August Poetry Postcard Fest

FullSizeRender copy.jpgWatercolor postcard painted by me!

I just finished taking part in the 11th August Poetry Postcard Fest. It was the second time I signed up to send original poems on postcards for every day of the month of August. That’s 31 days, 31 poems! For a poetry project, the postcard fest is a bit rule-bound. There was a Facebook page for making connections during the fest, some people loved it, others felt it hindered the pure snail-mail experience. I checked in every once in a while and posted some pics of cards going out. The major ‘rule’/suggestion which I was unable to adhere to both times I’ve taken part in the fest involved composing directly onto the postcard. It’s not that I worry about my handwriting, though the few cards I wrote out by hand were near illegible. I did compose directly onto the first few cards this time around, but abandoned it in favor of getting some real poetry-writing done. A personal and artistic decision. I just couldn’t waste an opportunity to produce a handful of poems that might live to see the light of day. This may be antithetical to the Fest’s aims, but it’s what worked for me. Here’s an example of how subsequent cards went out, my post solar eclipse card and poem:

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Every morning I composed an original poem directly into a Word document, no revising. I printed each poem in 9 or 10 point font and taped it to the back of the card. I took a photo of each day’s card front and back, but the poems are saved in a future chapbook file. Here’s the thing, about a year ago I began a project I called ‘Missives’; a collection of prose poems written as letters. I had about eight poems in that file going into the Fest. I woke up on the third or fourth morning realizing that the Poetry Postcard Fest would be the perfect opportunity to write more poems toward ‘Missives’. I chose this rather than producing a few throwaway (for me) handwritten lines. I approached my first postcard fest a few years ago in the same way. A handful of poems from that year’s cards made it into my second collection. I find the matching of poem to postcard image or vice versa to be profoundly generative. Some days I wrote the poem first and searched my copious postcard collection for the perfect image. Other days I wrote a poem specifically for the card.

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After all was said and done (or printed, taped and posted) I had 10 to 12 poems I felt were strong enough to add to my ‘Missives’ project, which has changed focus slightly and been renamed. A theme emerged through my month-long writing exercise, so even the poems I don’t feel are strong enough to hold their own seem to be in dialogue with the others. Of course, this is the beauty of poetry. The themes dominating my psyche and spirit would have remained shadowy or subterranean. The writing made them real and I believe it was the meditative writing practice that achieved this. For me, dwelling on the themes that began to emerge was the only way to participate in the Poetry Postcard Fest. The Fest, as it did the first time around, gave me the reason and motivation to write poems. Being a sender and recipient of poems kept me on task. I understand the immediacy of handwriting directly onto a card, the logic, connection and aesthetic behind it. But, overall I think poets taking part in any lengthy writing project (MFAs included!)  should make the project work for them. Rules are malleable and writing poetry isn’t like learning a language or writing code. What works one day may not work the next. And what works for 1 or 100 poets may not work for you! Finally, a big thank you to my Group 5 compatriots. Thank you for your poems and cards, so many of them handmade. ‘Til next year!

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Postcards I received from Group 5 participants

 

 

 

 

Queen of Cups Last Issue

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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.

Queen of Cups Issue Nineteen in Entirety

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Paul Burty Haviland: Young Woman Sitting (Florence Peterson), 1910s. Cyanotype

Welcome to Queen of Cups Issue Nineteen featuring three poems by Juliet Cook and The Hierophant card. I’ve never really liked The Hierophant, considered it a kind of dull, clinical card, not as much fun to pull as The Star, Moon or any of the Cups. But my feelings about this card transformed as I researched the term Hierophant for this week’s reading. The general reading gives the accepted translation of The Hierophant card, the one that leaves me a little cold. The reading for artists and writers is a more intuitive take on the card, based on the ancient definition of a hierophant. Both depictions are relevant in readings. A subject may need The Hierophant’s guidance on accepting (or not) the rules and traditions of a large corporation. And there are those of you out there, writers and artists, creators who are also navigating the politics of universities, for whom the first reading may be more relevant at this time than the second. Or, relevant to a different part of your lives. That’s what’s so much fun about the tarot, it’s a rorschach test, allowing us to gain an intuitive understanding of where we are on any given day, based on the theme of a card. It’s a creative exercise!
Tarot Card of the Week: The Hierophant

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The Hierophant: The Hierophant is one of a few cards in the tarot which signifies the group as opposed to the individual. Thus, The Hierophant often stands for institutions (churches, universities, companies and societies) and their values, rules, hierarchy, traditions. The card speaks of group dynamics, conforming to an established set of rules, assigned roles, knowledge and beliefs. The Hierophant originally symbolized a religious figure inducting the two figures beneath him into a prescribed religious life of rigid structure, with little room for individuality. In a reading, this card may signify the attainment of higher learning, or specified skills and knowledge through working with a teacher in an institutional setting. It may signify a need to settle down and conform to fixed situations, rules, traditions of an institutional entity which exists above and beyond your individual desires. The appearance of this card can also point to a problem you are having with all of the above, your inability to conform to institutional demands and follow a pre set program, and your disinclination to give up freedom and individuality for the benefit or a larger group.

The Hierophant for Writers and Artists: I looked up the non-tarot-related definition of Hierophant while writing this and found: “Displayer of holy things. A person, especially a priest in ancient Greece, who interprets sacred mysteries or esoteric principles.” And: “Chief of the Eleusinian cult, the best-known of the mystery religions in ancient Greece. His principal job was to chant demonstrations of sacred symbols during the celebration of the mysteries. Upon taking office, he symbolically cast his former name into the sea and was thereafter called only hierophantes.” Well, that I can get behind! I guess the definition of Hierophant and the accepted tarot interpretation aren’t that far apart, but relinquishing one’s personal identity to a Greek mystery cult sounds way more appealing than conforming to the rules of a large company. It’s a little bit like the irony of the talented and prolific creative who lives what others might consider a boring life. She gets to bed at a reasonable time, keeps regular hours, lives clean, has a discipline inside of which she can be creatively daring and wild. The artist as Hierophant casts her name into the sea in favor of being a conduit for greater knowing. In this scenario, there are rules, rituals, and the abdication of self to the universal mystery. None of which are alien to the artist. During the creative act, as in prayer, the individual’s goal is to forget about self, to leave the human baggage and bondage, reminders of mortal limitations, behind, in favor of becoming one with that which cannot be fully seen, known or comprehended. And she does this not for personal gain, but selflessly, acting as that connection between the worldly life and the unseen on behalf of the tribe. This gets back to the idea of poets as seers, venturing into the unknown and bringing something of soul-value back to the group, giving that gift freely in shared humanity. I don’t see The Hierophant as solely symbolizing the abdication of self to a large institution like a university or company, that interpretation has its place, but is a modern one. I believe The Hierophant points to something much larger and more essential: the willingness and ability to relinquish one’s individuality to the greater “I am”, and I don’t mean God, though this could mean God and traditional spirituality for some. Pursuing the artist’s life can seem like THE most individualistic occupation there is, but the goal isn’t really to produce works of art with ‘ME, ME, ME’ stamped all over them. The beauty of being an artist, the part that takes our breath away and keeps us coming back, is being surprised by our own creations, knowing that what we create is a little bit us and a lot of something we can’t explain. This is what The Hierophant is speaking to, whether you’re right with it, or struggling, look to the image of the ordinary man casting his name into the sea.

 

 
Introducing Juliet Cook!

 

 
Everyone Handles Death Differently

Even if I can’t save myself, I still photograph the dead birds
and save their remains. Dead remnants infiltrate
the memory box. I meant it when I said it. Maybe
he did not. Otherwise, how could I have been so easy
to replace? Every dead bird is different. Different size,
different shape, different structure, different missing parts,
different little dead hearts. Different causes of their demise.

I replaced brains with hearts then wanted to rip my heart out,
then thought about pouring another heavy dose
of sweet cream into the latest small bird coffin.
Everyone handles lost love differently.
I think dead birds will always love me more
than living humans ever really will from here on out.

House of Her Cards

Sometimes I feel like I barely exist.
I could easily be replaced with her
or her or her or her.

You’ll get tired of listening to me
and so you’ll try a more quiet her.
You’ll get tired of handling me
and so you’ll dive into her body.

Maybe so-called love is just a game,
filled with lots of different hers
with an alternating playing field of card tricks.

I’m not her any more. My cards are lost.
Part of my brain suspects they were purposely torn
into pieces and then flung down through
the cracks of a broken deck.

Batter Up
There was a large circle of chairs with female poet bodies sitting on top of them.

They were having a conversation, preceding a yes or no vote, about whether or not a
poem of mine should be removed from a source that had already chosen to publish it.

Chosen or not, some questions were now being raised. It had come to some gender-
based assumptions that I was not the kind of feminist they had thought I was, because I
had mutant pigs as friends.

They no longer wanted to publish a poem by a possible mutant pig-breeding chick,
unless she broke bread with the primary editorial staff members too.

“Do you know what primary staff members are?” that one whispered into my ear. “Do
you know how powerful they are? Do you know how they taste?”

The voting panel looked like they were leaning towards pulling me out, but first they
wanted me and another female body to share one chair together while they counted
backwards from 10 to 0.

I was supposed to sit on her lap and the two of us were told to make competitive oinking
sounds after every number until we hit 0. Then it was time to start running.

Perpetually racing around the circle of chairs in a cakewalk competition in which all the
baked cakes were shaped like pigs and the winning chick would be hit in the head with
a pig cake and then sold to the highest bidder.

How did I get myself into this cake hole? Who do they think they are? Who do they think
I am?

Who do I think I am? I think my little mutant pigs are something more than just soft cake
batter pig shapes to be cut into edible eatables.

Do they really think I’m not going to rip out their fake fucking pig tails and let the blood
drip all over the pig cake frosting and then throw that cake bowl down on the ground
and run away from this encircling game and grow my own pig ears?

 
Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and dark red explosions. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications, including Arsenic Lobster, Diode, FLAPPERHOUSE, Menacing Hedge, and Tarpaulin Sky Press. She is the author of more than thirteen poetry chapbooks, most recently including POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press, 2013), RED DEMOLITION (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014), a collaboration with Robert Cole called MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015), and a collaboration with j/j hastain called Dive Back Down (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Cook’s first full-length poetry book, “Horrific Confection”, was published by BlazeVOX in 2008 and her second full-length poetry book, “Malformed Confetti” is forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press. In addition to her writing, Cook creates other art too, such as semi-abstract painting/collage art hybrid creatures. You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com

 

Weekly Writing Prompt: This week’s artwork is a cyanotype, achieved during a photographic process which uses ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide to create a cyan-blue image. Oh how I love cyanotypes, that blue like the folds of the Virgin Mary’s veil, or swimming at deep dusk on the last day of summer. They take what might be an ordinary subject or tableau and transform it into something that effects us viscerally. Write a piece based on the cyanotype above: Young Woman Sitting. You might also look up Florence Peterson who was the regular subject of the photographer.

 

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My Next Book Forthcoming from CavanKerry Press

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I realized the other night as I was falling asleep (that hour when I remember important things and ‘write’ my best poetry) that I hadn’t officially announced my latest good news. I got a call in late January or early February from Joan Cusack Handler, Publisher and Senior Editor of CavanKerry Press, asking if the manuscript I had submitted six months earlier was still available and, if so, CavanKerry would like to publish it. Long story short, I signed a contract a couple weeks back for a projected 2018 pub. date. Truth be told, I really hope that date can be moved up by about a year. I’m terribly impatient when it comes to seeing my work in print. I published my first book when I was 40 and I feel like I’m making up for lost time. CavanKerry is a great press with an impressive list of writers, of all genres, on its roster. I’ll be joining poets January Gill O’Neil, Ross Gay, Nin Andrews, Celia Bland, Annie Boutelle, Baron Wormser, Dawn Potter and Cusack Handler herself, among many talented others, on the CavanKerry imprint. Check out this interview poet Nin Andrews conducted with Cusack Handler about the press and its vision. As I get closer to the pub. date I’ll share more about the collection, which is tentatively titled See the Wolf.  I’m thinking the title will have to go because my other two collections have three-word titles as well and they sound, and look, odd together. For now, here are two poems that have found there way to publication and appear early on in the manuscript. These poems are single spaced, but WordPress has its own ideas on lineation.

 

 

You Are Not Grass

 

The last wild passenger pigeon was named

Buttons because the mother of the boy who shot it,

stuffed the bird and sewed black buttons for eyes.

 

People with Ekbom Syndrome imagine

they’re infested with mites.

 

It’s possible the entire Buttons family

developed Ekbom, an aspect of which is

Folie à Deux (madness between two),

where a person in contact with the sufferer

develops symptoms—as in an actual infestation.

 

All wild things have kleptophobia:

the fear of being stolen, as well as cleithrophobia:

the fear of being trapped. I did, after

the divorce and my mother began dating—

fear of being adopted by a man

wearing slacks and old fashioned shoes, (automaton

ophobia?) who winked at me and promised to return

my mother at a decent hour. Whose accent

was southern, who pronounced his R’s

so long they became words in their own right,

words at the ends of words; his R’s

like grappling hooks, like a crocodile-

purse with yellow eyes.

 

Why is the fear of being trapped a clinical phobia,

while the compulsion to slit

and stuff a thing not listed in the DSM?

 

Nature permanence is the healthy acceptance

that you are not grass but human, beneficial

if you suffer from hylophobia (fear of trees)

not so helpful if you have Cotard delusion

and know you’re not only human, but a corpse.

Related to Cotard is xenomelia: the feeling

that one’s limbs don’t belong to the body,

chirophobia: fear of hands. And worse,

apotemnophilia, where a person disowns

the limbs, yearns to live life

 

as an amputee. Why the insistence

that an animal have black buttons,

yellow marbles, key holes for eyes?

that its entrails be replaced with horsehair

and rags? that the peppery dots

swarming the blanket aren’t mites? What are the chances

that a man who flashes his teeth when he talks

doesn’t bite? To fear is animal.

 

To create out of fear must be human—

slits to let the mites out,

steel shot like beautiful beadwork

studding lavender breasts. Phantom limbs

when real hands become too dangerous.

(first published in Fourteen Hills)

 

 

 

Sisters, 1980s

 

Sometimes they’re Cabbage Patch plastic,

sometimes figurine porcelain, Shirley Temples and cherry

nail polish on New Year’s Eve. Always awake

when the ball drops. Sometimes there’s three,

sometimes two when the mother one decides

to be mother, clean house; dust and wash the floors

on hands and knees, the rag and dragged pail behind her.

When she lights the potpourri burner

they know what that means. Alone,

the sisters eat all the groceries, the carbs

they call starches, grow into their swear words;

one fat and quiet, the little one mouthy.

They develop their neuroses with help

from the mother’s boyfriend, the smug vice

principal who’s drawing the line

between them and college material,

the father, his girlfriend: always his girlfriend.

Not late to the game, she created the game.

Sometimes they’re Cyndi Lauper,

sometimes Cindy Crawford, the glittery stickers

in the sticker collection, the scented:

Aqua Net, Aussie, Baby Soft.

They’ve been watching Three’s Company

since they were seven, General Hospital since eight

and though one is four years older,

in the apartment alone after school,

they’re the same age. They know

what it means when creepy Mr. Roper makes eyes

at Jack and poses his hands like birds.

They know that Luke was Laura’s rapist. Everyone does.

Woman-raised and like certain dogs, they don’t trust men.

They carry the key for the bolt lock.

They let themselves in.

 

(first published in Fugue)

 

Book Review

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Thanks to David Marx for reviewing Split the Crow on his book review blog. He makes a case for the universality of the poems despite their particular focus on North American history, and even finds a correlation between the Removal of Choctaw from Mississippi and the Syrian refugee crisis. Thanks for giving the book thoughtful consideration David.

1898 World’s Fair and a Poem

tmi00857  “Indian Parade” Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, 1898

In 1898, America’s World’s Fair took place in Omaha, Nebraska. Called the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, the 1898 fair sought to depict the ‘settling’ of the west, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast.  The  Indian Congress was a major feature of the fair and a big draw for crowds. Twenty-one tribes participated in the congress, which included sham battles between ‘cowboys and Indians’, parades, displays of Native American tribal culture and most importantly, a living diorama, where tribes camped and ‘lived’ for the duration of the fair as they would have before reservation life stripped them of tradition. Visitors were encouraged to mill-around the living diorama, view and interact with tribal members. The irony of the Indian Congress was that it sought to to document a Native American lifestyle that had been eliminated by the government’s heavy hand in manipulating tribal culture. The following poem appears in my second collection Split the CrowThe poem is not double-spaced but WordPress can’t understand that, apologies.

Indian Exhibit; The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, 1898

The Indian band strikes up Stars and Stripes Forever—

familiar distress signal of circus performers everywhere.

Down the midway waving scalps cut from cow-hide.

The Improved Order of Red Men play friendly

Indians to the white man’s clever cowboy. The sham

battle; a march to the reservation. Wander through the living

diorama, open day and night: this is how they cook

on open fire, this is how they cry.

Three Indians die and one attempts suicide

behind the scenes. This grass house and tipi and windbreak;

the only authentic artifacts says the ethnologist

James Mooney on arrival from Oklahoma

with 106 authentic Kiowa and their ponies.

He carries his grass house like a social studies project.

This lead buffalo, these miniature Indians

holding twigs for arrows. Real sized Indians

brandishing blanks. See

 

these once formidable enemies

of white man

camped together in a frame—

 

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:)