Every January, or should I say at the end of every December, I start thinking about what I’d like to accomplish in the new year. I used to call these plans “resolutions,” but learned after years of false starts that they didn’t last longer than a month, which would always make me feel I failed for that year and couldn’t start over again until the next January. Thus, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. For years I also considered myself a failure if I couldn’t finish a poem within a certain frame of time. I was being much too hard on myself: I could no more change my life in a year than I could force a poem to completion in a matter of weeks.
I do set something forth each January: I take what I learned about myself in the past year and consider how I might build on that. This year, I want to be more present while reading, writing, and conversing with others. I want less distraction. I want to allow myself time to think and ponder on what I’ve just read, heard, or written, rather than immediately switching gears and moving on. I know there’s a way to make this happen since I put it into practice a few times last year, and in 2018 I want to cultivate this way of being as often as I can.
You could call this my goal for the new year, which sounds a lot more pleasing (to me, at least) than a resolution. I’m not looking for a solution as much as I want to continue a practice. Humans aren’t static—we change throughout our lives. A goal enables the path to change if necessary.
On to our January poetry column! Our featured poet this month is Fleda Brown. Her poems move gracefully from image to image and thought to thought while including us in the journey. Her lines are surprising as well: “Find something else to look at, I’ll bet you’re thinking, / the old man is about worn out, find another poem, / but this is the one I keep writing to see if it’s / the same one, year after year or different.” In this surprise arises the intimacy between writer and reader—we don’t always expect it, yet here it is, offered by the poet. These poems are a delight as well as works of beauty. In her interview, Fleda Brown and I discuss the use of intimate detail in poetry, how a writer establishes intimacy with the reader, and the poem as a work of art. I hope you’ll spend some time with her words.
Associate Poetry Editor Ösel Jessica Plante brings us some stunning work this month. About Kathleen Kilcup’s poems, she writes:
When poetry combines two of my favorite techniques, beauty and surprise, I pay attention. Kathleen Kilcup’s poetry has both. Her images are both strange and painterly. For instance, she writes, “in the next room, bone dust mutes the strange light / of morning: fire burning without noise, / white lupines of phosphorus.” White lupines of phosphorous? It takes me an instant, but then I can see those flaming florid torches in my mind’s eye, and not just the fire, but the entire field spread to the horizon where those lupines have popped up in my imagination. Kilcup’s poetry has an understated elegance, but beneath the beautiful surface there is the appetite of a poet, “but my cheeks / are stuffed with yarrow, / morphine, / the dirty taste / of iron.” This is the energy of a poetry that will consume experience for the sake of art. I love coming across an emerging poet whose work speaks to me, and reading Kathleen Kilcup’s words has been like meeting a new friend.
Ösel also interviews Ruth Baumann this month and includes three stunning poems:
Reading Ruth Baumann’s poetry is like watching a vulture circle in the sky and thinking you know where to find a dead animal. Her words spiral and weave and point to something deeper and troubling; they carry the weight of many things but convince us they are buoyant. She says, “I have treated prayers / like raindrops, thought an accumulation would flood / & push away the city that slept stretched in loneliness,” as if each of us could build or rebuild a self or a city with nothing but water. Her poems are also humble in the midst of their skill, which makes them seriously approachable and enigmatic. She says things like, “Everything in the wild / should have a chance not to cry,” that simultaneously break our hearts and make us want to laugh. Her poems reveal that there is no place to hold fast because everything is in flux, and for this reason her poetry teaches us the wisdom of letting go, of release.
Kristene Kaye Brown’s poems are vulnerable and heartbreaking. I’ve read them several times because of lines like this: “Love, not even the mountains know / true permanence” and “Someone’s dying / lawn is beyond watering. ” I also come back for this poet’s discussion of loss folded into lovely images: “I have saved / my impression of a storm for you. / A small stuttering space / in a bigger memory.” This is powerful work.
Associate Poetry Editor Davon Loeb brings us some fantastic poets this month, including work from Emily Pulfer-Terino. About her poems, Davon writes:
Emily Pulfer-Terino mulls through memories as if passing pages of a photo book. Vivid, eloquent, and vibrant, Emily’s writes with attention to the eye and the imagination. While reading her poems, you will be inside her poems—taking on her narrators’ stories and experiences. This is evident in her poem, “Lilacs,” when Emily writes, “Piled/ fashion magazines beside her gleam/ and slide like platelets shifting;/ perfumed pages, torn out, gummed,/ come apart in the heat. The only movement/ hot breeze and her deep, accordionic/ breathing.” Furthermore, the sensory details in these poems will invoke all aspects of your attention.
Ösel also brings more beautiful work to this month’s poetry column:
Hussain Ahmed’s poetry builds a topography, a map where the equator is loss, where magnetic north begins to pull us south towards the darker currents that run through us all. When he talks about grief, we recognize its sensations, how “the echoes in your stomach tell of how empty you / have become you emptied your bladder through your eyes”; there is an accuracy in relating how grief rearranges us, how it relegates everything into a paradigm that is almost surreal. We want to believe that “this could be another bad dream,” from which we might escape, and how we concurrently long for what we have lost. Ahmed’s work also shows us how suffering is a communal act, even if it is essentially a private one, because it writes on us: “a tattoo of his name scribbled in red.”
P. Ivan Young’s poem takes us into a landscape of food, ritual, and history. What begins as a still life comes alive with a hunger that spans generations: “Each item a history / now like the short tarnished spoon // whose story my mother recited as she dollopped /gravy at the center of the biscuits.” A kitchen never stands still, even in memory, and as the poem merges the past and the body, everything glimmering in remembrance, the act of making food comes into relief, satiating us and those we love in different ways.
Davon closes our January poetry column with two wonderful poems:
Jess Williard’s poems give readers the vantage points of an insider navigating through the mundane and everydayness of picket-fence communities. In his poem, “The Wrath,” Jess writes, “It’s in the glass lights of the shopping/ center as the sun begins to recede/ and bored parents carry themselves/ home. It’s in their cars and the careless/ clasps at steering wheels, in the snap/ of carseat safety straps…” And though the narrative captivates zombie-like stagnation, Jess’ description and discourse is riotous. Jess makes noise; he questions; he supposes, and he revels in his frustrations.
Before signing off, I want to mention that if one of your goals for 2018 includes submitting poems to journals, please keep Connotation Press in mind. We’re open year-round and would love to read your work. You can access our submission portal here.
Have a wonderful start to the year, and thanks, as always, for reading.