SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOT WITH JOHN GUZLOWSKI

By John Guzlowski:


LISTENING TO DEATH

How do we listen to death?

We listen to the sound of death
The way we listen to the sound of the sea
To the message the waves pound against the shore
Their soft rush of foam upon the sand

We hear the things we forgot to tell the dead
The questions we forgot to ask them
The enigmatic dreams they will never explain
The useless arguments we will neither win nor lose
The mutual misunderstandings
That will never be clarified
The lies for which we forgot to ask forgiveness
The problems death defers
The unresolved quarrels with the dead

And what can we do in the face of death?

We can leave this house
And keep going
Never to return

We will not even take
The things that have meant
The most to us, our books
The plants we have nursed
The children we have raised
Punished and praised
The clothes (the dark
Blue ties, the tweed jackets
The rakish wool caps)
That make us look
More the man
More the woman
More the hero
More the young lover
Searching for love

We can leave this house
And keep going
Never to return

And what is death?

It is the hand of God
The meal prepared with love
Flowers from the pierced breast
Of the Blessed Virgin
The shore that smells of widows
Studying the foam

And should we fear death?

No, we shouldn’t fear death
We should fear the loud man’s coming

The pain of cancer
That does this or that
To the body

That pain that is longer than sorrow
Stronger than love

The tumor that grows like
A child who then learns
To hate you

A child who will not take
The love and joy you give her

What is as difficult as death?

Nothing

Nothing

Nothing



POET’S NOTE: I met Okla on Facebook.

One day maybe 7 years ago, I got a friend request from him. I didn’t know a thing about him. He was just another fellow asking to be my friend. I said sure.

I’ve never been sorry I did.

Reading Okla’s posts, his status updates, his responses to other people has always been inspiring. What he wrote was smart and funny and engaging. Sometimes he sounded like Jean Paul Sartre, and sometimes he sounded like a kid in love with literature and life and friendship and thinking and dreaming. Both Oklas were wonderful.

And even more wonderful was the Okla I discovered when I started reading his poems and his essays and his fiction.

Okla was the real thing.

He was all the writers I ever admired, and he was right there with me on Facebook.

When I heard he was dead, I couldn’t believe it. He was too filled with life, too good, too dreaming, to be dead.

But he was dead.

But I will not let go of him.

Here [above] is a poem for Okla.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


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REMEMBERING OKLA ELLIOT WITH MICHAEL YOUNG

By Michael Young:

Okla Elliott died in his sleep last night. I still haven’t fully comprehended this reality. His absence hasn’t filled the days to make me believe it. But the news is everywhere echoed through FB.

There are a few people on FB that I know almost exclusively through FB or met only a few times and yet I consider them friends and not just acquaintances. There is a kindship of mind and conscience that binds us. Okla was such a person. There was a mutual admiration and respect for …each other’s work. He was always welcoming of my work for As It Ought To Be and encouraging of my writing. And I had the pleasure of interviewing him and reviewing his collection The Cartographer’s Ink. The diversity, quantity, and quality of his literary output was amazing. I was so looking forward to reading his next poetry collection, which will now, sadly, not be coming. I enjoyed just hearing what he was teaching his classes. It was a pleasure to hear him take such joy in teaching, sparking conversation among his students, or just rhapsodize about the deliciousness of tacos. He was a brilliant and kind person. In online conversations, he strove always for fairness and inclusion that never compromised intellectual honesty. He seemed to face setback with determination and optimism. I saw this most clearly in the recent election outcome, always advising people to focus on state and local elections, and clear actions to take, rather than falling into doubt and bitterness. His intelligence and voice will be terribly missed. The silence it leaves will fill the coming days with something embodied in certain winter landscapes, a kind of waiting that isn’t answered but fades like an echo. But if you haven’t read any of his work, buy some: his poetry, his translation, the novel he co-authored with his good friend, Raul Clement.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOT WITH PAUL CRENSHAW

Photo Credit: Brandon Pierce

By Paul Crenshaw:

FOR OKLA

All that late-night talk of light, and life,
all those words, which became like worlds.
Which we both know were.
If you even need words anymore,
wherever you are, what world
you find yourself in.

Let me just say I hope there’s light.
Let me say I want to send this to you
so you know all the poetry was enough.
That the porch light is still on
in my mind. That the windows are open,
and the songs from inside the house still play.
You are still sitting in the overstuffed chair.
You are still smiling. Let me say
the lighting of a cigarette or
clink of ice in a glass is as much poetry
as anything we ever said.
Let me remind myself I remember all the words,
even if I’ve forgotten how to say them.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOTT

A version of this post was featured on this series in December of 2010. It is being shared here today as As It Ought To Be mourns the loss of our founder.


By Okla Elliott:

THE IDIOT’S FAITH

Three lanterns floated in the dream she told him, but he didn’t want to hear about lanterns. He wanted factories unbuilt, windows smashed open. He wanted libertine wailings. She denied being a builder of factories, but he knew her reputation. A wind blew in from Montreal, or she said it was from Montreal, said she could smell the bars of Rue St Laurent. He was skeptical but didn’t want to argue. What good are arguments on a Saturday night? What good are arguments at all? She told him again about her love of the French language, and he thought maybe they were getting somewhere. The modern sunset outside her window was spilled wine tinged with pollution. They went down the mountain to town, found the trouble she had decided they wanted. She called a homeless man a fallen Chinese god, and they mourned his sad descent, forgetting (almost) their own. That is the power of generosity, one use of our idiot faith in human love.

 

THE LIGHT HERE

It sets a mood
of clownish tragedy,
of ecstatic failure waiting to happen.

It is not a static blue light
nor the throb of a strobe.

It is not a light to read by
nor to be naked in,
unless you are desperate
or barbarously horny.

I would use it to look for you
in a cave or catacomb
or an ossuary crowded by the famous dead–
that is, if you were in such a place,
I would use this light to find you.

It is a light that yellows the periphery.
It is not a light that brightens the center.

It is mixed from an overcast morning
and the electric urban dusk.

It is a light I could live in
if I came to terms with certain failings
in my character
and the character of others.

I know you have light where you are,
better light even,
but I wanted you to know
about the light here.

 
Okla Elliott (1977 – 2017) passed away in his sleep last weekend. The Misicordia University professor, a prolific novelist, poet, short fiction writer, and translator, would have turned 40 this year. Those of us who knew him – and his circle of acquaintance and friendship was very wide indeed – are in shock from this wholly unanticipated death. He was kind, generous with his time, and indefatigable in his writing. He was much loved.

His work appeared in Harvard Review, The Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, Cincinnati Review, Indiana Review, Subtropics, and elsewhere, as well as being included as a “notable essay” in Best American Essays 2015. His books included From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), Pope Francis: The Essential Guide (nonfiction), and Pope Francis: The Essential Guide (nonfiction, forthcoming). — David Bowen, The Book Haven (with edits)


Editor’s Note: Today I am honored to present to you the work of As It Ought To Be‘s managing editor. His work speaks for itself, as does the significant body of publications in which his work has appeared. Okla is an impressive scholar, a fearless leader, and a wonderful person to know in the writing world. He believes strongly in the idea of building and sustaining a community of writers, and I am honored to be a member of that community. Regarding today’s pieces I will say that Mr. Elliott effortlessly combines vignettes of straightforward narrative with crisp images and moments of simple yet brilliant language such as “What good are arguments on a Saturday night? What good are arguments at all,” “if you were in such a place, I would use this light to find you,” and this kicker of an ending, “It is a light I could live in / if I came to terms with certain failings / in my character / and the character of others. / I know you have light where you are, / better light even, / but I wanted you to know / about the light here.” Simple. Elegant. Stunning.

UPDATE: “The Light Here” appeared on the back cover of Okla’s memorial liturgy booklet at his funeral held at Misicordia University on Friday March 24, 2017.


ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life

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AS IT OUGHT TO BE MOURNS THE LOSS OF OUR FOUNDER

“O Captain! My Captain!”

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. Okla Elliot, longtime managing editor, champion, and co-founder of As It Ought To Be died unexpectedly this past weekend. He was far too young, and the depth of this loss is incalculable. The contributions he made while on this earth were of superheroic proportions, and the contributions this ambitious, talented, exceedingly capable man would have made had he lived to a ripe old age are beyond our wildest dreams.

Remembrances are pouring out from the many communities Okla inspired, alongside unimaginable grief from the countless individuals whose lives he changed for the better. From an obituary by David Bowen: “The Misicordia University professor, a prolific novelist, poet, short fiction writer, and translator, would have turned 40 this year. Those of us who knew him – and his circle of acquaintance and friendship was very wide indeed – are in shock from this wholly unanticipated death. He was kind, generous with his time, and indefatigable in his writing. He was much loved.”

He was much loved. Indeed. He was many, many things, and should have had the chance to be so many more. But not least among them, this exceedingly generous, one-of-a-kind human being was much loved.

Below are a few ways the world is remembering him.


VIA HIS POETRY

Entrances and Exits

When I was a younger man, a boy,
the intrigue of washing machine doors

trunks, windows, manholes–secret passages
of all sorts–possessed me. I spent hours

passing through and back through
a simple hole in the wall of a condemned house

careful to step with the other foot
or at a new angle each time,

conducting experiments that might foretell
how the world would receive me

and how I would leave.


Tilting Toward Winter

The air is gray and quiet as the sea’s
wet-dying warmth. A blackbird
screams out from memory and, pleased
with its sour chirping, keeps at it undeterred
by the browning season. I have everything
I could wish for —this air, this sea, this night.
We tilt toward winter, though the sand is spring
sand, erotic and youthful. Spirits are light
as May lasciviousness. But blood swells
to shore in cool disintegrating waves—
gone summer and gone winter aren’t real.
I walk into the unwarm froth, say farewell
to my selves that have died and pray for those still
to die — their wet wombs, their thick-salt graves.


WITH THE SONG HE WANTED PLAYED IN HIS MEMORY



WITH THE WORDS OF ONE OF HIS HEROES



WITH ONLINE TRIBUTES AND MEMORIALS

“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


BY WRITING POEMS IN MEMORIUM

“Okla’s Last Emails” by Lynn Houston
“For Okla Elliot” by Jay Sizemore


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE

As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing that remembers, eulogizes, and celebrates Okla. We would also love to include any additional tributes and memorial pieces that have been published elsewhere here in this memorial post. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


MEMORIAL SERVICES

A service to remember Okla Elliott will be held at 11:00am this coming Friday, March 24, in the chapel located in Mercy Hall of Misericordia University:

301 Lake Street
Dallas, PA 18612
(570) 674-6400

There will also be a memorial at 2:00 pm on Friday, March 31, in the Lucy Ellis Lounge, FLB, UIUC campus, Urbana, IL.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: STACY R. NIGLIAZZO


By Stacy R. Nigliazzo:






“Harvesting Her Heart after the Accident” first appeared in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts/Matter Press. All other pieces are previously unpublished. Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Stacy R. Nigliazzo‘s debut poetry collection Scissored Moon was published in 2013 by Press 53. It was named Book of the Year by the American Journal of Nursing. It was also short-listed as a finalist for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize (Jacar Press) and the Texas Institute of Letters First Book Award for Poetry/Bob Bush Award. She is co-editor of Red Sky, an anthology addressing the global epidemic of violence against women.

Editor’s Note: Stacy R. Nigliazzo imagines the unimaginable, writes those words which cannot be spoken. An emergency room nurse, it is when her personal losses make their way to the page that her experience becomes poetry, and that poetry becomes an act of healing for poet and reader alike. How visual her imagery, how visceral her grief. And yet her poems leave us not in darkness, but with the necessary reminder that even in our darkest hour there is a “ripple of light.”

Want to read more by and about Stacy R. Nigliazzo?
Stacy Nigliazzo’s Official Website

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Author Conversations: Jenny Drai and Elizabeth J. Colen

 

JD: Hi Elizabeth! I thought I’d jump right in and say that as I was reading What Weaponry, which you call a novel in prose poems, and The Green Condition, which you call an essay, I started thinking a lot about the concept of story as somewhat separate JDraiHeadshotfrom what we (or at least I) often think of when I hear the word ‘narrative’. (I suppose I’m thinking of what I encounter when I read what is termed ‘narrative poetry’.) To me, your work seems to speak very much to the power, and to the necessity, of telling stories, even as you let the reader create connections from what’s left unsaid in the spaces between lines, between sections, in the silences. I’m reading your work as a series of impressions that build, that accrete, into whole pieces. Lyric stories. Could you say more about the importance of story in your work and how/if that influences the mode you write in for any given project?

EJC: Well, they’re both hybrid texts, both poetry and. And so, as such, I’m interested in the tensions between genres, the tensions between modes of meaning-making. So while in each there is intense play with sound as well as a forward motion (the simple way I define narrative or story), there is also a haltingness, a turning back, echoing, re-vision of events, etc, that takes place. Which also adds to the sound-play. And is more like the way memory works: wecolen_light_2 obsess over the details, rarely thinking big picture all at once. I like what you say, letting “the reader create connections from what’s left unsaid.” That’s very important to me. What Weaponry is certainly story in jumps, gaps that intentionally wait for a reader to co-produce narrative, which happens in any work no matter how seamless the narrative hand-holding. I’m interested in making those seams apparent. As a reader we expect the writer to bring content and structure; I like to turn that back a little: I’ll bring the structure and let’s both bring the content and see what we can do together. I hope the collaboration is more inviting than vexing, though I’ve had both responses.

In reading your work I’m also interested in your relationship to narrative. It’s definitely not a straight-forward endeavor, but that you align your work with existing narratives says something about your desire to tell a story. What made you come to align your story for example with Young Werther’s in The New Sorrow is Less than the Old Sorrow? Of course Wine Dark also immediately conjures connections with Homer. How important is that parallel?

JD: I think the parallels are important in the sense that I, as the writer, am saying something like, “This is epic. All of this has happened before. (And will again.) You/I/We aren’t alone in this phase of your/my/our existence and even though many of our experiences will differ greatly from each other’s as we move through time and space, maybe the connections, the points where our lives touch each other’s, as well as how they touch pre-existing cultural narratives (as found in stories, literature, etc), may be what can, ultimately, offer comfort.” I’d say epic isn’t necessarily comfortable, so there’s a tension there, in my trying to make the epic lived in, livable. Comfort is important to me, in the sense of coziness as a soothing balm for frazzled nerves, restorative warmth, safety. My whole life, I’ve looked for this comfort in the books I’ve read and I think this is why I am so apt to involve pre-existing literary narratives in my writing. In The New Sorrow is Less Than the Old Sorrow, for example, the Speaker comforts herself by comparing her loss to the great literary loss of Werther, who loves Lotte but can’t have her and therefore commits suicide. But my Speaker decides, meh, maybe her situation is less tragic than it seems. She goes on. In Wine Dark, in my mind at least, all of the poems have the same Speaker, someone who is a bit at sea maybe, who connects to blood and the sea as she literally sails the ocean and figuratively sails in and out of the personae she climbs into—Heloise, Jane Eyre, Scheherazade, Elizabeth Bathory. So even though Wine Dark consists of separate poems, they comprise, again in my mind, an unofficial series, and in fact were written during a relatively short period of time, then revised over months, years even. To me, it’s a book-length project in feel (but maybe all books are!!), if not in name. I think what I’m trying to say is that these poems always lived together as a group.

Since we’re both clearly interested in longer projects, serial narratives (or stories, if you will), I want to ask you about the importance in your work of going on, as opposed to, say, ending. It occurs to me that there is always going to be a tension, in story, between continuation and ceasing. In What Weaponry, for example, you begin the text with the line, “We build a place to be safe, start talking in circles and so build that way.” And you go on to describe a process of building concentric circles with found objects that widen out and grow. It seems, to me at least, that a text that begins in such a way can never really end. How do you negotiate in your writing the tension between having to impose ending, structure, and arc, with the fact that, I think, you are also very much writing in order to continue?

EJC: Yes! I am interested in books that are controlled in craft, while the content and concept gets out of hand. Books that consume themselves uroburos-style. Books that refuse completion. In What Weaponry I have what feels to me like both the ultimate ending and an anti-ending. The last poem “No One Waits in the Side Yard” is, I think, the loneliest poem I’ve ever written. It serves as anti-ending in that all sentences written in negation, everything spoken is also taken away. Everything both there and not there at the same time. Part of this might be my lifelong interest in The Twilight Zone. There is often the world and the not-world and they replace each other at will. Isn’t this a little bit how life is though. Nothing’s ever wholly there, there’s also the fear of the thing’s absence and the language that keeps it there.

What is your writing process like? Do you have rituals? I’m interested in writers as conjurers. Like, for me, I’m always reading out loud. And that’s what makes the writing start up for me. And also do you have a whole-book plan before you sit down or do you figure it out as you go along?

JD: I’d say my writing process is pretty structured, and yes, I often have a plan going in, and rituals, like organizing my pencils and highlighters and index cards at my desk before I start writing. The preparation of hot beverages also plays a role. But for me, what makes the writing start up is reading. I especially love pouring over history, legends, hagiography, fairy tales, and any sort of criticism taking any of that into account. I love to do research, albeit in a not-so-academic fashion. The worst part about living in Germany is that I had to leave a lot of books behind in a storage space in Vancouver, Washington. If I could go back in time and do one thing over, I would make different choices about what books to bring with me. I have a lot of books on medieval history and on Anglo-Saxon England in Vancouver that I would die for a look in right about now. But I did make some good choices too, and I’m happy to have those books here, all my books on fairy tales, for example, which I’m using a lot right now in the fiction I write. And there’s also the internet. There is so much online and a lot of time I copy and paste text and create MS Word files for myself of research I’ve compiled on different topics. So to answer your question more succinctly, reading (a lot of different things) and then research is what inspires me, what wakes me up, what gets me going. I would only add that sometimes I read a lot on a topic but end up writing very little. “Bathory,” for example, in Wine Dark is a very short poem, but I’ve read quite a lot about Elizabeth Bathory and watched several movies about her life. Although, to be fair, she shows up in a poem sequence in an as yet unpublished manuscript. I don’t finish with topics/figures easily, I suppose, and possibly this is because I spend so much time with them as part of my writing process.

But what about you? How did you approach writing What Weaponry? Did you write these pieces as individual prose poems and then see the larger connections or did you have the idea of them as a novel beforehand? Also, I’m curious about order. Did you write the pieces in the order they appear in the book, because I do see a narrative arc as I’m reading, or did they come to you differently?

EJC: We’re alike in that with a lot of what I write (especially The Green Condition and Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies) I do a lot of reading / researching / thinking far in advance of any writing happening. I tend to work project by project, slowly establishing some strong concept of a book-length project (or multi-book-length) and not so much writing towards that, but holding that concept at the back of my head while I write whatever it is I’m writing. At some point the pieces start to cohere into the bigger plan. Then I see what I have, the unexpected connections, and revise heavily to bring those to the surface. So I start with the grand plan, but the project never ends up being exactly that. It’s just something to keep me grounded.

My daily practice before writing involves reading poetry out loud. It’s the only way I know to get started. And when I read poetry, I always read it out loud. So you should know, when we traded books for this, I stood in my kitchen reading your work out loud.

What Weaponry was written on the train one summer. The Coast Starlight and the Southwest Chief. I had less of a plan with this book. I had plucked these two characters out of my first book, and was existing within / writing from a place of strongly conflicting excitement and deep sadness. I had a loose story after a few poems; the thrust of the narrative was built during the many-month revision process a year or so later, once I was clear of my own emotional upheaval and could let the characters do their thing.

***

Jenny Drai is the author of Wine Dark and The New Sorrow Is Less Than The Old Sorrow, both from Black Lawrence Press. Her first full-length collection of poetry, [the door], was published by Trembling Pillow Press in 2015 and her novella, Letters to Quince, was awarded the Deerbird Novella Prize from Artistically Declined Press. She is an Associate Poetry Editor at Drunken Boat and lives in the Rhineland. She has recently completed a novel.

Elizabeth J. Colen is most recently the author of What Weaponry, a novel in prose poems. Other books include poetry collections Money for Sunsets (Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2011) and Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies, flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake, long poem / lyric essay hybrid The Green Condition, and fiction collaboration Your Sick. She teaches at Western Washington University.

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