Category Archives: Poetry

Mothers Ask ‘May I’ Too

4 Stars

There was a time in my life when I wanted to climb the corporate latter, at least, the organizational one. I was willing to do this because it meant more money.  Meanwhile my wife spent many of those years as a full-time mother. I say “full-time mother” instead of “stay-at-home mom” because motherhood is a job, whether you enjoy parenting or not. And it requires two shifts a day. When I came home from work during our kids’ early years, my wife was “off duty”.

Fifteen years into the work force, I had no problem “giving up the reins” and let my wife be the one who was working. She was stuck at home, with no real social life, and several attempts at starting something part-time at-home all failed to stick.

Mother May IAnd so when I read Mother May I by Tina Parker, every memory of parenting those newborns and toddlers was brought up. I identified with Parker a lot as a parent.

Parker writes about the fun parts of parenting as well as the stuff parents feel they shouldn’t say aloud about raising small children. Her poems aren’t particularly musical, but that gives room for telling it like it is.

The collection is loosely divided into four parts, the dividers being a poem called “Questionnaire”. It is a fill-in-the-blank questionnaire for young women. The first time it appears, the answers a left blank.

Questionnaire

How many times have you been pregnant? ______________________

How many children born alive? ______________________

The second time the answers are filled in

….

Stillbirths? _____0_______

Miscarriages? _______1______

Finally the poem is a prose poem

“Questionnaire”

I have two daughters. My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage…

I love the titles in this collection. They are introductory statements, usually something one of her kids said, such as the poem “When Our Five-Year-Old Asks If There Is More Sky Or Grass”. Sometimes these titles are the poems themselves. It reminds me how poetic young kids are.

Some poems, such as “How to Get Toddlers Into the Car” both have an element of humor that makes me chuckle, but also hurts deep in my heart as I remember how hard the simplest tasks could be. In fact, there are so many poems in this collection that are complete with a 1-2 punch, such as one about a father who is there but is still absent. In this collection Parker is a mother asking “May I” too, because she writes about topics some might consider taboo, such as hurting your child  for the first time. She communicates a struggle some mothers are ashamed of, and in doing so provides an answer to her own question.

My favorite poem in the collection is “Just Like That I Have a Daycare Baby”, which starts out innocent enough

Only she’s not a baby
She’s four but still
Some other woman gets her
Breakfast and lunch and snack
And fixes her hair when the clips fall out…

Soon the poem turns ever so slightly, but painfully, as the mother describes going to work. The turn is right around:

I have time to pour coffee
And put creamer in
I have time to drink it
Sometimes I even make it
I get paid to do this…

Everyone without kids who want to know what parenting is like should buy this collection. And those with kids as well — it is not a difficult book to read; on the contrary, it is a very enjoyable read. The poems about the joys of motherhood made me smile.

Mother May I is published by Sibling Rivalry Press.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, or #Bard154

This year I have been reducing all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets (14-line poems) into quatrains of 140 characters each.  On Monday I tweeted them (for Twitter’s specifications I had to reduce them to 136 characters before publishing them).

I reduced them  using the only reading of the sonnets that makes complete sense to me: both the Baby Tudor Theory and  the Prince Tudor Theory.

Edward Devere, XVII Earl of Oxford
Edward Devere, XVII Earl of Oxford

These theories can be broken down into three big points.

  1. Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford is the author of the works of William Shakespeare.
  2. In an Oedipal nightmare come true, De Vere is the son of Queen Elizabeth (called the Baby Tudor Theory), …
  3. … and together the two of them had a son of their own, Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton (called the Prince Tudor Theory).

I should point out that for those who believe De Vere is Shakespeare, not of all of them believe all three points, some only believe the first. But for me, the sonnets don’t make sense unless you believe in at least the third point, if not the second.

But to believe in all three points means suddenly everything about the works of Shakespeare makes complete and total sense. (I of course am open to other theories where everything makes sense, but at the moment this is it.)

So here it goes, I invite you to read my tweets. The best way to do that is in these three steps.

  1. Click here: https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bard154?src=hash
  2. Click the LIVE tab to see all the sonnet tweets
  3. Scroll down to the bottom to start from the first sonnet and move to the last (with the exception of one sonnet). Alternatively, scroll below the first sonnet and start a few tweets before the dedication tweet. Either way, you will need to click “more tweets” until you get to where you want to start.

Hourglass Museum and the timeless art of life

5 Stars


Hourglass Museum

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon appears to be a book of poetry based on art — and it is, but it is also so much more. It is a book about life and its distractions, get-togethers and their conversations and other nuances of everyday life.

In fact, the book can be summed up by its opening poem, which lets the readers in on the secret, the joke, the maddening reality of what life has to offer.

Agodon is a master of enjambment, the turns-of-phrase and metaphorical imagery that begs awe-struck questions like, “Where did THAT come from? How did she come up with THAT?” that may leave poets wanting to take their craft to the next level.

There’s no dessert in the picnic basket,
so I swallowed time.

Or this line, which is simple enough, yet for me it seems Agodon was channeling Ezra Pound.

Because the dress was worn.
Or wasn’t.

The book is a dialogue between art as life and life as art. There is both an unresolved tension between the two as well as an agreement to live in harmony together. But as the book progresses, it becomes less about the former and more about the latter. Agodon investigates questions of womanhood in general as well as motherhood and the family dynamic that is simple inspirational to read due to the way she expresses these themes.

Hourlass Museum is 120 pp and published by White Pine Press.

American Galactic lands close to home


4 Stars


American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman
American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman

American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman is a fun, well-written book that takes issues and events of everyday life and gives them a sci-fi twist.

The cover of the book, an image of martians doing the YMCA dance like the Village People, is a sneak peak in what the reader should expect by opening the front cover and digging down into the closest sofa with a cup of coffee.

Some of these poems are obvious inclusions in the collection, such as kids dressed as martians while doing their Halloween rounds. Others are a bit more surprising, such as a poem about Robin Williams, written before his untimely death, that choked me up when I read it.

Wiseman has fun with enjambment, and finds interesting ways to use double-meaning in line breaks.

I don’t know what martians eat. They might eat
potatoes or human cavier. I don’t know

what they wear to dances or how they move…

— from “After Watching a Martian Marathon on Cable”

Wiseman also uses end-stop lines to provide emphasis in her lines, never forgetting about that double meaning.

Accept the limits of the landscape.
Grow moonflowers. Transplant rain
lilies. Always befriend stargazers.
Listen when the big ear speaks.

— from “Creed: The Mission”

Each poem has its own difference in theme, of course, but the theme of the entire book is about the foreign-ness of humanity and human interaction. This is not a book about martians; it is a book about us. With poems about doctor’s appointments, complications and joys of gardening, introverts at parties, sci-fi movies and masterbation (or not), this book reminds us that when we look up at the stars, we see ourselves.

American Galactic is published by martianlit.com and is 75 pp.

Press Release: Red Dashboard publishes Steel Cut Oats

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Red Dashboard Press announces release of Steel Cut Oats by Joshua Gray

April 12, 2015

Washington DC — Red Dashboard Press is pleased to announce the release of Steel Cut Oats, a new book of poetry by Joshua Gray. Gray began writing the collection as a companion to the book Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice, a book that celebrates food, culture and tradition as an integral synthesis to maintain health and well-being.

But the scope of the Gray’s vision widened to include other poems as well as recipes; in doing so, Gray infuses food and poetry to tackle both the traditions of ancient cultures as well as his own personal experiences of contemporary ways of life.

“Steel Cut Oats is not a cookbook. It is a book of food for the gods. Joshua Gray writes through the honest, curious eyes of all the families in our world. Gray surveys the heavens and moons above, and then cores them with metaphors for emotional satiety. He challenges stereotypes and spurs new revelations for his audience. He transforms food into life, and then back again to season its seasoning with these enticing poems.”

— Andrew Jarvis, author of The Strait

“There are other poems in the book as well as the ones written in response to Prentice’s work. I decided to include these poems early on in the vision of Steel Cut Oats, but the recipes came later on. While Prentice’s book centers more around food and tradition, the poems I wrote as a response Full Moon Feast were not as obviously centered around food. So the recipes were a way to tie everything together into a cohesive whole. The recipes are favorite ones of mine, and are to be used more as a starting off point than to be followed directly, although they certainly can be. The point of the recipes is more the creative process than anything else,” Joshua Gray states.

As for the poems he wrote in response to Prentice’s book, Gray found the process very difficult.

“After reading Full Moon Feast, I knew I wanted to write a sort of poetic companion, but the poems did not come easy. I found many of my initial drafts to be very didactic in nature, something I really felt I needed to avoid. Through the course of several years I tried writing and rewriting, until I had an epiphany while riding down a beautiful mountain in southern India: I didn’t need to state the importance of the subject matter in any way — Prentice had already done that — I just needed to highlight each of her chapters in a brief yet creative way. After I realized this, the writing came easier.”

Red Dashboard, LLC (www.reddashboard.com) publishes an electronic magazine called Annapurna, which seeks food-centric submissions, as well as an annual anthology about food called Clarify; thus, Gray didn’t need to look far to find a publisher for his manuscript, since he had been published by Red Dashboard in the past.

For more information about Steel Cut Oats, Red Dashboard, LLC, or any of its publications, publisher and editor Elizabeth Akin Stelling can be reached at editor@reddashboard.com.

Blurb for Steel Cut Oats

As my new book Steel Cut Oats nears completion of production, I have received a blurb from another poet.

Very nice words, indeed!

Steel Cut Oats is not a cookbook. It is a book of food for the gods. Joshua Gray writes through the honest, curious eyes of all the families in our world. Gray surveys the heavens and moons above, and then cores them with metaphors for emotional satiety. He challenges stereotypes and spurs new revelations for his audience. He transforms food into life, and then back again to season its seasoning with these enticing poems.

Meanwhile, I have seen some preliminary sketches of the cover art, and am very happy with them! I am very excited!

Letter To Poetry

keyaKeya is a high school student who had an assignment in her poetry class: write a letter to poetry. But never mind that this was a school assignment, because her letter is something I wish I had written when I was in high school.

I won’t say she is an aspiring poet — she is a poet. With several publications credits already, and the ability to put into a words a letter like this, she’s past the word “aspiring”.

She tackles difficult subjects in her poetry, and she is an advocate for social justice.

Dear Poetry,

We are the high school couple that broke up because college got in the way and long distance relationships are tough. We then later got back together because we need each other the way I need a breath of fresh air. I need to know that you’ll always be there listening to me and letting me trust you in a way that I can trust no one else.

I met you in second grade and if it wasn’t for that teacher who made me love learning, then I never would have fallen in love with you and I don’t know what I would be doing late at night as I wrestle my emotions, wondering why it’s so hard to understand myself.

We’ve gone through different phases. I hated you when I had to analyze you and when I couldn’t connect to you. Some English teachers ripped you apart so much that I had to piece you back together into something that I thought was beautiful. I tried haikus and limericks and finally settled on a combination of prose and free verse to some sort of rhythm.  I fall in love with you every time I grab my pen. I sit in class waiting for the bell to ring just so I can spend time with you. You’re freeing. You’re unique, without a strict set of rules that I have to obey.

We took a break once. I guess I just didn’t know where you fit into my life. There was not enough passion in my heart to spend time with you, but that does not mean that I ever stopped loving you. I had one poem that I was proud of and that was it. That was the end of my writing career, but just for the mean time, until I hit middle school.

I hear people complain about you and my heart breaks into two. I tell them that it doesn’t have to be a giant metaphor that’s deep and profound, but they don’t believe me. They still have the incomprehensible stanzas in their heads that someone long ago made them analyze. It doesn’t have to be like Shakespeare’s sonnets, I tell them. I say that you can be anything. I say you’re art and magic all at once. You’re what gets me through the bad days. You are my coping mechanism.

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. You are effortless until it comes to editing. I don’t have control when I spend time with you. My pen has control over me. The words just come and flow like the tides and it scares me that after a couple months my entire journal is full. Our relationship has become unhealthy. I’m too addicted to you.  I would crash without you. I fall…hard when I cannot be with you. I need you. I’ll always need you. I love you.

~Keya

I wish I had the clear mind in high school to realize I didn’t hate poetry, to remember that I used to love it, to realize that the way it is being taught in schools is what makes it difficult to grasp.

Keya’s Facebook Fan Page:  www.facebook.com/wordsstrungtogether

Poetry FAIL

Warning. This is a rant.

I am getting really tired of physical bookstores — the kind with a front door and shelves and an actual counter you walk up to in order to buy something — and their complete and total lack of awareness to the genre known as poetry. I received a gift card to an unnamed chain bookstore (but take your pick — they’re all the same) and drove to the nearest one to see what they had available. What I found was anything but surprising. While I was thankful that the store allocated two columns of bookshelves to poetry instead of one, or worse, merely a couple rows, the buyer for the store seemed to think that the drama section, which was next to the poetry section, only needed to include Shakespeare, and the poetry section only required famous dead white male poets and a couple minority and female poets.

While I am not disputing the importance of the poets that DID rest on the shelves, there is a whole huge community of contemporary poets all across the world who deserved to have their spot in any bookstore.

Within its four walls the store carried toys, puzzles, stuffed animals, board games, gourmet snacks, and a whole lot of other non-book-related items. Most of the books in the store were from contemporary authors. But the entire history of poetry, including today’s poets, were represented by fewer than ten poets.

Seriously?

There are so many things wrong with this picture — I don’t know where to start. From the store’s buyer, to the literature media coverage, it is no wonder people tell me poetry is a dying art.

Poetry is not dead — the people in a position to make a difference are.