Posts Tagged ‘Redactions: Poetry & Poetics

22
Jun
21

Jeannine Hall Gailey Interviews Kelli Russell Agodon

This interview first appeared in Redactions: Poetry & Poetics issue 25, which is available for order here: www.etsy.com/shop/RedactionsPoetry/

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Jeannine Hall Gailey Interviews Kelli Russell Agodon

About Her Upcoming Book From

Copper Canyon Press, Dialogues with Rising Tides

Kelli Russell Agodon – Dialogues with Rising Tides

JHG: Nice to talk to you, Kelli! How have you been during the quarantine?

KRA: Pretty okay. My family and I have found new ways to exist in the world without a playbook and I have a new love for smoked cheese and hearty sandwiches – my pandemic comfort foods. I’ve found the little things are what are getting me through and I look for small joys and feel grateful for what I can.

JHG: So, your new book, Dialogues with Rising Tides, is coming out in the spring of 2021 with Copper Canyon Press. Could you tell me about how this book came to be?

KRA: This book began around 2013-2014, which was the beginning of a sort of dance with melancholy that I would experience for a few years. I was struggling with deep anxiety then, and the book began as a series of “waltzes” (as you read, you’ll see several “waltz poems” which are narrative poems defined by their 3-line indented stanzas to mirror the dance steps of a waltz). I created this form as it felt as if I was trying to waltz as the ship (a.k.a. my life) sank.

As the book continued, I kept seeing the water/sea/environmental/climate change poems emerge in my work and instead of saying, “Those poems are for another book,” I allowed them to enter this manuscript to see how they would converse with the darker poems about anxiety, melancholy, and family suicide – it turns out they had a lot to say to each other.

I realized the book was ultimately about the things that take us under, yet also about hope.

Once I had it “finished” (always in quotes because quite honestly, what is ever finished?), I sent it to Copper Canyon Press’s open submission period. It turned out one of the readers, an intern, really connected with my work and advocated for it to the editors. I received a note in December 2018 that my book was still being considered and at the end of March 2019, I learned at the Portland AWP that Copper Canyon wanted to publish it. I believe this story also needs a post-it note that reads “sometimes dreams come true,” because while I always hoped to be a Copper Canyon poet, I never expected it to actually happen.

JHG: How do you think it is different from your previous books?

KRA: In all of my books, I try to come to the page with openness, honesty, vulnerability, humor, and of course, craft – this book I definitely arrive more vulnerable and I try to explore tougher subjects in my life and world. I allowed more surrealism, sub-consciousness, and surprise into my work (the 3 S’s I guess!). I also allowed myself to write about melancholy in a more open way. People see me as a very happy and friendly person, but there is a part of me that wants to press against that notion that just because someone appears happy on social media or in real life, that they aren’t struggling with something deeper.

While I was writing this book, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, and Kate Spade all committed suicide. From the outside, they appeared to be living their best lives. Kate Spade was described as “bubbly.” Robin Williams was known for his humor and big laughs. Anthony Bourdain was seen for his passion of travel, food, and living in the moment. I’m always interested in the mask we wear for the public and how we can hide the more uncomfortable feelings, but also how we never really know what anyone is going through.

So I wanted to explore this melancholy, but not in a way I feel is negative, but in an acknowledging way, realizing that one can move from dark to light in a day or over several years. And also how we sometimes allow both feelings in.

JHG: As the publisher of a small press, Two Sylvias Press, what have you learned about editing and publishing poetry books that you think has helped you on your own poetry book journey?

KRA: I understand how challenging it is to publish a book, to proof it, to create a cover for it, to promote it, and to get it out in the world. Because of this, I tend to be an easygoing author. I’m not someone to email an editor to either ask for things I can do myself or because too much time has gone by since I’ve heard from them. I understand if I’m not hearing from my press, they are most likely working on another book or on mine.

I think I learned to say thank you more and be less of Janet Jackson’s “What have you done for me lately?” and more of Aretha Franklin’s “I say a little prayer for you.” Because I am an editor, as a poet I learned to have gratitude for anything that is done for my book.

JHG: You have an interesting philosophy about the attitude of competition and scarcity in the poetry world. Could you talk a little about that?

KRA: I guess I do have an interesting philosophy in that regards – I believe in the poetry world, there is enough for everyone. I reject the scarcity mindset that the field is only big enough for so many of us and only so many can come to play. That’s nonsense, we can always use another poet. And we don’t have to feel threatened by them, that now there will be one less spot for me to publish my poems. I think it’s why I rarely feel jealous of other poets because I never really feel myself competing with them because poetry paths are so unique and poetry prizes are so subjective.

Just because a poet doesn’t win a prize, doesn’t mean that their book isn’t changing someone else’s life this very moment or having a profound effect on someone. I have never believed success can be measured in art – people try to measure it based on American beliefs such as “this book is better because it 1) sold more copies 2) won a prize 3) was published by a certain press 4) was featured in a certain journal or magazine 5) got an excellent review 6) made the author earn X number of dollars” and so on. . . . Who said that was success? Who wrote that definition? That’s not my definition of success – my idea of success isn’t built from opinion and numbers.

I definitely fall into the world of the woo-woo, in meditating and manifesting. Reading The Artist’s Way as a young poet was a gamechanger for me. It made me understand some things I still take with me, “Serious art is born from serious play,” “Leap and the net shall appear,” and “Pray to catch the bus, but run as fast as you can.” But mostly, what I took away was that art is not a competitive sport. And you never have to believe that someone’s gain (a book, a publication, a prize, etc.) is your loss. But also, as poets and writers, we do not know the future or can see the big picture from this point in our lives.

Here’s a quick example – before my book was picked up by Copper Canyon Press, it was a finalist in two prizes. It lost both prizes to another poet who is a friend of mine. I could have been terribly jealous of her, gone full-on, “HEY, do you really need TWO books? Can you dial-down the prizewinning, sis?” But my thought was, “Well, that didn’t work out. I guess I’ll believe something better is going to come along.” We can have many responses to losing something. One is “I’ll never get anything, I always lose, why do I bother?” Or we can think, “I guess that wasn’t meant to be and maybe that means something better is on the way.” Had my book been picked up by either press, I wouldn’t be at Copper Canyon, which has been my dream press since I was a young poet.

We do not know what’s ahead for any of us so why not hope for the best and believe there’s another scenario around the corner for you that’s better.

(Now I must add this note – after writing this all out I may sound like some enlightened poet, but I’m not. I’ve definitely had “this sucks!” days or the “why do I put myself through this?!” I’ve definitely felt bad about not having my book chosen, but when I feel this, I remind myself to keep the faith and keep doing the work. But I do always believe there’s room at the poetry party for all of us.)

JHG: Your new book has more poems about the environment than previous books. Could you talk about your new relationship to the environment and why those poems came to be?

KRA: It’s interesting as a younger poet, I was always called “a nature poet” (which at the time, seemed to carry a little insulting tone to it). As the climate crisis really began to come into view, I was called an “environmentalist poet” and even recently an “ecofeminist poet.” I am still writing about nature and my connection/relationship with it, but nature has changed and is changing.

On the West Coast, each year the wildfires move a little more north, and we have a fifth season around August called “Smoke Season,” when we’re stuck indoors. It’s like I’m still dating Mother Nature, but she’s older now, a little more pissed, and ready to burn things down, ready to say “what the fuck?!” and send a hurricane into a coastline. I’m just responding to her through my poems in new ways, I’m responding to how we need to think about her and what can happen to our communities.

For me, nature and rising tides are other ways we can be taken under. One of the hardest parts for me as a human is to see animal species going extinct due to our harm of natural environments and for the business belief to put money and development before the forests, untouched landscapes and environments. It’s backwards. I always correct people when they say, “We are killing the planet” – nope, the planet is going to be here and recover in its own way, what we are killing is ourselves, the human race.

JHG: You also write about family, politics, and the secrets we keep from each other – to protect others or protect ourselves. It’s a tension that plays a lot into this book. Could you talk a little about the nature of secrecy and how it propelled itself to become a big theme in this book?

KRA: I came from a Catholic family, and the “Catholic shame” taught many in my family not to talk openly and to hide things. All my childhood, growing up, I was always digging in drawers, I always felt something was hidden from me. I wasn’t sure what, but I was continually seeking it. I think that is why I was always playing “spy” in my house and in my neighborhood. I was Nancy Drew trying to figure out mysteries, I was Harriet with her notebook from one of my favorite children’s books.

It became a big theme in my book because several of the things I wrote about were hidden from me as a child (the suicides, my family history), and then while I was writing the book, my husband secretly bought a gun and hid it in the house and this action almost destroyed our marriage (and it definitely changed it).

Because of my history with shame, for a long time it was very hard for me to discuss certain things about myself or my life because I was embarrassed of what I struggled with and even who I was and am. I have mostly made peace with shame (though occasionally, I feel it peeking behind the corner saying – you will never be good enough), and maybe this is why this book feels like my most personal and vulnerable because I am directly addressing some things that were never really talked about. I am using my art to say – you do not have to be embarrassed about who you are or where you came from.

JHG: What do you want your reader to take away from this book?

KRA: Wasn’t it Anne Sexton who shared: “One of my secret instructions to myself as a poet is: ‘Whatever you do, don’t be boring’”? I always hope my reader is engaged, interested, entertained, and definitely compelled to turn the page. But overall, I think with all my books, I have wanted my readers to feel less alone. I think that’s what I write towards. It’s ultimately what I hope for with each book.

JHG: I’m hoping that by April of 2021 we will get to see each other in person to celebrate your new book! Thank you so much for your time! I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. The best of luck with your new book!

KRA: Yes, let’s hope for champagne and cupcakes together in our future. We can give a cheers IRL – in real life! I look forward to all of us being together again. Thanks so much, Jeannine!

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JEANNINE HALL GAILEY is a poet with MS who served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. Her work appeared in journals like The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Her web site is www.webbish6.com. Twitter and Instagram: @webbish6.

KELLI RUSSELL AGODON’s fourth collection of poems is Dialogues with Rising Tides (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). (The poems that appear in this issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics first appeared in Dialogues with Rising Tides.) She is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press as well as the Co-Director of Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Retreat for Women. Agodon lives in a sleepy seaside town in Washington State, where she is an avid paddleboarder and hiker. You can write to her directly at kelli (at) agodon.com or visit her website: www.agodon.com.

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20
Nov
20

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics 2020 Pushcart Nominations

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics has made its nominations for the 2019 Pushcart Prize. In the order of appearance in issue 23 are:

  1. Jen Huang “Once a Girl” (pages 8-9)
  2. Robyn Art “Undecidability in the Spectral Gap” (page 17)
  3. Jon Riccio “Hearing Shostakovich” (page 20)
  4. Peter Grandbois” “The Cut of Feathers” (page 21)
  5. E. Laura Golberg “Erasure” (page 22)
  6. Michael Waters “icon (memory care facility)” (page 46)

To read these poems go here: https://redactions.com/pushcart-poems.asp or order a copy of issue 24 from here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/redactionspoetry.

28
May
20

On Rick Bursky’s Let’s Become a Ghost Story

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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“‘Convulsive beauty’ . . . associates surrealist beauty with the unknown, with desire and with the promise of revelation” – Krzysztof Fijalkowski

Rick Bursky Let's Become a Ghost StoryRick Bursky’s Let’s Become a Ghost Story (BOA Editions, 2020) is a story convulsing in reality. It is a story that begins with poems grounded in surreal, sexual desires and ends in poems exploring death and the afterlife. It’s a story about making stories about relationships, and “Relationships,” according to Bursky in “Like Many Other Technologies, My Dreams Are Now Obsolete,” “are stories / two people write at the same time.” Most of these relationships are with the speaker’s various lovers, but at times, especially in section II, are about relationships with the speaker’s father, sister, women, and war. Let’s Become a Ghost Story, seemingly, is Bursky’s strategy for creating his “ghost story” that irrupts into the real.

One way to confront this repressive hold of reality is to provide surreal images like:

     Lovers have used my tongue as a red carpet.
     It’s been said my elbows glow in the dark,
     and on hot, humid days I sweat fireflies.   
                                               (“The Scaffolding”)
 

Or:

     A woman asked me to swallow a compass
     so I would always find my way back to her.   
                                               (“I Could Have Been an Inventor”)

The latter recalls (perhaps by way of homonym) John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” but unlike Donne’s simile of two lovers “As stiff twin compasses,” the surreal presentation works by association that combines the desire to consume, the desire to return to a lover, and the desire to satisfy a lover’s request. And in this we can see two stories. One story is a woman requesting an act, and the other is the accommodating act. Images and experiences like these are not found in the waking world, but as they are read, they blend smoothly into the waking world. The surreal irrupts into the real, is accommodated by the real, and changes what is real.

Another way to confront the repressive hold of reality is by creating moments where the reader is not sure if what is presented is true. For instance, in “Sooner or Later, Everything Comes Out,” Bursky writes, “a single pencil / can draw a line thirty-five miles long.” I didn’t know if that was true or not. It felt like it could or could not be true. I looked it up. It’s true. When one of Bursky’s characters says, “the padlock was invented in ancient Egypt” (“There Were Many Luxuries Involved”), that seemed too early for the invention of the padlock, but I looked it up and it was true. Also true is “The earliest dentist known by name is Hesi-re. He practiced in Egypt, / five thousand years ago.” Because of this, Bursky establishes credibility, and this credibility will allow him to subvert the privilege of conscious reality. An example of the height of conscious reality is Albert Einstein, and so Bursky confronts that reality with another pencil in the prose poem “The Arrogance”:

“If you stand on the beach, reach out and rub the horizon with a pencil eraser, earth and sky become one,” Albert Einstein wrote to his sister, Maja: “catastrophic possibilities, I’d rather not consider walking barefoot in the sand.”

While Einstein did have a younger sister named “Maja” and was concerned with the “catastrophic possibilities” of atomic power, he did not write this passage. It seems real, and it seems real enough, that the speaker tries to erase the horizon, and the reader wonders if he will, but he fails. But instead of recognizing the impossibility of erasing the horizon, he thinks:

Instead of the eraser I should have brought the whip to the beach. I believed if I stood in surf and cracked it the whales would know I was there.

Bursky has created truths, fallacies, and half-truths that all blend into a truthiness. Whatever he writes feels true. The reader can experience these situations in the mind, and if they can be experienced, they must be true. His earlier credibility allows him to undermine what is considered reality. The pencil will appear again in “This Is Another Version of Heroism.” In this poem, his porn star wife gave him a “box / of pencils imprinted with my name.” In this case, a lover gives him a gift with which he can create possibilities and realities. But in this case, he doesn’t use the pencils, as expected. He concludes the story of the pencils:

     I never used the pencils until today
     when I sharpened all of them to down to nubs.
     She would be flattered by this:
     everything was a compliment to her,
     even my name, a pile of shavings in a silver cup.

He shreds his signifier and destroys the potential to create with language, as classical surrealists were haunted by the idea that language is not speech but is reality. Bursky breaks down reality into an action that creates a symbol in an unconventional way. He transforms from one reality (life) into another (afterlife), which is significant because this poem opens the section “Four” that explores the afterlife and how to create a ghost story – his own ghost story. He speaks from the dead. He speaks the dead into the living. In Let’s Become a Ghost Story, Rick Bursky eventually dissolves conscious antinomies to allow for revelation and for a truer story to emerge. //

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Bursky, Rick. Let’s Become a Ghost Story. BOA Editions, 2020.

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Works Cited

Fijalkowski, Krzysztof. “Convulsive Beauty.” Surrealism: Key Concepts, edited by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson, Routledge, 2016, pp. 182-192.

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03
Dec
19

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics 2019 Pushcart Nominations

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics has made its nominations for the 2019 Pushcart Prize. In the order of appearance in issue 23 are:

  1. Derek Annis “Elegy for Suicidal Ideation” (page 8).
  2. Jeannine Hall Gailey “Fairy Tale Redacted” (page 12).
  3. Téa Franco “Por mi hermanito Mateo” (page 14).
  4. Susan Elliott “Making Dinner for You” (pages 16-17)
  5. Todd Osborne “A History of Gardening” (page 18)
  6. Charlotte Covey “bottom feeders” (page 19)

To read these poems, stories, and more, order a copy of issue 23 from here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/redactionspoetry.

08
Jul
19

On Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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Carrie Etter's Imagined SonsI have not found many poems focused on the topic of adoption, and I’ve found even fewer poetry collections focused on it, but Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons (Seren, 2014) is a worthy find. This collection contains poems from the viewpoint of a birth mother who relinquished her son when she was 17 years old. There are 38 prose poems titled “Imagined Sons” followed by a number and subtitle, such as “Imagined Sons 1: Fairy Tale” or “Imagined Sons 32: The Fifth Supermarket Dream,” and interspersed between those prose poems are 10 poems titled “Birthmother’s Catechism.”

The catechisms arrive in the form of questions and answers, which often feel like an interrogation. The interrogations seemingly make the birth mother feel tremendous guilt for relinquishing her son, who was born on September 11, 1986, which I believe is at the tail end of the Baby Scoop Era (if it ever ended). The Baby Scoop Era began shortly after World War II, and it was a systemic attempt to take babies from unwed mothers, especially young mothers, and that deliberately made the mothers feel like unworthy humans. The opening catechism addresses this when it points out how she signed a contract “With black ink and legalese” that forced her to give up her son. Most likely she, at the age of 17, had no idea what she was reading and was also too young to be signing a contract, which is another issue with the Baby Scoop Era. It’s also an issue that will appear in a later catechism in the line “When a stranger compares her mortgage to signing away her first son, I nod and cannot speak” (46). A little bit later in the opening catechism, the reader can see how she was treated when a “Nurse brought pills for drying up breast milk.” Right away, the reader not only feels the trauma of a young mother relinquishing her baby son, but the reader also sees how poorly lawyers, doctors, and nurses treated her. Much of the rest of the book is told from Etter’s point of view many years after, still coping with the day of her son’s birth.

Throughout the catechism poems, it’s not quite clear who is asking the questions. Maybe it’s the birth mother’s guild-ridden mind, but often it feels like a faceless, Kafkaesque judge and she’s on trial. And this judge is often, maybe always, triggering her PTSD. For instance, here is an excerpt from one interrogation:

     What is the anniversary of loss?

     Sometimes the melancholy arrives before the remembering. 

     . . . 

     What is the anniversary of loss? 

     When I say sometimes the melancholy comes first, I know the body has its own memory. 

     What is the anniversary of loss? 

     The wishbone snapped, and I clung to the smaller piece.   (15)

 

The judge is forcing her to explain and maybe justify her actions, and the reader can see how her pain is not only emotional but is also physical. The body, which grew the baby for nine months inside itself, remembers. It remembers the baby’s breathing, heartbeat, and hunger rhythms. The body, like the mind and heart, just can’t forget. With each catechism, the reader gains a better understanding of a birth mother in later years and early years. The reader also realizes and understands that she made the wrong wish, though against her will, and she lives with it daily. For instance, in one catechism the judge asks, “Who do you think you are?” and she responds, “A wrong answer” (21). And in another catechism, the judge asks her:

     Why haven’t you looked for him? 

     What if I found him? 

     Why haven’t you looked for him? 

     What if I found him turning away?   (31)

 

These lines show the hope and fear of the chance encounter of meeting her son, and it also parallels the main theme of the prose poems.

In the “Imagined Sons” prose poems, she often fantasizes in surreal, dreamlike scenes about chance encounters with strangers who she hopes will be her son. To complicate matters, Etter had her son in the United States, but later in her life, she ex-patriated to England, where the chances of the encounter are probably zero. And yet she imagines, she hopes, and she even recognizes familiar family features in the male strangers, such as how a stranger “has my large, dark eyes” (“Imagined Sons 4: Black and Velvet”), or “He’s reasonably handsome, with her father’s reddish hair and light eyes” (“Imagined Sons 15: The Second Supermarket Dream”). It’s as if she is so desperate to find her son that she might be imagining these familial features. To me, this is an unexpected reversal, because the adopted child who seeks their parents often wants the experience of recognizing where they come from – the joy in finding someone who looks like them. It seems birth mothers do the same. And all of this – the relinquishing, the guilt, the hope, the possible reconnection, adoption – is surreal, which may be why Etter chose to write prose poems. One can argue that the prose poem is the better container for surreal events than a lineated poem, because the prose poem can freely flow without conscious interference from the mind negotiating the tension between grammar and line breaks, or as Baudelaire says about the prose poem, so it can “adapt to the lyric movements of the soul.” In other words, it may more closely parallel the unconscious flow of thought and dreams. And these thoughts she will never let go of, as she tells her interrogator, she will let her son go when:

     A man carves my name into granite with hammer and chisel. 

     . . . 
 
     It is time, Celan said, the stone made an effort to flower.
 

I believe the reader also will not be able to let go of the birth mother’s trauma, language, and images in Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons. //

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Etter, Carrie. Imagined Sons. Seren, 2014.

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The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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