SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JOANNA FUHRMAN AND TONI SIMON

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By Joanna Fuhrman and Toni Simon:

from FRIEND OF THE DEAD


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from HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?


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from THE RULER OF RUSTED KNEES


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Selections from “Friend of the Dead” originally appeared in Paperbag, selections from “How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You” originally appeared in Talisman, and selections from “The Ruler of Rusted Knees” originally appeared in Posit. These selections appear here today with permission from the poet.


Artists’ Statement: In our mixed-media literary project, Egyptian gods, stripped of their context and role, wander various New York City neighborhoods trying to figure out where they belong, how to make sense of what they have lost, and how to get along with one another.

In the first step of our project, Toni Simon constructs three-dimensional, small-scale figurines out of paper, modeled on Egyptian gods. She then paints them with abstract, graphic details. We then take the little gods out into different neighborhoods and take hundreds of photographs of them. We select eight to ten images, which become the basis for a series of poems written by Joanna Fuhrman.

So far, we have created picture/poem serial combinations in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Chinatown, the Reversible Destiny Studio, Red Hook and Gowanus. Parts of the project have appeared online in Paperbag, Talisman, and Posit, and in print in the 100th issue of Hanging Loose.


Joanna Fuhrman is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Pageant (Alice James Books 2009). Her fifth book, The Year of Yellow Butterflies, is forthcoming from Hanging Loose Press in 2015. Recent poems appear in The Believer, Court Green, The Brooklyn Rail, and Puerto del Sol. In 2011, Least Weasel published a beautifully printed chapbook, The Emotive Function. She teaches poetry writing at Rutgers, SLC Writer’s Village and in private workshops. Her essays on teaching appear regularly in Teachers & Writers Magazine.


Toni Simon is a multimedia artist living in Brooklyn. Her illustrated book of prose poetry, Earth After Earth, was published by Lunar Chandelier Press in 2012. Over 80 of her illustrations appear in Contradicta: Aphorisms (Green Integer, 2010) by Nick Piombino. She has exhibited her drawings at the Drawing Center and at the AIR Gallery in NYC.


Editor’s Note: What’s not to love? Two stellar artists in collaboration, pairing visual art and poetry. Egyptian gods wandering the streets of New York, searching for life’s meaning. Unique, hand-crafted images. And the words. Yes. The words. After all, this is the Saturday Poetry Series, and as unique as this concept is, it would not be here if it weren’t for the words. “Be honest / like language // is dishonest.” “I am not afraid of you / if you’re not afraid of me.” “One can see through / more than glass.” “You can stand by the window all day, / but you won’t become a window.” “In the beginning, we didn’t need to be friends with all / the parts of ourselves.” These reflections, offered in the guise of meditations of fallen gods, are truly a reflection of ourselves.


Want to read more by Joanna Fuhrman and Toni Simon?
Joanna Fuhrman Official Website
Toni Simon Official Blog
Paperbag
Posit
Talisman

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A Review of Carrie Oeding’s Our List of Solutions 

Carrie Oeding Our List of SolutionsA Review of Carrie Oeding’s Our List of Solutions

by Angie Mazakis

In a January 2010 blog post at HTMLGIANT, Elisa Gabbert, with the help of Mike Young*, cataloged popular “moves” in contemporary poetry, and the list, which is singular and far-reaching, is veracious in its deconstruction of the recent (and nearly-recent) ways in which poets’ work has attempted a unique voice. The list was undoubtedly welcomed by poetry’s readers and writers, corroborating our suspicions that certain repeated current devices may have become gimmick, especially if they are vulnerable to a collection of several examples and labeled as “moves.” At the same time, the list is somewhat dispiriting―all our word tricks exposed in one bill of misfare. (See #34 on Gabbert’s list: “Clipping or altering a cliché.”)

Carrie Oeding’s poems in Our List of Solutions, winner of the inaugural 42 Miles Press Poetry Award, transcend reliance on any of the devices delineated in Gabbert’s list, which, even to a minor extent, can be found in most current poetry. Oeding has achieved an exceptionally distinct voice that stands out among the assemblage of blossoming contemporary camps and persuasions by creating personae in her poems that illuminate the incidental, that offer hyper-awareness through witty, appealingly and truly unique voices. Oeding’s poems are a refreshing shift from imposture or imitation.

Though readers may find the speakers in Our List of Solutions alone on a dance floor or navigating a barbeque in a way that is more meditative and remote than social, they aren’t easily categorized as the standard introvert and socially isolated ingenues they may seem to represent at first glance; they belong to a social category of cool outside observers that has transcended the vagrant cynic; they’ve replaced aloofness with sensitive observation, have deflected incuriosity with perspicacity. They’re appealing because readers will want to participate in their unique perceptions, in the exclusivity of their rare appreciations (their own nice ears, for example). We feel their anxiety and envy it for its accuracy.

Their intimations of detachment often seem either accepted or self-invoked–they know too much about social normalcy (“Don’t wait for me to point out how people work”; “They all do what they’re only made to”). They are furtive and unbending at once, deliberate introverts who make directive statements while retaining their vulnerability. They are the solitary who do not want/need to be found (“Someone find someone who wants to find anyone/ and tell them no one wants to be found”). They are speakers who’ve resolutely jilted the stars (“Sandy Says No More! To Just About Everything”). They seem less anxious about their aloneness than they do about their advertent observations of the world and the people living in it. In “Sandy’s Beauty,” the speaker’s exposure of the social obligation of flattery creates a response that is both hilarious and touching at once:

One of my neighbors said, You’re beautiful!
As if she discovered Beautiful for me…

Hello Beautiful.
What do you like? It’s almost winter.

Frankly Beautiful,
I have always had a feeling about myself.

Sandy personifies the superfluous “beauty,” sits it down and deconstructs and talks to it, having been given something she already had.

Despite the shy authority of these voices, the solitary inwardness of many of the speakers does not lose its moving, heartbreaking quality:

and I’ll make my own table too.
Better, without chairs.

—from “Amy Wears Blue Shirts Every Day, Too”

The voice of “we” weaves in and out of the book, dispensing instruction or exerting a warning (“We all know what happened to Dean”) or acting as a collective speaker of the poem (“Do you whisper, I can do this better,/ Susanna? Funny how we knew that. / We’ve already done better.”) Though it seems that the voice of “we” in Oeding’s poems is caricatured, the collective voice has desires or tastes that act so singularly readers will feel as though the we’s assertion is something they should have already felt or considered along with them. The voice is so convincing that we’re left wishing we were part of the group. It is also another avenue through which humor is used in the collection. (“We’re going to stop. We have a date. You understand.”)

When we think Oeding’s speakers are going to indulge in “description by negation,” (number 36 in Gabbert’s list of “moves”), even then they surprise by turning the negation further, so that there is still something unexpected around a corner we hadn’t anticipated.

After six whiskeys he can’t tell which neighbor can see through him.
Without seven he can’t tell the night what he doesn’t see.

—from “His List of Solutions”

Oeding does this another time as a kind of hyperbolic way of criticizing a prescriptive approach to finding love:

Don’t just like the lack of choice
in who you could really love, like all the choices
you could make to avoid love in hopes of finding love.

—from “We Like Steve and Louise’s Love”

The line break after “choices” creates an unexpected turn in the directive as well as in the negative indicators don’t, lack, and avoid, which oppose the positive could, could, and in hopes. This works to create surprise and subversion while deconstructing the meaning of the word “choice” and considering the various possibilities of choices.

Another way that Oeding impresses through the unexpected is by asking an ordinary question and then asking the relevant question readers likely wouldn’t think to ask—one that, in the following lines, makes up an inquiry concerning fundamental desire that beautifully, achingly resonates:

I wish it wasn’t dancing that gave me joy—

Can’t there be something besides dancing?
or maybe can’t there be something besides joy?
Oh, can’t there be something besides joy?

—from “Joy”

Another technical way Oeding uses language inventively is when she returns to a minor word, phrase, or idea soon after it has escaped the reader’s attention in a pleasing and unexpected reintroduction. This is done in a way that makes the reader surprised at the technique and surprised that he or she didn’t expect it. In “Storm’s A’Comin’,” we’re told there’s “a story about Dean and one about a funny hat, a favorite hat flying off in the wind.” Two lines later, when the wind seems to have ordinarily passed, “Someone’s mom has gout or goat―it’s hard to hear above the wind.” The phrase “asking for trouble” comes up again, wearing a new layer of meaning, as well as “pineapple”―just when we thought the case on the pineapple was closed.

One of the delights of Our List of Solutions is in the way that Oeding illuminates the minutiae. In “Lullaby for a Barrette,” the single act of pulling back hair is illuminated and examined, as is the act of sending a package in “Packages Under Our Control,” but illumination of the seemingly negligible and forgotten is a quiet strength throughout each of the poems, whether for its own sake or to create the rare, exquisite impressions that singularize unforgettable speakers. Carrie Oeding exposes the hidden sides―the felt but unexpressed, the loudly perceived but unsaid, and in the act of saying illuminates them, “each sequin getting its moment to be seen.”

Carrie Oeding, Our List of Solutions. 42 Mile Press, 2012: $14.25

*Correction: This review originally misattributed Elisa Gabbert’s article as being primarily written by Mike Young.

***

Angie Mazakis’s poems have appeared in The New Republic, Boston Review, Narrative Magazine, Best New Poets 2008, Drunken BoatNew Ohio Review, Everyday Genius, and other journals. She has received a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize and prizes from New Letters, New Ohio Review, and Smartish Pace.

 

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KATIE WOODZICK

Flirting_with_Danger


YEARNING
By Katie Woodzick

She delivers my sloe gin fizz
and her slim hips testify
to an ecstasy that has
not yet been experienced.

I want to trace
the subtle protuberances
of her hip bones
(ghost-like, merely a suggestion
of bone pressing against her tender skin)

I sip my gin
instead of
tracing her hips.

Because she is forbidden.
Because my jaw locks.
Because I don’t know how.


“Yearning” originally appeared in woodzickwrites, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Katie Woodzick is a writer, actress, director, feminist and External Relations Manager for Hedgebrook. She considers herself a smattering of Rogue from X-Men, Mae West and Tina Fey, among others. She holds a strong belief that leopard print is a neutral. Publications include Floating Bridge Press (Fall 2014 Issue) and Writer’s Digest Short Short Story contest (7th place, 2012 competition.)

Editor’s Note: Ahhhh… alliteration. The “sloe gin fizz,” the “slim hips,” the “ecstasy… not yet… experienced.” And the joyous interplay of alliteration and content! That we, the reader, are treated to gratification and pleasure with this sensual alliteration, and yet the words themselves insist that ecstasy has not been experienced. While the playful nature of the poem’s acoustics arouses our senses, the poem’s narrative unfolds, equally alluring. And in the end we are treated to a glimmer of honesty an introspection, even defeat. Despite all the attraction, all the fantasy, in the end, “I sip my gin / instead of / tracing her hips.” Why? “Because I don’t know how.”

Want to read more by Katie Woodzick?
Katie Woodzick – Theatrical Mustang
woodzickwrites – At the intersection of theatre and poetry
Floating Bridge
Whidbey Life Magazine

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ALFRED CORN: Two Poems and a Micro-Interview

unions

 

Unions is Alfred Corn’s eleventh book of poems. He has also published a novel, Part of His Story; two collections of essays; and The Poem’s Heartbeat (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), a study of prosody. For his poetry, he has received a Guggenheim fellowship, the NEA, an Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and one from the Academy of American Poets. In 2012, he was a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, preparing a translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies, and returned as a Life Fellow for a second residency in 2013. He has taught at Yale, Columbia, and UCLA.

[The following poems are reprinted from Unions by permission of the author.]

***

Poe Lucifer

The daylong dive of that aggrieved archangel:
Only those who’ve known defeat can fathom
Him, when he drops headlong from the ramparts—
Slippery rim of the abyss, engulfing
Wings of a vast nocturnal bird of prey,
The Morning Star’s dismemberment of mind.
Anarchy’s ruins, its fading trumpet calls,
Somehow evoke, when they become reflective,
A city’s darkened towers beside the water.

A city’s darkened towers beside the water
Somehow evoke, when they become reflective,
Anarchy’s ruins, its fading trumpet calls.
The Morning Star’s dismemberment of mind?
Wings of a vast nocturnal bird of prey,
Slippery rim of the abyss, engulfing
Him when he drops headlong from the ramparts.
Only those who’ve known defeat can fathom
The daylong dive of that aggrieved archangel.

***

Bob

for Mimi Khalvati

Why go? Partly because we had no reason
To, though, granted, Hastings’s on the Channel—
Which meant salt air and, that day, winter sun.
A zigzag swing from station down to shingle

To take in the cold light and arrowy
Jeers shrilled by veering scavengers overhead,
Who flirted, razzed, then flapped and rowed away,
Our tentative footsteps fumbling pebbles, dead

Shellfish, kelp, plastic bits…. A backtrack trek
To lunch should keep mild melancholy at
Bay, even if the random, Fifties-flick
Ambiance was what we’d come for. Or part of what.

Later, our huff-puff climb uphill for the ruins’
Majestic overviews, in guidebook blather.
One silver path across the waves to France,
And the long, incoming roar of faith from farther

East. (Or west: fanaticism’s viral.
Numbing to think about the human cost.)
Sunset. Time to unwind a dawdling spiral
Down to the mall—where it dawns on us we’re lost.

Suppose we ask this sporty adolescent.
“The station? Oh, no problem. Bang a right
Up there, then left, and on along the Crescent
About two minutes, and Bob’s your uncle, mate.”

You smiled, interpreted—but then you would,
Having yourself once been an “alien.”
(The conditional of ironic likelihood
Is hackneyed. Stop me if I use it again.)

Transit to London as night falls. First star.
Abrupt flashes of interrupting light
Light up your eyes, your lips and shimmering hair…
Friend. Nothing more. And Bob’s your uncle, mate.

***

Okla Elliott: There is a lot of debate about the effects of the internet on literature. I notice that you often make use of social media to raise philosophical questions about our culture and literature more specifically. And, of course, this interview and the poem reprints will be online. Could you offer readers a few pros and a few cons you see vis-à-vis the internet’s effect on writing and publishing?

Alfred Corn: The effect is enormous. Begin with the online presence of magazines devoted to poetry, blogs, the Gutenberg project, the Academy of American Poets websites, and Wikipedia, which gives you bios of new poets that might not be found in standard reference works. We’ve seen a mixed reaction to books of poetry published in e-formats, but I think more and more poetry will be read that way, as soon as Kindle and Nook learn how to avoid scrambling the lineation. E-books are convenient. Someone mentions a new book and makes it sound interesting, You acquire your electronic copy and begin reading immediately. It’s hard to beat the convenience of that.

As for social media, I only participate in Facebook, no Instagram or Twitter. But that one channel has brought me several real (as opposed to virtual) friendships I would not otherwise have had. Most of the three-thousand-plus Friends I have are online only, but a few I got to know there have become very important to me. Yes, I do initiate discussions on topics I’ve been thinking about—in politics, culture, history, literature and the other arts. I find it helps me clarify my thinking, and when there’s disagreement, it gives me the chance to strengthen my arguments or else abandon a point of view that has been shown to be false. Of course it feels good to carry the day when you are debating a contrary point of view, but, if the other argument ends up seeming truer, you’ve actually learned something you didn’t know before. And I have learned loads of things in these discussions. I have quite a few brilliant friends and am happy to benefit from their expertise. I’m not sure that participation on Facebook does much for book sales. So many people are advertising their books on the site, it gets to be overwhelming. A book ad per se doesn’t catch my eye. But if the author has said interesting things apart from the ad, I’m likely to look for the book.

OE: Politics seems to be something you care deeply about. How do you manage to bridge the gap between the aesthetic and the political? Do have any advice for younger writers trying to navigate those two minefields?

AC: I don’t see the two as being in conflict. Works of art are made with our passions and I’m one of those whose passions are stirred by, among other things, injustice. When I hear about something terrible that is happening to a person or to people, the anger becomes action in one or more forms: research into the facts, intense consideration of them, discussion with others, privately or in public; and sometimes all this leads to writing poems. Adrienne Rich’s assertion that “the personal is political” certainly seems true to me. If a woman or a person of color or someone Jewish or someone LGBT writes honestly about what their experience is, the result can’t fail to have political implications. I’ll go further: it often seems to me that forces in our culture work against our feeling anything very deeply, including pleasure. So any work of art that manages to encourage the non-superficial exploration of feeling, including the feeling of pleasure, is helpful to the body politic. There is so much unhappiness out there, witness our vast dependency on prescribed medication, alcohol, and drugs. If more people could learn how to get to their feelings and how to enjoy things, really find pleasure in them, it would have a political effect. So a political poem need not be the same thing as a placard. It can be much more subtle than that.

OE: Name several younger poets whose work you admire. What trends do you like and dislike in newer work you see?

AC: If you will allow it, I’ll do something mischievous. But also something fair and just! There is so much emphasis in our culture on novelty, on youth, who the new kid on the block is. With the result that very little attention is paid toward the seasoned veteran in the art. There are dozens of first-book prizes, but no seventh-book or tenth- book prizes. Think about the logistics. If someone has been working seriously for thirty or forty years, are they not more likely to have produced work that is more worthwhile than someone who’s been at it for three or four years? And yet the excitement always converges on the youngster. If you’ve been on the scene as long as I have, you’ve seen so many new kids on the block flare like a firework into temporary fame and then in five year’s time vanish, never to be spoken of again. So instead I’d like to mention the work of older poets you might not be familiar with: Marie Ponsot, Edward Field, Grace Schulman, John Matthias, Marilyn Hacker, Sam Hamill, Gary Soto, Marilyn Nelson and Doug Anderson. In the UK, Anne Stevenson, Danny Abse, Mimi Khalvati, Bernard O’Donoghue, Sean O’Brien, Don Paterson, Penelope Shuttle, Maurice Riordan, Gregory Wood, and David Constantine.

Now I’m feeling guilty, so I will name two first-book poets in the two countries whose poetry I’m familiar with. In the US, Lauren K. Alleyne and Will Schutt. In the UK, James Byrne and Sandeep Parmar. Am I off the hook?

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A Review of Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine

Wicked + Divine

A Review of Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine

By Tini Howard

The Wicked + The Divine, written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie, has a lofty title. Convinced the phrase originated from Dante or Milton or maybe even Shakespeare, I googled it. What came back instead were just two things: the comic itself and a highly metaphysical hip-hop group that seems like it’s been defunct since 2011. Which is actually pretty fitting.

The comics I enjoy writing about for At the Margins and elsewhere aren’t solely selected for being my favorites. I choose them because there’s something literary about them, something universal in appeal. In the same way that many of our favorite speculative novels cross the line between literature and spec fiction, the comics I recommend are every bit as honest and mind-blowing as the literature we can’t put down.

A current comic’s run is everything we love about reading and TV combined – both an intense story, with its effects unburdened by budget and heightened by professional art, and all of the breath-baiting wonder of waiting for next week’s episode. Like great TV, only better.

WicDiv, as fans are calling it, is produced by dreamteam Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Marvel’s Young Avengers). The concept itself is engaging, beautiful commentary – what if some of humanity’s gods incarnated every ninety years as pop culture stars, incandescent and inspiring and dressed to the sacred nines. (Ninety years prior, their past incarnation occured during the Jazz Age. Lurhmann’s Gatsby, anyone?)

With Kanye West declaring “I am a God” and Lady Gaga making appearances in a seashell bikini as Venus, it’s perfect speculative writing – the one more step feeling that takes a metaphor, makes it a literal reality, and forces everyone to handle the consequences. The book is beautiful, and prior to reading I was concerned the story would fall apart in lieu of high-concept visual references and music in-jokes. Totally eating that fear now.

At the center of the story we have Laura (whose name, word-of-God confirmed by open-book writer Gillen, is inspired by the Bat for Lashes song of the same name). Laura is a young girl from London who follows the fandom of the Gods, a collection of pop stars who each claim to be incarnations from various mythologies. The midpoint of the first issue is a scene that cleverly puts to bed any fears of the reader – the obvious callouts that these kids have just spent too much time taking Buzzfeed quizzes – isn’t playing dress up as a bunch of gods a bit problematic?

Everyone just wants to be special, Wicked + Divine asserts. And then maybe one day you find out you really are.

There is more to the story here, however. And not one that the gods control. Much like its suspected inspiration, Neil Gaiman’s classic graphic novel, Sandman, the narrative seems to be shaping up as one about the myriad ways being real can be ruined for otherwise immortal beings. With just two years of life for every ninety spent in waiting, it appears the Devil is being framed for one of the few crimes she didn’t commit. Now she faces spending it locked up, without so much as a place to press the creases back into her Thin White Duke suit.

Some of the most passionate and clever writers of our time are writing comic books, and The Wicked + The Divine is one I’d count among them. Gillen himself is a great writer for any process junkies to follow – he kindly recounts his inspirations for the curious in everything from writer’s notes on his Tumblr account to WicDiv-inspired playlists on Spotify.

While the book has a few flaws (Sakhmet is almost distractingly a Rihanna clone, for example, and Laura’s involvement seems a bit unclear as of yet), Issue One is nearly a perfect opener to a bright new world that Gillen and McKelvie have created. It seems God is a DJ after all.

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, The Wicked + The Divine, Issue One. Image Comics, 2014: Print: $3.50, digital, $2.99.

***

TINI HOWARD writes about comics when she’s not actually writing comics. A winner of the Top Cow Comics 2013 Talent Hunt, her work is forthcoming from Image/Top Cow this November. Talk comics with her all day on Twitter @tinihoward.

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Everyone is Guilty of Something

The Divide promo

Damon Gupton (Adam Page), Marin Ireland (Christine Rosa), Paul Schneider (Clark Rylance), and Nia Long (Billie Page) star in The Divide, premiering Wednesday, July 16, on WE tv.

Everyone is Guilty of Something

By John Unger Zussman

Stories are transformative. They have the power to change our minds and open our hearts, to help us experience the world through other eyes and walk a mile in other shoes. For example, I would argue that stories, as much as any political action, boosted popular support for LGBT equality and led to legalization of gay marriage in 19 states and counting. Living season after season with sympathetic gay characters in Will & Grace and Modern Family, or watching two men fall hopelessly in love in Brokeback Mountain, taught mainstream Americans what decades of argument and invective couldn’t—that gay people are just people.

That’s why I’m excited about a new TV drama that premieres this week as WE tv’s first scripted original series. It’s called The Divide and it stars Marin Ireland as Christine Rosa, a third-year Philadelphia law student and caseworker with the Innocence Initiative, which, like the real-life Innocence Project on which it is modeled, uses DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners. Christine unearths new evidence in the case of Jared Bankowski (Chris Bauer), a white convict awaiting imminent execution for the brutal murder of the African-American Butler family twelve years earlier. Christine pushes for a stay of execution and a DNA retest of Bankowski, and encounters resistance from her boss Clark Rylance (Paul Schneider), prosecutor Adam Page (Damon Gupton), and surprisingly from the convicted man himself. But her own family history with the criminal justice system inflames her passion, and she’s willing to break the rules to press on. “I don’t like it when the law gets manipulated by people who think they matter more than other people,” she tells Bankowski. “I hate their arrogance. I hate that they feel safe. I hate that they feel entitled to feel safe. I want to make them sweat, even if they win. Don’t you?”

If the stars sound unfamiliar, don’t worry. The acting is excellent, led by Ireland’s understated intensity; she served an internship with the Innocence Project after she was cast. Production values are solid and the show’s pedigree is sterling. The Divide is the brainchild of actor/director/producer Tony Goldwyn (you might know him as President Fitzgerald Grant on ABC’s Scandal) and producer Andrew Sugerman, who collaborated in 2010 on the feature film Conviction. That movie starred Hillary Swank in the true story of Betty Anne Waters, a working-class mom who obtained her GED and put herself through college and law school to free her falsely convicted brother from prison. (Full disclosure: Sugerman is a friend and colleague.)

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, served as an advisor to Conviction and was portrayed in it. When Scheck spoke at the movie’s Hollywood premiere, he introduced nine of the now 316 wrongfully convicted prisoners (18 of them on death row) who have been freed due to the organization’s work. Goldwyn became an active supporter of the Project and co-chairs its Artists’ Committee. “Every single story is inherently, extraordinarily dramatic,” he told Sugerman, and he agreed, “There’s got to be a TV series here.”

He was right—in spades. I have a few quibbles after viewing the first hour of The Divide, such as the inelegant way Adam, the prosecutor, reveals an important secret. But pilot episodes are notoriously difficult—trust me, I recently wrote one—because they have to introduce the characters and explain the essential backstory while simultaneously telling the show’s first story. The Divide is eminently successful in drawing us in and making us care. More importantly, it has great potential to take us inside a world we haven’t seen.

I’ve had my own encounter with the criminal justice system in the last few years, helping an incarcerated relative appeal a conviction based on misinterpreted scientific evidence, so I’ve seen a bit of how it works from the inside. Most of our stories about the justice system portray prosecutors, judges, and cops as the Good Guys. And many of them are—but they’re good in a complex way. Even in the stories where these characters are corrupt, it’s not the same as showing us the system’s inherent bias against defendants.

The Divide doesn’t shy away from portraying the system’s complexity or fragility. In the first hour, Adam gets almost as much screen time as Christine. He made his reputation by convicting Bankowski in the first place, and we see the pressures on him to win, to appease his African-American supporters, and to achieve “justice” for the murdered family’s one surviving member, no matter the cost. The show is perched on this gray area of moral ambiguity.

Most of us keep the criminal justice system at a distance, on the expectation that if we haven’t done anything wrong, we have nothing to fear. But when hundreds—or more likely thousands—of people can be accused, tried, convicted, and imprisoned for crimes they demonstrably did not commit, no one is safe. After all, as the show’s tag line says, everyone is guilty of something.

There’s a rich trove to mine here—of morality, ambition, ethics, politics, and race. I hope that, over its eight-episode season, The Divide will take us deep into this world. If it does, it will be not just a good TV show but a transformative story, changing the way we think and feel about the complex, inexact, and very human matter of crime and punishment. The criminal justice system affects us all, and we need to do more than just avoid jury duty and vote for the candidate who promises us law and order.

The Divide premieres Wednesday, July 17, with a two-hour episode on WE tv. (Check cable and satellite listings.) Until then, the first hour is available on demand as well as on Roku and wetv.com.

Cross-posted in my “Power of Story” series on LinkedIn.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RACHEL MENNIES

alisonsteve02327c

By Rachel Mennies:


AMIDAH FOR TEENAGE GIRLS

We said it Friday nights in unison: blessed
is Abraham, Isaac, patriarchs whose weight
we felt against our chests, Jacob, whose brother

filled his mouth with the sand of hate,
who split sisters with his body
of patience. The God of History, reads

the Siddur, nothing more dangerous
than this sort of God. Any good girl
will tell you so: ask Leah, who watched

as her betrothed tilled fields in agony,
rutted at her nightly, his pious bride, as he dreamed
for seven years of younger Rachel’s face. God,

our brute teacher. God, whom we thank
and thank for these big men. You are mighty forever,
my Lord. You resurrect the dead. My Lord, open

my lips, that my mouth may declare
Your praise.
Imagine the shock, that first boy
or man inside us for mere seconds, the tremor

of realization — some smaller God at our clavicle
thrumming in awareness. The creator of all things. And so
when I lie with him, my body already knows what to do

while he shifts his weight, moves his hips. You cause
the wind to blow and the rain to fall.
The hard ram’s horn,
the arms thrust high, parting a sea of salt. The open mouth

of incantation. O King, helper, savior and shield. And what of our
pleasure, that quiet subtext, that patient search against
our partners’ sweaty brows, near to finished? We already

know the phrase: bestow, bestow.


BUMPER CROP

Wet pink shock of a sliced-open
peach, pit hard between our teeth,
reached in a liquid, honest hurry.
Peach in the fingers of a certain lover’s hand.
Peach juice sliding down the wrist of a man
with assertive hungers. Peach, bringer
of rapture: the climax, but not
the fall. Peach sky rising up and up, free
of consequence. Impossible, but for
our chase of it. Peach in the crisper drawer,
softening. We hear stories of the pastor
and his book, so certain of fire, his biblical
calculus. Peach hot, sugared in an oven.
The mouth of red around the brain-
shaped, dumbstruck stone. Peach the very taste
of sin. Peach that sends the crows circling,
rapture here and gone. Peach God, rapt for carrion,
turning above us in the heavens, waiting for
us, ripening, to satisfy ourselves;
come to him pitted, come to him
finished, made rotten by
your sweet time in his sun.


“Amidah for Teenage Girls” was originally published in Witness, and “Bumper” was originally published in Linebreak. These poems appear in the collection The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards (Texas Tech University Press 2014) and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Rachel Mennies is the author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry (Texas Tech University Press, 2014), and the chapbook No Silence in the Fields (Blue Hour Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, The Journal, and elsewhere, and have been reprinted at Poetry Daily. She teaches in the First-Year Writing Program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Editor’s Note: I really love today’s poems. Discretely and in conjunction. For the ways they press against the same themes, and for the ways they diverge. “Amidah for Teenage Girls” had me at “patriarchs whose weight / we felt against our chests,” and held me there, exalting, with “Jacob, whose brother // filled his mouth with the sand of hate, / who split sisters with his body / of patience.” Yes. Yes and yes. I could write pages about the first two stanzas of this poem alone. Instead, I urge you to read and reread it, to savor what stews and what simmers.

When I think of peaches and poems, I think of Li-Young Lee. And while “Bumper Crops” and “From Blossoms” each make their own unique contribution to the poetic landscape, I think Li-Young Lee would meditate along with Rachel Mennies on God and humanity, and that he would relish the poem’s sweet sensuality. As, I believe, would Anya Silver and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, whose “French Toast” and “Sufganiyot” would, along with Mennies’ peaches, make up a picnic that would give Fifty Shades of Grey a good blush.

Want to read more by Rachel Mennies?
Rachel Mennies – Official Website
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Texas Tech University Press
Buy The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards from Amazon
Poetry Daily
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