Interviews: A New Feature at The Poetry Cafe!

Big thanks to all who have been following The Poetry Cafe Online and reading our reviews of poetry chapbooks. I continue to receive chapbooks from near and far, and am amazed at the quality of what I am reading. I am forever grateful to guest reviewers: Sarah Stockton, Jerri Frederickson, Siân Killingsworth and Lennart Lundh who have written such superb reviews. I’m always on the lookout for new reviewers, so please get in touch if you are interested.

Today, The Cafe is opening a new reading room for interviews with authors of poetry chapbooks. We’re starting with Lauren Davis’s review of Jeff Santosuosso’s chapbook, Body of Water. Take a read and enjoy the winding path through the process and rewards of writing.

This means we are open for your interviews too. Please contact me if you want to pitch an interview with your favorite chapbook poet!

Contact me at: risa@thepoetrycafe.online

A Nation (Imagined)

  10/14/19

A Nation (Imagined) by Natasha Kochicheril Moni
winner of the 2018 Floating Bridge Press chapbook contest   

Review by Linera Lucas 

   

A Nation (Imagined) (Floating Bridge Press, 2018) is a lyric poem about love, grief, nature, and graceful endurance. The format is one long poem bookended by two short poems, and the story is a simple one: a man and a woman love one another, he goes off to war, she stays home, he dies and she continues to think of him. But the way Moni tells this story is anything but simple. Just because a book is short does not mean it is not profound.

The opening poem “And what if everything” makes it clear that this is going to be about death and memory. We are going back in time. First we are in a field of daffodils, and then we are in a minefield. The transition is brief and shocking, as if the reader is the one who is blown up. We start with sex and move to death where,

the pause after love
before love which is
now     You are in a field
of daffodils
– no –                                   
a field of living            mines 

If you bend left, death. If you bend right, memory. This is the prologue, the poem that teaches the reader how to read the rest of the work. Thank you, much appreciated. It’s good to have a guide, even if I’m not quite certain just how much I can trust the poet who is leading me onward. The long poem begins,

Remember the year you forgot to water my jade

and ends with,

Do you remember this?

Next, we are going to have the catalogue of what happened, in poet time, in real time, and in a mix of the two. I feel as if I had been given the chance to open a secret box, to read letters I am not supposed to know about, and I feel a little guilty, but I don’t want to stop reading.

Now the poet writes to her lover, telling him what has happened since he left, how she wishes he would write to her, then I turn the page and she says a letter arrived three years too late, that their tree will be firewood,

 Tomorrow
 our madrona
 becomes a cord
what will keep

                                      (our heat)     

And what will keep their passion alive, now that he is dead? This is a poem about coming to terms with grief, also about not coming to terms with grief. She wants to send him his chickens, tries not to weep, gives him a list of what she saw on her daily walk in the woods. She saved a wildflower from a young girl who wanted to cut and press it.

“They” (the ever present outside world), would like her to do various things, to be more like someone else, to behave in a recognizable manner, but she wants her lover to “enter and with care //   strike the lantern” . . . taste the apricots,

on your favorite plate              your favorite plate

the one                        chipped                       
from too much             loving.              

   

This might be my favorite passage in the whole book.

Then there is the bargain she wants to make at the end of this poem: “unwind your voice / from my inner ear and I will ” not steam open the letter written to him, which started this whole story. What is in that letter? I am not going to find out, and I like that.

And now the final poem, the other bookend, “Letter to a Lover Whose Name Spells Dark Bird.” This is, of course, a letter to Corbin, the dead lover. Corbin is a variation on Corbie, which is another name for crow or raven, birds of intelligence connected with death and messages from the dead. This poem has the kind of bargaining that deep grief brings, past pleading and near madness, but such resigned madness. Here’s how it starts,

Look, when you call – bring the basket

and here’s how it ends,

Meet me and we
will forget our bodies were ever anything but

a little salt, water                                   
waiting to be stirred. 

and in between is,

the year we spent a lifetime
sailing in the boat of our bed.

So that’s the last poem. I have read the story, and have been changed by it. What makes this chapbook so fulfilling is how real the grief and love are, how tender and fierce the poet narrator’s love for her dead Corbin, and then the ending, with the unopened letter. Because at the last, we never really know another person. We can guess at them, follow the clues from how their lives cross ours, but each person contains many mysteries.

Natasha Kochicheril Moni is the author of four poetry collections and a licensed naturopathic doctor in WA State. Her most recent chapbook, A Nation (Imagined), won the 2018 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Natasha’s writing has been featured in over sixty-five publications including Verse, Indiana Review, Entropy, The Rumpus, and the recently released Terrapin Press anthology, A Constellation of Kisses. As a former editor for a literary journal, a panelist for residency and grant award committees, and a chapbook contest judge, Natasha loves supporting fellow writers. She owns and operates Helios Center for Whole Health, PLLC, which offers naturopathic appointments, medical writing, poetry manuscript consultations, and writing and wellness lectures/workshops.

natashamoni.com 
helioswholehealth.com

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Issam Zineh

Issam Zineh is a Los Angeles-born, Palestinian-American poet and scientist.  He is author of the forthcoming chapbook “The Moment of Greatest Alienation” (Ethel Press, Spring 2021).  His poems appear or are forthcoming in Clockhouse, Fjords Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist), Nimrod, Poet Lore, The Seattle Review, and elsewhere.  He also reviews for The Poetry Café (https://thepoetrycafe.online).  Find him on Twitter @izineh.

3arabi Song

3arabi Song by Zeina Hashem Beck


Review and Interview
by Issam Zineh

Zeina Hashem Beck’s 3arabi Song is a collection of 17 poems of deep intimacy.  The individual poems come together as an exploration of grief and joy.  There is a tremendous sense of place and our relationship to it: longing, homecoming, comfort, exile, return.  There is a specific version of discovery in this work.  It is not quite sudden revelation.  It is more closely what song often reveals as completely understood truth, if not yet articulated until that exact moment of utterance. 

The collection opens with “You Fixed It,” a kind of ode that introduces key themes which appear throughout the remainder of the book.  These issues—familial intimacy; private and collective sorrow; a distinct and simultaneously equivocal sense of identity (for example, in terms of relationship to one’s country); a very particular kind of steadfastness; the power of music to sustain (and subvert)—are only some of the vast richness that gets treatment throughout this engaging book. 

These ideas are quietly but fully on display as the poem lists the ways in which the unnamed “you” overcomes the most existential of difficulties (often disguised as the domestic and the mundane).  It is no accident that the first challenge is fundamentally one of orientation:

And if the compass broke you fixed it, fastened
the pencil to it with a rubber band

The struggles of daily living accrue, and it is in the how of this accumulation where Hashem Beck’s genius lies—the musical coexistence of beauty and struggle brought to bear on the page (and through the spoken word).  The poem’s ending is the point of departure for everything that comes in later poems:

and if your sorrow hardened you fixed it
by dipping it in sea water, and if your country
hardened, if your country hardened you fixed it by dipping it in song.

3arabi Song not only rewards through its language and imagery, but in its poetic forms.  The collection’s five ghazals skillfully contend with ancestry and remembrance (“Ghazal: The Dead”), displacement (“Ghazal: This Hijra,” “Ghazal: Back Home”), and personal and national identity (“This Country: Ghazal for Abdel Halim Hafez,” “Ghazal: Samira Tawfiq Sings a Love Poem”).  Hashem Beck beautifully memorializes the renowned Arabic singer and actress Sabah (“…Not mourning with a ‘u’.” Yes, the thing that shines.”) in “Pantoum for Sabbouha,” one of several poems in which she pays tribute to divas of the Arab world, including Fairuz, Umm Kulthum, and others:

I imitated the walk, the hands
back then, the way she dared to say batata.
‘I had no fear of age, of death,’
she could’ve said in an interview, ‘No fear of men.’

3arabi Song is enhanced by, but not beholden to, the traditional forms.  Perhaps two of the most interesting poems in the collection in terms of both content and structure are “Listen” and “Naming Things.”  In “Listen,” we find ourselves part of a family dealing in real-time with the possibility their son and brother has been killed by an explosion at the local mosque.  The imagery is stunning:

It explodes,
the mosque, this Friday,
the laundry, the domes of
boys’ arms, the sumac … The Chiclets in the street.

… The sea, still. The children, the figs almost bursting.

Additionally, the power of the poem generates in no small part from its form.  Centered on the page, the poem’s two sections appear as two hourglasses stacked upon one another, each mirroring the other, each section narrowing to a point and expanding again.  The composition excellently serves as visual metaphor for the pinpoint focus that can occur during the instant of tragedy, while symbolizing the disintegration of time and the vacillation and alternative realities we create during times of trauma to avoid acceptance.

In “Naming Things (for refugees, September 2015),” Hashem Beck deals with the issue of our times, the “our” being at minimum the global diaspora, a population that continues to grow predominantly due to ravages of endless war and the climate crisis.  Formally, this long poem centered on the refugee crisis connects its stanzas through repetition.  Lyrical power and drama are amplified by this approach (below are the first and last lines of the initial stanzas):

Angels—
we saw them on the railway,

[. . .] on their wings.


Wings—

[. . .] about our cat


Cats—

[ . . .] refuge refuse bins

Country—

It also uses English, written Arabic, transliterated Arabic, and “Arabizi”, which reinforces the inextricable relationship between the multiple cultures and sensibilities in these poems:

My hips—
are heavy
are child-bearing
child-killing
are lover
do not fit those
train windows
these fences
this escape this

Ra7eel
so much in my 3arabi depends
on ra7eel on

3awda
a5 ya baba

And while not radically experimental in form, “Naming Things” is innovative in how it brings together formal elements and languages to create an unrelenting litany of harmony and disruption that undergirds the subject matter. 

As I read and re-read 3arabi Song, I found it to be so many things simultaneously.  I wondered about the collection’s origin story, its idiosyncrasies, its original reception, and its relevance several years after publication.  I had a chance to sit down with Zeina Hashem Beck virtually to exchange on some of these questions.

Please click here to read the conversation between Zeina Hashem Beck and Issam Zineh . . .

Title: 3Arabi Song
Author: Zeina Hashem Beck
2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner
Cover art by Yazan Hallwani
ISBN: 978-1-931307-30-

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her second full-length collection is Louder than Hearts (Bauhan Publishing, 2017).  She’s also the author of two chapbooks.  Her poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, The New York Times, The Academy of American Poets, Poetry, Southeast Review, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere.  She lives in Dubai. www.zeinahashembeck.com

Issam Zineh is a Los Angeles-born, Palestinian-American poet and scientist.  He is author of the forthcoming chapbook “The Moment of Greatest Alienation” (Ethel Press, Spring 2021).  His poems appear or are forthcoming in Clockhouse, Fjords Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist), Nimrod, Poet Lore, The Seattle Review, and elsewhere.  He also reviews for The Poetry Café (https://thepoetrycafe.online).  Find him on Twitter @izineh.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Zeina Hashem Beck and Issam Zineh

In a Day and a Night: Review of 3arabi Song and a Conversation with Zeina Hashem Beck

Read Issam Zineh’s Review of 3arabi Song here:

“As I read and re-read 3arabi Song, I found it to be so many things simultaneously.  I wondered about the collection’s origin story, its idiosyncrasies, its original reception, and its relevance several years after publication.  I had a chance to sit down with Zeina Hashem Beck virtually to exchange on some of these questions.” —Issam Zineh

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Issam Zineh: 3arabi Song is a work of deep relevance.  There is an authority that derives from lived experience.  Can you talk about your experience in originally putting this collection together? 

Zeina Hashem Beck: Most of these poems came to me after August 2013, when two mosques exploded in my hometown of Tripoli, Lebanon, and my cousin was shot on the street.  He didn’t survive.  I was also watching what was happening in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine.  So first came some poems of grief, but I didn’t want the collection to be just about that.  I find a lot of joy in Arabic music, and back then I listened to it as a kind of balm, and that’s how the music poems originated.

IZ: One of the noteworthy aspects of this collection is that there are multiple points of entry for the reader.  I feel like you might have very different relationships with these poems depending on, for example, whether or not you grew up with Arabic culture.  Can you comment on this generally – how you think the work might be deferentially experienced based on the presence or absence of cultural points of reference the reader brings to the poems?

ZHB: This wasn’t really something I thought about as I wrote 3arabi Song—I just followed the poems which came in waves, if I recall correctly.  I simply needed to write these poems, so I wrote.  Once I was closer to publication, I chose to include a “Notes” section in the end, to give a little bit of context to some of the pieces, as well as explain some words/expressions in Arabic for the reader who might not be familiar with the culture.  I assume this was helpful, but I wonder now whether this was necessary; I think readers should be able to experience the poems regardless, and that they should also be able to google to know more.  I’ve certainly done this for poems where the context or some references weren’t familiar to me.

Regarding reception, yes, I imagine the poems would resonate differently with different audiences.  An Arab audience at a poetry reading, for example, would smile and nod in recognition, though this doesn’t mean that an audience not familiar with Arab culture wouldn’t be able to tap into the language of the poems.

IZ: There are aspects of these poems that seem like they have to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  On the one hand, this book feels very local.  It seems very particular to the “Arab experience”, to maybe even the expatriate or immigrant experience.  On the other hand, it was selected from over 1700 manuscripts [editor’s note: 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner] , so it clearly has a universality to it.  Can you talk about this balance between the “local” and the “global”?  Did you have a sense that despite the specificity of the subject matter, the poems would appeal to a broad readership and resonance?

ZHB: As I’ve mentioned, I wasn’t thinking about all this at the time of writing.  I believe that when poems come from a true place, they resonate.  Also, I’m not a big fan of universality because it usually means white; do people consider Paris, for example, a more “universal” city than Tripoli?  And if so, then what assumptions lie under this?  The universal is in the local.

IZ: And even then, it strikes me we have a problem of translation.  I find Arabic figures of speech in particular nearly impossible to translate.  There is gravity, drama, soulfulness, multiplicity to the language that is challenging to precisely capture in another language.  And yet you do this in remarkable ways through context and poem notes.  Talk about this linguistic challenge.  Did you find it a challenge at all?

ZHB: A poem is always about some kind of translation for me, and I don’t see that as a problem, but rather a searching.  And I’ve always existed between languages, so I was writing was felt real to me.  

IZ: There is a video of you reading “Naming Things” during the Split This Rock Poetry Festival (2016), which completely opened this poem up for me, and by extension the entire collection.  Specifically, there’s a kind of sacredness and implicit spirituality even in the common dialogue of the people that I think in some ways I took for granted growing up in an Arabic-speaking household.  Then in hearing you perform, this really sort of unleashed the divine lexicon of Arabic expression.  Can you talk about the importance of the spoken word in these poems?  Do you think they gain something in particular from being read aloud?

ZHB: I don’t believe in divine languages.  If I were to think of Arabic as divine, I wouldn’t be able to work with it.  As for performing poetry, this is something I genuinely enjoy doing as a way of sharing and connecting.  I also start reading a poem out loud the minute I start writing it, because I like to fill the room around me with the sounds of it. Reading it out loud is writing it.  

IZ: I’m thinking of how even in conversational Arabic, there is common reference to the divine even in completely secular conversations.  For example, the customary response to “How are you?” being “Thank God”.  It strikes me that there is something built into the language that lends itself to certain explorations.  You mentioned you have “always existed between languages.”  Can you say more about how this has shaped your poetics?

ZHB: My mother language is Arabic, then comes French, then English at the age of 12.  And even within the Arabic, there’s the spoken Lebanese dialect and the official Modern Standard Arabic (which was what we learnt at school, what we read in books, and even what we heard on TV in Arabic cartoons at the time).  So to a certain extent, there’s always more than one language in my head and my sentences, and that’s not uncommon in Lebanon.  English definitely became the language that’s easiest for me in terms of writing, and that’s probably because my university education was in English, though I think the spirit of my poems lies in how I personally use English and at times 3arabize it.

I keep wavering between almost-regret and oh-well when I think that I don’t write in Arabic, and I’ve recently been thinking about audience. Perhaps what’s important is the language of poetry, no matter what tool you’re using to reach it.

IZ: Some of the greatest musical icons of the Arab world show up in this book (Umm Kulthuum, Fairuz, Samira Tawfiq).  These names are very familiar from my childhood and, I suspect, the childhoods of many but not all (perhaps not even most) of your readers.  Can you talk about this construct and what you were hoping to accomplish by coming at the themes of this work from the angle of Arabic music?

ZHB: Arabic music gave me joy in a difficult time, and I found myself writing these tributes to singers I love.  I don’t recall the first one I wrote, but it might have been the Umm Kulthum one. After that, I decided to continue with these tributes more deliberately, considering the singers’ lives, what their music invokes in me, and the current political moment.  There’s always been a close relationship between poetry and music as art forms for me: they both sing, and they both have the capacity to move us almost immediately.

IZ: I came to engage with this remarkable collection reluctantly.  I carried it with me throughout my house for days, assuring myself I would start reading it “today” – until today became a series of past events.  In hindsight, I was nervous about what I would be asked to contend with.  What would this work reveal about me – about my relationship to culture, to country, to family?  Can you talk a bit about these themes in your work?

ZHB: Grief and joy. Loss and music. Exile and home.

I appreciate you describing what you went through before you started reading, and struggling with these thoughts can be a good interrogation.

IZ: Earlier this year, I came across an article in which Aarushi Punia contemplates the role of memory in Palestinian literature.  Among its many functions, she writes of memory as “an act of protest and resistance.”  She asserts that literature, then, “extends the resistive act of remembering and creates a sense of community through the narration of memory.” “Remembering,” she writes, “is an ethical act.”  It is against this backdrop – memory (and by extension “song” as arguably the most poetic and defiant form of memory) as the difference between cultural (sometimes literal) life and death – that I entered 3arabi Song.  A lot has happened in the world since the 2016 debut of 3arabi Song.  Can you talk a bit about what you see as the role poetry has to play in this particular moment with respect to resistance, and even perhaps self-preservation?

ZHB: Memory is indeed important in 3arabi Song, but I would argue that in the case of Palestinian literature, it’s even more important.  As a Lebanese, when I write about Tripoli, my hometown, I’m writing to remember my childhood and perhaps to mourn and celebrate certain events.  But I can and I do go back to my Tripoli every year, whereas Palestinians are either incapable of going back to their stolen land or living under apartheid.  Here, writing/remembering becomes even more of an act of survival and resistance, as Punia mentions, because there are forces literally conspiring to erase you. Many of the poems in 3arabi Song go beyond Lebanon, of course, so I understand where your analysis comes from, and I was certainly writing for Syria, Palestine, and Iraq to remember and resist.

As for the role of poetry, yes, I believe, in my heart of hearts, that poetry is subversive just by asking you to slow down and reconsider, reimagine. However, I’m afraid you’re catching me at a time where I’m struggling to tap into poetry. This has to do with what’s been happening in Lebanon for the past few months (a revolution started in October 2019, a major economic crisis now, attempts to crack down on free speech); I found myself overwhelmed by the news and unable to process anything through poems. I feel a little bit estranged, though I know that I’d eventually return.

IZ: Shortly after we initially connected, controversy emerged around the publisher of 3arabi Song which raised, among many issues, questions about reconciling the art itself and the platform that makes that art accessible.  Would you care to comment?

ZHB: I thought a lot about whether or not to comment on this here.  Shortly after you’d asked me for an interview, I learnt things about Rattle that don’t align with my values.  I canceled a reading that was scheduled with the magazine and decided not to submit to it anymore.  I wondered whether I should refrain from talking about my own chapbook.  I wondered whether I should talk about it and not mention this at all: why shift the energy in this space that’s meant to celebrate my work, which shouldn’t be associated with Rattle’s moral failures?  Weren’t many literary institutions problematic?  I’m proud of my poems and shouldn’t be doing such mental labor (especially as an Arab woman living abroad) because of an editor’s decisions that I wasn’t aware of until recently.  I also struggled with the fact that 3arabi Song was well-supported by Rattle when it was released.  But what does it mean, when a magazine supports your work and the work of people you admire while at the same time gives space to pieces you find harmful?  When it praises a poem written “for” a gay man from the perspective of the Pulse shooter, for example?  I was angry I had to spend so much time troubled by this instead of writing poems or being with my kids or trying to process the goddamn collapse happening in my home country.  Sadly, it seems this is a luxury that writers from marginalized communities writing in this language (or perhaps any official language) do not have.  I’m not interested in idealizing or demonizing, but I ultimately decided to mention this so that other poets who don’t know, who perhaps like me come to poetry from outside the academia and the US, could consider, learn more, and decide.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her second full-length collection is Louder than Hearts (Bauhan Publishing, 2017).  She’s also the author of two chapbooks.  Her poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, The New York Times, The Academy of American Poets, Poetry, Southeast Review, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere.  She lives in Dubai. www.zeinahashembeck.com

Issam Zineh is a Los Angeles-born, Palestinian-American poet and scientist.  He is author of the forthcoming chapbook “The Moment of Greatest Alienation” (Ethel Press, Spring 2021).  His poems appear or are forthcoming in Clockhouse, Fjords Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist), Nimrod, Poet Lore, The Seattle Review, and elsewhere.  He also reviews for The Poetry Café (https://thepoetrycafe.online).  Find him on Twitter @izineh.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Survival in Two Volumes

Survival: Trees, Tides, Song & Survival Part 2: Trees, Birds, Ocean, Bees
by Majorie Moorhead

Review and Interview by Risa Denenberg

In the bio on the back of Survival: Trees, Tides, Song (Finishing Line Press, 2019) is this line, “Marjorie [Moorhead] strives to walk her daily path with open eyes and heart.” In this book, Moorhead does indeed show us an open heart and incisive vision. The poems feel earnest and instructive, as if saying to the reader: here, follow me. While the poems flow towards the quotidian in their subject matter, extolling the natural world, Moorhead has a liquid voice and throws end rhymes together with a passion that is both quiet and convincing and a subtlety of metaphor that can surprise. In language, she allows us to see nature as she sees it. In “Choir,” we see how, like humans, withered leaves cling to trees until they can no longer hold on, and how trees eventually must shed them, to become deciduous, empty, barren, relating to the human experience where, “. . . leaving childhood brings doubts and clouds.” This poem appears in both volumes, bringing a unifying force to the project, by showing the wonder and harmony Morehead finds in trees: “Nature and I were one and the same, and that same was Perfection.”

In Survival: Trees, Tides, Song, in the poem, “East Thetford, VT,” we find this meditation:

Walking saved me years ago
Walking the same route every day
Day after day season after season.

//

Backdrop-sky for stone house, wood barn
tall stalks, big trees, lilacs.
At sunset simple silhouettes framing pink and orange-purple swaths.

///

Relationship with land can be just a road
claimed with each footstep.
You know it, because you walk it.

I enjoyed the fluid and welcoming voice in the first volume. The narrator finds solace, poem after poem, in the Trees, Tides and [bird] Song, of the book’s title.  The notion of survival is inherent throughout the book—surviving cold seasons and rainy weather with hopefulness, and darker things such as toxins and wars with sorrow and protest. Titles display changeable moods, as when “The Wisdom of Geese” praises “watching out for one another” while in “Things I’ve seen in the Anthropocene (Make Me Wanna Holler), the speaker is “feeling sad and mean.”

The sequel, Survival Part 2: Trees, Birds, Ocean, Bees (Duck Lake Books, 2020), displays the same fluid voice and quiet passion, along with the trope of taking refuge from human folly through immersing in nature. In “Colored Birds Bouquet, a Coexistence Triolet,” are these joyous lines:

Birds come to the feeder, colored like a luscious bouquet of flowers.
Awareness that we share this planet making me so buoyantly happy.

//

These sweet little creatures’ presence wielding incredible powers
to elicit empathy, wonder, fascination; emotions strong as nectar is sappy.

Or in “Chorus”

Just the tips;
small green ears
alert in the soil, reaching for a sound,

And in “Ocean Villanelle,” these lines,

It’s the sound that I love; it speaks to me.
A song of connection,
reminding of eternity.

Despite the loving connection with nature, I found a subtle shift in balance in this volume, with more poems protesting harmful human behavior, as in “The Rain and the Flower” where the narrator finds “more song in a raindrop” than “those accustomed to luxury” find in an orchestra. Or in “Walking With the Wind,” the dichotomy of, 

. . . the Haves, who leave behind
the Have Nots for warmer climes

when a chill sets in.

There is always this problem of course: the difficulty in writing a protest poem without becoming didactic; the risk of alienating a reader. Perhaps over the course of writing these poems, not to mention over the course of her life, Moorhead has vacillated, as have most of us, between hope and despair, and has tempered despair with protest. And no doubt her sense of urgency (matched by our sense of urgency) to send a message before it is too late has intensified as well. Like a teacher who might slip into scolding when she feels her words unheeded. Of course, scolding is necessary at times.

However, there is exaltation in these words in “Colony Collapse,” “Disappearing Bees desperately needed as balm in an ailing system.” And in “Borders,” Moorhead navigates murky waters with compassion:

We could be under rain drops anywhere. Tragedy visits anywhere.
Where do we find ourselves? Borders in our minds.
What we could fathom and what we could not.
Rising sea levels. Depleting ice caps. Dividing lines.

In the back matter to both books, we deepen our understanding of survival for Moorhead as we learn that she is an “AIDS survivor.” We also learn some details of her journey. I always appreciate learning what I can about a poet’s life. Moorhead exhorts us to:

. . . find our voice and speak our truth; listen to others’ voices and truths and get to know our intimate relationship with our environment. This is required for healthy survival.

I wanted to learn more about Moorhead, to more fully hear her voice and her truth. I conducted the following interview with her by email:

eview and Interview by Risa Denenberg

Risa Denenberg: Your books incorporate the term “survivor.” How has your identity as an AIDS survivor impacted your vision as a poet? Have you written about your journey as an AIDS survivor? How did you incorporate that impact on the person who walks through the woods and oceans and seasons in these poems?

Marjorie Moorhead: Being a survivor of AIDS (from a time when there was no viable treatment) has shaped my vision as a poet because I learned, during many, many hours and years “alone” with myself, traveling through grief to self-discovery, to SEE things, “in the moment”. If you travel around with death in your lap, ready to take over at any moment, each moment seems indeed a gift and full of rich detail. Each breath becomes a full and wonder-full moment; the in, and then the out. I spent at least five years learning to meditate, and practice tai chi ch’uan. My goal in those years (as, of course it should be for everybody all the time…but gets lost so easily once Life is “easy”), was to live in a state of Grace in each moment. I had to figure out what that meant for myself. It’s a very personal interpretation of the word “Grace,” as I was not brought up with religious practice or dogma except for very general overlying morality (which I am grateful for!). So, the person walking through woods, oceans, seasons in these poems is one who is noticing, processing, and feeling a part of where she is. 

RD: How did you and your partner at the time, Jorge Soto Sanchez, decide to leave NYC and settle in Vermont? Did you find there what you were hoping to find?

MM: Jorge and I left NYC for VT because we needed a place where he could escape his “demons” and focus on his work. I left first, coming home to the area I’d grown up in, and he followed to be with me. And, yes, I’d say we did have, for a few years before illness from the virus took hold with him, a life of creativity, personal growth, health, and love.  I feel happy that he was able to experience that before losing his life at age 40. 

RD: I enjoy your clear yet metaphoric-laced language in both parts of the Survival chapbooks. I find a somewhat different tone between the first and second books. Most specifically, there seemed to be more doubt and anger in “Part 2.” Was there a change in your perspective over the months that you wrote these two books?

MM: I don’t see the difference in emphasis you’ve noticed between my first, and second chapbooks. For me, the second was just more of the same river of writing that combined my personal sense of survival with broader elements of survival which include Mothering, nurturing a long time partnership, and stewardship of the planet.

RD: Finally, I hope you are safe and well. Can you talk a bit about how you are faring during the pandemic?

MM: At the start of this pandemic, I was very aware of the link back in time to the AIDS epidemic. I started writing “Coronavirus Diary” poems (to date, I think there are 12 of them!), and also responded, in April, to the call from Indolent Books’ HIV Here & Now “Na(HIV)PoWriMo” project for poems about HIV/AIDS.  I have since moved on to writing a series of poems inspired by the Bluejays who built a nest outside within view of our window. Watching their daily journey, while in “lockdown”, has been a way to expand out into the world and I’ve attempted writing a few poems where the “I” is a nesting bird. I also try to get out for a daily walk, just breathing and moving and noticing what’s around me…same as I have been doing for thirty years or more.

Review by Risa Denenberg

Marjorie Moorhead writes from a New England river valley, surrounded by mountains and four season change. She found a voice in poetry after surviving AIDS in its early years, and becoming a mother. Much of Marjorie’s work addresses survival, environment, relationship, and appreciation of the “everyday”. Her poems are found in several anthologies, including those that benefit environmental and women’s organizations. Poems are in journals and sites such as Amethyst Review, Tiny Seed Literary, Sheila-Na-Gig, Porter House Review, Poeming Pigeon, Verse-Virtual, What Rough Beast and HIV Here & Now. Marjorie’s debut chapbook is Survival: Trees, Tides, Song (Finishing Line Press 2019), followed by Survival Part 2: Trees, Birds, Ocean, Bees. She is happy to have been awarded an Indolent Books tuition scholarship for Fine Arts Work Center’s poetry week in summer 2019.

Title: Survival: Trees, Tides, Song
Author: Marjorie Moorhead
Press: Finishing Line Press, 2020
ISBN-10: 1635349230
ISBN-13: 978-1635349238

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Title: Survival Part 2: Trees, Birds, Ocean, Bees
Author: Marjorie Moorhead
Press: Duck Lake Books, 2020
ISBN-10: 1943900361
ISBN-13: 978-1943900367

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Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state, where she works as a nurse practitioner. She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press, publisher of lesbian/bi/trans poetry. She curates The Poetry Café, an online meeting place where poetry chapbooks are celebrated and reviewed. She has published three chapbooks and three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).



The Street Medic

The Street Medic by Joe Amaral

Review by Lennart Lundh

Consider this a trigger warning, in case the straight-forward title of Joe Amaral’s The Street Medic and the austere cover image of an open-doored ambulance facing a dark landscape do not, together, provide one.

As a gathering of poems written as unfettered free and prose verse, whose language is consistently clear and free of artifice or conceits, this is a delightfully easy book to read. But, at the same time, this is anything but an easy book to read. Rather, it is terribly difficult, as it must be for any reader with even a small shred of sympathy, empathy, or compassion. The subject is daily personal and professional trauma as seen through the eyes of an Emergency Medical Technician.

Still here? Before selecting parts of several poems to highlight, a rough catalog of subjects touched on from Amaral’s experience: The death of a seventeen-year old girl. A heroin overdose and an accidental opioid addiction.  Reminders of a wife lost in a horrific crash, and of scattering her ashes. School shooting drills. The homeless elderly, mentally ill, and domestically abused. Saving lives. Not being able to save every life. In language direct and unflinching. Still here? Then let’s take a closer look.

The Street Medic begins with “Job Descriptions,” in which the narrator tells his daughters (and the reader) about his 48-hour day while never telling everything:

They ask about death, and I say yes,
they went someplace else.
My four-year-old says, They become owls.
My six-year-old asks if anyone got shot with a gun.
That does happen        and I stop the bleeding.

Some die from weapon, old age, accident.
Cries for help. Suicide. Pills. I don’t say all this.
Their world is still rose-colored.
I will remove the thorns for as long as I can.

“Presence” helps to explain Amaral’s parental caution as it explores the accidental death of a young child:

The dead kid’s eyes
remind me of sea glass
I collect with my daughters
when the tide is low —

frosted cobalt.

They won’t leave me alone.

If it’s continually clear that First Responders are no strangers to tragedy, “Her Nametag Said ‘Red’” serves to remind us that not all victims are strangers:

We met again the next week. See,
I’m a paramedic in a small town
where the scream of sirens ricochets.

I stood near her pale, lifeless body, doused
in cold water by well-meaning friends who
tried to avoid dialing 9-1-1.

Along with protecting his own children while saving those of others, the EMT has to watch out for himself, as when awaiting the results of a biopsy in “Kokopelli”:

This mole has been flowering for a year, borderless
as the world should be, erecting its own odd shape
and direction. I study the scan and decide it looks
like a person running with frazzled hair on fire.

           

Through it all run the risk of being jaded and the redemptive power of success described in “Paramedicine”:

Angels of 9-1-1 dials we swoop in, black-winged,
echoing lights and sirens. Overburdened
by what we’ve seen.

When we do succeed, it thaws us a moment.

“Sirens” completes the point, and adds that, for all the loneliness imposed by the profession’s pain, every call is a shared act of devotion to others in their time of need:

This is for the emergency worker who either aids a patient or

escorts their soul to an otherwise reality, the ventricular tachycardia, the asystole, the loss and bad memories, for the paramedic, the firefighter, the nurse and police, the doctor, the dispatcher and the EMT, always fighting for a stranger in need, a person who walks out the hospital ten days later under their own power and says:

You saved me.

The Street Medic, with its twenty-eight direct and almost flawlessly simple free-verse poems,clearly earned its 2018 Palooka Press Chapbook Award. It most certainly deserves a spot on your shelf reserved for books to return to over the years.

Joe Amaral’s poetry collection “The Street Medic” won the 2018 Palooka Press Chapbook Contest. Joe works 48-hour shifts as a paramedic on the California central coast, spending days off adventuring outdoors with his young family: camping, hiking, world traveling, and hosting foreign exchange students. Joe was born and raised on a chicken farm in the East Bay Area. He has a Forestry and Natural Resources degree from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo with a concentration in watershed, chaparral and fire management. Joe’s writing has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies across the universe such as 3Elements Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Arcadia Magazine, New Verse News, Panoply, Poets Reading the News, Postcard Poems and Prose, Rise Up Review, The Good Men Project, WORDPEACE and Writers of the Portuguese Diaspora. Joe won the 2014 Ingrid Reti Literary Award and the 2018 Golden Quill Award for poetry. His poem, Epochal, was also a Finalist for the River Heron Poetry Prize.

Lennart Lundh is a poet, short-fictionist, historian, and photographer. His work has appeared internationally since 1965.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Queer Hagiographies

Queer Hagiographies by Audra Puchalski

Review and interview by Jen Rouse

I have always wanted to use the word visceral in a way that truly gets at its meaning in the way the word visceral would want itself to be meant. Audra Puchalski’s Queer Hagiographies is a visceral book. It is a book that is felt in all of one’s internal organs. As deeply as feeling goes. In organs. Think of that queer root within you. And know that all that comes from that root also lives in this book. Rooted. Because if that queer root is in you then you are rooted in the queered lives of this glorious book of hagiographied saints. You are intimately tied. You are aflame. You are desire. And you are ensnared, regurgitated, and remade in the mouths of all that is (un)holy.

Having drifted through the pews of Catholicism as a child, I have carried with me a love for all that is embedded in the mysticism and wildness of sainthood. And it is with much excitement that I began digging into this collection and all its beauties. Puchalski puts us straight into the mouth of a serpent when we meet our first brave saint of learning and culture, and some say, poetry—the very wise and highly sought out Saint Hilda. Hilda is no joke. Hilda will tell you it is easy to turn the pesky snakes plaguing the village to stone. She says,

My throat fills up
like a balloon, fills with venom
and the curse spills down my chin, dirty water
from a flooded gutter.  

But, even better, we find that Hilda is vanquishing snakes for another woman, a beloved who takes her to that place beyond, that place of magical everything she remembers from childhood: “an open door opening on openness, a sky with no top / no floor but a sheer scrim of shimmering vapor.” O this love. This love! And this poem is unapologetically Stein-like in the way its language rolls like fingers over a rosary, over a body.

Puchalski is deep. Into. Saints. Some of them bookish, writerly, out of canon, even, but revered and challenged, perhaps, more because they are the wild ones. In this collection, for example, we find Emily Dickinson as untouchable as ever and Puchalski herself slips into the tortured humor of Saint Lawrence—not necessarily the saints we are expecting but certainly so needed here.

Also. Puchalski is deep. Into. Craft. She layers voice into image into form in the way that the cream cheese frosting of sexuality holds together a cathedral made of cake. You just want to get that high on all that sensual suffering and the poetry of it. And it’s impossible not to. It’s impossible to ignore the sectioned hagiography of Saint Isidore. So don’t. Immerse yourself in the way an enjambed line declares belief and in the next section begs the question: “what if this bundle / unravels?” Follow the verb fire through the field of the third section. Hang on. It will unravel you. In the hagiography of Saint Jude, the same attention to voice, image, and form beg the binding connection of Jude to Jesus, Jude admitting to being the “Disciple to his desire / disciplined to his wishes / his breath.” It’s brutally beautiful.

Of course, Puchalski’s saints are also vainglorious vandals, virgins, and rock stars. In our truly exquisite moments, we are most vulnerable, most undone. And those who stand there with us in that embrace, we count on as our followers. As we stand with these saints, we find that things are sodden and blooming and juicy and licked. I, however, am a girl who loves to see what hands can do, and Puchalski’s saints do not disappoint in their reach.

I was compelled, in fact, to reach out by email to Puchalski to talk a bit more with her about her saints, craft, and the art of publishing. She generously obliged.

Jen Rouse:  What inspires your work when you think about form, imagery, voice?

Audra Puchalski: When I’m drafting a new poem and it’s working well for me, there’s a spirit of improvisation, experimentation, and play, a.k.a. fun. So I’m not really thinking about form, imagery, or voice at this point. I may be doing form, imagery, and/or voice but it’s probably mostly unintentional. It feels beyond my control—like whatever happens, happens.

Revision is where I think about things like form, imagery, and voice—but do I? Or am I still mostly feeling around form, imagery, and voice? I’m honestly not trying to be enigmatic, I legitimately don’t know what I think about or what I do. I’m sorry that this is such a ridiculous answer!

JR: Also, I see in your twitter info that you consider yourself a nature poet. Tell me a bit about that, if you don’t mind, and how it influenced your look into the worlds of these saints.

AP: I started calling myself a nature poet when I was on a long streak of writing nature poems. It’s a little ironic, because the idea of “nature” is so strange. Like, that thing over there, that thing we can point to, that’s Nature, and that thing over there is Not Nature. But on the other hand, it’s completely sincere, because nature is endlessly fascinating—there’s literally endless weirdness and beauty and horror and decay and fecundity. And facing climate catastrophe as we are now, there’s also a lot of dread, and I get the urge to poke at that.

As for how it relates to the saints, I think queerness is extremely natural, and I think for a human being, throwing every demand and expectation of your society in the trash while welcoming intense pain, suffering, and death is relatively unnatural, but that’s exactly what a lot of these saints did, according to the stories. It’s badass, as well as disgusting and full of magic. They say when Saint Eulalia was beheaded (after a lot of gruesome torture), a dove flew out of her severed neck. What the hell! So yeah, nature is like that.

JR: If you would like to give some real-life context to why these saints, I’m all ears. I feel like I read you went to a school where Hilda was the patron saint of the school, and then last night I was certain I’d dreamt that. 

AP: I wish! I was raised Catholic, and I’ll probably always have the impulse to venerate. Catholicism also taught me to love graven images and to be polytheistic. Then when I was in grad school at the University of Michigan, I was a grader for Gina Brandolino’s class about medieval women, and her unit on virgin-martyrs honestly snapped right into my brain-wiring and stayed there, lurking, secretly writing poems, probably.

In terms of why these saints, I actually didn’t usually start out with a particular saint in mind, although once I was deeper in the project, I occasionally did. A few times, I realized that a poem I had already written, before I started consciously working on this project, was a saint poem. For most of them, I wrote a first draft without thinking about saints at all, then researched saints associated with the imagery or concepts I was already working with. That research would then influence the next revision. I had to surrender to the slight chanciness of the process, and that was exciting and fun. 

JR: Why Headmistress Press for this book? How has it shaped your thinking about publication and future publication?

AP: I didn’t know anything about publication—I’ve had poems in journals and made zines for my friends, but I had never worked with a press before. It was a wonderful experience, and I’m so happy with the result!

Title: Queer Hagiographies
Author: Audra Puchalski
Publisher: Headmistress Press (January 10, 2020)
ISBN-10: 1733534555
ISBN-13: 978-1733534550

Audra Puchalski is from Michigan. She earned her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Poetry. Her work has appeared in Bat City Review, Juked, Salt Hill, The Rupture, Cutbank Online, and elsewhere. She currently lives in Oakland, California.

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Jen Rouse is the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Gulf Stream, Parentheses, Cleaver, Always Crashing, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. Rouse is a two-time finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize. Headmistress Press has published her books Acid and TenderCAKE, and Riding with Anne Sexton. Find her at jen-rouse.com and on Twitter @jrouse.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Jen Rouse

Jen Rouse is the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Gulf Stream, Parentheses, Cleaver, Always Crashing, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. Rouse is a two-time finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize. Headmistress Press has published her books Acid and TenderCAKE, and Riding with Anne Sexton. Find her at jen-rouse.com and on Twitter @jrouse.

Retracing My Steps

Retracing My Steps by Jayne Moore Waldrop

Review and Interview by Arya F. Jenkins

Jayne Moore Waldrop came late to writing, in mid-life, and has much to say about her life and past in her strong first chapbook of poetry, Retracing My Steps, which was a finalist in the 2018 New Women’s Voices Chapbook Series Contest. The narrative poems hark to the hardworking legacy of her Appalachian forebears who farmed, and of women, especially the women in her family. One has the sense when finishing this collection of having completed several journeys, that of the poet and of other members of her family: mother, father, great grandmothers.

Intimate themes—what we feel and what has formed us as human beings—have always informed the writing of women. In much recent poetry by women, one sees the pull to reach back and plumb the past to get a sense of the self in the present. The work of Waldrop and other poets such as Cynthia Atkins seems to say that we are at a juncture in which learning from the past and recognizing mistakes become a key to help us heal and move forward. The great danger lies in separating ourselves from history, both familial and collective, and from one another and the earth, to which we are all rooted and belong.

In “The Other Side,” the narrator speaks to the loss of a sense of identity and origin that comes with displacement: “I am from the other side, / hybrid native and alien, / neither us nor them.” A loss of roots can threaten the sense of self, but so can divides imposed by those who need to create boundaries between people. In “The Wall: Haiku from a Gated Community,” the poet rues the idea of a fence having become a brick wall of defense: “Is the ten-foot fence / not enough to protect you / from those outsiders?”

Separation, displacement, and the longing for home are themes that run throughout this poignant collection. Waldrop ponders them and offers them up to the reader, often in the form of questions. In “What Am I to Do Now?” the narrator wonders, “How hard it must be / when one’s work is over / and there’s nothing left to do.” It is something Waldrop, who is also a mother of grown children and a lawyer, has surely also asked herself.

In the following email interview exchange Waldrop discusses her journey as a writer and the themes that drive her poetry.

Arya F. Jenkins: You came to writing late. What launched your journey into poetry? What have been the pitfalls and high points of that journey?

Jayne Moore Waldrop: I guess I’ve always been a writer, but I’ve taken a long path to get to poetry. In college I studied English literature and journalism. At the time journalism seemed to be the way to make a living as a writer. I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for four years then went to law school. Language is important in law practice, too. Lawyers need to be effective communicators to advocate for their clients.

I practiced law for several years. After taking time off when our younger son was born, I knew I didn’t want to go back to practicing law. I wanted to write, but I never seemed to make time for it. I didn’t know where to start or how to build a writing life. I had a few creative nonfiction magazine pieces published, and at age 55 decided to apply for a low-residency MFA in fiction. I wanted to learn but needed the discipline that comes with deadlines and assignments. And even though it was daunting to go back to school and join an incoming MFA class of writers mostly the age of my own kids, I loved it. I like change. I like to think of life in seasons that provide different opportunities throughout a lifetime. And periods of change are particularly creative times, I’ve found.

I finished my MFA in 2014. My journey into poetry came later, inspired by time spent at the 2016 Appalachian Writers Workshop, where I listened to several acclaimed prose writers read their poetry. It was eye opening. I wanted to try poetry. I was especially interested in poetry by writers like Wendell Berry, Gurney Norman, bell hooks, Ron Rash, and Silas House, all of whom I knew primarily as prose writers. Their poems have great narrative power.

During a residency at Rivendell Writers Colony, I read a lot of poetry, studied several craft books, and started writing. At the time I felt like a switch had been flipped in my brain. Writing poetry felt like writing distilled short scenes, like trying to capture a closely observed moment. A common theme appeared in some of the poems, one of reflection on the different seasons in life and paths chosen over generations of time. A line from All About Love by bell hooks really spoke to me: “Mindful remembering lets us put the broken bits and pieces of our hearts together again.” I used it as my book’s epigraph.

After I had a stack of poems written, I learned of a writing competition called New Women’s Voices Chapbook Contest sponsored by Finishing Line Press. I assembled the poems and submitted the manuscript called Retracing My Steps. To my great surprise it was a finalist in the 2018 contest and was selected for publication. To me the book is the high point so far in my writing journey and tangible proof of the old saying, “It’s never too late.”

AFJ: From the outset of Retracing My Steps, you stress the importance of an observed life, knowing from where you came—I would imagine in order to know where you are headed in life. When did you first decide you wanted to write about Kentucky and your family? Did you have to do research, or did you grow up knowing the stories of your ancestors?

JMW: Writing what I know always includes Kentucky. My family came through Cumberland Gap more than 200 years ago, but I hope the poems reflect a more expansive view than the story of one family’s journey. Many families share the story of coming to a new, unknown place and trying to find a better life, whether that was 200 years ago or last week. The search for home is a human condition that connects us all.

I grew up hearing family stories – both of my parents were wonderful storytellers – and I’ve done my own research, including hiking the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap to retrace my ancestors’ steps.

AFJ: Another theme in Retracing My Steps is that of impending invisibility, the struggles of women as they let go—in birth and middle age, for example. “Mantle of Invisibility” is a powerful poem about the progress toward anonymity women face as they age: “She transformed into Invisible Woman and reset / her filters to block earworms like “Anti-aging,”/ “granny arms,” and “looking good for her age.” How does that struggle impact your life now, if at all?

JMW: Thank you for your kind words about “Mantle of Invisibility.” For years my best friend and I have laughingly talked about becoming invisible. It stings when you realize how our society diminishes people as they age, especially women. We don’t respect the wisdom that comes with experience as many cultures do. In fact we’re expected to fight getting older with everything we can throw at it from artificial hair color to wrinkle injections to plastic surgery to remake ourselves into something that lives up to societal expectations. It seems like such a superficial way of judging people and their worth, and it’s such a waste of precious time. The flip side of that looming redundancy is that there is power that comes with letting go of societal expectations. In the poem I decided to turn it into a superpower.

AFJ: In “Coming Through Cumberland Gap” you relay the fragile self-consciousness of modernity with all its privileges, and in “Pie Plate,” refer to your mother as made-from-scratch / woman, a farm-to-table / cook before that was a thing,” and to yourself growing up as wanting “to live the processed American dream.” As a woman and writer, in what ways have junctures between your mother’s life and your childhood dreams severed further, or healed?

JMW: I think many of us see our parents differently when we reach adulthood. As a child I just wanted to be like everyone else living that “processed American dream.” I wanted to fit in. I wanted to live in cookie-cutter tract housing like most of my friends and eat frozen TV dinners like the ones advertised in commercials. I wanted to fit in. But my parents didn’t automatically fit in. They had moved from Appalachia. They were different than most people in the small western Kentucky town where I grew up, a boomtown that grew exponentially in the 1950s when a uranium enrichment plant was built. They had made their own journey to make a new home in a new land. As displaced Appalachians, they were like refugees looking for a better life than the cyclical poverty in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky.  They had to have land to have a garden and livestock. They couldn’t have survived in a subdivision or separated from the land. As an adult I’m very proud that they maintained their mountain identity. They kept the culture alive for us with stories, music, and tables laden with fresh food from the garden instead of those lousy TV dinners. What was I thinking?

My mother didn’t have the opportunity to get a college education, but she worked hard to make sure her children did, especially her daughters. I’m also grateful to her for passing along her love of nature and being outdoors. She noticed the beauty of the natural world until the day she died.

AFJ: You also mourn the loss of dignity in the American dream, the building of walls, the sense of displacement and simultaneously the need for a sense of home. Can you expand on this concern?

JMW: Home is an important theme in my writing, both poetry and prose, and I think that relates to my family’s experience as displaced Appalachians. I’m intrigued by how people are connected to a place, even if that place no longer exists. Edward Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire that “Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.” I’m fascinated by that idea. I’ve seen the force of this “one true home” in my family and others. After they left the mountains, my parents lived in their adopted city for fifty-plus years and built a good life, yet when they spoke of “home” they always meant the mountains. And when they visited the mountains, it seemed like they were forever disappointed that the place they remembered no longer existed. I’m working on a linked story collection based on a similar theme but in a different setting.

Jayne Moore Waldrop is a writer, attorney and author of Retracing My Steps (Finishing Line Press 2019), a finalist in the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Contest.Her prose and poetry has appeared in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Still: The Journal, New Madrid Journal, Appalachian Heritage, Minerva Rising, New Limestone Review, The Paddock Review, Sequestrum, Heartland Review, Luna Station Quarterly, Kudzu, and Deep South Magazine. Her stories have been selected as Judge’s Choice in the 2016 Still Journal Fiction Contest; finalists for the 2015 International Literary Awards Reynolds Price Short Fiction Prize, the 2016 Tillie Olsen Fiction Award, and 2017 Still Journal Fiction Contest; and honorable mention in the 2014 AWP Intro Journals Project. A 2014 graduate of the Murray State University MFA in Creative Writing Program, she served as literary arts liaison for the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning in Lexington, Kentucky, and book columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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Title: Retracing My Steps
Author: Jayne Moore Waldrop
Series: New Women’s Voices Series (Book 144)
Paperback: 40 pages
Publisher: Finishing Line Press (April 5, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1635348463
ISBN-13: 978-1635348460

Arya F. Jenkins is a Colombian-American poet and writer whose work has been published in numerous journals and zines, most recently, IO Literary Journal, Rag-Queen Periodical, and The Ekphrastic Review. Her poetry and fiction have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Poetry is forthcoming in Poetica Review. Her poetry chapbooks are: Jewel Fire (AllBook Books, 2011), Silence Has A Name (Finishing Line Press, 2016), and Love & Poison (Prolific Press, 2019). Her short story collection Blue Songs in an Open Key (Fomite Press, 2018) is available here: www.aryafjenkins.com.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

The Unexploded Ordnance Bin

The Unexploded Ordnance Bin by Rebecca Foust

Review by Siân Killingsworth

Inside each of us are hidden bombs waiting to detonate. These secrets, illnesses, fears, obsessions, desires, accidents, and political animus are revealed and exploded in Rebecca Foust’s newest book.

Winner of the 2018 Swan Scythe Press chapbook contest and published in late 2019, The Unexploded Ordnance Bin is a collection of tightly wound poems. Aptly named, each poem is a ticking bomb that bursts open upon reading, searing the reader with ordinary images and situations made precious by their destruction.

Foust organizes her poems into three sections: the first concerns family life and how neural divergence and physical injury tear apart traditional notions of family roles and future expectations. Those expectations are beautifully catalogued in “Everything Golden is Spilled,” in which Foust lovingly details the pleasures and minutia of motherhood, and utter adoration of the baby:

You were born and your hour was silver,
new moonlight strewn

on dark ground. Pearls, seeds, wide banks
of clouds, your bright hair,

your damp, sleeping lap-weight, scalp’s
yolky chuff, tug at the nipple

This garden of motherly delights is slicked with subtle near- and slant-rhyme music: moon/strewn, ground/clouds, chuff/tug, which moves the reader through the poem gracefully, pulling us gently into the same swoon.

In her poem “Compound. Depressed. Fracture.” she asks, “How can a mother tend to her orchard?” A mother’s son is living in a cardboard box, and the box is hit by a bus. The boy was seriously injured, and the mother suffers emotional trauma as she watches the son heal, fall, and re-injure himself. How can a parent, in the necessary act of allowing your child to grow up and separate from you, protect and defend against destruction? It seems inevitable.

Yet in Foust’s world, even destruction can have beauty. The boy’s skin, a remnant apparently left behind after the accident, resembles “a wet petal translucent on pavement.” For me, at least, this image is an echo of Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” There is a surprising power in the comparison of an item so seemingly mundane (skin/faces of strangers) with the most delicate part of a flower, and for that body part to be detached literally or figuratively from its whole is a reminder of how fragile we all are.

The second section expands its focus to include an examination of the misery and devastation caused by bigotry and political power in the larger world. It is a meditation of lament and serves as a requiem for various lives (mostly children’s) that are devalued and lost in the capitalist, greed-driven, might-makes-right norm that is contemporary global culture.

Several poems, including “Remembrance of Things Past” and the gut-wrenching “Requiem Mass for the Yuma Fourteen” address immigration into the United States and how many immigrants suffer and die during their journeys, and how those who survive are scarred. Other poems mourn victims of political violence in other countries, such as Syria and Palestine.

Another beautiful baby opens the section in “Miguel,” the child of an immigrant “and no, she doesn’t have papers.” The baby is “perfection,” yet the speaker cannot help but think of the terrible future so many other immigrants to this country face. She compares Miguel to her own son,

who under Hitler might have worn the black badge
of the mentally impaired and been euthanized.
When Miguel visits again I can’t see him
without remembering the photos taken by my father,
an army medic at Dachau…

The layers of similarity between Nazi policy and ICE/US policy are illustrated in the speaker’s discomfort with the contrast between herself, securely homed within a “picket-fenced yard” and the baby and his mother in their tenuous safety. It allows Foust to bring us to an explosive comparison: The ICE deportation centers that rudely warehouse immigrants to the US are horrifyingly like the concentration camps like Dachau.

Finally, the third section returns to the family, particularly focusing on the figure of a child who, as they grow up, is revealed to be transgender, shattering the mother’s expectations of and for this child. Although still a steep emotional journey, this section brings some relief from the painful grieving of the previous two. Indeed, the second to last poem “Moon” is return to a meditation on the celestial aspects of a child, one whose journey is not what the speaker/mother would have chosen for them.

Foust begins the poem with a sort of apologia but transitions quickly into an adoring, motherly embrace of this child’s new self:

. . . On the horizon
Hangs a moon, tonight’s fat fruit, tomorrow’s pale rind.
Shall I mourn one, seeing the other?

[. . .]

. . . Your hands will still be your hands.
You come in, sit with me, eyes meeting mine
while you teach me the pronouns.

I found this book gripping and shocking, perhaps because as a mother myself, I could easily put myself in the speaker’s shoes and share her stunned pain and confusion. The experience of so many things typically taken for granted (a beloved baby expected to grow up in the image of its parents could easily be a different baby torn from its parents and put into a cage at the US border) can burst a mother’s—and a reader’s—heart.

The learning process of accepting, parenting, and supportively loving all beings as they are is a daunting challenge for many. The shackles we must throw off are the expectation of traditional norms. Yet by the end of the book, Foust’s speaker rises above her preconceived notions and shows a way for the larger world to do so as well.

The mother is expanded, transformed; she accepts change and her children are still hers. We all experience events that force us to change. In order to survive and be happy, Foust says, we must accept these eruptions as the new normal. Once everything has the chance to explode and evolve, we are blown free.

I am looking very much forward to reading her forthcoming full book of poems, Only, from Four Way Books in 2022.

Title: The Unexploded Ordnance Bin
Author: Rebecca Foust
Publisher: Swan Scythe Press (November 5, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1930454473
ISBN-13: 978-1930454477

Rebecca Foust is the author of Paradise Drive and The Unexploded Ordnance Bin, released last fall. A new book, ONLY, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2022. Recognitions include the CP Cavafy and James Hearst poetry prizes and fellowships from Hedgebrook, MacDowell, and Sewanee. Foust was the 2017-19 Marin Poet Laureate whose theme, Sanctuary, attempted to give voice to and about immigrants in our county and beyond. She teaches classes at Mill Valley Library and Left Margin Lit and works as the Poetry Editor for Women’s Voices for Change, an assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine and co-producer of a new series about poetry for Marin TV, Rising Voices.

Siân Killingsworth’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Stonecoast ReviewGlass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist),Columbia Poetry Review, Mom Egg Review, Ekphrastic Review, Oakland Review, and Mudfish. She has an MFA in poetry from the New School, where she served on the staff of Lit. She is a current board member of the Marin Poetry Center.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).