Centrifugal Eye Poetry Journal November 2009 Vol. 4 Iss. 4
Editor-in-Chief; Art Director: Eve Anthony Hanninen Contacts Editor; Ed. Assistant: Karla Linn Merrifield Art Editor; Ed. Assistant: K. R. Copeland Ed. Assistant: Sam H. Kerr Quarterly Review Columnist: Karla Linn Merrifield Art Assistant; Reviewer: Dallas J. Bryant Staff Reviewers: Gram Davies, Simon Lloyd Dunbar, E. K. Mortenson, Ocalive Mwenda Staff Readers' Circle: Anonymous reviewers
Front & Back Cover Illustrations:
Front: “Wood for the Winter” & Back: “Moon Meditation” by Helga Eibl, 2009. Austrian-born (1954) Helga Eibl began painting in 1984. As an autodidact, she says she‘s influenced by nature. Her main subjects are people, animal and plants. She travels broadly to find influences and inspirations. Drawn to the tactile, she enjoys painting with her hands. Her artworks have been exhibited in Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Portugal, while additionally, further scholarships and workshops have brought her to Greece, Sweden and the Czech Republic. She was the 2008 and 2009 Artist-in-Residence for the OBRAS foundation (Portugal). OBRAS (http://www.obras-art.org/artists_eng.htm)
Copyright 2009 The Centrifugal Eye — Collected Works — All Rights Reserved
“Stereotypes do provoke people to think, so sometimes I like to push them to the limit to expose them. And an ironic stereotype is really a way of saving me from seeming ignorant of what I’m using. In the end, there must be a difference between stereotypes (as a construction, as a narrative or poetic expression), and prejudice itself. That might be what all this is about really, the use of stereotypes to expose stereotypes, the awareness of stereotypes to undermine the idiocy of prejudice.” ~ George Moore
Pgs. 4-7 Editorial & News – Eve Anthony Hanninen
Pgs. 8-25 Featured Poet – George Moore Interview, Poems & Essay
Pgs. Nicholas Messenger 26-27 Karla Linn Merrifield 28 M. Rather, Jr. 29 John Milbury-Steen 30-31 Derek Richards 32-33 Richard Schiffman 34-35 Scot Siegel 52-53 Ajay Vishwanathan 54
E. J. Wilcox 55 Changing Yuan 56 Russell Bittner 57 C. Albert 58-59 Bridget Bell 60-61 Donna M. Davis 62 Shavahn Dorris-Jefferson 63
Pg. 36-47 Pittsburgh High-School Poets Speak Out ~ “What I’d like to tell you about me . . . “ Messages from teen poets . . . and their teacher.
Pg. 48-51 “Battling Stereotypes, a Collage of Poetic Experiences”
Pgs. 65-71 Karla Linn Merrifield on Prison Poets Pgs. 72-76 Danielle Blasko on Ryan Adams Pgs. 77-79 Typical Miscellany
By Eve Anthony Hanninen, Editor
Why is it that so many of us like to condense the nature of things? Is it a touch of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that drives the need to compartmentalize and organize our impressions about other people and their cultural practices or personal preferences? Are what we see and interpret really accurate reflections of reality, or do most of us layer our own fabricated perceptions over the top of what we believe we observe? These are questions I‘ve asked myself when considering the reasons we are generally willing to stereotype others not of ―our kind‖ — whether it‘s labeling their economic situations, their lifestyle preferences, their habits, or even their very existence, many of us feel the need to classify these ―others‖ in the broadest, simplest terms. And just what, exactly, is ―our kind?‖ Do we not stereotype ourselves in the very act of trying to segregate our own defining attributes from those of others? This past midsummer, a number of articles and blog posts appeared on the Internet detailing the decision of the publisher, Bloomsbury Children‘s Books, to place a photograph of a white girl‘s face on the front cover of a new Young Adult novel, Liar, by Australian author Justine Larbalestier — but Liar‘s main character, Micah, is introduced as a black American girl. One YA librarian blogger, identified as Alicia, was quoted in GalleyCat‘s blog (Mediabistro; Ron Hogan, senior editor, July 23, 2009) as having asked, "Did the publishers not want to put a black girl on the cover for fear of not selling enough books to their white customers? Or is the cover supposed to be what Micah really looks like, and her description in the book is just another of her lies?" Bloomsbury‘s official statement, in defense of their original creative direction, stated that
the choice of cover art ―was intended to symbolically reflect the narrator's complex psychological makeup‖ and denied this was a ―calculated decision to mask the character's ethnicity.‖ Contrastingly, author Larbalestier was also quoted in GalleyCat as saying, "Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don't sell.‖ If what Larbalestier alleged is accurate, besides implying that publishing marketers might be stereotyping the effects that diverse ethnic images have on readers (and maybe not — some people are really only interested in ―their kind‖), what does this say about the tendencies of the buying public? If ideas are packaged in socially homogenous images (such as majority ethnicities) merely to get past the public‘s personal censors, how blindly discriminating are we, really? If we‘re fooled by the image on a book cover, wouldn‘t it be more likely that we‘d want to protest that we were hood-winked into spending our money on a deceptive product? Well, no. It seems not. Most of us were taught to ―never judge a book by its cover.‖ Some of us believe this adage to be an inherent truth that applies to just about everything in life. It may be thought curious that a cover image depicts someone we‘re unable to find a connection to beneath that cover.
We may wonder what the intent of the design department was. But if the content within grabs our attention, and therefore loyalty, we reason that we‘ve followed that old advice wisely; what we see on the surface may have nothing to do with what lurks beneath. So why is stereotyping still so prevalent? It may be that typecasting is a useful tool in some cases. Marketers use it to focus in on target consumers, for example. Statisticians collect and then must ―classify‖ data to make sense of it. Writers develop characters using specific descriptions to provide impressions of personality; often these personalities are mere caricatures of real people. And categorical labels may simplify information or organize storage for any manner of business or activity. Face it, though, in other cases, stereotypes have direct relationships to people‘s willingness to dislike what is unlike themselves or their accepted comforts. So what happened to Liar? Widespread and continued public outcry soon convinced Bloomsbury to replace the jacket image, one showcasing a young model ―of color.‖ But will Liar‘s overall sales now be less than what was originally projected when the cover resembled most of the rest of Bloomsbury‘s YA
novel jackets — reportedly, images of Caucasian models? I doubt it — it‘s now more likely the controversy over its initial woes will shoot Liar‘s sales figures to Mars. So what about the novel‘s story? As it turns out, Micah might have enjoyed the deception of just such misleading hoopla if she were a real person. ―Half black, half white; half girl, half boy; coasting by on half a scholarship. I'm half of everything," says Micah of herself. As for a quality read, early reviewers of Liar, such as Publisher’s Weekly and Shelf Awareness, lauded the novel as ―masterfully constructed‖ and ―suspenseful and page-turning.‖ The purposeful irony is not lost on me when Shelf Awareness‘ reviewer, Jennifer M. Brown, states, ―much of life‘s experiences exists in the gray area . . . There is no black or white.‖ So why do so many of us still try to break everything down into Either/Or? Yes/No. Good/Bad. The current issue of The Centrifugal Eye both raises and answers similar questions as it examines the commonality of pigeonholing while its contributors of the poetic and artistic kinds seek to battle the unexamined habits of stereotyping.
Eve Anthony Hanninen is an American poet, writer, editor, and illustrator who resides in the weather-lashed, Kaien Island harbor-town of Prince Rupert, BC, Canada. Poems may be found in east to west: bicoastal verse, Sein und Werden (print and online), Moondance, Wicked Alice, Origami Condom, Shit Creek Review, and The HyperTexts, among numerous journals. Other recent publications include poems in the anthology edited by Lynn Strongin: Crazed by the Sun (2008); another appeared in Trim: The Mannequin Envy Anthology (2007). A limited artist'sedition chapbook, as well as a collection of poems under 15 lines are both in the works. Her latest bookjacket illustrations adorn Ellaraine Lockie's Blue Ribbons at the County Fair, and Patrick Carrington's Hard Blessings. She also contributed artwork to Lana Ayers' Late Blooms Postcard Series. Eve was the Poet’s Corner Interview Poet for May 2009 at Long Story Short, with Russell Bittner. http://www.alongstoryshort.net/ThePoetsCorner-May2009-Hanninen.html
Visual arts impact written media. From bookcovers to poetry journals to newspaper inserts, thoughtful illustrations sway our acceptance of information. Case in point: After Joseph Pulitzer took over the previously unsuccessful The New York World in 1883, enterprising circulation changes were made, and in 1896, the World became a luxuriantly-colored newspaper, at first accused of promoting sensationalism. But Pulitzer didn‘t view his printed, 4-color illustrations as extravagant. Through experimentation, he observed that more illustrations sold more newspapers. He included as many comics, maps, fashion illustrations, needlework patterns, political cartoons, and puzzle games as he could fit into his Sunday supplements. Sales grew in correlation to the steadily increasing inclusion of illustrations, making Pulitzer‘s the largest circulated U. S. newspaper of its time.
Contributors to The Centrifugal Eye: New Book News
Congratulations go out to TCE authors Burgess Needle, Kenneth Pobo, Lynn Strongin, Martin Willitts, Jr., Bill Dorris, Howie Good and Ellaraine Lockie. Burgess Needle‘s first collection, Every Crow in the Blue Sky, is forthcoming from Diminuendo Press with a projected year-end publication (2009). Kenneth Pobo‘s latest chapbook, Trina and the Sky, is out from Main Street Rag Press (November 2009). Lynn Strongin‘s Cobalt Horse (poems) is out from Conflux Press, while Indigo: A Poet’s Memoir was released from Thorp Spring Press. Her chapbook, Pencils & Nerve Storm, was made available in Origami Condom‘s chapbook section (September). (All 3 books — Autumn 2009.) Martin Willitts, Jr.‘s chapbook, Baskets of Tomorrow, is now available from Flutter Press (October 2009). Bill Dorris‘ book, The Arrival of The Fittest: How The Great Become Great (excerpted in his TCE essay, Heroes and Mud, August 2007), with extensive preview and endorsements from major academics, is now available at Lulu.com (September 2009). Howie Good‘s Lovesick, his first full-length poetry collection after 8 chapbooks, is out from The Poetry Press of Press Americana (August 2009). Ellaraine Lockie‘s new chapbook, Stroking David’s Leg, is available from FootHills Publishing (September 2009).
Stock Photo 2009
Battling Stereotypes: Book by New Book
A story of breaking free, Ntozake Shange‘s Coretta Scott, a collection of poetry dedicated to Coretta Scott King, in the format of an illustrated picture book, featuring large paintings by Caldecott Honor winner, Kadir Nelson. Shange‘s poetry paints Coretta Scott‘s life in the segregated south and her journey toward freedom for everyone through non-violent protest, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., during the civil rights movement. Poet and playwright Ntozake Shange has authored novels, plays, poetry, and children‘s books, including Ellington Was Not a Street (winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, also illustrated by Nelson). Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, 2009. Two titles projected for publication in Autumn 2010, Craig Steven Wilder's Ebony and Ivy: Slavery and the American College. Wilder‘s book exposes how revered universities like Harvard and Princeton ―not only profited from slavery but helped to sustain it,‖ and his A History of the Ghetto, said to be a sweeping account ranging ―from Venice to Harlem.‖ Publisher: Bloomsbury Press.
Look for Daniel Goldhagen's The Devil Never Dies: Antisemitism in the Age of Globalism to come out in 2012. Publisher: Little, Brown. Elizabeth Goldsmith's The Cardinal’s Nieces, on the adventures of Marie and Hortense Mancini. The Mancinis were advantaged sisters raised at Louis XIV‘s court. They left their husbands and children and traveled throughout Europe together, earning infamy for their roles as gamblers, crossdressers, and revolutionary writers, as well as mistresses for a number of kings. Publisher: Public Affairs, Autumn 2011. For humor in truth, look forward to Yael Kohen's We Killed: The History of Women in American Comedy. Kohen brings us a ―firstever oral history of women in American comedy,‖ assembled from interviews with over 50 prominent U. S. female comedians and relates the facts about ―being a woman in the male-dominated comedy world‖ (1950s to present). Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books. Projected publication date unknown. Michelle Cove shakes up stereotypes about being single and female in her new book, Shake Up the Fairytale!, scheduled out in Autumn 2010. This guide hopes to help single women break the stereotype of ―singlehood‖ by giving them ―the tools they need to navigate through a changing culture and social order‖ that views itself as a ―couples‘ world.‖ Publisher: Tarcher.
Boulder Poet, George Moore Photos supplied by author, embellished by TCE art dept., 2009
Battling Stereotypes: Images The Centrifugal Eyeâ€™s editor,
Eve Anthony Hanninen, asks George Moore about the pros & cons of casting character types, and how he deals with them in his own writing.
EAH: If there‘s one thing I know about you, George, it‘s that you like to travel. Are you always on the go? GM: Yes, I suppose it started my last semester at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon. I did a semester abroad in Yugoslavia, then took off for a summer on Crete, and in the fall traveled overland through Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, to India, where I lived a year before returning to the United States. I‘ve always traveled, but a few years ago I realized I wasn‘t really taking advantage of being single, and realized I had the freedom to travel whenever and wherever I wanted. Now I travel most years, recently to Tibet, China and Thailand; and in the last three years to England, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Another kind of travel I‘m into these days is motorcycle touring. A few years ago I ran into a group of bikers returning to California from the big rally up in Sturgis, South Dakota. I started thinking it must be a wild adventure to take off across open country, nothing but you, two wheels and weather. I bought a bike that same year to do a ride from Boulder down to San Diego and up the famous Highway One to San Francisco, then up to Portland, Oregon and back. What I thought would be a one-time adventure turned out to be an addiction, so now I get out there in the summers and ride the ―blue highways,‖ those two-lane, cross-country roads that have now mostly been abandoned for the interstates. It‘s a unique feeling being out on the road alone, carrying nothing but a sleeping bag and a bivouac tent, sleeping wherever I end up for the night. You really feel the landscapes are part of you, the deserts, mountains, coastal roads, and a hundred small towns. I was so amazed with the experience that I decided to write a book about it, a ―guide‖ to my experiences called The Lone Rider’s Guide to the American West. EAH: Will this work be solely non-fiction? GM: For the most part, although I‘d like to do some cross-genre things with it, including town and road histories, geology along the highways, how the West is changing, maybe even some poetry if I can work it in. Sort of a multilayered
experience of the landscape and people, through the goggles of the lone rider. I think the nature of the American West still says something to the individual, even though it‘s far different today from the past. And then it‘s really about the West as a microcosm of global changes. The more I travel, the more I sense the planet shrinking. I‘ve presented papers on portions of the book — certain rides in California, Arizona and New Mexico — but I need to bring it all together into a single focus. Strange, I‘ve long sought out the most remote places in the world, like Everest Basecamp in Tibet, the Golden Triangle in Thailand and Burma, northern Iceland, and now I find the American West has some of the loneliest and most spectacular stretches of countryside of anyplace in the world. My overseas travel habits have changed, too. I‘m more likely now to travel to some specific spot and spend my time there rather than trying to see a whole country. It‘s easy to get jaded traveling, even as a writer. You observe people and places, but are rarely part of what you observe. The traveler can be an anonymous role. A number of years ago I decided to try one of the many artist residencies, where you can go and work in a specific locale. I had in mind to get away and at the same time write, so I chose one in northern Saskatchewan, the Kenderdine Campus, on a peninsula surrounded by lakes. I thought I‘d be there with other artists, but it turned out I was alone — arrived to find an envelope with a key to a cabin and one to the kitchen. But it worked out wonderfully, as I had this beautiful shoreline place all to myself, and wrote day and night, producing about 250 pages of poetry and prose, which resulted in the book, Tree in the Wall, which came out on CD a few years ago. Recently, I‘ve attended a number of residencies in Europe. The first was Can Serrat in the Montserrat mountains outside Barcelona, near a small town called El Bruc, in an old winery refurbished as an artist retreat. It was my first residence with others, and the cross-fertilization of ideas was amazing. I found myself in constant dialogue with different kinds of artists, and ended up doing an installation with the French-Canadian conceptual artist, Mireille Perron, entitled: Complicatio/Explicatio (Folding
and Unfolding). Together we explored the possibilities of language and material representations of quantum physics, DNA patterns, and the interplay of language. In Spain, I met Hrafnhildur Sigurðardóttir, a Scandinavian textile artist who set me up with my next residency at Hólar University in Northern Iceland the following year. Remote and somewhat isolated, I found the time incredibly productive. Then last year, I traveled to Portugal‘s Alentejo region to an old farm that has been remodeled into another residency called Obras. It was there that I met Helga Eibl, the Austrian painter, whose work you now know, Eve. EAH: Indeed. Our readers will recognize Helga‘s art gracing this issue‘s cover and your poem pages. Just how integral has collaborating with artists become to your creativity? GM: Collaborations have opened up my work to a kind of diversity I‘d never explored before. The visual arts have always been important to me, I think because I sense an absolute aesthetic in the drive that makes some spend their lives capturing the world in colors and texture. It‘s hard to explain, but I‘ve always felt that painters, in particular, were the purest of artists. Now to work with them has been to challenge my sense of language at a root level, and make it not only represent, but converse with the other senses. It‘s exciting to actually ―see a poem‖ in a new way, not just to read it. EAH: What sort of collaborative project evolved from your jaunt in Portugal? GM: Well, Helga and I found ourselves working from a similar sense of people and landscape, and I think our idea for a collaboration grew out of our shared perceptions. Portugal was not what I expected. The landscape is sparse, cork oak and thousand-year-old olive trees along rolling hills, with castles and walled towns on all the high points along the Spanish border. I found myself writing about simple things: shepherds, farmers, the sheep, horses and cattle. But mostly about the pigs. Fascinated with the pig farms, I spent days watching their voracious and relentless behavior. I wrote
a lot of pieces with pigs as metaphors for hunger and desire. We both worked through the days, and took late afternoons off sometimes to hike, and climb up to Evoramonte, the nearest castled town, for a café solo. Our ritual was a walk of nearly 8 kilometers. I have an espresso habit when I‘m in Europe, traveling. Something I don‘t do at home. Helga immediately understood, I think. You create a special environment when you are working in these residencies; you have others there experiencing it with you, and also the uniqueness of the region around you. Helga‘s paintings do certain things, juxtapositions, iconic motifs, arrangement of brilliant colors, that I would like to be able to capture somehow in simple but surreal language. My direct address to aspects of the Portugal countryside was somehow reflected and reflecting Helga‘s work. We talked about a collaboration, something that would capture the Alentejo in both its poverty and human friendliness. The director of Obras, Ludger Van der Eerden, plans to present the project to a cultural center in Evora, that might be interested in supporting the publication of a book on the Alentejo. I have already been at work on a collection related to this, which I‘m calling Swine Kissed by Crows, and which includes poems I‘ve placed in journals recently from the Portugal writings. EAH: How has visiting abroad in various locales and hobnobbing with peoples of different cultures affected the way you write? GM: If a writer‘s task is to see things differently, to defamiliarize them (to borrow a phrase by Viktor Schlovsky), then traveling to foreign places makes one even more aware of the world, not only as perceived but as created. I have friends, like the poet Vern Rutsala, who have an amazing ability to capture the strangeness of our daily environments. But I tend to travel to places that force me as a poet to see humanity through its differences, to reinvent the oneness of the world through many possibilities. Europe, Asia, and the friends I‘ve made in both places, continue to revitalize my perspective on the world. I think the university is only half an
education, because I remember my own early travels and how they literally changed my life. Today, I thrive on the exchange of ideas with international artists, and they have totally regenerated me. You can get into a rut when you‘re a poet living in only one country. In the U. S., the poetry scene has lost some of its brilliance since the political fervor of the ‘70s, or perhaps become so diversified that each little group speaks only to itself. Europe still has a sense of the arts that is inclusive. Dialogues here in the States are often competitive; but there I find people open to what others are doing. This was really the start of my collaborations. Certainly there‘s a lot of good writing going on here, too, but much is obfuscated by the attitudes that accompany it. We were talking about stereotyping, and here I‘m doing it. It‘s not all the same here, but there‘s definitely an ―academic‖ attitude at times that gets in the way of open dialogues. I guess that‘s why I‘m repeatedly drawn back to contemporary European poetry and art.
GM: I think prejudice is connected primarily to ignorance, rather than unthoughtfulness. It‘s usually stirred up by fear, and/or a sense of isolation. We see a lot of ―humor‖ based specifically on stereotypes. People associate types with easy targets, and can be thoughtless or insensitive about how they categorize someone else, even in conversations with that person. I see it in younger people, but then that itself might be a stereotype about age. I try to be aware of how easy it is to categorize someone on the basis of appearance or speech, and yet I know we do it often to simplify the complexity of human interactions. This is what the sociologists say, at least. We use stereotypes as a shorthand for human understanding, the way we organize impressions, the way we deal with too much information. People are made up of similarities and differences, and if we lean too much toward the differences, people become simply strange. When we group them by their most apparent similarities they become stereotypes.
EAH: Whether from North America, Europe or another country of the world, most of us have been stereotyped by others — if never directly victim to pigeonholing, what would you guess your ―labels‖ are?
As a writer, I use stereotypes to capture in brief an impression of time and place. The yak butter tea drinkers of Tibet, and that horrendous smell of the rural tea houses, thick as stale fat, gives you an immediate moment of experience. But to leave all Tibetans in this framework would be to stereotype them — and the young man I met wearing jeans, t-shirt, and tennis shoes, who had traveled clandestinely to India twice, illegally, and would have given anything to connect with the world outside China, who read voraciously and never drank tea, showed me exactly what kind of differences exist even in one culture. As a poet, if I use a word or phrase that I know to be an oversimplification, I‘m as guilty as any of stereotyping. But it‘s hard, at times, to avoid. Sometimes, it‘s too easy to get drawn into clichés of cultures, because many people (editors included) do not know the difference, and so you can get away with them. What looks like a stereotype to one person, might be just unfamiliar enough to capture a sense of real human difference for another.
GM: As a white male, my experiences of stereotyping are more about being overlooked than unfairly targeted. After my Ph.D., I was on the job market for a number of years, and found that there was a certain favoritism being shown for minority candidates. University departments across the country were looking to diversify their faculty in the ‘90s, and so some of us ended up on the outs. Of course, it was only right because departments had been filled with white males for decades. But when you‘re fresh out of a graduate program, it‘s a blow to find hiring committees overlooking you on the basis of your majority cultural status. Many would term this kind of thing ―reverse discrimination,‖ but I think discrimination is discrimination. EAH: How closely related is prejudice to unthoughtful stereotyping, and how mindful should writers be of creating stereotypical characterizations?
EAH: Can you name a few fictional characters whom you consider stereotypical archetypes, yet also great portraits of persona?
GM: I think all characters in fiction play off stereotypes of one kind or another. Uniqueness, after all, is not unique unless it has contrast, and good character is usually built around contrast. For instance, a Pulitzer prize-winner as recent as Junot Díaz‘s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, exploits a sci-fi, role-playing ―nerd‖ stereotype. But his Dominican Republic background makes him unique. What you don't expect challenges the stereotype, and even allows an author to exploit romantic or sentimental clichés that would otherwise appear grossly oversimplified. Cormac McCarthy, of course, tests the limits of racial stereotyping in a novel like Blood Meridian, where the Southern scalp hunters rampaging through Mexico represent an extreme case of racial hatred and bigotry, and the novel does nothing to dissuade its readers from that attitude, other than the fact that we must assume the author means us to be shocked and confronted by those uncompromised values. Faulkner did this quite often, as well, although he was himself conflicted, I think, on the question of racial equality. There may be nothing more complex in this context than a character like Dilsey, Faulkner‘s stereotypical portrait of a poor, Southern housekeeper, in The Sound and the Fury. Although based on a racial stereotype, she is in the end the most wholesome and positive figure in his novel. I like Toni Morrison‘s work a lot, especially her racially charged novels like Beloved and Sula, but then she uses racial stereotypes to set up the possibilities for her characters‘ differences. The strength of characters like Sethe and Sula are based on the fact that they must prove themselves stronger than the racial and gender stereotypes that others would use to define them. What is more interesting today, however, might be the historical perspective on stereotyping. Morrison‘s novels tended to present a very black-and-white picture of human racial difference, in accordance with the politics of the ‘70s, when the early novels were written. Today, an author like Edward P. Jones, also writing about the slave South in his Pulitzerwinning novel, The Known World, seems to deconstruct Morrison‘s stereotype by having the primary motivation for characters not solely
about race, but about wealth and power, as with the African American slave owner, Henry Townsend. So Jones would challenge even the positive use of stereotypes of Morrison‘s work. It‘s interesting that Morrison‘s newest novel, A Mercy, reflects this same new sense of complexity in the old stereotypes of race, as if she‘s read Jones‘ novel carefully. It might be tempting for some to exploit politically-motivated racial stereotypes, because they are not only accepted by too many readers, but actually eagerly consumed in justification of those readers‘ own sense of guilt. The Native American writer, Leslie Marmon Silko, at times does this. She exploits a sense of victimization in Native culture at the hands of either AngloAmericans, in the novel Ceremony, or Mexicans, in the novel, Almanac of the Dead. But it‘s only half her fault, as it‘s what readers have come to expect, and what they buy. But then you asked about great portraits of character. How about Ahab in Moby-Dick? Herman Melville created a God-hating type based in part on Milton‘s Satan in Paradise Lost, and also on Melville‘s own struggles with Calvinism. But Melville, like Shakespeare, knew that, to some extent, great characters had to be types. Those complex inner struggles — how much Ahab fights against himself — make for one of the greatest characters in American literature. Some writers even address stereotyping directly through characters and plots. I think of John Barth‘s brilliant story, ―Lost in the Funhouse,‖ where his narrator knows that he is creating stereotypes and discusses them as part of the plot development. Or similarly, in a novel series, The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil strips away all the common qualities of his character in order to show that total uniqueness would be total absence of humanity. EAH: Examples in poetry? GM: In poetry I‘m less a reader of narrative than lyric, so characters are less present. But I find some poets exploit stereotypes in an effort to draw sympathy for their causes. Sherman Alexie immediately comes to mind. His poetry
explores clichés about the victimization of Native Americans, and yet because he does it with self-deprecating humor, readers praise his work, even when sentimental or historically inaccurate. It suggests a more frightening aspect of stereotyping to me, the fact that mainstream culture, here in the U. S. at least, is often now drawn to this new kind of ―clowning.‖ The poet or writer who can laugh at his/her own cultural oppression. Too many poets in the postmodern world are becoming standup comedians, and it may be the audiences‘ waning taste for real substance that has created the situation. It‘s the guilt question again; laughter eases the threat. The cultural poetry that used to be radical has become somewhat of a cliché, itself. You find a lot of the same complaints about oppression voiced by poets today as if it were 40 years ago. Things have changed, but audiences perhaps have not. Poets can even find themselves forced to use old clichés in order to gain an audience. I often argue this point with students, who find spoken-word poets, like Saul Williams, extremely radical. For me, it‘s simply a rehashing of old Left politics. But I don't completely escape stereotyping. I write a lot about my ancestral connections to Ireland, and tend to exploit the common sentimental stereotypes about pastoral lands and poor immigrants. No matter how much writers would deny it, all of us are drawn to sometimes dangerously stereotypical images or characters in order to connect with an audience. If readers don‘t know that Indians complaining about government cheese or Irishman weeping in their Stout are clichés, then they are apt to find them moving. EAH: Is this how stereotyping affects the relationship a writer has with his/her audience? GM: If I use stereotypes about other cultures, sometimes it‘s to capture a sense of place, or people from places where my ―readers‖ (whomever they be) have not been. So to make my experiences of China completely stereotype-free would be to make them un-Chinese.
Today, poets relate to imaginary audiences made up of other writers, whom we would love to have read our work and make even passing comments about, or we talk to listeners who simply absorb our perspective and sense something of the paradox of language in it. Or we write as if to break into someone else‘s conversation with some ideas that we just can‘t hold back. I read the kind of poetry I read in college: revolutionary, forbidden, in-your-face kinds of expressions. Writing back then was more of an overt political act. Today, poetry seems to have settled back down, somewhat, to the bottom of the bowl. It‘s not confrontational even in its most radical expressions, but accepts more of the common denominators of social perspective, which, ironically, are often about marginalization itself. Stereotypes do provoke people to think, so sometimes I like to push them to the limit to expose them. And an ironic stereotype is really a way of saving me from seeming ignorant of what I‘m using. In the end, there must be a difference between stereotypes (as a construction, as a narrative or poetic expression), and prejudice itself. That might be what all this is about really, the use of stereotypes to expose stereotypes, the awareness of stereotypes to undermine the idiocy of prejudice. I think the performance imperative that we find in contemporary American poetry these days is itself a kind of stereotyping. It‘s really about a loss of an audience for serious, internalized, human struggle. Radical politics, like the street poets once spoke, has become more or less a common practice of performance poetry. Still, it‘s revitalized some younger poets, who are now all about drama and voice. Yet for those of us who were bred on language as a process for exploring depths of expression and the inexpressible, the new tactics sometimes look a bit insincere. One good thing I see is that some poets are starting to break with the dramatic imperative and explore constructionist ideas, many connected to the Internet. The Internet is a new source of audience for many of us, in ways I would never have suspected. Now there‘s a class of poets out there who are writing specifically with cyberspace as the template, and doing things both with images and with
language that maybe signal a revival of poetry as reading matter. EAH: And what do you hope your poetry says to your audiences? GM: I guess I want someone out there to look into what I am actually saying, how it‘s playing with ideas, exploring human limits, and then ask something about it that shows they get where it‘s going. It‘s exciting to connect with a reader, and perhaps naïve to think we ever really do. But the idea has sustained me in my writing since the beginning. And yet at some point you realize the world is not really listening, and if they are, they hear you through a wall that blocks out the high notes and low ones. But if you can connect once in awhile, it‘s like letting someone into your head and sharing that space with them for an instant. When I‘m exploring pathways, threading a poem out, it‘s always with this sense that the world can be made and remade by the flux of words between people. If the right readers come along, you hope they can take the ride in much the way you‘ve discovered it for yourself. A good audience engages what it hears rather than just processing it, and so it can be classed with serious readers at times.
be an achievement. You can see that my idea of poetry is very much based in the old poetics of deep meaning; this is the difference perhaps. But it‘s also about connecting with that ideal reader, really communicating something beyond words. Sometimes I dream of having people in my head who converse with me through each poetic line as I think about composing it. EAH: Okay, let‘s do some of that. Featured in this issue of The Centrifugal Eye is one of your poems based on your impressions from your time in Portugal, ―The Center of the Earth‖ — it starts with the line ―Here on the Alentejo, on the hills,‖ and I find it brilliant that you broke that very first line after ―hills,‖ leaving us suspended on top for a brief moment before coursing down the slopes to discover what lies and lives on those hills. Was that a conscious choice?
“Here on the Alentejo, on the hills covered with sparse cork oak and olive, where the poor live out their days in whitewashed cottages without light or ready heat, or running water, is the center of the earth.”
But the opposite is more usual. EAH: How so? GM: You write a poem and people read it, but at their own levels, at the height of their own eyes, so to speak. The language may work well, but it‘s usually about impressions more than insights. Listeners, instead, get the full impact, and can‘t escape so easily into the next room. It‘s not that I want to change a reader‘s way of seeing, but that the poem should somehow demand its own second reading. That would be a true connect. A poem demands more, not because something has escaped but because it‘s all there and you have to do it again. I think of the poems I read again and again that have that effect on me — early poems by W. S. Merwin or Seamus Heaney; certain poems by Yeats — there are poems you go back to a hundred times. Now, to write one of those would
GM: The question of conscious intention is difficult, as part of the process for me is to bury my conscious mind as much as possible and let the poem make of my impressions, feelings, intentions, what it will. But I suppose that suspension on ―the hills‖ was about being out there, placing myself. The Alentejo, for any who know, is a landscape of rolling hills, so ―on the hills‖ only really clarifies or repeats. Annunciates, perhaps. I guess I‘m not as afraid of repetition as I once was. The simplicity of ―the poor‖ living ―out their days‖ is something I might not have let myself say a few years back. Now I see things more in terms of communication than simply difficult or startling images. I like to think of Cézanne when he tried so desperately to present the landscape at Estaque, those houses that are only houses and yet their simple shapes are so visually present, even as they merge and disappear into the landscape, so
you can‘t help but stop and stare. The landscape of Portugal made me feel the need of that same kind of direct apprehension. EAH: Your image of the sheep sleeping in the chapel is striking. It suggests not only abandon, but vast change over time. Still, it‘s an image that evokes simplicity of place — what you hoped to convey in these lines?
“Here, the farmer and shepherd returned to abandoned churches, the sheep straying into sacristies, sleeping before the altars.”
GM: The poem recalls a young man named Luis and a woman named Leonor, whom I met while there. Both had come from Lisbon, from the conveniences of the city, and had taken up residence on the Alentejo in two small cottages without electricity or running water. They‘d made the conscious choice to live like this, to give up the unessential things, and had been there for over seven years. There was something devastatingly real about the quality of this life, about Luis‘ efforts to live fully, for instance, that helped me see the immediacy of the landscape. Perhaps the poetry was a way to reach back into my own idealism, through my sense of their searching. To understand that living is the idea the poem talks about as the center of the earth, the place where we stand. Again, the common things in landscapes become uncommon when I travel. The abandoned Catholic chapel, alone in the countryside of Portugal, left a startling impression on me. The sheep had moved into the sacristy, and the place was ghostly in its ruins. The poverty in this region makes it possible for such places to just sit vacant. I‘ve always thought there was something so human about abandoned buildings, especially architecturally-specific ones that no longer serve their purpose, as if all our efforts were really toward these kinds of artifacts in the end. EAH: Humans leaving marks on the land like animals marking territory?
GM: Perhaps more like Ozymandias in Keats‘ poem. The desert sands consuming even those who build what they consider the greatest monuments of all time. EAH: Ah, yes— I follow you. The lines below suggest to me a flow of people that echoes the feel of the rolling hills. Is the Alentejo a place of flux, permanence, or both?
“many crossed the Alto Alentejo, bringing other people, displacing people, to return the people, finally to rise up to take back the land.”
GM: You can have a permanent flux, as with people resettling a region. The movement of history in this part of Europe is about displacement perhaps, but then also about the return. Europe has that kind of wave-like, recurrent repopulation. Here it was the return of farmers, shepherds, the like, after the devastations of war, or disease, or catastrophe. Portugal is a place of steadfastness, even in its poorer regions. Perhaps it is this steadfastness that attracts me back to Europe, generally. There‘s a transient sense of things in America, everyone coming and going, few living anywhere for long. History, here in the West, is more about open spaces than about human habitation. Europe seems more aware of its history in every locale; not intentionally, but because history, so many histories — on the Alentejo, for instance, there were the Celts, the Muslims, the Catholics — each in waves through the centuries, left their marks on the landscape. EAH: We‘ve learned you write poems of place. Do you ever write poems for specific occasions? GM: I wrote a poem recently for the city of Boulder, Colorado, to celebrate its American Style magazine award for being one of the most desirable destinations for artists. I don‘t often have the opportunity to write poems for specific occasions, but I found this one intriguing, and a challenge. Sometimes I‘ll write poems for specific issues of magazines, as I did recently with Sein und Werden. The editors asked for
poems dealing with films specifically, and I had one written, on John Carpenter‘s remake of The Thing. I wrote two others for the issue as well. I guess I‘m not as standoffish about writing for themes as I was in my youth, when I considered it something a real poet never did. My attitudes about what poetry should and should not be have changed, and I see it mostly now as a state of constant flux. EAH: What‘s your favorite publication among your many own? GM: I‘m still rather viscerally connected to one of my electronic publications, All Night Card Game in the Back Room of Time, published in 2006 with Pulpbits.com, and now available from Poetschapbooks.com. It deals with spacetime, explores how we live in a post-Einsteinian universe without usually realizing it. Another way a poet sees the world as defamiliarized, perhaps. I‘d like to see the collection in print one day, because holding a book in my hands has always been proof of the physical universe for me. I‘ve published more on the Internet lately. And being able to read through journals and see other writer‘s works online has made it easier to place my own. Previously, you had to send things off for months, and never knew if a magazine was reading or even still in print. Then six months later you‘d get a mimeographed slip of paper saying: no thanks. The Internet has made communication between editors and writers more of an ongoing conversation. If I was hesitant at first to publish online, just because of an old bias about print journals having the ―real‖ credentials, I have come around to seeing cyberspace as a new frontier for all sorts of writing. I‘ve published more online in the last 2 years than in print in 10 years, and there‘s an audience out there that is growing. I‘m still prejudiced toward books when it comes to reading, however. I guess eBooks make works more available, but a work with any real sustainability would have to come out in paper sooner or later. EAH: A worthy discrimination, in my opinion.
Any final words, George, to share with TCE‘s readers about the ongoing battle poets have with balancing the omnipresence of stereotypical images in their artistic pursuits? GM: The more I think about this question of stereotypes, the more it seems we have to question them even as we write them. And yet, deconstructing types can become a cliché itself, missing the living, human truths. Writing about people will probably always be about capturing impressions even as we realize that those impressions are always only part of the total picture. For years I was hyper-conscious of clichés in my own work. But after a time I saw that clichés and stereotypes are actually part of the equipment of language we use to communicate. Sometimes they are dangerous: racist, reductive or oversimplified; but they can also be humorous, ironic, and insightful if used out of context. Communication is based on common language references, and you can lose people you are in dialogue with actually by trying too hard to avoid clichés. Stereotypes are comfortable, which can mean both lazy but inviting. Teaching writing workshops certainly made me more conscious of stereotypes, and my own use of them. But you harp on them long enough and they become an exaggerated evil. I‘m more inclined today to see language as a ―closed system‖ that each person creates around his or her thoughts and ideas. Exploring new vocabularies, foreign languages, opens up new expressions which can lead to new ideas. Each of us is said to have a "working vocabulary" of about 6- or 7,000 words. Shakespeare's was about 29,000. And yet he, too, used stereotypes. He knew they are only the start of a character, however, and that real people are always paradoxical. I would use them that way, if I can, to pull in my audience, to make them think they see exactly who a person is, and then hit them with the contradictions of real people, confronting them at last with themselves.
―Saùde‖ by Helga Eibl, 2009
―Solteira com Pàssaro‖ by Helga Eibl, 2009
was a woman who could change form was Badbh Catha, the "battle crow" riding a horse, a sign of disaster for the armies who encountered her was a woman and goddess, a female war-deity, whose black and scavenger ways were her defining mark were the gist of her indifference were the intrusion of death at crossroads and on rings and currency the coin with its power to transform carrying her who was paramount on the horse was ubiquitous and omnipresent before forests were cut and cities burned was forever at the scenes of bloodshed searching out the ones who would not believe was carved in stone and forged in bronze was etched in wood and with wings lifted, soars across plains and pages where the winds bay was purplish black in age but never gray for gray was dawn and the battle crow forbidden that one hour to haunt the fallen who shortly would be hers forever
Here on the Alentejo, on the hills covered with sparse cork oak and olive, where the poor live out their days in whitewashed cottages without light or ready heat, or running water, is the center of the earth. Here, where the Romans parsed out Europe, divided up the regions among loyal latifĂşndios, irrigated and grew the first olive crops. Here, the Moors brought rice and fruit, fought off the Christian demands for land until they too took flight. Here, the farmer and shepherd returned to abandoned churches, the sheep straying into sacristies, sleeping before the altars. But the land retains its permanence in oak, each decade stripped of bark, to cork the worldâ€˜s wine. Here, too, the Romans gave way to the Moors, who gave way to the Dom. And the land remained, turned, collecting seeds haphazardly. Europeâ€˜s movements formed this matrix of desires, and many crossed the Alto Alentejo, bringing other people, displacing people, to return the people, finally to rise up to take back the land. A landscape signed in blood and marble, in olive oil and cork and wine, signed as all things happen, all history; here like everywhere, a center of the earth.
―Poema‖ by Helga Eibl, 2009
The boys ride high on the back of the tractor across the barren fields, no more prosperous than dirt, and the dust from the creatures scurrying causes a scent of tough skin and excrement to rise in the air. The pigs have stripped the land down to the bone, the trees are dying, the water that comes makes mud fields like seas of undulant brown floating over the earth‘s last days. The boys ride high across the acres of hard ground and smile as I run by, their curiosity like those of their beasts, they would devour anything in their way, they would know the world beyond the dirt field.
The ladder of my teeth has finally Lost a rung, they are falling like raindrops. Or is it that my emotions are slowing? The DNA I would track has already Vanished into the sands, the chutes And ladders solidifying into a single place. It would be too easy to see down a road Into somewhere else, but this body Does not believe even in itself now. It blends with the days out of neglect, Routine, and floats on life like an unmanned boat. Fortunately, the wind still pushes it ashore. The small desert towns of the joints, The knees of oases, the hips, a gas station Out of gas, boarded up, waiting for the desert To fill in its history. These are real As the light penetrating my hair each morning, As finding the signs written on my scalp. The time-traveler never looks in mirrors. Here are the realities, here, livable Only from the inside out, from the bones To the fleshy mask. These are dark freckles Of rain on the hands and back, the new Colonizer‘s language, the body only a map.
George Moore recently returned from an artist residency in Portugal, where he worked with Austrian painter, Helga Eibl, on a book collaboration. This follows on other projects, such as a showing of poetry and concept art with the French Canadian artist, Mireille Perron, at Can Serrat, Spain, in 2007; and another with the Scandinavian textile artist, Hrafnhildur Sigurðardóttir, for an exhibition in Iceland in 2010. His poetry has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, North American Review, Orion, Colorado Review, Nimrod, Meridian, Chelsea, Southern Poetry Review, Southwest Review, Chariton Review, as well as recently in journals in France, Spain, Australia, Canada, Ireland, England and Iceland. In 2007, George was a finalist for the Richard Snyder Memorial Prize, from Ashland Poetry Press. Manuscripts have also been finalists for The National Poetry Series, The Brittingham Poetry Award, and the Anhinga Poetry Prize. Recent collections are Headhunting (Edwin Mellen, 2002), and an eBook, All Night Card Game in the Back Room of Time (Pulpbits, 2007). He teaches literature and writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Contact George (firstname.lastname@example.org)
―Galinhas‖ by Helga Eibl, 2009
By George Moore
oets and bikers have shared a struggle for the rebel image. The resurgence of motorcycle mania in the last decade or so, here in the States, is about men (for the most part) trying to find some way out of the pits they have dug for themselves with lives that border on nothing more than production, efficiency, and perpetuation. But then we take up one cliché for another. Becoming a poet has never been a parent’s first hope for a child. Poets are life’s libertines; bikers are always outlaws.
Today you see middle-aged men on Harleys everywhere, like locusts, swarming across the country each summer in search of a country that no longer exists. Executives on $30,000 motorcycles are a far cry from the riders of the post-WWII era, and far less in touch with the old romantic image of the outlaw. I wonder if poets have somehow lost that edge, too, becoming only part of the mainstream maintenance of their own idea of the rebel. I wrote poetry after a year in college, abandoning my pre-med major. The times were not right for science. 1970‘s politics were more engaging than chemistry. I bought my first motorcycle about the same time. I wanted to imitate those completely homeless heroes, Fonda in Easy Rider and Parks in Then Came Bronson, in their searches for something authentic. But then when you discover yourself, you have to do something with it. We actually thought we were searching for a place. Like Shangri-La. If you rode far enough you might get there. If you wrote well, that world might come into being. Perhaps it was Middle Earth for an earlier generation. The poet in me spoke the language of outlaws, broke through the illusion of perpetuating a middle-class dream of family, career, and social acceptance. The cultural revolution of the ‘70s wasn‘t about humanist ideals; it was about freedom.
Some said anarchy. The outlaw biker gangs were about the same thing, breaking through the façade of quiet culture. Motorcycling in America began with the outlaw image, even if the bike was invented long before. Men coming back from WWII looking for something other than what they had left behind: the farms, industry jobs, the call of the Great Society. Beat poetry was about the first rejection of that call. And it‘s not by chance that the Hell‘s Angels, one of the earliest biker clubs in America, met up with Ken Kesey‘s Pranksters for a brief moment in time. They dropped acid in 1965 and hung out on the California coast. But ―The honeymoon lasted about three months,‖ Hunter S. Thompson points out in Hell’s Angels, ―and came to a jangled end on October 16, when the Hell‘s Angels attacked a Get Out of Vietnam demonstration at the OaklandBerkeley border. The existential heroes who had passed the joint with Berkeley liberals at Kesey‘s parties suddenly turned into venomous beasts, rushing on the same liberals with flailing fists and shouts of ‗Traitors,‘ ‗Communists,‘ ‗Beatniks‘. . .‖(313) The poets and the bikers were still struggling with the same rebel image, and the politics of imagemaking.
By my time, these images were ingrained in every young man‘s head, but were failing to materialize as anything more real than youthful confusion. New images of the rebel as poet or biker were just that, images, now sensationalized by Hollywood in films like Stanley Kramer‘s The Wild One. The Angels left the Beat poets behind, and took up violence as the one thing society could not integrate into its romantic sense of self. In Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America, Richard Slotkin suggests that violence was always the difference, the real outlaw ―stands in actual opposition to the moral values embodied in the Cooperian mythology and therefore to the ideological values of the ‗progressive‘ mythology that Roosevelt constructed on the Cooperian base.‖ (127) There was bad and then there was bad. The images persist today, but differently. Middle-aged businessmen on Harley holidays, and poets talking about a revolution they missed some 40 years ago. As a poet, I have inherited more than an image; I‘ve lived out a particular time. Now, when I ride across the desert looking for some unknown quality of life, I see myself in the mirror of the highway‘s mirage. But it‘s not the outlaw who comes home in the end and takes up his post at the university. It‘s the poet in his best disguise.
But the images of poet/biker were corrupt long before I found them. Motorcycling‘s outlaw culture benefited by association with old Westerns. The hero of those films was himself often an outlaw, an image transformed after WWI and granted a new kind of existential depth in detective fiction, as in the hands of Dashiell Hammett. The new existential embellishments of the old Western heroes were further transmuted through film depictions of WWI heroes, which in turn affected the stature of men as they saw themselves going into combat in WWII, particularly fighter pilots in the Pacific in the 1940s, a group priding itself on selfreliance and a death-defying kind of
nonchalance. It should come as no surprise that the first chapter of the Hell‘s Angels, from San Bernardino, California, was made up of those same pilots, gunners and bombardiers from the Pacific campaigns.
Poet Biker George Moore Photo supplied by author,
In my manuscript, The Lone Rider's Guide to the American West, I‘m looking for a perspective on my life in the context of this constant, uncontrollable flux of images. What, like Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? everyone asks. No, a different version of the old image resurfacing. I‘ve always been fascinated with open terrain, and have written about the existential nature of space for years. I used to crisscross the West on my way to and from college in Oregon. Riding across on a motorcycle for the first time in 2001, I discovered I‘d never known it, not really. I‘d thought the prairies and deserts sank deep in my being, but found out that was only an illusion from inside a car. You have to be ―out there‖ on the road to know what space is about. The poetry followed me into that space, and took up the awareness of its living dynamics. Once, close to the Arctic Circle, I realized we live on this planet. My poetry went looking for a way to capture that, and the bike was the experience of it unveiled.
â€•Cavernous Mindâ€– by D. J. Bryant, 2009
Puzzled by it, or amused. Intrigued. It would be too unkind to call it morbid curiosity, in you whom we are already much inclined to think obscene. Poor fat kid. What can you be looking for inside the skull? Inside the soft folds of yourself perhaps, you wish that you could find some armature as spare and firm? It is a glib suggestion. Actually, it is the hole in the bottom that has captured your attention. The eyes are shallow wells: all dried up. But below is this cavern entrance. Is it the darkened memories you see, or animals of imagining, enormously old in a flicker of ochres and a smudge of soot, for almost-ever marked on the uneven walls? In any woken entity we might catch the blink of a wisp of flame, that springs up like a soul, and once more sinks.
A woman I go by almost every morning has a curse in her. I'm not the only one who notices, but other passers merely smell their fear as hers and hers as dirt. The space their swerve leaves round her is as palpable as that inverse one we ascribe to ghosts of lesser matter, when we see, then walk clear through them. There is little to be nervous over with such nebulous incursions from the id, but the wraiths of flesh are capable of nasty lunges. As corporeal phantasmagoria, assemblages of hooker, waif and scrawny crone, their own soiled chic imbues them with a powerful blend of self-assurance and dejection. Passing near her calls for modest bravery — to brook her scent of siren's hunger. She being under Death's protection.
Nicholas Messenger had his first poems published in New Zealand as a schoolboy. He won the Glover Poetry Award in the 1970s. In recent years he has had work published in a good number of online magazines. He has written plays for children, fairy tales, short stories and novels. He was born in 1945, completed a degree at Auckland University, traveled extensively, and lived at various times in France, England and Japan. He has worked at many jobs, including seaman, security guard, demolition worker and laboratory technician, and for a long time made his living as a teacher — of science, art, and languages — in high schools in New Zealand, and of English in Japan. He has been married twice and has two grown-up children. Volumes of his poems from his Glimpses of the Mole’s Garden collection, a series of short ―Instamatic‖ poems, and some of his fairy tales, are available through Academy Books.
Contact Nicholas (email@example.com)
Academy Books (http://www.academybooks.co.nz/product/isbn/GLIMPSES20009/)
Disbelieving, I ask Amber, what if… there were no divine proportion, no glowing golden ratio, no elegant mathematical constant, to rule the rest of my days? No focal point to command my eye with a moment of aesthetic design— no flicker of Michelangelo genius? Would the starlit music of this blue sphere I once heard ever thrum softly again? Whence would go my sense of harmony in a universe, minus its magic formula? But, Amber explains in so many words, as I — the professor fifty-three years older — learn from her, my freshman student: This divine mean of Phideas, his golden irrational number phi, is eternal! I immediately come to understand it is ubiquitous, too. Only look around— from sculptured nautilus on a Georgia beach to mosaic leaf patterns along a limb on a New York copper beech. I believe her: Art is nature, nature is art forever everywhere. There can’t be, like, any “What if.” It just is. Period.
―Just Is‖ by K. R. Copeland, 2009
Karla Linn Merrifield is the 2009 Everglades National Park Artist-in-Residence and Rochester’s 2009 Eiseman Award-winner for poetry. Learn more about Karla following her review of the Prison Poets on pages 65-71.
M. Rather, Jr. is currently working on his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at McNeese State University. His work has appeared in print in the anthology, A Generation Defining Itself (Volume 7), in Reed Magazine, and in the monthly, Artscene, published by the Des Moines Register, as well as online at Idiolexicon, 12th Planet, and Adagio Verse Quarterly.
―Mirror at the Chapel of Bones‖ by K. R. Copeland & George Moore, 2009
―Chapel of Bones, Evora, Portugal‖ by George Moore, 2009
I am born, like you, in a man‘s mind, a slender wisp of thought. It is inside me that he unwinds his woven spirit. My being is a thin bone floating over his lungs. My belly waits like the holes in your trunks where the bright-eyes sleep and wink all night waiting for mice to crawl from under your roots. And under your branches I grow like the grasses between leaves, yellow from lack of warmth and sun glow. My eyes slit. My hands intertwine like your branches tangle. I wonder if he remembers or counts the days, or the years, if he knows the river? I look at its mirror and do not see what connects us, except for slender bones.
My philosophy: if you abhor the way your ma and papa bear are bold to lick you into shape, into their mold, while you don't know the form you were born for, and every lick against your skin has stung, then you should turn to stone against their tongue and suffer to be licked as infant rock to block your coming out as knickknack schlock. I guess my granite must have rubbed them raw. Whenever they stood back from licks and saw the lack of progress that their licking made, they knew I was a tough one to abrade. And yet they shaped me. This is a conundrum. Their basic decency was Carborundum.
―Carborundum I & II‖ and ―Whetstone‖ by Stephanie Curtis, 2009
Like New Year's resolutions we break down and then our discipline will have declined from pulsing ocean to the troubled pond wrinkled by the circumstanding wind. If you start out in youth undisciplined, then how much sloppier will be your end? I started out a fundamentalist as planted as a post, as founded as a Greek bank front, as upright as a mast, as rigid as a pine knot in a board. To shed my Adam's dread original fat I grew up on a gym-mat working out. I did my sweaty grunting with the Lord conducting pushups with baton of sword. I thus became a prodigy of trim. I got too fit in His celestial gym. I was in hyperovershape and came by slack adjustment in the trunk and limbs, by favorable decline, by helpful time, into perfect shape to shape my hymn. Acquire, young, a rigid, overfirm suit of muscle to be softened from! Gather ye roses clenched in a knot-bud-fist, gather burdens of the meet and right, gather assailing rules, collect DO NOT, amass decades in jail and not delight, so time hath aught of adamant uptight out of which to laxen ye aright.
In addition to contributing regularly to The Centrifugal Eye, John Milbury-Steen has published or will publish work in 14 by 14, Able Muse, Beloit Poetry Journal, Best Poem, Blue Unicorn, Bumbershoot, The Chimaera, Christianity & Literature, Contemporary Sonnet, Dark Horse, The Deronda Review (Neovictorian/Cochlea), Kayak, Hellas, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, The Listening Eye, Lucid Rhythms, The Piedmont Literary Review, Scholia Satyrica, Shenandoah, The Shattercolors Literary Review, The Shit Creek Review and Umbrella. John served in the Peace Corps in Liberia, West Africa, did a Master's in Creative Writing with Ruth Stone at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, worked as an artificial intelligence programmer in computer-based education at the University of Delaware, and currently teaches English as a Second Language at Temple University, Philadelphia.
―feathers for jane‖ by K. R. Copeland, 2009 After performing for years as both a musician and poet, in and around the Boston area, Derek Richards recently decided to begin submitting his work for publication. So far he‘s been accepted for publication in Ghoti Magazine, Lung, MediaVirus, Word Riot, Right Hand Pointing, Tinfoildresses, The Legendary, Breadcrumb Scabs, Shoots and Vines, Cantaraville, Soundzine, Strong Verse, Underground Voices, River Poets Journal, Halfway Down the Stairs, Dew on the Kudzu, Opium 2.0., Literary Tonic, Calliope Nerve, Asphodel Madness and The Foundling Review. His poetry ―aims to be direct and honest, brilliant and lucrative.‖ He‘s currently residing in Gloucester, Massachusetts, happily engaged, and cleaning windows for a living. Contact Derek (firstname.lastname@example.org)
torn, as if nylons, you can't imagine why he won't call. he don't love his wife and his kids don't share the popcorn. always equipped with his favorite scotch you don't even mind the taste of cigarettes or the thirty-second orgasms. because he loves you. when you were sick with pneumonia he sent a musical card with ducks and twenty dollars. get better. you wait for his shadow on the wall, the tickle of his mustache, those sweet promises of indecision. all your life, you've wanted to fly away. escape the knuckles and the apologies. all your life because he loves you. because he snores like your daddy, hums like your mama, because you know he still fucks his wife. they have four children. they go on skiing vacations he told you. i've got some feathers for you, jane but you don't want them. you prefer chardonnay and a perch, it's safer there. we all love you, but apparently, jane, you love gravity more.
―Weightless II – Golden Feather‖ by Dallas J. Bryant, 2009
you've always been the girl praying for judas. microwaving noodles for the starving pigeons who gossip at the water cooler.
Consider the ant, how dauntless it tramps up the trunk, the branch, the twig, the leafâ€” its march unbroken by the broken world. Then picture the inchworm, every step a halting foray, as it sways and sways a living question mark, until it finds the solid answer of a reed to lean against before once more it waves its green baton upon the void. Then think of my own younger self heading off to camp, to college, hitching across North America, tramping overland to Asia, tossing a few shirts, some books into a knapsack the night I set out with my life upon my back. Then think of myself today, still two weeks before heading off to my mountain cabin, and already I am packing and fretting, obsessed with what I might forget, preparing to leave one world and to enter another. The young march off so blithe to camp, to college, to love, to war. They pack the night before. Their parents, who know that leaving is another kind of dying, take their own sweet time arriving. They bob, they sway, they taste, they test the air, they say a prayer for safe returning. This melancholy dance of leavingâ€” a dry run for that other leaving.
Richard Schiffman is a writer based in New York, and a former journalist for National Public Radio. His poetry has appeared or is upcoming in Poetry East, Potomac Review, Southern Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Rosebud, Valparaiso Poetry Review and many other journals.
―Tramping‖ by K. R. Copeland, 2009
Every word that drops from my tongue has depth
I am the shadow of the lamppost, jealous the moths don’t visit me
―Sweet Gum Autumn‖ Photo by Karla Linn Merrifield, 2009; Pencil Art by E. A. Hanninen, 2009
There are no pepper-red tulips on my face
I am not a whirligig moving the way others turn me to go
I can’t harm a fly without feeling ashamed
I am not the smell or the color of a man
What I’d like to tell you about me . . . Messages from teen poets . . . and their teacher.
Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 (CAPA: Creative and Performing Arts; grades 6 through 12) is a public performing arts middle and high school located in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All of the students featured in this folio centerfold of The Centrifugal Eye are 9th graders at this school, where Literary Arts is one of five arts majors offered. The five include Dance, Theatre, Music, Visual Arts, and Literary Arts. The following 9 pages include a selection of poems from the 9th-grade writing students in English/Poetry instructor Kristin Kovacic‘s class, as well as her own poetic contribution to the folio. Every student participating in the TCE project did a marvelous job, and it was a demanding task choosing from among the strong poems and individual messages. The young poets designated to appear in this folio, in order of appearance, are:
Agatha Monasterios Ekin Erkan David Dull William H. Marchl Makhala Swift Samantha Winston Jordan Montgomery
The other talented students in Ms. Kovacic‘s class (unfortunately not appearing in TCE) are: Megan Lohner, Adam MacDonald, Samara McGraw, Kelsey Miller, Starla Murray, Shanquae Parker, Matt Reiser, Diana Sims, Jasper Wang, Stephanie White, Brianna Conrad, and Josie Griffith.
for a job done well, students! And thank you for openly sharing yourselves with TCE‘s readers.
If you’d like to write to Kristin Kovacic or her students, email them. (email@example.com)
By Agatha Monasterios
I‘m not 1-2-3, I am uno, dos, y tres. I‘m not your Spanish girl, I won‘t do your homework for you, so you can study while it‘s being passed out. I‘m not smart, just because I use the same pens and paper I use to write homework, when there‘s no more to be done. I don‘t need that A-B-C sing-along to have fun with words. I‘m not endowed with many ears, but two are enough to hear them. I‘m not the single different lily in a field of dandelions. I‘m not a flower, but I‘m not a weed either. There are no pepper-red tulips on my face, and I‘m not a sweet-to-the-eye-and-mouth buttercup sandwich. The field I stand in is not my stage; there are no spotlights in a crowd, and I‘m not so tall that I stand above the rest. I‘m not the most observant or delicate, or a perfectionist or obsessionist. I know for a fact that I am not going to be this year‘s champion sandcastle maker. I‘m never going to be the one to finish the PSSAs first, or to get 100% on everything. I never learned to ride a bike, because my old one with training wheels broke when I was seven years old. I rode it that much. I couldn‘t crack my fingers until I got over 100-words-per-minute in tech class and sprained the tendon in my left hand for the first time. My shoelaces aren‘t dirt-free and smooth; they‘re not tied in a bow right in the middle. If I have to do something, it‘s always easier if it seems fun, and I have a choice, than what it really is: do it or fail it. Why so serious? It‘s so much harder to laugh when you‘re covered in stress.
I‘m not on a boat, and I‘m not tipping. And if I am, it‘s because these arms and legs, mine to steer, are going for a spin. I‘m not sinking or hanging, but the floats and strings have been cut and popped. I‘m just feeling— anything, but I‘m not sorry, and I‘m not regretting, especially not the decision I made just now.
By Ekin Erkan
I am not preeminent, a regal monarch lazing under my own sun, cherry beams varnishing my face.
I am the glossed sable pair of boots clamping the waxed, wooden floors.
Nor am I disposable, a windless dross, debris mingling with the muggy sidewalk.
I‘m not the idealist, and I‘m not the problematic, squirreling behind lies trying to cluster friends and pity-fueled scrutiny.
I am not fruitless, my joys rebut the debts and IOUs I have accumulated in my fourteen years.
I don‘t pretend to be busy every Friday night.
I have attempted nihilism, anarchism, conformism, mimicking beatniks and hippies.
I am not asocial, but I don‘t need a blanket of friends to always keep me warm. The zephyr of solitude can be soothing.
But revolt, peace, traditionalism don‘t suit me. I‘m my own rebel. I am not weasly, whispering tidbits of gossip, curling in clenched alleyways, shadowing couples enviously. I am not the smell or the color of a man.
I am not patient. It‘s one mountain of a virtue to shimmy. I can grasp the fact that promises can be splintered, because consequence is a prickly wood. I am not gratified, but my ravenousness will take decades to sate.
By David Dull you see on the outside. I change every day; I will never be the same. I am not a psychopath; however, I see things that both soothe and haunt me. But you will never experience them. I am not prepared, alive, dying, lying, or hearing what you do. I am not a deity, but you may pray to me. I‘m the note you hear off of a freshly plucked guitar. I‘m the divine demon. I do not totally resist temptations. The worst things can be the most fun. Sorry, God. I am not the wide smile of a happy child. I‘m the narrow grin on the bully. I am not the arms of the clock, but I wish time could go faster. I am not the misty breeze that cools people. I‘m the deadly rain creeping into your house through the basement mold. I am not a dreamer. Accept what you have. Anything more is greed. I will not trust you. I will not rely on you. I will have expectations for you. I am the shadow of the lamppost, jealous the moths don‘t visit me. I‘m not a hero— I‘m the enemy, although I always lose. The feeling of hatred is awakening. I‘m not the reason I am the way I am. I‘m infinite.
By William H. Marchl
I can think for myself: the mind is a mighty weapon. Yeah, I know right from wrong— I am not hanging out in alleyways, school done taught me well, I finger paint word pictures real good. No, I cannot fight like Ali— I can float like a butterfly, still can‘t sting like a bee. I can‘t harm a fly without feeling ashamed, but step to me — I‘ll bring you down like the Walls of Jericho, like Shiva god of destruction. I am not the Mack Daddy, but I still roll like I‘m a G. Sarcasm is for the weak— it‘s not like I use it. I still can‘t headslide, but I can passé, like a renegade ballerina. I‘m not a pig, though I live in this pigsty— my bed is my dresser, I sleep on my underwear. I don‘t have a problem with expressing myself— I don‘t keep it inside until I pop like a bottle rocket. I am not afraid to tell the truth, yeah, I broke that lamp. I‘m not another decimal. I don‘t bleed in numbers. I am not Superman— I try to avoid wearing tights. I didn‘t grow up on the streets. I can talk to my mother, so I do not need a diary. I‘m not a puppet— I cut my strings long ago, so do not try to use me. I‘m not a sheep— off the shepherd.
By Makhala Swift I have never been the one to shout for the common star, nor have I ever been a follower of the crowd. I don‘t spend my time wasting away behind coffee shop windows wishing that I could be a part of the popular crowd while sipping cappuccino from hand-painted mugs. I‘m not afraid of stereotypes even though they are always attacking me. I don‘t cower in fear while they swing away and try their hardest to break me. No. Many times I have been mistaken for a paper plate. Wrong. You cannot just use me, and then dispose of me. But I am not an everyday dish, either. I will not be used, cleaned up, used again, and over a period of time develop scratches. See, I‘m something different. I‘m china. I am only brought out and used for the most wonderful guests. I am not perfect, but I‘m valuable, meaningful, useful, talented, and so much more. So don‘t use me as your warning bell because that I am not. I am not just here for your amusement or entertainment.
I am not that pair of jeans that you wear at least once every week, that get ripped and torn and fade from dark denim blue to light gray around the knees. Clueless. Stupid. Dumb. Ignorant. I am none of these. I am just the opposite. Every part of me is placed in its spot for a reason. Every word that drops from my tongue has depth. There is nothing nor anyone who can change that— and all that I AM.
By Samantha Winston
I am not the one-way street sign, nor am I a rearview mirror. I am not the old oak tree whispering wisdom into the wind. I am neither four- nor sixty-years-old, too young to know or too old to forget. I am not a whirligig moving the way others turn me to go. I am not weak. I am myself. I am not made of money, not your sugar mama. I don‘t spend foolish amounts of money on you, and if I did, I‘d end up getting something for myself.
I am not afraid to fall, because my choice will always be to get back on my feet again. I am continuously falling down and this is the way I want it to be. I am not an empty room with no friends filling me up. I make mistakes. I don‘t claim to be perfect— I know I‘m not. I am not an actress, or a musician, but a writer, a lover, a teenager, a Pittsburgher, a reader, and a pursuer. I am not invisible, just hard to see when no one looks.
By Jordan Montgomery
I‘m not part of the problem in my former neighborhood of Hazelwood, or my new home in Sheraden. I don‘t hang at my local convenience store all day, or get into a fight with somebody for being in the wrong place when we‘re from the same city. But I‘m not ashamed of where I came from. I‘m not quiet because I don‘t have any friends— I‘m just not as outspoken as everyone else. I‘m not uneducated. I‘m intelligent, articulate, sophisticated and attentive. I get good grades and I take CAS classes. However, I am not a nerd. I‘m not always outgoing. Normally I stay home because I‘m always busy, but I do like to have fun when I get the chance. I‘m not a mean person. I‘m not always serious. I like to play around when the time‘s right. I‘m always kind and ready to help people. The only time I‘m in a bad mood is when I‘m tired and groggy, which hasn‘t been happening lately, although I have to wake up at five-thirty in the morning just to go to school. I like to help people, but I not a pushover. I won‘t do every single little task that you don‘t feel like doing. I am not your trashcan— I am your recycle bin. In other words, don‘t give me trash, give me something I can work with and make something into. I am a friendly person, so I will be your friend.
But I don‘t have the word idiot glued on my forehead. I only befriend people who like me for who I am and not for what I can do. I‘m not violent if you don‘t aggravate me. I‘m not immature like some of my peers. I‘m not disrespectful to my elders. I‘m not the type of person who uses people. I‘m not fake, strange, distraught or conceited. I‘m not a fan of repetition either (which is actually ironic if you count how many times I use the word ―I‘m‖ or ―I am‖ as a motif). All in all, I am funny, kindhearted, lovable, intelligent and extremely handsome. So who am I? I am the flower that hides itself in the brutal wrath of winter. And when the snow melts, and the temperature rises, I will blossom into the person I truly am.
Ms. Um Makes an Announcement to the student who spies me at Target By Kristin Kovacic
I am not Ms. Um, though I understand my name has vanished from the screen of your mind— You are confused, because for once I am not talking. I am trying to restore the quiet girl in me who writes poems on her palms and cradles them in fists, and sleeps while the poems dream under her chin. I am not thrilled to encounter you, either, RachelKatyMegan, but I do recognize you, unmistakable as my own child, adrift in the Hair Care aisle. I don‘t want to talk, I want to tell you something clean and natural,
going home to read your poem. I am thinking about possibilities for dinner, redemption, hair color; I am writing dirty words on the wall of my skull. I am hoping this tiny washer will do the trick, at last, that my children will touch me with tenderness once again. I am afraid of the Value-Sized Antacids in my cart, I am terribly afraid I have forgotten something important, and I am somehow afraid I‘m not who I set out to be, but I am not exactly sure who that was.
and this is the wish I‘m pushing around, avoiding confrontations with the obvious: I am not certain.
I am not talking, though I may be muttering, I‘m not hiding, but I may be wearing the nastiest sweatshirt you‘ve ever seen, and there‘s a moment we could both turn our faces toward the shining shelves and feign distraction—but we don‘t. You see me and I see you
I am not unaware of my storybook power, of your made-for-tv titters behind my back. I am not
here, bright and blinking in this Big Box of light, trying to recall our names.
―Sweet Gum Autumn II‖ by E. A. Hanninen, 2009
―The Human Sea‖ by Stephanie Curtis, 2009
Because I Was a Male Working with Pre-School Children in the ’70s Women implied something was wrong with me. They assumed mine was women’s work and I should be a mechanic. But I knew when children were from a single mother; they hugged me with their short arms around my knees. I was never alone with any of them, never did anything wrong, still women raised their accusing eyebrows, suspicious of my reasons. I became tired of the innuendos and sly questionings. I’d fought their imaginations for over twenty years, worn out from them looking over my shoulders as if I were a potential criminal. I never treated women like this. I was chased out of the village with torches like Frankenstein’s monster. Where were the protesters for my civil rights? Only thing I did wrong was to love what I was doing. For some fearful minds, that made room for doubt. ~Martin Willitts, Jr.
Leaving Fingerprints From the back seat of his cruiser I hiccupped again. Whispered hick-prick boozily. Then, leaned forward, pinned my face to the wire cage between us, and with the drunken audacity to interrogate my arresting officer, I slurred aloud to the little-redneck-shit-punk: Where’d you earn your criminal justice degree, sir? Derision caught on my vodka cotton lips. How came you by your badge? This is what I get for living in the sticks of Orleans County. I get my DWI from . . . . . . some dumbass-backwoods-boondocks-bumpkin kid from Nowhere-ville, barely made it out of Albion High School. Six weeks of training and Voila! Deputy Sheriff! They gave him clip-on handcuffs like the ones on my wrist and a billy club he was frothing to use. They slapped a fucking pistol on his hip! Fucker could shoot me if he felt like it! Instead, he muscled one more guilty uppity-bitch-snob into the clinker and saved my sorry ass that night.
―Profiles‖ by D. J. Bryant, 2009
~Karla Linn Merrifield
They‘re thieves, that‘s what the guidebooks said Of studs who roam old Naples streets, So their approach filled us with dread. Those thieves, as every guidebook said, Then thrust umbrellas overhead And cooed: your little kid is sweet, Those studs, not like the guidebooks said, Who flashed big smiles on Naples streets.
I'm standing in Angel's room looking at his bed
I'm thinking about James in his guard‘s cap and uniform standing between DeKoonig and O'Keefe in the Kemper What would he make of Angel's room of the shed he shares with Mrs. Stephenson's dogs of his bed the back seat of a '49 Chevy of me in my white shorts and tennies ~Bill Dorris
Scandal The teens who just invented sex Are scandalized when we hold hands They want us to be circumspect Those kids who just invented sex. They worry ‘cause they don‘t expect The senile set to understand What they have done, inventing sex And what comes after holding hands. ~John Byrne
―Human Patchwork‖ by E. A. Hanninen, 2009
Rebel to a Tee A nice young lady, our preacher’s daughter. Pretty. Smart, too. Such an aid at rummage sales. Irons – and starches – the communion cloths. Always pitches in to work the church fair, selling little kisses for a quarter. Twenty dollars worth this year! Neither does she miss choir practice. And never, ever plays fast and loose like the teenage Jezebels we know. It began at thirteen, copping feels with Jewish boys: Saffrin, Block and Kaplan to be exact. Then all the way through a hundred-plus fucking pricks, plus the two faithless husbands of my thirty dirty years of futile rutting. My gluttonous cunt? My hefty appetite for exorcism? Finally sated when daddy died and I found the love of not Jesus, but the honest flesh of a man named Roger. ~Karla Linn Merrifield
The Price of Coal His face was soft on winter slate his voice gentle as the snow the examiner asked where he would locate his poetry his prose He spoke of Carver, of Hemingway, O'Connor of poppy fields he had known of scenes he saw in every mirror scenes we'd never hear stuck in monotone Had he ever tried the haiku it seemed to fit his form the haiku? His tie hung like a border between two men whose face had gone to stone
home, he said, is what you leave forever only to return alone
Karla Linn Merrifield, Martin Willitts, Jr., D. J. Bryant, Stephanie Curtis, & E. A. Hanninen are all regular contributors to The Centrifugal Eye. This is both Bill Dorrisâ€˜ & John Byrneâ€˜s second appearance in TCE.
―Frock of Sky‖ by K. R. Copeland, 2009
I am strung out at the end of Ward 3 in the midst of a dream, flying over Havens Elementary I am no longer old. My bones so light the sun lifts me from the balcony of my decrepit body And releases me into the atmosphere of your white frock and I am grateful. For I have died Five times already, since my wife‘s elongated stop — her slow surrender to Alzheimer‘s — And my daughters‘ inevitable leaving, when they shed my name like snakes shed skin in early morning sun For men who take one look at me and see only an old man: No inheritance. No plan. Only the slow drip, Drip, drip . . . to keep him company. The piped-in oxygen, cigarette grip on the channel changer— This day is a gift, really. When you come, the round gears of the sun and trees outmuscle the blinds, and release me The sky and swifts make love again. And my disease subsides, docile as a sweet little lapdog— I am so lucky to have you here with me, listening; holding my hand as if it were a living thing. Saying nothing
Scot Siegel's recent books of poetry include Some Weather (Plain View Press 2008) and the chapbook, Untitled Country (Pudding House Publications 2009). His poems have recently appeared in Windfall, The Externalist, High Desert Journal, The New Verse News, and Tonopah Review, among other online and print journals. Scot serves on the board of The Friends of William Stafford.
And everything I ever needed. Your eyes guiding me safely over the tarmac of what my healers call
my advanced dementia
Poets & Writers
(to the girl child)
―Goin‘ to the Chapel‖ by K. R. Copeland, 2009
I noticed her hand shivering on her knee, A brown doll clutched in another, Cheerless beads rolling down her eyes, A face rubbed in turmeric. Why me why now she asked. Why a forty-year-old for someone Who still hopscotches on hastilyDrawn squares of chalk? Who giggles at croaking frogs And runs free behind unfettered kites? But the whips of her father's belt Struck her in many places Till she asked no more And submission came Dripping down those lowered eyelids. I saw them take her away In a palkee, ornate, Too heavy for a little child, too old For a ten-year-old bride. I've survived the years, But many just like her I lost, My playmates; They see me pine To hold them back, Hide them away, But no triumphs ever in a battle Lost to tradition Too cruel to question, To grooms often older than fathers Who raised cruel whips. I've survived the years; For Father couldn't whip an ugly child With a cleft lip Who no one, even older, Wanted to wed.
Ajay Vishwanathan, published in over fifty literary journals, including elimae, GHOTI, decomP, Drunken Boat, and The Orange Room Review, lives in a realm of words and viruses. He draws inspiration from both, so his days are often stoked. This is Ajay‘s second appearance in The Centrifugal Eye.
―Tart Tongue‖ by K. R. Copeland, 2009
At the Country Club‘s Sunday brunch today, your mother tottered in between your dad and an aide. Her frail frame, wobbly legs, stark weaknesses awakened memories of an old woman in a story you once puzzled over in my class years ago. Much younger then, you felt that Welty— or was it Porter—had fabricated the crone. Her feeble body, you said, was fatal to clear thought, unlikely dwelling for a woman of such strong will. Over blueberry cobbler today, your mother‘s tart tongue, savvy sketch of our weak economy, topped off spirited table talk— and a sweet southern meal.
Writer of political satire Earl J. Wilcox has published poetry and prose for more than 40 years. His poems may be found online in journals such as The New Verse News, Word Riot, Underground Voices, Wild Goose Review, Diverse Views Quarterly, Literary Magic, and Main Street Rag. His work also appears in anthologies — AETHLON, Charlotte Writers, and in his blog, Writing by Earl. He lives in Rock Hill, SC, with his wife of 56 years and their Sheltie, Lady. Contact Earl (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Arhats squatting around in a foggy field each flushed with protests against frost coming all too soon Buddha puts you there to guard an entire season but we will relocate you to guard our empty houses the last of a fast-fading landscape the last to ripen
So white Swirlingly and spirallingly white Billions of butterflies Beating their wings white The sky The land The wind so high Blowing the whole hard afternoon Into scraps of confetti white So softly and tenderly white Even the spirits of night The dark The darker The darkest corners of human minds All become so deafening white
Changming Yuan grew up in rural China and currently teaches writing in Vancouver. Yuan's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, The Best Canadian Poetry (2009), The Cortland Review, Exquisite Corpse, The London Magazine and nearly 200 other literary publications worldwide. His first collection, Chansons of a Chinaman, has recently been released by Leaf Garden Press.
Contact Changming (email@example.com)
“Buddha’s Pumpkins” by K. R. Copeland, 2009
So, this is how old forests feel — like scattered wood in fall and soaked to the skin of one slick night, while soughing, Fuck it all! Yes, fall: when leaves‘ abandonment reminds me of the form in which each tree rehearses death, obedient to the norm — which leads me to another thought beneath my prison quilt: can you revive our rites of spring without survivor‘s guilt? In two days‘ time, I go to court, then may go back to jail, since nothing short of razzmatazz behooves me to avail myself of how burnt forests feel when matching wits with fall, as even now, I will not kneel — perhaps my fatal flaw.
Russell Bittner lives in Brooklyn, NY. Poems in print publications include, among many: Wicked Hollow; Æsthetica; CRIT Journal; The Raintown Review; Trinacria; and Tuesday, an Art Project. Online: The Ranfurly Review; Per Contra’s Spring 2009 Light Verse Supplement; Dogzplot; Clockwise Cat; and The Formalist Portal. Among stories in print, include: Beyond Centauri; Swill; The Angler; Sein und Werden; and Hobart Park; in the anthology, Next Stop Hollywood: Short Stories Bound for the Screen (St. Martin‘s Press, May 2007). Another piece will appear in Hobart Park, Spring 2010. Online, his prose may be found at: RedPeter; The Squirrel Cage; Sein und Werden; SUSS; and the uncommon Yankee Pot Roast. Russell‘s work has earned a number of literary prize nominations. Novel excerpts from Trompe-l’oeil (2004) appeared in Snow Monkey (February 2007) and in Rose & Thorn (January 2009). The first six chapters of the complete novellalength memoir, Girl from Baku, reside at Dead Drunk Dublin (June 2005). The entire memoir was serialized at Dogmatika (2006–2007). His first collection of short stories, Stories in the Key of C. Minor, was published by Faraway Journal Publishing in September 2009. Two novels are in progress, Gigolo, Gigolina and My Cradle, My Crucible, as well as a new collection of stories, The Dead Don’t Bitch. Contact Russell (RRBrklyn@aol.com)
“How Old Trees Feel” by K. R. Copeland, 2009
The bricks fell from his apartment building like a bomb dropped almost seventy years ago and no one cared. The front doorway stood alone without a door, open to the rubble. The new townhouses have views of skyscrapers that grow to the furnace in the sky. He wheels a suitcase big enough to sleep in, past his home that disappeared.
â€œRuinsâ€? by Matthew Casey, 2009
Morning is dusty as his only clothes. Head cast down, he walks along a sidewalk crowded with ambition. All those shoes stomping over concrete squares. He stops. What's that? A tiny mirror? He picks up a ring that fits perfectly, belongs on his skinny finger. It's real silver with a blue gem! He knocks on the window of a parked taxi, asks the driver who wears a turban, What is this stone? Does it possess good juju? Through the gem's open base setting, light streams into him, blue blue cornflowers.
C. Albert‘s usual art medium is collage. After she began to include found words into her visual art, she decided to start writing poems. She is now equally drawn to both media. Her poems (and some collages) appeared this fall in Tattoo Highway, Pirene's Fountain and qarrtsiluni. She has two portfolio sites of collage and poetry, Runaway Moon and Aerial Dreams. She remarks that photographer Matthew Casey documented the demolition of the neighborhood apartment building that the homeless man in ―Million Dollars Views‖ actually lived in — the photo and poem seemed the perfect match, and TCE agreed. Another of their collaborations of photography and poetry was published in October 2009's issue of Pirene's Fountain. Buzz is they are planning more. Matthew Casey's website is forthcoming. Contact C. Albert: Runaway Moon & Aerial Dreams (http://www.runawaymoon.blogspot.com/) (http://www.aerialdreams.blogspot.com/) Contact Matthew (firstname.lastname@example.org)
―Barmaid‖ by K. R. Copeland, 2009
The liquid detergent chafes her skin, so her hands are scales and flakes as she grabs a pint glass, milky with foam residue, and dips it into the sudsy bar sink where the water is hotter than her skin would‘ve tolerated a year ago, but the nerves are convinced to feel less. Lady knows the three men sitting at the bar near the dishwashing tub picked that spot to watch her cleavage, which shows as she bends slightly forward to clean the glasses, and she hates them for it. Just as she hates the man who sneered and she heard: How far down do you think her tits sag if she takes off that shirt? Or a specific steel worker and his fag jokes or the broker with a new grandson who asked another barmaid: Do you masturbate often? But the money is good and Lady‘s arms are stronger from carrying cases of beer. So she grins at herself when she flexes in her bathroom mirror and a modest mound of bicep perks up. She tells herself it‘s proof that she‘s becoming tougher, more defined like a prisoner in a cell who gruels towards an extra pushup or crunch each day as the muscles twitch and strain, awaiting release.
When I say Ohio you hear boredom or too simple. Not what I hear, which is red-berry‘s juice purple on fingertips. A rooster‘s throat slit to protect the grandkids‘ heels from a pecking beak. Ohio, when I say it you say I’m sorry, smirk of a laugh as if to come from there is a misfortune. City, tell me what you know of handcut noodles, strawberries for baby food jars filled with jam. Knee high by the fourth of July means the corn will be good. You mutter cornfields like it‘s a bad word. What it really means is butter and silk and brown bags stuffed with husks. Do you know how to cure a wart? Rub it with a potato and bury the potato. Do you know the word warsh? In the southern part of the state when the flat land inflates to wooded hills that‘s what we say— I say, City, don’t be sorry I come from there and you glint back hard iron rods, spew sparks and over metallic groans I whisper: City, I think you’ve forgotten this earth.
―Cornhusk Blues‖ by E. A. Hanninen, 2009
Bridget Bell is an Ohio-born poet living in Brooklyn, New York. She holds her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and works as an editorial assistant for Four Way Books. Her work‘s been published or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Folio, Gargoyle and The Chaffey Review, among other publications.
The women from the church tour group are practicing biddydom in the upscale restaurant. Lipstick, hand lotion, and lavender sachets pour from their purses, and breath mints are passed around like communion wafers. Youth is a loss felt deep within their hearts — a knife that comes out clean and sits at table edge reflecting the impossibly dewy waitress. Their jealousy is almost palpable. They are in mourning, and maybe too unwise to know it. But they blather on and on about the imminence of death and the teachings of Jesus Christ, while complaining that the rice portions are too small, the waitress too young and naive to handle such sophisticated middle-aged women. I run from the restaurant to the parking lot, fleeing their envy and regret— a nightmare of bitter escarole soup. I watch them board the biddy bus and ride into the dying light.
―A Bitter Serving‖ by Stephanie Curtis, 2009
Donna M. Davis lives in central New York, where she operates a desktop publishing and résumé writing business. A former English teacher, she received recognition as a Special Merit finalist in the 1997 Fall Awards edition of The Comstock Review. She won several honors, including second place in Poetpourri‘s 1989 National Awards edition. Her work also appeared in The Altadena Review, Latitudes, and Our Original Sins. Over the years, she has had the great pleasure of designing books and magazines for other poets. Now she is taking the time to write more and pursue her own passion for poetry. Contact Donna (email@example.com)
for Hillary Clinton
And they went to bury her: but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands. Wherefore they came again, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel: And the carcase of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel. —2 Kings 9: 35-37
She knew she was born for this. There, at the edge of water, she emerged not asking Where is the prince? but Where is the glory in being just a woman who belongs to a man? There, at the edge of water, she emerged not asking for her sons and daughters. She found no pleasure in being just a woman who belongs to a man, so she strode to the tree and bit the pregnant apple for her sons and daughters. She found no pleasure sitting in the ivory house painting her face, so she strode to the tree and bit the pregnant apple while 99 prophets quivered in the cave, praying. Sitting in the ivory house, painting her face, she was taken and flung from the parapet of the capital while 99 prophets quivered in the cave praying for mercy. She would have none of that. She was taken and flung from the parapet of the capital, but she would not die, and she did not ask for mercy. She would have none of that, though they fed her bruised body to the dogs. But she would not die, and she did not ask, Where is the prince? but Where is the glory? Though they fed her bruised body to the dogs, she knew she was born for this. ―Water‘s Edge‖ by K. R. Copeland, 2009
Shavahn Dorris-Jefferson will obtain a master‘s in writing at DePaul University in December of 2009. She currently works as a GIS/Parcel Specialist for Will County and lives in Joliet, IL, with her husband, Alvin. Contact Shavahn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
―Passeio‖ by Helga Eibl, 2009
Tao of Reading Poetry
Book Review Column Guerillas in the Mist, and Other Poems by Michael Rhynes Patricia Roth Schwartz, editor , 2009 Olive Tree Publishing Paper/ 28 Pages $5 US and
Doing Time to Cleanse My Mind: An Anthology from the Inmates’ Poetry Workshop of Auburn Correctional Facility, Auburn, New York 2001-2009 by Patricia Roth Schwartz and John Roche, editors, 2009 FootHills Publishing Paper/ 75 Pages $16 US
~ By Karla Linn Merrifield
Socrates. Paul the Apostle. Charles of Valois, Duke of Orléans. Anna Akhmatova. Miklós Radnóti. Miguel Hernandez. Jimmy Santiago Baca. Wole Soyinka. The tradition of prison poetry is a long one, peopled with august writers dating at least as far back as 399 BCE, the year of Socrates’ death. While you might dispute that Socrates and St. Paul were poets, I find a pronounced lyricism in translations of their work, or, in the case of Socrates, in Plato's recording of his mentor's, "Apology to the Jurors," a speech given shortly before the great teacher swallowed the hemlock. Certainly Paul‘s letter to the Ephesians, penned from his stone-walled prison cell in Philippi, demonstrates a poet‘s grasp of the power of metaphor and repetition as in this King James Version of Chapter 6, verses 11-12:
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rules of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
That there is such a venerable tradition came as a surprise to me. Sure, I‘ve read
Akhmatova and Soyinka, am aware that against all odds, poetry was written in the Holocaust concentration camps. But a tradition of prison poetry? Now I know. And that tradition is alive and well in the 21st century, as a Google search for ―prison poetry‖ quickly demonstrates. And as do these 2 books: Guerillas in the Mist, and Other Poems and Doing Time to Cleanse My Mind grew out of this rich tradition. We might choose to read these books for that reason alone — to touch base with an old tradition in order to better understand how it has come to life in our modern era in which, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website, 2,310,984 prisoners were being held in federal or state prisons or in local jails as of June 30, 2009. Here‘s another reason. As editors Linne R. Mooney and Mary-Jo Arn point out in the introduction to their anthology, The Kingis Quair and Other Prison Poems (Medieval Institute Publications, 2005): ―Prison is a place, but it is also an idea, an idea that has engaged writers and thinkers from the Middle Ages right up to the present, because it offers a way of expressing the helplessness we all feel at some point in our lives when we face the troubles of this world. The idea of prison gives us a setting in which to imagine our relationship to the world when we are feeling frustrated, limited, hedged in, stymied.‖ And yet another reason: Prison poets have busted out of the confines of their cells into the wider world of the imagination. Their break-out of the mind enables us to break through the stereotypes of jailbird and hardened criminal, of the black murderer and redneck rapist. Through a killer‘s poetry we can enter the heart of a human being and see
him as an individual who feels the same emotions we do, who shares the same humanity we share, despite his crimes. But the best reason to read these books is for the poems.
This line comes from Michael Rhynes‘s introduction to his Guerrillas in the Mist, and Other Poems and tidily encapsulates the spirit of his chapbook. These are poems of resistance against his openlyadmitted urge to commit suicide, against a corrupt government, against loss of love. And his resistance becomes ours as we battle the entrenched stereotype of the inmate as portrayed in television and film. Rhynes rattles the cage of his incarceration in every page. He rattles us, his readers. Thus in the last stanza of ―Gauntlet [sic] of Shame‖ he writes: turn around bend over spread your ass so wide I can see which neighborhood you’re from
I found myself cheering this ―lifer‖ on, a man imprisoned in New York State‘s maximum security Auburn Correctional Facility since 1985 for his quadruple crimes (two counts of second-degree murder, one for second-degree assault and one for first-degree attempted robbery). He is fearless. Without flinching, he takes on environmental
degradation, for example. In ―Anarchy — Corporation Style,‖ he opens: Multi-national corporations piss toxic urine into the rivers, streams, and byways of our lives, causing fish with irradiated flesh to swim backward on the food chain, planting genetic mine fields in human kind.
And in ―Toxicology,‖ he observes: drops of dioxin slip into our media stew disfiguring our political faces.
In the same poem he also takes on the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world, identifying them for what they are: neo-conservative plastic surgeons take taxes from the backsides of the poor grafting on a pock-marked foreign policy.
Rhynes also has the courage to confront in ―School of the Americas‖ the poisonous culture that brought us ―the American SS // Wounded Knee, My Lai, slavery.‖ He would have us confront in that poem an America that ―indoctrinated and helped educate‖ what he calls ―futuristic monsters‖ — children in the mold of the young Columbine killers. We must be informed; we must be wary of where we live because: if history weren’t as twisted and bent as the liars who record it maybe our school yards wouldn’t be overflowing with the blood of the innocent.
Indeed, much of Guerrillas in the Mist is a rant — an elegant rant — not against his personal fate as an inmate but against the society that shaped him — that shapes us. Rhynes makes us ask ourselves whose side we are on. Are we going to sit back quietly and allow the ―mass delirium‖ to continue? Are we going to passively swallow what he describes in ―Little White Lies 2000-2008‖ as: Psychological anthrax, hatched in the oval office, incubated in the house, matured in the senate, packaged by the department of justice, white granules of disinformation.
Or are we going to take up the challenge — find the courage he has found — to fight back? Will we, too, learn as he has in ―Prison Rising:‖ a tranquil state of exuberance waiting for the gift of love born with each morning
The first step we can take is to read his chapbook. ―Poets were created to combat interior as well as exterior tyranny. When poets pick up the sword, they have a solemn duty to stand with and for the people, exposing follies of local and national governments along with the day-to-day tyranny one human lords over another,‖ he wrote to me in August. He‘s seen his duty. As readers, do we see ours?
In sum: For a self-taught poet who has had only a weekly workshop for a few years in which to study with his poet teacher (and editor), Rhynes is an accomplished poet. He has done hard labor to further his craft. His poems are in a very large part well-wrought. If I am to find fault with this chapbook it is in its brevity. I finished reading it and was hungry for more. I am very much looking forward to Guerillas in the Mist: The Sequel.
In the ―Foreword‖ to Doing Time to Cleanse My Mind, poet, human rights advocate, and teacher Janine Pommy Vega sets the stage well, noting, ―These are the works of writers concerned with the big questions: Who am I? What am I doing here? What is this society I am part of? What about my loved ones, how can I serve them?‖ She calls the anthology‘s poems ―miracles of consciousness.‖ Miracles of consciousness they appear to be. And they certainly provide ―a deep appreciation for how creativity nourished the human spirit in times of adversity; how transformative and healing are the powers of poetry.‖ The poems can be transformative and healing for readers, as well as for the prison poets who have found their distinctive voices in these pages. When I first opened this book with its somber cover image of a prison guard
tower at the Auburn, NY, facility, I anticipated slogging through a morass of brutality, remorse, frustration, violence. But that is not the case. My stereotypical impression of a dark world of equally dark poetic visions was cracked open — light streamed in, and in a few places, even lightheartedness. There is C.R.E.E.D.‘s (Creative Rebel Evolving Every Day) poem (many of the poets use pen names) with its imagery in ―Precious Black Youth” of ―the gem [that] shines / like the souls of Black folks / see how it radiates and captivates.‖ And the poet who goes by the name Reality writes playfully in ―Your Candy Fiend:‖
I got a sweet tooth, anything sweet I crave. Let me taste your lemon drops, lollipop, be yur love slave. You got so many flavors, my best part is in the middle, so many colors like a rainbow, my tasty Skittle, you so soft like gummy bears, taste so chewy.
Among my favorite poems is Jean Belot aka Victorious‘s ―Green Pants,‖ a jazzy, insouciant riff of an ars poetica, in which the poet finds poetry in his green prison pants and celebrates a lush palette of greens:
A sensuous steamy green. A plush green more plump than an erection. The color of leaves that are rich under the canopy of a tropical jungle shading them. A thick green drape; like smooth itchy and heavy linen, warm as a blanket. A cloth sheaf.
The anthology is leavened by some sobering moments when life behind bars comes to the fore with force. Nathan Wheelings‘s ―Incarnadine Red” takes you inside the ―Maximum. Maximize. Maxi. Medium‖ world of a prison. Perhaps more frightening is why he thinks so many men end up where he is:
Stock Photo by D. J. Bryant, 2009
That’s it: A leafy cloth. A sheaf of green draping the dark forest of my loins I washed my pants today. I washed my green pants today. I washed them clean by hand.
me with a villanelle — John Belot aka Victorious‘s ―Shady.‖ And in another with the vernacular of the ‘hood that Jham employs in his tribute poem, ―Aye Yo, Langston:‖
Aye yo, Langston, Langston Hughes, yeah you let me holla at you plays who you think you is who are you to make me thinks who are you to question me On the streets we roam, some in packs, which in turn make me question me… others alone. Hard rocks, minorities with a grill of ice so you think you the man huh in our stare and not a teardrop of fear in our cold hearts. yeah you do, stop frontin’ Some even crave to see the inside of the penitentiary.
And certainly Stephen J. Matthews gets at the emotional truth of incarceration in his ―Anthem:‖ There are soundless sufferings stamped out by maniacal stars and covered up with fanatical stripes. Those who dare whisper of outside agonies are held in enmity, because, in the dark, we spin fiction into facts.
These poets take their risks with poetic form and style, in one case delighting
It‘s too bad that Doing Time suffers from what I think of as ―the anthology curse.‖ Yes, we are treated to a variety of voices and styles. But the quality of writing varies too greatly. Juxtaposed against a poet of Michael Rhynes‘ accomplishment (there are two poems of his here) are several poets who have only begun to understand their craft. The reader may wince a time or three, but needs to keep in mind the editors‘ aim to be inclusive. Struggling neophytes have been honored and encouraged by being published in this collection. And I can find no fault in that noble objective even as I grimace at lines such as those in Erick Smith‘s poem, ―Recent Thoughts,‖ with its forced rhymes and tired metaphor:
even I see the blackness of my eyes, as dark as coal and sometimes my life I despise.
There are instances, too, when I wish the editors had exerted stronger control of the editorial process. In addition to niggling typographical errors (e.g., ―Forward‖ instead of ―Foreword‖), the read stumbled in a poem such as My Hood, where inconsistent punctuation usage could have been easily amended to better serve the poem. (Editor Patricia Roth Schwartz assures me that corrections are being made in preparation of the 2nd edition of the book.)
But a missing period here and a clunky rhyme there do not ultimately mar the overall pleasures of this unique text. What strikes me as far more important than craft is the emotional truths of these poems. These are voices we need to hear. If only to shatter the stereotype, if only to extend empathy, if only to listen to what it‘s like to live ―inside,‖ in the words of Auburn prison poet Clifton K. Williamson: I’m worthless without purpose, an axiom of existence created inside the void with sincere persistence…. Loneliness is my company. ~KLM
Editor Patricia Roth Schwartz is a poet, fiction writer, and playwright whose work has been widely published in literary journals and in three collections: Hungers (Blue Spruce, 1972), Planting Bulbs in a Time of War, and Other Poems (FootHills Publishing, 2005) and Down the Middle with a Nickel: A Memoir of a West Virginia Childhood in Poems (FootHills 2007). She has served as a volunteer facilitating the poetry workshop in the Auburn, NY, Auburn Correctional Facility since 2001.
Editor John Roche is an associate professor of English at Rochester Institute of Texhnology, where he advises the award-winning, literary magazine, Signatures. He holds a PhD from SUNY Buffalo and has two full-length poetry collections to his credit, On Conesus (2005) and Topicalities (2008), both from FootHills. He serves on the board of BOA Editions, Inc., a leading non-profit poetry press. Both books are available directly from Pat Schwartz at email@example.com; a reduced rate is available if you buy both. You can also order Doing Time directly from FootHills Publishing. The editors of Doing Time are donating their profits from book sales to the Raven‘s Wing Fund, which provides free copies to the poets‘ families and friends and to present and future members of the Inmates‘ Poetry Workshop at Auburn Correctional Facility, as well as helping to make possible future publishing projects.
―Guard Tower, Auburn, NY.‖ by E. A. Hanninen, 2009 2009 Everglades National Park Artist-in-Residence Karla Linn Merrifield has had poetry appear in publications such as CALYX, Earth’s Daughters, Poetica, The Kerf, Negative Capability, Paper Street and Blueline (print zines), and in The Centrifugal Eye, Terrain.org, Elsewhere: A Journal of the Literature of Place, and Elegant Thorn Review (online zines), as well as in many anthologies. In 2006, she edited THE DIRE ELEGIES: 59 Poets on Endangered Species of North America, from FootHills Publishing; in 2007, FootHills issued her Godwit: Poems of Canada, and issued The Etowah River Psalms in September, 2009. She is also author of Dawn of Migration and Other Audubon Dreams (2007, RochesterInk Publications). Karla received the 2009 Andrew Eiseman Writers Award for poetry from the University of Rochester. Contact Karla (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Readers of TCE’s print version may visit online for references included in this article: http://www.foothillspublishing.com/2009/id53.htm
Column Editor’s Note: What’s your story behind a poetry book that you’ve read and desire others to read? What path led you to that book? Tell me. Just complete our online Reader Survey (http://home.earthlink.net/~tinyviolet/thecentrifugaleyepoetryjournal/id366.html)
From your stories I’ll select the books and I’ll review them for The Centrifugal Eye for all our readers in future issues. Give me something new to rave about!
Infinity Blues By Ryan Adams, 2009 Akashic Books New York, NY 286 pgs / $15.95 US
By Danielle Blasko
o cope with the emo-esqueness of singer-songwriter Ryan Adams’ first book of poetry, Infinity Blues, one might equip oneself with, to borrow a few lines from one of his poems,
Stock Photo by D. J. Bryant, 2009
a bottle of seltzer some cotton swabs a cutting razor band-aids [and] a piece of flesh-colored tape [to] cut cut cut (―Spit Hits My Face,‖ 174)
Infinity Blues lacks one thing that it also begs to evoke: at first glance, there is no trace of the blues as a poetic or musical form. This is not to say the speaker in these poems, or the author who gave up drugs and alcohol in 2006, doesn‘t have an appreciation for or hasn‘t lived the blues, only that this collection is adrift in melodramatic tales of depression and heartache caused by substance abuse, or the lack thereof, marked by moments of desperation and seeming insanity. While these out-of-touch moments may seem typical of a substance abuser
trying to get clean, Adams breaks the mold in his willingness to share the rock-bottom experience with any reader who is willing to come along. it’s too late to beg she is not coming back again and she was everything everything i ever saw, too perfect for words i prepare a knife and barricade the door (―SOS Searchlights,‖ 34)
I throw a pillow across the room and fucking scream this is destroying me not him but to her somewhere as if in a dream sign the receipt go home it’s 4 (―You Will Not Miss Me When I Am Gone,‖ 48)
Adams described the period leading up to his own sobriety: ―There was intense loneliness, end-of-the-world stuff going on in my mind, bottomless depression‖ (―The New York Times‖). Perhaps a more appropriate title for the poetry collection might have been Sobriety Blues. However, the speaker is not your stereotypical ―recovered‖ addict who puts on airs about his struggle for sobriety; instead the reader is brought along for every mile of the ride, no matter how long, or smooth, or bumpy that ride may be. i am sorry but i don’t feel so good and i don’t care anymore who loses because we all know when a man is left to his own soul it is never a matter of if but when
Have you ever known a grief so strange it broke you into pieces of flames and hard-boiled eggs insane roaming table to table in a lurch with a hump weighed soundly on your back too many thoughts to carry that weight? have you? dip-shits fuck-face… huh? (―Wow, I’m Insane,‖ 91)
His breaking away from the stereotypical will not surprise any loyal Adams music fan, either in the unique voice of the speaker or the form of the poems that break from what is traditionally referred to as the blues. In fact, fans can attest to the fact that Adams is nearly always expected to do the unexpected. Though he has been classified as an indie-rocker, he is better known within the alt-country movement, a genre spawned from indie-rock. Like many indie artists, Adams has used the Internet to promote his music, but unlike many other musicians, he has released dozens of free songs through his Web site; and even though the record industry only expects artists to put out an album every couple years, Adams has put out an album every year at a minimum since the release of Heartbreaker in 2000, really pushing the envelope when he cranked out three in 2005 alone.
(―Return to Santa,‖ 103-104)
Music critics have harshly criticized Ryan Adams in the past for the overwhelming amount of music that he has written and performed. It is also
apparent that quantity is valued over quality in his first book of poetry, composed of 100-plus poems spanning 286 pages, which could have benefited from some serious cutting (no pun intended). He even makes light of his tendency to rebel against revision in the poem ―I Refuse:‖ I refuse to edit* I am but a single life I refuse to edit look away if you choose *Editor’s note: This poem was originally 32 pages long. —JT (115)
The speaker, who is Adams‘ best critic, anticipates the reviewer‘s critique of his long-windedness and he has an answer for that:
When you say a thing that I write too much I dream myself a thousand-plus more books I wrote myself and imagine them in a swinging stack fainting and collapsing onto you as they crush your bones in the name of art in the name of american idealism in the name of the future because fuck you and your sleeping wordless criticism (―Joy,‖ 247)
as “like a werewolf” (198), “A Book of Spells” (217), and “Cinderella” (222), which are all included in Chapter 11, might have been more thoughtfully placed in Lower-Class Mythology; whereas poems like “At a Distance” (127) and “Writing, Dying, for the Trying” (108) that make clear mention of the future might fit more appropriately in the final chapter, Tomorrow Happens. When I read the following lines from the poem “Blue Wars,‖ 38 pages in, I said aloud Yes! I agree. It was the first moment the text resonated with me and I realized that the speaker (Adams‘ own worst critic) and I were performing the same task and shared a similar opinion: but idiots with guitars are strumming I am one of them and I am awful (―Blue Wars,‖ 38)
While Infinity Blues does seem to neglect the blues altogether, upon a second reading it is clear that there are actually some minimal traces of the classic, blues-lyric stanza or sections resembling the blues stanza, scattered throughout the book: I take my pills for days I take my pills for days I was a nightmare dreams could never save (―For My Father, the Drunk,‖ 28)
Infinity Blues is divided into five chapters: Bad Ideas, Lower-Class Mythology, Infinity Blues, Chapter 11, and Tomorrow Happens. What is strange about the organization of the book is that many of the poems do not necessaryily seem to correspond to their chapter. For instance, poems with titles such
“i am so weak” “i am so weak” like a record player floating in space forever on repeat (―Closed,‖ 138)
and it demands demands further i go obeying its commands (―Terrible,‖ 141)
Bells bells bells i hear bells i turn off her lamp i turn on her lamp still not enough light she is not coming back i did this to myself i call i write she says all i want to do is fight i am alone now (―Low Gong Goes the Clouds,‖ 93)
i have a face burnt in my eyes i have a hand burnt into my hand i have a heart or what is left of one a rolling desert fucked with white sand
and the scary part is really the packing and getting ready to go because once you are done and the sheets are soaked and the mouth is shut and you are there with your bags in hand and a motion is about to set in, you are in charge of your body and your things and you know willing that is where the next step begins (―Dreamlines for Critics,‖ 76-77)
Adams‘ honesty even extends into the depths of his past: in the following two poems, the reader is allowed a fleeting glimpse into honestly fearful, childhood memories.
(―Almost Out,‖ 185)
Adams‘ most admirable quality, honesty, comes through full force in the voice of the speaker of Infinity Blues. In the poems, ―OK?‖ and ―Dreamlines for Critics,‖ the speaker shares his fears with the reader: I keep the language simple I tell myself, “it is to be more like e. e. cummings” but it is because I am afraid I will misspell and that is why I have no unfinished work (―OK?‖ 241)
I will never rest she turned me into a shark maybe from the poison and roaches that crawled over my brother’s face in housing unfit for children where someone got raped raped and beaten black and so blue (―For My Father, the Drunk,‖ 28)
one more swallow of beach-water something to remind me of mother drowning me or my brother in dirty bathwater (―Million-Year Fuck-Face Convention,‖ 32)
It is moments like these that made it hard for me to totally dismiss his work when at first I wanted desperately for
―Fleshtone Wounds‖ by E. A. Hanninen, 2009
the book itself to be a ―piece of fleshcolored tape.‖ Another positive aspect of Adams‘ poems in Infinity Blues is the conversational tone he takes with the reader. Although the reader is only directly addressed intermittently, the tone really helps one to understand authorial intent: Adams attempts to truly bridge the gap between audience and speaker by engaging and welcoming the reader into all the chaos of his version of the blues. when the belly laughs when the head hurts when the bed groans when the mind goes i will still be sitting here, with you, or not, buried inside this, almost alive, talking to no one writing dying for the trying to get right (―Writing, Dying, for the Trying,‖ 108)
at a distance from myself from you from everyone safe enough that you might never get through i know that i do not know and that neither do you not your gods nor your books not your analyst not your family of crooks (―At a Distance, 127")
Danielle Blasko is a Detroit native, currently enjoying a freelance-writing life on an east coast beach. She is a low-residency MFA student at the University of New Orleans. Her poetry has appeared in AIM Magazine and Qarrtsiluni, and presently, she writes a monthly fashion blog for Eidia Lush. Contact Danielle (email@example.com)
Really I am very very stoned And it is mid-afternoon And I am talking to you And I don’t know Who Or Where you are This Is Poetry (―Poetry Is a Zombie,‖ 221)
I knew even before reading Infinity Blues that it would probably not be the last book we would see from Ryan Adams because, according to his book biography, he ―has always been a poet and fiction writer at heart.‖ It is now clear that Adams‘ name will not be going away anytime soon: the author already has his second book, a collection of poems and short stories, forthcoming in February 2010, not even a year after his obscenely-verbose first book was released. Adams worked with John Silva, a veteran manager in the music world, on his latest album, Easy Tiger (Lost Highway), from whom he said he ―got good advice on what tunes seemed to be working, and how to pace myself. . . . He led me to view that process as a type of discipline‖ (The New York Times). I will keep my fingers crossed that Adams can translate what he learned from Silva into his poetry as well, even though he may wish a thousand-plus books of his own to collapse onto me for saying so. I truly hope he has considered the length and organization of his newest writing endeavor, and that he has chosen to embrace instead of to refuse editing.
Next issue: Winter, February 2010 Troblems & Prubbles: All Mixed Up Confusion, Errors, Accidents, Switch-ups and Trades Feature Folio: Misheard Poems
Submissions, Archives & Anthologies
ubs If you are a poet, essayist or artist, and feel that your work is a match for us, please visit The Centrifugal Eyeâ€™s submission guidelines on our website. (http://centrifugaleye.com/)
rchives Back and Special Issues are still being stored at our TCE Archives sites for an indefinite period. Please be sure to visit the sites for 3 years worth of great reading. Centrifuge: Special Project Archives (http://home.earthlink.net/~centrifuge/)
The Centrifugal Eye Archives (http://home.earthlink.net/~centrifugaleye/index.html)
ontributor Anthologies, recent
Cinquainicity: A Series of Linked Cinquains in Honor of Adelaide Crapsey, editor Donna M. Marbach Includes work by TCE contributors, Tom Holmes, M.J. Iuppa, Donna Marbach, Wanda Schubmehl, & Karla Linn Merrifield. Palettes & Quills, 2009. (http://www.palettesnquills.com/)
2010 Publishing Calendar
Volume V, Issue I.
Winter, February 2010—
Troblems & Prubbles:
All Mixed Up Confusion, Errors, Accidents, Switch-ups and Trades Feature Folio: Misheard Poems
Volume V, Issue II.
Spring, May 2010—
EcoSolutions Urban & Rural Renewal, Revision, Recycling
Volume V, Issue III.
Summer, August 2010—
Tailor-Made Custom vs. Commercial Craft, Needlework, Collage
Volume V, Issue IV.
Autumn, November 2010—
12 Months of Poetry
A Calender-Style Tribute Saluting 5 Years of The Centrifugal Eye's Support of Contemporary Poets.
Would you like to see your art- writing- or publishingrelated ad here in The Centrifugal Eye? Please query TCE’s editor about rates and ad sizes available for upcoming issues. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PoetrySpeaks.com PS●Voices SpokenWord YourMic For Poets & Poetry Lovers
Casual discussions about poetry for the working poet & student alike. Write & hone your craft in a casual online community setting. Receive valuable feedback from peers.
Writer’s Block? Deadline stresses? Career questions? Needing rejuvenation and renewal? Visit Divine Medium Online for your reading today. Blessings, messages, illuminations and oracles offered to help clear your pathway and increase your creative flow. Most questions answered within 48 hours. (http://www.divinemediumonline.com/)
―Moon Meditation‖ by Helga Eibl, 2009