Get your mind off the cold winter weather for a moment and enter into the dreamlike space of this week’s vintage poetry pick, “The Centaur Festival.” Miho Nonaka’s short but scintillatingly detailed poem will once again take readers away to celebrate with mysterious creatures in a foreign realm, just as it did when it originally appeared in DB 3, Fall/Winter 2001-2002.
“…Fish-mouthed, you pass through rows
Of acetylene torches, the stalls of tortoise shell candies,
Cinnamon water, and bottles of five-pointed sand grains-“
Miho Nonaka is a bilingual poet from Tokyo, Japan and a professor of English at Wheaton College. Her poetry and essays have been published in numerous anthologies and journals. For more about Nonaka’s publications and research, check out her page on Wheaton’s website.
A unique combination of words and images, Vintage DB 28 is a treat for poetry- and art-lovers alike. Holly Woodward’s inspiring pieces of visual poetry, including “Pieces of Paradise,” “Before Time Made Mistakes,” and others, previously appeared in DB 15, Spring 2012.
“The god makes straight
for his old enemy, the abyss;
he falls, down to his heart
At his approach rocks shatter and
for the earth has become open…” (Pieces of Paradise)
Holly Woodward is an artist of many mediums such as poetry, calligraphy, and painting. Her work has been published in a multitude of journals and she published a chapbook, Wanting, in 2009. For some of Woodward’s occasional musing and updates on her writing, visit her blog at Wit’s End.
I read a lot of contemporary poetry because 1) I love it and 2) I’m always looking for poets discovering new ways to talk about everyday experiences. Fresh from reading at the bi-annual Dodge Poetry Festival (link to dodgepoetry.org), I picked up a few books at the book fair.
Dance Dance Revolution and Engine Empire
Cathy Park Hong
Where has Cathy been all my life? I had the good fortune of reading with her at Dodge and ever since I’ve enamored with her verbal dexterity and word play. The writer in me is interested in how an author moves from one collection to the next. Her work is electric, vibrant, and prophetic. Both books play with language that goes right to the edge, but feels purposeful. She’s not just playing with words— she’s a poetry dominatrix!
Prelude to a Bruise
Saeed is just a lovely, lovely person and a talented poet. I’m so happy his words are connecting with audiences. Prelude to a Bruise is a brutal, honest, and brilliant first collection that shines a bright light on race, sex, sexual orientation, pleasure and, of course, pain. And I can’t turn away.
C. Dale Young
The way C. Dale studies the interior and exterior worlds of mind and body is masterful. There are always opposing forces in his poetry, a skillful tension on every page of Torn. The continuous, difficult work of repair—that’s what I love about C. Dale’s poems.
When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone
A few weeks before Galway passed, I pulled out my former professor’s collection, which is my favorite. “The Last Gods,” “Oatmeal”—I hear his voice when I read his poems. It was so strong and deliberate, which has always come through his poems throughout his writing career. He could always find beauty in the ugliest places. His strong pull to narrative, to examining an object from the inside out and back again, to the playfulness of having breakfast with Keats—I will miss Galway’s voice in contemporary American poetry.
People say “we need to have this conversation.” A lot of the conversations go a particular direction, a narrow road posing as the most sensible road. You have the same conversation a lot. Sometimes the people you have that conversation with do the shitty things you had the conversation about. You start to believe the conversation is a trap, a closed loop. These conversations become a place to waste away, a familiar sanatorium. It’s considered healthy to speak, no matter what is being said, who is speaking. People vie for positions within the logic/hierarchy of the conversation. Other conversations might be possible, but by the time you get to them, you are glazy as fuck. A thick lacquer around your heart. Eyes like glossy disks. Ok, you say, I will keep talking, though there is no cure here. You ignore your inbox out of boredom and desperation. You don’t want to write anymore, talk anymore. Under the regime of the conversation, resting for a moment on the possibility of your existence, a momentary consideration of your being, is an extraction of empathy elixir so precious these interlocutors might bleed out. Because you are *the telling one,* they worry deeply about the one not telling. They worry without being able to think why you are designated the telling one at all. They register your telling as a series of whimpers and ungodly noise. They are waiting for godly noise.
Sometimes you find the people who know how the conversation happens, the mechanisms of the conversation, who know your boredom, your rage, and want to get together. This togetherness has its own possible failures. Attending to these failures will mean trying to theorize and live and spark, from glazy places.
With some help from some friends, I’ll be trying to write from behind the glaze, in a series of poems, essays, reading lists, etc. This week, some poems.
“Some problems in trying to tell you”
For Anne Boyer
i’m catastrophizing/a series of catastrophes are blowing up all the tender things,
i’m being grim/a lot of shit is grim,
i’m weaving this narrative/the narrative is warping the character fabric to become “me,”
this girl is traveling to another time/she is trapped in a clinic being drained of blood in my dream i am jealous, bodies are laughing underneath a blanket, their outlines speaking to each other
in the dream i have no eyes and can’t possibly be seeing that, but the dream is telling me what to know, saying “you already see” dear feminist affective categories, the psychic pedagogy of envy
“I was a young asshole too once” is a way to assert youth invalidates a politics, somewhere, these people say, is a properly political subject: curious how it shifts just out of sight, far, comfortably away from their social sphere, life.
in the clinic she hold her vacant eyes in her hands, these will not be taken
she is traveling through the blanket, all the bodies melt into the blanket, in the clinic bodies are growing thin, thinner than any “I” can hold
the centrifuge spins her blood out, but separation doesn’t save her
the periphery is still a place in relation to a center so how to undo the relations
underneath the skin, more skin, full of knowing stuff
inflaming all that stuff is all the time already sold
street hawkers dance to the clacking of severed falcon beaks
there aren’t not enough words anyone can say to speak truth to power
Anne and I talk about how there aren’t enough Enlightenments to confess…
or provide mental “lamb-as-victim” pornography for…
that can’t end well!
nobody want to look you in the eye when you say xxxx, but everyone still wants to hear the story to judge for themselves
when you begin to tell, you become the one who tells,
but whether the girl gives or is taken for blood, she is carelessly leaving blood everywhere, she was born bloody, born in a clinic of suckers
“The beatings do not work, the accountability processes do not work, banishment does not work, forgiveness does not work”
“The fact that sometimes a XXXX chooses a violent response suggests that of all the impossible choices given to XXXX, XXXX has opted for the one that express the actual degree of hostility at the level of the social group– that is, the hostility of XXXX as a group against the domination of YYYY as a group. “
girl becomes the point of catharsis in her telling, but catharsis shaped not by her actions: an extractive way
how much blood the clinic needs, how many clients are thirsty, she fills out a form, is asked invasive questions, waits, bored watching the clinic clock as they slap suckers onto her skin their slime covered exoskeletons shuddering with contact
a stunt girl, jumping into a multi vocal plain, a sea of alien bodies glittering like walruses, shored up on this death beach, their bodies already rendered bounceable, surface-like
recall a poster reading “WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE AGAIN” as you sit in the clinic, holding your own hand, phantom fingers sprouting from the wrists, to scratch at the palms, stuck between the telling and a bad place
Materials toward conspiracy
<Plasticgirl.gif> spins around
You can turn her over and do what you like
Some are more flexible than others
This one manufactured in a plastic landscape
Developed quickly to turnover
This other one has lumpy arms
They grow heavy with rocks
She is immobile, until the moment these giant arms swing up and out
Like a wrecking ball
In the Oxhide films, Liu Jiayin is a glitch in the room
Hemmed in by walls, broken conduit becomes shimmery
Shows its digitized edges, the limits of an avatar
What happens when the figure of employability “small hands”
Dumplings get made
A hide is slowly scraped and stretched in the dark laboratory
Everything turns into a fucking epic
Very few cuts means you watch the plastic ooze in near real time
Warped by the desire for the cuts and then acceptance of ooze, its obscurity
Many animals were harmed in the making of this
The pessimism stored inside the glitch may yet turn itself out
A mistake often made when putting a plasticgirl
In your pocket, in your house, in your city:
A plastic parts trojan can explode at high velocity
When the femme fatales and the gumihos finally get together
They don’t just want your heart or phallus to eat
As plasticgirls they want the whole thing
Snuggled up in the cellular space
And spread inconsolably
Like big drippy tears
As the clinic clock ticks
This one is supposed to be quite a bendy, a flexible one.
All the elastic qualities, all the fleshy leftover.
This one supposed to be the accommodating bridge.
Meant to soothe the angst of the periphery but not live there too much.
This one is called a traveler, but this is not the traveler who interprets and translates, the translation goes in one direction.
A plastic part, slipped in between, to smooth a transition, a cheap conduit, a replaceable thing.
This one has a house inside of it, or a dream of a house, every aspect of it so sunken in, so turned inside out, so broken, it is more like a threadbare house-shaped pocket.
Paranoid fringe which frays out, puffs, a lace made of trash.
This one is gonna look the part of properly spangled, a big gilt letter, flung loose and whirling through the charred tornado.
Book -knife- cake: what friends are for, against love.
This one is in love though, soaked in it, a pineapple bath upside down rum flambé of love.
There was a particular music to the sound of friends names, and that was because they repeated, then suddenly wanting another atonal noise.
This one is flat and lacks personality, refuses to perform, just hides all coy in undefined eyebrows.
Can a thing be said to have friendship, thing looks upon the book, the knife, and the cake, wet with envy.
This one lives in the closet as a dog, or else in the office as a plant.
The dog or the plant are routines for making better workers, plugging in data into a template, an architecture, putting biscuits inside a mouth, pushing pellets into a soil.
This one is a loose scholar, full of soil, grit all up in the pen, the eyes, the holes, the creases.
A poorly welded crease in the conduit is leaking all the juice and all the goo and all manner of odorous.
This one tried to believe in smelly music, tried to tear more conduits open through this shadow optimism.
Plastic parts can become its own junk river, its own oozy smear upon the earth.
This one becomes its own junk vehicle on the junk river which sings a junk song.
Ownership gets melted and gooed too, an oil that moves slowly toward fire.
This one says there’s a whole lot of brushing against, glasses clinking lightly, but what of the movement of the smears?
Dirt vehicles are being wheeled into a showcase, all marked with their special number, brushed with pineapple glaze and told so lovely, so lovely.
This one holds up the letter with all the names of men who are threatening to sue, declares it is a letter from the city, declares it a record of the arrested, and it is burned.
A micro-scene is not the economy, not a city, not a jail, it is hardly a place at all, yet this one circulates in it, yet this one languishes in it, yet this one dies in it, a scene of two, or a polyamorygooglecalendar, or the brutal ice rink of a bitter town, it’s all circling and scraping at the ice.
This one refuses to call the letter burning and what may yet still come “anti-violence,” the odor is acrid, the junk counter-cuts, and the floppy lace is invasive, refuses to promise safety.
Wildly external, wandering and carving and whipping the place up: destroy the scene.
The butchers sat down to dinner. The table was covered in silk damask, strewn around were tiny rubies, meant to look like glistening drops of blood, to whet the appetite. Those who had their heavy hands on the table got rubies stuck to them, leaving ghostly marks on the skin. Their skin washed as it was in blood, so many times over, and had stained. They were rubbed with a cream of snails, and then dusted in pearl powder. This was allowed to set, and in the candlelight, they glowed of subdued blood. They were butchers not vampires so it was right the blood was external in this way. Their boots were still covered in the sticky oil of the rivers, and the sludge moved throughout the course of the dinner, off of the rubber and onto the floor and the carpets and mysteriously, even to the curtains and the crystal ware. Later in the evening they would be set upon the world, but for now, they ate carefully, cutting the organs with expert precision, their knives knowing what was sinew, what muscle, what would give away and what would remain stubbornly wedded. Each wore a gold necklace, on which dangled the words bad bitches. As they ate, they became vessels of all the organs and all the cuts on the organs, which were now obscured in the dark glass of the butchers’ bodies. Tonight, the butchers whispered to each other in total conspiracy, tonight, they said exchanging kisses and bites, tonight they would swallow a light into their vessels and run together into the town.
& BACK AGAIN
she sat next to the river so tired she couldn’t move her arms to cover her eyes from the sun above so she closed them and peered at the sparks of her eyelids she sat next to the river and did not watch the junks pass by but knew that they were she pushes her fingers against the knotted muscles on her face from grinding her jaw from too much coffee from being on the phone she moves her bad shoulder to make its clicking sound she sat next to the water and felt warm a savory warmth like she’d just eaten a hamburger all of her body was softening like trash she couldn’t feel her hands her hands were dispersed foam puffs lapping with the edge of the river just riding it if she stayed here long enough her body would become rose-colored estranged from the rose if she stayed longer it would get covered in husks blown out of a buckwheat pillow then she might look like a natural thing a passive place like they always said she resembled her insecure architecture was showing they said while she peeled and applied a sticker on her particular spot by the river when she was younger she had to wet and wring a small towel and put it by her bed so her insides would not dry out and sicken she had to chew boiled greens that were covered in tiny thorns so she couldn’t chew so fast but had to chew enough to go from bitter to sweetness all along that river all the river
Oki Sogumi was born in Seoul, lives in Philadelphia (recently transplanted from Oakland), and writes poetry, speculative fiction, and into little boxes on the internet. She dreams commune dreams.
Most grown-ups can probably remember what it was like to be young and desperate to impress older peers, to seem “cool,” and to make impulsive decisions based on what other people might think. Take a moment to reflect on your childhood and see how Edward Hagelstein perfectly channels these experiences in “Drop, Rock, and Roll.” Hagelstein’s piece originally appeared in the Short Short Fiction section of DB 12, Summer 2010, a collection of brief stories all centered around the theme of “Freedom and Belonging.”
“And so, with J. Geils thumping in the speakers and someone in the back seat pounding Jesse’s brain into jello with drumsticks on his headrest, he tromped on the gas and steered for the unfortunate barefoot boys. As the drummers realized what he was doing, the drumming stopped, and Peter Wolf even seemed to be struck into silence as the engine roared and the boys ran for the shallow ditch on the side of the road…”