SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JANET R. KIRCHHEIMER

Janet

THE NATURE OF THINGS
By Janet R. Kirchheimer


I was eleven the spring my father singed his eyebrows off
while burning down pear trees.

Anne Carson says dirt is a minor thing.
This is not true.

Perhaps she has not seen a string bean pushing
its way up through the dirt.

The Rabbis say that Adam gave names to all the animals,
but do not say who named the trees.

These are some of the plant names I love:
Joseph’s coat, Persian shield, Silver shrub, African mallow.

Once in January, my father woke me at four o’clock in the morning
to help cover the parsley in our garden with blankets.

Frost was on the ground.
Stars, so bright at that time of the year, lit the garden.

In June, I call home to ask my father about the gladiolas.
He says some are coming, some are going.

The Talmud says occasionally rain falls because of the merit
of one man, the merit of one blade of grass, of one field.



Today’s poem was was previously published by the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us. She is currently producing a documentary, “After,” about poetry of the Holocaust then and now, and is a teaching fellow at Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Editor’s Note: Unearth the humble offerings of today’s poem and discover what grows from its rich soil. What love, what relationship, what sage advice about life. This is a poem as intimate as tending one’s own garden, and as universal as studying scripture. How wise, how simple, how sage. How lovely today’s poem, with all its offerings.

Want to read more by and about Janet R. Kirchheimer?
Buy How to Spot One of Us on Amazon
Writing Without Paper
Best American Poetry
CLAL
Collegeville Institute

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Standing on Z: An Interview with and Three Poems by Stuart Dischell

z

Okla Elliott: I notice that several poems in Standing on Z make use of repetition and that the repetition is often of a word that is generally considered negative—e.g., “forget” in “Questions for the Mariner” and “dead” in “Threnody.” Would you mind speaking to the repetition of these particular (types of) words and repetition in poetry more generally?

Stuart Dischell: Repetition is at the heart of poetry. It is its heartbeat. I’m talking about sound the repetition of sound and syntax–whether the metrics of formal verse or the breath-lines of free verse. The obvious difficulty in working with repetition is that it can be repetitious in the sense of boring, in the sense of a parent saying the same things in the same way over and over again or a child banging a spoon on the table. In a good poem that employs repetitions, the words, lines, or phrases take on nuanced meanings and repercussions. I have never been one to write villanelles or sestinas—those obsessive forms of which there are few really fine examples—but lately I find myself working with the pantoum and triolet. Repetition is memory. Or maybe I am just getting older and find myself repeating myself. What?

OE: Authors are often asked to give advice to beginning writers, which makes a lot of sense, but I want to take a different approach. What advice would you give to an early-career writer with, say, one book out and a decent first job? Which sorts of problems do you think are peculiar to writers at that point on the writing path?
.
SD: To start, I would say, “congratulations.” Publishing a book of poems is not easy nor is getting a decent job. That said, I would advise keeping to first principles, the things that “bid you to write poetry” as Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet. Keep your totemic books around you, the writers that first got you going, and newer books too. Stay curious. Remember there is the imagination. Don’t understand your own poems so well. Don’t get too cozy with only poets of your generation. Remember there is always the imagination. Be playful but never forget that the writing of poetry is not a game. People have died for it.

OE: If you could change one thing in the literary/publishing world today, what would it be? I mean a-genie-just-gave-you-a-wish kind of scenario. Anything goes.

SD: Gee whiz, Genie, I don’t know what I would change. Poetry appears to be published everywhere online and in print. Although there may be perceived centers of power (mostly perceived by those dwelling in those centers) American poetry has become the most democratic of the arts. Journals and presses represent every perspective, aesthetic, and region—many within the same publications. Poems in “start-up” online journals are frequently read more than work in established literary journals. Gorgeous books are being printed by small presses, and as poetry becomes more frequently read online, there seems to be greater interest in the artisanal.

***

Standing on Z

The end of the jetty is like the end of our language.
Nothing is ahead but the open sea.

Who said there should not be more letters in the alphabet?
The jetty would be longer if we spoke Chinese—

But our characters are not as pretty and it takes
Perspective to see how the m in man and the w in woman

Suggest the graphics of their respective anatomies.
(Yet in my handwriting one looks like the other).

I am thinking of the romance of m and w by the sea.

What do you think they said in the hot sand of creation?
What would their last words be?

***

After a Late Show

A gob on the sidewalk
Refracts the lights
Of cars and bar signs
And theatre marquees.

The locked hands
Of couples pass over it,
A dog sniffs, and a child
Running in pink shoes

Ahead of her folks
After a late show
Calls it a jellyfish
And squashes it.

***

The Passages

Some brightly decorated passages
Lively and fluorescent until dawn
Like stars are hidden in the daylight—
No signs, no numbers, no names.

Mostly, we live indoors.

I have a favorite pair of shoes
Manufactured in Argentina.
There is nowhere I wish to walk
In them but down those passages.

***

Stuart Dischell was born in Atlantic City, NJ. He is the author of Good Hope Road, a National Poetry Series Selection, Evenings & Avenues, Dig Safe, Backwards Days, and the chapbooks Animate Earth and Touch Monkey. Dischell’s poems have been published in The Atlantic, Agni, The New Republic, Slate, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and anthologies including Essential Poems, Hammer and Blaze, Pushcart Prize, and Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems. A recipient of awards from the nea, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

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Killing Time

killing time

Killing Time

by

Jonathan K. Rice

I watch the traffic
reduced from four lanes to two.
The far lanes are scraped and rough
lined with orange cones
splattered with tar.

A work crew in hard hats
and fluorescent yellow vests
sweat in the heat, repaving the road,
driving pint-sized bulldozers and rollers,
shoveling, raking, sweeping,
waving cars through red lights
where the cross streets are blocked.

Two guys wait for the tattoo parlor to open.
John’s Kitchen is busy with breakfast.
It’s the only place I know that serves brains
and chitlins in this neighborhood.

A girl primps in the pawn shop window.
My coffee gets cold too fast but that’s okay.
It’s hot as hell and I’m waiting to meet
somebody down the block.

I sold my trumpet there.
The pawn shop guy with the gun on his hip
actually gave me what I paid for it
because I asked way too much.
I put gas in my car.

Now I’m looking to sell something else
but not my guitar
and never my dignity.

***

Jonathan Kevin Rice is a poet and visual artist living in North Carolina. This poem is reprinted by the author’s permission.

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God: Both Source and River

KarenHeadBlue

God: Both Source and River

 by

Karen Craigo

 

If you’ve ever sat in a quiet room—if you’ve closed your eyes, stilled your breath, and thought you heard the rush of your own blood coursing through your frame—I think it could be fairly said that you’ve encountered God, or something close.

After a lifetime of thinking about God and the spirit, I’ve arrived at a construction that feels true to me. I flatly reject almost everything I’ve been told about the deity. God’s not male; God is not high above us; God does not direct and God does not judge. God is greater than that, and yet also closer and more intimate than that.

Let me back up. I have a friend who prays for trivial things—that she won’t be pulled over when speeding, or that she’ll get a good parking space when she arrives. This is literally true; she routinely asks God for a place to put her car, and this is on any normal day. It’s not a life-saving parking space; it’s just a good spot at the office, which she needs because she waited too long to leave for work.

I wonder how my friend squares her idea of God with the God of every other person circling the lot a few minutes before 8 a.m. Is it the same God? Does the winner of the spot just have a better relationship with the deity? And if God refuses to yield 60 square feet of ground, what does that say? Is God unfair, or is my friend too miserable of a sinner to merit a boon?

And praying for a place to park is far from the end of it. A lot of people I know pray for a team to win, or, more specifically, for a touchdown or a run or a goal, as if an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving force has one team’s colors in some cosmic closet.

It’s possible their God does, and it’s completely likely that I’m all wet when it comes to my idea of the universe’s creative and sustaining force. My ideas certainly go against my Baptist upbringing—those years of Sundays when my mother dropped me off at the First Baptist Church in Gallipolis, Ohio, because she thought kids needed church (although she herself seemingly had no interest in hanging out with a bunch of Baptists—people who, at least in the 1970s, decried pants for women).

I feel certain about God, although I’d never argue for my understanding of the deity over the understanding of some devout person who believes differently. For some, the God-stakes are very high, and a spiritual life is about heaven-winning and hell-avoidance. I see no profit in complicating that struggle, so I leave them to it and wish them well, hoping they get what they’re after.

But it’s a blessing not to believe in heaven or hell. They’re very childish notions to me. On one hand, there is this hot, buggy place where bad people go (as if we don’t all have bad in us; even Jesus is said to have cursed a fig tree, seemingly out of sheer crankiness). Or there is this stultifyingly dull cloudscape where the good end up, and live in mansions, and wear crowns (as if we’re not all miraculous reflections of our creator and source, more glorious in our bodies than any metal or jewel).

Here’s some good news, as I see it—here’s “gospel” with a small G. We’re in heaven right now, and we’re constantly reaping an eternal reward, the love we offer always multiplying and rolling through this world and beyond in wave after wave of grace.

There is also some bad news. I’m afraid I don’t know a word that can serve as the opposite of “gospel,” unless we go back to Old English and coin one, like “baedspel” or “baspel.” But the baspel is that we’re also in hell, and paying attention to that hell is more the point of the exercise of living. All around us we find suffering and need—chaos, uncertainty, grief—and I think our role is to change that, to sow peace that passes understanding, and to break our backs every single day to make things better.

I heard it once, unexpectedly, from a beloved minister in a Lutheran church, and her words stuck with me: All the heaven we’re ever going to have, and all the hell we’ll ever know, are right here. We’re in them. And our job is to weight the balance toward heaven—to share the heaven of plenty and ameliorate the hell of hunger; to share the heaven of compassion and shatter the hell of isolation.

I’m as well read as any lapsed Baptist about the Bible. Thanks to Sunday after Sunday after Sunday of Bible drills, I can find 1 John 4:8 in nothing flat. (Boom! He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love, just as God whispered into the precious Fibonacci swirl of the ear of King James.) But what I know—and I mean exactly that word, know—about the spirit does not come from a printed text; it comes from my boundless imagination and my bold, reasoning mind—“texts” that God is constantly writing and amending and revising.

I am a poet, and I have to say, it’s very hard for someone who writes and studies literature to accept as the infallible word of God a translated text of mixed and sometimes uncertain origin—and even of political censorship, with kings stepping in to say what can and can’t be included. Language is just too nuanced; its usage is both idiosyncratic to individuals and regionally or even very locally determined. I grew up on southeastern Ohio, for instance, where we went not downtown or uptown but “overtown,” and a “toboggan” was something we wore on our head in the winter. The Bible is read throughout the world, in 531 languages, Google tells me, and I have to believe that somewhere, someone is seeing “toboggan” and not visualizing “hat.

My life as a poet has something to do with my understanding of God. What I’ve found in my years of writing is that I can work pretty hard and come up with respectable poems (or stories or essays, on occasion). But sometimes I look at the page and I see something much more intricate than what I had planned. I’ll see a system of imagery running through it and know that I didn’t put it there deliberately, or I’ll see a secondary meaning that just sort of wove itself. It happens routinely, and when it does, I recognize it as a gift, or more appropriately, an artifact of a deeper conversation.

One of my most vital spiritual sources is the work of Carl Jung, who coined the term “collective unconscious” to describe an aspect of my understanding of God. God to me is divine intelligence, a river of thought and sense that runs through all of us and allows us to have a shared language of symbol and feeling. Inspiration, to me, is what happens when we dip our net into this unconscious and haul it in, wriggling. (Don’t worry; in this metaphor, it’s strictly a catch-and-release arrangement, and what fish show up do so voluntarily.)

Better writers probably offer their thesis up front, but this writer is a coward, and I know that my ideas about God are deeply offensive to some Christians and potentially very troubling to others. My strategy, then, has been to say a bunch of blah-de-blah for 1,250 words or so, and then offer my key point at the end, where only the hardiest readers (and the non-fish-lovers) are found. So here goes.

God is a river of intelligence that runs through everything and holds all of our consciousness. Unlike Jung’s construction of the collective unconscious, I think even animals, and perhaps even some objects, contribute to this intelligence. This river is ageless and timeless. It flows beyond Earth. It’s where we are before we’re born and where we go when we die, and we’re even in it now, or we can at least stick a toe in when we’re brave enough to try to connect.

The river is why death has no power over us; it’s why we can experience empathy; it explains the things we know without having reason to, and it is where inspiration comes from. It’s the source of life and art and love. It’s the most powerful force there is.

I am a Christian, a follower of Christ’s example, but I’m not at all traditional in my path; where traditional Christians see a God who is omniscient, I see the river. The same goes for the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent God. I am a small contributing source to what God is, and God, that river, flows all through me. God is in my body and God is deeply present in my spirit and brain. When I close my eyes, I can hear God rushing through.

***

Karen Craigo is the author of the poetry collection No More Milk (Sundress, 2016) and the forthcoming collection Passing Through Humansville (ELJ, 2017). She maintains Better View of the Moon, a daily blog on writing, editing, and creativity, and she teaches writing in Springfield, Missouri. She is the nonfiction editor and former editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review, the reviews editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, an editor of Gingko Tree Review, and the managing editor of ELJ Publications.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE HEART OF A WOMAN

We_Can_Do_It!
THE HEART OF A WOMAN
By Georgia Douglas Johnson

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.

The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.


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


Editor’s Note: No matter who you voted for in the primaries nor who you plan to vote for come November, there is no denying that this was an historic week in American history.

In this vein, I dedicate today’s poem–written by a black woman in a white age–to Michelle Obama, a black woman running the White House who reminded us this week that: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.” And I dedicate this poem to the fact that, for the first time in American history, a woman has been nominated by a major party to run for President of the United States of America.

Any (reasonable) reservations you (or I) may have about Hillary Clinton and our two-party system aside, this is a moment to pause and marvel, to appreciate what we have accomplished and to believe that this can–and should–be just the beginning of progressive progress. This is a moment to celebrate that the heart of a woman need not try “to forget it has dreamed of the stars,” for it need not break, break, break “on the sheltering bars.”

Georgia Douglas Johnson: A member of the Harlem Renaissance, Georgia Douglas Johnson wrote plays, a syndicated newspaper column, and four collections of poetry: The Heart of a Woman (1918), Bronze (1922), An Autumn Love Cycle (1928), and Share My World (1962). (Annotated biography courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.)

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The Storms in Philadelphia

dnc

photo by Robert MacCready

The Storms in Philadelphia

by

Okla Elliott

 

The first day of the DNC convention was plagued with storms. The literal storm that hit Philadelphia was serious, with flash floods in some streets and power outages in various neighborhoods around the city. The political storms, however, were mostly tempests in teapots. Mostly.

As everybody knows by now, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign her position as DNC chair on Monday and was taken off the speaking schedule at the convention due to leaked emails that proved collusion with the press on the DNC’s part to undermine the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, as well as offering coveted political positions to high-dollar donors. This was probably the only political storm of noteworthy size. But ultimately, since anyone with even the tiniest bit of intellectual honesty and observational abilities knew that the DNC was doing all it could ensure Clinton won the nomination and since we all know politics is corrupted by money every day, this wasn’t as big as some have made it out to be. My only hope is that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been sufficiently disgraced that Bernie-backed progressive Tim Canova will be able to win his primary race against her and end up in the US Congress, where we desperately need more true progressives (which DWS most certainly is not).

The true tempest in a teapot was the booing and heckling by some Bernie Sanders supporters when he spoke to them early in the day and during his primetime speech on the convention’s main stage, particularly when he strongly endorsed Clinton for president of the United States. These people represent a tiny fraction of the convention goers and their voices were only barely heard—though they do deserve to be heard, but at precisely the volume they were. And that low volume level should be compared to the three-minute ecstatic standing ovation, replete with dozens of delegates crying, Sanders received when he stepped out on stage. He was and remains the beloved leader of millions of progressives in this country, and I imagine he’ll continue to be such a leader for years to come—though he’ll have even more influence than he previously did, due to his various political organizations he has announced he plans to start and due to his (likely) increased power in the US Senate, to say nothing of his massive public stature that will allow him to continue to bend the national political discourse to the left.

By any objective measure, the speeches given on Monday night were rousing and galvanizing. My social media feeds were a blur of statements like “Cory Booker is killing it!” or “I love you, Michelle!” or “Bernie is my hero!” and so forth, and having talked a few dozen friends and colleagues, they report the same.

When I was at the RNC convention, I reported back to The Citizens’ Voice, a newspaper out of Wilkes-Barre, PA, that I predicted a bump in the polls for Trump and a slight improvement in his negatives. I likewise predicted the same for Clinton then, but after seeing the first night’s speeches and feeling the mood here in Philadelphia the day after, I predict an even larger bump for Clinton/Kaine than Trump/Pence enjoyed after last week.

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Who Is Tim Kaine?: A Pro/Con Analysis

kaine

Who Is Tim Kaine?: A Pro/Con Analysis

by

Okla Elliott

As the saying goes: you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Hillary Clinton proved this on Friday when she selected Virginia senator and former governor, Tim Kaine, as her vice-presidential running mate. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party feels slighted, especially those who backed Bernie Sanders in the primaries, seeing in Kaine just another centrist who supports the TPP and fracking and deregulation of the banks — all things seen as too right of center for these dyed-in-the-wool progressives. On the other hand, centrists and even some progressives are singing Kaine’s praises to the heavens, calling him a strong and wise pick for the position.

Per usual in such matters, there is some truth to both sides of the debate. My goal here is to list what are generally considered Kaine’s strengths and weaknesses as a candidate, and what his pros and cons are, especially for the liberal base of the Democratic Party. I will try to be as objective as possible and cite all of my sources, but I should admit two things in the spirit of full disclosure: 1) I am a registered Democrat who considers himself part of the progressive wing of the party and who supported Sanders in the primaries. 2) After several hours of intense research and what I knew about Kaine beforehand, I land on the side of him being a strong pick for the VP slot, though not a perfect one — I had my heart set on Sherrod Brown of Ohio for several reasons I won’t get into here.

So, let’s look at the bad first:

  1. Kaine supports the TPP, having praised it as recently as Thursday, barely a full day before Clinton announced her selection. He also voted for the fast-tracking of the TPP, so he has supported it in action, not just words. Since Sanders came out so strongly against the TPP, this might be an issue with his supporters and an obstacle for party unity. It could also hurt, since Trump has come out so strongly against these sorts of trade deals, which are highly unpopular among the American electorate — left, right, and centrist.
  2. He favors bank deregulation of the sort that led to the 2008 collapse and which Republicans strongly back.
  3. He supports offshore drilling and fracking — both of which are major sticking points for environmentalists.
  4. He has variously supported parental consent for minors who seek abortions, informed consent for all who seek them, and a ban on partial-birth abortions — all of which are serious concerns for reproductive rights activists.

Okay, now that we’ve talked about the bad news, let’s look at the good news.

  1. His position on abortion seems to have improved since his time as governor, garnering him a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL for his time in the Senate — though, to be honest, there haven’t been many controversial votes to make in his time there, so that rating is likely a bit inflated by circumstance. As a devout Catholic, he is in a tough position of being personally and religiously against abortion, yet being politically for it in most cases. This has worked out just fine for Joe Biden, so there is precedent for a VP being in such a position. Also, the VP has nearly no say in such matters, so he’s no danger to reproductive rights. I’d call him overall slightly left of center on the issue, which is several dozen times better than Pence, the Republican VP candidate.
  2. Despite his support for offshore drilling and fracking, he has a 91% rating from the League of Conservation Voters, so his overall lifetime record on environmental issues is actually quite good.
  3. He took a year off from law school to volunteer in Honduras as a Jesuit missionary. He learned Spanish while there and seems to be nearly fluent, since he was able to give a thirteen-minute speech in Spanish on the Senate floor once. This is therefore doubly positive, since he spent his time helping others and is culturally aware and sensitive. This will also help practically in the campaign, since the Republicans are so anti-intellectual and anti-immigrant, his ability to speak Spanish and the fact he cared enough to learn it will bring even more voters to the Democratic side of the fight.
  4. During his seventeen years of law practice, he represented people denied housing based on disability or race. He has also been a strong advocate as an elected official for equality along lines of disability, race, and sex. He is therefore excellent on social justice issues.
  5. He has an F rating from the NRA, which should hearten progressives everywhere.
  6. He has excellent foreign policy experience, since he serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.

So, is Time Kaine a perfect pick? No. Is he a really solid one who happens to have a strong track record of winning statewide elections in a swing state? Yes. We could do much worse, and ultimately progressives — especially those in swing states — should vote Clinton/Kaine, and then fight their hearts out for more progressive candidates running for the US Congress. If we can get a more progressive US Congress, then the bills that land on Clinton’s desk will be more progressive, and she’ll have to sign them, because vetoing her own party’s legislation would be political suicide. Kaine is only on the ticket to help her win, and in my analysis he will do that. He also seems like an overall decent guy I already find myself liking on a personal level, even though we disagree on some issues.

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