SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NAN COHEN

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A NEWBORN GIRL AT PASSOVER
By Nan Cohen


Consider one apricot in a basket of them.
It is very much like all the other apricots–
an individual already, skin and seed.

Now think of this day. One you will probably forget.
The next breath you take, a long drink of air.
Holiday or not, it doesn’t matter.

A child is born and doesn’t know what day it is.
The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.
The taste of apricots is in store for her.



Today’s poem was was first published on the Academy of American Poets website and appears here today with permission from the poet and publisher.


Nan Cohen is the author of Rope Bridge, a collection of poems. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, The New Republic, Ploughshares, Poetry International, and Tikkun, among other magazines and anthologies. She is the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, and a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A high school teacher and English department chair in Los Angeles, she is also the Poetry Director of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.

Editor’s Note: Simple, yet revelatory. A personal experience that belongs to one and to many. The day you will likely not remember. The apricot that is like all the others–unique. “The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.” The way that line bowls you over. How unadorned it is, yet how stunning. This poem. This poem. This poem.

Want to read more by and about Nan Cohen?
Rope Bridge
Nan Cohen’s Blog
“The Fear of the Dark” (with audio) at Slate
“Storm” at The New Republic
“Girder” at Verse Daily

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High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race – Bianca Capeles


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A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, these poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Creative Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

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Bianca Capeles is a 17-year-old senior poet in my Creative Writing class. Her future aspirations include a United States Presidency and many, many book publications. She is a member of the Poetry Club and the Drama Club. She enjoys writing and engaging in heated political debates on Facebook. She continues her fight for equality because she “doesn’t understand how someone could advocate for one life over another.”

Capeles’s poem is a re-imagination of biblical lore. Her second person point of view and her steady and engaging rhythm reveals and insists on a historical pattern on repeat.

I chose this poem because of its clear message: a woman’s value is incalculable and should not be determined by men. The moment I heard this poem performed, I knew it needed a larger audience. Please join me in enjoying this untamed, bold new voice!

Elysha

Jezebel,
Explain the glances in your direction.
I guess it doesn’t help to stand beside Elijah,
newly turned prophet,
felt called to bring you to church.

Jezebel,
It must be the skirt you chose to wear,
just tight enough to curve around your legs,
evoking lust, causing Christian men to sin:
Mesmerizing beyond faith to break a commandment,
to devalue the worth of wedding rings…

Jezebel,
It must be the leather you chose to wear,
zipped up to your neckline,
covering what you thought would label you temptation.
Instead, you become rebellious in the eyes of the priest:
He sees your eyeliner and deems you troubled,
criminalizes your modesty,
sends women to patronize:

They say, “God changed me,”
and shows you a picture of a happier woman.

Jezebel,
Explain the whispers in your direction:
Pastor mentions his lovely wife –
You only notice the shrinkage of a woman under constant scrutinization.
You notice her limbs are completely covered in the same church Jezebel is shamed.
She looks as if making up for Eve.

Jezebel,
You remain unconvinced.
Elijah looks over for affirmation,
mentions later that his congregation asked about you:
But you hear the intentions behind every invitation to go out.
They want to discern your spirituality through the clothes that you wear,
if your inherent reflex is to smile if a man is caught staring.
They want to compare your faith to your fashion sense,
despite never having sex, Jezebel.

Elijah,
You are committed to God first, and then wife 1, 2, and 3.
She stands beside you with her child,
the offspring of another man,
and you bask in the reverence that is your position right now:
What a respectable man of God you are
for taking over the responsibilities
of used goods.

Elijah,
You feel above reproach.
You will raise your daughter to shun women like her mother,
wear clothes that attract men like you,
and associate her worth with her virginity,
even while having sex with drunk women,
conceiving a child out of wedlock,
and denying her.

Elijah,
You enjoy the air that Jezebel gives you:
Men glare and envy you,
all unhappy in marriages you have been able to avoid up until now,
with children not claimed to be yours as of yet.

Elijah,
You convince yourself that your interest is her salvation:
That the conversations you have could never find themselves materializing into something more than seeking God,
positioned beside the riskiest threat introduced to church since implemented dress code,
because you’ve brought her to church.

Elijah,
Explain the thought process that makes you innocent beside her:
Your tightened tie and shaved face would not exclude you from rebellious titles,
the tattoo on your arm is similar to the criminalization of eyeliner in Pentecostal churches,
And yet you remain a higher stature than assumed Jezebel,
Because you are assumed to be Elijah, Elysha.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: GEORGE MOSES HORTON ON LIBERTY AND SLAVERY

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ON LIBERTY AND SLAVERY
By George Moses Horton

Alas! and am I born for this,
To wear this slavish chain?
Deprived of all created bliss,
Through hardship, toil, and pain!

How long have I in bondage lain,
And languished to be free!
Alas! and must I still complain–
Deprived of liberty.

Oh, Heaven! and is there no relief
This side the silent grave–
To soothe the pain–to quell the grief
And anguish of a slave?

Come, Liberty, thou cheerful sound,
Roll through my ravished ears!
Come, let my grief in joys be drowned,
And drive away my fears.

Say unto foul oppression, Cease:
Ye tyrants rage no more,
And let the joyful trump of peace,
Now bid the vassal soar.

Soar on the pinions of that dove
Which long has cooed for thee,
And breathed her notes from Afric’s grove,
The sound of Liberty.

Oh, Liberty! thou golden prize,
So often sought by blood–
We crave thy sacred sun to rise,
The gift of nature’s God!

Bid Slavery hide her haggard face,
And barbarism fly:
I scorn to see the sad disgrace
In which enslaved I lie.

Dear Liberty! upon thy breast,
I languish to respire;
And like the Swan upon her nest,
I’d to thy smiles retire.

Oh, blest asylum–heavenly balm!
Unto thy boughs I flee–
And in thy shades the storm shall calm,
With songs of Liberty!


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


George Moses Horton: (1798–1883) Born a slave on William Horton’s tobacco plantation, George Moses Horton taught himself to read. Around 1815 he began composing poems in his head, saying them aloud and “selling” them to an increasingly large crowd of buyers at the weekly Chapel Hill farmers market. Students at the nearby University of North Carolina bought his love poems and lent him books. As his fame spread, he gained the attention of Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz, a novelist and professor’s wife who transcribed his poetry and helped publish it in her hometown newspaper. With her assistance, Horton published his first collection of poetry, The Hope of Liberty (1829), becoming the first African American man to publish a book in the South—and one of the first to publicly protest his slavery in poetry. (Annotated biography of Yehuda Amichai courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.)

Editor’s Note: As Passover is coming up this week, I have been thinking about slavery and freedom. About histories of bondage and those who are still wandering in search of sustainable freedom today. As we remember our own slavery this Passover and celebrate our own redemption, may these words from another Moses help us to also remember the experiences of those who have likewise suffered, and to advocate for those who are wandering the world today in search of life and liberty.

Want to read more by and about George Moses Horton?
The Poetry Foundation
UNC Documenting the American South
Academy of American Poets

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: D.H. LAWRENCE ON SPRING

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THE ENKINDLED SPRING
By D.H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.


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


David Herbert Richards Lawrence (1885 – 1930) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter who published as D. H. Lawrence. His collected works, among other things, represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation. Although best known for his novels, Lawrence wrote almost 800 poems, most of them relatively short. His first poems were written in 1904 and two of his poems, “Dreams Old” and “Dreams Nascent,” were among his earliest published works in The English Review. His early works clearly place him in the school of Georgian poets, a group not only named after the reigning monarch but also to the romantic poets of the previous Georgian period whose work they were trying to emulate. (Annotated biography of Yehuda Amichai courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Lyric gyrations, thick alliteration, words and images like blossoms and wildfire. D.H. Lawrence helps us welcome spring while questioning the I amidst such a season.

Want to read more by and about D.H. Lawrence?
The world of DH Lawrence
Biography.com
Academy of American Poets

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21st Century Politics and The “F” Word

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21st Century Politics and The “F” Word

by

M.E. “Spike” Allen

The big noise over Gloria Steinem’s view of certain adult millennials —  that they go for Bernie because that’s “where the boys are,” also the title of a #1 hit by ‘50s icon Connie Francis – has faded now.

And former secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s smiling threat at a Clinton rally, delivered with a Macheath-ish mirth — that hellfire awaits females who choose to vote for a non-Hillary candidate — has also lost its luster, but the rhetoric goes on. As is the millennial feminists’ wont.

Albright, however, did speak the truth when she said “It’s not done,” apparently referring to that feminist thing, the one involving men and women and all generations. And although it might be Hillary’s turn – given the history that black men were accorded the vote soon after the Civil War and that women won it some 50 years later–millennials largely won’t vote on a gender-only basis; it gets their back up.

The “Will I be voting for Hillary” arguments range from stalwart essay writing to assistance of the ka-ching variety. Shiva Bayat’s Slate piece, headlined “A Vote for Bernie Is a Feminist Act,” says that “Feminism is a worldview that understands and critiques power.” She adds that “Female supporters of Hillary should be happy that the women’s movement laid the groundwork for feminists like me to engage critically in power and political life—and so I call on my fellow feminists not to let our bridges Bern.” Very young. On the other end, we have fundraising for Hillary C. by such younger-generation role models as Lena Dunham and Christina Aguilera. To them, She Is the One. Says Ms. Dunham: “I can’t talk about Hillary Clinton without also acknowledging that she has survived horrific, gendered attacks on nearly every single aspect of her character with tremendous grace and aplomb.” Interestingly, many millennials are unmoved by this. It’s their mind to make up, nobody else’s. Also, there’s the concern that the front-line suffragettes might have the stink of victim on them, an unkind position to say the least. This is not to say Bayat is wrong.

Still, as desperate as Clinton can seem after a loss, of any kind, really — no easy-come, easy go big dog like her husband – there’s something humorous re her unabating relentlessness, her cyborg-like ability to raise herself from the dead, time after time, and with the same patina of phoniness with each iteration. The funny part comes when she does something so madcap, so off the cuff, so antithetical to her habit of tightly-wound self-control, that it becomes ridiculous – and then, surprisingly, touching.

Like posing with the not-exactly-heavyweight Britney Spears this month, clearly a bid for the youth vote. Ms. Spears praised Ms. Clinton — “This woman had an intense presence and I felt very honored to meet her”— but offered no endorsement. Britney had tweeted the words along with a photo of the two in Vegas, but she included the hashtag ImWithHer – a clear show of support, leading Ms. Spears to quickly delete it. She reportedly then re-posted, leaving out the commitment-defining hashtag.

There is a generational divide re feminism, and it’s one that is marked by many insignia, including those of dress. First FoxNews made sure all its female news-readers/anchors looked like the 1960s femme-fatales gracing the covers of soft-cover detective stories, except that in FoxWorld, nearly all were brittle double-bottle blondes. The paperbacks were more egalitarian, at least re hair color.

At one point, a Fox news-reader (female) never appeared between camera and anchor chair without her cleavage preceding her. Yes, TV studios are  supposed to have icy temperatures, and in one respect, their mien, these frosty dames definitely brought the bleak to the fore.

It can be easy to dismiss Fox for its peculiar semiotics — what can be said or telegraphed about a land that intelligence forgot, one reigned over by a Wizard-of-Oz type, one whose recent news items include a discussion between him and The Donald over that mean, mean lady who’s “overrated and angry,” in The Donald’s estimation.

Dialing the magniloquence up, Trump finished her off, he thinks, by calling her a bimbo. Hey, it worked in high school. Megyn Kelly is the least extreme of the Fox Barbies, and her smarts and journalistic savvy often put anchors such as Wolf Blitzer to shame. But that’s FoxWorld.

So imagine a reader’s crankiness when noticing the garb on anchors from yet another news world, a younger news world, one that can be found 180 degrees from Fox, on something called The Young Turks, which brags that it’s “the largest online news show in the world.”

The panelists all seem millennial, with the male anchors guided by Casual Friday dicta. The female panelists’ threads, though, tell another story. Some of these women are very bright and both genders seem to represent a libertarian/agnostic strain of journalism that very entertainingly lays out both fact and fancy and is aimed at sating its viewers’ hunger for something more newsy than, say, Newsy.

It’s a thinking person’s live news program, lousy with op-ed, so near yet so far from the corporatized broadcast outlets that sell “news” as long as it doesn’t criticize or offend the parent company. Conservatives have a word for it: Lame-stream. Of course conservatives are the worst offenders, but they do get in a lick or two.

The Young Turks—who take the news seriously, but slather on the snark—could be throwing their cred away by presenting its female panelists with super-tight tops and décolletage. And what of the responsibility of the women themselves who show up on broadcasts in such work-wear? Fine when posting to a dating site, but not when presenting oneself or one’s staff as a font of ideas.

Is it possible the men and women on these newscasts are playing a weird game of Chicken, the women daring the men to look, the men trying hard not to. You see, the thinking must go, this is the way it’s supposed to be. No one notices the difference between the sexes.

On another front, a bizarre one in an abnormal group, there has been David Brock — he of “a little bit nutty, a little bit slutty” politics in the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas case a quarter of a century ago – actually calling Bernie “a typical politician.” Politician, certainly. Typical? Thud. Brock’s changeling powers are well documented: going from remorseless priest of the Hard Right, and evil sexist, to, watch it now, Clinton honey-bunny. Brock heads a pro-Clinton super PAC, Correct the Record (irony alert), and earlier this year questioned both Bernie Sanders’ health at 74 (Hillary is 68, just six years younger) and his policies re people of color.

At one point, Hillary, or Hillary’s people, reportedly told Brock to calm down, and Sanders’ peeps soon lined up the self-described Democratic Socialist’s lifetime bona fides re civil rights. Sanders even quickly released his perfectly acceptable medical status (though it was nowhere near Trump physician Harold Bornstein’s odd “extraordinary” rating for his patient). Probably edited by Trump.

With Clinton’s drubbing in New Hampshire, she accelerated her flat-out lying about being a progressive, a label that has worked so well, and so accurately, for Sanders. Also, after siccing Bill on her problem, she went a bit gone herself as she labeled Sanders a “one issue” candidate. Here’s her line on that, to a mixed group of union members in Nevada: “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the L.G.B.T. community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?” Oh, Sister, Sister. Lame. Quite lame.

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The Zen of Bernie Sanders: Even in Politics, You Can Be in the Now

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The Zen of Bernie Sanders: Even in Politics,

You Can Be in the Now

 

by Holly LeCraw

 

            There is a reason that today is not tomorrow.

That’s not a quote from a political operative. It’s from Brother Curtis Almquist, who is the former superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the Anglican-Episcopal monastery in Cambridge. He’s a monk. I don’t know whether he spends much time thinking about politics, and he certainly didn’t say that in any political context.

But I keep thinking of it in the context of this presidential campaign, especially lately, when the media seems to be constantly asking the question of whether Bernie Sanders supporters would vote for Hillary Clinton in November if she were the nominee. There are more freakouts every day. Susan Sarandon, who, in a recent interview, was noncommittal about voting for either Hillary or Trump, has nevertheless become the poster child for a perceived Bernie-or-Bust selfish idealism.

I take a deep breath. I want to scream it to the world, but instead I say it calmly to myself, again.

It’s April.

It’s April, and we don’t have nominees on either side. You can have your opinions on who they’ll be (I think Trump probably won’t be the nominee; I believe Bernie has a far better chance than anyone in the media is willing to grant him), but they are only opinions. Unless this election is fixed—which would be a completely different story—no one knows for sure. Enormous states like Wisconsin, New York, and California haven’t even voted. We don’t know yet. We don’t know yet.

There is a reason that today is not tomorrow.

I’m a co-founder of Writers for Bernie  and the day after we published our endorsement (eighty writers had signed then; we’re up to 150, and growing), we got a plaintive tweet: “Wishing Writers for Bernie had been Writers against Trump.” I heard in that tweet the familiar, condescending narrative that Berners just don’t understand reality, and, moreover, that in seemingly ignoring the looming threat of Trump, we had picked a lesser cause.

But a cause for is always more important than a cause against.

It’s the difference between negative and positive energy. It’s the difference between looking backward and trying to stop something that’s already begun, and looking ahead and envisioning something new. It’s the difference between destroying and building.

Like literally millions of people in this country, I’m astonished by Bernie Sanders. For the first time, we don’t feel like we’re settling. We’re not picking the lesser of evils. We don’t feel we’re compromising our own principles, and we’re confident he won’t compromise his. The sense of energy and empowerment in the Bernie Sanders movement is palpable. And although we get angry when he and we are mischaracterized, the overwhelming mood in a group of Sanders supporters is one of joy and possibility.

We are in this moment, today, and are having a vital conversation about political values within the Democratic party, and in the country as a whole. We are talking about what we want government to do, who we want to be to each other, who we want to be in the world. There are deep, fundamental differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and we need to talk about those, rather than creating a false crisis about nominees who do not yet exist.

A narrative in this election, and in our politics generally, blames the dreamers. And yet, clearly, we want so badly to dream. “I want you to think about what this great country can be,” Bernie says. The self-styled grownups in this debate who say Bernie will never get all he’s asking for are missing the point entirely—of course he, and we, won’t. We know that; we’re not stupid. But not to ask? Not to try? To advocate merely to hold the line? To cast our vote for stasis, and call it hope? Not interested.

It’s not a responsibility of adulthood to be cynical. One can be idealistic and realistic at the same time. How else has Bernie Sanders sustained himself for 35 years in public life, tirelessly advocating for the same large things, settling for the small ones? And yet he keeps on. To call Bernie naïve, or selfish, is ludicrous. He himself has said, many times,  “Change takes place because people struggle.” That’s not someone talking about overnight transformation.

If Hillary becomes the Democratic nominee, there will be plenty of time to talk about holding the line. Plenty of time to decide whether or not to compromise, and what that would mean for ourselves and the country. And Trump? If he’s the nominee, don’t worry, you won’t have missed anything. He’ll still be a reckless, ignorant narcissist.

And Bernie will still be speaking truth to power and to the people. He will still be talking about all we can do, not all we can’t. In November, you might be looking at his name on the ballot—because millions of people believe in him, and are voting for him again and again.

But for now, let it be now. Let it be April. Let’s have this conversation. Let’s come together. Let’s be for something, and fight for it with all we’ve got.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DIODE

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Editor’s Note: It has been my honor and privilege to write another omnibus review for Diode Poetry Journal, this time a review of four full-length poetry collections. Each of the poets that are the subject of this review have been featured here on the Saturday Poetry Series, and diode gave me the opportunity to expand my inquiries into these collections and to help share the gift of poetry with the world. Read selections from the review below, then hop on over to diode and read the full review and the incredible issue.


from SMALL PRESS FULL LENGTH COLLECTIONS OMNIBUS REVIEW
diode 9.1, by Sivan Butler-Rotholz

New from [Red Hen Press, Texas Tech University Press, Black Lawrence Press, and The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective] are four full-length poetry collections from four visionary writers. Whether crafted by award-winning artists or carefully curated, whether hand-selected or born of generous mentorship, these thoughtful and painstaking works gift the reader an exquisite unrest. Vivid, lyric, and evocative, the words and ideas proffered within these books enable the reader not only to question, but to reconsider, not only to reflect, but to be transformed.

Seemingly disparate, these collections grow from the fertile soil of common ground. Each one stems from the rich roots of questioning, and among their boughs are inquiries into science and religion, genesis, generations, and death, the infinite and the inevitable, history, humanity, and crossing over.

from Review | Histories of the Future Perfect, by Ellen Kombiyil
The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, 2015

Imagine a world freed by the boundless realms of a child’s imagination. A child, that is, with a PhD and the resources of NASA at its fingertips. And a heart that has lived more than one lifetime. “Of the heart,” Kombiyil observes, “one might say that it slows,” and “love is / lava spilling out & cooling into rock.” From earth, she imagines the stars, and from space, she longs for earth. In “While Sipping Lemon Tea on Saturn’s Ice-Cloud Deck,” the poet experiences “Dizzy days and sleepless nights—elongated years,” wistful when admitting that “I’ve forgotten the outline of my body against you.”

from Review | The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, by Rachel Mennies
Texas Tech University Press, 2014

The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards “cradle[s] a weight unasked of it.” This ambitious collection is laden with questions of religion and God, of Judaism as a uniquely weighted experience, of the tension between a lost matriarchy and a present patriarchy—“prayers as old as a thousand matriarchs;” “Sarah had Rebekah had Leah and Rachel had… no use for sarcasm but lived thick within God’s ironies…” Woven between the fibers of these themes are the intrinsic considerations of—and reflections upon—history and those relationships that are the genesis, generation, and continuation of life.

from Review | Decency, by Marcela Sulak
Black Lawrence Press, 2015

When the book considers history, that consideration is varied enough to encompass Cortés, the Holocaust, and the southern backyard of the poet’s own childhood. Sulak writes of La Malinche, a Nahau (Aztec) woman who was born noble, sold into slavery, and came into the possession of Cortés:

              They call me La Malinche,
              because I betrayed. Cortés called me
              Doña Marina. Our friends
              called us by the same name.
              You can call me mother,
              of course. But what I like most,
              is the unanswered calling in the sun
              and the corn and the coins, those luminous
              voices eternally seeking their gods

And of the poet’s own history:

              At the end of our marriage, I remember
              the raccoons of my childhood . . .
              how my brother set the spring-triggered steel jaw trap for the coons
              in the dim light of the barn floor; my cat stepped into it and caught her paw,
              and how she howled, her desperate twist, and when I bent to release her
              she bit my finger and it swelled ten times its normal size, how that’s what
                     happens,
              my father said, when you touch an animal in pain.

from Review | River Electric With Light, by Sarah Wetzel
Red Hen Press, 2015

The driving force and metaphor running through this work is water. Rivers carry words, ideas, people. “If I must choose a word for you, / let it be river,” the book opens, and in this way the poet conjures up a world in which water and the you of the collection become one. She then echoes these words with a shift that sets the stage for the ways in which water—and the you—shifts throughout the book, throughout life, and throughout both personal history and the history of the world: “If I must choose a word for you, / let it be the word / for what flows.”


Today’s selections are from diode 9.1. Read the full omnibus review here. Read the full issue here.


Diode: Diode publishes electropositive poetry. Poetry that excites and energizes. Poetry that uses language that crackles and sparks. The journal features poetry from all points on the arc, from formal to experimental.

Want to read more at the intersection of yours truly and diode?
Diode 9.1 – Small Press Full Length Collections Omnibus Review
Diode 8.3 – Accents Publishing Chapbook Omnibus Review

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