Much obliged to Kate Garrett the hard working editor-poet-mother for finding value enough in my poem & giving it a pew in this congregation of poets; especially pleased to see Amy Soricelli in the issue, it’s a breath-taker. You can & should read the issue here.
The Death’s Head’s Testament continues on from Stephanie’s previous book This Being Done & fortunate for us Stephanie is in the present progressive, hammering out the dimensions of poems. The poems here continue to wade in the difficulties of womanhood, family, child-rearing, love, life, memory & death.
There is wakeful invention, an intellectual alacrity, sure-footedness even on the tremulous ground of the heart in the track of each advancing line. Something common-place, is elevated to heightened importance if only for it being what it is: a potential for articulation & loving.
Despite the morbidity of the title, I hope (well-founded on the verve of being a life-bringer & cultivator, which Stephanie wears unashamedly on her sleeve) that Stephanie isn’t concerned as Roy Fisher expresses in Poplars that“I think I am afraid of becoming a cemetery of performance.” Stephanie’s performance is to be anticipated.
Stephanie sets off from a harbour in the American tradition with an echo of “Call me Ishmael” but we are steered away by Stephanie’s humble admission “i’m no kind of Ishmael” continuing “to expound some great protagonist’s wayward saga” but I’d say that, no, she isn’t, this isn’t a saga. Stephanie’s poems are more Heidegger’s Dasein made into an expansive zone: a being-present-in. They are ruminations on humanness, the sort of humanness we read in Wallace Stevens’ verse from Chocorua to its Neighbor:
To say more than human things with human voice,
That cannot be; to say human things with more
Than human voice, that, also, cannot be;
To speak humanely from the height or from the depth
Of human things, that is acutest speech.
Stephanie is acutely aware of her woman-ness ruminating-through the Dasein, she explains she hasn’t
the slightest inkling of other
women’s misfortunes, nor do i know
if i’m even justified in such grief over a life
squandered on an endless vigil’s cries of
who sees me now? & now? & now?
who, besides this mirror i face,
knows my bulging litany of failures,
my spurious assumption of a character i detest?
She’s wide open with herself, comfortably, easily of & for women, but also-for humanness; without hint of difficulties spreading herself between the various camps within gregarious humanity.
There is something contained, something only to be there in the poetry, to be leeched out with effort. Stephanie’s poems are not easy, they might even be her “globed satellites” a humourous metaphor for her breasts, also a metaphorically “gravitational force” which she has “abhorred since youth.” They become the “murdered albatross”. The fleshy albatross is the burden of womanhood, the burden of parturition, as well as the difficulty in the creation of poetry. I am wary of taking this to a more profound level than humour. Line by line the mood can turn without warning. Where there is the lightened mood of “globed satellites” we end “downcast like a faded damask rose”, as if the lightness of humour doesn’t expel the burden of the flesh.
Things I Cannot Say is anecdotal, humourous & revealing:
a burned-out Graduate Assistant
(who couldn’t have distinguished a metaphysical marvel from
her left elbow)
using an orangutan puppet called Andreas “recruited to teach German reflexive verbs to Undergrads”, an object manipulated, like a metaphor, to work for the teacher to increase the likelihood of getting verbs to move into a workable order. That they are reflexive, punning on reflective, which this poem is: a reflection to a previous life & time.
The albatross turns into the orangutan. Now, the orangutan works for the budding ruminator, rather than weighing her down. This act of metamorphosis illustrates the disparities of ourselves from one age to another as we get people to witness us. Despite the awkwardness, the weariness & Andreas, a decision to take the elevator becomes a moment never to be forgotten:
you decided to take the elevator back up from your
third floor classroom to your eighth floor office in Van Hise,
& discovered yourself being flanked for five flights by two
Tibetan Buddhist Monks in their maroon & saffron-yellow robes:
Geshe Sopa, whom you recognized from the Asian Studies Department
on the twelfth floor, & his brightly-smiling companion, none other than
His Holiness the Dalai Lama—even though you’ll never forget how
Andreas clasped his banana, while you summarily exited your body
on a silent wave of preternatural warmth, the mouth of the thing
you would never again inhabit fixing itself into a ridiculous grin.
Andreas is an object. But Andrea becomes so much more. Andreas is a real object who transforms through Stephanie into a sensual quality. We glimpse how metaphor works. As a metaphor, an actor, Andreas is able to transmute the difficult, perhaps even mundane regime of rote learning into something feasible, interesting, while also attempting to get at the core of language & even to establish a memory to be reflected back to. So Andreas becomes an object of not only the poetic foreshadowing of Stephanie, but also an objectification of metaphor itself. Moreover, Andreas is a tool, as is metaphor, used to get a fix on the essentiality of not just meaning, but things in themselves & their extensive usage.
The tone is often easy, the anecdotal, effortless as if they’ve been told countless times, & like myths gaining new interpretations, improved upon; so the poems arrive here.
Twenty years ago
I received a birthday gift
from a close college buddy-slash-sometime lover
(What on earth were we thinking?).
Back then, our past was already in the past
& twenty-four was already not young.
He gave me a coffee mug
covered in chickens—
yes, painted chickens—
Through this intimate tone, Stephanie becomes comfortable with us, inviting us to be comfortable with her. The chicken, a motherly, robust, fertile symbol. For Stephanie is unashamedly a mother & any mother & reader of poetry would find a friend & familiarity in poems such as Briefing from the Sunday Review Board with its religious tone moving seamlessly with the normality of home life:
Blessed be the Teenagers
greasified & bespectacled
though they be for lolling with you on the couch
to watch an “old” movie from two thousand & three
for getting most of the cheesy references to last century
& even laughing aloud (albeit dubiously) as you’ve
been all the while vaunting the previous night’s travesty
of red flannel covered in Mickey Mouse heads
purple soccer shorts & magenta knee-high socks
& for not onlyseeming not to mind your ensemble
but also refraining from being put out by the three-inch-
long grey whisker sticking bolt straight out of your temple
from whence it had migrated undiscovered until crossing
the evidentiary vista’s periphery
The evident shape of Risen could be either a waxing or waning moon, a sail (recall the opening allusion to Moby Dick) or a pregnant paunch. The poem bows outward toward the right hand margin, fertile, the lines motioning into myth. There is talk of the body, magma, moon song “like the shape of her burning / a song like her mouth” song that rises, like inspiration that rises like the down-trodden, like the pain which rises with child birth, the pain of emotion, trauma. It is one of the more complex poems, open to symbolic interpretation, deeply personal, yet accessible through a universal dream-like, mythological lens. The poem reminds me of a line by Hart Crane in the poem Voyages: “Her undinal vast belly moon ward bends.” There-in completing the relationship between the moon, ocean, pregnancy, emotion.
The Death’s Head’s Testament is an erudite, intimate, inviting set of poems, full of turns, motioning like an unsettled ocean, yet discovering peace in detail, memory, family, whilst constantly shifting the reader through an evidently busy & thoughtful mind, not bogged down, but seeing the potential in duty, in the responsibility to family; these poems are tender, full of rehearsed, unique memories that you want to be involved in. There’s a whole life here to engage with.
This poem from the Yoon Yong series is probably a personal anxiety of my own showing through the tissue paper of personality. I think all poets (I cannot speak for translators) have some such concern as this in their transmogrification of reality & experience into the poetic. The solution: not apologizing for seeing, trying, relying & relishing what is out there to relish, rely on, try & see.
It’s probably for the best I never became a poet
or translator: a poet has the anxiety to write
something new | to transmute so much mundanity
into a coagulation of symbols that raises bpm
—else they must make a life busy with happenings |
dilemmas & so much heart ache & madness.
The translator must be at the beck n’ call
of this poet of happenings this force of nature
prone to the altercations of time & the motions
of weather with such acuity it makes my cells itch.
& isn’t the outcome of the translator | jealousy?
No permit by the public to be reckless & intense.
The poet gets to be the eyes of God.
The lodestone of the universe.
The precious birth of atoms damming space & time.
There’s no need for me to be a poet.
I need to be plain & pleased
with the me that I am. If I’m not what then…?
So pleased to have John Looker (a poet I personally admire & enjoy reading immensely) to start off our new series Chapbook Confessions.
I really do encourage you, after reading John’s piece, to have a glimpse at what this Chapbook Confession malarkey is all about & if you fit the criteria & want to contribute, then we would be more than pleased to read what you send us. We are hoping this will be not only useful to readers, but perhaps…what’s the right word, Ah! Cathartic (that should do it) for the writers themselves.
Chapbook Confessions is a series in which poets discuss, at length, the writing of their most recent collection of poems, in whatever way they desire. For more information on the series, go here.
Below, John Looker writes on his 2015 collection The Human Hive (Bennison Books)
Asked to explain the secrets of his craft, the alchemist would wrap his cloak more tightly and withdraw to his tower in silence. The mountebank however, holding his phial of coloured water high, might become loquacious about herbs gathered by moonlight on the shores of Arabia.
I feel uncomfortable talking about how I write my poems. I would prefer to say nothing. Saying anything at all incurs the risk of becoming a charlatan. However, as I’ve been ‘shown the instruments’ and have to say something, I’ll try to find a middle way. I am grateful to Underfoot for publishing some of my poems, and I…
View original post 2,075 more words
A series of 10 sonnets by Adam Penna up at Underfoot today.
Poems full of the sound of wind, natural & fresh, full of hope & exhilaration at the small mercies that come from pure observance of the minor joys in life.
You know what to do dear reader.
& an update. Go & read our Chapbook Confessions guidelines in the menu bar if you’re interested in offering your sagely advice & experience from publishing a chapbook or collection, along with poems from that chapbook. All the details are there, but if you have any questions you can email us, which is provide there.
I hope to hear from you soon.
How to Worship
Today, a thousand fallen leaves: some yellow,
some red, some green, some circling the trees.
They teach us how to worship, and the wind—
it lifts the worshippers. It whips them up.
They seem hysterical with happiness.
I am hysterical with happiness.
The sun shines on my head and on my hands.
It touches the whiteness of the page. Meanwhile,
inside, outside and everywhere, my friends
and people I have never met or known,
contribute to the tumult. Let’s make an aisle,
and, stepping through the happy congregation,
cradle the grocerybags, search for the keys,
and wipe our feet before we enter the house.
The Happiness of Trees
I don’t want to instruct. I want to be
instructed by trees, loosed of leaves and leavings.
I go, step over the threshold and out into the yard.
Already my arms swing overhead. And you,
watching from the stoop…
View original post 1,139 more words
From The Wallace Variations a sort of poetry fan fiction that expands & explores the life & work of Stevens’, imaginatively, so as i might speak with him, ultimately.
Wallace phoned in the early hours of a sultry
August night that soaked the William Morris wall-paper
to make summer noises down the telephone
an imitation with his vocal cords of noises from the tropic months
: the intolerable mugginess of sweaty sandwich afternoons
the pores of dry skin squeezed by August’s humid stump
the silent treatment of the heat of things
the hissing of wet bricks & twigs, the wind in its own mouth
—i dozed off after shy an hour of his charade
& in my head the clinch of summer broke an egg.
i wrote, roughly a year ago with the annex of a hop skip & a jump tagged on it, a short collection of poems with Wallace Stevens as the central character. he sometimes speaks with me, he speaks with his characters & we sometimes discover things about him no biography could possibly know. it is not just a series of poems with things happening to him— i took advantage of the breadth of style & content within his Collected Poems & utilizing allusion, his existential, philosophical & artistic concerns; his fears & his mortality & borrowing his structural integrity, colour palette, & musical ear, wrote poems that expand & explore these issues.
i can’t feign originality, the language & tone of most of these poems, if not all are absolutely not my own, but that of Stevens; however i can certainly say they have an aesthetic character— i’d say they have something like fan fiction about them.
i wrote them to wear out my own unconscious filching of Stevens’ style, which was proving difficult for me to shake off at that time. i thought if i just concentrated on a series of poems conscious of his style it would organically wean me off his style. it worked.
this poem Return to Vesuvius, is supposed to be additional episodes that happened to the protagonist of Esthetique du Mal, but Stevens omitted, which is a fiction.
Return to Vesuvius
…The genius of misfortune is not a sentimentalist. Wallace Stevens, ‘Esthetique du Mal’
If his window opened out onto the smell of Vesuvius’s groans
which it did, threatening the sublime of an open page
—what then of the power of the sublime, what of the page?
what did it mean that a book, this book,
pertaining to be sublime, could be engulfed in magma,
or uprooted by a strong through-draft or even that
a man may eat the book?
The fretting he accustomed himself to
to the pinpoint of its topmost trembling hand
played havoc on his effete nerves.
Volcanic air leaked into his anxiety on the pliable sublime
about the endless endings of life.
Time, of its own self, will not remember, it can’t remember
—he remembered it when he read the clock & his foot
in keeping with the hammering of marble in triple time
or the yammering of the market square’s sidewalk.
& he was so sorry that no matter how much imagine
is involved such an intolerable truth persists
: a correct catastrophe can only be
correct if it is a complete catastrophe said the book.
How enlarged upon was this in all those letters home?
It had to be a bubble of soapy water, he supposed
that stopped the hassle off the crickets in the telephone.
He wrote letters as it felt more personable
he wrote because he never stuttered with a pen.
Thus, we know it couldn’t have been his Sybil on the other end
whispering the incantation of the day from Campanian tabloids.
His personal agony aunt who he could also love
as mother, sister, lover: problem solver of the abscesses in feel.
She elements contained for him
our internal predicament & moreover, our predicate.
As he was reborn, so we were reborn
with every single mimicry— we are all of a mimicry
he was, everyone was or became the substance of mimicry, in turn
on learning they were but mimicry.
Regardless, robust research on finality is never done
even if the whole shebang is just a mimicry
even if Sybil the agony aunt is his emotional meteorologist.
The stench of rotten eggs had penetrated his tenement
long enough & so Vesuvius’s eructation wasn’t
a separate smell for him, he had endured the rot of egg
four days now as the sadness deepened his uncleanliness
: a broke egg in the punnet went unnoticed but for stench.
He preferred lunch at the café with a slim volume on the sublime
& to perv on passing ladies, shaped like vases with pears painted on them
ladies in cashmere sweaters & pill box hats spuming feathers
he could not ever get his grubby hands on for a squeeze & nibble.
It seemed eruption was an imminence that would not come
as though it had & was erupting, but society continued anyhow
as if the ashen statues of Pompeii awakened & resumed
corruptions of the will, of that time, before that time
—that has resumed corrupting thoughts across periods.
This is what was so sublime about his book
: to read of how the past corrupts us now with only hope of change
& designs for practical methods of seeing
this as an aesthetically pleasing idea.
The cracking of a free range egg was pleasurable
that manner in which they sluggishly plop in to a jug
a mimicry of the sun’s features, perfect rotundity, bold yellow.
an incomplete birth of a thing become protein for the quick.
an egg fell on the floor, the man sighed long & heavy, he handed
Wallace a cloth to wipe the floor, which marked it with a poem…
…the sun is & always was yoked to the moon
said Wallace as he scooped up the fallen egg
onto a plain white plate— refused a helping hand
a blunt, solid white no! for, beneath a yes
is the furtive will to refuse
—the august punishment of do not trouble yourself.
He quarried the selfish right to decline out him
that no one should suffer from it.
It was no major catastrophe, no Megiddo
: only a sun of mimicry lanced by a blunder
now being nursed in the arms of the moon.
That one might suffer. That one might die.
This it is that makes an innocence of life.
it’s no great catastrophe the sun went dead. ended Wallace.
In the tenement gardens, paratroopers cut grass
& the machine with the appetite for grass
impressed the reader of the sublime.
It had no care for blue geraniums, red peony
not even care for weeds that mask as flowers.
The grass, as did the sublime contained secrets
of what he did not know, because he did
not wish to know, at least not acutely know
: he was more interested in the faculties of guess
—hypotheses had such attraction to his character.
as shade & sun split the lawn in twain, at noon
the paratroopers disappeared, half in the sun
& half into the shade, their shadow-self, hard against
the sun, their phosphor-self, hard against the shade
:the man, sipping a coffee, eating a clementine.
We re-imagine ourselves every moment
the only problem is we always realize
that we are doing this too late he ranted
well actually he quoted from the open book
opened by the mid-day sirocco
however, he re-imagined the book
as opened by another force
that the force’s paramount concern
was the delivery of a suitable theme for a man
escaping from a previous self, a man newly opened
to any experience that could develop a newer him
a self more solid, more Byronic, more hair
& brawn to show case on his chin
a beard to soften the blows of the sublime
—to excel at something he was incapable of doing,
to poach confidence from the shoulders
of mountains for his benefit, to hush.
He had only to sit patiently enough for the change.
He had been to the ends of the earth,
or so it was that he had dreamt it so
& waking couldn’t dissuade himself
as he fell into the day like a brick of cloud.
That he had not in fact travelled the globe
that he had not stood in deer furs at the precipice
of Patagonia’s glaciers with a pack of dogs
nor sundered ice bergs on his merry way to Reykjavik.
He could only conclude he dreamt
a memory of a previous incarnation of himself.
That he, himself, with arms & legs more able
had conquered such inhospitable terrains
& not only spent a lifetime in cafes & hotel rooms
sick of his own pale portrait, sick of his complete malaise
admiring Vesuvius from various angles & taking photographs
as the same sun that altered each photograph
broke the backs of primitives in obscurest Africa
& made a source of praise for atheists in Scandinavia
where Liadoff composed sonatas without light bulbs
whilst pandas broke bamboo clean from the soil
in a Chinese forest like children retting popsicle sticks
—he, cohabit in time
or thereabouts the ancient mood.
i would like first to thank everyone who read the first part & an especial thanks to those who followed me & commented; there were some fine comments & i hope i replied satisfactorily. my deepest gratitude is reserved for Robert who emailed me with spacing issues & worked tirelessly to fix them through a long & sleepless night, even utilizing alcohol as a catalyst for coping & working around the problem, the posts look great, i couldn’t be more pleased with them.
now that my verbal oblations are done: this part contains more on the process of my poetry, how i get one of the blighters out of me. i am really interested in this aspect of any art: how do we do it. i know it is complicated, but if anyone has the time & energy to share with me their processes, please do, i am always interested, as i may be able to put some of them to good use in my own workings out. the link
much obliged to you all
just a brief post. some people have told me the link doesn’t work that transfers you to the Q&A, so i think this should do it: the link. browse Robert’s poems while you are there, you shan’t regret it.
thanks for your attentions
i am over the moon to announce that Pushcart nominee, Robert Okaji, is starting (with our fingers crossed) a monthly slot on his blog, in which, he asks a poet he finds interesting a few questions on their every day & poetry & also publishes a handful of their poems; i am the first such poet, of what i hope (with fingers crossed) will become a regular place for talented, emerging & time honoured poets to be featured.
i am especially pleased because i have been reading Robert’s poetry for sometime now, & in addition been nattering with him about It. Robert is one of those rare poets whose poetry, though challenging, is a rewarding endeavour: it instructs as much as it questions & we believe in his quest to process his reality & that reality’s quest to make sense, or rather make note of the world; to appreciate its diverse aspects & just how miraculous it all is. so for such a talented poet to find value in my poems is really an honour, as i said, i am over the moon.
you can read part i of the Q&A here. the iind part should be posted in a few days or so, but i’ll let you know. while you are there & if you haven’t before, take some time to read Robert’s poetry & let it ask you a few questions. please comment, follow & like anything that grabs you attention.