Radio Silence (Actually, Let’s Hope Not!)

Normally I like to post a little more often during the summer months, but I have been neck-deep in poetry revisions for my new book coming out later this fall. (More details on that later!)

And this evening I’m going to be co-hosting the LivingArt program on KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station, from 6:00-7:00 (Houston time). If you’re here in the city, it’s 90.1 FM. If you’re looking for it online, click this link.

I cannot deny that I’m (probably ridiculously) nervous about this radio appearance — far more so than for any other radio spot I’ve done before. So send some good vibes this way, please. Our guests this evening are the very excellent John Hovig and Adam Holt, and I know they’ll be great.

Catch you on the other side of my editor’s duedate for this book of poems, my friends. And I can’t wait to tell you more about it!

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Bonus Poem: Charlie C Petch

I hope you all enjoyed this year’s Poem-A-Day series in honor of National Poetry Month. I know it isn’t still April, but one poem caught my attention after all the poems had been curated for this year, and I really wanted to share it now rather than wait till next year because it is so relevant now. In truth, it has always been relevant, and frankly, I’m not under any optimistic delusion that it won’t still be a year from now — sadly.

In case you didn’t see John Scalzi’s blog today, he discussed in excellent detail some of the ugliness surrounding the nonsensical “incel” garbage movement. If you’re not sure what that means, go click on that link to his blog. It won’t take long to read, it’s funny, and it summarizes some of the problem rather well. (There’s also a good bazinga at the end.)

It’s useful to note that the poem I’m sharing with you today is directly related to the recent Toronto murders-by-vehicle, which was a result of an “incel” pudknocker getting his panties in a wad believing, erroneously, that the world had wronged him.

Thanks so much to poet Charlie C Petch for the use of this poem.

***

Forward & Reverse 9/30

The day after
toxic masculinity
turned a Toronto/Tkaronto rental van
into an automatic weapon
to kill women with
I was afraid to walk faster
than the man ahead of me
of the men who spilled from
bars to pat my dog
afraid for her when she
didn’t want their hands
clawing at her
helping themselves to her body
“is it a girl” they say “she looks like a girl”
she looks at me why she looks at me stop
and because they are each a cocked gun
I say that she is and smile and walk away
aware we are always moving targets
who are only allowed to not smile
in death
.
The day before
toxic masculinity
turned a Toronto/Tkaronto rental van
into an automatic weapon
to kill women with
I was afraid to walk faster
than the man ahead of me
of the men who spilled from
bars to pat my dog
afraid for her when she
didn’t want their hands
clawing at her
helping themselves to her body
“is it a girl” they say “she looks like a girl”
she looks at me why she looks at me stop
and because they are each a cocked gun
I say that she is and smile and walk away
aware we are always moving targets
who are only allowed to not smile
in death

***

Charlie C Petch is an award winning playwright, spoken word artist, haiku deathmaster, host and musical saw player. Petch is touring two spoken word theatre pieces, their multimedia piece “Daughter Of Geppetto” and their vaudeville play “Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush” which got “Best of 2017” from Electric City Magazine for the radio play accompanying album “Odes & Acts.” They have published books with WordPress and LyricalMyrical and poems with Descant, The Toronto Quarterly, Matrix, and Oratorealis journals. Petch is the creative director of “Hot Damn It’s A Queer Slam,” a multi-city touring poetry slam series.
Find out more at www.charliecpetch.com.

Poem-A-Day: Stan Crawford

For our last day of National Poetry Month, I’m featuring a piece by Stan Crawford, whom I met years ago in a poetry workshop and whom I now see around town at poetry events every once in a while. He’s a very kind and interesting person, and it’s always fun to hear him read his work. In particular I admire his blend of accessibility and intellectualism and his subtle sense of humor.

Stan is very much a Houston poet, as this piece which refers to Ken Lay (of Enron infamy) will hint at. The devastating impact of the Enron debacle on Houston probably can’t be overstated. Even though it was nearly twenty years ago, we haven’t forgotten about it, or its perpetrators, or about the crimes which radiated from their choices.

***

After Reading in San Francisco About the Death of Ken Lay, and Consulting Orwell and Balzac

I scrutinize my morning face,
all folds and puffs.
Hair slack, gray-streaked,
random as straw.
A balcony of skin beneath each eye.

At fifty we have the face we deserve.
I too must be guilty of something.

Near Embarcadero a homeless man
with dreadlocks tangled as CIA plots
defies the signs that forbid feeding pigeons
and scatters his scraps of illicit bread.

Disheveled panhandlers and skateboard punks
hang on Haight Street and litter the park
with detritus of undertow
drenched in gold light.

Behind every great fortune, a crime.
A prison placed near the golden gate.
Sour inextricable from sweet
inside the chambers of our grapefruit hearts.

***

Stan Crawford is an attorney and poet who lives in the Houston Heights with his wife Dawn and their menagerie of pets. His poetry collection Resisting Gravity (Lamar University Literary Press) was selected as a Finalist by the Texas Institute of Letters for its First Book of Poetry Award in 2017.  

Poem-A-Day: A. E. Stallings

I recently saw this poem and it just knocked me out. The author, A. E. Stallings, generously allowed me to share it with you here.

In an environment where some writers may feel a tension between wanting to give voice to a marginalized perspective and not having the right to assume that perspective, Stallings’ poem creates a space for empathy and understanding and compassion and guilt without being heavy-handed. On a more technical note, I’m impressed by the poet’s use of rhyme and meter to create the even but not even, symmetrical but somehow “listing,” feeling of riding waves on the ocean.

Below the poem, find the poet’s own commentary on it. This poem first appeared in Literary Matters, and it later appeared in Women’s Voices for Change along with Stallings’ commentary.

***

Empathy

My love, I’m grateful tonight
Our listing bed isn’t a raft
Precariously adrift
As we dodge the coast-guard light,

And clasp hold of a girl and a boy.
I’m glad that we didn’t wake
Our kids in the thin hours, to take
Not a thing, not a favorite toy,

And we didn’t hand over our cash
To one of the smuggling rackets,
That we didn’t buy cheap lifejackets
No better than bright orange trash

And less buoyant. I’m glad that the dark
Above us, is not deeply twinned
Beneath us, and moiled with wind,
And we don’t scan the sky for a mark,

Any mark, that demarcates a shore
As the dinghy starts taking on water.
I’m glad that our six-year old daughter,
Who can’t swim, is a foot off the floor

In the bottom bunk, and our son
With his broken arm’s high and dry,
That the ceiling is not seeping sky,
With our journey but hardly begun.

Empathy isn’t generous,
It’s selfish. It’s not being nice
To say I would pay any price
Not to be those who’d die to be us.

***

“I am trying to remember exactly when I wrote this—it seems to have been published in September of 2015 but must have been written in the summer. My son did indeed have a broken arm, and my daughter was a six-year old who was fearless on the beach but with little in the way of swimming skills. The civil war in Syria was starting to become more visible in Athens—there had been a number of people, mainly families camped and protesting in the main square, Syntagma, until the police whisked them off one night. My husband is a journalist and had gone on Coast Guard patrols in the Eastern Aegean as these flimsy dinghies started coming in greater numbers. He had interviewed people who had been in the water for hours. (In one case, a woman had managed to save a baby, but not another child, who slipped her grasp.) That famous photo of the drowned toddler (Alan Kurdi) was shared widely in September of that year, but that was only one image, and this poem would have been written before that, I believe. Local news and social media sites often showed images of the drowned—kids my own kids’ ages, in similar clothes.

“By January of 2016, an average of ten people a day were drowning—again, often children, with one day seeing thirty-nine deaths. And of course not everyone was even found or declared missing. That was after this poem was written, but this sense that children were drowning in the same water we swam in haunted me all summer, the sense of the Aegean as dangerous and full of death as well as wine-dark or Santorini blue, and that the same element that caressed my children pulled others under. I had dreams about making that crossing. It was maybe that heightened sense of vigilance and danger you just have as a parent of young children, the way you can’t avoid reading terrible news stories about mishaps and accidents.

“But I did not want to write from the point of view of people undergoing this—that felt false to me; in a way I felt it was unimaginable and I wanted to keep that sense—and I wanted to engage with the very difficulty of writing about it. Empathy is derived from the Greek, of course, but it has almost the opposite meaning in Modern Greek to its English denotation—to feel in or towards someone and thus perhaps to feel against them. (The English word is itself a relatively recent coinage, with a pseudo-Greek lineage out of the German translation—before that, I suppose we had only “sympathy”—to feel or suffer “with” someone.) The poem was written relatively quickly, and I wanted to make sure in revision not to smooth the rough edges, the odd off-rhyme or rhythmic off-kilterness. I don’t normally end a poem so flatly, on such a bald statement, but I wanted that gambit here. And I wanted the poem to be published and distributed quickly—it spoke to the moment—which was why I was very glad it was taken by the (then-new) online magazine, Literary Matters.”

—  A. E. Stallings

***

A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia, and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (University of Evansville 1999), winner of the Richard Wilbur Award, Hapax (TriQuarterly 2000), and Olives (TriQuarterly 2012), as wells as verse translations of Hesiod’s Works and Days (Penguin Classics 2018) and Lucretius’s The Nature of Things (Penguin Classics 2009). A new book of poetry, Like, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux Press in the fall. Stallings is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, and is a teacher beloved of students all over the world. Visit her website and order her most recent book here.

Poem-A-Day: Adamarie Fuller

Have you ever had that feeling of waiting, of restlessness, of expectancy? Of course you have. We all have.

One thing I really like about this poem by Adamarie Fuller is how deceptively simple it feels. It’s accessible, yes, quite. But it’s also more, it could also be about so many other things. It’s the kind of poem the reader can layer meaning onto as needed. Your mileage may vary.

Tell us in the comments what you think the poem could be about.

***

Today

I stared into my refrigerator
like I was looking for the Second Coming.
All I saw were bits and pieces
of previous meals.
The leftovers from Pappa’s,
half a jar of niçoise olives,
couple glasses of wine left in the bottle,
a little cheese, some seedless black grapes.
Bottled water seemed to be the only
item in abundance. Clear, cool,
bottled in sanitary conditions,
totally tasteless.

***

Adamarie Fuller’s poems have appeared in numerous publications. She won the Artlines/Public Poetry ekphrastic poetry competition in 2012 at the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston. She also won Honorable Mention in the Austin International Poetry Festival in 2011 and the Texas Poetry Calendar in 2009. Adamarie has been published in various anthologies including Untameable City, Bearing the Mask, and The Weight of Addition, as well as the Houston Poetry Festival. Adamarie is a native Houstonian, mother, and grandmother.

Poem-A-Day: Adam Holt

One of my colleagues, another cross-genre writer named Adam Holt, has a new book out. It’s the third in his YA sci-fi series about a boy named Tully Harper who stows away on his dad’s spaceship with his best friend and the girl he has a crush on, and fate-of-the-solar-system level hijinks ensue. It’s a popular series; my daughter is one of his fans. My son scored major brother brownie points by giving her a signed copy of the newest installment, A Cord of Three Strands, for her birthday this month. Admittedly it wasn’t that hard for him to manage it. Adam is his English teacher.

But I mentioned the cross-genre thing. Adam is also a poet, and rather a competent one at that. Enjoy.

***

Hope and Distance Out West

Tired cowboys when the day is done
patch up their flak jackets and then their lives
with calls to their wives, their girlfriends, or both.
To parole officers, pastors, parents,
debt collectors, credit agencies,
or children. Their children. Their sons.

Slack-jawed lines ferry harmonica voices
from Motel Sixes in South Dakota
down the Great Plains
to eager ears in Albuquerque:
“When y’all comin’ home, pop?”
“Soon, son, soon.”
“Did you qualify today? How’d you ride?”
“Almost good enough,” he says.
“What that buzz on the line? What’s that buzz?”
The window unit gurgles.

The cowboy holds a beer to his bruised temple.
“It’s windy on this riverbank. Great sunset.”
“Y’all camped out!” says the boy. “You got a fire going, huh?”
“Soon enough. Get your sleep now, son. Good night.”

An image warms the child in his bed,
of Pop patting his Quarter Horse goodnight
beside a trickle of a stream.
The boy tucks himself under a sheet,
snug like embers in his father’s campfire,
the one he will watch until the smoke subsides.

Back at the Six, the cowboy eases himself
onto a moldy bedspread,
flips through standard cable for a spell
with his good hand,
remembers his own father’s voice
crackling homeward with those same words:
soon, almost good enough, good night.

These words, his father’s words, are now his own,
words that ride many miles but always return home.
They smolder in the ashes of the family they repair.
They make a man a totem a child can bear.

***

Adam Holt is a novelist, singer-songwriter, and poet. He was a featured poet for the

Houston Public Library’s Public Poetry Series, and his work has appeared in publications from Mutabilis Press and SMU’s Liberal Arts Magazine. His debut album — under the name Lone Star Rambler — was released in 2017. The Tully Harper Series, his YA sci-fi series, is a near-future novel meant to inspire young readers’ interest in human space exploration. An avid space advocate, Adam was the crowdfunding consultant on a Kickstarter that raised $500,000 to restore NASA’s Historic Mission Control. He is as an instructor at Writespace and The Kinkaid School. He lives in Houston, Texas. For more info on his work, go to http://adamholtwrites.com.

Poem-A-Day: John Donne (Oh look, another one by that guy.)

I just saw Infinity War and frankly cannot even. Srsly. Marvel’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.

So I’m going to cheer myself up by switching moods completely with another poem by John Donne. For an interesting analysis of this poem, click here.

***

To His Mistress Going to Bed

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tir’d with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime,
Tells me from you, that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th’hill’s shadow steals.
Off with that wiry Coronet and shew
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be
Received by men; Thou Angel bringst with thee
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know,
By this these Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,
That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a Gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus array’d;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know;
As liberally, as to a Midwife, shew
Thy self: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

***

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor, especially compared to that of his contemporaries.