Do You Speak with One Voice?

Usually.

Sometimes.

Depends.

Voice is hard to describe, but a poem can rise or fall because of it. Flying without a net here, but let me try to expand on the topic. Voice is not synonymous with the poet; it is more the mask she or he assumes to speak the poem. The Latin word is persona for mask, and the persona of a poem needs to work always in service of and in tandem with other elements of the poem. 

How about a cooking analogy?  What can I liken to voice? Salt? Without it, the poem and comparable dish might be insipid. Too much salt, and what else you might taste or hear in the dish/poem is lost, destroyed, overwhelmed. You need just the right amount for any given recipe to achieve a pleasing result. So it is with poetry. 

Of course, not all poems are as voice-driven as others. You might even need a series of poems for the voice to become obvious and effective. Or, an entire oeuvre, if you’re actually a successful poet, with a consistent body of work. And reading tastes vary, as an individual’s tolerance for salt does. I personally like salty, voice-heavy poems. And memoirs and first-person novels.

Probably because I’ve kept journals and diaries most of my life, I’m comfortable with first person riffs. The voice that I adopt in these blog entries is some hybrid amalgam of the way I talk and think, neither one nor the other. It is a private persona, not my public one. 

Poetry is obviously more difficult, but I’ve had one delightful experience— a voice that worked, one I understood, but didn’t identify with, a voice that demanded to be locked down into a particular form (prose poem) and to build with clichés, euphemisms, hyperbole, contrast, irony. She knew her themes equally well. She knew that the only response to life’s vicissitudes is, as she does, to “put the egg on the mantle and dance.”

That voice is gone, but I remember her fondly. When she first arrived, I was embarrassed to share her without telling my writing friends, “she’s not me.” I think I’ve become more her, as time has gone on, but she has said all she wanted to. I have tried to honor her two-year sojourn with me by publishing the poems that resulted. With the recent publication of five of them in Vine Leaves Literary Journal: a collection of vignettes from across the globe, edited by Jessica Bell (Melbourne, Australia, 2017), most of them have seen the light of day. I’ve mentioned them in this blog, as they were published, but those days are officially over. I have one more that I’m especially fond of, and a couple more that I don’t fully identify with, or endorse. And then, the big question—should I try (or try harder) to publish them as a collection? 

How Was Christmas?

Wonderful, full of wonder. Wondered and full. My favorite time of year, even though all that fullness and wondering do get in the way of writing. But something writing-wonderful did happen, some personal righting. 

Probably my best poem, or my most prestigious publication, or the poem most publically available, or whatever metric I would use, celebrates my first husband: “To My Husband, Who 33 Years Ago Died at the Age of 33.” Published in print Rattle #41, Fall 2013, it became available on the Rattle site, with audio, on March 25, 2014, which was ironically the 32nd anniversary of my wedding to my second husband. 

Potentially awkward, unless you have a very understanding husband or a husband who isn’t big into poetry. Fortunately, my husband qualifies on both counts, although he graciously read and congratulated me on a publication which meant so much to me. The poem, as the title indicated, was written in one blessed burst, on the day in question, while I was grappling with the failure of memory to keep anyone, no matter how deeply loved, alive. The dead keep dying. 

The transition from committed-to-death-and-the-past widow to okay-I’ll-try-and-move-on was not an easy one for me. In fact, I don’t think I could ever have moved out of my determined exile from life, were it not for the dazzling light my current husband shone on it. And so I opened up to a wonderful new life. And the drama of that time, with our joint decision to throw our lots together, is etched deeply in my core. 

Of course, falling in love again might sound like the stuff of poetry, but trust me—it’s not. Unlike loss, death, loneliness, the failure of memory, all of which have an eager readership. But I tried. Over and over, trying to catch the magic of a time, when clearly, you had to be there to understand how miraculous it all was.

This Christmas, success. I was able to give my husband a copy of the beautiful Australian journal, Rabbit 19: a journal of non-fiction poetry, Prose Poem issue, containing the publication of my poem, “Romance by Number.” I am so grateful to have balance somewhat restored. 

With this poem’s publication or maybe even more compelling, as a result of the changed political landscape, I feel my long foray into personal poetry is ending. I/we’ve got to find our way into other arenas. Or not. Stay tuned.

 

Is Everything Blear, Smear and Toil?

No. “The Importance of Feeling Special” appeared on the *82, issue 4.3 earlier this month. One of my favorites from the prose poem series, so it is gratifying to see it out there. Star 82, or as above *82, edited by Alisa Golden, is available online and in a print edition. The website is clean and attractive. Altogether satisfying. 

Contributors can purchase a print version of the issue at a reduced rate. Of course, I missed the window of opportunity in which to exercise this option, so needed to order it from Amazon like a non-special person. No problem. I’m interested in these proliferating models of publication. *82 is published by Create Space, an on-demand publishing platform affiliated with Amazon. From the looks of the online version, the publication contains quite a bit of visual art, so I look forward to seeing the print version.

Weirdly enough, the graphics on the site are similar to the Hopkins cover on the August 28 blog. Which emboldens me to ask the question posed in this last set of blogs: Is this a Catholic poem, despite its wacky persona and lack of theological references? Well, it was written by a cradle Catholic, one who was educated in Catholic schools at a time when the nuts and bolts of the faith were minutely examined, in a way that I doubt happens much today. If the truth be told, I’d have to have a lobotomy to excise my Catholicness. Am I then writing ipso facto Catholic poems? By Dana Goia’s definition, in The Catholic Writer Today (see August 15 blog), I am. One of his starting points: “Surprisingly little Catholic imaginative literature is explicitly religious… What makes the writing Catholic is that the treatment of these subjects is permeated with a particular worldview.” 

Shouldn’t any classically trained Catholic, worth his or her salt, be able to identify Catholic themes in almost any piece of literature? Because aren’t these universal human struggles? So, for an easy bit of cherry-theme-picking, I see in “The Importance of Feeling Special” the longing for intimacy and validation (Isaiah’s God who calls us by name) and those analogically rain-challenged sacramental azaleas. And as women’s humor, however formulated, must be based on inner confidence, rather than self-deprecation, so Catholic writing is challenged to walk a similarly thin line between fullness and lack.

How Do You Say Anthology?

 

I say aunt hō lō gee a, equal stress on all syllables.  Only in my head, of course, where things fanciful and apocryphal pass for normal.

I do love anthologies, though. And their long history. The first one compiled by Meleager of Gadara in 60 B.C., a collection entitled Garland. And the nailed-it! etymology of anthology: a logos (story, collection, study, all-purpose word) of anthos (flowers). Hence, the Garland translation. As a side note, Latin coined a parallel term, florilegium, based on the same metaphor, but anthology became time’s victor.

I love reading anthologies, especially themed ones, to relish the fecundity of human imagination, in thought and aesthetic. So much variety, no matter how narrow the theme.  I love having my work included in anthologies, to be in the midst of the play. Which is why I report, with great pride, that my poem, “Eureka! Corner Drugstore, Slushy March Afternoon,” has been published in The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology, edited by Jerry Bradley and Ulf Kirchdorfer, from Lamar University Literary Press. 

What kind of flowers be these, you might ask. Brash, upright ones, with here and there a thorn. Sheltering among the many stand-outs in this anthology is a great privilege. At the risk of being ungrateful, though, I regret that the press did not send author proofs before publishing the book. Some of my poem’s formatting was lost in transmission, but most importantly, “Eureka!” was previously published in minnesota review and that fact was not acknowledged. Hereby acknowledged, with apologies to the minnesota review, such a terrific journal, which is published out of Virginia Tech, with only a historical relationship to Minnesota.

I sense a poem in that incongruity. And that’s the energy of  The Great American Wise Ass Poetry Anthology: poets drawn to  unmask discrepancies between presented reality and perceived truths. In the book’s introduction, the editors write, “The wise ass poet holds his own court and exerts whatever influence he or she has on the page, both animated and frozen at the same time” (p. 2). While this can be said of most poetry, it is true, that the angrier I become, the more I turn to humor. As one of the first satirists wrote, difficile est saturam non scribere. It is difficult not to write satire, given the current provocations. Thank you, Juvenal. 


 

What Weighs 2 Pounds and Flies? And How Much Is That in Fitbit Stones?

Gargoyle 64, of course! The amazing 500 plus page literary annual, edited by Richard Peabody and Lucinda Ebersole. I love everything about this journal, especially the fact that my prose poem, “Another Cock and Bull Story,” appears in this issue. Richard, with his impeccable taste for the sagaciously off-kilter, assembles seriously good reading year after year, and I am thrilled to be part of it. 

Several years ago, when I was beginning to submit work to journals, Richard returned my poems, with a scrawled note, “Do you have anything edgier?” This was in the days of postal submissions. I sharpened my paper and envelope and tried again. “Sorry,” he wrote back and then suggested more appropriate markets. But no, I wanted Gargoyle. I knew the poems I needed to write needed to appear in the company of other Gargoyle authors. I was edgy on the inside; it just wasn’t on the paper yet.

As I continued writing and revising, I kept “edgier” in my  mind as a goal-cum-permission and then success! My prose poem, “Desiderium: Ardent Longing, As for Something Lost,” appeared in Gargoyle 59.  Two more prose poems, “A Short Manual on Flying” and “Walter Mitty, Wonderbra and I Were Born in 1947,” were published in Gargoyle 60, and two more poems have been accepted for Gargoyle 65.

I met Richard at the 2013 AWP conference. I told him how freeing his “edgier” comment had been for me. He was gracious, but had no recollection of our interaction. I imagine he has extended himself to so many aspiring poets, that it is all in day’s work. Gargoyle, founded in 1976, 30 years in print. On its website, a Poets and Writers quote that in its history, 45% of published authors have been women. A lifetime of good work. Thank you, Richard and Lucinda.

 

Is "A Win Is a Win" the Only Way to Win?

To enter contests or not. To pay to submit poetry or not. These are serious and debated questions among serious and debating poets. The truth is money and poetry don’t mix well in our culture, yet they are, of necessity, bedfellows. I can see both sides and, as a result, sometimes I enter contests and sometimes I pay to have my work read by a publication that I particularly admire. And sometimes, usually after a string of painful rejections, I rebel.  Decide “it’s bad enough to be highhandedly dismissed with a generic form rejection, but to pay for the experience—no, thank you.” The only exception is for book publication, where entering contests is de rigeur, unless you are only interested in posthumous publication.

But let’s say, you bite the bullet, research the market and find a so-suitable contest, submit your best work (as requested), and pay the required fee and months later, receive the excellent news that you are a finalist, semi-finalist, have received Honorable Mention or some such accolade. I say “excellent,” rather than “most excellent,”  because you have not actually won and therefore you don’t know what kind of victory you can claim.  You know that bridesmaids cannot say they are married. Yes, they attended the wedding in a rather prominent position, but the day does not remain on their resumé.  

I’m into this conundrum at the moment, because I just received a “happy to report” email that my poem “Zeitgeist” has been selected as a 2015 Rash Award in Poetry finalist. The contest was sponsored by Broad River Review and judged by David Kirby, Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University in Tallahasee. As an aside, I love the blend of wit and compassion in Kirby’s poetry, so to have him select one of my poems raises the honor exponentially. “Zeitgeist” will appear in their upcoming 2016 issue.  

Other also-rans of which I’m proud include a piece on then candidate Barack Obama’s rhetorical style which was a finalist in the 2009 Special Contest on Obama, New Millennium Writings

and “Sail On, Silver Girl” which was a semi-finalist in Naugatuck River Review’s 2010 Narrative Poetry contest .

and my prose poem, “Soft Skills for Today’s Market,” which received an Honorable Mention in The Binnacle 8th Annual Ultra-Short Competition 2011, housed at  the University at Maine, Machias. 

Perhaps I’m spliting hairs here. Not to worry—it’s all good. Just part of the Zeigeist.