Archive for the ‘Poetry’ 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!

Ripples in the Stillness: Reading “Refuge”

April 8, 2012

 (“Refuge” can be found on p.  24 of heart speech this, ISBN 0982530943)

Sometimes the simplest, smallest poems have the most impact. “Refuge” is the poem the French poet and filmmaker Pierre Alferi read silently on a balcony in the Swiss Alps, then shook himself slightly, looked up, and said with some astonishment, “That’s good.” Why did this poem catch his attention?

A vase filled with lilies in water: a pretty, somewhat conventional still life for an artist, or a decorative touch adding grace and beauty but not much twisting of the mind or senses when viewed. Why make this the subject of a poem? There’s a good challenge in making experiences blur and yet seem real. The pathetic fallacy (acting as if an inanimate object has human emotions) has a place in poetry and magic realism if the writer can persuade her audience to share the illusion.

“Refuge” is the title of this poem. What seeks or has safety here, and what causes the need for protection? The “ruby-throated lilies” and the “supplication of green” suggest pain in speaking and the surrender of youth and vibrancy. Speech and silence are threaded throughout “Refuge,” and the flowers that cannot speak (think of the mute “tongue” the lily’s anther-laden stamen resembles). The vase, in its “containment” paired with the tranquil “depth of blue” suggest a stillness at odds with the “murmur…wave…spill” and finally “mutter” that crack its “porcelain” surface, which is both steady (“stone”) and fragile (easily broken pottery).

The lilies themselves reflect the image of the vase, rising upward with open mouths, colored differently internally than externally, just as the body is red and moist inside, variously hued by genes and sun on its outer surfaces. Just as the vase and the body contain water to nourish and detoxify their contents, the lilies also hold water within their stems, exchanging fluids for food even when rootless, even when wilting towards death.

Once cut, flowers lose their potency. Bees and hummingbirds will find no fertile pollen to cling to their legs or nectar to drink for its sugar. Yet in the minutes and hours before their stems split and curl and their petals brown and drop, lilies release an intense desire of color, shape, and texture. Vases have a subtler sensuality. Perhaps the refuge lies somewhere between these expressions, one seeking a longer and more protected beauty, the other borrowing the possibility of change and greater allure.

Does the poem suggest all or any of these things on first reading? Perhaps not. There is a sensuality and despair here, a recalling of the lush sorrows of Li Qingzhao (1084-c.1151) waiting for her husband to return, describing her hairpins and cosmetics with the same intensity as her tears. And a modernity in the confusion of intentions and emotions with objects rather than simple description.

For me, this is a poem of permission to feel more than one emotion at a time, to be complicated and yet simple, and to dream of restfulness in the midst of dangers. It allows me to think about the beauty and uncertainty of the small and ordinary and their placement, their movement, in a beautiful, uncertain, and violent world.

Gold Spun from Straw

July 27, 2011

 

(“The Miller’s Tale,” can be read on pp. 55-56 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

Truth has this strange association with bareness: we assume so often that simplicity and nakedness are the essence of truth and that adding details and decorations is deceptive. What if we were wrong? What if innocence really did mean not knowing? Or what if nudity and exposure were not as true as they seemed?

“The Miller’s Tale” is a fairy tale that turns on lies. And yet, it’s also a story about belief. There is a belief in the value of beauty and innocence yet also a belief in the value of the ugly, the practical, and the known. There is a belief in the value of wealth yet also a belief in the value of poverty. A belief in the value of life is juxtaposed with a belief in the value of death.

Do you remember this story? Not the tale from Chaucer’s travelogue but the one from the Grimms’ collections. Not as bawdy on the surface, yet equally violent, equally absurd. A tale spun of self-importance and neglect in which no one lives happily ever after.

A miller, a man who takes the simple and makes it simpler by grinding and pounding grains into flour, tells a lie. He makes a cake of his floury trade rather than plain bread. He tells the king of his country that his daughter can spin straw into gold.

It’s an impossible claim. Straw is for weaving rather than spinning: gold is for beating and engraving. Straw has little value except as fuel or shield from heat and wind. Gold is not protective and doesn’t easily burn (remember Frodo and Bilbo’s attempts to melt the one ring).

Poor daughter! What is she to do? The king wants more gold; the miller wants more status. Neither man seems willing to admit the magic of this thinking. Instead, the miller spins his tale of fool’s gold. The king demands proof. Both sacrifice the truth (gold and straw will not become straw and gold). Both sacrifice the miller’s daughter.

Who becomes “lost to a look,” lost to a room full of dusty, sneeze-provoking straw. Imprisoned in a room, bound to a truth she doesn’t possess, the miller’s daughter sits, cries, wonders, and waits to die. The straw, lit by the sun filtering through the window, takes on the luminosity of gold. Silence becomes something other than golden, something other than truth.

What is she to do or say? More lies enter the room. “A story, prismed, flared and forgotten.” A little person breaks into her space, without warning or welcome. He is fully grown for who he is just as she is fully the innocent, incompetent female she is supposed to be. Only blameless uselessness could take on the fully grown lie conceived and born between the king and the miller.

This little person promises to do the impossible: he will make magic happen. Magic has no truth and therefore no lies. Magic is the surprise of making everything true, false, and inexplicable all at once. Spinning straw into gold is like turning lies into truth. In a more serious context, spinning straw into gold is the task given to torturers: they force lack of knowledge to become knowledge and unimportant details to become conspiracies and accusations. The miller’s daughter is in this sense a victim forced to be a witness and accomplice to something she’s never seen, never done, “refining story into strands, into morning forgotten and fallen.”

This poem explores witness in this sense, not at the moment when the little person’s identity is revealed, not at the moment when the miller’s daughter is rescued because she lied about what she knew (and her accomplice). “The Miller’s Daughter” “sears into silence to demand a name, a story” until “husks unravel stories, and story leaves the room.” Like a spindle, the sestina repeats itself in words at the ends of each line; the broken and short lines spin the poem into straw and gold.

And the poem, which is not about a traveler telling a bawdy story or even about an observer narrating a child’s entertainment, becomes a relocating of reader and poet, of daughter and father/king, of tormentor and rescuer, of straw and gold. What if this were your story? What lies would you tell? The truth may be in silence, may be in waiting for memory to change and make room for something new.

Pashto: Rippling in a Sudden Silence

January 8, 2011

“Pashto” can be read on pp. 44-45 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948).

Write it. Take it all apart on the page and in the ear. Put the words back together like badly folded clothes tossed in a drawer, and then take out a few you thought were necessary but can do without. Get used to a poem that might feel a little odd, a little awkward, ready to fall off its edges into a tongue-tied heap at the bottom of the page. And then. And then reshape the drawer and its contents into echoes of their freshly laundered selves.

“Pashto” is one of these poems. It started as a pantoum (see the blog on “Baghdad”) with repeating lines and carefully interwoven stanzas. It started with an argument and an image. Arguing against while arguing for made for a poem that wrestles within itself and emerges tattered but fierce in its final lines.

While working and studying with the International Trauma Study Program, I was asked to view and comment on a rough cut of the documentary Echoes of War, directed by Joop van Wijk. It was an incredible film about the experiences of children in and after war, with a children’s book (A Little Elephant Finds His Courage, by Nancy Baron) being read to these children as a means of helping them to express their fears and grief.

The film convinced me that films could be designed as intricately as poems and that the form could tell stories that were lost to content. And the maker of the film, van Wijk, gave me the image of a yellow flag with an eye painted in its center that he rooted in each minefield and war zone he filmed, letting the eye serve as a witness to the children’s conversations.

This flag, flown in the minefields of Afghanistan, fights within “Pashto” just as the color yellow fights against light and poppies, symbols of fallen and wounded soldiers, fight for their opiate dreams rather than the reality of loss. Just as the children learn to share their experiences and to find their courage, the poem learns to tell its story by saying less, repeating only what brings silence, reflection, the promise of a future, the physical fragility of the living body. The poem is its own witness of grief, is its own conversation about violence and what remains.

Raw Light

November 22, 2010

“Arizona” can be read on pp. 81-83 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948).

A lake as out of place as I have often felt, a river contained within cliffs and dammed until its heights depended less on snowmelt than on heat and turbines—where better to explore while standing still, while disturbing surfaces too thin to resist intruders? “Tonight I trick a stone” follows the smearing of mosquitoes across the evening air; “Arizona” follows a Philip Larkin form far from the decay of anxious London and its suburbs.

“Arizona” takes a rhyme scheme borrowed from Larkin and moves his achingly sad musings on the dreariness of belief-less, depthless lives to a place that holds its own belief and depth, a place with an “unknown shimmer” and a “trout’s fierce blush.” The lakes made from the Colorado River were part of my childhood escapes and isolations, family trips from desert to desert, irrigation to reservoirs. England’s postwar landscape only became familiar years later, too late to replace the “canyons crumbling to dust” that came from wars too little publicized, too barely protested.

My family traveled to these lakes—Mohave, Havasu, and Powell—once, twice, or even three times per year for weekend breaks or summer vacations, piling six children, their friends, and food and clothes into a van and a car, divvying up the kids by size and anticipated tempers. Some nights we drove separately, one group arriving hours before the other. I remember leaning out of the window of the front seat along the Arizona highway, no lights except the deep, deep piles of stars I wanted to sink into, wanted to breathe.

I felt that way about these lakes. Artificial as they were, fish and weeds and stone had made them real. I wanted to breathe the textures and heat, the cool water against the burning skies, wanted to dissolve myself in both and in the cliffs reddening my sight more than my sunburned skin. “This rush to release what cannot be born” tangled itself in my intense desires to take in all my senses could translate and to release all I felt I was unable to share. The only connection I trusted was this beauty and strangeness.

“Nothing seamless in this place,” and yet there was nothing I could add, nothing that could connect to me here in these difficult places that shifted volume and contour daily, visibly, audibly. The sheet lightning struck nearly every evening; thunderstorms kicked up waves dangerous for swimmers and boats. And then utter, utter calm, with water so smooth the skis skated their soft, cottony surfaces like waterbugs, fish breaking the surface with bubbling gasps like children pursing their lips to pop out restless pressures.

Every year I wanted more, wanted to leave myself in these waters, wanted to imprint myself in these cliffs. I felt more awkward, less able to dissolve, and yet more at home in these false constructions of beauty than home itself. This is where I found belief, “in the vagaries of day, the lone bird, the lost stone.”  This is when I found there was something of home “murmuring slight in the dimpling of surfaces, the grasp for connection extended, borne alight.”

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.