We’re over the moon that Denise Duhamel, who joins the SRP family in 2015, has been named a Guggenhem Fellow for 2014. Congratulations, Denise!
As chosen from our 2013 open reading period, a familiar face announces our 2015 Spring lineup! Click this link and check it out: https://vimeo.com/73408905
SRP seeks poetry and creative nonfiction submissions for Douglas Ray’s The Queer South, an anthology scheduled for publication in September 2014. For information and submission guidelines, click HERE. Deadline July 31.
by Collin Kelley
In the summer of 2010, I had the amazing opportunity to guest lecture at Worcester College at Oxford University in the United Kingdom as part Georgia Tech’s Study Abroad Program. On my off day, I went with fellow teachers Karen Head and Colin Potts to see the Sally Mann exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery in London.
It was a retrospective of Mann’s most famous work: the controversial photographs of her children, the haunted Civil War battlefields and the corpses deteriorating at the “body farm” at the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center in Knoxville. Although I had seen many of the photographs before, something about seeing them in such large scale in the hushed rooms of that gallery revealed something about my own art. It was, literally, like a flashbulb going off in my mind.
Like Mann, I am a Southerner. The people and landscapes of her photography are mine, too. Standing in that gallery 4,000 miles from my home in Atlanta, I realized that the poems I had been writing for the past decade shared startling similarities to these photographs. When I returned to the states and began sifting through the work, I realized that each poem was a photograph – snapshots of my past growing up in the South. There were visits to battlefields, candy cigarettes, a trip to Knoxville, adultery, sex, death and a forgotten name check of Sally Mann on a fateful trip to Helen Keller’s childhood home in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
The poems in Render had been in search of an arc, a sequence, a framework to hang upon for years and they finally found it in an unlikely place. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that two Southerners happened to be in London at the same time, but I don’t believe in coincidences. While I was putting this manuscript together, I learned something else about Mann that most people don’t know – she’s also a poet. For me, that’s synchronicity.
The construction of Render is an homage to Mann – from the cover image taken by Colin Potts (another great bit of synchronicity) to the title poem dedicated to her indelible images. But a love of Mann or photography is not required to gain entry into these poems. If you grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s, there are references to great movies, music and events that shaped us growing up. Familial discord, sexual experimentation, love lost and found – that’s all here, too.
As Daniel Nathan Terry says in his wonderful blurb for Render: These poems are the photographs we never intend to take but somehow always find, years later, tucked into the shoebox of memory, fully developed in the darkness we so carefully keep.
My hope, as with all my work, is that you will see a bit of yourself in these poems. Go on. Open the box.
Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father by Bryan Borland is now available everywhere. Click HERE to purchase your SIGNED copy.
We’re pleased to announce the sixth of our six Pushcart Prize nominees: “Self-Portrait with Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong from Assaracus Issue 08. Congratulations, Ocean! Click HERE to read “Self-Portrait with Exit Wounds.”
Could you talk about the title?
I wrote that particular poem, the title poem, during a very productive period, one of those exciting times when it seems like new poems are constantly coming on. I remember that the title came first, and I also remember something my friend Ed Skoog said when he read the poem, which was that each line seemed like a great title for a poem. That was quite a compliment, I thought. Anyway, I was very excited about the title of that poem—I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but I loved where it took my imagination and the way it presented something paradoxically distasteful and enticing. And isn’t that the way desire sometimes feels?
How long did the book take to write?
My flippant answer is “too long,” but in some ways it’s true. The earliest poem in Butcher’s Sugar probably dates from 1992, and the most recent one is from 2009 or 2010, so about 18 years in all. I worked on it most intensively from about 2000 to 2003 or 2004. Right about then is when I started work on Motion Studies, which came out in 2011, and when I started seriously trying to create the manuscript that would become Butcher’s Sugar.
That’s a long time. Did your vision of the book change in any significant ways while you were working on it?
Yes, in huge ways. Some of the first poems I wrote that ended up in here, like “Queer Studies,” didn’t come out of a specific vision at all, but from exercises I was giving myself while learning to write formal verse. My first efforts in traditional forms felt very mannered to me, because I didn’t have any facility with the craft, and one consequence was that the tone of those poems was a little arch, a little knowing. Another was that, for whatever reason, I began for the first time writing poems that had identifiably gay content. I had written a great deal by then, enough to have most of the manuscript of my first book, but this shift was very unexpected and, in some ways, unsettling. It sounds so strange to say now, but at that time, even though I’d been out sexually since I was a teenager, I really didn’t want to be pegged as a gay poet. I was trying to emulate Stevens and Bishop and other American and European high Modernists, and also trying to avoid any sort of confessional mode, even though I loved Sexton and Plath. It was a lot to work through, personally and aesthetically. I wrote some awful but necessary poems, the effluvia of an artistic late adolescence. Years later, with Motion Studies, I had a sweetly awkward moment when I had to explain to my editor that yes, the male speaker of some of these poems has a husband.
There’s quite a cast of speakers in the book: figures from mythology, a couple of murderers, some nameless but creepy voices like the ones in “The Cheat” and “My Last Boyess.” Is it fair to ask if your personal voice is anywhere in the book?
Yes, that’s fair, and yes, my voice is definitely in the book. At the same time, I’m a little wary of saying this particular poem is “me” and this one isn’t. Much of this book was motivated by a love of the persona poem and dramatic monologue. I love the freedom of not being my autobiographical self in the moment of the poem, and I’m intrigued by the ways a seemingly autobiographical poem is actually a fiction. That’s why writing “Night Lesson: A Writing Assignment” was so much fun, because it gave me the chance to play with all of those registers: I’m myself and a self-referential persona masquerading as myself, and I’m the boy being referred to, and I’m “just a mouth in the dark.” But before I go further with this, may I ask you to clarify something about your question?
OK. Are you asking if my voice is also in the voices of the creeps in the book, the murderers and sexual monsters?
Well, since you’re putting it that way, yes, I am wondering about that.
OK, just wanted to make sure. And my very clear, definitive answer is no. I was drawn to some of those voices out of a desire to expose them, to bare them before the reader for what they are. I think “Eye-Fucking” is in fact a ‘confessional’ poem, and not only because Donald Aldrich—the gay-bashing killer who voices the poem—is confessing his crime, but because I am confessing and trying to come to grips with my horror and sadness. I remember feeling physically ill after I wrote that poem, but also like I’d done something necessary.
Thinking about voice again, I want to ask about style. On the one hand, there’s a range in the book: poems like “Sunday Afternoon” and “Priapic Murmurs in Middle Age” strive for a formal and lexical elegance; “Eye-Fucking” is nearly prose in its rhythm and texture; poems like “Elegy in a Men’s Room” and “Young Soldier Watching Hermes Sleeping after Sex” are blunt and terse. On the other hand, there does seem to be a default lyric register that many of the poems conform to. Maybe I’m making too much of this observation, but does it mean anything to you?
‘A default lyric register’—interesting. Yeah, I think that’s accurate. And yes, I did strive toward a deliberate flatness in some of the poems, which freed me to try out some unusual effects, almost like Sprechstimme. So those were instance in which I couldn’t ask a poem to ‘sing’ in the usual ways that we think of as beautiful. And in the poems that do strive for something more recognizably beautiful—what I think you’re referring to as my default register—I wanted there to be something missing, or something wrong. But maybe I’m the only one who can hear that.
Motion Studies explored ekphrasis, personal narrative, and large historical themes. Butcher’s Sugar seems like a more intimate world, sometimes even a closed one: it opens with “Narcissistic” and includes two poems with “hermetic” in their titles. What will your next book be like?
Well, I’ve been working on two projects, one of which deals with large historical themes and the other one set in a private, nightmare universe, so who knows?
Butcher’s Sugar is available directly from our online store.
Cassandra Christenson and Ronna Magy, both contributors to the new poetry anthology Lady Business, will read from their selected pieces. Local favorite Steven Reigns (Inheritance) will introduce them.
Cassandra Christenson‘s published work has appeared in My Life is Poetry, E-33, and The Chronicles. Her life work is about providing love, support, and dignity through the last hours of life. As a Registered Nurse, she founded Project Nightlight, a non-profit organization dedicated to no one dying alone.
Ronna Magy is a lesbian senior who came onto the planet as the colors of World War II were fading from Detroit’s skyline and Sputnik orbited the skies. She began writing at mid-life. Her stories and poetry have appeared in Sinister Wisdom; Best Lesbian Romance; My Life is Poetry; Hers 2; Love Shook My Heart II; Heatwave; and The Bilingual Review. She’s the author of several English as a Second Language textbooks.
Steven Reigns is a Los Angeles-based poet and educator. Reigns organized and taught the first-ever autobiography poetry workshop for GLBT seniors and edited an anthology of their writings, My Life is Poetry. Visit him at www.stevenreigns.com. Inheritance, his stunning and provocative collection of poetry, is available from SRP.
To purchase your copy of Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry, click here.
Cancer (June 22-July 23): “All I ever knew is like a little mouse living in a tiny hole in a palace I have become.” (Hafiz) While you’re busy being expansive, take time to celebrate the way you used to be, which was also amazing. Bake a birthday cake for your former self, with big blue icing flowers.
Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): You never really know how much you’re loved, how precious you are to the people in your life. Look for signs of it—the special groceries, the firefly walks, the silly love-music that gets stuck in your head.
Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): “Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad.” (Carly Rae Jepsen) You have always contained at least as much longing as a song-of-the-summer, probably more. But today, take stock of all the many people you have wished for who subsequently arrived. The other missing magic puzzle pieces are on their way—just open your arms and let them come to you.
Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): “I feel so grateful for every challenge I’ve encountered, as it’s now clear that they were all stepping stones leading to the present moment, which is so full of joy and beauty that I feel I could do ANYTHING with the rest of my life & feel satisfied that my time on this planet was worthwhile. Dear G-d, I sincerely hope that, at some point, each and every person I know experiences the happiness that I am experiencing right now.” (Sam Richman, after gender-affirming surgery.) Be like Sam.
Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): The stars miss you every time we see junky special effects in old movies; it’s such a comforting thing to see. Hope all of your quests are being fulfilled, and your life is warm and full of sun.
Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): To the Sagittarius who says she wishes she could just like one or the other, men or women. Erroneous binary aside, there’s so little space in this world for us, few heroes or role models. We have to make up our own way to do this. Don’t accept the arbitrary limitations that are placed on us by those with limited imaginations.
Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): I recently started rewatching Angel. I don’t think that I even knew before that my favorite vampire-with-soul started his detective agency in order to connect more deeply to humans and be therefore less likely to want to eat them. It isn’t quite so dire for you, but do find some new ways to genuinely reach out.
Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): To the Aquarius planning a ladies’ weekend—may there be feather boas and dancing on banquettes, delirious running-into-the-surf, maybe a Gilmore Girls marathon. Have all the fun in the world and find your inner Lorelais.
Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): To the Pisces who listened to me when I was lost—I’m still lost, but thank you for taking care of me, hearing my side of things, wanting my real happiness. You’re a good ear and a magic friendship, and your life will be full of glittery adventure.
Aries (March 21-April 18): Buy two sheets of stickers, one unicorns, one rainbows. Give them to yourself whenever you take a heart-risk, whenever you live in the delightful prism-y spectrums of life, whenever you move this way or that along the Kinsey scale. It’s important to reward yourself for being so brave.
Taurus (April 19-May 18): I heard Die Antword’s “Baby’s On Fire” and had trouble not emailing it to you. Whatever’s not working for you, it’s time to burn it or dance it off. Stop struggling, unless you like that sort of thing. Not everything needs to be changed. Lay back and float on the surface of life like you do sometimes at the swimming poll. Look at the clouds.
Gemini (May 19-June 21): “Apparently I like ripping the Band-Aid off slowly and repeatedly.” (My brother, Ed Wiedmann) Yep, it’s hard to let things go, especially people, who tend to have a lot of adhesive. But it’s okay, keep trying.
Cancer (June 22-July 23): Think of how many letters you can send: Strongly worded letters of complaint, love letters, thank you notes that go into lots of detail, letters of apology and amends. Pick five and write them out on paper. Remember stamps?
Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): To the Leo who is apartment hunting—you will have ample closets, a big, clean kitchen, built-in bookshelves, hardwood floors, and a big windows. You’ll live in a quiet neighborhood with lots of trees. You’ll have everything including cheap rent, I promise.
Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): See Leo. Also, the tests you’ve been preparing for will be a piece of cake. Spend time in coffee shops going over practice tests. Alternate learning with good, long bouts of swimming. Fill up your brain and treat yourself kindly. You can do this.
Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): Today, all of your wishes are coming true, and you are groggily joyful. Sleep as many hours as you want, you’ve earned it. Spend lots of time with paints and books and movies. The stars recommend rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from a bondage perspective, but that could just be the stars.
Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): “Who laughs the most, knows the most, if that laughter is sincere.” (Hafiz) This week, focus even more than usual on the funny. Take Calvin and Hobbes collections to the beach with you. Meditate on the wise teachings of Demetri Martin, who is just as adorable in person. Go only to movie theatres that let you heckle the screen.
Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Look at the summer schedule and map out your visits. Be sure to spend the most time with the people who make you the most delighted, and the least on obligation.
Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): Soon, I’m coming to visit you! We’ll write jillions of stanzas in our notebooks, putting stickers on the best parts. We’ll eat pie and snuggle children. I really can’t wait.
Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): This week, stand up for yourself, even if it is painful, even if it leads to some loss. Look at the people, the rumors, the dramas that hold you back and give them the what-for. Yes, we know, the stars should do this, too. Don’t let anyone take anything away from you. You are worth all the happiness and freedom in the world.
Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): To the Pisces in a long distance relationship: May her visits be long. May her texts be chock full of effusiveness and affection and glitter. May you have the place in her life that you’ve always wanted. A happy home. Open arms. Providence.
Aries (March 21-April 18): This week in your life as a video game, you are Mario Kart. If you feel like you’re careening, bouncing over mushrooms, skidding past barky chain-link dogs, occasionally being pulled from the drink by a helpful cloud guy with a fishing pole, don’t worry, things will calm down a bit next week. Next week’ll be Tetris.
Taurus (April 19-May 18): I’ve got writer’s block for Taurus, so please send your requests. Thanks!
Gemini (May 19-June 21): Take a trip to your local produce market, a farmers’ market if you have one nearby. Fruit has always symbolized well-being to the stars, and this week will be like strawberry-blueberry shortcake for you, Gemini!
White Horse of Conquest (1999-2002)
Papa in middle-age crisis—
we stare down this damn
Y2K, waiting for the
world 2 revel & glitch 0-0-0,
out here on this quiet estate
that’s guarded by the fence we spent
a summer posting and railing,
and now in this deep winter at
the end of the innocent world
the clock moans over with jubilee
and false comfort
because in this millennial hour
a time has been born
and soon the sky will burn blue into our memories
and you will crash into the breast of your mistress
while I’m left holding my
mother at the bottom of the staircase
and they are still pulling bodies parts from
the apple pit.
Red Horse of War (2003)
Uncut soldier boy
under the floorboards of
your parents roachy Kentucky house,
who knew the fates
would take you from this war
to the oil war in the sandland of Saddam.
Lover who took in my semen like water,
when I was seventeen I said
half of my generation will die from war
and the other half from AIDS.
I was no false prophet,
but goddamn, sweetheart,
you fated both.
Black Horse of Famine (2007-2008)
Anorexia at twenty-seven.
One hundred is a doomed number
when you hangs it on your homosexual bones:
double the headshakes.
All the beautiful men in the world
can’t save you
when pushing you
onto your back grunting
“damn, you have a fuckin’ big dick, baby”
and they’ll leave you come late morning,
where you wake,
on borrowed time,
hung-over, deflated, and starving.
Pale Horse of Death (2008—2010)
All of them went down gracefully,
these paternal old folks
in beds of peace
and in their last dream;
then on a sweet summer morning at thirty
death came for me.
In a spin I was down,
lover screaming on his knees,
and as the world fades to black
I cease to breathe.
© Montgomery Maxton
Cancer (June 22-July 23): Dear birthday friend—this year, please believe all the nice things that your friends say about you, on your wall, in back-of-the-book blurbs, in vivid dreams. And while you’re at it, let accidental slights and mishaps float away like bubbles.
Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): I just Googled “collective nouns for hummingbirds.” Not only would that make a good name for something, but it also yielded the following results: charm, chattering, drum, troubling. (Who comes up with “a troubling of hummingbirds”? Clearly someone very disturbed.) Anyway, hummingbirds are like your quick, sweet luck and you’ll see a lot of them this summer.
Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): “Send me an angel, right now.” (Real Life) Your angels are your friends, invest everything in them. Everything shared at diner tables, sewing circles, and workshops will add up to everything you’ve ever looked for.
Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): See Virgo. You’ll have not just one angel, but dozens, everyone whose heart you’ve ever fluttered just a little bit is standing next to you as you reach this next important fruition.
Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22):Every time you ask nicely for something you want, you get a gold star, even when the answer is “no.” It’s time to start pushing past the boundaries of what you think you deserve. Your mantra is “more, more, more.”
Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): You are your own foundation, the basis from which everything you create grows. This week, spend some time on structural integrity: Fix leaks, strengthen walls, make sure you have good ventilation and are not subject to flooding.
Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): A friend of mine recently hosted a summit of nearly every smart woman she knows—it must have been one heck of a sleepover. Create this for yourself, on whatever scale you can, even if it’s just inviting the sharpest lady you know over for coffee. Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19) The stars have forgotten to send heart updates lately, but we wonder how you are doing—are you still twitterpated? Have your found new love and let go of the old? Is your family burgeoning, thriving, hurting? Be sure to let us know.
Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Take a long walk past pretty fences and flowers, preferably when the lightning bugs are out. Make a good detailed wish on each firefly, each hydrangea petal. Then sit down with some nice friends and talk about books. Bonus points if there’s wine.
Aries (March 21-April 18): In Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, our hero gets shiny coins whenever enemies are defeated. This week will be like that, but with less actual combat. Every item crossed off on your to do list, no matter how small or large, will give you what you need to level up, sparkly and solid.
Taurus (April 19-May 18): Someone somewhere is writing a lot of paragraphs about you—you never know how deep of an impression you’ve made, how you’ve changed someone’s trajectory. I’m sure if they could, they’d send you the paragraphs, but for now, you can only imagine.
Gemini (May 19-June 21): “I can love whoever I want.” (Charlie’s brother in Adaptation) This week the stars are having a Charlie Kaufman movie marathon, and we suggest you do the same—get lost in the layers of it, the hot existential love scenes, the ponderousness of everything. When you watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, be glad of everyone you haven’t erased.
Cancer (June 22-July 23): Find yourself some grown-up coloring pages and go to town on them. Do this in front of the TV if you want. Embellish your pages with stickers and stamp-pads and hang them up someplace where you need to be reminded to trust your creativity.
Leo (July 24-Aug. 23): My wife recently wrote a Zombie Apocalypse Horoscope and may well be a guest horoscopist come Halloween time. I don’t know much about zombies, but I know you should never box yourself in a basement, and don’t board up the windows. What’s coming for you is coming for you, turn and face it.
Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23): Even if today none of the libraries were open, and you ran into your old nemesis, and you ate a shameful amount of cookies, no matter. Tomorrow you’ll get a good playlist in your inbox, you’ll go on a firefly walk with your love, you’ll watch a dumb movie. Life is always mostly awesome.
Libra (Sept. 24-Oct. 21): The stars never grew out of drawing hearts in the corners of notebook pages, and neither should you. You can even indulge in the creepy-cute eighth-grade-girl thing of writing your crush’s name over and over. Go ahead, be ridiculous and smitten.
Scorpio (Oct. 22-Nov. 22): Every day this week, find a poem—it could be anywhere, like magic. Collect them and build something nice.
Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): It’s almost time to go to summer camp, and you are a counselor. Remember your sunscreen and water jug. Remember, children can be a bit chaotic, so leave some of your Order-Muppet side at home; more Animal, less Kermit.
Capricorn (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): Yours is a religion of board games—read your future in Scrabble tiles, nothing as confusing as Upwords. I can’t master the strategy of chess (or even, some days, Bejeweled) but you can—you know where you’ll be three moves from now, so relax.
Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Whatever imprisons you, accept it for a bit. Then watch I Love You, Phillip Morris, watch the clouds scoot by, and plan your escape or even your series of escapes. Whatever you do, don’t think about Camus’ The Stranger. Actually, that’s good advice for every week.
Pisces (Feb. 20-March 20): Ignore any and all nay-sayers at the table—you can follow any goals you’ve set out for yourself. The breath and health and love you want are within reach, just take a good walk to them. Then rest in your cool and wonderful cave. Repeat.
Aries (March 21-April 18): You are as adorable and strange as a little kids’ summer camp production of Wicked, only everyone hits the high notes and no one misses their lines. You are the mini-Elphaba to my Glinda heart, and vice versa.
Taurus (April 19-May 18): “I don’t know when to start or when to stop
My luck’s like a button/ I can’t stop pushing it/ My head feels light
But I’m still in the dark/ Seems like without tenderness there’s something missing.” (General Public)
Gemini (May 19-June 21): To the Gemini who finally found her McDreamy (Several years after Grey’s Anatomy became irrelevant, but still.) –it’s okay to agonize over what to say in your emails, miss him like crazy until he gets back to town, go ahead and believe in things a little bit!