Beyond Resistance: Transcending the Boundaries in Poetry

Photo Credit: Amelia Golden

This guest post comes from Brionne Janae. Her poem, “Alternative Facts,” appeared in LPR‘s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Janae is a poet living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a Hedgebrook and Vermont Studio Center alumni and proud Cave Canem Fellow. Her poetry and prose have been published in the American Poetry Review, Bitch magazine, Sixth Finch, Plume, the Nashville Review, and Waxwing, among others. She is the author of After Jubilee, published by Boaat Press. Visit her website: www.brionnejanae.com.

The world is an ugly place. I have spent the majority of my adulthood learning and unlearning this lesson as I, like many of us, have struggled against the urge to succumb to the bitterness that daily threatens to pull us under, like quicksand thickening at the ankles. During one of my most memorable lessons I was teaching several community poetry workshops in Boston. It was the day after the 2016 election, and I entered my evening workshop to find that my students were as hurt and heartbroken as I was. Where the results of the election, and that 53%, had rendered me wordless, they in turn were ready to write poems that grieved, poems that screamed and set fire, poems that would curse the then-president-elect into the ground, where he belongs.

There is a long illustrious lineage of this poetry which works to document what is ugly in our world. Poems that rage against and weep for the individual and systemic violences and erasures endemic to the lives of people who exist at the margins. The cannon of resistance or protest poetry is as long and varied as it is gorgeous and important. And in times like our current political moment, when the world is not more hideous, but simply more visibly, unavoidably awful it can appear as if every poem and poet worth reading is writing as an act of resistance.

Of course this issue of what is visibly awful must be addressed. For Black people who have continuously been shot dead in our homes, churches, and streets, by agents of the state and homegrown terrorists alike, for Black and Brown people who have been locked up like animals, for Brown people who have been harassed and harangued and thrown into cages for breathing on the wrong side of some white man’s border, for indigenous people who are still fighting to protect the sanctity of their sacred spaces, the visibility of all that is ugly in the world has never been anything worth questioning, and it is only whiteness in all its innocence that is just being made aware of the nightmare.

That the world has been obviously horrid for some and only newly horrid for others is reflected in our art. White poets have had the privilege to write about nature, about joy, love, lust, and transcendence while others of us have been subsumed by the literature of struggle, violation, and overcoming. And while I do believe the move to invite the poetry of resistance into our cannon is monumentally important, as it marks an important shift away from the racist gate-keeping of those who would wish to keep the cannon old, pale, male, and pasty, I worry at times that it is presented as marginalized writers’ only option for poetry, that the only way for Black or Brown or queer writers to be read and read widely is for them to centralize and elevate their pain over all else in their writing.

I’ve heard poets say they feel pressure to write poems about police brutality or lynchings because that’s what’s expected from them. I too, have felt at times this nagging sense of guilt for not writing poems to elegize the latest victims of white supremacy though I have read their stories, marched in the streets in protest, and grieved for them as if they were my own blood and bone. I know this feeling of guilt is not unique to me, and I refuse to let it shape the way I art. If I spend all of my time reacting to the white supremacist patriarchy when do I get the chance to write the poems I want to write? That I am called to write? And to be clear, I don’t think anyone is called to write protest or resistance poetry. Not because it is, in any way, a lesser art form, but because I simply don’t believe anyone is called to oppression. Oppression is not a calling it is a situation, and while for many of us it is not temporary it is not the only thing that makes up our lives, and so, should no be the only thing that makes up our art. Continue reading

Advertisements

Concerning Craft: To the Writer Who Is Not Writing

This guest post comes from Alicia Mountain. Her poem, “Without Drawing the Blinds,” appeared in LPR‘s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Mountain is the author of the collection High Ground Coward (University of Iowa Press), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize, and the chapbook Thin Fire (BOAAT Press). She is a lesbian poet, critic, and educator based in Denver and New York. Keep up with her at aliciamountain.com and @HiGroundCoward.

Hello, Writer.

I know that doesn’t sound like your name right now. It did for a while. When people would ask what you do or what you’re studying you’d say, “well, I write! I’m a writer.” But now that the words aren’t coming, you might feel like you aren’t entitled to your name, like you aren’t earning it. I’m writing to tell you that’s not the case.

So you haven’t written much of anything at all lately. Sometimes a little scrap of an image or a phrase comes along. Sometimes you press it into the pages of your notebook like a foreign leaf. Most days you’re stuck, or busy with the logistics and practicalities of living. Guilt tugs at your sleeve and it’s hard to shake.

Of course, this isn’t the first time you’ve hit a dry spell, but it hasn’t gone on this long before. You’re wondering when the rain will come, if it ever will.

I’m writing to tell you that this is the rain.

Continue reading

Staff Pick: D.E. Lee’s “The Silence of a Sound (San Marco)”

Lisa Lynn Biggar is the fiction editor of the Little Patuxent Review. In this post, she shares one of her “Staff Picks” from the Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

There is so much to love about D. E. Lee’s story,”The Silence of a Sound (San Marco),” from the most recent issue of Little Patuxent Review (Issue 24, Summer 2018). Starting with the poetic title, the lovely alliteration. Right away I knew this would read more as a prose poem and it did, replete with sensory imagery and lapidary precision in word choice: “Smarty drifted around the oaks, down the sidewalk, and between two cars to a wooden pole with a thousand staples stuck stuck stuck all over it.” All of our senses are awakened in this piece: “We . . . walked from the square beneath a clear night sky to Hendricks Avenue, past the white facade of Southside Baptist, which seemed to us to be the wall of a fortress or monastery, and touched every red-ribboned lamp post we passed.”

San Marco is so alive and so are these two characters who hide in the shadows as if they could stop time for these two short days. It is as if they are on the precipice of time, waiting for something, or nothing, to  happen. When it does happen, when the tension builds to Smarty revealing what is behind her “unfathomable look,” the sound of a passing train obliterates her words: “Her lips moved in ovals, oblongs, and circles and then closed in silence like the vanishing train.” It is the quintessential what-could-have-been moment. Those words gone forever to never be spoken again; those few days never to be relived except in memory. The closeness of these two young characters is palpable, the dialogue, free of quotation marks, so natural, woven in with the narrator’s thoughts: “You didn’t answer my question. I know. You can tell me. Couldn’t she guess?” In the three short pages of this piece we are taken on a journey of playfulness, yearning, passion, and then disappointment and disillusionment: It is reminiscent of Joyce’s “Araby.”

Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Ann Olson

Ann Olson has been teaching literature and writing at Heritage University on the Yakama Reservation in Toppenish, Washington for twenty-five years. She holds an MFA in creative writing and a master’s in English literature. Her essays have appeared in When Last on the Mountain anthology, North Dakota Quarterly, Emrys Journal, and the Raymond Carver Review.

Olson’s nonfiction, “Mosquito Hunt,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: I love the structure to “Mosquito Hunt,” in which one sleepless night provides a frame for struggles and memories of an entire lifetime. How did you come to this structure?

Well, I’ve lived through nights just like this, and I suspect many people have had similar sleepless times when our minds simply won’t give up on all the little things that we can distract ourselves from in the daytime. Why is it that all the worst parts of our lives want to present themselves at 3:44 a.m.?

Q: When you were living through this particular night, did you have a sense that you would be writing about it? And if so, did that change anything about the experience for you?

Oh no, not at all. In fact, it probably would have helped if I HAD thought about writing down the experience while it was happening (but perhaps that would have ended the worrying and I’d have gone to sleep instead?). But I think being there was necessary to see how those thoughts and worries were as constant and irritating as a mosquito buzzing in the ear. It helped me to compare the icky part of that night to the hunt and subsequent bloodiness of the mind’s “mosquitoes.”

Continue reading

Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Rachel E. Hicks

Rachel E. Hicks’s poetry has appeared in the St. Katherine Review, Welter, Off the Coast, Gulf Stream magazine, and other journals. She also writes essays and fiction and works as a freelance copyeditor. After living in eight countries—most recently China—she now resides in Baltimore. Her career has included teaching (high school English and homeschool) and volunteering with an international relief  and development agency. Find her online at rachelehicks.com.

Hicks’s poem, “The Exile Speaks of Mountains,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). She read an excerpt at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: What’s the form for this poem? And how did you end up with this form?

This poem went through many variations in form before I decided upon unrhymed tercets. One form I played around with, before I cut a good many lines and stanzas, was stanzas as “chapters” or scenes of my life. The sensory details and images felt lost in the clutter, though, and I felt it needed to be cleaned up and made a bit sparser, allowing each stanza room to breathe. The order and visual symmetry of tercets express my developing understanding that there is order to the “chaos” of my life, my many moves, my identity as a cultural chameleon. It feels less haphazard than it used to, a bit more coherent.

Q: I feel like this stanza perfectly captures the idea of the universal experience conveyed through a particular detail:

Only if I embrace this life as a perpetual pilgrim
do I find solace in remembering
the terraced cemetery in the Himalayan pines

What’s one way you’ve learned that poets can try to hone this sensibility in their own work?

Just one? Teaching writing sharpens my work. When I’m workshopping with students, coaching them in how to “cut to the bone” or to say “no ideas but in things” (Williams), I’m always inspired by the symbols and images they come up with. One of my students went from generic “desert animals” to “the chuckwalla lizard sneezing salt”. Another chose a beetle brooch as a symbol for a relationship with a special adult in her life. When I’m teaching, I’m also reading a lot of poetry to and with my students—reading, noticing, marveling. (I have to make a plug here for Nancie Atwell’s writing workshop and poetry curricula for middle school students, Lessons That Change Writers and Naming the World [Heinemann].) And speaking of workshopping, my writing has benefited tremendously from working with my poetry critique group here in Baltimore. I suppose I gave three answers—teaching, reading, and working with a critique group—rather than one. Forgive me.

Q: Now just to understand a little bit more about your life—why were you in the Himalayas and how did you come to be in Baltimore?

My parents were both missionary kids—my father was born and grew up in India, and my mother was born in Indonesia and grew up in Southeast Asia. After marrying, they worked at the boarding school my dad attended in the foothills of the Himalayas. They have worked in international schools around the world for their entire careers, hence my many moves. My husband and I lived in southwestern China for seven years, working with an international Christian relief and development organization. After returning to the U.S., we moved to Baltimore for my husband’s job.

My sense of what “home” means has morphed over time. More often for me, it’s about people rather than place. But place still matters—the soil of each place in which I’ve lived still clings. I try to make a home for myself and my family wherever we go, to create some sense of rootedness in who we are, even when the scenery around us changes. I’ve written in prose about this tension, but this poem was my first poetical attempt at describing it that satisfied me. I’ve been more at peace with my nomadic life since coming to identify it in terms of pilgrimage and sojourning—there is purpose to that kind of life: it can be understood in a positive sense, rather than in the negative sense of something being missing, or of roots dangling.

Continue reading

Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Gayla Mills

Formerly a writing professor, Gayla Mills now publishes personal essays and flash fiction. Her essays have appeared in Spry, Prairie Wolf Press, Skirt!, Greenwoman, and more. Her chapbook of personal essays, Finite, won the Red Ochre Lit Chapbook contest. Her book Making Music after 40: Jam, Perform, and Share Music for Life will be published by Dover in the summer of 2019.

Mills’s nonfiction, “‘A Future Imagined,’” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). She read this work at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: The title of your book next year reminds me of the content of “A Future Imagined.” Was that nonfiction piece part of the process for your whole book (not, of course, that it was necessarily A to B)?

“A Future Imagined” describes a sliver of my experience as a budding musician. In Making Music, I offer information and advice based on my own experiences, but add research and interviews I’ve conducted with scores of music teachers and learners. I originally thought I could use my music essays to introduce my book chapters, and “A Future Imagined” could begin my chapter on music camps. But I quickly realized that I needed to develop a more direct voice, in a feature-writing style, for a how-to book.

In both the essay and the book, as in much of my writing, I use myself as a character. The details I choose should serve some purpose beyond the fact that I experienced them. I’m going to discuss how I switched from guitar to bass only if I’m suggesting to readers what switching instruments can offer them.

Q: On your website you state, “I’ve learned that teaching, writing, and doing go hand-in-hand, each informing the other.” Could you elaborate?

I’ve found the old cliché true, that if you want to learn something, the best way is to teach it. I’ve taught various subjects while learning about them, from feature writing to Medieval history to personal finance. I think that writing a how-to book about music is also a kind of teaching.

In the process of preparing to teach, you learn infinitely more than what you’re passing on. You might read a book or two to create a ninety-minute lecture. You might need to spend a month building a brick walkway in order to write a one-page essay on how to do it. You might need to spend half a lifetime learning about music before you feel it in your bones deeply enough to pass it along to others.

Q: Has songwriting influenced your prose at all?

I’m a real beginner at songwriting, still at that early learning stage. The better question is whether prose has influenced my songwriting, since I’m a more experienced writer than musician. I’ve written some prose poems and essays that I think would make good songs, so I’d like to work them into verse.

Q: How about music more generally?

Getting experience in two fields can help you be creative, because the two sets of experiences and skills collide to give you fresh eyes. The inventor of the stethoscope, René Laennec, was trained as a doctor but was also a flutist. I love writing about my musical experiences, and I think my interest in words affects how I hear lyrics.

Q: What did you think of the other readings at the launch? Maybe you could pick out a favorite?

It was a real pleasure to hear so many different voices, and I got something from each. My favorite, though, was Wallace Lane’s “Groceries.” His depiction of his encounter with his grandfather—“his touch more silent than soft”—was incredibly moving and fresh.

Q: Random question: could you tell me about a dog you loved?

There are too many. Besides my husband, my dearest companions have been Tasha, Dory, Riley, and Zoey. We’ve chosen where to live and when to move based on their needs, shared countless walks and swims, missed every fourth of July to comfort them during the fireworks, shared the good days and the rainy ones, and buried them deep in the earth when their time had come. I hope to live long enough to add a few more to that list. Dogs add goodness to the world.

Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with JoAnna Wool

JoAnna Wool’s short story “Vacation” appeared in the twentieth-anniversary issue of Lake Affect magazine. Her story “The Babies” will appear in autumn of 2018 in The Boston Review. She studied creative writing at Boston University, has taught writing at several Boston-area colleges and universities, and is currently writing a novel. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Wool’s short story, “The Other Mia,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). She read an excerpt at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: Because of time constraints, you weren’t able to read your whole short story at our launch. Did the excerpts read differently to you as pieces and out loud?

Not being able to read the whole story was less of an issue for me than the fact that I couldn’t read from the beginning. The opening of the story is very quiet, and also just too long, and it wouldn’t have had any impact at all if I hadn’t read the whole section. So, I read a section from the middle, and although I believe it stood on its own, I ended up suspecting that the audience—engaged and attentive as it was—didn’t appreciate the significance of certain developments. That’s probably inevitable because of the type of story it is; it’s only by reading the story that you’d be able to see clearly how the magical realist doppelganger plot of the story relates to and propels its parallel plot, which centers on how Mia feels about her inability to have children.

Q: Do you have any tips or advice for writers who have to give summaries about their work in the context of a reading? I imagine it must be frustrating because you wrote the story as an integrated whole.

My best advice is to read from the beginning! If a summary is absolutely necessary, I think it’s best to focus on your characters and themes at least as much as you do on the plot, so that the audience understands the deeper meaning of the action in the passage that you read. Of course, that only increases the challenge of writing a summary of reasonable length.

Continue reading