hushing with Susan Woods Morse

In these days of self-isolation and sheltering in place, the word “isolation” itself has been charged in meaningful new ways. And while the charging and refreshing of language with new meaning has been one of the enterprises of poetry from the start, when life takes on this work for us in a way that startles and discomforts, it is ultimately poetry that is able to show us that what feels new is often familiar enough.

round vehicle side mirror
Photo by Gantas Vaičiulėnas

I’m brought to these thoughts by this week’s poem “In the Hush” by Susan Woods Morse (below) which in its own way explores isolation as both verb and noun. The speaker begins by sharing that she is “contemplating the meaning of “now”.” By doing so, she is, in fact, isolating the present moment as something to be known further. Yet, despite this focus, the speaker admits to being unable commit to the endeavor, at least not when compared to, first, a cat, and later a bird in the second stanza. This inability to get at the meaning of “now” moves us into the noun sense of the word isolation. Even with the second stanza ending as it does with admiring confidence toward a swallow, the image of something making itself distant from the speaker implies the second sense of isolation.

There’s then another compelling turn of isolation and self-awareness in the following stanzas. First, a casual walk to a bar with a partner is described. While the speaker shares that they “[tell] ourselves we want the exercise,” she goes onto confide that “but I think it is also because the phone rarely rings.” This quick admission implies an isolation felt similar to that of the first two stanzas. This poignant, passing insight is echoed in the closing stanza’s final image of a field whose “false luminescence…plays tricks” on the speaker by bringing up memories while in the present moment “in that field a cow chews its cud, indifferent / to the consuming interests of the heart.”

This closing confluence of memory and image drives home the tension of the poem. While the speaker has been making efforts to isolate the present, the same effort reflects back a sense of isolation. This isolation is simultaneously rich in the details and insights offered but also reflects the cold of “indifferent” nuances. In this way, the speaker, as much as the poem on the page, makes her way to seeing “the consuming interests of the heart” clearer.

*

Susan Woods Morse

In the Hush

I sit on our deck, hands clasped behind my head,
contemplating the meaning of “now.”
I want to loll like our cat and bask in the heat
with his easy ennui,
only mine would be determined detachment,
not the same thing at all.

Instead, like him, I listen to the birds.
We both watch a swallow beat, then rest,
beat, then rest its wings against the paleness of sky.
And I think that is how to do it,
that is how to climb
a long tunnel of hollow air.

Tonight you and I will walk to the neighborhood bar,
telling ourselves we want the exercise,
but I think it is also because the phone rarely rings.
We will each drink one beer to tide us over
for the quiet walk home. We are just
occasional visitors there, unknown.

And for a long time after your snoring has begun
I will gaze through the dormer window
knowing that somewhere in a field
which has a certain false luminescence,
the green that plays tricks when I remember
being young and in the moonlight,
in that field a cow chews its cud, indifferent
to the consuming interests of the heart.

*

Susan Woods Morse’s chapbook In the Hush can be purchased from Finishing Line Press.

poetryamano project: august 2017

This week I’m sharing another installment archiving my Instagram poetry project entitled @poetryamano (poetry by hand). This account focuses on sharing poems written by hand, either in longhand or through more experimental forms such as erasures/blackout poems and found poems.

Below are highlights from August 2017. This month found me focusing on haiku on short, imagistic haiku. Also included below is a haiga inspired by the 2017 eclipse.

Be sure to check out the previous installments of the archive – and if you’re on Instagram, follow @poetryamano for the full happenings.

Enjoy these forays into variations on the short lyric!

aug 2017 1
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: faces shuffle through the coffee drips its bitter business.”
aug 2017 2
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: “at night lilacs lose their color to the moon.”
aug 2017 3
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: “writing across this blank paper a branch’s shadow.”
aug 2017 4
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: “why again why the wind fed broken glass.”
aug 2017 5
Image description: A handwritten haiku that reads: “reading scraps of Sappho years later my ears burn.”
aug 2017 6
Image description: A handwritten tanka that reads: “the gray cat’s eyes stop to take you in long before you can place them.”
aug 2017 7
Image description: A handwritten haiga that reads: “after the eclipse same trees under the same moon.”
aug 2017 8
Image description: A handwritten haiga that reads: “paper clip dash of wire hugs air to itself.”

 

 

community feature: Salamander Magazine

One of the big changes in my life that I was unable to share about during an academic year full of transition (including the present pandemic-related interruption) is how it’s been going during my first year as Editor-in-chief of Salamander Magazine. While we are currently in production for our 50th issue–and also running our annual Fiction Contest through the end of the month–I thought I would take a moment to share a bit about the first issue experience.

Front-Cover
Image description: A painting of a brown man and woman with the word “Salamander” over their heads.

I am proud of the final product on a number of levels. This issue contains amazing work from poets Naomi Ayala, Francesca Bell, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Caylin Capra-Thomas, Emily Rose Cole, Brian Clifton, Jackie Craven, Chard deNiord, Alexa Doran, Moira Linehan, Nora Iuga, Adeeba Shahid Talukder, Madeleine Wattenberg, and many more. On the creative nonfiction front, this issue features pieces by Marcos Gonsalez and Rochelle Hurt, while on the fiction front this issue features stories by our 2019 Fiction Contest winner Christina Leo as well as Michael Howerton who placed second, a flash fiction by Russell Dame, and an excerpt from David Maloney’s novel-in-stories Barker House (Bloomsbury). The issue rounds out with reviews of poetry collections by Lola Haskins, Brett Foster, Fady Joudah, and Tom Sleigh as well as a short story collection by Hadley Moore.

Another outstanding part of this issue is the art portfolio by our featured artist, Karla Rosas (KARLINCHE). Her piece “La Puerta Negra” is on the cover. I’d been a fan of her art for about a year before getting this gig. Especially this being my first issue at the helm, I wanted to feature art that hits me on the intersection where I and many others exist, where the personal meets the political, and shows how one can’t be seen without the other. I feel the Latinx community has had a number of awful and unjust narratives hanging over us. Featuring Latinx artists creating strong work in the face of such narratives is vital in pushing back against those narratives.

We had the issue 49 out mid-December and were able to celebrate in February with a reading featuring two of our contributors, David Maloney and Moira Linehan, as well as acclaimed fiction writer, Sonya Larson, who joined this year as a member of our Advisory Board.

Last thing I’ll share is that I’ve had a great time getting to teach this issue this past Spring in my introduction to creative writing course. Students have enjoyed interacting with these pieces of contemporary literature and learned a lot from them. I enjoy teaching the journal both to share my enthusiasm about the work but also as a way to share insights about the editing process.

Thank you to all the contributors and all our staff and readers who have made the success of this first issue possible!

To further celebrate this first issue, I’ve created a cento based on lines from poems in this issue. Expect another issue-related post when the next one comes out. For now, enjoy the fun collage/homage below!

Popcorn-sad

by José Angel Araguz

(a cento based on lines from Salamander Magazine, issue no. 49)

The heart is a wormhole—
limited to the path
you never had to become.

But grief’s like a cat, leaving then returning
our eyes lilac-bearded, our toes-daisy rich.
Today I will polish my own damned self.

I can begin to believe that you won’t come back again. Listen,
I saw their ghosts slither with the wind,
with the blood and birth. Popcorn-sad,

I step over stones and believe
the answer was in the moths
watching from above with small black eyes.

*

To purchase a copy of issue 49, go here.

To learn more about the Fiction Contest, go here.

highlights from Pretty Owl Poetry’s #takeovertuesday

This week, I had the awesome opportunity to participate in a #takeovertuesday on Pretty Owl Poetry’s Instagram account. I posted a series of “a day in a poet’s life” posts in their stories as well as held a poetry reading via Instagram live. I also had the opportunity to field some questions ranging from the writing life to astrology.

I share the question and answers below in the spirit of community. Thank you again to the editors of Pretty Owl Poetry! Thank you as well to everyone who shared space with me on Tuesday, either by asking questions, attending the reading, or simply viewing the stories. In these times where so much of life is affected and different due to the pandemic, I am honored to be a part of such a thriving writing community!

pop takeover 1
Image description: A man drinking coffee while sitting at a table with the following question and answer imposed: What kind of question should I ask you? Answer: IDK. I know a tad about astrology and tarot. And poemtrees. And surviving systemic oppression. Y’know, light stuff.
pop takeover 2
Image description: A stack of books with the following questions and answer imposed: What is inspiring you lately? Where do you seek inspiration when you feel uninspired? Answer: Community. As an introvert, I’ve learned to redefine socializing. For me, a book review is social, a way to center community. Here are some important anthologies for me right now. On top is a book of aphorisms. I like reading and writing in fragments as silence, too, inspires.
pop takeover 3
Image description: A couch pillow which features a skull wearing a flower garland with the following questions and answers imposed: Can ghosts have astro signs? Like if a Scorpio died in Pisces season would they change or synthesize? Answer: After conferring with my astro-colleague, I’m thinking, yes – one’s passing instigates a “death chart” parallel to one’s birth chart and interacts with it much like an Instagram filter.
pop takeover 4
Image description: A journal set atop a set of loose pages with a pen laid across and the following question and answer imposed: What do you consider your best practice in revising your own poetry? Answer: My process is to fill up journals and then leave them alone for a year or two. Then I revise by hand, editing down. From there, finally, poems are typed. Once typed, poems might be revised depending if I’m working on a project or submitting. I’m not done with some poems until they’re in a book.
pop takeover 5
Image description: A collage photo of two men and two women with the following question and answer imposed: And who is the poet that you most look up to and want to emulate? Answer: Obvs couldn’t pick just one. Here are some folx who for years have been lights to follow: Bert Meyers, Juan Felipe Herrera, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Sharon Olds.
pop takeover 6
Image description: A meme half consisting of Winnie the Pooh in a red shirt next to the word “apostrophe” and the other half consisting of Pooh in a tuxedo next to the words “top comma” with the following question and answer:  Fav meme template? Answer: On the spot, the Tux Pooh one is canon.  Here’s one I came up with based on something the amazing @hcohenpoet tweeted about an inventive response when not remembering the word “apostrophe.”
pop takeover 7
Image description: A book held open to a page where some pen marks have been made on the printed words with the following questions and answer imposed: How do you know when you’re ready to share a piece of work? How do you know when it’s done? Answer: With most poems I’ll feel I’ve given everything I had to it, seen all I can. So I send it out or share it as part of testing that feeling. Sometimes I’ll just leave a poem alone for a month or so. Time is the great reviser. The final feeling of being done sometimes doesn’t happen until a poem is published (but as seen here that’s not always the case). I encourage y’all to have a fluid relationship with your work, to show it and yourselves kindness.
pop takeover 8
Image description: A book laid on a table next to a mug with a skull on it, all with the following questions and answers imposed: What are you reading now? What new book do you recommend? Answer: I wrapped up a review of this new poetry anthology from @orisonbooks! I’ll be reading a poem from it tonight along with poems from the other anths from previous stories.