Collected Poets Reading

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First off, I’d like to send a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to all who came out for my book launch and reading on Monday night. The subject matter of Split the Crow is solemn, sad, at times disturbing, but important to bear witness to and acknowledge. Thank you all for your willingness to share the stories with me. It was so nice to meet some of you, I wish we’d had longer to chat.

I have been asked to fill in for another poet in the Collected Poets Series which takes place this Thursday, April 2, 7 p.m. at Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls. The poet Laura Foley will also be reading, 20 minutes each. I’ll read a handful of poems from Split the Crow and some girl/women-centric poems, completely different in tone, from a new manuscript I’ve just finished. The Collected Poets Series is super fun and intimate, coffee-house-style poetry reading with the coffee! Yay! And Thursday’s weather looks to be sunny and “warm”.

Berkshires Book Expo and Split the Crow Launch/Reading

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****UPDATE***** I won’t be attending the Berkshire Book Expo on Sunday. A recent cold has run me down and I want to be in strong reading condition for my book launch on Monday night (see below). Book launch is still happening!

A reminder for anyone who will be in my neck of the woods, western Mass., on Sunday and/or Monday. On Sunday, March 29th from 1-5 pm I’ll be at the Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers first book expo. I will have my three books for sale, all $14, along with three original 19th century diaries belonging to Esther Small (pictured above) on display for you to get a look at; her published 1886 diary, which I transcribed, researched and explicated, appears above. The Diary of Esther Small, 1886 won this year’s New England Book Festival Award for Regional Literature. I’m donating copies of Split the Crow and The Diary of Esther Small to the expo auction, all money will benefit future festivals. I’ll also be signing books. I should probably come up with a standard ‘message’, but, alas, me being me, they all end up a little different, a little strange. And my signature is never the same twice….

On Monday March 30th at 7 pm, I’ll be at Amherst Books launching Split the Crow with a reading and signing. This is also my honorary reading for winning the 11th annual Anne Halley Poetry Prize given by The Massachusetts Review for poems published in the previous year’s issue. I’ll read for about 45 minutes, interspersing some history with the poems, and I would love to talk to some kindred spirits afterward: that will be my reward for being the one at the lectern. Truly, it would be great to meet some of you. And though the Emily Dickinson Museum, located further down the same road, is closed on Mondays (boo) you can at least get a look at her house. And, if you turn left after ED’s house, and drive about 1/2 mile, you can visit her grave. Dickinson is buried beside her sister Lavinia, her mother and father. Bring a trinket to leave because, if you’re like me, when you find yourself standing before her grave you’ll be moved to make some kind of gesture. My 15-year-old made a short film starring me as the transparent ghost of Emily Dickinson, with footage of the gravesite. It lasts as long as the short ED poem I recite. Come on Monday and we’ll talk about that too. And maybe I’ll let you know where you can see the film!

A Few New and Newish Poetry Books On My Shelf

Unknown Published in 2014

When I read on the back of the book that The Infinitesimals is Kasischke’s tenth collection, I reconciled with my feelings of complete unworthiness as a poet. I’ve only published two collections, maybe by the tenth I’ll be Laura Kasischke! The poems are that good. Half the pages in my book are folded; poems I liked so much I wanted to eat them. The Infinitesimals is about death, illness, the body, mortality; sharp lyric poems written by a mature poet who has experienced death and illness and isn’t using them as motifs but coming to terms with hard facts. At 117 pages this is also a pretty hefty collection.

A poem: (format of all poems altered by WordPress)

Six Days

The dirty songbirds

that were my breasts

flustered

and sang

and ate me

for

forty-eight years, three

months, one week, six

days (a portion

for foxes, you

shake your head)

on my chest, and left

behind

these wrecked nests.

Unknown Published in 2013

Loom isn’t brand new, but I did begin reading when it was hot off the presses, put it down for a couple years and then finished it. I read about 1/4 of the book initially and felt I wasn’t connecting with the poems. Maybe I was distracted. That happens. Or maybe I just wasn’t ready for this collection. Jump ahead to 2015: I approach the book slowly, reading all the back matter, which really helps with certain collections you may get lost in, and learn that and underlying theme of Loom is Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallott. Carl Phillips called the book a contemporary Book of Hours. Poems in the first and last sections of the book appear to be two serial poems; lineated lyrics, sparse, with a lot of space, occurring over several pages. Poems in the middle of the collection are small titled paragraphs floating in the center of each page. But whether stand-alone or pieces of a longer poem, they do not exist in a vacuum. I would say the poems in this collection are meant to be read as a whole, not piecemeal. Gridley is building imagery, telling Tennyson’s own story and the tale of The Lady of Shallott in verse. Many of the poems aren’t easy. Even when there are elements of story present, these poems aren’t aiming to tell encapsulated stories. I felt as though something was being woven as I read, as one poem flowed into the next and, like a piece of woven cloth, you have to stand back, consider the whole to really understand the pieces.

A poem (from the last section titled Half-Sick of Shadows)

A twig puncture– a laying in of eggs

by the female gall-wasp– will produce in time

a lump beneath the bark

Gall is used

“to sadden” other dyes.

Mordant binds with dye and gall

to fix the red

of madder root.

Unknown Published in 2014

The first collection by poet Sarah Rose Nordgren, Best Bones, won Pitt Press’s Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. It has been called “fable, folklore, science fiction, strange childhood stories” and has been said to “court the uncanny”. I believe these ‘airy’ descriptives get at the fact that the collection isn’t about anything, the way The Infinitesimals is about illness and death. I found these poems more contemporary standard fair than those in Loom; less-than-one-page lyrics for the most part. Nordgren calls on historical source-material, other poets and artwork for inspiration; all impulses that I admire. Like other contemporary books of poetry by younger poets, this one has a quirk factor, but the writing is surprising and the poems pan-out, so the quirk isn’t for quirk’s sake as it is in a collection like To See the Queen whose conceit I found flat and ineffective. The following poem from Best Bones is a nice example of Nordgren’s strong, simple lyric.

A poem:

Love Poem

I can see where you live but only

through a veil. I let you take care of me so

you will feel close to all the little details

necessary for me to grow.

But you have daily appointments

with the wide world. Like a practical child,

you desire then lose patience with

my adoration, holding me at the length

of an outstretched wing. How will I keep you

if this is the loudest I can sing?

Unknown Published in 2014

Disclaimer: this is a Parlor Press book, publisher of my second collection. But it’s still awesome! A project book extraordinaire, poets Berlin and Marzoni took several trips over many months along the Mississippi River. Besides the road trips and the river itself, they cite as inspiration, influences and source material, an 1887 map of the Mississippi, flood, wind, topographical and river maps of all stripes, NOAA river weather forecasts which contain little lyrics like: “the rivers may respond discretely, other than indicated”, documentaries, museum installations, NPR programs they listened to while driving, etc. etc. No Shape Bends the River So Long was chosen by Cole Swenson as the winner of the New Measure Poetry Prize. It’s not clear if each poet wrote different poems or if they collaborated within poems, but the result is a unique collection that I read over a number of weeks, always eager to immerse myself again. All the titles are the poems’ first lines which makes for intriguing titles like: “Wake to what we long ago learned to call” and “En plein air the fields themselves”. I would call this book experimental, not only because it was written by two poets, but because the style of the poems is unique. These are lyric poems at heart, all written in long-lined couplets, but they’re full of fractured sense and sentences. Thoughts are often left incomplete, but the logic sparkles.

A poem:

Inside the Levee, Call It a State

park, recreational pastime & past

time, nod to the Works Progress

Administration in years of deep flood,

then parched fields, hunger. Or call this

place to cut the motor & drop anchor, drift

under shade, toss a line out– zip & distant

splash of light, sky like metal, all of it

blisters at touch, but everything touching–

or call it desperate, one last & only.

Call it survival. A fine haul

to reel afternoon out & back in

without a hitch, drag slow & regular

over placid, give it all back up. What doesn’t

find its way back to this river? What doesn’t.

One last word, no single poem is representative of an entire collection. All of these books contain many great poems, don’t rely on one poem to decide if you like a collection. Also, I chose short ones to post here because I was doing all the typing:)

Cherokee Slave Holders and a Poem

5-thingd-you-dont-know-about-Freedman_012552569902Slave and Cherokee master, likely taken around the time of the Civil War

The fact that many Cherokees owned slaves is another sad chapter in American history. Members of all the Five Civilized Tribes, located in the southern US: Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole owned slaves, with Cherokees owning the most. But this sad truth is also a complicated one. Native Americans had been oppressed by European Americans themselves. For around two centuries by the time this photo was taken, Native tribes had been decimated, some extinguished completely, by disease, violence and hardship at the hands of European Americans. Around the time of the Civil War, many in the Five Civilized Tribes, living cheek by jowl with their white neighbors, sought to assimilate, to blend in with the dominant culture, to survive. And I’m sure some Native slave holders just sought their own gain. So, it’s no surprise that southern tribes joined the Confederate side during the Civil War. They were adopting southern culture of the day. And all of this is, of course, no excuse. The saddest element for me is the psychological/emotional one; when the oppressed becomes and oppressor.  I wrote about this period in our history in my poetry collection Split the Crow. The following poem appears in the second half of the book, which begins around 1830 and moves into the present.

Deed of Gift

None would eat the flesh

cooked by a Cherokee woman with child

or follow the path she traveled,

so fearful her power.

But a coal black slave carrying low

the property of an Indian?

Not a cruel man but fond of whiskey

and gambling. The deed, drawn up

while he was drunk on lust

for the trader’s daughter, specified:

silk scarves, one slave woman

and her unborn, three pistols.

A Cherokee child belonged to his mother’s

clan. Her own line died inside the rank belly

of a ship carrying live/stock, her line severed like a neck

on the auction block. The women warned her

off speckled trout: it would mottle the baby;

kept her from strawberries to avoid the stain.

But their care knew portions. All would eat her

corn mash with venison. Even when her belly bulged over the pots,

they called her master’s table fine. Like white folks

none offered to sing her baby home.

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More Historical Slang

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I have a two-volume dictionary set, weighty tomes, of historical slang I’ve been leafing through this winter. You may have caught my first post with such goodies as Flesh-tailor and Frog-salad. In the interests of broadening, and maybe debasing, our vocabularies, here are a few more with which to shock and delight your friends.

Pontius Pilate: A pawn broker (1785)

Splatter-Face: A broad-faced man or woman (1861)

Mince-Pies: The eyes (1892)

Marinated: Transported over the sea (1785)

Lap-Ful: A lover or husband

Spicy: Racy or smutty (1844)

Spoffskins: A prostitute

A Fancy Piece: A thief’s woman (1877)

Upper-Storey: The head or brain (1751)

Vardy: An opinion

Vealy: Immature, green (1864)

Way-Bit: A considerable though indefinite addition to a mile (1611)

The Crack: The general craze of the moment

Cranberry-Eye: Bloodshot eye resulting from alcoholism

To be Docked Smack Smooth: Castrated

Hen-Fruit: Eggs

Rifle: To grope or possess a woman

Snipe: A thin person or child

Slap-Sauce: A hanger-on, a toady

Words referring to women and their, ahem, charms: Mary Jane, Miraculous-cairn, School of Venus, Splice, Coyote, Crinoline, East Virtue, Rosebud, Pit of Darkness, Plover, Pin cushion, Phoenix Nest, The Novelty.

Next time we’ll cover men and their charms…..

Booklikes Giveaway

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Thank you to all who participated!

If you missed out on the Amazon giveaway and would like another chance, the Goodreads giveaway has seven days left. I’m giving away 10 signed copies. And I just set up a Booklikes giveaway for five signed books, that one lasts til’ next Wednesday. I actually get to choose the winners in that one and you better believe I’ll be giving them to people with poetry books on their ‘shelves’; if enough people sign up.  So far, only one person has signed on! I need a few committed, or even occasional, poetry readers to take your chances. At this rate, you’re almost guaranteed one. Anyway, giveaway number 3 in progress.

Poems From Split the Crow

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Now that Split the Crow is in print, most journals won’t be interested in publishing those poems in their pages. Literary journals like to have first dibs and I didn’t get a lot of time between submitting this manuscript and holding the finished book in my hands. Which is fine by me. I’d rather have the book than a handful of single poem publications. Many of the poems in the collection never reached the pages of literary journals, so I figured I’d post some here in a weekly series; a little sneak peek at the contents to entice you to get the book. By the way, thank you to all who tried your luck at winning a book during the very quick Amazon giveaway. I don’t know who won, Amazon keeps that info. private. But I know 20 people entered and a few of you may have purchased books because, for a short glorious 30 minutes or so, I was hanging out with the likes of Louise Gluck and Mary Oliver as #14 among women’s poetry on Amazon. Heady stuff. Amazon stats change rapidly. I’d have to sell a book every second to keep that ranking, but for a few minutes I was livin’ the dream:)

The poem These Holes is one of two poems with this title in the collection. The first These Holes appears in the beginning of the manuscript. This one appears in section two. I was reading about Confederate Cherokee doctors during the Civil War. Many native southern tribes fought on the Confederate side as sharp shooters, scouts and doctors, the term Peculiar Confederacy referenced the alliance. I have a poem by that title and think I’ll throw it in as well. So, here are the poems Peculiar Confederacy and These Holes. Send me a message if you can hear the allusions to another poem by another poet (not contemporary) in Peculiar Confederacy. Again, I apologize for the wonky double-spacing. WordPress likes to have control of the ‘return’ key, or it double spaces. And I had to use dashes to give the poems a little breathing room, else they’re smooshed-up against one another.

Peculiar Confederacy

You turn our bones up

beneath your plows, ghost the trees.

Our shadows barely reach your knees.

We hike through swamp

to retrieve your slaves. Call us

sharpshooter, scout, medicine man.

We cut to the thigh to save the leg. So

how do you like your Indian now? Say how

white we have become, how American.

These Holes

To rasp willow splints for baskets,

draw strips through the eye

in the hip bone of a deer

over and over

until the green willow splint

is soft as hair.

Trained doctors amputated and debrided

bone. Cherokee doctors treated the lesser

wounds, soaked strips of slippery elm

in cold water until pliable, then passed the strips

through bullet holes, especially in the chest.

Dirt, blood clots, bits of bone

from other men, stuck to the elm’s mucilage. The pieces

were drawn like cloth run through the eye

of a gun, until the open wound was clean

as flesh can be, as the watery eye of an unsealed oyster.

Maybe the doctors’ faces hovered low and intimate

over their patients. Maybe they applied pressure,

packed the holes with more herbs, said some words.

Maybe the words were those of the Indian

in that Jarmusch movie, gouging the bullet

from the outlaw’s chest with knife and fingers

chanting a little, muttering: stupid fucking white man.