Posted tagged ‘poetry’

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.

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.

Relocation

April 27, 2010

“London” can be read on pp. 126-127 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

a flurry of breaths—“London” is scattered across the page like breaths snatched between words. It’s a sonnet in a series of sonnets (“Joy” and “Syncope” are also in heart speech this) I wrote as I grew into a place I thought would never fit.

Tell me why I stay here—My first year in New York, I broke yet another of my “I’m not going to do that” promises. I had vowed never to live on the East Coast and especially not in a city as thick and dense and over-stimulated as this. I wanted mountains, ocean, desert, and space. Spareness and horizon. And of course I found myself driving from Oregon to Pennsylvania in the space of a week, first south through the Siskiyous and then east across the deserts, the Divide, the sudden clusters of townships and hills, soybean fields and trees.

the frenzy for crumbs shouldering brothers to curbs—I was not prepared for the city despite visits in the ‘80s, despite traveling and living in US and European cities in earlier parts of my life. Six years in forested, rivered Oregon had dulled my agility. I had lost the sense of crowds, the athleticism required for hip checks, blocking, taking a charge.

fringed with vain shadows obscuring the light—There was a moment of horror when I stepped onto the subway car and saw a pool of blood on the seat I’d been ready to grab. Moments of utter confusion when directions and lines and numbers/letters had no pattern or system internally mapped—the constant shifting, running, and straining to hear/see were like bodysurfing in riptides, pulled off my feet and tangled in waves, kelp, sand, and rocks.

surround me with pigeons fluffing their breasts—the first place I’ve lived where strangers start conversations in the middle, speaking to anyone close enough to address, blurting out intimate and unrelated observations and complaints. So much reaching for connection, posturing for attention, and offered simply for the pleasure of being a little larger in the crowd, of making the city of knots on a string more like lace than measurement.

savoring haste over hunger—“You don’t like the city very much, do you?” observed one of my French students when I shared this poem in class. And I was surprised, because I did like the city, in the way one likes family one can’t live with but always feels affection for, the mutual agreement to love the differences one can’t understand but tolerates for deeper connections.

Offer me tastes I’ll refuse to forget—There are people who love the gulping nature of this place, the ravenous energy to get, make, and be more. And I have not escaped. Yet I love those days, those minutes, when there is something truly, truly slow, some ache that develops into emptiness and then desire that rumbles inside and makes embarrassing comments, like the stranger standing next to me as we wait for the train.

to long for this din—and yet “London”, which is about London as well as New York and all these cities of stink and staleness and compressed sights and sounds, tells me I can learn to live anywhere and love the place I’m in, just as Helen, in whose series “London” crowds, learned her cities and shock and elbow room.

Santa Fe: Glory & Relief

April 11, 2010

“Santa Fe,” can be read on p.89 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

It’s those blurry memories of something done more than once, something done by others we knew as children, that come back and reform into nostalgia. And there are these rituals we create that have only the sacredness we find in them, not the awe given by holy speech or writing, not the sense of Otherness in a space dedicated to surrendering self to community and community to what makes us feel part of something more. These rituals we make as children, chanting about not stepping on cracks, linking pinky fingers to establish a pact, spitting in our palms and mixing saliva as if sharing what helps us speak and swallow made our intentions more powerful.

My brother and his friends loved the danger of small town risks—setting up skateboard slaloms on scarcely driven roads, designing hang gliders and sailing off hillsides into iceplant and tumbleweeds…one of their favorites was to hang out by the train tracks that bordered the city’s only park, looking for dropped metal, tempting the trains to transform pennies into thin shimmers of copper, oblong and smooth where once they had been round, thick, and raised.

They did this every time they were near the tracks, scrounging for pennies, yelping when they found a “wheatback”, comparing dates and designs. Later, when I was with my friends, feeling less exposed but still timid, I would try the same trick with less success.

The trains, many from the Santa Fe line, were freight rather than passenger. I didn’t actually know there were still passenger trains until I was older. My friends and I counted cars and guessed how many more would pass before we saw the caboose. Some cars were closed and gave no hint of their insides. Others had open doors, still others no roofs. The company’s logos were painted on the walls and doors.

To really flatten a penny, you had to place the penny where it would feel the most pressure from the train’s wheels. This meant standing on the track and finding the most worn parts of the rails, already shiny and scratched, and then balancing the coins as centrally as possible. The rails themselves were not always flat enough to palm the pennies, and vibrations from the trains could throw them off onto the ground.

Then you had to wait for the train to pass. 10 minutes, 20, sometimes nearly an hour—you could get distracted or have to go home before the train was gone. And the pennies, if they were still on the rails, were as hot as they were glossy. Picking up a hot, melted, polished cent—what a thrill, as if no one had ever done this before.

So I remembered my brother and this shiny, one cent moment he spent again and again. The collection of copper slivers on his dresser. And the moments that are so ordinary and so sacred because we are so fully present and full of risks and joy.

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.

Book, Title, City

February 3, 2010

Why title a poem for a city about to be fractured by war? Why title a book not for the war but for something both more general and more individual? “Baghdad” is an inexplicable poem that insisted on its becoming.

“Baghdad” can be read on pp. 139-140 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

Before and After

The inspiration: it was March 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq. A former student of mine was living in Riyadh; we were communicating about the transitions in our lives. My heart hurt for him and the other Arabian students whose lives and assumptions had been already torn apart by September 11; I was deeply concerned for their well-being as the war became closer and closer to its violent and uncontrollable being.

I wrote this student to apologize and express my concern for his and his family’s safety. I assumed that this war, as the previous had, would expand far beyond the borders of the targeted country and that cities and citizens with little connection to the protagonists would be destroyed.

He responded with a phrase that comes from learning to speak one’s own tongue in a second, giving meanings a language might not have known it was capable of expressing. “It hearts me,” he wrote, “to speak of this.” And his heart/hurt became the voice wanting response, the voice pushing me to make a poem out of his fragmentation and mine, out of the shattering that had been part of the world I’d always known and that was now surfacing more urgently again.

The poem was revised to its present form in the spring of 2006 shortly after the death of my fiancé, who had suffered a stroke and struggled through six months of coma before waking and fighting to recover his voice and strength. He was unable to survive a heart attack on April 2, 2006.

The pattern: it’s an ecstatic poem, a pantoum broken across the page. Images repeated and broken, wounded in their reappearance, bearing traces of coherence like scars. Pantoums in English are simplified from a Malaysian verse form: it’s repetition that works like a braid, with the second and fourth lines of each stanza’s becoming the first and third of the next grouping of lines (four lines grouped together make a quatrain). The poem curls back on itself by bringing by the first and third lines, in reverse order, as the last set of even lines. And the end, like the snake swallowing its tail, is in the beginning.

The images: The Splintered, Howling Self

“It hearts me, he writes, to speak of this.” In a written statement about a written statement, the writer is not named. The “this” is not made explicit. The poem opens with statements that call themselves into question, following not the response to what is written but the response to a word used out of expectation, a word that calls the self as reader into question.

The next line pushes the participants further from each other, further from the line. “We furl back from these notes, you and I.” The he and the you disappear until only the 1st person is left. The reader of the poem is now face to face with the speaker. The he in profile and the you that were addressed can no longer be seen.

There is a recoil here (“coiling like a knife-stroked ribbon”), a forced shape and a flexibility that enact a physical transformation to the cutting off and artificial containment of something formerly living and connected to a larger organism. The lily’s stem, once cut and left to stand in water rather than soil, splits itself and begins to spiral toward the surface where exposure will drain its sustaining fluid and speed its decay.

The lily’s stem is named here but not the lily. One sees the flower without seeing the flower. It is the stem as support and self-destruction that is described, the evidence of action in a setting of inertia.

As the stem becomes cord, the body itself becomes a line, stretching across the poem as a tension between the retreat of the plural first person and the resistant stasis of the lily, now seen un-stemmed. The body is strung: it is intentional, constructed, segmented and fluidly connected.

Again, it is a poem of identity destined and created, self destroyed and reconstructed.

The question of shape appears: “Like beads in the form of melons.” The artificial represents the natural, the round/oval represents wholeness and maturity, the ripeness ready to be harvested and consumed. Is that the aim of developing the self? To ripen to the point of consumption?

There are multiple ways of seeing refracted here. In this poem, seeing is challenged to reconcile and balance opposites not as opposites but as options. There is an impossible depth to sight suggested by “in the eyes behind my eyes.”

Then the I asserts itself by falling, another falling back or retreat from the stability and centrality associated with identity. The I not only falls but startles (“clatters”) and disintegrates (“splinters”). The lost balance is broken control. The fall is liberation, release from intentionality into accident and happenstance.

Fallen, the I is “fierce to stretch beyond myself and run.” This is no beaten victim on the floor, no shattered identity unable to gather itself. There is more power and desire in the scattered self than in what was contained, delimited, and erect. This is the first mention of desire and the first constructive extension beyond limitations. The self desires to be more than itself, more than self, to overcome in an explosion of movement.

“For time has never been my problem.” Why has time never been the self’s problem? Either it is not a question or it is not a factor. Perhaps for this self there is no conception or ripening toward a goal. Perhaps there is no temporality. No mortality.

And yet, within the self the heart is as contained as the lily, as oval and ready to splinter as the beads shaped like melons. The heart is wounded and trapped. It “howls.” The heart is the self’s voice, the self who has addressed the you but not itself as self until now.

“I am smeared with dreams, bloody and chaste.” Unlike Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose self is “smeared, bleared with toil,” the I here is blurred with the unconscious self, an unconscious that is itself ambivalent, innocence and implication confused like fingerpaints slurred across paper and skin.

The unconscious, confusion, and clairvoyance leave the I literate and dumb: “I read my future in leaves fresh-plucked from branches,/my past lost to my tongue.” The future is visible the immediacy of the present. New growth is plucked like petals, like the lily whose stem is echoed in these branches. The past, however, is lost as the branch is lost to the leaves and the roots are lost to the stem. What cannot be held cannot be spoken. Broken connection=not only silence but an inability to break silence. The tongue cannot find what would make its identity coherent. The self de-stabilizes through the plucking, coiling, and reading. Is presence the silencing of the past?

The search for another present, a different spatio-temporal consciousness, persists. “Still, I twist, seeking somewhere else to wake.” Perhaps the self is the root here and has confused its self-consciousness with its extension and appearance in a world where the unconscious has been self-presentation rather than an intentional, woven identity, the knife-stroked ribbon sought at the return, an image in which both ends are also beginnings, and the fabric of the I can be re-formed both externally and internally to reach for “heart, speech, this.”

The resolution: A Knife-Stroked Ribbon

The chain set in motion by the pantoum coils back on itself in the repetition of lines and images. The chain, like beads, like melons, splinters in the self’s turning away from an external relationship with a familiar other into self-examination as an internal relationship with an estranged, scattered self. The form reflects the content; the broken self that cannot retain its past is itself the source of its own movement and cohesion. Repetition and return indicate a self capable of relation and continuity. It is resiliency in the spiral followed down the page and through the ribbon, the stem, the unstrung beads, the self that twists toward futures, spaces, somewhere else to breathe. In the act of respiration and inspiration, the speaker recovers the loss of identity, expression, and place.