Tag Archive for 'poetry'

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Possible Futures: Poetry, Puerto Rico and Adoption with David-Glen Smith

Headshot Poet David Glen Smith

Poet David Glen Smith

Your poem “Learning Spanish” provides a sensual recreation of the experience of immersion in a foreign language morphing familiar via the body—here through the lens of love and fatherhood and the translation into body rhythms. Can you talk to us about this rich braided layering of history, family history, and future? How you arrived at your metaphors and the process of writing this poem?

For a number of years, after many attempts at learning conversational Spanish, I reached the conclusion all languages are musical in origin, and my approaches conflicted with developing a poetic understanding of the phrasing—sometimes, on a basic level, there is a satisfaction just listening to a group of people absorbed in their cultural conversations without my comprehension of the words: the meaning transforms to music. From that starting ground I wanted to describe the sensation of a persona’s developing understanding of another language through a close relationship: a partner born from another culture. And the persona’s need for his child to understand the background of both parents, both cultures.

Likewise the process of creative thought is similar to language comprehension— in the sense writers often drown themselves in a collection of impressions and sensations in order to sort out and organize the flow of relevant themes and emotional impact to provide their readers. In this poem’s case, by mirroring the experience of language and creativity I opened myself to a wide assortment of material I needed to weave into a specific tapestry of information.

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I discovered how vast the quantity of history and literature and music were hidden from me, through no one’s fault but my own. Borrowing from my experiences of San Juan —the copper-blue cobble stones for instance, the carts of candy and chipped ice, the older men playing dominos in the town square— I discovered my persona would likewise be alien to the past life experiences of his partner as well as the average day-to-day speech of an unknown city. Once I acknowledged that fact, the watery metaphors quickly swept over the poem.

In “As A Figure of Hermes” the narrator open with the writer’s dilemma: “A moment of confrontation: me and the blank paper,” dilemma enough without the presence of a child to raise and love and imagine a life for over the rest of one’s days. Eventually the narrator latches onto the metaphor of Hermes, sliding into reverie about mortal son. Can you speak to the relationship between fatherhood and writing? How has fatherhood come to bear on your writing life?

With the experience of becoming a father last year, and the whole process of the adoption of our son Brendan, I quickly fell into a mode of redefining myself. Almost immediately a whole new understanding of my goals and aspirations emerged—I know it sounds cliché, but once the title of Father is attributed to you, a strange mindset develops without warning: no matter how much mental preparation you are supplied.

The poem in particular was a projection of a future possibility once Brendan reached his middle teen years—written before a birth mother had even matched with us. What I find interesting, although the projection of him as a dark-haired boy is inaccurate, my fear of a loss of communication with him is very similar to the fear of losing touch with my creative energies. Once, in the mid Nineties, I experienced a long spell of writer’s block, partly self-imposed, partly circumstance. My fear if the blank page echoes my fear of Brendan not understanding the creative energy of a writer-father.

“Without hesitation, / shove kindling and kerosene-soaked-rags / under the foundations of any structure / binding your slender body to the past” opens your powerful poem, “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges.” This poem strikes me as the kind of letter, as a poet, I would hope to find in my “baby book” (or, from the prenatal birth classes parents of our generation might attend, where one is often asked to write a letter to one’s future child). Can you talk to us about the inspiration behind this poem?

The “Burning Bridges” poem is another example of writing which appeared before we were matched with the birth-mother. It was the first full length poem I wrote addressing my son as an actuality, rather than a possibility due to the fact we were processing the paperwork and profile information for the agency. As you mentioned, it is a letter “exercise” I heard about years before as a means of developing ideas into something stronger and more stable.

Most of the inspiration is based off negative experiences from my immediate past—mainly a one-time corporate employer telling me to not burn any bridges in my exit interview. This of course only made me burn a huge pyre when I left the company to pursue my writing and editing positions. I pray he is never put into such situations of corporate middle management—or ill-advised authority figures—which of course became the backbone of the poem itself.

Furthermore I did not want to bind him to any expectations of my own. Certainly I want him to be involved with the creative arts in same fashion, but it will have to be up to his own choosing, not mine.

Most importantly, I wanted to prepare him in a sense for the opposition he will bump into later in life due to the fact his parents are in a same-sex relationship. I hate that expression; it sums up the situation in a very cold, clinical fashion. Regardless of that fact, I want him to be able to see beyond the definitions and restrictions society often places on diverse thoughts, diverse ideas, to hold firmly to his opinions and live according to a moral code based on his own choice construction, and analytical process.

How do the practices of sketching and writing compete/complement your imagination’s processes?

At one time my sketching was more intensive, more of a ritualized practice which helped explore new ideas—during the drawing process I discovered that the development of new schemes with a different manner of expression brought new focus to writing. However, with Brendan’s birth, my regular practice of drawing and painting has stopped temporarily. Once the demands of raising him lessen slightly, or offer windows of opportunities, I’ll start the process again, exploring a way of bridging the two different fields into one project. I have partially generated a series of Japanese tanka verses partnered with ink-brush illustrations—a project only half realized at the moment. As it stands currently, what resulted is that my two selves, illustrator and poet, tend to argue who is in control of the output. Oftentimes the original idea seems to suffer between the two extremes. A compromise needs to be built between the two aspects of my personality.

Any writing mentors you wish to share with us?

When earning my MFA in Creative Writing at Vermont College, then affiliated with Norwich University, I was fortunate to work with three established writers of merit: Susan Mitchell, Lynda Hull, and Mark Doty. Each of the trio, with their unique methods, did instill a better sense of direction for my writing. Through their individual approaches I strengthened my style of building connections between a variety of themes and story-lines. I always admired the manner their particular styles braid more than one conceit through one body of work. Some quick examples from their creative efforts I often use in my classes: Hull, “Ornithology;” Mitchell, “Havana Birth;” Doty, “Tiara.”

There is much talk recently about the validity of a higher degree in creative writing; at the time I was working towards my own, I felt a strong connection to the concept of guided study for developing a stronger sense of self, a stronger sense of craft. It is not a direction suited for everyone. On a practical level, I chose the MFA specifically to enable me to have a background for teaching university-level courses. On a more emotional approach, I needed to learn how to feel comfortable in my own skin and how to be honest with my own personal experiences.

We understand you are at work on a new series of poems, Quintet, with a unique structure. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Quintet is a manuscript, near completion, which explores numerous interior monologues. I do like the idea of a tight “concept album” in the music industry—in a tongue in cheek manner I created the same idea for a poetry collection. In this sense, the full narrative of a five member modern jazz group is heard. Edgar Lee Masters’ book Spoon River Anthology proved a valid inspiration ever since I read it in high school. In my case, the thoughts and impressions of the band are shown in a manner mirroring the sixties jazz be-bop movement, sudden solo improvisations popping into the middle of a memory without warning. The verses appear alternating between a tight, traditional form and an abstract, expressionistic pattern on the page. In this manner I follow the Modernists from the Twentieth Century, their rebellion against expectation and strict definition.

David-Glen Smith’s work appeared in various magazines including:Assaracus (where “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges” first appeared), The Centrifugal Eye, ffrrfr, Houston Literary Review, Lady Jane Miscellany, Louisville Review, Mid-America Review, Saltwater Quarterly, Slant, The Steel-Toe Review,and The Write Room. In addition, a recent print anthology titled Ganymede-Unfinished accepted two of his poems. Currently residing in Cypress, Texas with his partner of ten years, they recently adopted a baby boy, a welcome edition in their lives: new topics and inspirations for poetry projects. Smith teaches English Literature at both Wharton County Junior College and Lone Star College-CyFair. He received his MFA at Vermont College, and his MA at the University of MO at St. Louis. For more information visit his website.

Celebrating the Foregoing of Motherhood: Poetry in the Service of Spiritual Quandary, Lineage, and Teaching Adolescents with Poet Lisa Rizzo

Lisa Rizzo poet teacher headshot

Lisa Rizzo

Editor’s Note: I first heard Lisa read “Daughters” at a Women on Writing (WOW) conference in the Bay Area three years ago and thought the poem belonged here at The Fertile Source; no coincidence then, that several days into this summer’s 2011 A Room of Her Own Foundation (AROHO) Writing retreat, I found myself sharing breakfast with Lisa, talking poetry. Once we realized our earlier connection—that we’d first met at WOW–I had the opportunity to ask her again for the poem, along with “Uneasy Grace” and “Childhood”. I left in Lisa’s nods to me (forgive the indulgence), drinking in a little return acknowledgment for the time and hours spent here, with gratitude.  Enjoy—Tania Pryputniewicz

I read these poems looking at the question of foregoing motherhood as a series, assuming a common narrator. As a trio, they present a moving look at the process of such a decision, and oddly enough, the dual finality and opportunity to connect in other ways. The childless narrator of “Uneasy Grace,” in reference to the gift of time with her niece, ends the poem on a haunting question, “What other spirit could I need?” Can you talk to us about how the process of writing poetry might lend itself to such decision? (Or what does poetry offer that other forms might not?)

For me, poetry is about being brutally honest with myself.  When writing a poem, I can’t hide from myself, but rather have to face myself head-on.  A friend just wrote to me: “You manage to tear out parts of yourself and stand back and appreciate them.  I wanted to say analyze, but that is too harsh.” That is exactly what I want to do with my poems! So perhaps this art form has allowed me not just to accept my childless stay – a decision that in our society is often suspect, but to embrace it as a positive thing.

It amazes me how many words referring to spirit or religion I use in my poems.  As I described in this poem, I have a real quandary about what I think of spirituality. It’s one of those gray areas in my life I prefer not to analyze too much, even though I write about my unresolved feelings all the time.  In the same way, foregoing motherhood kind of crept up on me unawares.  I think I had made the decision long before I realized it.  As with most women, it was and is a difficult thing to explain.  I do know that it was only after I became comfortable with my life without children that I decided to become a teacher.  Are those two events related?  I’m not sure, but I do think the progression rather interesting.

In a delightful turn, nested within “Uneasy Grace,” we witness the lineage of poetry itself passed from aunt to niece as they compose haiku together. Can you talk to us about the role poetry plays for you in your daily life?

I find it interesting that you used the word “nested” in your question – it brings us back to the idea of mother/caretaker.  Thinking about this makes me realize just how much poetry is intertwined with my interactions with the children in my life.  I’m lucky that I get to share in both sides of the poetic dance in my writing as well as with my day job. Being a middle school teacher, while challenging to my writing life in many ways, also allows me to share my love of poetry with the young people whom I teach.  Adolescents are just awakening to their own place in the world and as a result, they are learning the power of words. So many of them love poetry.  I enjoy the interplay between us when we read and write poetry together.  It is that sense of wonder that I got when I wrote the haikus with my niece that day in church.

How did you arrive at the metaphor of the ribbon (appearing in both “Childhood” and “Daughters”) and were there other metaphors you considered along the way?

Until you asked this question, I had never even noticed the connection of the ribbon metaphor in both poems.  Isn’t that amazing? I love it that other people can see things that I as the poet don’t!  To be honest, I’m not sure how I came up with these metaphors.  I do know that in both poems I was exploring the idea of where I come from, how my background and family has influenced who I am today.  Those ribbons hold me to the past while giving me enough “line” to move on into my future.  This is something I write about often.

Have you encountered work by other writers along this topic line that you’d recommend to us? Any desire to address the range of ways you see mothering still finding expression despite a decision to forego having a child (either in your life or the lives of others)?

This is a very interesting question. I really have not come across poems along this line. Once at a poetry reading, another poet read a poem about her unborn children, but that is really the only one I can think of.  I believe this is such a sensitive topic in our society that many women don’t talk about it – or if they do talk about not having children, they have to excuse themselves. I know I have to be careful not to do that myself.  I think this is why the poem “Daughters” has such an impact whenever I read it – I am always amazed at the deep emotions it seems to stir in other women.  I feel quite honored by some of the stories women have shared with me after hearing this poem.

In “Childhood,” the lines “my future self tucked / dormant and waiting/ packed for my journey” struck me as an eloquent ovarian metaphor, in the context of the green suitcase the child is carrying. Can you talk to us about the process of writing this poem?

The photograph (view here) I wrote about is one of the most evocative images of myself that I have.  It’s hanging on my bedroom wall right now. There is just something about the look on my little four-year old face that draws me back to it.  I looked so hopeful about the world around me, yet also a little afraid.  (The way I still feel most of the time even today!)  Another very provocative part of the photo is the small fragment of my childhood friend that appears behind me.  This has always intrigued me because she was wearing what appears to be an identical dress.  Because so little of her can be seen, it looks almost like a ghost image.  And why was I carrying a suitcase?  I wrote this poem when I was just beginning to take myself seriously as a writer.   The idea that this poet self was there all along comforted me.

Any writing mentors you wish to share with us?

 My most important mentor is Charlotte Muse (her real name!).  She’s a local poet with whom I have been taking poetry workshops for many years. She is an amazing teacher; gentle and encouraging while at the same time incredibly honest in her criticism. I credit her encouragement in helping me overcome my nagging self-doubt about my poetry.

And then there are all the amazing women writers I met at AROHO (like you, Tania!).  I now consider every one of those women to be mentors.  Since attending that retreat, the support I received there has helped me find a new commitment to my identity as a writer.

 How do you balance teaching and writing?

With much effort and difficulty!  It is always a struggle to meld these two parts of my life so that I don’t feel like they are at war with each other.  To be a teacher means to be on stage for most of the day, a very extraverted activity.  Then I often don’t have any energy left when I go home to tap into the introverted poet in me.  Since coming home from AROHO, I’ve done a better job because I won’t let myself off the hook as much when it comes to carving out time for my writing.  When I was at Ghost Ranch, I bought a stone that had an image carved into it.  There were many of them with various images.  The first one I was drawn to had a carving of a half moon/half sun.  When I read the description of what this image was supposed to represent, it said it showed an eclipse. This is symbolizes power and union.  I think it is a perfect metaphor for how I am trying to balance the union between these two sides of myself.

 What are you currently working on?

I am working on a variety of things.  As far as my poetry, I am currently at work on a series of poems about my trip to the Serengeti this past summer.  Being there was awe-inspiring.  I am also trying to “outline” a vision for a poetry manuscript that I hope to write.  I truly hate outlines, but I want to be more intentional about finding the connections between my poems so they work together to form a book.  So far, that means a great deal of musing but little black and white on the page!

Recently I started my own blog Poet Teacher Seeks World.  I never thought I would blog (I do hate how we have made this a verb) until I met you, Tania.  Also, I’m working on our collaborative interview project, AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer.  Again, this is a new type of venture for me and I am enjoying it immensely.

Lisa Rizzo is a poet and middle school language arts teacher who manages to combine her love of words and poetry with her day job. She was born in Texas, grew up in Chicago and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her work has appeared in such journals as The Lucid Stone, 13th Moon, Writing for Our Lives, Earth’s Daughters, Bellowing Ark and Calyx JournalIn the Poem an Ocean is her first chapbook publication.  She recently entered the “blogosphere” with her blog Poet Teacher Seeks World and the collaborative project AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer.

April 14, 2014 update:  Here’s an additional Interview with Lisa Rizzo at The California Journal of Women Writers by Marcia Meier.

Childhood, Daughters, Uneasy Grace: Three Poems by Lisa Rizzo

Childhood

I begin with a photograph:
find a face
much like my present one
peeping out
shy, unsure of its welcome.
A tree stands behind –
shading scrub yard and gray steps.
My dress white
organdy.
On my head
a hat of plain straw
with black band and flowers.
Its yellow ribbon grasps
my neck firmly.
On the back I read:
“Lisa in Mt. Pleasant 1960?”
The question repeated
in my face.

In the upper left corner –
on the half hidden porch
a snippet of another girl
in a white dress
in a straw hat.
Since she has no face
I imagine her to be
my shadow
refusing to cooperate.
The smile I can see –
half formed,
head dipped
seeming to say: “Please.”
Carried in my hand
a child’s round suit case.
It is green.
Into this
my future self tucked
dormant and waiting,
packed for my journey.

Daughters

I bear a thin red ribbon
around my wrist. This flows
from me to my mother
and back. I am
the eldest daughter of
an eldest daughter of
an eldest daughter.
This embrace I can never
unwind. Instead I
have chosen to cut my own
daughter free – the bond
never begun.

On my 38th birthday gazing
at a bowl of daffodils I
forced to bloom, I conceded
I would never have a child.
I shed no tears, but simply felt
hot wax seal the ribbon’s end.

I am a woman
who will never have children,
who never expected to fall in love
with the sweet hair and baby grasp
of her brother’s daughter.
Still I have no tears, only
now I understand what
I have foregone.

Uneasy Grace

Ensnared into church by my mother’s faith
and Christmas wishes:
that old Methodist feeling of
remorse and regret
blended with a tinge of guilt.
Uncomfortable tug of a past
that no longer fits
even if I might want it.
Sitting silent during prayers
so I don’t feel a liar.

And then a gift:
My brother and his daughter
slid into the pew,
she in her little girl finery:
spangly dress and slippers
I brought her from Istanbul,
their cardboard soles soggy
with Portland rain.
She and I amused ourselves with
counting hymns and syllables
for haiku:

Winter is wonder.
Winter is snowflakes in the air.
Winter is cocoa.
By Felicity Grace, age 9

Winter is wonder.
When mist marries mountainside
Cedars sprinkle stars.
By Lisa Grace, age 51

What other spirit could I need?
This is something I know how to hold.

Lisa Rizzo is a poet and middle school language arts teacher who manages to combine her love of words and poetry with her day job. She was born in Texas, grew up in Chicago and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her work has appeared in such journals as The Lucid Stone, 13th Moon, Writing for Our Lives, Earth’s Daughters, Bellowing Ark and Calyx JournalIn the Poem an Ocean is her first chapbook publication.  “Childhood” was previously published in 13th Moon; “Daughters” previously appeared in Writing for Our Lives. All three poems published here today also appeared in In the Poem an Ocean. Rizzo recently entered the “blogosphere” with her blog Poet Teacher Seeks World and the collaborative project AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer.

Read our interview with Lisa Rizzo conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Celebrating the Foregoing of Motherhood: Poetry in the Service of Spiritual Quandary, Lineage, and Teaching Adolescents.

 

Limitations, Imitations, and Haiku as Form of Expansion: an Interview with Poet Stephanie Lenox

Poet Stephanie Lenox, headshot

Stephanie Lenox, Photo by Sabina Samiee, Oregon Arts Commission

In “Confinement: A Haiku Sequence in Ten Parts,” (published earlier here at The Fertile Source) the narrator speaks to her unborn child, “My fears feast on you / But even the leaves let go.” This beautiful line in particular seems to hone in on the way a mother’s brain has to rewire itself to accept the responsibility of loving someone we can lose at any moment. The rest of the poem also documents this process (which starts in utero). Can you talk about how the images came to you? And why you chose the form of haiku? How did the conditions of bedrest figure in to the psychology of the narrator?

I was inspired to start this haiku sequence after taking a workshop with Ce Rosenow, president of the Haiku Society of America. Her workshop reminded me that a haiku is so much more than simply a 5-7-5 syllabic form. Since haiku traditionally include images from nature, I wanted to do that in my sequence, but for the most part my imagery is confined to those things I could see from my bedroom window – telephone wires, a few treetops, the sky. I invited nature into my haiku through other images, but for the most part I aimed for images that reinforced the cramped, claustrophobic feel of pregnancy, especially a pregnancy spent on complete bedrest.

I started with haiku in part because motherhood and the preceding 70 days in bed was such a monumental experience – it completely rearranged me – that I wasn’t sure where to begin. So I started with five syllables, then seven more, and I slowly built and layered one image on top of another. (It was also a writing project I could chip away at between feedings, diapers, etc.) The formal restrictions of haiku helped focus me. I also discovered in the process that haiku, while appearing small, is a form of expansion. Without punctuation, it is intended to unfold and expand in the reader’s mind. I liken it to one of those toy capsules you drop into the bathtub that transform into a sponge dinosaur.

In “Last days of nursing,”  the metaphor of the magician strikes me as a clever way to point to the intermediary nature of motherhood—part God, part magician, yet so rooted in tangible and impossible acts, like weaning a child. I believe every mother who has had to wean her child will relate to this poem! Were there other metaphors you considered along the way? Poetry by any other writers you’ve seen covering this topic you’d like to share with us?

This poem is a direct response to the poem “The End of Nursing” in a beautiful book called Out of Refusal by Carter McKenzie. Her poem begins: “Interminable nibbler, attached fish, when / does this end?” My poem, in its last line, answers hers.

I felt so empowered to write about this topic after reading her poem that I practically stole her title and started writing my own version. I’m sure I considered a lot of metaphors along the way, but I settled on the extended use of the magician because magic is messy, or at least that’s the way I envision it. From the audience’s point of view, it’s all illusion, but for the magician and the assistant it’s a rehearsed performance, one that begins with awkward practices and risky errors and that eventually works its way toward mystery.

We understand you are at work on a new series of poems inspired by the birth of your daughter. Can you give us an inside peek at the range of topics you’ll cover? (And let us know when it comes out so we can alert our readers and support your work.)

I have been fortunate to receive an individual artist grant from the Oregon Arts Commission in support of new work inspired by my daughter’s birth. My first book of poetry, Congress of Strange People, will be coming out from Airlie Press next fall. I’ve always been intrigued by bizarre characters and events, and my first book explores this in large part through the use of persona poems. But in my new work, the strangeness has come home with me. I find it in the middle of the night during a feeding. I find it in the ants crawling through my kitchen cupboards and across my newborn’s tongue. I find it in my dog whose severe separation anxiety caused her to consume baby bottle nipples and parts of my breast pump.

I’m also experimenting with imitations of other poets. Theodore Roethke has said that “Imitation, conscious imitation, is one of the great methods, perhaps the method of learning how to write.” I’m a perpetual student of poetry, so imitations are my way of tracing my poetic lineage through poems that have changed the way I think about what language can do. I like to think of my poems as “offsprings” of the originals.

Any mentors you’d like to share with us?

I’m a member of a poetry response group known as The Peregrines (named so because we meet twice a month at a different member’s house). They apply the gentle pressure I need to keep writing in spite of all the competing obligations. I’ve likewise been grateful for the mentorship of the editors at Airlie Press, the nonprofit poetry publishing collective that is publishing my first book.

Has your experience of motherhood changed your relationship to your writing or your editorial work?

Motherhood has made me more honest about my time: either I do it, or I don’t, no excuses. I’ve actually been more productive since my daughter was born than I was in the years before she arrived. I work during naps and by the good graces of babysitters. My daughter has a bedtime of 6:30 pm, which used to give me a lot of time to work. However, since I’m now expecting my second child, I no longer have the creative energy to write in the evenings.

I wish I’d realized how good I had it when my daughter would sleep in my lap as I compiled an issue of Blood Orange Review or read submissions. I miss the days I could read an entire book of poetry at 3 am while rocking my daughter back to sleep. Now that I have a toddler on my hands, there’s no working while she’s in my presence. But what I’ve learned most from motherhood is to constantly adapt to today’s challenge rather than forcing yesterday’s solution. 

Any programs for writing mothers you’ve found helpful or that you’d’ like to see developed?

The grant I received from the Oregon Arts Commission has been especially helpful for me as a writing mother. It’s paying for the babysitter right now as I answer these questions. Another thing that helps is finding other writers with young children. It’s extremely useful to share one’s frustrations and accomplishments as a writer while the babies roll around on the floor together.

As for more programs for writing mothers, I’m dreaming now, but I’d love to see more daylight poetry readings, ones with a separate room with childcare provided. I think one reason you see poetry audiences aging (at least in my corner of the world) is that young families face a lot of barriers to attending evening events. This has been the part of my literary life most impacted by motherhood. If I’m going to spring for a babysitter, I want it to be for my own writing or a date night with my husband.

Stephanie Lenox lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. Her chapbook, The Heart That Lies Outside the Body, was published by Slapering Hol Press in 2007. The work published here was written with the support of a 2010 Oregon Art Commission artist fellowship. She teaches poetry at Willamette University and edits the literary journal Blood Orange Review. For more information, please visit her website at www.stephanielenox.com.

Two Poems by Stephanie Lenox: Confinement and Last Days of Nursing

Confinement: A Haiku Sequence in Ten Parts

While pregnant with my daughter, I was hospitalized for several weeks then prescribed complete bedrest at home to prevent pre-term delivery. I spent ten weeks in bed.

Fetal monitor—
Pebbles dropped down a dark well
Your slight heart’s beating

My fears feast on you
But even the leaves let go
Tiny Apple Core

All autumn confined
Don’t speak to me of seasons
This leaf pile smolders

An ant traverses
The wilderness of my bed—
Will it ever end?

Counting your hiccups
This parade of numbers
A game I must play

Frost on the window
My incompetent cervix
Between us this veil

On the ultrasound
A hill covered in fresh snow
You’ve turned your back to me

The still frozen pond
One tenacious goldfish roots
In the muddy bed

Wires segment the sky
Between them I write your name—
I’ll do anything

Heavy with questions
I roll over like the day
Somehow we go on

Last Days of Nursing

Like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, the milk came,
conjured by your hungry mouth.

My abracadabra—your mewling cries—my presto chango.
Behind the curtain I waited and waited for your call.

There were days I felt the handcuffs bite my wrists,
days I felt you determined to saw me in half.

Vanishing is only half the act. We cast our spells on each other.
You, my bright fat coin plucked from behind an ear.

O sleight-of-hand, how do we now perform
this gentle switch-a-roo? Think of the knotted handkerchiefs,

that bright cord pulled again and again from
the master’s sleeve—my dear astonished one, it never ends.

Stephanie Lenox lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. Her chapbook, The Heart That Lies Outside the Body, was published by Slapering Hol Press in 2007. The work published here was written with the support of a 2010 Oregon Art Commission artist fellowship. She teaches poetry at Willamette University and edits the literary journal Blood Orange Review. For more information, please visit her website at www.stephanielenox.com.

Read our interview with Stephanie Lenox: Limitations, Imitations and Haiku as Form of Expansion

An Interview with Poet Brittney Corrigan: Second Hearts, Autism, & Mother Writer Retreats

Brittney Corrigan; Photo by Serena Davidson

Guilt Poem: Unplanned” opens with, “You didn’t want another child,” and continues to address the leap of faith mothers make each time they get pregnant—the attendant questions of sustainability: will I now also be able to nurture this new life, in addition to the one I am already nursing, raising. Can you talk to us about this dilemma, as well as the process of writing this poem?

When my sister had her first child, she described the experience of loving that child as “growing a second heart”. I think many mothers wonder, when they get pregnant for a subsequent time, how they will possibly be able to love the new child as much, or as well, as the first. For me, the fear was twofold, as my first child is on the autism spectrum. I was scared of the possibility of having another special needs child, when I was so overwhelmed by caring for the first. And I wondered, darkly, if I had a typical child, would I somehow love my first, challenging child less?

For me, these dark but nonetheless real emotions and fears are the basis for my series of parenting guilt poems. I wanted to address not the commonly discussed guilts of not wanting to play Legos for hours or feeling guilty about taking time for oneself, but rather the deeper issues of guilt that I think many parents have but are afraid or ashamed to voice. These poems are meant to open the discussion of these darker feelings of guilt, to work through them, and to come out hopeful on the other side. I have found that, even when I feel like I’m alone with these feelings, once each guilt poem is offered up to readers, I am suddenly surrounded by scores of parents saying, “Yes! I’ve felt that, too!”

When I read the line “this sibilant galaxy of two” (also from “Guilt Poem”) I knew we had to run your poetry—what a lovely stanza and line in particular. Can you talk about arriving at the star/constellation metaphor? Other metaphors since then you have landed on as crystallizing images regarding pregnancy and motherhood?

I tend to “gravitate” towards celestial metaphors in my work, whether the poems are about motherhood or other subject matter. I’m comfortable with the imagery of stars and constellations, and with the natural world, in general. In this particular poem, I enjoyed “breaking the rules” of not mixing metaphors by combining celestial and oceanic/tidal imagery. I feel that both metaphors capture the experience of motherhood – the regular rhythm of routines, the ebb and flow of emotions, and the concurrent fear and wonder of raising children. In my other poems about pregnancy and motherhood, I use imagery of the natural world throughout.

Here’s a question we never fail to enjoy asking at The Fertile Source: what impact has motherhood had on your writing life?

When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately decided that I would write one poem each week, from 4 to 40, exploring the experience of pregnancy. I wrote weeks 4 and 5, and then the exhaustion hit. I did very little writing for the rest of my pregnancy and in the first couple years of my son’s life. It was very difficult for me to make the space in my life – both literally and emotionally – to write.

When my son received his autism diagnosis, I began to write again about my experience as his mother. Poetry then became a way for me to work through the complicated issues involved in raising and loving a special needs child.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I was lucky enough to be awarded a week long residency at Soapstone, a writing retreat for women near the Oregon coast. I attended while in my second trimester, and with that renewed energy and the time away from my then 3-year old son, I worked on the autism poems as well as returning enthusiastically to the project of the week-by-week pregnancy poems.

As my children, now nearing four and eight, have grown older, I have found more and more time to return to my writing. I now greatly value any spare moment and have learned to write on demand when I have that time and to fit short writing periods into a busy schedule, since I don’t often have extended periods of time to write.

You mentioned attending the writing retreat, Soapstone. Can you tell us a bit about that retreat (we understand it is no longer running). Any reflections on that experience and words of advice to other mother writers considering escaping to writing retreats while raising children? Any other retreat venues you know of that are “mother friendly” (or what could you see retreats offering to mother writers in the future)?

Soapstone is a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon that supports women writers. The organization is no longer offering residencies, but I can tell you that the time I had at the retreat was an absolute gift. I was only in residence for a week during each of my three stays, but to a mother of small children, that seemed like an eternity of time. Having a space to write in a gorgeous natural setting, removed from the routines of the everyday, was invaluable.

Many of the other writing retreats and residency programs that I know about unfortunately do not offer stays of less than two weeks; in fact most are between 1-3 months. As any mother of small children knows, leaving them for even a few days can be a hardship on the family, and nearly impossible for a single mother. I would like to see more residency programs become more “mother friendly” by offering one-week stays. Eventually, I would like to apply for a residency at Hedgebrook, another retreat for women writers, but that won’t be possible until my children are much older, since the minimum stay is two weeks.

I also think it would be wonderful if local writing organizations could offer space in their own offices for “day retreats” – space that could be rented or even offered for free to mothers who are writers to come and write for a day or a few days at a time. I know that for me, it would still be valuable to be able to write for eight dedicated hours and then return to my family in the evening.

Any poetry or writings you could recommend to our readers that you consider pivotal or influential along your own writing trajectory?

The poets I love best are Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Joy Harjo, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver, Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, and Maxine Scates. In terms of poetry on the subject of motherhood, I could recommend the writing of Sharon Olds (very raw and honest), Jill Bialosky, and Sharon Kraus.

Any desire to talk about your own editorial role at Hyperlexia? Your most challenging moments/experiences? Your most rewarding?

While knowing or loving an individual with autism is becoming more and more common, it has been my experience that it’s hard to find literary-caliber poetry on the subject. It has been wonderful to be the poetry editor for a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the best creative writing out there on the subject of autism. I have seen some truly remarkable poetry come across my desk. If your readers are interested in excellent poems about the experience of raising a child with autism, I highly recommend the work of Barbara Crooker and Rebecca Foust, among the many other talented writers published in our journal (Hyperlexia).

What are you currently working on?

As mentioned previously, my main project these days is the series of parenting guilt poems. I am also working on a series of poems about raising a child on the autism spectrum. I have completed the series of pregnancy poems, and I would eventually like to see them published in the form of a pregnancy journal for literary-minded women. I also have a handful of completed children’s picture book manuscripts that are looking for publishers. Finally, I’m working on editing my first full-length collection of poetry, which will be released in the coming year.

Brittney Corrigan’s poems have appeared in The Texas Observer, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Borderlands, The Blue Mesa Review, Oregon Review, Manzanita Quarterly, Hip Mama, Stringtown, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. She is the poetry editor for the online literary journal Hyperlexia and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. To read more of Brittney’s work, visit her website; links to her poetry on-line may be accessed here.

Brittney Corrigan: Three Poems

Guilt Poem: Unplanned

You didn’t want another child.
How you wept, how you weighed,
in those first undertow hours,
what you never before imagined.
You looked up the addresses
of clinics, your hand wavering
between belly and phone.
How such a faint, unformed thing
could ambush you so. Utterly
ensnare you. Knock you
sputtering into the deep.

You were already sinking.
Your boy—your difficult, discordant
child—took all you could gather
of yourself just to make it
from one end of the day to the other.
Where was there room in these riddled,
sapped hours for anything, anyone
else? Where was there room
in your heart, already compressing
with the weight of the descent? And, too,
the fear that blackened you when it rose,
would crush you if you spoke it:
what if this child was fractious as the first?

Everything you’d done up to now
was mustered from love.
You learned to assemble when
he crumbled. Shifted your orbit
to accommodate each essential,
rigid routine. You re-centered
your world to plunge into his.
Accepted the peculiar, unruly shimmer
of his being even as you wished
darkly for an easier child.

So you could not summon wonderment
or joy, feared this new child, insistent
and blazing, would sense how you felt
in the long, anxious months.
And what should you do with this
even more terrible thought that a second,
less arduous child might tamp
your love for the first? You could feel
yourself fragmenting, space debris
left circling in the black.

But with each tide your dark thoughts
were coaxed back to the depths.
As she grew and fluttered and spun,
so you grew to yearn for her coming,
urgent want flooding your bones.
It flattens you to think about now,
how she might not have been. She emerged
smiling, open-eyed and bright and necessary.

It is as if some otherworldly visitor,
sent with a message, decided to stay.
Something luminescent about her,
a glowing specimen feathering the deep.
How everything alters: your axis,
the revolving, the dizzy spin. How you
understand now the need for constellations,
the pull to make connections between stars.
They will keep each other, these satellites,
this sibilant galaxy of two.

Now the universe has two centers.
Or something like the balance of water
and air. Your world is no less difficult
for the changing. Still you dip and tread,
splay ragged at the leaving of the day.
But now you are a two-mooned
planet, spinning as they chase you
through expanding sky. Sometimes
they are too brilliant to look upon.
Sometimes they are reflected in your eyes.

16 Weeks

Waiting for the quickening, those little
knocks and bumps, a new rendering

of Morse code, our own body
language. You’re learning to control

those opalescent limbs. Little
dragonfly, my hummingbird, you hover

at my center, looking for the place
to wingbeat your first hello.

38 weeks

You are gaining an ounce a day
now, little person, growing creases

in your skin like fine folds
of cloth. My belly tightens around

you in preparation for your birth,
making me stand still, hold my hands

over your upturned limbs. Even now,
when I can’t wait to meet you, my whole

body holds you in, holds you tightly,
is reluctant to let you go.

Brittney Corrigan’s poems have appeared in The Texas Observer, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Borderlands, The Blue Mesa Review, Oregon Review, Manzanita Quarterly, Hip Mama, Stringtown, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. She is the poetry editor for the online literary journal Hyperlexia and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. To read more of Brittney’s work, visit her website; links to her poetry on-line may be accessed here.

Read our Interview with Poet Brittney Corrigan: Second Hearts, Autism, and Mother Writer Retreats.

The Mystery and The Mess: Motherlines and Motherless Women with Poet Andrea O’Brien

photo of poet Andrea O'Brien

Poet Andrea O'Brien

 

In “Child Who Haunts My Womb,” (published earlier on The Fertile Souce here) the speaker in the poem states: I have too much religion / and not enough God in me / to make a right decision regarding carrying a child to term and raising a child. I love how this line highlights that religion (when one is young) might fill one with a sense of  what is “right” while the possibility of bringing a child into the world (when one begins to mature and face adulthood) might call for a more visceral, internal prompting from the God of one’s body. Can you talk to us about this dilemma?

It seems to me we are taught to put the mind above the body, that logic trumps the bodily experience. In many religions, the body’s temporal existence results in it being viewed as less significant than the mind and spirit. What I seek, in this poem and in general, is wholeness—a unity of the mind-body-spirit connection. Maybe it is more particular to the female experience, but for me, the body cannot be separated from the person. We live in a physical world; why would we not expect to find the spiritual in the physical?

By day, I’m a technical writer so I often approach the world—even poems—in a logical, procedural way. But there’s another part of me—the poet self, I suppose—who resists this order and wants to live in the mystery and mess of the world, knowing there are not always answers to the questions.

There’s also a beautiful vulnerability portrayed in the relationship between mother and daughter, as that daughter turns to face motherhood herself, and finds she still needs her own mother: I am still a child / really, always fleeing, / asking, and needing: / how to clean silver, / how to check / transmission fluid…Can you talk about writing this poem and how you decided which aspects of the mother /daughter relationship to include?

I imagine all women continue to need their mothers throughout their lives to some extent, but this is especially true for women who have lost their mothers at a young age. We—and I’m taking a leap speaking for all motherless women—understand loss much earlier in life and experience successive loss, even small losses, as a form of abandonment. I wanted to convey the longing, and the intense need, through the memories of what once was, as well as through the description of what is left unfulfilled.

The motherline is strong; it’s how a woman learns about being a woman—through story, through example—and when that is cut, a woman may feel adrift. The reference point has become a memory.

Maybe that is one reason The Fertile Source is such a valuable resource. It is a place for stories—for a specific type of story—that one can use as a touch point (ah, this is how one person experienced childbirth, and this is how someone else experienced miscarriage).

There’s a difficult backdrop presented in “Child Who Haunts My Womb “as well: the speaker’s mother grappling with illness. Can you talk about the process of writing about such a poignant threshold (birth and death simultaneously) in this poem?

I love exploring the paradoxical in poems and using the structure of a poem to bring opposites into play. From my limited experiences, it seems we have become more and more isolated from death (and birth!). But in nature, we can see all the time how connected birth and death really are. One life ending becomes the fertile ground for a new one. That doesn’t make dying easier to accept. But with passing of time and practicing her craft and a little bit of luck, a writer might transform the stuff of life into art.

Any writing mentors you’d like to share with us?

Too many to name! Early on, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marilyn Taylor, who has since represented the Badger state as poet laureate, was extremely influential. She introduced me to contemporary formal poetry. Even though I write a great deal of my poems as free-verse or semi-formal, I love how writing in form is unexpectedly freeing. Leaning into the structure of a form leads to surprises in subject and language that would not evolve otherwise.

More recently, I am indebted to Leatha Kendrick, whose guidance helped my writing break open in new ways after a long stagnant period. Both Marilyn and Leatha have the unique combination of being both brilliant writers and passionate, devoted teachers.

I have moved around a bit over the years and have found a number of places that celebrate writing: The Loft in Minneapolis, The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, KY, The Lighthouse in Denver. Writing may be a solitary event, but the communal aspect can’t be ignored. Across the many states I’ve moved, I have been fortunate to have worked with many excellent poets and writers.

Can you tell us about your first poetry collection (it’s subjects and themes)?

 My first manuscript, which includes “Child Who Haunts My Womb,” shares many of the themes and images found in the poem (mother loss, family lines and legacies, religion versus spirituality). A number of the poems developed out of the story of my mother’s life with and death from cancer.

And your second, forthcoming collection?

 The second manuscript is still evolving, but it carries forward from the first collection. I would say the poems have become less narrative. Also, the writing seems lighter and more playful, especially in terms of form. Some things I am exploring include ekphrasis (writing poems in response to art work, which I’ve also extended to include ballets); writing two distinct poems driven from the same image or moment; and relaxing the boundaries of a formal poem. 

Other projects in the wings?

 Working full-time often means it is difficult to make the time or energy for writing, but I always have a list of things I’m writing or wanting to write. Foremost, I am eager to finish the second collection of poems. There’s also a little bug that gets me to try my hand writing fiction every few months, so I will continue to follow where that leads.

 As mentioned earlier, I love working from prompts or within a form, which liberates the writing process, perhaps because it takes some of the pressure off when faced with a blank page. I’m always surprised to see what surfaces when responding to a prompt or form. Certainly, the subject has been on my mind; it just develops in a different way.

Andrea O’Brien’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including The Hopkins Review, Connecticut Review, Nimrod International Journal, and The New York Quarterly. In 2007, the Kentucky Foundation for Women awarded Andrea an Artist Enrichment grant to begin writing her second collection of poems. She lives in Denver with her husband and works as a writer and editor.

A Letter Home

by Tonja Robins

On Spain’s southern coast goats come
with iron bells and thick black hooves,
their steps sure along sea cliffs
dotted with pale purple statice.

Below I lie and try to string
cowries on a fraying cord,
my breasts and belly pressing
the flat rock. A severed head

and fins float on the seafoam
while the keening of gulls scrapes my ear,
raw as the crying machine
that pulled your seed from my womb.

Last night I bit an orange
and white maggots squirmed
from its flesh. Tell me again
the careful way to choose.

Tonja Robins lives in Iowa City, IA with her son and four cats.  She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and now teaches literature and writing at a nearby community college. To read her interview with Tania Pryputniewicz, go to Tania’s blog on She Writes.

The Birth Mother

by Kelsey Gray

Editor’s Note: The birth mother is often the forgotten (or deliberately ignored) story in the adoption triad.  We’re pleased to be able to offer something in this ezine to help rectify that.

When I held you, your face

red and your hair matted,

small curled up body slick

with the effort of being born;

you screwed up your face and cried,

softly, your voice quieter

than I had expected, your expectations

lower than I had hoped. You gave up

MORE HERE….




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