SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JOANNA CHEN


Joanna head shot


A STRANGE VITALITY
By Joanna Chen

I saw a body fly through the air
last night on the highway—
a tiny Chagall figure, arms
belonging to a diver, legs
to an astronaut, his helmet a halo
of blue, catapulted into a swirling
sky edged in thunder. Before he landed
I thought of my father-in-law
born in Belarus, a gentle wisp
of a man whose eyes, pale
gray on his death bed, tore
through the frame of life.


Today’s poem was previously published in Radar Poetry and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Joanna Chen is a British writer currently living in Israel. Her essays, poems, and literary translations have been published in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Poet Lore, Asymptote, Guernica, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast, among others.

Editor’s Note: A brilliant, devastating little poem. A poem that contains the human body, sky and thunder, memory and death within its twelve short lines. And those lines! Their movement, their lyricism, their power. How epic the body, “catapulted into a swirling / sky edged in thunder,” how soft the repose, the “gentle wisp / of a man [with] eyes, pale.” And from that softness, the final throe–of the poem and of the life it recalls–the man who “tore / through the frame of life.”

This poem is an impactful experience on the page, and it is another experience to hear it read aloud by the poet. I suggest you hop over to Radar, click the play button, and read along as Joanna Chen adds another dimension to this work.

Want more from Joanna Chen?
The View From Here – Los Angeles Review of Books
JoannaChen.com
“Betrayal” by Agi Mishol, Translated by Joanna Chen
“All is Forgiven Between Us” – Narratively
“What the Trees Reveal” – Guernica

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SARA TEASDALE ON SUMMER


Sara-Teasdale


SUMMER NIGHT, RIVERSIDE
By Sara Teasdale

In the wild soft summer darkness
How many and many a night we two together
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson
Wearing her lights like golden spangles
Glinting on black satin.
The rail along the curving pathway
Was low in a happy place to let us cross,
And down the hill a tree that dripped with bloom
Sheltered us,
While your kisses and the flowers,
Falling, falling,
Tangled in my hair….
The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky.
And now, far off
In the fragrant darkness
The tree is tremulous again with bloom
For June comes back.
To-night what girl
Dreamily before her mirror shakes from her hair
This year’s blossoms, clinging to its coils?


Today poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here accordingly.


Sara Teasdale (1884–1933) received public admiration for her well-crafted lyrical poetry which centered on a woman’s changing perspectives on beauty, love, and death. Many of Teasdale’s poems chart developments in her own life, from her experiences as a sheltered young woman in St. Louis, to those as a successful yet increasingly uneasy writer in New York City, to a depressed and disillusioned person who would commit suicide in 1933. Although many later critics would not consider Teasdale a major poet, she was popular in her lifetime with both the public and critics. She won the first Columbia Poetry Prize in 1918, a prize that would later be renamed the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. (Annotated biography courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.)


Editor’s Note: In classic Sara Teasdale style, a poem about summer is really a poem about love. I am reminded of Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish, and of the ways in which poetry reverberates off of human experience, spanning time, space, and language.


Want to read more by and about Sara Teasdale?
Academy of American Poets
The Poetry Foundation
Love Songs (winner of the Columbia Prize for Poetry)

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Hedy Habra: A Micro-Interview and Three Poems

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OE: The poems in Under Brushstrokes are ekphrastic, but they don’t always announce themselves as such. How do you conceive of ekphrasis and how do you mobilize it as a technique in these poems?

HH: I do not aim at giving a purely ekphrastic rendition of the artworks through a mere description, but rather use the image as a point of departure for a surreal or oneiric recreation that may depart from the original. In Under Brushstrokes, poems often engage in a dialogue with the artist or his model, eliminating the boundaries of time and space, or offer an imagined version of what might have happened before or after the portrayed scene, oftentimes from the point of view of one of the characters in the paintings.
Although some of the poems in Under Brushstrokes are intrinsically connected to the artwork, I gradually wanted poems to stand on their own. With time, I decided against using epigraphs, and most poems were submitted to journals and published without acknowledging the source of inspiration. When I compiled the collection, I listed at the end the artists’ names and titles with their corresponding poems, in order to offer readers an additional perspective along with a different layer of interpretation. I chose to write many of the poems without knowing the identity of the artist, to be freed from preconceptions; although I also enjoy writing with a conscious knowledge of the artist and his work.

OE: You make use of myth in various ways in your poetry. Could you tell us in what ways you funhouse-mirror the contents of myth to create your own work?

HH: We find echoes of these allegories in our daily lives, and one of the roles of poetry is to highlight these similarities, which mirror archetypal patterns of the unconscious. I was always fascinated by the fissures between the oftentimes contradictory versions of a given myth or legend. It is tempting to enable a character–stilled within pigments–to tell his/her story. In Under Brushstrokes, writing a poem from Europa’s point of view, for example, ironically subverts the accepted version, because it aims at revealing that she wasn’t raped but participated in Zeus’ seduction. The painting that inspired this poem suggests a sensuous interaction and complicity between the young woman and the sacred bull. In another poem, as she is being encircled with bark, Daphne laments to have refused Apollo’s advances, and reconsiders her former decision to escape. Although myths have their own sacred time linked to the present, the mirroring between their different artistic depictions reveals that they aren’t frozen in time but open to reinterpretations and re-appropriation.

OE: You also work with Spanish-language literature. How does this influence your work, either directly or indirectly?

HH: I love magical realism and the way some fabulist authors incorporate dreamlike and surreal elements in their work. I favor texts that mix levels of reality and blur boundaries between genres. My favorite Latin American poet is Octavio Paz, who has vastly experimented with form and genres, and wrote superb prose poems. I greatly admire Borges, Cortázar, Lorca, and the Neruda of Residencia en la tierra, among many others. In Under Brushstrokes, prose poems alternate with verse, as though each poem seems to dictate a particular form.

There are a myriad of authors that have affected me as a reader and as a writer. I grew up with French literature, with an early love for Baudelaire’s and Rimbaud’s verse and prose poems. I also love Italian literature, namely Montale’s poetry, and lyrical fabulists such as Buzzati, and Calvino, whose Invisible Cities I constantly revisit. It is difficult to pin point influences but my profound admiration for all these authors’ œuvre has undoubtedly influenced my writing, consciously as well as unconsciously.

***

Brushstrokes

Without any sound, waves permeate the floor, algae cover the curtains with an insidious verdigris patina, and she watches herself, complacent, looking awry in the mirror while she unbuttons her black evening dress, a mirror that remains empty like her own life. Seated in a sofa, back turned, he drowns in his indifference into the surge, and surely, it is his face that is seen reflected in the portrait hanging on the wall, an immersed look, barely visible behind the wide-open newspaper. Waters rise to the rhythm of the notes resounding from the rear window, in which a man with a white wig plays the piano, as though it were Mozart composing his Requiem. The painter raises inexorably the level of the waters, and the woman knows that even in that last moment, she will only be fulfilled by drowning in the torrent furtively surrounding them.

***

Broken Ladder

I am no longer this little boy who ran away at night to milk the moon and stars. What am I to do if the ladder is broken, leaving golden threads dangling in broad daylight, braided rays of hardened light yet fine as silk spun by a silkworm, once linking me to that lost site of fearless joys? But I will send back the stardust I fed on for so long. Now you know why I study the Almanac, awaiting for the right day and time when wheat is ripe, reaching high into those rays of light. You know why I’m here, in the midst of this field, dressed in my Sunday clothes: I will pull these gilded chords as those of a tower bell ringing above beckoning a gift filled with the substance of dreams, wrapped with Queen Mab’s veils. Don’t fear it is too heavy: it weighs less than a breath or a sigh. Let the wind blow softly, watch it rise to the top with your eyes closed.

***

The Memory of Unspoken Words

She has landed on the deck of an abandoned wreck, fails to remember how she swallowed the fiery ball that pulled her like a tidal wave into the stillness of a metallic sky steeped in lavender where angry clouds hover around the drowning sun suffused with coral. Her pillow is a melted cloud filled with birds that forgot how to fly and now swim in a pool that overflows the deck, washing the souls of dead sailors from every leak and corner. She presses on her eyelids to find a different ending to their story, sees her body glow with scales and the fish in the pool grow wings. She knows every drop of water will vanish at dawn, erasing with black ink her luminous shape, alive only in the formless night, and the rainbow will soon shine over a boat with discarded bags heavy with the stained memory of unspoken words and broken planks.

***

[The above poems initially appeared in Danse Macabre and Pirene’s Fountain and are reprinted here by permission of the author.]

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Who Is Bernie Sanders?

Bernie-Sanders-665x385

Who Is Bernie Sanders?

by Vincent Czyz and Okla Elliott

His national poll rating has more than doubled, to nearly 11%, in only five weeks. His rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire attracted larger crowds than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican. Copies of his memoir, focusing on his 1996 congressional race, are now selling for more than $250 on Amazon, and money is also pouring in from all over the country. In the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy, Sanders pulled $1.5 million—mostly from small donors ($40 on average), though still more than any other presidential candidate on the first day. But the question for millions of Americans remains: who is Bernie Sanders?

Sanders was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. His father was a Polish immigrant and paint salesman. “That created tensions for our parents, and that was an important part of our life,” said the senator’s 80-year-old brother, Larry, who now lives in Oxford, England, where he recently stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Green Party (as quoted in The Guardian).

Bernie Sanders, who moved to Vermont and made a living as a youth counselor and a carpenter, went on to become a four-term mayor of Burlington and an eight-term US Congress member. He is currently serving his second term as a US Senator, and he won his last election for the US Senate with an astounding 71% of the vote—all the more impressive when one recalls he ran as an independent and had a democratic challenger siphoning off some of the liberal vote. When we consider his CV, it is clear he is more qualified than many previous presidents of the United States. Any argument that he isn’t ready to serve in that office therefore fails immediately.

Unlike many current candidates who have adopted trendy rhetoric, Bernie has been fighting the good fight for a full four decades. As far back as 1974, he was already pointing to the widening disparity between ballooning corporate profits (along with the runaway accumulation of wealth for the very few) to the take-home pay of the average worker. In his 1981 inaugural speech, he took on “giant banks and multimillion-dollar corporations.” In 1988, he was asked on C-Span 1988 what he, as a socialist mayor, would like to see from the next president. He called for a candidate who recognizes “that we have an extreme disparity between rich and poor, that elections are bought and sold.” By around 1996, Sanders had begun the dialogue about the wealthiest “one percent,” a phrase that now seems to bear the copyright of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which Sanders fully supported, and has since been pilfered by mainstreamers, such as Hillary Clinton. He has also been in support of gay rights for decades, well before it became mainstream in the Democratic Party and the culture as a whole.

Speaking of Clinton, less than two months ago, she enjoyed a 21-percentage point lead over her nearest competitor in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary campaign. That lead is down to 8 points: she leads Sanders 43 to 35 percent according to a new WMUR/CNN Granite State Poll, which was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center from June 18 to 24. The poll included 360 likely 2016 Democratic primary voters and has a margin of error of 5.2 percent. In other words, Sanders is closing in on a statistical dead heat with Clinton.

The trend is clear: in polls conducted about a year ago, Clinton led Sanders among likely Democratic voters by a margin of 59 percent to 5 percent. Now likely Democratic voters see Sanders as the candidate who best represents the values of the Democratic Party, 41 to Clinton’s 30 percent. And 45 percent said Sanders cares the most about “people like you,” while 24 percent named Clinton.

The only thing Sanders has to fear, it seems, are the naysayers, who admit he is by far the best candidate for president of the United States but insist “he can’t win.” Didn’t we hear this in 2008 when a black man with a Muslim-sounding name, who had been “a senator for five minutes,” as Hillary condescendingly put it, ran for president?

For an in-depth look at Sanders on the issues, visit his website at: https://berniesanders.com/

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: SARA JUNE WOODS

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& SOMEWHERE THE SUN
By Sara June Woods

Somewhere there is a clearing
in a forest where the world is
not a lonely place.

Somewhere there is a mountain
I have written on in forest fires
that says I am sorry I am not

the one you were looking for.
I wanted to be so badly.
But I am just this one person.

& it says all this
spiraling across
below the tree line.

& somewhere the sun
looks the same coming up
as it does going down.


Today’s poem was previously published in jellyfish magazine and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Sara June Woods is author of three books, Sara or the Existence of Fire (Horse Less Press, 2014), Wolf Doctors (Artifice Books, 2014) and the forthcoming Careful Mountain (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). Her poetry is published widely in journals such as Guernica, Columbia Poetry Review, Diagram, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly and Salt Hill. She is a trans woman and a Scorpio and she lives in Portland, OR with her girlfriend she is married to.

Editor’s Note: What do you do when a poem is heartbreaking? When its simple, honest revelations break your heart? When its line breaks break you? What do you do with a poem that devastates you with its simple, brutal truth? With a poem that’s so good, it hurts to read it? Why, you share it, of course. Here, you say to the world. You’re welcome.

Want more from Sara June Woods?
Healthy Dog Poem – Writing by Sara June Woods
P(r)o(bl)em – saramountain tumblr

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MARIANNE KUNKEL

Kunkel photo
By Marianne Kunkel:

A SLOTH FIRST HEARS ITS NAME

But why should it care? It munches
a cecropia leaf. It probes the air
with its blunt snout, detecting
a waft of sour coconut. It lumbers to a branch,
grabs hold with its claws, drops,
dangling upside down like a knapsack.
It doesn’t know to feel ashamed
that its name means lazy and sinful.
Like my little sister
after her abortion, when our father
changed her name from Molly to Molly.


Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Marianne Kunkel is the author of the chapbook The Laughing Game (Finishing Line Press), as well as many poems that have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Notre Dame Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. A former managing editor of Prairie Schooner, she is an assistant professor of creative writing and publishing at Missouri Western State University, where she edits the undergraduate literary journal The Mochila Review. Follow her on Twitter @mariannekunkel.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is awesome for a myriad of reasons. Because it is about sloths (sort of). Because it is about words, about labels, about judgment and ignorant bliss. Because it vibrant both with images and with sound. Because it houses epic proportions in eleven short lines. Because its advocacy relies on neither a soap box nor a sense of superiority. But what is most striking about today’s poem, perhaps, is its volta. The way it turns the world of the poem on its head. The way it leaves the reader staggering, contemplative, changed.

Want more from Marianne Kunkel?
Verse Daily
“To Pee or not to Pee,” Portland Review
“Keep Away,” Portland Review
Phoebe
Rattle

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Time for the Professoriate to Lead the Way

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Time for the Professoriate to Lead the Way

by William Trent Pancoast

It’s about time for working folks to stand up for themselves. Walmart workers haven’t been able to get it done. The old line unions are still reeling from the ongoing attacks begun by Reagan and continued by the right wing.

It looks to me like it should happen on our college campuses, and it should for starters be about adjunct instructors having a chance to make a living wage with benefits. That will require that tenured faculty support adjuncts. Much of the bargaining success of the United Auto Workers resulted from skilled and unskilled (high wage and low wage) belonging to the same union. Tenured faculty, making $50,000-$175,000 annual pay with health care and retirement, and adjuncts, making piecework of roughly $400 to $1000 per credit hour taught with no benefits, must join together. They need to form unions, bargain, and be willing to go on strike if necessary. If the brightest group in our country can’t take on the right wing corporatists, who can?

I’m calling out the Professoriate. Folks who spend eight to twelve years in undergraduate, masters, and PhD programs and are respected for their achievements, intelligence, and contributions to our society and civilization. Someone needs to take on the global corporations killing the planet and demeaning the humans on it. Someone needs to take on the corporatization of our universities that has resulted in up to 75% of college instructors serving as low paid temps. Who is better positioned to fight this war than the best educated and most intellectually capable group among us?

The middle and working classes continue to be stunted. They need raises. Benefits. Retirement. Some hope for the future. While the middle class needs to regain its losses, the working class needs its ladder put back.

Walmart seemed like the Great Labor Hope. Its employees have organized in some areas and done informational pickets and strikes. A nationwide strike by Walmart employees would result in a good contract within 48 hours. Once Walmart’s bean counters told the brass that what the striking employees wanted was what the company had lost in two days, the middle class would be on its way back. But the national momentum is not there for Walmart workers to organize. Many are ignorant of unions and scared for the minimum wage jobs they need. Maybe just like adjuncts.

The industrial unions in steel, auto, glass, and rubber have been decimated by off-shoring and never-ending attacks on wages and benefits. The Big Three, after the 2008 collapse of capitalism as we know it, is finally profitable again with workers perhaps getting raises after seven years of givebacks. (Please don’t tell me about Ford. The only reason they didn’t go bankrupt is that they borrowed every nickel of equity in the company before the depression began in 2008.) The United Auto Workers can’t even organize the transplants, most of which are in the south, even though the foreign factories are sweatshops with 50% temps making low wages with no benefits.

Lately refinery and port workers have gone on strike and improved their situations. The United Auto Workers were recently in Detroit at their Special Bargaining Convention, an event that not long ago set this country’s social agenda through what it decided to bargain for—vacations and sick leave, retirement and safety, apprenticeships and worker training, unemployment compensation and civil rights, family leave and health care, always health care, always trying to negotiate a one payer system for every citizen. Labor set the agenda after World War II to develop and protect our middle class. It is now next to powerless and nothing has so far taken its place.

The college Professoriate should be the group to take on the corporatism in the university system by addressing the adjunct crisis and securing good pay, benefits, and job security for all college instructors. The ruckus they make in accomplishing this task will help move the discussion, and our middle class, forward. They have the brain power, work ethic, and hopefully the moral compass to get the job done.

How would they do it? A lot of frustration has been moldering in the ranks of the adjuncts. They are the institutional temps whose low wages and lack of benefits are carrying the load in higher education. The tenured faculty should also be open to the chance to lead the way in saving our middle class. They surely understand that unless the bottom ranks are protected by labor unions, they themselves, or their successors, will become adjuncts. As tenured professors retire, many will not be replaced. Then a day will come when none are replaced.

Everything about higher education and the Professoriate is involved in this social venture of taking back our universities from the education corporatists: economics and law, literacy, every science, the humanities, government, medicine, religion. No segment of academia would get a by. Of course they would need to acknowledge their own dire conditions. Academia would need to step up to organize and educate.

It is not difficult to tap into the framework of unionism today. Call the United Auto Workers at Solidarity House in Detroit. Invite the office professionals (OEPIU) in. The unions will respond big time. They can have the infrastructure for adjunct organizing in place quickly. Start a new union. Use the brave adjuncts who led the recent walkout and informational pickets on Adjunct Day last February. They have a framework in place.
Maybe I’m a crackpot, some kind of dinosaur pushing for a solution from the past. Maybe I’m generalizing that Solidarity is even possible in such diverse ranks as the Professoriate. Maybe I’m crazy to suggest such an idea—that the best educated, but also the most exploited, group in America today should go to war against global corporations, and specifically corporatism in education, in order to redefine and strengthen our middle class so that it can survive another generation.

But nothing will change the truth of the matter at hand. The corporatists are trashing our economy and educational system by taking more resources for themselves at the expense of the workers on the bottom. If our country’s Professoriate will not step forward and engage the enemy, who will?

***

William Trent Pancoast’s recent fiction has appeared in Night Train, Revolver, Steel Toe Revue, and Fried Chicken and Coffee. His novels are Wildcat and Crashing, with a third, Valley Real Estate, soon to appear. His story collection Vietnam. Fucking Vietnam is looking for a publisher. Pancoast spent 25 years as a labor newspaper editor and is a 1972 graduate of the Ohio State University. He lives in Ontario, Ohio.

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