SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RHIANNON CONLEY

MURMUR
by Rhiannon Conley


“Did You Know? You can swim through the aorta
of a blue whale.” I watched as two children
swam, their soft hands like fins pushing themselves
out of the open chamber of the imagined whale’s
red ventricle and back into the museum showcase.
The heavy plastic held on to the throb of their laughter.

I could fit, I thought. I could be held in this heart
like blood. I could be pumped through the veins
and organs of the whale, let it take me, flowing,
my arms at my sides gliding head first
through the enormous animal’s body.

Your heart, just the size of your soft infant fist
which fits twofold into my own, holds a small
whispering defect. The pediatrician presses air
between his teeth – tsst tsst – to mimic the sound
he hears on the stethoscope. “It’s nothing,”
he says, “Just relax.” Tsst tsst. Just a leak,
a little mist pressed through a tiny spout,
a space as tight as teeth.

You are supposed to outgrow the hole,
supposed to grow muscle around the flaw,
supposed to be as strong as hard plastic,
the murmur shrinking so that you never
have to think about the way your body
is whispering its defects. I am supposed to relax.

I could fit. Inside your body, remembering how you
once fit into me. I could repair you
with my own body, the way my body prepared you
in the first place, with all your flaws.
The pediatrician says it gets louder – tsst tsst –
as it shrinks. He says your heart is much louder.

I’ll take you someday to see the whale’s heart
and watch as you swim through its ventricles
and out of the oversized aorta like a fish, unaware
of your heart moving blood through your body
like waves, little echoes, like the plastic heart
holding onto your laughter.



Today’s poem previously appeared in Whale Road Review and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Rhiannon Conley is a poet and writing instructor living in North Dakota. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. Her first chapbook, Less Precious, was published by Semiperfect Press in 2017. She currently has work forthcoming in Literary Mama and Longleaf Review. She writes an irregular newsletter of short poetic essays called Smol Talks and more regularly Tweets @RhiannonAdmidas.

Guest Editor’s Note: The echoes throughout this poem are its heart beating, whispering the emotions of the speaker told to relax when listening to a diagnosis of a leak in her daughter’s heart. Like so many mothers, she wants to fix the problem and also shoulder some of the burden. The following lines repeat words and sounds and serve as a mantra that comes from the deepest and most profound feelings of helplessness: “I could fit. Inside your body, remembering how you / once fit into me. I could repair you / with my own body, the way my body prepared you / in the first place, with all your flaws.” The repetition of “body” and “you” is natural, seamless, barely above a whisper. The second appearance of “I could fit” is a rhythmic reminder of the speaker’s profound wish.

The model whale heart is the perfect opening for this poem, set in a familiar place to observe children perhaps on a field trip or visit to the museum. The imagery of swimming through “the imagined whale’s red ventricle” in the first stanza begins a narrative that circulates through thought and lands back on hope for future visits in spite of a mother’s fear. The well-crafted stanzas and lines serve the poem and its theme and create a circular effect that emanates from the narrative, its imagery and metaphors.

Want to read more by and about Rhiannon Conley?
ND Quarterly
Moonsick Magazine
Occulum
Buy Less Precious from semiperfect press
Smol Talks


Guewst Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), Blood and Roses: A Devotional for Aphrodite and Venus (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Gluttony (Pure Slush Books), The Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, Random Sample Review, Into the Void Magazine, Allegro Poetry Magazine, and Rivet Journal.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


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Mania Makes Me A Better Poet

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Mania Makes Me A Better Poet

By Daniel Crocker

 

I paced up and down the front porch on a rare, cool Missouri night.

“The government wants me to take pills,” I told my wife. She asked why, but I didn’t have an answer. Part of me knew it wasn’t true. Part of me wasn’t convinced. My thoughts shifted rapidly.

“Do you ever wonder about that guy from the Oak Ridge Boys? You know, the one with the big beard?”  I had also suddenly become obsessed by William Lee Golden. I was worried about him.

“Do you think he feels trapped? Like, he wishes he could shave off that scraggly damned beard and be free of if.”

 I wondered if he’d ever regretted growing that beard, probably sometime in his early twenties, and regretted it.

“He has to think his fans just won’t get the real Oak Ridge Boys experience without it? And what about John Berryman? Did he have the same problem? Is that why he jumped off that bridge?”

This was just a few days before I broke down, went to a clinic, and got help for bipolar 1 disorder. The symptoms had been ramping up for months—compulsive intrusive thoughts and rituals—I’m going to kill myself tomorrow was a favorite of mine, running on a loop in my mind.  I was trucking along on little to no sleep or food. My speech was pressured.  The mania had started out fun. I was creative. I felt unstoppable. I had the energy to do some work.  In the end it always gets scary. It devolves into anxiety, paranoia and the occasional mild delusion.  In the end, however, I got a hell of a poem about William Lee Golden out of it.

The truth is, mania makes me a better poet, although it’s taboo to say so. Not among other bipolar people. We’ll readily admit to each other that we love parts of our mania. We usually just don’t tell the sane people in our lives. They look at us shocked, or sad, or worse. Sometimes they look at us with anger. Our loved ones have seen the wake of destruction left behind by mania. I’ve hurt plenty of people myself while manic, including my significant other. I swear by my medications now. They keep me stable, if not fully content. Sometimes something is missing.

Unless you’ve been through it, you just can’t understand how mania feels. It’s like being on speed and booze at the same time—except better. Your mind, at least for a while, is laser-focused. You actually have the desire and energy to want to create—or do whatever it is that you do. Depression, on the other hand, is a creativity killer. It can be hard to get out of bed, much less write a poem. Mania, when it hits just right, calls for hours of steady work. Continue reading

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Two Ghazals

Two Ghazals

By Mike James

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Cowboys & Cinderellas

I’m waiting for the apocalypse or the rapture. In the meantime, I’m reading Stein.
Also, growing cabbages, Watching John Wayne movies, while I paint my nails.

Some people pretend to live without shadows. Are always perfectly shaved.
Ignore salsa stains, flatulence. Expect worry to be, at least, three houses away.

The best we hope for are angels grown tired of heaven’s many perfections.
Who miss beer, sex, mascara. Who miss a world happy to wake from dreams.

On slow days, I work in the garden. The squirrels seem to like what I produce.
In good years I harvest peppers, cucumbers. Bad years, profanity and (yep) dust.

Art News tells us, second chances are no harder than the first. We just write
Songs about the second. We romanticize failure since we all have practice.

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Ghazal

A garden doesn’t make you a farmer any more than boots make you a
Cowboy. Go on and play your make-believe. Go to your fashion show.

Appropriation is the least appreciated art. Going forward, we should
Only speak in quotes from Collete, Betty Boop, and her doe-eyed ilk.

If thievery was legal, where would the fun be? Cat burglars no more
Romantic than postman. Duchamp another man with an extra urinal.

Listen, the whole world practices make-believe. Have you ever seen
A President give an oath with fingers not crossed? That’s was a dream.

Matthew Broderick, once parroted the line, There’s a kind of freedom in
Being completely screwed. Let me an offer an agreement. Give an amen.

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About the Author:  Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle)and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

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The Mark Twain Speech

“The Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau” By Chase Dimock

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The Mark Twain Speech

By John Dorsey

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The Mark Twain Speech
for mark mcclane

you talk about frontiers
that only dead men
& drunks can see

not about the blood
& sweat that goes
into words that won’t sell
the stories of heartbreak
& what time can do
to beautiful things

everything turned to bone

words careening off your tongue
& down a river
slow to offer amnesty
to those in a sinking ship.

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Check out our interview with John Dorsey on his book, Letting the Meat Rest.

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About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017). He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: EMILY BLAIR


By Emily Blair:








Today’s poems previously appeared in cream city review (vol. 41.1) and Indiana Review (vol. 39, no.1) and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Emily Blair’s poetry has appeared in Gulf Coast, Sixth Finch, Juked, Indiana Review, New Ohio Review, cream city review, Gettysburg Review and the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, among other places. She received a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship in Poetry in 2014 and in Fiction in 2006, and is the author of the illustrated chapbook Idaville (Booklyn Artists’ Alliance, 2010). Also a visual artist, she creates multimedia books and collaborates with social practice artist Michelle Illuminato under the name Next Question.

Guest Editor’s Note: To begin reading a poem by Emily Blair is to step onto a sturdy roadway only to find halfway along that you are swaying wildly on a rickety rope bridge, your foot’s about to fall through the rotting jute, and there’s no going back. All you can do is rush forward and hope you make it to the other side before it collapses behind you. She pulls you along with brilliant wordplay: “—were the heavens ablaze—was there a topiary maze—” and half-recognized allusions to the plot points of movies you probably slept through while you were babysitting those demon kids across the street. Toward the end of the poem you realize that the poet is cleverly yet subtly addressing some of your most mundane and commonly shared fears and despite all signs to the contrary–is every single sentence a question?–the poet gives us a temporary reprieve from that anxiety in the form of a quirky answer: “Are you going to haunt me forever? I’m free every night this week.”

Want to read more by and about Emily Blair?
Barrel House Mag
Juked


Originally from MN, Guest Editor Julie Hart has lived in London, Zurich and Tokyo and now in Brooklyn Heights. Her work can be found in PANK Magazine, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Poets Anthology and at juliehartwrites.com. She is a founder with Mirielle Clifford and Emily Blair of the poetry collective Sweet Action.

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB


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The Incredible Bipolar Hulk: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

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The Incredible Bipolar Hulk:

A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

By Chase Dimock

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The genius of The Incredible Hulk is that everyone can identify with him. All people have a reservoir of anger inside them, and we all know the painful discipline of managing anger, lest it erupt into senseless rage. The Hulk Smash is the fantasy of acting on our anger with a violent ferocity that mirrors the inner, emotional experience of pain.

In his latest chapbook, Gamma Rays, Daniel Crocker identifies with the Hulk as a metaphor for the experience of bipolar disorder. As It Ought To Be debuted Crocker’s Hulk poem “The Incredible Hulk Tries to Write a Poem” last January. For Crocker, the Hulk is more than just a momentary outburst; he is an enduring persona who embodies the manic energy of bipolar disorder. Crocker’s poems humanize the Hulk, and in turn, provide insight into the mind of the bipolar person as they navigate the impulses within them. I had a chance to ask Crocker about the Hulk and how he personifies the bipolar experience in his poetry.

 

Chase Dimock:  The first question on anyone’s mind when they first look at your cover is going to be “Why the Hulk?” In the past, you’ve written poems in which you take on the personas of Cookie Monster, Skeletor, and George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life among others. What is it about the Hulk that made him worthy of an entire collection of poetry? What does taking on his persona uniquely achieve among your pantheon of pop culture icons?

 

Daniel Crocker: The simple answer is, I love the Hulk. I wrote one Hulk poem, the one where he goes shopping after taking klonopin, and then I couldn’t stop for awhile. I was filtering everything through the Hulk. I originally thought I might end up with a full length, but after about 20 poems I realized I was kind of done with the story I wanted to tell. But, he’s a great metaphor. Any negative aspect of your personality, especially those that center around losing control, that’s basically the Hulk. He’s the things you bury deep. In a lot of ways this books is about coming to terms with that.

So I used it as a metaphor for my bipolar disorder because you never know when you’re going to have another episode. You just try to keep them at bay with medication. Then I started thinking about what it means to navigate love and a relationship when you have this hanging over your head–when you’re not always sure you’re going to wake up okay. Unlike Shit House Rat, however, this is more about coming to terms with it. It is, I think, a happy book with a happy ending.

 

Chase Dimock: The Hulk has been incarnated as a comic, a cartoon, a TV show, and several movies. I know the TV show version of the Hulk the best because I grew up watching reruns. In that version, he’s somewhat of a loner who tries to manage his rage alone and channel it toward productive ways to help the people he runs into. The show always ends with “The Lonely Man Theme.” It seems like your Hulk is more like the Hulk from the comics, which places him in a romantic relationship with Betty. Why was it important to focus so many of your poems on the Hulk in a relationship?

 

Daniel Crocker: In the end, it’s a book about navigating a relationship while having a mental illness. In my favorite runs of the Hulk, Bruce was always afraid of his anger coming out. He would do anything to keep the Hulk away–even though it’s a part of him. He was so obsessed with finding a cure that his relationship with Betty would be strained. When I was diagnosed with bipolar, I read up everything I could on it. So, I understand that level of obsession. I also, of course, worry that my symptoms could come back at any time—even while on medication.  So, I hope it shows the impact of bipolar disorder on one’s immediate family as well as just the person who has it. In the end, though, it’s just coming to terms with the monster inside of you–whatever that may be.

Continue reading

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Paul Lynde

Paul Lynde

By Mike James

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Paul Lynde

Died on an early January Sunday in Beverly Hills. If he’d been born in early January, he’d be a Capricorn. He was a Gemini. During the 1970’s it was popular to tell people “your sign.” Like shag carpet, that’s less popular now. Paul trusted astrology. Call him a man of the times. Call him Liberace without a piano, add a scarf. Geminis love illusions and music. Prefer light blue and yellow. The great talents of Geminis “are in the social realm.” Does that include cooking? Paul Lynde liked to drink white wine while cooking. He loved to cook.

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About the Author:  Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle)and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

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