Recent poets of interest

Wasn’t sure how to briefly define this group, which consists of poets who’ve written poems that I ran across after the election, and have been taking comfort in.

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  1. Mary Alexandra Agner, American science writer, poet
  2. George Bilgere, American poet; born 1951
  3. Alberto Blanco, Mexicano architect, art critic, poet; born 1951
  4. Lisa M. Bradley, Tejana poet and novelist; {@cafenowhere}
  5. Rosario Castellanos, 1925–1974, Mexicana ambassador, journalist, essayist, poet
  6. Elicura Chihuailaf, Chilean translator, poet; born 1952 (writes in both Spanish and Mapuche)
  7. Lucha Corpi, Mexicana poet and novelist; born 1945
  8. Diane Der-Hovanessian, American poet, daughter of Armenian immigrant parents; born 1932
  9. Ber Grin (Itsik Grinberg), 1901–1989, Ukrainian essayist, playwright, actor, poet (emigrated to USA)
  10. Jerzy Harasymowicz, Polish land surveyor, forester, poet; 1933–1999
  11. Keçecizade ‘Izzet Molla, 1785–1829, Turkish poet
  12. Margaret Noodin, American poet, Anishinaabemowin language teacher; born 1965
  13. Achy Obejas, Cuban-American journalist, novelist, poet; born 1956
  14. Elise Paschen, American editor, poet; born 1959
  15. Ricardo Pau–Llosa, Cuban-American essayist, art critic, novelist, poet; born 1954
  16. Nigoghos Sarafian, 1905–1973, Armenian typesetter, poet
  17. Abraham Sutzkever, 1913–2010, Lithuanian Jewish poet. NYTimes: “greatest poet of the Holocaust”
  18. Arthur Sze, American translator, poet of Chinese descent; born 1950
  19. Vahakn Tavtian, Armenian poet; born 1923
  20. Jorge Teillier, 1935–1996, Cuban editor, poet
  21. Adam Zagajewski, Polish poet; born 1945

Poem: subtle stitchery

My native tongue is writing letters.

I explain who I am and why you matter to me.

I attempt to comfort.

I describe place, time.

I muse on kinship, affiliations.

I embroider threads connecting us.

 

 

Now that it feels like the world is ending,

What can I do but read and think and dream?

Ponder the past.

Imagine a future.

And write letters.

 

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#161122

Poem: Signs seen to Chincoteague, 2016

Easton — 2nd most livable city in Maryland

Choptank River

The Pretzel Factory

Snow Hill Road

Pop-Pop’s Produce

Mitchell’s Martial Arts (on the move)

Passerdyke Creek

Smith Island Cakes Ordered Here

Natural Resources Police Fishing Rodeo May 7

 

Littering is Illegal

Drive Thru Vape and Smoke Outlet

NASA Badging and Deliveries

Caution: Low Flying Aircraft, High Noise Area

Wildflowers — Do Not Mow

NOAA / NESDIS

Sandy Pony Donuts

Ham Cabbage Breakfast

Prohibited: Nudity

No Fishing From Bridge

 

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#160418

Autism: poetry makes sense

I’ve tried a lot of art forms*, but poetry is one of the few that enhances my perceptions of the World. Poetry, especially writing poetry, clarifies things I didn’t know I knew. It spotlights those (often philosophical or metaphysical) dilemmas I’ve been struggling with. Poetry conveys what matters most to my benthic self.

As much as I love/d painting, I didn’t understand the World better because I painted.

Jane Hirshfield:

“Poetry itself, when allowed to, becomes within us a playable organ of perception, sounding out its own forms of knowledge and forms of discovery. Poems do not simply express. They make, they find, they sound (in both meanings of that word) things undiscoverable by other means.”

Poetry is a dissipative structure.

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After my family of origin moved to Naperville (Illinois) in the mid-1970s, my mother set child-me up for oil painting classes at the Park District. I remember the carrying case for all my supplies she bought me at a garage sale — it cleverly resembled a briefcase, but of maple wood. Of course I remember all the paint names! Mixing colors was transcendent. I infinitely preferred the goopiness of painting with a palette knife, not a brush.

The classes were probably during summers, so I was newly 11, newly 12. I felt like a Real Artist, like my hero Claude Monet. I had Things to Say, and painting set me free to say them!

Not exactly.

We had to bring in source materials to paint from. The one I remember best was a nature photograph from a magazine, depicting an iridescent lavender-ish butterfly against an indistinctly leafy yellow-green background. Although I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the butterfly, I made lovely the yellow-green background (years before knowing those shades, in these proportions => “Amelia”, which is the flavor profile of Joy/Delight/Whimsy in my emotion-color synesthesia).

With thin washes of color painstakingly applied, I somehow managed to reproduce the interplay of nacreous hues in the butterfly’s wings.

Oh, I was so proud of that! It was gorgeous!

And then the teacher came over. She tut-tutted. “There’s no depth definition here! You need shadows!” Me, thinking: Um, I don’t think I do, but…

She took her paintbrush, dipped it in my paints, and painted in shadows!

If that wasn’t horrifying enough, she said her shadows, if I just stroked them through enough, would blend into my work. It turned out, though, that my wings were mostly dry, so her “shadows” sat on top, looking stupid and out of place, and utterly ruining my naïve style.

That was the worst example, because the butterfly wings were so difficult, I could never replicate them.

But she also interfered in 2 other paintings. One, I can live with; the other, I couldn’t.

The egregious one was an abstracted sea scene, in shades of cerulean blue, born out of my delight in the colors, and a feeling of lightness and happiness inside of me. My painting teacher, however, pronounced it “Ridiculous! No one will know what they’re looking at! It needs something for their eyes to focus on!” She, again with her paintbrush and my paints, inserted a tree. “There! Doesn’t that look better!”

I was aghast.

From those moments on, those paintings were no longer mine. No longer my vision, my unique sensibility and worldview. No longer my inner life. Those paintings had become visible replays of my traumas, reminding me relentlessly that I’d been, repeatedly, violated by an authority figure I’d trusted.

My mother couldn’t understand why I was upset. She said I was “too sensitive”, that I was “being a baby”.

After the classes ended, I tried a new painting on my own, sneaking away to spend time in the unfinished basement, where no one would find it. But it didn’t work, on any level. I no longer trusted my own judgment. Instead of clarifying myself to me, painting had become just another thing that hurt me, frustrated me, diminished me.

I didn’t paint again for 30 years.

= = =

Two years later, when I was almost 14, I had a similar experience with a teacher at my Catholic school and my first poem. Again, I was brutalized through my work being destroyed, but this teacher went further, telling me I was “depraved” for writing as I had. She wanted to get me expelled from school, so I had to beg her for “mercy”.

I knew better than to mention that incident to my parents, who, of course, would have taken her side. “Authority figures are always right! That’s why they’re in charge!”

I didn’t write another poem for 30 years.

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An aspiring poet can take writing classes, or work with a writing group, but they don’t have to. If you’ve got paper and a pen/pencil/crayon, or an electronic writing device, you’re good to go.

I’ve taken writing classes and poetry workshops, I was a part of a Poetry Meetup for a few months, I’ve exchanged poems for critique with Twitter-friends, I’ve submitted poems for publication. No one has ever inserted their own words into mine, never mind insisted that doing so improved my work — I can’t imagine how that even could happen.

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I actually started writing this post to talk about a new project: I have a spreadsheet that I’m populating with all the significant** words I’ve ever used in a poem, and their frequencies. I have to prevent myself from working on it day and night — categorizing is catnip — but even only 20-some poems in, it’s already evident that I use a high percentage of distinct words (so far, ~ 60%). Lots of wildlife: 20+ words for plants or plant structures; 40+ words for animals. Water bodies, precipitation, or watery habitats = 15 words.

Motifs that (so far) I write about most frequently include:

  1. Animals
  2. Body
  3. Celebrating
  4. Container {“vessels”}
  5. Craft
  6. Direction {spatial orientation}
  7. Emotion
  8. Fiber
  9. Food
  10. Geography
  11. Geology
  12. Heritage {culture, not always my own}
  13. Hidden
  14. Imaginary
  15. Literary
  16. Machinery
  17. Motion & Dance
  18. Music
  19. Mythic
  20. Person/s
  21. Plants
  22. Relationships
  23. Texture
  24. Water

Some overlap and interconnect, which I can’t show linearly. In fact, some probably join together to emergently create hyper-motifs, like Synesthesia.

I haven’t yet arrived at visual poems, and I’m not sure how I’m going to account for their nonlexical elements.

But just from the above list, there’s a strong sense of what kind of person I am. And therefore, what aspects of the World are likely to catch and hold my attention.

Luckily, words in my poems < 10,000 — my poems tend to be short, and I’ve only written 137 of them. (2 outliers at 900+ words are skewing the total. Excluding them, the average number of words per poem drops to ~ 56.)

{ Analyzing my prose would be cool, too, but almost 6 years of blog posts, for instance, number > 600, and their total word count is approaching 500,000. I’d need a database; I’d need to write code. I haven’t created a database in years, and I never got to the point of writing specialized code. Learning curve! }

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I learn from writing prose, but I don’t, necessarily, heal. It often doesn’t illuminate what’s been spackled over, but festers underneath.

Poetry lances.

In prose, I’ve written about my mostly-awful childhood, about being raped as a teenager by my cousin and disbelieved by my mother years later, about relatives treating me with casual contempt but calling it ‘respect’ and lambasting me for not being obsequious in response. I’ve written over and over and over. I learn something new each time, but… it doesn’t fix anything.

But Poetry…

No matter how many times I’ve tried to communicate with my relatives about being raped, they don’t respond. Or respond wildly inappropriately, such that I’m re-traumatized. (I’ve had extensive therapy; I’ve healed my inner wounds as much as can be.) But ‘social’ wounds remain: there no longer seems to be a ‘place’ for me in our extended family, because when people pick sides, they always pick his. Even my mother.

No matter what I’ve said, or what words I’ve used, none of them seemingly could hear what I was saying.

I had written a poem about that whole period of my life, in 2011. I worked on it intermittently (when I could bear to) over the years. A few months ago, I felt an urge to just finish it and be done with it. Finally, I had sufficient emotional distance to craft it. To polish it.

To aim it.

I sent that poem to my cousin (my rapist’s sister) whom I was breaking off ties with. She’s actually in the poem, because as things were happening 30 years ago, I went to her for help … and she betrayed me to him. In response, his behavior towards me escalated. That long ago breach of my trust had always prevented me from feeling at ease with her. Yet it was something I couldn’t conceive of how to talk to her about, since no relative will admit to me, “yes, I believe you that X raped you. He was wrong to do that. You deserved better.”

So, I sent the poem. She read it. She told me she read it.

Of course, she didn’t apologize for her part, or for anything. She said, “I’m sorry you’re still in so much pain. You should get over it. . . . Have you tried ‘thinking positive’?”

Breaking up with her was not only the necessary thing, it was long overdue.

A poem allowed her to hear my pain. Thousands of prose words on my other blog (which she used to read) did not.

= = =

When I broke ties with that cousin, she was the last member of my family of origin that I was in contact with. Writing that poem, then sending it, allowed me to realize… I don’t want to be part of a family where everyone denies that they mistreated and abused me.

Ironically? 30 years ago, my rapist was a huge fan of Bill Cosby. I bet he still is.

= = =

My pain is a boundary. My pain delineates who is me, or on Team Mea; and who isn’t. My pain has kept me alive, kept me sane, kept me myself.

Anna Deavere Smith:

“Your pain can be a source, like the color blue, or orange, for that matter. It can be one of your colors; it can be a tool . . . As artists, we can tolerate, for a while, great discomfort in order to explore discomfort.”

My pain spurred me to become an artist, a writer, a poet: I define myself.

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*DANCE: ballet, tap, modern, ballroom; MUSIC: acoustic guitar, recorder, singing; THEATER?: acting, modeling for a photographer; DRAWING: pencils, charcoal, colored pencils, pastels; PAINTING: oil, acrylic, watercolor; PAPER: 2-d design, collage, paper garments for photography; MIXED MEDIA: handmade valentines, building miniature rooms, flower arranging, beading jewelry, collage, “balancing/sculpture” for photography; FOOD: baking, cake decorating; WRITING: letters, poetry (age 13 only), essays; FIBER: braiding, rug hooking, embroidery, machine sewing (from a pattern), knitting on a machine, tapestry weaving, floor loom weaving, fabric painting, fabric dyeing, hand sewing (freeform), quilting, knitting by hand, fiber jewelry; PHOTOGRAPHY: nature, portraits –nonhumans, ongoing series of Spouse, self; CERAMICS: hand-built vessels, tiles; FASHION: my own wardrobe building, styling models for a photographer; CONCEPTUAL ART.

 

**I was originally going to track every single word, but I’ve since removed ones like ‘a/an’, ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘at’, ‘as’, ‘by’, etc.

Poem: Downsizing

Divesting myself of

former collections —

seashells

dried flowers

feathers

books that I loved in my 30s.

Ideas about what kind of life I wanted, needed.

What was, is, possible for me.

What other people thought I should want.

What I felt like I “deserve”.

Slowly

mindfully

I’m emptying

baskets.

What opens up inside of me when

my vessels rift?

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Poem #66, written 6.17.2014

process: visual poetry, centos, Lithuanian literature

I’ve been noodling around with writing poems that are constrained by being acrostics or double-acrostics. In acrostics, the 1st letters of each line spell something out; in double-acrostics, the first and last letters of each line spell something out. A year ago, I did a double-acrostic poem that spelled out OKLAHOMA CITY for my aunt and uncle who live there, but I couldn’t get it to work all the way. I’ve been improving though because I’ve done a lot more! I’ve successfully done double-acrostics that spell out the first names of my engaged friends A and B, such that one poem reads A/B, and the other, B/A. I did one that spelled out a friend (M)’s last name. And I did first and last names for both Spouse, and a second male friend. Yet another male friend, Roy, is proving a puzzle so far because I’d like to figure out how to do a 3-way/triangular visual poem from his name, but none of my sketches have panned out.

Last autumn, I did a visual poem with the names of my mother’s mother, my mother’s sister, and my mother’s sister’s oldest daughter, because they’re linked through the name JUNE. To most people, though, my poem would probably just look like a weird diagram. I’ve been studying visual poetry, because it wants me to write/draw it, but I’m not very good at it yet.

I had one of my poems (not a visual one, not an acrostic) accepted provisionally for publication last year: they wanted me to make it longer. Since it was a cento, none of the words were my own, so I couldn’t just write something; I had to find more lines from the original works that I could figure out where and how to insert into what I already had. I did that, and re-submitted it. The journal didn’t reply right away, and in the meantime, I second-guessed myself. I withdrew that second version, worked on it a whole bunch more. Made it a lot stronger, I think, by figuring out who all the voices were, and why they were talking to each other, and really deeply imagining the whole world of the poem. Sent in the third version as the first submitted poem of 2015. This time, it was rejected outright, because it didn’t fit with the rest of the issue.

But! A year ago, I’d written a different cento (from a different, modern source); 6 months ago, I’d impulsively sent a copy of it to the original poet, with a letter. And this January, I received her response! She says she liked it, that it skillfully changed the whole subject matter of what she wrote about, even though all the words are still hers. I also had sent a copy of that poem to Spouse’s father, because my version of it wanted to be about Spouse’s great-grandmother (whom I never met, but I think I would’ve really liked her). And he liked it too. It turns out that FIL’s grandmother, F, never learned to read or write, so I like to think she would’ve really gotten a kick out of having a poem dedicated to her. 27 years after she died even.

The letter back from the poet, Betty Adcock, inspired me to finally write a poem about Gramma, the first one I’d ever written about her. Poetry allows me to gather threads of history and people and unorthodox connections between them, and weave them into a tapestry all my own.

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3 years ago, I read a memoir by an Irish woman poet that I really liked. So I tracked down a copy of an anthology of Irish women poets, which I bought. But then I hated every single poem. So much for heritage. But! Late in 2013, through Inter-Library Loan, I found some Lithuanian poetry (in translation) by both men and women poets that I really liked. Late in 2014, I received Lithuanian Jewish woman poet Anna Halberstadt’s poetry collection [Vilnius Diary], in exchange for writing a book review of it for an online literary journal. Anna was born in the late 1940s, and kind of snarky and pessimistic. I didn’t really like her book, but that would be a very short review. The more I re-read it, the more it sort of grew on me. And she writes great lines that would work well in a cento! I wrote the best book review I could, and sent it off to the journal. They liked it! But said that their book reviews are normally 2-3x as long, so could I make it longer? I tried, for an entire month. The thing is, to make it longer in a good way, I’d need to read a lot more Lithuanian poetry, so I could write about how Anna fits into, or doesn’t, Lithuanian literature. From my research, though, most Lithuanian literature was written in Lithuanian or Polish (maybe even Russian), and has never been translated into English, and I don’t read Lithuanian or Polish (or Russian). I didn’t give up on the book review itself — I don’t daunt easily — but I did tell the poetry journal that I couldn’t make the book review longer, and I would understand if that meant they couldn’t publish it after all. I have every intention of writing a much longer review, but it’s gonna take me months and months of more research. Having someone else’s deadline hanging over my head the whole time would be too much pressure.

So last month, (from Inter-Library Loan) I was reading the Lithuanian poet, Tomas Venclova’s, poetry collection [Winter Dialogues] (translated into English), and… I kind of love it. It not only has rhythm and meter (which I struggle with), but it rhymes (which I love, and do myself), but his rhymes are much more skillful and less obvious than mine. The subject matter is kind of bleak, so maybe Anna’s stuff… fits right in? Need more research! Thus are literary obsessions born…

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Most of my centos so far have been from poems written by men [poems originally written in English, Stephen Kuusisto and Frank X. Gaspar; poems translated from Spanish, Pablo Neruda; from Ukrainian, Ilya Kaminsky]. I almost never read prose by men anymore, instead seeking out writers that are women, transgender, and nonbinary people, because they often write much more interestingly and intersectionally about, well, anything really. But men poets, especially men poets who originally wrote in another language, say things that really resonate for me. It makes me wonder if I could have been successful at being a man if I’d been a poet. I had always assumed any version of man I could figure out how to be would have been an utter disaster, but maybe not. Then again, as far as I know, I’m the only poet in my entire extended family, so if I were a man poet, I’d be doubly an outlier? I don’t think there’s any way for me to be me and not be an outlier. If only it were socially acceptable to be Really Different, and happy to be Really Different — I don’t want to be like everyone else.

If I could experience being a tree, or a bumblebee, or a river rock, or a cloud, I would do it, not just because it would be the coolest thing ever, but because it would expand my perceptions in directions I probably don’t even realize exist. And then if I returned to being human, I would be a much better poet! I’d also be a more interesting person. But even weirder too. I guess other people are afraid of anyone who isn’t similar to them? If that were true for me, I’d have to be afraid of everyone. I’d rather make friends. I’d rather imagine. I’d rather… write poetry. And dance. And make art.

AROHO and outsiders

From the application to AROHO’s 2015 Retreat ~

Virginia Woolf wrote:

“I’m fundamentally, I think, an outsider. I do my best work and feel most braced with my back to the wall. It’s an odd feeling, though, writing against the current: difficult entirely to disregard the current. Yet of course I shall.”

Respond to this, in 250 words or less.

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I’m fascinated by translation because I have to code-switch in all environments — no social ‘home’ for me. Since I never fit in, it’s essential that I define myself on my own terms. When/if aspects of my identity become mainstream, I change, so I can keep growing, and surprising myself.

I’ve legally changed all three of my names (surname, 1992; first & middle, 2013). I was a henotheistic Catholic for 20 years, a Pagan for 25 years, and now I’m an animist, mystic, agnostic. I can’t pick ‘just one’ gender to be — I like them all! When asked (by Bhanu) which animal I’d be, I said a tree: I’m ‘green underneath my skin’. I enjoy my own company; I love my body. My moods tangle up with colors in my environment (emotion-color synesthesia), so I’m very aware of aesthetics. I’m tactile and kinesthetic: I’m happiest when I’m moving (dancing), and touching stuff. I cut my hair by feel; I don’t look. I retain childlike curiosity, enthusiasm, and friendly interest in many things; many adults find that unseemly, unsettling. I read a lot; I often have to minimize just how much. No matter what field I’ve been in, either working or volunteering, my background never resembles anyone else’s background. I have no interest in social rank, status, or prestige. I prefer spending time with people different from myself (heterophily) — we can learn from each other! Unfortunately for me, homophily is much more common. Many people are results-oriented, but I’m all about process!