Stoked: Vol. III

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In Norway a child is holding a cloud. Elephants are big and sometimes small.



Everything would be different without water. Thank you water cycle. Thank you dynamic natural systems. We are friends. Under the snow there is a green door. You have three hearts. One looks like a tree. One looks like a cage full of water. The other one looks like an elephant. And it is very big. And it is in Norway. Speaking Norwegian. Behind a door. In the forest. Alone.


A BASIC GUIDE TO HISTORY The people put everything they had into the machine patio furniture bleach symphonies the people needed a story that’s why they built the machine the machine ate the blessings of the people and infected them and divided them into quadrants one quadrant was called The Island of Vague Agendas another was called The Bureau of Choreographed Screaming and another was called The Central Intelligence Agency the people did not understand how the machine distinguished between blessings or how it generated quadrants but it appeared logical and moral and such appearances were important to the people some people opposed the story generated by the machine but the discourse of the machine made the people numb and at night their fingerprints would burn and itch and so they ceased speaking of the machine on and on it went the people feeding the machine magnolia trees and foreclosed houses and the proletariat and the machine dragging the torso of experience through its thresher infecting it manipulating it into quadrants deleting as it wished once some people filmed the machine and when they watched the tape they saw that the machine was transparent that they could see inside of it and this made the machine obsolete the machine was not real the people were real the people with the symphonies and patio furniture people began looking in the mirror and seeing themselves people drank water out of drinking fountains and felt it inside their throats people hung signs that said we are governed by nothing we are governed by nothing but light


It is still impossible. How the horse never arrives. The way the kiss stays locked in the machine. Yet here we are, still swallowing the furnace, still accepting the dosage and saying it’s serious. Serious what? Serious rabbit tied to a lamppost? Serious harmonious mass? What do you want? Want a tomb? A tongue? A fishbone in your cultivated lung? Say something broken. Take the murmur and make it yours. Be rabble. Be flock. Be sun-drenched and fluid in the architecture of trees. There is no late fee. No tidy wailing. Mobilize your fracture and find camaraderie in contradiction. The authentic gesture escapes us. Little amalgam. Little fuse in the think tank. Whilst roses! Torchèd syllables! What happens is a growth in the filament. An ancient hunk of rain. What happens is you die and become a cloud. What happens is you die and you are dead. Your body takes the shape of a choir and flowers photosynthesize your syntax. In your home the telephone throws itself against the wall asking to be answered but your body is not there to pick up. Some sound leaks out of the receiver: I remember what I wanted. To be more than meat, it says. To be a mouth.





The faucet was running away from us into the woods. We followed the faucet into the woods where I nestled into a bird nest and nibbled on tiny pieces of bright glass and thought about the faucet. The faucet was in love with me in my dreams and we rode green horses through fields of heather. Because you were not in the nest you forgot about the faucet and for a long time you were an antler that was eaten by little mammals that lived mostly under the leaves. When I died I fell out of the nest and your ghost put me under the faucet. Being not alive under the faucet was unbearable so I woke up and learned how to speak French. When your ghost turned on the faucet I stared at the faucet thinking robinet robinet robinet robinet which is what they call a faucet in a place called France.

Nick Sturm is a graduate student in the NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts. Poems are forthcoming in Aesthetix, Catch Up,Forklift, Ohio, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, Red Lightbulbs, Secret Journal, and TYPO. In addition to contributing to the collaborative book-review blog READ THIS AWESOME BOOK, he is also associate editor of YesYes Books and curator of THE BIG BIG MESS READING SERIES.



RYAN W. BRADLEY trees are the first to feel the rain like skeleton keys plinking through leaves are chimes, signaling you coming home dripping ghosts, drenched to the bone and ready to be warmed, ready to be awakened.




About the Dead Man and the Old Man

The dead man disowns his body. He looks in the mirror and thinks he must be looking at someone else. The dead man wonders if he and the old man are one and the same. The dead man hopes not. The dead man hopes that age is only a figment of society’s morbid imagination. He is petrified that he will wake up one day with hair as ashen as his skin. That when he finds he is one foot in the grave, it will be too late. II.

More about the Dead Man and the Old Man

The dead man is poetry and the old man is me. The dead man is so surprised at this revelation that he has a heart attack. Then again, the dead man is also me. But poetry is someone else, always. Poetry wears age like a beard, so you know it’s got something to hide. The dead man has had nothing to believe in for years but words. When it is the dead man’s birthday he accepts his age into his lungs and does not exhale. He wraps himself in words and tries to keep digging.


Ryan W. Bradley has fronted a punk band, done construction in the Arctic Circle, and managed an independent children’s bookstore. He is the author of three chapbooks, AQUARIUM (Thunderclap Press, 2010), MILE ZERO (Maverick Duck Press, 2011), and LOVE & ROD MCKUEN (Mondo Bummer, 2011), and a story collection, PRIZE WINNERS (Artistically Declined Press, 2011). His novel, CODE FOR FAILURE is due from Black Coffee Press in 2012. He received his MFA from Pacific University and lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.


VELVEETA THUDS OFF THE ROOF SEAN LOVELACE In the dark. It shimmers in its wobble. Nothing between but the cooling itch of shingle. It admires any angle or gravity suck. To embrace sway. It wants to push against itself—much like we. (Yesterday, sober, I dropped a wine glass of Cheetos and laughed at my own sudden blood. Under sink/in trunk of car/beneath futon—I keep no hand towels.) On the back of its neck, thoughts gleam. It boasts its mind is a butterfly ashtray. As for doubt or nocturnal chills of the head, it claims to know very little. Yet it corrects me: shooting stars are not stars, you ask for shotgun slugs never bullets, to fall over is indeed a form of exercise. Oh, the type to wear an orange shirt. To perch above my Sunday sweating back and say cryptic, unhelpful words, like “If you are really going to dig that hole, dig two.” Or maybe: “Look at you, whipjack! Gargling coins again.” Packages arrive. Days of fingernail tapping rain. It sees me on my knees, vomiting in the tall, wet grass and says, “You are an empty tomato shack.” I think its mind is an ashtray full of butterflies. (Ah, so drunk now. Just to carry my head like a goddamn fiddler. A marble spinning round the rim of shattered glass, waxy hot pepper bits, dulled knives, charred documents—I mean to say the kitchen sink. What is a tomato shack?) A meteor claws the fleshy sky. In the dark. Velveeta thuds off the roof.




THE VELVEEETA LIVES In a music-box of crooked smiles. In the crumbly eyes of the toasted cheese Virgin Mary (EBay: $28,000). Spat or spot or shat, The Velveeta is composed of lava lamp, the shape that is light, the slip of pink, the blob, I mean to say emotions. (Strenuous, our lives. If we could only find our…) The Velveeta is a curb feeler, a throbbing kiss, a scratch or pick, a time Mom screeched at Dad, ripped at his thin, shimmery self-esteem/the steering wheel—crash! (Recoil funky: fashion of facial scars.) But what about the child and the bicycle? What bicycle? And Mom liked to doodle palm trees onto bible pages and to name herself guest host [exquisite oxymoron] and would faint in crowds, so lay off Mom. Dad is in the basement with the basement. An alternative to hugs— why not try squeezing marshmallows? (Oh, we are funny, but not ha-ha funny.) The Velveeta lives in cellphones. Also in muck. Ok, a playful straddle of cellphones and muck. It makes its presence in the moments of those wading upstream, pushing their wrapped brown bundles: pelvic butter and jars of humiliation; bouncy checks and whiplash; flickering lights, fumble fingers, mouths like staple-guns. We awake in the stomach of the night. The Velveeta is our recurring dream. [I may or may not purchase my first bed. I’m sleeping on it…] Huge! Illuminated! Glistening! We keep casting silver dollars into our wells, while muttering, “I wish I had more money.”

Sean Lovelace enjoys nachos.



BRETT ELIZABETH JENKINS This poem previously appeared as a dream in which we pulled fish after fish up into our tip-tottering boat, nothing but the small light of the moon hovering over our scaled boat bottom. The fish practically jumped up into our hands; we couldn’t pull them up fast enough. Thank you for turning to me in the dream and making a joke about how many fish there were. I don’t remember the joke now, but the punchline made us laugh and laugh, oh, how true it was. When we finally got to shore, the sun and moon were nearly there together, our little boat sagging with trout, the wet wood smell after a good catch, the sand receiving us in prayer, and us drenched and still imagining the music of your laugh pulling the fish up into the air like sea magic, how true the punchline still is, though now I forget it.




What have I known? The unbearable heat of the small August apartment, the time between when the milk is good and when it is sour. I knew a boy who strung himself up in a tree with his dog’s leash. A man wildly eats sand in the parking lot, sweeping whole handfuls into his mouth, and we watch him. I too have seen these things, and the time for exhortation is now. The birds continue to sun themselves in puddles after storms. A small family gathers in a grey room for rice. Somewhere in Missouri, a boy writes a letter to his dying grandfather, and a joy wheels inexorably from my chest like a line of music swinging up over the night of the city, being pulled furiously up to the moon, linking me with the stars that beat on ceaselessly over us all.


Brett Elizabeth Jenkins currently lives and writes in Albert Lea, MN with her husband and no children. She is the poetry editor of Stymie and blogs for Specter Lit Mag. Look for her poems in Beloit Poetry Journal, Potomac Review, elimae, PANK, Neon, and elsewhere.



ROB MACDONALD I got kicked out for singing for not singing for throwing a metronome for not wearing a tie for forgetting the words for changing the words to be more hilarious for preparing the piano according to a score of the great John Cage So when they sang I watched from outside in the snow I sang silently alone on key I made an O with my mouth and fogged up the whole window


I felt like I’d swallowed an instrument something like a tuba but less obese something like a bassoon with less maple flavor

Inside was coffee and someone patted someone else on the back and I was still outside knowing that this meant something knowing that I might remember the melody for far longer than intended There was mud on my Keds From the palm of each hand a fruit bat was shrieking or speaking or singing or I’m remembering things that are only feelings because sometimes that happens

I’m leaving out the part where the girl I love was singing her solo without any clothes I’m leaving out the part where she was singing to me through the window throwing little notes of oxygen into my open mouth Learning is like a foggy memory and a song and a window and I am an instrument and I am learning every day I am learning about what is real and what is real


ATTACK DECAY SUSTAIN RELEASE My grasp of sharks is sharky, just like the part of the poem when the syntax gets tangled and whatever miraculous fish is thrashing at the end of the line finally frees itself, hears sunlight through a mile of ocean and, without understanding at all, recalls a life in a lucid sky.


Rob MacDonald lives in Boston and is the editor of the online journal Sixth Finch. His poems have appeared in Octopus, H_NGM_N, The Lumberyard, Everyday Genius and other journals. Last New Death, a chapbook, is available from Scantily Clad Press.




1. We were all of us drowning. It was an alchemy of sorrows, there in the room noticed. And then the darkness. An entire civilization of black. Less than two silence in a world clotted by noise. And then there was love. The things a pe underwater. A fragile seahorse of a life. A cul-de-sac in history, and we each much too late.

3. The rain continues, and then it continues. Once-brittle branches in the fores descends, demanding attention like a toothache. It might be this way foreve with what’s happening now, or what’s about to happen next. We are all of us being lost in another country, when it gets scary and you realize just how sm

4. The boy waited and waited, and then waited some more for a nervous, unce birthday pony or the slow undoing of a motionless disease.

5. After much consideration, a helicopter freezes into infinitely more manageab overhead. They’ve not yet finished breakfast and this majestic interruption ta everything.

21 23

Matty Byloos’s first collection of short stories, Don’t Smell the Floss, was publis We Who Are About to Die, The Nervous Breakdown, The Fanzine, Orion Maga The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Bomb blog’s Word Choice, among others. He Seitzinger) the Smalldoggies Reading Series in Portland, OR, where he is work



m among all of our neighbors. Half of us were screaming; the other half barely o reasons to exist anymore. Static everywhere. One forgets the value of erson contemplates when the end approaches. We were drowning in it. A time h look over at the person sitting next to us. Love, possibly. But, then again,

st shake off their dryness, crackling-brushfires-in-waiting no longer. A dampness er. Four newspapers the next morning agree. Preconditions have nothing to do s, merely divided into smaller groups, and yet we’re still afraid. The feeling of mall the world is. It’s not possible for a fish to drown until it gets too much air.

ertain thing that would most likely never come to pass, not unlike a prancing

ble proportions and suddenly becomes an eagle, barely moving in the sky ags some remotely buried sensation of wonderment and continuity with

shed in 2009 by Write Bloody Books. His work has been published or is forthcoming in: azine, Pop Serial, Sparkle and Blink, The Portland Review, Everyday Genius, Housefire, e is the editor and publisher of Smalldoggies Magazine, and co-hosts (along with Carrie king on his first novel, to be published in early 2012 by Housefire Publishing.



You have to ask Orvil. He doesn’t talk down to people. He will witch it for you.

You’d need a cheese thermometer for the research. The conditions of water are

In order for a doppelganger to occult an investigator

a form of searching that weighs about 120 constipated.

winds spread fire centered around a crippled telepath.

I’d rub some lotion on Orvil. That will just about do it right there.

The emergency phones are marked by a blue light. A distant neighbor (remember) ordered a militia to stop the world from changing and the payoff, the “reward” for all this effort is access to water. A tongue goes into a finger to save people. His imagination is a metaphor for fishing.


Thirst isn’t my variation on Romeo & Juliet. You start a church because you want to lead it.

Scott Abels currently lives and teaches in Honolulu, where he edits the online journal of poetry Country Music. His work can be found in print and online with RealPoetik, Juked, Lungfull!, Sink Review, DIAGRAM, Sixth Finch, LEVELER, Best New Poets, H_NGM_N, and many others. Rambo Goes to Idaho, his first book of poems, is now available with BlazeVOX [books].




Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, Dreaming in Red, from Right Hand Pointing.

No new beginning, no clean ending, I just drag myself along, a sad raincoat missing most of its buttons, my cathedral miles away and the workers still fixing the roof.

Based in part on the letters of Joan Mitchell as quoted in Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter by Patricia Albers (Knopf, 2011).



where are teddy bear and i? duh! in pear, where hushie-shushie is everywhere. hear moocows? we do. mummy fingers her hair inside. outside? snowy. goldie, you’re near niceness. blondi steals covers, stocking, shirts. what will pears wear? who cares. mummy shovels? uh-uh – it hurts: the neighbor must. stupe jerks! tell them ’bout wrapped lollies filled with bubble gum: chew, pop, yum! pear, now you must be germmany’s shadowy. hit all holler-slots hard, harder, hard: their skinny must be burned. goldie shoes, seek your hot abc blocks: they’re wooden wonderfulness and quite trim. if santa doesn’t gift g.s. – pinch him.


FIRE PITS [ELIZABETHAN SONNET] yell-stars fingernails scratch gasi ceiling. mummy can’t minivan to cookie smeared in pinky ice -- she cut self: needs healing. so she scoops kiwi and walks really weird. make your bed, holler-slots, we would if we were you. blondi will beat you 20 times the length of telly show ’bout gleeful glee if you forget. yep their methods are fine. all girls get leadership to fire pits, ’cept pole-lick ones who breathy for blondi. worse than round crackers that aren’t rah-rah ritz, girls’ tummies can’t store snack bites (salami). soupy! it lets holler-slots weewee lots. it’s not naughty, it’s not naughty, it’s not.


PEE-YOU PEEPS [ELIZABETHAN SONNET] twist-and-shout on table, miss reich-rule, your sleeves are whiter than vanilla ice cream. as for teddy, i – it’s bleak: we must mourn sick-tire minivan that’s stuck in street. but you can’t be beat with fur coat, bling-bling. we’re with mummy… thump! she slaps the steer wheel. well… humph! guess we’ll triple-a, wait room, drink tons of water, and give up happy meal. ’scuse you? no toy? no fry? miss reich-rule, how can you have hope in a holler-slot state? these pee-you peeps -- they caca like moocows! ooh, tow-truck man comes: he makes mummy safe. soon… so soon… minivan’ll be so better. keep on with no reich-rule? no! not ever.


Seth Oelbaum is a poetry MFA student at the University of Notre Dame where he publishes the literature fashion zine Karlie Kloss. His other publication credits include Shampoo and Columbia Poetry Review. His novel, Scream Is Real, is presently being shown to publishers by his literary agent Chris Kepner of Victoria Sanders & Associates.


BED AS BATHTUB Look up passion in the dictionary: blank pages the color of K’s hips spread out across jersey sheets. The sheets make us sweaty so the sweat from her hips runs south and east and north but never west. West is where my mouth starts but my mouth never stops so sometimes I get confused where it started. My mouth gets so wide broken sails fall from my receding gums. A cannon where my molars used to be. Oars, I am always coughing oars. It takes 18 minutes for the Lusitania to haunt my liver spots. My heart is a choking hazard. Late at night K tells me she knows how lucky we are to escape the pirates. They only have one good eye so we hide just slightly to the right. I never forget to take my one and a half pills every night before bed. Living safely is never crossing an intersection at dusk.


Gregory Sherl is the author of The Oregon Trail Is the Oregon Trail (Mud Luscious Press, 2012) and Last Night Was Worth Talking About(NAP, 2012). These pieces are part of his collection Monogamy Songs, which will be released by Future Tense Books in the summer of 2012.



MODERNS You know everyone is dead when a plane crashes and the reporter goes Everyone is dead. A half torched teddy bear, scraps of what looks like a propeller, some trees still defiantly stretching upwards. There is nothing healthy about my heart. My heart is a scratched record, a demo nobody wants to hear but I send it to Saddle Creek anyway. I’m like I made this on my computer. This is bedroom pop. My song goes It wasn’t as white as I thought it’d be. What I mean is six years ago I woke up in a hospital room with charcoal on my gown, Gilmore Girls on the television, a nurse giving my right arm a sponge bath. After, they wheeled me to the psych ward, which was at the other end of the hospital. They put me in straitjacket. I held myself because I had no choice. My mother cried. I told her to take a picture of me. For my Facebook. A sign on the nurse’s lips: No Shoelaces, No Wires. The showerheads point straight down. Strangulation is bad or something. Doctor’s hypothesis. Then a bunch of people sitting around, going What’s next? I was like Was hoping you’d tell me. Most days I could put a gun in my mouth but I’d worry about the germs—where’d the gun come from, what touched it last? Doing and feeling are different things. Modern poems grow like Chia Pets. A song on my iTunes is going I don’t go for that spooky stuff. It’s almost Halloween so I think I know what he means. Modern poems grow with prescription pills. Modern Valium goes down my mid-twenties throat and then I’m not reading shit. Adam texts Would it be creepy if I kept your voice on the live track for “Let Me Down”? He says I’d be like a ghost. This is a sing-along poem. K has baby-giving hips. I know because I am always grabbing them and they are always giving. Modern poems are sold in costume stores. They’re on the clearance rack by early November. K says I want to buy you a ring that makes your hand look like ice cream. Sometimes I feel like I should be celebrated for staying alive this long. Modern poems give me stomachaches. It’s always Thursday right before Friday. Modern poems are boring as shit.



WHAT ARE YOU STOKED ABOUT? Adam Robison and Other Poems by Adam Robinson: A Review By Ryan Rader The charmingly titled “Adam Robison and Other Poems” by Adam Robinson is an exercise of voice control. Much in the way an jazz pianist lingers over a note before climbing to the next one, Robinson glides through an emotionally diverse scale of free-form poems. Familiar names and unfamiliar faces ring through the poems, as the clash between poems entitled “Joe Louis” and “Adam Robison” comments on identity - how we absorb parts of larger-than-life personalities and pray that we recognize who we are after we’re done. A reference-laden introduction and section headings that quote the likes of Gertrude Stein and Cormac McCarthy warn the reader that this collection is less of a narrative thread and more of chilly narrative pool. Robinson draws deep from this well, capable of faux-braggadocio in one poem – the fist-pumping self-portrait-to-the-max “Adam Robinson –while displaying in the next personal moments of inadequacy and confusion. For example, “Glenn Tipton”, one of many poems devoted to a name likely unheard by most ears (including the ears of poets), sticks to a specific moment of the narrator’s childhood before ending with the ominous line “I feel like I wasn’t raised to appreciate other perspectives.” Sure, through the rest of this smorgasbord of poetic experimentation we believe that Robinson is capable of empathy, but his willingness to let that sentence hang desperately shows signs of honest humanity. The opening poem “Everything is Different” is reminiscent of the more appealing aspects of our race – it’s playful, yet demanding, and possesses a certain kind of nebbish wisdom, as if Woody Allen had spent more time reading Kierkegaard. The withdrawn sexuality brewing behind this poem bubbles throughout other pieces in the collection. “Helene Cixous is petite/Her body writes in precise diacritical marks/Her body is telling me oui” – this is the first time I’ve ever been French-kissed by a poem!


And lord, I hope it’s not the last. I could quote more lines, I could drop more names, I could do any of the things that Robinson does more interestingly than I do, but I’d rather let the meta-ness of his poems do exactly what they intend to do: Speak for themselves.

Ryan Rader hates camping.


Nate Pritts Interviewed by Joshua Helms Tell us about your Sky Poems. When/how/why did you start writing them? What were you thinking about? Were you reading/watching/listening to anything in particular? NP: I started working on the sky poems in June 2010 - & actually I wasn’t even sure if they were poems at the time. I didn’t want to know. I was working hard to try to find a new way to write, even a new way to think about writing. I’ve always been able to write readily, since my process for writing is mostly about process; I’d sit down to write, & just start riffing & responding to things that had happened to me, things that were happening to me, the language itself, the noise of the coffee shop I was sitting in. However, I was starting to worry – not worry that the resulting poems were bad (though they might have been), but worry that I was focusing too much on getting to a result: a poem with a title that was a complete thing. I had learned how to solve that particular problem, of generating a poem, & wanted to make myself deal with new problems. I was also, really consciously, trying to open up new territory in my work overall – or maybe explore the same territory differently. I knew I was capable of producing a poem that was discursive & flexible & wild, while still packing in some emotional range & intellectual depth. What I was thinking about was trying to be slightly more ambitious in my goal for the line itself, & I was starting to think more about a poem not just as a single unit but as a dynamic piece in a constellated system. I think this all coincided with a shift in my thinking. My previous work had been crowded with talk in an effort to say the right thing the right way. I had lost faith in certain possibilities of communication. My decision to change the aims of my writing intersected with my desire to change the method of composition intersected with my need to communicate an altered sense of how I felt about things in general. I was (temporarily) living in Bristol (Rhode Island), teaching at Roger Williams University & living practically on the beach. Many of the sky poems started as brief word sketches, written out longhand, while I was sitting on the beach waiting for class to start. I was hesitant to think much about what I was doing – since, as I mentioned, part of this all was a reaction to over thinking my process, or at least to knowing my own process so well. I wanted to be unsure again.


Sounds like you found a way to create new territories out of old ones, allowing yourself to write without thinking about/knowing how it would turn out or what it might turn into. This experience seemed to change the way you think about writing—you mentioned focusing more on the “goal for the line itself” and thinking of a poem not as “a single unit” but “a dynamic piece in a constellated system.” As you began writing your Sky Poems (and continued with the series), were you and your writing taken to any unexpected places? If so, what did you find when you arrived? NP: Though many poems I write are discursive, & depend on a logic core that is a bit zany & frenetic, & certainly the poems would say surprising things & often end up in places I couldn’t have predicted, the poems would still seem a bit too tidy to me. I think this is because I was starting to have some real fundamental problems with writing. I became convinced that any writing was limited by the fact that it is a sort of pedagogical act – the author knows something & is working very hard to communicate what they know & how they came to know it, while also trying to infuse the proceedings with gravity & a kind of epistemological immediacy. (I’m not sure that stance is inherently limiting, but it seemed to me that it was at the time.) I’d always wanted my poems to be events in & of themselves, to be happening, & to enact an experience for the reader, instead of simply reporting it. But now I was hoping to make poems that enacted an experience for me. So the entire process was startling. I found myself saying things I wasn’t really even aware I was feeling, & then needing to figure out what that meant, or how to deal with it. I found myself saying something, & then leaving it alone rather than feeling a need to explain it. So rather than pushing these sky poems into being something they weren’t, I just tried to explore the possibilities of a more casual lyric utterance – trying to create a sense of impact & weight without the clausal pile-up & pyrotechnic sentence construction that marked some of my other poems. These poems gave me a chance to explore the use of air & space, the same way some of my other poems employ a kind of claustrophobic syntax. I think for a long time that I was terrified of definitiveness, that it just seemed like there were so many shades of connotation, & so many possible positions – there was no way to get anything right & so the only way to represent that was through an overload of qualifications & clarifications. But, as a person & as a writer, I’ve started to get more & more comfortable with where I’m standing. I recognize that my perception is limited & my ability to communicate that perception is flawed. It used to drive me nuts. I guess I’m okay with it now.


I’m really drawn to what you’ve said about being “terrified of definitiveness”, and this overloading of “qualifications & clarifications” as a way to deal with that. As you’ve said, these sky poems allowed you to become more comfortable with yourself as a person and as a writer: you found yourself saying things you weren’t aware you were feeling and then “needing to figure out” what those things meant; you found yourself saying something and then “leaving it alone” rather than “feeling a need to explain.” It seems that your needs as a person and as a writer changed with these poems. Have your needs as a reader changed? How so? I’m putting an awful lot of weight on the sky, but it really was the beginning of a re-training process – one that’s continuing to this day. I was burnt out on how I was seeing things, how I was processing & relating to things, & so I really had this desire to start all over again. This has definitely impacted my needs as a reader - & it’s all tied to a bigger & maybe more apocalyptic worry. As a kid, I remember sitting outside for three to four hours at a time just reading, maybe pausing to look at the clouds or something & even more recently when I was working on my PhD, some of the happiest moments I remember involved sitting all day reading Paradise Lost or Maximus or whatever. Rather than engaging in simple passive reading, I was immersing myself in the text itself – the language & the meaning & the implications of that intersection. I was incredibly active because I was learning a discipline, a habit of mind that led me to insights or revelation or pleasure or knowledge. I became sort of an implicit author of the texts themselves; I wasn’t simply consuming them, or selecting from them. Anyway, I’m not the only person lamenting this loss of attention. Cognitive theorists refer to this as the difference between deep attention & hyper attention. This is going to make me sound like some kind of Victorian time traveler (or maybe it’s actually obvious) but I wanted to find a way to unplug & reclaim my faculties for deep attention. My poems, my life, my emotions – they were all wired for hyper attention. I wanted out. What I wanted was to find my way to a more solid & stable center for the self, which I figured was possible when a person became more invested in the place they were standing, literally & figuratively, rather than constantly following links. This would make my life better but would also pave the way for the kind of complex thinking & intricate empathy that I wanted to infuse in my writing. Lots of people talk about the way the online world is expanding our intelligence & that’s probably true. But I’m not really ready to give up on the old pleasures of intelligence. When everyone else starts getting computerized head implants, broadcasting their virtual selves into a Rilke poem & eating pure light, I’ll be happily sitting on my couch with my analog


brain reading words slowly & looking out my window at the birds. Let’s hope that “reading words slowly” never goes out of style because there’s a lot to be said for taking the time to fully explore language and meaning, for “immersing” oneself in a text. I like what you’ve said about (you as) a reader becoming a kind of “implicit author.” When I write, I try to make sure that the reader isn’t being told how to feel, that my writing allows the reader to locate her/himself in the text and, in that way, become an implicit author, a meaning-maker. Do you think of the reader as an implicit author in/of your own work? How much meaning-making do you leave up to the reader? How much do you think about deep attention versus hyper attention when you’re writing? Well, as my previous answers might imply, this is very much influx for me right now. I think I was embracing/immersed in that kind of hyper attention, trying to explore it for all its possibilities in my writing / my reading / my consciousness. Now, maybe I’ve reached the end of something, maybe just temporarily. I’m more interested in the kinds of energy that can be built & sustained & deepened through looking hard & long rather than through glancing often & in a flitter. To me, one of the pleasures of poetry is that it can be happening for me as I read it – it can be a happening. Rather than reportage or straight narrative (that can elicit a kind of empathy or sympathy), I like the compression of a lyric tradition that embodies many rhetorical forms & structures, that makes all of it into a process, an event & in so doing elicit compathy (which is a term I’ve used before & which I swear I didn’t make up). Which is maybe why my poems – hyper or slow – tend not to rely too much on actual events or moments but try instead to compose a kind of trajectory or an emotional field. As a writer, I’m not really that engaged by making my poems MEAN something; I want them to FEEL or be FELT. I’m so interested in this idea of compathy. As a reader, I’m usually more interested in the emotional connection I can establish with a poem than what “sense” I can make of the poem—I like to FEEL poems. As an assistant editor (I read poetry for Black Warrior Review), not having an emotional connection with a poem is usually a deal-breaker for me. As editor of H_NGM_N, do you find yourself looking for an emotional connection with the poems you publish? Do you have any deal-breakers as an editor?


I do think it’s necessary for a poem to make sense, but sometimes that sense is primarily emotional in nature – a kind of coherence based on tone. So when I say that I’m “not really that engaged” by meaning (as a reader & a writer) I mean mostly that it is not my primary concern but that I still take its presence for granted. I’m not a big fan of poems that simply blurt out half-baked descriptions as if those were true emotional or intellectual epiphanies. I guess I still

want the poem to exist in a sphere in which meaning – or comprehensibility & relativity – matter, even if the poem primarily moves via emotional or even intuitive means. The primary aim of some poems today seems to be surprise, or to evoke a kind of dumbfounded or shocked state. These are all valuable & important effects, of course, but if your poem merely elicits this feeling, & nothing else, then you’ve severely limited the range of my possible responses to the poem. Which then limits the poem’s effectiveness beyond its status as a one-trick pony. I won’t need to return to it because I’ve already popped the lid once & discovered all there is that can be discovered. So a poem where the sensibility is merely one that exploits cleverness (instead of complexity), & is immature (instead of robust) – that’s a deal-breaker for me. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what seem to be intangible aspects of poetry: whether or not a poem has integrity and sincerity; whether or not a poem resonates. In your experience, how do you know whether or not a work has integrity? If it’s sincere? If it resonates? (Feel free to answer these questions as a writer or a reader or an editor or all three.) Part of me wishes I could hand you some kind of spectrographic calculator that we could hold up against a given poem. The lights would blink & the motor would whirr & buzz before spitting out a little piece of receipt that lets us know whether there is authenticity present. (I’ll sidestep the fact that your question presupposes qualities like integrity & sincerity are things a person might want to achieve in a poem. Of course, this isn’t always true.) New Criticism already attempted to install such a God but really only showed us that the application of any criteria should be approached with a healthy sense of disregard & debate. I know that, for me, the process of banging my head against certain problems is ultimately more instructive than whatever answers shake loose. So maybe the most important thing to say here is that I am a human fallible conception contraption, I make mistakes all the time, but my experience is all I’ve got to go on. Maybe some of what I could say to this is embedded in my previous answer & has to do with the deployment strategies at work in the poem; a poem must EARN its emotions & revelations. Therein lies a kind of integrity – “integrity” here used without its connotation of valuation, “integrity’ simply as something that holds together & so, maybe more precisely for me, UNITY.


How does a poem earn something? Through being written in a way that appeals to raw emotion & intellect, through complex & interesting description & detail that doesn’t trick or elide unless for purposeful & discoverable reasons, because the writer has put themselves on the line / on the hook & the outcome of the poem is as crucial for them as it is for you, & by never forgetting that the audience is also human & needs real human sentiment & tender contemplative regard. Not bombastic crass categorizations of feeling. Not oversimplification. Not plain shock. Maybe I’m referencing a pattern of seduction. The poem cares about me, my response, & has demonstrated this by creating a field against which / in which I can have a fully realized experience that impacts my previous & present history of living in such a way as to then impact how I will perceive things in the future.

Joshua R. Helms is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama and an assistant editor for Black Warrior Review. His work appears or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, elimae, Monkeybicycle, NANO Fiction, PANK, and TYPO. Nate Pritts is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Sweet Nothing from Lowbrow Press. He is the founder and principal editor of H_NGM_N, an online journal and small press. Find him online at


Rights remain with authors Copyright Stoked Press 2011 Cover photograph “Wall of Fire” and photos “We Work the Shadows to Bring Light” and “Filament Broken and Yet No Darkness” by Eleanor Leonne Bennett. Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15 year-old photographer and artist who has won contests with National Geographic, The Woodland Trust, The World Photography Organisation, Winston’s Wish, Papworth Trust, Mencap, Big Issue, Wrexham Science, Fennel & Fern and Nature’s Best Photography. She has had her photographs published in exhibitions and magazines across the world.

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