Archive for the ‘Myth’ category

The Next Big Thing: interview project

February 20, 2013

The Next Big Thing 

A good friend and fellow writer, Nicholas Alexander Hayes, tagged me in this ongoing chain of self-interviews:

What’s the title of the book? Two books in one interview: heart speech this (2009) and Beautiful Laceration (2012)

Where did the idea come from for the book? heart speech this came from working with reinterpreting/revoicing Greek and Roman mythical heroines through designing formal settings (sonnets, octava rima, Spenserian stanzas) to narrate each woman’s journey through passion, violence, love, and resolution.

Beautiful Laceration came together after new and older poems began to sort themselves into themes of love, family, loss, nature, and healing.  The title refers to the experience of what cannot be healed but can be embraced and accepted, the “proud flesh” of the scar, the wounding necessary for emotional and experiential growth. The title was a serendipitous moment: a surgeon took a look at an accidental wound on my hand and said, “Ah! That’s a beautiful laceration!”

What genre does your book fall under? Poetry (both books)

What actors would you choose to play the parts in a movie rendition? So many good, small parts here that could be rewoven across poems and themes: Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Carmen Maura, Ken Takakura, Zhang Ziyi, and many more. Zhang Yimou and Alfonso Cuarón should direct.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? heart speech this: All women can be goddesses; all goddesses can be women.

Beautiful Laceration: Life, love, and healing are found through compassionate wonder.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? heart speech this took about eight months to write, on the trains, buses, and in the hospital. Beautiful Laceration contains at least one poem I wrote in college (1988) and several I wrote in 2011.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? Most of the core poems in heart speech this were written when my former fiancé was in and recovering from a coma in local hospitals. Beautiful Laceration came from small, medium, and large impulses to write to and from experience, to experiment with form, and to respond to other artists and thinkers who made my blood dance and thoughts sing.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Both books speak to a number of readers, both those familiar and unfamiliar with the traditions of poetry across several cultures. Anyone who has experienced desire, loss, love, violence, wonder, depression, self-fracturing, healing, joy, loneliness, solitude, and connection will find poems and images that reflect and resonate individual and collective lives.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Both books have been published by Atropos Press and are available on Amazon.com. Daily quotes from the poems appear on my Facebook artist page, Gina Rae Foster, and blogs, readings, and publications can be found there, through my Amazon author’s page, and my WordPress heartspeechthis blog.

Look for upcoming interviews with Lorena Fernandez, Dawn Diez Willis Plechl, Felecia Caton-Garcia, and Jill Leininger!

The Sense in Making Nonsense: Penelope

August 31, 2010

The Penelope series, “Counterpoint,” can be read on pp. 97-117 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948).

Discouraged, exhausted, unable to breathe without the stale and greedy odor of unwanted guests clawing into her pores, her mouth and throat—Penelope was no heroine. She was just tough, stubborn, and disgusted with the paltry minds and men around her. After Ulysses, who could blame her? She’d had a husband match her cleverness, see through and undo her strategies, twine her in his own confusions of honor and faith. She’d let herself be second choice once, and now her cousin was again the cause of her being seen not for herself. Being seen as the next best thing, some thing to be won out of failure, a little more power because of who and where she was.

Unlucky guests, unlucky suitors. It’s a rare woman who does anything solely for another even if she sacrifices nearly everything she has. Poor, dumb guests. Aching for love even as they wrestled for bits of power like dogs tangling for food dropped to the floor. They wanted to believe someone could be that faithful, that a woman could be so devoted to one man as to refuse every single other one. And that such devotion could be turned, betrayed, and become as pure as before with a new husband. A new father. Fickleness craves fidelity.

These, and other bitter thoughts, went through Penelope’s days as she wove and unwove the same piece of shroud, her father’s funeral wrap, for twenty years. How she must have hurt from the winding and unwinding, carefully undoing what had already cut her palms.  Twenty years! Was her father still unburied, or did she come up with a new excuse? She must have been grateful for the interruptions of illness, menstruation, household tasks, emergencies. She must have worn through her skeins and had to start others, been carding and spinning as much as she wove.

And yet she must have been tempted to give up and give in, to let go and not have to continue to fight, to let her son find his own wars. Attention is intoxicating. There must have been some guests who raised the blood beneath her skin, who made her nights more sleepless than they already were. And yet she was stubborn, like Psyche, focused on her task, believing that if she waited long enough, she would either be alone or be married still with proof at home and in her belly. Yet she must have known she was close to menopause; her body must have given her signs of age and different wisdom.

Penelope. Clever, angry weaver queen. Helen was her cousin, Helen the unfaithful. Helen who ran away before her husband could. Helen whom Ulysses wanted and lost, making Penelope never the first. And yet they had been happy, she and Ulysses, enough that he feigned madness rather than leave her. Enough that after twenty years of Cyclops and sirens, lotos and Circe, he returned, determined to be with her. With HER.

Athena was her cousin, if Zeus fathered Helen and the Gemini. And Athena’s gift of weaving played in Penelope’s hands, frayed the edges of her dreams. Athena sent signs when Penelope wavered, reluctant for the cloth to fall from the loom. Just enough to lighten the dreariness. And then Ulysses came. Disguised, older, not with flowers or gifts. With violence and blood, clearing out her suitors and littering her floor. I can smell the sweet awful spatters on her dress, across the loom. So much time and effort put into protecting the bleached wool, the semblance of purity. And her husband slaughters his way to her and expects a welcome. Penelope is no romantic, no heroine with long enchanted hair or special skills. She is old, tired, filthy. And spitting, hornet mad.

There are at least three endings to this myth. Happily ever after is the dullest and least believable, that she and Ulysses reconciled and stayed Ithaca-bound for their remaining years. Another ending undermines them both, adultery with Circe matched by infidelity with a guest, named and yet early and easily killed, forgotten, when Ulysses swung his club. Ulysses is less forgiving of Penelope’s betrayal than she of his—he exiles her, and she wanders, cursed not by gods but by the man who could never find his way home without divine intervention.

The third ending is odd; a new player appears. Penelope leaves Ulysses and wanders, yet meets Hermes on her travels. They marry, and Penelope has a second son, the god Pan, who in his wildness and cleverness is music and desire, promiscuity with no urge for faith or faithfulness.

Which is true? The archetype that speaks the most in the story you create of and for yourself. They’re all archetypes, these myths, not really real yet speaking for each of us in some experience of desire, lost love, belief, despair, and weariness. The women are weary, or they are lost. The men are unable to realize their desire without ruining that which they desire. What is found eludes the finder, or destroys what touches its form. And yet we wait; we try; we make different endings to the same story that keep us wandering and coming back. Finding our way home to unravel at night what we’ve made through the day, choosing what works. Rejecting the ideal for real. “Believing in something like air” (Jill Leininger), believing in something like truth.

Human, once-removed: Psyche

June 25, 2010

The Psyche series, “Once Removed,” can be read on pp. 55-72 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948).

Oh, Psyche. She hurts to look at, always doing the wrong thing, always given more to do than she has hands to do. Filled with love and confusion, listening to jealousy and fear, humiliated by a moment of doubtful action, a mother-in-law’s grief and anger. They try so hard, these women, to love the men in their care. They fall back on themselves and their undeveloped hearts when left alone.

The Psyche series, Once Removed, begins with someone else’s story, another woman given impossible tasks. The miller’s daughter was locked up and ordered to spin straw into gold. Like Psyche, this nameless woman had to rely on dangerous help and sacrifice who she might become and create in order to have a chance at any future at all.

Then Psyche enters, in the next poem, spilling candle wax on her husband Eros. He is a stranger to her in the day and a dark but loving presence in her nights. The wax burns his skin and wakes him—some strange law of Greek divinity decrees he must leave instantly and never see her again. Sight equals knowledge here, and knowledge and love cannot live together.

Psyche, still shaking from this loss, is now tormented by his mother. Venus appears, not as the goddess of beauty but of justice, and she becomes Nemesis in her pursuit of Psyche’s destruction for shaming her son. Psyche must clean and count; Psyche must pay the unpayable.

And Psyche counts, not seeds but memories and days. Lost in her mind and heart, she finds helpers when and where she least expects, ants and birds to carry and sort. It is not enough. Venus wants more, wants the death of this unwanted, unloved daughter-in-law. So she sends Psyche to meet death, a journey no one but Orpheus has survived. And Psyche is no musician, has no talents but beauty and healing.

Psyche knows she will die if she makes another mis-step. She knows that Eros will never come back if she does not return. The trip to meet Persephone and Pluto is nearly as frightening as the trip to the living world. She must face this dreaded couple who rule the world no waking person sees, and she must ask the Queen of death and spring to share her beauty with the Goddess who breathes beauty from her smile. Woman to woman to woman—Psyche doesn’t stand a chance.

Yet Psyche is surprised. Pluto and Persephone know mismatched and impossible love, mutually exclusive choices. They welcome her and offer the one moment of divine compassion Psyche knows in this entire myth. They give her what she needs. And this love, this mercy, nearly break her—she has prepared herself for pain.

More counting—Psyche keeps herself focused on the journey back by numbering her steps, refusing to look left or right or behind. She has this one last task—to focus—before she can see her husband again. And she has no guarantees. She is a different woman than before. Stronger, sharper, and more sure. Angry even in her hope. Even the bats and spirits cannot shift her feet.

It’s daylight when she emerges. Eros comes to meet her. The first time they have seen each other in the sun since he rescued her from a sea god’s rape. Now she has rescued him although she doesn’t know why he needs rescue, nor where he’s been. And she wants him to feel the pain she has felt. She pierces him with one of his own arrows, reversing the mistake that first brought them together. It is her desire and love that want to be met.

And he bleeds and becomes less than a god, only a man, this time a husband she can see and touch and hold. They weep and laugh together, seeing that in looking at each other after grief and separation, they know the other in themselves and love each other deeply.

Psyche to me is another voiceless myth who has much to say. Her connection with Persephone is key to finding the depth of her pain and the strength in her choices. Lost, abandoned Psyche became the hunter who caught her god and made him lovable. She took away his singular power to choose other’s matches (the original e-Harmony) by choosing him for her own. And in the choosing and the loneliness and the strength, Psyche found her own divinity. Human, once-removed.

Remedy: Falling and Fighting for Love

March 25, 2010

The Persephone series, “Remedy,” can be read on pp. 35-48 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

There is a torsion in each series of myth-provoked poems, somewhat like Michelangelo’s Prisoners struggling out of stone, reforming themselves even as they remake their origins. In “Remedy”, Persephone turns the tables on Hades, fighting for mastery even as he tears her from the spring she walks upon the grass, the mother who supports her steps.

The myth is one of our most familiar, translated in many cultures to a young man sacrificed in spring, the time of birth and renewal, whose loss brings darkness and famine to those left behind. It is the transition from an eternal beauty and youth to a seasonal rotation, a range of emotions rather than a perpetual bliss. Isn’t this what myth teaches us, to be human rather than divine?

Here, Hades and Persephone, whose voices are scarcely heard in other retellings, form the center of the story. This young, innocent barely woman dragged from one phase of her life into another, suddenly sexualized and violated by a stranger. The older man, seized with desire that overtakes him just as much as the object of his desire is torn from her sense of who she is. Refusing to control desire, desire then violates both the violator and the violated.

Yet here Persephone is not helpless. She fights; she claws; she bruises and bloodies her attacker. And in the contortions of bodies and elements, air to earth, she becomes the victor. She knocks out her opponent, who falls to his unconscious and mortal realm as if concussed, as if dead. What is Hades’ place, who is Hades, if not death and the reminder that anything we imagine can be killed as well as born?

And in the grappling and refusals to let go, to be contained, Persephone and Hades leave desire for something more real. They find compassion for innocence and trauma, for fear and wounds, for what takes them from what they thought of themselves and who they must be. Hades is charmed by Persephone’s first experiences of her hands and mouth and nose in intimate exploration, so different from touching fresh earth, new grass, bright flowers. Persephone crumbles within herself, finding her heart, as she sees the one who stole her now stolen of his senses, now helpless and near dissolution. She learns to love as she learns her own strength, his fragility.

Which becomes grief as she realizes who she is and cannot be as long as her lover is gone from her knowing. Which deepens into bereavement and isolation as she realizes her mother is also lost, is refusing to honor her daughter’s new self and help ease the transition into maturity and pain. The loss of a mother and a lover is only superseded by the loss of a child. And neither of these goddesses, in their compassion for others, have compassion for each other. And so both wander and grieve alone, rage and damage their worlds alone.

Yet Persephone has made her choice. She will mature. It is not a beautiful world for her to rule, this place of death and transition, yet it is the world she is offered. Her spring is not hers; it is a gift of her mother’s, and she cannot come into herself if she does not find a place for herself.

Diana–The Ambiguity of Desire

February 12, 2010

The Diana series, “Fleet Desire,” can be read on pp. 19-31 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

She is the goddess of the crescent moon long before she is the virgin twin sister of Apollo and protector of the forests and wild places of the blood and heart. Diana, woman as untouchable, as utterly desired and utterly apart. Woman as possibility and enigma. The darkness and light muting and radiating into the unattained.

There are seven series of poems in heart, speech, this, each exploring particular moments of myth for a Greek goddess, demi-goddess, or mortal woman. Each woman is at a point of emotional and physical transformation expressed through the ambiguities of her relationship to commitment and desire.

It’s one of the wonderful things about myth, that there is no absolute one version that obviates all others although certainly there are favorites and those considered to be more “legitimate” than others. With Diana, who appears in so much of central Asia, northern Africa, and southern Europe, the myths chosen say much about approaches to desire as the habitations of culture and geography as they do about the need for archetypal figures to express what seems to extend and exceed the understanding of the self.

The Diana of heart, speech, this is the wild, athletic goddess who delights in her body and the challenges of living within and against her nature. She is complete within herself, and she has no desire outside of herself. Thus she becomes cruel because the desire of others is a nuisance, not an invitation or countering strength. “Fleet Desire” titles this series just as Diana is known for her speed and the men who want her for the desire that kills them at the moment they realize the impossibility of their hunger.

Mars and Venus may show that justice is irrelevant when love and war are combined; doesn’t Diana force us to recognize that the fairness of desire is simply in the destructiveness of unequal expression?

Diana runs through these poems, sensuous without being sensual, unaware of what it would mean to be in relationship with another. An other. She is only in herself. And hunters, so many hunters, Orion and Actaeon among them, see her and are caught just as her hair is caught by the vines and branches hanging from the trees that frame her speed.

There is a tendency in heterosexual love to make a distinction between lover and loved, to make an object of the desired, to make the wanted one a solution to the question raised by need. Diana violates this difference. She refuses to be objectified. Seen as a home (how often are women equated with homes, places of refuge and generation?), as music and prayer, as prey to be hunted, caught, and devoured, Diana is not seen as herself. And her own sight is no clearer (“her gaze, un-silvered,/ splashed upon him, blur-/ring”) as she is incapable of reflecting what she sees. Don’t we use others as our mirrors? Diana is incapable of reflecting although she raises reflections in others. And this failure destroys those who want to see themselves in her. In trying to possess what is not a possession, these men become dispossessed and unhomed.

heart, speech, this–introduction

January 28, 2010

There are stories within stories in this book, myths and memories and might-have-beens. Love stories, ruptures, alienations. And like all poetry, what the reader brings to the work creates a different poem with each scanning of a line, each taking apart and putting together of images and sounds.

In these essays, I will think and feel through some of what occurs to me as I reinsert myself in this work that in some ways is no longer mine as if I were reinserting myself in a life I no longer own.

Here is what the book came to be: seven series of poems exploring women of Greek myth, each series with its own poetic form and voice, interrupted and conversing with poems more contemporary, less narrative, in both traditional and nonce forms. These women, some goddesses, some mortal, some half-mortal, half-divine, are more often described than given voices in the myths. And I wondered, still wonder, what they might say, how they might understand the fear and violence and brokenness in which they found themselves, and I wondered, still wonder, what it would mean to interpret these stories as experiences of ambiguous loss (see Pauline Boss’ work), of knowing and not knowing the presence of those they loved.

Although the myths explored are Greek with Roman additions, many of the poems evoke other parts of the globe. Persia, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, Italy, England, Arizona, New Mexico, New York, Japan—the poems wander and tangle themselves in places and times of earth and sea and fire. Exile is as strong a theme of love fractured and made more than it was.

“Scheherazade” opens “heart”, the first half of the book, with warring desires between words and sense—hunger, thirst, and affection grabbing for the space that wanted to be a story. And the story becomes the “fleet desire” of Diana chased by Actaeon, Orion, and the dogs with which they hunt.

Diana is followed by Persephone, confused by her own violent responses to desire, and Persephone gives way to Psyche and the desperate, impossible work of rescuing the disappeared. Athena finds desire within herself and the development of strength in isolation, refusing just as her half-sister Diana to be caught.

“Speech”, the book’s second half, goes deeper into ambiguous loss with the experiences of women at war—Leda’s rape, Penelope’s wait for Odysseus, Helen’s infidelity and return, Athena’s anger, Athena’s peace. They are women connected by blood as well as conflict, and my re-tellings of their myths imagine greater independence, justice questioned and applied, resolutions that sustain the impossibility of solutions.

At times, these essays will explore the series and at times, the individual poems interspersed in each section. Feel free to comment, question, add more information, and post your own poems, stories, reinterpretations in response.