On Friday I had some medical tests. I’ve been having some shortness of breath problems. I went to the doctor months after I should have, but I doubt it matters. I now suspect it is more of that acid reflux problem! Probably getting into my lungs. But my doctor thought he heard a new heart murmur so I had to take some tests. I’m sure it’s because my mother had a TAVR last summer. She was so lucky to do so well because she had more wrong with her heart than people usually do who get TAVR procedures. This is less invasive than open-heart surgery as they “go up through the groin.” My mother is now the darling of Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids and is featured on billboards throughout the city. She’s so darn cute. Tell me if she’s not adorable.
I’m not worried about my tests because I have seen how bad this acid reflux situation is. I have a splint thingie that I am supposed to wear at night for my TMJ problem, but the acid has eaten through the acrylic!!!
I kid you not.
I go to Mayo Clinic in Arizona because, why not? One-stop shopping for medical. They take my insurance for which I worked my TUSH off by teaching for a pittance for all those years. (If you think I am exaggerating, you would be wrong. Lecturers or adjuncts or freeway flyers, which is what I was, do over half the teaching work in most universities and get paid a tiny share of what professors make. People who clean houses–and do not need high school diplomas–get paid more per hour than I did with my P. H. and D. No kidding again. But I will say I did it with love).
What I noticed at Mayo this time was a preponderance of beautiful art. I hope that somebody loans or donates it to them because I would hate to think that my insurance and my deductible and all is paying for that art. Beautiful Chinese jade pieces, well-made Native American pottery, you name it. They are in glass cases, so I couldn’t really photograph them because of the reflections.
But I will admit that I feel better getting poked and prodded in an artistic and serene environment. Art calms my soul. Kind of like cats do.
A quintessential Phoenix Soleri bell
Another quintessential Phoenician art form
Flowers floating on the wall
The best part of the day, though, were the therapy dogs. I saw three! And they were all beautiful dogs. One a big blondie, another a golden of sorts, and the third? Here he/she is!
What is that noise I’m hearing? Is Kana in a kitchen cupboard again? [Leaves to go check.] OK, I let her out.
Here is my writing update. If I don’t write one day, I try to make up for it the next. This weekend I worked on a piece for a book that someone else is writing. The book is about the beautiful old lakeside park and dance pavilion that my great-great-grandmother’s niece owned and that my father bought from her on a land contract . . . for a time. Since those years of my childhood stimulated my imagination, it’s a story I’ve been writing and rewriting as poetry and prose for years.
I had a nonfiction story taken by a magazine I was hoping would take it (woot!).
The ole memoir is completely restructured now. (Aren’t you sick of hearing about that dang thing?) And I organized my send-out pieces. Three months ago I thought I had nothing left, but I’ve rewritten poems and prose pieces and feel I have some offerings to the world.
I hope you enjoyed Carol Bachofner’s pieces. Years ago, Carol was my student, not for creative writing, but for literature. She was a fabulous student, the kind of student all teachers wish for: passionate and smart and logical and creative. And hard-working.
Are you wondering how Perry is doing? hahaha He’s driving everyone crazy, but he’s so darn sweet. Kana and Felix figured out if they lie on the cat trees by the glass doors, I can put the drapes around them, and Perry can’t get to them. He knows they are there, but it makes it too difficult for him to climb on them.
That is Felix on our left, looking out. You can see his little face in the door. Kana is the black shape on the right side. From the inside of the house, Perry and I can only see the drapes.
If we don’t do this with the drapes, this is what happens. Perry climbs right up with Felix and within a few seconds he starts to annoy!
Perry got to stay up after 10PM for several nights last week because he is so good! The only trouble is that he has to have his bedroom door shut at night because no matter how I wrap the sheet over the gate, he can figure out how to get out. The little smartypants.
This is the second part of the two part post by Maine poet Carol Bachofner about her new books. In this section, she writes about Test Pattern, a fantod of prose poems, a book I was thrilled to provide a blurb for.
by Guest Blogger Carol Bachofner
Although The Boyfriend Project manuscript was the work of over three years, this was not the case with Test Pattern, a fantod of prose poems, which will be released in May of 2018. Test Pattern is a book that had a bizarre kind of urgency that saw completion in less than a year. 21 of the poems were written in a single summer, mostly in a single week. The poems began on Monhegan Island, Maine at a writing retreat. Writing getaway is perhaps a more accurate descriptor. Four women poets in a rented house with only one mission: write. The group had been going to Monhegan for several years, spending time relaxing and writing. Each time, I would devise some kind of daily challenge for writing, a “do it or don’t” kind of challenge. Each morning there would be envelopes on the buffet and we chose, then set off to write. This particular time, I chose fantod cards, derived by the late Edward Gorey, a kind of tarot deck of strangeness. I have loved Gorey’s drawings for many years. I find them to be comforting while strange. Not a tarot aficionado, I was attracted solely by the drawings rather than the usual use for tarot decks.
Each fantod card has a drawing of Gorey’s and a title. A small booklet is included in the deck with phrases related (or sometimes seemingly not at all) to the cards. Certainly the phrases were fanotd-ish [my made up word here]. It is useful to define fantod at this point, so the reader will not spend time head-scratching. The Oxford Dictionary defines fantod as a state or attack of uneasiness or unreasonableness.
Our challenge was to write to the drawing and to use any or all of the phrases in the booklet. I challenged us all to just let go, to not overthink, to be free to wander wherever the prompt materials wanted to lead. Each day I and the other women built our poems in a fantasy, dystopian world where a mouse might be dancing on a tabletop or a walking stick had a life of its own. The challenge was not to describe, but to suggest, to connect however loosely to our own lives or to make lives that seem to exist off to the side of our own lives. For some reason of the unseen universe, this sparked a huge response in all of us and we just could not stop writing “fantods.”
Seven days ought to have produced seven poems for each of us. For me, there were 21. NOTE: at the initial writing, these were drafts…very rough ones at that. Rougher than usual. I might note that I made a decision to use the prose poem form to make the fantod poems. Another challenge for me. Some of the others used this form too as we had been working on that in our poetry group. The big challenge for me was to be loose, to free-associate, to let the poem drive my writing more. I got into what I can only describe as somewhat of an altered state as I responded to the cards and messages.
In the prologue to the manuscript, I explain in perhaps a fantod-ish way and I set the reader on his/her path through the manuscript.
The poems in this book are the inadequate drainage of the author’s mysterious intellect. They pay homage to Edward Gorey and his twitching curiosities, his sense of fantod. The author in no way attempts to create an incident in a tunnel, an apology in a train station, a transgression in blood ink. Let the poems live on their own misconduct.
There are many prose poem variations, from the lopsided list poem to the prose sonnet, to a Q & A poem, to song lyric inclusions. There is no particular order; the author is sick of order. If there is rhyme, it is entirely the fault of the Princess of Rhyme, who sits atop her mattresses in monkey slippers, eating peas from under the 5th mattress down, waving a wand stolen from a fairy-tale villain.
If you find yourself enjoying these poems, please make a donation to the Home For Insane Poets. OK, you might need to build a Home for Insane Poets, then donate to it.
So ingest, digest, and regress through the maze of pr-oetics. Double-dog dare you.
What unease or unreasonablenesss do you see? What phrases jump? This is the setup for the rest.
I determined that although the fantods would be prose poems, I could (in my newfound freedom) interpret that loosely. The reader will notice this right away. I am convinced that form, while not an old thing from the attic, can be something refinished or restored by alteration. I had let myself out of my room. I was more than ready to play. I was not living behind the yellow wallpaper, but I might be just a little insane. Just a little.
In writing the poems for the book, I committed myself to the altered state that is fantod. I wanted to be another version of myself, to at least temporarily reinvent not only my writing, but also myself. I have done the same in my watercolor painting, but that is another story. Or is it? Certainly, in both areas, my lines have blurred. Perhaps the blurry state is well-demonstrated in my Q & A poem, What’s going on here? — a Q & A Prose Poem. The poem came later, after the island retreat. Scribbling away in a notebook, trying to regain the looseness of fantod, I came up with a series of random questions, put them away for a few hours, then came up with the same number of random answers. I put these away for a few hours. Then came the looseness of answering the questions, pairing up Q with A, loosely and without a plan. Notice the fantod coming in so clearly as the answers get jiggy with the questions. Even now, as I read them again, I am struck by what happens when the poem is speaking to itself.
What’s Going on Here? — Q & A Prose Poem
Q. What do you hide when someone comes into the room?
A. A rainbow of fish
Q. What loses itself in your hair?
A. lichen, mistletoe, spider webs
Q. What is your disease?
A. A humongous rainstorm
Q. How have you been swindled?
A. It was not with a bow and arrow.
Q. What have you executed?
A. ladybugs, guts smashed between the pages of my journal
Q. What panics you?
A. Papier mâché slug floats.
Q. Anything that claims your blood?
A. Looking under every island for seahorse caves
Q. What is unknowable about you?
A. Everyone’s obsessed with suspicion.
Q. What is written on your mask?
A. This poem looks like a coffin.
Q. What’s underneath your mask?
Q. What do you believe about bad luck?
A. It’s a rock cairn at the entrance to an unholy tunnel.
Q. What lurks under your bed?
A. Condoms made of mermaid scales
Q. How was your first encounter with a kiss?
Q. How would you describe yourself to an ancestor?
A. My father’s ashes in an hourglass
One of the things about prose poems, and about fantod poems, is that the poem does take its own place. Unfettered somewhat by what the poet wants, the poem demands its own authority. Rhyme becomes subservient to the poem, not driven by it. I always strive to tame rhyme in my writing, to get it inside the lines rather than to end-stop it. Writing prose poems makes that happen on its own. Fantods are so loose, relying on the bizarre or the uneasy. Therefore the tendency to rhyme disappears in favor of the phrase. It’s time to take a look at the prose sonnet, since so many of the poems in Test Pattern are in that format.
Sonnets are not new to me, having been educated in the formal ways of poetry. I struggled with them however, not quite getting the beats right or wanting to eschew the end rhyme schemas that are part and parcel of the form. Finding the prose sonnet has been wonderful for me because I have been able to adapt the traditional form to fit the needs of my poems, breaking out of usual schemas to let the poems do their own thing, so to speak. To put it another way, my traditional sonnets have never won a contest or been published. My prose sonnets have enjoyed a somewhat improved status.
When one makes a traditional sonnet, there are choices of Shakespearean or Italian or Miltonian. Writing a prose sonnet, there are all choices and no choices. For me, I choose (generally) to keep to three aspects of Shakespearean sonnet:
1. 14 bits of writing — I call them chunks as they are most certainly not individual lines as the traditional demands there to be.
2. A change or turn (volta) at or about chunk 9, and
3. Often, though not always, a rhymed final 2 chunks. In other words, chunk 13 and chunk 14 would have an end rhyme word.
Sometimes I number the chunks. Sometimes I do not. The numbers may be read aloud or left to be silent. The poems may be in neat blocks that LOOK like sonnets, or they may not.
Here are two sonnets. Which seems better for reading the numbers aloud?
Stage 4 Case of the Heebie-Jeebies
1. The diagnosis is certain. The women at the Black Duck Emporium knew before anyone else. It’s a fantod, Mary Ann confides. 2. Well, I told Donna just last week something was up. 3. Not wanting to intrude, I drink my latte, study the bird observations notebook: Indigo Bunting, Green Warbler, Brown Creeper. 4. I think of the girl I saw yesterday creeping along by the church in the rain. 5. The Black Duck quackery saw her too. Green sickness, Ginger said. Didn’t Mr Spock have that? Or was it Dr. Spock? 5. The diagnosis: contagious. 6. Wasn’t she in here a few days ago? Did she touch anything? They speculate that you have to kiss someone to get it. 7. But, a fantod. You don’t see that every other week. 8. Spasms. Nightmares. Nudity in church. Bats and bell ropes at all hours. 9. There are spells for casting aside a fantod. I keep this news to myself. 10. I am pretty good at enchantments and spells. I’ve officiated at Viking funerals. I’ve been up a tree to cure birds of panic attacks. 11. Donna’s hair is a spell, scarlet tanager feathers. No Fantod for her. 12. Still the island’s in a dither with worry. 13. Someone spits and says Jinx. 14. Stage 4 case of the heebie-jeebies on the way I think.
Nothing, prose sonnet of repetition
1. I’m nothing compared to a key unstuck from a lock. 2. Compared to a lost shoe flung on the telephone wire. 3. Compared to a sea bird lost in the offing. 4. I’m nothing compared to girls with exotic names, like Chloe or Proserpina. 5. Nothing whatsoever compared to wind in the olive trees, lichen on spruce, inner bark of an ancient birch. 6. I’m nothing compared to secrets released into the wild. 7. Compared to piecemeal light from the sea coming through fog. 8. I’m nothing at all compared to an opera sung by nightingales, 9. as if a flamenco danced on the tables of Andalusia. 10. I’m nothing compared to the sky changing its clothes by the hour, the minute. 11. Nothing, I say, compared to grains of sand or to 12. wavelets on the beach 13. Nothing compared to the place I first encountered my real life humming. 14. I am nothing compared to where I am going.
What can be learned from the prose sonnet? Do these two sonnets contain the freedom
of fantod? How unsettled do they seem? As I read them now, I am inclined to weave elements from both into a third, entirely new poem. Let’s freewheel a minute and see what that might look like:
1. I am nothing compared to a key unstuck from a lock. 2. Well, I told Donna just last week something was up. 3. I am nothing compared to girls with exotic names, like Chloe or Proserpina. 4. I think of the girl I saw yesterday creeping along by the church in the rain. 5. Nothing whatsoever compared to wind in the olive trees, lichen on spruce, inner bark of an ancient birch. 6. I’m nothing compared to secrets released into the wild. 6. Wasn’t she in here a few days ago? Did she touch anything? 7. Compared to piecemeal light from the sea coming through fog. Spasms. Nightmares. Nudity in church. Bats and bell ropes at all hours. 8. I’m nothing at all compared to an opera sung by nightingales, 9. There are spells for casting aside a fantod. I keep this news to myself. 10. I’m nothing compared to the sky changing its clothes by the hour, the minute. 11. Donna’s hair is a spell, scarlet tanager feathers. 11. Nothing, I say, compared to grains of sand or to 12. wavelets on the beach. 13. Someone spits and says Jinx. 14. Stage 4 case of the heebie-jeebies on the way I think.
Interesting. Might just play some more with other pairs of prose sonnets.
As I wrote the poems for this book, I fell back on a technique I’ve enjoyed since beginning to take my writing seriously: intertextuality. This is the referring to another work in the new work. In the poem below, which is clearly a fantod, clearly prose poem, I chose to use a phrase from an easily-recognized work. I open with the phrase. If the reader is familiar with Bartleby the Scrivener, by Melville, he or she may find a bit of eerie connection to that piece in my poem. (Here is where you go read Bartleby by the way). It is helpful to keep a file of phrases you admire or find interesting for just such occasions as this, ready to jump start a poem, or to include in one when appropriate. Remember that if you use more than five words of someone else’s, you must attribute to that writer.
Look at the poem below and see how there are elements of unease, which certainly was true for Melville’s story. Look at the word play which makes the reader’s head spin a little, like the planets.
It’s in the cards
I would prefer not to consider geography, all those latitudes not fixed, as stars & planets are not fixed, rolling, shifting, doubling back with the seasons, chased by the moon or wetted by the tears of gods who claim to have made them. I was not there when the bowl was turned upside down, when the pick-up sticks toppled to the ground, forcing map makers to map. I would prefer not to risk liquidity to trudge along the lines in the seas, risk being crushed by lines that might snap if a new city falls out of the sky. I was not there when the cards were shuffled ,the hand was dealt. I was there at the prime meridian, the United Kingdom running in a line between my feet, waiting for the clock to do something sweeping that means time, [like latitude but with strings attached]. Clock-makers clock every move. Spring forward we’re told, or fall back. Fall upon time that gives and takes some star that fell yesterday or will fall tomorrow. I would prefer to tell time and latitude by the whirl of planets, the suck of the tide. 52 pick-up.
I end this exploration/conversation with a poem that makes use, not of another’s phrases, but of foreign language phrases. This can be disquieting or thrilling, both of which are hallmarks of fantods. This is also a prose sonnet. Look at its shape. It is not the little block of lines that is typical of a sonnet. It does have numbered chunks. It is a fantod in that it uses history and yet draws that history with presages of the modern era. There is a little justice here too. History seems to beg for alteration, for a parallel time. Fantod!
1. Madame Defarge stops knitting. 2. She looks across the circle formed last week to watch heads lop and roll, sees an exact other her, knitting and grinning, her name growing in blood red wool. Ah, mais oui! she thinks, certainment! 3. It was bound to happen. 4. History forged in betrayal. 5. Her favorite color these days is red. She looked beautiful in red once, when she was young, before she met Msr. Defarge. He always said she was a looker. 6. He was a financial broker. Wore silk suits and a cravat, crême de la crême of society. Accusations of usury earned him the blade. 7. Good to be on the side of winners her mother always said. 8. They were coming for her now:
Sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse, l’on y danse Sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse tous en rond.
9. Sometime after July 14th: Long live the Republic! 10. Death to infidels and whistleblowers! 11. Get rid of the evidence. 12. Danse de la liberté had begun. 13. Everything rearranged. 14. Tout le monde ce sont strange.
Thank you, dear Reader, for traveling the journey of these two books with me. I hope you will set upon a course toward your own remarkable changes. I hope you will read there rest of my poems and find satisfaction and even inspiration there. Thank you Luanne for inviting me to chat with your readers and share my journey from love to fantod. I ask, how different are they anyway?
Carol Willette Bachofner, poet, watercolorist, and photographer, has published five books of poetry, most recently The Boyfriend Project (2017) and Native Moons, Native Days (2012). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including, Dawnland Voices, an Anthology of Writings from Indigenous New England (University of Nebraska Press, 2014). She won the Maine Postmark Contest 2017 for her poem, Passagassawaukeag, which is published in The Maine Review. Her photo, Rigged, received Honorable Mention in the Spirit of Place contest by Maine Media workshop and is printed in the contest anthology. She served as Poet Laureate of Rockland Maine from 2012-2016. Visit her web site at www.carolbachofner.com to purchase her books.
I’ve asked Maine poet Carol Bachofner to guest blog on here in the past. Since this is a big year for her, I’ve asked her to write again for this blog. My prediction: you are going to want to order The Boyfriend Project right away.
by Guest Blogger Carol Bachofner
2017 proved to be a year of productivity for me as a poet, with two manuscripts finished and both scheduled for publication. It was a hard year. The process for writing the two books was very different in terms of style, approach, and form. The work of moving back and forth between the two projects was a challenge to say the least, not only in the writing but also in the editing, revising process.
The finished products are very different too. One is somewhat typical, poems largely in free verse with shapes and setups that look like what we think of when we imagine poetry, other than the occasional prose poem. The other, Test Pattern, a fantod of prose poems is a breakout in terms of style. The poems do not look act much like typical poetry, more like little bits of fanciful, dystopic prose.
For now, I begin with book #1, The Boyfriend Project (Such a Girl Press, 2017).
The Boyfriend Project
In 2007, having moved back to my home state, I heard from high school classmates that a boy I dated in high school was dying of lung cancer. He wanted to see me. I spoke with his wife and she urged me to visit. The visit was wonderful and poignant. We admitted that what we experienced as love when we were teens had prepared us for the love we’d both found as adults. We laughed and joked and shared our memories of kisses, his unauthorized visits to my babysitting job, and how we saw each other then. We shared a kiss on his porch, a goodbye kiss. As I drove away, I could see him in the rear view mirror and knew at that moment this would be the last time. He died two weeks later.
I began thinking of the other “boyfriends” I had known (including crushes) and wondered what had become of them. This was punctuated by reading an article online about a war memorial in the town where my high school sweetheart had lived. His name was on the memorial. I was filled with dread that he might be deceased. I wanted to know. I did an internet search and found a business listed under his name. I called and left a message: “hey there, this is me, if this is you, please call.” He called within the hour. He was alive and well in a nearby state, married with two nearly-grown daughters. I called. It was such a relief to hear his voice again, a voice which sounded exactly like it did the last time I spoke with him. We decided to meet for lunch. We enjoyed five hours of wonderful conversation, glad to be connected as friends after 45 years of each wondering about the other. He apologized to me for breaking up with me on the telephone on Valentine’s Day. I teased him by “breaking up” with him in a phone conversation the year following.
Break, Break, Break
Valentine’s Day 1965,
a break in his voice, a zip
of energy I feel through the phone:
I love you. I miss you.
We should date other people.
45 years now, married to those other people,
we break up over and over, just for fun.
My meetings with these two former boyfriends gave birth to the book, a look at girlfriends and their boyfriends. I saw the project as a possible chapbook with funny or tender poems about boys I’d known and “loved.” What I did not expect was that the project would end up a full-length manuscript or that it would morph into looking at boyfriend stories of other women who were eager to tell me what those boys meant to them, and that I would end up looking at a timeline of relationships that spanned the innocent crush to the crushing and sometimes cruel. The book project raised its hand and demanded I take it more seriously.
When I began discussing the project with others, hearing stories about them and their boyfriends, I realized that my singular perspective was a little narrow and artificial. After all, it’s not about me. It’s about this universal thing called love, whatever that means. I wanted more. I wanted to give my readers more. Shortly thereafter I also began to realize that sweet glittery hearts and cupids was not all that needed to be covered here. Everyone who talked to me about their boyfriends had one who was cruel or unkind, even dangerous. What about those? Again, the project raised its hand and demanded to be a part of this. The project had a new idea of itself and I had to accept that.
Always in love is how I would describe my life. I love the idea of love, the rush of new love, the comfort of long-lived love. My father called me boy-crazy on more than one occasion. So the poems I set out to write was partially focused on resurrecting the many boys who’d come into my life, however briefly or in a more substation time frame. I had to start with my ride on the Kindergarten Bus. At age five, I was in love with two little boys whose names I cannot recall. What I do recall is the ride home from school. I wind the clock backward and write in the present tense. This is a technique I recommend to make a poem that happened in the long-ago seem more like something in the now. Of course the poem had to anchor the manuscript. I share it here in its entirety since it is a short one:
Kindergarten Bus c. 1952
little men without a clue
want to hold hands with me —
I let them.
One tries to kiss me.
Two, who by high school
would not have shared me,
hold my hand in turn.
Their faces shine
with something like love.
Last off the kindergarten bus,
I am a kiss stolen by the boy
whose house is 3 blocks away,
who walks by my house on Saturdays,
wishes school was 6 days.
This poem is soft and funny and sweet. Sweetness deserved the entre to the book. I knew pretty quickly that the arc of the poems would move from this childlike sweetness to the teen years, fraught with frustration and fumbling attempts at love and relationship. Isn’t that the way the teen years work anyway? The teen stories I was able to access showcase a range of experiences, not the least of which uncover a look at forbidden love and a bit of risk. The following poem, a story shared by a woman friend, illustrates this.
Church Boy, Town Girl
At the edge of town,
behind the Baptist Church,
behind the church bus, they smoke, inhale
unfiltered Camels. Church boy
wearing Jesus Saves tee, town girl
in a yellow sun dress. He presses her hard
for a kiss; she blows smoke circles
with her eyes closed. She knows what’s next,
like her mama told. Watch out for them
churchy boys, they’s the devil. They take
what they wants and lets you go.
Still as a broken clock, she waits.
Inside the church, singing:
and the walls came a-tumbling down.
One of the problems with writing about love, and writing about the less beautiful side of love, is doing it without getting too personally involved (as the writer). Huh? you are probably saying, isn’t “love” a most personal thing after all? How does one write about love from the outside, looking in and still get across the feeling of love in all its facets?
The answer, for me, has always been to write somewhat obliquely. In other words, don’t think everything needs to be told. Find those details which will tell it. Let the truth of the situation emerge on its own, which will happen with some diligence on the part of the writer.
Look at what this poem does and what it does not. We can see the girl and boy from the elements of setting: where are they? at the edge and behind the Baptist Church.
What are they wearing? He is wearing a Jesus saves tee; she is wearing yellow sun dress. Who is this girl? A Town Girl. She is no church girl. This suggests also that she is out of her normal setting. He, by virtue of what he is wearing is in his normal setting, but maybe not by his own choice. As reader, you get to decide by way of the details. You have become the omniscient observer.
It is easy to discover the set up and the problem from these small aspects of setting. All writers should consider setting when writing and revising, poets included. Setting details place the action of the poem in a space that matters to that action.
Look now at what is happening, the action of the poem. The boy and girl are engaged in doing some things likely forbidden by the church, smoking and making out. The setting (behind the church) suggests this. They are unfiltered as the cigarettes they smoke,; they are not concerned about what’s right or wrong. She has her eyes closed. He is pressing her. Running through her head, is her mother’s warning about boys, especially them churchy boys. The use of this internal warning provides another layer of the girl’s dilemma. In the final line, we know the outcome from the song they (and we) hear… and the walls came a-tumbling down. Readers know what is probably next.
This is oblique writing. Oblique writing is not at all vague. It is about telling what needs to be told in such a way as to let the reader experience what the people of the poem are doing or feeling. Oblique writing is an embodiment. You are the girl. You’re not simply told about the girl. This attention to detail let’s you be part of the girl’s story without intruding. I am grateful to “Donna” for sharing her story. I hope my poem honors her.
As the manuscript began to take shape, I realized that it would be good to include a few poems about the sadness and rejection that sometimes accompany love. We’ve all been there through bitter breakups, divorces, even illness. What does love ended or altered look like for the dumped, the thumped, the sorrowful who are out of love? Again, women stepped up and shared. I already had my own stories to render into poems. There was no end to the dearth of material. I decided to fill the middle of the manuscript with the sadder side of love. There were so many stories, I wondered if I’d ever be finished telling them.
One thing I learned from talking to women is that love is elastic. We can come back after a fall. More importantly, we are the sum of our loves. It doesn’t subtract from us. We are also part of the equation for one another in coping. We are part of a community of lovers. When one of us is suffering, the rest of us can make a difference.
Thanks to Jean and her story, I was able to show that. In my poem, After Your Divorce, I explore how empathy might work, how there is a support we might offer in time of lost love (for whatever reason; this is about loss via divorce).
There is a you, a she, and an I in the poem, never named. These do not need to be named because the poem is about all of us, and about how we sometimes miss the opportunity for being the help that is needed. In a sense, the poem is an apology. It is also an acknowledgement that love problems know no gender. The you might be a man, might be a woman. We don’t know and we don’t need to know. What we do know is that the I has missed an opportunity for empathy.
After Your Divorce
I asked you to read my poems
I wrote table and forced you out
into the woods to choose a tree,
maple, oak, or maybe an exotic teak.
You had to decide the shape too,
round or rectangular or oval. I wrote
a cobalt bowl filled with orange day lilies
and a white coffee mug, rim smudged
with Dior’s Infra Rose. I might have
written an apple on an ivory table runner
from Brazil, but I wrote a half-eaten
nectarine set on a white paper towel the way
she did to keep from messing up a plate
for just one item. I knew about your divorce
and yet I wrote table, leaving so much
for you to do. I should have written door.
The poem relies upon the details to show the situation of the you as well as the response and final empathetic gesture of the narrator. Notice again the setting and the details within. These amplify the situation as well as show the lost relationship. We see how the lost person was in the relationship. We see her details in the specific lipstick she wore, how she used a paper towel for her snack. We can see her. We can feel her. Not only that, but the you has become a sympathetic person to us.
The speaker of the poem, the I, has gained empathy by poem’s end. We feel satisfied with the character. The sadness is not gone, but we are heartened that empathy has come.
What of the fact that some people would do anything for love? Some maybe want to avoid bad love by extraordinary means. I included a quirky prose poem in the book that tells how that might go. Even in light of the somewhat odd connections made between the speaker of the poem and the fortuneteller, it is details and setting which hold up the ideas of the poem. The speaker desperately wants to know about, be warned about bad lovers. The epigraph by Maggie Smith describes lovers as confetti. The speaker knows already that confetti is unpredictable. Still, she is crazy to find out what can be predicted. If only she could pay what is asked. I hope the poem leaves readers asking what would I do for love or to avoid a bad lover?
Bad Lover Juju
Everyone you loved was scattered confetti
— Maggie Smith
Some of it (them) green, some yellow, some a garish orange. One was your favorite purple, the kind with blue-red in it. No matter. They weren’t your type of lover. Not that they cared. Not that you knew that back then. Disposable was what they thought when the lights were out and you had gone home. All eventually floated away on the backs of birds of prey, leaving you bitten. Shiny feathers fell on your head, on your shoulders as they went. You visit the woman whose talent is seeing lover juju. You want a new lover, someone not confetti. She asks for beads of glass, blackberry ice cream as payment. You’ve brought vanilla ice cream — all you have. Bad juju she says, licking the bowl and stringing a noose from the beads. You want to hear the name of a lover who could save you. More beads, more ice cream. The woman falls asleep with her hands on the noose she’d made. She begins to look like your mother, your grandmother. Bad juju you think, backing slowly from her chair. Bad juju she dreams, saying aloud the names of every bad lover. You dial the ice cream parlor down the street. They’re completely sold out of blackberry. They tell you there’s been a run on that lately. Bad juju.
Still, even in light of the somewhat odd connections made between the speaker of the poem and the fortuneteller, it is all about details and setting holding up the ideas of the poem. The speaker desperately wants to know about, be warned about bad lovers. The epigraph by Maggie Smith describes lovers as confetti. The speaker knows already that confetti is unpredictable. Still, she is crazy to find out what can be predicted. If only she could pay what is asked.
I decided, after the rather tragic or lonely poems in the second part of the book, to end with my own stories of great love, my last love. I want to leave the reader with a sense that sometimes, if we are lucky enough, love can be mature and enduring. One of the poems comes from a time when I needed an unselfish love, needed a supportive love. From a time when love may well have been all there would be for me. This poem is from my grownup story of love.
I chose to write this poem in my own voice. I am the speaker and I am the receiver of the love. Poets are often told to avoid “confessional” poems as they leave out the reader. But facing probable death in a poem willingly breaks that open. As in the discussion previously, we all could use a little empathy. Who would not be drawn to the relationship in this poem, feel a sense of empathy toward both the speaker and her lover? Need and gift. It is because of great love that the need may be expressed and the gift given. Look at the details. See the love at work in those details.
I call to you, whimpering in the night
where we once cried out in lovemaking.
I call and you lift me up for my medicine
or a trip to the bathroom. I am not yours
as I once was yours; I have become your task.
Your burden, wrought in love and devoted
service to that love is the meal we have set
before us. We dine together, you sip wine
as I nudge soda crackers along my dusty palate.
We eat in bed and talk of other times, times lost.
I call you the little pet name I made up in jest
when you danced naked with a hat on your penis;
You laugh, call me “pretty lady” despite my gray
flat skin. Your hands run my slackened frame;
still I am beautiful to you. All angles and bony
points of interest, still I am your passion.
Your face shines, avoiding pain and distress
over my possible outcome. The doctors face me
with treatments which blush up in high fevers,
but you are cool. You collect my favorite things
near the bed to distract me from all suffering.
I call out to you in the night when I think “this is it”
and you roll to one side, spooning my weak body
with your strong one. I feel your current seep in
and get enough juice to make it to morning. I call
and you bring me whatever I need. I need everything.
The final poem is Polaris, a short poem to my husband. A poem that says so much about how love blends us one into the other. The poem encompasses that relationship which has evolved over many years, over many constellations of love have burned themselves into something eternal. I always end my public readings with this poem. It delights both of us when he is present. When I read the poem, I feel my palm pressed together with my husband’s. I can taste the starlight on my tongue.
— for Bill
On our January porch, hands
open to star shine, we are pierced
by Polaris. It’s a stigmata I feel
as my right palm presses
your right palm, fingers laced.
It’s a burning, a covenant. Later
in our bedroom, some shine
on your shoulder where I touch
as you drift into your own night
sky. We have been pierced
by star points, filled with light.
We sail on it, I your compass, true
North, and you my lantern
and flame, tower and beam.
Carol Willette Bachofner, poet, watercolorist, and photographer, has published five books of poetry, most recently The Boyfriend Project (2017) and Native Moons, Native Days (2012). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including, Dawnland Voices, an Anthology of Writings from Indigenous New England (University of Nebraska Press, 2014). She won the Maine Postmark Contest 2017 for her poem, Passagassawaukeag, which is published in The Maine Review. Her photo, Rigged, received Honorable Mention in the Spirit of Place contest by Maine Media workshop and is printed in the contest anthology. She served as Poet Laureate of Rockland Maine from 2012-2016. Visit her web site at www.carolbachofner.com
Watch for Carol’s second post about her new books. She will write about Test Pattern, a book I was thrilled to write a blurb for. To purchase The Boyfriend Project click through the book cover art to Carol’s website and you can order the book.
I was jazzed to attend AWP 2018, the largest literary conference in North America.
It was held at the Tampa Convention Center and the Marriott across the street.
The venue and swag were impressive.
I was lucky enough to be one of the Tupelo Press 30/30 readers. I wrote 3o poems in 30 days in September 2015 for Tupelo. That experience came after the publication of Doll God in January, my father’s death in May, and my cat Mac’s death in June–and started me on the path toward Kin Types. I can’t over-emphasize what a catalyst it was for me and for other poets.
I signed Kin Types copies at the Finishing Line Press table at the book fair. I got to hear Joy Harjo talk again. I always feel very connected with what she says. In fact, all the sessions I attended were excellent I left feeling inspired to write and try new techniques and ideas. But I was only able to stay for part of the conference which was just enough.
The experience gave me much, including a new friend after spending a fun time with my Stanford cohort Anita. It took one thing from me: my favorite hat! The fishing one from the second hand store in New Orleans.
Say goodbye to the best hat ever. I hope the person who finds it treasures it as I did.
I read a poem in the #57 issue of Rattle that I wish I had written. That I should have written ;). It’s so cool, and it’s renewed my interest in writing more posts about “the secret life of objects.”
Maybe I should try some in poetic form.
In the main, of course, the poem reminds me of myself, but it also reminds me of my father who spent the last 8-10 years of his life giving me “stuff” he wanted to pass on to someone who would appreciate them.
Taking a little break this week, so I’m closing comments, but if you like the poem, feel free to share it!
Who brought these pieces here? Somebody making the shift
to assisted living? Someone’s sixty-something kids after
Mom or Dad had finally “gone aloft,”
as my English granny would have said? The tchotchkes
cramming this antique shop I stroll through with my son:
ivory-handled button hooks, cameo pins,
tureens with porcelain peacock tails for handles. Before she died,
my husband’s mother begged him to take the claw-footed,
eight-foot-tall armoire he hated. At seventy,
my mother labeled every object in her house, color-coded
for each daughter. She wanted to know which one of us
would wear her ruby ring, jade necklace,
turquoise bracelet. Where will my granny’s silver trays,
salt cellars, tea pots, go? What about my mother’s copy—
tattered, water-stained—of Just So Stories,
“O Best Beloved?” The 1924 collection of poems my father
cradled when he read aloud at dinner—will those end up
on my son’s shelves? At Half Price
Books? A garage sale, eBay, landfill? A friend says we spend
the first three-quarters of our lives accumulating, the final
quarter, disposing. As a kid, I treasured
my doll-sized china tea sets, which, packed with crumpled tissue
in a taped box, fell off the back of our truck while leaving
one house for another. Like my photo albums
of the ’60s the movers never found. No pictures left of my black
mascara eye-lashed, mini-skirted, leggy self, no images
of my tennis-playing lover. I’ve read about
the bower birds, who attract their mates with shiny
pebbles and trinkets rescued from trash bins. Did one
of my tiny tea cups end up in some
bird’s bower? Sometimes I crave bare walls, windows open
wide to sky, the oaks, mesquite, and sumac. But who
am I without my journals of the past
twenty years, my embroidered needle case, the filigree
Wendy Barker: “I can’t not write poetry. I’ve written essays, even scholarly work, but it’s poetry I always come back to. If I’m not working on a poem, I’m in trouble. Something about placing the words, the phrases, the lines, the images, the sounds on a page brings me alive. Alive in the moment. Writing poetry is also a way of examining conflicts or trouble in my own personal space and in the wider world. I’d like to think poems can make a difference. I guess I’m always in thrall to Rilke’s great line: ‘You must change your life.’ And I like to think of Auden’s lines in his poem ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’: ‘For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / would never want to tamper, flows on south / From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, / Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.’ I guess I keep on going because of all those mouths that came before me and that surround me, continually feeding me. And I long to provide a little something for those who are also hungry, so that we can feed each other.”
I can’t let you go without a cute pic. Here’s a new one of Theo and Gary, my son and ND’s dogs.