Monthly Archives: February 2013

“Phoenix” by Odarka Polanskyj Stockert

on the cusp of morning
a new day a new
beginning

cleared of fog and snow
you rise
a phoenix
renewed and recreated

the winds blow across your wings
ruffling you feathers
and the sleet
taps out your name

you rise above the trees
see clearly for the first time and survey
the whole of your world
finally alight upon a
barren branch

and sleep
and dream
what words
will not portray

Odarka Polanskyj Stockert is a New Jersey native poet and and long time member of South Mountain Poets. She is also a long time collaborator of the Yara Arts Group, resident at the La  Mama, etc. in New York City and has performed in many Yara poetry and experimental theater events and productions. Odarka is a harpist, poet and songwriter, an engineer and inventor.  She lives in Millburn, with her family.  Visit her Website: http://www.myspace.com/odarkasharp.

Fun with Similes Poetry Prompt

A great big Thank You to Juan Morales for another awesome poetry prompt:

Fun with Similes

We all know metaphor and simile and sometimes take them for granted, but it does not change their obvious importance. Kim Addonizio writes “Metaphor speaks of one thing in terms of others, creating a kind of energy field, what I think of as “the shimmer….Simile does the same thing, only a bit more obviously: to say that a grain of sand is like a world would make the comparison explicit.” I can’t speak for most poets, but I usually go for the easy simile and uncover a comparison too close to the poem’s established world. Good simile and metaphor embrace the departing nature of the simile more so readers can access the grain of sand and the world simultaneously. Here’s a poem from Major Jackson’s book Holding Company that does an amazing job with simile.

How You Love by Major Jackson

Like the injured laid down at the scene of an accident
before cars collide, like cloud striations over
Fairyland Loop, like a kid’s carnival balloon
diminishing and lost to the great blue,
like bright jewels scattered in some secret cave, like two
scissor blades breaking apart, like after-party guacamole
with drips of salsa, like diamonds of light rotating over
an empty dance floor, like priests at night staring
in store windows at half-nude mannequins,
like dark earwax , like unscented candles, like Janus.

Jackson uses eleven similes in a ten-line poem with so many surprises and turns in his rendering the act of love. Even if the use of “like”softens the comparison, it works so well. The line breaks, and length of the lines, and listing also help reinforce the unpredictability too.

For today’s exercise, I want you to work with the comparison explicit. Write a poem with a seemingly simplistic title and use as many similes as possible to help establish an emotional connection. Another approach to this exercise is to start with as many random similes as possible and then select a title as the unifier.

Feel free to participate in the poetic conversation here at ZingaraPoet by adding your poetic response to this prompt in the comments section below. Go ahead, don’t be shy – make the conversation interesting!

“Small Circles” by Colleen Maynard

The fog has shellacked
over the warmth felt this morning.
Mist turns to rain.
Along the vinyl canopies
a strip of raised drops form,
solid as brass-studs
on the seams of fancy
upholstered chairs.

I might sew
the torn seams of my coat.
I will not go swimming.
I may take a small nap,
and work on either
my life or my art.

When there is nothing else to do,
I lock the door to pace.
I recall Jesse,
the way he’d walk small circles
in the center of his studio,
head down,
glaring at the wood
as though it might
loosen the floorboards
and release some
slight sigh.

Colleen Maynard is a writer and visual artist. She holds a degree from the Kansas City Art Institute and has publications in Monkeybicycle, The Same magazine, and Ceramics: Art and Perception.”

Interview with Texas Poet Laureate, Larry Thomas

Larry Head ShotI learned about Larry Thomas by way of “200 New Mexico Poems” when I accepted and subsequently posted his poem, An Aged Navajo Artisan” (#57, April 17, 2012). When I discovered that he is a former poet laureate of Texas, of course I had to interview him. I am impressed with Larry’s hard work and dedication as a poet and find his approach to writing poetry sound. We also share a few favorite prose writers.
Please enjoy this conversation with Larry immediately following his poem, Tide Pool Touch Tank. You will also find Larry’s professional bio directly after the  interview.
***
Tide Pool Touch Tank
for Frank

The dank air
of the Maine State Aquarium
is pungent with brine
and the nostril-flaring
smell of fresh fish.

Little children huddle
around a tank
like primitives in a ritual.
Their heads swim
with flashbacks

of moonless, blue-black skies,
of luminous bodies
sparkling through the slats
of their cribs
beside the windows,

ever beyond the reach
of their fat, groping fingers.
Wide-eyed, entranced
by the miracle beneath them,
they take deep breaths,

ease their hands into the black-
green holiness of seawater,
and, with the fingers of gods
trembling in the heavens,
stroke the spiny skin of stars.

(from The Lobsterman’s Dream; first published in The Texas Review)

***

Tell me about your experience as Texas Poet Laureate. What sort of outreach projects did you initiate or further during your term?

My one-year term as the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate began in April 2008 and ended in April 2009.  As soon as my appointment was announced, in April 2007 (my appointment occurred one year prior to the commencement of my one-year term), I received a flood of requests for interviews and invitations to speak/read my poetry to schools, community colleges, universities, and civic organizations such as the Rotary Club, historical societies, poetry societies, and numerous other groups.  I did my best to honor each invitation I received, from throughout the large state of Texas, and only on a couple of occasions had to decline an invitation due to a scheduling conflict, etc.  I never required a speaker’s fee for a presentation; only reimbursement for travel expenses and lodging at a modest motel.  Many schools, especially public institutions, don’t have ample funds available for this sort of activity, so I wanted to make it as financially reasonable for them as possible.  I was privileged to receive a $2,000.00 grant from the Ron Stone Foundation for the Enhancement and Study of Texas History (based in Houston), and I used the entire grant for travel/lodging expenses to venues which didn’t have funds available for such activities.

As to outreach projects, I particularly enjoyed my visits to public schools and college/university creative writing classes.  Many public schools, most unfortunately, have dropped poetry from their basic curriculum, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the students about the importance of poetry in their lives and share with them examples of my own work.

Another outreach project, which I initiated, was to set aside time from my busy schedule to work one-on-one with young poets of promise.  I met with them primarily in coffee shops (such as Starbucks), critiqued their work, and answered any questions they had about my own creative process.  I charged no fee for my services, and feel that these young poets benefitted greatly from the time I spent with them and were encouraged to keep reading and writing.  My opinion of their work and the time I spent with them seemed to significantly enhance their confidence as young poets of seriousness.

Does poetry need community?

I feel very strongly that poetry needs community.  Poets spend countless hours crafting and revising their poems for hopeful publication in a distinguished journal or a collection, and do so to share their work with a “community” of appreciative readers.  Otherwise, they would just stash their work in diaries for their eyes alone!

Secondly, although I personally have never been one to join writers’ groups or participate in workshops, I am very much in the minority as a poet in this regard.  Virtually all of the serious poets with whom I am acquainted aggressively seek out and participate in quality workshops, and are members of writers’ groups which meet regularly.  This gives them a chance to present their work to and receive honest feedback from others whose work they respect, and to have their work seriously critiqued for necessary revision.  They feel that their participation in such a group is critical to their own artistic development.

Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Feel free to discuss your writing space, the time of day you write or any rituals you have which help you with your process?

I write in a small study on a rustic Mexican table which I regard as my desk.  My desk sits beneath a window overlooking the Davis Mountains of the Great Chihuahuan Desert.  For years, I composed first drafts on the back side of used computer paper secured in a clipboard, and I always wrote with a cartridge fountain pen.  During the past couple of years, however, I have composed on my laptop.  I generally write in the mornings, and I almost always write to the music of Beethoven which I play at a rather loud although not uncomfortable volume.When I begin my writing process, I often have no conscious idea of what I will write about that morning.  I often start with an image around which I feel I can construct a first draft, and I pay little attention to syntax, line or stanza integrity, or any other sense of “crafting” the poem.  I think that “play with language” is a critical part of the writing process, and that I should “let the words flow” before I begin the strenuous and critical revision process.  After the “play” has ended, I start shaping the amorphous mass of words I have before me, and begin what will be an extensive revision process.  I first start shaping the words into poetic lines and then see if the lines cohere in some manner into stanzas.  Most of my first drafts undergo twenty-five to thirty revisions during my initial writing session before I am reasonably comfortable with them.  I then return to the finished draft for several days, fine-tuning it, until I get the poem where I think it should be.  My “gut” lets me know when it is time to move on to another composition.

How do you approach the large task of putting together and arranging a manuscript? 

Before I even think about putting together a manuscript, I make sure that I have a very large body of published or “publishable” poems of thematic unity, well over one hundred, from which I can select fifty or so for the first draft of the manuscript.  I then approach the shaping of the manuscript in much the same manner I shape an individual poem, placing careful emphasis on theme, tone, consistency of syntax, etc.  I believe that a manuscript should be as seamless as possible, and that each poem in the manuscript should effectively serve the collection as a whole.


What non-writing activities do you practice that inspire creativity and fuel your writing?

Non-writing activities which I feel inspire my creativity are art museum/art gallery attendance, music listening (especially classical), and serious reading.  I spend a lot of time reading the collections of numerous contemporary poets of noteworthy achievement, and short story collections by distinguished fiction writers.  I believe that the short story is the “poetry of prose,” in compression, use of imagery, heightened use of language, etc., and I find a number of literary techniques in well-written short stories which are certainly transferable to the composition of poetry.  Among the contemporary short story masters whom I have found helpful to my development as a poet are Raymond Carver, Breece “DJ” Pancake, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tobias Wolff.

When people ask you what you write about or what your poetry is about, how do you respond?

The subjects of my poems are quite multifarious. I have published complete collections of poetry about the Texas Gulf Coast (The Lighthouse Keeper), the backwoods denizens of deep East Texas (The Woodlanders), the flora, fauna and denizens of far West Texas where I was born and reared (Amazing Grace, Where Skulls Speak Wind, and Stark Beauty), outlaw bikers (The Fraternity of Oblivion), paintings and the properties of color (The Skin of Light), the bird or avian world (A Murder of Crows), wolves (Wolves), and quicksilver (mercury) miners (The Red, Candle-lit Darkness).  When people ask me what my poetry is about, I often reply that it is heavily inspired by the natural world, but also by anything which captures my interest at any given time.  A poem, at least to me, is first the artistic use of language, and secondly a means of transporting the reader to the heart of the mystery, beauty and terror of existence.

What projects are you working on or planning now?

I just completed a chapbook of poems set on the coast of Maine (The Lobsterman’s Dream), forthcoming from El Grito del Lobo Press in a handset letterpress edition with original woodcut illustrations, tentatively scheduled for publication in late spring/early summer 2013.  I also have a book-length collection, Uncle Ernest, forthcoming from the Virtual Artists Collective (Chicago).

***

Professional Bio:

Larry D. Thomas, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate, has published nineteen collections of poetry, his most recent book-length collection of which is A Murder of Crows (Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago, 2011.  He has two additional books of poetry forthcoming: The Lobsterman’s Dream (El Grito del Lobo Press, Fulton, MO) and Uncle Ernest (Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago).  Among the publications in which his poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming are 200 New Mexico Poems, The Texas Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Sugar House Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and Southwestern American Literature.  His New and Selected Poems (TCU Press 2008) was long-listed for the National Book Award.

Web site: www.LarryDThomas.com

Friday Poetry Prompt

Riffle through your old poems and pull from them a poem that has yet to find a home. Perhaps it isn’t quite finished or perhaps it is different thematically from your other work. Experiment with this poem in one, or all, of the following ways:

Write a “part two” to the poem.

Arbitrarily rearrange the words, lines and stanzas on the field of the page based on some principle that you invent. For example, perhaps words beginning with a particular letter are flush with the left margin while words beginning with a different letter are always indented so many spaces from the left margin. Maybe nouns contain extra spaces or are centered. Use your imagination.

Cut your poem up and rearrange its words. Paste the new onto a colorful piece of paper.

Most of all, enjoy the process. And feel free to post your results in the comments area below.

“Valentine” by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Valentine

It’s all a matter of seeing what is right here:
the face of the beloved, the eyes closed,
graying lashes on the cheekbone. The eyes
open, blue washed into green, changing
in light and time. It is all necessary as
time or how remembering changes
the face, looking to see what comes
turns the head. It is all a matter of thinking,
What are you thinking? When did it start,
how can it end when the weight, the lightness
of this seeing makes the familiar new,
the unknown an old friend? It is all right
on the cusp of the horizon: deepening
blue folding back into orange behind the tree
behind you. It is all a matter of seeing
in the delicate and wild space between us
that isn’t really space at all, how whatever
we know can be erased and remade with the other.
How our time is not a force rushed through us,
but a kind of valentine we can open right now,
in the eyes of the other.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author or editor of 16 books, including a novel, The Divorce Girl (Ice Cube Books); a non-fiction book, Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other (Potomac Books); The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); the anthologies An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate (co-editor, Ice Cube Books) and Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems (editor, Woodley Press); and four poetry collections. Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master’s program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word – at Goddard College where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely, and with singer Kelley Hunt, writing and singing retreats. www.CarynMirriamGoldberg.com

Intereview with Poet/Editor, Leah Sewell

Leah SewellI am finding it very difficult to write an adequate introduction for today’s interview guest, Leah Sewell, whom I know from my undergraduate years at Washburn University. Since our years in the English program at W.U., where our paths crossed frequently in writing circles and workshops, Leah has found inventive ways to resuscitate, and in some cases create, an arts and literary culture in Topeka. The many worthwhile projects she has begun or contributed to are crucial to a small city like Topeka and qualifies her for grand accolades, though I know that Leah’s efforts come from a place of conviction, her love of  the creative process, and her dedication to her home town; not from a desire to be recognized. I’ve always known Leah to be exceptionally talented and the writer of great poetry and am thrilled whenever I hear about her accomplishments, whether they be a recent publication or the continued success of her lovely family. Topeka is fortunate to count Leah among it citizens, and I feel equally fortunate to count her among my friends.

Please enjoy Lea’s interview immediately following her poem, “Marionette.”

***

Marionette

I dreamed I returned from the bar to find you
holding chopsticks & fresh-rolled sushi, only
they were really crochet hooks that dipped sharp heads
in apology at my ovaries round as dumplings.

I flapped like a stuck moth against the wall.
All my accoutrements — hairpins, false eyelashes, earrings —
sloughed off my body like dust. I unfurled my proboscis
to speak but the voice was a pastel feather. Out in blue night,

our friends saw shadows on shades.
Your limbs chopped like a marionette. They applauded
because you are a scientist who slips pills
into their drinks. I can’t remember why the wall

gulped open like a bruised esophagus to swallow —
maybe I tickled it apart when I shuddered. Your arm
clamped on my waist woke me next morning. On your breath,
evidence—sawdust. I rose & unrolled my plaster tongue.

(forthcoming in Stone Highway Review)

***

Tell me about your involvement in publishing in Kansas?

When I was a junior at Washburn University, a good friend and fellow English major Ande Davis convinced me to join the university’s newspaper staff. I eventually became an editor and had to learn to design the entertainment section and a monthly entertainment magazine. After I left Washburn, I still wanted to be involved in magazine publication, and I searched out Kerrice Mapes, who was a few issues into publishing this little glossy arts and entertainment magazine called seveneightfive. I went from being a staff writer to a copy editor to managing editor and ultimately the editor-in-chief. During my time there, I learned a lot about Topeka and came to love it and have strong feelings toward it and wanted to help improve it in many ways. I became involved in organizing poetry and art events and doing volunteer work in several organizations. I also wanted to make sure that local writing and writers were given due space in seveneightfive’s pages. Today, the poetry spread is still going strong under the editorship of Topeka poet Dennis Etzel Jr. who publishes work by local authors, interviews and reviews. Nearly seven years later, seveneightfive continues to have a huge presence in the city, a massive following of readers, and does great work with community arts activism. When my family grew with the arrival of my daughter, Sylvia, and my son, Oliver, I gradually became aware that the city could benefit from a family A&E magazine that emphasizes art, reading and community involvement for parents and children. With Kerrice’s enthusiasm and support, we created XYZ Magazine, and I shifted my focus to editing XYZ while Kerrice stayed over at seveneightfive. When I started grad school, I handed the reigns of the EIC position over to Janice Watkins, fellow Washburn English grad (English majors make great editors!) and I’m currently still involved as the art director. All of this experience in publishing led me to designing books, which I get to do now on a freelance basis, producing titles in poetry and prose for Kansas presses like Woodley, Coal City and Mammoth. I’ve also begun an assistant editorship with Coconut Poetry Press based in Atlanta, Georgia, founded by publisher Bruce Covey. My first book design project with Coconut is the book, of the mismatched teacups, of the single-serving spoon by Chicago poet Jenny Boully, which is set to be released this month.

You are also involved with the Topeka Writer’s Workshop. Tell me more about this organization and your role in it.

About four years ago, I realized that I lacked a generative atmosphere, a scene like the one I’d found at college where other writers were sharing their work, talking about poetry, and offering insights to my own work. I saw that the Lawrence Arts Center had a writers workshop, and every Tuesday, I’d hand my colicky newborn son over to my husband, go out into the freezing night and drive down the highway to Lawrence, where I found a group of writers who were welcoming and helpful, but they also seemed like an already cohesive community. I didn’t feel like I could fully enter that community because of the physical distance. I knew a handful of writers in Topeka, and decided to round them up for a Topeka writers workshop. By July of 2009, and with help getting the word out through seveneightfive, I had a group of nearly twenty people, both friends and strangers, who met bi-weekly in the sweltering back room of a furniture warehouse and gallery in Topeka where bats swooped in the rafters and the writing dialogue thrived and bloomed. The numbers eventually dwindled, and rightly so (I think of those first days and wonder how we were able to get everyone’s work looked over), and today the 10-12 regular members of the Topeka Writers Workshop participate in more of a collective model. We each bring a little money to the group for copy costs, reading promotions and the like. We’re an eclectic group, composed of a stay-at-home dad, a painter, a federal judge, a pastor, a couple who live and breathe poetry when they’re not slogging through their day jobs, an adjunct English professor, a graphic artist, a PhD candidate in English, a railroader, mothers and fathers and musicians, and myself, the facilitator. The diversity of the group is perhaps its best characteristic. No one snubs anyone else; all forms, styles and “levels” of writing are welcome. We’re also great friends who support each other but aren’t afraid to offer the occasional gutting critique. Ultimately, our goal is to help each other move forward with our writing and to give unpublished work its first chance to be read and appreciated. We also hold readings twice a year and have put out print materials in the past and plan to do more. We often discuss ways we can engage in community activism, and if I can get everyone in alliance with me, I’m hoping to begin to do just that in 2013 by bringing writing into areas of the community that could benefit from this incredibly gratifying form of expression.

Outside of editing and the Topeka Writer’s Workshop, what writing projects are you engaged in – writing projects for you, I mean?

I’m currently participating in my second semester of the low-residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska, which will culminate in a full-length poetry manuscript, so I’m amassing reams of poems at the rate of up to thirty per semester. I have a chapbook-length manuscript that is sort of languishing and gathering dust while I’m creating all this new work, and in my spare time I’ll go in and do some revisions on that to further its path to eventual publication. My minor as an undergrad was women’s studies, and I’m very interested in exploring themes of feminism and women’s issues in my work. I love to write in persona, and I’m also incredibly interested in the back-stories of women made famous by their boldness; the women of blues and jazz, women notorious as heartbreakers, criminals, or blatantly lustful women. I can feel the stirrings of a uniting theme among my poems in this way, and my eventual full-length collection will most definitely contain a few of the voices of these “wild women,” as my poetry mentor Teri Grimm calls them.

What techniques have you found to help you juggle work life, family life, and writing?

I have this awful tendency to say “yes” to everything. My daughter often tells people that her mom has five jobs (not the least of which is being a mother to her and her brother). But I’ve learned over the past year to begin occasionally saying “no.” I’ve scaled back my involvement in volunteering with community organizations, which hurts me to do, but I have to tell myself that there will be time for that after – after my kids are both in school full time, after I complete grad school, etc. I’ve turned down book design projects when I feel my plate is already full. I really have to prioritize, and the two most important things for me are, of course, my family and my writing. If I’m needed in any way beyond that, I have to ask myself if it benefits one or the other – my family or my writing. It also helps that I’m married to a poet, Matt Porubsky. Matt understands when I need poem-time and will scoop the kids up to let me be alone to focus. It’s possible to write when a baby sleeps nearby or lies on the carpet gumming a rattle. But it’s utterly impossible—at least for me—to write with a 4- and 6-year-old nearby. He understands this and is almost always willing to lend a hand. Another thing that I’ve found helpful is to always keep a pad of paper handy, and no matter what I’m doing, if an idea or a line or a string of words pops into my head, to write it down. My poetry mentor from my first semester of grad school, the amazing author Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, urged me to write at least an hour a day. When I bemoaned the difficulty of finding a solid hour in a day to write, she said, “Then write in 15-minute increments.” While I still struggle to achieve this on some days, for the most part, I can say that I find myself writing, whether it’s journaling or free writing or trying to compose an agonizing villanelle, for close to an hour a day. It’s a pretty attainable goal.

How do you cultivate creativity?

I’m blessed to be immersed in creative endeavors—I get to work on things like magazine and book design, creating recipes in my part-time job as a vegan chef, and even building block towers or coloring with my kids. There really isn’t too much in my life beyond the mundane everyday stuff that doesn’t involve a creative mindset. So this allows me to remain open, to receive ideas and slip into imaginative threads of thought. I never censor my thoughts or push poem-think into the back of my mind for later, when I can utilize the ideas on the page. I’m an incessant daydreamer, and I’m content with that. When the time comes to write, all that daydreaming will be put to good use.


Leah Sewell is the art director of XYZ Magazine (Topeka, KS), assistant editor at Coconut Poetry Press (Atlanta, GA), founder and facilitator of the Topeka Writers Workshop and a part-time vegan chef and mother to two youngsters. Her poetry has appeared in [PANK] Magazine, Rufous City Review, Weave Magazine, Flint Hills Review, Midwestern Gothic, Mochila and other journals, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012. She is a freelance graphic designer whose work has created over a dozen poetry and prose books and countless magazine editions. She won the 2010 Women Making Headlines Award in the media category from the Topeka Chapter of the Association of Women in Communications and has been a recipient of the PenWomen Award for Letters. She is a graduate of Washburn University in English with a minor in Women’s Studies and is currently a candidate for a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry from the University of Nebraska.