Where did the poems come from? What I mean is, how did I come to be a poet? The beginning goes back to infancy.
It all started in my little bedroom on Trimble Street. We moved there before my first birthday, and we didn’t move away until I was 8 1/2, mid-way through 3rd grade. Some of my earliest memories are in that bedroom–in fact, in my crib in that bedroom. I would have been younger than two.
I had a little blue music box that my mother would wind up and play before she put me down for a nap or bedtime. When it wound down, sometimes I would fall asleep. More often, though, I would call to her and beg her to rewind it. The music was haunting and dare I say addictive! Two years ago I wrote about the music box, which I still have, and asked if anyone could identify the song it plays. Nobody could at that time, but the other day a reader found the post and told me that the music is “La Paloma,” composed in 1863 by a Spanish Basque man named Sebastian Yradier. It might be the most well-known tune in Spanish-language countries, especially Mexico!
Here is “La Paloma” (the Dove) as played by a fancier antique music box.
And here it is played as a guitar solo:
Here is my little music box:
Hearing that music over and over again was the foundation for poetry. The next layer, added over the few years before I began school, was nursery rhymes, folk songs, and picture books that used poetic devices such as rhyme and repetition. These were all found in my room. The books were not expensive–merely Little Golden Books from the grocery store. The records were little 45s played on my plastic children’s record player. Probably the biggest influence after that music box tune was the lullaby lyrics in a picture book my mother read to me: “All The Pretty Little Horses.”
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have,
All the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays, dapples and greys,
Go to sleepy you little baby,
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby,
When you wake, you shall have,
All the pretty little horses.
There were layers after this that included a children’s poetry anthology my mother gave me, teachers who let us recite poems without analyzing them, and eventually I discovered Edna St. Vincent Millay reading her poetry on a record which I found as a teen at the public library. I was mesmerized by the poem “Renascence.” Here is a recording of the poem she wrote at age 19!!!! although, alas, not recorded by Millay. I sure wish I had that library record as Millay reading it herself was phenomenal.
I know that poet XJ Kennedy wrote the following:
The goose that laid the golden egg
Died looking up its crotch
To find out how its sphincter worked.
Would you lay well? Don’t watch.
Nevertheless, now that it’s come to me what the greatest influences were in making me a poet, I can’t “unknow” them.
I’ve put my memoir on the back burner again, but feel I am so much closer with it. Now I am writing a poetry chapbook that explores the “Red Riding Hood” stories.
Did you hear or read fairy tales when you were a child (besides Disney)? If so, which ones influenced you the most?
Almost exactly a year ago I pulled The Destroyer from the Wild Unknown tarot deck. Yesterday it was time to pull another card. My life has taken some shifts this year, and I wanted to see from what angle I should examine it all.
This time I pulled another really important card: The Mother.
I love the art on this card: nest, rope/snake, cupping hand, egg, pearl. WOW!
The Mother is represented in traditional tarot by The Empress card, but in this tarot deck, The Mother is more akin to the Mother archetype. Perhaps even The Earth Mother archetype.
Positive aspects: Feminine energy and power. Benign. One’s inner mother. Of the earth. Abundance. Creation. Sustenance.
But one’s inner mother develops when a child is developing. Is your inner mother nurturing and supportive or critical and judgmental?
Why did I draw this card at this time in my life? That is what I will be exploring over the holidays. I do know that seeing this card gives me peace.
If you live in the U.S., may you have a peaceful Thanksgiving! Otherwise, make it a special (peaceful) week anyway.
Today’s post is on Tuesday instead of Monday because I am participating in a pre-publication book tour of poet Arisa White’s Who’s Your Daddy through Poetic Book Tours.
Here is a synopsis of the book
Who’s Your Daddy is a lyrical genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a young, queer, black Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.
After my review, I will share advance praise for the book, as well as information about the author, Arisa White. Then there is a list of blog tour links, including interviews and guest posts so you can learn more about Arisa White.
This hybrid is specifically memoir, but Who’s Your Daddy? shapes itself as a prose (and lyric) poem collection. I don’t know why we don’t have more books available to us that are a long narrative told in poetry. They are rare and yet so compelling, perhaps because poem series elicit more complex mixtures of emotions from readers than linear traditional memoirs do.
What attracted me to the book before I read it was the feeling of connection (my memoir-in-progress has to do with my father’s estranged relationship with his father) and the ping of curiosity about White’s life as a “young, queer, black Guyanese[-] American woman” since I fit only one of those descriptives.
From the first page I was captivated by the story. In the first section, the writing is succinct with a smattering of specifics that bring White’s childhood to life. She imagines or fills in what she can’t remember—the ride to the hospital for her birth, what life was like in the first few years. She grows up without her father, Gerald, a married man. She does experience love from her mother and her uncles, but life is still difficult. The book skips ahead to White at the time of her post-graduate studies. She has difficulties with relationships, but manages to forge one with Mondayway. White feels there is something missing. Halfway through the book, she realizes she has been running from something.
Deep breaths open my
tight chest, and I feel how running has taken more than
given. I rub my heart with the heel of my palm, and my
heart stays voicing,
Find your father
Find what’s missing there
Find what is enough
Find yourself whole
Forgive and be forgiven
In the second half of the story, White tries to get to know her father. He has been deported back to Guyana from the U.S. for participation in a crime. White and Mondayway visit Guyana to spend time with Gerald, but also to get to know White’s roots. Her movement toward acceptance and growth is a bit back and forth which feels realistic and painful. Again, powerful words that mark another epiphany are set apart from the prose poem form:
I got her back,
who I abandoned
in his going.
she is enough.
Arisa is enough. She doesn’t need her fantasy of a father to fulfill her identity.
There is so much I could write about this book, but I just want to give you an idea of why you would want to read it. The prose poems are short. The organization is helpful, as are the brief Guyanese proverbs and quotes from thinkers. I found references to even an old standby like the Bible and Shakespeare or Eliot (the pearls that are his eyes from The Tempest or The Waste Land—I wasn’t sure which one she was referencing, maybe both). But much of the book is punctuated with more contemporary thinking, such as the context of toxic masculinity. Gerald is a tragic example of that phenomenon. In fact, near the end of the book I realized that I can’t stand Gerald. I was willing to try to get to know him “while” Arisa did, but when he continued to do harm to her through his selfishness and misogyny, I could no longer try to tolerate him.
The book can be read in two sittings, but you will want to mark passages and go back to them. You will be thinking about Arisa White’s story for days afterward.
Those of you who know I have been working on my memoir for 1,000 years might be interested to hear that I found White’s format super inspiring. I’m trying out writing my memoir in prose poems instead of traditional prose. In some ways, I feel that I am going back to the beginning of my project a bit, when I was writing in “scraps,” but it’s a world away from what I’ve done before, too.
“…absence breeds madness, an irreconcilable relationship you know is there but can’t call it by its name…” In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face. Every little colored girl who has craved the constant of her father’s gaze will recognize this quest, which the poet undertakes with lyric that is tender and unerring. -Patricia Smith, Incendiary ArtArisa White channels the ear of Zora Neal Hurston, the tongue of Toni Cade Bambara, and the eye of Alice Walker in the wondrous Who’s Your Daddy. She channels Guyanese proverbs, Shango dreams, games of hide and seek, and memories of an absentee father to shape the spiritual condition. What she makes is “a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there’s a demand to love.” What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs. -Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future AssassinsSomewhere nearing its end, Arisa White says of Who’s Your Daddy, it’s “a portrait of absence and presence, a story, a tale, told in patchwork fashion…” This exactly says what Who’s Your Daddy is, though it doesn’t say all it takes to do justice to the mythic paradox an absent parent guarantees a child, young or grown, or what it takes to live with and undergo such birthright. There’s not only a father’s absence and presence, there’s a mother who says you raise your daughters, and love your sons, there are stepfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, a grandmother, brothers, lovers, all of whom leave their marks and give and take love. Surrounding the whole book hovers the questions do I forgive him, and is forgiveness possible? This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book shook me to the core. -Dara Wier, You Good ThingHow does a lyric memoir—a queered-up autobiographical hybrid of prose and poetry—become a real page-turner? Well, for one thing, its speaker uses her authenticity and open-heartedness to generate a rib-cracking amount of courage to look for, find, and emotionally confront a missing Guyanese father who ends up being the “unhello” of a “nevermind.” What’s so moving about this discovery is the speaker’s lyric response. It’s a shrug that’s a song that’s the speaker telling it experimentally-straight about how it feels to have “arms free of fathers.” It’s a story that’s a song that’s the speaker’s “gangster swagger” that beautifully tells of how to confront one’s relation to “a culture of deadbeats, wannabes, has-beens, what-ifs, [and] can’t-shows” without succumbing to despair. One really wants to quote Plath’s line here about “eat[ing] men like air.” Oh, I love the courage of this book. The whole “black heart” and love-strength of it. And you will too! -Adrian Blevins, Appalachians Run AmokA lyric anthem for the fatherless, for seekers of the places and people that made us, for the artists ready to unearth and reshape their own stories. I gulped this exquisite manual like precious medicine, a spell that made me more myself. -Melissa Febos, Abandon MeCollaborative, interactive, this work of poetry and memoir offers life as a recurring question. Who’s Your Daddy is a study of how power and loss work on the intimate scales of daily living and queer loving. Read this with compassion for your own defining questions and the raw texture they have left upon your heart. -Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Dub: Finding Ceremony
Who’s Your Daddy is striking and gorgeous. “I’m born into a bracket of boys,” White writes, framing a portrait of fatherhood that shutters and aches; it enthralls. I wanted to lap it up. A reflection on family that permeates via knitted prose with deep verse—my favorite kind. White’s work is sonic, lyric, and important. I can’t wait for y’all to read this book. -Emerson Whitney, Heaven
ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, Black Pearl, Perfect on Accident, and “Fish Walking” & Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won the inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. Published by Virtual Artists Collective, her debut full-length collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was a finalist for the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards, 82nd California Book Awards, and nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Awards. Her second collection, A Penny Saved, inspired by the true-life story of Polly Mitchell, was published by Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press in 2012. Her latest full-length collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, was published by Augury Books and nominated for the 29th Lambda Literary Awards. Most recently, Arisa co-authored, with Laura Atkins, Biddy Mason Speaks Up, a middle-grade biography in verse on the midwife and philanthropist Bridget “Biddy” Mason, which is the second book in the Fighting for Justice series. She is currently co-editing, with Miah Jeffra and Monique Mero, the anthology Home is Where You Queer Your Heart, which will be published by Foglifter Press in 2021. And forthcoming in February 2021, from Augury Books, her poetic memoir Who’s Your Daddy.
This week was not as good as the one before because I didn’t feel that well, plus I had extra work-work.
But over the weekend, I created a chalky pastel background that I really like, a strange scribble background using pastels in similar but different shades, and a string ink background.
I also was able to do some revision work to an essay that is in limbo with a journal. I’ll try to read it over today or tomorrow and see what else it needs.
So far in January I’ve collected a few rejections. Last spring I had two poems accepted by a journal that has not yet published them. They didn’t put out a fall issue, so am I waiting for the spring one? Hard to tell. I wrote to them, but got no response.
I’m readjusting into 2021 and trying to ignore the outside world as much as I can (since I have severe tension in 80% of my body right now). So what am I doing (besides work-work and home-work and cat-work)?
I really thought I was going to rewrite my memoir into something readable (ask Marie, I really was). Now I have another idea, but can’t start it yet. My idea (which has been suggested by others in the past) is that I write my memoir as a book of poems. So we will see.
In the meantime, because I wanted to work on that, instead I became excited about writing some new poems for the book-in-progress (which is not the memoir). So I’ve written about six poems so far. Because I am always starting my poems at the kitchen table, I added my craft books to the kitchen, which means they are now in with the cookbooks.
I’ve also started my art journal and am taking Art Journaling 101 from Amy Maricle (an online video course). I’ve been working on background pages. Here is one of my acrylic backgrounds. I am using watercolor and water-soluble pastels for backgrounds, as well.
I might just sit around and play with acrylics. It’s so much like finger painting. What a great stress reliever.
I’m riding the stationery bike, doing stretching or yoga, and walking–at least one of those per day. Yes, I should do more per day, but I have so much I want to cram in each 24 hour period. And that includes reading “my”new mystery series, Vera Stanhope detective, by Ann Cleeves. (Love that name, Ann Cleeves LOL)
OK, go out and seize the week and stay resilient and healthy. XO
A big thank you to editor Carol Andregg who has published my prose poem “Liminality” in the new issue of the well-known journal, Cider Press Review.
“Liminality” is a poem about my father. The poem begins this way:
Hell’s bells my father rolled off his tongue when frustrated or not pleased with the current situation. They weren’t the angry words when his temper swelled and overpowered his vulnerable body. Being only human, those other words . . . .
You can follow the link to the full poem, as well as an audio recording of me reading the poem:
A big thank you to Editor James Diaz of the really fun lit mag Anti-Heroin Chic who has published my poems “Into Pulp” and “Scrap” in their latest issue.
The first poem is a response to someone else’s vintage photograph. I don’t have permission to post the photo, but here is a link: Wrecked archive image
The first poem begins this way:
Lakewater pushes at my ankles
toes slicing an evanescent path
I’m at an age where I think I’m at the age
and I don’t imagine eyerolls
where I sense time abrading my surface
like this constantly moving water
stones and minnows distort into segments
molecules into a variety of atomic individuals
two purple, no, one hairbrush, a plastic ball
a swaying branch, leaves decaying
the insides of my grandmothers’ fridges
bubble and pop into shards of memory
The second poem, “Scrap,” relates to my memoir of the same name.
When I first pulled a card from the Wild Unknown tarot deck, I got The Destroyer. My feelings were mixed. Mostly I felt very negative toward The Destroyer archetype, but I also felt the satisfaction of truth because 2020 is nothing if not The Destroyer.
I was reminded of a poem that I wrote years ago about my father and how I saw him as a destroyer type of personality in some respects. I say that, but at the same time, I think he also nurtured and modeled some pretty cool things for me. He never made me feel bad about what I wanted to do in life, whether it was being afraid to do cartwheels or asking to take art classes or just hanging around the house watching TV after school. But as I began to write more poetry, I realized that I saw him as a destroyer of sorts.
For the purposes of writing poetry inspired by The Destroyer, I analyzed the artist’s image of The Destroyer on the card. When I begin to write, I will go back to those notes.
But I figured I needed to look deeper than this to understand The Destroyer archetype. I admit I had a really hard time with this for the last few weeks. I didn’t want to deal with The Destroyer. Still. Here are a few of the many things I discovered as I read:
Although some people might be more associated with The Destroyer, we all must have bits of every archetype somewhere within us
The Destroyer is one of the 3-part Trio of Existence: Creator, Destroyer, Sustainer (Caregiver)
The Destroyer upends everything stable: jobs, relationships, any type of security
The Destroyer is often unexpected or rejected, even savage
Nature can be an antidote to The Destroyer
All archetypes have good parts to them
Destruction allows for rebirth
Even The Destroyer offers gifts and lessons
The Destroyer archetype is about endings and closure, of letting go
The Destroyer challenges the status quo
When confronted with The Destroyer, one should look for closure where it is called for and for rebirth where it will lead to a new positive.
Although the Wild Unknown tarot deck contains 78 archetypes, there are a smaller number that consistently show up in many books and teachings. I found a fun quiz online that identifies your own major archetypes from a group of twelve. I like this type of quiz because it’s impossible to see “where it’s going” while you’re taking the test. I like this because you (I) can’t inadvertently influence the results. I was not at all surprised when I calculated my results. (Here is the quiz: Archetypes Quiz–the traits of the archetypes are listed just after the quiz).
My two highest-scoring archetypes were tied: The Caregiver and The Creator. (Cats and poems?) LOL, I doubt anybody who knows me would be surprised at this. In fact, I had my husband and daughter independently guess and they both came up with 3 they thought would be tied: The Caregiver, The Creator, and The Seeker. They probably thought The Seeker because I am constantly asking questions. Drives everyone nuts.
After The Caregiver and The Creator, I scored high on The Sage and then The Magician. The first is about knowledge and the second is about spirituality.
The rest of the archetypes I scored much lower, and it makes sense to me. They are: The Warrior, The Ruler and The Lover (tied), The Orphan, The Innocent and The Seeker and The Fool (all 3 tied). Lastly, with the lowest count of all, is The Destroyer.
At different times in my life, the results of the quiz would have been a little different. For example, when I was a teen, I am guessing that The Orphan and The Warrior might have played a much larger role, whereas The Caregiver and The Magician would have been less. For some people, the results could be vastly different from one life period to another.
Possibly the reason I had such a hard time grappling with pulling The Destroyer card right off the bat is because it is the archetype I find the most difficult. It’s the most alien to me, but also it frightens me. I don’t like the upending of my secure world. I like change, but only what feels warm and cozy and pretty right up front.
I am beginning to feel so much better from the Valley Fever. My exhaustion is lessening. To keep from overdoing it, though, I’ve been binge-watching Schitt’s Creek, recommended to me by my friend Sheila.
This is day 36. I am hanging in there, gaining a bit of endurance, and trying to pay attention when my body needs rest. I’m also trying to pay attention to the beauty that I encounter.
It’s the time of year when we put the winter flowers in. I didn’t participate this time, but watched a bit of the work. The gardener had daughter and her fiance, as well as our pet sitter and her boyfriend to help. It took them a few hours to plant all the flowers. The nursery ran out of white snapdragons, rust and variegated marigolds, and many other flowers. The gardener suspects it is because the summer was so darn hot.
An hour and a half after everyone finished and left, look who showed up in our backyard.
That’s right: a gorgeous Arizona bobcat. If you enlarge the photo, you can see his beautiful black and white ears. The area where he is trudging is actually a steep section above a pony wall. Below the ponywall is a sidewalk and then our house. This long and narrow space is a bit dangerous as we could get trapped back there by the bobcat. They tend not to attack humans unless they have rabies, but who knows? And, yes, they eat house cats (and small dogs). This is one of several reasons my cats are kept indoors all the time.
Since I haven’t been able to write, but would like to prep a bit for writing in the future, I decided to study a subject I have long been interested in: archetypes. I first encountered them years ago in a class taught by an English professor who was very into Jung and Jungian theory. Archetypes really resonate with me–being a poet I find myself exhuming them frequently. Later, I studied Freud for my work with literary theory, but I never felt in sync with Freud the way I did with Jung. In fact, to me, Freud’s thinking is kind of creepy, whereas Jung’s is more expansive and important.
An archetype can be described many ways, but a short definition might be something like this: a recurrent motif in psychology and art and the culture at large. Many say they can be found throughout all cultures. I worked quite a bit with The Mother archetype in grad school, but this time I wanted to get more in depth with more archetypes. So as a “sorry you’re sick” gift to myself 😉 I purchased this beautiful box containing a tarot deck of 78 archetypes.
After reading the book that comes with the deck and meditating a bit on the whole situation, I pulled one “random” card from the deck with the intention of working very thoroughly with it. And what did I select?
Why, the card that makes the most sense in this year of 2020, the year where so much of life as I have known it has been toppled and erased. I pulled out the card of THE DESTROYER. I kid you not. I don’t want to write now about what I am learning as I explore this archetype because I don’t want to short-circuit my work.
I hope that this exploration will lead to poetry writing when I am up to it.
By the way, this is Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Although I did not grow up with this tradition, I find in it much to admire. Taking a day to remember and pray for loved ones who have passed seems like a very good way to harness our feelings of grief. It prevents us from tamping down our feelings and thoughts about those we have lost, but gives us one day where we can really focus on loved ones. If we celebrate, we serve food that they loved. We create an altar and put their photos on it. Next year, I think I will prepare ahead for Dia De Los Muertos. Yesterday I cried remembering my maternal grandmother, so I think she is waiting to be recognized in this way.