Feet

The puddles that formed in my husband and I’s backyard after a rain smelled different than the ones outside Sarah’s. I loved the way it felt to be drenched standing in front of her downtown one-bedroom, flirting with the rapid waters of brown arroyos, angry that they must twist and turn through oil slick streets with no storm drains to speak of.

The gathering piles of rainwater pulled cars along like paper boats in a stream, but we were women barefoot on the pavement that was still warm from the noonday sun. It was filled with garbage and debris, stinking like sulfur. The tufts of grass in the muddy park felt good on my feet. My toes were black as grackle feathers crowing in the howling wind—letting thunder through my ears and head and sleeping on a lightning bed—

Sarah’s home smelled like palo santo and sweetgrass, burning, and chaotic sweet, she would

offer me chocolates that she made with delicate petals and green tea. I loved the way we laid in her backyard, backs flush against smooth, warm tile, mouths wide to catch

                        watery seeds,

                        Marveling at how little the drops fell between our teeth. How improbable it would be to drink—

How improbable to consume, but how easy to be swept away

each time the mountain bleeds—

No. My husband and I’s first real house two miles away had the same carpet from 1962 that ran through every room in the house except the kitchen and the bathroom. There, the carpet gave way to linoleum that thinly coated concrete. When we toured the place, there was barely any linoleum left, just patches of plastic laid haphazardly over grainy grey. It felt coarse, both hot and cool against my bare feet.

Outside, the house had a backyard slathered with tile, dirt, and even more concrete. Grey, heat-holding concrete. I was poked, prodded, cut by pebbles and shattered glass from the tiny casita that was slowly imploding on the edge of our concrete yard. I pulled cactus spines and bee stingers from my soles and walked over dried chunks of charcoal.  Dog hair, must, creosote, salt-water skin. These are the smells that the rain brought in.

Feet like ribbons, oil-slicked, dirt-caked,

            Drenched; head to my husband’s chest, streaks of hot white paint streaked overhead. I breathed in musk and his Pennsylvania dust, pulled flannel to my skin

                        To skin drenched in

                                    Oil-slicked, dirt-caked,

                                                Sin.

Interview: Lannie Stabile

This week I spoke with Lannie Stabile about her creative process. Lannie is a Detroiter and Finalist for the 2019/2020 Glass Chapbook Series. She is currently penning her second chapbook, as well as a novel. Her work has been previously featured in The Hellebore, Kissing Dynamite, Cauldron Anthology, and more. She serves as the Project Manager at Barren Magazine and as Editor at Knights Library Magazine. She is a member of MMPR Collective.

What is your favorite creative medium?

I tend to write poetry, but I’m no stranger to short stories and abandoned novels.

What do you love about that medium (i.e. why do you create that way)?

Like every other writer out here, I’m stewing in a lot of emotions: anger, shame, doubt, loss, etc. And to be a semi-functional human being, I have to find a way to release these noxious fumes. Poetry just seems like the best conduit.

What in particular makes it a good conduit? Any particular kind of poetry?

Poetry is constantly evolving and being experimented with. Because of this, it can be so many things. It can be a snapshot or a scream. A murmur or a scramble. A misanthropic cave or a beckoning precipice. Depending on how transparent I want the poem to be, conceivably, I can offer the reader as many bricks as we both can carry and still keep my wall intact. On the other hand, I can give them the one brick that will make everything collapse. 

I think the more personal the piece, the better conduit it can be. Even if it’s never meant for consumption, it’s good to get the gunk out. My mom used to write letters to people she was upset with, then burn them. Burn the letters, not the people. Haha. Maybe I get it from her. 

How do you begin your creative process?

Headphones are the key for me. Once those bad boys go on, I get transported to Pen Land.

Where is your favorite place to create and why?

I’m actually most creative at work. Probably because it’s a space where I’m productive for eight or nine hours a day. So, I’ll write on lunch or after hours.

What is your favorite music to create to and why?

Music distracts me when I’m writing. What I’ve found works best is a compilation of rain sounds. It’s loud and droning, so it cancels out anything else going on around me. It’s sort of like hypnosis.

What piece of literature (i.e. CNF, poetry, short story, novel, collection, etc.) set you on fire most recently and why?

Wanda Deglane’s “a little louder this time” (published in Phemme) split me in half. When I got married two and a half years ago, my neighbor literally “congratulated” me by saying, “I don’t understand the whole gay thing, but if you’re happy, I’m happy.” So, when Wanda writes, “if you have to exist, must you do it so loudly,” it’s like hearing my neighbor’s words over and over again. She understands how they’re trying to muffle us.

What literature or art magazines get you excited and why?

Shameless plug alert: I get really excited about Barren Magazine. Our team does such a phenomenal job putting each issue together, and the results are ::chef kiss::

Favorite issue thus far?

Issue Four will always have my heart because it was the first issue I helped curate as a Contributing Editor. However, our current issue, Tinderbox Hymns (Issue Seven) is a monster! I read Barlow Adams’ “Lil Bobby” just this morning and was struck by how lucky I am to be a part of Barren. We have incredible writers entrusting us with incredible works every day.

Where is one place that every person who considers themselves a “creative type” needs to travel to and why?

Oh, I can’t speak for everyone. I think we all have a place that would speak louder to one person than it would to another. But I can tell you, as someone whose poetry is highly influenced by Greek mythology, I would collapse in literary ecstasy if I ever visited Athens.

What myths do you keep returning to in particular?

Icarus and his heliocentric fate is a common recurring theme. The Hydra and Hercules have reared their ugly heads now and then. Also, I have an entire sectional poem devoted to Zeus and how much he sucks.  

What advice would you give to your younger self about the creative process?

Be afraid if you want to, but submit anyway. Get your stuff noticed. When people say you’re talented, believe them. In times of doubt, remember their words. Instead of getting up two hours before school every morning to read, use one of those hours to write. Develop a habit. Save your journals. And don’t let anyone borrow your book of poems. She’s going to lose it.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a chapbook that explores a personal tie with a convicted Michigan serial killer. Recent publications include: Marias at Sampaguitas, Royal Rose, Kissing Dynamite, Nightingale & Sparrow, Monstering, Honey & Lime, and more. Honey & Lime actually showcases my first ever CNF piece. And just recently I took on the role of editor at Knights Library Magazine. My website is https://lanniepenland.weebly.com

What I’m Reading: April 2019

It’s National Poetry Month, ya’ll! You better believe that means I am reading a ton of poetry for this feature (and, you know, also because I love poetry). So, to that end, there are several poetry selections and only one prose selection this month. Thanks to Malvern Books’s National Poetry Month sale, I was able to score some really great collections and I am so excited to share them with you.

If I had to pick a through line in all of the collections I am featuring here, it would be each poet’s engagement with an expansive self that makes these collections both extraordinarily intimate, limited to the particular experience of the writer, and simultaneously ubiquitous. These authors hold up a mirror and ask the readers to consider whether they see themselves in violence or violence in themselves. They also ask the reader to engage with their inner child or adolescent, to play, to be experienced and inexperienced.

With all of that said, I hope that you enjoy these collections as much as I have. Happy National Poetry Month!

Poetry Picks:

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen

Boa Editions, 2017, $16

“Like all scholars in any sort of heaven, I will study

the metaphysics of madness”

– “Elegy”

Jericho Brown says it best in his forward to Chen Chen’s beautiful collection when he says, “The greatest achievement of this book is its singular and sustained voice, poem after poem of a speaker whose obsessive and curious nature is that of an adult who refuses to give up seeing through the eyes of an adolescent, one who believes that the world is a malleable place and that asking the right questions changes its form.” Truly, this book suspends you between the beauty of promise and the chaotic muck of searching for one’s identity both within and without a perilous family system. When Chen Chen constructs a thirteen year-old speaker, we believe him. We want to hold that thirteen year old and offer the support and acceptance that they are searching for. This collection really floored me for its honesty and its careful working through the appearance and submersion of intersectional identities.

Personal Favorites: “West of Schenectady” & “I’m Not a Religious Person But”

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

Copper Canyon Press, 2019, $17

This is a book you have to read and then read again and read and then read again. Jericho Brown’s The Tradition is the music of rage and love and loving oneself. It is violence and mercy and a whole lot of other descriptors that I would feel silly throwing around now. Brown’s poetry is rhythmic. It pulls you in with its music and tells you to sit down and listen. And you do. Like Chen Chen’s work, Brown harnesses the power of asking the right questions, but also the power of acknowledging violence in everyday life. Brown’s speaker indicts the reader for their ambivalence in the face of terror, even as the speaker also acknowledges the pleasures that can be found in daily life. This book moved me to tears on several occasions. It is powerful and important and I suggest that everyone pick up a copy and read it as soon as they can.

Personal Favorites: “Duplex” & “The Peaches”

24 Hours of Men by Lisa L. Moore

Dancing Girl Press & Studio, 2018, $7

“I wear outrage like a hair shirt/ scary and close to the skin/ prickles covering the zipper down the back/ which I can’t reach anyway.”

– “Poem I Wrote Instead of Listing the Names of Every Boy and Man Who Has Assaulted or Harassed Me”

The only chapbook on this list, Lisa Moore’s 24 Hours of Men is nonetheless an extraordinary response to the complex interweaving of violence and love day to day. Moore charges you with rage over police violence, homophobia, sexual assault, and sexism, which is carefully tucked in next to the intensity of motherly love. She asks us to consider whether these different kinds of violence can ever be separated from our home-bound selves. This collection is special for its poignancy and its urgent response and call to action. I read through it in one sitting and am sure that you will too.

Personal Favorites: “Inauguration” & “24 Hours of Men”

Prose Pick:

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin

HarperCollins, 2018, $16

This essay collection is so important. Also, I feel slightly attacked by it. As a lover of true crime and Law & Order: SVU, I am no stranger to what Bolin terms “The Dead Girl Show,” but I had never considered the systematic harm that this collective obsession with the dead bodies of women causes. Bolin expertly weaves together personal and cultural experience with shows like Twin Peaks and True Detective, exposing the ways in which U.S. culture suggests that the best kind of woman for a man is a dead woman.

Literary Journal Pick:

Image captured from yespoetry.com

Yes, Poetry

Okay, so here is where I get to rave. I love Yes, Poetry journal! The content that they publish is always full of fire, honest, and well-curated. Most recently, Terri Muus’s “Alternative Names for Rape Survivors” made me hit the floor. The post new things every day, so if you are looking for a new journal, definitely check them out!

Toes

When I was in college, I would walk around campus on the phone with bare feet. I’d feel my toes dipping into the soft earth and let them be warm, covered in mud and slick stone.

            My toes are curled and cracked and filled with callouses. They are flexible beans on the edge of my feet that claw and balance, flex and unflex, sending me forward all muscles and ligaments, tendons and bones, thrusting me from dirt or pavement into the air, into the day, into the night. When I dance, I like to stand on my toes after heels, reaching upwards and back down, stretching and collapsing. Toes are wonderful things.

            My husband cracks my toes when he rubs my feet. He pulls each joint and waits for a pop with each little bean. Then he bends them backward and I feel like they’ve been curled claws for weeks.       I also paint my toes and then let the paint chip away for ten months each year. Easter-egg blue in December is more my speed.

            Two months after I met my husband, I tore a nail off a big toe. I don’t remember which one now, but I remember how it came off. I was half way through a fifth of Burnet’s vodka and feeling light, warm, and free. I watched a man much stronger than me jump from the concrete pad outside of the basement to the porch above us and pull himself up on a single wood beam.

            I felt strong, competent, and a little too green. I screamed that I could definitely do that too and hurled myself at the edge of the decking, lifting three inches from the ground, and landing on the tops of my feet not on air, but the pad of concrete.

            I began to laugh and bleed and heard shouts of “Jane, what are you doing!” I walked upstairs, red streamers trailing from the tops of my feet. I was met with ten laughing young men and women, pimpled and pocked faces staring in disbelief. They sat me out on the deck and poured another quarter of the vodka over my mangled feet. They healed with pink scars like those irises— something I could keep.

#

Interview: Tianna G. Hansen

Tianna G. Hansen has been writing her whole life. Her work has been published widely in many forms but her first love will always be poetry, and her debut poetry collection “undone, still whole” is coming in May 2019 from APEP Publications. She is founder and editor-in-chief of Rhythm & Bones Press, a lit mag and small press focusing on the beauty in darkness and turning trauma into art, healing through writing. Learn more and find her work at CreativeTianna.com / Twitter @tiannag92 / IG @tgghansen24 / FB @tiannaghansen.

What is your favorite creative medium?

Poetry, but I write in many different mediums including creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and collage.

What do you love about that medium (i.e. why do you create that way)?

Poetry has always been my first love. I connect deeply with the form, the ability to express emotion and even reach a catharsis while writing poetry. I love the ability to create concrete images using similes and metaphors. Even my fiction and other mediums are very poetic. There’s something about poetry that speaks to me. I find poetry in the most mundane day-to-day and am constantly composing poems in my head, no matter what I’m doing.

How do you begin your creative process?

I normally begin with a strong emotion or image which will help as a jumping off point for a poem, CNF or fiction piece I am writing. I think finding a central emotion I want to evoke or focus on gives my work something to anchor on and makes it stronger. This will always lead me into a deeper revelation on what I want to write about and what I hope to create. I’ve found my environment doesn’t matter – I’ll compose poetry on anything: a napkin, a scrap of paper, my notes section on my phone, a receipt… as long as I have some way of capturing the words, I write. Otherwise, I compose in my head (I often write poetry while I’m driving) and repeat the lines until I think I can remember enough to write it down later.

Is there a singular emotion that you find to be more generative than others?

The stronger the emotion, the more generative it becomes. Since a lot of my writing is used as a form of cathartic release, many of the emotions I write into poetry deal with internal pain, depression and anxiety (my struggles with mental illness), and my PTSD symptoms. Not a day goes by where I don’t experience one or all of these emotions, and it feels amazing to put them into creating something. I strongly believe that something beautiful always remains, no matter what type of darkness we face.

Where is your favorite place to create and why?

My favorite place to create is somewhere surrounded by nature. I’ll notice things that I wouldn’t notice indoors – the way the wind whispers through the trees or the birdsong echoes over the hill, or the sun warms my skin. This helps me evoke emotions and images and lines that I wouldn’t otherwise feel as strongly or grasp properly.

Is there any place in particular that you find more evocative than others and why?

Lately, I have found writing out on my porch, as the weather warms and Beltane approaches, I feel like my creative energy is restoring itself as well. Not only am I surrounded by nature there, but I also have a spot where I can go to clear my head and I have found myself writing a lot of poems out there, even under the light of the moon. The moon is a large focus in much of my work as well, so writing with the moon shining on me feels right. It is wholesome. I saw something the other day that talked about how the moon has many phases but is always whole no matter what phase it is in. I identified a lot with that, which is a theme in my debut collection Undone, Still Whole with APEP Publications.

What is your favorite music to create to and why?

Sometimes I find it difficult to create to any type of music, but when I do, I enjoy instrumental music or something calming without a lot of lyrics, like Enya. I like my own words to shine through without being influenced by song lyrics, though I’m sure this would be a fun way to create a different type of poetry someday.

What piece of literature (i.e. CNF, poetry, short story, novel, collection, etc.) set you on fire most recently and why?

The short story collection ‘Her Body and Other Parties’ by Carmen Maria Machado has stuck with me since reading for the way it experiments and pushes boundaries of societal expectation placed on women’s bodies, and the way it plays and tugs on the imagination of the reader. I won’t soon, if ever, forget the experience of reading this book and still think of it often.

What literature or art magazines get you excited and why?

In particular, I’m excited right now and completely adore all the work by APEP Publications (and I’m not just saying that because one of the upcoming books is mine), they spend so much time and care with their work, and it is a true collaboration between artists. The poets and other work they publish, the quality of the books, and the artwork included which is all done by Jeremy Gaulke is very impressive and very inspirational. It has made me want to be more innovative with my own personal work and the work of my press, too. I also always get excited by magazines that are truly unique. Magazines like Twist in Time, Bonnie’s CrewMoonchild Mag, Mojave He[art] Review, OkaydonkeySuburban Springtime, Ginger Collect, Pussy Magic, Pink Plastic House really have a beautiful take (but there are so, so many others!). Small presses I’m most excited about lately: APEP (again), Fly on the Wall Poetry Press, Selcouth Station Press, Empty Set PressLanternfish Press, Porkbelly PressHedgehog Poetry Press. There are so many that excite me, I hesitate to name any because I know I’ll neglect someone in there. I am just deeply enamored with all the hard work the literary community does.  

I’m a huge lover of physical magazines too, for numerous reasons – yes, I love reading them (in particular, ‘Poets & Writers’ and ‘The New Yorker’), but I also love to repurpose them once I’m done reading into bits for collages. If I find a striking image or words in the magazine, I instantly get excited and envision what I could do with a collage, although my collages are usually just a way for me to creatively express emotion and I have only ever submitted them once (I had one published in Riggwelter this past January).

How does collage inform your writing? Do you find that the visual work interacts with your written work at all?

Some of my collages are just a collection of words, which reminds me of a poem. Others are images joined together to create something else (I have one collage that is a collection of different colored hair, eyes, noses, teeth all looking like they are part of one face, with a set of hands holding up a bouquet of chins). I go by feeling, using a theme or something else that strikes me – maybe it’s an image, or a word (much like the way I begin my creative process for writing poetry) – and build off that until I have an entire collage surrounding that theme. Often the theme emerges as I go, and is usually unexpected. It’s a good exercise for finding links between different images, words or ideas and making them join together to create another meaning altogether. I’m glad you asked that question, Jane, thank you. It made me realize how similar in nature my process of collaging is to my writing, though it’s not something I thought of before. I have always used collaging as a form of stress relief, a distraction and something to put my mind to which has always been a fun, creative way to breathe easier. It calms me down and I love creating anything by hand, so I always create my collages using cut paper and a gluestick. I also love writing my poems by hand. I try not to ever type them first. I love the feeling of holding a pen to paper and handwriting. Then I will transfer to a computer later, and often form a second draft as I go.

Where is one place that every person who considers themselves a “creative type” needs to travel to and why?

Travel anywhere & everywhere you possibly can! I am a strong believer that travel enhances the soul and seeing new places, especially as a writer, gives you plenty of seedlings that can sprout into something creative. I particularly love going to a new country and surrounding myself in their cultural intricacies. A favorite of mine is Edinburgh, Scotland, for its large literary history and the atmosphere in general being an inspirational place for writers (it’s also where I had my MFA residency and met my now-husband).

Is there any particular nook in Edinburgh that we should go to write?

Since I’m all about nature, I would suggest climbing Arthur’s Seat which is a beautiful place to go and you can look out across the city. Or going to watch the sunset on Calton Hill. These are two of my favorite spots. But if you’re looking for a cozy nook to write in, any pub will do. There are many of them, and there’s something about the nature of being inside a real Scottish pub that invigorates my imagination. It helps to envision other famous authors and poets who have done the same, wandering the cobbled streets and sitting with a pint or two while they compose words. It’s a truly inspirational city all around. 

What advice would you give to your younger self about the creative process?

Don’t force it. If you aren’t feeling in the mood to create, don’t. I used to put so much pressure on myself if I wasn’t writing every day, or even every week, and sometimes you need to give your creative energy a break. I spent nearly a year after my MFA program not writing, hating myself every moment of the day for ‘giving up’ and not doing what I felt I should. But now, I no longer hold myself to those expectations and I’ve rediscovered my love for the process of creating. Allow it to come naturally. Don’t overwork and over-stress yourself when you feel things aren’t coming to you. Let the poetry and the writing and the words come to you. It will, when you’re ready, and you will discover things that you wouldn’t had you forced it into being.

What are you currently working on?

My debut poetry collection “Undone, Still Whole” will be coming in May from APEP Publications. This is by far my most astonishing accomplishment to date. Before I reached out to APEP, I was ready to put my collection to rest and allow it to gather dust, but working with Jeremy, editing and discussing illustrations and spending time with my work again made me fall in love with what I had created all over again. I feel so rejuvenated having worked on this, and it is going to be a true work of art. The time and attention and care that Jeremy puts into his projects is something that is rare and wonderful. I have three poems from the collection coming out in a feature with Thirty West Publishing in April, and some other poems that are going to be featured in other lit mags/journals, namely Moonchild Mag has accepted three poems from another upcoming collection, which is a collaboration between me, Kristin Garth, and Justin Karcher – a poetic opera where we all wrote from a different character’s point of view and created a dark fantasy world. I’m excited to release that, from my small press Rhythm & Bones, this June. There’s always something going on with my press – we have one book coming out each month until September, so I’ll be busy at work editing, laying out, and publishing books myself. I cannot wait, though, to have books with my own work in them coming out. It feels amazing to finally be able to share my very personal work with others and I hope everyone will like my debut collection. I write from a very personal place with a strong belief that writing acts as a form of healing trauma, and I hope I’m able to inspire others through this.

Interview: Kristin Garth

For my first “emerging writer” interview, I Skyped with poet, Kristin Garth to talk about her upcoming projects and her creative process. Kristin was an incredible interview. She opened up about writing about vulnerable topics, the anxiety of publishing, stripping, writing nineteenth century fantasy, and more. Listen to our conversation below!*

CW: Sexual Assault, Trauma Writing

https://soundcloud.com/lunaspeaks/emerging-writers-interview-kristin-garth

Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Best of the Net & Rhysling nominated sonnet stalker.  Her poetry has stalked magazines like Glass, Yes, Five:2: One, Former Cactus, Occulum & many more.  She has six chapbooks including Shakespeare for Sociopaths (Hedgehog Poetry Press), Pink Plastic House (Maverick Duck Press), Puritan U (Rhythm & Bones Press March 2019) and The Legend of the Were Mer (Thirty West Publishing House March 2019). Her full length, Candy Cigarette, is forthcoming April 2019 (The Hedgehog Poetry Press), and she has a fantasy collaborative full length A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony forthcoming in June (Rhythm & Bones Lit) and Flutter (TwistiT Press) in January 2020. Follow her on Twitter:  (@lolaandjolie), and her website http://kristingarth.com 

*I will be uploading the transcript for this interview shortly

What I’m Reading- March 2019

This month’s list is a little shorter than February, but for good reason, I swear!

…Okay maybe it’s not that great of a reason. Basically, I just have been writing a little more than I have been reading this month, which is just the way she goes sometimes. The texts I have been reading have had a lot to do with inspiring and guiding my creative process. For example, I have been working on a lyrical essay collection, so I have been reading several fabulous lyrical essay collections.

If you are a bibliofile and a writer like me, I hope these selections help inform your process too!

  1. Antlers in Space and Other Common Phenomena by Melissa Wiley, Split Lip Press, 2017

I picked up Wiley’s collection of lyric essays as an example of what is possible for a lyric essay collection and I was not disappointed! Wiley’s writing is beautifully rendered, raw, poignant, and just the right amount of meditative. It is one of those books that keeps you thinking long after you’ve turned each page.

$16 from Split Lip Press

2. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Graywolf Press, 2015

Speaking of texts that need no introduction, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts hit me at a time when I have been feeling rather lost in finding my place in the literary world. Nelson weaves together topics like queerness, sexuality, motherhood, relationships, and social theory with deftness that I could only aspire to in my own prose. Let’s just say that by the time she is laying out her entire experience of birthing her child, Iggy, at the end of the novel, I was sobbing over my well-loved copy in the middle of a plane.

3. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, Workman Publishing, 2012

This little book is really just a must-read for anyone who wants to start calling themselves a “creative type.” I read the whole thing in thirty minutes, but you can bet that it is one of those quote machines that I will be carrying around with me forever.

4. LIT MAG PICK: Kissing Dynamite Poetry

Though its a newer lit mag, Kissing Dynamite has been routinely putting out, well dynamite every issue. I was totally enthralled with their most recent offering, Funhouse Mirror, and really can’t wait for the next issue to come out!

Listening to Your Body

Please excuse the rambling:

Recently, my body wants to paint and write poetry and creative non-fiction. It does not want to play nicely with books and classes and teaching. It wants to spend late nights agonizing over words and words that come from me and nowhere else.

My biggest struggle this Spring semester has been to come to grips with the fact that it is okay to not “produce” in the way that is the most economically expedient to me. I do not have the energy to spend all of my time with my students and nineteenth century books and that is okay. I am dealing with marrying what I refer to as “the two selves.” For me, that is the “academic” self and the “creative” self. The reality is that these two selves are not really all that different. I cannot do one without the other. And so, feeding the self that is hungry (that is, my creative self) is the best thing that I can do for me right now.

What I’m Reading- February 2019

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Although I am eschewing New Year’s resolutions on principle, I have been making an effort to be a more engaged member of the contemporary literary community. So, to that end, I have been trying to make it a point to read more poets and authors that are publishing today. So, here is a short list of some of the collections, blogs, and magazines that have really moved me this month. As a disclaimer, the blurbs are really my uninformed opinions. As I generally work with novels, I experience a poverty of language around poetry, so I can really only tell you what I feel.

Poetry:

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018) by Terrance Hayes, Penguin Poets, $12

You know when you grab hold of a book or collection of poetry and you just have to carry it everywhere? That’s how I feel about Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. It has literally been in my backpack since I received it in the mail and won’t be going anywhere soon. Hayes’s poetry grabs you with its obvious music and attention to both classical and contemporary ways of knowing. It is gripping, visceral, and important in ways that are elusive at first. I love Hayes’s urgency and authenticity and think you definitely will too.

As If (2018) by Amanda MeisterGlass Poetry Press, $8.50

Chapbooks! Everyone should be buying chapbooks. Especially from fabulous presses like Glass Poetry. Amanda Meister’s collection was my most recent acquisition and I read it all in one sitting. Meister’s work is simultaneously intimate and profoundly measured, balanced between precise couplets and devastatingly raw language like:

Best case scenario I wake to find no one tried// to hold my hand and no one died.

Meister’s work is the kind of polished that most poets (like me) aspire to be.

Lit Mags:

Barren MagazineIssue 5, “Weight of Days,” January 2019

In the spirit of full disclosure, Barren is one of my favorite new literary magazines. It is also one that has recently accepted some of my work (Hooray!). The editors tend to favor raw, devastating reflections on life, its traumas, and its triumphs. In particular, I recommend taking a look at Aaron Householder’s creative non-fiction entitled “Mud Crusted,” which is a heart-wrenching reflection on the loss of a child. I also suggest taking a look at Anindita Sengupta’s “Coriolis” and Christopher Nielsen’s photography. These are just a few suggestions from an issue that is rife with literature worth diving into.

Split Lip MagazineJanuary 2019

I love Split Lip Magazine in general. The editors take on a lot of experimental forms of writing that I generally love. This shout out goes to one piece from their January issue in particular, though. I am so taken with Kat Moore’s “When god is a man inside my mouth.” Moore’s use of the unusual form of a list perfectly mixes poetic convention with prose that truly expands the perimeters for what Creative Non-Fiction can be.

Blogs:

Millenial Girl, Interrupted

I have been really enthused and impressed by the breadth of coverage on Olivia Epley’s Blog, Millenial Girl, Interrupted. Epley examines the many armed monster that is dealing with mental illness and the institutions associated with mental health care and its many forms. The posts are derived both from Epley’s personal experience and external research and really delve into both the visceral and intellectual experience of mental illness and neurodivergence. For anyone interested in contributing to a public dialogue around mental illness, this blog is a must-read and must-follow.

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A Meditation on Trauma Writing

CW: Trauma, Sexual Assault

I was at a conference recently and one of the presenters pointed out that one of the ways to identify the presence of trauma or, more specifically, sexual trauma in a personal narrative is by looking for the moments where the narrative freezes. Where the voice goes cold or omits. Where the details become vague when they once had been deep. That’s where you see trauma rearing its controlling head.

This observation struck me for its poignancy and I also realized that the same could be said for me. Discovering that I have great difficulty writing about my own traumas was a hard pill for me to swallow. Writing is my process of stress release and to suddenly hit such a huge block around experiences that are such an enormous cause of stress made me feel like my outlet had failed me. And maybe, in many ways, the writing that I was doing had.

I am a poet at heart and even when I sit down to write out my experiences in prose, I find myself employing the same structures that I use in poetry to a paragraph form. I wanted to be able to write my trauma like a linear narrative– a reporting– a linear narrative that will help me pick through the dry rot the trauma has created in me.

Finally, I realized that I can’t write a linear narrative because there isn’t one. That is not how my traumas appear to me. They appear in movie clips and words and smells and feelings. They are dreams of a past life and sensations in the present me. I can’t force them to exist as anything other than they are. And if I am going to release them I have to do it on their terms.

So, I started writing my trauma in sensation and color rather than reportage. I am not a journalist of my own life, so I can talk about the way that the air tastes and the grease in my hair. And I don’t have to lie and say that I remember this face or that. I can just release it from my chest as it is and then I can rest.

Now, my purpose for this meditation is not to suggest that my experience of trauma writing is ubiquitous. I just write it to say that it is okay to not have any words for the way you feel or experience. Sometimes our traumas exist in the gaps and we can only use the voice that we have to free them.

The Self Care Spell

Treat yo’ self. Take some time for you. It’s self care! There is so much out there about the importance of self care. A quick Google search has you drowning in “ten easy self-care hacks,” “how to practice self care without spending a dime,” and “Taking time for you is important.” There’s also a billion and one think pieces on self care for people with mental illness. Particularly people with depression or anxiety, but as those of us who struggle with mental illness in vast and complex forms know, self-care is a project that can often seem daunting. It can even cause secondary guilt and anxieties around not practicing self care enough.

So, I am putting on my best Professor McGonagall voice and shouting, ENOUGH!.  Instead, let’s come together and cast little spells, give ourselves what we need and not what we think we should need. Does that sound vague enough to you? Good. Casting self care spells is like a horoscope. These are simply skeletons. Words– lines, that you will fill with you and all of your beauty and all of your longing and all of your vast, complex, emotional variety. But it’s a secret, so keep it close. Hold it with you as you push through your days and just know that I, and others like me, are with you.

  1. The “Taking on the Day” Spell: You did it. You opened your eyes, the day is here. You are in bed with yourself, your partners, your trusted pet. But you feel heavy and exhausted. You are unsure of how you are going to slog through another one, like there is some sort of anchor around your ankles. So, you cast a tiny spell. Sit up, sit up, sit up, you mumble to yourself or repeat in that dawning mind of yours and, like pulled by some ethereal string, you do. And then you make coffee, make coffee, make coffee or take a shower, take a shower, take a shower. And you listen to your body and you take on the day one step, one task, one little spell at a time.
  2. The “Overwhelmed” Spell: If you are a student and a teacher like me, you get to work and realize that you have four seminar papers to write, an article to revise, and fifty papers to grade and you feel your chest start to tighten. It feels like there are mountains of paper piling on top of you, even if they’re not due for several weeks. And that’s okay. You just need to feel okay. So, again, you cast a tiny spell. You steal away to an office, a bathroom stall, a couch, someplace a little quieter. You hold a small object in your hands and, just for a moment, you let it borrow a piece of your heart. You let it tell you that you are going to take it one task at a time. That you can complete it. That the doors are not closing in. You stop telling yourself you are crazy and take a few moments to breathe. And then, when you are ready, you take back that piece of your heart and you walk back into your day.
  3. The “Stuffing Food in Your Mouth” Spell: You get home at 6 p.m. and you are exhausted. You just want to sit on the couch and watch TV or maybe crawl underneath of your covers and go to sleep. But you haven’t eaten yet and you are not sure that you can. You don’t have the energy to make dinner and you don’t have the money to order out. So, again, you cast a little spell. You stand in your kitchen and try to remember all of the grains in your cabinets, the fruits, the vegetables, maybe meat if that is your thing. You catalog them and wait for one to sound right. Maybe its some cheese or an orange or a pile of rice. Whatever. You did it, you envisioned that thing and you pulled it into your hand. And you chop it, boil it, or eat it whole. Eat it cold or hot. Sit if you need to. Listen to your body singing or moaning, but knowing that each little bite is feeding it. And feeding your spirit too.

These are just a few of my little spells. The point is that self care is not this grand act of pampering yourself or some heroic feat of scheduling. It can also be quiet, careful, loving, nurturing. It is you taking a quick moment to celebrate your ability to do one task at a time. To inhabit the present moment. And that is a magical act too.

 

My favorite tea

So, one of my favorite things to have with me when I am writing or feeling unwell is tea. I keep a glass jar filled with loose-leaf tea in my kitchen. You know, next to the all-important coffee and pasta. For those of you who need something calming, here is my favorite recipe:

Equal Parts of Each:

Peppermint: Dried peppermint is amazing. It settles your spirit and your stomach and it smells amazing.

Chamomile: This is actually a pretty classic combination for stomach upset, but as we all know, chamomile is the best floral for relaxing.

Now, here are some recommended additions (not all at once– just pick the ones you like):

Raspberry Leaf: Extremely earthy tasting and smelling, but great for period cramps, anxiety, pregnancy, and all-around uterine health

Ginger: Who doesn’t love a good spicy tea? Plus, ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory.

Passion Flower: Half floral/half earthy. Will help soothe an anxious mind and also lull you to sleep.

Of course, these are just suggestions, if you are interested. If you don’t want to deal with shopping loose leaf, I really enjoy Mighty Leaf teas. They are pre-packaged (although, admittedly, with too much packaging) and still whole-leaf.