Review of Stephanie L. Harper’s The Death’s Head’s Testament

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.

You can pre-order a copy of The Death’s Head’s Testament here at the Main Street Rag’s home page. To stay up to date with Stephanie’s publications, you can visit her blog.

There’s no need to be a poet (time is forgotten)

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…?

Falun Gong (still rheum in her eyes)

Falun Gong (still rheum in her eyes)

…As she is leaving The Comfort Inn
she stops to watch a snippet from a KBS documentary

: “They would drag us away for thorough medical examinations.
Test our blood | take urine & stool samples| check

our reflexes with a soft wooden mallet
—our eye sight too. If we refused they beat us without clemency

until we drew blood | which they gathered
from the pools that gathered on the linoleum floor…

We knew what it meant: the healthy would have their organs
harvested & distributed to surgeries across China.”

—(From a documentary on Falun Gong practitioners
& the conspiracy that the Chinese government

were imprisoning them to harvest their organs
to be distributed to hospitals across China).

—I went to a demonstration once in Seoul
which provided context for my own problems.

“You can’t spell remedial without media.”
STOP IT! You’re not funny or charming. You’re twee

—“Ugh. I hate being described as twee…”
She steps out into the darkness | the warm

impression of a dream still pulling at her
: what was that turtle ship all about?

Sarah Law (Chapbook Confessions #2)

Another Chapbook Confession this week, this time by poet Sarah Law. Law writes on her collection Ink’s Wish, about a Medieval visionary called Margery Kempe. Her poems from the collection, are rich in details, zooming in on incidents from Kempe’s biography, a thorough character study of a woman, creating a connection between the contemporary conscience & the Medieval. Well worth a look-see.

I’d also like to remind you poets with collections & chapbooks etc, that we are always open for submissions in all our categories, but we’d especially like to read about your Confessions. I was hoping poets would be jumping at the opportunity to talk about their work, almost completely free of restraint, free to roam the experience & talk about everything or anything about it, as well as the chance to see some of the poems published. What you playing at! Get busy. Where else is this opportunity available? As far as I know, only at Underfoot. Get your arses in gear.

Daniel

Underfoot Poetry

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, Sarah Law writes on her 2014 collection Ink’s Wish.

Sarah Law lives in London, UK, and is a tutor for the Open University and elsewhere. She has published five collections of poetry, the latest of which is Ink’s Wish. Recent and forthcoming work in Ink, Sweat & Tears; Ekphrastic Review; Eunoia Review; Amaryllis; The Windhover, Saint Katherine Review; Where is the River and elsewhere.


21566728These poems are from my collection Ink’s Wish which was originally published by Gatehouse Press and was shortlisted (one of four collections in the poetry category) in 2014 for the East Anglian Book Awards of that year. The small (100 only!) print run from Gatehouse soon sold out and I…

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Criticisms of the West (11:44 a.m.)

Criticisms of the West (11:44 a.m.)

…Does all this talk get recorded anywhere
—a data-bank of the cosmos?

My Western friends are always talking about
the Universe’s Consciousness—Thai dye t-shirts

& harem pants | mandalas patterning them
—I stick out like a sore thumb in my grey pant suit.

They travel through Asia for a few months
& think the soil’s saturated in higher consciousness.

They meet a monk | receive ludicrous epiphanies.
I meet a monk & want my money back

:—“best of a bad lot in my esteem.”
—In winter | during the exam season mothers
& grandmothers flock to the temples in Seoul.
There | they can spend an entire day performing jol
: a genuflection | a bow | to perform which | they start
in the standing position | bend their knees | then
lowering themselves onto their knees fold the head
into the stomach so as to resemble a foetus.
This is performed in a fluid | single motion
—repeating the action over & over again for hours
while praying to Buddha for their child’s prosperity.
It is an elegant action that can be done well & like
somebody who is very skilled at using chopsticks | their
proficiency in performing jol may be remarked upon by others.
The genuflection is said to be good for stiff backs.
The mothers & grandmothers also bring 20kg sacks
of rice | which are piled in front of the Buddha relics
as oblations—a sort of trade for the attentions of the gods—
(from a tourist pamphlet I translated for
visitkorea: Korean Tourism Organization.)

The piled sacks end up making the temple
look like a military camp.

Are any thoughts worth the time | energy or space
they occupy | if they take up a space other than

the space a technology creates?
“It’s not the content but the medium

that we should focus on to understand the effects
new technologies are having on our brain.”

It all feels like contagious nonsense to me
—so hard to refute when delivered softly | if only because

it means “bringing me down | man.”
I hate hearing Brits use American slang |

so much worse than an anachronism
or white socks & brogues.

It’s getting to the point where
even the affectation of quality is becoming farfetched.

“It is a fact that people fill hard drives
with all sorts of crap. Porn | TV shows…”

The most intelligent thing he ever said
& the most hypocritical. I told him

: If I have to sit through any more Jamie ‘Fucking’ Oliver
I am going to jump off the balcony.

During coffee with American or English friends
Yoon Yong will internally gnaw on her knuckle

listening to the same old vitiating diatribe
—“Well in our country… We don’t do this…

…like you do in Korea…” Insinuating the need to “catch up”.
They never see the good

: how Koreans are on the whole comfortable
around each other | help each other

: share food | space & time with one another.
We are never a bother to each other.

We celebrate together | any minor or major triumph
of our country. I have to listen to my country belittled

by people from nations with such insular populations |
too anxious to be a part of something bigger than themselves |

belligerently individual | as if individualism
is the high watermark of any civilization

—“as if Orientalism hasn’t had damaging enough effects…”
—nations self-medicating themselves numb with grins—

poisoning their bodies with junk & shooting
or mowing each other down in various ways |

while they work or study or “get lashed on the town.”
But I have to nod & say

: O yes | but we are getting better you know.
Consider this a form of abuse…

Bone Antler Stone by Tim Miller, a review

I’m aware this “review” could potentially end up as flat out extolment for a poet who has become my friend and whose poems I was fortunate enough to have read in their early drafts. Am I biased? Probably. But I am going to make an effort to evidence what makes this a worthy read. There is plenty to evidence and I hope in tandem with my personal praise, this review will not be exposed as a sycophantic exposition.

Tim Miller’s Bone Antler Stone (The High Window Press) begins, ablaze, with the poem Fire Houses. What seems to have been an ancient procedure of renewal (Tim’s query in Fire Houses II later on: “Why would they do this to their houses/every generation of so…?” for me, supports this, in a whole poem dedicated to the question) seems to be Tim’s symbolic way of nudging us toward a spirit of renewed perception toward a remote past. His poems, allured by histories blank spots and maybe even blind corners, act as the “great liminal space” to gather renovated insight into the ancient cultures of Europe.
In the central verse of the poem, Tim mistakes “electric light sprawling from a TV…” for one of the fire houses, a poet after a vision that peers into the past; a poet we can trust to present for us the intensity of a time, at least to the average person, little reckoned with. The “Otherworld” remarked on, could be the subject itself, so distant, so bare of the essential ingredients abundant evidence gives us to dramatize history. Without this, does the subject become Otherworldly, a time difficult for us to form a relationship with, in which to see our likenesses? Tim’s poem bridge those difficulties. He brings that cradle of humanity closer.
These are not poems of blood and disaster; nor poems fueled with lusts and sabotage; but poems of small detail, beacons of light drawing us to the achievements of cultures without convenience, to marvel and respect the enduring legacy, hacked into artifice, extant in the material of bone, antler and stone.
Bone Antler Stone is dutifully constructed around the linear passage of time, 30 or more thousand years of it; covering the upper Paleolithic, through the stone age, bronze & into the early centuries of the 1st millennium. The book, separated into 4 sections: Landscape & Rituals; Burials; Artifacts and ending in a finale at Orkney. Each section moving from inception or remotest time, to a time closer (yet still remarkably remote). Or perhaps better thought of as, from less civilized to more civilized.
After the introductory Fire Houses we are transported to what preceded the civilized shelter of the home, caves— the caves of Chauvet, Lascaux & Altamira, 30,000 years ago. This series opens with one of my favourite lines:

“Now we come to paint with light and fire.”

A line dramatically dense, suggestive, alive.
The first poem utilizing an expansive line that reaches like the cave-dwellers fire to the ceiling of their cave, offering the inhabitants the means to decorate their stony, womb like domicile; their umbilical art fastening onto the mental duty of mankind to identify itself with their environment—a pattern thread through time. The remaining 6 poems shuttle and pounce, incisive like the actions and behavior of not only the artist’s hand, but the fluidity of the creatures they made likenesses of. Tim fills the poems with much of what these troglodytes identified with, what they held dear, the life bringing principles they were inextricably twined with, in addition, their fears: to be forgotten, a lonely but brief and easily forgotten spark in the depth of geological and cosmic time. Here in the poems, techniques they used:
“And to this light I mix my colors with cave water.”

Tim, makes spectators of us, we close our eyes for the mental image his words hack into us with the rib of an animal whose bones were picked clean by man and vulture.

Migrations at the End of the Ice Age & New Families Arrive in Britain seem to remark on the current refugee crisis:

You would have watched them, weary at how they
all kept coming, and their courage to
give the tide their lot…(New Families Arrive in Britain)

This is similar in tone to correspondence, the reporter on the scene. I see paired to those ancient people landing in 5000BC, the hopeful refugees escaping the impact of wars, even the effects of glacially slow climate change, in our own time. These poems could be prescient of a future, in which large swathes of the globe are uninhabitable and similar migrations are repeated. Maybe, we’ll consider as Tim does in Migrations at the End of the Ice Age:

I like to think about it this way: that the
ice sheets of ancients Europe, rather than
melting and making a run to the north

simply because the weather got warmer,
instead retreated, were sought out and stalked,
harried and run down by animals, plants

and human tribes living off the new…

Such hopefulness may be welcomed after so much hardship.
The movement of large bodies of people, all their belongings, hope in the continuity of identity and identification which they (like us) we might suppose, longed to keep alive, becoming the common will of mankind. It isn’t new, yet it is always done in search of something new; there is familiarity in “the new”.
How have we changed? Have we, at least in many respects not remained akin to the peoples of history, if only because we share the fragilities that make us human and regardless all our conveniences, removed, they bring our similarities into focus: flesh, blood, bone, hunger, necessity of warmth, shelter and so, eager to mark materials in pigments and dyes, to sculpt a legacy out of material to scream “we were here”, bearing our teeth with ritual verve to the elements that drench us cold or bake us, but which, attuned to, provide for us, not just our sustenance but our principles of order, moral compass— gods.

The Village of Gönnersdorf provides us with a window into the habitual, annual, cyclical movements of peoples:

They returned every winter to find things
mostly as they had left them: the slate floors
needed cleaning so the animals engraved

there stood out again in the dust of their feet.

This life of domestic repetition, continual repair, continually keeping their heads above the waters of hardship, is never romanticized by Tim; never praised as a freer time, closer to nature— a mythologized, golden age of man. Nor does he stress the hardship; rather the poems act as documentation, they show and provide evidence.
Tim’s poems are for everyone, learned in their research; the only difficulties to surmount are names unfamiliar to us. You may not understand the meaningful weight of Dolní Věstonice, or Tim’s interesting choices for his Gods & Goddesses sub-section, where rather than Bacchus or Dionysus, we meet Sucellus. This is not done in boast, but as encouragement to investigate further. I myself didn’t know a great deal, but it wasn’t difficult to find out and the discovery has been beneficial.
The language Tim uses helps connect the reader, this is not over embellished poeticizing, but tight, practical language for presentation. Regardless, it is musical, it isn’t boring to read. I realized after reading Tim’s poems more and more that Tim is like a contemporary Wordsworth. When I expressed this realization to him, he was very pleased, as this was his intention. However, he doesn’t fall into the trap of treating ancient subjects with a pseudo-antique idiom; these are clearly contemporary poems, from a poet aware he is not trying to write from the perspective of the peoples who lived the time of his subject. The tone is not affected in the transportation of the researched subject matter, into verse, either. Miller’s research speaks volumes through the pointedness of his language. Tim, never speaks from the point of view of the civilization in any sort of poor re-enacting of their character, aside from the end where Pytheas appears, but even he is contemporized and the effect is charming. This could easily appear like those dreadful voice actors from the BBC, who in English read a translation of a Roman Emperor’s speech; ok we get the gist, we get the insight, but it feel affected, at least to me. Tim is rather a poet looking, trying to understand. It could easily all blow up in Tim’s face and our enjoyment would be lessened, as we’d be removed from our considering by the attempt at dramatization. This is a very clever evasion and I applaud Tim for it.

Returning to music in these poems, it is ubiquitous in my opinion. A fine example comes through in Ajvide Girl:

The hedgehog covered her:

its spiked skin capped her head,
and around her neck there hung

some fine clattering jaw…

The language tough as the leathery bog bodies. The velar stop of the ‘k’ making the image of the hedgehog sonically robust. The placement of the dactylic clattering satisfies visually and sonically, piquing our senses. It’s remarkably well crafted, carefully constructive poetry, yet there is buoyancy, which I feel comes with good training; it isn’t meticulous in a clinical way, it feels confidant, well honed. The sibilance and fricative consonants sweep the lines along, like a tool for shaving rock, or a broom for sweeping floors.
In the final Orkney section, Tim’s own character comes to the fore. We meet the poet, smelting into his themes as he visits the landmarks on Orkney. Here, the balance of history’s documentation is balanced with a personality and yet he seems no more or less real than the people of his histories.
Accompanying Tim is Pytheas, the Greek geographer. Tim becomes Pytheas via a text on Pytheas, which Tim has on him, in Orkney. They embody each other, both “in energetic middle age” maybe even “young enough to be stupid” and hopefully “seasoned enough to make it…” It is a lovely touch. You have two middle aged men, a long way from home, potentially looking for something similar: vestiges of the past, remote cultures, a meaning to life, lineage, history, process. Human connections that give life purpose. And that is what we find in Orkney.
The Orkney section is a condensed, aerial, intimate tour of the islands by Tim and his wife Jenny There is even a map, so as you can orient yourself as you move through the poem.
It is full of small details: buying cereal and milk for example; both objects associated with fertility; the contemporary pleached with the antique landscape and vice versa.
If like me, you’d never considered Orkney as a travel destination, that’ll certainly change after reading Bone Antler Stone. Coming from the UK but living in Korea, I now daydream when I can make what I now see as a pilgrimage, to those islands. Tim’s poems tucked into my bag, eager to visit the places Tim visited, except, opening up Bone Antler Stone to read aloud Tim’s poems on say The Ring of Brodgar or Skara Brae, or while walking round Magnus Cathedral and hearing them aloud, where they are most at home. Picturing the nervous Tim at the summit of Magnus Cathedral, encouraged by Jenny to make the summit even if the height makes him anxious, which I am glad he did, otherwise he may not have written

…and a hundred
feet above the churchyard grass, a bright dead light—
and the light of one afraid of heights, beaming
at such a height in the air, to be there with you.

That human connection between two people a microcosm of the connection between culture and history, people and identity, people and people who make history— identity triumphs in the face of overwhelming odds.

The end of Bone Antler Stone brings all your humanity home to you, in a profound passage that is just astonishing. Tim talks with Pytheas aboard the plane as they jet home. Pytheas’ final reply

assuring me that for us, and for ours,
there was only the odd look, the old look, the awed look,
but rarely the real look of revelation,
or the consolation of having communicated.
And so the motive was to make meaning and memory
a kind of barrow burial in bloom
a garlanded grave undergroun
forged with turf and stone and fire and then forgotten,
until a propitious step or a sudden storm
blows open this book’s binding
and lays each line out in the light again,
shells of syllables dotting the sand.
To be summoned by someone is always a surprise, he said,
and someday I would feel a spade on my skull
someday I would stand up and start singing,
but until then I should love the loneliness and its lessons,
and he bade me to build it well, to bury it well, and wait. (The Wanderer II—Flight from Orkney)

History, might well be a motif of coincidences, it might follow a regulated trajectory based on the deliberation of previous actions and roles. But something I took from Bone Antler Stone, is that whether the evidence of human behavior is there and no matter how it got there, it is really up to us to uncover the voice of that generation again and even if we get that voice wrong, we’ll never know anyway and it offers up a better hope of some form of immortality to think that a distant culture, may endeavor to think about us, to offer its time to us as we offer time to the generations we rediscover through literature and art. To consider how we lived, thought, behaved and struggled to forge identities out of the happenstance environment shifting not just geologically but culturally after any series of events, over extended time. I’d rather think of the spade or pick striking my skull and human hands, lifting it into sunlight after a millennia, to interrogate the code held in it and determine something human about me, than to end up in some paradise with a despotic God demanding genuflection. We all inevitably depart, are forgotten. But there’s always a chance in the peculiar, fluke of life and snafu of death that so long as a relic from our having existed, survives to hint at the culture we belonged to, so as conjecture can be made as to our identity, it is possible that we can be gone a long time, but also, rediscovery hovers above us in the form of a curious metal detector.
That’s history I suppose. You never know what will be found and that which is found is only rediscovered, it has had its time and in its rediscovery it becomes an object of adoration again, a reminder.
I hope Tim’s book of poems is not forgotten in a hurry. If that should be its fate, I hope someone rediscovers it again, receiving as much enjoyment as I did.

You can buy a copy of Bone Antler Stone, signed by Tim, as well as download readings, or read an essay about the book by following this link.

bone antler stone

This is my first review of a poetry book and I’d like to do more, so if you like what you read and would like me to review your chapbook and post that review on my blog, contact me at danielpaulmarshall85@gmail.com.

 

Hunger (8:39 a.m.)

Hunger (8:39 a.m.)

…I remember clearly… lepers from Bible sermons
made me tickle stomached

—I never read the passages alone
even when mother underlined them

to be read before I slept | I could summarize them enough
to get away without reading them again

: nature never bites off more than it can chew.
“The sea eats land. All islands are slowly being eaten”

Jeju is no exception. We are all islands.
Nature shares our appetites & being nature’s extension

we don’t so much share as indulge overly
like the snake eating its own tail

—“Ouroboros is it?” Not likely | we have dragons
in Korean culture | which eats snakes for breakfast.

I keep asking him to eat less & if he will eat so much eat healthily
: eat Korean food | fomented & raw vegetables

— he only uses our food as a simile
to compliment how well I age…

I used to cook him traditional recipes
I learned from my grandma but he turned his nose up

“would you stop complaining about what I eat
…I must eat & I can’t eat the muck your culture puts

on the dinner table | like something rotting on a Petri dish.”
I wanted to throw a dish of kimchi at him.

I imagined rotting cultures breeding in his pores
& finally usurping his cells & devouring him inside out.

—“Miss | would you like a glass
of mandarin juice or water…?”

Hannah Rousselot (4 Poems)

Earnest & revealing poems by Hannah Rousselot at Underfoot this week.
There is tension in these poems exploring contemporary issues with piercing directness: the problems of indulgence, queer identity, social etiquette, body image & religion are all treated with a confident voice.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Underfoot Poetry

Hollow

Glasses clink and
mouths smile and
jewelry sparkles and
eyes are hungry hawks.

This dress is too tight.
My smile is too tight.
My stomach is too tight.

I wish I could peel off my skin
to stretch it out over the curve of the Earth.
Maybe I would finally be skinny enough.

I wish I could give away pieces of my brain
until the light that shines behind my eyes
no longer reflects me, standing alone in the mirror.


Guest

The voices of the choir echo eerily
around the hollow chamber.
I feel surrounded here. The windows
are stained with stories I don’t know.

There is a hidden script in this place.
The Priest speaks to the crowd,
and they all know what to say back.
I scramble to keep up.
I decide to just mouth “watermelon”
like my theater director taught me.

In the middle of the…

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Tom Laichas: 9 Poems from “Naming the Animals”

Pleased to be publishing Tom Laichas’ poems on Underfoot today.

If you have poems you think we’d be interested in, check our submission details & get in touch with either me or Tim.

Underfoot Poetry

Named and Nameless

In the midst of the naming, the boy asks: What’s your name?

The Voice remembers: years in the future, others will ask this question. The reply is the same: I am what I am.

The boy: That’s not an answer. We’re all what we all are, nameless or no.

The Voice: But it’s you who must come when called.


Hers & His

1.
Once torn apart, the two freshly skinned bodies take the names given to them. The boy takes one name and the girl another.

They learn the words I and mine.

It will be easy to swallow the fruit.

2.
The girl wonders aloud: what name would I take if the verses hadn’t spoken first?

3.
About his own name, the boy says nothing. He thinks: it has been mine all along.


The Seasons

That first week, all the seasons tumble…

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The end in sight…

Last night, i went with a friend to the beach.
The few squid boats that sailed out were returning early, around 8ish.
We’d found a low bench outside the perimeters of society’s light & with a bottle of soju, a box of kimchi & veggie pancake, talked our tired into something productive & admired the uncommon sight of a few printed constellations.

We somehow got onto conspiracy theories & my friend, not knowing much about them, asked “why do they believe in such things.” Being Korean she’s had little exposure to what is, to my mind, a very Western phenomenon.

i outlined (roughly) Foucault’s power-knowledge: holding & creating the codes & keys to knowledge; there is no power without knowledge.
But, what is the control conspiracy theorists have? It is that they know something important, have tirelessly awakened to something we don’t understand, or more accurately can’t see as it is “hidden in plain sight”. They do what they do for our benefit, turning them into a conduit of truth— they’re on a moral track; fulfilling a duty to the survival of open, free society.

Going off the subject it dawned on me how erroneous we are to assume problems, with such wide reaching, immense scales can have any end in sight.

Let’s say for instance that every system of governance, politics, philosophy, religion,ideology is in itself a timeline, plotted, deterministically, in progress, towards a fateful moment in the lives of the collective that follow it & by extension (through survival of the fittest) compelling everyone else to fall in line to this track, seeing the benefit (as the adherent or faithful would see it).

Isn’t this ridiculous? It brings into sharp focus all our reasons behind why we cherish ideas, why they become personal, character shaping.
i’d say a good many people believe that what is an all encompassing process for them, seeing as, in reality, it exits in tandem with other processes, means it is unlikely there is a singular destiny. Numerous processes, always in motion together, has been the vital matter of man. Ideologies conflict with ideologies.

Our history, our ideas, are not necessarily a process of trial & error to eventually discover suitable methods for going forward to some fateful day when everything is corrected to a set of tracked demarcations. We have no destiny.
Things happened, but not for a reason.

Even peace is an ideology. There will never be peace. Never. Nor will there be a day where evil triumphs & nothing but war fills the world.
The liberal, the conservative, republican or democratic agenda will never win over an entire population. The likes of dystopian fiction will never be realized in their total form.
i’ll go ahead & wager the same for ecological issues, the world won’t end with a bang or whimper, it’ll hobble on, inconceivable moments of change may occur, but what ever volume of human content stubbornly rises against the back hand of its own stupidity, will adapt & humankind will plod on, forgetting, then becoming the mythopoeic madmen we all are, at heart & do best with our easy hearsay.

What does it mean to realize this?
For me, this is not about persuading anyone. This will not enlighten you.
i once believed, years ago, that the logical end (all evil would need to play out for this to happen) of humanity’s crises, was to just end up fully, organically understanding good; this was the only method of living that made sense. There is no waste in good, except the loss of bad.
Evil, corruption, always sacrifice something, create hardships & pain, which is wasted energy.
If there is peace & prosperity, would we really be more human by denying our coarser, more violent natures? i don’t know if this is cogent or an easy thing for good people to accept, i doubt it.
i know for me, this realization of no end in sight, emancipates me from the track of that end.
i can, with George Saunders, be free to just like everything; or not so much like, as accept it being outside my influence yet remaining within my control; if only the control is an alteration of the context of my capacity to influence. This comes frightfully close to sounding like ignorance of the difference between right & wrong, but in reality is it is a realization of limits.

Would i end world hunger, the deaths of children, the slavery of teenage girls if it meant i had to kill a single man, even a room full of evil men with the click of a lever? Sure. Sorry fellas, you’re for the chop.
However, that is a foolish thought experiment & life just isn’t that simple. The exception to the rule seldom becomes the rule.

Why this public act initiates me into some personal collusion with myself, i don’t know, it feels necessary somehow; sort of like the symbolic act of cutting the Gordian knot.
i think Wallace Stevens’ final line from his poem Parochial Theme “Piece the world together, boys, but not with your hands.” sums up what i am trying to say here. To build something with your hands means an end in sight, the mental world is always going to get revised & emotions are not built with your hands.
Oddly, i’ve never been happier with chaos. The next step is deciding what that means— i suspect, it doesn’t mean anything other than i am finally human.