Earth Day Reading + a poem from Apocalypse Mix

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On Earth Day 1970, I was a kindergartner, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Arrowhead Elementary auditorium where ten costumed bumble-bees hovered in a line, arms holding up poster board letters that spell out “E-N-V-I-R-O-N-M-E-N-T”: a message powerful enough to drive a crew of litterbugs off the stage. The warbly notes of “Blowin’ in the Wind” filled the house; the bees buzzed along.

I was too young to know my generation would be offered ringside seats to a series of vanishings. But the skit offered something I’d hold onto: force of words as charm and cure; incantation and invitation to action.

This month, I’ve enjoyed several books that intersect with this theme—lyric cartographies of resistance and celebration. They’ll make wonderful additions to any library:

Taylor Brorby, Coming Alive: Action and Civil Disobedience

Camille T. Dungy, Trophic Cascade

Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Ornament

David Wojhan, For the Scribe

And here’s a poem from the still-new Apocalypse Mix (Autumn House, 2017) sparked by early musings on the environment:

Portuguese Man o’ War

 

Full sail, a feat

of stylized rigging,

armed frigate, eating machine

whose armadas blow ashore

through warming currents,

to cooler coasts off Amagansett,

up the Atlantic as far north as the Bay of Fundy,

The Isle of Man—and I

who envisioned your technicolor

rays only in Our Amazing World’s

slick pages, centerpiece of

danger and display—how you swim

up unbidden, struck chord

like the wail of sirens, the warning

and the all-clear, the stark list

of grocery stash guaranteeing

post-atomic household survival. So you drop

that fine-spun glass pane

at the first sign of surface threat

to submerge or travel dark, lucent pools—

O blue bottle, spilled ink—

Even dead you deliver a sting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apocalypse Mix

Between the chaos of the daily news and this month’s unseasonable weather, I’m celebrating the release of Apocalypse Mix, my fourth book of poetry, selected by David St. John for the 2016 Autumn House Poetry Prize.

Apocalypse Mix explores the legacy of war and the ways that inheritance resonates well beyond the battlefield into our homes, our language, and the daily fabric of our lives. It’s a book I began several years ago while in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where I met Bosnian-born visual artist Tanja Softić whose work inspired a sequence of prose poems and is featured on the book cover.

Praise for Apocalypse Mix:

 From her brilliant debut collection, Shepherdess With an Automatic, to this remarkable new collection, Apocalypse Mix, Jane Satterfield has offered her readers some of the most lyrically graceful and historically reflective collections in American poetry. Always illuminated by intellectually provocative perspectives, these poems balance their raw psychological undercurrents with a calm and masterful stylistic authority.
Jane Satterfield’s work weaves the reader into its fabric of individual and historical circumstance, as well within the dense foliation of personal experience. This is a powerful poetry of great clarity, urgency, and superb accomplishment. —David St. John
Jane Satterfield’s challenging new collection bristles with history. It is rich with unearthed, recalled, and juxtaposed relics, whether of pop music, yoga poses, or implements of former wars turned vintage memorabilia. Satterfield’s poetry enacts what one of the powerful prose poems here calls “this angel’s transmission across time and space”—and we readers are the beneficiaries.”       —Rachel Hadas
What a terrible, difficult, contradictory world we’re living in.  Thank God we have Jane Satterfield’s beautifully conceived, beautifully executed book to guide us.                            —Beth Ann Fennelly

For a sneak peek at Apocalypse Mix, feel free to check out “Souvenir” on Verse Daily. In the years that followed his active duty during Gulf I, my father experienced  hearing loss in one ear as a result of parasitic infestation. In the way that war’s fallout reverberates  in private homes and our collective lives, I found myself thinking of musical ear worms, those remembered soundtracks that haunt our days.

 

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Scribbling Sisters

In conjunction with Plath’s birthday and a renewed immersion in Emily Brontë’s poems, here’s a revived post from a few years back…

There’s a blurry photo in the beat-up Bantam paperback Letters Home I bought in a secondhand bookstore in Iowa City that’s long captured my attention:  Sylvia Plath poised on a stone pasture fence (or ruined wall?) in Yorkshire while visiting her poet-husband’s family.

Writing home to her mother, Plath describes a visit to Top Withens, an elevated moorland spot a few miles up a jagged pathway from the Brontë Parsonage—Emily’s favored walking spot with Keeper, her mastiff. Plath immortalized the visit to these ruins with a sketch of “the deserted black stone house” and eventually, a poem, packed with vivid impressions of place that still stand: the heathered hills, the sheep with their “hard, marbly baas.”

“Wuthering Heights” is a perfect October poem, one whose kinship with Brontë’s work is apparent in its meditative ferocity, close observation of the natural world, and bewitching syntactical turns.

Someday, I thought, as took the image in, I’ll make that pilgrimage, though I’d never have imagined the circumstances in which my visit took place. Three months pregnant, thinking about the legendary body of work crafted by these childless sisters, I looked down from the Parsonage toward the teashops that lined the steep, cobblestoned streets.  It seemed foolish to follow ghosts, to browse museum cases and memorabilia (annotated volumes of the sisters’ masterpieces, tea towels, postcards, porcelain busts) and museum curiosities that been collected and offered up for the public gaze.

I’ve lost the photo I know posed for that day, taken while I paused on the Parsonage steps, too exhausted to make the trip to Top Withens, turning back from the path that energized the  “scribbling sisters” and the youthful Sylvia Plath.

We look to photos for clues about a subject’s life; to their words for paths to and through our own lives.  In that blurry photo I still find haunting, a young writer, stylishly dressed, looks out to clear and windless skies where “the sun, by a miracle, was out….”

It’s a moment snatched out of time—the subject still free of what the future holds.  A young woman, committed to her art, an ocean away from her homeland, stands on her literary heroine’s ground.  How far, she must have thought, I’ve come; how much farther to go.

 

 

Shifting seasons, empowering poems: Veils, Halos & Shackles

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September’s come to a close and the election cycle has moved into warp speed. There’s a recognizable chill in the air—a chill that’s hard to shrug off. So in the search for some better energy, I recently decided to take some time out with Veils, Halos & Shackles, a powerful international anthology edited by poets Charles Adés Fishman and Smita Sahay.

Conceived in the wake of the December 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi (an event which sparked a wave of global activism), the anthology is a captivating literary contribution to women’s empowerment and the transformative power of art. Readers will find a compelling mix of familiar voices and enjoy the opportunity to encounter new favorites.

VHS is not a book for the faint of heart—the 250 poems in this globe- spanning collection speak frankly about rape and other gender-based violent crimes. The writers collected here represent a broad range of affecting perspectives from family members, teachers, counselors, to the victims of gender violence themselves; included are poems to mothers, daughters, fathers, and sons.

But the realities of trauma are always viewed through the polished lens of art, with an eye toward the healing possibilities of lyric and narrative. You’ll find familiar voices and encounter new favorites. (Full disclosure: I have work included, as does my spouse, and I’m honored to share space with poetry conference pals and other writers I hope I’ll one day meet in person.)

An added feature which makes this a perfect teaching tool for gender studies, peace studies, creative writing courses, or community workshops, is the inclusion of artistic statements from contributors. These range from brief reflections to amazing mini-festos; the overall effect is like eavesdropping on an essential conversation about artistic process and poetry’s social dimension—themes further contextualized by Laura Madeline Wiseman’s insightful introduction.

An accomplished anthologist herself, Wiseman reflects on the power of books to make something happen. “Make a book,” she says, “when you’re bored. Make a book when you despair. Make a book as an act of resistance. Open such a book when you need change.”

Here’s one of many powerful poems from a new book with lasting resonance:

 

View from a Niqab

 

These strands of light

and shadow

playful hidings

and sudden glimpses

withering and wavering

like old photographs

colors fading

and then the dark—

for a moment

no movement.

Then the trails

of light

and shadows

blending

breaking

binding

billowing

Sun filtered

through window shades

of my niqab

 

I am

Stunned.

Pushpa Naidu Parekh is a Professor of English and past Director of the Honors Program at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She has published three scholarly books as well as articles on British, American, postcolonial, and diaspora literature. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared widely in the U.S. and India.

 

 

 

International Day of Peace and a poem by Ilyse Kusnetz

I’ve been watching Land Girls, the BBC series commissioned to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of WWII. It’s a recent favorite of my mother, whose aunt was in the Women’s Land Army all those years ago. No matter the high drama or historical liberties, it’s something I’m still glad to have the chance to share.

In last night’s episode, a young conscientious objector, or “conchie” was thrashed within in an inch of his life by local farmers’ sons. As the episode unfolds, he chooses jail over the alternative work he is offered (working the land, working with wounded vets), refusing to do anything that would actively support the war effort. One of the land girls tried to sway him with her own line of reasoning that contribution to the greater good is essential action and each action another step in bringing the war to its end. Despite her efforts, he holds fast. As he is shackled and shoved into a truck, the land girl walks away, slowly resuming her work in the field.

In the 1940 essay, “Thoughts on Peace in Air Raid,” Virginia Woolf commented on the difficulty and necessity of thinking peace into existence while bombs fall all around. “But there is another way,” she writes, “of fighting for freedom without arms; we can fight with the mind.” The obstacles to conflict resolution are many and her time sounds uncannily like our own. It is difficult to “go against the current” when the current itself “flows fast and furious” in a “spate of words from the loudspeakers and the politicians.”

Today the loudspeaker in my neighborhood is filled with the voice of the elementary school principal who is orchestrating the final moments of “Pinwheels for Peace.” Her voice rings out across the suburban lawns: we are  assembled in the name of peace,  peace beyond us depends on peace within. The voices of the children rise to accompany a song—we are keeping peace with what we do and say. A whistle cuts through the noise; classes are dismissed. The shiny pinwheels on the school lawn will spin until they are felled by the first snow.

Poetry, though, lives on as the “other way,”—a means of staking out our objections and imagining alternative perspectives. It’s a vision I’ve admired in the work of Ilyse Kusnetz (1966-2016), whose poems reflect a global reach, historical accuracy, and deep compassion. Carolyn Forché describes Small Hours, the 2014 T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize winner, as “a radiant mosaic shot through with chips of historical time.” Kusnetz’s poems hold fast to a belief in poetry as action, as a way of resisting the current, as a reminder of the necessity of cultivating peace.

 

 

Hitler’s Alarm Clock, 1945

                        Für frieden freiheit und demokratie nie wieder faschismus millionen tote mahnen.
(For peace, freedom and democracy, never again Fascism, millions of dead admonish.)
—Written on a stone marker outside the house in Branau where Hitler lived as a boy

 

No one saw the Jewish baker

snatch it from its bedside perch

 

and slip it into his overcoat—

Hitler’s childhood room preserved

 

down to a pair of gabardine

short trousers hanging over his chair.

 

My uncle carried that clock

the rest of the war, woke each morning

 

to its empty crowing, then took it

back to Brooklyn. Three years later

 

his toddler sons, twin prodigies,

stole it from his drawer,

 

dismantling the mechanism beyond repair—

every wheel and cog and spring

 

spread across the living room table

like airplane wreckage he’d seen

 

a senseless array of parts,

forlorn as disassembled countries,

 

or memories who narratives

lie lost and scattered like ash.

 

 

For more on Small Hours and Ilyse Kusnetz:

Poetry International reviews Small Hours

Connotation Press interviews Ilyse Kusnetz and Brian Turner

Ilyse Kusnetz featured  on Rattle‘s Poets Respond

“How live outside this shape and this intention…”

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Last night coming home from a walk, I caught a quick glimpse of a praying mantis, alert, slowing moving its triangular head, scanning the twilight sky. Caught quickly in a photograph, it looked like a splash of citron and lime against a black porch railing, the last bit of color as the houses across the street were vanishing into the dark.

Summer seemed so expansive—it began with Poetry by the Sea (an amazing conference you can read about here and here) and ended with cornfields and crows and constellations shining bright against the prairie sky.

Summer’s all but gone, though you might not know it here in Baltimore where it’s upward of ninety degrees. Whatever. As Amazon Prime video reminds me, fall has officially arrived and for most of us that means re-entry—putting flip flops and free time aside for the more-order bound routines of the classroom or work place. It’s not an easy shift. So I was glad to get a cheerful text from my starting-senior-year-in-college daughter: a jpg of a Cold-War era American Girl doll with a winky-face emoticon.

Dolls are charming, comforting, and creepy, depending on your view—they are fascinating, frozen figures, compelling images on which we project our deepest fears and fantasies. This is the premise of Kim Bridgford’s DOLL (Main Street Rag, 2014), a collection where childhood toys and inflatable companions illuminate truths we prefer to veil.

Bridgford’s eight books shine with a fierce intelligence and compassionate, feminist vision (2012’s Bully Pulpit explores the phenomenon of mobbing as played out in history, literature, film, and the contemporary worlds of social media and academia). Bridgford has always excelled at breathing new life into traditional forms, and as poet Terri Witek notes, her newest book,  Human Interest (White Violet Press), “demands that we re-think poetic forms as more than heritage, challenge, or trap: they are Bridgford’s own strong bones stood up hard against a seriously skewed world.”

Though her poems show a special empathy for the lives and work of literary heroines (Bishop, Angelou, Dickinson, and Plath among them) and excels in bringing to life canonical characters from myth and fairy tale, Bridgford is a keen follower of popular culture, bringing an equally discerning eye to the world of sports, science fiction, and film.

Here, for example, is a replicant in a moment of crisis that resonates with anyone who’s felt their identity slipping away. It speaks to the selves we miss, the selves we want to hold onto while we face up and meet each day’s demands.

 

INFLATABLE DOLL HAS A MOMENT OF CRISIS WHILE WATCHING BLADE RUNNER

 

One evening, on the couch, she realized this:

She did not know her past, that she framed life

Through moments, one by one. In plastic grief

She knew she was the “pleasure model,” Pris.

How live outside this shape and this intention,

Become one’s own, not someone else’s invention?

Where were her photographs? Her memories? Family tree?

How would she find her genealogy?

She couldn’t ask him, but she trembled now.

She knew how the adopted craved to know

The who-they-were before the who-they-are.

Who made her who she is? Who was her maker?

Now certain words made sense—an order, a factory.

But not enough to quell, be satisfactory.

 

To read more of Kim’s work, check out Human Interest Human Interest and Doll.

 

 

Kim Bridgford is the director of Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference. As the editor of Mezzo Cammin, she founded The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. Bridgford is the author of nine books of poetry, including  Human Interest (White Violet, 2016).

To get there you had to go…

The first line of “The End of History”–the first poem in my first book of poetry–enjambs into a longer sentence: “To get there you had to go/where many had gone before,//taking the archaic route/the dream of commerce had cut//past worn ramparts, the Ridgeway over the hill.”

I wrote that poem a long time ago–astonishingly, in another century–but it seemed like a good way to welcome you to my website: another type of beginning. Back then, I was preoccupied with history’s end, but years later, we’re still here, confronting all that history brings us and still watching the future unfold.

Here you’ll find links to the poetry and prose that trace my life as a writer, mother, U.K. and U.S. dual national, rock music fan, professor, partner, and more, and maybe discover something in common with your own preoccupations.

Check out the links and please come back soon: I’ll be adding more in the coming weeks, including news of my next project, the anthology I’m co-editing with Laurie Kruk: Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland (forthcoming on Demeter Press).