Monday, October 25, 2021

Katie Schmid, nowhere: poems

 

Some Boys of the Midwest
           
After Ben Marcus

Boys court me. We leave the restaurant, where they sat uncomfortable and did not know where to put their elbows. Shyly they take my hand to help me into the car. Shyly they part the sea of empty Mountain Dew cans in the back seat and reach for me, leave their bites all over me. The boys are unwashed and smell like food—as if they have been lightly battered and fried in their own grease. The boys hold my hands in theirs until they begin to ache. The parking lot empties, leaving a vast ocean of tar under yellow light. It is five in the morning. A wild red fox streaks past the car, something wriggling in his mouth. Even in the dark, it is easy to tell who consumes who.

Lincoln, Nebraska poet Katie Schmid’s full-length debut is nowhere: poems (Albuquerque NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2021), a startling collection of poems around coming-of-age, sex and power, female agency and loss, including, as the back cover offers, “chronicling the pain that the speaker and her absent father endure during the years they are separated while he is in prison.” Hers are a sequence of dark, midwestern narratives around absence, emotional distance and old boyfriends, haunted by history and its impact, and a world experienced through the lens of such an incredibly large and early absence. “Because I survived,” she writes, to open the poem “Crown of Eyes,” “it became a story / I owed to anyone who asked.” Writing very much from the inside of a consideration of “fatherless girls and the bodies of women,” Schmid speaks bluntly of how the heart develops callouses from wear, and what in her world might be considered weakness, and what might be considered strength. She writes of the absence of a father, even after he returns, and the complications of that absence. She writes of myth and the hard lessons of real life, and the occasional conflict between the two; of exhaltation, exhaustion and a possible escape or salvation that never quite arrives. As the end of the two-page poem “A Nightmare Is a Body and / Your Father Gone” offers: “Body, your very composition is an absence / & lay you down to sleep in his T-shirts // & be now the child & be the father both / & hold your little self & hold the gonefather // at your center & make of it a timeless world: / throw up your firmament of eternal tears. // The lack at the heart of you is your making, the lack / at the heart of you is where you learn to make.”

She writes of loss and pregnancy, poems that move into the endless sadness of miscarriage. “It is wrong to want // the impossible,” she writes, towards the end of “The Island of Lost Things,” “to continue wanting, as if the wanting / is an action, and besides, the lost things are alive now, / as if the state of being lost // has breathed blood and health into their frames. / The nurse sounds the depths of my stomach / as if it were an ocean, // as if the island is hard to find, though I feel it / rise under my skin. In this moment before elation / or disaster, I’ve lived my whole life.” There is a hope her poems cling to, even despite herself, one that refuses to let go, despite all evidence; and perhaps this, beyond all else, is the thread that ties these narratives together, and allow them the possibility of not dragging her completely under.

Her poems have both narrative and emotional force, offering a cadence that rolls along with a cadence that unfolds at contemplative speeds, one that allows her thoughtful lyric the space it requires. The only moment I can catch otherwise is in the poem “All My Boyfriends Love / My Father the Best,” a piece that, however stunning, reads a bit truncated at the very end, almost as though the spacings were shunted for the sake of not having to move a line or two to the next page:

                                            […] I can see them squinting
            he's everything

they ever dreamed and a Jungian too—and I know
that love where you try so hard to get someone

to see you and it feels like you’ll never be let in
to the mysterious house that you know from distant

observation is the most beautiful house, that you know
from closest study        everything
but what it’s like to step inside


Sunday, October 24, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Marissa Glover

Marissa Glover teaches writing, humanities, and public speaking courses at Saint Leo University. Before academia, Glover worked as a writer and editor for more than fifteen years. She is currently coeditor of Orange Blossom Review and a senior editor at The Lascaux Review, and her own work has been widely published in various journals and anthologies. Her first full-length poetry collection is Let Go of the Hands You Hold: Poems (Mercer University Press, 2021). Learn more about her at www.marissaglover.com.

How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Thank you for asking me these questions. I’m so grateful for your time and interest—it really means a lot to me.

The book’s official release date was April 1, 2021, so it’s not had much time to change my life. However, being offered a book contract by a university press changed my life in that it showed me that dreams can come true and raised my confidence level as a writer and poet to new levels. I will forever be grateful for this gift that publisher Marc Jolley and his team at Mercer University Press gave to me.

The poems in Let Go of the Hands You Hold were a long time in the making and accurately reveal the kind of writer I am and the work I do. While I always hope to improve as a poet, these poems show me to be a writer for the page and a writer for the stage—and they are true to my voice. No matter the topic or form, these poems sound like me.

That said, the poetry feels different from what I’m writing now because this book is largely an angry lament about how disappointing life in this world can be. My next book is less angry, though still biting at times (it’s my voice, what can I do?), and less a tome of grief. Still, there is humor in this book—I’m a firm believer that we need to laugh to survive. Sometimes it is a dark humor, but the laugh can get us through the night.

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I’m not sure. I read a ton of novels at a young age—lots and lots of books with horses as the main character. But when I started writing in my teens, I started with poetry. In my twenties, I took some time off from creative writing (decades, actually) and wrote academic and nonfiction only. When I came back to creative writing, I naturally returned to poetry first. I like the economy of it. The whimsy. The musicality. The rhythm. The romance.

Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

For me, a poem usually begins with an idea. Occasionally, I’ll get a word or phrase or line stuck in my head, and I’ll write it down so I can revisit it later. I’ll mull the idea or line for a while, and when I’ve ample to time to wrestle it onto paper, I will write a first draft. I won’t send a poem out for publication until it’s gone through multiple drafts and feels “finished,” but I put that in quotation marks because it seems my poems are rarely ever finished. I usually revise them again before including them in a book manuscript, and I may tweak them again during the proof stages. I’m happy when an editor or publisher tells me enough, because I can get a tad obsessed with making a poem “perfect.” I don’t know that I’ll ever be satisfied with my work. But I can say that this particular book took shape after I’d published about 80 individual poems and could see a connective thread in about 50 of those pieces. I then wrote the rest of the poems to fit the book. My next book was a book from the start. Who knows what manuscript number three will be?

Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

One of the courses I teach at Saint Leo University is a class on public speaking (a class I created actually); and I’ve given several lectures/presentations/workshops on poems for the page vs. poems for the stage that offer tips for public readings. So I guess you could say I’m a fan of doing readings.

Other people often call me a performance poet, but this book hopefully captures both sides of me. I write poems for the stage—and readers can listen to me recite those spoken word pieces because of the QR codes in my collection—but I also write poems for the page, which are meant to be pondered and sat with and read more than once for deeper understanding.

I would be honored to do any sort of readings for this book. In the past, I’ve often performed at concerts, conferences, retreats, open mics, etc. and find the experience to be both humbling and exhilarating. Folks can check out this video performance, and interested folks can email me at MarissaGlover@outlook.com.

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

The only question I’m trying to answer with the work in this book is Why. Why. Why. Why. Which is probably the question I’ve been trying to answer about everything my entire life. I’ve studied and taught theory, but I’m not a big fan of trying to insert theory into my creative work. I will leave that to the plethora of scholars infinitely brighter than I, those much more qualified to analyze literature.

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

To answer this question, I share my poem “Ghostwriters” published in The Night Heron Barks. This poem is not in my collection, but I think it fits here well.

Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I myself have been working as an editor for more than 20 years now, so I definitely think editing is essential—the more eyes, the better. But I also know that some people don’t value the work of an outside editor—at least not the way they do a graphic artist or web designer. I often encourage my professional writing students to learn as many skills as they can (photography, photo editing, layout and design, etc.) because if folks only have the budget for one or the other, most people will think they can speak and write the language well enough to proceed to print, and they’ll opt to pay for an artist or designer with computer skills rather than an editor.

All of that said, nothing is essential. Beneficial, yes. Essential, no. People should write because they want to write and say what they want to say. Readers can decide what they want to read.

What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

An invaluable advice was given to me by esteemed poet and critic Dana Gioia, a professor of mine during undergrad. He told me to read three times as much as I write. And to go live life so that I’d have something to write about. I took his advice very seriously, and very literally.

What fragrance reminds you of home?

Anything connected to Christmas. Spices, evergreens, firewood.

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Everything influences me. I take inspiration from whatever I see or hear or taste or touch or smell or sense in the world. Lots of my poems react to world events; other poems feature scientific theories; of course my poems respond to art and nature and music too. This book also alludes to ancient texts like the Old and New Testament, as well as Greek mythology. You’ll notice pop culture references too—I teach humanities courses because I love it all, everything. I love to read about it, learn about it, teach about it, write about it.

What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I would like take a train ride up the west coast of North America and stay in a cabin somewhere wild. With my poetry, I’d love to partner with a creative team to make short movie-like videos for my spoken word pieces. If you know anyone . . .

If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Well, my occupation is actually teacher (used to be professional writer—marketing, ghostwriting, editing, etc.—before I transitioned into academia), and most days find me very grateful for my career. I used to want to be in politics or on the stage, but I also used to want to be a quarterback in the NFL, so . . . who knows what I would be if given the chance. This reminds me of a recently published poem—one that will likely be in my next book: “Self-Concept” from The Adriatic.

What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I joke that writing is cheaper than therapy, but it’s true. I don’t know that I could stop writing, even if I wanted to, though there are many other things I wish I could do instead—like paint, cook, garden, sing, dance . . . my artistic talents are limited so I use them the best I can. Ultimately, I write to tell a story I think ought to be told. I feel like the epigraph in my book sums up and explains the impulse perfectly.

What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Sadly, I’ve not read much over the past year. The pandemic and surrounding fallout has left me less focused than usual, so I haven’t read much—or watched much, really. I’m always a fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Dead Poets Society always moves me.

What are you currently working on?

I recently completed my second poetry manuscript and have sent it off for consideration. Fingers crossed. I’m currently on a personal writing hiatus as I focus on teaching (and grading!) and freelance client projects. After a brief respite, I hope to return to my poetry projects—several chapbook ideas are brewing—and also write some academic articles, publish some popular articles, and relaunch Friday Night Open Mic, the community event series I pioneered several years ago that was sadly affected by the pandemic. Friday Night Open Mic is a welcoming creative community that adds beauty to the world—F.N.O.M. for short, where all it takes is courage to be FNOMenal!

Thanks again for this interview. I’m grateful.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Diane Seuss, frank: sonnets

 

I drove all the way to Cape Disappointment but didn’t

have the energy to get out of the car. Rental. Blue Ford

Focus. I had to stop in a semi-public place to pee

on the ground. Just squatted there on the roadside.

I don’t know what’s up with my bladder. I pee and then

I have to pee and pee again. Instead of sightseeing

I climbed into the back seat of the car and took a nap.

I’m a little like Frank O’Hara without the handsome

nose and penis and the New York School and Larry

Rivers. Paid for a day pass at Cape Disappointment

thinking hard about that long drop from the lighthouse

to the sea. Thought about going into the Ocean

Medical Center for a checkup but how do I explain

this restless search for beauty or relief?

I’d been hearing for some time about Michigan poet Diane Seuss’ incredible fourth full-length poetry collection, frank: sonnets (Minneapolis MN: Graywolf Press, 2021), following her collections Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf Press, 2015) and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018). The first of her collections I’ve seen (I’m clearly behind on reading her work), frank: sonnets is an expansive, extended sonnet-suite composed as a single, unbroken sentence detailing and deconstructing an incredibly powerful lyric memoir. “I want drugs again; whimsy. Frenzy, hilarity, as when // visiting mass with Juanita,” she writes, early on in the collection. “we were twelve, I wasn’t // Catholic, laughing ourselves sick at the names of saints, /// Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, sparks went off in my // brain, I had no squeamishness, I’d eat alligator, rabbit // with the head on, fish eggs, eyes, hitchhike playing // the mouth harp [.]”

Composing one hundred and twenty-eight untitled sonnets in succession, frank: sonnets is a book-length confessional of one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-two lines, writing through a childhood rife with family violence, poverty, trauma and suicide attempts, into literature, boyfriends, small towns and other forms of chaos, cacophony and clawing back into the world and into the possibilities of survival. “Literature is a dangerous business, the entrapment of form in poetry, plot // in fiction, can be claustrophobic to a person like me, and no trellised exit gate, // one can find themselves not just lost but impaled on the tangible details // of someone else’s world—blue paint drying on the pickets, meaty smell of hot // shrubbery—mere facsimilies, but also by the feelings of the characters, stratified, // as if by some eons-spanning organic process, grief, desperation, self-deception, // scattered sparlingly with some gorgeous momentary wish fulfillment, two // characters, one secretive and impacted, one spontaneous, who meet at night // on a serpentine bridge, wordless brushing of fingertips over wrist, lips over jaw, […]” She writes of growing up and of the effects of trauma; how it replicates and changes form, how it affects the spirit far beyond what one might suspect. She writes of pure survival and those moments when her heart was able to sing, offering a rare and fresh consideration on both the lyric memoir and the sonnet form, one that blends and incorporates multiple sonnet strains, from the recombinant experiments of the late Ted Berrigan to more traditional considerations of structure.

In 2018, as part of her “12 or 20 questions” interview, Seuss referenced the project, then still very much a work-in-progress, offering: “My current project is a big one. It’s a kind of memoir in unrhymed (usually) sonnets. Taken together, they will compose a sort of incremental story of moments in my life as I experienced them, but also, the poems look at the nature of memory itself, how it operates, memory’s entrapments as well as its liberations. The poems try to get at the improvisational nature of thought. I have well over a hundred and I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.” There are times that the form of the sonnet seems barely big enough to contain her multitudes, and Seuss composes a complicated narrative, one that pulls at every emotional thread enough that one might wonder how the project simply didn’t completely unravel. “I’ve lived with death from the beginning,” she offers, further into the collection, “at the edge // of its villages. I sang it little songs, pried open its mildewed // pods until the seed fluff detonated in my face like, well you // know what it’s like when seeds detonate in your face.” It is as though she really did write her own way into and through survival. Through writing, the means perhaps become the end; how the journey is, in fact, far more important than any kind of destination.

How do you stand being so virtuous? My only virtue is my lack

of virtue. My only fear my fear of a virtuous mob. Once my son sawed

through his wrists with a pair of scissors. Burst into my bedroom, I was

sleeping a rare sleep, dreaming a rare dream, and he cried that he had tried

to kill himself. Even as I called for help he sawed away. He was fucked up,

drunk, he knocked the phone out of my hand, maybe I slapped him,

he says I slapped him and I believe him. They sent him home after they

stitched up his wrists, wouldn’t even keep him for a 24-hour hold. I made

threats, pulled rank. I’m a social worker, I yelled. Oh. Well then. Ha. He’s still

got the scars. I saw them when we were playing Scattergories. For a while, I hid

everything sharp in the house. Even pencils and paring knives. But you can’t

really live without sharp things. “If I want them I’ll find them,” he told me.

I use the scissors now to cut my bangs. One clean slice straight across my

forehead. Through virtue’s flimsy yellow curtains there are many rooms.