The different ways that family history and genealogy intersect with other aspects of the culture is growing. But I think this project might be a first for family history. Broad Street Magazine, which publishes nonfiction narratives in a variety of genres, has begun a six-week series of feature articles on six poems from my family history […]
Category Archives: Poetry Collection
After Monday’s post was published, I learned that Kin Types was a finalist for the prestigious Eric Hoffer Award. It’s in stellar company. This recognition validates the work I did on the book and on my family history blog, too. Best of all, the book gets a gold foil sticker for the cover ;).
It will kind of look like this when the sticker is put on the book (only not such a large sticker).
If you click through the link to the Amazon page, the book can be ordered for a real deal right now; check it out. To order through Barnes & Noble, try this link.
If you want a sticker for your copy, send me a selfie of yourself with Kin Types that I can use on this blog or social media (in case I decide to do that) with your address, and I’ll mail you a sticker when they arrive.
My father passed away three years ago this past Monday. My first book, Doll God, had just been published so he was able to read it (and be very proud) before he died. He never got to see Kin Types, although his mother and grandmother are featured in the book.
I’m closing comments because I don’t want you to feel you need to send me congratulations; I just wanted to let you know about the exciting news!
Ever since I finished National Poetry Month, I’ve been slammed with too much to do. It’s not all been work. A lot of it has been cat related. And even a genealogy rabbit hole (not even my family haha!) that I fell down.
But I’m devouring Natasha Trethewey’s poetry collection Thrall, and I’m so engaged. You won’t be sorry if you pick up a copy and start reading.
Here’s a little photo show of the prettier parts of the week.
This bobcat was stalking prey in the wash next to my house. He goes along nicely with a poem I think (#NaPoWriMo is a blur) I started last month.
Here is the coolest part of seeing him. He stopped totally still with his left hind leg (you can see the leg here just before) raised in the air. He had visually locked onto his prey. And then what do you think happened?
I’ll be darned if a little songbird didn’t land on a branch of a tree to the left of the photo and sing out a warning. IT GIVES ME CHILLS RIGHT NOW JUST TELLING YOU ABOUT IT.
I can’t even imagine how to put that into a poem without it sounding sappy!
There were some more saguaros in blossom at Mayo. Yup, I had another issue.
See the little hole up near the top? It looks like a mouse hole. It’s actually the entrance to a bird’s home. What I would love to show you are the older saguaros in vacant lots around here. They have lots of branches unlike these ones that were planted by somebody–in this case, Mayo. They also blossom at the ends of every branch. And some of them are absolutely riddled with holes from birds–completely battle-scarred. But there isn’t any place to safely park to take a pic.
(That reminds me, right outside my kitchen window was the most glorious male cardinal ever–smaller than Michigan ones and the red more orangey and vibrant–but my camera/phone was too far away to get a pic in time).
Some of the landscaping at Mayo is now mature enough to produce some shade. Since it’s turned hot again, that’s a good thing.
It’s flower time, so the gardener has been obsessed with planting flowers in the yard. He buys flats and flats of them and plants them all over–in beds and pots. Actually drives me nuts because the flowers come ahead of everything else. (He thinks I act that way about the cats, but of course, that is DIFFERENT).
Do you know how many times I’ve been to the nursery lately?
Perry continues to be the cutest most adorable softest squishiest handsome boy ever who really sets the household on end. Hah. See here. Kana was sleeping peacefully on top of the tree. Tiger was lying in the sun on the bottom. Perry had to take the middle part as he tried to “engage Tiger in play.” I put that in quotes because that is not how Tiger sees it.
When nobody will play with Perry or he gets yelled at by me, he sometimes retreats for a little pout.
I did a couple of submissions this week, so at least something happened in the writing sphere.
My new job at the shelter is contacting people who have adopted cats during the month. I LOVE hearing from them. Some of them send me photos of the kitties all comfy and happy in their new homes. Makes it all worthwhile!
Make it the best week for you and those around you!
Today is the last day of #NaPoWriMo and National Poetry Month. I have kept up my share of the bargain (the bargain with myself: I will write some version of a poem each day and in return I will not think I missed a good opportunity). I have one more poem to write today. Then I can relax on that count. I’ll wait a few days before I look at what I have and then start to revise.
Yesterday, I stopped and asked myself what my goals are for May. I can’t keep up the pace of April’s poetry, but certainly I can aim for a few goals. I think I’ll work on creative nonfiction in May, with the idea that I complete at least one short project or do some significant work on my long project. Additionally, I can play around with April’s poems.
I think it helped me not to post my poems every day because rushing to “complete” a poem is not a good idea (something I mentioned last week).
On the cat front, I had to take in a couple of my seniors for checkups. Felix’s heart murmur is stable and his poo is bugless. He continues to have IBS symptoms, but that is probably caused by the parasites he harbored in the past. Eighteen-year-old Pear Blossom’s bloodwork is like that of a “two-year-old cat,” according to the vet, but she has another UTI. Sigh. So tired of her getting those things. I worry about the quantity of antibiotics she has to take.
Tiger will be next. Then Kana. Then Sloopy Anne. Yes, all seniors and all with issues. But I need to wait for another credit card billing cycle :/.
As for Perry, he still does that rapid breathing thing sometimes.
Did anybody try writing a prose poem? I find myself falling more and more in love with the form.
In yesterday’s #NaPoWriMo prompt, you can find an essay about prose poems. Listen to this cool quote:
A prose poem is a poem written in sentences. It appears as a block of text without line breaks. You could think of a prose poem as a bowl or a box with poetry inside.
OK, I can’t help but see a glass fish bowl with a poem inside, pressing it’s wacky little face up against the side of the bowl, its feet and arms all squished in around the face. The poem is confined, but I’m drawn to the bowl and what’s inside as much as the creature inside is wondering what in the world is outside the bowl.
Sorry, but I cannot unsee this image. If it helps, imagine it’s a cat inside the bowl!
I feel as if I am writing more and more prose poems. There are two in Doll God and six in Kin Types.
This poem was originally published in the October 2013 issue of A Narrow Fellow and then included in Doll God.
This is from my copy of the book that I use for readings, so the binding is getting overused!
This past month I’ve written at least six of the poems in prose poem format. There is no telling what will happen to form in the revision stage, but it does show me how useful I find the prose poem.
Go forth and have a productive week! Or, if you prefer, have one where you pamper yourself, even if it’s for fifteen minutes a day. Who am I kidding? Let’s go for both!
Arizona spring means that the saguaro cacti have flowered with bridal wreaths on their crowns.
SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I can’t get a pic just yet, but a mama hummingbird has set up shop in the oleander right outside my door. The gardener saw three eggs in it, and I saw Mama sitting there looking busy.
April is National Poetry Month, and it is also #NaPoWriMo, meaning you and I should be writing a poem a day for the entire month. I’ve done this before when I participated in the Tupelo Press 30/30.
Many thanks go to the Tupelo 30/30 for getting me started on what became Kin Types.
This month I plan to go it alone because I am not sure I can really handle a full dose this time–and tax month yet (I don’t think T.S. Eliot was thinking of that when he called April the cruelest month, but that is why I think of it that way).
I read through some articles like the following links and made a list for myself of goals for April.
So here is my list. It’s what works for me this year. Your list will be different (so go ahead and make one!).
- Create a personal poetry anthology on poets.org (I’ve already titled my anthology: THE MOST BESTEST POEMS IN THE UNIVERSE)
- Learn more about poets and poetry events in Arizona (poets.org list)
- Read Edward Hirsch’s essay (poets.org list)
Recreate a poet’s favorite food or drink (poets.org list)I struck out this item because there wasn’t enough choice on the website, so I’ll make my own kimchi fried rice
- Read the first chapter of Muriel Rukeyser’s book The Life of Poetry (this will be a reread, but I can’t remember it as it’s been so long) (poets.org list)
- Search Twitter through #NationalPoetryMonth and #NaPoWriMo and #TMMPoetry (partially from Make Use Of)
- Write a poem a day (from Make Use Of and at least 3 magazines/presses that offer programs for April) But see below for some free daily prompts!!!
To find your free daily prompts try these sources:
They both can be followed on Twitter and/or Facebook, as well as their websites.
If you are more interested in PROSE writing prompts, here are a full month’s worth from Toasted Cheese.
I won’t be posting my daily poems here, but I will give you updates if I am doing ok at it. If I am not writing, you might hear radio silence.
Are you going to join me in celebrating poetry this month? In trying out #NaPoWriMo?
I hope nobody who ever has anything to do with the poster designs for National Poetry Month reads this, but I think they suck every year. Or maybe I should say they are not my idea of good poster art. Why oh why can’t they find something that knocks my socks off, or as Emily D. might say, that takes off the top of my head? The posters need to be WORTHY of poetry.
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.
To help heal our planet and ourselves, we first have to look outward to go inward. Jen Payne’s new book of poetry and photographs inspires us to do just that. Using the unique and cohesive symbol of the pocket dental flosser, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind explores nature and our place within our environment.
While it is not unusual to find a book’s theme related to nature and loss, Payne’s book turns loss personal and unnecessarily tragic by showing the wastefulness inherent in our actions. Payne directs the focus on the environment by her obsessive collection of photos of discarded dental flossers which serve to remind the reader of our most common actions and the consequences of those actions.
Shaped like little coping saws, the flossers are depicted lying where they were found—on pavement, pavers, dirt, concrete, and rock. Such common objects become centerpieces of individual works of art, but in their careless beauty, there is a glutted feeling of unwellness as if we, in our thoughtlessness, are too much for nature.
Payne’s poetry is the nuanced, living force of the collection. What drives that force is a love of nature’s beauties, a love that Payne wants readers to experience.
I will preach from the pulpit,
soar reconnaissance with the pileated,
nursemaid a wood duck’s brood,
survey the marsh with an egret,
meditate with the painted turtles
on a rock or the pine felled in a storm,
no matter, my profit immeasurable.
Though readers can feel the redemption of going inside ourselves to be at one with nature and the spiritual force, Payne continues to remind us how close we are to losing it all by our wastefulness.
On a personal level, once I finished reading Evidence of Flossing, I felt more in tune with nature and more mindful, but also began to notice what I had never spotted before: little plastic-framed flossers lying on the ground. Here is the flosser I spotted in the parking lot at the bank the morning after I finished the book. That was the first of many.
Soon after, I visited my dentist and told him about Payne’s book. He said that when we invented the flosser (and he did say “we”), we thought, as with much technology and “progress,” that they were an improvement over pieces of dental floss, never foreseeing that they would add to the waste on our planet. He wondered if birds get their bills caught in the flossers. Since I have been cutting apart plastic six-pack rings so that wildlife do not get stuck in them my entire adult life, I saw he was right about the dangers of the design. At least loose dental floss can be used by birds as material for their nests.
Look how Payne’s book got me thinking about the environment and sharing with others. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is inspirational, lyrical, instructive, and not to be missed. It is a book to be shared with others in a groundswell of caring for Earth and all our planet’s inhabitants.
Click on the book cover to purchase through Amazon.
Book Cover, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind (Flosser No. 007-1214 – Diner, Connecticut, December 2014, by Jen Payne)
About the Author:
Jen Payne is inspired by those life moments that move us most — love and loss, joy and disappointment, milestones and turning points. Her writing serves as witness to these in the form of poetry, creative non-fiction, flash fiction and essay. When she is not exploring our connections with one another, she enjoys writing about our relationships with nature, creativity, and mindfulness, and how these offer the clearest path to finding balance in our frenetic, spinning world.
Very often, her writing is accompanied by her own photography and artwork. As both a graphic designer and writer, Jen believes that partnering visuals and words layers the intentions of her work, and makes the communication more palpable.
In 2014, she published LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, a collection of essays, poems and original photography. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is her second book.
Jen is the owner of Three Chairs Publishing and Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company founded in 1993, based in Branford, Connecticut. She is a member of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, the Branford Arts and Cultural Alliance, the Connecticut Poetry Society, Guilford Arts Center, the Guilford Poets Guild, and the Independent Book Publishers Association.
Installations of her poetry were featured in Inauguration Nation an exhibition at Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven (2017), and Shuffle & Shake at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (2016). Her writing has been published by The Aurorean, Six Sentences, the Story Circle Network, WOW! Women on Writing, and The Perch, a publication by the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health.
You can read more of her writing on her blog Random Acts of Writing, http://www.randomactsofwriting.net.
A big thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for including me in this blog tour!