Poet Eve Grubin told me, many years ago, that a strong poem possesses a weave, an interplay between light and darkness, self and other, internal and external, the lucid and the paradox. She said that it is this weave, not necessarily a linear narrative and firm conclusion, which binds a strong poem together. This might have been my first brain-opening to experimental literature—whatever experimental literature is.
I thought about the weave again when I recently read Rae Armantrout’s essay “Feminist Poetics and the Meaning of Clarity.” Have you read it? It’s good, and it was published in 1992, the year between Nevermind and In Utero. The essay describes the poetry of that time as “univocal…often culminating in a sort of linear epiphany.”
Armantrout depicts a homogenized experience of poetry, one which leaves little room for ambivalence and the interplay of the weave. She then pits this singleness of focus (which I view as an arrow, a Castro peen if you will) against “the core of woman’s condition.” What is the core of woman’s condition? Well, Armantrout says that woman is “internally divided against herself” and I’ll be the first one to back that up.
So, let’s think. A poem possessing a strong weave contains opposing forces. The experience of being a woman on this planet also contains opposing forces (though I’d be willing to bet it does for some dudes too). Is poetry today less linear, more weave-permissive than it was in 1992? Were any of you alive in 1992?
A final thought. In the essay, Armantrout examines Jacques Lacan’s notion that women are excluded from the symbolic order. She perceives this exclusion as a “moment of freedom” and an opportunity to “challenge the contemporary poetic convention of the unified voice.” I can get down with this, in the sense that if I pick up Anne Sexton’s The Death Notebooks (luv u Anne!) a little alarm might go off in my head like “too juicy” or “not trendy” or “do not admit to this on Goodreads.” And I’ve definitely felt at times that my own work is too juicy or messy or does not contain enough self-sustaining deer to comply with today’s contemporary poetic convention(s). Ultimately, though, I don’t know if this discomfort is about being a woman, or an outsider, or a poet, or a human.
When the Victim has Collapsed & Cannot be Lifted
The matchstick lady dances in a bowl of fire.
“Fire” –So very American, writes Larry Levis.
Casual and therefore exalted over angels, writes
Hermes Trismegistus. I’ve been thinking
about Tabitha. Her baby seals and black
pepper. The way she jimmies the diaspora
of the least fetching bishop and huddles
coldly in the back pocket of the Oldsmobile.
I want to poke her with a cheap umbrella
beneath a mutual communion of stars.
Yep, you’ve seen it coming for a long time,
the crescendo arrives like a blue rhinoceros,
horn aflame. And death, death wears a nice tie,
picks up the check, combs over a few greasy
strands of hair like a man with many watches.
Austin LaGrone is the author of Oyster Perpetual (Lost Horse Press, 2011). He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at John Jay College.
Let’s only bless each other
Said the mad priest to his cross
The cross chuckled
And jumped to the ground
The priest watched it hop away
The priest sighed
And drearily married his left foot
To his right
And we must never be honest with each other
Vowed a man to his wife
She took away her veil
And planted flowers in her moles as he stared
It is for the best, she agreed
Applying warts to his teeth
What can we do
I asked my body
We can twist your skull
Into star metal
But besides that
I want to sing all the songs
The man said to his coffin
The coffin opened and closed
And offered a steady beat
Leanna Petronella is a Michener Fellow in the University of Texas’s MFA program. Her poetry has appeared in Cutbank, La Petite Zine, and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review.
GIRLS WHO ARE UNFAITHFUL AND AT THE SAME TIME RELENTLESSLY HONEST
Girls who are unfaithful and at the same time relentlessly honest
Are not operating in accord with the Darker-Than-Any-Mystery.
Only she who is relentlessly faithful and meanwhile full of lies
Can be said to be in accord with the Darker-Than-Any-Mystery.
The madness of love takes many forms. In me, it’s the illusion
I am Abul-Majd Majdud ibn Adam Sanai Ghaznavi.
Hé wanted the whole universe to be an unconjugated verb.
I won’t say which, I’ll let you guess. Ha!—right on the first try.
Yet, to me, “love” is not even a noun; it’s merely a case inflection.
Any name in the D-L triple-X can be inflected for Ishq-e-Majazi.
So, don’t say “God is great.” Say “God is glamour”—it’s what you mean.
The Almighty bottoms the bhakti. God is the ultimate top. And that’s why
The Tibetan Fuckmaster King says if a halt were put to all coupling,
The human race would end, not after a generation, but that very instant.
And if I am impenetrable in this and my other verses,
It is only because you can’t penetrate | a wall that is not there.
I am the poet Mardud; I had no childhood. Whoever wants
To get at my meaning will have to turn her back on her childhood.
Anthony Madrid lives in Chicago. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI Online, Boston Review, Fence, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, Poetry, and WEB CONJUNCTIONS. His first book, called THE 580 STROPHES, will be published by Canarium Books, spring 2012.
Regional Transportation District
On the bus I saw the scientists. They were re-enchanting
the commute. Atom after atom exploded for them;
every instant they looked at—a kiss, a tattoo—
bloomed, and I learned to hate my kaleidoscope
for making such cold work of beauty. Things change!
At the back of the bus, professor-poets schmoozed Western buddhists
and their backstage passes dazzled us all.
A child, I wanted the buddhists’ marigold minds
and t-shirts, but the scientists wore mild beards of wonderment
and every rider turned a blind eye
to the small-time pushers, the new money planting our medians,
the government building’s blacked-out windows,
and the small way my friend with the yellow braids
vanished. Every loss is a chrysalis, said the oldest poet
through his four-part beard, a living mandala on the 204.
Beard like a river, a tantrum, a tendrilled florescence,
and I pulled the bell-string, exercised my small power. In memoriam
I fixed a dead-grass soup, a weedy tea—scent of paste,
of making. Now the driver wears high-end headphones
and I see the signs for peace and anarchy
switchbladed into safety glass, the scientists
taking pills in precise measurements, pale tongues of gum
stabbed by poets’ pencil tips. The buddhists gone bald
and gossiping in the back, everyone reciting
an abracadabra: Prayer wheels. Power plants. Bluebells. Bus tokens.
Stephanie Ford is from Boulder, Colorado, and now lives in Los Angeles. Her poems have appeared most recently in Tin House, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere.
The Tiny Crown of Life
I lay in bed without makeup.
I lay my cheek on bible leather.
TV shows are waking life.
Commercials are dreams.
I steal Mom’s necklace.
We trip on down the road.
Hands on Dad.
I suffer the tiny crown of life.
I suffer my ponytail.
A locket keeps a small gas star.
Light moves all over my Jordans.
By the sea we all hug.
By the sea a hand sifts through mine.
Jellyfish boil in the spume.
My hair whips out.
We saw away my ponytail.
How our temple brightens these young hills. We of Saxon strain. We of the Lord. We learn of heathens only when gunfire clatters the house. Out our window homes are burning in the snow. Our neighbor runs into the woods grabbing his organs in. The snow is loud with fire. They are so many strong even our dogs do not rise up. Still I wait on the Lord’s will in the kitchen with my child and my knife. Still the heathens shoot through the glass through my arm. I get dark with hate and pain. They come to us. They walk us gory through the rocks and ice. They walk most of us dead. They leave us in drifts where we drop. Still the angels feel thick around us in the half-light. My child fouls herself astride the pinto. She growls at me. The smell of us. Still I trust the Lord might set His hand to heal my wound. What they call their village but a strew of twigs. What they call their homes but errata. The swollen hole in me that leaches white. They guard us in a muddy hut. Still our nights and days full of the peace of the Lord. Overnight my child expires in the filth without a noise. Still the Lord says not to weep but keep an eye to His relief. Still the Lord says justice is mine. The pale horse. They wrap my bluing arm in oaken leaves. They grouse around their fire. They smoke a weed. I watch the hills for English steeds. I want their heads to break. I want the snow to dark. I want the Lord.
Joe Aguilar lives in Missouri. His work is in Puerto del Sol, LIT, Caketrain and elsewhere.
in acid orange/
& weak yellow
I felt punched
& sensed a new hollow
where a verse wormed:
He will spit you out
& the candy-bunny hollow
with He will spit you out
held hollows upon
hollows, cellless organs
& blank synapse billows
of He is not coming here
I am spit out after gorges of
gorges of minutes having
soft-snapped my tooth off
& held it all service
all heartless singing
all heartless repeating
held it under my tongue
finally spit from His mouth
the glassy hollow charm
& now feeling handless
& calm in gymnasium-Church
that one time only.
Molly Brodak is the author of A Little Middle of the Night (U of Iowa Press, 2010) and is the 2011-2013 Poetry Fellow at Emory University.