“Embracing Earthen Roots”, A Book Review by Emily Wilson

Requiem for an Orchard by Olvier de La Paz

Manila-born and Oregon-raised poet Oliver de la Paz’s third collection of poetry, Requiem for the Orchard, reveals both his scientific understanding and literary interpretation of the world. Paz walks with the reader past sturdy apple trees of life’s orchard, literally and experientially. We are invited to stretch among the spring blossoms, to fall with the leaves as the seasons change – to remember that life, growth, death, and decay all give way to crisp apples weighing down branches for the harvest. We are asked to build an image of natural identity through a weaving requiem, studies of eschatology, and self-portraits of seemingly non-human circumstances (burning plains, taxidermy, what remains). Just shy of a decade old, this collection remains not only relevant but necessary; we share over half of our genetic makeup with our leaved brethren, and that matters.

In the opening poem, “In Defense of Small Towns,” the speaker describes the sleepy reality of growing up in a rural farm town: “When I look at it, it’s simple really. I hated life there” (1). The reverence for the speaker’s experiences and the slow and quiet beauty of a natural landscape will never leave him,

I shook loose, but that isn’t the whole story. The fact is
I’m still in love. And when I wake up, I watch my son yawn,
and my mind turns his upswept hair into cornstalks (26-8).

Hindsight is not pure, but laced with sugarcane and steeped in nostalgia. Paz prepares the reader to enter this quieter world, for a moment, to work in the orchard for pocket change, to cause a ruckus and grow with him through the darkness.  The first words of the collection’s namesake poem instantly conjure a memory,

The hours there, the spindled limbs and husks
of dead insects. The powders and the unguent
smells. What’s left now, of the orchards? (1-3)

Instantly we are transported between the rows of trees. Once congruent, this poem is broken up and spread out amongst the entire collection. Here, it is important to acknowledge and understand the complicated nature of plant growth; most notably in the resilience of spreading roots. This is to liken the “Requiem” poem, weaving within and among the surrounding pieces, to the stretching and fluid movement of a tree’s underground network. The growth of the speaker is palpable through small memories recalled in the pastime between work – shooting pellet guns becomes stolen tobacco becomes stolen flasks and skin magazines. The innocent work of boys becomes how to cheat the boss, how to do the least, how to become men – “It was stupid and we knew it” (68). The work on the orchard was not glamorous, and reverence for nature was not evident in boyhood. However, as Paz reflects, his respect and connection to these slow, hot days is evident.

Paz utilizes several eschatology poems to highlight the parallels between death and the human soul to nature and the cycle of growth. “Colony Collapse Disorder in Honey Bees as Eschatology” stands out in its spoken and unspoken iterations. The idea that honeybees are necessary in the aid of pollination, or growth, in the orchard is clear. Where the more interesting, and powerful message lies, is in the idea of the dispersal of the hive and the subsequent need for the apple trees to self-pollinate. Paz is able to strike the intricate balance of environmental and personal growth through this one eschatological discussion of the bees. Not to mention, the thought into where our human souls might disperse should we lose our personal ruler, “spreading over the landscape like oil” (31). Self-actualization and identity development are as much dependent on environmental circumstances as personal contribution.

It is in his reflection, through self-portrait poetry, that we are able to deepen our understanding of the experience and identity of the speaker. Paz bridges connections between human and experience by relating himself to inanimate specifics within a memory. In “Self-Portrait as a Series of Non-Sequential Lessons” the speaker seems to take one heaving breath and sigh out this entire realization. He speaks of scattered moments of growth, knowledge and failure, unrequited love, wives’ tales that “don’t do a damn thing except make a lot of goddamn noise,” (30) and eventually lands on the thought: “how little I know, how much I have to fear” (40). Lessons, of course, form identity. Paz acknowledges that the more one experiences the more they have to fear. Stepping outside the safe boundaries and confines of a small-town can rock the innocent or invincible instilled sensibilities while simultaneously opening a world of possibilities.

The collection ends with the “Self-Portrait with What Remains,” which opens with another recollection of the orchard. However, as the speaker continues, we are aware that this time, the remembering is weighted with a darker experience. This moment is tinted with the colorless and pungent memory of a hard time – an injured animal – and Paz uses the moment to call himself and the reader out, “the yellow birds stitched on his plush toy block / are not ghosts and that not everything is a metaphor” (29-30). There is something natural in the poet’s ability to call himself out without pulling himself out of the message. Of course everything is metaphor, this is a collection of poetry. Of course it is significant that he remembers this bird as he sees his son, as he recognizes the connection to earth in everything, as he realizes that “what remains are my son’s outstretched arms / wanting nothing more than to be held aloft” (41-2). This is the cycle alluded to throughout the collection, through death and experience is new life whether in physical blossoms or internal human growth.

We grow increasingly more distant from our natural roots with each passing year. We no longer set our roots physically but in the virtual realm of our manufactured, technological realities. With reflection on his own childhood, Paz allows us to sink our toes into tilled soil, to feel our own roots stretch out and search for life, real life. We weave around the rocks, we grow amongst the weeds, there is life in death and there is beauty in understanding and accepting that which makes us suffer. Paz invites the reader to swim in nostalgia for a town they have never known, to love a time to which they cannot return. Most importantly, Paz asks us to remember that we were born from the earth, and we will live and die amongst the trees.

Emily Wilson studied English at the College of Charleston. She now lives and writes in Jacksonville, driven by her passion for poetry and literary review.

 

“Intravenous Nutrition” by Elise Barker

A tube runs through his nose, down his throat, and into his stomach,
Pulling out anything he puts in.
He’s hungry but he can’t eat.
He dreams of blueberries and cherries.

I see blueberries at the hospital cafeteria. I leave them there.

I go home, to Dad’s house.
Laundry. Life goes on. Dishes. Life goes on. Feed the cat. Life goes on.
He has blueberries in the refrigerator.
Should I smuggle them into the hospital?
I leave them there.

In Dad’s dream of cherries,
He takes down a colander, sets it in the sink, and pours them in.
They thud and bounce into an uneven pile.

He turns on the faucet. The cool water rushes over their shiny, red skin.
The morning sunlight streams through the kitchen window,
Gleaming on their purple veins.

He picks up one of the cherries that had fallen into the sink,
A straggler. He dangles it by the stem.
It’s softer and darker than the others, almost black.
“This one’ll go soon. Better eat it now,” he thinks, greedily.

He drops the cherry in the hollow under his tongue then
Pops off the stem with his front teeth.
He holds the cool fruit in his mouth,
Feeling the taut, cool skin on his warm tongue.
Finally he bites through the casing,
Landing his incisors solidly on the pit.
His teeth scrape the stone, separating the sweet, fibrous flesh from the bony pit.
He spits the pit into a bowl, splattering purple blood on the counter.
Flecks of meat hang from its bones.
His mouth waters as he grinds the flesh to a juicy pulp.
He swallows, and the fruit slides down his throat, solidly.
Such satisfaction, to swallow food. Such joy. Such ecstasy.

He wakes to the beeping of his IV machine.
His intravenous nutrition bag is empty again.

Elise Barker is an adjunct instructor of English at Idaho State University, where she earned her Ph.D. in English and the Teaching of English in 2014. Her academic work has been published in Critical Insights on Little Women and Global Jane Austen. She also has published narrative non-fiction in IDAHO Magazine.

“Three-Window Perspectives” by Ellen Chia

(The Blue Violinist by Marc Chagall)

I.

Your odes to love
Have galvanized the birds
From their slumber.
Even the moon blooms
With pleasure –
Finally, a worthy mate to
Breathe the blue air with.

II.

You drifted out of the window,
Took the chair with you.
Is it me you’re serenading to?
You’re way too high up,
Your fiddling’s lost on me.
Tonight, the moon glows with
A bouquet before her.
Wait a minute –
Isn’t that the same bouquet
You bought me this afternoon?
What’s with this love-flushed face?
How about quitting this frivolity
Before the window of opportunity
Closes on you. For good.

III.

Swing by, Fiddler,
Wash us grimy, dust-obscured
Fragile things with
A ditty of poetic bliss
Before the city awakes to
Taint us again, lulling us
With its numbing mantra humming
Money, productivity and more money.

Ellen Chia enjoys going on solitary walks in woodlands and along beaches where  Nature’s treasure trove impels her to  document her findings and impressions using the language of poetry. Her works  have recently been published in The Ekphrastic Review, NatureWriting and
forthcoming in The Honest Ulsterman, The Pangolin Review, and The Tiger Moth Review.

“Bonfire of the Virtues” by Jim Kotowski

What if Hope were to nose-dive from the highest sky,
Straight at a razor-sharp mountain ridge?
Would She give up on the way down—could She?

What if Faith entered that place
Where 9 out of 10 lay, sick.  dying.  rotting alive….?
The ruthless machinations behind?
Would She abandon her belief—could She?

What if Love faced
The hate of the helpless,
The hell of the heartless,
Ill will run riot?
Would She stop loving—could She?

What if Patience looked on as my greedy soul
Bullies one smaller and meeker to its will,
Piles food on food, and need on need?
Would She lose her patience with me—could She?

What if Peace stood witness
While gold-plated men
Butchered and spattered the red-hearted people?
Would She make war—make holy, righteous, gruesome war
On War—could she?

Should She?

Jim Kotowski has been writing poems and songs since his teenage years, and mostly squirreling them away in notebooks and computer files.  Sometimes, he ventures out to read/sing them in front of an audience, which is always wonderful.  His latest chap book is called Honing Sanity.

Interview with Caroline Goodwin

I am very excited to share this interview with poet and memoir-ist Caroline Goodwin, whom I have known for a couple of years now. We met through OneRoom, a coaching service for creative writers, and I worked closely with her for a combination of 12 months, first when completing my poetry manuscript and now while working on my own memoir.  Please enjoy this enlightening conversation:

Caroline Goodwin moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 from Sitka, Alaska to attend Stanford’s creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow. Her books are Trapline (2013), Peregrine (2015) and The Paper Tree (2017). She teaches at California College of the Arts and the Stanford Writer’s Studio; from 2014 – 16 she served as the first Poet Laureate of San Mateo County.

The writing process often seems mysterious, even to writers who practice consistently. Tell me a little about your writing practice and how you keep yourself returning to the page. 

I like to see it as an adventure, a process of discovery. When I’m connected to the work (and this has definitely come and gone over the years — I have gone through long and painful “dry” periods), I look forward to seeing what might occur. I find that if I make it a priority to at least look at the work early in the day, then often the rest of the day is at least partially spent connected with the developing poem. For example, I have two texts set up in my kitchen next to the stove, and my laptop opened to the previous day’s work. I make this a part of my nightly routine, like taking my meds. The texts are: Common Plants of Nunavut and Li: Dynamic Form in Nature. I am working on a series of poems that explores the environmental degradation of our precious Arctic region, infused with my grief journey after losing my husband in August 2016. I think of them as a series of love poems, both for Nick and for the Arctic. I have rules: every poem must be seven lines (I am modeling this after my friend Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s wonderful collection Shy Green Fields). I make my tea and stand at the counter until I have seven lines. I love seeing what comes out in each piece, and I look forward to seeing what the next challenge might be. It’s kind of a puzzle, and it feels like a spiritual practice to me because I depend on a lot of serendipity. I am aiming for a full-length collection of these little guys. They are really weird.

I see that you have published two collections of poetry, one with Finishing Line Press and one with Big Yes Press. It’s easy to assume that once a poet gets a book published, it suddenly becomes easy to publish other works. How would you compare your experiences between your first publication and your second? Do you find it easier to publish now than before your first collection? 

Actually I also published with JackLeg Press in 2013 — a print-on-demand book entitled Trapline. So each of my books has been a different experience. Publishing has changed so much in the last twenty years, as we all know, and there are lots of small presses making terrific books. So I wouldn’t say it’s gotten easier, because the creative work itself is the same (VERY hard). It’s a matter of hanging in there, networking, staying grateful and showing up, staying committed to the art form and putting your hand out to fellow poets. I’ve found each of the presses lovely to work with and most days I can’t actually believe I have 3 books in the world! I also have a tiny chapbook called Text Me, Ishmael, handmade by the Literary Pocketbook series in Wales, UK. Oh, and two more self-published chapbooks, Kodiak Herbal and Gora Verstovia. I sewed these books up myself, punching the holes for the spines with a push pin. It was fun.

Since you are also a writer of non-fiction, tell me how the two genres dovetail for you. 

Great question. I recently carved out a writing retreat for myself in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. My goal was to finish a memoir about my daughter Josephine’s life and death (I’ve been working on this for more than ten years). However, I went to the Yellowknife bookstore and found a book by the poet Roo Borson. Well, before I knew it, my writing retreat was overtaken by a long poem that was exciting to me, that spun out from a line I found in her book: “unreadable book that will not close.” That line seemed, to me, to speak to the experience of grief. Poetry “won” and I stayed with that poem and the memoir was not completed.

I also have three pieces of nonfiction published now. One is about my daughter Josephine and Sitka, Alaska (entitled ROY) and another recent piece entitled AMARANTH. This one surprised me because I finished it six days before my husband died, and it’s full of these crazy premonitions. And I just published an essay in the South Dakota Review entitled “What They Do”. Currently, I’m working on an essay about online dating. So I think I’d say poetry and nonfiction dovetail and help each other, distract from each other, feed and deplete each other, if that makes sense. At the end of the day, they simply help me to figure out what I really want to say about something. The prose is slow for me, but I do hope to finish that memoir someday, I just have to let my mind wander where and when it will. 

What other creative practices do you pursue? 

I knit and crochet (I love Granny squares) and hang out with my pug, Jimi Hendrix. I also like to go boogie boarding in the ocean whenever I can and I’m working on my home garden.

I know that you are a writing coach with OneRoom in addition to teaching, writing, and publishing. How do you juggle it all? 

Very, very, very, very, very chaotically and with a whole lot of help from the Universe. My motto is “slow and steady wins the race” and to give myself lots of slack. If I show up for my own creative work, even if I just look at it briefly, that’s a good day for me.

Would you recommend writers get an MFA in creative writing? 

I have always seen the MFA as a gift to the self. I went to the University of British Columbia partly because needed to get out of a relationship, so I didn’t apply anywhere else. I just knew I needed to leave, but still be close to Alaska. Luckily I had the resources to do so. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself. I still am in touch with and admire the poets in my workshop from grad school. It’s a privilege to have an MFA and I remain grateful for the experience and all it taught me about how to be a poet in the world.

Are you working on any projects now? 

Yes, the manuscript is temporarily called Common Plants of Nunavut. Nunavut is the newest, largest and northernmost territory of Canada. I like the name, and the fact that it was nearly named “Bob” (true story). I love the Arctic; each poem’s title is the common name of a plant. 

When I was in Yellowknife I learned that the city is sitting on 237,000 tonnes of arsenic, the byproduct of a shut-down gold mine, the Giant Mine. That’s enough to kill every human on earth. The landscape is incredibly beautiful, and fragile, lots of colorful rocks and lichens. Many of my childhood weekends were spent on a lake north of Anchorage, and these experiences were profound for me. Going to Yellowknife was a spiritual journey back to the landscape of my childhood, so I’m writing about that. I started another manuscript entitled Old Snow, White Sun, which takes its title from a song by the Japanese acid rock group Kikagaku Moyo (Geometric Designs) and is about a recent love affair among other things. I also hope that my writing might play a small part in valuing and preserving this beautiful earth. I studied biology as an undergrad, so I love plant names. Plants are magical. They are the producers, really the only living thing that MAKES something helpful. They give us everything, really. So when I write I let the sounds of the names and also the ideas and emotions evoked come onto the page, interact, be weird, and possibly add up to a poem.

Can you share one of your poems with ZPR readers?

In a Time of Mourning

“Manumission: A Codependent Romance” by KJ Hannah Greenberg

I gladly waived the earring ritual.

In order to watch the dust puff up
As your footfall took you away.

In affranchisement of beloveds,
Releasing damaging ownership,
Is letting go confining outcomes.

Never did I mean to enslave. Rather,
You clung like bubblegum requiring
Scraping, ice cubes, other surgeries.

Stitching, yoking, enthralling’s
The stuff of mixed-up partnering.
I’m about liberation, unfettering.

All the same, only jagged words,
Chilled hugs, groupings of sorrow
Unshackled your elect possession.

These days, I think on past events,
Question ever talking again among
People, fear repeating our rapport.

In the end, I determined vending
Seized my dependence, realized
Proprietorship thieved my power.

KJ Hannah Greenberg captures the world in words and images. Her latest photography portfolio is 20/20: KJ Hannah Greenberg Eye on Israel. Her most recent poetry collection is Mothers Ought to Utter Only Niceties (Unbound CONTENT, 2017). Her most recent fiction collection is the omnibus, Concatenation (Bards & Sages Publishing, 2018).

Postcards from the Knife-Thrower’s Wife by Alex Stolis

August 2 – Woodstock, N.B. Canada

I’m a girl on a dragon-fly on the back of a horse heading
straight into the wind under an unbreakable sky. You are
not here. You are made-up words in an invented language
spoken in whispers. I remember every detail of the world
we created from scratch. I remember that day the moon
eclipsed the sun and for a moment the earth turned cold.
The sky turned deep green no stars in sight. You wrote me
of a dream you had; lost, afraid and miles away from home.
You heard the low beat of wings. You felt the steady pound
of hooves and I readied myself for flight.

Alex Stolis lives in Minneapolis; he has had poems published in numerous journals. Recent chapbooks include Justice for all, published by Conversation Paperpress (UK) based on the last words of Texas Death Row inmates. Also, Without Dorothy, There is No Going Home from ELJ Publications. Other releases include an e-chapbook, From an iPod found in Canal Park; Duluth, MN, from Right Hand Pointing and Left of the Dial from corrupt press. The full length collection, Postcards from the Knife Thrower was runner up for the Moon City Poetry Prize in 2017. His chapbook, Perspectives on a Crime Scene was recently released by Grey Border books and a full length collection Pop. 1280, is forthcoming from Grey Border books in 2019. 

http://greybordersbooks.jigsy.com/alex-stolhttp://greybordersbooks.jigsy.com/alex-stolisis