SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE TREASURES THAT PREVAIL




From THE TREASURES THAT PREVAIL
By Jen Karetnick:


ADVISE AND CONSENT

It seems to fall to men to create
disasters and women to mop up after.

The first thing people have to forget

is their sense of the senatorial

desk, the deep leather armchair.

There’s always
somebody screaming

off stage or window-shopping for the ridiculous,
arm in arm. Sooner or later these moments come.

We have seen this happen and cannot refrain.



UNDER MANGO CAMOUFLAGE

They bloomed too soon, pistils coral,
hung green like left-behind seawater
well into the sodden fall, ripened
into a bilirubinous yellow.

Falling, they broke themselves
open into Cyrillic letters on the unearthed
limestone as if they were envelopes
stuffed too full of possibilities.

Now marked only with a flag of memory,
this is where we buried the bits
of flesh snipped as easily as a stem
from an eight-day-old son, disguising

the dreams that in the wrong hands
could have been so readily rewritten.



THE OPPOSITE OF MECCA

Oh, the darkness of it all—black cat, black dog,
black monkey on the black-eyed woman’s shoulder,

rocking on a boat dock over water so absent of light
even our dreams have lost their shadows. In this house

made of books and planks, under the art of thatch
and weave, we are birds nesting together who have closed

our throats to song. This is where, without definition, we pin
the horizon as the center on a map of our always new world.



Today’s poems are from The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Jen Karetnick, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


The Treasures That Prevail is about climate change and its effects on Miami; the poems in this collection confront the ills of modern society in general, mourn both public and personal losses, and predict the difficulties of a post-modern life in a flooded, Atlantis-like lost city. The narrators are two unnamed women, married with a teenage daughter and a teenage son, who live in a part of Miami that will be underwater unless action is taken. The Treasures That Prevail is a parable about what could happen to any of our low-lying coastal cities if we don’t start to make changes now.

Jen Karetnick is the author of seven poetry collections, including American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing, May 2016)–which was a long-list finalist for the Julie Suk Award from Jacar Press–and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016). She received an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. Her poetry, prose, playwriting and interviews have appeared recently or are forthcoming in TheAtlantic.com, The Evansville Review, Foreword Reviews, Guernica, The McNeese Review, Negative Capability, One, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Waxwing and Verse Daily. She is co-director for the reading series, SWWIM (Supporting Women Writers in Miami). Jen works as the Creative Writing Director for Miami Arts Charter School and as a freelance writer, dining critic and cookbook author. She lives in Miami Shores on the remaining acre of a historic mango plantation with her husband, two teenagers, three dogs, three cats and fourteen mango trees.

Editor’s Note: How fearfully prescient this collection has proven to be as California is burning, as large swathes of the world are recovering from hurricanes and earthquakes, as Harvey Weinstein has been outed as a sexual predator, as man after man shows us what it really mean to be “senatorial” in his “deep leather armchair,” as the world is melting and our future threatens to emerge underwater.

With The Treasures That Prevail Jen Karetnick has penned a collection that is beautiful and terrifying, that is lyric and devastating, that rings of Cassandra in the ways its truths fall upon deaf, ignorant, or apathetic ears. The language within these pages is thick and malleable, painting with words a picture that you might cut back with a machete in a valiant effort to combat the vengeful wrath of a raped and battered Mother Earth. For even the best among us — in the age of capitalism and consumerism and selfish, self-destructive climate change — are but “birds nesting together who have closed // our throats to song.”

Want more from Jen Karetnick?
Buy The Treasures That Prevail from Amazon
Jen Karetnick’s Writing Portfolio
Buy American Sentencing from Amazon

Posted in Jen Karetnick, Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Snuffleupagus as Depression: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

Snuffleupagus as Depression:

A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

By Chase Dimock

 

If you ask Daniel Crocker how to get to Sesame Street, he’d point you toward a twisting road of manic depression, frustrated desires, and existential malaise. In his latest book, Shit House Rat, Crocker’s poetry reimagines the furry childhood icons of Sesame Street embodying torments and foibles as adult and human as the people whose hands are lodged up their muppet behinds. Cookie Monster is an addict, Big Bird has mania, Snuffy is the haunting specter of depression, and Grover’s anxiety led to a hell of a divorce. But, Sesame Street is only the starting point. Shit House Rat takes the reader to Leadwood, Missouri, Crocker’s rural, predictably lead polluted hometown, where he engages themes from his childhood to his adulthood, including mental illness, queer sexuality, poverty, and small town conservativism. I got a chance to ask Crocker about the appeal of dark humor in poetry, the struggle of growing up bipolar and bisexual in rural America, and most importantly, what exactly a “shit house rat” is.  

 

Chase Dimock: The first thing your readers will notice about your new book will obviously be the title, Shit House Rat. I know that as you were working on this collection, you had some trepidations about how the title might be perceived by your audience. Where did you get the idea for this title and why did you ultimately decide to use it?

 

Daniel Crocker: I have trepidation when it comes to just about anything, so I try not to let it worry me too much as a writer. I really put myself out there, especially in this new book, and there’s always a lot of anxiety that comes with that. I did have some specific concerns about the title though. I got the idea from the old saying, “Crazy as a shithouse rat.’ I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern or southern thing, but I’ve heard it a lot growing up and even now. It’s a nice turn of phrase, really. So, I just took the last half of  the saying (kind of like I did with Like a Fish) and used it. My worry is that it’s a real putdown to people, like me, with a mental illness. I don’t want anyone with a mental illness to think I’m making fun of them at all. My hope is to take the phrase and subvert it. Own it.

 

Chase Dimock: I think it will be clear to anyone who reads your poetry that your goal isn’t to make fun of the mentally ill, but to use humor to explore the experience of mental illness. A lot of your poems are funny, and I mean literally laugh out loud funny, which is pretty rare for modern poetry. (Robert Lowell wasn’t much of a yuckster) Why are you drawn to using humor in your work? What does using humor reveal about the experience of mental illness?

 

Daniel Crocker: A lot of my early work is pretty dark and without a lot of humor. I don’t like a lot of that early work either (some of it still holds up). But, I always like humor. I thought I was funny. Eventually, I wrote a short story or two for Do Not Look Directly Into Me that were funny, and I quickly found that I loved doing it. I haven’t written fiction in a while, and it’s pretty clear to me now that I’m mainly a poet. However, once humor started seeping its way into my poems it was like a creative flood. I guess it was me finally finding a voice that was all my own. As Steve Barthelme one said to me, it has to be more than just funny though. I think that’s true. For me, the perfect poem of mine is something that makes people laugh when they first read or hear it, but then they find they are still thinking about it later because there was something deeper and darker in it as well. Which I guess if you think about it, it’s the two extremes of bipolar disorder mixed together.

I can’t say what dealing with mental health issues with humor means for anyone else, but for me humor is just a way I deal with a lot of things. When you have mental health issues, every day can be a struggle. With my own particular diagnoses–bipolar, anxiety, OCD, probably PTSD, I worry about a lot of things. I’m doing well on medication right now, but when I wasn’t little things like planning an extra ten minutes before work just to get out of the house just in case there was something you needed to check over and over. You never really know what kind of mood you’re going to wake up in, what your anxiety level for the day is going to be, etc. If you’re going to be successful in any way, you have to plan ahead for just about anything. It’s tough to commit to anything in the future because you don’t know where you’re head space is going to be on that day. Or, before medication for me, I might commit to a ton of stuff while manic and then regret it while depressed. I guess this is a long way of saying if you don’t have a sense of humor about things they can become overwhelming. At least that’s my go to stress relief. Jokes.

The good thing about writing funny poems is everyone usually likes them. The worry is if they are going to take them seriously or not. In Shit House Rat I’m using Big Bird as a symbol for mania and Snuffleupagus as depression. Will people buy it? I dunno.

Continue reading

Posted in Chase Dimock | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THEY WERE BEARS




From THEY WERE BEARS
By Sarah Marcus:


PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN BEARS

You said you were afraid of bears—

we weren’t safe until there was ice
along the shoreline. I said we all need trauma,

and my heart breaks every Autumn, so we broke
ourselves against those rocks until the cave mouth opened:

a womb for blind crayfish,
a passageway harboring beetles.

I want you to reach into the depths of your backwoods
and remember our Winters. We need the bears, ourselves

ursine sleeping in dens—the caverns drip-stoned and stunning.
I was and still am in search of a great bear

because people have always known bears—
we will always be shelter for each other.

When we first met, I told you that a long time ago,
grizzlies came down from the Rockies—

they were poisoned on the range, trapped,
hounded, shot out—we found cranial fragments.

We still listen to those legends of bounties paid
to mountain men, harboring that ancient fear of

the bears that made meat of us, boar and sow,
mauled and gnawed away. Our bones resting in caves,

because you were born to hunt, and I was
born of hunting: a witness of great fires.



LOVE POEM

First snow of the season—
your eyes say
there’s not much oxygen
                  in the mountain air
.

I have never wanted someone
                  as much as I want you.

I devalued the damage:
you won’t belong—stay gone longer—

                  let it melt.


I’ve been thinking about you
                  because we cannot be separate.
The gravitational pull defies
                  the thousands of miles between us.

Even in the deepest woods,
                  we kneel beside the rill,
the river’s riffle,
the spruce’s mantle of rime,

                  until the point of rock
                                  swells tightly around us.

There’s a chant building in the forest: I won’t be your secret.

Everyone knows how to leave,
but I don’t know how to be
in this city
without you.



MYTHOLOGY FOR DESERT LOVERS II

These things are real:
you are a desert moon rising a hundred mornings away.
My horses paw a cracked Earth.
The air threatening Winter.
The solitude of sand.
We can smell the danger

of you and her
in that house.
In every house.

When you are so strongly connected
to another person, what did you call it? Rare?
It’s like the sunset.
No one can hold that kind of beauty
for more than a moment.

Our small ribs are thick
enough to take on a prairie panic.
The fear of too much open space.
So many acres;
we can never catch up.

You say I’m always on your side
and this will always mean more
to a woman.

I try to explain that love is a violence,
even when it’s beautiful.
When you enter someone,
you must also leave them.

And there’s always that moment of relief
when I realize that I’ve always known—
I am a hundred deserts.

I will wait for you or some version of you
to become sky.



Today’s poems are from They Were Bears (Sundress Publications, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Sarah Marcus, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



They Were Bears gives us a world that is intimate, complicated, and lush in its raw, brutal meditation upon the complexities of Nature, both within and beyond our grasp as both human beings and animals. These poems by Sarah Marcus channel what the world demands of us, and our bodies as we are guided through a startling cartography of desire, trauma, and memory that is both refuge and wilderness. Marcus writes, ‘I want to say that there are places I have to go, and you have to follow me…through all this orange light, every version of the color red, we betray ourselves for miles.’ With stunning craft and intuition, Marcus places her lyric power against the beautiful, terrifying bones in us where words often feel broken and impossible. Her poems expand through their stark and luminous discoveries to reveal a natural and psychic world too complex to ignore. Marcus gives us sacred breath in which to claim that world when she writes, ‘We inscribe the rocks/with our names, wanting a sign,/want the sky to say:/This is mainland. Solid ground./The place you’ve been looking for.’” -Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of Lighting the Shadow


Sarah Marcus is the author of They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications), Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press), and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, Spork, The Establishment, Cosmopolitan.com, and Marie Claire.com SA, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and the Series Editor for As It Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH.


Editor’s Note: In the Jewish calendar, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a surreal and reflective time of reckoning. During these days we are introspective, coming to terms with our true selves before turning outward and asking forgiveness from those who we have wronged. It is in these Days of Awe that I come back to a collection I have been meaning to review for quite some time. It is in this magical time of brutal honesty that I dive deeply into a carefully-wrought world that is far beyond my comfort zone, with eyes and heart wide open to its savage and beautiful truths.

They Were Bears is one of the most thoughtful–if not the most thought-provoking–poetry collections to be released in recent memory. Rife with hunger and blood and animal instinct, this work pulsates at the intersection of nature and violence, family, sex, and love. They Were Bears drags us mercilessly back to our animal nature, honoring vulnerability and calling out sexual violence. This book pulls no punches, spares us little. What is reflected in its waters is our truest selves, as beautiful and terrifying as they are wont to be.

The tender, ravenous, brutal honesty of the book’s thematic spectrum is brought to life by the true craftsmanship of the poet. This is an absolutely stunning collection on every level–its words and images thrash and breathe, fly and tether. The poems are lush in their soundscape, and on the page they mark their territory distinctly. And the moments. The breathtaking moments. How true their revelation, declarations, and admissions: “because you were born to hunt, and I was / born of hunting: a witness of great fires;” “I try to explain that love is a violence, / even when it’s beautiful. / When you enter someone, / you must also leave them.”

Mazal tov to Sarah Marcus on this incredible work, and may we all start anew together in these Days of Awe.


Want more from Sarah Marcus?
Sarah Marcus’ Official Website

Posted in Poetry, Sarah Marcus, Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Prose Poem in the Wake of Charlottesville

Embed from Getty Images

.

Prose Poem in the Wake of Charlottesville

By Brett Ashley Kaplan

.

The forgotten stone memorials awaken and remind us of the confederate glories the ubiquitous cross-hatched flag celebrates slavery repression pain racism is as apple pie as baseball and in the mix is the Jewhatred why is the left surprised?

Seriously, the marching torches aren’t resonant enough with Triumph of the Will the will to overcome difference to erase difference to wash everything Aryan whiter than the white KKKsheets and purer than melting icecaps of dubious snow purity and danger the danger of impurity and the call to get rid of the Jews get rid of the blacks get rid of the immigrants get rid of

In the night unseen but with great force the stone statues of the confederacy topple

Somewhere in the country people play at the civil war

Reenactment as a game of chance…who wants to be a union soldier when a confederate soldier is so much more fun so much more pure so much more American? The side that lost forever wanting to ride again on those stone statue horses to victory a victory that would have ossified a plantation economy

The south under water now no power

“Jews will not replace us”

hand raised aloft “The Jewish Media is going down”

the jews control hollywood the jews control hollywood the jews control hollywood—how many times I have heard that shit? When I heard it in one of my own graduate seminars I was shocked I shouldn’t have been it is everywhere this claim of control

tensions, anxieties, zero-sum competitions for memorial resources between blacks and Jews jews are white jews get white privilege yes, yes, many of us do tensions anxieties we are lumped together unite the right bonds antisemitism to racism expulsion of all of us purity and a straight up nostalgia for desire for love for Nazism not masked just their “Sieg Heil” those fuckers even said do they know fully know about genocide? Do they care? Can they really celebrate the genocide of millions of Jews, communists, queers, Jehovah’s witnesses, resistance fighters? Do they celebrate the enslavement and murder and rape of millions of black women men children…

the stone statues to the confederacy are alive now their horses gallop through the south through the world they have always trembled at the edge of awakeness and they are here in the present the civil war is still being fought

.

About the Author:

Brett Ashley Kaplan is the Director of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society, Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, and Professor and Conrad Humanities Scholar in the Program in Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her first books, Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation (2007) and Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory (2011), examine the Shoah’s intersections with art and space. Her newest book is Jewish Anxiety in the Novels of Philip Roth (2015) and she is working on a project tentatively entitled jewblack is blackjew: tensions, intersections, and interactions among Jewishness and Blackness in Contemporary art.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NEW YEAR’S MORNING


NEW YEAR’S MORNING
By Helen Hunt Jackson

Only a night from old to new!
Only a night, and so much wrought!
The Old Year’s heart all weary grew,
But said: “The New Year rest has brought.”
The Old Year’s hopes its heart laid down,
As in a grave; but, trusting, said:
“The blossoms of the New Year’s crown
Bloom from the ashes of the dead.”
The Old Year’s heart was full of greed;
With selfishness it longed and ached,
And cried: “I have not half I need.
My thirst is bitter and unslaked.
But to the New Year’s generous hand
All gifts in plenty shall return;
True love it shall understand;
By all my failures it shall learn.
I have been reckless; it shall be
Quiet and calm and pure of life.
I was a slave; it shall go free,
And find sweet peace where I leave strife.”
Only a night from old to new!
Never a night such changes brought.
The Old Year had its work to do;
No New Year miracles are wrought.

Always a night from old to new!
Night and the healing balm of sleep!
Each morn is New Year’s morn come true,
Morn of a festival to keep.
All nights are sacred nights to make
Confession and resolve and prayer;
All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.


(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)


Helen Maria Hunt Jackson (1830 – 1885) was an American poet and writer who became an activist on behalf of improved treatment of Native Americans by the United States government. (Bio courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Wishing all who celebrate Rosh Hashanah this week a shanah tovah umetukah, a good and sweet new year. May today’s poem remind us that now is an opportunity for change, but that we must be the change we want to see in the world.

Posted in Helen Hunt Jackson, Poetry, Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning from (Illinois) Nazis

 

Learning From (Illinois) Nazis

By Ezra Claverie

In the weeks since a white supremacist in Charlottesville used a car to attack anti-fascists, a lot of people have been posting on Facebook the scene from The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980) where Jake and Elwood drive their car at Illinois Nazis. The Nazis jump off the bridge, humiliated but unhurt, then spend the rest of the film trying, but failing, to kill Jake and Elwood.

The bridge scene gets laughs in part because of the self-seriousness of the leader of the Nazis, played by steely-eyed but short and unimposing Henry Gibson, but also in part because Jake and Elwood transgress a liberal norm. They defy the limits of an American liberalism that says the law should protect the speech (and so on) even for groups who would, given control of the levers of state power, use that power not only to eliminate legal protections for dissenting speech, but also to expel or exterminate opponents.

If Jake and Elwood really believed in American-style liberalism–the old “I may disagree with you but I defend your right to speak”–we wouldn’t have the scene, as famous as any in the film. The brothers’ transgression allows audiences to experience vicariously the thrill of flouting this norm against a group that most people already love to hate. But the stakes for Jake and Elwood, white Catholics not affiliated with the left, began low. Had they just waited their turn in the traffic jam, they might have had no problems even if the Illinois Nazis had later captured the government. (The same does not hold for their Black band mates or the Black artists whose songs the Blues Brothers cover. And would Illinois Nazis even allow the performance of such entartete musik?)

Karl Schmitt–the German, coincidentally Catholic, and, after 1933, Nazi jurist–explicitly articulated a principle relevant here, which American liberalism rejects: the friend-enemy distinction, upon which (Schmitt argued) all political life operates.

According to Schmitt, you must define as “enemy” one who seeks to eliminate the circumstances that allow you and your group, collectively, to exist as political actors. The Enemy “intends to negate his opponent’s way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one’s own form of existence.” 

Rivals and opponent groups may bitterly debate and wrangle with your group, but provided they do not constitute an existential threat, you can count them as Friends. In contrast, an Enemy aims to remove your group from the field of political contestation. Schmitt therefore argued that only political parties not intent on neutralizing or dismantling the parliamentary system, as the Nazis did, should be allowed participation in the Reichstag. Nevertheless, when they came to power, he joined.

Alex James Fields, the white supremacist who drove the car that killed Heather D. Heyer and injured many others, identified his Enemies. He drove a car into a crowd that included members of Democratic Socialists of America and Industrial Workers of the World, leftist groups of the kind that fascists, whether in or out of state power, target for killing. Fields, who associated with the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America, sought to eliminate the fundamental circumstance that allowed his Enemies to exist as political actors: their lives. For observers and survivors, the attack functioned as terrorism, an implicit warning: if you come out against white supremacy, the same could happen to you. He clarified American white supremacy as an existential threat to anti-racists and the left.

And yet on the same grounds we could characterize Jake and Elwood’s rush at the Illinois Nazis as an act of political terrorism. We hear the car’s engine revving, but we never hear the brakes; nothing in the scene suggests that Elwood will stop if the Nazis stand their ground. Their leap into the river gives them and the movie a means of escape from the serious question of what to do about people who, if they came to power, would slaughter you, me, or our friends. The failure of Jake and Elwood’s act of terrorism, like the failure of the Nazis’ quest for vengeance, turns the scene into comedy.

Liberals, both in the classical European and American senses, tend to imagine a political world without Enemies, where political stakes never rise to life-and-death. Within their political horizon, liberals treat disagreements as temporary and tactical, with deliberations over details of policy or administrative practice taking the place of struggles over fundamental questions, which mythologized culture heroes settled long ago. The failure or betrayal of state-socialist alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, to which Thatcher famously claimed “There is no alternative,” has only exacerbated this tendency.

Schmitt and many on the left and right regard as wishful thinking the notion of a world without political Enemies. Charlottesville reminded us that the stakes of political life remain high, especially for those who confront America’s resurgent and racist far right.

.

About the Author: 

Ezra Claverie has a PhD from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His essays have appeared in Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media, The Journal of American Culture, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. His primary research looks at Hollywood studios’ use of superheroes owned by the comics duopoly of DC and Marvel, reading these films as allegories of the corporate management of intellectual property. He teaches in the Writing Program at NYU Shanghai.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: WASN’T THAT A MIGHTY STORM

WASN’T THAT A MIGHTY STORM
Performed by Rolf Cahn and Eric Von Schmidt

Editor’s Note: I have been reading Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, which tells of the Great Storm of 1900. That Category 4 hurricane decimated the town of Galveston, Texas, killing between six and twelve thousand people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. I was reading this book as Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston and beyond. I am reading it now, still, as Hurricane Irma sweeps over the Caribbean and heads for the U.S. mainland. I am thinking of those who are fleeing and those who are staying put to weather the storm. Of those who have lost everything. Of those who have lost their lives. I am thinking of global warming and our current regime of climate change deniers. I am thinking of the fires that are burning in the west. I am thinking of friends and their families, and of those who are my kin because of our shared humanity. I am thinking of how history repeats itself and of the lessons we fail to learn from the before time.

Today’s poem is a folk song that remembers the Great Storm of 1900, and dedicated to those who are now suffering, who have suffered, who will suffer still.

Posted in Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment