I missed AWP this year, which means I missed meeting writers and editors I admire, and seeing friends I’ve made in the literary community over the years. But instead of feeling like I should be at the conference when I couldn’t, I did something different: I made my own literary weekend. I read poems from the new issue of Poetry and from Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s collection Hello the Roses. I read Ali Smith’s novel Winter and wonderful craft essays from a new publication, Mentor & Muse. My long weekend wasn’t all reading: I watched the entire second season of Jessica Jones, and wrote poems with a group of friends, inspired by writing prompts. It was a great four day stretch, and I’m coming out of it just a bit tired, but a little more rested than I usually feel after AWP.
In fact, I’d love for every weekend to be like this: full of writing and reading, and some TV. I need to remind myself that the spare hours open to me belong to me, and to use them for the ventures that bring me joy. Which means less social media. More time with family. More time outside. More time with my nose in a book, drinking in a writer’s unique use of language.
I love watching writers work. This is why I read and why I’m an editor. It is easier to read, certainly, and to watch a narrative come alive onscreen, but where I take what I’ve heard and seen, what I create from those moments of apprenticeship, are what make me return to the bare page and the written word again and again.
Our lead poet for the March column is Anita Olivia Koester from whom we have an interview and five new poems. Koester’s poems use the persona of Venus to discuss the ways in which the male gaze distorts the female body and how women might reclaim this gaze. Mirrors are used then broken, as is the body, but Venus rises each time, reborn. In her interview, Koester talks at length about these poems, as well as her aesthetic.
Associate Poetry Editor Davon Loeb brings us a wonderful interview and four poems from Caroline M. Mar. About Mar’s work, he writes:
Caroline M. Mar’s poems are artifacts of the heart; and like artifacts, these poems tell the sometimes-unwritten stories of people and places—of family and culture. As if excavating through dirt and rock, Caroline seems to discover her past. She writes, “…memories of you beloved grandpa Joe/ telling WWII stories about Japs, after he helped you/ fraction out your identity, pie-chart/ of segregation.” And not only will readers learn of Caroline’s often fractioned identity, readers will also find a piece of themselves, like the narrator in “Tongue,” who is conflicted with assimilation, and yet, universal; she writes “loud and clear, the language spoke/ then forgot, then spoke again,/ and have now/ almost forgotten.”
Davon also brings us two poems from Penny Newell:
Penny Newell’s poems have the cadence of a lyric, but also, the prose of a narrative. She writes, attentive to the ear, to the eye, and to the imagination. Her poems pull readers in phonically and visually, as well as, through character, theme, and plot. While through ordinary occurrences, Penny offers everyday rhetoric, like in her poem, “sleep aids,” when she writes, “The soft line between eyes closed and eyes open. Count backwards from 2000 until I reach zero,/ for the sake of my loose dignity remains.”
In Nicole Robinson’s “Body of the Great Blue Heron” we discover a bird that reminds us of our own bodies, but is very much its own: “a body beside a colony of bodies // who prefers to forage alone in whatever body of water / it can find.” The bird never leaves its habitat just as it never leaves the speaker’s mind. Here is a body moving through a body of water, body of sky. The bird “a body / of hollow bones.” The speaker asks, “What lives inside that space? // Is that where the soul lives, in whatever cavity / it can find?” Robinson’s use of anaphora and repetition move us from thought to thought as from one breath to another. Inside of this breath, we see ourselves: “Blood and an exhale we can’t let go.”
Associate Editor Ösel Jessica Plante brings us a poem from Genevieve DeGuzman:
What struck me about Genevieve DeGuzman’s poem “Xylophone” was how deftly the ending of the poem is handled, the skilled control of the language juxtaposes with the innocent crush and romance that takes place “for a moment like this all summer.” The poem builds momentum from the tension of the language describing the young man’s study of a girl. By the end we learn that: “The music in her knowing laugh enough / to run the scales for him, to sing the encounter.” In my mind, as I read these lines, I heard “of him” not “for him,” and the poem suddenly held an entirely new depth. This is a poem about awakening to the hungers of the body, and how gentle we are with that hunger and with love when we are young.
The speakers of Jessica Cuello’s poems are acutely aware of the danger that surrounds them. “I felt the panic of drowning, invisibly, //against the coats of strangers,” says the speaker of “Paris Métro Strike” who eventually finds a way out: “My body was lifted over the crowd / and passed from one end to the other.” In “Boxing Match,” after the speaker and brother “talked to the dark // above our heads— / then never talked again,” they become aware of the silence “where we squint // at the cage— / not away.” Cuello’s poems take us to places that make us uncomfortable but with a survivor’s sight, always attentive to what can save us.
Davon brings us two poems from Laura Foley this month. About this work, he writes:
Laura Foley’s poems are visually rich recollections that ask readers to be captivated by imagery and sound, but also, for readers to be moved—to reach inside of themselves, and struggle with questions of love, marriage, and loss. Laura elegantly writes, “She kisses me openly, her lips/ sweet and fresh from tomatoes/ plucked from our one flesh-joined garden.” And her poems really flourish, in those beautiful, and almost photographic moments, as a tomato would flourish in a love-filled garden.
We close our March poetry column with two poems from Charlie Clark who gives us a Devil we might recognize on the street, a flawed and vulnerable character. In “Devil River,” the Devil “believes every body’s / burning is his home.” We’re taken further into this feeling: “It presses every button on his chest / to think it. To think it feels as strange as love. / Such a primal, tactile fact.” In these poems the Devil recalls the history that surrounds him, which makes him consider his life. In so doing, Clark creates a character in these poems that we’re not likely to forget.
Thank you for visiting our March poetry column! We hope you take some time to read poetry in April, which is National Poetry Month, and we’ll see you again in May.