“Valentine,” by Melissa Hassard

The mail has come, as I was thinking of you

I was wondering about the man that delivered your letter

 

when the dogs barked, I didn’t think anything of it

was his day suddenly made inexplicably better

 

but I meant to say earlier that I didn’t miss it

when your letter fell into his bag 

 

when you said I should watch for the mail,

perhaps his shoulders suddenly happy and relaxed 

 

only I didn’t know quite what you meant

and the dog down the street didn’t jump the fence 

 

I just held onto it, slipped it into my pocket carefully.  Now

I bet his wife suddenly called and said something kind

 

I have a sweet mouth that is a little on fire –

the rain held off and he could even turn off the heat 

 

it must be all the way up into my eyes as I write this.

because it warmed up more than predicted.

 

Chocolate, chilies, cherries.  I can hardly write.

Now his feet don’t hurt and he’s even humming a tune

 

But if I could get to you right now, if I could get to you,

he hasn’t thought of in years- probably jazz– 

 

I would surely kiss you all the way to next week,

and he hums and smiles and maybe whistles, too

 

until your lips were raw, ‘til you begged me to stop

even when he turns the corner

 

to let you breathe, to let you eat, or speak

he keeps smiling, his heart light

 

and you will taste like chocolate and chilies and cherries, too

all the way, all the way, all the way home.  

 

***

Winner of first place for the 2016 Thomas H. McDill Award, judged by James McKean, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

***

Related links: http://www.thepilot.com/news/features/poetry-society-holds-annual-awards-day-at-weymouth/article_28c15034-1d32-11e6-8fdf-db1294975e88.html

 

 

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The 2018 Gathering of Poets | Save the Date

It has been a deep honor and pleasure to work on The Gathering of Poets the past two years with Richard Krawiec and Jacar Press. The Gathering of Poets will be held March 24, 2018 in Winston-Salem, NC at The Historic Brookstown Inn.

Following is the lineup of terrific workshops that weekend. If you would like to attend, visit Jacar Press’ Gathering pageon Facebook, or e-mail Richard  for upcoming announcements and how to reserve your space.

Lynn Emanuel –
Obsessional Poetics: No One Writes Just One Poem

“All obsessions are extreme metaphors waiting to be born.”
– J. G. Ballard

In this workshop, we will examine the ways a few modern and contemporary poets turn and return to a place, person, image, form, or event as a way of exploring and unearthing a subject. What can these forms of return teach us about our own poems? How can we mine our own repetitions or obsessions for new work? How might we delve more deeply into our own habits of writing and feeling? If you can, please bring a couple of poems to workshop that you might use as a resource for exploring your own poetic obsessions.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Patricia Spears Jones –
Basic and Bold: The Uses of Contemporary Poetry

This Workshop is designed to engage participants with contemporary poets and the different strategies to generate new work. While the focus is on African American poets, a range of poets will be under review. The Workshop will be in two parts:
1. Participants will look at poems in the packet and discuss the work of those poets with whom they unfamiliar.
2. We will use vocabulary from two or three of the poems to generate new work.
We will use two or three poems as catalysts for new works. Poems by Gregory Pardlo, Ada Limón, Marilyn Chin, Maureen Owen, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Adam Fitzgerald and Charif Shanahan will be part of the packet. Participants must be prepared to read and write, write and write. At the end of this workshop, it is my hope that participants will have created poems that they feel good about and have learned about.

Zeina Hashem Beck –
The Ghazal and the Poetic Leap

In this workshop, we will focus on the ghazal as a poetic form: beyond talk about the shape of the poem, the radif (refrain), the qafia (rhyme), and the poet’s signature, we will look at how the ghazal’s couplets can both exist as independent units and relate to one another and the poem’s whole. We will discuss how this quality allows the poet to create juxtaposition and make poetic leaps within a ghazal. Participants will also write.

 

Maggie Anderson –
The Poet in the World: Writing Political Poetry

In this workshop we will examine the ways in which our poems can be made from the intersection of local and global political events and our own lives as poets. Why is the term “political poetry” often seen as a pejorative? Can the necessary evidence, documentation and witness in political subject matter be expressed through poems that are also highly attuned to metaphor and music? What makes a “good” political poem? If you can, please bring with you one poem by yourself or another poet that you consider both “political” and “poetic” that you might use as a source or model for writing from your own political feelings, fears, and understandings in these times.

Gary Fincke –
Everything Matters: Deepening Experience in Narrative

We will explore ways of opening narrative poems, not only to move beyond simply “close observation of what happened,” but also to broaden the personal by associative connections to what’s learned in any number of ways—history, science, the arts, culture, politics, and the oddities of trivia. Bring along a few of your own narrative poems to re-examine for the possibility of entering again from another angle.

 

 

Sandra Beasley –
What We Talk About When We Talk About Voice

Voice is the most elusive element of strong writing. How do we craft language that feels compelling and unique? We will unpack constituent elements of voice—the recurring decisions made in terms of point of view, tense, image, sound, structure, and diction—and read examples of effective voice from noted contemporary authors of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This seminar includes an extensive handout of texts and a generative prompt.

 

 

Congratulations to Iman Dancy, 2017 North Carolina Poetry Out Loud Champion

I’ve just gotten back from the 2017 National Finals for Poetry Out Loud, held on April 25-26, 2017 in Washington, D.C. at the Renaissance Dupont Circle and Lisner Auditorium on the GWU campus. What an incredible event.

With Sharon Hill, Arts in Eduction Director at the NC Arts Council, Iman Dancy, Juliet Shepard.

Our North Carolina state champion, Iman Dancy, did an excellent job performing her poems. (“Learning to Love America” and “On Virtue.”) In the regional semi-finals, she made the first cut and had the chance to recite her third poem, “I am Offering This Poem.”

I was inspired to select “Learning to Love America” because it really allowed me to step into the shoes of someone vastly different than me. As an African-American sixteen year old living in twenty-first century North Carolina, it can be difficult to imagine or relate to the experiences of an immigrant mother living in California during the latter twentieth century. But getting to recite Lim’s poem gives me a look into her life that I would not be granted otherwise. I selected “On Virtue” and “I Am Offering this Poem” because the light, positive writing styles (and beautiful simplicity of the second poem, especially) really drew me in. — Iman Dancy

She did not advance to the finals but did an outstanding job in the regional semifinals. For a first appearance at nationals, she held her own with her tremendous talent and poise.  We look forward to many great things from this amazing young person, and also congratulate Samara Huggins, the national winner from Georgia.

Watch Iman recite “I am Offering This Poem, by Jimmy Santiago Baca.

Poetry Out Loud is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. There are many, many partners who work together to support this transformative program, and the kids who get involved often say that the experience touches so many places in their lives, helps build their confidence and gives them opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

We are already thinking toward next year’s state championship. If you are a North Carolina high school English or theater teacher, consider this worthy program for your students. Read praise for this incredible program, and here’s a handy FAQ to see how Poetry Out Loud can fit in your classroom and lesson plan.  Feel free to contact me with your questions.

 

 

On grief

Because of my finances, I haven’t traveled with the kids as much as I’d have liked to. As a child, I grew up traveling quite a bit and know the deep value in understanding that the world is both bigger than you think, but at the same time, also smaller –

The last time we were at the beach all together, we were with my mother. Andrew was a toddler, and we’d gone to Emerald Isle. I have some pictures somewhere I’ll try to find. A few years ago, there was the overnight, emergency, much-needed sanity-seeking beach trip here to Topsail – a getaway to just anywhere – so Katie, Andrew, and I decided to come down and look for megaladon teeth, since it had been reported that year that the locals were finding them. J. was living full time with his father that year. Later, there was the two-night at Ocracoke Spring Break with Katie and Jack. (A. on Spring Break with beloved friends.) J. literally laid down in the sand as soon as we reached the beach that first day and didn’t move, didn’t venture down to where Katie and I laid our towels, or swim, or look for shells.

Part of the reason we are here this year is that at some point, I have to disperse my mother’s ashes, but I don’t exactly have a plan. I am old enough now that I am not afraid of a mess, of getting my hands dirty, of doing the work – but if I’m honest, I know that this deep sense of dread I am carrying has to do with fear.

Maybe it has to do with dealing with the macabre, the death and skin of her, the ash of her, the small bones, the unknown. This part of death I haven’t handled before. The soil of her, the loam of my mother from whom I sprang. It is said we begin as dust and that is where we end, and here I am with her dust …

And maybe it also the finality, that I am letting her go along with all the questions, all the answers I’ll never have. She died and we didn’t really know each other, and won’t — all her secrets and truths she so tamped down in her life will now be sent back into the wind.

At least the wind is constant.

My muscles ache from walking on the sand, the good ache, the necessary one. But I am heartweary from worrying about my beloveds, from carrying loss with me, and the fears of losing more, from how harsh this world can be –

And yet so filled with beauty at the same time. I watched the moonrise last night over the ocean – a deep orange lifting right out of the water and fooling us, behind black ropes of clouds –at first we weren’t sure what it was but supposed it some kind of ship with orange lights, til it grew brighter and brighter and then leapt from the black water, still in her veils, but finally J. asked, “Is that the moon?”

And it was, and it cleared the ocean, the black wisps across her face dissipating while she came more clearly into view.

I always forget and then remember how the moon pulls the tide back like a curtain and lays the wet sand bare, and I think of how tender our hearts, how we are made vulnerable by grief, how if we strip back the anger, the fears, the petty resentments, we uncover the truths: we are all made to love and to hurt, that we all hold desires, hopes, and dreams for ourselves and for those we love – and the wet sand is waiting for those moments when all the walls and devices we use to protect ourselves are dissolved, pulled back. Waiting for answers, maybe, and waiting perhaps for us to dare to love each other again, for us to let go of losses and fears and be pulled right along with her into what is beautiful: a soft night, the roar of ocean, a sky speckled with stars.

Reading GNOMON, by Cynthia Huntington

In the car rider line with a book of poetry, I find the world shifts into a slightly better frame for me. The beautiful Gnomon today, by Cynthia Huntington (Jacar Press, 2017).
A gnomon is “the projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow.”
From the title poem: “The apples are sour and hard./ The trees are dreaming/ the shape the teeth tore from the flesh./ Gnomon. The part taken away,/ shape of absence — mirror/ to the missing piece. You would know your beloved/ even turned away.”

 

The themes of love and longing appear over and again within the book; and this kind of love is next to the holy, and “there is no joy beyond this.”

 

“– we go on under stars, under the darkest/ clouds, we climb and descend, our feet heavy;/ we are tired — but everything is so astonishing,/ each moment so new. We go on; stepping forward,/ we ask: Are you here? The grass says yes./ We step into God every moment, stunned, dumb-/ founded, we meet him however we go, so how/ can we bear to rest, to cease discovering him/ over and over, in the next moment, opening …”

 

This whole chapbook works like this. “… climb and descend, climb and descend” … seeking and finding God at each unexpected turn, from a green star to a horse alone in a pasture. Love and sorrow, the sweetest loves, the sweetest joys — and every poem in this chapbook is a door.

Honestly, this is poetry I wish I’d written.

And just like the hike through the woods that you wish would last longer, this is a short read — only 20 pages — but what a lovely journey. And the poems, like trees, clear our heads, somehow remind us who we are.

The blurb on the back by David Rivard: “After experience is done teaching us just about everything it thinks it needs to teach us, we come back to desire, the one thing worth knowing. This time around desire shows up as a wild calm, dead center of whatever picture in which we find ourselves. These marvelous, subtle poems go deep, deep, deep into that wild calm. So subtle, so moving! I don’t believe anyone but Cynthia Huntington could have written them.” 

If you pick up this chapbook, let me know what you think.

Purchase information here.

RED SKY | Poetry on the global epidemic of violence against women

I’m really honored to have had the opportunity to work on this project, and proud of the book. An important and timely issue — though not an easy one, to be certain — this is a beautiful book and I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy.

If you’d like a copy for review, please contact me.

Red Sky: Poetry on the Global Epidemic of Violence Against Women
ISBN: 978-0-9968036-6-3

For more information, including a full list of contributing poets and how to order, please go here.

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Pleased to be included in North Dakota Quarterly 83.1

I’m thrilled and honored to have a poem included in the latest issue of the North Dakota Quarterly. NDQ is a fine journal with a sterling reputation — please subscribe to them here.

This issue’s cover features starkly beautiful photography, and the content within is equally gorgeous yet harrowing.

North Dakota Quarterly is pleased to announce the release of our newest issue, Volume 83.1. Chuck Kimmerle’s lovely black and white photographs point to the chilly and sometimes chilling themes found in this Winter issue. On the cover, lines of leafless trees stand against the bleak backdrop of snow covered fields near Grand Forks, North Dakota. Stories and poems often echo that motif. [More.]

Deepest thanks to NDQ poetry editor Heidi Czerwiec.

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