Thursday, June 26, 2014

Body of Work: Three Poems from Trimble Co. Workshop

Here are three poems from the most recent workshop at Trimble County Library Workshop.  There's one more workshop coming up this Friday, June 27th at Village Lights Bookstore at 6pm, followed by the regular Open Mic at 7pm.

Enjoy!

Musical Hands

Crack Pop
Fireworks in my Fingers
Jubilant joints
Flexible, gripping
Bending and poking
Sharp arrows when Bent
Wrinkly and crinkly
Loud or silent, Never in Between
Integral but mostly unnoticed

-- Amanda, librarian


Pulmonary Embolus

The thorax chest
lung that holds life's Breath
the heart that gives life's Blood
The bronchi that lead to
the road of exchange with
Blood & Air.  Like a storm
the Blood Clot stops this
life exchange road,
blocks the tree of life.
Pulmonary Emboli
The Pain.
The Shortness of Air.
The threat that this PE
may break off and go else
where to Pain & death.

-- Denise, x-ray technician


Masks

They say that our eyes are
the windows to the soul

They tell stories
of sadness, despair, anger

Loss, happiness, failure, success.

There was a boy I once knew
whose eyes told me the story
of love, loneliness, and anger.

He was always sitting alone
during class-- no one liked him.
His classmates picked on him
Spread lies just to get him in trouble.

At home, Dad was always drunk
Mom was always beat
He was always crying himself to sleep

He wanted to kill himself
To just end all of the pain
But he couldn't because of
a girl he loved

In my opinion
He was just lost

We all wear masks,
everyone, everyday,
But sometimes we wear
them so much,
we forget who we really are.

--Anonymous, student

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Poet's Pace: Greg Pape's Four Swans Reviewed by Angela Elles




From my first meeting with Greg Pape, it was obvious to me that this man does not get into a hurry. He is one of those rare humans who listens intentionally, not just waiting for his turn to talk. Greg has been an official mentor to me as part of my work in Spalding University’s Master of Fine Art program. As a teacher and as an artist, Greg is an active listener and the poems in his new book, Four Swans, give attention to the details that often get lost when we push ahead, out of synch with the earth’s rhythms. This latest collection is, in part, a meditation on the messages Greg interprets for us, as he moves through time at a poet’s pace.

The four-part book moves through each of the seasons, beginning in winter, and ending in fall.  The details and correlations of each season are subtly woven in with observations small things with great significance. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm here, where mountains can “float” in the eyes of a child and God is both “great” and “small.”

The tone of reverence for great and small is set with the title poem, “Four Swans.” The speaker is observing swans in January. Once he establishes the image, he goes to the trouble of naming them:
           
            January. Four white tundra swans
            stand at the edge of the ice.

            Grace. Peace. Dignity. X. (5-7).

To name something is a way to show recognition, love, and maybe even guardianship. The importance of the loving attention inherent in the act of naming resonates throughout the book. Greg uses specific names for places, people and things that star in his poems: His mother, Irene; his poetic ancestor, Su Tung-p’o; his departed rooster, Big Red; and the river, the Bitterroot. They are all named along with the swans out of reverence for their importance.

The remainder of the poem, “Four Swans,” moves between observation of the swans and memory or reflection on serious “real-life” circumstances: The hospitalization of a mother, the tragic consequences of reckless behavior. In many ways the movement of this poem mirrors the movement of the book. The poems often begin in observation of the natural world, and the speaker points to how the human world intersects with nature or how the struggles of nature parallel human suffering. Often this intersection reveals something about how humans grapple with reconciling the cycles of modern life with the cycles of this planet.

These poems seem to be the product of Greg’s “listening” to the silent: animals, the rivers, valleys, rocks and water.  In “Rain on the River he interprets a message from the river:
           
            forming pockets, temporary cover,
            holding water for trout. Water says
            everything’s temporary, everything’s moving,
            trees, gravel bars, the new house
           
            where the roofer kneels, nailing shingles,
            in light rain. Look, water says,
            right now, before and after –
            raindrops falling into clouds on the sunlit river.

Greg listens as if channeling these voices confirms that all matter surrounding us is significant and holds a clue to the meaning of our existence if we are able put our finger on the pulse of what is around us.

By the section II of Four Swans, Greg establishes the Bitterroot River of Montana as a key image, emblematic of the natural world.  In the poem “The Spell of the Bitterroot,” human management of the river muddies the scene:

            in many places. Portages abound,
            and no-trespassing signs hang from strands
            of barb-wire strung across braids.
            This is not right.
            But does the river care? It just wants
            to meander, take its own sweet time,
            trust in gravity and the tidal pull
            of eventual dissolution
            in the great peace-making sea. (6-14)

It is interesting that although the speaker is offended, he focuses on the wants of the river. Like the water in “Rain on the River,” Greg gives voice and certain wisdom to the force of the river; this helps the audience to see rivers in a fresh light. The poem ends emphasizing that perspective:
           
            channels, braids, a continuous flow
            of wild water. Just as we do,
            our river wants to stretch out
            and move freely in its own bed. (41-44)

By acknowledging the intention of the river, Greg allows us understand how our own intentions can be in tune with nature, if we stop to notice the similarities.

The similarities are sometimes small and overlooked by moving through time too quickly. Just as the river will make and “take its own sweet time,” we too must move slower to receive the messages that delight and enlighten us.

As I read this collection, I found myself holding back, not reading too many poems in one sitting. I wanted to savor these poems; I didn’t want to rush through them. This is the effect of poetry that enlightens its reader by minding particular details that enrich the experience of being alive.  
To be present in the days’ miracles, Greg finds that it is essential to operate within the natural tempo of our earth; Greg listens to the earth’s messages, and he shows us what we are missing if we forge ahead too quickly.

ISBN 978-088924-127-2
How to order: From the publisher:


Angela Elles is a resident of Madison, Indiana. A mom, wife, teacher, and student, Angela teaches at Ivy Tech Community College and is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Spalding University.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Previous Exercise: So, How'd It Go?

A few posts back, I posted an exercise as a challenge (see June 7, 2013).  As a teacher I always try to do my own assignments, so I thought I would post a sample of my exercise and encourage readers to do the same.  It is rough; I have done only minimal editing.  So here it is.  And please, post your own.



Biking At Night


Riding the bike through the first neighborhood, I disappear into another world.  The houses are lit up from the inside and the outside, a stage set, like Disney World or Santa Land.  I am biking by them but I am apart, part of another world yet.  Deep.  And cold.  The dips in the road hold a cooler air.  I am breathing in the night, lit by the moon or by my Cat Eye bike light.  My mother is afraid.  She does not like for me to bike at night.  My grandfather used to offer to give me a ride (the quarter of a mile home to my own house).  He is dead now.  I am alive.  Alive in the night.  The world holds me.  I am torn: which way to go?  Down Hatcher?  The road is bumpy, crumbling, enacting Earth’s repo plan.  Besides, Hatcher takes me down past St. Joseph’s cemetery, the one where my great uncle used to let the kids loose and disappear.  At night. Or the Heritage Trail?  Smoother, but still a cemetery.  I cannot take the middle way—Hanging Rock—the police officer chastised me last time (after he handed me my fallen bananas).  I decide on Heritage, put my left arm out to signal.  Sirens tell me that there is an officer racing down Hanging Rock.  Good thing I didn’t go that way.  Passing the valley of the white wooden crosses, I hear what at first I think must be another siren.  Soon I realize it is not a siren, but coyotes.  Their cries could be mistaken for neighborhood dogs, almost, but they tangle and wind the way domestication would not.  A shiver runs through my body that has nothing to do with cold.  I pedal harder.  Around the next curve is a deer.  This time I do not jump (as I did last week, knocking the tail light from my seat post as the deer fled, white tails raised in alarm).  No, this time, neither of us flinches.  The doe watches me glide by.  I watch her.  We see each other we are alive at the same time I turn descend the pavement tilts the bike and me with it IdonotrunofftheroadIaccelerateIamcoldIamcolderIamalive.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart: An Example for How to Use Persona Poems to Write about History and Current Events



I live on the Ohio River, and outside my bedroom window I have been watching the construction of a new bridge. It is the only bridge on this part of the river for roughly 40 miles, so it is significant in many ways to my community. The importance of this new bridge, as well as the old one, has inspired numerous poems lately, and I hope to compile them into a chapbook.

I have mostly explored the bridge from the first person point of view, and all the poems are rooted in my personal experience. I have some familial ties to the history of the old bridge, currently being demolished, and I have personal ties to individuals working on the new bridge. As I dive deeper into this project, I have considered using the persona poem to add depth and complexity to this subject.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart recently inspired me. In particular, in her cycle of persona poems surrounding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Calvocoressi is able to use unique, historical perspectives to explore universal themes.  In poem V. of the “Amelia Earhart” cycle, “Doris Luman, housewife,” a witness poem becomes a meditation on loss from the perspective of a wife and mother. The speaker is responding to the news of Earhart’s disappearance and nonchalantly discusses loss as an everyday occurrence. One immediately thinks of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” wherein the poet claims loss is not a disaster, although it may seem to be at times.  The first line of Calvocoressi’s poem is similar:

It’s easy to lose someone. Last
week, walking my son to school,
I turned away for a second.

The next thing I know he’s in the street. (1-4).
In this poem, the housewife is clearly more concerned with what is happening in her domestic sphere than with public figures.  Choosing the housewife as one of the personas allows Calvocoressi to take the exploration of loss to an unexpected place: the home. The ultimate human notion of safety revolves around the home, and the speaker in this poem is turning that notion on its head. The poem moves inward, and the meditation on loss dives into the themes of safety and permanence:
           
You can lose a person at home

            In the safest possible place,
            a place you could walk blindfolded.
that’s why I wasn’t surprised

when that woman got lost. (12-16)
The speaker refers to Earhart as “that woman,” a telling detail in the speaker’s reaction to the news of Earhart’s disappearance. Tragedies happen in the sky and they happen inside the home, and it is not the magnitude of the setting that dictates the severity of its effects the human mind.

These poems lend a personal context to the events surrounding a celebrity. By using different personas to look at Earhart’s disappearance, Calvocoressi allows room for truths to emerge that speak to the human condition and go well beyond the historical event. If the poet had only allowed her own reactions to Earhart’s story to be the subject of these poems, they would be missing the depth and diversity of human experience that gives these poems their universal appeal.

I hope that my bridge poems can explore my particular experience with a highly public happening while achieving some kind of balance with those themes on a universal level. Reading Calvocoressi’s persona poems, I was moved to reach deeper into my speakers’ dreams, memories and, sometimes, darkest thoughts. Diving into the subconscious via the persona poems in the style of Calvocoressi seems like a promising avenue to take my “bridge poems” to the next level. 

Angela Elles is a resident of Madison, Indiana. A mom, wife, teacher, and student, Angela teaches at Ivy Tech Community College and is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Spalding University.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Claire Everett's New Tanka Collection, Reviewed by Haiku Guru Barry George



twelve moons by Claire Everett  Introduction by David Terelinck. Perfect bound; 76 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4781539-5-5. $14.75 US. Available at https://www.createspace.com/3923071.

What is distinctive about Claire Everett's twelve moons is that her tanka do not merely juxtapose the natural and personal worlds; they interfuse the two.

            passing sun
            what of me is flame
            taking hold
            and what of me is timeless
            like this rock, briefly warm?

The poet compares herself directly to the images of nature; she is the sun's flame and the rock. The metaphor is woven into all five lines of the tanka. Indeed, a transmutation is at work, as the following makes explicit:

            transformed
            by the breath of your love
            I am no longer sand
            scattered to the wind
            but the beauty of blown glass

In other cases, the interconnection between the poet and nature involves several images.

            and when my thoughts
            have followed the rosewood grain
            of sunset
            swirling dark from the eaves
            pipistrelles

Thoughts that become one with the texture of the fading sky, and then begin to focus on a darker motion around the eves, suddenly take shape - as bats.

Or, in the poet's contemplation, prompted by a similarity in shape, one image might morph into an entirely different one.

            by candlelight
            watching incense twist and curl
            as shadow
            the double helix uncoils,
            the illness passed down the line

Closely allied with this interfusion of thought and images is the the intermingling of senses, or synesthesia, which Everett sometimes employs.

            in silence
            deeper than the scent
            of pine
            we listen
            for the eyes of the deer

Here sound, smell, and silence work both as separate senses and as aspects of one combined perception.

As the title suggests, twelve moons, is organized seasonally. Each individual tanka takes on added resonance as it is grouped under one of the traditional names for the twelve full moons. The range of subjects includes motherhood, marriage, love, discord, disappointment, injury, illness, and mourning. Time is a persistent theme.

            son of mine
            what's done is done...
            seed by seed, I'd breathe
            back the dandelion clock,
            place its stem in your hand

The foregoing poem also exemplifies the tension Everett achieves with the sounds, rhythms, and pacing of words. So too does this one:

            no greater peace
            than the deep green
            silence of the trees
            when the breeze
            has moved on

Note the long "e" sounds in every line but the last one­­­ - when the (long-e) breeze has moved on - as well as the way changes of pace and even syncopation are used to advantage.

This is a collection to be savored as much for the richness of its imagery as for its finely crafted form. For all the intricacy implicit in their design, the tanka in twelve moons remind us that the best poetry often seems disarmingly and marvelously simple.

            after our walk
            with such tenderness
            you brushed
            the clouds
            out of my hair


Barry George’s haiku and tanka have been published in leading journals and anthologies. His essay, "Shiki the Tanka Poet," appeared in The Writer's Chronicle, and poems from Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku, were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives and teaches in Philadelphia.