Day 1 Intro: Hi. Thanks for having me here. It’s snowing in Chicago right now and my record player is filling my living room with Nina Simone. I want to share with you the journals and poets who have rejuvenated my spirits this year but maybe a little context for this decision would be helpful?:
The last few months have been flooded with Best Books of 2013 lists. Many of the books on the Best Of lists are stacked on my bedside-table unread. And many amazing books that are not on the Best Of lists are also stacked on my bedside-table unread. For me, 2013 was a difficult year to sit down and read a complete book. I spent the first 12 months 1) on the job market 2) adjuncting in Denver 3) working in a university Writing Center 4) acting as the Associate Editor of the Denver Quarterly while 5) finishing and then defending my PhD dissertation. Also, 6) playing with my dog and 7) trying to be a decent friend and daughter and sister. I spent the next few months moving to Chicago and then adjusting to teaching new classes after very gratefully being offered a job here. Mainly I have been trolling composition textbooks and grading papers.
In a day divided between teaching, office hours, grading, and class planning on my laptop, one thing I’m grateful for is easy access to the myriad online journals. Peeking at poems during lunch gives me more energy than the dry, crumbly granola bars I keep somehow buying and storing in my desk.
I’ve noticed that journals tend to announce new issues on Facebook (and Twitter) without sending an email or notifying a readership through other mediums. And then contributors in a particular issue circulate their own links. It’s easy to “like” a link on Facebook without actually clicking on it. Or rather, it was easy for me to do that. I told myself, “I’ll ‘like’ it now and then I can come back and read it later when I’m done scarfing down this dry, crumbly granola bar.” Or, “Well, I do ‘like’ the idea that my friend has a poem published in [substitute any hundred journal names], but I don’t have time to read it this second.” So in 2013, my quiet and modest new years resolution was simply to read the poems to which my friends were linking before I clicked “like.” Because ultimately, when I let the Facebook world know that a poem of mine has been published, I hope my friends actually take the time to read it. I don’t necessarily want them to “like” it, right? They can be disturbed, unnerved, prompted to daydream, etc. I want to believe that poems cause some sort of reaction. I want to believe in a community of reciprocal writers who are not just interested in rounding up people to read their work, but are intellectually and creatively engaging the work of others.
I have 5 days to have a conversation with you. Each day my plan is to discuss a journal that rocked me and focus on one particular poem from that issue. Then, I’m going to make up a writing exercise based off of the poem. I welcome you to post your poems in the comment box or email them to me or simply share them with your friends or your strangers
I’m not here to tell you that these are the best issues/journals of 2013. That’s not my intention. I’m here, as a biased and limited human, to tell you that these journals made me feel excited about language. In a year in which I was unable to strike a better balance for myself in terms of thinking and writing creatively, I am humbled, inspired, and disturbed by the work I’ve read. They gave birth to images, syntax, and enjambments that did not previously exist. I want to discuss with you their existence. I want you to react and interact with their existence. I want you to write poems even if you’ve never written one before.
Day 1 Journal: Similar:Peaks::
Similar:Peaks:: publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and interviews. Honestly, so far I have only read the poetry. It’s a relatively new journal and I’m intrigued by the format. It doesn’t publish large issues: “we will feature four posts of new literature every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” I like this because it’s digestible yet persistent. When I glance at the names of their contributors I recognize about half, which is exciting because I can follow the poets I know I already love while also being introduced to ones whose work I’m not yet familiar with.
Day 1 Poetry Spotlight: Amy Lawless
Lawless has 3 poems up at Similar:Peaks::, all titled “The Secret Lives of Deer.” Here is one of them:
The Secret Lives of Deer
When the wolf and the deer look at one another, they both like what they see. The deer is a hearty mirror giving in to his reflection’s every whim. He doesn’t think of consequences. The wolf sees things as they are. When the wolf and the deer fall in love, it’s real. The wolf anticipates her lover’s every need. Some deer are selfish as fuck. But not this one. See: deer love a good narrative, and love taking charge of building one. He loves wooing, preying upon the wolf and also protecting her. The wolf changes shape into any chalice. You know, like a thesis statement. The deer is direct, a hook. The wolf understands and responds to this passion—probably on her back. Jupiter allows this trouble to unfold like a letter inside an envelope inside another envelop inside a bubble mailer. You’ve heard of “rock, paper, scissors”? But this is more like paper, paper, paper because both are writers and would resent all other conclusions.
I have your lending-hand. You have lent me your hand. I have let you have my hand.
Day 1 Brief Thoughts
I love the convoluted relational dynamic of this poem. Two animals (deer/he and wolf/she) love each other and “it’s real.” Okay. But each sentence complicates the one before. Two animals like what they see but by the second sentence the deer/he is a “hearty mirror” so that when we go back to the first sentence (“they both like what they see”) we now know that the relationship is more like Narcissus. Yet, the deer/he is not the reflection of the other’s self but the living object that reflects. But then “The wolf sees things like they are…The wolf anticipates her lover’s every need.” So the wolf is aware that she likes the deer because he mirrors herself? And if the deer is already giving in to the wolf’s “every whim,” how can the wolf predict “her lover’s every need”? My brain starts to scream WHAT KIND OF WEIRD RELATIONSHIP IS THIS? Well, isn’t that the question we should be asking about anything?
Yes, I think so. Because nothing is isolated and everything is weird if we squint at it. If we paw and scrape it. If we let it breathe on us or let it rub our bellies. The wolf and the deer are not static creatures and their relationship drips with variance. The variance is intimate. This poem cultivates the feeling that the closer you inspect, the closer you “know” an object/subject, the more contradictory and multifarious it becomes. It’s playful and scary and here. This is intimacy.
How do we sustain and consume each other? How do we produce each other? As the poem continues the animals become both the elements of an essay (the wolf is the thesis and the deer is the hook) and writers of such texts. I appreciate how the tone sounds like a clairvoyant teenager animatedly evaluating strips of Victorian wallpaper.
The second paragraph of this prose poem is three short sentences, “I have your lending-hand. You have lent me your hand. I have let you have my hand.” I’m not sure if Lawless is speaking for the deer or the wolf or the narrator of the poem or herself. So then I’m not sure who the “you” is either. But I see the intention shifting through these sentences and how syntax holds and releases relationships. Body parts as impermanent gifts, as objects to be loaned and returned, as metaphors for something more internally unseeable. I like how the poem ends in a transitory moment that tricks us briefly into feeling the permanence of “having.”
You can read the rest of the poems by clicking on the link above and/or buy Amy Lawless’ new book, My Death, from Octopus Books.
Day 1 Poetry Exercise: for ‘The Secret Lives of ______”:
1) Think of a friend you have.
2) Make a list of 4 characteristics your friend has. Is she forgiving? Jealous? An insomniac?
3) Make a list of 7 weird actions/behaviors your friend has done since you’ve known her. One sentence or phrase per moment. Does she walk out of all the movies she goes to see? Does she brush her teeth with her eyes closed?
4) Re-appropriate these attributes to an inanimate object or a nonhuman animal. For instance, I would change the above to: The lampshade brushes her teeth with her eyes closed.
5) Write a poem that
A) creates 2 images that embody 2 of the 4 characteristics
B) incorporates 4 of the “weird actions” now attributed to an inanimate object or nonhuman animal
C) describes what happens when you take that inanimate object/nonhuman animal on vacation. Or, describes what happens when you take the inanimate object/nonhuman animal as your guest to a wedding. What transpires? What do you learn through disruption or interaction? How does it affect you? Your relationships? Remember that feelings are always real.
Post your poem in the comments. Or, you can email it to me (email@example.com) and I’ll post it on my blog.