I loved your first book, and now I love this one even more (Jesus Was My Homeboy). It’s so accessible, so immediate, for lack of a better term. In your poems, you capture beautifully the midlife angst of time passing you by. I was wondering if you could say a few words about that, and then maybe post the poem, “Not Much to It.”
I’ll be 60 in March so it’s heavy on my mind lately. That used to seem ancient to me as a young man. I like to think I’m in the second half, but it’s probably more like the last quarter. It gets you thinking about the journey.
Not much to it.
You draw with chalk
on your sidewalk.
You ride your bike.
You go for ice cream
with your friends.
You party in college.
You get to figuring
by the fire
on a cold night
in the mountains.
You listen to jazz
on the ocean.
You catch a ball game
now and then.
You cradle with
different folks till you
find one that fits.
wake up one day
sitting on a
missing your kids
patting your dog
drinking a can of cold beer,
the summer night
like a blanket on your shoulders
and something you knew
floats by in the night sky
just out of reach.
I also love how you write about your family, about what I, the reader, imagine is often happening right now. Do you ever feel a need for distance between yourself and your subject matter?
I feel like I have to maintain a certain distance to be able to write the poems at all. The initial memory is the prompt to the poem but once I get into it I want to write it honestly, so standing back (and trying to remove the emotion) helps to get it right in my mind.
What does your family think of your books?
I have not heard too many complaints. My wife and kids are very supportive. They’re okay knowing there’s a good chance they’ll end up in a poem or two. My brothers and sisters are proud of their little brother I suppose. I think I get them weepy once in a while. The other day I went to my mother’s grave and read a few of the poems she was in. I did the same for my father when the last book came out. They didn’t offer any criticism. (ha ha). I miss them.
You have a talent for offering a sense of place in your poetry. Reading, I feel as if I am in the car with you, or I am in the coffee shop or the park or the sauna at the Y or . . . Is this something you are conscious of doing?
I do often think about painting that picture, how the right detail or two can focus the place for you. My fiction class and I were reading a story by Richard Ford the other day and the subject looks out to the mountains and sees a “red bar sign.” We talked about how that one small detail cemented the scene in our minds. I’m always searching for that right detail. I hope some of the time I can find it.
This book has such a natural flow. Reading it, I imagined that the words glided onto the page without effort. (Of course, we all hope to sound that way.) But I am thinking, it wasn’t too long ago that your first book was published by CavanKerry. How was the writing of this different from the writing of the first? Was it just a natural continuation?
In many ways it does feel like a continuation of the same subjects – family, place, death, grief, regret. It sounds so somber when I list the topics like that but these people and these memories have had a profound effect on me. I can’t get away from them. I put the pen to the page and they keep showing up.
As a poet you have this funny, whimsical side, but you also have a profound seriousness mixed in, as in the poem, “Death Wish,” which ends, “I want it to be special, magical/worth the wait,/ after being afraid for so long.” I just wanted to applaud when I read that line. Do you think of yourself as a funny poet? Is wit, in your opinion, an essential ingredient of your poetry?
I do sometimes make myself laugh when I’m writing. You always hope what you find funny or whimsical will translate. There’s nothing worse than pulling out the funny poem at a reading and staring back at the tight-lipped crowd. The subjects I deal with need some humor from time to time or the weight might kill me.
What is the most challenging part of writing a collection of poetry?
I feel like the collection piece can sometimes come after the poetry. In both these books I started by publishing a bunch of poems until I had a stack to weed through, pulling out the ones that didn’t make sense together, then writing some more to fill in the thematic gaps. I’ve yet to set out with a totally thematic intent, as far as a collection goes, but I always end up there. I have talked about tackling a specific subject with the next book. We’ll see how that goes.
Are there any writers who helped or inspired you in the writing of this book?
Many. Phil Levine was my first inspiration and remains so today. But there are many others, Jerry Stern, Ruth Stone, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Charles Simic. I also get inspiration from songwriters like Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams. I am fortunate to be close to two great groups of poets as well, one in Salem, Mass and the other in New Jersey. I owe these folks a lot.
I am always interested in titles. When did you know that this was your title?
I imagined it not long after I published the title poem. It felt like (to me) it contained a lot of the bittersweet-ness of some of the other poems.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about this book?
I’m happy it’s here. The response has been humbling.
I would love to close the poem, “Reading to My Kids,” about your daughter reading Of Mice and Men.
I was so happy to hear Garrison Keillor reading this poem on The Writer’s Almanac. But now I have to follow him when I read it in public!
Reading To My Kids
When they were little I read
to them at night until my tongue
got tired. They would poke me
when I started to nod off after twenty
pages of Harry Potter or one of
the Lemony Snickett novels. I read to
them to get them to love reading
but I was never sure if it was working
or if it just looked like the right thing to do.
But one day, my daughter ( fifteen then)
was finishing Of Mice and Men in the car
on our way to basketball. She was at
the end when I heard her say, No
in a familiar frightened voice and I
knew right away where she was,
“Let’s do it now,” Lennie begged,
“Let’s get that place now.”
“Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta.”
And she stared crying, then I started
crying, and I think I saw Steinbeck
in the backseat nodding his head,
and it felt right to me,
like I’d done something right,
and I told her keep going,
read it to me, please, please, I can take it.
Sarah Bracey White, White Plains Women’s Club (White Plains, NY)
Wednesday October 26th at 1 pm
Sarah will be the keynote speaker and will be reading from Primary Lesssonsat the “Annual Book and Author Luncheon, 100th Anniversary Celebration”
Kevin Carey, Del Rossi’s Trattoria (Dublin, NH)
Sunday, October 30th at 3pm
Kevin will be part of an open poetry reading with Katie Towler
This post is part of our series in honor of ADA Awareness Month. While on a national level the focus is disability employment awareness, CKP is focusing on artists.
In this raw essay, Jackie Guttman, a member of the CKP ADA Advisory Board, writes with searing honesty about the change from being taken care of by her husband to becoming his caregiver. I’m grateful to her for daring to speak about the resentment associated with caregiving.
-Teresa Carson, Associate Publisher
WHEN THE CAREGIVEE BECOMES THE CAREGIVER
By Jackie Guttman
A sentiment I’ve heard a lot from friends – and which I share – is “this is not the life I expected.” One friend did not expect her very sociable husband to develop dementia; one did not expect her always healthy husband to die at 69 of pancreatic cancer; one did not expect her young up-and-coming husband to make bad decisions that left them having to watch their pennies in retirement. One even had her lover of three decades dump her when he became widowed; she was married and he no longer wanted a clandestine girl friend. It’s a loss of equilibrium. For better and worse, people evolve as they mature, inevitably changing the rules of the marital game. The scales tip.
In my own case, my husband was my caregiver by the time I was 30. My rheumatoid arthritis, in addition to affecting my hands, shoulders, knees and other joints, caused enormous fatigue. Howard never complained. He did the laundry; he took us for rides when walking was difficult; he did the bulk of the shopping; he didn’t cook, but neither did he expect me to produce meals. (We sent out a lot.) When necessary, he helped me dress – and still does on occasion. Over the past 25 years he has seen me through four major knee surgeries. All this enabled me to attend graduate school and work, albeit part-time. There was nothing he would not do for me, and to this day he opens bottles, jars, cans, medicine containers and recalcitrant fruit and vegetable packages.
About 20 years ago he was diagnosed with breast cancer. A mastectomy and Tamoxifen took care of it until it returned 11 years later. This time he had surgery, chemo and radiation, all of which left him somewhat damaged. A robust and big guy at 6’3” and 215 pounds, he lost 30 pounds and turned into this bald, skinny, pale-faced man. After both of his surgeries I dealt with his drains, pinning them to his undershirts so they would not pull. I sat with him as he slept through chemotherapy. Together, we laughed at post-op instructions that told him not to shave under his arms or wear an underwire bra. He gained back much of the weight, his color improved and his gorgeous white hair grew back, but since that time he has had more than his share of medical problems. He has had a hip replaced and had three spinal surgeries with extensive rehab. He has severe neuropathy of his hands and feet. Despite having normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure, he had a very mild and initially misdiagnosed stroke two years ago. At 79 he is bent over and walks with a cane or walker at the speed of a slow snail. With a diminished appetite he has lost additional weight and we are struggling to deal with that before frailty sets in. He drives, but far less than he used to. And just today, in another bitter blow, he was given a diagnosis of probable oral cancer – he who never smoked.
I, thanks to superb medical care and luck, have held my own and even improved. In many ways, and despite limitations, I am in better shape than I was 20 years ago. I do not appear ill so I am perceived as my husband’s designated caregiver. I do much of the driving, though my joints regret it if I exceed 90 minutes. When we go to our vacation home, I bring most things to and from the car. I sometimes help him with buttons, a frustrating challenge. Loading and unloading the dishwasher has been his purview for years; now I often do it. Though I’m fairly tall, he always reached the things in high places; now that has become my job, when I can do it, or we have to ask others. I drop him off and park the car, as he used to for me. I pave the way. I advocate. He is still quite strong, but everything takes him so long that I do more than I need to out of sheer impatience. We rented a scooter for him on a recent cruise. It was a godsend for him, but as I trotted alongside it I felt like it was my pace car. Doors on ships are extremely heavy and not always automatic; I became the doorwoman, pulling them open with both hands and slithering around to lean on and hold them.
Though I can and do offer emotional support, I am not a natural nurturer; he is. This is not a role I relish. I see one friend cater to her husband’s dietary needs and another one tenderly feed her husband meals. She also changes his diapers and keeps him clean. I don’t think I could do that. After over 40 years with RA, while I’m grateful that I can do what I do, I admit I resent the caregiving. As I see my husband begin to need more, I find I cannot be his keeper. That sounds heartless even to me, but I know that when I do extra lifting, carrying and driving, it takes me three days of rest and painkillers to recover. I must protect myself. I see my friend drive to Albany and back in one day for her husband’s medical needs; one way would be too much for me.
Our retirement plans included travel but it’s become complicated; we used to take long auto trips with our kids and I’d hoped to do more. Not gonna happen. Flying involves wheelchairs and, again, careful planning. Cruising ditto. We do it, but… this is not the life I expected. Ironically, I thought that I’d be in a wheelchair by now and am grateful that I’m still on my feet, but why-oh-why can’t we both be more able?
We don’t laugh like we used to; there’s too much bad stuff. However, we often tell each other how fortunate we feel, and we really do. We do not have financial problems. We do have each other, for however long. Our minds are intact, mostly. We have our kids and grandchildren. We have love.
Ah, but I do miss the old Howard. My protector is gone.
Joan Cusack Handler, Canio’s Book Store (290 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY)
Saturday, October 22nd at 5pm
Joan will be reading from Orphans
Kevin Carey, Dodge Poetry Festival (First Baptist Peddie Memorial Church, Newark, NJ)
Saturday October 22nd at 5pm
Kevin is part of a festival reading with Nicole Terez Dutton, Celeste Gainey, Amy Meng, and Deborah Paredez
The Disabled & D/deaf Writers Caucus
A yearly meeting at the annual AWP Conference & aims to allow for disabled individuals to network and discuss common challenges related to identity, writing, and teaching while professionally leading a literary life.”
Poetry Society of Michigan Outreach Project
The Poetry Society of Michigan has created a program where the members work with individuals or groups who lack a particular ability or who live in an overwhelming situation. The poet offers opportunities to write poems, read poetry, talk about both and discover the impact that doing so has on the person, her/his daily life, and on the member of the Society. It is poignant, profound, and powerful how adding poetry in this way affects the recipient’s each day, perceiving what heretofore has been overlooked, unrealized.
The National Arts and Disability Center
The National Arts and Disability Center (NADC) promotes the full inclusion of audiences and artists with disabilities into all facets of the arts community.
Disability Visibility Project
The Disability Visibility Project (DVP)™ is an online community dedicated to recording,amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. The DVP is also a community partnership with StoryCorps, a national oral history organization.
University of Delaware, The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities: Recommended books about the disability experience
The Ability Center: Links and resources
The Art of Autism
An international collaboration of talented individuals who have come together to display the creative abilities of people on the autism spectrum and others who are neurodivergent.
Alliance for Arts and Health New Jersey
Connects artists and arts professionals and those who provide health and wellness services in order to educate, advocate, and advance best practices in arts and health.
Articles and News Reports
“A Short History or Disabled Poetry” by Michael Northen
“There is still a long way to go, however, before disability poetry gets the attention that it deserves. While the poets above show the increased tendency of poets with disabilities to view physical disability as a social construction, it should not be thought that the saccharine and paternalistic poems about disability have ceased to be written. Just as the charity and medical models of disability still hold sway in the American mind at large, they also continue in poetry about disability”
PBS Newshour: Meet the Deaf Poets Society, a digital journal for writers with disabilities
“Katz said members of the disability community have struggled to find its place in the literary world, with many writers asking who is afforded space to write in a world that often renders disabled people invisible.”
Poetry Foundation: “Disability and Poetry, an exchange“
Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature
Deaf Poets Society: An Online Journal of Disability Literature & Art
Breath and Shadow: A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
Links and Resources
Portal to the disability blog word
The Barefoot Review: Creative Works about Health
Poetry Out Loud: Accessibility for all students
Disability Social History Project: Resources from the web
National Endowment for the Arts: Accessibility Resources
This post is part of our series in honor of ADA Awareness Month. While on a national level the focus is disability employment awareness, CKP is focusing on artists.
Jack Ridl, Honorary Chancellor of the Michigan Poetry Society (MPS) and a member of the CKP ADA Advisory Board, describes the MPS’ outreach program in which the members work with individuals or groups who lack a particular ability or who live in an overwhelming situation. CKP collaborates on this program by donating books.
The Poetry Society of Michigan has created a program in which the members work with individuals or groups who lack a particular ability or who live in an overwhelming situation. The poet offers opportunities to write poems, read poetry, talk about both and discover the impact that doing so has on the person, her/his daily life, and on the member of the Society. It is poignant, profound, and powerful how adding poetry in this way affects the recipients each day, perceiving what heretofore has been overlooked, unrealized.
CavanKerry Press has enabled this program to have what it could not possibly afford–access to CKP’s astonishing works, books that matter and connect with those taking part in the program. Someone with Multiple Sclerosis, for example, can ask for Body of Diminishing Motion, Joan Sidney’s important work. You can imagine what it means to discover that there really is someone out there who has, through her exquisite art, offered what it is REALLY like to live with this malady. Imagine what it means to be so deeply understood, to feel less alone, to receive the permission to create out of his/her actual difficult world. Imagine the member of the society coming to know this world from the inside, to know how care is transformed into caring empathy, how difference is erased by shared understanding.
Yes, this program is another where who is helping whom is mutual, where a soulful kind of healing transpires through the loving generosity of the intelligently caring talent in The Poetry Society of Michigan and of the great good heart that is CavanKerry Press.
CKP’s commitment to making poetry accessible to everyone isn’t just words in a mission statement—as evidenced by the letter from Jennifer Clark, a member of the Michigan Poetry Society who participates in its outreach program.
“Thanks for sharing these treasures. Thank you many times over.” These words are is just some of the lovely comments that have come my way since distributing the beautiful books you selected and sent my way as part of the outreach project between CavanKerry Press and the Poetry Society of Michigan.
Since then, I have received a dozen emails from the older woman who organized an opportunity for me to read and discuss poetry. In one, she wrote, “I have no background in basketball other than a gym class a hundred years ago, but Jack Ridl has caught me in Losing Season. It is fun to read and I keep going back for more.” She is finishing Walking with Ruskin and loves the faith and nature themes. When she finishes it, she’ll share it with her granddaughter and daughter and then, as she’s done with Losing Season, donate to the library of her retirement center so more people can enjoy the book. Also, in a few weeks I’ll be taking up her invitation to have lunch at her retirement home and meet/discuss poetry with her and her 96 year old friend (to whom she lent Losing Season and “she loved it!”).
I’m sorry if this rambles on but thought CavanKerry Press ought to know how the books you send out through this outreach project take on a life of their own. Here in Kalamazoo, you are rekindling love for poetry, creating new friendships, helping people feel less isolated, and, in my case, carving out precious space in a crowded, noisy world.
Kevin Carey, Newton Free Library (Newton, MA)
Monday, October 11th at 7pm
Kevin will be reading from Jesus Was A Homeboy
Sandra Castillo, Black Dog on the Square (567 Industrial Drive, Tallahassee, FL)
Thursday, October 13th at 7pm
Sandra will be reading from Eating Moors and Christians
Joan Seliger Sidney, Mystic Museum of Art (9 Water Street, Mystic, CT)
Friday, October 14th at 7:30pm
Joan will be the opening voice for Marilyn Hacker’s Arts Cafe reading
Margo Taft Stever and Richard Jeffrey Newman, The 2016 Western Maryland Independent Literary Festival (Frostburg State University)
Saturday, October 15th and 11am in the Library Mtg. Room
Margo and Richard will join Susana H. Case, Ellen Kombiyil for the panel After Violence: The Poetics of Trauma and Resistance:
The panel investigates the role of factual accuracy in poetry and poetics—why poets choose to invent or alter facts and the difficulty in portraying traumatic memory. To call something real suggests that it is so in relation to ourselves, but there are multiple realities to daily life and its events, accuracy a form of negotiated reality. What if research reveals conflicting truths? What is the cost of invention to the poem and to the poet? How do the psychological and physiological workings of memory and post-traumatic growth affect the act of writing? How does the influence of the world outside the writer, its politics, memes, and rewarded behaviors, hinder or enrich the truth as it is conveyed in poetry?
Welcome to CavanKerry Press’s third annual “October is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Awareness Month.” Throughout the month we’ll be posting new essays by members of the CKP ADA Advisory Board, re-posting “greatest hits” from previous years, and providing useful links to ADA resources (e.g. journals that publish disability-related creative writing; advocacy groups; interesting articles).
If you have any comments or disability-related resources that you’d like to tell us about then email Teresa Carson at Teresa@cavankerrypress.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
Jack Ridl, The Lost Lake Writers Retreat (Alpena, MI)
Jack will be joining Dorianne Laux, Kelly Forden, and Irina Reyn at The Lost Lake Writers Retreat
Shira Dentz, The Seligmann Center (Chester, NY)
Sunday October 9th at 2pm
Shira will be a featured reader
Sarah Sousa launched a mini lit mag which is delivered via the Tinyletter platform to subscribers’ inboxes every Wednesday. Subscription is free.
To subscribe: https://tinyletter.com/QueenofCups
Submission info: https://sarahasousa.com/queen-of-cups/
I was so moved by this collection (Tornadoesque), I needed a box of tissue beside me just to read it. Whatever you are writing about—whether it is your daughter’s bipolar episode, your father’s Alzheimer’s, or your bisexuality, you transform your subject matter into such lyrical beauty. I know it’s silly to ask, but, how do you do it?
We have a running joke in our family—my wife Dana Roeser, also a poet, takes great pleasure in reminding me, sometimes on a daily basis, that I’m a beauty slut. Oddly, I don’t think of my poems as particularly lyric or beautiful. If they have any strength, I would like to think it lies in seizing a particular situation, image, emotion, thought, or narrative and making it as “super real” as possible. Like many poets, I’m never sure what a poem is really about when I start writing. It usually begins with an urgent phrase or image that with a lot of luck will accumulate other resonant statements or images. For me one of the primary poetic “virtues,” if you will, is precision. I’d like my poems to spring from particular things that can be seen and felt. In “Epilogue,” one of his late poems, Robert Lowell, largely overlooked now, spoke of “the grace of accuracy.” I’m a fan of that phrase.
Sometimes, while reading Tornadoesque, I felt as if I were in the midst of an emotional tornado. I thought of Wordsworth’s line—writing is emotion recollected in tranquility, and I wondered if you were one of those rare poets who can write in the middle of the storm. Or did you compose these poems after the fact?
I’m so glad that you bring up Wordsworth and “emotion recollected in tranquility.” I’m constantly bemused by his advice. Often, though not always, I find myself writing poems “in the storm,” as you say. If one is drawn to write about highly emotional subjects, as I am, then I think that one of the best ways is to write in the throes of that emotion. My metaphor would be Odysseus commanding his crew to bind him to the mast and then taking the beeswax (yes, I know I’m changing Homer’s narrative) out of his ears to hear the song of the sirens. Like the mast, poetry is a “mainstay” for me. That said, some of my poems begun in the tornado are finished in relative tranquility.
Every poem in this book is powerful, but the poem about your daughter’s mental breakdown, “Litany on 1st Avenue for My Daughter” is just breath-taking. I wonder if you could post an excerpt here and talk about the process of composing that poem?
“Litany . . .” is also one of my favorite pieces in the book. It’s written in prose because I did not want “to poeticize” mental illness in any way. It was composed on the spot in New York City and shortly after our older daughter’s first (and, so far, only) bipolar episode. I would walk from her small fifth-floor apartment on Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, which she shared with two roommates and where I was staying while she was hospitalized, twenty-five blocks north to the Langone Medical Center on 1st Avenue. So I got to know the intervening neighborhoods and was struck by the contrast between the vibrancy, even flamboyance, of the street life and Eleanor’s situation on a locked psych ward. I wrote the piece longhand (my usual practice) in a few days, didn’t know what to do with it, kept it in rough draft, and didn’t even bother typing it on my computer. I thought that it might be the first section of a much longer poem, but I never went back to it. Finally, after a year, I pulled the rough draft out again, started messing around with it, and realized what was painfully obvious, that it recorded accurately all the emotions of that moment and didn’t need to be “filled out” in any way.
To give you some of the poem’s texture, let me quote a very narrative riff from the middle of “Litany . . .”:
Ambulance sirens screech their way along 1st Avenue through thickening traffic toward Bellevue’s ER Pedestrians put their forefingers in their ears I refuse to muffle, O my deafened daughter, your pain or my grief. Let the 120-decibel sirens puncture my eardrums for all I care Two nights ago the ambulance carried you, O my beautiful babbling daughter, to Bellevue where I checked you in “for psychiatric evaluation” and a one-night stay We waited in the waiting room next to three men handcuffed to their chairs. One was a 250-pound black man, named improbably John Smith, in a green and white Celtics sweatshirt with satin shamrocks, who would occasionally pull out of his jeans’ pocket a small green Bible and start reading the Psalms aloud. He needed Zoloft and an antipsychotic. Juan, a scrawny Puerto Rican, grew increasingly agitated, both legs bouncing uncontrollably up and down, as he waited for the nurse to give him his methadone. Red-headed Kevin, in his early twenties, wore a retro black leather jacket, white T-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers. He had been brought in to pick up his lithium. Each of the three had just been arrested and was accompanied by his own police officer. John Smith had a young black cop, equally huge, with a bulletproof vest. Juan had a Latino cop, and they were constantly talking back and forth in Spanish like the best of friends. Kevin’s escort was a red-faced, jovial, Irish cop with blue eyes and hair red as Kevin’s. He was worried about getting all the paperwork filled out correctly You had greeted each handcuffed man in turn like a long-lost brother and introduced yourself, “Hi, I’m Eleanor!” All three perked up You were wearing your yellow harem pants, a vest of black rabbit skin given to you by a girl- friend from Paris, and a long purple silk scarf coiled artfully around your thin neck like a pet python After fifteen minutes, you looked around the waiting room and announced, “My hands are so cold. I need a doctor to check them. Dad, feel how cold they are” I held both your hands in mine, and indeed your fingers were bony icicles You snatched them away and put your palms on top of the black cop’s close-shaven head as if to warm them “Hey, whadja think you’re doing? Get your hands off me!” he exclaimed, then turned to me. “You got to control your daughter” I gave him a long angry stare “Don’t give me no honky look” I said nothing, kept staring “Don’t mess with me, white man” The Latino cop and the Irish cop stepped quietly between us Kevin, disappointed that a fight wasn’t about to break out, said, “I got picked up for four separate misdemeanors at four different bars last night. That’s got to be some kind of record” The Irish cop smiled back at him amiably, “It sure is, son” John Smith muttered from his good book, “O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low”
I also love the title poem, “Tornadoesque.” Did you know, the minute your daughter came up with that word, that that would be the title of this book?
Nope. I did think immediately, though, that our younger daughter Lucy’s coined word should be the start of a poem. It often takes quite a while (years, I’m afraid) for me to discover the right title for a book. Just to return to “process” for a moment, the poem “Tornadoesque” was composed nine months after our older daughter’s bipolor episode. However, I worked from notes that I had jotted down at the time, and I acknowledge within the poem my distance from the traumatic events.
And the poem, “Snow’s Signature,” was a perfect poem about Emily Dickinson. Like so many of the poems, I wanted to savor it and read it again and again. I imagine each poem was rewritten many times?
I tend to do quite a bit of revision on most of my poems. Occasionally, however, as with “Snow’s Signature,” a poem will come out almost whole. All I’ll have to do is jiggle it here and there, polish it: lapidary work. Usually the longer I take to write a poem, the better it turns out. It will accumulate depth and resonance over time. So I quite happily work on just a few lines every day.
There is such openness in your poetry, such candor, as you discuss your bisexuality and longing for a male lover, your relationships to your wife and daughters, and your daughter’s mental illness. Do you ever hesitate before writing about deeply personal subjects?
Yes, there is much hesitation. But perhaps misguidedly, I use urgency as a litmus test to decide whether I should write about something. For instance, I felt that I had no choice but to write the poems about my bisexuality, even though it remains a painful subject for my wife, whom I love deeply. However, I think that not to write the poems or to write about my bisexuality in a more coded way would have been dishonest. I was compelled. As the poems indicate, I remain torn, divided by my sexuality. But the writing was a process of discovering a deep truth about my sexuality and has certainly led me to an acceptance of it. Bisexuality is not in any way sanctioned by society, as heterosexuality and, increasingly, homosexuality are. In 2005, The New York Times reported that male bisexuality did not exist. In 2014, it recanted its stand and opined that it did exist. Such attitudes are potentially very damaging for bisexuals because they deny the validity of their experience. It’s important to me, in my own odd way, to speak out and give witness to my experience of bisexuality.
Tell me about the evolution of this book. How and when it began? And how did it take shape?
As they say, that’s a long story. The oldest poems in the book go back twelve years to 2004, when I started writing the bisexual poems. As I see it, four distinct thematic strands intertwine throughout Tornadoesque. They are 1) bisexuality, 2) my daughter’s bipolar condition, 3) wars (World War I and the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts), and 4) a growing awareness of mortality. In early drafts of the book, I had divided these materials into their own sections, a strategy which was completely wrong-headed and led to a very static effect. Finally, after several years, I realized that it would be much more dynamic to braid these strands together and let images from one thematic grouping speak to, and echo, those in another. I think this approach works well and that the title sums up the swirling, unpredictable “order” of the book. I’m particularly proud that the last poem, “Inland in Eden on the Indiana Dunes with Nuclear Reactor,” manages to weave all the themes of the book together. I didn’t intend it that way; it just happened. The book was first called Chartres in the Dark, after the second poem in the collection. Then its title became Tomorrow Leaf, after a later poem. Finally, I settled on Tornadoesque.
In most of your poems, you alternate long and short lines, and I read that this is your trademark style. Can you talk about this style? How it developed? Why do you like it?
These long and short lines have always seemed to me to enable both narrative expansion and lyric contraction within one stanza. I can both tell an anecdote and isolate an image easily. Partly, of course, I like the “look” of the stanza on the page, so there’s an aspect that appeals to a visual, even painterly, aesthetic. The stanza has “shapeliness,” if you will. But, even though it’s a free verse structure, I’m counting beats, six to eight stresses usually in the longer lines, one to three in the shorter lines. I should say that some readers find the line breaks completely arbitrary and “private.”
The first poem that I wrote in this “shape” was called “Untitled.” It appears in my first book, Fresh Peaches, Fireworks, & Guns, and describes, among other things, the motion of surf against a shoreline. The ocean’s repetitive “in and out” rhythms seemed to suggest this form. However, more importantly, I was reading closely C.K. Williams’s poems in Tar at the time and liked the way that his long lines had to be printed with short, indented run-overs because they wouldn’t fit the usual trim size of poetry books. Those short “lines,” which weren’t technically lines, had for me great energy juxtaposed with the longer lines. I thought I’d try writing lines with run-overs “on purpose.” I looked at the result, one large paragraph with zigzagging margins, liked it, but also found it too “heavy” and “blocky.” Then I thought I should try dividing the “block” into shorter stanzas, to “aerate” it. Couplets seemed dull. I still remember the thrill when I marked off tercets with a ruler and saw how that reversing form took over: long, short, long; then short, long, short. In The Anxiety of Influence (a much maligned book at present, I think), Bloom speaks of “creative misprision,” a generative misreading of an older poet by a younger one. I hadn’t yet read Bloom, but it seems in retrospect that my form came directly out of such a “creative misprision.”
This is your fifth book. How has your experience of being a poet changed over the years?
Perhaps you know Carl Jung’s mapping of personality traits onto the compass rose? He says that (in addition to being either introverts or extroverts) we all begin our lives in different quadrants: north is intellect, east intuition, south emotion, and west the factual world. Jung thinks that we must travel in our “life journey” from our given quadrant toward its opposite. The intellectual person must become comfortable with emotion; the intuitive type should connect with the factual world, and vice versa. Metaphorically, I like to apply these personality categories to poetry: north is concerned with poetic structure, east with metaphor, south with sonics, and west with image. As a poet, I started in the south, in emotion, in my overwhelming infatuation with the sounds of words. I then moved west, through fact and image, towards intellect and the discovery of poetic structure as the great enabler of the poem’s voice. I’d love it if I could, within my poems, keep going round the compass rose all the way to the east, to intuition, to better grasp and express the irrational connections that make dynamic metaphor. As one gets older, one’s poetry can expand to include all the characteristics of the different quadrants. This may all sound rather abstract, eccentric, and conceptual, but I think it indicates my trajectory as a writer.
On a more practical level, I find as I get older that I care less about the reception of my poems and am willing to take greater risks with what I write. Tornadoesque is a good example of this willingness. I also am paradoxically committed to writing shorter, more compressed poems and, simultaneously, longer hybrid poems (up to forty pages), which are hard to place, apart from in a book-length manuscript.
Who are your gods and goddesses? Your mentors and influences?
My mother, who died two years ago at the age of ninety-six, was an amateur watercolor painter with a committed painting practice. More and more, I think I take artistic cues from her. She was always experimenting and pushing herself so that her style, recognizably her own, kept changing and developing.
In my early twenties, I started professional life as a cook. My mentor, Hiroshi Hayashi, who ran The Seventh Inn (a well-known, natural foods/macrobiotic restaurant in Boston’s now gentrified “combat zone,” whose clientele included strippers and the Celtics players who wanted to become better acquainted with the strippers), showed me artistic practice in another medium. I remember him cutting thin, almost transparent slices of tuna sashimi and arranging them into a huge peony on a white platter. Once, for a catering event, he baked a six-foot cod twisting as if swimming, the curves of its body held in place by heat-resistant twine. When it emerged from the pizza-style oven, he displayed it on a long metal dish garnished with all sorts of pickled vegetables. It looked as if it were weaving through colorful seaweed.
As for poets . . . Emily Dickinson (the star of “Snow’s Signature”), Elizabeth Bishop, George Oppen, Jimmy Schuyler, and W.H. Auden are some of the poets to whom I keep returning. I was lucky enough to study with poets Madeline DeFrees, Jim Tate, Greg Orr, Charles Wright, Larry Levis, and Mark Strand. I remain indebted, in different ways, to all six.
I’d love to hear you talk about your writing and editing process. What do you love/hate most about writing?
I love it when writing becomes a deep form of meditation in which one can lose one’s usual worried self and gain a deeper, calmer self (sorry to go all “new age” on you). I hate it when I realize that what I’ve been writing on a given day or over a certain week, month, or even year is utter bullshit and is best thrown away. Once I spent a whole summer writing about (of all things) the “home improvement” projects on which my wife and I had embarked. Stuff like laying stones for a patio, planting trees and perennials. All of this writing was unalleviatedly terrible and had to be trashed. Writing and revision never cease to be hard. My favorite quote on the subject is from Frank O’Connor: “You can’t revise nothing.”
I would love to close with another poem or an excerpt of your choice.
How about the first poem of Tornadoesque? Here it is:
YOUNG MAN AT THE BLOCKBUSTER VIDEO STORE, SATURDAY NIGHT Nine o’clock rush, and I’m standing in the long checkout line with a DVD entitled The Perfect Man, which my nearly twelve-year-old daughter wants us to watch, when through the electronic sensor there walks a man so handsome that this whole shop of dreams has to readjust. The women all take a deeper breath as if on cue, throw their shoulders back, and turn ever so slightly to keep him in their peripheral vision. Nothing has happened, everything has. He’s completely, genuinely, charmingly unaware of the stir he’s caused. He has wide blue eyes, brown hair, sideburns. His face is flushed from the cold outside. He wears a loose gray T-shirt that cannot hide, as the bodybuilders like to say, how “ripped” his torso is, biceps that bulge like a boa constrictor after swallowing a white rat. On his veined, tanned forearm a blue, tattooed Celtic knot uncurls. I want to run my dry tongue over that maze of lines cut into his flesh, then stained with indigo inks. But he’s obviously heterosexual, wholesomely Midwestern, and high-fives some friends standing in line. They have other plans for the night. I taste my own loneliness, a wedge of lemon squeezed into a tall shining wineglass of ice water. Drink it all down, I tell myself. Crack the ice cubes between your teeth. I’ve never slept with a man. My wife says that she’ll leave me if I do. I understand her point of view. I do, I do. I look around this store that rents out stories. Which one is mine? Where is the bisexual who has decided to stay in his marriage? In Little Miss Sunshine, the faggot slits his wrists offscreen in the first scene, then has to live, wear gauze bandages like a tennis player’s elastic wristbands for the rest of the film. We laugh. In Broke- back Mountain, the two young cowboys make love in the open in full view of the desolate, panoramic Rockies. They go back to town, get married, have kids, and cannot leave their wives or girlfriends though they live for their “fishing trips” in the mountains together. They writhe on baited hooks. One lover gets his head bashed in with a tire iron by a homophobe on a west Texas roadside. We cry. Drama. Comedy. Thalia and Melpomene’s two masks. There must be other scripts. How do I write this life? All I have is my mechanical pencil, crossing one word out, tracing another onto an empty page. This is Indiana, America’s “heartland,” a family video store. No man holds hands here with another man on the street. Someone has written in pink spray paint FAGS LIVE HERE on the sidewalk in front of my gay friends’ house. They scrubbed it off with turpentine. Ghosts of those pink letters still remain. My tongue cannot unknot the knot on the young man’s forearm.
Wanda S. Praisner, Mercer County Community College, Student Center room 104 (1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, NJ)
Thursday, September 29th, reception at 6:30pm/reading at 7pm
Launch Reading of The Kelsey Review
Sarah Bracey White, Scarborough Presbyterian Church (Scarborough, NY)
Saturday, October 1st at 6 pm
There will be a Primary Lessons exhibit at the Baker/Collyer annual Christmas fundraiser “Art, Literature and Music of the Hudson Valley”
BOA Editions announced that Christian Barter’s forthcoming book, Bye-bye Land, has won the Isabella Gardner Award; it will be published by them in 2017.
Shira Dentz’s “blue [belewe] moon” appears in the new poetry & prose anthology,
The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker
“The combination of narrative overall story and flexible form makes this an important book for all poetry readers.”
Read the full review at Mom Egg Review
Sarah Bracey White, Scarsdale Women’s Club (Scarsdale, NY)
Thursday, September 22nd at 2 pm.
Sarah will be reading from Primary Lessons
Kevin Carey, Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester (65 James St, Worchester MA)
Friday, September 23rd at 7:00PM
Kevin is reading with Jennifer Martelli as part of Worchester Storytellers
Sandra Castillo, Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave, Coral Gables, FL)
Friday, September 23rd at 8pm
Sandra is reading from Eating Moors and Christians
Jack Ridl, The Red Dock, (Douglas, MI)
Tuesday, August 9th
Kevin Carey, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Lenfell Mansion (Madison, NJ)
Thursday, August 11th at 6:00pm
Dawn Potter & Baron Wormser, Town House Forum (Strafford, VT)
Thursday, August 11th at 7:00pm
Click here for more info
Jack Ridl, Ox-Bow School of the Arts of The Art Institute of Chicago (Saugatuck, MI)
Monday, July 18-Thursday, July 21
Jack will be leading a workshop, “Poetry Is Everywhere”
Andrea Carter Brown, Occidental College (Los Angeles, CA)
Monday, July 18th at 10am
Andrea will be reading and discussing my poetry for Upward Bound students
Plunges into the visceral, the sensual, are indispensable anchors in Dentz’s text. Sight—and not just sight, but visual texture—engages you at a bodily level.
Read more at zoran rosko vacuum player
Kevin Carey, The Lilypad (1353 Cambridge St, Inman Square, Cambridge, MA)
Friday, July 15th at 7pm
Kevin will be reading in the Boston Poetry Marathon 2016
Cindy Veach has three poems in the current issue of Zone 3
The second half of Orphans is most notable. It is at once laconic, conversational, and rambling, yet empathetic to generational decay. No one is exempt from the conflict. Absence affects us in ways we cannot comprehend. Accidents and injuries dictate our existence in the end. Most of us would like to forget, or at least move on from, the collective fear of death. But here we remember our mother and father.
Read the full review
Richard Jeffrey Newman, Astoria Coffee (30-04 30th Street, Astoria NY)
Tuesday, June 21st at 7:30opm
Richard will be reading in the Risk of Discovery Reading Series (cost is $10, includes food)
Pam Bernard’s poems are forthcoming in Mudlark; Spoon River Poetry Review; and War, Literature & Art
Carole Stone’s poem “Plein Air” appeared on The Greenwood Gardens Facebook page in May and two of her poems appeared in the Adanna Women and Art issue, spring 2016.
Richard Newman, Schoolhouse Green (across the street from 65 Foxhurst Street, Oceanside, NY)
Monday, June 13 at 7 PM
Richard Newman, Sunday Salon Series, Jimmy’s (43 East 7th Street, New York, NY)
Sunday, June 19 at 7 PM
Richard will be reading from For My Son, A Kind of Prayer on Father’s Day at the prestigious Sunday Salon reading series
Eating Moors and Christians
poems by Sandra M. Castillo
Straddling two worlds—Cuba before and during its revolution and Miami among its post-flight diaspora—Sandra M. Castillo’s collection of poems, EATING MOORS AND CHRISTIANS (CavanKerry Press; April 2016; $16.00) probes the complicated convergence of memory and truth. Using the metaphor of photography to capture in words the visual power of historical witness, Castillo’s penetrating poems evoke the particularity and universality of the exile experience. Writing in both verse and prose-poem, often shifting into Spanish to capture elusive cultural subtleties, the poet draws on her own—and her extended family’s—life in Cuba, émigré experience, and return visit to a strange, but familiar homeland.
Here, in this landscape of hard edges, perfect sorrow, where I know
who I am, I measure distance with language and guilt as our ghosts,
the black and white faces of the past, spread out against a crocheted
bedspread, ancestors with our last name, people I never knew, relatives
no one recalls, though they have been passed down for generations, the
membrane severed, the connection lost between the future y los acres de
el olvido, marcando mi vida sin pedir permiso.
This is where I come from, a place that exists in photographs I never owned.
(from “Artemisa, Pinar del Rio, Cuba”)
Castillo’s poetry is tropical in its colors and rhythms, yet the story it tells is often shadowed in the despair and uncertainty of turbulent times. It can be a world of decay and forgetting: “I push open the Caribbean windows/to this landscape of sorrows and shadows,/empty storefronts, mildewed tenements/where elderly men bathe on balconies/con cubos of rain water” (“Hotel Ambos Mundos”). But, equally it is about remembering, albeit a memory tinged in sorrow and loss: “I can swim through the oil-black thickness/and come up for air/in Cuba, the country of memory,/but only if I can hold my breath/longer than two minutes, the depth of night (“The Dream”).
The personal history about which Castillo writes—one which she shares with so many exiles and refugees, Cuban and other—is rife with inner conflict, driven by a search of identity. And, yet, in the hands of a powerful, perceptive poet, the individual voice emerges, forging its own place in the world:
Separated by the Caribbean, secret underwater mines,
a revolution, ninety miles of nostalgia, a new language,
I no longer remembered myself.
I had become someone else, the Other,
a stranger, a skeleton of whom I might have been
(from “Unearthing the Remains”)
“[T]he landscape of loss and gain we call exile, seen through the poet’s sharp eye and described in a voice that never wavers from the truth,” said Pablo Medina of Castillo’s award-winning earlier collection, My Father Sings to My Embarrassment. “I felt I was re-encountering Cuba in the light of new imagining, freed of ideology and therefore resplendent and complete.” With EATING MOORS AND CHRISTIANS, a welcome addition to CavanKerry’s Emerging Voices series, Sandra M. Castillo strengthens the elusive bond between past and present, between memory and art.
About Sandra M. Castillo
Sandra M. Castillo was born in Havana, Cuba, and came to the United States on the Johnson administration’s Freedom Flights. She received her MA from Florida State University. Her poems have appeared in a wealth of publications and anthologies, including: The North American Review, The Connecticut Review, The Florida Review, Cimarron Review, Little Havana Blues, and Paper Dance: 52 Latino Poets. In 2002 she received the White Pine Press award for her collection, My Father Sings to My Embarrassment, selected by poet Cornelius Eady who described Castillo as “a poet who can make Cuban and Cuban-American history link arms and dance.”
EATING MOORS AND CHRISTIANS by Sandra M. Castillo
Publication Date: April 2016
Price: $16.00; ISBN: 978-1-933880-50-1
Distributed by: University Press of New England (UPNE), 800.421.1561 or 603.448.1533, Ext. 255
From our event in April, co-presented with the Hoboken Historical Museum.
From our event in April, co-presented with the Hoboken Historical Museum.
Joan Seliger Sidney and Victoria Muñoz, The Studio @ Billings Forge (563 Broad Street, Hartford, CT)
Monday June 6th at 7pm
Joan will be reading in the WordForge Reading Series
Joan Cusack Handler, American Irish Historical Society (991 5th Ave, New York, NY)
Wednesday, June 8th at 6:30pm
Joan will be doing a Q & A about her latest book, Orphans
Wanda S. Praisner, Montclair Library (50 South Fullerton Ave., Montclair, NJ)
Thursday, June 9th at 7PM
Wanda will be part of the publication reading for Lips #44/45
Shira Dentz, Evelyn’s Cafe (110 8th St, Troy, NY)
Thursday, June 9th at 9pm
Shira will be part of Fence’s Living Poets Theatre
Wanda S. Praisner, Sussex County Community College Art Gallery Building C (One College Hill Road, Newton, NJ)
Saturday, June 11 from 2-4 PM
Wanda will be part of the Stillwater Review 6 Reading
Being with Poets Series: Stanley Kunitz
September 24-25, 2016
Location: 74 Lake Avenue, Ocean Grove, New Jersey
Cost: $370 (includes lunch each day)
Size: Six participants
This workshop will be devoted to discussing the poetry of Stanley Kunitz. Over the course of his long career, Kuntiz consistently braided the lyrical, the personal and the mythic. His poems possess a depth that stems from a haunted, articulate caring for all manner of spirits that—were it not for poetry—would otherwise be lost. This will be an opportunity to see how his work evolved and to consider an artist who has everything to teach us about poetry’s ability to fathom the dark and light of imagination.
The Being with Poets Series was initiated by Baron Wormser. Each workshop allows for the sustained consideration of important poets of the recent and not-recent past. Workshops have been devoted to Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Hayden Carruth, Dante, Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Denise Levertov and Donald Justice, among others. Workshops are open to anyone who is interested in talking about poems.
Baron Wormser is the author/co-author of fourteen books, including two books about teaching poetry. He currently teaches in the Fairfield University MFA Program and was the founding director of the Frost Place Seminar and the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. He has taught many dozens of workshops in many different venues throughout the United States.
“In the Dark House,” “Halley’s Comet,” “The Wellfleet Whale,” “Quinnapoxet,” “The Testing Tree,” “Three Floors,” “River Road,” “Revolving Meditation,” “The Scourge,” “The Dragonfly,” “The Harsh Judgment,” “Night Piece” (all poems from The Collected Poems)
In this work, I engage with notions of form and beauty that I, as an artist and a social being, have inherited and tacitly acknowledge or actively work against.
Read more at Essay Press
In this work, I engage with notions of form and beauty that I, as an artist and a social being, have inherited and tacitly acknowledge or actively work against.
Read more at Essay Press
Richard Newman, Park Plaza Restaurant (220 Cadman Plaza West, Brooklyn NY)
Saturday, June 4th at 2:30pm
Richard will be reading from For My Son, A Kind of Prayer in Patrica Carragon’s Brownstone Poets Reading
Richard Newman, Nassau County Baha’i Center (11 West Jamaica Avenue, Valley Stream NY)
Sunday, June 5th at 4 PM
Richard will be part of a dual launch reading, celebrating the publication of both Veils, Halos & Shackles (VHS) and Grabbing the Apple: An Anthology of New York Woman Poets, edited by VHS contributor Terri Muus.
Celia Bland has three poems from her new manuscript in the upcoming issue of the Red Wheelbarrow Review
Judith Sornberger has poems forthcoming in the upcoming issues of Spillway, Wild Horses, and Chautauqua.
This is not one of those books you read in order to find out what happened; knowing the end doesn’t spoil one single thing that comes before, because suspense about the plot is never the point. Surprise here comes from ways the narrator weaves the story, from the insights, images and sounds that emerge as she juxtaposes its elements, as we watch her
think about things he said. They run through my mind, a piece of yarn
unwinding so far until gnarled at a knot. I sit and ponder the knot.
At the knot is a feeling. I try to loosen it.
I can’t know what was in his mind….
The way it was on the outside and the way it was on the inside.
I want to take myself for granted. (16)
Read the full piece here
Not placing him first
Not visiting more often
Not making soup
Not stopping by on my way to East Hampton
Not joining him for a walk
Not being good enough
Not going to mass
Not getting an annulment
Not saying my prayers
Not watching my tongue
Not forgiving my brother
Falling back to sleep that morning
Ignoring his DNR that first night,
so he had to fight three more
till his frantic heart convinced us to let him go
My hand slapping his face.
Convincing him to let go of the walker, trust himself & the cane
Escaping to the computer
Dreading the sound of his stick on the floor
announcing the end of his nap & my break
My hand slapping his face
Seeing his pale-boned chest, sad reluctant breasts,
Still avoiding mass
Slapping his face.
Losing my faith
Slapping his face.
From Orphans by Joan Cusack Handler
Sarah Bracey White, Travelers’ Rest (Ossining, NY)
Thursday, May 19th
Sarah is peaking about and reading from Primary Lessons, A Memoir at Somers League of Women’s Voters’ Annual Authors Luncheon
Sarah Sousa won a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship for 2016
Harriet Levin Millan’s work was featured in Drunken Boat. Both of these poems will appear in her forthcoming book, My Oceanography.
poems by Donald Platt
Donald Platt’s fifth volume of poetry, Tornadoesque (CavanKerry Press; May 2016; $18.00), takes a candid look at the aftermath left by the inevitable storms—real and emotional—that life places in our paths. In expansive lyrics, many written in this three-time Pushcart Prize-winner’s trademark style of alternating long and short lines, Platt writes with often shocking honesty about tender subjects—his own bisexual yearnings, a beloved daughter’s battle with bipolar disorder, the deaths of aging parents, the turbulence of a society at war. Infused with an inherent pragmatism, the poems draw their power from closely observed day to day life, and from a broader vision of the transcendent capacity of art.
In Platt’s hands, individual experiences spread across larger canvases, illuminated with gravitas. A trip with his wife and daughters to Chartre Cathedral, for instance, turns into a hallucinatory dream of the pain and passing we each endure:
…Rose windows, because you showed me in the dead of winter how my small life shone through your blacked-out panes forty feet above me, I knelt down in that empty cathedral. I kissed the old worn stones we walked on. Nothing could have been colder.
(from “Chartres in the Dark”)
A tortured casualty of war in Baghdad becomes a mythic Greek figure in “Man on the Dump.” A visit to the doctor, in “Audade with Irises & Blood Work,” grows akin to the flaying of Saint Bartholomew as depicted in the Sistine Chapel.
Two life-defining realities surface again and again in the poems, leaving indelible through-lines. First, there is the poet’s lifelong bisexuality, never acted upon, and suppressed to preserve a passionate heterosexual marriage. A theme of physical desire and emotional longing, it recurs in many ordinary moments: at a video rental store, on the Washington Metro, when contemplating the paintings of Marsden Harley or the sculpture of Rodin, while witnessing a Good Friday passion play. The second is Platt’s struggle to maintain ideas of order amidst the spiraling moods of his adult daughter, institutionalized for a time with mental illness, and always walking the tightrope between sanity and its shattering alternative. He holds onto a fierce devotion even in moments of despair:
I, awkward father, walk 25 blocks to bring roses, orange as the sunrise that spills every morning over the East River and sets the Williamsburg Bridge and the abandoned Domino Sugar factory on the Brooklyn side afire To you, O my manic motor-mouthing daughter
(from “Litany on 1st Avenue for My Daughter”)
“No one knows his final destination/until he arrives there,” Platt writes in “Western Motel,” and, indeed, the poems in TORNADOESQUE offer a kind of roadmap, ever shifting, for one middle-aged man’s route toward elusive answers. Platt “has a delicate ear,” says Gerald Stern, “and a generous mind that lets the world come in. His range is connected to his generosity, as it is connected to his unrelenting memory and his intense pity and his unforgetting eye. He is a fine poet.”
About Donald Platt
Donald Platt has published four previous books of poetry, Dirt Angels, My Father Says Grace, Cloud Atlas, and Fresh Peaches, Fireworks, & Guns. He has been awarded two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and three Pushcart Prizes. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, New Republic, Poetry, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, Southwest Review, Ploughshares, Iowa Review, and Southern Review, as well as in three editions of The Best American Poetry. He teaches in the MFA program at Purdue University.
TORNADOESQUE by Donald Platt
Publication Date: May 2016
Price: $18.00; ISBN: 978-1-933880-51-8
Distributed by: University Press of New England (UPNE), 800.421.1561 or 603.448.1533, Ext. 255
Since the publication of Mose in 1994, Loren Graham has been one of my favorite poets. His poems have a way of drawing one in completely-I read Mose twice in one sitting-because Graham’s mastery of narrative and his amazing talent for creating authentic voices.
Read the full review here.