This news has been in process for some time, but I’m thrilled to share an essay I wrote about the loss of retail business, featuring my hometown Kalamazoo, Michigan. I am so thankful to editor Wesley R. Bishop and the journal North Meridian Review for publishing this essay. NMR is a super cool journal hosted by academics from several Indiana Universities and specializing in interdisciplinary scholarship, culture, and art. In other words, NMR is a hybrid entity, straddling the creative and academic worlds.
“A Long Time from Burdick Street” is named thus because Burdick Street was an important artery for retail in days past–and still is the heart of the downtown. In fact, Kalamazoo was known for building the nation’s first outdoor pedestrian mall. Time changed, and eventually the downtown section of Burdick had to be reopened to traffic, but I grew up with the mall. Further south on Burdick Street my grandfather grew up–his family home and parents’ businesses were on Burdick–and he stayed there and raised his own family, running a Sunoco gas station at the corner of Burdick and Balch.
Disclosure: I used a fake name for the gardener because he’s such a private person. I keep changing his identity in my writing. Maybe he won’t be able to find himself that way. 😉
Here is a link to the issue–you can find my essay starting on page 104:
My MIL painted the mall when the gardener and I were first going out. It had been commissioned by Irving Gilmore, of the department store family. She used to sit in her burnt orange Opel hatchback, painting. When she picked me up from work her car smelled like oil paints.
I’ve written in the past on this blog about the loss of retail: RIP Dreamland. At that time, I was focused on the loss of Marshall Field (“Field’s”) and shared a photo of the location of my family’s 19th century retail business in the Netherlands.
What do I see and hear and smell on a walk near my house?
From the moment I step outside I smell flower fragrance. So I take a big sniff and keep walking. I hear songbirds singing.
Next I see the seedpods. Everywhere. Here are just a few.
Then I see the pretty Mexican bird of paradise plant. See how fiery and unique the blossoms are!
I come upon flowering saguaros.
The sounds I hear are silence, then a rush of cars, then this: babies in their nest–inside a saguaro.
Apparently some baby birds are very noisy when being fed.
On the writing front, I wrote a little essay this weekend. We’ll see what happens with it. Best part: #amwriting
Make it a good week if you can figure out a way!
Leaving you with a wild baby in my yard. This is a baby kingsnake. They are not only harmless to humans, but they kill rattlesnakes. We have been nurturing a family of kingsnakes ever since we moved here. Isn’t he cute?!
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what Geiger wrote. The main point is that you need to read journals before sending your work. You want to find a good “fit,” like a good marriage. I was heading down that same thought road when I published the article From Creation to Publication in The Review Review. I wrote it in 2014, so a lot has happened with my writing since then. Maybe that means it contains some good advice ;)!
But I did a bit of what Geiger does in his article, and that is to assume that if we read the journals we will automatically see which ones are good fits for us.
Hmm. Yes, as I mention in my article, I did discover that a journal I really wanted to be published in was selecting highly experimental (in an unpleasant way) pieces. So I crossed them off my list. But, in general, (I would argue that) there are similar types of poems in the majority of journals.
So what does it mean to find a good fit besides knowing if you want a journal with traditional or experimental writing?
You have to be honest about your own writing to begin with, and I’m not sure any of us is fully capable of doing that. We are too emotionally invested, having written the dang thing and perhaps having lived through all the ins and outs that are found in the poem. But we need to know if our work is fledgling or some point (what point?) beyond that.
If you are incredibly prolific and are looking for high numbers of publications, send it everywhere if you like (I do mention this in the article), but personally I don’t see the point in being able to say my work was published in over 500 journals and magazines. Who cares? I think the quality of the work is most important–and then hopefully you do find a “matching journal,” but it doesn’t always happen that way.
What I am saying is that part of finding a good fit is that the journal and the poem are a similar level of “quality.” This is one of those statements that seems judgy, elitest, you name it. But there are elements of the truth in it, too. The fact that the statement seems kind of ICK is why people don’t really come out and say that is part of why you should read lit journals before submitting.
Another reason to read journals is for the LOVE OF POETRY. If you don’t love to read it, why are you writing it? To do that is just a form of narcissism and maybe also self-aggrandizement. (Yes, you see the bitchy tone creeping in more and more–I’m going to blame the emotional burnout I talked about in last week’s post haha. I no sooner got the daughter off to NYC than my car needed repair and that sucked up a whole day. Then a slew of other home repairs ate up another. However, the good news is that I DID take a couple of naps and focused on my yard and cats instead of the hubbub).
None of these three reasons has anything to do with the implication articles like Geiger’s gives us, which is that we will read journals and have epiphanies in the middle of the pages of some of them when we see exactly the type of style, subject, and form of poems that we write. HAHAHA. Being completely honest here. Never had that feeling in my life.
The closest I have come to it is, for example, when I read the museum of americana and thought of the material and theme of the magazine as perfect for my Kin Types poems based on history, in particular American history. That is because the journal looks for art “that revives or repurposes the old, the dying, the forgotten, or the almost entirely unknown aspects of Americana.” There have been a few such times, but they are rare because most journals have a broader focus. Most of them just want “YOUR BEST WORK.” Um, ok.
That fall the essay was published in Phoebe (45.1), a beautiful print journal. If I ever put together a collection of prose pieces, maybe this one will find a “book” home. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share it with more readers via an online journal, so I submitted it as a reprint to Ginosko Literary Journal where it was subsequently accepted. This weekend the journal went live. I hope you will enjoy this piece. It means a great deal to me since it covers emotional issues that preoccupied my mind at the time.
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 read a short memoir recently. It was recommended to me by Charles who blogs at Moore Genealogy when I posted about a couple of family heirlooms on my family history blog.
A big thank you to Charles because The Secret Life of Objects inspired me to want to write about objects as memoir. Not in a hit or miss way, but purposefully. To choose an object with meaning and to write about its “secret life.” #memoir #flashmemoir
I might do that here on this blog, peeps. So consider yourselves forewarned. Today, though, I’m just chattering. And trying to do a little writing as I can. Here. At my laptop.
Or sometimes elsewhere.
This week I was in California for business. I wrote notes for a poem at my favorite cafe in La Canada: Magpie’s Grill. They leave me alone to write, and they refill my iced tea.
On the way home, I saw a bus burning on the 10. The whole backend was engulfed in flames, and the riders were standing off to the side of the freeway. I think it was their luggage that was burning. According to the news story that I later looked up, 49 Korean tourists and their driver had made it out of the bus safely. I can’t help but wonder if their passports were so lucky.
The week was made more difficult because I washed my phone with the laundry. Before this happened, I could have proudly proclaimed that I wasn’t one of those people who get their phone wet. No toilet mishaps. No accidental falls into the pool. No slipping off the edge of the tub. Nope. But I stripped the bedsheets without noticing the phone lying there and just threw them into the washer. It was probably a goner after the waterfall cascade poured over the phone. It was sopping wet inside and already corroding.
But the upside is I now have a new phone. It’s a rose gold iPhone 7. I got a clear case and a glass cover that has a rose gold frame on it. PURTY! Best of all, the camera is much better than that on my iPhone 5s.
Perry is a great big kitten. He grabs Felix in a wrestling hold, almost smothering him, and licks his ear inside and out before Felix can get away. He climbs on Kana’s cat tree with her and walks across her, pretending he just wants to get to the other tree. What a goof. He will be seeing another vet for his fast breathing, though, as I am getting more worried about it. Here is his “this new life is sometimes mysterious, but I am doing my best to figure things out and please be patient with me” look. Or is it his “what are we gonna do now, Mom?” look?
So what’s a feral cat? According to Alley Cat Allies, the wonderful charitable organization that helps feral cats, “Millions of cats share our homes, but not all cats are suited to living inside. For many community cats (also known as feral cats), indoor homes are not an option because they have not been socialized to live with humans. They would be scared and unhappy indoors. Their home is the outdoors—just like squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. They are well suited to their outdoor home.”
Sounds simple, right?
But it isn’t. I suspect that a lot of cats that are assumed to be feral are merely strays. Feral cats are terrified of humans and view them as a real threat. But many cats when they are frightened may act the same way: cowering or running away, speechless (no mewing), or thrashing wildly if confined.
The gardener and I have been supporting the efforts of Alley Cat Allies for years as they try to promote TNR: trap-neuter-return. That keeps a feral colony from having more kittens, but doesn’t confine cats that can’t live inside.
But how many cats end up in feral colonies or merely dead because they are assumed to be feral, but are actually not feral at all?
Why am I bringing this up? Because of Prince Perry Winkle. Remember when we first trapped him? We got him neutered at a clinic and brought him to the shelter where he proceeded to act like a feral cat.
I told them that the clinic vet had said he wasn’t feral, but nobody believed me. They thought the vet lied, that I lied, or that the vet made a mistake. A big one.
For about a month I went to the shelter almost every day and read to Perry. It was the only time he got any positive attention because he hid in a cave and had staff persuaded he was a difficult and possibly dangerous (to them) feral cat.
The only hint anybody had that he wasn’t feral was that when I read to Perry he would blink at me. If you have a cat you know that blinking means I love you or I trust you. It’s a way of talking, communicating with a human. I would blink back at him so he knew I understood and trusted him, too.
If you read any of my bazillion posts here about Perry you know that he gradually warmed up to me, but it was really slow at first. When he learned the trick of “give me your paw,” it seemed huge. I didn’t know if we would get any further than that.
Well, now Perry is the biggest cuddle bug ever. I have never seen a cat as adorably cuddly. He curls up in my arms. rubs against me, kisses me, licks me, and demands I pet him by pushing his head up inside the palm of my hand. If I say, “Give me a kiss,” he kisses me immediately. This cat is not only not feral, he’s TRAINABLE. Like a dog.
And the other day I started letting him out to explore the house and meet the other cats, for less than an hour each day. Kana is shut up in a bedroom that Perry doesn’t know about. She will be the last hurdle. The other cats are fine, and so is Perry. Felix, friendly when approached. Pear, ignores him. Tiger, gives warning hisses to stay away, and so far so good. Sloopy Anne hides under the drape and peeks out through a gap she creates at the floor haha.
Watching TV with Mom
I found a mobile vet here in town who charges very reasonably and she came here (so as not to stress out Mr. Scaredy Cat) and clipped his nails (whew!!!!) and examined him. He’s healthy and about the age I thought (1.5 years) and definitely not feral at all. The vet told me that people dump domesticated cats at feral cat colonies all the time. IMAGINE A BIG SAD FACE HERE.
What if we had left Perry to fend for himself, assuming he was a feral cat and should just stay outside? He would have died for sure.
The only negative thing about his checkup is that this guy who was 9 pounds the day we trapped him is now 12.25 pounds, and he’s too fat. I take all the blame! I kept feeding him the same amount after the worms were gone that I did before. So now he has to lose a little weight. Like his mama.
He loves his hairbrush
To calm Perry for the exam, the vet put a little mask on him. I’ve seen those things before, and they work quite well. They are along the same lines as putting blinders on a horse or a cover over a bird cage. Or a blindfold on me for an MRI (no, I am not kidding). But the vet had to use a different mask than usual for cats because Perry has this cute little pointed rat face. (I love pet rats, so watch it). Very pointy all the way to his little pink nose. It’s hard to take a pic of so you can’t usually notice it in his photos.
I laughed about it and mentioned my comparison to a little rat face, and the vet told me it’s very likely that Perry is part Siamese. And as soon as she said it, I thought, YES, THAT EXPLAINS IT. It explains his chattiness. He’s always trilling and chirping to me. It explains his big smarts and trainability. And it explains his puppy-like behavior–the excitement and licking and all that.
It makes me sad when I think of how Perry was almost overlooked because it’s so darn hard to tell the difference between a feral cat and a scared cat. In a shelter or veterinary clinic, many cats are scared cats. If I hadn’t paid attention to his blinking and felt that it meant something, I might never have brought him home and learned the truth about him.
Lesson learned: I’ve learned quite a few from him, but the biggie is to watch for small, subtle signs of communication. That takes patience and time–something in short supply in busy shelters and clinics with overworked staff and volunteers.
If you sign up to read to cats at a shelter, you can be the eyes watching the cats for signs of communication!
For a little visit with Theo, here is a video of him learning his new activity. His mom found a free treadmill on the Next Door app (love that app!):
Hugs and prayers for all those affected by Hurricane Harvey. The devastation and flooding is horrific. My heart goes out to all those people and the animals, as well.