I do hope you consider joining us. As a sort of sneak peek, here are poems from each of the featured readers. Looking forward to seeing y’all there!
A Villanelle for Jodie Foster
In Contact, you wait for sound. Radio static in deep space keeps you awake long into the night. How small this globe,
Ellie Arroway thinks. Miniscule, close to insignificant. It’ll likely take lifetimes to hear the farthest star, radio
frequencies scientists debate. History’s slow, the way some satellites in space appear to stand still, orbiting the globe.
Small moves, small moves, your father’s canto. They should’ve sent a poet, you say, witness to another galaxy. Without radio
proof, no one believes what you saw. No future, they say, is quite so opaque. When you come out at the Golden Globes,
your silver dress glittering, all the stars aglow in the audience, you speak about privacy, but also wish, in your own brave voice, a radio wave, to be not so very lonely on this globe.
Once All the Hounds Had Been Called Home
When the grapevine had thinned but not broken & the worst was yet to come of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart to the high boughs of a quaking aspen & shot it down. If love comes fast, let her be a bullet & not a barking dog; let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled, Are all wonders small? Otherwise, let love be a woman of gunpowder & lead; let her arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy with milk. I shot my heart & turned myself in to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked back along the trampled brush I remembered only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.
The name of the spotted apple on the leafy floor in the woods
outside the white-walled bedroom where the FM stereo was always
tuned to the same country station my girl crush loved
was gall, name for an outgrowth, a shell withering under leaf rot
near a spot where the surprise lilies might remember, might
forget to bloom. Touch a weevil and it will fall, legs and antennae tucked.
Blink and the artic fox becomes snow. The gecko, toes spread wide
on a tree trunk, passes for lichen. Of all the ways a creature can conceal itself,
I must have relied on denial. There were the Confederate bumper stickers,
pressures from seniors to tailgate, the spindly legs of a freshman
scissoring out of a trash can, how just the smell of Old Spice
could make my muscles contract like a moth, wings folded
the color of a dead leaf in October. So that she might hear her favorite song
my voice would drop, and if the DJ answered I would be Tim, Charlie, Luke, Jason
every name but my own. Truer than gold.
Wasn’t I the stripe in a tiger’s eye? The dapple in the flanks of an Appaloosa?
In daylight, how could I possibly explain: A heart hunting after a body?
Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:
Janel Pineda’sLineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.
Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossilson a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.
–José Angel Araguz, author of An Empty Pot’s Darkness
One of my favorite things about poetry is how it can not only detail an experience but also be an experience. The intimacy of language to be known and shared between us, to be changed and yet hold despite the changing, speaks to the human experience in a way that is simultaneously of the mind as much as the body. In Radiant Obstacles (Wipf & Stock 2020) by Luke Hankins, one encounters a poetic sensibility aware and after such simultaneous experience.
Take the poem “The Night Garden,” a short lyric which engages with some of these ideas despite its brevity:
I am the waterer of the night garden. I can hardly see. I water what I remember being there.
In four lines we have a narrative and a turn that defines that act of remembering. That alone is stunning. But what makes the poem speak to the human experience is the parallel blurring implied by the fact of the poem and the poetry within. The fact of the poem sets a two-line narrative about the night garden; the other two lines, then, reflect back this narrative as the ephemeral act it is narratively and in language. The garden that can barely be held in the speaker’s vision is parallel to what the poet has rendered for us on the page. Through brevity, clarity, and thought, Hankins is able to evoke an intimacy similar to the remembering the speaker engages in.
Radiant Obstacles is threaded with such moments of intimacy that acknowledge what lies beyond language. Whether it’s empathy felt by a son for his father with whom he shares a phobia of enclosed spaces and, despite it, accompanies his father on an elevator, or the acknowledged humanity shared between a bartender and her regulars, Hankins’ work is able to meet the concrete world with its rough edges and linger long enough so that new meanings give over.
This work after the various intimacies implied in language is approached at times indirectly via formal choices. The poems in this collection range from prose poems, short lyrics, and indented open field experiences across the page. One dynamic outlier in this vein is “That Than Which” which finds Hankins taking a quote from Anselm of Canterbury and repeating it over and over, each repetition shuffling the order of words and adding to them. The experience created in this experiment is dramatic. Where the epigraph holds as a solid construction of sense, the statement’s reconfiguring via the poem works away from that sense and into other senses. This approach on the part of Hankins evokes another type of intimacy, that of language as something both shared and constructed, able to adhere to and diffuse meaning not just in his handling but in our being along for the ride. What makes the poem remarkable is that the experiment, rather than shutting us out, welcomes the reader into its wrestling with meaning.
And yet, “wrestling” may not be the right word here. Through a kind of lyrical volley and parry, Hankins invokes the idea of language as a “radiant obstacle” in and of itself. As language fails to connect fully yet consistently draws us to it despite this failure, each poem is an endeavor on both the part of poet and reader toward exploring what can be found through being thwarted thus. “Tree Rings” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Here, the speaker meditates on both language and trees; by doing so, he explores the ways humans imbue themselves on the world, and vice versa. The difference being, however, that it all remains a one-sided conversation. Much like prayer, these ruminations ultimately lay bare the richness and sorrow to be found in the human want for a connection beyond ourselves.
Here is a history that does not concern you, a making apart without the imposition of form, a shapely patient expansion, except not patient because it is mindless. But you cannot help regarding the sawn trunk allegorically (devoted becoming, then the desolate crash through other limbs). Do we not also expand ourselves and thus can speak of the slow sorrow of the trees even though we know they are not sad, not slow, except in our perceiving? It is enough to perceive a thing for it to bear the force of truth. So, the hillside stands of trees driving minutely upward through mindless centuries. Their jagged symmetries unerringly perpetuate and the soft new leaves, the supple branches giving way to the wind seem just like us, though they are not.
Question:How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?
Luke Hankins: My poems have frequently been criticized—especially in an academic setting—for being “overly” abstract. But many of the poems, both historical and contemporary, that impact me most profoundly share a deep engagement with abstract idea and reasoning. That’s not to say that those poems don’t usually engage with the concrete as well, but that they clearly revel in and deeply depend on idea in a way that, say, an Imagist poem does not.
Concretion has for decades been the accepted American poetic doctrine—and, yes, it is an important tool that novice poets typically need to learn. But it’s emphasized to such an extent that our poetry gets bled of complex thought, and consequently we risk losing our very ability to engage with abstract thought.
T. S. Eliot wrote that for John Donne an idea was as immediate as the scent of a rose. I worry that we stand to lose that capacity of mind. My poems attempt to revalorize idea and the ways that language can operate in the abstract. My poems are not devoid of concretion by any means—and some are entirely concrete. But as a whole they intentionally lean on abstract constructs.
Question:There seems to be a distinct conversation happening through the range of formal choices across individual poems—some lean toward direct narrative, others evoke rapturous undertones via indented lines, while still others engage with repetition. Was this intentional? What formal aesthetics do you see this book reflecting?
Luke Hankins: The variety of stylistic and formal approaches my poems take is certainly intentional. I could discuss the thinking underpinning the different approaches, but I prefer for readers to form their own opinions and reactions in that regard. What I will say is that I often tire of poets who write poems, year after year, that are essentially interchangeable in terms of voice, stylistics, and formal characteristics. Naming names is generally frowned upon, but he’ll keep making money, so here I go: Does the world need another Billy Collins poem?
I don’t intend to settle into a formulaic approach to writing poems. Each poem, for me, must be a venture into uncertainty—of voice, of idea, of form.
Special thanks to Luke Hankins for participating! To keep up with Luke’s work, check out his site. Copies of Radiant Obstacles can be purchased from Wipf & Stock.
Luke Hankins‘ most recent poetry collection is Radiant Obstacles (2020). A volume of his translations from the French of Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, A Cry in the Snow & Other Poems, was released in 2019. He is the founder and editor of Orison Books, a non-profit literary press focused on the life of the spirit from a broad and inclusive range of perspectives.
Meet my new friend, the viscacha. He’s got a look that is simultaneously wise, weary, and worked-over. While I can’t claim to be wise, I am definitely feeling weary and worked over by the world. Introduced this friend to my students this week and one responded with: “What does he hear that we don’t that he needs ears so big?”
As I continue to ponder that, I thought I would share some recent happenings:
My poems “Youth” and “To Silence” were recently published in the latest issue of Pangyrus along with a short statement on their origins and meaning in a new manuscript.
This week I’m excited to share two poems from Lisa Summe’s upcoming collection, Say It Hurts (YesYes Books). This collection is due out on January 15th and is currently available for pre-order.
Here’s a brief description of the forthcoming collection:
Say It Hurts grapples with queerness, love, grief, masculinity, coming of age, and coming out in the context of cultural violence rooted in misogyny and familial violence rooted in catholicism. In these poems joy and loss hold hands—at sleepovers and haircuts, at symphonies and haunted mazes, among fathers, on dating apps, during car sex, in matching tattoos, on Pinterest boards, at funerals. Lisa Summe’s debut collection queers the love poem by demanding that the whole story be told—what it means to love, to grieve, and to heal by saying it out loud.
About Say It Hurts
One thing I’m continually impressed by in Lisa Summe’s work is the range of lyric voice she’s able to tap into. From direct intensity to nuanced, meditative insight, there’s always an emotional pulse to her work.
“Always a Man” (below) is an example of direct intensity. The lyric voice charges forth, interrogating the pervasive effects of toxic masculinity in women’s public and private lives. One effect is evoked through the speaker’s stating “I am not the kind of woman,” then using this “not” as a counterpoint to heteronormative examples of “kinds” of women. This reckoning is then forged by the verbal sexual assault women face. Through an example of a hypothetical couple hearing about “sexual assault on the news,” the poem gets to the question: “how many times in a year / do you think you get catcalled.” When this question garners a response “incalculable / like the number of times in a year I stub my toe,” we are as readers hit by a harsh reality. This harsh reality becomes all the more harsh as it occurs within the speaker’s own experience, that the poem has moved from hypothetical example to her referencing “my coworker or sister or best friend.” The poem continues listing various instances of women being catcalled, illuminating the opening line’s counterpoint through indirection. What develops in the first half of the poem is the harsh reality of straight and straight-presenting women in heteronormative society. The poem takes a turn with the line “but there is always a man” which takes us back to the title, its implied binary, and the interrogation via the poem of said binary. The speaker goes from detailing the effects of catcalls to sharing her experience of outright threats of violence. The poem ends on a note that makes clear how insidious misogonynistic subjugation is in women’s lives, queer or straight.
In “Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding” (also below), nuanced, meditative insight is created through the speaker’s reflection as she goes through an inventory of the title’s Pinterest board of an ex. Through this inventory, we get a variety of images and details whose emotional poignancy works through juxtaposition. For example, early on the speaker notes “so / you want an oval engagement ring” and follows that up with “my grief / circling around: coming back as bird.” This braiding of metaphor and image creates a palpable pathos, one that stands in direct contrast with the title. Where the mention of social media and the equally “social” weddings imply connection and celebration, the speaker grieves a loss of connection. There remains, however, a faint tone of celebration, the speaker in awe of the beloved even at a physical and societal distance, but this tone is modulated by grief and realization. The formal use of colons throughout this poem help in this modulation of tone, setting the pace while also letting the reading experience be one of rumination, speaker and reader side by side in awe and regret.
Enjoy the poems below. Also, White Whale Bookstore will be hosting a virtual reading & launch for Say It Hurts on January 23 featuring Summe as well as Sara Watson, Jari Bradley, Micaela Corn, and Diannely Antigua. Check out this link for info on registration and more about the event.
Always a Man*
I am not the kind of woman whose boyfriend asks in the midst of all of the sexual assault on the news how many times in a year do you think you get catcalled I do not have a boyfriend first of all but even if I did my answer would not be that of my coworker or sister or best friend incalculable like the number of times in a year I stub my toe I am not the kind of woman who looks like a woman not the kind of woman a man whistles at near the gas station or calls honey at the bank or tells to smile because I’ve got a pretty smile at the farmer’s market the Jiffy Lube the coffee shop the bar down the street my own porch because the upstairs neighbor the mailman I am not the kind of woman my exes are women who got hit on right in front me while I held their hands at the gym or at the movies or at the fucking Olive Garden I am not the kind of woman who has to use her energy to politely decline these advances or gets called bitch or gets a bloody lip or gets it anyway but there is always a man while I walk home from work in a button down & bow tie in broad daylight there is always a man on the corner by the CVS a man wearing a hardhat on the corner of Bayard St. there is always a man who wants to put me in my place I see what you really are under there he says you’re a girl
*previously published in Bone Bouquet
Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding
I swear that’s your actual finger: so you want an oval engagement ring: my grief circling around: coming back as a bird: as a wing: fragile as the inner ear: my alabaster heart: you: lace everything: sleeves of your dress: lingerie: twitch of my thigh: now you will marry a man: I don’t know his name: twitch in my eye: when we were together: we made words: let’s get married: our idea of save the dates: Scrabble tiles: getting married: back of your dress wide open: your finch tattoo bursting through: my grief flying out the window of you: what you like about the finch: it always returns home
Lisa Summe is the author of Say It Hurts (YesYes Books, 2021). She earned a BA and MA in literature at the University of Cincinnati, and an MFA in poetry from Virginia Tech. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bat City Review, Cincinnati Review, Muzzle, Salt Hill, Waxwing, and elsewhere. You can find her running, playing baseball, or eating vegan pastries in Pittsburgh, PA, on Twitter and IG @lisasumme, and at lisasumme.com.
Last week I spoke of being panicked. This week’s P-word: pummeled. It’s how I’m feeling at least, typing this out this Friday morning. The word describes the world as well, no? With government officials seriously delaying aid for people while corporations get tax breaks, billionaires billion on, and so many people suffer from the pandemic, whether from the virus itself or from the peril and strain the pandemic has placed us under in our respective lives. Here are some bright spots despite it all:
Early this week I participated in a Drink + Draw virtual session hosted by Flux Factory. Ani and I logged in and did some figure drawing. Models took 30 minutes each working through poses in their respective spaces. Flux Factory is a great art community space based in Queens. Here’s info on the next session which will take place in January.
The generous Gillian Parish has just published a new edition of her spacecraftproject. Check out poetry by Vince Guerra & David Maduli here — & do click around the site for some healthy, illuminating spacing out 🙂
Lastly, this week I participated in a final publication-focused virtual session with my ENG 375 Poetry Workshop students. Part of the final assignment for this course was revising two poems to be included in a digital class anthology. The anthology, entitled tending to the roots, also includes their art contributions. It was an honor to design this anthology as well as build with them and hold space for each other’s poetic selves this semester.
Check out tending to the roots: an ENG 375 class anthology below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
David Maloney: Image description – A man standing at a podium reading from a book.
Sonya Larson: Image description – A woman standing at a podium.
Moira Linehan: Image description – A woman standing at a podium.
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!
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.