After a short hiatus, I am once again offering poetry manuscript editing services. View the Manuscript Editing page for full details. In short, the three options include Chapbook Critique, Full Manuscript Critique, and a detailed Ten Poem Packet Critique, MFA-style. Check page for rates and testimonials. Email email@example.com with any questions.
Queen of Cups has ended its one year run this month as an alternative mini lit mag delivered weekly to subscribers’ inboxes. Over the past year, QOC has featured 53 writers, 53 original writing prompts, 53 tarot cards and around 100 tarot readings! 100 because nearly every issue included a general reading as well as a reading specifically for writers and artists. Check out the last issue featuring poet Courtney LeBlanc and The Empress. The full year of back issues is archived and available for viewing. Thank you to all subscribers and occasional readers alike. It’s been a surprising journey from quirky idea to fruition and such a learning experience.
By Sebastian LaMontagne
The Mother Of All Bombs
On Thursday the 13th at 7pm local time, the U.S hit an ISIS tunnel complex in the district of Achin, part of the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. They used a bomb known as a massive ordinance air blast weapon, GBU-34B, or the “mother of all bombs.” It was the first time the U.S had ever used it’s largest non-nuclear bomb in combat. The GBU-34B unleashed 11 tons of explosives, making it 0.073% as powerful as a nuclear weapon. In translation, the explosion it caused shook the earth miles away but was a spark in comparison to the house fire of Hiroshima.
Asked about the use of the bomb Trump explained with his habitual eloquence that, “what I do is I authorize my military. … We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and frankly that’s why they’ve been…
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Join me (and the stellar line-up above) at the 2017 Massachusetts Poetry Festival in downtown Salem, Mass May 5-7. This is the 9th annual Mass Poetry Festival, my third as a presenter/reader. Tickets/buttons can be purchased, and the schedule viewed, at the link above.
I’m taking part in two events this year:
May 6, 2-3 p.m. Massachusetts Cultural Council 2016 Fellowship Awardees Reading, Peabody Essex Museum. I’ll be reading work from my forthcoming collection, See the Wolf, slated for publication with CavanKerry Press in spring 2018. This event is scheduled at the same time as Kazim Ali’s reading so if you attend you could quite literally have our undivided attention. If you don’t come, I’m sneaking out to see Ali read:)
May 7, 1-2 p.m. ‘History’s Inspiration: Poetry Out of the Past’ reading and panel discussion with Andrea Stone and Ellen Dore Watson, Peabody Essex Museum. We’ll be discussing history as inspiration for poetry, reading from our own work, especially poetry that deals with the history of New England, and opening up for Q&A. I’ll read from my second collection Split the Crow
Early May in Salem isn’t exactly balmy but it’s better than early March in Salem! Plus, the festival is small enough that you could find yourself walking back to the Hawthorne Hotel behind Mark Doty and chatting with Marie Howe while she waits for an elevator in the lobby, both of which happened last year. There’s a great mix of poetry super stars and little guys (like me). The outdoor book fair will mess with your good intentions to leave with no more than three books. In short, the vibe is great and if AWP is too overwhelming for you, MaPo will probably be just right. This year, Louise Gluck is reading right after my last panel. My heart is already skipping beats, I’ve never heard her read!
One feature of my mini lit mag Queen of Cups is a weekly writing prompt. Sometimes I base the prompt on the week’s tarot card, other times I’m inspired by the featured writer, or I come up with something out of left field. As a poet, I’ve found prompts invaluable in generating new material. Here are four of my favorite from Queen of Cups back issues, all are accessible to poets and prose writers alike.
1. Write a piece that takes place in a structure, dwelling, or shelter. Think of Shirley Jackson who suffered from agoraphobia and wrote ghost stories and psychological thrillers where houses are not only haunted but become malevolent main characters imprisoning their inhabitants. Conversely, look to Rumer Godden who wrote at least five novels with the word ‘House’ appearing in the title. Godden’s dwellings also rise to character status but are more benevolent, becoming meaningful because of the accrual of inhabitants over the course of history. Like a beloved and ancient oak, Godden’s houses take on personalities of their own and tend to stand both within the passage of time and beyond it. Houses symbolize safety, nurture, and personal and family identity, but can also work in the opposite direction and quickly convey danger, imprisonment, and stultification. Your job is to write something with a physical structure in it, see where it takes you and what your structure reveals to you through the writing of your piece.
2. Write a piece titled “Grief Hallucinations” which incorporates the sentence: “You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.” (Epictetus)
3. The tradition of lachrymatory dates to Greek and Roman times, but was popular around the Civil War. Wives and sweethearts would collect their tears in small vials, called lachrymatories, in hopes of showing their returning soldiers how much they were missed. Lachrymatory was a common ritual in the elaborate Victorian mourning process which also included: ‘deep mourning’, ‘half mourning’, and, my favorite, ‘slighting the mourning’ the moment when scratchy crepe dress trimming could be removed. Mourning in dress was observed right down to the smallest detail: I own a small box of antique stick pins with black heads labelled ‘Mourning Pins’. Women collected tears shed over death into lachrymatory and would leave the uncorked vials on loved ones’ graves; uncorked so the tears would evaporate over time. Write a poem or prose piece where lachrymatory (or ritualistic mourning) appear.
4. Write a micro essay/story (about 500 words), or a prose poem about consciously throwing something special away, or about getting rid of something in a bizarre or unique way.
**This even has been cancelled due to snowy Sunday forecast**
I’ll be reading, along with fiction writer MB Caschetta, in the Gallery of Readers Series this Sunday, February 12th at 4 p.m. in the Neilson Library browsing room at Smith College.
I’ll read from my newest collection Split the Crow (Parlor Press 2015) which Eleven, Eleven reviewer Sabrina Barretto calls: “…a book that wrenches and haunts.”
Poet Mary Biddinger writes: “Sousa’s work picks up where conventional history has left off, giving voice to urgent testimonies. Split the Crow is a collection of tremendous magnitude that calls upon the past as a way to reconsider our present moment.”
My thanks to Eleven, Eleven and reviewer Sabrina Barreto for the close read and this generous review of Split the Crow.
SPLIT THE CROW, BY SARAH SOUSA
Parlor Press, 2015
Reviewed by Sabrina Barreto
I’m swallowing a story
that ends with blood-stained snow.
I know how this looks.
It appears to be true.
So begins Sarah Sousa’s second volume of poetry, Split the Crow. The opening poem, “Her Moods Caused Owls,” serves as an immediate sine qua non of the book: history, and the individual human stories at its core, is not an issue of fallacy and truth. History is a matter of accountability, and stories are accumulated moments that pivot into cornerstones.
Just as history braids the threads of human lives, so Sousa gathers multiple voices into a chorus that rages and laments. Her chorus is a mingling of Native Americans and European colonizers, speaking initially from the Contact Period in 1600s New England, then traversing Midwest in the early 1900s. The brutality and subjugation that are mentioned as abstracts in American history textbooks return to their breathing, bleeding bodies in Sousa’s hands.
All are culpable, and it is Sousa’s unflinching stance toward her personae that gives her lyric-narratives power. In Part I, which features several accounts of archaeological observation, she excavates the burial grounds and personal effects of children, denoting how objects like the “left forepaw of a bear” (8) and a medicine pouch “Small as a tablespoon” (18) carry their emotional heft: “Sometimes love is expressed with a stone / heavier than what lies beneath it” (8).
Among interred bodies, foreign voices soon rise. The recurrent “Remove” poems, written from the perspective of captive Mary Rowlandson, provide visceral insight into the terrors experienced by settlers’ families seized and marched in raids: “Nine days on my knees. I leave / jelly-red bowls in the snow when I stand” (13). In her trademark forte, Sousa’s images subvert tenderness with violence: “I watched the goodwife, heavy with child, / stop and have a game of ring-a-roses / played with hatchets on her skull” (20).
But the most horrifying voices belong to the men who condemn: Puritan missionaries. Roger Williams’ hypocrisy appears first, succeeded by John Eliot’s pseudo-Algonquin Bible and his suggestive translation that “cleave is both / cut and cling to” (26), then cemented with a Christianized native’s confession “Satan makes me homesick… Reverend, I believe Satan is easier / with me” (29).
In comparison, the most captivating voices belong to liminal women: the native midwife complicit in infanticide, the native mother who bears a colonizer’s “mottled” stillborn (25), and, in Part II, a slave adopted by the Cherokee as “a gift given”(45) juxtaposed with a slave impregnated by a native and rejected by his tribe.
If Part I of Split the Crow was the Civil War, then Part II would be the Reconstruction. While the first half delves into decimation, the second half deals in “Survival and Other Skills” (56). No longer driven towards death, Native Americans live in death’s presence: the asphyxiation of their way of life. In response, tribal elders gather the living and ghosts alike, while they are caricatured against the “clever cowboy” in the “Indian Exhibit” (53) and their children are “Renamed at Boarding School” (54), where “Speaking Kiowa could get a boy thrown / across the room, collar bone snapped” (55).
Yet, in a longing for past rituals, there is more space for warmth in Part II: a “Courtship scene drawn on an envelope” (39), a lacemaker’s hodgepodge scrapbook of remedies and censuses, and daughters who still “cut hair, make light biscuits” (56) like their grandmothers. Sousa explores how memory is processed and contained not only in the body, but moreover through tradition – traditions that she draws upon from her female forbears in poetry.
In particular, there are four poets that inform Sousa’s work. There is Dickinson, with her crystalline diction, and Bishop, with her quiet details and narrative sequencing, but there is especially Plath and Glück. Sousa shares Glück’s sharpened sensitivity and intense adaptation of persona, and creates incantations reminiscent of the “Vesper” / “Matin” poems in Iris. Like Plath, Sousa streamlines fury, harnesses “quick and liquid” (26) sounds, and accentuates the energy of death, with a strong sense of fracture.
Split the Crow is a book that wrenches and haunts, “dark / and sweet as a raven’s wing” (19). In excavating the remains of a past life and culture’s lifeblood, Sousa’s reaffirms indigenous force, if not authority: “Sad because extinct but still / possessing mythical teeth, legs, claws” (6). History doesn’t slumber – it is couched in shadow, waiting to emerge from dust.
Sabrina Barreto is a Bay Area wordsmith and MFA Poetry candidate at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is currently the International Editor and Poetry Coordinator of literary journal Eleven Eleven. She has received the Academy of American Poets Tamara Verga Prize, two consecutive Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prizes, and two Shipsey Poetry Prizes. Her work has appeared in The Bohemian, the Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, the Santa Clara Review, and explore Journal.