as the poem continues). The particularly intuitive movements of the poem, however, are involved more directly with the few phrases that appear in the poem, often isolated on their own pages, such as, “sometimes a shape is a wall” and “Do not kneel,” which appear on two separate pages, side-by-side (70-71). Why these sentences become so important is the fact that these phrases act as summations of the previously listed words; they function as the logical pauses and foundational check-points in the poem. Through these particular lines, a reader can maintain balance and better appreciate the movement and evolution of words in the otherwise heavily-moving, enjambed, white-space-ridden poem.

Fishman’s poems, admittedly, require quite a lot of intellectual effort from the reader—from time, to the opportunity to read a poem out loud, to making the intellectual leaps, etc—and there may even be a question for some as to whether or not the ends justify the means; that is, whether or not the ending, or culmination of poems, justifies the effort the reader may have had to put into the collection. It’s a fair question, and I can honestly, immediately think of several people—enough to fill one hand, at least—who either would give up on the book, would hardly attempt it, or would feel cheated in the end. However, I feel Fishman, like many poets, requires a certain type of reader. If the reader is willing to work her way through a book for several days, taking the time to enjoy the sounds and language and movement—both visually and intellectually—and opens her mind to the intellectual leaps Fishman aims to make, then the reader will be presented with a very powerful collection of poems. I personally really enjoyed them, as I am constantly involved in poetry that is abstract, lyrical or surreal in some aspect and that which requires that additional investment. This collection was entirely worth the effort, in my mind, and I would recommend that anyone and everyone give the collection a try—after, first, opening their minds.

 

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Fishman, Lisa. Flower Cart. Boise: Ahsahta Press, 2011.

 

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If you’re interested in purchasing Flower Cart, please visit Ahsahta Press!

 

 

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Horses, Etc.: The Kinesthetic Nature of Marni Ludwig’s Pinwheel

 

marni ludwig pinwheel Typically when I read a poetry collection that is more surreal in nature, I eventually reach some level of disappointment, simply for the reason that the collection lacks a form of balance between the concrete and the surreal. In Marni Ludwig’s collection, Pinwheel, however, I never reached this level of disappointment. Though the collection finds its home in the surreal and continues to be severely imagistic, there is a narrative arch woven in throughout that develops over time.

In my mind, while there are a variety of directions the reader may take this narrative arch, I found my personal center in following the trek of a blind girl (or even, the concept of blindness) who reappears in several of the poems throughout. Within this arch, the poems were enticingly involved in the kinesthetic—the movement of horses, the body in dance, the body and mind’s relationship to nature, as well as the potential absence of a bodily sense: in this case, eye sight.

In this way, while the poems continue to be somewhat inaccessible, these moments of doors closing are explained away through this lack of eye sight: surely the imagistic details, or the acts of a moving creature, may be confused or even transformed through being experienced by bodily senses other than that of eyesight. This gives the collection a special authenticity, in the way of exploring this variety of topics without the traditional context of the observer, followed by touch or taste; rather, the collection becomes hinged on these later senses and contains a freshness through that avenue.

Extremely impressive, I really enjoyed Ludwig’s first full-length collection and am looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.

 

AFTER THE GIRL

 

After the girl
with the handful of mice
and a tiny silver guillotine leaves,
we lie down in the dark.

You tell me last night
you dreamed you wore
a beard. The night before
you drowned but did not sleep.

On the screen behind us
citizens of a great island
build the streets
toward a difficult sky.

On the next screen
a blind girl steps
before a shining faucet
and lets her dress fall.

 

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Ludwig, Marni. Pinwheel. Kalamazoo: New Issues Press, 2013. Print.

 

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If you’re interested in purchasing Pinwheel, please visit New Issues Press.

 

 

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Reading Marni Ludwig

 

AFTER THE GIRL

 

After the girl
with the handful of mice
and a tiny silver guillotine leaves,
we lie down in the dark.

You tell me last night
you dreamed you wore
a beard. The night before
you drowned but did not sleep.

On the screen behind us
citizens of a great island
build the streets
toward a difficult sky.

On the next screen
a blind girl steps
before a shining faucet
and lets her dress fall.

 

CEREMONY FOR A BYSTANDER

 

Listen, I am returning to where you are.

Wisteria, wisteria,
asleep on the stalk,
show me how to keep
the mouth soft.

Inside, wasps

are building cornices in the dust
and not one accurate place
in the silence.

 

STEEPLECHASE

 

Face down in the sun you can say you followed an animal
into the sun. We were having a conversation
about her pain. Lamb and Pin, first in line,
and then the other ponies trailing behind, mending
their shadows by the little coughing light of dusk.

And the birds dropped in our laps.

How could the sky have forsaken usafter we made it
small, to match our faith, and rode it
so purposefully into the breezeway.

From the east, you shall hear the call of seventy pentecostal hoof-taps.
From the west, the haystack whispers, slow learner.

Once I lost the use of my arms.

It was the only time I felt a kindness toward myself.

As for despair, I’ve learned to sit with it,
to arch my back and sink
the weight into my heels.

Every night I oil the saddle.
Every night I spit onto the torn bed-sheet,
rubbing concentrically until I find you
lying in the grass, drinking at the mouth
of the river of an inner ear.

 

SECRET

 

I dreamed I swam in a public park
while leather-beaked ducks
ate black bread at the edge
of the cool water. I was afraid
to feed them. I was afraid of the sun,
which showed me the original image
of myself, floating on my back.

A dog barked and then another dog
raised its head. I feel I deserve to die
if I have made a mistake. Underneath
the lake: bird music, cold sky
swimming up to meet my hands.

 

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Ludwig, Marni. Pinwheel. Kalamazoo: New Issues Press, 2013. Print.

 

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If you’re interested in purchasing Pinwheel, please visit New Issues Press.

 

 

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There is Nothing but Danger Here.

 

                                                                               —A Prose Poem

 

It has been there all the time, but at some point, the truth makes its way through the trees and the neighbors’ house: they fight all the time. One morning, before all the birds have shifted out of their trees and into the next, he holds an empty box of cigarettes and asks if she needs anything outside. There is a shopping list, she says, bring me back a new heart. Without another word, she sees the brown leather and worn elbows exit and close the door. Hours later, he returns and places a brown bag on the table, dark with what looks to be grease stains. Inside, there are pale organs. For the next several days, she creates explanations: pet store, backyard of an old farm, dog mill. Eventually, the excavation: she wakes as if without a memory, not of this man in the leather coat, not of this house that seems too small on this strange back street. Without a word, she leaves. She searches. Eventually, she comes back to write another shopping list: new brain, new left kidney, only to find with every excavation the house and the man in the leather coat are a little stranger—taller, leaning farther to the left, getting tired. Eventually, she dreams, hoping somewhere inside everything can be undone: the excavation, and then the other, the neighbor, the box of cigarettes, and then somehow, they are. But at some point, she realizes they’ve become a little stranger, too, and at some point, she simply turns out the light, and sleeps: excavation after excavation: green fence beyond green fence.

 

 

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KBAC Poets in Print Series: Tyler Mills & Brynn Saito

 

Tonight, like every other night, I come to the same conclusion: The Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, and their Poets in Print series, never disappoint. This evening, beginning at 7pm, the KBAC introduced Tyler Mills and Brynn Saito, both with their first collections of poetry. Admittedly, I had never read work by either of these young poets, but tonight, I was in for a treat. . .

MillsCompHi.inddTyler Mills read eight striking poems from her collection, Tongue Lyre, published by Southern Illinois University Press and winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry’s First Book Award. She began with the opening poem in the collection, “Tongue” (which I’ve included below), and my mind was instantly stolen. From what I have gathered so far, the narrative line in her work is stark and striking, lightly populated with lyric moments that somehow seem to take the line somewhere beyond truth (i.e. “my thighs sometimes still feel like the whites of a poached egg.”—isn’t that brilliant?). Her reading, too, is impressive; while she is quiet, there is sheer confidence and striking enunciation in, both, her voice and her eye contact. She looked at me multiple times during her reading, at seemingly perfect points; and each time, it was as though I were temporarily struck dumb.

The Palace of Contemplating DepartureFantastic, too, was Brynn Saito’s reading from her collection, The Palace of Contemplating Departure, published by Red Hen Press and winner of the 2011 Benjamin Saltman Award. She only read five well-selected poems—four from the collection, one outside—but the poems were commented on and joked about in-between readings, which gave the poems a special quality and freshness that might have been missed if only reading the book alone in a room somewhere. In looking through her poems, there is this wonderful blend of growing experiences (such as first loves, travel, familial memories) and cultural references (for instance, Japanese internment camps in WWII). She, too, has this somewhat-conversational line to her poetry that is frequented by what can only be called surrealism, snapshots, that force the reader to view these poems as living, breathing entities (one of my favorites is “Tree of Life,” included below).

 

TYLER MILLS

 

TONGUE

 

The problem is not night—people gathering in booths—or a game
where you select who to save from an apartment that’s on fire.

But at night, the silver bathroom stalls in the Multiplex crack open
as if I am the last horse to wander out during the credits.

What I mean is, my thighs sometimes still feel like the white of a poached egg.
There is logic to thinking about digger wasps, solitary insects that excavate

nests from the soil and then straddle their prey, usually an August cricket,
ashy as the blade of a waterlogged feather. And at night, the hermit thrush

calls, flutters to a new tree, calls, and soon the grove hosts a quorum
of these nightingale songs when there is only one traveling from tree to tree,

to an oak like the one shading my porch—I go there at night to breathe.
In the myth of Philomela, the King puts his knife down Philomela’s throat

after he finishes, then cuts her tongue out. Before she becomes a thrush,
she weaves what happened: images in a bolt of cloth, a kind of flag.

The newspaper pays for them, the flickering paper flags
leaning on the bottom panel of the doors in the neighborhoods.

Again this year, before dawn, the truck door slammed—I heard
someone cross the street. When I woke, flames were mouthing the air.

 

BRYNN SAITO

 

TREE OF LIFE

 

Maybe you’re in a place I’ve never been
say Michigan. It’s summer. Poplars throbbing green
all around you. Maybe she’s a Leo

and she’s standing in your driveway
with her breasts like the gospel
and her hot gold hoops. Or maybe she’s a Cancer

and you’re the kid in chemistry
staring out the window, dreaming
of a queen. Writing her a letter

in your blue jay mind: her of the homecoming.
Her of the deep thoughts. Her pale new body
keeping safe an old soul at seventeen. And didn’t

you love her. Didn’t you try. Didn’t you find her
standing in your driving on a Tuesday night
beneath a cracked blue dusk when she was perfect

for the last time. Her of the wild. Her
of the father. Her before the tree of life. Before
she was prey. Didn’t you love her

in your silent way—listening to everything
she could think of to say to you
until her voice made a home for you
and the world went dark.

 

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Tyler Mills was born in Chicago. She is the author of Tongue Lyre, which won the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award (Southern Illinois University Press). Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Antioch Review, Georgia Review, Nashville Review, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly Online, and elsewhere; her poems have also been the recipient of awards from the Crab Orchard Review, Gulf Coast, and Third Coast. She has received a work-study scholarship from Bread Loaf and a John Woods Scholarship from the Prague Summer Program. A graduate of Bucknell (BA) and the University of Maryland (MFA, Poetry), Tyler is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

If you would like to purchase Tongue Lyre, please visit Southern Illinois University Press!

 

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Brynn Saito is the author of the poetry collection The Palace of Contemplating Departure, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and hot off the press from Red Hen Press (March, 2013). Her poetry has been anthologized by Helen Vendler and Ishmael Reed; it has also appeared in Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Pleiades and Drunken Boat. Brynn was born in the Central Valley of California to a Korean American mother and a Japanese American father. She lives in the Bay Area and teaches in San Francisco.

If you would like to purchase The Palace of Contemplating Departure, please visit Red Hen Press!

 

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Mills, Tyler. Tongue Lyre. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Crab Orchard Review & Southern Illinois University Press, 2013. Page 3. Print.

Saito, Brynn. The Palace of Contemplating Departure. Pasadena: Red Hen Press, 2013. Page 66. Print.

 

 

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